He’s logged 67,000 miles, more than twice the distance around the globe
Scott Finnell can claim impressive credentials as an endurance athlete over three decades: marathons in all 50 states, 90 marathons total, 23 of which were “Ultras,” longer than the standard 26.2 miles. His first 35 marathon times averaged 3:30. Ten Ultras were 100 miles each (that’s running, folks), and two, the Badwater Ultra-Marathon, were 135-mile jaunts across Death Valley. In July. Going from North America’s lowest point upward to the portal to Mt. Whitney. In forty hours or less. Yet passersby might never suspect Scott’s achievements, seeing only a lanky guy with a friendly, relaxed smile. There’s also a little backstory on why he started running.
Scott and his wife, Judy, grew up across the street from each other. She remembers him as “round like her brother,” and he says she was the athletic one. Scott also claims “bad flashbacks” from junior high about the presidential physical fitness program, and track competition wasn’t on his radar. Around the time of their 1984 marriage, Scott completed the first of three graduate degrees, but he was bothered by 40 extra pounds from doughnuts and Judy’s love of baking. He began running because he had “spent years getting my mind ready for a professional career, but my body was going to pot.”
Scott might have been content to run just for health benefits . . . except that Judy signed him up for a 5K run. Soon after, he ran a 10K and set a goal of “85 [miles] in 1985.” Since Thanksgiving 1984, he’s meticulously recorded mileage, which, he says, “sounds kind of OCD-ish, but it’s self-reinforcing. I can identify particularly good years. I’ve always been relatively competitive for my age group, but over time, I’ve substituted speed for longer distances.”
By December 1985, Scott had run his first marathon, Dallas White Rock. He described it as his “worst race ever, a major ordeal, like going to the moon. I thought I had prepared, but I went out too fast. After 16 miles, I was toast, and I still had a 10-mile death march.” Undeterred, Scott ran another marathon six weeks later and shaved almost an hour off his time. After nine Texas marathons, he qualified for Boston in 1992. He ran the Boston Marathon twice more, and then other states piqued his interest. Between raising three daughters and maintaining successful careers, Scott and Judy traveled widely, combining sightseeing with destination marathons, adding more and more states to his list, even running overseas in Budapest and in Lisbon. In 2014, Scott ran 10 marathons, three on back-to-back weeks (twice!) as he added the last states, ending with Missouri, to his list.
Each race locale brings challenges. Fortunately, altitude didn’t bother him last summer during runs in Denver, Colorado, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. When the Finnells lived in Pennsylvania, Scott trained throughout winter, sometimes in subzero weather. He didn’t say whether those days were helpful years later during a half-marathon . . . at the North Pole! His first Ultra was a 70-mile trail run through hilly Pennsylvania terrain over roots and rocks. “I fall down on trail runs,” Scott said. “I don’t pick up my feet very high, which is efficient, but I look like a plow-mule. I’ve never been injured, but something always hurts.” Despite such difficulties, Scott comments, “Some [locales] are just gorgeous, like New Hampshire and Oregon.”
Scott’s marathon in Honolulu in 2007 was special for a different reason. He and Judy attended commemorative ceremonies honoring Americans killed when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. Judy’s uncle had died aboard the USS Arizona, and their daughter, currently a Navy chief, served in the ceremony that day, reenlisting then to become career Navy. Beyond marathon credentials, past, present, and future touched their family there in Hawaii.
Scott credits The Self-Coached Runner for his training philosophy. Given to him after his first “crash-and-burn” marathon, the book has been out of print for years, but he buys copies on eBay and hands them out to other runners, including his daughters. “It’s maybe my favorite book—concise, nice format, basic—it breaks down training dynamics over 10 weeks,” he says. “Some want to substitute head knowledge for work, but ‘doing’ is different.” Scott needs about 1,900 calories daily for maintenance, but replacing fluids and electrolytes during races takes planning. “Judy is a great crew person, and chicken noodle soup is the food of gods. Experiment,” he advises. “Refuel with what your body can absorb without getting sick.”
What’s next for Scott Finnell? He enjoys time with four grandchildren and teaching management classes, on his schedule, for the University of Phoenix. A 50-state medal display case is full now. Scott jokes that that was an expensive gift—it cost about $10,000 to fill it. Scott says that he’s “never beaten anyone nor lost to anyone.” As he contemplates turning 60 next year, Scott likes the idea of another marathon time under 3:30, and running marathons on every continent has some appeal. In the near future, he and Judy will ride their motorcycles to the four corners of our continent this summer.
But . . . that’s another (adventure) story.