SANTA CLARITA – Santa Clarita’s 10th annual marathon is drawing runners from across the United States and from Canada, Mexico, Australia and Japan, each with a tale as unique as a fingerprint. The runners will be testing their stamina or adding another 26.2 miles to their race list. “Our goal is to race it as fast as you can, trying to guess what your average per mile pace should be and trying to run that pace the entire race,” said dentist Steve Watanabe, 52, of Saugus, who has run every year. About 500 runners have committed to running the full marathon Nov. 6, with about 1,400 signed up for the half-marathon and 700 or so for the 5K. Sixty-one-year-old retiree Armando Soto of Granada Hills ran his first marathon at age 44 on a dare. He has racked up 35 races so far, but is shooting for 100. In his first race, he said, he felt a little like Columbus sailing out to sea, unable to spot the distant shore. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week “Halfway I asked another runner, ‘How do I look?”‘ he said. The guy told him he looked great, and Soto has never looked back. “Even though you’re dead-tired at the end of the marathon you never say, This will be my last one,” he said. Though Soto balked as a teen at having to run laps for his baseball coach, he willingly ran seven miles for the Army each morning to prepare for serving as a paratrooper in Vietnam. In his spare time, Soto tosses 2,000 pitches a week to his teenage son. While the 14-year-old cools off in the shade, his dad retrieves the scattered balls. Retired teacher Terry Merriam, 52, has run marathons in all 50 states. She recently moved to Canyon Country from Ohio. Merriam’s first-ever local marathon marks her 100th overall. A hockey and basketball fan, she has worked eight stints at Staples Center since September, but even front row seats would not keep her away from the Nov. 6 race. “Every finish line is beautiful,” she said. Cheering crowds help, but they are not essential. “In Arkansas, in the backwoods, there’s nobody there to cheer you on,” she said. “You have to think beautiful thoughts to keep you going. My goal was to get every state in.” In the Arkansas race, a pickup truck drove alongside and the driver asked, “Hey, honey, you want to get in back?” In Charlotte, N.C., she ran in 20-degree weather. “You’ve got to think warm thoughts to get yourself 26 miles,” she said. Watanabe runs the first 20 marathon miles with running pals. The next six miles they run solo. One year his friends came in second, third and fourth, and Watanabe finished eighth. “When you get to 22, 23 miles, your body wants to shut down. Your mind is forcing you to go,” said Watanabe, who has run in more than 100 marathons. Watanabe prepares by running 80 miles to 100 miles on local trails each week. Then he takes a little insurance. “We run the exact course, the last three to four miles, to get familiar with what the course looks like,” he said. “So we know what to expect and don’t wonder, How many of those paseo bridges do I have to go over?” Watanabe and his running buddies belong to a local running club, Santa Clarita Runners. Phil Howard, the club’s former president, serves as co-director of the marathon, which began as a runners’ club event. Howard, who ran a marathon in Chicago last week, lays out the course. Heavy winter rains this year washed out some trails that have not yet been fixed, so he grafted detours onto the route. Don Lieu, 54, an engineer for SBC making his 10th entry in the Santa Clarita race, remembers a marathon in Big Sur where he was pelted with rain, hail and wind while running along Pacific Coast Highway. The finish in Carmel was sweet – sunny and cool – and well-wishers handed out roses and artichokes. “Marathons are something in and of themselves,” the San Gabriel Valley resident said. “On Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt, there are 300-foot-tall sequoias,” he said. “And the Marine Corps marathon in Washington, D.C., goes by the Capitol, the White House … and ends in Arlington Cemetery.” No amount of advance planning can guarantee a successful event. In 2003, the race was canceled because of wildfires that filled the air with soot and smoke. One unlikely entrant could have won, anyway. A Florida penitentiary inmate sought permission to run the race in absentia – by running 260 laps around the prison yard. City officials denied the request. “He would have won,” said event organizer Pat Downing, the city’s arts and events supervisor. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!