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John Raby, a 72-year-old retired history teacher from New London, is running in the New Hampshire Marathon in Bristol next Saturday, where he hopes to beat the state speed record for men his age. 

In it for the long run: New London man could set state speed record for men 70 and older

For a soft-spoken guy, John Raby has some pretty ambitious goals.

The 72-year-old retired history teacher is running in the New Hampshire Marathon in Bristol next Saturday, where he hopes to beat the state speed record for men his age.

He also wants to do his part for world peace.

Raby is collecting race sponsorships to benefit the American Friends Service Committee's work on abolishing nuclear weapons. Arnie Alpert, co-director of AFSC in New Hampshire, has dubbed it "John's Run for Peace."

Raby taught American history for 43 years in his native New Jersey. After he retired, he and his wife Betty moved to New London to be closer to their son, who teaches in Maine.

This will be Raby's ninth marathon, and "very likely my last," he says, "because my hips have begun to rebel."

Raby was a latecomer to distance running. He started coaching cross-country when his son was in high school, but only got serious about running himself at the age of 49.

He's completed the Boston Marathon twice, in 2008 and 2012. He ran the New Hampshire Marathon three years ago.

Raby said it was his chiropractor who figured out he had a chance of beating the state marathon speed record for men 70 and older.

His worst marathon time was 4 hours and 18 minutes; that was in the 2012 Boston race, where the temperature hit 88 degrees.

His best time was 3 hours, 43 minutes, when he was 63 years old.

When he ran the New Hampshire Marathon three years ago, he finished in 4 hours and 15 minutes. The state record for men his age is 4 hours, 18 minutes.

Raby said he loves running in New Hampshire, where "you can run practically any route you want and you're running through places that vary from interesting to pretty to downright gorgeous."

The Bristol race "makes Boston look easy," he said. "It's a beautiful course, but it's absolutely merciless."

"If you can imagine a corrugated roof, that's what it is all the way through."

So how did he come to be "running for peace?"

Raby said he's been involved in the peace movement since his college days at Stanford.

After he decided to run the New Hampshire Marathon, Raby offered to leverage his race into a fundraiser for AFSC. The idea is to sponsor him for "a buck a mile," he said.

Distance running, Raby said, "can teach you how to be competitive without being vicious, and brave without being violent."

"And that's not too shabby. Not a bad lesson for the world to learn."

Raby is a fervent admirer of how democracy works in his adopted state. He knows state lawmakers and officials by first name; he's testified before legislative committees. "This is marvelous, participatory stuff," he said.

He's not an optimist, but he is hopeful, Raby said. "This may be crotchety old age speaking, but I'm fully convinced that as a species we could be dumb enough to either fry ourselves or blow ourselves off the face of the earth, and most other life with it."

"But I may be wrong," he said. "And I've got grandchildren."

"So I'm banking on the hope that my pessimism is unfounded. And I think it's worth the bet."

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