Surprise, you win the race
VAIL – Until she was 31, Alyn Park had been a good student and a good worker, but it had never occurred to her to be any kind of an athlete. Then, rather than testing the waters of competition with a 5-kilometer fun run or a city walk, Park launched herself into her first marathon.”When I was younger, it never occurred to me to be an athlete. I just came into it,” said Park, who, with her husband, Jay Wissot, owns a house in Vail, where she lives about half of each year. “I kid about it all the time. I was at a job – I’m a registered dietitian. A Coworker came in and asked, ‘Do you want to run a marathon?’ I said, ‘Sure, I’ll do it.’ It was the first race I ever ran – the Denver Marathon. That was my first entry into being athletic.”Park, 54, has since run 36 marathons, and, to her surprise, she even won the last two.
On Feb. 26, Park ran what she said was by far the most daunting in her history of racing – the Antarctica Marathon. The only participants were 201 individuals aiming to run a marathon on each of the continents. Park was the first woman to cross the finish line with a time of 4 hours, 23 minutes and 28 seconds. She said that 25 people dropped out of the race and the last person to cross the finish line did so with a time of 8:02.14.”There is no official marathon in Antarctica,” Park said. “Marathon Tours out of Boston organizes this trip once every two years. The attrition was due to the conditions. You really had extreme mud. You had rocks, water and stones. You were going up and down glaciers. I was able to keep my shoes on, but some people weren’t. They lost their shoes in the mud. These were runs we were doing to complete. I wasn’t down there trying to win it.”But she did win it. And eight days later, en route home through the Drake Passage off of the tip of Argentina, she won another one – the Fin Del Mundo – the “End of the World” race in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego – the southern most city in the world.
“In the Argentinean race, I had no idea I was going to win that,” Park said. “The most fun about doing these races is the people you meet, the camaraderie that you experience. There were two Argentinean women I passed. Afterwards, they came and found me. They made me stay around after the race. They were wonderful. I was there with them and their children. It was a more traditional course in a national park. It has some real substantial hills. It’s similar to running in Vail.”Last spring, Park and Wissot, who, at 60, has done 45 marathons, did the Two Oceans 56-kilometer race in Cape Town, South Africa. In 2000, they did the Millennium Marathon in New Zealand, and they’ve done several in Europe and North America. Park has placed second and third in the last two New York City marathons in the 50-plus age group and she and Wissot will run the Boston Marathon later this month. The final race on their continental tour is the Great Wall Marathon in China, but Park has no plans to retire any time soon after they cross that one off the list.”I can’t even use that word (retiring),” she said. “Interestingly enough, I’ve had no running injuries. I don’t run too much mileage. I’m far more interested in being able to run into my aging years. I hope I’m always able to run. The great thing to me about running is that running, or any athletic endeavor, gives you great confidence that extends into every other part of your life. It gives you discipline, focus and obviously, health benefits.”
Park refuses to identify herself as a “competitive” athlete. She said she never thinks about the other runners in a race as opponents.”I do it for the thrill of the individual,” she said. “You run for yourself. There’s really only one person you’re competing with. I’m not an elite athlete. I’m just a good little runner.”Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado