Chickens and The Sea

My most recent race trip took me to Hawaii for the Kauai Half Marathon.  I was never interested in visiting Hawaii.  For someone who lives on the East Coast, Hawaii is a long trip – over 10 hours alone on airplanes, not my idea of a fun time.  Then I saw the movie “The Descendants”.   The Hawaiian scenery was beautiful – palm trees, blue ocean water, white foamy waves breaking on sandy beaches with the mountains in the background.  I decided I wanted to see that Hawaii in person, not the “Hawaii Five-O” version I see on television.  Since Hawaii is one of the 50 States, I was obligated to run a race there anyway.  With “The Descendants” in mind, I picked the Kauai Half Marathon as my Hawaii race.

Breathtaking sunrises everyday

The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Kauai was the chickens.  There are chickens everywhere.  They were in the rental car parking lot.  They were wandering alongside the road on the way to the hotel.  They were outside the grocery store, at almost every scenic overlook, and at the beach on the south shore.  Wherever I went, there were chickens.  I joked to someone at the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge that the chicken must be the state bird of Hawaii.  They bristled at my comment.  The state bird is actually the Hawaiian Goose or Nene, the world’s rarest goose.  I saw a couple of those at the Wildlife Refuge but overall I saw many more chickens than Nene.

The other thing I noticed was the Hawaiian words, towns, and street names.  I recognized the letters but I couldn’t, no, I wouldn’t even try to pronounce the names of some of the places we went.  I visited Wales earlier this year and had a similar challenge with the Welsh language.  The official Hawaiian alphabet has only 13 letters – five vowels (which can be pronounced two different ways) and eight consonants.  Although the language was on the decline, efforts are being made to reintroduce it.  I hope they are successful because I find the language beautiful.

I was apprehensive about running in Hawaii.  Heat is the equivalent of Superman’s kryptonite for people like me with Transverse Myelitis (TM).  In hot weather, TM symptoms can flare up (referred to as Uhthoff’s phenomenon).  The air temperatures in Hawaii range from lows in the mid-60s to low 70s and highs in the 80s – perfect for people lounging at the hotel pool but challenging for endurance athletes with demyelinating conditions like mine.  I have to take extra precautions when I run in hot weather to manage my core body temperature.  I use a “Keep It Chill” gaiter made of a Xylitol infused fabric.  My gaiter has a cooling effect as long as it is wet.  In most instances, my gaiter has been able to help me manage my body temperature in warm weather races.  The race in Kauai was more challenging because the temperature was in the 70s at the 6 AM start.  My gaiter dried out quickly and stopped cooling me off before the race even started.  I realized I had to stay focused on managing my body temperature to finish this race.

This woman was handing out wet sponges around Mile 7 – My Hero!

The owner of a store I visited in Hanapepe the day before the race told me the race course was tough.  She said even some of the elite runners from Kenya thought the course was difficult.  I brushed off her comments.  She wasn’t a runner.  What does she know?  I have run hills and in heat.  I wasn’t going to have any problems.  But when I started the race, I realized she was not exaggerating.  Although the scenery was gorgeous and the sunrise as the race started was breathtaking, the first 7+ miles were all up hill.  It somehow seemed appropriate the music coming from the stroller being pushed by a male runner was Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”.  It fit the grind I felt running uphill in the heat with limited shade.  I tried to keep up with him just because I enjoyed his music but he sprinted ahead of me.

Tunnel of Trees

I enjoyed a respite from the sun between Miles 5 and 6 when we ran through the Tunnel of Trees, huge eucalyptus trees that formed arches over the road.  They provided welcomed shade.  About Mile 7.5 the course started a downhill to the finish by the beach.  I was able to make up some time.  While I didn’t have my worst half marathon finish, it certainly wasn’t my best.  I am just happy I was able to complete the course.

While I was in Kauai, I took a helicopter tour of the island with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters.  A helicopter tour is the only way to see Kauai since most of the island is inaccessible from the ground.  I was delighted to be assigned the seat in the front row next to the pilot.

View of the Na Pali Coast from the helicopter

Because of its perfect weather and beautiful scenery, many movies have been filmed in Kauai.  During the tour, our pilot pointed out places we might recognize from movies including Mana Waiapuna (commonly referred to as “Jurassic Park Falls”) and the nurses’ beach from “South Pacific”.   We flew over Waimea Canyon, the famed “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”.  Finally we flew into the center of Mt. Waialeale, the ancient volcano that created the island of Kauai.  Mt. Waialeale is also one of the wettest spots on earth, with an average rainfall of 450-500 inches annually.  Not surprising that we saw many waterfalls all over the island.  The helicopter tour with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters was the best part of my trip to Kauai.  I would do that again in a heartbeat.

In case you don’t know the song, here is a video of Led Zeppelin performing “Kashmir”.

My favorite version of “Over the Rainbow” by the late Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole, a famous Hawaiian singer.   The scenes at the end were filmed at his funeral.

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Moose and Mimosas

To date I have run a full or half marathon in 44 of the 50 states. My most recent race was the Her Tern Half Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska. My goals when I boarded the plane to Anchorage were simple. I wanted to complete the half marathon so I could check off Alaska and to see a real live moose (not a stuffed one or giant moose sculpture). In addition to enjoying a wonderful race, I discovered a fascinating place with a wealth of cultural sights, incredible scenery, and more natural phenomena than any place I have visited. Of all the race trips I have taken, this is one of the most memorable.

Bob – One Lucky Guy

The Her Tern Half Marathon is an all female race with the exception of “One Lucky Guy” (selected from a handful of male applicants). This year’s winner was Bob who, with the encouragement of a female friend, started running 3 years ago to improve his health. He started out walking mostly but now is up to running 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, and even two full marathons. Along the way, he has gotten others running too, including his sister and his daughter.

With only 530 women runners plus Bob, the One Lucky Guy, this was one of the smallest races I have done. For some people a small race isn’t very attractive but I enjoy races like this. Because it was small, there were things I would never see at a larger race. Every runner was given a reusable Baggu bag, coupons to use at Skinny Raven Sports (the race organizer) and the Her Tern boutique along with a race shirt. I saw lots of runners making good use of their coupons (because women love to shop!). The medal was a handmade finisher’s bracelet. At the end of the race, there were free race photos and free post-race massages. The post-race refreshments had women in mind: fruit; cookies and cupcakes (including gluten-free options); apple strudel; and for those of legal drinking age, mimosas in a rose garden served in a souvenir champagne glass. Although I never drink a beer after a race, I did enjoy my mimosa!

Post-race mimosa

The thing that impressed me the most about this race is how supportive and encouraging it was for the women runners. It was apparent some of these women were running farther than they ever had. The course was out and back, mostly on the Chester Creek Trail. Along the course there were motivational messages written in chalk on the pavement. Since most runners have their eyes focused on the ground before them, we always saw the messages. A few of the water stops were manned by young men in tuxedos, cheering the women runners on.

The last half mile or so of the race was up “Happy Hill”. At that point in the race, a hill was the last thing I wanted to see. As I ran up it, I watched people coming down from the finish line and running alongside runners who were struggling, encouraging them to keep pushing. Over and over those cheerleaders came down to escort another runner up the hill. I have never seen that kind of support in any race. I have run several women-centric races including the Tinker Bell Half, Princess Half, and the Nike Women’s Half but the Her Tern Half Marathon was the best of them all.

There really was a moose in those bushes

Not only did I finish my Alaska race (Goal #1 – check!), along the race course there was a female moose with two calves. Two paramedics were standing nearby, keeping an eye on the mom in case she started moving towards the race course. I stopped to take a couple of photos of the moose but she was difficult to see among the bushes.

With the race out of the way, I could enjoy the other things Alaska has to offer visitors. I drove north to Eklutna, to see the spirit houses in the graveyard of the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. Spirit houses are a unique burial custom that combines practices of both the Russian Orthodox Church and the Dena’ina, an Athabascan people native to this area of Alaska for over 1,000 years.  (Read more about the spirit houses in this NPR article.)

On my way back, I stopped at the Alaskan Native Heritage Center, which provides information about Alaska’s 11 major cultural groups. There were interesting demonstrations of native art, dances and games as well as examples of the buildings and customs unique to each group. Docents representing each cultural group answered questions and explained the exhibits. I left with a deeper understanding and appreciation of Native Alaskan cultures.

I was surprised to learn Anchorage is as far west as Hawaii and as far north as Helsinki, Finland. Because it is so far north, in the summer months there aren’t any hours where it is dark. They experience longer periods of civil twilight each day, where there is just enough sunlight that you don’t need artificial light to see outdoors. I didn’t need the headlights on my rental car at 11:00 PM. It didn’t get pitch black out while I was in Anchorage either. I understand now why black-out blinds were noted as one of the hotel room’s amenities.

Anchorage has beautiful parks as well as an 11-mile bike trail called the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. There were several places to rent bicycles for a ride along the trail. In the winter, the trail is used for cross-country skiing. I walked the trail where it passed through Kincaid Park. The park is over 1500 acres of birch, cottonwood, and spruce trees with an abundance of wildlife including moose, bears, fox, and many types of birds including eagles. Another trail took me to the north end of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge where I walked down to the stoney beach. The views of Cook Inlet and snow-capped mountains in the distance were breathtaking. I didn’t see any moose in Kincaid Park or at the wildlife refuge.

View from the beach of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge

I visited Earthquake Park, a 134-acre park located in an area where an entire neighborhood slid into the sea during a 1964 earthquake, the worst to ever hit North America. The earthquake measured 9.2 on the Richter scale and lasted over 4 minutes. There were fabulous views of the Knik Arm and Chugach Mountains. I saw plenty of mosquitos but no moose.

Young male moose having a snack

The final park I visited was Point Woronzof Park, located between the end of the runway at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and the sea. There were sweeping views of Cook Inlet, a wide variety of birds, and the biggest treat of my whole trip – two moose, a young male and young female. These weren’t hiding in deep brush. I took several photos of them as airplanes flew overhead on their approach to the airport. (Goal #2 – check!) I had been told the best place to see a moose was at the airport. Those people were right.

I was disappointed I did not get to witness the Alaska bore tide in Turnagain Arm. A bore tide occurs in about 60 places around the world where a rush a seawater returns to a shallow and narrowing inlet from a broad bay. The one at Turnagain Arm can reach 6-10 feet tall and moves at speeds of 10-15 miles per hour. Sometimes surfers can be seen riding the tide in. I drove down to Beluga Point, a spot along the Seward Highway, where one can see beluga whales as well as watch the bore tide. Unfortunately, I wasn’t there at the right time to see the bore tide in action. I didn’t see any whales either.

Alaska is very different from any other place I have traveled on my Funatical Runner adventures.  I will never forget finally seeing a moose but there was so much I didn’t get to see.   I plan to visit Alaska again to watch the bore tide during one of the 4-5 days per month that it is the highest. I would love to see the beluga whales too. I want to see Denali’s peak from Anchorage or, better yet, visit the Denali National Park. If I go at the right time, I might even be able to see the Aurora Borealis (viewable from late August to early April). I can’t wait to go back!

I didn’t have time to visit Anchorage’s Gravity Hill.  This isn’t really a natural phenomenon (more of an optical illusion) but it would be fun to see.

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Running to Catch a Boat

I broke my big toe last July, one week before the Shipyard Brewing Old Port Half Marathon in Portland, Maine.  I was disappointed to miss the race and vowed to run it this year.  Last weekend I headed to Portland with expectations of running, eating lobster rolls, and seeing a moose.

Lobster rolls!

The scenery around Portland is typical for what I have seen in New England – marshy areas inland, rocky shorelines with light houses, and bays dotted with small islands.  Walking along Commercial Street near the docks in Portland, I saw all types of boats – fishing boats, lobster boats, sail boats, and ferries.  There are many interesting stores along Commercial Street and almost every restaurant advertised lobster rolls on their menu.  One of the best things about running races in coastal New England states is getting a lobster roll before and after a race.  I enjoyed the ones at the Portland Lobster Company.  (In Boston I think the lobster rolls at Luke’s Lobster are the best.)

The Old Port Half Marathon is the second largest running event in Maine, which makes it sound like it is a huge race.  There actually were only about 2,500 runners in the half marathon.  I enjoy smaller races like this.  They have a more relaxed and friendly atmosphere.  Although this would have been the perfect race to dress as a lobster, I didn’t see anyone running in a costume.  With the warm July weather it would have been unbearable to run in a lobster outfit.

Cheering spectators in the west end

The course gave runners a good tour of Portland.  We first headed out to the west end of the city.  There was a mile long hill there that rivaled the infamous Heartbreak Hill in Boston.  After looping through the west end neighborhoods, we headed towards Back Cove at the other end of Portland.  We ran over 3 miles around Back Cove on a flat packed dirt trail.  I took advantage of the flat terrain to make up some time.  I was in a hurry to finish the race.  While other runners were probably running to get the free Shipyard Brewing beer at the finish line, I had other plans.  Casco Bay Lines has twice daily rides on the Mailboat Run.  Passengers enjoy a scenic tour of the islands in Casco Bay around Portland.  I was running to make the 10 AM mailboat.

I ran over the finish line, grabbed my medal, bottle of water and wet towel, and kept running straight back to my car.  After a quick change of clothes, I headed to the ferry terminal to hop on the mailboat.  I boarded the boat and snagged a seat on the top deck at the bow so I would have a great view.

I didn’t tell them I had 2 bananas with me 😉

As we waited to depart, I pulled a banana out of my bag.  I had skipped the free pizza at the finish line and needed something to eat.  At the sight of my banana, the woman sitting next to me yelled “No bananas on the boat!”   Her husband told me to throw it overboard. I wasn’t sure what the issue was with a banana so I asked them why.  I learned superstitious fisherman believe it is bad luck to have bananas on a boat.  They won’t catch fish or will experience mechanical issues with their boat.  Her husband explained sunken ships have been found with bananas in their holds.  I quickly ate my banana before we left to protect the mailboat from harm.

A lobster men setting their lobster pots

The mailboat was a fun way to see Casco Bay.  The beautiful weather meant there were plenty of boats on the water.  The captain narrated during the ride, explaining the history of the bay and providing other interesting information about Portland.  The mailboat made stops at five islands —Little Diamond, Great Diamond, Long, Cliff and Chebeague – dropping off passengers, mail, and freight including a few cars.  Several islands in the bay are only populated in summer months, though a few hardy folks live on others year round.  We had an extended stop on Cliff Island where I went ashore to look around a bit.  When the boat returned to the ferry terminal in Portland, I headed for my post-race lobster roll.

The only moose I saw in Maine

There is so much more to see in Maine beyond Portland.  For this trip I met my goal of running a race and eating lobster rolls.  Sadly, the only moose I saw was on a sign in the airport.  The mailboat ride, though, made up for not seeing a moose.  I ran pretty fast to make that boat and I was not disappointed.  Spending time on the water with the sea air and sunshine was an unexpected pleasure.  I definitely plan to visit Maine again.  Maybe I will see a moose the next time I go.

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Running, Raptors, and a Rodeo

Vacation Races is a terrific organization that puts on races near national parks.  It is a wonderful way to combine running a race with a visit to a national park.  In 2015 I ran their Rocky Mountain Half Marathon and in 2016 I ran their Zion Half Marathon.  Both races were challenging but memorable.  Last weekend I traveled to Jackson, Wyoming to run my third Vacation Races half marathon outside Grand Teton National Park.  The race was as enjoyable as the others.

One of the Grand Teton peaks

I arrived in Jackson a few days early so that I could get acclimated to the higher elevation.  I toured Grand Teton National Park, hiking some of the trails to shake out my legs.  The Grand Teton scenery is incredibly beautiful with snow-covered mountains peeking out behind the clouds.  As I walked up the trails near Signal Mountain, I was amazed by the wild flowers and the intense smell of pine trees.  There wasn’t any noise from traffic, just the sounds of birds and the wind rustling through the aspen trees.  It was a big change from life back on the East Coast.

Each of the four entrances to the Jackson Town Square has an arch made from antlers

Jackson is a fascinating old Western town.  None of the buildings is over 3 stories high; the majority are only 2 stories.  The raised sidewalks are made of wood.  The only thing missing from the streetscape is hitching posts for horses.  Throughout the town there are bronze sculptures of historical figures, cowboys, Native Americans, and animals including life-size deer, moose, and elk.  I don’t think I have ever seen so much public art in such a small town before.

The race expo was held in the same area where the race would start.  The Vacation Races folks try to eliminate waste so they encouraged people to bring their own bag.  For those of us who forgot, they had a tent set up where you could make a bag out of an old race shirt (free race shirts provided).  I quickly made one to carry my bib and all my purchases at the Expo.     In addition to various vendors, Park Rangers were on hand to provide information about Grand Teton National Park and the wildlife there including bears (both Grizzly and Black).   It was a small but very pleasant Expo.

This race was almost all up hill!

Views of the mountains as we ran

The race started early, at 6:30 am.  As we started running, almost every turn gave us a different view of the mountains.  Although my rehab trainer tells me “head down” when I run, it was very difficult to do during this race.  There were so many things to see like the hot air balloons flying down the valley with the mountains looming in the background (sorry, my pictures of the balloons didn’t turn out well).  There wasn’t any music along the course but that was wonderful because we could listen to the birds as we ran.  Between the elevation with a steady climb of 580 feet on the course and stopping to take pictures, my finish time wasn’t my best.  That didn’t matter to me because this was a race course to savor, not one to rush through.

After the race, I took time to visit the Jackson Hole Historical Society Museum.  They had fascinating exhibits on life of the early settlers, trappers, cowboys, and Native Americans.  The guides in the museum had plenty of stories about Jackson’s more colorful residents from the past.

Peregrine Falcon

Later I visited the Teton Raptor Center.  Their mission is to rehabilitate injured raptors; support research projects on raptors; and provide educational programs.  (A raptor is a bird that hunts and kills with their talons/feet and eats by ripping up the meat with their beaks.)  They showed us several birds who are not able to be released back into the wild because of the severity of their injuries (e.g., blind in one eye, amputated wing parts, paralyzed feet).  Among the birds on display were a Great Horned Owl, Red-Tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Eastern Screech Owl, Kestrel, and Bald Eagle.  It was fascinating to see the birds up close and learn about their unique characteristics.

Saturday night was rodeo night.  Although they didn’t have all the typical rodeo events, I was able to get an idea of what a rodeo is all about (this was my first rodeo).  There were events for bull riding, bucking broncos, team calf roping, and barrel racing.  Little kids participated in mutton busting where they tried to ride a sheep for 8 seconds.  It is a lot harder than you think to ride a sheep.

Wyoming – My 42nd State, only 8 more to go!

I highly recommend the Grand Teton Half Marathon.  The scenery is beautiful with pine forests, wild flowers, mountains, and an abundance of wildlife.  If you still feel like moving after the race, you can go hiking or kayaking on one of the many lakes in the park.   I enjoyed seeing a different part of the country with such an interesting history.   For me it was definitely an adventure.

I loved the idea for reusing an old race shirt to make a bag.  I am going to look through my old race shirts for one that would make a fun bag.  I found this link with instructions on how to make a bag from an old t-shirt:  https://snapguide.com/guides/make-a-tote-bag-from-an-old-t-shirt-no-sewing/

I stayed at the Wort Hotel, a historic hotel with such an amazing display of photos and western art it could be a museum.  The rooms were very comfortable and the staff was pleasant and helpful.  I would definitely stay there again.

Some of the amazing art on display in the Wort Hotel

The Teton Raptor Center has a project, the Poo-Poo Project, underway to help prevent cavity-nesting birds from entering vault toilets through the ventilation pipes and becoming entrapped.  Vault toilets are the self-contained restrooms found in many of America’s wilderness areas, featuring vertical ventilation pipes that mimic the natural cavities preferred by some species for nesting and roosting. Birds enter the vault toilet through the ventilation pipe and get stuck in the ‘basement’ of the vault toilet.  Thousands of birds become entrapped and die in bottom of vault toilets in the US each year.  Cavity-nesting birds also can be entrapped in other types of open pipes as well including irrigation pipes, ventilation pipes, dryer vents, and chimneys.

The Poo-Poo Project is addressing the problem by installing vent screens on vault toilets.  You can help the Poo-Poo Project two ways. First you can notify the Teton Raptor Center of any vault toilet in your area that needs to have a Poo-Poo screen installed.  Second, you can make a donation to cover the cost of a Poo-Poo screen(s).  Donations can be made as gifts in honor or memory of someone too.  You can find out more information about the Poo-Poo Project at http://tetonraptorcenter.org/our-work/poo-poo-project/.  I was happy to make a donation for two Poo-Poo screens.  

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I Ran Far in Fargo

Recently while flying to a race, I thought about how silly this all seems – traveling to 50 states to run endurance events.  Aren’t they all the same?  How can any race be different?  26.2 or 13.1 miles is the same not matter where you run it, right?  My most recent race in Fargo, North Dakota reminded me that every place is different and every race is unique in its own way.

The start line inside the Fargo Dome

The Fargo Marathon/Half Marathon claims that it is “fast, fun and friendly”.  I ran the half marathon and I have to agree.  Fargo is very flat and the few “hills” we had were mere bumps in the road compared to other places.  The only course that is flatter than the Fargo Half Marathon is the Arena Attack I ran in Hartford, Connecticut.  Funny thing is both the Arena Attack and the Fargo Half have one thing in common.  A portion, if not all, of the race is run in an arena.  The Arena Attack was run entirely inside on the concourse of Hartford’s XL Center.  The Fargo Half started and finished on the arena floor inside the Fargo Dome.  We only ran a short distance inside before heading outside to run through the streets of Fargo and neighboring Moorhead, Minnesota.  We finished up back inside the Fargo Dome too.  For marathoners looking for a BQ (Boston Qualifier), this is the race for you!  Flat and fast.

Over 1 mile of elm trees lining the course

Although the whole idea of starting and ending inside sounds a bit odd, there are many benefits.  There were plenty of restrooms for runners to use before the race – much nicer than port-a-potties.  The temperature inside the arena was controlled so we didn’t need toss clothes at the start or space blankets at the finish to keep warm.  There were plenty of seats inside for spectators to sit and cheer for the runners at the start and the finish plus they could watch the action along the course on the Jumbotrons.  That would be the best way to watch a race.

These spectators had a fun way to enjoy watching the race

The residents of Fargo were very welcoming.  I stopped along the course to take a picture of an elm tree-lined street and started talking to a woman about her beautiful trees and Dutch Elm disease.  She ended our conversation by asking me to come back for next year’s race.  People living along the course definitely enjoyed the race.  They had some of the best signs.  Usually I see the same old signs at every race.  Not in Fargo.  They came up with very unique and creative signs to keep the runners laughing.   They put EZ-up tents in their front yards and were handing out water, licorice, and fruit (including peeled oranges).  It looked like many of them were treating race day like a big party.

The Fargo Marathon/Half Marathon boasts over 58 locations of bands or DJs along the course.  They had entertainment I had never seen before.  I saw a group of bagpipers, one of whom was playing a bag pipe that looked like a shaggy dog.  There was a group of Norwegian accordion players.  My favorite was the Dancing Cowboy – a cowboy who was dancing as I ran by to Pitbull’s “Timber”.  He looked like he was having a great time.  I heard songs I haven’t heard in years along the course too, including the Prince song “Let’s Go Crazy”.  All the entertainment made the race a lot of fun.

The Dancing Cowboy

When I finished, they had pizza, fruit, bagels, donut holes and cookies for the runners.  As I ate my post-race treats, I watched runners finish.  I can’t think of another race where I was able to hang around after I finished and watch the rest of the race.  It was exciting to hear the announcer say “another Boston Qualifier finishing!”  Everyone in the arena would cheer.

 

 

While I wasn’t particularly fast in this race (I did stop to talk to someone about Dutch Elm disease, that cost me some time), I have to agree it was fun and friendly.  If I decide to make my own BQ attempt, this is definitely a race I would consider running.

If you decide to run the Fargo Marathon or Half Marathon, be sure to save some time to see some of the local attractions.  For anyone who enjoyed the movie “Fargo” you can see the wood chipper used in the movie in the Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center.  The staff there will even take your picture with it.  Just over the Red River in Moorhead is the Heritage-Hjemkomst Interpretive Center where you can see a 76-foot long replica of a Viking dragon ship, built in the 1980s in an abandoned potato warehouse and successfully sailed from Minnesota to Norway.  

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Running in The Land of Pre

When I picked out a race to run in Oregon, the choice for me was simple.  I had to go to Tracktown, USA to run the Eugene Half Marathon, a race that ends on the iconic Hayward Field.   This race was definitely one of the most enjoyable races I have run.

Whether you come to run or not, Eugene is a wonderful place to visit.  Located in the Willamette Valley, the scenery is beautiful – foothills and mountains covered in trees and pines, and flowing rivers with ducks and fish.  I stopped by the Eugene Saturday Market, a market for farmers and artisans covering two blocks of a downtown park.  It was one of the most interesting markets I have ever seen and is reputed to be the oldest market of its kind in the US.  There were also plenty of interesting stores to explore as I strolled the downtown streets.  The Eugene area is also home to many wineries and craft breweries.  I am not much of a beer drinker but I enjoyed tasting the wines from Sweet Cheeks winery at their tasting room in a small downtown mall.

Bill Bowerman (note he is standing on a waffle iron)

Eugene is home to the University of Oregon, well known for their track and field program.  Hayward Field is located on the university campus.  Steve Prefontaine (more commonly referred to as Pre) attended the university and competed in track in middle and long-distance events under Coach Bill Bowerman.  Both Bill and Pre are legends in Eugene.  Bill was a very successful coach, leading the university to multiple national collegiate championships.  He did everything he could to help his athletes improve their performances.  That included coming up with improved shoe sole designs using his wife’s waffle iron.  His innovations ultimately led to him to co-found Nike with Phil Knight.  There is a statue of Bill at Hayward Field.  The statue rests on a base made to look like a waffle iron.

Pre once held the American record in 7 different distances from 2,000 meters to 10,000 meters and competed at the 1972 Summer Olympics.  In a race he liked to take the lead early and stay there to the finish line.  At the age of 19 he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine,  Tragically, he died at the age of 24 when his car crashed into a rock.  The spot is now a shrine called “Pre’s Rock”.  Runners stop to visit, many leaving their shoes, race bibs, and even their medals to pay tribute to a runner who inspired them.  Before I picked up my race bib, I took a quick drive to visit Pre’s Rock.

Sunday was race day for the marathoners and half marathoners.  For anyone who rode a bike to the start line, they had a bike valet (no worries about keeping your bike safe while you ran).  I love race courses in the Pacific Northwest and this one was very pleasant – gorgeous scenery and not much in the way of hills.  It is considered one of the best places to earn a Boston Qualifying time.  The race was lots of fun too.  Spectators had put up fun inspirational signs and people were entertaining the runners including two guys playing didgeridoos.  One water stop included people dressed in gorilla costumes (without the head) handing out bananas.

Coming onto Hayward Field to finish the race was very emotional.  I have never run on a surface as comfortable  as Hayward Field.  It felt like I was running on springs, very cushiony and very little impact on my tired legs.  There were cheering spectators in the stands watching the runners finish.  I could imagine how exciting it must be to compete there.

There was plenty to enjoy after the race was over too.  Runners were handed a reusable shopping bag filled with food and a reusable water bottle.  There was a pancake breakfast courtesy of Krusteaz and grilled cheese sandwiches with Franz organic bread.  This was the first race where I have had this kind of finisher food and it was wonderful.

Every runner I talked to after we finished had the same reaction: we were enjoying the race so much, we hated to see it end.  Whether you are running the 50 States or just looking for a different race experience, I highly recommend that you head to Eugene.

Nike put out this film about Pre.  If you don’t know much about Pre, watch this film and see what Pre was all about.

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A Truly Memorable Race

Recently someone asked me, of all the places that I have been on my running adventures, which was the best place I have visited.  I thought about it for a moment.  I have run in so many memorable places that it is difficult to pick just one.  Every place I have traveled to has had something unique – London, Berlin, Tokyo, Disney races through the Magic Kingdom, Montana, Colorado, Vermont, coming home from Mississippi via the City of New Orleans train, running on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are just a few.  I am not sure that I could even narrow it down to five.

But there is one race I will never forget – the 2016 Zion Half Marathon in Utah.   Although I ran that one a year ago, I can still remember each step as if I ran it last week.  Below is my post about that race.   I also wrote a follow-up on this amazing story that shows further why what happened at this race was something miraculous.  And if you have an extra few minutes, read the follow-up I wrote  Miracle at Mile 4 – An Epilogue.  I think you will agree that it is not something one will easily forget.

Miracle at Mile 4 (originally published on March 16, 2016)

The Court of the Patriarchs in Zion National Park

My latest half marathon was the Zion Half Marathon outside Zion National Park in Utah.  The race was put on by Vacation Races, the same folks who organized the Rocky Mountain Half Marathon that I ran last year in Estes Park, Colorado.  Of all the races I have run, the Zion Half was in the prettiest part of the country.   And of all the races I have run, this is the first one during which I prayed.  It was all because of what happened at Mile 4.

Race morning was a bit stressful.  It rained during the night and the start line area was very muddy.  Walking over to the warming tent and the port-a-potties resulted in running shoes heavily coated in mud.  The start of the race was delayed 15 minutes because people who had driven to the start line couldn’t park in the field due to the mud.  It took a bit of extra logistical work to get cars parked and runners to the start line but the race organizers got all that quickly sorted out.

Big change from running below sea level in New Orleans!

The course started in Virgin, Utah (great name for any runner doing their first half marathon) and ended in Springdale, right outside the entrance to Zion National Park.  The elevation at the start line was 3,546 feet and 3,953 feet at the finish line.  Except for one little bit of downhill around Mile 7, this race was all uphill. 

My mud caked shoes stayed behind in Utah

 

The first mile was a little tricky.   It was chilly but the rain had stopped.  My shoes felt like they weighed an extra 5 pounds because of the mud caked on them.  But the mud quickly fell away and I got going.

As I approached Mile 4, I was passed by two emergency vehicles with sirens going and lights flashing.  They pulled up next to an ambulance along the side of the road.  As I passed the scene, I saw a man on the ground being attended to by a number of people.  It was scary.  That is not a sight any runner wants to see at a race.   I didn’t linger or stand and gawk at the scene.  Three more ambulances flew by me as I continued to run.  I did the only thing that I thought could help this runner and myself.  I prayed.

Later two runners passed me and I overheard one talking about the man.  One said that he hadn’t had a pulse for over 10 minutes.  I couldn’t imagine a positive outcome in that situation.  For the rest of the race I thought about that runner.

When I met up with my husband after the race, I burst into tears and told him what happened.  It was difficult to be happy about finishing the race while knowing that someone didn’t get to run theirs.  Later that day, the race organizers sent out an email thanking all the runners for being cooperative with the changes that had to be made at the start due to the weather.  They also let us know that the runner who collapsed was stable and recovering.  I felt so much better when I heard that.

But the story of what happened at Mile 4, I learned later, is much more amazing than anyone could imagine.  The runner was on a reunion trip with a bunch of old friends, people who had been friends for years but hadn’t seen much of each other.   They didn’t know that he had collapsed until after they finished their race.

When he collapsed, a bicyclist who was pacing his friends jumped off his bike to roll the man over and help start CPR.  (That bicyclist had just gotten re-certified in CPR.)  Even more amazing is that a group of “angel runners” stopped to help until an ambulance and EMTs could arrive.  Among them were a cardiac surgery ICU nurse, two trauma ICU nurses, an ER nurse, a cardiologist, a neonatologist, and a neonatal nurse practitioner.  From the accounts that I have read, these medical professionals – who didn’t previously know each other and were also running the race – came together in an instant to help a fellow runner.  In a situation like this one, seconds count.  For over 20 minutes, they performed CPR on the runner before an ambulance and EMTs arrived with equipment (i.e., a defibrillator).  That this runner came back from being down that long is a miracle.

I look at what happened at Mile 4 and I see the lessons to be learned.  The first is about priorities.  Racing may seem important but it is not more important than someone’s life.  My shoes got muddy and I had to trash them but I was still alive.  The small stuff in life just doesn’t matter.

The next is about the importance of community.  We all are part of this community of runners.  We have to look out for each other.  During this race, in an instant several people stopped everything they were doing to come to the aid of another runner.  They shifted their priorities from racing to helping someone else in a life-or-death situation.  I will never look at the person next to me in a race the same way again.  That person may end up helping me or vice versa.  We are all in this together.

Finally, if I never believed before, I certainly believe now in miracles.  It can only be a miracle that a runner collapses and is immediately surrounded by the people with the specialized skills needed to save his life, that performed CPR on him for over 20 minutes, and that he lived.  It was a miracle.

Mississippi or Arkansas?

img_7395My latest running adventure took me to Greenville, Mississippi for the Mississippi River Half Marathon.  (There was also a full marathon.)  This was the first time I ran a point-to-point race that started in one state and finished in another.  The Mississippi River race started in Arkansas and finished in Mississippi.  You might be thinking I was able to cross off two states with this race.  The rules for the 50 States Endurance Challenge only allow you to count it for one, either the state where the race starts or the one where it ends.  I plan to return next year for the Mississippi Blues Half in Jackson so I counted this for my Arkansas race.

img_7375The closest airport to Greenville is in Memphis.  I flew into Memphis, rented a car and drove down US Rt 61, the Mississippi Blues Highway.   The road took me past Clarksdale, home of the Delta Blues Museum.  If you are a Mississippi Delta Blues fan, Clarksdale should be on your list of places to visit.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to stop and visit the museum but I definitely would like to go back.

img_7397Most runners I know look for races with courses that are a flat as possible.  Of all the races I have run, this race course is the flattest.  The only “hill” on the course is the Greenville Bridge, the start line for the half marathon and the halfway point for the full marathon.  The Greenville Bridge is an impressive cable-stayed bridge that opened in 2010.  While we waited for the half marathon to start, runners busied themselves by taking selfies with the bridge towers in the background.  It is a beautiful structure.

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The Greenville Bridge

In one of those “It’s a Small World” moments, I bumped into Colin Wright on the bridge before the race.  Colin writes the Canapeel blog and participated on the running bloggers panel with me in Tulsa, Oklahoma last November at the Route 66 Marathon Expo.  We were pleasantly surprised to see each other again.  He was as engaging and happy as I remembered.

When the race started, we crossed the bridge over the iconic Mississippi River.  It was early in the morning and very peaceful to see the sun peaking through the clouds above the river.  I expected to see barges or other boats on the river but there weren’t any, just birds enjoying the water.

img_7404Although rain was predicted for race day, it never rained but boy, was it humid.   I don’t do well in humidity.   Fortunately,  there were plenty of water stops manned by very friendly volunteers who kept the runners both hydrated and entertained. In addition to the “official” water stops, there were plenty of the unofficial kind.  Continuing the Southern hospitality that I experienced in Jackson, people living along the course were handing out treats like donuts, cupcakes, water, Gatorade, and beer.img_7407

In the finishers tent, they had an impressive spread of post-race food — bananas, oranges, donuts, chips, pizza, water, soft drinks, and beer.   Plus they had massage therapists giving runners seated massages.  I am a huge fan of small races like this because they treat runners very well.  Two thumbs up for this one!

Love the bling - the center of the medal spins!

Love the bling – the center of the medal spins!

I headed back to my hotel to clean up then drove back to Memphis.  It was time for the adventure part of the weekend.  I visited Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley.  Although I am not a big fan of his music, I wanted to see this landmark everyone raves about, particularly the Meditation Garden where he is buried.  It was interesting but not what I expected.

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The gates to Graceland

I won’t be racing again until April when I run the Boston Marathon.  For the next two months I will be putting all my energy towards staying healthy and getting prepared for the race.  I am running for a charity and I want to give them my best performance.  In the meantime, I have plenty of things to share with you so stay tuned for some interesting reading. 😉

Running a Race Indoors

At the start of 2017 my objective was to finish the remaining 13 states in my 50 States Endurance Challenge.  I had most of my races picked out but I was having trouble finding a half marathon in Connecticut that fit into my jam-packed schedule.  Looking at the race calendar on the 50 States Half Marathon Club website, I found a race in Hartford, Connecticut in January – the Arena Attack.  January in Connecticut can be full of ice and snow.  That wasn’t a problem for this race.  It was going to be run indoors around the concourse of Hartford’s XL Center.

Although this race has been rated among the most difficult half marathons in the world by halfmarathons.net, I was not intimidated.  I am always looking for ways to vary my half marathon and marathon experiences.  I have run through amusement parks; around auto and horse racing tracks; through professional football and baseball stadiums; over a covered bridge; across a desert; up a mountain in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains; and through a mile-long underwater tunnel that also crossed an international border.  This was going to be another new experience.

The Arena Attack races were the idea of Scott Sutter of the Southern New England Athletic Association (SNEAA).  Scott ran track and cross country in college in South Carolina.  If the weather was too hot or rainy, the coach would make the team run interval workouts on the concourse of the field house.  Fast forward to 2012 when Scott remembered those indoor workouts.  He knew in the middle of winter the race calendar in New England is pretty empty.  Running on the concourse of an arena would be perfect for dedicated runners looking to get in a long run.  Let’s face it – runners are pretty nutty.  They will run anywhere they can.  SNEAA offers a 5K, marathon, and two half marathon heats as part of the Arena Attack.  Not surprising – all of the races in Hartford sold out.

When I mentioned to my running group that I was planning to run this race, they brought up several concerns.  Would the course be crowded with runners? What would the temperature be inside the arena?  Would the floor get slippery at the water stop?  Would it be boring running in circles?  None of these things worried me because Scott addressed them all in the pre-race guide.  I was focused on the positives.  I would be running on a flat course in Connecticut (can’t find many of those even along the coast).  There would be multiple bathrooms along the 330-meter course and I would never be more than a few steps away from any of them (and no lines!).  I would have to run 65 laps around the arena but it would be better than slogging out 13.1 miles on a treadmill in January and I could check off another state in my 50 States Endurance Challenge.  From my perspective, this was a win-win.

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It was funny to see runners passing under the photo on the wall of an outdoor race

Since the course is narrower in a few spots, the number of runners is restricted.  There were two heats for the half marathon with between 35 and 40 runners in each.   (The marathon was run concurrent with the two half marathon heats and was restricted to 25 runners).  I ran in the second heat of the half marathon.  Not only was this my first indoor race, this was the smallest race I have ever run.  When we got going, everyone quickly spread out and settled into their own pace. I never felt crowded like I do in a race with significantly more runners where we run on wide streets.  I also liked that the tile floor was laid out in stripes that were like lanes all the way around the concourse.  They were easy to follow.

img_7301The arena is home to the Wolf Pack hockey team and a number of kids’ hockey teams.  They keep the temperature inside the arena in the 50s so the ice rink doesn’t melt.  I think the ice also helps to keep the indoor air temperature down.  Scott had recommended runners wear shorts and singlets.  I followed his suggestion and was comfortable.  Although it seemed strange, I also wore a visor just to keep any sweat from rolling down into my eyes as I ran.

The water stop was one table set up with water, Gatorade, and bananas.  Marathon runners had separate tables where they could leave their own sports drinks and nutrition items.  During the pre-race briefing, Scott emphasized the need to prevent spills on the course.  Wet floors would be hazardous to the runners.  Kudos to all the runners – I never saw any spills.

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I passed this sign 65 times.

As we ran, there was music playing to keep the runners entertained.  Races like the Rock ’n Roll series have bands or DJs set up every mile or so along the course.  In actuality, runners only hear them when they get within about 25 yards of the band or DJ.  It ends up being occasional little spurts of music.  The rest of the time we are left alone to listen to people huffing and puffing as they run.  This race was different.  Since we were running around the arena, I could always hear the music.  It was a change for me because  I don’t run wearing earphones and listening to music.  I use my training runs to think about things I need to do, work out problems, or just take in the scenery.  I wouldn’t say that I disliked hearing music the entire time.  It was just another different aspect to this race for me.

In addition to the Arena Attack races in Hartford, SNEAA also holds another set of Arena Attack races in Mullins Center on the campus of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  The Mullins Center is a little smaller so half marathoners have to do 67 laps instead of 65.   The Amherst edition of Arena Attack sold out too.

Overall, I have to say the Arena Attack Half Marathon was an interesting race.  The number of runners was small and everyone was sensible about the “don’t spill water” request.  I never had to stress out about finding a bathroom along the way.  Even better I didn’t have to carry my own water bottles.  The water stop was never very far away.  The availability of bathrooms and the water stop made this a very pleasant race for me.  The only suggestion I have to improve the race would be to liven things up a bit.  It might be fun to allow runners to suggest songs for the music playlist.  Maybe even have a little commentary every once in a while too (“this song goes out to Justin who is finishing up lap 38!”).

I would recommend anyone looking for a new twist on racing to consider running one of the Arena Attack races.  Running indoors is definitely a unique experience.

A Year of Running Adventures

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Saw a lot of this view

When I am out on a training run, I have time to let my mind wander.  This week I found myself thinking about this year and all the adventures I had.  Looking back on 2016, I can say I had some very memorable running experiences and plenty of adventures.  All in all, it was a funatical runner kind of year.

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 6.57.46 PMOriginally, I had planned to run half marathons in 14 states as well as the London and Chicago Marathons.  It was a pretty ambitious goal.  I was doing pretty well until July when I broke my toe.  My race schedule was thrown out the window while I spent 8 weeks recuperating. I thought at the time my world had ended.  But my toe healed and I got back to running – probably a bit too quickly.  I struggled through a race in Seattle less than 2 weeks after I was cleared to start exercising again.  It was the first time I stood at the start line of a race in pain.  Despite my pain, it was one of my favorite races.  I can’t say that I would recommend that strategy to anyone.  I was lucky.  I could have derailed my running for a much longer time because I started running too soon.  In the end I only missed 3 races – half marathons in Nebraska and Maine and the Chicago Marathon.  They will be there next year and I will be too.

For me this whole 50 State thing is about more than checking states off a list.  It is about the adventures, the things I see and experiences I have along the way.  This year has been full of those.  This year I ran through Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  I ran over a covered bridge in Vermont and the Tower Bridge in London.  Race courses took me to places with gorgeous natural beauty like Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, along the coast in New England, and outside Zion National Park in Utah.  And after my races, I enjoyed some of the best food too – barbecue in Birmingham, lobster rolls in New England, and birthday cake in Seattle.  It is a toss-up for me as to what is better – good bling (i.e., the race medal) or good post-race food.

img_2698I had a lot of interesting company during my races this year.  I ran with Meb Keflizghi in Indianapolis.  I ran with an astronaut on the International Space Station and Guinness World Record breakers in the London Marathon.  I ran with people in unbelievable costumes including a woman dressed as a can of Spam and a guy dressed as Jesus.  In London I was #oneinamillion.

I am in this photo - honest!

I am in this photo – honest!

Many people who are working on their own 50 State goals run as many races as they can in a year.  Often they run back-to-back races – Saturday in one state then driving to another race on Sunday in a different state.   While that strategy would have helped me knock my challenge out sooner, I wouldn’t get to fully enjoy the places I visit.  Wherever I go, I try to take time to explore.

The art vending machine

The art vending machine

This year I have gone to museums like the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; the Presbytere in New Orleans with fascinating exhibits on the Mardi Gras and Hurricane Katrina; and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis where I found the art vending machine.  I got stuck in Austin after the 3M Half due to blizzards on the East Coast.  I was delighted to have extra time to enjoy the 70 degree weather and visit the outdoor Umlauf Sculpture Garden.  And there were a few museums that I didn’t have time to see like the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa.  Maybe next time.

I visited historical sites including Grafton, the ghost town in Utah;  the Chisholm Trail in Texas; and a cemetery from the 1600s in New Hampshire.  While window shopping, I admired the colonial homes in Newport, Rhode Island.  I strolled the streets of New Orleans French Quarter, admiring the architecture and enjoying a wide variety of musicians.  Every place I visited for a race had something unique to offer.

img_4939There were the quirky sights too.  In Green Bay, I found a small amusement park whose claim to fame was their roller coaster, the Zippin Pippin.  Elvis Presley rented the entire amusement park in 1977 and rode the Zippin Pippin for 2 hours straight.  (Eight days later he died.)  Outside Seattle I visited Jimi Hendrix’s grave.  Although I am not a Hendrix fan, it was one of the most unusual monuments I have ever seen.  In Utah I visited rock shops where they were selling a wide variety of rocks and fossils including 50 million year old turtle poop.  I don’t expect to see that again on a store shelf anytime soon.  I was fascinated by the kinetic wind sculptures an art gallery had on display in Utah.  And I can’t forget the Center of the Universe in Tulsa.img_4216

For many runners a race is all about the medal.  In fact I know people who pick the races they will run based on the race medal.  Little Rock, Arkansas has a race that is very popular because the medal is as big as a dinner plate.  No kidding.  While medals are nice, if you run a lot of races, you end up with so many medals that you have to get creative about how to display them.  I like the race medals but after I get them home, they aren’t very interesting.  I value the memories I tucked away in my mental suitcase more.

img_3818I only have to run races in 13 more states to complete my 50 State Endurance Challenge.  Part of me doesn’t want the challenge to be over.  I am enjoying exploring this diverse country we live in.  I plan to continue to seek out the historic and quirky points of interest as I continue my journey because that is what this adventure is all about!

In Utah I loved watching the wind sculptures by Lyman Whitaker.  The slightest breeze would start them spinning.  I found this video on YouTube of his wind sculptures in action.  Check out his web site – there may be an installation near you.  http://www.whitakerstudio.com/artwork.html