Mike Fitzgerald
Mike Fitzgerald

From One Mile to 50 States

From One Mile to 50 States

day after day, I ran the treadmill until I felt like I could do a mile

Over the years, I’d run an occasional 5K or 10K for fun and once every few weeks or so I’d run around the block for fitness’ sake. But the idea of running a marathon was never much more than a passing thought, the concept seeming almost ridiculous, yet somehow intriguing. And by the age of 42, I’d certainly passed the point where I would even entertain the thought of completing a marathon. If I hadn’t done it as a much younger and fitter man, why would I do it now?

One January morning in 2007, I awoke to notice the vision in my right eye was not normal. It was as if a dark curtain had been drawn over half of my field of vision in that eye. A visit to Dr. Zak, my optometrist, was followed quickly by emergency surgery to repair a badly detached retina. This was followed by six weeks of immobility in my Clarkston, Michigan, home – face down on a couch to allow the retina to heal. After another six weeks of restricted physical activity, I found myself able to see again but badly out of shape.

I also found myself with a renewed sense of life. Early in the recovery process, I was uncertain about the success of the surgery and my ability to see again. The retina in my left eye also showed signs of weakness and, while not detached, would recover additional surgery. During the weeks of recovery, I’d found peace with the notion of not being able to see again, yet promised myself if I could see again, I would find a way to live life more fully. Fortunately, my recovery and all future procedures were completely successful.

The day my physical restrictions had been lifted by my surgeon, I realized I needed to get back in shape. My wife, Kristen, and I had just purchased a treadmill, months earlier. I stepped onto the machine with the goal of completing a mile. It was tough, but I was determined to get through it. I was not a young man, but I was also not an old one. So I felt the need to be able to do a mile without it seeming like it was so tough. So day after day, I ran the treadmill until I felt like I could do a mile easily. And as I felt my body begin to get back in shape and saw the improvement in my pace, I started running farther. Soon I was doing 3 or 4 miles every day on the treadmill.

Now by this time, my friend and coworker Michelle had been training to run a half marathon. Her enthusiasm for her training was contagious and got me thinking that perhaps I could someday run a half marathon. With my daily mileage and pace increasing on the treadmill, I decided it was time to take this act outside and soon found myself running everywhere in every condition for months. In April 2008, I ran my first half marathon, the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville.

Weeks later during a local run, I met Sarah, who invited me to join the group with which she had been running. That group was training on Saturday mornings for the Detroit Marathon in October and I soon found myself joining them every week. The training and the camaraderie were addicting, and before long I was registered for the marathon! And when I crossed that finish line in 4 hours and 23 minutes, I felt a tremendous sense of joy and accomplishment. Less than 2 years earlier, I’d been faced with possible blindness and here I am now – a marathon finisher!

In 2009, many member of the same group of runners were training for the Chicago marathon that fall. By this time, we had named the group “Your Pace or Mine Running Club”. I committed to do that marathon, and was bound and determined to be faster than the previous one. But just weeks before the race, I developed a knee injury which limited my running ability and restricted my training. I was still determined to finish the race, though, and was able to complete it, although in about an hour longer than I had in Detroit.

But what I learned is that the marathon does not have to be a race. It is an experience. I fully enjoyed experiencing the entire 26.2 miles of Chicago – whether I was able to run or not. It is with this spirit that I ran our next group marathon which was at Disney World in January of 2010. Then came Las Vegas in October of the same year. By the time I was training for my fifth marathon – back to Nashville in April 2011 – the trend of running each race in a different state had become apparent. For the Nashville race, Sarah had made a shirt for me to wear which proclaimed that I was “running in all 50 states”. Uh-oh.

Sure enough, I would spend the next several years travelling the country to run marathons. In November 2015, I ran the Madison Marathon, making Wisconsin the 46th state in which I’ve run a marathon. I’ve continued to run these races not to be fast, but to enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to see so many different places.

Many of these races have been shared with good friends, including many who have completed or are also pursuing a marathon in each state: Leah, Argenta, Hoa, Veronica, Matt, John, and especially Sue – with whom I’ve run 28 marathons. Over these years, my marathon trips have allowed me to go dogsledding in Alaska, assist Olympic Marathon hopefuls in Houston, and have the privilege and honor of meeting Bataan Death March survivors in New Mexico. I’ve been able to meet up with old friends. On three instances, I’ve run marathons on consecutive days. Kristen and I celebrated our 25th anniversary in Maui. She has been so supportive of me in my endeavor and I would like to take this opportunity to let her know how much I appreciate all the she has done for me!

In 2016, I plan to complete my 50 state journey. Three races earlier in the year will be followed by the Monumental Marathon in November – which will make Indiana my 50th marathon state. Appropriate, since I was born in Marion in 1964 and spent 17 years living in Kokomo. Friends who have previously run the Monumental have given it very high marks, so I am really excited to be able to finish this journey at this race. I’m looking forward to being there in November!