Thomford joins elite group of marathon runners
By Marilyn Anderson
ROCHESTER – Growing up at a time when high school sports for females was just beginning, it is unlikely one would have predicted what 1975 Zumbrota High School graduate Deb Thomford (O’Brien as a student and track team member) would accomplish in the years ahead. On October 13, 2013, as Thomford crossed the finish line at the Green Mountain Marathon in Burlington, Vermont, it also marked her completion of a marathon in each of the fifty states plus the District of Columbia.
But that is not all. Her time at the Green Mountain Marathon was 3:38:03. In fact, each of the 26.2 mile courses in all 50 states and the District of Columbia was under 4 hours, making her the first woman in Minnesota to accomplish this, and only the eighth woman in the United States to do so. On January 25, she was named “Runner of the Year” at the annual Rochester Track Club banquet.
Thomford, now of Rochester, grew up on a farm near Mazeppa. She credits her parents, Dennis and Marilyn O’Brien, for giving her “the gift of a body that can run and also the mental toughness to get through a marathon.” During her high school years, she acknowledged math teacher Ken Belanger as being a great role model for her as a math teacher and for his active lifestyle and passion for fitness.
But it wasn’t until January 1990 that Thomford began running seriously. “After having three babies, I needed to lose weight. I started with an aerobics class three times a week. I decided to run on the other days that I didn’t have class. Running was very flexible in a schedule with three children.”
The experienced runner hasn’t kept an exact total of the number of marathons she has run, but she estimates it to be approximately 70 since the first in 1991. But becoming a member of an elite group of runners in the “50Sub4 Marathon Club,” a club founded in 2009, doesn’t happen only by running marathons. In addition to running marathons, Thomford has run numerous 5K, 10K and half-marathon races, many in the local area.
In addition to her career as a nurse anesthetist, Thomford spends about one hour per day running. In January, 2014, she added a strength training class three times per week. Along with the strength training, she does push-ups and sit-ups.
Thomford does most of her running outdoors, but due to the ice and cold this winter, she needed to head indoors. She is also a snowshoer.
For running, good shoes are essential. And in winter, layers of clothes, a Gore-Tex jacket and warm gloves, make up her outdoor running attire.
Over the years, Thomford has run many miles in Zumbrota and the area and continues to return regularly to run. “Zumbrota has a great trail to run. It has excellent maintenance in winter.”
After becoming only the 46th person in the US – man or woman – to accomplish the milestone of running marathons under four hours in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, one wonders what will be on tap next for Thomford.
She simply hopes to “keep running in new places to keep it fresh.” But with her past experiences of traveling and attending events when in the area, many options are still available. She has signed up for the Calgary Marathon in Canada in June. The experienced runner cites mental and physical fitness as some of the additional benefits of continuing to run. When not training or working, gardening in the summer and quilting in the winter also keep her busy.
One of the lessons learned by Thomford has been, “You can prepare for a race and be ready and then the weather can change everything the day of the race.” But regardless of any plan to participate in a race, she encourages others to walk or run if they aren’t already. She said, “Start somewhere. Get out and move. Go on-line or use magazines to get information. Talk to other runners/walkers. There are some really fun people who enjoy an active lifestyle that will share their story and give support.”
Thomford also noted, “Running is easy to fit into a day’s schedule. You don’t need equipment. It is fun if you can go with another person. Set a goal together.”