It's Miller's time

First-time marathoner sets record in Frank Maier race

Posted: Sunday, August 04, 2002

Shawn Miller was within sight of the finish line of Saturday's 11th annual Frank Maier Memorial Marathon when he had to stop and massage a cramp in his left calf.

Miller's legs had begun cramping about 17 miles into the 26.2-mile race from Sandy Beach to False Outer Point and back, and now Miller was having a hard time walking, much less running. But Miller was close to the finish of his first marathon, so he gave his calf muscle a quick massage then continued on in the race.

When Miller finally crossed the finish line - despite taking nearly 15 minutes to run the last mile - his time of 2 hours, 34 minutes, 45 seconds was fast enough to break Paul Pusich's 1999 course record of 2:40:23 by more than 5 1/2 minutes. About five strides beyond the finish line, Miller was sprawled on the Sandy Beach parking lot pavement while local chiropractor Birger Baastrup worked on his calf muscles and his mother, Kathy Miller, brought him a couple of cups of water.

"I would say the marathon, even though it's only twice as long, is three times as difficult as running the half-marathon," said Miller, who won the last three titles in the Douglas Island Half-Marathon, the companion event with the Frank Maier Marathon. "I've only done one 20-mile run in the last three weeks. I relied on my strength to get me through it."

Finishing second in 2:42:39 was Dave Pusich of Juneau, the younger brother of Paul who now lives in California. Mike Williams of Juneau took third place in 3:23:23, more than 40 minutes behind Dave Pusich. Sue Hollis of Seattle was the top woman marathoner, posting a time of 3:29:49, with Lorri Gebo-Shaver of Pocatello, Idaho, taking second place in 3:58:32 and Janice Wise of Snellville, Ga., taking third in 4:07:21.

In the half-marathon, Tom Casey of Juneau (and New Haven, Conn.) and Michael Haney of Richmond, Va., both finished with the same time of 1:17:52, although Haney told race organizers to give the winner's trophy to Casey. Don Eagle of Juneau was the third finisher in 1:19:03. Marlene Hansen of Juneau was the top woman in 1:32:45, for 16th overall, while Lisa Kirsch of Juneau took second in 1:33:18 and Jenifer Kohout of Anchorage was third in 1:33:25.

Miller, a former Juneau-Douglas High School runner, chose to run in the half-marathon the last three years because he didn't want to impact his college cross-country running seasons at Western Washington University. Miller graduated this past spring, so he didn't have to worry about the sometimes-lengthy recovery period that follows a marathon.

Still, Miller said he backed off his torrid pace over the final few miles in order to save his legs for another day.

"I took several walk breaks of five to 30 seconds," Miller said. "I'm sore, but I know I'll recover."

Before the race, Miller figured he might be able to break the record. When he hit the turnaround, Miller said his time was about a minute or two faster than last year's winning half-marathon time of 1:15:27.

"I figured out how fast my mile splits needed to be (6 minutes, 7 seconds) for an even 2:40 (2 hours, 40 minutes)," Miller said. "I was well ahead of the pace at the halfway point. I knew at the bridge I had a shot, as long as I didn't get passed by Dave."

Miller figured Dave Pusich might try to keep Paul's record all in the family. "Oh, yeah, he's a Pusich and a Pusich had the record," Miller said.

Pusich, though, had other plans, like finishing the race. While his brother won three straight Frank Maier titles from 1998-2000, Dave Pusich was only running in his second official marathon and his first in Alaska. Pusich's only other official marathon was the Seattle Marathon, but he's a veteran of the 28-mile Crow Pass Crossing mountain race from Girdwood to Eagle River which is longer than marathon-distance.

"I was trying to finish, basically," Pusich said. "I was ready to go. I was happy with my time. The weather was good and there was a good turnout. I was real comfortable out there."

As far as Pusich was concerned, Miller wanted the record more than he did.

"Shawn's goal was to beat the record," Pusich said. "After the first few miles, his pace was too fast for me." When asked what his strategy might be to reclaim the record next year, Pusich said. "I might have to put a rope on him (Miller)."

Miller and Pusich left the rest of the field well behind, with Williams running with Juneau 63-year-old Glenn Frick through most of the course until Frick dropped out of the race about 16 miles into the course. Williams said he slowed when Frick decided to turn his race into a long training run and Frick used a stashed bike to finish the course. Williams said he struggled over the last three miles, but picked up his pace when some of the half-marathoners (who started two hours after the marathoners) began to pass him en route to the finish line.

"I wanted to qualify for Crow Pass and I needed a 3:30," said Williams, who said injuries have kept him out of local running scene the last few years. "This is actually a hard course because there's always a breeze. This is my third time running this race, my slowest time but best place. Shawn deserves a lot of credit for what he did, and so does Dave. I'm real proud of those guys."

"Shawn looked good all the way," Frick said.

Hollis was making her first appearance in Juneau, and she said she e-mailed race director Ben Van Alen to get a better description of the course than moderately hilly.

"He described it as 'graciously undulating,' and that was an apt description," said Hollis, who was completing her 12th marathon. "It was a beautiful course and conditions were perfect."

Hollis was one of several runners from the Lower 48 to compete in this year's marathon, which honors a local marathoner who died about 11 years ago in a crabbing accident. But this year's field had more local runners than last year's, which only featured four Alaskans.

In the half-marathon, Casey and Haney ran together for much of the race, though occasionally one pulled ahead of the other for a brief stint. Casey and Haney were college roommates when they attended the University of Pennsylvania, and they, Miller, Eagle and fourth-place half-marathoner George Johnson are all on the same Darwin's Tribe team for next month's Klondike Trail of '98 International Road Relay from Skagway to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.

"We wanted to stay ahead and it was pretty easy until the end," said Casey, who is a graduate student at Yale.

"I got here on Thursday," said Haney, who is making his third visit to Juneau. "Earlier this week I was running in 101 (degrees) on Monday and 98 on Tuesday. I saw the weather report and had to get here."

Even though he didn't win, Eagle said he was pleased with the performance of his Klondike teammates.

"It was a Darwin's Tribe sweep of the top-four half-marathoners, plus Shawn was the top marathoner," Eagle said. "I'm excited for the Klondike."

Hansen and Kirsch are also gearing up for the Klondike, with Hansen running on the team Hard Women and Kirsch on the Lady GuDivas. The women's leaders changed a few times during the race, with Hansen finally grabbing the lead near the end of the race. She passed John Walsh late in the race, which gave her the encouragement she needed to hold off Kirsch, who finished behind Walsh.

"It went surprisingly well," Hansen said. "I'm surprised I didn't break down."

"Those last three miles were a bugger," Kirsch said after describing the different lead combinations of the race.

Charles Bingham can be reached at

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