If marathon running makes any sense, Norm Pingley found it hard to believe after the way he spent last weekend.
Pingley, whose favorite pursuit sends him running over the streets of hometown Brooksville and Hernando County for miles on end, joined a small contingent of North Suncoast runners _ and a celebrity _ in last Sunday's 19th annual Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.
"It's just bizarre," said Pingley, officially clocked in 4 hours, 54 minutes, 31 seconds over the 26.2-mile course. "You've got fat, old ladies whizzing by you, and then I break into a little ol' shuffle and scoot past five or six Marines.
"It just goes to show there's no rhyme or reason as to who can finish a marathon other than who's paid their dues."
Pingley certainly paid his, averaging 50 to 60 miles per week since beginning serious training in April. He teaches personal fitness, runs the intramural program and supervises the physical education facility on Pasco-Hernando Community College's north campus near Brooksville.
But on a day dampened by a steady drizzle, even that wasn't enough to help Pingley do all he wanted while running his second marathon in 20 years.
While preparing, the former PHCC athletic director and softball coach had finished a 20-mile training run in under 3 hours, prompting him to set a marathon goal of better than 4 hours.
"I had a lot of fun," he said, "but was so disappointed. I had done all the things you needed to get ready, and I was right where I wanted to be at the 10-mile mark and the 20-mile mark. But then the wheels came off."
Pingley might have known he was in for a rough run the day of the race.
"I hate wet shoes anyway," he said, "and don't you know I walk out of the hotel, take four steps and my shoes are wet?
"Basically, we all went out for a little slog through the water. It was great before the race, and great weather Monday, but it rained all the time we were running. As soon as we got done with the race, the sun came out."
Pingley, a member of the Brooksville-based Red Mule Runners Club, finished behind an area contingent of runners that included fellow Red Mule member John Grigg (4:22.37) of Hernando County along with Port Richey's Michael Fenske (4:13.54) and New Port Richey's Maureen Strange (4:34.51).
"Sixteen thousand runners started the race and only 12,000 finished," Pingley said, "so that says something about how grueling it was."
It's a feeling Pingley knows from the first time he ran a marathon.
"The other one was about 20 years ago in Tampa _ just long enough to forget the pain," he said. "The same thing happened in that one _ I got to the 20-mile mark and the wheels fell off."
Pingley vowed then to run another, but only when he had the proper amount of time to prepare. The opportunity finally presented itself this year.
"Now that I don't have the softball (at PHCC), I finally have the time," he said. "And you really need lots of time, because it's almost like a full-time job trying to get ready for a marathon."
Even though he struggled with cramps and was uncomfortable in the rain, Pingley finished on the run, wearing the familiar red-and-white polka dot cap he can often be seen wearing on training runs through town.
"I had too much pride to end it on a walk," he said, "because with all those people watching, and all those Marines cheering for you, there's enough people to carry you up the hill. It was inspiring."
By the time he got to the finish, Pingley knew that someone else with whom he had been running was already there.
"Oprah smoked me," Pingley said of talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, who recorded a respectable first marathon time of 4:29.20. "I ran with her quite a bit, actually. In fact, my daughter said she could see my hat bobbing up and down when they showed her on TV. We played tag all along, but then she got ahead of me.
"Of course, she didn't have to stand in the rain for an hour before the race," he joked. "She had 12,000 Marines knock down a fence to get to the starting line just before it started."
But like many of the other unsuspecting characters who whizzed past him, Pingley said, "even she paid her dues."
Here are some marathon training tips from the American Physical Therapy Association:
Start training slowly, always stretching before and after each run.
Do not increase weekly mileage by more than 10 percent per week.
Develop a cross-training program to spread the stress of running evenly over the joints of the body and to help strengthen muscles around the joints.
Alternate your running between two good pairs of running shoes to minimize wear on any single pair.
To avoid leg injuries, cut back on mileage beginning four weeks before race day. In addition, avoid runs longer than 10 miles during the final month.
And on race day, Richard Benyo, former publisher of Runners World and author of Making the Marathon Your Event (Random House), has these tips:
No sugary drinks and stretching before the race.
Wear layers, watch pacing when gun goes off, keep to sides of pack to avoid the crowd, take water early on, drink sugary drinks after seventh or eighth mile.
Carry a few hard candies in your pocket to help combat the psychological problem of "hitting the wall."
At the end of the race, walk a half mile or a mile to remove lactic acid and aid recovery. The following day _ as painful as it might be _ try to do something whether it's a walk or run.