Four years ago, Susan Larsen set an ambitious goal to run a marathon in each of the 50 United States. She completed her 49th state when she crossed the finish line in Pennsylvania’s Danville Marathon in April.
With only one state left to go, Larsen encountered an unexpected roadblock along her path — there were only Sunday marathons in Vermont.
Larsen, a 52-year-old piano teacher from Farr West, Utah, made a commitment that she would only race on Saturdays when she set her cross-country goal in 2008.
“I made a personal covenant with my Heavenly Father,” Larsen said.
Torn between compromising her values and not finishing her goal, Larsen didn’t know what to do.
“The thought just kept coming to me to make my own race, but I kept dismissing it,” she said. “But the thought kept nagging at me and I knew I had to step up and create a race.”
So, she did.
On Saturday, July 7, Larsen will run a marathon in her 50th state — the Joseph Smith Memorial Marathon, which she created. The race will take place in Sharon, Vt., the birthplace of the Prophet Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Larsen looks forward to thinking about Joseph’s life as she runs the race. “The marathon will be hard. There are many hills, but it will be beautiful. Think about Joseph Smith's life: It was hard, but we can do hard things.”
Overcoming hard things is something she knows a lot about. In 1991, Larsen ran her first marathon in St. George in order to battle depression caused by her failing marriage. Since then, she has run 73 marathons in extreme situations while enduring several injuries and hardships along the way, including running an entire marathon with stitches in her knee.
She also maintains a dedicated running schedule. Larsen trains by running 3-4 miles each weekday and a long run on Saturdays. In order to save money, the night before each marathon, Larsen sleeps in her car next to the starting line.
Despite the strenuous training, Larsen says she runs in order to feel closer to God.
“I feel powers from on high bless me throughout the run,” she said.“Running a marathon is very spiritual to me. The marathon humbles me and I can feel the Savior’s love for me when I ask for his help.”
Right now, the challenge of completing her goal is more than just 26.2 miles away. In order for the Joseph Smith Memorial Marathon to be officially recognized, five individuals must register for the race, and three must complete it.
Currently, Larsen only has three people enrolled. The other two currently signed up are Lois Berkowitz, president of the 50 States Marathon Club, and Larry Macon, the three-time Guinness Record holder for most marathons in a year, which is 107.
For more information about the Joseph Smith Memorial Marathon and to register to run, visit josephsmithmemorialmarathon.weebly.com.
Ryan Simmons lives in New York City and has only run one marathon.