Nov. 13, 2012
Seventeenth in a series of the top 30 moments from the California International Marathon’s colorful history. The 30th anniversary race is on Dec. 2. By John Schumacher

New Balance bonus adds drama to pursuit of American record
With a $1 million payday dangling in front of him, Jerry Lawson went for broke in the 1998 California International Marathon.

This time, it didn’t pan out. But Lawson’s bid to claim a well-publicized bonus brought plenty of attention to the CIM.

New Balance had offered $1 million to any U.S. runner who could break the American records of 2:08:47 set by Bob Kempainen in the 1994 Boston Marathon or 2:21:21 run by Joan Benoit Samuelson in the 1985 Chicago Marathon.

Intrigue built throughout the year, hitting a peak in early December at the CIM. Lawson, after all, had set the course record in 1993 with a 2:10:27 effort and owned a 2:09:35 personal best, so he figured to have a legitimate shot if he had a good day.

“It was a huge deal, that $1 million bonus,” CIM race director John Mansoor said. “It kept building and building and building. We were the last event on the calendar.

“It was kind of like this good crescendo. Here’s Lawson with a shot. The whole country was looking at it, all waiting to see if it could be done. It would have been a huge moment for U.S. distance running.”

Lawson brought his own pacer, John Sence, who took the pair through the seven-mile mark in 34:35 on a cold, damp day along the 26.2-mile route from Folsom to the state Capitol.

“I thought it was a good possibility,” Lawson said of his mindset at that point.

The two runners hit the halfway point in 1:05:04, 34 seconds slower than a $1 million pace.

“I could already start to feel it,” Lawson said later. “I knew then it was going to be rough coming in.”

It was. At the 30-kilometer mark (18.6 miles), Lawson stepped to the side of Fair Oaks Boulevard and stared glumly at the ground.

A few seconds later, Abderrazak Haki passed him and went on to win his second consecutive CIM title, crowing the finish line in 2:15:41.

“I think this is my lucky route,” Haki said after the race. “I just came to run to win. I didn’t care about time.”

And Lawson didn’t really care about winning. Just earning that $1 million.

“I just ran out of energy,” he said. “I put everything out there. I have no regrets.”

The CIM is put on by the Sacramento Running Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding ways to encourage people of all ages and abilities to run. The SRA is committed to developing new, quality running events that appeal to a broad variety of runners.

Other SRA events include the recently concluded Lake Natoma Four Bridges Half Marathon, the Super Bowl Sunday 10k Run on Feb. 3 and the Credit Union SACTOWN Ten-Mile Run on April 7.

SRA beneficiaries include the American River Parkway, youth fitness programs, local running venues and aspiring young runners.