By Brian Besch
Against his doctor’s wishes, Brad Butler has accomplished a goal he set out for 13 years ago. He has completed half marathons in all 50 states.
“I played soccer competitively when I was in high school, and when I was 18, I started having this weird back issue and didn’t know what was going on,” Butler said. “I went to the doctor, and long story short, there was a hole in my spine from birth. The doctor said you can never run or water ski again, and those are the two things that you’ll never be allowed to do. I listened to him for about 10 years, and then when I get to 30 and I’m putting on weight, you want to exercise. I started to walk 5Ks. I walked a 5K with a buddy and his wife and she left him and he got frustrated, so he tried to run and catch up. I tried to calm him down by running with him and I passed him. I thought, OK, I can do this. I went to a trainer at the gym I was a part of, and she said, ‘I think you can run if you take some steps and do a lot of core work.’”
With success in running 5Ks, Butler decided to challenge himself a little more. There was a half marathon in his hometown in Mississippi. It was July and a little warm.
“It was the worst race to this day that I have ever done,” Butler said. “I thought that would be it. But if was kind of fun. I was living just south of Memphis, so I ran at St. Jude, which is the biggest race in Memphis. Then, Arkansas is kind of right there, so by that point, I thought I could run in Arkansas. I have this buddy that is kind of crazy too, so I said, ‘What if we just ran half marathons in every state? He was stupid enough to say, ‘Yeah, let’s do that.’”
A couple of months later, Butler and his friend, also named Brad, got on a plane and flew to Charleston, South Carolina, simply to run. That was 2010, and the two have been running across the country ever since.
“His wife and I worked together in church and we were great friends,” Butler said of his running partner. “She decided that her husband and I would be friends. We started by going to a golf tournament together, and it worked from there.
“I think realistically it was an unimaginable goal. Then when you talk to people, they ask, ‘Do they have races in Alaska and Hawaii?’ I think when we got to maybe 20 or 25 (states), people started to say that we might do it.”
Most of them are memorable for their own reasons, but Butler says a few of them stick out in his mind.
“I was in a job transition and at some point, you were just trying to find states. I told my running partner that I found a race on New Year’s Day in Minneapolis. We flew to Minneapolis on Dec. 29 and it was so cold. It was minus 12 on New Year’s Day. The race was called the Polar Dash. At one point, they were like, ‘OK, it is two laps, but if it is too much for you, you can always stop at one lap.’ When people are ice fishing on the Mississippi River, you are like, ‘OK, it is really cold.’”
Brad said the wind was blowing with snow and his eyes were blurry from sweat on his eyelashes. He continually had to crush the ice to see. There were attempts to clear a path, but eventually runners were trudging through snow.
“It’s not the smartest thing I’ve ever done.”
Running 50 states isn’t going to happen without its setbacks. Butler ran with double pneumonia in Georgia before going to the doctor. In New England, they ran six states in six days to cross them off the list on a budget. His body was “in full lockdown” a few days after, telling him — or maybe demanding — that it was time for a break.
“They have all been unique. After we passed a certain spot in Anchorage, there was a bear that crossed the course. I was glad that we didn’t stumble upon that.
“For me, I am blessed to have friends all over the country, so it is getting to see friends I wouldn’t otherwise see and things we wouldn’t otherwise see. An early lesson I learned in Kentucky was when we were at Churchill Downs. Early in the process, I wanted to be as fast as I could. We got out of Churchill Downs and my running partner said, ‘Weren’t those horses beautiful? I didn’t see the horses at Churchill Downs. I just decided that I was never going to miss the horses again.
“When we were in Kansas, I stopped and played one-on-one with a neighborhood kid. At Disney, you stop and see the characters. I think there is a mentality where you want to finish first, but really in distance running, you are only racing against yourself. You want to be successful with people, and you encourage people and make friends along the way. The best races are the ones that have the most people cheering.”
The hobby has allowed the two to see many places they have wanted to visit.
“I wanted to see the Basketball Hall of Fame in Massachusetts, so we did that. We ran Brooklyn and we were able to see (the 9/11 memorial) and that was really neat. The security in Brooklyn was staggering, because it was right after the Boston Marathon deal. We ran in Philadelphia where the Rocky statue is. We ran the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The one time of year they close the Las Vegas Strip is for the race we ran in Nevada. Marshall University (in West Virginia) has a half marathon that showcases their famous plane crash. We ran through the campus and passed the crash site, and the last bit is into the football stadium where they hand you a football.”
The scenery spans from places like Hobbs, New Mexico, that has artificial turf in a place that cannot grow grass, to Hawaii.
Hawaii will always be memorable because it was Butler’s last to complete the 50-state journey. He finished just a few weeks ago and celebrated with family and friends afterward.
“I turn 50 this year, and it was kind of cool to be able to do. Hawaii Five-O has a nostalgic name and we decided pretty early that we were going to finish in Hawaii. We ran the first seven or eight miles on the coastline, so it was really flat, but then Diamond Head is nasty. We had to go up and down Diamond Head, so the last four miles were up and down a mountain.”
Butler said his favorites were the Outer Banks in North Carolina and being able to raise $10,000 for St. Jude in Tennessee. The Texas race they chose was in Dallas.
“That one is a weird one, because it starts in the parking lot of the Cotton Bowl, but you also run through Highland Park, so it is the poorest and richest parts of Dallas in 13 miles.”
Though one goal is complete, another will soon take its place. Butler has plans to continue running in new places. He has done some longer runs, including one of 59 miles.
“I loved every second of it and I’m not done running. I will have to set a new goal and I don’t know what that is — continents maybe or longer distances.”
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