These runners have pulled off some amazing running feats. Are they superhuman, obsessed or just out of their minds?
Border-to-Border: Brian Stark
A lot of people like to travel around the U.S. and plenty want to check every state off their list. But Brian Stark doesn’t know of anyone else who wants to run across all 50 states. The self-proclaimed “States Runner” most recently traversed number 31—Michigan.
“There’s no rulebook for this kind of thing,” says the 42-year-old teacher from Tucson, Ariz., adding that he plans his state crossings on existing trails as opposed to the shortest route. “Other people run on interstates and it can be much faster.”
Stark started this extreme effort by hiking the Appalachian Trail in 1995, but it wasn’t until he traversed Connecticut (state No. 5) that he pared down what he carries to about 18 pounds—and really started running.
Now that he’s married with two daughters, he usually takes off for two or three weeks in August to cross a state or two. He stays in cheap motels and tries to rely on the hospitality of those he’s passing by to keep costs to about $2 per mile. He mails packages to himself at post offices along his route with more Hammer Nutrition products to keep him fueled during the days. Each night he’ll eat a big dinner and down a gallon of water to help him wake up refreshed.
Surprisingly Stark doesn’t run too much the rest of the year. He’ll do 30 to 60 minutes on the treadmill. Once in a while he’ll run nearby trails with friends.
“The weird thing about me: I don’t have to train to do these 500-mile runs,” he says. “I don’t know how it happens. After a few days, you settle into this acceptance.”
Stark dreams of finishing the 50 states by the time he turns 50. (Follow his progress at statesrunner.com.) He also imagines going out in marathon style—by running across the largest state, Texas, in winter, then flying to Alaska to follow the route of the Iditarod in late winter, before heading to Hawaii to do five islands, finally ending with Rhode Island, the smallest state. This year though, he’s thinking about tiptoeing across Oregon.
Unsurprisingly, Stark is a goal-setter. As he talks about running 40-something miles a day, he adds that he can do 50. Then he says with anticipation, “60 lurks!”
As he reruns the states in his mind, he declares Colorado the most beautiful, West Virginia and Kansas the most friendly, and Iowa the most perplexed by his quest.
What keeps him going? “There’s things that happen out there,” he says. “I wonder what’s around the corner, what’s across the bridge.”
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More about Brian:
Favorite shoes: Mizuno Wave Ascend on trails and on Hoka One One Mafate on flat surfaces
How many shoes do you go through in a year: “I don’t know. I stopped counting. I would estimate not as many as people would expect. Maybe six.”
Go-to energy fuel: Orange-Vanilla Hammer Perpetuem
Most essential piece of running gear: “I just got an iPhone last year. It’s really handy for looking at maps.”
Personal mantra: “I think, Wouldn’t it be great if…,” as he dreams of a small town where he’ll be invited to sleep one night in an empty jail cell. Or of a family with a swimming pool taking him in for a dip and some barbecue.
Jet-Setter: Marissa de Luna
Race-morning logistics are challenging enough for any new runner—and that’s only for one race. Add in travel time, strategic planning, smart spending and sleeping in cars, and you’re ready to run with Marissa de Luna across all 50 states and seven continents in under a year, which is what she did in 2013—on a total whim.
“My brother was going to go to Antarctica, and I wanted to go and see the race. And he said, ‘Whatever I pay, you have to pay.’ But I wasn’t running, so he said, ‘Why don’t you run and pay for the race then?’”
What started as a simple sibling agreement for an overseas vacation quickly snowballed into the impressive feat of covering 57 races in just under a year, starting with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Pasadena Half Marathon last February to “see if I can even run that far,” de Luna explains. Having only a few 2-mile runs under her fuel belt, the 51-year-old notary from Santee, Calif., successfully completed the 13.1 miles. “It went from something to do to something that was a goal. It’s never too late to do something, so might as well do them all [in all the states],” she explains. “I thought, Oh my God, I can do this!”
She did—sometimes hopping in the car immediately following one race to make it to another state to run the next morning—or even later that day. After crossing the line at the Bare Cupboard Half Marathon in Wisconsin last July, de Luna drove her rental five hours to Illinois to make the 5:45 p.m. start time for the Fitness for America Sports Festival Half Marathon. When races were on back-to-back mornings, de Luna was not a stranger to sleeping in her car at the start line. “If I get there at midnight and have to get up at 4 a.m. to run another race, what’s the point in a hotel?”
Double weekends even crossed international waters, with her first international event being the Punta Arenas Half Marathon in Chile followed by the White Continent Half Marathon in Antarctica the next morning. “Due to weather, it was easier to enter Antarctica from Chile, so we did that race first instead and hopped on a plane five hours later.”
De Luna completed the 57-race streak in Thailand at the Chiang Mai Half Marathon in December. With no DNFs or injuries in 2013, she plans to tackle her first full marathon this year. “If I ran two halfs in a day, I can run a full!” she says. The hardest part of the whole adventure? The planning. “I started with nothing—just a pair of shoes and some tights. There are ways around the financial parts. It’s all about the planning.”
More about Marissa:
Favorite shoes: Brooks Adrenaline and PureFlow. “I value sponsors— without them events can’t survive by just runners’ entry fees.”
How many shoes did you go through last year: Two pairs
Go-to energy fuel: “I can eat pretty much anything.”
Most essential piece of running gear: Nike tights with pockets
Personal mantra: “It is hard at the beginning, but always keep in mind how great it feels at the end.”
Race Smitten: Michael Wardian
Michael Wardian is not your average weekend warrior. On any given Saturday or Sunday throughout the year, you will find the 39-year-old from Arlington, Va., on a starting line—sometimes twice in the same day.
Last Nov. 17, Wardian, a three-time U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier with a personal best of 2:17:49 for the 26.2-mile distance, won the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Antonio Marathon in 2:31:19, then hopped on a plane to Las Vegas, where that same night he raced the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon, finishing 10th in 2:57:56. While he came up short in his quest to win both races, the challenge of trying to pull off such an ambitious feat is what drives Wardian to race, and race often.
“I am a highly motivated guy and I want to always push what is possible,” says Wardian, who will turn 40 on April 12. “And I hope to inspire other people to do a little more than they think they can.”
Marathons are only part of the ongoing racing equation for Wardian, who in 2008 raced 53 times at distances ranging from one mile to 135 miles. He’s run under 15 minutes for a 5K, bagged national championships at 50K, 50 miles and 100K, and set a handful of zany world records along the way, including the marathon world record on a treadmill (2:23:58 in 2004) and the fastest marathon ever run pushing a jogging stroller (2:42:21 in 2007), both of which have since been broken.
“I set lofty goals and then try to do the work to achieve them and that gets me fired up to train and compete,” says Wardian, who works full time as an international ship broker and is married with two kids.
Wardian has been a model of resiliency throughout most of his competitive running career, however he hasn’t always been able to avoid injury with his serial racing schedule. In 2012, he suffered five stress fractures in his pelvis, along with five hernias. Those injuries sidelined him for six months, but they didn’t keep Wardian entirely off his feet. True to his never-sit-still nature, he swam and biked, went to physical therapy, ran on an AlterG treadmill, hiked with his family, and walked a 15 percent incline on his treadmill for four to five hours at a time while he was unable to run.
“I love a challenge and I viewed my injuries as a challenge,” Wardian explains. “And I was trying to stay as fit as I could during that time and come back as fast as I could. We also as a family started doing a lot more hiking together, and while I hated being hurt, I loved spending additional time together.”
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More about Michael:
Favorite shoes: Hoka One One’s Bondi B, Rapa Nui Trail and Conquest
How many shoes do you go through in a year: 30–40 pairs
Go-to energy fuel: Vitargo (carbohydrate mix) and Succeed S! Caps
Most essential piece of running gear: My lucky MarathonGuide.com hat
Personal mantra: “I have a few I fall back on, such as, ‘Stay after it,’ ‘Stay small,’ and ‘Why not today?’”
Rock ‘n’ Roller: Chris Small
Chris Small has been active all of his life, but he admits he owes some of his recent crazy running habits to longtime friend Dave Defilippo, who encouraged Small to join him at a Rock ‘n’ Roll race in Providence, R.I., in 2011. Small, a 46-year-old Boston resident, has been on a roll ever since, running 18 Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon events last year—including two in one day in November. (If it sounds like an expensive endeavor, it helps that he works in the travel industry and he bought a Rock ‘n’ Roll Tour Pass, which allows unlimited entries for $399.) “Dave is kind of a hardcore runner who has been doing a lot of races,” Small says. “At one point, he said, ‘If I can do it, you can do it.’ That really kind of got me motivated.”
Small was one of about 80 people who ran the half in San Antonio on Nov. 17, and then got on a two-hour flight to Las Vegas for an evening race along The Strip.
“It was pretty hot in San Antonio,” he says. “But I rehydrated and rested on the plane and got a second wind by the time I got to the starting line in Vegas.”
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More about Chris:
Favorite shoes: New Balance 890
How many shoes did you go through last year: Three pairs
Go-to energy fuel: Strawberry or Banana GU
Most essential piece of running gear: My iPod. “I’m kind of an ’80s kid, so I like a lot of alternative music. But really anything that has a fast beat to it.”
Personal mantra: “Sleep when you’re dead.”