Sarah’s Celebrating a Marathon Anniversary

Twenty years ago this month, as I lay on the maroon-and-navy sofa in my San Francisco flat, I vowed never to run another marathon. I was splayed against a jumble of throw pillows, with my beyond-fatigued legs propped up. My quads felt as heavy and stiff as concrete pillars, and I quietly groaned when a spasm gripped one of my calves. I’d just completed the San Francisco Marathon, my first, and I swore, my last 26.2-mile race.

En route to my marathon PR on flat Eugene Marathon course in 2009. (Yeah, I was intent: No time for smiles!)

Yet in the two decades since that partly sunny Sunday, I’ve racked up 13 more marathons.

The following year, the siren call of the New York City Marathon grew too enticing, and I hoofed through the five boroughs. That 1999 NYC 26.2 ended up being my last pre-kids marathon; I didn’t cover the distance again until March 2003, when my older daughter, Phoebe, was 14 months old.

Since that time, I’ve run at least one marathon per year more often than I haven’t. (For a full list, see far below.) My favorite marathon is either Big Sur (The stunning natural beauty! Those views of the Pacific! Those unrelenting hills!) or Twin Cities (Those enthusiastic spectators! The kaleidoscope of fall leaves! The sparkling lakes!) At my hometown-honey marathon (Portland), I qualified Boston Marathon for the first time. A squeaker time (by 65 seconds, back when such a time actually got you into Boston!) in an unrelenting torrent of rain.

H-O-T: This is actually the halfway point of 89-degree Boston marathon. Look closely and you'll see I'm literally drenched in sweat.

Eighteen months later, I ran my first Boston, one of the hottest on record (89 degrees), in what still stands as my slowest marathon time. Two years after that race, with a phenomenal coach who guided me through savvy training, I BQd exactly three minutes faster than I had when I was four years younger.

In 2016, during a yet-again too-hot trek from Hopkinton to Boston, I seriously debated if I should call it quits at a baker’s dozen and have that prestigious race be my last marathon. Thirteen is a special number for graduates of the university Dimity and I both attended, so it seemed somehow right that I should run 13 marathons.

All smiles before marathon #13

Yet just like it only took me about a year to shake my “one-and-done” attitude toward the marathon distance, I resumed 26.2-training only a little more than 12 months after that I-should-call-it-quits-after-this-Boston race. There are a few reasons why I can’t completely divorce myself from marathons.
One: It’s kinda part of my job to run ’em.
Two: I love—absolutely adore—training for them. The commitment. The sense of purpose. The pride of completing one longer run after another, week after week. The personal growth that comes with digging deep and discovering some coarse moral fiber tucked behind the flossy, squishy bits.

And now Three: I’ve got a plan. A long-term plan. I hatched it this spring, and I’ve kept it tucked tight until now. I aim to complete at least one marathon in each decade. I ran my first 26.2 at age 32 and did two more marathons that decade. (Pregnancies + babies sidetracked me a bit.) My 40s were prodigious, racking up nine marathons; so far in my 50s, I’ve taken on two of them.

In finish area w/ my race-twinsie, BAMR Lisa, after my 14th marathon, Twin Cities. (Only one of two 26.2s I've repeated--other is Boston.)

I’m currently sidelined from running due to a mild case of pesky plantar fasciitis, yet even before that malady kicked in, I knew this body o’ mine has a limited number of marathons left in it. My current plan means I’m going to parse them out. No more marathons just cuz. I’m going to choose my races judiciously to optimize my chances of completing a marathon in my 60s and one in my 70s. (Despite my excellent genes—my mother is 92!—even I’m not cocky enough to throw down a claim of doing one in my 80s. Yet.)

To those of you BAMRs in your 20s, 30s, and 40s, you might scoff at my caution, but let me tell you, sisters: With each passing year, maintaining a consistent running life gets more challenging. If it’s not a foot thang, it’s a low-back issue, hip tightness, or a creaky knee. For now, I’m enjoying swimming, biking, strength and barre classes, and Cyclebar—and daydreaming about returning to running. That racked-and-wrecked Sunday 20 years ago this month is a distant memory that now makes me chuckle.

My Marathons
1998: San Francisco

1999: NYC

2003: Napa Valley

2007: Nike Women’s (CA)

2009: Eugene (OR)

2010: Big Sur + Portland (OR)

2012: Boston + Twin Cities

2013: Vancouver (B.C.)

2014: Victoria (B.C.) + Philadelphia

2016: Boston

2017: Twin Cities

Do you have an age-related running goal? Marathon-related goal? Toss 'em out there! We love to hear them!

29 responses to “Sarah’s Celebrating a Marathon Anniversary

  1. Love the goal! As a runner who started later in life, I have done 6 (training for my 7th) half marathons and decided this year i am going to do a full before I turn 50 (I am *almost* 40). My kids will be older and sports schedules will be less, it will be a great way to fill the time void.

  2. Thank You! I have been waiting for some new motivation and think I may have just found it here. May 2019 will mark 26 years since my first marathon, and a few weeks after my 50th Birthday. I have ran 6 marathons over the years. Though the course has changed over the 26 years, I think returning to the Wyoming Marathon may be in order. Or an alternative of the Colorado Marathon and it’s amazing course. Either way… I like the plan.

  3. I’m turning 40 in August and had hoped to run my first half before I turned 40. A nasty case of plantar fasciitis has kept me from it. So now I plan to run a half marathon in my 40s! Some days it feels like I may never run again with this damn foot but I know rationally I have many runs ahead of me. It’s so inspiring to read about people running in their 50s and 60s. I hope to still be doing what I love to do then.

  4. WTG with the list of marathons. I have done two half marathons and that’s not really saying much (at least not in my book) but with the list of injuries that I have (incurred while enduring the wonderful BCT of Army life) it may be saying a little more than some. I may not have some of the massive injuries of combat veterans but the Army put a hurting on me. Massive stress fracture of a femur, both knees and a foot – have left me with arthritis, bursitis in the hip area, bad knees beyond compare – degenerative disc disorder and arthritis in the lower five lumbar and prescribe orthotics. I’ve been told over and over that running should not be in my exercise routine. However, I just can’t say no to how it makes me feel. I, too, know that eventually I will have to give it up because recovery of any size run/race is becoming longer and longer. However, I will push myself until I just can’t any longer – because of stories like these. In the end, I just want to be able to walk and hike and enjoy life with my children and grandchildren. So, I may have to learn to accept what I don’t want to accept. 🙁 However, until then…. I will continue to be a BAMR! thanks for always giving us some uplifting stories and inspiration to read!!

  5. Impressively long list of marathons, Sarah! I’m with you on loving the marathon training and ticking off the workouts on my plan – so satisfying. I trained but DNS’ed for NYC (my hometown) marathon MANY times before having kids and then simply could not find the time to train while they were little. My goal became to run NYC for my 50th birthday in 2012 – and I was ready! But Hurricane Sandy had other ideas that year. I FINALLY completed my first marathon in 2013 and declared myself “one and done.” Yet here I find myself training for this year’s NYC for a second shot at the distance. Using a TLAM plan, of course! I’m thinking a marathon every 5 years is good spacing for me. Although I do love the idea of an ultra…;-)

  6. This is just amazing! What a marathon resume! You’re my hero!
    Im chasing the Six Star Medal and hope to complete all six majors by the time Im 60. Im 52 and have done London and Chicago with Berlin in just 10 weeks, GULP! My dream is to BQ but like you, I worry about the issues with my 52 year old body. Ive been doing the HRT with Coach MK in hopes of making myself stronger and more badass so I can conquer this goal. Here’s to keeping our bones and ligaments connected! BTW, I highly recommend MK’s foot triad defense video and rolling the calves and shins. It really helped cure my PF. It is painful as HELL and I had to drink a shot of whiskey before doing it but I eventually got over PF.

  7. July is my run-versary month too, but this year marks 12 years. I started running soon after my husband and I got married and have completed three fulls, three halves, and some other race distances sprinkled in. My friend and I did our own version of an ultra the year I turned 30. We picked a run day and spent the whole day running and walking 32 miles.(She was turning 32, so we ran for her age and my age, plus the two kids I had at that time.) Many happy marathons SBS!

  8. All my 18 marathons were between age 44 (my PR and only BQ at CIM 2009) and age 50 (CIM 2015). I hope that will not be my last marathon. Since then all my attempts to train for another marathon have been thwarted by minor injuries. I still have a few marathons on my bucket list—we will see what 2019 has in store. (For 2018 I’m just working on my half marathon comeback and not getting injured again!)

  9. I don’t ever think to tie events to age. I did 2 marathons just before I turned 40, 2 after I turned 60, and over 50 halfs in between. At this point, I would like to attempt a marathon on an annual basis, but we shall see.
    My husband, OTOH, is much more of a collector of events. Iron man every decade, run NYC, Boston, JFK 50, hike all 46 Adk mountains, hike the high point in every state etc.
    Judy Litt, I am guessing you are running the Sacketts Harbor 18.12 challenge. It is a great race. I run it every year, altho I usually opt for the half.

  10. I ran one and done when I was 37, now 61yo. I equate a marathon with natural child birth- all that work and pain and only a medal to show for it. But now I have discovered racewalking and love it! Many distances to choose from and easy on my body. Events are popular in many states, the Senior Olympics and the World Huntsman Games.

  11. I’ve done half marathons for a couple of years. I ran my first marathon (the Rock N Roll Washington DC) this year on the day I turned 50! I’m not sure how many marathons I’ll be doing every year, since the training is so intense. I am currently training for this year’s Marine Corps Marathon and will decide after that. The half, as you write in your Train Like a Mother book, really is a sweet spot – a great distance, and it doesn’t wipe you out the way 26.2 can.

  12. Don’t have any marathons yet (but two halves… so….) Currently mulling over a life changing move back to the Twin Cities. Guess which race is now on my bucket list?

  13. My 57th birthday is two weeks away, and you nailed it – the older we get, the harder it is, and we need to listen to our bodies! I ran Boston as a fundraiser in 2017 and at the time I said it wasmy first and only marathon. then my son (17) listened to me wax rhapsodic about Boston, and we hatched a plan to run it together as fundraisers in 2022. I will be 60, almost 61 then – and ideally, I would like to say YES I will do one in my 70s! But only time will tell. I like the idea of one per decade at this point. As others have mentioned – I will run until I can’t. Right now, I can’t (recovering from foot surgery), but I can already tell that the procedure worked, and I will be carefully getting back into the swing! I’m hoping I can squeeze in a half before the end of 2018 – otherwise it will be the first calendar year with no half since my first one in 2011! Thanks for giving me more goal ideas and running plans to think about!

  14. After turning 50 this year, and having an injury turn into a “chronic issue”, I get what you’re saying completely! 🙂 I’m just now toying around with trying to BQ again, so I’ll see what my early training shows. Fingers crossed for better than it has been!
    Love your goal!

  15. I love this picture of SBS and ME! Such a fun day when we finished Twin Cities together. Can I claim your goal as my own? I think it’s brilliant. I’ve never thought about marathons in decade terms, but I am rather selective about my races because money, time, kids, etc. And being a lifelong runner is one of my biggest running goals. I hope to run a few more marathons in my 30’s but stay smart and injury-free so I can follow in your footsteps in my 40s, 50s, and beyond.

  16. It certainly doesn’t get easier as we get older! I am almost 57 and I have ran a marathon every year (some times 2) since 2001. I am training for #26. I have BQ’d but my last was in 2009. I have only run Boston once back in 2006 and didn’t go back for a variety of reason….mostly work obligations and cost. I would like to run it again some year and my main goal is to stay healthy and continue running as long as my body lets me If I get another BQ, I’ll be going with my husband by my side! I LOVE THIS! Thank you for sharing! I love your goal!

  17. Hell yeah SBS! Love this idea!! and Love all the history! I just had my 20 year marathon-versary and you were there at Ogden cheering me on!

  18. I started running when I was 44, in 2010. Ran my first marathon in 2013 (the Boston bombing motivated me to move up to the marathon distance). Finished 2 more in my 40’s. I ran MCM on the last day of my 49th year…literally. My 50th birthday was the day after. I vowed to do ‘major marathons’ on every decade birthday after…so its NYC when I turn 60, Chicago when I turn 70, and Boston when I turn 80. I won’t qualify for Boston – but I will have enough saved up to be a charity runner! And my time won’t matter – after all, I will be 80! And in between all that, I run for health, sanity, fun, charity, with my daughters and friends – my time is no longer the most important thing – the joy of running is!

  19. I ran my first marathon in 2000. The goal was to run a marathon before I turned 30. I checked that box. I told myself when I was 16 I would run the Boston Marathon some day. I BQ’d with a 3:38 PR and ran Boston. Box checked. Then I decided I wanted to run a marathon in each 50 State. 18 years later I have completed 31 states (four states are half marathons due to injuries). I am continuing to check off states. My marathon times are pathetically slow now. Boston times are well in my rear view mirror. I run to cross the finish line. But I am running for longevity now. I would also like to run all the World Majors. I have three more to do. I hope running will always be part of my life. It is woven into my DNA after pounding the trails and pavement for 32 years.

  20. I’m tying marathons to things on my bucket list. 2016 was London Marathon. This year is Loch Ness Marathon. Next year is Sydney Marathon (Australia). I lovelovelove the training. But it takes a BIG trip to really get me motivated for 26.2.

  21. This year is my 5th Marine Corps Marathon (my 8th overall). After this, my goal is to a)run the 50th MCM in a few years, b) run a total of at least 10 marathons, and c) target a few marathons that really interest me. I’m approaching 50 and I’ve definitely found I have to listen to my body more, so I have to prioritize my goals. Right now I’m really focused on the half distance – I have 14 more states to go to do all 50 states and 24 more to go to hit 100 total. After I hit all those goals, I may hang up my racing shoes and just run for health. (Eh, who am I kidding, I’ll probably start running ultra marathons since I have my first 24 hour race coming up this winter.)

  22. I ran my first marathon in 2007 and vowed never to run another. 11 marathons later I’m gunning to finish up the 6 World Marathon Majors (London and Tokyo are left). Then I’m done with 26.2. I am. I swear, I am…

  23. One per decade – I’m with you on that one!! Started this crazy marathon thing when I was 39, piled on lots of marathons when I was in my 40’s, last one was when I was 56. I’m trying to figure out the strategy for going forward and will be focused on that during the Cape Cod retreat. Where else will I have have that concentrated source of coaching expertise!! Goals are so important so keep your eye on this one!

  24. My goal is to still run in my 70’s, I am now 64 soon to be 65 and I am still running. Be it slower then in my earlier age, but I am running. I find that I can only run 3 times a week instead of the 4 -5 that I used to run. Save’s on the wear and tear of my body. Marathon’s are not my goal, I will continue doing half’s for a while until my body say’s no more. Last year at one of the packet pick ups for one of the races I entered (can’t remember which one), someone asked why I was still running, my reply “Because I can”. I plan on running until I can’t. Sarah, keep on running and continue your goal.

  25. I ran my 1st marathon last year at age 58. Started running 5k races at 51 a year following my cancer diagnosis. I ran to raise donations for various 5k events but then started enjoying running! Training has begun for my second Marine Corps marathon this October. I thought after last year it was “one and done” but I want to do better this year and when I turn 60 next year it will be “3 marathons and I am out” …. so I say now! Totally understand the issues with consistent training… I have those issues as well and never really “felt” my age until I started running! Good luck to you … keep working out to run those races in your 60’s, 70’s and 80’s!!! (My mom is 90 too so I hope I have her genes as well!!)

  26. I was a couple of months shy of 50 when I ran my first half. I am slowly working my way through all 50 states. I may or may not complete it, but I’m not rushing. I want them to be an experience, not something I just check off.

    This summer I also wanted to push myself a *little* harder! and I’m running an 18.12 mile race. And no, I have no intentions of running a marathon! Only half crazy. 🙂

  27. My goal is to run a marathon before my 40th birthday, which is 360 days from today. I’m signed up for Baltimore in October and training has officially begun. I’m terrified and excited!

  28. Don’t have any yet! Ran 3 in my 20’s and 3 in my 50’s so far…. will be 4 next spring., I love your idea of saving the body for a grand training/race… Great job Sarah!! Love the goal!

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