Marquette marathoners

Local runners complete long races in every state

Bill Sved of Marquette and Donna Thackwray of Harvey have completed marathons in all 50 states. Even with these accomplishments, they plan to keep running. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Local runners Bill Sved and Donna Thackwray have finished the Marquette Marathon, as have many others. Their resume, though, also includes races in glamorous locales like the Honolulu and Maui Oceanfront marathons.

However, every state has its scenic spots, and running a marathon in each one of them is a great — if not exhausting — way of seeing Rhode Island to Kansas to Alaska.

Sved, 69, of Marquette, and Thackwray, 58, of Harvey, are members of a truly elite club: runners who have finished a marathon in all 50 states.

Sved began his list in 1985 with the Honolulu Marathon, and finished in 1993 with the Sunburst Marathon in South Bend, Indiana, crossing the finish line at Notre Dame Stadium.

He was in top shape, of course, to tackle that many 26.2-mile races, but then there were the logistics of getting the time and money to run them.

These are the medals won by Bill Sved of Marquette and Donna Thackwray of Harvey for finishing marathons in all 50 states. Sved earned his belt buckle in 1993 and Thackwray received her medal this year. (Photo courtesy of Bill Sved)

“Well, I have a belt buckle that I call my $15,000 belt buckle,” Sved said. “I figure it costs about $300 a state, average. I just squeezed it in as far as work and running.”

For Sved, finishing a marathon in Delaware was quite the accomplishment. At the time, the state didn’t have a marathon, so it was hard to run a race when one didn’t exist.

So, he took matters into his own hands — or rather, feet.

Sved put on a marathon in that state in 1992, acting as race director and attracting runners from about half the states.

With all the miles he’s covered, he’s gathered many memories. The best one?

“I would say just meeting people along the way was probably the most gratifying thing of the whole quest,” Sved said.

Thackwray ran her first marathon in 1993 — the Smoky Mountain Marathon in Townsend, Tennessee — but didn’t start pursuing her 50-state quest until three or four years later, she said.

“It just sort of happened,” Thackwray said. “I wasn’t really planning it. I just noticed, ‘Wow, I’ve got this state and that state and the other state. Maybe I should try for all 50.'”

She completed her 50 states in the Maui Oceanfront Marathon earlier this year.

“A lot of people, I think, like to do Hawaii or choose to do Hawaii as their last one because, of course, it’s the 50th state, and for most of us, it’s expensive and hard to get to, and sort of a treat,” Thackwray said. “And it was beautiful.”

Following the race, the runners who finished their 50 states received medallions and were honored in a special ceremony, she said.

Thackwray took a sunset cruise, also after the event, and happened to meet another Marquette runner, Christina VandeZande, who too has the goal of completing a marathon in each state.

Talk about a small world.

“She didn’t remember me, but she remembered my dog, or remembered me running with my dog,” Thackwray said.

As with Sved, no single memory immediately jumps at the forefront.

“All of them are memorable in some way,” Thackwray said.

However, when she ran on Kodiak Island in Alaska, she was the first woman finisher and third overall — but she was last.

The event was notable in that the side wagon was following her closely behind.

Thackwray said she was fine, but the wagon drivers were insistent they stay close.

They also mentioned the possibility of grizzly bears in the area.

That gave her pause for thought. She’s fast, but not that fast.

“On second thought, you can stay close,” Thackwray told them.

The two finished the Sept. 2 Marquette Marathon — his 275th marathon, Thackwray’s 200th. They didn’t win, but they acknowledged having competitive instincts “within themselves.”

“Both of us are always running for time,” Sved said. “We always have time goals. The most important goal is to finish injury-free.”

Both said they “absolutely” will continue running.

“It’s like I grew up running,” Sved said. “To get to my friend’s house, (I) ran there. It didn’t take as long as walking.”

For Sved, it’s also “a lifestyle thing” since he’s big into the local running community, with many of his friends in the same community.

“I’m going to keep running marathons as long as I can, and when I can’t, then go to shorter distances,” Sved said.

Count Thackwray as part of that running community, even on a “nasty February morning.”

Why, then, the bother?

“Just the feeling I get, especially being outdoors, the scenery, the people,” Thackwray said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.