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THESE RUNNERS KEEP GOING ... AND GOING ...

Do you realize what you could do with six free hours on a Sunday? You could catch both ends of a televised NFL doubleheader. Or watch 18 innings of baseball in person while downing two hot dogs, nachos, nuts and a couple of beverages between games.

It doesn't take six hours to finish the Daytona 500 on Sunday, not unless it's one big Carubba collision.

With six free hours on Sunday you could play 18 holes at a public course and never have to complain about following a foursome of 25-handicappers eyeing every stinking putt like it's the 73rd hole of the Masters. Well OK. Almost never.

John Quirk had six free hours Sunday. So did Norm Frank. And Peggie Hillery. Do you know how they spent them, they and 31 others? They met at Delaware Park at 8 a.m. and started running, most of them right up until 2 in the afternoon.

Now if you're like me, you'd say these people are out of their minds. And I got news for you. We're right.

Do you know what Quirk, a 57-year-old retired state trooper from Buffalo, does for fun? He parachutes into Death Valley with a bunch of guys and runs the 100 miles out. Except in 1987, when the landing was rough and he broke his leg in three places. That year, fueled by Gatorade and tequila, he made it only 75 miles before his splintering leg spoke up. "Uh, boss, if you plan on using me again you might want to call this thing off. Now." The rangers came to get him.

"I couldn't take it anymore. It was embarrassing," Quirk said. Makes you wonder how the man can live with himself.

Norm Frank of Rochester? He's to marathons what scavengers are to garage sales. So long as someone's having one you can bet that he'll be there. Frank ran his first marathon in 1967, in Boston, and not that he's addicted or anything, but another 875 marathons later he's still running three a month. They say you can look him up in the Guinness Book of Records. I'm guessing under something other than "Obesity."

Frank was taking his sweet time Sunday. By noon he'd covered a mere 14.16 miles, less than half the distance run by Ryne Melcher of Waterloo, Ont., who put up a sub-3 hour marathon and kept right on going. I suppose it was a factor that Melcher's 26, Frank 73.

Peggie Hillery? She's a 43-year-old mother of four from Hamburg whom everybody loves because the farther she runs the wider she smiles. They were two hours in when she came by the nourishment stop and declared, "I love this race."

You wonder what her kids must think.

"I'll tell you what they'd say," Hillery bubbled. "They'd say, 'She's crazy. Mom's nuts.' "

Of course. Stupid me. Like, what else would they say?

But if Hillery's nuts, what does that make the two ultrarunners who came in from California? The one from Maine? Another from Pittsburgh?

"So you're flying to Buffalo, too? Family?"

"Nah, I'm going to run for six hours straight."

The race, now known as the Buffalo Philharmonic Athletic Club Six-Hour Distance Classic, has been held in various forms for 25 years. They've had 100-mile races. Twenty-four hour races. Sunday Dick Sanders raced to the store on everybody's behalf upon finding the portable toilet clean out of paper.

You don't know Dick Sanders of Amherst? Most every year since 1983 he's raised money for Women and Children's Hospital by collecting pledges for his personal charity run. But be careful. When he gets you for a buck a mile I'm not sure he tells you he's running 100.

"It's an interesting group," said Carl Pegels, the race director.

I'm convinced.

e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com

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