Father and son bond through running


It’s typical for a father and son to bond over anything from music, movies, sports, or other forms of entertainment. For Allen Griffiths and his son, Derek, they have bonded over running. More specifically, they have bonded over running marathons.

Allen is a local optometrist in Fayette County, and Derek currently resides in Colorado where he is the owner of Colorado Runner Magazine. Both are members of the Washington High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

Recently, the duo accomplished the task of running a marathon in all 50 U.S. states. The Record-Herald spoke with them about the remarkable feat.

“I had been running 5k’s and 10k’s for several years,” said Allen. “In 1978, I decided to run in the inaugural Columbus Marathon. The course was two loops around the Budweiser Brewery area. The first loop was somewhat uncomfortable. As I rounded the end of the first loop, I ran past my wife and our son, but when I was running past our car, I decided to get in. It took me 13 years to get up the courage to try another marathon. 1991 was my first complete marathon in Columbus. After that, I ran at least one marathon per year, and to date, have run 74 marathons.”

Allen continued, “By 1996, I thought I could qualify for the 100th Boston Marathon. This was the only marathon I’ve had to qualify for. The race was spectacular, especially running through Wellesley College. The girls were screaming so loud I had to cover my ears. After Boston, I thought I’d try running a marathon in each of the 50 states. It’s a great way to see the country. I think my favorite was Ashton, Idaho. There weren’t that many of us, so they put us on a school bus and drove us to the middle of the national forest and dropped us off. The starter hung out the back door of the bus, shot the starter’s pistol, and the bus drove off. The smell of sage was so strong it was hard to breathe.”

He spoke about some of the most memorable marathons he competed in.

“The Napa Valley marathon where I heard the starter pistol while I was in the porta-john was pretty memorable. The Mount Desert Island Marathon where it started freezing rain when we started the race and rained the entire race. The Marine Corps Marathon where we ran past the Pentagon twice and finished uphill at the Iwo Jima Memorial. The Breakers Marathon in Newport, Rhode Island where we ran past all the beautiful mansions. The Memphis Marathon where the course was littered with broken whiskey bottles, and a marathon in Gambier, Ohio, where a guy in a golf cart followed me for the last quarter of the race picking up mile markers.”

He finished, “Derek and I participated in several marathons together, and it was a great bonding experience, but we never ran together as he is much faster than I. My fastest race was three hours and 15 minutes. My slowest time was my last race, which was in Anchorage Alaska, where my time was six hours and 30 minutes.”

Allen said he has no intentions of running any more marathons.

“I did my first marathon while I was in grad school at the Air Force Marathon in Dayton in 1998,” said Derek. “I followed that up with a trip to the Marines Corps Marathon, where I placed 47 out of 20,000. I didn’t really have any inclination to try and run in every state until I did the Boston Marathon in 2000. At that point I realized I had run a marathon in seven states, so I thought why not? My dad was also trying to accomplish the same goal, so for a few years we were able to do a lot of them together. I moved to Colorado in 2002 and this made it a bit harder to do them with my father, but we would meet up at various ones. That all came to a screeching halt when our son was born in 2007. At that point I had run 53 marathons in 34 states, so I still had a way to go. Because my dad was getting older, he decided to push on. We still did a few together, but he also did a few without me in tow.”

Derek continued, “It took me 12 years to get the last 16 states accomplished, where it had taken me nine to get the first 34. My times were also slowing down as we had a second child and my time for training was getting shorter. I finally was able to get the 50th state at the Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska in 2019. This was fun because that race was also my dad’s 50th state marathon, which he had done a few years earlier.”

He spoke about some of his favorite marathons he competed in over the years.

“One of my favorite marathons was the London Marathon in the United Kingdom. We all flew over there, and I ran the race in 2004. I finished in the top 1,000 with a time of 2:57. Being over there made me realize that Europe takes the sport way more seriously than we do in America. When you look at the times, I ran at two of the biggest marathons in the world (London and New York City), I basically ran the same time, but finished in the top 300 at NYC, where I was 919 at London. Another one of my favorites was the Venice Marathon in Italy. My wife and I did that race on our honeymoon and at the time it was a personal record of 2:46:36. I was also the top American finisher at the race. My favorite race in the states was probably the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis. While I didn’t run great, the race itself was one of the best produced events I have competed in.”

Derek spoke about some of his accomplishments while running marathons.

“My fastest marathon ended up being at the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati in 2003. I ran that one in 2:41:07 and finished fifth overall. I have won three marathons and placed second four times. My slowest times were when I ran a back-to-back marathon in two days in North Dakota and Montana (5:15:59 and 5:43:14). I also had one other race over five hours, the Pikes Peak Marathon in Colorado.

When asked if he had plans to continue running marathons, Derek replied, “That is a hard no! By the time I had run my 50th state, I had completed 72 marathons and two ultra-marathons. Running a marathon takes a toll on the body and I was starting to get injured a lot, so I moved over to doing triathlon and duathlon events. These events allow me to stay fit without all the pounding that pure running takes out of you.”

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