By Linda Dillman
Nearly two decades ago, retired Madison Township Firefighter Larry Baugess realized the extra weight he carried was not healthy and he decided it was time for a change.
Since then, Baugess has slimmed down, stepped up his workout regime, and hit a goal many runners may envy—completing a marathon in every state not once, but twice.
“It all started about 20 years ago when my wife and two boys were on vacation during spring break at a campground in Fort Myers, Florida,” recalled Baugess of a trip to a campground swimming pool. “The fragrance of bacon was in the air. One of my sons asked, ‘Can you smell that’ and my other son stated, ‘Oh it’s dad‘s belly burning.’ He’s a bacon wrap. My boys were five and six at that time. I was pushing 230 pounds and out of shape.”
After returning home from vacation and looking over family pictures, Baugess decided he needed to do something about his weight and health for himself, his family, and the fire department. He took it slow and easy at the beginning and dropped 60 pounds in six months.
“I thought if I could do that in six months, then I’m going to run a marathon, which has always been on my bucket list,” said Baugess. “My first marathon was the Columbus Marathon in 2005. Everything that day went as planned. Great temperatures, great weather. I had my wife and sons cheering me on throughout the race course. And then I hit ‘the wall’ around mile 20 just like everyone said. I went from auto pilot to shutting down all within a couple minutes. I had to do a run/walk the rest of the way.”
After being chosen in the lottery for the New York City Marathon, Baugess expanded his sights to states bordering Ohio. Before he knew it, he logged marathons in 12 states. He said he told himself he was almost a quarter of the way of doing all 50.
“It is a club rule that you cannot join the 50 state marathon club until you have completed 10 different states,” said Baugess. “It was my personal decision not to join until I was halfway to 50. I remember quite well, my first marathon after completing all 50 states. It was in Athens, Ohio, and I was proudly wearing my 50 state finishers running shirt for the upcoming marathon. I had a lady ask me now that I have completed all 50 states what was I going to do next. Before I could give her an answer my wife spoke up and said he’s doing them all over again.”
At that time, Baugess had no intentions of doing all 50 states again, but the challenge was on.
In his first round of 50 states, the Mayors Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska, was his 50th state marathon. Baugess said the run was breathtaking every mile of the way. At one point, the course ran through a military base for six to eight miles. Military personnel on ATVs rode along with rifles strapped to their backs to keep away the bears.
“Pictures don’t show justice to how beautiful it was,” said Baugess. “My second Alaska marathon was on Douglas Island across the bay from Juneau and my third Alaska marathon was in Juneau.”
However, he was not happy with his first Hawaii marathon in Kona, which was also the same marathon course that they use for the Iron Man.
“The first water stop at mile two didn’t have any water, just Coca-Cola in all the cups,” said Baugess. “After sending us out of Kona it was nothing but blacktop and lava fields until returning back into Kona with just three miles left to the finish.”
“Running through the lava fields was like having a hair dryer blow on you,” he said.
His second and third Hawaii marathons were on the Island of Kauai; one in a botanical garden, and the other along the ocean, which he called phenomenal and breathtaking.
“Running through the botanical garden was so fitting for me as I had just lost my mother to lung cancer the week before the marathon,” he said. “She has a love for flowers and has a gorgeous flower garden at her home.”
As a firefighter for over 33 years, Baugess’ work schedule had him working every third day, so he ran four to six miles five days in a row, followed by a day off. He charted out his training 12 weeks in advance for an upcoming marathon. He ran his normal four to six mile routine every day with the sixth day ranging anywhere from 12 to 22 miles.
While asking a 50-state finisher their favorite marathon or location is a tricky question, Baugess said running marathons in the New England states and up in the northwest corner of United States have been some of his favorites.
“The scenery is just something you just can’t explain unless you see it in person yourself,” he said. “I tried to pick marathons on the opposite side of the state in my second round so I could get a taste of each side of each state. We have so much beauty right here in our own country’s backyard that most people don’t even know it.”
Running far and wide across the United States, Baugess has many stories. In one incident, he had just arrived at the airport after finishing a marathon to find out his flight was canceled and rescheduled for the next day.
He flew out of Manchester, New Hampshire, to Baltimore, Maryland, to Fort Lauderdale and then to Atlanta, Georgia, to load and unload passengers before being told to get off the plane because they over filled it with fuel and had to wait while they found another plane to fly home to Columbus. It was a 14 hour day, but he never left the United States.
At a marathon in Tacoma, Washington, Baugess was approaching mile 15 at an intersection when a volunteer misdirected him down a street. He turned back, found the volunteer and then got back on the right track, but the wrong turn added a mile and a half to his 26.2 miles that day.
“The number one thing that keeps me going and going and going is the fact that marathon running makes me a better person,” said Baugess. “I feel that if I am a better person, that makes me a better husband and father. When I was working at the fire department, I felt that I owed it to the residences of Madison Township to be in the best physical condition I could be in to serve them.”
Baugess’ advice for new runners is to find out what works for them as an individual, not what works for the Olympian, the professional, or their friend because it may not work for them.
“I guarantee you that you are going to have many days that you will struggle through short runs and turn right around the next day and do a long run flawlessly,” said Baugess. “Go to a specialized running store to purchase your running shoes. My biggest advice to a person who wants to do a marathon is a marathon is a measurement of distance, regardless of running or walking all that matters is you finish. Not the time.”
Since Baugess retired from the Madison Township Fire Department in February, he’s run another six marathons, bringing his lifetime total to 120 and not all have gone without special challenges such as cracked tibia, plantar fascitis, and a torn abdominal muscle. He’s also had his fair share of blisters and black toenails.
“I just finished my second round of all 50 states in May,” he said. “As for the immediate future, I’m giving this body a break and rest. As for the long term, I will continue to do marathons. I have helped many people train for their first half and full marathon. I do my short runs through the streets of Canal Winchester and I can be seen during my long runs through Three Creeks and Pickerington Ponds Metro Parks. I couldn’t have done any of this if it wasn’t for the support and love of my wife, Heather.”