Twelve hours after logging her usual eight-mile run, Brooke Curran runs easily along the National Mall, exhibiting the mile-devouring lope that she has perfected running more than 60 marathons across the world over the last four years.
“I can drink a whole pot of coffee, but nothing makes me feel more alert than going for a run,” said Curran, 44, dressed in a white tank top, running shorts and a pair of pink and black running shoes.
Nine years after she ran her first marathon, and a little over four years since she began raising money for her non-profit fund, the RunningBrooke Fund, after 2,500 marathon miles and tens of thousands of more in training runs, Curran has four marathons - just 104.8 miles – left.
In October, assuming injuries or world events don’t sideline her, Curran will finish the Des Moines marathon. The race will complete her quest to run a marathon on every continent and in every state, as well as the five “World Marathon Majors,” the marathons in Boston, New York, Chicago, Berlin, and London. (A sixth, Tokyo, joined the Majors for the 2013 season, well after she came up with her goal.)
In the process, she’s raised more than $200,000 for local Virginia charities. Her quest has taken her from Mississippi to Berlin, from London to Antarctica.
“I’m kind of in disbelief,” she said, in a recent interview. “When I set out to do this it seemed so far off in the distance.”
She has come a long way as a runner as well, she said.
“In high school and college, I was a little slacker, a pack-a-day smoker,” she said, laughing, in a recent interview.
She started running as a new mother, in her late 20’s, she said.
“It was the only thing I could do - put some shoes on, and get 30 minutes of alone time-sort of-thing... I was an average every day person looking to get a little energy.”
The 9/11 attacks changed that.
She watched the smoke rising from the shattered shell of the Pentagon, sitting on the steps of her townhouse in Alexandria.
She remembers thinking, “Holy smokes, life is short and vicarious, I’d better get out there and start doing it,” she said.
That led to her first marathon, something “I could quickly check off” the bucket list.
She competed in her first marathon Marine Corps Marathon in 2004, she said, but was so unsatisfied with her time - 4:24 - that she ran another. And another. “I knew I was a whole lot fitter than that number reflected,” she said.
Her times and fitness improved, and soon she was placing or winning her age group, running one in 3:09 in 2009.
But even as she began to excel, there was a disconnect, Curran said.
“The harder I trained the better got, the less it meant for me,” she said. After crossing the finish line, she said she would feel “literally nothing, void of any emotion.”
And then she had another moment like what she experienced during the 9/11 attacks, while she was driving through a poorer section of Alexandria, which she described as a “look around and make sure your car doors were locked” neighborhood.
She had just dropped off one of her daughters at a soccer camp.
“Literally, this was two miles from home. ... I realized I can’t be the person that drives away and forgets about everything I just saw,” she said.
“Nothing’s worse than doing nothing,” she said.
After thinking about a suitable fund-raising challenge during a couple of long runs, she had a conversation with Mike Wardian, a fellow marathoner and an ultra-runner, she said.
“A marathon a month,” he suggested.
“I’m impressed she’s taken it as far as she has,” he said recently. “I wasn’t really sure how that would work, but it’s been great to see.”
The challenge she came up with — marathons on every continent, every state, plus the world majors — has worked out to being a marathon a month for over five years. Curran’s attorney husband, Chris, remembers her telling him about the idea in the kitchen. “She was more informing me than seeking my consent,” he said.
“It sounded ambitious,” he said. “It sounded expensive. I joked all along, it was the Running Broke Fund,” he said. “We pay for everything, so all the money she raises goes directly to charity.”
And she has passed him as the fittest family member.
“I think before she started running seriously ... I was in better shape than she was,” he said.
“Now it’s not even a fair comparison,” he said. “She brings a military style discipline to her running and her fitness. She’s never missed a month. You figure, normal things in life, something would come up to stop her from getting to [a marathon]. It hasn’t happened! She literally hasn’t missed a marathon a month since she started this idea. I’m surprised and impressed she pulled this off,” he said.
A lot of her training happens in and around D.C.
“It’s the best, of course. We get the seasons. We get the river. The monuments. It’s certainly not boring,” she said.
Much of her running comes along the Mt. Vernon Trail. “I find it peaceful,” she said. “I see wildlife, I feel closer to nature there, you can notice the change of seasons better.”
The money she has raised so far – more than $200,000 - goes to Alexandria-based non-profits that help kids get to school, stay in school, and promote outdoor activities for youth, she said. She volunteers at some of the organizations as well as donating funds to them. It’s a “full-time job,” her husband said. Most of the money comes from direct appeals and relationships with local businesses, or events that she has partnered with, like the Alexandria marathon.
The charities are: ACT for Alexandria, Child & Family Network Centers, Community Lodgings, Girls on the Run, and The Reading Connection.
“I think her story is a wonderful story, a tremendous story,” said John Porter, executive director of ACT for Alexandria, which helps Curran direct the money she raises to other local non profits.
“She’s done a wonderful job of raising consciousness of people who might just drive down street and ignore what’s going on,” said Margaret Patterson, the Executive Director and CEO of the Child & Family Network Centers.
“Very few people use running to directly affect people,” she said.
Some of the money goes to helping kids through preschool and social services for their families, Curran said. One grant her fund provided will help 10 kids go to summer camp next year. Another will cover the cost of revitalizing two playgrounds in Alexandria. The money she raises only goes to programming, she said.
Curran trains hard for 10 to 12 days a month, tapering or recovering the rest of the time. She logs about 65 to 80 miles a week, she says. Every time she stands at the starting line, she says she still thinks, “Can I do this?” “Then I’m like… Don’t be ridiculous, you’ve done this 61 times. But it’s still 26.2 miles. You’ve got to respect that distance.”
There’s a marathon Aug. 17 in Wyoming. Barring a world crisis, she’ll run a marathon in Ghana after that, and then one in Portland, Maine.
Then, on Oct. 20, she will complete her challenge when he crosses the finish line in Des Moines, her 50th state, where she will “jump up and down in the air for five minutes.” And then, just for kicks, she will run the Marine Corps Marathon, with 27 other people, full circle from that slow, first marathon she ran almost a decade ago.
But that’s just phase one. Her goals are shifting. There’s that marathon in Tokyo that recently joined the Majors. A new financial goal of $1 million for charity. A hundred marathons.
“I feel like I need to do an Ironman... Then I kind of need to get a 100-miler under my belt... I’m going to have to run that.”
And there’s a marathon that takes place on a frozen ice sheet at the North Pole.
“Maybe I need to add that,” she said.
Just after finishing her run, she chatted briefly with a woman walking out of the Smithsonian Metro.
“You look like you spend some time in the gym,” the woman said.
“Yea, a little,” she said.