Quite frankly, Jim Lathrop doesn’t make the act of running a marathon sound terribly appealing.
“I’ve seen people out there crying because of cramps,” he said. “I’ve seen people upchuck. I’ve seen people collapse. I ran next to one guy that ended up dying.”
So when you learn that the 71-year-old Indianapolis retiree will tackle Saturday’s Novant Health Charlotte Marathon in an attempt to complete his years-long quest to run a 26.2-mile footrace in each of the 50 states – and when you hear about the carnage he’s seen along the way – you couldn’t be blamed for wondering: Why?
Well, there are actually several answers.
1. Lathrop needed an outlet for his grief after losing his wife, Patty, to leukemia in 2007. So he started doing a lot more running.
2. Not long after that, he, his three adult daughters, and a friend joined runners, led by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training, who were raising money for the organization while training for the a marathon in Alaska. He had more than a half-dozen marathons under his belt at the time – all but one of them run in the same state – so pursuing 50 in 50 “just seemed like a natural thing to do.”
3. In 2010, Lathrop remarried, and the goal offered him and his new wife, Bernadette, a fun and unique excuse to see the entire country.
4. After years working as an accountant, then a controller for several different companies, he’d retired and had enough money to pull off the feat in a relatively short time.
5. Why not?
And despite the pain and suffering he’s both seen and endured over the course of 1,283.8 miles of running in 49 states, there have also been plenty of magic moments.
To name a few: Toeing the start line of the country’s most storied road race, the Boston Marathon; winding through majestic redwood forests and past sweeping, panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean in the Big Sur Marathon in California; and finishing the Marshall University Marathon at the goal line inside the school’s stadium (made famous in the 2006 film “We Are Marshall”) in Huntington, W.Va., after being handed a football to tuck under his arm in the homestretch.
“I’ve done as many as eight marathons a year,” Lathrop said. “At first, I was only doing one a year, but of course I didn’t know I was gonna try for 50 states. Once I got about three or four years into it, I realized, if I’m gonna do 50 states I’ve got to start picking it up, because I’m not getting any younger. I didn’t want to die before I got the 50.”
He stayed committed even after suffering a stroke on April 12, 2015, the day after his 70th birthday, as he and Bernadette drove from a marathon in Idaho to a marathon in Utah.
They’d pulled off the highway to find a pharmacy to get a few items for her, but without warning, he said, “I started having a brain freeze. By the time I got out of the car I had a hard time even seeing her.”
The pharmacist was concerned enough to direct him to the urgent care clinic across the street, and the urgent care doctor was concerned enough that a helicopter was deployed to medevac him to the University of Utah Stroke Center.
But after keeping him under observation for two nights, doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with him except his eyesight. So the couple returned to Indiana, where he immediately started therapy to restore his vision.
And if you’re a running junkie (or if you know one), this next part may sound familiar:
“The doctors in Salt Lake City said I should be able to run in a few months,” Lathrop said, “but I was probably back out running within a couple weeks. I just ran in the neighborhood. I had to get back out. You can’t sit down too long. Life’s full of setbacks, but you’ve got to keep going.”
He ended up missing just two marathons he’d registered for, and was back on the 50-marathons-in-50-states trail that September.
“We both held our breath going into that race,” Bernadette Lathrop said. “Then we both were very emotional about it when he finished. ... It was relief and happiness. We both cried. I mean, it was just like, ‘Oh, thank God. OK, we’re – you’re back.’ ”
That she started to say “we’re back” is significant, because Bernadette is invested in this, too. A 70-year-old grandmother, she’s trying to complete 50 half-marathons in 50 states; barring unforeseen problems, she’ll notch No. 33 in Charlotte. (“As they say, when you do fulls, you’re full crazy, and when you do halfs, you’re just half-crazy,” she said.)
After Charlotte, though, he plans to stick to the half-marathon distance while focusing on supporting Bernadette’s quest, which they’ve mapped out to end in Hawaii in 2019. He hasn’t entirely closed the door on another 26.2-mile race – he’s a veteran, and he’s always wanted to do the Marine Corps Marathon in D.C. – but for the time being, this is it.
“A friend asked me, ‘How are you gonna feel when you cross the line? And I said, ‘I don’t know yet. Relief, I suspect, more than anything,’ ” he said, laughing.
“This whole 50 states things ... it’s been wonderful. I can’t thank the Lord enough for what I’ve been able to do, and there’s a lot of people I can thank who’ve helped me along the way, including both my wives, family, friends – and all the people that I’ve bored to death talking about running.”
Several of those people will be there to help him celebrate on Saturday: Jim’s son-in-law and youngest grandson are participating in the 5K; three of Jim’s other grandsons and Bernadette’s sister also will run the half; and Jim’s three daughters, Bernadette’s son and assorted other friends and relatives will cheer from the sidelines.
“I was actually trying to get a couple of the grandsons to run this last marathon with me, but they just couldn’t make it (through the training),” he said.
You heard that right: Grandpa has more stamina than the grandkids.