HONOLULU (05-Dec) -- It all began after Thanksgiving dinner in 1973. Gary Dill, a 28 year-old originally from southern Indiana, had eaten too much, and felt the need to get moving.
"We were all laying around after the meal just groaning," Dill recalled in an interview with Race Results Weekly. "You know, your stomach is just groaning, it just hurts." He continued: "We said, what are we going to do? We've got to get some exercise."
One of his roommates brought over a copy of the local newspaper which had an application for the first-ever Honolulu Marathon which would take place only about three weeks later on December 16. A plan was hastily devised.
"We made a vow," Dill, a 68 year-old bottom fisherman with a masters degree in economics, recalled with a smile, scratching his grey beard. "One of those things you do when you're young and dumb. We made a vow that the three of us would do this marathon."
The three men improvised a training program and Dill, who played ruby and knew a thing or two about physical pain, figured that three weeks would be enough time to train. They mapped out a 10-mile running loop to start getting ready.
"We were kind of fit guys," said Dill, wearing his blue 2010 Honolulu Marathon finisher shirt. "I played rugby, the the other guys were trim."
In the first year of the race, when there were only 167 athletes, finisher shirts were only awarded to runners who finished in under five hours, a pace of 11 minutes and 27 seconds per mile. Dill and his friends tried to train at a 10-minute per mile pace in the hope that they could go fast enough on race day to get the shirt. Dill did, but just barely. He showed a reporter his 1973 finisher certificate, now laminated in plastic, with a 4-hour, 57-minute and 23-second finish time.
"I knew about pain, I thought," Dill said with a laugh. "But no, no. I didn't know about pain. I found out what real pain was like."
The years went past and Dill gradually got faster, eventually reaching a best time of 3 hours and 23 minutes. But like Runner's World editor Amby Burfoot, who just completed his 50th consecutive Manchester Road Race, Dill's focus began to shift to just getting to the starting line healthy enough to finish. One year, he wobbled to the finish on a severely weakened knee in the wake of arthroscopic surgery. The surgery took place in October, so Dill didn't have enough time to recover.
"By the time I got to Diamond Head (the famous volcano which is adjacent to the course), my knee was just wobbling," he said. "I was a bike with a bent rim. I said, there's no way I'm going to run this sucker. So, I started walking and I finished it."
That would not turn out to be Dill's worst year at the race. At the 15th edition in 1987, Dill and other runners got food poisoning at the pre-race dinner and he arrived on the starting line feeling sick. He figured he could tough it out to keep the streak alive, but had met what would be his biggest obstacle in the 40-year streak.
"I got down to the start and thought I had the flu, a bad case of the flu" Dill recalled. "So, I went ahead and did it; I'll just tough it out."
By the time Dill reached Diamond Head for the second time, about the 24-mile mark, he was so sick he had to sit down. He found a flat spot on the stone wall overlooking the Pacific and eventually fell asleep.
"I got back to Diamond Head and I was just destroyed," Dill recounted. "So, I decided to sit down on the rock wall which looks out over the ocean. I sat there for about two hours, asleep. Finally, one of the medical guys came along... and I got up and tottered in and finished in about 8 hours. That's the slowest."
For Sunday's race, Dill, who lives here in Honolulu, simply hopes to finish. He said that he now walks more than he runs or jogs to complete the course. He ran 6:49:35 at last year's race, according to the official results.
"I used to run them, then I ran them faster and faster," said Dill wistfully. "Then, I ran them slower and slower, and then I was sort of jogging them, and then I was jogging them with a little bit of a walk." He laughed then said: "Now it's just jog/walk," stretching out the word "walk" like a sheep's bleat.
Dill will be one of just two men trying for 40 straight Honolulu Marathon finishes here on Sunday. Dr. Jerold Chun, 54, a neuroscientist from La Jolla, Calif., who first ran the race at 14 years-old, will also be trying for his 40th. The two men refer to themselves as "The Final Few," said Dill.
"To survive," he said when asked what his goal was for Sunday.
PHOTO: Gary Dill, 68, at the 2012 Honolulu Marathon Expo (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)