Roy L Pirrung
Like many runners, the first mile I took on my journey to 100,000 miles did not come easy. It was 1980, and I had a goal of running two miles, which I had easily been able to do in high school. The only difference now was that I was 32 years old and carried nearly 200 pounds on my 5-foot 6-inch-frame.
With less than a year of running under my belt, I ran my first race, a marathon, in 3:16:33. I accomplished it by following Amby Burfoot’s training plan featured in Runner's World magazine. In that first race, I ran with others for the first time and discovered the joy of racing. I would also soon discover the thrill of competition.
I set a goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon and accomplished that by running a time of 2:50:23. However, I passed on entering because I wanted to run under 2:50. A year later, I ran 2:49:23 at Grandma’s Marathon, and later that year set my still-standing PR of 2:38:47 at Milwaukee's Lakefront Marathon. I ran my first Boston Marathon in 1983 and have now run it 14 times, finishing my 10th consecutive Boston in 2015.
After notching my marathon PR, my times plateaued. A friend challenged me to step up to longer distances, so I ran my first ultra marathon in 1985, the Ice Age Trail 50-mile. I placed fifth to beat my friend, who challenged me to a 24-hour race. I outran him there as well, logging just under 138 miles to rank second in the country and break the Wisconsin record of 119 miles.
During my ultra training, I read as much as I could about the sport. One thing that piqued my interest was the 155-mile Spartathlon, a race from Athens to Sparta, Greece, commemorating a leg that Pheidippides ran in 490 B.C. I managed to qualify for that race by winning the 100-mile national championship in New York in under 15 hours, and the inaugural 24-hour National Championship, in Atlanta, with 145 miles, 1,464 yards, breaking the American record for 24 hours in both open and masters categories.
I continued to increase my mileage, knowing the more weekly miles I logged, the better I did in races lasting a day or longer. I ran between 200 and 250 miles per week during six weeks of peak training. My first Spartathlon netted me a 27:08:45 4th place finish that still ranks as the top masters time by an American. I went back three more times and finished in 6th, 3rd and 4th. During those years, I broke my 24-hour American record by covering 154 miles 313 yards, in Milton Keynes, England, running on an indoor 890-meter circuit on the marble floor of a shopping center.
I won a second open 24-hour championship title, and later broke the 48-hour American track record, finishing in second place at the 48 hours of Surgeres, France, behind world record holder, Yiannis Kouros, of Greece. I was and still am the oldest American male to break an open track record, by completing 243 miles, 758 yards at age 48. I was voted USATF’s men's ultra runner of the year for that performance and was subsequently named USATF’s masters runner of the year four times, the last time at age 60. I was installed in USATF’s National Masters Hall of Fame in 2001.
Finding the most success in one-day races and beyond, I continued to run national and world 24-hour championships, and also served as the team manager for the world championships for nearly a decade while also competing. In those races, I have completed 100 miles or more 62 times.
Fifteen years into running, I took a side step: the Ironman triathlon. I made it to Kona, Hawaii, twice for the world championships, breaking the 45-49 marathon leg record in my first appearance with a 3:16.
I consider the 722k distance to be my ultimate race. I ran two ultras prior two weekends prior to the 722k race from Turin to Rome: the Nove Coli 202k and the del Passatore 100k. During the 722k, promised support did not materialize, and I had to fend for myself. Using directions written in Italian made it difficult to stay on course. I stuffed my shirt with food and carried two 12-ounce bottles I had scavenged along the way, tied it snugly in my shorts and refilled it in drinking fountains.
I managed to place second overall in 6 days, 18 hours and 12 minutes. Using all I learned throughout all the years and miles I had covered enabled me to finish. I slept about two hours per day, sometimes in ditches or farm fields and once in the shade beneath a car.
The 2015 Boston Marathon was a special milestone. There, I crossed a finish line for the 1,000th time. Then, after running the marathon, I returned to Hopkinton and joined race director Dave McGillivray and five others and ran back to the finish line for the second time that day.
I reached the 100,000-mile lifetime mark in the first mile of a three-mile fun run with members of my local running club, the Sheboygan County Shoreline Striders, accompanied by a Special Olympian, whom my wife and I coach.
Over the years, I have earned 83 national titles, broken 73 American records, and 3 Guinness World Records. I cofounded my local RRCA running club, and served as its president for two decades. I served the Wisconsin Association of USA Track and Field as the LDR chair for men and women, and currently serve as its MUT representative. I served for six years as the vice chair of the Mountain Ultra Trail Running (MUT) committee of USATF, and continue as a board member. I currently serve on the Athlete's Advisory Committee of USATF and served four years as the International Association of Ultrarunner’s Representative to the Americas.
I was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul Runners, and am completing my autobiography, entitled heROYic! For nearly six years, I wrote a column for my local daily newspaper, and continue to do freelance writing. Another of my passions is speaking and sharing my story with audiences in schools, corporate settings and running clubs.
See you in a few miles...roy
12-hr: 90 miles
24-hr: 154 miles, 313 yards
48-hr: 243 miles, 758 yards
144-hr: 400 miles, 1,056 yards