Most people see running a marathon as a long and exhausting experience. But how about completing five marathons, in five states, in five days?
In an incredible understatement, Clint Burleson of Las Cruces, N.M., organizer of the Center of the Nation marathon series, admits: "It's going to be tough for some of those people."
But Burleson says that for a runner in the proper physical condition, it is possible to accomplish the feat. The September marathon series includes a race in Belle Fourche, which — as the geographic center of the nation — gave the series its name.
Geography has a lot to do with making the accomplishment possible, he said. Because four of the five states where the races will be run are so close, runners can make it to the next starting point fairly easily the next day.
The marathon series set September 16 to 20 will begin at Bowman, N.D., about 130 miles north of Spearfish. The series then moves south to Belle Fourche, the headquarters for marathons slated for Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota. Participants then head to Chadron, Neb., for the final leg in the series on Sept. 20 at the nearby state park.
Burleson said the format is tough, but also makes it a relatively easy way for members of "The 50 States Club" of marathoners who try to run races in every state to notch five states in only a week's time. "Five states in five days is very attractive to those folks," said Burleson, himself a marathoner who has completed more than 100 races.
At age 59, the retired computer science teacher said he is still a bit short of making his own 50-state goal even after 30 years in the sport. Running remains popular even as people age: Burleson said one runner he knows is 71 and has run more than 1,000 marathons.
As of last week, runners were registered from 23 states in the U.S. and from the U.K. About 100 to 130 runners are expected from outside the area; local runners are also invited to participate.
Burleson credited Belle Fourche Chamber of Commerce executive Teresa Schanzenbach with the idea to base the series out of Belle Fourche.
She said the Northern Hills community is a perfect location to headquarter three of the five state runs. "It's not a one-year event. We're excited to help get it off the ground as a regular series," Schanzenbach said.
The South Dakota event begins at the Rocky Point State Recreation Area eight miles east of Belle Fourche. The Wyoming race will be held near Colony, while the Montana race is set for Alzada.
All three are within an easy drive from Belle Fourche on U.S. Highway 212.
The area should see an economic benefit from the series, he said. "The chatter on Facebook is they're arranging connections," he said. "They're talking about sharing rooms and rides."
One difference in this marathon and half-marathon runs series compared to others is that there is no time limit, and no runners are left behind. Even walkers are welcome, he said. Some runners will finish in about three hours, while others will take up to eight hours to finish.
Burleson said his wife helps out during events by preparing food for runners during the races. "This older crowd we have, they are slower and get hungry on the run," he said.
The courses in the Center of the Nation series are not meant to be hilly or too challenging, he said. "I think for those runners, five days in a row is going to be enough punishment," he said.