I started thinking about this some time back when I was listening to a podcast and they were talking about how their motivation for athletic activities they do has changed over the years. For example, one person was talking about their motivation for doing triathlons and the other person was talking about their motivation for running. When I started running what I would call in a more regular way in my late 20’s (I phrase it this way because prior to this point I would just run whenever and wherever with no real plan or intention and no races), my motivation was simply for the sheer joy of running, truthfully.
I didn’t need to lose weight or get healthier nor did a friend talk me into running with them. In fact, my boyfriend at the time was motivated by me to run and we would often run together. He ended up doing a sprint triathlon but shortly after that he ran less and less. His heart just wasn’t in it and it was obvious he was just doing it to spend time with me but he had no real motivation to run.
No longer with a running partner, I ran by myself and eventually trained for and ran my first 5k and gradually built up to a half marathon then eventually I ran a marathon. I enjoyed the solitude of being alone with nature and I liked how I felt after a run- accomplished and satisfied. My motivation to continue to run eventually became seeking out more half marathons. It was about more than just running the race, however; all of those training miles became my new normal and a part of who I was.
Many years ago after I had run a half marathon in several states and I made the decision to run a half marathon in every state, that became my goal and my motivation. Never once did I doubt if I could make it happen. I knew I would eventually get there, no matter how long it took me.
It was definitely always about the journey for me and just enjoying myself along the way. I always made it a priority to spend at least several days in a state, usually more, preferably after the race and take in as much as I possibly could. With only a couple of rare exceptions did I not care for a place I visited. Some places were just OK, as well, but the majority of places I went to far exceeded any expectations I might have had.
Speaking of expectations, one thing I’ve learned over the years but still have to work on is to have zero expectations. This can be about a place I’m going to, about a race, about a person, or about anything coming up in my life. I’m a realist and optimist by nature so it doesn’t work for me to have really low expectations for a place or person but I’ve found if I go into something with no expectations at all, that usually works out well for me. But back to my original topic.
Now that I’ve finished my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, my motivation has once again changed. After my final race in November 2021, I was asked by many people, “What’s your next big goal? A marathon in all 50 states?” or other similar questions. I always just laughed and said, “No. For now I’m just soaking it all in and trying to enjoy the moment.”
After my half marathon in November 2021, I needed a break from running so I took two weeks off from running completely and only went on walks and hikes. Historically when I was still in the midst of my 50 states quest I would almost always take two weeks off from running after a half marathon to let my body heal completely so that wasn’t unusual for me. What has been unusual is for the first time in a couple of decades, I don’t have a half marathon in sight and I’m perfectly OK with that.
I’ve found myself going back to my roots, if you will, when I ran for the sheer joy of running. There is zero pressure for me to find another race to train for, at least in the near future. I had signed up for a local race in February that would have involved something entirely different for me but it was made into a virtual race with the option to defer to 2023, which I did. I ran the Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run in Washington, D.C. in April, (Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run) and loved it. For now, I’m just seeing what races seem interesting and going with that.
What’s your motivation to run/cycle/hike/swim/multi-sport/other? Has it changed over the years?
Thank you so much to everyone that asked questions in response to my post Ask Me Anything! It was a success and you all asked some thought-provoking questions. If you missed that post, I thought it would be fun to have people ask me questions related to my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, which I just finished in November 2021.
I’ll type the questions in the order received and put my answers after. Here goes!
Q: When you first set your 50 state goal how long did you think it would take?
A: Although I ran my first half marathon in 2000, I didn’t set my goal to run a half marathon in all 50 states until some time after that. I believe it was somewhere around state number 3, when I ran the Philadelphia Distance Run in 2004 when the idea to run a half marathon in all 50 states began forming in my mind. That same year I ran the Kiawah Island Half Marathon in South Carolina and had signed up to run the Valley of the Sun Half Marathon in Arizona when I found out I was pregnant. Since I had been running half marathons for a few years and had no underlying health conditions my doctor said it was fine to run the race in Arizona, plus I was only about two months pregnant then. I didn’t run another half marathon until 13 months later when I ran the Columbus Distance Run in April 2006 but at this point I definitely had the goal to run all 50 states. Knowing I could run 3 or 4 half marathons a year (but most years it was 3), I knew it would take several years for me to finish and I was fine with that. At that point I estimated it would take another 14 years to finish, which would have put me finishing in 2020. Then the pandemic hit and that pushed back all of my races a year so I ran my last race in 2021, 21 years after I ran my first half marathon.
Q: Did you set aside some time to actually see something of all the states? What was your favorite non-running find?
A: From the beginning, I always wanted to incorporate as much time as possible into seeing some of the states I was running a race in. I knew that would mean I wouldn’t be able to run as many states a year but it was important to me to not just check off the boxes. For most states I tried to spend a week in the area, preferably after the race and sometimes I spent more than a week in the state. I was lucky enough to spend an entire three weeks in San Diego when I ran the half marathon there, which is the most I spent in one place when I went there for a race.
My favorite non-running find is a tough one. There were so many little towns I went to that I never would have discovered if not for the races I ran there. I absolutely loved Woodstock and Quechee in Vermont but also Newport, Rhode Island and the nearby little towns, and tiny little Thayne, Wyoming not to mention Spearfish Canyon in South Dakota. I guess I’d have to choose Rhode Island. It’s the smallest of the United States but is filled with such beauty and is an undiscovered gem in my mind, although I hear the summers are filled with New Englanders. Still, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who told me they were going on vacation in Rhode Island unless they had family there, which is a shame given what a cool place it is and so many people have never been there.
I also ran some races after speaking to people I knew who ran them or reading blog posts on them. Those that come to mind are the Shamrock Half in Virginia Beach, Kiawah Island in South Carolina, Missoula Half in Montana, and Bayshore Half Marathon in Michigan. These all lived up to the hype and were indeed great races (plus cool towns which made them perfect racecations).
Q: How did you train for the different conditions (ex: hills, races at altitude, humidity)?
A: Living in central North Carolina gives me some variety when it comes to weather and running conditions. We have hills, heat, humidity, and even ice in January when we inevitably get freezing rain. The only thing we don’t have that was mentioned above is altitude.
One of the first things I would do when deciding on a race was check the course. If there were going to be substantial hills I made sure to incorporate hill repeats in my training. If there were going to be rolling hills I would run my long run where there were rolling hills. I ran several races during summer months where it was hot and humid. Since the heat really kicks in here in May, for those summer races I had been running in the heat for long enough for me to have acclimatized for those races (typically it takes a couple of weeks to acclimatize to the heat). I personally feel like I never really get used to the humidity and the only thing I can do to prepare for that is to make sure I run with fluids and am fully hydrated in the hours before I even step out the door to run.
When I was choosing half marathons in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming or any other state with high mountains one of the first things I looked up was the elevation in the cities where the races were. I purposefully chose races that were in cities with some of the lowest elevations in those states. I also read that it takes most people at least a few days to acclimatize to high elevation so I would fly into those states a few days before the race.
Almost as soon as I landed I started drinking water like my life depended on it since water helps with getting used to high elevation. One of the hardest half marathons I ran was in Boulder, Colorado even though it didn’t even have the highest altitude (around 5400 feet vs. around 6000 feet in Thayne, Wyoming). I think the difference was the course in Boulder was around a reservoir and was relatively flat compared to the course in Wyoming that had a fast downhill start for the first few miles and leveled off after that.
Q: How did you balance being a mom, working, having a social life, et cetera with a regular training plan over so many years? How did you keep up your motivation to train even when you felt too busy or tired?
A: Ah, the old life/balance question. I’ve always had a full-time job since I graduated from college and I’ve been a mom since my early-30’s so there was only a brief period where I didn’t also have to work and take care of my child in addition to getting my training runs in. Honestly, I don’t think most people can achieve a perfect 50/50 balance if you’re pursuing a huge goal. The best that most people can hope for is to have what I’ve heard referred to by others as “seasons” in life. For most people it means you have periods where you focus on your goal and other periods when you cut back on your goal a bit and focus on family and work. For me this literally meant spring, summer, fall, and winter where I would be training for and then traveling to a race during the spring, summer, and fall months then I would take most or much of winter off to rest, recover, and catch up.
All of this doesn’t mean I just ignored my work and family obligations because I was training for a half marathon but I did make running a priority in my life or it never would have happened. From the start I made it clear to my boyfriend who later became my husband that running wasn’t just something I would do occasionally but it was a huge part of my life. If he would have had a problem with me going for a run, we never would have lasted more than a week.
Likewise with my daughter, she grew up watching Mom go for a run and it was just “normal” life for her. She also traveled to the majority of my races with me, even when she was a baby, so that also became “normal” for her. She thought all moms traveled all over the United States for half marathons and ran for an hour or two on the weekends with other runs throughout the week. I know this because when she was in grade school, she told me all that. She said she had recently realized most moms didn’t do this and most moms she knew weren’t like her mom when it came to running and travel. When she was old enough she began running races too, working up from the 5k to the half marathon.
Like I mentioned earlier, by making running and specifically running a half marathon in all 50 states a priority in my life, I always had the motivation to train even when I felt too busy or tired. It helped that I also knew how much running helps my mental state and I’ve always come back from a run feeling better than when I started, even if I was tired when I started. Finally, I’ve always given myself some grace when it comes to running. If I had to miss a 40 minute run because I had to take my daughter to the doctor or I had to work late at work and was exhausted I knew in the grand scheme of things, it would be fine to not run and I wouldn’t suddenly lose all of my fitness. If it would have ever happened where I was consistently missing runs (that never happened), I would have had to take a good look at what was going on in my life and re-evaluate if training for that race was truly a good idea or maybe I should push it back to another time.
Q: What made you choose the half marathon distance vs any other distance?
A: I’ve always felt like the half marathon is the perfect distance for me. It’s just long enough that it’s a challenge and keeps me in good shape but not so long that I am utterly destroyed afterwards like with the marathon. Plus training for a half marathon is much more manageable than for a marathon. I’m also not a big fan of 5k races because if I’m going to truly race them, they’re HARD! I do like the 10 mile distance even though I’ve only run one 10-miler but I am signed up for another 10-miler this spring.
Q: Did you do specific training when you planned for races in western states with higher elevation?
A: No. As far as I could tell when I looked around online about this there really is no way to prepare yourself for running at higher elevation unless you can spring for a hyperbaric tent to sleep in beforehand. I would arrive at the races a few days before the race and drink tons of water, like I mentioned above. I also should have mentioned I lowered my expectations of any finish times for those races and was pleasantly surprised when I finished much faster than I would have predicted at some of them.
Q: Did you ever miss a flight?
A: Yes, but since I always worked in at least one extra day before a race it always worked out. I remember when I flew to one race (I forget which but it was a western state), there were severe thunderstorms that caused major airline delays and cancellations. I was supposed to have a layover in Denver and arrive at my destination that evening but all flights out of Denver were cancelled that evening so I had to stay in a hotel and fly out the next morning. Because of my buffer, I still made it to the packet pickup on time and everything was fine, other than missing some time in my destination.
Q: Does your work have an unlimited vacation time policy?
A: Not unlimited but it is generous. I’ve been at my job for 21 years and I now get 5 weeks of vacation. After I hit 15 years I got bumped up from 4 weeks to 5 so I’ve always had plenty of vacation days. Plus I get 11 days off for holidays that I can use as flex time. On top of all of that, I can roll over something like 30 days of unused vacation time by the end of December to the next year. With all of that being said, I’ve always eventually used every single day of my vacation time and not lost it at the end of the year even during the beginning of the pandemic when I wasn’t traveling, thanks to being able to roll over time to the next year.
That’s all of the questions I received. Thanks again to everyone who submitted questions. That was interesting for me and hopefully to you all as well!
Did anyone forget to ask a question you’d like to ask now or did you miss my first post? Feel free to ask here.
I realize this could go one of two ways, either fun and interesting or poorly, so I’m depending on all of you who read this (no pressure) for it to go the former way. My idea is this: everyone who regularly follows my blog knows I just finished my quest of running a half marathon in all 50 states, with my last race in Albuquerque, New Mexico in November of 2021. If anyone is new to my blog, now you know too. Many of you regulars, especially the long-timers (and a HUGE thank you if that’s you) probably already know or think you know many other things about my quest. However, I’m guessing there are still some unanswered questions out there that you may be curious about.
This is your chance to ask me absolutely anything and everything you ever wondered about what it was like for me to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Really, nothing is off-limits, too nosy, too trivial, or too silly. If you’re wondering something, someone else may also be wondering the same thing, and even if you’re the only person in the world with the question, it’s still a valid question.
What I would like is for everyone to ask some questions below and if all goes well, I’ll write up a post to answer the questions, rather than just answer them below; that way I can expand on anything that might need more than just a sentence or two to answer. If someone else has already asked your question but yours has a slightly different spin on it, ask it again in your words. That will also clue me in on the more popular questions that need more explanation than others.
Your questions can be broad such as running-related or more specific like half marathon-related, or they can be travel-related, logistics questions, race bling questions, traveling with kids or family, state-related, specific race-related, etc. These are just some examples but certainly not meant to limit you just to these. Questions like favorite/best/worst/most scenic are all fine as well. Creative questions are highly encouraged.
OK. Let’s see how this goes! Thank you to everyone who asks questions! If you never see a follow-up post with the answers, well, we all know what that means, but I’m confident that won’t happen.
Although I always write up some running resolutions for the new year, I usually don’t do a word for the year. This year one word in particular seemed to call out to me, a word that I certainly could use more of in my life and I’d venture to say most people would say the same. After I go through my running resolutions, I’ll explain why I chose my word for the year.
First, let me see how I did with my running resolutions for 2021. In my post, Running Resolutions for 2021, I only had two running resolutions and those were: to be more spontaneous when it comes to races and to incorporate more walking into this year. So how did I do? Pretty good with the walking. I definitely walked more than I did in previous years and made it a fairly regular habit to walk for an hour on one of my days off from running. On my other day off from running I would also go for a long walk but it wasn’t always for an hour.
Looking back at the question if I was more spontaneous when it came to races, I would say for me, I did a pretty good job at that as well. You have to consider the source for this one, meaning for so many years I would only run half marathons in states where I had never run before so I could work on my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. For me that meant running four half marathons a year in the beginning years and three half marathons a year in the latter years. It was rare if I even ran a 5k on top of those three or four half marathons, although I did run one with my daughter when she ran her first 5k and I ran a color run with her a few years ago.
It was entirely spontaneous when I entered both my daughter and myself into the lottery entry for the Peachtree Road Race, a 10k in Atlanta in July. Much to my surprise, we both got in and that race was one of my most memorable and fun races for the year. I also signed up for another race completely out of my wheelhouse the same day that I ran the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon in Iowa, the Krispy Kreme Challenge. If you go to the website, it says it all on the front page: 12 doughnuts, 5 miles, 1 hour. You run 2.5 miles, eat a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and run 2.5 miles back to the start. There is a no-doughnut option but what’s the fun in that? I may throw up and I may feel absolutely terrible after running this one, but I won’t know until I do it in February. Stay tuned for how this turns out.
Now on to my running resolutions for 2022. I would like to incorporate more hiking into my off days. Although I’ve always loved to go hiking, this was probably pushed to the forefront when I went backpacking in Yosemite in August of 2021. Unfortunately I don’t live anywhere near Yosemite so I can’t hike in mountains like that but I’ll just have to work with what I have. There are some state parks within a day’s drive from where I live that I’ve never been to and I’d like to try them out and see how the hiking is. I also have a great state park close-by that I can certainly explore more than I have.
For my second running resolution, I’d like to run different distances than the half marathon and just see what I’m capable of at this point in my life. I’m already eyeing a 5k in May and have entered the lottery for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in April. I may run a 4-mile race in March, depending on the timing of it. Before anyone asks, no, I’m not considering running a marathon any time soon. I never say never but I have no plans to run a marathon this year.
That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped running half marathons, however. My final running resolution is to start running half marathons in the Canadian provinces. Because of COVID, this one may prove to be difficult this year since I would have to travel internationally. They’re kind of on the wait-and-see list for now but I have a couple of races in Canada I’d like to run this year if possible.
Finally, to my word for the year: FUN! I want more than anything to just have fun when I’m running, whether I’m on a training run, spending time with my running group, running a race, or none of the above but am just on a run, I simply want to have fun! I’ve always enjoyed running and I’ve always said if I ever reach a point where running isn’t fun any longer, I’m not going to run anymore. I did go through a couple of points in my life where I was in running ruts but I figured out how to mix things up to make running enjoyable again. Fortunately I’ve never dreaded going on a run, partly because I know how great I’ll feel afterwards.
Part of the reason why I chose the Krispy Kreme Challenge and some of the other races I’d like to do this year go along with my word, fun. I’m trying to choose races that sound fun to me, or at least have the potential to be fun if nothing else with a fun post-race party. I know not everyone’s idea of fun is stuffing down a dozen doughnuts after running and then running again after that, but it sounds like it could be pretty entertaining to me. That race is also for a great cause, the UNC Children’s Hospital, where I have a personal connection, so what could be more fun than supporting a great cause and making a fool of yourself while running?
Do you make resolutions (running or otherwise) for the year? Do you choose a word for the year? Care to share yours?
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 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.
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)
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.
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?
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.
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 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.
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.
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?
This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Iowa was my 49th state.
Before COVID and the pandemic, I was supposed to run a half marathon in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in September 2020. At that point I would have already run a half marathon in New Mexico in April of that year, followed by Minnesota in June, and the race in Cedar Rapids would have been my 50th state. All three of those races got shifted or cancelled completely so now in 2021, I still have not run a half marathon in New Mexico but I ran Circle of Life Half Marathon, Lake City, Minnesota for my 48th state in June of this year. Confused? Blame it on COVID.
When I saw the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon was scheduled for an in-person race October 17, 2021 and the race director promised regular communication leading up to the race plus he would do everything in his power to make sure the race took place in person, I signed up immediately. True to his word, the race director sent out weekly emails with information about the race. Unfortunately since the race was in October, that meant my teenage daughter would not be running with me since she didn’t want to miss school. No one else would be going with me either, which means this was my first real solo vacation and first time traveling to a race by myself (no sherpa but that was OK; there was a gear check).
Packet pickup was at the Iowa Events Center both Friday and Saturday and included something I hadn’t seen in a while, an actual in-person expo with several vendors and booths set up. You could buy shirts, shoes, gels and other running-related supplies or talk to people about products and local running events. There were also speakers like Jeff Galloway, the famous Olympian who has since coached millions on the run/walk method. I picked up my goodie bag and race bib and was surprised to see a long-sleeve quarter-zip shirt personalized with the race name on the front and 13.1 on the back included in the bag.
A cold front had moved into Des Moines bringing with it a frigid wind in the days preceding the race. I went on a 30 minute shakeout run on Friday morning and it was 50 degrees, which was fine to run in what I had brought for the race (short-sleeve top and running skirt). However, the temperature was supposed to drop to 40 degrees at night starting Friday and by 8 am on Sunday, race morning, it was only supposed to be 41 degrees. On top of that, it was supposed to increase by 10 degrees in just a couple of hours. I was not happy with the weather prediction for race morning. Welcome to the Midwest, right?
After obsessively checking the weather like a crazy person and also obsessing about what I was going to wear for the race, I decided to stick with my original plan of my short-sleeve shirt, running skirt, knee-high compression socks, beanie, Buff on my neck, and my beloved Turtle mittens. I wore a fleece jacket to the start then threw it in the gear check bag and made my way to the start. It turns out it was a few degrees warmer than they had predicted the night before so at 8 am at race start it was 44 degrees and sunny.
There were around 5000 people running the marathon and half marathon, which both started together and we were crammed-in together tightly (and no one was wearing a mask). It would not have been a good scene for anyone worried about COVID, but that’s not me since I’m vaccinated and don’t have any health complications so it didn’t bother me. My plan was to run around 8:45 minute miles which would mean my finish time would be around 1:54.
The race start was right in the heart of downtown Des Moines and the half marathoners split off from the marathoners around mile 3. The course went by Water Works Park and Grays Lake Park, past the Pappajohn Sculpture Park and ran along the Des Moines River for the last part. It was scenic and pancake flat with the exception of one very minor hill around mile 11. There were bands, first aid stations, and Gatorade/water at multiple points along the course. At one point there were even volunteers holding out tissue boxes with tissues for runners. I’ve never seen that before but thought it was a great idea because it’s common to get a runny nose from cold air when running. Spectators were also out in full force, many with funny posters; one of my favorites was: “On a scale of 1-10, you’re a 13.1.”
I felt so good right from the beginning that I ended up going faster than I expected. My split times were 8:26, 8:24, 8:21, 8:18, 8:28, 8:21, 8:17, 8:20, 8:23, 8:24, 8:28, 8:33, 8:29, and 8:20 for the final 0.25 miles. Strava had me at 13.25 miles with a finish of 1:50 at 13.1 miles but my official time was 1:51:20, which was a PR for me! I’m still astounded that I PR’d for my 51st half marathon! I finished 12th in my age group out of 110 women. This is a FAST course!
At the finish, we got our medals along with snack boxes filled with pretzels, peanuts, sunflower seeds, an oatmeal bar, fruit snacks, and animal crackers; there was also water and Gatorade plus a chocolate Gatorade protein recovery drink that tasted like chocolate milk. AND there were BBQ sandwiches, oranges, bananas, cookies, and Truly hard seltzer. There was an area set up in a big field with really talented bands playing and cornhole boards and bleachers to sit on. Finally, there were big posters with the race logo for photo ops.
I truly loved this race. Who would have thought my race in Des Moines, Iowa, state number 49 would be so outstanding? The race director and the volunteers did an excellent job putting on this race and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a well-organized, flat (unless you’re running the marathon; believe it or not, Iowa actually has some hills and the marathon is hilly, I’ve been told), and most of all FUN race.
Have any of you run this race or know anyone who has? Anyone interested in taking a trip to Iowa to check it out?
As I type this post, I only have two states left in my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, Iowa and New Mexico. Both races are close to each other so in less than a month, as long as all goes well, I will be finished with my quest. Honestly, it feels surreal to say that before the end of 2021 I will have run a half marathon in all 50 states.
I knew that if I were to run the same race the following year it would almost definitely be better weather. That was my hook. I wanted to see just how I could do in a half marathon given better weather and of course better preparation that would inevitably come from another year of running. Had it been sunny and in the 50’s, who knows if I would have felt the drive to run that race again or any other half marathons for that matter.
When I ran the Battleship Half Marathon in 2001 it was sunny and 51 degrees and I shaved off almost 17 minutes from my finish time. At this point I had run several other races including the Kona Half Marathon in Hawaii (Kona Marathon and Half Marathon, Hawaii-2nd state). Not only was I hooked on running half marathons, I was hooked on traveling to half marathons although I didn’t have the goal of running one in every state at this point. Still to this day, I haven’t run a half marathon anywhere close enough to my home that I didn’t have to stay in a hotel the night before.
They say with children you should get them used to your lifestyle from the beginning so it becomes second nature to the child. For example, if you enjoy traveling and plan on bringing the child along with you, you should travel with the child from the start so they become accustomed to traveling and it’s just a “normal” part of their life.
I believe how you approach running and racing is a bit like that. If you start out running 5k’s near where you live and continue doing that over several years, it would be a much bigger barrier of entry to suddenly travel to a race. But if you’ve traveled to races very early in your racing history, it’s second nature to you and not traveling before a race would seem strange to you. At least that’s how I feel about racing.
The few local races I have run don’t stand out in my mind nearly as much as the ones I traveled to. Sure, I enjoyed the Color Run I ran with my daughter (Color Vibe 5k), a local 5k, but it did seem strange to sleep in my own bed the night before the race and drive back home after the race. Part of the difference could be that it was a 5k and you can’t fairly compare a 5k to a half marathon because of course it’s going to be a wholly different experience. Still, I have run a local 10-miler, almost as long as a half marathon and at this point in my life I have absolutely no desire to run a local half marathon and most likely never will run one.
For me, part of the draw to running a half marathon is the travel aspect and visiting a new area. I know for some people the mere idea of traveling to a race makes them so anxious they would never do that. Then again, I believe travel in general makes many people anxious and I understand that.
There are so many moving parts involved with traveling to a race including just getting to the city where the race is being held, whether it’s flying or driving, finding a hotel or other place to stay at least the night before the race if not afterwards as well, renting a car if you flew to the race, eating and finding suitable things to eat the night before the race so it doesn’t upset your stomach, getting to the race start, and on and on. I know for some people, the thought of planning all of these things is overwhelming and I believe this is why some people are drawn to the companies that have popped up that basically take care of everything for you if you’re traveling to a race so you just have to sign up and show up. A popular one is Vacationraces: https://vacationraces.com/.
Back to my half marathon in Iowa, state number 49. This race is full of firsts for me. It will be the first race where a family member won’t be going to a half marathon with me. This is also the first race where I won’t be traveling to other parts of the state once I get there. In fact, I’m not even going to rent a car but will be relying on the local transportation and ride shares. A friend of mine who lives in Iowa is also running the race so I won’t be totally by myself but for a majority of my time there I will be by myself so I’m calling it my first solo travel trip.
I’m not anxious at all about any of these first times. On the contrary, I’m very much looking forward to traveling by myself and seeing what solo travel is like. A travel podcaster I follow has said before that he thinks everyone should experience solo travel at least once in their life and I’ve heard other people say how much they enjoy traveling by themselves and the many positive things to come of it.
I will be sure to let you all know how the race goes and what I think of solo travel!
Once again I had an idea for a blog post when I was out running. Does this ever happen to you? Anyway, for whatever crazy reason, this quote came into my head: “Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.”- Confucius
I thought to myself, “What if I turned that into a running quote?” and I came up with this: “Give a man a pair of running shoes and he’ll run for a day. Offer to be a man’s running partner and you’ve got a friend for life.” Then when I got home I looked up some other famous quotes and started turning them into running quotes. Here’s what I came up with.
“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” – Walt Disney
Running quote: “The way to get started running is to quit talking about it and start running.”
“People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”- Rob Siltanen
Running quote: “The people who are crazy enough to think they can run a marathon are the ones who do.”
“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”- Henry Ford
Running quote: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t run that extra mile, you’re right.” Or you could leave it exactly like it is and it still applies to running. I love that quote.
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”- C.S. Lewis
Running quote: “You are never too old to start running or to set a new running goal.”
“I think goals should never be easy, they should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time.” – Michael Phelps
Running quote: “Running goals should never be easy, they should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time.”
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” – Charles Swindoll
Running quote: “Marathons are 10% physical and 90% mental.”
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain
Running quote: “The secret of being a runner is getting started.”
“Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. After that who cares? He’s a mile away and you’ve got his shoes!” – Billy Connolly
Running quote: “Before you judge a man, run a mile in his shoes. After that who cares? You’re a mile away and you’ve got new running shoes!”
“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the hell she is.”– Ellen DeGeneres
Running quote: “My grandmother started running five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and she just crossed into Canada.” On second thought, maybe Ellen DeGeneres’ version is better. What do you think?
It seemed pretty easy to turn these quotes into running-specific quotes and for whatever reason it was fun to me. I had a harder time with the funny quotes than the inspirational quotes. Anyway, I hope I at least made some of you smile. With all of the negative information currently circulating, I thought we could all use something lighthearted for a change.
Do you like inspirational or funny quotes? Do you ever turn them around into running quotes or something else just for fun?
By the time I had the goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states I had already run several half marathons in different states. I didn’t officially begin my journey way back in 2000 when I ran my first half marathon on the coast of North Carolina thinking I would run a half marathon in all 50 states. Only after running in Hawaii, a couple more half marathons in North Carolina, and in a handful of other states did my goal begin to form.
Never once did money or specifically how much money it would take to run a half marathon in all 50 states cross my mind. I have always placed a high priority on travel in my life and I looked at this goal as part of my travel plans. It was always my plan to spend as much time as I could or felt like was warranted for each state I ran a race in. For example, I didn’t spend as much time in Indiana as I did in South Dakota. My race for Indiana was in the small town of Evansville and while I could have driven to Louisville, Kentucky and spent a few days there after my race, I chose not to. However, when I ran in Spearfish Canyon, South Dakota, I spent a week in the area going to some of the state and national parks in the Black Hills National Forest.
Obviously I spent more money in some states than others, largely based on how much time I spent in each state. My two biggest expenses for running a half marathon in all 50 states have been airfare and lodging. Of the 50 half marathons in 48 states I’ve run, I’ve driven to about 10 half marathons in less than 10 states. The majority of races have been ones I’ve flown to.
The airfare I’ve spent has varied wildly from less than $200/ticket to upwards of $800/ticket. Until recently, my husband and daughter also accompanied me to every race so that means three airline tickets had to be purchased. I’ve gotten more travel savvy over the years so when possible I’ve used airline miles for some of these flights. For example, for my half marathon in Boise, Idaho, I used 20,000 miles per person and only spent $11.20 each, for a grand total of $33.60 for airfare to Idaho; not bad considering we flew from North Carolina.
Likewise, the money I’ve spent on accommodations for races has varied hugely. Obviously I spent considerably less for places where I only spent a long weekend versus a week or more. Never have I spent thousands of dollars for a place to sleep, whether it’s been for races or just a “regular” vacation, however. This isn’t to say I’ll stay at a Motel 6 in a seedy neighborhood but by this point in my life I’m able to find a place that’s moderately-priced just by doing a little homework and comparison shopping.
As I’ve mentioned before, I really like the website https://www.hotels.com/. While they’re owned by Expedia (as I see on my credit card statements but otherwise probably wouldn’t know this), Hotels has a loyalty program. If you stay 10 nights in a calendar year you get a free reward night. This includes multi-night stays at the same hotel. I know for some other hotel rewards programs, they count each hotel stay individually, regardless of the number of nights you stay each time. With Hotels if you stay 5 nights at one of their hotels, 3 nights at another, and 2 nights at another in the same year, you’ll receive a reward night valued at the average of how much you spent over the course of that year per night.
Expedia also has a loyalty program that ranges from blue to silver to gold. Blue members receive 10% off stays (this is the same for Hotels members), Silver members (7 nights or more in a year) receive blue rewards plus perks like spa access and free breakfast (same with Hotels Silver members), and Gold members (15 or more nights) receive silver and blue rewards plus free room upgrades and 30% more points (similar with Hotels Gold members). The difference with Expedia is you don’t receive a free hotel night like you do with Hotels, hence Hotels is the clear winner in my opinion.
I don’t just search for hotel rooms, though, I also comparison shop at Airbnb and similar sites like Vrbo. Sometimes having a full kitchen and the ability to cook your own meals and of course the willingness to do so can save hundreds of dollars versus eating out at restaurants for every meal. Even though the price for a home or apartment rental may be slightly more than a hotel room, if you factor in the savings of not eating out as much, the difference can be worth it. If you’re staying in a big city where parking is a premium and have a rental car or your own car, not having to pay for parking at the hotel can also add up. Bottom line- look at various sites for accommodations and factor in food and parking if relevant before you make those reservations.
This brings me to the expense of food when traveling to half marathons. This will depend on the person and your personal eating likes and dislikes. Some people eat differently when they’re on vacation than when they’re home, too. If you like to go out for steak dinners at expensive restaurants when you’re on vacation that will add up a lot quicker than someone who is happy finding a local grocery store and whipping up dinner in their Airbnb or even picking up a rotisserie chicken and sides from the deli at a grocery store, with no cooking involved. If you’re spending a week at a place after a race and are eating out for three meals a day you’ll spend considerably more than someone who is eating a light breakfast in their room, going out for lunch at local cafes, and only eating at restaurants some of the time for dinner.
The final expense for running a race in all 50 states is the race entry fee. Although I haven’t tracked it, I don’t believe I’ve spent more than $80 or $90 for a half marathon entry fee. The average entry fee that I’ve personally spent per race has probably been around $65. This has gone up in the last decade, I believe largely due to the swag that’s offered at races. Those hoodies, mugs, sunglasses, and other goodies you get at races aren’t free and the cost for these things are included in the race fee. When I ran my first several half marathons, the only thing I received was a race shirt, not even a medal and of course my entry fees were also much lower than now.
Disney races are also notoriously expensive, with a runner easily spending over $100 just for the entry fee, not even including other extras like a pre-race pasta dinner and commemorative pins. Likewise, races in big cities like New York and Chicago typically cost more than races in smaller cities. Finally, races that are put on by groups like Rock ‘n Roll cost more than races put on by local race directors in smaller towns.
So just how much have I spent on all of the half marathons I’ve run? I haven’t added it all up because I couldn’t even if I wanted to since I don’t have any idea how much I spent on my airfare or any other expenses for my half marathons 20 years ago in Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Arizona and all of the others. Only recently did I start keeping track of how much I spend on travel, which coincided when I started paying attention to things like airline miles and hotel rewards.
Still, it doesn’t really matter how much I’ve spent because the memories I’ve gained have been priceless and I don’t regret a single penny I’ve spent. Not even for the crappy race just outside of Atlanta, Run the Reagan Half Marathon, Georgia-14th state because I had fun in Atlanta after the race and that made it worth it.
This brings me to the point of only spending time in a place for the sole purpose of running a race there, with no real time spent either before or after a race in the area. I realize some people choose to do this, whether for financial reasons or for lack of adequate vacation time, but for me, I never wanted to do that. A huge part of this whole journey for me has been to get to see places in the United States I probably wouldn’t have otherwise traveled to. I don’t feel like you can do that in a day or two.
I realize even spending a week or ten days in a state almost never is enough to really see all that they have to offer. I’ve often felt like I barely scratched the surface when I’ve traveled to a state for a half marathon. When I ran the half marathon in Anchorage, Alaska (Skinny Raven Half Marathon, Anchorage, Alaska-43rd state) and spent some time there after the race, I still felt like I could have spent a month there and only see a tiny part of Alaska simply because it’s such an enormous state and on top of that there aren’t roads to some areas. I’ve done what I could, though, given my amount of time off and money I was willing and able to spend.
With only two states left to go on my journey (Iowa and New Mexico), I’ve spent some time recently looking back on all of the states I’ve been to so far. There were some half marathons that flat out sucked and I would never recommend but there have also been half marathons that I was in sheer awe of the beauty of the area (Running a Half Marathon or Marathon in All 50 United States? Here are the Races in States that I Recommend). Some of the races I ran have been discontinued and no longer exist and some are still going strong.
I feel like every person’s journey to run a race in all 50 states whether it’s a half marathon, marathon, 5k, or anything else will be unique to each person. Some people prefer races in big cities over small towns, others prefer races with lots of swag while some have no interest in another race shirt or anything else other than running that race, and finally some people choose a race because the timing of it fits in with their personal schedule.
Ultimately each person who has the goal to run a race in all 50 states has to decide for themselves how much money but also how much time they’re willing and able to spend. If someone has the means to drive to more states than I have, that will cut costs considerably, especially if they have a camper or something they can not only drive to the race but also sleep in. I believe anyone can achieve their goal of running a race in all 50 states as long as you make it a priority and have at least a rough idea of when and where you’re going to run, taking into account races sometimes get cancelled so you need to have several back-up plans for each state and be flexible.
Do you have a goal to run a race in all 50 states? If so, tell me about your journey so far. Any questions about my journey or anything I failed to mention here?