I'm Kari Brown Budde and I completed 5 marathons, in 5 days ... in 5 states. How does one decide to do this? Let me tell you...once upon a time, I decided to run a marathon in every state. That was 2009, immediately after my first marathon. Actually, I think it was during my first marathon when the goal was decided. Since then, I’ve been running an average of three marathons per year – nothing too crazy. However, in 2012, my buddy, Nick, “talked me into” (it was more like mentioned it and I immediately signed up) running a back to back marathon – one on Saturday and one on Sunday. That was really the craziest thing I had done in running to date, until, of course, I found the Center of the Nation Series this year. During my regular relaxation activity of perusing the marathon websites for upcoming races I found mainlymarathons.com. This site had a series of 5 marathons in 5 days in 5 states! This is probably the most awesome thing I have found on a computer since the Number Munchers game on our old apple computer. I was so excited that I signed up immediately and then called my husband to “ask” him if it was ok that I do this. He was not too keen on the idea and was really worried about me running all five. So, I called my mom and she not only got excited, but also offered to drive me around between the marathons.
This sign up was in mid summer and my goal was to start getting in 3 long runs each week in order to train properly for this. Well, this summer I went on my honeymoon and wasn’t able to run, I quit my job and started my own business. Needless to say, my training was not perfect. I averaged 30 miles a week with a long run but I continued to work on my strength, mobility and my running form.
Going into pre-race week I was a little stressed and worried. I knew I hadn’t trained well enough, but I was also super stoked to find out how strong I was and what this sort of craziness would do to my psyche. Instead of the usual one-day-out race jitters, I started getting a little moody about one week out! My marathon mood consists of smiling less, being super serious, stressing about little things (like getting my running clothes to stop stinking or making sure my Garmin is over charged and clean), and re-writing lists of everything I needed to bring. The Center of the Nation Series started on Monday so I flew out early to spend a day with my mom doing a little sightseeing. We drove through the Black Hills and visited Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore.
My goals for the marathons were to:
1. Have a blast!
2. Survive. No heart attack and prove my friends wrong that running 5 in a row was not stupid.
3. No injuries.
4. Run all under four hours.
Pre Race Sunday:
The drive up to Bowman, North Dakota was beautiful. I have never been to this area of the country and the wide open country was gorgeous: hundreds of miles of prairie with rolling hills, cows, prong horns, and plenty of “Big Sky”.
We camped at the race course outside of Bowman, North Dakota, overlooking the dam. The closest “town” was an hour away where the only hotel was. Next to us were a few other campers – Sandy, Eric, Jersey (the dog) and George - and they came over and introduced themselves. All were running the marathons and one had already run one the day before and was running another one the following weekend – in addition to the other 5 in a row! This is when I started to realize the type of people I was dealing with. After a short walk to the “marina” where we filled up our water bottles, I had a dinner of left over Subway tuna sandwich and went to bed while the sun was still out. After a good four hours of sleep, midnight rolled around and the winds picked up. The winds were so heavy that my 2-man tent would slap me and then rise up over and over again throughout the rest of the night. Needless to say, there was no sleep after midnight.
Day One, Bowman, North Dakota
I stayed in my tent until five a.m. hit and then I woke up my mom to sit in the car with her (where she slept) to get warm. Of course, there was no cell phone service so I have no idea how cold it was but it was COLD! After eating my instant oatmeal with cold water and not finding my instant coffee, we headed up to the start.
Walking into the starting area of this type of race was eerie. People were super friendly, talkative, drinking coffee and water and no one was warming up. I received a fair amount of “that girl is crazy” looks while I was doing my dynamic warm up and jogging around.
The course was 1.09 miles out and 1.09 miles back on a gravel campground road. The wind continued at 25 miles per hour (I learned later) and was into our faces on the back portion. We had 12 out and backs to do and kept track of the laps by getting a rubber band from a friendly volunteer at each turn around. At one point I warmed up enough to throw off my gloves – and with them 7 of my rubber bands! – and was relieved at the end to find out that the honor system was in place so I didn’t have to run 7 more laps! 200 people were running. Now, this insane idea of running out and backs of a mile for each marathon was starting to make sense. I was smiling and chatting with people and just having an awesome time throughout the day. Our names were written on our numbers so we learned everyone’s name and by the end of the first day we were all friends. People cheered each other on. People high-fived each other. People stopped at the aid station at the turn around and talked or changed their shirts or had a bit to eat. I had never seen anything like this or had so much fun in a race. I actually smiled the whole time! (and was teased about it constantly)My goal for day one was to go out easy and still be fresh for the rest of the week. I tried to hold myself back but still ended up with a 3:40 marathon (and a 2nd female finish) – inciting a little nervousness about the rest of the week. After the race, I sat in the lake for an ice bath and then cheered on the rest of the runners.
The wind was still so vicious that taking down my tent was more of a workout than the marathon. Seriously. When I finally got it packed up, we headed down to Rapid City, South Dakota for our next days run.
At the group dinner that evening, we sat with some awesome people. I met people who were running their 200th marathon, their 170th, their second round of running all 50 states and everyone was friendly and happy and excited about what we were doing. Many had run multiple days in a row before, but to my relief, I wasn’t the only one who was new at this, either!
Once again, I had an ice bath and went to bed before the sun went down. It was awesome.
Day two, Rapid City, South Dakota
Marathon day two was actually about a mile away from our hotel, so we got up around 5 am again for the 6:30 start and headed down to the Center of the Nation monument in town. The race course was another 1.09 out and back course on the sidewalk/bike trail in town. We started by running through all 50 states’ flags and then out onto the bike course. Running on the narrow pathway made me run a little more reserved than the day before which was probably heaven-sent. I ended up running at the same pace with Craig from Indiana and got to run most of the race with him. He was a talker so it was great to have someone telling me stories for most of the day.
The day was a lot warmer than day one. It got to around 75 and wasn’t as windy as the day before. Again, we high fived people, slapped butts (ok, only people I already knew), and cheered each other on the whole day. One runner was dressed as superman, multiple women were wearing legitimate tutus and there was even a crew of people walking by the path that were dressed as Mount Rushmore. I decided to go after Sophie – this really strong runner who was third on Monday and was in second most of the race – and dropped Craig with about 4 miles to go. The short out and back course let me time the lead she had on me and I was able to slowly reel her in. I finished in 3:45 and was the 2nd female again. I hung around at the finish, cheering people on, dancing (yes, dancing) with Denise and Michelle and finding out just how fast and furious Aaron and Grant where, who were in racing wheelchairs – they were doing all 50 states in 50 weeks!
Day three, Colony, Wyoming
The drive in the morning to Colony, Wyoming was about an hour. Our Garmin directed us on dirt roads to the middle of nowhere – basically to a road in the middle of the Jensen Ranch, where their sign said “Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner” and “Runners Ahead”. The sunrise there was gorgeous – long rolling hills with cliffs off in the distance over the wide open prairie. The course was (you guessed it) 1.09 miles out and back again. It was Boston Day so everyone wore Boston shirts or pins and yelled Boston Strong into a camera that we ran by at the start. One kind soul, Roger, was giving a donation for every runner that wore something from Boston during Wednesday’s run.
The dirt road was highly cambered and slippery running uphill. The weather turned hot and there was no relief to the sun. Every lap I took water to throw on my head or put ice in my sport bra. One lap I threw ice down my shorts (not a good idea in non-compression shorts) and gave the support crew a laugh as I tried to waddle away dropping the cubes out of my shorts. The volunteers at the turn around were phenomenal – giving us encouragement every lap and by now I knew almost everyone’s name when I was running by. Tim was running with a prosthetic leg and looked great. Sam was the biggest flirt I have ever seen in a race before. Everyone was inspirational – great smiles and stories and rockstars for doing more marathons than I can even fathom. I have never had a race or a run like this where you are friends with everyone out on course and everyone is cheering for you - not just gunning for you. However, there was some of that, too. Sophie, my unsaid rival, was hauling. She looked great as always and ended up with the 2nd place finish, leaving me in 3rd on day 3. I ended up with a 3:56 with the support of Craig keeping me running easy and urging me to save some for the next couple of days.
You probably wonder why I haven’t mentioned the first place female. Well, Jeanne was just way too far in front of me to even think of running with. She dominated the races. She signed up a week before the event (was talked into it like most were), brought her one year old son (she had 2 others at home) and then ran a good 15 minutes faster than me every day (3:21 – 3:44). This just reinforced my need to keep running a ton of marathons, and racing all while someday having a family. Jeanne rocks!
By this point my knees were achy from the cement course the day before, my face was windburned, my feet were blistered and my left Achilles started tightening up. I will be honest, it’s hard to stay loose and recover properly when you’re sitting in a car, traveling from race to race, but with everyone else doing it at the same time, there’s no room for complaints. Instead I started stealing. After the race, I sat in the shade of the massage therapists’ camper on the course and signed up for a massage. I heard my name called so I jumped up and hopped on the table and while I was getting my massage, Maggie, another awesome runner, came over and said “oh it looks like you called my name”…whoops! I got to finish her massage slot since I was already on the table and realized I didn’t pay for it. When I finally got myself somewhat together, I did end up paying for my massage and finally was able to walk to the car.
Day four, Albion, Montana
Holy Mother. That is the only way I can sum up day four. Albion, Montana – previous home to a one room school house and now the town “no longer exists” (as mentioned on the website). Again, the drive was about an hour from our hotel in Rapid City, SD. By this point, I was not sleeping well at all and just getting to start running so that I could start to feel “normal” was greatly welcomed. The wind was insane. It was 35 miles per hour and only got worse as the day went on. It was freezing. I braved getting out of the car to go to the port-a-john as my dynamic warm up. I started the race with 3 coats, a hat, a neckie, and gloves on. I even gave my legs a little treat by wearing compression socks during the run rather than only after for recovery. I’m sure they enjoyed it.
The course was on a dirt road, severely cambered with a large, long uphill on the way to the turn around. This day it was a longer course – and I use that loosely – it was about 1.7 miles out and back rather than 1.09. So, this day I needed less rubber bands, but I’m not sure it made a difference. It felt like the longest 1.7 miles of my life every time I ran into the wind. The wind was so bad that when I was running with the wind, I figured it would help, but while going uphill the wind must have been going straight into the ground so you still had to fight it to run up the hill and to get any stability on the dirt, you had to dig down into the ground, working even harder. At the turn around, my favorite volunteers would sit inside their car to refrain from freezing or blowing over, until they saw us coming up the hill and would jump out, cheer and give me high fives. Every lap I gave them puppy dog eyes until they got out and then smile the whole time they cheered. As soon as I turned around the cone at the top of the hill, I would just drop my head, pump my arms and legs and work as hard as my body would allow into the wind and to the start/finish/turn around area. Tears would be streaming straight back on my cheeks and snot was running down my face. Thankfully, my mom/my official race day photographer, was too cold to stay outside taking photos, so we didn’t capture those special faces.
This day I also ran alone. Craig had already run MT so he took the day off to visit breweries. I tried to hang with the faster people and couldn’t and I tried to draft from people I was passing but that didn’t work out very well. At one point, Foxy Davy from England saw that I was trying to draft him and told me “go ahead and use me, I’m used to pretty girls using and abusing me” so I just couldn’t after that! I thought about stopping and taking a break every time I was running into the wind. Then I would get angry with myself for being a pansy and keep going. It was a constant internal battle of finishing that race. My goal of running every marathon under 4 hours was starting to worry me. In this race I worked as hard as I ever have in a race and finally finished in 3:58 (and 2nd again). It was so tough and I had to work harder than I can ever remember, that I truly fell more in love with running. I loved every second of the battle and couldn’t wait for another.
After the race, I tried to change in the car but my legs were so cold and my hands weren’t working that I ended up just stuck in the back of the car with my pants at my knees and towels wrapped around me. When I finally got dressed – an awful 30 minute shenanigan – we drove to Nebraska. Even with (and probably because of) the rough race conditions, I looked through the next marathon series’ in the car on the trip and decided on my next 4 or 5 or 10 in a row for next year.
We went on a sight-seeing tour of falls in the Black Hills and even found a stream (mysterious to those onlookers) that was perfect to ice bathe in. We arrived in Chadron, Nebraska with enough time to set up our tents in the state park, pop my blisters in my tent and make it to Pizza Hut (big city!) before 9pm – our latest bedtime yet.
Day Five, Chadron, Nebraska
The FINALE!!!! “Waking up” from my awful slumber in 35 degree weather with a spotlight above my tent, I was extremely nostalgic. I had no idea I was going to get so attached to running these marathons with so many strangers, whom I now call friends. My mom asked if I was sad to be done and I, like any good daughter, lied and said no. I didn’t want to admit that I would miss it or that I wanted to just keep getting up and running marathons every day. It seemed crazy to miss. I was moody, cold, hungry and didn’t want to run because I didn’t want to end the day.
I did finally make it to the start and thankfully had Craig to run with again. The course on day five was a fun one. It was a two mile loop through the campground with 3 large, long hills up and a half mile segment on a singletrack through the woods and over a river. My knees were achy. My blisters hurt. My second toenail looked like an erupting volcano. My legs were tired. They felt good going uphill but I couldn’t get my breathing under control. Then my legs would be shot going downhill but my lungs felt great. Everything was a challenge. But, I had my crazy runner friends.
Day five we cheered for each other more than any other day. We laughed and told stories. When I would almost fall on a tiny two foot dip in the trail during every lap, Craig would slow up for me. Tim would cheer and exude happiness every time he saw us. Sam continued his flirting throughout the whole day – he told me how nice I was to look at while I was running every time we passed – who wouldn’t love hearing that? Mike looked as strong as ever and won the whole race for the fourth time in a row. Jeanne got 2nd. Overall. Of the men and the women. I finished in 3:45, feeling amazing and also a bit sad that it was all over. We spent the day cheering everyone else on, running with friends, eating together, taking photos and marveling in our sweet post insane week bliss.
It was a truly beautiful race week to be a part of. I cannot think of another time when I pushed myself so far and enjoyed it as much.