Life on the run: Local mom's 50-state marathon quest.
From sea to shining sea, there’s not much in this country Tami Christensen hasn’t seen.
The 37-year-old Gig Harbor resident has been to New Orleans on Mardi Gras. She’s seen the lush greenery and stunning beaches in Hawaii. She’s seen the vastness of the flyover states. She’s eaten peach pie in Georgia. As a resident, she’s experienced the uniqueness and splendor of the Pacific Northwest. She’s been to the picturesque coastal states in the northeast part of the country, and seen the Statue of Liberty in New York City.
And in every place she’s visited in the United States, she has ran her heart out, 26 miles at a time.
Christensen’s goal, which she set for herself 15 years ago, has been to run a marathon in every single state in the United States, along with the District of Columbia.
As of last weekend, she has checked 47 states off her list.
“You never know what you’re capable of doing until you do it,” Christensen said. “Sometimes you have to trip over obstacles and fail. But more often than that, you can do things that you didn’t think you could.”
AN ESTABLISHED WORK ETHIC
Christensen grew up in Paul, Idaho, a small town of about 900 people. Away from crowded cities, she grew up boundless, with an incredible amount of freedom. Her dad taught her how to drive when she was 8 years old.
“I’d drive into town and get a soda pop,” Christensen said.
She’d add the soda to the family’s tab at the store. The family paid the tab at the end of the month.
Her dad was a farmer and a cattleman, and had about 5,000 cattle at any given time. For Christensen, that meant eating a lot of steak and potatoes growing up.
“It was really ‘farm to table,’” she said.
Christensen wasn’t a runner as a kid, or through high school. But what she did learn on the family farm was how to work hard.
“I learned to not be afraid of getting dirty,” she said. “I weighed about 100 pounds in high school and had to tame a 1,200-pound cow. You get to tackle fear.”
She learned consistency, persistence, and a whole other host of valuable traits that would later transition well to running.
Christensen was a dancer and cheerleader in high school, but never a runner. Working as a CPA, she realized she was sitting at her desk a lot.
“I loved to dance in high school, water ski, snow ski — I was very active,” she said. “When I started working, I was sitting in a cubicle all day. I just felt itchy.”
So she started running every morning.
“I really enjoyed that time to just think, work through issues in my mind, and plan for the future,” she said. “It’s a super sacred time when I just had my own attention. People just nip at your time all day long. I wasn’t taking time for myself.”
She quickly became addicted, and began to dabble into running some races. After running a blazing-fast half marathon, a friend told her that her time was good enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon. So she did the Boston Marathon. Then she started to do more. And more. And more.
“I just started running marathons wherever I was vacationing,” Christensen said. “Pretty soon, I had eight or 10 done.”
After one race, she was on the phone with her grandmother, Marie. But everyone just called her “Grandma Meize.” It rhymes with “please.”
“She was such a firecracker of a lady,” Christensen said of her grandmother, who passed away in February. “One of her goals in life was to visit every state. She just knew everything about everything, she had such an amazing, broad horizon in life.”
The idea quickly materialized in Christensen’s mind to attempt to run a marathon in every state.
“If I could combined this desire to see things, I could just mesh the two things together and slowly chip away,” Christensen said.
Slowly, being the operative word. Just a few years after starting her goal, Christensen and her husband, Rich, had their first child, Austin. He’s now 12 years old.
Along the way, they had three more: Olivia, age 10; Owen, age 8 and Evan, age 5.
Having kids didn’t derail Christensen a bit. It just meant the goal was going to take a little longer to compete. But to show others — or perhaps even herself — that she was going to keep going, she ran a one marathon while pregnant with each child.
“My wife is a really unique person,” Rich said. “She’s very driven. She’s focused and her life is really goal driven. So when she told me she was going to do this, I believed her. … It’s one of those audacious goals that requires a lot of planning, a lot of focus. That’s so Tami.”
And her racing hasn’t gotten in the way of Christensen relentlessly working to be the best mother she can possibly be.
“They’re the best thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “They’re great kids.”
Her husband concurred.
“She’s never let her priorities shift,” Rich said. “She’s always been a runner, an athlete, an inspiration person. But that’s never taken precedence over her desire to be an incredible mother and friend, and sister and all of the other roles that she plays in her life. She’s really kept such fantastic personal balance and her internal compass has never wavered.”
PENNING HER FIRST BOOK
Christensen self-published a book in September of 2016, titled “Life on the Run,” which is available for purchase on Amazon. It has 26 chapters — one for each mile of a marathon. She wrote the book mainly to inspire her four kids, but hopefully some others along the way, as well.
“One thing I’ve found with this project is that you can do all the research and training that you want, but there are still going to be obstacles in your way,” she said. “You have to figure out a way to get up and over them. The quicker we can learn to look at it like that, the better off we’re going to be. … The book is about those characteristics. It’s about finding courage.”
Christensen has upcoming marathons in Maine, New Hampshire and New Jersey. Her last, in New Jersey, will be on Oct. 21.
She’s gunning for another accomplishment as she wraps up the goal: She’s running the Maine and New Hampshire races in one weekend in early October, one back-to-back days. Fifty-two miles in two days.
“I’ve never done that before, but again, that’s the great part of it — you never know what you’re capable of doing until you do it,” she said.
So what’s next for the adventurer?
“I’m mulling around a few ideas,” she said.
She’s already done a century ride (a 100-mile bike ride), so Iron Man triathlons are an option. She’s also considering ultra-marathons, which are 50-mile races. Her husband’s bet? Expanding her marathon running internationally.
First, she’s planning to take a little rest, for about a year.
Don’t be surprised if that break gets cut short.
“A lot of us kind of get complacent,” Christensen said. “I want to be that person who wants to be better myself, be uncomfortable, and be OK with being uncomfortable.”
Jon Manley: 253-358-4151