OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — Bill Sycalik is celebrating the National Park Service centennial by going the distance — 59 times.
The former New York City management consultant is running a self-supported marathon in all 59 national parks while encouraging others to be healthy and experience the restorative power of nature.
Since his National Parks Marathon Project began June 18, Sycalik has run marathons in 13 national parks, including Olympic.
On Saturday, Sycalik and Port Angeles resident Josh Sutcliffe ran the requisite 26.2-mile marathon distance through the Hoh Rainforest along the Hoh River Trail.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better running day,” Sycalik said in a Sunday interview.
Sycalik runs with people he meets from local running clubs or through his project website, www.runningtheparks.com.
Next Saturday, the 45-year-old plans to run a marathon in Mount Rainier National Park.
Sycalik maps out his marathon routes to experience the unique qualities that each park has to offer.
At Yellowstone, for example, Sycalik ran past geothermal features such as hot springs and geysers.
“One thing especially unique to Olympic is the rainforest,” said Sycalik, who also visited Olympic National Park’s Ruby and Rialto beaches during his stay.
Sycalik won’t pick a favorite national park because each one is different.
“They don’t compare,” he said.
As a two-time Boston Marathon qualifier and ultramarathon competitor, Sycalik isn’t trying to set personal records on the National Parks Marathon Project.
It wouldn’t make sense to compare times on a flat route at sea level with a high-elevation, mountain climb, he said.
Sycalik and Sutcliffe’s out-and-back trail run from the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center took about 5 hours, 45 minutes to complete, but that included several stops for sight-seeing and photographs.
“The time is irrelevant,” Sycalik said.
Instead, Sycalik is focused on connecting with nature and the people he meets along the way.
Sycalik said hopes the project will encourage others to plan and make time for life experiences and “know that it’s going to be OK when you come back.”
“I was not one that thought, even a year or two years ago, that doing something like this would be possible,” Sycalik said.
“I’ve learned that it is, and it’s an exciting thing to do.”
Sycalik is also encouraging those who live near a national park to experience it at a level beyond a drive to a scenic overlook.
“Find Your Park, they say, and do it on your own two feet,” Sycalik said, referring to the National Park Service’s 100-year anniversary slogan.
The third pillar of Sycalik’s marathon project is to encourage people to be active.
“If you’re out and moving, it’s going to lead to being healthier in general,” he said.
As a vegan who sticks to a plant-based diet, Sycalik fuels his muscles with protein from rice, beans, nuts and vegetables such as broccoli.
“And you don’t need mass quantities [of food] like people think,” Sycalik said.
Other than the aches and pains one would expect from running a marathon every weekend, Sycalik has avoided injury.
After deciding to make a change in his life, Sycalik quit his job in the corporate world, downsized and ditched his remaining personal effects at his brother’s home in Pennsylvania.
He ran his first park marathon in Maine’s Acadia National Park on June 18.
From there, Sycalik whisked through national parks in Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana before tackling North Cascades National Park late last month.
Sycalik plans to run through Death Valley and the other national parks in the desert southwest in November and December to avoid the sweltering heat.
If all goes well, Sycalik hopes to finish the 59-park marathon project in 18 months to two years. His biggest obstacle will be getting to some of the remote parks in Alaska, Hawaii and American Samoa, he said.
Sycalik is staying with new friends he meets or is sleeping in a tent that he pitches on top of his 2008 Subaru Impreza.
“Eventually the goal is to live in the Denver area, unless I find something better along the way,” he said.
Donations to a crowdfunding page linked to Sycalik’s website are helping to cover his $3,250 in monthly expenses.
Sycalik is supporting the National Park Conservation Association and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine through his project.
Thirteen marathons into his journey, Sycalik said he has learned that it’s possible to take a step back from the daily grind and experience the world.
“I’m not as caught up in what’s going to happen next as I used to be,” Sycalik said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].