It wasn’t the heat but the humidity that made it tough for St. Louis Park resident Julie Virkus to cover the Gary Bjorkland Half Marathon course in a state-age record time on June 16.
Averaging seven minutes, 28 seconds per mile, she covered the picturesque 13.1-mile course the finishes in Canal Park in 1:37:54, smashing the previous Minnesota record for 64-year-old women by more than 11 minutes. Gloria Jansen’s mark of 1:49.07 was set on June 18, 2011.
This year’s half marathon saw eight Minnesota age records set. Five by women including Virkus and Mendota Heights’ Linda Bjornberg who set a new 67-year-old record of 1:49:26, beating the previous mark set in 2014 by Sara Olson of 1:54:25.
Virkus has completed more than 20 half marathons and noted, “Every time its different so you have to take what it gives you and in that respect, I felt like I was working really hard for the time I wanted,” said Virkus who retired in 2009 from teaching at Oak Grove Middle School and was a former track, cross country and nordic skiing coach at Bloomington Jefferson.
Her personal best time in the race came in her 40s when she ran a 1:29. “I think the days of personal bests are long gone. You have to compare against peers and I’m proud of my age grading percent (a measurement of one age group across the globe). Age grading lets you see how you stack up,” Virkus said. The fastest person in the world is at 100 percent and in the 90’s is considered world class. She came in at 90.8 percent from the Bjorkland Half Marathon.
She competes in the USATF circuit which tests runners at several distances from one mile to the 26.2 marathon in a season-long points chase. Virkus is part of te Prairie Striders running group which was established by Bob Bartling, who was the first runner to earn a Nike contract in 1967. The running club was established in Brookings, South Dakota and Virkus is one of five women left on the team as Bartling is 91-years-old.
Virkus has made running a great reason to travel internationally. Last year she completed the Venice (Italy) Marathon in addition to completing the original marathon course in Athens, Greece in 2015. “There’s just something novel and unique about doing a marathon in a new country,” she said.
The racing season continues next weekend for Virkus who plans to tackle the Park Point 5 miler, the Victory 10K in Robbinsdale on Labor Day and the Twin Cities 10 mile later this fall.
Follow sports editor Jason Olson on Twitter at @SunSportsJason.