Seattle's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon: 3 runners, different motivations, same resolve
Three runners in Saturday's Rock 'n' Roll Seattle Marathon come from different places, with different motivations, but are drawn together by their resolve to put one foot in front of the other — mile after mile.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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Heather Yancey is extraordinary by almost every measure.
How else can you describe a Fall City mother who home-schools her three children and runs 10 to 15 hours per week, often listening to anatomy lessons on her iPod as she trains?
Saturday's 13.1-mile portion of the inaugural Rock 'n' Roll Seattle Marathon might be the only time she could be called average.
More than 70 percent of the runners are female, most are running the half-marathon and she's in her 30s, the most common age. Ordinary? Maybe demographically, but that just shows how incredible the field of 25,000 is.
State records could be set in both the men's and women's half-marathon. The event will be remarkable for more than winning times, though. It will be extraordinary because of the people.
People like Yancey, a 37-year-old mother who finds running an escape and an inspiration. People like Ralph Bruksos, a 77-year-old grandfather who was an overweight smoker when he began running in the 1970s and will run Saturday's half-marathon with two of his children and his granddaughter. People like Michele Suszek, a 27-year-old favorite who ran her first marathon on a bet with her older brother and last year qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials.
They come from different places, with different motivations, but they are drawn together by their resolve to put one foot in front of the other — mile after mile.
Running is straightforward. Why people run is not.
"In one sentence, it was an opportunity to overcome self."
— Ralph Bruksos
His day starts at 2:45 a.m.
Ralph Bruksos is at the gym by 3:30, and before he runs, he always writes down five things that he's grateful for.
He began running in his 40s when he was 50 pounds overweight and smoked more than a pack a day, unfiltered. The vices stopped, the running started, and more than 30 years later, he's still beating feet down the streets of Seattle.
Bruksos celebrated his 65th birthday by running three marathons that year: Boston, New York and Seattle.
Ralph has run a marathon as fast as 4 hours, 5 minutes and he has also taken more than 7 hours to finish. His fastest marathon remains the first one he ever ran: the 1975 Seattle Marathon.
"It has been all downhill from there," he joked.
He's hoping to run 12-minute miles Saturday when he's part of a three-generation entry in the half-marathon. Bruksos will be running with son Jon, daughter Cindy Bernasconi and a 20-year-old granddaughter. Alexandra, Cindy's daughter and a student at Washington State University, will run a race with her grandfather for the first time.
Ralph was born in Ballard and grew up in Foster, less than a mile from the Tukwila start line for Saturday's marathon. He has soft blue eyes, a warm handshake, and as a management consultant, speaks at seminars and has written a book about reinventing yourself.
To him, running is a challenge. A test of commitment.
"It was an opportunity to grow," he said. "An opportunity to see whether or not I had the fortitude and the discipline to stay with something in order to prepare for that experience."
"There was no better feeling. I don't have any kids yet. I have nieces and nephews, and maybe it's like what you feel after your first child."
— Michele Suszek about winning a marathon
Michele Suszek ran her first 26.2-mile race at 18 to win a bet with her older brother. Her second marathon came after college. A friend invited her to run.
After that the accidental marathoner started to get serious, and now she's one of the nation's fastest women in the event. She qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2008 and Saturday she will be one of the favorites to win the women's marathon.
Marathons aren't just a passion for Suszek. They are an ambition. She moved to Frisco, Colo., two months ago, and began working with a coach for the first time. She usually runs 80 to 115 miles per week, all without headphones or music.
"That's not allowed in the Olympics," Suszek said.
She grew up in Michigan, killed her first deer at age 7 and played soccer in college before transferring to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where she competed in the steeplechase.
Now, she is one of the country's elite marathoners, someone who considers her ability to run a gift. She still remembers her finish in that first marathon, the Flying Pig in Cincinnati: No. 662 out of about 4,000. That was better than her brother Nick, who had challenged her to that very first marathon.
"Running for me is a big escape. It helps me to focus. It really makes me feel good when I'm done."
— Heather Yancey
She will get nervous Saturday morning.
Heather Yancey has learned this about herself after running for three years. Her stomach will flutter before her feet begin to patter as she worries about her time.
"I'll feel sick to my stomach beforehand," she said. "And then afterward, it's just like this high."
Yancey has always been active. She danced in high school, has taken kick-boxing classes and cycled and has been running since her son Joey, the last of her three kids, was born three years ago.
"Busy" doesn't quite capture the pace of her schedule. She multitasks while running, listening to anatomy lessons on her iPod to prepare for an exam from the American Council on Exercise to be certified as a group instructor. Today, she'll take the three-hour test. Saturday, she will take another long test, running 13.1 miles with her husband, Josh. Yes, she expects to beat him.
This was supposed to be her first marathon. But 11 weeks into four months of training, she felt the knifing pain of the injury that makes every runner wince — shin splints.
The first marathon will have to wait, but Saturday Yancey will be there alongside 25,000 other people, embodying the average entrant in this extraordinary event.
Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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