A reason for every runner
There were 7,283 runners at the starting line of Grandma's Marathon on Saturday, and probably just as many reasons for running the race. Two in particular stood out: Paul Piplani, a 60-year-old biochemist from Phoenix who was running his 800th ma...
There were 7,283 runners at the starting line of Grandma's Marathon on Saturday, and probably just as many reasons for running the race.
Two in particular stood out: Paul Piplani, a 60-year-old biochemist from Phoenix who was running his 800th marathon; and Steven Kalina, a 26-year-old Marine reservist from Andover, Minn., who carried the American and Marine flags the entire race.
Whatever could possess an individual to run 26.2 miles 800 times -- and, in Paplani's case, numerous 100-mile-plus ultramarathons as well -- is outside my comprehension. But he's not done. After running Grandma's for his 500th, 600th, 700th and 800th marathons, he plans on returning next June for his 900th and, he says, hopefully, his record 1,000th in June 2009.
"If you want to run a marathon of a lifetime ... Duluth should be your only destination," he said Tuesday from his home in Phoenix, where he wasn't only recovering from Grandma's but from his 801st marathon Sunday in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
That's right, Paplani hopped in his car immediately after finishing Grandma's in 5 hours and 37 seconds and drove 460 miles to Winnipeg to run another marathon. He finished that one in 5:17:35.
For those who call his endeavor crazy, he replies: "They are the ones who are crazy because they live their lives without justifying their consumption of resources."
During the weekdays, Paplani, a substitute high school science teacher, says he is in the process of developing his own high-tech water system. On the weekends, it's off to some faraway locale to run, on average, more than one endurance race.
"It's like a kid having his Christmas every Saturday or Sunday," he said.
That's a passion that began with the 1993 Pikes Peak Marathon in Colorado and has continued ever since.
He follows the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and calls running an extension of his living.
"One, it has everything to do with a goal. And two, it has to do with the need to grow up as a person,'' said Paplani, who says running has helped him become a better person. "To begin with, be more patient and more forgiving. ... I've collected enough jerk points in my bank account. I'd like to collect less."
For Kalina, his pursuit is a little less existential. After running about 30 marathons, including approximately a dozen Grandma's, Kalina said he was looking for more of a challenge.
After serving in Iraq in 2003 and 2005, Kalina ran the subsequent years' Twin Cities Marathon by carrying either the United States flag or Marine Corps flag. This time, he decided to carry both on an 8-foot pole the entire 26 miles and 385 yards.
"When there are 7 or 8,000 runners out there, I didn't want to be one of the crowd," said Kalina, a production manager at Dyna-Plast in Ramsey, Minn.
He started the race alongside his father, Dave, 56, and finished in 3:34:02. Kalina said he started feeling fatigued around mile 22, but being able to raise the flag and hear bystanders' positive encouragement kept him going.
"It's really not that heavy," he said. "It probably gave me more energy than it took because of the enthusiasm of the crowd."
While Paplani and Kalina ran the race for different reasons, they have a similar outlook on Grandma's that keeps each coming back every year.
"Year after year, Grandma's is my favorite," said Kalina, who has run in Chicago and Boston among other cities. "Chicago says they have a million fans, but they don't compare to Duluth's."
It's likely most of the 7,281 other starters feel the same way.
RICK WEEGMAN can be reached at (218) 723-5302, (800) 456-8181 or e-mailed at email@example.com