Marathon record began by watching TV

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

October 27, 2002|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

IN RETROSPECT, it seems a funny line. Experienced runner Pat Wilkerson started last Sunday's Baltimore Marathon, she said, in her Columbia home.

But by the end of the morning, she would be part of an unsung record-making effort by a team bearing the Howard County Striders name.

And, it should be noted, that her three teammates managed to get various children to soccer and other activities on time as well, except they weren't around at the race's finish.

"I watched the start on TV, knowing I wouldn't be running for maybe two more hours," said Wilkerson, assistant athletic director at Villa Julie College in Baltimore County and a resident of Columbia's Thunder Hill neighborhood for about a year. "And then we headed for Patterson Park."

She made it to that East Baltimore landmark with no problem to run the final leg of a marathon relay, a budding subset of marathoning that gets little publicity but, when you think about it, makes sense and, for participants, provides a lot of fun for less effort. Not that anyone in Wilkerson's group is trying to escape effort.

Why this marathon relay team is noteworthy is the time Wilkerson and her three teammates posted. They simply crushed, destroyed, smashed, annihilated -- pick your verb -- the previous year's women's relay record in the Baltimore event.

True, it probably means little in the Grand Scheme of Marathoning, but locally, it was what it was, something runners will enjoy for weeks to come.

Together, Wilkerson, Eleanor Simonsick, Dorothy Beckett, and Julie Thinel finished the 26-mile event around Baltimore's streets in 2 hours, 57 minutes, 38 seconds. That was 27 minutes and 4 seconds under the previous mark.

In marathoning, records are typically broken by seconds -- maybe a minute or so. But even breaking such a long race into increments, a 27-minute margin has a breathtaking element. The Striders broke ahead of their closest competitors this year by 5 minutes after the first split, 13 minutes about halfway through ... and by the time Wilkerson's final 8.5-mile leg came up, she essentially coasted home.

"It almost felt like cheating," said Wilkerson, who added that "our original goal was just to beat last year's record" while making the race part of their training regimen for events to come.

Ah, youth. We'll tread lightly here, but most of you probably are aware that even part-marathoners who are good runners tend not to be kids. At 38, Thinel, a NASA engineer, was the youngest of the quartet. Beckett, a project manager, was the elder at 45.

Wilkerson is 43. The team's "only outsider," as Wilkerson described her longtime running friend, Simonsick, a Baltimorean and researcher in aging, is 44.

Simonsick was a late starter, filling in for another runner who had to scratch. But she was no slouch addition, which was part of the Strider four's secret.

Simonsick was a 10,000-meter contender for the U.S. Olympic team in 1984, the same year Wilkerson made it to the national-team trials in marathon. Neither made the squad, but still ...

The three Columbians also train together weekly, Wilkerson said, doing the Striders' locally renowned Bagel Runs most Saturdays. They're "shakedown" fun runs that cover anywhere from 8 to 20 miles, depending on runners' needs. Each Tuesday, the three Columbians go through more structured workouts on Wilde Lake High School's track.

Wilkerson has done, she thinks, 17 marathons and is pointing to one in December in Dallas, where a brother lives.

Related leftovers: This is later than we intended to mention it, but Wilkerson et al aren't the only female runners to set the Striders talking recently.

Columbian Vicky Lang won her age group in the Striders' Metric Marathon -- a 26.2-kilometer, not mile, event -- in 1:48.52, which was 6 minutes faster than her previous mark.

"I don't know where that came from," she said after finishing the hilly, challenging course through parts of Ellicott City and Columbia. But running is a big deal in the Lang household. She and husband Phil both coach cross country at Oakland Mills High School. He was fifth overall in the race. And daughter Tiffany, who is 8, won her age group in a 5K race for kids. "I'm more excited about Tiff," said Mom of her daughter's racing debut.

Know someone or something interesting about fall sports, or winter sports ahead? Let us know with either a call to 410-332-6525 or an e-mail to lowell.sunderland@baltsun.com.

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