Marathoner shares stories and shoes

Marathoner Roy Pirrung visited a class at UW-Whitewater April 14 to share his story and donate his running shoes to the “Shoe Leather Experience” fundraiser put on by Sam Martino’s news gathering class.

When a worn pair of running shoes fall apart at the seems they are usually retired, in most cases, to the garbage.

Yet, for world class ultra marathoner Roy Pirrung, his  retired shoes are not only going to a good cause, they also create a timeline of his running career when put together.

Pirrung, a Sheboygan resident, has won 64 national championship medals and 12 world championship medals. He has also run in 17 different countries and 35 states. Despite his great accomplishments, he didn’t consider himself an “athlete” at first.

“People would tell me that I was a great athlete, but I never thought of myself as one,” Pirrung said. “I was always ‘just a runner.’”

Pirrung said he keeps an accurate running log for each pair he owns, writing down how many miles each shoe ran and what races he ran in them. And for a daily runner who goes through about one pair of running shoes every month, his shoe timeline is an impressive display.

Pirrung visited lecturer Sam Martino’s news gathering classes April 14 to talk about his life experiences and donate shoes towards a good cause.

Pirrung brought many of his old pairs of shoes to donate to a fundraiser Martino’s news gathering classes are putting on called “Shoe Leather Experience.”

Pirrung used to test shoes for Newton Running Co. and is now being sponsored by them. They were the first company to sponsor Pirrung.

“It is crucial for runners to have shoes with good flexibility and support,” Pirrung said. “You can get foot problems and injuries by wearing incorrect shoes.”

Pirrung specializes in ultra marathons, which are  longer than the typical 26 miles of a normal marathon.

Although Pirrung has established himself as a runner worldwide, he was not always so active. Pirrung weighed nearly 200 pounds at one point in his life. It wasn’t until he saw an obese woman running past his house that he realized he needed to get fit.

“I only wanted to run a mile or two the first day,” said Pirrung, who began running when he was 32 years old. “It was very difficult; I had to make myself keep running the first couple weeks.”

Day by day though, Pirrung built up his momentum for running and was soon doubling and tripling his goal of two miles.

After being recommended to pick up a runner’s magazine, Pirrung purchased a copy of Runner’s World magazine with the cover reading, “How to run your first marathon.”

“Inside the magazine was a schedule of how much to run certain days and when to break,” Pirrung said. “I started following the chart to work myself towards my first marathon.”

Pirrung’s first race was the Mayfair Marathon at the Mayfair Mall in Milwaukee in 1981. Though many people had their doubts about him running the marathon, Pirrung finished in 3 hours and 16 minutes.

Pirrung continued running marathons thereafter. He has run 75 marathons and 116 ultra marathons and continues to keep running. Total, Pirrung has run around 900 races in his 30 years of running.

“I started running to gain back control over my health,” Pirrung said. “I ended up finding a sport that I enjoy and love.”

Pirrung ran the 24-hour marathon in Fond Du Lac, and decided to try and beat the record of 119 miles in 24 hours. By the end of the 24 hours, Pirrung had run 137.99 miles, the best time in the U.S. for any runner running a 24-hour race. Pirrung has learned plenty about himself while running.

“Running has taught me a lot about self discipline,” Pirrung said. “You have to eat right, rest right and train right.”

Pirrung has put himself on a diet that includes a lot of carbohydrates. He said he eats a lot of fish and stays away from dairy products and junk food.

During his races, Pirrung eats small pieces of bread, pretzels and fruit to keep him fueled, and drinks a lot of water and protein shakes to stay hydrated.

“My nutritional diet is just as important as training,” Pirrung said. “You only have one body, and you have to do your best to keep it going.”

Because running such long distances can wear your body down, Pirrung has done bicycling and swimming to do something different. He has started doing triathlons, such as the Iron Man Triathlon in Hawaii.

Pirrung has also been doing some freelance writing for publications and writing for Gannett Wisconsin Online. He is currently writing an autobiography titled “See You in a Few Miles.”

Though Pirrung is recognized as a world class ultra marathon runner, Pirrung said he doesn’t run for medals, he runs for himself.

“Success is what you personally do to feel successful,” Pirrung said. “It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of your form of success.”