Vancouver USA Marathon a fight to the finish line

Hundreds of runners put up with the pain, relish accomplishment

By Matt Calkins, Columbian Sports Reporter

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Vancouver USA Marathon 2012

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"You get that feeling that you never thought was possible. It's euphoric."

— Acclaimed distance runner Bart Yasso, on completing a marathon

Daelyn Richards did not look euphoric.

Exhausted? Sure. Expended? Definitely. But euphoric? No, those weren't tears of joy she was shedding.

When Richards crossed the finish line in the second annual Vancouver Marathon on Sunday, she had a brief cry, embraced her parents, then dropped to the ground as medical attendants rushed to her aid.

The Portland resident would spend the next 20 minutes wrapped in tinfoil while hydrating in the recovery tent, describing the 26.2 miles she endured as "pretty much the epitome of pain."

So the fact that she planned to spend the evening scheduling her next marathon seemed like the epitome of lunacy.

"Every time I go out to a marathon, I dread it, and while I'm doing it, I'm like 'why am I doing this again?' And when I'm done, I'm like, 'I'm never doing that again,' and then I'm like, 'OK, now which one am I going to do?'" said the 26-year-old Richards, who ran a personal best 3 hours and 49 minutes. "A lot of people say 'you're nuts,' but I just love the challenge of it."

You ever see that human-evolution timeline? The chart showing man's transition from ape via gradually more erect beings? Well, watching marathon finishers is basically the opposite of that.

The elite runners come in standing tall, the next wave crosses the line hunched over, and those in the back of the pack sometimes end their race on all fours. Yet, ingrained in an astonishingly high percentage of them — regardless of fitness level — is a desire to resume the agony in the very near future.

Camas resident Anita Burkard is among the self-torturers. The 48-year-old ran her 26.2 miles in 3 hours 53 minutes Sunday, but within seconds of crossing the finish line, lost her balance and had to be carried to the recovery tent. Even so, when Burkard finally got back on her feet after more than 30 minutes of replenishing and recuperating, she spoke not of fatigue nor anguish -- but how she had just qualified for her eighth Boston Marathon.

"I don't usually run like that," Burkard said, "but I was extra motivated today."

Some things, the human body is built for: Hunting, gathering, clearing out the DVR. But traversing 138,336 feet seems like something that wouldn't be covered by the anatomy warranty.

It puts a pounding on the joints and works the heart like a sweatshop foreman. And while there are physicians such as Vancouver resident Tom Kovaric who have run several marathons throughout their lives, it's not something they'd necessarily recommend to their patients.

Sunday, Kovaric was in Esther Short Park visiting with Burkard after completing his half marathon. Soon enough, however, he was asked whether running a full marathon was actually healthy, to which he couldn't give a definitive yes.

"Training and running is healthy. Training is very good. Is running a marathon healthy? I'm going to pass because I'm a heart doctor," Kovaric said. "It's a very hard event. It got its reputation for a reason."

And still, there was 60-year-old Seattle resident Carol Finn, who conquered what she approximated to be her 20th marathon Sunday in 3 hours and 40 minutes, saying afterward that she probably won't run another one this year because she has "a lot of gardening projects."

And there was 17-year-old Mitch Jeffers of Gig Harbor, a first-time marathoner who said that crossing the finish line was "the best feeling I've ever had," even though falling 30 minutes short of his goal had his mother fearing he had collapsed on the course.

Finn said the motivation was health. Jeffers said he was captivated by the challenge. And then there was Carrie McGill of Albuquerque, N.M., who stated pithily that "an accomplishment like this is just something that moves you."

Amy Brubaker wouldn't disagree.

Brubaker didn't run Sunday, nor did she know anybody in the race, but the 57-year-old Vancouver resident still felt compelled to attend for the pure emotion of the event. And whether it was watching one runner kiss the ground as he neared the finish line, or another whip out his cellphone to capture the moment, her reaction showed that these marathoners might not be insane so much as they are inspiring.

"When I see some of these runners coming down the stretch, I start to get teary-eyed," Brubaker said. "It's just so cool."