My “bucket list” goal was to run ONE marathon after I turned the age of 60. I never dreamed that goal would lead to running 62 marathons over the next 60 months, completing marathons in all 50 US states, and on each of Earth’s 7 continents. Over the course of those 60 months, I would witness the molotov cocktail firebombing of the marathon route, have a race delayed until a pride of lions moved from the area, hear the angelic voices of an African church interrupted by the automatic fire of an AK 47, and at one time or another, have to avoid elephants, rattlesnakes, and penguins on the marathon course.
I found myself running in frigid temperatures and sweltering heat; ran in rainstorms, hail storms, sleet storms, and sand storms. I have struggled for breath in the thin high mountain air, and have run in the lowest places on Earth. Following is how this unlikely journey began.
After my 50th birthday in 2004, I began to face the reality that my occupation as a “road warrior” was not a lifestyle conducive to good health. Even though I tried to abide by the “low fat” food pyramid, my weight had slowly climbed to over 200 pounds, which my small frame did not carry well. I was suffering from high blood pressure and frequent chest pain. Taking up “jogging” as part of a fitness program seemed compatible for my life on the road as I could usually jog when I got to a motel in the evenings. Over the next couple of years, the jogging had become slow running and my diet had evolved into what could be described as “low carb”.
At my new weight (around 175) and increased cardio fitness, I entered a 5k race in 2009 and though a time of nearly 25 minutes is not particularly impressive, it aroused my competitive nature and I soon became a regular at 5k races in the region.
My travels had taken me to northern Florida shortly after my 59th birthday and I happened to see that Olympian Jeff Galloway was holding a running clinic about 50 miles away. As I had never been athletic in high school and had never been “coached”, I decided to see if Jeff could help me achieve better results. I made it clear to Jeff upon our first meeting that my goal was to improve my 5k times. Of the 15-20 that were at the clinic, I was surprised to find that many of them were like myself, “non-athletic,” but had completed at least one marathon or half marathon. Jeff and his team made me wonder if long distance running could possibly fit into my future. Jeff had a number of unorthodox methods and concepts. One which lingered with me was the idea that aerobic fitness didn’t start diminishing until about one month after a long run. If a person did one long run (i.e. a marathon) a month, they could basically hold that conditioning for a full month.
A couple of months later, I ran across a book written by Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, and Ray Moss, members of the Furman University athletics department, entitled, “Run Less, Run Faster”. Again, they had some unconventional training methods, namely that they recommended running only three times a week with very specific workouts, allowing more time for recovery. I discovered that Furman University had an adult running camp in May of 2014 and decided to join it. I still hoped to achieve faster 5k times, but I also could not shake the attraction on running a full marathon (26.2 miles). Their camp had the full and impressive resources of Furman University and included testing for V02 Max, Lactate Acid threshold, BMI, Gait analysis, and a host of other running metrics. I left with their assurance that I could indeed do the marathon distance…….if I would apply myself.
After returning home and discussing it with Joann, I decided to do my first (and only) marathon after I turned 60 later that year. We would take that “once in a lifetime trip” and would travel to the birthplace of the marathon, Athens Greece.
After spending the summer and early fall of 2014 training, Joann and I did indeed travel to Athens where I ran the marathon and Joann did a 10k, both of us finishing in the Athens Panathenaic Stadium (the site of the first modern Olympics). I will not get into the details of that race here. However, I would soon find out that one of the most life altering events of that trip was the announcement made by the flight attendant, “If you had an American Airlines credit card, you earn airline miles that can be used for flights anywhere that American travels.”
It would still be some months before I would become aware of it, but I had been using an American Airlines credit card for years to cover travel expenses, and not only I, but several of our company salesmen were also using that credit card account. These airline miles, coupled with my regular business travels covering much of the US, allowed me the opportunity to discover places and experience things I never would have thought possible.
It has been said, “Running will change your habits, running a marathon will change your life”. I did indeed find out that the discipline and commitment needed to train and run these races was life changing. The lessons I learned about running were valuable, but the life lessons learned, were invaluable. Experiencing euphoria at times and total despair at others, there is much to be learned from reaching deep to discover our planet and ourselves……one step at a time.
If you would like to read more about these discoveries while juggling life’s other commitments, you will find a draft copy of the book I am writing under the tab, “One Step at a Time”. I would love your feedback on this work.
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. – Isiah 40:31