SANDY — Spencer Olsen has an addictive personality. He’d be the first to tell you that.
He’d also be the first to tell you that can be a good thing or a bad thing.
Because he’s seen both.
In his younger days, during his 20s and 30s, he got sideways with drugs. It cost him a marriage and, for a while when he had to spend time behind bars, his freedom.
Jail did succeed in scaring him straight, however. When they let him out he vowed never to go back, to get right again with God, to take care of his body and start looking properly after his family.
He’d been clean and sober for more than 20 years when in January of 2014 he suffered two strokes in the same week. He believes it was his long-ago drug addiction coming back to haunt him. Cocaine has never been accused of being kind to arteries.
So there he was, 55 years old, flat on his back and back to square one.
What to do?
Olsen’s younger brother Darren, as it turned out, was planning to run a marathon later in the year. But his training partner had backed out, so he figured he would, too.
Hold on a minute, Olsen told his brother. What if he ran it with him instead?
It wasn’t exactly the first thing anyone thought of as rehab for a victim of not one but two strokes, but Spencer Olsen wouldn’t let the idea go until he at least asked his doctor what he thought.
In early March, less than six weeks since his strokes, he broached the subject during his weekly doctor visit.
“I remember him staring at me for 10 to 15 seconds,” Olsen remembers. “He just looked at me over his glasses and didn’t say anything. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t a runner.
“Finally he said, ‘Why not? Just take it slow, build up to it, if you start feeling heated and exhausted, stop and relax.'”
Little did the doctor or Olsen know the door they’d just opened.
That October, Spencer and Darren ran the Chicago Marathon together, joining some 40,000 runners in the world’s second largest 26.2 miler and finishing side by side.
In the 41 months since, Spencer Olsen has run another 67 marathons — an average of more than one every three weeks. During one particularly prolific stretch he ran 15 marathons in 15 weeks.
He’s finished at least one marathon in every one of the 50 states. From mid-2016 to mid-2017 he ran 30 marathons in 30 states. That won him Platinum Award status in a club Olsen belongs to called, appropriately enough, Marathon Maniacs (marathonmaniacs.com).
And now that he’s bagged all the states, his next goal is to run a marathon on every continent. In late April he’ll do London. At some point he’ll go to Antarctica. (But he has to get on the waiting list. The Antarctica Marathon, held every March on St. George’s Island, is restricted to just 200 hardy runners a year.)
Sometimes he travels with family, sometimes it’s just him and his wife, Mary Ann, who by the way supports him wholeheartedly. “He’s crazy,” she says, smiling, “and completely impervious to pain.” But more often than not, he travels alone, taking the red-eye to the race site, running on Saturday and getting back in time for church on Sunday.
Why does he do it?
“Because I like to do hard things; I like to overcome hard things,” says Olsen. “I like that feeling of being tested, or facing the challenge and getting through it. My running has helped me know that I can get through uncomfortable things. There are a lot of mile 22’s in all areas of life, those times when you have to dig deep and have faith you’ll come out the other side.”6 comments on this story
He laments the indiscretions of his younger years, when he turned away “from the good things my parents taught me, when I chose the wrong.” But he doesn’t disown his past.
“You have to accept what you’ve done and who you are,” he says. “What I went through caused me to turn my life over to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Once that happened, his addictive personality went from being a liability to an asset.
“I’m addicted to marathons,” he cheerfully confesses. “That’s a good thing. It helps me in my life. It keeps me on the right path.”