SAN DIEGO — Irish marathon runner Jerry Kiernan vividly remembers earning $8,000 for his third-place finish in the Houston Marathon Jan. 19, 1986.
"It certainly kept the proverbial wolf from the door for a few months," said Kiernan, who has a wife and two young sons to support.
Four months before the race in Houston, Kiernan had taken a leave from his position as an elementary school teacher in order to devote himself entirely to running.
One month after starting his leave, Kiernan suffered a pulled hamstring that sidelined him until the Houston marathon three months later. Running at three-quarter strength, he finished third.
"How I did it, I don't know," Kiernan said. "Competitively, there is nothing like running when you need the money. That's when you're really hungry. When you really have to succeed."
In Saturday's Holiday Bowl Channel 10 Marathon in San Diego, Kiernan is one of the favorites. The winner of the race, which starts in Balboa Park, will receive $4,000 and a new convertible.
"It's pretty tough to make a living as a runner," Kiernan said. "If
you're lucky and avoid injuries and pick the right races, one can make a reasonable living out of it."
Kiernan, 34, left a $20,000-a-year teaching job in Ireland, which he says is reasonable money back home. Now, he says earning about $40,000 would be a good year for him and would enable him to easily meet his expenses. But earning $40,000 means more than winning a major marathon and finishing in the top three in another major marathon.
He has done both this year. He earned $25,000 for winning the New Jersey Waterfront Marathon in April and $8,000 for finishing second in last month's Columbus (Ohio) Marathon.
Now, if only he could get an endorsement contract with a shoe company.
He has impressive credentials. He has run eight marathons in less than 2 hours 14 minutes. He was ninth in the 1984 Olympic marathon in Los Angeles (2:12:19), and he won the 1985 America's Finest City Half-Marathon in San Diego.
Despite his success, Kiernan's commercial claim to fame is a recent advertisement for a beer company in Ireland.
"I suppose the shoe companies perceive me as doing most of my running back in Ireland," said Kiernan, who lives eight months of the year in Dublin and spends much of the rest of the year training in San Diego, which he says is his second home. "They wouldn't have a big market in Ireland, so it wouldn't be an economically sensible move for them to give me money.
"My contention is that I run out here as often as anybody. I run two, three marathons a year out here. I also have a pretty high profile. However, if I was to do well here Saturday, it might change somebody's mind."
His performance and earnings Saturday also will help influence his decision about whether to run for Ireland in the 1988 Olympic Games.
"We're really talking about me being able to afford it," Kiernan said. "I've been thinking about that a lot recently."
To get back into the Olympic spirit, Kiernan plans to visit the Coliseum next week. That's where the '84 Olympic marathon concluded.
"I want to relive the whole thing," said Kiernan. "Maybe get back some clear memories of it. One thing I do remember is I was way, way back early on. I was a minute behind at the halfway point, but I could them (leaders) up front. I could see the TV camera just in front of them.
"And mindful of the way TV is done in the States, where the emphasis is on the leaders and to hell with everybody else, I said that unless I get up there, unless I'm up there with the leading group, the folks back home won't know whether I ran the Olympic marathon or not."
At the 18 3/4-mile mark, Kiernan caught the leaders and took the lead with six miles to go.
"I thought I was going to win a medal," Kiernan said.
Then he cramped at the 21 1/2-mile mark and ended up finishing ninth.
"For about three miles I was really on a high because I knew my mother and father at home and wife and kids would be going absolutely bananas," Kiernan said. "It was with willpower I suppressed waving at them because I find that people who wave on television are . . . are . . . well, I don't think much of them."
Kiernan got on television back home, where he is respected, if not exactly understood.
"To me, there's almost no greater feeling than to be out running and feeling like a well-oiled machine. Some people would say running is kind of a daft sport," said Kiernan, who has been enamored with running since he watched the 1964 Olympics. "But there, I'm in a minority. Some people would say running is kind of a daft sport. You see, Gaelic football and Gaelic games are the things back home. If I was to play Gaelic football, let's say at the same level I run, I would be deified. But I don't.