Traversing 26.2 Miles of Tundra

By Stephen DeBoer


Roger Nelson, current streak runner from Colleyville, TX (who has a 25-year retired streak as well), sent me an e-mail in 2009, suggesting a survey of our membership regarding marathon times.  He noted that the average marathon finishing time in the US has slowed significantly over the last 25 years, due to many factors, such as more entrants using the run-walk technique or focused on fundraising.


In 1980, the average marathon finishing time for men was 3:30 and for women it was 4:00.  By 2007, the average was 4:29 for men and 4:59 for women. Ken Young was involved in publishing the 1980 results and believes they were median (middle) times, rather than the actual average of all times.


One idea was to compare those with streaks over 20 years (121 persons) with those with shorter streaks (98 persons).  However, some of those with shorter streaks ran their best marathon times in the 1970s and 1980s, so it wouldn’t really reflect the difference with more recent times.


I also decided to exclude women in the analysis, as I have no record of them running marathons before 1990. I also excluded men who listed their best times at age 15 or less or age 50 and over, concluding their best effort would have been faster if run between ages 16-49.


I ended up with 75 men with marathon times who are now age 50 and over.  Their times ranged from 2:17:43 (Don Slusser in the 1980 Olympic Trials) to 4:40, with the average being 3:04:30.  There were only 13 men with marathon times who are now age 49 or under.  Their times ranged from 2:20:57 (Pete Gilman in 2007, when he qualified for the 2008 Olympic Trials) to 4:45, with the average being 3:22:00.  If Pete was excluded (he and Michael Bergquist, with a 2:41,were the only younger runners to break 2:49), the average is 3:27:40.  In the older group, 33 of them have best times of 2:49 or under.  There were only 5 younger runners who have broken 3:20, 6 if you count Perry Romanowski, who ran a 3:21 while juggling.


I also looked at 10 km times and found a similar trend, though, again, few of our younger members have submitted their times. Average time for the 69 older runners is 36:30 (the range was 28:51 to 50:50), and for the 14 younger runners, it is 40:50 (the range was 31:28 to 59:00).


I should mention I asked several of the younger runners what their average weekly mileage is.  Many run 25-45 miles per week.  Among the older group, based on lifetime mileage data, many have run 60-100 miles per week, often more in preparing for a marathon. However one younger runner, Pete Gilman, who trains 80-100 miles per week, has a marathon PR that is 2nd to Don Slusser’s.  So the key may be how focused earlier streak runners (and earlier marathon runners in general) were to getting as fast they could by putting in more miles.


Since we are on the topic of marathoning, I wanted to bring to your attention an article in the Wall Street Journal (November 12, 2009), which I found on-line, regarding persons who have completed 300 or more races of marathon distance or beyond.  The source was the Japan 100 Marathon Club, for which I could find no information on the internet.  Horst Preisler, age 74, continues to be listed as #1, with 1634 finishes (another source on the internet put that up to 1648).  After him are two more Germans – Christian Hotter (1424 at age 53) and Sigrid Eichner (first woman, 1422 at age 69). There are a total of 6 who have completed more than 1000 races of 26.2 miles or longer, 4 of them from Germany and 1 from Japan (Giichi Kojima, 67, 1169 races), the woman with the 2nd highest total.


Barbara Elia, who I had contacted a few years ago, is not on the list. She confirmed by e-mail that she still runs marathons and ultras, and had completed 455 as of the end of 2009.  The Journal article lists Sharon Mordorski, age 58, of Minnesota, with the highest number by an American – 440.  Also of note, Sharon is part of the 50 States and DC Marathon club and was the first woman to run a marathon in all 51 locations, as well as the first woman to have completed 2 marathons in all 51 venues.


The top American (#8 overall) remains Norm Frank, with 965 races of marathon distance or longer.  Unfortunately he had a stroke in 2008 and has not been able to resume running.  Behind him are Denny Fryman (10th overall), age 62, with 802 and Don McNelly (12th overall), age 89, with 743.  Don also hold the record for most finishes after age 70 (472), 80 (176) and 85 (58).  Wally  Herman, age 84,  is in 13th place, top Canadian, with 716 events run.


Among our streak runners, Scott Ludwig has a lot of marathons and ultras to his credit – 205 as of December 31, 2009. I believe he and Craig Davidson (with 195 marathon/ultra finishes) have the two highest totals among streak runners in the US.  He also has written a book, “Running through my Mind”, mentioned in a previous newsletter, and I received a copy for Christmas.  It is fun to read, liberally laced with humor.


 There are a few similarities between Scott and me, starting with both of us being born in December 1954.  We both had less than stellar athletic careers in high school (in fact I started running to get in shape for JV basketball, but still got cut from the team). Once we got into running, we have raced frequently, though he has really gotten into ultras, whereas I have stuck with marathons. We both dislike trail races and do not plan to run one again (that’s how I managed to break my ankle).  We both ran our best marathons in our mid-30s, mine 2:42 to his 2:48. The story of his 135-mile Badwater race experience was especially fascinating.


I know this is stretching things a bit, but his last name is also the first name of a classical German composer who was born the same day as my wife, December 16th  (and who, according to a popular rock song, can still roll over).  And my wife’s middle name, Lucille, inspired a song by a non-classical composer named Kenny.  I do not believe he is related to the other Rodgers (Billy), who has run his share of marathons.  Anyway, thanks for writing it, Scott!


Postscript:            I am happy to announce that Wendell DeBoer reached the one-year mark of his new running streak on January 1, 2010.  This makes him the first one over age 80, as well as over age 85. As far as I am aware, he also has the longest time length between running streaks, having ended his previous one on 12-27-1988, 21 years ago. His lifetime running miles of 65,884, combined with those of sons Dave (61,220) and Steve (130,361) pushes our 3-persons-in-a-family total to over ¼ million (257,465 miles).


Also of note, Dave DeBoer, has now run daily for 4 months, which is the first time he has run more than 10-13 days in a row since 1978, when his running streak ended due to a back injury.  Feb 15, 2010