A field of determined entrants from 21 countries, 47 U.S. states, and Washington, D.C. will compete in the 41st annual Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon and Half Marathon on Sunday.
Race organizers ask each entrant to describe on their entry form their reasons for entering the race, and many illustrate how the challenges of a 26.2-mile race spurs marathoners to undertake charitable deeds that assist others who face adversity, or to overcome personal adversities themselves. All proceeds from the nonprofit NVM are donated to local charities and schools in the Napa Valley region. Numerous NVM participants, however, choose to go beyond NVM’s annual philanthropy by dedicating their race to others, often raising donations that fund the charities of their choice.
Here are profiles of some of this year’s entrants:
The 67-year-old Fremont resident is the only runner who has completed all 40 NVMs to date. His phenomenal streak started in 1979, the first year of the event. He owns an amazing total of 156 marathons on his running resume. What keeps this unwavering runner returning to NVM every year?
“I love the course, the organization, the size of the field, and how the race has treated me over the years,” Radigan said. “And, it’s much nicer to run on a quiet, gently rolling, uncrowded country road with no traffic than any urban setting. The fact that it’s a point-to-point course makes quitting less tempting. There’s no shortcuts to the finish line.”
Radigan’s first NVM was his third marathon ever. He was 27 and had been running for about three years. Although he liked what running had done for his fitness, it was becoming clear that he was never going to be an elite runner. By the time of his third NVM, he had run 15 marathons all over California.
“As I was nearing the finish of that year’s race, I thought how much I liked the NVM course compared to others and it would be a good goal for me to try to run it every year until I was 50,” Radigan said. “It would give me something to point to and train for every year. I also thought if there was any chance of me breaking 2 (hours) 50 (minutes) and qualifying for the Boston Marathon, this would be the course that would let me do it.”
In 1982 Radigan crossed the NVM finish line in 2 hours, 49 minutes, and 9 seconds, dipping under the qualifying time he needed for Boston by 51 seconds.
“Other races have come and gone,” said Radigan. “But I’ve been fortunate that the NVM has continued and allowed me to come back year after year.”
The 69-year-old Folsom resident is competing in this year’s NVM with a goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, an event he’s competed in twice before. Smith’s pursuit of Boston isn’t a unique one, but perhaps his motivation for doing it isn’t quite so common.
Historically, NVM’s 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 venerable Boston race. 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. This year, over 40 NVM entrants stated on their entry forms that their primary motivation for running Napa is to qualify for the 2020 Boston Marathon or to get in a good training run after already qualifying for this year’s Boston Marathon (April 20).
Smith has four grandchildren. His ultimate goal is to earn a Boston Marathon finisher’s medal for each of them. In his two Boston Marathons to date he brought home finisher’s medals to his two oldest granddaughters, ages 18 and 14. Now, his aim is to earn coveted Boston finisher’s medals for each of his youngest grandchildren, ages 2 ½ and 6 months.
Smith will be competing in the Napa Valley Marathon for the first time.
“I was scheduled to run the California International Marathon last December, but I had a pulmonary embolism in October and had to miss it,” he said. “My doctors said I could go back to running, so I jumped back in and Napa looked like a good race for my qualifier. I’m hoping to qualify for Boston 2020 at Napa and for 2021 at CIM or, ideally, at the 2020 Boston race.”
The 67-year-old Sonoma resident has completed 69 marathons since beginning her running career in 1980. Number 70 will be at this year’s NVM, a race where she’s qualified for the prestigious Boston Marathon a half dozen times (among her total of 16 Bostons dating back to 1984). Cain also holds the NVM course record for female athletes in the 60-64 age group, 3:43:49, which she set in 2014.
For Dr. Cain, a clinical psychologist with a professional office in Napa, this year’s NVM will be particularly challenging. She will be running her second marathon since being diagnosed as legally blind. Cain has a current visual acuity of 20/600 in her left eye. She can’t see fingers when held up in front of that eye. Her right eye is 20/70 corrected. Cain will run this year’s NVM (and also this year’s Boston Marathon on April 15) with a female friend who will pace her and help ensure that she has safe and memorable races.
Cain is coached by notable U.S. distance runner Dick Beardsley, who set the superb NVM men’s course record of 2:16:20 in 1987, a record that still stands.
“I met Dick at the Napa Valley Marathon in 1996 and he’s been my coach for 11 years,” Cain said. “We have a lot in common. Although I’m five years older, we share a birthdate. We’ve both been through multiple physical setbacks and personal heartbreak. He understands that running can help get us through trauma. In addition to motivation, he’s provided me with a running schedule that has helped me tremendously. Napa is my favorite marathon. It’s extremely well organized, a limited field of runners, and natural beauty over a net downhill course.”
The 22-year-old San Francisco resident was active as a youngster, running and playing outside with his two older brothers. Swimming and playing soccer were his favorite activities. Then Breslin broke both of his legs in a car accident when he was 13. He wasn’t expected to ever walk again. He was confined to a wheelchair for just under a year. During that time, Breslin constantly visited doctors and physical therapists in an attempt to gain mobility in his legs. Fortunately, he received surgery from an astute ankle trauma specialist and progressed to crutches.
“He and his team were so hopeful for me that I had to give it every shot I had,” Breslin said of the specialist. “Luckily, being so young and still developing probably helped a fair amount as well.”
After finishing college at the University of Southern California, Breslin moved to San Francisco to begin a career in healthcare consulting. A few of Breslin’s friends from school had frequently talked about running a marathon so, along with Breslin, they decided a half marathon would be a good place to start. In fact, the NVM is the first distance running race for Breslin regardless of distance.
“We looked into a few different races and the Napa Valley Half Marathon seemed like a perfect fit,” Breslin said. “And, none of us has ever visited Napa. I’ve been training for the past two months with a pretty standard regime. To add to my motivation, earlier this year my oldest brother, Ryan, passed away unexpectedly. He was always so proud of me for focusing on running a marathon so I’m running this race in his honor. I can finish the race and have a time that I’m proud of.”
Nicole Glathe and Michelle Glathe
Sisters Nicole Glathe, a 31-year-old Los Angeles resident, and Michelle Glathe, a 26-year-old resident of San Francisco, will run the NVM Half Marathon together in honor of their father, Jeff Glathe. Jeff competently and passionately directed the NVM finish line for many years. He passed away in October at age 62 with his wife, Tammy, and two daughters by his side after a courageous battle with glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer.
“When I reflect on the loss of my dad, one of my biggest fears and triggers of sadness is losing a sense of connection with him,” Michelle said. “Dad worked tirelessly during the months and weeks leading up to the marathon. I remember in high school I used to help him at the finish line and I’d watch as race volunteers looked at him with a lot of respect and admiration.”
To keep the connections with her father strong, Michelle asked Nicole if she’d run the NVM Half Marathon with her, even though neither sibling had concertedly trained as runners.
“I might not be trained for this endeavor, however, my energy and determination to complete this race will stem from my supportive sister and the strength of our beloved dad.” Michelle said. “I’ve always been a casual runner, enjoying high-intensity training classes that use treadmills, or going on maybe one three-mile run per week. The (NVM) half marathon will be a brand new experience, but one I share with my dad and my sister. I personally don’t expect to finish in record time, but I do expect to feel my dad cheering me on and meeting me at the finish line – right in his proper place.”
In honor of Jeff’s years of dedication to the race, the NVM Board of Directors has established the Jeff Glathe Memorial Scholarship. It will annually award $1,000 to the Aldea Day Adolescent Program for Treatment program at Vintage High School. A.D.A.P.T serves special education-qualified high school students who have mental health challenges so they can graduate from high school or safely transition to a less restrictive academic environment.
This year the NVM also established the $1,000 Gard Leighton Memorial Scholarship, which will be awarded annually to a high school senior who demonstrates exceptional dedication to the sport of running and to the success of his or her team. The scholarship recipient will be selected from the nominations submitted by high school running coaches. Leighton was the longest serving member of the NVM’s Board of Directors and a longtime ultra-marathon runner who won his age division at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run five times. He passed away last August at age 84.
These two new scholarships, combined with the $14,000 in post-secondary scholarships historically awarded by the NVM to seniors at eight Napa County high schools, bring the race’s annual scholarship donations to $16,000.
Michelle Otto and Paula McCaffrey
Otto, 40, of Jacksonville, Florida, and McCaffrey, her 65-year-old mother from Welaka, Florida, are running together this year to celebrate Otto’s return to health following an ordeal with colon and liver cancer. Otto’s father, Brian McCaffrey, also 65 and from Welaka, is competing in the half marathon to join the celebration.
Otto’s cancer was diagnosed in February 2017, and she underwent resection surgeries and chemo treatments until April 2018. She is a longtime runner, getting started in the sport on her middle school team. The only marathon she’s participated in to date is the 2005 Walt Disney World Marathon. She has two children, ages 6 and 8.
Otto and her mom have been training for NVM under the guidance of Otto’s brother/McCaffrey’s son, Christopher McCaffrey, who finished second at the Jacksonville Marathon this past December.
“This really will be a special trip for my mom and dad and I to have together,” Otto said. “When you’re sick, you have these huge goals to obtain just getting through surgery and each chemo treatment. A person can’t do it without the support of their family. Now, together, we get to obtain another huge goal: training and running a marathon, and my dad a half. But at least this goal is fun. It’s like we’re completing the full circle. This journey is coming to an end.”