February Column

February Column

February Column

A couple of centuries before Christ, legend has it that a Greek scientist calculated the circumference of the globe, coming up with a distance of about 25,000 miles. (No, educated people of the time didn’t think the world was flat.) Measuring shadows of stadia in Egypt at certain times of the day and year and then plugging those figures into formulas, Erastothenes was off by fewer than 200 miles, less than .1%--2200 years ago!

I was reminded of Eratosthenes and his measurements and calculations when I heard of Mt. Pleasant Strider Harry Plouff’s recent running accomplishment. With the close of 2010, Plouff (pronounced “pluff”) has run more than 53,000 miles. That’s more than twice around the earth. Talk about distance running!

Now 63, Plouff started running “seriously” in 1981. That year he posted 273 miles and also ran the first of his 41 marathons, the Detroit Free Press. He reminisced, “I always played a lot of softball, on travels teams and so on. I thought I was in good shape.” His first road race told him otherwise. “I entered my first 10K and things were good for about four miles. Then the bear jumped on my back. I was being passed by kids, and,” he quipped, “little old ladies.” Although the then 31-year old’s finishing time wasn’t too bad, “about 52 minutes, I was not happy.”

Plouff wanted another shot at “the bear. Determined to save face, I trained and entered another 10K. I finished in 47 minutes and,” adding with another chuckle, “was passed by only one little old lady.”

He entered more races, “left the little old lady behind…and the rest is history,” Plouff’s running history. Soon becoming “competitive in my age-group, I really got into it.” He continues to race and place well, frequently taking home age-group hardware.

He also decided to give back. Three years later, he and a group of his running buddies “formed the Mt. Pleasant Striders Running Club, now it its 28th year with over 250 members.”

He runs with MPS members “almost every day. We have a schedule of training runs and races. On Sundays, 10-15 people show up for a long run, from 10 to 13 miles, with a build-up for marathons.

“I try to run every day, 50 miles a week, 200 miles a month. I used to run longer, but now it’s about shaping the experience.” He only half-joked, adding, “Now there are lots of coffee-shop runs.” He once had a streak of running daily for almost three years. “But,” he admitted, “it was sooo nice to get that off my shoulders.”

He tries to run four to six marathons a year. He did six in 2010. And the Striders put on a number of local races. “I also have my favorites,” listing among them the Ludington Lakestride, Capital City, Fifth-Third (formerly Old Kent), and the Great Lakes and Dances with Dirt relays. Noting these are longer races, half marathons and more, he explained, “As I age and lose speed, I rely on endurance. So I like courses that have a [distance] challenge.” Along the way, he “shares” all of his races with buddies from the Striders. “We have a large group of Striders who run and race the same schedule.”

Since 2003, Plouff has run 2200 or more miles annually. He peaked in 2004 with 3003 miles. And, since that first year in 1981, he’s run at least 1200 miles every single year.

“I’ve run marathons in 17 states and on five continents,” he noted. “Each run has its own unique challenges.” But he singled out the Dublin, Barcelona, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Inca Trail, and Great Wall of China marathons for “special memories…so many great memories.”

“Africa was awesome. We ran the marathon one day and three days later climbed to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, over 19,000 feet. It was minus 20 degrees on the top. Finishing the Inca Trail Marathon at Machu Picchu was breath-taking, in more ways than one. I finished in seven hours and five minutes,” his slowest marathon time by almost two hours. But, he explained, “I was fourth overall, which tells you how grueling it was.” The winning time was six hours and three minutes. “Going from 8000 feet to 13,000 feet in the first five miles separated the pack. During the Great Wall Marathon, we ran over six miles on the Wall, covering over 3000 steps.”

“Sharing these experiences with friends and family members makes all the difference.” Byron Doty and Stan Curtiss, among other Striders, have run a number of marathons with Plouff. He’s also run 26.2 miles with his son Ben, including the Great Wall, and daughter Ali, “helping her to finish her first marathon” in Grand Rapids. “My wife Billie and I love to travel and running marathons allows us to go places and be with people who have similar dreams and aspirations.” They make certain “each trip includes time for
touring and sightseeing.”
In addition to running, he has “a routine I do every day with stretching and push-ups. I also have a stair-stepper, bike, and treadmill.” He and Billie “bike a lot and play tennis,” too.

Plouff readily admits that, for him, “running is a way of life. It has been good to me, my family, and friends. Running has provided a healthy, challenging, goal-oriented life. We are so lucky that we live in a place [the USA] that where we run today is one of our biggest concerns. I can’t say enough about the camaraderie of running. There are so many opportunities.”

And, having run around the world twice, Plouff isn’t planning on taking any breaks. “Next year,” he enthused, “we are scheduled to run the Antarctica Marathon.”