Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Race Recap: Loco Glo 5k

One of my friends is starting to get into running in order to train for an upcoming Savage Race in the fall. She wanted to do a 5k race with me, so I chose a race that was more fun than serious: the Loco Glo 5k. It's one of the races in the Locomotive Race Series in Kennesaw, GA.

The race was on a Saturday night at 9pm. It took place in the dark, so we were given glow necklaces. It was a good concept, but some parts of the course were not well lit, and the only way I could see other runners was by their glow necklaces. I enjoy running at night and that part was fun, but I did worry about stepping into a pothole or tripping over something. Luckily, neither of those happened.

Loco Glo 5k course. We did the loop twice before returning to the start/finish.

Since this was more of a fun 5k, there were a lot of kids at the race, which made it difficult in the beginning as my friend and I had to go around several of them. To the race's credit, the announcer did tell the participants at the starting line to get off the front line if they weren't going to be running a 6 minute/mile pace.

Post race with my glow necklace. This is all we could see in the very dark parts of the course.

I stuck with my friend for roughly the first mile at a 9:14 pace. The second mile was a 9:15 pace. I knew that I wasn't going to take this 5k seriously, since it was a fun 5k and since I wanted to stay near my friend for the first mile. The race didn't have chip timing either - we were supposed to note our time on the race clock as we finished, and we were handed time cards to fill in our information and our time.

That said, I still didn't want my time to be awful and look out of place with my other 5k efforts. I decided I needed to pick up the pace for the third mile - and I did, completing it at an 8:30 pace. As I rounded the corner towards the finish with 0.14 miles to go, I started to sprint the last part of the race. I usually don't do an all out sprint for that long (although I should make it a habit), so it was difficult and I was quite worn out by the time I crossed the finish. My pace in the very last part of the race was around 6:30 minutes/mile. My overall time was 28:08.

My friend did well for her first 5k! She had only been out running a few times but got a 32:12 and placed 9th in our age group. My first few running efforts at that distance weren't as fast as that, so she's off to a good start.

They were giving out awards to the top overall male and female, as well as the top 3 in each age group. In the email we received prior to the race, they told us to stick around for the awards if we thought we placed. My friend and I had plans so we had to leave right after finishing the race, and I didn't think anything of it since I knew I wouldn't place. There were 385 participants in the race and I wasn't taking it seriously, so I had no chance of placing.

Or so I thought.

When we got the results the next day, I checked my time and my friend's time and checked our placements. I got 56th overall out of the 385 runners and 18th out of the 256 female runners. When I went to the 25-29 female age group, I saw that I was ranked 2nd out of 23. I had placed 2nd in my age group and would have had an award had I stayed longer after finishing the race! I was so sure that I wouldn't place, but I was completely wrong. I learned a valuable lesson about not underestimating myself and not making assumptions. I won't make that mistake again!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Trip Report: Mammoth Cave

For the past few years, I've taken a trip on my birthday.  When I was living in Seattle, I visited Cannon Beach, Oregon, and Winthrop, Washington. Since I'm in Georgia for the summer, I was a bit sad that there wouldn't be a Pacific Northwest trip on my birthday. However, I quickly realized that it was the perfect opportunity to go somewhere that I had wanted to go while I was in Seattle, but couldn't due to the distance - Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Instead of being an expensive plane ticket away, the cave is a four hour drive from where I'm staying in Georgia.

I wasn't able to do the trip on the weekend before or after my birthday due to having 5ks on both weekends, but I was able to book the trip on the weekend of my sister's birthday, and she and her husband met my dad and I in Kentucky. My sister, dad, and I had been to Mammoth Cave before, but I was young and didn't remember much.

The park didn't have all of their tours available at the time of our trip, but I was able to book the Domes & Dripstones tour and the Cleveland Avenue tour, which apparently isn't available except for a few months out of the year. We stayed in Cave City just outside the park. I booked a room at the Sleep Inn, which was affordable and nice (I believe it is a relatively new hotel). I recommend staying here if you're going to visit Mammoth Cave.

I did the best I could when taking pictures in the cave. It was challenging, as the cave had low lighting and was too dark for the camera to focus in several locations. I'm not a photographer so I'm sure there's better advice out there, but what worked for me was either using the auto 'no flash' setting on my camera or shooting in manual mode with the ISO bumped up.

Our first tour was Domes & Dripstones at 9:30am. This is a 2 hour tour and features the Niagara Falls tour on its route. After entering the cave, we descended approximately 280 stairs at the beginning. This was the most fun part of the tour for me, because the staircase was skinny and wound its way down through the cave, causing us to have to duck or turn sideways in a few places. Once we were at the bottom of the stairs, we sat in a larger room while the ranger shared a few facts about the cave with us.

Getting on the bus to go to the cave entrance

Leaving the first room

Walking through one of the passages

Then we continued on into the cave, stopping a couple more times for the ranger to point out different features to us, or in one instance, turn out all the lights in the cave so we could see how dark it was naturally. The last stop in the cave was just before Niagara Falls, where the ranger explained that we could take an optional set of stairs down to see more of the formations.

Niagara Falls - the cave version

The next tour was the Cleveland Avenue tour at 1:15pm. This tour is 2.5 hours long and is an out and back route to the Snowball Dining Room. We entered through the Carmichael entrance and went down approximately 200 stairs. After descending the stairs, the route is wide and flat with plenty of space.

The halfway point of the tour is the Snowball Dining Room - named for the "snowball" formations on the ceiling, and designated as a dining room because food used to be cooked and served here (yes, all the way down in the cave).

"Snowball" formations on the ceiling

Very old graffiti

Snowball Dining Room: Behind me are the picnic tables where people would sit to eat

After a 10 minute break in the Snowball Dining Room, we went back the way we came. Along the way, the ranger showed us gypsum along the ceiling of the cave.

Passage on the Cleveland Avenue tour


After finishing our tours for the day, we stayed in the park and drove to the Green River to take the Green River Ferry. It's an adorable ferry that can fit 3 vehicles at a time and goes back and forth across the river. After crossing, we drove a short loop through the woods and then took the ferry back across.

Green River Ferry

Green River

For anyone who has never been in a cave before, Mammoth Cave is a good place to start. The cave is lit and all visitors are led through the cave by a park ranger. The park offers several different tours throughout the year, and they range in difficulty, so there is something available for everyone. As a runner and hiker, I didn't find any of the tours I went on to be physically difficult. Also, since I've had the experience of going through a cave on my own without a guide, I wished that I had been able to experience more adventure instead of a structured, guided tour. The next time I visit Mammoth Cave, I'd like to do the Wild Cave tour, which is a 6 hour tour covering 5 miles of cave and involves crawling and squeezing through some tight spaces!

Monday, May 09, 2016

Race Recap: Swift Cantrell Classic 5k

Sometimes things happen when you least expect it.

I participated in a local 5k, the Swift Cantrell Classic. It's part of a race series called the Kennesaw Grand Prix. There are six races in the series, and the Swift Cantrell Classic was the first race of the season.

It was a beautiful morning for a race - cool temperatures, no humidity, and the sun was shining. I couldn't have asked for better weather, especially in Georgia.

After my last race, the Georgia Tech Pi Mile, where I didn't do too well (28:48) because of the humidity and not taking it seriously, I was starting to doubt my running ability and thought that I was regressing after taking two months off due to an injury. I went into this race not expecting much and told myself to go out there and run and see what happens.

The race was in downtown Kennesaw and started near a church. They had closed off one of the main roads for the race. We started by running down this road to Swift Cantrell Park, ran through the park, and then ran back down the road the way we came. We passed the start location and the race finished in downtown Kennesaw. It was a nice course; mostly flat with plenty of space on the road and on the path through the park. It was never too crowded and it was easy to pass other runners.

There were a ton of kids at this race, and because I was afraid of running them over I went up very close to the start line. I usually don't do this because I'm not fast and you're supposed to line up according to your pace, but this was not a serious race and I knew no one else would be lining up accordingly (there were kids at the very front of the start). It was fun to be that close to the start line and be able to take off immediately. I tried not to start out too fast.

I'm way on the left under the white arrow. Photo by TrueSpeedPhoto.

Probably my favorite picture from the race! Photo by TrueSpeedPhoto.

The guy in the blue next to me looks very intense and focused. Photo by TrueSpeedPhoto.

During the first mile, I was being passed by several people. I began to worry that I was going really slow somehow, but I kept reminding myself that I had started close to the front, so all of the faster runners that started behind me were going to pass me. At one mile, my pace was 8:39. That seemed about where I was when I got my PR of 27:05, so I realized I was doing well. I told myself to just keep up the same pace. I was actually pretty consistent throughout the race - my second mile was 8:42, and my third was 8:41. I think this is the most consistent race I've ever run pace-wise.

When I started the third mile, things were still going well, and I knew I could PR if I tried. When my watch beeped at the 3 mile mark, I was a little over 26 minutes. With only 0.14 miles left, I started sprinting. I could see the finish. As I was approaching, the race clock was somewhere in the 26:40 range, and I knew I had it. My watch said 26:54 when I crossed the finish line and stopped it. I did it!! I got a new personal record AND broke 27 minutes, which was my 5k goal for 2016. I was super happy that I wasn't even halfway through the year and I had already accomplished my goal.

When I don't know where the photographers are and I'm not paying attention anyway because I'm seconds away from a PR, my race photos are not pretty. Photo by TrueSpeedPhoto.

No photos of me waving while running. This is the face of focus and feeling like death, haha. I need to work on my running form! Photo by TrueSpeedPhoto.

Finish line

My official time was 26:51. We had chip timing, but it wasn't true chip timing because there were no mats at the start, only at the finish. That made me glad that I started right at the front, since the chip time was more of a gun time. Results are here. (Age group results here). My place was 133 out of 751. In my age group, female 25-29, I got 4th out of 26.

Now I have to decide if I'm going to relax for the rest of the year, or try to break my record again. I'm not sure about that yet - I'll have to see how things go, if my IT band continues to behave and if I can pick up my mileage again and get back to running 20-30 miles per week.

I'd had a rough couple days prior to this race, and I was beginning to get discouraged about a few things in my life, but this race and finally breaking 27 minutes really cheered me up and gave me the boost I needed. Now I feel like I can move forward and accomplish the things I've set out to do. This is what I love most about running - that it makes me feel like a strong, capable person, and even if things aren't going well in other parts of my life, I'm still achieving something great when I run and succeeding in at least one area of my life!

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Trail Report: Blood Mountain

Round trip distance: 8.5 miles
Highest point: 4,458 feet
Elevation gain: 2,225 feet
Pass: Georgia ParkPass or $5 parking fee

After seeing a few waterfalls in north Georgia and completing the Yonah Mountain hike, I wanted to do something more challenging. My dad and I hiked to Blood Mountain, the highest peak in the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail, and the sixth tallest mountain in Georgia. There are several ways to get to Blood Mountain, and we chose the approach from Vogel State Park because it was a bit longer than other routes and parking at the trailhead is easier.

Vogel State Park is beautiful! Lake Trahlyta is in the center of the park and is surrounded by campsites and forest. Parking is $5, or free if you have a Georgia Annual ParkPass. Park near the visitor center, and go in to get a map of hikes in the area. 

I'll be giving directions on how to get to Blood Mountain, since it involves taking several trails. If I hadn't written down the directions ahead of time, we probably would have taken a few wrong turns. 

To get to the trailhead, follow the road from the visitor center into the campground. You'll pass a few cottages. After passing cottage #7, you'll see a stone staircase on the right. Take these stairs and go left to start walking to the trailhead. In 0.4 miles, you'll come to the start of the trailhead to Blood Mountain. There are two signs:

You can either follow the Blood Mountain sign, or the Bear Hair Gap Trail sign, because this part of the hike is a loop. We chose to go right and follow the Bear Hair Gap Trail, and at the end of the hike we ended up coming out where the Blood Mountain sign is. 

Around 1.5 miles, you'll come to a sign directing you to an overlook. Go left to hike a short distance to the overlook for Vogel State Park and Lake Trahlyta. I've heard that it's easier to see the lake in the winter when the leaves aren't covering the viewpoint. However, it was still pretty. After going back the way you came, continue onto the Bear Hair Gap Trail (if you skip the overlook, you'd go right at the sign instead of turning left). 

Lake Trahlyta

You'll continue on the Bear Hair Gap Trail until meeting the Coosa Backcountry Trail.

When you come up the trail to this sign, you'll be able to go right or left. Go right at this sign to continue onto the Coosa Trail up to Blood Mountain. Going left will take you onto the rest of the Bear Hair Gap Loop which ends back at Vogel State Park. 

You'll eventually come to a four way intersection on the trail. Choose the path to the left (not straight, or right) to continue onto the Duncan Ridge Trail.

The last turn is where the Duncan Ridge Trail meets the Appalachian Trail. Go left at this junction to continue up to Blood Mountain.

On the way back down, you'll leave the summit, come back to the Duncan Ridge sign and go right. At the Duncan Ridge/Coosa intersection, go right. At the Coose/Bear Hair intersection, you can either turn right to go back the way you came along the loop, or you can go straight to hike along the other half of the loop. We chose the half of the loop that we didn't hike on the way up. Going this way, we encountered some large boulders and an area filled with cairns. 

The trail was very pretty - all of the leaves were green and a few wildflowers were out. We crossed Wolf Creek twice, and the area around the creek was filled with ferns. When we got closer to the top of Blood Mountain, the trail was rockier. At the summit, there is a shelter for thru hikers. It was spacious, cool, and shady. I would be very happy to have something like this to stay in if I was thru hiking and needed a place to stay overnight or seek shelter from a storm. The best viewpoint is right next to the shelter. We climbed up onto a large boulder to see the surrounding mountains. Several other people were sitting on the boulder eating lunch or enjoying the view. Some of them were hiking the Appalachian Trail, and two of the guys had come all the way from New Zealand!

View of the surrounding mountains


Back room of the shelter

White blazes on the Appalachian Trail

Pretty, bright forest


I enjoyed the Blood Mountain hike and definitely recommend it, but it wasn't the challenge I wanted it to be. I went into it thinking that it would take 6-8 hours since it was an 8.5 mile hike, but I've since realized that an 8.5 mile hike in Georgia is not the same as an 8.5 mile hike in Washington. The hike was uphill and downhill and had a couple semi steep parts, but overall I found it to be fairly flat and not very challenging. It took my dad and I two hours to get to the top and one hour and 38 minutes to get to the bottom, so the hike only took four hours total including the time we spent at the top. I've done shorter hikes in Washington that have taken five or six hours due to the difficulty. 

Trail on the way up. Roughly 4.6 miles. 
Trail on the way down. Roughly 3.75 miles. The route back was somewhat shorter, as the other half of Bear Hair Gap Loop was more direct.

Although my quest to find a challenging day hike in Georgia/the southeast continues, I'm glad that I did the Blood Mountain hike and was able to set foot on the Appalachian Trail for the first time in my life!

Friday, May 06, 2016

King of Waterfalls: Oregon or Washington?

One of my favorite places in the world is Oneonta Gorge, with the beautiful Lower Oneonta Falls in the back. This waterfall is in good company - it's located in the Columbia River Gorge area, an 80 mile canyon containing the Columbia River. There are several waterfalls off the Historic Columbia River Highway, including one of Oregon's most well known falls - Multnomah Falls.

I knew about the high number of waterfalls in that area, but I didn't know just how many there were until I looked it up. The Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge has over 90 waterfalls! Many of the waterfalls on my bucket list are in this area. 

Lower Oneonta Falls in Oneonta Gorge
One of my favorite places in the world and probably the best photo I've ever taken.

On Instagram, I follow several photographers who are based in the Pacific Northwest. I've been making a list of places I want to visit and hikes I want to do based off of the photos I see, and most of that list consists of waterfalls. It seems like 9 out of 10 waterfalls I see are located in Oregon. That, and the amount of waterfalls that are in the Columbia River Gorge, made me wonder if Oregon has the most waterfalls in the United States. I did some research, and it was more difficult to find an answer than I thought. This is most likely because it's impossible to know if every waterfall in a state is known. There may very well be some waterfalls that haven't been discovered yet. 

According to, Oregon has the most waterfalls of any state, coming in at 226. To put that in perspective, here are numbers for other states: Washington with 181 falls, California with 174, New York with 165, Montana with 119, Maine with 119, North Carolina with 102, and Hawaii with 100. The state I grew up in and am currently visiting, Georgia, has 28 waterfalls. 

However, Wikipedia has a page containing a list of waterfalls in Oregon, with at least 238 waterfalls.

Yet another source, the World Waterfall Database, lists 1,337 waterfalls in Oregon, and 2,683 waterfalls in Washington. I checked a few other states I suspected of having a large number of waterfalls, and the only one that came close was California with 1,052 waterfalls. Some waterfalls from this source have not been confirmed, so that explains the high numbers compared to other sources.

On the maps below, blue waterfalls have been visited and surveyed, green waterfalls have been confirmed, and yellow waterfalls are unconfirmed (a waterfall likely occurs at or near the location).

World Waterfall Database map - Oregon

Washington is completely out of control when it comes to waterfalls.
I had to zoom in before it would display the locations of the waterfalls, because there are too many to fit when I'm zoomed out to show the entire state.

My answer to the question of which state has the most waterfalls is that I have no answer. I originally suspected Oregon may have the most waterfalls, but it's looking like it could be Washington. Since my personal list of waterfalls to visit has more located in Oregon, I'm going to feature a few Oregon waterfalls below. My favorite, Lower Oneonta Falls, was shown above. The ones below are falls I haven't been to that are high on my bucket list. Northwest Waterfall Survey is a good resource for Pacific Northwest waterfalls.

Multnomah Falls
620 feet tall with two drops. I've actually seen this waterfall, as it's visible from the Historic Columbia River Highway. I haven't stopped at it yet or tried to go up on the bridge because it's the most popular waterfall in the area and is often extremely crowded. When I do go to see it one day, I'll go on a weekday during the off season. 

From Amazing Places On Earth

Fairy Falls
20 feet tall. Located in the Columbia River Gorge area in Wahkeena Canyon. This waterfall may be tiny, but it veils beautifully over the rock wall. Photographers love it. I'm looking forward to photographing it one day!

Photo by Nate Zeman

Ponytail Falls
88 feet tall. Located in the Columbia River Gorge area. Visitors are able to hike behind the falls, which makes for good photographs. 

Photo from Hikelandia

Punchbowl Falls
36 feet tall. Located on Eagle Creek in the Columbia River Gorge area. This waterfall is frequently photographed and gets its name due to the falls entering a bowl-shaped pool. 

Photo by Piriya Wongkongakthep

Abiqua Falls
92 feet tall. Finally, a waterfall on my list that's not in the Columbia River Gorge area. This waterfall is located near Silver Falls State Park, east of Salem. The basaltic amphitheater around the falls is gorgeous and gives it a different look than other falls. 

Photo by Jordan Hackworth