The 31st Annual Marine Corps Marathon should be a walk in the park for ultra-marathon runner Norm Albert, who’s been known to take endurance to the extreme.
Albert, 49, of Dumfries is one of 12 runners participating in the marathon under the name “Team Azalea Charities” to raise funds to support the charity’s Aid for Wounded Soldiers Project.
The group is the Azalea Charities’ first-ever team participating in the Marine Corps Marathon Charity Partnership Program, created as a fundraising platform for agencies helping those in need. Funds raised help with direct assistance, education and research.
“I’m pretty proud of the team we put together,” said Albert, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force who’s made a habit of setting endurance records.
Based in Northern Virginia, the Azalea Charities serve as a non-profit organization working to raise money to benefit youth and special needs projects.
Albert said his team set a goal to raise $20,000, with members having raised about $9,000 so far. If the team reaches its goal, a donor in Switzerland has pledged to match the $20,000, he added.
Funds will be used to help wounded soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, said Albert, who explained that the Azalea Charities work with the American Red Cross and area veterans’ hospitals to supply wounded military members with toiletries, clothes, luggage and even electronic equipment like CD and DVD players for use during hospitalization.
“We’ve purchased over a million phone-card minutes, too,” Albert said.
“Team Azalea Charities” will run among thousands of participants and dozens of charity teams when the Marine Corps Marathon kicks off Oct. 29 in Arlington. From there, the course will wind through Rosslyn and into Washington, D.C., as runners pass landmarks including the Washington Monument, the U.S. Capitol and the Jefferson Memorial.
Participants are running to benefit charities including the American Lung Association, the Lombardi Cancer Center, the Whitman-Walker Clinic, which benefits AIDS patients, and the ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) Association.
For Albert, a 26-year member of the Air Force, the course may seem slight. That’s because in his lifetime, he’s run more than 100 races and about 35 ultra-marathons.
An ultra-marathon is defined as any running event longer than the traditional marathon length of 26.2 miles, but Albert noted they’re typically between 31 and 100 miles long.
Stationed at the National Reconnaissance Office in Chantilly, Albert has one daughter – 17-year-old Katy Albert, who attends Forest Park High School.
During his own high school days, Albert thrived as a long-distance swimmer. But when he moved on to Penn State University in Pennsylvania, he didn’t make the swim team.
Despite the setback, Albert became a marathon swimmer, making time to set a couple of Guinness Book records along the way.
It started when his sister sent him a clipping from an article on treading water. Having read it, Albert decided to attempt to break the record, and soon earned himself a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for treading water the longest.
He set the record at 52 hours, and a year later set the record again at 64 hours.
In 1979, Albert tried to swim the English Channel but experienced hypothermia partway and couldn’t complete the goal.
He later became the first person to swim around Terminal Island off Long Beach, Calif.
And he twice swam from San Pedro, Calif., to Catalina Island – a 26-hour feat.
Albert, having traveled to Hawaii, also became the first person to swim from Lanai to Maui – an investment of approximately 11 hours.
In another swimming contest, Albert found himself racing 28 miles around Manhattan Island against 12 competitors. He placed second in the race.
Last year, Albert participated in the Badwater Ultra-Marathon, which is billed as “one of the most demanding and extreme running races on the planet.” Starting at Badwater, Death Valley, the race covers 135 miles and ends at Mount Whitney in California.
Albert finished in just under 43 hours – more than five hours quicker than his 48-hour goal.
So when Albert runs the Marine Corps Marathon, it may not be among the most unique of his accomplishments, but it’s sure to be a meaningful one. Albert said that when he finishes a run, he feels a great sense of accomplishment as most runners do.
Most run races to push themselves, and not necessarily to compete, said Albert, who enjoys the serenity of running on trails when he’s not running in an organized race.
Albert said that many people who run marathons train about 50 to 60 miles a week and those who run ultra-marathons train about 75 miles a week. In contrast, Albert said he doesn’t necessarily throw himself into running as much as the typical serious runner.
He prefers to balance home life and work demands with his love for running. He’ll run 25 to 35 miles per week when he trains and on the weekend will participate in a 20- to 25-miler.
Albert stressed that a big part of running is mental, and depends on nutrition. Runners typically burn 100 calories per mile, he said.
“You get 15, 20 miles without nutrition and you’ll hit a wall,” Albert noted, suggesting that first-time marathon runners take advantage of all food and beverage stations, stocking up on oranges and bananas or whatever is offered there.
“Stay positive and keep moving,” he advised. “Just keep trucking.”
Tracy Bell is a staff reporter for the Stafford County Sun.
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