Stunning Santa Fe, New Mexico

For my first trip to New Mexico, even though the first part of my time was spent in Albuquerque (Quirky Albuquerque, New Mexico), my time in that city was primarily for a half marathon (The Albuquerque Half Marathon, Albuquerque, New Mexico-50th state). As much as I enjoyed Albuquerque, I’m not sure I would have chosen to go there otherwise, but Santa Fe, on the other hand, was always slated as my highlight to New Mexico. I literally went straight from the race to my hotel for a quick shower and finished packing my bags, (all of which I did in about 20 minutes), before I hopped in the rental car for the one hour scenic drive to Santa Fe. When I was driving past all of the Native Indian Reservations, I kept thinking to myself how much it reminded me of parts of Colorado and Arizona mixed together, not surprising given their geography.

Albuquerque was a good introduction for me to the higher elevation of Santa Fe, since the former is at about 5300 feet and the latter is at about 7200 feet. Santa Fe is a quaint town nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and it has a definite artsy feel. New Mexico’s capital city isn’t the largest city by population in the state but there is plenty to do year-round. Here were some of my favorite things to do and places to eat in the Santa Fe area.

Quintessential Santa Fe

Things to Do

Museum Hill has four museums all in the same area so you can walk from one building to another. The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art has almost 4,000 pieces of Hispanic New Mexico art. The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture gives more of the story behind the American Indian people in the Southwest and includes prehistoric through contemporary art. The Museum of International Folk Art has 130,000 pieces of folk art from all over the world. There are dolls and unique displays, some of which are enormous with elaborate detail. I enjoyed this museum much more than I thought I would. Finally, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian has historical Native American art through contemporary art and includes the Case Trading Post, which sells jewelry, art, ceramics, and textiles. Check the website for hours and tickets: https://www.museumhill.net/

I loved the Museum of International Folk Art so much!

Right beside Museum Hill is the Santa Fe Botanical Garden. This is definitely one of the smallest botanical gardens I’ve been to and it’s entirely outside with no conservatory but I still enjoyed it. There were some unique sculptures and it was nice to just casually stroll around the grounds and not feel rushed to take it all in, which you can easily do in an hour or less. https://santafebotanicalgarden.org/

Even though I had heard of Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return, an immersive art experience, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go. It seemed a bit “out there” to me and I wasn’t sure it would live up to the hype. After going, I have to say I absolutely loved this place! It was bizarre and creative and just made me laugh at times. Although it’s completely hands-on where you have to touch things, crawl through tight spaces, open cabinets and drawers, climb into the dryer, and play the dinosaur rib cage to get the most out of your time there, there were multiple bottles of hand sanitizer in every single room and masks were required. If you’re claustrophobic or don’t like/aren’t able to go through small areas or climb ladders you likely won’t enjoy it as much but many things are completely optional and have multiple entries and exits. I would love to go to the one in Denver now and see how the two places compare (there’s also one in Las Vegas but I have no plans to go back there). https://meowwolf.com/visit/santa-fe

Photos definitely don’t do Meow Wolf justice

One thing I skipped just because I don’t care for her art work is visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum but I know it’s hugely popular. She was known primarily for modern art work, of which I’m generally not a fan and the $18 admission ticket seemed a bit steep for someone who probably wouldn’t even enjoy the art. Since art is subjective, there are obviously many people who appreciate her art. You can also visit her two former homes in northern New Mexico, Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu Home and Studio. https://www.okeeffemuseum.org/

If you want to go shopping, which I highly recommend, Old Town is a fun place to walk around and pop into the local stores. There are several art galleries, jewelry shops, and stores selling fetishes, which as I mentioned in my post on Albuquerque are made by the Zuni pueblo people. They carve small animals from stone, wood, antlers, glass, or shells and these animals are sacred, each with symbolic meanings. I didn’t buy a fetish in Albuqueque because none of them “spoke” to me, and neither did any speak to me in Santa Fe. I was looking for something to commemorate my running a half marathon in all 50 states, with New Mexico as my last state, but I’m not even sure what kind of animal would represent that.

Jackalope Mercado is a shop that was recommended to me by a friend who knows someone who used to live in Santa Fe. It’s a large store with an outdoor area as well as indoor items, with mostly pottery and home decor but also a wide selection of souvenir-type items. I was told the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market is a good place for local foods and handmade items but when I went, it was a bust. There were only a handful of vendors and I didn’t buy anything. It’s probably much busier in the summer months than the late fall when I was there.

Places to Hike

Santa Fe is a hiker’s paradise, with a multitude of places to hike for all abilities, with trails ranging from easy to difficult. Originally I thought I’d visit Valles Caldera National Preserve and Bandelier National Monument, which are about an hour drive from Santa Fe. However, after seeing all of the trails that are much closer, I decided to just stay in the Santa Fe area.

I had so much fun hiking in Santa Fe!

Some of my favorite trails were in the Dale Ball Trails, with 22 miles of trails. Right beside these trails is the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary with hiking trails, guided bird walks and tours of the Randall Davey Home. These areas are in the eastern part of Santa Fe.

Directly south of Dale Ball Trails you can find a cluster of trailheads; one of my favorites was the Atalaya Upper Trail. You can park at the St. John’s College parking lot (free) and find the Atalaya and Dorothy Stewart Trailheads from this parking lot. Conveniently enough, St. John’s College is right by Museum Hill.

Northern Santa Fe has the La Tierra Trails including Calabasas Trailhead and La Cuchara Trailhead. One day I hiked seven miles along the Rio Grande River (which was dry when I was there) and it was beautiful with the Cottonwood trees all around and their golden yellow leaves that rustled in the wind like paper. I was able to hike at least portions of all of these trails in about five days. Their close proximity to each other makes it easy to go from one trail area to another without losing much driving time in between. https://www.alltrails.com/parks/us/new-mexico/santa-fe-national-forest

Places to Eat

As good as the food was in Albuquerque, Santa Fe raised the bar another level. There wasn’t one place where I ate that wasn’t at least very good and most were outstanding. Some of my favorite places included:

Two sister restaurants La Choza and The Shed for excellent New Mexican dishes https://www.lachozasf.com/ and https://sfshed.com/

Some of the best Ethiopian food I’ve had in my life and one of the best meals I had on this entire trip at Jambo Cafe https://jambocafe.net/

Very good ramen at this small restaurant also with great service, Mampuku Ramen http://places.singleplatform.com/mampuku-ramen/menu

Good pizza if you start to tire of New Mexican food and want something different at Back Road Pizza https://www.backroadpizza.com/

For desert, if you haven’t tried Mexican ice pops, this is a good place. I will warn you all of the toppings and endless options can add up, so be mindful of what you’re ordering. Also, this is a chain and is not only in several places in New Mexico, but also Colorado, Arizona, California, and Florida. https://www.thepaletabar.com/

I’m a huge tea-lover so I highly recommend The Teahouse Santa Fe if you also love tea. They have an enormous selection of teas to drink in the restaurant as well as tea you can buy and take with you. The food is also very good and the setting is quaint with both an indoor seating area as well as a nice patio. https://teahousesantafe.com/

It’s a good thing I hiked so much with all of the good food in Santa Fe!

I really loved Santa Fe and highly recommend going there if you haven’t been. With all of the hiking trails, shopping, museums, and great food, there’s something for everyone no matter what your interests. It is a bit on the pricey side (but not as much as what you’d spend in a large city like New York City or Los Angeles) so you might want to factor the costs in when planning a trip there, especially for accommodations.

Have you been to Santa Fe? If so, what were some of your favorite places or things you did there?

Happy travels!

Donna

Running Resolutions and My Word for 2022

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.

During a walk in Minnesota

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.

After running Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta

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?

Happy running!

Donna

Quirky Albuquerque, New Mexico

Not only did I think that is a cute title and I liked the sound of it, it’s also quite fitting. I found Albuquerque to be quirky in many ways, similar to how everyone that lives in Austin, Texas likes to say, “Keep Austin Weird.” There should be a saying for Albuquerque, “Keep Albuquerque Quirky.” Why do I think Albuquerque is quirky? I found many of the local people I spoke to from shops and restaurants to have a quirky sense of humor and many decorations at shops and restaurants were a bit quirky to me.

When I was flying into Albuquerque, I was surprised the area is as big as it is but then again I didn’t really know a ton about the area other than the basics like some things to do and places to eat. I looked up the population and was surprised to find it’s around 565,000, which is only about a fourth of the metro area where I live, but still considerably bigger than the capital city of Santa Fe, with around 85,000 people.

I found plenty of things to do for the days I would be spending in Albuquerque other than the half marathon I ran for my 50th state. For a brief overview, Old Town has most of the touristy shops and restaurants and is definitely worth going to even if you don’t like touristy places. Sawmill Market is a more modern place with an array of restaurants all together in a market hall setting. There is no shortage of restaurants with Mexican food, so much so that you may find yourself getting tired of it, like I did and seeking out alternatives. Here are some of my favorite restaurants and things to do in and around Albuquerque.

The Cottonwood trees were beautiful! I took so many pictures of them!

Things to Do

The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is a good place to begin your visit to Albuquerque. Here you’ll learn about the American Indians in New Mexico and the pueblos in the area. As someone with American Indian in my family history (my great-grandmother was part Cherokee), I’m always interested in places like this where I can learn more about the history of American Indians. I found the displays interesting but they also made me sad for how poorly the American Indians in this area were treated and what they went through. The $10 admission is well-worth it. https://indianpueblo.org/

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

ABQ Biopark is a steal for what you get for the price of admission: the botanical garden and aquarium or the zoo are just $14.50 for adults. Each section (the garden and aquarium is one section and the zoo is the other) takes a couple or so hours to walk through so you could easily spend most of the day here if you went to the zoo, aquarium, and garden. In the botanical garden, I really enjoyed the Railroad Garden, Old World Walled Gardens, Mediterranean Conservatory, and Desert Conservatory. Normally I love Japanese gardens but I didn’t care for the one here that much. The aquarium is on the small side but my favorite section was the one with the sharks and jellyfish. https://www.cabq.gov/artsculture/biopark

Why yes, those are naked mole rats in the bottom corner!

If you like science and/or history, there’s the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, a Smithsonian Affiliate. You may or may not know the main assembly plant for the Manhattan Project took place in New Mexico and the first atomic bomb was successfully tested here in 1945. There are sections devoted to the Cold War, WWII, Nuclear Medicine and Radiation, Nuclear Waste, and more. Admission is $15 for adults. https://www.nuclearmuseum.org/

One thing I didn’t do because I didn’t make reservations in advance and they were sold out the day I could go is take a Breaking Bad RV tour. If you’re a fan of the show, this looks like a fun way to spend three hours on their film location tour. In addition to Breaking Bad filming locations, the tour also includes stops from Better Call Saul and El Camino. I did, however, stop by the Breaking Bad Store in Old Town, which I’ll cover below. If you’re going to be in Albuquerque during a busy time of year or only have a short time planned in the city, I suggest making reservations in advance because believe me, they do sell out. https://www.breakingbadrvtours.com/

Places to Hike

The Sandia Mountains, part of the Cibola National Forest lie to the east and northeast of Albuquerque and are easily assessed by car. There’s a popular tram (https://sandiapeak.com/) you can take to get some great mountain views and reach the ski area and hiking trails. When I was researching hiking trails online in advance, I saw the Sandia Peak Tram was closed for maintenance when I was going there so I had thought about driving to the La Luz Trail and hiking there. However, when I saw the many warnings and read some comments online by other hikers about the sheer drop-offs of 1000 feet and how dangerous this trail can be, I decided not to hike it.

Views for days

“I could slip off the side of a cliff and no one would even know until they found my rental car,” I thought, so I decided to hike another trail that didn’t have sheer drop-offs. This trail went to a CCC building (Civilian Conservation Corps: the former U.S. federal agency (1933–1943), organized to utilize the nation’s unemployed youth by building roads, planting trees, improving parks, etc.) and there were amazing views of Albuquerque below. Even on this trail, there were some places with some steep drop-offs but I tried to stay away from the edge and I felt mostly safe. It was also freezing here and I quickly started to get cold, despite wearing my winter coat, hat, and gloves. When they say it’s 10-15 degrees colder at the top of the Sandia Mountains than down in the main part of Albuquerque, they aren’t exaggerating. It was also extremely windy, which was also a part of my decision to skip the La Luz Trail.

The small structure built by the CCC is shown here

There are a wide variety of trails to choose from in the Sandia Mountains, ranging in distance and difficulty so there’s something for everyone. Just make sure you read about them in advance and decide which one is right for you. There are small fees (a few dollars) charged for parking at some of the lots, including the one at the tram and gift shop. You can either pay by cash, (put your money in an envelope then in the lock box and put a paper hanging tag on your car mirror) or you can pay with an app using your phone, following the instructions at the parking lot. Here’s a link to the Sandia Mountain trails: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd574112.pdf

For a bit tamer hiking trails, you can go west of the city to Boca Negra Canyon and Petroglyph National Monument where you can see one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America with thousands of designs and symbols carved into volcanic rock. You can also see petroglyphs at Rinconada and Piedras Marcadas Canyons. $1 or $2 parking fee (daily/weekend) is charged at Boca Negra Canyon but not at the other trailheads. These trails are short and you can easily combine multiple hikes in a day. https://www.nps.gov/petr/index.htm

Places to Eat

As I mentioned above, there’s no shortage of Mexican-style restaurants in Albuquerque. One of the most unique places in my opinion is actually in a pharmacy, Duran Pharmacy, where you can find the usual things you would find in a drug store but also a plethora of quirky items you might find in a tourist shop. Why is this listed under “Places to Eat,” you ask, well, there’s also a restaurant that serves hand-rolled tortillas and some of the best Mexican food in the area. The enchiladas I had were some of the best I’ve ever eaten.

Housed inside the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is the Indian Pueblo Kitchen. Ever since I first had a taco made with fry bread (I believe my first time was in Arizona many years ago), I loved it so much I’ll seek it out when I’m anywhere in Arizona, Utah, or now, New Mexico. My taco with fry bread here was every bit as good as I remembered it to be.

Taco made with fry bread- so good!

If you find yourself tiring of yet another enchilada, taco, burrito, etc., Sawmill Market is a nice option with a variety of choices for lunch or dinner. I went to a pasta place where they made the pasta fresh and it was delicious! There are some Mexican restaurants but also places with Vietnamese food, pizza, burgers, bars, coffee shops, dessert places, and even a restaurant with Louisiana-style food. This is also one of the few places in the area where parking is free.

The Grove Cafe and Market is a great choice if you’re one of those people who could eat breakfast all day, because you can do just that here. In addition to breakfast, they also serve lunch and have cookies, cupcakes, and French macarons on the weekend.

Shopping

Old Town has several dozen unique shops, art galleries, and jewelry shops all within a walkable area. There is metered parking in addition to parking lots so just park your car for an hour or so and plan on exploring all of the quirky shops here. As I mentioned in the paragraph above, the Breaking Bad Store is here and not only can you buy shirts, collectibles, mugs, etc. here but you can also pose by the props from the TV show and see memorabilia from Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and El Camino.

Some of the photo props from the Breaking Bad Store

There are also many jewelry shops selling turquoise and other locally-made jewelry in addition to the many “fetishes” you’ll find. Fetishes are primarily made by the Zuni pueblo people. They carve small animals from stone, wood, antlers, glass, or shells and these animals are sacred, each with symbolic meanings. For example, bear paws represent inner strength. I was told by a shop keeper not to seek out a particular fetish but when the right one for me would present itself, I would just know. I looked at some but none spoke to me so I didn’t buy any.

For even more local shopping, head to Nob Hill, Albuquerque’s largest independent shopping district. You can find Mariposa Gallery with locally made arts and crafts, jewelry, and sculptures. In the summer, Nob Hill hosts Route 66 Summerfest with music, food trucks, and show vehicles and in the winter there is Nob Hill Shop and Stroll for holiday shopping.

In summary, Albuquerque is New Mexico’s biggest city and is a fun place especially if you enjoy hiking, history, and great food in a beautiful desert setting along the Rio Grande. The elevation is around 5300 feet, which is relatively low for a mountain town and unlikely to cause severe altitude sickness in most people. I found the quirky little aspects to just add to the city’s uniqueness and charm.

Have you been to Albuquerque? If so, what did you do and what were some of your favorite parts of the city? Did you also find it quirky?

Happy travels!

Donna

Running Highs and Lows of 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

With my daughter before the half marathon in Lake City

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the Des Moines Half Marathon

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

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

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

At the finish line of the Albuquerque Half Marathon

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

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

Happy running!

Donna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of my favorite photos from Minnesota

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

After the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta

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

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

Yosemite National Park

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

Sculpture Park in Des Moines

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

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

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

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

Happy travels!

Donna

How I Managed to Finish My 52nd Half Marathon with a Personal Record (PR)

I ran my first half marathon in November 2000 in Wilmington, North Carolina and ran my 52nd half marathon in October 2021 in Des Moines, Iowa. Both courses were relatively flat and both had similar temperatures. Of course I was 21 years older when I ran the race in Iowa, well into my 40’s at that point. However, I finished the race in Iowa with my fastest time to date for a half marathon. How is this possible?

I’ve read from different sources that most people reach their peak for running about ten years after they start running. I don’t believe this applies to people like me who ran on my grade school track team; otherwise I would have peaked in my early 20’s. However, I didn’t start training for and running half marathons until 2000. Still, if the 10-year rule applied to me, I would have peaked around 2010.

Looking back at my race times from 2008 through 2010, those were some of my slowest times for a half marathon. I was struggling with anemia for the first time around this point in my life and it went undiagnosed for a long period. When I was finally diagnosed with anemia and started taking iron supplements it took my body over a year to fully recover.

The Gulf Coast Half Marathon in Mississippi in 2010 was one of my slowest half marathons

In fact, even though I had run a half marathon before where I finished under 2 hours, I wasn’t able to do that again because of anemia until the Frederick Running Festival Half Marathon in May 2015. I set a PR of 1:55:28 with the next race I ran, Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon in July 2015. Finishing out the year with the Dixville Half Marathon in New Hampshire and another sub-2 hour finish, 2015 was obviously a good year for racing for me.

Beginning in 2016, I had a string of difficult races including one at a relatively high elevation in Colorado, so I didn’t manage another sub-2 hour finish until May 2018 when I ran the Famous Potato Half Marathon in Idaho. Just when I was feeling like I was getting my legs back again, anemia struck once again. A few months before the White River Half Marathon in Arkansas in November 2018 I learned why I had been struggling with my training runs- I was severely anemic so I started taking iron pills immediately. Despite being anemic, I still finished under 2 hours and was fourth in my age group, which makes me wonder just what I could have done had I not been anemic.

Fortunately I was able to get my iron levels back up to normal fairly quickly and by the time of the Seashore Classic Half Marathon in Delaware 2019, I was able to finish second in my age group with a sub-2 hour finish. This was a deceptively tough course too, so I was happy with my performance. At my next race, the Star Valley Half Marathon in Wyoming I finished with another PR, at 1:53. Finishing off the year with the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon in Nebraska, I was happy with a 1:54 finish, especially given I had to stop and tie my shoe during this race.

After the Star Valley Half Marathon in Wyoming, one of my favorite races of all time

After COVID hit and races everywhere were cancelled indefinitely in 2020 instead of running the three half marathons I was supposed to run in New Mexico, Minnesota, and Iowa, I ran a virtual half marathon as part of a fundraiser for the Australia wildfires. It felt like just another 13.1 miles on the greenways I always run on and I wanted more. I signed up for a virtual 5k and decided to try to really push myself, thinking at the time there were going to be awards given, so I at least had some motivation. That 5k was my fastest by far and it showed me a glimpse into what I was capable of (I Ran My Fastest 5k, but Does It Even Count?).

I began to push myself harder and I ran more in 2020 than I ever had before. This was during the early months of the pandemic, when many businesses including my work place were shut down indefinitely, and I had much more time on my hands. Instead of sitting around watching the depressing news updates or Netflix and gaining the COVID-15, I decided to get outside and do something healthy. I also started going on walks on days when I didn’t run and doing some core work every night. My body felt stronger than it ever had.

When I ran the Circle of Life Half Marathon, Lake City, Minnesota- 48th state I felt ready but the course turned out to be one of the toughest I’ve run because of the gravel road and hills. It was one of those races I was happy to be done and it didn’t really matter what my time was (2 hours even). I have no doubt if I hadn’t been in as good of shape as I was it would have easily taken me another 15 or 20 minutes to finish. This race further emphasizes how much the difficulty of a race course makes on your finish time as well.

We definitely earned these medals at the Circle of Life Half Marathon in Minnesota

I was able to keep up my fitness from the time of the half marathon in Minnesota until my race in Iowa in October. I continued nailing my training workouts. If I was supposed to run 6 miles with a 1 mile warmup followed by 4 miles at tempo pace then a 1 mile cooldown, that’s what I did, no more, no less. If my long run called for 13-14 miles, I ran 14. I also continued doing strength training at the gym twice a week and core work every night. More than anything, I was consistent. I think the bottom line here and key to everything is consistency.

When race day came for the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon, Des Moines, Iowa- 49th state, my plan was to shoot for 8:45 minute miles but ultimately go by feel. Since I was able to go faster than that and still felt great, I went with it and because of my level of fitness I was able to continue at that faster-than-ever-before pace. A lot of times you hear people say you should start slower and gradually speed up or speed up for the last few miles. For me, consistency was once again the key and it worked better for me to have my mile splits be more consistent throughout the race. If I would have started slower my finish time would have been slower because there’s no way I could have run my last few miles faster than what I did even if I would have started out a bit slower.

Really there’s no magic formula when it comes to achieving a PR in a race but there are some things that make a huge difference. One is the course conditions. It’s one thing for a course to be flat and quite another to be flat but have strong winds (Kiawah Island Half Marathon, I’m looking at you). Also, some people don’t do well on flat courses and their bodies actually respond better to some rolling hills. Choose your course wisely.

Perfect weather and course conditions plus consistent training helped me achieve a PR in Iowa

The second and most important factor in running a PR is to choose a training plan that will work for you, giving you just enough of a challenge but not so difficult that you can’t run the prescribed runs. You don’t want to feel overtrained but you also want to reach your potential by pushing yourself just the right amount. You also need to be consistent with the training plan and not skip workouts or cut them short.

There is a final factor that may sound a bit woo-woo but I absolutely believe in it and that’s the power of the mind. If you don’t truly believe you can run a PR or even run a “good” race (whatever that means to you) then you won’t. However, if you go into it with an open mind and just say, I’m well-trained and I’m just going to do my best and see what happens you might just see some magic happen.

What has worked for you in the past when you ran a PR at a race?

Happy running!

Donna

My First Solo Vacation

Although I have traveled for work-related trips before without any family or friends several times, I had never truly traveled by myself for a vacation until I went to Des Moines, Iowa for a half marathon recently. I have heard several bloggers and podcasters say how much they enjoy solo travel and how everyone should try it at least once in their lives. After doing it myself this time, I have to say I truly did enjoy it.

Overall, there are many pros to traveling by yourself, which I’ll list some of here. Of course, everyone is different and I’m sure my perspective at this point in my life is unique to me. Still, some of what I’m about to say may inspire some of you to take your first solo trip or at least plant the seed. So here are some of the pros to traveling by yourself:

You can do whatever you want, when you want. As a mother, this one was pretty big for me. My daughter is now sixteen and for the past sixteen years, I’ve always had to consider my daughter’s wants and needs when on vacation. Yes, the easy way out would have been to have just left her at home with a close friend but I always felt like kids benefit from traveling the world so there was never a vacation that she didn’t go on with me.

When she was really young, I had to make sure she got her naps in and went to bed on time and when she was older I made sure I included her in the decision-making on what we did. This was the first time in sixteen years that I only thought about what I want to do and it was huge. I found myself skipping things I would have normally done (like going out for dessert just about every afternoon) and instead choosing things I know she wouldn’t have liked. Besides my daughter, there was also no husband’s wants to consider, which of course was also huge for me to not have to consider for once.

You can go to sleep whenever you want and wake up whenever you want. I realize this kind of goes under the first pro but it seems like to me it should get its own paragraph. Again, as a parent, this one is pretty big. Not having to consider anyone else in the room and being able to stay up as late as you want (and make as much noise as you want) and then wake up without anyone else waking you up is a big deal.

You really get to know yourself a bit better. When you’re by yourself 24/7 and are only in the company of strangers when you go out in public, you pretty quickly get into your own head. If you’re not already comfortable in your own skin, this could be pretty scary. Fortunately for me, during the pandemic, I read more self-help books than I had in my entire life because I went through a rough patch in my life. Because of that, I now see aspects of myself I couldn’t see before and know myself better than I ever have (I guess that’s one good thing to have come of the pandemic for me personally anyway).

You also get to know the place you’re staying better. Now this one surprised me. I’m not sure why but for the first time ever I felt like I learned my way around the area (Des Moines) almost immediately upon arrival. It could be the incredibly easy grid layout they had for the streets there, but I don’t think so. I’ve been to other Midwest cities and other cities that are laid out in a similar grid-style and I never felt like I figured my way around as quickly as I did in Des Moines. I think it was purely the fact that I had no one else to help me so I knew instinctively that I had better figure my way around quickly. Yes, of course I had Google Maps but I found myself turning it off after a couple of turns because I already knew where I was going.

Strangers will talk to you more when you’re by yourself. This could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who the stranger is. When I was in the Denver airport for a layover on my way to Des Moines, a woman sat next to me and started chatting away incessantly, something that would not have happened if I had been with someone else. She was obviously lonely and just wanted someone to talk to, but when she wouldn’t stop talking after what felt like a solid 30 minutes, I told her I needed to go to the restroom and slipped away. I’ve also noticed other strangers were more chatty with me at restaurants and other public places when I was by myself. Usually, this was a good thing.

Of course, the single biggest con that I can see with solo travel is you don’t have someone close to you to share special moments with. That stunning sunset, the unique sculpture, or the amazing dinner you had by yourself will just have to be enjoyed by you and you alone. The best you can do is snap a photo and send it to someone or make a video call but it will never be the same as if they were with you in-person. When I finished my half marathon in Des Moines, I made a video call to my daughter but of course that only lasted a few minutes and once I hung up I was still by myself.

Still, I agree that everyone should go on at least one solo vacation in their lives. I believe it’s good for the soul and who couldn’t use more of that?

Do you take solo vacations or do you always travel with friends or family? Are you curious about taking a vacation by yourself but never have? Tell me about your experience with solo travel.

Happy travels!

Donna

The Albuquerque Half Marathon, Albuquerque, New Mexico-50th state

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

So many things went wrong with this race going all the way back to the beginning. The Albuquerque Half Marathon is normally in April every year and I was supposed to run it in 2020 but because of covid it was pushed back to November 2020 then ultimately to November 2021. When I showed up at packet pickup the day before the race they couldn’t find my name on the list of registered runners. I started to panic. That was my worst nightmare, well that and oversleeping the morning of a race.

The volunteer asked if I had some kind of email confirmation or any kind of proof I had registered. I tried to bring up my email on my phone but my cell coverage had been spotty since I had arrived. I asked someone working at the Fleet Feet what the wifi password was. No one knew. Now I was really panicking and I blurted out a jumble of “but they can’t find my registration and I’m sure I registered and the race is tomorrow morning and I can’t get a signal on my phone!” I wasn’t in tears but I was close.

Someone from the store got the wifi password off the router and I was able to find an email where I had told the race director I had registered for the April 2020 race and just wanted to confirm my registration would rollover to November 2021 and he said yes. I couldn’t check my bank account for payment because my online banking was temporarily down and my credit card statements didn’t go back that far without pulling them from archives and that took at least 24 hours.

I showed the email to the volunteer and she said that would do as proof (even though I see what little proof it really was) and she gave me a race bib and handed me a nice cotton/poly blend long-sleeve race shirt. I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I left the store. I laid out my flat runner in my hotel room and got ready for another restless night full of tossing and turning.

Race morning was a brisk 40 degrees but it was sunny and I knew it would warm up quickly. After chatting with another 50-stater (this was his 26th state), I used the port-o-john, left my coat in the gear check pile, and made my way to the race start. The race start, like everything else about this race, was low-key. The race director said to pay attention to the signs to turn on the course and stay behind the cones on the road because only one lane was closed to traffic. Promptly at 8:30 he blew a horn and we were off!

Although I had tried to start my Garmin in plenty of time for it to pick up a signal, it looked like it had but then must have dropped off because I ran the entire race with no GPS and no idea of my speed. The best I could do was go by the mile markers on the course and use the time on my watch to guesstimate my split times.

Since this race was at 5300 feet, I had no grand ideas of setting a PR. On top of that I had developed severe foot pain on the side and arch of my left foot three days before the race when I made the bright decision to wear new shoes to work. Even though I only wore those shoes one day my foot had continued to get worse each day to the point where it throbbed even when I was sitting. Desperate, I found a pharmacy and bought some pain cream some people in my running group had previously raved about. I began using that four times a day and massaged my foot starting Thursday evening (the race was Saturday so I knew it was a long shot).

Miraculously my foot did get better and didn’t bother me in the slightest during or after the race. However, I had another pain to deal with. Towards the end of the half marathon in Iowa in October my piriformis had flared up and well, it was back with a vengeance during this race starting around mile 6. I had shooting pains running through my hamstring, glute, and lower back.

Although I took this the day before the race this is ironically where we missed the turn on the course

Before my literal pain in the ass started, somewhere relatively early along the course, maybe around mile 3 or 4, I noticed a small sign with an arrow to turn but I ran past it thinking it was for the 5k runners. There was a 5k, 10k, half marathon relay, and half marathon but the half marathoners started somewhere different than the other runners. Since there had just been a sign for 5k runners right before I saw the small sign to turn, I assumed this second sign was also for 5k runners. I was wrong. It was for everyone.

Another reason I hadn’t turned is because the faster runners in front of me including a pacer also hadn’t turned. All of a sudden I saw the lead pack running back towards me with the pacer yelling, “That was our turn! Everyone go back to the turn!” There was most definitely some cursing going on at that point. Because of my watch and no GPS I have no idea how far we ran in the wrong direction before running back.

My morale took a hit and I even told myself I didn’t even care what my finish time was. “Maybe I should just walk,” I thought to myself. But then my ego stepped in and said quite loudly, “This is a RACE, not a walk! You can do this! It’s your last state after all!” So I sucked it up and just kept running.

Cottonwood trees with their gorgeous leaves were on parts of the course

The course was kind of a mixed bag, with parts full of views of the gorgeous Cottonwood trees with their bright yellow autumn leaves and the river or some nice houses in well-groomed neighborhoods but then at other times we were running past run-down parts of town. The last mile was a bizarre winding milieu past some strange business and a city park with about a million twists and turns.

Finally the finish line was within sight and I had a tiny bit of kick left to finish strong. I had pictured that moment many times, with my arms outstretched over head and a huge smile plastered on my face. I’m not sure if I was smiling but my guess is I wasn’t and for sure my arms were firmly by my sides. I was gasping for breath as I was handed my medal, on par with everything else about this race, small but nice.

I grabbed some water and checked out the results on the leader board. I was third in my age group and finished in 1:56. Given the elevation and missed turn, I was happy with that.

I saw they were giving small plain medals to the top three finishers in each age group for all of the races. I grabbed some snacks (there were only pre-packaged snack foods like pretzels and granola bars) and walked to the field for the awards ceremony. I quickly saw just how long it was going to take to work through female then male runners from age 5 to 80 in five year increments in the 5k, 10k, half marathon relay, then half marathon.

After debating what I should do, I seized the opportunity when the announcer said they were taking a 10 minute break after the 10k awards and asked if it would be ok to skip protocol and just get my medal early? I felt kind of bad asking that but I had to catch a shuttle bus back to the start, drive to my hotel, shower, and check out by noon and it was 11:40. She said that was fine, handed me my medal alomg with her congratulations, and off I went! Somehow I managed to do all of that and I was in Santa Fe around 1 pm, ready to celebrate my accomplishment in the beautiful city.

Would I recommend this race? I’m not sure since it’s usually in April and I have no idea how the weather would be then compared to November. I do know the autumn leaves were gorgeous and added to the scenery along the course. It is also very low-key so there were no bands along the course, the medals were small and simple, there was no expo, and post-race food was simple and minimal but that could be because of covid. All of that being said, I do like small races like this was and everyone was nice and friendly.

Have you run in New Mexico? If so, where and what was your race like? If not, any plans to run there someday? Have you ever missed a turn in a race?

Happy running!

Donna

WOW- Iowa! Des Moines, Iowa- It’s Not What You Might Think

I believe many people have a preconceived notion of what a place will be like before they ever step foot there. Many people think of three things when they think of Iowa: football, farmland, and corn. What I discovered when I visited Iowa for my first time was these things are definitely huge here but what’s missing is pride and family. Iowans are fiercely proud of their state and for them family comes before anything else.

For my first trip to Iowa, I chose to go to Des Moines, the capital of Iowa. The population is relatively small at only around 215,000 people or just over 700,000 if you include the suburbs. Des Moines is the most populated city in the state too so this is most definitely considered the “big city” in these parts.

That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of things to do in Des Moines, especially in the downtown area. Just don’t expect a big city vibe when you come here or anything even close to that. I highly recommend staying in the downtown area. Most things are within a mile of downtown and it’s a very walkable city plus there are multiple places where you can rent a bicycle. I chose not to rent a car when I was here and it turned out to be a wise decision, saving me on parking fees not only at the hotel but also the metered spaces all over the downtown area. There’s also a free bus called Des Moines Regional Transit Authority (DART) that runs every 10 minutes between the East Village and Western Gateway Park Monday through Friday.

Photo to back up my attempt of a witty title

What’s There to do in Des Moines?

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to visit botanical gardens. The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden was the first place I visited here. For $10 admission, I saw the Conservatory, Bonsai Gallery, Wells Fargo Rose Garden, Dorothy and Max Rutledge Conifer Garden, Koehn Garden with reflecting pool, Ruan Allee walkway, Water Garden, Lauridsen Savannah, and my favorite part of the garden, the Hillside Garden and Waterfall. Inside the conservatory there was a Desert Garden, Rainforest, and Horticultural Exhibits area. There is also the Trellis Cafe but I didn’t eat there. Multiple seating areas are all around the outdoor spaces in addition to inside the conservatory. I walked through every garden and it took me about an hour. It is one of the smaller botanical gardens I’ve been to but worth coming here if you enjoy gardens. https://www.dmbotanicalgarden.com/

Close to the botanical garden is the small but free Robert D. Ray Asian Gardens. It’s a peaceful spot beside the Des Moines River. You can easily see the entire area in 10 minutes or less if you’re just passing through.

Also nearby both gardens is the Lauridsen Skatepark, the largest skatepark in the United States. The park has five skating areas and runs adjacent to Principal Riverwalk Park. A unique part of the park is a bright red “WOW” sculpture (seen in the first photo above) 80 feet long and 12 feet high that was designed to be skated on but has become an Instagram hotspot for people just walking through.

If you have children or are a child at heart, there’s the Blank Park Zoo with the typical zoo animals like lions, tigers, giraffes, rhinos, and penguins. There are also behind the scenes tours, which are quite pricey for non-members but half the price for members. The zoo is open daily from 10 am to 4 pm and admission is $14 for adults and $8 for children. https://www.blankparkzoo.com/ The Science Center of Iowa and Blank IMAX Dome Theater is also a fun place for families. SCI has numerous hands-on exhibits designed to spur interest in science and learning along with live science demonstrations, a planetarium, and IMAX theater. SCI is open Thursday-Sunday and admission is $11 for adults and children. https://www.sciowa.org/visit/

Salisbury House and Gardens is a 42-room mansion built in the 1920’s modeled after the King’s House in Salisbury, England in the style of Gothic, Tudor, and Carolean Architecture. The house is filled with original art, tapestries, and antique furniture from around the world. One of my favorite things was learning all of the background information about the Weeks family that lived there. Carl Weeks made his fortune by combining cold cream with face powder and began his own makeup company, The Armand Company. Salisbury House is open for tours Wednesday through Sunday from 12 to 5 pm. Self-guided tours do not require reservations and are $10; guided tours at 1 and 3 pm are $15 and reservations are recommended. https://salisburyhouse.org/

Salisbury House and Gardens

If you enjoy history, the Iowa Hall of Pride is a fun way to learn about Iowa. There are displays about some sports legends from Iowa like gymnast Shawn Johnson, track and field Olympian Lolo Jones, professional football player Kurt Warner, plus many others. There are also displays and information about musicians, farming, wind farms, bike trails, just to name a few. Most of the displays are touch-screen with multiple videos to watch. There’s also a game area where you can play arcade-type games for a fee. It is open Monday through Friday and costs $10 for admission. https://www.iowahallofpride.com/

The Farmer’s Market is a fun place to stroll around if you’re in Des Moines on a Saturday from May 1 through October 30 in the mornings until noon. Several blocks downtown are closed off to cars so you can leisurely browse from over 150 vendors. I saw everything from meats, cheeses, breads and other bakery products, tea, artwork, handmade jewelry, fresh flowers, and a wide variety of produce. There were also some bands and musicians scattered throughout the area. https://www.dsmpartnership.com/desmoinesfarmersmarket/saturday-market

For art lovers, the Des Moines Art Center is a wonderful place to explore for about an hour or so, plus admission is free. There’s mostly modern and contemporary art, which I’m usually not a huge fan of but I enjoyed many of these pieces of modern art and could appreciate them. One of my favorites was a temporary display by Justin Favela and is running through January 2022. Using only tissue paper and cardboard, he designed enormous food-related pieces of art that I found intriguing. There were also some paintings by famous artists like Van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe, Salvadore Dali, and Renoir. https://desmoinesartcenter.org/visit/

One of the Justin Favela displays at the Des Moines Art Center

An outdoor art exhibit that’s also free, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park includes artwork by more than 25 artists on 1330 Grand Avenue in downtown Des Moines. There are walkways around most of the sculptures and grassy areas in others. The park is open from sunrise to midnight daily. https://desmoinesartcenter.org/visit/pappajohn-sculpture-park/

Where to Eat

There is no shortage of bars in downtown Des Moines, some of which also serve pub-style food. There isn’t a huge selection of restaurants in the small downtown area, but there are still quite a few including The Spaghetti Works (affordable especially for what you get), Court Avenue Brewing Company, Buzzard Billy’s (cajun), Exile Brewing Company, Hessen Haus (German food), Pho Real Kitchen and Bar (really good Vietnamese food), Royal Mile (British Pub-style food), and one of my favorites, Fong’s Pizza which has Asian-inspired toppings like Crab Rangoon or ramen noodles if you’re adventurous plus more traditional toppings. There are of course more restaurants in the area if you have a car or aren’t staying in the heart of downtown. All of the above restaurants are within a mile of one another if you are staying downtown and are easily walkable, however.

Where to Stay

I stayed at the Hampton Inn Downtown and found the location to be perfect for me. Since I could walk to most places I wanted to go to with the exception of a couple of places I didn’t even need to rent a car. However, the hotel walls are thin and the doors so heavy they slam loudly when closed so be advised and bring earplugs. There’s also a Residence Inn right beside the Hampton Inn; both are on Water Street. For a non-chain hotel in the downtown area, there’s the Des Lux Hotel and the Surety Hotel. If you want to stay closer to the Wells Fargo Arena and Iowa Events Center, there’s a Comfort Inn and Fairfield Inn and Suites nearby.

Final Thoughts

You may be wondering how many days would be the right amount for Des Moines. I stayed five nights and thought that was a day too many; four nights would have been plenty or even three nights. A long weekend would actually be just about right and give you plenty of time to explore the major sights. Since I was running the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon on a Sunday morning, I decided to stretch out my time a bit more in case I needed to take it a bit easy after the race, plus I wanted to give myself a buffer in case of flight delays before the race since there aren’t many flights from where I live to Des Moines.

I realize Des Moines, Iowa isn’t on most people’s list of places they want to visit, but honestly, it’s a nice city with friendly people and some unique offerings. If you ever find yourself in the area, try to forego any preconceived notions you may have and you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Have you been to Des Moines? If so, what did you do? I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on the area!

Happy travels!

Donna

IMT Des Moines Half Marathon, Des Moines, Iowa- 49th state

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.

Social distancing? Nope. Masks? Nah. Good thing I’m vaccinated.

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 went back later to take some photos of the Pappajohn Sculpture Park

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?

Happy running!

Donna

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