Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon: 80-year-old Terry Baransy will compete virtually in race that might be his last
The San Francisco air should be crisp when Terry Baransy leaves his house around 6 a.m. on race day. There will be no clump of runners around him, no marked path or finish line ahead, but Baransy will be wearing his Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon bib, competing virtually in a race that might be his last.
The 80-year-old from Mooreland will start by running west to Lake Merced, then turn north through Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, a former Army post turned national park, before he gets to the Golden Gate Bridge.
“I know that particular course comes close to 27 miles,” Baransy said, calculating the roundtrip distance. “To just do 26.2 would mean to turn around before I got to the end of Golden Gate Bridge, and I'm not about to turn around before I get to the other side.”
The extra distance doesn’t mean all that much to a man who’s run 205 marathons.
But No. 206, scheduled for Oct. 4, could be the final leg of a 5,400-mile journey.
“I've accepted the fact that it probably will be,” said Baransy, who celebrated his 80th birthday last week.
Baransy no longer runs a marathon a month, a pace he kept for much of the last two decades, but there’s one race he never misses: the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. Baransy is a loyal member of the “Ran Them All” club — a group of 38 people who have run in every Memorial Marathon since the first in 2001.
Members of the club will catch up on a Zoom call this week before running a race that’s altogether different from the 19 before. Participants have from Oct. 4 to Oct. 18 to complete their own course and submit their time. More than 13,000 runners are expected to compete virtually.
The scenery for Baransy’s 26.2 mile trek won’t at all remind him of downtown Oklahoma City, but what the race represents will remain the same.
“I read all the pennants when I'm running of those who perished,” Baransy said of the 168 banners that usually line the course. “I didn't know anybody in the bombing, but everybody that was there are people that I could've known.”
Baransy grew up in small-town northwestern Oklahoma and graduated from Mooreland High School. He studied journalism at Oklahoma City University and got his graduate degree from OU after serving four years in the Air Force.
A career in publishing took Baransy from Boston to San Francisco, where he’s lived for the last 40 years.
“I still consider Oklahoma my home,” Baransy said. “All my values, all my growing up formed everything.”
Running in the Memorial Marathon every year also serves as Baransy’s annual trip home to visit loved ones. His brother lives in Oklahoma City, and Baransy still has several friends in the area. Not seeing them because of the pandemic is what he’ll miss most.
“None of them ran,” Baransy said, “but they all appreciated my doing it and shared my victory with me.”
Running is Baransy’s way of seeing the world. He’s run a marathon in all 50 states, and has competed in London and Paris. A tornado threat once delayed his race in Oklahoma. He’s run through a Kansas blizzard and the Nevada desert. He crossed off Connecticut, his final state, after running a marathon in Hartford. Baransy has two favorite races: the Memorial Marathon and the Bataan Memorial Death March in New Mexico.
“You go places and see things that you wanted to see but you wouldn't see otherwise,” Baransy said.
Baransy didn’t run his first marathon until he was 49. He had gained weight after he quit smoking, so he joined a YMCA exercise class that, little to his knowledge, included a one-mile jog. Baransy attended the class three times a week, and started adding distance to his own runs.
The 1989 Los Angeles Marathon was his first official crack at 26.2 miles. The Santa Ana winds were in that morning, and temperatures crept into the 90s.
“It was probably the hardest thing mentally and physically I had ever done,” Baransy said. “I finished and I realized we're only limited by limits we put on ourselves.”
Baransy stopped worrying about his times once he qualified for the 1991 Boston Marathon.
“At that point I decided I'm going to do more of these and I'm going to look around and enjoy where I am and not feel like I have to run so fast I can't pay attention to anything else,” Baransy said. “That just changed my attitude. That is when I decided that rather than training up for two or three events where I would push, I would just do them more frequently and use each marathon as a trainer for the next one.”
Completion has become more important than the clock.
The 2017 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon was No. 200 for Baransy, and since then, he’s stopped competing as frequently.
But finishing a marathon at 80 has long been a goal.
“The fact that he still wants to run at 80, oh my gosh, just think about that story,” said Kari Watkins, executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. “For the families and survivors and first responders, that’s motivation. They’re so grateful people don’t forget their loved ones.”
Baransy didn’t win many marathon trophies when he started out, but now he has a chest full of them.
"The competition dwindles down considerably after 70,” he said with a laugh.
Baransy has never suffered a running injury, but he’s twice had open-heart surgery. His doctor has given him the go-ahead to keep running, though.
"At some point,” Baransy said, “you're not gonna think it's a very good idea to do another one.”
But Baransy isn’t there yet. He has at least one more race to run, and it’s the marathon he’s never missed.
“We're all capable of doing so much more than we think we can,” Baransy said. “The challenge that the marathon represents has always been what kept me going back for more.”
• Registration for the five races closes Oct. 1. Runners can register at okcmarathon.com.
• Runners who compete virtually will receive an event shirt and medal ahead of Oct. 4. They’ll also receive a 20% discount for the 2021 race after posting their time.
• The race can be run virtually any day from Oct. 4 to 18. It should be completed in one day.