There are marathon runners. Then there are legacy marathon runners – those who have completed the same marathon every year since year one.
Cliff Housego of Oak Park has participated in the Los Angeles Marathon since its maiden year in 1986.
He didn’t plan on becoming a legacy runner. In fact, he did not plan on running marathons at all. “I wasn’t one of those high school or collegiate runners,” said the 63-year-old.
Fate had other plans and the reality of heart disease hit close to home. Housego’s father died from a heart attack at the age of 48. His father-in-law also succumbed to a heart attack when he was 53.
“Those were my wake-up calls,” said Housego, who also teaches the West Coast swing in his living room and runs his own entertainment company specializing in weddings.
He signed up for the Orange County Marathon soon after that, finishing with a time of 4:05. “I thought it was a decent time for a 30-something-year-old marathon newbie but then I met Laszlo Tabori [the third man in history to break the sub-4-minute mile barrier],” said Housego.
The two crossed paths in the San Fernando Valley and Housego recalls Tabori scoffing at his 4:05 finish time. “He burst out laughing and told me to my face that it was ridiculously slow,” he said of his encounter with the esteemed Tabori.
“He promised me that I could get faster if I train with his club,” said Housego who rose up to the challenge and soon joined the San Fernando Valley Track Club, which Tabori was coaching at that time.
By the time he signed up for his first LA Marathon, Housego had cut his finish time by almost an hour and had set a new personal record (PR).
“Of course, he was right,” Housego said in amusement. “He knew what he was talking about being an Olympian and all that.”
Psyched by that impressive finish time, the father of two also traveled to Sacramento and Phoenix soon after, completing marathons well within the three-hour finish time he clocked in at LA.
As far as completing the LA Marathon 26 years in a row, that wasn’t always the plan. “It just happened but around year five or so, I thought ‘wow’ I could keep doing this since it’s a local marathon that doesn’t involve a lot of logistics to get to,” he said.
Housego has also made many friends along the way, including the close-knit group of 195 LA Marathon legacy runners. “We have a de facto leader, Lou Biones and he keeps us all in the loop,” he said.
Four to five months prior to the marathon, the group gets together for group runs. “The group support is good and it keeps us all motivated to stay in shape the rest of the year since we’re not all that young anymore,” said Ruben Rosales, another legacy runner and one of Housego’s training buddies.
Like Housego, Rosales is dreading the rain forecast for this Sunday’s marathon, even if it’s not the first time that they will be pounding the wet streets of LA.
“Cliff and I will roll with it just like we did the other times, with our ponchos and cut-out trash bags,” said the 63-year-old North Ranch resident.
Housego is in agreement. “Our perspectives have changed over the years. The most important thing on Sunday will be to finish the marathon,” he said.