A Change of Pace : The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner Sometimes Can Turn Into a Milestone of Life. Meet a Few Experts

Times Staff Writer

Last year's City of Los Angeles Marathon almost went off without a hitch. Bonnie Wells and Jack Slater are glad it didn't. After they finished the 26.2 miles together, they headed for the awards stage, where they were married.

Another runner, Margo Apostolos broke into tears when she crossed the finish line. It was a private triumph that few of the spectators were aware of. Months earlier, she had undergone a partial mastectomy, and against all advice she entered what would be her first marathon.

This Sunday, the streets will fill with runners as 20,000 are expected to participate in the fourth edition of the race. A marathon is many things to many people, a set of binoculars that each runner must bring into focus for himself.

For some, it actually changes their lives.

"I remember the exact date--June 4, 1987," Apostolos said. "I was putting body lotion on, and I found a lump the size of a jelly bean in my left breast."

Apostolos, who is director of dance at USC and assistant professor in the division of drama, said she was frightened, had a mammogram done, and got the bad news that it was suspicious.

"They took cells out of the lump itself, then did a biopsy, which disclosed malignancy," she recalled. "On June 29 they performed a segmental mastectomy. In August and September, I underwent radiation treatment."

Ever since her college days Apostolos, now 39, had been a jogger, although she had never tried a marathon. Now she was being told to take it easy. Her reply was to inform her oncologist that she intended to participate in the coming City of Los Angeles Marathon.

"He became quite angry. I think he wasn't sure what the effect would be, and he didn't want me to be a guinea pig."

But run she did in last year's race, finishing in 5 hours and 14 minutes, and that night she penned a note to the doctor:

"I told him what I had accomplished, and I explained that perhaps he didn't understand the psychological implications of wanting to compete, and working for it.

"What all of it did was help me overcome the psychological aspects of the illness. People who knew me were begging me not to run the race--they feared something terrible would happen to me. But I had made up my mind in advance that if I reached a point where I felt ill, I would drop out."

That never happened. "And completing a marathon isn't something you can fake," Apostolos said. "To me it was a test of internal strength and will."

After last year, she went on to participate in the Chicago marathon in October, improving her time to 3:52. Apostolos is currently running 80 miles a week to train for Sunday's race here.

"Both times last year, after I had finished, I broke into tears. People came over thinking I had hurt myself. I told them to go away; it was a very private moment for me. It was the realization of what I had overcome."

Her doctor plans to hang on his office wall a photo of her competing in Chicago. "I don't think doctors will be prescribing marathons for patients such as me," she said, "but I believe they will think twice about telling people not to run in them.

"I feel very positive about life now."

Running in last year's marathon here, a bridal veil in her hair, Bonnie Wells couldn't help breaking into a grin when she heard a spectator shout:

"Gee, my wife would never have run that far for me!"

Ten months earlier, Wells and Jack Slater, both of Hampton, Ill., had met through a running club. They agreed that since that had been the case, it would be proper that their wedding should involve their hobby.

"We decided on a marathon, saw that the time of year of the Los Angeles Marathon was perfect, and got permission from the officials for our plans," Slater said.

The bride had run in the St. Louis Marathon, but this was the first one for the bridegroom. "We had given some thought to my wearing a tuxedo and she running in an upper gown," he said, "but we concluded that being comfortable would be more important."

Side by side they proceeded. Other participants, having heard about the couple, offered congratulations while running by. One man strode alongside from about mile 20 to 24, announcing to spectators: "Here they are!"

"At about 13 miles, Bonnie injured her left ankle," the bridegroom disclosed, "but she couldn't stop. We had a wedding ahead of us."

After 4 hours and 15 minutes, the couple crossed the finish line. "Bonnie went to the Sports Arena, where a hairdresser was waiting to do her hair," the bridegroom said.

Then the couple walked onto the awards stage, where a judge was preparing to officiate. It was a touching ceremony. Both the bride and bridegroom wore shorts.

They honeymooned in Palm Springs, where Bonnie spent three days with her injured ankle wrapped in ice.

Now, a year later, the 39-year-old Slaters are still happily married. She is an investment secretary, he is a production and inventory control manager.

Bonnie and Jack won't make it back for this year's renewal, but--as their W-2 Form will prove--their lives were indeed changed as a result of last year's participation.

There is at least one man whose life was rescued as a result of watching last year's marathon. This time he will be in it, and you'll recognize him by the wording on his tank top: "Serious About Sobriety."

Andrew Zepeda of La Habra had a good job as a firefighter when it began--the cocaine usage and alcohol abuse. "When they found out about it, my bosses gave me a lot of chances," he said, "but when you are in a state of denial, nothing matters--not your job, not your wife, not anything.

"After eight years of it, I had hit bottom. I was unemployed, I was unemployable. I honestly believe my next stop would have been Skid Row.

"I was alone in my apartment (his wife was in a hospital). The booze and the drugs had become so much of a priority that the house payments became delinquent and I lost the place. I had been on a binge, and now I was feeling depressed. I switched on the TV and there was the marathon in progress. I began crying. Everybody looked so healthy and happy, and here my life was the pits. I remembered that I used to enjoy running. I had done many 10-Ks.

"I made a commitment then and there to try to turn my life around."

The 35-year-old Zepeda said he joined a "12-step program," and at first attended meetings three times a day, such was the extent of his problems.

He took up running again, shook off drugs and alcohol, and got his weight down to 165 pounds from the 220 pounds to which he had bloated.

"Running in the marathon will be my way of celebrating the fact that I have been clean and sober for an entire year now," he said.

A trouble of a different kind had tormented 63-year-old Ed Roman for years--a chronic back ailment. Then he discovered running. a "I had been going to a chiropractor for a long time," said Roman, a legal assistant. "Several years ago, when I mentioned that I was thinking of taking up running, he strongly advised against it. He said the pounding my feet would withstand would cause my back to misalign."

But Roman, who lives in Los Angeles, began doing 10-Ks and found he was none the worse for wear. He also learned that, at least in his case, the running--plus exercising properly--left him with a pain-free back.

"I kind of adopted what the chiropractor had been doing--I learned how to crack my back myself," Roman explained. "I get up at 4 a.m. every day. I wait about 20 minutes, and then I lie on my back on the floor. I cross my left arm over my chest, then I raise my right leg and go toward the left, which creates a twisting motion. I also reverse the procedure.

"The whole thing takes about 15 minutes."

Roman said he hasn't been to a chiropractor in four years. Not only that, but his running has graduated to marathons. He has finished in each of the first three here (even though last year's took him about six hours), and he expects to join the throng this week.

"I have three sons," Robert H. Goldman said from Springfield, Ill. "Rick and I had been the furthest apart.

"When his mother and I divorced when he was 17, he went to live with her in Baltimore. He and I went our separate ways. I remarried, and he also married. Our contact was very light--over the years we saw each other only a few times."

The City of Los Angeles Marathon changed all that.

"In May of 1987, Rick came to visit me," the father said. "I was going to run in a 10-K in a few days. I had been running for years to keep in condition--I had even started entering marathons--but he had never been much for sports."

Not only did the son ask to give it a try in that 10-K in Monticello, but he liked it so much he took up running.

"That December he phoned and said he wanted to try a marathon," said the 60-year-old Goldman, a state labor investigator. "By then he had moved to Glendale, and I told him that if he could get ready, we would run together in the one coming up in Los Angeles. He got a book and trained by the book."

And last year father and son ran in it together, the younger Goldman finishing in 4:10, the older in 4:44.

"Running has finally brought us together," said Rick, 35, a recording studio mastering engineer. "As a child, I was into music and he was into sports--we were going in two different directions."

"It used to be that we had no common bond. Our contacts were perfunctory-type, just because he was my son and I was his father," the elder Goldman said.

"Now we phone each other at least once a week. Among other things, we discuss our training programs for various races."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World