Fictional Geo-Marathons

On October 4, 2009 · 5 Comments

I know someone who wants to run a race in each of the fifty United States. This is a notable goal both for its endurance and its geographic sweep. I thought perhaps I could help out by putting my unusual geo-perspective to good use by coming up with race courses that clip multiple states, to minimize the amount of travel necessary in the completion of this monumental task.

Well, except I ran into a couple of problems.

There are several races that actually do cross either state boundaries or boundaries between a state and the District of Columbia. One extreme example is the Eastern States 20 Miler & Run for the Border Half Marathon which uses the slogan, "One Race Three States." Indeed, the longer course, the 20-Miler, goes from Kittery, Maine to Salisbury, Massachusetts via the narrow strip of New Hampshire seacoast. However, according to my runner’s strict criteria, if a race crosses a border only a single state can be counted.

The second problem is that a marathon distance (26 miles plus 385 yards or 42.195 kilometres) is rather limiting when compared even to the narrowest extremities of most states, and my intrepid runner prefers shorter distances like half-marathons and ten milers.

As an aside, I did learn that there is an organization called the 50 States Marathon Club with nearly two thousand members. These are people who, seriously, have run an entire marathon in each of the fifty states. I don’t even like to drive 26+ miles and a couple thousand people have actually run that far in each and every state.

This club uses strict rules for qualified runs and the burden of proof. Here are some of their requirements from a geographic perspective:

The event must either start or finish in the state being counted. A marathon that has a route that runs into two states cannot be counted as two states; it counts as one… The Marine Corps Marathon counts as Virginia because it starts and ends in Virginia. Additionally, the National Marathon and/or Washington DC Marathon, which begin and end inside DC do not count towards the state count because the District of Columbia is not a state… If a race starts in one state, crosses into another state, and returns to the original state, it may only be counted for the state where the race started and ended. (Example: The Flying Pig Marathon begins in OH, crosses into KY, and finishes in OH. It may only be counted for OH.)… If a race starts in one state and ends in another, it may be counted once for either the state where it started or where it ended. If the same event is run on a subsequent year, the race may be counted for the other state. (Example: The Hatfield McCoy Marathon begins in KY and ends in WV and may be counted for either state.)

Imagine if I used strict criteria such as these for my county counts. I’d probably have to spend the night in each county and save the hotel receipt in perpetuity for it to count. Wow. County counting? Who cares. Marathon running? We don’t want any old poseur claiming he or she completed a marathon in every state.

Admittedly I have a much more relaxed standard than the 50 States Marathon Club, so within that context I decided to design several fictional marathon routes that would include territory in four states (couldn’t find any with more). I knew it wouldn’t help my runner friend but the quest grew beyond the original need long ago. It’s no longer a running dilemma, it’s a geography issue.

There may be other fictional marathons and I’ll gladly accept suggestions and routes in the comments so feel free to take a shot at it. They can be located in any part of the world. If you want to design a route covering four or more counties in England or Ireland, Départements of France, or whatever, feel free to suggest it. I’m not picky. However, one ground rule, though: these can’t be hikes or trail runs, and no Jesus courses over water; routes have to go along established roads.

Twelve Mile Circle Marathon

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How could I not start with a signature marathon befitting this website’s namesake? This one has all sorts of geo-weirdness going for it. The course starts in Pennsylvania, clips the corner of Maryland and crosses into Delaware at The Wedge, goes back into Maryland, then into Delaware, crosses its entire northern width within the Twelve Mile Circle itself and ends in New Jersey.

This is by far the easiest place to maximize states. There are a huge number of paths that complete the circuit. Why shouldn’t it be that way? After all, it’s the Twelve Mile Circle Marathon.

Berkeley Springs Marathon

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What could be more beautiful than running along a rolling, green Appalachian valley? It would be virtually impossible to get turned around on this route since it travels a single road due north nearly the entire length. It starts very near the northernmost tip of Virginia, crossing into West Virginia and traversing the length of its Eastern Panhandle where it passes the historic town of Bath / Berkeley Springs. From there it crosses the Potomac River into Maryland, cutting through the state at its most narrow point at Hancock, then terminating in Pennsylvania. I predict this one would win awards for sheer natural beauty.

Way Too Obvious Marathon

That would be any race starting or terminating at the Four Corners Monument, the only spot in the United States where four states come together at a common point. Here is one possible route:

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I tried my hardest to find something in Canada but fell a bit short. Canada also has a four corners but it’s all muskeg and swamp, and is hardly conducive to runs requiring solid land. There are various tripoints either between Provinces or combinations of various Provinces plus USA States (thus how I discovered the blurry border in a previous article). Again, I found these possibilities lacking because of their remoteness. Either roads did not exist or they were so rudimentary that a marathoner would probably break an ankle.

I found one really nice route that almost made it, involving Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It came out to 26.9 miles which is oh-so-close.

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However, note that Nova Scotia owns the coastline so if we can find a pier or something that juts out from New Brunswick we could meet the technical requirement of marathon distance and call this the Bridge-to-Pier Marathon or something like that.

A European Example

This route includes four European nations, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, Austria and Germany.

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Well, this specific route is 26.6 miles so it’s just a tad too long. However, Google Maps wouldn’t let me route through specific areas of some of the towns and I’m sure I could shave the rest off by going through pedestrian malls and such.

One More but I Won’t be Attending

It may be possible theoretically to plot a course here in this corner of Turkey, Iran, Armenia and the Nakhchivan exclave of Azerbaijan.

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However, the road infrastructure doesn’t appear to support a marathon into all four nations. Additionally there would be the very obvious issues obtaining permission from each of these nations who are not always on the best of relations with each other. On top of that, people who happen to wander across the Iranian border might be facing even bigger issues. I think I’ll pass on this one.

On October 4, 2009 · 5 Comments

5 Responses to “Fictional Geo-Marathons”

  1. Jim C. says:

    As a longtime fan of your blog, I was thrilled to see this post, and wanted to leave a comment. Really, your post is the combination of one thing I’ve loved for years (odd geography), and a newfound bit of enjoyment: running.

    As such I wanted to be sure to mention the marathon (and half marathon, which I’ll be running in), which is – I think – the only distance running race in the USA with an international crossing: the Detroit Marathon & Half Marathon. The race is mostly in downtown Detroit, Michigan, but by the third mile, racers cross over the Ambassador Bridge, and run roughly 4 miles in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. The return trip is through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, making it the only running race with one mile fully underwater. More info about this race (which is on October 18th this year), can be found here:

    Thanks for the great blog, and one of these days I’ll have to send along my photos from my excursion to Michigan’s Lost Peninsula (which you covered in a November, 2007 post).

    • Thanks, Jim. I’m really glad you commented because my tracking statistics showed that this article had a lot fewer viewers than some of my other recent postings. I don’t know why — it was one of the most enjoyable ones I’ve put together in awhile — but it just goes to show I have no ability to predict what will be popular and what will not (as if that wasn’t already self-evident by the geo-oddity focus of the blog). Anyway it’s nice to know have a kindred spirit backing me up on this one.

      Good luck with the race. I do have to wonder (rhetorically), how the sponsors secured permission from the U.S. Customs & Border Protection Agency to route a portion of the race through Canada? I can imagine all sorts of nefarious plots for someone to sneak across the U.S. border by joining the hordes somewhere between kilometers 5-10 on the Canadian side, and jogging through the tunnel with the crowds. 🙂 I’m joking of course, and I’m sure everything is fine, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if some Customs agent somewhere is losing a lot sleep over this possibility.

      Yes, please send me the Lost Peninsula images! That was one of my very first entries and it could use some serious updating. You’d get full credit, of course.

  2. January First-of-May says:

    Completely and entirely unrelated, but…
    I suspect that you have already noticed a sudden influx of visits from Armenia (which doesn’t appear to be a common country for you to get visits from – I looked at the ClustrMaps link yesterday and it literally didn’t show any). As far as I can tell, this is the only article with an actual semi-significant mention of the country, so I’ll say it here: yeah, that’s yet again me, in a hotel in north-eastern Yerevan.

    Slightly more on-topic: as far as I could tell from checking the road network on Google, the main problem with the Nakhchivan path is the Armenian-Azerbaijani border (which is understandable, as the two nations definitely were until recently, and might still be, in a state of war).

    And somewhat partly on or off topic, just today my mother went on a trip for (I roughly quote) “a great view of Ararat”. Never mind that Ararat is in a different country entirely. (I wasn’t able to visit, because I was a bit sick for an unrelated reason; I also said that either way I’m not particularly interested in “a great view” of a mountain like fifty miles away [it actually turned out to be twenty]. I’ve been told that one could see that mountain from most of south-western Armenia, however, so I might yet be able to take a look 🙂 if I want it anyway.)

  3. Vihren says:

    I visited the point where the borders of the four countries meet (at least as far as the military let us go) and the great thing about the place (Yeraskh in Armenia) is that even though it is not particularly elevated or anything, you can actually see all the four countries very clearly (mt. Ararat in Turkey, most of the stuff behind the river in Iran and the railway line just casually going into Azerbaijan. The route through the four countries is, however, utterly impossible to complete – Azerbaijan has closed its border with Armenia, Turkey closed its too out of solidarity, so Armenia has open borders only with Iran and Georgia. But that is not the only obstacle: The only bridge across the river in the area is between Turkey and Azerbaijan. Also, the Iranian road might seem close to the border, (and it is), but there is actually no border post there (and no need for one), so even if all the countries miraculously became friends – still the path cannot be properly completed. What a shame…
    Btw,thanks for the nice article (and all the others)

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