After a long road, Americus native completes 50 State Marathon Club challenge
Published 12:20 pm Sunday, June 5, 2016
By MICHAEL MURRAY
Americus native, Cathy Chambliss Saylor, recently accomplished a feat that would likely daunt even the most enthusiastic distance runner.
On May 17, Saylor completed her 79th marathon in New Hampshire. As if having completed 79 marathons wasn’t impressive enough, Saylor’s crossing of that finish line marked another milestone that many runners only dream of.
While many people have the goal of visiting every state, Saylor had taken that goal a huge step farther. With her finish in the New Hampshire marathon, she has successfully run a marathon in each of the 50 states in the United States of America.
This feat took Saylor nearly 18 years to accomplish.
“I ran my first marathon in December of 1998. I started running to lose weight,” Saylor told the Times-Recorder in a recent interview. “I had gained weight with all of my pregnancies so I started running with my husband… At some point, I was online, looking at the 50 State Marathon Club and that attracted my attention so I started looking for marathons to run.”
Asked if she had this sort of goal in mind when she began running marathons, Saylor replied, “No. I ran with my daddy when we were in high school. He ran marathons and triathlons and we ran in Nashville together a couple of times. That was one race that we ran five years in a row.”
Following her first marathon, however, she was hooked. She soon decided to join the 50 State Marathon Club and run a race in each state.
“I’ve been on a lot of trips to accomplish that,” Saylor told the Times-Recorder, “Anytime I would do this, this would be a vacation for my husband and I. Every time we’d take a trip, it had to be around a marathon.”
“I don’t know what we’re going to do now,” Saylor joked.
“Some of these trips I took with my husband. Some with my parents. Some with my daughter,” she recalled. “We called the trip I took with my daughter ‘Juneventure’. We did Oregon, Alaska, and Washington over 13 days. She flew out there with me to get those three states.”
“Sometimes, I would run two marathons in a weekend,” she continued. “That’s called doubles. My husband and I flew into Boston one time and ran in Maine on Saturday and Vermont on Sunday…”
In all of this time traveling the country, Saylor and her family were bound to come back with plenty of stories to tell. Asked about some of her most memorable races, Saylor replied, “We went to Hawaii in January of this year… That was my 49th state. When I crossed the finish line there, I knew, ‘It’s a done deal’ because I don’t like to fly and I knew that when I finished that one, I would never have to get on another plane… Hawaii was very scenic. We saw whales. It was tropical on one side of the road and mountainous on the other side of the road. It was a lot better than I thought it would be. I was really dreading the flight over there, but once I got off the plane, it was better than anything that I could have expected. To have my family there and have my daughter push me through the finish was very memorable.”
In her travels, Saylor and her family also got to see Punxsatawney Phil, the famous groundhog in Pennsylvania.
“I guess, really the most memorable would have to be our ‘Juneventure’, though…,” she added, “We got into Portland really late and ran the race a couple of days later. We started out together, but she left me. We ended up finishing within a minute or two of each other.
We then flew to Alaska and I made her get up so we could go see the whales… We drove around and stayed several places in Alaska before we flew down to Washington.”
Some of the trips were memorable for other reasons, however, as Saylor and her family experienced plenty of pitfalls along the way.
As she and her daughter ran the Washington marathon during their “Juneventure” outing, Saylor told the Times-Recorder that she felt like something was really off.
“I was having trouble walking and keeping my balance,” she said. “I felt like I was going to fall over… If there was any time that I had to walk, my daughter had to be right by my side or I was afraid I might fall. If I was running, I was okay for some reason… I would eat, thinking that I might just be hypoglycemic and that was the problem.”
“When we got back to Columbus, I told my doctor and he ran some tests,” she continued. “He finally sent me to a neurologist who ordered an MRI and they found out that I had a brain tumor. I had brain surgery in September of 2013 to remove the tumor, which was benign. But still, it sidelined me for a while and I was not happy about that.”
“At that point, we were worried about her being able to walk again, let alone run,” Saylor’s mother, Charlotte Chambliss, added.
Over the next several months, Saylor slowly but steadily recovered from the ordeal with a penultimate amount of grit and determination as she began preparing to continue her quest to run in all 50 states.
She ran the Soldier Half Marathon that November in Columbus.
“She had lots of prayers and we feel very blessed that she was able to recover and accomplish that,” Chambliss added.
Though that was a major setback, Saylor certainly wasn’t going to let it keep her down, especially since she had come so close to her goal and overcome a slew of other obstacles along the way.
Following her completion of a 50-mile race in Nevada in 2011, Saylor signed up for the Annual Run for the Heroes, a race that takes runners from Fort Benning all the way to Savannah.
On her experience in the race, which spans nearly 260 miles, Saylor told the Times-Recorder, “I was doing thirty miles at the time. I really had my doubts that I would finish… And I didn’t. I didn’t make it past the first day, but I did run nearly 50 miles. At mile 32, eight dogs came out after me… I was out there by myself. [My family] was actually a half mile down the road. I had just left them…”
At this point in the interview, Chambliss, chimed in, “We were a half mile behind her in the support truck… and we received a call. The traffic was so bad that I was worried about her being hit by a car. My granddaughter answered the phone and I thought she yelled, ‘Mama’s been hit’, but what she said was, ‘Mama’s been bit’.”
Chambliss went on to say that Saylor had been bitten by a bulldog on the back of her leg somewhere near the Schley/Marion County border. Saylor insisted on continuing the race, however, running for 12 more miles or so before assenting to her family’s pleas to take her to the hospital.
“By then, I was limping,” Saylor said. “It really hurt.”
Saylor was examined and, after the fear subsided and she was cleared by the doctors, she went right back to it and began training for her next race.
Two years later, Saylor went on to complete the run across Georgia with her family members running with her as a team. Saylor recruited her son, his fiancee’, and two of his friends who are fellow firefighters, and her two daughters to help complete the race.
“We ran those 260 miles. That was one of the most memorable experiences that I’ve had,” she reflected.
Saylor told several other stories about races in which things had gone awry over the years, including one about a race in St. Louis, Mo., that was rained out in 2008 due to weather brought in from Hurricane Ike. “After that, I had to go back to Missouri and I did the Frisco Railroad Marathon,” she stated.
During another race in Kentucky, Saylor stated that the weather again took a turn for the worse. “That was a three-loop race of eight miles apiece,” she explained. “On the second loop, it was raining very hard. There was thunder and lightning and the kind of mud that your shoes get stuck in. There’s no place to go when you’re on a trail like that so you just keep going. We were really scared that we were going to be struck by lightning. At one point, we had to cross what was, normally, a small creek. At the time, it was raining so hard that water was gushing so fast that we thought that we were going to be swept out into the nearby river. We held onto what we could and we helped each other get across… That was a good memory. I think that was my first trail marathon. I just thought it was really difficult… But I was proud of myself for finishing it.”
In another instance, Saylor described a physical altercation with a fellow runner. “We were out on a trail…,” she said. “I’m not sure if he was a runner or if he was just someone out walking the course. He didn’t get over and I didn’t get over in time, so he just put his arm out and hit me in the stomach with his hand.”
Despite all of these instances, Saylor kept on going, steadily pushing towards her objective.
Asked what she would like to do now that she has completed her goal of running a marathon in each state, Saylor stated, “I do have some issues with my back and I’ve been going to physical therapy. I want to run pain-free. I want to run 100 marathons and I want to run a 100-miler. I’ve attempted that twice, but haven’t completed one yet.”
With the willpower that Saylor has displayed over the past 18 years, there is little doubt that she will soon accomplish these new aspirations.