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.

 

 

 

 

 

Onward to Oregon

Some portions of our Washington State and Oregon trip were planned in advance. We had registered for our races and made reservations at two hotels.  But we had opted to leave some flexibility in our plans. There was so much flexibility, in fact, that after our visit to Mount Rainier National Park we had nothing else on our agenda for a few days.

Thanks to this priceless Mother’s Day gift from Hannah,

img_6990and a bit of research we eagerly headed to Walla Walla, Washington.  Besides being a stellar wine area, I just couldn’t resist being able to say I had been to Walla Walla, Washington.

Leaving  Mount Rainier National Park meant re-entered “civilization”.  Cellphone service suddenly returned in a barrage of pings as day-old messages popped up from our daughters. They were checking in to see if everything was alright since they hadn’t heard from us in 24 hours. As much as we appreciate modern technology, once we had realized there was no service on the mountain we had stepped back from our typical urge to share our spectacular experience via Snapchat, texts, and Instagram. We snapped photo after photo but delayed sharing the experiences until we had left which meant we were truly able to immerse ourselves in the moment.

As we continued on our drive we suddenly realized that the landscape had changed dramatically and unexpectedly from verdant woods to this.img_3142

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We drove through miles of rocky hills that were punctuated by acres of irrigated vineyards and orchards.

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There were scores of buildings like this along our route with wooden or plastic apple crates stacked stories high.

We stopped at a road side market selling the famous Walla Walla onions.

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Tired and hungry as we drove down Walla Walla’s tree-lined streets that hot August night, these signs assured us the trip had been worth it.

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A dinner of scrumptious sandwiches at Olive paired with a glass of wine from their expansive wine list revived us.

img_6865The next morning we enjoyed an early run through neighborhoods close to our motel. Having an opportunity to see the regional architecture in new locales is something we have appreciated as we’ve been on this quest.

We loved the quirky coffeeshops that we spotted throughout the trip.  Living in Maine, we can count on a Dunkin Donuts every few miles.  However, we were much more impressed with the individual creativity of these western caffeine kiosks.

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img_3208-2We were determined to take advantage of at least one of the multitude of tasting rooms in downtown Walla Walla before heading out to our next destination. As a result, we were in the Spring Valley Vineyard tasting room at 10:30 in the morning…and we weren’t their first customers.

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Although we had chosen Spring Valley due to their early opening time, in retrospect we didn’t think we could have made a better choice.  It is a family-owned and operated vineyard whose history in the area goes back for generations.  The wine tasting was extensive, sophisticated, and delicious and the staff was cordial and impressively informative.

Although the layout of numerous tasting rooms within a few downtown blocks makes it conducive to multiple samplings within a single stroll, we were content to hit the road and head towards the Columbia River Gorge.  I had made reservations at the Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, Oregon before leaving home to celebrate our 37th anniversary (a day early). As we drove to Hood River the landscape was mesmerizing once again. The wind turbines were everywhere. We couldn’t stop exclaiming about them and, of course, taking more pictures.

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Once we arrived at the Columbia River we were even more enthralled.

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The hotel was exactly what I had hoped for with its elegant, historic accommodations, gorgeous views, and impeccable service.

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As we settled into our riverside room we were treated to an opportunity to watch scores of windsurfers who were zipping along at alarming (to me) speeds. We had read in our road trip book that this area offers some of the best wind surfing in the world.

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The placement of the hundreds of wind turbines along the river now made even more sense.

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The view from the dining room where we enjoyed a delectable  dinner and breakfast was gorgeous.

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We wished we’d had time to embark on a bicycle wine tour offered from the hotel.

Although we were reluctant to depart the next morning we were looking forward to our next race in Bend, Oregon.

Along the route a last minute decision to pull off the road into the Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint provided us with a spectacular view of another river gorge, some enlightening information about how the bridges were constructed, and the most dramatic signage we had ever encountered.

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As we approached the canyon we were relieved to see a solid, waist-high rock wall along the edge.  Thinking of the sign that claimed that “many dogs have died here” we could only imagine wildly hyperactive canines who upon scaling the wall well over their heads had inexplicably flung themselves over the edge.  Thankfully we could see no way a pup could inadvertently venture too far and slip into the gorge.img_3202

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A display beside the canyon documented how the bridge was built out from each side until it eventually met in the middle.  They showed photos of workers casually traversing a single plank suspended between the two portions.  Just looking at the black and white photos left me feeling woozy.

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If you look closely you can see the bungee cords hanging from this bridge.  We watched several people take the plunge.

We had chosen the Deschutes Brewery Twilight 5K Run as our Oregon race without realizing what a popular area Bend, Oregon is.  We were envious of the throngs of people who were swimming, tubing, and paddling down the Deschutes River that runs right through town.  We regretted not planning to add more time here in order to take advantage of this spectacular vacation spot.

As the name suggests, the race was run in the evening.  I ALWAYS run in the morning, usually before I eat anything and never having had more than tea and toast.  So I was consciously calculating what and when to eat prior to the race.

As we drove into Bend we chose a restaurant online and carefully followed our GPS directions to the location.  When we arrived at Bangers and Brews I was dismayed to realize they only served sausages…and beer. How had that not been obvious to us?  I chose what I thought would be a mild order and hoped for the best. But, alas, I have learned that consuming sausage and beer, even hours before a race, is something I will never do again.

But despite that unfortunate lunch choice and a toasty starting time temperature, we were psyched to be spending our anniversary evening at a race.

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We started on the grounds of the Deschutes Brewery and made a loop along the river. The course was scenic and often shady and the route gave us a sampling of the fun this area offers. We ran past people stand up paddle boarding down the river, enjoying cocktails on riverside decks, and generally savoring the gorgeous summer evening.

Mike was a great sport and stayed with me despite my snail pace although he was in much better shape and could have cut several minutes off of our time.

However, we finished hand-in-hand on our 37th wedding anniversary and completed our 27th quest race.

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The plentiful beer and great music made for a festive finale. We met a couple from Florida who were spending the summer in Bend.  As we often do, we filled them in on our quest and I think we inspired them to give it a try, as well.

 

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Our final destination of our week-long trip was Portland, Oregon.  Since we had no reservations yet we used part of our driving time to peruse a number of online sites and apps such as Hotel Tonight, Priceline, and Hotwire to get a good deal on a nice room. We have had great luck with websites that offer you a guaranteed star-level and city area without learning which hotel you are booked in until you commit to purchase the room. We like the suspense, not having to make the final choice, and knowing that we’ve gotten a terrific bargain.

We ended up at Hotel De Luxe which is a boutique hotel within an easy walk of the popular Nob Hill district. The room had nifty features to support the “Hollywood’s Golden Age” era feel that is the hallmark of the hotel.

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The lobby

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Vintage music was playing on this retro radio when we entered our room.

We appreciated the efforts to “set the scene” including this new take on “Do not disturb” and “Please make up the room” signs as well as the creative bar cart.

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Portland was uncharacteristically hot the day we were there.

img_6893 After a short walk to NW 23rd Street we revived ourselves by slipping into McMenamin’s Ram’s Head for a fabulously refreshing cocktail. img_6890

Then a stop at Salt and Straw satisfied  our yearning for something cold and sweet.

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Making a choice from this menu was a challenge.  Enjoying our choice was not.

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It was easy to see why this establishment was a hot spot on a sweltering day.

We made reservations at Papa Haydn then returned later in the evening for an absolutely perfect dinner to top off a completely fabulous trip.

img_6897It seemed fitting that this view of the mountains, which had truly been omnipresent throughout our trip, would provide us with our parting image of Washington and Oregon as we flew home.

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Quest Race #: 27

State: Oregon

Date: August 18, 2017 (our 37th wedding anniversary)

The Bottom Line: Running a race on our anniversary was the absolute perfect way to mark the day. Embarking on this quest to run a race in every state has brought us immense pleasure and  tons of surprising adventures together.

We loved visiting Bend and Portland.  The Twilight 5K was a festive, scenic race. We only wish we had spent more time enjoying all that the regions have to offer.