The 50 states 5k

6 marathons in 6 days.  It’s been done before but never like this. The great American road trip meets the great American ultra-marathon stage race.  We called it the “50 states 5k”.

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The idea was simple.  Break the speed record for “fastest to ever visit all 50 states” but also run a 5k while in each state.  Yes, this would make it more difficult to say the least.  We’d have less than a week as the record was 6 days, 17 hours and 31 minutes.  We would run 157 miles along the way. 

The planning was not simple.  Over 100 hours of work to find the optimal route across the country, the best places to run the 5k along the way and which flights would work the best as well as logistics of 5 people living in a van for a week while traversing America.

We arrived at the airport to find our flight delayed and eventually cancelled which jeopardized the entire trip.  Not getting to Hawaii by 7pm would mean our flight to Alaska and Seattle would be missed as well.  United Airlines, the worst airline currently in operation, decided instead of cancelling the flight, to just delay it 6 hours.  We were able to book a new flight from San Francisco to Honolulu and other than being set back $259 and losing our 5 hours on the beach, the trip would go off as planned.

It would be impossible to truly tell this story this big in a single blog so instead I’ll summarize each day by state with some of our best photos. 

Day 1 – Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon & Idaho

We ran the trails of the Kaka’ako waterfront park along the Pacific Ocean at sunset.  It was beautiful.  Then, we quickly Uber’d back to the airport and hopped on our flight to Alaska. 

We had a pretty tight window in Alaska, only 2 hours between landing and boarding, so our 5k had to be efficient.  We caught an Uber to the ocean which was only two miles away and ran the Coastal Trail with views of Anchorage and the mountains.  I could have run here forever. 

In Seattle my dad had rented the van, grocery shopped and gotten everything set for us to simply walk to the arrivals gate, grab the keys and go.  It was a gorgeous day in Washington, sunny and 80 across the whole state… except for the Snoqualmie Pass where we hit 50 degree hail, lightning and downpour rains on the Iron Horse Trail. 

Next up was Oregon and the trails of the McNary wildlife area along the banks of the Columbia River.  It was 90 degrees and the sun dried our previously soaked running clothes within minutes.  The dam and lock were magnificent to watch as we ran along the river trails.

Night had fallen when we arrived in Twin Falls at the snake river gorge and Evil Knievel’s jump sight.  The canyon rim trail ran along the river and we came within feet of a skunk and racoon.  This was the one place we visited at night that I was really bummed I couldn’t see in the light.  The river roaring below, deep inside the canyon, surely was an incredible view.

4,215 – Miles flown

644 – Miles Driven

15.75 – Miles Run

2hrs, 1min – Time ahead of WR pace

Day 2 – Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas

We rolled into Utah in the middle of the night.  Our route took us past the Enola Gay hangar and the city streets of Wendover.  It was uneventful as you hope the night runs are.

Just after sunrise we pulled into the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada.  The trails ran past the lake with the desert mountains in the background.  We beat the heat on this run and were off to California.

Our California run was located between the Mojave Desert and the dead mountains wilderness area.  Even in the mid-morning it was over 100 degrees and this was our first highway run.  Much less fun than the cool trails of the first 6 runs.  Still, the desert landscape with mountain backdrops was a spectacle. 

Next up we rolled in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park and ran along the rim overlooking the vast canyons of red, orange, black, purple and so many other shades of colors.  The heat index was again over 100 but the views from the top were among the best of the trip.

Our New Mexico planned route was to run in the El Maipais National Conservation area but we needed food, an easy route and restrooms as one of our team was sick.  So instead we ran the city streets of Milan which had food options and restrooms and was a flat route.  I finished the 5k first and then bought Subway for everyone while Brandy filled the tank and we were off.

We ran Texas in the middle of the night.  There was a farm road on the extreme NW corner of the state but it ended up being more of a tractor path in a farmer’s field.  Either way, it was in the state of Texas, so we ran quarter mile repeats by headlamps to finish out our day.

1,447 – Miles Driven

18.9 – Miles Run

3hrs, 20min – Time ahead of WR pace

Day 3 – Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota

We ran Oklahoma in the small town of Felt where the city streets would be safer at night than a busier road or trail.  Turns out there are dozens of loose dogs in this tiny town that charged us and barked at us the whole way.  I still can’t believe no one was bit but I’m very thankful for that fact. 

We arrived in Kansas just after sunrise and ran the farm roads overlooking thousands of acres of wheat.  It was one of those “amber waves of grain” moments in the early morning light.

Colorado is known for the Rocky Mountains but our route took us to the extreme eastern side of the state where it’s mostly prairie.  We ran the city streets of a charming little town and off we went. 

Nebraska was supposed to be running trails in the state forest but I was concerned with the high heat and humidity and general fatigue in the car that the elevation gain on that trail would hurt more than the views would be worth.  So, we ran the city streets up to the college in Chadron.  We were able to park in a gas station parking lot and get food and fuel with minimal downtime.

Wyoming was another state we barely clipped and limited time.  We ran the Little Missouri River Road in the vast prairies of the eastern side of the state.  Cool views but tough heat and headwind.

Montana came after a sketchy 25 mile gravel road traverse but we were rewarded with amazing mountain and valley views as we ran the trails Wickham Gulch.

We managed to outrun the severe storms to the state line of North Dakota.  We ran the high hills overlooking the Little Missouri River as dark storm clouds flashed lightning in the distance.

912 – Miles Driven

22.05 – Miles Run

5hrs, 41min – Time ahead of WR pace

Day 4 – South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana

Our original plan was to run the Badlands National Park in South Dakota but it would be dark when we got there and possibly in the middle of a severe thunderstorm.  So, since there would be no views and to avoid the rain, we drove a few hours further east run along the Missouri River in the town of Chamberlain.  The bridges and levees were really fun to run at night.

We hit Iowa in the middle of the night and ran the farm roads from the state line into the Iowa farm country.  We had only our headlamps and fireflies to light our way.

We arrived in Minnesota and the Myre-Big Island state park at sunrise.  We ran the park trails and roads as the sun came up over the water and deer grazed in the fields.

In Wisconsin, we ran along the Mississippi River just inside the border.  This would give us a 6+ hour drive to relax and not run for awhile before our home state of Michigan.

Michigan was our resupply state.  An amazing group of a couple dozen people showed up to run with us and help switch out coolers and get new supplies.  It was a nice boost after several long travel days.

45 minutes later we were in Ohio and ran through the town of Edon.  As we ran past the track, we figured we’d do a little speed work and did several laps around the track.

We arrived in Indiana shortly before midnight and ran the trails along the Wabash River.  The crushed limestone was a nice reprieve from the pounding of pavement the previous few states.

1,442 – Miles Driven

22.05 – Miles Run

5hrs, 23min – Time ahead of WR pace

Day 5 – Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama

In Illinois we ran across a bridge over the Rend Lake next to Wayne Fitzgerrell State park.  We saw some baby racoons and deer via headlamp. 

The fastest route into Kentucky was to run a small gravel road just inside the border but it was underwater due to flooding.  We instead had to run on the highway which had no shoulder and a lot of traffic, even at 2am.  State Troopers guarded the van and took our state photo with us.

We ran Missouri in the middle of the night and it was still mid-80’s and humid.  We ran the city streets instead of the cool trails of the Mississippi River to play it safe.  Exhaustion was setting in.

Sunrise hit right as we arrived in the Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas.  Running the dirt roads and trails as the first light of day hit the trees and water was amazing.

We ran the trails along the Mississippi River in Memphis where a 5k race was being run for the 4th of July.  The trail, river and race made us forget about how it already was at 8am.

In Mississippi we ran the Lefluer Bluff State park roads and trails.  A kind gentleman paid our 50 cent entry fee.  The bluffs, rivers, ponds and trees growing in the water were as Mississippi as Mississippi gets.

When we arrived in Louisiana mid-afternoon the heat index was over 100.  We ran in the Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge but were able to park in a gas station parking lot to get ice and cold drinks.  Running a 5k in those temps is brutal.

Florida wasn’t any cooler when we arrived in the late afternoon but we found a side road just inside the border that had some huge trees providing shade and had a nice 5k run.

We hit Alabama just before sunset.  The original plan was a trail in downtown Montgomery but would hit fireworks traffic, so we instead just ran the city streets to avoid losing time.  The bridge views of sunset made it worth all the elevation gain in this hilly little town we chose. 

1,135 – Miles Driven

28.35 – Miles Run

6hrs, 38min – Time ahead of WR pace

Day 6 – Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York,

Georgia just after midnight started our day.  The plan was to run the trails of the Mill Creek Nature Center but ran our night route along the mall instead.

South Carolina and the Lake Hartwell state park had a ton of elevation gain but it was fun to bomb down the steep park roads in the middle of the night.

Sunrise hit just as we arrived at Lake Norman in North Carolina.  We ran our 5k along the banks of the popular lake.  The clouds kept the temperatures a little lower which was nice.

In Virginia we ran the trails of the Claytor Lake state park with views of the lake in almost all directions.  The mountains loomed in the distance and we settled in for our last longer drive of the trip.  After we would arrive in West Virginia, there would be no less than 90 minutes between runs.

In West Virginia we ran along the Appalachian trail and it was one of my favorite runs of this trip.  I didn’t want to stop.  This part of the AT ran along the Shenandoah River with incredible views in every direction. 

In Maryland we chose to run city subdivisions instead of the Patapsco state park to give us more options to avoid traffic going through Baltimore.  Sometimes you sacrifice views for time.

Delaware was another excessive heat warning as we ran from the state line down to the University of Delaware and back.  We use our stop to get dinner, fuel and I even managed to quickly shave in the sink.

Our Pennsylvania route had us run in the shadows of all the major sports stadiums.  While I will always prefer the trails to the city, it was pretty cool to run along the huge sidewalks with the stadiums.

We arrived at the New Jersey side of the Hudson River right at sunset.  The trails along the river gave incredible views of the George Washington Bridge and Manhattan skyline.

New York’s route was in Rye, NY where we could see the ocean as well as the giant Ferris wheel while lit up at night.  Finishing New York was our 10th 5k and meant 50k for the calendar day.

 1,034 – Miles Driven

31.5 – Miles Run

7hrs, 15min – Time ahead of WR pace

 Day 7 – Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont  

 We ran across the Connecticut river and down the trails to the city to get our first state of the last day.  There wasn’t much of a view from the bridge due to nightfall but it was nice to be on our last day.

 We hit Rhode Island and ran a 1.55 mile out and back on a quite country road.  There was a light mist that felt great to run in after several days of excessive heat.

Due to running at night, we decided to run the city streets of Worcester to knock out Massachusetts.  It turned out to be the sketchiest neighborhood in the city.  And hilly.  Oh well, only 3 states left!

We arrived in Maine just as the sun was coming up and ran across the river to Badger Island.  The bridges had incredible views of the ocean inlets and the tide going out.

New Hampshire’s route was a run along the Merrimack River.  The huge mature trees masked the view for most of the run but we were able to get a few good photos.  Then off to the last state.

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We crossed the Vermont state line at 8:56am to set a new speed record for fastest to visit all 50 states.  Then we just had to park and run the bridges across the White River.  We ran loops over the river via the Hartford and Bridge St. bridges until we hit 5 kilometers to break the record for fastest to run a 5k in all 50 states.  The records had fallen and all that was left was to drive home and sleep in our beds.

334 – Miles Driven

18.9 – Miles Run

9hrs, 33min – Time ahead of previous WR

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“Official” record times:

6 days, 7 hours, 58 minutes – New speed record for running a 5k in all 50 states

                (1:30am EST Sunday start to 9:28am Saturday finish)

6 days, 5 hours, 16 minutes – New speed record for physically visiting all 50 states

                (3:40am EST Sunday start to 8:56am EST Saturday finish)