Inspiration hit Kelly “K2” Richards on July 4, 1997, when she literally pushed herself off the couch and did a 2-mile run-walk.
Exactly 15 months later, she crossed the finish line at the Twin Cities Marathon for her first full marathon.
She didn’t know it at the time but it was that first marathon that would lead to 65 (and counting) fulls and ultras, including one in each of the 50 U.S. states.
From couch to 50-state marathon finisher
Richards dabbled in sports while growing up — softball, basketball, and even ran track and cross country in junior high. Still, she never considered herself athletic.
But she respected athletes, including women basketball players, who served as her inspiration for that initial run-walk in 1997.
“I was inspired by the inaugural season of the WNBA. I’d read several stories of all the sacrifices these women had made to play basketball – e.g. living in foreign countries – away from their family, working multiple jobs, etc.” she says. “And also two friends. One from high school and the other from work. At that time, like me, they were in their late 20s and neither was athletic but each took up running and looked GREAT.”
With her new WNBA shirt and mind full of inspiration, Richards went on that maiden run. “I really need to get up and do something,” she recalls. “So I went for a run and gained my own independence from my couch. I had been active but certainly not an athlete. Generally, I still don’t think of myself as an athlete although I suppose I am.”
Richards worked up her mileage and finished the Twin Cities Marathon the following year.
“I loved the experience but still ‘one and done’ was my plan,” she says. “A year later someone else asked me to run Chicago and I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ I didn’t respect the distance the second time, and it wasn’t a fun day. I wanted to run one more to end my marathon on a positive note. I ran Madison (Wisc.) in 2000, crossing the finish line with a 16-minute PR and going way under four hours, I fell in love with the marathon.”
Three marathons, three states, and counting.
In 2001, Richards started thinking about running a marathon in every state. “I didn’t know other people did that or that there were clubs or anything like that,” she says. “I just thought it’d be a way to keep me doing this thing I loved for the next 20 years.”
‘Many tears — all joyful’
Her journey brought her to her 50th state finish in mid-October. Along the way, she had to “repeat” Missouri when the marathon was cancelled at Mile 10 due to flooding on the course.
But that was only a blip on the journey to 50, which concluded at the finish line of the Des Moines Marathon in Iowa. “It was INCREDIBLE! Overwhelming! Humbling,” she says. “Over 30 people came from five states to be a part of the big day. There were many tears – all joyful.”
Her list of marathon stats is impressive. Among them:
- First marathon was in Minnesota in October 1998; 50th state (D.C. is done, too) was in October 2016 in Iowa. “Funny, to me, that they’re geographically so close but like a lifetime apart in experiences.”
- Richards’s three fastest marathons were run in a 90-day period — 3:30 Louisiana, 3:34 Oregon and 3:32 North Dakota.
- She has run 65 marathons/ultras, including at least five inaugural ones and four international ones.
- It took her 3 ½ years and seven tries to qualify for the Boston Marathon. But since qualifying, she has stayed qualified for over 10 years.
- She has placed in her age group in 12 different marathons/ultras states: Ohio, Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Maryland, West Virginia, South Carolina, Nevada and Nebraska.
- During races in New Mexico and Louisiana, she finished top 10 female but did not place in her age group.
- Her 49th marathon state (Washington) race was named Light at the End of the Tunnel.
Ask Richards which race has been her favorite, and it poses a big challenge — perhaps bigger than her actual 50-state goal.
“Tough question! My first was very special because Twin Cities is a great race – it’s a beautiful urban course and my hometown so I love it,” she says. “My Boston was everything I dreamed of and maybe even more. I worked so hard over several years to qualify and race day did not disappoint. New York City is incredible, too. The crowds, neighborhoods, bridges and Central Park were all just amazing. I really enjoyed The Light at the End of the Tunnel. It was small, quiet, beautiful mountain scenery and the gentlest 23-mile downhill you’ll ever run. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give Marine Corps Marathon a shout out, too – just an all-around great race. Having just completed the states at Des Moines, I’m pretty high on it right now, too! I have positive things to say about MANY of the races I’ve done. I’m fortunate to have had mostly great experiences. Be organized, start on time, have enough fluids on the course, accurately describe the course and I’m pretty happy.”
Along her quest, Richards learned quite a bit about herself.
“I already knew I was stubborn,” she says. “I could say determined but stubborn is probably more accurate. I don’t know if this counts, but I can lock into a pace and run it for a long time! I’ve run races without a watch and run back-to-back 5K splits to the second and very even half splits.”
An expert’s advice on achieving the goal
For others looking to achieve the 50-state goal, Richards has some insight forged during her 18-year quest.
“You have to stay focused on the goal — that might mean giving up doing a favorite race every year to do a different state each year,” she says. “Once in marathon shape stay there — maintaining is much easier than getting back into shape. Watch for travel deals and recruit others to travel with you. Sharing a hotel or rental car is more fun and it saves money. I made it a priority to do or see something in the state I ran in — always. Just running wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to experience where I was.”
Even though she didn’t do her first “double” (back-to-back marathons in the same weekend) until this past year, she advises others to consider it. Her last bit of advice is about the planning.
“Once you get to around state 40 planning becomes key — up until then you can just pick a state and run but these days races sell out weeks or months in advance and some states only have a few options, usually one in the spring and one in the fall,” she says. “You’ll need to plan these strategically. Plan well but don’t get weighed down by the planning or the size of the goal — keep running fun. I once took over six months off from running marathons because the planning was stressing me out and running is supposed to be a stress-reliever not inducer. I was ready and eager to get back on the marathon trail after the break.”
For Richards, she is not slowing down any time soon.
“I’d like to finish the World Marathon Majors but after being denied by Tokyo and London for the 2016 and 2017 races, I’m feeling a little discouraged,” she says as she lists off her bucket race goals. “I have a whole list of non-marathon distance races I want to do! Falmouth Road Race, Bix 7, Peachtree Road Race, Utica Boilermaker Road Race, Cooper River Bridge Run, Beach to Beacon 10K, Gaspirilla Distance Classic, Army 10 Mile — to name a few.”
Since declaring her independence from her couch, Richards has embraced all facets of running.
“Running has brought the very best people into my life,” she says. “I love the running community — locally, nationally and internationally. I don’t just run. I am a runner. Right now, I’m on a runner’s high and absolutely loving it!”
Name: Kelly “K2” Richards
Hometown: I live in Grapevine, Texas. My hometown is Minneapolis.
Number of years running: 19
How many miles a week do you typically run: Averages out to around 42 miles a week per year (includes a few 60 mile weeks).
Point of pride: I get my runs in despite weather, travel schedule, etc.
Favorite race distance: Marathon
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: I don’t really have one – but I do love pizza and beer!
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: I’ve never once run to music – except whatever is being played out on a race course.
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: I can. I will. I want to.
Where can other runners connect or follow you: @K2runs on Twitter