“This is running heaven out here,” says Michael Shattuck. It’s a late-summer morning in Wisconsin’s rural heartland. Emerald green dairy farms roll into wetland marshes, the landscape punctuated with small-town eccentricities, like the statue of a human-size mouse wearing a University of Wisconsin-Madison tank top perched on the roof of a limestone-quarry business. There are plenty of distractions, which is a good thing, because the 42-year-old Shattuck, who was born and raised in Ripon, 90 miles northwest of Milwaukee, plans to run a marathon here every day for the rest of his life.
I first discovered Shattuck while scrolling through Strava in July 2019. At the time, he was averaging around 250 miles per week. His bio on the platform read: “Correr es vivir”—to run is to live—words attributed to Caballo Blanco of Born to Run. What kind of person runs a marathon, or farther, every single day? I wondered. And how is that even possible?
To find out, I tracked down Shattuck via the white pages. He invited me to join him on a run, and we set up a morning meeting for late August at Sunset Park on the shore of Green Lake, a bucolic vacationland for upscale urbanites near Ripon. The plan was for Shattuck to run at least 26.2 miles while I biked alongside him. We’d start at the park, loop through town, refuel at his house, then head back to the park.
When I pull into the Sunset parking lot, Shattuck has already run eight miles from his home and is slowly jogging in circles. He greets me with eager midwestern enthusiasm and a heavy Wisconsin accent that replaces o’s with nasally a’s (“Wiscaaansin”). Wiry and tan, with a shock of golden-blond hair, he’s wearing a cotton T-shirt advertising the 100-mile Tunnel Hill ultramarathon, which he completed in 2017. He has no water bottles or energy bars, preferring, he says, to stash something to drink along his regular routes and fuel up on Gatorade and apples at gas stations.
“How are you feeling this morning?” I ask.
“I’m not falling apart,” he says. “I’ve run 8,400 miles in 2019, and I would really like to get to 10,000 by the end of September.” I do some quick mental math—that would require about 40 miles a day.
It takes some prodding for him to divulge that he does in fact feel a few aches: heel pain, tendonitis in his right calf, and tightness in his hamstrings. We start toward Ripon, clipping along at a leisurely 9:40-per-mile pace through the leafy development of Sunnyside Acres, into marshland hiding wild turkeys, and up a long and grinding climb called Spaulding Hill.
“People are capable of way more than they think they are,” Shattuck says at one point. “Running can do almost everything for you. I’m doing this because I want people to know that they can do more. I want them to want to do more.”
Running lore is littered with seemingly incomprehensible feats of volume. In the 1960s, American Olympian Gerry Lindgren ran 200-mile weeks to train for a meet against the Soviet Union. Anton Krupicka, winner of Colorado’s Leadville 100 in 2006 and 2007, put in similar mileage leading up to his victories. More recently, in 2018, American Pete Kostelnick ran 5,384 miles from Alaska to Florida in just over 97 days. John L. Parker Jr. mythologized the “Trial of Miles” in his 1978 novel Once a Runner.
In the midst of his marathon-a-day goal, Shattuck’s got another benchmark in mind: breaking the current Guinness World Record for the greatest average mileage run daily in a consecutive year, a feat that would fit neatly into that pantheon. (The record is currently held by Indian Tirtha Kumar Phani, who, from June 30, 2006, to June 29, 2007, ran an average of 38.44 miles per day through Calcutta for a total of 14,031.15 miles.) But Shattuck’s motivation stems from much more than an ego-fueled desire to make the record books—or even simple obstinance.
We crest another climb and he announces, “You have to be your own superhero, nobody is going to save you!” And Shattuck, I’ll come to learn, needs saving.