Originally Posted Online: July 19, 2010, 12:00 am
Last Updated: July 19, 2010, 12:29 am

60,325 miles: Grafton keeps on running

Comment on this story

By Seth Kabala, seth@sethkabala.com

Photo: Seth Kabala
Silvis city administrator Jim Grafton has ran over 30 marathons, and has been running for 28 years.

The running man appears on the street corner through the heat haze of a July morning, wearing shorts, running shoes, ear bud wires spiraling downward and a Quad-Cities Marathon t-shirt, sweat bleeding the color to off-white.

He charges downhill, arms pumping side-to-side, leveraging power out of his legs. When he finally stops, he says, "Just did five miles," his voice is even, his face shows contentment, not fatigue.

Though he spends his working hours keeping the city running, Silvis city administrator Jim Grafton, 52, has an obsession with the road.

"I was working my way up through the ranks in Hardees," Mr. Grafton said of his 25-year employment before starting with Silvis in 1997. Tom Ketelsen, his boss, "had all these spreadsheets and graphs and charts of how many miles he was going to run. He was a big influence on me and said, 'Hey, you should try it.'"

Mr. Ketelsen, 20 years Mr. Grafton's senior, was in better shape, so Mr. Grafton said, "Why not."

"I remember trying to run a mile," he said. "It took me three months to work up to just be able to run a mile. That was in 1982 when I started tracking my miles."

After beating the mile, he tried his mettle at a road race sponsored by the Silvis Country Music Festival. "I did horrible time-wise, but at the time they had the first Silvis Participant's trophy to finish I think it was just the 5K. And you know, I think that's what got me hooked—just being around everybody."

A 5K grew to 10K, 10K to seven miles, so, naturally, the next logical step was the marathon at 26.2.

Mr. Grafton found more inspiration when he and his wife, Lynn, had children and bought a bigger home from Art DeGrande.

"When I looked at his house, he had a room that was all full of these race numbers and awards and all the stuff you have, and I was like a kid in a candy store," Grafton said. He and DeGrande became friends who eventually ran a marathon together in 1985, Grafton's first, the Quad City Distance Classic.

"I ran with him side-by-side the whole thing, and I ran it in a 3:10."

Personal accomplishment? Yes, but the race didn't do much for his appeal. "My wife said I looked like I was dead."

"Afterwards it was about a week's worth of pain. I couldn't walk up steps. Couldn't go down curbs. Serious pain in every joint, and everything hurt," he said. "I thought, 'Why would you do this?' But it's just, looking back, you say, 'Man, 26.2 miles, man, that is a long ways.'"

"At the time, once you (did) one marathon, the next goal was to qualify for the Boston Marathon," Mr. Grafton said.

Considered the premier U.S. road race, Boston is "the only marathon you have to qualify for," Mr. Grafton said. "At the time, I had to qualify with a (time of less than three hours) marathon. Ten minutes off of my marathon time was quite a challenge, and I danced around the three-hour mark for the next five marathons—3:01, 3:05, three-hours and seconds. You know, just so close."

"I had my best and my worst marathon at the Twin Cities," he said. Blowing snow and 30 degree temps conspired to ruin his qualifying attempt.

"I got to about the 18-mile mark and I just crashed. I hit the wall. Never happened to me before," he said. "I still finished in a 3:10, which was an OK time," he said.

"At the time, I had already signed up for the Chicago Marathon, which was two weeks later. Why? I don't know." What appeared to be questionable timing turned out to be a good decision. "I broke my three-hour with a 2:59."

In the fall of 1989, four years after he first laced up his running shoes; seven years after building up to run just one mile; Mr. Grafton went to run with the elites, in a race that has seen running greats like Joan Benoit Samuelson and Bill Rodgers.

"That was an unbelievable experience," he said of his spring 1990 Boston Marathon.

Boston, at the time, differed from most road races in one critical area: a noon starting time. "That in itself was difficult to prepare for," he said. "I did all my training in the morning."

The experience was worthwhile. "There are spectators along the whole course. You go through a bunch of little towns," he said. "It was just a fabulous time."

"I think my best there was a 2:52 and my worst was like a 3:05."

Mr. Grafton said It takes between 12 and 16 weeks of training for him to be prepared for a marathon.

"My short runs are about four miles. And then on the weekends, when I get a little bit more time, I bump up the mileage…. In the wintertime when the weather is really horrible, because I run outside all year long, it might be as short as six miles … or as much as 25 or 26 miles."

Mr. Grafton has run 30 marathons, nine of them in Boston.

Nearly 28 years of running begs the question: just how far has he run? "If I could guess," he said, "it would be … 60,325 miles as of today."

That's more than twice around the globe.

"I guess I've made it a personal goal that when I go to the starting line, the gun goes off, I finish. No matter what shape I'm in or how bad it is, I finish every race."