My Favorite and Least Favorite Races

So far, I’ve run 49 half marathons in 47 states, one full marathon, and a few other random races including 5k’s, 10k’s, and a 10-miler. Since most of these races were half marathons in different states, I have a wide range of races to choose from when deciding which ones I liked best and least. It’s funny because when I hear other people asked, “What was your favorite race?” they usually stammer around and say things like they could never choose just one.

For me, the choice is clear, however, especially for my favorite race. Sure, that’s not to say I didn’t highly enjoy some other races or truly dislike other races, but there are two obvious choices for me. I’ll start with my favorite race ever: the Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon in South Dakota.

Never would I have imagined that a half marathon in a tiny town in South Dakota would end up being my favorite half marathon at this point in my life, but there was just so much to love about this race.

I’ll start with the beginning as all things should, which in this case is packet pickup. I consider myself a pretty efficient person and I can appreciate when other people are also efficient, as was the race director with packet pickup for this race. I simply drove up to the designated site, told the one person sitting out front my name, and was handed a race shirt and bib. Simple and efficient.

The start of the Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon

The race started promptly at 7 am at the top of the beautiful Spearfish Canyon in Savoy in the northernmost section of South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest and finished at the bottom in Spearfish City Park. The course is net downhill with the start at around 5,000 feet above sea level and the finish around 1,300 feet. This didn’t feel so steep to me that my quads were aching but it did allow me to finish in my fastest time for a half marathon up to that point in my life.

Because the race is on quiet roads through the canyon, there were very few spectators and aid stations were on the light side, but still sufficient. For some people that thrive on crowds during a race they may find this a negative but for me I found the peace and quiet a definite positive for the race. As I was running I kept saying to myself how lucky I was to be able to run down the canyon and what a gift it was to do that. I can’t say I’ve thought that during many other races.

As of this writing the 2021 Spearfish Canyon will take place in-person on July 10, with a virtual option as well. https://www.nhcasa.com/canyonrun/ You can also read my race report here: Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, South Dakota- 34th state.

Now for my least favorite race. This wasn’t quite as easy to choose as my favorite but ultimately I have to choose the race that I described in my race report as a “death march through the desert,” the Laughlin Half Marathon in Nevada. I really hated just about everything about this race and only sheer will-power kept me going to the finish line.

The year that I ran the Laughlin Half Marathon, the race started at 8 am, which was entirely too late in the day considering it’s in the desert and quickly gets blazing hot (it’s since then been pushed to 7 am). It was already hot and steamy at the beginning of the race and being in the desert, there were no trees for shade, and not a cloud in the sky. The entire course was on packed dirt with loose gravel, making it difficult for me to get my footing. The course was out-and-back along a part of the Colorado River but pretty much all I could focus on was the stifling heat and loose gravel so I didn’t find it very scenic.

Crappy photo from a crappy race, the Laughlin Half Marathon

Even the post-race parts of this half marathon were disappointing. There were only bananas, oranges, and bagels in addition to water. The medals were just average at best and the shirts were white cotton t-shirts with the race logo. Based on the current website, changes have been made since I ran the race, but even so this is not a race I would ever recommend to anyone.

According to the website, https://runlaughlin.com/# the race director is attempting to hold a race December 4, 2021 but this is dependent on COVID numbers and state regulations. If you’re a true masochist, check it out! Honestly, the December date might help with the heat (I ran it in March). You can read my full race report here: Laughlin Half Marathon, Nevada-11th state.

What about you- what are your least favorite and favorite races so far? Have you run either of these races?

Happy running!

Donna

My First Time Flying in 15 Months- Flying During COVID

To put things into perspective, normally I fly four or five times in any given year. In 2019, I flew to Hawaii, Peru, Wyoming, and Nebraska. That was a light year because I was able to drive to my half marathon in Delaware, otherwise that would have been another flight. In 2020, I flew just once, to St. Petersburg, Florida in February before the pandemic truly hit and state shutdowns began. Little did I know then that would be the last time I would board an airplane for another 15 months.

I had plans to fly to southern Spain and Portugal in June 2020 that I pushed back to August, only to cancel for good. I also had plans to fly to Yosemite National Park in California in August and that was also cancelled. Oh, and flights to New Mexico, Iowa, and Minnesota were also cancelled during the pandemic. Luckily, the airlines were all generous in their cancellation policies because that was five flights that were all cancelled and otherwise I would have been out of a lot of money.

By the summer of 2020, I had begun to get a bit stir-crazy but flying didn’t seem like a great idea so I took some road trips, first to the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee (Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park- Redux) and later in the summer to the coast of North Carolina (Fun in the Sun in the Outer Banks, North Carolina). That August, my daughter started online school and all vacations were put on hold.

With spring break of 2021 approaching and the state of the pandemic starting to improve as more and more people were getting vaccinated, I began searching for safe places to travel to. I had also gotten vaccinated myself, which helped ease my mind. When I would see an article online about state requirements for travel (basically stating if you were required to quarantine upon arrival or not), I would scour the list.

Florida kept looking better and better. They were ahead of the curve when it came to vaccinating their people, had no mandates regarding travel or quarantine upon arrival and I knew I could get a short direct flight there. Finally, flights were dirt cheap. I took a deep breath, crossed my fingers, bought my airline tickets with Delta, and hoped for the best, knowing I could easily cancel and get my money back or at least a voucher for a future flight if I had to. Also, I only made reservations at hotels with generous cancellation policies, allowing me to cancel the day before if necessary.

The final couple of weeks before my vacation, I was overly cautious about who I was around. Even though I was vaccinated and my chances of getting COVID was minimal I knew there was still a slight chance and it would have been devastating if that were to happen. Also, my daughter, who isn’t yet 16, isn’t eligible yet to get the vaccine, so she could have gotten sick. She also limited her exposure to other people in the time before our vacation.

Finally the day of our flight to Tampa arrived. My daughter and I were both healthy and excited for some time in sunny Florida. We were also excited to learn we had been bumped-up to comfort+ seats, which are just a step below first class. Bonus!

So what exactly was my flight experience like? I’ll break it down completely here to those that are curious or nervous about flying during the pandemic. First off, the airport was moderately busy, I’d say. Not empty but nowhere near busy either. Since this was during spring break, in a normal year, the airport would have been packed. Everyone at the airport was wearing a mask or face covering of some sort. We only had a short line to go through security, which was no doubt faster because we didn’t have to take off our shoes or take liquids out of our carry-on bags.

Delta was one of the few airlines still blocking off the middle seats on the airplanes at the time of our flight, so the plane still had plenty of empty seats because of that. At no point did anyone take our temperature, either at the airport or any time before boarding the plane, but I did have to answer the usual series of questions about COVID and our general state of health when I checked in for the flight.

The airplane was boarded from back to front to limit exposure and everyone was handed an individually-wrapped wet wipe upon boarding. We were all told we had to keep our masks on unless we were actively eating or drinking. Once we reached altitude, the flight attendants handed out a small plastic bag with a small water bottle, a wet wipe, a bag of Goldfish crackers, a Clif mini-bar, and a napkin. We were supposed to put all of our trash back into that bag and hand it to the flight attendants when they picked up the trash.

Never once did I feel unsafe either at the airport or on the airplane. I felt like everyone was adhering to all of the guidelines, wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet from people not in their household or group, and washing hands or using hand sanitizer/hand wipes. I also know (well, I have read and I guess I assume it’s true) that Delta’s airplanes are being deep-cleaned regularly. The airplane seemed cleaner than ever to me, compared to previous flights, where I would often find trash left behind in the seat from the previous flier.

The return flight from Tampa back home to North Carolina was similar with one tiny exception. The TSA agent in the Tampa airport told us we had to remove our shoes but could leave liquids in our bags. Still, the line for security went quickly and smoothly. Also, a nice bonus was we were upgraded to first class on the flight back home. This was a first for me and I enjoyed the cushy seats and tons of leg room. I’m 5’8″ so I’m always a big squished in economy seats.

As before, everyone in the airport wore a mask, some seats in the airport were blocked off to help with distancing everyone, and hand sanitizer was plentiful and more importantly being used. The middle seats were also blocked off on the airplane, as before. To deal with this in first class, which only had rows of two seats, versus three seats in a row for comfort+ and economy, only people from the same household could sit together in first class.

I realize everyone’s comfort level is different now during the pandemic and some people either are high-risk or have high-risk family members. Some people are also not able to get the vaccine for various reasons and may not want to fly for that reason. By no means am I saying everyone should go on a flight now. As I said in the beginning, I just want to let others who haven’t flown in a long time and are curious know what my personal experience was like. Other people’s experience may of course vary depending on which airports they go to and which airline they fly with.

Have you flown during the pandemic? If so, what was your experience like?

Happy travels!

Donna

My Whitewater Rafting Story and Things to Consider Before You Go

Growing up in southern West Virginia, I had the opportunity to go whitewater rafting a handful of times when I was in high school. The first time I went, I was absolutely terrified but I was with a reputable tour company and everything went smoothly. By the end of the day, I was converted. I ended up loving it so much I went again the following summer and again after that a couple of times over the years.

In southern West Virginia, you have several options when it comes to whitewater rafting. You can either go rafting down the New River or the Gauley River. In general, the New River is a bit tamer while the Gauley is the most extreme and has the most technical rapids. To break it down even further, there’s the Upper New River, Lower New River, Upper Gauley River, and Lower Gauley River. The Upper New has class I-III rapids and you only have to be 5 years old to participate. The Lower New has class III-V rapids and you need to be 10 years old or at least 90 lbs. The Gauley River is dam-released and you can only go whitewater rafting here in the Fall. The Lower Gauley has class III-IV rapids and you have to be at least 12 years old. The Upper Gauley is the most extreme of all with class III-V rapids and you have to be at least 16 years old.

After I got my bachelor’s degree at West Virginia University, I moved to Tennessee to go to graduate school. One summer while I was there, my boyfriend and I decided to go whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River. I had been down the New River in West Virginia several times by this point, with rapids up to class V. If you don’t know anything about the ratings for whitewater rapids, the scale goes from I to VI, with the latter being the most extreme in the world. As far as I’m aware, commercial rafting trips will only take customers up to class V rapids. However, the class rating is only part of the story. For example, there is a rapid called “Mickey’s” in the Ocoee River in in the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee that’s class IV but has a part where your options are going down a 5-foot ledge drop into a deep hole or a rocky descent down a 4-foot ledge. Many people have died here, perhaps unsurprisingly.

Anyway, we decided to go whitewater rafting and by this point I felt fairly confident in my ability since I had been multiple times by now. The rafting company we made reservations with had several people that were going out rafting that day, and they divided us into three groups on three different rafts. We all had life jackets and helmets, watched the safety video, and got the run-down in person by one of the guides when we were getting ready to get into the rafts.

group of men paddling while inside inflatable boat
Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

The raft I was in happened to be the “lead” raft that day, with the other two rafts following behind us. It was a beautiful summer day, with the temperature warm but not excessively hot. The water felt nice when we hit our first rapid, a fairly easy one to get us warmed-up. The guide told us at the beginning that no matter what, we should always keep our paddle in the water and hold on tight to it, as it could be used as a flotation device if need be. There were some rapids that we went through where my paddle wasn’t even touching the water because the raft was so high into the air and above the water, at least the part where I was sitting.

Everything was going along swimmingly, that is until our raft got hung up on a rock in an area where there was a rapid. We couldn’t move forward and we couldn’t go backward, despite all of us in the raft trying to paddle furiously and our guide trying to move us along. Then, all of a sudden a gush of water swept into the raft and pulled me out of the raft into the river. Everyone else remained in the raft still stuck on that huge rock except me.

Because of the rapids, I was pushed further and further down the river. I would get sucked under the water, then thanks to my life jacket, I would pop back up so I could take a quick breath. It was like I was in a pinball machine, getting bounced along from one rock to another but somehow I kept holding on for dear life to my paddle. I was furiously looking for something, anything to grab but there was nothing. I tried to swim to get out of the rapid but the water was too powerful. It was as if I was a rag doll getting tossed around the river. After a while of this going on, I thought I was going to die right then and there on the river.

Then all of a sudden I saw a rock covered with moss sticking just a bit out of the water and I grabbed onto the moss and held on for dear life (literally). By some miracle, I was able to hold onto the moss while the river rushed over me, pushing and prodding my lower body. Someone in a kayak yelled out to me to hold on and said he was going to throw me a rope. I yelled out that my legs were giving out and at that very second, the water pushed me away, sending me even further down the river.

I was able to grab the rope, though, and the man in the kayak pulled me safely to shore. We waited for my raft to catch up to us and I was told to get back into the raft to finish out the trip. In hindsight, I should have insisted that someone from their company pick me up in a bus right there, but like a little lamb, I got back into the raft and finished out the trip down the river. It was like I was in shock for the rest of that time because I don’t remember any of it. They later told me I went down a quarter of a mile down the river by myself before the kayaker could catch up to me. I also later found out that the river was abnormally low that day we went rafting and that’s why our raft got stuck on the rock (and we kept getting stuck on other rocks that day). In fact, the water was so low that we shouldn’t have gone out that day, but the rafting company took us out anyway.

Bruised from my hips down to my toes but otherwise OK, I was shaken mentally more than physically. Honestly, I’m lucky I didn’t break something or drown. At the time I told everyone that I would definitely go whitewater rafting again; however, once my brain and my senses came back to me, I decided perhaps I really didn’t want to chance going through that again. I was pretty sure my whitewater rafting days were over. In more recent years I’ve thought about going whitewater rafting down the Snake River but when that opportunity came up in Wyoming, I chose to go down a calm portion of the Snake River and skip the part with the rapids.

My previous rafting trips in West Virginia show that things can go smoothly and not every experience is like mine was in Tennessee. A time or two when I was whitewater rafting in West Virginia, someone in my raft or another raft with our group got sucked out of the raft, but a guide was able to grab them right away and pull them back in or the person was able to pull themselves back into the raft quickly. They were fine and no one thought anything of it. Still, bad things can and do happen when people are whitewater rafting. People die going whitewater rafting all over the world all the time.

So what can you do to help ensure you’re not one of the those unlucky people? You can do your due diligence and check out the company you’re thinking of going rafting with in advance. You can also check the river where you’ll be rafting to see if there’s a history of people dying there when rafting. Your company should make sure everyone wears a life jacket and a helmet. If they don’t, find another company. Finally, you can check the river conditions that day and make sure the water isn’t abnormally low or high. If your gut instinct is screaming at you not to go, listen to it and don’t go.

Whitewater rafting can be an exhilarating experience or a terrifying one. If all goes as it should, you should be pumped up on adrenaline because you’re having so much fun. Most of all, you should feel like your guide and the company you’re trusting your life with will protect you and watch out for your best interests, not just trying to line their pockets.

Have you been whitewater rafting? Do you want to go? If so, where?

Happy travels!

Donna

What if You Never Learn to Love Running?

The other evening my teenage daughter was vacuuming and stopped to ask me, “How do I learn to love to vacuum?” I stopped to think for a second then replied, “You may never love vacuuming.” Obviously this wasn’t the answer she was seeking because she sighed and continued to vacuum.

This got me thinking about running, though. Many people that want to lose weight or get fitter decide to start running. Then they realize that running is hard. And they in fact hate running. Where are those endorphins everyone talks about and the so-called runner’s high? How can you learn to love running especially if you hate it?

It’s been said that many people took up running for the first time (or returned to running after many years of not running) during the pandemic. This is great, especially if those people stick with it and continue running. That’s one of the biggest hurdles with running, sticking with it and making it a habit.

I loved exploring all of the greenways during my long weekend in Greenville, South Carolina

For me, there’s a much bigger likelihood I’ll run if I have a schedule. That schedule doesn’t have to be a training plan for a race, but that certainly gives me more motivation. However, with so many races being cancelled in 2020, races were off the table for me. With no races in sight, I had to make sure I followed at least somewhat of a regular schedule when it came to running or it may not have happened that day.

First you have to figure out the best time of the day to run for you, your body, and your work/family life. If you’re more of a morning person, you’ll likely find it easier to run in the morning than in the evening. But you may find you do better on lunch time runs. Experiment for a couple of weeks and see what is best for you. Many people find it difficult to find the motivation to run if they wait until after work or late in the day but for me, I prefer to run after work if possible.

Being part of a running group can also help if you’re not that enthusiastic about running. I realize that’s difficult during the pandemic, depending on where you live and the conditions. I’ve seen on social media some people continuing to run in small groups socially distanced but where I live even that’s not really an option. However, you can still be a part of a running group, albeit online. There are many options for this including Strava, Garmin, Facebook, and running blogs for starters.

Choosing a scenic route to run always helps!

Back to the original question of how can you learn to love running? Well, you can try some of the things I mentioned above like having a scheduled time to run regularly, figuring out the best time of day to run, and being part of a running group. If you’ve tried all of those things for at least six weeks and still hate running, what else can you do?

One thing that makes a huge difference to me when I get bored with running is to mix things up as far as location. The great thing about running is there are so many options when it comes to where you can run. Running through neighborhoods is of course one option but you can also find a greenway and run there or even run through a different neighborhood, one that you’ve never even driven through or run near your work place. Trail running is another great option and that doesn’t have to mean trudging up steep hills and past exposed tree roots and rocks. The terrain of trails can vary greatly so I recommend walking a trail first to check it out before you run on a trail. If you’re lucky enough to live near a beach, try running either on the sand or near it so you can still get those ocean views.

You can try setting mini-goals for yourself like working up to a 5k run (or race if that’s an option for you). Find a 5k beginner’s training plan and follow it to completion. For extra motivation if you can’t run a race, involve a family member or close friend to make it more fun by having them stage a race course for you, complete with running bib, finish line (I’ve seen toilet paper used but you could also use party streamers), and post-race beverage and snacks of your choice. The idea is to make it as fun as possible, not just a regular every day run or it likely won’t feel special.

Say you’ve tried all of the things I mentioned and you still hate running. What can you do then? In my opinion, you have two choices: you can either continue to run and suffer through it or you can stop running. No one ever said you have to run. If you truly hate it, stop and try some other kind of activity. There are plenty of physical activities you can do if you’re looking for a way to stay active and healthy- cycling, hiking, going on long walks at a brisk pace, swimming, dancing, HIIT workouts, tennis, gardening, golf, disc golf, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, yoga, rock climbing, skating, skiing (can be water skiing, downhill, cross-country), or even punching a boxing bag. Find something that you at least like enough to continue doing a few days a week and gets your heart rate up.

What about you? Do you hate running but do it anyway? Do you love running but hated it when you first started?

Happy running!

Donna

Travel to Charlotte, North Carolina

Charlotte, North Carolina is famous for a few different reasons: 1) it is home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame and a NASCAR track, 2) the U.S. National Whitewater Center is here, 3) it is a business hub especially for the banking industry, and 4) it is home to NFL’s Carolina Panthers and the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. As I mentioned in my post, Travel to North Carolina- Some of My Favorite Places and Things to Do, Charlotte had an estimated 29.6 million visitors in 2018 and hit a record high of visitor spending in 2019. Geographically, Charlotte is on the border of North and South Carolina. Fun fact: at the amusement park Carowinds you can stand with one foot in North Carolina and one foot in South Carolina. With so much to do, let’s jump right to it!

Things to Do

As I mentioned above, Charlotte is home to two national sports teams, the football team the Carolina Panthers and the basketball team the Charlotte Hornets. I’ve never gone to see either team play but historically the Panthers have ranked one of the worst NFL teams in the league. Michael Jordan owns 97% of the equity of the Charlotte Hornets, which according to Forbes had a revenue $240 million during the 2018-19 season despite having three losing seasons in a row. Even with these losing track records, both teams still draw in the crowds during non-pandemic times. For Charlotte Panthers tickets: https://www.panthers.com/tickets/. For Charlotte Hornets tickets: https://www.ticketmaster.com/charlotte-hornets-tickets/artist/931493?awtrc=true&awtrc=true&c=blue_ext&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIvPjR-Zyu7wIVEvDACh1EDgtZEAAYASAAEgJBnfD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

If you’re not into football or basketball, you can always watch a NASCAR race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. I have actually been to a NASCAR race but in Tennessee, not Charlotte. Still, I would think the experience is at least similar. One thing I will say is that NASCAR is LOUD so it’s a good idea to bring foam ear plugs or over-the-ear headphones to block out some of the noise. If you’re really into NASCAR, you can also visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which is located in the Charlotte Convention Center and comes complete with a simulator ride. https://www.charlottemotorspeedway.com/ https://www.nascarhall.com/

The US National Whitewater Center has so much more than just whitewater rafting. There’s also ice skating, ziplines, kayaking and SUP, climbing, ropes courses, and mountain biking. Plus, there’s an illuminated walking trail in the winter months, festivals, a whitewater film series, yoga, and River Jam. If all of that’s not enough, they also offer instruction and certification (like Wilderness Medicine and First Aid, Swiftwater Rescue, Whitewater Instruction and more), team development, and summer camp and field trips for kids. https://usnwc.org/

Hanging out with some of the characters from Great Wolf Lodge

For parents, Great Wolf Lodge is a mega water park also with MagiQuest and Build-A-Bear. Just make sure you bring your wallets stuffed with money because as you can imagine, it’s not cheap to go here, even if you “just” go to the water park. It is relatively easy to find discounts and special deals if you just look, which I highly encourage you to do. I know banks in the area routinely offer discounts during the spring and summer months. I’ve seen discounts on Groupon many times and I’m sure there are others. I found the food within the park to be so-so and expensive for what you get but there are some restaurants within walking distance or a short drive that give you more options. https://www.greatwolf.com/concord

Carowinds is a fun amusement park that I’ve been to many times, even before I moved to North Carolina. Roller coasters, thrill rides, kids’ rides, family rides, a water park, and live shows are all offered at Carowinds and all included in one admission ticket. Like any other amusement park of its calibre, the food for purchase at Carowinds is mediocre and relatively expensive for what you get. Coming for the first time ever (to my knowledge) is Grand Carnivale, in the spirit of Carnival with a Carnivale Street Experience, Spectacle of Color Parade, and Festive Food Options, https://www.carowinds.com/play/events/grand-carnivale. Unlike most Carnival events that take place in February and sometimes March, this one takes place July 17- August 1, 2021 (because of the weather, I’m sure and the pandemic most likely has something to do with pushing the date back as well).

“Driving” at Carowinds Amusement Park- my daughter could barely see over the steering wheel!

If you like botanical gardens like I do, you can visit the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. Set on 380 acres, the gardens are divided into sections including an orchid conservatory, canal garden, a dry piedmont prairie, a children’s garden, fountains, walking trails and more. One thing I really like is their “Museums For All” policy, that allows EBT card-holders to visit during daytime hours for just $1 per person for up to six family members (special events like the Chinese Lantern Festival not included). Some of the other museums in the area also offer discounted admission for EBT card-holders. This offers huge savings to people who otherwise might not be able to afford to go to these places. The campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte also has an impressive botanical garden with a two-story rainforest exhibit. https://www.dsbg.org/. https://gardens.uncc.edu/

Museums

I realize museums would normally fall under the heading of “Things to Do,” but there are so many museums in the Charlotte area, they deserve their own subset.

Carolinas Aviation Museum, located at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport is a nice one if you’re into aviation history. You can stroll the indoor hangar deck to inspect historic aircraft like an F-14 Super Tomcat and a DC-3 commercial airliner. The museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate, is currently closed for 2021 with plans for a grand re-opening in 2022. https://www.carolinasaviation.org/

For history buffs, you can visit the Levine Museum of the New South, which includes temporary and permanent exhibits on life in the Piedmont area of North Carolina after the Civil War, https://www.museumofthenewsouth.org/. You can also tour the Hezekiah Alexander Rock House, built in 1774, as part of the Charlotte Museum of History, https://charlottemuseum.org/.

Some hands-on fun at Discovery Place Science Museum

Discovery Place Museums includes four separate museums: Discovery Place Science, Discovery Place Nature, Discovery Place Kids- Huntersville, and Discovery Place Kids- Rockingham. The Huntersville location is about 20 minutes north of Charlotte and the Rockingham location is about an hour and a half east of Charlotte. Both the Science and Nature museums are in Charlotte proper, about 3.5 miles from one another. You do need to purchase tickets in advance separately for each museum. While the Science museum may seem a bit pricey at $19 for adults/$15 for children, I thought it was well-worth it because of the extensiveness and quality of exhibits. Discovery Place Nature museum admission is only $8 for adults or children and is a great deal considering what you get for that. https://www.discoveryplace.org/

I went to the Schiele Museum of Natural History in nearby Gastonia this past December for the first time and really enjoyed it. The Schiele Museum is divided into an indoor section and an outdoor section. Inside, you can find a planetarium (shows are a reasonable $5 extra on top of museum admission), North Carolina Hall of Natural History, Hall of North American Habitats, Hall of North American Wildlife, Henry Hall of the American Indian, Creepy Nature Exhibit, classrooms, a museum store, and more. Outside, you can walk around on the trails and visit The Farm, the Grist Mill, Catawba Indian Village, Stone Age Heritage Site, gazebos, a pond, and have lunch or a snack at a picnic table. Currently, you must purchase tickets in advance and tickets for indoor exhibits, the Farm, and the planetarium all have to be purchased separately. I found ticket prices to be extremely affordable. https://www.schielemuseum.org/

The Mint is an art museum with two locations, one in the heart of Charlotte, and part of the Levine Center for the Arts, a cultural campus that includes the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture, the Knight Theater, and the Duke Energy Center. Mint Museum Randolph is on Randolph Road in Charlotte in the original building of the US Mint. This was the first art museum of North Carolina, opened in 1936. https://mintmuseum.org/. Referenced above, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art is just what you’d expect at a museum of modern art, to be honest, with a reasonable $9 admission fee, http://bechtler.org/. The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture is kind of a mixture of part art museum, part history museum. There are also a range of talks and special events, https://www.ganttcenter.org/.

Where to Eat

Enat Ethiopian Restaurant

Ace No 3- burgers

Little Village Grill- Mediterranean and Greek

Poboy’s Low Country Seafood Market- fresh off-the-boat seafood that you can take home to cook yourself or have them cook it for you

The Eagle Food and Beer Hall- famous for their fried chicken and beer

Warmack- Asian; said to have the best pork gyoza in Charlotte

Breakfast Shout-Outs (because I love breakfast): Snooze Eatery (some of the best breakfasts I’ve had even though this is a chain restaurant and I’m normally not into chains), Community Matters Cafe, Toucan Louie’s West End, and Metro Diner.

Christmas Town USA

One final note about Charlotte is the proximity to McAdenville, North Carolina, also known as Christmas Town USA. This is a small town just west of Charlotte that I had the pleasure of visiting this past December. With all of the bad things that happened in 2020, I desperately needed something good in my life last Christmas. How can anyone other than the greatest Scrooge not have a good time in a place billed as Christmas Town USA?

Just a few houses from Christmas Town USA

Even a pandemic couldn’t put a stop to Christmas Town USA’s 2020 celebrations, going strong since 1956 (although some events like the yule log ceremony were cancelled in 2020). Every year from December 1- 26, the entire town is lit up in Christmas lights and decorations in a tasteful not tacky way. There is no admission fee, you simply drive into the town, park your car, and walk around and enjoy the views. We got some hot chocolate and pastries from Floyd & Blackie’s Bakery to enjoy while we walked around, which was like icing on the cake (no pun intended). I picked up take-out for dinner from Mayworth’s Public House in nearby Cramerton, and the food was really good. There are a couple of options for food right in McAdenville but many others are just a short drive away. I highly recommend going to Christmas Town USA if you’re in the Charlotte area in December: https://www.mcadenville-christmastown.com/.

Have you ever been to Charlotte, North Carolina? If so, what did you do there? I always love hearing about other people’s experiences in places I’ve been so please share!

Happy travels!

Donna

Five Running-Related Things About Me

Unless you’ve followed my blog for years (and if you have, thank you) you probably don’t know the following five running-related things about me. Even if you do regularly follow my blog, there are still some things here you probably don’t know about me. Every now and then I like to post something like this, a get to know me post to make my blog more personal. I know most runners are curious about what other runners like and don’t like and what they’ve gone through as runners so I’m going to share five things about me here. I hope you find them interesting!

Running in Hawaii. This is one picture that definitely does not do the place justice!
  1. I’ve only had one bad fall while running. I still have scars on my right shoulder and left knee from when I fell two years ago (Sometimes You Fall). This was by far the worst I’ve ever gotten scraped-up from falling during a run. Fortunately I haven’t fallen during a run since then (knock on wood!).
  2. Even though one of my absolute most favorite places to run especially during the summer is on the trails, I’ve never run a trail race. I’ve thought about it and even asked for suggestions of trail races on Twitter what feels like a lifetime ago (but was actually late 2019) when I thought I was actually going to be able to run my final three half marathons for my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states in 2020. I was thinking about what I would do after I finished my quest.
  3. I have a sensitive stomach and have thrown up before a race on more than one occasion. In fact, while I was throwing up in the parking lot before my half marathon in Missouri Roller Coaster Half Marathon, Missouri- 32nd state, a race I actually managed to win in my age group, a kind gentleman was giving me encouraging words of advice to someone who was “new” to running. I didn’t bother to correct him or tell him that in fact it wasn’t my first race but my 34th half marathon with about a dozen other races on top of that.
  4. It probably comes as no surprise I like to combine running and travel. It may surprise you to hear one of my favorite places in the world to run is in Hawaii. Yes, it’s hot but I can take the heat (usually, although see my next point below). The ocean views when you’re running along the coastline, high on a running path looking down into the water and rocks below are truly stunning.
  5. Even though I’ve only run one marathon and it was an absolutely miserable experience because of the extreme heat the day of the race, I’m fascinated by the Comrades Marathon, which is 89 kilometers or 55 miles through the province of South Africa https://www.comrades.com/. I realize it sounds crazy that I always said I would never run another full marathon but I would love to run a race that’s 55 miles and it’s also a race that you have to have a qualifying marathon time to even register for. So, that would mean I would have to run another marathon and finish in the qualifying time before running Comrades. Not that I have any plans on doing either of those things, but I always say, never say never! I would like to think I’m about 1000 times smarter when it comes to race plans, fueling, recovery, etc. than when I was training for the Long Beach Marathon. Of course nothing would have changed the poor luck with the weather that day: high 80’s in October when it’s usually low- to mid-70’s.

What about you? Care to share something about yourself that’s running-related that others may not know?

Happy running!

Donna

Travel to Raleigh, North Carolina

The capital city of Raleigh, North Carolina may not be the first city to come to mind when you’re thinking about where to go on vacation, but I’m here to put some ideas into your mind, plant some seeds if you will. You may not even know where Raleigh, North Carolina is. Raleigh is in central North Carolina in what’s referred to as the piedmont area. Thanks to Research Triangle Park (roughly 30 minutes from downtown Raleigh), the largest planned research center in the United States, and all of the biotech jobs that come along with it, Raleigh has been booming for the last few decades so many people have moved here for the prospect of jobs, which is precisely what brought me to Raleigh way back in 1997.

I’m going to focus primarily on downtown Raleigh here, but there are also many things to do in nearby Durham, Cary, and Apex, all within a roughly 30 minute drive from Raleigh. For instance, you can see a Durham Bulls baseball game, a minor league team that is an extremely affordable way to spend a few hours with family or friends, even if you’re not that big of a baseball fan; plus there’s DPAC, Durham Performing Arts Center. Cary has been ranked by Money magazine as one of the best places to live in the US and has several breweries, amazing restaurants, and Koka Booth Amphitheater with year-round events. Apex has a quaint downtown with unique shops and restaurants and events at the Halle Cultural Arts Center.

Things to Do in Raleigh

If you like museums, Raleigh has one for everyone. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is one of the best in the southeast, https://naturalsciences.org/ and has exhibits that span over four floors. If you have young children, they will love Marbles Kids Museum, https://www.marbleskidsmuseum.org/. I’ve spent many days at this hands-on children’s museum and my daughter even spent the night here with her Girl Scout troop once. For history lovers, there’s the North Carolina Museum of History, https://www.ncmuseumofhistory.org/, the Pope House Museum, https://raleighnc.gov/pope-house, and Mordecai Historic Park, https://raleighnc.gov/places/mordecai-historic-park. If you like contemporary art, there’s CAM Raleigh, http://camraleigh.org/ and for art lovers of all genres, there’s the much bigger North Carolina Museum of Art, https://www.ncartmuseum.org/.

Fun at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

There’s a great stand-up comedy club, Goodnights Comedy Club, https://www.goodnightscomedy.com/ that has shows on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings most weeks. Duke Energy Center for the Arts has a wide range of shows from opera and classical music, lectures and talks, comedians, and musicians from many genres, https://www.ticketmaster.com/duke-energy-center-for-the-performing-tickets-raleigh/venue/369155. Red Hat Amphitheater has some great shows year-round, and you can choose from traditional lawn seating, elevated lawn seating, and premium box seats, https://www.redhatamphitheater.com/. Finally, there’s the Raleigh Convention Center that largely has symphony shows but also other musicians and other events like local graduations and shows like boat and car shows, https://www.raleighconvention.com/.

Outdoor Activities

You can run, walk, or bike along two scenic greenways, the Neuse River Trail and Capital Area Greenway. Pullen Park and Umstead State Park are some of the best parks in the area and you can spend several hours at each. Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve has activities for children at the park office and three trails ranging from around a half mile to a mile each. If you like ziplines and outdoor obstacle courses, there’s TreeRunner Adventure Park, https://www.treerunnerraleigh.com/ and Go Ape Zipline and Adventure Park, https://www.goape.com/location/north-carolina-raleigh-durham/. Dead Broke Farm offers horseback riding, https://deadbrokefarm.com/. Citrix Cycle is a bikeshare program where you can rent a bike from 30 stations around the city. About two-thirds of the bikes are electric assist and can be rented for $2 for a single pass or $6 for a day pass. https://www.citrixcycle.com/

You can borrow kayaks, standup paddleboards, and pedal boats for an hour free of charge at Lake Crabtree County Park, located near the Raleigh-Durham International Airport

Where to Eat and Drink

Downtown Raleigh has so many restaurants with truly amazing food. Some of my favorites, which are also consistently top-ranked include:

Beasley’s Chicken + Honey (American)

Bida Manda (Laotian, Asian Fusion, Thai)

Morgan Street Food Hall (many different restaurants)

The Pit (Barbecue)

Brewery Bhavana (Asian Fusion)

Gravy (Italian)

Caffe Luna (Italian)

Hayes Barton Cafe and Dessertery (American; their desserts are to die for)

Most of those are primarily only open for lunch and/or dinner. For breakfast, I really like:

The Morning Times

Manhattan Cafe

Flying Biscuit Cafe

The Optimist

There are also dozens of breweries, the Raleigh Beer Garden, Pinetop Distillery where they make gin and moonshine, Raleigh Rum Company, Seventy Eight C Spirits where they make limoncello in three different flavors, plus other distilleries in Durham and other nearby cities.

Beasley’s Chicken + Honey. Photo courtesy Jonathan Beaver.

Where to Stay

If you want to splurge, The Umstead Hotel and Spa, https://www.theumstead.com/?gclid=CjwKCAiArbv_BRA8EiwAYGs23CbjD0x_7pyDNZDEVqQE8uoY4IuIeCc9VSLjcXPmVXWWaqYMY6Pe9BoCXeIQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds is one of the best hotels in the area, although it is in Cary, only a short drive from downtown Raleigh. You can go to the spa without staying at the hotel and I hear the restaurant, Heron’s is also fabulous.

Raleigh Marriott City Center, Sheraton Raleigh Hotel, and Residence Inn by Marriott are all nice hotels in a good location in downtown Raleigh. If you have a rental car or don’t mind taking Uber or Lyft, Carolina Inn and The Siena Hotel both in Chapel Hill are super nice, as are JB Duke Hotel and Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club, both in Durham. Washington Duke Inn is my daughter’s favorite place to indulge on her birthday for afternoon tea, which we’ve done every year since she turned thirteen.

For each of the sections above, especially the things to do and places to eat, I had to stop myself from including more than I did because there’s just so much to see and do in downtown Raleigh and the surrounding area. I tried to limit each section to some of the tried-and-true standards of Raleigh (although some are newcomers). As you can see, I’m a huge fan of this area, and feel like it’s a hidden gem.

Have you been to Raleigh? If so, what did you do? Did you have zero interest in traveling to Raleigh before but now you’re intrigued? If anyone has specific questions about Raleigh, I would be happy to answer them.

Related posts: Travel to North Carolina- Some of My Favorite Places and Things to Do

Happy travels!

Donna

My Birthday Challenge

Taking a page from #JeffsBirthdayChallenge, https://rundemtrails.wordpress.com/2020/11/12/2020-jeffsbirthdaychallenge/ I’m going to have the first annual #DonnasBirthdayChallenge beginning in 2021! After all of the craziness that was 2020, I’d like to do something fun and different for my birthday this year but it will be a bit different from Jeff’s post. So what is a birthday challenge you ask, or more specifically, what is Donna’s Birthday Challenge?

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

I invite all of you, whether you run, walk, hike, bike, practice yoga, swim, dance, or however else you choose to move your body to get moving for your choice of one of the following: 2 miles/km, 4 miles/km, 24 miles/km, or 72 minutes (sure go ahead and do 72 miles/km if you want to really celebrate!). What’s the significance behind all of the numbers? I was born on the 24th of February in the year 1972. If you’re doing the math, yes, this is the last year in the 40’s age group for me.

Let’s celebrate the entire week of my birthday, so that means you can do your movement of choice any day from February 21 through February 27 (Sunday-Sunday). Then the best part comes- CAKE! Have a piece of your favorite kind of cake and share it with me on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/runningtotraveltheworld/ and let me know how you moved your body and for how long. Fun, right?

I can’t wait to hear how all of you helped me celebrate!

Happy birthday to me!

Donna

Travel to North Carolina- Some of My Favorite Places and Things to Do

I consider myself a North Carolinian even though I wasn’t born and raised here. I’ve lived in North Carolina longer than I’ve lived in any other state and definitely consider it my home. I also travelled here several times before deciding to move here. Funny story- when I was in grade school I had to write a story about my future self. I was supposed to write like it was set in the future and I was looking back on my life. I wrote about where I lived, what my career had been, and described my family and home in detail. In my story I lived in North Carolina.

The weird thing is at that point I’m pretty sure I had never been to North Carolina before. I remember going to the Outer Banks when I was in junior high school and again in high school and I remember going to the Charlotte area when I was in junior high school but I’m pretty sure I had never been to North Carolina in grade school. Somehow I must have known this is where I would end up as an adult. Strange, huh? I guess it was my destiny. Anyway, I digress.

I’ve lived in North Carolina since 1997 and since then I’ve explored the entire state, from the Atlantic Ocean on the east, to the piedmont area in the middle, and the mountains on the west. North Carolina truly is a unique state with plenty of diversity, natural beauty, and plenty of things to do. The estimated 50 million visitors annually seem to affirm that North Carolina is a great place to visit.

For simplicity’s sake I’m going to break down this post into the three main regions of North Carolina, the coastal plain, piedmont, and mountains.

Some snapshots from my recent visit to the Outer Banks

Coastal Plain

Within the Coastal Plain is the Tidewater region, which is the area of land along the coast at or near sea level. There are seven sounds, wetlands, the Great Dismal Swamp, and all of the beaches of North Carolina. The top part of the Coastal Plain begins with the long stretch of land called the Outer Banks. I recently went back for a vacation to the Outer Banks, which you can read about here: Fun in the Sun in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. As I said in my post, the Outer Banks area runs along a large section of the coast of North Carolina and includes several cities. There’s no shortage of places to stay or things to do in this area and I feel it includes some of North Carolina’s prettiest beaches.

The most popular beach town south of the Outer Banks is Wilmington, which I’ve been to many times. It’s your typical beach town with some good restaurants, cheesy tourist shops as well as some decent local shops, and a wide range of accommodations in all prices. If you’re looking for a luxurious Bed and Breakfast for a special occasion, you can’t go wrong with https://graystoneinn.com/. If you want to stay right on the beach, Blockade Runner has been a good choice when I’ve stayed there. Embassy Suites by Hilton Wilmington Riverfront is also nice and a convenient option for easy access to some of the best restaurants and shopping.

Discovery Place Science in Charlotte is one of the best kids’ hands-on museums I’ve been to

Piedmont

In the middle of the state is the Piedmont region where you can find Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and many smaller towns. This area has the highest concentration of universities in the state as well as technology industries in Research Triangle Park, locally known as RTP. RTP is the largest planned research center in the United States and has brought much prosperity to the area along with all of the jobs.

Raleigh is not a place people from other states would first think of when planning a vacation but it’s an up-and-coming tourist destination, with almost 18 million visitors in 2018. Downtown Raleigh has several music and theater venues, James Beard award-winning chef Ashley Christensen plus some Top Chef winners, and plenty of art, science, and history museums. Raleigh really deserves a post of its own, which I plan to post soon. More well-known Charlotte had an estimated 29.6 million visitors in 2018 and hit a record high of visitor spending in 2019. Also deserving of its own post, Charlotte has everything from the popular indoor water park Great Wolf Lodge, NASCAR and NASCAR Hall of Fame, Carowinds amusement park, U.S. National Whitewater Center, Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, many wonderful museums, and two James Beard Award semifinalists.

Blue Ridge Mountains

Mountains

The Blue Ridge Mountains separate the Piedmont from the Mountain region. Other mountain ranges include the Bald, Balsam, Black, Brushy, Great Smoky, Iron, Pigsah, Stone, and Unaka, all of which are part of the Appalachian Mountains. I’ve been to most of these mountains and have hiked a fair portion of them, and I have several posts on regions in the mountains including: Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park- Redux, Camping in Asheville, North Carolina, and Christmas at Biltmore Estate and Exploring Asheville, North Carolina. In addition to Asheville, I also love Boone, which has Grandfather Mountain, Linville Caverns, Mast General Store, ski resorts in the winter and mountain biking the rest of the year, hiking, golf, Tweetsie Railroad, and ziplining.

One of the fun things about staying in the mountains is you can find some unique accommodations. Of course there’s the obvious tent or RV camping but there are also Bed and Breakfasts and cabins galore. Just be sure to ask your host about the area to see if you need a 4 x 4 vehicle to safely get around. I once stayed at a place with a gnarly hill to climb to get up the “driveway” but fortunately my vehicle was able to get up it and had a high enough clearance I didn’t have to worry about dragging the bottom of the car out. In the winter you will need to be better prepared for snowy/icy roads if you plan on driving and also know that backcountry roads don’t get plowed and treated nearly as quickly (if ever sometimes) as city roads.

As of this writing North Carolina has no state-mandated COVID travel restrictions.

Have you been to North Carolina? If so, where did you go and what did you do? Have you never been but would like to come here and if so, what area interests you?

Happy travels!

Donna

The Effect of Mood on Running and the Effect of Running on Mood

The evening before my half marathon in New York City (which you can read all about here: Allstate New York 13.1 Half Marathon, New York- 30th state), my husband and I got into an argument that was started by him. It was pretty serious and I was furious with him. Not furious because he was mad or why he was mad but furious that he chose that moment to bring up the subject. It was something that could have certainly waited until after my race.

I was worried I would have the argument on my brain during the race and as a result do poorly in the race. You see, even though I went on a journey to explore the importance of the mind and running in 2018, I’ve known well before then how my mood can effect my training runs and race performance. However, it’s a subject not many people talk about, which is why I’d like to explore it a bit here.

For some people, anger can actually get them fired up so much that they run faster. I’ve found I’m not one of those people. If I’m angry and try to go for a run, I usually end up working through the problem by the time my run is over but my average speed isn’t that great. I’ve seen other people who seem to go faster when they’re angry, though, so I guess some people are able to use their anger to fuel their runs.

What about running when you’re sad? Again, that’s not a good combination for me. I end up working things out emotionally if I’m sad or have sad feelings during a run but I inevitably end up going slower. Actually, come to think of it, maybe I’ve been looking at all of this from the wrong perspective.

This little girl always makes me smile when I see how happy she is to go for a run!

I’ve always thought that it’s not a good idea for me to go for a run if I’m angry or sad because it will distract me in a way that slows down my run. Maybe the speed of my run isn’t the point, though. The bigger point is to work through my anger, frustration, or sadness. If I can accomplish that on a run, who cares if I’m slower. Unless it’s during a race, of course.

I listen to the Another Mother Runner podcast regularly and one of the hosts, Sarah Bowen-Shea has mentioned that she started running when she and her first husband divorced, many years ago. Running can certainly be cathartic for many people going through a rough time in their lives, not just a one-time event, like you get in an argument with someone. Beyond the endorphins being released when you run, there are many other benefits of running. You begin to see positive changes in your body, so your self-esteem increases. If you join a running group, there are the benefits of being part of a group. All of this brings me to the second part of my title about how running effects our mood.

There have been many scientific studies on the effects of running on mood, including one from 1988 titled, “Effects of running and other activities on moods.” This was a study of 70 college undergraduates who participated in running, aerobic dancing, lifting weights, or no physical activity over six weeks. As you might guess, the researchers found that the runners but also the aerobic dancers experienced more positive moods than those in the other groups. A more recent study published in 2019 by researchers at Harvard found a “26% decrease in odds for becoming depressed for each major increase in objectively measured physical activity.” This study wanted to determine whether being physically active can improve emotional well-being, or if we simply move less when we feel sad or depressed. They found the former, people who moved more had a significantly lower risk for major depressive disorder.

It’s interesting how more and more people are realizing this and implementing things like running groups in prisons and therapists and mental health doctors are recommending exercise like walking and running for patients dealing with depression. I know throughout the pandemic, running has definitely been a mood stabilizer for me. Fortunately this past spring, the weather was absolutely gorgeous where I live, and I cherished those moments when I could go for a run outside and clear my head. Even during the hot, humid summer I knew I would always return from a run in a better mood than when I left.

When fall came and cooler weather along with it, I kept running and once again was reminded how beautiful fall is where I live. Even with no end in sight for the pandemic and my patience long ago worn thin, running has kept me going, literally and mentally. Because I’ve been running throughout the entire pandemic, I haven’t gained the COVID-19 extra weight that many other people have. Despite having a major life change on top of the pandemic, I’ve been able to stay optimistic and know that eventually things will get better, thanks in part to running.

What about you? Does anger fuel your runs and make you run faster? Do you go for a run when you’re trying to work through something? Have you been running throughout the pandemic or did you just start running during the pandemic?

Happy running!

Donna