At first glance, 71-year-old Marianne Hesseltine might seem more like the type to power-walk at the mall than run a marathon.
After all, the average age of American marathon runners in 2016 was 40 for men and 37 for women, according to Running USA.
But the Powell resident defied stereotypes Sept. 29 when she finished the OCNJ Half Marathon in Ocean City, New Jersey, completing a quest that began 17 years ago: to run a marathon or half-marathon in every state.
“I was faster then than I am now,” she joked.
The upstate New York native is a longtime runner, completing her first 5K in Syracuse in 1978. It was the height of the running movement of the ’70s, she said, and she climbed on board.
“I’m a very goal-oriented individual. I decided (after that first race) that I wanted to be a marathoner,” Hesseltine said.
It would be 2003 before she ran her first marathon, in Toledo. In between, Hesseltine earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate, got married, created a master’s-degree program in special education at Syracuse University, moved to Ohio and raised two daughters.
A “teacher of the deaf,” as she described it, Hesseltine retired as a special-education supervisor from the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio in 2014. Soon thereafter, she began teaching at Otterbein University – work she continues to do, along with consulting in Southwest Licking Local Schools.
“I don’t live casually,” Hesseltine said. “I try to pull everything out of life that I can.”
In 2005, she found an online club for runners who wanted to complete 25 half-marathons – 13.1 miles each – in 25 states.
“I thought, ‘That sounds cool and doable,’ ” Hesseltine said.
Five years later, she had met the goal.
“We were like, ‘Yeah! Now what’s next?’ ” she said.
“She’s never not accomplished something she set out to do,” said Hesseltine’s husband, Barry. “I wasn’t surprised at all.”
Her journey to “50 in 50” could have been cut short by hip surgery in 2012. Hesseltine said she lost a year of running before the surgery due to the pain, and a year following in therapy.
She was undeterred, though, opting, after lengthy research, for a less common hip resurfacing over replacement.
“If you have the replacement, you can’t (run). I couldn’t have done the marathons,” Hesseltine said. “A sane person night have said ‘I had a good run.’ I didn’t want to give it up.”
Her marathon journey has proven rich in experiences for both Hesseltine and her family. Family vacations built around races have included traditional destinations, including Disney World, and less-familiar destinations such as Appleton, Wisconsin. Family members will often run or walk a companion 5K, if the event offers one.
Hesseltine credited her family for supporting her and sharing this experience. Her husband, though, downplayed his role.
“I set the alarm” on race days, he deadpanned when asked about how he helps out.
“We make friends everywhere we go, and we embrace the travel,” Hesseltine said, “and it’s given us such a love and knowledge of our country.”
Memorable races often involve scenery; Hesseltine mentioned the settings in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Missoula, Montana; and Des Moines, Iowa, as races notable for their landscape.
A race in Indianapolis that concluded on the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway might sound like a treat, but Hesseltine said the pavement and lack of cover made for an uncomfortable finish.
But, she said, she’s never not finished – even when she succumbed to gastrointestinal distress on a course.
“I threw up in Idaho,” she said. “My legs never give out. It’s the tummy stuff where most runners struggle.”
“She always crosses the finish line with a smile,” daughter Jenny Shoaf said.
Hesseltine continues to train and doesn’t imagine she’ll stop running and racing any time soon. Her next goal is to complete 75 half-marathons or marathons by the time she’s 75.
“I’m at 62 races now, and I’m 71,” she said, adding she’s already scheduled three more races before the end of 2019 – including the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon & 1/2 Marathon, set Sunday, Oct. 20.
“She’s really not taking a whole lot of time to appreciate what she’s done,” Shoaf said with a smile.
“I’m pleased to have reached the goal. It’s cool and nice but, now what?” Hesseltine said. “I don’t stay in the moment. I celebrate and move on. It’s just a jumping-off point for whatever’s next.”