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The Big Run-Around
Steve Rushin
October 02, 2006
THE TEDIUM of office life can inspire brilliance. T.S. Eliot wrote poetry while clerking in a London bank, Albert Einstein daydreamed of theoretical physics while working in the Swiss patent office, and Joseph Barbera toiled at a trust company before he co-fathered The Flintstones. All of them forged beauty in the crucible of the cubicle.
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October 02, 2006

The Big Run-around

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THE TEDIUM of office life can inspire brilliance. T.S. Eliot wrote poetry while clerking in a London bank, Albert Einstein daydreamed of theoretical physics while working in the Swiss patent office, and Joseph Barbera toiled at a trust company before he co-fathered The Flintstones. All of them forged beauty in the crucible of the cubicle.

Then there is Dane Rauschenberg. Monday to Friday, he works in a patent licensing office in Chevy Chase, Md. But every weekend, without fail—and for no apparent reason—the 30-year-old runs a marathon. On Sunday he'll be in Johnstown, Pa., for his 39th marathon in 39 weeks, putting him three quarters of the way through a 52-week marathon of marathons that has earned him his e-mail prefix: Danerunsalot.

You might think he's putting the loco back in locomotion, but Rauschenberg sees it differently. "Running is my Prozac," he says. "If I can't solve all my problems after an hour of running, I'm in trouble."

If one of art's duties is to reflect the human condition, Rauschenberg is a modern-day Melville, who moonlighted in a New York City customs house for 19 years after writing Moby-Dick. In January at the Orlando Extreme Marathon—four laps around an alligator-infested swamp—Rauschenberg watched buzzards trace a lazy circle above two elderly runners, one of whom finally shouted, "I still have a lap to go!" It's the best illustration yet of running as a metaphor for life.

Man versus Man is a timeless racing theme, but Rauschenberg has also done Man versus Nature (running in tropical storm Beryl in Nova Scotia) and even Man versus Man's Best Friend: At the seven-mile mark of the Hatfield-McCoy Marathon in West Virginia, a dog jumped in behind Rauschenberg and nipped at his heels to the finish line.

A year before Rauschenberg was born, his father, Don, shot off his left shin unloading a handgun. "My father was crippled when he was 31," says Rauschenberg. "I'm 30. You only get one life." But that doesn't fully explain his avocation. Rauschenberg has raised $21,638 for the Mobile chapter of L'Arche International, which provides homes for the mentally and physically disabled. But he's shelled out almost that much in travel expenses, so it's not entirely about philanthropy, either.

His 1,362 miles of races this year is the distance from Omaha to Las Vegas, and there is something to be said for seeing the continent 26.2 miles at a time. When Rauschenberg went off to college at Penn State, it was the farthest east he had ever been. "And I grew up in Pennsylvania," he says.

This summer, on consecutive weekends, Rauschenberg flew round-trips from his home in Washington, D.C., to Colorado, Washington, Maine, Nova Scotia, California, Alaska, Wisconsin, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico. Before a race he'll stay in the kind of budget motel where the remote control is bolted down so you have to lift and point the nightstand to change channels.

Rauschenberg has averaged a stately 3 hours and 20 minutes for his first 38 marathons, a number skewed by a 5:17 at the notorious Leadville Trail Marathon in Colorado, with its 13,000 feet of unpaved elevation. But then Leadville is the only marathon in North America on the Fourth of July weekend. Rauschenberg couldn't find a marathon on Earth on Christmas weekend, so he started his own.

The officially certified Drake Well Marathon in Titusville, Pa.—named for the world's first commercially successful oil well, drilled nearby in 1859—will consist of 105� laps around the track at Rauschenberg's alma mater, Titusville High, complete with electronic timing chips for its field of 20 runners.

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