What Can Happen In a Decade? Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the half marathon in Utah

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

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

Happy running and travels!


Bursting the Happiness Bubble in Poor Countries

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

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

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

“Happy” children in Peru

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy travels!


Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run

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

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

Cotton shirt received at packet pickup

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

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

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

Some views along the course (taken the day before)

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

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

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

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

Race day photos

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

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

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

Happy running!


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