Marilou Powers Russell’s collection of marathon items begins with the 20 pairs of running shoes that sit inside her Steamboat Island home.
Running marathons hasn’t been a lifelong hobby for Powers Russell, but she’ll be reaching a milestone at Sunday’s Capital City Marathon. The 50-year-old Olympia-area woman will make Capital City her 100th marathon, an amazing feat given that she began running marathons only six years ago. After spending nearly a decade getting little exercise, she has become a runner who logs 50 to 75 miles per week most weeks.
Since her first marathon in February 2006, she’s averaged 16 marathons a year. At last year’s Capital City – her 80th marathon – she decided to make this year’s Capital City her 100th, since Olympia is her hometown. But to make that happen, Powers Russell had to run 19 marathons in 11 months. Most recently, she ran marathons on back-to-back days May 5-6. On May 5, she ran the Fort Steilacoom Trail Marathon in 5 hours, 41 minutes and 47 seconds. The following day, she was at the starting line for the Tacoma City Marathon and finished in 5:14.29.
Sunday will be her sixth Capital City Marathon, the one she aimed to be her milestone of 100 marathons.
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“I’m pretty excited about it,” Powers Russell said.
Powers Russell never set out to be a marathoner. Born with hip dysplasia, she was an avid cyclist for almost 20 years to help strengthen her hips. She didn’t begin running until 2005, when she reached her mid-40s. She was recently divorced and was overweight; she had quit cycling because of “too many life-threatening crashes,” she said. She reinvented herself through running, and fourth months before her first marathon, she started training for one.
“I needed to find myself again,” Powers Russell said. “I was not a happy person.”
In February 2006, she ran her first marathon – the Lost Dutchman Marathon in the Arizona desert. She said she became hooked immediately.
That year, she ran in eight marathons, including her first Capital City Marathon, which was marathon No. 3. She finished in 4:13.58. She’s increased her marathons each year, including 19 in 2010 and 2011.
Because of the frequency of her marathon participation, especially in the short six-year span, she’s earned the title of Marathon Maniac, a group of people who run recurrent marathons. After her first marathon at Capital City in 2006, it was a prestigious club she wanted to be a part of.
“It’s such a fraternity of like-minded people, and you meet at races,” she said. “It encourages me to keep running.”
She’s crossed the finish line in all of the 99 marathons she’s started. While she says there are moments during a race when she wants to give up or asks the question, “Why am I doing this?” what keeps her going is thinking of those who can’t run.
“I remind myself how I am blessed,” she said.
NEW CHALLENGES AND GOALS
Of her 99 marathons, three have been the prestigious Boston Marathon, but her longest race – the one she’s most proud of up until this point – was completed on Jan. 1 of this year. It was a 108-mile foot race in Arizona, where she has her second home. Her 99 races have taken place in six states – Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts – as well as British Columbia. She’s also an ultramarathoner, a runner who runs in races longer than the 26.2-mile marathons.
She says she’s able to recover quickly after races; she stopped worrying about her times years ago. Her pre-race meals are simple – whole foods on the vegetarian side – but a quick recovery afterward involves a good combination of protein and fat.
She averages six- to 15-mile runs on weeknights and about 50 miles per week when she’s not racing. Twice a week during lunch, she trains a group of middle-age beginning runners at the state Department of Labor and Industries, where she’s employed.
“She’s an amazing woman,” said Rose Marie Powers, Marilou’s mother. “She’s very modest.”
Powers Russell continues to set new goals and has no plan to stop running marathons anytime soon. Her next goal: a 150-mile race in Arizona later this year, her second 100-plus-mile race in a year.
After that, she aims to run a marathon in all 50 states. She has 44 left to go.
“I keep looking for new challenges,” she said. “Anybody can accomplish anything if you set a goal.”