University alum Rob Toonkel will be returning to Michigan from
his home in Washington to run his 50th marathon Oct. 24 in Detroit.
His 49th will be the Mt. Desert Island Marathon in Maine a week

Janna Hutz
Alum Rob Toonkel runs in one of his 48 marathons to date. He plans to run two more before he turns 30, something only eight other Americans have done. (Courtesy of Montgomery County Road Runners Club)

“It’s kind of unbelievable. If you had told me when
I started that I was going to run 50 marathons, I would have said
you were crazy,” Toonkel said. He added that he’ll
become the ninth American ever to do so before the age of 30.

“It feels special to be in such a unique group. It’s
something everyone should strive for, to be the greatest at
something. Just having a talent and putting all your energy into
it,” he said.

Toonkel, who graduated from the Business School in 1997, said he
hated running until he ran his first race in 1994. His father ran
in the New York City Marathon in 1983, and Toonkel said the medal
his father won in that marathon was what inspired him to start
running races.

“That medal hanging up in my parent’s room, to me,
that was Olympic gold.”

Toonkel ran the New York Marathon himself in 1998. Now he calls
that his most memorable race. “That had been my goal from day
one. To go through the city and see all of it, the crowds and
everyone cheering … it was a thrill.”

From running through a dirt farm in North Dakota to running in
the middle of an Alabama thunderstorm, Toonkel has had a variety of
experiences in marathons in 38 states and the District of Columbia.
The journey to 50 marathons has cost him $2,299 in entry fees so
far, and required 41,448 miles of travel.

Toonkel wakes up year-round at 5 a.m. every morning and runs
about seven to 10 miles. In total, he says he has run about 15,000
miles in preparation, and has burned through 22 pairs of running

Coincidentally, the same week Toonkel runs the Detroit Marathon
— his 50th race — he will also make his 50th donation
to the American Red Cross. One year after having surgery on a
herniated disc in May 2000, he began giving blood. A year later, he
started donating platelets as well, and after one more year he
began volunteering at the George Washington University Hospital in
Washington. The week of his 50th marathon and 50th donation will
also contain his 500th volunteer hour.

“It just fell like that. Every year I try to add something
to the mix,” Toonkel said.

As for post-marathon plans, Toonkel said he will celebrate by
going out with some friends from Michigan and just enjoying the
event. After that, he’s heading toward 100 marathons.
“I do plan to get there at some point, but I think the goal
is just to keep living every day to the fullest, to keep going and
being sure to do the things that you love,” he said.

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