Although he enters two marathons a year, Tom Aaker of Torrance has never cared much about the extravagant prizes awarded to the top finisher or even about the several hundred dollars awarded to each of the first 10 runners who cross the finish line.
Today won’t be any different.
While elite athletes conquer the 26.2-mile Los Angeles Marathon course with material goals in mind--the top female and male finishers will each receive $26,385, a Mercedes-Benz sedan and an 18-karat gold sports watch--Aaker will do it to help the needy.
The 26-year-old Aaker will run the fourth annual race through the streets of downtown Los Angeles to raise funds for victims of domestic violence and impoverished children.
Aaker knows he doesn’t stand a chance against the elite on such a grueling course. After all, he’s only a semi-hardcore distance runner, training an average of 60 miles a week on Redondo Beach’s bike path and West Torrance High’s track.
He maintains a strict diet and has finished five marathons (Boston, San Francisco, Portland and twice in Chicago), but he probably won’t come close to matching the top female runner’s time today, and he’ll finish at least half an hour behind the top male runner.
The monetary reward the 5-foot-11, 145-pound associate investment manager expects to receive from the race won’t come from placing high. Instead, Aaker will get about $1 a mile from each of several sponsors-- after he finishes the course.
“Those runners are so good,” Aaker said, “and so far ahead that I never find myself running with them. I’m always quite a ways behind the leaders. I don’t enter races to compete against others, specially not them. I do it because I really enjoy running, and I like to compete against myself.”
Aaker’s best time, 2:54.57, came at the Chicago Marathon in 1987. His last big race was the Portland Marathon last September, which he ran in 3:19.
Last year’s L.A. Marathon winner, Martin Mondragon of Mexico, finished in 2:10.11. The female winner, also from Mexico, was Blanca Haime, who ran it in 2:36.11.
Both Mondragon and Haime will compete today in a field of about 17,000 runners that includes Japan’s Taisuke Kodama, former South African Mark Plaatjes and American Greg Meyer. Kodama’s best mark (2:07.35) is very close to the world marathon record of 2:07.11, and Plaatjes has run a 2:08.58 marathon.
The top women include Portugal’s Rosa Mota and the Soviet Union’s Zoya Ivanova. Mota has come within two minutes of the women’s world marathon record of 2:21.06, and Ivanova has come within about seven minutes.
Stiff competition for a part-time runner who competes for fun and worthy causes.
That’s why Aaker, who graduated from Loyola Marymount University in 1984 and received a master’s degree from Northwestern University in 1986, has found a different incentive to finish the lengthy race.
He hopes to raise $1,000 in pledges, which will go to an All Nations Foundation camp in the Angeles National Forest. Since the 1920s, the foundation has operated camping programs for inner-city kids and battered women and children.
Karen Holmes, Aaker’s colleague at Prudential Capital Corp., asked him to represent the charity when she learned that he planned to run in the marathon.
“He agreed right away,” said Holmes, whose parents are volunteer workers for the charity foundation. “We raised about $7,000 last year. The race really helps us a lot. It’s great that Tom is doing this.”
While Aaker is concentrating heavily on finishing today’s marathon to collect the pledges, he plans to run in many more. He started running as a high school tennis player and completed his first marathon in San Francisco in 1986 in 3:35.
Marathons are a big part of his life, he says, just like shedding his suit and tie to prepare for a run on the beach at the end of a long work day.
“I just want to run in them forever,” Aaker said. “I really do. I’m going to do this for a long time. I even want to run in a marathon overseas someday.”
Today, however, he’ll dash through the not-so-scenic streets of downtown L.A. for a good cause.