LAKEWOOD, Ohio — Elaine Keating has crossed quite a few finish lines. From 5Ks to marathons, running has become a central part of her life.
But growing up, running long distances was not something she ever saw in her future.
"I was a runner in high school, but it was more of a sprinter," she recalled. "Running long distance was pretty much running to Dairy Queen."
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When she had kids, a son and daughter, Keating would run casually, eventually training by herself for the ultimate goal of a half marathon. When she met a running group on the east side who convinced her she could push herself further and complete a full marathon, she didn't believe them.
Keating was 37 with a 7 and 9-year-old at home when she first thought about running a marathon. With the support of her running group, she ran the Cleveland marathon, making her goal time to the minute.
"I ran that one and thought I would be done," Keating said, "and then they suggested running Akron, so we ran Akron. Then we ran the Towpath, so I'd run three marathons kind of close together and I was able to get a spot in the New York City marathon."
From there, Keating was hooked. She formed close bonds with members of her running group, and together, she said they would pile into cars or hop on planes to run marathons together.
As she ran more and more marathons, she set out to accomplish the ultimate long distance running goal: Running 50 marathons, one in each of the 50 states. But to up the ante, Keating set a deadline for herself: She wanted to run 50 marathons, in 50 states, all before she turned 50 years old.
Keating was well on her way to her goal, waking up on weekend mornings to go for runs before her kids were even awake, and training with her running group weekly. She had completed 48 marathons and was two years ahead of schedule, when life threw her two big curveballs. The first came in the form of a global pandemic.
"When everything got canceled, I thought, 'Now I'm worried,' because everything as far out as you could look was canceled," she told us. "Then in the Fall of 2020, I had to have hip surgery with a labrum tear, and they had said ,'You may not run again. If you do, it's going to be a long recovery.'"
So close to accomplishing her goal, Keating didn't give up. With her running group by her side, she worked her way back, and she says her friends even assured her they would walk the races with her if that's what it took.
Keating also adjusted her goal, from 50 marathons in 50 states by 50 years old, to 50 marathons in 50 states at 50 years old.
At her side cheering her on throughout her entire journey were her kids.
"For someone to set a 10, 12, 13-year goal like my mom did with her 50 states and to actually achieve that goal, for me, it just shows that anybody can set goals for themselves and have high aspirations for their life, but it's another thing to go out there and actually do it," son Jacob said.
Jacob credits watching his mom’s dedication and perseverance in kicking off his own running career through high school then at the University of Michigan. It's a sport he says he wouldn't have necessarily gotten into if it wasn’t for his mom's leadership.
"I never would've had the success that I had probably without seeing my mom run marathons and set those goals for herself," he admitted.
Traveling across the country cheering mom on brought the already tight-knit family even closer. There were multiple states when Elaine would run a full marathon and Jacob would run a 5k or alternate race so they could share in the experience.
"We just had so much fun along the way; we would laugh the entire time," Jacob said of traveling across the country to cheer on his mom. "For me, it wasn't a burden at all. For me, it was fun, and I was looking forward to going on those trips."
"All of that emotion, I think, has helped each of us shape each other as a family," Keating added. "We're a very close family, all of us are very close, so I think it just brought us closer."
Finally, through unexpected hurdles, Keating completed her goal. She turned 50 in July of 2021 and ran her last two states. Her final race was in Hawaii.
"I tried to enjoy Hawaii more," she said. "I FaceTimed my daughter in the middle of the race. I was running along a cliff with whales in the ocean -- you could see them -- and I called her and FaceTimed her, so I kind of took a different approach versus just trying to get through it. I tried to experience it more in Hawaii and enjoy the surroundings."
At the finish line, Keating was greeted by a huge group of family and friends who had flown from all over to meet her. Jacob joked that she had the largest support group of all the runners in the race.
As for what's next for Keating, she says she would like to run the New York City marathon again, a personal favorite of hers. But importantly, she wants to be there for those who supported her, helping train with her friends who are out to accomplish their own 50-state goals.
She may now be a 50-state finisher, but to Jacob, she holds a different title.
"Definitely a 'Super Mom,'" he said. "For sure."
50 marathons in 50 states at 50 years old. A marathon of a goal, accomplished one step at a time.