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San Quentin prison marathon delayed by California wildfire

Running is a means of redemption for a select few inmates of the maximum security facility

Friday, November 16 would have marked the 12th running of the San Quentin Marathon, which has taken place inside the walls of the California prison every year since 2008. It’s restricted to a select group of inmates known as the 1000 Mile Club who train with the help of three dedicated volunteer coaches and a handful of community volunteers. This year’s event has been held over til next month, due to air quality concerns resulting from the Camp wildfire that has devastated parts of northern California.

The San Quentin 1000 Mile Club working out. Photo: Jonath Mathew

RELATED: Monterey Bay Half Marathon cancelled due to wildfire smoke

Frank Ruona, head coach of the 1000 Mile Club (as the San Quentin runners are called), has been coaching runners at the prison for 13 years. He expects around 36 starters for the marathon this year, and likely only 18 finishers.

“The marathon inside has a far greater difficulty level because of the nature of the course,” says Christine Yoo, director, producer and writer of a documentary about the marathon slated for release next year entitled 26.2 to Life. 

Markelle Taylor. Photo: Jonath Mathew

One 1000 Mile Club member who’s a good bet to finish is Markelle Taylor, who in 2016 ran a personal best and course record of 3:16. Taylor’s sentence on a murder conviction was commuted earlier this year, and he will likely be released in early 2019. According to Yoo, Taylor’s dream is to run the Boston Marathon, and his PB is only one minute off his Boston qualifying time.

1000 Mile Club runners Steve B., Tommy W., Troy D. Photo: Jonath Mathew

Yoo, Ruona and the other volunteers and coaches are hoping for two things: that Taylor gets out in time, and that the Boston Marathon might actually let him run in 2019, even though registration is closed and the San Quentin course is not sanctioned. (Taylor is now 46, and his qualifying time is only 3:20. “I’m trying to motivate him to try to break 3:15,” says Ruona.) Whatever happens, Taylor just hopes this will be his last marathon behind bars. 

Head Coach Frank Ruona. Photo: Jianca Lazarus

San Quentin Prison is home to men convicted of violent crimes, but the coaches and the filmmakers alike have a lot of admiration for the men who are selected to participate, and who have embraced running, at least partly to redeem themselves.


In fact, Ruona’s involvement with the 1000 Mile Club may have had as much of an impact on him as it has on the men who have turned their lives around, thanks to running. In a clip from Yoo’s film, Ruona comments that he’s been a card-carrying Republican all his life. But he is deeply troubled by the high rates of incarceration in his country. “I’ve become more of an advocate for trying to get these guys rehabbed and out, and let them live their life.” 

The San Quentin Marathon has been rescheduled to December 14, 2018.




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