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OUTSIDE THE LAB: Marathon Man

OUTSIDE THE LAB: Marathon Man

Albert Einstein taught himself the violin and would play duets with Max Planck, fellow Nobel Prize winner and the “Father of Quantum Theory,” on piano. Marie Curie rode her bicycle to clear her mind and relax. And Erwin Schrodinger  – of Schrodinger’s cat fame – crafted dollhouse furniture.

 Outside the Lab highlights our faculty’s non-academic pastimes that help keep them focused through creative pursuits.

Randy Thompson joined 8,700 other souls at the starting line of the Chicago Marathon in 1988. It was his first attempt at running a marathon. After he completed the 26.2-mile course he was sure of one thing.

“This was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done,” he said to himself, vowing to never run another marathon.

Randy Thompson crosses the finish line at the marathon in Anchorage, Alaska, in June.

Randy Thompson crosses the finish line at the Anchorage Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon.

That didn’t quite work out.

In June, Thompson accomplished his goal of running a marathon in all 50 U.S. states when he crossed the finish line at the Anchorage Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon in Alaska. Thompson, a professor of law and director of the Young Law Library and IT Services in the School of Law, has completed 87 marathons.

“For me, running is a hobby in the sense that it’s something I enjoy,” Thompson said, “but it’s also an obsession because the thought of not running, that would be tough for me.”

After Chicago, Thompson waited three years before running in his second marathon, in Columbus. He did it because he thought he could significantly lower his time from Chicago. And he did. Then he figured that if he kept getting faster he might qualify for the Boston Marathon.

It took him five more marathons, but he did it. He’s run in Boston three times, including this year. By the mid-2000s, he had racked up marathons in seven states. That’s when his brother goaded him into considering the 50-state goal.

“I thought he was crazy,” he said. “But then I decided to go ahead and do it.”

He’s run in as many as eight marathons in a year. He ran a personal-best 3 hours, 13 minutes at a marathon outside of Indianapolis. He’s never won one, but he’s placed in his age group and finished in the overall top 10 at some of the smaller races.

Thompson ran in the Boston Marathon in April.

Thompson ran in the Boston Marathon in April.

Some marathons he crossed off the list were part of vacations, such as Alaska and Hawaii. He’s run in big marathons – Chicago, New York and Los Angeles – and some that were more intimate, such as the Salmon Marathon in Idaho.

“There were about 80 of us,” he said. “You’re in the middle of Idaho and it’s beautiful scenery. I’m seeing parts of the country in a fashion in which I would never otherwise have seen them. Running one step at a time as opposed to 60 miles an hour in an automobile, you see the place in a totally different light.”

By far his most challenging marathon was the Bataan Memorial Death March, held each year in late winter at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

“In the morning when we started it was near freezing but by the time we finished it was in the mid-80s,” he said. “The course goes through the desert and there’s a mountain you climb and circumvent and at about the 20-mile mark there’s a sand pit you have to go through. It was extremely tough.”

Thompson now sets his sights north of the border.

“I’d like to run in all the provinces and territories in Canada,” he said.

About The Author

Chris Branam writes about research and economic development at the University of Arkansas. His beats include the Arkansas Research and Technology Park, the Department of Biological Sciences and the Department of History.

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