Paula Birke celebrates her 50-state achievement with her boyfriend, fellow SIUE alumnus Jorge Garcia.
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s Paula Birke is a financial analyst by trade and a traveled runner by avocation. Her passion for both is perhaps most evident when she opens a detailed spreadsheet that documents her journey toward completing a half marathon, or more, in all 50 states.
Birke, of Glen Carbon, achieved her goal May 14 after completing the Running with the Cows Half Marathon in Bucyrus, Kan. The avid runner holds an MBA from SIUE and is the university’s lead financial analyst. She also teaches group fitness classes through Campus Recreation.
“I just love the feeling I get when I cross the finish line,” Birke said. “It’s a sense of personal accomplishment, but it’s also a feeling of camaraderie with other runners. Everyone out there, no matter how fast or slow, has a goal to cross that line and complete the race.”
Birke ran her first race in 2005, and her love for the sport grew from there. According to her spreadsheet, in 2014, she completed 20 half marathons. She tallied 22 more in 2015. She utilizes the Madison County Transit trail system to train for races.
“My neighborhood is about a mile from the trail,” Birke said. “It’s incredible because you can hop on just about anywhere to see fresh scenery. I know where my certain mile markers are, so I can kind of check out, be in my own world and have my own thoughts.”
She enjoys traveling to races with her boyfriend, fellow SIUE alumnus Jorge Garcia, who has been recognized nationally for having running a marathon in each of the 50 states.
“We’ve met so many amazing people along the way,” she said. “We love to travel, so this is a great way to see different places that we probably wouldn’t otherwise visit. Running gives us a reason to get out and go.”
When thinking back through her travels, Birke says her two favorite races have been in Hawaii and Vermont. Her personal record is 1:50:22.
“How can you not love running along the oceanfront in Maui?” she said, smiling. “In Vermont, I achieved my PR, which was kind of unexpected. I just had a feel good kind of day. Everything came together, so it was enjoyable, and even better as I got close to the finish line, since I knew it was my best.”
Birke and Garcia’s ambitious running goals won’t end here. Next, they plan to run a race on each continent.
“We just returned from a trip to Paris and Spain, and we ran in Madrid,” Birke explained. “When you start going international it costs more, so we’re saving now for 2018 runs in Antarctica and South America.”
So begins Birke’s latest spreadsheet.