It was a perfect day for running 26.2 miles at age 68 through a drizzling upstate New York.
Ken Chestek set off from the Adirondack Marathon starting line with about two dozen other runners in the early wave of what would become a 200-person race. Their hearts pounded and their breath cycled like his, but he quickly tuned them out, pattering up and down a couple daunting hills.
A second wave of marathoners joined the race; some of them started to eclipse him. But the new runners’ energy also helped power him forward.
When the racers merged with a league of half-marathoners running a shorter, 13.1-mile race, Chestek eyed the newcomers and found people to overtake, one at a time.
The line of athletes distended over 4 miles of a single highway lane while cars clustered in the remaining lane, waiting for their police signal to funnel through. Chestek rambled into the tiny lakeside town of Schroon.
His legs ached dully, but it was his lungs that cinched as he pressed on to the finish line.
Then Chestek did something he hadn’t done in his dozens of marathons prior: he got emotional. It took him about 25 years, but he had just finished a goal of running at least one marathon in every U.S. state.
The announcer called out Chestek’s accomplishment over the loudspeaker as he crossed the finish line.
“I got so choked up,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “That had never happened before. And because I couldn’t talk, my wife thought I was in some serious stress. But I was just emotional.”
That was in October 2021, but Chestek, a Democratic delegate to the Wyoming Legislature for the town of Laramie and a University of Wyoming law professor, is still running.
Streakers, Sort Of
Now almost 70, he finished his 25th Flying Pig Marathon last month in his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Chestek’s run more than 90 marathons, but the Flying Pig is special because it draws him home, and because he’s one of a few remaining members of the Flying Pig Streakers Club — runners who have finished that marathon every year without fail since its 1998 inception. They don’t go streaking in the take-off-your-clothes-for-attention sense, but they’re on a 25-year streak of conquering the same 26 miles every year, no matter what.
There were 200 streakers in the race’s early days. About 70 remain.
“It’s a fun race with a sense of humor,” said Chestek.
People in pig costumes gather around the finish line to cheer on the finishers, a tribute to Cincinnati’s history as a “Porkopolis” center of pork trade.
Chestek fought the old pain of a blown hamstring to run his 24th and 25th Flying Pigs after a treacherous Wyoming ice patch felled him in February 2022. Unwilling to lose his streaker status, he walked the course in 2022, forging through the pain.
This year he ran, walked and trotted the course.
Police “arrested,” or paused, the runners because of a lightning and hailstorm, making them wait it out in a parking garage.
Chestek, a trial attorney and now law professor, couldn’t help the play on words.
“I got arrested on the course by the police for streaking,” he said with a chuckle. “But no charges were filed.”
He blew his wife Robin a kiss as he crossed the finish line.
Chestek wasn’t an athlete in high school or college.
He started running in his late 30s because his then-wife approved of the sport and its flexible schedule.
It was as innocuous as that.
But putting one foot in front of the other for more than three decades is surprisingly lucid. Chestek learned that he could work out the problems of the courtroom and classroom, and life, while out on the road.
“When I’m out running my body is doing something monotonous,” he said. His feet alternate. Blood pumps through his body.
“My brain can wander off. It’s not daydreaming. It’s thinking — an opportunity to think about and explore ideas,” said Chestek. “It’s something I really enjoy.”
In the early years he pushed himself and often experienced that elusive phenomenon, runner’s high, which he described as the simple euphoria of having accomplished something.
But now it’s enough just to run.
“At my age, I want to be a little more careful,” he said.
Chestek runs or walks about 3 or 4 miles a day now, not counting rest days, but will throw in a 15-miler every so often.
Ah, Why Not?
When Chestek had raced about seven marathons in five different states, one of his running friends suggested he go for all 50.
That was back when runners plotted together on a health and fitness page in Compuserve, a precursor to the internet browsers in use today.
Chestek met his wife Robin on the runner’s forum as well. She doesn’t run anymore, he said, but she walks hundreds of miles with him in their mountain-rimmed hometown of Laramie, to which the pair moved from Pennsylvania 11 years ago.
Chestek’s best marathon time was at the Dallas Whiterock Marathon in 1996: 3 hours, 37 minutes. It was his first time trying the Jeff Galloway marathon method of running for nine minutes and walking for one, he added.
“I was never in contention for a medal, but toward the front of the bell curve of the finish pack,” he said. “And I’ve been getting slower ever since.”
Then there was the toughest race: The Crater Lake Rim Run in Oregon, 1998.
It was the Chestek couple’s honeymoon. But Robin, as another runner, didn’t mind sharing her special trip with a race that turned her new husband’s legs to jelly and sickened his lungs.
Chestek had been training at sea level in Pennsylvania, but the rim around Crater Lake tops out at about 8,000 feet.
There’s no flat place on that course, only a jagged odyssey of ups and downs.
Eight downhill miles launched Chestek to the 23rdmile, and he grinned and waved to his new wife, telling her it wouldn’t be long before she could meet him at the finish line.
Then the world tipped its head back.
“As soon as I turned and lost sight of her we started the uphill, and I crashed,” he said. “I had to walk every step of the last three miles.”
He crested the uphill stretch just before the finish, started to run, and nearly fainted in a woozy rush.
Robin Chestek scanned the crowd for her husband.
“She was about ready to call the course to see if I’d died,” said Chestek with a laugh. “I didn’t.”
He trudged through the finish line with no sensation in his arms.
Chestek usually has a comfortable relationship with hills, he said. But Crater Rim was just devious.
“That was a tough race,” he said.
No Voodoo, Though
Chestek doesn’t turn existential about good-luck charms and secret stretches; he doesn’t commune with runner-shamans in the desert.
The secret to his 35-year run is, there is no secret. He just thanks his good genes and keeps moving forward.
“My biomechanics are pretty good. That’s just genetics. That’s not advice that’s actionable,” he said.
He said perseverance is powerful, and with it, people can accomplish more than they think.
Despite the pain, the injuries, the long miles and altitude shifts, Chestek isn’t about to give the sport up now.
“This is going to sound weird except to another runner,” he said, “but it’s relaxing.”
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.