Ole Man River Half Marathon, Louisiana-17th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Louisiana was my 17th state.

If you’re looking for a flat half marathon in December with temperatures relatively warm compared to much of the United States, where you can tack on a vacation afterwards for an unforgettable racecation, look no further than the Ole Man River Half Marathon.  I had never been to New Orleans when I signed up for the Ole Man River Half Marathon, but I was very much looking forward to spending some time there before and after the race.

New Orleans is such a unique city full of character and not like any other place in the world.  I was there with my husband and young daughter and we had a blast, even on the day when it was drizzling and quite chilly and we were wandering around the streets trying to find a bakery.  We obviously weren’t partying on Bourbon Street but I found New Orleans to be a city that I will never forget.

The race wasn’t quite as fun as I had hoped but it wasn’t bad.  Much of the course is on top of the levee overlooking the Mississippi River and it is about as flat as races come.  The shirts are long-sleeve technical material.  An 8 am start was fine given the cooler temperatures in December.  There were absolutely no locals out cheering along the course but there were plenty of volunteers at the aid stations and they did a good job.

Verdict:  it’s a good half marathon to run in December to escape the cold weather from northern states.  Grab a beignet from Cafe Du Monde for me if you go!

From my post-race notes:

“The course looped through City Park, a very large park that was scenic and of course very flat (being that it’s New Orleans).  Weather was a bit cool- upper 40’s at the start, lower 50’s for the high that day, and it was cloudy for the duration of the race.  Crowd support was zero.  Water stations were plenty and well-manned.  There were no locals cheering runners on at any part of the course, at least that I saw.  Finished on track at Tad Gormley stadium, which was fun.  Medals were decent, as were the shirts.  Plenty of food and water at the finish.  My finish time was 2:07:02.”

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Camping in Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, North Carolina is perhaps best known for Biltmore Estate, the mansion built by George Vanderbilt between 1889 and 1895.  It is currently the largest privately owned house in the United States.  In 1956, portions of the house were opened to the public for tours and since then more rooms have been restored and opened for viewing.  I have toured the Biltmore several times, during different seasons of the year.  However, on my most recent visit to Asheville, the Biltmore Estate was nowhere on my agenda.  If anything, we would be doing the exact opposite of touring a huge mansion.  We would be camping in a tent and hiking for the weekend.

Where to camp?

Set in the western end of North Carolina very close to South Carolina, Asheville lies between Pigsah National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Dupont State Forest is a short drive away.  Hiking, biking, camping, and rock climbing are all extremely popular in this area.  We chose to camp at Lake Powhatan Recreation Area Campground based on a recommendation from someone who lives in Asheville.  Lake Powhatan is deep in the Appalachian Mountains with an elevation of 2,200 feet.  The campground has tent as well as RV sites, a bathhouse, and a lake that is suitable for swimming (in the roped-off section) or fishing.  That being said, my daughter and her friend swam in the lake for a while but pretty quickly were done, saying the water was “gross.”  I did not get in the water but it didn’t look very clean.  That didn’t stop several other people who were in the water while we were there.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a short drive from Lake Powhatan Campground, as is an arboretum, the Biltmore Estate, countless trails for hiking or biking, the French Broad River, and if you forget something there are several stores within a short drive.  We arrived late on a Friday and immediately set up our tent and got settled for the night.  The next day we drove to the Blue Ridge Parkway and found Mt. Pigsah Trail and a few other shorter trails nearby.

Hiking Trails

Mt. Pigsah Trail is at milepost 407.6 from the Blue Ridge Parkway and is in Pigsah National Forest.  At the parking lot for the trail, the elevation is just under 5,000 feet.  You’ll reach the summit at 5,721 feet after a 1.5 mile hike and be rewarded with panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains to the west and Asheville and Mount Mitchell to the north.  Other trails off the Blue Ridge Parkway include Skinny Dip Falls, Graveyard Fields, and Devil’s Courthouse. After hiking a few trails, we went back to our campsite and went to the lake for a while, then relaxed by a crackling fire until it was time to turn in for the night.

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Waterfalls

The next day, we decided to check out some of the waterfalls in the Brevard, NC area.  For our first stop, we drove to Looking Glass Falls on the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway in Pigsah National Forest.  There is easy access to this waterfall with only a short walk from the parking area, then stairs to get a closer look.  You can even get in the water and swim up to the waterfall to feel the power of the water pounding on your shoulders.  The water was quite cold in June but maybe it warms up later in the summer.  The waterfall is 60 feet tall and is beautiful.

Just a short drive from Looking Glass Falls is Sliding Rock.  There is a nominal fee to enter this area, but it was the only fee other than at the campground that we had to pay the entire weekend.  Sliding Rock is actually a waterfall along a large rock that is relatively smooth so you can slide 60 feet down the rock into the 6 foot deep plunge pool at the bottom.  The water was quite bracing when we were there, so when you hit the water, you’re breathless for a second.  On a hot day I’m sure this would feel refreshing but it was cooler and overcast when we were there so we only went down a few times before we were ready to dry off and get into some dry clothes.  Lifeguards are on duty here during the summer months, if you’re concerned about safety and there did seem to be lifejackets available.

Next on our agenda was Moore Cove Falls.  The parking area for Moore Cove Falls is one mile from Looking Glass Falls so we back-tracked a bit and parked here.  The trail is a short 0.7 miles and is listed as moderate.  It was a nice way to end our hiking in Asheville.

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Refuel for the Drive Home

For lunch we stopped at The Hub and Pigsah Tavern, a bicycle shop and tavern in Pigsah Forest, NC.  The Tavern only serves beer but has a nice selection of beers on tap, bottles, and cans.  Asheville is also known for its abundance of breweries and has been called “The Napa Valley of Beer” by NPR.  While we were at the Tavern, two food trucks were also there, Aloha Hot Dog Co. and Blue Smoke BBQ.  I got the Pulled Pork Sandwich on a bun and my husband got the BBQ plate from Blue Smoke BBQ.  We both agreed that was the best BBQ we had eaten in a long time.  We were pleasantly full and ready for the drive back home after a fun weekend in Asheville.

 

 

New Zealand- My family’s North Island Adventure

 Next up:  Tongariro National Park

I can’t wait to go back to New Zealand and visit the South Island!

Bismarck Marathon, North Dakota-16th state

North Dakota was completely unexplored territory for me in 2009 when I signed up for the Kroll’s Diner Bismarck Marathon and Half Marathon.  At the time, I hadn’t been anywhere near Bismarck or anywhere in North Dakota for that matter.

The race started at 7:30 am and it was in the mid-50’s then, so weather-wise, we had ideal racing conditions.  The start and finish were at a nice park but the rest of the course was pretty uneventful and not very scenic.

I got a long-sleeve white technical shirt at packet pickup and at the finish was handed a pretty hefty medal with the race logo on it.  Logistically, packet pickup was quick and easy and getting to and from the race were the same.  The race website always has hotel discounts every year so check there before you make reservations.

My family and I found Bismarck to be a very depressed area with not much to do.  I would only recommend this race if you’re going to be in Bismarck anyway and are looking for a good half marathon while you’re there.  It’s not bad for a half marathon, it’s just that there are better ones out there in my opinion.  South Dakota on the other hand, was a completely different story.

From my post-race notes:

“Ran much of the course along running trails that wound around a park.  Was flat and had nice weather from start to finish of race. Sufficient water stops, good volunteers, sporadic crowds.  Out and back course with a loop in the first part.  Start and finished near a playground, which was perfect for runners with kids.  Decent medals and long-sleeve technical shirts.  Overall not a bad race, just nothing too exciting about it.  My finish time was 1:59:00.”

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Bismarck Marathon

Traverse City Bayshore Marathon and Half Marathon, Michigan-15th state

I signed up for the Traverse City Bayshore Marathon and Half Marathon because I knew other runners who had ran the half marathon or marathon and raved about the course.  My family and I were also going to a christening for my husband’s twin nephews fairly nearby the area in April, so the timing would be perfect.

When I ran the half marathon in April of 2009, the marathon and half marathon both were filled to capacity (1700 for the marathon and 1500 for the half) in January.  Both races were filled less than seven weeks after registration opened in December so they’re obviously very popular races, or at least they were in 2009.  I imagine it’s still a popular race since it’s still going strong.

The course was definitely one of the most scenic ones I’ve ran and unlike race directors who mean hilly when they say that, I don’t.  The half marathon is a pretty flat out and back course.  You get nice views of Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan.  The finish is on a track for the last quarter mile, which I liked.

I highly recommend this race and spending some time in Traverse City before and after the race.  Traverse City is a popular vacation area during the summer but in April when this race is, the weather is nice but it’s not so crowded.  There are many wineries and places to try all things made with cherries of all sorts.  One place you can’t miss is Sleeping Bear Dunes.  Who knew there was an enormous sand dune you can climb up (or roll down as I saw many kids doing) in Michigan?  We loved this place!  It was only about a 35 minute drive from Traverse City, which makes it an easy day trip but you can camp at the park if you prefer to stay there overnight.

From my post-race notes:

“Course was 90% along Grand Traverse Bay, which is beautiful.  Ran past beautiful homes on the water.  Mostly flat.  Spectators were sparse except for a couple of viewing areas, partly due to fact that half-marathoners were required to be bused in for start.  Was chilly entire race.  Would have preferred later start, in hopes it would be warmer.  Long line at finish for food.  Finish on outdoor track was fun.  Finish time 2:00:37.”

 

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Bayshore Marathon

Run the Reagan Half Marathon, Georgia-14th state

For my half marathon in Georgia, I really wanted to run the one on Tybee Island.  However, the year I was planning on running it, there was talk of cancelling it so to be on the safe side I found another half in Snellville, Georgia around the same time (February) and thought that would be fine.  I was very wrong indeed.

My word of advice:  think twice about running a race that’s entirely on an expressway.  For much of the race, all I could see was the highway and trees along the sides and nothing else.  At least in my experience, highways aren’t the most scenic of places.  Even worse, your sense of direction is thrown off because all you see is miles upon miles of highway with no houses or anything to break up the distances so it’s really difficult to judge how far you’ve gone or how far you have left.

I received a cotton long-sleeve shirt of pretty low-quality and a fairly plain medal; both had the race logo on them (the red, yellow, and blue squares), as seen on the banner in the photo below.  Food at the finish was the usual bananas, oranges, bagels, water.  It was so cold and rainy I didn’t even want to get any food, though.  I just wanted to get back to my warm hotel room.

This was a race that I was happy to just finish.  After I was done running, we couldn’t get out of there fast enough.  We did have a fun time in Atlanta, which was close-by so I’m glad we could at least enjoy the sights there.

If you’re looking for things to do in Atlanta, here are just a few suggestions and some of the things my family and I did while we were there:  visit the Atlanta Botanical Garden, be awed by all of the animals at the Georgia Aquarium, see some art exhibits at the High Museum of Art and get a burger and milkshake at the The Varsity, the world’s largest drive-in restaurant.

From my post-race notes:

“Ran along Ronald Reagan expressway for entire course (very boring, not scenic at all). Hillier than expected.  Chilly and rainy.  Not one of the best races I’ve ran.  Had great kids play area at start/finish area, but was too rainy and cold for the kids to even enjoy them. My finish time was 1:59:49.”

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Run the Reagan Half Marathon

Evansville Half Marathon, Indiana-13th state

Evansville, Indiana is a place many people have never even heard of or at least that’s my impression of it.  It is the third largest city in Indiana and the largest city in Southern Indiana.  The West Side Nut Club Fall Festival is a street fair held in the area west of downtown Evansville. It is held on the first full week of October and draws nearly 150,000 people.  That, in a nutshell is why I chose this race (pun intended).  I had no idea I would enjoy the race as much as I did.  My family and I also had a fun time in Evansville before and after the race.

If you’re looking for things to do before or after the race, there are several options.  We went to the Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden and had a blast.  If you have young children, you should check out the Children’s Museum of Evansville.  If you’re a car enthusiast, there’s the Dream Car Museum.  For something unique to the area, there’s Angel Mounds, a historical site of the largest settlement of the time.  As far as accommodations go, check the race website for hotels near the course that offer discounts.  They are the usual Hampton, Hilton, Holiday Inn, and Marriott hotels.  There aren’t any large airports nearby, but Nashville International Airport is about 2 1/2 hours away and Louisville International Airport is about 2 hours away.

Here’s what I wrote about the race in my race log:

“Outstanding and FUN! course, with downhill start, running along Ohio River for portion, and ran the bases of a baseball field.  Outstanding volunteer stations.  Best finish time to date:  1:56:16.”

The weather was good and the volunteers along the course looked like they actually wanted to be there.  The vibe along the course was very fun and uplifting.  If you’re looking for a fun, fast half marathon, I recommend this one.

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Evansville Half Marathon