Nov. 21, 2012
Twenty-third 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

But race officials lobby for Boston qualifiers
With less than a mile to go in the marathon, a Boston qualifying time within easy reach, what could possibly go wrong?

Choo, choooo!

Bill Hambrick recalls the moment vividly. The pace team leader was on track to get his group of runners to the finish of the 2003 California International Marathon by their 3-hour and 50-minute goal when the unthinkable happened.

A train stopped them.

As they headed down L Street, a group of women in their 40s were closing in on that 3:50 time that would earn them a spot in the Boston Marathon.

But railroad officials had gotten their signals crossed. So instead of no trains during the race, there was one crossing L Street between 19th and 20th Streets at a most inopportune time.

“I had a pretty good group of women running with me,” Hambrick said. “I started hearing the crossing arms … I thought, ‘This can’t be happening.’

“We all ran up to the crossing arms … There’s nothing we can do about it.”

Except wait … and wait … and wait.

“As soon as that train went by, everyone ducked under the crossing arms and just stuck with me,” Hambrick said. “There was nobody in front of us … It really was weird. I felt like a Pied Piper leading these people.

Looking back on it, it’s kind of a chuckle. What are the chances of a train coming through?”

Hambrick recalled runners coming up on his group at the tracks asking, ‘What can we do?’

“It (crossing) was not an option,” he said. “I’ve got to admit it crossed my mind.”

How long did they wait?

“I expect it was only a couple of minutes,” Hambrick said. “It seemed like forever.”

The train story had a happy ending. CIM race director John Mansoor informed Boston Marathon officials of the incident, paving the way for the delayed runners to earn trips to Boston.

“Boston said, ‘Oh, yeah, another train,’” Mansoor said. “Apparently there were more than a few of these episodes around the country.

“They were very understanding.”

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.