Here’s to Next Year
…and the year after that. A story of Chicago Marathon streakers.
Anne Stein, M.S.
Sports & Fitness Journalist/Author
“There’s a fine line between hard training and injury, especially as you get older.” Still, Burt’s maintained the same mileage for 20 years: six-mile runs, five days a week; 10 miles on Sunday, one rest day.
Few people can say they’ve qualified for the Boston Marathon 23 years in a row, but it’s a typical statistic that pops up when talking to the Alumni Runners. The Chicago-area group of nine men has completed every Chicago Marathon since the race started in 1977, and this October’s run marked their 32nd time crossing the finish line.
“None of us are showing any signs of quitting,” says Ron Williams, who ran a 5:31 race this year and at 70, is the group’s second-oldest runner. (The youngest is 59, the oldest is 81.)
Throughout his Chicago marathon career, Williams has run a sub-three hour race, qualified and ran in Boston, and from ages 44-49, had a string of sub-3:20:00 times. At his peak he put in 65-mile weeks; these days he runs 35-40 miles weekly. (Though the group doesn’t train together, they appear at pre-race press conferences and start at the front on race day.)
“We’re a group of men, and now we’re a group of old men,” jokes Randy Burt, 61, who this year clocked a 3:51:53 – making him the 23-time Boston qualifier and the fastest of the alumni bunch.
Burt, a former Army Ranger who served in Vietnam, was 29 when the Mayor Daley Marathon debuted in Chicago in 1977. He’d run in high school and college (as did Williams) but had never tackled a 26.2 mile race. “I thought I should do one before I was over the hill,” he says. “Here I am 32 years later and I can’t believe it. It’s my 64th marathon!”
Williams came in with the same thought; he started running again at age 29 after getting out of shape; at age 38 he did the first Chicago, clocking a 4:04, and got hooked. “I bought every book I could on marathon,” says Williams, whose times dropped dramatically for five years, when he ran a sub-three hour race.
While the group has slowed down, their competitive desires haven’t faded. “My training runs are slower so I don’t hurt so much the next day,” admits Burt, “and there’s a fine line between hard training and injury, especially as you get older.” Still, Burt’s maintained the same mileage for 20 years: six-mile runs, five days a week; 10 miles on Sunday, one rest day.
The two agree that luck’s one reason for their longevity. Williams has never suffered a running injury, though he’s been hit by a car, bitten by a dog and once ran into a nest of geese. But they also cross-train and devote one to three hours almost daily to training, and both want to get better, rather than simply maintain their current level of fitness. Here are other tips from the Chicago Alumni Runners:
Burt does a few triathlons a year. Besides running, he uses the elliptical and bikes four to five days a week. When he feels a running injury coming on, he backs off and maintains fitness with biking/elliptical.
Keep it fresh:
Williams cross-country skis in winter and does a week-long bike ride in the summer. “It’s a good break from training so I’m really excited to get back to running.”
Burt works upper body only, three days a week, year-round. Williams starts his heavy-duty winter strength-training as soon as he finishes the marathon.
Keep it fun:
Run with friends, make every run challenging but don’t make every run hard. Join Team in Training or other groups to meet training partners and keep running meaningful.
Run on different surfaces:
Williams does a lot of trail running to avoid getting beaten up by concrete.
Recap your race day
to make improvements where needed. This year Burt’s quads were extra sore after the race, so he’ll be doing more hamstring and quad work over the winter.