When someone offers a motivation to “run toward a goal,” it’s usually meant metaphorically. For Janie Ross, this was a literal means of achievement. For the past 33 years, running has been a hobby for Ross. In June of this year, she completed a goal that started decades ago to run a marathon in all 50 states plus Washington D.C.
“My first marathon was in 1990,” Ross said. “I did another one a couple of years later, and liked it, so somebody said, ‘Why don’t you join this club?’ The club members do 51 marathons.”
She hit the southern states early on, which were the easiest logistically. The further she got from home the more challenges she faced. This last year presented the most challenges because she’d saved the most difficult for last.
“You have to see where there is one that fits into your schedule,” said Ross. “Over the last year I did eight marathons and it was pretty difficult to schedule because you have to say, ‘When can I be gone?’ and ‘When is there a marathon?’”
Rhode Island presented its own challenge because it only has four marathons in a calendar year.
“Last February,” Ross said, “Tammy Denson and I were scheduled to go to Rhode Island and a nor’easter came in and we couldn’t get a flight out. So, we had to switch that one to the only other available marathon in Rhode Island that we could go to which was the end of October.” Out of all 51 marathons, that’s the only one she couldn’t get to and had to reschedule.
While Ross has pursued this goal on her own, she’s had several people who have supported her along the way, especially toward the end. Her husband Gerald, and friends Tammy Denson and Andrea Hirst, all who have run marathons with her, helped her push through to achieve her goal.
“When my husband and I determined I needed to wrap this up, he said, ‘I’ll go to every other one and get Tammy to go with you to every other one.’ And that’s a pretty big challenge! That’s not like saying, ‘Do you want to go to the beach with me?’ The two of them got me through the last year.”
She was able to mark off marathon 51 in June of this year when she competed in a marathon in Anchorage, Alaska, with her husband and Hirst. It turned out to be her favorite marathon location. Omaha, Nebraska, comes in as her least favorite location.
“It was very hot,” said Ross about Omaha. “A lot of it was run along the levee so there was no shade. It was pretty tortuous.”
Though it was her least favorite, Omaha was not the marathon with the most challenging conditions. That prize goes to Kennebunkport, Maine, which she ran in 2017. This marathon, run alongside the ocean, presented hypothermic conditions with pouring rain, 40-degree temperatures, and a 40-mph wind coming off the ocean. According to Ross, that’s all part of it.
“When I’m training, I can look at the weather when I’m at home and say, ‘Ok it’s going to be coolest Wednesday morning, so I’ll go out early Wednesday morning.’ But when you get to that marathon you just absolutely have to suck it up and endure whatever challenges come your way.”
Over 30 plus years of running, Ross has never had knee problems, mainly because she takes such care in the shoes she wears.
“One of the most important things is to make sure you don’t exceed 300 or so miles on a pair of shoes,” said Ross. “Typically, I’ll do 30 miles a week so every ten weeks that’s another pair of shoes.”
Now that she has reached her goal, Ross plans to start cycling again, and get back into some of the other activities she loves, including rappelling, backpacking, and mountain climbing. She’d also like to learn to paddleboard. She will continue to run, possibly in some half marathons, and maybe one day get to run in Canada, because there’s just something about running for her.
“You’re either running or you’re not,” said Ross. “If you ride a bicycle you can coast downhill. If you’re running, or even if you take a walk break, you’re still propelling yourself every inch that you go. It’s just that challenge of saying hot, cold, sleet, hail, rain, wind, you’re going to do it, and that’s the greatest challenge.”