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An Interview with America’s Marathon Man, Jerry Dunn, as He Turns 65

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South Dakota’s Jerry Dunn, also known as America’s Marathon Man, loves a challenge. For example, in a single year, 2000, he ran 200 26.2-mile marathons. This year, to celebrate his 65th birthday, Jerry ran/walked 65 miles. Recently we got him to slow down enough to answer a few questions.

Fitter After 50: Jerry, tell us a little about your most recent challenge.

Jerry Dunn: Well Ed, since my last great adventure, 200 26.2 milers in the year 2000, I’ve been kind of a slug [completing] maybe 4 marathons [in] 9 years. I was starting to think America’s Marathon Man was done, not Dunn. So my resolution for 2010 was to run and race enough to consider myself a runner again. I ran a little over 500 miles in 2010. I ran a couple of 5K races, some 10Ks and my crowning achievement for the year was taking 3rd place in my age group at the 30K at the Big Horn Trail Run event in June. I was starting to get my edge back. Some time in October I thought to myself, I need to see if I’ve still got what it takes for one more of my outrageous endurance stunts. It came to me…65 miles on my 65th birthday. Thus the challenge was born.

Five years earlier I ran 60 for my 60th birthday all on an indoor track (480 circuits [in] 14 hours and 42 minutes. Not the most fun I’d ever had running, but late January in South Dakota is often quite cold, so I planned accordingly. This year I modified my plan a bit. I reserved the same track as before, but only from midnight on the 29th of January (my actual birthday) until 11 AM that same morning. My goal was to get between 40 and 45 miles done in those 11 hours and then move outside and finish whatever mileage remained. I left the field house at 11:30 AM with 44 miles completed.

My routine during the indoor time was to run/jog 2 laps and walk 1 lap. I was able to maintain that Galloway inspired run-walk regimen, without breaking the pattern, for the entire 11 hours. Some of my loyal, night owl running buddies joined me for an hour or two throughout the night to keep me awake and mobile.

I stepped outside into 28 degree temps, overcast sky and little or no wind. Not a bad day for a 21 miler. My goal was to make it to the Crow Peak Brewery by 6PM for the beginning of my self-hosted party. I arrived at 5:42 having walked the entire 21 remaining miles. HEY, I’m 65. So in just under 17 hours, I had accomplished my goal. As my buddy Gere Munro used to always say: “the pain is temporary… the pride is forever.”

In addition to celebrating the day of my birth, two other celebrations were occurring as well. I celebrated 28 years of sobriety, and, ironic as it may seem, we also celebrated the introduction of Lean Horse Ale.

All in all it was a birthday to remember. Not many 65 year old guys can say they ran 65 miles to celebrate what is commonly known as the retirement year.

FA50: How have you been able to stay in shape to be able to tackle 65
miles on foot when most folks in their 60s can’t seem to get themselves to
jog a couple of miles or make it to the gym on a regular basis?

Jerry: Discipline and grace. Except for the rather long sabbatical from serious training and running that I mentioned earlier, I’ve disciplined myself to just keep on keepin’ on. There’s no secret formula to getting fit, or to staying fit, you just have to find something you like to do that makes your heart beat a little faster, and do it almost every day.

I used the word grace along with discipline and what that means to me is that through no effort of my own, I’ve been given this talent for endurance running. I’m thankful everyday that I can get out of bed, lace up the running shoes and get out the door and run. I realized many years ago that I didn’t need to understand why or how I was able to do what I do but just be thankful that I can and use the talent/gift to motivate and inspire others.

FA50: What role does diet play in your staying so fit?

Jerry: Much less than you might assume. I’m not saying that I don’t pay attention to what I eat, but I don’t have any dietary regimen to which I adhere. I mostly avoid fast foods, although not totally. I don’t drink soda or eat much candy. Simple, fresh and whole foods seem to work the best for me.

FA50: Are there any food supplements you take on a daily basis and what,
if anything, do you take during a challenge to help you to keep going and
to recuperate after the event?

Jerry: I take a generic one-a-day multi vitamin and one aspirin daily. That’s it. During my endurance extravaganzas I consume a lot of HammerGel, Endurox R4, bananas, water, some Reese’s pieces, chocolate milk and I even had a sausage-egg McMuffin at about 10 AM on my birthday run. Afterwards … BIRTHDAY CAKE.

FA50: What is your training like?

Jerry: 4 to 5 days a week. Low mileage most days with a 12 or 14 or 16 miler on alternating weekends.

FA50: Do you do anything in particular to stay flexible?

Jerry: No.

FA50: Is there a spiritual component to these challenges? What about your
mental focus during long runs and challenges?

Jerry: Yes, there is a spiritual component. As I mentioned earlier I’m thankful every day that I’m still healthy and able to run. When I’m in the later stages of one of these grueling challenges I will often repeat the Lord’s Prayer a few times. This serves a dual purpose for me. First of all, I remind myself through praying that what I’m doing is in fact a gift and that the mere fact that I’m doing this feat may be the inspiration someone else needs to get started toward a more healthy life. Second, repeating the prayer acts as a mantra of sorts and takes my mind off the pain and suffering.

FA50: When running extremely long distances, is it agony, ecstasy or a
combination of the two?

Jerry: Some of both. The agony usually comes in the middle to near the end portion of the distance and the ecstasy most always comes after completion. Although there are times during most of these extremely long endurance runs [when] I experience the “runners high” and feel as though I could just float to the finish, unfortunately, that never seems to quite work out in reality.

FA50: What advice do you have for those who have been sedentary for a
while and who now want to get back into shape?

Jerry: Take a realistic look at the condition you’re in right now. Set a realistic long range goal. Establish a routine and be consistent with your chosen activity. And most importantly … take your time. As the saying goes …”It took you all these years to get OUT of shape, don’t expect to get back IN shape overnight.

FA50: What would you tell someone looking to take a birthday physical
challenge, such as a long bike ride or run?

Jerry: I’d tell them what I write at the end of every email I send out: Don’t limit your challenges … Challenge your limits, and have fun doin’ it.

FA50: We understand that you are also a race director. What races do you
have coming up, and why should our readers consider traveling to South
Dakota to take on one of your races/event?

Jerry: My events:
Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon, June 5th (Our 10th Anniversary)

Black Hills 100 Ultra Marathon, June 25 / 26th (The Inaugural)

Lean Horse Hundred, August 27 / 28th (6th Annual)

Run Crazy Horse 13.1 / 26.2 October 2nd (2nd Annual)

Why come to South Dakota for one of our events? There is nowhere in the world more beautiful for running and walking than the Black Hills of South Dakota. Ask any of the 20,000 plus participants who have made the trip.

FA50: Is there anything you’d like to say to wrap this up?

Jerry: I’ve noticed that over my lifetime good things seem to come to me later than for a lot of other people, so I’m excited about what life holds in store for me in my post retirement years.

FA50: Thank you, Jerry and happy running.