Saturday, September 19, 2015

June 13, 2015, Teton Dam Half Marathon, State #22, ID.

I woke up an hour and fifteen minutes before my alarm on race day. Terrific. I hadn’t slept well, and after I awoke at 3:45 am I knew I wasn’t going to fall back asleep, no matter how hard I tried, so I just got up. I tried not to make too much noise, as I didn’t want to wake up Andrew too early. I washed, dressed and did some yoga moves to get my body ready for the race before making some coffee. 
Our hotel had a Keurig machine which is such a dream when traveling. I can buy the kind of coffee I like and brew it right in the room. And not to get too graphic or anything, but let’s just say the proper coffee is required to get the poops out before a long race. And after my food sins from the day before, I really needed to make sure that happened. My stomach had been topsy-turvy all night, contributing to my lack of sleep along with my nerves. Thankfully, a couple of coffees and some oatmeal with chia seeds and blueberries and my situation was much better. Success in this situation is critical.
Andrew awoke and got himself ready. We collected all of our necessary gear and hit the road back to Rexburg. There was not one bit of traffic along the way, so we arrived quite early to the park where the race both began and finished. The race route was a nice loop (square, actually) through the Rexburg area, mostly in farm country. We stretched a bit, utilized the port-a-potties, arranged for gear check and prepared for the start of the race. 
Starting line photo of Andrew and I.
The race stepped off promptly on time at 7:30 am and began through a residential area behind the Madison Junior High School. It was a nice way to start, somewhat slightly up hill, but nothing too taxing. As we came out of the residential area and in to the more rural farm lands, one of the first sights of interest we passed was a house with either bighorn sheep or mountain goats in the yard. I wasn’t sure which they were, but if I had to guess, I’d say they were sheep. They were looking at us as if to say, “What the heck it this? We don’t usually see this going by.” Of course, in my mind as I passed them I couldn’t help thinking that it isn’t every day that you see bighorn sheep. Almost immediately after I passed them, across the street on my right hand side was a huge herd of elk! They were spectacular to see and were kept by a farm called the Rocky Mountain Elk Ranch. What a cool way to start off a long run! 
As we continued, we entered in to complete farm lands for almost as far as the eye could see. We were surrounded by more of the same kind of fields Andrew and I saw the day before—potatoes and some kind of wheat/grassy crop. Grain silos and more of those huge industrial sprinklers were everywhere, too. The first five miles were spent in this way. It was pastoral and lovely and easy on the eyes. 
At mile five the hill started. And what a hill it was. The first part of it wasn’t too bad. Most of the time I’m ok with hills. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other like any other run on any other surface. Just keep pushing forward. But keep in mind, this was a THREE MILE HILL. It was largely steep for the first half, then it leveled off a bit, went up a bit more, leveled off again, went up again, leveled off again then went one last huge steep bit up. Just enough to completely kick your ass. The special timing devices were at the bottom and top of the hill as we had heard the night before, but I knew there was no way I’d be the fastest runner, so I tried not to focus on that. I just wanted to focus on getting over the hill. I did fine, only stopped to take a few walking steps at about the halfway point to catch my breath. During this part of the run, I ended up running partly with a man named John from Utah. He took up running to lose weight, and he was doing a great job. We had a nice chat and talked a bit with each other about races we had done. I asked him if he was a 50-stater, and he didn’t know about it, so I filled him in. I think I may have made a new recruit today. He was a nice guy. He mostly outran me on the hill, but I caught him near the top and then passed him when the downhills started. 
Miles 8-10 were up and down. I felt fine physically and took advantage of the downhills as best as I could. There were still a few pretty steep uphills during this part of the race though that kept it quite challenging. 
Once we hit mile 10 the race pretty much turned to a downhill sprint. This was wonderful after all the uphills, and it really made the end of the race a pleasure to finish. Just after mile 10 as I crested the top of the hill and started down, the view below me was spectacular! All I could think of was that it was the potato valley below me. It was an incredible vista of the farm fields, houses leading in to the valley, churches, the valley stretching out below and the amazing mountains off in the distance framing it all in. This beneath a perfect clear blue sky without a cloud in sight. Breathtaking.
I ran these downhills as fast as I could get gravity and my legs to take me. It was exhilarating to experience the fun of running downhill to the finish line. I passed the end of the 10K walkers/runners as they hit their turn around and went back to the finish. I ran through a gorgeous neighborhood in the final few turns that led back to the park. Folks in the neighborhood were in good spirits and kids and parents both were there to cheer us on. It was a perfect day.
As I rounded the corner in to the park I could hear the announcer, and since I was running with no one around me, he announced my name as I approached the finish line. I love it when that happens! 
I crossed and checked my time which was right around 1:57 something. Certainly slower than my normal pace, but with that big huge hill in the middle, I didn’t mind. I was sub-2 hours and that is always my aim. I grabbed some water and snacks and walked through the finishing area, of course collecting my medal as well. I walked around the expo area, checking out some of the local vendors. I met this cool giant dalmatian while I was there. 
Hanging with the big dogs.
After we took a picture together, I noticed that my wonderful husband (and biggest fan) texted me to tell me I had finished 2nd in my age group! My top placement in a race ever! I couldn’t believe it! I also finished 4th overall in the masters category, which is all women 40 and up. Not too shabby.
I collected my gear bag and checked in with officials to see if this status was true, and in fact, it was! I was a 2nd place winner with an official time of 1:57:46. I told the race director that I couldn’t stay for the awards ceremony because I had a 1:30 flight out and still had to get back to the hotel to shower, pack and return the rental car. 
Me on the awards stage giving the #22 sign. 22 states done!
He slipped me my prize (a gear belt) on the sly and told me to keep it under wraps. I asked the high school kids volunteering at the prize table to do a victory dance for me when they called my name since I had to leave. They said they would. :)
Andrew and I found each other and walked back to the car. The drive back to the hotel was easy, and we traded stories of our trials and tribulations along the race route. He spied llamas and cows but not the sheep and elk I saw. I missed the llamas and cows. His IT band was really hurting, so he took it slow, but he finished. Mostly we both felt pretty good though. Completing another state was exciting. 
Race t-shirt, number and medal.
We grabbed some breakfast back at the hotel then got ourselves stretched, showered and packed before heading off to the airport. Luckily our hotel was only about 7 minutes from the airport, so we didn’t have to kill ourselves with rushing around. We arrived with plenty of time to spare before boarding our flights. 
I always feel sad saying good bye to cousin Andrew because he is such an easy going guy to hang out with. He’s super smart, and I love having discussions with him about books or music or running or whatever we touch upon. It is always more fun to have him along on a run than when I’m all by myself watching HGTV in my hotel room. I gave him a hug at the airport because I knew he didn’t have much time to make his connection when we got to Minneapolis (neither did I, for that matter). Off we went.
The flights home were great. My wonderful, amazing, smart, loving, biggest-fan husband genius that he is bought me a first class ticket, so I had plenty of room to stretch out my legs. After a long run that is just divine.
Idaho is in the books, and it was a nice state to visit. I’d like to go back there and see some other areas someday. For now, I’ll just bask in the glory that this state gave me—a 2nd place age group finish. 

Life changes and running

The last couple of weeks or so have been a complete whirlwind for me. We arrived back from the Dakotas on August 24th. On August 25th I submitted an application for a job a friend of mine let me know about. My youngest daughter just started kindergarten this year, so I was thinking I might take a look around to see what might be out there job-wise. My friend sent me a message while we were away on vacation that a library job opened up at a school in her district, so when we got home, I figured I'd give it a shot. I didn't really think it would go very far, as the job had already been posted for a couple of weeks, and the teachers had to report to school on the 24th, students September 1st. I figured it was too late and that they likely would've already hired someone. 
I received a call on the 28th that they wanted to interview me on the 31st. Fast forward a week...I was offered the job and accepted. I started as a full-time library media specialist in an intermediate school (grades 3-6) this past week. Talk about making my head spin. It has been just like running a marathon. Fast pace, not knowing what is going to come up along the way, working on building your stamina, complete exhilaration and complete exhaustion.
So my plans to work on projects around the house and train for races have fallen by the wayside in favor of getting my brain back in shape with work. However, this definitely does not mean that I'm cutting back on running. Instead, I have started getting up at 5 am every morning to either bang out a 5 miler or some Beachbody strength training DVDs. It has been tiring, but my body is getting used to the wake up time by now. Somehow I'm managing, but it has definitely been tough.
I am convinced that fitting in my run (however early it may be) helps me keep my energy up during the day. Working with elementary school kids all day takes a lot of energy for sure. I need to stay dedicated and focused, both with work and workouts. So far, so good. Long runs will just have to wait for weekends. Or holidays. 
Today my oldest daughter and I ran in a local 5K race, the Somers Great Escape. It was a nice way to kick off our weekend. I bumped in to a bunch of running pals there. Shout out to Rachel and her sister, Scott R., Alicia (Kate's mom), Dave and Sam Smith (my neighbors), and Stephanie (formerly Green, but I don't know her married name) and her family. I also saw a friend on the sidelines. Hi Tenley...thanks for cheering us on!
Pre-race selfie.
It was a lovely little race, but it wasn't our finest. My daughter was tired and nursing some sore legs. We ran some, walked some, which is fine, but she just felt really defeated bringing on some whining, grumbling and tears. Not an easy race for either of us, but we did it. I'm always so amazed that my little 7 year old even wants to run in these races. I NEVER would have done that at her age. I hated running then. She makes me so proud getting out there to try. Even though we didn't beat our fastest time, we gave a good effort. And she already said she wanted to do it again next year, maybe with her sister. So I guess it wasn't all that bad. 
For now, I'm going to balance everything the best I can. I know I can do it. It will just take a little more planning and perseverance. Stay tuned as I embark on this new life-work-running journey. 

August 22, 2015, Go Far Woman Half Marathon, State #24, Fargo, ND

Race morning came without incident, and luckily I got more sleep for this race than for the one in South Dakota. Not much more, but every little bit helps. I got myself together and brought all my breakfast stuff down to the lobby/restaurant area of the hotel. While I was having my breakfast, I met a woman who was also working on half marathons in all 50 states. We got to talking, and it turned out that she was from our neck of the woods...Massachusetts. Then I discovered that she was from my husband's hometown. She didn't grow up there, but instead in a nearby town...the town my father-in-law taught high school in. Lo and behold...she had my father-in-law as her chemistry teacher! We had a nice chat together about that time in her life and our running, and we ended up walking to the start of the race together.
The mood at the starting line was jovial, and all of the women were encouraging one another. It was a nice vibe, and the race director gave a very moving speech about the background of the race. The race was established to honor a woman who was a runner and doctor in the area who lost her life early. She was an ob/gyn in the area, and she was responsible for bringing hundreds of babies in to the world. She was a woman who loved life and loved her family. I felt privileged to be part of a race of all women running in her honor and to raise money for the local NICU department at the hospital where she worked. Next, an a-capella group sang the national anthem and then we were off!
National Anthem at starting line.
The weather was very humid and strong winds were definitely sweeping across the plains. It was only partly cloudy, but there was rain in the forecast for later in the day. I was hoping I would finish long before any rain showed up. As I mentioned in my last post, the area of Fargo where we were was so strange. New construction was everywhere, and the race circled through all these brand new neighborhoods filled with large, beautiful newly constructed homes. Many of them were occupied, but some neighborhoods were still under construction or had many homes available for purchase. All I could think was that it was like Wisteria Lane on steroids...for miles and miles around. It will be a gorgeous area when all is said and done. The neighborhoods are all linked with a walking path (largely what we ran on) dotted with playgrounds, ponds, even schools all built right in. I've never seen anything like it! I don't know where all these droves of people moving to Fargo are coming from, but I can tell you, there is plenty of real estate available.
The race was going well enough, I tried to stay with the 1:50 pace group as much as I could, and for the first 7 miles I was well in front of them, but the humidity and wind were taking a lot out of me, and the looping in and out of the neighborhoods made the race route seem tedious at times. But fans were friendly along the way, and I kept seeing these two women over and over again as I continued on the path. The person they were cheering for was somewhere behind me, so each time I passed them, and then their runner passed them, they'd hurry ahead to some other location further along the race, and I'd see them again. Eventually I started to joke with them that they should run the race next year because they were so fast. We had fun each time we saw each other, and those moments help a lot when you are hot and tired and losing steam.
By mile nine I was definitely feeling spent. I pushed on along the best I could, but running against the wind was exhausting, and there was a long stretch of straight-away sidewalk that required just that. We finally turned in to another neighborhood (with enormous houses in it!) which quieted the wind for a spell. The return trip back out on that straight sidewalk had the wind at my back, which was good, but then of course the humidity felt immense. As flat as Fargo was, it wasn't an easy race to run.
The last few miles for me were just about survival. The 1:50 group had long since passed me by, and I just wanted to finish in my overall "under 2 hours" range. Finally I could see the expo center where the finish line was, and I couldn't get there fast enough. It felt like I had sandbags tied to my legs, but I pressed on. I provided some words of encouragement to some of the walkers I passed as I made my way to the finish line. They were finishing the 5K and 10K races that they walked.
As I approached the finish line, I started looking for my fans. There they were off to the right hand side, my girls, my husband and my friends from home. I blew them all kisses as I crossed the finish line with an official time of 1:54:30 which I was really happy with. I thought I'd be much slower. Handsome firefighters were at the finish line handing out the medals. I collected mine and went to find my peeps. I ended up finishing 39th overall (out of 235) and 9th in my age group (out of 38). Happy to be finished I found my gang and told them all about it.
Hot & humid & crossing the finish.
As my family took some finish line photos for me, I spied my two fan friends who followed me all along the race. Of course, I went right over to them to thank them for their encouragement along the way and to tell them what great fans they were. We chatted for a bit and took a photo together as well. What a fun couple of gals!
Me and my new favorite fans.
I grabbed some water and a little bit of finish line chocolate milk for the girls and took a quick douse through the fire truck sprinkler that was running in the parking lot. That felt good after all that sweat! We walked back to the hotel, and I found out all about what the family was doing while I was running.
Finisher's medal, number & shirt.
I changed and took a rinsing shower and then treated myself to a soak in the hot tub while my girls swam one last time. After that, we said good-bye to our friends, as they were heading to a relative's cabin for the weekend, and we were heading back to Bismarck. As we were getting ready to leave, we bumped in to Sue from Massachusetts, so my husband got to meet her. We chatted for a few minutes and wished her a safe trip home. She was heading to the airport.
Sign at World's Largest Buffalo.
On our drive back to Bismarck, we stopped to visit the "World's Largest Buffalo" because when do you ever get that kind of opportunity?! 
World's Largest Buffalo, indeed!

Family selfie with giant buffalo.
We had a low key night in Bismarck and spent an extra day there before we headed back to the airport for our trip home. Mostly we just drove around exploring the area. Not much was open on Sunday, so we just went to the movies later in the afternoon. Monday we left for home.
What a wonderful trip we had! I don't know if we ever would have selected North and South Dakota as a vacation destination, but I'm sure glad we went there. You never know where running will take you!
North Dakota card.

Monday, September 7, 2015

North Dakota, Part One

We left the beauty of Spearfish and headed north to North Dakota, destination Medora. We heard about Medora from a fellow parent at our kids' gymnastics class. She told us about the lovely painted canyons there and the country music theater there, the Medora Musical. Along the way, we passed gorgeous farmland, including fields and fields of sunflowers.
Sunflower fields along our drive.
My photos don't do them justice because we were driving as I took them, but rest assured that they were amazing to see. We checked in to our hotel in Medora and decided to take a drive to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park (Northern Unit, near Watford City, ND). Again, we were just amazed with the topography there. The hills/canyons were beautifully striped with layers of color. 
Canyon views in Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit.

Hiking trail leading in to canyons.

Layers of color on the canyons.

We stopped to take a short hike. It was really funny, as we started out along the path, we couldn't help but notice the bison dung all about. It made me wonder whether or not we should really be out there hiking with our kids. Luckily, the only wildlife we spied up close was a bunny.
After the hike we drove the rest of the way through the park. It was just incredible. We again got a great look at a bison up close. 
Bison on the road side.
It just doesn't get old for us east coasters to see those huge beasts along the road. So cool! We took in all the vistas and then headed back to Medora. We also couldn't help but notice the oil rigs along the way. Oil is booming in North Dakota. Oil rigs dot the landscape, but not so much that they are ruining the views.
Once back in Medora, we had dinner at the Rough Riders Hotel, and then Lily and I got ready for the Medora Musical. I ordered tickets for all of us, but the weather was chilly with threats of rain. We weren't even sure the show would go on, as the theater is an outdoor venue built in to the side of one of the canyons. Plus, our littlest one was so tired, we knew she wouldn't make it through the night.
My little cowgirl in the gift shop at the musical.
We went to the Medora Musical which was really fun. The show started in a mist of rain, but largely the rain held off. The performance was tweaked to keep the performers safe (not so much dancing on a slippery stage). It was a fun night of country music, which isn't my favorite, but being in North Dakota, it was hard not to enjoy it. It was a bit of a hokey show, but it was also patriotic and celebrated the glory of North Dakota. Lily absolutely loved it, and it was hard not to see it through her eyes and get captivated. We had a great night!
Medora Musical ampitheater built in to the side of a canyon.
View of canyon behind the stage.
Performers in the show.
The next day, we checked out Theodore Roosevelt National Park (South Unit) in Medora. It was even more spectacular than the North Unit! We absolutely loved it! 

Panoramic photo of Theodore National Park South Unit.

We could see herds of bison roaming free in the valley where the Little Missouri River winds through. We stopped here and there to walk and take in the sights. It is no wonder that Theodore Roosevelt fell in love with the Dakotas. I am so glad that he had the amazing foresight to protect this grand area. We took a longer hike along one of the trails. 
More views from Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit.
More views from Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit.
Family photo in TR National Park.
Hiking trail.
More views from Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit.
More views from Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit.
Family selfie in the park.
It was gorgeous terrain, and our girls did a great job hiking close to four miles. It wasn't hilly, but we walked quite some time and it was warm. We loved it. On our drive out of the park, we encountered a bison traffic jam! We caught some close up video of these huge beasts. What an experience! 

We made one last stop on our way out of Medora to view the painted canyons. Then we hit the road for Bismarck.
Painted canyons in Medora.
Another view of the painted canyons.
Bismarck is the capital city of North Dakota, and rather than being very urban, it is largely suburban. It is a really nice city with lots of parks and biking/walking trails everywhere. We checked out some of the parks in the area including Pioneer Park which runs along the Missouri River and the Overlook Park above it, site of an ancient Native American village. 
Playing along the Missouri River & waving to trains.
Overlook park above the Missouri River. 
Play area in the overlook park.
We enjoyed walking the paved path in Pioneer Park, stopping along the way to check out some of the sculptures and beaches along the river. Much of the history of Lewis and Clark is celebrated along this stretch. Later, we found the upper overlook area which provided spectacular views of Bismarck, Mandan and the Missouri River.
Another view from the overlook park.
The next day we met up with friends of ours from home. Patrick (our friend from home) is originally from Bismarck, so when I was planning to run a race in North Dakota, I recruited Patrick and his family to join us. Pat's wife, Patti, is a great friend of mine, and their daughter Julie has been a babysitter for our kids since they were born. Julie and her boyfriend Joey were along on the trip, too. We all met up in Bismarck on Wednesday afternoon, and that evening, Pat's sister, who still lives in Bismarck, had a party at her house. She was celebrating her daughter's high school graduation along with Pat & Patti's visit. It was great to be a part of a home party with friends and their family. It was like being at home on the road. We had a great time with everyone and wished Pat's niece well wishes on her college time in Fargo.
Holland Runabout circa 1900 in the Heritage Center in Bismarck.
The next day all of us went to the Heritage Center in Bismarck. What an amazing museum! It is free and contains all kinds of artifacts and history pertaining to North Dakota. The museum is organized by time periods, presenting everything from prehistoric fossils and dinosaur bones to the recent oil boom. We all loved the exhibits, ranging from animals to technology to farming and history and energy. It was a great day. We had lunch at a diner and then took some time to relax after.
Our gang at Kroll's Diner in Mandan.
Friday, we left Bismarck for Fargo, the site of my second race. It was largely an uneventful drive out there, save for a giant cow statue on the side of the road in a town called Salem.
Fargo was an interesting place. The hotel where we stayed was located in an area completely surrounded by new construction. Everywhere around condos, apartment buildings and gorgeous homes were either just newly built or were still under construction. A huge medical center was also being built. When I ventured out to get my necessities for the race, I discovered mile after mile of strip malls and shopping centers. There really weren't any tall buildings, just loads of retail. It felt kind of weird for a city.
That afternoon when we arrived, the girls and I needed to go pick up our numbers at the expo center where the race start and finish lines were. The girls were running in the girls only race that evening, while my race was the next morning. We easily picked up our numbers and found that the expo center was within walking distance for me the next morning. That was good news. The girls swam in the pool for a bit that afternoon before their race. Pat & Patti arrived shortly after we did, and they joined us for the girls race at 6:30 pm. 
Our runners dressed and ready!
Warming up pre-race.
Stretching out.
Ready to get started!
The race was a one mile out and back route that departed from the expo center. There was great excitement in the air for everyone, as this race was the first girls only kids race that had been offered at this marathon event. My girls were nervous and excited as they stretched out and warmed up. At the starting mark, they took off with my littlest one gunning away from her big sister. We could see all the runners all the way to the turn around, so it was pretty easy to keep an eye on approximately where our girls were. Lily finished in about 8:40 and Ella at 9:22. 
Lily crossing the finish!
Ella crossing the finish! 
Two happy runners with their medals.
Pretty excellent for their first one mile race. They collected their medals and we all went to dinner at a great Italian restaurant called Toscana in the old part of Fargo. Nestled in what (I guess) would be considered downtown Fargo, this restaurant was amazing! I wished I could've ordered one of the heavier, creamier pasta dishes, but the night before a half marathon is not the time to go experimenting with unusual foods. I stuck to my standard spaghetti and marinara, and had it topped with grilled chicken for protein. The food was so incredibly delicious. Great place! The downtown area was lined with the kind of brick buildings you'd expect to see in an old time western town, but now they were updated and contained retail, restaurants and bars. It was cute and quaint. 
The girls and Julie at dinner.
After dinner, it was back to the hotel for bed for me and my runner girls. I knew I'd be up early the next morning for my half marathon fun. Craig stayed up with our friends playing cards in to the wee hours of the night.