Friends, I’ll put up a few profiles of the runners from South Dakota who are headed to Boston. This year, just over 30 South Dakotans are signed up. Let’s talk with six of them.
Mike Waldera, 51, of Sioux Falls
Marathon history: Three marathons – a 3:05 in Fargo in 2006, a 2:58 in Fargo in 2009 and a 2:55 in 2011 at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth.
Qualified: Every time “I’ve qualified three times, but I’ve never gone out. Some of the run club members are like, ‘you’re a fool, why have you not gone out?’ … It’s kind of the holy grail for crazy marathoners.”
On speed: “I’ve gradually gotten faster. I’d like that to keep happening.”
Weird habits: Cereal. Every Sunday, Waldera mixes Raisin Bran, Corn Flakes, Cheerios, Rice Krispies and Life cereal, and adds some raisins. He calls it his “Jethro Clampett bowl of cereal,” and it takes him all week to eat it.
Pre-race must-have: Diet Mountain Dew.
Boston hopes: “I just want to take in the Boston vibe. Enjoy the ambiance. For distance runners, I have to believe that whole experience is going to be awesome.”
Mike Waldera fell into running as a way to stay in shape for his true love: water skiing, which he competes in as a barefoot skier.
“Running was enjoyable, but it was a means to an end,” Waldera says. “But some of the guys I was running with were competing, and they said, ‘Waldera, you should do this.’”
So, he did – and discovered a true talent for it. He ran shorter races and placed well, and then set his sights on the marathon.
“It was addicting,” Waldera says. “I ran a 3:05, I guess that’s good. I bet I can go under three hours, and then, you know, I bet I can go even faster. I’m 51. I’m not getting any younger. I’m at the point where I have a few more years left to take a swing at bettering 2:55, so that’s what I’m doing.”
While he was immediately successful when he decided to take running seriously, it wasn’t without a few setbacks. He blew out his knee in 2007 snow-skiing in Montana. A friend and fellow runner told him, “Mike, your days of competitive running are over.” So he took a marker and wrote that quote down next to his treadmill and decided, no, they weren’t.
“And I started running. And I started running. I’m going to prove that person wrong,” Waldera says. “I’m going to do what I want on my terms.”
Then he found out he had testicular cancer in 2010. After that, tendonitis.
But he persevered. “The road can be as long as you want when it comes to running,” Waldera says. “The cancer, t he setback, kind of were a motivating factor. I can overcome these types of things and continue to run and enjoy what I do, distance running competitively or recreationally.”
For Boston, Waldera has tried the Hanson-Brooks program, which focuses on high mileage, shorter long runs and the concept of running on tired legs more often. And the plan has him running more than 70 miles a week. “It’s very demanding,” he says. “It’s so much quality running, and it takes such discipline, but you have to hit these splits. These splits make me think a 2:53 is where I’m going to be.”
Long-distance running takes patience and a little obsessive-compulsiveness. “My wife has been leaving me cards daily in my lunch bag pointing out my rather obsessive behavior,” Waldera says. “This last one had a hamster on it, with a hamster magnet, and it said, ‘hey, maybe you’ll get off your hamster wheel soon and be done with Boston.”