Grand Forks' Nate Lizakowski eyes completion of 50 marathons in 50 states in just more than seven years
The 47-year-old, who started running when he was 37, has one more state on his list.
GRAND FORKS — In September of 2012, Nate Lizakowski was a 37-year-old avid biker and rollerblader but never ran.
The 1993 Grand Forks Red River graduate never ran cross country or track in high school. He did, however, randomly sign up for the Grand Forks Wild Hog Marathon to run the 10K portion.
So two days before the event, he joined a group of friends who did weekly aerobics in Lincoln Park and set off for his first run.
They ran from the sledding hill at Lincoln to the golf course and back.
“My training consisted of two days earlier I ran 1.7 miles and almost died,” said Lizakowski, now 47. “I remember my pace was like (9 minutes, 40 seconds), and I could hardly stand up and breathe. It was pretty rough. I was definitely worried about being able to finish the 10K. I went out and ran the 10K on that Saturday. I was shocked that I did pretty decent: 54 minutes, 40 seconds. I ran the whole first half and walk-ran the second half.”
Lizakowski then signed up for the 10K at the Fargo Marathon the following May.
“I didn’t think of full marathons until about December 2014,” Lizakowski said.
Lizakowski ran his first full marathon in Fargo on May 9, 2015.
Seven years and five days later, Lizakowski had hoped to run the Brookings Marathon in South Dakota on Saturday to complete 50 marathons in all 50 states. However, marathon organizers canceled the event Friday morning after the storms rolled through the area Thursday night.
The start of the idea to run 50 marathons in 50 states isn’t a flashy one, Lizakowski said.
He saw a friend’s Facebook post about a medal rack, where you hang medals from different races and scribble your best time on it. His friend told him to look on Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade items and craft supplies.
On Etsy, Lizakowski spotted a rack where you run in all 50 states and color in with chalk each state as you finish.
“I always wanted to go to every state,” Lizakowski said.
Next he Googled “50 state marathons” and found there was a club for it. He said about 1,700 people are in the club.
“This all happened because I saw a medal rack on Etsy,” Lizakowski said.
That was a year and a half after his first marathon. He only had three marathon states under his belt – North Dakota, Minnesota and Arizona.
First, he found a cheap plane ticket to Little Rock, Ark. That would be his fourth marathon in December of 2016.
“After I ran Little Rock, I said I’m going for it,” Lizakowski said. “I had no idea if I ever actually would, but I made a spring plan for three more in 2017 and I said, yeah, this is what I’m going to do. I’m going for it.”
As Lizakowski has neared the end of his state list, some are surprised he left a state like nearby South Dakota for last. He said most in the club finish the 50th state in Hawaii or Alaska but Lizakowski wanted his 50th state to be somewhere friends and family could help him celebrate.
He ran Hawaii on Sept. 1, 2019. He found a race in Kauai, which is one of the lesser known islands of Hawaii.
“(Kauai) is the best,” Lizakowski said. “But Hawaii was the hottest marathon I’ve ran.”
Three weeks later, Lizakowski experienced the other end of the spectrum. He ran in Fairbanks, Alaska on Sept. 21, 2019.
“Alaska was 40 degrees and raining at the start,” Lizakowski said. “It was a trail race and you run up a mountain. By about Mile 9, when I got to the top, it was snowing.”
But that wasn’t the coldest marathon on Lizakowski’s journey. That came April 3, 2021, in Maryland (Salisbury) with a temperature of 26 degrees.
Lizakowski’s decision to run the marathons in state’s furthest away at first ended up paying off during the coronavirus pandemic, as he was able to avoid air travel and continue to cross states off his list.
Reaction from friends and family has been wide-ranging.
“I would say I have gotten every possible answer there is,” Lizakowski said. “Some say wow, that’s so cool. Some say ‘Really? That’s crazy.’ One friend called me stupid. The last couple of weeks I’ve got a lot of compliments.”
At the beginning of Lizakowski’s training, he ran alone but began running with the Red River Runners in Grand Forks in January of 2015.
“When I started, I was completely on my own; I didn’t know anyone else who ran really,” Lizakowski said. “I didn’t really know it could be a group thing. I went out for a first group run and slowly and surely, I made friends with everybody. I don’t think I’d be here without them.”
A few runners from the Grand Forks group will be joining Lizakowski in Brookings. Some will run the half marathon and circle back to finish with Lizakowski. Three others are running the entire full marathon with him.
One of Lizakowski’s biggest challenges has been navigating race routes. He’s been lost in races in Red Lake Falls, Crookston and Cookeville, Tenn.
“It became a joke because it happened a few times,” Lizakowski said. “The worst was Tennessee. It was my fifth state and a small race, and I couldn’t see anyone in front or behind and a dog comes tearing after me. I was actually kind of scared. All of the sudden, a nice, old man in a pickup truck pulls up and says you missed a turn three-quarters of a mile back. I ran back and the arrow to turn had blown over. I was in fourth and ended up finishing 13th.”
Lizakowski said he likes marathons both big and small.
“The advantage of small is simpler,” he said. “You pull up in Cookeville, and you can be 30 feet from the starting line. Or, you can do the Philly marathon, pay $38 dollars to park, walk six blocks to the starting line and have to use a porta-potty during the race because the lines at the starting line are too long. So they all have something special and fun to them. They’re different but both fun in different ways.”
Lizakowski’s favorite race came in Utah at the Moab Trail marathon.
“That trail took me longer than any race, but it was the most beautiful,” he said. “It’s probably the one race I really want to do again.”
As for the race Saturday to complete his journey, Lizakowski isn’t sure what to expect from his emotions.
“It’ll be so crazy with so many friends and family there,” he said. “I think it’s going to be pretty overwhelming. This is about as proud I’ve been of anything I’ve ever done. I thought graduating college I was pretty proud. I might be more proud of this.”
So what’s next after completing 50 marathons in 50 states?
“There’ll be no break,” he said. “I’ll run Fargo the week after. I’ve already signed up for New York City in November. It’s a lottery system and it took six years of trying and I finally got in. I also signed up for a 55K in Antelope Canyon in northern Arizona in March.”
Lizakowski’s next goal is to get every marathon under 4 hours. He has 16 states not under that time, including the rocky trail race at Moab, which was 5 hours, 50 minutes.
According to Lizakowski’s research, about 1,700 runners have completed 50 marathons in 50 states but only 124 have done all of them in under 4 hours.
“I plan to hit it full bore when the fall comes,” he said.
It’s another aggressive plan for a 47-year-old with about 10 years of running experience.
“If you’ve known me my whole life, even though I might have seemed semi-fit, I was a rollerblader and a biker and kept in shape to a point, but to go from not doing much of anything to this, people were pretty surprised,” Lizakowski said. “Just where did this come from? I don’t know, I guess it happened slowly over the years.”