Todd Hartung crosses the finish line of the 7 Bridges Marathon, steadies his breathing and surveys the city of Chattanooga, bathed in mid-morning sunshine.
He's just completed 26 miles in 3 hours, 22 minutes and 55 seconds and finished third among males age 40-44. But he's not done. He plans to keep running, and likely improving his time, as he continues his quest to run 50 marathons in 50 states. Today, he can check off Tennessee - his 22nd state.
A former college wrestler at UNC Chapel Hill, Hartung has athleticism in his blood. He ran his first marathon, the Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minn., in 2007. "It was unusually hot, and the heat took its toll on me," he said.
"I was surprised, I had thought I was in better shape than I was. So I went and signed up for another one - the Marine Corps Marathon (in Washington, D.C.)."
He performed better there. His time was just a couple minutes shy of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, which has strict entrance standards. A goal was born, then quickly surpassed - Hartung has now run the Boston Marathon three times.
Hartung, who lives in the River Run neighborhood in Davidson and works as director of advancement for Cannon School in Concord, says that for him, running is peaceful and relaxing. "It's great to just get in a zone and take in the sights," he said.
It can also be a solitary hobby. So Hartung, along with buddies Chad Randolph and Jim Crotts, started the Davidson Area Running Team, or DART, which now has more than 150 members. "Some days you just don't feel like running, and it's easier when you can find two or three other runners to help carry you through," he said. And, "there's no better place to run than Davidson."
Hartung competes in all kinds of races, from 5Ks to the 208-mile Blue Ridge Relay, which he ran with an eight-person team made up of Cannon School faculty. He is busy preparing for a new endeavor - the JFK 50-mile run in Washington County, Maryland, this November. But, he says, "My favorite is the marathon."
Having run in 22 states, Hartung is hard-pressed to pick a favorite. But among the most memorable, he cites the Big Sur Marathon in California - "unbelievable, all along the water;" the Chicago Marathon - "huge, you're getting up at 4 a.m. to get down there;" the Route 66 in Tulsa, Okla.; and the Vermont Marathon along Lake Champlain.
He has also competed internationally, recently running in Oslo, Norway. It was definitely an experience, as "people are cheering for you and yelling things in Norwegian. Plus, the race is in kilometers."
No matter if it's Alabama or Alaska, one thing remains constant - Hartung's love for the sport. "It's a hobby with so many benefits. It's a great workout, a way to relax, and gives such a sense of accomplishment," he said.
And apparently, also a geography lesson.