Ira Robinson may not have been the fastest runner at the 25th annual Silver State Marathon, but the 61-year-old throat cancer survivor certainly carried an impressive story with him through the finish chute at Bowers Mansion Regional Park on Sunday morning.
Robinson, from Texarkana, Texas, completed the 26.2-mile marathon through Washoe Valley in a time of 4 hours, five minutes and 54 seconds, fifth fastest in the men's 60-69 age category. The time was impressive in itself, although Robinson was actually hoping to run faster.
He has already been under 3:30 just the last two years while following a running trail in which he hopes to run a marathon in all 50 states. Sunday was his first in Nevada, and his 21st state overall since taking up the challenge in 1999.
"I've run faster times ... I ran 3:29 in New Orleans last year and I was close to that in Tucson last year," said Robinson, who speaks through an opening in his throat after having a laryngotracheotomy about five years ago. "I ran 4:17 in Crater two weeks ago. I was hoping to run better today because it's lower altitude."
There's nothing easy about the Silver State Marathon course, which includes approximately eight miles of dirt trails, not to mention hills on top of the 5,000 foot elevation. It was still a run he enjoyed.
"I like it. This is a tough course for me because of the sand, but I like the variety of the terrain," said Robinson, who celebrated his 61st birthday last Monday.
The soft sand may have been welcomed by Robinson's knees, especially considering his current race schedule. Next, he will run this Saturday in Pocatello, Idaho, and again on Sept. 8 in Bismarck, N.D.
Interestingly enough, Robinson was never a serious athlete in his youth.
"I played badminton and I taught economics at a community college in Texarkana," he said.
"I had a friend who got me interested in running races. I was a jogger, then one day he asked if I wanted to run a 15-K. I asked, 'How far is that?' He told me, 9.3 miles, and I said, 'I've never run than far before in my life.'
It wasn't long before his interest turned to serious long distance running - he has even done a 50-kilometer ultra-distance trail run in Huntsville, Texas - and two years ago he began the quest to join the 50-state marathon club.
"I had run maybe three or four states before, then I decided, 'Why not do them all?," he said.
To see just how tough a runner Robinson is, the only time he failed to finish a marathon was because of an injury at Colorado's Leadville Trail Marathon - billed as America's Highest Marathon.
"I tried to slide down a snow cornice and broke five ribs and punctured a lung," he recalled. "That's the only running injury I've ever had. But I was still able to come back four weeks after that and run Pike's Peak Ascent (13.32 miles with a 7,815-foot vertical gain) faster than I had run the year before.
"I've done Mosquito Pass three times since," added Robinson, who finished 82nd overall this July at the Leadville Trail Marathon in a time of 6:23:17.
Robinson celebrated his 60th birthday last year in fitting style.
"That's the race I'm most proud of," he said. "I finished third in my age group. That was a good birthday present to myself."
The Silver State Marathon men's 60-69 age category on Sunday was quite competitive because Floyd Whiting won in 3:36:33, less than one-half hour behind the overall winner, Rae Clark. Robinson was less than 14 minutes out of second-place for the age group.
Times and awards aren't the primary objective at this point, though. Not after getting past his first bout with cancer and then a recurrence three years ago.
"I just thank the Lord I'm able to do it," he shrugged. "I give Him credit that I'm able to start and finish these. I'm a cancer survivor and I'm going to keep doing it as long as I'm able. It sure beats the alternative."