My First (and probably last) Marathon Win
23 January, 2000

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Winter "Fun" Marathon

     If you frequent the Runners World marathon calendar, you've probably noticed that nearly every month in or around Vandalia, Ohio, there's a marathon with Denny Fryman as the race director.  

     In December, I noticed that this year's Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City, Michigan happens to fall on my birthday.  I'll be 44.  Hmmm....maybe I should run my 44th marathon on my 44th birthday.   Problem is, after January 1, I only had 37.

     Since Vandalia is only about a 4 hour drive, I called Denny last Sunday to find out about the marathon.  It's not only a marathon, but a 6 hour run as well.  It's at the high school track--105 laps.  He expected 10-12 participants.  No medals, no shirts, $5.00 entry fee.


Stormy Weather

     I left home Saturday afternoon in rather bad weather, and drove on slippery roads and snowy conditions for about 5.5 hours to Vandalia.  I got a room, did some carbo-loading at the Waffle House, and called Denny to check and see if there were showers available at the school.  What I really wanted was to make sure the race wasn't cancelled on account of weather.  He told me the track was buried, but we would have a quarter-mile course in the parking lot.  Interesting.

     I arrived at the course at 7:30 a.m.  The only person there was Denny.  He was "checking the course" by running around and around the school.  He saw me and waved, stopped on his next lap and signed me up and took my five bucks.  Then he went back to checking the course.  At 7:55, there were still only two of us at the course--Denny and me.  At 8:00, we started. 


"It's Deja Vu all over again"

     After the first lap, I knew two things--1) It was more than a quarter mile.  2) If I ran it 105 times, I would win my first marathon.

     The course was very repetitive and yet uninteresting.  The only hazard was a hole in the sidewalk where a grate was apparently missing.  After about 3 laps some guys from the snow-plowing place next door came and covered with a couple of road cones.

     Every hour, we finished the current lap and switched directions.  After the first hour, another runner showed up--Carter Sherline from Michigan Runner magazine.  Denny ran with him, so we ended up going in opposite directions most of the time.  At least I got to see some people twice every lap that way.  

     I decided to treat this like a long training run, and every two miles I stopped at the card table, picked up my water glass and carried it with me for a lap.  There was no Gatorade or anything to eat on the course anywhere.  After about about 80 laps, I stopped and got a handful of Pringles from a can I had in the car, which satisfied the hollow spot and gave me a few carbs and a little grease to get me through the rest of the run.

     Across the street was a credit union or something with one of those big, digital time and temperature displays.  It was 27 degrees at the start, and got as high as 31 at the end.  Every 20 laps or so the degree would change.


God Save the Queen

     At 100 laps, my watch memory filled up.   Officially 25 miles.  God Save The Queen.  I should have been done nearly an hour earlier.  Only 5 laps to go.  I felt pretty good.  Slow, but good.  I finished at 5:49:52--quite possible a WORLD RECORD for the slowest winning marathon time in history.  Denny stopped on the next lap around, gave me the first place trophy, and shook my hand.  I said goodbye to him and Carter, and headed back to the motel for a shower.  All told, I figure I ran somewhere between 28 and 30 miles.

     OK, so to win a marathon, the trick is to find a very small one, have a little cooperation from the weather, and be just a little lucky on the speed of the other runners.  I figure the odds of putting me with any two other people and me being the fastest are pretty slim, so the luck-of-the-draw was in my favor too.  The trophy says first place anyway.  I WON A MARATHON.

 Don Kern


The Crowd Goes Wild


Of course, I e-mailed everyone I know and posted the story on the Dead Runners Society list.  Here's a sample of the feedback.


 I guess we need to treat you with a little more respect!

 P.S. Can I have your autograph?



 CONGRATULATIONS, DON   ---  Boy, oh, boy, that is winning the hard way.  What perseverance!!!  I'm proud of you.  I'm OK so let's have some more fun.




 Dear Don,

 Congratulations!  I enjoyed your story.  You have far more dedication then I will ever have.  Good luck in the coming months on the road to #44.




 Congrats Don!  Get it anyway you can!  That is pretty interesting!  What do you mean only 5 more to go until May 27?  Glad to see you are home safe and sound!

Love, Susie



I'm still laughing.  That is one of the best marathon stories I have ever heard.  That is wonderful.  I really admire you.  Running in those conditions would have been overwhelming for my spirit...I'm familiar with a few of Denny's runs. I went with a friend up to Dayton last August and a group of 25 people ran a marathon up and down a bike trail.  I guess once you accept the conditions it is not too bad.  Makes for a great training run like you said.  So next you add New Orleans.  What are your 40 through 43 marathons?    Bye for now. I'm very impressed.  You are the first marathon winner I've ever personally known.  And you definitely deserved it!!!  Later.   Dana



I loved your report, I ran one marathon on a track if it were in the summer, maybe he would have two participants, you and I.  What a great idea!!!!!

and your time is very appropos!

now go rest and savor your victory,




What a great story!  A marathon win.  That's very neat.

 It being so boring, you definitely trained your mind.  After 3 hours, I don't think I could have kept going, so it's nice to know that you had a tangible reward at the end to keep going round and round.

 Thanks for sharing,

Debbie Y
Stoughton, Wisconsin


From:  June

 This is a spectacular story!  Thanks for sharing!  I can't even imagine the boredom...geez, you definitely earned that trophy!  

 Best of luck to you making it to #44! :-)

~June M.
San Jose, CA



That's FANTASTIC... thanks....

 I've known about Denny for some time. Never knew anyone who actually RAN one of his "races".

 But, hey... winning ANY marathon looks good on the resume....

 John "the Penguin"  Bingham


From:  vsavell@xxxxxxxx.COM>

Subject: Don wins; What will happen to Denny?

Don Kern wrote of an impressive victory:

 >The trophy says first place anyway.  I WON A MARATHON.

>>Don Kern

Great job! This goes with what I've always thought. With a little luck and searching there is a win out there somewhere for me (I haven't won since 9/27/1992, but who is keeping score anyway! Except me of course:)

 Don, you know now since you have published your win, poor Denny will be directing marathons of hundreds or maybe thousands of runners trying to get a win!:)


Hey Don,

 How are you? I see that you have not changed much since the last time I saw you! Still crazy!? :-)

We are having a 50k here in Chicago on April 1.

Are you interested?

Hope to see you there!




This reads like a Stephen Wright joke!  Did you really run around the school for over 5 hours!?

I'm trying to conjure up the word I am looking for but all I can do is giggle.  Congratulations on your first place finish!

Mary Jo


 Don, wonderful!  Congratulations!  Last fall I won first in my age division in a 10K, although I was dead last in the race.  I was the ONLY entrant in my division.  Hey, wins don't come very often for guys like us.  A win is a win is a win!

 Munster Bob


From:            SJpicture

Good job on your victory!

I ran a long run of 22 miles on a 16th mile track inside ONCE. 

I guess you could do Vegas again or Ocala, FL that's where I'll be on Feb. 6th. Good luck with your goal!

I'll talk to you later and I am looking foreword to see how the race went in NZ. 



From:            cangemi@xxxxxxx.COM


 I really enjoyed this story, as well as your goal of 44 by 44.

 I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who doesn't let ordinary speed keep me from winning marathons.


Steven C.

Red Hook, New York


From:            Wmoonsun

 Don that's an amazing story.  I still don't know if I could have run the 20 plus miles like you did -anyway way to goŚWalt


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