More than 39 years ago, Linda Ballard would head to McKinley Park in Chicago to run every day, especially after she spotted a handsome runner. She had no idea that the stranger was also timing his runs in the hopes of bumping into her. Running turned into dating and the pair married in 1982 and had a daughter. Little did Linda and James "Jim" Ballard know that their meet-cute would result in them completing 100 marathons together — with No. 100 being Sunday’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
“I would go one way and Jim would be running the other way,” Linda Ballard, 61, of Chandler, Arizona, told TODAY. “We started running together.”
While they first started running to keep fit, Linda Ballard signed up for the Honolulu Marathon. After she finished, Jim Ballard said he’d also like to run one and they started entering marathons together.
“He started running longer,” Linda Ballard explained. “It just progressed. We started little by little.”
The first marathon they ran together was the 1981 Chicago Marathon. Then they began traveling to other nearby states for marathons. Due to Linda Ballard’s job with an airline, the family moved to Arizona and it soon became convenient for them to travel to marathons across the United States and the world.
“It was easier to get around to the West Coast and different places,” Linda Ballard said. “We go to different states and do different things. It’s nice because you get to see so much of the state that you would have never gone to.”
The couple said that over the years they have run marathons in 40 states and numerous countries, including Iceland, Ireland and Greece. While they sometimes run together, they have learned when one wants to run alone. Jim Ballard’s fastest time was 3 hours and 30 minutes, which allowed him to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Linda Ballard’s quickest pace was 3 hours 40 minutes.
While they’re thrilled they completed their 100th race, they’re not finished with their goals. They’d like to run a marathon in all 50 states.
“We’re about the experiencing and enjoying ourselves for everything that we do. We don’t want to just get in and out of some place to just go get it done — unless there’s no reason to be there and we haven’t found a city like that yet,” Linda Ballard said.
There have been some races where one of them couldn’t run, like a Disney marathon that Jim Ballard was too sick to complete. He was still at the finish line cheering for his wife. They both have running groups that they train with, but do sometimes run with each other. They believe that running bolsters their relationship.
“You learn that you can get through anything,” Linda Ballard said. “It’s just spending the time talking after a busy day then laughing about things together when you’re running.”
At 70, Jim Ballard doesn’t take any medications. But running hasn’t just helped the two of them stay in shape.
“You learn that you’re tougher than what you think. That you can do anything. It’s not just physical running — it’s a lot of mental things too,” Linda Ballard said.
They also lift weights and kayak, which helps them maintain muscle mass as they age.
“We’re not pounding the same muscles and getting injured,” Linda Ballard said.
They two are glad they were able to have their hometown of Chicago as their milestone marathon.
“When I think about that, I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe we’re doing our 100th marathon. It is a feat for someone to do one or two marathons in their lifetime,” Linda Ballard said. “To think we’ve done 100 is really amazing.”