Feature Archive

Going the Distance

People of all shapes are running marathons. Could you?

WebMD Feature

April 17, 2000 (Venice, Calif.) -- Struggling along at mile 25 of last October's Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., Ruth Gursky heard the organizers announce that anyone who didn't make the seven-hour cutoff time -- just minutes away -- wouldn't get a medal. So Gursky, a New York attorney in her mid 40s, summoned her reserves and picked up the pace -- only to find a big Marine blocking her path. "I wasn't about to let all my hard work be wasted," she says. "I said, 'Move it!' and pushed him out of the way." With an official time of 7 hours and 12 seconds, she got her medal.

The Marine wasn't the only obstacle between Gursky and that finish line. "I'm a little chunky," she says. "And I've had two knee operations." What's more, she'd been seriously injured twice during the past few years: once in a fall down subway stairs and once in an automobile accident.

But though she seems an unlikely candidate for finishing a 26.2-mile race, Gursky is among a growing number of neophytes who are swelling the ranks of marathoners. "The spectrum of ages and body types now entering marathons has definitely widened," says Ryan Lamppa, a researcher for the U.S.A. Track & Field Road Running Information Center. According to Information Center figures, the number of people completing marathons nearly doubled from 1989 to 1999, jumping from 250,000 to 435,000. Many marathons have now extended their cutoff times to seven, eight, and even nine hours so that people of all abilities can finish.