I have been blessed to have many great running friends. Some I actually run with too! Among those are a longtime friend Jessica Lynn. I have known and been running with Jessica since she joined the Running Fit 501 training program back in 2008. We have shared many stories about families, kids, grandkids, and of course running during our many long runs together. Jessica has a story to tell that I believe deserves special attention. She is in the midst of running a half marathon in every state! I sat down with her recently and she shared her reasons, experiences, methods, and other fascinating tidbits about her journey traveling the country running half marathons.
First a little background about Jessica, she was an excellent distance runner at Grosse Pointe North High School where she was a 1600M specialist and cross country runner. She discovered the world of road racing and competitive runners while her two boys were very young. The competitive juices she had as a high school athlete never left her. She has always diligently trained and her efforts paid off with her results. It was not unusual for Jessica to place very high among other ladies in her age group for any race. And she took on some of the country’s major races too! From the New York City Marathon, the Boston Marathon to the California International Marathon, and many more marathons, half marathons and shorter distances, there was Jessica giving it her best effort in every race she entered.
Then it happened! A runner’s worst nightmare. While on a run one day she suddenly felt a snap in her lower right leg! Her Achilles had torn! She would not be running her next race and in fact the thought of never running again had entered her mind too. But Jessica being Jessica took on her rehab with the same vigor and determination that she exhibited training for her races. It was a slow, time consuming, tedious, and difficult process but 5 months later she signed up for her first post injury race. The Shamrocks & Shenanigans 5k in March, 2014.
What emerged was a new Jessica with a different approach to running. She became more focused on her personal measurement of success. Gone was her need to beat the other ladies in her division. Instead she turned her running inward and became more focused on enjoying the process of training, occasionally racing, and of course running with her many friends again. My own recent medical issues the past year or so prevented me from running with her on many Saturday mornings as much as I once did, so at first I was not aware of her attempt to run a half marathon in each state. It was not until she was recently heading out to Provo Utah to check off her 24th state did I realize what an amazing feat this is! Nearly half way through this journey here are some insights to what it takes to run a half marathon in every state.
First to start, why half marathons and why every state? Jessica’s experience as a full marathoner taught her that running full marathons requires strict adherence to a demanding training schedule and also requires significant time to fully recover from a marathon. These time constraints affected her ability to support her sons during their younger years and impacted her training to where she felt she was not able to then run a full marathon to the level she anticipated. Half marathons on the other hand can provide a greater flexibility with training plans and allow a runner to recover quicker not only from the actual race but from longer training runs.
The other reason to take on the half marathon distance was the fact that she had already run numerous half’s in many other states during her running career. So she sort of had a head start of about a dozen states or so! So why not, to quote a common phrase “it was a no brainer”.
OK, so the training and recovery can be easily addressed but how does one figure out which marathon to schedule and when? Well, being the awesome mother she is, Jessica first checks with her son’s school sports schedule. Her boys compete in several sports, typically are not on the same team, and many of their games occur on the weekend. So the first thing on her list to check off is a weekend when her boys are not scheduled to compete and their dad can take care of them while mom travels to a race. Then there are times of the year like vacations and school breaks that make scheduling around her sons schedule a bit easier. Except that summer months also present issues involving undesirable warmer weather conditions. Regardless, she continues the challenge like surviving extreme heat and humidity recently in Maryland to cross the 25th state of her list and her half way mark to her goal.
Jessica has also learned to become exceptionally skilled at making travel arrangements. Due to a family history of frequent travels she is able to seek out the best airline deals, hotel deals, and related transportation issues. She holds cost to a minimum by redeeming credit card points for hotels and travel.
She also has become very adept at selecting hotels that are near the actual race. Often also needing a rental car to get back and forth from the airport to hotel to race expo, race morning, and back to hotel and airline. It’s not unusual for Jessica to fly out on a Saturday morning and return home from another state and half marathon Sunday afternoon or evening! In order to accomplish this schedule and travel as frugal as possible, she packs smartly, needing only a carry-on bag, will often pack her meals, and of course chose direct non-stop flights to avoid any mishaps with the airlines.
Of course it’s not only about the race and travel, Jessica especially enjoys seeing new places and meeting new running buds. She is often pleasantly surprised by certain locations such as Cedar Rapids, IA. She was not anticipating a scenic run in Iowa, but the course highlighted the beautiful Prairie Park Fishery and included local trails. Probably because she is a bit less competitive than she was in the past she runs more relaxed and will begin conversations with other runners during her half marathon. Runners are a very unique breed in that we all must share a common gene whereby we are able to instantly communicate with one another. While on the west coast several years ago, Jessica met an Idaho runner at a pre-race dinner. The next day, they connected again after the run and now they regularly keep in touch through social media sites, like Strava. They even traveled to the NYC Marathon together in 2017 and started the race in the same corral!
The pressure to finish her goal of all 50 states is eased by her own decision to purposely not have a specific timeline. She lives within her personal schedule and knows that because she has set this goal that it will eventually be reached. The most challenging states to compete include Alaska and Hawaii of course. She remembers being in Alaska a few years back and there was a half marathon near the time she was there but her plan to run all states had yet to be established so she did not run Alaska then. Not a problem, now she has a reason to return. Neither is there a specific state that is targeted to be her final state. My recommendation, make it Hawaii for she will be in paradise, the perfect spot on this planet to celebrate the completion of this awesome plan and goal.
Good luck Jessica, while I miss running with you on weekends when you travel for a race, I have enjoyed reconnecting on Saturday morning long runs with the peeps from the 501 Running Club and of course those challenging hills at Kensington.
I invite you to encourage Jessica along her remaining 25 states by leaving a reply to this blog post. I understand that Nebraska is next on her list and runners in Omaha should be on the look-out for her later this month.
Thank you for reading my post.
PS: This post was initially published in September 2021. Since then, Jessica has traveled to eight new states to run a half marathon. Her 33rd state was this past weekend in Massachusetts for the Fools Dual Half Marathon in Glouster.