"The Old Lions" Will Run the Marathon Again
Brooks Smith tells about the six men who have competed in the Richmond Marathon for 33 years.
Farrar: Brooks Smith is rediscovering Richmond's sports history and today we're going to talk about one of the major sporting events on the Richmond calendar, the Richmond Marathon, which is coming up in about a month. Brooks.
Smith: Amazingly, it's soon to celebrate its 33rd year in existence, started way back in those hazy days of 1978, and it's more than just a favorite among Richmonders. Runner's World, which is the elite runners' magazine, calls it "America's Friendliest Marathon."
This year it takes place on Saturday, November 13th, so it's truly just one month away, and it's, among other things, a qualifier for the Boston Marathon, which is the world's oldest.
Farrar: Well, of course, runners come from all over the world to participate, but we also have a large number of local people who regularly run in the Marathon.
Smith: We do, indeed, and one reason this is on mind is you see them running up and down almost every street in the city right now, preparing for the marathon, training, building their corps d'esprit and their core of friends who will support them through this truly marathon-like trek through the city from downtown, up Monument, along the river and then back downtown.
But among this mass of people who come out for the Marathon are six very special people, and they're known to the insiders as the 'Old Lions' of the Richmond Marathon, and they deserve to be named --- Garland Carlton, John Dieter, Philip Gibrall, John Loughgren, Bill Smith and Woody Turner. These are all local fellows who have accomplished the staggering feat of running in each and every marathon since the start.
Farrar: Thirty-three years.
Smith: Thirty-three years. They're kinda like the mailman, rain, snow, heat, gloom of night; sickness has not kept them away, travel has not kept them away. Literally, on the starting gate, each and every one of these things, and I tell you, each comes with an amazing estory and you can imagine the challenge here of trying to excerpt out of each of their league of stories one worthy of mention on the radio, but if I can just rattle them off:
Woody Turner is a minister and a retired Navy chaplain and, you know, in the constant interaction of the ministry, his love of running comes from his opportunity to simply clear his head and relax; it's the one place where he doesn't have to talk to his parishioners about their challenges.
Another fellow, Philip Gibrall, affectionately known to his runner friends as 'Baltimore,' started because his wife bet him he couldn't do it in 1978. She didn't think he could finish a race; now in addition to running all 33 Richmond Marathons, he's run races all around the globe, including one called 'Comrades,' which is down in South Africa, and it's a 56-mile road race.
Then there's John Dieter, who among many superlatives, got married immediately after the marathon in 2001, which was pretty cool. He's run nine 50-mile marathons and two 100-mile marathons in addition to those in Richmond. But his story that I think is my favorite of all the Richmond Marathon stories is that, in one of the early years, he was running through one of old Richmond neighborhoods and his boss was on the curb to cheer him and the rest of the runners on, and he had a drink in his hand that he handed to John. It turned out to be a glass of Scotch, which I'm not sure if that helps you running or makes you relax, but I guess when it's your boss, you have to drink it.
Just to finish out the cast here, John Loughgren, he trained for the marathon for many years by running six days and fifty miles a week, so in addition to this 26.2 mile stretch in November, he had all those miles. It's simply amazing.
Garland Carlton ran two miles each and every day for 6,617 straight days and you know that's a runner's calendar, because he can count each one of those in his head, I'm sure.
And then, last but not least, Bill Smith. His story, to me, was perhaps the most compelling. He talked about just the democratizing and humanizing force of running, that you might start out at the starting gate with your occupations on your sleeve, whether you're a banker or a lawyer or an accountant, but after a few miles, it simply doesn't matter. What you are by day is irrelevant; you're a runner and you're all in common bondage, so to speak, trying to make it to the finish line.
Farrar: They all look the same in running shorts, no matter their occupation.
Smith: That's right and they look a lot younger than their ages.
Farrar: Well, now, is there a younger group that can't quite claim membership in the 'Old Lions' club yet?
Smith: That's exactly right. You know, you can only have so many old lions because you had to start in 1978. There are so-called 'Lion Cubs' who haven't run all 32 and now going on 33 marathons; among them, a fellow named Tall Tom Bednares, who's run 14 Richmond Marathons and hundreds all around the country.
And then there's also a fellow named Roy Atwell, who started with this cast of old lions in 1978, ran 26 straight but then, due to health reasons, had to stop. And perhaps the most human-interest compelling story on this is, the 'Old Lions' thought that he had passed on or moved on; in the course of discussion, we all realized that Roy is alive and well and still among us, so we've been able to connect at least one cub to six old lions.
Farrar: And these fellows, they not only run in the marathon, they always finish.
Smith: That's exactly right. One of the key qualifiers to be an 'Old Lion' is not just starting, but getting over the finish line.
Farrar: And the next one comes up on November 13th.
Smith: It is. And if you want to see a feat of sheer physical force and endurance and human will, I hope you'll come out and roar alongside me for these old lions and everybody else who's competing this year. Should be fun.
Farrar: Thanks to Brooks Smith, rediscovering Richmond.