The project took off on Jan. 30, 2011 with Georgia’s Callaway Garden marathon.
Barron’s race calendar marched relentlessly on through the year, reading like part quixotic travel itinerary, part vision quest. It concluded with the Running from an Angel Marathon in Boulder City, Nevada.
It was there, two weeks ago on Jan. 7, that the petite runner who resembles the namesake of her Pyxie Photography freelance business, successfully finished her 51st race. She took off her New Balance Minimus running shoes and dunked her feet in Lake Mead for a well-deserved rest.
Barron had met her goal – and then some – completing the project with three weeks to spare. In the process, she’d raised almost $20,000 for First Descents, a Colorado-based non-profit organization committed to curing young (18 to 39 year old) adults of the emotional effects of cancer through kayaking, rock climbing and other outdoor adventure sports.
For someone who couldn’t even run 15 minutes at a time when she started training for her first marathon four years ago, it was a thrilling achievement, and proof that with the right mindset, anything is possible.
Barron credits her discovery of the Galloway Method (run five minutes, walk one minute, repeat until done) and ChiRunning (a running style which advocates a midfoot strike and an effortless mindset), with her success. As a vegan, she focused on whole foods to power her body through the year.
In between marathons, whenever possible, Barron would touch home base in Ouray to see her sweetie and biggest fan, Joe Skalsky. Here, between doing laundry and making food for her next airplane journey, she would take in a strength-training session or two with former Ouray-based CrossFit trainer Tammie Shea, and a chiropractic treatment with Jessica Balbo at Balance Natural Medicine in Ridgway.
Did it ever get easy, running back-to-back marathons, week after week?
“Yes and no,” Barron said. “It definitely got easier.”
The thing that kept the project doable was cultivating an easy mindset, she explained. She focused on the big goal – project completion – rather than worrying about running for speed. Yet over the course of the year, her times did gradually improve.
“By the end, I could finish a marathon in five hours, easily,” she said. “The key concept of combining running and walking from the start makes it less daunting, mentally.”
Her mindset was her greatest weapon against injury. The one time she got injured was when she pushed herself to go too fast because she had a plane to catch.
Nevertheless, Barron admitted, about halfway through the year, she hit a wall where if she hadn’t been running for something bigger than herself, she thinks she might have quit the endeavor altogether.
“I felt like, ‘I don’t care anymore. I just want to go home.’”
Running for First Descents was what kept Barron going. She was inspired by the organization’s concept of transcending, rather than being defined by, one's limitations.
Turns out, there are a surprising number of people who feel the same way, hopping from marathon to marathon, working toward getting their “50 states” credentials. Barron made friends with many of them along the way.
The characters, and their outfits, were often the most memorable thing about a race. The ladies in tutus. The guy in the Spiderman outfit who was trying to set a record for running the most marathons in a costume. The retiring Marine running in a kilt, with a toy leprechaun perched on his shoulder.
“It can be fun,” Barron shrugged. “That was one of the things I learned this year by going slower. I got to take pictures. I got to talk to people. I got to enjoy it more. There’s something to be said for pushing yourself, but it’s worth trying to slow down and talk to people, and not care about your time.”
Among marathon maniacs, the “why” of it all is a frequent topic of roadside conversation.
“It’s something bigger than you,” Barron explained of the appeal of the ancient Olympic sport, which is growing like crazy lately. Industry statistics show that within the United States alone, an estimated 467,000 runners completed a marathon in 2009, compared to 143,000 in 1980. And the numbers just keep on growing.
“I’ve heard so many stories along the way,” Barron said. There was the fellow who lied to some colleagues that he was training for a marathon, then had to follow through and got hooked. The father who lost his son to cystic fibrosis, and as a tribute to his son, traveled to places meaningful to the two of them, leaving parts of his son’s ashes behind.
Among the most memorable characters she met were two celebrities of the marathon world: Larry Macon and Jim Simpson. Each has run over 1,000 marathons, sometimes bagging two or even three in a single weekend. (Macon, in fact, ran in the first-ever Mt. Sneffels Marathon in Ouray County last summer.) Now, Barron knows their secrets of success: “They walk a lot of it. And, they have longer legs than me!”
Short legs and all, Barron and her Race the States project built up quite a buzz among fellow runners. One of the biggest highlights of the year came in on Dec. 17, when she hosted her very own marathon at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes, Delaware.
Here, in an event called “Fortitude for First Descents,” Barron bagged her requisite Delaware 26.2 miler while raising close to $10,000 in one fell swoop for her organization.
Now that Barron’s back home, a lot of people have been asking her what’s next, and what she got out of her Race the States adventure.
“I know, but I can’t put it in words,” she mused. “It will come with time.”
One thing she’ll do for sure is to take all those race t-shirts and sew them into a giant quilt. As for her shoe-box full of medals, she’ll donate most of them to a nonprofit organization called Medals 4 Mettle that facilitates the gifting of marathon, half marathon, and triathlon finishers’ medals to children and adults fighting debilitating illnesses.
And there might just be another marathon, or two, in Barron’s future – once she mucks out her office, and finds a job. “I would like to see how fast I can do a marathon now,” she admitted.
After all, she’s a bonafide marathon maniac. No time to taper. “In a crazy-ass way, it’s fun.”