Outdoors

This Lenexa native has now run marathons in all 50 states — before turning 50

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It was October of 1996 in Kansas City, and temperatures had become bitterly cold. The city had just experienced an ice storm, but the Kansas City Power & Light Green Run marathon was a go.

A 26-year-old Austin Braithwait, running his first marathon ever, was hardly dressed for the occasion: Long-sleeved shirt and shorts, but no gloves.

That’s why, when Mile 16 rolled around and his hands were “freezing,” Braithwait was ecstatic to spot what looked like a pair lying in the middle of the course. But three runners were ahead of him. Surely one of them would pick them up, leaving Braithwait to brave the elements for the remaining 10 miles.

One by one, the runners approached the pair of gloves.

They’re still there, he thought.

Still there.

Still there.

The third runner passed the gloves by, and Braithwait picked them up and put them on. He finished the race by the most divine of circumstances.

“I’m not sure I would have finished,” Braithwait said, “had those not been delivered from the heavens.”

Braithwait, 49, called the experience “miserable” and figured he would never run another marathon again. After all, the longest distances he had run previously were short ones with coworkers at lunch. Marathons, he thought, were out of the question.

The opposite has come to fruition. On June 22, Braithwait completed a marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, the final stop in his quest to complete marathons in all 50 states before the age of 50. The number of people who have done exactly that, according to the 50 States Marathon Club, is small: 113.

In sum, Braithwait has now completed 85 marathons.

Much like the way he finished his first marathon, though, Braithwait never planned on accomplishing such a thing. After he ran his first marathon in 1996, the Lenexa native waited eight years to run his second, which came in Boston in 2004.

Three years later, Braithwait went on a run around Lake Okoboji in Iowa with his friend, Troy Kyle, whom he met years earlier at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. They were driving home when a conversation started.

“Well, we’ve done three or four states,” Braithwait reasoned. “Why wouldn’t we do them all?”

So he did.

An employee at UMB in Kansas City, Braithwait led the company’s corporate trust during the week and ran marathons on the weekends, at least some of them. To complete marathons in all 50 states in 23 years, Braithwait used the weekends to squeeze races in, bringing his wife, Janna, and two children, Jerin and Ritter, along to the places his job took him — Death Valley in California and Pikes Peak in Colorado, to name two of the more memorable ones in Braithwait’s mind.

Schedules often followed a similar pattern: a work meeting on Friday, a marathon on Saturday and a trip home on Sunday. Some weekends, including on a trip in the south, he ran a marathon in Mississippi on a Saturday and one in Alabama on Sunday. Ditto for one time on the east coast, when Braithwait ran in Pennsylvania and New Jersey on back-to-back days.

It’s important to note here that Braithwait is hardly a running connoisseur. He admits to being something of a “hack” on the preparation side of things. He doesn’t prioritize clocking impressive times; he considers finishing in the top third or top half a successful outing. Most times, Braithwait finished races between 3 hours, 45 minutes and 4 hours, 30 minutes.

For those out of the loop: That’s not bad. According to Verywell Fit, a health and exercise blog partnered with The Cleveland Clinic, the average men’s marathon time in 2016 was 4:22.07.

So in other words, Braithwait often ran above-average marathon times over the course of 50 races.

“Nowhere close to the top has ever really been a goal,” Braithwait said. “You’ve got to do too much speedwork and essentially put in a lot more time than I have to give from a work and family standpoint.”

That, perhaps, begs the question: Why keep doing this? He’s a family man. While some committed runners lead a lifestyle that revolves around their craft, Braithwait can’t afford to dedicate weeks to prepare for a marathon. His best preparation often came via raw experience: Instead of hammering speedwork or loading up on carbs, Braithwait used the base he acquired from the 10 to 12 marathons he ran per year to prepare for the following ones.

So what’s the point?

The answer is twofold. First, Braithwait took some convincing to return to running after his first experience in Kansas City. In 2004, he had a client, Jane Melchionda, who worked just outside Boston and coaxed her friend into running a marathon in her city.

That contributed to the running passion Braithwait enjoys, but it’s only half of it.

The other half has to do with Braithwait’s personality. He’s a big sports fan. He played lots of sports in high school.

“I don’t like feeling like I’ve failed at much,” he said with a laugh. “So I think it always kind of nagged at me. Those first two marathons, neither one was a great experience, so I was striving to feel good about one. Then, on that third one, once it was actually a pretty good experience, I had a buddy that wanted to do one, so I did one with him, and it just kind of grew out of that.”

Braithwait has no designs on slowing down. He says he’ll likely get to 100 years old before he considers doing anything of the kind. Some people he knows, Braithwait says, “question the sanity” of he and the friends that have joined him on these marathons, but that’s how he maintains those friendships.

For now, Braithwait is looking forward to setting up the award he receives from the 50 States Marathon Club on his desk — until he returns to the next marathon course, that is.

“There’s definitely a sense of accomplishment,” Braithwait said. “It’s been cool to have that goal out there for the last seven or eight years and really seeing, ‘OK, I’m making progress.’”

As for the gloves he found all those years ago, well, those aren’t coming out of his drawer for running gear any time soon. They’re a keepsake of sorts.

Said Braithwait, chuckling: “I’ve never had the heart to throw them away.”

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