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Personal best for runners: DVD records journey

Dr. Jim Barahal, president of the Honolulu Marathon, has dabbled in writing screenplays, one of them a fantasy in which baseball's first holdout, Ty (as in Titanic) Tompkins, comes back unthawed from the ill-fated ship to lead a modern-day major league team to a championship.

His latest venture, although bordering on fantasy, is quite real.

It's called "MyMarathonDVD," an approximately 20-minute personalized memento that has already made a successful debut at the Ironman Triathlon and Honolulu and Los Angeles Marathons and will be offered to official Boston Marathon runners for $49.95.

The DVD is produced by synchronizing timing data from the runner's microchip with high resolution digital video recorded by cameras mounted on tripods at seven checkpoints along the course, including the starting and finish lines. Roving cameras will also be utilized for special effects. Narration, the sounds of spectators, and timing splits flashed across the screen are included.

"In the days before the timing chip we had a camera at the finish line in Honolulu called Video Verification and we noticed that when we played the video afterward, it attracted a crowd about 10 deep around the monitor, so we knew there was a keen interest in runners seeing themselves," said Barahal, a Michigan native who will be joined by several former marathon greats this weekend at the MyMarathonDVD booth at the John Hancock Sports and Fitness Expo. "Then the timing chip came along and that created a data base that specifically located runners in time and place. So the timing area creates a scene and if you could strategically place cameras and find a way to link timing chip data to the video you could isolate them."

Barahal, who ran the Boston Marathon three times in the 1970s and now heads the Doctors on Call clinics in Waikiki and Maui, turned to two software specialists, Mitch Kahle and Holly Huber of Island Infotech who put their software expertise to work. They are now partners with Barahal in Sports Media Production Worldwide, which produces the DVD.

"Mitch has a Boston connection," said Barahal. "He's a trained musician who plays bass and attended Berklee School and the music for our DVD is composed and played by him on the synthesizer. He times the music to the footsteps."

The DVD's first trial as a commercial venture came at the Ironman Triathlon last October, although not all the components had been tested. Twenty cameras were set up and nearly 800 competitors (about half the field) tried the DVD -- sight unseen. Two months later, the number of runners/customers rose to 2,500 at the Honolulu Marathon and another 1,000 DVD subscribers signed on at the Los Angeles Marathon last month. As of early this week, nearly 400 Boston Marathon runners had responded to Sports Media's e-mails and through its website.

"It definitely piqued our interest, because Jim and his group have a sense of appreciation of the Boston Marathon and what it means to our runners," said Boston Athletic Association executive director Guy Morse. "It's not all about the money. The DVD I saw was impressive. It pinpoints the runner while interpreting the race as a whole. So it's a two-fer. I can't say I've seen it all as far as technology goes, but this is close."

Specifically, 24 cameras will be utilized Monday, most on 12-foot-high stands. The producers say it's about a four-week wait for the DVD and if you don't finish the race or are not satisfied with the presentation, there's a money-back guarantee.

Runners with microchips can also order their DVD after the race since they're already in the video files.

"The individual clips will be synchronized with the leaders. You'll see the men's and women's leaders and then the clip will cut to you. In the end, we will have a video file on every runner with a microchip. The caveat is that there may be a half-dozen or so runners in the shot -- but you'll be in it, too," said Barahal, who is close friends with fellow University of Michigan graduate and 1983 Boston Marathon winner Greg Meyer, who will appear at the World Trade Center this weekend along with Bill Rodgers, Patti Dillon, and Frank Shorter at the DVD booth.

"Theoretically, if we capture 20,000 marathoners, we would wind up with 320,000 video files, so we had to come up with a system that could accurately pick through those files," added Barahal, who has signed a two-year licensing deal with the BAA. "But in the end, each one we produce is different and people can also record a personal message on an individual video file."

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