Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, South Dakota- 34th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. South Dakota was my 34th state.

When researching half marathons for my race in South Dakota, I’ll admit I wasn’t really looking forward to running a race in the state after finding North Dakota so plain and unexciting; see Bismarck Marathon, North Dakota-16th state. Fairly quickly into my research, I found out just how different two adjacent states can be. South Dakota is home to the Black Hills, Badlands National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, the Missouri River, Historic Deadwood, and Mount Rushmore (all of which my family and I visited and recommend). Travel South Dakota link

South Dakota is an outdoors lover’s paradise and my family and I loved every minute of our vacation here before and after the race. I also loved this race and highly recommend it. As far as getting to Spearfish Canyon, the easiest way to get here if you’re flying is to fly into Rapid City and pick up a rental car. It’s about an hour’s drive from Rapid City to Spearfish Canyon. We stayed the night before the race at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge in the Berry Patch Cabin and it was awesome. Rapid City is also a great place to stay if you’re exploring the area, since it’s less than an hour by car to the majority of places I listed in the previous paragraph.

The 2015 Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon was a fundraiser to benefit the abused and neglected children through the Northern Hills Area Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Program. Packet pickup was about the most sparse I’ve ever seen in all of my races. It was at the CASA office in Spearfish and there was only one person there handing out shirts (technical, unisex short-sleeve) and bibs. That’s it. Nothing else. No expo. No bag filled with junk you didn’t really want anyway. I liked it. Don’t come here for the bling, though, or you will be disappointed.



At 7 am on race day, the course began at the top of the beautiful Spearfish Canyon in Savoy in the northernmost section of South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest and finished at the bottom in Spearfish City Park. When I was running the race I remember constantly telling myself how lucky I was to be able to run through this gorgeous canyon. Although the course was net downhill starting around 5,000 feet above seal level and dropping about 1,300 feet by the finish, it didn’t feel too steep on my quads.

The race is held in July every year and while you can expect it to be hot, because the race goes through a canyon surrounded by mountains, it is a bit cooler and there is abundant shade. It was 70’s at the start and mid-80’s at the finish, so don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. It was still hot, it just didn’t feel as hot as it was because of the shade. There were virtually no spectators, not surprisingly, but just a few aid stations.



I actually set a PR (personal record) for myself on this course. I was a bit concerned about running at 5,000 feet above sea level but I didn’t feel any more out of breath than I normally would at a race or have any other elevation-related side effects. In fact, I remember checking my watch throughout the race and being surprised that I was able to sustain the pace I was and yet I felt great! I passed a lot of people, especially during the last few miles. My finish time was 1:55:28, which was my fastest finish time to date!


Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon & 5K

Frederick Half Marathon, Maryland- 33rd state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Maryland was my 33rd state.

Frederick, Maryland is located about an hour north of Washington, D.C. and about the same distance from Baltimore, Maryland. There are over 30 half marathons to choose from in Maryland throughout the year with the majority of them in Annapolis. However, I needed a half marathon in May and the 2015 Frederick Running Festival was a perfect choice. My daughter had commitments at school for surrounding weekends before and after this race. Since she and my husband have always gone to my races with me, I was lucky enough to find this race on a weekend that worked for us.

My daughter’s teacher at the time would always ask me when she would see me about my races and what race I had next. When I told her I was running this one she told me her niece was the race director. What a small world! This race was one of the best- organized races I have ever run, from packet pickup and expo to the course and volunteers and also including the finish. The Frederick Running Festival had many options for races, such as the Nut Job Challenge for people who wanted to run the 5k and the half marathon both.


The weather on race day was perfect for racing- mid 40’s at the start and 60’s by the end so it was in the 50’s for the majority of the time of the race. People in the neighborhoods through which we ran were fantastic supporters. Many of them were out cheering us on and handing out water, oranges, candy, and one guy was handing out cups of beer! The volunteers on the course were plentiful and actually seemed like they knew what they were doing (not to bash volunteers at other races; I love them, even if they don’t know what to do).

The course was scenic and mostly flat with the only significant hill at mile 12 (not ideal). We ran through nice neighborhoods with flowering trees and flowers in bloom seemingly everywhere around us. I felt strong towards the end of the race and passed many people the last 3 miles. My finish time was 1:59:48, which was my best finish time in quite a while. I really enjoyed this race!


At the finish, there was the usual bananas, bagels, water, etc. but also runners were treated to up to two beers each. Often after a race I don’t have the energy to hang out and just want to get back to my room to take a shower and relax, but for this one I actually had my two beers and relaxed. The weather was perfect and it was a nice sunny spring day. The shirt we received was a long-sleeve technical one with thumb holes- perfect for chilly spring or fall runs.


When I was looking at things to do in and around Frederick, the riots had just started going on in Baltimore. See background info here:  Baltimore riots. We were going for a long weekend the first weekend of May. The state of emergency wasn’t lifted until May 6 so we would have been there during the chaos had we chosen to go to Baltimore. We decided to go to Annapolis instead and spent one night there after the race. Given the circumstances it was definitely a smart move.

It turned out we had a great time in Annapolis and possibly enjoyed it more than we would have enjoyed Baltimore anyway. We visited the United States Naval Academy Museum and found it even more interesting than we initially thought it would be. Honestly, we just enjoyed walking around Annapolis and taking in the scenery. There are many historical buildings and unique local shops. May is a perfect time to visit as well since it’s before the heat and humidity of the area really kick in.


Frederick Running Festival

Never Check a Bag with an Airline Again

There are many reasons to not check luggage with airlines.  The most obvious ones are the cost savings and not having to worry about the airlines losing your luggage.  By not checking luggage, you also don’t have to wait around at the baggage claim after your plane has landed.  It’s nice to just step off the plane and leave the airport immediately.

For me, the biggest reason why I stopped checking luggage when I fly is that I was worried about my suitcase not reaching my destination or not reaching it on time.  I run half marathons and have the goal of running one in every state.  I’ve ran 39 half marathons in 37 states to date so I’ve traveled to races quite often.  Initially, I would wear my running shoes so I knew I would at least have those but I would worry if all of my running clothes and other racing gear would actually make it to my destination with me or if my bag would get lost by the airline.

The first time I tried not checking a bag when I flew, I had a wheeled duffel-type bag.  It was definitely nice having all of my things with me the entire time on the airplane and to just grab my bag and leave the airplane.  However, it still wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.

My black Patagonia bag along with my clothes plus running gear

I did a lot of research on travel bags and ultimately decided to get a soft-sided bag that can be worn as a backpack or a cross-body bag using a strap or even like a briefcase using handles.  I bought the MLC (stands for Maximum Legal Carry-On) by Patagonia and have loved it.  You can buy it from ebags here: Patagonia Headway MLC.  It is a 45 liter bag that weighs only 3 pounds.  It has multiple zippered compartments, with the main one opening fully for easy packing and unpacking.  The nylon material is super-tough and my bag still looks brand new even though it’s been all over the United States with me including Canada three times, Germany, Austria, Greece, and New Zealand.  Even on the smallest of airplanes, I’ve never had to gate-check my bag.  My husband and daughter who both have small wheeled carry-ons have had to gate-check their bags on small planes however.

My clothes plus a pair of flip-flops in a large packing cube

There is a great debate going on whether you should roll or fold your clothes.  Personally, I roll mine and combine that with packing cubes.  You can also buy packing cubes at ebags here:  Packing Cubes.  I have the three piece set that includes a large one, medium, and smaller one.  These packing cubes are guaranteed for life under the ebags lifetime warranty.  I’m not part of any affiliate programs and I don’t get any kind of money or anything for mentioning these things here.  I just have had great experiences with them and have been very pleased with my Patagonia bag and packing cubes.

Running clothes, running belt with bottles, watch, charger

The great thing about having different sizes of packing cubes is I can pack all of my running clothes and everything else race-specific that I have together in the medium cube then come race prep I can just pull out that cube and I don’t have to hunt for things in my suitcase.  I pack the rest of my clothes including shirts, pants, socks, underwear, and bathing suit in the large cube.  My family and I use the small cube for food-related items like napkins, hand wipes, extra spoons, etc.  Another great thing about rolling your clothes and putting them in packing cubes is when you get to your destination and unpack, your clothes won’t be wrinkled.  I always ended up with very wrinkled clothes when I tried the various ways of folding them.

My running gear neatly zipped up in a medium packing cube

One big tip for packing lightly is to only pack one week’s worth of clothes.  When I went to New Zealand for 16 days (New Zealand- My family’s North Island Adventure), I only packed one week’s worth of clothes and did laundry at the end of the first week.  It’s really not as difficult or as much of a hassle as some people might think to do laundry on vacation.  Many hotels, hostels, and resorts have laundry facilities available on-site and many places in the United States through Airbnb have a washer and dryer you can use.  If that’s not an option, you can drop off your clothes at most hotel or hostel front desks or at a local dry cleaner although those options will be more expensive than doing it yourself. I’ve never had to resort to going to a laundromat to wash clothes while on vacation, but that would be another option.

Another way to save space in your carry-on luggage is to pack toiletries lightly as well.  A fun way I’ve found to do this is with the Target Beauty Box.  It allows me to try new products, most of which fit into a small quart-sized ziplock bag.  Most hotels and inns also come stocked with a hair dryer in the bathroom so you don’t need to bring yours and leaving that out will save a ton of space.

Finally, one way to not take up so much space in your luggage is to have an e-reader or if you’re like me and really just prefer good old-fashioned paper books, only bring one small paperback.  If you finish reading it during your vacation, take it to a local Goodwill or other donation center and buy another one.  There are many options for book exchanges. Just ask some locals or at the front desk where you are staying.  Chances are good they have books there you can borrow during your stay.

The longest vacation I’ve ever packed for with carry-on luggage only is 3 weeks.  For that case, I was staying in three different places, each for about a week each.  I made sure there was a washer and dryer at the first and last place so I would have to do laundry twice, but to me that’s far and away better than having to check luggage and deal with all of the hassle and stress involved with that.

My Patagonia bag with my packing cubes and 2 pair of shoes inside

So what all did I fit inside this bag?  Here’s the list:

6 shirts, 1 pair jeans, 1 pair shorts, 6 pair undies, 6 pair socks, 1 pair flip-flops, 1 pair casual shoes, 1 pair pj’s, 1 bathing suit, 1 running shirt, 1 pair running shorts, 1 sports bra, 1 pair running socks, 1 sports watch and charger, 1 running belt with 2 bottles, 1 container sports drink mix, 1 pair running sunglasses, 1 running hat.  Usually I’ll pack more than one running outfit but for this particular instance I really only need one.  I’ll wear a light-weight jacket on the plane.  All of this will get me through a week, upon which point I will do laundry.

I have a small backpack in which I will put my toiletries which are mostly items I received from the Target Beauty Box in a quart-sized plastic bag, plus a hairbrush, toothbrush, my phone, wallet, camera, 1 small paperback book, and tablet.  Honestly, all of this would fit into my Patagonia bag, but I prefer to have a small backpack for hiking and things like that when I travel.  Oh, and of course I also have some snacks for the airplane and a water bottle in my backpack.  I don’t carry a purse when I travel by plane.  I’ve found it’s just not worth the hassle and I really don’t need it.

I’ve heard of people who travel for much longer- months or even up to a year with only carry-on luggage and they buy and discard things as needed along the way.  If they can do it for that long, anyone can for a couple of weeks or so for sure!



Roller Coaster Half Marathon, Missouri- 32nd state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Missouri was my 32nd state.

I’ll admit it. Often I sign up for a half marathon because of things to do in the area after the race. If I was choosing a race simply for the course I probably wouldn’t have chosen the 2014 Roller Coaster Half Marathon in Branson, Missouri. It was 2 1/2 loops and typically I wouldn’t choose a course like that; however, Silver Dollar City is in Branson.

What is Silver Dollar City, you ask? Well, it’s an 1880’s theme park that all started with a cave, Marvel Cave to be exact. Marvel Cave, which has been designated a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior, was first excavated in the 1860’s and can still be toured today. On the same grounds as Marvel Cave, Silver Dollar City opened May 1, 1960 and drew 18,000 visitors on that opening day. The first year, Silver Dollar City had more than 125,000 people, four times more visitors than the number that toured Marvel Cave.

At Silver Dollar City, there are resident craftsmen who can be seen practicing their craft and exhibiting their work for park visitors. Visitors have the opportunity to purchase from these craftsmen such as blacksmiths, bakers, glass blowers, candy makers, chip carvers, leather craftsmen, glass cutters, and pottery craftsmen. Recurring shows, festivals, and performances at theaters, stages, and other buildings are also in abundance. Last but not least, the real draw for my family was the rides. After riding Powder Keg, a roller coaster, my daughter declared she was moving to Branson when she was an adult so she could ride Powder Keg every day.


A unique aspect to the Roller Coaster Half Marathon was the option for non-runners. You could ride a specified distance on the roller coasters of 5k and win a medal at the race. You got a wristband to track your distance. They also offered a (running) 5k and a kid’s mile. You could even combine either the half marathon or 5k with the “Roller Coaster Ride.”

The shirt I had received at packet pickup was average-looking but the lettering was cheap and already flaking off (I should have requested another but I didn’t). On race morning, the weather was perfect for racing- low 50’s at the start and overcast the entire time; upper 50’s by the finish with a light mist. The race course was relatively flat except for two steep hills that we had to run twice since the course was 2 1/2 loops. It was fairly scenic with water views through what looked like a nice park for much of the course.

Although there were minimal spectators along the course, the volunteers were great and there was plenty of water and Gatorade at the aid stations. I passed several people in the last couple of miles and felt strong at the finish. My finish time was 2:04:34.


Oh, and I got a big surprise at this race. When I finished, my husband told me we should stick around for the awards ceremony. I said, “Really?” because normally we don’t since I typically finish around top quarter for my age group, but never top three. When the announcer got to my age group and announced third place and it wasn’t me, I thought maybe I won second. Then they announced second place and I said to my daughter, “I remember passing her at the end.” My husband said, “So what does that tell you?” Then they announced first place- ME!


I was called up to the tented area in the front where the announcer was and I was handed a pretty first place plaque. I was trying to hold back the tears but I was absolutely thrilled! Never had I even finished in the top three in my age group and now I finished FIRST! I felt like the woman that won second place in my age group was giving me dirty looks, but I was probably just paranoid.

Although Silver Dollar City is no longer a part of the Roller Coaster Race series, there are similar races like the Run and Ride Race and the Six Flags Coaster Challenge with no running, only riding coasters.


Girls on the Run Interview

My daughter participated in Girls on the Run last fall and I was curious about her feelings about it now that some time has passed and she has since then participated in some other running activities.  I recently conducted an interview with her that will follow but first some background information.

Girls on the Run is a program found in every state in the United States that teaches girls in grades 3-5 (grades 6-8 is their Heart & Sole program) about nutrition, positive influences, and emotional and physical development. There are several core values emphasized including teaching girls to embrace their differences and find strength in one another.  They also add in some running at the meetings of course.  Girls meet after school twice a week in a 12 week program that culminates with a Girls on the Run 5k.

Here is the interview:

Me:  “What kinds of things did you do at Girls on the Run?”

Daughter:  “We talked about different ways to stay healthy and we talked about staying active.  We also ran on a school track where we met.”

Me:  “Can you tell me about the actual running you did?”

Daughter:  “Personally, I didn’t like the running part.  I like when people push me to run and they didn’t do that.  They were slacking in that, so I didn’t like that about Girls on the Run.”

Me:  “What do you think your coaches could have done differently to make it a better experience for you?”

Daughter:  “Maybe they could have pushed us more, made us run harder rather than just say go run.  I think they should have pushed us harder instead of just telling us to run and then watch us run.”

Me:  “So the coaches didn’t run with you?”

Daughter:  “They did run with us.  One coach would be watching and the other would run with us.  They would switch off so one coach would watch and the other would run.”

Me:  “What about girls who were anxious about running or who maybe hadn’t ever ran before?  Do you think pushing them would have been too much?”

Daughter:  “I think it really depends on the girl.  Some girls were obviously forced to be there by their parents and didn’t want to be there.  They wouldn’t have liked to be pushed.  But there were some girls who seemed like they would have done better, gone faster, if the coaches would have pushed them.”

Me:  “So maybe they should have made the runs more individualized to suit different girls’ needs and abilities?”

Daughter:  “Yeah.  Definitely.”

Me:  “What did you like best about Girls on the Run?”

Daughter:  “I think I really liked that although a lot of the girls there didn’t want to run, the coaches didn’t hold me back with them.  They let me run as much and as fast as I wanted.  It was nice to just get out and run.”

Me:  “What did you learn from Girls on the Run?”

Daughter:  “That I’m a lot better runner than I thought before.  You were right when you told me I was a fast runner.  It gave me more self-confidence in running.”

Me:  “Would you recommend Girls on the Run to other girls?”

Daughter:  (hesitation) “I don’t know.  It really depends on what kind of a challenge they’re looking for and why they’re running.  It depends if they’re running for exercise or to get faster at races.”

Me:  “So would you say Girls on the Run is best for girls who have never really ran before?”

Daughter:  “Yes.  It’s kind of a warm-up.  After Girls on the Run, if they think it was fun, they can look into another program or run with a parent that runs.”

Me:  “Thank you very much for your time and your insight.”

Daughter:  “You’re welcome.  Those were tough questions! (laughing)”

There were a lot of runners at the 5k- not just girls from GOTR
The finish line is now in sight
The finish line!

Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon, Maine- 31st state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Maine was my 31st state.

If you take a poll and ask Americans what US states they would most like to visit, chances are pretty good they’ll say Maine as one of them. Everyone talks about how beautiful Maine is and I was anxious to see for myself. It did not disappoint. My family and I spent some time in Portland, where the race was, and also Rockport and Bar Harbor. All three places have something unique to offer.

We flew into Boston Logan International Airport and drove just under 2 hours to Portland where we ate at some fantastic restaurants and relaxed for a couple of days before the race. For some fun things to do in Portland, check out the Portland Museum of Art, Portland Observatory, Old Port with cobble-stone streets and restaurants and shops, Fore Street, Shipyard Brewing Company, many tours including cultural, pub, wine, city, and historical tours just to name a few.

The downside to running a half marathon in Maine is chances are pretty good it’s going to be a hilly course. The 2014 Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon certainly was hilly. Unfortunately it was also very hot that morning so combined with the hills it made for a difficult race. In fact, it was one of the toughest races I had ever run because of the near-constant hills and heat. It was in the low 70’s with high humidity and sunny at race start with no shade along the course.

As you might guess from the name, the course was through the Old Port district. There were also nice views of the Casco Bay, the Presumpscot River, the Portland skyline, and the Back Cove. It was crowded on the course, though, and things didn’t thin out for quite a few miles. Although there were some oceanfront parts of the course, I felt like it was mostly hill after long hill. The start and finish were at Portland’s Ocean Gateway Terminal, which I thought was a pretty good location that provided easy access and plenty of parking.

At the finish there was plenty of post-race food like pizza to go along with the beer. Bands were playing and although there was a fun party-like atmosphere going on, I was just too tired from the heat and hills. My finish time was 2:08:37.

I got quite a bit for my money at this race. Included in my registration fee were: health and fitness expo, cute medal, technical shirt in women’s or men’s sizes, free high resolution race photos, race video, live tracking, and post-race food including 2 beers from Shipyard Brewing Company. There was also an opportunity to buy a commemorative glass mug (which I couldn’t resist) and a race hat with the logo on it for $15.

Would I recommend this race? Probably as long as you go into it knowing it will be a tough one and alter your expectations a bit. The course is beautiful so that at least makes the hills worth it.

I highly recommend checking out some other areas if you go to Portland.  After the race, we decided to stay 2 nights in Rockport, which is about an hour and a half drive from Portland,  and 3 nights in Bar Harbor, which is about a 2 hour drive from Rockport. At both places, we rented cottages and they were far and away better than staying at a hotel for about the same price. There are also many Bed & Breakfasts scattered around the area.  Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park are in Bar Harbor and these are two places you can’t miss if you go to Maine. These areas have some incredible hiking trails and views like nowhere else in the world.



Old Port Half Marathon


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