Oprah at the 1994 Marine Corps Marathon.

In less than two weeks,  around 30,000 runners will participate in the Marine Corps Marathon, which is now the fifth largest 26.2-mile race of its kind in the U.S., trailing behind New York City, Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles. Nearly half of these MCM runners are first-time marathoners.

When Oprah ran in this race in 1994, she was a marathoning newbie who finished in a respectable time of 4:29.20. As one of the first celebrities to run in a marathon, she helped fuel a tremendous surge in marathon mania among all demographic sectors — young, old, fit, overweight, ex-jocks, men, women.

Type “Oprah’s marathon time” in a Google search, and you will have 27,000 results!

It also seemingly appears that many runners, men especially, want to be able to say that they “beat Oprah’s time.” In fact, the average finishing time of a male marathoner (in all races) today is 4:27; for women it’s 4:54.

In 1997, former Vice President Al Gore completed the Marine Corps Marathon in 4:58:25.

When Oprah first took up running in the spring of 1993, she weighed 222 pounds. But rather than go on a crash diet (they never work long-term anyway), she was determined to achieve what she later called “healthy weight loss.” Oprah contacted Telluride Ski Resort head fitness instructor Bob Greene. The afternoon talk show host had a vacation home in the Colorado town and had gone on several hikes with Greene.  Under his dietary and training guidance, her early workout sessions involved a mix of jogging and walking – but only several miles.

Oprah averaged about 17 minutes per mile. By mid-summer, fat was melting off her body as she increased her weekly mileage and pace. She was running five miles a day at a 10 to 11 minute-per-mile clip. Greene entered her in the San Diego half-marathon, and a 2:16 finish gave Oprah the confidence to train for the full marathon the following year.

Greene defensively told the media at the time, “Sometimes people will say to me,`Oprah’s got it easy because she has a personal chef and a personal trainer.’ But that’s baloney. No one can run for you. She was on the track every morning. She worked herself as hard as any athlete I’ve seen. She deserved the results she achieved.”

With weekly mileage approaching 50 miles, she had adequately prepared her body for the Marine Corps Marathon in the fall. She was slim, fit, energized, exuberant. She ran all 26.2 miles. She didn’t walk a step.

“She’s a runner now for life,” her proud coach told reporters afterwards.

"That's the Marine Corps spirit, runners!"

Most unfortunately, that statement didn’t hold up indefinitely. When the intense pressures of work and personal issues (food addictions) once again took over her life, Oprah later stopped running and regularly working out. In the past several years, she regained all that lost weight and more.

But many runners today owe Oprah a big thanks; she inspired them to get off the couch, put on running shoes and begin their own personal journey. –Bill Katovsky