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Dordt College News

Marathon man conquers world's top distance races

April 27, 2009

Written by Howie Beardsley,

reprinted by permission from The Grand Rapids Press

Hudsonville's Howard Van Mersbergen is trying to complete five marathons within an eight-month span.Before taking up running 10 years ago at the age of 40, Hudsonville's Howard Van Mersbergen despised the thought of lacing up a pair of shoes and jogging.

"I used to hate running," Van Mersbergen said. "The only reason I got into it was because my wife (Myra) wanted to become a runner and kept asking and asking me to join her. I finally agreed to join a beginning runners program with her, and, then, she quit. I said, 'Shoot, I started, so I might as well continue.'"

Ten years later, Van Mersbergen has run in nine marathons.

Van Mersbergen is now so enthralled with hitting the pavement that he is already three-fifths of the way from accomplishing five marathons within an eight-month span as part of the prestigious World Marathon Majors Series.

It is a stretch that challenges world-class distance runners for a shot at $500,000 through a two-year points system as they try to conquer last fall's Berlin, Chicago and New York marathons, Monday's illustrious Boston Marathon and Sunday's London Marathon.

And Van Mersbergen, who is the vice president for employee benefits at Christian Schools International in Grand Rapids, isn't even considered an elite runner.

Now that's dedication. Maybe even bordering on madness for someone who will join 108 total area runners into Monday's Boston Marathon.

"I hear, 'You're crazy' all the time from friends, family members and co-workers when they hear I'm doing this challenge," Van Mersbergen said. "I say, 'Yea, maybe so.' But when I turned 50 last Aug. 2, and my wife turned 50 in January, this challenge is what I wanted to do to celebrate our 50th birthdays.

"Myra does a lot to help me with logistics, massaging out the kinks in the legs, and she's a great encourager. We also wanted to do this as part of our organization. We're a non-profit business associated with schools like Grand Rapids Christian and Holland Christian, so we wanted to use this as a fundraiser for new Bible curriculum, and to encourage healthy activity among school kids."

Van Mersbergen was born and raised in Pella, Iowa, which is the Hawkeye State's version of Holland. He is a 1980 graduate of Dordt College, but never did anything athletic, outside of intramurals.

He certainly was no runner. That's why it is so impressive that Van Mersbergen has, thus far, accomplished three of the five races in the World Marathon Majors Series.

"Berlin was in September," Van Mersbergen said. "Two weeks after that was Chicago and three weeks after that was New York. It was a five-week span, but it went amazingly well. What I had in the back of my mind was to run the three according to my Boston qualifying time, which, for my age, was 3:35. I did Berlin in 3:33, Chicago in 3:31 and set a PR (personal best) in New York with a 3:12.

"This will be a little trickier, with Boston and London six days apart. Plus, Boston beats up the legs with all the hills."

By the way, Van Mersbergen also has conquered the last seven 25K Fifth Third River Bank Runs.  The River Run is the second Saturday of May.

"I plan to do the River Run again this year, if I'm not too beat up from Boston and London," Van Mersbergen said.

Don't doubt him.

Editor Note: Howard ran the Boston Marathon in a time of 3:29:16.

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