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LI runner still keeping up the pace at 93

Bill Benson, 93, completed the Fifth Avenue Mile

Bill Benson, 93, completed the Fifth Avenue Mile in Manhattan in a time of 14:19. It was his 13th time running the race. (Sept. 22, 2012) Credit: Nathaniel Herz

At age 60, Bill Benson thought his clothes were shrinking. His wife told him that wasn't true: He was simply gaining weight.

So Benson, of Valley Stream, resolved to clean up his lifestyle.

"I was out of shape," he said. "I threw all my pipes out. I stopped drinking beer."

And, he did one more thing. Nearly four decades after finishing his career as a middle-distance runner at Ohio University, Benson started walking, then jogging, then racing again.

More than 30 years later, Benson is still going, at age 93. On Saturday, he was the oldest of nearly 5,500 competitors in the annual Fifth Avenue Mile in Manhattan, clocking in at 14 minutes, 19 seconds.

"It was, really, slower than I wanted," he said afterward.

The race was the 13th time Benson has competed in the event, which sprints 20 blocks south, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to Central Park's Grand Army Plaza.

Benson's first crack at the race, in 1996, netted him a time of 7:58. Since then, he's racked up eight age-group victories and three second-place finishes. He's looking forward to his 95th birthday, when he'll enter a new division. "You have different records to shoot for," he said.

In college, Benson set a personal best of 4:29 in the mile -- roughly 20 seconds off the world record at the time. But he'd opt for kids and baseball practices, later working as head of small claims for Liberty Mutual in Manhattan.

When he complained, many years later, that his clothes didn't fit, his wife delivered a frank assessment of her husband's fitness.

"I gave him a boot, yes," said Annette Benson, 86.

Since then, Bill Benson has thrown himself into running. He trains up to five times a week and races "just about every weekend," his son said.

"It's a lifestyle, really," said Rich Benson, 61, of Mill Neck.

On Saturday, Bill Benson woke up, downed a bowl of Special K and a piece of toast, then took the train into Manhattan.

Annette stayed in Valley Stream. She refuses to go see "old sweaty men run," though she supports her husband's passion. "It's great, because it keeps his mind working, and he loves doing it," she said.

On Sunday, Benson will be out at another competition, this time as a volunteer for the Greater Long Island Running Club, where he's the oldest member -- and an inspiration to others.

"Most people at the age of 93 are happy to be above ground, but he's gone far, far beyond that," said the club's president, Mike Polansky, 71, of Plainview. "I want to be doing what he's doing 22 years from now."

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