For many marathoners, breaking the three-hour barrier is a lifetime goal. On the temperate morning of September 5 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Steffan Reimer set out to achieve that same feat.
Except also while dribbling a basketball.
The 32-year-old physical education teacher from Blumenort, Manitoba, completed the Manitoba Marathon in 2:50:33, breaking the previous Guinness World Record for dribbling a basketball over 26.2 miles of 3:00:25, set in 2017 by Raphael Igrisianu.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, allegra zuoz stöhr Reimer was in a rut. Lockdown protocols canceled all upcoming races and forced everyone to be stuck inside. He needed a goal to chase after and thought it would be fun to try something different.
“I was actually kind of scared to tell my other running friends that I would do something quirky like this, because you know how purist runners can be,” Reimer told Runner’s World. “But it turned into something a lot of fun.”
Reimer, who owns a personal best of 2:36 in the marathon, knew he was capable of surpassing Igrisianu’s record from 2017. It was just a matter of good training and doing everything right on race day.
Reimer knew how to train for a sub-three-hour marathon. As a physical education teacher at Blumenort’s Mitchell Elementary School, he was comfortable with dribbling a basketball too. But dribbling and running a steady pace at the same time? That would take some getting used to. He set out on a few training runs per week with a ball in hand.
His morning basketball runs turned some heads, but it was mostly the sound he was worried about. “I’d be running through town and could hear the dribbling noise echoing off all the homes around me. And I’m like, sorry, I’m probably waking people up!”
On the morning of the race, halfway through the drive to the the start from his Blumenort home, Reimer had an unfortunate realization.
“I have my list of everything that I normally bring to a race, so I don’t forget anything,” Reimer said. “I had forgotten to write basketball on that list!”
Even though Reimer had an old, spare basketball with him, he didn’t want to worry about it flattening mid-race. He hurried home to grab the new, race-day specific basketball he had picked up, and made it to the start line with just enough time to get a warmup in.
At 8 a.m., the gun went off and Reimer’s record hunt was underway. During any marathon, there are rules participants have to follow. While the other participants knew not to block other runners or cut the course short, Reimer had extra hoops to jump through to ensure that Guinness would ratify his world record.
Reimer provided receipts for the basketballs he dribbled. He had the entire race filmed, just in case. A FIBA-certified basketball referee followed him on a bicycle to make sure there were no dribbling violations. Yet despite all these preparations, the race didn’t completely go as planned.
Severe winters in Winnipeg damage the roads every year, leaving cracks in the pavement. Steffen noted there were plenty of puddles too. He had to focus to ensure the ball didn’t bounce off a crack or splash in a puddle, which would cost him valuable time.
“I lost the ball one time and had to start back to where I lost it,” he said.
Aid stations also proved to be a challenge. For most of the race, Reimer would do a crossover dribble, switching from one hand to the other. But when grabbing nutrition, he would have to switch to a single-hand dribble. Additionally, Steffan’s 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter handed their dad bottles and gels on the course—something they practiced in the days prior, so they could be a part of his achievement. His 3-year-old and 6-year-old were also there cheering him on from the sideline.
With so much of his focus on dribbling, Reimer could hardly pay attention to anything else. “People are on the sidelines supporting you and cheering you on, but I had a hard time looking up to acknowledge them, just because I had to stay focused on ball placement.”
Towards the end, on top of normal marathon fatigue, he felt a different soreness than usual. “The legs were all good. The mind was good,” he said. “[But] my arms were not coming as high while I was dribbling.”
Reimer crossed the line in 2:50:33—10 minutes faster than the previous record. Now, he just has to wait for it to be officially ratified by Guinness, which can take a few months to a year.
Reimer’s achievement didn’t just excite him and his family, but his students as well. “I don’t mean to brag, but their cool teacher is a runner,” he said, laughing.
Three-quarters of his fourth graders sign up for the running club he leads, and as those kids get older, they go on to join the cross-country team at the nearby middle school. “Running is just a part of the school culture here,” Reimer said proudly. “It’s not just something you do to play other sports, but a sport in itself.”
As for what’s next on the calendar, Reimer isn’t sure. The Manitoba Marathon was the first event of its size in the area since COVID-19 hit. “Hopefully by the next year, we can have some big races again,” he said. “If not, maybe there’ll be another crazy record attempt dribbling a soccer ball or something.”
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