Back to all news stories


Oboe professor runs a marathon in every state

By Ann Zaniewski

Fiddler on the Roof in Concert, featuring the orchestrations of John Williams. Promotional illustration courtesy: UMS

Nancy Ambrose King traveled in January to Hawaii to run in the Maui Oceanfront Marathon.

When she crossed the finish line, she completed a goal that was years in the making: running a marathon in each of the 50 states.

Nancy Ambrose King.

“It was really thrilling, and maybe even a little bittersweet,” King said. “I had been working toward that moment for nine years. Overall, it was just a really exciting morning, and I was happy that I accomplished what I’d planned to do.”

King, professor of oboe in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, picked up running as a hobby in her mid-40s when her neighbor invited her to join a local 10K race.

King discovered she loved the way running made her feel, both physically and mentally. That first race led to others, and running became a regular part of her routine.

As her 50th birthday approached, King thought participating in a marathon would be a fun way to mark the milestone. That year’s annual Detroit Free Press Marathon happened to fall on the same weekend as her 50th birthday.

“I thoroughly expected it to be the first and last marathon I ever ran. But six months later, I did one in Cleveland,” King said, “and just kept running.”

King learned about the 50 States Marathon Club, a nonprofit organization whose members share the common goal of running marathons in all 50 states. People are eligible for membership after they’ve run 10 marathons in 10 states.

King decided to try to complete all 50 marathons before she turned 60. She started signing up for marathons across the country and launched a vigorous training schedule.

“I’m a goal-oriented person,” she said. “It’s sometimes not that much fun to get up in the morning and go running when it’s snowing and 5 degrees below zero, or 95 and hot and humid.

“It’s easy when you’re only accountable to yourself to take a day off or a week off. I felt the goal of having a marathon coming up held me accountable to getting out there every day and running.”

King ran as many as nine marathons a year. To train, she ran 45 miles a week divided into short runs on weekdays and longer runs on weekends.

The medals earned by Nancy Ambrose King, who completed a marathon in all 50 states.

“I really found that (running) is a time that I could have completely to myself and my thoughts,” she said. “I would come up with really good ideas and projects. It was just an hour or a few hours that I would be out there unreachable for the most part, and I found it to be a creative time mentally. Physically, I like the way I feel when I’m in good shape.”

At first, finding marathons was easy. But King had only a few states left when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, forcing her to get creative with her schedule as she scurried to locate replacement races for ones that had been canceled.

She said one of her most memorable races was in Boston in 2015, two years after the Boston Marathon bombing. She also loved the scenery during a race in the mountains above Seattle.

“Even though a lot of the marathons I did were big-city marathons, some of the most memorable were in the small towns that I never would have had the opportunity to visit if they weren’t the destination for a marathon in their state,” she said.

King always knew the final marathon in her goal would be in Hawaii.

“It’s just such a beautiful destination,” she said. “I knew it would be a great trip to celebrate the project’s completion and share that moment with my family.”

On Jan. 16, King’s husband, two sons and their girlfriends, her neighbor, her neighbor’s family and even a couple former students who are living in Hawaii were there to cheer her on.

She said she hasn’t yet decided what her new running goal will be. She plans to participate in some half-marathons and recently picked up a new sport: golf.

King has actually exceeded her 50-marathon goal. She ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2014 in Washington, D.C., bringing her total to 51.

“If Washington, D.C., ever becomes a state, I have it covered,” she said.

Nancy Ambrose King playing Danse (Sigillum Saturni) by Dirk-Michael Kirsch.


What memorable moment in the workplace stands out?

Each time one of my students achieves a great milestone or is recognized for their effort and ability is a memorable experience for me. I am so fortunate to work with students who are among the finest musicians in the nation, and it is truly a privilege to guide them through their career.

What can’t you live without?

Definitely my family. My husband and two sons are my biggest supporters. And my daily New York Times crossword puzzle!

Name your favorite spot on campus.

Hill Auditorium. I have so many memories of performances I’ve played on that stage and amazing concerts I’ve heard as an audience member, going back to my days as a student here in the early ’80s until the present day. It’s a jewel on our campus.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by great musicians who transcend their instrument, by the beauty of our natural surroundings right here in the state of Michigan, and by those in the world who tirelessly give of themselves for the betterment of our world. Seeing small random acts of kindness in the midst of our pandemic is a great testament to the strength of our community and is inspiring.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished “The Splendid and the Vile” by Erik Larsen. I have Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” next up on the list.

Who had the greatest influence on your career path?

Definitely the three oboe professors I had in my life. Arno Mariotti, who I studied with from the age of 10 until I was 20; Harry Sargous for two years right here at U-M; and Richard Killmer at the Eastman School of Music, who guided me through both master’s and doctoral degrees and has been my lodestar for 35 years since.

Continue Reading