An Unlikely Pair of Endurance Athletes: Ken and Shirley Sirois

Ken and Shirley Sirois
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Sometimes the desire to do a particular race comes out of the reputation of a particular event, or the mystique that a certain city or geographic locale holds for a runner. Sometimes the race is chosen based on time of year, availability of vacation time, family demands, training feasibility, or even cost of event and travel.

For Ken and Shirley Sirois of Clinton, TN, the main reason they'll be taking part in the 7 Bridges Marathon this October is quite simply because they've never run it before — and there are few races they've never run before. Ken has completed a whopping 301 marathons, including 36 ultras. Shirley has run 277 marathons and 20 ultras. For a couple who has run as many marathons as the Siroises have, finding a race they've never done is always a big component in their decision making. But there are several other reasons to consider as well.

The Walnut Street Bridge, one of the bridges along the 7 Bridges Marathon route
The Walnut Street Bridge, one of the bridges along the 7 Bridges Marathon route riverharbor

One reason is that the date fits nicely into their schedule this year. This seems like an obvious answer but there is a great deal behind it. For example, when you run 6 marathons over a 6 week period, do 15 to 20 marathons a year, have run marathons in all 50 states (twice), and have done marathons in many other countries, scheduling becomes kind of important. Fortunately for Ken and Shirley, they are essentially retired. Ken still does some consulting as a Nuclear Engineer, but is phasing this out, and Shirley, whose schedule is more flexible, was an X-Ray Technician and later a medical office manager before recently retiring.

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Neither Ken nor Shirely started running until they were thirty-five, and although both were physically active in their early years when they met in Lawrence, Massachusetts, neither one of them ran in high school or in college. They maintained their fitness by participating in sports such as tennis, volleyball, racquetball, softball, and swimming. But running for the sake of running wasn't a fixture. It wasn't until Shirley began running as part of a physical fitness course she took at the University of New Hampshire that they both decided to take up running on a regular basis.

Initially, they did short training distances before slowly building up their mileage and doing short races (mostly 5K's and 10K's). Within a few years they did their first marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC. By 1997, they'd both run a 50 mile race, the JFK 50 Miler in Maryland. And by 2001, they had completed their goal of running a marathon in all 50 states (as well as in DC).

This year's 7 Bridges Marathon poses another interesting aspect for the Siroises. Compared to some of the other races they've done, this one is relatively close to home. The Siroises love to travel, and more than that, they love to incorporate marathons and ultra-marathons into their vacations. They have run the London and Paris Marathons on consecutive weekends during one holiday. They have vacationed in Africa and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro just a few days before running the Mt. Kilimanjaro Marathon. They’ve seen the Great Wall of China, and yes, run a marathon on it. They've participated in a trail marathon on the Inca Trail which had a spectacular finish at Machu Picchu. They've run the Raggae Marathon in Jamaica, the Dublin Marathon on the Emerald Isle, and even several ultra-marathons in the Alps of Austria, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein.

Ken and Shirley Sirois

Their travel begs the question about what their favorite international events are. Shirley favors the Paris Marathon, especially running through the beautiful streets and past magnificent monuments and buildings, such as the famous Eiffel Tower and Arche de Triomphe. Ken’s favorite isn’t actually a marathon at all. It is a trail race, in Lackenhof, Austria, the Otsher Ultra-Marathon. This two day event is 50 kilometers the first day and 15 kilometers the next day. The course travels over mountainous technical trails in the Austrian Alps, climbing and descending several thousand feet and offering picturesque views of the Alps, surrounding valleys, and small towns below.

But their all-time favorite race courses both lie on home soil. Ken's favorite marathon is Big Sur on the California coast. "It is very hilly and the wind is typically strong, but the scenery is spectacular." Shirley's favorite is the Crater Lake Marathon, which circumnavigates the rim of a gorgeous and ancient caldera lake in Oregon.

Ken and Shirley Sirois

So why would the Siroises, a couple so used to running the most epic trails and courses in the world, be interested in a comparatively humble course in a medium-sized southeastern city? Quite simply because they appreciate when a race is well organized. They have several friends who have run it at least once who've told them that it's a well organized event with a fairly scenic course and a great social experience — all important components of running for the Siroises. When they first started running, and then training with a marathon group, they met a lot of people with similar interests and developed many long term friendships. After their first marathon, they continued training and running races almost every weekend, and became active in running clubs, like the Ohio River Road Runners Club (ORRRC).

After so many years of running, so many races, so much travel, they now seldom run a race where they don't run into a past acquaintance. Sometimes they see people at out-of-town marathons they haven't seen for several years. This is one of the things that keeps them running and racing, as does the reason they started in the first place: stress relief. Now that Ken is soon to join Shirley in the ranks of the retired, he acknowledges he also likes the challenge of running and competing. “I'm always hesitant about cutting back on running and possibly doing fewer marathons, since running is a sport where it's really difficult to get back into after a lay-off period, especially at the same level of intensity,” he says. “The older you get, the more difficult it is to resume running after stopping for awhile.”

Convenience, new experiences, friendship, stress relief. These are the reasons behind the Siroises decision to run the 7 Bridges marathon. What will they find at this year's event? A scenic course, lots of friends, and marathon number 302 for Ken and 278 for Shirley.

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