My Dream Half Marathon

Have you ever thought about what you would do if you were a race director? I started thinking about how I would design my dream half marathon if I could be the race director and also add in some things that probably would never happen in reality, but hey, it’s fun to just think “What if?” sometimes. I’ve experienced quite the variety of races over the years in states all over the United States ranging from big cities to small towns. Some of the races offered things that I thought were a great idea and other races were so poorly ran I thought surely no one on the team for the race could be a runner because no runner would ever do something like that in a race.

So how would I design a race if I was in charge of absolutely everything including location, weather, and had an unlimited budget and a surplus of volunteers to help me pull it off? Well, for starters I would offer a half marathon because that’s my favorite distance. We could have a marathon the day after the half in case anyone wanted to run both races and of course give the runners a total of three medals, one for each race ran and one for completing both races.

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Some pretty nice views from a race start like this would be good. This was the Dogtown Half Marathon in Utah.

Packet pick-up would be at a school or other place big enough to have a variety of vendors giving out free samples. Nuun and Honey Stinger would both be there, letting people try their products. Zensah would be there selling their compression socks and other running gear that I love but at a discounted price for runners. If you’re running both the half marathon and full marathon you’d get an even bigger discount on anything you bought at the expo.

There would be a pasta dinner the day before the race with Kara Goucher speaking and offering a short (one hour) running clinic and motivational talk. This pasta dinner would be sponsored by the best Italian restaurant in the state and everyone would rave about how good the food was. Family members of the runners would be encouraged to attend both the pasta dinner and running clinic, which would be offered at an amazing low price thanks to the generosity of sponsors.

There would be many, many port-o-johns at the start of the race and there would be small bonfires attended by volunteers for safety to help keep the runners warm. Hot coffee and tea would also be at the race start. Bart Yasso would be at the race start and after saying some motivational and funny words, the runners would be off. Mr. Yasso would be staying for the duration of the race to call out each runner’s name as they crossed the finish line.

The course would start at the top of a canyon in the mountains (but only maybe up to 3,000 feet in elevation at the peak) and wind its way down through the canyon alongside a river. You could see a beautiful bridge in the distance as you ran. Traffic would be closed off for the race so runners wouldn’t have to worry about cars. You would also be able to watch the sun rise from the start of the race but it would be a cool, cloudy day for the rest of the race.

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Water views like this along the course? Yes, please!

There would be homeowners out along the course cheering runners on, with adorable well-behaved dogs and cute kids holding funny posters, to help keep those smiles coming from runners along the course. Volunteer aid stations would have Nuun and water and Honey Stinger gels and chews. All along the course there would be a wide array of music being played, with local musicians playing classical music, guitarists playing rock music, drummers, a piano player, and more. The volunteer aid stations would all be told to come up with a fun theme and the team with the most votes by runners would win a small prize.

As the course wound its way through the canyon, traveling slightly downhill but not so much to trash your quads, you would pass some waterfalls and see a snow-capped mountain in the distance. There would be a couple of small (very small) hills just to mix things up a bit with your legs along the course. Every mile would be marked with a mile marker sign and include a countdown since the race started (you never know when you may have watch trouble or forget your watch for a race so this would be for those people). There would be pacers on the course who would be following their pace times phenomenally well and were chatty, funny individuals.

You would know when you were getting close to the finish because the last mile would be clearly marked, with a clear shot of the finish line. After entering a football stadium, you would run the last 50 yards of the race on the football field, where you would be handed a small football at the finish line, along with your medal (don’t even bother asking me about logistics of having both a clear shot of the finish line and entering a football stadium). As I mentioned earlier, Bart Yasso would call out each runner’s name as they were crossing the finish.

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Bart Yasso at the finish of the Skinny Raven Half Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska

Beer from a local brewery, chocolate milk, ice cold water, smoothies, and Nuun would be all of your free beverage choices post-race. There would be pizza, soft pretzels, watermelon slices, bananas, a variety of soups, chocolate chip cookies, and Noosa yogurt at the finish for all runners. Musicians would be playing for the rest of the day at the park near the race finish. Kids could play at the playground while their parents hung out and chatted with other runners. A local swim facility, hotel, or YMCA or something like that within walking distance would offer free post-race showers to all runners.

Awards would be given out to the first three male and female finishers as well as first three finishers in 5-year increments of age groups. Cash would be awarded to the first three male and female finishers and trophies to everyone else. Photographers would be along the course and at the finish and runners would have the option to print out their own photos for free with the link sent out after the race.

Now your turn- what would your dream race look like? What things would you be sure to include? Do you like how I’ve designed my dream race? Remind me what I’ve left off!

Happy running!

Donna

 

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Checking In With Less Than One Month to Go Before My Next Half Marathon

I usually don’t do a week-by-week post because quite honestly, I don’t feel like my weeks are that interesting to warrant a weekly post. I don’t run many races like some other runners do (now I run only three races a year) so I don’t have that many race reports and my training isn’t that unusual. However, every now and then I do like to do a post with a brief check-in and how my training is going so far. For those of you who don’t already know, I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states and am getting down to the final ones.

Later this month I’ll be running my 49th half marathon in Nebraska, state number 47. My last race was Star Valley Half Marathon, Thayne, Wyoming- 46th state, which feels like an eternity ago even though it was just a little over two months ago. I like to take a full two weeks off of running in-between half marathons and I had just enough time to do that before I began my current training cycle. However, I was hiking in the mountains of Wyoming the week after my race so my legs didn’t get much of a break until the following week.

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Hiking in Wyoming after the race

It’s always kind of strange when I have time off from running and I feel a bit out of sorts at first. The break is always useful, however, and one I know my body needs. Now that I’m only running races three times a year (one in the spring, one in the summer, and one in the fall) I also end up taking an extended break at least from training but not from running entirely in the winter. However, that won’t happen until after this race, and I digress so back to my training.

So, how has my training been going through this hot, muggy summer we’ve had? Pretty good, really. I tend to adjust pretty well to hot, humid weather and although I wouldn’t say it was easy because by no means was it ever easy to run through the high temperatures with high humidity on top of that, I was able to hit my target times when I did speedwork.

With the training plan I’ve been using for the last few half marathons I’ve run, I have one day a week where I incorporate fartleks and one day a week where I have a tempo run. I also have two days a week where I run anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes (longer towards the end of my training cycle) and finish with 20-second strides. One day a week I have my long run that starts at 6 miles and goes up to 14 miles. Twice during the training plan I run 14 miles and a few times during the plan I run 11 or 12 miles. The 14-mile runs are meant to be slow and easy and the 11 or 12 mile runs are meant to be partially at race pace (the latter half).

There were a few days this summer when it reached near 100 degrees where I live and on those days I ran on my treadmill at home but on other days when it was upper 80’s or low 90’s, I sucked it up and ran outside. On some days I would run in the morning but the real issue with summer running in the south is even if you run in the morning, it will still be humid and it won’t exactly be cool. So you may be running in 75 degrees with 70% humidity in the morning, and you’re still soaked with sweat after a few minutes of running. The humidity tends to drop a bit as the temperature goes up, so you can choose if you want it to be a bit cooler but higher humidity or ungodly hot and less humid. Either way sucks but then again we get rewarded with mild winters, so there is that at least.

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I loved standup paddle boarding this summer as one of my cross-training exercises!

I managed to run every day I was supposed to so far, although there were one or two runs that I remember I had to cut short a bit due to other time constraints (job, family mostly). The one area that has slacked off, especially lately, has been my weight training. It’s been difficult to run five days a week, go to the gym for weight training, go to yoga class, stretch, foam roll, and cross-train (standup paddle boarding on Sundays during the summer, bike riding when the lake house is closed in the fall) in addition to working full-time and having time for family obligations. Usually it’s not an issue to get to the gym for weight training but when my daughter went back to school, things got busier in our house, and that’s one thing that fell to the wayside for me lately.

Last weekend it actually started to feel like fall and those few days of cooler, less humid weather were fantastic, but unfortunately it didn’t last. Just this week, the temperatures were back in the 90’s, so I guess summer isn’t over yet here. I do still have a few weeks to go before the race, though, so I should have at least a couple of weeks of cooler weather to run in before the half marathon. I can’t wait for that!

How about you guys? Are you training for a fall race? How has your running been going lately?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Some Areas in the United States to Enjoy Fall Foliage

The end of September is when fall foliage starts to appear in the eastern states in the US, beginning in the more northern states and moving down south as time passes. If you can plan a visit to the New England states for the upcoming weeks, you should be able to see some of the colorful leaves before they fall off the trees for the winter. As you might imagine, some places fill up quickly in the autumn months, so make your plans now while there’s still time.

Growing up in West Virginia, I always loved when the trees turned from green to wonderful shades of yellow, red, and orange, but on the flip side, I somewhat dreaded it because that meant winter was coming. Nonetheless, regardless about how I feel about winter, West Virginia is a perfect place to enjoy the fall foliage. Many people flock to Bridge Day, which is West Virginia’s largest festival held on one day and one of the largest extreme sports events in the world. Bridge day is held every year on the third Saturday in October on the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayette County, coinciding with peak fall foliage in the area. Thousands of people come to this festival to watch as BASE jumpers from around the world jump off the bridge and rappellers go up and down the catwalk. There’s also plenty of things for spectators to do including run a 5k starting on the bridge and ending in Fayetteville. This is just one of many areas in West Virginia you can visit in the fall to experience fall foliage. Others include Huntington, Charleston, or one of the state parks would be a great option as well!

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This was taken in Huntington, WV, when I ran a half marathon there in the fall.

North Carolina also has plenty of places to visit if you want to see some gorgeous fall foliage. For those of you that don’t know, North Carolina can be divided into three basic parts:  the mountains on the west, the central area known as the Piedmont with the capital of Raleigh, and the coastal region on the east. Most people that want to see fall foliage will focus on the mountains in the western part of North Carolina. Western North Carolina is an outdoor-lover’s paradise, with many fun cities to go camping, hiking, fishing, and whitewater rafting. Some of my favorite cities in western North Carolina are Asheville (see my posts:  Camping in Asheville, North Carolina;and Christmas at Biltmore Estate and Exploring Asheville, North Carolina), Boone, and Blowing Rock.

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Gorgeous fall foliage in North Carolina

I’ve visited all of the New England states for half marathons, and I have been to three states in the fall, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. I was in a small town about an hour outside Boston, called Newburyport and loved that part of Massachusetts. The nice thing is you can still do plenty of things in Boston and easily pop over to the quieter areas like Newburyport when you want a break from the traffic and congestion. Rhode Island is one of my favorite states I’ve ever been to and I feel like it’s one of the most under-rated states. I went to Newport and we drove all over that area, stopping in some tiny towns to visit art galleries or local shops. There are also mansions such as The Breakers and Marblehouse that you can tour plus gorgeous beaches all around that area (although it’s definitely not peak beach season there in the fall but that just means they aren’t as crowded). We were in some tiny towns in New Hampshire for the half marathon that most people wouldn’t come to visit, so I can’t speak as much about that, but if you’re in the northern part of the state like I was, it’s a short drive over the Canadian border to Montreal, which I absolutely loved (see my post:  Montreal, a City Unlike Any Other).

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Yellow leaves everywhere (and a little orange) in Newburyport, Massachusetts

Some other states you might not think of when you think of fall foliage are Indiana and Arkansas. I visited both of these states in the fall when I was running a half marathon there, and found I enjoyed both places more than I expected I would. Most people think of Indianapolis when they think of Indiana, home of the famous Indy 500 races, but I was in a small town on the border with Kentucky and the Ohio River called Evansville. The Evansville Half Marathon perfectly coincides with the West Side Nut Club Festival, now in its 98th year (!) and also more recently a taco festival and music festival also occur around the same time in October. Here are links for more information:  Evansville Half Marathon and Nut Club Fall Festival.

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The race start at the Evansville Half Marathon with the fall foliage all around

For my half marathon in Arkansas, I ran the Cotter River Half Marathon, which I absolutely raved about. This was in November, which is a perfect time to enjoy the fall foliage in Arkansas. Although there are some options for things to do and places to stay in the Cotter area, I decided to drive to Hot Springs after the race and spend a few days there. Hot Springs can be a bit touristy in parts, which I usually don’t like, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Hot Springs much more than I thought I would. My family and I went to one of the local bath houses and had several extremely affordable treatments done and we hiked all around the National Park there. For more on the race, see my post, White River Half Marathon, Cotter, Arkansas-44th state and for more on Hot Springs, see my post, Hiking, Bathing, and Admiring Holiday Lights in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

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The back of some of the bathhouses in Hot Springs, Arkansas

I know I left off some places to enjoy fall foliage in the United States because that would be way too long and I haven’t been everywhere, so now your turn, where are some of your favorite, perhaps off-the-beaten path places to enjoy fall foliage that I didn’t mention here? Do you live in a state where there is no substantial fall foliage? Do you travel to see fall foliage?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

 

How to Be a Faster Runner- It’s Simple, Run Faster

True story:  when my daughter was on the track team at her middle school, she saw after a while that her times weren’t getting any faster. She ran the 800 and 1500 meter, two notoriously hard distances to run. Getting frustrated, she asked her coach how she could get faster. His response was, “Run faster.” She asked how exactly to do that because she was trying to run faster. He wasn’t able to give her any more information. Ultimately she reluctantly finished out track season at about where she was when she started, but with a bad taste for running with a school team or a group, although she continued to run on her own.

When she was starting high school, I encouraged her to try out for cross country. My daughter had run several 5ks, a 10k, and two half marathons at that point, and she preferred longer distances over shorter ones that track runners do. Although she was hesitant because of her experience with track team, she began running the unofficial morning runs before cross country official practice started. Even though freshmen didn’t have to have a qualifying 3k time like the older kids, everyone that wanted to be on the team ran 3k time trials.

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With my daughter after a run together in the Canary Islands

My daughter ran two 3k time trials before school started and did so well she was invited to run the team’s first off-site race that only 48 kids were invited to (unfortunately she couldn’t attend because we already had plans for that weekend that couldn’t be broken). I should also mention that there are 180 kids on this cross country team, which I’ve been told is one of the biggest in the country, and which also means more competition regarding who is able to attend meets at off-site locations (they can’t take everyone since they only have one bus). So far, my daughter’s times are gradually improving, I’m sure due to several reasons and I have no doubt her times will continue to improve over the next few years.

I’ve noticed that my own times have also been improving over the last few years, despite the fact that I’ve been running races for the last 22 or so years. I actually got a PR (personal record) at a half marathon in Wyoming this summer, a race that was even at  altitude. Most people would think they were well-beyond reaching a PR after they hit 40, especially if they’ve been running since their 20’s, but I’m proof that that’s not always the case. Miracles can come true.

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After my fastest half marathon in Wyoming

So, how does one improve their running times other than the simple answer of just run faster? As everything else running-related, it’s complicated. Looking at my daughter’s experiences, she has benefited from running with a group that has no doubt pushed her a bit more than if she was running on her own. She has also benefited from running 6 days a week, versus the 4 days a week she was previously running. I know the trails where the cross country team mainly practices and the park is full of hills, twists, and turns, which has undoubtedly made her a stronger, fitter runner. Finally, being forced to stretch with the team after every run has likely benefited her more than the minimal amount she stretched on her own previously.

Examining my own background for the past couple of years, there are also several factors that have likely enabled me to be a faster runner. Looking back at my stats from Strava, it looks like I ran more than double the amount of miles (some months it was triple) during the beginning months of 2019 compared to the first few months of 2018. I ran half marathons in May, August, and November of 2018, and similarly I’ve run half marathons in May and July so far for 2019 but I ran much more in the spring of 2019 than spring of the previous year. By the time 2019 ends, if I keep on track with what I’ve been running, I will have run around 150 more miles in 2019 than 2018.

I changed several running-related things in 2018, most of which worked out to my advantage. You can read about them all in-depth here, but basically, I switched my half marathon training plan from one I had been using for races to go from running three days a week to a different plan that called for running five days a week. I began doing more trail running. I did some heart rate training. I ran a 5k, which I hadn’t done in many years. I switched up my running routes. I tried new running shoes (that one didn’t go so well but I learned what does and doesn’t work for me when it comes to running shoes).

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A not-so-great photo of me running trails

Not everything that happened in 2018 was to my advantage, however. I also developed anemia again. I have a history of it and was able to recognize the signs fairly quickly and get an appointment with my doctor for a diagnosis and begin treatment. Surprisingly this all happened a mere couple of weeks before I ran one of my fastest half marathons in years, in Arkansas. How I managed to run as fast as I did while severely anemic is still beyond my comprehension. I started treatment and was able to start feeling like myself after a few months, and my sub-2 hour half marathon streak continued at the half marathon in Delaware in May of 2019, and that was topped with my PR at the half marathon in Wyoming in July of 2019.

Another important thing I did that I believe had a part in my PR was I hiked all over Peru at very high elevation in May just after my race in Delaware. As I mentioned in my post, Is Hiking in the Mountains Good Cross-Training for Runners?, I truly believe that those two weeks were enough to boost my red blood cell count and give me a bit of an advantage when it came to running. I referenced a paper in my post that states that two weeks at high elevation is enough to get your body to start producing more red blood cells, which helps you deal with the elevation better, and those lingering benefits of having more red blood cells can last a couple of months. I was also at high elevation in Wyoming in July but not as high as I was in Peru so I’m not sure if it was enough for my blood to be effected or not.

OK. So I have several things that I changed in 2018 that continued into 2019:  changing my running routes so that I wasn’t running the same path more than once a week, changing my half marathon training plan to go from running three days a week to running five days a week which also meant I increased my weekly mileage, and occasional trail running. I also have the extra boost from hiking at high elevation in May of 2019 which may have effected my race time in Wyoming in July.

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Hiking in Peru

Now let’s see how all of this translates to numbers. In 2017, I ran three half marathons, all of which were over 2 hours (although the last one was by less than one minute over). In 2018, my race times for the half marathons in May and November were sub-2 hours (1:59:51 and 1:57:31) but my finish time for the race in August was 2:01:06, which I attribute to an uphill literally at the very end of the race and I of course struggled with. In May 2019, my finish time was 1:58:34 and in July 2019, I finished the half marathon in 1:53:00. I would say all of the changes I made in 2018 are definitely working to my advantage.

Back to the original question of how do you get faster as a runner, the answer seems to be (at least in the cases of my daughter and myself) by increasing your weekly mileage, run with others that may be slightly faster than you, add in some trail runs, vary your running routes, and if you’re able to visit a high elevation place (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming would all be great places within the US) for a couple of weeks or more, do so. You may notice I didn’t even mention speed work. Of course doing speed work is important to get faster. However, for me, I was doing speed work prior to 2018 and I continued doing speed work after that, but for me that alone wasn’t enough to get faster. I needed the other changes as well to see faster race times.

Everyone is different, too. What works for one person may not work for another. Experiment with making small changes and see if that seems to make a difference. If you start to feel like it’s too much and you’re not recovering from your runs, back off. Likewise, if one thing just doesn’t work for you, cut it out of your routine and move on to something else that might work.

What about you all? What changes have you made in your running routine that have made you a faster runner?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

 

Funny, Strange, or Just Memorable Things That Have Happened or I’ve Seen on My Runs

I was listening to a Marathon Training Academy podcast during one of my long runs (as I often do) and the hosts Angie and Trevor were answering questions posed on their Facebook page. One of the questions asked was, “What’s a funny thing that happened to you on one of your runs?” I started thinking about some funny things that have happened to me during my runs, and my thoughts just kind of spiraled after that.

I began to think about not only funny things that have happened during my runs but also strange or maybe just things that stood out to me on my runs. I couldn’t think of a lot of things that I would call funny but I have seen some strange things on my runs. I’m lucky enough to have run in all but four states in the United States plus several countries in the Caribbean, Central America, South America, and Europe. Over the years I’ve seen my share of some bizarre things.

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Shoe Tree in Grand Cayman Island

Last year when I was running in Grand Cayman Island, I came across the famous shoe tree, which I snapped a photo of and also an interesting statue in front of house I ran by. I also had to get a selfie with one of the “Caution- Iguanas on Road” signs, which I found amusing for some reason. I never saw an actual iguana on the road, whether I was running or driving, if you’re wondering but I suppose they must be on the roads to warrant the signs (probably more so at night).

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This was in front of someone’s modest-sized house in Grand Cayman Island

In the town where I used to live, I came across a woman who came running out of her house and yelled at me to not run on the side of the road but to run on the sidewalk. This actually happened a few times since I often ran by her house. Once I even stopped to yell back, “The road is softer for running than the concrete sidewalk and it’s perfectly safe here!” but I doubt she heard me or even cared if she did hear me. I was running facing traffic, which at the time, there was barely any traffic anyway.

Regarding animals, I’ve seen the usual horses, cows, and so many deer, some with babies, plus way too many dead animals on the side of the road I would ever care to see including cats, dogs, squirrels, snakes, lizards, and birds. I’ve also been chased by dogs on runs (mostly in WV) but only bitten by one when I was a kid; never as an adult. Fortunately I’ve never run upon an animal that could do real harm to me like a cougar, bear, moose, or elk.

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Mama and baby deer I recently saw when running. Not surprising but still beautiful.

Once, near my home, I ran past a single adult-size running shoe, which really struck me as strange. Sure, I’ve seen many infant or child-size single shoes, presumably from children riding in strollers who kicked one off unbeknownst to the parent pushing them, but one adult shoe? This was on the corner of a sidewalk near a busy intersection but not really close enough that it could have fallen from a car passing by. I never figured that one out.

Certainly not strange but definitely note-worthy to me was when I was running along the beaches (not actually on the sand but on walkways overlooking the beaches) in Hawaii and Gran Canaria and Tenerife (Canary Islands) and regularly saw dozens of surfers out in the early morning hours. That was so much fun to watch them as the sun was rising in the sky.

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There were so many surfers in the Canary Islands!

Another favorite memory is running along the part of New York City where the chanceries (embassy buildings) of consulates from other countries are, known as Embassy Row.  I loved comparing the buildings for all of the different countries. Of course I had to run in Central Park the first time I went to New York City, which I’ve done a few times since the first time. I’ve seen many parades in Central Park and so many other runners; it’s a popular spot.

Earlier this year when I was running through a neighborhood I’d never run in before, I started smelling a strange smell, kind of like burning plastic. Suddenly I came upon multiple fire trucks, police cars and other emergency response vehicles parked along a cul-du-sac. It turns out there was a house fire but luckily everyone in the house got out in time and no one was injured, as I gathered from a couple of neighbors who were out talking about the fire.

When I was in Key West, Florida, I ran past the southern-most point in the continental United States, or at least the buoy-shaped marker for it.

One day several years ago when I was running on a Saturday morning, I saw a police road block ahead. Suddenly a car came up beside me and made a sharp u-turn to avoid the road block, coming so close to me they almost hit me. I had to jump as far as I could off to the side to avoid getting hit. I’ve always wondered why they were in such a hurry to avoid the road block.

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I saw these skeletons in front of a house in July. I believe it must be a year-round display.

This summer I ran by a display of multiple skeletons that you would normally see displayed for Halloween, in someone’s front yard. I don’t know if they leave them up year-round, but since it was so many months past Halloween and too early for them to be for this year, this must be a year-round display for these people. Strange. I wonder what their neighbors think. I’ll also have to remember to go by when it’s close to Halloween to see if there are even more decorations out.

I’m sure there are others but that’s all I can think of for now. Your turn- what are some funny, strange, or just memorable things you’ve seen on your runs?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Stand Up Paddle Boarding, Cycling, Running and Of Course Visiting Beaches in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Hilton Head Island may not be the first place you think of when you think of vacation destinations in South Carolina. It seems like Charleston gets all of the glory in that regard. However, Hilton Head Island was voted best island in the continental United States by Travel + Leisure readers in 2019. You can read about the top 10 islands in that list here. Plus, Hilton Head Island was in Southern Living’s list of “11 Trips Every Mother-Daughter Duo Should Take in 2019,” which you can find here. Hilton Head Island has received many other accolades as well, such as #6 in U.S. News and World Report’s “15 Best Family Beach Vacations,” (the full list is here). And on, and on.

I first visited Hilton Head Island way back in the late 90’s and have since been back a few times. Very little has changed over the years, and that’s a good thing, in my opinion. When you have a place as special as Hilton Head Island, change isn’t necessarily helpful or desirable.

Hilton Head Island is small, at just 12 miles long and 5 miles across but it packs a punch with paths suitable for cycling, running, or walking. There are 6 miles of bike lanes, 117 miles of shared-use pathways (108 of which are paved), and 24% of streets have bike lanes or paved shoulders. Access to plantations is limited to residents and guests but you can purchase a day pass for Sea Pines Community, for example. Visitor passes are $8/vehicle, plus $1/bike on car (if you’re transporting a bicycle on your car into the community). You can not ride a bike into Sea Pines nor can you walk into the area.

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Some of the beach houses in Hilton Head Island

Things to Do

If you enjoy outdoor activities, Hilton Head Island is full of things to do besides go to the beach (more on that later). There are over 30 golf courses, at least a dozen or so places to rent bicycles not including ones that some hotels provide, 10 or 12 places to rent kayaks or stand up paddle boards, plus several fishing and boat tours.

Since I tried stand up paddle boarding for the first time in Hawaii (My First Time in Oahu, Hawaii- Even Better than Expected), I’ve loved it and in addition to going on Sundays when I’m home, I also try to go paddle boarding when I’m on vacation. I had a great time in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, so of course I checked to see if there were any places to rent boards in Hilton Head and was happy to see there were a few places that rent them.

We rented stand up paddle boards from Soul SUP Paddleboard Hilton Head. You can rent boards by the day or week, take a yoga class, take SUP lessons or a tour, or buy a board from the laid-back and friendly people here. You save some money if you pick up the boards yourself but they will deliver to you for an extra fee. They provide everything you need to secure the boards to the roof of your vehicle if you will be transporting them on your own and my husband and I found it to be easier and quicker than transporting inflatable boards plus we just prefer hard boards to inflatables.

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SUP!

If you’re unfamiliar with the area, you should ask someone at Soul SUP about current water conditions and get recommendations about safe places to paddle board. We went to the Rowing and Sailing Center at Squire Pope Community Park and the Broadcreek Marina-Freeport Marina areas and saw about five dolphins, many different birds, and fish (and no alligators!) the day we went out paddle boarding. Just be sure you don’t fall into the water where there are oyster beds (I’ve been told they scrape you up pretty badly).

As I mentioned earlier, Hilton Head Island has paved pathways all over the island, making it easy to find a safe place to run and cycle. I literally walked out my hotel door and got on a path less than a tenth of a mile away and went out on a run. One thing that I should mention is this is the south, which means during the summer months it gets extremely hot and humid. By 9 am one morning on a run, it was 86 degrees with a real feel (taking into account the humidity) of 98! These pathways are sometimes shaded but not always. If you’re into running on the beach, I’ve heard the beaches here are nice for running, but personally I don’t like running on the beach and don’t even try anymore.

We rented bicycles from Bubba’s Bike Rental, and we had a coupon for 2 free bikes for the day from them, but I’m not sure I would have chosen them otherwise. They have “iffy” reviews online. There are many bike rental companies to choose from, though. Our bikes were delivered to our hotel and picked up at the hotel when we texted them that we were done with them, so it honestly couldn’t have been any easier. The bikes weren’t the greatest- they didn’t have gears and had only foot brakes (my husband said his brakes were awful) plus the seats weren’t that comfortable, but they did get us where we wanted to go. Luckily Hilton Head Island is pancake flat, so we didn’t have to worry about hills (because of not having gears).

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Cycling around the island

You can also visit Harbour Town Lighthouse, which is open every day from 10 am to sundown. Admission to climb the lighthouse is $4.50 per person and children 5 and under are free. We did this on a previous visit and got great views of the area from the top of the lighthouse. The lighthouse is located in Sea Pines Resort and there are many shops and restaurants as well as fishing tours, boat cruises, and watersports so you can easily spend a full day here.

Where to Eat

Some of our favorite restaurants include:

Skull Creek Boathouse (mostly seafood, brunch buffet on Sunday with made-to-order omelets plus tons of other foods, water views, outdoor area, dog-friendly)

Sandbar Beach Eats (by Coligny Beach)

Hilton Head Brewing Company (good BBQ and beer, outdoor area, dog-friendly)

Relish (Asian and Southern food, outdoor area, dog-friendly)

Thai Smile (fantastic pineapple curry and Som Tum)

Many restaurants in the area have outdoor seating areas, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re dog-friendly. Just call ahead if you want to bring your dog with you, to be sure.

Where to Stay and How to Get Here

In addition to many Airbnb properties, there are a huge range of hotels, including the more expensive Westin, Omni, Marriott, and even a Disney-owned resort, to more affordable but still nice hotels like Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn, right down to simple, no frills motels. There are also a huge number of time shares in this area. As you might guess, places directly on the beach are more expensive but usually offer perks like a kitchen, swimming pool, bicycle rental, among others.

If you’re driving here, you can take US-278 East from mainland South Carolina directly into Hilton Head. There is the Hilton Head airport, but flights are limited.  A better option might be to fly into Savannah, Georgia, which is just 40 minutes from Hilton Head. Speaking of Savannah, you may want to consider a day trip to Savannah if you’re spending several days or more in Hilton Head or add on a few days to spend in Savannah since a day would just skim the surface of this beautiful town.

Unless you plan on spending your days lazing by the pool and walking to the beach and back to your hotel (which is fine if that’s what you like), I recommend a rental car if you want to see more of the island. There is a trolley service, The Breeze, that charges $1 per person per destination, but it only goes between Coligny and Shelter Cove, and only from 1 pm to 10 pm. Uber and Lyft are also transportation options if you don’t want to or can’t rent a car.

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Driessen Beach during the “dog-friendly” hours

Beaches

I would be remiss to not mention some of the beaches of Hilton Head Island. Think powdery, soft sandy beaches, many with dunes. Some of my favorite beaches on the island are Folly Field Beach Park, Driessen Beach Park, and Coligny Beach Park but there are many other beaches.  There is free parking at Coligny Beach Park and a shopping area with restaurants and a grocery store by the parking area, plus there are restrooms and a splash area for kids. Both Driessen and Folly beaches have paid parking spaces, but it’s very reasonable (we paid $1/hour at Folly and $1 for two hours at Driessen); just pay at the kiosk with cash or credit card. Driessen has a children’s playground and a long boardwalk to get to the beach, which can be a pro or con depending on your point of view. Both Driessen and Folly beaches have dunes and restrooms plus sprayers to wash the sand off. Leashed dogs are only allowed on the beaches before 10 am and after 5 pm from Memorial Day to Labor Day but any time the rest of the year. All of the beaches I’ve been to on Hilton Head Island have been clean and safe. They do get crowded during the summer months especially on weekends, but they’re big enough that they can handle pretty large crowds of people without feeling too crowded.

Hilton Head Island is one of my favorite beach destinations, especially on the east coast. The water is warm during the summer and even into the fall, the sand is soft, and the area is clean and safe. September after Labor Day is a great time to go because it isn’t as crowded and it’s a bit cooler but still warm enough to get in the ocean. October would also be a good time to visit. Have you been to Hilton Head Island or do you want to go there? What are some of your favorite beach areas in the United States?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Working on the Mental Part of Running and Being Thankful

This year I’ve been working on the mental aspect of running. Since I read Deena Kastor’s book, Let Your Mind Run, I’ve been trying to get my brain to turn away from negative thoughts while I’m out running and turn them around to more positive or even neutral thoughts. Running in the summer heat and humidity has been a good challenge for me in this aspect. Instead of letting thoughts like, “It’s 93 degrees and I feel absolutely miserable. Why am I even bothering to try to run in this?” take over, I’ll try to put a spin on them and think things like, “Miles in the heat mean miles in the bank for my fall race” and “I can do this. Just one step in front of the other.”

On a recent run, there were two people in my life going through some pretty serious health problems, both of which were potentially life-threatening. One of these people used to be a runner, and would still be a runner if not for all of the health problems. In fact, he was a serious enough runner that he qualified for and ran the Boston Marathon several times (I’m not sure exactly how many times because he’s a humble man and has never really said just how many times but I know for sure it’s been more than twice).

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One of those 90+degree days where I had to remind myself why I was out there running!

I started thinking about this former runner when I was on a particularly hot and humid run, struggling to just get going. There were a dozen excuses I could come up with why I could just stop running right there and call it a day before I had even run a mile. I needed to run errands, it was hot, I needed to do weight-training at the gym, I hadn’t slept well the previous few nights so I was tired, and on and on. But then I started thinking about all of the reasons why I should run:  because I could, my body was fully capable of pushing through the heat and humidity, because even a slow run is better than no run, and because I had a nice, cool water bottle waiting for me to add a Nuun tablet when I got to my car and I knew that would make me feel better after I had run.

Over the 19 years I’ve known this former runner, he and I have chatted about running quite a bit. Like I mentioned, he’s run the Boston Marathon a few times but he’s also run other well-known races like the Marine Corps Marathon, New York City Marathon, and many others. He had a running streak going where he ran every single day for many years. This man has held a high level science-related position in three different areas of the country, over-seeing a large group of other scientists at each area. In addition to his work-related duties, he raised two children along with his wife, who also held high-level positions in her career. If he wanted to find excuses not to run when he was younger and healthy, there were plenty, but he always made running a priority.

I was thinking about him when I was running and at one point on my run, I even said a quiet prayer for him, adding that this run was for him. Instead of focusing on the heat and how tired I felt, I began focusing on how thankful I was that I could run. So many people aren’t physically able to run, whether they’re sick or for other reasons. Over the years I’ve known plenty of people who also are so busy with their home lives and working multiple jobs they simply can’t find the time to run.

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A mama and baby deer I saw on a recent run made me thankful to be out enjoying nature

I’m thankful that I am able to run, even on days when I may not love being out there, but still putting in the miles. Sure, running is hard and some days it’s extremely hard (speed work days come to mind) but I still keep doing it and keep pushing through. Most days I absolutely love running. I love being outside in nature and watching all of the animals and the changes going on with the trees and flowers from one season to the next. I love the camaraderie that comes from other runners, whether it’s the small group I “run” with around the world through a running app, through blogs, or at races I run around the country.

Sometimes I may have to remind myself why I love running, when the conditions aren’t so great or I’m not feeling 100% but it’s never hard to find reasons why I should be running. Most of the time that answer is simply, “because I can,” and that alone is enough to be thankful for.

Do you remind yourself why you’re thankful to be a runner on days that aren’t so great? Why are you thankful to be a runner?

Happy running!

Donna