The frozen ground on King George Island, off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, has crunched beneath her running shoes. A 12-mile stretch of the Great Wall of China has allowed her a vantage point of indescribable beauty.
Her journey has been observed by penguins and bears.
Kendel Prescott has seen the world through the eyes of a marathon runner and set a record in the process. Prescott, a Decatur resident who turns 50 on Nov. 6, became the youngest person and the first woman to complete five marathons in each of the 50 states and Washington D.C.
She finished the feat May 30 by running in the Key Bank Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, Vt. Prescott has finished marathons in 14 countries and on all seven continents.
“I wanted to finish the 5-50 challenge before my 50th birthday. I’m not fast, I just enjoy the social aspects of running,” said Prescott, a social worker at the Veterans Administration Hospital and U.S. Army veteran. “It makes me feel alive, and you meet some amazing people.”
There was a time when Prescott could not have imagined being able to finish even a single marathon. In 1988 she was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which causes weakness and tingling in the arms and legs.
Prescott spent several months recovering and now battles through rare relapses. While lying in her hospital bed she made up her mind to run–her interest sparked by television coverage of the New York City Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon. “I vowed that if I got better I would try to run five times a week to show how grateful I am that I was healed,” Prescott said. “Just to make it to the finish line is a big accomplishment for me.”
Prescott’s first marathon was the Marine Corps Marathon in 1990. As a member of both the 50 States Marathon Club and the 50 and DC Marathon Group, she found out about the 50 States Club in 1993 through a woman she often saw at various marathons.
Seven years later, Prescott has trotted around the world competing in 305 marathons and 36 triathlons. Her record for the most marathons in one year is 36.
She counts a marathon in Burlington, Vt., along the shore of Lake Champlain and the Big Horn Marathon in Wyoming, with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, as the most scenic races she’s entered. The Great Wall Marathon is the most unusual venue for a race, she said. Prescott also enjoys trail runs, which she tries to do once a month.
Prescott now has a couple of new goals since completing the 5-50 challenge. She wants to qualify for the Boston Marathon and help her husband Walt finish the 5-50 challenge. He is five races short of completing the states four times and has run a total of 280 career marathons.
Not surprisingly, the Prescotts met at a race.
“I met my husband at the starting line at the Bismark (N.D.) Marathon in 2004 and we got married on Nov. 6, 2005,” she said. “Mainly now I want to run the Boston and help my husband finish his 5-50.”
The couple will celebrate their anniversary and Kendel’s birthday by running in the Auckland Marathon in New Zealand this year.
“We try to go to a race every weekend,” said Prescott, who has worked at the VA Hospital for 17 years. “My husband is retired so it’s easy for him to get away. For me it’s a little harder but we plan our vacations around marathons. Once we did three in a weekend. A lot of times we try to double up, it saves on airfare. We’ve only taken two weekends off over the past four months.”
Accomplishments aside, Prescott won’t put away the running shoes any time soon. In addition to her two main goals, Prescott has a wish list of courses she’d like to run. The Mesa Falls Marathon in Ashton, Idaho, plus races in Italy and France top the list.
“The scenery on those runs is beautiful. Ones on a trail are the most enjoyable,” Prescott said. “It’s a settling feeling in your mind. You’re out there, feeling healthy; you see things you can’t see in a car.”