There are times when Skyler Steinman, a self-proclaimed fringe athlete, wonders what he’s gotten himself into.
He’s 40, says he could stand to lose 15 or 20 pounds, and used to like to run because he liked to run, not because there was a mission in his life that required running.
But Steinman, who is from Bellevue, Ky., doesn’t have a choice now. He’s too deep into his mission – to run marathons in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the six other continents – to turn back now.
“Running has always been a hobby,’’ Steinman said. “But it used to be something that I could just enjoy after school or work, that kind of thing.’’
Running became an obsession, a necessity, about 10 years ago when things in Steinman’s life started to unravel. He went through a painful breakup. His brother, William Jr., was diagnosed with leukemia. His father, William Sr., was inflicted by Parkinson’s disease.
“All within a year or so of one another,’’ Steinman said. “I was reaching the end of my rope to where I was thinking, ‘Is this all there is to life?’ ”
Steinman, who will cross Kansas off of his list this weekend when he competes Sunday in the Prairie Fire Marathon, found his purpose through something he had been doing all of his life.
“This became front and center in my life,’’ Steinman said. “I figured if I could do something like this, anybody could do something like this.’’
It would be a stretch to call Steinman a marathoner. His best time is around 4 hours, 40 minutes. He’s not blazing through the course.
But he likes to think he’s blazing a trail for others who are in the dumps to follow. His message – and he is adamant about his message – is that there are ways to move beyond hopelessness and despair.
“I see the difficulties in life that I experienced as difficulties that almost everyone experiences,’’ said Steinman, who works in the event industry in Cincinnati, near his home. “Maybe not specifically. One person’s cancer is another person’s amputation or struggle with cystic fibrosis. Nor do I think I’m special. I just think everybody has some kind of passion that they can pour themselves into.’’
Steinman has run marathons in 29 states – Kansas will be No. 30 – and he has competed in Europe and Africa. There’s still a long way to go and it’s best, Steinman said, that he doesn’t think about his journey in that way.
Running these marathons, obviously, is hard work. It’s probably even harder than Steinman, who is single, imagined.
He started his quest in 2006 and figures he’ll finish in six to seven years.
“There are challenges to this that are very difficult,’’ Steinman said. “Physical challenges, financial challenges, mental challenges, even spiritual challenges. But it’s also very rewarding, even though at times I do question what I’m doing in some far-off place I’ve never been before. But you meet so many people along the way that you would have never met before. And you find out about their lives, their struggles, and you realize that you’re not alone.’’
Steinman said his brother has responded to medication and is doing well. His 82-year-old father is still alive, too, although Parkinson’s has taken a heavy toll.
They know of, and applaud, his marathon mission.
“Early on, the toughest part for me was to get to approach the 13th mile and think to myself, ‘Good Lord, I’ve got to do this again,’ ” Steinman said. “I’ve progressed past that a little bit now, thankfully. Now it’s around mile 20 – like it is for a lot of people who run marathons – that I hit a wall. When you’re running in the teens, you’re just ticking off the miles. Then you hit 20 and you realize you still have another 6.2 to go.’’
It’s that .2 that marathoners like to remind people about. Steinman says the .2 can throw his brain into malfunction. There is nothing more difficult, he believes, than that .2.
“The key is to get into a groove and then it can be like a machine rolling along,’’ Steinman said. “Or in my case, a clunker.’’
Steinman hopes to get to South America – Rio de Janeiro – in 2014. Asia and Australia are on his list. And so is that other ‘A’ continent, Antarctica. Believe it or not, there is an annual marathon in Antarctica.
“That’s going to be the most difficult of all,’’ Steinman said. “It’s a journey just to get down there, from what I understand. Not only do you have to take a couple of airplanes, but then they put you on one of those huge ice-breaker ships at the bottom of South Africa and you go sailing straight south as far as you can go until you get down to where those research stations are.’’
And where virtually no one else is.
First, though, Steinman has 20 more states in which to run marathons. Getting this done requires not only physical endurance, but great planning. Steinman looks far ahead to find races that fit into his schedule. He said he has an understanding boss, but he doesn’t want to abuse his freedom.
He is even thinking a little bit about the final marathon, one he wants to be special.
“I’d like to go somewhere fun so that I can invite as many of my family members and friends as possible,’’ Steinman said. “It might be a place like Hawaii, where everybody would want to go and have fun.’’
Except, of course, for Steinman. Even in paradise, he’s sure, running a marathon will not be fun.