Marathon's 5-hour gang keep each other going


POSTED: Monday, December 14, 2009

I'd like to introduce you to someone, but it may be too late.

If you were at the Honolulu Marathon yesterday, there's a good chance you've already met John Backman, a 63-year-old cardiologist from San Diego who not only talks the talk, but talks the run—seemingly the entire run, with plenty of vocal chords left to keep chatting after the 26.2 miles.

I met Backman a few feet beyond the finish line at Kapiolani Park, right around the 5-hour mark. He was getting his picture taken with a young lady who had also just completed the run, and a lot of conversation was involved. I figured they were maybe father and daughter.

“;Oh, we just met,”; the woman said.

Then a few minutes later, a guy dressed like Yoda floated through the finishers' chute. Backman gave him one of those “;You da man”; point-and-nods, like teammates do after big plays.

“;Thanks, Yoda. You helped me through that rough stretch. I wouldn't have made it without you.”;

The wise one nodded and pointed back.

Later, Backman laughed when I asked him about his costumed friend. “;Yoda was cool. We were playing tortoise and hare. I picked him up between the 17 and 21 (miles). That stretch I was walking, but then I would run and catch him, then walk and run again. I knew Yoda had power.”;

This was Backman's 129th marathon and he's finished here 28 years in a row. I asked him how many people he usually talks to—how many friends does he make—at each race.

“;Probably 25 to 100,”; replied the good doctor. “;One guy today, I picked up at the 22-mile mark. He was a Marine. I said, 'Come on, you're a Marine. You're tough, you can do this. He started running again.”;

My 10 minutes with Backman yesterday made getting up at 3:30 a.m. worth it. He was three Red Bulls, without the crash.

Proper training: “;I push consistency over intensity. Consistency trumps intensity, like in bridge.”;

Aging: “;We learn there's more to running than beating the clock.”;

Starting exercise at a late age: “;Get out there. It's one step at a time.”;

THE 5-HOUR finishers are the most interesting and diverse—a cross-section of everyday society. To me, they are stars as much as the elite runners who cover most of the course before the sun peeks over Diamond Head.

Many of these middle-of-the-packers are first-timers, many are veterans like Backman. Quite a few think it's Halloween, like Yoda. One of the bigger curiosities yesterday was two guys who came in under 6 hours simply wearing jeans and T-shirts.

A barefooted runner or two is always in the mix, and beginning to despair for an angle, I was chasing down a sole man when Backman's magnetic field pulled me in. Something just told me I had to talk to the chatterbox when I heard him say something about being “;stoked”; about his “;negative split.”;

If I'd ever learned that term when I ran in the '70s and '80s, it'd gone the way of my knowledge of things like Rico Carty's lifetime batting average: Once locked in for no apparent reason, now erased. Backman explained cheerfully. A negative split is when you complete the second half of the run faster than the first. “;I never had a negative split before, ever,”; he said, joyously.

Maybe the negative split is a reward for his positive attitude—that contagious we're-all-in-it-together ethos of the middle-of-the-pack marathoners.

Reach Star-Bulletin sports columnist Dave Reardon at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), his “;Quick Reads”; blog at starbulletin.com, and twitter.com/davereardon.