Past champs add to excitement of 50th Brookings Marathon

Courtesy photo: Steve Wilson (13) leads a pack of runners as they cross over the French River during the 1996 Grandma’s Marathon at Duluth, Minnesota. Wilson was an elite runner then and in 1996 and 2003, when he set master’s course records at the Longest Day Marathon in Brookings. He is returning to run the 50th Brookings Marathon on Saturday. Two runners behind Wilson is Prairie Strider John Mirth (24). Mirth finished 11th in a field of 5,353 runners with a time of 2:20:15. Wilson was 12th with a 2:20:34.

Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of four articles leading up to the weekend of the Brookings Marathon May 10-11. For more information on the races, go to

Fifteen former champions of the Brookings Marathon will be on hand Saturday for the 50th running of the oldest marathon in South Dakota and the 25th oldest marathon in the United States.

Ten of them will be racing and all of them will be taking part in the post-race community celebration at The Nine in downtown Brookings from noon to 3 p.m. Other honored guests include one participant from that first marathon – then called the Longest Day Marathon – local running legend Bob Bartling, 92, of Brookings.

The total field in this year’s event numbers 221 in the marathon, 404 in the half marathon and 52 six-member relay teams. Entries in all those races have closed.

Last-minute entries are still welcome in the Scotty Roberts 5K, which begins at 6 p.m. Friday by the Children’s Museum of South Dakota. All other entries are staged at Pioneer Park on the west edge of Brookings. The 5K, named after the man who directed the marathon from 1981 to 2003, has 30 entries as of Monday.

That means more than 900 runners will be pounding through the streets of Brookings this weekend, each with their own story about how they ended up at this premiere road race. For each is a chance to participate in history (only 13 other U.S. marathons have run more consecutive marathons than Brookings) and to make a little history of their own.

A story of triumphs, trials and rediscovery

Steve Wilson is coming back to Brookings for the third time. He doesn’t expect 2019 to look anything like 1999 or 2003, when he set the race master’s division record.

Now age 60, Wilson, of Lafayette, Indiana, has been at best a sporadic runner since 2003, when he clocked a 2:32:37 to trim 4 minutes and 20 seconds off the master’s (age 40 and older) record he set in 1999.

“That was like a training run for me,” Wilson said of his 2003 run. He had run in the Olympic Marathon Trials in 1996 and 2000.

In 1996, he went in seeded 132nd and finished 24th with a time of 2:19:58. In 2000, he qualified for the trials with a PR of 2:18:30 in Austin, Texas.

In April 2000, the former newspaper production director was running a 4:55 pace at the Boston Marathon, but developed a calf injury that had him on the sidelines by Mile 7. The 2000 trials were only three weeks later in Pittsburgh. The Austin run gave him the eighth fastest time that year, but the Boston injury quickly resurfaced and Wilson dropped out.

Note: The 2000 trials were won by Prairie Strider Rod DeHaven, current head coach at SDSU, in a time of 2:15 and was the only U.S. qualifier.

Dog-gone bad luck

Wilson, age 44 in 2003, had every intention of running in the 2004 trials and was in shape to run 2:20 at the U.S. Marathon championship. But a career-defining injury occurred during an August 2003 training run on a three-quarter-mile paved loop around a Lafayette high school. Wilson and his training partner were on their fifth of five repeats.

But their night workout ended when a couple appeared, walking a golden retriever on a 50-foot retractable leash. The dog thought he had a running partner.

The partnership quickly ended. The leash became wrapped around Wilson’s leg and he tore a meniscus in the fall. Not having health insurance compounded the injury. As a veteran, he was entitled to use the VA system. But it took him two years to become enrolled and approved for surgery. It took another year (October 2006) before arthroscopic surgery was performed. 

“I haven’t had a problem with the knee since then,” but he did develop blood clots later; plus by then he was age 47.

“I tried running a little bit, but could never get going again. I have been going out and running on the trails for a couple years. But I have some times when I don’t run for months,” said Wilson, who retired in January 2017 from a steel-handling job at a machine shop. The physical labor while on concrete floors was beating up his body and the 50 pounds he had gained since his racing days didn’t help any.

Phone call made an impact

In December 2018, Wilson got a call from Brookings Marathon Director Matt Bien offering all past champions free entry into this year’s run.

It was the motivation he needed to become more consistent in his running and drop weight. 

“The big thing for me is the weight. (At one point he weighed 190.) Once I got down around 160, I was, ‘Wow, I can run again.’ When I was 170, everything hurt, your knees, your hips. People say running is bad for your knees. Running isn’t bad for your knees. Getting fat is bad for your knees,” Wilson said.

He had hoped to run Brookings at a 6:40 pace (2:55), but a bruised heel forced him into an early taper. Right now, the goal is to get to the finish line. “My lifetime marathon average is under 2:30. This is going to hurt my average,” he said of Saturday’s run, which starts at 7 a.m. Like most marathoners, he will arrive in Brookings Friday.

Post-race community celebration

After his first race in 16 years, Wilson is “looking forward to meeting some of the other winners” at the gathering at The Nine, 305 Main Ave.

Bien wants to get the word out that the celebration isn’t just for runners.

“There will be cake, Kool Beans coffee and SDSU ice cream with music provided by Dakota Jazz Collective. It will be a family-friendly event with a chance to socialize, share stories and hear from some of the people who have made the Brookings Marathons not only one of the oldest marathons in the U.S., but also one of the best,” he said.

Past champions and honored guests will be recognized at the start of the awards program to be held near the finish line at Pioneer Park at 11 a.m.

Past champions and honored guests

To recognized at the 50th annual Brookings Marathon

 Bob Bartling, ninth-place finisher in the inaugural 1970 marathon and local running legend

• Kathy Magnuson, first women’s champion (1975) and this year’s honorary starter

• Lyle Claussen, long-time Prairie Strider and 1978 champion

• Randy Fischer, current Mount Marty cross country coach, five-time champion (1979, 1981, 1982, 1987, 1990 ) and men’s open record holder (2:23:29)

• Mike Dunlap, 1980 champion and second fastest time in race history (2:23:34)

• Jerry Brown, 67, of W. St. Paul, Minn., most finishes, 27 consecutive and counting, 1992 –  present

• Steve Wilson, 60 of Lafayette, Ind., 1999, 2003 champion, men’s masters record holder (2:32:37), running full in 2019

• Jill Moncur, Sioux Falls, most women’s titles, 2006, 2008, 2009;

• Gregg Uecker, 57, of Freeman, 2008 champion, running full in 2019

• Chuck Engle, 48, of Lancaster, Ohio, American record holder for marathon victories, 2009 champion, running full in 2019

• Jennifer Freeman, 38, of Omaha, Neb., 2010, 2016 champion, running full in 2019

• Melissa Jansen, 48, of St. Cloud, Minn., 2013 champion, running full in 2019

• Tim Fryer, 40, of Hendricks, Minn., 2014 champion, running half in 2019

• Heather Himler, 44, of Shakopee, Minn., 2014 champion, running full in 2019

• Scott Weispfennig, 33, of St. Paul, Minn., 2016 champion, running full in 2019

• Erica Knips, 31, of Sioux Falls, 2017 champion, running full in 2019

• Josh Monson, 28, of Yankton, 2018 champion, running half in 2019

Marathon numbers

Most runners are from out-of-state.

The field for the 50th Brookings Marathon totals 221 runners, making it the largest field since 2012, when there were 228 finishers.

Here’s a look at the demographics of the field:

 Runners represent 40 states, almost double the usual representation.

• South Dakota contributes 62 runners followed by Minnesota (32), Nebraska (14), Iowa (13) and Illinois and Oklahoma (nine each). 

• Broken down by town, there 15 from the Twin Cities, 11 from Brookings, 10 from Sioux Falls, nine from Omaha and five from Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is also a mystery to race director Matt Bien.

• The male/female split is nearly even – 121 men and 100 women, which is a little unusual in the marathon. In the half marathon, by contrast, women dominate the field 270 to 134.

Events schedule

Friday, May 10

(Children’s Museum of South Dakota, 521 Fourth St.)

5-8 p.m. – Marathon packet pick-up

5-5:30 p.m. – Scotty Roberts 5K registration

6 p.m. – Scotty Roberts 5K race start

6:45 p.m. – Free kids fun run

Saturday, May 11

(Pioneer Park)

5:30-6:30 a.m. – Packet pickup

7 a.m. – Marathon/half/relay start

11 a.m. – Awards ceremony

Noon- 3 p.m. – 50 Year Celebration, The Nine, downtown

Popular viewing locations, with approximate times, are:

 The start, on First Street just east of Pioneer Park, 7 a.m.

• Mile 3 by the Campanile on the SDSU campus, 7:20-8 a.m.

• Mile 9 at Larson Park off of 22nd Avenue, 7:45-9 a.m.

• Half marathon finish in Pioneer Park, 8:05-10 a.m.

• Mile 12 of the marathon at the Weslyan Church on Orchard Drive, 8:15-9:30 a.m.

• Mile 19 at St. Thomas More on 8th Street, 8:55-11:15 a.m.

• Mile 24 at the Pheasant Restaurant on Main Avenue, 9:25 a.m.-noon

• Marathon finish at Pioneer Park, 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

A helpful spectator guide can be downloaded at


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