Monday, October 30, 2006


It just occurred to me that I still have all my toe nails. This is the first marathon I’ve run where I haven’t lost the toe nail next to my big toes.

I’m even a little surprised to be reporting this, but I’m back running already. On Saturday I just felt like going for a run. I was working on another article and I figured a run would help clear my head and bring pieces of the story together. I figure if that’s my reason for running, rather than because I’m worried about losing fitness for next year, then it’s okay to head out the door.

I managed 4 miles on Saturday and Sunday and 5 miles this morning. When I finished these runs I thought; “Man, wouldn’t it be great if you could get incredibly fast on less than 45 minutes a day?”

Since I don’t have anything else going on, I’ll post the article I wrote, after the quote of the day;

“Marathon runners mainly want to finish…Marathon racers want to improve.” – Joe Henderson, Make Your Own Time

I admit it. I like to look through race results on a regular basis. And I’m not just talking about looking for my own name. I’m talking about seeing how well the top runners, people in my age group and other friends are running.

If you’re like me when it comes to race results, maybe you’re wondering what’s up in Lake Elmo too. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go to and look at the results for any race in the MDRA series. Scroll down, further, further, a little further. What do you see? If you’re looking at the results of runners over 60 years old, the odds are very high that you see numerous runners from Lake Elmo placing very high in their age groups.

Jim Graupner, 62 and Norm Purrington, 63 are fixtures atop of the 60-64 year age group, while Don Wright, 65 is almost always first or second in the 65-69 age group. Besides sharing accolades such as Runner of the Year, Grand Prix series champion, state age record holder, etc. they also have something else in common. All three have called the tiny town of Lake Elmo ‘home’ for over 25 years.

Lest you think these guys are slow and are winning their age groups due to lack of competition, think again. At the Human Race 8K this year their times ranged from 29:55 to 35:13. And they’re not just limited to shorter races either. Norm and Jim have run 3:03 and 3:09 marathons in their 60s, respectively. Meanwhile, Don is no slouch either and he’s not slowing down. He’s run six marathons this year, including a PR of 3:36 at TCM.

I consider myself a decent runner and I’m competitive, by nature. However, given the strength of the local 40-44 year olds, I don’t mind being beaten by guys that are older than me. Heck, the 45-49 year olds are pretty strong too. But this year’s Holiday Inn Half Marathon in Rochester was a huge blow to my psyche. Why? Because I would have placed third in the 60-64 age group, as Jim and Norm both beat me. Third!!! I’m 37 years old. All I could think afterwards was, “If I can just maintain my speed for the next 23 years…maybe I can place in my age group.”

I decided I needed to get to the bottom of what’s going on in Lake Elmo. In October I sat down with these three men to find out what is really in the water (and beer) in Lake Elmo. While I didn’t come away with a clear-cut answer, I did come to realize that these guys are typical of all the top age groupers in our community; they’re fast, competitive, hard working and humble, while overcoming their share of obstacles.

Given their success on the roads, I was surprised to find that all three guys started running relatively late in life. Norm started running the earliest, at the age of 39, while Jim and Don have only been running for four or five years.

Let’s see, three guys, competitive runners, similar ages, all from the same small town. They must be bitter rivals, right? Wrong. Believe me, I tried to get them to admit how much they wanted to beat one another, but they never did. The best I could dig up was Don’s comment, “I look for gray hair during a race and try to beat that person.” Jim got a little more personal, “If Norm is not ahead of me I know he’s close, very close.”

While they definitely share an interest of where they stand in relationship with one another, their competitive natures also mean they’re concerned with where they stand in relationship to all runners, regardless of age and sex. But it’s not just about beating people and winning awards. During our visit there was lots of genuine concern and interest for the well being of all their competitors. Names of competitors like Mondry, Kleyman, Stauffacher and Tomczak kept coming up during our conversation. These guys truly understand that the Latin root for the verb “to compete” which means, “to seek together.”

And “seek together” they do, as each of them runs 30-50 races per year. Why so many races? As Norm said, “If I couldn’t race, I probably wouldn’t run. I really enjoy both the competition and the camaraderie. You see the same people at races and you get to know them. It’s a lot more fun if you do it most weekends as opposed to keying on 2 or 3 races.”

Hmm, that sounds eerily like a passage from Dr. George Sheehan, “Racing is the lovemaking of the runner. It’s hard to pass up. A runner has few friends and they are always other runners. The place to meet them is at the races.”

In addition to completing a large number of races, they are some of the most competitive runners around. Whether it’s Jim blowing by me during the last 10 meters of the Hennepin Lake Classic 10K, Norm going after sub-3 at the Twin Cities Marathon or Don never losing a sprint to the finish, these guys give it their all, week in and week out.

However, don’t think their triumphs have come without struggles. Each of these men has overcome adversity. Jim is just now able to run three miles after battling a seven-month bout with damaged muscles in his pelvis. Norm is dealing with osteoarthritis, which is caused by the breakdown and eventual loss of cartilage of the joints. And three years ago, Don was diagnosed with myeloma, an incurable cancer of the blood.

Even with their struggles, it’s clear these guys focus on the positives. As Jim states, “I fully understand that running success is a product of health and desire and that the symbols of that success are ephemeral by the very nature of competition. Running awakens me to myself and to the inspirational courage with which other people bring to their personal challenges every day.” Don’s motto is more succinct, yet no less relevant, “Live one day at a time and make it a masterpiece!”

In The Complete Book of Running, Dr. George Sheehan asks the popular question, “Where have all the heroes gone?” Well, I’ve discovered that three of mine are alive and well, in Lake Elmo. To find out more about these and other local runners, go to Running Minnesota.

Chad Austin has been running for 27 years and blogging for 2 years. When he’s not doing either of those things, he’s busy looking for real estate in Lake Elmo.


MB said...

Good to hear you are back running.

Nicely written article. A good read, to find more like this head to the Sunshine State. The Seniors are competitive down there!

Bart said...

I agree with Mark; your article is very enjoyable.

You mention the strength of those in the 40-44 age group. It seems to be a deep division all over. Yesterday I finished 7th overall and was 4th in the 40-49 age group.

massoman said...

i like reading your stuff...thanks for turning me on to dr george...

i'm going to interview my coach, gail leveque, for my website and newsletter. since interviewing is something you have done already do you have any tips or wisdom to share?

Chad said...

Thanks guys.

Massoman, let's see my tips on interviewing; 1) email is easier than face-to-face, 2) however, with emails, you're kind of handcuffed by how quickly the interviewee responds, plus they may cut their answer short because they don't want to type too much, 3) when doing an email interview, keep the possibility of follow-up questions open, 4) if you're doing a face-to-face interview get a voice recorder. You don't want to be trying to take notes during the interview.

Anonymous said...

i always lose those toenails too--why those??

Chelle said...

Cute bio. There's a town here called Taconicville that's like that.

Funny, I'm having hardly any desire to start running again. I hope that changes soon!

brent said...

did you see the k. mcgreg0r article in the strib a couple days ago?

Chad said...

Curly Su, I have no idea. It's not like that toe is sticking out further than the others.

Chelle, it's kind of fun to tie the bio to the story.

Yep, you can't force that motivation. It'll come.

Brent, I did see that article. I posted on my other blog.