Horses, History, and a Hot 10,000 in Kentucky

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When we realized that we had signed up to run a race in our 39th state on our 40th wedding anniversary it became clear that we needed to squeeze in another race before then so that we could keep the numbers copacetic. A stash of Southwest Airlines gift cards and some travel tips from our friend, Erik, convinced us that Kentucky would be our 39th quest state.

A quick perusal of Running in the USA brought us to the Bluegrass 10,000. This was just what we were looking for. We reserved an Airbnb within a mile of the race, booked our flights, and we were set to run in our 39th state.

Because we had taken a painfully early flight, we arrived in Lexington after our 1.5 hour drive from Cincinnati too early to check into our Airbnb.  A stop at DV8 for a quick, totally southern immersion lunch revived us.

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I had a fried chicken and marmalade sandwich which was decadently delicious.

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With more time to kill we opted to visit the Mary Todd Lincoln House.

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The tour was fascinating and provided a wealth of historical information.  We were so pleased to have spent the time here.

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When we arrived at our Airbnb we were delighted with our accommodations. The spacious two room apartment was filled with antiques and period artwork giving it a very regal but still comfortable vibe. We soon found the location to be an easy walk to all of Lexington’s attractions and restaurants.

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The next morning we enjoyed a leisurely warm-up walk to the start of the Bluegrass 10,000.  We joined hundreds of other runners in the especially festive crowd on this Fourth of July morning.

After the “Star Spangled Banner” was sung a bugler played “My Old Kentucky Home” which we found especially moving. And to completely solidify the fact we were in Lexington, Kentucky, the heart of horse racing country, the bugler played “Call to Post” (AKA what they play at the beginning of the Kentucky Derby) when it was time to line up for the race. That little burst of horse racing stayed with me throughout the race and helped me access my inner Thoroughbred to push my pace every once in a while.

The course ran through downtown Lexington and through picturesque historic neighborhoods.

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Mike was particularly intrigued to be running past Transylvania University prompting a number of vampire jokes.

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I seldom like photos of me running but I do like how this one shows Mike’s and my stride perfectly synchronized (thanks Amelia for pointing that out).

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We were pleased with our race and after the requisite awkward selfie

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and coercing an innocent bystander to take yet another post-race photo,

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we happily participated in Lexington’s Fourth of July festivities, which we kicked off by sampling some local brews.

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Later in the day we strolled just a few blocks from our Airbnb to watch Lexington’s Fourth of July parade.  It was stunningly hot and we were in bourbon country so pretty much all we could do after the parade was to try some bourbon ice cream at Sav’s Chill.

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It was a perfect decision.

The next day, fortified by a scrumptious breakfast at Doodles,

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The side order of beignets was not necessary but absolutely savored.

we popped into the Lexington Visitors Center where we learned tons of intriguing facts about Lexington’s history and why it’s called the “Horse Capital of the World”.

Mike convinced me to pose with “Big Lex” who legend says turned blue from eating all of the region’s bluegrass.

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We left with a few souvenirs and a map that directed us to the Bluegrass Country Driving Tour.  This drive meanders down tree-lined roads and past multiple horse farms and miles of Kentucky’s trademark dark wooden fencing.

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After I got home I realized I took a photo with what was probably the only leafless tree in sight.

We opted for a short detour to Georgetown where we enjoyed a great lunch at Broussard’s Delta Kitchen, perused a few antique shops on my quest to find mint julep cups (no luck), and recharged at a terrific coffee shop, A Cup of Commonwealth, which we found in other locations, as well.

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After returning to our Airbnb for a bit we ventured out into the heat again and ended up at the cutest coffee and tea shop, Lussi Brown Coffee Bar where I had an amazingly refreshing concoction of iced tea, lemonade, muddled strawberries, and mint. We spent awhile playing games, sipping our drinks, and taking in the varied art displayed throughout the cafe.

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And our art perusal didn’t end there.  When we were planning our trip to Lexington, Pinterest had supplied me with a plethora of touristy tips including one that mentioned an art gallery in the lobby of 21C Museum Hotel.  There was nothing about this entryway that would have caught my attention as we walked by.  In fact, we walked by it even when we were looking for it!  But once inside we felt like we had found a hidden treasure.

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We wandered through two floors of intriguing, eclectic artwork.

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This is made out of sequins.

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We walked back out into the heat feeling a tad dazed and pleased to have added this unexpected experience to our visit to Lexington.

Perhaps our favorite experience in Lexington came very early on our last morning in town.  Acting on another tip from our friend, Erik, we drove to Keeneland Race Track, just outside downtown.  We had learned that the track is open to the public during morning workouts.

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As we walked to the track the sun was just rising.  Only a handful of spectators had gathered along the rail but the track was full of horses in various phases of their workouts.

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The jockeys frequently greeted us as they waited along the rail.

IMG_6898I could have watched the horses thunder past in that quiet early morning light indefinitely but part of this venture had included the promise of breakfast at the Track Kitchen which is on the Keeneland grounds.  Friendly staff greeted us as we entered the cafeteria-style restaurant and filled our plates with more eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy than I could eat.

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Keeneland offers a self-guided walking tour as well as a group tour.  Initially we had figured we’d DIY it but for a reasonable fee we signed up for the narrated tour. After just a few steps into the tour it was clear that we had made the best choice  Our guide was an absolute wealth of knowledge.   He told us fun facts about the places he took us including which celebrities (including Queen Elizabeth) had been in an exclusive club room, brought us to the area where horses prepare just prior to racing, and showed us the chair that Bob Baffert sits in when bidding on horses during Keeneland’s legendary race horse sale.

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Being a huge fan of the Triple Crown races in which Bob Baffert always has horses entered, seeing his chair made me feel like I had met him in person! (Fellow horse racing fans may understand this slightly obscure excitement.)

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We left Keeneland with a much richer knowledge of horse racing in general and some fascinating facts about this legendary race track.

Having gotten such an early start to our day, we still had a bit of time before we had to be at the airport.   As we traveled north we had an opportunity to swing into the Old Friends Farm in Georgetown which offers a wonderful home to retired Thoroughbreds.

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Our timing was off and we missed the official tour but the kind woman at the gift shop brought us out back with a bucket of carrots and lured this handsome guy to the fence for us to fawn over.

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This is Nicanor who is Barbaro’s full brother.  (Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby in 2006 but tragically broke his leg while running the Preakness which eventually resulted in his death).  However, on a happier note, Nicanor couldn’t have been sweeter.  He let us pet him, gobbled the carrots offered to him, and struck this photogenic pose.

We left Kentucky with our 39th state race completed and our minds filled with history and horses. What had begun solely as a plan to squeeze in another state grew into one of our favorite trips. Definitely a win!

State: Kentucky

Race Quest #: 39

Date Run: July 4, 2019

The Bottom Line:  Having the race begin with a bugler serenading us with “My Old Kentucky Home” and hearing the “Call to Post” as we lined up at the start couldn’t have been a more quintessentially Kentucky experience. Immersing ourselves in the horses and history of Lexington rounded out a trip to this classic city and helped put us on track to run in our 40th state on our 40th anniversary. Stay tuned for upcoming posts about this adventure!

 

 

 

Diary of a Winter Warrior

What follows are the chronicles of my adventures as a “Winter Warrior” when I accepted the Runner’s Alley challenge to run or walk outdoors every day in January.

January 1

Yay!  I started my Winter Warrior Challenge with the Hangover Classic 5K.  It was 50 degrees and sunny!  There were winds that gusted up to 50 mph and made forward motion challenging and threatened to rip my bib number off my body at times, but we persevered and had a terrific race.  It was a great way to start the year and the challenge!

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Requisite awkward selfie. Note the runners taking the plunge in the ocean behind us.

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January 2

I opted to walk in the woods today. It felt great to get back into the woods…once I got up after wiping out on an unexpectedly icy patch of “snow”.

January 3

I forgot how much I love running in the snow!  I strapped on my Yaktrax and had a tranquil snowy road run.

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January 4

Beautiful sunrise as I headed into the woods.

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And this little cutie was waiting for me when I returned.

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January 5

I eeked out a run just before the rain started.

January 6

Mike and I did the 5 mile loop run this morning.   Even though we’ve run this route scores of times I always seem to find a spot for a photo.

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January 7

For a change, I did a lunch time loop through the village.

January 8

Another snowy morning road run. Just a mere 23 days to go.  But who’s counting? (Picture a “girl with raised hand” emoji inserted here.)

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January 9

Such a gorgeous snowy morning in the woods!  I love that this challenge is getting me back into our woods.

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January 10

Well, that didn’t go so well.  A short 1 mile run ended in a colossal wipe out on a patch of ice.  I skated my way home.  But I’m impressed that I could get up and keep going.  Good job, body!

January 11

It was sooo cold this morning that I strapped on the face mask that Mike gave me for Christmas. It made a huge difference.  And it prompted this text.

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Ahhh!  Why didn’t I start using eye cream earlier?!

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January 12

Still freezing today!

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January 13

My eyelashes froze on this “feels like 4 degrees” 3 mile run.

January 14

I got out for a quick sunrise run early today.

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January 15

It really has been beautiful out here this month.

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January 16

With a “feels like 24 degree” temperature and this sunrise, today’s run felt fabulous.

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January 17

It was frigid again this morning.

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These guys are my new best friends!  Thanks family for gifting me exactly what I need to make it through this challenge.

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January 18

More gray skies and frozen waterfalls. How many more days are there in January?

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January 19

With a major snowstorm about to hit, I opted for a walk in the woods today and gathered some kindling. What a perfect way to start the day!

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January 20

The storm dropped only about 8″of snow.  But it was enough for Hannah and I to strap on our snowshoes and log a mile in the snowy fields and woods.

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January 21

Today was absolutely the most challenging day yet to get outside.  With a “feels like -19 degree” temperature and wind-driven snow my mile today was a walk around the fields a few times.

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This is the actual GPS tracking of my route…not a random scribble.

My text to the family:

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Annie’s witty reply made me LOL for real.

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January 22

I had an absolutely freezing but surprisingly great run.  I must be getting used to this weather.

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The moon was so bright and gorgeous this morning but none of my photos captured it well.

January 23

When  a “feels like 8 degrees” morning feels normal I know I’m getting tough.

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January 24

The roads were slippery this morning so I opted to walk.  It was beautiful, though.

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January 25

It started out as a run but it was so slippery I finished up in the field where it was also really slippery.  But it was lovely. Even though I am counting the days until the end of the month and I’m not always especially eager to get outside at the crack of dawn, my reward has been a chance to experience this wintery scenery in a way I most likely wouldn’t have otherwise.

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January 26

My 3 mile run felt wonderful this morning. No frigid temperatures, no icy wipe outs-just three quiet miles. Perfect!

January 27

Oh my gosh! What I thought would be a peaceful 1 mile walk in the woods turned into a slippery tree-clinging crawl.  Within a few yards of walking into the field I was on the ground in a Bambi-esque splayed leg sprawl. The rest of the “walk” involved me searching for spots to step that were not slick. I literally clung onto trees to keep my balance.  As I finally crawled my way back up to the house I hoped that no one was looking out the window at what I’m sure was a comical snail’s pace shuffle up the tiny last hill.  But Mike saw it and commented that he wondered if I was stuck since I didn’t appear to be moving.  Oh well, I covered the distance and it was pretty.

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The sound of the water running in the brooks was a treat.

January 28

Another beautiful day in the (frozen) neighborhood.

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January 29

How is it still January?  I got in a quick frozen mile.  Almost there!

January 30

I had no idea I could rack up a half a mile walking with a shovel in front of me in the driveway!

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I finished the rest of my mile in the woods. With the new snow there were tracks everywhere!

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These cool tracks were behind the barn.

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They went right up to and under the barn.  I guess our porcupine is still here.

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January 31

Woohoo!  I did it! If anyone had been watching me as I finished my last frozen road mile this morning they would have seen a contented little smile on my face-not unlike how I felt when I finished the Philly Marathon.  Of course, completing a marathon was a monumentally bigger deal. But the feeling of not wimping-out for 31 days, even on truly brutal days, is hugely satisfying.

A Few Reflections…

  • I’m so glad to have spotted the Runner’s Alley flier about the challenge! I just wish I had seen the fine print about doing a mile each day in order to participate in the formal challenge before I logged shorter mileage two days early in the month. Oh, well!
  • It’s amazing how my perception of “cold” changed during the challenge.  There have been times when temps in the teens would have deterred me from running outside.  Now they felt almost balmy.
  • Falling is such a jarring, unsettling, maddening experience.  But I am so grateful for my body for taking it and getting back up.
  • The feeling of setting a goal and accomplishing it, especially when it’s not easy, is absolutely worth the struggle.
  • Thank you to my family and friends for listening to me recount, ad nauseam, what I’m sure were way too many details of this endeavor.
  • And to any neighbors who may be reading this, perhaps this explains the behavior of your slightly crazy running neighbor.

Have you ever taken part in any type of challenge?

How do you feel about outdoor activities in the winter?

What is your favorite or least favorite part of winter?

 

Minneapolis

We arrived in Minneapolis a day before running the Boom Island Brewery Beer Run in July. A few weeks before leaving home we had booked our hotel through Hotwire. We frequently take advantage of excellent deals on hotels that are listed by star level, area, and price but without the actual hotel name revealed until you officially book the room. The unnamed “4 star boutique hotel” that Hotwire had offered at about half the rate for a traditional reservation turned out to be The Marquette Hotel.  Its newly renovated sleek decor and professional, attentive staff made it a fabulous find.

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Shortly after settling in we set off to explore on foot.  We knew little about Minneapolis but headed toward the Mississippi River anticipating that there would be some interesting sights and activities along the river.

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After crossing the bridge we ended up on Nicollet Island.  There were wonderful views of St. Anthony Falls at the Water Power Park.

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A series of signs provided extensive information about the history of the falls, the flour and logging industry, and the development of hydro-electric power. We had no idea that our stroll over the bridge would lead us to so much knowledge.

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The street across from the river is lined with a wide assortment of tempting restaurants and outdoor cafes.

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The appealing atmosphere of the outdoor patio of Aster Cafe easily lured us in for a cocktail and dinner.

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Although we loved our seats outside we wished we’d had a chance to enjoy the ambiance of the bar.

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As we strolled along the street we came across these chalk drawings on the sidewalk.

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There was no sign of the artist, Phi_the_Chalk_Girl, but encountering these drawings added a lovely bonus to our visit.

After our race the following day we were determined to crack the bus code.  Our attempt to get to the race by bus had been a bit of a fiasco that became a last minute Uber ride. Minneapolis has many numbered streets…and, as we finally noticed, avenues.  Once it dawned on us that streets ran in one direction and avenues ran perpendicularly and that 1st Avenue was different than 1st Street we finally got it.

Arriving at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden by bus felt like a small victory.  It was brutally hot by the time we arrived.  Our progress around the grounds slowed to a crawl as we meandered through the exhibits.

We found these benches with quotations entertaining.

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This iconic sculpture was especially popular because it sprayed cool water.IMG_1198 (2)

Although we were enthusiastic about viewing the exhibits, the heat was wringing every last drop of energy from us. Like a mirage, a simple sign stating “Sisyphus Brewery”  and “air conditioning” appeared at the far end of the garden.  Following the arrow across the street our relief must have been visible as we passed through the doors into a blissfully refreshing and lively pub.  After a pint of William Wallace Scotch Ale for Mike and a strawberry soda for me we returned to the Sculpture Museum and resumed our stroll through the grounds.

Later that evening we enjoyed a dinner of local Minnesota fare at the FireLake Grill House.  Our waitress, Amy, casually asked what had brought us to Minneapolis. We eagerly explained our quest to run a race in every state.  As a fellow runner this concept seemed to ignite true excitement in her as she considered launching her own quest. Once again we couldn’t stop exclaiming about how truly life-changing this adventure has been for us and eagerly encouraged her to give it a try.

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A sunset walk along the river after dinner completed our time in Minneapolis.  The next morning we were off to North Dakota to begin our travels through the prairie.

True Love in Tennessee

After considering a number of options for our run in Tennessee we decided the Zen Evo Chocolate Lover’s 5K  would be a good choice.  Our goal was to coordinate so that Amelia could run a race with us.  Knoxville is about a 3.5 hour drive from their home in North Carolina so it was a good option.  We met Amelia there and drove to Knoxville along with their sweet pup, Jameson.

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We took turns snuggling with him in the backseat.

We had booked a house for the weekend through Airbnb and couldn’t have been happier with our decision.  The home was spotlessly clean, cozy, and full of welcoming details.

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Judy, our host, even left a goodie bag of treats for Jameson, as well as goodies for the humans in our group.  The pint of Bluebell ice cream in the fridge with a note saying “in case of emergency” really made us feel pampered-and luckily we did experience an ice cream emergency. Thanks, Judy!

Since the race didn’t start until 10:00 on Saturday morning, I had plenty of time to put the finishing touches on our couple’s costume.

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Mike’s enthusiasm for wearing any sort of costume is non-existent. He prefers to stay out of the spotlight and he worried that agreeing to run with 6″ conversation hearts on his back may not allow that anonymity.  Undeterred, I persevered with my project in case he relented but I, uncharacteristically, refrained from pestering him into agreeing.

When this wording popped into my head I thought I might have a chance.

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He decided with that disclaimer he would go ahead with yet another of my whacky plans…definitely “true love”.

The race was held at the Victor Ashe Park which was about a 20 minute drive from the house. The forecast sounded dire.

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It is was dark and threatening rain when we arrived.

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We opted to take our requisite awkward selfie before the race.

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Although he had relented and agreed to the hearts on the back of his jacket, I didn’t even ask him to add the heart headband.

The course was an out and back on the paved path through the park.

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We appreciate out and back courses when we run with Amelia because we can watch for her on her way back while we are still heading out.  When we found her she was the third woman but she pushed it up the last hills and ended up coming in as the overall second place female finisher! After completing her race she looped back to us on the course and then dashed back to the end to snap a few photos of us finishing.IMG_0786

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We’re crossing the finish line hand-in-hand as we do with all of our quest races.  Besides being kind of special, it keeps me from lagging too far behind.

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The rain picked up after we finished so we were grateful the awards ceremony was held under a pavilion.  We thought the addition of several heaters was brilliant and wished more races offered this luxury.

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Apparently stuffed bears are a signature feature of this race.  We were handed a bear after we finished. We received one for placing 4th in the couples’ costume contest. Mike placed second in his age group and I got third-and we each got another bear.

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But even more exciting was Amelia placing as the second overall female and receiving this gigantic bear.  It plays a Shakira song and has flashing red lights! I love the sequence of her expressions as she received the bear.

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There was a post-race party at the Hexagon Brewery later in the day which we happily attended.

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Although the crowd was a bit small when we were there we enjoyed talking to the bartender/owner who impressed us with the number of activities at the brewery and with the variety of  beers they are producing.

Our plan was to venture out into downtown Knoxville for dinner.  When we inquired about restaurant recommendations our bartender had enticed us with a multitude of options.  However, as we drove back to the house for the afternoon through a downpour the thought of walking around the city in the rain became less appealing despite our sincere desire to explore and experience Knoxville. Eventually we somewhat reluctantly conceded that the option to have dinner in our cozy house and watch the Olympics sounded the most appealing.

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We awoke the next morning confident that our decision to stay in had been the right one but feeling really disappointed to be heading home without having visited the center of Knoxville.  A quick trip into the city for donuts and coffee gave us a tiny (and sweet) taste of the city.  Thanks to Amelia’s research we arrived at a perfect donut shop, Makers Donuts.

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They had a delectable array of options.

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Although they didn’t sell coffee they were connected to another hip establishment that did.

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Amelia and Matt drove us back to Charlotte while we enjoyed some more quality time with Jameson.IMG_2950

As we waited in the security line at the airport Amelia sent us this shot of Jameson looking out the car window after us.

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We were sad to be leaving, too.

State-Tennessee

Quest #-35

Date: February 10, 2018

The Bottom Line: Although our plans to experience Knoxville didn’t transpire as we had hoped, we loved having a chance to spend the weekend with Amelia, Matt, and Jameson.  Our Airbnb home made the weekend exceptionally comfortable.  The race was fun and filled our suitcase with more stuffed bears than we’ve ever traveled with.  Mike was a great sport by once again putting up with my crazy ideas and showing his “true love”. What a guy!

10 Reasons to Do A Quest

Doing this quest to run a race in every state has literally been life-changing. When Mike suggested it at the Philadelphia Marathon seven years ago we had no clue what an amazing adventure this would become.  We have become passionate about sharing our experiences and encouraging others to join the fun because we LOVE it!

If you’re intrigued by this concept but running doesn’t appeal to you don’t dismiss the idea. There are a multitude of ways to approach this goal.  My friend, Anita, has begun her quest to hike in every state. We met someone who has their sights set on playing golf across the country. Others are planning to visit every national park.  The great thing about a personal quest is that you can mold it into whatever inspires and works for you.

For us this quest has given our lives a whole new dimension.  It has added a fun spark to everyday life. So regardless of how you approach this endeavor, we would like to offer 10 reasons why we think you might want to launch your own quest.

  1. Increase your geographical knowledge  Although Mike’s geographical skills definitely exceed mine, I will confess that given a blank map of the United States a few years ago I would have failed miserably at filling in the location of many states.  Now I can solidly fill in virtually all of the states with confidence. Of course, spending a little time memorizing a map could have had the same result. However, the spots on the map wouldn’t be associated with actual visual images and memories of each location.
  2. Take part in regional activities When we chose our race in Alabama we had only a vague idea that Mobile had any connection to Mardi Gras.  But we got to experience an incredible Mardi Gras parade and atmosphere first hand in what we learned is the first official city to celebrate Mardi Gras.  It was fabulous!flowers float    We specifically went to Iowa during a presidential primary season since its first in the nation caucus is so famously a part of the political process.  By chance we had an opportunity to go to a Bernie Sanders rally and concert right next door to our hotel!IMG_5615We also got to observe portions of an intriguing event in Iowa called the Tweed Ride. We had no idea such a thing existed!IMG_5639.JPG

When we ran in Seattle we were able to see the famous flying fish in Pike Place Market.

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IMG_6841And these are just a few of the experiences we’ve encountered.

3.  Conversation Starter Whether it’s telling race organizers that we’ve chosen their race to check that state off our list, chatting with fellow runners after a race, or conversing with a waitress during our travels, we’ve loved the conversations that have followed. I’m pretty sure we’ve sparked the urge to try this quest in a number of people. We have been amazed by the enthusiastic responses we receive when we talk about our experiences.

4. Try Local Foods and Drinks  We are devoted to trying local cuisine when we arrive at a new destination.  Cheese curds in Wisconsin were delicious.  Eating them the night before the 13 Dot 1 Half Marathon, may not have been such a good idea, however.

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Po’boys, hurricanes, and beignets in New Orleans were basically a requirement of visiting NOLA.

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Gumbo in Alabama was incredible.IMG_6071

Bill and Terry took us to one of their favorite BBQ joints when they hosted us in Houston.

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We had our first taste of a Waffle House breakfast in Mississippi.  I think the waitress was puzzled by my inordinate level of excitement at dining in a restaurant that is as common as Dunkin Donuts are up here in the north but I was thrilled to experience this icon of the south.

Sampling local beers has also become an integral part of our travels. IMG_5633

5. Experience the beauty and diversity of the country  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

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Deception Pass, Washington

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Green Lake, Wisconsin

Baroda, Michigan

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Mississippi River- Davenport, Iowa

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New Orleans, Louisiana

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Mount Rainier, Washington

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Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

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Cliff Walk- Newport, Rhode, Island

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Portland Head Light- Cape Elizabeth, Maine

6.  Meet Incredible People This benefit has truly been one of the most rewarding parts of our quest. The people we met in Maryland couldn’t have been more welcoming and encouraging once they heard about our quest. Multiple people approached us to wish us luck and ask about our adventures-even as we began to drive away!

The couple we met in Michigan after the 13.Wine Half Marathon gave us terrific tips for the rest of our trip. The fellow runners we chatted with at the awards ceremony in Ohio were so congenial we were disappointed not to be returning to visit with them again. And when we gave our name at the packet pickup in Wisconsin the woman at the table exclaimed, “You’re the people from Maine!’ and promptly took our picture.

7. Long Run Conversation Topic Many miles of running have been spent reminiscing about races we’ve done and places we’ve visited.  Debating which race was our favorite or how many half marathons we’ve done has kept us occupied for miles and has provided us with the fun of reliving our adventures.

8. Reward for training in winter We have frequently tried to schedule a winter race in a warm(er) climate.  Since we live in Maine that is not too difficult.  As we crank out our snowy miles we try to keep images of warmer, non-snowy destinations in mind.

007When we step into a relatively tropical climate where the monochrome winter landscape is replaced by lush vegetation and the sun thaws our chilled bodies we agree it was worth every frigid mile we ran at home.

9. Chance to Visit Family and Friends Some of our most favorite trips have been ones that have included an opportunity to visit family and friends.  Janet and John and Bill and Terry provided southern hospitality when we ran in Houston. We paired our Vermont race with a visit with Katie, which is always a treat. Annie was a superb tour guide for our whole family when we ran in Virginia.

Attending our nephew, Branden’s, graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy allowed us an opportunity to run in Maryland.

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When we traveled to Pittsburgh for our son-in-law, Matt’s, graduation from Carnegie Mellon we popped over to Ohio for a fun race with the added bonus of having his parents join us on our side trip.

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The opportunity to spend some time with Jessey when we were in Washington ended up truly being a highlight of a trip that is one of our very favorites.

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10. Really Making a Difference Some of the races we have run have been very small but have been among the most meaningful events. The Hope for Hunter race in West Virginia was a tiny local race that was organized to support children with Hunter Syndrome, a genetic condition that primarily affects males for which there is currently no cure.  An absolute highlight of the event was meeting a young boy with this condition.

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We ran a similar type of race in New Jersey to support research for ALD.  The daughter of the gentleman who founded the Run for ALD foundation and who sadly had passed away from this condition spoke eloquently about her passion for supporting research for a newborn screening that could save hundreds of lives each year.  Mike and I left feeling so pleased that we had contributed to this effort.

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Our most recent race in St. Louis, Head for the Cure, is devoted to raising awareness and funding to support the brain cancer community. Listening to incredible tales of people impacted by brain cancer once again confirmed that signing up for races that had a direct impact on others has truly been one of the most fabulous outcomes of our quest.

We began our quest seven years ago and have run in 34 states so far.  Although we are hopeful that we will cross the finish line in our 50th state race at some point, we can unequivocally state that the journey itself is actually what it’s all about for us. We wish you safe travels and memorable adventures no matter what your journey may be.

Would you like to do a quest?

Are you working toward a goal?

What’s your favorite part of traveling?

The Gift of Kindness

A couple of years ago our extended family decided to scale back on Christmas gifts. The plan was to exchange homemade gifts instead of purchasing more items. I think we were partially inspired by Marie Kondo and her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I loved this concept and my family members created thoughtful, unique gifts.

Unfortunately, I am a procrastinator.  This meant that my gifts were often incomplete, unnecessary, and sadly, sometimes unidentifiable.  Because I have the kindest nieces they politely thanked me for 3 inch circles of mediocre knitting meant to be boot toppers.  My attempt at mittens made from sweaters resulted in enormous blobs that could have doubled as potholders.

But last November, when our entire family was feeling despair over the future of our country, our daughter, Amelia and niece, Annie were discussing how to move forward.  As many people did, they decided that they needed to be a force in the world that was creating a positive difference. So it was decided that instead of tangible gifts we would give random acts of kindness.

I merrily embarked on this adventure with no idea that I would be receiving a most unexpected gift. My acts of kindness were small but I got an inordinate surge of delight each time I did one.

I wrote little notes in cards to random strangers, added a scratch lottery ticket and a penny, and left them on the windshields of cars at the hospital, post office, school, and grocery store-places I thought people may be feeling stressed or harried as the holidays approached.

card 5I felt a tad apprehensive as I somewhat furtively dashed to a car but I was hopeful that perhaps this random act of kindness brightened someone’s day.

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Feeling worried about our environment and potential changes with the new administration, I decided to reduce the number of Christmas lights that I put up outside. Half of the lights on our inside tree mysteriously were extinguished, as well, inadvertently further reducing our environmental impact.

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I am devoted to using reusable grocery bags so I picked out a bag at Trader Joe’s and told the clerk that I wanted to buy it and asked him to give it to the next person who didn’t have a reusable bag.  He in turn gave me the gift of not charging me for the bag and happily agreed to pass it on to someone in need.

On our Christmas morning run we came across a disgusting Bud Light cardboard box filled with trash and an empty beer bottle. I picked it up, ran home, and put it in the garbage.  Besides feeling a bit self-conscious about running with a cardboard box, I was repulsed by Mike’s suggestion that I was advertising Bud Light –never! But it was worth the potential humiliation to clean up a small part of the earth.

When I was at our local greenhouse purchasing a poinsettia for a gift I bought an extra one and asked the clerk to give it to the next customer.  At first the young man waiting on me was a bit confused but after a moment’s contemplation he seemed to really embrace the idea and enthusiastically said, “Yeah! I can do that!”  I left with the impression that involving him in the process had also sparked some excitement in him, as well.

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We donated food to our school district’s backpack program which sends food home on weekends and holidays when food-insecure children do not have access to school breakfasts and lunches.

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I had plans to be in Boston a couple of days before Christmas so packed up a few gift bags with socks, hand warmers, a Dunkin Donuts gift card, and some homemade cookies.  The gentlemen sitting on the sidewalk had signs wishing passersby Merry Christmas.  I felt like Santa and almost burst into tears as I walked down the street wishing them “Merry Christmas” and leaving them with a little bag of goodies.

As we gathered at Christmas other family members shared the similar deeds they had done during the season. Knowing that we had added to our normal actions as decent people and taken the extra steps to spread a little more goodness felt wonderful.

We’ve been mindful of continuing this philosophy throughout the year. Small actions such as paying for coffee for the person behind us and letting a waiting car move ahead of us in traffic are so easy but set the tone for civility and good will.

On this Giving Tuesday I urge you to consider adding some random acts of kindness into your holiday routine and delighting in the joy it undoubtedly will bring to you as well as to others.

Thanks, Big Guy

I am a worrier. It’s an unfortunate family tradition. But when we brought our big guy, Bentley, home from the shelter I had no worries-except how to get him in the car. But we did.

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He tolerated his bossy little “sister”, Abby who frantically announced in a decidedly unwelcoming manner that she was the boss.  She had apparently overlooked the fact that he was about ten times her size.  But Bentley calmly waited for her to accept him and in a few days they were best buddies.

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Despite weighing more than anyone in our family, he never threw his weight around.  In fact, the day we met him at the shelter the very fact that he calmly walked out of his pen past hysterically barking dogs on a loose leash and kept turning around to look at us melted our hearts and sealed the deal that he was the dog for us.

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While Abby would and did eat anything she could scavenge, including a herd of chocolate reindeer that allowed us to enjoy Christmas morning hospitality at the emergency vet, Bentley had a laissez-faire relationship with food. Although he could have helped himself to a DIY counter top buffet at anytime, he exhibited perfect dining manners.

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Our first dog, Murphy, would routinely burst through almost closed doors to emphasize her enthusiasm for being outside.  Bentley preferred that any door or space he passed through offer an extra-wide berth.  The concept of nudging a door a bit to slip through apparently never appealed to him.  We appreciated this trait since in reality we wouldn’t have had the final say on the matter anyway.

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As the years went on, Bentley was devoted to us, and we to him.  Sure he could fling his drool truly impressive distances. Yes, tumbleweeds of fur were omnipresent in our home no matter how much I vacuumed. But we loved the big guy. However, as docile and doting as he was with us, we learned that he didn’t always embrace non-family members in the same way.

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So my worrying began. I became hyper-vigilant about ensuring that Bentley didn’t have close encounters with visitors. I worried that he would greet people passing on the road too enthusiastically.  I worried he’d be impolite at the vet’s.  But always, unfailingly, he was passionately in love with his family.

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All I had to say was, “Where’s Hannah?” and Bents would perk up and look out the window in anticipation of her arrival.  Bentley greeted Amelia like a long lost friend whenever she returned to our home.  And Bentley enjoyed a special bond with Mike, overlooking the fact that Mike had initially been skeptical about adding the big guy to our menagerie.

Bentley even eagerly accepted new family members. Amelia’s husband, Matt, and Bentley played an adorable game of “How Much Dangling Drool Can Matt Endure” as well as the ever-popular “Cover Matt’s Suit in Fur” adventure. Todd quickly won a special place in his heart and Bentley would pop up every time Todd drove in.

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So when Bentley was diagnosed with osteosarcoma three years ago we were devastated. We were warned that he probably had only weeks or maybe months left.  But fortified with his handful of pain meds he kept going…and going…and going.

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We had our mental quality of life checklist that we visited frequently. Yes, he was happy! Was he enthusiastically greeting us?  Absolutely! Did he still enjoy going outside and making his rounds around the yard?  Definitely! Yikes!  He would even periodically playfully bounce up and down, an alarming sight anytime in a 140 lb. dog , but one which sent us running to squelch his enthusiasm to avoid the possibility of his fragile bones snapping.  But yes, Bentley was still enjoying a great quality of life.

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But, I worried.  How will we know it’s “time”?  How will we get him to the vet? How will we deal with Bentley, a grumpy vet patient under normal circumstances, when he was in distress? Will our aging Passat Wagon that we had purchased specifically for him and adorned with the BIGDOG license plate still be running when we had to bring our big guy in?

Eventually, we knew the inevitable was approaching.  The number of good legs Bents could use were dwindling. Getting up was really becoming a challenge.  He was even becoming cranky with Abby which was totally out of character.  But he still seemed happy.  He gobbled up the slices of deli meat I hand-fed him.  He still greeted us at the door when we returned and he always rolled over for a belly rub.

And then it was clearly time. Bentley went outside after struggling to stand up.  He wandered into the barn, took a drink from a water bucket, and went to lie down in his favorite spot.  When I heard some little yelps I went out to bring him in. But he couldn’t get up.  I tried all of my tricks, even attempting to lift him.  But he couldn’t get up. Todd drove in and I was sure he would get up.  But he didn’t.  Hannah came home, but no luck.

Now the worry about when was over but how was looming.  We had inquired about at-home euthanasia and had assumed that would be the plan.  But it wasn’t.  As we huddled outside with Bentsie covered in horse blankets on the coldest most blustery day of the season it became clear that we were going to have to bring Bentley to the vet.

All four of us were with him and able to lift him on blankets into the Passat.  We gave him one more car ride-one of his favorite activities.   When we arrived at the vet clinic the staff worked with us to gently sedate him in the car so that he slept peacefully while we carried him into the office.  We kissed the black spot on the top of his big furry head as tears ran down our faces and he quietly slipped away from his pain.

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Besides leaving us with years of memories and undoubtedly weeks of slobber and fur reminders, Bentley gave me the surprising gift of enlightenment.  I hadn’t needed to worry.  All of those seemingly insurmountable challenges that I had fretted over had resolved perfectly.  Sure, things could have gone differently.  But they hadn’t and my worrying hadn’t made the difference.

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Experiencing this revelation in the midst of this tough time was completely unexpected. Our hearts are heavy and there is a huge void in our lives. But I am determined to honor Bentley’s time in our lives by consciously deflecting needless worry and mindfully embracing this gift as I move forward.

Thanks, Big Guy!

 

 

 

Run for Texas

 

Although we live in Maine, far from Harvey’s path of devastation, we have close family and friends living in Houston. As the days of destruction unfolded while Harvey bore down on Texas, I found myself completely wrapped up in the events.  I eagerly awaited the emails from family recounting their experiences. Facebook posts marking family friends as safe were a relief.  Unbelievably, all of our family and friends escaped significant flooding to their homes. However, the impact of Harvey’s wrath continues for countless others.

One of the interesting outcomes from our quest to run a race in every state is that when we hear a reference to a place we have visited we have visual and experiential memories of the location. This is true for Houston.  Amelia, Mike, and I ran the Houston Rhythm and Blues Half Marathon a few years ago.

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We were treated to wonderful southern hospitality by all of our Houston family and friends and had an opportunity to experience the city, which we loved.

When this article from Runner’s World magazine showed up in my email yesterday I eagerly scanned it for ways to help people affected by Harvey.  The article is packed with information and links to ways to contribute to the recovery efforts.

The Run for Texas virtual 5K or 10K idea caught my eye. If I signed up for every virtual race offer I get each week I’d be running a marathon.  The promise of another medal for running at home has never tempted me to participate. However, this run felt different. The description states that 100% of the race funds from this event will go to the American Red Cross and the Texas Diaper Bank.  I clicked the link and signed up.  I was pleased to see there is an option to make an additional contribution beyond the $5.00 entry fee.  I printed out my race bib, although opted not to wear it on my morning run.  I think our neighbors already think we are a bit crazy so the sight of me running past with a piece of computer paper pinned to my shirt would probably have solidified their conclusion.

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The skies were filled with dark clouds as I started out.  The now insignificant dregs of Tropical Storm Harvey were due to reach us later in the day.

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I went past the familiar sights along my route and used this quiet time to focus on the cause for this run.

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Although I’m not in a position to physically volunteer to help out in Texas, running this virtual race did help me feel like I was “doing something”. Of course, me running 3.1 miles doesn’t make any tangible difference but pairing that with my donation to the cause somehow felt more significant.

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I’m probably the only runner not using a Garmin to track my running but I liked having this visual of my run as I crossed the finish line (AKA stopped running at my mailbox).

Our good friend, Terry (who also happens to be Amelia’s mother-in-law) is a Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo volunteer.  She forwarded an email from this organization which provided additional links to ways to help with the Harvey relief efforts.  I chose the Houston SPCA. As a family with our own small menagerie, the photos of animals caught up in this horrendous event were especially poignant. When we listened to stories of people needing to evacuate their homes we imagined what that might be like if we faced a similar situation. Thoughts of how we would deal with our dogs, cats, and pony made the scenario extra scary and daunting.

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Returning from my run I felt pleased to have taken action to begin making my small contributions to help those impacted by this historic event.

I’m glad we know people in Houston who most importantly are safe but who will also be able to provide us with personal insight into how we can continue to make meaningful contributions to the recovery efforts as time goes on.

Here are some links to just a few of the ways to help:

Run for Texas

Runner’s World: Here’s How Runners Can Help With the Hurricane Harvey Relief Efforts

Houston SPCA

American Red Cross

Have you considered making a contribution to help out with Harvey recovery?

Have you ever done a virtual race?

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?

 

 

8 Days, 7 States, 6 Races

Our quest to run races in six states in eight days started with a boom…Boom Island Brewery Beer Run in Minneapolis, actually.

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“It doesn’t get more simple than this: walk / jog / run … drink beer … and raise money for local non-profits!” 

That first line of the race website described exactly what we were looking for and when we arrived at the brewery we knew we had made a great choice for our first race. Instead of handing out race bibs with numbers, we were given a blank bib and asked to write our answer to the question of the day.

“What would you bring to a desert island?”

I answered:

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And my sweetie wrote “My Swiss army knife” which made my choice even better! It  was amusing to read other runners’ answers.  “Beer” was absolutely a popular suggestion.

When the race started at 11:00 a.m. the temps were already in the 80’s.  IMG_1189

The not very shady but otherwise pleasant course crossed the Mississippi River twice before heading back to the brewery where we were treated to beer, music, and other festivities.

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There were a number of shirt options to choose from.  I think the one I chose perfectly describes our quest.

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We were happy to add another glass to our collection.

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Earlier in the summer a perusal of our trusty runningintheusa.com website had enlightened us about Mainly Marathons.  It is a company devoted to helping runners reach their goal of running races in every state by organizing a series of races on consecutive days in various regions around the country. By offering races mid-week in adjoining states it’s possible to run in up to seven states in a week.

We signed up for four races in their inaugural Prairie Series.

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Our first race of their series was in North Dakota. This race actually ran in Minnesota and North Dakota and runners were able to choose which state they wanted it to count for. All of these races start at 5:30 a.m with an optional early start at 4:30.  Although we had happily opted for 5K races, many runners were doing half and full marathons.  The temperatures were sweltering so the early start helped runners beat some of the later day heat.

All of the Mainly Marathon races are held off-road in parks, at schools, and similar locations.  Runners do a specified number of short loops to cover the designated distance for the chosen race.  The races we did had loops of about 1.3 to 2.2 miles.

They use a rubber band system in which after every loop you pick up a rubber band to keep track of your distance.

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We gathered with our fellow runners in Minnesota for the start of our North Dakota race.

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Before we walked across a short bridge to North Dakota where our race would start we received our instructions:

“Take this Dixie cup and run with it back to the rubber band table and then head out on the full loop.  Turn around at the zebra cage and come back for the next rubber band. When you are finished with your race go to the timing table and say, ‘I’m done!’ and they will give you your time.”

These are, without a doubt, the most unusual directions we have ever heard at the start of a race.  To be honest, we were a bit foggy about the details, but we followed other runners and asked volunteers as we went along.  We did turn at some sort of cage in what I believe was the Chahinkapa Zoo  but alas, there was no sign of a zebra although we did hear peacocks.  We also heard thunder which got progressively louder and was soon accompanied by flashes of lightning.  Part way through our race it began to rain but we were able to enjoy a rainbow and sunrise before it began to pour.

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The next morning as we entered the park in South Dakota the sight of figures with single lights on their foreheads moving silently towards us was a bit eerie and made us think of aliens for an instant. Quite a few early runners were already on the course.  As the sun rose we were once again treated to a beautiful sunrise and a scenic location.

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In all of these races there is one main aid station that runners go past as they do their loops.

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Since we were only doing 5Ks we didn’t need much but there appeared to be an extensive selection of food, drinks, (including individually marked bottles and cups for specific runners) as well as first aid and comfort items like bug spray, sunscreen, and Vaseline.

We finished our portion of the Mainly Marathon series with races in Nebraska and Kansas .

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We found the runners and volunteers to be exceedingly kind and encouraging.  No one was disparaging to us for “only” doing 5Ks. The atmosphere was very low-key.  There are no awards for placing.  In fact, given the number of loops that runners complete I think it would be hard to keep track of who was ahead of you.  Timing is casual-no chips, just a volunteer at the table at the end who gives you your time when you tell them you have finished.

The medal system is quite a collection of hardware!  You start with a medal and then add state medallions as you complete them.

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We really appreciated the opportunity to run consecutive races in neighboring states to avoid making multiple trips from home. And we found the series to be virtually stress-free (except for remembering how many loops to do and where the course went).  But I think we’ve probably done our last Mainly Marathons race.

Mainly Marathons is a for-profit organization (although they noted that they do donate a portion of their income to “various organizations”) and our impression of the event was that the focus of the runners was to complete their races.  While those are entirely acceptable reasons for races, we missed the feeling of participating in something beyond our own goals. One of the most rewarding parts of our quest has been to run races which benefited specific causes.

While planning this trip, Mike wisely suggested that we run a couple of races that were not part of the series in order to participate in events that had other beneficiaries. As the week progressed and the Mainly Marathon races became “repetitive and redundant” (note the Gilmore Girls line) the thought of running in a “real” race was refreshing.

The Head for the Cure in St Louis, Missouri was our final race and it was exactly what we had hoped for. This race, which is one of many held by this organization, is devoted to raising awareness and funding to support the brain cancer community. As soon as we arrived we felt a bit of relief to once again be running for a cause other than our own quest. The race took place in Forest Park which is a gorgeous venue.

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Despite sweltering temperatures

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the race organizers were prepared to keep runners comfortable.

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The race route traveled through quiet tree-lined roads in Forest Park. The addition of hills after four totally flat prairie races along with the heat made this race a bit more challenging.  But we persevered and were thrilled to cross the finish line and complete our 34th state race.

There were many groups gathering to run in honor of loved ones.  The stories presented about survivors after the run were incredibly poignant and really reiterated our feelings about wanting our races to benefit a meaningful cause.

We were surprised to hear our names called during the awards ceremony.  I (amazingly) won first place in my age group and Mike won second place. This unexpected bonus completely topped off the fabulous experience of this last race in our week of traveling the prairie states.

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In eight days we traveled to seven states and ran in six of them. We opted out of the chance to run in Iowa since we had checked that state off in an unexpectedly terrific experience at the Lagomarcino Cocoa Beano race in October 2015.

Once again, this trip provided us with the opportunity to run some terrific races and see new areas of the country-and an extraordinary amount of corn!  More about our travels in the next post.

State: Minnesota

Date Run: July 15, 2017

Quest Race #: 29

The Bottom Line: The Boom Island Brewery Beer Run was the perfect run to start our 6 state adventure.  We loved the idea of writing an answer on the bib instead of being assigned a number.

States: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas

Dates Run: July 17, 18, 20, 21, 2017

Quest Race #s: 30, 31, 32, 33

The Bottom Line: Running four races in four states in five days was an excellent way to check several states off of our quest list. It also gave us an opportunity to experience a totally different kind of race. This was our first opportunity to run a race with a Dixie cup and rubber bands!

State: Missouri

Date Run: July 22, 2017

Quest Race #: 34

The Bottom Bottom Line: Running in a variety of types of races during the week, culminating with the Head for the Cure, completely solidified how important it is to us to have the races we run benefit a cause much more significant than our quest. Looking back at all of the races we have done since starting this quest, the ones that are most meaningful are the ones where we felt our presence had benefited something much grander than our adventure. And we are looking forward to many more.