by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Remember that disease a few years ago, chronic fatigue syndrome, where people felt exhausted all the time, their heads drooping on their desks, as if
— well, as if they’d just run a marathon and had to go to work?

Meet Doug Kurtis.

Who just ran a marathon and had to go to work. “That’s not unusual for me,” says the 41-year-old with the full-time job who has won more marathons than anyone else in history. “One time I ran in Tahiti, took the night flight back, landed the next morning and went straight to the office.”

Tahiti? I have been to Tahiti. I remember the flight back; it lasted 207 hours. I, too, went straight to the office. After I stopped at home and slept for a month.

So I don’t know how Kurtis does it. Which is why I called him. I’ve been feeling a little weary lately, and I saw this world record that he just broke: a marathon in under 2 hours 20 minutes. The record wasn’t for quality; it was for quantity. That race — are you ready? — was the 70th time Kurtis has run a marathon under 2:20. Seventy times?

Running is not a job

Used to be you did that once, they put a wreath around your neck, then closed the casket.

Seventy times?

“I just love running,” Kurtis says.

We gotta get him a doctor.

“Listen,” I tell Kurtis, who lives in Northville and runs twice a day, every day. “I remember when marathon runners would race twice a year. They’d train like crazy, ‘taper’ down, swallow a mountain of spaghetti, then race. Afterward, we would help them to stretchers and they would lie there for a month.”

“Not me,” Kurtis laughs. “I just have this ability to recover. The day after the race, I’m usually out running five miles. Last week, after I won the Cleveland marathon, I ran with a friend of mine, and he said, ‘Doug, you don’t even look sore.’ “

Amazing. In case you forgot, a marathon is 26 miles. Twenty- six miles! The tradition began with the ancient Greek messenger, Pheidippides, who ran that distance to bring news of a war. When he arrived, he spoke his piece and dropped dead.

He makes more sense to me than Kurtis.

“Who had the world record for victories before you?” I ask.

“Bill Rodgers,” he says. “I’ve won 32 marathons. He’s won 22. But he’s retired now.”

Retired, my foot. He’s probably in a coma.

“Who had the sub-2:20s mark before you?” I ask.

“A Swedish runner named Kjell Erick Stahl. He has 69 races of under 2:20. But he’s been injured for a year and a half.”

Injured, my foot. He’s probably in a coma.

Wait! You haven’t heard the best part. Kurtis — who says he has run 140 marathons in his life — works full time, at Ford Motor Company, as a systems administrator. Yep. Works with computers. And has two kids. How on earth does he manage that? How in the wide world of sports does he handle the burden of family, work and athletic training?

“I run during my lunch break. I run when I get home. I use my vacation days for races. I shower at work. I eat at my desk.”

Oh. I thought the ’80s were over. The end isn’t in sight

Now, I have to admit, I initially thought Kurtis was a little weird for running this much and this often. But after talking to him, getting to know him better, I have to say he is in DIRE NEED OF MEDICAL ATTENTION.

In the last month he has run three marathons: Boston, Pittsburgh and Cleveland. In between, he ran an 8-kilometer event. That’s 83 miles. In one month. Some people don’t drive 83 miles in a month.

Kurtis has raced in Malaysia, Paris and Sydney. He has raced in Stockholm, London and Casablanca. He has won five times in Seattle and six straight in Detroit. He almost never misses a day of training.

And yet, for all the miles, Kurtis is not a household name, unless your house is Athlete’s Foot.

“I decided long ago if I only trained for the big races (Boston, New York, the Olympics) my best might be a 2:12. They would have said, ‘OK, he’s a good runner.’ But I still wouldn’t have won.

“I’ve found my niche. People in my field know me. I recover well. I can race a lot. I never thought when I started running that this sub-2:20 thing would give me a world record. But it’s been great.”

I ask how long he plans to keep racing.

“Until I can’t do it anymore.”

Most of us, that would have been high school.

But OK. Kurtis is different. He is phenomenal. So the moral of the story is this: Next time you’re feeling a little tired, think of Doug out there, on his own, running a marathon, going to work, picking up the kids, doing it for the love of the sport. And say to yourself, “If I tried that, I’d be dead.”

I guarantee you’ll feel much better.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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