COLUMBIA — When Curtis Workman registered for Monday's Heart of America Marathon, he specifically asked to be assigned No. 51.
And he had a good reason for requesting the number.
Monday's race was the 51st marathon Workman has completed in the past 51 weeks. The feat is part of a fundraising effort aimed at giving children from different areas in St. Louis the chance to participate in a free training program and to compete in a marathon by fall 2012.
Workman, a 44-year-old Home Depot employee from St. Louis, competed in the Heart of America event for the first time Monday. Before running in Columbia's traditional Labor Day race, Workman ran in marathons all over the country. His schedule has included races in St. Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.
Considering the number of races Workman has run in the past few weeks, his performance Monday — he finished in four hours, 17 minutes and two seconds — was remarkable.
"I always try to finish in less than four hours, but the course today was challenging with all those hills," said Workman, who was breathing hard but had a smile on his face.
Time is not the most important thing for Workman, though.
"My main focus is on the bigger goal," he said. "I know I can't quit this now. Whatever it takes, I've got to get to the end."
The end will be Oct. 1 in Winchester, Tenn., at the Southern Tennessee Plunge Marathon. It should be the 56th marathon for Workman after starting his challenge Oct. 3, 2010. The next marathon on his schedule is Sunday's Sioux Falls Marathon, in South Dakota.
After his final marathon, Workman hopes to have raised enough money for his nonprofit organization, Marathons With A Mission, to get started on its goal of teaching inner-city children the value of commitment through marathon running.
Workman has experienced the positive effects of marathon running himself. Formerly overweight and with high blood pressure, he attributes his current level of fitness and good health to regular exercise.
"Back in 2009, my father had a heart attack," Workman said. "It was a wake up call. I didn't want to go down that road. So I started running to get in shape."
After losing 60 pounds, Workman decided to participate in the 2009 Go! St. Louis Marathon. It was the first of many to come. The 2011 Heart of America was Workman's 58th marathon in two years.
Running that many back-to-back marathons is not easy. There are several challenges involved.
"I hate the driving," said Workman, who has driven to most of his marathons. "Long drives make your body stiff."
Accommodation can also pose problems.
"Sometimes, I've had to sleep in my car." Workman said with a frown. "It's really uncomfortable."
But the biggest difficulty is the physical and psychological effort involved.
"On some occasions, I have run two marathons in two days," Workman said. "It's kind of exhausting. It's a test of spirit."
A test which becomes even more difficult because Workman has no time to train between marathons. He tries to focus on the bright side of being a marathoner, though.
"When you run a marathon, the important thing is the effort you make," Workman said. "No one can take that away from you. It doesn't matter who finishes first or last. You've all been through the same hills and the same track. You start talking to people and it becomes a sort of club in the end."
And he receives support from his family and friends.
"My girlfriend, Cindy Paige, has always been super supportive of me," Workman said. "She has been patient even though I've been gone most weekends."
It all seems worth it, though. The underlying goal to Workman's efforts has worked before.
Workman started his organization after he noticed the high number of children who participated in the 2010 Los Angeles Marathon. He learned that around 3,000 of those kids were members of Students Run LA, a charitable organization whose mission is to give underprivileged children an opportunity to engage in a productive activity.
"I knew that drop-out rates in St. Louis were higher than in other big cities, and I thought 'we need something like this,'" Workman said.
His organization is planning an 11-month program for children from all over St. Louis. Participants will take part in daily training with the goal of running in the 2012 Chicago Marathon. The program will provide free training shoes and shirts for the children, as well as their entry fee for the Chicago race.
"Our mission is an integral one, with physical and social benefits for inner-city kids," Workman said. "The idea is that they benefit from the program in the long term."
Workman said he thinks the social impact his program could have is important.
"We want to help inner-city kids avoid making bad decisions like doing drugs or dropping out of school," Workman said. "They can learn the value of discipline and goal setting while they stay healthy. We want to teach our children to believe in themselves.
"When our first class finish their marathon next fall, that will be our finish line."