Where to Now?

My 2018 goal was to finish my 50 State Endurance Challenge (a full or half marathon in each of the 50 states). At the start of the year I only had four states remaining on my to-run list – Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, and New Mexico. I completed my challenge last September.  In true funatical runner fashion, I ran three of those races in a 28-day period – two of them within six days of each other.  Nothing like finishing with a bang.  In 2018, I also ran the Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon in Lexington, Kentucky (a repeat state) and marathons in Dublin, Ireland and on Easter Island.

Running inside Hartford’s XL Center

I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure of running in each of the 50 states.  Every race seemed to have something unique about it.  I ran through Anaheim Stadium (baseball), and Lambeau Field (football); on the track at the University of Oregon (Tracktown USA); around Churchill Downs (horse race track); on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; and indoors on the concourse of Hartford’s XL Center (where hockey games are held).  I ran down Sunset Strip in Las Vegas at night.  In Detroit I ran across a bridge into Canada carrying my passport and back into the US through a mile long underwater tunnel.  In Alaska I saw a moose with two calves in the woods along the race course.  I had to stop for photos of that! 

There really was a moose in those bushes

There was plenty of adventure before and after my races.  I visited Pre’s Rock in Eugene, Oregon; Jimi Hendrix’s grave outside Seattle; Tinkertown on the Turquoise Trail in New Mexico; and the Zippin Pippin roller coaster in Green Bay, Wisconsin that Elvis Presley rode for two hours straight in what was his last public appearance (he died eight days later).  I took a helicopter ride for breathtaking views of Kauai, Hawaii.  After my race in Portland, Maine, I hopped on the mail boat for a tour of Casco Bay.   In Estes Park, Colorado, I cooled off my feet in a lake after the Rocky Mountain Half.  So many places I went had beautiful scenery – Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Montana; Zion National Park in Utah; Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming; and Newport, Rhode Island.  My race times suffered because I stopped to take pictures, lots of pictures.

Rocky Mountain National Park as seen from the Rocky Mountain Half Marathon course

When people tell me how amazing it is that I ran races in each of the 50 states, I feel very uncomfortable.  I don’t view what I did as any big achievement.  Completing this challenge to me just means I mastered the ability to make hotel reservations; navigate through airports across the country including connecting flights in big airports like O’Hare, Denver, and Houston; drive a wide variety of rental cars (which made me wish for standardization of car features); and most importantly, had the financial resources to make it all happen.  There is nothing remarkable about what I did other than having set foot in each of the 50 states (ok, I was only about 100 yards into Arkansas but I was there – briefly – for a race start).  Not many people make an effort to visit each of the 50 states.  I can tell you it is worth the effort.

What I find amazing are the athletes I met along my 50 state journey, people you would never expect to see at the start line of a 5K let alone a half or full marathon.  The best example of this was a woman I saw at the Nebraska State Fair Half Marathon in Grand Island, Nebraska.  I came upon this woman around Mile 2 of the race.  She was in a wheelchair.  Her shoulders were all taped up with pink KT tape.  On the back of her wheelchair was a sign that said “I can’t feel my legs”.  I was dumbfounded.  As I passed her, I cheered her on.  She was struggling a bit but she was moving.  I saw her after the race.  The medics were doctoring up her hands, which looked very sore from pushing her wheelchair.  I can’t ever complain about difficult conditions during a race when I think about determined athletes like this woman.  I have never experienced the kind of challenges she faces.

I have completed my two big running goals – the 6 World Marathon Majors and my 50 State Endurance Challenge.  So where to now?  

I have spent the last few months taking it easy, reading books and catching up on the few movies I didn’t see on any of my plane rides, trying to find inspiration for my next adventure.  After reading “Endurance” by Scott Kelly about his experiences as an astronaut, I definitely don’t have any desire to go into outer space (though I highly recommend the book).  I am fascinated by ultra marathons like Pikes Peak and the Hardrock 100.  But after breaking bones running around my home town, I don’t think it is wise for me to head out into the wilderness where emergency medical care isn’t readily available.

I just finished reading “The Ridiculous Race” by Steve Hely and Vali Chandrasekaran about their race around the world in 2007.  Steve traveled West to East from Los Angeles while Vali traveled from East to West.  First one back would be the winner.  The main rule was they couldn’t travel by airplane, helicopter or hot air balloon.  Vali cheated.  He took mostly airplanes and finished in 52 days.  Steve took 57 days but he had adventures as soon as he left LA.  He took a container ship across the Pacific; hopped on the Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Siberian Railways; rode an overnight ferry across the Baltic Sea; crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2; and finally rode in a tractor trailer rig across the US.  Along the way he took side trips to see things like the Forbidden City, museums in St. Petersburg, Paris, and Stockholm, and visited distant relatives in San Marino.  Steve’s trip made me question whether I really wanted to travel just to run around some city for a piece of medal on a ribbon and a banana.

There are several possibilities.  I am thinking of walking one of the Camino de Santiago routes, either the Camino Frances (764 km) or Camino Portugues  from Porto (240 km).   I am also researching the 88 sacred temples of Shikoku, Japan pilgrimage  (about 1200 km).  Both are hiking type trips and I have limited hiking experience.   I hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail when I trained for my Rim-to-Rim adventure across the Grand Canyon in 2013.   I need more hiking experience  to see how I like it.   To that end I am going to Utah to a place that organizes day hikes.  If I can’t handle day hikes, I don’t think I  would enjoy living out of a backpack for one to two months.  There is always the goal of running a half marathon in each of the Canadian provinces.   I have some wonderful Canadian friends I could visit too.

In the meantime, I am revamping my training plans.  I feel like I have hit a plateau in my training.  I am experimenting with new strength training routines and trying other cardio training like cycling.  Whatever my next adventure turns out to be, I know I will need to be in top form to make it happen.