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STORIES ON THE RUN TALES OF L.A. MARATHON PARTICIPANTS COVER THE COURSE.

Byline: Mark Kellam Valley News Writer

When they step up to the starting line this Sunday, each of the more than 25,000 runners in the L.A. Marathon will have their own story about the journey that brought them there.

Hundreds of the runners come from the Valley.

Ernie Van Leeuwen of Encino will be the oldest runner in this year's marathon. At 93, he's run 11 L.A. Marathons. Event organizers honored Van Leeuwen at a media luncheon March 1 with this year's Courage Award. When he starts the 26.2-mile marathon, he will be facing a special challenge. This past June 28, he fell gravely ill and underwent life-threatening surgery.

He got up that morning with a slight pain in his lower abdomen. The pain became increasingly severe and he eventually told his wife, Nina, he needed to go to the hospital. ``By sundown, they had me open,'' Van Leeuwen said. The surgeon found that Van Leeuwen had a twisted upper intestine and that it would require extensive surgery to correct the problem.

Most surgeons wouldn't dare perform such major surgery on a 93-year-old. However, because Van Leeuwen's family physician, Dr. George Fishman, knew he ran and was in good physical condition, the surgery was performed.

He has recovered and will run the marathon, though Fishman has told him to take it easy and Van Leeuwen said he plans to take his doctor's advice.

Ed Rappaport, 82, of North Hills is running in his first L.A. Marathon. He adopted a healthy lifestyle about 54 years ago after his father passed away. He began exercising regularly and eating right. ``I used to be in the meat business, and I didn't eat meat,'' he said, chuckling. He was a self-employed meat distributor.

Rappaport is currently pursuing a master's degree at California State University, Northridge, majoring in health science/gerontology. He's finishing up his thesis on cardiac rehabilitation, a fitting subject for him because he underwent open-heart surgery last April and has bounced back.

To prepare for the L.A. Marathon, Rappaport has been running six days a week, averaging about 12 miles each run. He recently built up to 18 miles and acknowledged that Sunday will probably be his first time to run 26.2 miles. But he's ready for the challenge.

Rod Dixon, a marathon bronze medalist in the 1972 Olympics and winner of the 1983 New York City Marathon, now oversees the L.A. Roadrunners program, which trains people to run the L.A. Marathon.

The North Hollywood resident said there are nearly 1,700 people in training through L.A. Roadrunners. When they start the 25-week program, some of the participants can't even jog, Dixon said. In the first session, they are put in walking groups, usually according to their physical condition at the time. They walk for 25 minutes and build from there, increasing their speed and time with each weekly session.

``These people are reaching beyond their grasp. Sometimes I'm moved to tears,'' he said. ``People come up to me and thank me for taking them to this new level. I say to them, 'Thank you for giving me the pleasure of seeing you make such a change in your life.'''

Dixon and Pat Connelly of Lake Balboa work with the runners in training. They often meet in Venice on Saturdays, though they sometimes take part in 5K and 10K runs, such as the St. Patrick's Day Run named after Connelly that was held March 5 in Torrance.

Shannon Farar-Griefer of Hidden Hills is entering her third year helping train runners for the L.A. Marathon.

She has about a dozen people in her group this year. For 10 of them, this will be their first marathon. ``I have women in their 30s and 40s. I have empty-nesters. Many of them had never run a mile,'' she said.

She's done eight L.A. Marathons. She started in 1995 and missed a few years because of injuries she suffered on grueling ultra-marathons, most of which are 100 miles or more.

One ultra-marathon she's run several times is the 135-mile Badwater, which goes through Death Valley in blazing heat that can reach 130 degrees. On her first Badwater run, Farar-Griefer agreed to double the distance, starting at Badwater in Death Valley and running to the portal of Mount Whitney, where the ultra-marathon usually ends. However, she continued 11 miles to the summit of Mount Whitney, then back down and returned to Badwater - a total of 292 miles. She's the first and only woman to have ever accomplished that feat.

She ran the double distance in just under seven days, often sleeping only 15 minutes at a time.

In 2005, she achieved another accomplishment in finishing the regular Badwater Ultra-Marathon in under 48 hours, the time required to receive a belt buckle with ``Badwater'' engraved on it. She finished in 47 hours, six minutes.

She said a crew and pace runner help her along the way. She doesn't like to have her husband, Alan, attend her ultra-marathons because of the extreme physical stress she must endure. He went to one and saw her throwing up, passing out and hallucinating. Her husband was shocked at the sight, but her crew told him that was normal for an ultra-marathon runner. ``But she's the mother of my children!'' he exclaimed. They have two sons, Moe, 15, and Ben, 12.

Deo Jaravata of Granada Hills helps train students at San Fernando High School for the L.A. Marathon through the Students Run L.A. program.

He's headed up the club at San Fernando High for eight years and has about 20 students in his group.

He started running regularly after his 30th birthday when he took a personal inventory and realized there were so many things he hadn't done and he wanted to stay in shape.

He's now 41 and takes part in many marathons throughout the year, sometimes traveling to other countries, such as his native Manila, the Philippines, for running events.

He also enjoys helping students realize their potential. ``If they can finish a marathon, they can do anything in life,'' he said.

Preferring to combine running and walking, Jaravata usually finishes in a little more than five hours. He said many participants do the L.A. Marathon alternating between running and walking.

During the past 21 years, the L.A. Marathon organization has become like a family. At the March 1 media luncheon, Dr. William Burke, L.A. Marathon president, told a story about a couple who had run the marathon several times, but thought they wouldn't be able to take part this year.

The wife is going blind and the husband felt he couldn't leave her at home alone. While the couple was talking to an L.A. Marathon staff member, the husband pulled her aside and asked whether he could make arrangements for his wife to get a 2006 L.A. Marathon T-shirt even though she's not running. A few moments later, when the wife and staff member were alone, she asked whether her husband could get a 2006 L.A. Marathon T-shirt because she knows he can't take part because of her condition.

Dr. Burke was extremely moved by how much the man and woman cared about each other more than themselves. He told the crowd at the media luncheon that L.A. Marathon officials will be picking up the couple Sunday. The husband will run the race and his wife will wait in the VIP tent for him to finish - and they'll both get T-shirts.

For more information about the L.A. Marathon, call (310) 444-5544 or visit www.lamarathon.com.

CAPTION(S):

5 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Pat Connelly of Lake Balboa, who helps train runners for the L.A. Marathon, congratulates a runner crossing the finish line at the St. Patrick's Day 5K and 10K Runs named after him im Torrance.

(2 -- color) Deo Jaravata (right) helps train San Fernando High students, including Carlos Taura (left) and Jennifer Magallan, to run the L.A. Marathon. He trains the students through the Students Run L.A. Program.

Mark Kellam/Valley News

(3 -- color) Approximately 25,000 runners start off on last year's L.A. Marathon.

Marathon-Photos

(4 -- 5) Shannon Farar-Griefer (above) is prepped by her crew to run an ultra-marathon through Death Valley. Because of the blazing heat, she must wear special clothing and head gear to protect her skin and eyes. Fara-Griefer (below, center) with her two sons, Moe and Ben, at the beach.
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Title Annotation:Valley News
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 15, 2006
Words:1423
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