Hello, #ShokzSquad! I’m Sandy Stiner, a second-year ShokzStar and marathon finisher in 50 states! It's surreal to say it out loud and a journey that took me nearly nine years to complete.
I first heard about the 50 States Marathon Club in the spring of 2012. I was in Indiana for a marathon, and a fellow Marathon Maniac club member was celebrating her finish of the 50 states. I discovered that you could join the club once you have ten states completed and I was already at five. It was another year before I hit my tenth state and joined; from there, the craziness began, and I never looked back. It became a multi-year obsession that involved my husband taking all his vacation time to travel to races with me.
It got expensive to fly or drive just to check one state off the list, so I started doing multi-state events on a trip I would run a race in one state on a Saturday then immediately hop in the car and drive to run a race in another state on Sunday. One time I did a series of races that were five marathons in five states in five days. All in all, I took 16 flights and 17 road trips by car or RV to complete a marathon in 50 states.
I’ve seen some pretty cool things on this journey including a moose, cougar, bald eagles, snowy owls, whales, and loose dogs. I’ve run on highways, trails, bridges, railroad trestles, and boardwalks. I’ve passed everything from state capital buildings to cornfields. I’ve also run some places you usually can’t. I got to experience running a lap on a Nascar Speedway, a loop at Churchill Downs, and across the football field at the Marshall University stadium carrying a football to the end zone finish line. I even ran a mile underwater in the tunnel between Canada and Michigan. I’ve run marathons in temperatures from 10-90 degrees, on beautiful sunny days and in the snow, driving rain, mud, 50 mph winds and once had to go through nearly waist-deep water in frigid temperatures. Some courses were in amazing forests or mountain ranges while others were entirely on the beach or a series of loops through a parking lot.
Of course, I had things go wrong along the way. A race was canceled because of a hurricane, twice we had flat tires, I was sick for a few races, and one time I had a stress fracture in my femur that required surgery. I also DNF’d (did not finish) a few ultra marathons and had to go back and repeat the states. I nearly didn’t make it to the 50th state because my husband broke his leg the week before and needed surgery.
I’ve eaten mounds of bacon and drank probably hundreds of dixie cups of beer along the routes. I took up every offer for a “free hug” by a spectator. I listened to podcasts and music, but mostly I talked to the other runners. I’ve run races with friends, my husband, and even my brother. At my last race, I wore a bib on my back that said it was my 50th state finish. Tons of people congratulated and cheered me on, but the most special was when a man named Steve Fuller passed me. He wished me well on my journey and told me he was the first U.S. citizen to finish a marathon in every state back in 1986.
Many times I finished in the middle of the pack, a few times I’ve come in last and one time I was fortunate enough to take first place female and fifth overall. People often ask me what I got for winning the race -- I got the same medal everyone else did, and maybe some bragging rights.
For finishing my races, I’ve received everything from a tiny ribbon to probably one the biggest finisher medal ever made. The real reward though was seeing this great country. It was making friends in each state. It was crossing the finish line with one of my border collies. It was seeing the sun rise and set while I ran marathons all over the U.S.
I’ve now accomplished something that less than 1,500 people have done. I sit here and shake my head because it all went by so fast. If I could do it all over again...well, maybe I will...but don’t tell my husband just yet!