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As I stood on the ledge of the cliff overlooking the ocean blue

full of life’s infinite possibilities,

I turned around and looked at you.

I asked, “Are you going to take the leap

of faith along side me?

Or are you going to just sit there and enjoy the view?”

How I Managed to Finish My 52nd Half Marathon with a Personal Record (PR)

I ran my first half marathon in November 2000 in Wilmington, North Carolina and ran my 52nd half marathon in October 2021 in Des Moines, Iowa. Both courses were relatively flat and both had similar temperatures. Of course I was 21 years older when I ran the race in Iowa, well into my 40’s at that point. However, I finished the race in Iowa with my fastest time to date for a half marathon. How is this possible?

I’ve read from different sources that most people reach their peak for running about ten years after they start running. I don’t believe this applies to people like me who ran on my grade school track team; otherwise I would have peaked in my early 20’s. However, I didn’t start training for and running half marathons until 2000. Still, if the 10-year rule applied to me, I would have peaked around 2010.

Looking back at my race times from 2008 through 2010, those were some of my slowest times for a half marathon. I was struggling with anemia for the first time around this point in my life and it went undiagnosed for a long period. When I was finally diagnosed with anemia and started taking iron supplements it took my body over a year to fully recover.

The Gulf Coast Half Marathon in Mississippi in 2010 was one of my slowest half marathons

In fact, even though I had run a half marathon before where I finished under 2 hours, I wasn’t able to do that again because of anemia until the Frederick Running Festival Half Marathon in May 2015. I set a PR of 1:55:28 with the next race I ran, Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon in July 2015. Finishing out the year with the Dixville Half Marathon in New Hampshire and another sub-2 hour finish, 2015 was obviously a good year for racing for me.

Beginning in 2016, I had a string of difficult races including one at a relatively high elevation in Colorado, so I didn’t manage another sub-2 hour finish until May 2018 when I ran the Famous Potato Half Marathon in Idaho. Just when I was feeling like I was getting my legs back again, anemia struck once again. A few months before the White River Half Marathon in Arkansas in November 2018 I learned why I had been struggling with my training runs- I was severely anemic so I started taking iron pills immediately. Despite being anemic, I still finished under 2 hours and was fourth in my age group, which makes me wonder just what I could have done had I not been anemic.

Fortunately I was able to get my iron levels back up to normal fairly quickly and by the time of the Seashore Classic Half Marathon in Delaware 2019, I was able to finish second in my age group with a sub-2 hour finish. This was a deceptively tough course too, so I was happy with my performance. At my next race, the Star Valley Half Marathon in Wyoming I finished with another PR, at 1:53. Finishing off the year with the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon in Nebraska, I was happy with a 1:54 finish, especially given I had to stop and tie my shoe during this race.

After the Star Valley Half Marathon in Wyoming, one of my favorite races of all time

After COVID hit and races everywhere were cancelled indefinitely in 2020 instead of running the three half marathons I was supposed to run in New Mexico, Minnesota, and Iowa, I ran a virtual half marathon as part of a fundraiser for the Australia wildfires. It felt like just another 13.1 miles on the greenways I always run on and I wanted more. I signed up for a virtual 5k and decided to try to really push myself, thinking at the time there were going to be awards given, so I at least had some motivation. That 5k was my fastest by far and it showed me a glimpse into what I was capable of (I Ran My Fastest 5k, but Does It Even Count?).

I began to push myself harder and I ran more in 2020 than I ever had before. This was during the early months of the pandemic, when many businesses including my work place were shut down indefinitely, and I had much more time on my hands. Instead of sitting around watching the depressing news updates or Netflix and gaining the COVID-15, I decided to get outside and do something healthy. I also started going on walks on days when I didn’t run and doing some core work every night. My body felt stronger than it ever had.

When I ran the Circle of Life Half Marathon, Lake City, Minnesota- 48th state I felt ready but the course turned out to be one of the toughest I’ve run because of the gravel road and hills. It was one of those races I was happy to be done and it didn’t really matter what my time was (2 hours even). I have no doubt if I hadn’t been in as good of shape as I was it would have easily taken me another 15 or 20 minutes to finish. This race further emphasizes how much the difficulty of a race course makes on your finish time as well.

We definitely earned these medals at the Circle of Life Half Marathon in Minnesota

I was able to keep up my fitness from the time of the half marathon in Minnesota until my race in Iowa in October. I continued nailing my training workouts. If I was supposed to run 6 miles with a 1 mile warmup followed by 4 miles at tempo pace then a 1 mile cooldown, that’s what I did, no more, no less. If my long run called for 13-14 miles, I ran 14. I also continued doing strength training at the gym twice a week and core work every night. More than anything, I was consistent. I think the bottom line here and key to everything is consistency.

When race day came for the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon, Des Moines, Iowa- 49th state, my plan was to shoot for 8:45 minute miles but ultimately go by feel. Since I was able to go faster than that and still felt great, I went with it and because of my level of fitness I was able to continue at that faster-than-ever-before pace. A lot of times you hear people say you should start slower and gradually speed up or speed up for the last few miles. For me, consistency was once again the key and it worked better for me to have my mile splits be more consistent throughout the race. If I would have started slower my finish time would have been slower because there’s no way I could have run my last few miles faster than what I did even if I would have started out a bit slower.

Really there’s no magic formula when it comes to achieving a PR in a race but there are some things that make a huge difference. One is the course conditions. It’s one thing for a course to be flat and quite another to be flat but have strong winds (Kiawah Island Half Marathon, I’m looking at you). Also, some people don’t do well on flat courses and their bodies actually respond better to some rolling hills. Choose your course wisely.

Perfect weather and course conditions plus consistent training helped me achieve a PR in Iowa

The second and most important factor in running a PR is to choose a training plan that will work for you, giving you just enough of a challenge but not so difficult that you can’t run the prescribed runs. You don’t want to feel overtrained but you also want to reach your potential by pushing yourself just the right amount. You also need to be consistent with the training plan and not skip workouts or cut them short.

There is a final factor that may sound a bit woo-woo but I absolutely believe in it and that’s the power of the mind. If you don’t truly believe you can run a PR or even run a “good” race (whatever that means to you) then you won’t. However, if you go into it with an open mind and just say, I’m well-trained and I’m just going to do my best and see what happens you might just see some magic happen.

What has worked for you in the past when you ran a PR at a race?

Happy running!

Donna

My First Solo Vacation

Although I have traveled for work-related trips before without any family or friends several times, I had never truly traveled by myself for a vacation until I went to Des Moines, Iowa for a half marathon recently. I have heard several bloggers and podcasters say how much they enjoy solo travel and how everyone should try it at least once in their lives. After doing it myself this time, I have to say I truly did enjoy it.

Overall, there are many pros to traveling by yourself, which I’ll list some of here. Of course, everyone is different and I’m sure my perspective at this point in my life is unique to me. Still, some of what I’m about to say may inspire some of you to take your first solo trip or at least plant the seed. So here are some of the pros to traveling by yourself:

You can do whatever you want, when you want. As a mother, this one was pretty big for me. My daughter is now sixteen and for the past sixteen years, I’ve always had to consider my daughter’s wants and needs when on vacation. Yes, the easy way out would have been to have just left her at home with a close friend but I always felt like kids benefit from traveling the world so there was never a vacation that she didn’t go on with me.

When she was really young, I had to make sure she got her naps in and went to bed on time and when she was older I made sure I included her in the decision-making on what we did. This was the first time in sixteen years that I only thought about what I want to do and it was huge. I found myself skipping things I would have normally done (like going out for dessert just about every afternoon) and instead choosing things I know she wouldn’t have liked. Besides my daughter, there was also no husband’s wants to consider, which of course was also huge for me to not have to consider for once.

You can go to sleep whenever you want and wake up whenever you want. I realize this kind of goes under the first pro but it seems like to me it should get its own paragraph. Again, as a parent, this one is pretty big. Not having to consider anyone else in the room and being able to stay up as late as you want (and make as much noise as you want) and then wake up without anyone else waking you up is a big deal.

You really get to know yourself a bit better. When you’re by yourself 24/7 and are only in the company of strangers when you go out in public, you pretty quickly get into your own head. If you’re not already comfortable in your own skin, this could be pretty scary. Fortunately for me, during the pandemic, I read more self-help books than I had in my entire life because I went through a rough patch in my life. Because of that, I now see aspects of myself I couldn’t see before and know myself better than I ever have (I guess that’s one good thing to have come of the pandemic for me personally anyway).

You also get to know the place you’re staying better. Now this one surprised me. I’m not sure why but for the first time ever I felt like I learned my way around the area (Des Moines) almost immediately upon arrival. It could be the incredibly easy grid layout they had for the streets there, but I don’t think so. I’ve been to other Midwest cities and other cities that are laid out in a similar grid-style and I never felt like I figured my way around as quickly as I did in Des Moines. I think it was purely the fact that I had no one else to help me so I knew instinctively that I had better figure my way around quickly. Yes, of course I had Google Maps but I found myself turning it off after a couple of turns because I already knew where I was going.

Strangers will talk to you more when you’re by yourself. This could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who the stranger is. When I was in the Denver airport for a layover on my way to Des Moines, a woman sat next to me and started chatting away incessantly, something that would not have happened if I had been with someone else. She was obviously lonely and just wanted someone to talk to, but when she wouldn’t stop talking after what felt like a solid 30 minutes, I told her I needed to go to the restroom and slipped away. I’ve also noticed other strangers were more chatty with me at restaurants and other public places when I was by myself. Usually, this was a good thing.

Of course, the single biggest con that I can see with solo travel is you don’t have someone close to you to share special moments with. That stunning sunset, the unique sculpture, or the amazing dinner you had by yourself will just have to be enjoyed by you and you alone. The best you can do is snap a photo and send it to someone or make a video call but it will never be the same as if they were with you in-person. When I finished my half marathon in Des Moines, I made a video call to my daughter but of course that only lasted a few minutes and once I hung up I was still by myself.

Still, I agree that everyone should go on at least one solo vacation in their lives. I believe it’s good for the soul and who couldn’t use more of that?

Do you take solo vacations or do you always travel with friends or family? Are you curious about taking a vacation by yourself but never have? Tell me about your experience with solo travel.

Happy travels!

Donna

The Albuquerque Half Marathon, Albuquerque, New Mexico-50th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. New Mexico was my 50th state.

So many things went wrong with this race going all the way back to the beginning. The Albuquerque Half Marathon is normally in April every year and I was supposed to run it in 2020 but because of covid it was pushed back to November 2020 then ultimately to November 2021. When I showed up at packet pickup the day before the race they couldn’t find my name on the list of registered runners. I started to panic. That was my worst nightmare, well that and oversleeping the morning of a race.

The volunteer asked if I had some kind of email confirmation or any kind of proof I had registered. I tried to bring up my email on my phone but my cell coverage had been spotty since I had arrived. I asked someone working at the Fleet Feet what the wifi password was. No one knew. Now I was really panicking and I blurted out a jumble of “but they can’t find my registration and I’m sure I registered and the race is tomorrow morning and I can’t get a signal on my phone!” I wasn’t in tears but I was close.

Someone from the store got the wifi password off the router and I was able to find an email where I had told the race director I had registered for the April 2020 race and just wanted to confirm my registration would rollover to November 2021 and he said yes. I couldn’t check my bank account for payment because my online banking was temporarily down and my credit card statements didn’t go back that far without pulling them from archives and that took at least 24 hours.

I showed the email to the volunteer and she said that would do as proof (even though I see what little proof it really was) and she gave me a race bib and handed me a nice cotton/poly blend long-sleeve race shirt. I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I left the store. I laid out my flat runner in my hotel room and got ready for another restless night full of tossing and turning.

Race morning was a brisk 40 degrees but it was sunny and I knew it would warm up quickly. After chatting with another 50-stater (this was his 26th state), I used the port-o-john, left my coat in the gear check pile, and made my way to the race start. The race start, like everything else about this race, was low-key. The race director said to pay attention to the signs to turn on the course and stay behind the cones on the road because only one lane was closed to traffic. Promptly at 8:30 he blew a horn and we were off!

Although I had tried to start my Garmin in plenty of time for it to pick up a signal, it looked like it had but then must have dropped off because I ran the entire race with no GPS and no idea of my speed. The best I could do was go by the mile markers on the course and use the time on my watch to guesstimate my split times.

Since this race was at 5300 feet, I had no grand ideas of setting a PR. On top of that I had developed severe foot pain on the side and arch of my left foot three days before the race when I made the bright decision to wear new shoes to work. Even though I only wore those shoes one day my foot had continued to get worse each day to the point where it throbbed even when I was sitting. Desperate, I found a pharmacy and bought some pain cream some people in my running group had previously raved about. I began using that four times a day and massaged my foot starting Thursday evening (the race was Saturday so I knew it was a long shot).

Miraculously my foot did get better and didn’t bother me in the slightest during or after the race. However, I had another pain to deal with. Towards the end of the half marathon in Iowa in October my piriformis had flared up and well, it was back with a vengeance during this race starting around mile 6. I had shooting pains running through my hamstring, glute, and lower back.

Although I took this the day before the race this is ironically where we missed the turn on the course

Before my literal pain in the ass started, somewhere relatively early along the course, maybe around mile 3 or 4, I noticed a small sign with an arrow to turn but I ran past it thinking it was for the 5k runners. There was a 5k, 10k, half marathon relay, and half marathon but the half marathoners started somewhere different than the other runners. Since there had just been a sign for 5k runners right before I saw the small sign to turn, I assumed this second sign was also for 5k runners. I was wrong. It was for everyone.

Another reason I hadn’t turned is because the faster runners in front of me including a pacer also hadn’t turned. All of a sudden I saw the lead pack running back towards me with the pacer yelling, “That was our turn! Everyone go back to the turn!” There was most definitely some cursing going on at that point. Because of my watch and no GPS I have no idea how far we ran in the wrong direction before running back.

My morale took a hit and I even told myself I didn’t even care what my finish time was. “Maybe I should just walk,” I thought to myself. But then my ego stepped in and said quite loudly, “This is a RACE, not a walk! You can do this! It’s your last state after all!” So I sucked it up and just kept running.

Cottonwood trees with their gorgeous leaves were on parts of the course

The course was kind of a mixed bag, with parts full of views of the gorgeous Cottonwood trees with their bright yellow autumn leaves and the river or some nice houses in well-groomed neighborhoods but then at other times we were running past run-down parts of town. The last mile was a bizarre winding milieu past some strange business and a city park with about a million twists and turns.

Finally the finish line was within sight and I had a tiny bit of kick left to finish strong. I had pictured that moment many times, with my arms outstretched over head and a huge smile plastered on my face. I’m not sure if I was smiling but my guess is I wasn’t and for sure my arms were firmly by my sides. I was gasping for breath as I was handed my medal, on par with everything else about this race, small but nice.

I grabbed some water and checked out the results on the leader board. I was third in my age group and finished in 1:56. Given the elevation and missed turn, I was happy with that.

I saw they were giving small plain medals to the top three finishers in each age group for all of the races. I grabbed some snacks (there were only pre-packaged snack foods like pretzels and granola bars) and walked to the field for the awards ceremony. I quickly saw just how long it was going to take to work through female then male runners from age 5 to 80 in five year increments in the 5k, 10k, half marathon relay, then half marathon.

After debating what I should do, I seized the opportunity when the announcer said they were taking a 10 minute break after the 10k awards and asked if it would be ok to skip protocol and just get my medal early? I felt kind of bad asking that but I had to catch a shuttle bus back to the start, drive to my hotel, shower, and check out by noon and it was 11:40. She said that was fine, handed me my medal alomg with her congratulations, and off I went! Somehow I managed to do all of that and I was in Santa Fe around 1 pm, ready to celebrate my accomplishment in the beautiful city.

Would I recommend this race? I’m not sure since it’s usually in April and I have no idea how the weather would be then compared to November. I do know the autumn leaves were gorgeous and added to the scenery along the course. It is also very low-key so there were no bands along the course, the medals were small and simple, there was no expo, and post-race food was simple and minimal but that could be because of covid. All of that being said, I do like small races like this was and everyone was nice and friendly.

Have you run in New Mexico? If so, where and what was your race like? If not, any plans to run there someday? Have you ever missed a turn in a race?

Happy running!

Donna

WOW- Iowa! Des Moines, Iowa- It’s Not What You Might Think

I believe many people have a preconceived notion of what a place will be like before they ever step foot there. Many people think of three things when they think of Iowa: football, farmland, and corn. What I discovered when I visited Iowa for my first time was these things are definitely huge here but what’s missing is pride and family. Iowans are fiercely proud of their state and for them family comes before anything else.

For my first trip to Iowa, I chose to go to Des Moines, the capital of Iowa. The population is relatively small at only around 215,000 people or just over 700,000 if you include the suburbs. Des Moines is the most populated city in the state too so this is most definitely considered the “big city” in these parts.

That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of things to do in Des Moines, especially in the downtown area. Just don’t expect a big city vibe when you come here or anything even close to that. I highly recommend staying in the downtown area. Most things are within a mile of downtown and it’s a very walkable city plus there are multiple places where you can rent a bicycle. I chose not to rent a car when I was here and it turned out to be a wise decision, saving me on parking fees not only at the hotel but also the metered spaces all over the downtown area. There’s also a free bus called Des Moines Regional Transit Authority (DART) that runs every 10 minutes between the East Village and Western Gateway Park Monday through Friday.

Photo to back up my attempt of a witty title

What’s There to do in Des Moines?

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to visit botanical gardens. The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden was the first place I visited here. For $10 admission, I saw the Conservatory, Bonsai Gallery, Wells Fargo Rose Garden, Dorothy and Max Rutledge Conifer Garden, Koehn Garden with reflecting pool, Ruan Allee walkway, Water Garden, Lauridsen Savannah, and my favorite part of the garden, the Hillside Garden and Waterfall. Inside the conservatory there was a Desert Garden, Rainforest, and Horticultural Exhibits area. There is also the Trellis Cafe but I didn’t eat there. Multiple seating areas are all around the outdoor spaces in addition to inside the conservatory. I walked through every garden and it took me about an hour. It is one of the smaller botanical gardens I’ve been to but worth coming here if you enjoy gardens. https://www.dmbotanicalgarden.com/

Close to the botanical garden is the small but free Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens. It’s a peaceful spot beside the Des Moines River. You can easily see the entire area in 10 minutes or less if you’re just passing through.

Also nearby both gardens is the Lauridsen Skatepark, the largest skatepark in the United States. The park has five skating areas and runs adjacent to Principal Riverwalk Park. A unique part of the park is a bright red “WOW” sculpture (seen in the first photo above) 80 feet long and 12 feet high that was designed to be skated on but has become an Instagram hotspot for people just walking through.

If you have children or are a child at heart, there’s the Blank Park Zoo with the typical zoo animals like lions, tigers, giraffes, rhinos, and penguins. There are also behind the scenes tours, which are quite pricey for non-members but half the price for members. The zoo is open daily from 10 am to 4 pm and admission is $14 for adults and $8 for children. https://www.blankparkzoo.com/ The Science Center of Iowa and Blank IMAX Dome Theater is also a fun place for families. SCI has numerous hands-on exhibits designed to spur interest in science and learning along with live science demonstrations, a planetarium, and IMAX theater. SCI is open Thursday-Sunday and admission is $11 for adults and children. https://www.sciowa.org/visit/

Salisbury House and Gardens is a 42-room mansion built in the 1920’s modeled after the King’s House in Salisbury, England in the style of Gothic, Tudor, and Carolean Architecture. The house is filled with original art, tapestries, and antique furniture from around the world. One of my favorite things was learning all of the background information about the Weeks family that lived there. Carl Weeks made his fortune by combining cold cream with face powder and began his own makeup company, The Armand Company. Salisbury House is open for tours Wednesday through Sunday from 12 to 5 pm. Self-guided tours do not require reservations and are $10; guided tours at 1 and 3 pm are $15 and reservations are recommended. https://salisburyhouse.org/

Salisbury House and Gardens

If you enjoy history, the Iowa Hall of Pride is a fun way to learn about Iowa. There are displays about some sports legends from Iowa like gymnast Shawn Johnson, track and field Olympian Lolo Jones, professional football player Kurt Warner, plus many others. There are also displays and information about musicians, farming, wind farms, bike trails, just to name a few. Most of the displays are touch-screen with multiple videos to watch. There’s also a game area where you can play arcade-type games for a fee. It is open Monday through Friday and costs $10 for admission. https://www.iowahallofpride.com/

The Farmer’s Market is a fun place to stroll around if you’re in Des Moines on a Saturday from May 1 through October 30 in the mornings until noon. Several blocks downtown are closed off to cars so you can leisurely browse from over 150 vendors. I saw everything from meats, cheeses, breads and other bakery products, tea, artwork, handmade jewelry, fresh flowers, and a wide variety of produce. There were also some bands and musicians scattered throughout the area. https://www.dsmpartnership.com/desmoinesfarmersmarket/saturday-market

For art lovers, the Des Moines Art Center is a wonderful place to explore for about an hour or so, plus admission is free. There’s mostly modern and contemporary art, which I’m usually not a huge fan of but I enjoyed many of these pieces of modern art and could appreciate them. One of my favorites was a temporary display by Justin Favela and is running through January 2022. Using only tissue paper and cardboard, he designed enormous food-related pieces of art that I found intriguing. There were also some paintings by famous artists like Van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe, Salvadore Dali, and Renoir. https://desmoinesartcenter.org/visit/

One of the Justin Favela displays at the Des Moines Art Center

An outdoor art exhibit that’s also free, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park includes artwork by more than 25 artists on 1330 Grand Avenue in downtown Des Moines. There are walkways around most of the sculptures and grassy areas in others. The park is open from sunrise to midnight daily. https://desmoinesartcenter.org/visit/pappajohn-sculpture-park/

Where to Eat

There is no shortage of bars in downtown Des Moines, some of which also serve pub-style food. There isn’t a huge selection of restaurants in the small downtown area, but there are still quite a few including The Spaghetti Works (affordable especially for what you get), Court Avenue Brewing Company, Buzzard Billy’s (cajun), Exile Brewing Company, Hessen Haus (German food), Pho Real Kitchen and Bar (really good Vietnamese food), Royal Mile (British Pub-style food), and one of my favorites, Fong’s Pizza which has Asian-inspired toppings like Crab Rangoon or ramen noodles if you’re adventurous plus more traditional toppings. There are of course more restaurants in the area if you have a car or aren’t staying in the heart of downtown. All of the above restaurants are within a mile of one another if you are staying downtown and are easily walkable, however.

Where to Stay

I stayed at the Hampton Inn Downtown and found the location to be perfect for me. Since I could walk to most places I wanted to go to with the exception of a couple of places I didn’t even need to rent a car. However, the hotel walls are thin and the doors so heavy they slam loudly when closed so be advised and bring earplugs. There’s also a Residence Inn right beside the Hampton Inn; both are on Water Street. For a non-chain hotel in the downtown area, there’s the Des Lux Hotel and the Surety Hotel. If you want to stay closer to the Wells Fargo Arena and Iowa Events Center, there’s a Comfort Inn and Fairfield Inn and Suites nearby.

Final Thoughts

You may be wondering how many days would be the right amount for Des Moines. I stayed five nights and thought that was a day too many; four nights would have been plenty or even three nights. A long weekend would actually be just about right and give you plenty of time to explore the major sights. Since I was running the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon on a Sunday morning, I decided to stretch out my time a bit more in case I needed to take it a bit easy after the race, plus I wanted to give myself a buffer in case of flight delays before the race since there aren’t many flights from where I live to Des Moines.

I realize Des Moines, Iowa isn’t on most people’s list of places they want to visit, but honestly, it’s a nice city with friendly people and some unique offerings. If you ever find yourself in the area, try to forego any preconceived notions you may have and you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Have you been to Des Moines? If so, what did you do? I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on the area!

Happy travels!

Donna

IMT Des Moines Half Marathon, Des Moines, Iowa- 49th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Iowa was my 49th state.

Before COVID and the pandemic, I was supposed to run a half marathon in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in September 2020. At that point I would have already run a half marathon in New Mexico in April of that year, followed by Minnesota in June, and the race in Cedar Rapids would have been my 50th state. All three of those races got shifted or cancelled completely so now in 2021, I still have not run a half marathon in New Mexico but I ran Circle of Life Half Marathon, Lake City, Minnesota for my 48th state in June of this year. Confused? Blame it on COVID.

When I saw the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon was scheduled for an in-person race October 17, 2021 and the race director promised regular communication leading up to the race plus he would do everything in his power to make sure the race took place in person, I signed up immediately. True to his word, the race director sent out weekly emails with information about the race. Unfortunately since the race was in October, that meant my teenage daughter would not be running with me since she didn’t want to miss school. No one else would be going with me either, which means this was my first real solo vacation and first time traveling to a race by myself (no sherpa but that was OK; there was a gear check).

Packet pickup was at the Iowa Events Center both Friday and Saturday and included something I hadn’t seen in a while, an actual in-person expo with several vendors and booths set up. You could buy shirts, shoes, gels and other running-related supplies or talk to people about products and local running events. There were also speakers like Jeff Galloway, the famous Olympian who has since coached millions on the run/walk method. I picked up my goodie bag and race bib and was surprised to see a long-sleeve quarter-zip shirt personalized with the race name on the front and 13.1 on the back included in the bag.

Social distancing? Nope. Masks? Nah. Good thing I’m vaccinated.

A cold front had moved into Des Moines bringing with it a frigid wind in the days preceding the race. I went on a 30 minute shakeout run on Friday morning and it was 50 degrees, which was fine to run in what I had brought for the race (short-sleeve top and running skirt). However, the temperature was supposed to drop to 40 degrees at night starting Friday and by 8 am on Sunday, race morning, it was only supposed to be 41 degrees. On top of that, it was supposed to increase by 10 degrees in just a couple of hours. I was not happy with the weather prediction for race morning. Welcome to the Midwest, right?

After obsessively checking the weather like a crazy person and also obsessing about what I was going to wear for the race, I decided to stick with my original plan of my short-sleeve shirt, running skirt, knee-high compression socks, beanie, Buff on my neck, and my beloved Turtle mittens. I wore a fleece jacket to the start then threw it in the gear check bag and made my way to the start. It turns out it was a few degrees warmer than they had predicted the night before so at 8 am at race start it was 44 degrees and sunny.

There were around 5000 people running the marathon and half marathon, which both started together and we were crammed-in together tightly (and no one was wearing a mask). It would not have been a good scene for anyone worried about COVID, but that’s not me since I’m vaccinated and don’t have any health complications so it didn’t bother me. My plan was to run around 8:45 minute miles which would mean my finish time would be around 1:54.

The race start was right in the heart of downtown Des Moines and the half marathoners split off from the marathoners around mile 3. The course went by Water Works Park and Grays Lake Park, past the Pappajohn Sculpture Park and ran along the Des Moines River for the last part. It was scenic and pancake flat with the exception of one very minor hill around mile 11. There were bands, first aid stations, and Gatorade/water at multiple points along the course. At one point there were even volunteers holding out tissue boxes with tissues for runners. I’ve never seen that before but thought it was a great idea because it’s common to get a runny nose from cold air when running. Spectators were also out in full force, many with funny posters; one of my favorites was: “On a scale of 1-10, you’re a 13.1.”

I went back later to take some photos of the Pappajohn Sculpture Park

I felt so good right from the beginning that I ended up going faster than I expected. My split times were 8:26, 8:24, 8:21, 8:18, 8:28, 8:21, 8:17, 8:20, 8:23, 8:24, 8:28, 8:33, 8:29, and 8:20 for the final 0.25 miles. Strava had me at 13.25 miles with a finish of 1:50 at 13.1 miles but my official time was 1:51:20, which was a PR for me! I’m still astounded that I PR’d for my 51st half marathon! I finished 12th in my age group out of 110 women. This is a FAST course!

At the finish, we got our medals along with snack boxes filled with pretzels, peanuts, sunflower seeds, an oatmeal bar, fruit snacks, and animal crackers; there was also water and Gatorade plus a chocolate Gatorade protein recovery drink that tasted like chocolate milk. AND there were BBQ sandwiches, oranges, bananas, cookies, and Truly hard seltzer. There was an area set up in a big field with really talented bands playing and cornhole boards and bleachers to sit on. Finally, there were big posters with the race logo for photo ops.

I truly loved this race. Who would have thought my race in Des Moines, Iowa, state number 49 would be so outstanding? The race director and the volunteers did an excellent job putting on this race and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a well-organized, flat (unless you’re running the marathon; believe it or not, Iowa actually has some hills and the marathon is hilly, I’ve been told), and most of all FUN race.

Have any of you run this race or know anyone who has? Anyone interested in taking a trip to Iowa to check it out?

Happy running!

Donna

My First Time Backpacking and Sleeping Under the Stars in Yosemite National Park, California- Days Four and Five

If you missed them, see my posts on day one and days two and three here: My First Time Backpacking and Sleeping Under the Stars in Yosemite National Park, California- Day One, My First Time Backpacking and Sleeping Under the Stars in Yosemite National Park, California- Days Two and Three.

When I poked my head out of my sleeping bag the morning of day four, I looked beside me to see that my daughter, ever the early-riser, had already packed up her sleeping bag and pad and was finishing up filling her backpack. Bella and Savannah were working on making breakfast and coffee or tea for everyone.

The local bear had not visited our campsite that night, much to my relief. Several girls were saying they had wished they could have seen the bear, albeit from a distance. Having seen bears multiple times at Great Smoky Mountains National Park the previous summer, I personally had my fill of bears and was glad we hadn’t seen any at Yosemite, at least so far.

We were all highly encouraged to make an effort to poop in the woods that morning before we headed out because the trail we were going to be on had little to no places to privately use the bathroom. Some of the girls resisted but ultimately we all shared the experience of pooping in the woods for the first time, or at least doing it properly the first time (see my previous post for the details on that).

As we were packing up, we noticed a large male deer with a good-sized rack curiously watching us. One of the girls named him Prince Cornelius, which seemed fitting because he was prince-like in his appearance and demeanor. Prince Cornelius was smart enough to keep a healthy distance from us, yet he was clearly watching us as much as we were all watching him. We joked that we were his morning entertainment. He ended up circling all around us in the expanse of maybe half an hour, watching us, taking a bite of greenery, moving over a bit, then, watching us again.

Prince Cornelius

Unfortunately for me, I felt a migraine come on as I was packing up my things. I have a history of them and since I had been experiencing them regularly in the weeks prior, I pretty much expected one to happen at one point or another on this trip. Still, the thought of carrying a heavy backpack down a trail in the sun while dealing with a migraine was about the last thing in the world I wanted. Still, I couldn’t exactly crawl back in my sleeping bag and sleep away the pain. I popped my medicine for migraines, which only really semi-helps, and packed up with the help of my daughter.

Bella was busy checking everyone’s feet for blisters, of which there were many. She was an expert at this and worked quickly and efficiently. After we all were bandaged and wrapped we finished packing everything up and set out for the trail. Although the trail wasn’t going to be quite as long as the day before, it was downhill and exposed to the sun. I’ve always preferred hiking up rather than down even though I get much more out of breath when going up but I find it harder on my knees and feet to hike downhill. With that on top of my migraine and the impending pounding headache, I wasn’t looking forward to the hours ahead.

We only had one goal for the day, to get to Backpacker’s Camp, where we had spent the first night. Bella and Savannah told us we could take as much time as we needed as long as we reached the camp before it got dark, which seemed perfectly reasonable given the distance we needed to hike.

As is the case when you hike from a higher elevation to a lower one, the temperature that day creeped up higher the further we hiked down. The sun also shone brightly and there was little shade along the trail. After hardly seeing any other hikers for days it was a bit strange seeing other hikers on the trail.

We stopped for water and to take breaks several times. As we had done before on other trails, we ended up splitting up into two unofficial groups, one with the faster hikers and the other with the slower hikers; Bella and Savannah would take turns taking the lead while the other was the last person behind our group.

I felt like the person in the back had the hardest job since they had to offer encouragement and support to those struggling. I later found out Savannah had even carried the pack of one of our girls during part of the trail on a previous day, with the girl’s pack on her front and her even heavier pack on her back. I can’t even imagine the strength that required.

Our short-term goal was to reach the point of the trail where it leveled off and was shaded by lunch time but two of our girls struggled even more on this day than the others. One even broke down in tears, saying how hard it was and how hot it was. She had reached her breaking point. Bella managed to give her a pep talk and get her going again after a rest and encouragement to drink water with electrolytes.

We finally reached the bottom of the trail where it leveled off and was near a forested area. Out of the sun and off the somewhat narrow trail with some room to spread out and enjoy our lunch, we all relished in our accomplishments. I noticed a sign for May Lake that said it was 10.1 miles away. Although we hadn’t hiked that distance in one day, we had still hiked it, carrying everything we needed to survive for a few days on our backs.

I started thinking back to all of the backpackers I had seen on trails when I had been hiking all over the world. I had never fully understood what it meant to be a backpacker but now I had a glimpse into that world. By no means did I feel like an expert backpacker but at least now I could call myself a backpacker. Carrying everything you need for days on your back is an empowering thing.

I hoped the girls from our troop would remember this experience in a positive light and not just focus on the negatives, like how hard it was at times. I’ve always felt like embracing the pain is what makes you resilient. There are people that get scared and run away when things get difficult and others that face the difficulties full-on; those that can do the latter are the ones that become resilient and strong, while the former group just bumbles along in life, never truly growing and developing as a person.

We finally reached Backpacker’s Camp, a bit later than expected, but we made it nonetheless and set up our sleeping areas as we had the first time we were here. After changing out of our hiking shoes we walked over to the Merced River and watched as the dirt flowed off our bodies. I took in the views, with a stone bridge and mountains on one side and mountains on the other. Some people were floating down the river on inner tubes and others were splashing and wading in the river further upstream and downstream of us. It was another beautiful sunny day in paradise a.k.a. Yosemite National Park.

After a delicious and filling dinner of dehydrated noodles and vegetables we went around the table taking turns playing the game Rose, Bud, and Thorn. If you’re not familiar with the game, you first say something that was a highlight (rose), then something that was negative or challenging (thorn), and finally something you’re looking forward to (bud). My bud was having a shower when we got back to the hotel in Fresno since I hadn’t showered since the morning we arrived in Yosemite.

We also went around and took turns saying something we admired about each person during this trip. I couldn’t have said enough good things about Bella and Savannah. If I could have somehow conjured up the perfect backpacking guides for our troop on this backpacking adventure, I would have made them exactly like these two amazing women. I don’t think there’s anything these ladies couldn’t do and if there was something they couldn’t do, I feel sure they could figure out how to do it.

Our fearless leaders Bella and Savannah goofing around

After playing another fun and engaging game as a group, we all got ready for bed and our last night sleeping under the stars in Yosemite. It was noticeably warmer and I immediately regretted putting on my long-sleeve wool shirt that I had been sleeping in every other night as I was sliding into my sleeping bag, but I was too tired to go back to the bathroom to change. At least I hadn’t also put on the wool pants. Figuring it would cool off soon enough, I just unzipped my sleeping bag a bit and watched the stars as I drifted asleep.

As I mentioned before, I had been nervous about not sleeping in the comfort of a tent but decided it wasn’t worth carrying the extra weight of it. After debating it with the other adult going with me, I had told told the people organizing our trip before we flew out that she and I had decided if the girls could sleep without tents, so could we! If I hadn’t mentioned before, Lasting Adventures has all of the kids on their youth overnight trips sleep without tents, and tents are optional for adults on those trips. It had been a good choice and I can now say I’ve truly slept under the stars.

On our fifth and final day, we were told we would be hiking without our backpacks- hurray! After we unpacked the backpacks we had borrowed from Lasting Adventures and re-packed our suitcases (our luggage had been left in Bella’s car while we were backpacking), we took off for some highlights we had missed before in Yosemite. I felt so light without my pack and when I saw a person with a heavy backpack on, I had a sort of newfound admiration for them, knowing what it takes to lug a heavy pack around.

Bella and Savannah listed off the names of birds and plants we came across, as they had been doing all along, and as we strolled past Tuolumne Meadows, they pointed out some of the flowers and plants there. We saw houses where some lucky few park employees get to live within Yosemite; many other park employees drive an hour or more to get to work every day because of the lack of affordable housing nearby.

We walked past the currently dried-up Mirror Lake, normally a popular tourist attraction in Yosemite but given the drought you’d never even know there was once water there. Then we came to what appeared to be an ordinary-looking granite boulder. Upon closer look, we could see indentations in the top of the rock where we were told the native people used to grind acorns into flour. Some indentations were bigger than others, meaning they had been used for probably hundreds of years. It was hard to imagine what the land was once like before it became a national park.

After we all climbed onto the top of the boulder and had taken some photos and admired the view, we were divided into two groups for a debate. One side was to talk about the pros of social media on the outdoors, not just Yosemite but outdoor space in general and the other side was to talk about the cons. After a couple of minutes of discussions among the groups, we presented our ideas to the group as a whole.

Both sides had some well-founded thoughts, and we all agreed that social media can be used in a positive way if the person presents their posts in a thoughtful way. We also agreed it’s best to keep a Geotag or location tag as vague as possible, such as Yosemite National Park rather than Mirror Lake for example, to help keep crowds down in one specific area. Ultimately, nature is for all of us to enjoy and by encouraging others to get outside, we can all benefit as long as we do it in a responsible way so that an area doesn’t get flooded with tourists (by using a permit system for example) or with proper trash disposal.

Next, we had a brief tour of The Ahwahnee, https://www.travelyosemite.com/lodging/the-ahwahnee/, a very expensive hotel with views of Half Dome, Glacier Point and Yosemite Falls and less than 2 miles from Yosemite Village. The hotel was referenced in Stanley Kubrick’s thriller “The Shining” and was also featured in “The Caine Mutiny” and “Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day.” It is a uniquely-beautiful hotel and I loved all of the Native American art work and pieces incorporated throughout. When we were there, there just happened to be a display showcasing women who helped make history at Yosemite, from park rangers to explorers and many others. As a group of Girl Scouts, this was exciting to see, as we’re always encouraging our girls to be leaders and make history, which is exactly what these women in the display did over the years.

After lunch in Yosemite Village, we said our goodbyes to Bella and Savannah and I tried to express my gratitude (once again) to these incredibly strong women who I admired deeply. With a couple of hours to kill before our YARTS shuttle back to Fresno was due to arrive, we checked out the gift shop and Ansel Adams Gallery. I’ve always been a huge fan of Ansel Adams who is known for his black and white photographs of not only Yosemite National Park but nature in general so while this wasn’t my first time seeing his art, it’s always a pleasure to view his photographs.

When we reached our hotel rooms in Fresno and I was able to take my first shower in days, it felt every bit as refreshing as I had thought it would. It’s funny how going for days without things like soap, shampoo, deodorant, and even clean clothes hadn’t mattered one bit when I was backpacking but I think that’s because I knew they would be waiting for me when we reached our hotel room again. Feeling revitalized and clean once again, I slept well that night and woke up ready for the long flight back home.

Sure, I would miss Yosemite and the beauty of the area but I had some special memories of my once-in-a-lifetime backpacking experience with Bella, Savannah, and the rest of our troop. I hope to go backpacking again someday but just as this backpacking trek was nothing like the one I had in Peru, I’m sure nothing will ever compare to this trek.

Have you ever gone backpacking, whether in Yosemite or elsewhere? If so, tell me all about it! If you’ve never been backpacking but you’re curious and perhaps even a bit nervous about it, feel free to reach out to me with your questions. I’d love to share more about my experience with anyone who is interested.

Happy travels!

Donna

Just Two More States Left!

As I type this post, I only have two states left in my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, Iowa and New Mexico. Both races are close to each other so in less than a month, as long as all goes well, I will be finished with my quest. Honestly, it feels surreal to say that before the end of 2021 I will have run a half marathon in all 50 states.

It will have taken me almost exactly 21 years since my very first half marathon, the Battleship Half Marathon in Wilmington, North Carolina (Battleship Half Marathon and Gold Rush Half Marathon, North Carolina-My first half marathon (and third and fourth), on November 19, 2000 to finish this quest. Life is funny how things turn out. It was 44 degrees that day with a cold rain that later turned into snow. For the coast of North Carolina, it’s almost unheard of to see snow especially in November so it was definitely crazy and unexpected weather.

I knew that if I were to run the same race the following year it would almost definitely be better weather. That was my hook. I wanted to see just how I could do in a half marathon given better weather and of course better preparation that would inevitably come from another year of running. Had it been sunny and in the 50’s, who knows if I would have felt the drive to run that race again or any other half marathons for that matter.

When I ran the Battleship Half Marathon in 2001 it was sunny and 51 degrees and I shaved off almost 17 minutes from my finish time. At this point I had run several other races including the Kona Half Marathon in Hawaii (Kona Marathon and Half Marathon, Hawaii-2nd state). Not only was I hooked on running half marathons, I was hooked on traveling to half marathons although I didn’t have the goal of running one in every state at this point. Still to this day, I haven’t run a half marathon anywhere close enough to my home that I didn’t have to stay in a hotel the night before.

This was taken after my recent 14 mile training run

They say with children you should get them used to your lifestyle from the beginning so it becomes second nature to the child. For example, if you enjoy traveling and plan on bringing the child along with you, you should travel with the child from the start so they become accustomed to traveling and it’s just a “normal” part of their life.

I believe how you approach running and racing is a bit like that. If you start out running 5k’s near where you live and continue doing that over several years, it would be a much bigger barrier of entry to suddenly travel to a race. But if you’ve traveled to races very early in your racing history, it’s second nature to you and not traveling before a race would seem strange to you. At least that’s how I feel about racing.

The few local races I have run don’t stand out in my mind nearly as much as the ones I traveled to. Sure, I enjoyed the Color Run I ran with my daughter (Color Vibe 5k), a local 5k, but it did seem strange to sleep in my own bed the night before the race and drive back home after the race. Part of the difference could be that it was a 5k and you can’t fairly compare a 5k to a half marathon because of course it’s going to be a wholly different experience. Still, I have run a local 10-miler, almost as long as a half marathon and at this point in my life I have absolutely no desire to run a local half marathon and most likely never will run one.

For me, part of the draw to running a half marathon is the travel aspect and visiting a new area. I know for some people the mere idea of traveling to a race makes them so anxious they would never do that. Then again, I believe travel in general makes many people anxious and I understand that.

There are so many moving parts involved with traveling to a race including just getting to the city where the race is being held, whether it’s flying or driving, finding a hotel or other place to stay at least the night before the race if not afterwards as well, renting a car if you flew to the race, eating and finding suitable things to eat the night before the race so it doesn’t upset your stomach, getting to the race start, and on and on. I know for some people, the thought of planning all of these things is overwhelming and I believe this is why some people are drawn to the companies that have popped up that basically take care of everything for you if you’re traveling to a race so you just have to sign up and show up. A popular one is Vacationraces: https://vacationraces.com/.

Back to my half marathon in Iowa, state number 49. This race is full of firsts for me. It will be the first race where a family member won’t be going to a half marathon with me. This is also the first race where I won’t be traveling to other parts of the state once I get there. In fact, I’m not even going to rent a car but will be relying on the local transportation and ride shares. A friend of mine who lives in Iowa is also running the race so I won’t be totally by myself but for a majority of my time there I will be by myself so I’m calling it my first solo travel trip.

I’m not anxious at all about any of these first times. On the contrary, I’m very much looking forward to traveling by myself and seeing what solo travel is like. A travel podcaster I follow has said before that he thinks everyone should experience solo travel at least once in their life and I’ve heard other people say how much they enjoy traveling by themselves and the many positive things to come of it.

I will be sure to let you all know how the race goes and what I think of solo travel!

Happy travels!

Donna

My First Time Backpacking and Sleeping Under the Stars in Yosemite National Park, California- Days Two and Three

If you missed the first part of this series, you can catch up here: My First Time Backpacking and Sleeping Under the Stars in Yosemite National Park, California- Day One

On our second day at Yosemite, after a filling breakfast of oatmeal with added nuts, chia seeds, and dried apples, we all packed up our backpacks and rode in a van provided by Lasting Adventures about one and a half hours to get to May Lake. I had never heard of May Lake before but found it to be absolutely stunning with trees and mountains surrounding the crystal-clear water.

We only had a short one mile hike to our campsite from the trail head where the van dropped us off. This was a good opportunity for everyone to get more of a feel for hiking with our backpacks. We were told to periodically tighten or loosen straps and see what felt better. As we all found out, it takes some getting used to carrying 35+ pounds on your back (I never got a firm estimate from Bella or Savannah on how much weight we were carrying but it felt like at least 35 pounds to me if not a solid 40 pounds).

Not a bad place to sleep for the night and the views are pretty incredible

As soon as we reached our campsite, the first thing I did was take off my backpack. Then we all set up our sleeping areas, meaning we laid out the Tyvek sheet first then placed the sleeping mat on top, and our sleeping bag on top. We were told everything should be “tidy and neat.”

After a simple lunch of salami and bagels with a view of May Lake, a few of us went with Bella to hike up Mt. Hoffmann and the rest of our troop stayed back with Savannah at the campsite. We were told the hike to the top of Mt. Hoffmann is 6 miles round-trip and the view from the top was great. What I wasn’t aware of at the time is that the elevation of May Lake is 9270 feet and there’s a 2000 feet elevation gain to the peak of Mt. Hoffmann. Oh, and did I mention some of the steepest parts of the trail are covered in decomposed granite, which is notoriously slippery?

See a trail here? Neither did I. Good thing we had Bella to guide us up Mount Hoffmann!

The trail definitely had some incredible views of May Lake and the surrounding area and I was doing pretty well trudging along, trying to keep up with Bella and our fast and fearless girls until we reached the very last part to the summit of Mt. Hoffmann, where I looked down and saw a sheer drop on one side. My fear of heights got the best of me and I announced that I was good where I was; I didn’t want to continue any further up.

Bella found a safe spot for me and our troop’s other chaperone, who said she was happy where we were as well and she would stay with me. I wasn’t sure if she was just saying that to make me feel better but I welcomed the company either way. We watched as the brave girls from our troop continued up the vertigo-inducing steepest part of the trail to the peak with its views of Clouds Rest and Half Dome and took in the views until they joined us shortly later.

When we got back to our campsite, we all changed out of our hiking shoes and enjoyed the refreshingly cold water of May Lake. After the intense hike to Mt. Hoffmann, the water felt great on my tired legs and feet. I could see the girls enjoying the views of the lake and mountains all around us and one kept saying, “I can’t believe I’m actually here. It’s so beautiful.” Indeed, I thought.

After a dinner of ramen noodles fortified with mixed dried vegetables we all collected wood for a fire (May Lake was one of the few places in Yosemite where a campfire was allowed because of recent wild fires and extreme drought in California). Bella really had the fire going and it was just what I needed to take the chill off the air. Because we were so high in elevation, it was considerably cooler here than where we started in Yosemite Valley. We were treated with mugs of hot cider and played a rousing game of Balderdash before turning in for the night.

The many views of May Lake

Day 3 was slated for our longest hike yet, at just around 7 miles. There was a lot of downhill hiking but also plenty of uphill to round things out. With the heavy backpack it was intense and we were all glad when we made it to the campsite. Bella and Savannah told us we would have incredible views of Half Dome from here. They even joked (or perhaps they were serious) that since there was no toilet at this campsite, unlike the previous ones, we could have the best view around when squatting to do our business.

One little note on that subject. I had peed in the wild many times when hiking or camping but I had never been without a toilet when I had to poop, not even on my epic multi-day trek to Machu Picchu in Peru. Believe it or not, the group we were with in Peru even had portable toilets for us spoiled Americans. There would be no portable toilets here. Bella and Savannah briefed all of us on the proper way to poop in the wild, which I’ll share here.

First you need to gather your supplies: a trowel with a blade that’s six inches long, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and a Ziplock bag to put your used toilet paper in. That’s it. The significance of the six inches for the trowel is that’s the Goldilocks spot for burying human excrement; too shallow and animals can and will dig it up, too deep and it’s not at the ideal depth in the soil for getting properly broken down and decomposed.

OK, so to poop in the wild, first find a spot approximately 200 feet from water sources and trails. Next, you dig a hole six inches deep with your trowel. Then you do your business, put the used toilet paper in your Ziplock bag, and use the hand sanitizer before covering the hole back with dirt using the trowel. The trowel should never touch anything but soil so it won’t need to be sanitized. That’s it! You just pooped in the wild!

Now back to day 3. As soon as we reached our campsite and set up camp, we went to a nearby creek where some of us just stuck our feet and legs in and others fully immersed themselves. As before, the water was quite chilly but refreshing especially after a challenging hike with a pack.

Our view for dinner on day 3- pretty nice, huh?

We had a delicious dinner of rice, soy curls and soy sauce. I had never had soy curls before but thought they were good enough to make a note to myself to look for them at the stores when I got back home. Also, if you haven’t caught on by now, almost everything we ate was dehydrated to save on space and weight. I learned on this trip that dehydrated food has come a long way since I had it many years ago, both in the taste and variety available now.

Bella and Savannah cooked our dinner at what they referred to as the “bluff,” with amazing views of Half Dome directly in front of us. We were hoping to see a bright pink sunset against the granite but it was too cloudy for that so we got a muted pink sky instead, still beautiful. Later, we were rewarded with a night sky full of stars and some shooting stars were thrown in for our added pleasure. Our entertaining guides captivated us with folklore stories about the constellations while we all sipped our hot cocoa.

Not to imply that our sunset wasn’t absolutely gorgeous because it was as you can see!

This was one of the chilliest nights we had experienced, with temperatures in the 40’s, but our sleeping bags kept us warm, and we slipped off to sleep to the sound of utter silence. A few of us were lucky enough to witness the Perseid meteor shower late that night.

To set the scene, this campsite was really deep in the wilds of Yosemite, with no other humans in sight. If I had been hiking in that area by myself without our guides I never would have even known it’s a designated campsite. Also, there was a bear in this area known to swipe bear cans and throw them over the cliff, knowing they would break open when they hit the bottom, spilling out their contents and providing dinner for the bear.

To be continued…

Tips to Help You Run Safely in the Dark

Fall has just barely started and already there are less daylight hours. We haven’t even turned the clocks back yet, either! It won’t be long when it will be dark both in the morning and early in the evening so there will be no escaping running in the dark unless you’re lucky enough to be able to run in the middle of the day.

With today’s technology there are many things you can do to stay safe on the road when it’s dark. Here are some of my top tips and specific products for running safely in the dark.

  1. Wear reflective gear and lights. There are at least dozens of different kinds of lights alone that you can wear. Some of my favorites include NoxGear and this vest I got from Amazon:
ALOVECO Outdoor Night Running Light from Amazon comes with a rechargeable battery

Although I don’t own any myself, I’ve been told Oiselle has some super-reflective running gear. It’s best to place lights and reflective gear on both your front and back and focus on your head, arms, and ankles since these areas move the most when you’re running and are more likely to alert drivers. Blinking lights are also great for helping get the attention of drivers who may be drowsy if it’s early in the morning or if they’re distracted by their phone. Don’t forget to wear a light that not only lights your body up but also one that illuminates your path so you can see where you’re running.

I haven’t bought it yet but Safety Skin comes in a tube like deodorant that you swipe on your skin and you’re left with reflective material that doesn’t sweat off. Photo from Amazon.

2. Let others know where you’ll be running if you can’t run with someone else. There are many good apps for letting a family member or close friend track you by GPS when you’re running. Strava recently made Beacon, their version of this free; it was previously only available for those on the premium plan. Some Garmin watches also have this feature that allows others to follow your running route in real time. You can also always just go old-school and tell someone where and when you’ll be running and what time you expect to be home.

3. Choose your route wisely. If there are no street lamps where you run it will be considerably darker, even with car lights going by. The safest place to run is on the sidewalk but if you have to run in the road make sure you’re running facing traffic, never with your back to oncoming cars. I cringe every time I see someone running or walking in the road with their back to oncoming cars.

4. Be aware of your surroundings. If your wear headphones that go over or in your ear, leave one ear open so you can still hear around you. I love AfterShokz, which are bone-conducting headphones, which means I can hear both my music or podcast and my surroundings at the same time. They were truly life-changing for me as a female runner who is hyper-alert to my surroundings but still likes to listen to podcasts and music when I’m running.

Also, don’t assume a driver sees you, especially if they’re making a right-hand turn. I’ve seen so many drivers not even turn to look my way on their left when they were making this turn. It’s scary to think about how many people have been hit by drivers this way. I always assume the other person doesn’t see me and will go out of my way to avoid getting in their direct path.

I wear my AfterShokz on every single run. They’re truly life-changing!

5. Be prepared to protect yourself if necessary. This tip isn’t just for running in the dark but any time. There are multiple ways to protect yourself in the event someone approaches you and you need a form of self defense. Pepper spray is readily available at many running and outdoor supply stores, as are small alarm devices. You can also look up self defense classes in your area. It’s always a good idea to learn some prevention techniques, how to spot dangers, and gain self confidence.

That’s about all I have on safety tips. What about you- do you have a tip I missed?

Happy running!

Donna

My First Time Backpacking and Sleeping Under the Stars in Yosemite National Park, California- Day One

Although I had been to Yosemite National Park in California about 20ish years ago, I never really felt like I saw much of it. I was in San Francisco and Napa Valley for a week of sightseeing and wine tasting and noticed that I could squeeze in a daytrip to Yosemite National Park. I drove through the park and saw the major highlights including El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall, Mariposa Grove, and Tuolumne Meadows but I didn’t do a lot of hiking because of my limited time. I always wanted to return to really get a feel for the park. I finally got to do that this year with my first backpacking trip in Yosemite.

A couple of years ago my daughter’s Girl Scout troop had saved up their money from cookie sales, a car wash, and other fundraising activities and we were all brainstorming how to spend the money when I came across the outdoor programs that Lasting Adventures offers https://lastingadventures.com/. I noticed they had a link under their Youth Trips for Boy and Girl Scout Trips. When I asked the girls in our troop if they might be interested in backpacking in Yosemite with Lasting Adventures, they all enthusiastically agreed so I began to make the arrangements.

Since I’m the troop leader and love to hike and camp it was a given that I would be one of the adults going. My co-leader isn’t exactly the backpacking type (not that that’s a bad thing) so I asked another parent of a girl from our troop who I knew loved to hike and camp if she could go with us. She agreed and we chose a date in August of 2020 to go. Unfortunately that trip was cancelled because of COVID but we were able to keep all of our deposits and move everything back to August of 2021 when we got the green light from our local Girl Scouts council that we could go.

We live in North Carolina so our troop had to fly to California and somehow get to Yosemite National Park, which really isn’t that close to any major airports. I chose Fresno to fly into and someone from Lasting Adventures suggested I get tickets with YARTS public transit to Yosemite https://yarts.com/, which was one heck of a deal. Private shuttles from Fresno to Yosemite charged around $100 or more per person, while YARTS was a mere $36 for adults and reduced fare for our girls since they’re all under 17. The shuttle took around 4 hours from the Fresno Airport since there were other stops along the way and one stop included a 10 minute break. We were in a large bus with a bathroom in the back and chargers at the seats so it was a comfortable ride.

After a long day of flying across the country, spending the night at a hotel by the airport, and a 4-hour shuttle the next day, we finally arrived at Yosemite Valley tired but excited to begin our adventure. Our two guides, Bella and Savannah met us in one of the parking lots and gave us each our backpacks, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and some other gear we would need for the next five days. We all emptied our suitcases and put a couple of shirts, a pair of shorts, socks, underwear, and basically nothing but essentials into our backpacks.

There were five girls from the troop, myself, the other adult from our troop plus our two guides and between the 9 of us we would be carrying everything we would need for the next five days on our backs. As I quickly found out when I lifted my backpack, every single ounce adds up. Although I had planned on bringing a clean shirt for each day and having a couple of pairs of shorts, I changed my mind when we were transferring things from our suitcases and only packed two shirts and one pair of shorts into my backpack. Other things I had planned on bringing like body wipes, deodorant, and others got left behind as well.

Yosemite at last!

We stored all of our luggage containing things we weren’t bringing on our multi-day hike in one of the guide’s cars and were instructed how to maneuver ourselves into a fully-stuffed backpack. You put the pack on one knee, put one arm in then the other in a bent-over position, buckle the hip and chest straps, and tighten or loosen as necessary. Holy crap was this thing heavy. I would be carrying this for the next five days, hiking over loose rocks, up and down hills? Whoa, I thought. This wasn’t going to be easy, but then again, I didn’t expect it to be when I signed up for the trip. Would the girls, most of whom were 16, be able to handle their packs plus all of the hiking, I wondered?

Being the smart and experienced guides that they were, Bella and Savannah told us we would be hiking only about a mile and a half to our first campground. It was a way to get us used to carrying our backpacks and figure out what straps needed tightened or loosened. I didn’t mention before that our packs also contained bear cans full of our food for the next five days and some people carried other gear like pots and pans, and dishes or other necessities for the group.

My hips were aching by the end of that short hike and I was wondering how I would carry that heavy pack for the longer distances that were planned. The girls seemed to also struggle with the weight of their packs but we all made it to the campsite and the first thing we did was take off our backpacks, with a collective sigh of relief.

No tents for us! Who needs tents? We’re Girl Scouts!

I had been told by someone at Lasting Adventures prior to our arrival that although they did their youth trips without tents that adult chaperones had the option of sleeping in a tent but that also meant I would have to carry that tent. After debating it for a while, I thought if the girls could sleep outdoors without a tent, I could too and the other adult going with us agreed with me.

So sans tents at our first campground, Bella and Savannah chose a good site for us and showed us how to set up our sleeping areas. The first to go down was a piece of Tyvek ground cloth, then the sleeping pad went on top of that, and finally our sleeping bag went on top of that. Pretty simple really.

After everyone had set up their sleeping areas and we had changed out of our hiking shoes, we walked over to the Merced River for a refreshing dip. The water was crystal clear and only about waist-deep at least where we were. We were told in the spring after the snow melts, the river often floods and is high enough to go kayaking and tubing. There were still some people with inflatables mostly just relaxing in one spot rather than floating down the river but the water would definitely have been too low for a kayak.

Just enjoying the view and taking it all in!

Although the water was quite cold at first, I quickly adjusted and it felt soothing and relaxing to wade in the water looking at the views surrounding us. On one end were the majestic mountains looming over us and on the other end was a cool stone bridge along with more mountains. The girls happily chatted and we all enjoyed our time in the serene setting, content to finally be at Yosemite National Park.

We made our way back to camp after an hour or so of wading in or sitting by the water and dined on a delicious meal of curry chicken that Bella and Savannah had prepared for us. After playing some games we brushed our teeth using toothpaste tablets (to save on weight because as I said, every ounce counts) and slid into our sleeping bags, tired but very much looking forward to what was to come.

To be continued…

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