Jerry Dunn is a man on a mission.
His insatiable thirst for adventure led him to running the New York City Marathon course for 28 consecutive days in 1998, culminated by competing in the actual event on the 29th day. Questioned by a reporter after crossing the finish line what the future held in store, Jerry instinctively replied that perhaps he would run 200 marathons in the year 2000.
Just when he completes one mission lasting a month (29 consecutive runs in New York City of 26.2 miles) he’s already committed to another that will consume an entire year.
Expect nothing less from Jerry Dunn who was given the moniker ‘America’s Marathon Man’ by the late Jim Murray, one of the most popular sportswriters of the twentieth century.
Jerry was born in 1946 in Indianapolis, Indiana, the only child of Raymond and June Dunn. He attended ‘PS 72’ for the first seven years and remembers walking ¾ of a mile to and from school each day. When he entered Manual High School the commute extended to a full mile each day which he walked until his junior year when he was old enough to get his first car: a 1949 bullet nose Studebaker.
At the age of ten, Jerry held his first job delivering the evening newspaper. Two years later he began delivering the morningnewspaper which required that he wake up at 4:00 a.m.—seven days a week, 365 days a year. He held the job until he turned 18 and graduated from high school.
Jerry believes this is where he developed the lifelong habit of being an early riser, and why getting up at o‘dark-thirty’ to start an ultra event doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. As the Race Director of the Leanhorse Ultra in Hot Springs, South Dakota (a race he founded in 2005), the traditional 6:00 a.m. start allows Jerry—by his definition of ‘early,’ to sleep in.
His diminutive stature and his ‘career’ in the newspaper industry kept Jerry from being a jock in high school. He did, however play intramural basketball (what would you expect from a boy growing up in Indiana?) and reserve tennis (he had two matches: one he lost and the other was rained out) during his freshman year. Thinking back to 4th grade at PS 72 Jerry recalls a Field Day event where the boys were classified by their size. ‘A’ were the bigger boys, ‘B’ the medium-size boys and ‘C’ were…well ‘C’….. Jerry and Kenneth Wilde, who both won ribbons in whatever events they chose to enter.
Jerry admittedly wasn’t a jock in high school, but he was musically inclined. Concert choir, the men’s glee club, concert band, marching band, all musical productions…his plethora of interests were the epitome of ‘musical cross-training.’ His instrument of choice was the tuba or as he calls it ‘the get-inside-and-carry-it-on-your-shoulder-kind-of-tuba.’ His stature, all ‘five-foot-nothing’ of it made it hard for him to compete with the other five (larger) tuba players in the marching band at the football games on Friday nights, but he somehow managed to ‘rock with the best of ‘em.’
Being an honor student throughout high school, Jerry was ‘accepted with distinction’ at Ball State University. However, they forgot to invite him back for his sophomore year. Something about his GPA being below the accepted standard. Seeing as Jerry thought GPA stood for ‘good party atmosphere…’
Uncle Sam was not as selective in his call to service. Jerry spent 31 months in the United States Army. From February 1966 until November of 1968, at which time he was granted an ‘early out’ to return to Ball State University, (or as some fondly called it……Ball U). He put his newfound freedom to use and completed a degree in, well…alcohol consumption with a minor in pharmaceutical experimentation. For the next two decades Jerry put his ‘college degrees’ to work. But all that changed the morning after he turned 37.
On that day Jerry met a man named Bill W. and to this day over 26 years later they remain friends. Bill taught Jerry quite a lot. Like figuring out the ‘marriage thing.’
Jerry’s current wife, Dr. Elaine Doll-Dunn, allows him (occasionally, as long as it doesn’t become a habit) to refer to her as ‘W4.’ Jerry no longer has any contact wive’s W 1, 2 or 3, but is fairly certain they wouldn’t take kindly to being referred to as W’s 1, 2 and 3.
Jerry and Elaine have celebrated 14 years of (literally as well as figuratively) running around together. They both agree that the strongest bond they share is this ‘running thing.’ Naturally there are a few other things that they are both passionate about that keeps their love alive. But running? Besides their love for each other, that’s the strongest bond they share.
Jerry was only 18 when his father passed away, which left him with a huge hole in his heart. As his ‘college degree’ might indicate, he filled that huge hole with all sorts of addictive behaviors: alcohol, drugs and women. That is until 1993 when, at the age of 47 Jerry found himself in the middle of a desert in Nevada. It was then and there he made peace with his dad as well as his running addiction.
Ah, his running addiction. Where did it begin?
Jerry was tending bar at nights in Sarasota, Florida…the perfect job for an alcoholic with a degree in drinking. During the day he was hanging out on the beach when one day his girlfriend’s brother (who happened to be the head lifeguard) tells Jerry he should run with him. Jerry told him in no uncertain terms ‘no’…. he had all the running he needed at Fort Knox, wearing fatigues and boots while carrying a pack and a rifle.
But Johnny wouldn’t quit, until finally, Jerry gave in and said ‘OK, a half mile and that’s all.’
That was 1975.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Since that time Jerry has had an extensive career in running, both as a participant and promoter. In 2002 Jerry and Elaine founded the Mickelson Trail Marathon, a race which Runner’s World magazine refers to as ‘the best-kept secret in marathon running.’ It was Jerry’s vision and imagination which brought together the best nature has to offer with the best life has to offer (running!) to form the perfect event in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota.
As a runner Jerry boasts an amazing litany of credentials, including a 1,900 mile run and 807 mile bicycle ride across the United States to raise awareness for Habitat for Humanity in 1991, completing 104 marathons in 1993 and an amazing 200 runs of marathon distance in the year 2000. His most treasured accomplishment is running the fabled Boston Marathon course on 26 consecutive days in 1996, with the 26th day being the 100th running of the oldest marathon in the country.
How does a guy like this celebrate turning 60?……in late January, in South Dakota. A 60 mile run of course……but 480 laps of an indoor track. Proving once again….anything is possible.
Olympian Jeff Galloway says of Jerry: Jerry Dunn has the energy to make things happen.
What would you expect from a man who says he ‘still gets chills watching anyone complete his or her first marathon.’
Jerry Dunn is a man on a mission.
On second thought, Jerry Dunn is a man on many missions, and he knows how to get them done.