Charnie L. 'Les' Kinion Jr., marathon founder

Les Kinion

Charnie L. "Les" Kinion Jr., a city firefighter who founded the Baltimore Road Runners Club and the Maryland Marathon, died July 23 of a heart attack in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was 78.

"The Maryland Marathon was Les' baby. He did a lot of the work and knew how to get races organized," said John Roemer, a friend for more than 40 years.


"People liked him and he was the best face the Maryland Marathon ever had," said Mr. Roemer, who lives near Parkton. "It attracted some of the best runners in the world."

Mr. Kinion was visiting friends in Brooklyn when stricken and was taken to St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage, N.Y., where he died.


"I first got to meet Les in 1979 when I ran the old Maryland Marathon, which started at Memorial Stadium and went to Peerce's Plantation in Baltimore County, where we turned around," said Mike Reeb, a retired Baltimore Sun sports copy editor who was also the newspaper's running columnist.

"He was a great guy who took an interest in you whether you were a world-class runner or out there for the first time," said Mr. Reeb, who lives in Glen Rock, Pa. "And he could spin great tales about running and firefighting."

The son of Charnie L. Kinion Sr., an American Can Co. manager, and Catherine "Kitty" Kinion, a homemaker, Charnie Leslie Kinion Jr. was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and moved with his family to Hamilton in 1952.

Mr. Kinion, who never used his first name, attended Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School and later earned his General Education Development diploma.

He joined the Baltimore Fire Department in 1958, and spent his entire career as a firefighter assigned to Engine 43 at York Road and Bellona Avenue in Govans. He retired in 1986.

Mr. Kinion began running in the late 1960s. In a 1984 article in The Sun, he recalled his first race at Patterson Park.

"I got there too late for the two-mile, so I had to run the one-mile," he said. "I remember five kids beat me, about 15 or 16 years old."

He then began running the Run for Your Life, a two-mile race held at the Towson YMCA.


"I started doing those because they gave out little trophies," he said. "Then I got Ken Cooper's book, 'Aerobics,' and got into long distance."

In 1970, he ran the Boston Marathon, which he completed. Afterward, Mr. Kinion co-founded the Baltimore Road Runners Club out of the trunk of his car with Joe Holland. Mr. Kinion was the first president of the club.

"We came back. We sat down with the Maryland Commission on Physical Fitness. It just sort of got laid down for a while," Mr. Kinion told The Sun in a 2004 interview. "The next year when we went back to Boston, we started talking about it again. It was a three-year deal before it got going."

Joining with Hy Levasseur, executive director of the Maryland Commission on Physical Fitness, the trio established the Maryland Marathon, which was first run in 1973.

The first race drew a field of 482, which at the time was a record for a first-time marathon. The next year's field ballooned to 797.

In 1974, the race attracted British Olympian Ron Hill, who won. Two years later, Bill Rodgers, a U.S. Olympian and four-time winner of both the New York and Boston marathons, went on to win the Maryland Marathon with a time of 2 hours, 14 minutes, 23 seconds.


"When Hill and Rodgers came to run in the race, it was Les who put them up at his home," Mr. Roemer said.

"The race also broke ground in the recruitment of an elite women's field, 11 years before the women's marathon was established as an Olympic event," The Sun reported in 2004.

"The crazy thing with the Maryland Marathon was all the runners knew each other from other marathons — Philadelphia, Washington's Birthday Marathon, and, of course, Boston," Mr. Kinion said in a 2001 interview with The Sun.

The last Maryland Marathon was run in 1989.

"Les was responsible for getting a lot of people into running and staying in running. He was a down-to-earth type of guy. I had a world of respect for him," Mr. Roemer said.

In 1976, Mr. Kinion ran up Pike's Peak while attending a firefighters convention in Colorado.


"I had gone a quarter of a mile, and I was out of breath. At the top, it was hailing," he told The Sun in 1986.

Mr. Kinion was 50 when he ran in the London-to-Brighton double marathon, coming in 35th out of a field of 109 runners. He won the now-defunct Baltimore Road Runners Club 50-mile regional championship that year with a time of 6 hours, 22 minutes.

Mr. Kinion later earned the sobriquet as the "Running Guru of Baltimore," said a daughter, Cheryl Kinion, who lives in the city's Beverly Hills neighborhood.

Mr. Kinion's wife, the former Joyce Lee Budd, whom he married in 1955, assisted in organizing races and kept track of a myriad of details. They later founded Running Feat and organized dozens of road races annually, including the original Constellation Marathon.

For years until moving to Bishopville in 1996, where they continued organizing races on the Eastern Shore, they were longtime residents of Halstead Road in Hillendale, which was along the Maryland Marathon route.

Meetings of the Baltimore Road Runners Club were held in their club basement, where any marathon runners "who were interested were welcome to stop by for a beer and late-into-the-night tales of adventures at the 22-mile mark," The Sun reported.


Mr. Kinion gave up running when he turned 60 but continued to walk, family members said.

"He walked five miles a day for the rest of his life," Ms. Kinion said.

His wife died in 2012.

Services are private.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Kinion is survived by two other daughters, Dina Kinion of Ocean, N.J., and Kathy Kinion of Brooklyn, N.Y.; and two sisters, Mary Horn of Eldersburg and Joyce Buckman of The Villages, Fla.