WARNER ROBINS -- After crossing the finish line at the Museum of Aviation Foundation Marathon on Saturday, Mike Spath seemed barely fazed by the 26.2 miles he had just covered, but one question left him struggling to speak.
Asked why he likes to run marathons, the Old Fort, N.C., resident suddenly began to fight back tears as he spoke.
It helps you to reach down into your faith, he said. When you are running that kind of distance it goes beyond mental power. To me it becomes spiritual. ... The marathon helps you realize how weak you are as a human being and it helps you grow closer to God.
He finished the race in a personal record time of 2:52 out of four marathons he has run. His first came when he was 19, then he took about a 15-year break from running. He has run the last three Museum of Aviation marathons, besting his time in each one.
I love this course because its really flat, he said. I cannot stand hilly courses.
He was among 1,200 runners that competed in the marathon, half marathon and 5K races.
Justin Gillette of South Bend, Ind., smoked the field in the marathon and set the course record with a time of 2:33, a pace of 5:51 per mile. Gillette, 30, ran his first marathon when he was 16. He has run 116 in 30 states and finished first 59 times.
It was his first time running the museum marathon.
I thought it was cool to see all those big planes, he said. Ive never run a marathon on a military base before.
He said running is an addiction to him.
Its a little bit of a high feeling whenever you do well, he said. Its exciting to push your body to the limits.
Tiencia James of Snellville was the top female finisher with a time of 3:10. An emergency room doctor in Decatur, she was running only her third marathon, and it was her first win.
Hurricane Sandy may have some of the credit. She had entered the New York City Marathon and traveled there to run it before it was canceled due to the storm.
I didnt want my training to go to waste, she said. I heard about this race and thought it would be perfect.
She came with her own cheering section that included her husband, father and three children. She ran her first marathon in 2010.
After I had my kids, Ive done a marathon for each kid to get back in shape, she said. Third kid, third marathon, so I guess we are finished now.
For the first time this year, the race allowed relay teams to run the marathon. The base had five relay teams of six people each. A team from the 461st Air Control Wing was the winner at 3:02.
The marathon is a major fundraiser for the museum and is now in its 17th year. The half marathon is basically a run around the perimeter of the base, then the marathoners make a second lap.
Race director John Hunter said runners come from around the country in part because it is a relatively flat course that is a qualifier for the Boston Marathon. It also offers some unique scenery with a view of the flight line then a section along the edge of the swamp on the back side of the base.
You get a little nature with technology in there and runners like that, he said.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.