Clouds hung over Cocopah Casino like a gray canopy on Saturday morning.
Puddles covered the concrete from the previous night's rainstorm, and even the light drizzle that remained felt like the sky's leaky faucet.
It wasn't the weather that Eric John expected out of Arizona on his country-wide marathon tour.
“When I saw Arizona, I made sure to find one in the winter because I didn't want to try and run one in the summer here,” said the 41-year-old John, who is attempting to run a marathon in all 50 states – Arizona being No. 24. “This one right here? I can't complain at all about it. Perfect aid stations, spaced out perfectly. Other than a little bit of the rain.”
John, from Georgia, ended up finishing in second place in the 4th Yuma Territorial Marathon with a time of 2:56:39 but did admit that the rain caused some problems along the way.
“It was wet and muddy when you go by all the farm stuff. There's mud everywhere and you slip,” said John, who plans on running a 100-mile ultramarathon in Kansas in March. “But other than that, it's a great course.”
The Yuma Territorial Marathon has gained popularity outside of the city because it's a qualifier for the prestigious Boston Marathon and the fact that other than a 74-foot hill, the course is as flat as a tabletop. However, the rain – coupled with the dirt from the fields and driveways – caused some headaches from some of the runners.
“It was wet. It was pretty slick,” said 27-year-old Gary Krugger from Flagstaff, who won the race with a time of 2:47:22 . “Some parts were muddy, some parts were slick and some parts had cabbage or lettuce all over the course – whatever you guys grow around here.”
“This is my first rainy marathon. I used to run in the rain a lot when I lived in Wisconsin but not since I moved to Arizona,” said 31-year-old Kara Roper from Tucson, who took first place in the women's division and set a women's course record with a time of 3:17:06. “It was a little muddy and wet, but they did a really good job with aid stations and support so you can't really complain.”
Krugger, who said he ran 40 marathons last year and already ran the Running From an Angel Marathon in Boulder City, Nev., said that he was anticipating sunny skies in Yuma for the race, but during the drive down from Flagstaff, the rainstorm took away that idea. Even with the first place finish, Krugger said he never felt like he hit a good stride on Saturday.
“I don't think it happened today,” Krugger said. “The first half is all into the wind, so it's hard to get a rhythm going. Running into the wind the first part took it out of me.”
Regardless of the rain, the marathon chairman Steve Pallack said he couldn't have been happier with how the raced turned out.
“Obviously the weather isn't the most ideal condition, but all things considered this isn't bad running weather. We're really happy with the way things went,” Pallack said. “This year we've had some people set some (personal records); you can't ask for much more than that. In four years, we've gone from 178 total runners to 400. So we just keep getting bigger and find ways of getting the word out.”
Hoa Truong from Flagstaff took third in the men's division with a 2:59:15, Kyle Smith from Yuma Proving Grounds (3:04:13) took fourth and Steve Miller from Cincinnati (3:12:56) finished fifth. On the women's side, Yuma's Allison Johnson (3:31:15) placed second, Amy Farlee from Vail, Ariz. (3:48:53) finished third, and Yuma Proving Ground's Kimberly Weber (3:59:19) and Sally Rooney (4:00:06) rounded out the top five.
While the race was predominately people younger than 50, there were still plenty of older racers running right along.
Bob Dennison, a 73-year-old winter visitor from Wilks-Barres, Penn., ran across the finish line with a smile and a time of 2:22:11, good for third place in the 70+ half marathon division.
“The weather is perfect. I like running in the rain, especially in longer races. I used to run for conditioning and all that, but now I just run for the races,” said Dennison, who admits that even with more than 1,000 races under his belt – the first one coming on July 4, 1976 – he still got butterflies the night before.
As far as when he may hang up his racing shoes?
“There's no end in sight,” Dennison said with a smile.
A pair of winter visitors from Washington, 75-year-old Baerbel Wright and 56-year-old Cindy Norris, walked across the half marathon finish line together – their hands clasped together and raised into the air with a smile of satisfaction across their faces.
“I can't even explain how it felt. Because we've trained since the first of October together,” said Norris, from Lynden, Wash. “She's 20-years older than me and I can't keep up with her. I can't explain what it meant to finish together. Just pure elation.”
Wright, from Puyallup, Wash., said that even with age, her desire for exercise hasn't wavered.
“I am convicted and convinced you have to do something for your physical health, your spiritual health, for your whole person. And exercise is one,” she said. “I've been doing ever since I can remember. Just keep it going. Because people go, they quit, they go, they quit.”
“Because it keeps you young. It makes you feel young,” Norris said about her motivation to keep racing. “It keeps you young.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 539-6881. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson.