Carrying bear spray as protection against grizzly bears in Wyoming is common for trail runners.
The outlook was slightly different for Mary Ritz during the Northwest Passage Marathon on Somerset Island in Nunavut, Canada.
“I had to carry bear spray for polar bears,” Ritz said.
Didn’t need to use it, at least.
The Cody runner, turning 65 in October, reached an extraordinary goal Aug. 17.
When she entered the Run With The Horses Marathon in Green River, it marked her 307th race of 26.2 miles – marathon length – or longer. Yes, ultra-marathons, from 50 kilometers to 100 miles, were also part of Ritz’s toil.
Ritz, and Marty Sharp, her husband of 35 years, completed a marathon in each of the 50 states in 2013, but rather than prop those well-worn feet up on a soft couch, Ritz took on a more complex and daunting challenge.
As she neared the magic number 307 to match Wyoming’s telephone area code, Ritz planned meticulously. It would not do to hit the milestone anywhere else.
“There aren’t that many marathons in Wyoming,” she said. “I didn’t think of 307 until I got near 300.”
The course was at 6,500-7,000 feet, with views of wild horses running faster, but probably not as far.
“It’s a pretty course,” said Ritz, who placed second in her age group.
Ritz ran her first marathon in 1995 and pretty much never stopped. She was never an Olympic trials contender, but someone who can go forever.
That one-foot-in-front-of-the-other policy works great for her. Just run on, don’t dip into oxygen debt.
Running led to traveling. Ritz has entered exotic races all over the world. One memorable event was in Myanmar, aka Burma. No polar bears there.
“It was 100 degrees and almost 100 percent humidity,” said Ritz, sweating as she passed rice paddies.
“No one was really trying for time,” Ritz said.
That would be survival conditions, not personal-best clocking conditions. How fast can you crawl?
Ritz’s constitution is built to last, much more about stamina than speed. None of her 307 races were 100-meter dashes.
One might think she spends most of her waking minutes running along Cody’s streets, but Ritz isn’t even a high-mileage trainer.
Frequent competitions in marathons and ultras, bicycling and hiking in the hills, keep her fit. Drivers are more likely to see a bunch of Cody High School cross country runners dashing through the community than Ritz.
They would also be more likely to sit next to her on a flight to anywhere. There are no direct flights from Yellowstone Regional Airport to Myanmar, or many other places.
As long as Ritz picked off a marathon in every American state, she thought she might as well try to do the same in every Canadian province or territory. She’s getting there. Nunavut is probably the toughest place to check off and she’s already got that one.
It’s not really feasible to have a life list of doing a marathon in every country in the world. Partially because not every country hosts a marathon. And partially – because some countries would just as soon shoot an American woman runner as hand her a water bottle.
So for those who say there are no limits, those are probably the limits of the possible in this realm.
That said, Ritz has gone where many have not gone before. She has run a marathon in Alaska and one right next door to Mount Everest (a bit more financially and logistically difficult).
The starting line for The Everest Marathon is 17,572 feet above sea level, about the altitude of Base Camp for mountaineers attempting to scale the world’s tallest peak of 29,029 feet.
“Just one ridge over from the Khumbu Icefall,” Ritz said.
The reason why the layman may know of the Khumbu Icefall is because so many climbers and Sherpas meet fatal ends there in avalanches.
Ritz is still racing.
“There is more to come,” she said.
One thing that could become too large a challenge is if Mary Ritz moves to Alaska and goes after that state’s 907 area code worth of marathons.