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Western New York marathoner's dreams come true

John McMahon's recent performance at the Walt Disney World Marathon in Orlando, Fla., was anything but "Goofy."

McMahon, a 40-year-old Buffalo resident, finished 10th overall in the event that attracts about 12,000 runners. His time was 2:46:13, good for second among Masters runners and a prize for first among men in the 40-44 age group.

"I was hoping to run a little faster, really," he said. "I was hoping to run a 2:42, but I could tell pretty early that I couldn't push it enough. . . . I missed a [personal record] by three seconds."

It was the second straight year that a local runner had turned in an outstanding performance. Mike Heitzenrater finished sixth in the 2006 edition of the race in 2:41:16.

McMahon was also a part of a Western New York sweep of the age-group. Carmel Cerello-Beiter of North Tonawanda won the women's 40-44 division in 3:19:09.

It's a little unusual for Snow Belt runners to participate in marathons in the winter, since the weather makes it difficult for the proper training. However, this winter's weather in Buffalo was great for training purposes. McMahon and his wife, Maureen, decided to make the trip together, as Maureen entered the half-marathon held the day before the marathon.

"I'm used to running fall marathons," John McMahon said. "We did get a mild winter. I was lucky in that sense. I was worried going in that it would be tough to get a 22-mile training run in during December."

Once McMahon saw the scheduled starting time for the marathon -- 6 a.m. -- he got up to run at that hour a few times to become a bit acclimated. Still, a 3:30 a.m. wake-up call is a shock to the system.

If the big field wasn't awake at the beginning, a few fireworks at the gun probably did that trick. Disney characters were on hand to send the runners off into the warm conditions (70 degrees) at the start.

"We ran through all the parks and finished at Epcot," said McMahon, a top Buffalo runners for several years. "They had bands at every other mile marker. High school cheerleaders lined the route. They did a good job.

"I thought the course was going to be good, but it had some spots that were tough. I had a tough time getting going, and there was a huge hill at 8 [miles), actually a double hill. When we got into the parks, there were hairpin turns. We were shifting a lot, turning a lot."

McMahon didn't have much company in terms of runners in the race. He ran the last few miles with David Glover, who lives in a suburb of Washington, D.C. Glover wasn't too upset about finishing ninth, since he had run the half-marathon (1:22:41) the day before. His combined time of 4:08:50 was second in the so-called "Goofy Challenge."

Maureen had started running seriously only a few months ago, and she ran a 2:22 in Orlando. It seemed only fair for her husband to cheer her on after Maureen had cheered him on at his seven marathons.

"That's the funny part," John said. "I've had a great support system when I've gone to New York, Boston, Toronto, the Marine Corps [Washington]. We've always had 5 to 10 people with us. I missed her at 4 miles, and I missed her at 6. I didn't know how hard it is to keep up."

As for McMahon's next race, he says it will be much closer to home: "It's the Shamrock [Run in March] for me." As for a next marathon, McMahon has his eye on Chicago on Oct. 7. Maybe, he'll have his wife along to run in the same race.

"We're discussing it. I'd like to see her try a full [marathon]," he said.


Race schedule

*Penguin Run, 5K, Classics V Banquet Facility, 2425 Niagara Falls Blvd., Amherst, 11 a.m. today, 549-6307, ext. 201.

*Mr. Ed's Super Bowl Warm-up, 5K, Middleport Fire Hall, Main Street, 11:30 a.m. Feb. 4, (585) 798-3283.

*Alden Black Water Baths, 5K, Alden Central School, 13190 Park St., 10:30 a.m. Feb. 10, 937-4223.

*Lockport Y-10, 10 miles, Lockport YMCA, 19 East Ave., 11 a.m. Feb. 10, 434-8887.


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