ST. PETERSBURG — When Jill Hill gets out her calendar to plan a vacation, she doesn't care about amusement parks or luxury resorts. She's looking to run.
"It's been really great for the whole family," said the 51-year-old marathoner. "We've been all over the place."
Hill, a social studies teacher at the Canterbury School of Florida, stumbled into marathons by accident.
"I had signed up for a half-marathon in Tallahassee," she said. "But the day of the race, there were thunderstorms and tornadoes, so they canceled it."
The race organizers said she could apply her entry fee to the following year's race, or to a full marathon scheduled for just a couple of months later in Tallahassee.
"I figured that I had a couple of months to train," she said. "So why not."
That first 26.2-mile race was in 2003. Since then, Hill has run marathons in 27 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. "My goal is to make one in all 50," she explained. "I figure I have plenty of time."
"Marathoners tend to peak later in life," she continued. "I plan to still be running marathons when I am 75."
Hill's husband, Paul, a former Marine aviator, now works as a commercial airline pilot so she flies for free. He and 19-year-old daughter Evan like to run, so it isn't hard to persuade the family to accompany her.
"Most marathons have other races associated with them … 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons … so there is something for them to do," she said of family members who don't want to do the full marathon.
Hill has also ventured off by herself — as when she did the Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands Missile Range, N.M.
"I had to sleep in a little pup tent in the middle of the desert," Hill said. "It was pretty serious."
She met some real characters on the course, including a long-distance truck driver, who told her everything she could ever want to know about the nation's interstate transportation system.
"I told him I couldn't talk because I would use up all my oxygen and not be able to run," she recalled. "But I also told him that I was a good listener, which helps pass the time."
If you think you could never do a marathon in 2013, Hill would try and talk you out of that notion. With planning and discipline, Hill thinks many people could surprise themselves.
"It is easy to overtrain," she said. "But I have been able to cross-train with walking and I think that has helped me avoid injury."
The best bet for somebody just starting out is to join an organized group. Hill has trained with USA Fit Tampa Bay, which usually starts its program in the summer with a target marathon in winter or spring.
"It really makes a big difference," she said. "The training is much easier when you are part of a group."
Terry Tomalin can be reached at [email protected]