In marathon, winning can mean first place or just finishing

June 18, 2011 

The clock ticked toward 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the West High School running track as the last of the Mayor's Marathon participants neared the finish line.

They faced a deadline. Racers are told to finish in eight and a half hours in order for their time to be listed in the official results. Arrive too late, and you simply took a 26.2 mile tour of the city.

As the final seconds disappeared, a dozen or so volunteer coaches, some wearing tutus, jogged the last hundred yards with two remaining runners. The little group sang the Queen song "We Are the Champions" at the top of their lungs.

One of competitors, Christine Orth, burst into tears as she crossed the finish line. Orth, a California woman running with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team In Training, crouched down and covered her teary eyes with one hand. There was a finisher's medal around her neck.

Orth's running partner, Jodie Thomas, put a hand on her friend's shoulder.

"You did it. You did it," Thomas said.

For the fastest racers, the citywide marathon is a 150-minute dash across Anchorage trails. "Some people like me, I run for the time," said winner David Kiplagat, who arrived first at the finishing chute and quickly caught his breath before a large, cheering crowd.

But for Orth and hundreds of others in the field of 4,300 runners, the race is something very different.

"If the idea is you participated in a marathon, you went from Point A to Point B, you finished it. You are of equal status as someone who took two and a half hours," race director Michael Friess said.

While some marathons hold their runners and walkers to a more strict cutoff time, organizers of the Mayor's Marathon say participants of all speeds and fitness levels are welcome.

Several sunbaked hours after Kiplagat's arrival, Rich Wenrich sat in a wheelchair, guiding the last few racers from Hillcrest Drive into the final stretch. Not everybody can be first, he said, as maybe 20 or 30 remaining fans and volunteers milled about the finish line.

"Keep it coming!" Wenrich yelled to jogger Scott Lytle as Lytle marched up the hill. "One step at a time!"

Wenrich, who lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident several years ago, has run the race 30 times. This year he had trouble with his prosthetic leg.

"I can relate to being in the back of the pack," Wenrich said. "I know how great the support feels."

Anyone who finishes the course gets a T-shirt and a medal, along with loads of encouragement along the way, said Friess, the race director. But entrants who are not past Mile 19 by 2:30 p.m. -- six hours into the race -- are encouraged to drop out, he said.

"We don't force 'em out, we suggest it," Friess said.

Official finishers are expected to arrive at the West High chute within 8 and 30 minutes. (The race website on Saturday night listed finishers who took as long as 8 hours and 39 minutes.)

One veteran marathoner, Jon Nauman, was well ahead of that cutoff deadline despite stopping to walk after 13 miles. Nauman, 71, strode briskly through an aid station just before he crossed the Tudor Road foot-bridge at Elmore Street.

Nauman said he's finished the race 17 times in the past. His fastest times were about three hours. Lately, though, it takes him more like six hours, he said.

"Every year I get slower," Nauman said with a grin. "That doesn't bother me ... I'd like to demonstrate that I can do it."

Reach Casey Grove at or 257-4589.

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