My New Experiences as a Runner

Bob Sielski ‘64

May 13, 2023

A few years ago, I wrote a little about myself for Delta Chi and how I took up running about 35 years ago when I was in my 40’s. Although I did cross-country in high school, I didn’t do any running, even intramural, at Michigan. The only intermural sports in which Delta Chi participated then was touch football, in which we were not particularly outstanding. My best memory of that was having eleven of us and maybe more crammed into Lane Kendig’s 1960 Volkswagen to go to practice and to games. I wonder how many of us alumni could fit into a Volkswagen today.

For most of my early life, my primary physical activity was swimming. Wherever I could find a suitable lake or pool, I was in it and at one point I swam a mile a day for five days a week. At the end of the summer in 1982 my neighborhood pool shut down for the fall, and I was looking for some activity and decided to try running. I didn’t particularly like running but thought of why I liked swimming when so many others didn’t. I realized that it was because I was able to swim moderately well, and if I could build up the strength for running, I might enjoy that too.

I decided to give it a try, working up slowly from doing a run-walk for 20 minutes a day until I could run continuously (although not very fast) for 20 minutes by the end of the month. From then on, it became an addiction as I gradually added miles until I could compete in the town of  Herndon, Virginia (where I lived at the time) 10K (6.1 mile) race, which I did for several years until I moved up to the Marine Corps Marathon in DC in 1987 at the tender age of 45. By then I was hooked and did the Marine Corps the next two years.

Although I kept running and did an occasional 5K or 10K, I didn’t do another marathon until 1996 when I did the Marine Corps Marathon. I became discouraged because I didn’t quite make the five-hour cut-off time and receive a medal, although I found out later that I was considered to be an official finisher, and not even the last person as I finished number 11,850 out of 15,120. I didn’t know that at the time, so although I kept running several times a week, didn’t go for another marathon until 2010 when I was living in Southern California and did the Diamond Valley Lake Marathon, which had a very liberal time limit, certainly recognizing my 6-hour time. From then on, I have completed 71 more marathons, which averages to be more than five a year.

Diamond Valley Lake Marathon, California on a cold morning February 6, 2010.

I have often been asked what my favorite marathon was, and my answer depends on the criterion. One of the most important things to me is the food that you get after you finish. Sometimes it is only a bagel and a banana, which is hardly worth running 26.2 miles to get. However, the best in that category is the Louisiana Marathon that I ran in January 2017 in Baton Rouge. By the time I finished in just a little short of six hours, many of the food booths were closed down. However, there was still plenty of chicken gumbo, jambalaya, and etouffee, so I didn’t go hungry. Another good feature of that event was attending church. Because many marathons are run on Sundays when road traffic is light, you have to miss church. Not so the Louisiana Marathon. There is a Catholic church one block from the start and a priest there conducted a 26.2-minute mass starting an hour before the marathon, so we had plenty of time to worship and then get to the start.

Running the Louisiana Marathon January 15, 2017.

A marathon that offered a good workout, great scenery and good food was the Crater Lake Rim Run in Oregon, which runs around the rim of the crater, mostly on the outside of the rim so there is a commanding view of the country all around. The course starts at about 7,000 feet going up to 7,800 feet and finishing at an elevation of 5,980 feet. Although they only offered watermelon and a bagel at the finish, the restaurant at the campground had a buffet dinner and breakfast the next morning. I ran the Rim Run two more times but after the second time I found out that the restaurant had changed to a regular menu, and not a very good one, which was discouraging, because all during the run I kept thinking of the food I was to get, and that kept me going. Maybe that is why I pooped out the next year and only ran a half-marathon.

Running on the rim of Crater Lake, Oregon August 14, 2010.

My biggest accomplishment in running has been finishing 50 marathons in all 50 states. I moved to Melbourne Beach, Florida in 2013 and began to regularly run the two local marathons, the Space Coast in Cocoa, Florida and the Melbourne Musical Marathon. During one of those events, I saw a lady from South Africa with a shirt listing the states in the U.S. where she had run a marathon, announcing her attention to do all 50. From her I learned of the 50 States Marathon Club and decided that was the thing for me. I didn’t increase the number of marathons per year but started looking for events in a state in which I had not run. I started to pick up the pace in 2017, doing seven that year, nine in 2018, and ten in 2019. In 2020 I eased off to doing only three because of an injury, but made up for it in 2021, running in twelve marathons.

I finally finished my 50 states last year, 2022, by doing six new states plus two more in Florida just for fun.  In these final years, many of the events were from the Mainly Marathon organization, which runs seven consecutive marathons in seven states in seven days throughout the year, covering all 50 states with some duplication. I never did all seven in a series, and none of them were back-to back on consecutive days. However, the Mainly Marathons series has no time limit, and I often just walked most of the course.

The biggest series that I did was the Four Corners Quad Keyah in December 2021 on the Navajo Nation. There is a monument at the point where the states of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico meet, and so over four days marathons are run starting from the center of the four corners and going out and back several times for a total of 26.2 miles each day. Although I had previously run in Colorado and Utah, I did all four states in four days just for the fun of it. I finished, although my time went up to eight hours for one of the days.

Four Corners Quad Keyah, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico December 2–5 2021.

I hadn’t really planned to do my 49th Marathon in Alaska, the 49th state, and my 50th in Hawaii, the 50th state, but things just worked out that way because I decided to work in four states, Arkansas, Missouri, Delaware, and Connecticut during 2022 because as I am aging, I wanted to get it finished while I am still moving. Honolulu was a lot of fun in December 2022, because several of my family; my daughter and her husband, my sister, and my granddaughter all came along to see me finish my 50 states. Here is a photo of us after the race.

With my family after the Honolulu Marathon December 11, 2022.

In spite of my misgivings about getting too old to run, I have set my goal on running a marathon in all seven continents and becoming a full member of the Seven Continents Club. The first continent of the six after North America, which I have covered fairly well, was in Europe. On April 23, 2023, I finished the London Marathon. The highly popular event is limited to 40,000+ runners, which are selected by lottery in the UK, but foreigners have to be part of a tour group, so I travelled, dined, and stayed with a group of fellow runners. Although I didn’t do quite as well as I had planned, I finished number 48,224 out of 48,598 finishers. It was a running tour of the City of London, going past many of the attractions, but without time to drop in and visit. Here is a shot of me in front of Buckingham Palace.

London Marathon going past Buckingham Palace, close to the finish line April 23, 2023.

Wanting to get the most difficult of the continents out of the way, I will be running in Antarctica on Wednesday, December 13, 2023. This is also part of a tour group of 50 runners who will be flown onto the ice cap from Punta Areas, Chile, with the course being back and forth for 26.2 miles on the plowed runway. I have run in cold weather before, but never at 20 below zero Fahrenheit, so I am beginning to collect layers of cold-weather gear according to their instructions.

The biggest obstacle to doing the remaining four continents is finding events that have a very liberal or no time limit. Many marathons have a six-hour time limit, and lately I have been taking about seven hours to finish. I am getting better, reducing my time by about five minutes each time for the last four marathons, but I will have to pick my events carefully, as I don’t want to travel half-way around the world and not be credited for finishing the event. For the first time I have engaged a personal trainer to help me with my running form and develop a good training plan, so I will see how that goes.

I have received some publicity on my running, with our local newspaper doing an article in January on me. That article was posted by the newspaper on Facebook and received more than 10,000 “Likes.” Another local newspaper ran an article about me and a nurse from the same hospital where I am a chaplain, as we were planning on doing the London Marathon, although she is in another tour group. I have received some more national attention because a reporter from followed me on the Melbourne Marathon and ran an article on that web site. I guess all that stoked my ego. If you submit a picture of yourself holding a copy of another local newspaper taken when you are traveling, the paper will print it. I took a copy of the front page to London, had the picture taken and the newspaper published it.

I also have many fans here in Melbourne Beach, who see me running along highway A1A, honking their horns when they see me. I always wonder why I am picked out over all the other runners on the sidewalk, and I think that it’s because they are wondering if I am going to collapse, and they will have to call for the EMT’s. Well, that hasn’t happened yet, and so I will just keep reading the book, “Run Until You Are 100,” follow the author’s advice, and keep on moving along, but keep on going long after I reach 100.

My principal advice to everyone is to keep doing whatever you enjoy, even though you may not be able to do that as well as you could when you were younger (with the possible exception of brain surgery). There are sometimes good reasons to quit, such as deterioration of the joints, particularly the knees. I have been fortunate because my orthopedist says that I have the joints of a 30-year-old, but many my age and younger have had knee and hip replacements, and that puts them out of the running, so to speak. However, the fact that you can’t run, swim, play golf or tennis, or other activity as well now as you could in your youth should not be a factor in quitting. It’s not about winning, every time that you go out and try, you are a winner.