UCF Associate Professor of Chemistry Seth Elsheimer’s journey to running more than 300 marathons starts with “just a little farther.”
Elsheimer was an occasional runner when he encouraged two students in his organic chemistry class at UCF to join him on a run, then sign up for a 5K race. The former football players were in better shape but also heavier than the wiry Elsheimer so their paces generally matched. Elsheimer began with 3.1 mile races, then 6.2 mile races, then up to a nine mile race in Jacksonville.
Elsheimer distinctly remembers how quiet the car got after they drove around the 9-mile course pre-race.
“None of us had ever run that far before,” Elsheimer recalls with a laugh.
The progressively long distances led to his first half marathon around 1991 at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. Running as recreation was much less in vogue in the early ’90s, forcing Elsheimer to cast a wide net to find his first marathon. The storied Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. was his choice.
“I’m not that fast, but I am stubborn,” Elsheimer says.
That stubborn streak has launched an incredible running career.
Since graduating to the marathon distance more than 25 years ago, Elsheimer has run a marathon in all 50 states three times over — and he is 35 states into a fourth round as of June 2021. Counting his daily mileage and training, the almost 70-year-old estimates he has now clocked more than 44,000 lifetime miles.
Some of the motivation comes from the exercise, and the opportunity to spend time alone also has its appeal. But truthfully, Elsheimer says, he doesn’t even like running that much.
“I like telling the war stories,” he says. “I like the culture of running.”
Elsheimer recalls a period of time in 2009 when he was undergoing chemotherapy; he “only” completed three marathons that year. Near the end of his second round of chemo he contracted pneumonia and was on intravenous medication to treat it.
He left the bag in the car, finished his Disney marathon, then reconnected the bag.
“If you’re going to be stupid, you better be tough,” Elsheimer says.
Another favorite anecdote comes from an ultramarathon. The warm weather compelled race organizers to regularly weigh participants to double-check their hydration levels. Fearing a negative result would boot him from the race, Elsheimer loaded his pockets with rocks before a weigh-in. The nurse was shocked that he had not only avoided losing weight, but gained some as well.
“I don’t get nervous before (an event) anymore, because I know it’s either going to be a good race or a good story,” Elsheimer says.
Often the locations carry their own unique stories.
He’s completed the big-name races like Chicago and Boston several times over, along with international milestones like Prague, Reykjavik (Iceland) and Athens, Greece, home to the first marathon at the 1896 Olympics.
Running in Montana involved mountain climbs and temperatures that caught a Florida-based marathoner unprepared. Detroit was probably one of the coldest marathons, but the Disney marathon, typically held in February, also had below-freezing temperatures one year that had runners slipping on ice at the water stations.
These stories don’t typically make it into Elsheimer’s chemistry curriculum, but the hard-learned lessons from his road warrior days still make an appearance.
“I encourage students to prepare, practice and persevere,” he says.