Most people start slowing after retirement. Ed Burnham has done anything but.
Burnham, 84, has run 138 marathons, and all of them have come after he turned 70. Burnham, of Kansas City, will run in the 5- and 10-kilometer Road Races at the Senior Show-Me State Games this weekend.
According to Jennifer Coffman, Show-Me State Games senior information specialist, Burnham is the oldest competitor in the races by a month. Ralph Lia, from Creve Coeur, is also 84 and will compete in the road races as well.
The 10th Senior Show-Me State Games start today in Columbia and finish Sunday. Athletes will compete in 23 sports.
Burnham began training for marathons in 1988 after he retired from working at the Veterans of Foreign Wars headquarters in Kansas City. One year later, in October 1989, Burnham ran his first official 26.2 miles.
From that point on, Burnham began running marathons at the pace of one per month, joining up with a group that ran marathons in each state.
Running started as a casual interest for Burnham, who decided that he needed to do something for exercise when he turned 60.
“I traveled a lot, and I found that running was something you can do while traveling,” Burnham said.
“All you need are a pair of running shoes and shorts in your suitcase, and you can go out in the morning and run.”
Before retirement, the only running Burnham had done was as a cadet in the Army Air Forces, with which he served during World War II.
Burnham did his combat duty with the 8th Air Force as a co-pilot on a B-17 bomber in the 95th Bombardment Group. He flew 35 missions, including a supply drop for Polish freedom fighters who fought Germans to defend Warsaw, Poland, in 1944.
While visiting Warsaw for the 50th anniversary of the drop, Burnham ran in a marathon in the Polish capital; it was one of several races he has run overseas. Burnham has also run marathons in East Berlin in 1989, the same year the Berlin Wall fell, and one in Omsk, Russia, a city about 1,500 miles east of Moscow in Siberia.
Burnham said as his times have slowed, the frequency of marathons has declined as well.
“I can only run marathons where there is an early start for slow runners, or if they can take runners that will take seven or eight hours, so I’m kind of limited in the ones I can do,” he said.
Burnham’s best time is 4 hours, 11 minutes, but he finished his most recent marathon in 7:22.
Although he doesn’t run distances as long as he used to, Burnham said he runs as often as he can, competing in “60 to 70 races a year.”
“If there are 5K and 10K races, I’ll run them,” Burnham said. “During this time of year, there’s a race on Saturday and Sunday, and I’ll run in them. I’ll average at least one a weekend.”
Burnham finished last year’s Senior Games 5K in 36:42 and last year’s 10K in 1:25.37.
His training consists of a three- to four-mile run by himself every morning except on race days.
“Some people are amazed that I’m still running even though my pace is slow,” Burnham said. “I think it’s a healthy lifestyle; no serious health problems, and I attribute that to the exercise every day.
“Some people have problems with their legs or knees, but I haven’t had those kinds of problems. I’m encouraged to keep it up because I maintain a reasonable chance of being healthy.