Marathon master Perri is now in a marathon battle with cancer

Tom Perri is one of six people who have run in all 24 previous Med City Marathons. He’ll make it 25 in a row on Sunday, though he’s battling prostate cancer.

Tom Perri, right, runs in a Med-City Marathon as a five-hour pacer. Perri will run in his 25th Med-City Marathon on Sunday, one of only six people to have run every Med-City ever held. Contributed photo
We are part of The Trust Project.

This is a story about a 60-year-old marathon runner from Maple Grove, Tom Perri.

It’s a story with two subplots.

The first deals with the Med-City Marathon; Perri is one of six who have completed every one of them. And if you’re counting, No. 25 comes this weekend when the Med-City, which started in 1996, returns after a one-year pandemic-related absence.

The second part of this story deals with Perri’s fight against cancer — Stage 4 prostate cancer.

It’s an ongoing fight against an ugly disease but one that he is more than determined to win.


The six runners who have completed all of the previous Med-City Marathons include Ward Lenius, Allen Holtz, Nels Pierson, Jeff Miller, Pete Martin and Perri, who will all be honored before the race on Sunday.

Perri ran his first marathon in 1993 (Twin Cities Marathon) at the age of 31. He followed that one with a Grandma’s Marathon finish and after that one was hooked.

“I loved it,” he said. “I had a good feeling about racing that distance.”

Looking to add one more marathon in the state, he signed up for the 1996 Med-City.

“I fell in love with it,” he said. “I loved the course and all the people involved, especially Wally and Peg (Arnold, the Med-City founders). After the first one I began to circle the Memorial Day weekend on my calendar ever since.”

Tom Perri, middle, stands with former Med-City Marathon race directors Peg Arnold, left, and Wally Arnold, right. Contributed photo

So here we are today, some 25-plus years later.


“No one has ever completed three marathons in the state at least 25 times, Perri said, “and that’s one of my goals.”

Again, if you’re counting, he has compiled 27 Twin Cities Marathons along with 25 at Grandma’s.

“I am also trying to finish 100 marathons in Minnesota and that would put me in the top 10 for most marathons in the state,” he said.

He is currently at 94.

In his lifetime he has logged more than 100,000 miles, has over 2,000 career races, finished a marathon in all 50 states and paced more than 1,000 events.

The retired academic researcher is a certified five-time 50-state club member, has completed one race on each of the 365 dates in a calendar year, has over 500 marathons under five hours and is a member of the “Titanium Marathon Maniac” club. The criteria for that exclusive club includes running 52 marathons within 365 days and 30 marathons in 30 U.S. cities or Canadian Provinces within 365 days.

He has gone 18 years of successfully running a marathon once a month with April and May of 2020 being virtual marathons due to the pandemic.

Heading into Sunday, Perri has completed 566 marathons, which does not include six virtual or one ultra-marathon. That 566 figure is third all-time in Minnesota.


“Sometime next year, maybe right around the Med-City, I will reach 600,” he said. “Except for the pandemic, I would probably be right around 600 right now.”

That’s the good news.

Roughly two years ago, Perri received a life-changing diagnosis from doctors. On July 30, 2019, his fight with Stage 4 Prostate Cancer was on.

That journey began in the spring of 2018, when he was at the 19th mile of a marathon in Wisconsin. All of a sudden he felt “heavy and fatigued.”

“I had never felt like that before,” he later told Runner’s World” magazine. “I figured it was Lyme disease or something.”

In late December of 2018 he had a biopsy on his prostate and soon was told he had prostate cancer, a disease which often spreads quickly throughout the body.

At that time, he had never gone more than four days without running since 1975. Like everything else, that, too, changed, but even then he has completed more than 40 marathons since the diagnosis.

Each day is a journey; one step at a time.

“Some days are OK and other days not OK,” he said. “Some days the fatigue is so bad I can only walk or run for 15 minutes.”

Perri had surgery in April of 2019 to remove his prostate, a procedure done to stop cancer in its tracks. But three months later on that fateful July day he was told the devastating news that the cancer had spread to his bladder. It was — and is — at the Stage 4 level.

He had gone through close to 40 radiation treatments and deals with the after effects, like headaches, fatigue and gastrointestinal issues. He has an appointment scheduled for another screening Sept. 29 at the Mayo Clinic.

Perri is definitely not sitting around feeling sorry for himself.

“Cancer doesn’t tell me what I can’t do, it tells me what I can still do,” he said. “My latest running goal is continuing pacing and running while battling this cancer.

“I have just five states left for my sixth time certified 50-marathon finish and I plan to accomplish that goal.

“Running makes me happy and let’s me help others and socialize,” he told Runner’s World, “ which is the most important thing for me right now”

This morning, he planned to run the Med-City 5k and Sunday morning he will pace the five-hour marathoners at the Med-City.

For Tom Perri, another day, another marathon.

What to read next
Jamaal Gibson, a 2010 Austin High graduate, has been named the new boys basketball coach for the Packers, replacing Kris Fadness.
Rylee Nelson, an incoming senior at Zumbrota-Mazeppa, has accepted a volleyball scholarship offer from Seton Hall University, which plays in the Big East Conference and is located in New Jersey.
Rochester's Thomas Bruss, a relief pitcher, has signed a professional baseball contract to play with the New Jersey Jackals of the Frontier League.
Delaney Fleming learned to love hockey while growing up in Rochester. She helped Lourdes to a pair of Class A state tournaments before transferring to Shattuck St. Mary's as a sophomore. Friday, she announced her decision to play Division I college hockey at Ohio State University, beginning in the 2023-24 season.