Chicago Marathon

Running Advice From Suburban Chicago Man Who Finished All 39 Chicago Marathons

Randy Burt, of Antioch, has run all 39 Chicago marathons and is set to run the 40th Bank of America Chicago Marathon in October

NOTE: NBC 5 will offer complete live coverage of the 2017 race beginning at 7 a.m. CT online and on TV. The race can be streamed live from around world on the NBC Chicago app, which will also offer a live stream of the finish line from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Click here for more. 

Randy Burt ran 50 miles on his 50th birthday and 60 miles on his 60th birthday. This November, he plans on running 70 miles for, you guessed it, his 70th.

The 69-year-old Burt has run all 39 Chicago marathons and now looks forward to running the 40th annual Bank of America Chicago Marathon. 

Burt, who grew up in Chicago's south suburbs and lives in Antioch, has three children and five grandchildren and still manages to find time to train daily. 

Burt talked to NBC 5 about his lifestyle, running techniques and goals for the upcoming race. 

What were you doing in 1977, the year of the first marathon?

My wife and I had returned back to the Chicago area from Northern California. I was working for Pacific Gas and Electric Company as a safety engineer.

At the first race I was 29 [years old]. I thought I had better do one of these [races] before I'm over the hill. My 30th birthday was approaching.

When did you decide to run the marathon every year?

It kinda just flowed together, there wasn't a plan. In 1977 I thought, 'OK, I'll do a marathon to see what this is all about.' I hadn't really prepared well, I wore all the wrong clothing. For the next one in 1978 I was running 10Ks, half marathons, 20Ks. I had all the right clothing, but my whole approach was wrong. I ran out way, way, way too fast and I was among the top 75 runners to about 16 miles, and that wasn't where I should have been. I got stomach cramps, I walked the last 10 miles, and that was slowest marathon for 29 years. As I was throwing up in one of the trash cans I said, 'I will never do this again.'

Low and behold, I did it again. It was probably around the 20-year reunion we had for the marathon runners [we had about 12 people at that time], and I said, 'You know what? I think I can string this all together and do 50 [races].'

So, I have at least 10 more to go.

What inspired you to run your first marathon?

I had been a runner. I started running in 1962, high school cross country, so at this point I had been doing it for five years. We just moved back to Chicago and I had only been running about 6 miles a week. I was running about 6 miles a week, three days a week and 2 miles a day. Mayor Daley, the first mayor Daley, he died in March or so of 1977, and they put this first marathon together in Chicago. It was called the Mayor Daley Marathon, and I thought I was running the first Chicago Marathon, I thought you know I'm going to try one of these.

So about a month before the race I upped my mileage and went up to 10 miles and I thought I was ready.

Was there ever a year you did not think you would finish the marathon?

No, no not really.

Well first of all, they did not have one in 1987 in Chicago because we didn't have a sponsor. So, I went to St. Louis and ran a marathon there in November. I was trained, I was ready to go and I had been doing it at that point for 10 years, so I was ready to go.

In 2007 I was really concerned because I was along with other runners at around the 20-mile mark when some race officials with blow horns were saying, 'the race is over, the race officials want you to walk the rest of the course.' We are all looking at each other wondering, wow this is crazy. I had never experienced that before, but that was the hottest year we had in 2007. ... They actually stopped runners from advancing at 16 miles and told them to head east toward the finish line. We did finish the entire route and we were going so slow at that time. All the people around me, we all decided, 'Well, alright, we will go ahead and walk.'

And that was my slowest marathon ever. There was no question about it, I was still going to cross the finish line.

How has the race changed in 40 years?

When we first started out in 1977, there were about 4,500 runners. I think last year there were about 45,000 that were registered. Back in 1977 the only people who were spectators were really family members, not very many people were there.

Now we have just a little bit under 2 million spectators, which is absolutely incredible. I know all the runners really enjoy that, because it gives us tremendous support.

It's one of the six top marathons in the world. In my book I have only run two of the world-class marathons, Boston and Chicago. I have not been to London, Berlin or Tokyo. Someday I will.

Obviously, Chicago is a favorite for me.

How have you changed your training over the years?

Age has forced me to change my training. I used to run, during normal maintenance running ... six miles a day, five days a week and 10 miles on the weekend. Getting ready for a marathon, I would typically run 12 miles three days a week, six miles two days a week, and a 20-mile run on the weekend. I would run those fairly fast.

Now, at age 69, I can't do that. I had a horrible hamstring injury in 2014 once in April and then it reoccurred again two weeks before the marathon and I had trouble with the Chicago Marathon. In 2015 [my race time] was slow because i decided, OK, I can't sprint at the end of the race.

Training has adjusted based on age, which is related to injuries that are more common and they don't go away. I wasn't happy with my results in 2015.

I started reading a few books, I got into Jeff Galloway's method [to] run, walk. At first I didn't think that would be very helpful at all. So, I read about it, I practiced it, I tried it in a half marathon, and it worked pretty well. You have to run a faster pace. I run one mile and I walk one minute. I did that in Chicago last year and I had total control over that pace.

I still did not feel comfortable with that so I started reading another book. A year ago I began the "run less, run faster" which was published by Runner's World Magazine. This [method] has three focused runs, two cross-training runs per week and one or two days off. What that allows me to do is train faster, have a rest day in between cross training and do that for four months. I used to only train hard for two months before a marathon.

It's very grueling, but it worked. I had total control between these two new methods.

What is your goal for the 40th marathon?

It's going to be the same as last year, to break four hours and 10 minutes. Last year I did, I ran four hours, nine minutes and 54 seconds. I had six seconds to spare.

What advice would you give to first-time marathon runners?

Really anybody can do it if they are really motivated to do it. They have to have a plan, they have to set goals if they want to just simply finish. That's success in itself, finishing the marathon. If they establish goals, then they have to have a training program to reach those goals. Without the training program, the goals won't be reached usually.

If they don't have the focus and drive the little ups and downs of a marathon will slow you down.

Celebrate success and plan for the next one.

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