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200 Marathons In 2000

by Bruce Brothers – Pioneer Press

Jerry Dunn believes in stretching limits.

Dunn, one of 8,752 signed up for Sunday’s 19th annual Twin Cities Marathon, expects to have few problems reaching the Capitol that day — after all, it will be his 157th run of 26.2 miles this year.

He then plans to climb into a rental car and drive to St. Louis, where Monday he will resume a marathon journey that even the people at Guinness (the book, not the beer) question.

He wants to run 200 marathons in the year 2000.

“I’m kind of a renegade, obviously,” Dunn said this week after one of his pre-TCM runs of the marathon course from the Metrodome to St. Paul. “I’m kind of an oddity.”

There is a method to this madness for Dunn, 54, who lives with his fourth wife in Spearfish, S.D., when he’s not on the road. A half-dozen sponsors are paying him $36,000 this year to talk up their products, and he’s using his degree in marketing to promote himself wherever he goes.

He has become practiced at motivational speaking (a quote: “My philosophy of `don’t limit your challenges — challenge your limits,’ has enabled me to become living proof that we can achieve much more than what we normally expect of ourselves”). He is working on a book. He has a Web site (www.marathonman.org) that he updates after every run.

“I want to continue to earn a living as a marathon runner,” he said.

A recovering alcoholic, this guy has been on a sort of search and rescue mission of himself for a long time. He went into the U.S. Army for three years in his early 20s, got married too young, then divorced, earned a master’s degree in counseling from the Christian Theological Seminary, got married and divorced because of alcohol abuse, started running in 1975, gave up drinking the day after his 37th birthday, worked as a massage therapist for 12 years in his hometown of Indianapolis, ran across the United States in 1991 to raise money for Habitat for Humanity, and started out to run 93 marathons in 1993 and ended up running 104.

The skewed running schedule led to his third divorce, he says, but he met a woman at the DisneyWorld Marathon in Orlando, Fla., in 1995 who was on a string of running every Mount Rushmore International Marathon, and “we’re perfect for each other.”

In fact, Elaine Doll-Dunn joins her husband for many of his “official” marathons, but won’t be at the Twin Cities Marathon because the Mount Rushmore race is the same day in Rapid City, S.D.

“Elaine’s understanding,” Dunn said of his extended time on the road. “She’s not real happy about it, but I don’t think this year is going to ruin another marriage — in fact, I’m sure of it.”

Fortunately, Sprint PCS is one of Dunn’s sponsors, so he’s able to phone home twice a day, for free.

There’s a massive difference between Dunn’s official and unofficial marathons, which is why he probably won’t be able to convince the editors of the Guinness Book of World Records that he deserves an entry. Because marathon foot races are invariably on weekends, it is physically impossible to run many more than about 50 in a calendar year.

So Dunn picks his marathons, then goes to the site of that race and runs the course daily for as many as 16 days leading up to the event. He is hopping around more now because there are more marathons in the fall: He goes from the TCM to St. Louis to Chicago to New York.

He expects to complete his 200th 26.2-mile run at the Hops Marathon on Dec. 10 in Tampa, Fla.

Dunn was told by the people at Guinness his runs “all need to be official races” for them to be interested, and he recognizes the difficulty of proving what he is doing, daily documentation notwithstanding.

“Anybody could say they did it,” he admitted. “It’s pretty much my word against the world. But I know a lady in a Texaco station (in California) who watched me come in every day and use the bathroom and fill my water bottle.” Another woman along another course in another city grew to recognize him for similar reasons.

Because his runs aren’t all in races, some people ridicule Dunn’s efforts.

“Part of my challenge is to get in the faces of those people,” he said. “All that stuff may be true, but I’m making $36,000 a year doing it, and I may be shamelessly marketing myself, but I’m trying to show that running is therapeutic and can help you change your lifestyle.”

He announces his schedule in advance, and anyone can show up anytime to check on him, he said.

This guy, who is admittedly “out there” will be out there.

He’s not real tired, he said, “but I’m sore all the time.”

He bailed out midway through one run on a cold, rainy March day in Los Angeles, he said, and he decided to sleep in on Labor Day, skipping a planned run. But on the other 154 days so far he has trotted through 26.2 miles without missing a beat. His daily runs take him about five hours. Thursday, he reached the Capitol in 5 hours, 17 minutes. Today, he planned to start on No. 155 at the usual time, 6 a.m.

He’ll start No. 156 at the same time Saturday. The TCM begins at 8 a.m. Sunday.

If you see him, say hello. You might spot him being interviewed by a TV newscaster. He likes the attention.

“It’s an ego thing,” he confessed. “I want to be known as that guy who ran 200 marathons.”

Taylor