White River Half Marathon, Cotter, Arkansas-44th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Arkansas was my 44th state.

If you want to run a marathon, half marathon, or 5k on a blazing fast course, run one of the the White River races in Cotter, Arkansas. Seriously, this group of races is well-organized, has great volunteers, has technical long sleeve shirts for all runners, huge medals for all runners, and medals for age group winners in addition to the fast courses.

Packet pickup was quick and easy the evening before the race at Cotter Schools, and there was also the option of packet pickup the morning of the race. I got my shirt, bib, and chip shoe tags (I hadn’t seen those in quite a few years) and was out in less than 10 minutes. Shirts and some other things were being sold there but honestly I just wanted to get to dinner so I didn’t spend any time looking around. There was a pre-race pasta dinner but I wanted to try some local barbecue instead.

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Race morning, November 17, was even chillier than I was hoping, at 31 degrees. Someone mentioned how it was 70 degrees at the start of last year’s race, so I was thankful it wasn’t that warm (but I think 70 at the start is unusual). Racers for the 5k, half marathon, and marathon all started together at 7 am but fortunately the course never felt crowded, even at the beginning.

Here’s part of why this course is so fast. The first mile was downhill, and the course leveled out after that. We turned around at about mile 7.5 so we didn’t have to go back up the hill from the first mile. The course was on quiet, country roads and while the course was open to traffic, the handful of drivers we did see were courteous and gave runners a wide berth when passing. We got a couple of glimpses of the White River but mostly we saw fields and rural homes. There was a field with a couple of horses watching us at one point too.

Tailwind, water, and Gu gels were offered on the course. The volunteers at the aid stations were friendly and did a good job but there was almost no crowd support on the course, as would be expected for a small race in a rural area.

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The medals for the 5k, half marathon, and marathon are all personalized to each distance

If you follow my blog, you may recall that I recently found out I’m anemic. Just a couple of weeks before this race, my hemoglobin was 6 (normal for women my age is 12-15). Despite that, I still managed to finish in 1:57:31, 4th in my age group, 61 overall out of 287. I haven’t run a half marathon this fast since 2015. Needless to say, given my poor health, I was thrilled with my result. Unfortunately I forgot to hit save on my Garmin at the finish so I have no idea what my split times were. I also made a point of not checking my watch during this race because I just wanted to run more by feel.

As I mentioned earlier, the race medals at the finish were huge and pretty cool-looking. There were also space blankets, which was a nice touch given how cool it was that morning. There was chocolate milk, water, donuts, bagels, bananas at the finish line, and then there was even more food at Cotter School.

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The finish!

My daughter ran the 5k and came in 2nd in her age group, so my husband and daughter went to get her age group medal at the school, where the awards ceremonies were. There were sausage biscuits, bananas, lemonade, Gatorade, coffee, hot chocolate, chili, and a variety of soups when they went at 9:00 for the 5k awards. I showered and changed after the half and went to the school around 10:00 and then they had pizza instead of sausage biscuits but everything else was the same.

To be a small race, this is one of the best I’ve been to. While the course wasn’t one of the most scenic I’ve ever run on, it wasn’t bad and it was definitely one of the fastest courses I’ve raced on. The volunteers were great and the food afterwards was good and plenty of it. There was also a shoe recycling area and it looked like quite a few old running shoes were collected. If you’re looking to cross Arkansas off your list, I highly recommend this race!

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Just a portion of the shoes collected at the race

www.whiterivermarathon.com

Do any of you have plans to run a race in Arkansas or have you already? If so, which one do you want to run or have you run? Do you like races in small towns along back country roads or do you prefer racing in bigger cities with big productions like the Rock n’ Roll series for example?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

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Why I Run- Version 2.0

My very first blog post was titled, “Why I Run,” and you can read it here. It’s a quick read and pretty basic. I recently started thinking about this question more in-depth. Sure, I run because I enjoy it and how I feel when I’m running, but I think running is more complicated than that.

As I mentioned in my first post, I’ve been running pretty much since I was a young child. Unlike my parents and older brother, I loved running, riding my bike, and swimming. Long story short of why I’m not and will probably never be a triathlete, I taught myself to swim as a kid and can actually swim half-decently in the sense of moving from one place to another but my form is terrible.

Still, as much as I enjoy swimming and cycling, these sports aren’t my true loves. Running always has been and probably always will be my first choice of activity. Although I may not always feel in the mood to run when I start, I almost always finish feeling better than when I started.

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Running in the Canary Islands

One thing I love about running are all of the health benefits. Contrary to popular belief by non-runners, running is not “bad for your knees.” In multiple studies, they’ve found that the average runner has lower incidence of osteoarthritis in their knees (and other joints). Runners also have lower incidence of a multitude of diseases and other health issues such as obesity, heart disease, multiple types of cancers, stroke, diabetes, dementia, depression, and the list goes on.

Sure, runners sometimes get injured and if enough time isn’t taken off running to let the area fully heal, that can lead to long-term problems like arthritis for example. However, I would argue that it wasn’t simply running that lead to the long-term complications, but the fact that the person was running when they shouldn’t have. This could happen with any sport, such as “tennis elbow” with a tennis player leading to more complications later in life if they don’t let their bodies heal.

Fortunately, I haven’t had many major running injuries and only once in my life had to deal with iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS). Once I figured out what I needed to do (mainly stretch and use a foam roller regularly), that ugly little problem never reared its head again.

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Half marathon in Colorado- one of my toughest because of elevation!

So with no real major running injuries to speak of, I’ve seen multiple benefits to my health. All I have to do is look around at other people my age and hear about all of the health issues they’re going through to know what an advantage running has given me for my health. Most of these people I’m referring to are overweight, so honestly if they would lose the extra weight, many of their health problems would go away and they wouldn’t even have to ever run as long as they lead a healthy active lifestyle. I’m not one of those people that thinks everyone should run; just because I choose to run doesn’t mean I think everyone else should run as well. I always say whatever activity that will get your heart rate up and you enjoy doing is the one that’s best for you.

Running has also shown me and my family many parts of the United States we most likely would never have seen otherwise. By having the goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states in the United States, we’ve traveled to some pretty small towns over the years. While there have been some places that we absolutely fell in love with but might not have gone to if not for the races (Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont), there have been a few places that we were not that enamored by (North Dakota, Oklahoma, Mississippi) but were still happy we got the opportunity to go. Overall, there have been more places we’ve loved or at least liked than ones we didn’t care for.

Outside of races, I feel like I must truly love running just to be able to train for the half marathons that I do run. My current half marathon training plan includes runs 5 days a week. I feel like if I didn’t inherently love to run, I would pretty quickly get tired of running that many times a week. Lately I’ve loved checking out new areas to run both around where I live and near where I work as well.

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Checking out new running routes!

Running has shown me some enormous neighborhoods that I drive by every day going to work but never even knew existed until I decided to check out some new running paths. I’ve discovered some greenways and walking trails that go on for several miles in one direction, sometimes connecting with other greenways or trails. Simply by having the attitude of “let’s see where this goes,” I’ve discovered huge areas that I never would have seen if not for running.

It’s no secret I love to travel and whenever possible, I’ll combine my love of travel and exploring new places with running. Over the years some of the most memorable places I’ve run outside the United States were in places like Costa Rica, the Canary Islands, Canada, and Austria. I’ve seen things when running that I would have missed if I would have just driven by it in a car and I’ve often gone back later to explore the area more in-depth.

In summary, I guess I love to run because it helps keep me healthy and it helps show me the world, both near and far.

Why do you run?

Happy running!

Donna

Round Two of My Bout With Anemia

Several years ago I noticed I was getting out of breath pretty easily, not only when I ran but also when I would do other things. The last straw was when I went up a flight of stairs at home and was so dizzy and out of breath I had to grab the wall to steady myself when I reached the top. I scheduled an appointment with my doctor the next day and was told my hemoglobin level was low- I was anemic. This was round one of my battle with anemia. For the record, in the United States, anemia is diagnosed if a blood test finds less than 13.5 g/dL in a man or less than 12 g/dL hemoglobin level in a woman.

After taking a prescribed dose of iron in combination with vitamin C, B12, and folic acid for months, I started feeling somewhat better, but honestly, it was more than a year or so after I was diagnosed with anemia before I felt like I did before the diagnosis. In the midst of all of this, I ran a half marathon in Oklahoma in March of 2011. It was one of the hardest half marathons I ever ran because of my anemia, and not suprisingly, one of my slowest. I ran another half marathon in Montana four months after that and one in Alabama four months after the race in Montana. Finally, in March of 2012 when I ran a half marathon in Virginia did I start to feel like I was getting back to normal, one full year after the race in Oklahoma and more than a year since I was diagnosed with anemia.

Now, I absolutely want to emphasize that I do not think it’s a good idea to run half marathons when you’re anemic. In fact, my doctor flat out told me I shouldn’t be running at all, let alone running half marathons. However, I did run, albeit much slower than I would have otherwise, but I’m stubborn like that.

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Me recently after completing a long run, comprised of a whole lot of walking!

Fast forward to present day, well actually more like summer of 2018. I felt very out of breath when I would run, and it seemed to be getting worse. I chalked it up to the extremely hot, humid summer we were having. When it finally cooled off and the humidity dropped, and I was still out of breath on runs, I began to think maybe something was wrong. When I went on a long run and had to stop to catch my breath before I even reached a mile, I knew for sure something was wrong.

I bought some over-the-counter iron supplements and began taking them. Still, it was getting worse. Once again, I was out of breath after just going up one flight of stairs at home. I went in for some blood work at my doctor’s office and the results came back several days later- my hemoglobin count was 6 (normal for women my age is 12-15). This was even worse than the last time I was anemic. I should say too, that the last time I was anemic, I saw three different doctors and after having multiple tests done, all of the doctors just shook their heads and said they had no idea why I was anemic. There was no apparent reason- I’m not vegetarian and I didn’t have a recent large blood loss.

What all of this means is it’s been extremely difficult for me to train for my next half marathon, coming up in two weeks. Since it will be state number 44 for me, I feel a need to still do it, even if it means I have to walk or run/walk the entire 13.1 miles! I’ve set the bar and my expectations low for this next race, with the goal of simply finishing it. Right now, that’s good enough for me.

Now a short PSA- if any of you female long-distance runners reading this haven’t been feeling quite yourself lately, such as you get out of breath easier than you used to, you feel light-headed or dizzy during or after exercise, or your resting heart rate is higher than it used to be, go to your doctor for a simple blood test to check your iron. They will check your hemoglobin level, which is an easy way to check your iron since most of your body’s iron is in the hemoglobin of your blood. Here’s a good website with some general information from UCSF Health worded in a way I really like:  Hemoglobin and Functions of Iron.

I specifically say female long-distance runners here because in endurance athletes, ‘foot strike damage’ to red blood cells in the feet due to running on hard surfaces can lead to iron loss. Iron is also lost in sweat, so if you sweat heavily (like I do), you have an increased risk of iron deficiency. These two things combined with monthly blood loss through a woman’s period can all add up to significant iron loss. I suspect that’s what happened with me. That and I also had given blood a couple of months ago, which is most likely what caused my iron stores to plummet.

Have any of you ever experienced anemia or know someone who has? Do you think you may need to get your hemoglobin level checked?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Exploring While Running and Fighting Boredom

I’m not sure if it was the extremely hot, humid summer we had or the fact that I trained for two half marathons with no break in-between, or something else entirely, but this summer I was seriously getting bored with my running routes. When you run five days a week, the scenery can get a bit old after a while, especially if you’re running the same route around 30 miles a week. I even moved three years ago, so these aren’t roads and trails I’ve been on all that long all things considered.

First, I started re-examining my route for my long run, Changing My Long Running Route- Maybe. In the end, I ultimately found an entirely different route than either mentioned in that blog post, and I’ve been running that route for my long runs lately. It seems to be a good mix of some smallish hills and flat areas but more importantly, it’s an entirely new trail to me, so I’m still finding new things along the way.

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I have about a month until my next race, so I doubt I’ll get bored with this running trail in that span of time. There are many twists and turns along the route to keep things interesting, some water crossings with cool bridges to run over, and it doesn’t seem to be too crowded although I pass some other runners and walkers in the roughly two hours I’m out there. The last time I ran my long run, there were several trees down from Hurricane Michael (downgraded to Tropical Storm by the time it got to North Carolina), so I took some photos. Surprisingly, I was able to get past the trees, although you certainly would never know that from this photo.

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Post-tropical storm wreckage
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A dreary-looking day, but perfect day for a run! I love these water crossings!

I haven’t just been changing my weekend long running routes, though. I’m also searching for new places for my other runs during the week. There is a town that I drive through to go to work, and I’ve discovered entire neighborhoods that are enormous that I never even knew existed. One day I just decided to change into my running clothes on my way out from work and stop somewhere to run along my drive home. Since that first day, I’ve discovered all kinds of new places by doing this. Most of these runs have been around 40-45 minutes, which is just enough time to explore a neighborhood or two before it’s time to head back to my car.

This isn’t to say I don’t still run on some of the routes and trails closer to my home, but by mixing up my running routes, I don’t get tired of running in the same place all the time. Now that it’s cooler and the days are getting shorter, I need to explore more places to run closer to where I work. I’ve worked at the same place for the last 18 years, so it’s not like I haven’t explored that much already, but I feel confident I can still find new places where I haven’t run. There are running/walking trails all over the place in my work town, many of which I’m sure I’ve never run on.

What about you guys? Do you run on the same route most of the time or do you like to explore and find new places to run?

Happy running!

Donna

Product Review- Rockin’ Green Platinum Series Active Wear Laundry Detergent

Over the years I must have tried at least four different laundry detergents made specifically for active wear. Not only do I run 5 days a week, I also go to yoga class, do strength training at the gym, and ride my bike when I have the energy, so over the course of a week, I have a lot of sweaty, smelly athletic clothes. Technical fabrics tend to smell even after being washed because the residues coming from sweat aren’t truly washed out and build up over time. Many laundry detergents can’t truly get rid of the funk, so you’re left with supposedly clean active wear that stinks before you even put it on.

When I came across some information for Rockin’ Green laundry detergent, I was intrigued. This detergent is specifically made with enzymes to remove stains and odors from fat, protein and starch. Further, the scent of Tea Tree Oil rinses clean after washing so you’re not left with perfumes meant to mask odors. The icing on the cake is this detergent is environmentally friendly, with biodegradable surfactants, natural cleaning agents, and plant derived enzymes. I asked for a sample to be sent to me and within a couple of days received two single use containers in the mail, along with a water test strip (to test pH), and a coupon for future orders.

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Since I knew some of my athletic clothes have lingering smells straight out of the drawers, I thought I should go the heavy-hitting route and do a pre-soak before washing the clothes. I added the entire one-use container, as directed, and soaked my clothes in my tub (my front-loading washer doesn’t have a pre-soak setting) for one hour. The water was a gross-looking dirty brown color, even though it’s not like these clothes had visible dirt or mud on them. I assume this meant the detergent removed some or all of the funk that was left on my athletic clothes that my previous detergent did not remove.

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After soaking the clothes for an hour, I drained the water and pulled them out of the tub and put them in the washing machine and ran a cycle without adding any additional detergent (per the instructions). Then I put everything into the dryer (no fabric softener like usual for me) and smelled the results.

With previous laundry detergents I’ve tried that were made specifically for athletic clothes, there still seemed to be a slight lingering smell in many of my older clothes after washing and drying a load of laundry. With Rockin’ Green, I only noticed a slight lingering smell in one shirt- just one shirt out of a huge load. I’m going to try doing another soak before I wash the next load and see if that gets all of the funk out of that shirt but my feeling is it will.

Bottom line- this detergent really works! I did a little more research into the products offered by Rockin’ Green and it turns out the detergent for active wear has enzymes specifically to remove odors from sweat that the Classic Rock detergent doesn’t have. Other than the detergent for athletic wear, there are detergents for hard water, cloth diapers, a pre-treatment ammonia remover, and even dishwasher detergent.

You can buy Rockin’ Green products at their site, RockinGreen.com (free shipping on all orders and all orders ship the same day) or at Amazon.

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

Changing My Long Running Route- Maybe

Since my last half marathon in Alaska, Skinny Raven Half Marathon, Anchorage, Alaska-43rd state, I’ve been training for my next half marathon, which is in November. The race in Alaska was in August, which I trained for during the hot, humid summer and I went straight from that into my current training cycle with no break. Where I live, it starts to get cooler in mid-to-late September but there are still plenty of days where it’s pretty warm until October hits. Then, for the next month or so we have pretty much ideal (to me) running conditions where the nights are cool and the days are warm with a bit of a chill to them some days and the humidity has thankfully dropped.

All of this means after suffering through the heat and humidity to train for my race in Alaska, I’ll finally get a bit of a break weather-wise for my next race. Lately I’ve been thinking about the best routes to take for my long runs. While there are of course many places I can choose to run my long runs, there are a couple of obvious choices to me. The first choice is a place I used to run all of my long runs on before I moved a few years ago (I only moved to the next town over, so not far). The trail is part of a converted railroad bed that is now a perfectly straight, what looks like mostly flat trail with crushed gravel and/or paved asphalt. The second choice is a greenway that I’ve been running my long runs on for the last three years. It’s full of hills, hills, and more hills along the asphalt trail.

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Running along the converted railroad bed trail last weekend

Last weekend I was supposed to run 11 miles, with the last 5 or 6 miles at race pace. I thought maybe I should try running on the flat trail because it’s nearly impossible for me to hit race paces on the extremely hilly trail but I might have a chance on the flat trail. Here’s the elevation profile in grey with my pace in blue from my 11 mile run on the flat trail:

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The elevation changes from 237 feet to 374 feet, so there’s a difference of 137 feet over the 11 miles that I ran. My average pace per mile was fairly consistent, with a difference of about a minute and a half from beginning to end. However, I was certainly not hitting anywhere near what I would like to be race pace for the last 5 or 6 miles. I think my mind wasn’t really into the run, but more on that later.

Last month, I ran 11 miles on the hilly trail and here’s the elevation profile in grey with my pace in blue from that run:

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The first thing that strikes me about this run compared to the run on the flat trail is how much more consistent my pace is on the flat trail (unsurprisingly). My average pace per mile on the hilly trail (shown directly above) differs by two minutes from my fastest mile to my slowest. The elevation changes from 326 feet to 466 feet, so there’s a difference of 140 feet over the 11 miles that I ran. Hmmmm. It looks like my “flat” trail isn’t really so flat after all, just more consistent, without the sudden increases and decreases in elevation I see on the hilly trail.

Here’s where things get interesting. My fastest times on the “what I thought was flat but isn’t really that flat” trail, which I will now call the “not really flat” trail, are not as fast as my fastest times on the hilly trail, because of running faster downhill. Since there aren’t really any steep hills to run down on the “not really flat” trail, I don’t get that boost of speed that I get on the hilly trail. Sure, I’m going much slower when running (and yes sometimes walking if I’m going to be totally honest) up the steep hills on the hilly trail, but because of the speed I get when running down hill, the average is not as bad as I once thought it was, before I did this analysis comparing the two trails.

Bottom line, I ran the hilly trail an average of 21 seconds/mile slower than the “not really flat” trail but moving time was almost 20 minutes longer on the hilly trail, because of walking, I’m sure. Elevation gain for the hilly trail is 676 feet and 284 feet for the “not really flat” trail. All of this makes me question whether I should run on the “not really flat” trail for my long runs. Since the idea was to be able to hit my race paces, but that didn’t happen, I think I may want to continue running on the hilly trail.

As I mentioned earlier, my mind wasn’t really into it during my long run on the “not really flat” trail. What I mean by this is the run seemed very ordinary and mundane. There wasn’t a whole lot of change in scenery and there were many other walkers, bikers, and runners on the trail. The hilly trail, on the other hand, is mostly much more quiet with maybe a handful of other runners or walkers along the way. More importantly, the scenery is more varied, with twists and turns, glimpses of different neighborhoods, ponds, often rabbits and birds, and yes, many hills.

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One small section of the hilly trail I like to run on

I used to hate hill running but several years ago I began to appreciate hills and what they can do for me as a runner. I think hills definitely make me stronger and I feel more of a sense of accomplishment when I can run all the way up a long, steep hill rather than just running along what seems like a flat trail. So in the end, I think I’ll stick with the hilly trail for my long runs after all. The scenery is better and I love the peace and quiet. Now if I can just tell my brain that I can run up the hills instead of giving up and walking the harder ones.

How about you guys- where do you run your long runs, or does it vary from week to week? Do you choose where to run based on trying to hit race pace? Do you think I should go back to the “not really flat” trail to work on trying to hit race pace or just keep running on the hilly trail and work on trying to run up more of the hills? I’d really love some input!

Happy running!

Donna

 

Training for a Half Marathon in the Heat of Summer

When I decided to run the Skinny Raven Half Marathon in August in Alaska, I knew full well that meant I would be running through the hot, humid summer here in North Carolina. It’s usually well into the 70’s by 7 am in July and August and humidity levels in the early morning hours hover around 90-95%. Daytime highs are commonly in the upper 80’s to mid-90’s. When the sun sets, it doesn’t cool off much either although if you’re lucky it will drop to around 80 degrees then.

Given the fact that I work full-time and get up for work around 6:50, I would have had to have gotten up around 5:45 for most of my mid-week runs. Instead I chose to run after work, which for me was usually before 6 pm, and which also coincided many days with the highest temperature for the day. So wait, you say, you actually chose to run in the heat of the day rather than get up an hour early before work when it would have been 15 or 20 degrees cooler? Are you crazy?

I would manage to get my long runs in on Saturday morning, usually leaving the house around 7 or 7:30, so it was in the 70’s when I was starting out, but at least it was cooler than running any later than that. I feel like I’m sort of a morning person. I can easily get up around 6:30 or 7:00, which I know would seem really early for some people, but any earlier than that is just not for me. The other day I had to get up at 5:20 to take my daughter for a medical procedure and I was so exhausted all day even though I had gone to bed early the night before to make up for getting up early.

All during my training plan for the Alaska race, I kept wondering how running in the heat was effecting my training. Obviously my body couldn’t run as fast when it was 90 degrees as when it was 70 degrees. I think later in the summer my body definitely had acclimated as much as possible to the heat because my runs weren’t as slow as they had previously been. Still, I wasn’t as fast as I would have been if it wasn’t so hot and humid, so how was that effecting my training? How was not meeting my goal pace times effecting my body? Would I have been better off sucking it up and getting up early to run when it was cooler so I could have at least been closer to meeting my goal pace times?

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I did a lot of trail running this summer to try to escape the heat!

I had heard stories about people training for marathons during the summer for a fall race and smashing their times. I guess the idea is if you can push your body to run through the extreme heat conditions when you’re training, the race will seem easier when it’s cooler. I had hoped this would be the case with me when I ran that race in Anchorage.

My verdict? I don’t think running through the heat especially helped me or hurt me when it came to running the half marathon in Anchorage. For a comparison, at the Famous Potato Half Marathon in Idaho last May (so it was much cooler when I was training for it), I finished just under 2 hours, at 1:59:51. My GPS watch also had me running 13.32 miles. My time was good enough for 7th out of 59 in my age group, overall 253rd out of 897, and 105th female out of 535. At the Skinny Raven Half Marathon in Alaska in August, my GPS said I ran 12.99 miles in 2:01:06, 84th for women and 11/52 for my age group. The biggest difference, though is elevation gain for Alaska was 495 feet but only 89 feet for Idaho.

I suppose if you take elevation into account for the races in Idaho and Alaska, you could say I did “better” at the race in Alaska. Pretty much the other things, like age group ranking and female ranking are similar enough to call them a wash. A finish of just over one minute longer for the hillier Alaska race seems pretty good to me now that I’m looking at it this way.

After all of this, would I do things differently? No, I have to say I would do it all over the same way. In fact, I will be next summer when I’m training for a race in Minnesota in August. I’m sure I’ll be cursing my decision next June and July, but I’ll have to just re-read this post and tell myself that everything will be ok in the end.

Did any of you train for a half marathon or marathon during the heat of the summer? Did you get up early to beat the heat or run later in the day like me? Were you cursing your decision to run a summer long distance race?

Happy running!

Donna