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RMU’s Running Men

hofacre-race

Runners take off during RMU’s annual Hofacre Memorial 5k Run/Walk, held on the Robert Morris University campus every November.

“I hate running,” says Marcel C. Minutolo, Ph.D. “I can’t stand any second of it.”

A surprising sentiment, coming from a man who once ran 10 marathons, a 50-mile race, and a 100K race—all in the same year.

Minutolo, who serves as head of Robert Morris University’s Department of Management, is a popular professor known across campus for his characteristic fedora and bow tie. Few know, however, that this well-dressed business strategist once spent most of his time training for and running in some of the most grueling races in the country.

There was a time when Minutolo was lifting five times a week, running six days a week, and doing yoga three days a week, helping him run at an impressive seven minute/mile clip. “But now I have kids, a real job, and I am 25 lbs. heavier,” he says. “So there is not much running these days.”

Minutolo first got in to running when he was serving in the U.S. Army in Bosnia. “I was helping a friend train for Special Forces selection,” he says, “and we’d do laps around a track to train for a 2-mile physical fitness test. Before deployment I was 230 pounds and completely out of shape. Running got me in shape.”

Bit by the running bug, Minutolo kept up with it when he returned to the States. His distances kept getting longer and longer, so in 2004 he decided to try a marathon. “I didn’t even train,” he says. “I just decided to run. I’m a little crazy.” He ended up finishing in 3:56.

Following a difficult divorce, Minutolo decided to do some traveling, and he figured a good way to do it would be to run every music marathon in the country. After finishing six races, he decided to move on to the next level: ultramarathons. “My distances kept getting longer and I was looking for a new challenge. And in the running world, it doesn’t get any tougher than an ultra.”

In 2006, he ran the 100K Great Eastern Endurance Run in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, finishing in just under 13 hours. In 2006, he came in first place in the C&O Canal Towpath 100K One Day Hike, which starts in Georgetown and ends in Harper’s Ferry. He’s even run the infamous Death Valley Trail Marathon.

Over the course of his running career, Minutolo has had many harrowing experiences. He’s been chased by a deer, had dogs charge at him, and been hit by cars (three times). He also has a tendency to get lost on trail races, one time running five miles off the path before realizing his error and retracing his steps.

This past August, he ran the Baker Trail UltraChallenge 50-miler, a local race in Plum, that’s part of the Rachel Carson Trail Conservancy. “One mile in, I feel this sharp pain in the bottom of my foot,” he says. “I thought it was a rock, and I took off my shoe. But I couldn’t find anything.” Two miles down the trail he checks his heel and notices it’s bleeding. Turns out there was a nail in the bottom of his shoe. “I was on a pace for an 11-min. mile, which is pretty good, but the nail threw me out of whack.” He ended up finishing fourth from the end in a race that, in 2006, he had finished in fourth place despite 110-degree heat.

So if he “hates” running so much, why does he do it?

“It’s the great equalizer,” he says. “It’s very humbling, puts people on a more level playing level. Plus, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come up with an idea while running. There’s no cell phones, no kids screaming, no interruptions—it’s a great way to get some thinking done.”

Minutolo says that running is also a great way to see a place. He’s run in Santiago, Chile, while there on business, and in Jerusalem, too. “One time I was running laps around the old city in Jerusalem, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow, think of the people who have trod this path!'”

Now that he’s steadily getting back into running, Minutolo says his goal is to complete a 100-miler.

“Like I said, I’m a little crazy.”

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If you’re at RMU on a daily basis, there’s no doubt you’ve seen Mark J. Eschenfelder, Ph.D. That’s because he laces up every day for a run around campus. In fact, Eschenfelder, an associate professor of economics and legal studies, has been running every day, rain or shine, for an amazing 4032 consecutive days (and counting). If you’re doing the math, that’s more than 11 years.

It all started back on January 1, 2002, when he ran a 5K in Westerville, Ohio. “The weather was nice during the first couple weeks of the month, so I went out and ran each day,” he says. After a few weeks, he thought he’d see if he could run every day that month. After that, he thought he’d try to do one hundred days of consecutive running. Once he accomplished that goal, he thought he’d try for a year. “After that,” he says, “I just kept running every day.”

Before his impressive streak, Eschenfelder ran solely for exercise, typically around five or six days a week. Last year he ran in 81 races – most of them 5Ks – and finished two half-marathons.  “I like running as a physical activity because it requires little coordination and can be done almost anywhere,” he says. “I also enjoy running in races, even though I am a middle-of-the-pack runner.”

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J. Brian O’Roark, Ph.D., professor of economics and legal studies, is another one of RMU’s resident runners.

O’Roark cracked a vertebrae while running cross country and track in high school and as a result ended up stopping for about ten years. He picked it up again “as an excuse to get out of the house.” “There is only so much yard work you can do,” he says, “and it doesn’t actually take you anywhere other than around the yard.”

Gradually O’Roark eased back in to running, taking part in a few local 5Ks. Then he saw an advertisement in Runner’s World magazine for the Virginia Beach marathon, which takes place around St. Patrick’s Day. “With my last name being O’Roark, a plot was hatched. He ended up finishing well ahead of his target time and ended up signing on for two more marathons that year.

Since then O’Roark has run seven marathons, including the Seattle Marathon in 2010.  In 2012, he ran the Boston Marathon in what was one of the race’s hottest days on record. “It was 88 degrees in mid-April when the gun went off,” he says. “Nevertheless, the community spirit during that race was unbelievable. The towns along the course opened the fire-hydrants, kids handed out orange slices and popsicles, and people all along the course even used their own hoses to cool us off.”

O’Roark says the thing he likes best about running is belonging to a community. “Runners share a special camaraderie that is far too uncommon these days. Local 5Ks are gatherings of old-timers and familiar faces. No one cares where you place – a high school runner is more than likely going to win – nor do people care what your job is.  To everyone there, you’re a runner, and that’s good enough.” ~

Written by Valentine J. Brkich (who, by the way, is an avid runner, too)

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