PROFILE--Debbie Zockoll has finished 42 St. George Marathons in a row

(10-18) Debbie Zockoll, 62, holds the unofficial world record for consecutive finishes in the same annual marathon. She has completed the St. George (Utah) Marathon 42 times in a row, the most recent three days ago when she finished in 4:17:24. "Oh, what a day! It was filled with so much happiness and emotion," she emailed LifetimeRunning. "I have so much to be thankful for, and I am already looking forward to next year."

A wife, mother, grandmother, former teacher, current hiking guide, and 278-time marathon finisher, Zockoll had her third cancer surgery just six weeks before this year's St. George Marathon. [The following interview was conducted prior to her most-recent St. George finish.]

Career-profession? I taught first grade for 30 years. I currently work as a hike guide for a fitness spa 5 days a week. I usually get up at 3:30 a.m. for a
morning run of about 10 miles, then lead a hike in the canyons for several hours, then do a mile swim at the spa pool.

When did you start running and WHY? When I was 13, a friend of mine challenged me to go to the track and run a mile with her. That was the beginning of a LONG running life. I really didn't do more than a mile until I was in college in Hawaii when my roommate told me we could run to work. Work was 10 miles away. I tried it and I loved it.
How much did you run in your peak? When I was younger and running faster (and teaching school), I was happy to be able to run 40-50 miles a week I was lucky to run one marathon a year.

Top performances? I felt good any time I could qualify for Boston, which I've run seven times. Of course, my 3:10 PR in 1984 was a happy day. So was the next year when I finished St. George very pregnant, and delivered a healthy baby boy 8 weeks later.

I thought that would always be my most important running day. But life happens, and in 2005 I was diagnosed with breast cancer in May. I was so thankful to finish St. George a few months later. Then, in 2016, while running the Boston marathon, my appendix ruptured and that was the start of another cancer journey. I was diagnosed with appendix cancer in May, more surgery and chemo. I was on my fourth treatment out of eight when I finished that year's St. George marathon.

That was the biggest accomplishment so far. This summer I had another cancer surgery on August 17. It's been slow coming back from that. But St. George has so much meaning for me. I've run hundreds of marathons around the country and even in Japan, but I eventually realized that St. George in my own backyard is my favorite.
There's nothing like grandkids waiting
at the finish line to make you run
a little faster.

Current running and racing? I currently run 80-100 miles a week, and I enter about 8-10 marathons a year. I've finished 276 marathons in total. It used to bother me that my times were slowing down, but then you stop to realize how lucky you are to still be running at all. That's one of the many lessons that cancer has taught me.

Diet? I have eaten about the same all my life! I eat fruits, vegetables, grains and lots of treats that I'm not proud to admit. As I've gotten older is, I try not to eat late, but I still enjoy the treats.

Injuries and other health issues? I've been so blessed as far as injuries go, but not so much in health issues. After my breast cancer in 2005, I was tested for the BRACA 1 gene, and the test came back positive. We're a baseball family, so I'm hoping my recent third cancer doesn't mean, three strikes and you're out. I deal with the cancers by signing up for a marathon because when I finish, I feel so alive and happy.

I can get cynical about my cancers. Why me? I did everything right, not wrong. But then I think, well, I'm strong, I'm ready to deal with whatever comes. Better me than someone else. I wouldn't wish my disease on anyone else.

What keeps you running? I have a very simple answer... I run because I can! I don't have plans to stop. I'm going to hang on as long as I can. I like to say, "Life is the story you tell yourself," and I tell myself I'm a lifelong runner.

After 42 consecutive St. George Marathon
finishes, Debbie Zockoll can do strength
 training with her marathon medals.
Your philosophy of life and running?  Well.. they all go together. Running has been my life, and I've learned thousands of life lessons through running. I feel like running has helped me cope with the aging process, and I still feel like I'm 30 except when I look in the mirror.

Running has become a habit for me much like brushing my teeth. It is part of my reason for getting out of bed every morning. I have spent a lot of time with my family reflecting on how thankful we are for what we have. I think running has taught me a lot of gratitude. It also gives you a confidence that you can achieve difficult things. The marathon finish line may be way down the road, but there IS a finish line, and you can get to it if you just focus on steady movement toward it.

Who or what inspires you to continue running? So many things, in particular my darling little grandkids, my children, and my husband. They put up with me and my running, and travel to lots of races with me, and wait for hours for me to finish. The little boys are starting to ask me if I can please run faster.

How much longer can you keep running St. George? Twenty years ago, I thought that I could maybe run 20 more St. George Marathons, and I reached that target. I'm not foolish enough to think I've got another 20 years. But I'll keep doing this as long as I am feeling good and I can. Now when I run it, I focus 100 percent on the gratitude I feel that I'm still out there--gratitude for my family, the doctors who have taken such great care of me, the whole community that supports me. Running down through those red rocks--this is  my healing place.