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The Journal Gazette

  • Courtesy photo Dan Cloeter won the first Chicago Marathon while attending Concordia Seminary in Fort Wayne in 1977.

  • Cloeter

Sunday, October 08, 2017 1:00 am

Runner looks back at first Chicago race

AUBREE REICHEL | The Journal Gazette

Dan Cloeter lived in Fort Wayne for only about 10 months in 1977 and 1978 before graduating from Concordia Seminary, but his time in the Summit City coincided with the first running of the Chicago Marathon, then called the Mayor Daley Marathon.

Cloeter, now a pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Osceola, Nebraska, became the first winner of what would eventually become one of the six World Marathon Majors with a winning time of 2 hours, 17 minutes and 52 seconds.

“The running community in Fort Wayne embraced me pretty fast,” Cloeter, 65, said in a recent phone interview. “My younger brother went to the seminary, too, and he was a runner, too, so we were pretty involved.”

The race, which today is celebrating its 40th year, has come a long way from the 4,200 that participated in 1977. The race is now capped at 45,000 runners with much-needed adjustments throughout the years.

“It was really unorganized,” Cloeter said. “The course in Chicago, we ran on a bike trail north of downtown Chicago and made a loop in the park and came back on the exact same bike trial and it wasn't even wide enough to have three people side by side. I was running, heading into people running out, and I came to a dead stop in a 2 mile period. There wasn't anybody leading me on a bike or motorcycle.”

He also won in 1979, the third race, in 2:23:20, no longer a Fort Wayne resident but still an Olympic hopeful.

“To get ready for the marathon, I'd do about 10 weeks of 100-110 miles per week,” Cloeter said of his training, “so once a week, I'd run a 20-miler.”

While in Fort Wayne, Cloeter also taught physical education at Bethlehem-Trinity Lutheran, located 7 miles from the seminary.

“After my last class at the seminary, I'd put on my running clothes, run there and teach and then I'd run back home so the days I taught, I had built in a 14-mile runs,” he said.

“There were no trails back then. I was running on streets, highways on the shoulder, and it wasn't always safe.”

Cloeter was qualified for the 1980 Olympic Trials for the marathon with every intention of racing for a spot on the team. Then, the U.S. boycotted the Games in Moscow because of host Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

“Only a few weeks before the trials Jimmy Carter said we weren't going to participate,” Cloeter said. “I'd put in six years over 4,000 miles a year and it was pretty devastating that you'd dedicated that much of your life to realize a dream and having no chance to fulfill it. I wasn't a shoo-in but in 1979, I was still in the top 10. I had a good chance.

“When you spend that much time running that much, dedicating 360 days a year to running and to have the president use the athletes as a pawn in a political war. I couldn't go until 1984 because we had a daughter in 1977 and 1981 and son in 1982. You have three children under 5, you just can't continue to focus on yourself that much. Plus, I had a full time ministry. It was the end of my marathonining days. I was running but not at the same level.”

areichel@jg.net