Peter Keeney of Bar Harbor, like so many others, wanted to do what he could to support fellow runner Kathy Wilson of Camden as she raised money for cancer research during a 26.2-hour relay challenge April 2-3 on the nearly fully snow-covered Camden Hills Regional High School outdoor track.

In fact, Keeney traveled far from home to physically do more than his share of legwork during the important fundraising event.

Keeney, no stranger to walking or running long distances, covered 52 consecutive miles — all to support Wilson, cancer research and in memory of friends and their family members lost due to the disease.

Keeney was one of the people who participated as Wilson hosted a 26.2-hour relay challenge to support the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The event began April 2 at 9:30 a.m. and finished with Wilson’s portion of the run April 3 at 12:42 p.m.

Keeney and Wilson are Crow Athletics Running Club teammates. Wilson has qualified to run the 115th annual Boston Marathon on Monday, April 18. The marathon course distance is 26.2 miles.

Wilson met Keeney a few months ago at a Somesville 20-mile race.

Doing his part

Keeney, also a top national snowshoe competitor, said he ran the distance — which he began at 9:45 a.m and finished at 4:45 p.m. (a total of seven hours) — for friends who have lost relatives and friends to cancer and he initially wanted to run his age plus the number of days since his birthday, which would have been 52.

At the relay event each team member was to run during a one-hour slot during their relay period. During the relay, a sash was handed, like a baton, from team member to team member. People were encouraged to attach “in memory of” or “in honor of” names of individuals victimized by cancer to the sash before they began their leg of the relay.

Wilson wore the sash during the final leg of the relay and will wear it during her 26.2-mile 2011 Boston Marathon.

Under the moniker of “one relay, one team, one cause,” Wilson is a qualified entrant in the Boston Marathon and a member of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge Team. All money she raises will fund Dana-Farber’s Claudia Adams Barr Program in cancer research.

So why was Keeney compelled to run more than 50 miles during the event April 2. “The best place to start is that I have several close friends who have lost parents and partners in the past year to cancer,” he said. “I also have a co-worker whose partner is battling cancer now and a second co-worker who has a child whom has battled for close to three years with cancer and it has all been very moving to me. I had the idea that I would run my age and add an extra day for every day after my birthday for good luck which would be 52 miles.”

Keeney, who has run since he caught the bug at age 16, said he has trained hard and had “a pretty good base mileage over this winter so I felt this would be realistic to shoot for. Most of the time I keep the goal in mind for several weeks and visualize it over and over again to gain confidence. I like to only think it is time for it on the same day so that I keep an extra energy store to release on the day of the goal.”

While that was the plan, Keeney also drew extra incentive from others at the relay event. “An extra motivation happened when I was close to four hours in on the run,” he said. “A woman in a wheelchair appeared at the track and as I circled she smiled at me and waved each time I passed. It was so powerful emotionally and just about brought me to tears. She was there for close to 15 minutes and never lost her great big smile. I felt a great surge and thought about my purpose today. I thought my short duration of pain was a drop in the bucket compared to the level of pain a cancer victim endures as they are putting their lives on the line. I did not think of myself the rest of the day only feeling grateful that God has given me the gift of running that I can use to help others.”

Staying strong

Keeney, who runs for training six days a week with an easy day or off day included, said after finishing the 52 miles he felt he had put a “good solid effort in and know where the line is as far as injuries go. At my age the recovery time is very important from the finish through the first 48 hours to monitor my diet and fluids carefully to maximize the run.”

He said he entered the run healthy and the greatest challenge was mentally, not physically.

Running great distances is nothing new to Keeney. He has run 50 to 60 marathons, including the Boston Marathon three times 1994-96. Those marathons total about 1,560 miles. Add all the 5-kilometer, 10-kilometer and training runs and Keeney has covered thousands of miles in the past 36 years.

So why does Keeney run? “I enjoy being outdoors and enjoy the beauty in nature,” he said. “I like to push myself and to have a physical challenge. Running is like a paint brush for me to create from scratch a work of the day.”

When he isn’t pounding the pavement, a track or on a treadmill, Keeney is an avid snowshoer. With the abundance of snow that covered Maine this winter, he was able to “chase down the dream of getting to a regional qualifier” in Sandwich, N.H. and running a qualifying time for the 20011 Snowshoe National Championships in Cable, Wis.

Keeney said he had qualified for the snowshoe event in 2005 with local friends Gary Allen and Judson Cake. Despite Allen’s efforts to raise money for the three athletes, they were unable to attend the national championships in Alaska that year.

Keeney said after again qualifying for the nationals this winter, “I needed some prodding from several of my friends who encouraged me” to attend the national championship in Wisconsin. The MDI Marathon Foundation helped raise private donations for Keeney and Cake, who also qualified, to attend and though those efforts enough money was raised for Keeney to go (Cake opted not to go).

Heading to Wisconsin

Keeney traveled to the Lakeside Resort in Cable, Wis. and, despite not being able to run the course, “had a pretty good idea of what to expect. On race day I just approached the race as running my own race as best as I could. I played to feel humble and grateful for the opportunity to just be there to run.”

But Keeney did much more than that, returning home with three medals — including mining a little gold.

“After finishing I was told that I had won the gold medal for my age category 45-49,” he said. “Later that day I also finished third overall in the citizens 5K open race. The next day the team (Dion Snowshoe Company) I was on for the snowshoe relay took home a bronze medal for the open team competition. It was a pretty successful weekend. I do not think that the experience sunk in until I returned home to Bar Harbor.”

Keeney said trail running is his “passion first as I have always had to battle foot injuries when over racing on the roads.” In fact, his best race was winning the Escarpment 30K Trail Race in New York, which is considered by some to be the Boston Marathon of trail races. 30K is 18.64114 miles.

His best marathon on roads was Vermont City in 1994 when he finished in three hours and two minutes. His fastest 5K (3.1 miles) was 16 minutes and 48 seconds in Virginia Beach. His best 10K (6.2 miles) was a 35:42 in Holyoke, Mass.

Keeney said the support of the Crows, which he terms a throwback running club, has been crucial in his running success. He called the club “old school running. One club saying is train in all weather, terrain, all year. Also that if you want to get better you have the support from the team, just keep working hard. The symbol and the color are simple too. We try to have fun, work hard and support our teammates.”

Sounds like what Keeney did — in a big way and over a great distance — for Wilson in her quest to help find a cure or prevention for all cancers.

Village NetMedia Regional Editor/Sports Director Ken Waltz can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email at kwaltz@villagesoup.com.

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