Photo courtesy of Bill Sycalik Before running his marathon in North Cascades National Park, Bill Sycalik stopped at the visitors’ center for route information.

Photo courtesy of Bill Sycalik
Before running his marathon in North Cascades National Park, Bill Sycalik stopped at the visitors’ center for route information.

Bill Sycalik plans to run 59 marathons in our national parks

By Ann McCreary

Bill Sycalik has devised a unique way to see the nation’s most scenic landscapes — at a run in 26.2-mile segments.

Sycalik plans to run personal marathons in each of the nation’s 59 national parks. His odyssey brought him to the Methow Valley last week to run in the North Cascades National Park on Saturday (Aug. 27).

Inspired by the 100th anniversary of the national park system, and uninspired by his corporate career in New York City, Sycalik left his job and launched what he calls the “National Parks Marathon Project” in June.

“After five years in New York City I wanted to do something that put me closer to nature. I missed that in New York,” said Sycalik, a former management consultant, during his stay in Winthrop last week.

“When I read it was the 100th anniversary of the national parks, I thought, ‘What could I do to connect to the parks?’ My passion is trail running … it materialized into this National Parks Marathon Project.”

He started his ambitious project with a 26.2-mile run in Acadia National Park in Maine, and has been working his way westward through national parks like the Badlands in South Dakota, Grand Teton and Yellowstone in Wyoming, and Glacier in Montana.

He consults with local running clubs and park rangers to plan his route in each park.

To run the North Cascades National Park, Sycalik drove early in the morning from Winthrop to the Cascade Pass trailhead near Marblemount and ran an out-and-back route — 13.1 miles each way — along the Cascade Pass and Stehekin Valley trails.

“It was fabulous, brilliant,” Sycalik said Monday. The route took just over six hours and gained 5,000 feet in elevation. “It’s the most elevation I’ve done so far.”

Mostly solo

Via social media, Sycalik invites local runners to join him on his runs, but he didn’t get any takers for the North Cascades  route and ran solo. He realized after he arrived that the popular Cutthroat Classic race sponsored by Methow Trails was being run on the same day, and may have drawn runners who might have joined him.

Sycalik has a website, www.runningtheparks.com, that includes a blog, photographs and information about his project. He also communicates via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

He said he doesn’t mind running alone, but is glad to have people join him for all or part of his marathons. While running in Badlands National Park he was joined by a 70-year-old runner, and was happy to match his pace and walk part of the way.

“I’m not racing,” he said. His goal is to enjoy the amazing scenery and company of other runners.

Of the 12 national park runs he’s done so far, Sycalik been joined by other runners for six of them. “Three did the entire thing,” he said.

Sycalik admitted that he does get a little lonely sometimes, moving continually from one place to another.

“It definitely can be a little isolating. You always feel like you’re the new kid on the block every time you come into a new town,” he said.

Sycalik travels in a car equipped with a rooftop sleeping tent. While in the Methow Valley he stayed at the North Cascades Mountain Hostel in Winthrop, and accepts invitations to stay with runners who have heard about him.

As a marathoner, Sycalik said, “I’m a late bloomer — I started at 33 and turned 45 a week ago.”

New goals

Through his marathon project, and his decision to leave behind his corporate life in New York City and create new goals for himself, Sycalik said he hopes to promote the idea that change is possible.

“You can make a change in your life. Don’t be afraid to take time off and do something interesting. Break away from your corporate life if you want to,” he said.

He also wants to promote appreciation for the national parks and the connection they provide to nature. “Let’s make this a celebration of ourselves and nature,” he said.

“It’s the 100th anniversary of the parks. Please get out of your car and experience the park, because that’s what it’s all about. It’s about experiencing nature,” Sycalik said.

Sycalik is a vegan, and said he also wants to convey the benefits of a plant-based diet.

“A vegan athlete can do this,” he said. “Eating plant-based can help with a lot of the health problems people have. Making smarter choices goes a long way to improving your health.”

To maintain stamina, Sycalik said he eats “a lot of rice and beans, and as much fresh produce as possible.” He keeps a cooler in his car filled with fruits and vegetables, and eats lots of bread and nuts.

One a week

After completing his run in the North Cascades National Park, Sycalik was heading on to Olympic National Park for his next run. According to a schedule on his website, he will head next to Mount Rainier and Crater Lake national parks, then on to parks throughout the western and southern states.

His schedule has him running a marathon about once a week, and sometimes only four or five days apart. He is not pushing himself, however, like runners do during a race, and will pause during his runs to take photos and enjoy his surroundings, he said.

He carries sports gels and about 4.5 liters of water in a hydration pack on his runs, and also carried bear spray while running in Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier. 

“My pattern has been to run, then leave the next day and recuperate at the next place and do some exploring. I could probably do one [marathon] every four days. A week is a pretty good cadence.”

The final park on his schedule is Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida, a 100-square-mile park that is mostly open water. His schedule calls for him to run there in March 2017.

Sycalik said he plans to move to Denver, where he has friends, when he is done with his marathon project. But he said he is keeping an open mind about his future.

“I’m going to see 59 of the most beautiful places in the world, so my mind might be changed along the way,” he said.

He said he felt welcomed by people he met during his stay in the Methow Valley. “People have said, ‘Why don’t you live here?’ It’s very refreshing to get that response,” he said.