CALHOUN — For most marathon runners, simply crossing the finish line of a 26.2-mile race is kind of a big deal, an accomplishment worked toward and striven for over months of pavement-pounding training.
When Calhoun’s George Southgate crossed the BG26.6 finish line in Bowling Green, Kentucky, last weekend, he did so for the 400th time. And if that weren’t impressive enough, Southgate is 73 years old and had only completed four marathons before the year 2000 — which means he’s run that iconic distance 396 times since entering his 50s.
“It went well, but I was a few minutes slower than last year,” said Southgate of last weekend’s race.
He was the second-oldest person in the race, but finished first (out of two runners) in his own age group. Because it was his 400th marathon, race organizers slotted him the No. 400 bib number. And, because he and only one other person have run all editions of the BG26.6, officials gifted him a special medal holder.
Southgate has run 92 marathons in Georgia at 18 different events, and one of his favorites is the Snickers Marathon in Albany — he’s run that one all 13 times they’ve had it — because the race shirt is fashioned to look like a Snickers bar.
“I get more comments on that shirt than anything,” he said, adding that he also qualified for the famed Boston Marathon in Albany — he’s run Boston twice.
A more impressive race shirt, though, is the one he received after running a marathon in all 50 states ... which he’s done twice. Actually, he’s only a few states away from completing that challenge a third time, but the remaining states are all in the north or northwest and don’t host winter races. Meanwhile, Southgate has already ticked off 28 states as he makes his way toward a fourth round.
“My goal was originally to do the entire Southeast, because, where we live, we can reach 10 states within an eight-hour drive,” Southgate said, noting that he’s raced all the southeastern states 10 times.
As if his list of accomplishments wasn’t extraordinary enough, many of his marathon finishes came after Southgate suffered a heart attack and had triple bypass surgery in June of 2017.
He was running in the Hatfield McCoy Marathon in Williamson, West Virginia, when he started feeling a little lightheaded with about a half mile to go. Southgate finished the race and didn’t think much else about it until the following weekend, when he tried to run in a 5K back home.
“You know how you get sore sometimes and you feel like you can’t lift your arms over your head? It was kind of like that,” Southgate said.
He couldn’t finish that race, or another 5K he was signed up for the next day, so he finally decided to visit a doctor. Turns out he’d had a heart attack and required bypass surgery to clear up blockages ranging between 70% and 100%.
“There were no other symptoms at any time,” Southgate said of the initial event.
He was forced to miss five weeks recovering, but as if he were banking races ahead of an extended downtime, the whole event came one month after Southgate had completed six marathons in seven days in May of 2017.
Looking ahead, Southgate says he doesn’t know how many more marathons he has left. He wants to get to 100 in Georgia, which means at least eight more in his home state, and he’s eyeing those three remaining cold-weather states for spring races to wrap up his third lap around the United States.
As it were, the travel is part of the appeal, especially since his wife has retired and joins him on many trips.
“I enjoy doing it. I enjoy meeting the people. We’ve seen parts of the country you wouldn’t see otherwise,” Southgate said.
He also still enjoys the shorter races too. Just last weekend, after notching number 400, there was the Impossible Run, a race that began at 1:50 a.m. Sunday — 10 minutes before the Daylight Savings Time fall back.
“If you do a 30-minute 5K you finish 20 minutes before you start,” Southgate explained.