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Marathon Man

by Jim Halley – The Salt Lake Tribune

54 year old Dunn already has broken his record of 104 marathons in a year

Jerry Dunn, also known as the “Marathon Man”, prepares for another race by joggin up Emigration Canyon. Dunn plans to race in 200 marathons this year, including Monday’s Deseret News / Granite Furniture Marathon.
Jerry Dunn, also known as the “Marathon Man”, prepares for another race by joggin up Emigration Canyon. Dunn plans to race in 200 marathons this year, including Monday’s Deseret News / Granite Furniture Marathon.

When Jerry Dunn leaves for work every morning, he grabs his cell phone and a few snacks. Though his job takes him all over the country, his daily commute is always the same distance: 26.2 miles. Dunn 54 doesn’t punch a time clock. He pounds the pavement. He plans to run the equivalent of 200 marathons in 2000, including Monday’s Deseret News/Granite Furniture Marathon. It’s a phenomenal, perhaps crazy goal, but the self-described “Marathon Man” takes it all in stride. His motto: “Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits.”

He has already broken his record of 104 marathons in one year, which he ran in 1993. Because there are only 52 weeks in a year and marathons are usually on weekends, his new goal seems impossible, but the Spearfish, S.D., resident runs certified race courses by himself, sometimes for 16 straight days, before or after the actual race. Mondays race will mark his 10th tour of some version of the course, it will also be the 119th time this year he has run 26.2 miles.

“Barring any unforeseen injuries, I am going to make it physically,” Dunn said. “The alternate question is, ‘How do I get up for it mentally?’ This is my job this year. Just like a job, there are days you don’t want to go to work, but you do.”

Though he has run a 3-hour, 23 minute marathon, most of his daily runs take around 5 hours. That gives him time to talk on the phone and meet other runners. His project has also made him a connoisseur of courses. “I like the hills on the course here,” Dunn said. “ It is an interesting course. So far this year, the two most unpleasant experiences were in Las Vegas and the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn. Both are flat and desolate and not very interesting.” Some are dangerous. The Los Angeles Marathon course isn’t designed for pedestrians or runners. “It is probably one of the more trafficked courses. I have to spend a lot of time on the sidewalk because of traffic. It’s not something that bothers me, but I know I have to pay attention.”

Since he runs the same courses so many times, regular commuters begin to recognize him. In Boston they did that one better. A restaurant there sponsored him when he ran the Boston Marathon route 26 times in 26 days. The restaurant would feed him at the end of his run, then drive him back to the start in Hopkington  — in a limousine.

Runaway Bride: When Dunn’s wife, Elaine, married him at the Disney World Marathon in 1994, she ran alongside him in her wedding gown. She has run with him in 10 marathons this year and is setting her own record of two official marathons and two unofficial marathons a month. She ran 62 miles on her 62nd birthday. After she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 1995, the first thing she did was run in a marathon. If anyone understands his drive, she does.

“It’s a little crazy, but all of us are in the pursuit of what makes us individuals,” she said. “I understand where he is coming from. It isn’t easy on a relationship. We work at a relationship. The fact that6 I am a runner and an extremist too helps.” Dunn began running in 1975, but it wasn’t until he took up marathons in 1982 that he overcame substance abuse problems. “I am addicted with running,” Dunn said. “It’s certainly doing better things for me than all the beer and reefer I used to drink and smoke. I started running 25 years ago, but I didn’t stop drinking until 17 years ago, so I have some pretty bad memories of races. I can remember running the Gasparilla Classic (a 15K in Tampa, Fla.) with a hangover and after I had smoked a bunch of cigarettes.”

When he began running marathons, he added another hobby: collecting. This year, he has found coins, T-shirts, golf balls, tennis balls, baseballs, hats and gloves. He lists his personal finds each day with his daily run updates on his Website, Once during the Boston Marathon , he found a $20 bill and a quarter. On a run through New York City’s Central Park he found (and later returned) a $1,600 paycheck for one of Dan Rather’s writers at CBS. Because Dunn doesn’t have time for a regular job, he needs more than spare change to keep his pursuit alive. His cell phone is provided by Sprint PCS, and Brooks recently signed on to give him running shoes. He also touts Endurox R4, a performance recovery drink, PowerBar, Foster Grant Sunglasses, says he takes Cosamin DS and Cosamin ProTek for his knees, and Barley Essence to reduce inflammation.

“I am like a traveling salesman, I guess,” he said. “Going  into this, I sat down and figured I would need at least $22,000 from sponsors to do this , with $42,000 as my fantasy budget. When I started, I didn’t even have enough to do it the cheap way, but more sponsors have come on board.” He matches the amount of change he finds on the road with his own money and donates it to charity. Dunn also collects finishing medals, but like his road change, he gave away his medal from last year ‘s marathon here.

Dedicated Effort: Two days before the race, he heard about 18 year old Cameron Westenskow of Salt Lake City, who was dying of a brain tumor. Dunn was touched enough to call Westenskow’s father, Paul, to say that he would dedicate his race to Cameron. When Cameron was to ill to go to the finish line after the race, Dunn went by the family’s house and handed his medal to Cameron, who died 15 days later.

“I was impressed how sincere his friends were and I was moved by that and anted to do something for the kid, “ he said.

That kindness has led to a friendship. “We’ve been quite kindred spirits,” said Cameron’s mother, Carolynn. “When he called this year to say he would be in town, I was very happy. We have had these amazing conversations. He is such a multi-faceted person. I have asked him to come to speak to our youth group at Parley’s Sixth Ward.”

Several times last week, Dunn has driven to the race’s start near Mountain Dell Golf Course and run the route. When he gets close to the finish at Liberty Park, he gets a ride back to his car from Carolynn or one of her friends. Dunn’s finisher medal sits in a treasure box at the Westenskows’ home. On the back of the medal, there’s a note to Cameron that begins, “I often tell people that life is like a marathon.” The note ends, “…save me a place at the finish line.”