Giving walking a whole new meaning

CorrespondentFebruary 5, 2014 

Susan Spence shows off the many metals and memorabilia she has collected from walking 67 marathons in 50 states.

PHOTO BY JIM LASLEY

Susan Spence, 65, of Winston-Salem, thinks nothing about taking long walks in winter or summer, especially since she has trekked 26.2 miles 67 times in 50 states.

She holds memberships in the Marathon Maniacs Club and the Fifty State Club. The fact that her middle name is “Walker” has nothing to do with it.

Spence’s marathon walks take about 6.5 hours to complete at a 15-minute mile pace. And Spence is not about to hang up her walking shoes: her goal is 100 marathons before she is 70. That is 33 more to go.

So how does Spence prepare for such walks? She says she does not train, participate in an exercise program or even stretch.

“To prepare for a marathon I start thinking about what I’m eating about two days out,” she said. “I need a lot of energy carbs such as pasta and potatoes.”

Spence, who had polio as a child, takes daily walks – a mile in the morning and afternoon with her 10-year-old dog Shelly. Sometime she goes back out for a 2-mile trek.

The motivating factor is to maintain her weight.

“My inspiration was to lose and maintain my weight,” she said. “If I trained I could probably walk a better time, but I do no exercise.”

Spence keeps a close eye on her weight, along with that of others. She has worked at Weight Watchers for 37 years, currently as a facilitator.

Her walking regime began in 1977 as a lunch-hour walker at Wake Forest University. Then she got involved with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, which conducted a fund-raising walking program.

“I’ve never been a runner,” Spence said. “They look miserable out there in the hot. Some runners look down on walkers in a marathon. They think we dumb it down but we’re both going the same distance over the same course. Most runners are encouraging and supportive.”

What does Spence think about during a 6.5 hour walk?

“It’s a great time to be with yourself,” she said. “But for the most part I’m looking for the next mile marker and ready to get it done.”

Among her walking pleasures are seeing the country and meeting like-minded souls.

“It’s just been a lot of fun, meeting great people and viewing the scenery. Sometimes it just takes your breath away.”

In July 1997, Spence experienced one of her worst walks.

“It was Pioneer Day in Salt Lake City. They bussed us to the top of a mountain and we walked down. Toward the end I started leaning to the right and couldn’t straighten myself out. That was my poorest time, 7 hours and 20 minutes. I guess it was a back cramp along with a combination of weather, sloping roads and age.”

Among her coldest walks was a January in Mississippi when the wind chill reached single digits.

“The water in cups at the water stations froze. I had on three layers of pants and tops, and two pair of gloves.”

Spence’s most memorable marathon occurred in Hartford, Conn., on Oct. 12, 2013.

“That was my 50th state and my son and my sisters and buddies were there for the celebration.”

Marathon walking and traveling consume much of Spence’s life.

“I have no other athletic activities,” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors. This has afforded me the opportunity to be outdoors and to stay active.”

Spence stays away from large marathons such as in Boston and New York. She plans to walk marathons in Death Valley, Calif.; Niagara Falls; Key West, Fla.; and the Red Wood Forest in California.

“I have 33 more left to go, shooting for 100. I want to walk at least five or six per year. The most I’ve done is 11 in a year,” she said.

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