By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Nurse anesthetist Kevin Zimmer of Sauk Centre started running when he was in the Air Force, but it wasn’t until he ran his first marathon that his interest became a passion.
Until about 1984, Zimmer ran two to three miles as part of his military physical training. Then he started running five to 10 miles. “Running after work is very relaxing,” he said.
While living in Grand Forks, N.D. in the early 1990s, Zimmer and a friend talked about running a marathon, but life was too busy and it didn’t happen.
It was during two years spent in California while his family remained back in North Dakota that he had a lot of time on his hands to gear up for a marathon. “We still had two kids in high school and didn’t want to move them,” said Zimmer.
“After my first marathon in 1997, I was hooked,” he said.
His son Chris ran with him, and Chris was the pacer, who sets the speed. “That was a mistake, because Chris was running track and field for Drake at the time,” said Zimmer. “At about mile 11, he said that he just needed to go.”
Zimmer has run a half marathon with daughter Emily, and a marathon with daughter Monica. He has started 44 marathons, and finished 42.
The first run he did not finish was the Goofy Marathon at Walt Disney World, which he ran with Chris and Monica.
“I had plantar fasciitis and realized at mile four that to keep running would cause permanent injury. It was not worth it,” he said. “But I went back and ran again, finishing it each time.”
This year, Zimmer had trained determinedly for the Boston Marathon, widely known to be the most difficult in the world. It’s an elite run, with only 26,000 scheduled runners, but 5,000 chose not to run due to the heat, and were given a waiver to try again.
It had been 35 degrees in Minnesota but was 90 degrees in Boston April 16, with no shade on the very hilly course. “I don’t do heat well, don’t do hills well and the run started late in the morning,” he said. “I did not want heatstroke or something else that might put me in the hospital. I went as far as I could — 17 miles.”
“You learn a lot about yourself when you fail,” Zimmer said. “If you are hitting the target every time, the target may be too close. Everyone is human, and failure shows us how to improve; we shouldn’t be afraid of failure.”
Zimmer declared that he will go back to run a Boston Marathon that he will finish.
Just days after getting home, he ran a half marathon with his best time ever. Four weeks after returning, he ran his best marathon in six years, from Holdingford to St. Joseph.
Zimmer’s Boston run added a new aspect to his running. He ran for the Dick Beardsley Foundation, which assists those suffering from chemical dependency. His fundraising netted $5,600.
Beardsley, a Detroit Lakes native, was a world-class marathon runner whose 1981 record time in the Grandma’s Marathon set a course record which still stands. His second-place finish (by only two seconds) in the 1982 Boston Marathon set course and American records which also still stand.
After his running career ended due to injury, he suffered four debilitating accidents which left him addicted to painkillers.
The foundation helps those who need treatment, and Beardsley is a motivational speaker.
“What I like about Dick’s charity is that all of the money raised goes to charity,” said Zimmer.
It was Zimmer’s wife, Joan, who discovered the charity, and helped with the lengthy application. “I became very motivated by Dick’s charity work,” said Zimmer.
“I’ve influenced many people about running — nephews, nieces and friends,” he said. “There is a young Sauk Centre woman running her first marathon in Duluth, June 16.”
“Once I got serious about running, it became a family activity. We go as a group, and sometimes others run, sometimes not,” said Zimmer. “Those who don’t run are the cheerleaders, but spectating is hard; I’d rather run. I have great respect for the volunteers handing out water, and the medical people.”
“My running encourages my children and grandchildren to stay healthy,” he said. “And I will continue to raise money for Dick Beardsley.”