Traverse City's Marathon Man Sees The Finish Line
By Craig Manning | Feb. 1, 2020
Seventeen years, 50 states, 51 marathons, 1,336.2 race miles, and $1 million: the numbers Traverse City’s Tony Anderson hopes to have under his belt when he crosses the finish line at Cincinnati’s Flying Pig Marathon May 3.
Anderson, general manager for Cherryland Electric and a 15-year board member for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan (BBBS), launched Marathon4Kids in 2009. The goal? Run 51 marathons – one in each state, plus Washington, D.C. – and raise money for BBBS along the way.
At the time, Anderson already had eight or nine states crossed off the list – including Michigan, where he’d run his first-ever marathon, Traverse City’s Bayshore, in 2003. He sketched out a plan to score the remaining 40-plus states, with a goal of finishing things up in Ohio in spring of 2020. Cincinnati had to be the endpoint, Anderson tells The Ticker, because it was the city where Big Brothers Big Sisters of America was founded in 1904.
Armed with a roadmap, Anderson ran.
There have been major ups and downs since – sometimes literally. Anderson’s favorite marathons, along with Bayshore, include two of the biggest ones: New York City in 2005 and Boston in 2011. When asked to name the toughest tests from his 17-year journey, though, Anderson says just two come to mind. First was the Pikes Peak Marathon in Manitou Springs, Colorado in 2008, uphill for the entire first half before peaking at 14,114 feet above sea level. It was there that Anderson clocked his slowest time: 9 hours and 42 minutes. (His fastest, 3:47, came in New Hampshire in 2013.)
But that long uphill climb wasn’t the biggest trial of the journey: that would be November 2015 in Richmond, Virginia, which stands as the only marathon of the (so far) 49 he considered not finishing. The previous summer, during a run in July, Anderson says he “felt something pop” in his groin/hip area. “That started a year and a half of denial that something was wrong,” he explains. “I thought I had a muscle pull, but I then proceeded to do five marathons over the next 14 months or so. Each one was slower than the last.”
By the time Anderson got to Richmond, his body was protesting. “I got to mile 16 and I just could not run,” he says. “I found my wife and I told her 'I don't think I'm going to finish this one.' And she said 'Well, let's just walk.' So, with my wife, I walked 10 miles to get to the finish line. It was painful all the way, but I finished it. I got the medal, got the shirt, and I checked Virginia off the list."
Subsequent X-rays revealed two things: Anderson had arthritis and had no cartilage left in his left hip. He’d run five straight marathons bone-on-bone, and done considerable damage in the process. “I was told by my first doctor that I was done running,” he says. “I found another doctor and they said 'Yeah, I think you can run.' Then I found a third doctor who said, 'Absolutely, you can run.’”
In March 2016, Anderson had a total left hip replacement. Eight months later, he ran a marathon near Las Vegas and checked Nevada off his list. He says he could probably have used more rest, but he wasn’t going to break his streak of running a marathon every year since 2003.
Since then, Anderson has more than kept the streak alive. He ran five marathons apiece in 2018 and 2019, and already has one – the Louisiana Marathon – under his belt for 2020. Now he’s turning his attention to the last two marathons on his list. In March, he’ll head to South Carolina for the Myrtle Beach Marathon. Then it’s off to Ohio for the grand finale.
With each race, Anderson’s donation total has ticked upward, mostly thanks to donors who are a part of his “Buck-A-Mile Club.” At the moment, he’s hovering somewhere between $510,000 and $520,000. According to Cecilia Chesney, executive director for BBBS, the amount has “subsidized the cost for the development, ongoing support, and safeguarding of 500 matches between a Big and Little for an entire year.” BBBS is also making a big push to double Anderson’s total in time for his final marathon. If that goal is successful, Anderson says the money will go into a “Sustainer Fund,” where the interest from the $500,000 would essentially replace the money he’s been raising each year by running.
For his part, Anderson is feeling healthy but tired. In the past 14 months, he’s done eight marathons – and exhaustion is setting in. “I just want to be in the best shape possible so that I can give it all I have [in Cincinnati], and not have any regrets,” he says. Then, in 2021, he’ll break his marathon streak. “I don’t think I’ll run more than nine miles [at once] for the whole year.”
Regardless of the fatigue, the injuries, and the many hours of training, traveling, and racing, Anderson believes it was all worth it.
“We’re changing the endings for kids,” he says of BBBS. “We have kids who may not have graduated high school without BBBS. So that’s what I want people to realize: that I feel strongly enough about this organization that I would run 51 marathons for it.”Comment