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Top Runners to Participate in Air Force Marathon

By Brett Turner
Special to American Forces Press Service

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio, June 13, 2005 – Two of the top distance runners of all time will be part of the ninth annual U.S. Air Force Marathon in September.

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Bill Rodgers and Alberto Salazar became running legends in the mid-to-late 1970s and early 1980s. They were household names in the days before the cable television explosion brought new exposure to athletes.

Both will conduct separate free afternoon running clinics and sign autographs at the marathon sports and fitness expo Sept. 16 at Wright State University's Ervin J. Nutter Center in Dayton, Ohio. The pair also will be keynote speakers at the pre-race pasta dinner at 6 p.m. the same day.

The U. S. Air Force Marathon will be Sept. 17 near the National Museum of the U. S. Air Force here. Opening ceremonies will be at 7 a.m., with the race beginning at 7:30 a.m.

It will be the first visit to the Air Force Marathon for Rodgers and Salazar. Both said they are excited about this marathon, which is gaining a reputation in the running world.

"You build a marathon gradually, so it will be fun for me to come out to, running around a base and having the Wright brothers' influence around me," said Rodgers.

Salazar said he will enjoy being part of a military-based marathon, as he has family members in the military, including a brother who is a naval aviator.

Rodgers was ranked the top marathon runner in the world for several years in the 1970s. He won the Boston Marathon in 1975 and 1978-80 and the New York Marathon in 1976-79, and he ran for the U.S. Olympic team in 1976. He has five American records and one world record.

After a strong prep and college career, Salazar won his first New York Marathon in 1980 in the fastest marathon debut time in history at the time. The following year, he broke a 12-year world marathon record in 2 hours, 8 minutes and 13 seconds.

Salazar also won what is considered the most memorable finish in Boston Marathon history in 1982. He fought a battle the final mile with Dick Beardsley -- the guest speaker at last year's pre-race pasta dinner -- out-kicking him in the final stretch in what became known as "the Dual in the Sun."

Salazar earned six U.S. records and one world record in his career. After a hiatus, he came back in 1994 to win the 53-mile Comrades Marathon, an ultra-marathon race in South Africa.

Rodgers said he and Salazar have known each other since the latter's high school days. Although not racing as much, both are active shoe company spokesmen, and they conduct clinics, work with runners and do speaking engagements throughout the year.

The world-class runners' enthusiasm in encouraging other runners seems as boundless as their prowess for winning in their heyday. Their clinics will cover all aspects of training.

"Running is a great way to keep fit. It has it all," said Rodgers.

The Air Force Marathon has grown nearly every year since its debut in 1997. Rodgers and Salazar said that's a good sign.

"It's been shown there (aren't) as many marathons as there were, but new ones coming in (can) be successful, especially being backed by the Air Force," said Salazar. "People are looking for races like this."

Rodgers said it reminded him of how the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., developed. That race started in 1976 with 1,175 entrants; in 2004, it's 29th year, 16,400 took part, according to the event's Web site.

"Ohio is a big running state, and this race is contributing to this," he said.

Although Rodgers and Salazar are retired from doing 26.2-mile marathons, they still compete at times. Rodgers, who runs about 25 races a year, is planning to run on a four-person relay team here, and Salazar said he may compete in the half-marathon or 5k (3.1 mile) race, but was undecided.

The event provides a rare opportunity to compete alongside legends like Salazar and Rodgers.

"We're going to have a good time," said Rodgers. "I want to meet the people - first-timers and veteran runners."

The Air Force Marathon offers several races, including the full 26.2-mile marathon and wheelchair race; a 13.1-mile half marathon; a four-person relay race in which each member runs a section of the course; and a 5k race. Registrations will be taken through Sept. 2.

(Brett Turner is assigned to the 88th Air Base Wing public affairs office.)

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