Maple Grove’s Tom Perri, battling prostate cancer, nearing 600 career marathons
With a little luck, Tom Perri will run his 600th marathon this spring or summer. He’s tentatively planning for the milestone to occur at Fargo on May 21. But that could change. Perri entered 2022 with 577 career races at the 26.2-mile distance, meaning he was 23 shy.
For one of Minnesota’s most prolific pavement-pounders, it’s not only possible, but probable. This is a guy who finishes what he starts — Perri came into the year with 2,252 career races overall.
Pretty impressive, eh?
Especially when you consider Perri is battling Stage 4 prostate cancer. The 60-year-old Maple Grove man was diagnosed in July 2019.
Perri has had to make concessions to the disease. His endurance isn’t what it once was, for example. But it doesn’t dictate how he lives his life.
“Cancer told me what I couldn’t do, but it didn’t tell me what I could do,” Perri explained.
So Perri runs, just like he’s always done.
Some of the more improbable numbers include:
- 577 marathons, plus three ultramarathons entering 2022
- 98 marathons completed in Minnesota alone
- Five-time certified finisher of 50-States Challenge (one marathon in every state); he’s two states away — Maine and Vermont — from being a six-time finisher
- Sub-four-hour marathon in all 50 states
- More than 115,000 miles logged, which is equal to running across the United States about 41 times
- Finished Grandma’s 27 times, the Twin Cities Marathon 26 times and Rochester’s Med City Marathon 24 times
- Perri ran 59 races in 2021, including 42 marathons and two ultras
Perri’s favorite race? The next one.
“Because you don’t know what’s gonna happen,” he said. “I can run Grandma’s a 28th time and it will be different than the other 27 races I’ve done there.”
To run as much as Perri, there can’t be much time for training. Perhaps the zaniest stat from all this number crunching is the fact that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic Perri says he’d never done a training run of more than nine or 10 miles in his career. Instead, he trains for races by running races. Perri simply maintains his fitness.
And if he doesn’t feel good, Perri doesn’t run, certainly a key to his durability. But those days don’t come about often. One of his longest breaks was eight days in July 2019, for prostate surgery.
“I had to wait for the catheter to come out,” said Perri, whose personal best over 26.2 miles is 3 hours and 35 minutes.
Despite everything he’s accomplished, Perri hopes his biggest achievements are ahead of him. He wants to run a marathon on every continent and complete every major twice (Tokyo, Boston, Berlin, London, Chicago, New York). He hopes to surpass 200,000 career miles. He could become the first person to finish 1,000 marathons and 1,000 5Ks. The biggie, though, is becoming a 14-time finisher of the 50 States Challenge.
“That’s my ultimate goal,” Perri said.
Little goals lead to big goals. Perri has run a race on every day of the year. Because … well, because why not?
“When one goal stops, you start another one,” he said.
Perri ran his first Grandma’s in 1994. He can’t wait to return in June.
“Going to Grandma’s is like being back with my family,” Perri said. “It’s that small-town welcome, where with big races you’re just another runner.”
Perri has enjoyed watching this crown jewel along the North Shore morph from a tiny upstart in the 1970s, one that hoped to one day rival the Paavo Nurmi Marathon in Hurley, Wisconsin, into one of the country’s premier 26.2-mile races. It kept getting bigger and better.
One thing that hasn’t changed, according to Perri? The energy of the spectators, many of whom are determined to share their beer, bratwurst or tequila with runners. Perri loves the vibe that permeates Minnesota’s oldest marathon.
“That fun part hasn’t changed over the years,” he said. “It’s fun to see the spectators out there; they’re cheering for the fast ones and for the slow ones. They’re cheering you just as a human being.”
Perri has run a lot of races. And he hopes to run hundreds more. But none are more gratifying than the ones he’s entered as a pacer. Finishing a marathon is cool. Helping someone else finish a marathon, or set a new personal best? Way cooler. Which is why Perri is about more than just big numbers.
“When I pass away, I hope people don’t just talk about the numbers,” he said. “I want to be remembered as Pacer Tom, the guy who helped me PR or the guy who helped me run my first marathon.”
So Perri will continue to run.
Hopefully right into remission.