What’s in my Racing (Running) Bag?

Similar to “What’s in my Family’s Luggage” post, I thought I’d write one up on what I pack for a race. Since I’m currently on my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, and am up to 41 states, I have been packing a bag for a race for many years now. The contents of my pre-race bag have certainly changed as I’ve learned what works and doesn’t work for me.

To begin with, let me just re-iterate how much I love my packing cubes from ebags. I have the 3 piece set and love them so much I bought more for my daughter. If you are new to my blog, you may not be aware that my family and I never check a bag with an airline. Also, since I’m down to the last 9 states, there will be no more driving to a half marathon for me. I’ve already driven to all of ones that are within driving distance from my house and I’m not into cross-country driving before a half marathon.

I’ve always been able to condense all of my running gear except for my shoes, which I always wear on the airplane to the race, into a medium-sized packing cube. Almost always I’ll be running once or twice before the race as well, so I’ll also pack another running shirt, sports bra, socks, and shorts or other weather-appropriate bottoms in the cube.

So let’s get down to the nitty gritty. What exactly is in my running packing cube specifically for a half marathon?

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1. I always pack at least one sports bra and pair of socks, regardless of the weather and time of year. I learned the hard way at my half marathon in Missoula, Montana to pack a long-sleeve shirt and capris or pants even if it’s July and you think there’s no way you’ll need to wear anything but shorts and short-sleeves if you’re headed somewhere north of where you live. I consider these things my basics. I’ve been buying Zensah sports bras lately and really like them so I’m packing one of those for my next race. For socks, I’m packing Zensah Grit socks. My shirt is a short-sleeve from Arctic Cool that I reviewed and you can read that here if you’d like. My shorts are from Under Armour. The shorts and shirt obviously would be different if I was headed to a cooler race.

2. I always pack my running watch and charger. I’ve had multiple Garmins and more recently a TomTom over the years, but this is one piece of gear that’s always gone with me to my races.

3. I always pack sunglasses and a running hat. I’ll decide on the morning of the race if I actually wear the sunglasses and hat, depending on how sunny/hot/cold it is going to be.

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All my running gear neatly packed in a medium-sized packing cube

4. In more recent years I’ve started running races with my Nathan running belt. It’s got holders for two bottles, which I like better than ones that have a spot for one big bottle. I run all my races fueled by Nuun carried by me and have found that just works better for me. No surprises on what you’re going to get at aid stations, and if it’s going to settle well with you, and even better, no slowing down at aid stations to grab a cup and try to not slosh it all over yourself while still swallowing a few drops. Speaking of fuel, I also like Honey Stinger waffles. I have a finicky stomach on race day but I usually don’t have a hard time getting these down.

5. Also in more recent years, I’ve been running races with my phone and armband. After one race where the finish was an absolute mad house and I had trouble finding my husband and daughter because there were so many people (even though we agreed to meet in a specific spot ahead of time), I started just running with my phone for all races.

6. I always wear my running shoes to races where I have to fly to, so those don’t go in my packing cubes. My latest pair for long runs is the Newton Fate II, which you can buy directly from Newton here and I see currently they’re on sale. It looks like the Fate III’s are out now. Not sure if I’ll stick with Newton or switch brands. I’m debating switching brands just to mix things up.

7. I also have two things for after a race. The first one is compression socks. These are fantastic for long flights, whether or not you’re running a race. When you’re on a long flight, the blood in your legs tends to pool unless you get up and walk around the plane a lot, so compression socks help with circulation in your legs. I personally like ones from Zensah and you can buy them here. The rule of thumb when it comes to compression products is if they’re easy to put on and pull off, they’re not tight enough. These things should be difficult to put on and feel like a bit of a struggle, but in the end it’s worth it.

The second thing I have for after a race is new to me, but one I’m very excited about. I’ve just discovered Oofos sandals (thank you, Paula!) and couldn’t be more excited about a pair of sandals. If you haven’t discovered Oofos yet, they’re supposed to be great for recovery after running or just being on your feet all day. You can tell they’re supremely different than most other flip-flop type sandals the second you put them on. The support they give to your feet is incredible. I can see why they’re so popular with runners.

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I’m normally not a big fan of photos of people’s feet but I felt like my new Oofos deserved a photo!

So that’s everything. I feel like I’ve packed a bag for a half marathon so many times by now I barely even have to think about what I need to bring. It does make it a bit less stressful when packing at least.

Also, I have an affiliate link through ebags for $30 off your next order if you sign up for emails here.  I don’t often pass along links for ebags on my blog, but if you follow me on twitter @runningtotravel, I’ll sometimes post links there for discounts when they come along. I love their stuff, but I don’t want to seem like I’m too pushy (I wouldn’t be a very good salesperson).

What running gear or clothes do you all really like for half marathons or marathons? Any recommendations?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

Milestones Every Serious Runner Should Reach (Or so They Say)

After reading an article on Active titled 13 Milestones Every Serious Runner Should Reach I started to think about it. For those of you that don’t want to read the article, I’ll break down the thirteen steps.

  1.  Finish your first 5k
  2. A double-digit run
  3. Your very first gel
  4. Your first black toenail
  5. Completing your first half marathon
  6. The sub-2 hour half marathon
  7. Your sub-7 minute mile
  8. Your first run in bad weather
  9. Hitting 40 miles in a week
  10. Your first 20 mile run
  11. Your first race bonk
  12. Crossing the finish line of a marathon
  13. A BQ (Boston Marathon qualifying time)

I’ve done all but the last one, earn a BQ. My one and only marathon was a disaster and by no means was I anywhere close to a BQ. I also had no desire since then to run another marathon. My body just isn’t made to run marathons, nor do I have the time nor am I willing to make the time to train for a marathon.

Does it make you any less of a runner if you don’t run a marathon or even a half marathon? What if you run for an hour five days a week faithfully for years but never enter into any races- are you not a serious runner?

What does “serious” runner mean anyway? Apparently to the author who made up the above list, a serious runner is only one who runs marathons and runs them fast at that. Or do you have to only complete some of these from the list to qualify as a “serious” runner? Maybe if you’ve done most of them, you’re a serious runner. But then that would mean the slower runners wouldn’t be serious. I’ll bet if you ask anyone who has run a few marathons but hasn’t finished even close to a BQ, they would tell you they’re a serious runner for sure!

I guess I consider myself a serious runner. Running is a big part of my life and like I said, while I’ve only ever ran one marathon, I run a few half marathons a year and am approaching my 43rd half marathon. When I was training for my marathon, I ran 40 miles in a week, ran 20 miles in a training run, and bonked because of the extreme heat at the marathon, but I did still manage to cross the finish line. Now that I train for half marathons, I don’t or won’t ever do the last five items in the list. I don’t think that makes me any less of a serious runner.

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My one and only marathon, the Long Beach Marathon

Many of these items on the list are possible “one and done” kind of things. Does simply completing a 5k, half marathon, and marathon (which means by default all but numbers 6, 7 and 13 would likely also happen and quite possibly number 3 as well) make you a serious runner? Does that mean once you’re a serious runner and you can tick off the majority of items from the list, you’re always a serious runner? Or does that status go away if you’re not running half marathons and marathons and qualifying for Boston?

I know I’ve asked a lot of questions and haven’t answered many of them. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what my list would be for a “serious” runner. I think it varies for everyone. Some people are never going to run sub-7 minute miles and that’s just a fact. I don’t think that makes you any less of a serious runner because of that. Likewise, many people are never going to run a sub-2 hour half marathon and even more are never going to run a BQ marathon.

I think if you just finish a marathon, you’re a serious runner (assuming you’re not walking the entire race of course). It takes huge amounts of effort and time to just train for a marathon and anyone who doesn’t agree has never trained for a marathon. Also training for a half marathon takes huge amounts of time and energy.

So no, I don’t agree that every runner “should” reach these milestones to be considered a serious runner. I agree that these are indeed milestones that some runners reach over the span of their running careers, but I don’t agree every runner needs to do these things. I think to say that somehow makes the efforts of people who are out there running, doing the best they can, but not running 6 minute miles or going out for 20 mile runs seem less worthwhile than runners going faster or further. It says what they’re doing isn’t good enough. I’ve always said, you’re racing against yourself and that’s all that matters. I use the term “racing” loosely too, meaning, training runs, during a race, or even just out by yourself for a run with no race in sight.

However, I can go the other direction, too, and agree that most people wouldn’t call someone who goes out and runs for a mile or two at a light and easy pace a “serious” runner. So I guess you might say “serious” to me at least implies someone who goes a bit above and beyond the everyday runner. Still, I don’t want to demean someone who goes out for short easy runs and never runs a race. Just because you’re not a serious runner doesn’t make you any less of a runner. Certainly not everyone should be or in some cases is able to be a serious runner.

Milestones should be very personal for each runner. A milestone for one person may not be a milestone for another. So I ask you all:  what are some of your running milestones?

 

 

The 2017 Tunnel to Towers 5k in North Carolina and Why it Sucked

Sometimes you just need to vent after a race. I’ve never written a post like this before, about a race I didn’t even run. My daughter ran this race last weekend and there were so many things about it that just rubbed me the wrong way I felt the need to get some things off my chest. I hope you all don’t mind if I vent.

I signed my daughter up for this race because she recently decided to switch from swimming year-round on a swim team to focusing her time and energy on running instead. She can’t try out for her school track team until February. I knew giving her a goal race would keep her motivated to get through the last of the summer heat. She was doing great in her training and I had a feeling she would do very well at the race.

A few days before the race, I emailed the contact on the website to ask about a course map. Two days later, I got some kind of response that was like, “In order to ensure the best possible race for the runners, we are still working on the logistics of the race course.” In other words, there was no set race course yet. That was when my first alarm bell went off.

At packet pickup (which consisted of getting a t-shirt and bib) there was still no race map. The day of the race, still no map. When I asked a volunteer if there were any course maps, I was told there were only a few print-outs available but volunteers had them. OK. So I told my daughter to just pay attention on the course and hopefully it would be well-marked. Note, I did later find out the Facebook page had posted a course map the day before the race, but I was unaware since I didn’t follow the Fb page.

Promptly at 9:45 am, the runners were off. Here’s another reason why I didn’t like this race. 9:45 is too late to start a race in central North Carolina in September. The sun was blazing hot and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Just pushing up the start to 7:45 am would have made a huge difference.

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Toeing the line at the start

Fifteen minutes into the race, I decided to walk up to where the runners would be coming back through towards the finish line. Two volunteers were questioning the position of cones, which were there at the start so runners wouldn’t make a wrong turn. It turns out the cones should have been moved, because the runners were supposed to go down that road to the finish. Unfortunately, the mistake wasn’t realized until after the first three finishers had already gone through, adding at least a tenth of a mile on, if not more. This was yet another case of poor organization.

I saw my daughter coming through and cheered her on to the finish. She looked hot, sweaty, and tired, but strong. She told me there was some confusion about where to go on the course, because it wasn’t well-marked and had some strange turns. There was also a big hill at the end they had to run up. It wasn’t the most scenic course and there’s certainly nothing memorable about the area, but I don’t necessarily fault the race director for that although the overall course organization could have been better.

There were no medals given out to finishers but there was water, well until they ran out of water. This race only had about 250 runners and walkers and they still managed to run out of water. The problems with this race just kept piling on.

We decided to wait around for the awards ceremony, thinking my daughter may have finished in the top three for her age group. But first, they retired the flags, the insurance commissioner of North Carolina spoke, a woman sang “America the Beautiful,” and the announcer spoke for a while. Did I mention it was blazing hot? I fully understand the race is being held for a cause and they really wanted to drive that point home, but I felt it could have been organized better.

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Many firefighters ran in full gear, like this woman shown here who jumped into the race after snapping a few photos

Finally they began the awards ceremony. A group of firefighters were given a really nice trophy for the fastest group of “Heroes” on the course. They called up the top male finisher overall, the top male finisher for ages 10-14, and the top male finisher for ages 15-19. Then they called the top female finisher (who had already gone home) and concluded the awards ceremony. Wait a minute. What about the rest of the females?

Everyone started going towards their cars, and by now, I was so angry I was shaking. I went up to the race director and asked, “What about the rest of the females? Why weren’t they recognized?” The race director actually told me, “The males got awards because they were the fastest to finish.” WHAT? Did she seriously just say that? I told her at every single other race I’ve been to where awards were given, both males and females were recognized, not just the males. There was another parent of a young girl who had ran, backing me up.

The race director told me that Fleet Feet, who had done timing for the race, would have the official results and the top three finishers in all age groups could pick up their awards at the store. I told the director part of winning an award at a race was the recognition. After several minutes, the race director made an announcement that they had made a mistake, and awards would be given out for the top females. By this point, there was literally only maybe 20 people still there.

Need I tell you I was furious by this point? Never before had I been so thoroughly upset with the poor organization of a race. They did announce my daughter’s age-group win, and gave her a medal (medals were only given out to age-group winners). I didn’t even see it, because I was at the timing tent, looking up her finish time, as I was told to do by the director.

It turns out she finished first in her age group. I should have been excited, but at that point, all I felt was angry. Angry that the race director was so clueless that what should have been a momentous occasion for my daughter was ruined. It all left a bad taste in my mouth.

Although we hadn’t planned on going there the day of the race, we drove to Fleet Feet since it was in another city from where we live and we wouldn’t normally shop there with my daughter. After another 20-30 minutes of waiting while the person working at the store was on the phone with the race director trying to figure out what the gift certificate amounts would even be for the age group winners, we were finally told it would be $15. Why on earth the race director hadn’t already worked this out with Fleet Feet is beyond me. I also don’t know why the gift certificates weren’t on-hand at the race and given out to age group winners. I guess that just goes along with the rest of the poor planning and poor communication with this race.

What gets me is this race is part of a series held in several cities. We were told the one in New York City has 30,000 runners. I would have expected more out of a series that’s been going on for at least a few years now and is in several cities to be better organized. Maybe it’s just this one, and the others are great. Who knows. All I know is, we won’t be doing this race again, which is a shame because I do think it’s for a good cause.

Tunnel to Towers 5k

What are some of the worst-organized races you all have participated in?

 

I Volunteered at a Race and All I Got Was This T-shirt

How many of you remember the t-shirts that were popular beginning in the late-70’s and peaked sometime in the 80’s, with the saying, “My parents went to Florida and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”? There were many others as well, not just Florida. Choose a place and insert it in place of Florida. Here’s an example:

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Well, I volunteered at a 5k and 10k race recently and I got a t-shirt, but I also received so much more in intangible rewards.

It had been a while since I had volunteered, and I felt like I was due to “give back” for all of the races I’ve ran. This time, my daughter who has recently started running 5k’s also went with me. She very wisely said, “I think all runners should volunteer at a race to see what all goes on and how much work the volunteers do.” I agree 100%.

My daughter and I volunteered at the race-day registration portion, which meant we had to check-in at 6:30 a.m. Ouch! The sun wasn’t even up when my alarm went off. The 10k started at 8:30 and the 5k started at 9:45, and for whatever reason it was mostly people running the 10k that were doing race-day registration. I noticed several things while we were there that might be a bit surprising and thought I’d share them here.

Out of about 20 volunteers that were at this particular station (registration) only two of us (my daughter and myself) said that we were runners when the person in charge asked. No one else there was even a runner, and yet here they were spending their way-too-early Saturday morning in the cold volunteering at a race. I found that a bit surprising. I’m sure there were at least a couple of other runners volunteering out there somewhere, maybe at an aid station or handing out bananas at the finish, but the point is, the majority of people volunteering at this race weren’t even runners.

My daughter was also surprised at just how many volunteers there were. This was a fairly small race (I later heard there were about 750 runners total for the 5k and 10k and 75 people doing the 1 mile fun run), so there wasn’t a need for huge numbers of volunteers, but even so, we were by the volunteer check-in station so we saw all of the people who came by, and it was a lot. I think runners sometimes forget or simply aren’t aware just how many volunteers are required to help support a race. There are volunteers first of all that help with planning the race before it even begins, then on race day at the check-in station for volunteers, more at registration, t-shirt pick-up, timing, water stations, course directors (to show you the way at turns), parking attendants, passing out food at the finish, handing out medals at the finish, police directing traffic, and the list goes on.

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Runners signing up at the race-day registration tables
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Post-race aid tents

I was also surprised at how big of a time commitment many of the volunteers are asked to put in. As I said, I was at the race-day registration station so I was asked to be there by 6:30 that morning. We were asked to stay until right up until the 5k began in case there were last-minute stragglers (there actually were a couple of people who registered for the 10k with maybe 5 minutes until the start). This means we were there from 6:30 until 9:45. That’s a pretty big chunk of time, and we weren’t even there as long as some other volunteers were. I saw volunteers cutting up oranges and bananas when we got there around 6:30 and they were still there passing them out to runners who had finished racing the 5k when we left at 9:45.

Before I registered online to volunteer for this race, I had tried to volunteer at other races in the area but was surprised to find that they seemingly didn’t need any more volunteers. One of the bigger races had a link on their website to volunteer, so I clicked it and every single slot for volunteers was full. I tried another race website and found the same thing- no more space for volunteers. I emailed a race director for another race to ask if I could volunteer and received no response. I understand these people are busy because most of them have full-time jobs on top of organizing a race so I’m not faulting them for not getting back to me. I just didn’t expect it to be so difficult to find a local race where I could volunteer. I’d like to volunteer again for another race or two this year and hopefully it won’t be so difficult to find some that would like my help!

The next time you run a race, don’t forget to thank a volunteer! It definitely takes a village to put on a race and the bigger the race, the more people it requires. I know I have more appreciation for volunteers at races after being a volunteer myself.

 

Why My Race Finish Times Don’t Mean Much to Me

I won’t go so far as to say my race times don’t mean anything, but over the years I’ve learned they don’t really mean a whole lot. I’m primarily talking about half marathons here, because that’s primarily what I run. I also don’t mean to disparage anyone and their time goals. Let me explain.

I ran my first half marathon when I was 28 years old. I finished in 2:20:04. I recently completed my 41st half marathon in my 39th state, Utah (2:06:24) and over the years my finish times have been all over the place. Well, sort of. Let’s take a closer look at that.

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Start of the Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon

My fastest finish was 1:55:28 at Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, South Dakota- 34th state. Prior to that, my fastest finish was 1:56:16 at Evansville Half Marathon, Indiana-13th state. So many years had passed since the race in Indiana that I thought there was no way I would ever beat that time, but sure enough I did thanks to the downhill course in South Dakota. Of note, I didn’t win any age-group awards at either of these races.

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This was a long, slow lap for me at the Arbuckles to Ardmore Race for Mercy Half Marathon

On the flip side, my slowest finish was 2:35:42 at Arbuckles to Ardmore Race for Mercy Half Marathon, Oklahoma-21st state which was right around when I was diagnosed with anemia. I really struggled to get my times back down after my diagnosis and it took years until I felt like I was back to my pre-anemia running self. I hovered around the 2:05 mark until I finally broke sub-2 hours again at the Frederick Half Marathon, Maryland- 33rd state with a finish of  1:59:48. This was a well-organized, fun race and I think that all contributed to my finish time.

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The finish of the Frederick Half Marathon

I managed to finish first in my age group at the Roller Coaster Half Marathon, Missouri- 32nd state, but the funny thing about that is it wasn’t even one of my fastest times (2:04). When I finished second in my age group at the Dixville Half Marathon, New Hampshire- 35th state (1:57) that was my third fastest finish time ever but my time at the McKenzie River Half Marathon, Oregon- 36th state (2:02:32) was one of several race times around 2:02 and I finished third in my age group. The difference in these races was the conditions and the courses. As I said in my post about the race in Oregon, it was one of the toughest courses I’ve ever ran, so I was really happy with my finish time, regardless of what the clock said.

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Over the years, I’ve learned how weather, hills, and wind are all huge contributing factors in race times. For whatever reason, I seem to have chosen a lot of hilly courses, so my times have been slower than if I would have chosen flatter or downhill courses. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment because I’m really not a big fan of uphill courses. I’ll admit I’ve often been mislead by the posted courses on race websites and have been surprised to see the course in person. One thing I have learned is that when a race is described as “scenic,” that means there will be hills and often really big hills.

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Finishing the Dixville Half Marathon in New Hampshire

Another factor in all of these finish times is my age. My racing career has spanned almost 20 years and other than when I was anemic or otherwise injured or sick, I’ve somehow managed to keep my times fairly consistently around 2 hours. I’m waiting for the shoe to drop, so to speak, and for my times to increase as I get older. I’ve learned to not stress out during a race if I get tired or am in pain and let goal times slip by. It’s OK if I don’t run a sub-2 hour anymore. I’ve done it and if I do it again, great, but if not, that’s OK with me. Really.

Just like the saying, “Age is only a number,” I feel like my race times are only a number. I think that’s the biggest take-away here. I’m OK with my finish times, no matter what they are. For every single race I’ve ever ran, I’ve put my all into it and done my best, and that’s all that really matters to me. Not a “fast” finish time. But I’ll take one when I can get it!

Also, here’s a discount code for everyone that buys Nuun.  It’s good through the end of March. Sorry for the late notice!

friends & family march

Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon, Maine- 31st state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Maine was my 31st state.

If you take a poll and ask Americans what US states they would most like to visit, chances are pretty good they’ll say Maine as one of them. Everyone talks about how beautiful Maine is and I was anxious to see for myself. It did not disappoint. My family and I spent some time in Portland, where the race was, and also Rockport and Bar Harbor. All three places have something unique to offer.

We flew into Boston Logan International Airport and drove just under 2 hours to Portland where we ate at some fantastic restaurants and relaxed for a couple of days before the race. For some fun things to do in Portland, check out the Portland Museum of Art, Portland Observatory, Old Port with cobble-stone streets and restaurants and shops, Fore Street, Shipyard Brewing Company, many tours including cultural, pub, wine, city, and historical tours just to name a few.

The downside to running a half marathon in Maine is chances are pretty good it’s going to be a hilly course. The 2014 Shipyard Old Port Half Marathon certainly was hilly. Unfortunately it was also very hot that morning so combined with the hills it made for a difficult race. In fact, it was one of the toughest races I had ever run because of the near-constant hills and heat. It was in the low 70’s with high humidity and sunny at race start with no shade along the course.

As you might guess from the name, the course was through the Old Port district. There were also nice views of the Casco Bay, the Presumpscot River, the Portland skyline, and the Back Cove. It was crowded on the course, though, and things didn’t thin out for quite a few miles. Although there were some oceanfront parts of the course, I felt like it was mostly hill after long hill. The start and finish were at Portland’s Ocean Gateway Terminal, which I thought was a pretty good location that provided easy access and plenty of parking.

At the finish there was plenty of post-race food like pizza to go along with the beer. Bands were playing and although there was a fun party-like atmosphere going on, I was just too tired from the heat and hills. My finish time was 2:08:37.

I got quite a bit for my money at this race. Included in my registration fee were: health and fitness expo, cute medal, technical shirt in women’s or men’s sizes, free high resolution race photos, race video, live tracking, and post-race food including 2 beers from Shipyard Brewing Company. There was also an opportunity to buy a commemorative glass mug (which I couldn’t resist) and a race hat with the logo on it for $15.

Would I recommend this race? Probably as long as you go into it knowing it will be a tough one and alter your expectations a bit. The course is beautiful so that at least makes the hills worth it.

I highly recommend checking out some other areas if you go to Portland.  After the race, we decided to stay 2 nights in Rockport, which is about an hour and a half drive from Portland,  and 3 nights in Bar Harbor, which is about a 2 hour drive from Rockport. At both places, we rented cottages and they were far and away better than staying at a hotel for about the same price. There are also many Bed & Breakfasts scattered around the area.  Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park are in Bar Harbor and these are two places you can’t miss if you go to Maine. These areas have some incredible hiking trails and views like nowhere else in the world.

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Old Port Half Marathon

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San Juan Island Half Marathon, Washington- 28th state

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

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

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

Even though this race was hillier and more difficult than the Knoxville course in Tennessee- Covenant Health Knoxville Half Marathon, Tennessee- 27th state, the fact that it was so scenic made up for all of the hills. Most of the course was on back country quiet roads, past meadows, an alpaca farm, and along roads with views of the ocean. As is typical for a small low-key race, there were almost no spectators on the course.

When I finished, I received a small, simple medal and then looked around for the water and post-race food. As I mentioned earlier, this is a small race so although I didn’t expect a lot of extras here, I did at least expect some bottled water and fruit. But I couldn’t find any food at all- no bananas or water even. It’s possible it was there and I just wasn’t looking in the right spot, or maybe it was a locally-known thing and all of the locals just assumed everyone else knew where the food was. No big deal. Not a deal breaker for me.

My finish time was 2:07:24.

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

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San Juan Island Marathon

 

Covenant Health Knoxville Half Marathon, Tennessee- 27th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Tennessee was my 27th state.

Who knew Knoxville, Tennessee was so hilly? Certainly not me when I signed up for the Covenant Health Knoxville Half Marathon. Typically I tend to steer away from a course that’s full of hills, although some hills are fine. I just feel that running a half marathon is hard enough without having to climb up and down hills as well. It’s kind of funny I even ran this race at all. For years I always thought I would run the St. Jude Half Marathon in Memphis for my Tennessee race. Somehow that wasn’t happening; the timing was never right, and I really needed a half marathon during my daughter’s spring break in April, and this Knoxville race fit the bill.

The marathon and half marathon courses both go through World’s Fair Park and finish at University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium but in-between are many, many hills. Here’s a question taken from the race website FAQ page about hills that I found interesting. Pay attention to that last part of the last sentence- “there are not very many miles that are just flat.”

Q. Is the course very hilly?
A. The course has some hills, particularly in the first half of the marathon. It is not terribly hilly though. You can see a course profile in the race information page. The total elevation change is not dramatic, but there are not very many miles that are just flat.

Translation:  there’s not more than 25 feet of flat land on this course, so just realize pretty much the entire course is on rolling hills. Yes, of course it’s hilly.

Both the marathon and half marathon started at 7:30 am which helped to get us runners off the course before it got too hot. I was banking on the knowledge that Knoxville typically has great weather in early April so heat shouldn’t be a factor at this race, which it wasn’t for me. All throughout the race, the weather was perfect for racing.

This was without a doubt one of the hilliest courses I had ever run. It was at least fairly scenic; we ran through nice neighborhoods with huge houses and nice lawns, past the water some, along a greenway, and finished on the 50 yard line of the University of Tennessee Volunteers football field at Neyland Stadium. There were some bands playing along the course and the aid stations were plentiful and good.

At the finish in the stadium, we were handed our finisher medals and invited to a fun-looking post-race party. I was wiped out from all of the hills so I skipped the party and decided to head back to my hotel room for a hot shower and nap instead. My finish time was 2:07:04.

Would I recommend this race? Probably not. It was insanely hilly and just not scenic enough to justify all of those hills. Knoxville, on the other hand, is a fun place to visit, for either a long weekend or a week if you want to include a visit to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Knoxville is the third largest city in Tennessee and is full of things to do including Market Square with restaurants and shops, Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, Knoxville Museum of Art, World’s Fair Site, and much more. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a little over an hour away and is one of the few national parks with no admission fee. Oak Ridge is a unique area close by with its claim to fame being part of the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic bomb. You can tour the American Museum of Science and Energy to learn all about this and more. One could easily spend 3-4 days in Knoxville and extend that time further if you went to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Nashville International Airport is the closest major airport to Knoxville, at roughly a 2 1/2 hour drive. Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina is about 3 1/2 hours away by car, as is Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Georgia. You definitely want to get a rental car for Knoxville unless you don’t plan on spending any time before or after the race or checking out the area.

 

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Knoxville Marathon

Chicago 13.1 Half Marathon, Illinois- 25th State

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Illinois was my 25th state.  Half-way there!!!

Looking at half marathons for my one in Illinois, I was drawn to those in Chicago. I had been there once when I was in high school and had been wanting to go back, so I signed up for the 2012 Allstate Life Insurance Chicago 13.1 Half Marathon. It was in June and as one might predict, it was hot. Extremely hot. So hot that they put out warning flags at mile 2. I knew early on that I wouldn’t be getting a PR (personal record) at this race.

At packet pickup the day before the race, I got a blue technical material short-sleeve shirt and a matching blue rucksack. The race started along Lakeshore Trail near North Lakeshore Drive and only had a rise in elevation of 25 feet, so it was about as flat as half marathons come. Although it was a large race with a lot of runners, it was well-organized and had corrals so we weren’t on top of each other. There was some shade along the course for the first seven miles but after that, there was no discernible shade. The volunteers and aid stations were great along the course and afterwards.

At the finish, I got one of the biggest, heaviest medals I had received at a half marathon. There was also the usual food and drinks, but the best part was the proximity of Lake Michigan, where I cooled off my severely blistered toes and attempted to cool down. The heat slowed me down especially during the last 5 miles of the race so I was about 5 minutes off my goal. My finish time was 2:07:27.

Chicago is filled with all kinds of fun things to do. My family and I spent a week here just doing all of the touristy things like taking photos of ourselves in front of the “bean” at Millenium Park, going to the Museum of Science and Industry (highly recommend), checking out the Field Museum (also highly recommend), admiring the views from the Skydeck at Willis Tower, and my daughter had a ton of fun playing in the water at Crown Fountain. One way you can save money is to buy a Chicago CityPASS and you can save 53% off admission for up to 5 attractions.

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The cold water of Lake Michigan felt awesome after the race!

Chicago 13.1

Shamrock Marathon, Virginia-24th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Virginia was my 24th state.

We all see people wearing race shirts from previous races all the time, right? Well, I ran the half marathon of the 2012 Shamrock Marathon and Half Marathon in Virginia Beach, Virginia quite honestly because I saw a guy at the gym where I work out wearing a shirt from the race and it piqued my interest. When I asked him about it, he was very enthusiastic about the race and the course, so I thought I would give it a shot. This was definitely one of the biggest half marathons I had ever run, but it was so well-organized, the crowds weren’t an issue.

This race is held on the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day, so a lot of people that run it go for the party atmosphere. I was a little concerned about partiers being loud and keeping me up the night before the race (go ahead, call me old!), but that wasn’t an issue fortunately. The weather was nice while we were there and we got to enjoy the area before and after the race. Virginia Beach can be pretty expensive, especially hotels in the area, and it is fairly touristy so this place certainly isn’t for everyone. The sand sculptures on the beach were really cool and a very popular spot for photos after the race.

I felt like I got a ton of swag at this race, too; much more than I had at any other race. I got a short-sleeve technical shirt, hooded sweatshirt, running hat, small rucksack bag, in addition to one of the coolest medals I’ve received. The medal was a bottle-opener in the shape of a shamrock so it was functional as well as fun. Fun was pretty much the vibe from start to finish for this race. I highly recommend it.

So back to some more details about the race. It was in the low 50’s at the start of the race and overcast for the majority of the race with low wind. The course was completely flat and went through neighborhoods, past a military base, and ended at the boardwalk by the beach. There were plenty of aid stations with volunteers and people playing music along the course. Despite the fact that this race draws large crowds of runners, there are corrals so at least when I ran, the course didn’t feel crowded at any point.

I was glad I had chosen this race for my half marathon in Virginia because I enjoyed everything about the race from beginning to end. My finish time was also an improvement over my past several races, with a finish time of 2:07:40.

If you’re flying into the area, the closest public airport is Norfolk International Airport, 13 miles away. Another option is Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport, 35 miles  away in Newport News, Virginia. There is a trolley system, the VB Wave that is part of the city’s public transportation system. Depending on where your hotel or B & B is, you may be able to walk to many restaurants, bars, and shops. If you stay on streets that are numbered in the teens to twenties (for example, 19th or 25th Street), you should be able to get by without a rental car. However, if you prefer more peace and quiet and stay accordingly on a street at either far end (10th Street or lower and 30th Street and higher), you will definitely want to either rely on the trolleys, a rental car, or taxis.

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Shamrock Marathon