Exploring Grand Cayman Island on Foot-Crystal Caves, Botanical Gardens, Hiking a Trail, a Historical Site, and Hell

Previously, I wrote about the beaches and water-related parts of Grand Cayman Island, (Grand Cayman Island- Beautiful Beaches, Bioluminescent Water, Stingrays, and More) but the beaches and water aren’t the only beautiful and fun places to spend your time. If you enjoy exploring caves, you’ll love Cayman Crystal Caves. This 1.5 hour group tour through Cayman’s oldest landmark is one of the island’s newest natural tourist attractions. There are three caves, the roots cave, the lake cave, and the open-ceiling cave.

My favorite cave is the lake cave, which as you may guess from the name has a small lake in it. The color of the water is such a pretty shade of blue, and it is so peaceful in the cave. I can see why people used to come here on their own before the tour company took over and restricted entry. However, the stalactite and stalagmite crystal structures are extremely fragile, and without supervision, many formations were being broken.

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The Lake Cave

A cool bonus was we saw fruit bats in some portions of the caves. They were tiny little bats just hanging out (literally) in clusters, and one bat would occasionally fly from one side of the cave to another. We also saw tiny litte green tree frogs that the guide pointed out on the leaves of a couple of trees.

Tours are offered seven days a week at every hour starting at 9 am until 4 pm, except Good Friday and Christmas. Tickets are $40 for adults and $30 for children 12 and under. Be sure you wear appropriate footwear (i.e. not flip-flops).

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Bats at Cayman Caves!

We always love going to botanical gardens when we’re traveling and were happy to discover there is one in Grand Cayman Island. Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park is on the east side of the island, not far from the Crystal Caves. There are three garden areas, each very different from one another. The Heritage Garden has a restored Caymanian House showing how life was like in the Cayman Islands at the turn of the century. The Xerophytic Garden has plants like cacti and succulents that require minimal water to grow. My favorite is the Floral Colour Garden, with a series of gardens arranged by color and a gazebo and seating area overlooking a lily pond and waterfall.

There is also the Lake and Wetland area on the edge of a Buttonwood Swamp. We saw some birds in the water here and I was very excited to look over at a nearby tree and see several Green Cayman Parrots. As excited as I was to see the parrots, the blue iguanas were the real reason I wanted to come to the gardens.

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Blue iguana on our tour guide’s head at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Gardens

Blue Cayman Iguanas are highly endangered animals and you can see them on the Blue Iguana Safari, which is a behind the scenes tour of the breeding and recovery program. Our guide, Alberto, was entertaining and enthusiastic about the blue iguanas. He fed some of the iguanas from a plant growing throughout the gardens and held a couple of the more tame ones, although he did show us quite a few of his scars from bites and scratches. We saw a couple of blue iguanas in the park on our own but it wasn’t nearly the experience as from the tour so I’m glad we took the tour.

Very close to the Botanic Park is the Mastic Trail, a two mile trail (although really 4 miles since it’s out and back) that you can arrange a guided tour through for $24 or just do on your own for free (we hiked it on our own). The trail is well-marked and easy to follow. There are some areas where the footing is a bit tricky, but being in Grand Cayman Island where everything is pancake flat, Mastic Trail is the highest point of the island at 60 feet. It’s an easy out and back hike and the only trail on the island as far as I can tell. The trail is well-shaded and quiet. We didn’t see many birds but it was the afternoon; I expect you would see more birds in the morning when they’re usually more active.

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Mastic Trail

I have to briefly mention a unique little part of Grand Cayman Island, known quite simply as Hell. Hell is an area in West Bay the size of half a football field made up of limestone formations. Stories abound about how the area got its name but some think “A ministration exclaimed, ‘This is what Hell must look like.'” Sure, it’s touristy but it’s still fun to go and get your photo taken in Hell.

There are actually two stops here, side-by-side, one that looks like it has a post office and the other has a small tourist shop in the front. I noticed tour buses stopping at the place that looks like a post office in the front and people in rental cars stopping at the other place beside it. We chose the one where tour buses were not visiting and were greeted by an older man who cheerfully brought us out some props for photos and led us inside where his wife or companion gave us a tour of the place and took some photos of us. The woman told us about the limestone formations and pointed out some birds and other things while she gave us a commentary and history about the area. Afterwards, I looked it up and found there are a few other places called Hell, namely one in California, Michigan, and Norway, in addition to Grand Cayman Island. Still, it’s not every day when you can say you went to Hell.

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None other than Hell

Finally, we visited Pedro St. James National Historic Site, a three-story house built by William Eden, an Englishman, in 1780. This was a mansion in comparison to the other houses on the island at the time, which was just a tiny fishing village. Perhaps best known as the “Birthplace of Democracy in the Cayman Islands”, Pedro St. James was the venue for a meeting on December 5, 1831 where the decision was made to form the first elected parliament.

You can tour the house and grounds on your own for C.I. $10 (Cayman Island dollars) and there is a 20 minute movie inside Pedro Theater to give you some information about the house. Outside, there is a gazebo and gardens and a building with some historical photos and information and other items like historical stamps. When we were there, they were setting up for an event at the gazebo. No doubt there are many special events like weddings held here because of the beautiful setting, with the ocean as the backdrop. It was a nice way to end out time in Grand Cayman Island and we made our way to the airport to go back home after our tour of Pedro St. James.

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Having fun at Pedro St. James and wishing I didn’t have to leave Cayman!

Cayman Crystal Caves

Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park

Pedro St. James National Historic Site

Have you been to Grand Cayman Island and if so what did you think of it? Want to go now if you’ve never been? Have you been to Hell?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

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Some of My Favorite Running-Related Products

I’ve been a runner pretty much since I can remember. I took a few years off running when I was in college after getting some intensely painful shin splints. I was also super busy with classes and working my part-time job. Clearly I needed a bit of a break. After graduate school, I dove back into running and began racing and haven’t stopped since then.

Over the years, many things about running has changed. The apparel has gone from people just running in old cotton t-shirts, beat-up cotton shorts, tube socks (does anyone remember those atrocities), and athletic shoes normally worn for yard work or whatever you happened to have at the time to “performance” apparel made of material specifically meant to wick sweat away from the body and running shoes that are so high-tech some cost $250 (I’ve seen them selling for $350 on Amazon) and are so popular stores initially couldn’t keep them in stock (yes, Nike VaporFly 4% I’m talking about you). Nutrition has also radically changed over the years. When I was running in college (on my own, not on a team) the only option for me regarding options specifically geared toward athletes was Gatorade to drink and Powerbars to eat. Now there are so many different hydration and refueling options it could make your head spin or at least overwhelm a newbie runner.

I’ve tried many different running-related things over the years and would like to share some of my favorites here. I don’t receive free products from any of these companies and am not compensated in any way. Although I am a brand ambassador for Nuun, Honey Stinger, and Zensah, I receive discounts for their products but that’s it. I’ve entered into many giveaways and have never won anything from any of these companies, with the exception of a different product from a different company, which I will get into later.

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How many of my favorite running things can you pick out here? Flat Donna before a race last summer.

So I’ll begin with fueling since it’s something I feel is hugely important to running. Several years ago I began hearing about Nuun hydration from other runners so I gave it a try. I was currently bouncing around trying different hydration products but I wasn’t completely satisfied with any of them, until I tried Nuun. Honestly, once I tried my first tablet of Nuun, I was hooked and haven’t tried anything else since. If you’re not familiar with Nuun products, they use all-natural ingredients for all of their products, which include Nuun Sport, Nuun Immunity, Nuun Vitamins, and Nuun Performance. All of their products contain only 1-2 grams of sugar except Nuun Performance, which has 12 grams of sugar per serving and is meant for longer runs (over an hour) and/or runs that require more intense effort. What I like most about Nuun, besides the fact that it’s a healthy, hydrating product is all of the choices of flavors. If you try one kind and don’t care for it, try another; there’s bound to be a flavor you’ll like! Nuun products

Shortly after I discovered Nuun, I also discovered Honey Stinger. Like with hydration products, I was also bouncing around trying different things to eat before, during, and after running, especially for long runs. I have a pretty sensitive stomach and many things I would try to eat just wouldn’t sit well in my stomach and I’d end up with every type of stomach issue you can think of. Not so with Honey Stinger. I finally found something that I could eat before running (or during) and not get sick. In fact, a couple of hours before I run a half marathon I’ll eat a Cracker N’ Nut Butter Snack Bar (my favorite is almond butter and dark chocolate) and 15-20 minutes before the race starts, I’ll eat a waffle. Those two things along with Nuun Performance are enough to fuel me through the race and I never feel sick, have heartburn, burping, gas, cramping, or any of those other GI problems that runners sometimes feel when running a long distance. I like that Honey Stinger uses wholesome, organic, non-GMO ingredients whenever possible and True Source Honey. Honey, which has a low glycemic index so you don’t get that insulin spike and crash, is the main source of carbohydrates for all Honey Stinger products. Honey Stinger has a huge variety of products with many different flavors including gluten-free varieties so there’s really something for everyone. Link to Honey Stinger

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Three of my favorite running things!

The third company that I’m an ambassador for is Zensah. Zensah is best-known for their compression socks and cute themed running socks like mini-crew socks with dinosaurs, donuts, hearts for Valentine’s Day, aliens, bees, Day of the Dead, hot dogs, cupcakes, beer, watermelon, and many more with new themes being added all the time, like one of the latest, mugs of coffee for all the coffee lovers. The Zensah products that I love the most are the Grit running socks, compression socks, recovery tights, and sports bras. My feet have never blistered since changing to Zensah socks and I’ve even run in the rain with my Grit socks and my feet were absolutely fine when I got home. Likewise, I’ve never gotten chaffed when wearing my Zensah sports bras, which for someone who runs during the hot, humid summers of the south, this is huge. After wearing the recovery tights after long runs of 12 miles or more, I feel like my legs are less tired afterwards. I always bring my Zensah recovery tights to half marathons so I can put them on after the race and I definitely think they help with recovery. You can shop online at Zensah.com here. Although some local running stores have some Zensah products, you’ll find a much wider selection online, so try local first then go online and try to contain yourself!

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My Zensah Grit socks and a Honey Stinger waffle

Now on to headphones. When I discovered the headphones from Anker, it was a game-changer for me. First I had the SoundBuds Slim Bluetooth Headphone and loved them, then I tried the Spirit X Sports Earphones and also loved them. Both sets of headphones had excellent sound quality, long-lasting batteries, and are extremely affordable. I have a post on the Soundcore Spirit X Sports Earphones by Anker here  and the link to Anker’s audio products is here. I would still be using my Spirit X Sports Earphones if not for a bit of serendipity. I saw a contest on Instagram offering the chance to win a free pair of AfterShokz Trekz Titanium by a blogger I’ve been following for quite some time. Cut to the chase, my name was drawn in a random drawing and I WON! Now, I had been well aware of AfterShokz for at least a few years but had never bought a pair because, well, I was quite happy with the aforementioned headphones I had from Anker, and let’s face it, AfterShokz products are not cheap. For comparison, the Spirit X Sports Earphones are $39.99 compared to $99.95 for the Trekz Titanium. However, the technology is completely different so it’s like comparing a Toyota Camry to a Tesla Model S.

If you’re not familiar with AfterShokz products, they use bone conduction technology, so nothing goes into your ear canal. Transducers in the headphones guide mini vibrations through the cheekbones to the inner ears so there are small pieces that rest just outside your ears to deliver sound. I’ll freely admit I was skeptical at first- would they truly live up to the hype? When I first tried them, they did seem a bit odd. How could I hear what I was listening to without having things stuffed into my ears but people around me couldn’t hear it, AND here’s the kicker, I could also hear everything going on around me. What now? Yes, not only can you hear your music, podcast, or whatever you choose to listen to on the headphones but you can also simultaneously hear that car that’s coming up behind you or that person on the bike that’s getting ready to pass you but isn’t calling out. Talk about game changer. Just about the only drawback I’ve noticed with the AfterShokz Trekz Titanium headphones is it can be a bit hard to hear what you’re listening to if there’s a lot of ambient noise around you. They do come with earplugs for times like this, but I haven’t had to use them yet. I also haven’t flown with them and am curious about the quality on flights given how noisy airplanes are. I should add that AfterShokz has a pretty wide range of products including more affordably priced wired headphones and even accessories, plus they have some great bundle deals right now. Find all of the AfterShokz products here.

Finally, there are a couple of smaller things that I absolutely love and use all the time. I got a wool Buff several years ago and I swear it still looks brand new even though I’ve worn it on countless runs and traveled around the world with it. If you don’t have anything from Buff and aren’t familiar with them, the great thing about their products is they last forever (unlike say a bandana). The original is also extremely versatile; you can wear it a half dozen different ways and easily pull it around to adjust it mid-run if you need more or less coverage. Like everything else I’ve mentioned here, Buff has a wide range of products including hats, balaclavas, shirts, jackets, and headwear. Shop Buff online here.

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My hat-hating daughter happily borrowed my Buff to wear hiking in the Grand Canyon on a particularly chilly day!

The last running-related thing I’m loving right now is my Garmin watch and Garmin Connect. No, I don’t have the latest and greatest Garmin but I have the Forerunner 630. Over the years, I’ve had athletic watches by Polar, TomTom, and Garmin. I have to say my favorite has always been Garmin and now that I have Garmin Connect, it definitely pushes it over the top. I’ve had my current Garmin watch a little over a year now and it still works just as good as it did when I first got it. I’ve only rarely had to wait for it to pick up a GPS signal and then it was when I was in remote areas or extremely cloudy. Garmin Connect shows you all of the statistics from calories, heart rate, pace, speed, VO2 max, cadence, distance, time, elevation, and more. You can pull up reports and check your progress over the last week, month, or year. Garmin Connect also syncs nicely with Strava. Similar to Strava, you can also add “connections” meaning other people who use Garmin Connect and even arrange them by groups but I haven’t done that.

I  sometimes get discount codes I can share with others for Nuun and Honey Stinger products. If you follow me on Instagram at Runningtotraveltheworld and on Twitter at Runningtotravel I often post discount codes and other special offers there.

What about you guys- what running gear and running-related products do you love right now?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

Christmas at Biltmore Estate and Exploring Asheville, North Carolina

George Vanderbilt, whose family made its fortune in the railroad industry, chose Asheville, North Carolina for his “little mountain escape” summer home that lies along the French Broad River and called it Biltmore Estate. Built in the late 1800’s, it is the largest privately owned house in the United States, although in 1956 it ceased to be a family residence and continued to be operated as a historic house museum. The estate has 178,926 square feet (16,622.8 m2of floor space and 135,280 square feet (12,568 m2) of living area. The home was opened to the public in March 1930 at the request of the City of Asheville, and today brings in an estimated 1.4 million visitors per year.

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The library, one of my favorite rooms in the Biltmore Estate

You can tour the Biltmore Estate’s four floors and basement which includes 250 rooms (though not all are open to the public) including 35 bedrooms for family and guests, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, three kitchens and 19th-century novelties such as electric elevators, forced-air heating, centrally controlled clocks, fire alarms, and a call-bell system. There is even a swimming pool, gymnasium filled with what was then state-of-the-art fitness equipment, and a bowling alley in the basement.

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Winter Garden, another of my favorites

The grounds are definitely worth touring and include many different gardens, fountains and statues, a bowling green, an outdoor tea room, a terrace, conservatory, Bass Pond, restaurants, gift shops, and Antler Hill Village and Winery. There are many options for tours whether of the house or on the grounds from self-guided tours to rooftop tours to private tours and many others in-between. There are even winery tours and a motor coach tour where you learn about the history of the land, structures, and former residents while you tour areas not open to the general public.

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The Conservatory, which apparently is a fancy name for a greenhouse

I’ve been to the Biltmore Estate several times over the years, and have seen the house during all four seasons. I have to say Christmas at the Biltmore Estate is my favorite of any other time of year, although spring is a close second. I’m a big fan of Christmas decorations and the ones at the Biltmore Estate are every much as beautiful as you might imagine. Every room has at least one tree elaborately decorated and the lower parts of the house smell of gingerbread because of the enormous gingerbread house on display in one of the kitchens in the basement.

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Yes, it does get crowded at the estate during the weeks around Christmas and New Year’s, so be sure to get reservations for entry far in advance. The house doesn’t feel too crowded for the most part (there are a couple of places where people tend to bottleneck) thanks to the timed entries during the holidays. Don’t worry if the Candlelight Evening tickets are sold out and you’re left with tickets during the day because you’ll still enjoy the lights inside the house even if it’s daylight out. If you plan on eating at one of the restaurants on-site, you’ll want to get reservations in advance as well.

If you’d like to stay at one of the hotels on the grounds, you have three options:  The Village Hotel, The Inn, and The Cottage, with each place going up in amenities and price. There are also plenty of nearby hotels and houses through Airbnb. If you follow this link, you’ll get a discount through Airbnb:  Airbnb discount link.

Asheville Regional Airport has daily flights to Atlanta, Charlotte, Washington, D.C., and Chicago and seasonal service to many other cities including New York, Denver, and some cities in Florida. If you fly into Asheville, you can either rent a car or take an uber, although if you plan on going to the Blue Ridge Parkway or other areas to hike, you’ll want a rental car.

Asheville has plenty of other things to see and do besides the Biltmore Estate, especially if you like outdoor activities. As I mentioned above, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a short drive away, as is a plethora of hiking and camping options. There are so many options it would be crazy to list them all, but I’ll throw out a few I’ve personally been to, all of which are an hour or less from Asheville:  Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pigsah National Forest, Black Mountain, Chimney Rock State Park, Dupont State Forest, and if you venture a bit further (about 2 hours from Asheville) there’s a cluster of great places to check out that includes Linville Falls, Blowing Rock, Grandfather Mountain, and Boone.

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Hiking with Libby and Chile near Asheville

If you’re a foodie, Asheville won’t disappoint you on that end either. Again, the options are endless for great places to eat, with places for every budget. For a splurge, try one of the restaurants at the Biltmore Estate like Deerpark Restaurant or Biltmore Estate Dining Room. Curate is a popular spot for tapas and Biscuit Head came highly recommended to us by someone who lives in Asheville but the line was crazy long out the door and we weren’t willing to brave the cold weather for it. We loved White Duck Taco Shop for their huge selection of tacos and Early Girl Eatery for great breakfast offerings.

My favorite restaurant of all has to be Sierra Nevada Taproom, which is near the Asheville Airport and yes this place deserves a paragraph entirely to itself. All I have to say is this place is like no other brewery I’ve ever been to (and I love breweries). The food at breweries is usually pretty good, but the food at Sierra Nevada is so crazy over-the-top good it makes me hungry just thinking about it. It gets super-crowded, so get here early for lunch (or dinner but they seem to be less crowded for lunch) and if you’re lucky you won’t have to wait for a table. They also have tours but we didn’t take a tour because of the timing of things, but I’d love to go back and take a tour. They also have a great outdoors area with games and fire pits, plus they have special events like dinners and concerts. Make this a must-do place if you’re ever in Asheville and like breweries and/or incredible food. Just know it isn’t cheap, but it’s so worth it.

Finally, here are a few other options for spending some time in Asheville. The River Arts District is great if you like art (Asheville is filled with fantastic artists), WNC Farmers Market is open daily year-round, Grove Arcade is a beautifully designed place to do some shopping and dining, and if you’re into antiques, check out the Antique Tobacco Barn.

I also have a post on Asheville when I went camping there one summer, which you can read here. This post is focused more on outdoor pursuits such as hiking, camping, and waterfalls in the area.

Final tips: Purchase your tickets for Biltmore Estate at least seven days in advance to save up to $10 on each daytime admission. If you’re going during the holiday season, purchase your ticket at least a couple of weeks in advance, and even longer out would be better if you have a specific day and time in mind. Christmas at Biltmore runs from early November through the first week of January, with the house being open 365 days a year. Reservations are required during high volume days, which you can find on their website.

Biltmore website

Have any of you been to the Biltmore Estate and/or Asheville? Is it on your list of places you’d like to go to?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Book Review- Run the World by Becky Wade

If you could have done anything after college for one year all expenses paid, what would it have been? Becky Wade is a runner who applied for the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which is awarded to 40 graduating college seniors to fund a dream year. She was a runner at a college in Texas and chose to spend her time in foreign running communities, searching for unique and common ways people approach running and build their lives around it. In the 12 months (beginning July 24, 2012) she spent in England, Ireland, Switzerland, Ethiopia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Sweden, and Finland, she talked to recreational runners and coaches, followed the same lives as professional runners, interviewed running historians and retired legends, watched and competed in local races, and explored running routes with locals.

Wade originally came up with a list of five countries that evolved into 22 countries, some of which were spent briefly in transit. In many of the countries, she had cooking lessons by a local runner and includes a recipe at the end of each chapter of her book. Speaking of food, she found that oats, muesli, and pancakes are the breakfast of champions and there is never enough tea for runners. Other similarities Wade discovered are that Sundays are universal long-run days, kilometer repeats are a common foundation workout, and distance runners with the luxury to do so treat afternoon naps very seriously.

In the chapter on her time in England, she explains how she met up with Kenyan runners who taught her her the importance of warming up naturally, running by feel, and always wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts regardless of temperature. Runners in Switzerland taught Wade the importance of mountain trails and altitude training. She went up again in elevation when she moved on to the running training camp and hotel complex Yaya Village at 9000 feet in Ethiopia. In Australia, she joined the Melbourne University Athletics Club annual team trip and later ran in Melbourne.

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Becky Wade finished 3rd at the Chevron Houston Marathon on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017. Photo: Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle

Arthur Lydiard, running coach from Auckland, New Zealand, is attributed with starting the first global jogging boom, which was brought to the United States after US coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman visited Lydiard in Auckland. Wade ran the famous 22 mile Arthur Lydiard’s Waiatarua Circuit, considered a marathon predictor. In Japan, Wade joined an international running club, saw an acupuncturist with her first exposure to western medicine, and went to an onsen. Ending in Sweden and Finland, she experienced Finnish saunas, which are similar to onsens in that both are filled with rituals and are experienced in groups, without clothing. She also discovered competitive Finnish orienteering and was able to watch Jukola, one of the largest and most historic relay orienteering competitions in the world.

Five months after returning home to Texas, Wade ran the 2013 California International Marathon (CIM) for her marathon debut. The plan all along was to gain valuable insight from runners around the world, and pick and choose what to apply to her own training. It appears her year-long travels were a success, if her results at the CIM are any indication of this. Wade was the first female at CIM, with a time of 2:30:48, good enough for a qualifying time for the Olympic Trials and third fastest marathon time for a woman under 25.

So, what did I think of the book? I truly enjoyed it, perhaps not surprisingly, since it combines my two favorite things, running and traveling. I found the book well-written and liked reading about the friendships she gained over the year and how each country approaches long-distance running. There were several take-aways for me from the book, with probably the most important to take rest and recovery as seriously as logging the miles.

If you’re looking for an entertaining book about running and different running cultures around the world, I hope you get a chance to read this book and I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did!

Link to book on Amazon

Beckyrunsaway.com

Have any of you had the opportunity to run with running groups during your travels? Have you gained any tips from running groups in other countries?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Runnin’ Down a Dream- Being Part of an Online Running Group

I’ve always thought of myself as more of an independent runner, although the idea of running with a group always appealed to me on one level. Since I’ve always got specific half marathons that I’m training for, I always thought it would be too difficult to run with a group because they would ultimately have to conform to my running schedule or I would have to alter my schedule. I know other people run with local groups all the time and they’re training for a specific race that perhaps no one else in the group is training for, and they make it work.

Many years ago I joined a local running group and I went to the monthly meetings. They would bring in people to talk about running-related things and they would talk about specific runners in the group and events they recently completed. I don’t remember going to any running meet-ups with the group, though, and I never really clicked with any of the members. After being a part of the group for several months, I finally quit going to the meetings. This is probably not a great example since I never actually ran with any of these people.

Then I was approached in April 2018 by a blogger I know to join her online running group (well, she and her husband used to have separate blogs but they haven’t posted anything in quite some time). I agreed to join the RunninDownADream Squadrunner team. Squadrunner is an app with an easy premise. You run, import your data (linked to Strava, RunKeeper, Fitbit, MapMyRun, Runtastic, or Endomondo), answer the daily quiz for bonus points and boost a teammate. There is a daily mission that varies usually from 30 minutes, a specific number of miles, or a team mission where everyone from the team can contribute. If you complete the mission within 24 hours of it posting (and hit accept mission on the app before you run) you get bonus points on top of the points you receive for your run. In short, you get points for running, with distance, speed, and elevation factored in.

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The Squadrunner app

Teams are ranked by number of points and since joining the team, our group has consistently ranked in the “Golden Wolf” to “Silver Wolf” rankings. White Wolf is the number one team, followed by Diamond Wolf (teams 2-9), Golden Wolf (teams 10-29), Silver Wolf (teams 30-59), Bronze Wolf (teams 60-99), and so forth, down to Teddy Beta Wolf (teams 550-669). Teams are up to 20 people although some teams don’t have the full 20 people; teams with less people would obviously earn less points than teams with 20 people. Points accumulate for each month then go back to zero on the first day of every month, to re-start, but teams retain the medal they earned for that month. Our team currently has 6 gold medals and 7 silver medals.

I’ll have to admit being part of this team has influenced some of my runs, especially if I’m boosted by a teammate. Each team member can boost one person a day, giving them 10% more points while they’re boosted, for a maximum of 3 boosts from three different people for 30% more points for that run. You feel like you’re just wasting those extra points if you don’t run when you’re being boosted. It’s also made me run a bit faster if I’m boosted, wanting to get the full benefits from the boost.

Of course the best part of being part of this online running group has been the camaraderie. Over the past several months I’ve gotten to know most of the members fairly well, who are scattered throughout the US, Canada, and Europe. We chat on a private online message board using an app that we’ve all joined (different from the Squadrunner app). People sometimes post photos of their runs, running-related gear, or more personal things like photos from pets or vacations, or simply make comments about their day or events. Some are more chatty than others but I feel like it’s a space where we can all be ourselves and share pretty much anything we want. Our group is filled with some truly inspiring people and I’m happy to be a part of such a great group of people. I’ve long believed that runners are the best kind of people, and this group surely attests to that.

Probably some day I’ll join a local running group but in the meantime, I’ve got the Runnin’ Down a Dream team!

Are any of you part of a running group, either in person or online? If so, what have your experiences been like? Would you like to join our group?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

Grand Cayman Island- Beautiful Beaches, Bioluminescent Water, Stingrays, and More

If you follow my blog, you may recall I had a teaser post before the holidays on Grand Cayman Island, 10 Reasons to Skip the Cruise and Stay in Grand Cayman Island Instead. Now I’d like to dive a bit deeper in this caribbean island, beginning with the beaches. Seven Mile Beach is a world-renowned beach on the northern part of Grand Cayman Island with some of the softest powder white sand you’ve ever ran your fingers or toes through and turquoise blue water so crystal clear you can see six feet or more straight to the bottom. This is one of my favorite beaches I’ve ever been to. Parts of the beach can get crowded, especially when the cruise ships have just dropped off their load of passengers.

However, there are ways around the crowds, such as going to a part of the beach behind one of the many hotels. You may have to pay a few dollars to rent a chair and a few more for an umbrella or maybe you’ll get lucky like I did and your hotel has an arrangement with one of the hotels (Royal Palms in my case) and you can snag a chair at no charge (though we did have to pay for the umbrella) and not have hordes of people around you either. Many people assume you have to stay at a hotel to use their beach area, but this usually isn’t the case, at least not in Grand Cayman Island.

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Seven Mile Beach lives up to the hype

There are of course many other beautiful beaches in Grand Cayman Island, each with their own unique properties. Rum Point is a small beach area with shallow, clear waters and a handful of restaurants. Spotts Beach is a small beach area with some shade provided by palm trees where you can spot some turtles off past the pier if you’re lucky. East End Beach is on a more quiet end of the island with several restaurants and some shops nearby. Governor’s Beach is also a beautiful beach located near the Governor’s House and is part of Seven Mile Beach.

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Spotts Beach

One of the most unique features of Rum Point is the bioluminescent water on moonless nights. I was lucky enough to see bioluminescent water in Long Beach, California and when I saw Grand Cayman Island also has bioluminescent water, I jumped on the chance to experience it again. If you’ve never seen bioluminescent water, the best way I can describe it is when you drag your hand along the water, it’s like you’re seeing pixie dust. There are tiny plankton in the water that emit bioluminescence when they’re touched (even though you can’t feel them). We took kayaks out with Cayman Kayaks and it was an hour and a half of pure magic. I wish I had some photos but we were told to leave our cameras behind because they wouldn’t capture the bioluminescence.

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Beach in East End

We also went snorkeling with Red Sail Sports off the coast of Rum Point to an area known as Stingray City. While the coral reef wasn’t the most colorful or biggest I’ve snorkeled through, it was still one of my favorite things to do on the island. We saw loads of colorful fish in the coral and even an eel that would occasionally pop its head out of the coral. The stars of the show, though, were the stingrays. Countless stingrays were hanging out in this shallow sandbar where we could stand while the graceful creatures floated by us. Some of the guides would pick up a stingray and let snorkelers touch, hold, or kiss a stingray. The guides said if you kissed a stingray you’d have seven years of good luck.

Finally, also in the Rum Point area is Starfish Point. Some of the snorkeling trips took people here, but we had a rental car so we just drove here on our own. True to the name, there are dozens of starfish here. Technically, starfish should be called sea stars, since they aren’t fish, just like jellyfish should be called jellies, but they’ve been called starfish and jellyfish for so long, their proper names will probably never fully catch on. As a scientist it’s a pet peeve of mine, but I know I digress.

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Starfish Point

Grand Cayman Island has warm waters year-round, so you can always find something water-related to do regardless of the time of year. The coldest the water gets is around 78 degrees in February, so even then you could have your choice of how to spend your time in paradise.

Have any of you been to Grand Cayman Island? Did you love it as much as I do? If you haven’t been, are you ready to go now? What Caribbean island(s) is/are your favorite?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Running Resolutions for 2019

This time last year I posted my so-called Running Resolutions for 2018, but if you read the entire post, you would have seen it was filled with hugely exaggerated tongue-in-cheek largely unobtainable goals meant more as a joke and certainly not meant to be taken seriously. That is until you got to the very end with my final resolution, which was the only true resolution, “Number 10- I will not take myself so seriously when it comes to running and I’ll forget every single one of resolutions one through nine!” For the record, I didn’t achieve any of those resolutions in 2018 except for number 10!

You may have guessed by now that I’m not normally a New Year’s resolutions kind of gal. I’ve always felt like if that’s what you want to do, that’s your business, but I never really got into the whole idea of making resolutions for the year. I do see the merit of having goals to strive for, but I just never sat down and formally wrote mine out.

All of this is leading me to my point in writing this post, which is I actually have a resolution for 2019, yes, a single resolution, or more like a goal really. I know by putting it out here for the whole world to read makes it more real, but here goes. I want to finish in the top three for my age group in one of the half marathons I’m running this year. There I said it. That doesn’t seem too unreasonable, does it? After all, I finished fourth in my age group at the last half marathon I ran in Arkansas, White River Half Marathon, Cotter, Arkansas-44th state and I was even dealing with anemia then, so I certainly wasn’t in peak fitness.

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I was so close to an AG group top 3 finish in Arkansas!

Looking back, the last time I placed in the top three in my age group was at the McKenzie River Half Marathon, Oregon- 36th state in March 2016. This was in Eugene, Oregon, the mecca of running and home of former runner Steve Prefontaine. Just ask any runner who Steve Prefontaine was and I’d be shocked if they couldn’t tell you unless they’re too young to know. He’s one of the most famous runners in American history. But I digress. My point is if I could place in the top three in my age group in Eugene, Oregon, where running is in these people’s blood, I should be able to do it again somewhere else.

Now, you should know I only have three half marathons planned for 2019, one in the spring (the date for a race I want to run in Delaware hasn’t been announced yet), one in Wyoming in the summer, and one in Nebraska in the fall. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of chances for me to reach my goal. I’m pretty much throwing out the race in Wyoming because based on the previous couple of years finish times for women in my age group, I don’t have a chance, coupled with the fact that it will be at almost 6,000 feet of elevation, I’ll be lucky to finish in the top 10 in my age group! That leaves the ones in Delaware and Nebraska. Both will be possible, but I’ll have to fight for a spot in the top three for both. However, if I have to run my second choice race in Delaware, I pretty much don’t have a chance for that one, which means it all rests on Nebraska if I don’t run my first choice race in Delaware.

Even if I don’t finish in the top three in my age group at any of the half marathons I’ll be running this year, I know I’ll still have fun trying! Delaware, Wyoming, and Nebraska will be states 45 through 47 in my quest for a half marathon in all 50 states, and I’ve never been to any of these states. No matter how the races go, I’ll still enjoy myself before and after the race with my family; that’s the great thing about a racecation, even if the race isn’t that great, you still get a nice vacation out of it (hopefully)!

In other news, I’ve been chosen to be a part of nuun hydration’s legacy ambassador program! Woo hoo! I’ve been a huge fan of their products for a few years now and am honored to be a part of this group. I’m also part of Honey Stinger’s ambassador program again, which I’m also excited about. If you haven’t tried Honey Stinger’s cracker ‘n nut butter bars, you should give them a try! I’ll be sure to pass along discounts for you guys when I get them throughout the year. If you don’t already follow me on Instagram, you can find me there at runningtotraveltheworld or on Twitter at runningtotravel. I often post discounts on both places when I get them.

How about you guys- do you have any running resolutions for 2019?

Happy running!

Donna