Do What You Love, and Achieve Amazing Things

12/26/2016 - 16:47

By Lena Hollmann
K250States II.jpgWhen Eric Johnson of Raleigh, NC, approached the finish at the City of Oaks Marathon in Raleigh this November there were friends cheering him on, and a custom made cake plus champagne waiting for him at the finish line. And when Kelly Richards of Grapevine, TX, ran the IMT Des Moines Marathon in Iowa in October, more than 30 people had come from five different states to celebrate with her. After she finished, they all went directly to a German Beer House and continued the celebration.

Johnson and Richards are not Olympians, not even elite runners. They are regular runners like you and I, who love their sport. Both are masters runners, in their late 40s. They both discovered running decades ago, and have not looked back since then. They enjoy running because of how it makes them feel, but most of all because of all the wonderful friends they make at the races and at other running related events. But when they crossed the finish line in their recent marathons, they had both accomplished something beyond the extraordinary.

For Johnson it was his 200th marathon, the culmination (so far) in a journey that started with the 1993 Marine Corps Marathon. He had no plans to run this many marathons back then, and he only ran three before year 2000. But he got hooked on marathoning, and continued to sign up for and run marathons all over the country. By early 2012 he had run 100 of them. And after that, “it just made sense to keep going,” he said.

Kelly Richards, also known as ‘K2’ by her friends, started running in 1997. She ran her first marathon in 1998, at the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis, MN. A few years and a few marathons later she decided to run a marathon in each of the 50 states, and this October in Des Moines she reached that goal.

A few months ago I wrote another column here in Running Journal, where I talked about how to set goals and stay motivated to keep running as we get older and can no longer set personal records. I discussed how instead we could come up with challenges that are different and creative. However in the case of Johnson and Richards, their challenges seemed to find them rather than the other way around. “I decided to run a marathon in all 50 states, because it would be a fun way to do something I loved for the next 20 years” Richards said. “And motivation was never an issue, because I was doing something I loved.” Johnson just “kept going” after he started running marathons, reaching first 100, and now 200. He is enjoying the journey and has no plans to stop. “My next goal is 300,” he said, and added that it may take him a little more time to complete the next 100. “The biggest joy in running all these marathons is all the amazing people that I’ve met along the way,” he also said.

Running a marathon in all 50 states is an amazing accomplishment, one that takes a lot of effort and dedication even if you are doing something that you love. And running 200 marathons is no small task either! Johnson ran all but three of them after year 2000, i.e. within a 16 year time frame. So, on the average he must have run about one per month.

There are logistics issues and of course also expenses associated with running this many marathons, and with running one in every state. Johnson said that his biggest challenge in getting his 200 marathons done was airfare expenses going to marathons all over the country. And Richards found it much harder to plan her last 10 states than it was for her first 40. She also did a couple of international marathons, and had to plan her ’fifty states’ races around these.

For some people though, running is not enough. And for them there’s triathlons. The ultimate challenge for most triathletes is to complete what is known as a Full Ironman. This is a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride, and finally a marathon, i.e. a 26.2 mile run. It’s a full day’s work, and even the best in the world usually need eight hours or more to complete the deed. (As of this writing, the fastest time in the world for an Ironman Triathlon appears to be 7:35:39 by Jan Frodeno of Germany, while the fastest women’s time is 8:18:13 by Chrissie Wellington of Great Britain.)

Now, enter Susan Haag of Jacksonville, FL. At age 50, she too is a masters athlete. She may not be among the fastest Ironman triathletes in the world, but she holds a record that’s in a class of its own. When she crossed the finish line at the Ironman Florida in Panama City, FL, this October, she became the first woman ever to complete 100 Ironmans. For her it was the culmination of a journey that started at an Ironman triathlon in Brazil in May 2002.

Haag’s challenge also “fell in her lap” and wasn’t planned from the beginning. She had done triathlons since 1990, and again, her first Ironman was in 2002. She continued entering Ironman triathlons, but didn’t keep track of how many she had done until early 2012, when she counted 48. She decided to make it 50 by her 10-year anniversary in May that year. And like marathoner Eric Johnson, she just kept going after that!

Susan Kona 2012.pngMy hat goes off to all three of these athletes, who all have demonstrated that when we do what we love we can accomplish much more than we could imagine. The key to success for all three seems indeed to be that they were doing what they loved, which made their journeys more of a joy than a challenge. Of course there must have been obstacles and issues for all three while they were on their way towards achieving their goals, but they were minor compared to the positive experiences that they had. For Richards, her joy came from inspiring others to run their first marathon, to set personal records, and to qualify for the Boston Marathon. And when she too qualified for Boston, it wasn’t bad either! She had a phenomenal experience running the Boston Marathon in 2005. In Des Moines she qualified for Boston again, by over four minutes, running a little over 3:50. And that time was 17 minutes faster than what she ran in her first marathon back in 1998.

Johnson found joy in meeting so many new and wonderful people during his journey. He joined the Galloway training program in Raleigh and met several friends there. He also credits the run/walk method that is practiced in the Galloway program for making it possible for him to do as many marathons as he has.

And are they all planning new challenges after what they just accomplished? As I mentioned above, Johnson plans to continue, and is aiming for 300 marathons. And as of this writing, Haag just returned from her Ironman #101, in Cancun, Mexico. So far she has five more Ironmans scheduled for 2017. And she is contemplating a double Ironman, i.e. one on Saturday and one on Sunday, the same weekend!

But Richards is taking a break, and recently treated herself to a brief, relaxing vacation in Nicaragua. She has no marathons scheduled for the time being. “And this is a very odd feeling” she said. She does have several non-marathon races that she wants to run on her bucket list though.

The rest of us have plenty to learn from these three fine athletes. First and foremost, that if we believe in ourselves and never give up, we will get to our destination eventually! Second, that we need to find an activity to pursue that we love and enjoy, because if we love what we are doing, it becomes a joy and not a chore. Third, that being a masters runner does not mean that we are done achieving, and enjoying our sport. All three runners and athletes that I featured in this story are masters, i.e. over 40 years old. So young runners, watch out for us and learn from us, because we are not done yet!

Lena Hollmann is a certified personal trainer with American Council on Exercise (ACE), and also the RRCA North Florida State Rep. She lives and runs in Naples, FL, and can be reached at

This column appears in the January issue of Running Journal. To subscribe, go to

Top photo: Kelly Richards after she completed the IMT Des Moines Marathon, her 50th state.
Bottom photo: Susan Haag finishing the Kona (HI) Ironman in 2012.

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