In a span of just 17 months, Union resident Judy Gates ran 250 kilometers — that’s a 5K in every state in the nation.
She completed the journey alone, logging “thousands and thousands” of miles on her vehicle, meeting new people and seeing new things.
But perhaps more importantly, Gates, 69, said she was most proud of simply completing the challenge she set for herself.
“I feel like I made a good accomplishment, not just in running the races, but knowing . . . that I can do it,” she said.
Gates wasn’t always a runner, but she did always love nature and being outdoors. So when all of her six children took up running as a hobby, Gates started running with them. Her children include Gregory, Ryan, Deanna, Lara, Kimberly and Thomas.
She recalled attending a race to watch Ryan and thinking it looked like a lot of fun. “And Ryan said ‘Next time why don’t you do one with me?’ ”
One of her first 5Ks was the Washington Town and Country Fair Run. From there, she started going to others.
It wasn’t until recently that she decided to challenge herself to complete a 5K in every state.
The first run in the challenge, and coincidentally Gates’ favorite, was May 14, 2016, in Marion, Ohio. “Prison Break” was the theme, and the event featured locking and releasing runners from a sally port. It was half on penitentiary grounds and half on public grounds.
Gates said runners got a brief feeling of being confined during the sally port experience. The prison warden was halfway through running a marathon in every state and emailed her to check in from time to time.
“It was so much fun,” Gates said, adding that the first race showed her “I can do this. I know I can do this.”
After the Ohio race, Gates quietly decided to run in every state, but didn’t tell people in case she changed her mind.
A few weeks later, when her sister asked to her house-sit in Kansas, Gates found herself looking for a run there that she could attend on her way.
Next, she ran in Oklahoma before she started to pair two states at a time, with a goal of completing one on a Saturday and the second the following day.
“Because I hadn’t been to every state, I thought I could visit every state and I would have a purpose and a destination in every state,” she said. “I really saw a lot of the country.”
Gates ran year-round to complete her goal.
“I ran in the snow, the rain, the heat, the cold,” she said.
She drove to every race except those in Alaska, Hawaii and Montana.
In Hawaii, Gates was introduced to and joined the Mainly Marathon Group, which completes runs of various lengths in series.
For instance, the New England series featured seven runs in seven states in seven days. The runs were Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York. Because Hawaii was her 21st destination, Gates already had completed some of the states in each series and only took part in the ones she hadn’t yet marked off her list.
She also took part in a Navy run, Marines run and Air Force run. She won first place in the Marine run. The Navy run was held on the runway at an airport, Gates noted.
During the Oregon, Washington and Idaho races, Gates had to wear a face mask because there was so much smoke from forest fires. Those runs were part of the Northwest series.
Her last race was a “Day of the Dead” themed run in Las Cruces, N.M., Oct. 28, 2017.
She finished every run in less than an hour, another personal goal.
“I’m doing this for myself. I don’t have to be first. I don’t have to be the best,” she said. “If you’re doing (something like this) to compete or beat someone else, you’re going to have a lot more disappointments.”
And though she didn’t run to win, she has dozens of medals to complement her collection of race bibs and T-shirts she collected.
Her children held a celebration in her honor Feb. 24 at the Washington City Park Auditorium.
Gates said rather than starting round two of running, she plans to take up hiking.
“For Christmas, my daughter-in-law gave me trekking poles,” she said. “Last month I went to Bass Pro and bought some hiking shoes, and I’m going to start hiking.