At 48, James Bisbey had never run a marathon.
Seven years later, the Scottsdale resident boasts awards from over 70 races, ranging from 5Ks to 100-mile endurance races.
His running journey began relatively late in life but has been nonstop since its beginning, a great part of which he attributes to chance encounters with a few highly influential people.
Growing up in Iowa, Bisbey played high school football and ran track. He attended Iowa Wesleyan University on a football scholarship.
Bisbey’s running journey began years later in 2001 when he and his wife moved to Arizona, where he began hiking mountain trails after work ended each day.
He continued hiking trails for the next few years, keeping a steady distance of approximately three to five miles per hike.
In August 2013, Bisbey encountered a 72-year-old man named Oscar while hiking the Gateway Trail Loop.
Bisbey, being an outgoing individual, struck up a conversation and the two eventually became fast friends and continued to hike together for the next few weeks.
Oscar introduced Bisbey to the Phoenix Summit Challenge, a hiking challenge where one has to complete seven different summits in the Phoenix area within seven days.
Registration opened the next Saturday and sold out in 15 minutes; Bisbey quickly registered and began training.
“If I would have missed that moment in time,” Bisbey said, “if I had not gotten in to the Seven Summits on that morning, the odds of me waiting a year and thinking about it, I probably would not have done it.”
Bisbey trained furiously for the next three months, quickly increasing his elevation and mileage.
Before hiking, Bisbey had told his wife that if he survived this challenge, he would begin training for his first marathon; that January, Bisbey completed his first ever marathon, the P.F. Chang’s Rock and Roll Marathon.
Over the next four years, Bisbey completed approximately 70-80 miscellaneous events, including 10K’s, half-marathons, ragnar races, marathons, and even ultra-marathons.
A few days before Bisbey ran the Fiesta Bowl Half Marathon, he met a woman hiking along the Gateway Trail named Amanda Hughes.
On the morning of the marathon, in what Bisbey describes as a “kismet moment,” Hughes became his pacer as he ran the race.
This race solidified their friendship, and the two ran hundreds of miles together over the ensuing years.
“She opened up my world to ultra running,” Bisbey said. “I never would have aspired to do a 50K, a 50-miler, a 100K, or 100-miler in my life if it wasn’t for meeting my friend Amanda.”
Four weeks after running his first 50K, Bisbey ran his first 50-miler.
Bisbey would go on to regularly run 50K races and eventually a 100-miler. Finding motivation to keep going during a race is usually not an issue for him.
At mile 34 of a particularly grueling 50-miler in the desert, he remembers telling himself, “This is it; this is your one moment; just keep going.”
Bisbey also makes a point to frame his mind on his progress and block out any negative thoughts while running.
Around the 40-mile mark of his 100-miler, instead of thinking, “I’ve got 60 more miles to go,” he told himself, “you did 80 last year and 50 last week, and you were good for that.”
Today, Bisbey is preparing to run the Marine Corps Marathon, both the marathon and the 50K. This particular race holds high significance for Bisbey, as many close members of his family have served in the military.
He will be running this race in honor of his friend who was a World War II Marine and “to honor all veterans who have served our great nation.”
Bisbey’s sister, Sherri Rowe, said, “It’s not just another marathon to him. It is very much an emotional connection to what the Marine Corps stands for. Our parents really helped us to be raised to understand the sacrifices that our men and women have made for us to have the freedom that we have.”
He will also be running to honor his father-in-law, a Marine fighter pilot during the Korean War, now in his 80’s and is currently fighting pancreatic cancer.
Because he is running the Marine Corps Marathon virtually, he plans to run both races in a loop around Tempe Town Lake in Arizona before the Nov. 10 deadline.
Upon completing the races, Bisbey will be given a medal commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima and the forty fourth anniversary of the Marine Corps Marathon, an honor he does not take for granted.