Fort Morgan resident runs her 100th marathon right here in Gulf Shores

Fort Morgan resident runs her 100th marathon right here in Gulf Shores
Betty Holder has also run 50 milers, the Spirit Trail 100 Mile Ultra-Marathon and completed 10 Iron Mans

By Fran Thompson
Fort Morgan resident Betty Holder had no particular desire to run a marathon back in 2001. She worked out at a gym a couple times a week and went skiing twice a year. But she didn’t so much as jog around the block of her Atlanta home. So when her husband (Jerry) said he wanted to run a marathon and suggested that she join him, she was not enthusiastic. Betty was already 42 and content to drive a car or call a cab, if she wanted to take a 26.2 mile round trip.
“He said it was his goal to run a marathon and that I should do it too,’’ Betty said. “I said, ‘you can’t be talking about me.’ I thought he was crazy and said no way.’’
But Jerry persisted, and Betty relented. A friend, who was a former college runner, told her about the Gallaway marathon training group, which happened to be based in Atlanta.
A 1972 Olympian, Gallaway had just started his marathon training business. (He has since expanded to more than 100 U.S. cities and five other countries.).
Gallaway’s program was already highly regarded among the Atlanta running community. So, Betty knew she would be given access to the tools to succeed.
“We had more than 100 participants and except for one man who had a groin injury and another who had to drop out due to a work committment, we all completed a marathon,’’ she said.
As fate would have it, Betty’s first marathon would be one of this country’s most important ever – the first post 9/11 New York City Marathon. It was held just a few weeks after the attack, and it served as a cathartic expression of our country’s resilience and solidarity in the face of that horrific tragedy.
Betty joined 30,000 runners – most of them in red, white and blue – and two million spectators to create a perfect metaphor for a city and nation determined to stand strong.
By comparison, the first NYC Marathon in September of 1970 drew 127 participants and only 55 finishers. The only woman entrant in that first race dropped out after 15 miles due to illness.
For Betty’s husband, completing that marathon was enough to quench his thirst for distance running, but Betty was just getting started. She immediately knew New York would not be her last test of will, and she kept on running to the point where she recently completed her 100th marathon about 26.2 miles from the place she has called home for the past five years.
“There is a saying that once you cross the finish line after completing a marathon, you will be changed forever. And that was true for me,’’ Betty said. “In my case, when I crossed that finish line, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. It was something I never dreamed was possible. I thought it would be easier the next time. But there is no such thing as an easy marathon.’’
Betty earned her100th marathon at the recent We Run This Beach Marathon at Gulf State Park. The temperature was unseasonably warm, but Betty had friends to encourage her along the way.
“I do not tolerate heat very well. I am a profuse sweater and the temperature was more then I could really handle. I can’t think of another one where I struggled like that,’’ she said.
Being able to run her 100th marathon in her hometown was somewhat coincidental, but Betty was very happy that running friends from both the local L.A. Fleet Feet Running Club and her club in Chattanooga were there to share her milestone.
“I was really impressed with how many of my running buddies were there to support me,’’ she said. “I was not expecting that. A lot of people did all sorts of nice things (pictured), bringing balloons and putting signs on the course with my name on them.’’
Many friends held up cut-outs of Betty’s smiling face when she crossed the finish line wearing bib no. 100, and the L.A. Fleet Feet krewe threw a BBQ party for her afterwards.
“I was kind of stunned when I saw my bib number and thought what are the chances of that,’’ Betty said. “Then I found out that Rob (Barnas) contacted the race director and he agreed to it. I was thrilled to get it in the books and behind me, but I especially liked that so many people came down to be there with me.’’
One of Betty’s friends, George Southgate of Calhoun, Ga., came just for the day to give Betty a magnet that read “26.2 miles – 100” before driving back to Georgia that evening.
Another friend, Truman Smith from Chattanooga, was also there to greet her at the finish line. Truman has ran north of 200 marathons.
“I’ve enjoyed running many marathons with Truman because he is a wonderful story teller with great wit, and his stories make the miles go by quickly,’’ Betty said. “George has run 528 marathons. He is the monster.’’
Both men are 76 years old.
With those two septuagenarians as living proof that there is no marathon running shelf life, Betty sees no reason to stop at 100. She will continue to make memories like she did running in the prestigious Boston Marathon.
“It was really a thrill,’’ she said. “There are people all along the way cheering their heads off. The way people were reacting, you’d of thought I was winning the Olympics.’’
Betty has completed several marathons several times and she has run the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon in Georgia 20 consecutive times officially. She even ran it when the event was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID just to keep her streak alive. She most certainly will be back there again this November.
The Big Sur, which is held on a traffic free Pacific Coast Hwy. and includes music along the way, is also among her favorites, as was the marathon she ran in Antarctica.
Betty’s goal was not necessarily to run 100 marathons, but she would count her finisher medals from time to time and once she hit number 80 (The Atlanta Publix Marathon), she made a spread sheet and started her countdown.
Betty has also completed 10 full Ironman Triathlons (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run), a sport she took up while learning to swim while recovering from a stress fracture on her foot.
“I did not know how to swim,’’ she said. “I learned to swim out of a book and became an endless swimmer. I said I could do this forever. Swimming was the big holdback. I already was biking once a week with friends just for fun.’’
Once she realized the swimming part would be the least grueling, Betty set about Ironman training with one thought in mind – no short cuts.
“Doing an Ironman is all about training,’’ she said. “You can muscle your way through and complete a marathon. But in an Ironman, that will not happen. There is no muscling through it. You have got to do the training.’’
Betty, who does strength training at the Bodenhamer Center once per week, will concentrate on marathon training until she has completed one in every state. She currently has 28 notches on that belt and will run a marathon in Indiana next month before starting a busy spring schedule that will see her run several marathons each month.
Betty has also competed in a few 50 mile ultra marathons and completed the Prairie Spirit Trail 100 Mile Ultra-Marathon in Kansas, a race that saw her run for 25 grueling hours.
“I try to be careful and not get injured. I listen to my body and back off when enough is enough,’’ she said. “I learned a valuable lesson the hard way from doing speed work. It’s an easy way to get injured.’’
She also learned that even for her, competing in two Iron Mans and three marathons over a 14 week period was too much.
“I did not need to do that much that close together. But I felt good for all but the last one,’’ she said.
“Running is definitely a lifestyle,’’ she added. “I want to maintain my energy level and strength as I age, and I feel like if I stop putting races on the calendar, it will be all over and I will wind up slipping down the slippery slope of old age and feebleness.
“I like marathons because I can run slow and still compete. At these ultra distances, you don’t have to be a speed demon,’’ she added. “You can just run for your own benefit. Who cares if anybody else finishes ahead of you. Everybody is doing their own thing. It’s more relaxed and more enjoyable.’’
Most importantly, she still feels the same as she did 22 years ago in NYC when she earns a medal.
“I still enjoy it when I cross the finish line,’’ she said. “It’s like ‘wow, I did it again.’’