Edinboro professor finishes race in all 50 states

Category:  Sports
Thursday, January 24th, 2019 at 9:53 AM
Edinboro professor finishes race in all 50 states by Chris Rosato Jr.

When Jim Roberts crossed the finish line of the Maui Oceanfront Marathon Sunday, it was about more than just placing first in his age group.

The finish was his first in Hawaii, giving him at least one marathon finish in all 50 states. The fact that he crossed the line first among competitors aged 45-54 was a bonus for the Edinboro professor and chairperson of the health and physical education department.

The milestone was 33 years in the making for Roberts, who attempted and finished his first marathon when he was 16 years old. 

“It was a good marathon,” he remembered of his first finish. “I finished and I realized that [this] was not something you want to hop into without training appropriately.”

He failed to complete a marathon for the first time when he was 17. He credits high self esteem and a lack of pacing for his early failure. After that, he began to take marathon training more serious, and has only failed to finish one other event.

“I dropped out of one and it took me a while to get back into marathoning after that one,” Roberts said.

In Hawaii, he finished the 26.2 miles in 3 hours, 41 minutes, 10 seconds. He said reaching 50 states wasn’t his goal to start, but once he got over 25, he started to get motivated to join the half-century club. 

“I’m over halfway there,” he recalled thinking. “I don’t know when and I don’t know how long it will take me, but I will just keep trying to stay healthy and keep chipping away at it.”

Among other distractions, Roberts has had to contend with airline delays en route to destination marathons.

Ahead of a weekend that Roberts had planned to run two marathons in as many days, his plane to Texas leveled off shortly after takeoff. He remembered the pilot announcing to the passengers that they were experiencing an issue with one of the wings and they would have to circle back to Pittsburgh.

“You could hear a pin drop in the plane,” he recalled.

After circling for 45 minutes, they landed safely, but all flights to Texas for that day had already been filled up. The theatrics didn’t stop him from flying out the next day to finish the second he had planned.

This past summer, in the middle of an eight-marathon run to the finish, delays during his layover almost prevented him from checking Seattle off the list.

As part of a concerted effort to finally put this milestone to rest, the Maui Oceanfront Marathon was Roberts’ eighth in the last 12 months, the most he’s run in that time frame.

“There are low periods and high periods,” he said. “Sometimes I’ve done one or two a year. Sometimes I skipped a couple of years. The last few years I have been doing a lot. I probably averaged over five a year the last few years.”

Running so often has forced him to schedule trips during the semester, on occasion, but he chooses to combine his passion for teaching with running rather than try to contend with them.

“I get to teach exercise physiology [and] teach research into human performance,” he said. “So even the things that I do with my running, I can apply my own research to me or other people at the events, and [I] have experiences to share with students of things that I have done and it’s just the perfect fit.”

Along with the countless physical factors that can make finishing a marathon difficult, such as heat, humidity, wind or rain, Roberts said the mental struggle can be just as challenging.

“Even if you run fast, say you run a 3-hour marathon, which is pretty fast, that’s a lot of time to be thinking about,” he explained. “Even when I’m running well, I struggle sometimes mentally. Like alright, just stay focused and keep running, and you get aches and pains. And you’re like, ‘Well, is this really an ache or pain, or do I just think it is?’ Because you have been out there so long.”

Some of his favorite 26.2 runs include the 100th Boston Marathon, along with his unique take on running the original marathon route in Greece with his wife.

“We just had the taxi drop us off at Marathon, Greece, and had some money, cell phones, and a hard copy of the directions. And we ran,” he explained. “We ran the original marathon course, just the two of us.”

Now that he’s conquered the U.S., Roberts said he is interested in competing overseas. High on his list of possible locales is Paris, a city which he says his wife and him share a love for.

He’ll also be venturing north of the border in August to attempt a marathon in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, but with another twist. In order to compete in the marathon, he’ll have to first swim 2.4 miles and bike another 112 — all faster than their respective cutoff times. That’s because the competition will be his second attempt at finishing an Ironman event.

He failed to reach the marathon stage in his first attempt, biking 100 miles before missing the cutoff.

That doesn’t mean he’s given up on U.S.-based marathons. Instead, he’s set his sights on an even more exclusive club: those who have completed marathons in all 50 states with times under four hours.

Back when he was just running for the adventure, it mattered more to him that he finished than his time. He remembered one event in which he finished a few minutes over four hours. He couldn’t understand why people kept mentioning the extra minutes until he got further along in his own mission and discovered the under-four-hour goal.

After Maui, Roberts now has 40 under-four marathons under his belt. He plans on ticking off the final 10 in the next few years.

To anyone who might be considering the leap into the world of marathon running, Roberts said it’s important to establish a goal from the beginning.

“I think that’s the biggest thing, if you decide to do one, is figuring out, do I finish one? Because that’s a really nice goal to have,” he said. “Or am I trying to be competitive? And then committing to the training to make it happen.”

Christopher Rosato Jr. | sports.spectator@gmail.com

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