Baltimore Marathon officials allowed seven hours for people to complete yesterday's 26.2-mile race. Ray Scharenbrock chugged in with 45 seconds to spare - and a maxim for runners everywhere.
"Each finish line is a gift from God," said Scharenbrock, 75.
On a bright autumn day when a 19-year-old from Kenya won the marathon in record time, a codger from Wisconsin brought up the rear. At an hour when most of the 17,922 entrants in the main event of the Baltimore Running Festival were home immersed in a hot bath or a cold beer, Scharenbrock played the caboose. His time: 6 hours, 59minutes, 15 seconds.
"I had to push it at the end," said Scharenbrock, of South Milwaukee. "I'm just glad to be able to do this at my age."
One of 4,200 marathoners, he began the race so far back in the pack that it took him nearly four minutes just to cross the starting line.
Just before 3p.m., volunteers were sweeping up debris left by more than 30,000 Festival runners and whooping well-wishers when the old-timer finished without fanfare at the Ravens' Walk between M&T Bank Stadium and Oriole Park.
Not that it mattered to Scharenbrock, a retired guidance counselor who quietly added marathon No.603 to his log. Yes, the man who finished last yesterday might have run more distance races than anyone else in the field.
To date, Scharenbrock has completed marathons in all 50 states and Washington, nine times over. His first race, in Duluth, Minn., in 1982, was his fastest - 3:34:37.
"I've not been able to run that fast since," he said.
Yet on he plugs, crossing the country in search of marathons. He'll continue doing so, he said, "as long as I can run."
And when he can't run?
And when he can't walk?
"I'll crawl. Well, maybe not crawl. That would probably take more than seven hours."
Scharenbrock wasn't the only slowpoke. Other runners completed the marathon in six hours or more, and many appeared to enjoy doing it. One man crossed the finish while juggling five small red balls. A woman did a somersault. A couple finished together, somehow, while locked in passionate emBRACe.
One runner even jogged in while talking on her cell phone.
There's much to be said for playing the tortoise in a marathon, said Mike Nostrand of Washington, who finished in 6:15.
"I've run three-hour races, but they are too competitive. You don't get to talk to people or see the city," said Nostrand, 50. "Today, I stopped to exchange high-fives with kids. And I stole a beer from a woman as I ran past her. Then I turned around and brought it back."
Jeff Cutler and his wife, Kristi, jogged in together at 6:16 with their three young daughters in tow.
"We picked up the kids [from a friend] at mile 26.1," said Cutler, 37, of Gaithersburg. Last year, he said, he did the race in 3:40. Yesterday, he hung back deliberately to accompany his wife, who was struggling.
"I love her, there's no doubt about that," he said.
Nancy Berger, 63, came in at 6:30, having walked the last nine miles. The Hunt Valley resident wore a smile and a set of earbuds.
" Billy Joel walked with me," she said.
For Sharon Ford of Towson, finishing near the end was more palatable this year than last.
"Last year there were mean people yelling at me, stuff like, 'Come on, if you can't go faster then why are you here?'" said Ford, 34. "It was a rough crowd.
"Today, all I heard was 'Keep at it' and 'Good luck.'"
When Bill Leavy completed the race after more than 6 1/2 hours, he leaped into the air and tapped the sign above the finish line. A cancer survivor, the Millersville resident said he had the marathon on his bucket list.
"My time here doesn't matter a lick," said Leavy, 54. "Now all I need to do is see the Grand Canyon."
His wife, Ellen Leavy, moseyed in soon after at 6:52.
"I think I drank some bad Gatorade," she said. "I had to stop at a couple of bars to use their bathrooms."
Still, she beat the clock.
"Was it a success? I did my first marathon in less than seven hours," Leavy said.
"I wasn't in this for the money."