Many people in Macon are familiar with the Marathon Maniacs, who live in Red Boiling Springs. Troy and Kathie Johnson, ages 66 and 59, have run 170 marathons together as of February 28, 2013. They’ll run more than 30 this year alone, and recently they ran something called the Nasty Nine (nine marathons in nine days). They are also members of the 50 State Club—to qualify for membership, as you might guess, runners must complete a marathon in every state. The couple is also part of the larger Marathon Maniac club, a nationwide group that only requires three marathons in three months to join (easy, right?).
The interesting thing is that neither of them began as runners. They were both smokers, and quit, and Kathie didn’t like the 20 lbs. that she gained, so she started running for the first time in her life with a friend. This was in 1983, and she could barely do a mile then.
So we sat down with the Johnsons to answer a few burning questions: how on Earth do you go from struggling to run a few miles to running nine marathons in nine days? What kind of a person can turn into a serial marathon runner?
Their answer: anyone can.
“I know it’s a Nike thing to say ‘just do it’,” said Troy. “But it really is true. You just have to get out there. You set a goal, and that’s the biggest thing. You know- running is mental. I get out there a lot of times during a race and I’m at 20-something miles, and I think, what am I doing? What am I doing out here? But then you finish and you go ‘yaaay! When can we do the next one?’”
“5Ks led to 10Ks,” said Kathy. “When I first started, a mile was a challenge; it was really hard to do that mile. But if keep going till you get used to that, you always want more, and you want more, and more. But when I first started, I never dreamed that I’d be running marathons. Not in my wildest dreams.”
The couple decided to train for a marathon for the first time in 1997. At this time, pre-retirement, they lived in Macon County and worked in Nashville at the VA hospital, in different departments. So they started getting up at 4, driving into town to miss traffic, arriving at 6, running in the city, then showering at the hospital and getting to work.
“People used to ask, ‘don’t you get sick of each other?’ because we lived together, drove together, ran together, her office was around the corner from mine, and we’d even eat lunch together,” laughed Troy.
They ran their first marathon in Memphis. It was there that they met some members of the 50 State Club. They decided to go for the 50.
This began a new hobby for them: “All of our vacation time, any holiday time—we’d run; we’d plan a marathon,” said Kathie. So after they completed the 50, they decided to try for 100, “because, you know, that’s a lot,” said Troy.
“Well, we thought that would be something,” said Kathie, “but you know, we’ve got so many friends, and we’re toddlers compared to them. [Our friend] Jim Simpson just finished his thousandth.”
When they finished 100 marathons, the Tennessean did an article on them, because they did the 100th one in Nashville.
When they finally were ready to retire, they slowed down the running for a while to complete the construction on a retirement home in Red Boiling Springs. When it was finished, they hit the road again. Their schedule now allowed for regular traveling from one marathon to another—they drive to most of them. They average one every 1-2 weeks, sometimes with multiples within a weekend, and the hottest part of the summer off. They’ve also gone international: last year they did only 16 marathons, but they also spent extra time overseas after completing marathons in Africa and Paris and trekking around Ireland. This year they’re spending several weeks in Peru. Troy estimates that they spend about $16,000 a year on the marathons, with travel.
He is in charge of the itinerary. “We try to pick special ones for our birthdays and anniversary,” he said.
The couple doesn’t run all that much at a time in their daily workouts: 3-5 miles, sometimes 8-9. Kathie runs every day and Troy only has to run every other day. Then they keep a few weights and an elliptical and treadmill in their basement. “If we don’t do some kind of exercise every day, something’s wrong,” said Troy.
They also eat pretty healthfully, trying to keep vegetables in their diet—“but we definitely eat ice-cream everywhere we go, too,” laughed Kathie. When you run marathons, it seems that this gives you a free pass for ice-cream.