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Decatur Illinois Dentist Mary Cole has ran a marathon in all 50 states

Mary Cole had never called herself a runner, but now at 46 years old, she wears the label like a badge of honor.

"I didn't like the name before, because I never thought I could do it," she said. "It is now a compliment."

A Decatur dentist, Cole is also part of an elite group of people who have run a marathon in all 50 states. According to the 50 States Marathon Club, nearly 4,500 runners have crossed this finish line.

"It took two years and nine months," she said of completing a marathon in each state.

She finished her last state, Alaska, in 2018.  Cole had planned to meet her goal by the age of 50, but set a faster pace for herself.

"I was going to make it an eight-year plan," she said. "Then I got impatient and did it a little quicker."

As a child in Louisville, Ky., Cole wore orthopedic shoes to correct her pigeon toes, so she didn't participate in sports.

"I was the person everybody asked for test questions," she said. "You weren't going to pick me for a sports team."

Although she was not a runner, she did join the Navy in her 20s, and physical activity became a part of her daily life. In boot camp she was required to run 1½ miles, during which she quickly would become sick.

"Running was not my thing, so I chose swimming," Cole said. "You had to do push-ups and sit-ups, but swimming was my better sport."

After eight years as a Navy dentist, life happened quickly for Cole and the years brought heartache. She and her husband struggled to have children, losing three babies during two separate pregnancies. The first baby who died was from a set of triplets. The death caused Cole to suffer depression.

"I didn't work or anything," she said. "I just took care of the kids."

The couple added one more child to the family and eventually moved to Decatur. For more than 10 years, exercise was not a priority for the new mother.

"My family dies early, 45, 60, most of them died from strokes or cancer," she said.

Cole researched what she needed to do to get going, and as she began improving her health, she said she felt better. She also watched what she ate.

"Everything you put in your body affects everything," Cole said.

Cole began her first exercise challenge with a 5K run. Although she struggled through the 3.1 miles, she found other runners to be positive influences.

"I couldn't do it at first, but everyone was so encouraging," she said.

In the beginning, marathons were not a consideration. She wanted to focus again on swimming, so she tried a mini triathlon. The challenge encouraged her to try more running, so she tried a half marathon and felt good afterward, she said.

As she took on more steps and longer runs, she introduced another challenge to her life: She wanted to see the world.

Cole's first marathon was in Springfield Illinois and she gradually added to her race itinerary, attempting one every weekend.

Cole said her journey to run a marathon in all 50 states isn't about the run, but to inspire others to be more confident, "and to do things they thought they could never do before, at any age," she said. "Age is just a number."

Cole adheres to the idea that runs should be fun, and she dresses up for many of the marathons in outfits such as Dorothy from "Wizard of Oz," Wonder Woman or an old lady.

"I like to inspire people to finish and just be healthy," she said. "I have a different aspect than the majority of others."

Many mishaps can prevent a runner from finishing a marathon, including an injury or getting lost, things Cole has experienced and overcome.

"It can happen," she said.

Cole does not focus on her marathon times, but instead finishing before the allotted time has expired.

"It's not about winning anything," she said. "Sometimes I stop and take pictures."

(Dr. Mary Cole graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1994 from the University of Louisville in Kentucky, where she is originally from. Dr. Cole, then, received her Doctors of Dental Medicine Degree from the University of Louisville School of Dentistry in 1998.  Mary and Ron Cole work together in their business called Cole Family Dentistry) 

by Donnette Beckett

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