Fifty by 50 is the mantra that guides Brita Hampton's fitness regimen. Translated, her goal is to run 50 half marathons, one in each state, before she turns 50. As she's now clipping out at least four a year with the necessary geographic range, the 39-year-old science education administrator is well on target.
The last time we talked to Hampton, in June 2011, she had just completed her ninth state at the Covered Bridge Half-Marathon in Vermont. Now she's up to 11, with several more planned for 2012 — including an additional one in South Africa. "Now I'm wondering which I'll finish first — the seven continents or the 50 states," she muses, seemingly serious. "Then it will be just five more continents." (And yes, Antarctica does host races. "The running gear will be interesting to say the least," she says.)
The 50/50 goal might not be unusual among committed runners, but Hampton has a chronic health condition that poses a real challenge. In 1998 she was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder, ITP (idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura), similar to hemophilia. With a platelet count that hovers around 50 — normal counts are in the hundreds of thousands — her blood doesn't clot properly and she's prone to internal bleeding.
Rather than be a prisoner to the disease, Hampton ignored doctors' instructions to cease all activity for fear of an accident, and took up running. A lifelong athlete and competitive volleyball player, Hampton's interest was sparked by her husband, John Russell, and encouraged by her father. She ran her first half-marathon with him and one of her brothers in Indianapolis in 2002.
Since then, she and Russell have picked races by a variety of factors in addition to adding to the state roster; most revolve around visiting family or returning to places with sentimental ties. In September, they headed to Erie, Pa., to run on Presque Isle. "The scenery was just stunning. It's where I went to college so John got to see Mercyhurst," says Hampton. While attending college there, Hampton gave up her intention to become a nun with the Poor Clare's and started to pursue a career in education. She described it previously as "a very painful decision."
A couple of months after Pennsylvania, the duo headed to Springfield, Mo., where one of Hampton's brother's lives.
It's not just family considerations that come into play, though. Hampton and Russell also seek out races with inventive names. This year, breaking their general rule of heading north in the summer and south in the winter, they'll head to Georgia in July for the "Make it by Midnight" half-marathon.
And, for Hampton, one of the attractions of the race in a game reserve outside Johannesburg in South Africa in June is "The Big Five" moniker — "They're the big five animals that eat people, lions, cheetahs, water buffalo, rhinoceroses, and I forget the fifth!" she says cheerfully, adding that they'll have armed chaperones for safety. She's doing it to accompany a friend and she's anticipating perfect running weather with temperatures in the sixties.
Partly because of this 10-day excursion, the couple is also looking for outings where they can make quick weekend getaways: On the list of potentials are Connecticut in April, Delaware in May and New Jersey in August.
In one concession to her health, Hampton wears an unobtrusive ID bracelet to alert medics to her condition. And, in December, for her birthday and Christmas, Russell gave her a new race watch with a heart monitor, so she can be more in tune with what's happening. "At 180 an alarm on the watch tells me when I get there," she says.
Lean and muscled, the 5-foot-10 Hampton woman cross-trains with volleyball in addition to doing cardio and strength exercises with a personal trainer. And recently she added once-weekly yoga to her workouts. "It's neat. I've always done meditation. This is a different way to stretch," she says.