History of "The Paavo"
Where were you in 1969? If you were in northern Wisconsin during the summer of '69 you could have seen or even run in the first-ever Paavo Nurmi Marathon. If you weren't here for that running-plan now to come to Hurley, Wisconsin for the annual running of the Paavo Nurmi Marathon, always held on the second Saturday in August.
It was August of 1969 that Dr. Thomas Rosandich, who ran an intensive athletic training camp in the northwoods of Iron County, Wisconsin, had gathered about 70 of his athletes and charted a course that took them 26 miles, 385 yards North to Hurley, Wisconsin's fabled Silver Street.
Little did Rosandich, now President of the U.S. Sports Academy in Daphne, Alabama, know that 25 years later the marathon he began would grow to become Wisconsin's longest running marathon, and, in the process, precede and outlive a running mania that spawned a host of marathons in a host of communities throughout the nation.
The marathon's namesake, Paavo Nurmi, was the winner of nine Olympic Gold Medals, the greatest Finnish runner in that nation's history. The name reflects the predominantly Finnish heritage of the region.
The cream of the midwest distance runners traditionally join forces with hundreds of novice and veteran marathoners for the running of "The Paavo". The USATF-sanctioned Marathon begins at 7:30 a.m. on that Saturday in August, on the main street in the small community of Upson and concludes several hours later on Silver Street in Hurley, having run its course through forests and fields, along rivers and lakes.
The marathon enjoyed its zenith in the mid-1970's, when over 1,100 runners would take to the course. As the national craze in distance running faded by the 1980's, so did the interest in the Paavo as marathon entrants dwindled and settled at around the 350 mark, but the machine that drives the Paavo kept going, and while marathons around the nation ceased to run, the Paavo kept churning away, mile after mile, year after year.
The sponsors of the race, the Hurley Area Chamber of Commerce and the Hurley Area Lioness, provide the organizational skills to keep the race running, but it's the runners and the area resident volunteers who make the race "go". Area residents and volunteers embrace the runners with their applause and encouragement, and many continue to open their homes to runners from throughout the region, in turn creating long-lasting friendships that endure long after the final runner comes across the finish line.
The record for the event stands at 2:19:10, set by Richard Wilde of England in 1978. The women's record is held by Mary Bange of La Crosse, Wisconsin, in a time of 2:47:49, set in 1979.
The race weekend begins with a carbo-loaded Spaghetti Feed in the community of Hurley on the Friday afternoon and continues that night with a gala torch lighting ceremony on Hurley's Silver Street. After the marathon, a festive "Post Paavo Party" and awards ceremony is held in Hurley, with music, food and refreshments available for everyone. For more information on the Paavo Nurmi Marathon, contact the Hurley Area Chamber of Commerce at (715)-561-4334. For lodging information for the event, click here.