Some Areas in the United States to Enjoy Fall Foliage

The end of September is when fall foliage starts to appear in the eastern states in the US, beginning in the more northern states and moving down south as time passes. If you can plan a visit to the New England states for the upcoming weeks, you should be able to see some of the colorful leaves before they fall off the trees for the winter. As you might imagine, some places fill up quickly in the autumn months, so make your plans now while there’s still time.

Growing up in West Virginia, I always loved when the trees turned from green to wonderful shades of yellow, red, and orange, but on the flip side, I somewhat dreaded it because that meant winter was coming. Nonetheless, regardless about how I feel about winter, West Virginia is a perfect place to enjoy the fall foliage. Many people flock to Bridge Day, which is West Virginia’s largest festival held on one day and one of the largest extreme sports events in the world. Bridge day is held every year on the third Saturday in October on the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayette County, coinciding with peak fall foliage in the area. Thousands of people come to this festival to watch as BASE jumpers from around the world jump off the bridge and rappellers go up and down the catwalk. There’s also plenty of things for spectators to do including run a 5k starting on the bridge and ending in Fayetteville. This is just one of many areas in West Virginia you can visit in the fall to experience fall foliage. Others include Huntington, Charleston, or one of the state parks would be a great option as well!

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This was taken in Huntington, WV, when I ran a half marathon there in the fall.

North Carolina also has plenty of places to visit if you want to see some gorgeous fall foliage. For those of you that don’t know, North Carolina can be divided into three basic parts:  the mountains on the west, the central area known as the Piedmont with the capital of Raleigh, and the coastal region on the east. Most people that want to see fall foliage will focus on the mountains in the western part of North Carolina. Western North Carolina is an outdoor-lover’s paradise, with many fun cities to go camping, hiking, fishing, and whitewater rafting. Some of my favorite cities in western North Carolina are Asheville (see my posts:  Camping in Asheville, North Carolina;and Christmas at Biltmore Estate and Exploring Asheville, North Carolina), Boone, and Blowing Rock.

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Gorgeous fall foliage in North Carolina

I’ve visited all of the New England states for half marathons, and I have been to three states in the fall, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. I was in a small town about an hour outside Boston, called Newburyport and loved that part of Massachusetts. The nice thing is you can still do plenty of things in Boston and easily pop over to the quieter areas like Newburyport when you want a break from the traffic and congestion. Rhode Island is one of my favorite states I’ve ever been to and I feel like it’s one of the most under-rated states. I went to Newport and we drove all over that area, stopping in some tiny towns to visit art galleries or local shops. There are also mansions such as The Breakers and Marblehouse that you can tour plus gorgeous beaches all around that area (although it’s definitely not peak beach season there in the fall but that just means they aren’t as crowded). We were in some tiny towns in New Hampshire for the half marathon that most people wouldn’t come to visit, so I can’t speak as much about that, but if you’re in the northern part of the state like I was, it’s a short drive over the Canadian border to Montreal, which I absolutely loved (see my post:  Montreal, a City Unlike Any Other).

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Yellow leaves everywhere (and a little orange) in Newburyport, Massachusetts

Some other states you might not think of when you think of fall foliage are Indiana and Arkansas. I visited both of these states in the fall when I was running a half marathon there, and found I enjoyed both places more than I expected I would. Most people think of Indianapolis when they think of Indiana, home of the famous Indy 500 races, but I was in a small town on the border with Kentucky and the Ohio River called Evansville. The Evansville Half Marathon perfectly coincides with the West Side Nut Club Festival, now in its 98th year (!) and also more recently a taco festival and music festival also occur around the same time in October. Here are links for more information:  Evansville Half Marathon and Nut Club Fall Festival.

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The race start at the Evansville Half Marathon with the fall foliage all around

For my half marathon in Arkansas, I ran the Cotter River Half Marathon, which I absolutely raved about. This was in November, which is a perfect time to enjoy the fall foliage in Arkansas. Although there are some options for things to do and places to stay in the Cotter area, I decided to drive to Hot Springs after the race and spend a few days there. Hot Springs can be a bit touristy in parts, which I usually don’t like, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Hot Springs much more than I thought I would. My family and I went to one of the local bath houses and had several extremely affordable treatments done and we hiked all around the National Park there. For more on the race, see my post, White River Half Marathon, Cotter, Arkansas-44th state and for more on Hot Springs, see my post, Hiking, Bathing, and Admiring Holiday Lights in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

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The back of some of the bathhouses in Hot Springs, Arkansas

I know I left off some places to enjoy fall foliage in the United States because that would be way too long and I haven’t been everywhere, so now your turn, where are some of your favorite, perhaps off-the-beaten path places to enjoy fall foliage that I didn’t mention here? Do you live in a state where there is no substantial fall foliage? Do you travel to see fall foliage?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

 

Running Highs and Lows of 2017

I didn’t run a lot of races in 2017, so there won’t be a ton here about races. I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states, for those of you that don’t already know. At this point, I’m running three half marathons a year mainly due to travel expenses and time off work but also because I’ve ran all of the southern states so my options are limited. I of course did run throughout the year, though, only taking time off after races and a bit more during the super hot and humid parts of August.

My first race of 2017 was the Dogtown Half Marathon in Washington, Utah in February. This race was the 39th state in my quest for a half marathon in all 50 states. It was below freezing at the start of the race and the cold air effected my breathing. The course was also much hillier than the elevation map led me to believe. However, my daughter, who ran the 5k, won second place in her age group. This was definitely a running high for me even though I didn’t personally win an AG award, because I was so proud of her. I somehow managed to finish sixth in my AG, and considering how difficult the course was, I was happy with that.

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My second race of the year was the Superhero Half Marathon in Morristown, New Jersey in May, my 40th state. This race was definitely a low point in my racing years. Despite doing my long training runs on a hilly route, the hills on this race course were just too much for me. My finish time was considerably slower than for previous races, and even my age group time was pretty disappointing for me.

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After the Superhero Half, I decided it was time to re-think my entire running plans. I started focusing on my core more, I started working on my glutes to help with Dead Butt Syndrome I felt like I was developing. I bought new shoes that were completely different than any other kind of running shoe I had ever worn. Finally, the hardest and most-intensive thing I did was trying to change my running gait. Initially, this was a running low for me, because just running a few steps was so much harder and my pace was so much slower. I kept working on it, though, and bit by bit it started to come together and get easier. My “new” running gait was more like my “old” running gait, which is how my body is supposed to run. Over the years I had developed a serious imbalance between my left and right legs, resulting in hyperextending my right leg when I landed, and this was definitely not “normal” for me.

When I started training for my third and final half marathon for the year, I put some focused effort into doing tons of hip stretches and hip openers. I continued working on my core and glutes, and I continued working on my gait until it began to feel like it should. I also read  “Runner’s World Your Best Stride” and did some of the exercises and other things mentioned in the book to help with my running gait. Finally after months of working on my right leg, my “new” running gait felt “normal.” It felt more like it used to years ago before this imbalance became so bad that it caused a series of events that led to my abnormal running stride.

For my half marathon in West Virginia, my 41st state, I chose to run the Marshall University Half Marathon in Huntington. This race could have gone badly depending on the weather. Usually in this part of the state, nighttime lows are in the 30’s and rain or even snow is not uncommon. In the days leading up to the race and even the morning of the race, there was a 40% chance of rain at 7 am, which was when the race start was, and a 60% chance of rain at 8 am. Rain and 30’s or even 40’s is not my idea of ideal racing conditions, but by some miracle, it was much warmer than usual for this time of year and the rain held off for the entire morning. I ended up running in overcast skies with temperatures in the low 60’s for most of the race. I know that’s a bit warm for most people, but it was just fine with me.

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The race was very well-organized, the course was flat with only one small hill, and it was pretty scenic for the most part, thanks to the natural beauty of the area. All of the leaves on the trees were at their peak for autumn, so everywhere you looked, you saw bright red, orange, and yellow leaves. There are also rivers around the area and some nice parks that we got to run by so it was a scenic course without hills, which is almost unheard of. The race director of the half I ran in San Juan Island  in Washington even put on their Facebook page “scenic= hills.” The Marshall University Half Marathon proves that’s not always true!

This race in West Virginia reminded me once again why I run half marathons. After my previous two races, I needed a good race to renew my faith in myself. Even though I felt nauseous for the first hour of the race, I had fun and truly enjoyed this race. The finish was truly invigorating and I had runner’s high like I hadn’t felt in some time. I also learned that it is possible to teach an old runner new tricks. Even in my 40’s I was able to change my running gait and successfully run a half marathon that way. I was glad I ended my running year on a high note! Also, my super-speedy 12-year-old daughter finished second in the 19 and under age group for the 5k. And she says she’s not fast!

How was your running year? Any highs or lows you’d care to share?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

Weekend in Huntington, West Virginia

I spent the first 22 years of my life in West Virginia. I grew up in the southern part of the state and got my undergrad degree in the northern part at West Virginia University. It’s fair to say I’ve seen quite a bit of the state and spent my fair share doing mostly outdoors activities.

I’ve gone skiing and/or tubing at Winterplace Ski Resort and Snowshoe Mountain (I hate skiing so I am not a skier now but love tubing). I’ve gone whitewater rafting many times down the New River. I’ve gone hiking in most of the state parks throughout the state. I’ve been to the capital, Charleston, for many different occasions. I’ve gone camping throughout the northern and southern parts of the state. However, I had never spent any time in the second-largest city in West Virginia, Huntington, until recently.

Even though Huntington is the second-largest city by population in West Virginia, it’s still pretty small by most standards, coming in just under 50,000 people. The entire population of WV isn’t even 2 million but it does have more people than 12 states and the District of Columbia. I’ve mentioned all of the outdoor activities I’ve done throughout WV, and it’s no surprise since outdoor activities are what drive most tourists to the state.

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Heritage Farm Museum and Village

I was going to Huntington to run a half marathon, though, as part of my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. West Virginia would be my 43rd half marathon in my 41st state. I didn’t think it would be a great idea to go hiking all over the place the day before a race. What on earth is there to do in Huntington besides go to Ritter Park, the number one thing to do on TripAdvisor? There’s also the Huntington Museum of Art, but again, I didn’t really want to spend a lot of time on my feet before the race. We were heading back home after the race on Sunday, so it’s not like we could go after the race.

Enter Heritage Farm Museum and Village. My family and I went to a similar place before the previous half marathon I ran in Morristown, New Jersey and we had a great time. Fosterfields Living Historical Farm in New Jersey seemed to be considerably bigger than this one in Huntington and I did OK after walking around there, so that’s what I decided we would do. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but honestly, I wasn’t seeing many options that would work given our situation.

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There was a wedding the day we visited Heritage Farm

Heritage Farm is a good way to spend a couple of hours especially if you have kids and/or are a history buff. In early November it was beautiful with all of the trees in full display of yellows, reds, and greens. There are eight museums, a blacksmith shop where you can see a blacksmith in action, an artisan center full of skilled tradespeople such as a quilter and a potter, Maker Space is full of hands-on activities and pop culture trivia displays through the years, a homestead site, a hands-on outdoor play space where kids can learn about simple machines, a cafe, church, gift shop, and petting zoo. Being a huge animal lover, the animals were my daughter’s favorite part of the farm. She especially loved the bunny who had a rooster friend with her. Apparently this rabbit and rooster were best friends and the rooster watched out for the rabbit. We also took a wagon ride around the farm and saw lots of unique animals. Although we didn’t stay overnight at the farm, you can stay overnight in one of a few log cabins or even a train caboose.

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Llamas
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Vittles anyone?

Besides finding things to do that didn’t involve tons of time on my feet, finding a hotel was a bit difficult as well simply because of the limited options. I wanted to find a pet-friendly place but the only one I could find was Towne Place Suites with a $100 non-refundable pet fee. For just a weekend, I could board my dog with a sitter near my home for less than that and she already knew the people who would be watching her. My new puppy was going to be watched by her foster mom who rescued her. Still, this seemed like pretty much the only “decent” hotel in the area, so I made reservations at Towne Place  Suites. When I looked on Airbnb, there weren’t great options near Marshall University, where the race was, but if you’re not limited by that, there are definitely more options. Towne Place Suites turned out to be quiet and in a good location, not more than about 10 minutes from most things in the area, so it was a good choice for us.

Unless you’re driving into the area, it’s not very easy to fly into Huntington. There aren’t many direct flights into/out of Huntington Tri-State Airport. Unless you’re coming from Charlotte, North Carolina, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Orlando, Florida, or St. Petersburg, Florida, you’ll have to make multiple stops to get to Huntington. In some ways it’s easier to just fly into Yeager Airport in Charleston, which has considerably more flights than those into Huntington, get a rental car, and drive one hour to Huntington. I would venture flights into Yeager are cheaper than flights into Huntington as well but I haven’t priced them. This is of course no different from transportation to/from any small town in the US. Any time you can fly into a bigger city and drive to your destination, it’s cheaper and Huntington is no different.

Dining options are about what you might expect in a small town in West Virginia. There are tons of fast-food and chain restaurants, but it is possible to find local places to eat. We had lunch at River and Rail Bakery, where we planned on having lunch and getting something from the bakery to take with us for later. While our lunches weren’t bad but nothing great, the options for dessert were flat-out disappointing. My daughter and I didn’t get anything for dessert and we were given our money back for the cheesecake my husband bought because it was so bad. We later had dinner at La Famiglia, which was by far the best meal of our weekend in Huntington. My daughter and I had handmade pasta and meatballs and it was delicious and the perfect pre-race dinner. After the half marathon, we had lunch at Surin of Thailand, which I later found out is a small chain in the south with six other locations. It was standard Thai fare so it was good but not the best Thai food I’ve ever had.

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After our lunch, it was time to head back home. For others looking to extend their stay a bit in West Virginia, there are several places within a relatively short drive from Huntington. If you want a bigger city with more options, Lexington, Kentucky is only two hours away and is filled with fun things to do. This would also be an option for flights into the area, but you would have a bit longer of a drive than from Charleston. There are also many state parks around the Huntington and Charleston area great for hiking and camping.

When is the best time to visit West Virginia? Really anytime, depending on what you’d like to do. You can go skiing in the winter, hiking and camping in the spring, fall, and summer (of course you could go in the winter as well; that’s just not my thing personally), and whitewater rafting and zip lining in the summer. Another interesting place to visit is The Greenbrier, a resort in White Sulphur Springs, about three hours from Huntington. You can just go here for the day but really there’s so much to do here it would be better to spend the night if it’s in your budget. There’s everything from a golf course, spa, casino, tree-top canopy tours, fishing, afternoon tea and other fine dining options, bowling, off-road tours, and even a declassified bunker tour, just to name a few. If you’re interested in planning your next vacation to West Virginia, this website is a good tool to help you get started. I’d also be happy to answer any questions any of you might have.

Happy travels!

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