In November, Austin runner Bill Schroeder lined up for the start of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon.
He’d raced plenty of times before, but this time he worried a little that he might twist an ankle, or get sick at the last minute. Any hiccup might foil his plan to notch his 100th marathon, a quest that began — before he even realized it — in 1981.
As it turned out, Schroeder finished just fine. Aside from a malfunctioning chip tracker that left online followers wondering whether he’d left the course and a case of dehydration that prompted him to barf on the neon-lit Vegas Strip 30 minutes after crossing the finish line (a bucket item list, he jokes), he didn’t have any troubles.
“The biggest thing was just relief that I got through it without something going wrong,” he said.
Afterward, friends and family members piled into his suite at the MGM Grand to celebrate. Not only had he completed 100 marathons — he’d joined an elite club of about 130 people who have run a sub-four-hour marathon in every state.
“A lot of people will say, ‘Enjoy every step,’” Schroeder says. “I didn’t enjoy even half the steps. But there’s this sense of accomplishment and being outside of my comfort zone.”
Schroeder, a 57-year-old program manager who also heads the free No Excuses training group and coaches at Rogue Running in Cedar Park, says his body never revolted during his marathon quest. The only running injury he ever suffered occurred between two daily running streaks — one that lasted 13 years, and his current streak, which hit eight years in October. He tore his plantar fascia.
“What I learned is that we — you and I — are a lot stronger than we believe,” he says.
He also learned that weather is the biggest factor in how he’ll perform at a race. His fastest marathon? Two hours and 36 minutes in Chicago, 1998. The slowest? Three hours and 47 minutes in Grand Rapids, Mich., on a hot day in 2018.
We sat down with him to hear how he did it. And before we finished, he shared one final piece of advice: “Your goal has to be louder than your snooze button.”
Fit City: When did you start your quest to run 100 marathons?
Bill Schroeder: In earnest, it began near the end of 2017. I ended 2017 with 55 marathons, and I put together a plan to finish in Nevada in November 2019. I called 2018 the Year of the Unknown, because until then the most marathons I had ever done in a year was six, and now I was going to do 26. I kept waiting for my body to break down, which didn’t happen. At the start of 2019, I only had 19 left. By then, I got to enjoy the marathons more and just ran how I felt, with less concern for holding back.
What was your first marathon?
My first (October 1981, 3:38) and second (October 1982, 3:34) marathons were the Wade YMCA Pacemakers marathons in Covington, Ky. I did the first one on a whim, with less than 20 miles a week of running, but I was 19 and invincible. I hated running when I finished those two marathons. I have been reminded many times: You can fake a 5K, but you can’t fake a marathon.
Tell me about three of the most memorable races.
The Shamrock Marathon in March 1983, marathon No. 3, was the first one I actually trained for, and the first that I finished in under three hours — 2:58. It was probably the first race that I actually felt the “runner’s high.” I’m not sure my feet were touching the ground the first 5 miles. I call the 1998 Chicago Marathon, marathon No. 28, the “Perfect Time.” It came as a result of setting a stretch goal and actually attaining it. I hit an eight-minute mile marathon PR of 2:36:22, and the first half was even my half-marathon PR. I had deferred the 2018 Marshall University Marathon, marathon No. 77, for two years due to the death of my youngest stepson, Evan, and getting into the 2017 New York City Marathon. I call it the “Magic Marathon” because as the race unfolded, the mantra “feel the magic” popped into my head, and I had a fantastic day. I also saw a fellow runner whose shirt said on the back, “They are not forgotten, they don’t go away, they run beside us every day!” I thought of Evan and my mom throughout the race. That, plus the connection to the “We Are Marshall” theme, made it only the second race I have ever teared up while talking about. My time was 3:11.
Which marathon was most difficult?
Breaking four hours in marathon No. 73, the Millennium Meadows Marathon in Grand Rapids in August 2018, was tough. The dewpoint was 72 percent at the start. The other extreme was the Veterans Marathon, marathon No. 78, outside of Fort Wayne, Ind., where it was 6 degrees. That was the closest I ever came to not starting a marathon.
Do marathons get any easier?
They don’t get easier, because it is 26.2 miles and anything can happen. What makes it easier is knowing what it takes to finish.
Will you keep running marathons?
I already have marathons planned for ... January, April, May and June. Goals are important. There are the marathon “majors,” and I will only need Tokyo after I run London this April. Seven Continents sounds exciting, too, and I only have two of those. I want to work on breaking 3:30 in 25 states. I also want to get back to climbing all the 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado. I have climbed 12 of 58.
What’s your biggest advice to another runner trying to reach this goal?
Travel with a comfortable pillow. … If you try to do it quickly with 20-plus marathons a year, then you can’t “race” that many and they need to be considered “long runs.” Also, get good at planning, because that many trips in a year became a logistical challenge. Finally, the sooner you figure out your marathon recipe for success, the better. You need to figure out what works for you, from a pre-race evening meal, pre-race breakfast and nutrition while running, to post-run recovery, clothing and chafing spots. We are our own experiment. What works for you might not work for me.