I’ve been following Dan’s blog since he left one of the very first comments on SGR. I still can’t figure out how he found it. Even so, it wasn’t until this year’s Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon that we met in person. We convened the night before the race, and thankfully, he didn’t murder me and then dump my body in a dumpster behind a Target. I digress. Dan is an extremely accomplished runner (especially for this blog’s standards), having covered just short of a bazillion miles and finished more races than any other runner I know.
How long have you been running?
It’s hard to tease out the singular moment when I became a runner and even tougher to discern when I started running. My earliest running habits were very erratic, all focused around finishing a race.
I ran my first 5K in 2006 because my fiancée Stephanie, who was my girlfriend of 3 months at the time, asked if I wanted to run a race that her aunt organizes every year. Wanting to impress both her and her family, I “trained” for it reluctantly and finished a deflated mess. I had the wrong shoes, no running gear to speak of and would probably laugh at my form if I saw it today on instant replay. But after the race, I hopped in a car, went to a football tailgate and didn’t run again for another two years.
In 2008 Stephanie’s dad, a multiple marathoner training for an Ironman, signed me up for the Shamrock Shuffle 8K. I had never run more than 3.1 miles in my life, but when your potential father-in-law signs you up for something, you’re not only forced to do it, you’re contractually obligated to throw down the hammer. So I trained in cotton shirts and ragged running shoes for a 40:31 finish in the bustling streets of Chicago. After the race, my knee was a bit sore, so once again, upon completing my goal, I stopped running completely.
Though I definitely had fun at the Shuffle, I didn’t consider myself a runner, nor did I see any reason to continue running. As I crossed the finish line, panting and praising Odin that I didn’t throw up, I remember thinking: a marathon is this race four more times and then some? How the hell do people do it? If you’re thinking this “incepted” the running seed, it did not. In fact, it had the opposite effect, daunting me with the seemingly impossible task of covering such a monumental distance in one shot. So once again, I hung up my shoes and went back to my otherwise sedentary lifestyle.
It wasn’t until later that summer, upon moving to Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, that I noticed how many shaded sidewalks the city had. I then had a pretty unprovoked epiphany of sorts – a random, sudden spark that went off in my head, telling me it was time to get in shape. Plus, I was getting bored at work and part of me wanted to start doing something exciting. As uninspiring as that is, it’s the truth. There was no compelling reason, no life-threatening illness, car accident or otherwise rousing call to action. One day, for no other reason than to just do it, I went out for a run.
Why do you run?
1. The intrinsic health benefits. Duh. There’s no point in ignoring how good it feels to be in shape. I never take for granted the fact that I’m doing my body a huge favor by keeping it active while nourishing my lungs, heart, legs and according to some interesting studies, my brain.
2. Races. For some reason, I didn’t get the rush of communal excitement in my first two races (despite sharing the Shamrock Shuffle with over 30,000 other runners). But later in 2008, I ran two more races and I haven’t looked back since. In fact, since February of 2009, I haven’t not been registered for a future race. It’s my new constant state of being. Racing is what it’s all about and every single run is a training exercise for some event weeks down the road.
3. To do something awesome. Not everyone runs. Of those who do, not everyone runs long distances. Of those who do, not everyone does it every month for fun. If you keep up this pattern from a large batch of people, you’ll end up with either a tiny group or one person. I want to be that person.
You’ve got a pretty amazing running goal. Tell us a little more about it.
I want to run at least a half marathon in all fifty states before turning 40. It combines three things that I love: running, traveling and meeting new people. Plus, I think you can get a great impression of a new city or neighborhood by running through it.
When I thought of this plan in 2010, it meant I’d have to run about 3.5 states per year to reach my goal in time. Doable, I thought, since I had already knocked seven off the list by then. Little did I know I’d knock out another nine in 2011 and eight (so far) this year. If my planning for next year is any indication, I’m looking to start churning out more marathons instead.
So, let’s say you’re about to start your last race in your 50th state, but there are reports of a zombie outbreak. You could finish the race (and subsequently achieve your goal), or you could try to make it home. What do you do and why?
Wouldn’t the zombie outbreak just make me run faster? If we’re talking 28 Days Later, then I’m dead, regardless of whether I run or try and stay safe. We’re all doomed; game over, man. But if it’s George Romero-style zombies, then I’d have to run a 20-minute pace to be in any palpable danger. The only worry there is if the race is an out-and-back because you’d be running straight into the slow-moving hordes in that second half.
Sorry about that last question. Let’s hear the list of half and full marathons you’ve completed.
They can all be found here, organized by both date and state.
What’s been your favorite race?
Nothing beats the Chicago Marathon. Sure, that’s an enormously biased answer because it was my first marathon. But that aside, it’s a world-class and perfectly fine-tuned event. After running the ING New York City Marathon last year, I developed even more appreciation for Carey Pinkowski’s windy city race. The course is the best tour of Chicago out there and the crowds are ebullient every step of the way. Since the race layout allows for spectators to see their runners in many spots easily, you’re guaranteed to have a constant cacophony of cheer. Lastly, I can’t think of a better place to sprawl after 4 hours of running than the green grass of Grant Park. Plus, you can wake up an hour before the race start and still make it on time with the trains.
An honorable mention goes to the ING Miami Half Marathon. Perfectly scheduled at the end of January, it’s the ideal winter escape. Palm trees line the glitzy course along with beautiful homes, opulent high rises and that seductive Latin flare that makes Miami such a fun destination.
Also, these are the only long-distance races that I’ve run three times. Hardly coincidental.
And your least favorite?
I’m having a hard time with this. I haven’t run any half or full marathons that I’ve actively disliked for reasons that the organizers could affect. Some were super hot, which is no one’s fault, and others were very challenging. But I can’t fault the organizers for that. Now that I think about it, I’ve gotten really lucky.
However, I would have to say that my least favorite race is the JPMorgan Chase Corporate Challenge. I’ve run it four times now because it’s free. My company pays for my entry and I run it because I can. However, it starts at 7:10 PM in late May, so it’s usually pretty muggy, especially through Wacker Drive’s tunnels. Secondly, the course is a maddening 3.5 miles for no reason. In fact, it could easily be a 5K if they just move the starting line a little farther up. Lastly, a race like this should ideally have an aid station at mile 1.5 or 2. Instead, these guys put one right at the beginning and another right before the end, both unmanned. Few people need water 4 minutes into a race but by the time they reach the second aid station, they’re parched and overheated. To add insult to injury, the water is lukewarm by that point.
Fortunately, it’s just a 3.5-mile race and it’s free. However, I would never pay money to run this, especially because I suspect that all registration fees go toward padding JPMC’s blood-red books anyway.
Any upcoming races you’re looking forward to running?
This weekend I’m going to try and knock out two states off the list. Saturday morning I’ll be running the inaugural Idaho Falls Half Marathon (Editor’s note: Dan’s excellent race recap) and then driving north to the Gravelly Mountains for the Madison Montana Half Marathon (Editor’s note: Recap). The latter race will test my lungs and legs by dragging me up to 9,500 feet. My goal is to finish, all times be damned.
Update: I finished both races and came back to Chicago with a huge smile on my face. Not only did I meet some great people, but I got to go on a mountainous adventure under Montana’s Big Sky.
I’m also very excited to run the Williams Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa. Not until November 18, it’s a race that seems to really understand the chronic marathoner. Not only does it give out special finishers medals for those belonging to the Marathon Maniacs and 50 States Club, but they even provide special pre-race perks for serial runners. Some races are content with getting people over the start and finish mats, but these guys seem to go above and beyond typical expectations.
Editor’s Note: If you’re not already following Dan’s blog, start now.
*All photos courtesy of Dan Solera.