Up and Down…Travels in Idaho, Running in Utah, and the Arrival of an Angel

When we thought of Idaho, we thought of potatoes.  That was our uninitiated impression of the state. After our great race in Idaho Falls we made a beeline for the Idaho Potato Museum…of course!

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We had no idea that there could be so much to learn about potatoes! This expansive potato masher display was just a fraction of what we found inside.

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As riveting as the museum was we were anxious to get on the road. My childhood friend, Amy, now lives in Hailey, Idaho and had graciously offered to host us at her home.  She had warned us that the drive from Idaho Falls to Hailey offered few options for food or other services so we had planned ahead.  But we were stunned to encounter miles of dramatic lava fields along the way. We had no idea that lava fields are a major part of southern Idaho.

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We encountered Hell’s Half Acre Trail not too far out of Idaho Falls. A walk along the trail was informative but sweltering.

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As we continued our drive we passed miles of what looked like low rolling hills of crumbling asphalt studded with sage brush.  The lava fields were immense.

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Eventually we headed north and the landscape changed to ranch lands and finally mountains.  We arrived at Amy’s in Hailey, a picturesque mountain town south of Sun Valley, in early evening.  Amy had arranged for dinner at The Grill at Knob Hill Inn. Our dinner could not have been more perfect.  Sitting in the garden on that balmy evening we caught up on each other’s lives as we savored a truly fabulous meal.  And if that hadn’t been enough, Amy had also gotten us tickets for the outdoor Sun Valley ice showNathan Chen, the Olympic skater, was the headliner.  Our seats were so close we could hear the skaters’ blades on the ice as they whizzed by just feet from us.

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The show was mesmerizing.  It was a spectacular way to cap off our day which had begun with running our Idaho race, included driving through miles of unexpected lava fields, and ended with a sumptuous dinner and a perfect evening of catching up with our long-time friend.

The next day was spent exploring the area surrounding Amy’s home and Sun Valley.

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We took the gondola to the top of the mountain and enjoyed lunch and fabulous views.  We asked our waiter to snap a photo of us and he rapidly dipped and darted around us and in less than a minute he had taken an array of shots from various angles.  It was obvious that he was well practiced in accommodating guests.

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That evening we were able to walk along the river from Amy’s home into town for dinner.

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Amy pointed out the “heart tree” where people leave heart-shaped river rocks.

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After several wonderful days of reminiscing and touring we hit the road to head to Utah. The drive south to Salt Lake City brought us through acres of ranches and fields of  soybeans and corn.

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Once we arrived in the city we picked up our race packets, had a quick lunch and drove by Temple Square and the Salt Lake Temple. Ready to get to our hotel, I clicked the address link in our hotel confirmation email and we set off. More than an hour later we had repeatedly arrived at an address that was clearly not our hotel. We tried all sorts of routes and maps and finally, feeling utterly exasperated, we pulled over into a parking lot.  We were completely immersed in perusing our maps when suddenly I looked up and a woman had appeared at my window. She said she was about to close up the building at the head of the parking lot and wanted to be sure we hadn’t needed to go in.  We confessed we were lost and were just trying to figure out how to get to our hotel.  After we shared the address she assured us we were not far and gave us directions.  We gushed our relief and gratitude and drove off hoping to be at our hotel momentarily. After a few turns we pulled into a gas station to get gas and confirm the rest of the directions. As Mike pumped gas and I checked my phone I glanced up to find our guardian angel standing at my window! Once again, I hadn’t seen her approaching and she had just materialized.  She apologetically assured us she wasn’t stalking us but had second thoughts about the directions she had given us.  I showed her my phone with the hotel address and she informed us that after all of our travels we were not even in Salt Lake City anymore.  Well, that was obviously the first problem!  She gave us new directions and with immense relief we soon pulled into our hotel.  Ironically, a bit later as we were heading out to dinner we passed a gentleman who asked if Mike could assist him with a seat that he was struggling with in his rental car.  Mike worked with him to figure it out and as we continued to the restaurant we were pleased that we had been able to “pay it forward” a bit, too.

We had been surprised to find a Tuesday race in Utah when we had been scanning the Running in the USA website. A midweek race is really helpful when we are trying to run in more than one state on a trip.  We had read that the Deseret News Marathon (which also includes a half marathon, 10k, and 5K) was held on Pioneer Day, which is celebrated on July 24th to commemorate when Brigham Young and his Mormon pioneer followers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.  It is a BIG holiday! There is a huge parade and lots of celebrating.  On the night before the Twenty-fourth (as we learned they refer to the day) we walked past a liquor store where there were so many customers streaming in, they needed a traffic officer to manage the crowds.

Tuesday morning we left the hotel before dawn. The race website listed a descriptive starting spot but not an address.  Unfortunately, not being locals, finding this location proved elusive.

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Eventually we did track it down but unfortunately it wasn’t until the race was close to starting.  It was clear that our chances of making it through the port-a-potty line before the gun went off were non-existent. Since our 10K course also ran along the marathon course, there were bathrooms along the route.  Problem solved.

The course started with an invigorating downhill stretch.  The pastel early morning sky against the dark mountains was beautiful. I felt great! And then I didn’t. An unexpectedly long wait to make a pit stop at mile 2 seemed to derail me. When I started up again I had no energy. I began taking walking breaks. Mike valiantly stuck with me despite my snail’s pace.  Even the throngs of spectators who lined the course waiting for the parade to start couldn’t rally me. I truly had never felt this awful in a race. Eventually the finish line appeared and Mike and I joined hands for the last several feet for our traditional finish.   This time although it may have looked charming, that physical connection helped get me over the finish line.  I am seldom pleased with race photos but the shots from this race are epically awful-but accurately depict how I felt at that moment. (The omission of a photo here is deliberate!)

After crossing the finish line I felt so ill it took me a bit to regain a semblance of normalcy.  My typical post-race enthusiasm was tempered by disappointment over my lousy race.

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But eventually I perked up enough to ask Mike to take our requisite awkward documentation selfie. And we bolstered our thoughts by reminding ourselves that we had just completed our run in Utah and our 37th state race, even if it hadn’t turned out as well as we had hoped.

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As we rode the shuttle bus back to the start we chatted about the race and we laughed at my possibly delirious thoughts as I took the bunch of grapes handed to me by gloved young men in black pants and white shirts just past the finish line. First, I thought what a good idea it was to avoid having sweaty runners reach into a pile to pick up their own grapes.  And secondly I marveled that this race was being catered and we were being served by smartly dressed wait staff.  And then when I had looked closer and read their name tags, I realized that we were in Utah and these helpful young men were members of the Mormon church.  Oh, brother!

With our races behind us we were ready to switch into vacation mode.  We packed up the car and traveled south to begin exploring several of Utah’s iconic National Parks.

Quest Race #: 37

State: Utah

Date Run: July 24, 2018

Bottom Line: Spending a few days reconnecting with our generously welcoming friend, Amy, was a true highlight of our trip.  Although my Utah race experience was not what I had hoped for we were happy to have completed another state race and we still have fond memories of our angel.

Seattle and Lake Union 10K

 

While the iconic Space Needle is synonymous with Seattle, flying fish, a ferris wheel that soars over Puget Sound, and a phenomenal blown glass exhibit were what really made our Seattle trip memorable.

Having checked all but four states east of the Mississippi off of our quest list but only three to the west we signed up for races in Washington and Oregon.  We flew from Boston to Seattle on Virgin America.  This was our first time using this airline and we had a great experience.

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The cool purple lighting added a neat ambiance.

Strangely, one of the highlights of our flight was their safety video.  And stranger still, when we got on our connecting flight we were actually excited that we would be able to watch the video again!.

We  headed directly to Pike Place Market on Saturday morning following a tip from some Washington runners that we had met in Maine earlier this summer.

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As soon as we entered the market we knew we were in the right place because the fish market was surrounded by scores of tourists with their cameras poised to snap a picture of a flying fish. When a customer chose a fish the fish monger at the front of the display tossed it to the guys behind the counter.  Often the fish flew back and forth a few times accompanied by a distinctive call.  I wasn’t able to capture this on video but this excerpt from YouTube depicts it perfectly.

The market is also known for its flowers.

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Everyone seemed to be walking by with giant, gorgeous bouquets. One man told us he had paid only $10.00 for his stunning collection of blooms.

We walked a mile from the market to the Space Needle but after discovering that there was a two hour wait to take the elevator to the top we opted for the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit adjacent to it. We paid our admission and planned to wander around the display for a bit.  But we were immediately transfixed by the overwhelming color, design, and extravagance of the creations. We truly could not refrain from taking photo after photo.  I don’t think  I’ve ever been somewhere where so many observers also seemed to be overcome by the magnificence of the exhibition.

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We left the exhibit a bit stunned by our unexpectedly fabulous experience and made our way back to the market.  We were tired, thirsty, and hungry so after climbing a small mountain of stairs back up to the Market we arrived at Red Cedar and Sage.

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Just sitting down at the bar felt great but sampling two local beers accompanied by a remarkably delicious egg salad sandwich felt even better. When we were joined by a pleasantly chatty  fellow traveler we couldn’t resist convincing him to venture to the Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibit. As we conversed, two complimentary orange rosemary sorbet mimosas were placed in front of us. They were fabulous.

It would have been easy to have wiled away the afternoon drinking and conversing at the bar but we departed and walked the short distance to the Seattle Great Wheel.

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The views as we rode over the water were spectacular.

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The almost surreal sight of Mount Rainier never failed to thrill us-even when it was more than 60 miles away.

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We left downtown Seattle to pick up our race packets and shirts for the Lake Union 10K which we were running the next day. We loved the gender-specific race shirts.

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Finding the race location the next morning was a breeze. We thought it was fitting that we could see the Space Needle from that location, too.IMG_6845

As the name suggests, the race takes place around Lake Union. While we waited for the race to begin we wandered down to the waterfront where we were pleasantly surprised to find a display of historic boats.

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Strolling along the dock learning about various noteworthy vessels was certainly a new but entertaining way to spending the pre-race time.  We encountered a local couple and when they noticed Mike’s Beach to Beacon volunteer shirt we began talking about running in Maine.We urged them to attempt to get into what we think is one of the best races ever.

When the race started we joined about 1200 other runners on the course around the lake. The mostly flat course traveled through lake-side neighborhoods, across two draw bridges, and along various paved trails.

We were pleased with our finishing time and the completion of our 26th state.

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Notice the Space Needle popping up behind my head.

A signature feature of this race is the post race breakfast provided by Portage Bay, also the major race sponsor.

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We were thrilled that the beneficiary of this race is Girls on the Run. I even chose Girls on the Run on my Charity Miles app and wracked up an additional donation while I ran.

We left the race feeling delighted to have completed another state and eager to continue with our traveling adventure.

The story continues in our next post-Whidbey Island and Mount Rainier National Park.

Have you been to Seattle?  What was your favorite part?

Do you use the Charity Miles app to earn money for terrific causes?

State: Washington

Quest Race: #26

Date Run: August 14, 2016

The Bottom Line: The Lake Union 10K was a pleasant, scenic race in Seattle which provided us with the opportunity to explore Seattle and support a fabulous cause.

 

 

 

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.

ohio Before1He 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.ohio Start.JPG

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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 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.

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Numerous door prizes were distributed and Mike and I were lucky enough to both win something.  I  won a bucket packed with Avon treats.IMG_6555

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!

IMG_6547Ohio 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.

 

Lagomarcino Cocoa Beano 5K-Iowa

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

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

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

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We loved the quaint feel of the restaurant.

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The array of home-made chocolates was delectable.IMG_5599

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Mississippi River at sunset.

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

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

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

State: Iowa

Quest Race #: 22

Date Run: October 24, 2015

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

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.

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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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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?

Volunteering at the Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race

After we decided we wouldn’t try to sign up for the Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race this year, we realized we could still be a part of this incredible event by volunteering.  We have been involved in developing and organizing several small, local road races but we had never volunteered for a race of this magnitude.

We signed up to help at the mile 5 water stop. Having run this race, we remembered how crucial this water stop is.  As the weeks went by, we became more excited about our volunteering adventure. We received emails asking us for our shirt sizes, providing us with general information, and keeping us updated about our duties.

When our invitations to the Volunteer Appreciation Party arrived we were completely surprised.b2b inviteWho knew volunteers got a party?

It was a beautiful, balmy night when we arrived at the stunning ocean-front location for the party. As we walked up to the tent we marveled at how impressively the Beach to Beacon organizers were treating its volunteers.
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We were served drinks and then strolled to the beach to enjoy the view while great live music wafted from the tent.

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We returned to the tent to mingle before dinner.  The first person we spoke to told us that the mile 5 water stop is the best one. How exciting! Everyone that we chatted with was incredibly welcoming and cordial.  We later commented that we shouldn’t have been surprised about that because we were dealing with runners and volunteers-two groups of people that I believe are particularly pleasant.

As we waited in line for the buffet dinner, we were thrilled to have Joan Benoit Samuelson, the founder of the race and the gold medal winner of the first women’s Olympic marathon, stop by to thank us for volunteering.  She was gracious and unpretentious. Having a chance to meet this incredible woman who is a true icon in the sports world and beyond was an immense honor and the highlight of an already terrific night for us.

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During the evening we heard from Dave McGillivray, the director of the Beach to Beacon, as well as the Boston Marathon.  The beneficiary of this year’s Beach to Beacon is the Good Shepherd Food Bank.  Their director spoke to us about the incredibly important work that they are doing, including providing food to children during weekends and holidays when they don’t have access to school meals. This made us more excited about being a part of this phenomenal event.

There was an extensive raffle that included coveted Beach to Beacon beach towels, Fitbits, signed Boston Celtics items, Boston Marathon shirts, and much more.  Although we didn’t win a raffle item, everyone was given a nifty B2B 10K car magnet which made us happy.

IMG_5151We left the evening dazzled by the level of indulgence that the Beach to Beacon organizers bestow on their volunteers.  We had no idea that any of these perks came with the volunteer job.

On race day we arrived at the designated spot to begin volunteering at the famous mile 5 water stop.

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We were met by Connie who has hosted the mile 5 water stop with her husband, Dick, at their home for the 18 years that this race has been run.  She gave us our cool technical style volunteer t-shirts, credentials to wear around our neck, and a bonus Dunkin Donut gift card that we received because we had signed up early.

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Connie and Dick were warm and welcoming.  Everything was calmly organized and there was a lively sense of pride and enthusiasm among the volunteers. We all enjoyed the pot luck breakfast which is a Mile 5 tradition. It was a great opportunity to speak with the other volunteers before the excitement of the race began.

It was calm and quiet on the course early in the morning.

IMG_5182We began to set up the cups and filled them with water.

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Here’s Mike hard at work (in the white hat).

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One more layer to go!

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We had 4 large tables stacked with 3 layers of filled cups!

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Everyone seamlessly found a job and worked together to accomplish this in no time at all.

Then the waiting began.  The wheelchair participants came by first followed by 90 year old, Dottie Gray, the oldest finisher of the race.

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We could tell the front-runners were coming as the cheers and cowbells down the road became intense.

Stephen Kosgei Kibet of Kenya was the leader at the 5 mile mark and ended up winning the entire race. It was fabulous to be able to witness the elite runners in action just feet from us. In the past, our only glimpse of these world-class runners had been on stage at the awards ceremony.

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Within a few minutes there was a steady stream of runners zooming by.  We were a bit stunned by the intensity and speed with which they snatched a cup without the hint of slowing down.

Soon the course was packed with runners who were running at impressive paces.  These runners mostly dashed by with their eyes straight ahead.  A few nabbed a cup and sped off.  But shortly, the number of runners increased notably while their pace became slower.

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IMG_5198These were the runners that were more familiar to me.  They are the ones that surround me when I run.  Their pace is slow enough that they can easily grab the cup.  They attempt to put their empty cups in the trash. They may even take a brief walking break while they drink their water.  They said, “thank you” and seemed especially appreciative (although sometimes confused) when we called out their names and some encouragement.  Every bib number has the runner’s name printed in big letters so that it’s easy to yell out specific encouragement.  I know I was at mile 5 the last time I ran the race when I heard someone call my name.  I looked up, stunned, to see who knew me.  It was just a kind stranger who had read my name and yelled out to give me a boost.

Soon, the flow of runners had dwindled to more of a trickle but the shouts of encouragement stayed strong.  Some of these runners were struggling but they were doing it.  Step by step they were getting closer and closer to crossing the finish line of the Beach to Beacon.

There was now time to begin the clean up of the hundreds of cups that made the road look like it had snowed, as one volunteer observed. Again, everyone just pitched in and the course was cup-free in an astonishingly short time.

Before we knew it, we were having a group photo taken and everyone was heading their separate ways.  Mike and I absolutely agree that the mile 5 water stop is unquestionably the best!  The warm welcome we were given as newcomers and the excitement of seeing the runners of all levels “up close and personal” was terrific. We were stunned by the extraordinary gratitude that the organizers and participants showed the volunteers. We loved having the chance to give back a little after being on the receiving end of countless volunteers’ efforts. The entire experience, set to an incredible soundtrack that played throughout the day, made this a fabulous event that we can’t wait to repeat next year!

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Have you volunteered at a race?

What was your favorite part?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quest Race #: 20

State: West Virginia

Date Run: June 20, 2015

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