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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?”

How My Motivation for Running Has Changed Over the Years

I started thinking about this some time back when I was listening to a podcast and they were talking about how their motivation for athletic activities they do has changed over the years. For example, one person was talking about their motivation for doing triathlons and the other person was talking about their motivation for running. When I started running what I would call in a more regular way in my late 20’s (I phrase it this way because prior to this point I would just run whenever and wherever with no real plan or intention and no races), my motivation was simply for the sheer joy of running, truthfully.

I didn’t need to lose weight or get healthier nor did a friend talk me into running with them. In fact, my boyfriend at the time was motivated by me to run and we would often run together. He ended up doing a sprint triathlon but shortly after that he ran less and less. His heart just wasn’t in it and it was obvious he was just doing it to spend time with me but he had no real motivation to run.

No longer with a running partner, I ran by myself and eventually trained for and ran my first 5k and gradually built up to a half marathon then eventually I ran a marathon. I enjoyed the solitude of being alone with nature and I liked how I felt after a run- accomplished and satisfied. My motivation to continue to run eventually became seeking out more half marathons. It was about more than just running the race, however; all of those training miles became my new normal and a part of who I was.

One thing that helps with motivating me to run is having beautiful places like this to run

Many years ago after I had run a half marathon in several states and I made the decision to run a half marathon in every state, that became my goal and my motivation. Never once did I doubt if I could make it happen. I knew I would eventually get there, no matter how long it took me.

It was definitely always about the journey for me and just enjoying myself along the way. I always made it a priority to spend at least several days in a state, usually more, preferably after the race and take in as much as I possibly could. With only a couple of rare exceptions did I not care for a place I visited. Some places were just OK, as well, but the majority of places I went to far exceeded any expectations I might have had.

Speaking of expectations, one thing I’ve learned over the years but still have to work on is to have zero expectations. This can be about a place I’m going to, about a race, about a person, or about anything coming up in my life. I’m a realist and optimist by nature so it doesn’t work for me to have really low expectations for a place or person but I’ve found if I go into something with no expectations at all, that usually works out well for me. But back to my original topic.

Now that I’ve finished my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, my motivation has once again changed. After my final race in November 2021, I was asked by many people, “What’s your next big goal? A marathon in all 50 states?” or other similar questions. I always just laughed and said, “No. For now I’m just soaking it all in and trying to enjoy the moment.”

After my half marathon in November 2021, I needed a break from running so I took two weeks off from running completely and only went on walks and hikes. Historically when I was still in the midst of my 50 states quest I would almost always take two weeks off from running after a half marathon to let my body heal completely so that wasn’t unusual for me. What has been unusual is for the first time in a couple of decades, I don’t have a half marathon in sight and I’m perfectly OK with that.

I’ve found myself going back to my roots, if you will, when I ran for the sheer joy of running. There is zero pressure for me to find another race to train for, at least in the near future. I had signed up for a local race in February that would have involved something entirely different for me but it was made into a virtual race with the option to defer to 2023, which I did. I ran the Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run in Washington, D.C. in April, (Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run) and loved it. For now, I’m just seeing what races seem interesting and going with that.

What’s your motivation to run/cycle/hike/swim/multi-sport/other? Has it changed over the years?

Happy running!

Donna

The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.- Is It Worth Going To?

Although I have been to Washington, D.C. many times over the years, I had never been to the International Spy Museum, which opened in 2002, until recently. To give you a little background on me, I was a huge James Bond fan as a kid and have seen every Bond movie multiple times. I’ve seen all of the other popular spy-related movies and have always loved them. In fact, at one point in my life I wanted to either be an FBI or CIA agent.

I knew when I was going to be in Washington, D.C. in the spring I wanted to finally go to the International Spy Museum. In fact that was really the only other thing I wanted to do besides check out the cherry blossoms. The real reason I was going to D.C. in the first place was to run the Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run so I thought it would be a good way to spend the rest of the day after the race.

If I’ve learned anything when it comes to visiting museums during the pandemic, it’s check the website first to see what the requirements are. I also knew most museums prefer people to buy admission online and some don’t admit you without a pre-purchased ticket. The International Spy Museum was no different and had openings for days and times for tickets to purchase online.

I’ve also learned the hard way that sometimes museums (and art galleries and other places that now require you to purchase tickets in advance that didn’t used to have that policy) often sell out, especially if it’s during a busy time of year (Cherry Blossom Season is hugely busy). I checked the International Spy Museum’s ticket status online weeks before I flew to Washington, D.C. (still during Cherry Blossom Season, though) and it didn’t seem to be too terribly busy so I felt confident I could still get a ticket the weekend I would be there for that Sunday. Since the tickets are non-refundable I waited until that Friday and I had arrived in the city to buy my ticket, just to be sure.

So what is the museum like, you may be asking? Is it worth the admission of $30.57 for adults? How much time should I allow when I go?

First, a brief word about the price of admission. I paid $30.57 but when you go to the website, it lists admission for adults as $26.95. What’s the discrepancy? Well, there’s a $2.00 online fee and sales tax of $1.62, so when you add all of that together you come up with $30.57. That all adds up and for a family of four if you have two young children, for example, you’ll be paying almost $100. This isn’t exactly a cheap place to visit, especially if you will be buying multiple tickets.

Back to my first question- what’s the museum like? I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you. If you got that joke, you’re probably a good candidate to go to the museum. But seriously, the museum experiences are on the 4th and 5th floors of the building, with the gift shop on the ground floor. When your ticket is scanned, you’ll go up the elevator to the 5th floor for “briefing.” The museum is immersive so the idea is to pretend like you’re a spy that has been given an identity and a mission. When you see certain kiosks relating to the spy mission, you scan the badge you were given at the beginning, answer some questions, and see if you pass the test so you can move on to the next step of the mission. There are hints along the way and reminders if you forget your spy name or information given to you at briefing. This part is also optional so if you’re just not into that you don’t have to do it and can still walk around and look at the displays.

Also on the 5th floor, there are displays on different spies from around the world, some of the gadgets used over the years, different codes used by spies, and covert missions. I found the information on this floor extremely interesting since I’ve always been intrigued by spies and I enjoyed seeing all of the gadgets that were used along with the background information behind how they were made. Reading about all of the covert operations, both the successful ones and the ones that failed was also interesting.

The 4th floor includes displays on spies from the American Revolution all the way up to modern spying methods including cyber spies. There are displays with spy information before the Berlin Wall was removed and other historical information. One of the more controversial subjects of spying is also on this floor, torture methods and there is information about how the laws for this have changed since September 11. You can also watch a video on how to decide if spies have gone too far. Finally, there’s a debriefing center with hands-on kiosks where you answer questions and find out if you completed your mission or not (I did, in case any of you are on the edge of your seat wondering).

Like I mentioned in the beginning, I’ve always been intrigued by spies and international espionage so I loved this museum. If you’re not a big fan, you likely won’t enjoy it nearly as much. I had 2 1/2 hours with my ticket to explore the museum and I spent that entire time doing just that. If you just skim the displays and don’t engage in the hands-on kiosks and skip the mission you could potentially only spend an hour or less here.

Display with spy-related toys and other items

I saw many young children here, which honestly surprised me since a decent amount of the material might be considered inappropriate for children under 12. I’m sure they also wouldn’t grasp many of the more complicated concepts at the displays and videos at a young age. Perhaps parents see the lure of the mission and think that will entertain them but I would think parents with children under 12 might want their children to skip this museum, in my opinion. This is no “Disney” Epcot Center adventure game, in other words, but to each his own.

If you can’t tell by now, the answer to my question of is it worth going to, my answer is yes if you’re a fan of spies and spy-related information but probably not if you could take it or leave it. You likely would be bored with all of the displays if you don’t care about the information. It would be like when I went to the Football Hall of Fame in Ohio despite having zero interest in football- it bored me to tears and I only went because I was with someone else who wanted to go there.

For tickets and more information, go to their website: https://www.spymuseum.org/

Have you been to the International Spy Museum or have you wanted to go but haven’t made it there yet? If you’ve been, tell me what your experience was like.

Happy travels!

Donna

What Can Happen In a Decade- Part 2

In case you missed it, I began this travel down memory lane with my 40th birthday in 2012 (What Can Happen In a Decade? Part 1). I’ll pick back up here beginning with February of 2018. As before, I’ll focus on the races I ran and places I traveled to during the latter part of the decade I’m going over.

As had been the case for several of my previous birthdays, my birthday in 2018 was also spent while on vacation, this time in the Canary Islands. That vacation began with Carnival in Gran Canaria, where we spent a few days before taking a ferry to Tenerife for a week. Shortly after getting home from the Canary Islands, we took a quick trip to Williamsburg, Virginia for some time at Busch Gardens, ax throwing, and touring the historical grounds of Colonial Williamsburg. Then we were off to my first half marathon of the year in beautiful Boise, Idaho in May. I was blown away by the beauty in Idaho and would love to explore more of the state, especially Coeur ‘d Alene.

June of 2018 included a long weekend in Charleston, South Carolina, one of few places I’ve returned to many times over the years. In August, I ran my second half marathon of the year in Anchorage, Alaska. We also spent time in Denali National Park, saw glaciers, dog sleds, bears, puffins, and some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. That November we went to a tiny town in Arkansas where I ran my fastest half marathon at the time and from there went to Hot Springs National Park. We finished off November with a week in Grand Cayman Island where we saw iguanas, caves, swam with sting rays, and relaxed at some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Finally, we went to Asheville, North Carolina to tour the Biltmore House, all decorated to the hilt for Christmas.

Denali National Park after the half marathon in Anchorage

In February of 2019, I got to spend my birthday week in Hawaii where I went to Oahu for the first time and back to Kauai. I did plenty of hiking on both islands, went ziplining, ran, spent time on the beaches, and discovered standup paddle boarding. That May, I ran a half marathon in Delaware where I finished second in my age group and my daughter finished first in hers. I also went to my first float tank and found it worked wonders for my post-race recovery. Two months later I was off to Peru where I acclimated to the high elevation in Cusco for a few days before doing a multi-day hiking and camping trek to Machu Picchu, followed by a day hike to famed Rainbow Mountain, and several days in Arequipa. This trip was truly a trip of a lifetime and one I’m glad I did when I was young and healthy enough to easily handle the difficult hikes and elevation.

Machu PIcchu!!!

With the year only half over, in July of 2019 I was able to spend time in yet another wondrous area of our country, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. But first, I ran my fastest half marathon to date in tiny little Thayne, Wyoming. I’m not sure which I liked better, Grand Teton or Yellowstone but they were both undeniably beautiful. The summer of 2019 was filled with as much standup paddle boarding as possible at home (and I also did some in Grand Teton NP) plus a bonus long weekend in Hilton Head, South Carolina. That October I spent some time in Omaha, Nebraska for a half marathon and exploring the city.

Little did I know what hell would soon be unleashed when I took a vacation in St. Petersburg, Florida in February of 2020. It’s a good thing that was such a fun trip, full of standup paddle boarding, museums, running, and of course beaches. In March shutdowns related to the pandemic started happening and we still had no clue when this whole Coronavirus pandemic would be over nor did we have any clue how to protect ourselves, at least not in an educated way; everyone was merely guessing what the “right” thing to do was then.

I was supposed to run my final three half marathons from my 50 states quest, beginning with New Mexico in April then Minnesota in June and Iowa in September. All three races were postponed or cancelled and my planned vacation to southern Spain and Portugal in June was pushed back to August before being completely cancelled. After being stuck at home for so many months I felt safe enough to plan a trip to Greenville, South Carolina in June for a long weekend, knowing the vast majority of that time would be spent outdoors. This was a place I could drive to and like I mentioned, we spent our time in parks hiking, running, and walking along the waterfalls there.

Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

My daughter and I went hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in July of 2020. We saw several bears, one up-close, and put in some major hiking miles on the many trails there. Later that month we took another road trip and went to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, specifically Kill Devil Hills. It was right before my daughter started her junior year of high school and was a nice break for her and me as well. We ended the year going to Christmas Town USA in quaint little McAdenville, North Carolina, a suburb of Charlotte. The entire town is decorated for Christmas and you can stroll around looking at the lights while you sip hot chocolate. I tacked on a trip to see the Tanglewood Festival of Lights in nearby Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It’s in a large park with more than a million lights and almost 100 displays that you drive though slowly.

Hopeful that 2021 would be better than the previous year and being vaccinated against COVID-19, that March my daughter and I flew to Tampa, Florida for her spring break. Tampa is right beside St. Petersburg, which was ironically the last place I had flown to before the pandemic began. We swam with manatees, saw dolphins spontaneously splashing around in the water by a park one morning, came across peacocks in someone’s front yard, went running many days, and spent as much time as possible outside.

In June 2021, I ran my first half marathon since the race in Omaha in October 2019. That was my half marathon for Minnesota and I also had my first blogger meet-up for lunch with The Travel Architect and her husband. My daughter and I spent a day in St. Paul and Minneapolis, a few days in tiny Lake City where the race was, then after the race drove to Duluth for several days where we went to state parks and did plenty of hiking. The weekend of July 4th was spent in Atlanta, Georgia to run in the Peach Tree Road Race, the largest 10k in the world. My daughter and I both got in through the lottery system for the race and it was one of my favorite races ever. We also went to the botanical gardens and went hiking at Stone Mountain.

Hiking and backpacking in beautiful Yosemite National Park was incredible

My daughter’s Girl Scout troop had been saving up money for a backpacking trip to Yosemite National Park for a couple of years and thanks to the pandemic we had to push it back from 2020 to 2021 but we were finally able to go in August. We carried everything we needed for the next five days on our backs and with the help of the outstanding guides at Lasting Adventures we all had the adventure of a lifetime hiking and sleeping under the stars.

I had my first solo vacation in October 2021 when I flew to Des Moines, Iowa for a half marathon in my 49th state. This was also my fastest half marathon to date and one of my favorite races ever. Just a few weeks later I flew by myself to Albuquerque, New Mexico for a half marathon in state number 50. Compared to the race in Iowa, this was a bit of a letdown, which is a shame considering it was my grand finale. Still, I was happy to have the experience as a whole, not just the race in New Mexico but the experience of running a half marathon in all 50 states. I topped off that race with some time in Santa Fe (mostly hiking), a place which I absolutely loved. When I got home, I was greeted with helium balloons galore throughout the house, homemade cupcakes, and a nice card from my daughter congratulating me on completing my 50 states quest.

January of 2022 began with some good news, that I had been selected for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in Washington, D.C. through the lottery. That was followed by some bad news that the Krispy Kreme Challenge I was supposed to run in February had been changed to a virtual run. I opted to defer to 2023 instead. My 50th birthday in February was a special one that I spent with friends and my daughter, with celebrations and gifts spread out over the week. Turning 50 bumped me into the next age group for races and I’m curious to see how that fares for me.

Well, that’s it! A decade full mostly of running, travel, and hiking! I’ve had so many once in a lifetime experiences during the last decade of my life it’s been incredible and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next decade of life brings me!

Happy running and travels!

Donna

What Can Happen In a Decade? Part 1

I’m borrowing this theme from a blogger named Judy I follow whose first post on the subject is here: https://chocolaterunsjudy.com/2022/02/15/what-can-happen-in-a-decade/. I liked the idea so much because similar to Judy, I also hit a milestone birthday in 2022. I’ll focus primarily on running-related happenings in my life during the last decade but will sprinkle in some travel and personal things that happened in my life as well.

What better place to start than with my 40th birthday party in February 2012? I normally don’t throw myself birthday parties but I thought it would be fun to go indoor rock climbing and invite some friends. When I say “fun” what I really mean is I wanted to do something big for my 40th and not just go out for dinner and drinks.

I’ve always been terrified of heights but for some reason I wanted to challenge myself for my birthday and indoor rock climbing came to mind. I climbed all the way to the top of the wall while most of my friends just watched and cheered me on (a few people joined in and went climbing as well). It was the perfect way for me to say “Bring it on!” to my 40’s.

That March I ran the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach and it was every bit as fun as I had been told it would be by someone I knew had run it. Then in June we went to Chicago for a very hot half marathon but had fun exploring the city and doing all of the touristy things like taking pictures by the bean and stuffing ourselves with Chicago-style pizza and hot dogs.

In July I went to Munich, Germany and some little towns around Salzburg, Austria. One of my bucket list trips was to see the waterfalls in Badgastein, Austria and I was able to experience them plus hike all over the area, see castles, caves, glaciers, and museums. I finished out my racing for the year at a half marathon in Newport, Rhode Island in October and fell in love with the beautiful towns in the area. That November, we got a puppy, a lab mix rescue that was definitely the calmest and sweetest puppy I had ever had or even been around.

Believe it or not, seeing this waterfall from Bad Gastein, Austria in a magazine is what prompted my wanting to go there!

2013 included my first half marathon of the year in Knoxville, Tennessee, one of my hilliest and hardest races to date that April. That June I took another epic trip that began in Seattle and from there I took a ferry to the San Juan Islands where I ran a small half marathon with almost no bells and whistles but at least it was beautiful. If the trip to Washington wasn’t amazing enough, that was followed in July with a trip to Greece, beginning in Athens and ending in Crete. The food, beaches, museums, hiking, and people were all incredible. In November, I went to Boston and a small town about an hour away where I ran my first all-women’s half marathon. I enjoyed the race and our time in Boston but when a cold front moved in the evening of the race I was glad to be going home to warmer weather.

My first race of 2014 was a half marathon through Queens in March. It was my daughter’s first time to New York City and she was young at the time so we took the obligatory trip to an American Girl store for afternoon tea, strolled through Times Square, and some other museums but weren’t able to get tickets for the Statue of Liberty. In July, I went to Maine for the first time and ran a half marathon in Portland. After the race, we visited some other cities like Rockport, Camden, and went to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. That October, I ran the inaugural Roller Coaster Half Marathon in Branson, Missouri, where I ended up with a first place age-group finish, my one and only time that has happened. I was literally in tears when I found out I had won my age group.

2015 turned out to be one of my best years of travel and began with a trip in March to what is now one of my favorite places in the world, New Zealand via San Francisco (long layover before the flight to New Zealand with enough time to explore the city). We were in the North Island and did a loop, stopping in places that were so diverse you would have thought we were in separate countries around the world. We hiked through a Redwood forest, took a boat tour of Glowworms in a cave, went to Hobbiton where it looked like the English countryside, saw black sand beaches, went to an area with hot springs, geysers, and mud pools. New Zealand- My family’s North Island Adventure/

I always tell everyone if you ever have an opportunity to go to New Zealand, JUST GO! It’s amazing! This was taken at the Hobbiton movie set.

In May of 2015, I ran a half marathon in Fredrick, Maryland and we spent some time in Annapolis after the race. I had never been to that part of Maryland but I liked the area and enjoyed my time there. Then in July we went to South Dakota for another half marathon and visited several national and state parks in the Rapid City area. I discovered South Dakota is nothing like its neighbor to the north and I especially loved Badlands National Park. September was a busy month with a beach trip to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina and a day trip from there to Savannah, Georgia. I had been to Hilton Head before but it was a first for me to Savannah. Like Charleston, South Carolina, Savannah is also a foodie town with gorgeous sweeping trees and mansions. It made me wish I had run my half marathon in Savannah instead of a suburb of Atlanta for my race in Georgia. A couple of weeks later we were off to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere in northern New Hampshire for a half marathon (where I finished third in my age group) followed by some time in Quebec, Canada, which I absolutely loved. I ended the year by running a 5k with my daughter, her first 5k, sponsored by Girls on the Run and the spark for her love of running.

I ran my first half marathon of 2016 in March in Eugene, Oregon (not sure how I pulled out a second place finish in my age group there) and spent some time in Bend, Oregon as well. That trip to Oregon left me wanting to go back and spend time in Portland and along the coast. In June I ran one of the toughest half marathons of my life in Boulder, Colorado because of the elevation and I later caught up with an old friend who lives there. The rest of the summer was filled with trips to the mountains, Carowinds Amusement Park, and a weekend trip to Charleston, South Carolina. In November, I spent three amazing weeks in San Diego, California where I ran a half marathon, went to Coronado Beach, explored museums, went to Balboa Park and Knotts Berry Farms Amusement Park, and soaked in all of the sunsets and scenery.

A couple of days before my 45th birthday in 2017 I flew into Las Vegas (because it was cheaper than flying into Utah), spent a day just walking around and going through some of the most extravagant hotels, then drove to St. George, Utah where I ran a half marathon for state number 39. We hiked in Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, volunteered at and spent the night at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, went to Antelope Canyon, and Grand Canyon National Park before driving back to Las Vegas to fly back home. In May we went to New York City and this time my daughter was able to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I ran a half marathon in New Jersey and we went to a farm with cute little pigs, sheep, chickens, and a baby calf. We flew straight from New York City to Santiago, Chile and spent a little over a week driving around the country, stopping in Vina del Mar and a lake area where we were (at least it seemed that way) the only English-speaking people in town. I would love to go back to Chile and go hiking further south into Patagonia.

After the half marathon in Utah

I was fortunate enough to experience the solar eclipse in August of 2017 in Charleston, South Carolina and it was something I will always remember. In November, I ran a fun half marathon in Huntington, West Virginia and we spent a few days in the area but I didn’t feel obliged to spend more time here since I grew up in southern West Virginia and had been to Huntington and the surrounding area many times before. My travels for 2017 weren’t over, though, as I spent about 10 days in one of my favorite places, Malta and the tiny island of Gozo. As if all of that wasn’t enough, we flew straight from Malta to Miami, Florida for a few days to stay with a friend of mine. She drove us to Everglades National Park where we took an airboat tour, which I had done before but my daughter never had.

I’m going to stop here so this post isn’t super-long and continue with part two later. Hopefully you’ll continue along my running and travel journey. I’ll just hint that great things were in store for me!

Happy running and travels!

Donna

Bursting the Happiness Bubble in Poor Countries

I was listening to a podcast recently and the host was talking about visiting Guatemala. He said he noticed how even though the kids he saw were extremely poor, they were happy. I thought, “How does he know that? Who is he to say if someone else is happy?”

Just because someone appears to be happy on the surface doesn’t mean they are. I’ve found that even if you think you know a person, there may be times where the person is unhappy but not vocalize it. For me personally, I’ve pretended to be happy around other people for different reasons. For example, there have been times when I didn’t want to burden others with my problems or I was embarrassed that my husband and I weren’t getting along so I pretended everything was fine.

I noticed when I was in Peru, some of the people from our group during our trek to Machu Picchu would comment how “happy” the people we encountered in the remote villages were. When we visited school children and gave them food we had previously bought for them and their families at a market on our first day of the trek, some people from our group noted smugly what a great thing it was that we were helping the children and their families. One person even later told others that he had “taught” the children English. We spent about an hour with these children. Any English that was spoken had undoubtedly already been taught to the children by their teacher, not some stranger that had spoken a few words to them.

“Happy” children in Peru

Afterwards, I thought about our encounter with these Peruvian people. Who were we to pat ourselves on the back and say what a great influence we were on these people? So what if they were given some trinkets picked up by Americans that they would likely never use? Yes, I’m sure they appreciated the food we had brought them but just bringing them a bag of food doesn’t mean we had performed some life-changing event for these children. Just because they would smile back at us doesn’t mean they were happy. Maybe they were happy and maybe they weren’t. My point is it wasn’t up to any of us to come to any conclusion about other people’s happiness, then nor ever.

You hear Americans, who are well-known to be some of the most superficial people in the world and who place a high value on having “things” proclaim that people living in third-world conditions often seem happy and they will inevitably tack on “despite being poor,” as if you can’t be happy and poor. They will go on a weeklong vacation to Mexico and return telling everyone they meet how happy Mexicans are despite being so poor. Do they honestly believe they know if a stranger is happy just from a brief encounter with them? And what business is it of theirs anyway? When did Americans make it their business to determine who is happy?

It seems that doesn’t stop with just Americans, however. There are also lists that rank the happiest people based on the country they live in; some are people’s opinions are others are more formal. An example of a more formal report is the World Happiness Report that the United Nations releases annually and is based largely on the Gallop World Poll. People are asked about GDP per capita, life expectancy, social support, trust and corruption, perceived freedom to make life decisions, and generosity.

Apparently those things determine how happy a person is. Here’s a link to the latest report: https://worldhappiness.report/ed/2021/. In case you’re curious, Finland has landed the top spot for the past four years in a row. The United States was 14th based on 2020 surveys. As you might imagine based on the GDP per capita criteria, wealthy countries make up the vast majority of the top spots on this list.

What is my point to all of this? There are a few. First, don’t assume you know how a person feels. If you really want to know how a person is feeling, you not only have to ask them, but that person has to trust you enough to answer with the truth, and you have to be willing to take the time to listen. Too many Americans greet another person with, “Hi! How are you?” only to get a curt response along the lines of, “Fine!” even if the person who answered by saying “Fine!” didn’t sleep well the previous night, has a headache, and their child is sick. If you get a nondescript response like that, you can either try to pursue it further, proceeding gently, especially if you aren’t acquainted with the person, or you can assume the person doesn’t want to give you the details and drop it.

We also shouldn’t place ourselves on a pedestal if we provide gifts, money, or assistance to another person or group. If you want to donate your time, money, or gifts, it should be simply from the kindness of your heart, with absolutely nothing expected in return. I’ve always admired people who have donated large amounts of money to a person or group anonymously, rather than having their names on a plaque or some other form of recognition. I know it’s not always up to you if you’re recognized by a group, but I admire those who manage to keep their donations completely anonymous and expect nothing in return, not even a thanks.

Finally, don’t assume someone else wants something from you. Just because someone doesn’t have as much money as you do (again an assumption, unless you have access to their bank statement) doesn’t mean they want anything from you. If you want to give something to someone else, ask them what they would like or figure it out in advance. I know that’s not always possible to do but if at all possible, try to do research online to determine what people in the area you will be traveling to are in need of before you go there.

Also, I don’t mean to imply that most people don’t have good intentions in cases like this. If someone gives someone else a gift usually they hope the other person likes it and will use it. People want others to be happy so by proclaiming that, they honestly hope they are indeed happy. I’m not saying it’s wrong to give someone else a gift, just try to put some thought behind it.

I don’t often get on my “soap box,” but I felt a need in this case. If I offended anyone, feel free to speak your opinion below. Does anyone else feel like I do? Have you encountered arrogant Americans who think they know what’s best for others when they’ve travelled to other countries?

Happy travels!

Donna

Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run

The Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run in Washington, D.C. is so popular entrance is by lottery. Every year on the first Sunday in April, the race is held to coincide with peak or near-peak blooms of the thousands of cherry trees in the area. The course winds past several monuments including Jefferson, Lincoln, and FDR Memorials, Washington Monument, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Tidal Basin.

This race was on my bucket list of races I wanted to run once I finished my quest of running a half marathon in all 50 states, which I did in November of 2021. I was happy to see I got in for this year’s Cherry Blossom Run when I got the email earlier this year. However, my training wasn’t the greatest for this race. I had some personal issues I was dealing with and hadn’t been able to run as much as I normally would have so I had pretty much no expectations for this race, at least going into the race. That changed a little once I started running.

Cotton shirt received at packet pickup

When I arrived in Washington, D.C. on Friday before the race, it was extremely windy and chilly. I’m talking wind gusts that physically push you back when you’re walking down the street. It was also overcast and overall pretty dismal weather. “This is why I’ve never been a big fan of spring races,” I thought to myself. The weather can be so unpredictable in this area in the spring and one year for this race it might be sunny with light winds and the next year it could be in the 40’s and raining. In fact, just three days before I arrived it had snowed and the lows were in the 20’s.

Packet pickup was Friday late afternoon for five hours and Saturday most of the day at the National Building Museum. I went to the expo on Friday and found everything easy to navigate and picked up my cotton t-shirt (there was an option to upgrade to a technical shirt), bib, and bought some cherry blossom-themed compression socks. Several other cherry blossom-themed items were for sale like many different types and colors of shirts and pullovers plus things like hats, patches, and even coasters for drinks and dog bandanas. There were many vendors selling running clothes and shoes plus things like Honey Stinger gels, bars, etc. in addition to local running clubs with tables.

Race day was Sunday April 3 and the first runners to begin were the elite women at 7:18. Elite males and runners in the yellow wave began at 7:30, followed by runners in the red wave at 7:32 (which I was a part of), then blue, orange, and green waves were staggered thereafter. We had the option to submit recent race times to aid with selecting which wave to put runners in before the race. 5k runners started at 9 am on a different course but still in the same general area as the 10 mile race. At 9:10 am, any runners not maintaining a 14-minute mile pace would have to stop and ride the sweep bus to the start/finish line.

Some views along the course (taken the day before)

The first couple or so miles were crowded (there were 14,663 finishers this year), despite the staggered starts and my first mile was the slowest at 8:56 because of the crowd. I felt good so my goal was to maintain around an 8:45-minute mile pace for the race which would put me just under an hour and thirty minutes at the finish. While there were pacers, there was one running 9:00-minute miles and one running 8:30-minute miles so as long as I stayed ahead of the 9:00-minute mile pacer I knew I would be good.

This course was absolutely beautiful and for sure one of my favorites of all races. It was flat and not only wound around and past several monuments like I mentioned earlier, there were also many areas where we ran past water and past the bulk of the cherry trees in the Tidal Basin area. The weather was picture-perfect for racing, with the start around the upper 40’s, little wind, and a bit overcast. We truly got lucky with the wind because as I mentioned before, just a couple of days before the race the wind was brutal and it turned out that a few hours after the race the winds picked up again. It would have been miserable to run in that wind so I felt fortunate indeed. In fact, I kept saying to myself how lucky I was to be able to run in this race all along the course.

My split times for miles 2-10 were as follows: 8:31, 8:20, 8:46, 8:37, 8:39, 8:41, 8:48, and 8:33. There was water and Gatorade on the course and porto-johns in a couple of spots. Crowd support was great in the Tidal Basin area and areas around the monuments and thanks to our names printed on our bibs I heard several times, “Go, Donna!” from the spectators.

When I saw I was less than a half mile from the finish I knew I could finish in 1:27, which is what my secret goal was, and I did just that. I also knew there was no chance of winning any age group awards for this race. When I looked at previous top three times for my age group I saw there were some fast women (and men) that run this race. Interestingly, Joan Benoit Samuelson holds the course record for the 50-54, 55-59, and 60-64 age groups for women. If you don’t know who she is, read this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Benoit.

Race day photos

We finished in the same area where we started and there was water immediately available. Further down there were granola bars and bananas. Mylar blankets were also being handed out. Medals were available for those that paid extra (I did not). I made my way to the bag check and put on my winter coat I had put in there; I didn’t care that it would get sweaty, I was happy to have it after the race.

Although I loved this race and thought it was well-organized with a beautiful course, this isn’t a race with a ton of bling, or I should say bling that’s included in the $54 registration fee. As I mentioned, medals were extra, as were technical shirts and the post-race food was minimal. I’m not one for the bling so those things didn’t bother me. My goal was to have fun, run a well-organized race on a beautiful course, and this race fit the bill completely. Here’s the link to the race: https://www.cherryblossom.org/

Have you ever run the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run? If so, what was your experience like? Tried to get in the lottery but didn’t? Have you been to the Cherry Blossom Festival here?

Happy running!

Donna

Alphabet Adventures: Travels Around the World From A to Z

During the beginning of the pandemic there was a challenge on Twitter called #AlphabetAdventures where you list every place you’ve been going through the alphabet from A to Z. A blogger I follow, The Travel Architect, posted her own Alphabet Adventures: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/88998444/posts/3400505571 and it seemed like a fun challenge for me but I never got around to posting until now. Better late than never I guess! Finally without further ado, join me on my Alphabet Adventure!

A is for Austria

Austria’s slogan should be “Land of waterfalls.” The main reason I wanted to go to Austria was because of a photo I saw of the Bad Gastein Waterfall that goes right through the historical spa town of Bad Gastein. Not only did I see that waterfall but I learned if you plan your trip in the spring you can see dozens of waterfalls in Austria.

Bad Gastein Waterfall in Austria

B is for Boise, Idaho

I ran a half marathon in Boise and loved exploring the city while I was there. There’s great hiking, mountain biking, museums, parks, a zoo and aquarium, a nice botanical garden, and really good food.

Beautiful Boise

C is for Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston is one of my favorite places in the world and I’ve been here many times over the years. The food is some of the best I’ve had anywhere, the beaches are some of the most beautiful, there’s history and cool architecture galore, and so much more.

Powder-soft white sandy beaches near Charleston

D is for Duck, North Carolina

The letter d was surprisingly difficult for me until I remembered the first place we took our daughter for a beach trip when she was a baby, Duck, North Carolina. Duck is part of the quieter northern part of the Outer Banks. It’s perfect for a long weekend or if you just want to get away from the crowds.

Playing in the sand with my daughter in Duck

E is for Evansville, Indiana

For many years the half marathon I ran in Evansville, Indiana was one of my favorites (until it was replaced by others). I had never heard of Evansville before I planned the trip here but the festival going on the weekend of the race sounded fun, and it was. For those curious, Evansville is about 2 hours from Louisville, KY or Nashville, TN, and about 3 hours from St. Louis, MO or Indianapolis, IN so it’s a reasonable drive to many bigger cities.

Evansville has a nice zoo and botanical garden, children’s museum, Museum of Arts, History, and Science with a planetarium, and prehistoric Native American mounds

F is for Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Fort Lauderdale is a beach town on the southern part of Florida less than an hour’s drive from Miami. I first went here when I was in college and won a day cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to and from the Bahamas, where I spent a few days in a hotel on the island and got my first taste of international travel.

Ft. Lauderdale Beach. Photo by Lance Asper

G is for Greece

I chose to skip the cruise ship when I went to Greece and instead flew into Athens, where I spent a couple of days exploring the ruins and indulging in the food before flying to the island of Crete. Crete is full of mountains perfect for hiking, some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, some cool ruins and historical sites, plus some of the best food anywhere.

One of many beaches in Crete with crystal-clear water

H is for Honolulu, Hawaii

Don’t ask me why but for years I resisted going to Honolulu, Hawaii when I was planning vacations to Hawaii (I’ve been a few times), despite the fact that a co-worker kept raving about it after she and her husband went several times. I think I had in my head that it would be a big city full of high-rises and tourists and not worth going to. Finally, I decided to just go and see for myself. Let me just say, although there are high-rises and tourists there, it is most definitely worth going to and you can pretty quickly and easily escape the crowds and find quieter, more secluded spots on the island.

Diamond Head, one of the best places to go for a view of Oahu

I is for Italy

Italy was one of the first European countries I went to, back when I was young, naive, and knew barely anything about traveling. It was relatively easy to get around even speaking a minimal amount of butchered Italian and the food alone was worth the flight. The ruins were a bonus!

The Arno River in Florence, Italy

J is for Jamaica

Jamaica was only the second island in the Caribbean I ever visited, after the Bahamas so I was still very much young and naive when it came to travel planning. I stayed at my resort in Ocho Rios the entire week except to go to the famous Dunn’s River Falls waterfall for a day trip and a snorkeling trip.

Dunn’s River Falls. Photo from Pixabay

K is for Kentucky

I went to Louisville, Kentucky a couple of times; the first time I went with a friend of mine and her family to see the Kentucky Derby when I was in grade school and the second time I ran a half marathon there for my seventh state. My second visit there was far less interesting than the first time when I went for the horse race.

Kentucky Derby photo by Bence Szemerey from Pexels

L is for Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain

Even though I haven’t been to mainland Spain, I’ve been to the Spanish islands of Tenerife (see the letter “T” below) and Gran Canaria, including the city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is the capital city of Gran Canaria and has a huge Carnival parade, many museums, beautiful beaches, and near-perfect weather year-round.

One of my favorite beach photos ever is this one from Gran Canaria

M is for Malta

If you’ve heard me go on and on about Malta, you’ll know it’s simply because I fell in love with the island when I went there. Even though many Europeans vacation in Malta or at least know others that do, most Americans haven’t even heard of the tiny country and have no idea where it is (off the coast of Sicily, very close to the North African coast). Malta is one of those places I tell everyone, just go. You won’t regret it.

Yep, of course I had to put this photo of the Gozo Salt Pans here

N is for New Zealand

If someone told me I could go anywhere in the world and be teleported there instantly and asked where would I choose, I wouldn’t hesitate. I would choose the South Island of New Zealand. I went to the North Island and would love, love, love to go to the South Island. New Zealand is a place that when you show others photos from your trip, they later start planning their own trip there; it’s just that amazing. And, yes, I would fly there again even though it’s one of the longest flights I’ve been on, but it’s without a doubt worth it.

Hobbiton in New Zealand was one of many highlights

O is for Omaha, Nebraska

I had heard so many negative things about Nebraska I was surprised how much I liked Omaha when I went there recently. Maybe it’s an outlier of the rest of Nebraska but I found Omaha full of historical sites and museums, unique shops, and really good food.

Omaha in the Fall is quite beautiful with all of the autumn colors

P is for Peru

My trek to Machu Picchu was one of many once-in-a-lifetime things I did while I was in Peru. In addition to the multi-day trek that ended in Machu Picchu, I climbed up famous Rainbow Mountain, spent a few days exploring Cusco, and saw a quite different side of Peru when I flew to Arequipa and spent a few days there. Peru is truly an incredible country, oh and don’t get me started on the food!

Machu Picchu in Peru

Q is for Queens, New York

I don’t typically choose the most popular half marathons for the ones I run so it’s fitting that I chose to run the Allstate New York 13.1 Half Marathon, a smaller race that was only around for a couple of years. Since we stayed in the Queens borough, we got to explore more of that area than I had previously when I stayed in Manhattan. There’s really quite a few things to see such as Flushing Meadows Corona Park and the Arthur Ashe Tennis Stadium, New York Hall of Science, Queens Museum, Queens Botanical Garden, and a small zoo.

After my half marathon through Queens

R is for Rapid City, South Dakota

After not caring for North Dakota, I wasn’t so sure about South Dakota, but I learned just because two states border each other means absolutely nothing. These two states couldn’t be much more different IMO. Rapid City is a good landing spot for day trips in the area, like Badlands National Park, Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, and more outdoor places like this.

Badlands Naional Park near Rapid City, South Dakota (OK, I know, it’s technically not a photo of Rapid City but this place was so cool!)

S is for St. Kitts and Nevis

I’m a huge fan of the Caribbean islands and would like to eventually visit all or most of them. St. Kitts and Nevis are volcanic islands in the West Indies that are safe, beautiful, and depending on what you’re going for either laid-back and relaxing or full of activities. I highly recommend both islands, although Nevis is tiny with less activities than St. Kitts.

No, it’s not Hawaii but definitely resembles it with the ocean color and black volcanic rocks

T is for Tenerife, Spain

The island of Tenerife is part of Spain’s Canary Islands, off the coast of northwestern Africa, the second of the Canary Islands I visited (see Gran Canaria above). I found Tenerife to be a bit more touristy than Gran Canaria but also cleaner and the roads and infrastructure in general in better condition. Given the choice, I’d choose Tenerife but happily would visit either island again!

Hiking Mount Teide, the highest point on Spanish soil

U is for Utah

Being a national parks lover, I knew I’d love Utah before I ever stepped foot in the state. I wanted to cram in more national parks on my vacation but managed to fit in Bryce Canyon and Zion Canyon National Parks, along with the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon in Arizona on a fairly recent visit to Utah. I would love to go back and visit some more national parks in Utah.

Bryce Canyon in the winter was simply magical

V is for Vermont

Vermont was my first experience with the New England states and it set the bar high. I loved Vermont, from the vibrant green trees everywhere to the small farms with fresh maple syrup and homemade cheese to the friendly easy-going people. Vermont left me longing to see if the other New England states were nearly as phenomenal as Vermont (I’ll just leave that one hanging).

One of many covered bridges in Vermont that I saw

W is for Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. was my first “real” big city experience growing up. I grew up in a small town in West Virginia, about a 5 hour drive from Washington, D.C. and first visited here as a child with my mom. I remember being astounded by so many things like the huge monuments seemingly everywhere, the plethora of restaurants and shops, and all. the. traffic. The traffic has unfortunately continued to get worse over the years but I still like visiting. Thank goodness for public transportation!

My daughter’s first trip to Washington, D.C. She loved all of the museums (as do I!).

X is for Xcaret Park, Mexico

Thanks to the fact that the Mayans liked to name many places starting with the letter x, this place immediately sprung to mind. Xcaret Park is in Playa del Carmen near Cancun. I took a day trip here many years ago.

Xcaret Photo from Pixabay

Y is for Yellowstone National Park

As a huge national parks lover, I was over the top excited to visit Yellowstone National Park, the oldest national park in the United States. Even though I only saw a small portion of the park because it’s so enormous, I still was able to see Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, Upper Geyser Basin, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, bison, and so much more. I would love to go back and see parts of the park I didn’t have time for.

Yellowstone National Park is one of the most naturally colorful parks I’ve been to!

Z is for Zion National Park

Zion National Park in Utah is known for the Narrows, where you walk through water in a slot canyon, and Angel’s Landing, which is known to be so narrow at times you have a steep drop-off on either side of you and mere inches across from side to side to walk on. I did neither of these while I was there. Well, I went through part of the Narrows but did not have proper wading pants so I didn’t continue through and to be honest, I didn’t feel comfortable taking my daughter on Angel’s Landing even though I know she would have insisted she was able and competent enough to handle it, but my mom’s heart just couldn’t handle the stress so I skipped it. Still, even without those two famous trails, Zion is a beautiful park with red rocks, waterfalls, Emerald Pools, and a hanging garden and is one of the best national parks I’ve been to.

Zion National Park in Utah

Were you surprised by any place I chose? I have to admit, I had a hard time deciding between some places but others were easy. I challenge you to do your own A to Z alphabet adventure. It’s a ton of fun but does take some time to put it all together!

Happy travels!

Donna

My Experience as a Running Mentor

I’ve been running pretty much all of my life since I could run, but I’ve been running what I would call regularly and seriously for about 25 years. Over all of those years I’ve learned so much about running. It’s almost embarrassing how little I knew about running when I decided to run my first marathon compared to what I know now.

For the last 21 years I was so focused on running half marathons all over the United States that I didn’t have much time for anything else since I also work full-time and have a daughter. When I was running four half marathons a year, my life was predictable in that I would start training for a half marathon, run it, take a couple or so weeks off, start the process again and repeat it until I ran my last race of the year, usually in November. December was my break off from training and races.

Now that I’ve reached that goal, I have more flexibility in my running life. When I saw a post from my local Fleet Feet running store about a training group for new runners they were going to have starting in January, something caught my eye. It said they were looking for mentors for these training groups. Hmmmm, I thought. Maybe I could do that. After all, I had been trying to think of ways I could give back to the running community and so far all I could come up with was volunteering at races.

I filled out the application form, which was quick and easy to fill out. There were questions about running history, what target distance and speed you wanted to work with (choices were 5k, 10 mile, half marathon, and marathon with speed choices ranging from sub-9 minute, 9-10 minute, 10-11 minute, 11-12 minute, and run/walk), and why you wanted to volunteer as a mentor. The form stated the running groups would be meeting twice a week, on Tuesdays for a 30-minute run and Saturdays for a long run. The goal races were local ones in late March and early April so it would run through March.

Before a recent training run

Within a couple of days I received an email that I was accepted into the program as a mentor. A few days after that we met for our first Tuesday run. I signed up to mentor the 9-10 minute mile group. When the leader asked who was there for that group, one guy said he signed up for the sub-nine minute group but he could go a little slower and run with the 9-10 minute group. In addition, there were a few runners for the 9-10 minute group.

There was another mentor who signed up for the 9-10 minute group and he had been a mentor before, so he took the lead and began running at the front of our small group. I’ll call him “John” here. John didn’t ask me anything about my running experience, if I was familiar with the running route, what to do if a runner slows down or starts walking, or anything at all. In fact, there was no communication whatsoever between John and me before our first run with our group.

It turned out this was the only week where the fastest runners were in the sub-9 or 9-10 minute range so John and I ran with the 10-11 minute mile group on subsequent weeks. I struggled with John’s “methods” of mentoring, as he basically ran at the front of the group, never once slowing down if anyone else from the group couldn’t keep up. He liked to talk about the importance of hydrating during a run and being able to slow down for the easy runs. From my perspective, he seemed to lecture more than talk about things from his view and it rubbed me the wrong way.

Another mentor joined us in the third week so there were weeks where it was almost a 1:1 ratio of mentors to runners. This guy who I’ll call Jack seemed more personable and actually communicated with me before going out on a run with our group. He quickly picked up the fact that I was faster than he was so he suggested I run with the people from our group who were faster and he would stay with the back of the pack. It worked perfectly and honestly I found myself wishing John wouldn’t show up (which sometimes happened) so it would just be me and Jack since we worked better as a team.

Other than dealing with John, being a mentor to new runners has been a wonderful experience. I’ve chatted with several people in our group and have enjoyed our runs together. On my last Tuesday run, one woman who was training for her first marathon told me she really loved running with me because I was “so motivating and fun to run with,” and she said I helped keep her going. She even asked if we could run together on other days during the week (we haven’t yet, but we’ll see).

The new runners have been fun to run with, never complaining, asking questions to better themselves as runners, and basically have made it easy to be a mentor to them. I always try to make sure I stay within the goal race pace for them (which was a learning curve for me) and pepper the runs with some light conversations to make the runs more enjoyable for them. They have told me on more than one occasion how thankful they were to have me there, which has made me feel like I truly am making a difference.

Have you been a running mentor? Have you signed up for a Fleet Feet training program or other training program where there were mentors? If you’ve done either, what was your experience like?

Happy running!

Donna

Want to See a Bear in the Wild? Here are Some Places to Do That

When I went to Niagara Falls and spent some time on the Canadian side of the falls hiking, I fully expected to see a bear but never did. Likewise, I expected to come across a bear at one point or another during my hikes in Maine, Montana, Colorado, and the province of Alberta in Canada but I didn’t see a single bear on any of those vacations. Nor have I ever seen a bear when I’ve hiked in the mountains of North Carolina, Virginia, or West Virginia. Only when I traveled to Alaska did I see my first bear in the wild.

To be perfectly honest, I had put off going to Alaska until my daughter was old enough and tall enough to not be an obvious bear lure. Even then, I didn’t really want to see a bear up-close. When we saw grizzly bears from the safety of our bus in Denali National Park several yards away, that was perfectly fine with me. That was my first bear encounter and I would have been fine if it was also my last but it wasn’t. You can read about my first bear encounter in Alaska here: Denali National Park in Alaska. Alaska has thousands of bears and is a good place to go if you have your heart set on seeing a bear. There’s even this online guide for spotting bears in Alaska: https://www.travelalaska.com/Planning/Tips/Where-are-the-best-places-to-see-bears-in-Alaska.aspx

Bears in Denali National Park in Alaska (from a safe distance)

When I went to Yellowstone National Park, I was fully prepared to encounter a bear on one of our hikes. Over the years I had read about bears attacking campers in the many campgrounds (looking for food) so I knew one thing, I would not be camping at Yellowstone. When we were hiking, some of the trails were fairly well-traversed so we usually weren’t the only people on the trails but there were some where we didn’t see another person for at least an hour. Still, the only bears we saw were at a distance in the safety of our car when driving through the park one day. Here is another online guide for seeing bears: https://www.yellowstoneguidelines.com/whats-new/the-best-places-to-see-a-bear-in-yellowstone.html

The third and hopefully final place I saw a bear was in Gatlinburg, Tennessee and the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This place has an insane number of bears to humans, with around 1600 bears in the area. One of the problems with the bears in this area is they have lost their fear of humans. People are entirely to blame for this because they do dumb things like posing beside a bear for that perfect Instagram photo or even worse, they’ll feed the bears. Finally, people in this area don’t always properly dispose of their trash or store food in bear cans when camping so the bears have learned to associate humans with food.

In fact, I saw not one but three bears on my vacation in the Gatlinburg area, with one really up-close encounter on a hike through Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For the whole story you can read my post: Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park- Redux. Every single other person I know who has recently been to Gatlinburg has told me they’ve seen at least one bear while they were there. If you’re going here, chances are pretty good you’ll see a bear.

Some photos from Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a bear in the bottom left

Another place where you might see a bear is Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, about 75 miles from Washington, D.C. https://www.nps.gov/shen/learn/nature/mammals.htm Depending on who is doing the calculations, estimates of bear populations in Shenandoah National Park range from 200 to 1000. For a park that just over 300 square miles, that’s quite a few bears even at the lowest estimate.

Have you ever seen a bear when you were hiking or spending time outdoors? What was your encounter like? Have you never seen a bear in the wild but would like to? Tell me about it.

Happy travels!

Donna

Upcoming Races- A Surprise and a Disappointment with Donuts and Cherry Blossoms

In a previous post, (Running Resolutions and My Word for 2022) I wrote about an upcoming race I was supposed to run in February, The Krispy Kreme Challenge. You run 2.5 miles to a Krispy Kreme donut store, eat a dozen glazed donuts, and run back to where you started. Many people think this sounds utterly disgusting but I’ve been intrigued by it since I first learned about it several years ago.

The charity this race supports is UNC Children’s Hospital, which recently became personally important to me when my daughter was hospitalized there. I felt I should support this race since it is for such a great cause so I signed up for it back in October of 2021. In fact, it was the same day I ran the IMT Des Moines Half Marathon and I was still in a sort of runner’s high from that phenomenal race.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Pexels.com

A while back I got an email stating they had made the decision to make the Krispy Kreme Challenge a virtual race this year. All registered runners could still pick up their shirts, medals, and a voucher for a dozen donuts from Krispy Kreme. Seriously? I thought. Who’s going to actually run 2.5 miles on their own, eat a dozen donuts, and run another 2.5 miles? Certainly not me. I can understand their reasoning, with rising COVID cases due to the Omicron variant at the time of their decision, but still. Some races just can’t be done virtually, at least in my opinion, like the New York City Marathon, or any of the world majors in fact, or any races in Hawaii. I’m sorry if you disagree but it’s just not the same for me to run in North Carolina as it would be to run in Tokyo, for example.

Then I read the email closer and saw at the very bottom an option to defer to 2023. I quickly clicked on the link that took me to a form to fill out to transfer my registration to 2023. Guess I’m running that race next February instead of this year. I’m disappointed but as I said, I understand their reasoning. If it was just a “normal” race it would be one thing but the added factor of people eating during a race just isn’t a good idea right now.

Around the same time I found out about the Krispy Kreme Challenge being postponed I also got an email with the subject line saying I wasn’t selected for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler. Then I got another email shortly after that with the subject line saying I was in fact selected. However, the body of both emails said I was selected. Just to be 100% sure, I checked their website where they had a list of everyone who had registered and sure enough I was selected. Yay!

I immediately went on to find a hotel room near the race and work on logistics like how I was going to get from North Carolina to Washington, D.C. I had four options: drive my car there which would take about 4 1/2 hours if there magically wasn’t any traffic but realistically more like 5 or even 5 1/2 hours (on a good day), fly a direct one-hour flight, take a train that would take about 6 hours, or take a bus that would take about the same time as the train.

Surprisingly, the train was about the same cost as the plane but considering I have a ton of frequent flier miles that I could use for this flight, it would only cost $11 if I used miles and I would get there in about a fourth the time it would otherwise take even with getting to the airport early. I decided to book the flight and save the time, which was especially important since I’m only going for a long weekend and prefer to spend the maximum time in D.C. rather than in a car/train/bus. Plus, if I drove I would have to pay parking fees in the city which are notoriously high. AND traffic is an absolute nightmare in that area. Decision made.

I should mention the Cherry Blossom 10-miler is so popular there is a lottery for registration because it coincides with the peak bloom of cherry blossoms in the area. We have some cherry trees where I live and I absolutely love when they’re in bloom. I’m sure Washington, D.C. is beautiful with all of the cherry trees in bloom and the monuments and water views in the background. There’s also a parade and some other festivities for about a month starting in March and going through part of April but since I’m just going for the weekend of the race I’ll miss most of the other events. You can check out their website if you’re interested: https://nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/.

I’m also registered for a local night race in May, or I should say an evening race since it starts at 8:30 pm. There are luminaries that line the course and runners are given glow sticks to run with. The race supports cancer research so it’s for a good cause and should be fun as well. As for Canadian races, I’m still waiting to see how things go with covid and all of the other issues they’ve been having there. The first race I was looking at in Canada isn’t until June so there’s still time to figure it out. More importantly, my daughter isn’t in good health and will likely have to have some serious procedures done over the summer so I have to see how that goes.

What about you? What races do you have coming up that you’re looking forward to? Have you been to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. or have you run the Cherry Blossom 10-miler?

Happy running!

Donna

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