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Category: Travel

Tips and tricks on traveling across the states for your next half marathon

Inspiring feat: Double the Distance Half Marathon challenge

For avid runners looking for an exciting weekend run the states challenge, running a back-to-back half marathon through the midwest offers a perfect blend of athletic accomplishment and travel adventure. This itinerary not only provides the thrill of completing two races in two different states but also the opportunity to explore the unique charm and attractions of both cities. Here’s a guide to help you make the most of this exhilarating weekend.

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Day 1: Holland, Michigan Park to Park half marathon

Race Day Highlights

Start your weekend in the picturesque city of Holland, Michigan, renowned for its Dutch heritage and beautiful waterfront. The Park to Park Half Marathon offers a scenic route along Lake Michigan and through the city’s quaint neighborhoods.

Where to Stay
  • Courtyard by Marriott Holland Downtown: Conveniently located near the starting line, this hotel offers modern amenities and comfortable accommodations.
  • Race Day Highlights

    Start your weekend in the picturesque city of Holland, Michigan, renowned for its Dutch heritage and beautiful waterfront. The Park to Park Half Marathon offers a scenic route along Lake Michigan and through the city’s quaint neighborhoods.

    Where to Stay

    • Courtyard by Marriott Holland Downtown: Conveniently located near the starting line, this hotel offers modern amenities and comfortable accommodations.

    Where to Eat

    • Deboer Bakkerij: A perfect pre-race breakfast spot, offering a variety of Dutch pastries and hearty breakfast options.
    • Butch’s Dry Dock: Ideal for a post-race meal, this restaurant offers an extensive menu with local and international dishes, along with a great selection of wines and beers.

    Things to Do

    • Windmill Island Gardens: Home to a 250-year-old working Dutch windmill, this is a must-visit for a taste of Holland’s heritage.
    • Holland State Park: Relax and enjoy the stunning views of Lake Michigan, or take a leisurely walk along the beach.
    • Tulip Time Festival (if visiting in May): Experience vibrant tulip displays and traditional Dutch performances.

    Day 2: Chicago, Illinois Lifetime Chicago half marathon

    half marathon

    Travel Tips

    After completing the Holland Half Marathon, head to Chicago, a bustling metropolis with a rich cultural scene. The drive from Holland to Chicago is approximately 2.5 hours, giving you ample time to rest and prepare for the next race. The road trip drive also gives you plenty of time to create a fun dance and car ride karaoke along the way!

    Race Day Highlights

    The Lifetime Chicago Half Marathon often takes runners through scenic routes including Lake Shore Drive, offering stunning views of Lake Michigan and the city’s skyline. The race is well-organized, with enthusiastic crowd support and plenty of hydration stations.

    Where to Stay

    • Sable at Navy Pier Chicago, Curio Collection by Hilton: Staying at the Sable at Navy Pier ensures that you’re in the heart of the action, with easy access to the pier’s attractions, dining, and entertainment, as well as being close to many of Chicago’s other iconic landmarks.

    Where to Eat

    • For a dining experience with breathtaking views from one of Chicago’s tallest buildings, head to the Signature Room at the 95th in the John Hancock Center. Known for its upscale American cuisine and stunning panoramic views of the city and Lake Michigan. One tip is to Make a reservation to secure a window table for the best views, especially around sunset or at night when the city lights up.
    • Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria: You can’t miss the Chicago deep dish pizza! It’s almost like a lasagna-pizza-gooey-cheesiness dish!

    Things to Do

    • Millennium Park: Home to the iconic Cloud Gate (The Bean) sculpture, this park is a great place for a post-race stroll.
    • Navy Pier: Enjoy stunning lake views, ride the Ferris wheel, or explore the various shops and eateries.
    • Art Institute of Chicago: One of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States, perfect for a cultural afternoon.
    • The Magnificent Mile: Indulge in some retail therapy at Chicago’s premier shopping district.

    Tips for Back-to-Back Races

    1. Hydrate and Refuel: Ensure you stay well-hydrated and consume enough protein and fiber to sustain your blood sugar between races.
    2. Rest and Recover: Take advantage of the travel time to rest your legs. Consider light stretching or a massage to aid recovery.
    3. Pace Yourself: Remember, running back-to-back races is a test of endurance. Pace yourself accordingly to avoid burnout.

    Running back-to-back half marathons in Holland and Chicago is not just a test of physical endurance but also an opportunity to immerse yourself in the unique experiences both cities have to offer. From the serene beauty of Holland to the vibrant energy of Chicago, this weekend adventure promises unforgettable memories and a sense of incredible achievement. Happy running!

    we run the states

    The BEST itinerary in Bali: A Romantic Luxury Retreat

    Welcome to the enchanting island of Bali, where lush jungles, cascading waterfalls, and ancient temples await your exploration. Here’s the perfect Romantic getaway for a one week mesmerizing journey uncovering the hidden gems of this tropical paradise.

    For a quick rundown, check out this Youtube video of your week in Bali!

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    Ubud, Bali: Where Nature and Culture Collide

    monkey forest

    Our adventure begins in Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali. Immerse yourself in the mystical ambiance of the Ubud Monkey Forest. Where cheeky macaques roam freely amidst ancient temples and towering trees. As you wander through the forest, be sure to capture unforgettable moments with these playful creatures. The monkey’s are welcome to come to you; however do NOT make eye contact with them! Definitely a bit intimidating.

    Next up, the famous rice terraces. The story of Bali’s rice terraces dates back over a thousand years to the 9th century; when the Balinese people began practicing wet rice cultivation. With the island’s volcanic soil and abundant rainfall, rice farming became the backbone of Bali’s economy and culture. One of the most iconic rice terraces in Bali is the Tegalalang Rice Terrace, located just north of Ubud. While the exact origins of these terraces are unclear, they are believed to have been built by the ancient Balinese Hindus; who developed sophisticated irrigation systems to harness water from nearby rivers and streams.

    Over the centuries, Balinese farmers perfected the art of terrace farming, carving intricate patterns into the landscape to maximize space and water efficiency. These terraces not only provided sustenance for the local population, moreover served as a source of spiritual inspiration. Many rice farmers incorporate rituals and offerings into their daily farming practices.

    rice terrace

    Ubud’s waterfalls and culture experiences

    Before we bid farewell to Ubud, we’ll pay a visit to a Bali’s waterfalls and traditional coffee plantation. Kopi Luwak coffee, also known as civet coffee, is one of the world’s most unique and sought-after brews. What sets it apart is its unusual production process, which involves the Asian palm civet, a small, cat-like mammal native to Indonesia, feasting on ripe coffee cherries in the wild. The civet’s digestive enzymes interact with the coffee beans during digestion, altering their chemical composition and imparting unique flavors to the beans; After being excreted by the civet, the beans are carefully collected from the feces, thoroughly cleaned, and then roasted to perfection.

    Bali Travel Essentials

    You read that right, you drink coffee from beans that have been eaten and pooped out by a cat! Although timid, I did in fact partake in sipping Kopi Luwak coffee. We had purchased nearly every coffee and tea to give as gifts to family and friends, because they were so incredible, but unfortunately left our bag of goodies along our journey somewhere! Along the road to your next stop, add an unforgettable sunrise hike to Mount Batur, and then continue to the best part of the trip, Sidemen.

    Sidemen, Bali: A Sanctuary for the Soul

    Leaving the bustling streets of Ubud behind, venture into the serene landscapes of Sidemen, a hidden gem nestled amidst lush rice terraces and towering mountains. I can’t repeat this enough, DO NOT MISS SIDEMEN when visiting Bali!!

    wapa di ume, sidemen

    THE. BEST. HOTEL we have ever been to, (and so far I’m convinced the best hotel in the world) is Wapa Di Ume, Sidemen. Retreat to this luxurious sanctuary where you can indulge in meditation classes and unwind in your private infinity pool overlooking the lush jungle canopy. Let the soothing sounds of nature lull you into a state of tranquility as you bask in the beauty of Bali. One million percent recommend.

    Apparel & Accessories

    Nusa Penida: A Paradise Untouched

    Our journey continues as we set sail for the pristine shores of Nusa Penida, a secluded island paradise just a short boat ride from Bali. Explore Angel’s Billabong and Kelingking Beach, where towering cliffs meet crystal-clear waters in a breathtaking display of natural beauty. Be careful, it’s a sharp cliff off the side (we lost our drone case and batteries to the cliff below!)

    Bali

    For the adventurous souls, snorkeling with majestic manta rays awaits. Dive beneath the surface and encounter these graceful creatures in their natural habitat, an experience that will stay with you long after you’ve left the island.

    Canggu, Bali: Where Surf and Serenity Collide

    Our final stop brings us to the laid-back coastal town of Canggu near the airport, where surfers ride the waves against a backdrop of stunning sunsets. Spend your days soaking up the sun on pristine beaches, exploring vibrant markets, and indulging in delicious cuisine at beachfront cafes.

    As the sun sets on our unforgettable journey through Bali, we’ll bid farewell to this island paradise and make our way back home to the states, carrying with us memories of adventure, serenity, and the unparalleled beauty of Bali.

    Until next time, Bali. Terima kasih and safe travels!

    we run the states

    Mountain Living has a powerful presence on the human soul

    Mountain living was a passion I couldn’t explain, but had to follow. We are hard wired to affiliate with the natural world.

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    Cities in comparison are wonderful places full of excitement and energy. Today’s culture values busyness and productivity, yet it leads us to overwhelm and anxiety. Chatter in our mind from a constant list of ‘to-do’s’.

    Consider, we are not ‘human thinkings’, rather ‘human beings’.

    And yet there is no medication we can take to just be still.

    Experiencing the grandiosity of nature let’s you live in awe. This puts back into perspective how small we are and thus how small our chattering mind is. Nature lets us be a part of a greater purpose.

    So go outside, travel in nature and live in awe. Because when you stop and look around, this life is pretty amazing!

    With the covid vaccine readily available, travel has become a part of our daily lives again. This summer our family traveled to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, which reignited our passion for nature and exploring. This sparked a spur of the moment trip to Zion National park in September for a half marathon through the night. I had never really had Zion on my list of places I wanted to see, but after seeing it’s beauty, I Highly recommend the adventure. Waking up at 3 am to run through the night jumping over boulders gave a definite runner’s high!

    we run the states

    Running with bibrave by the warm beach of South Carolina

    I’ve never written about a run within a week of completing it out of fear of not giving the race enough justice. I ponder and ponder about how I can describe the event and the state in words. That’s why I’ve also begun making videos of each race, to bring you along with me. Ideally, you can run each state for yourself to experience the magic. Until then, I will try to recollect my words to give the warm beach of South Carolina due justice.

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    Disclaimer: I received a free race entry to review this run as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!

    This was my first in person half marathon as a bibrave pro. I have been anxiously awaiting live races and meeting fellow bibrave ambassadors, (as all of us have). My goal was to try for an under 2 hour half marathon. However, I did not plan or train as I should have. During the months leading up to the race I actually completed my RRCA coaching certificate and now have so much more knowledge to apply to training.

    The Run

    The race started at 8 am at Jarvis park, which was a pleasant time of day. Many races start so darn early. There are not many uber drivers on the island, so be sure to schedule your ride for the morning the night before. Our Uber driver was filled with knowledge about the island, including Hilton Head has been named best destination island by Conde Nest for 5 years running! I met up with fellow bibrave runner’s from across the country and we toed the start line with 1500 other people. There was not a wave start so the beginning was shuffling and slow like cattle. I was aiming for negative splits so we started at a comfortable 9:45 pace. The first time I looked at my watch we were already past mile 2 and felt strong.

    We corralled through Jarvis park and hit the highway, literally. Running along the highway that was partially closed for the event and over a bridge. (Which was the only elevation gain along the whole race). About 6 miles in, we switched back to park trail running with beautiful canopy trees above us. The race had felt so smooth, and Jenn and I were surprised with how easy it felt. Mile 8 came and my right knee started bugging me as always. Luckily my beta endorphins kicked in by mile 9 and dimmed down the pain a bit. By mile 10 I knew there was no chance at an under two hour half marathon for me. So I decided just to enjoy the run with my best friend. The finish line was back in Jarvis park and the crowds cheers were so inspiring to hear. Especially after a two year hiatus of running during covid.

    The After party

    The park playground was filled with laughing kids enjoying the outdoors. There was grab-and-go pizza and free beer at the finish line, which is always a bonus. We enjoyed our grub watching the alligators swim along slowly. Yup, that’s right, Alligators! Overall, Hilton Head Island was a beautiful course and location. I would recommend wave starts though if I really sought out to accomplish my goal time.

    Next up, New Orleans, Louisiana! Where is your next event, (let me know in the comments) I’d love to cheer you on!

    Check out your next Race VacationClean Eating recipes and Running tips!

    Marin Endurance Sprint triathlon on the beautiful coast of california

    This year has been my biggest racing season yet. Four half marathons, two of which were back to back in different states, and my first attempt at a sprint triathlon on the beautiful coast of California.

    Disclaimer: I received a free race entry to review this run as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!

    sprint triathlon, the Swim

    I have an aversion to cold water. Ironic, because I voluntarily signed up for competitive swim in high school. I recall sitting on the stoop of the pool every practice convincing my mind, “just do it. Just jump in the pool. Everybody else is already in”. My mind would twirl around the thought of getting cold in the water and continue to escalate how much, I didn’t want to get in. My coach would nearly have to push me in the water. I hate cold water, and the spiteful pain it immerses you in instantly. However I loved swimming.

    After the initial shock of cold, my skin would go numb. I would feel almost euphoric, like I was the best (junior varsity) swimmer to ever be! Unbeknownst to my 16 year old mind, cold water immersion increases the blood dopamine level by 250%, and dopamine is the Neurochemical that allows you to feel pleasure, satisfaction and motivation. Hence, after discovering endurance exercise, such as running a half marathon in each state, releases similar escalated levels of dopamine, I’ve always considered the challenge of completing a triathlon.

    When BibRave offered a local triathlon on the beautiful coast of California, I literally jumped out of my seat for the opportunity. This was it. This was my chance to really challenge my fitness. I signed up for the Sprint triathlon. I was tempted to go straight for the Olympic Tri, however luckily I thought better to start where I belonged, as a novice. After much preparation, The day before the race I had woken up at 2 am, as I usually do, and checked my email.

    “Important Update Regarding Marin Triathlon”

    “Attention fellow Triathletes,

    We have been informed by Marin County Parks that McNears Beach Park has failed the water quality test executed by Marin County Environmental Health Services. Your health and safety are our utmost priority and the water for our swim portion has not been deemed a safe environment for our athletes.

    Therefore, the swim portion of the Marin Triathlon cannot take place on Saturday.”

    “YES, I DON’T HAVE TO GET IN THAT COLD PACIFIC OCEAN!” the cold water aspect of me cheered. Of course immediately followed by the disappointment of, “This means I technically failed my first triathlon”. My 2am brain started overflowing, “Gosh, if I don’t compete in the swim portion of the Tri, should I even compete at all? I could save my energy and do a long run in preparation for my half marathon in two weeks instead”.

    Marin Endurance Festival sprint Triathlon

    marin sprint triathlon

    Emotional Intelligence

    Emotional intelligence is based on the premise of having a thought, followed by an emotion, which creates an action. I weighed my options. I could have easily not participated, but what would that have taught me? The thought presented: the swim portion was cancelled. My emotion was both relief and disappointment. My action was not quitting. I got to Choose my action. I chose to try my best at a bike and run event and be thankful for the opportunity.

    The Marin Endurance festival was still epic and my very first competition on a bike. The course was still challenging, and I am ready to take on the swim portion, in addition to the bike and run next year. Plus I am extremely grateful the race director did not let us swim in unsafe waters. On to the bike!

    Training for the sprint triathlon in open water lake

    the Bike

    “It’s just like riding a bike”. The expression itself refers to how easy it is to remember how to ride a bike, even after a long time of absence. So I may have undertrained for this aspect of the event. I was fortunate enough to borrow a road bike from a friend; and my first thirty minutes on the bike in training was exhilarating! I even went so far as to say, I enjoyed riding a bike more than running. And although, yes, it was ‘just like riding a bike’, my thighs and ankles were not accustomed to the endurance cycling put on them.

    The Marin Endurance triathlon is up and down hills. The very entrance of the course is a challenging upslope to get to the main road. I was not quite prepared for the competitive aspect of this race. I can’t tell you how many times I heard fellow cyclists warn me, “On your left!”. Sometimes I wanted to shout back, “I know guys, I get the point.” I was slow AF. Although I was far below par shifting gears between uphill easy gears and downhill thick gears to push forward, the race was still exhilarating. The scenery was unbeatable with the pacific ocean waves crashing softly on the shore.

    The air was stagnant with humidity, yet comforting, almost sour from the ocean salt.

    It reminded me constantly of baking homemade sourdough bread on Sundays. The bike course is 4 miles out and back. It seemed almost like the first 4 miles was solely downhill, so I feared the return would be mainly uphill. Oddly, the return had a fair amount of up and downs as well. On to the Run aspect of the sprint triathlon!

    bike part of the sprint triathlon

    the Run

    The Run, this was my jive. I’m by no means a superior athlete of running. But I was pretty confident I could run a 5K in my sleep. After the smooth transition beside the ocean, I dropped my bike and tied my running shoes on. Running was familiar. All I had to do was finish at this point, a 5K. Like I said ‘I could do a 5k in my sleep’. And then my realization, Holy thighs! What a narcissist ideation that I could jump from a bike to a run without ever previously trying it before! My grandiose ideation of myself meant I could complete a 5k without ever trying the transition. silly me. I ran passed my sister after 0.1 miles of the run and recall whimpering, “ouch! this hurts!” Duh, Laura, it’s going to hurt. So I sought out to endure the 5K.

    Again, the start was straight uphill to get to the road. What a cruel way to start a course, and yet Marin Endurance knew exactly what they were doing. Us athlete’s love this challenge. After that initial uphill there was a downhill along the coast. There was a soft mist caressing the left side of my face for most of the run. So much so, I couldn’t tell if it was a breeze from the ocean or actually raining. There was a small sign with a hand written ‘5k turn here’ sign on the road. There were many runners continuing beyond the sign with ease (perhaps for the olympic tri), which of course had me questioning myself,

    “do I turn here, am I cheating off the course?”

    Luckily I stumbled upon a man in short shorts with bright red hair for direction. He was confident. He was supporting other runners. I realized he was merely a runner, just like me, yet with confidence. He easily told me, “my watch says we’re at 1.7 miles, we’re past half way, it’s ok to turn around”. Thank you short shorts red hair man, I definitely needed that reassurance.

    The water continually beat my face, only from the right side this time. This wasn’t just a pass of the ocean, it was raining from the heaven’s above. My thighs hurt, my chest hurt, my mind hurt. I saw the expressions of all those around me, we were struggling with the wind and rain beating us. At no point did I consider I couldn’t make it. My mind was humbled, gracious, appreciative. This Triathlon hurt, and that’s exactly what I had anticipated. I passed the finish line with Katrina, my sister, cheering me on. My first Triathlon, technically a Biathlon. I still felt very accomplished and cannot wait to participate in this event again next year.

    Next up, Hilton Head half marathon in South Carolina next weekend. Where is your next event, (let me know in the comments) I’d love to cheer you on!

    Check out your next Race Vacation, Clean Eating recipes and Running tips!

    Yellowstone Half marathon: Beautiful Scenery, epic elevation and bears!

    There is so much to learn and explore in this beautiful nation of ours! I’ll admit, national parks hadn’t been on my list of top things to experience, until Vacation Race’s Half Marathons. Their name alone drew me in, as my goal is to run a half marathon in every state, in order to travel and experience America. I had just completed the Grand Teton Half marathon the weekend before, (pushing a double stroller!) so I was amped to run Yellowstone Half marathon with my best friends (and not pushing kids haha).

    Before you visit Yellowstone National Park, I highly encourage you to download the audible Gypsy guide. This app felt like we had a personal tour guide as we drove, answering all our questions before we even asked them.

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    Yellowstone Half Marathon- The Run

    This is a mostly trail run up to a peak of 6,990 feet elevation. There are portions of the run that are over rocky terrain, so watch carefully and protect your ankles! (If you watch the video of Yellowstone above, there’s a very clever tutorial how to run down rocky terrain). Located in Gallatin National Forest, southwest of West Yellowstone, there were a few bear spotting throughout the run as well. Vacation Races put on a wonderful event, as always. If you get the opportunity, run a race with them! They now have events all over the world!

    Yellowstone National Park

    Yellowstone half marathon

    Things to Do

    Yellowstone was America’s very first National Park established March 1, 1872 as a “public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people”. It is one of the world’s largest ACTIVE volcanos! Kinda scary to think about standing on an active volcano as you peer into the boiling geysers and mudpots while exploring. Yellowstone is also the only place bison have roamed freely since the prehistoric times. Exploring was very family friendly with many stops and sights along the way. Be aware, there are not many bathrooms along the way or stops with food so I would recommend packing a lunch, (and also maybe a kid potty).

    Drive around the Yellowstone Grand Loop hitting iconic landmarks like Old Faithful erupting faithfully every 60-90 minutes in Upper Geyser basin. We lucked out with an early morning parking spot to walk the geyser loop, but be aware, the line of cars was astronomically long, so plan early! Yellowstone also has the largest concentration of mammals and you’re sure to see a bison. If you see a cluster of cars on the side of the road, pull your car out too, they’ve likely spotted a bear or moose. Yellowstone was one of the three national parks we visited this summer. All three had amazing unique features and were well worth the trip. Check out Zion National Park. Next stop, Hilton Head island, South Carolina.

    Zion half marathon at night guaranteed to give you an uplifting runner’s high

    Is running Zion half marathon at night on your bucket list? It should be. Zion, Utah was a last minute add on for me and Jenn. We had just completed Vacation Race’s Yellowstone half marathon that was epic, and we were so thrilled by our runner’s high we immediately sought out another Vacation Race. Zion half marathon was only three months away and we considered ourselves trained enough to sign up. However the only catch was, we had to run Zion half marathon at night. We had never run a half marathon at night before, so we added it as yet another challenge on our journey to run the states.

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    Zion Half Marathon at Night- The Run

    Vacation Race’s has been, by far, my favorite series of races. Extraordinarily organized, and very conscientious of the environment; Vacation race’s is also very attentive to social distancing in our current covid prominent world. So for the Zion half marathon at night, you choose a time slot from 7pm to 7am with a wave start every 30 minutes. This allowed smaller waves to maintain social distancing. You had the option to run with the sunset. Through the deepest dark of the night through the desert. Or as we chose, rising with the morning sun.

    I had anticipated a very cold start, however the weather forecasted mid 50’s so we dared to run in shorts and a tank top. There was a breeze, but it felt genuinely amazing the whole run. After mile 6 we left the safer dirt trails for what felt like rock climb running through the night. Pink reflective flags helped guide us through the course. There’s something about running and jumping on rocks, with the stars sparkling above for 13.1 miles that gives such a runner’s high.

    Jenn and I were actually surprised by how giddy we were. Extraordinarily appreciating the life and day god had given us. Again, we hadn’t even planned on this Zion half marathon at night until a few months before, so we felt beyond blessed. We finished with the sunrise, and although with some very tight calve muscles, we got our jumping high five finish as always.

    Zion Half Marathon at night

    Zion half marathon
    Zion half marathon
    Zion half marathon
    Zion half marathon

    Things to Do

    Zion is a rock climber’s dream, with sandstone cliffs ever changing, mostly from flash floods. If you’re lucky you can spot a bighorn sheep, or catch a sunset over the blood red mountains. Zion landmarks can be experienced only by shuttle or walking quite a far distance. Although the shuttle’s stop every 4 minutes, it did take nearly an hour of walking to get to the ‘start line’ as parking was very impacted. (Even during off season).

    Plan on a full couple of days exploring. The first day we were able to drive the upper canyon towards Bryce canyon and venture off a bit on our own. The second day we were limited by time in order to make our flights home, so we only got to experience one of the landmarks. If we could repeat our trip, I wish we had been a bit more prepared for sight-seeing, as we missed the opportunity to hike Angel’s Landing.

    Emerald pools trail is absolutely stunning 3 mile hike that features a waterfall and leads to three tiers of natural ponds. One tip is Pack your lunch. Jenn and I inevitably got hungry after all our hiking and there is only one concession stand throughout Zion canyon. This tiny cafe took nearly 35 minutes to hand us an already pre-cooked slice of pizza due to the long line of others who forgot to pack their lunches also.

    Zion Canyon

    Zion half marathon
    Zion half marathon
    Zion half marathon
    Zion half marathon
    Zion half marathon

    The Food

    There aren’t many stops along Zion for food, so again, pack a lunch! But Balcony One was a gem along the way. The tranquil atmospheric ambience was such a relaxing end to our Very long day. You could tell a lot of thought went into the design of the restaurant, and we even had the opportunity to meet the hospitable owner.

    Zion Half marathon at night was absolutely epic, and really encouraged our love for running each state. Another run by Vacation Race’s is the Grand Teton half marathon, be sure to check it out. Up next we have Hilton Head island half marathon, South Carolina.

    Conquering Grand Teton half marathon pushing a double stroller

    OH Wyoming, you’re quite a story! If you’re one of those jump-to-the-cliff-hanger type of readers, I’ll give you the quick and easy. I ran the Vacation Races Grand Teton half marathon at 6395 ft elevation, uphill, pushing a DOUBLE stroller with two big kids! Every other person passing me, (because there were many passing me) called me “badass” or “you’re a beast”, or “you go mama!” which felt really encouraging. But it wasn’t until I started writing this that I discovered, damn! I AM a BADASS! Check out how amazing the Tetons were!

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    Grand Teton Half Marathon, The Run

    This was my first run with Vacation Races, and I was expecting a great race based on previous reviews. But this run far exceeded all of my expectations. I’ll say it multiple times during this post, if you get the opportunity, Run a race with Vacation races.

    The course is primarily paved on a bike trail, with some dirt tracks near the finish line. I had expected to become weary with a 583 ft elevation gain at max 6,383 ft. What I had not anticipated, was my husband having an emergency and being left with our two kids. I, like most situations in life, had two choices. To choose defeat and get my first ‘did not start’ (DNS), or find a way to run. Sometimes life throws us changes that we can’t control. It probably would have been easiest to accept this race was out. But I thought, WHY NOT TRY? So I found an online service that rents baby gear and rented a Bob double stroller and we started.

    Two and a half hours later, we were still running. There had only been one 3-year-old melt down, (because Cheetos had fallen on his seat) but we could see the finish line. So again I considered, WHY NOT TRY?

    Sadie and Pierce’s first half marathon

    We decided to try, and made one of the most fulfilling personal records of my running career. Sadie and Pierce’s first half marathon! The scenery was absolutely mesmerizing, so much so, that it kept my kids entertained for 13.1 miles. For the cherry on top, The finish line had a picturesque photo drop of the Grand Tetons. A carousel of buses transported us back to the start line. But be cautious, if you have a double stroller you may have to wait quite a while for a bus that can fit the stroller too.

    Grand Teton half marathon scenery

    Things to do

    I’ve heard of the wonders of Jackson, WY for over a decade. My husband worked on a wildfire hot shot crew in his twenties, and was captured when the helicopter flew over the Grand Tetons. He’s been pressing on returning since then. I didn’t get the same aerial view that he did, but even from the ground you can enjoy the sheer magnitude of the Tetons. First and foremost, download the gypsy guide. It’s 100% worth the commentary that is informative and entertaining. It’s like having a personal tour guide in your car; then you’re ready to explore this beautiful national park.

    Jenny Lake

    There is a trifecta of highlights to visit, all of which we were able to do in one busy day. Start at the explorer center for a wilderness badge for the kids and a few souvenirs as well. Then head on over to Jenny Lake. You can either choose to hike the round trip of 7.5 miles or pay $18 for a roundtrip on the boat. On this trail you’ll visit hidden falls and inspiration point. One tip, don’t wait too long to get back to the boat if you don’t plan on hiking home. The boat ride closes at four and we ended up waiting an hour in line. Many people were forced to hike.

    Next up on our journey around the Grand Tetons was mormon row. This is known for its photogenic barns that belonged to some of the earliest settlers in Jackson hole. Then to snake river outlook, made famous by Ansel Adam’s 1942 portrait attracting visitors to the Grand Teton national park. There are several other features of the park you can follow with your gypsy app if you have more time available.

    Snow King Mountain

    We’re always looking for fun family friendly activities while we travel. Snow King mountain definitely filled that role. There’s a scenic chair lift to the top of the mountain, where kids can enjoy a treetop adventure. Then choose to either slide down or ride the cowboy coaster. There’s also a bungee trampoline, mini golf and bike rentals. Check it out in the video above, we liked it so much we went twice!

    Jackson Village

    Probably the most enjoyable part of our trip was visiting Jackson village. This quaint town had a variety of stores, including the biggest toy store to reward my kids for “patiently running/being pushed for 2.5 hours in a stroller” for their first half marathon. I enjoyed sampling at spirits and spices and the whole family loved eating at Pizzeria Caldera.

    Where to stay

    Originally I had searched for a camping experience, with showers for after the sweaty run. But If you take one tip from this post, it’s Book early! I made reservations in January for our June half marathon, and nearly everything near Jackson village was already booked! We luckily booked the absolute best Fireside resort, minutes away from the start line. These luxurious rustic cabins are ideal for family and friend settings, perfectly equipped with a kitchenette to make some home cooked meals to enjoy by your own fire. I hope you enjoy Wyoming as much as we did!

    How to Become a Mindful Runner

    Ironically, to become a mindful runner, you don’t have to be focused on your thoughts while running at all. The development of strong mental health begins off the track, or trail, and in your day-to-day life. There are three easy ways to enhance your mental strength and become a mindful runner for performance improvements. (I say easy in italics because when you read them, you’ll think- ‘I can do those no problem’, but I’ll forewarn you, they can be quite challenging!)

    Let’s start with my own self-realization that I needed to improve my mental health in order to see running performance gains. I never actually recognized that I was overweight- as noted in the picture below from last year; that was not my driving factor to improve my health. I actually felt pretty darn physically fit. I had run at least one half marathon every year since 2012,  staying active most of the year and had improved my nutrition to the point of completing a whole 30 days with no sugar, grains, alcohol, or dairy. Yet I was still constantly ‘tired and heavy’. I had the usual medical workup, checking my thyroid and for anemia- all (thankfully) normal. But something was still missing. It wasn’t until I took the time to focus on my mental health that I started to see rapid improvement.

    June 2020 and June 2021

    2020 brought many challenges with covid. Being in healthcare, I didn’t have much of an option but to enter the hospital with those infected daily. Although I can’t say I was ever scared to go to work, I couldn’t quite get over the fact that I felt forced to be ok with exposing myself to covid daily when I went to round on patient’s in the ICU setting. In retrospect, (and it’s only been a few months since vaccinations have become readily available) my mind was searching for some rest and recovery. 

    2021 has brought a profound journey to improve my mental health, and only good things have followed. Here are three easy steps to become a mindful runner, and subsequently improve your running abilities.

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    Step One: Make Changes

    For my family, we made a BIG change. Justifiably, we had been talking about this change for over a decade. But it still seemed surreal when we moved from our home, our stable jobs and city life as we knew it, to a rural community in the mountains of California. Of course I’m not suggesting to improve your mental health you have to move across states, haha. What I am suggesting, is to really focus on what you need to change in your life? Hint: The first thing that just came to your mind is probably what you need to change. Although it may not be easy, there’s no better time than now. 

    “It is never too late to be what you might have been”.

    The mental clarity I’ve developed sitting on my porch with my family watching the horses and chickens graze, as well as the reward I feel when watching my garden grow slow and in abundance has given me the rest I was desperately seeking. 

    Another, more subtle change, I made this year was addressing my mental addiction to soda. More specifically, Dr. Pepper. Those who truly know me, know I have been dependent on Dr. Pepper my whole life. And although there have been brief times I’ve given up soda to be ‘more healthy’, it wasn’t until I got to the root derivative of my mental addiction that I was able to quit.

    If it makes you feel better to know; it’s not your fault (or mine) to be addicted to Dr. Pepper, (or donuts, ice cream, candy, whatever your vice is,…..sugar). Your brain actually releases the neurotransmitter dopamine when you consume this treat and sends a pleasurable reward between neurons in the brain. Imagine taking that soda away by choice, you’ve just taken the dopamine reward pathway away as well. Once I comprehended that Dr. Pepper served no health benefits to my body- with the excessive amount of sugar contributing to my overall inflammation and peak lows after a few hours of drinking soda, I was able to make the conscious choice to quit. 

    I choose daily to NOT drink Dr. Pepper, and it’s hard.

    But I’ve passed that mental barrier and I reap the benefits of a no-sugar-added diet. 

    How has quitting sugar and moving to a new state affected my ability to become a mindful runner? I’ve learned to embrace change. I’ve learned that each of my decisions while running is a conscious choice. When I’m struggling to push faster during my run to get closer to my goal pace, I am choosing to push through the pain. Unsurprisingly, my body is fully capable of this push of pace- all along it’s been my mind telling me I couldn’t do it. 

    Step two: Meditate

    Ok. Before you skip right over this section, hear me out. I prescribe meditation to my patient’s daily. It may sound ‘too hippy’, but most of the world (besides American’s) meditate routinely for their health.

    Here is a quick list of the benefits of meditation and how they can make you become a mindful runner:

    Meditation actually changes the structures of your brain. It increases cortical thickness in the hippocampus improving your self-awareness and focus. It physically decreases brain cell volume in the amygdala that subsequently decreases anxiety, depression, chronic pain and offers a coping mechanism for traumatic events. Meditation can lower your blood pressure and help decrease cravings of addiction. With daily meditation- even if just for a few minutes- you’ll become more patient with your spouse, children and those around you. You’ll sleep better. You’ll get rid of facial wrinkles and enhance your sex life. Meditation helps you learn to be present and more comfortable with just sitting still.

    There’s just one catch; you have to actually meditate for it to work.

    How did meditation lead me to become a mindful runner? Well, did you read the paragraph above? Lol

    How you can start meditation: Just sit down and close your eyes. Turn your phone on do not disturb and set a timer. 3 minutes at first is plenty. Focus on your breath, inhale….exhale. Count your breath if it helps. Once you find your mind wandering, (Did I pull the chicken out of the freezer for dinner? How many patient charts do I have to complete from work today? What time should I wake up in the morning to exercise?)

    Bring yourself back to meditation, and breathe. That’s a great start.

    Step Three: Ask for help

    This was a hard one. As a Nurse Practitioner, I recommend health improvements to others on a daily basis. For me it took an outside prospective- my best friend from high school- to open my eyes. She called me, distraught about hardships every mother endures, including child temper tantrums and testing her own patience daily. However she kept saying, ‘I shouldn’t have to feel this bad everyday’. This was a different level of hard. She didn’t feel like the ‘perfect mom’ expectation she had imagined becoming. She told me she planned to talk to her provider about starting an antidepressant medication and asking me, her best friend, if she should feel bad for ‘needing a medication to control the chaotic world of life that she loved being a part of- family, work, health journey, etc.’

    Immediately I validated all of her emotions and thanked her for being so brave for talking about it. But because she’s my best friend, our discussion really hit home. 

    Depression is something that you have, not something that you are.

    I had all the same emotions. Yet I would never talk about them to anybody in fear of ‘not being good enough’. There in front of me, represented the stigma of not feeling good enough if I talked about my feelings. And I spend my whole day at work recognizing the feelings of others! What the heck! 

    Her bravery supported me to talk to my own healthcare provider. Many times that’s all we need, a healthy outlet to discuss that our feelings are valid and that there’s many ways to improve the process- journaling, meditation, medication, deep breathing techniques, praying to god, counseling, massage. 

    We just have to take the first scary step, and ask for help.

    SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

    I’m not sure why it’s taken me this long to write about mental health. The key factor I’m sure, is there is still such a strong stigma around mental health in America. So much so, that about 50% of American’s do not seek treatment in fear of being discriminated against. The fact of the matter is, your mindset has just as many physical symptoms as any other illness. (insert the tired and heaviness I described before). Yet any other illnesses such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol is more ‘socially acceptable’ and ‘manageable’.

    Making these conscious changes to focus on my mental health has improved my overall well-being more than I could have ever imagined. I also was able to set goals and achieve many of them already within six months, including losing 18 lbs and becoming a stronger, faster and more consistent runner. I hope these steps encourage you to do the same and encourage you to become a mindful runner.

    If you notice in the picture from last year to today, the first thing I noticed was significant cellulite in my arms. Cellulite is actually just stored energy used by the liver to produce glucose for energy during long exercise! (I’m kind of an underlying anatomy and physiology nerd geek, haha). Key point is- We CAN get RID of this cellulite! – In one years time! I have many, many things to improve my running performance on still, but this was definitely a good start.

    No promotion or sponsorships, I just really like writing and sharing 🙂

    As always- Run strong, Travel and Eat. Real. Food. -We Run the States

    5 ABSOLUTE must haves for your road trip with kids

    So you’ve decided on a family road trip across the states. It’s been a year and a half since the world shut down traveling due to covid. With the uncertainty of when the world would reopen had us doubting booking any vacation that could potentially get cancelled with no refund. So in January 2021, as the new year chimed in, I got the brilliant idea to make a Summer Road Trip! It was unlikely that the states would be closed down for driving through, especially with the prevalence of the covid vaccine being administered.

    So for our first venture after lockdown, we drove from California through Nevada, Idaho to Wyoming Grand Tetons and Montana’s Yellowstone National Park to run back-to-back half marathons. Not only was this a new adventure of 24 hours round trip in a car, but with two kids…. age 6 and 3! (I know that was a bold choice to road trip with two little’s still in car seats). Here are 5 absolute must haves for your road trip across the states with kids.

    A Rental Car

    This one is a Game changer. We own a truck and suv that are both efficient enough to get us across the country, but there are so many perks to renting a car. First the safety and liablity aspect. What If your personal car DID break down? Well, geez now you’re stranded waiting to be towed to the closest auto shop, and then hope they’re able to fix whatever malfunctioned without having to order parts that cost too much money and take several days to arrive. Your trip may be significantly delayed, or even have to miss the half marathon you’re traveling for! Nope, not with a rental car. If by chance your rental does break down, you switch it out for a new one.

    Next perk, comfort. Remember when I said I have two young kids? (that occasionally will bicker) Well that’s when a third row seat comes in handy. We can adjust the seats to accommodate all the luggage, separate the kids for a few hours if need be, and very conveniently a single seat with portable toilet for some toddler privacy when we pull to the side of the road every 2 minutes to pee.

    Final perk, avoid wear and tear on your own vehicle. Like I mentioned before, our vehicles could make it across the states, but imagine the investment you’re spending on that one trip. It’s usually recommended to change your oil and rotate tires every 7500 miles- avoid the wear and tear. A rental car is an absolute must have for your road trip across the states with kids.

    Pocket WiFi for the road trip

    Ok, maybe this one is the game changer. It was definitely an absolute must have for our road trip. We first discovered pocket wifi when we traveled to Japan in 2019. Having iPhone’s we were able to text our kid’s iPod’s over wifi across seas without ever coming off airplane mode. That saved us a ton of money not having to use cellular data or international roaming fees. We purchased moxee pocket wifi and then added a prepaid data plan for our two week trip. It was magical and you need this for your road trip with kids. Is your three year old a little fussy? Here kid, watch some Disney+. Is the Passenger seat (i.e. me) tired of starring out the window at the desert? (There’s not a whole lot to see crossing Nevada), just log online and finish our family yearbooks and blog! 🙂

    Car Organizers

    Did you know the average toddler’s attention span is 12 minutes. Twelve minutes until, “moooooommmmm, there’s nothing to do”. Yes children, there are many things to do. Insert, a car organizer. This trip I came stocked up with kid friendly activities and it definitely came in handy because my son really did ask for something new every 12 minutes!

    Cooler with snacks easily accessible

    This one is a no brainer for any parent. Bring snacks, duh! If you can carry two cooler’s though, your road trip will be much more enjoyable. Place a small, accessible cooler between the two kids. This will give them a little separation and autonomy ‘choosing’ their own snacks. Load it with goodies they already enjoy at home that keep them full. Our Coho cooler had berries, clementines, turkey, yogurts, turkey, hard boiled eggs, and string cheese. Also bring a large cooler stored with ‘refills’ for the smaller cooler plus necessary extras for the hotel such as milk and condiments.

    A back up plan!

    Life throws many curve balls. This road trip had been planned 6 months in advance for our family of four plus my mother in law. Unfortunately my mother in law broke her leg a few weeks before the trip and had to cancel. Then we made the road trip across the states and my husband had an emergency come up that he was unable to get out of. That left me to choose a ‘did not start’ or take my kids along with me! Luckily there is a national company with baby gear rentals for your vacation with little ones and I was able to reserve a double BOB stroller. Although I had never trained with a stroller, let alone at 6300 elevation pushing over 100 lbs of kiddos, it was worth the effort. We Finished at 2:45 and this was the most personally fulfilling race in my running career.

    What are your must-have travel accessories for a road trip with your kids across the states?

    As always, Run Strong; Travel and Eat. Real. Food. -We Run the States

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