Saturday, November 17, 2001

SULLIVAN: She'll run this race standing still

By Tim Sullivan
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Julie Isphording is worried about bibs. She has ordered 7,000 of them for the Thanksgiving Day Race, but she fears the demand may outstrip her supply.

        She's worried about bagel deliveries and garbage details and mid-race bathrooms for the bladder-challenged. She's worried about police barricades and sound systems and all those runners staying the course she has redesigned. She has been unable to sleep soundly for two weeks, waking up in the middle of the night to scribble little reminders to herself.

        She is worried there may be something she's neglected to worry about.

        “What if they go the wrong direction?” she wondered, her voice rising with audible anxiety. “Can you see 7,000 people going down the wrong street?”

        Well, no.

        On her best days, Julie Isphording personifies panic. She ran the marathon in the 1984 Summer Olympics, but her nervous energy suggests a sprinter. She lives her life on the cusp of calamity, careening from one crisis to the next, except everything seems to work out wonderfully in the end.

        Changing course

If this Turkey Day 10K should attract a record field, promote faster times or achieve a higher aesthetic — and all three appear probable — Julie Isphording will be why. She will not compete in the race because her left foot is in a cast, yet she has clearly enhanced the competition as race director.

        The runners will start and finish this year amid the comforts of Paul Brown Stadium instead of shivering in an unsheltered parking lot. They will follow a new route designed for speed and be tracked for the first time by microchips tied to their shoes. This timing enhancement should eliminate some of the congestion and extraneous elbows at the start.

        With its 92nd installment, the Thanksgiving Day Race is hitting its stride.

        “We've preregistered 4,000 (runners),” Isphording said Friday afternoon. “That's 600 ahead of last year. I'm scared. I've created a monster.”

        Truth be told, it doesn't take much work to make a race unwieldy. Most runners are not driven by rewards, few of them are daunted by rigors, and all of them seem to be drawn to events that allow for a cast of thousands.

        Turkey Day tradition

It might be raining icicles Thursday morning. It could be as dark as Johnny Cash's closet. Yet the runners will still show up in such numbers you would think the prize were a 15-carat diamond instead of a 15-pound turkey.

        Before her foot needed fixing, Isphording had been a serious runner for 23 years. Between 1982 and 1992, her peak marathon period, she averaged roughly 100 miles per week. She probably has logged close to 100,000 miles in her career, enough to circle the globe four times.

        “I could never tell you what it is,” she said of running's appeal. “It's social, healthy, fun, and there's a spirituality involved in it. But the only runner's high you ever have is when you're in the shower after you've finished and the chocolate shake you get because you've earned it.”

        She was drinking coffee on this day. It was decaffeinated, of course, because Julie Isphording needs no extra jolts from her java. This week, she comes prewired.

        “It's easier to run in these races than to run them,” she says.

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456; fax: 768-8550; e-mail:


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