Fastest course in the west.

First Time’s The Charm: CIM Debut Marathon Winners

Story #5 in a series of 25. Written to celebrate the CIM’s 25th Anniversary on December 2, 2007. By Cynci Calvin.

Look Who’s Coming To Town
One of the missions of the Sacramento Long Distance Running Association was to create a world-class marathon that would attract an international field of elite distance runners. The success of this mission is proven by the CIM archives filled with pre-event “look who’s coming to town” stories, with profiles and winner predictions about athletes from around the globe. Each year these entrants range from veteran elite marathoners to lesser-known novice or debut marathoners who are hoping for a “break through” performance. Below are the stories behind the five CIM winners to date who have emerged victorious in their first attempt at the marathon distance. Also included is a story about a first-timer who qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials. Interestingly, the CIM is waiting for another debut marathoner to win – it has been 10 years now since Kenyan Grace Chebet accomplished this in 1997.

1984 – Ken Martin
This leap year saw Ken Martin “leap” from a U.S. steeplechase record to 1984’s fastest American marathon time. Ken Martin, a Mesa, Arizona resident and University of Oregon graduate, did not arrive in Sacramento as a complete unknown – he received mention in a one-liner in the Sacramento Bee as a long shot. Ken’s University of Oregon record of 8:20.40 for the 3,000-meter steeplechase (set just four months before the CIM) still stands.

Little wonder, however, that Ken was considered a dark horse. The CIM elite men’s field included experienced marathoners Gerald Helme of England (2:10:12), Kjell-Erik Stahl of Sweden (2:10:38), Finland’s Martii Kilholma (1983 winner) and Jukka Toivola (2:10:52), Randy Thomas of Boston (2:11:25), Scotlland’s Fraser Clyne (2:12), local favorite Dennis Rinde of Folsom (2:12:05), and Paul Cummings of Utah (2:12:29). The race unfolded with a lead pack that held together until mile 22. Martin and Clyne pulled away, and Martin surged in the last mile to win by 26 seconds over Clyne in 2:11:24, producing the fastest time by an American that year. Twenty finishers went under the 2:20 mark and four bested the inaugural CIM’s winning time of 2:13:35.

Martin’s marathoning career peaked at the 1989 New York City Marathon where he placed second in 2:09:38 to Tanzania’s Juma Ikangaa’s 2:08:01. Martin’s time at the 1989 NYC Marathon remains the fourth fastest marathon time by an American-born athlete to date.

1986 – Danny Gonzalez
Danny Gonzalez, at the time a clerk at Ford Aerospace in Palo Alto, came from a strong 10,000-meter track background. His mediocre high school and junior track times ended when he transferred to San Jose State and came under the coaching skills of Marshall Clark. He subsequently clocked a school record 10,000-meter time of 28:42, and as a post collegiate runner in 1989 went on to a personal best of 28:26 at the Mt. Sac Relays. He reports that his two most memorable races are his 10,000-meter school record and his win at the 1986 CIM: “It was my first marathon, and I didn’t know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect to win it. That came as a complete surprise.”

A surprise to everyone else, too. Favored to win was the experienced Alan Zachariasen (2:11:15) from Denmark who placed second at the 1985 CIM, and other potential winners included Kenya’s Geoffrey Koech (2:12:13), Scotland’s Fraser Clyne (2:11:50), Colombia’s Domingo Tibaduiza (2:11:21), and Frank Plasso of Las Vegas (2:12:37). Ironically, first-time marathoner Ken Moloney of New Zealand was given a fair amount of press, but Danny was overlooked.

At a pace surprisingly slower than previous years, a solid pack held together for 20 miles with Zachariasen in the lead. Zachariasen struggled with stomach cramps and dropped back and seemingly took the rest of the pack with him, except for Danny who pulled away to win in 2:13:20. Zachariasen rallied to gain ground on Danny in the last two miles, but had to settle for second place, only 24 seconds behind, when he ran out of the real estate needed to continue his charge.

Danny currently is a Web managing editor living in Lake Oswego, Oregon and a competitive Masters Division distance runner (10K best of 31:00). Before moving to Oregon, he continued to compete as an Aggie in the Pacific Association/USATF Road Racing and XC Grand Prix circuits, first in the open and later in the masters division. He ran the 2003 CIM and was second master with a time of 2:27:51. In a 2006 interview with Mike Tymm of Running Times Magazine, he said, “It’s really important to keep running in perspective the older you get. It was very easy for me to get caught up in looking at the past and think how much faster I ran when I was younger, but at some point I had to let that go, put aside the ego, and remember why I started running to begin with. It was for the enjoyment of it.”

1989 – Nan Doak-Davis
“Wow, if I win this race I’m gonna have to run more of these!”
Nan’s thought just after she took the women’s lead at the 1989 CIM.

Following her 2:33:11 victory in a post-race interview, Nan mentioned this to Sacramento Bee reporter Susan Slusser. Susan had been doing her homework; she wrote a pre-race article describing Nan Doak-Davis of Coralville, Iowa as a potential winner due to… guess what? 1988 Olympic Trials winner Margaret Groos, with a national record 10,000-meter time of 32:10, was the odds-on favorite (2:29:50), and Mary Alicio (2:38), Louise Mohanna (2:39), Michele Bush Cuke (2:39), Lisa Kindelan (2:41), and local favorite Linda Somers (2:44) were all listed in the elite women’s field. A lot was at stake for the 1989 women’s winner: a prize purse of $15,500 (the additional $5,500 added on because the event was the national Women’s Marathon Championship) and a berth at the Goodwill Games was granted to the top two women finishers.

Nan Doak-Davis credited the more experienced Margaret Groos for her win. Groos, who had to drop out at mile 20, kept Doak-Davis from the rookie error of going out too fast in the early miles. A closer finish or even a loss might have happened if second place Linda Somers hadn’t stopped to tie her shoe at mile 22 – she finished a mere 26 seconds behind for a nine-minute personal best time.

Nan was later sidelined from marathoning with an Achilles tendon injury. She now lives near Madison, Wisconsin with husband of 21 years, Barry Davis (University of Wisconsin wrestling coach and a 1984 Olympian with a silver medal in wrestling) and two daughters. In 2005 they became the first husband and wife inducted into the Des Moines Sunday Register’s Iowa Sports Hall of Fame. Nan is also an Iowa Association of Track Coaches Hall of Fame inductee, admired for the inspiration she has been to women distance runners.

1994 – Graeme Fell
At the finish of the 1994 California International Marathon, Graeme’s wife Debbie, who was a bit late to the finish, asked him how he did. “I won,” he said. “You what?!” she exclaimed.
Quote courtesy of reporter Theresa McCourt and The Sacramento Bee.

In pre-race press Canadian Graeme Fell was low on the list of “the ones to watch,” with a double whammy of credentials that wise handicappers should have noticed: he had just moved up from the steeplechase, and he boasted a 10K best of 28:40. Read: past CIM debut winners Ken Martin (steeplechaser) and Danny Gonzalez (28:42 10K).

During the race, the favorite, Joe LeMay of New Jersey, pulled away from the pack at mile 11 and by mile 20 he had nearly a two-minute lead. This was the place where Debbie saw her husband, but what she didn’t know was that he had already begun to gain on the confident LeMay. By mile 24 the gap was less than 30 seconds and Graeme reported in a post-race interview with Sacramento Bee reporter Theresa McCourt, “At 24 I said to myself, ‘OK, let’s hammer. You have two miles. This is your distance.’” LeMay didn’t have an answering kick when Graeme surged past him, and Graeme went on to win in 2:16:13 with LeMay finishing 43 seconds behind.

Graeme resides in Vancouver, British Columbia and continues to compete as a master’s athlete. He is a schoolteacher and he also coaches youth athletes in the Vancouver Thunderbird Track and Field Club.

1997 – Grace Chebet
Fast-forward three years for the next debut marathon CIM winner. The presence of third world marathoners competing in the U.S. was now commonplace and the CIM was no exception. CIM Race Director John Mansoor was spending increasing amounts of time researching requests from the agents of these athletes to assist their athletes with travel and lodging expenses. Dollar winnings for these runners translated to a vastly larger value in their native lands, and an ongoing controversy has developed about their dominance at American distance running races.

Kenya’s Grace Chebet was unique in this group in that her marathon talent had yet to be proven. Grace, a 31-year-old postal worker, arrived in the U.S. early in 1997 and had traveled extensively that year to race in events ranging from 5K (15:35 best) to half marathon (1:12:16 best). Using the “predict a marathon time” formula of adding 10 minutes to a doubled half marathon time, she had the potential to run 2:34:32. This easily placed her as a contender, and she was described as “one to watch” in the pre-race announcements. Other elite women included two Russians, Marina Beljaewa (2:34:19) and Irena Timofeyeva (2:37:15), two Canadians, Lucy Smith (2:38:29) and Ida Mitten (2:39:24), and American Amy Manson (2:40:18).

Although visible in pre-race publicity, during the race Grace went out so slowly that she disappeared from the media radar screen. At the half-way mark she was four minutes behind the leaders. Adding to the drama of the women’s race, Grace cut this deficit to two minutes at mile 20, but not until mile 24 did she catch up to the leader, Irena Timofeyeva. She then gradually pulled away to win in 2:40:30, by a mere 30 seconds. This was a rainy, cold day and times across the board were slower, so her 2:34 potential was to be saved for another race.

Did she ever live up to this potential? Our quest to find more information about Grace has to date been unsuccessful. She appears in the results of a few 2002 South African cross-country events, but that’s about it. If anyone has any information about her, send it on to the CIM!

1995 – Kathy Ward
Her debut marathon wins her a berth at the 1996 U.S. Women’s Olympic Trials Marathon!

In 1993, Kathy Ward of Sacramento, California, microbiologist for the State Department of Food and Agriculture, took up jogging with a group of friends during her lunch hour break. One day she was coaxed into doing a weekend race… and she won it. Her training stepped up as she discovered that local road races were a rewarding and convenient outlet for her competitive spirit. She already had other outlets for this, but not so convenient – her sailing expertise put her in demand as crew for catamaran racing in regattas around the world.

Kathy came under the coaching skills of Randall Sturgeon, who realized Kathy’s potential to run the sub-2:50 marathon required to qualify for the 1996 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. They worked together with this goal in mind and succeeded with time to spare. Kathy crossed the finish line seventh woman overall in 2:46:21 – a time often good enough to win the Women’s Masters Division, but this was the year that England’s Julie Coleby set a Women’s Master’s course record of 2:38:25.

Kathy has since struggled a bit with injuries, but running continues to be a part of both her fitness and competitive routine, along with cycling, pilates, and yes… catamaran racing. In 2004 Kathy and her teammate Mike Montague were the winners of the US Multi Hull Championships.