Author shares joys of running
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Michael Tsai
Elise Allen is young, successful, attractive and, by her own admission, thoroughly addicted to running.
Her first foot on the slippery slope of no return came in 2000 when a friend — and isn't it always a "friend"? — told her about a charitable organization offering marathon training and a slot in the Chicago Marathon, in exchange for fundraising.
"My friend was intrigued," said Allen, who was in Honolulu this week to promote her new book, "The Traveling Marathoner" (Fodor's Travel). "I was not intrigued as much."
But it was all for a good cause — AIDS research and education — and they did promise that they could train anyone.
"I'm not built like an athlete," Allen said. "I've never been athletic. If you asked me in 1999, I'd say, 'Never in a million years would I be able to do a marathon.' "
As it turned out, Allen didn't need a million years. Just one.
While her friend dropped out early in the training, Allen kept going, mile after slow mile, drawing on the positive energy of her training partners and uncovering the mysterious potential in her body.
She loved the weekly long runs that took her farther than she ever imagined. She loved the whole process of slowly building strength and endurance and mileage.
Allen and her training buddies crossed the finish line in Chicago hand in hand, arms raised skyward.
Roll credits, yes?
Not so fast. Allen was a marathoner now. And while many first-time finishers, driven by temporary obsession, cross the finish line and hang up their shoes, many more, like Allen, use their first 26.2 miles as a runway for a running life.
Was it the endorphins? Anaerobic dementia? The adrenaline rush she felt from cheering onlookers? She didn't have time to ponder.
"I'm addicted," Allen said.
Allen sated her distance jones with marathons in New York, Montana, Vermont, even Disney World. And along the way she realized that, like Hemingway's Paris, the marathon is a moveable feast.
Allen, a former writer for "Cosby" and "Jim Henson's Animal Jam" and now a work-from-home writer for kids DVDs, approached travel-book publisher Fodor's with the idea of a book highlighting great marathon experiences around the country.
Her original intention was to pick 26 races to represent the distance of an actual marathon ("I don't know how I would have handled the '.2,' she said. "Maybe a 5K?"), but Fodor's talked her off the 1,000-page ledge.
Instead, "The Traveling Marathoner" operates as a country-sprawling calendar — one race for each month of the year — for marathoners who understand the joys of building a vacation around their events.
Allen's book takes an in-depth look at races large and small, from the New York Marathon, with its five boroughs of screaming, multicultural fans, to the more subdued, yet sublimely beautiful, Stowe Marathon in Vermont, incorporating useful information about weather, accommodations, places to eat and watch the race, and post-race activities (divided, graciously, according to how sore one feels after running).
Miss December, of course, is the Honolulu Marathon, which Allen calls "a spectacular 26.2-mile jaunt through paradise."
Allen gives high praise to the Honolulu Marathon Association, "whose members actively coax the aloha spirit into every aspect of the race."
"They really do take care of people to an extent I've never seen," she said. "From getting Brian Wilson to play at the lu'au before the race, to all of the food they served, to the showers at the end — it's the little things that really count."
Allen, a middle-of-the-pack marathoner, says she particularly appreciates that the event doesn't put a cap on entries and that there is no cut-off time for finishers.
"When I was there the last person came in at around 15 hours," she recalls. "And they made sure there was someone there to greet her."
Allen devotes some 29 pages to Honolulu, including a two-page feature on Gladys "Glady" Burrill, who ran the marathon in Hono-lulu at age 86.
Allen's recommendations for replacing the 2,620 calories burned during the event include high-enders such as Chef Mavro and Alan Wong's to the blue- and no-collar fare of Side Street Inn and Rainbow Drive-In.
"I'm a foodie," she explains. "If I'm going to replace 2,620 calories, I don't want to risk it with food that's just OK."
She plans future editions of "The Traveling Marathoner," she said. Don't be surprised if the Maui Marathon turns up somewhere along the line. Allen's husband, Randy Nellis, proposed to her at the Kapalua Bay Hotel, and that's where they spent their honeymoon.
Allen said one of the biggest rewards of being a marathoner is the sense of community she feels with other runners, no matter where she is. However personal the act of running might be, the experience, Allen said, is best realized through sharing. For her, the so-called nonathlete, it's been transformative.
"I've always believed in myself, and by my nature I've always been driven and ambitious," she said. "The difference is that now I put it into action."
Reach Michael Tsai at email@example.com.