The Post I've Been Putting Off...

Some of you may have noticed it's been quiet on my blog for a little while.  In fact, I've sat down to write posts several times, but never had the heart to finish them.  The short answer to my lack of posting is a simple one - I've been incredibly depressed the past few months.  For those of you following me on social media, you may have noticed I've really dropped the ball on basically all channels the past few months.  I've just not had the heart to do much posting.  In fact, I've only recently begun to start getting active on Twitter and Instagram again.  It's very  hard to curate images that are beautiful when you feel so heavy.  

I've been doing a lot less guiding at my job the past few months.  I love being a guide and teaching people how to see and explore the outdoors in new ways.  The wildfire that swept our region back in November has had devastating effects on area businesses.  Many local places are reporting being down between 20-45% from last year.  In fact, many people are still under the impression that the entire town of Gatlinburg and all of the Great Smoky Mountains are completely decimated.  The truth of the matter is that 1700 homes were lost, but many businesses reopened in the past few months or are rebuilding.  The Smokies only saw 2% of the park damaged by fire and the damage becomes less and less noticeable every day thanks to spring rejuvenating the burned ground.  Getting people to come back to the area, however, has been really, REALLY tough.  

The past few months haven't been all bad for me.  As usual, I focus my off-season months on running.  I ran a PR in both the half marathon (finally running a sub 2-hr half) and full marathon (4:05:30 - nearly 20 minutes off last year) events I entered this year.  I ran a trail marathon without ever having really gone trail running.  I ran my fastest ever mile.  I even decided to start focusing on more endurance and ultra events in 2018.  Physically, I'm in the best shape I've ever been in.  Mentally though, I'm not doing so hot. The past few months have brought up a lot of personal issues I need to deal with and I'm just now dragging myself out of the hole to do it.  It's been really heart-wrenching at times and, if any of you have ever dealt with depression, you know it's not an easy road to recovery.  Add to that the fact that I don't have health insurance and that means I'll be paying for all of this out-of-pocket and you've got an even tougher road ahead.  

For those of you still looking for trail advice and reading trail journals, I'm still reachable by email and by Facebook.  I'm still loving answering your questions and helping you plan your journey.  Just know that the posts will be coming back slowly and it might be a quick minute before I'm feeling up to the task.  For those of you who are regular readers, please note that I'm writing posts for you guys!  It's very hard to continue coming up with new ideas, graphics, and formatting that makes sense.  Drop a comment every once in a while and let me know you're reading.  It's very tough to continue writing if you feel like no one is out there!

I'll be back at it again soon.  Happy Trails!

Soul Food - A Trail Recipe

While some hikers love easy, no cook dinner options I happen to be one of those hikers who just loves a hot meal, no matter how hot it is outside! To me, a hot meal can really end my day on a good note.  Was it hot and nasty today? A good meal makes me feel better.  Cold and drizzly?  A hot meal warms me up and sends me to bed happy.  Now, imagine you’re having a tough day out on the trail and you open your food bag to see that you left yourself your absolute favorite dinner for tonight.  This moment can not only change your day, it can sometimes change your entire outlook!  One of those trip altering meals I had on the Benton MacKaye Trail was this one - Soul Food.  I adapted it from the book Lipsmackin’ Vegetarian Backpackin’ and it was definitely one we think about even off trail!  If you wanted to take this meal to the next level and you aren't vegetarian, you could even add in chunks of summer sausage!

Soul Food - 1 serving

1/2 heaping cup brown rice, dehydrated and cooked in veggie stock
1/3 cup of precooked and dried black-eyed peas
2 tbsp onion soup mix (here’s the recipe I use, but you can use store bought Lipton brand)
1 tsp onion flake (in addition to your soup mix!)
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp parsley flake
1/2 tsp cajun/creole seasoning
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp bacon bits/TVP
1 pack Cholula hot sauce
Optional: Slices of summer sausage

At home: Add all ingredients to a zip top bag and seal.  Shake to combine evenly.  Add one pack of Cholula hot sauce to the bag before packing.  

On trail: Pour contents of the bag into your cook pot, minus the hot sauce, and cover with water, leaving approximately 1/2 to 1 inch of water extending over your ingredients.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Take off the heat, add sausage if you'd like, and let meal sit for 5-10 minutes.  Check the texture of the beans for doneness before adding hot sauce and digging in. 

Dal with Rice - A Trail Recipe

Indian cuisine is so delicious - all those earthy flavors with a hint of spiciness.  When I’m out hiking a long trail any time I see a town that has an Indian restaraunt I’m spending my days and nights dreaming of that food!  When I was hiking the AT in 2012 one of my favorite “Treat Yo’ Self” meals came in the form of the ready-to-eat India Kitchens meals.  Granted, they’re heavy and you have to eat them basically your first night out of town, it always made me smile to see hikers turn their heads to see where that delicious smell was coming from.  You’d be the most popular hiker in camp when you had Indian-style meals!  Since India Kitchens is heavy and a bit cost prohibitive, I set out to make my own Dal for backpacking.  Below is my favorite dal recipe, dehydrated and packed up for a backpacking trip!

Dal with Rice - 1 serving

1/3 cup dehydrated jasmine rice (I cook mine in veggie stock before drying)
1/3 cup dehydrated dal (see below)
1/4 cup mixed dehydrated mushrooms, eggplant, and bell pepper
2 tbsp chopped cashews
2 tbsp currents (or raisins)

At home: Add all ingredients to a zip top bag and mix well.  

On trail: Add contents of the bag to your cook pot and cover with water.  Bring meal to a boil, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking.  Once the meal boils, remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to meld the flavors.  

My favorite dal recipe:

2 Tbsp of butter or ghee
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp whole cumin seeds (crushed to release flavor)
1 Tbsp of Garam Masala
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp salt (maybe more)
2 tsp curry powder
2 serrano chiles, chopped small (seeds removed if you wish)
2 cups of red lentils
3 cups (approximately) of chicken or veggie broth
1 can of diced tomatoes

Sautee the onion in the butter/ghee until slightly caramelized. Then, add in your garlic, chiles, and spices.  Cook until very fragrant, only about 1-2 minutes.  Add your lentils and your stock, covering the contents of your pot about half an inch or so.  Cook until your lentils are halfway cooked, soft outside but still firm in the middle.  Add in your tomatoes and cook down until lentils are soft.  Taste for saltiness and add salt to your liking.  Let your mixture cool to room temperature before adding to food processor or blender to puree.  

To dehydrate your dal, spread the mixture in a thin, even layer on a fruit leather sheet or parchment paper.  Dry in your dehydrator on 135 degrees until it begins to crack and dry, resembling chalk.   

Aftershokz Sportz Titanium Headphones - Gear Review

I recently received a pair of Aftershokz Sportz Titanium headphones to try out and review for my readers.  Since many people enjoy running or even hiking with earbuds in I thought it would be great to review something that both the running and hiking crowds would enjoy.  Read on to see if Aftershokz Sportz Titanium headphones worked for me. 

Aftershokz headphones are different in that instead of going in your ears and falling out (am I the only one with this problem?!) they go over your ears and rest on your face.  These headphones use bone conduction technology to keep your ears open while you're out running or hiking.  This comes in pretty handy when you run in areas with heavy traffic or you'd like to hear people coming up behind you on trail.  So, what happens is the vibration is directed into your inner ear without blocking up your ears.  Here's a quick illustration:

The orange lines represent where Aftershokz directs the sound versus the blue - where traditional headphones direct sound. 

The orange lines represent where Aftershokz directs the sound versus the blue - where traditional headphones direct sound. 

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:

The first thing I noticed about these headphones is that the plug isn't straight, but curved. Immediately I was unable to use these headphones with my Catalyst iPhone case.  Running without my phone case isn't ever going to happen - it's waterproof and shatterproof. If you've got a new iPhone that doesn't have a headphone jack, these won't work for you either.  The second thing I noticed was that they have to be charged.  ...What...? Well, the good news is they hold a charge for 12 hours.  If you're out hiking this might not be super impressive for you though, as that could be only one day worth of battery power.  

I can't show you how this sits on the headphone jack for my phone because how else would I take a photo? haha

I can't show you how this sits on the headphone jack for my phone because how else would I take a photo? haha

USAGE:

Since I couldn't use the headphones, NoKey did.  We charged them up and then figured out you have to turn them on with the power button on the little battery pack thing.  The sound quality was really great and he could still hear me talking to him.  The downside, however, was that I could hear his music, haha!  Taking these headphones for a run, he said they were comfortable and didn't move.  They also come with a tiny clip so you can attach the wire close to your body (like on your collar).  This proved beneficial so the wire didn't bounce during a run.  The little battery pack is only a few inches away from the phone while they're plugged in, so it just went inside his pocket where he carried the phone.  The rear band of the headphones goes around the nape of your neck and has a reflective band for visibility, so that's a pro!

He makes headphones look good :)

He makes headphones look good :)

Pros:
-They allow you to hear your surroundings with bone conduction technology
-Reflective strip on the back
-Clip included to keep wire close to the body
-If you need a microphone/call answering option on your headphones, this pair has that
-Lightweight with a carrying bag

Cons:
-They didn't fit me well. At all. 
-They need to be charged
-You have to turn them off
-Everyone around you can hear what you're hearing
-The plug is "sideways" and doesn't work with my phone case 

While these headphones we're exactly for me, you might find reviews from other BibRave Pros helpful if you're trying to decide if they're right for YOU!  Check out reviews by Jeannine, Mary Jo, and Mark David. 

Are these headphones right for you? Buy them and get a free water bottle!

Visit this link and get a free stainless steel water bottle with your Aftershokz Sports Titanium purchase. They're $59.95 and come in 2 colors (Onyx Black or Ocean Blue).  Free shipping to the US and Canada. They also have a 45-day money back guarantee.  

Do you listen to music when you're running or hiking?  What kind of headphones do you use?

Disclaimer: I received Aftershokz Sportz Titanium headphones for free to review 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!

Hot Chocolate 15K - Nashville

Pros: Easy Course, great scenery, chocolate, well-placed aid stations, free race photos, preferred corrals for your estimated race time (with proof of other race times) 
Cons: Mandatory expo, early start time (especially for those of us from other time zones!)

This is my second Hot Chocolate race this year, my first being in Atlanta. Since I ran Atlanta only a few short weeks before this one, my expectations were pretty clear in my mind. With Atlanta, I purchased a parking pass for downtown. With Nashville, I didn't because I'm more familiar with the area. Parking downtown, if you're familiar, isn't nearly as much of a nightmare as you'd think! The fact that the expo is mandatory, however, does make it frustrating for those of us from out-of-town. The expo, as compared to other HC15K Expos I've seen, was definitely lacking. I liked the venue, because it was kind of cute and kitchy (like Nashville!), but there wasn't much to see in terms of vendors. This expo also only had stale marshmallows dipped in chocolate for a "treat". In Atlanta, they had a few types of snacks and also the famous hot chocolate for samples. Atlanta also had a slew of retailers whereas this one had maybe two and they were so crammed together that even though I went when the expo first opened at noon, you couldn't even look at the merchandise.

Race day came earlier (7 a.m.) than the Atlanta race, and the weather was about the same. It was breezy, warm (60's) and a bit sprinkly. I never mind an overcast day when I'm running though! The race started and ended downtown at Bicentennial Park and I really enjoyed taking in the scenery running the loop around Nashville - my favorite way to see a city is on foot! The course was also relatively easy (like Atlanta) with only about 350 feet in elevation gain throughout the 15K.

I love running Hot Chocolate Races and I think the race management team is top notch. They are ON IT when it comes to social media and keeping participants informed. I would recommend this race series to anyone who is looking for a "big name" race to practice running in larger crowds.

Disclaimer: I received a I received a free entry to review Hot Chocolate 15K - Nashville 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!

Sweet Breakfast Rice - Trail Recipe

Breakfast recipes on the trail can be hit or miss for some people.  While some hikers prefer to walk and eat, others prefer waking up with a full breakfast to keep them going in the morning.  Before I became a distance hiker I wasn't much of a breakfast eater.  After I got into my trail routine, however, I quickly realized that if I wanted to have any kind of energy before noon I needed to eat a few times in the morning.  In 2015, when we were setting out to do our thru hikes around the east coast, it was very clear that I'd need to make breakfasts for myself as NoKey definitely falls into the "walk and eat" category of backpackers.  I found myself focusing on flavors I loved and that's where this recipe came from.  

Back in the day, well, back in 2008 when I first started backpacking, there was a brand of commercial foods called Enertia.  They had an amazing breakfast I loved called Cherokee Rice Pudding and it was a sweet breakfast you could eat hot or cold.  I knew when I was setting out to create breakfasts for myself that Cherokee Rice Pudding would need to be recreated.  Sadly, Enertia was bought by Coleman several years ago and the food brand was phased out.  Since I couldn't find the ingredients online I recreated my own special version of Sweet Breakfast Rice. 

Sweet Breakfast Rice (2 servings)

1/2 home dehydrated basmati rice, cooked in vanilla almond milk before drying
1/4 cup dried tropical fruit of your choice (I love to mix it up!)
2 tbsp slivered almonds
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon

At home, mix all ingredients together in a small mixing bowl making sure to evenly distribute all flavors.  Split in half amongst two zipper bags and seal. 

On Trail: Add ingredients to your cook pot and bring to a boil.  Let sit until cool enough to eat or until you reach desired texture.  

Stunt Puppy Running Leash - Gear Review

Disclaimer: I received a Stunt Puppy Leash to review 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!

While many of you know I hike and run, a lot of you may not know that with the exception of going with NoKey, my OTHER favorite running and hiking buddy is my Gordon Setter Gracie!  When I was offered the opportunity to try out Stunt Puppy's Stunt Runner dog leash, I was so excited to try a piece of gear that other runners and hiker's might find fun too!  Check out my review of the Stunt Runner leash. 

Gordon Setters are active dogs who love to be outside and run!  It's always tough for me to find a good medium between a leash that keeps Gracie close and a leash that gives her enough room to roam while we're outside.  I love the fact that this leash stretches from three feet to just over four feet when we're outside.  Most places with dog leash laws do require their leash be less than 6 feet, so you definitely won't run into any problems keeping your dog close with this one!

Gracie stretching the leash to about four feet in length. 

Gracie stretching the leash to about four feet in length. 

Another great feature of this particular leash is that you can hold it in your hand like many traditional leashes or you can extend it to go around your waist.  You get additional length if you're holding it, but the waist feature is great for when you're running a similar pace with your pup.  It's very comfortable around the waist, too!

Going for the hand-held option when we're walking - it lets the leash be longer so she can get to all the things she wants to see!

Going for the hand-held option when we're walking - it lets the leash be longer so she can get to all the things she wants to see!

For running, I really enjoyed having the leash around my waist to keep her closer to me.  I always hate when I feel like Gracie gets too far away from me and becomes a hazard to others out on the trail.  The shorter length makes me feel like I've got more control and that she won't be in the way of others.  Hiking downhill with the leash around my waist proved pretty difficult though.  She's 3/4 of my weight, so when she really gets moving downhill that means I've got to pick up the pace!  For hiking, the leash proved to be a little too short for me!

A photo from the Stunt Puppy website shows how the leash can be worn on the waist!

A photo from the Stunt Puppy website shows how the leash can be worn on the waist!

One other great feature of this leash that I like a lot is the quick release connector.  This allows you to get other products and use the same loop.  It also lets Gracie run free when she's back at the car after a long walk or hike.  I think she likes it as much as I do!

From now until March 15, 2017, Stunt Puppy is giving blog readers a 20% discount on their website with the code BIBRAVE217.  Check them out - I think you'll love them!

Breakfast Couscous - Trail Recipe

Breakfast is definitely my favorite meal of the day.  I don't always eat it first thing when I get up, but I can promise I eat a proper breakfast of some kind every single day.  Trying to get in a healthy breakfast while out on the trail can be tough, especially with all the convenient grab and go options out there.  Getting ready for my Tahoe Rim Trail thru hike in 2017 has me prepping lots of easy breakfast options and breakfast couscous is a quick and easy go-to that I enjoy both on the trail and when I need to grab something quick to take with me.  

Breakfast Couscous (2 servings)

1 cup whole wheat couscous
1/3 cup dry coconut milk
2 tbsp brown sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 nuts of your choice (slivered almonds are my favorite!)
1/4 dried fruit of choice

At home: Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl and stir to combine, paying attention to the brown sugar as it has a tendency to clump.  Once all items are mixed, split into two portions in zip top bags.  Seal. 

On Trail: To eat cold, add cold water to your couscous before going to bed - just enough to cover the couscous by about an inch.  Seal the bag and squish it to mix.  Eat cold in the morning.  If you'd like it hot, add couscous to your cook pot and cover with water, about an inch to an inch and a half over the mixture.  Bring to a boil, remove from heat, stir, and let cool.  

Ultimate Coffee Date - February 2017

Another month has come and gone, which means it is time to catch up with all of you once again!  So, pull up a chair and a cup of coffee or tea and join me and our hosts, Coco @ Got 2 Run 4 Me, Lynda @ Fitness Mom Wine Country, & Deborah @ Confessions of a Mother Runner! , for an ultimate coffee date!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I had a great January run-wise! Fresh off the completion of my first ever ultra marathon I was able to dive back into marathon training with no injuries - something I'm super proud of!  I ended up getting in 101 miles from January 2nd to February 2nd.

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I've been getting up on Saturdays, with the exception of race days of course, to run at 5 a.m. with other people.  This has honestly really helped me on my long run days.  It's amazing how motivated you are to run a little faster when you're trying to keep pace with other people! Now I finally get why people enjoy running groups!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I really enjoyed my short run-cation to Atlanta last month to run Hot Chocolate 15K!  I hadn't been to Atlanta in such a long time.  My favorite way to travel is on foot, so getting to see the sights in the city at my own pace was so relaxing.  I'm super excited to be running in Nashville on 2-11! (code NashvilleBRHC gets you a free visor when you register!)

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: That right now, if you're reading this on February 4th before 11 a.m. I'm trying to run my first ever official sub 2 hr half marathon!  I unofficially broke my PR and ran 1:56:00 last week during a training run.  I'm super hopeful I can do it at a race today!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I'm really working to hold everything together lately.  I feel incredibly frazzled and I wonder sometimes if it's because I'm spending too much time online - either working on the blog or interacting with run/hike groups or answering emails (which I love to do! you can always email me!)  One of my goals for this month is to spend less time online and more time reading books.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I've finally gotten back into a near-daily yoga habit again.  One of the things I really hate about where I live is the fact that there isn't any yoga near me.  It's at least half an hour one way to a studio with a class at intermediate levels.  I've been back to doing yoga on YouTube, but I'm honestly starting to get bored with it.  Anyone have any suggestions for online yoga classes?

So that's about all that is going on with me this month.  I'd love to hear what you're up to! Leave me a comment about how your 2017 is going!

The Ultimate Coffee Date

Trail Mac 'N Cheese - Trail Recipe

There are fewer meals hikers love more than Mac 'N Cheese.  When I was thru hiking on the AT, Mac N Cheese night more often than not meant a box of the cheapest stuff at the store without any milk or butter to make it more delicious.  Then, you’d wipe the pot clean with whatever kind of bread you had to clean it up.  Mac 'N Cheese is a fun comfort food, but when you’re making your own meals with nutritional factors in mind a box of the cheapie stuff just won’t do.  Here’s my recipe for Trail Mac that will definitely leave you wanting more!

Trail Mac - 1 serving

1/2 cup macaroni of your choice (does not need to be precooked!)
1/4 cup dehydrated veggies
1/2 tsp dried onion flake
1 tbsp + 1 tsp cheese powder
1 tbsp full fat powdered milk
1/4 tsp dried parsley
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp red pepper flake

At home: Add the macaroni, dehydrated veggies, and onion flake into a sandwich size zip top bag.  Add the cheese powder, milk powder, and spices to a smaller snack size zip top bag and mix to combine.  Seal the smaller bag, add to the larger bag, and seal.  

On trail: Add macaroni to your pot and cover with water (just to the tops of the pasta).  Bring to a boil, stirring every few minutes to avoid sticking.  Cook pasta to desired level of doneness and stir in the contents of your spice/cheese packet.  Let meal sit, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens.  

Hot Chocolate 15K - Atlanta

I recently was able to travel to Atlanta to run my first ever Hot Chocolate Race - and also my first official 15K distance race.  Since I hadn't been to Atlanta since I was a freshman in high school, I was excited for the opportunity to not only run this sweet race series, I was also excited for the chance to see the city on foot - my favorite way to travel!  You'll find my race review for Hot Chocolate 15K below. 

This race was scheduled for the weekend of January 21-22.  While this would usually be a cold weekend to race, we had been experiencing quite the warm spell in this particular area for about a week and race day temperatures were going to be in the 60s by the finish of the race! I'm not one to complain about warm temperatures, but unfortunately in the south unseasonably warm weather also brings with it a chance of thunderstorms!  That's exactly what we dealt with on Saturday and Sunday in Atlanta.  Being nervous the race would be canceled, I went ahead and got in a half marathon distance run with a friend before deciding to travel down for the race expo.  Other events on Saturday had been canceled due to lightening.  After chatting with someone from the race on Twitter (@HotChocolate15K) I was more confident in the fact the race would be taking place as usual Sunday morning, so I packed up my stuff and headed down for my one-night racecation!

After getting to Atlanta I was so thankful I purchased the pre-race parking package offered on the website.  With all the events taking place in the city during this weekend (Women's March, Falcons in the playoffs, etc.) I was glad I had a place to go and didn't have to add time to driving around the city.  I was also excited to be able to meet up with two BibRave Pros - Samantha and Jessica!  We hit up an Atlanta Institution - The Vortex - for some pre-race grub.  After being up since 4 a.m. I was finally able to hit my hotel and get in bed about 10:30.  It had been a long day and I had an early wake up call for HC15K in the A.M. - race organizers recommended getting there before 6:30 a.m.!  I slept well until yet another absolutely wicked thunderstorm hit at 5 a.m.  Lightening so bright it woke me up with thunder so loud it shook the hotel (which was not easy to do being that I was near the airport!)

Three BibRave Pros ready to run ATL tomorrow!

Three BibRave Pros ready to run ATL tomorrow!

When I got up in the morning, thanks to Facebook and Twitter updates, it was easy to see race organizers had consulted with the NWS and there was no threat of storms during the race.  I really appreciated their profession and quick updates about the weather.  Being that I drove nearly 4 hours to get there and had to stay overnight, making sure I had the most up-to-date info was important to me.  Getting back downtown was super easy and I had no trouble getting to the assigned parking lot I registered for before the race.  Getting to the race venue, however, was a different story.  Thankfully, there were plenty of people who seemed to be familiar with downtown ATL because if I hadn't followed the crowd I would've been lost.  There was zero signage to let us know where anything was.  Granted, the maps were online, but if you're in a city you've never explored on foot you aren't going to find anything.  After wandering around and meeting up with Sam and Jess one more time for photos, I was also able to meet up with a fellow Spandits!/Altra ambassador Amanda!  After this, it was time to find my corral, which was thankfully much easier than finding the race location itself, and we were off!

The two best-dressed at Hot Chocolate 15K!

The two best-dressed at Hot Chocolate 15K!

The thing I loved about this race was the fact that you could use your times from previous races to get into "preferred corrals" and get ahead of the crowd early.  My qualifying times actually put me into the very first corral and it never felt crowded, especially because I took it easy from the beginning.  We left the Centennial Park area and ran straight toward the state capitol building.  The 5K runner split was only about 1 mile in, so the crowd thinned even more then!  After leaving the Capitol Building behind, we headed toward Turner Field.  Since I had run 13.1 miles the day before, I was in full on sightseeing mode and not at all concerned about time.  I stopped for photos and thank volunteers and spectators for coming out when we ran through the Phoenix Parks toward Grant Park.  There were a few gentle uphills and downhills during this part of the race.  We then ran toward Oakland Cemetery and skirted it for a few minutes.  

Capitol Building. 

Capitol Building. 

We took some turns on side roads and ran close to the MLK Jr. Historic site before running into the Old Fourth Ward and back towards Emory Medical Center.  More gentle hills, but they honestly weren't that bad.  This is the southeast after all!  We should know hills are part of the deal!  We were back into downtown and running past fraternity houses near Bobby Dodd Stadium before I knew it.  It was a short and quick downhill run into Centennial Park for the finish.  Thankfully, a race volunteer saw my cell phone drop out of my pocket and chased me down to return it!  I can't say enough great things about the volunteers in this race!  The finish line for the 5K and 15K was the same, but they kept it separated with a fence - something else I really appreciated to ease congestion at the finish line!  I received my finisher medal from some happy and enthusiastic volunteers before making my way through the crowd to get my finisher mug and snacks.  

Turner Field

Turner Field

The snacks in the finisher mug were phenomenal - the typical runner fare like bananas and pretzels, with the addition on a cup of hot chocolate, a giant marshmallow, some pirouette cookies, and a rice krispie treat - all of which were complimented by chocolate fondue!  I did some stretches with the thousands of others in Centennial Park and munched on my snacks, saving my hot chocolate for the walk back to my car.  Unfortunately, the signs back to the parking area were also non-existent and following the crowd didn't work well for me.  I had to use Google Maps to discover I had walked the wrong direction! On the way back, however, I saw a race photographer packing up his equipment and thanked him for being out this morning.  He took a great photo - the only one I have from the race - and I thanked him.  I was definitely happy to see all race photos are free from this race series, and I had notifications about photos emailed to me throughout the day. 

My free race photo! 

My free race photo! 

All in all, here's my list of pros and cons about Hot Chocolate 15K Atlanta: 

Cons: 
-Expo is required. I hate expos. No offense. I get it though, you have to go because that many volunteers at 4 a.m. on a race day to hand out packets is hard to coordinate!
-Parking is expensive.  I purchased parking ahead of time, which was $20 for both the expo and the race.  I'm glad I did this because Atlanta doesn't have a single free parking space in probably a 100-mile radius.  I even had to pay to park at my hotel for the 7 hours I was there. 
-Signage was non-existent.  Great for locals, but not so great for out-of-towners.

Pros: 
-Great finisher swag for the 15K.  You get a hoodie with thumbholes, free chocolate at the expo, and the tasty finisher mug!  Only the 15K runners get the cute chocolate bar medal. 
-Fun for sightseeing.  Like I mentioned early on, I hadn't been to Atlanta in years. I got to see a lot of it on foot in only an hour and a half!
-Easy course.  For the 15K there was only a 380-foot elevation gain.  There was actually more downhill than uphill.  This was a relaxing and easy run for me. 
 

I loved this race so much I signed up for the race in Nashville in two weeks!  I can't wait to share my experience with you guys from that race!  Have you ever run a "fun run" race series before? What about Hot Chocolate? Would YOU run for chocolate?!

 

Disclaimer: I received a free entry to review Hot Chocolate 15K - Atlanta 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!

Hawaiian Rice - Trail Recipe

Since NoKey and I are getting ready to tackle another thru hike in 2017 I thought I'd start sharing some recipes with my readers.  A few years ago, when we took off to do a series of smaller thru hikes, I decided to attempt home dehydrating all our meals for a few reasons. Home dehydrated meals are economical and a lot more healthy than just eating a few of the same Lipton Sides over and over again.  It keeps your tastebuds and your wallet happy!

One of our favorite recipes a few years back turned out to be Hawaiian Rice.  This also was the first meal we ever ate out on the Benton MacKaye Trail.  I wanted to eat it first because I was entirely convinced I'd hate it.  This one, however, became an instant hit!  Every time we'd see it in our resupply boxes we'd do a happy dance.  Check out my recipe for Hawaiian Rice below!

Hawaiian Rice (1 Serving)

1/2 cup home dehydrated brown rice (cooked in veggie stock)
2 tbsp home dehydrated pineapple
1 tbsp home dehydrated bell pepper (broiled and blackend before dehydrating)
1 tbsp dried onion flake
1 tbsp unsweetened flaked coconut
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp powdered ginger
2 tbsp bacon bits or ham-flavored TVP
1/2 tsp ham base

At home:
Add the rice, pineapple, bell pepper, onion flake, coconut, salt, and ginger into a sandwich size zipper bag and mix well.  Add the bacon bits/TVP and ham base to a snack size zipper bag and mix well; seal the bag.  Add the small zipper bag into the larger bag and seal shut.  

On trail: 
Separate the two bags.  Add the contents of the large bag to your cook pot and cover with water - you are just covering the ingredients here, no need to measure.  Stir and then bring to a boil.  Stir and then remove from the heat.  Add the contents of the smaller bag and stir again.  Let meal sit for 5-10 minutes until it reaches your desired thickness and consistency and enjoy!

This recipe was adapted from Chef Glenn's Hawaiian Shrimp and Rice.  I cannot recommend his website enough if you're looking to learn how to make your own backpacking meals!

Have you made your own dehydrated meals before? How did it go? 

Dehydrator 101

After my big thru hiking announcement last week I've decided to share some of my favorite backpacking recipes with you guys; however, it occurred to me that while I'm whipping up a lot of these recipes like it's no big deal you might not feel that way too!  In fact, it took me a while to perfect my methods for dehydrating tasty meals.  Once you finally start to master techniques to make your food taste better, dehydrating your own backpacking meals is an easy "set it and forget it" option that not only can provide you better nutrition, but can also save you money on resupplies in tough areas.  Here's my quick and dirty guide to dehydrators - both purchasing and techniques to help you make your best backpacking meals.  

The Purchase

Buying a dehydrator is going to be an investment.  In fact, I'd look at it the way you look at purchasing a major kitchen appliance.  After doing plenty of research about what I'd like to use to make an entire season's worth of hiking meals I chose a 5-Tray Excalibur system with a thermostat.  The thing about dehydrating backpacking meals is that you aren't throwing them all in at one time.  First, you're dehydrating the mixed vegetables for a few days. Then maybe you're doing rice for a few days.  Then, you might be doing a few batches of sweet-flavored rice. You do everything in parts before assembling the meals.  Having a fan and a thermostat will help ensure you're dehydrating fruits and veggies at optimal temperatures to keep nasty bacteria at bay.  Meat, fruit, veggies - they all have optimal temps for pulling out moisture.  The thermostat will definitely make sure you're drying your food at the safest temperatures.  

While there are cheaper countertop models of dehydrators available, I definitely recommend going with a model with a fan for air circulation.  The round tray systems need constant babysitting to move the trays.  If you don't do this in a fan-less model, you'll have leather-like layers closer to the heat source whereas your top layers might not even be halfway dry.  You can definitely do months' worth of food on one of these budget models, but be sure you have the time to dedicate to rearranging the trays.  

Finally, you'll need a set of fruit leather trays for your dehydrator.  You can again go the budget option and use parchment paper.  I went with the generic fruit leather reusable inserts on Amazon.  I've reused them countless times for the past three years and they don't hold flavors and just need a quick rinse.  I highly recommend them.  Aren't planning on making fruit roll-ups?  That's fine - neither did I!  But, you'll need these guys to dry sauces, veggie paste, even condiments you'll want to dry to make them more potent.  Trust me, you WANT these tray inserts!

Techniques

So you've purchased your dehydrator and you've found a couple of recipes you want to try out.  Maybe you want to try and recreate one of your favorite pasta sides at a fraction of the price you'd pay for them over the period of a distance hike.  Either way, it's time to start dehydrating.

Rice

Let's say your recipe calls for you to use your own dehydrated rice for a savory recipe.  Instead of just making plain rice like you'd make at home, I highly recommend seasoning the rice before you get it into your dehydrator.  If you're making a savory dish, I recommend cooking your rice in chicken, beef, or vegetable stock and salting it slightly heavier than you would eat at home for a normal meal.  On trail, you'll wish it had more salt!  After the rice cooks, cool it to room temperature before dehydrating.  Making a sweet rice - maybe for a pudding or breakfast treat?  Try cooking it with vanilla almond milk instead of water!  When it comes time to dehydrate your rice, spread it out thinly and try to avoid clumps of rice.  Clumps will hold more moisture and take longer to dehydrate.  If you're home while it's dehydrating, go out and break up the chunks of rice every so often to help it dry out faster.  

Vegetables

Not all frozen veggie mixes are created equally!  My favorite store, Aldi, has mixed veggies in a bag as cheap as $0.95!  However, their mixed veggies aren't all the same size and, in fact, the carrots are in rounds that are easily four times the size as the other vegetables.  This doesn't make for fast dehydrating OR rehydrating!  On the flip side of this, Wegmans makes a great mixed veggie blend with the exception of the lima beans.  Lima beans are another rehydration nightmare.  I don't care how long you soak or boil lima beans - they never seem to fully rehydrate properly.  When you're looking for mixed vegetables to dehydrate for additions to your meals, I highly recommend looking at the contents and shapes of the veggies in the bag.  BJ's Wholesale has great 4-lb bags that require minimal changes.  The only thing I did to these was cutting the green beans in half to make everything the same size.  When it comes to vegetables, uniform size is key to getting them dehydrated and rehydrated at the same times.  Trust me, there are few things sadder than being hungry on trail and crunching into half-rehydrated corn when the rest of your meal is ready!

Something I did for our meals a few years ago was broiling and blackening bell peppers before dehydrating.  This little something extra really made the flavors taste even more homemade despite being in the backcountry.  My most important tip is to NOT mix different veggies in your dehydrator at the same time if you can help it - especially strong-smelling veggies.  If you want to do a tray of red onions, put them in by themselves or else all your food will taste like onion!

I actually have EIGHT POUNDS of veggies in that second photo. They don't amount to much!

I actually have EIGHT POUNDS of veggies in that second photo. They don't amount to much!

Meat

Meat is a tricky, tricky thing to home dehydrate.  If you're doing beef or ground turkey you'll quickly become familiar with the term "gravel".  The reason?  Ground meat basically has the texture of gravel when you do it right.  Buying meat is the critical first step and you've got to do it right.  If you're set on using ground beef, you'll need to buy the leanest possible cut you can find (less than 90%, and 95% lean is more ideal).  Since buying meat this lean is often expensive, I chose to go with lean turkey as my meat choice.  We bought 99% lean white ground turkey.  Now, cooking the meat is also tricky because you'll have to do it low, slow, and as dry as possible.  No oils at all can be added to the pan, as every bit of oil can go rancid in packaging.  Adding dried breadcrumbs to your meat to soak up the oil is a great step you can take during the browning process.  After cooking the meat to well done, you'll need to sop up any oil that happened to cook out before breaking it up to place in your dehydrator.  Like rice, meat has a tendency to clump, so you'll need to break up the clusters every once in a while. Once your meat is completely dehydrated, I highly recommend vacuum sealing each portion to keep it fresh, just in case.  

Fruit

Like veggies, uniformity is key with fruit.  Having all your pieces roughly the same size will save you time on both ends of the dehydrating and rehydrating process.  One tricky element to dehydrating fruit, however, is browning.  Apples and bananas both tend to brown when they're exposed to oxygen for a period of time.  I solved this problem by brushing easily browning fruits with lemon juice on both sides before putting them on trays in my dehydrator.  I liked seasoning my fruit as well.  A sprinkle of ginger and cinnamon on apple slices comes out delicious!

Me with my bounty - an entire summer's worth of meals for two hungry hikers. 

Me with my bounty - an entire summer's worth of meals for two hungry hikers. 

Just like with any good recipe, mastering skills with a dehydrator will take time and a few errors will happen as well.  It's all part of the journey!  Have you experimented with dehydrating meals?  What is your favorite backcountry meal? 

Thru Hiking Announcement!

Well, 2017 is going to be the year of yet another thru hike for NoKey and me!  It was great being able to get out and go hiking in 2015 and, due to the fact that money is pretty much required to have a decent living where we are, we had to jump right back in and get to work after our hike.  I was fortunate enough to fall right into life as a backpacking guide almost immediately and now NoKey is joining the fun for 2017!  However, even though backpacking for a living is a pretty great way to stay connected to the trail, it can be difficult to feel like you're getting the experience YOU want while out there.  On guided backpacking trips I'm often teaching beginners the basics of backpacking, meaning we start out doing beginner miles.  While I love teaching others the ways to safely begin backpacking and avoiding injuries, I often crave hiking long and hard days.  This is why getting away to take a thru hike is so important for me every few years.

With both NoKey and myself working as guides now, we needed to set up a trip we could take during the not so busy weeks between July 4th and Labor Day weekend.  This year, we have decided to tackle the Tahoe Rim Trail!  This 167-mile loop can be done in approximately 10 days, which means we could take two weeks off to travel, thru hike, take a zero or two, and fly back home.  For us, it was a no-brainer!

The Tahoe Rim Trail is fairly new as far as trail systems are concerned - only officially designated in 2001.  This multiuse trail can be used year-round for biking, snowshoeing, and hiking.  Part of the trail also shares the Pacific Crest Trail, so we'll get a taste of the PCT while we're out hiking in California and Nevada.  We are super excited to hit this trail, especially since neither of us have done any hiking at elevations like this before.  In the next few months, I'll be posting updates about recipe planning and thru hike planning/gear trade-offs we'll be doing in order to get ready for our adventure.  I can't wait to share these things with you guys!

Have you ever been to the Tahoe Region for hiking or recreation?  Are there any "must stop" places you'd recommend?

The Pistol Ultra - Race Recap

I recently toed the line to run my first ever ultramarathon.  For those of you who follow me on social media you probably know by now that I ultimately finished the race, too!  While the euphoria of running The Pistol is definitely not wearing off any time soon, I'm about to dive into training for my second marathon, so I wanted to get this race recap up and going before I get too deep into training.  This week's Sunday Runday post will be all about The Pistol Ultra Weekend - the best way I've ever rung in a New Year!

This entire weekend basically started off for me on Friday afternoon.  I hadn't run this race and actually had never been to the location of the race before, so I headed out to the "almost mandatory" pre race meeting to pick up my swag bag and bib.  Lazarus Lake, the founder of the Barkley Marathons, happened to be the keynote speaker of this mini expo and was doing a clinic while I was there, so it was pretty quiet when I was in to get my bib as you can imagine.  This race offers four distances - a 50K, 100K, 50-miler, and 100-miler.  When I was inside there were tons of people in line to pick up for the 50K and tons of people for the 100-miler.  I guess those are the most popular distances for this race!  I was through the line pretty quick and was ushered through by helpful volunteers to pick out all my race swag - a nice water bottle from Orange Mud, some Zen Evo chocolate, and two shirts - a cotton Tee and a hoodie!  While you're in line getting your freebies, you also get your chance to attempt to win the markmanship award - given to the runner who guesses their actual finish time as close as they can.  While I ended up doing pretty well (was off by about 4:29) the winner actually was only off by FOUR SECONDS!

So Saturday morning is race day! I was glad I went to the venue beforehand because the 50K parking is actually not in the same place as the rest of the event - it's further down the road.  Since we had to leave the house at 5:30 a.m. I was grateful we weren't trying to find parking in the dark!  Prerace they offered bagels and cream cheese with fruit for the runners, so I had a half bagel and a half banana while trying to calm my nerves.  I also chewed a good handful of dark chocolate espresso beans thanks to my boss, Vesna!  Just after the sun came up, Will, the race director, ushered runners outside for the national anthem.  The 50K runners got into the chute first to take off, while the 100K and 100-milers were paced behind us a few minutes.  Almost immediately, I could tell this race was going to be different.  While in the chute I socalized with many people who were doing an ultra for the first time.  Some of them stood casually, drinking coffee, saying their only goal was to finish.  With a 30-hour cut-off, this race is more than just walker friendly - it's nap friendly!  When the starting gun went off you could tell many people were just out to enjoy themselves and take it easy.  It was so much different than going to a race where there is elbowing and vying for space on the course!

Miles 1-10

I really enjoyed that this race started off by going downhill.  I took it easy at a gentle pace and the pack thinned out pretty quickly.  This race runs loops of approximately 10 miles on the Maryville-Alcoa Greenway system, so once we left Alcoa High School we headed down and ran the Greenway following Pistol Creek the whole way (you were probably wondering where that cool name came from, weren't you?).  About 4 miles in a photographer was grabbing photos of runners jumping.  My photo is ridiculous. I apparently really need to work on those jump skills next year!  About 5 miles in was the first time I passed the famous Woody's Aid Station, which is basically a trail magic stop on steroids.  We ran a little loop in downtown Maryville before making our way back past Woody's and back to Alcoa High School.  I was feeling surprisingly good and enjoying the rolling small hills on the Greenway.  I had planned to change my shoes at the 10-mile mark, but since I was feeling alright I called NoKey on my way back to the high school and told him just to meet me with The Stick so I could roll out my legs to keep them loose.  I knew I was running a little faster than I would have liked, but I was still feeling good and vowed to not take a break until the half marathon mark.  I gave him my gloves and Buff, refilled my Tailwind, and kept on running. 

Having fun, and looking goofy doing it!

Having fun, and looking goofy doing it!

Miles 10-20

I knew I'd need to slow down through this second lap and that it would also be inevitable I'd slow down.  I gave myself the mental mile marker of 13.1 before I would take a walk break.  Now, one thing that I absolutely hate is walking during a race.  I knew with an ultra taking walk breaks were going to be something I just DID, but telling myself it was okay was another thing altogether!  When I hit the half marathon mark I took a walk break for a little under a half a mile.  Those teeny, tiny greenway hills were starting to feel a little bit bigger now anyway and conserving energy for a strong finish was my goal.  By the time I got running again I realized my stomach was ANGRY and wanted food!  When I got to Woody's again I gave myself the goal of running back to it before stopping again.  I grabbed myself a piece of homemade banana bread and a few homemade trail mix bars and ran while I ate.  This simple act got me lots of cheers from spectators and runners alike - telling me they liked my style.  I told them it wasn't my first time stuffing my face and running!  It's like I trained for this moment during most of my thru hikes! I intermittently stopped to walk every mile or so, power walking or slow jogging in between picking my pace back up.  By mile 19 I had called NoKey to come out and meet me with The Stick, some new socks, and new shoes.  The hill heading up to the high school seemed enormous now and many were speed walking the hills to conserve energy.  I plopped on the ground and changed my socks and shoes before rolling out my quads and taking off again.  

Miles 20-30

For my final lap I didn't hear the "what the hell am I doing out here?!" voice I normally hear this late into a race.  I was oddly calm and at ease, almost like I knew I was going to finish and wasn't bothered at how slow I was moving.  One thing I did take advantage of on this lap were the benches!  I would stop at a bench to sit and stretch my IT bands or I would use it as a prop to do lunges without worrying about not being able to get back up.  Every mile or so I stretched quickly to keep my muscles happy.  On this lap the sun began to disappear and every once in a while it would sprinkle lightly.  Despite the cold and sprinkles, there were still lots of spectators out cheering and having fun.  It was definitely a morale booster!  By the time I hit mile 25 I was getting tired, but still didn't feel myself giving up hope.  Although, I did have the thought that if I were running a marathon I'd be almost finished by now!  I passed Woody's the final time and stocked back up on that delicious banana bread and trail mix bars.  A volunteer filled my water and Tailwind while another asked if I'd like something hot to drink since the wind had picked up and temperatures were dropping.  I passed on the hot drink and continued to stuff my face while running away.  While I was in the process of alternating slow jog/slow run I saw lots of other runners doing the same, people cheering us when we picked back up the pace and us doing it for others in return.  It was an amazingly supportive running community.  I called NoKey on my way up that hill (which now felt like a mountain) back to the high school before finishing my final mile.  Now I was suddenly feeling reenergized and ready to tackle that big finish!

Mile 30-31.5

After running the final out-and-back mile, I was super disappointed when I ran through the finisher's chute that they were having technical problems.  When you grab your bib at the expo they denote your first ever ultra and they told me the announcer would cheer you on at the finish.  Due to a glitch, they said I was some guy from Kingsport, TN.  I let out a loud cheer anyway and finished happily in 5:50:36.  (and that was with approximately 15 minutes of stopped time according to my Garmin!)  I was quickly ushered inside by a volunteer and, while I was waiting for my official results due to said glitch, another volunteer grabbed me a bottle of water.  Once the results finally printed out, I discovered I was 20th overall female and 52nd out of 201 runners.  Not bad considering my lack of actual training!  They ushered me off to get my medal, take my finisher photo, and then hand me my finisher visor and T-shirt.  I chugged chocolate milk and ate a banana before heading over to the Quest Therapy tent to have my quads stretched my the pros.  I was definitely thankful they were there helping us all out!

I was overall so happy with my experience at The Pistol and I would definitely recommend this race to any runner wanting to try their first attempt at ultra running!  I'll definitely be back next year and, provided I get the time to actually train, am even considering jumping up another level to a different distance.  If all of this wasn't enough to convince you to try an ultra, check out my review over on Bibrave.  

Feeling like a boss!

Feeling like a boss!

What's the toughest thing you've ever attempted?  How did you feel when you finished?  Did it make you push the envelope to try more difficult things?

Ultimate Coffee Date (+Giveaway!) - January 2017

Happy New Year to all my readers!  While many of us are happy to see 2016 in the rearview and looking forward to 2017, I had a pretty kickass December.  I'd love to catch up with you today, but since we're so spread out a virtual coffee date will have to do!  Grab your favorite mug and warm beverage and let's catch up. 

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: My December flew by!  I spent the early part of the month dealing with the wildfires here in town, followed by the arrival of two new babies.  Then, we traveled to Maine to run a half marathon (NoKey's first!) in our favorite little trail town.  With all of those things going on, who would have thought I'd have time for ANYTHING else?!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: Despite all of the above, I still had time to run 111.4 miles in December.  This is thanks, in part, to me finally jumping in and joining a local fitness center.  Since I'm not getting home until it gets dark and people around here not exactly paying attention to pedestrians I needed a safer options.  While at first I loathed the idea of hopping on a treadmill, being able to run after work and doing it safely kind of makes the dread disappear!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: I also had a chance to see some friends this month.  Shaggy, a hiker we met on the AT, came into town and we spent the evening talking trail like only thru hikers can do.  Don't get me wrong, I love chatting with others about the AT, but it's so much different when someone else understands exactly what you were feeling out there.  

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you: On December 31, 2016 I ran and completed my first ever ultramarathon!  I chose The Pistol Ultra not only because it was local but also because I'd heard for a first timer this was THE race to chose!  It didn't disappoint.  You can check out my thoughts on running an ultra on a post I did a few days ago.  I cannot wait for this race next year!

And that brings me to my first giveaway for 2017! Since so many of us resolve to be better versions of ourselves in a new year, I'm giving away a Fitbook Lite.  This handy little book is designed to keep you accountable for six weeks, with places to put in your daily steps, water intake, exercise, and more.  Check out the giveaway below (ends 1-15-17):

What would you tell me today if we were going to catch up? Was your December crazy busy? Are you ready to rock 2017?

The Ultimate Coffee Date

How Ultramarathons are Like Thru Hikes

On December 31st, 2016 I toed the starting line of my first ever ultramarathon.  While competing in (and later finishing) this event I noticed a ton of similarities that running an ultra and completing a thru hike have in common.  

Aid Stations Are Basically Trail Magic on Steroids

The ultra I ran was the Pistol Ultra in Alcoa, TN.  They have a famous aid station, Woody's, that provides everything a runner needs to get through the race.  From homemade trail mix bars and banana bread to salt and vinegar chips and even candy this little slice of heaven on earth will get you refueled and back to the task at hand.  Much like trail magic, seeing this pop-up tent brought forth a flood of emotions and got me energized to continue onward.  Seriously, when someone fills your water bottles for you so you can stuff your face and keep moving... that person is an angel. 

(Photos of Woody's courtesy of the Pistol Ultra Facebook group)

Hike Your Own Hike Applies Here Too

So when I tell people I've completed an ultra they say "wow I can't believe you ran that far!"  Honestly I did run a lot, but I also walked a lot too.  I stopped and stretched a lot.  In fact, according to my Garmin, I probably stopped for stretches, food, and sock changes more than 15 minutes during the duration of the time I was on the course.  When you're hiking a distance trail you might take 1 zero day or 50 zero days (like I did on the AT) and you're still going to finish.  When you're stopping to walk in an ultra no one is judging you, just like when you take that extra zero day in town.  In fact, towards the end of the ultra if you can manage to run up a hill, no  matter how small, someone who sees you doing it starts cheering you on.  That's support!

Your Fellow Runners Have Your Back

On my final lap on the way back to the finish I saw some ladies headed towards me - meaning they had about 9 miles to go.  One of the women stopped and burst into tears.  Immediately other runners stopped to see what she needed and how they could help her.  Spectators cheered you by name and asked if you needed anything.  Aid station workers, due to the cold weather, asked every person if they needed a hot drink.  We offered up our foam rollers and muscle sticks to those who were in pain.  Just like when you're out on trail and something throws a wrench into your day, others who know what you're going through offer to help you out.  

The Hunger is REAL

About 15 miles into my race my stomach was ANGRY.  I was so hungry all of a sudden I almost couldn't move.  Much like when you're on a thru hike, when your stomach tells you to eat it is time to eat!  I discovered for myself that much like a distance hike, my body responded extremely well to "real" foods versus snack bars, gels, and chews.  When I finished the race we went out for an enormous pasta dinner and I polished off a gargantuan piece of cheesecake.  I regret nothing!

Your Journey is The Destination

When I finished the AT my thru hike I was just in awe that I had finished.  From that moment on in my life I realized I can actually do difficult things.  I can COMPLETE difficult things.  Until that point in my life I often quit when things got hard and uncomfortable.  Since then, I've challenged myself outside of my comfort zone so many times.  This ultra race, for me, was proving to myself that something I once thought impossible truly wasn't.  I no longer find myself second-guessing my abilities once I'm in the middle of something.  It turns out that my first attempt at an ultra wasn't as scary or unmanageable as I feared it would be.  Much like every thru hike I complete, I come out on the other side realizing that I am capable of finishing something daunting.  

The smile you get after eating a ton of food and being stretched out by a physical therapist after running 50 Kilometers!

The smile you get after eating a ton of food and being stretched out by a physical therapist after running 50 Kilometers!

While there are plenty of other ways running an ultramarathon reminds me of thru hiking, these are the ones that stood out to me.  Have you ever run an ultra?  Do you want to push the envelope and challenge yourself to a difficult or "impossible" feat in the coming year? 

Millinocket Marathon and Half - Race Review

Now that hiking season has been winding down I find myself with more time for running again.  I'm super excited to be back into the swing of things and this coming year I've got some lofty goals set for myself, starting with a New Years' Eve Ultramarathon!  While this is still primarily a hiking blog, much like last winter you'll start to see some running posts from me again.  This particular post will be a race review of the Millinocket Marathon and Half Marathon I ran back on 12-10-16 in Millinocket, Maine.  

Many of you already know that Millinocket is dear to my heart.  The final Appalachian Trail town, I spent six days here on my 2012 AT thru hike.  in 2013, I moved to Maine to work in the Appalachian Trail Lodge for an entire hiking season.  In 2015, when I got sick on the Finger Lakes Trail, NoKey and I went to spend a week in town during the Fourth of July between the end of that hike and the start of our Long Trail thru hike.  While NoKey was able to visit town back in August of this year when he did a canoe trip on the Allagash, I wasn't able to visit this year.  That's why I was so happy to be able to participate in the Millinocket Marathon and Half - a free race thrown by Gary Allen on behalf of the town.  The stipulation for this race is a simple one - this free Boston Qualifier event is only free in the fact that you pay no race fee to enter.  Whatever you would spend on a race of this caliber you are encouraged to spend in town at one of MANY local events.  If you can't find anything to buy, Gary recommended you tip 100% at every meal to add up to the total of a race.  

The day before the race - posing at the finish! 

The day before the race - posing at the finish! 

We drove up to Maine over the period of three days.  Stopping in northern Virginia and Portland, Maine before heading up to Millinocket.  When we arrived in town on December 9th it was very, VERY clear the entire town was behind the idea of this race.  It was refreshing to me to see that everyone was so excited about it.  There were banners everywhere welcoming runners.  Each local business in town had a raffle going on.  We immediate drove straight to Ruthie's Hotel Terrace and checked in before heading out to our favorite restaurant - Angelo's.  NoKey got a slice and a Schlitz before we headed over to the Press Conference.  The conference was only about 40 minutes and took place at Design Lab - in the old Wreath Factory - and had a couple of people speaking.  Most notable of these people for me was Mike Wardian - a name most runners know.  We then visited the craft fair taking place at Sterns High School which also doubled as the "expo" for the race.  I had so much fun buying Christmas gifts that I actually forgot the reason we were there was to pick up our bibs!  We actually got a swag bag too containing balsamic vinegar, some samples of natural products from Vitamin Shoppe, and some free Gu from Bangor Savings Bank.  And here I was not expecting to get ANYTHING other than a bib for a free race.  

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The morning of the race we are able to sleep in, which is so nice!  We headed over to the snowmobile club to get a cheap AYCE pancake breakfast and headed back to the hotel to wallow in pancake bliss.  Around 9:30 we headed downtown for the race.  The temperature had risen above zero, but the windchill still read -8.  The start/finish line area had a great party atmosphere and two active bonfire pits - one of which was made by Pelletier's Manufacturing, formerly Pelletier's Logging.  After a national anthem all marathon runners were asked to line up while the half runners were asked to fill in the area around the corral to cheer on the others.  At the time of the start (which was the first race I've been to in YEARS that actually started on time!) they even sounded the horn at the fire department - the famous one that goes off every morning at 8 a.. and 9 p.m.  I was more overjoyed about this than the race atmosphere itself!

Finally, it was time for the half runners to fill in and take off.  The race immediately began by going up Poplar Street before turning and going uphill on the Golden Road.  The cold was nearly unbearable at first and it was four miles before I could finally feel my toes again!  When looking at the elevation profile of the race I wasn't super concerned about the hills, but it became very clear to me that the first six miles of the race were uphill the entire way!  About 4.5 miles in came our very first view of Katahdin and it was amazing to hear all the runners start to oooh and ahhhh!  Many stopped to grab photos while we kept running on.  About 6 miles in the race took a turn back toward the paved road and there was a great aid station with locals handing out water and gatorade, both of which were a slushy consistency.  I was happy to see the aid station because my hydration had frozen shut! (Turns out most people had this problem during the race). 

Action shot! 

Action shot! 

At about the halfway point of the race we finally left the logging roads behind and hit the paved portion of the race again.  Just before the turn off were tons of local folks out driving around and yelling support for the runners.  There were even a couple of cute kids with signs that read "I want to be like you when I grow up" and giving high fives!  I thought once we hit the pavement we'd see some more substantial downhill, but I was WRONG AGAIN!  You don't realize how hilly Millinocket is until you're running it!  After hitting the snowmobile club we FINALLY hit some substantial downhill for what felt like the very first time.  I know this wasn't true, but it sure felt it!  Running past Sawmill Bar and Grill the road flattened out back on route 11 for a few minutes.  We passed mile 12 at Katahdin General Store and then I saw the race was taking a turn.  While other people yelled out "oh a turn!" I was internally dreading it!  I knew that turning on Bates meant one thing - one more tiny hill.  From running and biking this hill nearly every day when I'm in town I knew this tiny hill would be a ball buster.  And it was.  So many groans were let out by everyone all around me.  When we reached the crest of the hill to take the final turn onto Penobscot Ave there were two women in down parkas handing out homemade cookies and cheering us all on.  

We run down to Penobscot Ave and we're finally in the home stretch.  I checked my watch and realized that the damn sub 2-hr half was once again just out of reach for me, but I pick up the pace to finish strong anyway.  Running down to the main intersection I see the Welcome Runner's sign just before really opening up my speed to run down the middle of the main street in town.  Design Lab had lots of music blaring and people were lining the streets cheering for us to finish.  We pick up speed triumphantly and run through the middle of the two loaded logging trucks signifying the finish. NoKey and I crossed the finish line at the exact same time for a finish time of 2:04:30.  Not a PR for me, but an automatic one for NoKey - this was his first ever half marathon!

Post race selfie! 

Post race selfie! 

Upon finishing the race someone kindly threw an emergency blanket over both of us and we headed up to the Bangor Savings Bank tent and got a free bag of pretzels and a small gatorade.  We were also able to snag a few Stonyfield Organic yogurts as well.  It was such a nice gesture to see all the finish line swag - for a free race this one sure had a ton of perks!  We went back to the hotel to shower and stretch before heading back out into town to do some more Christmas shopping and get lunch.  We cheered on the runners who were still out on the course every time we saw one.  

Being able to spend time in the town we love and being able to give back  somehow made this race worth the long drive and cold trip.  We loved the energy from all the people in town.  It was so great seeing how supported the runners would be.  NoKey and I have even decided to make this our new Christmas tradition - a yearly trip up to Millinocket for Christmas shopping and race running!  

Me and my medal - handmade at the Moose Drop In. 

Me and my medal - handmade at the Moose Drop In. 

What's the furthest you've ever traveled to run or hike?  Would you do it again? Do you think we're insane for going to Maine in December to freeze at a race?

Thinking about a Solar Charger?

I was recently interviewed for an article about solar chargers.  Many who read this blog know that I'm not a fan of carrying them on east coast trails for one reason...  Check out the article below!

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Solar panels have become a popular way to charge devices on the go, whether hiking, mountain biking, or just spending time outdoors. But depending on the region you’re in, relying solely on the sun for power may not be the best option. What works in the real world? To find out, we spoke with two diehard hikers who have carried solar chargers in all conditions. Here, they share their stories about what works, what doesn’t — and how to choose the right setup for your own adventures.

Location and Climate

First, it’s important to evaluate where you’ll be using the charger. Not surprisingly, solar panels need direct sunlight. Without direct sunlight, the panel will turn on and off as it collects and doesn’t collect power.

Hiking on the East Coast typically means you’ll be in and out of direct sunlight throughout the day. Jennifer “Sprinkles” Kelley is a backpacking guide who has hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT), Long Trail, Benton MacKaye Trail, and half of the Finger Lakes Trail. She’s also completed the Great Smoky Mountains 900 miles, and documents her adventures online.

Throughout her adventures, she has attempted to use a solar charger a number of times. On the AT, Kelley sent her charging system home after the first 30 miles when she realized the tree cover wouldn’t allow for enough direct sunlight.

In 2013, Kelley worked at the AT Lodge in Millinocket, Maine—the closest town to Mount Katahdin and where most AT thru-hikers start or finish their journeys.

“Solar chargers were the number one item I took out of packs during pack shakedowns. Hikers refused to believe that the AT is called the green tunnel for a reason,” Kelley tells Digital Trends. “Often, when we picked hikers back up at Jo-Mary Road (approximately 50 miles south on the trail), hikers would then mail home the chargers.”

Now she guides backpacking trips in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and she still has trouble convincing people to leave their solar chargers at home.

“I’ll tell people to leave behind the charger and they’ll sneak it back into their packs,” Kelley says. “On the last morning of a trip, I ask: ‘tell me two things you brought with you that you’ll never bring backpacking again.’ People always admit to bringing the chargers.”

Read more: http://www.digitaltrends.com/outdoors/how-to-choose-a-solar-panel-charger-for-backpacking/#ixzz4TJkLrrIx 
 

Ultimate Coffee Date - What I've Been Doing Lately

It's December - the final month of the year!  While 2016 was definitely the year of "that just happened..." it's been one of the best ones for me professionally in a really long time.  So, pull up a chair, grab your favorite mug, and join me for our virtual coffee date today.  Here's what I would tell you today if we were just relaxing and having a cup of coffee. 

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you... how excited I am to let you know NoKey finally quite his corporate job to come work with me at A Walk in the Woods!  One of the big things he wanted to accomplish when we moved here was to find a smaller business to work for.  We've both done work for huge corporations and smaller places and we both love the family feel of working for a smaller business.  It's so exciting that we'll have the opportunity to work together and develop our own guiding styles. 

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you... speaking of work, I got a "promotion" so to speak.  I'm now our "backpacking coordinator" and am developing new programs and backpacking routes as well!  It's been really exciting to see the changes taking place and knowing that the ideas I have are good enough to bring about some of the changes as well!  You can check out all the changes over on their website!

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you... that I'm still not sure what the heck I was thinking signing up for the Pistol Ultra on New Years Eve!  While I've had time to train on a treadmill recently, due to joining a gym, I'm still just wondering what I've gotten myself into!  I honestly thought I'd have a lot more time to train!  How is it that events sneak up on us so quickly?!

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you... I am however, super stoked to be running the Millinocket Half Marathon in only one week!  This little town means so much to both NoKey and me.  Seeing this grassroots effort go from only 50 runners last year to an estimated 1000 this year just makes my heart happy.  I'm looking forward to getting back into town, eating at my favorite restaurants, and seeing some of my favorite people again.  

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you... it doesn't feel the holidays to me this year.  Maybe because it was just so warm all summer.  Maybe because I was just so busy for the past few months that it doesn't feel like December yet.  No matter the reason, I'm just not feeling super festive yet.  Any ideas what I can do to bring some holiday cheer into my life?

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you... The wildfires here in town have been devastating.  I am planning to write a separate post about them early next week.  I started to yesterday and it just got exhausting.  I'll have more info for you guys soon. 

What would you tell me today if we were able to meet up and play catch up?  Have you had some good news recently? I'd love to hear about it!

This post is a link-up with Coco @ Got 2 Run 4 Me, Lynda @ Fitness Mom Wine Country, & Deborah @ Confessions of a Mother Runner!

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