Minnetonka runner to stop competing after 46 years

Updated: September 29, 2004, 12:18 PM ET
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Bruce Mortenson said that after 46 years of competitive running and 64 marathons, he has decided that this Sunday's Twin Cities Marathon will be his last.

He said he will miss the camaraderie of training for the 26.2-mile races, but he has to listen to his body. Missing cartilage in his left knee makes running painful.

"It takes its wear and tear," Mortenson said. "In the old days it would start hurting and you'd kind of push more. Now it starts hurting and you back off. I don't want to hurt anymore."

The 60-year-old from Minnetonka has accomplished a lot during his career, including a sixth-place finish at the 1972 Boston Marathon, five marathon victories and a national masters record of 2 hours, 59 minutes and 36 seconds for 50 kilometers (31 miles) that has stood for 16 years.

"He's done enough competing," said Doug Suker of Edina, who will run with Mortenson on Sunday's race from the Metrodome in Minneapolis to Capitol in St. Paul. "I can't think of anyone who's competed at that level for that long: five decades."

On Sunday, Mortenson won't be anywhere near this usual marathon times, only about a dozen have been slower than 2 hours, 40 minutes. He expects to finish in about 3 hours and 30 minutes, his slowest time ever, but 50 minutes faster than last year's average Twin Cities finisher.

Mortenson's friends said that despite all his talent, it is his devotion to running that has kept him going.

"I think Bruce would have run as much if he ran 3:30 marathons at his best," said training partner Jared Mondry of Edina. "He's had such a passion for it."

Mortenson's running career began in ninth-grade gym class when St. Louis Park teacher and coach Roy Griak noticed his quick time in a 440-yard run. Griak would go on to coach the Minnesota men's track and cross-country teams, but not before helping Mortenson become a state mile champion.

After graduation, Mortenson went to the University of Oregon, where he rubbed shoulders with some of distance running's biggest names: coach Bill Bowerman, Olympian Kenny Moore, the legendary Steve Prefontaine.

"I think I was kind of naive, thinking I could make the team out there when I look back at it," Mortenson said. "It's probably good that I didn't think too much about it."

Mortenson left Oregon with an NCAA steeplechase title, and rich in running history, which he happily shares with partners on long runs.

"There was a time when he would take me out for long runs every Saturday," said neighbor David Van Orsdel, a sophomore runner at Villanova. "I always ask him about his time at Oregon and post-collegiately. Bruce has more stories than you can imagine."

Mondry, Suker and Mortenson are part of a group that has run together for 20 years. "He's just a classic good guy," said Suker, who wonders whether this is really Mortenson's last marathon.

"I question it also," said wife Rosie, who met Mortenson 32 years ago on a blind date. "But his body is getting torn up ... The camaraderie and running on Saturdays is more important than the race."

Mortenson anticipates that finishing the marathon will be more of a relief than a high. He likens his retirement to that of Rulon Gardner, the Olympic wrestler who acknowledged the end of his competitive days by leaving his shoes on the mat after his final match in Athens.

"Except," said Mortenson, I'm wearing a pretty new pair of trainers -- so I'm not gonna take those off."


Information from: Star Tribune, http:// WWW.STARTRIBUNE.COM

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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