Lexington man to run 7,500 miles through 48 states

jcheves@herald-leader.comFebruary 20, 2012 

Will Bailey wants to tell America that not everyone in Lexington is a sedentary couch potato, and he wants to do it in person.

Bailey, 31, started a seven-month, 7,500-mile run Saturday on the beach in Los Angeles. The run will take him through the 48 contiguous states and is expected to put him in Maine on Sept. 6.

He will trot an average of 38 miles a day in the Mojave Desert, over the Rocky Mountains, across the Mississippi River (three times) and into the honking snarl of New York City.

In a phone interview Friday from California, Bailey cited several motivations. Mostly, he said, he hopes to raise money for the American Heart Association. Until he quit his job to make this run, Bailey was a laboratory technician at the University of Kentucky's Saha Cardiovascular Research Center. He was impressed with the groundbreaking work the heart association supports at UK.

Donations may be made at the blog Willpoweredrun.org, which Bailey will update throughout his trip. As of Saturday, the blog identified a fund-raising goal of $10,000.

"Originally, I just put $1,000, and then that happened right away; we had it," Bailey said. "So then I upped it so people didn't think I was done already."

The American Heart Association appreciates Bailey's attention.

"Will is somebody who really believes in our mission, and we're delighted that he wanted to help," said Matt Rountree, spokesman for the association's office in Louisville.

Charity aside, Bailey loves to run. He finished eight marathons last year alone. That's more than 200 miles. He decided he might as well string those miles together in a longer line. A line takes you somewhere new. Before long, he was studying a map of the United States.

"There was a guy just running coast to coast — it's about half the distance if you just go straight across instead of trying to touch every state — and I met up with him as he was running through Lexington. He made it sound like a lot of fun, so I started looking into it," Bailey said.

"When I said that I was interested in doing something like this, the first thing that everyone asked me was, 'You mean like Forrest Gump?' " he said, referring to the title character of the 1994 movie who spontaneously decides to jog across the country.

"So I went and looked at what Forrest Gump had done — or theoretically, what he would have done if he wasn't a fictional character — and it looked like he, with the little map they showed in the movie, it looked like he touched every state. But then when I looked at it closer, he hadn't. So I figured I'd see whether anyone had touched every state. And of the 230 people who have run coast to coast, I couldn't find anyone who had done it that way. I thought I might as well do it," he said.

Like the movie character, Bailey will grow out his beard while he runs. He expects to look like a forty-niner as he enters his 48th state.

His plan calls for 19 miles in the morning, a lunch break, and then 19 miles in the afternoon. Subway Restaurants of Central and Eastern Kentucky gave him a gift card worth $4,000 at that chain. Consequently, he tweaked his route to take him through a city with at least one Subway franchise for 154 of his 196 days on the road.

Bailey will sleep on friends' couches or in a tent he's carrying with him in a jogging stroller, part of the 50 pounds of gear that comprises his remaining worldly possessions.

In preparing for his trip, Bailey gave up his apartment, sold his car and donated most of his things to Goodwill. When he returns to Lexington in the fall — possibly to enroll in graduate school to study philosophy — he will be a lighter man in every respect.

"I've never been very materialistic," he said. "It almost feels good, it's slightly cathartic, to realize this is everything I have, everything I need — I can see it, it all fits in one place."

John Cheves: (859) 231-3266. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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