When you have a dream and you achieve it, what do you do?
You keep dreaming, and you keep achieving. Jeff Johnston's initial dream in running was to complete a marathon. Then he dreamed of running a marathon in every state. And he did it. So he dreamed of running a marathon in every state twice. Again, he achieved that goal.
Johnston has run 193 marathons and he keeps adding goals. One is to run a marathon on every continent. Another is to run a marathon time in every state that would qualify for the Boston Marathon, and he also wants to run a marathon in less than four hours in every state. He plans to run his 200th marathon in January.
Johnston completed his second 50-state marathon tour on May 11, when he ran the Starved Rock Country Marathon in Illinois, which is named after the Starved Rock State Park where the race is run.
Those are pretty amazing goals for someone who took 10 years off from running after competing in his first marathon in 1983.
Johnston didn't run at New Richmond High School, where he graduated in 1972. His only scholastic sport was golf. His friend, Jim Groth, talked him into running Grandma's Marathon in 1983. His running shoes then got thrown to the back of the closet until 1992 when he began seriously looking at running. Johnston was in Madison on a work trip when the urge to run struck.
"I strapped on the shoes and ran-walked for three miles and it was kind of fun," he said. "It exploded from there."
Johnston said running tied into another significant event in his life: sobriety.
"Getting sober was a big step. (Running) gave me something else to focus on," Johnston said. He will mark his 35th anniversary as a recovering alcoholic in July.
Johnston ran his second marathon when he did Grandma's again in 1993. He was hooked. Since then, he has averaged running a marathon every 47 days for 26 years. The most he's run in one year is 14.
"Some time in 2002, I wondered if I could do one a month," Johnston said.
Maintaining that pace has helped him to amass an amazing total of races. He said finding the website marathonguide.com helped him to learn where marathons were happening nationwide so he could chart out a plan for each year.
Then, Johnston found a club for runners who completed a marathon in all 50 states. At last count, there were 1,520 runners who've run a marathon in all 50 states once. Johnston is now among the 140 members who have run two marathons in all 50 states.
There is also a club for runners who've run marathons in all 50 states in under four hours. There are 120 members in that exclusive group and Johnston was the first runner from Wisconsin to accomplish it. Johnston said there are only five runners who have run sub-four hour marathons twice in each state. So that's another dream on his impressive list of goals.
"It's a lofty goal. Father Time isn't on my side," said Johnston, who turns 65 in July.
Running is helping Johnston to see the world, another of his goals since he lived in Germany as a child when his father was working there for Doboy. He's run marathons in the U.S. and Canada, so he has five continents left on his list. There is one marathon run each year in Antarctica and Johnston has already registered to run in that race in 2022.
Johnston is a stickler for maintaining his health. He's only had one serious injury, a stress fracture while training for the 1995 Boston Marathon. He has shoes that he uses for training and others he saves specifically for marathons.
"I get maybe 10 marathons out of one pair of shoes," Johnston said.
He also closely monitors his diet, though he said he loves Dairy Queen.
"I do everything in moderation. No fried foods," Johnston said in explaining his diet.
There are many marathons that stand out in Johnston's memory. One that does for scary reasons was the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
"I was the last New Richmond Running Club member to finish," Johnston recalled. "I just got to Boston Commons, I think it was four blocks away (from the blast). We could hear it, almost feel it."
Johnston said he crossed the finish line 17 minutes before the bombs went off.
For many reasons, the Boston Marathon stands out to Johnston. It is the only marathon in the world that runners need to qualify for. Johnston has run in 16 Boston Marathons, including the last 10. He said he still gets a rush running there.
"Absolutely. When you toe the line at Boston, you know it's something special," he said.
Johnston listed Boston and Grandma's as his two favorite marathons, with races in Maui, Humboldt Redwoods of California and Fort Collins in Colorado also standing out. When Johnston completed the 2019 Grandma's race, it was the 27th time he'd run the race, including the last 24 consecutively. He is also the only runner who has run every Gopher-to-Badger (Stillwater to Hudson) half marathon, which is currently in its 23rd year.
Groth was one of the people who Johnston said was instrumental in his running. Another is Jim Heebink.
"We have run countless miles together in all types of weather. Jim and I both qualified for Boston the first time at Fox Cities Marathon. He has been the backbone for the New Richmond Running Club for many years and I owe him so much gratitude," Johnston said.
Johnston also recognized Ralph Mondor and Jim Baillargeon. He said Mondor showed, that no matter your age, you put out your best performance. He said Baillargeon was instrumental in helping Johnston to post his fastest race times.
And if you are surprised that someone would put their body through this many marathons, you aren't alone.
"My children think I'm nuts but have always supported my racing," Johnston said with a chuckle.