Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Tue, 15 May 2001 08:34:11 -0400

One More Marathon

RUNNING COMMENTARY 356

Not many people, if any, have taken on organizing their first marathon in their 70s. I now know not one but two directors who've done that.

Bob and Lenore Dolphin, both 71, successfully launched the Yakima River Canyon Marathon in Washington state. Though they were new to directing, they didn't go into the job unprepared.

Bob had run more than 260 marathons before deciding to promote one. Lenore had volunteered at the majority of Bob's races, so she knew how much work the retired couple was taking on.

I talked to them last September, at a race directors' conference in Portland. Their event was little more than a dream then, and they had only one guaranteed runner -- Bob himself.

"At midnight next March 31st," he said, "I'll stop being a director and become a runner."

Lenore, who does the family's and race's e-mailing, informed me when they passed a dozen entrants, then 100. She reported a week before the race, "We're approaching 400."

They finally exceeded that count by 17. It's a healthy total for a first-time race in a crowded marathon marketplace, and in a corner of the country that's lightly populated and not easy to reach.

This isn't the Washington of Seattle. Yakima sits on the dry eastern slope of the Cascades, where fruit trees outnumber people. The marathon travels through the steep-sided canyon that gives the race its name.

The Dolphins' best move was tapping into several unusual subspecies of marathoner. He or she runs this distance anywhere and often. A first-time event in a state with few marathons holds special appeal.

Word went out to 50 States & DC runners. Through the end of last year, 130 of them had completed this marathoning tour of the country.

Dean Rademaker of Springfield, Illinois, keeps records for this group, which also includes a Mega Division for runners who've finished 100-plus marathons. The Mega's membership count stood at 71 as last year ended.

Britain has its own 100-Marathon Club. One of its members, Peter Graham, flew over to run and to plant seeds for a similar U.S. group. Bob Dolphin agreed to serve as its coordinator.

The 50-Staters and Megamarathoners flocked to Yakima. You might think they'd be jaded by now, that one race would blur into the next, that they'd think of nothing more than adding one more marathon to their count.

It isn't like that. This seemed like a fraternity/sorority party -- another reunion of friends who've all passed the same stiff initiation rites, and who have the time and resources to meet like this frequently.

The Yakima gathering included Ray Scharenbrock. The runner from Milwaukee enjoys special status even among these multi-marathoners. He has completed FIVE trips through all 50 states and DC.

The group also included Al Becken of San Antonio, the third runner ever to complete the 50+ circuit. I've known him for 25 years, and he's no less excited about his races now than he was at the 1976 Rice Festival Marathon in Louisiana.

At Yakima I helped announce the finishers. When I misread a woman's name, she corrected me. "I'm Susan Daley."

Then I remained on the wrong line and called, "This is her second marathon." The runner from Chicago amended that to "TWO HUNDRED and second."

Even at this total, or maybe especially here, every marathon counts. Not one is forgettable.

No marathon is more memorable than a debut. Bob and Lenore Dolphin created a special certificate, handed out during the awards program, for first-time finishers.

No one applauded them louder than the Megamarathoners. No one values more what their own first marathons had started.

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