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McAfee Marathon Men make 'The Boston'

Ralph McAfee and his two sons Ryan and Tyler qualify for next April's race in Boston

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - The McAfees, from left, Ryan, Ralph and Tyler, gathered at the finish line after hitting qualifying times for the 2017 Boston Marathon at The Light at the end of the Tunnel race in Snoqualmie Pass, Wash., last month. Ralph McAfee didn't know what he started when he trekked across the country to run the Boston Marathon with his son Ryan in 2010. Streets lined with five deep cheering runners along the 26.2-mile course has a lasting impression. His youngest Tyler was a part of the crowd that day and soon made it his goal to complete the course with his dad, as well. He targeted the 2017 race, which happens to fall on his birthday.

“I watched my brother and him do it that first time in 2010, and the atmosphere and history of the race really struck me and I wanted to be a part of it,” Tyler said.

“I thought, 'Wow, I've got six-and-a-half years of marathoning ahead of me,” Ralph laughs.

The truth being that Ralph had also embraced Boston, returning to run the route three straight years from 2013-15.

Most of the past year has been focused on running this special race with both of his sons, but first the trio had to hit the qualifying time. Boston is a huge race with 30,000 participants, but demand is high, so entrants must hit a qualifying mark to register. For ages 18-34 that requirement is 3 hours, 5 minutes.

So that has been the McAfee's quest — one that was accomplished last month at the Light at the End of the Tunnel marathon in Washington. The course gets its name from its opening stretch that takes racers through a two-and-a-half mile long railroad tunnel that goes under Snoqualmie Pass. Most runners rely on headlamps and flashlights to navigate their way through, but some simply tag along nearby someone with a light.

“It's pretty cold in there and dark — it's not a normal sensation,” Tyler said. “You get a half-mile in and you see this dot of light in front of you and spend the next 15 minutes getting there.”

The entire course is run on a graveled-over railroad track that carries runners across four trestles.

The route features a gradual downhill slope most of the way, dropping about 2,000 feet in elevation by the finish line, Ralph estimates. It has the second-highest qualification rate among Boston Marathon events.

“It can take up to 20 seconds off per mile — you don't notice it much, but by the end it feels like you've put in a really good day,” Ralph said.

Ryan was first through the finish line in 2:59:20 with Tyler coming across a couple minutes later in 3:02:10 — both faster than a 7-minute per mile pace.

“I made a continual push throughout the race and about halfway through I had a good feeling that I would qualify,” Tyler said.

Ralph came along in 3:17:34 — more than 20 minutes under the qualifying standard for his age division.

“There were some pretty substantial injuries to deal with along the way, so when I finished and walked up to Tyler and asked his time, wow, was I ever grateful,” Ralph said. “Then moments later, asking Ryan his time, and realizing we are all qualified for Boston — what a gift.”

Ralph celebrated his 55th birthday on the day of the Snoqualmie race.

The three McAfee men put together some special runs during training. One followed Highway 99 from Tyler's campus at Western Oregon University to Ryan's campus at Oregon State. Another favorite has the trio visit Grandpa Jack in Camas, Wash.

“He always says that if we make the effort to run there, the least he can do is take us to lunch,” Ralph laughs.

“We're at the end of a big chapter in our parenting and starting a new one,” Ralph said. “Boston is a nice exclamation point on all of those years running together.”

The Boston Marathon is April 17 — Patriots' Day in Massachusetts. This upcoming year marks the 121st running of the race.

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