Running Questions and Answers a.k.a. Get to Know Me Better

I’m following up on an idea from a blog post by TracyNicole at The Writing Runner. I have borrowed some of her questions and included some of my own as well, so thanks TracyNicole!

I know some of you have been following my blog for a while, and others may be new followers or maybe you just stumbled upon my blog and haven’t read a single other post by me. Regardless where you fall into those cases, I’m quite sure I’ve never addressed the questions I’m going to put here. So, I’m providing a bit of an insight into myself and encourage you guys to post comments about some or all of the questions that follow. It’s meant to be purely for fun, so let’s go!

When did you start running?

I ran on the track team in grade school for two years, fifth and sixth grade. I still remember running with some of my team mates on days so cold it made my lungs ache but I loved the feeling I got when I ran and pushed my body hard. When I started junior high school I decided not to run in school but just ran for fun on my own. I also didn’t run on the high school team but continued to run when I felt like it and this went on throughout college until I developed shin splints. After taking a few years off of running, I ran my first race as an adult when I finished graduate school and haven’t stopped since.

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Not my first race by any means but I always liked this race photo for some reason

What do you consider to be the hardest distance to train for and/or race?

Hands-down the marathon is the hardest distance to train for. When I was training for the one and only marathon I ran, the Long Beach Marathon, I felt like the time it took to train was like having a part-time job. I was also injured with what seemed like one thing after another. Back then, I really had no idea what I was doing when it came to training for a marathon. I just followed some training plan I found online but I knew nothing really when it came to proper fueling, stretching, cross-training, or any of the other things that go along with long-distance running, even though I had run at least a few half marathons by that point.

I think the hardest distance to race is the 5k. The distance is just long enough that you can’t run all-out for the entire race but you can’t warm-up into it and speed up later like you can in a longer race like a half marathon. The 5k is an intimidating distance to me, even though I’ve run 46 half marathons, a marathon, a 10k, 15k, and 10 miler. I would rather race any of those other distances than a 5k.

Describe some of your favorite race courses.

One of my favorite races ever is the Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon in South Dakota. This course was downhill through a beautiful canyon surrounded by trees with water views along the way. I loved every second of the race. Not surprisingly, this was also my fastest half marathon to date. I also think the course for the Famous Potato Half Marathon in Idaho is one of my favorites. Similar to the race in South Dakota, this race in Idaho also began in a canyon and had several water views along the way. Apparently I really enjoy running races through canyons. That being said, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to run the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim and not in a million years the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim.

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This photo from the race start of Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon doesn’t do it justice

Are/Were either of your parents runners or active in other sports?

Absolutely not. Both of my parents weren’t even the slightest bit interested in sports of any kind. My mom couldn’t and still can’t ride a bike or swim and never even went on regular walks. My dad had a physically demanding job with odd hours so when he was home (before my parents got divorced anyway), he was often sleeping or working on his car or tinkering on things around the house. I didn’t inherit the running bug from either of them!

What is one weird/unusual thing you do as a runner that most other runners don’t?

I’d rather run outside in the early evening during the summer when it’s 90 degrees than get up early to run before work even though it would be 20 degrees cooler. In other words, I’ll run in 90 degree weather over 70 degree weather if it means I don’t have to get up early. Crazy? Probably.

Do you have a bucket-list race?

Not really. Sort-of I guess. Since I’m only running half marathons in the US now (only 6 more states to go!), I’m pretty limited with my choices now to make sure I finish all 50 states. Once I’m done with all 50 states, I would like to run Seawheeze in Vancouver. I’ve been dying to go to Vancouver, I hear this is a fun race, and I love racecations, so I think this one would fit the bill perfectly.

What about you guys? Let me know some interesting running info about you! Feel free to answer some or all of the questions I’ve posted here.

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

 

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What Did and Didn’t Work for Me in Relation to Running in 2018- Good Decisions and Bad Decisions

I got the idea for this post when I was listening to a podcast I often listen to called Marathon Training Academy. On the podcast, the hosts Angie and Trevor were discussing taking action and setting goals for running. At one point, Angie was talking about some things that she did during 2018 that were good decisions that ultimately helped her achieve some of her goals for the year. Likewise, not all of her decisions were the best which ended in not-so stellar results. Marathon Training Academy podcast link

While I was listening to the podcast and running, my mind began to drift to some of the running decisions I made in 2018 and how things ended up as a result of those decisions. I’d say overall, 2018 was a roller coaster for me when it comes to running. Right off the bat in January I wanted to do things a little differently and wrote about it in my post Shaking Things Up a Bit. One of the biggest things I changed is going from running hard three days a week with an emphasis on cross-training (with no easy running days) to running five days a week.

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Running in the Canary Islands in my Topo shoes that turned out to be a poor purchase

I wasn’t sure how my body would handle those extra running days but honestly I feel like it was a great decision for me and my body. The training plan seemed considerably harder than what I was used to, but I would say I handled it well and didn’t end up with injuries, other than some caused by running gear that wasn’t right for my body, which I’ll get into later. The training plan I followed for my half marathons in Idaho-42nd stateAnchorage, Alaska-43rd state, and Arkansas-44th state allowed me to finish in times that I was mostly happy with, but again, I’ll get into more details on that later. More importantly, I was able to follow the plan and only rarely did I find myself not having enough time to fit all of the runs in as specified.

Early in 2018 I also began Heart Rate Training, which honestly wasn’t anything that did much for me either way. Maybe I didn’t give it long enough (I’ve heard you really need to spend several months or even a year on it for you to really see changes) or maybe I just wasn’t doing it like I was supposed to. Either way, I’m not sure I would spend a ton of time on heart rate training again unless there was a specific reason I was seeking it out, like I had plateaued and felt like I needed to try something else to get faster or have more endurance.

A decision I made that ended up to be one of the worst decisions I made in 2018 was to try new shoes without fully understanding the mechanics behind them and how they would work for me. I vowed early in the year to try new shoes instead of sticking with the same brand and style for years on end like I previously had, so I tried two brands that were completely new for me, On and Topo. Not long after running with these shoes, I began experiencing calf tightness and pain when I would run. It got so severe I would have to stop and stretch my calves and my feet started falling asleep when I was running. Initially I thought surely it’s not both pairs of shoes that’s causing my problems, but yes, it really was both pairs of shoes. I finally looked into the shoe specifics and learned that both pairs that I was running in had a much lower heel-toe offset than I was used to. You can read all about the details on that here. I switched to running shoes with a 10 mm heel-toe offset and haven’t had any calf issues since then. Lesson learned, no matter what you may hear, minimalist shoes are not for everyone, and that’s perfectly fine.

One of my better decisions was to do more trail running. That not only helped me cope with the hot, humid weather since it was cooler on the shady trails but it also undoubtedly strengthened my ankles and feet. I won’t lie, though, summer was tough to get through. I couldn’t take any time off from running during the summer since I had a race in Alaska in August and after that I had to pretty much jump right into my next training plan for the race in Arkansas in November.

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Rediscovering trail running

In 2018 I ran my first “fun run,” Color Vibe 5k,in September and honestly I can’t say now if I think it was a good decision or a bad decision to run it. I had very mixed emotions after that race, mostly because of it not being a timed race. Apparently I’m too competitive to run a race that’s not timed, and this is coming from someone who has only rarely (three times to be exact) placed in the top three in my age group, one time each at first, second, and third place. I think I need to see an official time if I’m going to run a race, otherwise I’ll just go out and run on my own. I also now have mixed feelings about running a timed 5k in 2019. I’ve only ever run three 5k’s in my life; my first race ever, with my young daughter at her first 5k, and this fun run. Although I feel like I’m long overdue to see what I’m capable of running a 5k at, I’m not sure I want to put myself up to that test. Let’s face it, to truly race a 5k is tough, much tougher than a half marathon, in my opinion. Do I really want to do that to myself? I’m not sure that would be the best decision for me.

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Color Vibe 5k

To cope with the abnormally long summer that stretched well into fall, I began exploring new running routes and other ways to fight boredom on my runs. This in itself was a good decision but I began to develop other issues unrelated to my running route or the heat. Gradually I began to notice my runs were getting harder and I was out of breath more and more. I chalked it up to the heat and humidity but when things finally started to cool off and I was even more out of breath than normal, I went to the doctor to get my iron levels checked. Sure enough, I was anemic once again (I have a history of it). The even worse news is this was just a couple of weeks out from my next half marathon in Arkansas in November. No way were my iron levels going to get anywhere close to normal before the race since they were so low.

I made the decision to run the half marathon despite being able to barely run a mile on training runs without getting out of breath. To my shock and awe, I ended up running one of my fastest half marathons in quite a while in Arkansas, thanks to the downhill course and nice weather conditions. Running that half marathon and especially finishing it strong was definitely a good decision for me. I have no doubt my doctor would have told me to not run the race, had she known, but if I hadn’t run it, I wouldn’t have known what my body is capable of even when it’s not at peak condition.

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Finishing strong at the half marathon in Arkansas

That pretty much ended the year for me as far as running goes. I decided to take it easy in December and let my iron levels come back up so I just ran when the weather wasn’t too bad and I felt like running. Since my iron levels have come back up, I’ve been experimenting with pushing myself even more. I’ve seen some split times on runs that I haven’t seen in years and I owe that to the ability to push through the pain and focus more on the mental aspect of running, some tricks I picked up after reading Deena Kastor’s book “Let Your Mind Run,” which I have an upcoming review on.

What about you guys? Do you reflect back on the previous year to figure out what worked for you and what didn’t work? This is the first time I’ve done this for an entire year, although I’ve done it for individual races before.

Happy running!

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

What Travel Taught Me in 2018

I always like to re-cap my year in travels by noting all of the things I learned while I was traveling. Let’s jump right into it! My first vacation in 2018 was to the Canary Islands, (a group of Spanish islands off the coast of west Africa), beginning with Carnival in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands. Other than going to Carnival, I saw and did many things in Gran Canaria and Tenerife. I did a lot of hiking in Gran Canaria and Tenerife, went to a science museum, historical sites, and winery, natural parks and botanical gardens, and went to many beaches.

My first travel lesson I learned for 2018 came from going to Carnival. Either choose your accommodations very far in advance (several months to a year) so you can find a place within walking distance from the parade route or if you have a rental car like I did, park your car in a place where you won’t be blocked off by the parade route when you want to leave.

The second most important thing I learned in the Canary Islands is having a rental car is by far better than taking the bus to get around the islands. Driving in the Canary Islands is pretty easy for the most part. I found locals to be courteous drivers and not overly-aggressive. One of the worst parts about driving in the Canary Islands is how narrow some of the side roads are. I recommend getting a small rental car. Overall, the roads in Tenerife seem to be a bit wider than in Gran Canaria in general.

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Carnival in Gran Canaria, Canary Islands

A third thing I learned in the Canary Islands relates to going from one island to another. Choices for inter-island hopping include taking a ferry or flying. When I checked into prices and options for going from Gran Canaria to Tenerife, the prices weren’t hugely different to fly versus take a ferry. We enjoyed the ferry to the San Juan Islands in Washington in the US and from Gozo to Malta so much that we decided to take the ferry to Tenerife. This was a mistake. The water was so rough both my daughter and husband were sick the entire time so they didn’t even enjoy it. Honestly, there isn’t much to look at either other than the water. Next time I would fly for sure.

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One of my favorite photos from the Canary Islands

A few months after going to the Canary Islands, I spent some time at one of my favorite theme parks, Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia. In 2017, I had gone to Colonial Williamsburg and spent very little time there, so this year I decided to get Spring Bounce Tickets, which include admission to both Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg. My family and I spent four nights in Williamsburg and we were able to get our fill of the rides and shows at Busch Gardens plus see what we wanted to at Colonial Williamsburg. My lesson here was that Spring Bounce tickets are perfect for a few reasons:  1) It’s not quite as hot and humid as it will be if you wait until later in the summer to go, 2) You have up to a week to use your tickets, 3) You’ll save money by purchasing tickets this way.

Almost straight after going to Williamsburg, Virginia, I flew to Idaho for a racecation. Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon in Boise was state number 42 for me. After the race, we had a great time hiking all around the Boise area and discovered just how beautiful Idaho is (you can read about our adventures in Boise here). I learned Idaho has to be one of the most under-rated states in the United States in my opinion, especially by east coasters, many of whom don’t even know for sure where Idaho is and all they relate it to is potatoes. It is one of the most beautiful states I’ve been to, and is full of outdoor activities year-round.

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Beautiful Boise, Idaho!

A couple of weeks after returning home from Idaho, I went to Charleston, South Carolina, one of my favorite cities in the United States. I’ve written about Charleston before and it’s one of the few places that I’m happy to return to time after time. Even after having visited Charleston many times, I learned that there’s always something new to experience in Charleston. On my last visit, I went on a walking tour and went to a raptor center.

In August, I went to Alaska for another racecation, beginning in Anchorage, where I ran the Skinny Raven Half Marathon, my 43rd state. My family and I decided to skip the ever-popular Alaskan cruise and instead rented a car and drove from Anchorage to Denali National Park to Seward and finally to Girdwood. I was immensely grateful we didn’t go on an Alaskan cruise because my husband and daughter were sick the entire time on the 6 hour cruise we took through Kenai Fjords National Park near Seward. I learned that boats in general are not a good idea for our family, and we’ve decided not to go on boat tours or ferries again (my husband and daughter have a history of getting sick on some boats in the past, although not every boat they’ve been on). Another thing I learned while in Alaska is that things are extremely expensive here. I was astounded at how much some things cost at grocery stores (I understand they have to travel a long way so it adds to the cost) and tours and ticket prices were expensive pretty much everywhere we went.

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Grizzlies in Denali National Park, Alaska

An incredibly early arrival of cold weather happened to coincide with my next racecation in Arkansas in November. Normally the weather should have been much warmer but unseasonably cold air made its way through and it looked like we were going to have some cold, rainy days. On top of the cold weather that I hadn’t acclimatized to, I had been dealing with anemia and my hemoglobin was extremely low so my expectations weren’t much for the White River Half Marathon, state number 44.

It turns out the White River Half Marathon was on a blazing fast course so I surprised myself with a sub-2 hour finish. It was freezing cold (31 degrees at the start) but I could deal with that. My full race report can be found here. After the race, we drove 3 1/2 hours to Hot Springs to spend a few days. I learned that mineral water from hot springs works miracles on tired muscles after you’ve just run a race the previous day. Seriously, I’ve never felt better after a half marathon than I did after this one. If I could, I would run half marathons in all of the remaining states in places near hot springs. Sadly, I don’t think Iowa, Delaware, New Mexico, Minnesota, or Nebraska has hot springs but Wyoming does.

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Hiking in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Hot Springs, Arkansas is a pretty touristy area but we enjoyed ourselves and especially liked hiking at Hot Springs National Park, seeing the lights display at Garvan Woodland Gardens, and soaking in the thermal baths the best. You can read my full blog post on Hot Springs here. Everyone we talked to seemed like genuinely nice, friendly people. The autumn leaves were a bit past their peak, but the trees were still colorful and it was a beautiful time to visit.

After a brief time back home, we were off once again after Thanksgiving, this time to Grand Cayman Island. I hadn’t been to the Caribbean since my honeymoon, 14 years prior, so I was well over-due for a visit. We aren’t cruise-type people (see references above to my family and boats in the Canary Islands and Alaska) so we spent a week at a resort on the quiet east side of the island and drove all over the island in a rental car.

The first thing I learned is don’t let the rental car agents intimidate you into buying extra rental car insurance. When we picked up our rental car at Hertz, we were told the roads were narrow, drivers were aggressive, and if we were to get in an accident, it would basically be a horrible mess to take care of without the extra insurance purchased through them. In fact, what we found was the roads are in great condition, the drivers are not anymore aggressive than anywhere else (meaning some people can be aggressive at times but in general they were fine), and we never had any issues with driving, albeit driving on the left side of the road takes a bit more brain effort if you’re American.

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Aptly named Starfish Point in Grand Cayman Island

On our first night in Grand Cayman Island, I learned if a local gives you a recommendation for something to see or do or a restaurant to go to, listen to them. Many years ago when my husband and I were in Hawaii, a local told us to be sure to watch the moonrise, and we blew them off and never saw it. However, when we were at dinner on our first night in Cayman, the server told us to be sure to stay to watch the moonrise, and we almost didn’t, but it wasn’t going to be much longer so we decided to stay. If you’ve never had the pleasure of watching a moonrise, let me try to describe it. It’s sort of like watching a sunrise but better. You see the moon slowly rising in the horizon until it’s high in the sky. It’s much more exciting than what I’m describing too. Several people around us were making comments like, “Wow! That’s so cool!” and “I’ve never seen anything like that before!” We were never disappointed when we followed the advise of locals on this vacation and have definitely learned our lesson.

Finally, I learned that I absolutely love Grand Cayman Island. Seven Mile Beach has the softest, powder-white sand I’ve ever seen and all around the island, the water is so clear you can see fish swimming around you without a snorkel mask. The island may be small (though not as small as neighboring Little Cayman and Cayman Brac islands) but it’s filled with natural beauty. The Crystal Caves are definitely worth checking out, as is the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Garden (be sure to get the extra ticket to see the endangered blue iguanas, not to be confused with the endemic and pest-like green iguanas). There’s also the fairy-dust-like bioluminescent waters in the Rum Point area, the sand bar with stingrays known as “Sting Ray City,” and nearby coral reef garden where you can snorkel, Starfish Point which is filled with starfish (sea stars technically), and the many other beaches where you may see some turtles if you’re lucky. Just about the only downside to Grand Cayman Island is it’s pretty expensive, although our airfare was cheap from the east coast, so it did balance out that way.

I feel very fortunate to have visited the Canary Islands, Williamsburg, Virginia; Boise, Idaho; Charleston, South Carolina; Alaska; Arkansas; and Grand Cayman Island this year. Using airline miles, credit card points, and watching for good deals on airfare, I saved a ton of money. I was reminded I need to check airports at cities within a few hours of my home every single time I check airfare prices. When I did this for Grand Cayman Island, I saved almost $300 per ticket, which for three people is close to $900, definitely worth the extra hassle of driving from another city. I realize some people have to do this any time they fly and I’m fortunate enough to have an international airport close to my home, but still it’s worth checking other airports if it’s going to save several hundred dollars or even a couple hundred dollars.

What about you guys? What did you learn from your travels in 2018?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running Highs and Lows of 2018

For the past several years, I’ve run three half marathons a year, in my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Because I make a racecation out of every race, and spend at least a few days checking out the area with my family after the race, I simply can’t afford to do more than 4 a year (which I used to do), nor do I have the vacation time, and since I’ve run all of the southern states with races during the winter, I usually run races in the spring, summer, and fall now (with a couple of exceptions like Utah in February 2017).

I began 2018 by running the Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon in Boise in May. Idaho was state number 42 for me and this race was a highlight. The race began in a canyon, which was beautiful, and the course was nicely chosen as it ran along greenways and had water views of the Boise River several times. I managed to finish just under 2 hours, which I hadn’t done in quite a while. Because of the excellent course, volunteer stations, post-race goodies including a potato bar, and overall vibe of the race, it’s high on my list of favorite half marathons.

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Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon

The following weekend after the race in Boise, I had to start training for race number two of the year in Alaska, which I’ll get to shortly. First, though, a word on running through the heat and humidity during the summer, which I did a post on here. I’ll be honest, running through the North Carolina summer is tough. I’m just not that much of a morning person to get up at 5:30 to run before work, so I ended up running after work, when the temperature was often around 90 degrees, sometimes in the upper 90’s with high humidity on top of it. Yeah, it’s every bit as brutal as it sounds, but I did it, with very little running on the treadmill.

Finally in August, I ran the Skinny Raven Half Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska, state number 43. I was very much looking forward to spending some time in Alaska and running the race in Anchorage. Although the race wasn’t one of my favorites, I wouldn’t say it was a low point of running. The race shirt and medal are my absolute favorites ever from any race, I got to go to a pasta lunch with speakers Bart Yasso and Jeff Galloway, and the race was well-organized, so it does have all of that going for it. Some people would probably enjoy running along the greenways that the race was on, but I just found it a bit disappointing since I run on greenways all the time at home and was hoping for something more unique to the area.

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Packet pickup for the Anchorage RunFest with my favorite race shirt ever

In September, I ran my first 5k in almost 20 years, not counting the one I ran with my daughter at her pace a few years ago. So this was the first 5k I ran at my pace since the very first race I ran as an adult, and funny side-note, they were both in mall parking lots. I ran the Color Vibe 5k in Raleigh, North Carolina. Color Vibe is a huge conglomeration with races in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. plus several other countries.

When I signed up for the race, I didn’t realize that it was untimed. Still, I thought, it would be something new and fun. Originally, the plan was for my daughter to run it with me, but the morning of the race she decided she wanted to run at her own pace. There was a local Zumba instructor leading the crowd before the race start and everyone seemed to be in good spirits. However, it was hot (80 degrees at the start) and not a single bit of shade along the course. I found it hard to be motivated to really try my hardest since it wasn’t timed. Ultimately I discovered I’m more competitive than I may have thought, and fun runs just aren’t for me. As expected, we were covered from head to toe in colored powder by the end of the race and my watch had me finishing in 23:33. I should have been happy because it was a definite PR for me, but since it was unofficial, I felt like it didn’t even count. What should have been a high for me turned out to not really be, although I wouldn’t count it as a low either. My race review is here.

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Post-race Color Vibe 5k

Sometime in September, I began experiencing some boredom in my running routes. First I thought about changing my route for my long runs, Changing My Long Running Route- Maybe, then I began finding new running routes for my runs during the week, Exploring While Running and Fighting Boredom. I discovered entire neighborhoods I never even knew existed even though I drove within a few miles of them to and from work every day. More importantly, I began to realize there was absolutely no reason to run the same route four days a week during the week. There are greenways all over the place where I live and even where there aren’t greenways, there are nice, safe neighborhoods where I can run. This helped with my boredom and seemed like it was going to get me through the training plan for my final race of the year.

Then it all came crashing down. I had noticed I was getting more and more out of breath on runs. This went on for months, honestly, but I kept thinking it was the heat and humidity. When it finally cooled off and the humidity dropped and I was still out of breath when I would try to run, I knew for sure something was wrong. I suspected it was low iron, and I have a history of this, so I know exactly what it feels like. Sure enough, when my blood work came back, my hemoglobin level was 6. The normal range for women my age is 12-15. This was bad, very bad. Even worse, I had a half marathon coming up in less than three weeks.

I started taking a high dose of iron prescribed by my doctor and continued to run, no matter how slowly. I figured running slowly was better than not running at all. It was hard and frustrating though. Running up a small hill felt like I was climbing a mountain. During one of my long runs, after every mile I had to pause my watch, stop and catch my breath before I could go on. I did that for 12 miles and yes, it was some of the longest miles I’ve ever run.

Still, I could feel the iron was slowly building back up in my body and while I wouldn’t say I was feeling completely better when it was time for my next half marathon (not even close, really), I knew I could at least finish it even if it meant walking, a lot. The White River Half Marathon was in November in Cotter, Arkansas, state number 44, and in hindsight after running the race, it was the absolute best race for me at the moment.

As you might guess from the name, the race is along the White River, which means it’s flat. More importantly, the first mile is downhill and you don’t have to run back up the hill at the end either. Although I can’t say for sure because I was so completely wiped out at the finish that I forgot to hit save on my Garmin and I ran more by feel so I didn’t check my watch hardly at all, I’m pretty sure my first two miles were my fastest and I seemed to be consistent after that. I finished in 1:57, which was 4th in my age group. I was of course thrilled, especially given my health. This was a great way to end my racing for the year and give my body plenty of time to get back to normal. You can read my full report on the White River Half Marathon here.

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The home stretch of the White River Half Marathon

How about you all- any running highs or lows you’d like to share?

Happy running!

Donna