How to Choose Your First Half Marathon That’s Right for You

As an adult, over the years I’ve run everything from a 5k to a marathon and everything in between. Mostly I’ve stuck with half marathons because of my goal to run a half marathon in all 50 states and so far I’m up to 42 states. When I first started running races I just signed up for a local 5k, not really taking anything into account like weather, elevation or anything else course-related. It was hot since it was July 4th but the race wasn’t anything very memorable other than that.

Most people do like I do and just run a local 5k, sometimes coerced by friends so they may not put any thought into choosing the race. For a 5k, that’s probably fine unless it turns out the race is insanely hilly or has such difficult conditions that it turns you against running and/or racing. If you’ve run several 5k races and perhaps a 10k or two and would like to run your first half marathon, where do you start? I’ll go through the steps I go through as a kind of guideline.

There are several considerations for me when I’m choosing a half marathon to run. At this point since I don’t have many states left until I reach my goal of a half marathon in all 50 states so I have to be more thoughtful than I was early on in this journey. The most obvious thing I have to consider is where the half marathon is being held. If it’s in a state that I’ve already run a half marathon, I won’t run it. My wallet, legs, and time off from work are limited so I can’t afford to go twice. This might be different if I didn’t make every race a racecation, but I just don’t see the point in flying into a city the day before a race and flying out the evening of or day after a race. Obviously this doesn’t apply to most people, but I did want to throw that out there because everyone still has to decide if the location of the race would work for them.

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You’ll want to decide if you want to run in a more natural setting like Spearfish Canyon in South Dakota…

Once I find a half marathon in a state, I’ll look at what part of the state the race is being held. If it looks like an interesting city or is within a reasonable drive to a city I’m interested in going to, I’ll consider it. There have been exceptions to this, however, like when I ran in the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire, Dixville Half Marathon, New Hampshire- 35th state. My daughter, who always goes to every race with me, has a friend who lives about 20 minutes from this race, and she had asked me a couple of years before I ran this race when her friend moved away from where we live if we could visit her sometime. I thought given the circumstances, it was meant to be for sure, so how could I turn down that one. Fortunately Dixville, New Hampshire is about a 3 hour drive to Montreal, so that’s where we spent the vacation part of our racecation.

Once I figure out if the location appeals to me, I’ll look at the time of year when the race is being held. As I said, my daughter always goes to races with me, and I don’t typically pull her out of school since we do spend more than a couple of days at these places. Fortunately, her school schedule has been flexible enough that I’ve been able to find races around the country on dates when she’s been on a school break. Some parents may think the only time to travel with school kids is during the summer, but there are many breaks throughout the year like spring break and Thanksgiving break for example. Some schools also have a fall break and other week-long breaks throughout the year, and others that are “year-round” have three-week-long breaks every 3 months spread over 12 months. If you’ll be going by yourself to the race or don’t have kids (or your kids won’t be going with you), it makes planning easier but I want to make sure I include that information for people who might want to bring family members along.

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Or would you rather run in a more urban setting like this race in New York City?

Another thing to consider when choosing a race and factoring in the time of year the race is held is your training schedule. If the race is in March, that means you’ll be running the bulk of your longest long runs in February. If you live in the deep south, that might be fine, but pretty much anywhere else and you’re likely to have some nasty weather to contend with in February. Likewise, if the race is in mid-to-late November, you’ll have some pretty nice running weather during your training schedule although the race itself could be pretty cold especially if it’s in a far northern state.

After the where and when are figured out, then comes the analysis of the race course. If a race advertises on its web page that it’s “the toughest half marathon” in the state, I’ll pass and you probably should too if it’s your first half marathon. Or if the race goes straight up a mountain, I’ll pass. I’ll check out the elevation and course on the race website then I’ll go to other places to get reviews from runners like Bib Rave and Race Raves. This isn’t to say I’ve never run a hilly race because I have many times over but when I have, at least I’ve known what I was getting myself into ahead of time.

Finally, I check logistics of flying or driving to the area. If I have two or more races for the same state that I’m comparing and one is significantly easier or cheaper to get to, and all other factors are similar, I’ll go with the one that’s easier or cheaper. Again, though, there have been exceptions to this, like when I ran the San Juan Island Half Marathon, Washington- 28th state. I had to fly into Seattle then take a ferry to San Juan Island from Seattle, but the ferry was one of the most scenic ferries I’ve ever been on so it was totally worth the extra hassle of getting there, plus the San Juan Islands are absolutely gorgeous. I just allowed extra time to get to the island before the race in my planning.

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View from the ferry to San Juan Islands

I know a lot of runners like running big races like the ones at Disney World and Disneyland and the Rock ‘N’ Roll series races, but I’ve personally never had any interest in any of them. The Disney races despite being hugely popular have some serious drawbacks in my opinion such as 1) the inflated cost, 2) the ungodly hour the races begin, and 3) the crowds. Start time and cost of race registration are two other things to consider when figuring out what race you want to run. If a race states you will be bussed to the start at 4:30 a.m. but you simply don’t function let alone be in a pre-race state at that time, it may not be a good choice for you for your first half marathon.

The flip side of big races are smaller races. I personally prefer medium to small races for several reasons. Not only are there less people running the races so you don’t have to worry about being slowed down at the beginning, parking usually isn’t an issue so you may not have to be bussed to the start. If you’re the type of person who feeds off the energy of spectators, you likely won’t get that at small races, however. Sometimes you’ll often just get a shirt and medal at small races, too, so if you like getting lots of things at packet pickup, you’ll have to take this into consideration.

Finally, the biggest factor in choosing a race is why. Why do you want to run a half marathon in the first place? Many people could avoid disappointment after a race if they figure out why they want to run a race in the first place. Do you just want to have fun with your running friends? Do you want to run with a particular goal finish in mind? Do you want to see a specific part of the country and would love to experience a racecation? Do you feel pressure from other runners to run a half marathon? Obviously if you have some goal finish time in mind, you should be more picky in what race you choose than if you just want to hang out with your running friends and have fun at a race together.

In summary, major points to consider when choosing your first half marathon:

  1. Where is the race? You need to factor in transportation and lodging costs.
  2. When is the race? To factor in weather and family or work obligations.
  3. What is the race course like?
  4. Is this a big race with lots of runners or a smaller race with fewer runners?
  5. What do you want to get out of running this race? If you don’t find a race that will address this, you might not have a good first race experience.

I have a similar post to this, Planning a Racecation that gets more into the specifics of packing, accommodations, and flying to a race. I also have a post Five of my Favorite Places for Racecations and I would be tempted to add my most recent race The Famous Potato Half Marathon in Beautiful Boise to that list of racecations.

Does anyone else go through a checklist like this when choosing a half marathon or marathon? What are the most important factors when choosing a race to you?

Happy running!

Donna

 

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Some Things I Wish My Non-Runner Friends and Family Could Understand About Me as a Runner and Other Tips and Advice

I’ve been a runner since I was in grade school when I ran the mile, 800 meter, and 400 meter relay on the school track team. The only time in my life when I wasn’t running was when I took some time off during college after developing shin splints. I feel like running is in my blood, as cheesy as that might sound. All of this also gives me insight into some of the bizarre things that runners do, which honestly seem perfectly normal if you’re a runner. What are some of these strange things that runners do, you ask? Well, I’ve compiled a list and included some other runner’s insights in the hopes to maybe enlighten non-runners. Feel free to share this list with some of your non-running friends and family!

1.  When I’m finishing a run, I’ll sometimes run past my house and run circles around the neighbors’ cul-du-sacs so I can reach a certain distance on my running watch. For example, if my running plan has me running for 4 miles but I’ve miscalculated and am only at 3.85 miles when I return home, I’ll keep running to get in that last 0.15 miles. 4 miles means 4 miles, not 3.85 miles.

2.  If I run by you and you wave or honk your car horn at me and I don’t respond, don’t think I’m being rude. I often get into a sort of zone when I’m running and I may not notice other people or cars around me. Either that or I’m so dead-tired I just don’t have the energy to lift my hand up to wave.

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3.  Get this in your heads people. A marathon is the same distance no matter where in the world it’s held and it’s always 26.2 miles, not 26 miles either, but 26.2. A half marathon is likewise always the same distance no matter where or when it’s held, that being 13.1 miles.

4.  A half marathon is still a very long way to run, even if it isn’t a marathon. Please don’t ever say to a runner, “I know you just ran a half marathon, but when are you going to run a real marathon.” True story, someone asked me that once.

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Long Beach Marathon, the only “real” marathon I ever ran

5.  Not everyone that runs is trying to lose weight. Believe it or not, many runners are fine with their weight (although they might wish that extra 5 or 10 extra pounds would go away) and they aren’t running just to try to lose weight.

6.  When I get home from a long run, I’m tired, often extremely tired. All I want to do is lie on the floor while I cool off, and have someone bring me ice water and what ever post-run fuel I’m currently in the mood for. If you have a runner in your house that’s just returned from a long run, please drop everything you’re doing and help this poor soul out for the love of all things sacred.

7.  Runners often obsessively check the weather before a run or especially before an upcoming race. Weather can quite simply make or break a run. If it’s going to be super-hot and humid, all of my finish time expectations go out the window for a race because I know that kind of weather will physically make it harder for me to run and I will inevitably be slower than if it was cooler. I can also try to dress more appropriately for a run or race, depending on the weather.

8.  Runners often get bruised toenails, which can then fall off, and sometimes we get blisters on toes and feet. It’s best if you just don’t look at my feet, especially if you’re a non-runner because I’m quite sure this is one thing you’re never going to understand. If you’re a runner, we can compare our bruised and blistered feet without blinking an eye and most importantly without passing judgement.

9.  Don’t ask a runner if they “won” a race. Often just finishing a race is more than enough of an accomplishment.

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Winning first in my age group was a huge win for me as far as I was concerned

10.  If you’re cheering on a runner friend or relative at a race, don’t tell other runners that the finish is “just around the corner” when they have another 10 miles to go. For that matter, don’t even mention the finish, just lie and tell them they look great.

11.  All runners like to be cheered on at races. Runners appreciate all the cheesy signs you make, all of those cowbells you ring, and cheering them on. It’s like fuel to a runner and definitely helps.

12.  If a runner is injured and can’t run, know that this will be a very difficult time for them mentally and emotionally. For many of us, running is such a big part of our lives, if we can’t run, we don’t feel like ourselves. Every runner is different with different needs so ask, “What can I do for you? How can I help you?” Then actually do it (or don’t do it if they ask you to not do something). Most of all try to be patient and understanding with an injured runner.

What about all of my running friends out there? What are some things you wish you could share with your non-running friends and family to help them understand you as a runner? Other advice you’d like to share with non-runners?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Famous Potato Half Marathon, Idaho-42nd state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Idaho was my 42nd state.

Woo hoo! I was able to squeak out a sub-2 hour finish for this race, but I’m getting way ahead of myself. Several years ago when I was driving from the Spokane airport to Missoula, Montana for a half marathon there, I was in awe of the scenery in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho along the way and I always thought that’s where I would run my half marathon in Idaho.

As I’ve found out many times over in this journey, things often don’t turn out as I thought they would. About a year ago, I asked other runners where I should run my remaining half marathons, including the one in Idaho. Several people mentioned Boise, so I took them up on their suggestions and chose a half marathon in Boise, The Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon.

The races consisted of a 5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon on May 17, 2018. The start for the half marathon and marathon was Lucky Peak State Park- Sandy Point. The 13.1 mile course was point-to-point and finished at Albertsons Headquarters in Boise.

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Race start of Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon

Packet pickup was about as simple as they come. I got my bib, a potato-shaped pin that said Idaho on it, a couple of Honey Stinger energy bars, and grabbed a map of the course. I like to physically see the course where I’ll be running so usually we’ll drive the course the day before. Since so much of this course was along greenways, it was difficult to see much other than to see that it was going to be a flat course.

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Giant potato photo op at packet pickup

It was 53 degrees at the start but it felt colder than that because it was very windy and overcast. We were in a canyon for the first few miles and once we got out of the canyon, the wind died down. The race start was delayed by about 10 minutes because two of the buses shuttling runners to the start had gotten pulled off by a volunteer who had mistakenly told the driver he couldn’t be on the road at 7 am because the race was starting. Finally it was straightened out and the runners came hurrying off the buses to the start.

The race start was extremely crowded and it didn’t thin out for a few miles. I was a bit concerned because I knew a considerable portion of the race was going to be on greenways. Luckily that wasn’t an issue by the time we got on the greenways and they weren’t usually too congested to be a problem.

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There were several water views and we crossed over the Boise River at least a couple of times. There were also nice neighborhoods that we ran past for some portions of the race. I felt like the race was pretty scenic for the most part. This race was also flat with only small inclines to go up, but it didn’t feel so pancake flat that my legs were too tired.

Along the way, I was passed by a man trying to break his 50th Guiness world record, this one for running the fastest half marathon while balancing a pool cue on one finger. I don’t think I could have managed to do that for one mile, let alone 13.1! There were also some other 50-staters running this race for their marathon or half marathon for Idaho and I briefly chatted with a couple of them before I left them.

The volunteer stations were sufficiently scattered every couple of miles and there were port-o-johns every few miles along the course in addition to the start and finish. One thing that was pretty scarce was spectators along the course but that’s the nature of it when a good portion of a race is on greenways.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I finished just under 2 hours, at 1:59:51. My GPS watch also had me running 13.32 miles, but I understand GPS times don’t always agree 100% with course distance. My time was good enough for 7th out of 59 in my age group, overall 253rd out of 897, and 105th female out of 535, and I was happy with all that. Not since my race in New Hampshire, my 35th state, was I able to finish under 2 hours.

Post-race food was bagels, fruit, water, Chobani yogurt, and of course the famous potato bar with several toppings to choose from. There were several bounce houses for kids and some business booths. One thing that I thought was a nice touch and I wish other races would have is tables and chairs were set up in the grassy area. It was nice to not have to sit in the grass after the race.

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Enjoying the potato bar at the finish!

We got our finisher t-shirts at the finish. They were cute and of good quality athletic material. The medals were different for each distance but the t-shirts were the same for all runners.

Overall I really enjoyed this race and would recommend it. So if you’re looking for a flat, fast race in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, consider running the Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon!

Happy Running!

Donna

 

Running a Women-Only Race

It seems that women-only races are becoming more and more popular and for good reason. For many years women weren’t allowed to run long distances races. To even be typing that seems absurd to me but I remember when doctors would tell women they shouldn’t run. Going on absolutely no real findings, doctors believed running was somehow bad for women and/or that women couldn’t run long distances because we were too frail and our periods somehow interfered with running. If you even attempted to run while pregnant, you would be condemned by everyone you knew.

Flash back to 1967 when Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon with a numbered entry. She registered under the name “K.V. Switzer” and was almost thrown off the course while running by race official Jock Semple. Kathrine is a legend in the field of running and an inspiration to all runners but especially female runners. It took another five years before women were officially allowed to run in the Boston Marathon in 1972.

The field of female runners has increased over the years and gradually more and more women have been entering races but women are still out-numbered by men at most marathons. So why the draw to a women-only race? Well, I can tell you my first-hand experience. I ran a women-only plus “one lucky guy” half marathon in Massachusetts a few years ago. The race organizers allowed entry for one guy (I’m not sure how he was chosen from the other males that entered or even how many males entered for that matter).

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Some of the fall foliage from the All Women and One Lucky Guy Half Marathon

The All Women and One Lucky Guy Half Marathon I ran in Massachusetts was one that sticks out in my mind, of all of the half marathons I’ve run. Yes, the course was beautiful with all of the fall foliage in peak season and running past farms along country roads was lovely but that’s not what makes the race memorable. The race stands out in my mind apart from the rest because of the camaraderie at the race simply because it was an all-women race. It’s difficult to explain but it had a different kind of vibe than the usual male/female mixed races. You can read my full race report here.

I know there has been some backlash from some women’s only races, namely some of the Diva races, which include the half marathon and 5K in many cities in the US, Puerto Rico, and Canada. These races are all about the stereotypical feminine bling like pink boas, tiaras, tutus, and pretty much all things pink. I think it’s all meant to provide a fun atmosphere and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Personally, I’m not a diva in any way, shape, or form, but I feel if some women want to be, that should be their choice. I have a friend who has run in some of the diva races and she said they’re “kind of silly” but also “kind of fun.” I say if it takes that kind of thing to encourage some women to run a race, so be it.

One important note, not all women’s only races are like the diva ones or the ones you hear about firefighters handing out jewelry to finishers at the end. The race I ran wasn’t handing out chocolates, roses, or anything frilly. The medal did have a pink ribbon but it wasn’t anything too over the top. In general this race was like any other race, except it happened to be all women and one guy running the race, and like I said earlier, there was a different kind of vibe.

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Women in the All Women and One Lucky Guy at the start- not much pink here!

Finally, my thoughts on men running in women’s only races. While these races are geared toward women and providing a safe, encouraging space, sometimes men will sign up. Sometimes their wife/girlfriend/friend/sister will ask them to run the race with them, and sometimes they just want to sign up and run it on their own, although I think both cases are pretty rare. There’s nothing to stop them. I don’t think we would ever have a role reversal like the Kathrine Switzer attempt to throw a man off a women’s only course. I think most men understand that women enjoy having their own space to run a race and they’re fine with that.

Want to try your own Women’s Only race? Here are a few to try:

See Jane Run Women’s Half Marathon & 5K – San Francisco Bay Area

Her Madison Half Marathon & 5K- Wisconsin

Bridge of the Goddess Half Marathon & 10K- Oregon

Queen Bee Half Marathon & 4-Miler- Cincinnati, Ohio

Unleash the She 5K & 10K- Minnesota

Phoenix Women’s Half Marathon, 5K, & 10K- Arizona

Cocoa Half Marathon, 5K, 10K, & 1 Mile Family Fun Run- San Antonio, Texas

Savannah Women’s Half Marathon & 5K- Georgia

Thelma and Louise Half Marathon & Relay- Utah

National Women’s Half Marathon & 8K- Washington, DC

Disney Princess Half Marathon, 10K, & 5K- Florida

Tinker Bell Half Marathon- California

Shape Women’s Half Marathon- New York City

Diva Running Series- multiple locations

How many of you have run in a women-only race? Any you’d recommend? Please share your experience here. Do you hate the very idea of women’s only races? Share those opinions as well!

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

Thoughts on Running a Race in all 50 States

Now that I’m up to 41 states in my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, I can stand back and take a look at my experience so far. When I started running half marathons, I didn’t have this goal. In fact, I didn’t have the goal of one in each state until I had already ran a half marathon in several states. One day I just said, hey that would be a fun goal to run a half marathon in every state, and I just sort of fell into it from there.

Running a race in all 50 states takes a ton of time, energy, and money. Unless you’re independently wealthy, it will most likely take you many years to accomplish your goal. Of course, the longer the distance you plan on running, the more expensive it will be, but not hugely more. Yes, marathons cost more than 5k’s to register, but the real expense is in the airfare, lodging, gas, and food. These expenses will be the same regardless of the distance you are running.

If you don’t have support from your family and boss (assuming you work and have a family) you won’t be able to accomplish this goal. I’ll re-phrase that. If you don’t have support from your family and boss you won’t be able to accomplish this goal in a timely manner. If you only get one week of vacation time off work a year, it will be much harder to travel to races. Initially it may work and you can travel during holidays that you have paid time off, but eventually it will get harder and harder to find races when you have time off work, especially if you don’t enjoy running in northern states around Thanksgiving or Christmas, for example.

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The youngest member of my support crew (photo was taken several years ago)!

This goal also takes total commitment from family members because of the time and money involved. If your spouse isn’t on-board with this goal, instead of support you’ll get resentment and eventually your goal will deteriorate. My husband and daughter are my biggest running fans and they’ve seen first-hand how they’ve also benefited from my goal, by getting to travel to new states and have a fun family vacation. We’ve been to places that we probably never would have gone to, but have almost always been pleasantly surprised by the place. There have been a couple of places we were underwhelmed by, but we still managed to have a good time and make the most of it!

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If I hadn’t ran the Madison Mini-Marathon, we probably wouldn’t have known first-hand what a fun city Madison is!

Having a goal to run a race in all 50 states also takes a huge amount of planning, especially when you get down to the final 15 or so states. Some states only have less than ten half marathons, which greatly limits when you can run them. Also, if you’re limited to a certain part of a state where you can run for whatever reason, that also limits when you can run those races. Your choices are also dictated by the distance you’re running. If you’re running 5k’s you will most likely have more options than if you’re running 10k’s simply because there are more 5k’s than 10k’s.

I’ve also found that many times the race I thought I would run (sometimes I’ll have a race in mind years in advance) just didn’t happen for various reasons and I ended up running an entirely different race. For example, I thought I would run the Tybee Island Half Marathon in Georgia and looked forward to it for years. The year I went to register for it there was some problem and the race director was thinking about canceling the race for that year. I could have waited to see what would happen but I didn’t want to take a chance and not be able to run it and have to scramble around to find another race at the last minute along with airfare, hotel, car rental, etc. so I signed up for Run the Reagan Half Marathon, a race near Atlanta. It was one of the worst half marathons I’ve ever ran and I regretted not just waiting until the next year for Tybee Island.

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Run the Reagan Half Marathon was no fun but at least we had fun at the Botanical Garden in Atlanta after the race!

Sometimes even with the best intentions of planning, things (aka races) fall through. In the case of my race in Oregon, I thought I’d be running a small race in Eugene. I had already booked our airfare, hotels, and car rental but I just hadn’t paid my registration fee for the race yet. Since it was a small race with no incentive to sign up early (prices didn’t increase over time as they sometimes do), I just wasn’t in a hurry to sign up. My daughter was interested in running the 5k so I emailed the race director with a question about that, only to be told the entire event (half marathon and 5k) had been cancelled. Fortunately there was another half marathon that she told me about also in Eugene the day after the one I thought I would be running, so I signed up for that one on the spot and breathed a sigh of relief!

Beyond races being cancelled, flights are also often changed, delayed, or cancelled. I’ve had so many flight changes for races I was flying to, I learned early on to give myself a buffer of at least one day, if not two or more, depending on where I’m flying and what the flight times are. For example, for flights to big cities where there are multiple flights a day, a buffer of one day would be fine, but for flights to smaller cities and/or places where you have to connect through other cities, I would personally give at least two buffer days before the race, just in case something happens.

Although I feel like it’s probably too late at this point, I’ve wondered if maybe I should have joined the Fifty States Half Marathon Club. I’m just not sure I can justify the one-time $79 fee on top of either a 3 or 5 year membership fee. Since I’ve already ran 41 states, I’d have to pay for a 5 year dues membership. This might be well and good if I had another 25+ states to go but since I’ll hopefully be done in another few years, I just don’t think I would get enough out of it to justify joining now.

When I mention to people that I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states, the one question I get asked by far the most is, “Have you ran a race in Hawaii yet?” I guess a lot of Americans are fascinated by Hawaii. No one has ever asked me, “Have you ran a race in Rhode Island yet?” even though that one was one of my favorites so far. Oh, and the answer is, “Yes, Hawaii was one of the first half marathons I ever ran, before I even had the goal of running one in every state.” You can read about that here if you’d like.

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Finally, I’ve learned that if you run enough races, eventually you’ll win an age-group award. I’ve always considered myself a near-the-front middle of the pack racer (if that makes sense), usually finishing in the top quarter for my age group. I never thought I’d “win” a race as my mother used to always ask me when I spoke to her afterwards (she’d ask, “Did you win?”) but I’ve been pleasantly surprised to win first, second, and third in my age group at races in Missouri New Hampshire, and Oregon, respectively.

What questions do you all have about running a half marathon or even a different distance race in all 50 states? Are any of you running a race in all 50 states or considering it?

Happy running!

Donna

Marshall University Half Marathon, West Virginia- 41st state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. West Virginia was my 41st state.

I grew up in West Virginia and went on to get my bachelor’s degree at West Virginia University, so I spent the first 22 years of my life in the state. Surprised that I waited all the way until my 41st state to run a half marathon here? If you knew just how hilly mountainous the state is, you’d understand. The entire state lies within the Appalachian Mountains, which means you’re hard-pressed to find an area with enough flat sections to run a half marathon that’s not super-hilly. In my opinion, a half marathon is hard enough without having to run up and down a mountain along the way.

For years I also put off running a half marathon in Colorado because of the elevation. That race was every bit as difficult as I thought it would be, but I did it when I ran the Boulder Rez Half Marathon. After that, I thought I’d be more ready to tackle a half marathon in West Virginia. As I mentioned, I was looking for something fairly flat, at least by West Virginia standards. I also wanted something fairly easy to get to, that I could drive to within a reasonable time. In my mind, that pretty much left something in either Charleston or Huntington, since both cities run along rivers and are relatively flat.

Enter the Marshall University Marathon and Half Marathon. Marshall University is in Huntington, a small town of about 45,000 people, in the southern part of the state near Ohio and Kentucky. There is a small airport here, but you’d probably be better off flying into Charleston, the capital, about an hour away, and driving a rental car to Huntington.

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A beautiful sunrise over Marshall University stadium

2017 was the 14th year for the marathon, so I thought it should be well-organized and most likely a good match for me. The only wild card was the weather. I remember trick-or-treating in my hometown in West Virginia wearing a heavy winter coat many Halloweens as a kid, and seeing snow in October wasn’t unusual. Since moving to North Carolina many years ago, I’ve become a weather wimp, especially when it comes to cold weather. The week of the race, the weather prediction changed from a chance of thunderstorms the morning of the race to rain the day before, to no rain on Sunday, and back to 61% chance of rain at 8:00 a.m. during the race. So I had no idea what the weather was going to be like during the race.

Packet pickup was offered both Friday and Saturday (no race-day pickup) and was easy and efficient. Half marathoners received a short-sleeve technical shirt and marathoners got that in addition to an Asics jacket (half marathoners could purchase a jacket). People running the 5k got a cotton short-sleeve shirt. There wasn’t really much else in the packet other than a map of Marshall University and written instructions for the race. There was a WV magazine, which I flipped through, but that’s all there was and I was glad really. I always think it’s a waste to get a bunch of junk no one wants anyway in your packet.

Despite the not-so-great weather predictions for the race, what happened in reality was near-perfect racing weather (for me, anyway; probably a bit warm for most other people). The low Saturday night was 57 F, which is 17 degrees warmer than it was this time last year in Huntington. Although it was overcast and looked like it could rain any second, it stayed completely dry the entire morning. Hurray! So I ran the course with temperatures in the low 60’s and overcast.

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Marathoners and half marathoners all start together but the crowd thins out after the first mile

The course was extremely flat by West Virginia standards. When I tried to look at course information on the website, I was unable to get a real feel for the elevation and how many hills there were on the course. When we tried to drive the course the day before the race, we were unable to because of all of the one-way streets and the fact that the course veered onto running/walking paths a few times. In the course description it said there was only one small hill and I was so happy I could have cried when I saw it was indeed a small hill, by anyone’s standards, and there were no more hills on the rest of the course. A flat half marathon in West Virginia is almost unheard of, but somehow I managed to find it.

Volunteers along the course were great and there were plenty of aid stations with water and Gatorade and port-a-johns. There were spurts where there were people cheering on runners and I thought crowd support was pretty good given the race is in a pretty small town. The best parts of the course were where it ran along the river and on the running/walking path in Ritter Park. With the trees in full peak time for autumn foliage, it was beautiful seeing all of the bright red, orange, and yellow leaves everywhere.

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My daughter getting handed a football to run the final portion of the 5k with

The finish in the football stadium was awesome. There were volunteers handing out footballs near the end, so you could finish running with a football if you wanted, which I did of course. The footballs were ours to keep too. It’s definitely one of the more unique things I’ve received from a race. The medals were on the small side, but they were individualized for each race, the marathon, half marathon, and 5k. Food at the finish was hot dogs, hamburgers, potato chips, chocolate milk, cookies, bananas, and water. I was nauseous prior to and during the first hour of the race, so all I felt like eating after the race was a banana and I drank some chocolate milk.

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The pacer here (in green) kept me on-track for the last couple of miles!

I did have a mishap the morning of the race. When I was filling one of my water bottles with Nuun, I noticed I seemed to be spilling some of it, then I noticed there was a gash in my bottle. I grabbed the bottle and salvaged what I could by pouring it into my full-size water bottle I had been using for the weekend (and it was empty, fortunately). I decided I would just chug that immediately before the race started then hand the empty bottle off to my husband and run with just one small bottle of Nuun instead of my usual two small bottles. Although there was water and Gatorade on the course, I prefer to run with my own Nuun for races. However, I didn’t even finish the bottle of Nuun I was running with, so it turned out fine in the end. I still have no idea how my bottle got such a large cut in it, though. Fortunately these Nathan bottles are easy to find and replace.

Overall, I loved this race. It helped me remember why I run half marathons and I truly enjoyed myself during this one. At the last two races I ran, in New Jersey and  Utah, I really struggled during those races and didn’t really enjoy them because they felt more like a slog to the finish. I was so glad I chose this race for my one in West Virginia and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun and well-organized marathon or half marathon in West Virginia. I later heard raving reviews from other runners about the full marathon as well, in case any of you are wondering.

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My chip time was 2:00:55 (my A goal was 2:05, so I was thrilled with 2:00), and I finished 11th of 66 in my age group. I was the 93rd female out of 577. On a side note, my daughter ran the 5k and finished second in her age group, which is fantastic considering she was in the 19 and under group and she’s only 12! #proudmama

Marshall University Marathon, Half Marathon, and 5k

What’s one of the most unique things you’ve gotten at a race?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

Last Long Run Before my Next Half Marathon, Running Au Naturel

Lest you were thinking something else by the title, I won’t disappoint you. I don’t mean sans clothing by au naturel. Let me explain.

When I headed out the door to go on my last scheduled long run from my training plan, before I even started running I found out there was something wrong with either my earbuds or my podcast app (or my phone). It sounded like there was a short in my headphones, so after a few minutes of trying various things, I just stashed the earbuds in my running belt and started my run.

Even though I always run my long runs listening to podcasts (but no other runs during the week), I thought it would be fine to not listen to anything except for the sounds of nature around me. Then maybe a mile and a half into my run, my running watch died. Yes, I usually check my battery and storage on my watch the night before I run, but for whatever reason I must not have this time.

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I swear this road seemed a lot hillier when I was running up it than it looks here!

OK, I thought. I’ll just go the route I normally run for long runs. I know pretty much where each mile point is. But then I thought, no, I’ll do something a little differently. I’ll just go by time. I still had my phone with me in my armband, so I figured I’d just pull it out every so often and check how long I had been running.

Since the following weekend I would be running in a half marathon in a place I’ve never even done anything other than drive by in a car, I thought it might be good for me to run a route I don’t normally run for this last long run before the race. So, I was without my GPS running watch and without anything to listen to on my phone, hence “au naturel.” I was running the way people used to run, before watches with GPS and before people ran listening to podcasts or music.

I learned a couple of things along the way, too. 1). I learned that time seemed to go by slower than I estimated. I would think to myself, surely ten minutes has passed by now and check the time on my phone, only to find out it had only been 6 or maybe 7 minutes. It made me wonder if maybe I should run listening to music or podcasts during races. Normally I don’t listen to anything during races, but maybe it would make the time go by faster. 2). It’s a pain in the butt to keep pulling out your phone and putting it back into an armband. I don’t know how people stand to do that when they’re running. Maybe you get used to it over time, or maybe they have different armbands than I do.

So now with only a couple of days before my next half marathon, I’m left wondering how I’ll do since I wasn’t able to see my pace for my last run. I did have a fairly decent 12 mile run the weekend before this one. Based on that, I should finish somewhere around 2:05 or so, but who knows. The biggest factor for me is going to be how hilly the course is and how cold it is. Lately I’ve been dealing with some sort of sinus problems I can’t get under control and I’ve been coughing a lot as a result. Cold weather always aggravates any sinus issues I have. I’m pretty sure it’s just allergies so in theory I should feel at least partially better at the race since it’ll be in another state. I guess I’ll find out. Wish me luck for state number 41 in West Virginia!

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If you don’t follow me on Insta @runningtotraveltheworld, you probably don’t know I got a puppy! She and my other dog are BFFs!

Also, if you follow this link, you can get $4 off any Nuun 4-pack on Amazon through 11/13/17:  Amazon link for Nuun

Happy running!

Donna