When Rob Gillette started training for his first marathon - last year's Tucson Marathon - he knew there'd be benefits. And there were. He dropped 6o pounds and developed a cadre of new running friends. He'll be marrying one of them in January.
Gillette, 54, an Oro Valley commercial Realtor, had seen his future fiancée, pediatrician Carol Swanson, every Saturday morning at All About Running & Walking, 12112 N. Rancho Vistoso Blvd., just before the running store's weekly training run. But the two were in different pace groups.
"Carol's business partner contacted me about some real estate and it turned out he was an old friend," he said. "I inquired if she was single. We started dating and the rest is history."
On Sunday, Dec. 7, the couple plans to join 3,800 others in the 26.2-mile Holualoa Tucson Marathon. The route starts in the historic town of Oracle and proceeds down State Route 77 (Oracle Road) to the Hilton El Conquistador in Oro Valley. For Gillette, it will be his second Tucson Marathon and his first qualifying run for the Boston Marathon in April.
John Corbett, 51, has been operating the 26-week training program every Saturday since he and his wife Alice opened their Oro Valley store in December 2001. The group started with 16 people. It now has 85 to 90 runners age 19 to 66.
"An overwhelming number of people who get involved with the program are doing their first marathon ever," Corbett said. "The thing we see is that the group is the draw." About half plan to run the Tucson Marathon this Sunday. The rest are training for P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon in Phoenix Jan. 11.
Former Olympian and running pioneer Jeff Galloway developed the training program, which operates in about 40 cities. "Jeff believes that the old adage 'No pain, no gain' is outdated and dangerous," Corbett said.
Instead, the program advocates frequent walk breaks. "Even those runners who are qualifying for the Boston Marathon take a one-minute walk break for every eight minutes of running," he said.
"I had a hard time buying into the run-walk concept," said Gillette, who'd run since the 1970s but never seriously until last year. "I had the perception that when you run a race, you run from start to finish. I learned that walk breaks actually allow the muscles to recover slightly so that when you start running again you can run faster."
Corbett started running, himself, at age 43, while he was director of sales and marketing for a large food broker in Chicago.
"I was very unhealthy. My cholesterol was 306. The doctor put me on medication and a low-cholesterol diet," he said. "As he was leaving, he popped his head back in the door and said 'By the way, you might want to try some form of aerobic exercise."
He began a 12-week running program, hating every minute of it until he entered a local race. "That day, I fell in love with running," he said. "I had two goals: to finish standing up and not be last." He went off the cholesterol lowering medications after a year and at his last doctor's visit, his cholesterol was 166.
That was the first of many races. "It changed me. Instead of being a follower, I began volunteering for things. I thought, if I can do a marathon, maybe I can do something else," he said. "It opens up doors in so many other areas."
Corbett became a race director for 5K and 10K races in his hometown and eventually met running gurus Jeff Galloway and John Bingham, who also ran his first marathon at age 43.
When Corbett was contemplating leaving his career of 25 years to open a running store outside Tucson, where he and his wife had planned to retire, he e-mailed Bingham for advice. The answer was: "Whoever thought a 50-year-old former fat guy could make a living running marathons?"
Corbett started the Galloway program in a park in Illinois with Greg Heden, who now works with him at the Oro Valley store. "We ran it exactly as we do here except we weren't in this business," he said. "For us it's really a labor of love, not a mercenary mission for the store."
Most Saturdays during training, he's at the store at 3:30 a.m. starting coffee for the 85 + runners who meet there before starting the longest run of the week. With the help of four or five volunteers, he hauls water, sport drinks and energy gel to aid stops along the way.
Oro Valley native Lisa Frizzell, 40, a vice president with Wells Fargo Bank, was the first in a group of marathon walkers to train with Corbett's group. "My mother sent me an article about people who walk marathons," she said. "I'd never thought of myself as an athlete, but I thought, I could do that."
She stopped in the store one day and talked to Corbett. "I was kind of skeptical. He said we have this training group, it's walk-run, but there's no reason we couldn't have a walking group."
A short time later, another woman showed up who wanted to walk. "It turned out we'd gone to high school together at Canyon del Oro. It was great because we spent all this time walking together adding a mile or two each time," she said. "All of a sudden you've walked nine miles and it just doesn't seem that hard."
The two finished the 26.2-mile 2002 Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in San Diego in seven hours. "It's a great feeling of accomplishment, especially if you've never thought of yourself as an athlete," Frizzell said.
"The Tucson Marathon closes at six and a half hours, but there's a huge walking contingent that does the half," she said. The store's eight or nine walkers are training to do the brand-new half-marathon in Phoenix in January. "We'll probably do Tucson next year."
On Sunday, Dec. 7, the Holualoa Tucson Marathon, Bobbi Olson Half Marathon & Jim Click Marathon Relay gets into gear. Organizers expect 3,500 to 3,800 participants for the 10th annual event.
The 26.2-mile race starts at 7:30 a.m. in the historic town of Oracle; the 13.1-mile half-marathon starts at 7 a.m. at Oracle Junction and follows the same downhill route along state Route 77 (Oracle Road) through the town of Catalina to finish at the Hilton El Conquistador Resort & Tennis Club, 10000 N. Oracle Road, in Oro Valley (see map, pg. 7). Shorter relay legs will cover 5.5 to 8.1 miles.
Traffic will be affected and there will be short road closures on state Route 77 at the start of the races; traffic lanes will be reduced through the town of Catalina and Oro Valley.
Spectators cannot park or drive beyond Oracle Junction on state Route 77; parking will be available at the Holiday Inn Express and south of the Target in Oro Valley. Spectator viewpoints will be designated along the route.
All runners must register at the pre-race fitness Expo from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 6 at the Hilton El Conquistador. There will be no race-day registration or packet pickup. The free Expo is also open to the public and will feature running clothing, gear, fuel, energy bars and drinks.
The Half Marathon, in memory of Bobbi Olson, through the Better than Ever program, supports ovarian cancer research at the University of Arizona Cancer Center. The Marathon Relay supports Linkages, a non-profit agency that helps employ people with disabilities. The race also supports Catalina Community Services, Catalina Food Bank and local high school baseball and softball team programs.
Awards will be announced at the Hilton at 10 a.m. for the half marathon and noon for the full marathon.
Volunteers are needed to help staff aid stations along the course. Call 320-0667 to volunteer or for more information or visit www.tucsonmarathon.com.