Any dink can run a marathon. Oprah has. Al Gore has. I, for
pity's sake, have run two marathons. But Jerry Dunn is a real
runner. In the calendar year of 1993 he ran 104 marathons. Seven
years later Dunn, "feeling frisky," ran 200 marathons, or
roughly four a week. "The first question I get," says Dunn, a
slot-machine attendant with flexible hours at the Four Aces
casino in Deadwood, S.Dak., "is, 'Are you crazy?'" The answer,
emphatically, is yes.
Perhaps you dream of running Boston. In 1996 Dunn ran the
historic 26.2-mile route from Hopkinton to Boylston Street 26
times. On 26 consecutive days. In '98 he ran the original route
of the New York City Marathon 28 times in the 28 days before that
race, and then ran the official marathon on race day. "I was,"
says Dunn, unnecessarily, "sore the whole time."
Long before Forrest Gump, he was Sorest Rump, running alone
across America from San Francisco to Washington in a 104-day
span, averaging 30 miles a day, for six days a week, in 1991. "I
stopped drinking after my first marathon, in 1982," says Dunn, a
56-year-old ex-bartender and recovering alcoholic. "The piece of
my personality that used to be Substance Addiction turned into
Running Addiction. And while it's a positive addiction, I do have
to monitor it. Though you might not think I've monitored it
Guinness World Records confers a strange dignity on fat twins and
multifootlong-fingernailed fakirs. But it shuns Dunn, whose runs
are all the more impressive for being unofficial. Huffing bus
fumes, he is never wrapped, at race's end, in a foil blanket like
a baked potato. "I'm just a lone runner dodging traffic," says
Dunn, whose best official time is 3:23, at Chicago in 1985, but
who now requires five hours to cover a marathon course. Which is
hardly necessary, when you consider that this human swizzle
stick, six feet tall, 150 pounds, could much more easily be faxed
from start to finish.
While most runners "taper," radically decreasing their mileage in
the days before a race, Dunn runs daily marathons to prepare for
marathons. In his annus mirabilis of 2000, when he laid waste to
20 pairs of shoes, Dunn ran marathon courses in New York City
(nine straight days), Providence (six days), Philadelphia (six),
Tampa (10), Boston (17), Nashville (three), San Diego (16 days,
and four more days later in the year), another San Diego course
(five), Indianapolis (17), St. Louis (six), Chicago (six), Las
Vegas (16), Los Angeles (12), Cincinnati (14), Duluth (12), San
Francisco (nine), Salt Lake City (nine), Bismarck, N.Dak.
(eight), Dayton (six), Minneapolis-St. Paul (eight) and
Schmiedefeld, Germany (once), almost always ending his binges by
running the route on race day, when volunteers were there to hand
On nonrace days he creates his own aid stations. During runs in
Los Angeles, Dunn has had coffee and toast at the Olympic Cafe
near the starting line, doughnuts at the Winchell's at mile 17
and a banana from the Asian fruit stand near mile marker 23. To
recover, he goes to bed. "I've heard of people standing in
55-gallon drums of ice water," he says. "But I could never do
that." No, for Dunn, who once ran a marathon in Omsk, Siberia,
that would be torture.
Running is bliss, even for those lightweights who run only, say,
one marathon a week. "I've run in snowstorms, hailstorms,
lightning," says Norm Frank, 71, of Rochester, N.Y. "I've run
marathons at the North Pole, the Berlin Wall and along the
original marathon route from Marathon to Athens in Greece. I was
supposed to run at the Panama Canal from the Pacific to the
Atlantic but got badly sunburned down there and had to pull out."
Even without that race, Frank last weekend in upstate New York
ran his 781st official marathon, which is merely the North
American record. "There's a fella in Germany who's run more,"
says Frank, sighing like an accordion.
The proprietor of Marathon Lawn Service, Frank ran his first
marathon at age 37, in Boston, and 33 years later, after running
in Boise, Idaho, had marathoned in each of the 50 states. (His PR
is 3:20, but he now runs 6:00s.) The second weekend of December,
in Huntsville, Ala., the 6'2", 170-pounder plans to complete his
800th career marathon or ultramarathon. He will then have lapped
the earth, running roughly the length of the Equator.
Says Frank, "When I started, before Frank Shorter ran in the
Olympics, I had all kinds of problems with dogs chasing me." But
when Shorter and others made running cool, in the '70s, even the
dogs laid off, switching exclusively to mailmen. It was then, in
1975, that Jerry Dunn, at the prodding of a lifeguard friend, ran
a half-mile on Sarasota Beach in Florida. A young Orson Welles
had tasted his first Ring Ding.
Twenty-seven years and four wives later, Dunn is still running.
On Jan. 8, 1995, Dunn paused near the nine-mile mark of the Walt
Disney World Marathon in Orlando to marry, in front of
Cinderella's Castle, fellow runner Elaine Doll. He wore a tux,
she wore a gown. "I like to say," says the groom, who settled
with Doll in Spearfish, S.Dak., "we've been running around
together ever since." Dunn smiles, unembarrassed that his jokes
are corny. And clearly content that his feet are, too.
alone across America.