Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 12, 2008

Burrill racing for a record at 90

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Burrill has finished the Honolulu Marathon four times.

Honolulu Marathon photos

spacer spacer
Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Glady Burrill got a hug from husband Gene at her first marathon finish, in 2004.

spacer spacer
Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Glady Burrill, then 88, preparing for her third Honolulu Marathon in 2006. She posted her personal best, 8:36:25, that year.


spacer spacer

For Glady Burrill, the highlight of the 2004 Honolulu Marathon, her first, wasn't crossing the finish line at age 87. It was her husband Gene barricades be damned running onto the course to hug her.

It was a moment that brought tears to the eyes of strangers hovering near the exit chute.

"Gene was very, very supportive of anything I wanted to do,"said Burrill, now 90.

Even with his health failing these past few months, Gene Burrill remained steadfast in support of his wife, supremely confident that she would make her mark on the marathon world by setting a new world record for women age 90 to 94.

Gene Burrill passed away late Wednesday night, just four days past his 89th birthday.

The Burrills split their retirement years between their home in Oregon and an apartment in Waikiki. Glady Burrill was scheduled to return to Oregon to be with her husband Tuesday, two days after the 36th Honolulu Marathon, on what would have been their 69th wedding anniversary.

Before she leaves her second home though, Burrill has a labor of love to complete.

"I'm still going to do the race," Burrill said yesterday. "It's what he would have wanted me to do, because it means so much to people."

Indeed, in finishing four consecutive Honolulu Marathons, Burrill has captured the hearts and imaginations of runners and non-runners across the country.

"People stop me all the time and they're very emotional because they find encouragement and inspiration in what I do," Burrill said earlier this week. "It's very flattering. It feels good that I can contribute something in my own little way."

On Sunday, Burrill will attempt to break Mavis Lindgren's record time of 8 hours, 53 minutes and eight seconds, set in 1997 at the Portland Marathon.

Though the Honolulu course is considered "slower" than that of Portland, Burrill believes that she has a good shot at the record.

She finished her first marathon in 9:09:33, despite a heel injury she suffered a few weeks before the race. She improved to 8:55:39 the following year, then posted her current personal best 8:36:25 in 2006.

She finished last year's race in 9:13:18 despite an early downpour that left her soggy feet "boiling" in the midafternoon heat.


Burrill has been in Honolulu training diligently for the past six weeks. Two weeks ago, she finished a 20-mile walk in about six hours.

"I'm probably doing more now than before," she said. "I'm pushing myself more. If it doesn't rain like last year, I think I can finish in eight hours."

Over the past four years, Burrill has learned much about how to prepare for race day. Tomorrow, she and several family members will sit down to a big pasta dinner to ensure Glady has enough carbohydrates in her system to sustain her through the long morning. She'll also bring along energy gels and bars, maybe even a few pretzels.

As always, grandson Mike Jr. and his wife Carolyn will accompany Glady on the journey, with other family members jumping in and out for stretches. This year, Mike Jr. has an additional duty: He'll try to (gently) keep Glady's growing legion of fans at bay so Glady won't lose any valuable minutes graciously shaking hands or signing autographs as she normally does.

"I hope people will understand," Burrill said. "I hope we don't hurt anyone's feelings."

While Burrill has honed her preparatory skills, post-race recovery has never been an issue. She'll take a nap after the race, then have dinner with her family.

"I don't do much the next day, but by the second day, I feel great," she said. "It's not that big a deal."

It certainly isn't for Burrill, who overcame poverty (her father died when she was 2 years old) and a childhood bout of polio to build a life few women of her generation could have imagined.

Her sense of adventure would eventually lead her to pilot multi-engine aircraft and hike the deserts of Arizona, the mountains of the Pacific Northwest and the wilds of Alaska. Once, she even rode a horse standing up in the stirrups for seven miles so as not to disturb the child growing in her belly.

And yet Burrill's exploits have always been understood in the context of her lifelong partnership with Gene, one of the most recognized and respected businessmen in southern Oregon.


The two shared similar hardscrabble, Depression-era beginnings. As Burrill told The Advertiser in 2004, her family couldn't afford to buy meat, but they did occasionally buy bones for soup. Sometimes the meat man would bring along his younger brother-in-law, Gene.

"I guess Gene saw me one day and liked me and decided that we were going to get married one day," Burrill said in the interview.

Together, the Burrills founded the Eugene F. Burrill Lumber Co. in 1941. The mill operated for 57 years, one of the last family-operated mills to survive until the 1990s.

Like Glady, Gene Burrill carried a sense of humility in direct proportion to the scale of his many accomplishments. Sometimes, Glady would oversee operations at the mill while Gene spent summers flying firefighting planes in Canada. In his retirement, Gene focused much of his energies on restoring World War II-era planes.

In an informal chat with The Advertiser two years ago, Gene Burrill said of his wife: "There isn't anything she can't do that she puts her mind to."

Gene won't be waiting for Glady at the finish line this year, but his presence will no doubt be felt. Glady, a devout Seventh-Day Adventist, suspects he may even be out on the course with her.

"Yes," she said. "I suppose he will be."

Reach Michael Tsai at mtsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.