Team Parkinson Top Charity at the 2005 San Francisco Marathon

Once again, San Francisco not only lived up to its reputation as a top destination city for runners, it exceeded all of our expectations with a super race course, great weather and a lively crowd of race fans on the streets. Team Parkinson was in the city to participate in the newly re-named San Francisco Marathon, now sponsored by Runner’s World magazine. With the new sponsor and a new race director came an opportunity for Team Parkinson to join other charities in the Cause to Run. Nearly 30 charities chose to participate in Cause to Run, giving the 12,000 participants in the weekend’s events a wide variety of charities to support. Over 80 athletes chose to run for Team Parkinson, making us the largest group of committed athletes. Not only was Team Parkinson the largest charity team in the weekend’s races, we were also the biggest fundraisers! Team Parkinson raised a total of over $42,000.

Not all the best races were in the streets, because one of the closest contests of the weekend was to see who would become the top fundraisers for Team Parkinson. The race finished in a flat-out sprint between two new members to the team: Darci Riecken from Newport Beach, California and Kristin Babington from Mobile, Alabama. Darci ran the second half-marathon to honor her brother, and Kristin ran the marathon to honor both her father and father-in-law. In the end the race for the top spot was won by Kristin Babington and her family. They deserve special recognition for not only being the top fundraisers for the event with over $8,000, Kristin was also Team Parkinson’s top individual performer in the marathon, running a 3 hour 21 minute marathon and securing a second place trophy in her age group. Congratulations Kristin! Running with her was Lori Thomasson, also of Mobile, Alabama who finished in 3:21:26 and finished 4th in her age group. Other notable performances in the marathon by Team Parkinson members were by Frank Markowitz, finishing in 4:19:31, and Jenice and Kevin Cunningham, finishing in 4:45:41 and 4:48:29 respectively.

Darci Riecken was a close second in the fundraising race with $7,420. She ran the first half-marathon in 2 hours, 23 minutes, and finished 261st among the women in her age group. Also in the first of the two half-marathons, Darci was joined by Kimberly Blix, who finished in 2:23:39. Not far behind them were Anna-Marie and Margaret Babington, aged 13 and 15, who finished in 2:29:07 and 2:29:08. In the second of the two half-marathons, Jennifer Bugnatto missed her bid to improve on last year’s time, finishing in 3:00:29. (See note)

The race weekend included a two-day expo for athletes and their families. Approximately 30,000 people attended the expo and many of them stopped by the Team Parkinson booth to meet the team and pick up their race singlets and t-shirts, or simply to find out more about Team Parkinson’s efforts. The booth was manned by John and Edna Ball, national co-chairs of Team Parkinson, Jennifer Bugnatto, coordinator of the San Francisco event, Carol Walton, Executive Director of The Parkinson Alliance (the parent organization for Team Parkinson), and Rampi Gulati, neuroscience associate for Novartis Pharmaceuticals, our Premier Sponsor. Carol Walton noted that the two-day expo was very busy and brought in a lot of fresh faces to meet the team. It also brought us several new team members who had not previously discovered Team Parkinson through Cause to Run or our website.

After wrapping up our booth from the Expo on Saturday, Team Parkinson headed over to Sinbad’s, a favorite San Francisco dining spot on the San Francisco Bay. Jennifer Bugnatto had selected Sinbad’s for our carbo-load dinner not only for its choice location just a block from the expo, but also for its terrific menu. It proved to be a fabulous choice, not only for the food and the setting, which were beyond reproach, but also for the warm hospitality and support of the staff. With great food, a marvelous view, and really short speeches from Carol, Jennifer, Rampi and John, the evening was a real hit for all involved. The warm glow to be seen on faces throughout the banquet room was from more than just the tasty wine we served; it was also from the recognition that we could come together for such a good time and still accomplish something significant for the Parkinson’s community. Of course, in the back of our minds was also the thought that most of us would be up well before dawn the next morning to run three miles at the very minimum, and 26.2 miles for about 30 of us.

The marathon and first half-marathon start was at 5:20 AM, nearly an hour before sunrise. The temperature was cool, but not cold enough to interfere with running. My training partners Doug and Mimi MacGlashan and I met in the dark at the foot of Market Street, and waited the obligatory 15 minutes for our friend and pace-setter, Mark Saxonberg to arrive. I still can’t figure out how someone so compulsive about staying on our game plan during the race can be so carefree about arriving at the start on time. But believe me we’d never leave without Mark. We’ve been running together for Team Parkinson for 5 years now, and he keeps us centered on the task and energized to get it done. The race was smaller in scale than the LA marathon; without a paid core of elite runners or a big wheelchair race group, it felt almost intimate. Still, there were enough quality runners that the race started off in waves every two minutes based on predicted finish times, and our team didn’t reach the start for a full ten minutes after the gun sounded.

Once the race was underway north and west along the Embarcadero, we cruised on into our 3:1 run/walk ratio. Although the run time is short, we find that it works well for us. We worked our way to the side of the street each time just before the walk cycle so we could be out of the way of other runners. It would make it a lot easier if everyone would follow the same pattern, rather than slowing to a walk right in front of runners who then have to jump left or right to avoid them. This became a rather more serious problem once we reached the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge was heavily shrouded in fog, and travel for the runners across the bridge was limited to one lane in each direction. Since the densest group of runners was at around our pace, going north in our lane was severely over-crowded. People who wanted to take a walk break became a genuine hazard, so we continued across the bridge without our normal breaks. As a result, we picked up a little time off our intended pace and came across the half-marathon mark at 2 hours, 24 minutes.

All along the course we saw other members of Team Parkinson and kept playing tag with the 4:50 pace-group leader from a local running club. Because we were on different run/walk cycles, they would draw ahead, then 15 or 20 minutes later, we would catch back up again. I began to wonder if we could actually finish with the 4:50 pace group, something I hadn’t done in several years.

The second half of the marathon began in Golden Gate Park, wound south, then turned north again and finally turned east toward the San Francisco Bay. There was a lot of up and down all through the park but our team had been training on hills for months and we were gradually overtaking runners who had started on a faster pace. Around mile 14 my medication had run down a little and I began to loose pace. I began slipping back and could no longer run comfortably with Mark and Doug. I struggled to stay with Mimi for a mile or two while I waited for my second dose of medications. When the medications kicked in I found myself accelerating once more, passing Doug and rejoining Mark. Doug dropped back to stay with Mimi and Mark and I pressed the pace just a little for the next five or six miles. So although there wasn’t a conscious effort to set any personal records, by mile 20 Mark and I were nearly five minutes ahead of the pace we ran in LA in March, and Doug and Mimi were doing about the same increase, just three or four minutes further back.

It was about mile 24 that I finally hit the wall. I had used up whatever was in the tank for the day. Mark was eager to press on but I could do no more than simply hang on and keep shuffling forward. I kept expecting to hear Doug and Mimi slipping up behind me as my pace slowed to what felt like a crawl. Even with the finish line in sight, I couldn’t keep running. It was all I could do to shuffle fifty paces, walk fifty, shuffle fifty, walk fifty -- on and on through the finish line. My body felt pretty ragged when we crossed the line. I shuddered through one wrenching dry heave but was able to stop it there. I was exhausted, but it was a good feeling nonetheless. Mark showed me the time on his watch – 4 hours, 49 minutes! Four minutes faster than LA in March, and my fastest in the last five years. Less than 5 minutes later, Doug and Mimi came across the line with a new PR for Mimi at 4: 54. Jenice and Kevin Cunningham, Team Parkinson members from Atlanta Georgia, came over to congratulate us. We had been playing tag with them throughout the race, and I was happy to see that they had finished strong ahead of us. Once I had turned in my timing chip and received my finisher’s medal, I collapsed onto the curb and couldn’t budge for nearly 20 minutes. I wasn’t going anywhere any time soon.

Then gradually, after my breathing shallowed-out and my heart rate slowed to something near normal, I was able to drink a couple bottles of water and Cytomax, which was followed by a period of nausea, then finally a sort of calm euphoria. I knew the worst was past and I could look ahead to the joys of a successful marathon – a big job accomplished, lots of money raised for Parkinson’s research, and dinner with my wife and teammates. What a spectacular weekend it turned out to be!

On Monday, after Carol Walton left to take care of her next project, and Jennifer Bugnatto began planning for next year in San Francisco, Edna and I drove slowly down California’s coastal Highway 1. After just a couple of hours of retelling all the happy events of this weekend, we began planning for our next marathon – December in Sacramento – the California International Marathon. We hope to see you there.

John Ball
August 15, 2005

Note: I couldn’t find many of the Team Parkinson performances because the table would not allow look-up by bib number or name alone. You had to know which race they were in before you could look them up. I didn’t have much of that info.

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