Appalachian Series, or “what kind of person uses vacation time to do this sh*t?”

Date: October 11-15, 2015

Distance: 13.1 + 13.1 +13.1 +13.1 

Location: West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolinamedal

This was the second race series I have completed with Mainly Marathons–the first one being the Independence Series this past spring. Touted as “the world’s best 5-day and 7-day multi-state races series,” I would have to say they certainly live up to that slogan.

In short, I would describe these races as being perfect for anyone who is trying to complete full marathons, half marathons, or 5K races in all fifty states–or for anyone who simply loves an excuse to travel and spend time with like-minded, friendly, race enthusiasts who care far less about finish times than they do about savoring the moment and celebrating friendships and shared experiences.


First Day. Luckily, the rain quit the morning of the race and the weather stayed clear the rest of the week.

The entire race series–all seven days–also included the states of Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama. Fortunately, I had already completed races in GA and TN, and I plan to finish Alabama this coming January so I got to skip out on those. Plenty of other runners, however, savored all seven days of full marathons. Being around these folks makes me feel a bit like a slacker since I only did the half distance and I only did four of them.

West Virginia and Virginia

Nonetheless, for me that was plenty challenging. The first two races were both held in Bluefield, WV/VA–two consecutive days of running the same, hilly course. They counted as two separate states, however, because day one started in WV and day two started in VA. The park where we ran conveniently crossed the state border. I wasn’t sure how I would like running the same course two days in a row, but it was beautiful and that made it enjoyable. It was also, however, humid and hilly, and I think the hills contributed to me hurting my knee during the first day, despite my efforts to run much slower than normal (2:56:30). The knee thing surprised me since that was a completely new injury–one of the ligaments or tendons behind my knee on the outer edge started hurting quite a bit near the end.trail

My sore knee meant that I pretty much walked the entire second day (3:41:21) and hoped my ability to skip day three of the series (TN) would allow me to be good to go for day four after rest, ice, and ibuprofen.

Despite my sore knee being a bummer, day two brought me a very good present–my husband was able to fly out and join me for the rest of the week. I was really happy he was able to do that so he could see first-hand what these races are like and so we could spend some rare time together. His job requires constant travel so we really appreciate the times we are able to be together. Plus, I’m not gonna lie–having someone else to drive the 2-3 hours between races was a godsend.

The first evening he arrived, we even enjoyed a great “date night” with a fabulous dinner and movie in Morganton, NC. That made this week feel much more like a vacation.

North Carolina

As hoped, my knee felt much better by race #3. I was also pleasantly surprised that my ankle wasn’t giving me any grief, as that tends to be my nagging sore spot when I increase mileage. Day three, again, brought beautiful weather–sunny skies and no wind. This course, too, was very nice. All of the courses in this series were held at local parks with nicely paved running paths. Still, I took things easy (2:51:14), and even walked the entire last lap (about two miles) with my husband. That was really nice to be able to do. shirt

South Carolina

My last day was my favorite day. The course was easier and I felt really good. Still, after having run three previous races, my time was slower than usual, but I ended up finishing with my fastest time of the series: 2:43:25. For me, I’ve found that some combination of running and walking was best–particularly since I was having knee troubles earlier in the week. For this race, I ran .4, then walked .1 and kept up that pattern pretty much the whole way. It worked because I was able to finish without hurting, was satisfied with my time, and even had none of the usual quad soreness that I often get the next morning following any race. Success.

On a side note, congratulations to Mainly Marathons–this raced marked the 100th race of the races they have put on as part of a race series (they started these three years ago).

About out and backs. All of the races with Mainly Marathons are out-and-backs. At first, I thought, “how boring to run the same loop six or seven times.” What I have found, however, is the benefits of this set up far outweigh the negatives. Having a centralized check in point allows for a “base camp” at the start and finish. Base camp is where the timers are, where the water table is (you provide your own water bottle and they fill it up for you with your choice of water or Gatorade), where you can stash your gear (my outer layer almost always comes off about 1-2 miles in), and–perhaps most notably–it’s where the food truck is. An out-and-back course also means no one ever feels as though they are in last place and you get to see the same friendly, familiar faces time and time again and lots of nods, smiles, and “great jobs” are exchanged between runners throughout the race.

Oh, and the food. I wrote about my food amazement when I described the Independence series–the variety of food available to the runners is second to none. Thanks to Mainly Marathons, I’ve found that one of my favorite mid-race snacks is a quarter-sized peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with cinnamon raisin bread. And, awesome post-run fuel might include homemade blueberry pancakes, banana bread, brownies, quesadillas, or gourmet-styled grilled cheese sandwiches. Those offerings are in addition to chips, candies, and a plethora of other options.

As with last time, I embarked on this trip with the illusion of being able to easily drop a couple of pounds due to all the running I would be doing. Instead, these races make it quite possible to more than make up for your calorie burn. (Plus the post race burgers, Mexican food, and beers I indulged in didn’t help either). Oh, well. Vacation, right?

Inspirations. Another reason I like these races has to do with the people who manage them (the support crew is awesome) as are the people who run them. I’m particularly impressed with the folks who complete full marathons (26.2 miles) every day of the series–some who even do it in under four hours each day–while smiling and encouraging others along the way (thanks, Vincent).

I was also lucky to have met Sharon. Sharon and I shared a shuttle to the airport as we were picking up our rental cars prior to day one of the series. I learned that Sharon–who is in her seventies–has run full marathons on all seven continents and has almost reached her goal of completing full marathons in all fifty states–for the sixth time. The SIXTH time! 

Amazingly, there are others like Sharon. A lot of people drawn to these races have clearly been running almost their whole lives. I’m sure, like Vincent and Sharon, there are many more stories of similar accomplishments, based on the number of “seasoned” runners along the course who delight in talking about running. As I passed groups of people talking, I could hear they were almost always sharing running stories and talking about future race plans. That made me smile.

I’m much closer now. My goal to complete a half marathon in all fifty states is now even more within reach–only nine more states to go. Compared to Vincent and Sharon and the many others like them, however, I’m reminded that my goal is easy compared to what they have accomplished. I’m both inspired and humbled by them and the many others who shared their encouraging words with me this week. They have no idea how much their “Looking strong,” “Keep it up,” and “Good going” comments meant.

Perfectly stated.

Perfectly stated.

Missing my running pal. I missed my running partner, Denise, during this series. We ran the Independence Series together (and most of our other previous races as well), but the timing for her didn’t work out with this one. I’ll also need to catch up on four of the New England states without her this coming spring as she was able to do the New England Series this past August and I wasn’t able to tag along for that one. The New England Series will take place again this coming May.

Why do this? Not everyone will understand why I enjoy racing or why anyone would spend an entire week of vacation time to put themselves through a bit of pain, a lot of driving, a string of cheap hotels, and early morning wake up calls. For me, it has everything to do with the satisfaction I get from accomplishing goals, feeling stronger, and getting to hang out like-minded, positive people. We are all out there running (or walking) at our own pace without regard to finish times or prize money. We are there for the community, the excuse to travel to places we would otherwise never see, and we are out there running because we can.

We crashed the party–Diva Day 5K

Date: October 3, 2015

Distance: 5K

Location: Missoula, MT

Time: ?

I used this race as a way to spend time with friends from my Portland Marathon group and to also provide support to a very close friend who has been treated for GIST cancer for almost ten years. The event is one of those low-key, fun events where individuals and teams of people commonly dress in costume (think tutus and tiaras). diva

I decided to do this race only four days beforehand, so it was very last-minute. I know, however, that my opportunities to spend time with these friends is pretty rare so I jumped at the chance. The primary purpose of the race was to promote breast cancer awareness and provide support to survivors and those fighting the disease. That didn’t describe us, however, so you might say we crashed the party so we could acknowledge how other types of cancers have touched our lives.

In a month filled with pink everything, I’m reminded that my friend’s cancer is one that is not as well-known or supported.

In protest of all the pink we knew would be on full display, Our group decided immediately, “no pink” in our costumes. Instead, we had teal t-shirts printed–a color symbolizing GIST cancer–and we included thigh-high rainbow socks in honor of our friend, Todd, who was not able to join us but who is certainly a member of our “Montana Mamas” Portland group. He was with us in spirit.

The race was fun–we walked and talked the whole time. The best part, though, was the time we got to spend the rest of the day catching up and reconnecting.diva2

That opportunity more than made up for the sixteen hours of driving I had to do to get there and back. What a great group of friends. I’m grateful that we have remained friends for over thirty years.


F-you (ewe), cancer.

Dirty Dash 5K

Date: September 9, 2015

Distance: 5K

Location: Midway, Utah

Time: ?? 

I agreed to run this race with colleagues and students from work. I had never run an obstacle course race before but knew friends who had. “Why not?” I thought. I’ll try almost anything once.

I made sure to wear an old pair of running shoes that were in my donation pile. Heaven forbid I should ruin any of my “real” running shoes.Halfway through.

We lucked out with the weather, but there was some miscommunication about our group’s start time so half of us started at an earlier time and half of us started later. Still, we had fun and definitely got muddy–which, I guess, was the point.

Did I like spending the afternoon laughing with people from work? Oh, yeah. Did I like seeing what these types of races are all about? Sure. Did I love the race experience itself? Mmmmm. Not so much. I would do it again for the same fun, teamwork-building reasons I did it this year, but there were two main things I didn’t particularly like: the risk of significant injury and the long waiting lines at some of the obstacles.

The race took about three hours to finish because of the slow going through mud and water and also for the long lines at both the water slide and the rope bridge crossing.

I was pretty scraped up for the next few days after the race, but all-in-all, it was fun and I will probably do it again next year if we put together another team.

Cowgirl Up!

Date: August 16, 2015

Distance: 13.18

Time: 2:12:27

After three previous attempts, I can finally cross South Dakota off my list. Hallelujah.

TJ was with me for this race, as he has been for all of them since he passed away.

TJ was with me for this race, as he has been for all of them since he passed away.

Almost two years ago, I signed up for the Crazy Horse Half Marathon–my first attempt at completing a race in the Mount Rushmore state. Those plans were thwarted, however, by extreme blizzard conditions that resulted the both a canceled flight and the cancellation of the entire race. I wrote about that weekend in an October 2013 blog post. I signed up for the same race this past October but decided not to go because I was taking care of a very dear friend who was dying from cancer. Sadly, he passed away in December.

Deciding the Crazy Horse Marathon was not meant to be, I decided to register for the Deadwood Mickelson Tail Half Marathon, which took place this past June 5th. Unfortunately, in my infinite wisdom, I had mistakenly booked my hotel room for June 6th. By the time I realized that error, I couldn’t change my reservation and all hotel rooms in the entire town were booked so I scrapped those travel plans. I was beginning to think South Dakota wasn’t going to happen. Or, when it did, my race fees would make this state the most expensive race effort ever.

Well, things finally did come together this past Sunday when I ran the Leading Ladies Half Marathon in Spearfish. My running buddy, Denise, and her mother had run this race a few years ago and she recommended it. Plus, the timing of the race worked out much better.

Not thrilled with the shirt. Blech.

Not thrilled with the shirt. Blech.

The trip out there and back was one of the quickest. I flew into Rapid City just before noon on Saturday, drove to Spearfish, picked up my race packet and settled in to the nondescript Quality Inn. The race, which started at 6:00 a.m. required a 4:30 shuttle departure from a nearby park so I got very little sleep. After finishing at about 7:30, I showered, packed, and was back at the airport by 10:30 to catch my flight back home. In South Dakota for fewer than 24 hours.

The race itself was small and the course reminded me of the Big Cottonwood Canyon race in that it started up the canyon and the course meandered downhill into town. I would say the very active gun range about two miles before the finish line detracted from the race experience, as did the fact that they didn’t shut down traffic. So, really, it was more like my Emigration Canyon training runs but not as peaceful. Still, most of the course was scenic, the weather was perfect, and I’m happy with my time. Not going to complain.

Mainly Marathons Independence Series-Day #4 in Clinton, New Jersey

Date: May 2, 2015

Distance: 13.51

Time: 2:50:40

Today wrapped up the Independence Series for us, although several other runners will finish off the whole series of five races with a run in New York tomorrow. As for me, I am pretty glad I don’t have to get up at 4:15 a.m. for a fifth day in a row, and my quads will thank me as well. Thank goodness we’ve already run a race in New York state and get to sleep in tomorrow before heading to the airport.

I really had no idea what to expect with a Mainly Marathons race series experience, but now can highly recommend it. The race organizers and volunteers are amazing and the runners are both inspiring and encouraging. At a large, traditional race, cheering spectators might line the streets with clever signs.

These are the kinds of spectators you might find at a Mainly Marathons race. (Picture taken by a race participant during the Pennsylvania race).

These are the kinds of spectators you might find at a Mainly Marathons race. (Picture taken by a race participant during the Pennsylvania race).

In the case of these races, there are few or no spectators, but almost every runner along the course will greet you with a “great job” or “looking strong” comment–very often including your name as it is included on your race bib. After several miles with almost the same group of people each day, it becomes easy to learn many people’s names.

Then, there are the race volunteers. Without exception, the women at the timing table, the great folks at the beverage table, and the amazing food table folks and chef were always up for a chat and words of encouragement. It really made for the most supportive, encouraging, and inspiring race experience I’ve ever been a part of.

Would I do another series? Oh, yeah. Especially now that I know what to expect. Advice I would give to anyone considering a similar race experience? It’s a good idea to pace yourself and not go all out the first or second days, drink lots of water, get lots of sleep, don’t take yourself too seriously, and you might be surprised to find out that day four is easier than day three. In these races, it’s not about the finish time, it’s about the experience.

Mainly Marathons Independence Series Day #3-Daniel Boone’s Homestead in Birdsboro, PA

FB_20150501_18_01_32_Saved_PictureDate: May 1, 2015

Distance: 13.27

Time: 2:57:21

Today’s theme? Pain! We were pretty sure doing consecutive races four days in a row would be challenging and today proved our predictions were correct. Quads hurt, and we mainly “shuffled” through. Actually, I’m amazed we both finished in under 3 hours as sore as we felt. I really hope tomorrow is not worse.

The course today was my favorite by far. We ran an 8-loop out-and-back course on the Daniel Boone homestead. It was picturesque–old buildings on the property, a covered bridge, lots of fields, trees, and even included a small herd of sheep. The beginning of the course started with a paved downhill stretch, followed by alternate stretches of gravel and dirt. I liked that the course was spacious and we didn’t feel too crowded like the courses on the previous two days where there were some stretches that barely allowed for two people side by side.

The skies were overcast and today was a bit chilly, but we were lucky to avoid the rain that arrived later in the afternoon. By the time it started raining, Denise and I had already packed up, checked out of our hotel, and were on the road towards New Jersey.


Sunrise at the start of the race.

Again, I am humbled by the number of people running the full marathon all five days. I wonder how they are feeling right now.

As for us, we have had a pretty regular routine–after the race we shower, Denise takes an ice bath (great idea, but I’m a wimp), we pack up, hit the road to the next destination, check into our hotel, eat an early dinner, and are in bed by 6 or 7 p.m. Seriously. These 4:15 a.m. wake up calls followed by 13.1 mile runs are killing us.

Really hoping tomorrow isn’t too painful…

Mainly Marathons Independence Series Day #2-Lums Pond State Park in Bear, DE

Date: April 30, 2015

Distance: 13.04

Time: 2:56:36

We enjoyed perfect running weather for day #2 of this series,FB_20150430_21_34_54_Saved_Picture and today’s course was great. The race was held at a camping area and the course took runners over a grassy field that, evidently, is used as a cricket field, followed by a nice tree-lined dirt trail, followed by a paved running path. Again, like all of these races, the course was an out-and-back. This time, our turnaround distance was shorter, so we had to complete ten loops rather than yesterday’s seven.

As in yesterday’s race, Denise finished before I did, and she was looking particularly strong today. My strategy, as suggested by her, was to walk a tenth of a mile both at the aid station and at the turnaround. That seemed to work perfectly for me. I took the added precaution of also mostly walking the second-to-last loop and walking all of the last loop. Still trying to conserve my muscles, knowing that we still have two races to complete.

Yet another loss. I haven’t talked about this yet, because I’ve been so upset about it,  but last Sunday, a very dear co-worker of mine passed away unexpectedly. A lot is going on back home with services planned for Saturday, and lots of close friends grieving this horrible loss. My first impulse, when I heard the news, was to cancel this trip. I just didn’t see how I could still go away. Plus, I will miss the funeral.

After a lot of deliberation and the support and encouragement of my boss, other co-workers, and friends, I made the decision to stick with my plans and continue with the trip. Spending time with Denise and putting in all of this mileage is one way I can cope with yet another loss.

As I was running today I decided to listen to music. During the middle of the race, a song came on that was a perfect tribute to my co-worker, Bill. My thoughts, of course, have been with Bill and his family this whole week. Today, in particular, he was with me while I listened to that song and my feet rhythmically hit the ground, propelling me forward one step at a time.

Running, as always, is the perfect metaphor for life. I especially felt that today. There are many times in life when we must endure and we must keep moving forward.


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