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Running feet complete rare feat

By Tom Elliott

St. Cloud Times

ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- Jay Johnson, fresh from his second 26.2-mile competitive run, was riding home from Omaha, Neb., in 1995, when the subject was broached.

What would it be like to run a marathon in each of the 50 states?

"We were talking like it'd be a crazy thing to do," Johnson said.

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On Oct. 4, Johnson finds out.

The Sauk Rapids resident will run in the Portland Marathon in Oregon, completing a 10-year journey that few have achieved.

Johnson, 44, has overcome aches, pains and sickness to pull off a rare feat.

"My body's been able to withstand it. The running gods have been on my side," Johnson said.

If Johnson completes the Portland Marathon, he'll join a list of at least 167 others to have run a marathon in 50 states. That's according to the 50 States Marathon Club, which tries to chart such accomplishments.

"Not many people in the world can run a marathon, much less run a marathon in every state in the country," said Bob Kovelle, 51, treasurer of the St. Cloud River Runners Club. "It's an incredible achievement."

Johnson would be the seventh-youngest person to accomplish the feat and one of a handful from Minnesota, according to the 50 States Web site.

"Most of them are retired folks," Johnson said.

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The St. Cloud Tech High School and University of Minnesota-Morris graduate took up long-distance running to combat chemical dependency. He's a recovering alcoholic.

"I have no secrets," Johnson said. "Running for me is my daily (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting. It's a catharsis. It clears my mind and keeps me focused."

Besides his running exploits, Johnson is known in the baseball community. A high school teammate of former major leaguer Jim Eisenreich, Johnson was a player and manager of the St. Cloud Saints amateur baseball team that eventually was sponsored by Beaudreau's Bar.

Led by Eisenreich, Johnson and the Saints won the state title in 1983. The same team, sponsored by Beaudreau's, took second in 1987 and third in 1993.

Johnson worked as a bartender at Beaudreau's, where he eventually tipped the scales at 204 pounds before getting serious about running.

By the time he ran his first marathon in 1995 in Bismarck, N.D., he was down to 165. He weighs 146 today, up a bit from his low of 142.

"Age is catching up with me," he said.

Johnson's typical day starts at 4:30 a.m. He runs five miles, then heads to work at Anderson Trucking Service, where he starts at 6 a.m. In the evenings, he runs another five miles.

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Then comes the weekend. He runs 20 miles every Saturday, then follows that with 14 on Sundays. All that works out to about 70 to 80 miles a week.

"It's insane," said Kovelle, a friend of Johnson's.

"I love it," Johnson said.

Johnson has run in 86 marathons since Sept. 9, 1995. His 87th will be in Portland. He has twice run marathons on back-to-back days in different states.

"Unbelievable," Kovelle said.

"I'm not doing that again," said Johnson, who twice has been hooked up for intravenous feeding after races because of dehydration.

His best time is 2:46:03 in 1996 at the White Rock Marathon in Dallas.

Family and friends will be at the Portland race. Johnson's birthday is Oct. 5, so it'll be a birthday celebration of sorts.

"We're very proud of him," said Ken "Duffy" Johnson, his father.

Jay Johnson said his toughest marathon was running Pike's Peak. For the uninitiated, that's 31⁄2; hours of running up the side of a mountain. Johnson said he spent 20 minutes at the top, then ran down, finishing in 6:44:40.

With the 50-state goal in reach, what's next?

Running a marathon on each continent, of course.

The trick is doing one in Antarctica, which, believe it or not, is host to a marathon every two years.

"You spend 31⁄2; days on a Russian ship. It's a 17-day thing, and it takes a week to get back," Johnson said. "It sounds fun."

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