New England Challenge: Three marathons in five days, in three different states ~ because doing five would be crazy!


Doing a marathon in all 50 States is a lofty goal, and challenging in more ways than one. Aspects often not considered that can pose a challenge include, but are not limited to: traveling and the cost of traveling, eating on the road, sleeping in hotels, paying for hotels, lack of sleep, and driving long distances after running long miles (ouch).  There’s nothing like trying to do the Tim Conway shuffle to a rest stop bathroom after running a marathon, getting in the car, and driving a few hours before pulling off the road. 


A great way to pack as many states into one trip as possible is to register for a series.  There are a lot of series races offered for the apparently abundant amount of crazies who want to run back to back marathons, be a 50 Stater, or a Marathon Maniac.  

I decided to give it a try, and found the New England Challenge, which offers the opportunity to run 5 marathons in 5 days, in 5 different New England states.  I had never done back to back marathons before, and the shortest amount of time between 26.2 mile races up until now had been one week, as opposed to one day.  I wasn’t sure what would happen, but was game to try. I know that my body is well conditioned and that I’m an endurance athlete with five 140.6 mile Iron-distance triathlons under my belt…but there was something scarier to me about breaking up the 78.6 miles of pure running into a period of three days.  I began to wonder if it would be harder to do all the miles in one day, or to have a day in between each marathon that allowed for my muscles to cramp, aches and pains to flare, and rigor mortis to set in. 

I know that the scariest part about these things, and racing – hell in life in general, is just showing up.  It’s the voices in your head and the “what-ifs”.  Committing to it, and showing up at the start ready to face the fear of the unknown and the possibility of pain, more times than not, is harder than the actual physicality of the event.  I was willing to risk the pain of the unknown for Girls With Sole. It’s my life’s mission to do so.  I can’t fail if I keep trying and keep moving forward.  


So, I told my family I was going to register for the New England Challenge, and what the challenge consisted of. (The biggest part of making the commitment, other than paying for the race, is saying it out loud that you’re going to do it.) Of course my husband and kids were supportive, and of course they told me I was crazy.  My daughter, Morgan, is always quite protective of her family, which is one of the many fine qualities she possesses, and one of the myriad of reasons I love that girl. She was genuinely concerned about my newfound idea of running five marathons in five days. Morgan said to me in the sweetest voice, “Mom, I don’t think you should do all five races – that seems dangerous. Maybe you should do three races, and at least take one day off in between them.”


I saw her point. 


 Leave it to my 13-year-old to be the voice of reason.  I thought about it long and hard, and the more I pondered it, the more I agreed with Morgan. Three marathons in one week was way more than I had ever done in my life at one time, and is quite a feat – that would put the hurt on my feet – amongst other body parts. And heck- I would still be able to knock out three states in one swoop. The deal was made- and Morgan and I were both happy. I registered to run the Pine Tree Marathon in Portland, Maine on May 12; the Red Island Marathon in Warwick, Rhode Island on May 14; and the Old Colony Marathon in Westfield, Massachusetts on May 16. These races served as the 29th, 30th, and 31st marathons that I have completed in my lifetime.  For my 50 States for Sole goal, they were numbers 15, 16 and 17.  I began this campaign in November of 2013, and will be half way done with all 50 States by the end of this year! The promise of completing this new challenge, and getting in three states all at once was both exciting and petrifying….but isn’t that the point?  Coming out of our comfort zones, and seeing how far we can go?  If I only attempt things that I already know I can do, how will I grow and become even stronger in mind, body and soul?  If I got out there and it was too much for me, or I was hurting bad enough, I knew I could always walk if I had to.  I was ready to face the challenge and my fears, with Girls With Sole as my motivation and the love and support of Morgan, Jake, Frank and Rico at home. 

 morgan Rico face

The first stop was Portland, Maine, which was absolutely beautiful! I could have spent hours staring out at the ocean and the Portland Head Light on the shores of Fort Williams Park.  The sea air felt restorative and invigorating all at once. I missed home already, but was happy to be somewhere so awesome. Tattoo Liz was with me for the adventure, and we had fun exploring the city a bit before heading back to the hotel for our packet pick up.



The first indication that this wasn’t going to be our usual marathon experience was the fact that the packet pick up was in the race director’s hotel room. (Hey now, what kind of party is this?!) I quickly realized this was going to be a bare bones type of race, and would be more like a trail race (and less like a road race) in terms of the levels of “cushiness” that one can become accustomed to when running a lot of big marathons. Think of it in terms of camping vs staying at the Ritz Carlton. It’s a preference, really.  Some love one or the other; I’m ok with both, although my ideal is somewhere in between. When it comes to athletics and racing, I love to rough it- but with a really nice shower, meal and comfy bed afterwards. 

We found Race Director, Chuck Savage, in the hallway with the door to his room open, and all the green race bags neatly lined up and waiting inside for pick up.  Two very kind volunteers or staff, I’m not sure which, were also in the room, helping to locate our bibs and check us in while Chuck gave us some last minute instructions and directions to the race site.  


The second indication that this was going to be a roughing it type of race?  Race bibs with our names hand written on them, and instructions to reuse the bib in all three races.  We were told that at the start of the race we would need to write our names on a paper cup that we would need to re-use for the whole race as well.  This was going to be awesome! I felt like I was embarking on some serious “Born To Run” kind of shit. For how seriously intense the mileage was, there was such a small, down and dirty feel to the whole thing. It was old school, and I embraced it. I imagined my fellow runners would be a fine mix of old-timer long-distance runners mixed in with young endurance super freaks, and I was right.  Each race was purposely kept very small, with less than 130 runners in each.  There was a wonderful variety of folks from Danny, a 64-year-old from Indiana who was at one time obese, but began running at age 50- to Daniel and Jesse, two tattooed sweethearts in their twenties.  Emily, a Junior at Virginia Tech was out there doing her thing for five days in a row like a champ, and I won’t soon forget the couple in their 70’s who walked each and every marathon while holding hands. 


The first race took place at Back Cove Park and it was 68 degrees at our 6:00 am start time. We ran seven 3.62 mile loops (plus a .86 at the start) along a dirt path that encircled the Back Cove, which is considered an “arm” of the Atlantic Ocean. It was a nice park, and kind of funny to be running a marathon alongside people who were going about their normal day, pushing strollers or walking their dog – most of whom had no idea that a marathon was even going on!  I went into the race with some serious back pain that had me concerned for the ability to complete one marathon, let alone three of them in five days. I ran really conservatively and although I experienced pain in my lower back, and the temps began to climb to a stifling 79 degrees, I finished in 5:08.  

I got it done, but I was worried about the other two because of my back.  Maintenance was going to be key for me to keep my body going, so I googled massage therapists in the Warwick, Rhode Island area, and scheduled an appointment at Heart In Hand Massage Therapy at the Village Wellness Center with owner, Frank Bestwick.  It was the best thing I could have done, other than visiting Health Source of Avon three times before I left for New England, so that Dr. Natalie could fix me up, tape me up, and keep me running. 


Frank Bestwick provided the ultimate therapeutic sports massage that helped my spasming muscles relax and he also referred me to an awesome Chiropractor so that I could get adjusted while I was there as well.  Tattoo Liz applied the Rock Tape to my back, and I was tip top and ready to rock Rhode Island. It takes a village, people!  (And to think some people don’t consider running to be a team sport!)


At 6:00 am the Red Island Marathon start was a slightly chilly 48 degrees, but the day ended at a balmy 70. We ran 9 laps of a 2.7 mile loop around Warwick Park, with the addition of a short out and back of 1.9 miles in the beginning. The park was actually quite scenic, since the loops over looked the Narragansett Bay, which was really nice, albeit some rolling hills. As I ran along, I began chatting with two awesome women, named Sandy and Denise, who shared my pace. I told them both about Girls With Sole, and about my book, “Finish Line Feeling.”  We talked about the mission of Girls With Sole, and how I’m trying to raise funds and awareness by doing a marathon in all 50 States. It turned out that Denise, a social worker in upstate New York, was extremely interested in GWS, and would love to start a chapter in her area.  Sandy, a nurse in Austin Texas, was also captivated by our mission, and it was made clear to me once again that I was doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. They both have “friended me” on Facebook already, and said they were looking forward to buying the book, “Finish Line Feeling”. They both know that the proceeds from the book benefit Girls With Sole programs, and see the importance in growing the organization beyond the Cleveland area.  Meeting them was incredible, and I was thrilled to have had the chance to run with them while telling the GWS story.  Sandy even asked me why I don’ t sell copies of my book out of the trunk of my car. Someone hire that woman! 


An added bonus to the whole experience was having my friend, Joyce, standing at a clearing on the trail, and literally running into her. Joyce and I went to high school together, and she now lives in Rhode Island. She and I were very close friends, and swim team co-captains during our Senior year at Irondequoit High School.  I told her where the race was going to be, but that I wasn’t sure how my back would be treating me.  In essence, I didn’t exactly encourage her to come out and see me…but she did, and I was ecstatic to her! I think the last time I saw her, aside from high school in Rochester, New York, was at our ten year reunion, and we won’t get into how long ago THAT was!!! 

 I hugged her and was so happy that I almost bit her cheek. (I’m easily excited and prone to biting.) She said I’m the only person she knows who would be running a marathon while talking the whole time. She obviously didn’t read my book – that’s exactly how I met my husband, Frank! 

I finished marathon number two in 4:37, and it was an awesome experience all around!



It is often said that if you tell yourself something enough times, you begin to believe it. I can honestly say that this is abundantly true and applies to me and to my life, and is a huge part of the message I try to impart on the girls in my programs. 


The body responds accordingly to everything the brain tells it.  It’s actually kind of dumb in that regard. If your legs or your butt start to scream at you during a long run or a tough workout, you don’t have listen to them. You can tell them to pipe down as they tell you over and over to quit. No sane person should ever take advice from their own butt, anyhow. 

The more we tell ourselves we can do something, the more we are able to do it.  I was worried about completing three marathons in one week, and the toll it would take on me physically – but the more I reminded myself that I could do it, and all I had to do was keep moving forward, the more doable and less daunting the challenge before me had become.  


I reminded myself that this is what I do. This is my strength and it’s nothing I can’t handle.  I have been through worse…how bad could it be?  


In the same line of thinking…I had always told myself that I hate running loops.  This isn’t a good mind set to have when all three of the marathons you are about to do were loops….and lots of loops, at that! I needed to change that way of thinking, and ironically enough, running loops helped me to do just that. 


The third marathon, in Westfield, Massachusetts, was called the Old Colony Marathon and consisted of a bit of an out and back followed by twenty-two loops that were a tad over one mile long! Talk about a mind “f-bomb!”  To make mind over matters worse, the weather called for rain on race day, and the weather men weren’t kidding around.  It poured on us the entire way.  

The craziest part about it all? The Old Colony Marathon was my best and happiest of all three marathons that week! I almost hate to say it, but I enjoyed the loops! There was something satisfying and fun about coming around to the start/finish area to receive the rubber bands given out to help us keep count, and  to show that we have completed the required amount of running laps. 


A young man of about 13-years-old, named Caylix, was a joy to see each time I came in to get my rubber band, grab something to eat or drink, and then head back out again.  He ran the Half Marathon at all five races, and then volunteered after each, and had to be the most passionate and genuinely enthusiastic runner/volunteer I have ever met.  He was the best! He cheered me on by name at every race and not only reminded me of the importance of taking in fluids, even in the rain, but also of the pure joy that running can bring, and why runners are such a wonderful and special brand of human.  


Each time I went around Stanley Park I enjoyed looking at the vast variety of scenery that embodied it, including everything from soccer fields, prized rose gardens, Asian gardens, Botanical gardens, an arboretum, and a farm like structure that seemed to house or attract numerous ducks.  The duck that looked the most in charge, and stood out from the rest was the “mascot” of the park, and named Ozzy.  He rocked! He was a strange breed of duck that looked a lot like a cross between a turkey and a duck, with a puffed out chest and a majestic presence among the other regular-looking Mallards.  He stood along the path and I loved seeing him each time I came around the horn, and laughed in agreement as one of the runners said he looked like a “noble bird.”


Each of the twenty-two loops were the same, yet inspiration, motivation and camaraderie were bestowed on me in different ways every time I ran them, making them unique.  


Different laps brought on new conversations and cheers of encouragement as I ran along and passed my fellow racers.  There was a hill on the course, that we ran over and over, and each time I climbed it someone told me how strong I looked. 

If you hear something enough times, and you tell yourself something enough times, you believe it. 

I was strong. I was able, and I didn’t hate loops. 

The best part about the day, aside from completing an amazing accomplishment for Girls With Sole, was when Holly, a wheelchair athlete from the Cleveland area who did all five marathons, completed her last lap and said good-bye to each and every runner as she passed them on her way to the finish line. It was really emotional to hear everyone cheer her on and wish her well, like life-long friends would. 


Running can do that. 



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