Along with classrooms, schools and school districts, marathons can be added to the list of things that West Salem School District Superintendent Troy Gunderson is capable of running.
In his seventh year as the West Salem superintendent, the 55-year old Gunderson completed his fourth career 26-mile race in the Chicago Marathon earlier this month. Gunderson was accompanied by his two daughters in the race. Kirsten, 29, and Kelsey, 26, who both currently reside in the city, and have apartments along the marathon route.
All three were able to register for the Chicago race after being selected from a lottery, which the marathon moved to two years ago after being overwhelmed with applicants on a first-come, first-served process. Gunderson said both daughters were quick to call him last winter after finding out they could register, saying he better get ready for October.
Running has been a part of Gunderson’s life for as long as he can remember, but he only got into competitive running about five years ago. Gunderson said his interest in marathons was sparked by his daughters, after they asked him while students at UW-Madison to run in the half-marathon held around the same time that students moved out for the summer.
Both Kirsten and Kelsey competed with high school running teams while at West Salem, and Gunderson said they started challenging him after they graduated, because they wanted to push him after he spent so many seasons as a dad watching and encouraging them.
The bike trail in West Salem is Gunderson’s favorite route to run on, because he said it’s flat, soft and quiet. According to Gunderson, running is best in the colder months, when the air feels most fresh. Choosing to run without earbuds playing music or podcasts, Gunderson sees each run as a time to refresh.
“I like the peace and quiet of my runs,” said Gunderson. “It’s a recharge for me, just to get back to feeling normal.”
Gunderson, who said he currently runs about three three times a week, stepped into his current position after serving as the superintendent at Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau for two years. After earning an undergrad at the University of Minnesota, Gunderson went to work as a math teacher at Melrose-Mindoro High School, before spending 15 years as the principal of West Salem High School.
According to Gunderson, there are lessons from running that can be imparted in teaching, especially when it comes to teenage brains.
“Running is one of those things, especially with longer races, that you can’t cram for,” said Gunderson. “You have to really think ahead, and take a little bit at a time. It takes persistence and commitment. My kids learned that from their coaches in high school when they ran, that you have to take care of yourself for down the road.”