Who We Are: John Wallace: running across borders
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When John Wallace heads to Jersey in the British Isles for a marathon later this year, it will be number 348 for the Silverthorne resident.
He’ll then tally his 349th in Holland when he runs alongside his Dutch friend for his 100th marathon.
Wallace, who just finished a marathon in the Isle of Man, said to be approaching 350 marathons is not many in the world of men and women who quest after their own running goals.
“I’m a babe in the woods,” he said, adding that the world record holder for running the most sets of 26.2 miles has tallied 1,900.
“I couldn’t live long enough to run 1,900,” he said, later adding, “Any number you can think of, somebody’s done it.”
Nonetheless, Wallace hopes to reach 400, even with an aging body.
The addiction began 35 years ago as a challenge to his body, which was affected by a stress-relieving smoking habit. When he quite, he began gaining weight, so he took to the pavement.
But one mile later, the then-33-year-old threw up.
“I never ran two feet unless someone was chasing me,” he said. “I thought, this is ridiculous.”
So he decided to get in shape.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” he said, explaining that he tended to prefer long, slow runs instead of short sprints. “The longer I ran, the better I felt.”
As he began running longer, he wondered what a marathon would be like. So he gave it a shot.
“I almost died at 22 miles,” he said. “I swore if I finished the race and lived, I would never do anything this stupid again in my life.”
But he kept running.
And joined a running club.
They explained endorphins to him and why he went into “la-la land” after three or four miles into a run.
And then running became a stress reliever.
“Without running, I may not have been as successful as I was in my job,” the former sales and marketing professional said. “It’s a good addiction. It makes you feel good and gets rid of stress.”
After his first marathon, he wanted to run another. And another. And eventually he came up with the goal of running a marathon in every state in the United States. The first time around, he fit them into his business trips. Later in life, he did it again.
When his wife, Nicole, got a job in London it was the year Wallace had retired. He decided to travel across Europe to run marathons while she was working. He hit 31 in 31 countries that year.
“I wasn’t even close to finishing Europe,” he said.
It took him another five years to do 51 countries – which made him, to his knowledge, the first runner to run marathons in all the European countries.
“It was one of the reasons I set out to do it,” he said, because in the year he and Nicole lived in London, he asked around and couldn’t find anyone having achieved the same goal.
He said sometimes, it’s not him that wins the race. It’s his alter-ego, “Maddog,” the nickname he got from his runner friends in Dallas. He’d lag behind the group until the last two miles, and then power through to finish first.
“There’s Maddog and there’s me, and we’re in the same body,” he said. “I’ll hand the race over to Maddog … and he’ll drag my ass to the finish line.”
Wallace finishes the “new” European circuit, which now includes the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey, next year when he runs Guernsey. He said he won’t go through the trouble of listing his achievements – he claims he’s also the only runner to have run marathons in every North American country and 110 countries. That’s all the countries in every continent except Asia and Africa.
“Nobody I know of in the world has done all these,” he said, adding that, by his calculations, there are 125 countries in the world that have official marathons.
Some of those, like running in Saudi Arabia, are virtually impossible, which makes it unlikely he’ll ever run there. The visa for Saudi Arabia is tough to get, and flights are several thousand dollars.
Though Wallace is keen to get his best time and win his age group – which he’s done in most of his marathons – he also gets excited to experience the culture of the place he’s running.
“When I go to foreign countries, I see them from the perspective of a runner with friends there instead of as a tourist,” he said, using the example of staying with the family of a Columbian runner he met in Miami.
“Runners are a very close-knit community,” Wallace said. “We’re all crazy, so we all get along really well.”
Wallace prefers smaller marathons, like the one he ran in Ukraine. It had 13 people, even in a big city. He was the only foreigner in the race. The biggest marathon he’s run is Boston or New York City, which have a thrill all their own, but the logistics turns Wallace off most of the time. It just takes too long to get to the start and wait around for the race to begin.
He’s run in Antarctica, where he experienced 30-pound skuas with an eight-foot wingspan swooping down at him to protect its young and a giant sea lion sitting on the course. It was an adventure-filled run with the most wildlife interaction.
But Wallace said probably his most adventurous was in Israel in 2009. Hamas was lobbing explosives at the runners, though they didn’t get close and no one was hurt.
“I got so focused, I didn’t even hear the explosions,” he said.
His quest to break the world record of marathons run in different countries led him to place he never would have visited by choice. Like East Timor, Ecuador, Malaysia and several Eastern European countries.
“Once I got there and found out how interesting (the countries) are and how nice the people were, I loved them. I’d consider going back,” he said.
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