While it's great to interview all the super-fast local runners, this is one of the interviews that I love the most. Ed Rousseau has a lot of character, he's extremely passionate about running and, if you consider ultras "crazy", he's done some really crazy stuff - like a 6-Day race where he ran more miles than my biggest month ever! And although he's been running for 30 years, the 70-year-old Minneapolis resident still has some long-term goals he'd like to achieve, like finishing he's 50th TCM when he's 92. Short-term there's national 70-74 age-group record for 12 hours and 100K in Madison this weekend. (Photo courtesy of Asha Shoffner. NOTE: Normally I like to crop the photos down and just focus on the interviewee. However, I really love this photo. I love how Ed is gritting his teeth, but I also love the look on #449's face. I think we've all had that how-is-that-person-beating-me look on our face at one point or another. )
I read somewhere that you got involved with running because you literally saw someone go running by your house as you looked out the window. Is that true?
Yes, in the real sense. I had returned from living and working in Iran from 1974 to early 1979 when the revolution forced us to leave. Running had come out of nowhere while I was gone and become almost a fad. It surprised me to see runners going by (men, women, all sizes and shapes). So old macho Ed, too old and heavy and slow for my early sports, like basketball, now felt confident that I could run as good as other folks. So out came the 20-year-old basketball shoes and sweat pants and I began with a foolish sprint around the block. The only problem was that I was out of breath by halfway. But the next day I tried to go even further. I knew nothing about running, other than hearing about the Boston Marathon. In my little town in Michigan’s U.P., there was no track or cross-country, only basketball and baseball.
You were an alcoholic at the time. Is running what led you to give up drinking? How do you think your life would be different without running?
I was carrying a beer belly, had just quit smoking and I’d just lost my mother to emphysema due to a lifetime of smoking. As a practicing alcoholic, progressing over the years, the consequences (physical health, social, and legal problems) came to a serious point and I went into treatment at the same time. I was enlightened and learned so much about myself and what I now saw as a family disease – this compulsive addiction to wanting a high and a higher high, whether from alcohol, gambling or whatever. My so called social drinking was indeed much more than simple social drinking.
You’ve been running for 30 years and sober for 26 years, so it sounds like it took a few years before you were able to completely switch from one to the other. Would you say you replaced on addiction with another?
First, as my running moved along from that first short run around the block, I lost weight and got healthier. Each new distance was a higher high and over 30 years it’s gone from a trip around the block to multiple day ultras. I was getting my high needs met through running. As the years passed, I got somewhat competitive in my age group and the competitive juices kicked in. Within several months I did my first 10K and it was much too soon. I was coaxed by co-workers as my company had a running group. I was totally ignorant and ended up running Get in Gear in my basketball shoes and sweats. I got quite a lesson with blistered feet and cramped calves during the 59 minutes it took to finish.
I slowly grew faster over the years and at age 45, I ran my best 10K in 38:40. I now wonder how old I’ll be when my 10K times creep back up and over that original 59 minutes.
Anyway, my sobriety ended a year after treatment. I had done nothing to maintain it; no meetings with other alcoholics to share stories and reinforce our resolve, no readings, no working the improvements steps to maintain my life as a sober person. At a family Thanksgiving dinner a year later, I participated in a family tradition of a small toast. That did it! I knew I was cured. Within a few weeks I visited with some after work buddies and my relapse was on and it didn’t end for over 3 years. I kept running and eating right and losing excess weight, and racing better times. However, many of my morning runs were to get rid of a hangover.
Another drinking and driving incident happened in late September of 1983, just before the Twin Cities Marathon. Ironically, I ran a PR because of my improved running, but my last hangover resulted in degraded performance. Since then I have worked a day by day sobriety program with many friends wherever I go. I found that like all the other alcoholics, I have ‘alcoholISm’, not ‘alcoholWASm’! We arrest this disease, we don’t cure it.
How many marathons and ultras have you competed in and what are some of your most memorable running accomplishments?
I’ve finished over 80 marathons and over 70 ultras. That first TCM in 1982 was a special moment, as was my first Boston Marathon in 1985, my first ultra which was the Edmund Fitz 100K in 1987, my first FANS 24 hour, and my first 6-day race in New York.
I’ve had some age group wins and some state and national age group records, but most of all, I’m blessed with the many friends I’ve made in all the races from the smallest July 4th race in the smallest town to the races at the National level. I look forward to going to many events because it’s like a family reunion. Those running friends range from a young man in a rural town with Down Syndrome who tries so hard for a PR in each July 4th race to some extremely successful runners like Dick Beardsley, Billy Mills and Yiannis Kouros. They all train and push to be their best and they’re all so humble and friendly on a personal level.
Are their similarities between being an alcoholic and running ultra marathons?
Definitely. We want the higher high, the runner’s high. One distance is not enough and going further pulls us. If I have a running injury and can’t get out there to run, I go to extra meetings with my recovering alcoholic friends to get an attitude adjustment.
One of the races you competed in each fall was the Ed Fitz 100K. Since that race no longer exists, what have you replaced it with?
I loved that race. Being in late October, the weather was a welcome challenge as it could be a nice crisp fall day or sleet and snow. And there was an incredible award ceremony where we honored the 29 lost sailors from that ship. ALARC put on a real special event. I’ve replaced it with a 48 hour or 72 hour race in early November. So the hole has been filled.
What are some of your other must-do races each year?
I have finished all 28 TCMs and run all 20 of the FANS 24 hour events. I love to do as many of the MDRA Grand Prix races as I can. I’m not one with speed, so I’ve been a bridesmaid many times, but never a Grand Prix winner. I keep kidding MDRA to get rid of the 1-mile races and replace them with a few 50K or 50 milers.
What are your goals for 2010 now that you’re in a new age-group?
Though I was in top shape a few weeks ago from snowshoe training and races, along with other training and weekly long runs of 30 or more miles, my exuberance got me a bit of a hamstring issue. I overdid my intervals one week. However, I’d planned on going after the 70-74 year old national 12 hour and 100K records in Madison on April 10th. There are possibly 6 national age-group records I’d like to go after in the Cornbelt 24 hour track race in early May. Later in the year I’d like to go after the 100 mile and 24 hour records at the nationals 24 hour road race. I may not get any of the records, as there are so many variables in an ultra, but I will always prepare and try my best.
Any long-term goals you’d like to share?
You know, mentally I pinch myself, not believing what the last 30 years have brought me in health, friends and running enjoyment. So it’s a day at a time and being thankful. But we all need a visio; a carrot on a stick. To that end it would be nice if I could finish my 50th consecutive Twin Cities Marathon at age 92. There are lingering dreams of doing my first 10 day race. If there were more days in a month and more months in a year, I’d progress toward finishing a marathon or ultra in all 50 states.
What are your PRs?
5K - 18:45
Half: 1:24 (TCM split)
Marathon: 2:57 (1984 TCM)
100 Miles: 18:56
12 Hour: 70.2 Miles
24 Hour: 121 Miles
48 Hour: 166 Miles
72 Hour: 215 Miles (6-Day split)
6-Day: 384 Miles
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
My overall strengths come in a simple way, from my Christian faith to be the best person that I can be. My sobriety program has converted a problem to a solution and keeps me on an even keel regardless what the challenge. In running, my body’s ability to not have any prolonged and major breakdowns over almost 60,000 miles since that first trip around the block. The gift of being able to break the longest race or training run into the smallest little segments with little goals that keep my interest as the hours go by. I’ve been told that I can take pain, and maybe that is true as I find myself being on the course longer than other runners in the multi-day races. One physical weakness - lack of speed. One weakness I work on daily - impatience.
Finally, what do you wish you had known when you first started running?
The basic stuff that is now taught in the new runner training classes because I could have prevented a lot of those strained muscle experiences. Otherwise, like all areas of life; we are here to learn, grow and improve on a daily basis. Somebody once said, “wisdom is what you have some 30 years after you thought you knew it all.”
[Editor's note: Ed did indeed set a 70-74 age group record for 12 hours when he covered over 57 miles in Madison. He finished the 100K race 12:58:16.]