When Billy Richards got out of the military over a decade ago, he missed having a clear mission in life and the support of his fellow military members. After three deployments, he had difficulty managing his emotions and knew he needed an outlet.
A former Marine and Army soldier, he found one in marathon running, which helped him exhaust his negative emotions. However, he still felt isolated and empty without the daily camaraderie he experienced in the military.
Then, in 2013, he and an Army buddy decided to do the Spartan Sprint race in Charlotte, North Carolina. It changed everything.
"I had run marathons, but that Spartan race – it was only about four and a half miles – was the hardest thing I'd ever done," Richards, age 41, said from Long Island, N.Y., where he works as a personal trainer.
"It was raining, 34 degrees, with a 300-yard barbed wire crawl," he remembered, "and I didn't know the rolling technique yet. So I crawled on my belly, and the ground just sucked all the heat out of my body, and I became hypothermic."
Despite the difficulty, Richards fell in love with the unique challenge that obstacle course racing presented, and he began to do longer and longer races.
Although he experienced growing success, he decided to do something symbolic to demonstrate his support for his brothers and sisters in arms.
So he showed up to race with a 45-pound pack on his back to symbolize the weight veterans carry from their military service.
Then, on July 4, 2015, he went a step further by carrying a 3-foot-by-5-foot American flag during a race for a more visual demonstration of his support.
Now, he's carried that flag at over 500 races worldwide and even won the Dallas and Lake Tahoe Spartan Ultras with it in hand.
"Racing has given me goals, something to achieve," he said. "But when I added the flag, I went from just a dude trying to hold myself together to someone who can inspire others."
Richards gets shoutouts from racers and spectators everywhere he competes, even overseas. That support keeps him going even though he's suffering from a degenerative hip that will need replacement soon.
But Richards' legend goes beyond carrying the flag. He's completed:
- 37, 100-mile runs in one year, all while carrying the American flag
- 10,000 career event miles (finished at last week's Seattle Beast)
- 200 Trifectas
- 2014 Death Race in Vermont, where he was on the winning team
- 45, 100-mile Ultramarathons.
- 226 Spartan Races
- 62 Tough Mudders
- 17 Spartan Ultras
- 5 World's Toughest Mudders.
- 100 Marathons and Ultra Marathons.
Billy has also taken on challenging fitness tasks to contribute to charity. In 2016, he did a Thank the Police Tour, where he ran to 39 precincts across the country, traveling from Miami to San Diego and handing out American flags and thank-you cards to police officers.
He has also raised money to help struggling veterans by running nine Ultramarathons in nine consecutive days in 2017, seven 50ks in seven days in 2018, and four marathons in four days while carrying 45 pounds of canned goods in a ruck and an American flag during Thanksgiving of 2017.
Richards' has also captured over 60 Spartan Trifectas, completing 12 Trifectas in 2018 and an astonishing 16 in 2022.
In his journey this year, in addition to his unwavering commitment to carrying the American Flag in honor of our military and the nation, Richards pays tribute to his beloved mother, who passed away in September 2022. He always carries her old work name tag, ensuring she remains with him on every step of his remarkable journey.
With an Unbreakable Pass in hand, Richards has set his sights on maxing out the season Trifecta count for the year. His ambitious plans include conquering 32 Trifectas in 13 countries, a testament to his unyielding determination to push the boundaries of what is possible.
"I'm not fast anymore, and with my hip, I power hike most of the courses," Richards said. "The doctors don't understand; they want me to stop. But I want to keep going, keep pushing."