Any dink can run a marathon. Oprah has. Al Gore has. I, for pity's sake, have run two marathons. But Jerry Dunn is a real runner. In the calendar year of 1993 he ran 104 marathons. Seven years later Dunn, "feeling frisky," ran 200 marathons, or roughly four a week. "The first question I get," says Dunn, a slot-machine attendant with flexible hours at the Four Aces casino in Deadwood, S.Dak., "is, 'Are you crazy?' " The answer, emphatically, is yes.
Perhaps you dream of running Boston. In 1996 Dunn ran the historic 26.2-mile route from Hopkinton to Boylston Street 26 times. On 26 consecutive days. In '98 he ran the original route of the New York City Marathon 28 times in the 28 days before that race, and then ran the official marathon on race day. "I was," says Dunn, unnecessarily, "sore the whole time."
Long before Forrest Gump, he was Sorest Rump, running alone across America from San Francisco to Washington in a 104-day span, averaging 30 miles a day, for six days a week, in 1991. "I stopped drinking after my first marathon, in 1982," says Dunn, a 56-year-old ex-bartender and recovering alcoholic. "The piece of my personality that used to be Substance Addiction turned into Running Addiction. And while it's a positive addiction, I do have to monitor it. Though you might not think I've monitored it well."
Guinness World Records confers a strange dignity on fat twins and multifootlong-fingernailed fakirs. But it shuns Dunn, whose runs are all the more impressive for being unofficial. Huffing bus fumes, he is never wrapped, at race's end, in a foil blanket like a baked potato. "I'm just a lone runner dodging traffic," says Dunn, whose best official time is 3:23, at Chicago in 1985, but who now requires five hours to cover a marathon course. Which is hardly necessary, when you consider that this human swizzle stick, six feet tall, 150 pounds, could much more easily be faxed from start to finish.
While most runners "taper," radically decreasing their mileage in the days before a race, Dunn runs daily marathons to prepare for marathons. In his annus mirabilis of 2000, when he laid waste to 20 pairs of shoes, Dunn ran marathon courses in New York City (nine straight days), Providence (six days), Philadelphia (six), Tampa (10), Boston (17), Nashville (three), San Diego (16 days, and four more days later in the year), another San Diego course (five), Indianapolis (17), St. Louis (six), Chicago (six), Las Vegas (16), Los Angeles (12), Cincinnati (14), Duluth (12), San Francisco (nine), Salt Lake City (nine), Bismarck, N.Dak. (eight), Dayton (six), Minneapolis-St. Paul (eight) and Schmiedefeld, Germany (once), almost always ending his binges by running the route on race day, when volunteers were there to hand him water.
On nonrace days he creates his own aid stations. During runs in Los Angeles, Dunn has had coffee and toast at the Olympic Cafe near the starting line, doughnuts at the Winchell's at mile 17 and a banana from the Asian fruit stand near mile marker 23. To recover, he goes to bed. "I've heard of people standing in 55-gallon drums of ice water," he says. "But I could never do that." No, for Dunn, who once ran a marathon in Omsk, Siberia, that would be torture.
Running is bliss, even for those lightweights who run only, say, one marathon a week. "I've run in snowstorms, hailstorms, lightning," says Norm Frank, 71, of Rochester, N.Y. "I've run marathons at the North Pole, the Berlin Wall and along the original marathon route from Marathon to Athens in Greece. I was supposed to run at the Panama Canal from the Pacific to the Atlantic but got badly sunburned down there and had to pull out." Even without that race, Frank last weekend in upstate New York ran his 781st official marathon, which is merely the North American record. "There's a fella in Germany who's run more," says Frank, sighing like an accordion.
The proprietor of Marathon Lawn Service, Frank ran his first marathon at age 37, in Boston, and 33 years later, after running in Boise, Idaho, had marathoned in each of the 50 states. (His PR is 3:20, but he now runs 6:00s.) The second weekend of December, in Huntsville, Ala., the 6'2", 170-pounder plans to complete his 800th career marathon or ultramarathon. He will then have lapped the earth, running roughly the length of the Equator.
Says Frank, "When I started, before Frank Shorter ran in the Olympics, I had all kinds of problems with dogs chasing me." But when Shorter and others made running cool, in the '70s, even the dogs laid off, switching exclusively to mailmen. It was then, in 1975, that Jerry Dunn, at the prodding of a lifeguard friend, ran a half-mile on Sarasota Beach in Florida. A young Orson Welles had tasted his first Ring Ding.
Twenty-seven years and four wives later, Dunn is still running. On Jan. 8, 1995, Dunn paused near the nine-mile mark of the Walt Disney World Marathon in Orlando to marry, in front of Cinderella's Castle, fellow runner Elaine Doll. He wore a tux, she wore a gown. "I like to say," says the groom, who settled with Doll in Spearfish, S.Dak., "we've been running around together ever since." Dunn smiles, unembarrassed that his jokes are corny. And clearly content that his feet are, too.