published Thursday, February 20th, 2014

50 states, 50 runs: Mom-to-be meets marathoning goal

Jill Blewett at the Eisenhower Marathon in Abilene, Kansas. She has reached her goal of running a marathon
in all 50 U.S. states.
Jill Blewett at the Eisenhower Marathon in Abilene, Kansas. She has reached her goal of running a marathon in all 50 U.S. states.
Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Last month, Jill Blewett reached her goal of running a marathon in all 50 U.S. states.

She finished the Maui Oceanfront Marathon, in Hawaii. She ran — and walked — the 26.2 miles in 7 hours, 25 minutes, and 30 seconds. Being five-and-a-half months pregnant at the time, a fast pace was not her overriding concern.

Her doctor advised her to drink plenty of liquids and keep her heart rate down. Blewett took it slow, but the extra weight of being pregnant still made it one of the most difficult marathons on her to-do list.

“I had gained an extra 20 pounds,” says the 30-year-old Blewett, who works as a registered dietitian out of the Knoxville office of Health Diagnostic Laboratory, Inc. “It was like running with two 10-pound dumbbells.”

Blewett’s ambition to complete a marathon in every state was slow to unfold. In 2007 she ran her first marathon in her home state of California. One week before the race she was in Guatemala on a mission trip, where she caught a stomach bug that caused her to lose 15 pounds. She finished the marathon in under 5 hours, but passed out from dehydration at the finish line. When she regained consciousness, she was in the medical tent with a medal around her neck and an IV in her arm.

It was toward the end of 2008, after having completed marathons in California, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina, that Blewett decided to knock off all 50 states.

“I really like traveling and seeing new cities,” Blewett says. “I feel like running a marathon in a new city is the best way to travel.”

In 2010 she ran the Covenant Health Marathon in Knoxville, the 11th marathon on her list. It rained hard that day, and the storm water was up to her calves. That weekend she met her future husband, Nathan Blewett, who has run at his wife’s side for nine marathons, including the latest race in Hawaii.

In June 2012 Blewett knocked off two states on the same weekend by running the Bear Lake Marathon around Bear Lake located on the state line between Utah and Idaho. On Saturday she ran the Idaho marathon around the northern half of the lake, and on Sunday she completed the Utah marathon around the southern half of the lake.

“I didn’t realize Utah and Idaho were at altitude,” she says. “It was pretty rough.”

Blewett’s fastest marathon time was 4 hours 13 minutes. At the same time she was chipping away at all 50 states, she was going to graduate school and launching her career, leaving little time for training. Plus, she enjoyed the social aspect of being with other runners.

“My husband told me if I stopped talking and taking pictures, I could run really fast,” she says.

Sometimes after running a marathon, Blewett would drive to the next state and sleep in her car near the starting line. One of her favorite races was the King Salmon Marathon in Cordova, Alaska, which had a field of only 60 runners.

When she found out she was pregnant at the end of last August, she still was three marathons shy of completing her list. The following month she did two marathons, one in Montana and one in Nebraska. She hadn’t gained much weight at that point, but her chest felt tight, making it difficult to breathe. Then came last month’s marathon in Hawaii, where Blewett, then five-and-a-half months pregnant, crossed the finish line in just under seven-and-a-half hours.

Her baby is due around the first of May. Sometime down the line, she’d like to take up marathoning again. Being a passionate traveler, she’s already setting her sights on running a marathon on every continent.

“I probably wouldn’t do but one every other year,” Blewett says. “We’d make a family trip out of it. One thing I really love is penguins. Do you know they actually do have marathons in Antarctica?”

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