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Bob Bussey's Inspiring Story
A 50's Kind of Man and An Inspiration for All of Us

by Darrin Eisman - Rocky Mountain Sports

If you met Bob Bussey today, it would be hard to imagine him as anything but a runner. The 68-year-old Elizabeth, Colorado, resident has been pounding the pavement for more than 20 years and has 61 marathons to his credit.

That is Bussey today, but years ago he was a far different man.

There was a time when he and his drinking buddies would sit around the Central House Bar in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, and just watch all of the action. For over a century, Hopkinton has served as the starting line for the Boston Marathon. And on the third Monday each April—Patriot’s Day—the patrons of the Central House watch as thousands of super-fit marathon runners stream by enroute to the finish line in downtown Boston.

Sure, it was fun to watch, but Bussey could not have imagined, then, that one day he would be on the other side of the barroom window running past the door of his favorite hangout on a 26.2-mile trek to Boston. No, Bussey was content to be “solving all of the world’s problems every Friday night,” with the other regulars at the Central House.

Times change, and eventually Bussey would leave Hopkinton—but the drinking followed him. After a stint in the Air Force, he eventually settled down in Colorado in 1979 with his wife, a career as a computer salesman, and a 7-day-a-week drinking habit.

In 1985, though, Bussey returned to Boston—this time as a runner. Not only had he been sober for three years, he was also 60 pounds lighter, and certainly a lot fitter than he was in his drinking days. He had changed so much, in fact, that when he stopped by his old hangout, most people didn’t recognize him.

“People were shocked,” he recalls, “because I’d gone from 210 pounds to 150.” And when Bussey told them he was in Boston to run the marathon, they didn’t believe it…at first. During the race as Bussey went by his old haunt, a group of longtime regulars gave him a toast and cheered him on.

That was the first of six Boston Marathons for Bussey—a feat in itself—but an even bigger accomplishment was realized in, of all places, Parkersburg, West Virginia, in August of 2002. The News and Sentinel Half-Marathon in Parkersburg was the final stage in Bussey’s quest to run a marathon or half-marathon in each of the 50 states. And when he returned home, he hung the final T-shirt in his basement collection arranged alphabetically by state.

Bussey’s running career began in the much the same way that many Colorado runners have found their way to the sport—with an appearance at Boulder’s Memorial Day classic, the Bolder Boulder.

His son, a cross-country runner at Columbine High School, was going to compete in the race, and Bussey had been recruited to drive him there. Though he had already quit the bottle and had started a walking and running program to shed some weight from his 5 foot 8 inch, 215-pound frame as well as to spend some time with his son, Bussey had not really thought about racing.

“When I started running, I would go and try to ‘train’ with my son, but he wouldn’t go with me at first because I was too slow.”

But on Memorial Day, he found himself on the starting line and was hooked on the sport. Soon after the Bolder Boulder, Bussey began to hit the local race circuit, and it wasn’t long until he was logging 60-80 miles per week. He’d replaced his 7-day-a-week drinking habit with a 7-day-a-week running habit.

In 1983, a year after his first race experience, Bussey had graduated to the marathon. His first shot at the revered 26.2-mile distance was the Denver Marathon, a race which traversed the Mile High City, passing through City Park and the University of Denver before finishing at the Capitol building in downtown Denver.

Bussey notes that he finished around a respectable 3:50 but that the race took everything he had. “When I crossed the finish line, I was wiped out and was lying on my face for 45 minutes,” he recalls with a chuckle. “In fact my wife and my kids were looking for me and couldn’t find me for awhile me because I was lying face down.”

So how did he keep the motivation going to keep training for marathons? “Because I wanted to run Boston,” he says.

Over the next 10 years, Bussey completed 61 marathons in 35 states, by coordinating business trips and RV excursions with nearby races. Sometimes this meant squeezing several races into a very small time period, like the time he raced in Maryland on a Saturday, then drove to Ohio for a Sunday race. Or hitting three races on the drive home from an RV trip to Florida.

By now, Bussey had his sights set on running a marathon in each of the 50 states in the U.S. With 35 already completed, there was a mere 15 to go to reach his goal. Then in 1993, his dream was shattered.

Bussey went under the knife for the first of two back surgeries, with the second coming just a year later. Following the second surgery, doctors advised Bussey to stop running all together, or maybe just a mile a day. “That’s like telling an alcoholic just one drink,” Bussey says.

“I tried not running, and I went through a period of depression,” he recalls, “so I started running again, a little bit at a time.” Well, it wasn’t long before Bussey decided that limiting his racing to half-marathons was a suitable compromise, so he continued his 50-state quest by doing 13.1-mile races in the final 15 states.

And despite the setback, Bussey continued to race—and place—well. In his 50-state challenge, Bussey took home an age-group award in all but three states! Though he now logs just 25 miles per week running, he supplements it with roughly 100 miles per week on the bike. And his next goal? Biking in every state.

“I’d like to do multi-day rides and I’ve already done the Ride the Rockies,” he says. “I’m just a glutton for punishment.”

Darrin Eisman is the running columnist for Rocky.

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