Friday, May 31, 2013

Alaska in the Works

Something particularly special happens in June.  I pass a major birthday milestone...
in fact, one of life's major milestones.   So what better way to celebrate this
important birthday than to run a half-marathon in Anchorage, Alaska?! 
 
 
Last summer I began to look ahead to 2013 and to plan what states I wanted to add to my "half marathon in every state" quest.  I was searching for a half-marathon in Alaska when I came across this race in Anchorage.   This is it!  this is the one I want to run!  The race is on June 22, the day after my birthday and the day after I turn 65.  At 65 I move into the next age group,  and an increasingly rarified female runners' age group at that.   

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Getting to Alaska has been a dream of mine for several years, and in 2013 that dream will come true.  In less than three weeks I'll be stepping off that airplane and at that point I'll be able to say,  "I've visited all 50 U.S. states in my lifetime!" 

Once I discovered this Anchorage race, I worked on my plans for the trip all during the summer of 2012.   I found and booked a room at a great hotel near downtown and went ahead and booked my airfare.  I began researching where to visit, what activities I wanted to do, started bookmarking websites, and getting on email lists.  And waiting for the Mayors Marathon registration page to open.  Slowly the plan started to come together over the winter. 

Here's what the plan looks like so far:

18 June - arrive in Anchorage and check in to the hotel near the downtown area.

19 June - explore the city and adjust to the time zone change.  Find a grocery store and buy toiletries and some snacks and some breakfast foods, especially for race-day morning.

20 June - Day trip to Denali National Park

Day drive to Denali

21 June - My birthday!!  Pick up my race packet for the Mayor's Marathon/Half Marathon and stay rested and hydrated.  Have dinner with "lower-48" friends who will also be in Anchorage, one of whom will also be running the race. 


22 June - Walk out the front door of my hotel at 8:45AM and to the nearby starting line to run the Mayor's Half Marathon!  Rest and recover, then have a celebratory dinner with a friend - fellow runner - and his wife.
Half marathon route
23 June - Open

24 June - Day drive on the Porter Glacier Highway through North America's longest highway tunnel to Whittier, ferry ride to Valdez, and then return to Anchorage via Glennallen, gawking at glaciers, waterfalls, and wildlife along the way.  Many photo opportunities on this route!

Photo banner
I'll drive through this tunnel to get to Whittier and the ferry dock

The Valdez-Whittier Ferry


Anchorage-Whittier-ferry-Valdez-Glennallen-Anchorage route
25 June - Open

26 June - check out of the Anchorage hotel and drive to Seward, staying the next two nights.

27 June - Kenai Fjords National Park sightseeing cruise.

The tour boat
 
Our tour cruise route
 
28 June - check out of the hotel in Seward and sightsee the Kenai peninsula by car.  Return to Anchorage for my flight home at midnight.

Seward-Kenai-Anchorage drive route
 
The next three weeks are going to drag as I anticipate this trip!!  This will be a fantastic experience and I hope I can make the most of my time and take a whole lot of great photographs!!
 
Coming up:  Three weeks of trying to keep up with my training in this outrageous heat and humidity here in South Texas!  It was 78 degrees and 92% humidity this morning at 6:00AM!  Ugh!

 
 


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Go, Girl.....Run!

Never in a million years did I expect that my trip to run these two half-marathons would finish this way!  As I write this, a few days after returning home from Columbia MO, I'm still feeling a bit of disbelief.   But more about that later.

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After spending a few days in Hannibal MO, I moved to Stoney Creek Inn, a very pretty hotel in Columbia MO.  The Go Girl Run Half Marathon will start and finish just 1/2 mile down the road - within a pleasant walking distance.  I know because the first thing I did after checking into the hotel, I took a stroll to check it out.

Ever since I signed up for this race, I'd been worrying about the weather, worried that it would be hot and humid on race day.  When I started this trip 10 days earlier, the forecast was too long-range to be a sure thing so I packed both a short-sleeved shirt and a sleeveless shirt for this race.  For that matter, I did the same for the Quincy IL race the weekend before, which turned out to be a hot race day morning. 

By the eve before the Go Girl race, the race day morning forecast was for mid-50s temps at the start, warming to about 70 by the time I would cross the finish line.  My decision was made...I'd wear the short-sleeve shirt and might be a little chilled at first, but would soon warm up once underway.

So race day morning, out the door I walked and headed down the hill toward a small park and the start line.  It's an all-woman race...no men allowed.  There were maybe 400-500 half-marathon runners and about as many 5K runners, those shorter race participants starting 15 minutes after we do. 

It was cloudy and chilly....just as long as it doesn't start raining, we'd be okay.  

The course was fantastic!  It immediately took us up a long uphill stretch but then sent us barreling down the backside of that hill where we picked up the trail system.  Much of the race route will be on one of these beautifully groomed packed sand-and-gravel trails, the absolutely gorgeous MKT Trail, which is part of the "Rails to Trails" programs that can be found all over the country.
 


It was lush and heavily wooded, running across the occasional wooden bridge over streams and small rivers, and with no sign of "civilization" visible at all from the trail.  Beautifully smooth and flat with a stream running along-side at some points along the way. 

= = =  TMI Alert   = = =

About 3 or 4 miles into the race I felt like I needed to pee.  We had a long section of the route in the early miles that were deep in the woods on the trail and there were no support services provided along this stretch.  But I'm surrounded by dense woods with occasional primitive trails cutting off the main trail here and there....and I'm running among other women, no men.  So I ducked down one of the small little primitive trails for a few feet and then proceeded to take care of business.  I tried to be as discreet as possible, revealing as little flesh as I could.  This mostly resulted in more urine wetting my shorts than the ground beneath me. 
= = =  End of TMI Alert  = = =

So now I had a dark wet stain down one side of my light gray running shorts.  Maybe no one will notice.  Or....maybe it will start to rain and hide the evidence.  It had been rumbling thunder off in the distance for a while and the skies to the southwest were starting to seriously darken. 

Well....be careful of what you ask for.  Within the next mile it began to spit rain a bit. Then it hit.
The temperature seemed to plummet with the first wave of heavy, gusty rains.  I was freezing!  Before long, my hands were aching from the cold and my torso was seriously chilled.  It was a battle to keep moving forward but we were so far away from the start/finish line that there really was no other choice but to keep at it.  

Go Girl Run! race route

In the middle miles of the race, we were off the trail and out on city streets and sidewalks, not under the relative protection of tree canopy, and we were getting pummeled!  It reminded me of the Mardi Gras Half Marathon in Galveston last year...but in that race I was at least wearing my Brooks jacket.  I was really wishing I had that jacket right about now!

A few miles of this and we were routed back onto trails for another couple of miles.   But the protection was short-lived at mile 8 when we were sent back out onto a major road - and a major uphill - for another mile.  But once we conquered that hill, we were returned to the trail system for the rest of the race.  And it was a great race for me!  I was still (mostly) running by the last mile or two of the race, and was feeling good, especially since I'd just run a half marathon seven days earlier.

As I neared the finish line, was within a few yards of crossing it, I sensed someone running behind me and coming up very fast.  We crossed the finish line at nearly the same time and she managed to elbow me out of the way of the only person at the finish line assigned to remove the timing chips from our shoes.  So I waited my turn, then quickly lost sight of her.  She looked like she could be in my age group....no doubt she was trying to make a "play" for finish position.

Finisher's medal on left, 3rd place finisher medal on right.
At this race, as at the race last week, the timing chip company had tables just past the finish line where we could get our finish times and ranking there on the spot.  I didn't think to do it last week and therefore missed out on claiming my 2nd place finish award.  I wasn't going to make that mistake again this time, especially since the technology is being offered to us.  I walked over there and claimed my printout and sure enough....there it was!!  3rd Place in my age group!

Age group podium finishers - 3rd place for me
All finishers got a finisher's medal but also a really nice, engraved wine glass.  The perfect vessel to fill with a fabulous fruit smoothie, offered in three different flavors, along with fresh fruit, protein bars, and other goodies in the finish line area.

I wandered over to the stage area, where the finishers' awards ceremony was underway.  They were just starting to announce the 60-64 age group awards as I walked up.  The announcer started with the 2nd place winner, so I walked up to the foot of the stage and said, "And I'm the 3rd place winner," and handed him my printout slip.  Talk about perfect timing!  I joined the 2nd place winner on the stage and the announcer continued on with the 1st place winner with hardly a delay or break in the action.

Then someone was putting podium finish medals around our necks, "gold" for first, "silver" for second, and "bronze" for me - I was elated and could hardly process this!  I'd just had an age-group podium finish last weekend..two back-to-back races!  I've never placed in my age group in a half-marathon before.  I've come in 2nd twice and 4th once in 5K races, but this is a first for me! 

My feet barely touched the ground as I walked up that steep 1/2 mile hill back to the hotel.  The euphoria stayed with me as I showered, dressed, packed the car up and checked out of the hotel.  It stayed with me all the way to my stopping point for the night - Miami OK.  I couldn't wait to get home and hang my new medals on my medal rack.  I would hang that 3rd place finishers' medal with pride!

Here's what the 50 States-50 Half Marathons map looks like now:  North and South are now firmly joined together with these last two states colored in.


Next up:  Anchorage Alaska and the Mayors' Half Marathon on June 22, the day after my 65th birthday.  With this race, I'll officially move into the next age group of 65-69, and will officially join the ranks of the Medicare "gang."

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Bit of Mark Twain Along the Mississippi

With race plans made for Quincy IL and another one planned for the next weekend in Columbia MO, I cast about in search of a suitable place to "park" for a few days in between these two events.  I could book a timeshare at Lakes of the Ozarks, but it was too secluded from activities outside of the resort.  Or I could book a timeshare in Branson, but I quickly ruled that out when I realized it would add 500 miles to my trip.

I gave up on the idea that I could stay somewhere free, i.e. in a timeshare, so turned my search to finding a nice town with enough amenities to at least make my stay comfortable.  I wanted someplace small and quaint, maybe historic, not too far off my ultimate route to Columbia MO, with enough things to do and places to eat that I wouldn't need to always be getting in the car. 

Hannibal MO kept jumping out at me from the map I was poring over as I did my research, and I kept returning back to that town and looking at the lodging choices and things to do and places to eat.  Finally a plan was made.  There's a promising B&B just a couple of blocks from the downtown streets, with good reviews on Tripadvisor.com. 

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The finish line for the Quincy IL race was down along the river in Bicentennial Park.  Great location but it meant I had to "claw" my way back up that ridiculously steep hill on Hampshire Street for two blocks to get to 4th Street and to my hotel.  Not so bad walking back up the day before the race, after taking photos of the bridges, but a killer of a hill after running 13 miles.  How steep was it, you ask?

Hampshire St. - pretty steep hill!

Then I scrambled to get showered and dressed and checked out of the Hampton Inn which was kind enough to give me a late check-out.  It was a short 20 or so miles to Hannibal and I found a KFC in town and had a good, greasy post-race lunch. 
Dubach Inn

As much as I wanted to set out exploring after getting checked in to the Dubach Inn, the really comfortable upholstered chaise chair in the sitting room of my suite kept calling my name (I really must get one of these for my home!).

But Sunday was a different matter!!  I woke up to a carafe of coffee delivered on a tray outside my door and then later had a fabulous breakfast, all part of that B&B experience!  Then it was off to Clarksville, MO about 48 miles south along the Great River Road.  I stopped at one of the overlooks just to take in the vista:







Further down the road toward Clarksville, I spied two juvenile Bald Eagles soaring along the shore of the river.  The river was well out of its banks and I drove by several areas that were flooded, but this region knows how to deal with it.
In Clarksville there was evidence of serious sandbagging on the side streets that dead-ended against the railroad tracks along the edge of the river. 

A very nice restaurant just south of town was my destination....Clarksville Station Restaurant at Overlook Farm.  I was meeting a fellow MTF member to give him a SPOT RAM cradle I'm no longer using and to have lunch.  Carrot soup to die for, and a slice of chocolate cream pie for dessert!  And what a gorgeous restaurant!  Beautiful outdoor patio areas, gardens...


Monday morning after another elegant and delicious breakfast, I walked down to the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum to take the self-guided tour.  It's a collection of several historic buildings clustered together on one street block and consists of his boyhood house and other buildings that played a role in his or his family's life.  Soon after I arrived it began to rain...and then to rain even harder!  I made a dash between the buildings, and then dashed down to the next block where the Mark Twain Museum is located. 

Of all the memorabilia on display here at the museum, the most interesting to me was the complete collection of original Norman Rockwell drawings and paintings that were commissioned to illustrate the novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.   It's the first time that the complete set of illustrations has been together under one roof, ever since one of them went missing and later turned up at auction.  Of course, when I was finished with the museum, I stepped outside to sunshine.  Figures! 

Java Jive is right across the street!  Let's go check it out. I bought a bowl of chili and a cappuccino to take back with me to my room for lunch, all the while suspecting that I may become a regular customer of this great little spot.

At the Mark Twain museum gift shop I purchased a couple of postcards for my grandkids, so after lunch I walked down to the nearby post office to mail them and then took a little walk up 7th Street and meandered around between 5th and 6th streets, taking photos of some of the beautiful old houses.




Reagan's Queen Anne B&B, formerly the Pettibone Mansion

Robards Mansion


Rowe-Cochran House, 1886

News of the Moore OK tornado was hitting the airwaves that afternoon and I was transfixed, watching the news coverage on the weather channel the rest of the afternoon and into the early evening.  At 5:30 I switched to NBC Nightly News and within minutes local weather warnings were beginning to scroll across the bottom of the TV screen.  Uh oh! 

Then the tornado sirens started to go off in Hannibal and I leapt into action, gathering my things and placing them into the interior hallway outside my room.  The proprietor came up the stairs about that time to check on me and offered the basement as shelter if I felt more comfortable. 

One look outside my windows and I didn't waste another minute getting down the stairs and into the basement.  The wind was suddenly ferocious, blowing the trees sideways and the noise was deafening.  Soon we lost power.  Within minutes though, the noise stopped and I ventured back up the cellar stairs and took a peek outside.  It was still raining, but no longer blowing.  It was then that we could see the huge number of large limbs down in the yards and on the streets.

The entire town was without power through the night.  At about 5:30 in the morning power came back to the Dubach Inn and I was relieved.  I had lain awake much of the night doing contingency planning in case the power did not come back. 


The air was sparkly clean and cool after the storm the night before, so I got up very early and went for a little run before breakfast.  I got a better sense of the storm damage as I ran through the streets just west of downtown.  Downed tree limbs barely missing cars and buildings. Huge trees uprooted.  Bits of roof and awnings and fencing strewn everywhere.  Power lines down, entangled in downed trees and branches.   It was an all-too familiar scene for me, having witnessed such destruction at home in South Texas which is at the mercy of regular tropical storms and hurricanes. 


Old Federal Building
After a couple of miles I stopped back at the inn to grab some money and ran on into town to Java Jive.  What better place to get the "scoop" from the locals?  Here I learned from other folks chatting in line that about half the town was still without power, that the most hard-hit section seemed to be an area bounded roughly by Grand St to the east, Broadway Extension to the south, 61 to the west, and I-72 to the north.  I ordered a cappuccino and then walked back to the inn, sipping and enjoying the weather.

Cleaned up, dressed, and another sinfully good breakfast eaten, it was time to plan my day.  Maybe this is the day to take that trolley ride tour of town.  I puttered around town a bit, getting better photos of the Twain buildings, since the rain got in the way of accomplishing that the day before. 

Mark Twain Boyhood Home

Then I went back to my now-familiar and now-favorite place in town - Java Jive - and ordered a sandwich for lunch.  I sat outside on a bench and ate half, saving half for dinner later.  I bought a ticket for the Trolley Tour and at 1:30 PM....away we went, careening up hills, barreling down hills, driving past mansions, past the crews efficiently clearing the downed brush from the storm.  The one-hour tour was shortened by 15 minutes, but I'd had enough anyway.

I think I've seen enough of Hannibal.  That last evening I gathered my possessions, pulling them in closer to my feet so-to-speak, and began thinking about the next leg of my journey.  I leave Hannibal, grateful that I've been an avid student of Twain's many writings, but with a deep desire to again read some of those works I've not touched in a while and to give those works I've not read, their fair due.

Tomorrow:  Moving on down the road to Columbia MO.

...nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature  put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people. - Mark Twain

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Bridge the Gap Race - In The Books!

Update:  I placed 2nd in my age/gender group!!

Well, it was a hot one, all right!  And to think it was only a month ago that I was scraping ice off the windshield the morning of the Carmel, Indiana race. 

This week I watched the forecast for Saturday creep up from ideal starting temps in the low 50's to a start temp of 70 degrees.  This was eerily similar - only in reverse - to a couple of races I ran earlier this year: race day temps much colder than forecast.  Birmingham AL in particular was one where the temperature forecast kept plummeting as the race drew near.  Carmel IN was another where the temperature on race day morning was considerably colder than originally forecasted a few days earlier.  But this is what makes it interesting, right??

Quincy IL race day morning temp at 8:00 AM - the starting time for the race - was 70 degrees.  Our first two miles took us out across the Mississippi River on two bridges, one to Missouri, the other back to Quincy.  So...no shade.  And there was little to no shade for much of the remainder of the route, as well.  By the time I crossed the finish line, the temperature was 76 degrees.  Definitely one of the hottest races I've run!

My Garmin GPS tracks

But I survived it, the only casualty being my finish time, slowed down by 6 or 7 minutes from what I would consider a good finish time.  And the best part was having Jackie Joyner-Kersee put my finisher's medal around my neck and let me give her a big hug.  Very cool!!

I told her she was my hero!  And she was!  She was the primary reason to watch Summer Olympics through the 80's and the 90's.  She and Carl Lewis, a UH track standout, were not only tops on the track, but were attractive and articulate representatives of the sport and a big inspiration to youngsters all over the country.

Finisher's medal:



What the map looks like now:



Next:  GoGirlRun half-marathon in Columbia MO.  But in the meantime, a few days of downtime in Hannibal MO. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

This Is Quincy, Illinois

Quincy IL.  I'd never even heard of this town until I went searching for a half marathon in this state and found the Bridge the Gap Half Marathon, benefiting Quincy Catholic Charities MedAssist Program.  It's a nice loop course, walking distance to a hotel, walker-friendly (which would mean that even for us slow runners, the course won't shut down before I get to the finish line); not too small, not too big.  I'd eliminated several other IL races, ones that were up closer to Chicago, and settled on this one. 


So now here I am, in a town I'd never heard of before but which has plenty of charm and history. 

I left home Wednesday early morning and made it as far as Joplin MO for the night.  The next morning I didn't need to get such an early start, as I was only little more than 300 miles from my destination - Quincy IL.  However, I did view my estimated time of arrival - both the Garmin GPS calculation and the mapping softward calculation - with a heavy dose of skepticism.  After all, I would only be on the interstate for the first 100 miles and those remaining 200 miles looked like they'd all be on secondary roads through rural Missouri.  But I was quite pleasantly surprised when US 54 turned into a limited-access divided highway once I got a few miles north of Lebanon MO.  I made good time. 

Then my route took me north on state highway H.  Oh, the irony!!  Here I am in a big SUV - albeit a Mazda zoom zoom SUV - and I'm driving 20 miles on one of the best motorcycle roads in the area!  Dips, whoops, blind corners, quick S-curves, elevation changes.

Then it was a rather pedestrian drive on US 36 to US 24 until I crossed the Mississippi River on a kick-butt bridge and was dropped into the center of downtown Quincy. 

I did a little exploring of the downtown area and walked down to the river to get some photos of these two bridges.  We'll be running across these two bridges in the race on Saturday. 

The race route immediately sends us across this bridge into Missouri

Our race route will then immediately bring us back into town on this bridge


Washington Square - the town square in center of town.
This town was first settled by a New Yorker in 1818 and by the mid-1800's was a key hub for river and rail traffic.  It played a role in the Civil War as a Union army transport center and as a key Underground Railroad starting point for slaves escaping neighboring Missouri.  It also offered safe shelter to thousands of fleeing Mormons who were driven out of Missouri.  Brief History of Quincy.

So because of the age of the city, there is some fantastic architecture in the downtown area and a beautiful town square - formerly Adams Square, now Washington Square - that was platted as a square from the very beginnings of the town.


Beautiful art deco building on northeast corner of town square.

Old cinema on north side of town square


Masonic Temple

canopies on this building feature green leaded glass,
the same type of leaded glass that appears on the
Masonic Temple front canopy. 

During the Civil War, Quincy became the first stop along the Underground Railroad in Illinois, as slaves fled across the river from Missouri to escape their bondage in a slave state. 

A block south of the town square is an historic house built by Dr. Richard Eels, an active abolitionist in the 1840's.  The home is on the National Park Service's Underground Railroad trail and his story is here.

Dr. Richard Eels House

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Friday morning I got in my car and drove to another historic district in town, the East End Historic District, where a treasure trove of beautiful architectural jewels still reside.  Big stately homes set on large swaths of lawn and shaded by mature deciduous and evergreen trees.  The corners of Maine St and 16th is purported to be the epicenter of this district.  Here are three of the homes located at this intersection.




I had lunch at a little brew pub on the square, O'Griff's Grill and Brewhouse.  A great italian pasta soup and some not-so-great chicken wings that were drowning in sauce and pretty much inedible. 

After lunch I walked down to another historic district, the Southside German Historic District, not too far from the hotel.   The old Dick Brothers Brewery is located in this district.  It is said that in its heydey, Dick Bros Brewery was larger than Anheuser-Busch Brewery in St. Louis.  Many things - prohibition, depression, war - led to the downfall of Dick Bros and it closed in 1951.  It's a neat pile of old red brick today and I was really taken by how each building was purpose-built.  Note the brick names at the top of each building (click on each picture for larger view).
Dick Brothers Quincy Brewery Co.

Bottle House

Brew House & Storage House

Stock House
After this little walk south of the hotel, I turned around and continued to north of the town square to the Kroc Community Center to pick up my race packet, then returned to the hotel to relax for the rest of the afternoon.

 
 
Tomorrow morning:  Race day!!