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His Plan: 200 Marathons in 2000

by Don Norcross –  San Diego Union Tribune

In preparing for Sunday’s San Diego Marathon, Jerry Dunn has run the course daily since Jan. 1.
In preparing for Sunday’s San Diego Marathon, Jerry Dunn has run the course daily since Jan. 1.

Jerry Dunn understands how bizarre his goal must sound. Two hundred marathons in the year 2000. That’s 5,240 miles of pounding on your legs. That’s 100 miles a week. That’s sick.

Dunn has completed 11/200ths of his goal. He has targeted 12 marathon races he will officially enter. Around those events, he will run another 188 marathons across the 12 courses.
Spearfish, S.D., is home for Dunn, which explains why Sunday’s San Diego Marathon represents Dunn’s jumping-off point.

“I picked warm-weather sites early in the year,” said Dunn, 53, proving the man does have some common sense.
He arrived here on Dec. 30. Starting Jan. 1, he says, he has run the marathon course every day. He will continue to do so through race day. By Sunday, it’ll be 16 down, 184 to go.

And so, the obvious question: Why?

Dunn talks about wanting to turn others to the spiritual high of completing a marathon. He talks about challenging America to put down the remote control and get in shape. And he admits some of his reasons were selfish.

“I guess we all have the need to be remembered for something,” he said while soaking up the sun at an Encinitas coffeehouse. “ A lot of people find that with family, leaving somebody to carry on their name. I don’t have any children. I’m an only child. Part of it’s my ego. We all have one of those.”

His name will not go down in the Guinness Book of World Records. He hasn’t hired anyone to chart his nonrace marathons, so there’s no way of verifying whether he has covered 26.2 miles all 200 times. Dunn will be the only one who knows for certain whether he has accomplished the feat.

His goal will keep him away from his wife at least half the year, not a wise strategy for a man working on marriage No. 4. He will have the pleasure of sleeping in hotels, eating too many sit-by-yourself restaurant meals. On the positive side, he will have plenty of time to soak himself in Tiger Balm from his feet to his hips.

Dunn has lead an eventful life. He is a recovering alcoholic, having not sampled a drink for nearly 17 years. He has worked as a bartender – “not a good environment for an alcoholic,” he says – a letter carrier and a massage therapist. He built log homes in South Dakota for a while.  He figure his bout with alcoholism cost him one marriage, one Mercedes and some lost skin when he dumped his motorcycle more than once.

The obvious diagnosis is that Dunn replaced one addiction (alcohol) with another (running). Completing his first marathon 17 years ago gave Dunn a sense of accomplishment.

“It confirmed to me that I was able to commit to something and follow through,” he said. “That’s one of the trademarks of alcoholics and drug users. They aren’t very good at long-term commitments. Completing the training and crossing the finish line was a good boost for my self-confidence.”

Two hundred marathons in 2000 isn’t Dunn’s first challenging running adventure. To raise awareness for the Habitat for Humanity, he ran from San Francisco to Washington D.C. in 1991. When he turned 47, the same age his father died of a heart attack, Dunn vowed to run 93 marathons in 1993. He wound up running 104.

He still vividly recalls being home for Thanksgiving break his freshman year at Ball State, listening to his father pull up in front of the house, honk his horn and ask his son to get him a glass of water and a cigarette while he rested.
“An hour later, he was dead,” Dunn said. “He was overweight, smoked about three packs of Pall Malls a day and didn’t do anything physical except mow the lawn.”

Running isn’t just Dunn’s avocation; it’s his employment. He hasn’t worked a traditional job in more than five years. Instead, he hustles sponsorships, his current ones ranging from a replenishment drink and sunglasses to a cellular phone company.

During his routine five-hour marathon workouts, Dunn hardly resembles the runner in solitude, at one with the universe. In case an idea strikes, he carries a notebook and pen. So he can reach his wife or sponsors, he carries a cellular phone.

He knows his body can’t withstand this type of punishment forever. He envisions writing a book, booking speaking engagements, doing something that’s related to fitness.

“And if that doesn’t work,” he said, “I guess I’ll have to get a real job.”

Don Norcross can be reached at (619) 293-1803 or