Walking on the San Clemente pier a week before running in her 67th marathon, Ann Tack McClure is difficult to distinguish from the throngs of Orange Coast sun-worshipers enjoying an early-March afternoon.
Her brightly-colored attire hardly stands out among the surfers and day-trippers who walk nearby. It does nothing to signal the battles she has fought and won in a 70-year life that is often recalled in 26.2-mile chapters.
“Every year I wonder if this will be my last marathon,” Tack McClure said. “I thought about stopping even this year. I never know what next year is going to bring.”
Tack McClure is part of a group of runners who have had a constant, and often quiet, presence at the Los Angeles Marathon. On Sunday, she and 177 fellow “Legacy Runners” will once again try to defy the odds by finishing the L.A. Marathon for the 30th consecutive time.
Years ago, Tack McClure and her fellow “legacies” were just faces in a crowd among the nearly half a million runners who’ve competed in every L.A. Marathon over the last three decades. This year, the marathon will bring them more into the spotlight with a commemorative start before the gun goes off for the men’s elite division racers.
“It’s the legacy group that has kept me going year after year now,” Tack McClure said. “It’s like my second family. And now there are only 24 women and we’re all sisters.”
The Legacy Runners were formally organized by Lou Briones and Denny Smith in 2002. Initially, it was little more than a list of the runners who had email addresses. From there, it morphed into a marathon training and support group.
“What we’ve done is created a club that no one is anxious to leave because once you’re out, you’re out,” Briones said.
Briones, 67, said the group’s runners range in age from 45 to 85, and every runner has had at least one reason or another to call it quits. Last year, an injury forced Briones to hobble through L.A. on crutches to maintain his streak. The group lost four runners before last year’s race — two who chose not to compete and two who died since the 2013 marathon.
With 2015 being a milestone year, Briones expects everyone from last year’s group to return. Still, it’s not always easy making the starting line.
Laura Castaneda, 64, and her husband, Ricardo, 68, have run in every L.A. Marathon, but Laura nearly missed the 2012 edition after being hit by a car while running in Griffith Park.
“She was thrown 35 feet, but didn’t suffer any broken bones,” Ricardo Castaneda said. “She trained as soon as she could and she made it back in time.”
Shortly after the 2005 marathon, Tack McClure was diagnosed with breast cancer. The diagnosis was “absolutely shocking,” she said, because she did everything possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle. But she was determined to fight the disease, embracing a mental approach that she had strengthened by running marathons.
“I think when you decide to do a marathon … it’s the fortitude and determination that gets you through it,” Tack McClure said. “When you’re diagnosed with any disease, I think you’ve got to make up your mind that you’ve got to get through it, beat it and make it.”
After a nearly yearlong battle that included surgery and 33 radiation treatments, Tack McClure was declared cancer-free in time to do some abbreviated training before the 2006 race.
Every runner in the group knows there will be a time when he or she will have to step away from marathons. Briones said they typically lose three to four runners a year from their legacy group.
Ricardo Castaneda said “running is like a drug” for him and his wife, but he anticipates a very tough marathon Sunday.
“There are a lot of Legacy Runners who are thinking about retiring after this year,” Castaneda said. “It gets harder and harder every year.”
Briones said more runners than usual might drop out after this year since “30 is a nice round number to end the legacy.” Runners also are wary of the different training schedule they’ll have to undertake for next year’s L.A. Marathon, which will be held on Feb. 13, 2016 — a month earlier than normal.
As for Tack McClure, giving up on something she has done for three decades won’t be easy. Over the last 20 years, she said, she has raised more than $100,000 for charities through runner sponsorships. She currently raises money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and said helping kids is probably the biggest reason why she’s still in the L.A. Marathon.
“It seems like as long as I don’t have any serious injuries I want to be there at the start,” she said. “If that happens to be the year I can’t finish, then that’s it. I’ll hang it up. But until then, I want to be out there.”
Follow Austin Knoblauch on Twitter @AustinKnob