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O'KEEFFE A PROVEN MASTER OF MARATHONS

Of all the tens of thousands of people over age 40 who run marathons in the United States, the reigning champion is one David O'Keeffe, the Orchard Park sports medicine physician.

O'Keeffe won his crown last October at the Twin Cities Marathon, but he's not exactly wearing the title on his sleeve.

"It's a nice thing, but it's not that big a deal," said O'Keeffe, who's been modest about most of his achievements, including once making the national cross-country team.

He would have been far happier had he run Twin Cities in closer to 2 hours, 20 minutes, the time he thinks he's capable of, instead of the 2:28:17 that he did run.

And he would have been even happier had he won the Masters division overall, instead of finishing behind two Kenyan masters who ran in the 2:14 range.

He did pick up $1,500 as the top U.S. Master, another $500 for his third-place finish, and a few hundred dollars more for his age-graded performance. But it was a time, not money, that he was chasing.

The 2:20 barrier would have won him a spot in the U.S. Olympic Marathon trials, a nice achievement to have even if he chose not to run the race in May because it's in hilly Pittsburgh.

So in early December, O'Keeffe flew to Huntsville, Ala., for another try, this time in the Rocket City Marathon. He was on a 2:21 pace when he started getting a stomach cramp that slowed him to a 2:25 finish.

Because the cramp slowed him, he conserved his energy and felt so good afterward that five weeks later, he found himself in Houston on Jan. 16 for the Houston Marathon. Warm weather slowed the whole field, including O'Keeffe, who came in with a 2:28:01. "It was just too hot," he said. "I felt like cashing it in, but I'm not going to do that."

He recovered and ran the last seven or eight miles strong to the finish.

Three marathons in four months with an average time of 2:27. Three marathons in that short a time with an average pace of 5 minutes, 36 seconds a mile. This guy is 41 years old! Does he ever get tired? Does he ever age?

"I feel like I did 10 years ago, I don't feel any different," he said. "I'm not running at the same speed, but that's all a question of proper buildup and focus."

Soon, he'll start training hard again, this time planning a trip to the Columbus Marathon in May. "I like to run, so I'm always looking ahead to something."

Three sports in one

If you'd like to try a triathlon but aren't sure you're ready for swimming, biking, and running in the same event, the Buffalo Triathlon Club would like to help.

Members of the club, who range from beginners to veterans of Hawaii's Ironman competition, are issuing an open invitation to their 7:45 p.m. Feb. 7 meeting at Molly's Pub, 3199 Main St., near Winspear.

Membership chairman Ed Harkey said the club offers organized weekly training sessions, including open-water swim training, hill running and biking as well as bike time trials.

Call Harkey at 731-9533 with questions, or E-mail him at DolphinKik@aol.com. You can then take your newly developed skills to the Buffalo Triathlon on July 2.

Marathon rerun

If you're interested in taking up Carl Pegel's offer to run a marathon on Apr. 9 in Delaware Park as part of the Buffalo Philharmonic A.C. 6-Hour Distance Classic, try these numbers: 689-9018 or 645-3259. The number that ran here recently was incorrect.

Race directors meet

The Niagara Chapter of USA Track & Field wants us to warn all those race directors who plan on attending the annual meeting -- it's at 7:30 Monday night at Banchettis by Rizzo, 550 North French Road -- that John Beishline is not acting on their behalf.

Beishline, in announcing the meeting two weeks ago, said he had an agreement with Bill Kehoe, the organization's sanctioner from Rochester, to screen local races looking for a sanction so there wouldn't be a conflict.

That prompted a two-page letter sent Federal Express by George Peter Keyes, the organization's acting president, wishing to inform runners that no approval to screen races was granted to anyone, that Kehoe had never granted that authority, and that USA Track & Field's handbook shows there is no provision under its bylaws to grant that authority.

Lighten up, guys. Beishline, the guy with the bullhorn at local races, is the former president of the Niagara chapter's predecessor. He says he is only trying to do local race directors a favor by letting them know when multiple races are set for the same date.

Upcoming races

Mr. Ed's Super Bowl Warm-up, 5K, Middleport, 11:30 a.m., today, 433-7152; Lockport YMCA Y-10, 10 miles, 11 a.m., Feb. 12, 434-8887; Wegmans and Shuttle America Winterfest, 2- or 3-mile race, in and around Delaware Park, noon, Feb. 19, 851-5806; Canisius High School Crusader Chilly Challenge, 5K, Delaware Avenue, noon, Feb. 27, 882-0466.

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