About My Running Goals: A Q&A

How did you start running?
I’ve spent the last two years traveling the country on weekends (while holding down a full time job during the week), and am now poised to become the youngest woman to run a marathon in each of the 50 states. I will be setting this record on June 6, in Minneapolis, MN. What might seem like a cool stunt becomes even more amazing when you consider that I just started running four years ago, having previously been a total non-jock and the worst student in my grade school gym classes. I began to challenge this idea of myself while doing a college internship in Sarasota, Florida. Finding it difficult to make friends in a strange place, I told myself that I could either be miserable and have a terrible summer, or I could make the best of it and spend the time trying to better myself. I decided that I was going to do two things I had previously thought impossible: learn to cook and learn to run.

The cooking was easy; the running was a bit harder. I did little loops around my neighborhood, working my way up to longer distances. By the end of the summer, I was able to complete a 5K race. I was so proud of myself, and told everyone I knew. However, I then found myself wondering… if I could push my limits to complete a 5K, how much more could I do? In December 2007, I decided it would be my New Year’s resolution to train for and complete a half marathon by the end of the year. I smashed that resolution before the end of the month! I was shocked that I had been able to do it – I thought for sure I was pushing my limits further than I could go. But now I wondered – could I somehow do a full marathon?

I signed up for the Vermont City Marathon in May 2008, selecting it in large part because it was sponsored by Ben & Jerry’s and promised free ice cream at the finish. My mom and my best friend came, holding signs that said “run to the ice cream, Laura!” Whenever I saw their signs, you can bet that I ran a little faster! :) When I finished, I was sore and exhausted and said I would never do one again… but then that amazing feeling of crossing the finish line and doing something I thought was impossible stuck with me, and I wanted to do that again. To date, I’ve run 42 marathons in 39 states and two Canadian provinces, in a little over 1.5 years. I am on track to be the youngest woman to run a marathon in all 50 states and DC, and I will be finishing at this year’s Minneapolis Marathon. It’s sure to be a party at the finish line!

Have you ever run two marathons in one weekend?
I’ve done two in one weekend three times so far. The first was this summer, where I got to visit Salt Lake City and run one on Founder’s Day (a state holiday there). I then flew us back to New York on a redeye flight and then connected up to Saginaw, Michigan, where I managed to run even ten minutes faster than in Salt Lake! The second “double” marathon I did was much easier on the travel: the first was in New Hampshire, and then I drove a few hours to Portland, ME to do one there the next day.

What is the coldest day on which you’ve run?
It was actually part of my third double (I promise I am not doing any more). I planned two southern marathons, Mississippi and Alabama, for the winter months, because I thought it would be a nice break from the cold up north. However, there was a crazy cold snap that weekend and it actually snowed during the first race. The Gatorade they passed out was frozen like a slushy, and the chocolate gel packs that I eat were also frozen so they tasted like fudgsicles and I had to chew them. I only got through the first day by promising myself that the forecast for the next day was warmer… but the forecast was wrong and it ended up being 14 degrees at the start of the next race (in Alabama)! I had dressed warmly, but my face got so cold that when people tried to talk to me, my jaw was so cold I could only slur my words back at them. Regardless, I finished, and now I’m just glad that hopefully the bitterest cold of winter is behind us and I won’t have to face those conditions again.

What was the hottest day on which you’ve run?
Oh boy, that’s a story. I decided that since running marathons wasn’t challenging enough, I’d try one of the toughest marathons out there: “Running With the Devil.” Held in the Mojave Desert in June, the race starts at 11am (for maximum sun!) and is run on a completely unshaded and hilly course. You’re required to carry a specific type of insulated water bottle (so that the water doesn’t evaporate – actually, we filled it with ice because it turned to water pretty quickly) and wear an “ice bandana” around your neck to try to keep you cool. Furthermore, you got weighed in at the start and then at various points along the way, to be sure you weren’t getting too dehydrated and losing too much water weight. It was 118 degrees and pure sun the whole way. It was probably the most miserable I’ve ever been in a marathon, and I would never repeat that experience… but I am proud of myself for getting through it and crossing the finish line.

What is the furthest you’ve traveled?
The furthest I’ve traveled would be either Anchorage or Honolulu (not sure which is further). Anchorage is a much better story though! Due to delays on the subway, I missed the noon flight to Seattle and ended up taking the late night flight there before connecting up to Anchorage. I didn’t get there until 2 AM, but I got up anyway and actually ran a personal best time that beat Sarah Palin’s time on the same course when she ran it a few years ago. My mantra for the second half of the race was just “Beat Palin… Beat Palin…” After the race, it was a quick shower and then off to the airport. How’s that for 12 hours in Anchorage?

What is your best time?
This January, I ran the inaugural Yuma Territorial Marathon in Yuma, AZ (just over the border from Mexico). I had gotten only 3 hours of sleep due to some delayed flights and a harrowing drive through a snowy mountain pass to get there, and my pre-race dinner was whatever I could scrounge up at Denny’s, the only place still open at that hour. However, the day dawned beautifully sunny and gorgeous, with temps that were neither too hot nor cold.

Have you ever run with any celebrities?
There were two guys from The Biggest Loser, Dane and Blaine, who said they ran a marathon in January 2009 after they left the show… but it turned out they actually got a ride in a van for several miles. To remedy that, NBC was having them run the Country Music Marathon in Nashville, along with a camera crew and coach to make sure they stayed on the course this time! As it turned out, I knew the coach from my running club, so when I ran into them, I decided to run with them. I ended up helping Arnat (my friend) with the pacing, and am happy to report that they definitely did the whole 26.2 miles this time. Since then, I’ve been an official “pace team leader” at five marathons, including in Burlington where I did my first. In my most recent pacing experience (in St. Louis), I finished just one second off from my expected time! This year, I am going to be pacing the Vermont City Marathon one week before finishing my fifty states in Minneapolis. It’s really neat to go back and be able to tell first timers that I was in their shoes once and really scared that I wouldn’t finish, but now I am so confident about my ability to finish that I can actually guarantee a consistent pace and exact time! I love giving back to the running community in this way.

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