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This Man Is Running a Marathon in Every National Park

What makes a man quit his job and strike out on a quest to run 59 marathons?

Bill Sycalik

Bill Sycalik picked up running years ago as a way to stay in shape. After building up to his first marathon, he was hooked. There was no turning back. Twelve years later, Sycalik quit his corporate day job in New York City to start Running the Parks, an all-out mission to conquer a marathon distance in each of America’s National Parks. We sat down with Sycalik to find out what sparked this inspiring life change, how he made it happen and what advice he has on conquering large projects of your own.

Q: Where did the idea for Running the Parks come from?
A: I had been living in New York City for five years, and it just wasn’t feeding me anymore. I wasn’t close to nature like I wanted to be and I wasn’t around the types of people I liked. So in May 2016 when my lease was up, I decided I was going to pack up and move to Denver, Colorado. I read that it was the 100th anniversary of the National Parks, and I thought, maybe I’ll see some [parks] on the way to Colorado.

I thought it would be fun to run in a few parks, but also wanted to put a challenge out there to myself and sort of at other people. It’s almost something that can’t be explained — I was just thinking that it would be pretty cool [to run a marathon in each of the National Parks] — that it’d be pretty hard. I wasn’t sure I could do it, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

Sycalik in Virgin Islands National Park (Photo: Bill Sycalik)

Q: What does a typical day look like for you on this trip?
A: I spend usually 3-7 days in each park, and I use most of those days to be a tourist. So on the days I’m not running a marathon, I’m going on day hikes, taking pictures, and seeing the visitor center. I’m seeing the park as well — just being sort of a regular old tourist. Ahead of time, I usually look at a topo map and figure out what would be a nice route, and then I go in and meet with the rangers in the visitor center, tell them about my project, and ask them their thoughts on the route.

Bill’s Gear
The Ride:
• 2008 Subaru Impreza 2.5i five speed
Tepui Tents Ayer rooftop tent
Thule Aeroblade Edge roof rack
• Samlex Solar PST-300-12 Series power inverter
The Run:
Sawyer SP129 PointOne water filter
Salomon Trail 20 pack with 3-liter Hydrapak bladder
Suunto Ambit3 Peak GPS Watch
Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen
The Shoes:
Altra Olympus 2.0
Altra Provision 2.5
Saucony Peregrine 6
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II
TriggerPoint GRID foam roller

Q: Which has been your favorite park so far?
A: I think now it’s Kings Canyon National Park in California. It’s spectacular. It’s got Sequoia trees, it’s got these granite faces — it’s kind of like Yosemite, but much more intimate. It’s got the Kings River that runs through it — which is very swollen with snow melt right now. They’ve got bears, which I saw while I was running. I’ve been to Glacier, Yellowstone, Yosemite — you know I’ve hit 46 of the National Parks — and I just think, for me, I like King’s Canyon.

Q: What has been the hardest part of this whole experience?
A: The hardest part of this whole experience for me has been being lonely. A lot of the time National Parks are in really remote locations, so there aren’t many people around. I really try to stay at hostels when possible. There are some around the bigger National Parks, and that puts me around people. Others that have seen my project online will also put me up in their homes for free — maybe 30 percent of the time. But most of the time, I’m in my car, or I’m in a campground, or I’m in a really cheap Airbnb. I’m doing this alone.

Q: Which is the next park on your list?
A: I’ve almost done all the parks in the lower 48 states. I still have two parks in Hawaii, one in American Samoa and eight parks in Alaska. So what I’m hoping to do is, in September, do Hawaii and American Samoa — then I’m looking at running in Alaska in the summer of 2018. Alaska is its own animal because there are eight National Parks, and four of them you need a bush plane to get to. They don’t have established trails or roads, so it would be a fair bit of route finding.

Q: What advice would you give for people visiting the National Parks?
A: Do more than just going to the overlooks or the visitor centers. Once you’re away from the campgrounds and the trailheads, you get to experience why these places need to be preserved for future generations, and what nature can do for you in terms of rejuvenation. Nature relaxes you and gives you energy at the same time. When you get out and recognize that the wilderness of the National Parks has never been developed — and will hopefully always be pure unspoiled nature — it means a little bit more to experience that.

A photo from Sycalik’s marathon in Bryce Canyon National Park (Photo: Bill Sycalik)

Q: Would you recommend people follow in your path and quit their job to chase their dreams?
A: I would recommend it, but I always augment my answer with “plan for it.” There are a lot of people that ask me if they should do it, and I say, “Yeah, but you should actually stop and think to plan for it a little bit. If you quit your job, then you have no income.” So if you didn’t save for it or plan for it, you’ve actually traded one frustration for another — you’ll be going, “Holy crap I don’t have any money, and I’m not really prepared for this adventure.”

Inspiration is key, but starting off and working to figure out how to make your dreams happen, that’s the vital step. If you can’t quit your job and take an adventure, think about what would fulfill you in your life. Maybe you always wanted to learn the guitar, play the piano, or take an acting course. Find an outlet, that may have been something in the back of your mind, that you’ve always wanted to do. Well, do it — it is possible.

I find that a lot of people, especially my age in the corporate world, feel stuck and don’t believe it’s possible to make a change. If you never think that something like what I’m doing is possible, then you’re probably not doing other things that are possible in your life as well.

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