Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Country roads, take me home

I went to college and law school at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia. I moved there in 1996 and lived there until 2002. My parents live there now, and after 9 years of living elsewhere, I wonder every time I visit when it will stop feeling like home.

Woodburn Hall, the centerpiece of WVU's downtown campus.
I really didn't run in college. I was a crazy gym rat and worked out almost every day. I would walk miles on the track on campus and on the trail by the river. But running wasn't really my thing. I even walked a few 5Ks in college (one in 33 minutes...that's some fast walking.)

Now that I've been running for nearly six years, I love to run while visiting my parents. Morgantown has so many great places to run - on campus, downtown, on the rail trail along the river. If you're up for challenges, Morgantown's hilly terrain provides lots of them. There have been times where I've gotten to the top of a hill and have to just stand there gasping for breath. It's awesome.

Yes - hills like this on North High Street in downtown Morgantown.
In terms of place, Morgantown is a fantastic small city. It's won many accolades including Forbes' top ten places for business and careers (2010) and one of Budget Travel's top eight college towns (2010) to name a few. (You can look at a more comprehensive list of awards on the city's website.)

Morgantown does a great job of leveraging its anchor institution - WVU. WVU and the city are interchangeable. Downtown Morgantown is effectively an extension of campus with bars, restaurants and shops.  The amount of growth in the city is staggering. Every time I go home (every few months or so) there is a new apartment complex, new restaurant or new shop. The city seems to be bursting at the seams while still maintaining the feel of an intimate small town.

College GameDay visits WVU. Thousands of fans crowd the Mountainlair Plaza
The scenery in Morgantown is second to none with Mountains, the river and a gorgeous campus to tie it all together. Coopers Rock State Forest is just a few miles away, and the views there are just outstanding (particularly in the fall). 

With our Golden Retriever, Murphy, at Coopers Rock
WVU is divided into several campuses, and a monorail (the PRT) connects the campus. The PRT is an old school public transportation system, but it's critical to get students to the various campuses.  

I'm so proud to consider Morgantown my hometown, and I wish there were more running races to do there. Every time we go home I scour websites for a race, and I'm frequently disappointed. Until I find one that meets my schedule I'll continue my favorite runs along the river near my parents' home and on the hills of the Evansdale campus.

Plus I'm going to have to burn off the French fries from my favorite restaurant, The Boston Beanery. Who says you can't go home?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Running my adopted hometown (again)

It's not a secret that I'm a fan of the Capital City River Run (CCRR). I blogged about last year's race with glowing praise. I don't generally like to repeat a race I've already done because there are so many races, and I can only do so many of them. There is, however, something very nice about picking up my packet and starting a race less than two and a half miles from my house.

Michigan Avenue, Downtown Lansing
I decided to get to the expo early this year - as soon as it opened. It was not yet crowded, and I was able to check in for the race in less than five minutes. Once again the race had an excellent New Balance long-sleeved technical shirt.  Awesome! 

The weather for this year's race was once again perfect - high 40s at the start and in the low 60s by the finish. It was beautiful weather for a 13.1 mile tour through Lansing and East Lansing. Most of the race course was the same as last year highlighting some of the Lansing area's best attractions - Michigan State's campus (briefly), the River Trail, Hawk Island Park and downtown Lansing. 

Lansing River Trail
This race does a great job of energizing the entire course - there are spectators and music even on the quietest portions of the River Trail and water stations liberally placed throughout the course.

The race organizers made a wonderful change in the last mile by keeping runners on the River Trial. Last year the race ran up a hill in the last mile onto Michigan and then Washington Avenues. This year we remained on the River Trail until the end where we finished on Shiawassee Street at Riverfront Park

About to finish the race on Shiawassee Street
My one large complaint would be lack of water at the end of the race. In other half marathons I've done, you finish the race, grab a medal and then grab a bottle of water. This race had small cups of water, but I grabbed the last one. There were other tables with cups of water further in from the finish, but there was a noticeable absence of water at the end.

Finishing my 8th half marathon
There were tents with food in the park, but we didn't linger. Perhaps those tents also had water, but at that point it was easier for me to drive 2.3 miles back to my house to drink Gatorade from my own refrigerator.  

Clearly the CCRR course agrees with my times because I was only one minute off my PR time from last year. There aren't a lot of races I'd repeat, but I definitely plan on doing the CCRR next year.

Posing in front of Michigan's State Capitol in Downtown Lansing
How would I rate the race? A- (the water thing = the minus)

How would I rate Lansing? B+ (I know Lansing got an A last year, but in the last year I feel like more progress could've been made in more economic development in and around downtown).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The research required to run these towns

I really love doing this blog. We travel a lot, and it gives me an excuse to find races in various locales. My husband has also not complained even once when I have, for example, signed up for a race in Chicago with a girlfriend without consulting him first. It is for the blog, after all. Research.

I have a little schedule of races I intend to do. I've signed up for some and am still researching others. We have no problem traveling a little distance to get to a cool race, but we certainly can't do that every weekend. Putting two giant dogs in the kennel isn't cheap. On the current docket are the Capital City River Run in Lansing this coming weekend, the Spartan Sprint 5k in East Lansing in October, the Hot Chocolate 15k in Chicago in November and the Turkey Trot 10k in Detroit on Thanksgiving morning.

Murphy and Izzy Harkins sad at the thought of another weekend at the boarder
I intend to do a long race somewhere in January or February, and this has become quite the project. Where to go? Originally I thought Austin, done. I even declared that Austin was IT on the blog. Then I started researching hotel rooms, plane tickets, race costs. Turns out a trip to Austin would be pricey. Plus I lived an hour from Austin for a few years and have been there 1,000 times. So a sure thing becomes a maybe. Or probably not.

In San Antonio right before I moved from Texas in 2004. Yes, I was blonde. Let's not discuss.
What other races would work in the winter? The inaugural Louisiana Half Marathon in January perhaps? I hear Baton Rouge is lovely that time of year. Seriously - the web boasts tons of things to do in Louisiana's capitol city, and the town appears to be much easier on the wallet.

Then I discovered the second annual Charleston, SC marathon. I have never been to Charleston, and I've heard it is gorgeous. Both of those races seem more interesting than Austin now. But what to do? I'm having a hard time pulling the trigger. I'm leaning Charleston, but really, this is becoming quite the decision.

When we travel to different cities even without a run planned, I'm always scouring websites like my favorite, Running in the USA, to see if there is at least a 5k I can jump into. As we visit Iowa City, Iowa, the Outer Banks in North Carolina, and Morgantown, WV this fall, I'm disappointed there aren't any races on those particular weekends. I do realize this is getting a bit ridiculous.

What I'd LOVE to do are one of those running cruises that go all over the Caribbean with various running stops. My husband tells me that idea is insane. Who wants to snorkel and lay on the beach when you can go for a run in Barbados? Apparently that idea is totally off the table.  

Snorkeling in the Bahamas on my last cruise in 2005. Bo-ring.
Running on our trips has become a must for me. We were able to scope out lots of cool things in Boston by putting on our running shoes and getting an early preview of the town. It's a way to release the stress of travel, work off those extra desserts, and see a new city in a way that I'd never see it otherwise. All this research is totally worth it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Running the Athens of America

I love Boston. I know, I know, I fall in love with lots of cities; it's an occupational hazard. I'm also extremely critical of a lot of cities, and my only criticism of Boston is that I don't live there. After my first visit I am completely, head-over-heels in love. Let's discuss.

Boston Public Garden with downtown in the background

I've heard great things about Boston, and it did not fail to impress. We stayed at the Boston Park Plaza in an absolutely fantastic location. It was close to the public garden, Boston Common, the Freedom Trail, and fabulous shopping and eateries on Newbury Street. Soon after we arrived we ventured down Newbury Street for late afternoon snacks and cocktails. Delicious. 

Outside our hotel
Late on our first evening we headed to the North End for delicious Italian food at Bricco. This meal was exquisite. I don't know if I've ever used that word before, but it applies here. We shared a great bottle of wine recommended by our server, and I would highly recommend the pumpkin tortellini. I am hungry just thinking about it.

Restaurants and shops in the North End
The Bricco dinner made it a necessity to run our first morning in Boston. Boston is definitely a city for runners. Aside from being home to one of the world's most famous marathons, it's got lots of runner friendly green space and excellent running stores. We woke up early on our first morning and ran through the Public Garden, Boston Common and on the quaint streets around our hotel. It's hillier in Boston than I'd imagined, but it was such a great run with city views. 

An early run in downtown Boston
Following our run we ambled around the city visiting some of the neighborhoods including the Louisburg Square in the notorious Beacon Hill neighborhood. The homes on the Square have (or have had) famous owners including Louisa May Alcott and Sen. John Kerry.

Louisburg Square
The afternoon involved a walk to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game.  Fenway will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2012, and the park is just like Boston itself - full of character and history.  My favorite part was opening the park into the alleys around Fenway for food vendors and entertainment. It felt like a carnival. The atmosphere at the park was entertaining despite a Red Sox loss to the Texas Rangers. 

Outside Fenway
The next morning we set off on the Freedom Trail to explore the history of Boston. The Athens of America nickname is perfect - I couldn't get over the perfect mix of historical preservation and modern convenience. Boston has managed to preserve its history beautifully while evolving into a trendy American city.

The Old State House in downtown Boston dwarfed by new buildings
We headed to the North End for lunch again where the mission was to find lobster rolls. Mission accomplished, we continued on the Freedom Trail to visit the Old North Church before taking the T to Cambridge for a little stroll around Harvard's campus.  

Statue of John Harvard on Harvard's campus
Shopping ensued after visiting Cambridge. As a runner I fell in love with Boston's running stores - particularly City Sports and Marathon Sports right at the finish line for the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street. The clearance deals at both stores were top notch, and my suitcase was bulging with new running clothes on the return trip. I was most excited to snag a Skirt Sports capri skirt on clearance. It's just like one featured in Runner's World

The Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street
As state capitol afficionados, no visit to Boston was complete without a visit to the Massachusetts State House. My husband and I were graciously taken onto the floor of the House of Representatives by the Chief Sergeant and given a chance to stand at the rostrum. It was the capstone to a wonderful weekend.

Acting Speaker Harkins in the Massachusetts House of Representatives
Boston had a very intimate feel as opposed to some of the larger cities I've visited like New York or Chicago. The streets are narrow, the buildings close together, and it's extremely walkable. There is tons of green space, a user friendly public transit system, and leveraging of cultural and high education institutions. 

Quincy Market downtown Boston
I really did fall in love with Boston. However a quick peak at real estate prices in Beacon Hill and the North End made me realize moving there is a fantasy. But I can't wait to go back sometime to visit all the attractions I didn't get to see. And who knows, with some speed work maybe one of these days I can REALLY run Boston. (It's a long shot...but a girl can dream, right?)

At the Boston Marathon Memorial in Copley Square