When Tom Minichiello was a young man, long-distance runs weren’t a part of his vision for the future.
“I used to hate running,” said the 18-year Naperville resident. “I never did it.”
It was unimaginable then that a time would come when he’d be running, on average, more than 2,000 miles every year. That time is now.
Minichiello earlier this month reached his goal of running a marathon in every one of the United States — plus Washington, D.C., — and doing it fast. Very fast.
Chief financial officer of Westell Technologies in Aurora, Minichiello is a member of three running groups: the 50 States Marathon Club, the 50 States & D.C. Marathon Group U.S.A., and the 50Sub4 Marathon Club.
“The difference there is you can’t just run the marathons,” he said. “You have to finish in under four hours.”
When he ran the Chevron Houston Marathon on Jan. 19, he crossed the finish line in exactly 3 hours and 45 minutes. Hanging on his torso, in a nod to his 50th under-4-hour run, was the bib number 5050.
“I’m still in a state of euphoria,” Minichiello, 55, said Friday morning.
It was the 60th marathon he has run in the past two decades. Forty-one of them were in the past three years.
Minichiello was already launched into his adult career when he took an interest in the sport of running. In 1986 he was working in Seoul, South Korea, when his employer organized a 12-kilometer training run one evening.
“I wouldn’t say I was forced” to take part, he said with a smile. “I was encouraged.”
It wasn’t all that bad, and by the early 1990s, he was running regularly.
“I started realizing it was something you have to do every day,” he said.
Even then, he still wasn’t picturing himself as a marathon man.
When Minichiello moved to Naperville in 1995 with his wife and three of what would soon become their four daughters, he was pleased to find a community of runners who had a great network of training spaces. That’s when the marathons began, initially with the big ones: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles.
It was a few years later, when he was out running on the Illinois Prairie Path one day, that Minichiello met up with a fellow runner who told him about the 50 states idea. That was intriguing, but a string of injuries and back troubles kept him from pursuing the idea directly for a few years. Then, starting at just one state per year, he went at it, working at a brisk clip that had him finishing in less than 3 hours and 30 minutes. By the close of 2010, Minichiello had 10 states in his marathon rearview mirror.
“I said, ‘Wait a second, I have 40 more to go — 41, if you count D.C. I’m not going to get there running one a year,’” he said.
So he picked up the pace.
In a groove
In 2012, Minichiello ran a marathon every other week, turning up at the starting line in a different state each time.
“I got into a groove, and I was on my way,” he said.
By late last spring, he had just five states left to run. The logistics of finding marathons scheduled in those specific locations, on dates that fit his calendar, was a bit challenging. Over the summer and fall months, he managed to check off four states, plus the Marine Corps Marathon in the nation’s capital.
“That just left Texas,” he said.
Only 51 runners before him had accomplished the feat of completing a marathon in every state in less than four hours.
With no such lofty objectives ahead, Minichiello is taking it easy now. Preparations will soon be underway for Naperville’s second annual marathon, set for Nov. 9, 2014. Minichiello, who is the event’s course coordinator, doesn’t run that one.
“I’m definitely taking a break for a while,” he said, adding that until the outdoors warms up a bit, he’ll stick with spinning and Bikram yoga for exercise. “I’ll probably get back to doing local races, which is what I used to do —10Ks and 5Ks.”
Even after doing it 60 times, there’s nothing easy about running 26.2 miles. It can seem particularly far between about 16 and 20 miles into the route.
“When it gets to be a struggle, it’s less fun,” Minichiello said. “But the finish always feels great.”
And he’s always exhilarated by the accomplishment.
“It’s a challenging distance, no matter what,” he said. “I was just as nervous before the last one as I was before the first one.”