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There's no better way to experience a big city's electricity than running a marathon through its streets, especially joining 16,000 hardy souls here for a guided tour of The City That Works.

The LaSalle Banks Marathon last Sunday started and ended in leafy Grant Park near Lake Michigan and took us through an ethnic stew that included Chinatown, Greektown, Little Italy and the mariachi bands in Pilsen, through the concrete corridors of the downtown Loop and some of the poorest and richest neighborhoods in Chicago.

On a gorgeous October morning, we were carried along by live Chicago blues and rock bands, high school marching bands, the cheers of hundreds of thousands of spectators and five young girls near a housing project who curiously shouted "Defense, Defense" as if we were Bruce Smith and Bryce Paup going in for a sack.

Any city lacking cheering sections for its marathon ought to contract with the Chicago Front Runners, the gay and lesbian running club that took over Broadway. Decked out in Mickey Mouse beanies, banging on drums and doing a Can-Can in drag to campy loud disco, the Front Runners sent everyone along with a big smile.

Khalid Khannouchi, the Moroccan now living in Brooklyn, won the race in a blistering 2 hours, 7 minutes and 10 seconds, the fourth fastest marathon ever and the top time this year. Most of us were buried somewhere along the course working out our own demons when we got word that someone had incredibly finished already.

Khannouchi, 25, the hottest runner on the road-racing circuit, won the 5,000 meters in Buffalo's World University Games and came back the next year for the 1994 Subaru Race, finishing second to training partner Khalid Kouranni, a guy who threw in a 4:14 last mile to win. (Note to self: consider changing name to Khalid to improve running times.)

We in the Chicago pack were spared the agony of watching women's winner Marian Sutton come across in 2:29:03, a splendid run except for a nose bleed in the last few miles that left the Brit a bloody mess. But for $54,000, her earnings for the day, we could all suffer a nose bleed or two.

There were dozens of runners from Western New York, including contingents from the Bond Lake A.C., the Buffalo Philharmonic A.C., the South Buffalo A.C. and the Greater Buffalo Track Club.

The star of the show for the Buffalo runners was not there: Owen Anderson, the exercise physiologist who spoke at last year's Ford Buffalo Marathon Clinic. Anderson doesn't advocate long, punishing runs, but instead calls for a scientifically based training program that concentrates on quality and running enough miles at marathon race pace so runners feel they own that pace.

He was coaching three Buffalo runners here, Dan Loncto, Jeff Yurko and Sharon Linstedt, all in their 40s and all coming through the race in the best time they've ever run. Loncto, at age 47, even took third place for his age group with a 2:45:29.

For a lot of runners Sunday, the wheels came off somewhere after 20 miles, the time when dozens of vacant-eyed souls were seen wandering along the course, wondering if they would ever get it back together. After dropping into a black hole between 22 and 24 miles, I somehow collected myself enough to run the last 2.2 miles and finish in dignity as tens of thousands cheered those of us coming across, with Queen's "We Are The Champions" continually booming out of the finish line speakers.

Never again, I vowed at 22 miles. Which marathon should I run next, I wondered a few minutes later with a big smile on my face and a heavy finisher's medal around my neck.

Running shorts

A lot of local runners went to Toronto last week for another marathon run in splendid fall weather. John McMahon, a recruiter for Bishop Timon-St. Jude High School, made his marathon debut at Toronto, running a 3:00:32. He was disappointed in not breaking three hours, but has to be pleased being the first American finisher in the race.

You have your pick Saturday among three good small races that benefit local schools. Details are below for races helping out Bishop Timon-St. Jude and Mount Mercy Academy, Holy Angels Academy, and the North Tonawanda school district's running teams, which were left without a budget this year.

Upcoming races

Niagara Falls Marathon races, Niagara Falls, Ont., 8 a.m. for the half-marathon, 8:30 a.m. for the marathon, and 8:45 a.m. for 5K, today, 905-945-6216; Bishop Timon-St. Jude & Mount Mercy Academy Halloween Run, 2.5 miles, 11 a.m., Sat., 826-3610; Holy Angels Academy Women's 5K Run, 1 p.m., Sat., 834-7120; North Tonawanda Track and Field's Fall Frolic 5K Race, 10 a.m., Sat., 694-8022 or 694-8465; Erie County Social Services B-2000 5K Run, ECC City Campus, 10 a.m., Nov. 8, 858-7087.

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