A Breakthough!

So I’ve been having a knee/calf/ankle issue for some time now (years?) that I’ve been unable to even pinpoint where the problem is, hence my lumping the three body parts together. The issue is that when I run or even walk, I’ve been hyperextending my right leg. Basically my leg is straight when it should be bent, or at least partially bent. Have I lost you? I know, it’s complicated, which is why I couldn’t figure out what was causing the problem or how to fix it.

colors-2203720_1920

When I run or even walk, but especially when I’m going uphill, it looks like I’m limping. It’s not terribly noticable when I’m walking, but when I’m running, it’s easy to see something’s “not right.” I’ve even had various people ask me about it when I’ve been out walking or running. When I saw a video of myself running at a half marathon a couple of years ago, I was appalled that my form had gotten so bad. That prompted me to seek out a physical therapist, but that didn’t happen right away, because, well, I guess I just kept hoping the problem would go away, and honestly, I wasn’t in pain so I just kept going on like that.

I went to a physical therapist last fall and what I found out was:  1) I hyperextend my right leg when I walk and run and 2) I have a muscle imbalance between my right and left legs. My physical therapist gave me a bunch of exercises to do that would hopefully help balance out my left and right legs. For the several weeks I was going there, I was diligent about doing the exercises, then I slacked off for a bit, then I started doing them again after I would run. I stopped going to physical therapy because I wasn’t even sure if it was helping me and I figured I could just save myself a lot of time and money by doing the exercises on my own at home.

Lately, somewhat miraculously, I started to notice I wasn’t hyperextending my right leg as much. It’s really hard to watch yourself while you’re running but I seemed to notice something different in my gait. It wasn’t dramatic so I wasn’t even sure what was going on. Then my daughter said out of the blue a few weekends ago, “You don’t seem like you’re limping like you used to, with your knee problem.” This was fantastic to hear! I think I’m still hyperextending my knee but not as much as I was. To me, this is a breakthough.

I’ve been doing other things besides the prescribed exercises from the physical therapist. I’ve also been working on my core (with my 30 day plank challenge), doing clamshell exercises, side leg lifts, and throwing in a bit of lunges and squats even though I detest doing both of those latter exercises, but all part of helping with dead butt syndrome. I know this isn’t very scientific of me, just throwing in a bunch of changes instead of one new thing at a time, to try to figure out what exactly is working, and I’m even a scientist- I should know better. I was desperate, though. I just really wanted this problem to go away so I’ve been throwing every single thing I could think of to try to fix it. So now it seems something, or many things are working.

On a recent 12 mile run on a very hilly route I’ve been running on for the past two years, I was able to run up every. single. hill. I’ve never even come close to running up every single hill on this route. I would end up going so slow and would be so out of breath, I’d end up walking until I was at least close to the top before I would start running again. To run up every hill was HUGE for me! I was elated! I took a quick photo of one of these hills just to give a little perspective, but I’m not sure the photo does it justice.

20170506_120128_HDR

Now I guess I’m stuck doing all of these things in hopes of forever and truly “fixing” my leg imbalance so I don’t run like I’m limping any longer. If that’s what it takes, so be it.

Advertisements

Review of Duolingo

I recently started using the app Duolingo to brush up on my Spanish. To give you a feel for my aptitude of Spanish, I had it in high school and 4 semesters in college. Since then, I’ve brushed up on it before going to Costa Rica and before two separate trips to Mexico. I would say I’m fairly good at learning languages and they come relatively easy to me when learning them.

Duolingo is a free app that incorporates reading, listening, and speaking the language you want to learn or get better at. You are graded based on how many answers you get correct and hearts help keep track of how many questions you answer incorrectly. You start each lesson with 3 hearts and lose one heart for every incorrect answer. If you lose all 3 hearts, you’ll be directed to start the lesson over, but if you make it all the way through with at least one heart, you can finish the lesson. You can also test-out of a subject or language area. If you test out proficiently without losing all 3 hearts, you can move on to the next category.

duolingo

Lingots are the “currency” of Duolingo. You earn lingots by finishing a skill, maintaining a streak by using the app for seven days in a row, and inviting others to use the app. There are also bonus skills such as flirting and idioms. Honestly, I didn’t do much with my lingots, so I can’t personally say much about them. My daughter seemed to enjoy them, however, and she told me about various things she would “buy” with her earned lingots.

Currently, the most options for languages are for native English speakers who want to learn another language. You can choose from 22 other languages, including the usual German and French, but also Swahili, Esperanto, and Welsh. If you speak a language other than English and would like to learn another language, your options are more limited. For example, for German speakers, your options are English, Spanish, and French. There are more languages currently in development such as Japanese, Korean, and for you Star Trek fans, Klingon.

Personally, I feel like the app is helping me brush up on my Spanish, but I do think it may be giving me a false sense of security. Most of the exercises are multiple choice-style so the correct words are on your screen, with some incorrect words thrown in. You just touch the correct words to form a sentence and you (hopefully) get it correct. This is much easier than when a sentence is in English, and they ask you to type it in Spanish, with no words on the screen to choose from. I’m sure my progress would be much slower if had to proceed with no prompts. The flip side of this is many people would give up in frustration earlier without any prompts on the screen to “help” you along.

I still have many more exercises before I’m considered “fluent” and am finished with the Spanish module, so I’ll see if it gets harder. So far I’ve been able to test out of many of the sections, which means my progress has been quicker than if I were to go through all ten lessons for each skill (example, past tense verbs).

Also, each skill has a strength bar that corresponds to the program’s estimate of how well the user has retained certain words or verb conjugations. Over time, strength bars fade, and the user is supposed to go back to refresh their memory and strengthen weaker skills or words. I’ve found when I’ve done this, I whizzed right through very quickly so I’m not sure how much those words had faded in my memory, but I figured it didn’t hurt to go back over them.

I’m not sure how well Duolingo would work for someone learning an entirely new language. I suppose if the person combined the app with other learning tools as well, it would work out well. I don’t think the app by itself would be sufficient on its own to learn a new language, however. But then again, there are very few language learning systems that would be enough on their own.

My bottomline is Duolingo is a good app to help brush up on a language you may have learned years ago or to learn a few key words and phrases for a new language spoken in a place where you are about to visit. I doubt you could go from not knowing a language at all to being completely proficient by using Duolingo alone, but I suppose it’s possible.

Has anyone else tried Duolingo? What did you think?

It’s my 1 Year Blogiversary!

I didn’t even know “blogiversary” is an accepted term; I had to look it up. I won’t go so far as to say it’s a “real” word, but if you google it, several things come up, so I’m going with it. I’ll admit I’m still very much a newbie when it comes to blogging. I know some of you have been blogging for many years (and have had many blogiversaries, so you are well aware of the term). For me, I’m still very much learning but I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned over my first year of blogging and sum up my blog.

birthday-cake-cake-birthday-cupcakes-40183

One of the first questions to ask here is why did I start my blog in the first place? Well, I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states in the US and I wanted a place to chronicle my races. I just ran my 41st half marathon in my 39th state, Utah, so I’m slowly but surely getting there. I also love to travel and enjoy writing about places my family and I go with the premise that you don’t have to be retired to travel the world. Hence, the title of my blog, “runningtotravel,” since my blog is about running and traveling, with a little spin on both of those.

What have I learned since I started blogging? Many, many things. For starters, it takes a lot of work to put together a blog and keep it going. By the time you have that first idea about what to write, then you type it up, edit it, add photos, check anything that needs checked (facts, dates, etc.) you’ve got some time invested in that post. Then, if you’re lucky, others have commented and you need to reply to those comments. There’s also the social media aspect, where you post to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. to get others to come to your site and respond to any comments there. Not surprisingly, many bloggers stop posting after a few weeks or months because they simply can’t invest the amount of time necessary.

Another thing I’ve learned since I started blogging is just how enormous the blogging community is. I had no idea there were that many people with blogs. Nor did I know how many platforms there are for bloggers. I use WordPress but that’s just one of many places where bloggers can and do post their blogs, like bloglovin for example. Like I said, I’m still learning.

One thing I’ve learned about the blogging community is that it’s full of compassionate, friendly, helpful, and knowledgable people. Maybe I’ve been lucky but I’ve yet to encounter any mean or unwelcome comments from anyone. By far the majority of comments I’ve received have been insightful, encouraging, and helpful. Maybe a part of that’s because most of these comments have also been from runners and/or travelers and I have the biased opinion that the running and traveler communities are some of the most welcoming and supportive communities out there.

I’ve seen the number of followers increase over time to my blog, and I’m always in awe and humbled that so many people actually want to read about my adventures, races, and other exercise/fitness/family-related posts. Without followers, I might as well just keep an online diary that only I can see. That brings me to my final thought about blogging.

Many bloggers really wear their heart on their sleeve, so to speak. For those of you not familiar with the phrase, it means to show intimate emotions in an honest and open way. This makes a blogger more vulnerable but it also allows the reader to really get to know the person. I’ve struggled with this because I tend to be a pretty private person. Finding the right balance between giving details but not too many details to make me uncomfortable has been a learning curve but I think I’ve managed to do this.

Finally, I want to thank everyone who has read my posts and commented. I feel like I’ve gained some “blogger friends” and am happy I’ve found this blogging community. I’ve learned so much, not just about blogging, but about so many other things and for that I thank you for enriching my life. I can only hope to do the same for you.

So tell me, why did you start blogging?

Donna

 

A Total Solar Eclipse is Coming- Plan Your Road Trip Now!

Something is going to happen in parts of the United States on August 21, 2017 that hasn’t happened since 1918. A total eclipse is going to occur when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, resulting in a 170 mile arc of darkness from parts of Oregon to parts of South Carolina. For several minutes, the sky will be dark enough to see stars and the sun will be completely covered by the moon.

For something so rare, it’s a perfect occasion for a road-trip, like my family is planning. It seems many others are also planning on visiting these places at the center of totality, as places are filling up fast. You will be able to see a partial eclipse from many other points of the US, but if you want to be in the center of all of the excitement, here are some places where you can spend a long weekend and join in the fun.

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 4.02.10 PM

Here are the states and cities with the best viewing spots:  Oregon has several cities; Driggs, Mud Lake, Rexburg, and Stanley, Idaho; several cities in Wyoming; several cities in Nebraska; Highland, Troy, and Wathena, Kansas; several cities in Missouri; several places in Illinois; several cities in Kentucky; several cities that are close but not at the center in Tennessee; Dillard and Sky Valley in Georgia; Andrews in North Carolina; and many places in South Carolina. The full listing is on this extensive web page. Some cities are close to the edge of the path but you’ll see more if you drive 30-50 miles north or south. In this case, close won’t be good enough. You really have to be in the center of the path to see the total eclipse.

One of the best places to find exactly where the path will go is on Xavier Jubier’s 2017 Total Eclipse Interactive Google Map. This very detailed web page also has basic information describing the eclipse and why this one is so special. There are also viewing times listed, many maps, and information on how to prepare for the eclipse.

The highlight of the eclipse when the sun is completely blocked by the moon will be quick, so make sure you get to your spot early. For most cities, totality will only last around 2 or 3 minutes. The complete event going from one end of the United States to the other is only expected to last less than 15 minutes. It should be a once in a lifetime experience, however.

Don’t forget to get some eclipse glasses, but you don’t need to invest huge amounts of money for them. They shouldn’t cost more than a few dollars for a pair. Regular sunglasses or homemade eclipse glasses won’t protect your eyes, so definitely buy a pair made specifically for an eclipse.

The next eclipse of this magnitude in the United States isn’t predicted to occur until 2045, so don’t wait around for the next one to happen. Make your plans now while you still can!

 

 

Dead Butt Syndrome

I think my butt may be dying.  I don’t think it’s dead because I don’t have the extreme pain that I’ve read comes with dead butt syndrome. If you’re a runner and especially a long-distance runner, you may have heard of “dead butt syndrome” or even personally experienced it. For those of you that haven’t heard of this, I’m not making it up. It’s a real condition technically known as gluteus medius tendinosis, an inflammation of the tendons in the gluteus medius, one of three large muscles that make up the butt.

People with dead butt syndrome usually have pain in their hip(s) and poor stability around their hips and pelvis. It can occur at any age. Even non-runners can develop the condition if they have a job where they sit for long periods of time each day.

Muscle imbalance is often a culprit of dead butt syndrome. People over-compensate with their already stronger hip flexors and/or quadriceps, resulting in less use of their hamstrings and gluteal (butt) muscles, which weakens the glutes over time. Us runners without perfect biomechanics are particularly prone to this problem.

Is there hope for people with a dead butt or dying butt? Yes! You can save your dead or dying butt if you’re diligent about doing some exercises to strengthen your glutes, hips, and hamstrings. There are many exercises you can do, but some of the more recommended ones include bridge, squats, side leg lifts, and clams.

outdoor-685417_1920
You’ll need to do lots of squats to help dead butt syndrome!

Here is an explanation of the exercises I mentioned plus a couple more:

Bridging:  lie on your back with your eyes straight up at the ceiling and your legs bent. Pull your heels as far as you comfortably can up to your butt and raise your hips towards the ceiling. Tighten your butt when you’re as high as you can go. Slowly lower your hips back down.

bridge-pose
Photo credit yoga.com

Bodyweight squats:  it’s very important you have proper form for squats so use a mirror to help make sure your knees aren’t going beyond your toes as you slowly lower your butt down as if you were sitting in a chair. Have someone watch you if you’re still unsure if your form is right.

Standing on one leg:  this is a great way to fire your stabilizer muscles. Make sure you have good form and your pelvis is level. Start with aiming for 30 seconds per leg and try to increase up to one minute per leg.

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 1.23.17 PM

Single leg squat:  also known as a “pistol squat,” where you squat down on one leg at a time, with the other raised in front. Only do this exercise if you’ve got perfect form for bodyweight squats and this doesn’t cause pain.

Side leg lifts:  lie on your side with both legs on top of each other and lift the top leg towards the ceiling. Make sure your hips are level and your bottom leg is slightly bent.

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 1.25.25 PM

Clams:  lie on your side and bend both legs at a 45-degree angle. Raise your top knee up toward the ceiling, keeping your heels together and keeping your hips square.

s1-HipClamShellsW_OBand
Photo credit keywordsuggests.com

You can incorporate these into your regular post-run stretching exercises and it should only add a few more minutes to your routine. I know, I know- more stretching! I recommend seeing a physical therapist if your pain is severe or these exercises don’t seem to help any.

Festival Tickets-Worth the Price?

I had debated whether or not to go to a festival relatively close to where I live for several years. Last year the festival celebrated its 37th year the weekend of July 4th.  It is a festival where the proceeds are used to protect the water, land, and wildlife of a river basin in North Carolina. So far so good, right?

Last year’s festival included over 65 performers on 4 stages, as well as food trucks, a craft show featuring 85 local artists, environmental educational booths, and paddling demos in the river. Even better, right? Then you see tickets are $18 ($23 at the gate) for a single day pass or $30 ($35 at the gate) for a two day pass.  Teen tickets are $11 in advance or at the gate. Children 12 and under are free.  For a family with one or older children, that could really add up. My question each year was is it really worth the price of admission?

IMG_20160704_142402515-ANIMATION

Although I had seen the festival advertised many years ago, I had never gone because of the great debate about price of the admission tickets.  This debate came to an end last summer when my family and I finally went. We did not pay for our tickets, however. We were actually volunteers at a booth with a group that is part of an educational program about the river for children. Volunteers for the festival are graciously offered free admission for the entire day on the day they volunteer. Our shift was from noon to 2:30 so we went a bit early to walk around before our shift, and after our shift we walked around to the areas we hadn’t seen yet.

IMG_20160704_110639985

As volunteers at the booth by the river, we got to scoop small fish, guppies, salamanders, and whatever else we could find in the river and put in tanks for others to see. There were displays about local animals in the area and skulls of indigenous animals were available for viewing and touching. It was really a lot of fun and the 2 and a half hours flew by.

One of the musical groups that we listened to there was Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands. We really enjoyed their performance and if by chance you see the band in your area, I encourage you to check them out, or check out some of their music online. There were many other performers and activities at the festival including dancers, woodworking demonstrations, beekeeping demos and information, puppet parade, kids’ activities, and even a huge sand sculpture by an artist who sculpted a skink last year.

IMG_20160704_105509394-ANIMATION

IMG_20160704_105410919

So to go back to my original question, is the price of admission worth it? In my case, considering you can spend an entire day (or two days) here and you get entertainment all day included and the proceeds are to help support the conservation of this beautiful area, I’d say absolutely. Obviously in general, festival ticket prices vary widely depending on the venue, length of festival, what’s included, etc. and everyone’s budget is different. But I’d encourage you to sign up as a volunteer for a festival you’ve been on the fence about going to and see for yourself.  You have nothing to lose if you don’t like it and you’ll be glad you didn’t shell out any money for admission if it’s not a good one. If you do enjoy it, however, you will have helped out the folks at the festival, gotten free or reduced admission, and experienced a festival on top of it all.

We enjoyed the experience so much, we’re going back again this year as volunteers and we’ll hang out and enjoy the rest of the festival afterwards. In our case, the price of admission is a couple of hours of our time helping to educate families about the environment including local animals and playing in the river. To me, that’s a win-win for everyone.