by Ron Marinucci, May. 27, 2009
To say Jerry Mittman is an outdoor enthusiast is a bit of an understatement. The Northville resident has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro (19,563’) in Africa and four peaks taller than 14,000 feet in the US, including Mt. Whitney, at 14, 494 feet, the tallest mountain in the continental US. He’s hiked across the Grand Canyon and back three times and he’s bicycled to the Upper Peninsula (check your road map of Michigan to see how far that is from Northville) and across the states of North Carolina and Wisconsin.
“I enjoy an active lifestyle,” he himself understated.
Of course, the 64-year old Ford retiree runs—and now I’m understating again. He’s completed, as of the end of May, 62 marathons “and even more half marathons.” So far in 2009, Mittman has run 16 races, including a half marathon and 25K at the River Bank. “Oh,” he shrugs, “I’ll run as many as 50 races a year.”
“I have always had a goal I was trying to achieve,” he continued. It began as doing one mile, then racing 5K. Time goals and longer distances followed. Fulfilling those goals hasn’t always been a cakewalk. After running an easier-than-expected [now defunct] Scotty Hanton Marathon in Port Huron, “I started looking ahead to qualifying for the Boston Marathon.” He recalled, “How wrong I was! I didn’t qualify…until my 19th marathon.” Since, he has finished Boston five times and has qualified to run it next year.
Another example of goal-setting came in 2002. “Runner’s World had a list of ‘The World’s Top 10 Marathons.’ I had to run them all.” By 2006, he did.
Mittman’s most recent goal is to run a marathon or half marathon in all 50 states. He knows runners who belong to the “Fifty State Club” and this inspired him. “I got serious in 2006.” By then, his list of completed marathons [51 of them] included 18 states.
He determined, “I didn’t have 30+ more marathons in my body. The marathon is a different animal. I don’t have the drive left.” And he wondered whether his body could stand up physically to the task. So he made other plans: he’d run a marathon or half marathon in all of the states.
“That’s much more manageable,” he admitted. “It’s more fun. And I can still be competitive in my age-group.” Once he made up his mind, “I was knocking them off pretty quick.” He ran 9 new states in 2006, 11 the next, and 8 more the year after. Right now, “I’ve completed 47 states and the District of Columbia.” [He’s also done 13 marathons overseas, in 11 different countries.] Twenty have been marathons. Plans are to finish by October in Portland, Maine, chalking up Colorado and New Mexico during the summer months.
Mostly, he follows Hal Higdon’s marathon training plan, running about 1200 miles a year. But, he still cycles, “10, 15, 20 miles,” hikes, and weight trains, once a week. “The key,” he insists, “is to stay active…be on the move.”
Mittman isn’t doing this alone, well, not completely. “My wife goes with me to quite a few. We go and have a nice time. Teresa might walk the half marathon if there’s the opportunity. We’ve enjoyed some great trips.”
His children have been part of this, too. “One of the most fun things I’ve done is run a marathon with each of my three children.” And, he must be a tough father-in-law. He chuckled when he related, “I made my future son-in-law run a marathon before he married my daughter.”
In high school, he ran cross country, but then stopped running for 30 years. All three kids ran track and cross country in high school, too, he said. There was an open 5K at one of his son’s meets, so he entered, his first race. “I still remember running next to a high school girl and her mother yelling out to her, ‘Don’t let that old man beat you!’” His son went on to win the state cross country state finals that year and Mittman quips, “I continued running to show him where his genes came from.”
At 47, too, it was difficult to find partners for other sports, like racquetball. Running he could do alone and keep up with on frequent business trips. At first, “I thought it might be boring, but then I got into racing.” As he said, “I love the competition.”
In addition to his current 62 marathons and 72 half marathons, (or longer, but shorter than 26.2 miles), Mittman has finished more than 700 races. He has “a lot favorites” right here in Michigan. He mentioned the Crim, Dexter-Ann Arbor, the Run thru Hell, the Riverbank Run, and his hometown Solstice Run. At this year’s Meteor 10K, he ran on Saturday AM and volunteered at the marathon the next day.
Mittman has more goals lined up. He’d like to run “the equivalent of around the world” and has “about 5,000 [miles] to go.” Another is to “run my age in marathons;” the 64-year old will have 63 marathons under his belt by the end of the year.
Running has brought him many memories: a moose calf running beside marathoners in Alaska; the Medoc Marathon in France, with it’s 24 wine stops; “April in Paris;” Mao’s Tomb and Tiananmen Square in the Beijing Marathon; a hailstorm at mile 20 in Stockholm; pronghorn antelopes joining the half marathoners for a while in Casper, Wyoming; and more.
Hmmm. Just imagine the great lecture Jerry Mittman could give at one of those race expos! I wonder if he has slides.