Marathon Man: Air Force major to complete 75th marathon in 9 years

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Erin Smith
  • 45th Space Wing Public Affairs
One man. Nine years. 74 marathons.

For many, this sounds like an unattainable goal, but Maj. Joel Fenlason has no plans to slow down just yet. Running is his therapy, and each marathon presents a new challenge.

He started running marathons in 2005 when he was 31 years old. His goal was to complete 50 marathons by his 40th birthday. Now 40, he is preparing to run his 75th marathon Feb. 16
Even though he has crossed 74 finish lines in his life, he said each marathon presents its own challenges.

"Each marathon is a different beast," Fenlason, 45th Space Wing deputy director of staff, said. "One day, you can have your best time, and the next day you have to push yourself through to the finish line. Even after 70 marathons, it's still a challenge."

Overcoming these challenges not only fulfills him, but it also motivates others.

"He does very well in the races," said Capt. Sean McConnell, 45th Space Wing assistant staff judge advocate, who has run in local races with Fenlason. "Not many people can say that they run marathons -- and he does many of them in a year."

Fenlason said he has always been a runner, starting with track club in 3rd grade. In college, he said he got slower, but he got back into running in his early 30s when he was stationed at the Naval Post Graduate school in Monterey, Calif. He had a group of friends who would get together for weekend runs.

At first, he said, it was the camaraderie that kept him going.

"Having people keeps you motivated," the Washington state native said. "Even when you don't want to wake up on a Saturday morning and run 18-to-20 miles, knowing that they were there waiting for you or calling you on the phone made it easier to get out there."

His training may have started with a group of people who gave him the motivation to train and get to the end of a run, but now, many of his 3 a.m. training runs are done on his own. He said he gets as much out of running as he puts into it.

"Being able to run is something I appreciate every day," he said. "The fact that I can run a marathon and be able to walk the next day."

Although he has covered 5,600 miles in the past 3 years he still has more running goals.

He wants to see if he can do 100 marathons in his life, and one in every state. So far, he has run a marathon in 27 states and Washington DC.

"I like to go different cities," he said. "It is neat to run through the history of other cities. You get to see more of the city on your feet."

His favorite marathon to date was in his home state of Washington. It was his 17th marathon, and the first time he broke the 4-hour mark.

He said he not only broke that mark, but exploded through it -- beating his personal best by 20 minutes. What made it more special was that he could share it with his parents.

They dropped him off for the run and went to Sunday school, and he gave them an estimated time to pick him up. His parents arrived early so they would have time to park, but he was also early.

"My dad dropped my mom off, and my mom made it in just in time to see me finish," he said. "Of all the commotion going on in the stadium, the only voice I heard was my mom's as I made my way to the finish line."

While his mom's encouragement helped him through the finish line, the encouragement of strangers has helped him cross the other 73.

He said that when he ran the Honolulu Marathon, he received as much encouragement in Japanese as he did in English. The same was true in his most recent marathon, the Miami Marathon, where he heard French, Spanish and English.

"You're all suffering the same," he said. "And encouragement is universal."

For him, running is like life.

"You go through ups and downs in daily life," Fenlason, who is on track to complete 20 marathons this year, said. "But you know there are better times ahead, and if you push through challenges you can reach your goal at the end."

Pushing through and reaching goals is something that Fenlason takes in stride.

"It takes a lot of patience and dedication to be able to perform the way he does and to run the amount of miles he runs," said McConnell. "His dedication and patience transcends into how he handles situations in the work place from all levels within the Air Force."