At age 30 and with a few marathons under her belt, Heather Zeigler set a goal of running 50 marathons by the time she was 50. She achieved that goal with 17 years to spare
The resident of Downers Grove, Ill., has run 157 marathons and was the 17th woman to run sub-4-hour marathons in all 50 states when she completed the Honolulu Marathon in December 2015 in 3:55:29. Two other women have joined the elite company since Zeigler’s accomplishment.
But for the longest time, Zeigler couldn’t stand running.
“In college [at Purdue University], I was in Navy ROTC,” Zeigler says. “We would run and I hated it. I would always be in the back of the pack.”
After giving birth to her daughter, Briyana, in 2005, Zeigler found herself overweight. She turned to running for weight management and found it wasn’t the burden it was back in college. After a short time she was running 5 or 6 miles a day, and wound up losing 45 pounds.
Zeigler was living in Florida at the time when a friend encouraged her to run in the 2007 Chicago Marathon, a race that was eventually stopped due to stifling heat. She finished the race in 4:31:42. By the time she ran Chicago again in 2009, she was back living in Illinois. Running the Fox Valley Marathon in St. Charles, Ill., the next fall took her marathon running to a higher level.
“I saw a woman wearing a shirt that read ‘52 marathons in 52 weeks,’” Zeigler remembers.
There, she made what she thought was the lofty goal of 50 marathons by age 50. Zeigler then did at least one marathon a month from November 2010 to December 2012. She once ran four marathons in a 16-day span, and ran 30 just in 2015.
Now 36, Zeigler has accomplished her running feats as a single mother.
“The question was always, ‘What do I do with my daughter?’ for long runs and races,” she says. “It has taken a toll on my family. Now that my daughter is older, she enjoys it. I bring her with. I have family that is local, which helps. And I am lucky to have family and friends who help.”
Zeigler has stayed healthy during her remarkable run. A foot injury last year is the only substantial ailment she has suffered so far.
She thought luck was on her side when she ran 3:33:33 in Spearfish, S.D., at age 33, thinking that would get her into the Boston Marathon. She missed the cut by 11 seconds. It would be 24 more races until she got her BQ; she ran Boston in 2014.
Zeigler said she is looking to limit her marathon running this year, but also admitted that “paring back” may not be the best choice of words. A friend called and got Zeigler to commit to a marathon with her in May.
“I checked my calendar and I am already doing two other marathons that month,” Zeigler says. “Maybe I don’t know what cutting back is.”