Updated: February 25, 2014 at 11:22 am
When Dagmar Knudsen says she has to run, she means it literally.
She runs before work, after work and to work if the weather permits. After a long flight, the itch to move is so powerful she's been known to dump her luggage in a taxi and head off on foot to her hotel. She's run a marathon in every state and is working her way through the continents, plus the North Pole. If there were a marathon on the moon, she'd be game.
"I work and I run. That is all that I do," Knudsen said.
Obsession and running often go hand in hand. Marathon runners are rarely athletic dilettantes. Conditioning the body to withstand the rigors of a run that lasts hours demands an extreme time commitment and powerful self-discipline. "Personal best" is a constantly moving target.
Knudsen, it seems, is in it more for the mileage. If there were a frequent-flyer club for runners, she'd have earned her wings.
"Gasoline is expensive, and I would not use a car unless I had to. I'd use it once a month, maybe. I'd rather run," the 52-year-old said.
Knudsen grew up overseas, the daughter of a half-German, half-French mother and a stepfather who worked for the Danish Embassy. The family moved frequently and Knudsen attended schools in Denmark, Poland and Japan, among other nations. She credits those early years for instilling what became a lifelong peripatetic urge.
"My mom didn't like it. Apparently, I did because I'm still on the go," said Knudsen, who blames all those moves for her accent, "which no one can ever guess."
When she relocated to Colorado Springs in 2001, her passion wasn't running but taekwondo, a sport she began as a "fun way to stay fit" after a studio opened near her Bristol, Conn., home. She'd always run, and had once even set her sights on running the Hartford Marathon, but she didn't consider it her thing. In the Springs, that once supplemental activity quickly became her focus. The scenery and climate were too perfect; to not run would have been a crime.
Plus, she liked the effect it had on her brain. "Eventually, you stop thinking. Nothing else exists. It's kind of neat," she said.
On the days she would bike to her job as a cardiology technician at University of Colorado Health at Memorial Hospital, she would run home. The next day, she'd swap. By the time a co-worker suggested the two train together for the New Denver Half Marathon, Knudsen was running 10 miles a day.
"A half marathon wasn't really a challenge," she said, and told her friend: "You do the half. I'll go for the full thing."
She figured she knew what she was in for even though she'd never run close to 26.2 miles.
"I was still very innocent at that point," she said.
To get the lay of the land, Knudsen signed up for the 2008 American Discovery Trail Marathon in the Springs. It was the first time she ever had run more than 13 miles.
"It was hard," she said. "I ran the first 20 and had to walk the last 6 miles. I always laugh because I thought then, 'If I die now at least I don't have to finish the race.'"
The next day, her attitude was different. She actually was looking forward to the upcoming Boulder marathon.
"I knew I needed to run Denver and I needed another long training run," she said. "I used marathons as my training at that time."
By the time she crossed the finish line in Denver, with a time of 5 hours, 2 minutes, she had set a goal to run a marathon a month.
"Everybody said I wouldn't sustain such heavy training," she said. They were wrong. Through the summer of the following year, she did just that. Then came a half-marathon, which broke the streak.
"That's why now, I don't run anything less than 26.2 miles," she said.
She then stepped it up to two marathons a month - a pattern that went uninterrupted up until 2012 and emergency gallbladder surgery.
"If they'd let me out of the hospital, I would have run," she said, and laughed. "It messed up my plans."
Running two marathons a month means traveling to where the marathons happen, chasing the weather around the continent. She ran the Mayor's Marathon in Anchorage in June. She ran five marathons in three days in San Antonio. In December, she ran barefoot on the beach while in Hawaii for the Honolulu Marathon, and then she called it mission accomplished.
"Here ends my quest for 50 states plus D.C. That was fun. Let's do it again," she said.