A sold-out crowd of 2,400 marathon participants from 10 countries and 44 U.S. states will line up for the 33rd annual Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon on Sunday, March 6.

When they do, this year’s race theme, “All Things Boston,” will resound in their ears, a tribute to the venerable Boston Marathon. The two marathons on opposite coasts have ties going back to the 1980s. One of these ties is through Dick Beardsley, whose marathon best of 2 hours, 8 minutes, and 54 seconds, set at the 1982 Boston Marathon — the memorable “Duel in the Sun” with Alberto Salazar — is the fifth-fastest marathon time by an American man.

In 1987, Beardsley set the current Napa Valley Marathon (NVM) course record of 2:16:30. He suffered a series of freak accidents and multiple surgeries from 1989 through the early 1990s, a difficult addiction to prescription pain-killing drugs, and a lengthy rehab.

Beardsley restarted his running career at the 2000 Napa Valley Marathon, running 3:23:05.

He has returned to the event every year since then, often competing, and always serving as a popular motivational speaker. “Among my eighty-some marathons, I’ve run Napa more times than any other, around seven times,” Beardsley said. “And, I’ve said this for years — my two favorite races in the world are Napa and Grandma’s marathons. Of course, Boston is right there, too.”

On April 18, 2011, Boston will celebrate the 115th running of its annual marathon.

This year, Beardsley will join a special group of dignitaries who are invited to NVM in acknowledgment of the Boston Marathon’s vaunted place among the world’s myriad of footraces.

They include Guy Morse (former Executive Director, now Senior Director of External Affairs, of the Boston Athletic Association — organizers of the Boston Marathon), Bill “Boston Billy” Rodgers (four-time winner of Boston), and Joan Benoit-Samuelson (a two-time Boston champion and winner of the inaugural women’s marathon at the 1984 Olympic Games).

The group will appear and speak at NVM’s Marathon College on Saturday, March 5 at the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa (marathon host hotel).

The Napa Valley Marathon was born in 1979 during the U.S. running boom that was triggered by Frank Shorter’s stunning victory at the 1972 Olympic Games Marathon. Throughout this running boom, which is enjoying a dramatic resurgence today, the venerable Boston Marathon has retained its status as the gold standard among popular marathons. Each year, numerous everyday runners set their sights on Boston as their personal “Olympic Games.”

Boston Marathon participants must earn their entry into the race by achieving a fairly demanding marathon qualifying time, based on the entrant’s gender and age. Historically, the fast, point-to-point, USA Track & Field certified (for accurate distance) marathon course through the scenic Napa Valley has attracted marathon devotees whose goal is to achieve a qualifying time for the Boston Marathon. This year, 30 NVM entrants stated on their entry form that their primary motivation for running Napa is to qualify for Boston.

“The Napa and Boston courses are similar to each other in many ways,” Beardsley said. “They’re both rolling, point-to-point, and potentially fast if you run them intelligently. And, Napa has its own rendition of (Boston’s) Heartbreak Hill at 20 miles. Napa has the right combination of factors for a Boston qualifier: Good weather for the most part, some good downhills where you can fly, and excellent aid station and volunteer support.”

Both NVM and the Boston Marathon have enjoyed sold-out participant fields annually during the past decade. For its 2011 edition, NVM reached its 2,400-participant limit last New Year’s Eve, the earliest sellout date ever for the event.

This year’s Boston Marathon sold out its 26,790 entries in just eight hours — last year it took just over two months. Entry limits for NVM are largely determined by the number of available hotel rooms in the world-renowned Napa Valley wine producing and tasting region.

Indeed, the Napa Valley Marathon’s popularity has paralleled the steady growth of running in the U.S. In 2010, the U.S. established record annual highs in total marathon finishers (more than 500,000) and active marathons (more than 600) according to Running USA, a non-profit organization created in 1999 to improve the status of road racing. What fuels this growth at the challenging 26.2-mile marathon distance?

“The success and growth of popular marathon training programs, for both charity and non-charity purposes, have prepared many new runners for the distance,” said Ryan Lamppa, Running USA’s Media Director. “Well-organized, fun marathons tied to a community — such as Napa Valley — have created a ‘brand’ and tremendous goodwill that runners want to experience. Also, increased media coverage of marathon mania has fueled the buzz. Through websites and e-mail, runners hear about the sellouts, so when registration opens for their marathon of choice they sign-up earlier and earlier, creating earlier sellouts.”

Runner’s World magazine selected NVM as one of the top 10 U.S. marathons for first-time marathon participants in its January 2011 issue. A remarkable 30 percent of NVM’s 2,400 entrants in 2011 indicated on their entries that the race will serve as their marathon debut.

The Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon asks each marathon registrant to submit a short “interesting story” about their motivations for running the 26.2-mile race.

Here is a selection of these stories:

Jesus Mendez, 20, of Napa, was overweight as a teenager, which caused him to suffer psychological problems, and other related illnesses.

With counseling and support from the late Dr. Sarah Clary Martin, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente’s Napa medical offices, the current Napa Valley College student was able to adopt an active lifestyle, lose weight, improve his overall health, and pursue a higher education. Mendez began running four years ago, and is entered in this year’s NVM, his first marathon.

“Running has been a big factor in obtaining my weight goals along with a healthier diet,” said Mendez. “Overcoming my health obstacle wasn’t an easy task. And, I know that completing the Napa Valley Marathon won’t be easy, but through the lessons I learned from Dr. Martin and my family I know that if I’m dedicated, motivated, and believe in myself, there’s no challenge I can’t overcome.”

Adam Tidd, 32, of Boston, Mass., grew up with the Boston Marathon by watching it on TV every Patriot’s Day. “But never in a million years did I ever think I would run a marathon, or even Boston,” he said. That changed in 2002 when Tidd ran the Disney Marathon in honor of his father, Keniston, who passed away two weeks later at age 57 with colon cancer. Since then, Tidd has completed many marathons and half marathons as his “personal mantra,” as he describes it, in honor of his father and his sister, Lisa, 34, who is a breast cancer survivor.

After Lisa’s cancer diagnosis last year, he dedicated his first Boston Marathon to her, and completed it — with Lisa cheering him on the sidelines.

Major John Baron, 35, of Vacaville, serves as a medical physician in the U.S. Air Force. He was deployed in Afghanistan between Sept. 2010 and Jan. 2011, where he treated trauma-associated injuries and prepared for his first marathon — the 2011 Napa Valley Marathon.

A friend of Baron’s who lives in Vacaville entered NVM and asked Baron if he wanted to “train” with him for the race by long distance correspondence. Baron accepted his friend’s offer. Baron ran around the perimeter of his Afghanistan military base to prepare for the race. He lost 25 pounds in the process.

“Training for Napa has given me a personal goal to strive for, and something to keep my mind and body active when I was off duty and wasn’t at war, so I wouldn’t think about things you really shouldn’t think about,” Baron said. “Plus, it has kept me fit.”

Jennifer Marana, 36, of Claremont, Calif., is inspired to run by her 6-year-old son, William, who was diagnosed at birth with a condition called hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain) and spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy.

Doctors informed Jennifer and her husband, Joe, that William would be in a vegetative state for the rest of his life.

“I initially began running to get in shape, but after William was born my running gained a whole new significance,” Marana said.

She ran the 2006 San Francisco Half Marathon, calling it her “Run for Will,” and raised nearly $5,000 for the Hydrocephalus Association.

The 2011 NVM will be her second 26.2-miler. “We feel great pride in how far Will has come,” said Marana. “While I run for him today, I hope to one day run with him.”

Running USA estimates that the sport of road running generates approximately $1 billion annually for charitable causes in the U.S. This estimate is bolstered by a 2007 USA Track & Field study that revealed road runners and walkers raised $714 million for charities in 2006.

Patricia Mott, 52, of Woodland, Calif. was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in her early 40s, shattering her dream of running her first marathon by age 45. Five years and five different therapy treatments later, she was disease-free. In 2009, 10 years after she was diagnosed with NHL, Mott completed her first half marathon.

Then, she entered last year’s NVM, her first marathon, and completed it in 4:30.

“I realized then, while running through the Napa Valley, that I was extremely blessed to be alive,” Mott said.

“I felt truly alive running through the beautiful countryside. That’s why I’m back in 2011 to run the Napa Valley Marathon.”

In 1998, Dr. Norril Sumanqui, MD, 50, of San Jose, was 60 pounds overweight, pre-diabetic, and was placed on medication for high cholesterol and high blood pressure. He started running to get fit, and now maintains normal weight and is not taking medication. As the primary care physician serving veterans at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville, he advocates regular exercise to his patients. The 2011 NVM will be his third marathon.

“I have to lead by example,” he said.

Ben Wienand, 33, of Tracy, Calif. was not a runner, at least until last year’s NVM, a race that he and his wife, Vicki, attended as spectators. They came out to support their friend, George Downes, who ran the race with the Leukemia Society’s Team in Training program in honor of his older brother, and raised money for leukemia research. Downes’ brother died from leukemia at an early age. Wienand and his wife were so inspired that they began training for, and completed, the San Jose Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon last October.

Now, Wienand will tackle his first marathon. “It’s the next logical step,” Wienand said. “Coming back to Napa where I was originally inspired just brings it full circle for me.”

Before he was diagnosed with head and neck cancer, Tom Simpson, 59, of Scottsdale, Ariz., had been a runner for years and had completed eight marathons with a personal best of 3:12.

His goal was to qualify for the Boston Marathon, but he always came up seconds short. Now, as a cancer survivor, Simpson, who teaches communications studies at Paradise Valley Community College and Arizona State University, serves as a role model. “I have students that say they could never run a marathon, and I tell them that, yes, they can,” Simpson said.

“I tell them how I started to run again after my cancer. And, now I will run Napa. I believe that it will be my Boston qualifier.”

Matthew Barnes, 35, of Pollock Pines, Calif., works as the principal at El Dorado High School (Placerville, Calif.) where he runs with students every Thursday afternoon during his Detention Run program that he started several years ago.

“It gives students an opportunity to work off detention hours doing something active and good for themselves,” Barnes said. Barnes has also challenged his high school staff members to a “100 Day Challenge” consisting of 30 minutes of intentional movement per day for 100 days. Barnes holds a marathon personal best of 3:12. NVM will be his 13th marathon.

Brian Cain, 33, of Alamo, Calif., will run in the 2011 Napa Valley Marathon amidst a quest to earn entry into the Seven Continents Club, reserved for runners who have run a marathon on seven continents. So far, he has completed marathons in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America.

Cain hopes to complete his journey and join less than 200 members in the exclusive club by completing the Rio de Janeiro Marathon (South America) later this year and the Antarctica Marathon in 2012.

Paula Erdle, 58, of Salt Lake City, Utah, will run in her third Napa Valley Marathon, this time with a friend who is a former smoker turned running addict. Erdle can relate. She smoked nearly three packs of cigarettes a day for almost 20 years. After Erdle’s father died of cardiomyopathy at age 64, she decided to make changes in her life.

She quit smoking and finished her first marathon at age 47. Since then, she has run 88 more. Erdle has run marathons in all 50 states.

Jennifer Carvalho, 44, of Paradise, Calif., will participate in her second NVM and mark 12 marathons completed in her running log to celebrate 12 years of sobriety after struggling with alcoholism for most of her adult life.

“I literally could not have accomplished either goal without the other,” she said.

Maria Maydeck, 56, of Reno, Nev. calls breast cancer “the race I was unable to work out for.” Her experience as a racer, though, helped her to beat her rival. “I always finish a race no matter how much my body or mental state is telling me to quit,” said Maydeck, who completed her first two marathons in 2004, at the Los Angeles and Orange County Marathons. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, Maydeck endured a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, a mastectomy, and two reconstruction surgeries.

Her goal now is to finish the 2011 Napa Valley Marathon.

“Through my battle with cancer, I want to help as many women as I can understand that they, too, can develop their own race strategies and fight this thing called breast cancer,” Maydeck said.

The 2011 Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon starts on March 6 at 7 a.m. in Calistoga on the Silverado Trail near the intersection of Rosedale Road. The marathon’s fast, USA Track & Field certified (for accurate distance) road course runs the length of the beautiful Silverado Trail and finishes at Vintage High School in Napa.

Entry slots are still available for the companion Kiwanis 5K Fun Run, which starts at 8 a.m. and finishes at Vintage High School on marathon morning.

Every Napa Valley Marathon participant assists important local causes. All proceeds from the Napa Valley Marathon (a non-profit organization) are donated to local charities and schools in the Napa Valley region.

For more information about the Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon, visit the marathon’s web site at www.napavalley marathon.org

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