Running Highs and Lows of 2021

What a year for running 2021 was for me! I won’t ruin the surprise if you don’t know by now, although unless you’re brand new to my blog, I’m sure you already know what I’m referring to. Anyway, I always like to recap my races and running in general for the year and include any high points as well as low points I experienced so here goes!

At the beginning of 2021 with the pandemic still raging strong and most people other than healthcare workers and other essential workers not vaccinated, races were still kind of in the unknown territory for 2021. After most races were cancelled in 2020, I’m sure race directors wanted to at least attempt to put on their races in 2021 but there were still so many factors that seemed to keep changing all the time, like state and local mandates. Many areas of the US were only approving small races in the early months of the year.

I had three remaining states to finish my quest of running a half marathon in all 50 states: Minnesota, Iowa, and New Mexico. My registration for the Albuquerque Half Marathon had originally been for April 2020, which got pushed back to November 2020 and again to November 2021 so I knew I was going to run that race as long as it didn’t get postponed again. That left Iowa and Minnesota. I saw the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon was being held in October and after I read a statement from the race director promising open regular communication leading up to the race and a generous cancellation policy, I signed up for that race, leaving only Minnesota.

Originally I had wanted to run a half marathon in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area; however, I couldn’t find any half marathons for the months I wanted to run there, basically mid-June through August. The Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in Duluth had a waiting list and I wasn’t willing to gamble on that. Finally, I found a tiny half marathon in Lake City and after confirming with the race director that it would take place in person in June, I signed up for that race. That meant I would be running half marathons in June, October, and November. The last two races were only three weeks apart, not ideal, but doable.

Since my first half marathon of the year wasn’t until June, I had plenty of time until I needed to start training. Looking back on my Strava training calendar for 2021, I ran a surprisingly decent number of miles in January and February, which was good for building a baseline when I started training roughly 12 weeks before my race.

My boss passed away in April after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer and I decided to honor him by running miles in his name and asking for donations from co-workers of ours and friends of his. The idea was to run as much as I could the month of May and see how much money I could raise. He had been an avid runner and we had often talked about running and my races so I thought it was appropriate that I ran to honor him. I ended up running 194 miles in May, which was 50 more than I ran in April. Although losing him was a low point in my life, being able to honor him and donate all of the money I did to the cancer center where he was treated meant a lot to me and it helped me deal with the grief, as did running all of those extra miles.

With my daughter before the half marathon in Lake City

With my body stronger than ever and with me in the best pre-race shape I had likely ever been in before the Circle of Life Half Marathon in Lake City, Minnesota, I felt more ready than ever. When I drove the course the day before the race and saw how difficult it was going to be, I knew there was no way I could even come close to a PR but I knew I could at least finish it with a decent time. As I wrote about in my post on the Circle of Life Half Marathon, Lake City, Minnesota- 48th state, between the loose gravel road and hills, this was one of the most difficult races I had run. There were definite lows during the race and I had to dig deep to push through but I managed to finish around 2 hours and it was a high having my daughter run it with me (although she wasn’t literally running by my side, as she was dealing with some Achilles issues and was slower than me).

The following month in July, I had the privilege of running the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, Georgia, the largest 10k in the world. It’s so popular there’s a lottery to get in and somehow both my daughter and I got in. I can’t say enough good things about this race. Even though it’s held every year on July 4th, which is always hot in Atlanta, if you manage to run it in the morning, like my daughter and I did, it actually wasn’t that hot. However, there is a rolling start that’s based on qualifying times you submit when you learn you get in the race.

I hadn’t run a 10k in almost 20 years but I had run a 5k recently, although it was only recorded by me on Strava. I’m sure because of all of the recent cancelled races they were more lenient than usually in accepting qualifying race times, but my time was obviously accepted because I was put in “C” group, the third group, since they start with “A” and go down the alphabet, with A group starting first and B group starting 10 minutes later. My daughter had cross country races that I submitted and she was put in B group so we pretty much started together.

Some Atlanta police “mounties” behind me after the Peachtree Roach Race

As I wrote in my post: Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta- My First 10k in 19 Years!, I loved this race so much! It was one of the highest of running highs of the year for me. Even with the hills I felt like I was flying on the course and the miles just ticked by so quickly.

I took a short break from training mode after the Peachtree Road Race until I started back again the end of July, when I started training for the half marathon in Iowa. Little did I know that the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon would be so outstanding. Running this race was most definitely a high for me. I loved everything about this race from beginning to end. Like during the Peachtree Road Race, the miles just flew by and I ended up finishing with a PR and my fastest time ever for a half marathon. IMT Des Moines Half Marathon, Des Moines, Iowa- 49th state. My split times were consistent and solid throughout the course, no doubt due to my consistency with training in the months before and the baseline level I had before training. How I Managed to Finish My 52nd Half Marathon with a Personal Record (PR)

After the Des Moines Half Marathon

As I mentioned earlier, I had just three weeks after the half marathon in Des Moines until my half marathon in Albuquerque. The Albuquerque Half Marathon was to be state number 50 for me and I was so excited not only to run the race and finish my 50 states quest but to go to New Mexico for the first time. However, this race just had too many problems and issues and was so poorly organized that it never could have fulfilled any expectations I might have had.

I try to keep an open mind before going somewhere new, running a new race, or basically going into anything new and just see how things go. Ideally, I like to have zero expectations. With this race, yes of course I was excited but I really had no idea how things would go. I did know I would be by myself since my daughter couldn’t go with me and a friend who mentioned possibly meeting me there said she couldn’t go after all, but I was fine with that.

Honestly, I was a bit let-down to see how poorly the race was organized, and I think that was amplified because it was my 50th state. You can read my full race report here: The Albuquerque Half Marathon, Albuquerque, New Mexico-50th state if you missed it. In the end, I had to remind myself that this was always all about the journey and not just one race. So what if this race wasn’t fun and filled with all kinds of extras like at the half marathon in Des Moines. I had the pleasure and privilege to run in Albuquerque and more importantly in the remaining 49 states of the United States as well and for that I’m truly fortunate and thankful.

At the finish line of the Albuquerque Half Marathon

All in all, I had a pretty fantastic year of running in 2021. There were more highs than lows overall. I’ve never taken the ability to run for granted and this year I felt especially grateful to be able to run and to travel to races. Most of all, I made memories that I will forever cherish.

How was your year in running? Any particular highs or lows you’d like to share?

Happy running!


My Travel Year in Review-What Travel Taught Me in 2021

Every year I like to do a summary of my travels and what I learned from each of my vacations. Not only do I learn something new on every vacation, I learn more about myself as well. I feel like travel is truly one of the best forms of education there is.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, travel was a bit different for me than in previous years. However, unlike 2020 when I only took road trips, I actually flew in a real live airplane in 2021, and not just once but a few times! Even though I normally take an international flight every year, all of my flights were domestic this year because of all of the restrictions and limitations on international flights.

When I went to Tampa, Florida in March, I hadn’t flown in more than a year when I went to the same area in Florida (St. Petersburg) in February 2020. This time I was vaccinated, which helped ease any hesitation I might have had about flying, and it was a quick direct flight of less than 2 hours. I learned it is possible to still travel and even fly without getting COVID. Sure, there was always the possibility I might have gotten sick but I didn’t, nor did my daughter. We made sure we wore a mask when indoors, washed our hands and used hand sanitizer before touching our face or eating, and kept our distance from others.

We had a fantastic time in Tampa and I was so glad I took the chance and went. One of the things I had always wanted to do is swim with manatees and we had the opportunity to do that, plus we saw peacocks and dolphins, relaxed in the sunshine, went to some beautiful parks, and spent the vast majority of our time outside enjoying the perfect weather. Travel to Tampa, Florida- Great Food, Water Views, Museums, and Culture.

In June, I spent a long weekend in the mountains of North Carolina, which I never wrote a blog post about. The trip’s purpose was to check out a college for my daughter and we really didn’t do much worth writing a post about. We stayed in an Airbnb in an old farm house where it was so utterly quiet it was almost surreal. From that trip, I learned it’s possible to have a nice little vacation and yet not do much of anything, well at least not anything worth writing in a blog post. I’m so used to writing blog posts about everywhere I go, it was a little strange not writing about this one (well, I guess technically I sort of am writing about it now).

The week after getting home from the mountains, I flew to Minnesota for a half marathon and racecation. I met up with a fellow blogger who goes by “The Travel Architect” and her husband, and we had a tasty lunch together and chatted and laughed about mostly travel. After running a half marathon in Lake City, (Circle of Life Half Marathon, Lake City, Minnesota- 48th state) I drove to Duluth and discovered Minnesota is an even more beautiful state than I imagined it would be. The state parks in that area reminded me of when I went to Maine, with the jagged coast line and crystal clear water below the cliffs. Also, I learned “Minnesota nice” is real; the people were some of the nicest people I’ve come across. State and Local Parks Plus Daytrips From Duluth, Minnesota, Museums, Shopping, and More in Duluth, Minnesota, and Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota in a Minute Plus a Meetup!

Some of my favorite photos from Minnesota

I had just one day at home before I left for Atlanta for the Peachtree Road Race, the largest 10k in the world. Although I thought perhaps there was no way this race could live up to the hype, it actually did and was one of the most fun races I’ve ever run. I felt like I was flying on the course, despite the hills, which I normally don’t enjoy in a race and a smile was plastered on my face the entire 6.2 miles. There was such a fun vibe and the race was hands-down the best-organized large race I’ve run. I recommend it without hesitation. Even though I had been to Atlanta a few times before, I learned new parts of the city and learned that traffic there continues to get worse every year so don’t even think about driving, just take the MARTA. Rediscovering Abundance in Atlanta: Some of My Favorite Places in Atlanta, Georgia

After the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta

After about a month at home, I flew to California with my daughter’s Girl Scout troop to spend almost a week backpacking in Yosemite National Park. None of us had ever attempted anything remotely like this before. We were with two fantastic female guides from, a company I highly recommend, and we backpacked and slept under the stars with no tents. The hiking for hours on end while carrying heavy packs was difficult at times, especially for a couple of our girls, but everyone agreed in the end it was a life-changing trip and something we would all cherish.

Except for my multi-day hike to Machu Picchu when I only had a small daypack (not even as big as a small backpack) to carry and sherpas carried everything else, I had only done day backpacking prior to this. On this trip to Yosemite, I learned how much I love multi-day backpacking where I carry everything I need for the next few days on my back and I would love to do more of it. 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, and My First Time Backpacking and Sleeping Under the Stars in Yosemite National Park, California- Days Four and Five.

Yosemite National Park

In October I had my first solo vacation ever when I went to Des Moines, Iowa for a half marathon in my 49th state IMT Des Moines Half Marathon, Des Moines, Iowa- 49th state. The half marathon far exceeded my expectations and was definitely one of my favorite half marathons ever. Every single aspect of the race was well-organized seemingly from a runner’s perspective with tons of little touches that all added up to one heck of a race. What I learned about that vacation is that solo travel can be relaxing and enjoyable rather than scary and intimidating. I was glad I decided to go by myself rather than postpone it when someone could join me and I liked it so much I did it again the next month. WOW- Iowa! Des Moines, Iowa- It’s Not What You Might Think and My First Solo Vacation.

Sculpture Park in Des Moines

As you can gather by now, in November I flew to my next vacation for another racecation, this time in New Mexico. I actually haven’t posted anything about this trip yet other than the half marathon but I will sometime in the weeks ahead. The Albuquerque Half Marathon was my 50th state and I have to admit it was a bit of a letdown, especially after following in the rather large shoes of the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon. So many things went wrong before and during this race, like it wasn’t that well-organized, there were pretty much no extra touches along the course or after the race, and it seemed like the race director just did the bare minimum. Still, I had to remind myself that it was always about the journey for me. The whole reason why it took me 21 years to complete a half marathon in all 50 states was so I could spend some time in each state, rather than just check a box off and say I was there. For some people, that’s what they choose to do and I’m not judging anyone, but it wasn’t ever the way I wanted to do it.

My time in New Mexico was also a solo trip and it taught me that I can travel to a place I’ve never been before and rent a car and drive around to multiple cities by myself, relying solely on myself. When I was in Des Moines, I didn’t rent a car but I just walked everywhere or got a rideshare if it was too far to walk so things were easier logistically. While the places I went to in New Mexico weren’t “big” cities, there were multi-lane highways with multi-levels in places and I didn’t have anyone else to help me drive or figure out anything. There was never a time where I didn’t feel safe, even when I was hiking by myself and there wasn’t a soul around. I’ve learned to trust my gut and this trip taught me that this skill has worked well for me so far and I need to continue doing that.

Given that I barely traveled anywhere in 2020 and didn’t even leave the state last year (well, I was on the border of Tennessee when I went to Great Smoky Mountain National Park if you want to count that), I had an entirely different travel year this year. It was a bit hectic especially during the summer but it was one of the best years for me regarding travel.

What were some of your travel highlights? Anything you’d like to share? Anything you learned from your travels?

Happy travels!


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!


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