Matthew Bachman (1010) of Norfolk runs with other competitors in the Laugh-and-a-Half 5K marathon Saturday morning in Norfolk.

Among the hundreds of participants in Norfolk’s Laugh-and-a-half-Marathon races are also numerous purposes, reasons, stories, and causes that serve as motivation for involvement in one of the races — the 5K, 10K, or the 13-mile half-marathon, individually or as part of a relay — the event offers.

For Ron and Debbie Claassen of Edmonton, Alberta, the opportunity to run in a half-marathon fit in well with a three-week trip into the United States and also a reason to visit the state of Nebraska for the first time. The two made the journey travelling together on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Although 76-year-old Allan Irwin’s journey to Norfolk involved a more typical mode of transportation, an automobile, Irwin decided that entering the half-marathon would be an excellent race to make part of his four-race-per-year schedule — especially since he and his wife Jane could combine the run with a trip to Norfolk to visit his sister, Alice Dudley.

The Laugh-and-a-half-Marathon originated as a way to promote wellness, but the event also raises money that will be donated this year to Faith Regional Health Services for the purchase of special pediatric therapy equipment.

Wellness is the basis for the Claassen’s involvement in running. Both Ron and Debbie consider running to be more like a hobby that they can enjoy rather than seeing themselves as seeking opportunities to compete for medals or trophies.

The couple began their “holiday” by visiting friends just outside of Chicago and ran in a nearby half-marathon that they heard about during the visit. They then continued their trip into Tennessee where they rode the “Tail of the Dragon” roadway that winds into North Carolina before turning back into Tennessee and features 160+ curves in just an 11-mile stretch and is very scenic.

“That’s why we went there,” Debbie said. “We had never been that far south before. It was really pretty.”

“We normally have a pretty good idea where we want to end up,” Ron said. “But how we get there, well, sometimes we take some little detours. We’ve done the Sturgis thing probably a half-dozen times. It must have been three years ago that we drove the famous Route #66 all the way from Chicago to the Santa Monica pier. That was a good trip.”

The couple has been running for approximately the last 10 or 12 years, but they do not always make a point of lining up runs before their journeys begin.

“The last couple years we’ve stopped to do runs,” Debbie said. “But we don’t usually make a point of running.”

“This is the first year we did a couple of the ‘rock-and-roll marathons,’” Ron added. “It’s a series of marathons that feature live rock-and-roll bands that are playing every couple miles along the route. We did one in New Orleans, and we’ve done one in Portland. Those are fun.”

With a week remaining, the Claassens came to Norfolk to run before using their last few days to make their way back to Canada. The internet provided information that a run was possible.

“We were working our way slowly back up to Canada,” Ron said. “This run gave us a reason to come this way. We had never been to Nebraska before.”

“This is such a good way to see the city or to see the area, just by running,” Debbie said. “This race was really nice. I was really surprised to see all the people along the route who were cheering, and the drummers and entertainers.”

“No matter where you go you always meet nice people, and that was the case here,” Ron added. “Generally we like to camp, which also allows you to meet a lot of people, but this year we knew we were going a little farther, so we didn’t pull our pop-up trailer.”

Upon return to Edmonton the couple will return to their normal lives — Ron as a welder for a company called Mammoet, and Debbie will continue to enjoy her summer before going back to teaching at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in the fall.

Ron, who is a bit more competitive according to Debbie, will also continue running a couple of times per week with a longer run on the weekend as training for trail runs and ultra-marathons that he participates in throughout Alberta.

“I’m part of a group that will run in what is called the Sinister Seven on July 6 that covers 145 kilometers in southern Alberta around the Pincer Creek area,” Ron said. “I’ll be running the sixth and seventh legs of that since we’ll be without one of our seven runners, and then in August there’s the Death Race in Grand Cache. Debbie will be running the first leg, and I’ll be running the second leg of that five-leg, 120-kilometer race.”

“Norfolk is a nice city,” Ron and Debbie agreed. “The event was well-organized, the half-dozen restaurants that we have eaten at were excellent, and we’ve really enjoyed ourselves.”

Ron noted that he had received a medal for finishing first in his 50-59-year-old age group, along with the ‘half-marathon’ participants that each had received — both of which were around his neck.

“And this one is a little shinier and was definitely a bonus,” Ron added.

 Allan Irwin believes that his lifelong interest in running has its origin in his 25-year career in the United States Army where running was part of the training routine.

“I run every morning,” Irwin said. “I’m an early-riser, also because of the military, so I run five miles every morning and that’s my exercise for the day. It keeps me in shape and keeps my mind fresh.”

Irwin’s military career, in an artillery group, took him to many locations throughout the United States as well as locations like Germany, Viet Nam, and Italy. His wife, Jane, was able to accompany him everywhere except the two tours in Viet Nam.

Ironically, in spite of all of their travels and the many places they’ve lived, the two were born in Nebraska — Allan in Wymore and Jane in Blue Springs. The two find it even more ironic that both of their children were born in Beatrice, Nebraska.

The Irwins, who currently live outside of Denver, Colorado, lived for a few years in Florida, so one of his four yearly half-marathon races is the DisneyWorld run, which allows him to combine seeing and visiting friends with participating in the race. Likewise, the two races in California — at DisneyLand and Sacramento — provide similar opportunities.

But the Laugh-and-a-half-Marathon and the opportunity to spend time with his sister also brings the Irwins to a part of the country that they enjoy.

“Having lived on both coasts and so many other places,” Irwin said. “I can tell you that I believe the middle of the country — and Nebraska and Colorado are both a part of that — have something that neither coast has. That’s friendly people who are just simply nice. This event demonstrates that as well. The other runners, the organizers, the spectators are all genuinely nice people. Even today, a year after last year’s event, as I approached the registration area I saw one of the race directors — Kris (Buettner — she recognized me right away, and the next thing I know we’re carrying on a quality conversation.”

Norfolk’s Laugh-and-a-half-Marathon is apparently promoting wellness and a whole lot more.

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