If anyone knows what it means to be young at heart, it’s Brent Weigner. The 67-year-old from Cheyenne, Wyoming, broke the record in early June for running marathons in the most amount of countries. The Madagascar Marathon made his country count 133. When we spoke for this interview, Weigner was about to catch a plane to Belarus to mark his 134th, where he will run the Belarus-Lithuania International Friendship Marathon on Sunday, July 9.
Weigner was a seventh grade geography teacher and cross-country coach for 35 years before retiring. Even though he kicked traveling and marathoning into high gear after that, he’s been in love with the sport since he ran his first. Next year, he will not only attend his 50-year high school reunion, but he’ll celebrate 50 years of running marathons.
Here are the numbers: Weigner’s first marathon was when he was 18-years-old in 1968, and his first international one was in Mexico in 1974. He has run on all seven continents 10 times (yes, including Antarctica) and has run ultras in the North and South Pole–in show shoes! His goal for this year is to run in 30 countries. His wife, Sue, made Weigner sign a contract that he would only do 12 marathons next year.
Weigner’s end goal is to run in 160 countries, mostly because his friend said he didn’t think it was possible, because not that many countries have marathons.
“He’s wrong,” Weigner said, “because if a country doesn’t have a marathon, you can put one together.”
He isn’t just blowing smoke. Weigner originated the first marathon in St. Kitts & Nevis. At a loss of what to run in January 2018, he created his own marathon in the Turks & Caicos Islands.
While Weigner’s feisty and competitive nature is evident, it’s founded on humility and thankfulness. After beating cancer three times, he’s just glad he’s alive.
“I really do have such a grateful heart,” Weigner said. “God continues to smile on me so I can share the gift of grace and salvation.”
When he was 22, Weigner was prepared to graduate from the University of Northern Colorado after four years of Air Force ROTC and ready to get his commission as a second lieutenant. One day, his commanding officer approached him. Weigner remembers the conversation clearly:
“‘I’m sorry to tell you, but your military career is over. You’ve been classified as a 4-F [medically discharged],’ he said to me. I literally started laughing at the guy, because I was on a track scholarship. ‘Sir, you do know I’m a track star, right?’ And the officer said, ‘No, I know you’re supposed to be dead. Didn’t your parents tell you?’”
Weigner’s parents feared to tell him about his prognosis, which was that he had about six months to a year to live.
Obviously, he recovered, and even with other battles of cancer, has not stopped running since. The second time he was diagnosed, he had a lump on the side of his jaw. After surgery to remove that mass, the left side of his face was paralyzed for six months. And it was during this time he decided to ask his wife of 32 years or her hand in marriage.
“It was the world’s most lame proposal,” Weigner said. “I was talking out the corner of my mouth and said, ‘I don’t know if you’re interested, because I’ll probably never live to see my 40th birthday, but do you want to get married?’ And she said, ‘Okay!’”
Sue, who has battled with knee problems for much of her life, now has two artificial knees. That doesn’t seem to stop her much as she’s done competitive walking and made the podium at the World Senior Games.
Weigner says he’s participated in many memorable marathons. But one of his favorite recent races just happens to be one of the hardest foot races in the world: the Everest Marathon. He ran the beast, which starts off at 17,000 feet, and won for his age group.
So, doesn’t a man approaching his 70s face some injuries from running so aggressively? Yes, and Weigner admits it. To name just a few, he separated his shoulder in the Rome Marathon, he has spinal stenosis, and has foot drop, which allows him to flex one of his feet at only 50 percent. He knows his age shows, especially after noticing 20-second additions to his 5Ks and five to ten minutes to his marathon times.
His solution? Give up the younger, daredevil side (he sold his motorcycle and gave up snowshoe racing, for starters), and just try to be careful. But his competitive nature, and love for the sport, won’t let him quit.
“I run for the same reason birds fly and fish swim. That’s what I do,” Weigner said. “I don’t really know why I like to run. That’s just the way I’m wrapped, I guess. It makes me smile.”
This article first appeared on Runner's World.