With mind on Alabama, Ciamarra comes home

Olympic trials his goal, but race here a priority


October 16, 2003|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Tens of thousands dream of competing next summer in Athens, Greece.

Chris Ciamarra just wants to race in Alabama next February.

Ciamarra, 32, accepts that he'll never compete in the Olympics, but he hasn't discarded his goal of being in Birmingham in four months when the United States determines its three entrants in the men's marathon.

Ciamarra has to shave nearly six minutes off his personal best to reach the qualifying standard of 2 hours, 22 minutes, but it's not for a lack of trying.

The Under Armour Baltimore Marathon Saturday will be Ciamarra's fifth stab this year at the classic distance of 26.2 miles. He has been a mainstay in the Baltimore Running Festival, which is in its third year.

Ciamarra improved from 16th in the 2001 inaugural to fifth last year. He has yet to break 2:40 here, but Baltimore isn't known for its fast track, and this is a marathon that he enters not for time, but for old times' sake.

"Running in my hometown is wonderful," said Ciamarra, who earned $800 here last year. "That made it more worthwhile, but it would have been a memorable trip, anyway."

Ciamarra manages a bagel shop in Pittsburgh and makes his home in McKeesport, Pa., but his roots are in the region. He was an All-Metro in cross country for Glen Burnie High, then had a solid career for the University of Maryland in an era when the Terps were de-emphasizing their running sports.

Ciamarra nearly broke 30 minutes for 10,000 meters on the track. As a junior, he had a top 10 finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference cross country championships, but he longed to go longer. As soon as his eligibility with the Terps was finished, he got into marathoning.

Among his favorites are what he calls the "Texas duo." Ciamarra won in Houston in 2001. A month later, he recorded his personal best of 2:27:54 in Austin, and that's heady stuff for a guy who has done 36 marathons his way.

Ciamarra works 55 to 60 hours a week at the bagel shop. He trains alone and races more than most, usually in his lucky green bicycle shorts. At 6 feet 1 and 185 pounds, he wishes more road races had "Clydesdale" divisions, where prizes are awarded by girth.

"I can't remember the last time I lost to a guy who was bigger than me," Ciamarra said. "People say, `Oh, my goodness, there's a big guy out front.' I still don't know if that's disheartening or fulfilling."

Ciamarra doesn't fit the mold, but he does have a typical runner's resolve. His one and only visit to Boston produced valor, but little discretion. On an abnormally hot day in 1993, he pulled over in the 18th mile and received medical attention. Two hours later, he emerged from that aid station's ambulance and resumed the race.

"My dad was waiting for me at the finish line," Ciamarra said. "He expected me to come in with the 2:30 crowd. Here I am at 4:36 and change."

Ciamarra talked after a recent training run of 18 miles. He logs 85 to 90 in a good week and needs to do more to get to the U.S. Olympic trials. He will turn 33 next month, but after seeing Eddy Hellebuyck, 42, of Albuquerque, N.M., break 2:13, he ponders the possibilities.

"The Olympic trials qualifying times stick in my head as something to shoot for," Ciamarra said. "In some respects, time is not on my side, and I have some choices to make in the next few years, but then I see what a guy like Hellebruck is doing. ... Look, I'm in just about the toughest age group. I'm already looking forward to masters races."

NOTES: While fellow Kenyans Charles Kamindo and Christopher Kipkosgei push defending champion Erick Kimaiyo, Ciamarra can tuck in with a group of locals trying to break 2:40. Dave Berardi, 43, and Neville Anderson, 41, are expected to wage an interesting battle with New Jersey's Guy Gordon and Bob Bythell in the masters division. Chris Chattin was slowed by illness in September, but he broke 2:30 here in 2001. Berardi and Chattin teamed on the Falls Road Running Store foursome that won the Geico Direct Team Relay last year. ... John Supsic, third in the Fila 5K last year, will be a spectator Saturday. The Archbishop Curley and Towson University grad made his marathon debut in Chicago Sunday, when he was timed in 2:28:58. ... Fila's Josh Cox, who was 23rd in 2:19:33, will provide commentary on WBAL's telecast Saturday.

Marathon facts

What: Baltimore Running Festival

When: Saturday. Marathon and team relay, 8 a.m.; 5K, 8:30 a.m.; half-marathon, 9:30 a.m.

Where: M&T Bank Stadium; half-marathon starts at the Inner Harbor

Festival entrants: 7,000

Information: 410-605-9381 or thebaltimoremarathon.com.

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