See the country, and go for a run.
Sounds simple, but for Bothell’s Chris Griffes it was a mammoth undertaking of knocking off all 50 U.S. states along with tackling a 26.22-mile marathon in each one. It took 18 years for the 63-year-old architect’s journey to come to fruition, and he crossed the 50th finish line with a group of 45 family members and friends cheering him on in September 2018 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
It was a three-pronged victory for Griffes: family reunion, marathon and viewing the spectacular Teton mountain range and Yellowstone National Park.
“It was a pretty cool deal to have everybody out there,” said Griffes, whose wife, Laurie, and daughters, Ellen and Katie (both Inglemoor High graduates), were among the supporters.
While he enjoyed the marathon and the cavalcade of hugs afterward, Griffes added about finally finishing his 50th: “It was a little surprising that I wasn’t so emotional. I guess now, it’s been three or four months since that, and I’ve kind of reflected and it’s kind of sinking in, ‘Holy cow, that’s a pretty big deal.’”
While consulting his trusty running spreadsheet on his laptop at a local coffee shop on a recent morning, Griffes notes that he’s run 18,000 miles over the last 18 years, beginning at age 45, with the Seattle Marathon. He ran No. 1 just to do it and get in shape, things built up from there and then he learned about the 50 State Marathon Club at No. 6 in Idaho. Runners need to first notch 10 states to join the club and proceed on their treks from there, and Griffes thought it would be a good idea to continue his path while connecting with family and friends near each marathon and explore the sites. Arizona was No. 10, and he never looked back.
Griffes, who graduated with a degree in architecture from Auburn University, ran some 5Ks and 10Ks from ages 25-45, but still wasn’t fully dedicated to running.
Upon hitting age 45, he noted: “I’m tired of this cycle of being out of shape, I gotta set a scary goal. I gotta do something, so how about I run a marathon?”
Running marathons was never on his radar, and Griffes is glad that he found a good habit that he can rely upon.
“In the end, it’s really beneficial for my mental health. I’ll be grumpy or moping around the house, and Laurie will say, ‘Just go for a run. Get out of here.’ And that clears my mind,” he said with a chuckle.
His fastest race was early on with a 3:52 in Texas and his slowest was later with a 6:31 in Mississippi. He finished the Wyoming race in 5:53 and then ran the Seattle Marathon again in November, notching a 4:47. He wanted to show that his marathon life existed beyond 50 with another Seattle run, and he ended up getting faster, he laughed.
Griffes has brought others on board to run marathons with him so they inspire and drive each other, including Ellen (who ran once, in Vermont), his cousin (who ran No. 1 and No. 50), his brother, his brother-in-law and coworkers (one man ran eight marathons with Griffes). For support, Laurie has attended 20 races, Katie eight and Ellen nine.
“I never doubted that he could do it. When he was in the 30s, I said, ‘He’s actually gonna do it!,” Laurie said. “It turned into more than just (running). It turned into him reconnecting with family and college friends. It was neat and really heart warming.”
Laurie, Katie and Ellen “stalked” Chris on the 50th course, Laurie said with a laugh, and were there at the finish line along with the others. They designed and wore T-shirts emblazoned with a 50 states, 50 marathons, Griffes reunion message, and Ellen made cutouts of each state with Chris’ photo on them and placed them on the course every half mile. Chris collected them along the way. To finish things off, the family held a dinner the night of the race to honor the marathon man.
“It was just really, really fabulous and inspirational for him to reach his goal. All the support and love and family connecting after many, many years,” said Laurie, noting that two aunts ages 87 and 95 attended the 50th race along with some cousins who met for the first time.
On the scenery front, Griffes found the Wyoming course astounding with mountains in view. Off the course throughout the states, he enjoyed seeing the outer banks of Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and — in the architecture realm, of course — one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous buildings en route to West Virginia, among copious other sites.
For now, Griffes — who feels in stellar shape in both mind and body — plans on running one marathon per year. Currently, he runs three to four times a week for 20 total miles and hits the gym once a week to lift weights and pedal on the elliptical. Local runs are on the Sammamish River Trail, and during his lunch break two to three times a week from work at ZGF Architects in Seattle, he runs along the downtown waterfront.
There haven’t been any challenges on the courses for Griffes — a few blisters and some scrapes here and there — and his eyes sparkle when he reflects on his accomplishments.
“I’ve characterized it as I’m kind of a journey guy, I’m not a destination guy,” he said. “Just go — have a plan but don’t live by the plan. Just enjoy the moment.”
This story originally appeared in the Bothell-Kenmore Reporter, a sibling paper of The Daily Herald.