John Fisher is a late bloomer when it comes to running marathons.
When he crossed the Boston Marathon finish line in just over five hours Monday, the 65-year-old Naperville, Ill., man completed his 12-year journey to run a marathon in every state in America.
For much of his life, running was the last thing on Fisher’s mind.
The only reason he ran cross county as a junior at East Aurora (Ill.) High School, he said, was to hang out with his friends who were more dedicated to the sport.
“It was more social than anything else,” Fisher said. “At one point when I was running I realized this was not fun.”
That attitude continued through his adulthood until 2004, when Fisher was invited to watch his nephew compete in the Chicago Marathon.
Fisher said he was struck by the spectacle of the race and the more than a million people who were spectators. “I didn’t realize all the excitement around it,” he said.
That sparked thoughts of participating too. But it would take another two years before Fisher started a sixth-month training program with running guru Hal Higdon to prepare for the 2006 Chicago Marathon.
That first race was a bit of a wake-up call. “I made a rookie mistake,” Fisher said.
Accustomed to running in a T-shirt and shorts in the warm weather, Fisher said he was ill-prepared for the weather that chilly October day.
“It was cold. The race-day temperature was 30 degrees,” he said. “I didn’t even sweat I was so cold.”
He finished in a little more than five hours.
His second Chicago Marathon in 2007 took even longer because the weather was polar opposite. “That was the year it was so hot they ran out of water,” he said. He said he was lucky to finish before organizers shut down the race.
After running races in several states, Fisher said he got the idea to join the 50 States Marathon Club and thus began his quest that ended this week.
Going into 2018, he had two states left: Hawaii and Massachusetts.
He ran the Hawaii race last month and the Boston Marathon was his last.
The marathon in Hawaii on the island of Hilo was tough, he said. When the race started at 6 a.m., the temperature was 70 degrees with 85 percent humidity.
“Sixteen miles are nothing but hills,” he said. “That was not a fast race for me.”
He completed that race in about 5.5 hours.
When he’s been in peak shape, Fisher said he can finish a race in less than 4.5 hours.
His best time in recent years was when he qualified for the Boston Marathon by running in the Erie Marathon in Pennsylvania in September 2017. He finished in 4 hours and 7 minutes.
“I haven’t run that well in years,” he said, adding that it helped that the course is flat and shaded.
He needed a good time to qualify for the 2018 Boston Marathon. The cutoff for his age group was 4 hours and 10 minutes.
It also pays to get older. Since Fisher turned age 65 in September, he was bumped to the age 65-69 bracket.
“You do not get faster the older you get. There is a reason why they give you more time as you get older,” he said. “I’ve gotten slower as I’ve gotten older.”
To celebrate running in all 50 states, Fisher plans to visit his favorite Naperville restaurant — the Colonial Cafe — for its signature treat: the World Famous Kitchen Sink. That’s two bananas, six scoops of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream, toppings of chocolate, pineapple and strawberry, covered with whipped cream, toasted almonds and a cherry.
Fisher said he will still run in marathons, but not at the breakneck pace he’s been on the last few years.
“It’s been a good run, and I’ve visited a lot of different places,” he said.
Suzanne Baker is a reporter for the Naperville Sun.