Name: John Lent Age: 62 Hometown: Waltham, Vt.
Occupation: Self-employed, owner of a home-improvement business
Primary sport: marathon running
For John Lent, the important thing isn’t that he’s run a marathon in every state —twice — or that he’s just finished his 168th marathon. The important thing is that of the 168 marathons he’s started, he’s finished every last one of them.
“Quitting has never been an option,” he says. John ran his first marathon with a friend in 1986. On April 17, Lent was one of 11,000 runners at the start in the Nagano Marathon in Japan. He finished in 4:01.05. This also marked final piece of a 30-year project; running a marathon on every continent. —Evan Johnson
VS: Tell us about your most recent race in Japan.
JL: This was one of the larger races I’ve done in decades. There were about 11,000 runners. Japan is probably one of the most polite places in the world. It’s like all of the things that we’ve gotten away from here. They dress up, are formal and greet you sincerely. Everybody does what they’re supposed to. It was not so unusual that we had staggered starts in the order of previous times, but there was no pushing or shoving. I felt great but the running conditions and weather included everything. The start of the race was warm, the finish was really warm and in-between we had cloudy, pouring rain and then light, puffy clouds towards the end. We also had 65 mile-per-hour wind gusts to deal with.
VS: After 30 years of these races, what’s it feel like to look back?
JL: Life is a journey. It’s an adventure. In the beginning, I didn’t set out for this goal, it unfolded over the years. I like going to new places and I try to figure out if I can do a marathon at the same time. In 2009 I went to Mount Kilimanjaro and ran a marathon there. In 2007 I went to Australia and did a marathon in Melburne. As the years go on, it gets easier.
VS: Why marathons? What’s it about this distance race that attract you?
JL: If it were easy, more people would be doing it. With some, you get to the finish line in reasonably good shape, and you’re happy things came together. Others aren’t so pretty and for whatever reason you’re beat. I like the idea of challenging myself. Should I train a little bit more often or harder or differently? Perhaps, but the worst that can ever happen is you have to walk a while and I’m ok with that.
VS: Is this something that you’re going to submit for a world record?
JL: I’d like to. I have a couple of friends who are in the Guinness Book Of World Records for similar running accomplishments. I’ve heard unofficially that there are some 88 people who have run a marathon in each continent but I’d like to verify that. The limits keep getting pushed. Through these marathons I keep meeting people who are crazier than I am.
VS: What’s the secret to running as much as you have?
JL: I defy a lot of the normal stuff. Maybe the key to my longevity in running is I’ve always been a low-mileage runner. I probably run 20 to 25 miles a week and three or four days a week. In the past 30 years, I’ve run five to ten marathons every year so I’m never that out of marathon shape. I’m not as serious as some and perhaps that’s the trick to longevity.
VS: Are you doing anything else in terms of diet to help?
JL: My wife, Mary Ann is a very good cook and we grow a lot of our vegetables. I’m not saying I’m fussy, but I don’t eat junk food or fast food. But then again, I’m not picky either. I try to eat healthy, real foods.
VS: Looking back over your 30 years, what have been your favorite races?
JV: Since running Boston and New York, my love is for the locations that few people see. I always say the ones that are in the most extreme or remote locations are my favorites, like Antarctica. I ran that in February 2014 so it was going into their summer, but the conditions were pretty wild. Temperatures were in the 20s and there was still some deep snow. There was one up in the Arctic on Baffin Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut that I ran five years in a row. I like the races where I get to know everyone on a first name basis by the finish line.
VS: If you’re not running, what other sports are you doing?
JL: Before I got into marathoning I lived in Colorado for ten years and my love was climbing 14,000-foot mountains. That’s gotten watered down, but I like anything that’s foot travel, be it running, hiking or cross-country skiing.
VS: You’ve run marathons in every state and continent? Do you have another goal in mind?
JL: I finished the all the states for the second time in 2013 and I’ve been working since then to complete all 13 provinces of Canada for the second time. I’ve already done eight provinces, twice. It may take me three or four years but that’s my goal.
VS: Any words of wisdom for aspiring distance runners?
JL: Don’t overtrain. Too many people stick to schedules and hurt themselves trying to run strictly to their plan. Think about your total distance goal for the week and then do your best to stretch it out throughout the week. Listen to your body and be willing to bend if your body needs to rest. There are days when I go out wanting to do run a distance but wind up walking a mile and then calling it a day— but that’s ok with me.