K-Stater completes dream of running a marathon in all 50 states

Posted March 05, 2024

John Wilt ’68, ’70

John Wilt ’68, ’70 clearly remembers the moment:

He was at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska in 1976, transferring out of the U.S. Air Force and into the Reserves. He was shooting hoops one day and another guy came over and asked him if he wanted to run laps around the gym.

“I asked, ‘Have you lost your mind?’” Wilt recalls with a chuckle. “I wasn’t a runner.”

But, as it turns out, he did decide to run around the gym, and he’s been running ever since. In fall 2023, he completed his dream of running a marathon in all 50 U.S. states and is now a certified member with the official 50 States Marathon Club.

His first marathon was the Midnight Sun Marathon sponsored by the University of Alaska. After 10 years in Alaska (and seven marathons!), he moved to Maui, Hawaii. He ran the Honolulu Marathon in 1979, logging one of his fastest times, 3 hours and 14 minutes.

“I was running continuously. There was never a day that you couldn’t run,” he says of the balmy Hawaiian weather.

Although the scenery was beautiful, Wilt and his wife, Jean ’69, found themselves missing their family and were drawn back to the continental U.S. (they also had a daughter at K-State at the time, Anna Maria Wilt Crawford ’03). They moved to Danville, Virginia, in 2001, where he kept on running.

It was when he’d completed marathons in about 30 states that he decided “Might as well keep going!” and try to check off a marathon in all 50.

Wilt has run an impressive 111 marathons in total, including races in spots as diverse as San Francisco, Baltimore, Chicago, Phoenix, Fargo and Pike’s Peak. Before he stopped trying to keep track of the number of miles he’s run, he logged 52,400 (by comparison, the Earth’s circumference is 24,901 miles). He’s run in heat, cold, bitter wind, lightning and heavy rain.

“Once you get going, you’re OK,” he laughs, reflecting on the Madison Marathon that started in 26-degree weather.

While it’s hard to pick a favorite among so many special memories, Wilt’s Oct. 21, 2023, Garmin Kansas City Marathon will always have a special place in his heart, since it allowed him to check off his 50th state — Missouri. His time in the KC race was 6:04, his fastest time of the last 15 marathons. ‌He posted a second place finish in the 75-79 age group.

Another special memory was running a marathon in Jacksonville, Florida — a qualifier for the famous Boston Marathon. He needed to finish in 4 hours, but clocked in at 4 hours and 1 minute. But he didn’t give up. “I wrote a letter, and the Boston Marathon Committee allowed me to participate in the 2006 Boston Marathon.”

And running isn’t Wilt’s only passion — he’s also a vocalist. He loves singing the National Anthem and has performed the National Anthem at the starting line in 20 different states.

Now that he’s completed his goal, Wilt plans to keep running — just at a slightly more relaxed pace. He wants to log 50 miles a month and participate in some local races, in addition to singing, volunteering, public speaking, and teaching as an adjunct professor at Blue Ridge Community College. In 2016, he was awarded the title professor emeritus, administration of justice, at Danville Community College.

“I’m still running!” he says. “The plan now is just to go out and enjoy and continue as race director of the annual 'Run for Justice.'”

John Wilt ’68, ’70