31 months, 51 half marathons – and a whole lot of love

I met Jann at the expo for the Augusta University Half Marathon and 10K in 2016. She told me what she was doing, and I immediately decided I wanted to write her story and share it on here. I hope you enjoy getting to know Jann as much as I have!

Heat and humidity and a hurting hip hit Jann Carlson hard at at mile five of the St. Louis Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in 2016.

“I felt like such a failure,” Jann recalled.

Jann, 63, didn’t want her husband, Mike, 65, to run with her, because she feared she would slow him down. But he could see how frustrated and in pain she felt. That’s why he decided to balance her wishes and his desire to support her by running ahead and then waiting for her until she caught up.

Eight miles later, despite Jann’s feeling as though she was going to pass out, Mike held her arm and told her to cross the finish line. And she did.

“I am so proud of you, LB,” Mike professed to Jann – whom he affectionately calls “LB,” which is short for “Love Bug” – in the medical tent, where she was taken after she passed out. “You did it. We did it.”

This may not have been how Jann imagined completing the 50 States/50 Half Marathons Challenge, but she did it.

Jann is many things, and a failure isn’t one of them. She’s a wife of 38 years. She’s a mom to three children and a grandmother to seven grandchildren. She’s a retiree. She’s also a runner.

Did you say ’50 states’ and ’50 half marathons’?

You betcha – except Jann and Mike completed 51 half marathons to include Washington, D.C.


“We wanted to include some fitness goals in our retired life,” said Jann, who retired in December 2013. “We didn’t want to wait too long after I retired to get started. Since we had done half marathons before, Mike was playing around on his computer at home one day and came across the 50 State Half Marathon Club website.”

The Carlsons started running long distances around 15 years ago. In this time and before starting the challenge, Jann had completed 22 half marathons and one full marathon. Mike joined Jann in this activity and completed about 15 half marathons and three full marathons, one in which he qualified for the Boston Marathon, which he also completed before the challenge. In addition to the marathons, Mike completed many 70.3 Ironman races and four full Ironman races.

The club sounded interesting to Jann and Mike – shirts, race discounts, the opportunity to meet people from around the country and a trophy or plaque when goal is completed.

“We also wanted to travel the United States, and what a better reason to use to go to a state than to run and then tour it!” Jann said.

The Carlson’s 50 state-plus-D.C. and 51 half marathons challenge began March 2, 2014 with the Little Rock EPIC Half Marathon, where they managed to dodge the ice storm and finish the race before the marathon and half marathon runners were called off the course.

“We had already planned a 20-day cruise in January 2014 and then planned a family trip to Texas in late February,” Jann said. “Mike noticed there was a race in Arkansas on March 2, so we decided to start there since we were already in Texas.”

Jann3Just a few races and states into the challenge, Jann went from being motivated by a flashy medal and found her muse in the club and other runners.

“Seeing other runners push through injuries, weather and illness to finish a race was a wonderful thing to witness and be a part of,” Jann said. “Once we started, there was no way we weren’t going to finish!”

In addition to finishing the 50 state-plus-D.C. and 51 half marathons challenge, Jann and Mike kept a couple other goals top of mind.

  • Spend 7-10 days traveling each state

  • Complete the challenge within three years.

The Carlsons had traveled to many of the 50 states for sporting events, vacations, visiting family, and work but not always together. During their time traveling each state for the challenge, they wanted to visit national and state parks, state capitols, Presidential libraries and museums and see the claims to fame. Mike even found the best hamburger in each state and Washington, D.C. from various lists.

Jann and Mike were having so much fun that the two years and seven months flew by. They had finished their challenge ahead of schedule, even with a month in China, two month-long trips to Hawaii, cruises and other planned family vacations. They made it a point to be home for important family celebrations and obligations and holidays.

Needless to say, the Carlsons weren’t home very much.

“Friends asked, ‘Why do you have a house?'” Jann said with a chuckle.

Heat, hills and humidity

“I have three demons,” Jann said, “and they’re heat, hills and humidity. Believe me, I let those demons affect my performance at many races, but Mike was always there to push me through.”

In addition to the physical aches and pains involved with running, the Carlsons also faced adverse weather conditions, illness and injuries.

In December 2015, in the Delaware race, Jann, who has experienced issues with one of her knees and ankles, tripped over a rock and “did a total face plant around mile 8.”

“But even with blood gushing from my nose, I was determined to finish,” Jann said. “With the help of fellow runners who had Kleenex, baby wipes and Mike’s gloves to cover my nose, we continued to run/walk the remainder of the race.”

Following that difficult experience, Jann and Mike had 20 races scheduled between February and October 2016. But, after finishing the Georgia event, she experienced a bad case of plantar fasciitis.

“The doctor said no more running,” Jann said. “I followed the exercises and persevered through the next several scheduled races while the plantar fasciitis continued to get worse.”

Jann’s physician gave her three choices:

  1. Stop running

  2. Get a shot

  3. Continue with exercises and wear a boot, except when running.

Jann chose option No. 3. However, by wearing the boot on her right foot, she experienced pain in her left hip.

“Don’t race with a chronic injury,” Jann advised. “Heal first, train, and return strong. Plus, it’s OK to walk.”

The couple’s schedule didn’t let up. Between June and October, they had 12 races left. They completed their last 10 races/states in 13 weeks!

Jann said that the traveling in itself posed a challenge, citing eating out at restaurants and being out of her normal routine.

“I gained weight and got slower, because I wasn’t eating and training like I do when I am home,” Jann said. “Even though we hiked a lot, it’s not running.”

The Carlsons finished the challenge October 16, 2016 at the St Louis Rock ‘n’ Roll, in time for the 50 State Half Marathon Club’s annual meet up in 2016 and to go on a 42-day cruise, during which they had no plans to train.

Now that Jann and Mike have completed the challenge, Mike is looking at doing another 70.3 this year. As for Jann, she signed up for a race in Kansas in May to meet up with 50 State Half Marathon Club members and hopes to run some local 5k’s, 10k’s, too, for training purposes. Having completed 76 half marathons to date, she also looks forward to running her one hundredth half marathon.

“Accepting half marathon times of two hours and 35 minutes has been hard,” said Jann, whose fastest half marathon time is 1:53:33 at the age 49, almost 50. “I want the joy back in doing half marathons again, and that is why I am taking time to heal, get strong and lose weight and lose my expectations for my time and just enjoy the race!”

A new experience, a new perspective and person

“This experience showed us that our country is so amazing and beautiful,” Jann said. “We learned so much history visiting all the states, and we met so many amazing people. We found that no matter where we were, people love and are proud of where they are from.”

The impact of this experience on Jann also runs deeper.

“It changed the way I looked at the racing,” Jann said. “When I first started running half marathons, I never walked. I thought I was weak or not prepared if I had to do walk, but after my knee injury, I realized if I wanted to continue to participate in races, I needed to do intervals. Mike showed me I could do intervals and still have good times and feel good too.”

Jann also learned something about herself while on this journey and is using this to grow.

“I learned that I am hard on myself when it comes to the actual race,” Jann said. “I am trying to work on forgiving myself if I have a bad race. I am learning to accept not running a complete race anymore.”

JannJann’s favorite thing about the 50 States Half Marathon Challenge is having experienced it with her husband.

“I had the best running partner in the world to be by my side through the best of races and the worse of races,” she said. “This was our journey. Mike is a great runner, but he decided that he would do this journey by my side, at my pace, and cross all the finish lines together holding my hand – and he did.

“He was by my side, carried my GU and water bottle, whatever I needed. He pushed me when I needed it and always complimented me after the race. I would not have been able to finish some of those races without him by my side. He was really supportive and encouraged me during each and every race. Mike was always proud of me.”

For more information about the 50 State Half Marathon Club, visit www.50statehalfmarathonclub.com.


While the 50 State Half Marathon Club is comprised of many ages and ability levels, all members have one thing in common: they support each other. “That’s what I miss the most about my break from attending races,” Jann said. “They are definitely part of the motivation to heal, get strong again and continue reach my goal of completing 100 half marathons!”

Tips By Jann

  • When traveling via airplane to a race, always plan to arrive at least two days before a race and pack a carry-on bag with all of your running gear. “We would wash everything when we got home and then repack that same bag for our next race. We had other clothes and shoes to use at home for training runs. When we were on the road for multiple races, depending on the weather we sometimes had to wash at the hotels we stayed in. Only one time did our bags not arrive with our flight and that was because of weather, change of planes and delays. They actually took our carry-on bags, because there wasn’t room on the plane we were transferred to. Luckily it arrived the next day.”

  • Always check your race time and place. “I placed a number of times in my age group. Some of the hardest races for me I received either first or second place in my age group. We actually left a few races without checking our times and age group place and I missed out on extra awards because of that.”

Jann’s Highlights

  • Favorite race was Missoula Half Marathon, Montana

  • Most memorable race: Kona Half Marathon

  • Other favorites: Boston RUN to REMEMBER, Marshall University Half Marathon, Run the Bluegrass, Tulsa Route 66, Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville, Bryce Canyon, Myrtle Beach, Ohio Hall of Fame


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