Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Grand Teton Half Marathon

Before I get started, be sure to check out my previous post documenting all of my explorations of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks in the week leading up to this race! This area is truly unique and beautiful, so I cannot recommend enough to stay a few extra days (or a week, like me) to see the area if you do this race. You will not regret it!

As I briefly mentioned in the previous post, the reason we came up here for the Grand Teton Half in the first place was because my mom wanted to walk her first Half Marathon and she loves the Tetons! I, of course, was happy to jump on board and come do it with her, so I met up with her and my brother (who just came to see the area, not run the race) in Jackson on Thursday before the race. We ended up checking out Grand Teton National Park on both Thursday and Saturday afternoons and then a small part of Yellowstone on Friday (in addition to the four solo days I spent exploring).

Packet Pick-up was all day Friday, but since we went up to Yellowstone, we were actually rushing to get there before the expo closed. I was happy to see that all of the vendors were still open for business when we got there just before 6 - so we spent some time checking out the various race clothes you could purchase (I'm a sucker for good graphics, and they have some neat graphics for this race). I couldn't decide, so I figured I'd just see what they had after the race the next day instead. Also offered at the expo was a 'Smores station, so of course I had to stop there:

At the expo!
After we finished up at the expo, we went to Quiznos for dinner, then headed back to the hotel for a quick dip in the Hot Tub (along with everyone else who was doing this race apparently!) before heading to bed early. We got up at about 4:15 the next morning to leave about 4:45, stop by Starbucks for breakfast and get to the race start around 5:15. We got there at the perfect time because our parking spot was right by the announcer, so we could listen to see if we won anything in the raffle without having to stand out in the cold! At about 6:10, we finally got out of the car and headed to the starting line. It was still pretty chilly, but I knew it would be great racing weather (and probably hot by the time we finished).

My #FlatRunner ready for the race!

Once we got close to the starting line, I wished my mom good luck as I made my way into the first corral. After reading about how they "always start on time" and "don't be late" I was pretty disappointed when they announced they would be starting 10 minutes late! Apparently they had ran out of parking and had to shuttle people, causing the delay. Obviously those people deserved to start with everyone else, but it was a bit frustrating.

Finally it was time to start! I didn't have a specific goal, other than under 2 hours if possible. I settled into a sustainable pace and actually ended up chatting with a girl from Colorado for the first few miles. She had seen my "Slacker Half Marathon" shirt which started our conversations. She had hiked all of the Colorado 14ers, so we talked about that for a bit. The first few miles are a loop around the small community of Wilson, WY, which is just west of Jackson. Once we finished the loop we headed east towards Jackson before getting on a back road that would take us north towards the Tetons.

Although the race is actually uphill the entire time, it's very gradual and felt relatively flat the entire way with the exception of some minor hills after going through a few underpasses. Once you get on the back road heading north, you transition onto a gravel road for awhile. It was a little hard to run on since it was rutted out, but I tried my best to stick with my upper 8:00 minute/mile pace. We were also in and out of shade which was nice - it had definitely warmed up and was getting a little bit hot.

The section of the course on dirt - such pretty views!
Views from the course!

I could tell I haven't been doing much speedwork because by the time I reached mile 10, I was having to put some serious effort into maintaining my sub-2:00 pace. But I kept at it as best as I could and was finally almost there! As we neared the Golf Course (where the finish line is), we got back onto a paved road to finish it off. I tried as best as I could to pick it up in the last mile and ended up finishing in 1:56:37 (just 5 seconds off of my time from SLC Half  a month prior!).

Just about finished!

After I finished, I headed back out to find my mom and finish with her. This was the first time I had done this, and wasn't sure if I would be able to get my snack box and finisher's medal later, so I ended up carrying it with me as I ran back towards her...not the easiest thing to do (especially considering the size of the medal - I had planned to put it in the pocket of my skirt, but it was too big!). It was a new experience to hear the different comments people who are still racing give you as you run back (I see people do this all the time, but have never been the person running backwards - some people get very annoyed at you!). I ended up finding her with a few miles left to go, so we walked it in together!

Finishing it with my mom!
My mom and I at the finish line!

Race: Grand Teton Half Marathon
Location: Estes Park, Colorado
Distance: Half Marathon (13.1 miles)
Date: June 4, 2016
Bib Number: 539
Weather: 39 and sunny at the start, probably 65-70 at the finish
Gun Time: 1:56:53
Chip Time: 1:56:37
Average Pace: 8:54/mile
Overall Rank: 323 of 2248
Gender Rank: 135 of 1561
Division Rank: 34 of 288
Garmin Splits: 8:53, 9:03, 8:42, 8:41, 9:02, 8:47, 8:59, 8:49, 9:02, 8:51, 9:00, 9:02, 8:38

Course Map & Elevation Profile
Race shirt, hoodie (purchased), bib and medal! Aren't the graphics good?
The finish line area!

Post Race Thoughts / Race Review: 
This race is put on by Vacation Races, a larger organization that puts on several races throughout the country near National Parks. They charge a HIGH price tag for a Half Marathon, so I had HIGH expectations for this. I wouldn't say they disappointed - it was a very well put on, organized event. They have excellent graphics, signage and pre-race information and finishers medals. The course was definitely beautiful. If you want to travel and see some of these places (Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountains, etc), paying the high price tag is completely reasonable and well worth it. That being said, there were some things I would have liked to see more of for the price. Here's a little break down of my likes and dislikes:


  • Beautiful Course
  • Extremely well organized event
  • Great weather (not that this is in anyone's control, but it seriously was a PERFECT day for a race, so I had to mention it). Cool in the morning, beautiful and warm (but not too warm) afterwards.
  • Awesome graphics - they had some great swag you could buy with the race logo - and they had several different options, there were all really neat, I wanted it all!
  • Vacation Races offers transfers, refunds and/or deferrals - which is AWESOME. I wish more races would do this. When you sign up a year in advance you never know what could happen!
  • Finisher's Medals - I try not to get too hung up on the bling, but these medals were downright cool, so I had to mention it. 
  • I do really like the concept behind Vacation Races - they're all about seeing the gorgeous places America has to offer which I am all for. On top of this, to motivate people to get out and see the area, they offer discounts to future races if you do certain hikes they recommend - pretty cool!
  • Free Finishers Picture - while I always prefer all the race pictures are free, just offering a "finisher's picture' was neat as well! (And if you paid in advance for your pictures at the Expo, they were only $25ish, for ALL downloads - pretty cool if you think ahead!).
  • Very accommodating of all runners and walkers - there was a time cut-off of 4 hours, but it appeared to me that they let everyone finish no matter what.


  • The finish line food was extremely mediocre, especially given the fact that this finished in a location where you couldn't even purchase food if you wanted. The weather was incredibly nice and I would've liked to just hang out and enjoy being at the finish line - but not if the only thing I can eat post-race is a couple of granola bars.
  • No Beer - okay, this isn't the end of the world, but I've gotten so used to races having beer afterwards, I was kind of surprised this one didn't (and bummed since it was such a nice day!)
  • High price tag - I think early registration (close to a year out) was $99 and it only goes up from there - that is just a lot for a Half in my opinion. HOWEVER - they do allow transfers and refunds, so that somewhat makes up for this.
  • Roads were not closed - this was not the end of the world, especially if they plan for a few miles to spread runners out before cramming them onto the shoulder (which they did), but it's just interesting, especially when paying a lot for a race - what is the money going towards? 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Grand Teton & Yellowstone Trip

Where to even begin when it comes to recapping my amazing trip up to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone?

I guess with the fact that I spent the first 4 days completely solo. That was new. No one else was with me, I just headed up there and explored on my own. I slept in my car at a different campsite each night traveling around the parks. And I'm not going to lie, I kind of loved it. I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, all on my time. I was definitely ready for a real bed and an indoor shower by the 5th night though (and people to talk to!) when my mom and brother arrived and we spent the remaining few nights in Jackson, Wyoming.

All in all, I was pretty happy with my explorations of Yellowstone. I truly felt like I got to see ALL of the park and didn't leave feeling like I missed anything (with the exception of one trail that was closed - but that was out of my control!). As for Grand Teton National Park - I definitely drove the entire park and saw all of the major sites, but I do wish I could've gotten some more back country hiking in. It was early in the season though (so lots of snow still) and since I was solo I was very nervous of bears (every trail had at least 5+ signs about how you should "travel in groups of 3 or more" to avoid bears). So I ended up opting for a long road run on my one day in Grand Teton National Park instead of hitting the trails. It was a tough decision, but I've come to peace with it. This area is only 7 1/2 hours from me, so maybe someday I can get back up there with Scott to get some good hiking in (plus with my 100 Miler in LESS THAN 3 months, I needed the long run!).

So without further ado, I'm going to briefly recap each day followed by, quite possibly, a million corresponding pictures. I don't want to bore you with too much writing, so I've also put an asterisk (*) next to anything I loved or would consider a "must see" thing to do if you're ever visiting the parks! And, in case you're wondering, my recap of the Grand Teton Half Marathon will be in another post, soon forthcoming.

SUNDAY 5/29/2016:

This was actually Scott and I's 5 year anniversary! Can't believe it's been that long. I felt bad leaving on the actual day, but he was nice enough to encourage me to go. We did have a nice breakfast together at IHOP before I hit the road around 9am and made my way up to northern Wyoming. With only one brief stop in Rock Springs to stretch the legs and use the rest room, I landed in Jackson around 4:15. I quickly made my way up to the Grand Teton National Park visitor's center where I got a park map and asked about camping and for directions to Mormon Row - the main stop I had planned for the day (where the historic Moulton barns are). After stopping at Mormon Row, I made my way north up to Flagg Ranch where I stayed for my first night of car camping.

After 7 1/2 hours of solo driving, I finally made it!
One of the famous Moulton Barns at Mormon Row


My "mobile" home for the week! If I was one inch taller, I wouldn't have fit...

MONDAY 5/30/2016:

Whew, where to start with this one. This was my most exhausting day by far. I guess I was just so excited to be there and I wanted to see and do as much as I could. I woke up nice and early at about 5:30am. Took a quick shower and hit the road towards Yellowstone, where I started my clockwise loop of the park and checked out the following:
  • Old Faithful Area / Upper Geyser Basin*
  • Biscuit Basin (hiked to Mystic Falls)
  • Grand Prismatic Spring*
  • Norris Geyser Basin*
  • West Yellowstone, Montana
  • #AllTheBison

Old Faithful

Morning Glory Pool
Mystic Falls
Grand Prismatic Spring

So many Bison - even babies!!
Just hanging out with some Bison. NBD.
Norris Geyser Basin
Just about drove into this guy on Monday night!

TUESDAY 5/31/2016:

Since Monday was a pretty exhausting day (I ended up walking/hiking 14 miles!), I took Tuesday a little bit easier, and saw a lot more from the car as opposed to on foot. I woke up at 6:30 this time and continued my way around the park, seeing the following:

  • Mammoth Terraces*
  • Historic Fort Yellowstone
  • Gardiner, MT / Roosevelt Arch
  • TWO Bears (from the road)!
  • Lamar Valley
  • Tower Falls
  • Dunraven Pass
  • Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone - North Rim*
  • Hayden Valley
  • Mud Volcano
The road north to Mammoth!
Mammoth Terraces

Historic Fort Yellowstone
Roosevelt Arch
Bears and Antelope!

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Overlooking the Lower Falls (from the North Rim)
Lower Falls

Elk in Hayden Valley

WEDNESDAY 6/1/2016:

When I drove over Dunraven Pass on Tuesday, I stopped off at the parking lot for Mt. Washburn - the highest point in Yellowstone and a popular hiking trail. I was happy to see that the parking lot was very full - meaning lots of people were hiking it despite the amount of snow still on it. It was already 4:00 by the time I arrived that day, so I decided if I had time I would try to hike it the next day (which thankfully I did!). 
  • Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone - South Rim*
  • Artists Paint Pots (I missed this on my first day and had some extra time, so I went over and checked this area out real quick).
  • Mt. Washburn Hike*
  • Fishing Bridge
  • Yellowstone Lake / Lake Butte Overlook
  • West Thumb Geyser Basin*
  • Drove back to Grand Teton N.P. where I camped at Signal Mountain Campground for the night

Lower Falls from Artists Point on the South Rim

The Upper Falls
Artists Paint Pots
Hike to the top of Mt. Washburn
Views from the top of Mt. Washburn (highest point in Yellowstone)

Yellowstone Lake from Lake Butte Overlook
The Fishing Bridge

West Thumb Geyser Basin

Yellowstone Lake from West Thumb Geyser Basin
Back to the Tetons!

THURSDAY 6/2/2016:

My mom and brother were planning to get in mid-afternoon on Thursday so this was my last day to really do something big. I had wanted to do a long hike, but I decided it was still too early in the season for high alpine hiking (especially solo) and since Grand Teton National Park has an awesome bike/multi-use trail that runs throughout a good portion of the park, I decided, why not run with these amazing views in the background? So I did - 22 miles total from Jenny Lake south out of the park, then headed north over to Mormon Row and back. It was gorgeous although the weather was a little iffy - WINDY on the way out and then very hot on the way back. After I got done, I just relaxed at Jenny Lake for awhile (which I determined was possibly the first time I had relaxed so far this trip ;)! I also checked out a few more overlooks for photos before finally meeting them in Jackson around 3:00. That evening we went up to Teton Village for dinner, stopped off at Mormon Row (the 3rd time for me - but it's so pretty and I just had to show my mom and brother), and then relaxed in the hot tub!

Funny story: they were having a Grand Opening celebration on this section of the bike path - I'm pretty sure that's me running in the top right corner! (Picture from the Grand Teton National Park website)

Checking out Mormon Row again!

FRIDAY 6/3/2016:

Since my brother had never been to the area, the plan for Friday was to go show him some of the highlights of Yellowstone that weren't too far of a drive for us:
  • Old Faithful & Geyser Hill (repeat for me)*
  • Old Faithful Inn* 
  • Grand Prismatic Spring (repeat)*
  • Firehole Lake Drive / Lower Geyser Basin
  • Black Sand Basin*
  • West Thumb Geyser Basin (repeat)*
All in all, it was neat to see some of the same things again (and this time enjoy them without a camera even!) as well as a few things I had missed originally. After we finished up in Yellowstone, we quickly headed back to Jackson to get to packet pick-up before it closed that evening.

Old Faithful (again)

View from Observation Point
Grand Prismatic Spring (again)!
Black Sand Basin

SATURDAY 6/42016:

This was race day, so the first half of the day was spent doing that...which was awesome. I will do a much longer recap in another post - but the entire reason we were up here was so my mom could walk/jog the Grand Teton Half Marathon as her first Half - which she did! The weather was absolutely perfect and the views could not be beat! 

After the race we had a late lunch, went back to the hotel for showers, and then drove around Grand Teton National Park a bit - stopping off at:
  • Jenny Lake (mostly so I could look in the gift shop for a pint glass)
  • Signal Mountain Lookout
  • Oxbow Bend*
  • Snake River Overlook*
  • Schwabacher Road*
  • Moose Wilson Road (I had been told there were a lot of Moose on this road, but no luck in spotting any!)

View from Signal Mountain
Oxbow Bend
Schwabacher Road
Sunday we just headed back home nice and early. I had somewhat wanted to go see the Teton's one last time, but it had been a week away from home already and I still had a 7 1/2 hour drive ahead of me - so we just hit the road after grabbing breakfast to go. Overall, I truly did have a great time - I wish I could travel more often. It was an absolutely beautiful trip and a great way to kick off my summer!

Flattop Mountain & Hallett Peak

I've been wanting to hike to the top of Hallett Peak ever since I found out it was the gorgeous mountain towering above Dream and Emera...