Somewhere around the twentieth mile during the 2016 edition of the City of Oaks Marathon, Raleigh, North Carolina, I noticed a fellow runner slightly ahead wearing a simple white shirt. On this beautiful sun filled day this shirt was easy to spot off in the distance. As I made up ground on this fellow runner I noticed this shirt had something hand written on the back. This is not uncommon; many people self author messages of inspiration or remembrance on the back of their marathon gear. As I got closer I noticed this message had the number 200 in it. At first, I was thrown off, certainty this runner was not 200 years old. Drawing closer I could make out the full text, “City of Oaks, 200th Marathon.” Wow…was all I could process in my mind. As I approached this determined runner I did the math, I’m 182 behind this guy. Wow…just wow. On my way around him, I felt the need to offer some words of encouragement and a pat on the back. After finishing my City of Oaks Marathon, my second career sub-four marathon, I walked back to my car and told my wife, Michele, about this runner who would be finishing his 200th marathon. A few hours later, after arriving safely home from the race I checked my Facebook account and noticed my timeline filled with congratulations. Intermixed with friends congratulating me on the sub-four were post offering the same sentiments to the finisher of 200 marathons. Little did I know Mr. 200 Marathons (Eric Johnson) and I (along with a bunch of other runners) are friends on social media, a wonderful part of our world. I decided right there I wanted to know more about his marathon journey.
Brian’s Running Adventures (Q): When did your marathon journey begin?
Eric Johnson (EJ): I ran my first marathon in 1993, Second in 1997 and my third in 1999.
Q: Did you initially have a goal of running a certain number of marathons or to complete 50 marathons in 50 states?
EJ: I only intended to be a one and done marathoner but I met a couple of 50 Staters and succumbed to peer pressure.
Q: With a resume of 200 marathons, do you have a favorite?
EJ: I jokingly answer “the last one I finished”. I do have favorites for various reasons. I really enjoyed the Disney Marathon because I was able to run with my little brother and then spend time with his family the day after the race. The Tobacco Marathon and City of Oaks marathons are both great events that I’ve put a lot of blood and sweat into as either a committee member or board member. I was able to get a day off to run each of them once. Another one of my favorites is the Breast Cancer Marathon in Jacksonville, Florida. There is a ton of course support, the weather is usually ideal and the course is flat. Another is Chicago. The Chicago Marathon is my PR race and has 2 of my 3 fastest times. Chicago has a great expo.
Q: Is there a marathon that you would “NEVER” run again? Why?
EJ: I don’t recall a marathon that I would not do again.
Q: Have you run any marathons more than once? Why?
EJ: I have repeated several marathons for various reasons. I’m currently participating in the Big Bang Challenge which is running 5 consecutive years of the Space Coast Marathon commemorating the 5 shuttles that were sent into orbit. I’ve also run all 3 of the All American Marathons so I will continue to run this one every year.
Q: What is your fastest marathon time/slowest?
EJ: My PR is 4:02:09 and my slowest is 9:48:25. The worst one was on Day 5 of a 5-day marathon series. I had severe blisters covering about 30% of my feet that occurred on day 3 of that series. Fortunately, the series had a no cutoff policy and I spent the entire last day limping gingerly on bloody shoes because I needed those states for my second circuit of the states.
Q: Over the course of 200 marathons what lessons have you learned about running 26.2 miles.
EJ: The most important thing I’ve learned is to respect the distance. Even though I’ve slowed dramatically due to following a philosophy of “quantity over quality”, I still respect the distance and determination it takes to cover the distance.
Q: What were the worst conditions you have run a marathon in?
EJ: That would be part of the New England Marathon Series. It was a multiple out and back course and early in the event, myself and Henry Reuden were on the outbound section when a thunderstorm rolled in very quickly. I had already taken shelter for about 20 minutes for the first storm to pass. A short time later, a second thunderstorm rolled in quickly. This time we were at the start/finish line and took shelter under the food tent. A lightning bolt struck very close to the tent and several of us felt it. Scary day but after the storm, everybody went back to work to finish another state.
Q: I see your next goal is 100 marathons in North Carolina, how far are you away from that one?
EJ: I’ve run 51 marathons in North Carolina.
Q. If some read this interview and said “I want to run 200 marathons,” What advice would you give them?
EJ: DO NOT RACE! Racing and running so many marathons per year will guarantee you a close relationship with several doctors. Q: I get a lot of reactions from non-runners when they hear I’ve run 18 marathons, what in the world do people outside the running community say when they learn about your 200 marathons?
EJ: It’s a funny question. Non-runners will think it is a lot but it does take a runner to realize just what has been accomplished. 200 is also not very many compared to some of the persons I run with across the country. I know several who are attempting 100 marathons in 2016. Thank you for taking the time to participate in this “marathon” interview. I’m sure this interview and your 200th finish has and will inspire others to keep after their goals.