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Fremont, 87, is a (vegan) man on the run

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By Jim Pleshinger � jpleshinger@enquirer.com � June 6, 2009

What does an 87-year-old who just set a pending U.S. marathon record do for an encore?

For Mike Fremont, of Glendale, it sure wasn't indulging in a celebratory cheeseburger.

-- More on Mike Fremont on the Runners High

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"I just came back from a one-day, 70-mile canoe race," Fremont said less than a month after finishing the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon in 5 hours, 59 minutes, 46 seconds.

According to USA Track & Field, that would shatter the previous record for an 87-year-old - 6:48:44.

The matter is in the hands of USATF, which scrutinizes the timing and courses before voting to ratify records in December, said Andy Carr, the organization's long-distance record-keeper.

But that's not all the group has to consider.

Fremont, one of 133 runners to have completed all 11 Flying Pigs (he has run 48 marathons overall), has two other U.S. records pending from previous Pigs.

The 4:28:28 Fremont ran in 2003 would tie him for the record among 81-year-olds, and the 5:08:40 he ran two years later would eclipse the previous mark of 5:20:08 for 83-year-olds.

Meantime, Fremont has too much on his plate to wait around by the phone for USATF's rulings. Why is he able to keep so busy at 87? He says the answer's right there on his plate.

"I haven't had any milk, meat or eggs in 18 years," Fremont said.

Fremont extols the virtues of the vegan diet with the same passion and determination he has for running marathons, participating in long-distance canoe races and, as founder of Rivers Unlimited in 1972, working to clean and maintain Ohio's rivers and streams.

"I didn't inherit anything special in my genes," Fremont said. "My dad was an athlete and my grandfather lived to be 80. But still, nothing special."

Fremont switched to a vegan diet in 1991, when he was diagnosed with colo-rectal cancer.

"I never ate the same since the day of that diagnosis," he said. "I had my three girlfriends - I was single at the time - clean all the bad stuff out of my refrigerator.

"Separately, of course."

That diet, Fremont says, is what gives him his edge. But he recognizes that such a radical change is too difficult for many people.

"Eating is a quality-of-life thing," Fremont said. "Most people can't face the idea of giving up eggs, bacon, roast beef, milk and ice cream. I lost a friend - a professor at UC. He told me, 'I have prostate cancer.' I told him, 'You have to give up cheese.' "

But his friend told him his quality of life made the consequences of his diet worth it.

"I don't understand that," Fremont said. "It's a failure of imagination. Imagine you could live."

Fremont, of course, didn't just survive - he thrived. His pending marathon records are proof of that.

"It's cool that one of our own Cincinnatians can accomplish something like this here," Flying Pig Marathon executive director Iris Simpson Bush said.

"He's just an incredible guy," she said. "The other thing to consider is we're not a flat course. He attained that here in Cincinnati - he did it on a course that wasn't flat like Chicago or Columbus that many runners opt for."

For Fremont, though, it all still comes down to diet:

"If someone told you if you became a vegan, you could set a record in the marathon, would you do it?" he said. "That's my story."

Actually, Fremont's story is a lot more than that.

He was an engineer, owning an industrial distribution business for 40 years before retiring in 1988. He married in 1952 and had three children, but his wife died of a brain hemorrhage when she was just 29, and he raised his children himself.

After remarrying and divorcing twice, Fremont married "for good" in 1993, to Marilyn Wall. They met while doing environmental work, she said.

Fremont remains the guiding force behind Rivers Unlimited's mission "to restore, maintain and improve Ohio's rivers and streams, their water quality, scenic beauty, their multiple uses and their effect upon Ohio's quality of life."

Part of that quality of life involves canoe racing, something Fremont says he got hooked on in 1962.

Forty-seven years later - this past Memorial Day, to be exact - Fremont was still at it, finishing a 70-mile event with his partner, Brian Masters, 44, of Vero Beach, Fla., in 9:23.54 to place 19th of 25 in the men's under-50 division of the General Clinton Canoe Regatta on the Susquehanna River near Cooperstown, N.Y.

And that's just to start his summer.

"There's a bunch of canoe races," Fremont said, including Paddlefest, the Midwest's largest paddling event, June 26-27 on the Ohio River.

And then there's the third annual Fremont Cup, consisting of 5-, 10- and 19-mile races on the Great Miami River Aug. 22.

Come autumn, Fremont will trade in his canoe for running shoes. He'd like to run a marathon in the fall, then one in Melbourne, Fla., in January.

"I'll be 88 then," he said. "They don't have a record for 88."

 

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