Jacksonville Best Damn Race

This was the 2nd Annual Jacksonville Best Damn Race which consists of a 5k, 10k, and half marathon basically running the same course in the Downtown/Riverside location of Jacksonville, FL. The Best Damn Race series includes other locations throughout Florida. They intrigued me with their claim of the best after party, low registration costs, but most importantly their medal. (more on this later).

Registration is based on number of runners registered, not date, so you must keep track frequently to get into the lower costs (Starting at $1!) They also frequently promoted $5 off promo codes throughout the year.

With Jacksonville being so big, they offered a couple locations to pick up your packet/shirt/bib the couple days leading to Race Day, which is a huge plus for me living 30 minutes from Downtown, as well as race morning. I went for the pick up at the Jacksonville Running Co 2 days before the race, so besides just getting the necessary race items, I could also pick up last minute race supplies if needed.

There were plenty of emails sent out with race information. Their website has just the right amount of information, and they keep their Facebook page maintained with up to date details. Because a big storm had come through the day before the race, and the 2nd location for packet pick up was outside, they had to cancel the pick up/move indoors to the other location on the other side of town, and they did a great job of getting this information communicated in all the above sources!

We started at Metro Park in Downtown Jacksonville, ran by the Landing, went over an overpass and into the Riverside area/neighborhood, then turned back with a brief jaunt along the St Johns River (my favorite and most scenic of the course), and then followed the Jaguar tracks back down to Metro Park across from the Jaguar Stadium! A portion of the course had to be rerouted around the Landing because of construction, but I dont think it was a big deal.

I forgot exactly how hilly downtown/Riverside actually is. Now, dont get me wrong, when I say hilly, I mean 'Florida Hilly.' Besides the 3 major hills (over pass, neighborhood hill midway, and ramp on the St Johns boardwalk) the course had slight inclines throughout.

Parking was located across from Metro Park at the Everbank Field. I arrived early enough to be just steps away from lineup. Because it was a cold morning, that meant staying in my car until last minute! Real restrooms were available with the race being at Metro Park which is a huge plus. There was a Gear Check, but to be honest, it was just as far as leaving your items in the car.  The 5k and 10k started first, with the half marathon about 15minutes behind them. Pacers were provided to get you your PR.

I woke up race morning with a visitor, if you know what I mean. Cramps and diarrhea (sorry guys) were already starting and I was just  plain tired. I still wanted to try a 3x30 trying to go for a repeat of last months Kiawah because the weather was race perfect (50s and overcast) but quickly remembered Jacksonville is not flat, so I was completely pooped (literally) entirely too soon. I kept adjusting the pacer, so really there was no consistency with this race for me. My mission....just get this over with!  The fog never lifted the entire race morning. By the time we reached the river, you could barely even see it! Half way through the race, we ran into the Marathon High group training for The Donna! It was exciting to see these teenagers working hard towards their goal next month!

Fuel stations were properly stocked and I didnt experience any issues with them. Gu was even provided halfway.

There were minimal spectators throughout the course, but this race is still young, and it was a cold morning.

I was wet and cold arriving at the finish line. They had a few vendors set up for shopping. Food was provided by Pollo Tropical (yum! but on the small side) and beer as well as liquor (for purchase?) was available. Because I participate in 'Sober January' for last minute marathon training for The Donna, I did not get to partake. There were sodas available for nondrinkers, which I do not drink either, so I wish there were better options for those not drinking (chocolate milk, protein shake, etc)

This is one of the few races that actually gives you free race photos that are actually still organized by bib number!

I am highly disappointed in the race shirt. Although I am glad that it is short sleeve despite being a winter race, and Vneck, the design is entirely too generic. The Best Damn Race shirts/tanks that they were selling at the Finish line were much better.

The reason I ran this race! The funny thing is, this medal is the Exact replica of the Jacksonville BEACH sign. Besides this being a race directed by someone that is not a local, I do not understand why they would use the Beaches sign for a Downtown race. But being a Beaches local, I will not complain!

Would I recommend this race? Sure thing. Prices are perfect, and if you are a planner, you may be one of the lucky ones to pay under $30!! The director seems to know what he is doing, as I did not see any issues, and compared to the other races that take place on the very similar course throughout the year, I would chose this one with a better price but same/better perks!


I am currently running a half marathon a month and also running a half marathon in each state all to show support and raise awareness for breast cancer via The Donna. Please consider showing your support by making a donation today! www.donate.breastcancermarathon.com/2016-marathon/melissajohnson

Kiawah Island Half Marathon-Dec 12, 2015

This was the 38th Annual Kiawah Island marathon and half marathon. Kiawah Island is a barrier island off South Carolina near Charleston. This race had been on my mind for a couple of years, knowing Kiawah is known for its gorgeous beaches. Registration and lowest fees start as soon as the prior year ends, so I was looking forward to this one for over a year.

Kiawah Island is a mostly residential Island. The Sanctuary Hotel is the main hotel, located directly at the race Start/Finish. This luxury 5 star hotel, however, comes with a hefty price tag, but every penny would be worth it! The hotel has a lovely sprawling green garden with chairs placed perfectly to relax and overlook the ocean. The pool and hot tub also have prime gorgeous views. If this is not in the budget, then a condo/villa rental (airbnb, vrbo if not through Kiawah assoc) would be my recommendation.

Because I was traveling solo and on a budget, I found a cute small beach town called Folly Beach which had the perfect hotel for me called The Tides. The drive was a quick, no traffic light, 45 minutes from the race. This budget friendly hotel is also located directly on the beach, has a small outdoor pool, and a great lounging area with bonfires, outdoor warmers, and tiki bar. Live music is played nightly. (make sure you ask for a high floor if you want to sleep early) Book directly on their website and they give you a free bottle of champagne! Score!

I drove up the morning before the race with time to relax in the afternoon, meet some friendly Folly Beach residents, and catch a gorgeous beach sunset!

Packet Pick up was available a couple of days before or on race day. It was located directly at the race site which had a small Conference Center. They had a lot of race merchandise, with items on sale too from previous years. This small expo had a good variety of vendors available as well for other needed running supplies. It was requested to bring canned goods, or teacher supplies as part of their charity contribution, however, no one asked anything about it and seemed to almost be forgotten.

The Race Director really tries to help you create a full weekend out of coming to town. There is a 5k glow run right on the beach the night before, Yoga the night before and day after the race, an option to rent bikes and tour the race course with a guide, a buffet dinner, and even a buffet breakfast the morning of the race!

Kiawah Island is a private and gated community. Therefore, if you are not staying on the island itself, you have to park right outside the gates and get shuttled in. I arrived about 545a and was able to park quickly and get straight onto a bus without a problem. However, the driver told us they changed the drop off area and we had to walk further than planned. This was a very awkward walk through the pitch dark on a winding sidewalk through the woods. It was a bit unnerving to make sure you stayed on the sidewalk without twisting an ankle, finding your way.

The shuttle back to your car at the end of the race on the other hand was in a completely different location, much closer. There was not a delay in any of the 4 shuttles I had to take (more on this to come later)

There was supposed to be a pre race warm up, but I never saw nor heard any information of where this was at. There were Two Gear Checks that were completely unsupervised. You basically left your bag on a shelf in a tent hoping it would still be there upon your return.

Another reason I arrived so early was because they announced there would be breakfast at the Market located at the Start. They had a complete runners buffet and hot sandwiches for purchase. I was able to sit in the warm, enjoy a hot breakfast and coffee and ease into race morning. This was definitely one of the best prerace experiences!

There was also the Conference center at the Start where a lot of people were sitting to stay warm.

Yes, Kiawah Island is technically an island off of South Carolina. Because a good portion of the island is mostly surrounded by marsh and the beautiful beach is blocked by houses and golf courses, you disappointingly do not see ANY ocean the entire 13.1  miles.

This flat, mostly shaded and residential course, runs a circle with a 3 mile out and back. A good portion of the second half is run on an entirely too small of a sidewalk, making it hard to  pass if you are in the middle of the pack pace.

There were pacers for the full marathon, which split off at M11.

Each station was properly stocked and bananas and oranges were even offered.The water and Gatorade people were wearing different shirts which helped make them recognizable.

There were Drop Zones where they tried to keep the majority of the trash or discarded items. In these drop zones, you could also discard clothing that you could be retrieve the next day.

One generous neighbor set up a Sam Adams sample table, which we got to pass by twice....and yes, i did partake!

I thought the weather was almost perfect. It started off cold, but quickly warmed as the sun rose, but I never got hot because the course was completely in the shade. (of course, the full marathoners did get a little more heat). I had just run 19 miles a few days prior, so my glutes kept me from pushing it too much too soon. I ran the first mile, and then decided to do 3x30 (run 3minutes, walk 30sec). This was the first time I was able to maintain the 30second walk breaks the entire 13 miles and it felt good! I was able to take a couple of Gus to maintain my energy. Around M11, when I realized I was not going to PR, I wanted to slow, but decided it was a new goal to be the first race for the 30sec breaks the entire course. I also caught up to a girl wearing a pink ribbon shirt right in front of me, which was a slap in the face reminder to keep it up! I ended up crossing the finish line matching my PR!

This finish line really is a party! There was a band, buffet spread, and endless beer! The food included different cold pastas and veggies with chicken, corn bread, brownies, and best of all hot bean soup. There was also a spread of nonalcoholic drinks such as hot chocolate, tea, lemonade.

A good portion of the vendors from the Expo were there, as well as a couple others, handing out samples. There were also circus/juggling acts as well for entertainment!

Next to the never ending beer line, there was a set of bull horns and bell you could ring if you had PRd! What better way to celebrate!

Having to drive back  to Florida straight from the race, a huge plus of this race was that they offered showers. Oh, but how they burst that bubble...BAAAD! I had sent an email before coming to town, double checking there would in fact be showers. I was basically told yes and to inquire at the Info Table on race day. So I did. Little did it dawn on me, and little did anyone tell me, to bring my shower supplies actually to the race START.....not leave them in my car, which I had to take a shuttle to get to! The info table casually told me I would be allowed through the gate showing the map to the showers they provided. So, on the shuttle I went to get my car and supplies, and to the gate I went and BAM! I was denied. So back to the parking lot I went, to get back onto a shuttle to go Back to Finish, and go on this wild goose chase walk to a shower! The shower was supposed to be in the golf club house which ended up being 1.5 miles away! Once I finally figured out how to get there I was Denied Again! The showers were being renovated! Luckily, I finally got a golf shuttle guy who basically listened to me, cared, and taught me how to sneak into the Sanctuary Hotel locker room. It literally took me over 2 hours to get a shower!

**Secret to any future runner that needs a quick shower without having to walk 3 miles to the golf clubhouse that they direct you to......The Sanctuary Hotel is right at the Finish. Walk through the double doors to the right of the main entrance. Walk through the 2nd set of double doors. Pool is straight in front of you, locker room is on the right. There are only 2 stalls, but there is shampoo, conditioner, soap, towels, and even a hair dryer! Your Welcome.

The race shirt is eco friendly being made from recycled products.... best part?... its not splattered with sponsor logos all over the back!

The medal unfortunately is very dark making it difficult to see what it is. It seems like they were going for a stained glass, but you can not see through it, even when holding it up to light, it is still very dark. (Flash pictures didn't work well either)

Its hard to say if I would recommend this race. Technically speaking, this race is pretty spot on (except for the shower incident). However, I just still cant get over on how close you are to the gorgeous ocean and not even catch a glimpse of it while running! This is not the first time I have said this about a race, so I guess I cant only blame Kiawah. If you are going to do this race, it can not be an in/out, you must plan to stay, otherwise you will not appreciate the beauty of what this island has to offer!

Half Marathon #57

I am currently running a half marathon a month and also running a half marathon in each state all to show support and raise awareness for breast cancer via The Donna. Please consider showing your support by making a donation today! www.donate.breastcancermarathon.com/2016-marathon/melissajohnson

Strip at NIght-Nov 15, 2015

Ah, the Rock n Roll Las Vegas Strip at Night…..its been on my bucket list for a few years. I signed up more than a year in advance when they did their presale for only $99 (best deal you can get from RnR) and I was determined to make it work. Little did I know, I would win an all-inclusive trip to Las Vegas for two, just a couple of weeks later, with First Class air, hotel stay, show tickets and even a Richard Petty driving experience! I have to admit, it was a little tough to wait an entire year to go on this trip! But it all worked out and it ended up being my half way mark for completing the 50 states!!

The Strip at Night has both a marathon, half marathon, and 10k on Sunday with a 5k option on Saturday. The marathon and half marathon start together, the 10k further down the strip. All three races have a prerace concert, but Kid Rock was the major headliner at the marathon/half marathon start. This is the first time Ive done an RnR with the concert Before the race; usually they are after. It was a little weird, especially since they were selling beers, but I guess it IS a Vegas night race after all. Although Vegas is a city that never sleeps, so why not have it after the race to celebrate? And since the weather has been a little weird the past few races, why not put the concert indoors at one of the MANY clubs Vegas is known for?  

We flew Delta from Jacksonville with a stop in Atlanta. It was our first 1st class experience and it was honestly hit or miss on the different planes we had and service. All in all, I would not pay for first class, but it was definitely an experience! This was our lunch on the plane with unlimited drinks!

It was a super early flight and our flight was delayed, so we were definitely exhausted by the time we landed. Thankfully the race provided a $20 promo code to use with LYFT to get us to our hotel SLS LUX for only a tip!

SLS has multiple towers, with the LUX tower having the more luxury rooms. Our room was quite expansive, but almost felt lacking on the décor and a little too empty with all the space. The hallways reminded us of walking through American Horror Story. They gave us a corner room, which is usually premium, but unfortunately this corner was right next to the pool, which is also an outdoor night club the day before the race. Luckily, we were exhausted enough to sleep right through it!

SLS, located on the far north end of the strip near Stratosphere has prime gaming, restaurants, and located right next to the Monorail which makes it very convenient to access the more popular part of the strip. It is also located just 2 stops away from the Convention center, where the Expo was held. RnR provided discounted Monorail tickets to the runners, which was handy for the entire stay.

They extended the Expo to 3 days this year, which when we went around 2p on Saturday, it wasn’t nearly as crowded as Ive seen some RnR expos in the past. Overall, there was approximately 35,000 runners, so I think this was as good decision.

The week before the Expo, one of the sponsors, Toyota advised if you were an owner, you could have a separate packet pick up with a free gift. This was a fun idea, and we received a pair of flip flops.  

We were able to change our corrals at the Expo as well. I was expecting them to request some sort of proof of pace, but they did not. I had one friend doing her first half in corral 43 and another friend in corral 21 and I was in 29. We moved to corral 23 without a question.  

Unfortunately RnR used cheap clear plastic bags for the packet pick up this year. I get that it is basically for security purposes on race day, but with RnR being one of the most expensive half marathons out there, it would seem they would have made this up at least in another swag offering.

Geico, another race sponsor had a slot machine where you could attempt to win a massage after the race. After deciding this would probably be the only gambling I do while in Vegas, we decided to spin….and guess who won?! J Unfortunately, the weather was so bad after the race, I did not get my massage.

RnR also provided wristbands that gave you discounts and access to local shops, restaurants, bars, clubs, spas, amusements etc. Unfortunately the official dates were Thurs-Sun. Since the race was Sunday night, it would seem they would have included at least Monday as most ,if not all of us, stayed the night. The list of discounts was massive. I printed it out ahead of time and already had an idea of what we would use, but it would seem they would provide a pamphlet or even create an App that could tell you what discount was near you throughout the weekend.

Besides seeing Britney Spears at Planet Hollywood (not recommended as she lip syncs and cusses the entire time), we had an early night.

Flying from East Coast the day before the race, we were hit a little harder than expected with jet lag. We had gone to bed early and woken up a little earlier than anticipated, but we were still tired.  We were at the Cravings brunch buffet at Mirage by 830a. It was neat to experience one of the famous Vegas buffets, but our stomachs definitely couldn’t handle any of the seafood and Asian foods so early! We did partake in the unlimited mimosas and then headed back to the room for a little nap.

We left the SLS a little after 1p, as the gates opened at 2p and Kid Rock was set to take the stage at 3p. We planned it perfectly as the Monorail was already starting to get packed the closer we got to the MGM/last stop. My other friends that met up with us left a little later and had several trains pass by before being able to squeeze onto one of them.

The Starting Area was located across from Mandalay Bay. It was a cool vantage point as you could see all the unique buildings on the Strip in the distance. There was security checking bags as you entered, but unfortunately you had to exit to use the porta potties, and go through another bag check to get back in. Bad idea. The sun was starting to go down and the winds were starting to pick up. A huge Michelob tent took flight and they had to take it down. Four guys were literally holding onto the huge Restrooms balloon as well before it took flight.

They were actually serving beer at the concert and I debated for a split minute, knowing this was just going to be a ‘fun’ race, but remembered I had brought an energy drink.

Porta potties seemed to be abundant, as we never stayed in line for too long.

They did pass out some waters which was nice since it was a long wait before race time.

They advised all bags had to be dropped off at the gear trucks by 4p, even though Kid Rock didn’t stop playing until well after 4p, and the first corral didn’t start until 430p.  

I thoroughly enjoyed Kid Rocks performance, but I know a lot of people really were disappointed it wasnt someone else.

Lining up into the corrals was a hot mess. They had them gated off, but there was no way to get in! I don’t know if we just happened to be on the wrong side, but there were a ton of us that either had to jump, slide through, or go into another corral to make our way in. There also was no one monitoring who went into what corral. What is the point of a corralling system if it is not going to be controlled?  

It got really windy and cold very quickly and next thing you know they are announcing rain in the forecast. WHAT?! It doesn’t rain in the desert!

The completely flat course is pretty much an out and back, but there is about a 1 ½-2 mile difference between the Start and Finish. We started on the Strip at Mandalay Bay, headed away from the city towards the Welcome to Las Vegas sign, then turned around to run North on the Strip passed all the excitement, glitz, and glam of the famous hotels for about 5 miles. Once you pass the Stratosphere it is into Old Las Vegas with all the wedding chapels. You then turned off the Strip to do a loop in some dark (and quiet and poor lit) neighborhood, then towards Fremont Street where there is more glitz and glam and flashing lights. The course then takes you back down the strip to everything you already passed and finishes at the Mirage.  

The Rock n Roll Strip at Night is not a race to go into for a PR….or even maybe your average time. This is definitely just a 'party race.' I knew this from other RnRs that I have done, but I was also going to be running with my good friend completing her first half marathon.

Tracking the weather all week, it seemed like it was going to be perfect race weather. I wore capris and a tank. Somehow, I missed out on the wind and rain advisory. The wind came early as we were watching Kid Rock. I put on arm sleeves (or old compression leg socks I cut out the footing) and gloves and thankfully we had an old mylar blanket in my bag.

Waiting in the corral was almost miserable, even though it seemed they went by fast, for as many of them there were.

We finally started and got to warm up a bit, but then the sprinkles came. And then they came harder. And then the whirling wind came even harder. It was so much excitement going on, from the weather, to realizing we were actually running down the closed Las Vegas Strip, to pepping up my friend for having the courage to run her first half! I felt like I wasn’t even running! I was so excited, it seemed every minute we were like ‘look at that!’…’look at that!’

I was trying to take pictures of everything, even all the Elvis’ running. Even up to the very end, we were constantly weaving around and passing runners, which was weird because we had started in a faster than planned corral ourselves.

The rain and wind had messed with the bands, although we only saw about 3 of them the entire course. The KISS one was the most fun. Toyota had a large stretch of booming speakers, dj, and lights which was different. Most mile markers were blown over and even cups were flying to the ground.

The hydration stations were plentiful and because the weather was so cool, we didn’t need every station. GU was handed out on the 2nd half of the course.

Spectators were plentiful in the beginning and there were some great signs, but the 2nd half was scarce probably because the weather sent a lot of people indoors.

We ran a 3x1 for about the first 5 miles, but then when I realized my friend had enough energy to sing as she ran, so I bumped it up to 3:30x45. She did really well until around M9 when her knee started really hurting. We maintained the run/walk times, but decreased in pace. Overall, we finished 18 minutes faster than her planned time! I am so proud of her and it was such a blast to run side by side down the Las Vegas Strip!

The Finish Area is massive….over half a mile long before you actually get out of the runners chute. We were handed mylar blankets (thank god!) And then we passed the typical race snacks …bars, chips, fruit, chocolate milk (love!), Gatorade, and finally our beer. Problem was, we had nothing to put any of this in. It was a real struggle to hold it all, plus our blanket, all while on a search for a porta potty (I did not let my friend stop despite her begging the entire course).

There was much confusion on which way to go, and no one knew where porta potties where. We asked a man directing the flow of traffic, but he said the 2 routes ended up in the same place…WRONG!

It was so windy, and we were freezing from being sweaty, all we wanted to do was get our bag and get inside somewhere warm! I never saw the massage tent for my free massage, we never even saw a porta potty! From what we did see, it was a very pathetic after party area which was disappointing.

It was a long walk back to the monorail and back to the hotel. Once we were back in our room in a hot shower and warm robes, we did not want to leave and go back into the cold!

The shirt was gender specific, and as they usually do with RnR, ran on the smaller side.

The medal is pretty cool, as it is a slot machine that actually spins!


This race is one of my most favorites! ….Could it be managed better?….Absolutely! But this is the ONLY race that runs down the strip, so I will take it. Being on the road for that vantage point at night for someone’s first time to Vegas, was absolutely exhilarating!

My entire life I’ve always said I would not go to Vegas until I had money to gamble away. (which has yet to happen!) Little did I know exactly HOW MUCH there actually IS to do in Vegas!....besides gamble! We spent 4 nights and still did not even come close to hitting everything on the Vegas bucket list! Little did I also know how BIG Vegas actually is. Yes, this is a walking town, but it is also super spread out over 4+miles….add in the extra steps to get to/from the monorail….its a LOT of walking! Be prepared and bring those walking shoes! …and why not running shoes and Run the Strip at Night!?


Guy Fieri-must get the mac and cheese burger! This was the best burger ive ever had in my life. It can easily be split with someone, but once its gone, we both wanted to order another one! The fries are amazing as well!

NYNY Roller Coaster-I guess this should be a ‘must’ for a first time visitor, however, warning-it is rickety! We love roller coasters, but both of us were not excited once we got off!

Rides on the Stratosphere AT NIGHT-Buy the all you can ride pass…the price is worth it. There are 3 rides up top. The one that shoots you up the needle to the highest point in Vegas is the best. The

Freemont-Get away from the strip and visit Freemont Street downtown. This is very unique area with the light show, old casinos, zip line, street vendors, but also cool eclectic restaurants…make sure to venture down to the Container Park!

Rio-Zip line. We ran out of time to do this, but I would definitely do it if I went back

Richard Petty Driving Experience-drive a Nascar, or even do a drive along! This is one of the biggest adrenaline rushes Ive had in my life…and ive even jumped out of a plane before!

High Roller/Ferris Wheel-a unique vantage point to see the desert/mountainous horizon during the day.
Water Massages-if you don't have the money to splurge on a spa, hit up the water massage! You are given a remote, so you control where and how long the pressure goes!

Look for the hidden shops/bars/street vendor selling the beers, or do happy hour, and you will save big time!

Do not rent a car! Uber and Lyft operate from the airport if your hotel does not have a shuttle. Monorail is a great option during your stay or Uber/Lyft again. Taxis can only be picked up at hotels, which can have very long lines.

State #25

 I am currently running a half marathon a month and also running a half marathon in each state all to show support and raise awareness for breast cancer via The Donna. Please consider showing your support by making a donation today! 

Under the Oaks-Oct 10,2015

This was the 6th Annual running of Under the Oaks on Jekyll Island, GA. The race has a 5k, 10k, and half marathon benefiting Saint Simons Christian School. This is a small town race with only about a thousand participants overall.

Jekyll Island is a beautiful island off the coast of Georgia with gorgeous beaches, lots of historic sites/buildings, a water park, a turtle rescue hospital, a handful of hotels (Ritz Carlton being the luxury of the island), and even a campground.

Jekyll Island was an easy hour and half drive for me, so I decided to just drive up race morning.

There is a $6 fee to access the island to support conservation of the island as well as fund projects with the biking/walking paths and picnic areas. I understand this city run fee, but I wish there was more communication of it at or before the time of registration. The only time I remember seeing it was in the final email.

Parking was simple with the Start and Finish at Summerwaves Water Park.

Packet pick up seemed to be flawless, except a grumpy old lady that literally made everyone wait for the exact minute, even though the volunteers and everything was already set up. Our packet was stocked full of coupons such as Mellow Mushroom, Outback, Chikfila, Tortuga Jacks, and a pretzel company. There was an option to pick up your packet the days before as well as a pizza dinner option.

The park was open for us to utilize the real bathrooms which was nice, as well as a couple of porta potties. However, a lot of people did not realize there were restrooms, so long lines were forming for just 2 porta potties. Later I actually learned there was another set of real restrooms further inside the park, but yet again there was no communication of this.

For some reason there were 2 djs at the Start and Finish, which was kind of annoying hearing 2 different types of music. There was also a raffle with a number from your bib that they collected at the Start, but unfortunately again there was no communication, and I did not realize it until they were calling the numbers at the Finish.

The course pretty much circles the island. Obviously by the name, Under the Oaks, it was expected to be running through some great tree beauties. But there was also some awesome scenery of the marsh and ocean (which had a nice stretch of boardwalk). Besides the oake trees, there were a lot of gorgeous banyon trees, and lots and lots of hanging mmoss. The course was mostly on biking/walking paths, varying slightly on different terrain. There were some patches of sand, crushed shell pavement, regular asphalt, and wood bridges. We passed a lot of beautiful historic buildings. But the most impressive was the constant overhang of the trees and moss coverage. It made it absolutely peaceful.

The day was a hot one for a Fall race being in the 70s with 99% humidity. It started sprinkling on the second half, which I actually really appreciated and iwshed it would have rained harder to cool it off more, but the trees also protected us from most of it.

The first and last miles I felt good and ran them nonstop, but from there, I was all over the place. I did 3x30 for 2miles, 3x45 for 2miles, and then quickly downgraded from 2x45 to 1x45. I was completely exhausted from the humidity and completely soaked in sweat by M1.

The hydration stations were property stocked and they served Nuun at every other one. The stations were spread out 1.5-2.5 miles apart. I had to utilize a water fountain at the beach and a lot of people were carrying their own water. I feel they should have put the stations a little closer together, especially for a humid day. Half way, they handed out energy gels.

There were not many spectators with this being a sleepy small island. There were only a few random family members here and there.

There was a photographer on course, who made sure you knew at the Start to SMILE and they would download the pictures for free. He actually had a recording playing a few hundred feet ahead of him so you knew to be prepared to make it your best.

The Finish line was quite expansive for it being such a small race. The food was the furthest away from everything and complete opposite of the parking. Unfortunately, beer was not served, but they did have a pretty impressive spread of food. Olive Garden was there with spaghetti and breadsticks. Outback was there with sweet potatos and their honey wheat rolls. There were bagels, bananas, doughnuts, cake, cookies, soda, and candy.

It was nice to have the real bathrooms at the Finish, as I was completely drenched from the rain. Luckily I brought a towel, as they had hot showers and a changing room, which made for a nice drive home.

The shirt and medal match and they also gave us a buff.

Overall, despite the mis (or non) communication of a few things, I would recommend this race. The course is tranquil and Jekyll Island is a hidden oasis to discover. Plus, they won me over with those Olive Garden breadsticks at the Finish! WHO KNEW?! :) I would plan to spend a few hours the day before, or after the race to explore the area.


 I am currently running a half marathon a month and also running a half marathon in each state all to show support and raise awareness for breast cancer via The Donna. Please consider showing your support by making a donation today! 

Santa Fe Thunder-Sept 20, 2015



After already registering for the Santa Fe Thunder half marathon, my friend approached me with a crazy idea to backpack the Grand Canyon. At first, I said no way, as it was the same exact week of the race. But after short consideration, I realized this was a once in a lifetime experience I could not pass up. You see, my friend already knew someone that had done this several times before that would be escorting us (note*free guide!) and he knew the insides and outs of backpacking (note*free guide!). So I said yes and 6 of us (5 that had never done anything like this before) set out to backpack the Canyon for 4 days.

We flew into Vegas and drove the 3 ½ hours to Jacob Lake Lodge, about 40 miles shy of the North Rim where our adventure would begin.

Jacob Lake Lodge has a hotel, motel, and cabins. I stayed in a cabin which was a great set up; a bedroom on each side of the shared bathroom. It was quite rustic, but we were about to sleep on the ground in the upcoming days, so a bed was a plus at this point! The property had a small necessities shop, a bakery, a bar, and a restaurant (2 separate menus in which I recommend the main restaurant menu unless you want a sandwich).

Grand Canyon Day 1- We started at the Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim in which we had our first breathtaking views of the Canyon. We rubbed the mule statues nose (apparently a good luck tradition), got our parking pass for the week, and started on the 7 mile North Kaibab Trail to Cottonwood Creek campground.

The majority of the trail was straight downhill with sharp switchbacks and was quite muddy with mule droppings (yes, people take mules down and back). You quickly dropped elevation and it was cool to look back up to see how far you just came. It was an interesting day as everyone was getting used to the shock on how heavy our packs actually were (30-50lbs) and learning our footing on the uneven ground. Then thunder was heard in the distance and it started to sprinkle. Luckily, it only lasted long enough to dig out the ponchos. There are 2 bathrooms (basically an upscale porta potty) and water fountain on this trail; the 2nd stop being along a cold stream where you can soak your feet.

Cottonwood campground was nicely spaced out between spots for privacy and there is access to the stream to refresh the sore muscles. There is a bathroom, fresh water as well as a ranger station.

Our early beautiful night (temps were perfect and stars are gorgeous along the dark outline of the cliffs) was interrupted by a series of storms that rolled through. Winds picked up and lightning seemed to be striking relatively close. It was quite an experience being in only a tent in that type of situation.

Grand Canyon Day 2- The next day consisted of another 7mile along the Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel Campground/Phantom Ranch, but also an additional 2 miles to the Ribbon Falls, which is highly recommended. If you commit to doing the falls, make sure you go the complete distance and do not turn around after the first spotting of a waterfall. This is NOT it! There are a couple of bamboo and stream crossings, as well as a boulder to scramble, but once you arrive, you will know it! It was like a hidden oasis of greenery amidst a desert canyon. After that, the hike went quick as the majority of the trail is flat along the river.  
Bright Angel Campground consists of camping right along the Bright Angel Creek which runs into the Colorado River. Camp spots are practically right on top of each other, so don’t expect privacy here. The creek was just inches deep, but still nice enough to freshen up and relax sore muscles. There is also a real bathroom with running water in a sink, water fill station, and ranger station.

There is also Phantom Ranch which has a dormitory as well as cabins. (for those that don’t want to backpack). There is a restaurant/bar combo which you can preorder meals (they shut down from 4-8p for this) or you can just hang out and order drinks. A must is sending a postcard that is carried back up by mule!

There are a few short hikes to do if you need more miles. A couple of us did a 2mile one along the beautiful Colorado River were we got to see the rafters take off. (you can do a multi day/night rafting experience down the river). There was a guest speaker, a traveling artist hiking through the Canyon, painting along the way, as well as ranger talk for entertainment through the evening. This was our latest night of the week, but still asleep by 830p being pitch dark out. The stars were once again mesmerizing.

Grand Canyon Day 3- Our mornings consistently started about 430a to eat breakfast, drink some amazingly good instant coffee, and pack up camp. From Bright Angel Campground was a simple 5miles along Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden Campground. This was the first of the two days of inclines. It went entirely too quick (or we left entirely too early) and I almost just wanted to keep going. We literally had all day to sit around and relax. I disliked this campground the most. Mainly because there wasn’t a stream to sit in like the others.

Camp spots were spread out better. It seemed this was the smallest campground as well. There was the usual bathroom/porta potty and water refill station as well as ranger station. There was also a box of books and games available, which I did not find until too late, but was a great idea to relax the day away

At sunset we set out for Plateau Point which was a 3mile roundtrip hike to a cliff that looked out across the Canyon, and down at the Colorado River. This was probably the most amazing experience of the entire trip! We sat up there for hours as the sun set, the colors of the Canyon changing colors as the sun set. The traveling artist was there too capturing the moments. It was just absolutely peaceful.
Grand Canyon Day 4-The day we were warned about….the toughest of the inclines….almost 5 miles  on Bright Angel Trail to the top of the South Rim of Grand Canyon. The view remained almost the same entire day’, just from farther and farther away. (it was cool though to see the trail in the distance). There were a ton of switchbacks getting you up the mountain and once you hit a rhythm, it was hard to slow down. Because of this, our group of 6 pretty much split up and met at the top.

There are two bathroom/water refill stops on this trail. At the top, the South Rim seems much bigger than the North Rim. There is a complete village, different lodging options, as well as restaurants/bars to choose from. We freshened up in the Bright Angel Lodge and had breakfast at the Bright Angel Restaurant (note, they do not serve alcohol. WHAT?!) We could not get enough scrumptious food! As we waited for our shuttle back to the North Rim (a 4hour drive) we had drinks at the El Tovar lounge.

Luckily, the shuttle driver was nice enough to drop the girls of our group off at Jacob Lodge, as they had to pass by there anyways to get to North Rim, as the men continued to pick up the car.

Dinner and another night was had a Jacob Lodge before we headed back over to Las Vegas.
Day 5-Las Vegas-of course we had to celebrate our accomplishment of conquering the Grand Canyon, and spent a late nighter on the Strip. My early flight out to Albuquerque was a tough one!


Santa Fe Thunder hosts a half marathon, 5k and 1mile run hosted by Global Running Culture, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower youth through participation in sports.

I chose the race for my New Mexico half marathon, as the ‘downhill course’ was tempting, plus with work, I was able to secure a complimentary weekend at The Inn of the Five Graces. This Inn is probably the coolest hotel I have ever stayed in. The artwork, décor, and mosaic tiles throughout the adobes are absolutely stunning. You could sit there relaxing for hours just staring at the beauty and see something new every five minutes. (note*the artist hides her name in your room). The property is working on creating a lovely spa and spa pool, but in the meantime, this is not messed as there are several beautiful and welcoming courtyard areas to lounge on swings, chaise lounges, or eve have your complimentary breakfast delivered to the tables set up outside next to the water fountain. It was an absolute perfect getaway for relaxation after the active week I had!

The bragging rights of this half marathon is that the course that is ‘all downhill’. Well, except for the first couple of miles which they did warn would be uphill. Buts only a few hundred feet compared to the 1,000 overall elevation loss.   


Santa Fe Thunder has an active Facebook community and has a well-organized website. Emails were on par and informative.

Packet pick up was at the same place as the Start, which is always good to familiarize yourself. Unfortunately there were no running supplies to purchase (GU, power bars, socks if you forgot them, etc). They did have a couple of local shirts, but not race specific items. And there were a couple of local vendors selling handmade items which was unique to the area. Sports Authority was there giving away items from a spinning board as well as coupons. (unfortunately SA doesn’t exist where I live any longer).

We did get a race specific water bottle in our packet which is always cool and I won a 2nd water bottle form Sports Authority.

Shuttles started at 545a from Buffalo Thunder, where we were to finish, for the 8am start at Marcy Field. Parking at Buffalo Thunder was expansive, so there weren’t any issues there. Getting out of the car and walking over to the shuttle, on the other hand, we were warned there was a bear or mountain lion growling nearby, so to watch out. Say WHAT?! Thankfully it never returned!

As soon as I got on the bus, about 7 of us were talking (or bragging) about how many half marathons and states we have completed. After 5 years of me doing this, it seems it so commonplace for a large majority of runners bucket lists include running the 50 states. I feel like I no longer stand out on my mission. I still tried to spread the word on The Donna, the reason why I do this, as a couple was from Florida and still never heard of it. The lady I sat next to was about to run her first half marathon. Being my normal self, I barely glanced at the course map, but she was explaining we were pretty much driving it to get to start. That is always disheartening. I much rather prefer the course to be a surprise.

There was also mention of a ‘very limited’, ‘not sure if it will be available’ shuttle from the Buffalo Thunder back to Santa Fe after the race. I would have loved more information on this, as this was my destination race so stayed right in the heart of Santa Fe, walking distance from start.

It was a cool morning in the upper 40s as I still had an hour and a half to wait for the sun to rise and for start. Luckily I brought my gloves and layered my clothes as they had a bag check. I found a small hallway into a locked bathroom which over looked the ballfield and hung out to get away from the wind. Lots of people started running or walking the laps to warm up. Once the sun rose, it started to warm up nicely. Temps were to rise to the upper 70s during the race.

Porta potty lines were not as bad as some people complained. It seemed pretty normal to me. I got to go 3 times before start. They handed out bottled water which is always good if you didn’t bring your own.

There were no pacers or any official line up. I put myself in the back as I knew I was not a good hill runner, and who knows how I was going to feel after backpacking the Grand Canyon.

The goal here was to just survive as who knew how I was going to feel after hiking 30 miles of the Grand Canyon! However, I felt good, not sore at all, and the course ‘was’ downhill…..so why couldn’t I PR?

As soon as we left the Starting area, we literally were going straight up. It was a doozy of a first mile. The second ‘hill’/mile didn’t seem nearly as bad. Then it was ‘all downhill’ from there. Except…..1,000 feet stretched out for 11 miles really isn’t ‘that’ big of downhill. There were a few spots where I could really pick up speed as it seemed like more of a decline. But then rolling hills would show up. The majority of the course runs alongside the highway on a side road, and actually crosses over a couple of times, so there are inclines with the ramps as well. This was not exactly the decline I was expecting. However, I do have to admit for running at 7,000 feet, my lungs were not overworking as much as I would think, so maybe the decline was working? The scenery was basically the mountains in the far distance and you pass a cool spot called Camel Rock. They did have a few musical talents out at different spots and even some belly dancers came out!  
After the first couple of miles, I knew I had to run hard to make up those extra minutes if I wanted to PR. At first it seemed possible, but as the small hills kept coming, I basically gave up knowing this wasn’t the course I was expecting. I basically just continued on without pressure. I finished in my normal 2:25, which to me is still impressive with about 30miles already on my legs from the same week hiking the Grand Canyon and running at elevation when Im used to sea level. I will take it!

The Finish Line didn’t provide much, but they did have a recovery green juice (not to my liking) and popsicles which are always good after a hot race, but it really wasn’t that hot out. There were a couple other snacks, but the thing that gets me is they were selling real food like hamburgers and beer. Id rather them just add an extra $5 to the registration and provide a meal for the runners, especially since you still had to drive back to town (if you did not stay at Buffalo Thunder).

An awesome plus with this race is the photos are free to download. They seemed to be really good pictures and the photographers were located in 3-4 different spots including the finish. However, it seems there is a huge gap missing at the Finish Line and I do not have a single picture.

I really like how the shirt and medal stick with the same theme. The shirt is gender specific and sizing is right on. The wording on the medal however is almost illegible; the font just needs to be larger.

Overall, I think Santa Fe is a really unique and cultural destination to experience. However, Santa Fe Thunder half marathon does not really incorporate that into their course. To walk around the city and experience the history is amazing. To run the course, you don’t really see this being outside of downtown. With that said, I would still recommend this high elevation, easy downhill race. It supports a great charity for our youth and really is quite organized from beginning to finish. Like any race, there could be small improvements to make this an outstanding race, but nothing to stop me from recommending to make a weekend out of this destination. Stay at Buffalo Thunder for a night maybe for the race, but also stay in the heart of Santa Fe to be truly surrounded by the New Mexican culture.

 13.1 2:25
State #24
Half Marathon #54

 I am currently running a half marathon a month and also running a half marathon in each state all to show support and raise awareness for breast cancer via The Donna. Please consider showing your support by making a donation today!

14th Annual New River Gorge-ous Trail Half Marathon, Minden WV-Aug 22, 2015

This was the 14th Annual New River Gorgeous Trail Half Marathon held by Ace Adventure Resort and Tri State Racers in Minden, WV, just outside of ‘the coolest small town’ of Fayetteville.

Camping and running around a lake, with a race that offered ‘free’ camping for race weekend, all with a  low registration of less than fifty bucks? Who wouldn’t jump on this?

The flight into Charleston, WV is just an easy hour drive away. But apparently the actual arriving/departing flights are always an issue, as both my flights arriving and departing were delayed.

Luckily I arrived just in time (literally only 10 minutes to spare) for my first excursion of The New River Gorge Bridge Walk. Yep you guessed it, I got to walk the steel under the bridge 876 feet up and over the New River! Seemed like a pretty calm thing compared to some of my travel adventures, but I thought it would be a cool introduction to the area as the race is in fact named New River Gorge-ous. (it wasn’t until later I learned the race course goes nowhere near the bridge). Once it was all said and done, I walked away really enjoying the experience and highly recommend checking it out! Not only was the guide and tour informative, but it was a whole other feeling. I mean, the bridge literally shook, and the sound of the traffic was intense. We had a couple opportunities to actually sit down and enjoy the view as well, watching the white water rafters below, which was exciting as I was going to be partaking in that the day after the race.


I finally got to settle into my home away from home at Ace Adventure Resort in the early evening.

Although there was free camping for the runners, and you could actually rent tents/sleeping bags, I had decided to upgrade to the ‘tent cabin’ (a YURT of sorts on a wooden platform with a roof and 3 beds) because it was still cheaper than any hotel. If you just can’t handle the camping experience, no worries, there are regular cabins to rent, or you can bring your RV.

The bathhouse in the tenting area was bare minimum and really not a place I could picture myself getting clean. However, there was a huge and ‘new’ bath house in the trip departure area that was much nicer, except the one cold shower.  

Ace Adventure Resort is located on a small lake which is packed full of not only inflatable fun, but also a zip line, a BOB, and a cool slide. You can buy day passes to play all day or part day.

There is a restaurant, bar, and camp store located on site as well. Wifi is available and if you are doing a whitewater rafting trip, the buses leave straight from there as well.

There are a wide range of other activities including but not limited to zip lining (day and night), horseback riding, and rock climbing,

Fayetteville is a short15-20 minute drive to town where there are a few other very good and unique restaurants to try out, such as Pies and Pints and Secret Sandwich Society.

Firewood and supplies are located right at the Ace check in. There really is no need to leave once you are there.


Packet pickup was done the morning of the race at 930a. The race was set to start at 11a, but because it seemed most volunteers did not show, it took them longer to get everyone checked in and registered….yes they even allowed same day registration. We started about 20 minutes late.
We received a shirt in the packet as well as coupons.

There was no opportunity for any fuel/gear/race souvenir purchase.


The race includes a half marathon, 8.5mile, and 5 mile option which runs the trails surrounding Ace Adventure Resort. The 8.5 runs the same exact course as the half until the very end. All three start at the same time, and there is no official line up, which lead to very tight quarters in the first couple of miles. Once we were into the woods (which was very soon and up until the very end) the paths were single file, making it difficult to pass slower runners and also made it hard to see your footing if you ran too close or did try to pass. Because the race reporting was messed up, I do not know the actual number of runners, but I assume it was less than 500.

The elevation difference was about 1700 overall according to my Garmin. The course is a very technical trail with lots of turns, steep hills, cliffs, dirt, tree roots, and big rocks. You constantly have to pay attention to foot placement to avoid falls and twisted ankles.


There was an event page on Facebook and Ace Adventure had a page as well in which they put out limited information the couple of weeks before the race. The actual website is very limited information however, and I never once received an email with any direct race details.


There were 3 water stops for the half marathon. Being a late start and knowing that the temps were going to rise to 80, I made sure I carried a water bottle with me, and I am glad I did. I was able to fill it up at each stop, which consisted of one volunteer manning a cooler and cups of water only. Not once was there Gatorade or fuel of sorts.

Surprisingly, I never over heated or dehydrated, as almost all of the race is in the wood/shade and I never ran out of water. Breakfast was coffee and left over pizza, which probably wasn’t the best of decisions, but I just wasn’t hungry. 11am race time is a very weird time for figuring out eating. I brought with me 2 leftover GU chomps, but unfortunately I did not have enough fuel to keep me going. I absolutely was not prepared to have no Gatorade/fuel provided.

We were also warned at the start that there would be no porta potties on the course, that you would just have to go on trail.... welcome to West Virginia!


Before I go into my results of this race, I’m going to take you back five years to my first year of doing the ‘half marathon a month’ when I travelled to Miami to do my very first and only  ‘trail’ run. I walked away from that race, the only DNF race in my life, and swore I would never do another trail run. It was also in August and I knew absolutely nothing about trail running. Which also meant, I had no idea how much longer it takes to run on trails vs road. I scheduled my flight out that day entirely too close to what I thought I should be finished, and I had to DQ myself. I left that race so embarrassed and defeated. I really had no desire what so ever to do another trail run again.

Well, then came WV New River Gorgeous half. I jumped on it because I thought it sounded fun, inexpensive, and I knew the area had some great whitewater rafting for afterwards! It was quite funny as I opened my running magazine on the airplane and realized it was focused on trail running. I took away tips from experts that actually helped during the race. But little did I know just how much of a technical trail this was going to be. It was very exciting in the first few miles and we even came out to an overlook of the River. At about M6, I was about ‘done’ with hills. It seemed we were constantly going up and never coming down. Every turn, there would be another incline. Before the half way mark, I was definitely down to walking the inclines, then running the straightaways, but also having to walk a lot of the downhills as there were huge rocks to avoid slipping on. I just kept telling myself, I could not get injured as I will be hiking the Grand Canyon in a few weeks! We got really spaced out on the 2nd half of the course, that I literally only saw 1 or 2 people for the rest of the race….and then I saw no one. We came across a small waterfall and creek on the 2nd half and I kept forcing myself to focus on enjoying the scenery (vastly different from Florida beaches) and not focus on the lack of energy. By about M10, even walking the inclines were exhausting. I had to stop and latch onto a tree as my breath had escaped me, I felt faint, and I started to panic because I was all alone. Luckily, I calmed down, continued on, and shortly after, one of the guys in charge came up on a 4wheeler making sure I was okay. I asked if I was last and to much surprise, he said no!


I crossed the finish line with another runner right behind me, but there was literally no race people at the finish. The Finish Line sign was still up, and the clock was still ticking, but no water, no medal, no direction, no one to make sure I was ok.

A lot of families were enjoying the lake amusements, but I felt they also got an amusement of me staggering in too. It took all the effort I had to make it into the restaurant, where I knew they were going to have a burrito buffet for us and that is where I found all the runners as they were waiting for the last runner to do awards. I immediately cramped up, yet still could not find any Gatorade….well, that was because there was none. Still. You had the option of sodas or water. No orange juice, no chocolate milk, no fruits, no bagels, no chips, no nothing. Beer was $1, which if I had known, I would have ran with money. Thankfully the bartender was nice enough to let me have one as I offered to leave my Garmin behind. Highly disappointed, I grabbed my medal, and forced myself to eat a couple of tacos.

Come to find out, the race did not announce a ‘cut off’ time, yet results are not posted past 3:11



The tech shirt is unisex and matches the medal.


The medal is generic without a mention of date



I had an absolute blast the entire weekend and despite the piss poor results, I thoroughly enjoyed trying something not only new, but out of my comfort level. I highly praise trail runners. It is a whole other level of the word ‘runner’ or ‘athlete’!! Not only running at elevation, but running on uneven terrain steadily for 13.1 miles is exhausting in itself, but add in the mental strength you need to constantly be planning and focusing where your next step will be so you do not get injured. Trail runners are BADASS. Bottom line.


I love the concept and location of this race, but the execution could be much better. First off, better/more communication of race details for out of towners would be nice. A different race start time for each distance would help the crowdedness. An earlier start time would be nice to avoid the heat. Gatorade or a fuel drink on the trail is a must. More volunteers for check in would get us to start on time. The burrito/taco/nacho buffet was awesome, but would be nice to have more after race friendly food/drink. (aka bananas, oranges, recovery drink, beer). Despite all of that, I would recommend the race if you don’t mind all of the above, but you are also looking for a challenging course combined with an activity filled weekend. Once at Ace Adventure Resort, you don’t have to leave the property the entire weekend, you get to embrace with nature during the race, and try some exciting excursions in the area all arranged by the same resort. Overall, since the course itself and the partnership with the resort is the only great thing about this race, I would have to give it a C- in my books.

The next day since my flight wasn’t until late, I did a full whitewater excursion of the Lower New River. I had a fun group of girls on my raft and it was a beautiful and exciting day.

State #23
Half Marathon #53

I am currently running a half marathon a month and also running a half marathon in each state all to show support and raise awareness for breast cancer via The Donna. Please consider showing your support by making a donation today!