Runners of all ages and abilities help to fight AIDS

As daylight breaks on Saturday and Sunday mornings and many students are just finding their way back home, hundreds of D.C. residents congregate at seven sites around the city. They are training to run 26.2 miles for the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 27 to raise money for AIDS research.

By the time they cross the finish line these participants will have raised a minimum of $1,700 each to help those affected by HIV and AIDS.

The runners range in age, physical abilities, cultural background and reasons for running. Many participants are beginners, some have never run in their lives, and the majority of them are first-time marathoners.

“I’ve seen people who were completely out of shape at the beginning of the program and cross the finish line strong six months later,” said Jim Bullington, a former National AIDS Marathon program representative. “Anyone who works and trains can complete a marathon.”

The National AIDS Marathon is run in several cities worldwide, including San Francisco, Honolulu, Baltimore, D.C. and Dublin, Ireland. The D.C./Virginia marathon is sponsored by the Marine Corps and named after it.

Walk-the-Talk, a commercial fundraiser, created training programs in Los Angeles, San Francisco and D.C. four years ago to help runners get in shape and raise money. Participants in the D.C. area train to complete the Baltimore Marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon or the Dublin Marathon.

The training program started with a timed three-mile run on May 4.

Among the youngest participants and first time marathoners are sophomore Sherri Weinstein and junior Angela Turner.

Weinstein said the first training run was particularly difficult.

“I’m not a runner,” Weinstein said “I have exercise-induced asthma, and I had never even run a mile before the first day. I was just so happy to be done.”

Weinstein was motivated run after her close friend, Adrienne Wilson, passed away last year from liver cancer.

“I wanted to do something else to occupy my time because dealing with the loss was really hard,” Weinstein said.

She said she saw a connection between Adrienne’s cancer case, which was contracted in the womb, and many AIDS patients who became infected the same way.

“I’m healthy and able-bodied, and I wanted to take advantage of it and do something that I would never have imagined doing before,” Weinstein said. “This is the first time I’ve ever really been proud of myself, and I have achieved so many things that I have never done before, knowing that they were for Adrienne.”

Turner said many marathoners do the program to get in shape and others do charity work for a living.

“I saw a sign for the program on the Metro and decided to participate because it’s a great cause and I love to run.”

Weinstein said the program has marathoners train one to two minutes slower than they plan to run during the marathon for safety purposes.

“I’m at a point where I can run eight miles without a problem,” Weinstein said.

Jeff Galloway, Olympic athlete and long-time marathoner, designed the six-month training program, which involves a combination of running and walking over increasingly longer distances. Many runners have met success using Galloway’s method, 98 percent of those who complete the training program finish the marathon.

“For anyone who’s properly trained, ‘hitting the wall’ isn’t a problem,” Bullington said. “Most participants have a lot of fun and finish the marathon strong.”

Turner said she had minimal difficulty during her initial training, as she participated in both track and cross-country in high school.

“The gradual increase in mileage allows you to build up endurance, so that by the time you reach the 26-mile practice run, you really know that you can do it,” Turner said.

“It takes great deal of patience to get that far,” she added. “It’s a big-time commitment. I’m really just aiming to finish.”

One or two representatives are present at each run site to coach the runners. They each have extensive knowledge of injuries, especially those that occur in marathon training. The employees do their best to educate beginning runners, providing valuable advice on how to train properly including keeping pace, how to keep hydrated and what sneakers to wear.

Organizing the program is almost as arduous as participating in it, Bullington said. He recalls his position as program representative was “nonstop, total immersion in my job.”

Bullington’s investment is reflected in the success of the program, not only in getting its runners across the finish line, but also in collecting money to help those suffering from AIDS and HIV.

“We tried to be proactive program reps and made it fun as best we could,” he said.

He recalls waking up at “ungodly hours” to mark each mile of the course and set up water stations at two mile intervals all along the run. Volunteers, often recruited by the runners themselves, hand out water at the stations and often line the course to cheer.

Since its establishment in 1998, 9,000 training program participants have raised more than $25 million in donations. Most of this money has been contributed to the Whitman Walker Clinic.

“(The clinic is) a huge service provider for those who are both infected and affected by HIV and AIDS,” said Pam Riker, an employee of the marathon-training program. Riker said she was so impressed with the marathon’s cause when she participated in 1999 that she went on to work as a staff member.

“The majority of donations have aided in the funding of drug therapies to patients who could not afford it otherwise,” Riker said.

She said the clinic also provides free legal and counseling services to patients and their families, to help them cope with the disease and bring them into contact with others who are also affected by AIDS. Their ultimate goal is simple: to keep those who suffer from AIDS/HIV alive until the virus has a cure.

“The program is wonderful, and it’s two-fold,” Riker said. “You’re helping the community and you’re also helping yourself.”

Though the program is mutually beneficial for both AIDS sufferers and marathoners, completing it is a long process that involves a great deal of commitment and exertion.

Both Turner and Weinstein collected most of their money from family friends, but Weinstein took a creative approach to her fundraising efforts, which helped her to raise more than $2,000.

“I auctioned off my body parts,” she said. “All the people who donated a designated amount or more will get their names written on either my arms or my legs on the day of the race. It was a way to get people to donate just a little bit more, and I was really happy and surprised by all the people who supported me with my fundraising.”

Weinstein said GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg donated $50 from his own pocket to her marathon fundraising

“He sent me a personal letter about it too,” Weinstein said.

The marathoners choose to participate for different reason, but they all share a common goal – to bring an end to the AIDS epidemic.

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