Brothers come bearing gifts, again

Along Guilford Avenue, runners savor sweet push toward finish line

Baltimore Marathon

October 15, 2006|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,Sun reporter

Three miles from the finish line, the flagging runner spotted his target and quickened his pace. There, just ahead, was the boost Kenny Cooper had been craving in the Baltimore Marathon.

"Gummy bears! Gummy bears! Yes!" cried Cooper, 46, of Ellicott City. Grabbing a fistful of treats and scarfing them down, he raised his arms, Rocky-style, as if he had just won the race.

Time and again, that scene played out yesterday in the 2900 block of Guilford Avenue. There, for the fifth straight year, brothers Stuart and Gary Siegler doled out gummy bears to carb-starved runners chugging toward the end of the 26.2-mile race.

Working from the back of a pickup truck, the Sieglers dispensed heaping platefuls of the soft, sugary candies to the tiring participants, many of whom brightened when they saw their maitre d's.

Responses ranged from "You're the bomb!" to "Bless you!" to "You rock!" as runners reached for the 1-inch gummys.

One dark-haired woman in a Fleet Feet jersey stopped long enough to tell Stuart Siegler, "You guys saved my life with these here in 2004."

Siegler, 46, beamed.

"It's [comments] like that that make this all worthwhile," he said.

A marathoner himself, Stuart Siegler began handing out the chewy candies here in 2001, after trying some gummies himself during a competition in Austin, Texas. A better late-race pick-me-up he hasn't found.

"The [bears] are small, they won't melt in your hand and they give you something to do," Siegler said. "By Mile 23, your storage of burnable fat is gone, you're unhappy and you're clenching your teeth.

"Gummy bears give your mouth something to chew on. They break up the monotony of the run. And they get sugar into your blood."

Moreover, he said, the bears are pretty easy to latch onto as runners go by. Some did it while wearing gloves.

"A lot of it is about the grab," said Gary Siegler, 34. Yesterday, he stood 20 feet behind his brother, prepared to backpedal down the street for any marathoner struggling to pick up the candy. At one point, he ran two blocks in reverse.

"At this stage in the race, a lot of runners' hands are numb," he said. "The last thing they want is a food they have to manipulate, like a banana.

Yesterday, more than 120 pounds of gummy bears - nearly $400 worth - disappeared during the seven-hour race. Ten pounds of that wound up on the street, swept up by the brothers at day's end. Gary Siegler still has some of last year's droppings stuck to the bottom of his New Balance running shoes.

The expense was a labor of love for Stuart Siegler, who has run 44 marathons himself.

"This is my way of giving back," said Siegler, who used to live in Towson but now hails from Alton Bay, N.H. Gary Siegler lives in Hampstead.

As expected, most elite runners passed up the Sieglers' goodies, too focused to take notice. But by 11 a.m. the buffet was in full swing and runners were practically tripping over each other to snag the treats.

"Whooo! Love those," a middle-aged woman said.

"Gummy man! Gummmmy man!" yelped a curly-haired fellow in gray sweats.

"This is my favorite part of the whole race!" said a woman in a pink shirt and matching visor.

At one point, seven runners surrounded Stuart Siegler, all eager to get their share.

"I feel like I'm feeding fish," he said.

Some participants swapped cumbersome food they'd received at other stations - bags of chips, packaged energy bars - for gummy bears. One runner passed on the candy but offered his thanks.

"I'm a dentist," he said. "You've done a lot of favors for me."

By noon, it was clear that most serious runners had passed. Two women huddled around Siegler's tray, bickering over colors.

"I got the pink one! I got the pink one!" one boasted.

An hour later, two runners stopped to browse.

"They took all the red bears," Siegler said with a shrug.

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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