Who knew what lie ahead in the wild open spaces of the first Suzuki Rock `n` Roll Marathon? Some even questioned the concept of rock bands strung along the marathon course. What does rock `n` roll have to do with San Diego much less the marathon, they asked?
Well, on June 21st 1998 the world heard loud and clear what rock `n` roll had to do with San Diego and marathoning. With a resounding P-A-R-T-Y! the second running boom announced its arrival.
No longer a simple feat of speed and endurance, the marathon had been turned into a 26-mile block party by Elite Racing’s Tim Murphy, who could be rightfully called the father of the post-modern running boom. Even before its first steps were run there was the feel of a major marathon about it as Tim brought on high profile Hollywood investors and celebrity ambassadors to help generate funding and interest. Runner’s World also helped turn out 6000 Team In Training runners for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Yes, there was a disconcerting 35-minute delay at the Balboa Park start due to parked cars on the course, leading many a bladder challenged runner to anoint Sixth Avenue before the gun. Then after they were set free, runners overwhelmed the first water stop in the subsequent heat, causing back of the packers to come up dry. Yet the music rocking the sidelines for 26.2 miles caused an immediate sensation. Afterwards the nearly 20,000 entrants from 30 countries and all 50 states passed the word, ‘You gotta try this one!” And that was before they got to the post-race concert that night featuring Huey Lewis and the News, Pat Benatar, and the Lovin’ Spoonful!
Late, great Mike Long, Elite Racing’s legendary athlete recruiter with early RnR winners Irina Bogacheva and Philip Tarus
So, too, was year one’s field a group of intrepid explorers, 55% of which were women, the largest such percentage of any marathon to date. The course, much around Mission Bay, had a new-car smell about it, or was that newly cut wood? City business owners balked when the course design closed traffic on Harbor Island Drive, the main access to Lindbergh Field, San Diego’s major international airport. The last-minute compromise was a temporary plywood bridge that took the runners up and over the traffic, but whose steep cost set Elite Racing back tens of thousands to build, and tested tired runners more than they might have hoped at 23 miles.
Nobody knew how fast the route would be until young Kenyan Philip Tarus busted a 2:10 opener for the men, with Russian women Nadezhda Ilyina and Irina Bogacheva battling just nine seconds apart at the finish for the women in 2:34. That told the athletes of the world, ‘This one is worth having a go,” especially after all the Suzuki prizes and prize money checks were handed out.
No marathon had ever come on the calendar with such dramatic impact: the largest first-time marathon in history, the most ingenious show along the sidelines ever conceived, $15 million raised for charity – the largest amount ever for a single-day sporting event — and to cap it off world-class performances by its champions. Thus was the foundation set for what has become a global phenomenon. Continue reading