Grandma meets goal: 50 marathons in 50 states

Rae Mohrmann, fitness instructor at UMSL, completes a marathon June 19 in Alaska.

Rae Mohrmann had already run 25 marathons before she decided to take on the grueling 26-mile, 385-yard race in each of the 50 states. She was 55 years old at the time.

Mohrmann, now 62 and a fitness instructor in Campus Recreation at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, reached her goal June 19 when she streaked across the finish line of the Mayor’s Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska. She finished in 4 hours, 20 minutes, 26 seconds, a time that secured her first place in her division and put her more than an hour ahead of the second place finisher. She’s now a member of an elite group of 2,158 marathon runners in the U.S. who have run the race in all 50 states.

“The entire experience was a lot of fun, but it was emotional too,” Mohrmann said.

Her son, Gregg, 36, who has run in two other marathons with his mother, told her he wanted to cross the finish line with her when she hit 50.

“I kept thinking of how much we had been through together, and I began crying at mile 20, then at 23 and again at 26,” she said. “But he started cracking jokes and snapped me out of it. I was laughing by the time we finished.”

Mohrmann called the Alaska race a tough one with the temperature a cool 50 degrees at the 8 a.m. start.

“Then it began to rain as we turned onto a rocky fire road for eight miles followed by a narrow dirt path for another three,” she said. It was tough, but so is she.

“Alaska is not my final marathon,” she said emphatically. “To make sure I didn’t stop there I signed up to run the Des Moines, Iowa, race Oct. 17.”

When Mohrmann talks running, she speaks often of the personal challenge and of the time it allows her to see, to think, to feel. You won’t see her with earphones. They’d take away from the visceral experience that is running.

“Some things in life are tough and you learn to get through them,” she said. “It’s the same with running. You set a goal, and with determination and perseverance you can do whatever you want.”

Her goals usually result not only in a finish, but a win for her age category. She never mentions the wins but a quick check of race results for her age group leading up to Alaska reveals all first place finishes: the Delaware Marathon in Wilmington May 16, Go St. Louis Marathon April 11 and Surf City Marathon in Huntington Beach, Calif., on  Feb. 6.

In reaching the big 5-0 goal, she has her favorite races – Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota where she ran her best time of 3 hours, 36 minutes – and her least favorite – Hawaii where it was very hot even with a start time of 5 a.m. She ran the Boston Marathon six times because she loves the atmosphere.

“The crowds turn out for the everyday runners in Boston and they just make you feel like a star,” she said. She’s already signed up for the next one in April.

Tall, lean and muscular with a thick shock of graying hair, Mohrmann could be a fitness model. A longtime resident of Ferguson, Mo., she was a reading specialist in the Normandy School District until her retirement in 2000. She earned a master’s in education from UMSL in 1976 and worked closely with UMSL student teachers in her classrooms. She also spent her summers teaching other teachers at UMSL.

“I took advantage of the fitness center and enrolled in an exercise class,” she said. “One night the teacher didn’t show up, and I taught the class. I loved doing it, so I got certified in group fitness. Then I just kept getting more certifications. When I retired from Normandy schools, I knew I wanted to teach fitness.”

She teaches five different classes a week at the Mark Twain Athletic & Fitness Center in spinning, aerobics, weight training and water aerobics to people of all ages and abilities. Some of her students have been with her nearly a decade. She surrounds herself with family and friends. Ten of them accompanied her to Alaska and then spent the rest of the week sightseeing in the north woods. She’s active in the St. Louis Track Club, which held a celebration picnic in her honor Sunday. And she’s already grooming her two grandsons, ages 2 and 4, by completing a quarter-mile race with the oldest while carrying the youngest in her arms.

Mohrmann’s next goal is to run 75 marathons by the time she turns 75. Considering her previous goals, this one seems a piece of cake. She ran 66 marathons so far and keeps in shape by running shorter races in between the big ones.

“I’m not special,” she insisted. “I consider it a blessing to be out there able to run these races. I couldn’t have done it without all of the wonderful people in my life cheering me on in one way or another.”

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