Happy #RunChatHunt

I don’t know about the rest of you but lately I haven’t been running that much. #runfessions. It’s been hard to squeeze in a run in between all of the shopping, cookie-making, present-wrapping, etc. on top of my full-time job. Since I don’t have a race I’m training for, it’s been too easy to just let my runs slide.

Thanks to Mai at A Girl on a Search for Adventure (ifijustbreathe.wordpress.com) for the post about #RunChatHunt and giving me some motivation to run lately. This is a scavenger hunt for runners that began November 23 and goes through 11:59 p.m. ET Monday, Jan. 1. There are 12 items you’re supposed to look for on your run; you snap a photo and post it to twitter with hashtag RunChatHunt. Anyone who participates and finds at least one item is entered to win a pair of Altra Duo running shoes. There will be one male and one female winner chosen randomly for the shoes and all other winners are chosen randomly and will be announced by January 7, 2018.

There are specific prizes associated with each item on the scavenger hunt. For example, if you find a body of water, you can win a CamelBak Dart.

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For holiday inflatables, you can win PRO Compression socks and SaltStick Fastchews.

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You don’t have to find all the items to be eligible for prizes. If you find just one item, you’re entered for that prize and at the chance to win a pair of shoes from Altra.

All of the rules and information about the other prizes can be found here.

How many of you are participating in #RunChatHunt? If so, have you found all of the items on the list?

How many of you are finding it hard to be motivated to run or exercise lately?

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, and Happy #RunChatHunt!

Donna

 

 

 

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10 Things Travel Taught Me in 2017

In 2017 my travels took me to Las Vegas,Washington, Utah, where I ran a half marathonZion National ParkBryce Canyon National ParkAntelope CanyonBest Friends Animal Sanctuary in February, and Grand Canyon National Park in March. That’s a lot right there, so what did I learn in the first few months of 2017 from these places?

1). I learned I love visiting national parks even in the winter months (and I don’t like cold weather and snow). Bryce Canyon has a special feeling when you’re admiring partially snow-covered hoodoos and you’re surrounded by utter stillness and beauty.

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Snow-dusted Bryce Canyon

2). It’s possible and fun even to have a short stay in Las Vegas  with children and not spend much money. We had fun just wandering around, going through the massive casino hotels, taking in the views.

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Vegas, baby!

3). Volunteering when you’re on vacation rocks! One of the highlights of our time in Utah was our time at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. I’d love to do more things like this in the future.

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Hiking with our little overnight buddy at Best Friends

After some time at home, we were back out on our next travel adventure, beginning with New Jersey in May. I ran the Superhero Half Marathon  in Morristown, and I finally got to visit the Statue of Liberty in person. From New Jersey we were off to our first visit to South America, beginning in Santiago, Chile. After spending the night in Santiago, we spent a few days in Vina del Mar, which we fell in love with, and spent a week in the Las Cabras Region of Chile. This final place in Chile is where I learned so much about myself in relation to travel.

4). Sometimes it’s good to get out of your comfort zone. Not being fluent in Spanish, not having wi-fi (mostly for maps and things to do), and not knowing the area well will force you to interact more with local people and figure things out on your own. I found I was more resilient than I thought I was.

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Chile in all of its splendor!

5). I learned so much during my time in Chile, I made a list of 15 lessons I learned there. Probably the biggest thing I learned was to learn as much Spanish as possible before visiting the country. Don’t expect others to speak English, especially in more remote and smaller towns. This is a lesson for many other non-English-speaking countries as well.

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I loved hiking on this trail in Chile

6). I also learned Chileans are some of the warmest, friendliest, most helpful people I’ve encountered on my travels. We were blessed with the kindness of strangers on several occasions in Chile.

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Our little fox friend in Chile

In August, my family and I headed back to one of my favorite cities, Charleston, South Carolina. We were fortunate enough to experience the total eclipse and that was definitely the highlight of our time there. Even though we were only there for five days, I learned something.

7). Sometimes your family will get on your nerves when you’re traveling. My daughter hadn’t been sleeping well for many days before we even went on this vacation. That on top of not sleeping well because she was in a strange bed in a strange house resulted in one cranky eleven-year-old. She whined, complained, and I lost my cool on more than one occasion. I didn’t let it ruin my vacation, however. I know there will be days like this, even on vacation, when everything’s not all rosy.

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Morris Island near Charleston

In November, we had a little mini-vacation in Huntington, West Virginia when I ran the Marshall University Half Marathon. While we were only here for the weekend, I did manage to learn something.

8). Weekend or long-weekend getaways are a great way to explore small towns. You don’t always have to go away for a week or more and you don’t always have to go to exotic places to have fun. My family and I had more weekend getaways last year than this year and I had forgotten how nice they can be.

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Huntington, West Virginia

For our final vacation of 2017, we headed first to Malta then to Miami. I was very much looking forward to going to Malta since visiting the Gozo Salt Pans was on my bucket list. Malta exceeded my expectations as far as natural beauty of the islands (Malta is an archipelago of three islands), food, and just about every thing we saw and did. I have a series of posts about our time in Malta and there is one thing I learned during that vacation.

9). Mobile WiFi or MiFi can be a relatively inexpensive (roughly $10/day) but truly invaluable way to find your way around and stay connected when traveling internationally, especially if you’re driving a rental car. I have a post coming on this, so stay tuned!

Our time in Miami was spent a bit differently than many people would choose to vacation there since we were there to visit a dear friend of mine who lives there. We didn’t go to a single club or party at South Beach like many people would. Instead my friend took care of all of the planning for us and graciously took us to some of her favorite restaurants, on a tour of the Everglades, and to South Beach for the day to enjoy the ocean, play in the sand, soak in the sun, and thoroughly relax and enjoy ourselves. This brings me to the final thing I learned about travel this year.

10). Sometimes it’s nice to let someone else do all of the planning for you and just sit back and relax. You don’t always have to try to cram in a dozen “must-do” restaurants or things to do.

What about you all? Where has travel taken you in 2017 and what have you learned from it?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Running Highs and Lows of 2017

I didn’t run a lot of races in 2017, so there won’t be a ton here about races. I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states, for those of you that don’t already know. At this point, I’m running three half marathons a year mainly due to travel expenses and time off work but also because I’ve ran all of the southern states so my options are limited. I of course did run throughout the year, though, only taking time off after races and a bit more during the super hot and humid parts of August.

My first race of 2017 was the Dogtown Half Marathon in Washington, Utah in February. This race was the 39th state in my quest for a half marathon in all 50 states. It was below freezing at the start of the race and the cold air effected my breathing. The course was also much hillier than the elevation map led me to believe. However, my daughter, who ran the 5k, won second place in her age group. This was definitely a running high for me even though I didn’t personally win an AG award, because I was so proud of her. I somehow managed to finish sixth in my AG, and considering how difficult the course was, I was happy with that.

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My second race of the year was the Superhero Half Marathon in Morristown, New Jersey in May, my 40th state. This race was definitely a low point in my racing years. Despite doing my long training runs on a hilly route, the hills on this race course were just too much for me. My finish time was considerably slower than for previous races, and even my age group time was pretty disappointing for me.

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After the Superhero Half, I decided it was time to re-think my entire running plans. I started focusing on my core more, I started working on my glutes to help with Dead Butt Syndrome I felt like I was developing. I bought new shoes that were completely different than any other kind of running shoe I had ever worn. Finally, the hardest and most-intensive thing I did was trying to change my running gait. Initially, this was a running low for me, because just running a few steps was so much harder and my pace was so much slower. I kept working on it, though, and bit by bit it started to come together and get easier. My “new” running gait was more like my “old” running gait, which is how my body is supposed to run. Over the years I had developed a serious imbalance between my left and right legs, resulting in hyperextending my right leg when I landed, and this was definitely not “normal” for me.

When I started training for my third and final half marathon for the year, I put some focused effort into doing tons of hip stretches and hip openers. I continued working on my core and glutes, and I continued working on my gait until it began to feel like it should. I also read  “Runner’s World Your Best Stride” and did some of the exercises and other things mentioned in the book to help with my running gait. Finally after months of working on my right leg, my “new” running gait felt “normal.” It felt more like it used to years ago before this imbalance became so bad that it caused a series of events that led to my abnormal running stride.

For my half marathon in West Virginia, my 41st state, I chose to run the Marshall University Half Marathon in Huntington. This race could have gone badly depending on the weather. Usually in this part of the state, nighttime lows are in the 30’s and rain or even snow is not uncommon. In the days leading up to the race and even the morning of the race, there was a 40% chance of rain at 7 am, which was when the race start was, and a 60% chance of rain at 8 am. Rain and 30’s or even 40’s is not my idea of ideal racing conditions, but by some miracle, it was much warmer than usual for this time of year and the rain held off for the entire morning. I ended up running in overcast skies with temperatures in the low 60’s for most of the race. I know that’s a bit warm for most people, but it was just fine with me.

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The race was very well-organized, the course was flat with only one small hill, and it was pretty scenic for the most part, thanks to the natural beauty of the area. All of the leaves on the trees were at their peak for autumn, so everywhere you looked, you saw bright red, orange, and yellow leaves. There are also rivers around the area and some nice parks that we got to run by so it was a scenic course without hills, which is almost unheard of. The race director of the half I ran in San Juan Island  in Washington even put on their Facebook page “scenic= hills.” The Marshall University Half Marathon proves that’s not always true!

This race in West Virginia reminded me once again why I run half marathons. After my previous two races, I needed a good race to renew my faith in myself. Even though I felt nauseous for the first hour of the race, I had fun and truly enjoyed this race. The finish was truly invigorating and I had runner’s high like I hadn’t felt in some time. I also learned that it is possible to teach an old runner new tricks. Even in my 40’s I was able to change my running gait and successfully run a half marathon that way. I was glad I ended my running year on a high note! Also, my super-speedy 12-year-old daughter finished second in the 19 and under age group for the 5k. And she says she’s not fast!

How was your running year? Any highs or lows you’d care to share?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

I Almost Missed a Bucket List Item in Malta- Gozo Salt Pans

Before going to Malta, one of the things I knew I absolutely positively wanted to do was go to the salt pans in Gozo. It was on my bucket list because the photos looked so beautiful and I had never to been anywhere like it. We only had two nights in Gozo, and the first day included flying into Malta, taking the ferry to Gozo, checking into our apartment, and getting settled, which didn’t leave a whole lot of time.

On our second day in Gozo, we went to three historical sites, The Old Prison, Ggantija Temples, and the Ta’ Kola Windmill. The prison and windmill were my favorites of the three places. I especially liked learning the historical significance behind bread-making in Malta, which was powered by the windmill. The prisons were pretty extensive and included areas for men and women which you could see into, along with background information for the prison.

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We were ready go on a walk along the beach by our apartment and call it a day as far as things to do when I suddenly remembered the salt pans. Luckily they were within walking distance of our apartment and even more importantly it was still daylight.

Like so much of Malta, the salt pans were even better than I thought they would be. They reminded me a bit of Sunset Cliffs in San Diego, but were even better. When I first told my husband I wanted to see the salt pans in Gozo I could tell he was thinking, really? How interesting can salt pans be? But when we got there and he saw them, he understood and he was as much in awe as I was.

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These salt pans are a big reason why I wanted to go to Malta in the first place
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Trust me when I say it’s even more beautiful here than a camera can capture

So when you hear people like me go on about the salt pans in Gozo, just take our advice and go there to see them yourself if you’re ever in Malta. They’re one thing in life that’s completely free to see but is absolutely priceless to enjoy.

Has anyone else been to Malta? If so did you get a chance to go to Gozo?

Happy travels!

Donna

What my 40-Something Self Would Tell my 20-Something Runner Self

If only I could go back in time. How many times have any of you thought that? Well, if I could go back in time and specifically tell myself about running, there are quite a few things I could say.

I’ve always said I feel like I’ve always been a runner. As far back as I can remember, I remember running through my neighborhood and later running in college. Although I was on my school track and field team for a year, I usually just ran for fun on my own. As an adult, I didn’t even sign up for a race until after graduate school, but after that I was hooked on racing and began running longer and longer distances.

The sport of running has changed drastically since I first started running regularly in my 20’s. For the most part, things have improved over the years. Take running clothes for example. It was pretty common for people twenty years ago to run in cotton t-shirts, shorts, cotton socks, and whatever pair of athletic shoes you happened to already have. At least I wasn’t running in cotton, but I didn’t have a pair of athletic shoes specifically for running. I would just run in whatever pair of athletic shoes I currently was wearing. So I guess that’s where I would start, with what to wear.

1). There are a ton (with more coming all the time) of athletic apparel companies out there. Explore! Try them all out and find what really works for you and your body.

2). As far as running shoes go, definitely explore different brands and don’t just stick with the same brand for ten years. Mix it up and try different brands every year or so.

3). There’s way more out there than water and Gatorade for long runs. Look around online and pay attention to what other runners are fueling with. Don’t be afraid to try new things. If gels, gummies, and other similarly sticky substances aimed toward runners don’t suit you, no worries. Try, try, and try some more. Even when you’ve found something that doesn’t upset your stomach and gives you energy to make it through long runs, there’s nothing wrong with trying out something new. You never know; you might like it even better than what you’re currently using.

4). Don’t train for your first marathon by yourself. It’s one thing to run a 10 mile training run for a half marathon by yourself, but it’s an entirely different matter to run a 20 mile training run for a marathon by yourself. You’ll also want the advice and support from seasoned marathoners.

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I didn’t heed my own advice and trained for the Long Beach Marathon by myself. It didn’t go well, but mostly because of the extreme heat.

5). Join a running club. If you don’t fit in with one, try another and keep trying until you find one that’s like a second family. The support you’ll get from a running club will be invaluable.

6). You can get by with minimal stretching when you’re in you’re 20’s but later in life it will catch up with you. Join a gym where they offer yoga and go every single week. Buy a foam roller and use it after every single run. If you get into the habit of doing something early on, it will be easier to stick with.

7). Strength training is another thing that you can skip when you’re younger but it becomes more important as you get older. Focus on running-specific moves such as lunges, squats, and core-strengthening movements.

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Bridge is a great exercise for runners

8). Start a running blog and follow others. Similar to a good running club, the support you’ll get from your regular readers will be huge. Also, you’ll learn a ton from your  readers and the blogs you follow over the years.

9). Probably the biggest resounding theme for my advice to myself is to try new things when you’re training but not on race day. Be open to trying just about anything from what you wear, what you ingest before or during runs, and even who you run with. Just not on race day.

10). Finally, enjoy the ride! Don’t take yourself too seriously! You’ll still be a solid runner even if you don’t meet some goal time you’ve set for yourself. No one will judge you if you don’t finish a race in a certain time. You’re your own worst enemy when it comes to things like that.

What about you guys? What advice would you give to your younger running self?

Happy running!

Donna

Where in the World is Malta?

When I told some people I was going to Malta, the first thing they asked is “Where is Malta?” The truth is many Americans haven’t even heard of Malta let alone know where it is, but I realize for some Europeans Malta is a popular destination for relaxation and sun. When I first heard about Malta, I was fascinated by the independent nation’s rich history. Over the centuries, Malta has been ruled by the Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, and Arabs, just to name a few and these have all influenced Malta in one way or another. The wikipedia page has way more info than I’m going to go over here, but I truly found it fascinating.

So where is Malta? Malta is an archipelago of three islands off the coast of Sicily; the main island is simply called Malta, and two smaller ones are Gozo and Comino. For this vacation, we were going to spend a couple of days in Gozo then a week in Malta. Upon arrival at the Malta airport, we picked up a rental car and drove to the ferry terminal to take a ferry to Gozo. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t the greatest for sightseeing on our first day. It was chilly, very breezy, and kept spitting rain off and on. We braved the cold and took our positions on the top deck of the ferry, snapping dozens of photos and thoroughly enjoying the ride despite the less than ideal weather.

The ferry from Malta to Gozo was extremely easy logistically. We just parked our rental car in a queue, went inside the terminal to get some sandwiches, and by then it was time to pull the car up onto the ferry. You are only charged upon return from Gozo so we didn’t even have to buy tickets. After the 30 minute incredibly scenic ferry ride, we pulled the car off the ferry and were on our way!

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First views of Gozo from the ferry

After getting settled into the apartment we rented through hotels.com (they don’t just have ordinary hotel rooms; you can also find apartments, condos, farm houses, and other less conventional accommodations sometimes) we went out to get our bearings, pick up some groceries for dinner that night and breakfast the next morning, and get a snack from a local bakery. The buildings in Malta are mostly beige or tan in color and the landscape is very different from anywhere I’ve ever been. It reminded me in some ways of Crete but it seemed much greener in Gozo.

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Approaching the ferry terminal in Gozo

Since there wasn’t time to go to any historical sites (they all close at 5 pm) that would have to wait until the next day. We took a walk and popped in a couple of cute shops while we were out then went back to the apartment to cook dinner, take some much-needed showers, and just relax for the rest of the evening.

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Would you go down this ladder into the water?
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View from our balcony in Gozo

We mapped out our plans for the following day and watched the beautiful deep blue water from the living room. The best part about where we were staying was the view. You could see water from both of the bedrooms and the living room. There was also a balcony that wrapped around from the living room and both bedrooms. We discovered there was access to the rooftop but it was disappointing in that it was designed as purely utilitarian for drying clothes rather than for enjoying the view since it was blocked by parts of the roof.

My first impression of Malta was a positive one. I liked the landscape and scenery a lot, the people seemed friendly and helpful, and the food options were good. I was excited to spend the next week here exploring the islands.

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Next up- historical sites and one of my bucket list places! Have any of you been to Malta? Did you love it as much as I did? Or do you want to go now after reading about it?

Happy travels!

Donna

What’s in my Racing (Running) Bag?

Similar to “What’s in my Family’s Luggage” post, I thought I’d write one up on what I pack for a race. Since I’m currently on my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, and am up to 41 states, I have been packing a bag for a race for many years now. The contents of my pre-race bag have certainly changed as I’ve learned what works and doesn’t work for me.

To begin with, let me just re-iterate how much I love my packing cubes from ebags. I have the 3 piece set and love them so much I bought more for my daughter. If you are new to my blog, you may not be aware that my family and I never check a bag with an airline. Also, since I’m down to the last 9 states, there will be no more driving to a half marathon for me. I’ve already driven to all of ones that are within driving distance from my house and I’m not into cross-country driving before a half marathon.

I’ve always been able to condense all of my running gear except for my shoes, which I always wear on the airplane to the race, into a medium-sized packing cube. Almost always I’ll be running once or twice before the race as well, so I’ll also pack another running shirt, sports bra, socks, and shorts or other weather-appropriate bottoms in the cube.

So let’s get down to the nitty gritty. What exactly is in my running packing cube specifically for a half marathon?

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1. I always pack at least one sports bra and pair of socks, regardless of the weather and time of year. I learned the hard way at my half marathon in Missoula, Montana to pack a long-sleeve shirt and capris or pants even if it’s July and you think there’s no way you’ll need to wear anything but shorts and short-sleeves if you’re headed somewhere north of where you live. I consider these things my basics. I’ve been buying Ruhn sports bras lately and really like them so I’m packing one of those for my next race. For socks, I’m packing Balega blister resist socks that are made with mohair. My shirt is a short-sleeve from Arctic Cool that I reviewed and you can read that here if you’d like. My shorts are from Under Armour. The shorts and shirt obviously would be different if I was headed to a cooler race.

2. I always pack my running watch and charger. I’ve had multiple Garmins and more recently a TomTom over the years, but this is one piece of gear that’s always gone with me to my races.

3. I always pack sunglasses and a running hat. I’ll decide on the morning of the race if I actually wear the sunglasses and hat, depending on how sunny/hot/cold it is going to be.

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All my running gear neatly packed in a medium-sized packing cube

4. In more recent years I’ve started running races with my Nathan running belt. It’s got holders for two bottles, which I like better than ones that have a spot for one big bottle. I run all my races fueled by Nuun carried by me and have found that just works better for me. No surprises on what you’re going to get at aid stations, and if it’s going to settle well with you, and even better, no slowing down at aid stations to grab a cup and try to not slosh it all over yourself while still swallowing a few drops. Speaking of fuel, I also like Honey Stinger waffles. I have a finicky stomach on race day but I usually don’t have a hard time getting these down.

5. Also in more recent years, I’ve been running races with my phone and armband. After one race where the finish was an absolute mad house and I had trouble finding my husband and daughter because there were so many people (even though we agreed to meet in a specific spot ahead of time), I started just running with my phone for all races.

6. I always wear my running shoes to races where I have to fly to, so those don’t go in my packing cubes. My latest pair for long runs is the Newton Fate II, which you can buy directly from Newton here and I see currently they’re on sale. It looks like the Fate III’s are out now. Not sure if I’ll stick with Newton or switch brands. I’m debating switching brands just to mix things up.

7. I also have two things for after a race. The first one is compression socks. These are fantastic for long flights, whether or not you’re running a race. When you’re on a long flight, the blood in your legs tends to pool unless you get up and walk around the plane a lot, so compression socks help with circulation in your legs. I personally like ones from CEP and you can buy them from Amazon here. The rule of thumb when it comes to compression products is if they’re easy to put on and pull off, they’re not tight enough. These things should be difficult to put on and feel like a bit of a struggle, but in the end it’s worth it.

The second thing I have for after a race is new to me, but one I’m very excited about. I’ve just discovered Oofos sandals (thank you, Paula!) and couldn’t be more excited about a pair of sandals. If you haven’t discovered Oofos yet, they’re supposed to be great for recovery after running or just being on your feet all day. You can tell they’re supremely different than most other flip-flop type sandals the second you put them on. The support they give to your feet is incredible. I can see why they’re so popular with runners.

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I’m normally not a big fan of photos of people’s feet but I felt like my new Oofos deserved a photo!

So that’s everything. I feel like I’ve packed a bag for a half marathon so many times by now I barely even have to think about what I need to bring. It does make it a bit less stressful when packing at least.

Also, I have an affiliate link through ebags for $30 off your next order if you sign up for emails here.  I don’t often pass along links for ebags on my blog, but if you follow me on twitter @runningtotravel, I’ll sometimes post links there for discounts when they come along. I love their stuff, but I don’t want to seem like I’m too pushy (I wouldn’t be a very good salesperson).

What running gear or clothes do you all really like for half marathons or marathons? Any recommendations?

Happy running!

Donna