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As I stood on the ledge of the cliff overlooking the ocean blue

full of life’s infinite possibilities,

I turned around and looked at you.

I asked, “Are you going to take the leap

of faith along side me?

Or are you going to just sit there and enjoy the view?”

Global Entry- Is It Worth It?

I have a platinum Delta Airlines frequent flier credit card and when they offered to reimburse fees for Global Entry as a perk for all card owners, I jumped at the chance. Global Entry costs $100 and includes TSA PreCheck and is good for five years. In other words, it’s not only useful for international flights but for domestic flights as well.

On the other hand, if you just get TSA PreCheck by itself, it’s $85 for five years, so for just $15 more you can get BOTH Global Entry and TSA PreCheck. I’m not sure who would even hesitate to just get Global Entry given this fact, unless you truly had no plans whatsoever of flying internationally in the next five years.

I applied for Global Entry sometime around the beginning of 2020. You know, before the pandemic started and people were still flying to other countries regularly or at all for that matter. I had applied online and got an email saying the first part of the process (background check) was approved and I just needed to schedule an interview at an airport approved for interviews at my earliest convenience. But then when not only international borders but also states were restricting travel early in the pandemic, I quickly saw my options for scheduling an interview go out the window.

The closest airport to me was never an option for an interview but I was willing to drive to another airport if it wasn’t going to be too far away. Even those airports weren’t offering appointments after the pandemic started, though. I remember checking the airports I was going to be flying into when I did start flying again in 2021 but none of those airports were scheduling interviews for Global Entry and I started to get extremely frustrated.

Finally, before I flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico in the fall of 2021 I checked the online calendar for Global Entry interviews there and somehow managed to find an appointment that would work with my schedule. The “interview” was basically getting fingerprinted and my face scanned for facial recognition. They did ask me a couple of questions like if I had been to Mexico in the last six weeks or something like that but it was nothing intense. Within about 10 minutes, I was out of there and was told my card would arrive in the mail shortly.

I knew I would be flying to Portugal the following spring and while I would have my Global Entry card, my daughter, who didn’t go to New Mexico with me did not have hers. She had been “conditionally approved,” meaning she still had to have the interview and fingerprinting done. Fortunately some time in 2021 several airports began offering this final step in the process upon arrival from another country, including Newark Airport in New Jersey, which we would be arriving to from Portugal.

After getting off the plane when we were headed toward Customs and Border Control, I saw the signs for Global Entry and followed them through until I saw kiosks. I scanned my face and a receipt was printed out that said to hand it to an agent upon exit and that was it! I was done! No line, no waiting, nothing! My daughter, however, had to wait in a short line behind about five other people for her interview, which went without incident and then we were both done.

I’ve used TSA PreCheck before so I was already aware of the benefits with that program. If you’re not familiar with TSA PreCheck, it basically allows you to jump ahead in the security line to a dedicated line and you don’t have to remove your shoes or jacket and you can keep liquids in your carry-on bag. I probably wouldn’t pay for TSA Precheck by itself unless I traveled much more than I do but since it’s part of the package with Global Entry, it’s a nice extra perk.

What if you only fly once a year internationally, is it worth it, you may be asking. Let’s break it down a bit. That’s $100 for five years or $20 each year for both Global Entry and TSA PreCheck. Would I personally pay $20 for A LOT less hassle after arriving home from an international flight, where I’m inevitably going to be exhausted? Probably but when you throw in TSA PreCheck on top of that for multiple domestic flights a year that I usually take, my answer is a stronger yes. Of course, the more you fly internationally and domestically the more it would be worth to you, but to me, just one flight a year out of the country is worth having it.

Since I get my Global Entry fees reimbursed by Delta, it was a no-brainer to get Global Entry, since I don’t even have to pay $100 for the programs. This wasn’t a one-time offer, either. When I renew with Global Entry, my credit card will reimburse me for the fee. Of course I did have to pay for my daughter but when I include her in the costs, it’s like I’m getting a 2-for-1 deal. For only $50 each for five years or $10/year we get Global Entry and TSA PreCheck, which is really 100% worth every penny.

One final note, while it took quite a while for my Global Entry card to be processed, that was largely due to the pandemic. Under “normal” circumstances, it shouldn’t take nearly as long or be such a pain to get as mine was. Still, you should allow a minimum of 90 days for processing. If you don’t live near an airport where they do the in-person interviews, either plan on doing approval upon arrival or find an airport where you can make an appointment (like I did when I was flying domestically).

What about you? Do you have Global Entry? If so, what was your experience like using it? Have you thought about getting it but didn’t because of the pandemic and shutdowns?

Happy travels,

Donna

Bucket List Running Goals and Motivation

Most people that regularly follow my blog know that I had a big goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states and I ran state number 50 in New Mexico last November. What you probably don’t know is since then I’ve been slacking off quite a bit when it comes to my running. Since my half marathon in November I’ve run a couple of races, Catching Fireflies 5k- My First Night Race! in May and Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run in April but that’s it. I was supposed to run a race in February but it was postponed until next February.

The major reason I haven’t run that many races or started working on another big goal for myself is my daughter has been going through a serious health situation. It’s not cancer or anything like that but a chronic condition she’s had since she was 9. She’s under the supervision of some incredible doctors and we hope she’ll be through the worst of it soon and her life will greatly improve by the time she goes back to high school in late August.

It’s been extremely stressful for me as her mother, and I’ve had to take her to multiple doctor visits and stay in the hospital with her around the clock multiple times sometimes for more than a week at a time. Of course it’s been even harder for her. She’s supposed to be having fun with her friends and just enjoying life as a teenager, not being in and out of the hospital for months on end.

I realize you may have seen the title and thought I was going to announce a big bucket list running goal, but I’m not. While I did say at the beginning of the year that I would like to start running a half marathon in all of the Canadian provinces in my running resolutions post in January (Running Resolutions and My Word for 2022), that’s not going to happen any time soon. When I wrote that, I thought it would be possible to run a couple of half marathons in Canada this year but since then things have changed and there’s no way that will happen. Maybe next year.

Taken on a run with my daughter back in 2020

In hindsight now I can see when I had the goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states, that definitely gave me motivation to run. I know not everyone needs a big goal to keep them motivated but for me it certainly helps. Even running local races hasn’t been possible for me since late spring. I just haven’t had the time to devote to training for much of a race other than possibly a 5k. Plus, once the summer heat and humidity kicked in here in late May, there were less and less races so my options dwindled.

Although it took me 21 years to complete my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, I never doubted it would happen. It was always about the journey for me anyway. I’ve never been the type of person to run a race just to check off a box (not that there’s anything wrong with that; to each his/her own). But I always wanted to spend at least a few days, preferably more in every state to get an idea about what the state was like, or at least the part or parts of the state I was in, try the local foods, and talk to the local people.

Even though bucket list running goals are a huge motivator for me, it’s OK that I’m not working on any big running goals now. It’s OK that my motivation to run has dwindled. And it’s OK that my overall running has slacked probably more than it has in over 20 years. Obviously my daughter comes first before anything else.

Honestly, it’s not like I’m not motivated, either. That’s not truly stating how I feel. I would love to be able to train for half marathons and travel to run them. The timing just isn’t right for me at the moment to be able to do that. It’s more like my motivation to run local short distance races has waned a bit. But then again, I never was motivated to run local short races other than the 5k I ran in May, so that’s nothing new.

I have no doubt things will improve with my daughter and once that happens, I can jump back into things. Well, I should probably ease back into things and not overdo it. Still, I know this isn’t permanent and eventually I’ll be able to start on my bucket list goal of running a half marathon in all of the Canadian provinces. Until then, I’m going to continue running when I can and be content with that.

What about you? Have you had a bucket list running goal you’ve had to put on hold for something other than covid? Do you have a bucket list running goal/s or does that not appeal to you and you’d rather just see what races pop up?

Happy running!

Donna

A Couple of HUGE (and Costly) Travel Learning Experiences For Me

During my week in the Algarve in Portugal, two things happened to me that had never happened to me EVER while traveling. I consider myself a pretty savvy traveler, at least for an American, having been to several islands in the Caribbean, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, parts of Europe, and South America. However, two things happened that ended up throwing me for a loop and I want to pass along what I learned as a result so that hopefully none of you make the same mistakes I did.

I have a Garmin GPS-enabled watch that I wear all the time. It usually resets itself to the current time when I travel but in the past it may have taken it a day or so to reset itself. While I was in Portugal, I noticed it suddenly reset itself after several days, on the Friday evening we were there. Since it had taken my watch a while to catch up before I didn’t think much of it. Around the same time I noticed my Samsung phone had also reset itself to the same time as my watch.

Sunset during dinner on our last night (nope even that didn’t trigger anything at the time even though we normally don’t eat that late)

Of course I assumed both my watch and phone had reset to the current time in Portugal, which was 5 hours ahead of EST, where I live. I assumed incorrectly, because as you will later see, both my watch and phone had actually reset 4 hours ahead, not 5 hours. So when I looked at my watch or phone and thought it was 6 am, it was actually 7 am. There was no reason for me to check that both devices had reset to the correct current time and there were no clocks in the Airbnb to check. I didn’t do a Google search to see current time in Portugal and check that it was the same as my watch and phone.

This wasn’t a problem until it was time to fly back to the United States on Saturday morning. I thought we were arriving at the Faro airport two hours before our flight, which should have been enough time since we weren’t checking bags and I had printed out our tickets at the Airbnb the night before. Plus, I knew Faro airport wasn’t huge like some other international airports.

At the airport, I checked the board to see what gate our flight to Lisbon was leaving out of and thought it was strange it said final boarding. I remember thinking to myself, “That’s strange they’re doing final boarding so early” but I still didn’t think much of it. We arrived at our gate and I saw a line of people getting ready to board a plane, thinking of course that was the line to board our plane, but I was wrong again. This line was full of people going to Berlin, as the chatty girl in line in front of my daughter mentioned and when I actually looked up and saw a Ryanair sign, my heart sank. Then I saw the final blow, a clock that read 7:00.

Frantically, I looked at my watch and phone and said, “But it can’t be 7:00! It’s only 6:00!” My daughter, who has nightmares about missing flights, despite the fact that it’s only happened a handful of times out of the dozens of flights we’ve had, usually due to weather delays and missed connections, started crying uncontrollably and she started to panic. Of course that didn’t help me. Nor did the fact that not a single soul was around to help me sort this out.

I went back to the ticketing area (thank goodness we never check bags and still had ours with us) and tried to find someone from TAP Portugal Airlines. There was no one. Finally someone in an information booth told me to wait until an hour before the next TAP Portugal flight, and someone from the airline would be at the airport then. Since it was a little after 7 am, that meant someone should be there to help me in a little less than two hours. I knew there was a flight from Faro to Lisbon with TAP Portugal at 10 am so I felt confident as long as there were seats left they could get us on that flight.

So we waited and I bought us some pastries from a kiosk and some bottled water since European airports don’t typically have water fill stations for water bottles. Finally someone from TAP Portugal showed up and I kindly explained that we had missed our 7 am flight to Lisbon and asked if we could please be put on the 10 am flight. She looked at me with disdain and repeated, “Missed your flight?” to which I replied, “Yes, we missed our flight. We had car troubles,” thinking she might be more sympathetic to that rather than saying my watch and phone hadn’t reset properly and had only reset 4 hours ahead rather than the entire 5 hours, which was actually the truth but I realized how crazy it sounded.

She then informed me rather brusquely that indeed there were seats available on the 10 am flight and I could purchase them for 2800 Euro. I was shocked and blurted out “Excuse me? I need to pay for these seats even though I already paid for the seats from the 7 am flight? And is that per seat or for two seats?” She said it was for two seats and yes, that was correct. I was dumbfounded. Previously we had missed a flight going to the Canary Islands with Iberia Airlines and we had been put on the next flight without having to buy new tickets so I didn’t think it was just a difference between US airlines and European airlines. I hadn’t bought the cheapest seats available with TAP Portugal, either. She suggested I do a search online and compare my options with different airlines to see if I could find another option. In other words, I was on my own.

My mind felt like it was spinning a million miles a minute. Not only did I have to search for flights from Faro to the United States that same day but our flight back to North Carolina was at 9:15 pm out of Newark so we needed to get to Newark before 9:15 that evening. Thank goodness I had good wifi at the airport.

I finally found an acceptable flight with British Airways from Faro to London, London to Newark that was leaving in about an hour and a half, which I thought should give us plenty of time to get through security again and to the gate. It also didn’t cost me nearly as much as the 2800 Euro I would have had to have paid with TAP Portugal (this would have been on top of what I had already paid for our tickets from Newark to Portugal). Because of COVID, I also had to download all kinds of extra information like our negative tests and certifications that we were healthy.

We did indeed make it to the gate on time and boarded the flight on time. The flight from London just barely missed getting us into Newark in time for the flight home; we missed it by less than 30 minutes. Fortunately, the nice person from United that I called from the BA airplane when we were waiting to deplane was happy to put us on the next flight from Newark, in about an hour later, at no charge.

Typical buildings and cobbled streets in the Algarve; this was in the city of Portimão.

The next day after we got home I called TAP Portugal, thinking surely they would give me a travel voucher if nothing else. I was curtly told that was not their policy and since I missed the flight, there was nothing they could do for me. I hung up the phone shocked. Believe me, I will try everything in my power to never fly TAP Portugal again but if I have to for some reason (because I would like to go back to Portugal) I will make sure I’m at the airport three hours in advance, not two, and more importantly, I will do a Google search asking what time it is in my current city every single time I travel across time zones.

Have you ever heard of a GPS-enabled watch or phone only partially adjusting when someone travels across time zones? Has this ever happened to you? A friend of mine suggested maybe since I didn’t have cell phone coverage in Portugal, my phone only partially reset but that doesn’t explain my watch. And why they both reset 4 hours ahead instead of 5 hours ahead is a mystery to me.

If you missed my other posts on Portugal, you can find them here: A Week in the Algarve- Southern Portugal- Outdoor Adventures, Faro, Sagres and Lagos, Portugal, First Impressions of Every Day Life in the Algarve (Southern Portugal) from an American Point of View

Happy travels!

Donna

Book Review- Next Level. Your Guide to Kicking A$$, Feeling Great, and Crushing Goals Through Menopause and Beyond by Stacy Sims with Selene Yeager

When I saw that Stacy Sims was coming out with another book, I was excited. If you don’t know who Stacy Sims is, she’s a PhD researcher who studies exercise nutrition and performance in women and focuses on athlete health and performance. Dr. Sims has lectures she calls “Women are Not Small Men” and has been trying to make people more aware that much of the research done in relation to exercise has historically been done in men, not women, and as we all know, women’s bodies are very different from men’s.

The Foreword for this book is Selene Yeager’s personal experience with menopause beginning at the age of 43 and how Stacy was able to help her by adjusting her training, adding adaptogens to her diet, and lifting heavy weight. After implementing some of the advice Dr. Sims gave her, Ms. Yeager won a tough bike race at the age of 50. Instead of just saying that her best days were behind her, Ms. Yeager gained back her confidence in herself and continued challenging herself.

Next Level was written especially for active women either approaching menopause or experiencing menopause. The book is broken into two sections, Part 1: Menopause Explained is just what it sounds like. There are simple, easy to understand explanations of perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause. Differences among races and ethnicities are given as well. For example, Asian women are able to metabolize isoflavones in soy better than women in Western countries. This is important because isoflavones can help reduce hot flashes.

Also included in Part 1 are some common menopause symptoms and some things you can do to help reduce the effects. Dr. Sims gives some advice on how to deal with heavy periods, as many women experience heavier than usual periods during perimenopause.

Part 2: Menopause Performance is the bulk of the book. Several pages are devoted to information on menopausal hormone therapy, past and more recent research on the subject, bioidentical hormones, and nonhormone options. She extensively covers adaptogens that are life-savers for many women. Adaptogens are plants that increase your body’s resistance to stress. When you take adaptogens in pill form, they block some of your cortisol response, resulting in a stimulating or relaxing effect depending on the adaptogen. I really appreciated this section and found it descriptive of what each adaptogen is good for, how it works, the results from studies, and how much to take.

Dr. Sims also discusses why sprint interval training (SIT) is hugely important for menopausal women. There are several examples of SIT exercises including how to do them. She is also a huge proponent of women lifting heavy weights, which is emphasized in the book, and she also gives some warm-up exercises, complete with photos. The importance of jumping exercises is brought up, with the reminder that running isn’t enough to help prevent bone loss. Several plyometric exercises are given, along with photos and good descriptions. That’s one area I was lacking in before and I’ve started doing the plyometrics circuit in her book a few times a week. It’s quite the heart-pumping workout, too!

There’s one chapter on gut health and another on diet, including fad diets like ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting. One thing many people don’t realize is women respond differently than men to intermittent fasting. Studies have shown women that fast have increased oxidative stress, slower thyroid function and slower metabolism. For women who exercise, the negative effects from fasting are amplified.

Several chapters are devoted to nutrition and the timing of fueling in relation to exercise and a chapter on sleep. There’s a chapter on core exercises and more examples with photos given. Finally, there’s a chapter on supplements including everything from vitamin D to creatine. I didn’t know that women have 70-80% lower creatine stores than men. As a result, Sims recommends menopausal women take 0.3 grams per kilograms a day of creatine for 5-7 days and then cut back to a lower daily dose (but she doesn’t say how much that is); alternatively, she suggests taking a routine daily dose of 3-5 grams.

In the final chapter, “Pulling it all Together,” Sims encourages women to take inventory of their symptoms, track your body composition, schedule your training and workout days, and plan your nutrition. She says to track everything for four weeks and see what worked and what didn’t work and try different things if necessary.

As a perimenopausal woman, I absolutely devoured this book. To my knowledge, this is the first book related to menopause geared toward active women. Some of the information was new to me and some I had heard before. Overall, I absolutely recommend this book to any woman in her mid-30’s to 40’s who is active. There are many scientific papers referenced, personal examples given throughout the book, and practical advice any older woman can appreciate.

Have you read this book? If so, what did you think? If you have not read Stacy Sim’s other book I have a review here: Review of “Roar: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life” by Stacy Sims and Selene Yeager.

Happy running!

Donna

First Impressions of Every Day Life in the Algarve (Southern Portugal) from an American Point of View

For so many years I had wanted to go to southern Portugal and just when I was finally going to go the pandemic started and international borders were closed. After another almost two-year wait, I was able to go to the Algarve region. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely 100%. Was it what I expected? In some ways yes, in other ways, not at all. I’ll go over some basic things I experienced, like driving, the food, and the people, and my thoughts on each.

Driving in Southern Portugal

People in Portugal drive on the right side of the road so that was easy for me as an American. I can’t speak about driving in Lisbon, Porto, or any other part of Portugal since I only drove after I picked up my rental car in Faro. The highways are well-marked and well-maintained. There aren’t many stop lights but there are roundabouts instead, which I mostly loved as I saw how there was only traffic backed-up at the places where the stop lights were. I did have to get an international drivers license for my trip but that was taken care of with a stop for passport photos followed by a stop to my local AAA for the small booklet. The downside is the license is only good for one year, which means the next time I go to Portugal I’ll have to get another one.

When you get into the main part of town, especially in small towns, driving can be a bit nail-biting. The roads in town are of course very old and were built way before the existence of today’s large vehicles. I was glad to have my compact car and even with that was nervous I’d scrape the sides of the vehicle next to me when I encountered another car. Fortunately the drivers that I encountered seemed willing to let others merge and seemed courteous for the most part. The only times I encountered any kind of car-related hostility was parking-related. As you’re probably aware, gas prices in Portugal (and Europe as a whole) are outrageous so be prepared for that. You should also acquaint yourself with European signs before your trip as well.

Do you need a car in the Algarve? If I would have only wanted to stay in my little corner of the Algarve where my Airbnb was in Ferragudo, I could have skipped the rental car entirely. However, I knew I wanted to explore the southern coast, which meant I would absolutely need a rental car. My only advice about renting a car is pay attention to the charges on your rental agreement. I’m currently disputing a charge with my credit card company about a toll fee that should have been credited back to me by the rental company but they neglected to do so, despite the fact I never drove on a toll road.

The Food in the Algarve

If you enjoy fresh seafood with loads of fruits and vegetables, this is the place for you. I’m not sure if we had seafood every day we were there but it must have been close. I had been told I should try the grilled squid, which I normally don’t enjoy in the US, and it was delicious, as were the grilled sardines, which are gargantuan compared to the nasty tinned sardines in the US. Even my teenage daughter devoured her sardines, which should tell you how good they were.

Portugal is also famous for their little pastries called pastel de nata or pastel de Belem. These are little egg custard tarts sometimes dusted with cinnamon. We had these for breakfast several times and once for an afternoon snack during a long walk. They were so tasty my daughter wants to learn how to make them!

So much fish here! Not a single meal wasn’t at least very good and most were excellent!

Some of my favorite restaurants in the Algarve include: Haven in Vilamoura, an expensive city with golf courses, expats, and a harbor filled with yachts. Side bar- there’s also an archaeological site in Vilamoura, Cerro da Vila but it was temporarily closed so we couldn’t visit. Another restaurant I loved was the fantastic O Molhe, in Ferragudo, with fresh seafood, servers fluent in at least 5 different languages (I heard them speak French, English, Portuguese, Spanish, and German), and some of the best views in the Algarve. I also enjoyed some wonderful Vietnamese food at Sen Tonkin in Ferragudo. Finding Asian restaurants is a rare find in the Algarve so it was a nice change. Another favorite was in Sagres called Three Little Birds. This is a large restaurant with a comfortable outdoor seating area in addition to many indoor tables.

Shopping in the Algarve

I was surprised to see so many Lidl grocery stores, the German-based company, but I guess I shouldn’t have been since apparently there are 11,000 Lidls in Europe. There were also several French-owned grocery stores called Intermarche, as well as the German-owned store Aldi. I always like checking out selection and prices at grocery stores when I travel and I found the selection and prices to be reasonable with some things priced lower than I would pay in North Carolina but other things were about the same. I didn’t go to a Continente grocery store, which has the most grocery stores in the Algarve so I don’t know how the prices are there but I suspect they aren’t much different from the others.

I know I seem to be contradicting myself a bit here because I’ve said before I prefer to shop locally when I’m traveling abroad and the grocery stores I’m talking about here are all chains. Further, I also shopped at a Decathlon, not once but twice when I was in the Algarve. Decathlon is a French sporting goods store with almost 1700 stores worldwide but none are in the US (there used to be one in San Francisco but it closed recently, citing the pandemic).

One rainy day I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to finally get to go to a Decathlon store in person. I have bought several things from Decathlon online, and I was so impressed with the products I wrote a post about some of my purchases (Review of Decathlon Running Apparel or Why Running Tights Should Not Cost $158). If you’re not familiar with Decathlon, they sell everything from gear for running, hiking, cycling, swimming, surfing, camping, and well, you get the idea, for extremely affordable prices. My daughter was excited to see short-sleeve running shirts for 5 Euro, pullovers for 10 Euro, and I was excited to see a backpack for 15 Euro, all of which I bought, along with a box of cereal bars for something like 3 Euro (for 12 bars). When we were in another town just strolling around and happened-upon another Decathlon, of course we had to pop in. It was a much smaller “boutique-size” store right on a beach, with mainly bathing suits and a small selection of other sporting goods. It wasn’t nearly as exciting as the main store we had visited a few days prior and we didn’t buy anything at this store.

Of course there are also the touristy beach shops selling things like t-shirts, magnets, photo holders, and other souvenirs. There were two things I didn’t buy that I wanted to: an adorable ceramic honey pot decorated with typical blue and white Algarve designs and a small zippered bag. I didn’t buy the honey pot because I don’t check bags when I travel and I knew I’d never eat all of the honey before we flew back home plus you can’t fly with honey in a carry-on and I didn’t buy the bag because I wasn’t sure I’d actually use it for anything useful. The one thing I did buy was a keychain. I buy an ornament for our Christmas tree when I travel to a new place but I didn’t like any of the ornaments we saw in the Algarve so I bought a cute key chain instead (I’ve done this before and by now have several keychains that I put on the Christmas tree from places we’ve traveled to over the years).

The People

I realize I may be getting into a controversial subject here but my first impression of the people was not what I expected. Every other person in the US that I’ve talked to that’s been to Portugal has raved about how beautiful the country is, how amazing the food is, and how friendly and nice the people are. My experience was not like that when it came to the people I encountered.

Not that I expected the people to gush compliments and be the most friendly people I had ever met but I didn’t expect them to be rude and ignore me at times. Not only was I yelled at by an elderly Portuguese man who thought I was taking his parking spot (I was just trying to turn around) when I was in Lagos, there were other people there who yelled at me for parking in an inappropriate spot (temporarily, since I quickly moved the car when I figured out why they were yelling at me). If any of those people would have just talked to me instead of yelling at me, it would have been an entirely different experience for me.

Then there was the time when my daughter and I went to a restaurant for lunch and we were blatantly ignored by three different people who worked there. They saw us standing by the entrance then looked the other way and carried on with their business. At best, all of the people we encountered were civil but in a cool and distant way, if that makes sense. In other words, they were merely doing their job and were not chatty or in no way tried to get to know us or basically had any real interest in us.

Since I didn’t take any photos of the people there, here’s one of my lovely daughter wearing her new shirt from Decathlon!

One thing I don’t think I mentioned that is a big reason I wanted to go to the Algarve was to see if it could be a potential retirement place for me. Some of the boxes were checked, like good food, reasonable prices, great weather and scenery but the one box that I don’t feel like I could check off was friendly people. I will go back to southern Portugal and give it another chance but honestly, I’m not sure I’d want to live in a place where the people aren’t that friendly. Maybe I just had a bad first impression and on that account but I’m willing to give it another chance. I’ve since talked to other people who have said they’ve heard the people are more friendly in Lisbon and Porto than in Southern Portugal. Who knows if that’s true in general but since I would want to live in the south because of the warmer weather, even if it were true, it wouldn’t help me.

Have you been to Portugal? If so, where did you go and what was your experience like?

Happy travels!

Donna

My Ten Components for Running Success at Any Age

I’m borrowing this idea from a recent Another Mother Runner Podcast, which you can listen to here: https://anothermotherrunner.com/running-success-at-any-age/. Two AMR coaches came up with a list of ten components that they called building blocks for running success at any age. Their building blocks were: resilience, patience, strength (physical and mental), curiosity, energy, community, perspective, purpose (including how it can change), discipline, and joy. I thought I’d come up with my own list and see how mine compares to theirs. So here are my ten components for running success at any age.

First, I’d like to define “running success,” since it seems like a vague idea to me. What is running success? Is it winning races? Is it running with little to no injuries? Is it having friends to run with and just having fun? Is it losing weight and getting in shape? Is it the ability to run for decades? The idea of running success may be different for different people, depending on their age and what they want to achieve out of running. As someone who has run for decades at this point, I define running success as the ability to run without pain for as long as you would like, whether it’s a few years or 50 years. It’s being able to choose to run and having a feeling of satisfaction after running.

This was after state number 50- New Mexico! I needed a lot of patience to run a half marathon in all 50 states, which took me 21 years!

The first word I would choose is patience. Running takes patience, whether you’re a brand new runner or you’ve been running for many years. Everyone has peaks and valleys, highs and lows when they run and it’s perfectly normal. If you can be patient and allow for the process to happen, you’ll see you can eventually achieve your goal.

My second word for running success is grit. Grit is a word that sometimes gets over-used but I think it’s an important part of running. Grit can go by other words like determination, resilience, or having guts but I like the word grit. Running is often hard, especially if you’re a new runner or if you’re trying to get faster. If you can’t learn to not just push through the barriers but embrace the fact that running is sometimes hard, you’ll never have grit. Grit only comes after we experience hard things, when we’re able to look back and see for ourselves that we’re capable of doing more than we thought we could.

Another word I would choose is open-mindedness. You may tell yourself you’ve only ever run a 5k and there’s no way you could ever run a marathon. Or you may think you’re too old to get faster and you’re past that point in your life. Unless you’re able to keep an open mind and consider the possibility of what you may think of as a lofty goal, you will prove yourself right. Remember the Henry Ford saying, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” Of course there are limits but my point is if you want to achieve a new goal, at least keep an open mind about it.

Priority is another word I would choose for running success. Unless you make running a priority in your life, it’s not going to happen. Like everything else in life, you have to prioritize what you get done in a day and running is no different. Figure out a time or times and days of the week that would work best for you to run and put it on your calendar. It’s fine when other things come up and you’re not able to go running, just make sure that doesn’t happen all the time.

Putting in the work, even on vacation

Consistency is also important for running success. This is probably one of the most important components of running if you’re training for a race. If you’re supposed to run 5 days a week per your training plan and you find yourself skipping scheduled runs every week, your running will inevitably suffer. Depending on your fitness level and age, you may be able to get by with skipping runs every week but if you have a goal to get faster or run longer than you have before, come race day, you’ll reap the consequences.

My next word is preparedness. What I’m referring to specifically is being prepared with the right apparel and gear. If you don’t have a clue what kind of running shoes would work best for you, don’t just go to a sporting goods store and choose shoes based on their color or style. Go to a running store that can measure your feet and run tests to determine what type of shoe would work best for your anatomy and will take into account things like the surface you run on and weekly mileage. The proper types of running clothes are also important, which you can also buy at a running store. No one wants to have chaffing so badly from a sports bra that you’re brought to tears when you jump in the shower after a run (I’ve personally experienced this) or to have the wrong type of shoes that actually cause pain in your Achilles and calves (I’ve also experienced this). You shouldn’t be hesitant about running because of pain caused by improper running apparel.

Awareness is hugely important for long-term running success and more specifically body awareness. I try to be hyper-aware of what’s going on with my body. Before I go for a run I’ll do a quick scan to make sure nothing feels off, then while I’m running I try to do a body scan starting at my head and working my way down to my feet to make sure everything feels like it should and I’m running loose and limber. When I get home from a run I’ll do some foam rolling and stretches and check again that everything feels good. Sometimes when I’m running I’ll have a sudden, short pain that will quickly subside but if it doesn’t, I either slow down or stop completely and walk home if necessary. I made the mistake once of pushing through the pain when my IT band was irritated and ran a half marathon when I shouldn’t have. That cost me a few months of complete time off from running after the race, when I probably could have minimized my time off if I would have backed off instead of pushing through the pain.

My eighth word for running success is mindset. Having a positive mindset goes a long way when it comes to running. One of my favorite running books is Deena Kastor’s book “Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory.” I wrote a post on her book that you can read here if you’d like (Book Review- Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor and Michelle Hamilton). Deena is a huge proponent of positive mindset for running (and life in general) and her book flows with her knowledge and personal experience with this.

Community is a word that I don’t think is essential for running success but can certainly make running more fun. For most of my running life I have primarily ran by myself. When I was in my mid-20’s I joined a running group but never felt like I fit in and quit after several months. Ironically, just before the pandemic started, I decided to try a different running group, but I had to wait until social running was back again, so I’ve only been running with this group for a little over a year. Now, I love my running group and miss them when I’m not able to go. There are a couple of people from the group I would consider my friends (not just acquaintances) and one person in particular has become someone I’ve hung out with outside the running group. I also try to pop in on Fleet Feet group runs when they have them and I enjoy just meeting new people and chatting while we run and afterwards. While I still do the majority of my runs by myself, I definitely appreciate my group runs and have enjoyed meeting many runners through them.

My ninth word is flexibility, in the physical sense like being able to touch your toes (it still counts if you have to bend your knees some). I’ve only had two major running issues, shin splints and iliotibial band syndrome, or ITBS, relatively early in my running history. Both were caused by my lack of awareness (see above) of my body and not picking up on the signals early enough to prevent them from becoming worse and from not being prepared (also above) with the proper shoes. I also was not stretching and foam rolling when I had those injuries. Now I foam roll and stretch after every single run. Before the pandemic I went to yoga class once a week and did some on my own during the week but honestly, I’ve dropped off since yoga classes were stopped at my gym. I know I need to do it more regularly but yoga seems to be one of those activities I just do much better in an in-person class. Still, I’ve never stopped stretching and working on my flexibility.

My final and tenth word is fluidness. What I mean by this is the ability to go with the flow when life throws us a curve ball. Things often don’t go as you think they will and sometimes you have to suddenly attend an early meeting before work, then immediately after work go straight to your kid’s soccer practice, followed by going home to make dinner for the family, after which you have to put the kids to bed. It may not be possible to run before work or during your lunch break so maybe you squeeze in your run while your kid is at practice. I found myself running laps around the swim facility many times while my daughter was at swim practice or running around the outside of the soccer field when she played soccer. You do what you can, when you can, instead of sitting around just waiting for practice to end, scrolling numbly on your phone. This also goes hand-in-hand with making running a priority (see above).

Those are my ten words for running success! What top word would you choose for running success, either one from my list or one of your own?

Happy running!

Donna

Faro, Sagres and Lagos, Portugal

First a little geography lesson for anyone who has never been to the southern part of Portugal known as the Algarve. Lagos and Sagres are both on the western end of the Algarve, with Sagres on the very tip of southwestern Portugal. I had read that the further west you go in the Algarve, the less populated it is and I found that to be true. There also wasn’t as much to do as far as shopping and restaurants on the far western part. Faro is about an hour and a half drive east of Lagos and is where the Faro Airport is. All three cities are unique in their own right, each offering something worth checking out. I’ll break down the three cities one-by-one here.

Sagres

One of the major attractions in Sagres is the Sagres Fortress. This is part of the Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina Natural Park and includes a lighthouse (Farol de Sagres, where “farol” means lighthouse in Portuguese) and A Voz do Mar, which I’ll explain in a minute. There is a very large parking area where you’ll park and walk to the entrance of the fort and pay 3.50 Euro. Although you enter in an enclosed area, the vast majority of the fort is outside.

One of the amazing views from the Sagres Fortress

The views from the fort are amazing and there are markers along the walkway describing the fort and the flora and fauna in Portuguese, Spanish, and English. A Voz do Mar (“Voice of the Sea”) is a circular labyrinth that was originally going to be a temporary exhibit but was later made permanent. It was designed by the famous architect Pancho Guedes and is one of those places you just have to visit to understand but suffice to say when I was there, I exclaimed, “Whoa! That is so cool!” In short, it has just the right acoustics with its design to capture some of the sounds of the surrounding ocean. There’s also a tiny little church you can walk through on the grounds. Apparently one fortress and lighthouse wasn’t enough to the people in Sagres because there’s also the Lighthouse of Cabo de São Vicente and Fort of Santo António de Belixe, both about a 10-minute drive from Farol de Sagres and Sagres Fortress.

I had a hard time finding much to do in Sagres other than visiting the forts. There were plenty of surfing shops and several bars but not a whole lot else. The restaurants seemed to be clustered together in the same area; one we liked was Three Little Birds, a large restaurant with an outdoor seating area in a garden-like setting. The service was slow but they were also pretty much at max capacity and the food was excellent.

Can you tell it was windy at the fort?

Lagos

Driving toward the east from Sagres, Lagos is only about a half hour drive from Sagres and has much more to do, including one of my favorite walks, the Fisherman’s Trail (Trilho dos Pescadores) with Ponta da Piedade, which I wrote about on my previous post on Portugal (A Week in the Algarve- Southern Portugal- Outdoor Adventures). There are also streets that you can wander around on and get lost and discover some cute little shops, stopping to eat when you get hungry. Plus there are also some historical sites, including a Roman bridge, a fort complex, Forte da Ponta da Bandeira, and a castle.

I did have a hard time finding a parking spot in the center of town in Lagos but part of the problem may have been because it was Easter weekend. There was a street festival going on so there were probably more people than usual out that day. I got yelled at in Portuguese by an elderly gentleman who thought I was taking his parking spot in front of a church. I was on a tiny one-way road that suddenly ended and I was trying to turn around when he came over to my car and started pecking on the driver’s window. It was obvious what he was saying even though I didn’t understand a word he was saying. I tried to use my hands and arms to gesture and let him know I wasn’t parked but was turning around (which I would have been able to do sooner had he not approached my car) and finally I was able to get out of his obviously important (to him) parking spot. After much driving around, I lucked upon a tiny park with just one parking spot left and I happily took it.

The water along the Fisherman’s Trail was so pretty!

Faro

Compared to Lagos and Sagres, Faro is a bustling city, with a population of around 41,000. The Faro Airport serves the Algarve and is well-situated geographically, although it is a bit closer to Spain than the far tip of Sagres. On the day we went to the nature park, Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, we also stopped at Faro since they’re a short drive from one another.

While in Faro, we went to the Municipal Museum of Faro, a former convent, where we walked around for maybe an hour. Admission was 2 Euro per person but is free on Sundays until 2:30 pm (check their website to be sure that’s still the case before you go, (https://www.cm-faro.pt/pt/menu/215/museu-municipal-de-faro.aspx). I also wanted to go to Faro Municipal Market. I’ve always enjoyed checking out local shopping areas when I go to other countries and this one did not disappoint. There were plenty of local vendors selling fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and fish, chocolates and pastries, and flowers plus some restaurants and cafes and a large grocery store on the bottom level.

We got some pastries and sat outside to enjoy the nice weather while we ate. When we got to the rental car, I noticed a parking ticket on the windshield. It had a link to a website so later that evening I went online and saw I had inadvertently parked in a time-limited spot and had to pay something like 4 Euro, which I did right then before I forgot. Honestly, for the amount of time we had been parked there, 4 Euro seemed like a fair deal and it was quick and easy to take care of.

Photos from the Faro Municipal Museum and nearby

Despite getting yelled at by the elderly Portuguese man in Lagos and getting a parking ticket in Faro, I enjoyed these cities plus Sagres. Driving around Lagos wasn’t my favorite, with so many little one-way narrow roads and many parking signs saying parking was for residents only (which I fully understand and am not saying they shouldn’t offer this for their residents), but finding shops with parking spaces was difficult. Ultimately, when I did find a parking spot I found it was easier to just walk around and find shops and restaurants on my own rather than try to drive directly to them like I would in the US.

I know the Algarve is mainly known for its beaches (and for good reason) but I wanted to bring attention to these three cities as well. After all, not everyone just lounges at the beach all day. It’s good to have other options too.

Have you been to any of these cities or anywhere else in the Algarve? Do you want to go to Southern Portugal but haven’t made it there yet?

Happy travels!

Donna

Book Review- Run Like a Pro (Even If You’re Slow). Elite Tools and Tips for Running at Every Level by Matt Fitzgerald and Ben Rosario

Have you ever been curious about what it’s like to be an elite runner? I personally have never wanted to run for a living but I know many runners who are at least curious about that type of lifestyle. This book claims that elite runners aren’t as different from us mortal runners as we might think.

Matt Fitzgerald has written over 20 books and has been a contributor to many publications like Runner’s World and Outside. He is a runner and while in his late 40’s he had the opportunity to run with the NAZ elite Hoka team in Flagstaff, Arizona for three months. Another of Fitzgerald’s books, Running the Dream: One Summer Living, Training, and Racing with a Team of World-Class Runners Half My Age (which I have not read) is apparently partly about his experience in Arizona and trying to achieve a lofty goal time at the Chicago Marathon. In this book, Run Like a Pro, Fitzgerald also discusses some of the things he learned from that experience in Flagstaff.

Ben Rosario, the co-author, is the head coach of the Northern Arizona (NAZ) Elite team, which he and his wife Jen founded in 2014. The NAZ elite Hoka team is considered one of the best distance running teams in the United States. Rosario’s contributions to the book includes Coach’s Tips at the end of each chapter.

The book is broken down into 14 chapters but the last five chapters are training plans, starting with beginner’s, intermediate, and more advanced levels each for the 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon, and ultramarathon distances. Several of the chapters include topics you would expect like nutrition, recovery, and managing mileage but there are also chapters on mindset (Think Like a Pro) and how to learn to pace yourself (Pace Like a Pro). I believe mindset is a huge divider between “middle of the pack” runners and “faster” runners. If you think you aren’t capable of running fast, you likely won’t be. Of course you have to put in the work but if you don’t think you can ever get faster, chances are you won’t.

Some points from the book that I thought I’d highlight here includes one that shouldn’t be surprising but really drives home the difference between faster runners and slower runners. In a 2017 study in Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine with 97 marathon runners, they found the faster runners trained much more than the slower runners, and there were incremental increases with a link between training runs and marathon times. In other words, if you run 30 miles a week on average and run a marathon, you’re probably going to be considerably slower than someone who trains 60 miles a week for a marathon, and someone who trains 60 miles a week will likely be slower than someone who trains 80 miles a week. Of course there is a limit and everyone needs to find that sweet spot of enough miles to be challenging but not too many to break down the body.

Another point Fitzgerald emphasizes is we should be measuring our runs by time, not distance. Like he says, on marathon day, someone running 10-minute miles will take longer to finish than someone running 7-minute miles so you need to prepare by spending that time on your feet. He also says to consider your event focus, but not too much. If you’re training for a 5k, your first thought might be that you don’t have to run that long of long runs since a 5k is only 3.1 miles. However, he says elite runners stay in shape for running anything from a 5k all the way up to a marathon, with the mindset that if you’re fit enough to run a marathon, you should be fit enough to run a 5k as well.

One of the most important points in the book and one that I really need to get better at is the 80/20 intensity balance. This means you should run 80% of your training runs at a slow enough pace that you can carry on a conversation and the remaining 20% of your runs should be at a high intensity. He says too many runners fall into the moderate intensity rut, where you don’t slow down for the majority of your runs so that when it’s time to focus on speed work, you don’t have enough left in the tank to run them as fast as you would if you would have slowed down on the other runs. It’s emphasized to sit down and calculate the paces you should be running for each run to make sure you’re meeting the 80/20 balance.

As you might expect, there are pages and pages of what I’ll call body work exercises, like form drills, plyometrics, and strength training exercises. Form drills (like butt kicks) are important for good form, plyometrics (like box jumps) increase running economy, reduce ground contact time, improve running performance, and increase leg stiffness. Form drills are usually done during a warm-up but sometimes during a run and plyometrics should be done on their own a couple of times a week. Strength training moves are also included and should be done once a week to start, building up to twice a week. There are also corrective exercises in the book such as foam rolling, hip flexor stretches, balance exercises, ankle mobilization, and toe yoga.

The book is rounded out with subjects like rest, sleep, stress, and nutrition. One thing to note about rest is that it means sitting around and playing board games or something similar, not running errands for a couple of hours in a day or doing housework. As you’ve probably heard before, most elite runners sleep around 9-10 hours a night with a nap in the middle of the day. I’m not sure about you, but it’s just not feasible for me to just run, eat, nap, do exercises, cross-train, and sleep, with little to no stress or other obligations in my life, like the elite runners are supposed to do. But then again, that’s their job, not mine.

Bottom line, this book has some useful tips for us “ordinary” runners and reminders for stretches and exercises that would be good to do but is it really that simple that if you follow the advice in the book you’ll become as fast as an elite runner? For most of us, of course not. We’ve got jobs, families, housework, and a million other things, while running is just something we do on the side. Is it possible to get faster if you follow the 80/20 balance, incorporate some of the stretches and drills in your running, and do your best to eat healthy, get a good night’s sleep most of the time, and keep your stress level manageable? Absolutely.

Have you read this book? Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be an elite runner?

Happy running!

Donna

A Week in the Algarve- Southern Portugal- Outdoor Adventures

Stop me if you’ve heard this story before: In 2020, I was supposed to take a big vacation and then all of a sudden this thing called Covid-19 hit, causing worldwide shutdowns. I know I’m not the only person who had to cancel plans when the pandemic started. I’m also not the only person who thought, “Surely this will be over in a couple of months and I can just postpone my trip until then.”

I was supposed to go to southern Spain and southern Portugal for a week each in June of 2020. When borders were closed I pushed back those plans a couple of months to August, only to finally cancel indefinitely. Once vaccinations and treatments were available and borders were starting to open again in 2021, I made plans to go to just Portugal (so no Spain this time) for a week during my daughter’s spring break in 2022.

I’m not going to go into detail here about all of the COVID testing requirements and regulations since I already wrote about that here: International Travel as an American During COVID Isn’t Easy but needless to say it was stressful. It turns out the stress didn’t stop there. When we arrived in Lisbon we were told there was too much fog that morning to fly safely into Faro. The airline, TAP Portugal was going to bus us all to Faro, or we could rent cars ourselves if we chose to do so (on our own dime). The ironic part is the fog lifted fairly quickly and we could have easily flown to Faro and we would have gotten there sooner, even with waiting a few hours. We were told it would be about a three hour bus ride.

After much standing around in the Lisbon airport for hours and being told time after time, “We’re still working on getting the buses here,” we finally boarded the buses (we all fit in two buses after many people left and rented vehicles on their own) and began the drive to Faro airport. Of course there was a lot of complaining by passengers in the meantime but I was just happy to get to Faro that same day. They could have easily told us we would have to wait until the next day to fly out.

I should mention never once did anyone from the airline (TAP Portugal) tell us we were entitled to any form of compensation or even a free lunch for our troubles, despite many people angrily demanding something in return. I know when it’s a weather-related delay airlines can pretty much do what they want. Since our flight from New York was an overnight one, I was exhausted by now and slept on the bus most of the way. The few times I did look out the window there didn’t seem to be much to see anyway other than normal highway sights.

Our temporary home in Portugal was perfect!

FINALLY in Faro (that should have been the title of my post), I picked up the rental car and about an hour later we arrived in Ferragudo at the Airbnb, a beautiful townhouse with several balconies including a rooftop balcony with bouganvillea spilling over the front of the property. Ferragudo turned out to be the perfect area to stay because it was a fairly central location in the Algarve, only an hour from the southwestern tip of Portugal and an hour from the southern border with Spain.

Things to Do- Hiking

Since the water was still chilly (I saw surfers wearing wet suits and children in the water but that was it) the plan was to spend most of our time hiking and generally checking out all that we could in a week without spending a ton of time in the car. We were very close to two incredible trails, The Seven Hanging Valleys Trail (Percurso dos Sete Vales Suspensos) and Trail of the Headlands (Caminho dos Promontórios).

The Seven Hanging Valleys Trail has been voted the best trail in Europe and I can see why. It’s around 12 kilometers (about 7.5 miles) and stretches from Praia da Marinha to Praia do Vale de Centeanes (Praia means “beach” in Portuguese). The trail is one-way so either you have a car pick you up at the end or you turn around and go back the way you came. Along the way you go past one of the most famous beaches in Portugal, Praia de Benagil. The trail was a little difficult to follow at times so pay attention when you come to businesses, since one part of the trail goes right through a restaurant at one point, and bring water, snacks, and sunscreen. There are some restaurants along the way but if you’re there during the winter they may not be open.

Hiking along the coast was one of my favorite things to do- it was so beautiful!

The Trail of the Headlands is about 6 kilometers and you can park at Praia do Molhe in Ferragudo to begin. There’s a wonderful restaurant by this beach that we ate dinner at on both our first and last days and I highly recommend it (the restaurant is called O Molhe). The trail is another out-and-back trail where you’ll see the rugged limestone cliffs with the azure blue water below but it was notably less busy when we were there than when we hiked the Seven Hanging Valleys Trail. Although many of the beaches along this trail are inaccessible, you can reach Praia do Pintadinho and Praia dos Caneiros.

A bit further west near Lagos is the Fisherman’s Trail (Trilho dos Pescadores). This 11-kilometer trail goes from Luz Beach to the train station in Lagos and like the other trails in the Algarve discussed here, has views of limestone cliffs with the blue water below. You’ll go past a famous area called Ponte da Piedade with its rock formations, caves, and grottos. There was once a Roman temple, a Moorish temple, a Christian hermitage, a fortification to protect Torrinha’s fishing tackle, and even a lighthouse here.

Beaches

As I mentioned earlier, the word beach in Portuguese is “Praia.” Honestly, I could never say here, “These are the best beaches in the Algarve” because 1) I’m certainly no expert on this and 2) That’s a pretty subjective matter. I will say this, two of the more popular beaches, Praia do Carvalho and Praia da Marinha get crowded. We managed to find a tiny beach one day, Praia da Afurada, that was near where we were staying in Ferragudo and not a single other person was there the entire time we were there, reading on the beach. It’s hard to go wrong with the over 100 beaches in the Algarve.

Ria Formosa Nature Park

The Ria Formosa Nature Park is near the town of Olhão. I suggest you stop in town first to get cash if you don’t have any since the nature park has an entry fee and they don’t accept credit cards. There’s also no food or drinks for sale in the park. We were there just before lunch so I found a small restaurant that turned out to be interesting. I asked for a menu and the person working there pointed to a small chalkboard with three things written on it: carne de porco, frango, and peixe (pork, chicken, and fish). Good thing my daughter and I are adventurous eaters! I chose the chicken for both of us and we received steaming plates of tender chicken with a creamy yellow sauce and fried potatoes on the side. It was delicious and tasted a bit like yellow curry but I honestly have no idea what it was and we didn’t get sick later.

Flamingos but not pink. Not sure what the birds in the trees were (upper right).

The Nature Park has a small parking lot where you park and pay for entry then it’s all self-guided trails. I didn’t find the trails especially well-marked and got turned around a few times, despite having a map given to me at the entrance. It’s full of a bunch of loops that go around one another so while it’s virtually impossible to get completely lost and not find your way back, you may end up like we did going in circles the wrong way a few times. We saw some flamingos and many other birds that I have no idea what they were since I’m not familiar with Portuguese birds but no other animals. We went past some salt pans but they were disappointingly not picturesque, unfortunately. It’s a nice place to walk around for a couple of hours, especially if you’re a nature-lover, and this doesn’t seem like a place that gets overly-crowded.

I’m going to end my post on southern Portugal here since it seems like a nice place to end. I’ll pick up with a post on some of the restaurants, shopping, and other things we enjoyed and some other things that happened to us (not all good) on our Portuguese adventure!

Have you been to Southern Portugal? If so, where did you go? Happy travels!

Donna

Catching Fireflies 5k- My First Night Race!

First I have to give a little background info. Even though I’ve run somewhere around 60 races in the past 22 years, the Catching Fireflies 5k was only my fourth 5k, and two of those were with my daughter so this was only the second 5k I ran by myself. Of those two 5ks that I ran by myself, they were 22 years apart and this race in 2022 was 2 minutes faster than my first 5k. Granted, the first 5k was the first race I ever ran as an adult but still, I was happy that I haven’t slowed down, despite the fact that I’m now in a much older age group than when I ran that first race. Anyway, on to the race report!

The Catching Fireflies 5k in Raleigh, North Carolina caught my eye when I saw it advertised a few months ago. Start time was slated for 8:25 pm on Friday, May 20. The charity for the race was the Cancer Shucks group, https://www.cancershucksfoundation.org/. Luminaries could be purchased in honor of a loved one who was effected by cancer and their name would be written on the luminary. The race course was lined with what must have been hundreds of luminaries.

Photo from the race Facebook page

Packet pickup was from 5 to 8 pm at Wakefield High School in Raleigh on race day (no option to pick up earlier). We got cotton t-shirts, our bibs, and glow sticks to wear while we were running. It was great to have real bathrooms to use before the race and not have to walk far to get to the race start since we all parked in the school parking lot. My 16-year-old daughter was also running the race so we hung out for a little while inside the school since it was so hot out. The high for the day was a record high for the year- 99 degrees!!!

Fortunately when the sun started to set it began to feel noticeably cooler, but it was still pretty humid. By the time the race started it was around 86 degrees, still hot but at least it wasn’t in the 90’s any longer. We all kept saying how it was just too hot too soon but there was nothing to do about it. Surprisingly, there were around 650 runners and walkers that night, according to the announcer.

Everyone started lining up around 8:10 and the race started promptly at 8:25 after the national anthem was sung. The beginning of the race was a terrible mess with walkers at the front, mixed in with people with strollers and small children scattered everywhere. I expected that might be the case and planned on staying toward the edge but even that wasn’t enough so as soon as I could I jumped onto a sidewalk until I could get around a big group of people.

Also from the race Facebook page

Fairly quickly, the course thinned out and I was finally free of the mob of people. The race was entirely though a neighborhood, Wakefield Plantation, one of those super-nice neighborhoods with a country club and golf course and enormous houses. As I said earlier, the course was lined throughout with luminaries. I wasn’t sure how dark it would get so I brought a clip-on light but didn’t really need it except for one tiny little stretch where there no street lights for a bit.

This neighborhood is also hilly, which I had been told ahead of time. The course began downhill, so of course I knew that meant we would be running uphill on the way back. I tried to take advantage of that fact by running the first mile a bit faster than I normally would, but still being a bit conservative since I wasn’t sure how the heat and humidity would effect me. My first mile was at an 8:20 mile pace.

When I was about halfway through the race, I felt like I should slow down or I wouldn’t have enough left to get me up the hills at the end. My second mile was at an 8:44 mile pace, which is around what I thought I would run the entire race at, prior to the race. There weren’t many spectators on the course and I didn’t see anyone cheering on runners from their front yards or anything like that. Water was on the course but there weren’t any porta johns, at least not that I saw.

I really didn’t have any finish time goal in mind before the race, other than trying to finish in the top three in my age group, whatever that meant. With only a mile to go, I had to really push myself mentally to not walk up the final hills. I saw people walking all around me and it was tempting to walk along with them but I didn’t and told myself even if I was running slow I was still going faster than if I walked. My final mile was at an 8:42 mile pace, with the final sprint to the finish (the 0.1 mile) at a 7:57 mile pace. My finish time was 26:53.

Immediately after the race- I was so hot and sweaty!

There were children handing out medals at the finish and a big container full of warm bottles of water (WARM water after a HOT 5k is just wrong!). Bananas, pretzels, and cereal bars were further down on a table. I did find a table with cups of cold water being dispensed from those big orange Gatorade containers you see at races and cross country meets and I greedily gulped some down.

The awards ceremony was supposed to be at 9:10 but the announcer kept talking about the music being played and other random things. Finally around 9:25 they began the awards ceremony. I thought my daughter might have a chance of cracking the top three in her age group but she was fourth. I was first in my age group and collected a gift card to a restaurant near the race. The day after the race I checked the official finish times and saw that I was only three seconds behind the third place overall masters female. But then I looked again and actually I was three seconds ahead of her. There was a mistake. I should have won third place overall masters. This had never happened to me, finishing in the top three overall masters.

I sent an email to the race director and he replied back within a couple of hours, which surprised me since it was a Sunday. He said they go by gun time for overall awards and chip time for age group awards. I had always thought chip time would be more accurate so awards would always be based on that, but I guess you live and learn.

I’ll admit, I was a little bitter; after all it was only three seconds. I could have easily moved up closer to the front at the start, had I been able to somehow predict this and have known then what I know now. Or if the race director would have put that information in the awards section on the race website. But then it just gave me a bit of fuel for my fire for my next 5k (no, I haven’t signed up for any at the moment). Knowing how little training I did (basically no speed work) before this race, it gave me hope of what I’m capable of if I truly train for a 5k.

I never thought I’d be saying it but I’m actually looking forward to training hard for a 5k now and seeing what I can do. Now I just have to find a race! That’s going to be difficult since we’re also heating up quickly here so races always thin out this time of year.

Would I recommend this race? Yes. It truly is a unique race, in that it’s at night and has luminaries lining the course. It was much hotter than it normally is the end of May so I would hope the weather was just a fluke and next year would be back to normal temperatures. The hills aren’t going to go away, but they really weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be. I would have rather had something other than a cotton t-shirt, like socks or a hat but it was a cute shirt and I’ll wear it to the gym. The medals were cute too. And like I said earlier, best of all, it’s for a great cause.

https://fsseries.com/event/catching-fireflies-5k/

Have you ever run a night race? If so, care to share your experience?

Happy running!

Donna

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