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52 in 52

Suzanne Petro

Petro reaches year-long goal of running 52 half-marathons in 52 weeks on New Year's Day

The sun came up on a windy, chilly New Year’s morning and found Suzanne Petro lined up at the starting line of a 13 mile race, along with about 1,000 runners. Most folks were still in bed, sleeping off the celebratory night before.

But not Petro, who was running 13 miles that day to complete a commitment she made to herself to finish 52 half marathons in just 52 weeks. That’s 676 miles, or about the distance from Salado to Las Cruces, NM.

Petro belongs to a group called Half Fanatics (one might assert that people who run marathons and half marathons are complete fanatics, but that is semantic). To achieve Sun status in the group, a runner must complete 52 races within 52 weeks.

Petro set in earnest to do that beginning with a race in Austin on Jan. 13, 2013 and finished with a race in Allen, Texas on Jan. 1.

As she crossed the finish line, it was the second 13 mile race in just two days for her. The night before, she ran the first half marathon on New Year’s Eve in Allen. 

But, during a year in which she traveled from east coast to west coast with stops in two dozen states, Petro has run back-to-back half-marathons over weekends 11 different times, beginning with races in Georgia and North Carolina in March. Petro has trekked between two states to double up on races six times.

She even ran two half-marathons in one day, starting off in the morning in the Spicewood Vineyard half marathon in Austin in the morning, followed by the Illumination half marathon that evening in San Antonio on Dec. 7.

“Taking care of your feet is a top priority,” Petro says, “And it’s different for everyone.” Petro says that she wears toe socks and a pair of regular socks over them, “so there’s no slipping in my shoe.” 

She also changes shoes regularly, about every 300 to 400 miles. “Always the same brand and same style: Brooks Adrenaline or Ghost.”

During a year in which she has run 52 races, Petro has encountered every kind of weather there is, at least until the next race, when there is a completely new challenge.

Running along Route 66 in Oklahoma, Petro said that at one point she thought she “might be having a stroke.”

It was cold that day, in the mid 20s and with a wind chill in the low teens. “By mile 10, I could not feel my face or fingers,” she said. “When I drank water at the water stop, it rolled down my face. At one point I thought I was having a stroke because I was talking with a slur .. from being frozen!”

The toughest race, though, was in northern California for the Mt. Tam’s Trail Race in the Redwood Forest. She admits that she “got lost” in the race, which ended up taking her about five hours to finish. “It was completely stair stepping uphill and downhill,” she said. “There were petrified roots about the ground that you had to be careful not to trip over. There were cliffs that if you fell off, you’d never be found. I climbed under downed trees, climbed up ladders.... It was super intense!”

The secluded race had only 15 competitors in the half-marathon. “I knew going into it that it was going to be hard. It proved to be harder, but was extremely gratifying,” she said. “I am considering doing it again!”

A race in Phoenix, by contrast, was as close to being perfect as any for Petro. “No humidity, cool morning,” she said, “I went out fast and never pulled back.” She finished in 2:20.48, her personal best.

While racing is serious stuff, the competitors and organizers are not always so serious. There is a Tinkerbell race at Disneyland in California, where the runners dress up as ... well, as Tinkerbell. 

Then there are the wine runs. “They are usually a lot of fun after the run. There are usually wineries at the end allowing you to taste all of their awesome wines.”

Three races stand out in her mind, for very different reasons.

The Oklahoma City Memorial was one week after the bombing at the Boston Marathon. “Emotions and security were very high,” she said. The race commemorates the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Along the race route, there is “a banner for each victim who died in the bombing Firemen run the race together in full gear holding flags from all different states.”

Petro, who admits that she is nowhere near the front of the pack in the races, said that she came up on one of the firemen who was falling behind his group. “The other one was younger and was keeping an eye on him,” she said, adding that he was holding a flag in memory of the explosion in West. “That whole philosophy of no one is left behind just put me in tears at mile 4,” she said.

The race ends at the memorial. “You see the family members putting their medals they just got on the infinity chairs or attaching them to the medal fence,” she said. “It just inspires you to live better.”

The other two were memorable for their natural beauty. She ran the Thelma and Louise Half Marathon in Moab, UT followed the next day by a race at Steamboat Springs, CO.

Th Utah race took runners,” Petro said, “through a cavern of huge red rock formations with a river roaring through it. They had Native American drummers in the middle of the canyon. It reverberated off the rocks and went right through you. It was spiritual.”

At Steamboat, she ran in the mountains. “In June, there was ice on the grass, horses running with you, these snow capped mountains and rushing streams,” she said. “It was an amazing view. I have never seen anything so grand as I did that day.”

She had a pretty grand scene at the end of her race on Jan. 1. Rob, her husband of 30 years, was there to toast her with a flute of champagne!

While she reached her goal of 52 half marathons in 52 weeks -- just days before turning 52 by the way -- Petro says she is not done yet. “I want to run a marathon or half marathon in every state,” she said. She has run in 27 of them. “And I’d like to get to 100 half marathons!” She is at 65 so far.

So why run?

“Plain old peer pressure,” Petro admits. :My friends were doing it and traveling and having fun, so I didn’t want to miss out.”

Her first marathon was at Disneyworld in 2009. “I survived,” she said, adding that she completed it in 20 minutes under the cut-off of seven hours. 

“I had no idea,” she said, “how difficult it is to finish a marathon.”