Dec. 1, 2004 - A little more than two weeks after the El Tour de Tucson bike race rolled through Pima County, athletes from throughout the country will trade their bicycles for sneakers as the Northwest plays hosts to the 11th Annual Holualoa Tucson Marathon.
An estimated 4,000 runners will compete in the Dec. 5 race, which starts in Oracle and works its way south to the base of Pusch Ridge in the Foothills Business Park. Besides the full marathon, the day's events also will feature the Bobbi Olson Half Marathon and the Jim Click Relay.
Among the 4,000 runners to flood the Northwest will be Dustin Holmes and his running partner Kevin Sahl. Holmes and Sahl, owners of "It's a Grind" coffee shop, 8260 N. Cortaro Road, will be two of the 2,500 athletes competing in the Bobbi Olson Half Marathon. While most runners traditionally use the Tucson Marathon as a tune up for either the Phoenix Rock n' Roll Marathon in January or the Boston Marathon in April, Holmes and Sahl will be using the Tucson road race as a chance to accomplish a greater good. The pair is running to raise money through pledges, and awareness, for the Pat Tillman Foundation, an organization designed to develop leaders of tomorrow through positive reinforcement.
Tillman, a former Arizona Cardinal, was killed in action April 22, while serving as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan.
The running duo got the idea to raise money for the fallen Ranger's foundation after Holmes was unexpectedly rewarded with arguably one of the greatest honors a rabid-football fan can receive. Last year Holmes was selected as the 2003 Arizona Cardinals Fan of the Year, an honor that got him inducted into the National Football Hall-of-Fame in Canton, Ohio in 2004.
Holmes, a former captain in the Air Force and currently in the inactive reserves, saw an opportunity to make a difference. Ideally, he'd like to see everyone get involved in some fashion.
"I'd like to see the streets lined in red," said Holmes of his vision to have every runner in the marathon wearing a piece of the former Arizona Cardinal's team color in tribute to Tillman.
For now he'll settle for whatever he and his partner can get. The two have set up a fund at their coffee shop, with the aid of the Arizona Cardinals, to raise money. To date the organization has raised close to $400 of the projected $100,000 it hopes to raise, said Holmes. To reach that mark, the duo will hold fund raisers at the coffee shop in the coming months in conjunction with the Arizona Cardinals. Past functions at the shop have included personnel from the Phoenix-based football squad, including the team's cheerleaders.
"All the donations go directly to the Pat Tillman Foundation," said Holmes. The runners will continue their fundraising efforts through April 18 when they will run in the Boston Marathon for the foundation. This year's Boston Marathon will take place four days short of the one-year anniversary of Tillman's passing.
For those running in the full marathon, about 1,500 are expected to compete, the Tucson event is a qualifying race for the Boston Marathon held each year on Presidents Day. Holmes and Sahl will run in the Tucson Half-Marathon as a tune-up for the Phoenix Rock N' Roll Marathon Jan. 9, which they will use as their Boston Marathon qualifying event.
The Pat Tillman Foundation won't be the only charity benefiting from the generosity of Tucson Marathon runners. According to Marathon Director, Pam Reed, organizations supporting cancer research to local soccer clubs will be recipients of the runner's charity. The Bobbi Olson Cancer Fund, with aid from the marathon, has netted more than $2 million to date. Olson, the popular former wife of University of Arizona head basketball coach Lute Olson, succumbed to cancer in 2001.
The Jim Click Relay will support Linkages, an organization designed to find meaningful employment for people with disabilities.
As for the race itself, marathon officials have slightly changed the course, which will still snake its way through Oracle, Catalina and Oro Valley.
Repeat runners competing in either the full or half marathon this year will have a new end awaiting them. Renowned for its down hill finish, the Tucson Marathon was a popular race for runners looking to earn a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon. This year, however, course officials have moved the finish line from the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador to a flatter ending located in the Foothills Business Park.
According to Reed, the short mileage taken off the end of the race to create a flat finish will be moved to the marathon's front. Holmes disagrees with the notion that a downhill race is both faster and easier due to dramatic elevation changes. He draws that conclusion from past Tucson Marathon experience.
"Downhill is brutal on your calves," said Holmes, who founded a running club at Continental Ranch. "It felt like someone was stabbing me."
Runners looking to prevent the jabbing pain in the back of their legs or who just want to buy shoes, supplies or pick up their numbers and chips can congregate at the marathon's Expo held at the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador. Expo hours are 3 to 7 p.m. Dec. 3 and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 4.
To make sure both marathons run with relative ease, an estimated 400 to 500 volunteers will be lending their hands to help runners and their feet, said Reed.
Although the thousands of runners taking to the streets of the Northwest shouldn't cause a traffic problem, said Reed, she did warn that bicyclists are asked to take an alternate route during the race. The Tucson Marathon will begin with the Bobbi Olson Half Marathon at 7 a.m., followed by the full marathon and Jim Click Relay at 7:30 a.m. Dec. 5. For more information on the Tucson Marathon visit www.tucsonmarathon.com. To donate to the Pat Tillman Foundation, stop by It's a Grind Coffee Shop, 8240 N. Cortaro Road or go online to www.active.com/donate/raceforpat.