A Morning in Maine

 

As we’ve traveled across the United States on our quest we have been delighted with the opportunity to see a multitude of varied landscapes.  But we have also enjoyed being unofficial ambassadors for our state of Maine.

Yesterday I checked out of my daily routine and soaked up a beautiful Maine summer day.

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An early morning run in our neck of the woods started the day off perfectly.

Arriving at my favorite local beach early ensured plenty of quiet seaside space.

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The clouds and waves seemed particularly mesmerizing.

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Although typically “going to the beach” is virtually code for “sitting in the sun reading”, this visit I spent more time watching the waves swell and crest and the clouds drifting in ever-changing patterns.IMG_1561IMG_1560.JPG

The Maine ocean water is almost always numbingly cold even in the middle of summer but a brief dip into the surf provided instant refreshment from the day’s heat.

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When this little guy ventured close I took some time to assess him more closely and found his knobby knees somewhat hysterical.  His feet made me think he had snapped on tight little flippers at the ends of his tiny stick legs.

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Taking time to soak up nature was the perfect way to spend a morning.

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If you haven’t been to Maine I wholeheartedly recommend a trip.  And if you live here, I urge you to be sure to savor our spectacular home.

Have you been to Maine?

How do you embrace your natural surroundings?

Where is your favorite place to enjoy summer?

 

 

Lagomarcino Cocoa Beano 5K-Iowa

Even though we can get to New Hampshire from our home in Maine on foot without considering it our long run, we thought that heading to Iowa in this election season would be a classic time to visit. We had scrolled through possible options on Running in the USA and settled on the Lagomarcino Cocoa Beano 5K. (I just love saying that name!). When a race registration form asks if you want dark or milk chocolate and if you understand that your $39.00 entry fee includes a fleece jacket, it’s a pretty good sign that you’ve chosen the right race. The race was held in Davenport, Iowa which is just over the border from Illinois.  Thanks to a travel tip from my sister, Kate, we realized it would be an easy drive from Chicago where we had found good deals on flights.

The scenery along the drive was miles and miles of farmland which was an interesting contrast to our wooded, hilly Maine landscape.illinois farm land

We arrived in Davenport just prior to the beginning of the packet pickup which gave us an opportunity to stroll around the lovely village of East Davenport and enjoy lunch at Lagomarcino’s.

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We loved the quaint feel of the restaurant.

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The array of home-made chocolates was delectable.IMG_5599

By the time we had finished lunch, the packet pickup had begun at the theater across the street.  The place was packed!  Messages from the race directors had indicated that registration had been closed at 3,700 runners.  It is obviously a very popular race.

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After getting our numbers and wonderful fleece jackets we made a little detour to 11th Street Precinct where we began work on our other quest (sampling local beers).

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About a week before our trip, I had done a quick search for campaign events that we might be able to hit while in Iowa.  I was thrilled to see that there was a concert event called “RockintheBern” which featured a number of local musicians AND an appearance by Bernie Sanders in Davenport on Friday night…and it was free!  So on our way to our hotel, we dropped by the Bernie Sanders campaign headquarters and retrieved our tickets.

When we arrived at our hotel, less than 2 miles from the race, we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was in an area surrounded by brew pubs, restaurants, and other attractions. But better yet, as we wandered around the hotel, we realized our hotel was connected to the theater where the concert was to take place by a skywalk.  We could get to the event without even having to venture out into the drizzly night. We couldn’t stop exclaiming over how perfectly it had worked out completely by chance. (There is a possibility that is was just me that kept exclaiming about it…but you get the idea.)

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As we entered the theater later that evening we were caught up in the phenomenal excitement and enthusiasm of the crowd. After hearing about Iowa in election news, it was thrilling to actually be in the midst of true life campaign events.  The concert featured a number of local musicians who all sang politically poignant songs that supported Bernie’s campaign message.

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The audience went crazy when Bernie arrived on stage.  It was exciting to see him in person and to listen to him speak passionately about the issues which are the cornerstones of his campaign.

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My photography skills really suffered during the excitement of the moment.

We left the event feeling a bit stunned at the incredible good fortune to have been able to so easily attend this outstanding event.

The race started at 9:00 a.m. the next day which allowed us the greatest luxury of sleeping in a bit (after having gotten up at 2:30 a.m. the day before to catch our very early flight) and still having plenty of time to get to the race.

It was a bit drizzly as we waited for the race to begin.

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But the crowd waiting to run was enthusiastic and the village was picturesque.

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Apparently the designated national anthem singer had not shown up but after a brief pause in the announcements someone began to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” over the PA system.  They sang beautifully. But even more moving was the moment when the PA system cut out and you could hear all of the runners quietly singing along.  I was completely choked up as I sang, too.  We had a beautiful view of the Mississippi River as we started the race.

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The course traveled through pretty residential (periodically hilly) neighborhoods. We had seeded ourselves back a ways so between plotting our path around fellow participants and enjoying the local architecture and scenery the time zoomed by. The course features a long downhill finish which it felt like we flew down.  The same live band that had sent us on our way added to the festive feel as we headed to the finish line.We happily veered to the side to high five the row of children lining the end of the course. The race benefits the Mississippi Valley Boys & Girls Clubs and having a chance to connect with some of these kids was a highlight of the race. We crossed the finish line holding hands and then were sent into separate lines to collect our milk (me) and dark (Mike) chocolate turtles.  We enjoyed some stretching with a view of the Mississippi River.

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and then stood in line for a cup of Lagomarcino hot chocolate.  This is truly the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted!

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I cajoled Mike into taking a selfie which I am only including here due to it’s hilarity.

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I then insisted we pose for our official race finish photo and nabbed some poor passerby to take our picture.

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We were pretty chilled after the race and happily returned to our hotel for hot showers before venturing out to explore Davenport. Our first stop was Front Street Brewery where we had terrific local beers, good food, and fabulous service.

IMG_5633After lunch we went to explore the bridge that crosses River Drive. I’m sure it has a name but I couldn’t figure out what it was.

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There was a great view of the Mississippi from the bridge.

We were still yearning to return to the ice cream parlor at Lagomarcinos so hopped in the car and drove the short distance back to the Village of East Davenport. We happily indulged in ice cream sundaes with their home-made ice cream and famous hot fudge sauce.

IMG_5638When we were walking around Davenport near the river we had noticed a number of people dressed in tweed riding bicycles.   When we arrived in the village we were pleasantly surprised to find many more participants in what we realized was the Tweed Ride.

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We came across this sign in the village which made me laugh.

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Later in the day we spent some time walking around downtown Davenport and happened upon Cru, a fabulous wine bar.

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As we walked back to our hotel the sky began to glow with that rare combination of light and color.  I literally ran to the river to try to capture the sky before it evaporated into darkness.

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The Mississippi River at sunset.

The next morning we went for an early run and captured the sunrise on the river.

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Before departing for home on Sunday we snapped a few more photos of this wonderful mid-west town.

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Our initial expectations of what we would experience in Iowa were far surpassed.  We never imagined the excitement, fun, and festivities that would unfold on this short but exceedingly terrific trip.

State: Iowa

Quest Race #: 22

Date Run: October 24, 2015

Bottom Line: The Lagomarcino Cocoa Beano 5K is an exceptionally well organized race that offers runners wonderful treats including famous Lagomarcino chocolates, high quality fleece jackets, and truly outstanding hot chocolate.  Our time in Iowa was filled with unexpected bonuses and a surprising opportunity to really embrace the excitement of politics at a personal level.  Once again we were struck by how fortunate we are to be on this quest to run a race in every state because we have found it really is about the journey.

New Jersey -Run for ALD

Traveling to Philadelphia to see our daughters when they were in college gave us an easy opportunity to pop over the border to New Jersey. Having visited them to see Hannah’s collection in the Philadelphia University’s fashion show on Saturday evening, we drove over the Ben Franklin bridge on Sunday morning and… voila, we were in New Jersey.

Although the race we signed up for was minutes from Philly, finding the exact location of the race proved more challenging.  It started in a portion of a park which we could not readily find with our navigation system.  However, after a bit of spirited conversation about which way we should go, we finally arrived in the correct area.  The late arrival allowed us to combine our warm-up run and picking up our numbers in one fell swoop as we literally ran from the car to the registration tent. (Side note: we have since learned to confirm the exact location of the start of a race and not just the general description written on a race website.  This has significantly reduced marital strife.)

Anyway, luckily the race was relatively small and quite low key. We had plenty of time to walk to the starting line with the other runners. The flat 5K course looped around a small but scenic body of water.  We both felt strong and were happy with our run.  I was pleased to place 3rd in my age group, only 8 seconds behind the first place age group finisher.

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As we waited for the awards, we were so moved as we listened to the family members who had lost their husband and father to ALD talk about all that the foundation had accomplished. Run for ALD is a non-profit organization which was founded by John Kane who was diagnosed with ALD in 2001 and unfortunately passed away in 2003.  The foundation has raised more than $200,000 to support the development of newborn screenings as well as research for treatment and a cure for ALD. It is reported that if the disease is diagnosed before symptoms appear there is a strong likelihood that the effects of the disease will be averted.

This race was only the seventh in our quest and we were truly struck by the fact that our small contribution to this race could help to have a direct impact on this fatal disease.  Since that time, we have often opted for smaller races where we know that our race fees will be going directly to benefit the cause for which the race proceeds are designated.  Although we have run in and enjoyed bigger, flashier races, we feel passionate about these smaller races that are so personally relevant to specific individuals. We left this race with an expanded awareness of the potential  impact, albeit small, that our quest could make, one race entry fee at a time.

State: New Jersey

Quest Race #: 7

Date Run: 4/29/12

The Bottom Line: While the goal in signing up for this race had simply been to check New Jersey off of our quest list, we ended up with the greater reward of making a contribution toward an immensely important cause.  This realization has driven a number of other race choices and will certainly continue to do so.

Have you been involved in a race where you felt your participation has made a personal difference?

Do you choose races based on the beneficiary?

Wisconsin-Green Lake Area 13 Dot 1 Half Marathon

A couple of years into our quest, when we  needed to venture further from home in order to reach a new state, we figured Labor Day weekend would offer us an extra day for travel without dipping into limited vacation time.  We decided that Wisconsin would be a cool place to spend the weekend and settled on the Green Lake Area 13 Dot 1 Half Marathon.  I love the name!

As with many of the new states we have visited, we had only a vague sense of what Wisconsin was like.  We flew into Madison and drove past scores of farms and hundreds of acres of soy beans and corn.

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We were surprised to frequently see wind turbines in the midst of all of these fields.

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When we arrived in Green Lake we settled into our lovely room at the Heidel House Resort and Spa which had been recommended by the race website.

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There was an option to pick up race packets on Friday afternoon, so we drove the short distance into the picturesque town.  When we gave our names to the woman at the desk she exclaimed, “You’re the people from Maine!” and promptly nabbed her camera and snapped a shot of us.  We felt like celebrities!

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening enjoying the town and Heidel House.  I tried the traditional Wisconsin treat of fried cheese curds.  Interesting and yummy but possibly not the best choice for pre-race fare.

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Early the next morning we drove the few blocks to the area where the race began.  It was a gorgeous, cool morning.  We enjoyed the quiet as we waited for the race to begin.

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Eventually we were off, running along the lake for a while before heading into the beautiful, quiet, wooded Green Lake Conference Center. There were numerous stone bridges and historic buildings along the route which kept the course interesting.  The first 10 miles were great!  We felt terrific and our time was good.  We spent quite a bit of time chatting with a fellow runner who was very congenial.

As we headed up the hills during the last three miles I suddenly felt completely drained and seemed to have an unquenchable thirst.  Sadly, I definitely slowed us down but Mike was my unfailingly faithful running partner and husband.  He encouraged me as we covered the last miles but never abandoned me.  I rallied some at the end and we crossed the finish line hand in hand.  Shortly after we finished we heard the announcer mention our names and that we were from Maine and were trying to run a race in every state. People cheered and they took our picture. It was a completely unexpected but greatly appreciated bonus to our race.

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The after-race event took place right by the water.  There was plenty of great local beer which was a definite bonus since sampling local beer has become an integral part of our quest!

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As we walked back to our car we passed a vending machine selling bait.  We had no idea such a thing existed.

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We basked in that post-race feeling during the afternoon, soaking up some sun at the pool, and generally enjoying the Heidel House grounds.

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We went to their more formal dining room for a wonderful dinner that night and returned to our room in time to catch a stunning sunset over the lake.

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We left the next day having experienced an unexpectedly warm welcome, a beautifully scenic race, and a treat of a mini vacation at the Heidel House Resort.

State: Wisconsin

Date Run: September 2, 2012

Quest Race #: 10

The Bottom Line: The 13 Dot 1 Half Marathon was scenic and very well organized by incredibly friendly people. Green Lake is a charming lake-side town and the Heidel House Resort  offered a luxurious addition to our experience.

A Great Little Race for A Really Big Cause-Hope 4 Hunter “Capes 4 A Cure” 5K, West Virginia

We began our search for a West Virginia race when we realized we could visit Amelia and Matt in Pittsburgh and easily make a side trip to West Virginia.  After perusing the  Running in the USA, website, our go-to website for finding races, we settled on the “Capes 4 a Cure” 5K presented by Hope 4 Hunter.  The website encouraged participants to dress as our favorite super hero or villain and wear a cape. They even mentioned that there was a prize for the most creative cape.  Challenge accepted!  We began plotting our super hero identities and costumes.  After a few ideas were canned, we settled on “Flower Power Girl” for me (Hannah’s brilliant idea) and “Fix-It Man” for Mike.  I excitedly started sketching.

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I worked hard to really depict the look I was going for.

I showed my sketch to Hannah and in less than 3 minutes she had created this rendering.

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It captured my idea with a million times more flair and accuracy! I guess that’s what happens when a professional fashion designer does the sketch. After a trip to our local fabric shop, complete with Hannah taking a test run down an aisle with a bolt of fabric unfurled behind her to check for an adequate flying effect, we had our supplies.  We spent a few evenings working on our costumes. Although he didn’t appear to be really into this task, the next thing I knew Mike had cut tools out of duct tape (of course) and taped them to his cape.

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Hannah stepped in and sewed, painted, and created my costume.

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We flew to Pittsburgh, checked into our hotel, and strolled around the area near our hotel before preparing our outfits for the next morning’s run.  Mike sketched some hardware and his super hero identity on his t-shirt and I laid out my ensemble. Mike’s cape hung importantly in the closet. This was definitely the most unique night before a race prep we had ever done.  What a blast!

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The next morning we drove through the misty hills to West Virginia.

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We easily located the start of the race at the Hazel Ruby McQuain Amphitheater in Morgantown, West Virginia and encountered a runner’s dream come true! There was ample free parking at the event and real bathrooms directly across from our parking spot….with no lines! The amphitheater is right on the river. We could see volunteers setting up and quite a few purple Hope 4 Hunter capes.  However, we didn’t notice any other runners wearing super hero outfits or capes.  Undaunted, we picked up our numbers and packets and returned to the car to transform ourselves into our super hero characters.  We even had enough time to pose for a few pictures prior to the race.

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The starting line of this race was truly the most charming we have ever seen.

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There was a heart-felt thank you to the runners from the person who started the race and then we were off.  Mike and I are NEVER at the front of the race but since this was a small race, there we were!  The course traveled on a wonderful paved path beside the river and it was (thankfully) totally flat!  The light mist turned to a true rain by the time we crossed the finish line but it felt wonderful.

We chatted with fellow participants and volunteers while we waited for the awards ceremony. Mike ended up winning a generous gift certificate to Mountain State Brewery, as a door prize. We won first and second place in our age group.  Full disclosure-we were the ONLY ones in our age group!  And we were honored that Mike’s cape won first prize and mine won second prize in the costume competition. However, the true highlight of the event was having our picture taken with Hunter.

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While we originally chose this race because it was convenient and sounded like a blast, our focus quickly centered on the very meaningful cause it supported.  The majority of the races that we run benefit some worthy organization.  However, we have never had the privilege of personally meeting an individual so directly involved in the cause.

Mike and I are so pleased that our modest entry fees for our 20th quest race will go towards helping this adorable purple-clad super hero and others affected by MPSII. I know we will make decisions about future races with this perspective in mind.

Quest Race #: 20

State: West Virginia

Date Run: June 20, 2015

The Bottom Line: This was an exceptionally well organized race on a beautiful, river-side path. The facilities were terrific and the swag included a t-shirt, water bottle, and a Hope 4 Hunter bracelet. The prizes were generous, the volunteers were friendly, and the after-race food was plentiful. We would strongly encourage participation in this race next year.  But if you can’t run this race, please consider a similar small race that benefits a truly important cause. The Hope 4 Hunter Face Book page posted a video of this event that captures the wonderful feel of this terrific event.

Mission Possible-Maryland

We traveled to Maryland in May 2012 to attend our nephew’s graduation from the Naval Academy.  As you would expect, the ceremony was dignified and filled with tradition and pomp.

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The Blue Angels flew over the stadium in breath-taking formation.

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The ceremony included the traditional tossing of the caps.

We were able to fit in a race during the weekend festivities. After perusing several options, we settled on the Mission Possible 5K in Reisterstown, MD.  The timing, location, and cause (which supported mission work) were perfect.

Mike and I traveled to the race early on a hot and humid morning.

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Our early arrival allowed us to take a few photos before the race started.

The course was an out and back route that traveled along a quiet, shady country road. The first portion of the course was a lovely down hill which was (of course) followed by a wicked up hill climb.

We finished the race and enjoyed the awards ceremony that followed.

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We were surprised when they announced that we were the people who had traveled the farthest for the race. The fact that we had traveled the farthest was not a surprise to us.  The fact that they announced it was.  When they called us up to receive a prize, we mentioned our quest and the fact that we had chosen their race for our Maryland race.  Little did we realize that we would become mini-celebrities.

Almost immediately people approached us to talk to us about our adventure of trying to run a race in every state.  We were overwhelmed by the kindness and interest that people were paying us.  After quite a few enthusiastic conversations we walked to our car to head out, as we happily exclaimed to each other about how amazing the reception had been.  Even as we were literally driving out of the parking lot people continued to approach us to wish us good luck and to congratulate us on our quest.

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The kindness and support that was offered to us at this race was truly phenomenal.  We were honored to have such interest in our quest and we were so pleased that we had chosen this race and cause for our Maryland race.

Date Run: May 28, 2012

Quest Race #: 8

State: Maryland

The Bottom Line: The Mission Possible 5K was a well organized race that offered an exceptionally welcoming atmosphere.  The race website indicates that this year’s race, held on Memorial Day, will also feature a 1 mile color fun run!

A Small Race and Enormous Mansions -Newport, Rhode Island

Shortly after we began our 50 state quest, Mike gave me a trip to Newport, Rhode Island as a birthday gift.  Although during the years we have been running we had previously run races in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and South Caroline, we were now purposefully pursuing our quest. We chose a small 5K race in a town just outside of Newport that benefited Silveira Kindergarten and Nursery School.

We settled into our B & B, the Samuel Durfee House, late on a Friday night in March.  Our room was charming and comfortable.

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When we arrived at the race early the next morning, we savored the perks that come with running a small race: easy parking, no lines for the bathroom, and a true sense of community. The weather was dreary but the vibe among runners, spectators, and volunteers was upbeat. The slightly hilly course traveled through several quiet neighborhoods. Mike and I had been training at different paces so I urged him to run ahead instead of sticking with me.  It was a good plan because he ended up having a terrific time and placed second in his age group.  I had a more leisurely run.  In fact my pace was slow enough that I read a text that had come in from our house/pet sitter while I was running.  She informed me that there had been THREE mice in the dog food bag that was stored in the woodshed of our old farmhouse when she scooped up that morning’s food.  EEK!! Obviously something more daunting than a paper bag was going to be needed to thwart those determined little creatures from creating an all-you-can-eat buffet in Bentley’s dog food.

Mike ended up winning a $50 gift certificate to the Custom Coffee House, a local coffee shop.  Although we thought that it was terrific, we knew it was unlikely that we would return to the area soon enough to use it again, so we went on a mini-shopping spree before we left town, buying coffee, pastries, and assorted non-perishable treats. What a fun extravagance!

Our post race lunch was at Cafe Zelda.

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We loved the atmosphere.  It was Restaurant Week so we were able to enjoy a three course lunch for $16.00 apiece. It was a wonderful spot to recap our race experience and to plan the next part of our visit to Newport.

Since neither of us had ever been to Newport we were anxious to tour one of the fabled grand mansions.  We chose The Breakers.  We donned the headsets they provided at the entrance and wandered throughout the opulent rooms, stunned by features such as platinum-leafed panels.

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It truly was stunning but since I love to cook, my truly favorite spot was the enormous kitchen with copper pots hanging over a long wooden work table and a butler’s pantry with two floors of glass front cabinets filled with dishes and glassware.

We returned to our  B & B for some afternoon tea and cookies and a chatty visit with one of the innkeepers, followed by the decadent treat of a nap.

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Later that evening we continued to enjoy the benefits of Restaurant Week at the Gas Lamp Grille, which provided a delectable meal in a pub-type atmosphere.

The drizzly weather was gone the next morning and we eagerly headed to the Cliff Walk.  The views of the mansions and the ocean were breath-taking.

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We even indulged in a few shots that included us.

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We returned home to Maine later that afternoon having checked Rhode Island off of our quest list.  But more significantly, we had supported a small, local race that benefited a worthy cause and we had explored a new area that we had talked about visiting for years.  We are finding that these aspects are two of the benefits of our 50 state quest journey that we are particularly cherishing.

Date Run: March 31, 2012

State: Rhode Island

Quest Race #: 6

The Bottom Line:  Although this race does not appear to be run at this time, it was a perfect little race for our smallest state.

Running with the Kenyans!

 

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The Beach to Beacon 10 K finishes at the Portland Head Light. Don’t let the snow mislead you. The race is held August 1, 2015. There’s a pretty good chance the snow will be gone then.

To use a Maine phrase, you have to be “wicked” fast to run the Beach to Beacon 10K.  And this has nothing to do with your running abilities.  Registration for this incredibly popular race literally fills up within about 5 minutes!  This year’s online registration opens to the public on Friday, March 13 at 7:00 a.m. So if you want to run this amazing race, start limbering up your fingers!

This year marks the eighteenth Beach to Beacon 10K.   The race, which was founded by gold medal Olympic marathoner and native Mainer, Joan Benoit Samuelson, attracts world class runners. The route begins on a quiet, wooded road and travels through scenic Cape Elizabeth.  The course is lined with exuberant spectators who offer encouragement, upbeat music, and welcome mistings from their garden hoses. Runners are rewarded with periodic gorgeous views of the ocean.  The last portion of the race has several rolling hills.  As you near the end of the race you turn into Fort Williams and run along a curvey uphill portion for a short distance before you enter the last approximately .1 mile that is packed with spectators. Portland Head Light, the most photographed lighthouse in the US, is visible just beyond the finish. The combination of the dazzling Atlantic Ocean and this quintessentially Maine lighthouse make it truly the most spectacular finish to any race we have run.

My long-time friend, Mary, first introduced me to this race in what I believe was the inaugural running of this now famous race. Mike and I have run it several additional times over the years and we always feel honored to be able to take part in such a renowned event. We have run scores of races and The Beach to Beacon is truly the most phenomenal race we have done.

Dave McGillivray, Boston Marathon race director, is the race director of the Beach to Beacon 10K.  So it is no surprise that the entire race is impeccably organized.  The volunteers are fabulous. The route is scenic with just enough hills to make it feel like a bit of a challenge. But one of my favorite parts of the race is the awards ceremony when a veritable “Who’s Who” in the running world is presented as the winners are announced.  Runners from Kenya and Ethiopia are always in the top spots. Having the opportunity to run in the same race as these legendary athletes makes the race just that much more exciting.

State: Maine

Quest Race #: 1

Date Run: August 7, 2010 (as well as other years)

Bottom Line: The Beach to Beacon 10K offers a stunning course and the opportunity to run with world class runners. Whether you come to race or to watch, being on the Maine coast in August is the perfect time to experience our fabulous home state.

A Different Start in the New Year: Hangover Classic 2015-Massachusetts

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The view near the start/finish of the Hangover Classic

Running the Hangover Classic in Salisbury, MA has become a quasi-New Year’s tradition in our family.  Amelia and I ran it first in 2009 when we decided to sign up for the Will Run For Beer Series (who could resist?!).  The Hangover Classic was the first race of the series.  The night before the race there was such a significant snow storm that we questioned whether the race would actually be held. But knowing runners and not hearing of any cancellation we drove to the race the next morning.  The roads were still snowy and the wind was intense.  As we neared the start of the race we saw a huge plume of snow shooting up from a massive snowbank ahead of us. We assumed it was coming from a snow blower.  But, no, it was actually just wind-blown snow coming off a massive snowbank.  Oh, boy!

Inches of snow covered the roads as we ran the course, making for one of those “one step forward-two steps back” type of runs. But we persevered and finished the race, relishing the warm pub, cold beer, and the contented feeling of accomplishment as we waited for Amelia to claim her age division winner prize.

Subsequent races have brought additional challenges including courses diverted due to flooding and unfailingly frigid temps and strong winds. But the chance to start a new year with a fun run followed by festivities keeps us coming back.

Mike and I have run the 5K a number of times but this year we signed up for the 10K.  We are in the midst of our training for the Houston Rhythm and Blues Half Marathon in February and we were due for a tempo run so we figured the Hangover Classic would be perfect.  Although we weren’t hungover, we had seen the New Year in with games, celebrating, good food and plenty of drinks with Hannah and Todd the night before.  The race is about an hour from our home so this factor combined with a late night made us appreciate the 11:30 start time.

We arrived in plenty of time to pick up our spiffy green, long-sleeve T-shirt,

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take care of the usual pre-race “business”, and scoot back to the car to warm up for a bit.  As the starting time approached we headed back towards the start.  We decided to join the huge throng of runners waiting for one last dash into the porta-potties. The race organizers announced that they would delay the start about 5 minutes due to the large number of people who were still in line for the bathrooms.  However, as we waited in a line that never seemed to get shorter, it became apparent that the race was going to start before we reached the head of the line.

Personally, anxiety over timing last minute porta-potty stops is truly one of my biggest race day concerns.  Somehow, it has always worked out fine for the countless races we’ve run.  My worries that the race would start without me had been unfounded.   This time, however, the dream/nightmare I’ve had where everyone has left and I haven’t started the race yet actually came true! We decided that making this pit stop was going to be essential to a good race.  The race was chipped timed and we weren’t in contention for any awards so we decided it was not a big deal if we started after the official start.  As we looked around we realized we were not the only runners who made this decision which was somehow reassuring.

So after a brief delay we were ready to cross the starting line…by ourselves!   It definitely felt weird to have watched as the throng of runners left the starting area and it felt kind of surreal to be heading out on our own.  But we soon realized what an advantage it was!  The usual surge as the gun goes off followed by the inevitable decrease to a walking pace that we commonly experience in our middle-of-the-pack spot never happened. There was no weaving around slower runners or veering around walkers. The road ahead was wide open and we relished this unexpected bonus.

My other racing fear is being the very last person to finish the race. This fear helped spur us on and shortly we were passing several walkers and runners.  Before long we were running with runners ahead of and behind us.  Although the road was still quite empty, the race felt more routine now.

The course is very flat and winds around the seaside area of Salisbury.  A multitude of volunteers cheerfully directed us as we wove our way along the course.  A number of spectators braved the cold and cheered us on.  The run had a wonderfully festive feel to it.  I don’t think I’ve ever said, “Happy New Year” to so many people before. It felt great!  And speaking of “great” we were thrilled with our pace which we were able to keep steady for the first 3 miles.  It only decreased a few seconds per mile on the second half of the course.  The lovely tail wind that we had enjoyed in the first half became a pretty intense head wind as we looped back.  But we felt strong and finished in a time that really pleased us. And we weren’t the last participants to cross the finish line!

We took a few minutes to stretch, marvel at those who were heading into the frigid North Atlantic Ocean for the optional ocean plunge,

and take the inevitable awkward (for us) “selfie”.

IMG_4038In past years we have enjoyed the ample beer supply that is provided after the race.

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But this year when we entered the bar this was the view as we tried to make our way to where the beer was being poured.

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We realized that there is an advantage to running the 5K…and maybe starting with the rest of the pack.  However, since we would soon be heading to the airport to pick up Amelia for her holiday visit home we opted to forgo the line.  We stopped at The Grog in Newburyport, MA for our own celebratory drinks and lunch.

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We congratulated ourselves on a great run despite its unorthodox beginning. We cheered our efforts and the start of another year of running.

How did you spend your New Year’s Day?  Have you ever experienced starting line challenges? Best wishes for a year filled with good health, adventures, and fun!

State: Massachusetts

Quest State#: 3

Dates Run: 1/1/2009, 1/1/2010, 1/1/2013, 1/1/15

The Bottom Line: We love the festive feel of the Hangover Classic and think that spending New Year’s morning running with a group of enthusiastic runners is a wonderful way to start the year.

 

Ugly Sweater Run-Chicago

Deciding to go to the ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) Convention in Chicago a year ago was easy.  Having the opportunity to immerse myself in my profession for several days has always been something that I’ve enjoyed.  But now that we were on our quest to run a road race in every state, the opportunity to go to Illinois and check off another state was the clincher.  We decided that I would go to Chicago on my own for the Convention and Mike would meet me Friday night.  We used our trusty runningintheusa.com site and found what I thought could become the most festive race yet.

Once I took a peek at the The Ugly Sweater Run website, I knew we had to do it. The video of hoards of people dressed in “ugly sweaters” with gigantic blowup Christmas decorations lining the route looked awesome.  It’s an un-timed run that is just for fun. Substitute hot chocolate for water stops and wool hats for t-shirts, keep the traditional beer party at the end and you’ve got an Ugly Sweater Run!

Before heading to Chicago, I did my best to find Mike and I ugly sweaters.  Since we had been hitting thrift stores on a regular basis as we collected white plates for Amelia’s wedding (see previous post for more details on that), it was not hard.  So I headed to Chicago with my special ugly sweater in my suitcase.

The conference was great but I was eager for Mike to join me. Unfortunately, there were a number of flight delays that resulted in him arriving at our hotel very late on Friday night.  However, he made it in time for the Saturday morning race.  Carefully planning and packing my race day attire is always my first priority when traveling.  So although it felt very bizarre to be getting ready for a race by putting on our hideous acrylic sweaters we were ready to run. We looked ridiculous.  It was perfect!

 

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I guess I was feeling a tad self-conscious about our attire as we waited to take the elevator downstairs because as soon as the elevator doors opened I blurted out, “We’re doing the Ugly Sweater Run!”  The people on the elevator thought my disclaimer was humorous but I wasn’t taking a chance that they would think we dressed like this for real.

We had debated about taking a taxi or public transportation to the race but our decision to go with the bus was perfect.  There was only one other obvious race participant on the bus when we got on but within a few blocks every stop added in more and more people who were obviously headed to the same event.  Suddenly my ugly sweater looked pretty mundane compared to the festive outfits and accessories that many people had donned. I have to admit I was actually having some sweater envy as I eyed the array of attire before me.

The pumping Christmas music blasting from the start told us we had arrived even before we saw the enormous inflatable decorations.  It was extremely windy and some of the inflatables looked precariously close to ditching their moorings.  The mood was incredibly festive and obviously the participants were not in it for a PR. Although we are used to having beer at races (and basically consider it an essential component of a good event) we were not used to seeing runners drinking beer before the race.  But they were.

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There was a sea of runners topped off with our swag wool hats.

There was a sea of  Ugly Sweater Run wool hats.

After getting the crowd jazzed up with holiday music and an enthusiastic announcer, they began to release waves of runners. The course wound around the park-like area surrounding Soldiers Field and along Lake Michigan.  The water was so choppy that waves splashed up onto the concrete sidewalk lining the lake. Along the route we were cheered on by a variety of holiday characters. When we came to the hot chocolate/water stop I definitely was not in the mood for hot chocolate and happily nabbed my paper cup of water.  Despite the cool temps and brisk wind, I was hot. Apparently acrylic ugly sweaters don’t wick away sweat. However, we finished the race feeling enthusiastic and energized. It was a great race that we would definitely think of doing again in another location

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We sampled some Sam Adams and soaked up a little more Christmas spirit before heading back to our hotel. After changing into much less festive attire we ventured to the Navy Pier for lunch at Riva Cafe.

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There was a great view of Lake Michigan and we enjoyed watching large ferries/tour boats (?) maneuver into their moorings.

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That evening we enjoyed dinner at an upscale beer pub recommended by our hotel concierge.

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The beer and drink menu was extensive so we celebrated the completion of our 15th state.

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The presentation of our dessert donuts and dipping sauces was adorable.

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The next morning we awoke to a thunder storm so opted out of an early run. The storm passed but it was incredibly balmy and windy as we walked to Millennium Park after breakfast.  We were enthralled with the Cloud Gate sculpture, also known as “The Bean”.  The skies were intense which made for some dramatic photos.

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I love this shot where you can see me taking the photo of Mike.

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We reluctantly left the city for the airport.  With the intense winds and previous thunder storms we were anticipating that our flight might be delayed.  But American Airlines kept indicating it was on time…until exactly five minutes after we arrived at our gate at which point the flight was cancelled! Very intense storms were suddenly pummeling the airport.  “Cancelled” statuses were filling the flight screens. We miraculously found a desk with a gate attendant who was able to book us on a flight the next day AND gave us vouchers for “a good rate” at an airport hotel.

We checked into our hotel and found that it was indeed a very good deal, i.e. free!  We felt lucky to have been given this perk. However, as we watched the news coverage of the storms, we learned that more than 40 tornadoes had touched down just south of Chicago.  Sadly, four people were killed by these severe storms. We felt so fortunate to have only been slightly inconvenienced by having our travel home delayed by a day.

Despite the unexpected ending to our trip to Chicago, we had enjoyed a fabulous time in the city and had a very merry Ugly Sweater Run.  Although my runs at home this time of year don’t have quite the excitement of the Ugly Sweater Run, I am loving running to this festive Spotify holiday playlist that Amelia created. Hearing sleigh bells as I run or doing intervals to “Run Run Rudolph” really adds to the Christmas spirit. It’s a perfect soundtrack for actual running or for running around doing holiday prep and just enjoying the season.

Merry Christmas!

State: Illinois

Quest Race #: 15

Date Run: November 16, 2013

The Bottom Line: The Ugly Sweater Run was definitely the most fun race we have done in our quest.  We think that doing Ugly Sweater Runs in other locations would make a great holiday tradition.