The long wait for Six

The path to star No. 6 has been anything but straight for the 7,000-plus runners who will be in that famous Six Star Finisher hall of fame by Monday night.

Injury, illness, struggles to get places and life in general can all throw up obstacles to circumvent along the way.

Not too many runners would have expected the pandemic to have been the barrier between them and the Six Star medal, though.

That’s what happened to Rick Sullivan in 2020 when his dreams of earning the much sought-after hardware in Boston that April were dashed.

The 53-year-old from Virginia, USA, thought he had earned his place in the Boston Marathon at the second attempt after his first time – while inside the limit – was not fast enough to get him a bib.

“It has not been an easy path,” he says, “but that’s what makes Boston so incredible. It wouldn’t have the aura it does if it was easy.”

Rick’s first BQ was earned in the Mountains to Beach Marathon in Venice Beach California when he met the standard, but wasn’t far enough under it to make the cut for 2018.

With a place in Tokyo for what was star No. 4 in 2019, he BQ’d again, and his time on this occasion was fast enough to be accepted for 2020.

“I was all prepped and ready to go,” he recalls. “I was coming back from two months’ working overseas at the beginning of March when Boston got postponed to the fall.”

The delayed six star dream was put into perspective when childhood friend Steve Dupree, a fine athlete in his own right, succumbed to ALS in the summer of 2020. He would not be there to see his friend achieve his goal.

“There’s no cure for that,” says Rick. “This invincible guy, a former special ops Navy Seal and a world class athlete. I wanted to finish the Majors in time for him to see that, so it was all working out and coming together for spring 2020 and then it got pushed to the fall, and he died July 2020.”

“Do it for Duper” has become a motto for Rick now, but following the eventual switch to a fully virtual Boston Marathon in the fall of 2020, he once again found himself outside the cut for the reduced field set for 2021. That was when a charity came calling.

The Hopkinton Center for the Arts knew I had raised money for causes before and they had a slot. They asked me if I would like it, and I thought it would be an honor.”

Posing with a fan, London 2019

With the charity to thank for the final leg of his Six Star journey, Rick credits his membership of the 1,000 Miles Run Club for getting him started. He had built from a first 10-mile race into half marathons and eventually the Richmond Marathon, but the Six Star medal came onto his radar when he joined the club.

“That is where I started learning about the Majors,” he explains. “The moment I did the first Major (New York City 2016), the goal became immediate and every action after that was towards the medal.”

Chicago and Berlin followed before Tokyo and London were both completed in the spring of 2019, leaving the long and winding road to Boston to navigate.

On Monday, he finally gets to toe that famous start line in Hopkinton, but when he reaches the finish on Boylston Street, you sense this well-travelled businessman will be far from retiring his running shoes.

“The part that’s so great about running is it opened up a new world to me. I travel extensively for work, and used to land, get a taxi to the hotel, then go do my meetings, back to the hotel, eat, leave. I never saw or experienced anything.

“The moment I picked up running, the perspective was completely different because then I was able to see those environments completely differently, be it early morning or evening, whatever it was.

“I was able to see so much just by having my shoes on and the ability to run, get out there, explore and discover things.”

There will be family and run club friends there in Boston on Monday and, after “dabbling” in ultramarathons while he was staying fit for Boston, Rick is in shape to put in a good performance.

“I take nothing for granted, though,” he says. “I have been counting the days, hours and minutes. Every race has to be respected. I’m in shape, I’m training, I hit 1,000 miles already this year but I’ve had close friends drop out close to race day before. I will just aim to get to the start healthy and be there to experience it.”

It will be an experience worth all the waiting for.

If you are in Boston this Sunday, Rick will be part of a special Six Star Hopeful panel at 1pm on stage at Fan Fest in Copley Square.