Just to run one marathon, 26.2 miles, is a fairly daunting goal.
How about running a marathon in all 50 states?
That’s the remarkable quest that Mike Schwartz, 60, of Lino Lakes completed recently.
After striding through the finish line in North Bend, Washington, on July 27, at the Jack and Jill Downhill Marathon, Schwarz has run one in every state from sea to shining sea. For the record, he finished 470th in four hours, 32 minutes that day.
“Not sure what kicked in back in May of 2014 that got me started, other than I love to travel and I already had 20 states completed,” Schwarz reflected, referring to a Fargo race where he decided to set this goal.
“Once I finished last Saturday, it seemed kind of anticlimactic. Much of the fun getting through states 21 through 50 was where to go next and when, and what is the cheapest way to get there.”
Schwarz, whose occupation is controller for Touchpoint Media in Plymouth, will alter his running goals now.
“I am looking forward to seeing if I can push myself (and stay healthy) in training to be able to run a much faster time than I have been, at upcoming Twin Cities Marathon.”
For the occasion in Washington, Schwarz’s wife Michelle, brothers Dave and Steve, and sister Liz all made the trip with him. Normally, Schwarz said, he goes solo to faraway states “to keep costs down.” Michelle used to run marathons also, including one Boston before they met.
Asked if race officials in Washington made note of his feat, he said, “They did ... sort of.” Misunderstanding the situation, they announced, as he crossed the line, that it was his 50th marathon.
Actually it was the 154th total marathon for Schwarz, all between ages 32 and 60.
His first was Grandma’s in Duluth in 1990. After running Fargo’s in 2014, he made a resolution. “I had run 20 different states,” he said, “and caught the bug to do all 50.” In just five years since then, he made his way to the other 30 states. The last six in the countdown were Hawaii (Waikoloa), Oregon (Banks), Connecticut (Hartford), Oklahoma (Tulsa), Maryland (Greenbelt) and finally Washington.
Schwarz has run Grandma’s the most, 27 times, followed by the Twin Cities Marathon (10 times), Walker North Country (six), Mardi Gras in New Orleans (six), Boston (four) and Rome (four). Yes, that’s Rome, Italy. He’s run 20 marathons in Europe, in seven countries, and five in Canada.
“In the past I would go to Europe to run marathons and then sight-see around that. Now. it’s more that we go to sight-see, and if there is a marathon around close by, I might just have to go over and check it out.”
Along with 43 marathons in Minnesota, his most frequent states are Wisconsin (19) and California (five).
And in 154 consecutive starts, he has always finished, although he’s walked across the finish line in some.
Asked if he knows anyone else who’s done all fifth, he said he knows one, Dale Heinen of Shoreview.
Schwarz is a middle of the pack runner at best. His top finishes came in a couple small marathons — 11th among about 100 in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1999, and top-ten in another small field in Brookings, SD, in 1996. It was at Anchorage that he posted his best time: three hours, 18 minutes. His next best was 3:20 in one of his Boston races.
Not much in Schwarz’s youth signaled that he would be a lifelong athlete. He joined the track team only as a senior in high school in Farmington and as a freshman in college at UM-Duluth. “I was not at the top of the food chain (athletically),” said Schwarz. Between then and his 30’s, all he did was run to stay in shape. “It is a bit odd,” he said, “that running a marathon didn't really occur to me until I was 30.”
Marathons are almost exclusively his distance. “Once in a great while I will run a half marathon, and probably will run more of those going forward,” he said. “I have never run an ultra marathon or a triathlon.” His favorite training venue is the Sunrise Prairie Trail between Wyoming and North Branch.
The most high-profile marathons he’s run are Boston, New York, Chicago and Rome.
As for the most beautiful courses, he designates three in Switzerland. “Jungfrau Marathon, from Interlaken to Klein Schidegg, is at the top of the list for sheer scenery,” he said, “followed closely by Davos and Lausanne.” In the USA, he said, “Grandma’s and Twin Cities are as scenic as any.”
Schwarz is signed up for his 155th marathon, the TCM on Oct. 6.
“As long as I'm healthy, I plan on doing marathons, just not quite as many,” he said, “but always Grandma’s if I can.”