Ron Marinucci October Column: "100 Marathons"

Ron Marinucci October Column: "100 Marathons"

A marathon, 26.2 miles.  Even to a long-time runner like me, the distance still seems daunting.  Now consider 100 marathons.  That’s 2620 miles.  For the metrically inclined, that’s 4200 kilometers.  And those miles or kilometers are just the races themselves.  They don’t include the training and other races to prepare for the big events.

Later this month on October 16th, at the 45th annual Free Press Marathon, both Donna Swanson and Mike Webster will complete their goal of 100 marathons!  It will be fitting for the sister-in-law/brother-in-law duo since 99 marathons before, their first one was the Free Press.

In 2014, Swanson reached another running/marathon quest, one of running a marathon in all fifty states, when she finished the Mad [River] Marathon in Vermont.  I related that odyssey and her running background then.  Since, she’s had her eye on the number 100.

“Yes, I wanted to finish my marathon career with the same marathon I started with,” she explained, in 1980.  “I ran Detroit three times before I ventured into doing other marathons.  I have not run the Free Press since 1995, so it will be fun to return, especially since the course will be new to me.”

In addition, “It will make it easy for family and friends to be there.  My 91-year old mother said, ‘When you run your 100th, could you make it somewhere fairly easy for family to get to?’  I said, “How about Detroit?’  She was very pleased with that answer.”

Her 98th was in April of this year, Glass City in Toledo, Ohio.  “I had never done that one before,” she said, “even though I lived close to Toledo most of my life.”  Of that race, she recalled, the temperatures climbed to more than 80°.  That, she understated, “was a challenge.”  A highlight was that her mother accompanied her and they even found time to visit a few breweries to share craft beers.

In June, the 99th was crossed off the list, too, in Charlevoix, Michigan.  “It was another one I had never run before and really enjoyed it.  A bonus was I finished first in my age-group.”

Now 62 years old, Webster began running forty-four years ago, in 1978, while in college.  “A group of friends and I started running over to the football stadium after studying, like 10:00 or 11:00 PM, to blow off some steam.  We’d take a football with us, pass it back and forth while we ran, sneak into the stadium, and play some football on the field.  I found I liked the running to and from the stadium more than actually playing football and just started doing the running more and more.”

His first Free Press was in 1983.  “I had been running for several years and saw a schedule published in the Free Press paper about how to train for the marathon.  It seemed like something I could do.  I had seen the Olympic marathons on TV and thought to myself, ‘If I could do something like that, it would be a real accomplishment.”  He cut the schedule out of the newspaper, but didn’t really follow it.  “I ended up finishing, thinking it wasn’t as bad as I thought.”

Webster’s 98th marathon was earlier this year in Boston and he followed that up six days later running the same Glass City as Swanson.

Since 1983, he’s done at least one marathon a year, including “always the Free Press.” This will be his 40th consecutive Detroit marathon.  He’s also done the Disney World Marathon in Orlando, Florida nineteen times, combining that with a family vacation.  “It’s always a fun trip with the kids.”  Every year he did at least two marathons.  “The most I did in one year was seven.”

Over the years, Swanson thought, “Training has not changed much.”  Then she quipped, “other than the long runs take me much longer to do now!”  Turning 70 years old last February, she has found, “The pace I used to run full marathons are now paces I cannot maintain for even one mile.”

Webster did that first Free Press on what he considered “very minimal mileage.”  Soon he discovered “The more miles I ran, the faster I got.”  Over the years, in training for the marathons, he sometimes put in 100-mile weeks, but not many.  “That was just too much.  Sixty to seventy seemed to work for me for a number of years.”  But he noted, “The last five years or so, I am more around 45-50 miles a week, average.”

He added, “I was fortunate to have some friends in our running club I could train with and we pushed each other on long runs and intervals on the track.”  A bonus for him, “We had many great conversations on those workouts!”

Out of 100 marathons, it’s probably difficult to choose two or three that stand out.  Swanson picked locations.  “I most enjoyed the marathons that had scenic courses.”  She cited a few such as the Mt. Desert in Maine, Leadville in Colorado, and Big Sur in California.”  Most memorable for her, though, were “those where my friends joined me.”  In New Orleans, Louisiana a group gathered to simultaneously celebrate her 60th birthday.  At Mad [River], “we had a group of around twenty-four of us there.”  She also recalled the $500 she won for a fourth-place masters women’s finish at the 1992 Free Press.

“My first one stands out for several reasons,” Webster remembered.  “It was my first one!  The sense of self-satisfaction, exhilaration, joy, and pride after the first one carried through to the next 98.  It doesn’t go away.”

“Finishing the ‘big city’ marathons [Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Berlin for him] is always fun and exciting.”  He singled out Boston as “always special, as the whole town supports the marathon and the crowds along the course are just phenomenal.”  He also completed the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon Marathon.  “Being able to share it with my family was just spectacular.”

After the 100th?  

Immediately after, Swanson noted, “We have a group of around forty friends and family getting together for a post-marathon lunch to celebrate in Greektown.”  But she admitted, “Detroit will definitely be my last full marathon.  I have been fortunate to stay injury-free with no knee or hip problems and would like to stay that way.  I will continue running and racing, but focus on a couple half marathons a year as well as some shorter races.  I hope to run them a bit faster since I won’t be putting in the long training runs any longer.”

Swanson plans on some travel, especially to more national parks, with her husband John, who is also a member of the 50-50 club and has run 75 marathons.  “I’m also looking forward to cheering on my youngest niece who has a running streak of about four years when she runs her first marathon wherever and whenever that maybe be.  I will enjoy encouraging and supporting other runners, especially those training for their first marathons.”

For his part, Webster plan “is to keep running.”  He conceded, “With each passing year the battle of attrition takes its toll.  There are fewer and fewer people my age or older who are running.  As long as I am able, I’d like to be able to come out and support and run the Free Press Marathon.  I would like to try ad continue to plug along with two or three marathons a year.”  He added, “I also enjoy the training and racing and will try to continue to compete in the foreseeable future.”

Sunday, October 16th, 2022, the Free Press Marathon in Detroit will mark the 100th marathon for two very dedicated runners, Donna Swanson and Mike Webster.  Congratulations and good luck to you both!