A man on a mission: Chicago man runs around Lake Michigan in 36 days to honor late grandmother


DELTA COUNTY, Mich. (WJMN) – Lee Thornquist has always been someone that has been up for a challenge. His current challenge you might ask? Run the entirety of Lake Michigan in 36 days. Thornquist will be running 1,100 miles, living out of an RV, and doing it all in memory of his Grandma.

This love for running all started back when he quit his sales job to travel Asia for 9 months. Thornquist wanted to continue to challenge himself whenever he returned back to America. That is when he found himself signing up for his first half marathon without running more than a 5K before.

“I had gotten back and I was just in good shape from a lot of walking and hiking and things like that so I knew I wanted to try to stay in good shape but I was also incredibly broke,” said Thornquist. “So I thought alright I will buy a pair of running shoes and try to sign up for a half marathon.”

After that first half marathon, Thornquist was hooked. Fast forward to now and he has completed 10 ultra marathons, the Calendar Club challenge, and many others but was looking for his next crazy adventure.

“So I was looking for a new challenge, something a little bit larger scale that would really me and seemed impossible at the time, I thought about running across America but that seemed a little bit too big for the time frame and resources I had available,” said Thornquist. “So for whatever reason, I thought well maybe Lake Michigan would be possible and around a campfire with a friend and my cousin just was kind of spit balling ideas and that came up and it sounded like a good one and we went with it.”

In order to complete his journey in the allotted time frame, Thornquist must run 31 miles every day for 36 consecutive days. He does have another layer to this extremeness though. He will be completing the entire journey while maintaining his fully plant-based vegan diet.

“So over the course of a year, I’d say I’d really like started transitioning and implementing small changes in my diet and nutrition in you know making the vegetables the main part of the food and then the smaller part of meat so it’s not like I cut it everything out at once,” Thornquist said. “It was a very slow change and for something like this a lot of the plant-based foods promote like anti-inflammatory properties so for the little recovery time I have in the abuse my body is going through it just seems like a good kind of marriage between the two to help me perform and recover as best as possible.”

This is more than just a challenge of distance to though. Thornquist is running in honor of his grandmother, Harriet.

“One of the main, why’s for this run, is to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association,” Thornquist said. “It’s very close to my heart because my Grandma, Harriet she battled different forms of like Dementia and  Alzheimer’s for 13 years before passing away last September. Seeing just the journey that that takes someone on in and the changes that it does to you and the people who are close to her like our family and her friends and her husband my grandpa. The amount of work that he had to do is like the main caretaker is just really impactful to see and for someone, you love so much and a memory you have of them just to change to not remembering names or stories or you know it’s really hard to see and so anything I can do to try to help lead the discovery of a way to cure that or at least prevent or reverse it if possible.”

This isn’t a solo journey. Patti Littell is one of three people that will assist in the adventure. Whether it is driving the RV, heading to the grocery store, or being a cheerleader, Littell gets an inside glimpse of the journey is like when the RV door closes.

“He’s very dedicated and he’s very passionate about this and it’s just really cool to see and some of the background stuff very interesting,” said Littell. “I see you know the aftermath of what he’s putting his body through and it’s just very traumatic very intense and it’s very interesting to just see the background.”

And how is Thornquist liking his journey through the U.P? Although he is still looking to locate a vegan pasty to truly feel like a Yooper, he said overall that he is really pleased with the performance of his body this far.

“The UP has been beautiful so far,” Thornquist said. “Overall I am really proud of the way my body has been holding up. The main issue have had some really big tightness in my right quad which is causing some knee pain. The first 10 days was almost all walking it was so severe, but we kind of had a turning point last week and I’ve been able to run most of the days. My body feeling a lot better and feeling like it’s adapted well to these big days. The ankle swelling is down there a few days or my left ankle was about the size of my calf and I could barely walk it is so swollen but that’s pretty much going away and so hoping that we’re past the worst of it and we’ll have some better days ahead.”

With 17 days left in the challenge, the halfway mark is in sight. If you would like to send encouraging words to Thornquist he can be reached by email at runninglakemichigan@gmail.com or via phone at +1 (630) 542-2909.

To donate to Lee you can click here.

To track Lee’s journey in real time, click here.

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