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Elkins hasn't ever been out of the running

He's finished every Rocket City Marathon despite close calls

Friday, December 08, 2006


Associate Sports Editor

A handstand almost ruined Garry Elkins' perfect streak of racing in every Rocket City Marathon.

His grandson, Morris Herman, was inside Elkins' home in Gadsden trying to stand on his head a couple of weeks before the marathon five or six years ago.

"So I told him I'd show him how," Elkins said.

After getting in the proper three-point stance, Elkins slowly raised himself up, balanced perfectly.

Then, crash!

"I fell over and there was a magazine rack and I broke my toe on it," Elkins said. "So I ran the race with my broken toe taped to my big toe."

But the pertinent fact is that he ran the marathon - just as he had in every one held before and has in every one held since. That makes him the only runner to have completed all 29 Rocket City Marathons, and he plans to make it an even 30 Saturday.

"Hey, I'm a lifer," said Elkins, 64.

The broken toe on Elkins' right foot wasn't his streak's only close call. In the early 1990s he and his wife, Becky, got involved in country and western dancing. But about four weeks before the 1993 marathon, he tried to boogie one direction and his left knee went in another.

"I twisted my knee," he said. "It was the first time I ever had any knee problems. I went to Dr. (Lawrence) Lemak and he said, 'I think you'll be all right if you just stay off it.' And I said, 'Dr. Lemak, I've got a marathon to run in Huntsville ? "

And Elkins did run it, taking periodic walking breaks and ending up with his slowest finishing time of four hours, 40 minutes. His fastest time in the Rocket City Marathon is 2:53:37 in 1981 at age 39.

"I've never had knee trouble since," he said. "And I don't do any more country and western dancing.

"It really doesn't matter what your time is. The main thing is you ran it and you finished it."

He's expecting to run a decent time this year after training harder. He'll weigh about 145 pounds after usually being closer to 155 or 160. He doesn't want to disappoint his personal audience.

"My grandchildren are coming for the first time, and they're as old as my daughter was the first year I ran it."

Morris, 11, and his sister, Rebecca, 9, will travel to the race from Brentwood, Tenn., with their mother, Elkins' daughter Katrina Herman.

Elkins, who now works for the Department of Human Resources in Etowah County with child support enforcement, was working a desk job at Republic Steel when he first quit smoking and started running 32 years ago.

"I weighed about 190 pounds, smoked a couple of packs of cigarettes a day and just felt terrible," he said. "I was just getting fat."

He soon was running races in the Birmingham area and met Harold Tinsley of Huntsville, who talked about all of the races being held here. Elkins came over for a couple and liked them. So when the Rocket City Marathon became the first 26.2-mile race in state history in 1977, Elkins decided he couldn't miss it. And he hasn't stopped running it since.

"This race is just special to me," he said. "I've got a lot of friends up there."

One of those is Dink Taylor, who was a teenager living in Gadsden when he first met Elkins and began training for the marathon under him. Ironically, Taylor and his wife, Suzanne, are now directors of the marathon that has become so intertwined with Elkins' life.

He has run a marathon 23 other times, including the fabled Boston Marathon three times, and has even completed a 50-mile race. But it's the Rocket City where he has run 759.8 miles over 29 years.

He said he's been tempted to quit running during the Rocket City only once, in a year when it was so cold there was snow on the ground as the race started at Grissom High. He was wearing blue sweat pants and a sweat shirt.

 "I didn't have any of the high-tech running gear," he said. "By the time I got downtown (16 miles or so into the race), my sweat shirt had a block of ice around my neck where I had sweated. I was freezing.

"I'd have dropped out if my wife hadn't been standing down there with a dry shirt. Now, I have some of the better racing stuff that wicks sweat away from your body."

He said he has no doubt he'll extend his streak to a perfect 30 straight Rocket City Marathon finishes on Saturday.

"I definitely plan on finishing. My wife said, 'You'd finish if you had to crawl.'

"And I said, 'I'd have to try.' "