Mary Jean Yon


I’m currently reading Tom Brokaw’s book, “The Greatest Generation” and I’m all caught up in the magic of sharing the stories of heros. I’m also still convinced that we all have our own interesting running stories to tell but most of us are way too modest and humble to do it on our own. You put those two thoughts together and you’ve only got trouble. And with that little bit of introduction…I’d like to tell you about the Tucson Marathon.

They say it’s a downhill course. They say it’s fast…really fast. And they’re right! What they don’t tell you is how much pain and suffering you have to endure in order to make it to the finish line! The race starts just outside of Oracle, Arizona which is located at an elevation of 4700 feet above sea level. The course winds its way along the Catalina mountains to Tucson. It’s a straight shot with just one turn near the halfway point which marks the course for the Half Marathon, a separate race which starts at the same time and encompasses the last half of the marathon course. The net elevation drop for the marathon is 3400 feet and unfortunately, the vast majority of that drop happens in the first half of the marathon.

The start is grand! You’re excited, you’re fired up and you’re fast…just like they said! But by mile 10, reality sets in and you’re hurting. In my case it was the unbearable pain of my toes jamming up against my shoes and some sore quads that warned me of serious damage to come. I dropped out of the hero category at the halfway point as I simultaneously stepped off the course, crossed the road and threw out my thumb for my first hitch-hiking experience. But back to the heros.

I truly believe the real hero of the day was Jane Johnson. Her pain set in at much the same point as mine but rather than think about it or pout about it, she simply pushed on and tried to psyche herself by thinking about more pleasant things. It didn’t take long for her to establish the lead in the women’s race and to earn the accompaniment of an escort on a bicycle. Ever modest and humble, Jane tried to tell her “lead vehicle” to feel free to go on because this wasn’t going to be pretty! I’ll spare you her split at the half but suffice it to say, the rabbit in Jane prevailed yet again and she knew she had gone out too fast! But did she quit? No! Did she suffer? Oh baby…did she ever! But she never once considered quitting. Instead, she pushed through what she later called one of the most painful races of her life and finished strong in a time of 2:56:12 which was minutes ahead of the second place woman. Later, in her hotel room, hubby Brent helped her perform emergency surgery by popping blood blisters on her poor unhappy feet. Hey…nobody said it was easy for heros!

Next on the list comes Kathy Mora, who went into the race thinking she would take it easy and sneak peeks at her Biochem flash cards so she could make the most of her time on the course and simultaneously study for finals while she was at it. Instead, she got caught up with the Runners World 3:30:00 pace group and hung on for a 3:31:30 personal best and Boston Marathon qualifier! She crossed the finish line (flash cards securely tucked away) in such a bouncy, spirited way, one wonders if we were even on the same course! She claims it hurt but you have to wonder!

Steve Kazmierski gets a hero’s mention as well for his efforts to persevere. When the pain of the downhills took him, Steve regrouped, changed his target pace and decided he was going to finish no matter what it took! He hung on for a commendable 3:59:25 and wasted no time in telling all of us that he would gladly go back to the Ironman distance(s) before he’d ever take on another marathon again. Yeah, yeah…we’ll check with you later, Steve!

To Jeff Bowman and Geoff Likens go the “Play It Smart” award. Not only do they take it easy and rely on each other’s company to complete the race in 3:27:25, they manage to pick up an old girlfriend (I’ll leave it to you to guess whose) along the way and the three of them cross the finish line holding hands and smiling!

But nobody played it smarter than Brent Johnson and David Yon! They knew from the beginning that a downhill marathon was not for them and instead opted for the much more sensible and civilized half marathon course. Brent came through the finish in an impressive time of 1:42:14 and David captured first place in his new age group in a time of 1:20:03. If only they had told me to run with them!