Before he met Gwen, Yasir Salem would do a handful of crazy things per year. Everybody does a handful of crazy things per year. You could even have called Yasir Salem a normal guy, but relationships have a way of uncovering the wacky truth beneath the surface. Dating and subsequently marrying Gwen unlocked Yasir’s odd and true self.
Inspired by his wife’s freewheeling, aspirational side, Yasir became a competitive athlete and a world class competitive eater. He ran his first marathon. He set the world record for eating Corn on The Cob (47 ears in 12 minutes) and won 13 of the most prestigious Doughnut Eating + Cycling races in the country (google Tour De Doughnut if your interest is piqued, but trust me, this is no joy-ride). He’s a many-time Iron Man, and owns beyond any doubt his self anointed title of ‘The World’s #1 Speed Eater Ultra-Athlete.’
Every December, following a personal tradition Gwen had maintained since her youth, the pair would sit down and plan their next year. Goals, crazy ambitions, dream vacations - whatever they wanted to make happen in the 12 months. Then, they’d find a way to make those dreams real - 52 week deadline, no excuses.
In 2008, Gwen was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Running had brought them together through tough times, so the pair set the goal to train for and race the New York City marathon. She battled her cancer into remission, and from 2010 to 2017, they raced the 5 boroughs together, every year.
In early 2018, Gwen’s cancer returned, this time in her lungs, and she passed away. That fall, Yasir sat down, and for the first time in eleven years, planned his next twelve months alone. He decided that he was going to do something to honor his late wife, so he set the goal of running 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 weeks. He would turn the challenge into a vehicle to raise money for lung cancer early detection research.
“I knew deep inside after sitting down and asking myself what would move the needle for me in the grieving process. I knew I had to run through it; I had to sweat it out.”
The logistical challenges were enormous. He spent every weekend sleeping on flights, running marathons, and Yo-Yo-ing back to New York city keep up with his job in advertising. He began to bundle marathons, running 26.2 on both Saturday and Sunday to avoid, for example, multiple trips to North and South Dakota.
I asked how runners around the country took to him and his mission. Yasir said he initially wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but he found that in the best way, “runners, we’re all the same. We welcome each other in. We all wear the same shoes. We all love to have a beer after the race and talk training.” From Louisiana to Montana to Hawaii, America’s running communities brought Yasir in and propped him up every weekend despite his growing fatigue.
Obviously, running a marathon, or two, every weekend is incredibly hard on the body. To recover and keep himself in one piece, he focused on cross training - often cycling during the week rather than running - and maintaining a high level of flexibility by stretching and foam rolling. He’s also passionate about nutrition and eats a super clean, strict vegetarian diet.
“I wanted to be sure that moving my body was still emotionally satisfying, so I kept running to the weekends and rode my bike during the week”
The weeks and the miles went by. He ran. He grieved. And in New York two weeks ago, he completed the challenge. 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 weeks.
Now that it’s done, Yasir talks about the journey as if he’s sweat out all that can be sweat out - as if the grieving process, and this year of marathons, has brought him to a better place. The love of adventure and passion for a cause that deeply touched his life - that will never leave him.
“It’s exciting for me to do like wacky, crazy things like this. So I don't think that'll ever go away.”
In 2020, he’ll run all 6 World Marathon Majors. This feat is rarely attempted within one calendar year due to the logistical difficulty (Yasir chuckled as he said this). He’ll be raising $25,000 per marathon to help write grants to researchers working in the field of Lung Cancer early detection.
Yasir is a man who’s mastered the art of Running Forever, so he will be part of the first testing group of the Recover app when it hits the app store this winter. He’s gearing up for a big year and would love if the Recover Community joined him on his journey to run the 6 big marathons and raise $150,000 to fund Oncologists working on research to improve reliability, ease, and access to early detection for lung cancer. Follow Yasir Salem and the Gwen Man Foundation on social media. If you’re moved to donate, you can do so here. Excited to have Yasir and the foundation along for the ride and thrilled to watch him crush the six stars in 2020.