In June, Bill Sved, age 63, completed his 200th marathon. A month later Wayne Christopherson, also 63, reached the 26.2-mile mark for the 200th time as well. It's only about a five-hour drive between Christopherson's Alpena home near the tip of the Lower Peninsula to Sved's home in Marquette. Not surprisingly, the two are friends and often run together when they find themselves at the same race. Christopherson's personal best is 2 hours 45 minutes and his finish times usually fall in the 3:30 to 3:45 range, while Sved's, whose best is 2:48, currently comes in closer to four hours.
Christopherson was first to discover the marathon, making his debut in 1978 at the Saginaw Valley Marathon with a time of 3:14. Sved's first attempt ended 18 miles into his hometown race, the Marquette Marathon. Blistered and sunburned, he quit. The next year, 1982, he completed the Seney Stretch Marathon in 3:44:21.
Because the Upper Peninsula is not the epicenter of the marathon world, Sved did some serious long distance traveling to rack up most of his marathon finishes. After competing in the Honolulu Marathon in 1985, he decided to run one in every state. By 1992, he was closing in on his goal.
However, it appeared Sved's efforts would be thwarted since the state of Delaware offered no marathons. Undeterred, Sved scheduled and directed the Northern Shufflers' Delaware Marathon in Newark, Delaware. By posting notices in major running magazines and organizing the race 1,050 miles away from his home in Marquette, the race was a success drawing entries from half of the states. Included in the Delaware field were some very grateful fellow marathoners also seeking to race a 26.2 miler in every state. Sved completed his 50-state marathon tour on June 5, 1993, with the Sunburst Marathon on the 50-yard line in Notre Dame Stadium.
Reflecting on this, Sved noted that "Running marathons was easy compared to the logistics and travel required to make it happen."
Whereas Sved's travel was purposeful in his quest to race in all states, Christopherson and his wife Chris choose marathon destinations as opportunities to see a different parts of the country. "I'd look at marathonguide.com and say, 'Hey, that's sounds interesting. I think I'll go there.' That's how I found races like the Tobacco Pond Marathon in North Carolina and the Pike's Peak Marathon in Colorado."
The Traverse City Bayshore and Detroit Free Press Marathons are favorites of Christopherson's as he has finished each 26 times. He has run a number of other races 10 to 15 times.
Sved, on the other hand, likes to try new courses. His records show he has run 88 different marathons; 65 of which he did only once. He has, however, completed the Paavo Nurmi Marathon 26 times (a 27th Paavo this year being an early race on his way to 300). The Paavo race starts and finishes in Wisconsin but the course crosses into Michigan. Run in August and known for its hills and heat, Sved says he enjoys the race as it is relatively close to home and the fact it "gives me bragging rights for having finished it under those conditions."
Ultras counted, too
Sved's 200 marathons, which will swell to 206 this month, only include 26.2-mile races. His occasional forays into ultrarunning are not tabulated in his marathon total. His running logs show he has finished the Gogebic Endurance Run, 38 miler, nine times, and at one time held the course record with a 4:30:54. He is also the course record holder and a two-time finisher of the Moving Athletes 50-mile run from Escanaba to Menominee, his record being 6:31:22.
Ultramarathons have been given more attention by Christopherson and are included in his 200 tally, which shows 156 marathons and finishes in 44 longer ones. By 1986, he felt ready to tackle the Western States 100 Mile Run from Squaw Valley to Auburn, California, which was is to ultrarunning what Boston is to marathoning in terms of status.
He remembers standing on the start line, literally "shaking in his shoes, both from the 5 a.m. chill and the question of "What did I get myself into?" he recalls. Yet Christopherson completed the race in 23 hours 17 minutes to win a coveted belt buckle given only to finishers who break 24 hours. From there he completed other well-known and rugged trail 100 milers, including Wasatch in Utah, Old Dominion in Virginia, Leadville in Colorado, Angel's Crest in California, and the Vermont 100. He once attempted a 48-hour run but had to quit after 112 miles when he developed Achilles pain.
Avoiding DNFs & injuries
Neither man makes a habit of dropping out of races. Sved's only DNF (which stands for "did not finish") occurred in his first marathon attempt, while Christopherson DNF'd the Key Largo to Key West ultramarathon when officials pulled him from the course because of heat exhaustion and dehydration.
Being able to avoid injuries for most of their running careers has certainly helped these two reach the finish line so many times. Each, however, faced a health issue that illustrates the determination that is at he core of their personalities.
"The only serious injury I had," explains Sved, "was a severe case of posterior tibial tendonitis. It occurred after twisting my right ankle, favoring it in a race, and then injuring my left ankle. I went to Boston and was on crutches at the expo to 'save' my ankle for the race. I finished Boston and then was back on crutches for recovery. I didn't run the remainder of the year. I started back on January 1 by running for one minute. By April I was running marathons again."
Christopherson will never forget June 15, 2007, when after participating in a mile fun run in Alpena, he suffered cardiac arrest. "I was talking to an ER doctor when it happened," he recalls. "Immediately he began CPR. Being only three blocks from the hospital, they had a defibrillator there in minutes. I had a stent put in, went through rehab and was back running in August and finishing a 25K later that month. There was absolutely no heart damage."
Figuring that individuals as dedicated to running as Sved and Christopherson might be wedded to special diets, high in nutritional attributes, I was pleasantly surprised to hear Sved say, "I eat whatever foods I want to, including staples like chips and dip, ice cream with toppings, cheese on anything or by itself, any kind of bread, peanuts and mixed nuts. Of course I supplement with meat and potatoes." Christopherson, eats similarly, consuming anything that looks good to him.
Sved's training program is what you might expect from a marathoner - daily runs of seven to eight miles, a 12- to 20-miler once a week, and maybe a session of 800s or 1600s on the track. Training for Christopherson means consistency as he tries to cover 40 to 50 miles a week and log about 2,000 miles a year.
Hitting the 200 mark
Completing 200 marathons wasn't a long-term goal for either man. "I didn't really think about doing 200 until a couple years ago when I saw my total was getting close," Sved says.
When it came to selecting the race where it would happen, Sved decided number 200 would either be the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon or the Journeys Marathon in Eagle River, two of his favorites. Normally these two races are a week apart. This year, however, they were scheduled on succeeding days. So he ran them both, doing Cellcom in 3:49.53 and Journeys in 3:53:32.
Christopherson didn't think about targeting 200 marathons until he found himself running in a race with Sved, who then mentioned he was closing in on 200 and planned to make it a special occasion. Although Christopherson tried to schedule Bayshore for his 200th, an injury forced to him to mark the occasion at the Charlevoix Marathon.
Accumulating a high total of marathons didn't seem likely when Christopherson began racing, as he initially only ran one or two a year. But once he started racking up 26.2 milers, eight marathons a year became more common. To reach 200 though, he completed 14 marathons in the past year.
Sved's yearly totals vary, reaching a high in 1987 when he ran 19 - 11 of which he ran under three hours and three of those were run on successive weeks.
To a question I posed about trying for 300 Sved replied, "Right now I haven't set any goals for numbers of marathons. However many more I run will depend on the willingness of both body and mind. It's a lot harder to run a four-hour marathon than to run a three-hour one, and I know it is going to be even harder to run a five-hour marathon. If I do keep running marathons, sooner or later the goal will be breaking five hours. I do realize that I have probably many more marathons in my past than in my future."
Christopherson responded to the question with a similar answer, saying, "I take marathons one a time. Perhaps some day I will reach 300. But the clock keeps ticking. I will probably not realize one day as I cross the finish line that that was the last time."
He adds, "My goal is to stay active as a runner as long as I can." That's a sentiment shared by his friend and fellow marathoner.
Dave Foley is a year older than Bill Sved and Wayne Christopherson but has only run one-tenth as many marathons. However, he does share their dieting philosophy.