It was once said about marathon runners “How do you know if someone ran a marathon? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.”
That isn’t exactly the case at Shaler Area High School in Pittsburgh. In fact, teacher Jeffery Ward has run more than 50 marathons as part of his goal to run a marathon in every state and is quite humble about it.
“Years ago, before I was a teacher, I was an engineer and my boss at the time had run the London Marathon. I had looked at his [marathon scrapbook]. That’s how I started running.” said Ward, a chemistry teacher. He started running the Pittsburgh Marathon every year and got addicted.
In fact, at the end of one of those marathons, he saw another runner with an unusual t-shirt. The t-shirt had the abbreviations of all the states on it with some crossed out. Ward learned that there was a group called the 50 Marathoners Group. If an individual ran a race in at least 10 states, he/she could join the club.
“That’s how it all started. I saw some guy at the end of one of the Pittsburgh Marathons have this shirt on and had some of the states marked out–and I wanted to try and do that,” he said.
This past summer, he was able to complete his 50-state goal when he ran a marathon in Hawaii. “It took about 12 years, I thought it was going to take longer,” Ward said.
While one would think that the actual running of 26.2 miles would be the most difficult aspect, Ward contends that the selection of race and the travels plans associated with the race were more challenging than running. “The most difficult thing is the logistics behind it all. Running it, once I got trained, was the easy part,” he said. Even after successful planning, there was always the chance that weather could interfere. He traveled to Myrtle Beach one February only for the marathon to be canceled due to snow.
Running a marathon takes an incredible amount of discipline and stamina. Recovering after running them can take days.
“You usually are just tired and drink a lot of water, drink a lot of Gatorade and you just sit for awhile…and then a day or two later, you’re shoveling food in,” he said. To get ready for the marathons, Ward would aim to run every day so he could do one 20-mile run a month.
Ward ran a total of 75 marathons, as he has not limited himself to just one marathon per state. Along with running Pittsburgh annually, he does other races multiple times, if they aren’t too far away. While he has reached his goal, he is thinking about adding to the goal by running the marathons in all states in a specific time.
“Of all the states, I’d say about 20-25 of them I’ve done under four hours. The ones I haven’t, I want to try to get under four, if I can,” he said.
After all the work, all the training, what is the best part of the races? “The best part is finishing, getting the medal,” Ward said.
As he looks back on his accomplishments, his most memorable races were in the state he did not have to travel to.
“Although going to Alaska and Hawaii were memorable for various reasons, I think that my most memorable marathon will always be the Pittsburgh Marathon,” he said. “I have completed this race eight times and every time I look forward to running through the streets on which I have trained, seeing students like the Shaler Area Track and Field team’s water stop at mile 4 or 5, and seeing colleagues at mile 20 in Highland Park or at the finish line. But most importantly, the 2001 Pittsburgh Marathon was my first marathon, something that I will not forget.”