PROFILE--Patricia O'Hanlon has been running for 32 years

Cherry Blossom 10, 2018
(8-18) Patricia O’Hanlon of Jersey City (born in Brooklyn and proud of it) was a self-described tomboy growing up with two brothers. She started running in her 40s to put a halt to the rising numbers on the bathroom scale. O’Hanlon was the first female in New Jersey to complete a marathon in all 50 states.

Started Running: In 1986, age 43. (I’m 75).

Why did you start running? I decided to start running to lose weight. Either my bathroom scale was lying or I was carrying a few extra 30 pounds. My first attempt at running was miserable. A few weeks later, after some aerobic classes to build stamina, I tried again and was able to
run three miles around Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. That was the beginning of my daily runs and the pounds fell off. A few months later a co-worker who was a very good runner heard I was jogging and signed me up for the Corporate Challenge team. A team?? I was a jogger, not a runner. But when I ran that race in Central Park with my teammates, I was hooked. The excitement, the camaraderie and the thrill of competing was life changing for me.

My next race was a 5K on Staten Island and I placed in my age group. I joined the Prospect Park Track Club (PPTC) and worked my way up to my first marathon in 1993 and now have a total of 56 marathons.

When did you decide to go after the 50 states and DC challenge? I had never considered a marathon. Honestly, I thought marathoners were NUTS!  Who in their right mind would want to voluntarily inflict that kind of pain on their body?   But many of my PPTC club members were marathoners, and the longer I was in their company I started to consider it. 

One day I said (in the company of others), "I think I'll run the 1993 New York City marathon."  Since there were witnesses, I had to make good on that. I ran that one four more times before running the Philadelphia Marathon in 1998. Then I started joining my club mates at other marathons, traveling together to closer states like Virginia, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. I was actually placing in my age group (F55-59), which encouraged me.

After I had seven states under my belt a friend suggested doing all 50 dates plus DC. Why not?....but I didn't really think I'd be able to do it. 

However, when I finished my 25th state (Dayton, Ohio - 09/16/06 - 1st F60-64), I began to look at the quest as an attainable goal. In view of my age by then (63), I decided to do them closer together in order to reach the goal in this lifetime! I ran seven marathons in 2007, nine marathons in 2008, and eight marathons in 2009. My last state was the New Jersey Asbury Park Marathon (my home state, had to be!) in 2009. My friends and cousins Tim and Jean threw me an incredible party. I think that the party was really the goal all along!
Anchorage, 2009

Did you have any inspiration or person who motivated you? All runners inspire me. It is just the best community to be a part of.

Memorable races? Dec. 3, 2000, the Arizona Marathon. I had a stomach virus. Made 13 “unofficial” port-o-potty stops. There were no port-o-potties; there were no bushes; and, no toilet paper except for the discarded gloves of the runners. But there were gullies that offered privacy.  Also the 2009 Bataan Death March Race in New Mexico. I still get chills when I think of the few remaining survivors who cheered for us.

How did you train in your peak years? The highest weekly mileage I ever put in was in the 20-30 mile range, even when marathon training.  I never had a trainer and tried training with others, but always felt I was holding them back or they were holding me back.

How is your training now? Now I cross train more than run. I work out at the gym with a trainer twice a week and do a fair amount of bike riding.  I've slowed down considerably.  I still manage to place in my age group most times, but then some times I AM MY AGE GROUP!

Any major obstacles you’ve incurred? I had a bilateral mastectomy in 2004. I was very fortunate - it was found early - didn't need chemo or radiation, just frequent checks for a while. In 2010 I had a 'spontaneous brain bleed.'  It happened at a race at Duke Island.  Didn't require surgery -the bleeding stopped. Again, I was very lucky.  It could have been much worse - especially had it happened when I was driving. I might have killed others as well as myself.  As it was, an EMT was nearby. I got immediate attention, and lots of my running friends were there. They rallied around me, took care of my car, contacted my family, went with me to the emergency room, etc., etc.  Runners are the BEST!  I never knew how they found out, but race directors and runners I'd met while on my 50-state marathon quest sent me get well wishes, flowers, etc., all of which lifted my spirits and made me all the more determined to recover.

Initially my right leg from the knee down lost function - most of that function has returned, but I still have some deficit in that foot. I have to pay attention to it when running. More than one doctor said that having been very fit prior to either health crisis helped me recover much more quickly than the average patient. 

What’s your new goal? To remain fit for the rest of my life.  When I 'check out,' I won't be pretty when I'm laid out to rest, but I hope to still be fit!

What’s your diet like? I haven't gone vegan and I don't follow a special diet, but I eat more healthfully now than when I was younger - lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, chicken, fish, dairy (including an occasional Mr. Soft-ee soft ice cream), and lots of water.  Fried foods are a no-no.

Here's a story I've told many times. At the 10-mile turnaround point of a 20-mile marathon training run, I stopped at an Italian deli near the George Washington Bridge for water and a snack.  It was summer and I was dripping in sweat.  The diminutive, older lady behind the counter asked, "You run?"  "Yes," I replied.  "I ran from Jersey City and now I'm headed back."  Her mouth dropped open and her eyes grew wide...."In the same day?!"  That kept me smiling all the way home.

Social Running: The social aspect of running cannot be overstated.  We boost one another without hesitation and take pleasure in each other's triumphs. My Road ID tag carries a favorite quote on the back: "There will be days when I don't know if I can run a marathon. There will be a lifetime knowing that I have!"

Favorite quotes? When I found out the aircraft carrier Intrepid went into service in 1943 - the year I was born - I took that word as my personal credo.
 INTREPID - I keep on going, like the old Timex watch ad - "Takes a licking and keeps on ticking!" 
What makes you tick? Being outdoors, running, biking, gardening, enjoying nature, petting every dog I meet (I'd have one but they're not allowed in my building, and I don't think I'm home enough to give it a good home - maybe someday). Waking up every morning (so far) and being thankful for that, and being helpful to others are all things that keep me ticking.  

How has running helped you through the aging process? It keeps me off the couch and keeps me fit and healthy. I know a lot of senior citizens who say to me, “Oh I could never run like you do.” And I tell them, “Yes you could! I’ll train you, just put one foot in front of the other.” But they won’t. And they aren’t doing as well physically as I am. The benefits of running are too numerous to list but as runners, we all know them.