OURAY – Four years ago, 26-year-old Elysa Barron decided to run alongside her father for the final three miles of the Boston Marathon. She was not a distance runner herself at the time, but the experience changed the course of her life.
Now Barron, who moved to Ouray in 2008, is embarking on an ambitious, not to say outrageous, quest to run 51 marathons in 52 weeks, beginning in January 2011. To make it even more challenging, she’s running one marathon in each of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia. All by Jan. 15, 2012.
The 51 in 52 Project, she calls it. “I’m not good at it,” she says modestly of the four 26.2-mile races she has completed to see if she can actually survive running that far. The most recent was the Steamtown Marathon in Scranton, Penn., a couple of weeks ago. “I don’t do it to win. I don’t plan on racing any of these marathons.” Just getting through the schedule will be a huge accomplishment.
Once Barron came up with the idea, she started looking for a good cause to do it for. Here her dad helped again. He told Elysa about a friend who did fundraising for First Descents, a Colorado-based non-profit that runs weeklong “adventure camps” for young adult cancer survivors.
“I wasn’t just going to do this for me,” Barron said. “First Descents seemed like the perfect match.” The non-profit was founded in 2001 by kayaker Brad Ludden, who believed that helping 18-39-year-olds deal with the emotional effects of their cancer battles was important, and underserved. FD “fighters and survivors” gain confidence and learn new skills. Testimonials on the FD website include sentiments like: “It was a way to get myself back.” And “You forget that you have cancer.”
Ludden started with one whitewater camp in Vail, and the program has since grown to 14 programs in six states, offering camps in rock climbing, kayaking, mountaineering and, starting next summer, surfing in Santa Barbara.
The camps are free to the cancer victims. Each week costs about $1,000 per camper, Barron said. So, her fundraising goal is $51,000, a thousand dollars for each marathon, enough to send 51 cancer victims to camp. The fundraising is off to an “OK start,” she said. She expects contributions to pick up once she actually begins the racing.
She’s not racing now, “just training,” she said. “I don’t mind running in the cold. I like running out County Road 17 or up Camp Bird Road.” She also swims and puts in time on a treadmill. Meanwhile, she will also be teaching part-time in the children’s ski school at Telluride.
When asked how she planned her race itinerary, Barron once again invoked her father, who does database work for a hardware company in Maryland, where Elysa grew up. “He’s a math guy. He went to MIT. My dad created a spread sheet ‘race calendar’ for me, by date and by state.” It was tricky, because some states, like California, Texas and Florida, have races every weekend. While others – Barron mentioned Kentucky, Vermont and Rhode Island – have very few. So, the small states became the keystones around which the travel schedule had to be crafted.
You can see Elysa’s schedule and make a donation by visiting her website: www.racethestates.com. Once the racing starts, you will be able to follow her progress on her Facebook page. For more information on First Descents, go to www.firstdescents.org.