Fastest course in the west.

’87 Storm Packed a Punch

Oct. 26, 2012
Fifth in a series of the top 30 moments from the California International Marathon’s colorful history. The 30th anniversary race is on Dec. 2. By John Schumacher

Runners head for phone booths to escape rain, 50-mph winds
Just call it ‘The Storm Year.’

Wind gusts of 50 mph and a chilling rain accompanied runners in the 1987 California International Marathon as they made their way from Folsom to the state Capitol.

Local news reports mentioned snapped telephone poles, giant trees crashing into homes and interrupted electrical services for 50,000 Sacramento customers.

Anyone who ran remembers.

Carmichael’s Bill Hambrick, now a veteran marathoner and ultramarathoner with 24 CIMs under his belt, was running in his first marathon in the ’87 CIM.

“It was definitely an adventure that day,” he said. “I remember we were jumping over branches and limbs falling in the street.

“I also remember people (runners) taking refuge in pay phone booths we had at the time … I don’t know if they were calling for help. That was pretty crazy.”

Hambrick remembers making the left turn at Fair Oaks Boulevard and Manzanita Avenue – the turn for home just past the halfway point – and spending the next 13 miles going straight into the wind.

“The wind was blowing like crazy,” he said. “These guys I was running with who were Marines, they formed like a duck line (a V-shape). They had us tuck in between them.

“They were protecting the citizens from the hurricane.”

And helping Hambrick finish his first marathon, a 3:19:51 effort he’ll always treasure.

“I was really excited I finished,” he said. “I was a drowned rat.”

Almost lost in all the bad weather were the two winners: Canada’s Peter Maher (2:16:49) and Pleasanton’s Patti Gray (2:40:29). Maher, who went on to win the 1990 Goodwill Games marathon, finished with his uniform barely hanging onto his body in the wind and rain.

Gray questioned running in such miserable conditions.

“Sometimes I wondered, ‘What am I doing here?’” she told The Sacramento Bee. “I thought, ‘What a way to spend a Sunday.’”

Former Humboldt State standout Mark Conover, running in his first marathon, finished second in 2:18:03. Four months later, he won the 1988 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials with a stunning 2:12:26 performance.

Those who survived the conditions did get a reward: the first finisher medallions handed out in race history.

Yes, the 1987 race provided the worst weather in the event’s history. And, yes, the 2001 CIM also offered strong rain and wind, though not as bad as in ’87.

But in most years, the CIM is run in cool, near-perfect marathon conditions.

The CIM is put on by the Sacramento Running Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding ways to encourage people of all ages and abilities to run. The SRA is committed to developing new, quality running events that appeal to a broad variety of runners.

Other SRA events include the Lake Natoma Four Bridges Half Marathon on Oct. 28, The Super Bowl Sunday 10k Run on Feb. 3 and the Credit Union SACTOWN Ten-Mile Run on April 7.

SRA beneficiaries include the American River Parkway, youth fitness programs, local running venues and aspiring young runners.