When Jeffrey Ward crosses the finish line at the Kona Marathon Sunday he will complete a journey that has taken more than a decade.
Ward is among five members of the 50 States Marathon Club who are expected to wrap up the challenge of completing a marathon in all 50 states Sunday.
“My geography knowledge is a lot better, that’s for sure,” Ward said with a chuckle. “This has been a real journey. When I cross the finish line I expect it will be exciting but also relaxing just to be able to say I’ve done it.”
In all, the club has 35 members participating in the event. The experience of the racers ranges from 500 marathons to a modest 10.
Saturday afternoon, the group gathered at Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay for one of their four reunions throughout the year.
“We like it to be like a big family,” said Paula Boone, who founded the club in 2001 with her husband Steve. “When we started this, we wanted to make an organization so all the people on this quest could get together at races and form a community. Now, it is like going to a fun family reunion. These are the people we love and have fun being around.”
The club has more than 3,500 members representing all 50 states and 12 countries. Members have finished the tour in all 50 states, with the most common finishing states being Alaska and Hawaii.
“Could you ask for a more beautiful place to finish,” said Boone, pointing toward the ocean — the backdrop for the marathon’s finish line. “It’s also quite a bit warmer here than in Alaska.”
Ward began his expedition around the country in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pa., at the Pittsburgh Marathon. Each event has presented unique challenges.
“Wyoming was a real tough one,” Ward said. “It was at high elevation, I had trouble breathing, and I’ll admit, I walked most of the race. It was the first time I finished a race where I’m walking and people are cheering at the finish line. I looked over and said, ‘please don’t clap.’”
A benefit of being in the club is having a network of people from around the nation to rely on when traveling to new places. Members give each other tips that can range from the marathon course to where to eat.
“When members are going to a brand new area, we encourage them to ask other members about it,” Boone said. “People can also travel together and possibly split cost, as well.”
It has been a labor of love for Paula and Steve Boone, who met at the Boston Marathon in 1997 and have nearly 900 marathon finishes between them. Through their travels, the couple has gained a rare perspective of the United States.
“When you do marathons all over the country, you get to see places at the ground level, many you would never get to see if you were not doing this quest,” Paula Boone said. “For example, Iowa. Who would want to go to Iowa? Not picking on Iowa, but it’s an example that through this journey, you end up finding out all these interesting facts and history of different places around the country you likely wouldn’t have visited.”
For Ward, just because his journey across the nation is ending, it doesn’t mean he is going to stop participating in marathons.
“I already have three races scheduled for the fall,” Ward said. “Who knows, maybe I’ll do the states again.”
For more on the 50 States Marathon Club, visit 50statesmarathonclub.com.