Jeff Wehling 50 X 50 Sub 4
On September 28th, Jeff Wehling accomplished his goal of running a marathon in all fifty states, each with a time of under four hours!
SFL: Congratulations Jeff! Tell us a little about yourself.
JW: Well, I'm married, a father of three adult children, and have one beautiful granddaughter. I'm 55 and have lived in Springfield since 1983, minus a couple years in Omaha Nebraska. After graduating from Missouri State, I began a career in restaurant management. While I enjoyed the fast paced environment of the restaurant business, I longed to be outside. Having grown up in California, I was accustom to outdoor activities For the past 20+ years I've operated a lawn and landscape business in Springfield.
SFL: When did you decide to go for 50 marathons in 50 states?
JW: I decided to attempt running a marathon in each state pretty early in my running journey. While attending my third marathon in Omaha in 2011, I met a few runners from a couple running clubs. The 50 State Club and the 50<4 Marathon Club. I was also inspired by other runners from this area like John Everett, Richard Johnson and Brian Wright that have also finished 50 <4. At first the idea was baffling to me, yet I was intrigued. The completion of Omaha gave me three marathons faster than 4 hours, so I guess it was on!
SFL: Why did you decide to do 50 in 50?
JW: My decision to run a marathon in each state involved some peer pressure and having a challenge that would test my determination and physical fitness. The chance to travel with family and friends to new places was also appealing.
SFL: How did you decide which marathons to run?
JW: Choosing which marathon to run in various states involved scouring the internet for cool races that fit my schedule, finding races that friends were attending, and later pacing marathons in states that hadn't been checked off.
SFL: Which one was first on the list?
JW: My first marathon was our hometown event, The Bass Pro Marathon in November of 2010. This after finishing my first half marathon in the spring of that year. Following the Frisco Half Marathon, I couldn't have imagined running that distance again!
SFL: How long have you been a runner?
JW: How long have I been a runner, that's a good question. I guess there were a couple false starts before I considered myself a runner. My junior year of high school involved an extremely short stint on the cross country team. Several years later my neighbor and I trained for and ran the Sunshine Run 10k here in Springfield. Another 20 years pasted before running became part of my routine.
SFL: How did you get into running?
JW: My late 20's to early 30's were similar to most in that I married my wife Leone, bought a house, and began a family. The long hours involved with supervising several restaurants, family commitments, and chasing the American dream can be stressful. I mastered the habit of attempting to relieve stress with food. The pounds slowly accumulated to the point of my discust. My 41st birthday found me 45 pounds overweight and not comfortable in my skin. I began to run a couple miles a few days per week. I enjoyed the process of creating a new habit and feeling My energy levels increase. I began with 5k's in the winter of 2004 and continued running in the fall and winter months for a few years. My abbreviated running habit was in response to family and business commitments.
SFL: Why do you run today?
JW: Running today is as much a lifestyle and a part of my daily routine. My morning runs set the tone for the day. I am fortunate to have an enormous amount of running friends and training partners. The running community in Springfield is simply amazing. I can literally find someone or a group to run with any day of the week, morning or evening.
SFL: How did it feel to cross the finish in Akron?
JW: On Saturday, September 28th, 2019 I crossed the finish line for the Akron Marathon. WOW, what a feeling! The culmination of a 10 year goal! Special thanks to Brain Wright for traveling across the country to celebrate my achievement. Brian was a big influence of my decision to become part of a few running groups. Marathon Maniacs and the 50 State Clubs. Ohio had been a tough state for me to earn a sub four hour marathon. At the Air Force Marathon in August of 2016, a delayed start due to weather combined with wind, heat, and high humidity slowed my pace too much. April of this year my Ohio challenge was the Athens Marathon, the home of Ohio University. Illness and heavy rains during the race slowed me again. I returned home upset that I missed again and vowed that I would finish out the states and call it done. I knocked off two states three weeks later, Kenosha Wisconsin and Kalamazoo Michigan and was looking ahead to number fifty in Montana.
SFL: How did travel affect your family and work life?
JW: Traveling to races all over the country was not only a financial challenge, but a juggling act with work and family obligations. I can honestly say that time away from family was a strain and altering my work schedule has cost me business. I had thoughts of discontinuing the fifty-state quest, but my wife encouraged me to continue. She had the foresight to know I'd be tough to live with having an incomplete goal in my head. While several races could be reached over a weekend by car (benefit of living in the Midwest), most involved air travel to limit my time away from work. Early in my journey a traveler could purchase a ticket to just about anywhere in the US for around $300, not so much now. I have traveled with family to a handful of races which created some great memories. Since none of my family participate in running events, it became a tough sell to have them join me for hurried travel, early bed times, early alarms and hours of standing around waiting to see me finish. Attending endurance events for someone that doesn't share the passion, are BORING. I get it.
SFL: Which marathon did you enjoy most?
JW: Each marathon was special for different reasons. Some for the scenery (Crater Lake Oregon) (Kulia HI), some for challenge to qualify (Boston 2013) The final race in Akron was great, but the most enjoyable race was Missoula Montana in June of 2019. The race in Big Sky country was my 50th state and I was joined by a training/travel partner Emma Schuering. She and I have run 10+ marathons together, including several as pacers. A post race white water rafting excursion and reggae concert capped off a fun race weekend.
SFL: Which marathon was most challenging?
JW: My most challenging marathon was actually a triple weekend in June of 2015. This weekend involved sharing an Air BNB with several other runners from Springfield in Utah. I was determined to knock out three sub fours while picking up Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. The camaraderie in the house was great. We hung out together, prepared meals, swam in the cool waters of Bear Lake and cheered each other on. Day two in Utah was tough! At the half way point I nearly dropped out. Following a brief pity party at the half way point aide station, I was able to rally toward a 3:53:03 finish. By the way, day three was my best run of the weekend.
SFL: Did you ever think of giving up?
JW: Yes, I did think about quitting at around 30+ states.
SFL: How did you train for something like this?
JW: Training for the marathon distance started with reading a couple books by Hal Higdon and Bart Yasso. Both having long running and coaching careers. My initial training was all done on routes from my house solo. Staying motivated for long runs was a challenge and time consuming. Sunday mornings involved driving my route dropping water bottles and measuring the distance. In the beginning my runs were tracked with an old Timex Ironman watch that did not have GPS! I studied of training plans, talked with friends about training practices, and became a member Ozark Mountain Ridge Runners. Two years ago I became a certified running coach through the Road Runners Club of America. The knowledge gained here along with training other athletes has been priceless. Running is a very mental sport. Leading up to every race I spend time visualizing myself completing the event with a certain number on the clock. Absolutely amazing things can happen when the mind and body are in sync!
SFL: Who are your running support network / training group?
JW: Running support in Springfield is not hard to find. Whether you are new to the sport or pushing for a Boston qualifying time or even an OTQ for Olympic consideration. Most of the runners I train with now where found through connections made with OMRR, Fleet Feet training groups, and of course Springfield Brewing Company Athletics.
SFL: How many miles a week do you run on average?
JW: Average mileage per week averages 50, ranging from 40-75 depending on what I'm training for. I pride myself on being marathon ready always.
SFL: What do you like most about running long distances?
JW: The most enjoyable thing about running long is the bonds developed with training partners and other runners during an event. I complete nearly 100% of my long training runs with Amy Robbins, needless to say we have become close. We met at a group run and immediately fell into identical pace, really. Our foot falls matched and the conversations continue to flow after 6-7 years on the roads together.
SFL: What do you think about while running?
JW: I think about everything and nothing During some runs I empty my mind and on others I may fill it with to-do lists, conversation with friends, what I want to eat when I'm finished, do I have enough in my retirement account, where I'd like to take a non-running vacation. No two runs carry the same theme.
SFL: Do you have any rituals or superstitions?
JW: I used to put the timing chip on my left shoe for races. I always wear my bib number on my shorts for trail races. I must have coffee, bagels with peanut butter, and a banana on marathon morning.
SFL: What are your running PR's?
JW: Personal Records 5k 18:49 10K honestly don't remember, half marathon 1:31:05 marathon 3:13:59 50K 4:56:13 100 miles 20:45:05
SFL: What's the diet look like pre/post marathon?
JW: Don't look to me as a role model for the runners diet. While I do eat a respectable amount of non processed food, along with a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables and lean meat. My diet includes some junk calories and I'm a craft beer fan for sure. I attempt to clean it up prior to a goal race with limited success. Post race Ill eat just about anything I want for a couple days with a focus on protein to rebuild the muscle damage from a marathon.
SFL: When faced with adversity, what motivates you to keep going?
JW: When faced with adversity during training finding alternate activities to maintain fitness is actually fun. I modify my mileage running while substituting cycling, swimming, elliptical, treadmill runs, pool runs, yoga etc. When faced with adversity within a race your day becomes an exercise in problem solving. You need to analyze what's going on with nutrition, hydration, form and metal capacity. From there you make adjustments on monitor the results. The motivation to work through adversity always involves reaching the end goal of finishing the event. I am yet to DNF (did not finish) a running event.
SFL: Tell us about the scenery - you must have seen some pretty amazing things.
JW: Some of the most scenic races for me are in the mountains or along the coast.. This will be a driving force to spend more time competing in trail races in the future. I mentioned Crater Lake Oregon already, other great courses were, Albany New York, Bristol Vermont, Redding California, Denver Colorado, and Missoula Montana …. there is just something about running surrounded my soaring peaks and pine trees. Running along the coast in Maine, Rhode Island, Hawaii, and Virginia, and my only race outside of the county Negril, Jamaica were definitely memorable. Having grown up on the beaches in southern California, I really enjoy a taste of the coast from time to time, Following my race in Hawaii I was able to swim with a variety of sea life including the majestic sea turtles!
SFL: Any injuries?
JW: I have been fortunate to stay pretty healthy on this journey. Some minor muscle and tendon issues have flared up in my achilles and calves from time to time. Since I've become more diligent with stretching and foam rolling my injuries have been almost non existent. I also believe in cross training to help prevent injury and correct muscle imbalance.
SFL: Do you have a favorite piece of equipment or gear?
JW: My favorite piece of equipment is my Garmin watch. I enjoy tracking workouts and pushing myself to improve.
SFL: What about these double marathon weekends?
JW: Double marathons became as much a challenge as a method to knock out more than one state in a weekend. I have completed seven double marathons and a few marathon/half doubles. I will say that having your mind right is key. You need to understand that the first few miles on day two or three will be rough. Don't get me wrong, double long training runs are key to readying your body for this challenge. Our bodies are capable of just about anything with the right training, nutrition and mind set.
SFL: What's next for Jeff Wehling?
JW: What's next? I am currently training for some trail running races and a 30 hour last man standing event in December. For this one the runners will complete a 4 mile loop each hour for 29 repetitions. For the remaining competitors the 30th loop will be an all out sprint.
Interview by Matt Nelson
Photos courtesy Jeff Wehling