On a cold and snowy February morning, a tall, lean distance runner named Mike Behr is running back and forth between a lead pack of runners and a much slower group bringing up the rear. The occasion is a Sunday morning five-miler in the Chicago suburb of Aurora. The group meets to run at The Labs, a multisport training facility on the western outskirts of Naperville.
Behr and his wife Kerry are the ad hoc organizers of the run. As each workout begins, they confer on how to keep track of the varied pace groups that form. When a half-inch layer of snow coats the streets and sidewalks in a dawn snowstorm, the logistics get a little more difficult.
The lead group holds a sub-8:00 pace for the scheduled five miles. The following bunch runs closer to 10:00 per mile. Behr runs back and forth between the groups checking on everyone’s condition and progress. These are labors of love for the longtime runner. His own career is a series of stops and starts as well. In college he jumped in and out of the cross country and track programs at Iowa State and then DePaul University as his studies in engineering demanded full attention.
He kept running after college and finished his first marathon in 1997. Then in 2007, he attempted to run the Chicago Marathon with a bad case of achilles tendonitis. “That didn’t go well,” he says in a typically understated fashion. In 2011 at the age of 35 he finally ran a race that satisfied him: a 2:41 marathon. In 2019 he’s now forty-two years old and just completed a 2:37 marathon in the 2018 Indianapolis Marathon. That pace is just above six-minutes per miles for 26.2 miles. The stats don’t lie: Mike Behr is actually getting faster with age.
His training consists of 60-mile training weeks with long runs on weekends and one solid tempo, fartlek, or threshold interval workout during the week. He’s not so keen on track training. Instead he finds ways to go fast on the roads. “For one thing, there aren’t any tracks open anymore,” he lamented. Yet the time he puts in running fast on the roads may be one of the keys to his marathon success.
Pay it forward
Behr’s Indianapolis PR was in part the product of his association with a Chicago-area runner named Francesco Arato, against whom he had raced in an early spring half-marathon. But it was Arato’s unselfish recommendation of Behr to the Indy organizers that brought his fellow competitor to the Indiana race. “He was a top place finisher in the Master’s Division at Indy the last couple of years. When the Elite coordinator saw that I finished close to Arato in that Spring race, they gave me anElite corral for seeding.”
Behr found it a little tough to sort out who as racing who. “Early in the race, it was a little confusing trying to figure out who was running the marathon versus the half,” Behr admits. “It was pretty cold and I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at bibs.”
Eventually he spotted course personnel on bikes and quickly realized he was close to the two women’s marathon leaders. Behr wound up running in the company of the second place female at the time. They chatted and worked together throughout much of the race. He went on to place (2nd) in the Master’s Division, and the female runner with whom he’d run was the overall female winner in a new course record.
Beyond the world of running and marathons, Behr is also a highly credible triathlete who will be competing in a 70.3 Half Ironman in Grand Rapids in June of 2019. His wife Kerri is a high-level performer as well. Nearly twenty athletes from The Labs will be participating in the same race. Behr will no doubt find a way to cheer them on during the event.
The Behr family now has young athletes coming up through the ranks as well. Their daughter Keeley, a freshman in high school, already has a mile time below 6:00. Son Nathan loves the triathlon world best.
Suffice to say that things are always hopping around the Behr residence. Yet balance is a keen priority for everyone. Both mom and dad see to that while encouraging but not pressuring their kids, or themselves, to overdo it.
Between work and family and running and triathlons, that balance is not always easy to sustain. Yet throughout his life, Mike Behr has made rational choices about priorities and motivations. That balance has led to his steady improvement well into his forties. It’s an approach unique to his character and one he likes to share through encouragement of others.
In other words, Mike Behr is a really good guy who happens to be a really good endurance athlete. That’s a great combination.