Running 3,000 miles over the course of 78 days, 43-year-old Shan Riggs became the first person to run the entire East Coast Greenway from Key West, Florida, to the Canadian border. After making history with the 15-state journey that finished on July 2, there was still something else the ultra runner wanted to do: get down on one knee.
Crossing the finish line at the northern terminus in Calais, Maine, Riggs proposed to cyclist Joshuaine (Josh) Grant, who had biked alongside him on the journey.
Riggs ran approximately 40 miles a day to complete the greenway, taking only two days of rest. The couple are no strangers to long-distance runs and bike rides. In 2020, Riggs ran over 3,200 miles from California to Connecticut to raise money for the hunger-fighting organization Foodshare. He has run 46 ultramarathon races. Grant started running ultramarathon races last year and is also a long-time cyclist.
With the run, Riggs and Grant aimed to raise money to support the nonprofit East Coast Greenway Alliance, which is working to connect trail systems in 15 states into one continuous route that is still in development. As of July 11, they had raised $17,079.
“We wanted to do it as a fundraiser and to raise awareness because the East Coast Greenway Alliance need(s) community support to be able to get the funding and the permits,” Riggs said.
The East Coast Greenway currently contains more than 1,000 miles of protected paths. The goal of the greenway is to create a fully-protected pathway for pedestrians and bikers, allowing easy travel for the 25 million people that live within five miles of the path, as well as visitors.
In 2020, the greenway hosted 50 million bike rides, runs, and walks, but only around 100 cyclists and three walkers have completed the entire route to date.
BRO spoke with Riggs and Grant to discuss both the feat and their engagement.
BRO: Shan, how did it feel to be the first person to run the entire 3,000-mile Greenway?
Riggs: It is an extraordinary feeling—I like to do things that no one’s done before.
BRO: In what ways was your 2020 run different from this run?
Riggs: When I did the run from San Francisco to Connecticut, that’s really remote. You mostly go around towns, even when you’re getting close to them. It’s also very mountainous.
The big challenge rather than the hills on this expedition was the heat. It was really hot and really humid, especially in the South, but even by the time we got to the North(east) it was June, so it was hot, even when we were in Maine.
BRO: How did you both get into long-distance running and biking?
Riggs: What got me into really long-distance stuff is I read Dean Karnazes’ book (Ultramarathon Man), maybe 16 years ago or so. I think a lot of people thought, wow, that guy’s crazy. And I read it and I thought, I bet I could do that.
Grant: I got into it with friends, who had been doing these kinds of things and asked myself, ‘is this something I’m actually capable of doing?’ And it started by just putting something on the calendar. It’s also helped me be more disciplined in my training. Then it just kind of went from there, once you realize what you can do, you just want to keep doing it.
Riggs: I think a lot of people that do really long stuff,that the drive is to see what you’re made of, how far you can push yourself before things really start to fall apart. Kind of trying to find the edge.
BRO: What lesson or takeaway have you gotten from this journey?
Riggs: I learned that Josh and I get along really well, which is why I asked her to marry me.
BRO: Shan, when did you decide that you were going to propose–was there a certain part of the journey when you made that decision?
Riggs: I can’t remember what state it was—in New Jersey or New York or something like that—but I just had a revelation that I couldn’t imagine my life being much better than it was at that moment.
I figured if I was this happy doing something this uncomfortable then I’ve got a pretty good situation.
BRO: Josh, what was your reaction? Did it come as a surprise?
Grant: I was really surprised when he got down on one knee. Yes, thrilled and happy. But I was surprised that he chose to ask me right in front of everybody, and getting down on one knee after running so many miles and knowing how sore he must have felt as he started to get back up again.
BRO: Did you guys have a favorite part of the journey or favorite sight that you saw along the Greenway?
Riggs: The overarching thing that was just incredible was all the people that came out and supported us, the people that gave us places to stay, the people that came and ran and donated—that was just extraordinary, and that happened pretty much every day.
We got to go by so many iconic things. We go through every major city, we go right through the middle of downtown. We went past the Lincoln Memorial one day on the mall in D.C., and we ran up the Hudson River right through Manhattan. And so things like that you get to do on foot and bike, you get to physically feel how the country is all tied together.
All photos courtesy of Shan Riggs