Between us, Fran Libasci and I have completed 111 marathons. Okay, I’ve done three of them, she has run the other 108. In fact, earlier this year Fran became the first New Jersey woman ever to run 100 marathons. I first met Fran at a book signing and speaking engagement at the Central Jersey Road Runners Club where she is a past president. Recently she agreed to this Q&A about her marathons and her running life in general.
Q: When did you first become interested in running?
But in the early 1990s one of my colleagues at work “challenged”
our entire group to run a 5k hosted by a nearby firm. I was about 40 years old at the time and thought it was ridiculous. Why would I or anyone else want to run 3.1 miles?
But I decided to run the race as a team-building activity. My conclusion? It wasn’t fun but I got through it and I did feel a sense of accomplishment.
Q: Your 100th marathon was the Yakima River Canyon Marathon on March 31st of this year. When and where was your first, and what was that experience like?
My first marathon was the 2001 New York City Marathon. My friend Tom Brand, who has been in my life since 1974, ran his first NYC Marathon in 1996 and I was excited to cheer him on from the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan. Rushing around from site to site on the NYC subway was a marathon of its own. I honestly never thought I would
follow in his footsteps. Why would I or anyone else want to run 26.2 miles? (Are you seeing a theme here?) Then in November 2000 I volunteered for the NYRR on Marathon Sunday. My job was to help load the buses at the 42nd Street Public Library. I was overwhelmed by what I saw as I watched the runners line up to get on the buses. People from all around the world were coming to run this race. I was intrigued and amazed. Up until this time I had only run two half marathons and couldn’t fathom running twice that far. But there was something about the spirit, focus and determination of these runners that I walked away thinking . . . maybe someday. The
2001 NYC Marathon date approached too quickly and of course, the aftermath of
September 11th, 2001 made the event a memorial for those who died and a tribute for all who served during the disaster. It would be an understatement to say it was
an emotional day for most of us. Tom was determined to run with me (I should more appropriately say run/walk with me) to provide every ounce of support and encouragement he could. All was well until mile 19 and according to my recollection (which is different than Tom’s) I started whining and moaning and threatening to stop. I remember saying “Why in the world am I doing this? This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.” Through it all, Tom just kept on encouraging me and saying he had faith in me. I finished in 5:12:24 and carried my finisher’s medal and smile proudly for at
least a week.
Q: When did you decide to shoot for 100, or did that number just creep up on
Once I began running marathons, Tom and I began meeting the same people at different races, and we learned about the 50 States Marathon Club. We began to focus on completing the 50 States, and in July 2010 accomplished that goal. I was the 2nd woman from NJ to accomplish this. In spite of saying I didn’t want to do the states a second time the, lure of running marathons that we hadn’t run before was tugging at us. Also, at the same time I retired from my job, so much more time was available to travel. We kept running races and one day I realized that I had 70 marathons. Since the 50 States Marathon Club has a website that keeps your number of marathons recorded, it is easy to see where you stand on the list of total marathons run by gender. It was sometime in mid 2011 that I realized that I not only had a chance to run 100 marathons, but I could be the 1st woman from NJ to achieve that goal. I’ve always wanted to be first at SOMETHING, and now I realized – this was my chance. I was determined to get it done.
Q: Do you run most of your marathons with a companion beside you, or do you typically like to do them all on your own?
Tom and I run all the same marathons, but with the exception of my first two NYC Marathons which he and I ran together, I have run them by myself. His finish times are often an hour faster than mine. I enjoy having short chats with fellow runners but prefer to spend the majority of time alone.
Q: Which of those 100 marathons was the toughest, and why?
Geez that’s like asking “which is your favorite?” Let me mention three.
1) The 2009 Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon held in the high desert terrain of the White Sands Missile Range in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The marathon is conducted in honor of the heroic service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II, sacrificing their freedom, health and, in many cases, their very lives. The day prior to the event we were honored to be able to speak to more than a dozen veterans of Bataan. These discussions made it immensely clear how
huge their sacrifice and suffering was. The next day the terrain, the temperatures, the 2 miles uphill in ankle deep sand, and the emotion all contributed to an extremely tough event.
2) The 2007 Chicago Marathon. Anyone following marathons will remember unseasonably hot temperatures and the issues with water distribution on the course contributing to a large number of runners requiring medical attention and the resultant “cancelling” of the race. The race wasn’t actually cancelled, however, they did strongly discourage participants from completing the entire course. I resisted their warnings and finished the race. The only real issue I faced was the lack of clear and consistent messages from the volunteers, staff, and security personnel.
3) The 2011 Napa Valley Marathon. This was my only DNF. The day before the race
I had an intestinal bug that took more out of me than I admitted. Race morning was cool with a constant light rain. By mile 17 I knew I wasn’t going to shake it. I continued on to mile 22 and willingly boarded the sag wagon with what was identified as early stages of hypothermia. This was by far the toughest race I’ve run, and it was even tougher to accept my first, and hopefully only, DNF.
Q: How has running 100 marathons affected your life overall?
I had never thought about this. Contrary to what you might think, the more marathons I run the more I learn to respect the distance. A marathon isn’t easy, you need to be mindful of your condition at all times. You need to anticipate – anticipate your physical and nutritional needs. However, having completed over 100 marathons now, I know that I am driven by goals and I know that once I really put my mind into doing
something, I can achieve it. It might take time but I can do just about anything. It has also taught me not to judge people. People of all sizes and shapes run marathons. I’ve learned not to take tomorrow for granted. I know many people who go out for a run one day and the next day they are stricken with a serious medical issue which
renders them unable to run again. I’ve learned to be humble about my achievements. Recently at the Casper Marathon I met two women along the course who asked me how many marathons I had run – I proudly offered “103” just to find out they each had close to 200 under their belts! And the very day I ran my 100th marathon at Yakima River Canyon, Bob Dolphin (co-race director of the event) was running his 500th marathon!
Q: One key to completing 100 marathons is being able to avoid
injuries, or at least keeping injuries to a minimum. How have you been able to do that throughout this streak?
I think I’ve kept injuries under control. That is not to say I don’t have aches and pains. Ever since my second marathon back in 2002 I’ve experienced pain in my hips, upper
hamstring and occasionally my lower back. Through core strengthening at Power Train (a boot camp style fitness program), independent exercises, and more recent visits to a doctor for treatments, I can slog (slow jog) through just about anything.
Q: I mention in my book about the Antarctica Marathon being perhaps the ultimate adventure run. Now I hear you are entered in the 2013 race. What made you decide to do that?
Even before we were done with the 50 States we knew we wanted to also run a marathon on all 7 continents. So, in 2009 at the NYC Marathon Expo we spoke about the trip with Thom Gilligan (the founder of Marathon Tours, the group that sponsors the race). Learning that there was a multiple year waiting list we decided to sign up then.
Q: How, if at all, will you prepare differently for that race than
you have for your other marathons?
Well, from August 2012 through December 2012 we have 18 marathons on our calendar. That translates to 3 or 4 each month. So, in our case we currently treat one
marathon as training for the next. However, we do plan to significantly cut back on the number of marathons we will run going forward. In reality, Antarctica might just be a marathon that I actually TRAIN for. I would imagine that I will avoid the treadmill this winter as much as possible and instead do my long runs outdoors in any and all conditions. The event is in March, summer in Antarctica, with temperatures between the low teens and the low 40s and very windy. If we have a “typical” New Jersey winter, that should provide several days for training with those conditions.
Q: Finally, what advice would you give to anyone else trying to
achieve 100 marathons in their running career?
First and foremost you must come to terms with what you want to achieve. Do you want to run all of them in under 3 hours, 4 hours, 5 hours? Or will you just be happy with finishing? Next would be to know your body and understand your limits. It also helps to have a strong ally to support you and keep you grounded. (I’m so blessed to have Tom. He is the reason I want to get to every finish line.) And never ever take the distance and an event for granted.
It all starts with the first one, so get out there and do it!