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The Big Run-Around

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

Then there isDane Rauschenberg. Monday to Friday, he works in a patent licensing office inChevy Chase, Md. But every weekend, without fail—and for no apparent reason—the30-year-old runs a marathon. On Sunday he'll be in Johnstown, Pa., for his 39thmarathon in 39 weeks, putting him three quarters of the way through a 52-weekmarathon of marathons that has earned him his e-mail prefix: Danerunsalot.

You might thinkhe'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 problemsafter an hour of running, I'm in trouble."

If one of art'sduties is to reflect the human condition, Rauschenberg is a modern-dayMelville, who moonlighted in a New York City customs house for 19 years afterwriting Moby-Dick. In January at the Orlando Extreme Marathon—four laps aroundan alligator-infested swamp—Rauschenberg watched buzzards trace a lazy circleabove two elderly runners, one of whom finally shouted, "I still have a lapto go!" It's the best illustration yet of running as a metaphor forlife.

Man versus Man isa 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 BestFriend: 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 finishline.

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

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

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

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

The officiallycertified Drake Well Marathon in Titusville, Pa.—named for the world's firstcommercially successful oil well, drilled nearby in 1859—will consist of 105½laps around the track at Rauschenberg's alma mater, Titusville High, completewith electronic timing chips for its field of 20 runners.

Its founder isjust one more varietal in marathoning's can of mixed nuts. Ultramarathon legendDean Karnazes is one third of the way through his 50 runs of marathon distancein 50 states over 50 consecutive days. Karnazes has been known, duringexceptionally long runs, to eat a pizza and even to fall asleep, a feat fewelite athletes have attained in competition, unless you count the Kansas CityRoyals. Chuck Engle of Columbus, Ohio, plans to run 50 marathons in 2006, whichagain raises the question: Why?

Some run toescape the drudgery of the workaday world, others to replicate it. MikeWardian, who belongs to the same running club as Rauschenberg, holds the worldrecord for a treadmill marathon—2 hours, 23 minutes, 58 seconds ofhamster-wheel monotony.

What makes Danerun? Read James Joyce, who once worked as a Berlitz instructor to fund hispassion—a body of literary genius that includes the short story After the Race,in which he wrote, simply, "Rapid motion through space elates one."

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Every weekend—without fail, and for no apparentreason—Dane Rauschenberg runs a marathon. You might think he's putting the locoback in locomotion.