Quest for 50 marathons this year brings runner to St. Louis

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5161dcc1e61aa.preview-300A gradual 5,000-foot climb and mud-slick ascents weren’t going to stop David Knapp. The same went for the single-track trails, including occasional steep stone steps, that make up nearly half of the winding course for the Golden Gate marathon.

The end of a lengthy drought in the San Francisco area had arrived with a vengeance, dropping 20 inches of rain in some areas in early February. Knapp was smack in the middle of the mess, stuck on a mountain trying to complete a 26.2-mile run.

But even if he was able to survive the terrain, rain and muck, Knapp wasn’t quite as confident about the severe winds.

“There were parts where I had to run bent over because I was afraid I was going to be blown off the mountain,” Knapp said. “I would have ended up in San Francisco Bay.”

Knapp finished the marathon in 6 hours, 40 minutes and 19 seconds. Then he returned to his home in Denver and prepared to run the same distance a week later.

Having refused to succumb to arguably the toughest course in the country, Knapp may have overcome the most difficult part of his pursuit to run 50 marathons in 2014. That quest will continue Sunday in the Go! St. Louis Marathon, which is the next stop in his fundraising effort to generate $50,000 for Alzheimer’s research.

Knapp lost his mother to the disease in 2001. He decided last fall to embark on the marathon tour in conjunction with the Colorado chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association to mark his 50th birthday. No. 15 will come on day No. 96.

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Thus far, his marathon pace has outdistanced the fundraising. The endeavor has generated $5,000 in donations through his website, although he said contributions have been on the rise.

Knapp runs a consulting firm that specializes in leadership and management training and has tried to schedule marathons around business trips to cut expenses. Still, his wife, Kathy, estimated they will spend about $30,000 of their own money this year on travel.

Attempts to obtain sponsors have been mostly unsuccessful, although Knapp did receive a $500 voucher for airfare from Frontier Airlines and free entry into any event in the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon Series in 2014.

“I was probably more worried about that than he was,” said Kathy Knapp, who is from Herculaneum. “He was like, ‘I’m going to do this.’ Every time we see the facts and figures (on Alzheimer’s), we recommit to it. It’s going to be a tough year but I think it will all be worth it in the end, especially if we reach our donation goal.”

Knapp is beginning a stretch that will keep him running every weekend through the end of June. In March he ran races on consecutive days three times. That’s six marathons in 16 days. He plans to run three in as many days later in the year in Portland, Ore.

He and his wife, who handles most of the logistics, have tried to front load the year to account for any unexpected problems that might arise. And that has made for a busy schedule that Knapp enjoys.

“This past weekend I was off, and I actually think recovery is greatly overrated,” he said. “I have a tendency to get more aches and pains the weeks I take off. I’m good to go within a day or two.”

He does little running these days between races, maybe a couple of three-mile runs per week interspersed with swimming and cycling. He established the bulk of the groundwork last fall.

Knapp racked up 60 to 70 miles a week and often did two 20-mile runs on weekends. His conditioning work was all the more effective because he lives in Denver, so he routinely runs at a high elevation.

Aside from running a mile above sea level, he occasionally would train in Rocky Mountain National Park at 10,000 feet. He got a kick out of running trails where he would pass tourists, who had stopped to catch their breath.

“It’s a huge advantage,” he said. “When I run at lower altitudes my lungs don’t know what to do with all the oxygen. It really is truly legal doping. At sea level in particular, it’s hard to describe. You don’t get tired.”

If Knapp completes his goal, he will have doubled the number of marathons he has run. Most of his previous races came in 2004, when he ran 40 to commemorate his 40th birthday.

Otherwise, he and his wife primarily run half marathons and have established a goal to complete one in all 50 states. They have checked 15 states off their list but put that pursuit on the back burner this year.

Knapp’s mother, Audrey, was among the 4 percent of Alzheimer’s patients who develop early onset dementia. She showed symptoms in her early 50s and died at 65. Through his work with Alzheimer’s, Knapp has met people as young as their late 30s with signs of the disease.

Though she never met Audrey, Kathy Knapp can see the drive in her husband to complete the task.

“He’s pretty committed, and I know he can do it from a physical standpoint,” she said. “He’s not going to back down unless something severe happens to his body.”

This week Knapp has been dealing with a cranky back, but he attributes a natural running stride with his ability to avoid major injuries.

He has run marathons in St. Louis previously. He recalled 2004, when he started a race with a fever and a sore knee, eventually reaching a point around the seven-mile mark that he felt pretty good. And no matter how bad he might feel, he keeps one thing in mind.

“Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers don’t have a choice to quit,” Knapp said. “So, I won’t either.”

 

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source: ST. Louis Post-Dispatch by Stu Durando

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