50 states marathons

Marquette woman attempting feat

Christina VandeZande of Marquette plans to run a marathon in every state. She also is an accomplished artist, with this painting an example of her talent. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — For many people, running one marathon is tough. Running one in every U.S. state — remember, there are 50 of them — is positively brutal.

Well, maybe not for everybody.

Christina VandeZande, 52, has that ambitious goal.

She is a member of the 50 States Marathon Club, whose requirement to join is having completed a marathon in at least 10 states. The common goal, of course, is competing in a marathon in every state.

Right now, VandeZande is at the halfway mark at 25. However, speed is not the main factor here.

A row of medals Christina VandeZande has won from participating in marathons adorns a wall of her home. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

“I’m not a fast runner, and so when I started running them, I knew I’m not trying to beat times,” VandeZande said.

When she was running a marathon, though, she noticed people wearing shirts that indicated they completed 50 states.

“And I thought, that’s kind of cool,” VandeZande said.

Now she’s toured half the country as well.

Her first marathon actually was a half-marathon, the Fox Cities event in Wisconsin, that she ran when she was 39. What ended up happening was that as VandeZande was crossing the finish line, she immediately decided a full marathon was in her future.

So, she eventually completed the full Fox Cities Marathon, a 26.2-mile trek.

“I just said. ‘I’m going to keep doing them,'” said VandeZande, who runs with family members and a close friend.

One marathon was particularly notable. For the New Hampshire Marathon in October 2014, VandeZande asked her now-husband, John, to drive her there, which didn’t excite him since it was the first day of bow hunting season.

He asked if they planned to drive through Niagara Falls to get there since they were visiting one of her high school friends in Vermont.

John surprised her by proposing at Niagara Fals.

“I ran that marathon on a ‘high of happiness,'” VandeZande said. “Besides this one, John has no plans to join me at another fall marathon.”

He has one word for her marathoning: “Crazy.”

Her lengthy races have taken her through many exotic locales, one of which was this past January in Hawaii at the Maui Oceanfront Marathon, which, according to its website, runs north from Wailea along the Pacific Ocean to Kamehameha Iki Park near the banyan tree in Old Lahaina Town.

Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

VandeZande, in a way, wishes she had saved Maui, or at least Hawaii, for last, it being the 50th state. In fact, she said the 33 runners in the Oceanfront Marathon all had the number 50 because they saved the event for their final state.

VandeZande doesn’t have any immediate plans to qualify for the famed Boston Marathon — she said she’s too slow — although she’s trying to run under 5 hours. However, she’s not completely counting it out.

“I’m kind of saving Massachusetts for one of my last states because I might qualify as I get older, if I keep my times down,” VandeZande said. “The qualifying times might get better.”

This fall, she plans to run with her sister in West Virginia, plus she’s already registered for a marathon in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in March.

Where does VandeZande find the time for all the running? What’s even more amazing is that she works full time as vision therapy director for Superior Eye Health & Vision Therapy Center.

Being active, though, appears to make up a good part of her lifestyle.

VandeZande, who swam in high school and was a competitive bodybuilder in college, didn’t want to do “the gym thing” anymore when she moved back to the region.

A marathon, was it turned out, was her thing.

“I just started running slowly,” VandeZande said. “Got back into it. I was just starting to run more miles, and my friend said, ‘You could probably train for that. ‘ And now I’m kind of hooked.”

Right now she’s training a minimal amount, but with her three-month program, she tries to get in at least 35 miles per week.

Weekends are more strenuous for her, with runs that can be as long as 20 miles.

VandeZande also has several courses for her training sessions, including loops to Gwinn and Harvey. Sometimes her husband will drop her off in west Ishpeming where she will run the scenic Iron Ore Heritage Trail.

“It is gorgeous,” VandeZande said. “That’s what the Marquette Marathon runs on, actually.”

Cost can be a factor with her marathoning, although a trip to Indianapolis or Fargo, North Dakota, for example, didn’t entail long journeys.

Much of her focus is on getting in the miles, although that does come with a bit of a cost in another way.

“It kind of ruins your social life a little bit,” VandeZande said. “The weekends, it’s like, ‘Come on over to this gathering’ and it’s like, ‘No, I’m sorry. I’ve got to run.’ It takes me four hours to get a run in, and then I’m exhausted.”

She acknowledged that obsession is waning.

“Now, I’m not so hung up on that because I’m not into ‘I want to beat my time and I want to be really fast,'” VandeZande said. “I don’t have a lot of injuries because for one, I don’t hurt a muscle or pull a muscle or hurt an ankle because I’m not that intense of a runner.”

Now she’s at the point of “If I miss my run, I miss my run.”

That doesn’t mean she’s a slacker. In fact, don’t expect to see a DNF — which stands for Did Not Finish — after her name in the race results.

“I know I will finish every marathon I start,” VandeZande said. “I will not DNF unless I break my leg and I can’t go any farther.”

For VandeZande, taking part in marathons goes beyond sheer physical activity. It’s a great opportunity to view parts of the country she’s never seen.

“I take pictures through the whole course,” VandeZande said. “Before digital phones and photos on phones, I used to bring a little Instamatic camera with me, and I would take pictures, and half of them were foggy because I was so hot and sweaty, and I would take it out and it would smear up the lens, and so half the photos were terrible.”

Some marathons are more photogenic than others. She picked the marathon in Maui in January, which was during whale season. Sure enough, she saw whales along the course, which probably was worth the 5:30 a.m. race start and having to wear headlamps at first.

VandeZande already was a nature lover of sorts. Being a sea turtle aficionado — and an accomplished painter whose artwork of a hawksbill sea turtle has a prominent place in her living room — she has about 300 turtle-related knickknacks in her home.

Although she might not see such exotic wildlife on all her races, she gets views of America, like a mountainscape in Idaho, that otherwise wouldn’t be available to her had she not decided to try for all 50 states.

VandeZande said: “It’s really neat to be able to see all these places, and I would never go to every state in the U.S. if I didn’t do this, so it’s making me travel all the time.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.