I was honored to be the keynote for the San Juan Mountain Runners Annual Event on December 10, 2018. I spoke about my trip running marathons at 52 of the 60 U.S. National Parks. I covered how I got myself in the mindset to make the change, how I fueled myself for a marathon a week while living out of my car and I hit on safety tips and gear for running in the backcountry.
Haleakala National Park was spectacular. There are few other words that can describe it. The soft rock hues of pink, yellow and rust, occasional pockets of green foliage and clouds that cotton ball up against the outer crater opened my senses. I marveled that I was going to be running 26.2 miles in a volcanic crater.
To make the experience even more enjoyable I was joined by two friends for the entire marathon. Todd is a local of Maui and not only scouted the route by running it earlier in the year, he also helped me find an awesome vacation rental for the week.
I met Corey in Tucson. He wasn't able to run the marathon at Saguaro National Park when I was there but we ran together the day after with his running group. He said he wanted to join me at one of the remaining parks. He flew all the way from Tucson to join me at Haleakala. While he still has a day job I consider him a professional ultrarunner. He wins races. He's that good.
We experienced cold weather at the start, warm weather during and lots and lots of sunshine (worst sunburn I got at any park on the trip was at Haleakala). We spent most of the day in the crater admiring at the diversity of life. Some parts are dry and rocky others are green. We talked to a few nēnēs, an endangered Hawaiian goose, chatted about science fiction and had a great time over our seven and a half hour trip.
As I've said throughout my project the best time I've had running in a National Park was when friends could join me. This was no exception. Thanks to Todd and Corey for making National Park number 51, the last National Park outside of Alaska, very special. #runningtheparks
I was lucky to be joined by two people for part of the marathon at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. For the first ten miles I was joined by my new friend Myunggi An. I don't remember the story about how he found out about my project but got inspired enough to fly all the way from Detroit to run with me. I am humbled that he would make such a journey but thankful he did. We had a blast running on the lava field on the Ka'u Desert Trail. We dealt with a 25 mile per hour headwind for most of the run but got to experience several different types of lava and Pele's hair, this golden volcanic glass that made the ground sparkle.
As I continued I got caught in the rain, saw a wild boar, ran through a lava tube and ran across the crater of a volcano. As you watch you get a peak into the kookybirds realm of my mind. Sometimes when I'm out running on my own I get a phrase or a piece of a song in my head and I repeat it over and over. In this case it was when I was on the Kilauea Iki Trail. That name just seemed to roll off my tongue again and again.
Around mile 22 I met up with my second friend Mark Bydalek. I also don't remember the story about where he heard about my project but he wanted to join me to put the cap on his own running endeavor. He had the goal to run at least five kilometers in all 50 states and Hawaii would be the last one. He reached this goal in 24 months. Just the travel alone is a challenge! I was honored that he wanted to cap off his effort with me. We ran together from the overlook of the Kilauea Volcano to the Visitor Center.
Running on lava fields was amazing. Running through a tropical forest was amazing. Running through a volcano crater was amazing. But sharing it with others is the most amazing of all. #runningtheparks
I was joined by my new friend Mike Harsh when I ran the last marathon of the National Parks in the lower 48 states at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado. Mike and I got connected because he is the boyfriend of the sister of Ron Peck who ran the marathon with me at two National Parks, Acadia (the first!) and Rocky Mountain. I was very happy to have someone with me for the last park in the lower 48 and make a new friend who also lives in Denver.
We ran on the north side of the canyon along the rim road, out Deadhorse Trail and then back to summit Green Mountain. It was a hot, dusty and for me an inspiring day. First I was inspired by the canyon and how it is different than any other canyon I’ve seen. And second, I was inspired by Mike who ran only his fifth marathon in his life just for fun, with me at a National Park. That is truly awesome.
The park is not familiar to many people but it should be. The black in the canyon's name refers to the fact that parts of the gorge only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day. You can rock climb, hike, run, raft or just marvel at the vein like rock walls which reminded me of a heart. It is worth the trip.
The marathon run at the National Park of American Samoa was the hardest of the 52 I’ve run so far. For me to cover 26.2 miles (actually 27.3 miles) it took nine hours and 35 minutes. For reference, my average is six hours.
What slowed me down? All sorts of fun things! I talk about them a lot in the video so you’ll get to hear about what I’m seeing, experiencing and how I’m feeling.
The course was a 13.1 mile loop that I did twice. Not usual. There were several parks where I had to repeat loops. What made this hard was that there was over 4,100 feet of climbing per 13 mile loop. For reference, my average climbing for a full 26.2 miles is slightly over 3,000 feet. In total there was 8,300 feet of ascent for the marathon. To make this even more impressive (at least to me) the highest point of the entire run was the summit of Mount ‘Alava at 1,610 feet. We are not talking 14,000 foot Colorado peaks here. The entire run was either up or down not much in-between.
I got caught in an almost three hour rainstorm; a torrent, a downpour, a tropical deluge. For reference, this was the first time in to that point 47 prior marathons that I got caught in the rain.
Because there had been a lot of rain over the past few days the ground was very slippery. Many rocks and roots were covered in moss. The leaves blown from the trees added to the banana peel-like surface.
It was also over 70 degrees when I started at 7am and only got hotter as the day went on. The rainstorm was cooling but gave way to a beating sun and high humidity once it passed.
And, for a significant part of the run I was on the Mount ‘Alava Adventure Trail. This is a “hiking” trail which has 56 ladders and 783 steps according to the official National Park brochure. No, I did not count but I don’t dispute it for a minute. Add to the ladders and ropes, rain and an already wet and slippery terrain and it made for a long day.
I remember it being very difficult. I remember at points I wanted it to be done. But I don’t every remember wanting to outright quit. It was just a blast to be climbing ladders up and down mountains in the rain on a tropical island in the Pacific Ocean. Plus, if I quit where was I going to go? I was on a ladder on a mountain on of a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
I know the movie is longer than most but I think you’ll enjoy seeing the sights of the National Park of American Samoa and one fortunate man who got to see it in all its beauty. #runningtheparks
The General Sherman Tree at Sequoia National Park. The largest tree in the world by volume. Turn it up because that's one BAT (big ass tree). #runningtheparks
They are so cute but their claws will rip your scalp off.
The run through Sequoia National Park, like Kings Canyon National Park to which it is attached, served up some of the most beautiful mountain scenery of all of the parks to date. And while Kings Canyon provided many, many more water crossings, Sequoia provided several truly dangerous ones.
I was lucky to be joined for a little over half of the marathon by my now new friend Nick Danielson who is a strong ultrarunner and a professional photographer (IG: @nickmdanielson). He took the best action photos of me at any park. They are on
Watch this video for our ramble out to Bearpaw Camp and through a grove of giant trees. Pay attention to Nick. He emotes total joy to be outside and running. We all need more of that in our lives. #runningtheparks
I often get asked what is my favorite National Park. I usually say that I can’t choose a favorite because I don’t want the other National Parks to feel bad. What I will say is that Kings Canyon National Park is as close to a favorite as they come. The canyon is spectacular. I compare it to Yosemite but more intimate. The mountain views, the trees, the animals and the Kings River, the rushing, raging, riotous river, all combined to leave an impression on me.
The 2016 winter snowfall was 180% of average. I was there in mid-June 2017 and the snowmelt was finding its way down the mountains any way it could. For me that meant a lot of water crossings. Many times the trail was a torrent working its way to the Kings or a still pond where the water had settled in a low spot.
This the longest video I’ve made to date but Kings Canyon demands the time. What you will see:
the insane South Fork Kings River which I ran next to just about the entire time
a lot of commentary about what I’m seeing and how I’m feeling
a bear! (yes! a bear on the trail)
a little lizard!
waterfalls including Mist Falls
my wet, wet feet
a snowfield (in June!)
I did an out and back on the Paradise Valley Trail to the Woods Creek Trail. Then an out and back on the Bubbs Creek Trail and an out and back on the Roaring River Falls Trail. There wasn’t a way for me to do a loop. The South Fork Kings River Bridge was washed out earlier in the year.
I want to go back to do the 41.2 mile Rae Lakes loop. Anyone interested? There is so much of that park I didn’t see and want to!
Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado is high on my list of favorites. You approach the park on some very flat plains. Then, these very out-of-place looking 700 foot high sand dunes rise up in front of the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The triple contrast impresses.
I did not run on the dunes but on trails that skirted them. As you would expect the trails were very sandy and difficult to run on. I did about 10 miles or so on the park road as well since sand sucks to run on and the park doesn't have an extensive trail system.
The sand dunes are impressive. The day after the marathon I did some dune hiking and shot some video which is included at the end. I did not do any sandboarding but many people were. It just looks painful when you wipe out. Great stars at night.
Great Sand Dunes National Park is a must visit.
Sixty percent of the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands is a National Park. Some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are protected and as much as possible left as they have always been.
What surprised me on the run was how the terrain and foliage changed drastically within a very short distance. The run started briefly on the road and then I started down the L'Esparance Trail. This first part of the run reminded me of the Great Smoky Mountains and forests of the east coast including deer!
As I continued running out toward Ram's Head Point on the Ram's Head Trail the terrain became very desert-like with sand, soft rock and cacti, really big cacti.
There was also the soft sandy beaches and blue water you typically associate with the Virgin Islands. What surprised me was how distinctly different they are and how quickly they change.
For the last 10K I was joined by my friend Mary Vargo. By that time I was hot, tired and a good deal dehydrated. I failed to record any video when she and I were running together but I did get one good selfie.
As I have seen at almost every National Park I visited there was no one on the trails. You want your own beach? Just hike a little bit and it is all yours.
Welcome to #gatorhurdles! There were many alligators in my path at Everglades National Park. The park is vast but does not have many trails for hiking so I ran the 16 mile tram road in Shark Valley. I added a couple of very short trails they have off of the road plus the climb up the observation tower.
Alligators were regularly on the tram road. Most of the time they either just laid there or moved away when I came running by. I was tempted to jump over them but thought that might not be a good idea.
The Everglades is a fun and fascinating place. It is so different than what I often think as the"typical" National Park - mountains, forests and rivers. This is why learning about and visiting our National Parks is so important. The diversity alone is intriguing. Hope you can visit as many as you can.
I managed to find a trail at Biscayne National Park. I spent my entire time on the Spite Highway, a seven mile trail that bisects Elliott Key. Yes I ran it back and forth around 3.5 times. There isn't much land associated with Biscayne National Park. Most of it is protected marine areas.
I had to hire a boat to take me the 45 minutes from Homestead, FL to the key. I camped for a night right near the dock.
If you want to learn why it is called the Spite Highway you can listen to the longest narration about a park I did while running during the entire project. I guess I thought it was interesting and I had no one else to talk to.
While I don't mention it during the run there were tons of spiders and spiderwebs crossing the trail. The first pass in either direction I ran with a stick in my hand to break down the webs before they ended up in my mouth, stuck to my shirt or in my eyes.
While somewhat repetitive it was a fun run through the shade of the foliage which has reclaimed the Spite Highway.
Congaree National Park in South Carolina is an example of just how diverse our National Parks can be. Congaree is best know for being the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States. And more impressive to me, the park also has one of the largest concentrations of champion trees in the world, with the tallest known examples of 15 species.
It was a fun run though Congaree with many downed trees to navigate. The environment is different than any of the other National Parks I visited. The marsh and soft soil, wetlands, river and very cool cypress trees makes for a magical, movie-like landscape. I got to see almost all the trails at the park. Early spring is a great time to go. No mosquitoes!
Mammoth Cave is the largest cave system in the world with over 400 miles (yes, miles!) of documented pathways. I could have easily run a marathon in the cave but alas, they didn’t let me. Instead, I had a fabulous day running a spiderweb-like figure eight route on the soft, rolling grounds above the cave.
My friend and rockstar runner Sharon joined me for the full marathon. We had a sunny 55 degree Kentucky spring day but the forecast was for three inches of snow only two days later. Talk about good timing. While you go to Mammoth Cave for the cave make sure you get the full experience by going for a hike or run on the trails and marveling that under your feet are caves that go on for miles and miles.
I had a really great day running the marathon at Smoky Mountains National Park. This is the busiest National Park in the system getting over 20 million visitors each year. I saw very few people, in fact in the video I discuss not having seen anyone for the first two hours. It just goes to show that just a little effort to get away from the trailheads and campgrounds will reward you with solitude, silence and nature.
I ran a big 26.2 mile loop starting and ending at the Smokemount Campground. Six miles of the run was on the Appalachian Trail. There was over 6,500 feet of climbing which puts Great Smoky in the top ten for overall elevation. For a majority of the run I was in earshot of running water. It was very peaceful and reassuring. The Great Smokies didn’t disappoint with views of the mountains that look like they were on fire.
Until March 2018 when Congress created Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, Hot Springs National Park was the smallest National Park. I was worried that I would have trouble running a reasonable route there. I was very happy to find out that I could do a 13.1 mile loop twice in some very pretty countryside. My new friend Catherine joined me for the first loop. While most people know Hot Springs for the bathhouses the parks grounds with forest, rock formations and lakes are worth taking the time to explore.
I learned that the water bubbling to the surface entered the ground 4,000 years ago. When you go to a spring to soak (which you should) it is amazing to consider the water you are in is 4,000 years old.
Check out Hot Springs National Park. A little different spin on a national park but worth the trip.
Mountains in Texas? Oh heavens yes. Big Bend National Park was dry, dusty and spectacular. The mountains were challenging, the foliage intimidating, the sun unrelenting. There were cliffs, canyons and even streams running through the Chihuahuan Desert. Plus, you have the meandering Rio Grande River continuing to cut its path.
Even though I was there in February it was hot and I ended up pretty well dehydrated by the end of the run. The amount of elevation climbed was in the top ten overall at over 6,300 feet. To give you a reference point, when I ran at Rocky Mountain National Park my friend Ron and I climbed 7,400 feet (and that was in the Rockies!). I was not expecting so much elevation at Big Bend. That and the sun wore me out. Hope you enjoy this quick peek at Big Bend National Park. Get out and see it yourself! #runningtheparks
When my undergraduate alma mater the University of Delaware was interested in doing a story about my running project for the alumni magazine I was very appreciative. Little did I know though they were going to make me their cover story! Thanks to the University of Delaware alumni office for helping me tell my story of change and life experience. Get out and see the world, make a difference and enjoy life! #runningtheparks
p.s. This reinforces the benefits of taking a selfie now and then. You never know where it will end up. The photo is from Petrified Forest National Park (that's petrified wood behind me).