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Hi Guy runs in ‘em all

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He crossed the finish line in style, wearing a yellow T-shirt that said, "Hi Guy" alongside a '60s-style smiley face.

On his feet were the same model of sandals he has worn for his past 71 marathons. The only thing missing from his normal garb was the beanie cap with a propeller on top.

"Too hot," he said as he finished Tuesday's Deseret News/Granite Furniture Marathon. "I was afraid the motor would burn out."

His personal Web site says, "Hi, Earthlings!" and adds, "Hi to all God's people in the universe."

Enough said.

Tom Matti, of Arlington Heights, Ill., Planet Earth, was in.

"I'm king of the world in sandals!" he said.

Matti's final time of 3:30.55 made it 77 straight starts and finishes in marathons, all completed within the past 15 months. He ended Tuesday's event just over an hour behind the overall winner, but that was fine by him. He wasn't planning on winning. He was planning on showing.

That's not to say he hasn't done well. He has won his age division four times, run marathons on consecutive days 14 times. His first-ever marathon, April 29, 2000, was the Country Music Marathon in Nashville, Tenn., which he finished in a brokenhearted-country-music time of 5:16.50. Didn't matter. He ran another marathon the next day.

"I'm an alien," he said. "I get invisible help."

Matti switched from sandals to running shoes after losing toenails on both feet in early races. He picked up the moniker "Hi Guy" last year after running a race with a sign that said simply, "Hi." Spectators would call, "Hi, guy!" back to him. A nickname was born.

If a sandal-wearing runner who calls himself "Hi Guy," seems slightly weird, consider this: He's a marathoner. For anyone to run 26 miles requires a different slant on life.

With all the 5K and 10K races out there, why run 26 miles? It's like going to Disneyland, via Amarillo — there sure are faster ways to reach your destination.

Marathon running isn't for everyone. In the '90s, people began figuring out that running 26 miles is time consuming, exhausting and leads to, at very least, a high bill for running shoes.

It also takes unusual determination. At last year's Deseret News/Granite Furniture Marathon, one runner completed the race with a fractured leg before being whisked away in an ambulance.

His explanation: He wanted to finish.

Running as a whole has its share of characters. The past two years, the 10K included Salt Lake's Tim Sutton, who covered the distance in full Blues Brothers regalia, including black running shoes, a black suit ($15 at Deseret Industries), white shirt, necktie and matching fedora.

Nagging injuries have slowed Sutton's times to the point that he now runs mostly for fun. "What the heck," he said. "If you can't run like you used to, you may as well look good."

For several years, the Deseret News Marathon included a runner with a large body and thick, matted beard. He would stand at the start line and yell at Steve Handy, the former race director: "Start the race at 5! Steve, START THE RACE AT 5 A.M.!"

By the time he was done yelling at race officials, both he and other runners were bucking with adrenaline.

That said, the fabled marathon isn't what it used to be in Salt Lake City.

This year, there were about 3,000 entrants in the 10K, while only about 750 entered the marathon. After its start in 1970, the Deseret News Marathon grew to a high of some 1,500 entrants. But by 1993 it had dropped to the mid-300s. Now it is experiencing a modest surge.

All of which mattered little to the "Hi Guy," who finished his 41st race of 2001 on Tuesday, no worse for the wear. This year he has run in Boston, but he's also run races in Georgia, Maryland, South Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Montana, Maine, West Virginia and Minnesota, to name a few.

A regular king of the road. Mention a race somewhere in the United States and "Hi Guy" is winding up the propeller on his cap.

Tuesday in Salt Lake City, he completed his latest odyssey with room to spare. Yes, he made a spectacle of himself. And yes, he did look a little weird in those sandals and that goofy T-shirt. Maybe he is an alien.

Then again, when it comes to distance running, strange behavior seems to come with the territory.

E-mail: rock@desnews.com