By Tim Cigelske, Special to   Published Oct 03, 2008 at 3:19 PM

Popularity of the marathon has exploded over the past few years, and this weekend's Lakefront Marathon is a prime example.

This year's race expanded by 10 percent to accommodate 2,750 runners, and it still reached capacity in record time nearly four months ago. Now it has attracted the holder of the fifth fastest American marathon in history.

Two-time Olympian Dick Beardsley, most famous for his 1982 Boston Marathon dubbed "The Duel in the Sun," will run in Sunday's 26.2-mile race and will speak at the expo leading up to the event. Beardsley is also a noted motivational speaker who heads the Dick Beardsley Foundation, dedicated to educating young people about healthy lifestyles and the dangers of chemical dependency.

The two-day running and fitness expo at the MSOE Kern Center begins today and is open to the public. The marathon begins at 8 a.m. on Sunday at Grafton High School and will wind along Milwaukee's North Shore before finishing at Veteran's Park.

Beardsley will make opening remarks at 4 p.m. today for the children's running program, and will speak at 12:15 and 2:45 p.m. tomorrow at the expo. He will also lead a 3-mile fun run open to the public at about 9 a.m. tomorrow at the Kern Center. talked with the star of this year's race -- who ran during the height of the last running boom -- about the past, present and future of marathons. If you could pick just one, what would be your most memorable marathon?

Dick Beardsley: Most people think it's got to be the Duel in the Sun. But the one that sticks out a little bit more was the 1981 Grandma's Marathon. I'd just come off winning the London Marathon but I'd really had my sights set on Grandma's because it was in my home state. My parents had never seen me run a marathon before. When I got done with college, my dad thought I should start farming and milking cows. My dad thought I was absolutely crazy for running. He had an 8th grade education and didn't have an opportunity to play sports. But when he started seeing my desire and dedication he became my biggest supporter. My watch had broken during the race at Grandma's and I didn't know how I did, and when I saw the clock read (record-breaking) 2:09, I started crying and my mom and sisters were crying. And what really impressed me was my dad was crying. That's why that race sticks out.

OMC: You repeated this line from "Spirit of the Marathon" on your blog: "When you cross the finish line, it will change your life forever." Can you recall the moment you first had that feeling?

DB: My very first marathon was in 1977 and I hadn't been running much that summer. Afterward I was thinking I'm never going to run another marathon again. It hurt so bad! But when I crossed the finish line, it was like holy cow, I just ran 26.2 miles! It was the most incredible feeling of accomplishment. I've run 80-plus marathons since then and I still get that same feeling.

OMC: Marathons continue to explode in popularity. What do you see for the future?

DB: I don't see this running boom really ever fading because it has become a lifestyle. More than 90 percent who run marathons today don't really care how fast they run. Families are building their vacations around running a marathon in L.A. or Napa or London or Dublin and making it a destination. In the late '70s people wanted to run marathons, but boy were they serious. Now it's not like that as much. It's a lifestyle.

OMC: After the problems at the Chicago Marathon last year, some people said the sport that has been likened to "the poor man's Everest" had become too mainstream. Do you agree?

DB: In one sense I can kind of agree. What some charity training organizations have done is get people hyped up about running and what they fail to do in my opinion is get them into marathons the right way. Instead of gradually get them into running, all of a sudden they have them running a marathon in three or six months. I love what they do for charities, but a lot of them are not training people right. It's not like run-walking a 5K. There's no shortcuts to running a marathon.

OMC: What's one way you're going to fire up the crowd at this year's race?

DB: I'm going to tell my life story about growing up and not being to make my varsity team as a junior in high school. I had a couple of bad accidents and I became addicted to narcotic pain medication, but I always was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And in the marathon, I don't care who you are, the winner or the person who finishes dead last, you're going to run into some tough spots. So I hope that some of the runners can think back to some of the things I said and keep moving forward.

OMC: What's one piece of advice you'd give for those in this year's Lakefront Marathon?

DB: When you start the race, if you think you're going slow enough, you're still going too fast. I wish I'd heed my own advice sometimes. Especially when I was younger I tended to go like a bat out of heck. You're so jazzed up the start, the gun goes off, and you might hit that first mile anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute or two faster and the first thought that enters your mind isn't "I'm going too fast," it's "I'm in better shape than I thought." And it bites you back later in the race. It's much better to be passing those last miles than getting passed. And just enjoy.

OMC: Anything else you'd like to tell Milwaukee?

DB: I'm just tickled pink that I've been invited. I've always loved the people in Wisconsin. They're just like the people in Minnesota or the Dakotas. One of the people I used to train with set the course record in 1981 when he ran a 2:14. I've never ran a race in Milwaukee, so I'm very excited to running a race here and see a lot of Wisconsinites go out and have a good time.