Why Would Anyone Want to Run a Marathon in All 50 States?

50 states club: the united states of dill

Usually when people learn I’m chasing a goal to run a marathon in each of the 50 states, the first thing they ask while chuckling is, “How many do you have left?” Now that I’m three-fifths of the way there, people tend to be less skeptical than when I “only” had 10 under my belt.

Maybe they’re too polite, but most people don’t ask me why, though I’m sure they’re wondering, just like you are. After all, I’m not trying to break any records and obviously it’s been done before. There is literally a 50 States Club, whose members are people who have accomplished what I now aim to do, and it seems that the more races I run, the more I hear of someone finishing their 50th state.

I’m not doing it in record time. There are runners out there who have done all 50 in a year. I ran my first marathon 12 years ago and at the rate I’m currently going at four to five states per year, it will probably take me another five years to finish. And that’s ok. My training has changed, and so has my running.

While I rationally know no one can expect to run 50 marathons and have them all to be epic performances, part of me does expect that although I know that won’t be the case. And now you understand the dynamic that is Dill, the runner, and a little about the quest I am on.

So if I’m not running my best races and not breaking any records, what’s the point?

I’ve hiked a glacier in Alaska, seen a live moose up close, come dangerously close to orcas while in a tiny kayak, seen alligators in a swamp, and did a ride along with a professional Nascar driver. I’ve run through the Magic Kingdom, seen Mount Rushmore, ridden a horse in the Black Hills, and ran through Churchill Downs. I’ve toured ghost towns, white water rafted, visited the homes of the Hatfield and McCoy feud and seen where they make Louisville Sluggers.

I’ve crossed the iconic Boston Marathon finish line, eaten cheese curds in Wisconsin, bought cowboy boots in Texas and taken a picture with the wood chipper from the movie Fargo. I’ve witnessed the city of Little Rock shut down by an ice storm, cried at the civil rights museum, and toured Atlanta by bicycle. I’ve run down roads most Americans don’t know exist and run in the middle of the Las Vegas strip which is rarely shut down to traffic. I’ve seen the pride in small town residents’ eyes when  they welcome you to the place they call home. I’ve witnessed up close, how different these United States of America are and yet how we are so very much the same.

I wouldn’t have experienced any of this without running. I suppose I could run a 5k or a half in every state or *gasp* just visit each state without running. But, there is something different about traveling to run a marathon. I love picking out the runners in the airport. I can tell who is in my tribe by their uniform of jeans and running shoes coupled with a race shirt or a telltale “26.2” on their backpack. There is always a different energy in a place when the marathoners descend. I feel the excitement from the runners and from most of the locals who are eager to have me eat in their restaurants, buy a knickknack from their shop or to tell me all about the place they live in.

Because a marathon is a such a long route to plan through a city, I usually see almost every area of a town —both good and bad. The races have routed me through the heart of a city where I’ve seen the youngest residents offering orange slices or a high five. I’ve see locals setting up sprinklers along the course to keep me cool and the older folks who sit and watch me go by in silence from the comfort of their lawn chairs. I’ve run past huge homes filled with history, steps away from neighborhoods in a state of disrepair. Residents from each area along the 26.2 miles have come out to cheer me on.

I’ve thought I was about to hit the wall at mile 20 and a kind stranger with an ice cold sponge came to my rescue, proving there is kindness wherever I go. Or just as I’ve thought I couldn’t take another step I turned a corner, and there was the majesty of the ocean and thought, if God can make that, then surely he can get me through this race.

But even if people don’t ask or can’t understand why I’m doing it, they always ask how I am able to pursue the goal of running a marathon in 50 states.

If you have less than four weeks between marathons, you’re on your own. Your main concern should be recovery, recovery, and more recovery, not only from your first marathon, but from the lobotomy that led you to come up with this plan.

– Pete Pfitzinger 

Running 50 marathons just because, or back-to-back marathons, might seem like a questionable choice. Without extreme caution or a lot of luck, it can lead to injury, burn out and worse. The most important thing is to have a plan and remain flexible.

Choose Your Races Wisely

Each year I pick out four marathons that are spread out during the year, if possible. Then I decide which races I’ll be able to train hard for and which ones I’ll run just to finish. Sometimes, the location, terrain, or the time of year determines the “race-ability” of a race.

Make a Training Plan

Once I’ve established which races I’m going to run, I pick a training plan to use as a baseline for my training. Most plans assume you are going to race one or two marathons a year, so I modify them as necessary to ensure I have enough recovery time in between races.

Moderate Mileage

I find it’s important to be honest with myself about my limitations. It’s one thing to run 75 miles a week during the couple of weeks of peak training when training for a goal marathon or two a year. It’s a whole different thing when aiming for several marathons and I find I can’t sustain that kind of mileage and keep up a high-level of training year round. I find more moderate mileage with short tapers and reverse tapers works best for me.

Keep up with the #ExtraSalt

I have to listen to my body, know when to back off and when to admit that the nagging pain in my leg is actually an injury that requires rest. I can’t stress enough how important injury prevention is. Whether it’s stretching, strength training, a monthly sports massage or regular visits to a sports chiropractor, do what you need to take care of your body before an injury can occur.

It’s a Journey — Enjoy the Ride

My journey to 50 states has changed me as a runner. I’ve run 34 marathons in 30 states and now I feel like the old veteran at the starting line. I like to listen for nervous first-timers, so that I can reassure them or distract them until the race starts. I may not be out there to win and I’ll never be the fastest, but that’s probably why I started down this journey in the first place.

Running a bunch of marathons certainly isn’t going to help me run my best marathon, but it’s taught me how to run a smart marathon and it’s taught me what I’m made of. I’ve learned when I need to push myself more and how to get through a race when I’m struggling at mile four. I’ve learned that to stay injury free I have to sometimes slow down my training runs even if that means getting left behind. I’ve learned how to swallow my pride after a slower race. I’ve learned that actually finishing 50 states is a much longer and tougher goal than I initially thought. But most importantly I’ve learned how to adapt so that the marathon has become part of my life, not just something I did once a long time ago.

What do you think of the 50 States Club? Is it something you would like to do? Why or why not?

I'm a running mom of two little girls, who is busy balancing life, work and marathon training. It's always training season for me because I'm on a quest to run a marathon in every state, while constantly striving to be the best runner I can be. Running has led me to some great adventures and I always have a good story to share!

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  1. Your are Bergamot’s posts are so making me want to take a runcation right now…it sounds wonderful!

  2. I will be honest. I never understood this goal, not in a judgy way, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around why you wanted to do it, especially with little kids and all the demands of life and stuff. But now it makes so much more sense. It’s kinda like running as mandala – it’s not about the end result, all the marathons are fleeting, but it’s about the process and the lessons and the insight and the problems and the hardships and the unexpected and the foreign and all that stuff. I might *almost* want to do it myself!

  3. I’m with you on this one!! But you’re way ahead of me— I’m only at 13 so far. It’s such a fun way to explore our country!

  4. I’m far too serendipitous to chart out running the 50 states, but I do see the point. And, I agree that running marathons in different locations gives a perspective on a town/region/state than most visitors will ever have. Wishing you the best with the remaining 20.