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Race #1 with the American flag was the Oakdale Firecracker 5K on Long Island, New York, on the 4th of July, 2015. Former United States Marine and Army veteran Billy Richards had started his long, muddy, often painful journey exactly one year earlier by lugging a 45-pound rucksack during all of his races to raise awareness for veterans – the weighted pack symbolic of “carrying the burden” for the numerous struggles our nation’s soldiers face when they leave military service and re-enter the civilian world. At Oakdale, he added the U.S. flag because, naturally, it was patriotic and a more direct military reference.
That was 10,000-plus race miles, countless injuries, and three unofficial nicknames later. Richards, now a national figure, had shed the rucksack but not Old Glory, still taking the flag to every race — cutting through the wind at ultra-marathons, Spartan Trifectas, and Tough Mudders.
Richards’s racing career is filled with anecdotes of adaptation, such as rolling up the flag to prevent it from snagging on trees. Moreover, he highlights the importance of psychological services and counseling for veterans, advocating for more funding and awareness of the services available through the VA.
Richards entered the Marines in 1999 at age 17, served four years, left active service for six years, and then joined the Army. Adapting to civilian life was difficult, but through constant movement and multiple athletic endeavors, Richards found a way to cope and contribute to raising awareness for veteran issues.
With an impressive number of races under his belt, Richards set his sights on world records in ultra-running and Spartan racing, coming close to breaking a record for most 100-mile races completed in a year and pursuing the record for most Spartan Trifectas completed in a year.
In spite of severe injuries, including a damaged hip and a ruptured right biceps tendon, Richards continues to race. His physical therapist, inspired by Richards’s tenacity, compares him to Captain America and The Terminator for his superhuman grit and determination.
Richards remains a fixture in races across the globe. As of this writing, he’s on a seemingly inexorable path toward 600 races and perhaps even 1,000, maintaining his spirit and dedication as long as his body allows, all in the service of supporting his fellow veterans.
Here was Billy’s update sent to M&F on November 30, 2024:
“Just finished number 30 in Mexico, 2 weekends left. Florida will be smooth sailing, and so should Abu Dhabi, depending on how my hip deals with the sand, but by that point, I’ll crawl if I have to get it done.”
The 2023 Spartan World Championships from the Al Wathba desert take place Dec. 8-10.
Billy set the men’s record for most Trifectas in a year at the Spartan World Championships in Abu Dhabi. He sent us a message on Dec. 18, 2023, letting us know he was taking time to “dust off the cobwebs from getting destroyed from international travel every weekend.”