Morgan’s 'marathon maniac' pushes aside cancer, accomplishes big goals at 50

Sunday , September 24, 2017 - 5:00 AM1 comment

RYAN COMER, Standard-Examiner Staff

MORGAN — Michelle Duran knew so little about training for a marathon eight years ago that she turned to Google for guidance.

Now she could likely teach a course on the subject.

Duran ran this year’s Huntsville Marathon on Saturday, Sept. 16, completing a goal of running 100 marathons before she turned 50. On Sept. 2, Duran completed a marathon in Pendleton, Oregon, thereby realizing a goal of running a marathon in each of the 50 states before she turned 50.

Duran turned 50 on Tuesday.

The day she completed the Huntsville Marathon, her family threw her a birthday party and gave her a plaque that has each state listed with a corresponding marathon and her time.

“It was pretty emotional to see all (the marathons) in one spot,” Duran said. “Yeah, you have medals, and you put them in a box, or you hang them up, and you have all of your bibs from your races, but to see it all like this and know that my family took that much time and effort to get all of that specific information — that was emotional.”

Duran’s journey started with an episode of “The Biggest Loser” in 2009. She remembers watching an episode with her husband that involved marathons, and the two decided to give one a try.

She was never one to shy away from being active. Duran was a member of her high school track team in Lakefield, Minnesota — a town of about 1,500 in the southwest corner of the state — though she acknowledges she elected to do sprints and hurdles instead of distance running.

She ran sporadically after graduation. When she lived in Italy because that’s where her job in the military took her, she would occasionally run from the base to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which she said was about an 11K. Later, when she was stationed in Germany, she said she did a couple of 10K races.

She said the episode of “The Biggest Loser” was inspiring because of the transformation she could see in the participants.

Duran’s first marathon was the 2010 Ogden Marathon. She set a goal of 4 hours, 20 minutes and finished just three minutes longer than her goal.

The ensuing summer, she was in Minnesota to visit her mother when she decided to travel about 30 miles to Iowa for a marathon there.

Suddenly, she was hooked. She returned to Utah and ran in the Deseret Morning News/KJZZ-TV Marathon on Pioneer Day.

Duran started hearing about various marathon clubs, like the one that involved running a marathon in all 50 states and the one that involved running 100 marathons. She decided she was going to accomplish both before she turned 50.

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As she went along, she realized just how seriously some people take running.

She recently met a man at a marathon who had run in all 50 states 23 different times. Another man was attempting to set a Guinness World Record for most marathons in 365 days.

At another marathon, she encountered a woman who was leaning to her left as she ran. Duran asked the woman if she was having trouble and said the woman responded, ‘No. I just got MS.’

“She looked like she was about to fall over, but she’s like, ‘Nope, I’m good. I’ve got MS. I’m good,’” Duran said.

Duran overcame her own health challenges throughout her journey.

In May 2013, the week of the Ogden Marathon, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Cancer unfortunately runs in her family. Her brother, Gordon, was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and died just before she began chemotherapy treatments. He was 51.

Her father died from lung cancer and her mother died from issues related to breast cancer.

Duran missed the Morgan Valley Marathon in 2013 because of a two-week hospital stay related to her chemotherapy treatments, but came back in time for the Huntsville Marathon that year. She was determined not to miss Huntsville because she missed Morgan Valley.

Duran went through six chemotherapy treatments, 28 radiations and a year of hormonal treatment. She also had a lumpectomy and had some lymph nodes removed.

She finished all treatments in July 2014 and has had a clean bill of health since. She doesn’t like the term remission, because it suggests the cancer may return, and she refuses to capitalize the word cancer.

“It doesn’t deserve it,” she said.

Duran personifies determination. She ran five marathons during one week this May.

“It was trying to get all of the eastern states on one plane ticket,” she said. “I want to do this on a budget.”

She needed to go to Massachusetts for a work conference and stayed an additional week. She ran a marathon in Maine on a Sunday, one in Vermont on Tuesday, hit Rhode Island on Wednesday then Connecticut on Thursday, flew home Thursday night and ran in the Ogden Marathon that Saturday.

Her goal to run in all 50 states before she turned 50 appeared to be in trouble when she heard the marathon she was scheduled to run near Crater Lake, Oregon, on Aug. 12 might be canceled because of forest fires.

She found a marathon for the same day in Bend, Oregon, but couldn’t finish. It was a trail marathon — which she was not accustomed to — and she fell down at the 15-mile mark. At the 22-mile mark she was struggling to breathe so much that she had to stop.

“Between the medical personnel and myself, we decided that ‘I’m not going to finish this race,’” Duran said. “It’s the only one that I never finished.”

Still, she had to finish a marathon in Oregon to cross the state off her list. She found out about the Pendleton Marathon a few weeks later and decided to make a weekend trip to run it.

“She ran one after another, and before you know it, she had 10 in the books, and 20, and before you know it … she was hooked,” said her husband, Ron. “She became a marathon maniac before she joined the marathon maniacs (club).”

For the first time in the last seven years, Duran is not registered to run in a marathon. That won’t be true for very long, however. In October she will register for the next Ogden Marathon. She plans to continue running, though maybe at not such a frenetic pace.

“Maybe 12 a year now instead of 20,” her husband said.

Contact Standard-Examiner sports reporter Ryan Comer at rcomer@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @RyanComerSe and on Facebook.

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