What we can learn from the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon Charter Club
They have run with broken bones, stomach issues, pulled muscles and months after major surgery. They plan their work schedule six months in advance and some have even skipped weddings, funerals, and other life events to keep the streak alive.
For the 29 remaining members of the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon Charter Club (those who have completed every Twin Cities Marathon), the first Sunday in October is held with as much sanctity as Christmas, New Years and the Fourth of July combined.
“it’s just a priority… one weekend I don’t fool with. If somebody wants to get married or dies that weekend… they’re out of luck.” Says Lisa Boulay, currently the youngest female member of the club.
I had the chance to talk with three of them via phone (and emailed several others). Each conversation felt like talking with a celebrity. I’m in awe of their incredible determination to keep going after 25,000+ marathon miles. I wanted to pick their brains and glean the wisdom earned from decades of running and racing, through the good and bad times of life. Why and how they have been able to run every single Twin Cities Marathon since 1982?
Ranging in age from 54 to 75, all of these runners have a lifetime’s worth of experience and wisdom. Below are a few things we can learn from the discipline and tenacity of the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon Charter Club members.
The Twin Cities Marathon Charter Club – a Brief History
In 1982, 3,511 runners completed the very first Twin Cities Marathon. By 1991, a little over 5,000 made the trek from Minneapolis to St. Paul. That year, the 10th anniversary, TCM knew they wanted to recognize everyone who had completed the first 10.
Gloria Jansen (then Vice President of Runner Services) tracked them down and found 178 who were 10 year members. Charter member Tim Zoerb, recalls that when he found out he was part of the club, “oh wow! I’ve got a thing going on here! Previous to that, I just thought, this is a blast – I’m having a good time!”
Over the next 24 years, those numbers dwindled. At year 15, 106 remained. Year 20, 89. By the 25th year in 2006, only 67 members were left. In 2011 just 40, and after the 2014 race, only 29.
34 Years is a Long Time
For 34 years, these 29 runners have found a way to plan their long runs around family vacations, children being born and a mirade of other scheduling conflicts. Many more runners have missed perhaps one or two marathons, but they aren’t eligible for this highly exclusive club.
Fast Eddie Rousseau ran the first TCM almost by accident.
I did it because I bumped into a guy running who asked me if I was doing it. I hadn’t heard of it, but he coaxed me into it since we were running similar mileage. Had I not run that race, I wouldn’t have the streak.
He has now done 98 marathons and 100 ultras, and is the only one to do all 26 FANS 24 hour races.
But How Do you Run That Many Marathons?
For most people, running one marathon is a tremendous accomplishment. It takes guts, hard work and pain. But how do you summon the willpower to do it year after year, for over three decades?
Most charter members have run way more than just the 34 TCM’s. John Naslund has run every TCM & Grandma’s. I could tell Tim Zoerb was a little embarrassed when he admitted he has only run 5 other marathons outside of TCM.
I have only run 5 marathons ever. When he was my age, he had already run 16.
I want to be one of those runners racing into my 70’s and above. The charter members basically said listening to your body and cutting back miles when necessary is key to this. They have summoned some deep courage to know how to self regulate in such a way to get to the starting line.
John Tantzen said that he has seen people go in and out of love with running.
…they ran when they enjoyed it, they cut back or stopped when they didn’t. So I don’t think there is much of a secret, if you keep enjoying it, you’ll probably find a way to keep doing it.
Zoerb had a much more concrete answer. “Find a good ortho doctor!”
Without knowing it, I was asking them questions about motivation and discipline. Running a marathon, at any speed, requires getting through the miles, eating right, sleeping better than most people for three or four months.
The secret to becoming a lifelong marathoner is to keep doing that year round. At least to a degree.
Fast Eddie likes to always stay in marathon shape. He isn’t constantly training, but has developed the life discipline to see it all as preparation. He said,
You got your short range vision, let’s say your first 5k… then, what do you do after that? Here’s what you do… recover, reflect, relax and reverse taper…. my message is, you don’t know what your next event is going to be, but go back to your same routine, but back to 1/3 your distance, maybe build up at 5% per week while you’re thinking about what you want to do next. When you get another vision for what you want to do next, ramp it up, but you NEVER get out of the routine… Once you have that routine going, especially the social part, keep that going then you can visualize a way to reach it. Consistency is just as important with your big vision and day to day progress!
Maybe the way you keep running for a lifetime is to simply never stop… Annette Le Duc has found that,
long runs are easier if I runs/walks, and never go more than 4.5 hours. I sticks to 4 days per week when training, and drops to 3 in the winter.
Why they Keep Running?
Perhaps a more interesting conversation is about motivation.
For Tim Zoerb, the whole TCM event is motivation enough to keep going year round. And while he only runs about 20 miles a week from Thanksgiving through April, during his ramp up to TCM weekend, his focus in clear.
The day itself keeps me going… the event. I just love it so much – the people, the organization. It’s just so exciting… for me it’s kind of like how the fishing opener is for some people. It’s just something you do. I NEVER get tired of it. It’s just a high. Coming down John Ireland Blvd is the highest high… it’s just awe inspiring.
Fast Eddie described his motivation almost like a super power – absorbing the energy of others.
Stand around the starting line and finish line and listen. All you have is people with positive energy and can-do attitudes. What better atmosphere would one want to tango with in their leisure/hobby time?
Virginia Brophy Achman, Executive Director at TCM, says the charter members exude this positive spirit.
I love how they are all upbeat and positive. No matter when you run into them, they are always encouraging of other people… asking how you are doing, your running… I find that very refreshing.
None of them, at least not the three I talked with, consider quitting an option. While there have been a few close calls along the way, the thought of breaking this streak is ridiculous.
When I asked Tim Zoerb what may cause him to quit he simply said, “Nothing…” followed by an awkward silence on the phone. “Really?” I asked, attempting to encourage elaboration.
Nothing would cause me to quit other than serious medical issues… I will continue as long as I can…
That means more than you think since he had an extremely serious medical situation a few years ago. Now healthy, he has a good shot at qualifying for Boston this year – his first at age 59.
Running the Twin Cities Marathon isn’t a decision these people make. It has been made for them by a force much larger than themselves. There is a sense that they’re not just running for themselves anymore. They’re running for each other, their families, TCM and the larger running community. It is simply part of the fabric of their lives.
Brophy Achman says,
…they all very much want to be the last one. It’s interesting to see how they make their decisions. For a lot of them… those who it’s getting harder to do… they try to hold onto those 5 years increments…. I’m curious when we get to 35 what will happen… endurance events are definitely part of who they are.
At 75, Fast Eddie Rousseau is currently the oldest member of the group. He is aware of a very real limitation that may cause him to involuntarily quit.
…well, you got that 6 hour limit… I guess until I can still do it in under 6… When I’m 92 I’ll finish my 50th TCM.
In 2014, he ran a 4:31 – plenty of time to spare.
Lisa Boulay has a bit more specific plan for when she will quit.
I plan to keep running the Twin Cities Marathon until I die… I tell my friends ‘I’ll meet you in St. Paul or in Heaven.’ I’m gonna finish this race or die.
She thinks she has run “pretty close” to 100 marathons, her first being in 1976.
The Best Stories
There were so many great stories I heard from talking to them. From running with now adult children, to finishing when they thought it wasn’t possible. Here are just a few.
Sometime in the late 80’s, Boulay almost missed finishing the marathon.
I had a rollerblading accident in August. I suffered a pelvic fracture, I was not able to run much, but I needed to try. I ran very slowly till I could no longer run, then I limped along. I was able to finish just before the 6 hour cut off. I could see the “Grim Reaper Bus” for the last few miles. It was rough.
She also ran one year with a cast on her arm (which her Doctor later chewed her out for), and another year in a cat costume one.
Fast Eddie had me rolling recounting a duel he had with another “old boy” in the 70 – 74 age group.
3 or 4 years ago, there’s a guy, older than me, who was gaining on me at mile 23. There he was in front of me with his 70 – 74 on his back. I have a routine where I get up on my toes and sprint 8 steps… pretty soon I’m not far behind the old boy, and too many people know me and are hollering my name and I’m thinking, “shut up, I don’t want the buzzard to know I’m right behind him.” We went down a little hill just before mile 25, I said, I’m going to pass the old boy going down hill… kick it in, hold your breath so he doesn’t know you’re working hard… but then I got greedy, and greedy is going to kill you. I thought I’m really going to put the hammer down and he’ll know he’s history. I got halfway up that hill and I got a cramp as big as a baseball in my right calf. There I was doing something between a slow waltz and a foxtrot and there comes the old boy by me his eyes as big a saucers… like a deer hunter who has just come up on his wounded buck… I sure wasn’t going to turn my head and acknowledge he was going by me, but both he and I knew who was history… I decided I was going to bury him and instead I buried myself.
John Tantzen shared probably the worst, most painful story. If you’re not trying to carry on a 30 year streak, I do NOT recommend this! He said that in 2002,
…at mile 1.5 I heard my soleus pop and tear. I could barely walk and considered giving up then and there, but it was cold and I knew it would be a long wait for the bus… I don’t give up easily. I started walking and tried running a couple times but it just didn’t work. At mile 2.75 I found that if I kind of ran peg legged, I could go for a while. I figured if I could run a little, walk a little, maybe I could make it in under six hours and finish. For the next ten miles I kept running pegged legged and saying just a little more and I’ll walk, but I never did walk, and at the halfway point everything loosened up and I really had a good second half. The next day my left leg was the size of a watermelon. I was in a cast for two weeks and had to measure the diameter every day because the doctor said I was right on the edge of where they’d slit the whole leg open and drain it. That was also an emotional and memorable finish as I was thinking all hope was lost when the muscle popped.
I asked Brophy Achman what this group represents to TCM as an organization. She said they represent,
…loyalty… that they are willing to come back year after year, and allow us to be part of their life is pretty amazing. I see them as our history. They have literally seen our history. Where we started, all the growth… they have seen this organization from the beginning. They are a great inspiration.
She wanted to thank the Twin Cities Marathon Charter Club – for being with TCM each year, inspiring others, and making the Twin Cities Marathon part of their year, every year.