Carol Dellinger, 46, of Spokane, Wash., has run 234 marathons since 1986. Her next marathon, P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon, will be her first marathon since beating breast cancer. A single “mother” to two cats, Carol works as an independent insurance agent and a dental assistant. Run Now spoke with her as she counted down the final days until her return to her great passion of marathon running.
Run Now: How long has it been since your last marathon “fix”?
My 234th marathon was the Cape Cod Marathon on the 26th of October. After that I had a complete mastectomy of my right breast. So I haven’t run a marathon in two months because I’ve been recovering from breast cancer.
Did you run any marathons after your diagnosis?
I got diagnosed on October 9th, just a few days after the Portland Marathon. I got diagnosed on Thursday and ran the Victoria Marathon in British Columbia the next Sunday. The next weekend I ran the More Women’s Marathon in San Francisco. The weekend after that was the Cape Cod Marathon, which was a very special marathon for me because I knew it was going to be the last marathon I ran with two breasts. I had my surgery on November 9th.
I knew going into the surgery that as long as my lymph nodes were clear I was going to be totally cancer free and wouldn’t need radiation and chemo. So I crossed my fingers and hoped my pathology report would come back clear, and lo and behold it did.
I was going to run the Seattle Marathon in November and the Honolulu Marathon in December, and I had to cancel both of those. Three days after my surgery I found out that I was going to be good to go in eight weeks, so I quickly got registered for P.F. Chang’s in January. I wanted to be a part of a marathon that was really big so I would have a lot of buddies to pull me through, because I didn’t run for six weeks. I’m just going to hope to god that my base gets me through. The farthest I’ve run since my surgery is 10 miles.
Did the cancer affect your running before it was discovered?
No. It was picked up from a routine yearly mammogram. It just goes to show you that someone like me who’s very fit, active, and healthy—I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I have low cholesterol, low blood pressure, low body fat—that I too can be stricken with breast cancer. It does not discriminate. It’s a disease that does not just attack unfit people. But I will say that if you’re really fit and healthy going into something like this, you can recover very quickly.
You must be excited to get back at it.
I am jacked up to run this marathon because I have not gone eight or nine weeks without running a marathon in 15 years. I’m just itching to run another marathon. It’s going to be a big celebration of life.
How did you get started on this path?
Back in the early ‘90s I played on a women’s semipro softball team. I was the first baseman, and the shortstop was really into running marathons. One day she said, “Come run with me, Carol.” I knew I was never going to be fast—I do my marathons in five-and-a-half to six hours—but I saw that I had great endurance. I run the first mile in 12 minutes and the last mile in 12 minutes. I put down my softball glove in 1992. Brain damage set in and I decided I could run 12 or 15 of them in a year.
What is it about running marathons that is so appealing to you?
The reason I do this is because I can. You look around every day and there are people stricken with diseases and disabilities and they can’t do this. I’m kind of like the pied piper of slower runners. People see me, a normal, everyday runner doing something extraordinary.
How do you choose which marathons to do?
There are a few marathons I do every year. I run the Portland Marathon every year because my mother passed away on a Wednesday and I ran the Portland Marathon the following Sunday, so when I run the Portland Marathon I feel connected to my mother.
I’m sponsored by Saucony; they have me on a program where they give me all my shoes and apparel and in turn I work a few trade shows for them. So there are a few marathons chosen for me where I have to be every year, like the Seattle Marathon.
I really like the big marathons. I do Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego every year. I’ve done [the Country Music Marathon in] Nashville a few times. But there are also a couple of small ones with about a hundred people that I do here in Washington every year. It’s just you and the cows and the wheat fields.
Do you ever run marathons outside of the United States?
Canada is as far as I’ve gone. There are way too many marathons here in the United States to run, and financially, if I’m going to continue running 15 marathons a year I can’t spend half my year’s budget going to London or something.
So you plan to keep this up indefinitely?
I do. I’m healthy, I’m fit and I’ve never had a running-related injury.
What’s your fastest marathon?
A few years ago I decided I wanted to try and run a marathon a little faster, so I didn’t run a marathon for three weeks and I worked with a person to help me do some speed work and stuff. I ran a four-hour marathon, but I didn’t have fun in that marathon. I usually chit chat with people the whole way. It’s just a journey for me—a celebration of life. That’s what these marathons are to me.
What is your normal training regimen like?
I try to run four days a week for an hour and then on the weekends when I’m not running a marathon I try to do a two-hour run. I run with a group of friends. But when you run a couple of marathons a month you don’t have to do too many long runs, because those marathons are your long runs.