Monday, February 19, 2007

Confessions of a 50 State Marathoner

“Run Country Music, you’ll pick up another state.”
What would you think if one of your friends made a statement like this to you?

About six years ago, I was living in New York City when my friend and teammate, Tim made that comment to me. Knowing Tim, his advice should be viewed with caution. He is an ultra marathoner and he would think nothing of running a marathon each week for 6 or 7 weeks in a row.

What he meant by “County Music” was the Rock and Roll marathon which takes place in Nashville, TN, the-country music capital of the world.
“Picking up another state” is how you get hooked!

By that time, I had already been bitten by the marathon bug and was on a streak of running a marathon a month –which, I must admit, in itself sounds a little obsessive! However, I enjoyed going to major marathons-San Diego, Chicago, LA., or to a vacation destination like Hawaii or Florida.
Somehow I couldn’t see myself flying to the Hogeye Marathon in Huntsville, AL or the Lost Dutchman in Apache Junction, AZ, but there I was, about to cross the line.

I never thought I’d become one of those crazy, obsessed, “50 Staters”!
A “50 Stater” is an otherwise, average runner who has committed to run a marathon in each of the 50 states. In fact, many of them have gone on to complete their tour of the states two, three and even four times. Some have even gone on to run hundreds of marathons all over the world.

One of my friends was already planning to run Country Music, so it was simply a matter of joining her. Sounded simple enough until I discovered that the airfare to Nashville for a day was over $800! At that point, I decided to redeem a pair of free award tickets, which could have been used for travel anywhere serviced by American Airlines. Unfortunately, I had to use both as they only came in pairs and pay a $100 late processing fee to use the “free” tickets!

None of this mattered to me-I could go to Paris or Rio another time---I was on my way to Tennessee!

This was the point at which I finally admitted that running a marathon in each state would be my quest. I soon found myself off to the Flying Pig, in Cincinnati. Then it was on to Green Bay, WI, Lake Okoboji, IA, Casper, WY, Jersey Shore, NJ, Mt. Rushmore, SD, Old Lyme, CT, etc. etc.

The next step was to join the 50 States Club. Yes, there is a club with membership over 1085. To become a member, you need to have run a marathon in at least 10 states. At the point where I finally committed I believe I had about 20 states-until then I had been in denial!

So what is it that would motivate an otherwise “normal” runner to take on such an endeavor? Usually, hours of travel and training are involved. It’s expensive--image what you spend on one marathon a year multiplied to at least a dozen a year. And, of course, there is dedication. Running through an injury, in a snow storm or extreme heat is not unusual.

For most of the runners, there is never any prize money, and only once in a while an age group award, however every weekend there is the opportunity to be a hero…at least for an afternoon! .The feeling of accomplishment when you complete a marathon is incomparable.. Whether you have a PR or the worst race you’ve ever run, it’s a rush to take that final step across the finish line.

And, of course, there is the fact that if you enjoy traveling and you love to run it’s a great way to do both. There are plenty of places you’d never think to go to unless a marathon brought you there. Usually, when there is a marathon in town –any town- it’s during the best weather of the year, plus there is a general celebratory air to the town. And of course, you have the opportunity to see all the rest of your friends and fellow club members who are also “on the circuit”.

Somehow, to me anyway, this doesn’t seem like it would be such an exclusive club. After all, there are hundreds of marathons held throughout the country each year and thousands of runners running them. However, the facts speak for themselves. Of the 1000 plus club members, only about 350 are recognized by the club as certified finishers.

To date, I have run 90 marathons, in 42 states and 2 foreign countries. Providing, all goes as planned, meaning no serious injuries, illnesses, cancelled flights or bankruptcy, I should complete all of the states and run my 100th marathon on January 1st in Texas.

Until, then I’ve got to try to find the most reasonable flights, convenient hotels, willing traveling companions and oh yes, train!
***Check out for more info on the club and members***

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