If everything goes according to plan Sunday (Sept.28) morning at the Bellingham Bay Marathon, a college instructor from Olympia will do something no other American has accomplished.
Andy Fritz wasn’t boastful when he pointed out his little piece of running history. In fact, he chuckled. The Clover Park Technical College environmental science instructor is one of only three people who have completed the 26.2-mile race every year since it started in 2007. But the other two are Canadians who live 45 miles northwest of Bellingham in Delta, British Columbia.
This is definitely an impressive note for his running resume, but hardly the most impressive.
Race bibs adorn the walls of his office. There’s one for each Bellingham Bay Marathon. Bibs from each of the last 10 Capital City Marathons. And some from other races.
But not all his bibs hang in the office. There’s not enough room.
Since 1995, he has run more than 330 races and more than 20,000 miles. Since 2005, he’s run 93 marathons and 22 ultramarathons. He logs about 1,600 miles each year — about the distance from the South Sound to Lincoln, Nebraska.
And along the way Fritz, 48, has found the trick to staying motivated, keeping his sport fun and staying fit.
He’s turned his passion for running into a series of games. Goals he sets for himself.
Can he run a marathon every month? His longest streak was from August 2010 to October 2012.
Can he run 100 miles per month? He once pushed his streak to 93 months before an injury forced him to start over.
Can he run every street in DuPont? Yes; he covered about 300 miles doing so.
Like so many passionate runners, Fritz is an unabashed stat geek.
“You have to find what works for you, what matches your personality,” Fritz said.
Logging his progress and creating goals to strive for clearly keeps Fritz going.
When he finishes Sunday’s marathon, his post-race ritual will involve some pretty serious documentation.
First he’ll check the data recorded by his GPS watch. Mileage, pace, vertical feet climbed, etc.
Then Fritz will log that data in a spreadsheet he keeps to record the details of his running over the past two decades.
Next, he’ll go online to update his Marathon Maniacs race log. Marathon Maniacs is a worldwide running club founded in Tacoma. To become a member you have to run two marathons in 17 days or three in 90 days.
Finally, he’ll take some time to write about his race experience on his blog, mummydust.blogspot.com.
Not only does his “run-race-record” approach to fitness keep him motivated, entertained and at the front of the middle of the pack, it also proves to be a good tool for helping him plan for races. His blog entries date back to June 24, 1995.
“So if I run a race I’ve done before, I can just click on the link and read about it,” Fritz said.
He’s also heard from other runners who’ve used information from his blog to plan for races.
Starting with his first entry, the blog offers plenty of good advice.
“I do not recommend a half marathon to first-time racers who have only been running for 10 weeks,” he wrote after making this mistake at the June 24, 1995, My Brother’s Table Half Marathon near Boston. He’d gotten a little carried away after watching the Boston Marathon two months earlier.
Fritz hobbled to the finish line in 456th place, but he still finished in less than two hours. “… Although the last three miles had been a disaster,” he wrote, “the entire event had been kind of fun.”
Later he’d say that first race is what got him hooked on the sport.
As he started logging his runs and setting up those little games to keep himself motivated, he also set his sights on the ultimate prize for recreational distance runners: the Boston Marathon.
A year later, he entered the My Brother’s Table race again and shaved 16 minutes off his time. By 1997 he was dabbling in marathons. During his first, a small race in Massachusetts, he was pretty sure he’d never run that distance again. But six months later he ran his second marathon.
As for that lofty goal of qualifying for Boston, well, he never really got close.
“I got within about 20 minutes, but I realized I was not going to be able to do it,” Fritz said.
He was OK with that realization and was happy to create more goals and games to keep himself running. Then, in 2012, his Boston dream came true. He earned a spot in the race as a fundraiser for the Salvation Army.
He has more than 100 finisher medals, and most of them are packed away in boxes. (“I should probably stop taking them,” he said.) But the Boston medal is on display in his home.
But most of his accomplishments don’t come with medals or celebrations. They are just numbers on spreadsheets ticking ever upward and, of course, a sense of satisfaction that is more than enough to keep him going.
He doesn’t often share his stats with runners he meets during races, but, of course, he occasionally shares them with his wife. “She’s patient,” Fritz said. She’s an athlete, too, he says, so she understands the importance of inspiration and tracking success.
So what’s the next game Fritz has made for himself?
He plans to keep his Bellingham and Capital City marathon streaks going as long as possible. He wants to keep logging at least 100 miles per month. And he will continue tracking his progress.
“I just want to keep doing this well into my years,” Fritz said. “I don’t want to lose interest. I want to keep having fun with this.”