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Michelle Turnberg, Published October 07 2011

Turnberg: Runners motivated for variety of reasons

Sunday was a perfect day for a run. Bright blue skies and the fall colors made it a beautiful day for the 30th annual Twin Cities Marathon.

Thousands of people lined the route to cheer on nearly 19,000 runners. If you’ve never been to a marathon, it is really a sight to behold.

People run for so many different reasons. Looking around on Sunday, I could see many of them. Sometimes their shirts tell the story: “In Memory of my Mom,” “26.2 for Brian 6/78-12/10” and “Cancer Sucks.” There was a man who carried an American flag the entire race, and the soldier I ran next to for a time had a prosthetic leg.

This was my eighth marathon. I ran my first one three years ago. I was going through a really difficult time and was either going to go to bed and stay there or do something completely different.

When I got to work that day, I saw an ad for the Fargo Marathon and signed up. I bought a new pair of running shoes, found a training plan online and pounded out day one: five miles. They were painful miles, but I did it. And from that point on, I found what I needed to get me through the rough patch. Having a marathon to train for gave me a goal and something else to think about.

Three months later, I finished my first half-marathon in Fargo and then the next month my first full marathon in Duluth. It helped me remember I can do anything I set my mind to.

For many people, it’s not so much about the fitness. Maybe it’s proving something to themselves or running in honor of someone else. The finisher’s shirt doesn’t indicate how you placed or if you jogged, walked or crawled 26.2 miles. It’s more of a testament of one’s courage to start and having the determination to finish.

There is one person who stands out from Sunday’s run. His name is Jerry. I met him for the first time in 2009 while running my first Twin Cities Marathon. In a sea of more than 11,000 runners was this handsome fellow with neatly combed hair. What first caught my attention was his race bib, which said “male 80+.” Here was an 80-year-old man running a marathon. Every year, I have had the pleasure of meeting him on the course.

Last year we chatted for quite a while. His son, who is in his 60s, runs with him because, as Jerry says, “it makes my wife feel better.” He is constantly telling people “good job” and “keep it up.” Every time I see him, I get a lump in my throat. He wears the same shirt every year, which says in big red letters “Run with Jesus.” It makes me believe he has something special figured out. He is 83 years old, he is facing this monster of a race, and he is continually encouraging others along the way.

What an inspirational way to go through life.

Turnberg writes a regular column for The Forum.