Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, South Dakota- 34th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. South Dakota was my 34th state.

When researching half marathons for my race in South Dakota, I’ll admit I wasn’t really looking forward to running a race in the state after finding North Dakota so plain and unexciting; see Bismarck Marathon, North Dakota-16th state.  Fairly quickly into my research, I found out just how different two adjacent states can be.  South Dakota is home to the Black Hills, Badlands National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, the Missouri River, Historic Deadwood, and Mount Rushmore (all of which my family and I visited and recommend). Travel South Dakota link

South Dakota is an outdoors lover’s paradise and my family and I loved every minute of our vacation here before and after the race.  I also loved this race and highly recommend it. As far as getting to Spearfish Canyon, the easiest way to get here if you’re flying is to fly into Rapid City and pick up a rental car.  It’s about an hour’s drive from Rapid City to Spearfish Canyon.  We stayed the night before the race at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge in the Berry Patch Cabin and it was awesome.  Rapid City is also a great place to stay if you’re exploring the area, since it’s less than an hour by car to the majority of places I listed in the previous paragraph.

The Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon is an annual fundraiser which benefits the abused and neglected children through the Northern Hills Area Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Program.  Pre-packet pickup was about the most sparse I’ve ever seen in all of my races.  It is at the CASA office in Spearfish and there was only one person there handing out shirts (technical, unisex short-sleeve) and bibs.  That’s it.  Nothing else.  No expo.  No bag filled with junk you didn’t really want anyway.  I like it.  Don’t come here for the bling, though, or you will be disappointed.

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At 7 am on race day, the course begins at the top of the beautiful Spearfish Canyon in Savoy in the northernmost section of South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest and finishes at the bottom in Spearfish City Park.  When I was running the race I remember constantly telling myself how lucky I was to be able to run through this gorgeous canyon. Although the course is net downhill starting around 5,000 feet above seal level and dropping about 1,300 feet by the finish, it doesn’t feel too steep on your quads.  The race is held in July every year and while you can expect it to be hot, because the race goes through a canyon surrounded by mountains, it is a bit cooler and there is abundant shade.

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I actually set a PR (personal record) for myself on this course.  I was a bit concerned about running at 5,000 feet above sea level but I didn’t feel any more out of breath than I normally would at a race or have any other elevation-related side effects.  In fact, I remember checking my watch throughout the race and being surprised that I was able to sustain the pace I was and yet I felt great!

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From my post-race notes:  “Started at the top of a canyon and went downhill into the town of Spearfish.  It was a high elevation course and was very hot (70’s at the start, mid 80’s at finish) but was one of the most scenic races I’ve ever ran.  Virtually no spectators and just a few aid stations, but that wasn’t an issue.  Shirt was plain as was the medal.  Usual food at finish.  Passed a lot of people especially last few miles.  Finished in 1:55:28, which is my fastest finish time to date!”

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Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon & 5K

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San Juan Island Half Marathon, Washington- 28th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Washington was my 28th state.

Around 20,000 runners typically compete in the Seattle Rock-n-Roll Marathon and Half Marathon in a given year. By comparison, there are typically 200 total runners (or less) in the San Juan Island Marathon/Half Marathon/10K.  Being a person who likes to take the road less-traveled, I chose the San Juan Island Half Marathon for my half marathon in Washington. In 2011, San Juan Island was ranked #3 in their 10 Best Summer Trips list.  San Juan Island, along with other adjacent islands Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw are accessible by a ferry from Seattle.  This ferry ride just may be the most scenic ferry you’ve ever been on, and don’t be surprised if you see porpoises along the way!

The race director says this about the course on the Facebook page:  “You are about to be treated to what has to be among the most scenic courses in the country if not the world. If you’ve run enough of these, you’ll know scenic=hills and there are plenty! Foxes, deer, eagles, seals, hawks, owls, Orca whales, hump back whales are some of the wildlife available on this course.” He is right about the hills.  There were very few stretches of flat course but he is also right about it being a scenic course.  This race ranks up there in my top 10 most scenic half marathons, for sure.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a small race so don’t expect a lot of extras here.  There also aren’t many spectators along the course, but there are plenty of cool things to look at along the way such as alpacas, meadows, and ocean views.  When I finished, I couldn’t  find any food at all- no bananas or water even, but it’s possible it was there and I just wasn’t looking in the right spot.

For things to see and do in San Juan Island, there’s whale-watching, hiking in Lime Kiln Point State Park, kayaking so you can see the porpoises up-close, or you can visit a lavender farm. There are loads of cabins available to rent which will give you a more authentic feel for the island.  I remember watching deer eat in the fields behind our cabin every morning and every evening at dusk.  It’s also nice to have your own kitchen especially the morning of a race so you can eat what you want, when you want and only have to walk a few feet to get it.

From my post-race notes, “Even more hilly than Knoxville course Covenant Health Knoxville Half Marathon, Tennessee- 27th state.  Was extremely scenic, however.  Ran along meadows, back country roads, past an alpaca farm, and along roads with views of the ocean.  Not many spectators on the course.  Medal and shirt were both OK but nothing special.  Didn’t see any post-race beverages or food at all but maybe I just couldn’t find it.  Hardly anyone stayed after the race.  Aid stations were average but nothing special.  Weather was perfect.  Very low-key small race.  Finished in 2:07.”

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San Juan Island Marathon

 

Top 5 Things to Do in Charleston, SC with Kids without Spending a Ton of Money

Charleston, South Carolina seemingly has something to offer everyone.  If you want a romantic escape, there are plenty of bed & breakfasts to stay at and cobblestoned streets to take a horse-drawn carriage ride with your significant other.  If you want a fun girls weekend getaway, there are plenty of options for that with cool bars and unique shops.  For the golfer, there are 19 championship courses in the area.  For the history buff, this city is steeped in history and there are historical tours and museums all over.  Finally, if you’re just looking for a fun place to visit with your family, there are loads of options for families.  Options for families is what I will delve into here.

Charleston is definitely not an inexpensive city, at least on the surface.  The accommodations are expensive, the restaurants are also on the pricey side, and you feel like you’ve won some kind of prize if you’re lucky enough to find a free parking spot or a meter with some time left on it. However, there are ways to visit Charleston and not blow a ton of money (Charming Charleston- How to visit without breaking the bank). If you’re visiting with kids, there are numerous free or inexpensive ways to have fun and keep everyone happy and entertained.

1. The beaches near Charleston, Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island are completely free and open to the public.  Another option for a beach near Charleston is Folly Beach.  Although I did not visit Folly Beach when I was in Charleston in August so I can’t speak of that beach personally, Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island are both clean and well-maintained. Lifeguards are on duty mostly during the peak summer months of May through part of September.  Check out more info at Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission.  A word of warning about the waves, as they can be quite rough.  We found the water to be considerably calmer at an inlet we were able to walk to at Sullivan’s Island going through neighborhoods to the far end of the beach.  One of my daughter’s favorite things to do at beaches is to “jump the waves” with her father, so the waves were not a problem for us but I know they might be for younger children.

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Jumping waves
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The beach is a great place to fly a kite!

2. Another completely free thing that most kids love to do is play in the fountains.  There are two fountains by Waterfront Park that are great for kids to splash in and have fun.  This is especially great on a hot day.  Palm trees surround the area so parents can sit and watch their kids playing.  After toweling off the kids there are several ice cream shops within walking distance of the fountains, if you so desire.  That could also be an option for a post-dinner treat.

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What kid doesn’t love to play in a huge fountain like this one?

3. If your kids are budding history buffs, there are plenty of museums to choose from.  One option is the Old Exchange Building & Provost Dungeon.  My daughter enjoyed being able to handle replicas of historical money thanks to a volunteer on site who gave us a bit of information about each piece.  She also got to sign a replica of The Declaration of Independence. We all thoroughly enjoyed our guided tour of the dungeon and learned quite a bit about the area.  If you have younger kids (around 4-6), the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry might be a better fit for your family.

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Signing the Declaration of Independence
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Learning about historical currency

4. Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie are great options for families as well.  Although Fort Sumter does not charge a fee for entrance to the national monument, it is only accessible by boat and there is a fee for that.  Fort Moultrie is accessible by car at 1214 Middle Street, Sullivan’s Island and you can buy a family pass that covers up to 4 adults for $5, with free admission for children 15 and younger.  See more information here National Parks Service.

5. While it might seem more like a splurge for many families, the South Carolina Aquarium is a nice way to spend a day or several hours. Tickets are $24.95 for adults and $17.95 for children 3-12. The aquarium is open daily from 9 am- 4 pm (building closes at 5:00) and you could easily spend all day here, which makes it a bit more affordable considering it’s a day’s worth of entertainment. With more than 5,000 animals and exhibits like the touch tank (my daughter’s favorite) and the two-story 385,000 gallon Great Ocean tank there is plenty to see and do.  The Zucker Family Sea Turtle Recovery is set to open May 2017 and promises to  be an exciting new addition.  SC Aquarium

If your family is anything like mine, we find our beach vacations a time to unwind, relax, and just enjoy each other’s company.  We don’t plan a ton of activities like we do for other vacations.  Charleston, South Carolina is a perfect place for families to relax and reconnect while taking in the beautiful scenery.

 

 

 

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!