Cheryl McCoy, 71, Salida, is anything but a typical grandmother and great-grandmother. She recently completed her second round of running marathons in all 50 states and is well on her way to a third go-round, having completed 10 states for the third time, and she has done seven states four times.
In addition she has run marathons on four continents – North America, Africa, Asia and Australia. Her goal is to run marathons on all seven continents.
She almost had Antarctica on her list of finished, but she got sick on that trip and declared a half-marathon instead.
“I’m going back in 2017,” McCoy said. “The first time I was basically seasick. We spent 2 days on a ship getting there, traveling over Drake’s Passage, which is called the roughest water in the world. The ship rolled so hard I got sick. Possibly my electrolytes were low. I don’t really know.
“When we got off the ship we took a Zodiac, one of those rubber boats like the Navy Seals use, to get to Antarctica. It wasn’t as cold as you might think, but we had a mixture of snow, sleet, rain and hail. At one point the wind blew me across the road in midstride. I was actually airborne.”
She had to call it quits with the marathon (26.2 miles) half completed. In spite of not finishing, she calls Antarctica her best trip.
Another memorable run was in Michigan, where the runners started at a park in Ann Arbor and ended up in Hell. (Hell, Mich., that is.)
“That was an ultra-marathon, which is 31 miles,” McCoy said. “We ran through swamps and were told to lace our shoes tight or we would lose them. I got stuck in quicksand at one point and had to be pulled out.
“In another area we had to be lowered into the river and then run half a mile in chest-deep water. When we got to the end, there was a man in a devil suit greeting us with a sign saying ‘Welcome to Hell.’”
McCoy has worked for Chaffee County Department of Human Services for 32 years, where she is finance manager. Still working full-time, she manages to fit in the marathons on weekends and vacations. She credits her running partner and mentor, Marv Bradley of Cañon City, with getting it done.
“The hardest part is the logistics –getting there, getting a car, finding a place to stay and getting home,” she said. “Marv takes care of that. He’s just now finishing his fifth round of marathons in all 50 states and has done 50- and 100-mile runs.”
McCoy’s friend Donna Griesel introduced her to running in about 1987, and they started running together.
“Donna suggested I run a 5K,” McCoy said. “I tried that and then did a 10K. Next it was a half-marathon. After a running a certain length of time, it seems like all runners think ‘marathon,’ and so did I. And after the first one, it got easier.”
She ran her first marathon in Las Vegas 1994 at the age of 50. She has her share of “war stories.” The most recent was the Golden Gate Coastline Trail Run.
“I was at mile 10, feeling good, on a gentle downhill, going pretty fast, and my right toe clipped a rock and I went airborne. I hit my head and split it open. I had road rash on my shoulder and later my arm turned purple. Runners tended to me, and a lady walked with me for awhile after I regrouped to be sure I was OK, and I was able to finish.”
That run was two loops, through the finish line once and then back again with two 1,250-foot gains en route. She still has her bloodstained bib as a memento.
Double and more marathons, back to back, are not unusual. While in Alaska in July she did a double, running in Juneau one day and Wrangell the next. She then flew home and got back on a Tuesday and went back to work on Wednesday.
“It’s hard to get back from Wrangel, and it can’t be done in one day,” she said. “It’s craziness but it’s a lot of fun.”
Her last run, the Big Cottonwood Canyon Marathon in Utah, was Sept. 12.
“That was a 4,500-plus-foot downhill,” she said. “I was really sore and stiff as running downhill is very hard on your quads.”
“I run with an older crowd,” she said with a laugh. “A lot of older people do this. It’s not unusual to run a marathon in one state one day and another state the next. We belong to the 50 States Marathon Club and I’ve gotten to know people from all over the country. After the run we have dinner and trade war stories, and then it’s on to the next run.”
In March she’ll be doing five marathons in 5 days, starting in Dalhart, Texas, March 25, then on to Guyman, Okla., Ulysses, Kan., Lamar and ending at Clayton, N.M., March 29.
McCoy has four grown sons, ranging in age from 44 to 52, eight grandchildren ranging in age from 6 to 26 and a 5-month-old great-granddaughter. Asked what her family thinks of her running, she laughs and says, “My sons think I’m nuts, but the grandchildren think it’s great. I send them postcards from the places where I run.”
Two of her granddaughters wanted to run with her on a visit to Salida but quickly tired and couldn’t keep up.
When competing in marathons, all finishers get a medal, and the first three winners in each category get nicer prizes. One of her nicest awards is a piece of Navajo pottery from the Shiprock Marathon, where she was the first-place female in the 70-plus category.
Another unusual medal weighs about 5 pounds and came from the marathon in Little Rock, Ark.
“Some of the places try to compete for the biggest medal,” McCoy said. “I’ll be running in Texas on New Year’s Day, and that will probably be another 5-pounder for the major placers.”