As any marathoner knows, covering 26.2 miles on race day is not the hard part — it’s getting to the start line that is the challenge. Finding the time to train, dragging out of bed for a Saturday 20-miler, battling illness and injury, and all of this over a two- to three-month stretch — a lot can happen to derail that preparation.
Think about making that journey to the start line every year, without fail, for 34 years. Of the hundreds of thousands who’ve run the Twin Cities Marathon, only 27 people have run every one since the first marathon in 1982. Though none of the charter club members started out with that intent, eventually, as member Paul Arbisi of Edina put it, “Running all the TCMs becomes part of one’s identity; it’s who I am.”
Organizers eventually decided to honor those hardy souls who had completed all 10 Twin Cities Marathons, so then-vice president of runner services Gloria Jansen searched the records and found 178 runners who’d finished every one. A charter club was born. With each year membership drops and the accomplishment grows. At the race’s 15-year anniversary, the club had 106 members; the 20th year, 89; the 25th year, 67; and the 30th year, in 2011, there were 40.
This year’s charter clubbers range in age from 54 to 77; four of the 27 are women; all live in Minnesota or practically Minnesota (River Falls, Wis., and Fargo), except one — Rod Brostrom of Huntersville, N.C. We contacted them and asked why the streak, what threatened the streak’s continuation, and which race stood out as special.
Strained muscles, broken bones, and surgeries threatened most charter membership, but there were some unusual roadblocks, too.
Bob Tierney, now 67, was having a prerace doughnut and coffee in the physician’s lounge of the old Metropolitan Medical Center. “When I stepped outside to get lined up there was no one there. The clock in the lounge was set an hour behind — I started 45 minutes after everyone!”
In 2002, Annette LeDuc, 63, of Minneapolis slipped and fell on a discarded garbage bag in the first mile. “Very demoralizing as I realized I had 25 miles to go and was already banged up from my fall.” With the help of an Aleve pain reliever from a course volunteer, LeDuc managed to finish.
In 1994, Arbisi and his wife developed a contingency plan for mid-marathon labor pains — his wife’s, that is: “This was back when cellphones were not ubiquitous, so I decided to carry my hospital pager and a quarter in a plastic bag. Should my wife go into labor, she was to call my pager, I would run off the course and call with my location so a designated driver could pick me up. As it happened, my daughter Maria did not make her appearance until 48 hours after I finished.”
Charter clubbers were keenly aware of their spouses’ generosity with time and often very literal support. Richard Bailly, 72, of Fargo noted that his wife, Margie, has been at the finish line of all 64 of his marathons, while Antonio Salinas, 73, of Bloomington credited his wife with triage, emotional and actual physical support: “In 1987, my calf tightened up so bad I did not think I could continue. My wife, Donna, gave me ice and massaged my leg every so many blocks just to get me in. Thanks to my wife for her support.”
A simple love affair
Responses to why the charters reserve the first Sunday in October every year to get from Minneapolis to St. Paul on foot could be summed up as, “Why not?” They simply love running — one race, 34 marathons is just one bullet point on their long-running resumes.
Ed Rousseau of Minneapolis has run 100 marathons, 104 ultramarathons, and every FANS 24-Hour Run since 1990. He is 77. Lisa Boulay, 59, of Bemidji also bikes, kayaks, canoes, paddles dragon boats, hikes, cross-country skis and runs sled dogs. John Naslund, 66, of Bloomington has run every Twin Cities, every Grandma’s Marathon, and has finished Western States 100 ultramarathon five times.
Most are possessed of more stubbornness than speed — as Boulay told a friend, “I’ll see you in heaven, or I’ll see you in St. Paul” — and say their streak will end when they can no longer finish within the race’s six-hour limit. Although LeDuc said that at that point, she’d just switch to the TC 10 Mile. Dave Eckstrom of Stillwater, the only wheelchair athlete among the charter members, has raced more than 75 marathons. His only victory at Twin Cities was the first year. He nearly missed the marathons in 1998 and 2002. Both years he was hospitalized with a bone infection in a foot. It was only a few days before the marathon on both occasions and, against his doctor’s orders, he checked himself out of the hospital and removed the IV from his arm. “Tubes stuck in my arm and trying to push 26 miles in my racing chair weren’t compatible,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Tim Zoerb, 60, of Eden Prairie spoke to the joy he gets from running, particularly when meniscus surgery threatened his 2012 race: “I could have had the injury that ended it, but here we were, enjoying a great fall day doing what we all love.” He also mentioned the “addictive high” of cresting the rise at the St. Paul Cathedral, knowing another marathon is in the books.
For Daryl Blakeborough, 67, of Shorewood, the question “why?” involves an interesting dichotomy.
“Two powerful drivers keep me coming back: love and fear. I love motion ... the feeling of covering distance under my own power is the best. And then there’s the fear, the fear of not living life to the fullest. Beneath the pain and discomfort, there’s a feeling of fulfillment, of putting yourself in a position to experience the limits of your capabilities.”
Bailly was inspired by Boston legend John Kelley. “At the time I ran the first Twin Cities Marathon, John Kelley had run and finished 23 consecutive Boston Marathons [1933-1955]. His example has been a big inspiration to me.”
Over the years, the 20-mile training runs, the start line crush and the finish line rush do blend together, but some races stood out as more meaningful. For many charters that was a marathon run with adult children, surviving a streak-ending injury, or running a Boston Marathon qualifying time.
Bob Stavig, 67, of Bloomington recalled cresting the rise near the cathedral in 2001, just three weeks after 9/11, to see a huge American flag flying over the finish line.
A highlight for Scott Knight, 55, of Cologne, Minn., was talking a first-time marathoner through a rough patch, such that the runner became a finisher rather than a “DNF” (race parlance for Did Not Finish).
Eagan resident John Tantzen’s first marathon was a landmark: “I’d always been overweight and not very athletic. I certainly did not picture myself as a person who could finish a marathon, so it was pretty special when I did.” Tantzen, now 56, went on to finish the first Twin Cities in 1982 under three hours, kick-starting not only his charter membership but his life as a competitive runner.
Most of the charter members run tons of races, almost every weekend. Mary Croft, 70, of Bayport just returned from running a marathon across the desert in Petra, Jordan. But of all those races, all those miles, on bits of land around the world, the first Twin Cities and this one in 2016 may be the most poignant for her, bookends to a life she shared with her late husband.
“It was my husband’s idea for me to run the first one [TCM]. He sort of challenged me to do it. I found a 12-week training program in Runner’s World and followed it closely. Luckily, I was able to finish in 3:48 and was thrilled. It started a journey for both of us that took us around the world, to all continents and every state. After we retired we made these journeys together. My husband died this summer, and I’ve been thinking about all the trips we took together.”
Charter clubbers are survivors, for sure. They’ve found something good, and they’re not about to give it up without a fight.
Sarah Barker is a freelance writer. She lives in St. Paul.