Mississippi Gulf Coast Half Marathon, Mississippi-20th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Mississippi was my 20th state.

Like most people, I had never ran through the grounds of a Space Center, that is until November 2010 when I ran the Mississippi Gulf Coast Half Marathon.  This race is on the grounds of the John C. Stennis Space Center in Gulfport.  When I ran it, there were about 500 runners for the marathon, half marathon, and 5K so it was a smaller crowd for sure. The race director Leonard Vergunst actually ran and won the marathon that year.

The course was a bit of a let-down for me because I was hoping it would be more scenic and have more rockets or space-related things to look at than there were.  I struggled with multiple injuries in the months leading up to the race so my time was much slower than for previous races.  One injury I had that was non-running related was an inflamed rib.  My young daughter had accidentally kicked me in the ribs one evening when she was getting ready for bed, and I had pain from that for several months when I ran.

This race is held Thanksgiving weekend every year so the weather is typically good for long distance racing but it can get a bit cold especially when you’re outside waiting for the start.  When I ran it, the temperatures should have been in the 50’s but a cold front just rolled through the area the previous day so it was about 10 degrees cooler than it should have been.  Fortunately I brought a running jacket, hat, and gloves just in case and was fine.

My family and I had fun hanging out in Gulfport for a few days after the race.  It’s a pretty small, low-key area good for a quiet and relaxing long weekend.  If you have young children, I recommend checking out Lynn Meadows Discovery Center, a hands-on children’s museum.  Gulfport is only about an hour and a half drive from New Orleans if you want to squeeze in an adventure there.

From my post-race notes:

“Ran inside grounds of Stennis Space Center, but didn’t see much in the way of rockets along the course (only once at the main visitor building).  Was in the 40’s for most of the race, due to a cold front that moved in the day before the race.  Course was flat and had good aid stations but zero spectators except for volunteers.  Long-sleeve t-shirt was nice, but I received last year’s medal!  Emailed the director (he said half marathoners weren’t supposed to get medals but they had some leftover from the previous year and decided to give them to half’ers instead of throwing them out).  Had multiple injuries (inflamed rib, ITBS on one leg, tendonitis on other knee) so time was slow- was happy to finish.  Finish time was 2:32:50.”

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Gulf Coast Running Club

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Enjoy waterfalls? Try Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in Oregon

See my post Central Oregon-Eugene and Bend for information on those parts of Oregon.

Another scenic area to visit in Oregon is the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area encompasses 292,500 acres, running from the mouth of the Sandy River to the mouth of the Deschutes River and spanning southern Washington and northern Oregon. The Gorge is unique in its natural and cultural history, as well as its designation as a National Scenic Area.

The National Scenic Area is home to the Historic Columbia River Highway, dubbed America’s first scenic highway by many. The original Columbia River Highway’s official dedication took place on June 7, 1916.  It was designed to bring travelers to the most breathtaking sights and scenes in the Gorge. Its iconic and innovative design included rock walls, bridges and structures such as Vista House and Multnomah Falls Lodge.

When the Scenic Area was created in 1986, the idea was to help reconnect the pieces of this unique highway to create the new “Historic Columbia River Highway.” You can explore the modern highway today with a combination of driving, biking, and walkways. Several of the most iconic spots, such as Multnomah Falls and Eagle Creek, were developed in conjunction with the highway’s construction, to bring motorists to the Gorge’s most beautiful areas.

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Today, this scenic drive remains one of the best in the nation. However, popularity comes at a price.  Stop-and-go traffic is common along the waterfall corridor most weekends from spring until fall.  To make the most of your visit and time, go on a weekday or early in the morning to minimize crowds and congestion.  From Vista House to the Portland International Airport is only a 30 minute drive without heavy traffic, so it’s easy to make this area a stopover to or from the airport even if you aren’t staying in the Portland area.  I would like to go back another time to explore the Portland area and west of there, including Cannon Beach.  Any other suggestions?

Central Oregon-Eugene and Bend

Portland, Oregon had almost 9 million overnight visitors in 2015 according to travelportland.com.  On the other hand, in central Oregon, Bend had roughly 2-2.5 million visitors that same year.  While I couldn’t find an estimate for annual visitors to Eugene, I would guess it’s even lower than for Bend.  When I was planning a trip to Oregon, I chose the less-traveled areas of Eugene and Bend for the majority of our time in the state.  Although we would be flying into Portland, I left zero time there for exploring that area, and we picked up our rental car and drove promptly to Eugene.  I was going to run my 36th half marathon (leaving only 14 more to go for all 50 states) in Eugene so we were going to spend a few days in Eugene then drive to Bend to spend a week there.  Nothing against Portland but there’s only so much you can see in 10 days.

Eugene, Oregon is famous for being the birthplace of Nike and is nicknamed “Track Town, USA.”  They were the hosts for the Olympic Track and Field Trials for 2016 and many other years.  If you’re a runner, chances are pretty good you’ve heard of Steve Prefontaine.  While in the peak of his running career, he was killed at the young age of 24 in a car accident.  “Pre,” as he was called, helped spark the city’s running boom in the 1970’s.  Ask just about any Eugene resident about Steve Prefontaine, and they’ll tell you an earful.  Running is in these people’s blood.  I was seriously nervous about running a half marathon here (I might be dead-last running against all of these die-hard runners) but I somehow managed to win third place in my age group.

If you’re a runner, a must-do in Eugene is to run on Pre’s Trail, a nice loop on chipped wood in Alton Baker Park.  You can run past many water formations including a pond, creeks, and river as well as the famous University of Oregon stadium.  There are also many wineries in Eugene with not only tasty wine but also great people working there as well.  Everyone we spoke with at the wineries were all very friendly, down-to-earth, and not at all snobby like you find at wineries in other parts of the country.  Cascades Raptor Center is also a fun place to visit, even in the rain (Eugene experiences an average rainfall of 46 inches per year).  The Raptor Center is a working rehabilitation center and the birds on display could not be returned to the wild. Birds with the right disposition are used for educational exhibits.

When our time was up in Eugene, we drove to Bend and saw the landscape change from lush and green to dry, high desert.  The contrast was stark.  While Eugene is often rainy and overcast, Bend has an average of 158 clear days and 105 more that are mostly sunny, making it the city with the highest average sunny days in the state.  Bend has many places to hike and bike in warmer months and ski in the winter.  The largest beer trail in the West is also here, the Bend Ale Trail.  This is my kind of place!

For something other than the aforementioned activities in Bend, check out the High Desert Museum.  It’s like a zoo, history museum, and science exhibits all rolled into one place.  I always like checking out local history when I’m traveling and this was a good place for history of the Pacific Northwest.  There are temporary as well as permanent exhibits, some indoor and some outdoor.  Some favorites include the Miller Family Ranch, Autzen Otter Exhibit, Desertarium, and the Birds of Prey Center.

For some hiking, it’s hard to beat Smith Rock State Park and Tumalo Falls.  Smith Rock State Park is near Terrebonne and Redmond, Oregon and is a popular climbing spot.  One of the best trails here is Misery Ridge which takes you over Smith Rock, with a view of Monkey Face and views of the canyon and Crooked River.  To reach the viewpoint for Tumalo Falls you can walk 5 minutes from the parking lot and then there are multiple trails from here if you so desire.  The Tumalo Mountain trail is classified as moderate/difficult and is 1.75 miles one way.  It is a steep climb from 6400 feet to 7775 feet with a beautiful view at the top.  The trail starts at the Dutchman Sno-park on the Cascade Lakes Highway.

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Smith Rock State Park
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View from the top of Misery Ridge
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Tumalo Falls

It’s  easy to spend a week in Bend, but 2-3 days in Eugene is plenty.  It seems that so many people overlook these areas when planning a vacation in Oregon and just go straight to the ever-popular Portland.  They would be missing out on some unique scenery and fun things to do for the whole family in by-passing these areas.

 

 

Madison Mini-Marathon, Wisconsin-19th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Wisconsin was my 19th state.

When I signed up for the Madison Mini-Marathon, I felt a little twinge of distaste.  It was the wording of the race that I didn’t like.  Why didn’t they just call it what it was- a half marathon?  To me, calling it a “mini” marathon somehow doesn’t seem right.

The name aside, this race was a good course albeit a steaming hot one so don’t go run this one expecting to set a PR.  Also there are some hills on this course, another reason you likely won’t PR here.  This is a fairly big race but they have corrals, which helps as long as people actually go in the proper corral.

After the race, there were a lot of people (including me) who cooled off our swollen feet in the nice, cool water near the finish.  There is a generous spread of food at the end and free beer from Wisconsin Brewing Company.  Also, there’s a band playing at the finish so a lot of people hang out after the race.

For this race, my family and I spent a couple of days in Madison where we went to Olbrich Botanical Gardens, the Wisconsin state capitol, and the Madison Children’s Museum.  We also spent a week in Lake Geneva, which was truly beautiful and relaxing. Lake Geneva is full of huge vacation homes that you can see as you walk along the Geneva Lake Shore Path.  Lake Geneva Cruise Line has several options for a scenic boat tour.  You can also see the world’s largest refracting telescope at Yerkes Observatory, which is surrounded by 77 acres of beautiful park space designed by the brother of Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York City.  I also recommend spending a day or two in Milwaukee if you have the time to spare.  We only had time to visit the Milwaukee Art Museum, and that was fun but there’s so much more to see and do in Milwaukee, if only I had known ahead of time.

From my post-race notes:

“Very scenic course that highlighted the “best” parts of the city- capitol, State St., arboretum, lake views; however, there were some challenging hills from about mile 5-9.  Also, it was very humid (95%) and 72 degrees at the 7 am start.  Volunteer and spectator support was great, as were the goodies offered at the finish.  Nice technical shirt and big, substantial medals.  My finish time was 2:15:01.”

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Madison Mini-Marathon