November 21, 2010 1:36:00 AM
Jan Swoope - firstname.lastname@example.org
"Maybe we''re certifiable, I don''t know," laughs Bonnie Partridge. The "we" the irrepressible 64-year-old retired dance instructor refers to are the area runners who take on long distance-racing''s Mount Everests -- the marathons. Twenty-six miles and 385 yards of challenge.
Partridge, Johnny Peters and Dr. Steve Porter, all of Columbus, are still savoring impressions and memories from their Nov. 7 run in the 41st annual New York City Marathon, sponsored by ING. With about 45,000 participants, the legendary race is billed as the world''s largest, part of the World Marathon Majors series.
This was Partridge''s second New York Marathon, Peters'' sixth and Porter''s first. All three went the distance. Their accomplishment is an encore to the 2009 marathon, when six Columbus runners crossed the finish line -- Brad and Melissa Atkins, Dr. Walter and Marsha Cosby, Partridge and Peters. Brad''s time of 2 hours, 58 minutes was the best of all Mississippi runners in that outing: He finished 807th out of almost 44,000 who completed the race.
"To do this is such a huge adventure!" said Partridge, bubbling with enthusiasm. "You cannot imagine how many people are involved in this, not just the runners, but at every stage. It''s one of the big wonders of the world."
New York''s race attracts about 90,000 eager applicants each year, but thousands end up disappointed as the marathon reaches capacity. Much of the field is made up of lucky runners selected through a lottery system, like the local trio.
Also finishing the marathon this year were a couple of Golden Triangle expatriates: Elizabeth Holcombe, 30, the daughter of Steve and Brenda Holcombe of Columbus; she currently lives in Lexington, Ky. And Cassie Lee, 32, the daughter of Dan and Carol Lee of Columbus. Cassie is living in Atlanta.
Before sunrise on marathon day, armies of runners are up and moving within the city, donning jackets, hats, gloves and nerves for the breezy day with temperatures in the 40s. Butterflies churn as the hopefuls make their way on buses, subways and cabs to the Manhattan ferry landing where they cross by droves to Staten Island, passing the majestic Statue of Liberty.
Divided into three waves of racers, they await their start time in separate "villages." Melissa Atkins remembers waiting last autumn with thousands of people from around the world, all sharing a common love of running. With loud speakers broadcasting in multiple languages and excitement building, it was, she readily admits, an incredible experience.
When the start finally comes, to strains of Frank Sinatra''s "New York, New York," the spectacular mile-high view for throngs of runners congested on the Varrazano Bridge ups the collective adrenaline.
On the sidelines
The race is routed through all five New York boroughs -- Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Manhattan -- before reaching its famous finish at Central Park. Along the way, runners witness the cultural melting pot of New York''s neighborhoods. More than two million cheerleaders turn out to urge them on.
"What can one say? Those people lined the streets from 9:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. They sang, beat on drums, handed out bananas, oranges and candy ... each borough had a different personality," shared Partridge, who trains by running usually three or four days a week, alternating with zumba classes she teaches at Mississippi University for Women.
Dentist Steve Porter was experiencing his very first marathon.
"It was tougher than I thought it would be, but it was fantastic," he said. "I especially loved the first half of the race; the people in the boroughs were just so friendly, yelling and cheering you on. It was just inspiring."
Porter, a self-proclaimed "gym rat," says he doesn''t "consider himself a runner yet," but has already entered the lottery in hopes of doing the race again. He trained using an online course by Hal Higdon, generally running four days a week on a treadmill, in his neighborhood and at the Riverwalk. He alternated with weight training and cardio vascular workouts. His next goal is a half-marathon in Oxford in February.
Run, Forrest, run
Peters is a marathon veteran, having run in 11 or so. But each is a singular experience for the ING associate, who grew up in Macon. He frequently clocks 20 to 30 miles a week, often running in Columbus'' Southside.
"You remember when Forrest Gump said in the movie, he just started running for no particular reason? Well, it worked for Forrest, so I thought maybe it''ll work for me," he laughed. Peters started running about five years ago, when he turned 50. His health reports -- cholesterol, blood pressure and weight -- were so improved after he''d been at it a little while, his own doctor was inspired to consider giving it a try.
Peters noted the importance of tackling the sport in moderation.
"You can''t get out there and bust a gut, ''cause it''ll kill you," he cautions. His own initial stress to joints and limbs faded as his body acclimated to running. "All that stuff goes away once you hang with it for a while."
Birds of a feather
Partridge and Peters are both active in the Golden Triangle Running and Cycling Club, uniting enthusiasts of all abilities who encourage each other. Peters is president-elect.
"If anybody is interested in getting into running, or even training for half-marathons or marathons, we have many members who would be glad to help," he pointed out. More information can be found at www.runcyclegtr.com, and Peters offers his own number, 662-251-9947, for those wanting to find out more.
Marathons are tests of human endurance, pushing limits, asking questions and revealing answers about training and heart. There is never a guarantee a runner who starts will make it to the end.
Partridge planned to go slow and steady, but worried about leg cramps, a recurring problem.
"My legs love Charley horses, and this race was going to be no exception," she said. But almost all the runners confess to a joyous feeling somewhere between miles 20 and 24.
"I was in marathon heaven on mile 23, when it was a pretty sure thing I was going to complete this," smiled Partridge."
Of his 2009 marathon, Brad Atkins recalls, "I remember feeling a little fatigued, but overall pretty good at mile 20 and thinking, ''Am I going to actually finish this race feeling this good?''" He also remembers the fatigue and fear of cramping that set in about mile 23, but the closer the finish line drew, the roar of the crowds grew louder, charging the energy to accomplish that "dream come true."
For Partridge, on Nov. 7, the finish line was within reach when her legs cramped "big time." But a couple of friendly runners dressed as the Blues Brothers, who had finished and then dropped back to run alongside her, patiently waited "''til I could hobble across.''" Not the finish she had envisioned -- but a triumph, nevertheless.
The marathon was as inspiring as it was testing. Being part of something so big -- whether running with the elite, or next to a blind participant with a guide, or a man with prosthetic legs -- can be a life-altering experience.
"I loved it all!" Partridge smiled. Then, no doubt echoing the sentiments of her fellow runners, she added, "Of course I''d like to do it again, always with the hope that maybe ... just maybe ... I could run a little faster."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.