Don Janicki was cruising along the boardwalk in Mission Beach on his way to victory in the Holiday Bowl Channel 10 Marathon Saturday when his mind began to wander.
He had disposed of the competition at that point, about 18 miles into the 26.2-mile race. Just eight more miles and he would win a marathon for the first time. His time of 2 hours 12 minutes 6 seconds would be the fastest marathon run in San Diego.
For the victory, Janicki would receive $4,000 and a convertible.
But Janicki said he was thinking about his father, Bill, who died of colon cancer two weeks ago at age 57.
"He'd always call me before a race and say good luck, or he'd be there to watch me," Janicki said. "This was my first race without him.
"He's the one who got me into running. He used to be a marathon runner. I guess I started thinking about him because he lived in Florida and we used to go to the beach a lot. It feels a little strange not having him around."
Janicki, 27, ran for his father Saturday. He beat a field of 2,800 runners and finished more than three minutes ahead of second-place finisher Joao Lopes da Silva of Lisbon, Portugal, who ran 2:15:18. His time eclipsed Thom Hunt's previous San Diego record of 2:12:26, set last year.
In the women's race, Maureen Custy won in 2:33:38, again a San Diego record and the fastest marathon time by an American woman this year.
For Janicki, the prolonged illness of his father took its toll, especially at the World Championships this year in Rome, where he was the top American finisher.
"It was really bad in Rome this year," said Janicki, who finished 21st at 2:20:46. "We knew he was starting to go downhill then. This kind of cancer affects your brain, too, and we weren't always sure if he knew who we were. It was hard."
During the two years Bill Janicki fought his cancer, Don Janicki spent as much time with him as he could with him. But it was difficult because Bill lived in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Don and his family live in Tucson.
After he came back from Rome, Janicki spent three weeks training in Florida for Saturday's race. By then, he knew his father did not have long to live, so he said goodby about a month before Bill died, while he was still lucid.
The result was a lot of mixed feelings.
"In a way I wanted him to die, and in a way I didn't," Janicki said with a sigh. "It relieved a lot of stress. I've been under constant stress because you know he is going to die, but you don't know when. But he really wanted to live.
"He always made me feel like I could do (my) best. But seeing him and how hard he fought against it, it made me feel like I can be even better. This race was for him."
Janicki did not have the race in control until just after the 16-mile mark.
Benny Cruz of Cal State Los Angeles led most of the first 13 miles, but he dropped out at the halfway point. That left Janicki and Lopes da Silva in first and second.
Janicki said he made a few small surges to test Lopes da Silva, then took off after a short uphill stretch when he felt certain he would not be caught. Lopes da Silva said Janicki was correct in his assessment.
"My legs felt stiff," Lopes da Silva said. "After that, I was just trying to hang on to second place."
Lopes da Silva said he thought pre-race favorite Jerry Kiernan of Dublin, Ireland, was close. In reality, Kiernan was way behind.
Kiernan finished fourth at 2:17:13. Ric Sayre of Eugene, Ore. was third at 2:16:40.
"I was never comfortable," Kiernan said. "After seven or eight miles, I felt I never had a chance. The only positive thing to come out of this race is that I stuck in there and got to the finish."
El Cajon's Rich Brownsberger was the top local finisher, sixth in 2:17:53.