By Kassie Boyd and Braeden Kantz, news editor and sports editor
Saegertown High School alumni and teacher Heather Patton developed an affinity for running after falling from her horse at the age of eight.
“I think I originally started running when I fell off a horse and refused to get back on,” Patton said. “I decided I wanted to go along with my mom horseback riding, and so I’d run along beside her.”
From there, her love for running only flourished. Patton started running competitively as a member of the cross country team at Saegertown High School. During her senior year, she was selected as the female representative for Pennsylvania to the USA Track and Field Team through the World Sports Exchange. In July of 2000 she sold her horse to support her trip to Sydney, Australia, where she participated in the Sun Herald City to Surf road race. She then continued her running career at Seton Hill University from 2001-2004.
She eventually turned to marathon running. And it was in this sport that Patton would become a trailblazer.
On October 15, Patton became the first woman to complete the roughly 629-mile Great Lakes Marathon Series, which she started in November 2013. The GLMS manually records each runner’s time and was recently able to verify Patton’s accomplishment. “She’s our first female finisher, and we are very proud,” said Tara Sieve, director of the GLMS.
The Great Lakes Marathon Series is a chain of 25 marathons along the five Great Lakes. Partnered with the Alliance for the Great Lakes, it invites runners to appreciate the individuality of each race, while raising awareness for the protection and conservation of the environment.
In May of 2013, after Patton ran the Buffalo Marathon, her husband Dan Patton
introduced the Great Lakes Marathon series. “I really never gave it any thought,” Heather said. “It basically went in one ear and right out the other.”
Five months later, while on the Erie Marathon website, she saw information about the GLMS. This time her interest piqued. She signed up for the series on Oct. 12, 2013 at 9:27 p.m.
Patton started the series on Nov. 3, 2013 at the Hamilton Marathon in Ontario. She planned to ease through the competition running two or three marathons a year, but soon escalated to six or seven. “She always has been very competitive,” Dan Patton said. “That’s just how she is.” She finished with a time of 3:44:25 in the Hamilton Marathon. Her personal best time at that point was 3:44:14 at the Erie Marathon at Presque Isle in 2009. “When I crossed the finish line, I stopped my watch and was happy but a bit disappointed,” Patton said. She did eventually set a new personal record of 3:39:59 at the Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon.
The Saegertown graduate faced many challenges throughout the series. Blisters, stress fractures, jetlag and a nasty case of plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the connective tissue between the heel bone and the toes, hindered her journey. The 97 degree weather during the Oktoberfest Marathon in Michigan proved difficult. She didn’t let that stop her. “I just kept thinking that I need to keep positive and keep thinking about the finish line. I didn’t travel this far not to finish,” Patton said.
Despite injuries and geographical complications, Patton went on to run two consecutive marathons in one weekend in Ashland, WI, and Detroit, MI to finish the series. That is an equivalent of 52.4 miles in a total of 48 hours. The race in Detroit was nearly cancelled due to bad weather. “I was watching the sky,” Patton said. “It was my anxiety of not being able to finish.”
The GLMS has taken her to eight states, and across the border to Canada. Her daughters Paige and Olivia, ages five and six, and husband have accompanied her to 14 of the GLMS marathons. “My husband and daughters are my main motivation,” Patton said. She noted that her favorite marathon was the Glass City in Toledo because she could see her family as they drove to cheer her on at several points during the race.
The first person to finish the series was Canadian Steve Wilkinson, who completed the series in two years, finishing ten marathons in the first year and 15 the next. Patton will receive an official jacket for completing the marathon series, and she still seems a bit surprised that it’s over. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet, but I’m still thinking about marathons.”
HOW SHE DID IT: Patton’s path to completion of the GLMS
- 11/3/13 Hamilton Marathon Hamilton, ON
- 4/27/14 Medical Mutual Glass City Marathon Toledo, ON
- 5/18/14 Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon Cleveland, OH
- 7/12/14 Waugoshance Trail Marathon Carp Lake, MI
- 8/30/14 Marquette Marathon Marquette, MI
- 9/21/14 MVP Health Care Rochester Marathon Rochester, NY
- 10/12/14 Towpath Marathon Cleveland, OH
- 5/2/15 Wisconsin Marathon Kenosha, WI
- 5/24/15 Buffalo Marathon Buffalo, NY
- 6/27/15 Charlevoix Marathon Charlevoix, MI
- 10/11/15 Chicago Marathon Chicago, IL
- 10/25/15 Niagara Falls International Marathon Niagara Falls, ON
- 5/1/16 Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon Toronto, ON
- 6/18/16 Grandma’s Marathon Duluth, MN
- 7/23/16 Grand Island Trail Marathon Munising, MI
- 9/11/16 Erie Marathon at Presque Isle Erie, PA
- 10/1/16 Sleeping Bear Marathon Empire, MI
- 10/16/16 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon Toronto, ON
- 5/7/17 Mississauga Marathon Mississauga, ON
- 5/21/17 Cellcom Green Bay Marathon Green Bay, WI
- 6/24/17 Two Hearted Trail Marathon Paradise, MI
- 9/10/17 Erie Marathon at Presque Isle Erie, PA
- 9/23/17 Oktoberfest Marathon Spring Lake, MI
For more information about the Great Lakes Marathon Series, visit their website.
(With additional reporting by sports editor Cami Reynolds and editor in chief Bailey Kozalla. This article appeared in The Meadville Tribune on Oct. 30. All photos contributed.)