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Marathon Memories: Runners prepare to join the prestigious 50 states marathon club

Ming Mac and Will Dong set to run the IMT Des Moines Marathon on Oct. 15

Ming Mac ran the 2004 Chicago Marathon, marking his first 26.2-mile journey.  He was only planning to run one marathon ever – and boy was it painful in the days after, such that, he couldn't squat because his thighs were so stiff.

Will Dong and Ming Mac
Will Dong and Ming Mac
The pain subsided and pride took over – and the marathon journey was just beginning for this Chicago resident.

Mac, 45, who lives in East Edgewater and is a senior accountant at CIG Management LLC, has now run 68 marathons, including the 2017 Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday, Oct. 8.

That's 1,781.6 miles – just on race-days, and of course way more than that in training runs over the past 13 years.

"I am feeling physically energetic and happy after each (marathon). Running helps me relieve some stress," said Mac, who completed 12 marathons in 2012.  Yep, one a month.

And last year at this time, he ran a marathon in Hartford, Conn., on a Saturday, and then returned home to run the Chicago Marathon the next day.  He has run the Chicago Marathon 13 times.

"I love to run the Chicago Marathon, therefore did not want to miss it (in 2016).  I also wanted to maintain my legacy status, so I decided to run the Hartford Marathon on Saturday and flew back after the race and ran the Chicago next day," Mac said.  "It was quite an adventure for me.  I was very glad when I crossed the finish line (in Chicago in) under four hours."

Mac will be filled with joy when he crosses the finish line at the IMT Des Moines Marathon on Sunday, Oct. 15, which will mark another major milestone on his marathon journey.

That will complete his trek to complete a marathon in all 50 States, which he has been attempting to fulfill since March 2012.

Will Dong, a former Chicago resident who now lives in Oakland, Calif., will be running in Iowa, too – and it will put him in the prestigious 50 States Marathon Club, too.

Dong has run 78 overall marathons.

"I am very happy that Will and I will finish our last state together," Mac said.

So why is Iowa the 50th?

No particular reason, Mac said. "I run wherever Will signs up. It just happens that Iowa is the last state on our checklist," he said. "We were going to save Anchorage for our last state, but that means we will have to wait until next June to run Alaska. This actually works out very well. We don't have to wait for nine months to complete the 50-states."

Mac, who has been living in Chicago since July 1989, joked that, after the Iowa race, he will retire from running. In reality, he will "continue running as long as I can, but probably won't be running many out-of-state marathons. I want to stay in good shape and maintain a healthy life."

Dong, who will turn 41 the day after the IMT Des Moines Marathon and is a software engineer, lived in Chicago for 10 years before moving west in 2014.

The 2010 Chicago Marathon was Dong's first-ever and, he admitted, "It was a struggle." Dong hit the wall and endured painful cramping.

But by 2015 Dong was a running machine, completing 14 marathons that year.

He has twice run 13 marathons in a year, and 12 in two other years.

Dong also will be running the New York City Marathon in November.

"I'm excited to be joining a club of ambitious runners," Dong said.  "It's been about 5 ½ years of continuous training, lots of planning, often crazy travel schedules, and lots of good fortune to have this opportunity.  So, I'm super excited to have the race opportunity and very grateful at the same time."

Dong's marathon slate includes back-to-back marathon-running weekends four times, and he's done three marathons in five weekends.

Dong is scheduled to run the Tokyo Marathon on Feb. 25, 2018, marking his sixth and final run among the six prestigious Abbott World Marathon Majors (Boston, New York, Chicago, London, Berlin, and Tokyo). 

Dong has run the Chicago Marathon three times, in 2010, 2012 and 2013 – and said his favorite memory locally is running up Roosevelt Street, and then turning at Columbus Drive for the home stretch.

His all-time favorite marathon memory came in 2012, when they were scheduled to run the Madison (Wisc.) Marathon over Memorial Day weekend, but it was canceled days before the race.

"It was a hot summer and expected temperatures were too high," so organizers cancelled the event, Dong said. "After the cancellation notice, we had to think quickly as we had the goal of running a marathon a month (that year) and luckily found the Med City Marathon in Rochester, Minn., which we were able to drive to and run, even though that was almost equally as hot as Madison was expecting.  It was a very warm day; luckily we both finished and without exhaustion."

When asked about celebratory plans in Des Moines, Dong said he's not planning anything extraordinary.  "I really don't see this as an end goal.  It's a milestone no doubt, but I plan to continue running as much as I have been the last six years, which is about 12 marathons a year.  I'd love to get to 100 marathons as a goal and also run a qualifying Boston Marathon time."

Dong joked his pre-marathon traditions include complaining about the expected weather, the course, his tired legs, lack of training and anything else that can or might contribute to a slower time than he'd like.

"I think the marathon is about 75 percent physical, 25 percent mental, and while we know we can finish the marathon, we still get a little paranoia around if we trained enough or if our bodies will hold up," Dong said.

Post-race, they wear the shirt they earned at that race and, of course, pose for plenty of photos.  Often, they also have to rush back to check-out of their hotel and then catch a flight home.

And it's back to work on Monday.

Dong estimated his journey to 50 States has cost about $30,000 over the past six years, which has also led to some memorable vacations, too.  Such as, Denali Park in Alaska, Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota, the Grand Canyon in Arizona, The Alamo in San Antonio, Grand Teton National Park, and more.

Dong also has taken 45 flights on the journey.

"(I) wish we would have started (the journey to 50 States) in 2012 when we wanted to run 12 in 2012.  We didn't have the idea of 50 States until March or so (of 2012), but at that point we had already booked quite a few races that year instead of running States," Dong said.

And yes, Dong added, he "definitely would do it again."

Dong said there were six States in which he originally didn't finish in under 4 hours: Hawaii, Utah, Vermont, Maryland, New Mexico and South Dakota.  He has since gone back to Hawaii and South Dakota to score a sub-4 hour marathon.

In 2018, Dong plans to return to the other four States.

Dong also wants to run the 10 Provinces of Canada over the next few years, with three already checked off: (Ottawa, Alberta and Quebec).

Marathon Memories From Ming Mac:

Favorite Race of the First 49 States: Chicago

Most Challenging: Queens (N.Y.), Honolulu and Atlanta.

Best Time: 3:36:03 in Manchester, N.H.

Most Scenic Course: Honolulu, Salt Lake, Missoula and Philadelphia.

Race With The Best Fan Support: Chicago.

Race With The Best Signs Along The Course: Chicago

Best Race Medal: "They all are pretty, but Mercedes medal in Birmingham is the most beautiful."

Most Disappointing Race: Little Rock, Ark., due to weather conditions on the day he ran.

Two Races To Definitely Run Again: Honolulu and Marine Corps Marathon

Personally Speaking: Has lived with his partner for more than 17 years.  "He's been my biggest supporter throughout this long quest."

Pre-marathon Traditions: "Nothing real special. I like to rest the day before race day. I prefer to eat rice with a little extra protein. Of course, no spicy food."

Post-marathon Traditions: "Plenty of sleep to recover and (I) eat a blow of soup."

Marathon Superstitions: Does not wear the new race shirt until he crosses the finish-line.

Estimated Money Spent To Run In All 50 States: $25,000 – "We're frugal when we travel. We share (hotel) rooms to bring the costs down."

Number of flights to join the 50 States Marathon Club: 42

Do It Again: "I don't think (so). It takes a lot of commitment and effort. Once is enough."

After 50 States: "I'll run as long as I live. It is the best medicine, as long as my body doesn't break down."

Finally: "I plan to order a custom-made t-shirt with the state map printed on (it)."

Marathon Memories From Will Dong:

Favorite Race of the First 49 States: Boston. "The history, prestige, and hard work it takes to get there.  (It is) a different kind of atmosphere not found at any other marathon."

Most Challenging: Honolulu, Rochester, Minn., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Morgantown, W.V., Mad Marathon (Green Mountains of Vermont).

Best Time: 3:30:36 in Birmingham, Ala.

Race With The Best Fan Support: New York City

Race With The Best Signs Along The Course: Chicago or New York City

Best Medal: Big Sur "because it's so different; it's made out of wood."

Two Races To Definitely Run Again: Boston and New York City.

All About Iowa, His 50th State: "I just really am hoping the travel, weather, body, and mind can come together, one more time.  It's been a goal for a few years, and I don't take any race for granted as 26.2 miles is never a given."
 
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