Oct. 25, 2012
Fourth 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 Shumacher

Former mile great lends hand with television, celebrity race
Jim Ryun gave the California International Marathon a big boost in 1986.

The great American miler didn’t run in the race, but he provided color commentary for local television coverage and took part in the first CIM Celebrity Challenge 5k, which later became the Kaiser Permanente maraFUNrun.

Having Ryun at the event only heightened the CIM’s popularity. When one of the world’s greatest runners stops by, people notice.

How could they not?

Ryun’s achievements in the mile are legendary. He became the first high school runner to break four minutes with a 3:59:00 effort in 1964. A year later, Ryun set the high school mile record of 3:55.3, a mark that stood for 36 years.

He held world records in five events, setting a world record in the mile with a 3:51.3 effort in Berkeley in 1966. A year later, Ryun broke his own mark with a 3:51.1 performance in Bakersfield.

His greatest race might have come in 1967 at a U.S. vs. British Commonwealth meet in Los Angeles, with Ryun running the last lap of the 1,500 meters in 53.3 seconds to beat Kenyan star Kip Keino and set a world record of 3:33.1 that stood for seven years.

The only thing missing from Ryun’s running resume was an Olympic gold medal. The former Wichita (Kan.) East High School star ran in the 1964, 1968 and 1972 Games, but only made the Olympic 1,500-meter final once.

That came in the thin air of Mexico City in 1968, when Keino delivered a scorching 3:34.9 effort to beat Ryun’s 3:37.8 performance. Silver would have to suffice.

Ryun’s CIM appearance was part of an early string of celebrity color commentators that included Craig Virgin, a two-time World Cross County champion and three-time Olympian, and Frank Shorter, the Olympic marathon gold medalist in 1972 and silver medalist in 1976.

“KCRA was doing the broadcast back then,” CIM race director John Mansoor recalled. “They always needed a color commentator.”

And Ryun, who went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1996-2007, fit the bill.

“Even though Jim had never run a marathon,” Mansoor chuckled.

Why quibble with details when a legend’s in town?

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 Lake Natoma Four Bridges Half Marathon on Oct. 28, 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.