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3 Bridges Marathon 2019 Live Stream Online
3 Bridges Marathon
2019-12-28 – 07:00
North America / USA / West South Central / Arkansas / Little Rock
“I’m not a betting man, but if I was, I’d put my money on Fidelio,” says Markelle “The Gazelle” Taylor, winner of the 12th annual San Quentin Marathon — and the three before that. He isn’t running this year. The 26.2-mile race, held inside the 30-foot walls of what’s got to be the prettiest prison in America, is for inmates only.
Prettiest, at least, when viewed from the outside, where the sparkling San Francisco Bay stretches to the sky and Mount Tamalpais rises above the barbed wire.
The Gazelle always appreciated that view of Tam while running around and around and around the prison yard. He completed his last San Quentin Marathon — 105 laps around a quarter-mile track — in a record 3:10:42. A few months later, paroled after 18 years, he ran to the top of the mountain he’d been looking at for so long. (And then he ran the Boston Marathon, in 3:03:52, his personal best.)
No one is going to beat Markelle’s time this year, predicts Frank Ruona, 74, a crazy-accomplished ultra-runner and Vietnam vet. Ruona’s the longtime coach of Marin’s Tamalpa Running Club — and head coach of San Quentin’s 1,000 Mile Club, since its inception in 2005.
But on a sunny, 46-degree Friday morning in late November, two guys set out to try: Fidelio Marin and Mark Jarosik. Both are lifers, like most of the 4,215 inmates at the maximum-security penitentiary, California’s oldest.
I don’t want to know what these guys did to get in here.
Clifton Williams hands out water as Wallace Jackson completes another lap around the prison yard in the San Quentin Marathon. Photo: Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle
Photo: Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle
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Clifton Williams hands out water as Wallace Jackson completes another lap around the prison yard in the San Quentin Marathon.
Coach Frank sends me the roster of runners in advance, their names right there, ready for me to type into Google. Instead, I concentrate on another email I receive: a Word doc detailing what not to wear. The list is long. No jumpsuits. (Noted.) No sweats. No gray or white or denim, or anything even resembling denim. Nothing that might make me resemble an inmate.
This is so the guards watching from the towers above with guns can easily distinguish you, I’m told, in the event of any trouble.
The document doesn’t explicitly say no body-hugging Oiselle pants, which is what I usually wear running. But as Kevin Rumon, another longtime volunteer, put it over the phone: “These guys don’t get a lot of female communication, so …” Also, he reminds me, I won’t be running.
Not just a prisoner
The sun rises as I cross the Golden Gate Bridge. I breeze through the Robin Williams Tunnel and pass all the Highway 101 exits I typically take: Sausalito, Stinson Beach, Muir Woods. Just past the posh Marin Country Mart, home to $400 bikinis and $32 burgers, I follow signs to its antithesis, another iconic Marin County destination. The one I’ve driven by for years yet have never been to.
It’s about two minutes until race time and the first runner I meet is Fidelio. At 49, he’s wrinkle-free, with warm eyes and a wide smile, dressed in droopy gray shorts, white socks and donated gray Adidas sneakers. He has a white napkin wrapped around his forehead, like a bandana. I ask what he had for breakfast. “Snickers,” he says.
There’s a digital clock on the ground and a homemade “1000 Mile Club” banner hanging over the San Quentin’s Field of Dreams scoreboard, but otherwise the runners gather without fanfare.
Steve Brooks (center) runs past inmates working out during the San Quentin Marathon Nov. 22. | Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle
No one else on the yard seems to care, or even notice, that there’s a marathon today. Not the men doing push-ups or the men punching bags or the men playing dominos or the men — so many men — ambling the same track in long denim jackets marked CDCR Prisoner. The geese puttering around the patchy grass could give two poops, too.
But these runners do. They’ve been training all year for this, with Coach Frank and Kevin and a handful of other elite runners — who are here this morning, in black puffy coats, with stopwatches and clipboards and pouches of berry-flavored Gu. All lifers in their own way, they joke. They care, too.
“It’s one of those corny-sounding things, about getting more out of it than I put in,” says ultrarunner Diana Fitzpatrick, 61. “But it’s true.” She’s been to pretty much every San Quentin Marathon. The first had only one finisher, she recalls: Ronnie Goodman, since paroled. A lot of 1,000 Mile Club runners have been paroled.
Running today are 30 of the 60 or so in the group. Not all are looking to finish and 17 are injured and not running at all. (Hips. Hernias. An ingrown toenail.) Still, they’re here to help, to hand out water, to cheer on their teammates.
Brett Ownbey is among this group. “Positive affirmation isn’t something you typically get a lot of in prison,” he says, by way of explanation. The 1,000 Mile Club has given him that, and more.
Incarcerated for 17 years, he arrived at San Quentin in September of 2018 weighing 252 pounds. He’d never run before. He has since completed his first marathon, in 4½ hours, and lost 62 pounds.
“Running has taught me to set goals and attain them,” says Brett, 45. “When I’m on the track, I’m in the present. I’m not just a prisoner. I’m human.”
Even when he’s just manning the starting line chalked in gravel, he feels a part of something, he says. “Individually, you know, we’re all going at our own pace, at our own ability,” he says. “But together, we make up the club.”
Water bottles are affixed to fencing on the yard for the San Quentin Marathon. Photo: Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle
Water bottles are affixed to fencing on the yard for the San Quentin Marathon. | Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle
‘You’ve got to keep going’
“Three, two, one,” Frank counts down, and they’re off. A ragtag group, ages 22 to 72; whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians. The rest of the yard might be segregated, but not the 1000 Mile Club. “There’s no racial bulls—,” as one runner puts it.
“This track is horrible,” says club co-founder Ralph Ligons, 68, from a plastic chair on the sideline. Ralph was an All-American sprinter at Cal State Sacramento. He competed in the 1972 Olympic trials before being sentenced 25 years to life — before he had a cane, and his scraggly goatee turned white. He retired from running 10 years ago. “But I never stopped walking,” he says. “You’ve got to keep going.”
Part-pavement, part-dirt, the “route” has six 90-degree turns and all sorts of distractions. It starts in right field, near the flaming sweat lodge, then cuts between the busy basketball court and the always-taken tennis court, weaving past a pull-up bar and an artist displaying his work.
A few things, though, make this race different from any other in Marin County: the sporadic prison alarms forcing everyone on the yard to sit down wherever they are, until the issue, whatever it is (medical, rioting, murder), is resolved.
Perhaps the toughest thing: “Every lap, you’re passing the finish line,” says Nicola Bucci, 47. “You’re thinking: ‘When’s it going to end?’” Not unlike prison itself, he adds.
Recovering from surgery, Nicola is sitting this one out. He completed his first marathon last year, coming in dead last. Didn’t matter. “It felt like coming in first,” he says. “It gave me the will to want to continue. It helped me realize that whatever I face, I can overcome.”
“Only 102 laps to go!” cries Dan McCoy, giving a thumbs-up as he goes by. There are no live bands or little kids holding signs or water stations on the sidelines. Most runners BYO in old plastic Pepsi bottles, which they hang on the chain-link fence. Some are topped with squirt caps Kevin bought for them on eBay, so they can drink and run.
Eventually, the smiles and waves turn to groans, guys gripping hamstrings, some shuffling to a walk.
Fidelio Salazar Marin runs in the San Quentin marathon (left) on Nov. 22 in San Quentin State Prison. Top right: Brett Ownbey, an inmate of San Quentin State Prison, holds up finish-line tape for marathon participants. Bottom right: Javier Jimenez, a photographer for the inmate-run newspaper San Quentin News, photographs the San Quentin Marathon. Photo: Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle
Fidelio Salazar Marin runs in the San Quentin marathon (left) on Nov. 22 in San Quentin State Prison. Top right: Brett Ownbey, an inmate of San Quentin State Prison, holds up finish-line tape for marathon participants. Bottom right: Javier Jimenez, a photographer for the inmate-run newspaper San Quentin News, photographs the San Quentin Marathon. | Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle
John Levin, 55, a two-time finisher, cuts out after 18 miles. “Hey, sister!” he jokes, having heard we share the same last name. His brother loaded up his MP3 player with running-theme songs, he tells me. “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen. “Marathon” by Rush.
John came to San Quentin with a degree in computer science, but had never run before. “It means everything,” he says, wiping away tears. “That coach, and all these free people, show up, and can look past your poor decisions and treat you like a real person, like you’re not the worst thing you’ve ever done.”
For most of the race, Fidelio is indeed in the lead, a full lap ahead of Mark. Until mile 21 — lap 87 — when he rolls his ankle.
Mark pulls ahead. He’s got less than a mile to go. “Down in the yard,” booms a voice over the loudspeaker, cramping the runners’ style. Seventeen minutes later, they’re allowed up.
The last lap is a short one. Shirtless, chest puffed, radio station 107.7 The Bone blaring in his ears, Mark barrels toward the finish line.
Brett and Nicola hold up a piece of red plastic tape that reads “Danger” — and he busts through, six minutes short of Markelle’s record.
Feeling like a lone SportsCenter reporter after the Super Bowl, I scurry over, holding up my mini-recorder. “There’s a new king in town,” says Mark, with a wry smile. Then he softens for a moment. “Running takes you out of this place.”
Fidelio rolls in two minutes later; second place but still beaming.
Steve Reitz finishes at 3:41. His mom is going to be proud, he says. Vicente Gomez follows in white stocking feet. He kicked off his crappy sneakers 4 miles ago. Blisters.
Watching them go by is Warren Corley. He’s inspired. “I had no idea there was a race going on. I was just sitting on the wall and said, ‘Hey, I know half those guys! I’m gonna get them some water.”
This is his second stint at San Quentin. His first was in the ’80s, he tells me. “It was another place back then.” Riots. Murders. Tension all the time. “None of this was here,” he says, surveying the yard. No tennis. No garden. No 1,000 Mile Club. No marathon.
“I could imagine doing this,” says Warren, still holding a cup no one has grabbed. “Yeah, I’m going to run next year.” He pauses. “I’ll be here.”
Dan McCoy (center) runs with other participants in the San Quentin Marathon on Nov. 22. | Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle
A fresh start
The marathon won’t be over for another couple of hours.
Fourteen more guys will finish, including fresh-faced first-timer Michael Johnson, who arranged to have a friend waiting at the end with Peanut Butter Panic ice cream. (“I lent him a calculator earlier,” he explains.)
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And, for the fourth time, Tommy Wickerd, his tattooed arms bulging, his bad knees holding, his bald head inscribed: “Ma & Pa I Tried.” He never ran long-distance before prison. “The cops always made sure I didn’t get very far,” he jokes after the race.
Then he turns serious. “Running has changed my life. When I’m running, I’m not in prison. I’m thinking about my father, my grandkids, my next breath, my next step.”
Brett and Nicola will continue to string up the red tape for every runner crossing the finish line, as if instead of Danger, it reads: fresh start.
But I’m ushered out before the end of the race. I leave these men and their mistakes and regrets and hopes and dreams. And Mike Keeyes, still trucking tortoise-style at 72, before he finishes his fifth San Quentin Marathon in five-plus hours. He’s been incarcerated for 45 years. My entire lifetime.
These guys run, I realize, for the same reason I do: to feel alive, and free.
The bars clank closed behind me and I drive out along the bay toward Tennessee Valley. I swap pants, and then I hit the trails until the sun starts to set.
Later, at home, I can’t help it: I Google. Yet like Coach Frank and Kevin and San Quentin’s geese, I don’t care. I want to go back.
Rachel Levin is a Bay Area freelance writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org