....in the ensuing years Joe became bored with just exercising and started running. By 2005, now down to 160 pounds, Joe ran his first marathon and a new passion for long distance running was born. Just as he traveled to pursue his bird watching passion, Joe traveled as part of his new passion, first visiting different states to run marathons and then establishing a goal to run a marathon in all fifty states. Eileen had also started running and sometimes traveled with Joe on his running trips; other times Eileen would leave Joe at home and join her siblings who liked to travel on cruise ships. Eileen sailed on three cruises without Joe, and of course she would rave to Joe about the wonders of cruising after each one. Eileen pointed out to Joe that each ship she had cruised on had a running track, so he would not have to miss his running if he joined her on a cruise. Joe reluctantly agreed to accompany Eileen if she acquiesced to one condition: on the first night of the sailing, he would get out of bed shortly after midnight and run the 26.2-mile marathon distance before the deck became populated with sunbathers, lounge chairs were moved into positions that can obstruct runners, and the running track became congested with casual walkers and joggers. Eileen was elated, and in January 2008, Eileen, Joe and some family members embarked on Joe’s first cruise, sailing Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas from Miami....
Late on the night of embarkation, Joe changed into his running gear, quietly so as to not disturb a sleeping Eileen, and at around 1:30 in the morning he went up to Deck 12 to the running track. Not that long prior the sports deck had been busy with first night cruisers milling about or lounging and enjoying the views of the ocean. Now chairs were strewn about with empty glasses and bottles sitting beside them, and the deck was stained where drinks had been spilled. The reddish-brown tinted, lightly padded, almost one-quarter mile running track circled the perimeter of the deck and offered exquisite ocean views—when the sun came up. Joe was not up there for the view.
Exactly four-and-a-half hours after stepping foot on the track in the darkness, Joe had finished his first cruise ship marathon-distance run. Joe had circled the track for 118 laps, and the “marathoner of the seas” legend was born. The sun had not yet risen.
...after several cruises, Joe began to entertain the notion of running a marathon-distance on all of the Royal Caribbean ships. Such an audacious goal was not uncharacteristic for Joe. After all, before he caught the cruise bug, he was on his way to running a marathon in every state. So, he and Eileen began planning Royal Caribbean cruises, especially paying attention to ship locations and ports of call—as that would influence what birds might be in the area that Joe could add to his sighting list. Joe lined up local bird guides in some of the ports; not only did he get his runs in, Joe saw many of the birds that are endemic to the Caribbean and Central America. How wonderful it must be to be able to meld multiple passions!
In the first four years of Joe joining Eileen to cruise on Royal Caribbean, they cruised eight times. Joe logged many more than the 210 miles resulting from running a marathon distance on those eight Royal Caribbean running tracks. He did not limit himself to only running the 26.2 miles on each cruise, usually choosing to run at least a few other mornings. Most of those eight cruises were in the Caribbean and the Bahamas. One of them, however, was an Alaskan cruise. Joe, Eileen and their son Mike flew to Anchorage. Prior to embarking on the Radiance of the Seas they spent a week visiting Denali before taking the train to Seward to board the southbound cruise. During that pre-cruise week, they each ran in a local marathon, Joe the full 26.2-mile distance, while Eileen and Mike ran a half-marathon. As opposed to Caribbean cruising, a cold water Alaskan cruise definitely presented some physical challenges for Joe’s cruise ship marathon-distance running...
....On another cruise, Legend of the Seas from Quebec to Florida, the winds and seas were such that the ship’s Captain shut down the running track for the first couple of days, disrupting Joe’s routine of doing his run on the first night of the cruise. One of the cruise ports of call was in Boston. The weather had calmed by the time Legend of the Seas ported in Boston. Instead of running in the middle of the night, while most of the passengers were touring Boston, Joe went up to the sports deck and ran his 26.2 miles. As best as can be determined, Joe is the only person who has run both the Boston Marathon and a Boston Harbor “marathon” on a cruise ship.
Read the complete chapter “Marathoner of the Seas: Joe Church” in The Joy of Cruising. Available in March; preorder soon!