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This appeared in Minnesota Running. Now that the guy from Dos Eques has retired, I nominate Rick as The Most Interesting Man in the World!

A Consummate Runner: Rick Recker

It’s said that one of the keys to a happy life is to find something you love to do and pursue it with a passion. Rick Recker loves the great sport of running. He pursues it, in all its ways and requirements, with as much passion as any runner we have known. He has run over 2,800 races and has run in 65 countries. Terrific stamina and fabulous adventures are the hallmarks of his running life. To give a sense of the man, some events of his travels, often harrowing and mostly related to running, have been added to the profile.

For a guy for whom running would be a major feature and driving passion of his life, Rick was lucky to have a strong athletic pedigree. Dick, his father, was a Tri-State half mile champion. Lucy, his mother, was also athletic. Rick was the oldest of four siblings. One of his sisters, Patti, would teach physical education and coach (including All-Americans) for her career in high school. The other sister, Mary, would run the half mile in 2:30 before high school. Rick’s younger brother, Tony, would go on to run marathons in all 50 states.

But a good runner needs the engine for it. Ever since he was a youngster, running came easily for Rick. “I would run without provocation,” he said, “for the sheer joy of it.” He ran a lot, but training and racing would only start at Roosevelt Senior High School. There he determined to follow in his father’s footsteps, running the half mile. He made a good start. Running cross-country as a sophomore, Rick was the first one in his class to get a letter. “I wasn’t totally gifted at all,” he said (meaning, not like Garry Bjorklund). “I had to work at it.” He did, running mostly the 880 and 440 in track. Occasionally, he’d also run the mile, competing against the future state champion, Bruce Mortenson. Though Rick set the school record in the 600, he would never compete in the State Meet. Roosevelt took second in the State in Rick’s senior year as he watched from the sidelines. (Mortenson’s team, St. Louis Park, under the great coach Roy Griak, won the championship, as he took the mile.) Rick’s high school records were outstanding, however: 2:02 in the 880, 53 in the 440, and 4:34 in the mile. Rick also exhibited this early his great stamina and love of adventure. Inspired by watching Abebe Bikila on TV win the marathon in Rome at the 1960 Olympic Games, while running barefoot, Rick, at age 16, ran a marathon barefoot in repeated laps of Lake Nokomis. His time was about 3:30.

On one adventure, in South Africa, Rick determined to run to the tip of the Cape of Good Hope. Going along, he suddenly spotted dark specks moving eerily in the distance. Coming on, he saw that it was a large troop of baboons – hundreds of them, foraging for food. He kept going – “I wanted to get to the tip,” he said – though knowing baboons can be dangerous. Slowing to a walk as he came up to them, they parted before him, but closed in behind, like a wave. He made it through, got to the tip and hitched a ride back past the baboons. “Three of those beasts could kill you,” he said. One aggressive male, I should think, could set the troop into a feeding frenzy.

After high school (he graduated in ’62), Rick took a year off to work, and then enrolled at the University of Minnesota. Somewhat surprisingly, no one asked him to go out for the cross-country team, so he didn’t. “Being on the team was not that important to me,” he said. He did, however, run on the intramural team (which, it might be noted, was organized by the founder of the MDRA, Pat Lanin). With Rick’s second place finish, the team won the intramural cross-country title. Undertrained, in track he ran the 880 in 2:10.

After his sophomore year, Rick was in and out of the University for eight years. What he wanted from life could not be gotten from a classroom. He worked as a life-guard in many venues and as a bartender. Through his early 20’s, he just ran occasionally, with a race, as he said, “once in a while.” But this increased as time went on, with more races added to the effort. In his late 20’s, Rick married Diane, who had been in his life for six years. Three kids would follow. As his life got busier, running and racing also increased. He’d run many races a year. Since high school, he had recorded every race he ran. One day, he took out his records, totaled the number of races, and found that he had run more than 1,000 races.

It should be noted that Rick was never concerned with the number of races he ran. In fact, his total of 2,800+ races is actually the number of race days, since he would record just one race even if he ran multiple races on a day (he has run as many as six races on a single day). “Running six races of 17 miles total,” he said, “is a lot harder than one 17-mile race.”

And on he went, race after race after race. “I only run what’s good for me,” he said. “If I wanted numbers, I could have run a lot more.” He’s won about 100 races overall, many more in his age category. But it’s about more than running. “Running is so wonderful,” he said, “because of the friendships you make.” It’s also got to be satisfying and memorable to have run all over the world.

On a trip to Fiji, Rick found himself one day running on a highway along a jungle. “What am I doing running along a highway in Fiji?” he thought. He found a place where a road descended into the jungle, and took it. “It was a paradise in that jungle,” he recalled of the foliage and crystal waters he crossed. Unthinking, he jogged on, mesmerized by the canopy, draped with vines, here and there a huge toad or palm-sized beetle, brilliantly colored birds and fish in the streams. The only sounds were the cries of the birds and the hum of insects. He ended up taking various paths cut, as he learned later, by mahogany poachers. Finally, he realized he was lost. The return jog was a tense one and took some time, but he made it, getting out of the jungle before dark.

In about 1978, when he was about 35, Rick started running the marathon. His friends had been goading him (a lover of the half mile) into running long distances. Finally, he gave in and increased his mileage. By way of training, he first ran the 50k State Championship. In that race, he passed the marathon distance in 2:50, finishing the 30+ miles in 3:25. His first marathon was the City of Lakes, which he ran in his best time ever – 2:38. He would go on to run the TCM, Grandma’s and Boston, twice each, and a total of 30 marathons. But he was running a lot of other races, too – a total of 118 in one year. He also travelled a lot, running, of course – though rarely racing – in each of the countries he went to.

For a runner who prides himself on speed, Rick has run some incredible feats of stamina. Adventuresome running is in his blood. On a trip to South Africa, he determined to run from the sea to the top of Tabletop Mountain, a distance of some 17 or 18 miles, to an elevation of some 3,000 ft. This would be merely good, but he determined to run the distance without stopping. He made it, without even a stop for breath, in 2.5 hours. On a run with an acquaintance on a South African beach, the acquaintance told him the beach went on “forever.” That got Rick’s attention. “I decided to see how far forever was,” he said. He did run about 50k on the beach, never finding the end.

During the dark days of Apartheid, Rick, hot, tired and very thirsty, was hitchhiking one night back from a long run on a lonely country road in South Africa. A pickup stopped. Two Afro-South Africans guys offered him a ride, saying, “Get in back.” The racial tension at the time was thick and foreboding. “Should I get in?” Rick thought. “Should I decline the offer? Run away?” He climbed in back. They took him where he wanted to go. They were nice guys.

At a social, Rick could name-drop with distinction if so inclined. In Rome, in a receiving line with his son for Pope Paul VI, Rick slapped hands with the Pontiff as he came past. At a local gathering on some running occasion, Rick thought he recognized a young man standing off by himself. He came over and started a conversation. It was Sebastian Coe, the Olympic Champion and world record holder in the 800m. At Rick’s invitation, the next day they ran together (10 seven minute miles, he said). Rick’s run in a group with Grete Waitz, the great marathoner. As a high school sophomore, the team captain took him to the University fieldhouse, where he watched Buddy Edelen, the future world record holder in the marathon, run repeat 220’s. He later learned that Edelen, as a training technique, had been holding his breath on each repeat. He knew Ron Daws well and once got a call from Alberto Salazar, who was looking for someone to train with him while he was in town. Not inclined to try to keep up with the great marathoner, Rick referred him to Pete Wareham, the coach at St Thomas College.

It should also be noted that, for all his multitude of races, Rick has some impressive PR’s: 10k: 33:20, 5k: 16:00, mile (road): 4:42.

One frigid day, Rick jogged to a lake at some distance from his house and determined to run around the lake on the ice a few yards from shore. As he jogged along, he came to a place where the agitation of the water because of a hidden stream or spring made the ice thin. Like stepping on a buried land mine, down he went into the icy water up to his shoulders. Now, how long does he have to live? We asked Terry O’Regan, my brother, an EMT (and outstanding cyclist), about this. “About 10 or 15 minutes,” he said, if he did nothing. Keeping his head, Rick rolled up on the ice and made it to shore. Encased in ice, there was only one way to make it – run home. He made it. Diane was off on an errand. He managed to get into a hot shower and melt the ice-suit. A close call, there.

“Giving back counts so much more to me now than PR’s,” Rick said. “Making the day for 1,000 people when you direct a race is much more satisfying than making the day for yourself.” Rick became a race director and running official. Bob Hoisington, the great high school coach and long-time sports official, asked him to be an official for the State High School Track Meet. That began a career as a race official that continues to this day. Rick is now the State Certifier for course race distance. If you’ve run a certified race in Minnesota, Rick certified it was the exact distance you wanted to run. He frequently takes his bike with an attached measuring device and measures courses himself. Rick has designed many road race courses. In fact, he came up with the Vikings football stadium as the staging area for the TCM, designing the course with that as the starting point. Along the way, a friend recruited Rick to be on the Board of the MDRA (of which he is still a member). He’s been president of the USATF-MN for 20 years, off and on, since the early ’90’s. He’s also been president of the MDRA for three years, in two segments.

On one foreign adventure, Rick encountered a beautiful, sultry, jet-setting woman for a second time that day. She said to him, “So you’ve come back for me.” They spent the rest of the day together. Unfortunately, perhaps, her young lover showed up that night, and Rick was shown the door. It was a dark and stormy night, and he had no money left. Magnanimously, she paid for his cab ride back to his hotel, which was locked for the night. He didn’t say if he got in a run that day.

Rick’s long distance training philosophy is so unique it deserves mention. One hundred mile weeks are necessary, he contends, to run the marathon well, but with a difference. He insists that all free energy in a training cycle be devoted to running distance. “Do the miles in big chunks,” he said. “Marathon training starts after you’ve run for two hours. That’s when you change from using glycogen to using fat for energy. Run for two hours to get ready, then start training.”

As for aging, Rick, who is 75, doesn’t give Old Man Time the same credit other people do. He doesn’t accept the notion that a gradual decline must happen as the years go by. It’s more a matter, he contends, of traumatic events happening from which one does not recover as one gets older. Avoid trauma, then, and keep running. Sounds like Rick means to run forever.

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