An Ode to the RAAM GOD: My Idol, John Marino

By Chris Kostman, RAAM Team Race Director

Originally published in ULTRA Cycling, Spring 1993

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One of the absolute highlights of my cycling career took place while I was posing on the finish line of the 1987 Race Across AMerica in Washington, D.C. With cameras snapping and my crew and I standing proud of our accomplishment, John Marino's voice echoed across the crowds with the words "You're my idol, Chris!" That, to me, symbolized more than anything that "I had arrived." (Not to mention the fact that I had just finished RAAM as a rookie, Lon Haldeman had just taken my picture, and that Michael Shermer had echoed Marino's statement with the refrain "You're my hero, Kostman!")

That's me with John at the start of the 2001 RAAM. We were both there to spectate.


You see, I had idolized John Marino ever since the 1982 RAAM, the Great American Bike Race. I was just getting into cycling then and couldn't believe that he had ridden across America against the clock three times, and also had the nerve to stage the first transcontinental race. While I greatly admired the other three riders in that first race, I really gave my heart and soul to the race director and last rider to finish, John Marino. 18 months later, on October 9, 1983, I had the good fortune to meet the man in person. I was competing in the Columbus Day Criterium in Santa Barbara, and John had set up a RAAM info booth at the race's little expo fair. When I saw the RAAM logo over the booth from across the parking lot, I started running towards it like the spastic 16 year old that I was. There at the booth, in living color, in the flesh, was none other than John Marino himself! It blew my mind to be standing in the face of god.

John was very congenial, as well as more than interested in my statement that I wanted to set a cycling record for riding from San Francisco to Los Angeles. John immediately gave me his home phone number (imagine a direct line to god!) and encouraged me to call him for advice. Whether he knew it or not, John had just volunteered to be my mentor for many years to come.

For the next six months I called John often for advice on training, nutrition, support crew and vehicles, routing, logistics, you name it. John even got me into the big bike trade show and put the good word in for me with various companies so that I could get a new bike, clothes, and financial support for the record attempt. Through it all, John was a wellspring of encouragement and wisdom. Through it all, I was floating on air that my idol was becoming my friend. Finally, on April 17 of '84, I rode the 472 miles from SF to LA. To this day, it was the toughest thing I have ever done. But when the aches and pains and bonkages set in during the grueling ride, I kept the picture of John Marino triumphing in the '82 GABR in my mind. If he could survive 3,000 miles, then surely I could make it 472. And I did.

The following month John invited me to be a Race Official at the second annual John Marino Open. I hardly slept a wink for three days as I worked the Anza checkpoint with John and other RAAM luminaries like Lon Haldeman and Michael Shermer, and the Race Director, Bob Hustwit. I'll never forget the amazing riders, the brutal weather and course, or sitting around a fire with such famous and super-human athletes and people. I specifically remember John sitting by the trash can fire with a blanket wrapped around him and over his head like some Native American. We all agreed on this observation and gave John the nickname, "Hawk." It was quite a weekend and one that I still remember vividly. Here's a photo from that weekend:

L-R, 1984: Chris Kostman, Bob Hustwit, ultracyclist and race official Mark Straley, John Marino

It was a year later, while heading for the stage to receive my 12th Place and Youngest Finisher Awards for the JMO, that I called out across the room "You're my idol, John!" This was a phrase that neither I, nor John, nor anyone else in the gang would forget for a long time, for I used it regularly. I loved John Marino and I wasn't afraid to let anyone know it!—I used shaving cream to write it across the back of his car during the '85 RAAM. I usurped the PA system at the sports club where we had the banquet for the JMO in Arizona two years later and announced it to everyone in the building ("Attention, attention, John is my idol!"). I even wore the phrase on a button made by RAAM photog Margaret Nelson as part of a set of limited edition buttons with other famous RAAM / UMCA sayings on them, such as Pete Penseyres' "The race doesn't start until the Mississippi" and Boyer's "We're not cavemen." Elite company indeed!

I did qualify for that '85 RAAM, but since I had just graduated from high school and was preparing (read: saving money) to head off to college, there was no way I could mount the challenge of competing in the RAAM. Instead, at John's invitation, I accompanied the entire race as a Race Official. Much of the success I now enjoy in life is due to the fact that I was given a lot of authority and responsibility at an early age. At the '85 RAAM, I was given the not too casual job of lead Race Official, specifically "in charge" of eventual winner Jonathan Boyer. And I took this job seriously. I almost never slept a wink. I hid in the bushes to spy on Boyer and his crew. I eavesdropped on his crew talking on the CB radios. I called into HQ incessantly. I told everyone I met along the way about the race and solicited local media coverage. I even led Boyer with my car onto the boardwalk at the finish. Through it all, I took absolute delight in the work and in fulfilling John's expectations of me. I wouln't have let my idol and his race down for anything.

A year later, history repeated itself and I again officiated the RAAM, this time keeping tabs on the number two and three riders, Lon Haldeman and Matt Beerer. It was another transcontinental road trip in the service and occasional companionship of John. Little did I know that John was mentoring me to become not only an experienced RAAM competitor, but a ready RAAM director.

In '87 and '88 I competed in the RAAM, then in '89 John appointed me Operations Consultant to both the RAAM and UMCA and also Director of the HPV RAAM Race. That race was quite an ordeal and John entrusted the whole event in my hands. Needless to say, I was honored and humbled by the experience. After the race, John even gave me, as a token of his gratitude, the custom Mike Melton bike that he had ridden back in the '82 GABR when I had only idolized him from afar!

By '90, though still my friend and mentor, John decided to have me strike out on my own as a race promoter. He licensed the RAAM Open West (previously the John Marino Open and now the Furnace Creek 508) to me for life. I'll never forget running the pre-race meeting with John in the audience and later giving John a free t-shirt shortly after the start. Role reversal in a big way!

I could write volumes about the importance of John Marino to my life. The man made things happen for me, inspired me, consoled me, took time for me, went out of his way for me, believed in me. Heck, this need not be in the past tense, for it still goes on! That's a friend for you, the kind most people only dream of. I'm the luckiest man on earth for having John Marino in my life.

John is my idol, always has been, always will be.

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