Luis Olay has never run a marathon before, yet something compelled him to travel from Mexico City to Johnstown on Friday to participate in the Johnstown Marathon, which begins today at 9 a.m. on Edgehill Drive.
In March, Olay watched a documentary titled “Marathon Fever” – a 30-minute film made by Steve Alpert in 1978 about four people running the Johnstown Marathon.
“This contributed to my intentions to start to train, however, I was not thinking Johnstown,” Olay said over an exchange of emails. “Later in July, I got an invitation to consider Johnstown and even though I was looking for a sea level location, Johnstown was appealing for sentimental reasons.”
Family being the main reason.
Olay may live in Mexico City, but his wife is from Johnstown.
“Pennsylvania is a beautiful state and Johnstown is no exception,” Olay added. “Great food, friendly people and very nice scenery surrounding the town.”
Olay spent the past 18 weeks training in earnest for the challenging 26.2-mile course, which begins at the Incline Plane and guides runners along routes 56 and 403 before coming to its conclusion at Point Stadium.
Justin Gillette was last year’s male overall winner in a time of 2:33.16, which was 16 minutes better than runner-up Karsten Brown.
To say the course is challenging is an understatement.
But there are other reasons the event attracts participants from Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Kentucky and Mexico.
“This event has always been well attended by participants,” said Vicki Clark, who works for the Greater Johnstown Community YMCA, which has sponsored, organized and run the marathon for all 37 years. Besides the marathon, there is a half marathon, a 10k and a 5k.
“Based on past comments, the runners like our race for being a small-town race and they greatly enjoy our fall scenery,” Clark added.
Olay, who won’t bring family with him on this trip but plans to return in December, couldn’t simulate the conditions in Johnstown, but he extracted his training method from Bill Pierce’s book “Run Less, Run Faster.”
“In essence, it’s a method where you run three times a week and combine it with two cross-training sessions,” Olay said. “The method has worked for me in running half-marathons. In these 18 weeks, I have learned more about these types of races and now I know that after 20 miles, anything can happen. This unknown increases my respect for the marathon, but at the same time excites me.”
That excitement is something Clark says is a common emotion.
“Our participants are always very excited, and the excitement carries over to the finish line where their families and friends are waiting for their anticipated return,” she said. “It’s a friendly, family atmosphere with great support from everyone.”
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