Why My Race Finish Times Don’t Mean Much to Me

I won’t go so far as to say my race times don’t mean anything, but over the years I’ve learned they don’t really mean a whole lot. I’m primarily talking about half marathons here, because that’s primarily what I run. I also don’t mean to disparage anyone and their time goals. Let me explain.

I ran my first half marathon when I was 28 years old. I finished in 2:20:04. I recently completed my 41st half marathon in my 39th state, Utah (2:06:24) and over the years my finish times have been all over the place. Well, sort of. Let’s take a closer look at that.

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Start of the Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon

My fastest finish was 1:55:28 at Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, South Dakota- 34th state. Prior to that, my fastest finish was 1:56:16 at Evansville Half Marathon, Indiana-13th state. So many years had passed since the race in Indiana that I thought there was no way I would ever beat that time, but sure enough I did thanks to the downhill course in South Dakota. Of note, I didn’t win any age-group awards at either of these races.

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This was a long, slow lap for me at the Arbuckles to Ardmore Race for Mercy Half Marathon

On the flip side, my slowest finish was 2:35:42 at Arbuckles to Ardmore Race for Mercy Half Marathon, Oklahoma-21st state which was right around when I was diagnosed with anemia. I really struggled to get my times back down after my diagnosis and it took years until I felt like I was back to my pre-anemia running self. I hovered around the 2:05 mark until I finally broke sub-2 hours again at the Frederick Half Marathon, Maryland- 33rd state with a finish of  1:59:48. This was a well-organized, fun race and I think that all contributed to my finish time.

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The finish of the Frederick Half Marathon

I managed to finish first in my age group at the Roller Coaster Half Marathon, Missouri- 32nd state, but the funny thing about that is it wasn’t even one of my fastest times (2:04). When I finished second in my age group at the Dixville Half Marathon, New Hampshire- 35th state (1:57) that was my third fastest finish time ever but my time at the McKenzie River Half Marathon, Oregon- 36th state (2:02:32) was one of several race times around 2:02 and I finished third in my age group. The difference in these races was the conditions and the courses. As I said in my post about the race in Oregon, it was one of the toughest courses I’ve ever ran, so I was really happy with my finish time, regardless of what the clock said.

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Over the years, I’ve learned how weather, hills, and wind are all huge contributing factors in race times. For whatever reason, I seem to have chosen a lot of hilly courses, so my times have been slower than if I would have chosen flatter or downhill courses. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment because I’m really not a big fan of uphill courses. I’ll admit I’ve often been mislead by the posted courses on race websites and have been surprised to see the course in person. One thing I have learned is that when a race is described as “scenic,” that means there will be hills and often really big hills.

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Finishing the Dixville Half Marathon in New Hampshire

Another factor in all of these finish times is my age. My racing career has spanned almost 20 years and other than when I was anemic or otherwise injured or sick, I’ve somehow managed to keep my times fairly consistently around 2 hours. I’m waiting for the shoe to drop, so to speak, and for my times to increase as I get older. I’ve learned to not stress out during a race if I get tired or am in pain and let goal times slip by. It’s OK if I don’t run a sub-2 hour anymore. I’ve done it and if I do it again, great, but if not, that’s OK with me. Really.

Just like the saying, “Age is only a number,” I feel like my race times are only a number. I think that’s the biggest take-away here. I’m OK with my finish times, no matter what they are. For every single race I’ve ever ran, I’ve put my all into it and done my best, and that’s all that really matters to me. Not a “fast” finish time. But I’ll take one when I can get it!

Also, here’s a discount code for everyone that buys Nuun.  It’s good through the end of March. Sorry for the late notice!

friends & family march

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, “Save Them All!”

In a word, this place is AMAZING. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is the site of the largest no-kill animal facility in the United States. There are nearly 1,600 cats, dogs, horses, pot-bellied pigs, wildlife, goats, rabbits, and I’m probably forgetting something, but you get the gist.

My family and I went to the Sanctuary, which is in Kanab, Utah, and had a free tour of the facility, followed by a delicious buffet lunch for only $5 per person, then we volunteered at the puppy facility for a few hours (who wouldn’t want to play with puppies?!!), and we also took one of the puppies back to the cottage we were staying in on-site for the night to help with his socialization skills. Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about this place. They are a top-notch facility from the ground up, so to speak.

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After playing ball with this little guy, we took him for a sleepover with us
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View from the lunch area at Best Friends
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Playing with puppies!

Ready to go? Here are some details:

Getting to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

By airplane:
McCarran International Airport (LAS), located in Las Vegas, Nevada, is the closest major airport to Kanab. Driving from Las Vegas to Kanab takes roughly four hours. (Please note Kanab is on Mountain time, an hour later than Nevada and California, which are on Pacific time).

St. George Municipal Airport
Shuttle flights operate between Salt Lake City, Utah, and St. George Municipal Airport in St. George, Utah, as well as Los Angeles, California, and St. George Municipal Airport. The drive from St. George to Kanab is roughly an hour and a half.

Car rental
There are a variety of car rental companies in Las Vegas and St. George. Xpress Rent-a-Car offers rental cars in Kanab.

Shuttle service
St. George Shuttle: between Las Vegas and St. George

Public transportation
There is no public transportation in Kanab.

Grand Sanctuary tours

These free two-hour tours begin at the Best Friends Welcome Center every day of the week. You’ll watch a brief video and then board the van for a 90 minute ride to interact with a few cats. A dog will be brought out to visit in Dogtown. You will see other Sanctuary sites from the tour van. You need to register in advance online or by phone. You can also take specialized tours or even a guided hike, all of which the information for is here.

Where to Stay

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary has cottages, cabins, and RV sites, all located on the Sanctuary grounds. We stayed in a cottage and found it even nicer and bigger than we expected. The cottages are in the red cliffs of Angel Canyon near the Welcome Center, and have nice views of the horse pastures. They are reasonably priced at $120-$140/night March through November and $95/night December through February. The cabins are smaller and cheaper at $60-$95/night, depending on the time of year. There are two RV sites, which I imagine fill up quickly, and they are $30-$50/night, open only March 15-October 31. Even if you aren’t staying at the Sanctuary, you can still arrange to have a sleepover with one of their dogs at your dog-friendly hotel/motel in the area.

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Living room area of the cottage
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Bedroom with comfy beds
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Nice, clean and big bathroom
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View of the canyon and pasture from the back porch of the cottage

Other Things to Do in the Area:

Besides play with puppies or cats, you can also hike on the grounds of the Sanctuary. There are two trails right on the grounds. We hiked one of the trails with the puppy we took back to the cottage with us, and he absolutely loved it (as did we).

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Zion National Park is only about 30 minutes from Best Friends, so you could also hike at Zion in between other activities at Best Friends. However, dogs are only allowed on the Pa’rus Trail at Zion, which is a 1.5-mile long trail. I recommend staying at either Zion or Best Friends for at least 3 nights if you’re going to combine both places in one visit. I have a post here on Zion National Park. Bryce Canyon National Park is about an hour and 20 minutes from Best Friends (my post on Bryce Canyon is here), but you could still visit both places as long as you were staying more than one night at either Bryce or Best Friends. Dogs are not allowed on any of the trails at Bryce Canyon. Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is only about 30 minutes from Best Friends, and would be an option to bring a dog from the Sanctuary during the cooler months.

Best Friends Visitor Center

You can also do fun things like bunny yoga or paint your pet’s portrait at the Best Friends Visitor Center in Kanab. I’d like to see the yoga with cats session! I can’t imagine what that would be like. They also have guest speakers, or you can arrange a tour or volunteer time, or even meet your next furry family member when they have adoptable cats or dogs at the visitor center.

Where to Donate

If you’re as inspired as I was by this place and would like to donate to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, you can donate here. With a donation of $25 or more, you receive six bimonthly issues of Best Friends magazine.

As they say at Best Friends, “Save Them All!”

 

My Biggest Running Influences

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Earning these awards are part of what sparked running in me

I feel like I’ve been running ever since I can remember. When I was very young, I remember running through my neighborhood and feeling pure joy. I did take a few years off from running during college but other than that, I’ve pretty much always ran. Neither of my parents were runners or even athletic by any stretch of the imagination. My older brother wasn’t athletic and really no one else in my extended family was athletic either. I just discovered running on my own and fell in love with it from the beginning.

As I grew older, I began to pay more attention to famous runners and I would watch them on TV during the Olympics and cheer them on then, but I never really followed any certain runner’s career. I could name some of the big names, especially the longer distance runners but I really didn’t know much about them. For instance, I didn’t know if any runner in particular had a big race coming up but I would sometimes look up some race results like the Boston Marathon to see who participated and how they did.

I didn’t run my first race as an adult until I was in my mid-twenties. After I started running half-marathons, I realized I needed to get some advice about running and checked out some books from the library and looked around online. Eventually I started listening to some podcasts about running. I would like to think that I know a little more now as a runner in my forties than I did when I was in my twenties.

Recently, I started thinking about who were some of the most influential people in my life as far as running goes. My physical education teacher in grade school has to be at the top of my list. He introduced me to many different sports and activities.  He was also the coach for the school track team and he helped plant that spark in me that grew into a love of running that has never left. I earned the two Presidential Physical Fitness Awards shown above while I was a student of his. I was very proud of myself at the time and felt like it was a huge accomplishment. I think some people under-estimate the power of a teacher but he was extremely influential to my life.

Another person that had a strong influence on my running and has also influenced millions of other people has to be Jeff Galloway. He has written countless books full of advice to new (and not so new) runners around the world. Mr. Galloway has also taught running classes, given talks, and given advice to hundreds of thousands of people. Although he is most famous for his run/walk method, which I don’t currently prescribe to, I think it is a fantastic way for new runners to realize they too can run a long distance race.

Along the same lines as Jeff Galloway is Hal Higdon, whose name is synonymous with half marathon and marathon training. Mr. Higdon has written dozens of books, with his most famous being “Marathon:  The Ultimate Training Guide.” I have read several of his books and have used his half marathon training plans for many years, with some alterations to fit my needs and lifestyle.

A few years ago I discovered the Another Mother Runner podcast which was co-hosted by Sarah Bowen Shea and Dimity McDowell at the time. The AMR “tribe” is currently a little different than when I started listening a few years ago but I still am a big fan of theirs. The podcasts are now hosted by Ms. Bowen Shea along with a rotating cast of co-hosts while Ms. McDowell has been focusing on their Train Like a Mother programs. I’ve learned a lot by listening to their podcasts through the years and I’ve also found them entertaining and easy to relate to, especially being a mother myself.  Another Mother Runner link

As I alluded to before and if you’re new to my blog and aren’t aware, I run half-marathons. I set a goal for myself to run a half-marathon in all 50 states several years ago. Currently, I’m up to 39 states (and 41 half marathons total). I could not have accomplished this without the support from my husband and daughter. Even when my daughter was very young, she usually didn’t complain about me leaving her to go off and run for an hour or two; rather, she’d smile at me and say something like, “Have fun on your run!” Likewise, my husband only rarely ever has complained about my running or dragging him and our daughter to different states for a race. I feel like the two of them are my support team when I’m training for a race and also when we travel to a race. My husband is my official race photographer and my daughter is my official cheerleader. Together they are my support crew. Recently, my daughter has started running a 5k in each state we go to for a half marathon, so it looks like my husband will be doing double-duty as support crew and photographer!

Check out my other posts on the half marathons I’ve ran in each state.

Who are your biggest running influences? Do any of you listen to the AMR podcast?

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah in the Winter

Let me start off by saying I loved Bryce Canyon even more than I thought I would. Bryce Canyon National Park is about 1 hour and 45 minutes from Zion National Park, both of which are in southern Utah. People often visit both places during the same vacation because of their proximity to each other. However, while they may be only less than 2 hours apart, they are worlds apart in many other ways.

Zion National Park is a behemoth compared to Bryce Canyon National Park. Zion is 229.1 square miles while Bryce is 56 square miles. The main town outside of Zion, Springdale, also seems like a relatively “big city” compared to Bryce Canyon City, even though Springdale is still what most people would call a small town. Zion National Park has 18 trails, while Bryce Canyon has 9 day-hiking trails, 4 “easy,” 2 “moderate,” and 3 “strenuous.” Finally, the coloring of the rock formations is very different in Zion National Park compared to Bryce Canyon National Park. Zion has the prominent red rocks from iron in the rocks, while Bryce has lighter hues of red, orange, and white rocks and the famous hoodoos. Hoodoos are geological structures formed by frost weathering and stream erosion of the river and lake bed sedimentary rocks.

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Advantages of Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park During the Winter

As I said in my post on hiking in Zion National Park in late winter, Bryce Canyon also has advantages of visiting during the off-season winter months. The most obvious advantage is there are less crowds during the winter than summer months. When we were at Bryce Canyon in late February, we saw maybe 10 or 15 people all day on the trails. I’m sure this would never happen during the summer months.

When we visited Bryce Canyon it had been snowing before we got there, and it snowed off and on the day we hiked there. I have to admit, I’m not a cold weather person at all. I grew up in the mountains of West Virginia and moved south to escape the cold as an adult. However, I absolutely loved hiking in Bryce Canyon in the winter. It was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.

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When I was planning my family’s vacation here, I came upon several blog posts and websites where people said the best time of year to visit Bryce Canyon is during the winter. While I haven’t been to Bryce Canyon during the summer and can’t compare, I will say it was absolutely stunning with the snow.

Disadvantages of Visiting Bryce During the Winter Months

The only real disadvantage I can see is the trails can be slick with icy patches. However, I was wearing my Merrell waterproof hiking shoes, which have good tread, but I didn’t wear YakTrax, crampons, or even use hiking poles and I never fell on the trails. Just be cautious and watch your footing.

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Another disadvantage to some people could be the cold weather itself. Bryce Canyon is at a higher elevation than Zion National Park (it varies at Bryce from around 8000-9000 feet), so I knew it would be colder and I planned accordingly. I wore wool thermal underwear under waterproof and wind-proof pants and a warm shirt, all under a warm ski jacket with a hood, hat, scarf, and gloves so I was well-dressed for the weather. If you’re dressed for the weather, as you should be regardless of what time of year you go hiking, you’ll be fine.

Trails in Bryce Canyon

As I said earlier, Bryce Canyon National Park has 9 day-hiking trails. Many of them are fairly short, so you can easily combine them to make a longer hike. One of the more popular combinations is Queens Garden (1.8 miles) with Navajo Loop (1.3 miles). This allows views of Wall Street, Two Bridges, and Thor’s Hammer. You can also combine Navajo Loop (1.3 miles) and Peekaboo Loop (5.5 miles) trails into a figure-8 and get views through the heart of Bryce Amphitheater and see the Wall of Windows. This is all do-able in a day if you’re in good hiking shape but would be a bit too ambitious if you’re not used to hiking. For more information on the trails, the National Park Service has this.

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Where to Stay and Eat

As I mentioned above, Bryce Canyon City is a small town, with limited options for lodging and dining. When we arrived around lunchtime, we had trouble finding a restaurant that was open and finally chose the restaurant in the Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn. For lunch, there actually is an extensive salad bar that’s pretty good. We also spent the night here, and the rooms are a bit outdated and in need of some TLC, but nonetheless they were clean, quiet, and within 15 minutes to the park. During summer months, there are shuttles running to the park, which you can pick up at Ruby’s Inn, or further down the road, closer to the park.

Bryce Canyon Lodge is only open late-March to early-November and also offers a restaurant, gift shop, cabins, and suites. Motel suites are open year-round. The Bryce Canyon Lodge dining room and General Store are open when the Lodge is open. Valhalla Pizzeria is open May 17-October 9. Other options for restaurants and lodging are in Bryce Canyon City, Tropic, Panguitch, and the Junction of Highway 12 and 89.

There are a couple of campgrounds, with only North Campground open year-round and Sunset Campground open late-March to early fall. You can find more information here. Tent sites are $20 per site per night and RVs are $30 per site per night. You’ll receive 50% off with the Golden Age & Golden Access pass, America the Beautiful Federal Lands Access pass, and America the Beautiful Federal Lands Senior pass, but not with any other pass.

How to Get to Bryce Canyon National Park

Although you could take an all-day tour from Las Vegas such as this one, which starts at $330 per person, you could easily rent a car in Las Vegas and drive here yourself. Driving distance from Las Vegas is 270 miles, or around 4 and a half hours. With a rental car, you could also visit Zion National Park on your way to Bryce Canyon, and these two parks are 78 miles or about an hour and 45 minutes apart. As I mentioned above, many people combine these two parks into one vacation.

What to Bring

Dress appropriately for the weather but remember it’s cooler here than other parts of southern Utah even in the heat of the summer because of the higher elevation. Even during the summer, bring a jacket just in case and depending on the season, dress in layers. July, August, and September is the rainy season here and afternoon thunderstorms occur most days.

Bring enough water and snacks to get you through several hours. There are water refill stations at the Shuttle Station, Visitor Center, General Store, North Campground, and Sunset Point.

You’ll want sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses year-round.

Bring a first-aid kid with Band-Aids, antiseptic, moleskin, and Ace wrap.

Bring the maps that they give you at the gate with you.

Don’t forget your receipt for re-entry or even better get an Interagency Annual Pass to allow access to all national parks for $80, good for 12 months from purchase.

#MyFirstPostRevisited

Paula from Never a Dull Bling nominated me for “My First Blog Post Challenge.” Sarah from Lemon Shark created the challenge. Thanks, Paula! I’m up for the challenge.

Here goes, my first blog post from 10 months ago:

Why I run

I’ve been running pretty much since I can remember.  I remember running on the track team in grade school and how my lungs would ache on those chilly mornings in West Virginia.  I remember the sheer thrill I would feel as a kid when running with our dog through our neighborhood and how happy our dog looked.  I remember running to stave off the freshmen 15 in college.  Then I remember getting shin splints during one run in college and almost crawling back to my apartment, followed by the agonizing pain I felt when all of my leg muscles seized up in the shower.  I decided to take some time off running at that point and I did not run again for about four or five years.  Then I realized how much I missed running and I decided to train for my very first 5k.  The race I chose was on the 4th of July in North Carolina.  Being young and naive, I didn’t even think twice about running through the heat and humidity that envelopes the North Carolina summers.  Fortunately, the race was in the evening, but I remember it was still extremely hot and humid even after the sun had gone down.  It was during that summer that I remembered why I run.  It’s not to stay in shape or lose weight. It’s not so I can eat whatever I want and not gain weight.   When I run, I feel free.  I feel alive.  Sure, there are times when it’s painful and not much fun, but I know when I’ve finished a run, I will feel satisfied that I’ve put my all into that run and I have done my best.  I run because I love it, quite simply.

 

Now for my nominees (who do not have to participate so please don’t feel obligated):

Run Away With Me (What a journey you’ve had!)

Slacker Runner (Holy cow- you’ve been blogging for a long time! What an accomplishment!)

If I Just Breathe (Mission accomplished for your goals on this post, I’d say!)

Dream Trip 2016 site (I was intrigued by your first post)

Running the States (We have similar interests and goals in mind)

Remember, this is not an award, but a challenge.

But first, here are the rules:

Obvious rules:

  • No cheating. (It must be your first post. Not your second post, not one you love…first post only.)
  • Link back to the person who tagged you (thank them if you feel like it or, if not, curse them with a plague of ladybugs).

Other rules:

  • Cut and paste your old post into a new post or reblog your own bad self. (Either way is fine but NO editing.)
  • Put the hashtag #MyFirstPostRevisited in your title.
  • Tag five (5) other bloggers to take up this challenge.
  • Notify your tags in the comment section of their blog (don’t just hope they notice a pingback somewhere in their spam).
  • Feel free to cut and paste the badge to use in your post. Notify your tags in the comment section of their blog (don’t just hope they notice a pingback somewhere in their spam).
  • Include “the rules” in your post.

Have fun!

 

 

 

 

 

Hiking in Zion National Park in Late Winter

Zion National Park is in southwestern Utah near Springdale and is the sixth most visited US national park with almost 3 million visitors a year. Not surprisingly, most people visit during the months of June, July, and August. However, my family and I chose to visit Zion in late February, and what a great decision that was.

Advantages of visiting Zion National Park during the winter:

There are several reasons for visiting Zion National Park during late winter, but the top one that comes to mind is to escape the crowds. During the summer months, Zion can feel quite crowded but if you go during the winter, there is only around a quarter of the people there as during the summer. You don’t feel like you’re constantly walking on the heels of other groups of people and you can enjoy the peaceful nature of the park better.

Also, Zion Canyon is beautiful during the winter months and it’s cool to see frozen or partially frozen waterfalls (pun intended). The peaks weren’t snow-covered when we were there, but I’m sure they’re even more beautiful when they are.

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Another advantage of going during late winter is it’s not as hot. During the summer, the temperature is often above 100°F/38°C. That’s not exactly comfortable hiking weather in my opinion. But during late winter, daytime temperatures are usually around 50-60°F, which is quite comfortable when you’re hiking. There is a chance of rain or snow, however, as nearly half of the annual precipitation in Zion Canyon falls between the months of December and March. When we were there, the weather was great with no precipitation but you do need to be prepared for wet or slick conditions.

Disadvantages of visiting Zion National Park during the winter:

The biggest disadvantage of visiting Zion National Park during the off-season winter is some of the trails may be closed due to ice. Although this was not an issue while we were there, it is a possibility during the winter, especially during the peak of winter.

Another disadvantage is if you want to hike The Narrows during the winter, you’ll need a dry suit. The Narrows is a section of the canyon on the North Fork of the Virgin River. You wade through water that’s around waist-deep on most people during certain sections, but the level of the river varies by season. We just hiked up to The Narrows as far as we could without getting wet and turned around. We’ll have to do that hike another time when it’s warmer. Fall would be a good time for that and not so crowded.

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Trails in Zion Canyon

There are seven trails in Zion Canyon but eighteen trails total in Zion National Park. Some of the more popular trails are The Narrows (discussed above), Angel’s Landing, and Lower and Upper Emerald Pool Trails. I had just read about someone falling to their death from Angel’s Landing before we went to Zion, so I nixed that trail since falling to my death didn’t really sound very appealing to me. If you do hike the ever-popular Angel’s Landing trail, just be very aware while you’re out there and be cautious.

We chose to hike Lower Emerald Pools (a portion was closed due to a rockslide several months prior), Upper Emerald Pools, Kayenta, and The Grotto Trails, which all form a nice loop of about 5 miles and can be completed in a few hours even with lots of stops for photo ops.  These trails are listed as easy or moderate by the National Park Service. While the entire hike is definitely not easy, there are some difficult parts to it. We also did the Riverside Walk Trail to The Narrows and went as far as we could go there. Riverside Walk Trail is 2.2 miles and follows the Virgin River along the bottom of a narrow canyon. It is an easy and scenic trail.

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On our second day, we chose the Watchman Trail, which is 3.3 miles round-trip and is listed as moderate. There are views of the Towers of the Virgin, lower Zion Canyon, and Springdale. The trailhead is by the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. The Watchman Trail was my favorite trail at Zion National Park. It was a good way to end our stay at the park.

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How to Get Here

Although you could arrange a tour with a company, most people fly into Las Vegas, rent a car, and drive the 2 1/2 hours from there. Alternatively, you could fly into Salt Lake City, get a rental car, and drive 4 1/2 hours from there. Public transportation (not counting the Zion National Park shuttles) are pretty much non-existent in this area, so unless you’re with a tour group, you need to have your own vehicle or a rental. We flew into Las Vegas, spent the night there, and drove from Vegas. If you’d like to read further about that, see Las Vegas Layover, the Anti-Bourdain Version. The roads were all well-maintained and it was an easy drive, even in our (unexpected “upgraded”) rental sports car.

Where to Stay

We stayed at Cable Mountain Lodge and couldn’t have been happier with the choice. There are several different suites and studios to choose from and you are literally within walking distance to Zion National Park. You don’t have to worry about fighting to find a parking spot or wait in a long line just to get into the park, just walk out of your room and take a short walk over a bridge to the park. We stayed in a suite and it was HUGE! We had a full, well-stocked kitchen, table with chairs to eat at, large living room area with a sofa bed and a separate bedroom, and a nice bathroom. There was even a balcony off the bedroom with chairs and a small table.

Zion Lodge, the only lodging available in the park, is three miles north on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and is open year-round. Motel rooms, cabins, and suites are available but the suites tend to be much more expensive than what I paid at Cable Mountain Lodge. Zion also has three campgrounds with only Watchman Campground offering reservations from March through November.

Regardless of where you stay, whether it’s at Cable Mountain Lodge, Zion Lodge, Watchman Campground, or somewhere else in Springdale, make your reservations as early as possible, at least several months in advance.  Places book up quickly, especially during the busy summer months, but year-round as well.

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Where to Eat

The only restaurants in the park are at Zion Lodge and are Red Rock Grill and the seasonal Castle Dome Cafe. I was surprised at how few restaurants there are in the town of Springdale. There are less than thirty, but several are only open seasonally or only for breakfast and/or lunch. We ate at MeMe’s Cafe for pastries and muffins after hiking the first day, Zion Pizza & Noodle when my daughter wanted pizza, Zion Brewery, and we picked up breakfast items and lunches to take with us into the park at Sol Foods. MeMe’s Cafe looked like it had the best options for breakfast, but we chose to eat in our hotel room for breakfast to save time and money. If you’re a foodie, you’ll likely not be impressed with the food choices here. I wouldn’t call myself a foodie and found that nothing my family and I had was bad per se, but nothing was really spectacular either.

What to Bring

Dress appropriately for the weather but if you’re doing The Narrows remember it’s much cooler here even in the heat of the summer. Bring a jacket just in case and depending on the season, dress in layers. Be prepared to get very wet if you’re hiking The Narrows.

Bring enough water and snacks to get you through several hours.

You’ll want sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses year-round.

Bring the maps that they give you at the gate with you.

Don’t forget your receipt for re-entry or even better get an Interagency Annual Pass to allow access to all national parks for $80, good for 12 months from purchase.

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Other Information

Zion National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with some services and areas closed seasonally.

Parking is limited inside Zion, and parking lots at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center commonly fill by mid-morning. To avoid parking hassles, park in the town of Springdale and ride the free town shuttle to the park. You can park anywhere along the road in town that does not have a parking restriction. To find the shuttle stops, look for the ‘Shuttle Parking’ signs throughout town. If you are staying at a lodge or motel, leave your car there and take the shuttle to the park, or better yet, stay at Cable Mountain Lodge and just walk to the park!

You could easily spend a week at Zion and still not do all of the trails. Just don’t try to do them all in 2 or 3 days, or you’ll be exhausted by the end. Check out the listings and descriptions in this very descriptive hiking guide ahead of time and decide which trails are right for you.

Dogtown Half Marathon, Utah- 39th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Utah was my 39th state.

The Dogtown Half Marathon in Washington, Utah (just outside St. George in southern Utah) was so cold. How cold was it, you ask? It was so cold my feet were numb and I couldn’t feel them until I ran the first 1.5 miles of the race. It was so cold, my hands were still cold at the finish, despite wearing gloves for the entire race. It was so cold I saw a woman warming her hands from the car exhaust pipe of a police car that was sitting near the race start with the engine idling. OK. So how cold was it really? It was 28 degrees at 7:20 when I was dropped off by my husband and for a southern gal like me, that’s frigid. I can’t remember the last time I ran in temperatures that cold.

But first, let’s back up a bit. Packet pick-up was Friday, February 24 at the Washington Community Center and was quick and efficient, or there was the option to hang out for a bit and try to win some of the prizes being given away. There were the usual vendors selling shoes, running apparel, and GU; as well as tables advertising other races in the area, and random other local businesses. There was also a bounce house there for parents with young children. My daughter was running the 5k so she and I went to pick up our packets together. We got a rucksack bag, a t-shirt (cotton/polyester blend), our bibs, and mostly junk flyers and coupons we would never use.

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Race morning was a frigid 28 degrees, as I mentioned earlier. When the sun finally came up over the mountain, it at least felt a little warmer. Half-marathoners were bused to the start, essentially an industrial park, for the point-to-point course. The course was advertised as “net downhill,” and while portions were certainly downhill, there were plenty of uphill portions as well. If 13.1 miles isn’t enough for you, there is the Double Dog Dare Challenge, where you run the half marathon course in reverse, then run it again the opposite direction with the rest of the half marathoners, giving you 26.2 miles of hills, hills, and more hills!

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We were only in the industrial park section of the course for a short while before we headed toward more scenic areas. For me, though, the best part of the race was around miles 6-9, when we were running through trails. The trails were sandwiched in-between a canyon and it was beautiful. There were rolling hills through here and while it wasn’t exactly easy running through this section, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as some of the other areas with steep inclines that seemed to go on forever. There were nice sections of the course with viewpoints of a beautiful snow-capped mountain, and we got to see this view from different angles. I didn’t run with my phone for this race, so I didn’t take any photos along the course, and I unfortunately can’t share them here. I did snag this photo which was taken from the race start from the Facebook site, however:

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The last few miles were past a community park with soccer/lacrosse fields and finally the end was in sight! I was utterly exhausted starting around mile 6 of the race, so I just didn’t have it in me to speed up towards the end, as I sometimes do. In fact, my last 3 miles were my slowest of the race. My left leg, which is my “good leg,” was bothering me very early in the race, with a tight hip flexor and my quad felt like it was made of lead. Usually it’s my right leg that’s the problem, with my knee giving out and other issues I’ve been having with it, so I have no idea what was going on with my left leg. I just knew this wasn’t going to be one of my best finish times and I was fine with that.

So finally, I reached the finish line at Staheli Family Farm and was handed a hefty-sized medal. I was directed to a table full of lunch-size paper bags, each of which included a water bottle, fruit snacks, and trail mix. Also on the table were containers of chocolate milk, string cheese, bananas, oranges, and bread. Not bad, but nothing special.

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On a side note, as I mentioned earlier, my daughter ran the 5k, and she won second place in her age group! I was so happy for her! She got a medal similar to the race medal, but it was silver and looked slightly different. She was thrilled, of course, especially since this was only her fourth 5k.

My overall impressions of the race are that it was a tough but beautiful course. The below-freezing temperature wasn’t conducive to a fast time for me, since I tend to have problems breathing when it’s that cold (I had asthma when I was a baby and had cold-induced asthma through grade school). For someone that likes running in colder temperatures and enjoys the “challenge” of hills, this would be a good race. It was well-organized and not overly crowded, but not so sparse that you would be running by yourself for miles on end. There was almost no one cheering on runners along the course, though, so if you enjoy that, you won’t get that at this race. Overall, it was a scenic, fairly low-key, challenging race.

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Dogtown Half Marathon

My race stats:

240th of 451 runners total

115th of 251 of women

6th in my age group

Finish time:  2:06:24