In full view of a film crew, numerous hecklers, fellow runners, ultra runners who coach us and a flock of geese, I, Rahsaan “New York” Thomas, broke two 1000 Mile (running) Club records by completing my first marathon at San Quentin on Nov. 17.
The first record I broke was a group effort. Never before have as many people, 13 in all, completed the 105 laps around the prison yard.
The second was all mine. I set a club record for longest marathon time ever at San Quentin — 6 hours, 12 minutes and 23 seconds.
For the first few miles, it felt to me like flying down the highway when there’s no traffic.
Still, Markelle “The Gazelle” Taylor glided past me twice before I finished a mile. No surprise — he took first with a time of 3:20:19.
For the first lap, San Quentin News cameraman Eddie Herena followed me while holding a Go-Pro camera in his teeth by its extension. He did this to assist in the making of a documentary by Christine Yoo.
Even with the extra load, Herena came in second with a time of 3:37:20, five minutes ahead of rival Chris Scull (3:42:25). Vincente Gomez came in fourth (3:42:42).
As Scull and Gomez finished, I wondered if Coach Kevin Rumon had an accurate count of how much farther I had to go. I’d watched him being interviewed as I passed instead of counting my laps. He claimed I still had about 13 miles to go as Tommy Wickerd finished with a time of 3:46.16. Wickerd’s Sunday training partner, Jonathan Chiu, came in one second later.
By then my right calf cramped up and demanded I quit. For the next few miles, I walked half and ran half a lap while Sergio Carrillo completed his marathon in 3:51:52. He was the seventh finisher in under four hours, setting another club record.
“Here comes ‘New York’ [Rahsaan], look at the Geriatric Kid,” yelled incarcerated person Mike Webb.
Hecklers continued to clown about my ridiculously slow pace.
“I don’t think you’re going to make it!” Prison University Project Administrator Heather Hart yelled through the education office fence as I ran by.
Her doubts gave me a burst of energy and determination. I continued to walk/run while several club members finished.
Steven Brooks and John Levin completed their first marathons with respective times of 4:00:12 and 4:04:05 while I struggled to take another step.
Sixty-one-year-old Larry Ford beat me with a time of 4:06:25.
When Al Yaseng and the 60-year-old Lee Goins finished their 105 laps, with times of 5:01:43 and 5:03:52, I remained the last member still striving. Seven others quit short of the goal.
Sponsor Tim Fitzpatrick convinced me that I had put in too many miles to quit as he joined me for a few laps of more running than walking. Then he passed the baton to his wife, Diana Fitzpatrick, the two-time Dipsea race champion, for a mile or so.
Melody Anne Schultz took over. When she told me that at age 62, she’d set a world record marathon time of 3:15 in London that still stands, I knew I couldn’t quit. I’m only 47.
For a minute, club coach/sponsor Frank Ruona, D. Fitzpatrick and Schultz all ran with me, but I fell behind.
Chiu, who had already run 26.2 miles, completed the last two miles by my side. With six laps to go, we took off running and didn’t stop until I joined the elite club of marathoners.
There were still spectators around, including a film crew. I dedicated the win to all the kids on Little League teams that never got to play and to everybody who comes in last.
People joked about how long it took, but I’m proud to say I completed a San Quentin Marathon just weeks after Shalane Flanagan won the New York City Marathon. I want to do that one day.
By completing the marathon, I’ve entered a world of elite people— marathoners. However, more important to me, I’ve proven to myself that I can go the distance, no matter how hard, how painful or how much time it takes.
A few days later, Yoo and her assistant Zahava Hirsch returned, without cameras and wearing brand-new running shoes.
We ran laps during a club training session. Hirsch, 24, was starting her running career and Yoo ran for the first time in weeks. They completed about a mile and a half each.
Their inspiration: Me.
“You looked like you were dying and you kept going for six hours,” Hirsch said. “When I run in the Olympics, I will be able to say I started my running career at San Quentin.”