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.

Halfway To 50 States!

With only a couple of weeks to go before Amelia and Matt moved away from Pittsburgh, we finally arranged a race in nearby Ohio. Matt’s M.B.A. graduation from Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University offered the perfect opportunity to coordinate a visit and a race.

Perusing our traditional trusty race resource, Runningintheusa.com  failed to locate any Ohio races in the area close to Pittsburgh.  But after doing a little research, I found the Austintown Lion’s 21st Annual “5K in May”.  With less than an hour and a half drive from Pittsburgh and a 9:45 a.m starting time, this seemed like exactly what we needed to check Ohio off of our quest list.

Matt’s parents, Bill and Terry, kindly offered to accompany us to the race.  We all enjoyed the scenic rolling farmland and the opportunity to visit during the drive to Austintown. Thanks to excellent details on the race entry form,  we arrived exactly at the starting location right on schedule, thus sparing Terry and Bill the “excitement” of navigation challenges that we have endured when traveling to a few other races.

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The rainy forecast made us particularly thrilled to discover that registration and other race activities took place in an attractive heated building with indoor facilities. It proved to be the perfect spot for our spectators to be able to watch the race and stay cozy and dry.

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We seldom have companions for our races so this was a real treat. Bill had the foresight to take a photo of us before we headed out into the rain to document our pre-race status.

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He even got a shot of us at the starting line. Normally if we have any visual documentation at the start it’s an awkward selfie or a random shot of the crowd.

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The group of runners who lined up at the start may have been small but it was undeterred by the weather.  After a few brief announcements, we were off and running.

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The race took place at the Austintown Township Park and was run on a pleasant gravel trail that wound through woods and past a small pond.

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The person in the bright jacket ahead of us was a lovely woman whom we chatted with who ended up winning our age group division.

The route  is a double loop that goes past the main building where registration and awards took place. Terry and Bill were able to see us four times during the race without having to leave the building. But being the great sports they are, they even popped out to cheer us on as we ran by.  There was excellent volunteer support along the route, including a water stop which we ran past twice.

We loved the course, despite the rain, and were pleased with our time.  Here is our post- race shot where we are looking (and feeling) decidedly soggy.ohio after

Numerous door prizes were distributed and Mike and I were lucky enough to both win something.  I  won a bucket packed with Avon treats.

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The prizes also included many gift certificates to local restaurants. Since we were all getting hungry we were keeping our fingers crossed that Mike would receive one of those…and he did, which allowed us to later redeem his prize at the Korner Restaurant on our way home.

I was thrilled  to win second place in my age group.

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As I went up to receive my medal I commented to the announcer that we had chosen their event for our Ohio race in our quest to run a race in every state.  There was a kind response from the other runners and spectators when he shared this with the group.  I think it drives Mike crazy when I do this but I can’t resist sharing our enthusiasm for our adventure. I also have found that people seem to appreciate knowing that their race had a special attraction.

What started out as a random race to check Ohio off of our quest list, once again became an event filled with unexpected bonuses.  It was a well organized race with a pretty course and generous awards and prizes. We had an opportunity to meet wonderful people, including the woman who won my age group who is on her own quest to run twelve races this year. Having Terry and Bill join us made the trip much more fun and provided vastly better race photography!

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We nabbed another runner to snap a shot of us with Bill and Terry after the race.

Ohio is the 25th state in which we have run. It seems fitting that rather than marking this halfway point milestone with a fancy race in a flashy destination, we once again were treated to the unexpected pleasures of a small race in a less famous location. Our experience here solidified the philosophy that has emerged during our adventure. It is the journey, not just the destination, that truly matters.

State: Ohio

Quest Race #: 25

Date Run: May 14, 2016

The Bottom Line: We loved everything about this race!  We only regret that it’s unlikely we will have a chance to see the people we met again and that Bill and Terry aren’t going to be able to accompany us to and provide outstanding support at the next 25 races.

 

Running in Two States (Actually, Three) in One Weekend

With a hand shake, the deal was sealed.  Mike and I were enjoying drinks at our hotel in Boston the night before we were due to fly to Pensacola to begin our trip to run races in Mississippi and Alabama.  But the forecast was predicting a winter storm to begin the next morning pretty much at the moment our plane was due to depart. Mike was so sure that our flight would be delayed at least 2 hours that he wagered footing the bill for lunch the next day.  I was betting we would be able to escape just in the nick of time.

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When we arrived at the airport early the next morning (or what seemed like the middle of the night), our flight was still on time. The plane was boarded on schedule just as the snow began.  The pilot informed us that we just needed to go through de-icing and we’d be on our way.  After an interesting but slow de-icing process we finally took off…about an hour late.  We had about an hour layover for our connecting flight in Charlotte so this delay did not bode well for making this connection.  Throughout the flight I was able to monitor the status of our next flight (on time, of course) and determine which gates we would arrive at and depart from (different terminals, of course). We landed with 20 minutes before our next flight was due to depart.  Figuring we had nothing to lose, we opted to try to make it to the plane before it left.  We bolted from the plane and began running through the terminals to our next gate.  You might think that as runners, we’d be all set for this type of challenge.  Our problem is that we had not had the foresight to include running with a backpack and pulling a suitcase into our training.  We did learn that you can make really good time when you run on the people-mover conveyor belts.  Once we were in the right terminal we only had to run past 28 gates before reaching ours.  As our gate came into view the area was alarmingly empty with the exception of the gate attendants at the desk.  I waved to them as we careened up to the desk “Home Alone” style. They greeted us by name and called down the boarding tunnel to alert the crew that we were on our way.

As we boarded the plane, the flight attendants pointed out the two remaining seats. I settled into my seat beside a gracious stranger, gratefully caught my breath and said a silent thank you that I had remembered to apply deodorant after I showered at 3:00 a.m.

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I took a few photos on the plane to send to one of my small clients who loves planes.  (I do, too!)

We had signed up for the Bob Coleman Winter Run 10K in  Mississippi on Saturday so planned to drive to Jackson on Friday.  Our route went right through Mobile, Alabama where we were running on Sunday so we decided to stop for lunch there on our way.  The Dumbwaiter Restaurant came up as a good option on Yelp so we decided to give it a try.

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We loved the cool atmosphere and the excellent service.

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This gumbo was divine.

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The chocolate bread pudding had Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Heath Bar pieces in it. Oolala!

Mike, being the gracious gentleman that he is, made good on our earlier wager and paid for lunch since we had miraculously arrived on time.

It was chilly, even by Maine standards, the next morning when we arrived at the start of the Bob Coleman Winter Run 10k in Clinton, Mississippi.  The drive from Jackson along the Natchez Trace Parkway was beautiful and serene and gave us a preview of our course since the race is run along that road.  As we picked up our numbers and shirts and made the inevitable trip to the (amazingly short) port-a-potty line I was struck with the thought that no matter where we are running, runners are always the same.  It was somehow reassuring to be surrounded by a group of like-minded, enthusiastic, pleasant individuals even though we were in a completely unfamiliar location.

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Somehow Mike ended up being #1, confirming what we’ve known all along.

The relatively small group of 10K runners gathered at the start and after a few announcements we were on our way along the scenic route.

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We ran along the side of the road since the route was not closed to traffic. Several police cars traveled up and down the course to ensure that drivers were cautious as they drove past us.  The biggest obstacle for us (me) was watching out for raised reflective markers along the painted line.  We don’t have these very helpful traffic markers in Maine due to repeated plowing of the roads so it was a bit of a new experience.

We felt great as we ran along the route.  Although it was chilly and there were no leaves on the trees, the sound of songbirds definitely made it feel more spring-like than the weather we had just left.

The race benefited CARA-Community Animal Rescue and Adoption which is a local no-kill animal shelter. Having adopted many animals over the years from shelters in our area, we were pleased to be able to support this cause. Mike continued his lucky streak and won a nifty neon orange knit cap in the after-race raffle.

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Here is our requisite awkward post-race selfie.

After quickly showering and packing up we left our hotel and headed to the nearest Waffle House for our post-race breakfast. Being Northerners,  we had never been to what I’ve heard is a veritable institution in the south.  Bon Appetit had a great article about Waffle Houses and I had heard on NPR that FEMA actually rates a disaster based on the level of operation at the local Waffle House. Getting to the closest one meant driving about two miles. They are everywhere, not unlike Dunkin Donuts in the north.

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I’m blaming it on the post-race high but I was almost giddy to be eating at a Waffle House. I could hardly keep from blurting out that I was a newbie to our waitress.  (Well, I think I may have actually told her but, like everyone else we encountered on our trip to the south, she was very friendly and hospitable despite having an endorphin-crazed Northerner on her hands).  Pathetic, I know, but true.

Because Mobile was in the midst of its Mardi Gras, we had decided to head back there after the Mississippi race in order to experience more of the festivities. Once in the city we noticed that the majority of people were carrying empty bags. We knew that beads were often thrown off of floats but we were intrigued that spectators were clearly anticipating some significant loot.

We hadn’t eaten since our Waffle House experience so happily returned to the Dumbwaiter Restaurant.  Since we just wanted a drink and appetizers we sat at the bar where we chatted with the bartender who filled us in on the Mobile Mardi Gras,  which is actually the country’s original Mardi Gras.

Mike sampled a couple of beers including a Lazy Magnolia that he loved.

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We liked this glass so much I bought one to add to our collection.

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The Dumbwaiter’s green tomato stack and baked oysters bienville were a perfect pre-parade indulgence.

The Dumbwaiter Restaurant is just around the corner from the parade route so finding a spot to view the parade was easy.  As we waited for the parade to begin we were surprised to be entertained by the Mobile motorcycle police officers as they drove in circles, zoomed up and down the road, and generally “cowboyed around” (Mike’s phrase) as they patrolled the area prior to the start of the parade.  I later wondered if the Mobile police department is able to recruit new officers readily when young parade spectators are inspired to join the force after watching the fun the department exhibits during the parades.

Once the parade began, Mike and I were stunned by the incredible floats that the Mystics of Time presented.

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knightMasked riders on horseback preceded most floats.  As horse owners,we were truly impressed with the calm, steadfast horses that didn’t seem phased in the least as their riders flung strings of beads into the screaming crowds, while marching band drums beat so loudly they reverberated in our chests, and spectators hung from open second floor windows and called for things to be thrown to them.

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You can see the masked throwers on this float.

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People were at every second story window.  Some even held nets out in order to collect the flying goods.

The high school marching bands were plentiful and impressive.

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As the parade continued we went from casual spectators to completely enthralled participants as we waved and yelled to encourage them to “Throw me something, Mister!”. We were rewarded with beads, Moon Pies, a glow stick, giant sunglasses, a huge plastic toothbrush, a plastic oinking pig, a ball, and a plastic cup which conveniently listed the next five Mardi Gras dates. Luckily, a small boy was standing next to us so we were able to share/unload the items we didn’t want to pack into our suitcases.  But we left the parade festooned with beads and more.

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This building was lit up in changing Mardi Gras colors.

We had chosen to run in Mobile after reading about the Joe Cain Classic 5K race.  The Mardi Gras theme appealed to us (even before we knew there was a full-fledged Mardi Gras in the city, as well). So it was not surprising to find the race volunteers dressed in extravagent Mardi Gras attire.  Mike and I adorned ourselves with the beads we had nabbed the night before and felt ready to join the festivities.

The out and back course is billed as flat, fast, and ugly…and I don’t think they were just referring to me in this photo, although that certainly is awful! We ran past the jail and as the race website describes it, “a scenic scrap yard”.  The proceeds from this race benefit challenged athletes.

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Photo credit: Tim Ard

We had a good run and were pleased with our efforts.

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But the best part of the race was the block party after we ran. We have run a LOT of races and we’ve decided this was definitely the best after-race event we’ve ever been to. The block party was held on a little side street a few blocks from the end of the race.  Houses were decorated for Mardi Gras.

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The non-stop music was fabulous and absolutely added to the very festive vibe.  There was a huge array of food including Southern treats like grits and pimento cheese sandwiches. We had enjoyed two beers by 9:30 a.m. and it seemed perfectly normal given the party atmosphere.

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“Joe Cain” was at the party, as well!

partyWe would have loved to stay longer and hang around for the official Joe Cain Day parade but, alas we had to head back to Pensacola to catch our flight. It was tough to leave such a great party but we consoled ourselves with lunch at Felix’s Fish Camp on our way out of town.

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IMG_6130This provided us one more chance to drink sweet tea and sample more Southern cuisine. The atmosphere was fun and the service was excellent.  We left Mobile reluctantly but grateful that we had, once again, had an opportunity to explore a new region with all of the varied food, drink, and experiences that it had to offer.

States: Mississippi and Alabama

Dates Run: Bob Coleman Winter 10K-February 6, 2016

Joe Cain Classic 5K  – February 7, 2016

Race #: 23 and 24

The Bottom Line: Arranging to run two races on consecutive days took a bit of planning but the effort was totally worthwhile.  The Bob Coleman Winter Run was a lovely 10K along a scenic, quiet historic route.  We were pleased to be able to support CARA, the local animal shelter, with our registration fees.

Serendipitously ending up in Mobile during the height of Mardi Gras was a true highlight of our adventure.  Although being on this quest to try to run a race in every state tends to interfere with our desires to return to places we have visited, we have already earmarked the Joe Cain Classic as a race we truly hope to run again.

 

 

Vermont-Maple Leaf Half Marathon and Kotler 5K

Considering that my sister, Kate, lives in Vermont and that it is an easy three hour drive from our home in Maine, it was surprising that we didn’t run a race in Vermont until three years into our quest.  However, we eventually chose the Kotler 5K which is part of the Maple Leaf Half Marathon event.  Running in Vermont gave us the chance to visit with Kate at her spacious country home in the quiet village of Windham.

katie lrBecause her home is just a few doors down from the town church which has the distinction of being the church situated at the highest elevation in Vermont, running from her home offers a wicked hill workout.

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The view from her home across to the mountains is gorgeous.

On the day of the race, we made the scenic half hour drive to Manchester, where the race took place. It is a terrific Vermont town that offers a multitude of restaurants and shops in a stunning valley setting surrounded by the dramatic Green Mountains

We arrived at the Dana Thompson Recreational Park in Manchester where the race began and enjoyed the lovely amenity of ample on-site parking.  As we waited to begin the race, a young trumpeter played the national anthem which provided a truly moving send-off. Our 5K course went through the town and down pleasant residential side roads. At one point, a string trio serenaded us at the side of the road. Near the end of the course we ran on a gravel path through the woods.  As we approached a small wooden bridge we could hear the familiar notes of “Anchors Away” wafting towards us.  Crossing the bridge, we spotted the trumpeter from the start tucked down beside the stream  It was such a fun surprise at the end of our course.  We crossed the finish line hand-in-hand back at the recreational park and were surprised to be presented with this gorgeous pressed-glass medal that was crafted by a local artisan.

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We hadn’t anticipated a medal for completing a 5K and we certainly had not expected the bonus of this exquisite craftsmanship.  At the awards ceremony, winners received slate squares and age group winners were given wooden cutting boards.  (I was 4th in my group…so close!)

As we waited for the half marathon runners to come in we enjoyed an extensive spread of yummy food including cheddar cheese, fruit, made-to-order sandwiches, bagels and assorted spreads, and more. It was truly a scrumptious after-race “buffet”. Instead of a t-shirt we received a spiffy nylon backpack that we have since used multiple times.  We decided to treat ourselves to matching hats, as well.

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You get a glimpse of the mountains in the background (and the strap of my backpack on my shoulder).

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If there was a dialogue bubble over Mike’s head, I’m pretty sure it would say, “WHY is she making me pose for another photo?”  But since he is an unfailingly great sport, he played along.

Because Kate was still busy selling her famous focaccia at the West River Farmers’ Market that morning we stopped at this adorable bistro in Manchester for coffee before meeting her.

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We were able to make it back to Londonderry to the farmers’ market before it was over. It’s a superb market situated along the West River offering a multitude of food and craft vendors.  Live music and a convivial vibe create a fun and festive atmosphere.

When we met Kate, we couldn’t stop exclaiming over how much we had enjoyed our race. The course, swag, and refreshments were awesome.  It is one of our favorite races and we would highly recommend it.  The chance to spend the weekend with Kate was a huge added bonus.  It is possible for others to enjoy that perk, as well, because Kate is now offering rooms through Airbnb at Windham Maples. Her guests have raved about their stays and although we may be a tad bit biased, we wholeheartedly agree.

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We love sitting on the back deck which overlooks a small ravine.

If you are a runner, we would encourage you to consider adding the 38th Maple Leaf Half Marathon or Kotler 5K to your race calendar on Saturday, September 10, 2016. This year the race is partnering with Make-A Wish.  As of this writing, the half marathon registration is a very reasonable $55.00 and the 5K is $25.

Whether or not running a race is on your calendar, if you are looking for a wonderful Vermont get-away, we’d suggest you consider a trip to Windham Maples.

katie treesThe foliage in the fall is spectacular.  In the winter there are major ski areas close by as well as lovely quiet cross country ski trails just around the corner from Kate’s home. Venturing to Vermont in the late winter and spring offers an opportunity to experience maple sugaring. Kate’s trees are tapped by a local sugarer. And of course, summer in Vermont is fabulous and will allow you to add in a trip to the West River Farmer’s Market, as well.  No matter when or why you go, it’s sure to be a treat.
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State: Vermont

Date Run: 9/7/13

Quest Race #: 14

The Bottom Line: If you are looking for a terrific fall half marathon or 5K or even just a lovely destination for a weekend trip, we highly recommend venturing to Vermont.  The race was well organized, offered wonderful perks, and was held in a beautiful location. If you want to be guaranteed top-notch hospitality, I can also personally recommend staying at Windham Maples.  A post-race trip into Manchester followed by a visit to the West River Farmers’Market will round out your weekend experience

Women's Running Community

 

 

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).IMG_5605

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.

IMG_5622The 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.

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Have you noticed Mike and I like different kinds of beer?

After 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.

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I went with the classic hot fudge sundae and Mike ordered the Quad-City Special which is designed to look like a riverboat.

When 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.

 

Outer Banks, North Carolina.

After we reserved a house on the Outer Banks for our extended family’s week-long vacation, we began our search for a race that would allow us to check North Carolina off of our quest list. The Nag’s Head Village 5K, which occurs weekly during the summer, is run on a Thursday which fit in perfectly to our Saturday to Saturday vacation schedule.

This race is one of several that Outer Banks Runcations runs weekly during the summer. Their open walk-up registration works great for vacationers who decide to run spur of the moment or aren’t ready to commit to a race ahead of time. Amelia and Matt joined us and signed up for the race, too. Everyone that runs gets a t-shirt, medal, and a “gift”.  Our gift was a “Run OBX” Runcations sticker.

The course, which is virtually flat, traveled through a lovely, quiet neighborhood that borders a golf course.  It was an out and back route which gave us a chance to cheer for Matt and Amelia as they looped back to the finish line more than 5 minutes ahead of us.

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We were happy with our pace and our final time.  I was also pleased to find a decent race photo of me from the professional photographer who was on the course and at the finish.  While Mike almost always looks terrific, phrases such as “crippled spider” come to mind when I look at most of my images.

nag's head on course

As we crossed the finish line we received a hefty medal, a bottle of water, and (at that moment) the best post-race perk I could imagine…a cold, wet towel that we got to keep (our second “gift”).

The awards ceremony was brief since they only announced the first place male and female finishers.  However, we had each received an email before we got back to the house with not only our time and pace, but the weather, including temperature (75 degrees), wind (5 mph) and humidity (78%) and our overall and age group place and percentile. Amelia was first in her age group which was terrific but sadly not acknowledged beyond our family.

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nag's head finish line

Being able to run a race in North Carolina to check off our 21st state in our quest was great.  But we also really enjoyed our other runs that week. Ending a run with views like these was wonderful.

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IMG_5243Besides running, the week was filled with lots of time at the beach where we marveled at being in the water and not having our extremities immediately go numb as they do when we dare to venture into our frigid Maine waters.

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Here are a few images of the rest of the week.IMG_5304

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While the actual race was fun and satisfying, having our family with us on this most recent venture truly made our time in North Carolina much more cherished than our t-shirt, medal, or knowing that we had completed a race in our twenty-first state. As we’ve traveled to the 21 states that we have run in so far, we have realized that it’s actually the entire journey, not just the race, that we savor the most.

State: North Carolina

Date Run: August 13, 2015

Quest Race #: 21

The Bottom Line: The Nag’s Head 5K was a convenient, well-organized race with nice swag that was a fun addition to our fabulous week on the Outer Banks.

Do you run or race on vacation?

What was your best post-race perk?