This is no joke. It is a serious story about a funny man.

Boston Marathon Serious for Will Ferrell
BOSTON – Will Ferrell is dressed to run, wearing jogging shoes and ankle socks, a windbreaker and black Lycra tights that show how thin his legs have gotten since he began training for the 26.2-mile distance of The Boston Marathon.
It is only the second-most revealing thing Ferrell has been seen running in lately. In his movie “Old School,” which grossed $73.9 million in its first eight weeks, there is a scene of him streaking down the street.
“It might improve my time,” he says when asked for assurances that he would not reprise the scene Monday in the oldest and perhaps most prestigious marathon in the world. “But it might upset people along the race course.”
So the interview goes, with Ferrell weaving back and forth between movie junket jocularity and earnest training talk. He knows that the half-dozen reporters allotted 10 minutes each are there because he is a comedian and movie star — perhaps the biggest non-sports celebrity to run the race (Michael Dukakis ran in 1951, long before he was governor). But when it comes to his running, Ferrell isn’t kidding around.
“Running a marathon is not a question of whether it will be painful, but when it will be painful,” he says. “It does help to have a sense of humor, but I’m also respectful of the race.”
Ferrell’s wife, Viveca, is from the Boston suburb of Needham. The two started running seriously while on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. They decided since he was in New York for “Saturday Night Live,” they should try to run the New York City Marathon.
They ran New York together in the 2001, finishing in 5 hours, 1 minute, 6 seconds; now, he’s gotten faster (“but don’t tell her,” he whispers) so they run apart. They also ran the Stockholm Marathon last June, where he finished in 4:28:02. In November, he ran a half-marathon in 1:45:02.
“His goal is to break four hours,” says his coach, Gary Kobat.
Monday’s winner will finish in around 2:09, give or take a couple of minutes.
“As long as the guy in the Gumby costume doesn’t pass me, or someone dressed like Elvis, I’ll be OK,” Ferrell says. “I’m going to try not to cry, or wet my pants.”
Will and Viv Ferrell have bib Nos., 9999 and 9998, respectively. That might be the only way for those on the course to recognize the man who played a dingbatty George W. Bush on SNL. He’s lost 25 pounds in the past 2 1/2 years, his hair is curly and he’s grown a mustache for a role in a film set in the 1970s called “Anchorman”; in his next movie, “Elf,” he plays an overgrown elf in Santa Claus’ workshop.
Those who do see him pass by on the way from Hopkinton to Boston’s Back Bay should not expect to see him clowning around, like his SNL predecessor Bill Murray does on the golf course. While running the New York race, Ferrell decided to play a joke on his coach by pretending he was stopping by a friend’s apartment to say “Hi.”
That was in the first mile or so.
“Then, I’m really playful,” Ferrell says, “By the end of the race, I’m like, ‘Ohhhhhh….’.”
As part of his training, Ferrell has also immersed himself in the latest running technology, from the heart-rate monitor on his wrist to the special testing he had done at Pepperdine University to check how his body burns sugars and fats.
“He’s very serious about doing it the right way,” says Kobat, whose other acting clients include Jim Carrey and Calista Flockhart. “He’s such a student of the craft of running, and he’s very coachable. Where a lot of marathoners are just interested in getting faster, he wants to know how it’s done.”
Kobat runs alongside Ferrell during the races, telling him to speed up or slow down. “Probably speed up,” Ferrell corrects himself.
Despite having a mobile support staff not available to most runners, and a waiver from the qualifying standards as a “special invitee,” Ferrell still has to do the hard part.
“It has been really tough on him at times,” says Viveca, who was also running the race. “When he had a 7 a.m. call (for “Old School”), he’d get up at 5. If the call went until 11, he’d be on the treadmill at midnight. But even if he got a little less sleep, it made him feel better.”
Ferrell spent seven years on SNL — not exactly a crowd known its healthy lifestyle. His castmates would go out most nights of the week until early in the morning.
“I had to skip all that,” he says. “People were actually mad at me, that I was doing the show and training for a marathon.”
But the work has paid off. He is now a thin 195 pounds on a 6-foot-3 frame.
“It really does improve my energy level. I feel different. I feel better,” he says. “And I just love having that part of the day, where you’re going on a run and you don’t have phone calls or mail to answer.”