By Beth Volpert
When you live in a small town, even the little details get noticed. Things like a cool car tag are always interesting, sometimes difficult to figure out, but often very descriptive of the driver. A tag that reads: RAN USA just begs to be investigated and was found to be an apt description of the driver, Kathy Barker.
She really had “RAN USA”, not so much in a Forrest Gump kind of way, but in the form of completing a marathon in all 50 states before she turned 50. An amazing journey awaited Kathy from her very first step.
Shortly after her first child was born, Kathy wanted to get back into shape; so she ran down to her neighborhood clubhouse and back again. It was a distance of one mile. “I thought I was on Cloud 9,” says Kathy. “After that run, I decided that I could do the Peachtree; so I signed up.” That would be just the beginning.
Kathy says that she never really was a runner. The thought had just not occurred to her, but once she got a taste of what running did for her mind and body, there was no stopping her. Kathy chose New York for her first marathon. “My friend EIleen Moore and I chose that to be our first because that is where we both are from.” Both of their husbands flew up to be with them and many of their family members came out to cheer them along the route.
Following the first marathon, Kathy decided to set even higher running goals for herself. Maintaining a training schedule came second to being a mom. “As moms, my friends and I never wanted to miss out on our children's activities,” says Kathy. “They were all involved in sports and it usually encompassed Saturdays and sometimes even Sundays.” The moms chose Friday morning as their long run day. “When training for a marathon we would sometimes be out running at 3:00 in the morning to get in 20+ miles before going to work a full day.” Making sure their running time was done before breakfast took amazing commitment to both training and to their families. “Our running on the other days would be early enough so that we could be home by 6:00am to make breakfast for our children and then see them out the door for school!” Kathy and her running partners always made sure that their training was always done to NOT impact our children as much as possible...hence the early running hours...while they still slept,” says Kathy.
After setting a goal to complete a marathon in at least 10 states before her 40th birthday, Kathy trained, traveled, ran and planned for admittance into the 50 State Marathon Club which required finishing marathons in 10 states before she could join. It took seriously careful planning, sometimes right down to the minute for Kathy to maintain her goals and continue to work. After a race in Olathe, Kansas, Kathy continued right on running to the hotel shuttle, in and out of a shower and down to a waiting taxi to make her flight back to Atlanta. “I always tried to NOT take off time from work,” says Kathy. ”There were many times I flew back from a marathon Monday morning and went straight to work.”
Having the support of her family meant all the difference to Kathy as she continued to pursue her goal of finishing 50 marathons before her 50th birthday. The Mad River - Waitsfield, Vermont Marathon was Kathy’s 50th finish. “This was the inaugural race for them and when they found out it was my 50th and finishing marathon they rolled out the red carpet for me,” says Kathy. “They gave me #50 for my bib number and they allowed my sister Pat to run with me for the second half of the marathon to bring me home.” Kathy’s entire family was there to witness the completion of her 10 year goal in Vermont. Her husband Scott along with daughters, Danielle and Cassidy flew up from Georgia. Sisters Eileen and Pat flew up from Florida. Kathy’s parents, Barbara and Art and sisters, Terry and Maureen along with her niece Kaitlyn drove from New York. As I crossed the finish line my husband tossed me the 50 State Finishers shirt,” recalls Kathy.” That was one hard and well-earned shirt!” The family celebrated her accomplishment by taking a hot air balloon ride in Vermont. “I had always wanted to do that.” Kathy says that the whole experience was the most amazing adventure of her life. “That's one major check-off on a bucket list.”
Now that Kathy has met her goal of running 50 marathons in 50 states before she turned 50, the question must be asked: What next? Remaining active, running and working around injury and illness placed a few challenges in Kathy’s path, but with her health back intact, plans are to continue on at a slightly less challenging pace. Kathy’s neighborhood friends run together in the mornings. “We did the Disney Princess 1/2 marathon this past February,” says Kathy. “I turn 50 next month, so guess how my friends and I are celebrating? We are running the Naples, Florida 1/2 marathon! This is our version of a Girls Getaway!” Kathy will celebrate with a custom-made medal holder that a friend is making to commemorate her birthday.
As to the future of her running career, Kathy says, “I will run the occasional marathon but now I mostly do things for fun where I don't have to be as focused on training and my eating.” Running with friends sounds like the best way to accomplish that new goal. Her advice to anyone who has ever thought that running might or might not be for them is to take that first step. For Kathy, that first step made all the difference having really RAN USA.