In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

January 21, 2020

After Heart Surgery, Man Runs 50 Marathons in 50 States

By In the Loop

Jeff Jensen was training for his first marathon when his doctor discovered a heart murmur that led to surgery to replace a valve. A year later he was able to run the 26.2 mile race, and hasn't stopped since.


Jeff Jensen walked into his doctor's office with a sore foot. He'd been training for the Walt Disney World Marathon — his first attempt at the 26.2-mile distance — and thought he had a stress fracture. But Jeff's foot isn't what caught his doctor's attention. "He had a huge, very loud heart murmur," Mark Brumm, M.D. tells the La Crosse Tribune. Dr. Brumm, a family medicine physician at Mayo Clinic Health System, told Jeff to take a break from running until after testing to determine the cause of the murmur.

"I went home and told my wife, 'These people are crazy. I feel great,'" Jeff, a respiratory therapist at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, Wisconsin, tells us. So he kept running. But the next week, an echocardiogram would reveal a bicuspid aortic valve, stopping Jeff in his tracks. He was told he'd need surgery to replace the valve. "The day we were supposed to run the marathon we were meeting with a surgeon at Mayo Clinic," he says.

Jeff's surgery and recovery went well — so well that he was able to run the Walt Disney World Marathon the very next year. Afterward, he donated his finisher's medal to Mayo Clinic, where it hangs in a cabinet on the cardiac floor. "They did a good job for me and we wanted to pay it forward," Jeff says. "We felt it would be a good way to inspire others."

Jeff followed that first marathon with another in Green Bay. And then one in Memphis. Soon, Jeff and his running partner, his wife, Toni, set a goal: To run a marathon in every state. "We both like to travel," Jeff says by way of explanation. (And to run, we presume.)

Over the next dozen years, Jeff and Toni "amped up their running, tackling up to nine marathons in a single year and averaging six annually," the Tribune reports. Among Jeff's favorites are the Marine Corps Marathon ("You get to run down the National Mall and at the finish line you get your medal from an active duty Marine"); the Jackson Hole Marathon ("We love to hike"); and the Bataan Memorial Death March. (It's as grueling as it sounds. And also deeply meaningful, according to Jeff.)

In November, nearly a dozen years after that first marathon, Jeff and Toni "crossed the finish line in their 50th state," the tribune reports, finishing the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon with "a crew of about 20 friends" along to cheer them on. It was an exciting accomplishment, Jeff tells us, and one he and Toni again plan to share with Mayo Clinic. "We want to give my medal to Mayo to show we made our goal," Jeff says. "We hope my story can serve as motivation to others, to show people what's possible."

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Tags: Bicuspid Aortic Valve, Cardiovascular Surgery, Dr. Mark Brumm, Jeff Jensen, Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, Patient Stories

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