A year is a long time to be working towards a goal - espcially when there’s so many individual milestones to be met along the way. In 2018, ...

Oct 24, 2017

Fifty Plus DC

Seven years ago - it seems so long - I completed a quest that not many people have. Run a marathon in all 50 states, plus DC. It seems so long ago, but the memories I have of each race hold on, making the adventure something that I will never forget. It all stareted out so innocently - Mom wanted to run a marathon in Alaska - the Equinox Marathon. So the entire family - me, my sister and mom and dad - headed up to Fairbanks in 1993 for my first taste of what 26.2 miles was all about. Mom ran that first marathon. I hiked it, with strict instructions to stay with my sister since I was only 14 at the time. And we all finished. I don't remember how long it took me and Kaylan to hike the course - I just know I didn't want to get beaten by dad and that I wanted to run so many times but she didn't. So we had to walk. And that hot chocolate delivered by Mom in a rent-a-thermos is the best tasting thing ever invented during September in Alaska. But that was my first state and as a freshman in high school I chalked it up to something crazy that mom wanted to do.

Like most journeys, the road winds off into the distance, fading into the fog at the 2009 New Hampshire Marathon
It would be easy to end the story there - at finishing a marathon in Alaska before I graduated High School. But that’s not how it happened. The distance between that one marathon and October 2010 is huge. The year I turned 16, I ran the Pikes Peak Ascent - because that’s what Colorado Natives do. We run up mountains because we can! The double was alway something on my mind, but never happened. Mom made me volunteer for the Pikes Peak Marathon the year before I ran it so I knew what I was getting into. That only resulted in a funny article for the Long Run about a pair of shoes left in the garbage after the race. And before I knew it, I was in college with two marathons under my belt and the itch to do Boston. Mom had done Boston twice and I wanted to experience the “Mother of All Marathons” Boston - the holy grail of American marathoning. Back then, it meant a 3:40 marathon and at the 1999 Walt Disney World Marathon, I squeaked under the time. This was before entry selling out in September the year before the race. As a squeaker, I was in. One issue - I also wanted to run Boston in 2000 with my Mom. Don't ask me why, but it was something that was important to me at that point. She was the one who had started me on the course I was charting - running long and running fast. I felt that it was important that I run this one marathon with her. And that meant she also had to qualify….

Florida didn't work. Neither did Grandma’s Marathon in Mn. Finally at the Desert Classic in Az, she got the time she needed. Remember, this was back then paper entries were accepted and personal notes on results printouts were important. I still remember the race director for Desert Classic writing his congratulations for qualifying on the results print out he ran especially for us at the end of February of 2000. And then it was on to Boston! April 2000 - we wore matching shirts and ran the first 15 miles together. And we both finished, making it state number six. 

A grainy photo from Boston, 2000

It didn't end there. Of course not! I fell in love with the distance and knew that I wanted to run faster. Which only lead to more states… Each marathon was something new, something different and I wanted to push myself as hard as I could. I knew I could go faster and I wanted to see how fast I could go. Big dreams lead to wild adventures. My 3:40 at Disney was just the tip of the iceberg. I had aspirations and I wasn't going to let reality stand in my way. 

September 2000 - the first taste of what could happen when things go wrong. I still remember the fear. An entire bus load of runners being driven to the start of the Top of Utah marathon, in the end of September, in Logan, UT. One person wipes clear a fogged up window and exclaimed “it’s snowing!” And it was. Three and a half hours later, I was finished the race, but with the worst chafing I have ever had due to wearing shorts under my pants. I was convinced I would take the pants off, but I never did… the ignorance of youth! After that, I was was always prepared for whatever the weather could through at me. That was state number seven in the snow. 

While we did a lot of races every year once we got started, we always picked the races carefully. We wanted a decent number of people, but we weren't a fan of the Big City races. Boston and New York were our only big big races and I think I would pick a different race for NY if I was doing this again. Some races we picked for fast times, some we ran for long runs. I picked two races every year to run hard at and then built the schedule around those two marathons. Yes, a marathon makes a great long run for another marathon if you run it smart! Some were chosen because of the surrounding area or because they were in areas we wanted to visit. The Grand Island Marathon for MI (#35) was one of those. We’d never been to the UP and wanted to go. Sure, other races in MI were easier to get to, but that was the best choice for us.  Timing and cost of flights was the key to finishing without going broke. I would have a selection of races in states we hadn’t done at times that I could travel and scoured airfare on a weekly basis. I also kept any eye on the doubles and back to back weekends so we could maximize the trips. There's a lot of little states in New England and it takes a lot of work to get them all finished. We flew into BWI many many times for races in the surrounding area.

Waiting by the fire for the start of the Lost Dutchman Marathon in 2008. There were lots of cold pre-dawn waits over the course of the adventure

There are things that stick with me in the years that it took to finish the quest. Running the Hogeye Marathon in Fayetteville, AR - we sat next to the race director during the dinner. She asked me what my goat time was and then stared at me in amazement when I said 3:15. The time I said would be a new course record and she didn't think it was possible. The next morning the heavens opened. As the race started, there was a full downpour, accompanied with thunder and lightening. It was the most fun I'd had running in years. Splashing through puddles, completely soaked with the warm rain and just giggling the entire way. These are the moments that you remember - finishing state #25 in the pouring rain and in a new course record of 3:16. But the rain!

Don't worry - she didn't run with that umbrella! But you can see the rain beating down on the road during the 2004 Hogeye Marathon

On our one of our double attempts - a Saturday/Sunday combo. We were planning on the Indianapolis marathon. That was the goal of the weekend. But Columbus in OH was the following day! And it was only a few hundred miles between the two cities! Easy drive! We could do it for sure! We didn't realize that parts of Indiana didn't do daylight savings while the rest of the area does… After finishing the Indian marathon, we headed to Ohio. Only to arrive to the expo 20 minutes after it closed. No registration, no nothing left active. Lucky for us, the race director took pity on some poor Colorado runners who didn't realize the time zone issues and let us register. States #28 and #29 in the books.

In the end it isn't the races per se - 'tis the journey that surrounded each event. Were there some stupid stunts pulled in the name of saving time and money? Yes. But I wouldn't have it any other way.  We saw areas of the country that are often hidden. We experienced races that few people have ever done - the Valley of Fire Marathon outside Las Vegas, NV comes to mind. Held in a state park on the north east side of Lake Mead, it was one of our first marathons after we decided to aim for all 50. A challenging course winding through huge red rocks and sandstone formations, it was also a stunning course. And something that we would never have thought to do if not for the goal of 50 states.

Lewis and Clark Marathon - with the explorers as the mascots!
In October of 2010, we had the final adventure. It started with the Hartford Marathon in CT. I ended up running with some guy who wanted to qualify for Boston - he needed a 3:10 to get in, but had missed the time on his last attempt. He'd started too fast and then faded hard. I don't know why but I felt like it was the least I could do. I wasn't planning on running fast that day, but 3:10 was doable. I decided to help him reach that time, like all the runners around me had helped back in 1999. We ran together - a team working towards that one goal - through the finish. I don't know if he ran Boston the following year, but we reached his goal that day, finishing in 3:09. After Hartford, Mom and I had a week to explore. A week in New England in the fall - with all the colors and the leaves. We went to Mt Dessert Island and visited Acadia National Park. Mmmmm I still remember the popovers! And the sunrise on Mount Cadilac. And then we headed to Vermont for the final state. I was hoping for a great race to close out the states, but it wouldn't happen. Murphy, reminding me that the journey was more important then that final time. 

One of the many pools in the rocks high above the Atlantic Ocean on Mount Dessert Island

From Alaska in 1993 to Vermont in 2010, the trip around the country was complete. It sounds like it took longer then it really did, but only because there was a break from 1993 to 1998, when I did Pikes Peak. And when we first started, we really did think doing three-four races a year was all you could do. Hah… How things changed! Seven to eight races became the standard for most of the journey! The most I did in one year was nine, but that included three iron distance triathlons. There were a few states and a few marathons repeated along the way but for the most part each race was one step closer to finishing.