Last year I got into this stretch of group runs where Bruce Mortenson’s name seemed to come up every week. “Do you know Bruce Mortenson?” “Have you met of Bruce Mortenson?” “Have you heard of Bruce Mortenson?” Unfortunately, at the time, I had to answer no whenever such questions would arise. Luckily, since that time, I’ve had the pleasure of running with Bruce a couple of times and finding out why everyone was talking about him. Hopefully this interview will help everyone get to know Bruce a little bit more too. (Photo courtesy of Paul Mullen)
For those who may not be familiar with your running career, what are some of your accolades that you’re most proud of?
I think I am most proud that I have been able to run for 49 years now. The chance to meet so many wonderful people, travel, be outside doing something I love, hopefully influence younger runners have all made running enjoyable for all these years. Races and times don't stand out, just the joy of running. [By the way, Bruce was also the national champion in the steeplechase while training at the University of Oregon under legendary coach Bill Bowerman.]
Rumor has it, at a recent University of Oregon alumni gathering, Alberto Salazar referred to you as “the marathoner”. How do you even respond to a comment like that from one of the all-time greats in U.S. history?
At that reunion Paul Mullen and I were talking with Kenny Moore when Alberto came up and made that comment. We have met several times before but I had to say I think HE and Kenny (fourth in Munich Olympic marathon) were the marathoners. I had faster times as a master and ran many more marathons then those two so maybe he was talking about that. But those Oregon reunions are unbelievable – so many great runners are there!!!
What are your PRs?
My PRs range from a relay 49.9 in the 440y in the mile relay in high school to a 50k in 2:59:36 at age 44. I had a 4:10 in the mile, 8:59 in the steeple. On the roads in the old days there were not many courses that were 5k, 10k, etc and usually not accurate so my best "official" times were as a master except for the marathon in 2:19:59 for sixth at Boston in ‘72. I did run a 28:06 six-mile once on a hilly course but I think it was short. I'll mention the masters times later.
How did you first get involved with running?
I first started running after Roy Griak pulled me aside after a 440 race we ran in 9th grade and I almost beat one of his top varsity guys. So Roy was the one who got me going and I was fortunate to have him and Lefty Wright in high school and then Bill Bowerman in college for coaches. They inspired and influenced me.
Your Saturday morning training group is nearly legendary as it’s made up of some of the best runners around and you’ve been together “forever”. Can you tell us a little about the group?
I joined the Saturday group in late 1984. Doug Suker and John Naslund are part of the original group, which has been running long runs on Saturdays since then. The composition has changed over the years with Rob Whetham and Jack Ankrum being with us for over 20 years also. I've faded from the group now but there are some good age group people along with some top women such as Jenna Boren who push the group now. I think the thing we have done the best is to be very consistent over the past 22-23 years.
What were a typical group run and a typical training week like when you guys were in your prime?
The Saturday runs were pretty tough in the late ‘80s,early ‘90s. We would start out a seven-minute pace, gradually increase the pace and finish pushing 5:30's sometimes. We ran from different spots or houses so had a lot of variety in our courses, some fairly flat and others quite hilly. I know we have done 20 milers when it was 15 below zero (sunny, no wind). We also got together on Tuesdays at Richfield and ran intervals each week. In the winter some guys ran in the Dome but I only went there a few times as the concrete is too hard on my body. I would then substitute a 10-12 mile fartlek run on Tuesdays in the winter. Thursday was a 10-15 mile tempo run. The other days were easy, maybe just 4-6 miles at seven minute pace. I have always followed the hard/easy approach I learned under Bowerman. And, of course, we would run about 15 races every year including both Twin Cities Marathon and Grandma’s Marathon.
While you were obviously successful in your prime, you continued to have tremendous success throughout your 40s (running a 2:22:24 marathon at age 41, 31:24 for 10K at age 44, 25:12 8K and a 2:26:18 marathon at 45). Would you say you had some of your best racing while you were in your 40s?
Turning 40 was interesting because of the masters competition. It got me revitalized! I definitely had some of my best years ever in my 40s. Age 41 and 44 stand out for me. Age 41 was when I set most my masters PRs including a 31:19 for 10k and I ran two marathons in 2:22. I think that was overall my best year of running ever.
In 1988, when I was 44, it was one of our hottest summers and usually the heat does not agree with me. However, I had a great year competitively if not always time-wise, although I did run a 31:24 10k that year and the 2:59:36 50k. But I was competitive in the open category in most of the races, which were run under very hot conditions. For example, Grandma’s was won in 2:20 due to the heat and I was only six minutes back. Again, the support I had from the Saturday group really helped me to run so well.
I’m not 40 yet, but I find myself thinking about age catching up and the inevitable slow-down. What do you attribute your longevity to and what advice do you have to help combat the aging process?
I've been able to run so long because I love to run and had great teachers and running friends who continue to inspire me. The hard/easy approach to training is a big factor. I also try to run trails as much as possible. We have some great areas to run here and that helps mentally and physically. I get amused when young runners talk about "burnout" because I can say that I don't feel I have ever really had burnout in all my years of running (maybe just some injury "delays").
Another thing that keeps me going has been the opportunity to help with some coaching at the high school level. I had neighbor kids who ran at Hopkins and now I am working with Eden Prairie High school and I just love that. It keeps me young and it is fun to see the development of young kids. And, of course, kids who are distance runners are all "above average".
You’ve been battling knee problems lately. Where are you at now with your training?
I do have a bad knee and the doc said I should consider another activity but after 49 years it is hard to change. So I still run about 40 miles a week mainly with the high school kids. But the pace is closer to eight minute pace now so it is easier on the knees.
While you’ve probably run with just about everyone, I’m still curious, if you could run with any Minnesotan, past or present, who would it be?
If I could run with any Minnesotan, and there are so many great runners who have come out of this state, I would say Buddy Edelen. He went to my old high school at St Louis Park but was a number of years ahead of me. I didn't get to know him until much later in our lives and never got to run with him. I read his book, A Cold Clear Day, and I think it would be fun to run with him and hear his stories. He was truly a pioneer in U.S. distance running. I think all of us who run owe he and Ron Daws a lot for blazing the path for the rest of us – right up to the wonderful group of senior boys we had this year in the state.
To learn a little more about Bruce, check out this interview he did last October.