Of all the cool stories from Sunday's Two Cities Marathon & Half, this one captures the race's soul.
Or perhaps, its sole.
About halfway through the 26.2-mile marathon, Nabil Ali was in agony because his shoes were pinching against his feet. So much so that Ali took them off and started running in his socks.
Fortunately for Ali, Sierra Running Company had a booth set up along the course on Friant Road, just behind the store. Owner Aaron Samansky was just sitting there enjoying the race when Ali ran up, threw down his shoes, said he'd pick them up later and kept running.
Being the good guy that he is, Samansky chased after Ali and asked him for his size and what shoes he preferred. Samansky then ran back to the store, which was closed for the race, grabbed three pairs off the shelf, stuffed them in a backpack and took off on an employee's bike.
"It was kind of cool and pretty funny," Samansky said. "At no point did I think I'd be doing a shoe-delivery service to some guy on the course."
By the time Samansky caught up to Ali just before the turnaround point at Copper Avenue, the 35-year-old Lemoore resident was hurting. So much so, that Ali would've soon dropped out.
The first pair Ali tried on was too small, but the second felt just right. He took off running and finished the marathon in 3 hours, 34 minutes, 59 seconds.
Not a bad time -- and an even better story.
"I was like, 'Wow!' Of course I was ecstatic," Ali said. "That's some amazing customer service."
In case you're wondering, Ali stopped by Sierra Running Company after the race and paid for the shoes. It was the least he could do.
Five years on, it looks like Fresno and Clovis residents have finally accepted the annual inconvenience of hosting a marathon, which requires a closed course.
"Usually I get tons of emails with people complaining," race co-director Debra Schmitt said. "But this year all I've gotten are congratulations."
Marathon winner Jesus Campos, who ran a personal-best 2:24:27, suggested the race would attract a deeper field (and produce faster times) if the prize money was spread around. Currently, only winners get checks, with $1,500 for the marathon and $500 for each half marathon.
Schmitt said it's something the board of directors will consider for next year. They may even remove all prize money from the Fresno Half, which is meant for recreational runners, and reallocate it to second- and third-place finishers in the marathon and Clovis Half.
"We'll look at all the numbers and see what we need to do for next year," Schmitt said.
Anyone who runs 26.2 miles (or even 13.1) is an inspiration in my book. But a few are even more so.
Let's start with 60-year-old Marsha Martin of Fresno. Blind since birth, Martin finished the Fresno Half in 3:00:22. Which is 3:00:22 faster than I ran.
Then there are the three octogenarians: 88-year-old John Paredes, 82-year-old Hank Smith and 80-year-old Christopher Denny. Denny finished in 3:07:46, Smith in 3:31:23 and Paredes in 4:00:48.
Lastly, let's hear it for Children's Hospital Central California pediatric surgeon Adam Gorra, who pushed 4-year-old Rafael Reyes, diagnosed with cerebral palsy spastic diplegia, 13.1 miles in a wheelchair. Their time was 2:57:44.