What I Learned From Every Half Marathon I Ran- Part 2

If you missed part one, you can read it here What I Learned From Every Half Marathon I Ran. TLDR? I went through the half marathons I ran in all 50 states beginning with my first one in North Carolina in 2000. I briefly state what I learned at each race, since after all, life is a learning process. In my first post, I stopped at a half marathon I ran in Mississippi in 2010 so that’s where I’ll start here.

Picking back up where I left, although I was struggling with health issues at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Half Marathon in November of 2010, my health continued to deteriorate for another reason. By the time of the Arbuckles to Ardmore Half Marathon in Oklahoma in March of 2011, I had full-blown anemia. This was my 21st state (and 23rd half marathon) but my first experience with anemia. I was borderline in need of a transfusion but my doctor chose to prescribe heavy doses of iron pills along with B12 and other vitamins to help with absorption. She also told me not to run. I learned it is indeed possible to run a half marathon if you don’t mind going slowly (but I certainly don’t endorse this).

At the Missoula Half Marathon in Montana I learned to be better prepared for drastic changes in weather at races. Although it was supposed to be mid-50’s at the start of the race, a cold front had moved in the day before the race so it was predicted to drop to the low 40’s that morning. For some people, that’s shorts and short-sleeve weather but not for this southern gal. I went to a running store in search of running pants but the closest they had was capris, in a size smaller than I normally wore. I bought them anyway and while not ideal, at least my legs weren’t freezing.

I learned having elite runners at a race can have its perks for everyone else. When I ran the Kaiser Realty Coastal Half Marathon in Alabama, elite runners Deena Kastor and Johnny Gray were speakers there (they didn’t run the race) and we were treated to one of the best post-race spreads I’ve ever had at a race. At the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach, I learned it’s possible to have fun and not be overwhelmed at big races as long as they’re well-organized like this one. I learned just how hot it gets in Chicago in June at the Chicago 13.1 Half Marathon.

At the Amica Half Marathon in Newport, Rhode Island, I learned just how much of an underrated state this smallest of the US states is. The Covenant Health Knoxville Half Marathon showed me just how insanely hilly Knoxville is (one of the hilliest races I’ve ever run). I learned how amazingly scenic the islands off the coast of Washington are when I ran the San Juan Island Half Marathon.

I learned that all-women’s races have a different vibe than coed races do when I ran the All Women & One Lucky Guy Half Marathon in Newburyport, Massachusetts. The New York City 13.1 showed me how many fun half marathons (and other distances) New York State and New York City has and you don’t have to run the bigger, better-known races to have a great race (this was in Queens). When I ran the Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon in Portland, Maine, I learned just how hot and hilly Maine is in July but since it’s so beautiful, it’s worth it.

The Roller Coaster Half Marathon in Branson, Missouri showed me it’s possible for someone who had never even finished in the top three in her age group before to finish first. After I ran the Frederick Running Festival Half Marathon in Maryland and learned the race director was my daughter’s teacher’s niece, I learned what a small world it truly is. The Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon in South Dakota showed me two things: 1) South Dakota is entirely different in many ways than North Dakota and 2) I love races that start at the top of a canyon and you run down it.

In September of 2015, I learned that some race directors were still not using timing chips at the Dixville Half Marathon in Colebrook, New Hampshire. At the McKenzie River Half Marathon in Eugene, Oregon, I learned just how intense runners are in this part of the country. I asked someone at the packet pickup about the hills and was told, “they’re not that bad,” only to find out the only flat portions were the first two miles and the last mile, with none of the hills going down, only up. The Boulder Rez Half Marathon in Colorado showed me what I already suspected, that running at altitude is no joke.

I learned sometimes race directors try to cram too many events into one race at the Silver Strand Half Marathon in California. In addition to the half marathon, there was a 5k, 10 miler, and half marathon for skaters, handcyclers, and wheelchair racers and the course was extremely crowded. I learned it can be so cold in Utah in February that despite wearing gloves, my fingers were still cold at the end of the Dogtown Half Marathon and my feet were numb for the first couple of miles. The Superhero Half Marathon in Morristown, New Jersey showed me how much fun it was to see other people’s costumes at a race (I didn’t dress up).

The Marshall University Half Marathon in Huntington, West Virginia showed me how cool it was to run with a football on a football field at the end of a race. The Famous Potato Half Marathon in Boise, Idaho showed me how life often doesn’t turn out how you think it will but that can be a good thing. For years I thought I’d run a half marathon in Coeur d’Alene for my Idaho race but the timing was never right so I signed up for this race in Boise and loved it. I learned it’s possible to have a not-so-unique race even in such a beautiful state as Alaska at the Skinny Raven Half Marathon in Anchorage. The course was primarily on greenways, with little water views and overall not that scenic in my opinion.

I learned it’s possible to have a blazing fast course, plenty of amazing volunteers, boatloads of food before and after the race, huge medals, and quality shirts for finishers at small races like the White River Half Marathon in tiny little Cotter, Arkansas. At the Seashore Classic Half Marathon in Lewes, Delaware, I learned running on crushed gravel is killer on the legs and a frozen strawberry daiquiri really hits the spot after a tough race. I learned it’s possible to PR at high elevation if the race has a downhill start like the Star Valley Half Marathon in Thayne, Wyoming.

The Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon in Omaha, Nebraska taught me to tie my shoelaces better before a race. I had double-knotted them but they still came untied and that 20-something seconds it took me to tie them likely cost me a third place age group finish. At the Circle of Life Half Marathon in Lake City, Minnesota, I learned that “Minnesota nice” is real. Those were some of the friendliest and nicest people I had ever chatted with at a race.

I learned it’s possible to PR at your 51st half marathon at the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon in Iowa. This race also showed me that Des Moines knows how to put on a half marathon right, with so many little touches and big additions as well. The Albuquerque Half Marathon in New Mexico showed me life truly is all about the journey. Although many things went wrong or not exactly ideal before, during, and after this race and it didn’t end on such a high point as I would have liked, I learned running a half marathon in all 50 states isn’t just about state number 50, but the point is every single state along the way that adds up to all 50 states.

So that’s it- 53 half marathons in 21 years and what I learned along the way. Every single race taught me something, sometimes big things, sometimes smaller things but they were all lessons nonetheless.

If you’d like to read more in-depth about any of the half marathons I’ve run, check out my page here: https://runningtotravel.wordpress.com/half-marathons/

What lessons have you learned from half marathons or other races you’ve run?

Happy running!

Donna

What I Learned From Every Half Marathon I Ran

Life is really just a learning process, right? If you don’t learn as you go along, you don’t make progress and grow as a person. Looking back at the half marathons I’ve run, I realized I learned something at each and every race. Sometimes the things I learned were life-changing and with others it was just minor things I probably knew already but they were re-emphasized to me.

Let’s take a look back at the half marathons I’ve run over the years, going back to the very first half marathon I ever ran, way back in 2000, up to the present day. For most of these, I’ll keep it brief but for the truly life-changing races, I may dig a bit deeper. Hopefully this will be fun, so let’s see!

My very first half marathon, the Battleship Half Marathon in Wilmington, North Carolina in November 2000 was quite a learning experience for me. The weather was crazy, with freezing rain and even snow, which is almost unheard of in this southern coastal city. By the time I finished, my arms and shoulders were so tired I could barely lift them to take my sports bra and running shirt off. I learned several things after this race but the top ones were: 1) I needed to start lifting weights, concentrating on upper body exercises, 2) I learned what a huge factor the weather can be and I knew I could run this race faster under more ideal weather conditions, and 3) I learned I was hooked on running half marathons and wanted to do more.

When I ran the 2001 Battleship Half Marathon, sure enough, I cut several minutes off my finish time and the weather was a beautiful day for a race! I learned the importance of being prepared for a half marathon with strength training and a training plan. The Gold Rush Half Marathon in Concord, North Carolina taught me that heat, hills, and humidity is a nasty combination when it comes to races and to avoid the possibility of the 3H’s at all costs when signing up for a race!

Philadelphia Distance Run (can you find me?)

The Kona Half Marathon in Hawaii (at least when I ran it) was on the same course as the Ironman running portion. It was hot and hilly (but not humid) and beautiful. I loved every second of it and I learned having great views along a course goes a long way! When I ran the Philadelphia Distance Run, I learned big races can be fun as long as they’re well-organized, which this one was.

Kiawah Island Half Marathon in South Carolina is very flat but also tends to have strong headwinds. I learned races along the beach can be difficult despite being flat because of the winds. When I ran the Valley of the Sun Half Marathon in Phoenix, I learned it’s possible to run a half marathon when pregnant as long as you follow your doctor’s recommendations and advice.

The Columbus Distance Run was a race I never should have run. I had been suffering from Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) before this race and had pain in my knee after running only a couple of miles at a time but I ran it anyway. I couldn’t run for months after the race and I learned sometimes you should DNS (did not start) a race if you’re injured.

After running the Louisville Half Marathon in Kentucky, I learned to research my races better because like the race in Columbus, Ohio, this race was just OK with nothing exceptional about it. The Naples Daily News Half Marathon in Florida taught me there are plenty of fun races in Florida besides Disney and they don’t have to cost a fortune and you don’t have to get up at 3 in the morning on race day either! Covered Bridges Half Marathon in Woodstock, Vermont taught me how much I love Vermont and left me wanting to see the rest of the New England states.

I was surprised at how stifling hot it was at the half marathon in Connecticut!

When I ran the Marathon of the Americas and Half Marathon in San Antonio, Texas, I learned the importance of working in some vacation days after a race; San Antonio is a fun city to explore. The Laughlin Half Marathon in Nevada showed me you can’t always trust the website descriptions for a race (I didn’t find it scenic at all) and packed dirt with gravel on top is horrible to try to run on. Stratton Faxon Half Marathon in Fairfield, Connecticut showed me that even the New England states can get extremely hot during the summer.

The Evansville Half Marathon in Indiana showed me that sometimes taking that leap of faith to run in small towns you’ve never heard of can be worth it (it was my fastest half marathon to date and I loved every minute of the race). Run the Reagan in Snellville, Georgia taught me it’s not fun at all to run along a freeway and even more miserable when it’s raining and cold. The Bayshore Half Marathon in Traverse City, Michigan showed me popular races are popular for a reason (this one sold out quickly when I signed up) and I loved the scenic course.

Finishing on a track was fun at the half in Traverse City, Michigan!

Kroll’s Diner Half Marathon in Bismarck, North Dakota showed me it can be tough to find a half marathon that fits in with your schedule in some states, with North Dakota being one. When I was looking for a half marathon there, I could only find a few races and to this day there are only a handful. Ole Man River Half Marathon in New Orleans showed me even a fun, quirky city like New Orleans can have plain and ordinary races like this one. The Olathe Half Marathon in Kansas showed me some race directors aren’t thoughtful at all when planning a race course and will take you through industrial areas and past neighborhoods with just ordinary houses (or maybe that was just the best they had to offer for a safe course).

The Madison Mini-Marathon in Wisconsin showed me when you run a half marathon in August, even in a state as far north as Wisconsin, it’s going to be HOT so you’d better be prepared for slower race times. I learned a couple of things when I ran the Mississippi Gulf Coast Half Marathon: 1) just because you’re running in a cool place like a space center doesn’t mean you’ll see actual rockets and 2) it sometimes gets cold in Mississippi in late November (I was not expecting it to be in the 30’s).

I’m going to stop here since I still have several half marathons to go and this post is already pretty lengthy. I’ll continue with the rest of the half marathon lessons in another post.

What about you? What lessons have you learned from half marathons or other races you’ve ran?

Happy running!

Donna

My Very First DNS (Did Not Start) for a Race EVER

Even I’m surprised that although I have registered for somewhere around 60 races over the past 22 years I’ve never been unable to physically run a race, until now. However, there were a couple of races that I shouldn’t have run, like the half marathon in Ohio where I had terrible iliotibial band syndrome leading up to the race but I ran it anyway and paid the price afterwards and the half marathon in Oklahoma where I was severely anemic before the race and ran/walked that race for my slowest finish time ever.

When I was looking at local races this fall, none of them appealed to me until I came across the Pups & Pastries 5k. Cute dogs and pastries after a race? I’m in! When I found out the proceeds were going to a dog rescue center, it was icing on the cake. Two weeks before the race, I ran 6.2 miles on the course to get acquainted with what I would be looking forward to on race day. Yes, it was hilly but I was looking forward to the challenge. I had been running on hills the past several months so hills were nothing new to me.

Suddenly a little over a week before the race I started having pains in my right shin. Then one week before the race when I went for a 5 mile run I had a sharp, stabbing pain in my right shin when I was getting out of the car, before I even ran. During the course of the 5 miles I experienced even more of those sharp, stabbing pains in my shin a few times. It felt like someone was stabbing my shin with a knife. Not good.

This wasn’t my first time with shin splints. When I was in college I had shin splints so badly I practically crawled home from a run and was in tears when I finally got back to my apartment. I most likely had a stress fracture but didn’t go to the doctor to confirm it. That bout of shin splints/stress fracture was so painful I didn’t run for years afterwards.

So this time around, I knew what I was in for but I was confused about what might have caused them. My running shoes both had less than 300 miles on them, I had been running hills for quite some time, and I always stretched after running. I also knew that while my shin splints were relatively mild, if I continued to run they would inevitably turn into a stress fracture. Just to ease my mind, I went to get my leg x-rayed and the doctor said unless I had been having shin splints for 3-4 weeks they likely wouldn’t show up on an x-ray. Of course he said not to run for 2-3 weeks and if my leg still hurt in a month to get a bone scan done, which would show any fractures in my shin.

I was tempted to take the entire week off before the race and just do some easy walking and try to run on race day but then I knew that was a terrible idea. A local 5k certainly isn’t a good enough reason to potentially cause my shin splints to get worse. I didn’t want to be so injured so badly with a stress fracture that I would have to take months off from running.

Sure, I was disappointed when I accepted the fact that racing with shin splints was a terrible idea so I would DNS this race but then I decided to make lemonade out of lemons. I saw there was a volunteer option on the race website so I immediately emailed the race director to see if they still needed volunteers. He said yes, for many different positions and he thanked me and told me he was sorry to hear I was injured.

Race morning was overcast and cool but not cold- a perfect day for a race (if you’re running, that is)! After I told the person in charge of volunteers I was a runner and had experience with both running and volunteering at races, I was assigned to help out at the finish line. Even though the race was chip-timed, they wanted someone to write down the finishers numbers from their bibs as they crossed the finish line, as a back-up. This may sound like over-kill and in a perfect world it would be but we all know electronics don’t always work perfectly. A couple of times during the race the main timing person asked me to verify the order and/or numbers of a few racers. Another time a runner came up and said his GPS watch time was different from his chip time (as were some other runners that he knew there) and I gave my paper to the main timing person to clear that up.

This race had several options: there was a 5k or 10 mile option you could run with your dog, a fun run 5k option (no dogs), and a competitive 5k or 10 mile race with no dogs allowed. I believe there were about 40 people running with their dogs and it was adorable to see the wide range of dogs there. There were the expected labs and other active breeds but also a good amount of tiny breeds like chihuahuas plus several mixed breeds. I’m a huge dog-lover so I enjoyed just watching the dogs before the race.

Being at the finish line allowed me front-row access to check out all of the dogs as they crossed the finish. Seeing the sheer joy on many of those dog’s cute faces was priceless. The man who was the first to cross the line with his dog was running with a lab who looked like he/she could have kept running for another 10 miles. The dog’s tail was wagging like crazy when it was rewarded with dog treats just past the finish line. There was also water for the dogs and their owners.

Oh, and the pastries part of the race came in the form of what looked like homemade brownies, all of which were individually-wrapped. When I was leaving, I was given one and it was pretty tasty. I’ll have to keep this race in mind for next year when I will hopefully be healthy and can run it! In case you’re wondering, I do have a dog, a 10-year-old lab-mix but she’s not a runner and even when she was younger wasn’t a runner so I won’t be doing it with her.

Have you run a race with your dog? Would you run a 5k with your dog if there was a race that allowed dogs near you? Would you volunteer at a race like this just to see the cute dogs?

Happy running!

Donna

How I Did It

I recently reviewed Molly Huddle and Sara Slattery’s book How She Did It, which you can read here (Book Review- How She Did It. Stories, Advice, and Secrets to Success from 50 Legendary Distance Runners by Molly Huddle and Sara Slattery).

In my review, I also provided a link to their website where you can buy a copy of their book and if you go there, you’ll see it includes a reader worksheet. This is the same list of questions the authors asked everyone they interviewed for their book. I thought it would be interesting for me to post the questions on the worksheet and put my personal answers here. Here goes!

YOUR CHAPTER

Below are the questions we asked all the athletes interviewed in How She Did It.

Use these questions as a guide as you think about your own experience. Then, look at the answers from the athletes in the book. Do you notice any similarities? Come back to this page often and review how your answers change over time

What were your PR’s?

Although I ran on my elementary school’s track team, I have no idea what my times were for the distances I ran then (the mile, 800 meter, and 4 x 400 meter relay). That was the only time I ran on a school team and the only time I raced shorter distances. I didn’t start racing until I was an adult so I only have PR’s from the last 22 years. I bring this up because in the book, people had PR’s from high school, college, and beyond. Here are my PR’s: 5k- 26:53 (May 2022), 10k- 52:27 (July 2021), 10-mile- 1:27:13 (April 2022), Half Marathon- 1:51:20 (October 2021).

How did you get into running?

As I mentioned above, I started running on my elementary school’s track team. Our PE teacher was phenomenal and I believe a big part of why I’ve always been athletic is because of his encouragement. I’ve always also had a drive in me and the adrenaline rush from running has kept me going.

What major setbacks/challenges did you face as an athlete?

I had shin splints in college that stopped me from running for a few years. At their peak, they were so painful I was in tears as I walked home from a run and that deterred me from running for a long time. I also had ITBS (iliotibial band syndrome) that I developed after the birth of my daughter when I was training for a half marathon in Ohio. I tried to push through the pain and keep running but that was not a good idea and I was forced to stop running for a few months after that race.

If you have this setback/setbacks, describe how long you were off from running competing? How did you overcome the issue?

I already answered the part about how long I was off from running. I overcame shin splints by buying better running shoes, focusing more on recovery, and just training more properly. My foam roller and deep tissue massages helped me recover from ITBS and it’s not been a problem since I incorporated both of those things into my regular practice.

What is your best race following your setback (or your best race ever!)?

My best race ever was the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon (see photo above). It was one of those races where all of the stars were aligned and I felt like I was flying on the course. In a close second (or maybe even a tie) was the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta where I had a huge smile plastered on my face for the entire 10k. Not surprisingly those were also my fastest races.

What are you most proud of in your running journey?

I don’t consider myself a “proud” person in general; I don’t go around bragging about myself or my accomplishments. That being said, I am proud of completing my goal to run a half marathon in all 50 states. It took commitment and perseverance on my part and the journey changed my life.

What did you learn and what would you have done differently?

I’m not sure if this question relates to the previous question but that’s how I’m going to answer it. I learned that I’m stronger than I give myself credit for (physically and mentally). I also learned that big goals are achievable if you make them a priority (I realize sometimes that’s just not possible so I’m not saying it’s easy to do that). I would have changed a couple of the races I ran and chosen different ones, with the Run the Reagan just outside of Atlanta high on the list as one of my most miserable races.

Who makes up your support system? (coaches, trainers, family, teammates, friends?)

My support system has changed over the years. For all 17 years of her life my daughter has been my biggest fan and supporter. She traveled with me to all but 3 states for the half marathons I ran (Pennsylvania, Iowa, and New Mexico) and always cheered me on. Never once when she was younger did she complain when I told her I was going on a training run. Now that she’s older she’ll often have a cold glass of water with Nuun waiting for me after a run.

What is your favorite workout?

My favorite workout is one that incorporates quarter mile repeats. They’re over before I know it but I feel like they make me faster and stronger.

What is your most interesting/funny race story?

Believe it or not, despite running somewhere around 60 races, I don’t really have any interesting or funny race stories that come to mind. I guess maybe the best I can think of was the half marathon in Boise, Idaho where a guy was running with a pool cue balanced on a finger, trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records.

If you could give other girls in sport one piece of advice, what would it be?

My piece of advice for other girls in sport would be to listen to your body to notice any changes and seek help from either a coach or physical therapist when necessary. If something feels off, figure out why that is. For example, if you have a pain on the side of your knee, figure out what’s causing that pain and work on getting rid of that pain. Don’t continue running if something hurts. It’s not worth the damage you’ll inevitably do and be forced to take time off from running.

What has been most rewarding about your running journey?

The most rewarding part of my running journey has 100% been the people I’ve met along the way. I still remember conversations I had with other runners years ago either before or after a race. Joining a running club has been one of the best things I’ve ever done and have made lifelong friends. Connecting with other runners through my blog and social media has also been one of the best parts about my running journey.

Have you read How She Did It? Did you fill out this worksheet? If you did, is there anything from it you’d like to share or discuss?

Happy Running!

Donna

Catching Fireflies 5k- My First Night Race!

First I have to give a little background info. Even though I’ve run somewhere around 60 races in the past 22 years, the Catching Fireflies 5k was only my fourth 5k, and two of those were with my daughter so this was only the second 5k I ran by myself. Of those two 5ks that I ran by myself, they were 22 years apart and this race in 2022 was 2 minutes faster than my first 5k. Granted, the first 5k was the first race I ever ran as an adult but still, I was happy that I haven’t slowed down, despite the fact that I’m now in a much older age group than when I ran that first race. Anyway, on to the race report!

The Catching Fireflies 5k in Raleigh, North Carolina caught my eye when I saw it advertised a few months ago. Start time was slated for 8:25 pm on Friday, May 20. The charity for the race was the Cancer Shucks group, https://www.cancershucksfoundation.org/. Luminaries could be purchased in honor of a loved one who was effected by cancer and their name would be written on the luminary. The race course was lined with what must have been hundreds of luminaries.

Photo from the race Facebook page

Packet pickup was from 5 to 8 pm at Wakefield High School in Raleigh on race day (no option to pick up earlier). We got cotton t-shirts, our bibs, and glow sticks to wear while we were running. It was great to have real bathrooms to use before the race and not have to walk far to get to the race start since we all parked in the school parking lot. My 16-year-old daughter was also running the race so we hung out for a little while inside the school since it was so hot out. The high for the day was a record high for the year- 99 degrees!!!

Fortunately when the sun started to set it began to feel noticeably cooler, but it was still pretty humid. By the time the race started it was around 86 degrees, still hot but at least it wasn’t in the 90’s any longer. We all kept saying how it was just too hot too soon but there was nothing to do about it. Surprisingly, there were around 650 runners and walkers that night, according to the announcer.

Everyone started lining up around 8:10 and the race started promptly at 8:25 after the national anthem was sung. The beginning of the race was a terrible mess with walkers at the front, mixed in with people with strollers and small children scattered everywhere. I expected that might be the case and planned on staying toward the edge but even that wasn’t enough so as soon as I could I jumped onto a sidewalk until I could get around a big group of people.

Also from the race Facebook page

Fairly quickly, the course thinned out and I was finally free of the mob of people. The race was entirely though a neighborhood, Wakefield Plantation, one of those super-nice neighborhoods with a country club and golf course and enormous houses. As I said earlier, the course was lined throughout with luminaries. I wasn’t sure how dark it would get so I brought a clip-on light but didn’t really need it except for one tiny little stretch where there no street lights for a bit.

This neighborhood is also hilly, which I had been told ahead of time. The course began downhill, so of course I knew that meant we would be running uphill on the way back. I tried to take advantage of that fact by running the first mile a bit faster than I normally would, but still being a bit conservative since I wasn’t sure how the heat and humidity would effect me. My first mile was at an 8:20 mile pace.

When I was about halfway through the race, I felt like I should slow down or I wouldn’t have enough left to get me up the hills at the end. My second mile was at an 8:44 mile pace, which is around what I thought I would run the entire race at, prior to the race. There weren’t many spectators on the course and I didn’t see anyone cheering on runners from their front yards or anything like that. Water was on the course but there weren’t any porta johns, at least not that I saw.

I really didn’t have any finish time goal in mind before the race, other than trying to finish in the top three in my age group, whatever that meant. With only a mile to go, I had to really push myself mentally to not walk up the final hills. I saw people walking all around me and it was tempting to walk along with them but I didn’t and told myself even if I was running slow I was still going faster than if I walked. My final mile was at an 8:42 mile pace, with the final sprint to the finish (the 0.1 mile) at a 7:57 mile pace. My finish time was 26:53.

Immediately after the race- I was so hot and sweaty!

There were children handing out medals at the finish and a big container full of warm bottles of water (WARM water after a HOT 5k is just wrong!). Bananas, pretzels, and cereal bars were further down on a table. I did find a table with cups of cold water being dispensed from those big orange Gatorade containers you see at races and cross country meets and I greedily gulped some down.

The awards ceremony was supposed to be at 9:10 but the announcer kept talking about the music being played and other random things. Finally around 9:25 they began the awards ceremony. I thought my daughter might have a chance of cracking the top three in her age group but she was fourth. I was first in my age group and collected a gift card to a restaurant near the race. The day after the race I checked the official finish times and saw that I was only three seconds behind the third place overall masters female. But then I looked again and actually I was three seconds ahead of her. There was a mistake. I should have won third place overall masters. This had never happened to me, finishing in the top three overall masters.

I sent an email to the race director and he replied back within a couple of hours, which surprised me since it was a Sunday. He said they go by gun time for overall awards and chip time for age group awards. I had always thought chip time would be more accurate so awards would always be based on that, but I guess you live and learn.

I’ll admit, I was a little bitter; after all it was only three seconds. I could have easily moved up closer to the front at the start, had I been able to somehow predict this and have known then what I know now. Or if the race director would have put that information in the awards section on the race website. But then it just gave me a bit of fuel for my fire for my next 5k (no, I haven’t signed up for any at the moment). Knowing how little training I did (basically no speed work) before this race, it gave me hope of what I’m capable of if I truly train for a 5k.

I never thought I’d be saying it but I’m actually looking forward to training hard for a 5k now and seeing what I can do. Now I just have to find a race! That’s going to be difficult since we’re also heating up quickly here so races always thin out this time of year.

Would I recommend this race? Yes. It truly is a unique race, in that it’s at night and has luminaries lining the course. It was much hotter than it normally is the end of May so I would hope the weather was just a fluke and next year would be back to normal temperatures. The hills aren’t going to go away, but they really weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be. I would have rather had something other than a cotton t-shirt, like socks or a hat but it was a cute shirt and I’ll wear it to the gym. The medals were cute too. And like I said earlier, best of all, it’s for a great cause.

https://fsseries.com/event/catching-fireflies-5k/

Have you ever run a night race? If so, care to share your experience?

Happy running!

Donna

Answers to Ask Me Anything

Thank you so much to everyone that asked questions in response to my post Ask Me Anything! It was a success and you all asked some thought-provoking questions. If you missed that post, I thought it would be fun to have people ask me questions related to my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, which I just finished in November 2021.

I’ll type the questions in the order received and put my answers after. Here goes!

Q: When you first set your 50 state goal how long did you think it would take?

A: Although I ran my first half marathon in 2000, I didn’t set my goal to run a half marathon in all 50 states until some time after that. I believe it was somewhere around state number 3, when I ran the Philadelphia Distance Run in 2004 when the idea to run a half marathon in all 50 states began forming in my mind. That same year I ran the Kiawah Island Half Marathon in South Carolina and had signed up to run the Valley of the Sun Half Marathon in Arizona when I found out I was pregnant. Since I had been running half marathons for a few years and had no underlying health conditions my doctor said it was fine to run the race in Arizona, plus I was only about two months pregnant then. I didn’t run another half marathon until 13 months later when I ran the Columbus Distance Run in April 2006 but at this point I definitely had the goal to run all 50 states. Knowing I could run 3 or 4 half marathons a year (but most years it was 3), I knew it would take several years for me to finish and I was fine with that. At that point I estimated it would take another 14 years to finish, which would have put me finishing in 2020. Then the pandemic hit and that pushed back all of my races a year so I ran my last race in 2021, 21 years after I ran my first half marathon.

Q: Did you set aside some time to actually see something of all the states? What was your favorite non-running find?

A: From the beginning, I always wanted to incorporate as much time as possible into seeing some of the states I was running a race in. I knew that would mean I wouldn’t be able to run as many states a year but it was important to me to not just check off the boxes. For most states I tried to spend a week in the area, preferably after the race and sometimes I spent more than a week in the state. I was lucky enough to spend an entire three weeks in San Diego when I ran the half marathon there, which is the most I spent in one place when I went there for a race.

My favorite non-running find is a tough one. There were so many little towns I went to that I never would have discovered if not for the races I ran there. I absolutely loved Woodstock and Quechee in Vermont but also Newport, Rhode Island and the nearby little towns, and tiny little Thayne, Wyoming not to mention Spearfish Canyon in South Dakota. I guess I’d have to choose Rhode Island. It’s the smallest of the United States but is filled with such beauty and is an undiscovered gem in my mind, although I hear the summers are filled with New Englanders. Still, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who told me they were going on vacation in Rhode Island unless they had family there, which is a shame given what a cool place it is and so many people have never been there.

One of the mansions in Newport, Rhode Island

Q: What resources did you use to pick the races?

A: Over the years I’ve used many websites to pick the races I ran. Ones that I found myself returning to over and over include: Running in the USA https://www.runningintheusa.com/, Halfmarathons.net https://www.halfmarathons.net/race-calendar/, Race Raves https://raceraves.com/, Half Marathon Search https://www.halfmarathonsearch.com/half-marathon-calendar and Bibrave including the Bibrave 100 https://www.bibrave.com/thebibrave100/2020.

I also ran some races after speaking to people I knew who ran them or reading blog posts on them. Those that come to mind are the Shamrock Half in Virginia Beach, Kiawah Island in South Carolina, Missoula Half in Montana, and Bayshore Half Marathon in Michigan. These all lived up to the hype and were indeed great races (plus cool towns which made them perfect racecations).

The huge Poseidon statue near the finish of the Shamrock Marathon and Half Marathon

Q: How did you train for the different conditions (ex: hills, races at altitude, humidity)?

A: Living in central North Carolina gives me some variety when it comes to weather and running conditions. We have hills, heat, humidity, and even ice in January when we inevitably get freezing rain. The only thing we don’t have that was mentioned above is altitude.

One of the first things I would do when deciding on a race was check the course. If there were going to be substantial hills I made sure to incorporate hill repeats in my training. If there were going to be rolling hills I would run my long run where there were rolling hills. I ran several races during summer months where it was hot and humid. Since the heat really kicks in here in May, for those summer races I had been running in the heat for long enough for me to have acclimatized for those races (typically it takes a couple of weeks to acclimatize to the heat). I personally feel like I never really get used to the humidity and the only thing I can do to prepare for that is to make sure I run with fluids and am fully hydrated in the hours before I even step out the door to run.

When I was choosing half marathons in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming or any other state with high mountains one of the first things I looked up was the elevation in the cities where the races were. I purposefully chose races that were in cities with some of the lowest elevations in those states. I also read that it takes most people at least a few days to acclimatize to high elevation so I would fly into those states a few days before the race.

Almost as soon as I landed I started drinking water like my life depended on it since water helps with getting used to high elevation. One of the hardest half marathons I ran was in Boulder, Colorado even though it didn’t even have the highest altitude (around 5400 feet vs. around 6000 feet in Thayne, Wyoming). I think the difference was the course in Boulder was around a reservoir and was relatively flat compared to the course in Wyoming that had a fast downhill start for the first few miles and leveled off after that.

After the finish at the Star Valley Half Marathon in Thayne, Wyoming (right beside Afton, WY)

Q: How did you balance being a mom, working, having a social life, et cetera with a regular training plan over so many years? How did you keep up your motivation to train even when you felt too busy or tired?

A: Ah, the old life/balance question. I’ve always had a full-time job since I graduated from college and I’ve been a mom since my early-30’s so there was only a brief period where I didn’t also have to work and take care of my child in addition to getting my training runs in. Honestly, I don’t think most people can achieve a perfect 50/50 balance if you’re pursuing a huge goal. The best that most people can hope for is to have what I’ve heard referred to by others as “seasons” in life. For most people it means you have periods where you focus on your goal and other periods when you cut back on your goal a bit and focus on family and work. For me this literally meant spring, summer, fall, and winter where I would be training for and then traveling to a race during the spring, summer, and fall months then I would take most or much of winter off to rest, recover, and catch up.

All of this doesn’t mean I just ignored my work and family obligations because I was training for a half marathon but I did make running a priority in my life or it never would have happened. From the start I made it clear to my boyfriend who later became my husband that running wasn’t just something I would do occasionally but it was a huge part of my life. If he would have had a problem with me going for a run, we never would have lasted more than a week.

Likewise with my daughter, she grew up watching Mom go for a run and it was just “normal” life for her. She also traveled to the majority of my races with me, even when she was a baby, so that also became “normal” for her. She thought all moms traveled all over the United States for half marathons and ran for an hour or two on the weekends with other runs throughout the week. I know this because when she was in grade school, she told me all that. She said she had recently realized most moms didn’t do this and most moms she knew weren’t like her mom when it came to running and travel. When she was old enough she began running races too, working up from the 5k to the half marathon.

My daughter and me after the Circle of Life Half Marathon in Lake City, Minnesota

Like I mentioned earlier, by making running and specifically running a half marathon in all 50 states a priority in my life, I always had the motivation to train even when I felt too busy or tired. It helped that I also knew how much running helps my mental state and I’ve always come back from a run feeling better than when I started, even if I was tired when I started. Finally, I’ve always given myself some grace when it comes to running. If I had to miss a 40 minute run because I had to take my daughter to the doctor or I had to work late at work and was exhausted I knew in the grand scheme of things, it would be fine to not run and I wouldn’t suddenly lose all of my fitness. If it would have ever happened where I was consistently missing runs (that never happened), I would have had to take a good look at what was going on in my life and re-evaluate if training for that race was truly a good idea or maybe I should push it back to another time.

Q: What made you choose the half marathon distance vs any other distance?

A: I’ve always felt like the half marathon is the perfect distance for me. It’s just long enough that it’s a challenge and keeps me in good shape but not so long that I am utterly destroyed afterwards like with the marathon. Plus training for a half marathon is much more manageable than for a marathon. I’m also not a big fan of 5k races because if I’m going to truly race them, they’re HARD! I do like the 10 mile distance even though I’ve only run one 10-miler but I am signed up for another 10-miler this spring.

Q: Did you do specific training when you planned for races in western states with higher elevation?

A: No. As far as I could tell when I looked around online about this there really is no way to prepare yourself for running at higher elevation unless you can spring for a hyperbaric tent to sleep in beforehand. I would arrive at the races a few days before the race and drink tons of water, like I mentioned above. I also should have mentioned I lowered my expectations of any finish times for those races and was pleasantly surprised when I finished much faster than I would have predicted at some of them.

Q: Did you ever miss a flight?

A: Yes, but since I always worked in at least one extra day before a race it always worked out. I remember when I flew to one race (I forget which but it was a western state), there were severe thunderstorms that caused major airline delays and cancellations. I was supposed to have a layover in Denver and arrive at my destination that evening but all flights out of Denver were cancelled that evening so I had to stay in a hotel and fly out the next morning. Because of my buffer, I still made it to the packet pickup on time and everything was fine, other than missing some time in my destination.

Q: Does your work have an unlimited vacation time policy?

A: Not unlimited but it is generous. I’ve been at my job for 21 years and I now get 5 weeks of vacation. After I hit 15 years I got bumped up from 4 weeks to 5 so I’ve always had plenty of vacation days. Plus I get 11 days off for holidays that I can use as flex time. On top of all of that, I can roll over something like 30 days of unused vacation time by the end of December to the next year. With all of that being said, I’ve always eventually used every single day of my vacation time and not lost it at the end of the year even during the beginning of the pandemic when I wasn’t traveling, thanks to being able to roll over time to the next year.

That’s all of the questions I received. Thanks again to everyone who submitted questions. That was interesting for me and hopefully to you all as well!

Did anyone forget to ask a question you’d like to ask now or did you miss my first post? Feel free to ask here.

Happy running and travels!

Donna

Ask Me Anything

I realize this could go one of two ways, either fun and interesting or poorly, so I’m depending on all of you who read this (no pressure) for it to go the former way. My idea is this: everyone who regularly follows my blog knows I just finished my quest of running a half marathon in all 50 states, with my last race in Albuquerque, New Mexico in November of 2021. If anyone is new to my blog, now you know too. Many of you regulars, especially the long-timers (and a HUGE thank you if that’s you) probably already know or think you know many other things about my quest. However, I’m guessing there are still some unanswered questions out there that you may be curious about.

This is your chance to ask me absolutely anything and everything you ever wondered about what it was like for me to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Really, nothing is off-limits, too nosy, too trivial, or too silly. If you’re wondering something, someone else may also be wondering the same thing, and even if you’re the only person in the world with the question, it’s still a valid question.

What I would like is for everyone to ask some questions below and if all goes well, I’ll write up a post to answer the questions, rather than just answer them below; that way I can expand on anything that might need more than just a sentence or two to answer. If someone else has already asked your question but yours has a slightly different spin on it, ask it again in your words. That will also clue me in on the more popular questions that need more explanation than others.

Your questions can be broad such as running-related or more specific like half marathon-related, or they can be travel-related, logistics questions, race bling questions, traveling with kids or family, state-related, specific race-related, etc. These are just some examples but certainly not meant to limit you just to these. Questions like favorite/best/worst/most scenic are all fine as well. Creative questions are highly encouraged.

OK. Let’s see how this goes! Thank you to everyone who asks questions! If you never see a follow-up post with the answers, well, we all know what that means, but I’m confident that won’t happen.

Happy running!

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

Book Review- Running Outside the Comfort Zone: An Explorer’s Guide to the Edges of Running by Susan Lacke

If you’re a runner long enough, you’ll find yourself bored and stuck in a rut. Races that you run every year and you used to get excited about can become ones that you dread. One way to deal with this is by signing up for a race doing something you normally don’t do, like an obstacle race if you normally run road races. Or a marathon if you’ve never run a marathon before. Or how about the Empire State Building Run-Up, where you race up all 102 stories of this skyscraper? How about signing up for an entire year’s worth of crazy races that completely put you out of your comfort zone?

That’s what author Susan Lacke did. One night after realizing her boredom with running despite just scoring a 9 minute PR at the Huntsville Marathon in Utah, she signed up for races around the world that would get her out of her comfort zone. She signed up a wide variety of races from the Pony Express Trail 50 where you have to carry absolutely everything with you including your own waste to the Coffin Race where you run with a team to carry a makeshift coffin with another person in it to Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll in England where runners chase a wheel of cheese down a steep, treacherous hill.

In the book, she starts with some background information about herself including some from her childhood. Lacke is a writer of endurance sports, professor, and author of the book Life’s Too Short to Go So F*cking Slow. She also happens to be deaf and she weaves this element of her life into the story naturally.

Screen Shot 2019-12-05 at 3.47.17 PM.png

To begin her journey, Lacke ran the Huntsville Marathon in September and after that she ran the Red Bull 400 later that month. If you’re not familiar with the Red Bull 400, it’s a race where you run (climb, really) 400 meters up a ski jump in Park City, Utah built for the 2002 Winter Olympics. She had my respect as a runner when I read that she ran a marathon in the same month as running the Red Bull 400. But she didn’t stop there.

Every month except November (why nothing was scheduled for November is a question I have for Ms. Lacke) for the proceeding year, she ran in what I would call an extreme running event. Some months she ran in multiple events, like in May when she ran Bay to Breakers in San Francisco, Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll, and Caliente Bare Dare 5K. Just running one of most of these events would scare the hell out of most of us runners, but to run in all of these events in one year is truly astounding.

Throughout the book, she has a chapter for each running event which she describes in perfect detail from beginning to end. Lacke has a real knack for storytelling and the crazy events she participated in make for even more interesting stories. She also writes about how she started running and about her best friend that got her interested in running who has since passed away.

If you can’t tell by now, I absolutely loved this book and found myself not wanting to put it down when it was time for me to go to sleep. The short chapters make for a quick and easy read. If you enjoy reading about running adventures, I believe you will also enjoy this book. I haven’t even described all of the races she ran, not to give it all away, but there are even more, some of which you may find yourself actually wanting to run them after you finish reading about them, as I did.

The book is 242 pages and you can find it at your local bookstore, library, or Amazon.

Susan Lacke’s website

Have you read either of Susan Lacke’s books? I haven’t read her first book but after reading this one, it’s now on my list to read. What’s the craziest race you’ve ever run or want to run?

Happy running!

Donna

 

What to Do If You Get Sick the Week of Your Race

I swear I wrote up this post before COVID-19 was even a thing. I had planned all along to put up this post around this date, but it seems perhaps even a little more apropos with all of the recent news. Anyway, what I’m about to get into has absolutely nothing to do with Coronavirus. If you have that, you absolutely shouldn’t be running in a race or even leaving your house for that matter. That’s all I have to say about that. Now onto my original post.

We’ve all been there. It’s four days before your big race and you come down with a cold. Now what? There are some things you can do to help you feel better. But first, should you even still run? I’m not a doctor but everything I’ve ever read and heard about this subject says if your cold is in your head such as your sinuses, it’s OK to still run but if it’s in your chest or you have a fever or have aches in your muscles like what comes with the flu, you shouldn’t run. My knowledge is based on my scientific background including the pre-pharmacy classes I took before I decided pharmacy school wasn’t for me and switched my major to biology plus all of the immunology, physiology, and microbiology classes I had and scientific journals I’ve read over the years on this subject as a scientist. In other words, although I’m not a medical doctor, I have at least a decent amount of knowledge on health and illnesses.

Of course there are the over-the-counter (OTC) medications that don’t really make you “better” but merely treat your symptoms and sometimes help you feel a little better. However, sometimes using these medications can actually backfire and make you feel worse after using them for a few days. Some people don’t realize this but you will actually get over your cold quicker if you can wait it out and not use harsh over-the-counter treatments. The worst are nasal sprays like Afrin that can cause tissue damage over time. Other OTC medications can exacerbate your cold and lead to a sinus infection.

IMG_7861
Before my half marathon in Alabama. You’d never know from this photo how bad I was feeling (with a cold) but I ran anyway!

All of that being said, treating your cold with some good old fashioned remedies won’t hurt and some may actually help you feel better. Chicken soup has been recommended for people with colds for so many years for good reason. Consuming more liquids helps your body clear the infection easier and chicken broth is easy on the stomach as well. You can also flush out your sinuses with a saline spray or neti pot if you have congestion in your sinuses. Just make sure you use bottled water that has been distilled or sterilized if you choose to make your own saline solution. I’m also a fan of Nuun Immunity tablets, which have turmeric, elderberry extract, Echinacea, ginger, vitamin C, and other ingredients that will give your immune system a boost and help hydrate you. Wetting a washcloth and warming it in the microwave then putting that over your sinuses also helps temporarily relieve sinus pressure.

Honestly, the most important thing you can do if you get sick to help your body get better quicker is rest. Rest is so hugely important and effects literally everything we do in life, yet I feel like it’s often the first to be neglected when people get busy with life. If that means you have to skip a 40 minute run that you were supposed to do at 5 in the morning, but you’ve got a cold and your race is next week, you would be better off to skip that run and get some extra sleep instead.

What if you’ve gotten extra rest and hydration but you’re still sick and it’s race day? Like I said earlier, as long as you don’t have a fever and your cold is in your sinuses and not your chest and you don’t have body aches, you can go ahead and run. Just stuff some tissues in a pocket and realize it’s not going to be a PR for you, but try to make the best of it! I’ve run races with a cold before and while they weren’t exactly some of my most fun races ever, I was able to get through them and finish with a smile on my face.

Finally, you can do what Olympic athlete Clarence DeMar said and “Run like hell and get the agony over with.”

Have you run a race while sick? How did that go? Was it a bad decision or fine in the end?

Happy running!

Donna

 

%d bloggers like this: