Brookings Marathon: Race could be the stage for event, world records

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Editor’s note: This is the final in a series of four articles leading up to the Brookings Marathon Sept. 12. For more information on the race, go to 

Four months after it was scheduled, the COVID-19-delayed Brookings Marathon is on the doorstep.

The 51st running of the Brookings Marathon is Saturday, beginning at Pioneer Park and finishing 26.2 miles later at the same location. In addition to 150 runners in the marathon, there are 190 in the half marathon and 17 six-member teams running the marathon relay.

Each of those nearly 500 runners has a different story. For some it is the camaraderie of conquering a common foe – 26.2 miles – with friends. For others, the day is about setting an event record or a world age-group record.

Brendan Sage, who was featured in last week’s Register, will be shooting for the race record of 2 hours, 23 minutes, 29 seconds if he has a good day. 

The half marathon field includes Chris Gruenhagen, the Brookings High School cross country coach who has previously won the Scotty Roberts 5K on marathon weekend and is the 2019 winner of the Jack 15 – all races sponsored by Prairie Striders Running Club.

13-year-old eyes world record

The half marathon record of 1:08:20 set by Bret Fransen in 2009 appears safe. But Sal Wirth is going after another record.

The Association of Road Racing Statisticians lists 1:18:53 as the fastest half marathon ever run by a 13-year-old. In late July, Wirth ran a virtual half marathon in 1:18:00. However, marks set in virtual events “don’t count for anything,” Sal’s father, Justin, said.

Sal Wirth had been signed up for the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in June, but like many major races this year, it became a virtual event. At the end of July, Justin and Sal Wirth and a family friend ran their Bjorklund half near their Annandale, Minnesota, home. Afterwards, they compared Sal’s time to the Minnesota age-group records and then the world record as kept by the Association of Road Racing Statisticans.

With that motivation, Justin Wirth googled “half marathons still scheduled.” He came across the Brookings Marathon, which was within driving distance.

While still scheduled, the half marathon had already hit its cap of 200 runners. The senior Wirth emailed race director Matt Bien anyway. He responded the next day that there was an opening. The Wirths were on it. But dad says son keeps an even keel and “we keep his mileage between 25 and 30 per week” because of his age.

Plus Sal has another matter to pursue – his cross country season. Wirth, an eighth-grader, won the first two 5K meets that Annandale competed in early this season. He will sit out this Thursday’s meet to rest before Saturday’s race. Then it’s back to cross country season. As a seventh-grader, he won Annandale’s varsity time trial and placed 50th at state.

Wirth’s first road race Saturday

However, the Brookings Half Marathon will be Sal Wirth’s first race that’s not a cross country event. “This will be an entirely different atmosphere for him,” Justin Wirth said.

“It just doesn’t seem like he really grasps the magnitude of that (world record). This is what we’re doing this week and the next week is a high school meet. He doesn’t get too excited about high school meets either. He enjoys the social aspect of it,” said Justin, who started tucking Sal into the jogging stroller when he was 6 months old.

Sal started running with dad with he was 9 years old, but it was simply for the adventure, not the time. On some runs they might stop and climb a tree.

The only thing Sal will be climbing during Saturday’s race is Larson Hill, which is at the 9-mile mark in the 13.1-mile race. By that time, if all is going well, he should be within 24 minutes of a world record.


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