John, ‘Maddog’ Wallace has run 383 marathons in 132 countries. He has completed marathons in all 50 States in the USA (two times) and 4 territories, all 13 provinces and territories of Canada, and all 7 continents. He has completed a marathon in at least 8 countries on every continent (except Antarctica) and is the only runner to complete a marathon in every country in Europe, and Oceania. During his ‘running life’ he held as many as 9 World Records.
Is Running an Addiction? Can it become an Obsession?
Maddog began running in the mid-1970s to lose weight gained after he quit smoking. After he and his family emigrated from Ottawa, Canada to Reno, NV in 1979 he ran a few short races of 5 and 10Ks before making a rash decision to run a marathon. During his first marathon at the Silver State Marathon in Sept 1982 in Reno, NV, Maddog ‘hit the wall’ in the final 10K and struggled to finish the race in 3:28:24. He vowed “never to do anything so stupid again”! However a few weeks later he ran a second marathon and realized that he already become addicted to running marathons. Not only was he addicted but he became obsessed! Since he is also goal-oriented his obsession manifested itself with typical running goals such as: running faster times, running all the big races such as New York, Chicago, etc. Then he became obsessed with running a marathon in all 50 states, then all the provinces of Canada and the 7 continents! Each time he succeeded in completing a goal a new goal was there to replace it. Only when he retired in 1999 and started running countries did his obsession fully bloom!
The Marathon Adventures of John Maddog Wallace
During the first 17 years and 134 marathons of running obsession most of Maddog’s marathons were domestic races except those needed to complete the Canadian provinces and the 7 continents. But many were memorable adventures! Running his first sub-3 hour race in 1986 where his 12-year old son paced him across the finish line – almost breaking 3 hours at his first Boston Marathon – joining friends at many races across the 50 States and provinces of Canada – running marathons at the North and South Poles – and running in exciting foreign countries to complete the 7 continents! But the true adventures and his legacy began when he retired in 1999.
He began to focus on running marathons in countries. When he learned that no runner had ever completed a marathon in every country in Europe he became obsessed with that goal. When that goal was successfully completed in 2005 he became obsessed with breaking the long-standing World Record of 99 countries! When that record was broken in 2009 he became obsessed with completing a marathon in every country on as many continents as possible! This obsession took him to all corners of the world where he not only ran marathons but stayed long enough to enjoy the people and culture of those distant countries. Age and health issues were the only things that could halt his obsession! Fortunately Maddog wrote trip reports after most of his marathon adventures that were posted to his blogspot blog. And he posted photos of every marathon adventure to the Smugmug photo website. And to make research of any adventure quick and easy Maddog created Maddog’s Marathon Map on Zeemaps that provides a world map with markers indicating every marathon adventure and all 378 marathons! When a reader clicks on a marker a brief description of the adventure and link to the blog post is provided.
Can a Runner Recover from Injuries and Health Issues?
Although Maddog never enjoyed ‘world class’ speed he ran fast enough times to win his Age Group consistently through his first 28 years and 328 marathons. He was still running sub 4-hour marathons until his 66th birthday in 2010. Then disaster struck – in the form of his first major health issue! Like every runner he experienced many injuries (probably more than most) during his running life but injuries normally heal and a runner can return to form. But health issues are different! His first major health issue was an auto-immune disease in the form of Ulcerative Colitis (UC). He started to suffer from fatigue and constant stomach cramps and diarrhea and his finish times slowed to mid-4 hours? He was shocked when UC was diagnosed in Sept 2010 just before he was scheduled to leave on another marathon adventure to Ghana. It was a shitty (pun intended) trip!
Maddog was dismayed to learn that the disease is not curable – he believed he was invincible! Over the next three years doctors tried a variety of meds and drug cocktails to force the disease into remission. During brief periods when the drugs were successful Maddog could enjoy ‘healthy’ days (often referred to as ‘good UC days’) when a sub 4-hour marathon was once again possible. By early 2011, however, sub 4-hour marathons were a thing of the past and sub 5-hour marathons became the goal. In 2013 a successful cocktail of drugs was finally determined and the UC was forced into remission. Maybe Maddog could return to form?
Not to happen! At that same time symptoms of fatigue returned but the UC was in remission? After many medical tests Maddog was again shocked to learn that he was suffering heart problems. To this day doctors can’t determine if the two health issues are related or if the auto-immune disease was a cause of the heart problems? Or if the health issues were caused by obsessive running? Nevertheless Maddog learned that he was suffering from Afib (Atrial fibrillation) and cardiomyopathy (a weak heart muscle). Another double whammy! Over the next three years the heart problems were treated by several cardioversions (to jump start the heart into rhythm) – then an ablation to prevent the Afib and finally a pacemaker to keep the heart in rhythm and speed up a slow pulse rate of 30bpm!
Maddog was able to continue his obsession but each marathon was a struggle and no longer fun! The obsession still existed in Maddog’s mind but his body no longer had the capability to fulfill the mind’s desire. At the end of 2015 the body finally gave up and refused to run anymore! After 2 or 3 minutes of running his body shuts down and refuses to run! Maddog’s body had been trying to tell him for the past few years that “it was time to quit running”. He had ignored the warnings but now he knew “it was over”! The cardiologists confirmed the prognosis a few weeks later “It is over”!
Is There Life After Running?
Is there life after running? Yes – according to my family and friends! But few of them were ever as obsessed as Maddog. The most common advice/comment is to find another hobby or run 5Ks instead of marathons. After I explain that I cannot run any distance then the discussions focus on other hobbies. Many suggest that I ‘volunteer’ for something. What? One of the great benefits of retirement is that I am no longer obligated to a job. So why would I want to volunteer and become obligated to a job or other people? Nope – not my cup of tea! I like my freedom to do my own thing – on my own schedule.
So it has not been easy adjusting to ‘life after running’. Like most addictions I figured the best way was to go ‘cold turkey’. Actually I didn’t have much choice since I couldn’t run. But I even refused to walk for the first month. I also quit using all social media – especially Facebook – since many of my friends are runners and it bothered me to read about their running adventures. After a month of being a total couch potato I finally got off the couch and started walking. I can only handle about 4 to 5 miles each day because it is boring and I don’t get the endorphins flowing like I do on a run. But it is better than nothing!
I am now becoming desperate/bored enough to consider a volunteer position but I am so picky that it is unlikely I will find anything that will meet my requirements? Another suggestion is to‘re-invent’ myself. Easy to say. Hard to do when you are old, set in your ways and not open to new things. Then I remembered what I did during the past few years when I experienced several months when I was unable to run. One worthwhile project was to spend more time on the Country Club, a running club I founded in 2007. Another project that required a lot of time and effort was to write a book about Maddog’s marathon adventures – called Global Runner. Yes, I can now spend more time improving the Country Club and more time promoting Global Runner! That will fill a void while I search for a new hobby or passion in life!
During the early years of my retirement and travels to foreign countries around the world I noticed that I kept meeting the same runners at many races. Great– although I was obsessed, I wasn’t the only one! I soon realized that our group of obsessed runners who shared a passion for running marathons and traveling around the world needed a formal club. In 2007 I founded the Country Club with less than 10 members since qualifying requires a runner to complete a marathon in a minimum of 30 countries!
In 2016 the Country Club had grown to 80+ members from more than 15 countries. During one of my many sabbaticals from running due to health issues I had lots of time to launch a much-needed website for the Club. I now have more time to make additional improvements to the Country Club and our website.
Maddog’s Book – Global Runner
During another of my health sabbaticals I was extremely bored and frustrated so I decided (foolishly) to act on suggestions/comments from family and friends to write a book about Maddog’s marathon adventures. Actually the book had been underway by a friend and ‘real’ author but it was taking a lot of time and finally he called to inform me that he didn’t have time to continue and I would have to take over the project! What? I didn’t have a clue how to write a book. But I used the chapters he had completed as a sample and finished the book. Then I had to learn how to edit and publish a book. But I was bored and had a lot of time so I persisted and self-published Global Runner. Many friends and readers have commented that they enjoyed the book. So why isn’t it selling? I went into the project knowing that it was unlikely to ever make a profit so I am not disappointed. In fact I am pleased that I can leave a legacy for my grandkids. However, now that I have lots of spare time perhaps I can do a better job marketing and promoting the book. This website is primarily an ‘Author’s‘ website for that purpose. But I also want to give readers more insight into Maddog and his marathon adventures. I plan to write many articles and post many of the adventures in the ‘Blog’ pages and also ask friends and runners to submit guest blogs for my readers. It is hoped that this site will become an important reference for running marathons around the world.