Interesting person of the week: Matt Dirnbeck

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Three hours, five minutes, 14 seconds and 26.2 miles after the start of last month’s St. Louis Marathon, Matt Dirnbeck crossed the finish line. His time averaged out at seven minutes and 12 seconds per mile, qualifying him to run in the Boston Marathon in April 2008.

It was the best time that Dirnbeck, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, has ever run, though he had participated in two other marathons and a handful of half marathons prior to last month.

Dirnbeck began running during his freshman year of high school, six years ago.

“I went out for cross-country camp over the summer before my freshman year of high school,” Dirnbeck said. “My volleyball coach [from grade school] gave me some valuable advice that I should go out for the team.”

After a disappointing performance at camp, Dirnbeck had doubts about joining the cross-country team.

“I remember vividly that I was sitting at the kitchen counter on Aug. 9, 2001,” Dirnbeck said. “I was sitting there with my mom, talking about whether I should go out for the team. I felt that I had done all that work and was letting the team down if I did not … So I went to practices and was hooked.”

When he began college at Saint Louis University in the fall of 2005, running took a back seat to courses and grades. As the year went on, Dirnbeck missed running until a friend invited him to go on a run over spring break. He has not stopped since.

For Dirnbeck, running is a spiritual experience.

“Life can be crazy sometimes,” he said. “Running doesn’t change. You just put one foot in front of the other. It’s simple and pure-almost holy, sacred.”

Dirnbeck also enjoys the camaraderie he finds with other runners who love the sport as much as he does.

Dirnbeck has run in the Chicago Marathon and the St. Louis Marathon. He will run in Washington, D.C., at the end of October in the Marine Corps Marathon.

“It’s like heaven,” Dirnbeck said about running. “For two hours with all the people shouting encouragement from the sidelines. Then at the end you just crash, and you feel like you can’t run another foot.”

Dirnbeck said his greatest supporter is his mother.

“My mom is my biggest fan,” Dirnbeck said. “Life is a little like a race. She’s there when everything is great, and I’m gliding beautifully and effortlessly over the ground. She’s also there when I’m so tired I can’t see straight, my legs feel like they’re going to fall off and I want to just give up. She just keeps pouring out her love and support and, somehow, I can keep going.”

Besides running, Dirnbeck is a resident adviser on the second floor of Reinert, a SLU 101 instructor and a member of both the 10 p.m. mass choir at College Church and Oriflamme.