Garmin Marathon, Kansas-18th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Kansas was my 18th state.

How many of you have heard of Olathe, Kansas?  Now how many of you have heard of the company Garmin? I’ll bet most of you have at least heard of Garmin, but probably none or very few of you knew Olathe, Kansas is the headquarters for Garmin. Or maybe it was just me that wasn’t aware of that until I went there.

The point of my questions is because the start and finish of the Olathe Kansas Marathon and Half Marathon was at the Garmin headquarters. This race was a nice size with 703 finishers for the half marathon and the average finish time was 2:09:22. The course was flat except for some rolling hills and small hills near the finish.

The race course wasn’t the most scenic I had run, with a portion of the course going past an industrial area followed by ordinary looking houses in neighborhoods. The weather was good for racing, mid-50’s at the start, rising to the low 60’s by the finish. Water and Gatorade were plentiful at the aid stations. The pacers were awesome and right on their target finish times.

At the finish there was the usual food- bananas, oranges, and bagels, plus water. Although when I ran this race in 2010, the shirts and medals were small and cheap-looking, the medals for more recent years’ races look awesome! They’ve definitely stepped up their game. My finish time for this race was 2:06:01.

Olathe is a suburb of Kansas City, which is where my family and I spent the majority of our time before and after the race. Kansas City was surprisingly beautiful when I was there, with so many flowers in bloom, and fountains everywhere. Kansas City, Missouri has more fountains than any other city in the world except Rome, Italy. We had a lot of fun going to the museums and enjoying delicious Kansas City style BBQ. Of course my husband couldn’t resist saying (multiple times) “We’re not in Kansas anymore” every time we would cross the state border going to and from Missouri and Kansas. That never got old to him.

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Garmin Marathon

Colorado in June- Estes Park and RMNP

As I stated in my previous post Colorado in June- Hiking in Boulder although some people that are avid skiers wouldn’t consider traveling to Colorado during the summer, I found it to be spectacular and highly recommend it.  The home base for our vacation was in Boulder, but an easy day trip is to Estes Park and on to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Estes Park is only about an hour from Boulder and Rocky Mountain National Park is just a few minutes from Estes Park.  We spent several hours walking around the town of Estes Park and Lake Estes.  While Estes Park is much more touristy than Boulder, it is still a beautiful area of Colorado.  The Stanley Hotel, most famous as the inspirational role in Stephen King’s “The Shining,” is also in Estes Park.  We wanted to catch a glimpse inside but decided to skip it when we were told there was a parking fee.  Since we were limited on time, we didn’t think it would be worth it for just a few minutes.  After  a short walk around the lake and some souvenir shopping we had a delicious lunch at Moon Kats Tea Shoppe, which was a fun little place full of all kinds of cat-themed merchandise and really good tea and sandwiches.

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From Estes Park, we drove to Rocky Mountain National Park and spent the rest of our daylight hours here before driving back to Boulder.  This is a park where you never even have to get out of your car if you can’t walk much or just don’t want to.  Since we had a limited amount of time here, we decided to drive and see as much as we could rather than hike and see less.  Normally we are avid hikers and jump at the opportunity to hike up and down beautiful mountains, but in this case it just made sense to limit our time on the trails.  We saw more elk than we had ever seen anywhere else, including Canada and Montana.  We also saw a new creature to us, the marmet.  They look kind of like a groundhog and they were everywhere at Rocky Mountain National Park.  The snowdrifts were quite high and there was a good amount of snow on the ground at the highest elevations, but for the most part, the weather was pretty nice.  It doesn’t get much more beautiful than at Rocky Mountain National Park.

IMG_20160607_131545356_HDRIMG_20160607_132607921_HDRDSC03583DSC03604As I said in my post Colorado in June- Hiking in Boulder vacationing in Colorado during June is a fun way to spend a summer vacation and I can’t recommend it enough if you enjoy hiking and spending time outdoors!  I know we only scratched the surface of places to explore in Colorado and we’re already excited about going back another summer and exploring other areas like Colorado Springs, Durango, Steamboat Springs, or Mesa Verde National Park.  Any other suggestions?

Colorado in June- Hiking in Boulder

Some people I know that enjoy skiing wouldn’t even consider going to Colorado during the summer.  I think they would be missing out.  I am not a skier and in fact hated it the one time I went, so for me, Colorado in June was ideal.  I am a hiker and enjoy a good hike any day of the week but I am a bit elevationally-challenged where I live since there aren’t many places to go within a 30 minute drive that I would consider hiking (climbing up and down mountains).  When I ran a half marathon in Colorado in June (blog post will be coming although not for some time, titled Colorado- 37th state), I was thrilled at the idea of doing a lot of real hiking.  I had been to Colorado twice before for work meetings but both times during the snowy months so I had not experienced the beautiful state during the summer months.

My half marathon was in Boulder so that is where we spent the majority of our time.  The college students were on summer break so it wasn’t as crowded as during the school year and most importantly, it wasn’t quite so impossible to find a parking spot.  Boulder is 5,430 feet above sea level, which is manageable for those of us who live closer to sea level, whereas when you get around 8,000 feet above sea level and higher, you can develop altitude sickness.

For our first hike in Boulder, we chose Gregory Canyon Trail.  Gregory Canyon Trail is a 3.4 mile moderately trafficked loop trail that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking and walking and is accessible from May until October.  It was very quiet when we hiked this trail, although it was a Thursday so that may have been part of the reason.  The views from the top were great!

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View from the top of Gregory Canyon Trail

We also went to the popular Chautauqua Park and hiked the First-Second Flatiron Trail (1.1 mile; 960 ft. ) which starts from the Bluebell-Baird Trail, goes south to two trail signs, then west to begin switching back and forth between the First and Second Flatirons. It ends at the saddle between the First Flatiron and Sunset Rock.  These trails were much less shaded than the Gregory Canyon Trail and I was very glad I was wearing sunscreen and a hat.  There were also a lot more people on these trails but it was a Sunday so that may have been part of the reason.

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University Colorado Boulder (red buildings)

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View of Flatirons from Chautauqua Park

Colorado in June is a fun way to spend a summer vacation and I can’t recommend it enough if you enjoy hiking and spending time outdoors!  I know we only scratched the surface of places to explore in Colorado and we’re already excited about going back another summer and exploring other areas like Colorado Springs, Durango, Steamboat Springs, or Mesa Verde National Park.

Also see my next post “Colorado in June- Estes Park and RMNP” coming soon!

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, and 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 2009 Ole Man River Half Marathon, but I was very much looking forward to spending some time there before and after the race.

The race wasn’t quite as fun as I had hoped but it wasn’t bad. Much of the course was on top of the levee overlooking the Mississippi River, looping through City Park, and it was about as flat as races come. The shirts we got at packet pickup were long-sleeve cotton.

An 8 am start was fine given the cooler temperatures in December. It was in the upper 40’s at the start and only reached the lower 50’s for the highs that day. 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.

We finished on the track at Tad Gormley stadium, which was fun. The finisher medals were decent, and they matched the race shirts. There was plenty of food and water at the finish. My finish time was 2:07:02.

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.

Verdict:  this is 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!

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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

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. North Dakota was my 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.

I got a long-sleeve white technical shirt with the race logo on the front at packet pickup, which was quick and easy to get in and out of. 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.

Much of the race course was along running trails that were mostly flat. It was an out-and-back course with a loop during the first part. There were sufficient water stops with good volunteers but sporadic crowd support. I felt like the finish line was upon me suddenly, with the many twists and turns of the park trails, and my finish time was 1:59:00.

At the finish, I was handed a pretty hefty medal with the race logo on it that matched the shirt I had picked up at packet pickup. Overall, this was not a particularly bad race, there just was nothing exciting or out of the ordinary about it. If you do run this race, 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 from what I’ve since seen and heard from other runners. South Dakota on the other hand, was a completely different story, but I wouldn’t discover that until years later.

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Bismarck Marathon

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

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Michigan was my 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. One thing to note is that the races have been moved to Memorial Day weekend.

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 was a pretty flat out-and- back course with several views of Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan. In fact, 90% of the course was along Grand Traverse Bay. We also ran past huge stately homes along the water.

Spectators were sparse, which didn’t surprise me since runners had to be bussed to the start. I found the weather to be a bit colder than I prefer, but I also prefer warmer racing temperatures than most people. The finish was on an outdoor track for the last quarter mile, which I liked and it made it easy to find my family after the race.

My finish time for the Bayshore Half Marathon was 2:00:37.

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 late spring 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.

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Bayshore Marathon

Run the Reagan Half Marathon, Georgia-14th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Georgia was my 14th state.

For my half marathon in Georgia, I really wanted to run the one on Tybee Island. However, in 2008, 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.

Curious about what it might be like to run along a major expressway that’s usually only opened to vehicles? My word of advice:  think twice about running a race that’s entirely on an expressway.

This race course began and ended on the Ronald Reagan Parkway so 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.

To make matters even worse, the weather was terrible- cold and rainy the entire duration of the race plus after I finished. There was a great kids play area at the start/finish area, but it was too rainy, cold, and muddy for the kids to even enjoy them.

My finish for the Run the Reagan Half Marathon was 1:59:49.

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. Since 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.

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Run the Reagan Half Marathon

Evansville Half Marathon, Indiana-13th state

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

The race began at the top of a hill, which we got to run down, giving us a bit of a boost from the beginning. Parts of the course went along the Ohio River, which was scenic. We also ran the bases of a baseball field, which I found unique and loads of fun. The volunteers were outstanding and there was good crowd support. I thoroughly enjoyed this race from beginning to end and it was my fastest finish to date, at 1:56:16. The vibe along the course was very fun and uplifting. If you’re looking for a fun, fast half marathon, I recommend this one.

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.

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Evansville Half Marathon