Wednesday, June 08, 2005 | By KEITH TAYLOR

I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to watch last Sunday’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, maybe take some grandkids. I submit that a road race is the best place for kids to see adults at their best.

Even casual runners are true athletes, but athletes without the cutthroat tactics usually associated with other sports. In Sunday’s race, Kurt Woelfel, 26, was en route to running one mile for each year of his life. But at 25 miles he felt 75. He became dizzy and disoriented.

Kurt wiggled and wobbled and fell over in a heap. He was pretty much out of it for 10 minutes. Let me share this with you from experience, at mile 25 nobody wants to stop. You can smell the finish line and every second counts, even for the slow pokes who take thousands upon thousands of seconds to finish a race. Still, a good dozen other runners gathered around, ministered to the young man, gave him water and salt pills, and helped him to his feet.

Every Samaritan was passed by about a hundred or so runners. Several surely ruined their chances for a personal best time, but a fellow runner was in distress and they did what runners do. They stuck with him until he regained his composure and they all, including Kurt, made it through the last mile.

Bertha and I got involved in this curious pastime about the time we were nearing fifty. We had just quit smoking and needed some motivation to stay off tobacco. Cindy, our daughter, then training for the Heart of San Diego Marathon, convinced us that running would do the trick.

And did it ever! We replaced one compulsion with another. We got to know our neighbors and their dogs. We ended up running in races in every neighborhood of the city and in most cities in the county. Among my proudest possessions are mementos from the five marathons I’ve completed. I didn’t win any, but I started and finished the same day in every one. She, with half a lung missing from a TB operation years earlier, ran dozens of 5-Ks and 10-Ks.

We even let running take the place of spectator sports, even the biggest. One Super Bowl Sunday we decided to go for a run during the game because we’d have the streets all to ourselves. All alone we galloped around the neighborhood, she in one direction, and I in another. Once I was on the way out when she was coming back. I decided to interrupt her reverie (I’m sure she thinks evil thoughts while running).

When we got close I shouted, “Hey little girl, look at this.” Then I flashed her.

And despite that anguished look on runners’ faces, running can be funny even when it isn’t fun, like when you’re dying. Once I started the America’s Finest City Half-Marathon just as I was coming down with a horrible case of the flu. Like Kurt, I gutted it out when the wisest course would have been to wait another day.

I ran a lot and walked some. Then I ran some and walked a lot. Then I walked, and walked, and walked, and ran a few steps. The end of that race is a killer – one mile up Sixth Avenue into Balboa Park. I struggled to the top and across the finish line looking like a ghost, dehydrated.

The medics asked how I felt. I replied, “Horny!”

I thought that was funny. The medics laughed but I suspect they figured I was delirious. They laid me on a gurney and covered me with ice from my nipples to my kneecaps. It was to take care of the dehydration, or my delirium.

Still trying to be funny, I shivered and said, “That takes care of horny.” Meanwhile, the mayor who had been there greeting finishers had gone home. I missed what surely was my only chance to shake his hand. I didn’t blame him for leaving though. I had come in far behind the pack and Roger Hedgecock had other things to do. That was, of course, before he got mad at me.

As for last Sunday’s race. I congratulate Christopher Cheboibich the winner. I also congratulate Christina Riley the last official finisher. Christopher had it easy. He was only out there for a little under two hours and ten minutes. Christina was out there for nearly eight and a half hours. There’s a real athlete for you.

Keith Taylor is a retired Navy officer living in Chula Vista, Calif. He can be reached at

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