GRAND RAPIDS -- Dave Sheble of St. Charles, Ill., has run 16 marathons and said nothing compares to the Grand Rapids Marathon.
He has enjoyed it so much, it inspired him to create a marathon of his own.
Sheble, who ran in the eighth annual Grand Rapids Marathon on Sunday, said after the 2009 race, he realized Grand Rapids offered an environment unlike any in the country. Motivated by the event, Sheble created the Fox Valley Marathon in St. Charles, Ill.
Sheble, 55, running his third Grand Rapids Marathon, crossed the finish line hand in hand with longtime friend Anne Russe after 3 hours, 42 minutes, 51 seconds.
Russe, the sponsor coordinator of the Fox Valley Marathon, has been running long distances since 1997 and completed her 19th marathon Sunday. She crossed the finish line of her first Grand Rapids Marathon in tears, and said it’s the best event in which she has participated.
"This was a great race today. This was rocking, and Grand Rapids did it exactly right," said Russe, of Naperville, Ill.
Sheble and Russe were two of more than 4,000 people who ran either the half or full marathon. Sheble, who placed 444th overall, said he gets more inspired by the Grand Rapids Marathon every year.
"This is what the Fox Valley Marathon aspires to be," he said. "I hope Grand Rapids, as a city, understands how incredible an event this is. It’s renowned in the sport. It’s amazing."
Sheble qualified for the Boston Marathon last year in Grand Rapids and plans to run in Boston in 2012. He has completed the Chicago Marathon several times and said Grand Rapids has a better course and atmosphere than Chicago.
"We came up here and had an amazing experience again. I love Grand Rapids. It’s like home cooking now," Sheble said. "The crowd support was phenomenal once again, and it’s always great here."
Sheble said distance runners are a different breed of people. He acknowledged running 26.2 miles might be crazy, but said the feeling of accomplishment after it has been completed is amazing.
"It’s exhilarating. People don’t really understand that five months of training goes into something like this," Sheble said. "Crossing the finish line after that is like nothing else."
Sheble raved about race director Don Kern’s continued dedication and commitment to the Grand Rapids Marathon.
"Don goes above and beyond what the normal race director does," Sheble said. "We always aspire to do what Don does here in Grand Rapids. He puts so much thought into it and takes care of what every runner needs."
Kern has been the Grand Rapids Marathon race director since the inaugural race in 2004. He said he enjoys sharing his love for running with thousands of people.
"This is what it’s all about. This is the kind of thing I want to do," Kern said. "I love being a part of people accomplishing things, making their lives better."
Kern, who stood at the finish line for hours Sunday, shaking hands with runners, said he is honored Sheble fashioned the Fox Valley Marathon from Grand Rapids’ influence.
"I love it. Being able to spread this to another town is awesome," Kern said. "They emulated what we did and now people are saying they do a great job."
Sheble said he also hopes his marathon will someday raise as much money for charities as Grand Rapids does. In the 2010 Grand Rapids Marathon, charity runners contributed more than $100,000 to local, state and national nonprofit organizations.
In the 2011 Fox Valley Marathon, which was completed Sept. 18, charity runners raised more than $20,000.
Sheble said he is ecstatic to see the sport he loves continue to grow, and enjoys being a part of it.
"The sport of long-distance running is booming, and it’s booming because of events like this," Sheble said. "It’s extremely exciting to see."