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Follow as I run a half marathon a month, completing the 50 states! 

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Gulf Beach Half-Milton, CT-Sep 17, 2016

This was the 6th Annual Gulf Beach half marathon located in coastal Milford, CT sponsored by Shoreline Sharks Multisport Team of New England.

The course is an out and back which starts at Gulf Beach, an otherwise 'member only' section of CT coastline that runs through the coastal neighborhoods, down the Silver Sands State Park boardwalk, thru Walnut Beach, towards the Connecticut Audubon and then back. This flat course keeps an almost constant coastal view.

You had 2 options to pick up your packet, the day before in town at a sports machine shop, or before the race. I opted for the day before so I could sleep in. Race morning seemed to be controlled and not delayed if you wait til then. All we received was a bib and shirt

I went to sleep and woke up a little uneasy about parking. I had driven the area the day before, and it was even announced that there were only about 300 parking spots for about 3,000 runners and the rest would be side streets, but make sure to mind the laws as you would be ticketed. Ummmm, that leaves an out of towner a little worried. Luckily I got one of the last parking spots and was also able to stay warm in my car and literally have the start area right in front of me.

There was plenty of porta potties and no lines.

It was a very simple start. I did not even hear a national anthem. They closed the road literally minutes before, laid down the timing strip, and then we were off.

All the stations seemed to be prepared and stocked with water and Gatorade with plenty of volunteers. They even handed out GU at every station.

The only spectators you will see are the ones at the end of their driveway and on the beach trying to figure out what is going on. If you are a slower running, the boardwalk starts to fill out with people strolling and you have to call out that you are running by.

It was a nice cool morning and ended up being a beautiful blue sky day, however, temps rose very quickly with no shade into the 70s. I maintained a 3x1 for about 6 miles and went down slowly to a 2x1 and then a 1x1, feeling good the entire time.

Running on coastal road usually means dealing with roads that are not in the best of shape due to erosion, storms and flooding. This is true for any beach town, and was the case here.  Unfortunately I witnessed someone almost fall in front of me, another runner complaining to her friend she was running slower because she was scared of falling, and then someone that was actually on the ground with an ambulance. This is a probably a course to go out and enjoy the scenery instead of trying to zip through and get a PR.

All of the roads were also open to traffic. I have no idea why the race starts so late at 8am. The sun rose at 630. If they can not get authority to close the streets, at least start the race earlier so we have less traffic to deal with. It was mostly neighborhood roads, but the cars that did come thru, most were not happy. Besides being honked at, we had drivers that would not even move over. And unfortunately there was no authority to control them.

We finished at the same Gulf Beach which was nice to jump into and soak the legs! (its rocky, bring water shoes!) We were given our medal and opportunity for half a Subway sandwich, bag of chips, and cookie. Unfortunately the sandwich was smashed and soggy and I literally counted 10 chips in my bag. There were cold bagels as well (without spread) and they ran out of bananas. I did not see anything to drink besides water.

The gender specific shirt matches the medal, but unfortunately both lack the date. I do like the medal with its unique twisted cord instead of ribbon. The design is simple yet creative. You can engrave the date on the medal on the back with your finish time, but you can't do anything about the shirt.

This is a Beautiful course, there's no doubt about that! If you are looking for a simplistic race to get in some miles and enjoy the scenery, this would be one to experience.


Connecticut is very diverse! I flew into Hartford and stayed in the small historic town of Litchfield Hills for the first two nights as I had a comp agent stay at Winvian Farm. Now this is an awesome experience if you ever have the opportunity! They have 18 different cottages that are all different themes, such as treehouse, lighthouse, stable, greenhouse, helicopter, camping, and the one I stayed in 'music.' Set in a woodsy sprawl of land, I even had visitors during my stay!

All of the surrounding towns are so small and historic I felt like I was in another time era. It was fun to explore the old buildings and lots of New England style homes and farm lands! There are  hiking opportunities and even waterfalls all throughout the state to explore. I stopped at Kent Falls and unfortunately it was a little dry because of the season, but it was still a nice little incline hike to stretch the legs. Covered Bridges can be found in this area as well such as Bulls Bridge and West Cornwall.

When I finally made it to Milford, I was back into city, but still a small one at that. If you come for this race, I would recommend checking out the surrounding cities. There didn't seem like much to do in Milford. I stayed at the Homewood Suites off the interstate which was very accommodating with a full kitchen set up. Fairfield seemed to have a nice little area with bars and restaurants. Brick and Wood was an awesome pizzeria to check out.

If you like camping or have an RV, you must stay at Hammonasset State Park! I was debating back and forth and they sold out before I could make up my mind. Boy did I regret it once I went! This is a huge stretch of nice soft sand beach and a large campground. With the layout of the land, you actually get to see the sunset over water!  Check out Chow in the area if you want some really tasty eclectic food!

13.1- 2:27
HM #66

I am running a half marathon a month as well as running in each of the 50 states all to help spread the word of breast cancer prevention, early detection, and living a healthy lifestyle. Please consider making a DONATION today to show your support. 100% net proceeds go towards the Mayo Clinic and Donna Foundation.

Mesa Falls, Ashton ID-Aug 27, 2016


This was the 20th Anniversary of the Mesa Falls Marathon, Half Marathon and 5k located in Ashton, ID, population of aprx 1,100. Ashton is located right off the Scenic Byway of Mesa Falls, an hour south of West Yellowstone and an hour and half west of Grand Teton National Park. What other perfect location can you ask for to make a beautiful week long vacation?

 I have run my fair share if small town races (I usually prefer them over the larger over priced/underwhelming ones), and this one has got to be one of the smallest with a total field of about 500 runners. However, with the same race director all 20 years, the support is not lacking. This was proven as they convinced Olympian Ryan Hall and wife Sara to come run this course consistently ranked among the top 50 best races of America. 

I have to say though, I believe most of the hype in the reviews are regarding the marathon course and not the half. I partially blame myself because (as usual) I did not analyze the course map. Needless to say I was quite disappointed when I did not see waterfalls, wild animals nor the promised Grand Teton range in the distance.

You see, the Marathon and Half Marathon run the same course, but the Marathon starts 13 more miles deeper into the Targhee National Forest (ie, more woods, more wildlife, more falls, more mountains). The marathoners start 2 hours before of the half marathoners, and meet up at the half marathon start, which is their half way point.

From Targhee National Forest at approximately 6,000 ft, the course takes you on a gravel path next to the river and woods for about 3 miles, then onto an open road with an intense climb for the next couple miles. Once you've reached the top, the remainder of the course is on a 'flat,' open to traffic road with views of grain fields. (flat meaning rolling hills for us southern folk). You then run through downtown Ashton and finish at a park.

I really loved the first 3 miles along the river next to the woods. I scouted for wildlife, but was unsuccessful. I kept a slow and steady pace with a 30sec walk break at each mile. Once onto the road and approaching the killer hill, I just kept my head down and chugged along. I noticed a 50states shirt ahead of me, which made me keep a consistent pace so I could reach her and see what number state she was on. From then on, approximately M6, I started to fade. I made sure to run the flats and downhills, and took the walk breaks on the inclines. Although we started with long sleeves and gloves, the heat rose very quickly by this point with no shade. The entire race I was behind these 2 girls who looked strong and consistent, so I let them be my hares, until the last mile I pushed it on home to get it over with. The altitude did not affect me as much as running the hills, probably because I grew up traveling and skiing mountains. Unfortunately August is 'fire season' (who knew?) and there was a local fire and several in the distance in Yellowstone and Grand Teton. This distant haze unfortunately affected our views of the normal mountain range. I am not sure that it affected my breathing, as I never smelled smoked.

You had the option to pick up your packet (a potato sack) the night before (also with a pasta party and speech from Ryan and Sara Hall) or race morning. Because we were staying in Yellowstone, we waited for race morning. Because there is a shuttle to the start location, we had to wake up extra early. Fortunately, the half does not start until 8a, so it felt like normal time to wake for a race despite the 50minute drive. Picking up our packets at the Elementary School took less than a minute, and then we were offered breakfast with oatmeal, cereal, donuts, bagels, fruit, coffee, milk, etc. We waited for one of the later shuttles, since once you got up to the start location, there is nothing to do but wait in the cold. Thankfully when we did arrive, we were allowed to wait on the bus, which also had a bathroom.

There were 4 porta potties, 2 regular bathrooms, and the bus had a bathroom. There was a tent with water, gu, and other supplies. Other than that, it was just wait. It was a simple start, and unique 'run one lap around the parking lot to make up for the .1 distance.' Gear/bag drop basically was leave your bag on the bus and they will take it to the Finish

These were spaced out a little more than my liking, but they were full of all kinds of options. So much so, I even stopped a couple times to decide what exactly I wanted! Gatorade, water, bananas, grapes, gels, and bars. Clothing was also allowed to be dropped at these zones and they transported it back to the finish for you to claim.

There were only a handful of spectators on the course, but the ones there were very friendly.

The finish was in a park across the street from the Elementary school where we parked. Pizza, fruit, and chocolate milk was provided. Massages were offered, but there was only 1 table which left the wait time too long for us to stay. There was no music nor adult beverages to celebrate. Once we caught our breath and grabbed our bags, we took off.

A huge plus with this race is the motel next door, The Anglers Lodge provided showers for runners for $5. It basically was your own room to take your time and refresh. This was much appreciated before our hour and half drive to Grand Teton!

We were also given a ticket for a free huckleberry shake at the local diner 511 Main. Unfortunately, we went to have lunch as well, but were quickly scooted out after trying to get a table twice with two different people saying they were too full. We grabbed the shakes that were readily available at the door and headed out of town.

The shirt is a long sleeve gender specific tech shirt thankfully without sponsor logos splattered all over the back.

The medal is a great concept that was unfortunately poorly produced. I love the wood concept, and I don't even mind the plain ribbon, but the blurred image is not even recognizable. :(

This is a perfect 'mid point' race location if you are looking to do the National Parks and love small town, small field races.

We flew into Salt Lake City for the cheapest nonstop airfare.
From there, if you are visiting Grand Teton National Park first, make sure to take the scenic route 89 to Logan, Bear Lake, Afton. You will pass the beautiful Bear Lake as well as several Nationals Forests and small towns. (we actually did this for our return route back to SLC)

Since we were doing Yellowstone first, and I wanted to explore more of Idaho since that was where our race was, we took the 'nothing but grain fields' I-15N. We decided to cut up the long drive with a stop in Lava Hot Springs. Here you will find fun (and cold) white water tubing down the Portneuf River. (note, there is an area near the start where the hot springs run into the river and create a little pool you can sit in. This is your 'free' option of hot springs. Or you can pay to visit the Pools or a spa.)

We stayed at the small boutique, Harkness hotel, a historic bank, turn post office, turn hotel, about 10 minutes away. The gift shop still has the bank vault door and there are historic pictures of the building throughout. It was quite an experience as both of us woke in the middle of the night at different times feeling 'energy' in the room. When questioning the property if there had ever been reports of sightings, we came up empty, but who knows? Check it out for yourself!

We took the scenic route the next day and headed to Shoshone Falls (known to be larger than Niagara Falls) and Craters of the Moon National Preserve. (note, if your gps takes you down a gravel/lava road, turn around!) Shoshone Falls has a park and a couple trails if you want to stay and picnic. When leaving make sure to go over the Perrine Bridge and look for base jumpers leaping off the bridge! When you arrive to Craters of the Moon, pick up your cave permit from the Visitor Center and explore underground! (note, you can not have any clothing or equipment on you that you wore in another cave in the past 11 months). We explored the Indian Cave which let you enter at one point, scramble over boulders, and out another. Unfortunately we did not see any bats, but it was a unique experience to see the lava fields in the middle of nowhere.

We finally then arrived to Yellowstone Under Canvas, our glamping home for the next 3 nights. This is located very close to West Yellowstone entrance. This was our 2nd 'Under Canvas' experience, as we did Moab, UT while running the Thelma and Louise in 2015. This one was probably a notch higher in luxury in regards to it was on the same property as Bar n Ranch lodge which allowed us to utilize the common area (wifi) and restaurant. Yellowstone Under Canvas also had 2 areas with community bonfires (unfortunately we were under a fire ban during our stay) and a huge tent with indoor gas fireplace and sofas to mingle. The bathrooms were also nicer and larger. There are also 2 huge event tents if you are looking to bring a group.

We spent 2 days inside Yellowstone National Park and were easily able to see just about all of it driving and getting out to do small hikes. The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is a must see with the beautiful canyon and waterfalls. Of course Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic geysers are must dos as well, but if you want to avoid crowds, go earlier in the day. Grand Prismatics colors only really pop when the sun is hitting it perfectly. While waiting for Old Faithful to start, grab snacks and a drink and prop yourself into one of the rocking chairs at the Museum that face directly to Old Faithful. It was advised to go to Hayden and Lamar valleys early to see the wildlife, but to be honest, we saw most of the wildlife all day and even in the middle of the street throughout the rest of the park! Bison literally own this park and we easily spotted them everywhere. Elk and deer were the next popular.

After the half marathon, we tried another glamping experience at Moose Creek Ranch in Victor ID. We fell in love as soon as we arrived! The setup here was more cabin like with wooden walls, but still the canvas tent and wood fire stove inside and your own bonfire pit at your porch. It is situated right on a creek which is a wonderful sound as you drift to sleep. There is a community lodge with wifi, tv, pool table, fireplace, and couches to lounge. Outside you have horse stables and the most manicured lawn to sit in a swing and enjoy! Weddings are very popular here so make sure you book well in advance!

This small town of Victor surprised us with all its offerings! Driving in, we stopped at Grand Teton Distillery and tasted several potato vodkas and moonshine! Once the sun goes down, pop into the drive in theater called Spud. You cant miss it with the large potato sitting roadside! Also you don't want to miss Big Hole BBQ where you will have the most mouth watering bbq. Enjoy it upstairs on their patio! Scratch has 'wicked good' breakfast and a nice outdoor patio as well.

Our last 2 nights we stayed in Teton Village at Hotel Terra and toured Grand Teton National park and the town of Jackson. Hotel Terra is located right next to 2 gondolas to take you up 3,000+ft to fantastic views of Jackson Hole. (if you are on a budget take the free one, Bridger, which takes you to Piste restaurant and bar which has happy hour.) End your night at Hotel Terras large rooftop hot tub under the stars! There is also an infinity pool overlooking the village. Check the community website for local events in Teton Village. The night we arrived, there was a free concert happening!

We spent 2 days inside Grand Teton National Park. Grand Teton is completely different than Yellowstone. You wont see nearly as much wildlife roaming the streets like Yellowstone, but you will see moose in the waters along the road. You will definitely want to plan a hike, otherwise you can drive it in just a couple hours (or less). We chose to take the boat across Jenny Lake to the Inspiration Point hike and beyond to Cascade Canyon. Even though we had seen the mountain range from the road, getting into it is a whole other moving experience!

The town of Jackson is where you will find all the touristy shops and restaurants, as well as the four huge antler arches!

TIPS-Make sure to purchase bear spray (you never know). They also do rent it inside the park, if that is easier for you. Make a cooler with lunch and make it an entire day in the park. The restaurants inside Yellowstone are not spectacular and over priced. Grand Teton does not have any. Make sure you smell proof your items with double ziplock bags, including trash.
Bring your binoculars as well. Although a lot of animals are up close, you can scout even more from a distance.

Yellowstone and Grand Teton are so close to each other, you might as well do them in the same trip. Two days in both parks was plenty of time for us. Extend it if you are planning more extensive, long hikes. Yellowstone is much larger and can take hours to get from one side to the other, unlike Grand Teton you pretty much have the same mountain view at any point of the park. Yellowstone was definitely an awesome and vastly unique experience in each corner of the park so if you were to stay at one park longer than the other, I would chose Yellowstone.

13.1 -2:39
State #29
HM #65

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/2017-marathon/melissajohnson

Missoula, MT half marathon-July 10, 2016

This was the 10th Annual Missoula Marathon and Half Marathon, with a fun Beer Run Friday night and 5k on Saturday.

There were two opportunities to meet with Elite Runners, Jeff Galloway and Michael Wardian during the race weekend.

There were weekly (if not more) newsletters sent out via email to keep you up to date, as well as active postings and replies on Facebook. The website was also stocked with all the right information, including direction to Visit Destination Missoula website for discounts on hotels, cars, and even whitewater rafting!

Flying into Missoula can be a little difficult, if not just plain expensive. I flew out of Orlando via Denver, with a 5 hour layover and a red eye flight back to Florida. Unfortunately both flights out of Denver were delayed making this a very long and exhausting journey. I flew on Frontier for the very first time and I will have to say it was the cleanest, but also most uncomfortable flight I have ever taken. I feel like the seats, that do not recline, where made out of thin hard plastic. I knew going into it they are a discount airline that nickel and dime you for everything, including a seat (yes, you do not get a seat assignment unless you pay) as well as carry on bags. But what drew the line was just how uncomfortable the seat was itself.

With this being a summer race, and wanting to save money, I decided to rough it and camp at the KOA campground, located conveniently between the airport and historic downtown. This was a nice 'city' campground with all the amenities... coverings for tent sites, bath house, breakfast and ice cream social, pool, and even wifi inside my tent!

The Expo was held both Friday and Saturday at a park located along the river in Historic Downtown. Saturday was perfectly combined with the Farmers Market making it a fun morning of meeting locals, tasting fresh produce and baked goods. To top that off, there were 2 more markets (1 artisan and another farmers) located just walking distance on the opposite side of downtown! It was a beautiful afternoon to be outside!

The Expo itself had the official race merchandise, a running store merchandise, and a couple other vendors selling and also giving away goodies (I scored free sunglasses and a small towel!)

There was also an opportunity to write on a motivational board. (not sure where this ended up going?)

Jeff Galloway had a table set up to speak and take pictures with him as well as purchase one of his books.

This is a point to point "flat"course starting in the countryside and running back to downtown. Missoula is located approximately 3,000 feet above sea level, and there are definitely some rolling hills, especially a good downhill in the beginning, but nothing too difficult.

Parking was extremely easy at the University where we boarded a shuttle. There were multiple shuttles where they even separated the full and half marathon runners.


The shuttle dropped us off in a parking lot with over an hour to spare. It was quite chilly and no shelter for warmth. Good thing I had my mylar blanket with me. There were plenty of port potties with little wait. To my surprise fireworks started going off! Turns out, they lit fireworks every 5 minutes until the start time! I found it very odd and not being much of a morning person, a bit annoying. There wasn't any entertainment as we waited, except a very loud speaker who hollered off interesting stats of the race and participants.

There was a hill to walk up and down to do a warm up laps as we waited for the sun to rise so we could start the race.

The weeks leading to race day, temps were predicted for mid 80s. However, the week of the race, a cold front headed our way, dropping the temps into the 50s with a high chance of rain. Luckily it remained overcast and ended up being perfect summer running conditions! Although I feel some Northerners may have thought it was a bit warm, as they brought on sprinklers and water guns to cool people off!

Although the majority of the spectators were at the Finish Line, there was a fair amount to cheer us on, but they seemed to be the same ones over and over following the same runners. There were a lot of posters that were plastered to poles throughout the course to be our motivation.

The stations were well stocked with water and Poweraid and plenty of volunteers shouting out with their northern accents and 'You Betchas!' There were also gummy bears at multiple stops. Wet sponges were passed out and Gel was also provided.

We started on a downhill country road passing pastures of horses and cows. There were some musicians along the course including a violinist, drummer, rock and roll band, and a pianist in a field. A Marathon Maniac running his 50th state stopped at the pianist and belted out a song he wrote for this special occasion. We ran through a lot of neighborhoods and as we approached Downtown Missoula, you could see the infamous M on the mountain. I felt pretty good the entire course. It wasn't too hot nor too cold and the course wasn't too challenging. My times the past few months have been struggling, due to an overindulgence of taking time off from training. So I was happy with feeling good and maintaining a decent time.

The Finish Line was right over the bridge in Downtown, basically right where the packet pick up was. This was unfortunately also a good half mile to mile walk back to our cars at the University.

The set up of the Finish Area was a bit chaotic. The first thing you came across was the food, which was not lacking. There was pasta, quinoa, bagels, oranges, bananas, Fig Newtons, watermelon, popsicles. Unfortunately they put everything on separate small plates, so I walked away carrying at least 4 plates piled on top of each other.

Next was the Gear Trucks, which was mayhem. We were jammed packed trying to get to our UPS trucks; no order to the lines, and seemed like no order to the bags inside the trucks. I was soaked in sweat and now freezing and shivering trying to get my bag. Next up was a couple blocks walk to get to the beer. Thankfully there wasn't a line for that, but unfortunately you were only allowed one. I grabbed it and drank it on my long walk back to the car.

The gender specific shirt is cool, except for it being orange. I like the outline of the state, and the infamous moose with running shoes. The full marathon received a purple shirt.

I like the uniqueness to the medal being in the shape of the state. Kudos for thinking outside the box!

Free photos were provided, however, the photographer was only located at the Finish.

Missoula has a great variety of local breweries and distilleries. Pick up your 'passport' for the Missoula Spirit and Ale Trail at any of the stops and test the local flavors including huckleberry. Montgomery was my favorite (I went twice!) with the entire bar full of fresh herbs that they mix into your unique concoctions! Stamp 9 breweries or 3 distilleries and receive a stainless steel glass or shot glass!

Looking for a warm up or recovery run? Just look for the M on the hill and you've found the M Trail which will get your heart racing and give you a scenic view of the city!

Looking for a day trip? Missoula is an easy 2 1/2 hour drive away from Glacier National Park. The scenic drive takes you by the beautiful Flathead Lake. Plan to stop at the Flathead Lake Brewery for lunch which overlooks the water. The drive takes you past several cherry farms along the lake, making it an experience you wont forget!

Once at the park, the Going to the Sun route is an easy drive straight across the park, but if you want to leave the driving to someone else, jump on one of the Red Bus Tours (which is not a typical bus, but instead a vintage 1930s bus with a roll back top!) Make sure you are up there around dawn or dusk to increase your chances of catching the wildlife! Campgrounds fill up fast, but no fret, there are several right outside the park as well, including Glacier Campground at the West Entrance and Glacier Under Canvas yurts just a little further!

Missoula is your gateway to embrace nature! Come run the countryside, wine and dine afterwards in a small historic downtown with big flavor and friendly crowds, then venture off to one of the most popular National Parks for recovery and gorgeous scenery!

Because of the overall weekend experience, I would recommend Missoula as a great race destination!

State #28

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/2017-marathon/melissajohnson