J.D. Frailey will never forget mile number 19 of the 1982 St. Louis Marathon. That's when when a "wave of a tingling weirdness” washed over his body. It was his first 26.2-mile race.
“I was hoping to be killed by a lightning bolt,” Frailey, 60, of Glendale, said jokingly.
Frailey completed the race in 3 hours, 21 minutes, despite taking walks after his body hit the wall. Afterward, he swore he would never run a marathon again.
But the runner has broken that promise to himself 49 times.
On Sunday, Frailey will travel to Huntington, West Virginia, to finish a goal that he's spent years working toward: run 50 marathons in 50 states.
Assuming he completes the 2012 Marshall University Marathon, Frailey, a management consultant and motivational speaker, will have run a total of 1,310 marathon miles. Frailey said he feels prepared for Sunday and no longer gets nervous before marathons.
Frailey returned to marathoning in 1995 when he completed his second race. He ran another two marathons the following year. Then in 1997, he set his mind on running a marathon in every state.
“I don’t really remember what motivated me to do a marathon again,” Frailey said. “My whole mantra since the first one has just been: slow down, slow down.”
Running for Frailey started innocently enough. In high school he ran track and played other sports. Following his college years, Frailey noticed his pant’s size slowly was increasing. He began jogging about 2-4 miles a day.
And then Johnny Kelley, one of the great marathoners came into his life.
In 1981 Frailey saw a Today Show feature about Kelley running his 50th Boston Marathon. He had won the race in 1935 and 1945 and would go on to complete 61 runs of the Boston Marathon before he died.
Frailey was working on a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing in Oklahoma at the time and wrote a short story about a fictional character in Boston. He sent the story to Kelley and, to his surprise, the legend marathoner sent him a signed photograph of him crossing the finish line of a marathon with the message, “Keep running, keep writing.”
“I was very touched that he took time to do that and reach out,” Frailey said. The man and the message inspired Frailey to run the St. Louis Marathon in 1982.
“That first marathon was the most gut-wrenchingly hard thing I’ve ever done,” Frailey said. “I was cursing Johnny Kelley the whole time.” The cursing and agony likely reached its height at mile 19.
Frailey had trained to run the marathon at an 8-minute mile pace. After starting the race, he found himself running a mile at an average of 7:30 minutes and decided to increase his speed as he got caught up in the adrenaline of the moment. At mile 15, he was running a 7:15 pace. Then at mile 19, the rookie marathoner learned the error of trying to over run his training pace.
In his subsequent 48 marathons, Frailey has never made the same mistake and has stayed within his training. His mantra of “slowing down” has made it possible for him to enjoy marathoning and not give up on his 50-state goal. Although he has never broken his first marathon time of 3 hours and 21 minutes, he doesn't care.
“Rather than trying to force things, you just have to keep one foot in front of the other, keep your eye on the goal and stay within yourself. If people do that, they can accomplish anything,” Frailey said.
Kelley’s simple words of “Keep running, keep writing,” meant a lot to Frailey.
“The thing I really learned from Johnny Kelley and marathoning was perseverance which has never been my strength,” Frailey said. “I could start things with a lot of flash, roman candles, but then I just quit when I got tired of it. I didn’t hang in there with things.”
For instance, Frailey dropped out of law school after attending for two days. As a novelist, he gave up on books after about 30-50 of writing.
Not only did Frailey keep running, but, per Kelley’s advice, he also kept writing. Two years and five drafts after receiving Kelley’s note, Frailey completed a novel.
“I never would have had the perseverance to really stick with something if it wasn't for Johnny Kelley and what I learned from marathons,” Frailey said.
For Frailey, marathoning is a philosophy.
“With any life event, if you stay within yourself and don’t try to side step natural law, you’ll be okay,” Frailey said.
Even though his 50 marathon, 50 state goal seems daunting, Frailey hopes everyone, not just runners, can take away something from the accomplishment.
“I’m just a regular person. I really got into committing myself to doing it. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinatry goals if they remain committed and pace themselves,” he said.
With his marathoning goal soon to be under his belt, Frailey looks to take on other epic challenges. Next up is biking across the U.S. He also wants to hike the Appalachian Trail and row the Mississippi river from Minnesota to the Gulf.
Wherever he decides to go, Frailey will get there eventually. He knows that all he has to do is put one foot in front of the other.