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Friday, June 29, 2012
Angela Tortorice maniacally devoted to marathons

By Julia Savacool
Special to espnW

On the website for Marathon Maniacs, Angela Tortorice is listed as Maniac No. 2543.

Check out her page and you'll see a list of 26.2-mile races, in places ranging from Texas to New Jersey, that Tortorice has completed. The criteria for joining the Marathon Maniacs club are simple: You have to run -- an awful lot. At a minimum, you need to have run two marathons within 16 days of each other. To be accepted into the highest club level, you must complete 52 marathons in 365 days, or 30 marathons within a year if travel to other countries was involved. Tortorice is a member of the top-tier group. Last year, she ran 71 marathons in 365 days, earning her the title of Female Marathon Maniac of the Year.

"I've been running regularly since 1994," she said. Though her family was active, there were no extreme sports feats that might have foreshadowed Tortorice's foray into marathoning. "My father played baseball, my oldest brother played football and my other brother ran, but not seriously. When I decided to start running, it was just as a stress relief and to help me stay in shape."

That all changed when Tortorice ran her first 26.2-mile race in October 1997, in San Antonio, at the suggestion of a friend. She was hooked. "The most rewarding thing about running marathons is the sense of accomplishment and freedom you feel when you run," she said. "It is truly about the journey itself."

A month after she ran San Antonio, she ran a second marathon in Dallas. Two months later, she ran a third in Fort Worth. Soon, almost every weekend involved crossing a finish line.

"I used to have time goals for my races," Tortorice said. "My PR is 3:56, but now since I am running one to two marathons per weekend, the focus is on the number of marathons I do, not how fast I do them. It is hard to mix speed and distance when you are running marathons so close together."

Balancing act

For someone with such an impressive list of marathon finishes, Tortorice has a routine that is remarkably normal. She runs an average of three days a week, three miles at a time, and mixes in weight training, biking and swimming on the non-running days.

"I used to run nine miles in the morning at least two days per week, but I have backed it down," she said.

Working a full-time job as an accountant has also limited her ability to arrive early at races and chill out before the big event.

"The logistics of getting to a race are often the most challenging part," she said. "Many times, there are no hotels available because they sell out far in advance of the race, so I have learned to camp outside, and also inside my car."

With her busy work schedule compounded by frequent flight delays, said Tortorice, "sometimes I don't arrive at the marathon destination until 1 or 2 a.m. the day of the race, and then I have to drive to the actual race spot, so I am running on no sleep."

Still, she keeps coming back for more, hoping to check off race 300 on her list this year, and complete a third round of running a race in all 50 states within the next year or two. Although Tortorice doesn't have a favorite marathon among the heap that's she done, she does believe pain and satisfaction go hand in hand.

"It often feels like the more difficult the race, the more beautiful the terrain," she said.

Along the way, she's also dabbled in triathlons. Specifically, the sort that requires a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run. It was actually during an Ironman race that Tortorice found herself contemplating dropping out for the first time, but was inspired to continue by the death of a friend earlier in the week.

"I lost my running partner on a Tuesday before the Ironman," she said.

Tortorice decided to forge ahead with the race anyway, but things did not go according to plan. "When I got to the swim, my wetsuit was so tight it was causing me to hyperventilate. I unzipped it, and ended up getting chaffed. On top of that, I kept cramping up on the swim. It was two loops and I almost quit after the first loop."

Thinking of her deceased friend, she forced herself to continue.

"I just told myself, 'Get through the swim and then reassess matters,' " Tortorice said. "Eventually, I made it through the swim, and then bike, and then the marathon. I am sure my running buddy was looking down on me that day."

While others look at her achievements with a sense of awe, Tortorice sees herself as an average athlete with an above-average work ethic. It's a matter of discipline and consistency in training, she said. And though her family and friends are proud of what she's achieved, for Tortorice, running isn't a chore, it's a wonderful addiction.

"Running gives me a great sense of freedom and complete control over myself," she said. "I live for the runner's high!"