During the recent running of the Silicon Valley Marathon, at
least one runner was fulfilling a dream.
During the recent running of the Silicon Valley Marathon, at least one runner was fulfilling a dream. Sixty-one-year-old Hollister resident Al Kelsch completed his first marathon – a distance of 26.2 miles along the Los Gatos Creek Trail.

“I really didn’t expect to run the whole thing,” he said. “I thought maybe I’d do a half-marathon. In fact, my wife Judy, who’s also a runner, was going to pick me up at the halfway point. At 11 miles I called her and said I wasn’t ready to quit yet. She asked where she should wait for me and I told her the finish line.”

Seven miles after Kelsch made that bold statement, he began to regret it.

“From mile 18 on it was pure pain,” he said. “The only question was how much pain did I want to put up with. At 20 miles I called Judy and told her I wasn’t sure if I could finish. At 22 miles I called and said I might as well stick it out. At every mile there was a sign posted, telling us how far we’d gone. When I saw the 25-mile sign I went over and kissed it. I knew I would make it then.”

He did – but it wasn’t over yet.

“When we started, the announcer said that of the whole run you’ll remember the last two-tenths of a mile. He was right,” Kelsch said. “I’d also heard the hardest part of the run is the walk back to the car. That was also true. That three to four blocks back to the car was the longest walk. By then you’re totally spent.”

Kelsch doesn’t know where he finished in the combined marathon, half-marathon and 10-kilometer field of some 1,700 runners, but it doesn’t really matter. Time wasn’t his big motivator. Finishing was.

“My total time was five hours, 30 minutes. That’s not very fast,” he said. “The first half I ran at about two hours and 20 minutes. Next time I want to finish under five hours.”

When Kelsch first started running in 1980, his only goal was health and fitness. It would be years before he dreamed of running a marathon.

“At first it was pure pain,” he recalled. “I’d run 20 minutes twice a week. I did that for 12 to 14 years. One day I ran the track at (Rancho San Justo Middle School). That day I kept running and ran for an hour. During that time I hit the ‘runner’s high,’ and from that day on really became hooked on running. If you can get through the first three or four miles you’ll hit that time where you think you can run forever. For me, that lasts until 11 or 12 miles.”

Kelsch’s fitness regimen started to take a competitive edge when his daughter, Carrie, a fitness buff, challenged him to push himself.

“The first (competitive) run I ever did was back in 1995 or ’96. It was the Steeple-to-Steeple run (in San Juan Bautista) of 7.2 miles,” he said. “From then on, my goal was to keep pushing my times.”

Like most athletes, Kelsch was not immune to injury.

“A year ago in the spring I was running about 35 miles a week,” he said. “I did one run of about 20 miles and got an overuse injury. I couldn’t run much, so during that time I did a lot of bike riding, elliptical machine, swimming and more – anything to stay fit.”

Kelsch’s doctor, a specialist in sports medicine, told him after several months of tests that the injury didn’t indicate surgery, so in February he resumed “short” runs – less than 15 miles. He’s hooked on running, and he admits it.

“For me, not running is not an option,” Kelsch said. “If you’re a runner you’ll understand that. I do it because I have so much more energy to get through the day. When I ran the marathon there weren’t that many in the 60-to-65 age group. God’s given me enough health to do it at this age. It’s a gift, basically – one I’m going to use.”

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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