Proving grounds: Marathon draws those looking for a challenge

Runners prepare for the start of the 10-kilometer portion of the Walla Walla Maration Sunday. The marathon is in its fourth year and consists of a 10k race, a full marathon (26.2 miles) and a half marathon (13.1).

Runners prepare for the start of the 10-kilometer portion of the Walla Walla Maration Sunday. The marathon is in its fourth year and consists of a 10k race, a full marathon (26.2 miles) and a half marathon (13.1). Photo by Alfred Diaz.

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WALLA WALLA — In the past four years and over the past 104.8 miles (that’s 26.2 times four), the Walla Walla Marathon has laid a course to establish itself as a major community event that not only allows runners to compete but various groups to come together for their causes.

For West Seattle resident Diane Armstrong, Sunday’s marathon was a reason to take a road trip with girlfriends.

“There are 15 of us,” Armstrong said, while dressed in a pink tutu and top and sporting white athletic socks with “WINE” printed vertically along the calf.

“We drink a little wine and we have a big pasta dinner,” she said. And they also ran 13.1 miles — a half marathon — on Sunday morning.

For other groups, marathons and similar community runs are a source of donations.

This year, the Walla Walla event raised $3,532 for the Walla Walla General Hospital Cardiac Care Center to help patients who are financially struggling.

Of course, most of the runners were there to prove themselves and achieve goals. Some, like Walburga Martin of Prosser, Wash., even had the goal of making it to Beantown for the legendary Boston Marathon.

“I wanted to go with my friends,” Martin said, and then explained that she failed to qualify earlier this year for the marathon and faced being left behind because her friends had qualified. So she took another crack at it.

“I actually signed up this (Sunday) morning. But I did an iron an a couple weeks ago,” she added.

That ironman was the notorious Leadman, a Bend, Ore., event that consists of a 3-mile swim, 138-mile bike and 13-mile run. Training for the Leadman proved to be exactly what Martin needed; she finished the Walla Walla Marathon at 3:27:10, well below her qualifying time of 3:45:59.

Then there was the single largest organized group of competitors who spend practically no time together except at marathons.

“What I think is cool is we train by ourselves, but we all came here together,” said Deann Miller of Issaquah, Wash.

Miller — a 1980 Walla Walla High School graduate — was part of the 28 members of Fit 50, a private Facebook page that encourages those near or in their 50s to get in shape.

Most of the Fit 50 members ran the half marathon. Some did the 10K. And three finished the full 26.2 miles.

Fit 50 administrator Irene Gonzales — also a 1980 Wa-Hi graduate — said the group now has about 250 members, many of them from Walla Walla, and all with the same goal of wanting to be fit in their fifties.

“A friend asked me if I wanted to be fit at 50 or fat at 50,” Gonzales said, explaining why she started the page. That friend was Miller.

Since staring the page three years ago, Gonzales and Miller have attended a number of marathons across the country. More importantly, they have developed a network of friends who leave comments to encourage each other to set goals, stick to a workout schedule and compete in community runs, even marathons.

“Oh God. It wasn’t great,” Gonzales said about her first marathon. “It was like five (hours) 30 (minutes). But it is all about finishing.”

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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