People in the Pack

For Knippel, It's a Thirty Job

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Rule of Three is a key precept in the Marine Corps. It asserts that an organization is most effective when each level is supported by three components, and that each Marine is most effective when charged with exactly three tasks.

For Ben Knippel, a former Marine, it is the Rule of 30 that guides him in this year's Marine Corps Marathon.

In celebration of his 30th wedding anniversary on Nov. 1 and in honor of his wife's birthday, which falls on Oct. 30, Knippel will be participating in the 30th annual Marine Corps Marathon.

Knippel, 58, became aware of this numeric happenstance at a runner's expo in Houston. He had stopped by the Marine Corps Marathon booth because he had long been interested in the race. His wife, Joann, asked when the marathon was. When told the date, she noted it fell on her birthday.

"I said we could probably go up there and celebrate your birthday and I'll run the marathon," Knippel said.

And that's exactly what they decided to do.

"We're looking forward to it," Knippel said. "We've never really per se went on a vacation in our 30 years."

Knippel used to run a lot before he got away from it. He recently got back into it and decided to run his first marathon in 2004. But after running the Houston Marathon, he started having knee problems. His doctor suggested he stop running.

"I said, 'Well, I just hate to give up because I kind of enjoyed it,' " Knippel said.

So Knippel turned to race-walking. It was slow going at first. Knippel averaged 15- to 16-minute miles. Eventually, he mastered the heel-toe and hip actions and brought his splits down to 12 1/2 - to 13-minute miles. He race-walked the Austin Marathon and has done two half-marathons -- San Antonio and Houston. This will be his third marathon, and from all indications, it won't be his last.

"I'm not really much into watching football, baseball, team sports," Knippel said. "I always liked the individual thing because it was the individual against himself. If you didn't make it, you had nobody to blame but yourself. You have to run [a marathon] to understand, but your head plays games with you. You want to quit, but you know you better not. You don't want to quit. When you cross that finish line and you get that medal, it may not mean anything -- you didn't win first place -- but it's an accomplishment."

Joann Knippel will spend her birthday mingling with the crowd along the course, periodically checking her cell phone's runner alert program to see how her husband is doing. She will be at the finish line to greet him when he completes the race. The couple will spend the rest of the week sightseeing around Washington.

While completing the race will be fulfilling, Knippel says his greatest achievement has nothing to do with the marathon.

"We've put up with each other for 30 years," Knippel said. "That's a rarity nowadays."

-- Kathy Orton

© 2005 The Washington Post Company