Doc runs 50 5ks in 50 states, 50 days

By Joe Stumpe | May 30, 2023

Dr. Adel Korkor

Dr. Adel Korkor remembers the general reaction to his idea of running 5ks in 50 states within the span of 50 days.

“I was told I should probably see a psychiatrist because this is something that’s going to be hard to accomplish,” he said.

Actually, mental health was the reason Korkor came up with the idea, which eventually led to him running a 5K in Wichita and 49 other locations.

Korkor, a semi-retired internal medicine physician in Wisconsin, suffers from anxiety and panic disorder. Through his medical practice, he realized that many others experience mental health issues, too, and often have trouble affording treatment for it.

He established a foundation centered around mental health in 2016. The next year, wanting to strengthen the focus of the foundation, he decided to concentrate on the role that exercise can play in addressing mental health problems “because it had helped as someone who suffers from it.”

“Running has always been what I’ve gone to in terms of getting a benefit from it.”

And that’s when he came up with the idea of 50 5ks in 50 states … in 50 days. Not surprisingly, he was on a treadmill in the middle of a programmed 5k when he thought of it.

Korkor’s medical practice gave him the resources to take the next step. To accomplish the feat, he knew he’d have to set up most if not all of the 5ks himself. He hired a friend who’d just sold his running shoe business to do the logistical work, and Korkor completed all of the 5ks in 2018 and 2019.

The attention that running the equivalent of six marathons brought has helped Korkor raise awareness of the need for affordable, available mental health services. In each community where he runs, the AB Korkor Foundation partners with a local organization to help stage the race, which is called the Five Fifty Fifty Run/Walk for Mental Health. In Wichita, it has benefited the Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas.

The foundation’s other goals include reducing the stigma associated with mental illness, funding research and focusing on underserved communities such as veterans, minorities and people with addictions.

The pandemic made Five Fifty Fifty a virtual event for two years, but some races resumed in person last year and more will be added this year. This year’s event in Wichita drew about 75 participants to run and walk along the river April 29.

Korkor no longer makes all the races, but he gets to many of them.

“I was just in Virginia (Saturday) and Detroit (Sunday), and this weekend I’ll be Chicago,” he said during a midweek phone interview last month. When he can’t attend in person, he runs a 5K wherever he is.

Korkor says exercise alone can’t address all mental health issues. “You still need to see a therapist and take medication.”

But you won’t find a bigger advocate for physical activity. 

“If there’s one magic pill out there, it would be exercise. Everything from mobility to aging to mental health to improving cognitive functioning, memory, preventing heart disease, preventing obesity, diabetes, hypertension — the list goes on in terms of the benefit of exercise.”

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