INKnBURN- My Latest Running Apparel Discovery

Even though the athletic apparel company INKnBURN has been around for about 11 years, I only recently discovered them. I kept seeing this runner I follow on Instagram wearing these fun and unique-looking shirts and finally I realized they’re from INKnBURN. According to their website, “Our mission is to put art on quality athletic apparel” and I feel like they accomplish that mission well. All of the apparel is hand-crafted in small, limited-edition runs in their Southern California warehouse.

INKnBURN uses Dry I.C.E. Fabric for all of their clothing to wick away moisture and help you stay cool. The material has a silky, light feel and doesn’t rub or chafe whether you’re running, biking, hiking, or participating in any other activity. In fact, they’re tough enough to stand up to ultra distances. Sandy Vi set the new Women’s World Record for the fastest crossing of the US on foot wearing INKnBURN (She ran 3,127 miles averaging 57 miles a day for 54 days straight).

Currently, INKnBURN makes short-sleeve and long-sleeve tops, mens golf shirts, tanks, singlets, breeze tops, shorts, skirts, skorts, capris, tights, jackets, vests, sports bras, masks, sleeves, hats, and headbands. Oh, and they also make custom shirts where you upload a photo and they make a shirt featuring your photo. Cool, huh?

What I love most about INKnBURN is their art work. These products truly are works of art and they have something for everyone. Like Japanese-inspired art? They have released products with names like Origami, Kaze (with pink cherry blossoms drifting across an asymmetrical composition of classic Japanese textiles), Kaiyo, Shibori Star, just to name a few. Prefer nature-inspired art? How about Water Lotus, Moonlit Crane, or New Leaf? Like funky designs? Check out Boho, Radiant Paisley, or Rhythm and Hues. They really have designs for just about anyone, which is awesome since art is so subjective.

If the prices seem a bit steep, they usually have at least a few different items on sale, especially shirts and sometimes pants. One drawback is items tend to sell out quickly, since they’re made in small batches, so you will see many items out of stock on their website. I suggest subscribing to their newsletter if you’re really interested in their products so you get first-dibs when they release a new style.

Interested in buying but need a little more incentive? For 10% off your order, use my link: http://inknburn.refr.cc/donnastefanick. Just be sure you use it by June 12, 2021.

Are you already a fan of INKnBURN or never heard of the company? Do you like art work on your active wear or prefer more subtle clothes?

Happy running!

Donna

My Favorite and Least Favorite Races

So far, I’ve run 49 half marathons in 47 states, one full marathon, and a few other random races including 5k’s, 10k’s, and a 10-miler. Since most of these races were half marathons in different states, I have a wide range of races to choose from when deciding which ones I liked best and least. It’s funny because when I hear other people asked, “What was your favorite race?” they usually stammer around and say things like they could never choose just one.

For me, the choice is clear, however, especially for my favorite race. Sure, that’s not to say I didn’t highly enjoy some other races or truly dislike other races, but there are two obvious choices for me. I’ll start with my favorite race ever: the Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon in South Dakota.

Never would I have imagined that a half marathon in a tiny town in South Dakota would end up being my favorite half marathon at this point in my life, but there was just so much to love about this race.

I’ll start with the beginning as all things should, which in this case is packet pickup. I consider myself a pretty efficient person and I can appreciate when other people are also efficient, as was the race director with packet pickup for this race. I simply drove up to the designated site, told the one person sitting out front my name, and was handed a race shirt and bib. Simple and efficient.

The start of the Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon

The race started promptly at 7 am at the top of the beautiful Spearfish Canyon in Savoy in the northernmost section of South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest and finished at the bottom in Spearfish City Park. The course is net downhill with the start at around 5,000 feet above sea level and the finish around 1,300 feet. This didn’t feel so steep to me that my quads were aching but it did allow me to finish in my fastest time for a half marathon up to that point in my life.

Because the race is on quiet roads through the canyon, there were very few spectators and aid stations were on the light side, but still sufficient. For some people that thrive on crowds during a race they may find this a negative but for me I found the peace and quiet a definite positive for the race. As I was running I kept saying to myself how lucky I was to be able to run down the canyon and what a gift it was to do that. I can’t say I’ve thought that during many other races.

As of this writing the 2021 Spearfish Canyon will take place in-person on July 10, with a virtual option as well. https://www.nhcasa.com/canyonrun/ You can also read my race report here: Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, South Dakota- 34th state.

Now for my least favorite race. This wasn’t quite as easy to choose as my favorite but ultimately I have to choose the race that I described in my race report as a “death march through the desert,” the Laughlin Half Marathon in Nevada. I really hated just about everything about this race and only sheer will-power kept me going to the finish line.

The year that I ran the Laughlin Half Marathon, the race started at 8 am, which was entirely too late in the day considering it’s in the desert and quickly gets blazing hot (it’s since then been pushed to 7 am). It was already hot and steamy at the beginning of the race and being in the desert, there were no trees for shade, and not a cloud in the sky. The entire course was on packed dirt with loose gravel, making it difficult for me to get my footing. The course was out-and-back along a part of the Colorado River but pretty much all I could focus on was the stifling heat and loose gravel so I didn’t find it very scenic.

Crappy photo from a crappy race, the Laughlin Half Marathon

Even the post-race parts of this half marathon were disappointing. There were only bananas, oranges, and bagels in addition to water. The medals were just average at best and the shirts were white cotton t-shirts with the race logo. Based on the current website, changes have been made since I ran the race, but even so this is not a race I would ever recommend to anyone.

According to the website, https://runlaughlin.com/# the race director is attempting to hold a race December 4, 2021 but this is dependent on COVID numbers and state regulations. If you’re a true masochist, check it out! Honestly, the December date might help with the heat (I ran it in March). You can read my full race report here: Laughlin Half Marathon, Nevada-11th state.

What about you- what are your least favorite and favorite races so far? Have you run either of these races?

Happy running!

Donna

What if You Never Learn to Love Running?

The other evening my teenage daughter was vacuuming and stopped to ask me, “How do I learn to love to vacuum?” I stopped to think for a second then replied, “You may never love vacuuming.” Obviously this wasn’t the answer she was seeking because she sighed and continued to vacuum.

This got me thinking about running, though. Many people that want to lose weight or get fitter decide to start running. Then they realize that running is hard. And they in fact hate running. Where are those endorphins everyone talks about and the so-called runner’s high? How can you learn to love running especially if you hate it?

It’s been said that many people took up running for the first time (or returned to running after many years of not running) during the pandemic. This is great, especially if those people stick with it and continue running. That’s one of the biggest hurdles with running, sticking with it and making it a habit.

I loved exploring all of the greenways during my long weekend in Greenville, South Carolina

For me, there’s a much bigger likelihood I’ll run if I have a schedule. That schedule doesn’t have to be a training plan for a race, but that certainly gives me more motivation. However, with so many races being cancelled in 2020, races were off the table for me. With no races in sight, I had to make sure I followed at least somewhat of a regular schedule when it came to running or it may not have happened that day.

First you have to figure out the best time of the day to run for you, your body, and your work/family life. If you’re more of a morning person, you’ll likely find it easier to run in the morning than in the evening. But you may find you do better on lunch time runs. Experiment for a couple of weeks and see what is best for you. Many people find it difficult to find the motivation to run if they wait until after work or late in the day but for me, I prefer to run after work if possible.

Being part of a running group can also help if you’re not that enthusiastic about running. I realize that’s difficult during the pandemic, depending on where you live and the conditions. I’ve seen on social media some people continuing to run in small groups socially distanced but where I live even that’s not really an option. However, you can still be a part of a running group, albeit online. There are many options for this including Strava, Garmin, Facebook, and running blogs for starters.

Choosing a scenic route to run always helps!

Back to the original question of how can you learn to love running? Well, you can try some of the things I mentioned above like having a scheduled time to run regularly, figuring out the best time of day to run, and being part of a running group. If you’ve tried all of those things for at least six weeks and still hate running, what else can you do?

One thing that makes a huge difference to me when I get bored with running is to mix things up as far as location. The great thing about running is there are so many options when it comes to where you can run. Running through neighborhoods is of course one option but you can also find a greenway and run there or even run through a different neighborhood, one that you’ve never even driven through or run near your work place. Trail running is another great option and that doesn’t have to mean trudging up steep hills and past exposed tree roots and rocks. The terrain of trails can vary greatly so I recommend walking a trail first to check it out before you run on a trail. If you’re lucky enough to live near a beach, try running either on the sand or near it so you can still get those ocean views.

You can try setting mini-goals for yourself like working up to a 5k run (or race if that’s an option for you). Find a 5k beginner’s training plan and follow it to completion. For extra motivation if you can’t run a race, involve a family member or close friend to make it more fun by having them stage a race course for you, complete with running bib, finish line (I’ve seen toilet paper used but you could also use party streamers), and post-race beverage and snacks of your choice. The idea is to make it as fun as possible, not just a regular every day run or it likely won’t feel special.

Say you’ve tried all of the things I mentioned and you still hate running. What can you do then? In my opinion, you have two choices: you can either continue to run and suffer through it or you can stop running. No one ever said you have to run. If you truly hate it, stop and try some other kind of activity. There are plenty of physical activities you can do if you’re looking for a way to stay active and healthy- cycling, hiking, going on long walks at a brisk pace, swimming, dancing, HIIT workouts, tennis, gardening, golf, disc golf, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, yoga, rock climbing, skating, skiing (can be water skiing, downhill, cross-country), or even punching a boxing bag. Find something that you at least like enough to continue doing a few days a week and gets your heart rate up.

What about you? Do you hate running but do it anyway? Do you love running but hated it when you first started?

Happy running!

Donna

The Importance of Strength Training for Runners- My Personal Test Results

If you think this will be just another post about someone telling you that you should do strength training, think again.

When I was in my 20’s I barely did any strength training (or stretching, cross-training, or pretty much anything else other than just running). When I ran my first half marathon, it wasn’t my legs that were the most sore after the race, although they were also sore. However, my arms and shoulders were so sore and tired I could barely lift them over my head for days after the race. That’s when I knew I needed to start some strength training.

I’ve been hitting the gym regularly for the past 20-something years. I feel like strength training has become even more important now that I’m in my 40’s. Depending on what source you believe, you can lose from 3-8% of your muscle mass per decade beginning in your 30’s. Obviously, that can quickly add up to a significant loss of muscle mass if you do nothing about it.

So many runners I’ve known over the years have told me they don’t do strength training because they feel like running is enough to maintain their muscles. The sad truth is, running by itself is not enough to stop muscle loss. In fact, when you’re in your 40’s it’s even more important to not only lift weights but to lift heavy weights. In order to stimulate muscle growth, you need to challenge and stimulate your muscles so they break down and repair bigger and stronger. If you can lift a certain weight with a specific body part more than 10 times easily, it’s not heavy enough. Try to aim for a weight you can lift 8-10 times at the most, and that’s a struggle.

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Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

A good rule of thumb is to perform two or three sets of about 10 repetitions or less, and remember to make sure you have good form. When in doubt, ask a knowledgeable friend to show you or just watch yourself in a mirror. Try to fit strength training into your schedule once or twice a week. You also don’t need to spend hours at a time lifting weights and in fact shouldn’t spend that long on strength training if your primary interest is running. I can cover my full body in thirty minutes, sometimes a bit less than that depending on how busy the gym is and if I have to wait for a set of weights or a machine.

There are many, many opinions on what exercises are “best” for runners, but they’re just that- opinions. No one has undeniable proof that doing x, y, and z when it comes to strength training will help you improve as a runner. Exercises that tend to pop up more than others when you read articles about strength training for runners specifically are squats, lunges, and core-related exercises.

That’s not to say you should necessarily focus on these exercises or even do them at all, to be honest. Everyone is different in what their bodies can handle and for some people it would be too much strain on their legs to do lunges and squats two or three days a week on top of running, especially if you’re training for a long-distance event like a marathon and even more so if it’s your first. In fact, I would say if you’re training for your first marathon or looking to get a Boston-qualifying time, I wouldn’t recommend starting a strength training routine because it will likely be too much for your body. Save the weights for after your big goal race or even better in the months before you start training for your goal race.

My theory when it comes to strength training is try to mix things up. Like I mentioned earlier, I like to do exercises that work my full body by the time I’m done. One day you could do some row-type exercises for your lower and mid-back and chest fly exercises, some planks, and maybe some shoulder presses, bicep curls, and tricep extensions with some leg work like squats. The next time do some lat or upper back exercises, some chest presses, superman (for core), bridge pose, lunges, and push-ups.

Another important point is to make sure you run first before you do strength training if running is your priority. Ideally, it’s recommended to allow 2-3 hours between running and strength training, but I don’t think that’s feasible for most people so just do whatever you can. Make sure you’re not doing strength training on harder running days like speed workouts. I always go to the gym on days when I have an easy, shorter run. I’ll run easy for anywhere from 30-40 minutes depending on where I am in my half marathon training plan then drive to the gym, which may take 30 minutes. I also never start out with leg exercises right after I’ve run, but save them for later in my workout to allow them as much of a break as possible.

If all of this seems way too complicated to you and you don’t even know where to get started, I suggest joining a gym that offers one-on-one sessions with personal trainers if you can afford it or are able to given the current situation. You might be surprised at how affordable this can be, if you shop around. If that’s just not an option for you (especially now during the pandemic), there are some great resources online. Ones that offer videos are the best, so you can actually see the exercise being performed properly. Some of the ones I like are:

Runner’s Blueprint

Women’s Health

Outside

There are of course many others, but these offer a pretty nice array of exercises that you can easily do at home. You just need to pick up some free weights, kettle bells if possible, and resistance bands and you’re all set! If you’re truly a brand-new beginner to all of this, you can just use body weight to start and work your way up from there once the exercises feel easy to you. There are also apps for strength training but I’ve never used any of them nor do I know anyone who has, so I really can’t speak about those.

One of the biggest factors in strength training is actually doing it. Just like you set a schedule for running, put it in your calendar when you’ll be working out and you’ll be more likely to do it. You may find you actually look forward to your time doing strength training; I know I do!

Now to get to the part about my personal results. My gym was closed for six months due to the pandemic. While I have some weights, an exercise ball, and some resistance bands at home, I’ll be the first to admit I slacked off, especially as time wore on. You might think it would be the opposite and after months of not working out I would be craving more of it, but no; I did less. The one thing I didn’t slack off is core work, which I feel is huge for runners.

Finally after my gym re-opened, I was at first a bit hesitant about going back, but my fears were quickly put to ease when I saw how empty the gym was and how everyone was wearing masks and wiping down the equipment after use. Also the bathrooms were closed and there was hand sanitizer everywhere. Still, I didn’t want to over-do it and not be able to move so I was relatively conservative with the weights.

Do you want to know what I found out? The only part of me that was even a little sore was my chest. Even after not hitting the weights pretty hard like I used to for six months I was just slightly sore. That along with the fact that my running hadn’t suffered any while I wasn’t doing strength training changed my opinion a bit about the “importance” of strength training for runners. It doesn’t change my mind about the importance of strength training for everyone to help prevent muscle loss due to aging, however.

Looking back at my running stats those six months when I wasn’t going to the gym for strength training, my times weren’t any slower, even when the heat of summer hit. Honestly, I’m a bit surprised by my findings because I always firmly believed strength training was helping me be a faster, stronger runner. Now I question that. Not that I’m going to stop going to the gym now that it’s open again because again, the whole muscle loss thing.

And before you begin to lecture me, I realize this is a study of one and for a relatively short period. Also, I was starting with a firmly established base, as far as strength training goes, before my break from it. I have no doubt if I would have taken even longer, say a year, from strength training, I would have seen the effects not just in my running but in daily life as well.

What about you- do you regularly do strength training? Do you cycle strength training months with marathon or half marathon season(s)? Or do you hate strength training and avoid it at all costs? Did you stop going to the gym for strength training because of the pandemic and if so have you been back lately?

Happy running!

Donna

Confessions of a Mother Runner

I have one child, a fourteen-year-old daughter who loves to hear the story about how she “ran” her first half marathon while in my tummy when I was pregnant. I had been running half marathons and other distances well before I was pregnant so when I told my ob/gyn doctor that I wanted to run a half marathon in my first trimester, she just said for me to take it easy and not push too hard. I had an uncomplicated pregnancy and not only ran that half marathon, I was able to continue to run until I was about 8 months pregnant, at which point the pressure on my bladder was too much so I switched to the elliptical trainer.

Once I got the green light to run again after my delivery, I noticed some changes in my body that had happened during pregnancy. I developed iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), which is a common running injury, apparently because my ligaments had gotten looser when I was pregnant and we runners want relatively tight ligaments to hold everything in place. Despite the pain from ITBS and not really being able to run more than a few miles without excruciating pain in the side of my knee, I ran a half marathon in Ohio, my first postpartum race, when my daughter was almost 7 months old.

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The half marathon in Arizona when I was pregnant

I had a jogging stroller that I used to run with my daughter as soon as she was able to sit and hold her head up on her own. If you’ve never pushed a child in a jogging stroller, let me tell you, it’s HARD! Not only is it hard to push the extra weight of the child plus the stroller, it’s hard to coordinate the pushing and running. Do you push with one hand, both hands, or do the push-off then do no-hands for a few steps? I ended up doing all three. Then there are the turns. Jogging strollers are different from regular baby strollers because they have three wheels instead of four, which makes it easier to maneuver them, but it’s still not easy. I ended up pushing my daughter in the jogging stroller until she was almost 2 years old. At that point she was done with strollers of all sorts and she would put up the biggest fuss you’ve ever seen when I tried to strap her into a stroller or a car seat too for that matter (but she still had to ride in the car seat for a few more years).

Being able to take your child with you on runs in a jogging stroller helps on a few different fronts. For one, it gives your spouse a break from having to take care of your child. For another, it gives you some special one-on-one time, as long as your child enjoys being in the stroller. Finally, many kids seem to enjoy being out in nature and seeing all of the new sights go by when they’re in a jogging stroller. For other kids, the rocking motion puts them to sleep. My daughter would just sit there and look around, taking it all in, so I believe she enjoyed the jogging stroller until she reached the point where she didn’t want to be strapped into anything.

When my daughter was still really little but too old for her jogging stroller, I remember how she would react when I would tell her I was going out for a run. She would always give me a big smile and when she was old enough to talk she would always say, “Have a great run, Momma!” Never did I get the push-back from her where she begged me not to go. It’s like it didn’t even occur to her to ask me not to go for a run. Seeing me go for a run was such an ingrained part of my family’s life that it was just normal to her.

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Going to races to cheer me on also because a normal part of my daughter’s life

Like any mother runner (or father runner) knows, it’s difficult to squeeze everything in. I’ve always worked full-time and have been running half-marathons since before my daughter was born, on average 3 or 4 races a year. My daughter has been what I would call fairly active in activities over the years such as swim lessons then swim team when she was older, gymnastics lessons, Girl Scouts, soccer teams, ballet lessons, piano lessons, art lessons, and on and on. Fortunately my husband and I were able to work together to coordinate all of this plus our work schedules but it hasn’t been easy. I would often run laps around the park or neighborhood where she had soccer practice or swim team practice. I would dress for a run, drop her off, then run as long as I possibly could until it was time to pick her up again. Sometimes it wasn’t as long as my training plan called for, but as mother runners, we do what we can.

As my daughter got older, she asked to run with me. At first, I was so thrilled and imagined the two of us chatting happily while we went for easy runs. Then the reality of that sunk in and the complaining began. She would whine, “Running is hard,” and “I can’t do it,” and “I need to walk,” sometimes only after being out a few minutes. I would always tell her she would be setting the pace and we would only go for about a half hour, walking when she needed to. However, the truth is, the whining and complaining were driving me crazy and after a while I couldn’t take it any more. We stopped running together.

Then I discovered Girls on the Run, a running support group aimed at girls in third through fifth grade that lasts 10-12 weeks and culminates with a 5k race at the end. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I could make for my daughter, although initially she wasn’t as big of a fan of the program as I was. The reason she didn’t care for the program is she thought it was too easy for her and wanted the coaches to push her harder, but I think it was great for her to be able to see what a great runner she was then and gain some confidence in herself. I fully believe that’s what turned things around for my daughter, and ultimately lead her to become the runner she is today. I wrote a post about her experience when she was going through it, which you can read here:  Girls on the Run Interview.

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The Girls on the Run race my daughter and I ran together

Over the years, I’ve become a big fan of products from the store Trader Joe’s. If you don’t have one where you live, maybe there’s something like it with affordable and still healthy options. On many occasions, I’ve come home from work, changed into my running clothes then gone for a run, come home from my run, and made something from Trader Joe’s for dinner, like a pre-packaged stir-fry or cut up some chicken and cooked and sautéed that in an Indian sauce, with some naan and rice (all from Trader Joe’s) on the side. Sure, other stores have stir fries, sauces, and things like that, but Trader Joe’s products often have less processing and/or less preservatives and other stuff you don’t really want in your food. But I don’t want this to sound like an ad for Trader Joe’s. It’s really my way of saying it’s OK to make a quick meal for your family and you don’t need to feel guilty for doing so. Heck, show me any mother who works full-time and trains for long distance races and I’ll show you a woman who at least sometimes cooks quick meals for her family (unless she’ s lucky enough to have a husband who doesn’t run and does all of the cooking. Now wouldn’t that be a dream?).

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A Color Run 5k my daughter and I ran together

As mothers we already feel so much guilt, right from the beginning. There’s guilt if you don’t breast-feed, guilt if you don’t use cloth diapers, guilt if you don’t stay home to raise your child, guilt if you don’t always cook organic, healthy home-cooked meals, guilt if you leave your child with a sitter, guilt if you don’t enroll your child in the “best” preschool, and on and on it goes. We don’t need to feel guilty if we’re doing the best we can and our children are taken care of. Truly, it’s OK to leave your child with your husband while you go for a run, even a long run for an hour or more.

My husband was always fully supportive of me, whether it was my decision to go back to work full-time after the birth of our daughter or my running when our daughter was young and he had to watch her. I know not all women have as supportive husbands, however, which is sad to me. The ability to get out to run is such a mental break for me and my husband was able to see that I’m happier when I’m able to run, and likewise, I’m a better mother to our daughter. If only all husbands could understand this, I believe they would also be more supportive. If you can’t rely on your husband to watch your kids, try trading off watching each other’s kids with another mother runner in your area, or ask a friend, co-worker, relative, or someone else you know and would trust your kids with.

So yes, being a mother is hard and being a mother runner is even harder, especially if you work full-time as well, but I’m here to tell you it can be done. What about work/life balance, you may ask? Honestly, it doesn’t exist, at least not in the perfect 50/50 balance. Some days you may feel like it’s a struggle just to keep your head afloat.

There will be days where you have to work late in the evening, you have to go into work late because your child had a doctor appointment, you have to leave work a little early to squeeze in a run, you skip lunch so you can get in a run, you have to set your alarm for a crazy hour in the morning so you can run before work, you have piles of laundry that have need folded for a week, your bathroom hasn’t been cleaned in over a month. Any of this sound familiar? If you’re a mother runner, I’m sure at least some of it does. We’ve all been there. And you know what? It’s OK. Now stop beating yourself up and get out there for a run!

Are you a mother runner? Do you or did you feel guilty for not being a “perfect” mother?

Happy running!

Donna

How COVID-19 Changed My Attitude About Running a Half Marathon in All 50 States

As you may at least partly guess from the title if you didn’t already know, I’ve had a goal for several years now to run a half marathon in all 50 states. I only had three states left before COVID-19 hit and the world pandemic began. Three stinking states. I was supposed to run my final states- New Mexico, Minnesota, and Iowa and finish on Labor Day weekend, 2020. Thanks to the pandemic, I haven’t been able to run a single race this year.

My half marathon in New Mexico was pushed back from April to November, so I suppose that could in theory still happen but I’m not holding my breath on that one. The race in Minnesota was also technically pushed back but the severe lack of communication from the race director made me never want to run that race ever. The race in Iowa was turned into a virtual race. Since my whole plan is to run a race in all 50 states, I’m not doing that one.

Believe it or not, I’m not feeling the least bit upset over the way my lack of races has panned out this year. Sure, initially I was sad and disappointed but I fully understand why these races couldn’t take place. At this point, I’ve come to the realization that like so many other things in my life, these races are completely out of my control.

Since I’ve started chasing this goal, it was a huge priority for me to run as many races as possible in a year and still spend some time in each state. I was limited both by time off at work and my budget. In the beginning that meant one state/half marathon in each season, so four races each year. When I had run all of the southern states, that mostly meant (there were one or two exceptions) I was down to running during the spring, summer, and fall because I had no desire to run a race in Minnesota or any other northern state in the winter.

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I also made sure my daughter was able to go to each race, which meant finding a race during one of her school breaks so I didn’t have to pull her out of school. So far she’s been to every race with me since she was born. That will change if I’m able to run the race in New Mexico in November because she’ll be in school then and doesn’t want to have to make up the school work since she’s in high school and the course load is pretty intense. So far the only state she hasn’t been to other than my remaining three states is Pennsylvania. That may change to New Mexico and Pennsylvania, but as I said, we’ll see.

During these past few months of the pandemic I’ve had some major life changes made by someone else, not me, and I’ve had to roll with the punches. I felt like the rug was pulled out from underneath me and it has taken time to adapt. With time things have gotten better but I still have a long ways to go.

As a result of the pandemic and the changes in my life, I feel like my goal to run a half marathon in every state has evolved into something different. Not less important because I still very much want to finish this quest and it’s still a high priority but it’s just different now. Before the pandemic I felt like one of my top priorities was to make sure I found a half marathon that would fit in with my family’s schedule and to run at least three races a year. Now, however, I don’t feel such a burning pressure for that to happen.

I know in my heart that I will finish this quest and run in all 50 states but I’m letting go of some of that pressure to make sure I find a race during all of my daughter’s school breaks. For example, I won’t be running a half marathon during my daughter’s spring break next year. 2021 will be the first year I haven’t run a half marathon during my daughter’s spring break in as many years as she’s had a spring break (she’ll be a sophomore in high school starting next week).

Even though I tried, I was unable to find a half marathon in Minnesota or Iowa during her next spring break. Rather than spend countless hours searching for a race, I used a couple of vouchers I had won from a contest with an airline and booked us seats to Oregon during her spring break. I’ll find other half marathons to run and if I have to wait a bit longer to run them, so be it.

For years I thought 2020 would be the end of my big journey but now I know that’s not going to happen. Who knows when I’ll be able to finish running a half marathon in all 50 states? I know it will happen and when it does it will be all the sweeter. The pandemic has changed me in so many ways, some bad, some good, but with regard to this goal, it has just put some things into perspective a bit for me.

What about you? How has the pandemic changed you?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Book Review- Mental Toughness for Runners: a Complete Guide by Michele Ufer

This year I’ve been reading more books on the mental aspect of running. I loved Deana Kastor’s book Let Your Mind Run and have found myself referring to some things she covered in the book on some tough runs or when I’m just not in the right frame of mind. When I heard about Michele Ufer’s book and the story behind the author, I knew I had to read his book.

Michele Ufer is a German athlete who came upon the ultra running scene apparently out of nowhere in 2011. Despite having seemingly almost no running experience, Mr. Ufer decided to run a 250 km stage race in the Atacama Desert in Chile at an altitude of 2500-3500 meters (8202-11,483 feet) and not only finished but managed to finish in seventh place overall. He attributes his success to his extensive mental training before the race. The link to the Atacama Crossing Ultramarathon is here.

Most people that prepare to run an ultra distance (anything longer than a marathon) put in extra miles running. They increase their distance gradually to build up their bodies and put in the super-long miles on the weekends in addition to the weekly miles. The emphasis is very much on running, strength-training, stretching, and recovery, but all of this relates to the physical aspect of running with the majority of runners. You don’t hear about an ultra runner spending hours on end working on the mental aspect of running.

But this is exactly what Ufer did when he was preparing for the Atacama Crossing. Ufer, who has a PhD in sports psychology, drew on his extensive knowledge to take advantage of the psychological and motivational potential of goals and mental training. He utilized not just one or two mental strategies, but several, such as creating internal images, self-talk, the power of music, and inner monologues.

The idea behind the importance of the mental aspect of running is nothing new; runners have been aware of the importance of the mind for many years. You hear things like we need to think positive thoughts when we’re running and we need to have a good attitude. Other than thinking positively, however, there honestly isn’t much concrete and exact advice out there on the subject. Until now.

Screen Shot 2020-03-06 at 3.49.21 PMDr. Ufer’s book is absolutely filled with practical exercises designed to work on the mental aspect of running. As I type that, I realize of course this is applicable to not just running but life in general. Being stronger mentally is certainly a trait anyone whether they’re a runner or not would benefit from.

He also recognizes that there’s more to mental training than just thinking positive thoughts and there are indeed limitations. If I think to myself that I will be a 3-hour marathoner even though my fastest marathon to date is 4 hours and 20 minutes, it doesn’t mean that will magically happen just by thinking it will, even if I include other mental training actions such as visualization and others but I just can’t reach the goal times necessary for that 3 hour finish time on my training runs. In other words, you do have to be realistic and know your physical limitations.

What sets this book apart from others on the subject of the mental aspect of running are the numerous exercises. There are questions to ask yourself such as “Which activities and things give you strength, do you enjoy doing, and are good for you?” You make a list and rank everything accordingly. There are also tons of visual imaging exercises, such as visualizing yourself from another person’s perspective. The instructions are thorough and allow you to dig deep into your inner thoughts.

Perhaps one of the most extensive sections deals with understanding your true self when it comes to running and what state your mental strength is currently in. There are exercises on diagnosing your own personal mental strengths during training and competition. You rank each of them and at the end are able to identify the mental skills needed to overcome certain challenges that you can work on. There is also an exercise to ask yourself the reasons why you run.

The book moves on to focus on using more appropriate language to ourselves, like focusing on goals instead of mistakes or things we do not want. He talks about using “towards” goals instead of “away from” goals, like instead of saying “I don’t want to get stomach cramps” you could say, “I want to feel light on my feet and full of energy.” Much of this is also spinning negative thoughts into positive thoughts.

A thorough visualization guide takes you through how exactly to visualize things rather than just saying something like, “Picture yourself running.” Dr. Ufer gives several different exercises to help with being able to thoroughly visualize sequences of events. By the end of the chapter, you should be able to picture in your mind’s eye how you mentally wish to experience everything from the evening before an important competition all the way through to how you want to feel after you cross the finish line.

Not to lead you down the path that this is just another book on positive thinking, Dr. Ufer points out the negative effects of positive thinking. He says that many studies now show that some people who are most effected by depression, self-doubt, and are unhappy with their current situation are actually pushed deeper into depression by a constant deluge of positive thinking; instead we should be more realistic and constructive. He also discusses ways to handle failure, crises, and injuries.

If you enjoy introspection and figuring out how your mind works and would like to work on the mental aspect of running, I believe you may enjoy this book. However, if you’re unwilling to put the time necessary to do the exercises, you probably won’t get nearly as much from this book but you still might find it interesting. Be prepared to answer many questions about yourself and dig deep into what Dr. Ufer calls your “personal navigation system.”

Do you enjoy learning about the mental aspect of running? Have you read any good books on the mental part of running?

Happy running!

Donna

 

South Dakota- Memorials, National and State Parks, and Wild West

I realized the other night there’s something I need to fix here. I woke up from a dead sleep with the thought that I have done a disservice to South Dakota. I ran a half marathon there a few years ago and it was my 34th state as part of my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states in the US. You can read all about the Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon here. However, I only recently realized I never wrote up a proper blog on all of the things to do in South Dakota. Now I will fix that.

On my journey to run a half marathon in all 50 states, I visited North Dakota first. No offense if you live in North Dakota, but I didn’t care much for Bismarck and the surrounding areas when I was there. It all seemed drab, uninteresting, and everyone there that we talked to kept talking about how much they dreaded winter coming even though it was only September. Maybe there are “better” parts of North Dakota, but this was my experience.

When it came time to plan my race and vacation afterwards (or “racecation”) for South Dakota, I expected the area to be similar to North Dakota since they are adjoining states. I couldn’t have been more wrong. South Dakota seemed like a complete 180 degree difference from North Dakota to me. There’s only one national park in North Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, about a 2 hour drive from Bismarck, plus two national historic sites. However, there are two national parks plus four service sites in South Dakota:  Badlands National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, Missouri National Recreational River, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and Wind Cave National Park. That’s just the national parks and sites, too; there’s also the Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, and some fun wild-west towns.

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Badlands National Park

If you want to choose one place as your home base and take day trips to see as many of these places as possible, Rapid City is a good choice. There are a multitude of hotels and restaurants and you won’t have to do hours on end of driving in a day. 37 miles (about a 45 minute drive) from Rapid City is the Crazy Horse Memorial. Crazy Horse is the world’s largest in-progress sculpture carving, as well as the longest ongoing, having begun in 1948. When the sculpture is complete it will not only feature the Oglala Lakota warrior known as Crazy Horse but also his horse and will be 27 feet taller than Mount Rushmore. There’s a restaurant on the grounds, gift shop, museum, cultural center, and more that you can read about on their website here.

After leaving the Crazy Horse Memorial, drive 16 miles to Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone. There is free admission to Mount Rushmore but you will have to pay parking fees. Carvers’ Cafe is the only dining facility in the park and it serves food typical in a US national park (sandwiches, burgers, salads, soups, chicken meals, desserts, and drinks). I also recommend visiting the Lincoln Borglum Museum at the memorial. One special activity is park ranger talks that accompany the sculpture illumination every year starting the Friday before Memorial Day. Although the park ranger talks stop mid-September, the sculpture is illuminated after sunset all year.  

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Mount Rushmore

For your next day trip, drive an hour south to visit Jewel Cave National Monument and Wind Cave National Park. If you go to Jewel Cave first and end with Wind Cave, the drive back to Rapid City is more direct. I highly recommend getting there early to make in-person reservations for a tour ahead of time at both places or you may get there only to be disappointed the tour you really wanted to do is booked for the day. You can only make online reservations for large groups and some tours sell out by 11 am. Surprisingly, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the busiest days so you actually might encounter smaller crowds on weekends. Although Jewel Cave is the third-longest cave on Earth, you definitely want to go to both caves because they are very different experiences. It’s also a good idea to bring a sweater even in the summer because Jewel Cave is a constant 40 degrees F year-round.

Custer State Park, about 45 minutes south of Rapid City, is the largest state park in South Dakota and is definitely worth a full day. The park is full of approximately 1,300 bison, bighorn sheep, burros, prairie dogs, and mule deer. Drive the scenic Wildlife Loop Road through the park but also get out and explore the park’s trails. On your way back to Rapid City, take Needles Highway (SD-87). This National Scenic Byway is gorgeous and you’ll see the famous Needles Eye Tunnel. Stop and look around at the panoramic views, and then find the trailhead for the Cathedral Spires Trail. It’s only 1.6 miles long but offers some incredible views.

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Custer State Park

About an hour from Rapid City is one of my favorite places in South Dakota, Badlands National Park. This national park is 244,000 acres and has one of the most unique landscapes I’ve seen. In addition to buffalo, pronghorn antelope, mule deer, prairie dogs and numerous birds that you’ll see in the park, fossil hunting is allowed as long as you leave everything where you found it, and there are of course many trails you can explore. The only lodging and restaurant in the park is Cedar Pass Lodge and Restaurant.

If you want to see a Wild West town, Deadwood is a fun place and is about an hour’s drive from Rapid City. You can go to the Black Hills Mining Museum, Adams Museum to learn about the history of the Black Hills, tour the Broken Boot Gold Mine, and go to the 1876 Dinner Theater. You can also find a casino, breweries and wineries, and many types of walking tours. Some people might think of the area as touristy and even cheesy but I found the museums interesting and worth checking out to learn more about the history of the area.

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Learning about panning for gold

This is just a sampling of some places to visit and things to do in the western region of South Dakota. There’s also Bear Butte State Park in Sturgis, Roughlock Falls Nature Area in Lead, George S. Mickelson Trail in Lead, and Fort Meade Recreation Area in Sturgis for some other great outdoor places to visit. Amazingly, this is all just one section of South Dakota. There are also dozens of other state parks, recreation areas, forests, and nature areas in the central, northeast, and southeast regions of South Dakota, which you can find on this comprehensive website.

Have you been to South Dakota? If so, are there places you visited that I left off here?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Review of Decathlon Running Apparel or Why Running Tights Should Not Cost $158

I first stumbled upon the sporting goods store Decathlon when I was reading something online and they referred to it. Honestly, I don’t even remember what the article was about, but it mentioned something about a sporting goods store founded in France called Decathlon. Naturally, I looked it up, only to find there were no brick-and-mortar stores in the US anywhere near me but I could still buy online. Decathlon sells apparel and equipment for a wide range of athletes and outdoor-enthusiasts, for a huge list of activities like running, walking, hiking, swimming, fishing, hunting, combat sports, archery, yoga, racket sports, and on and on. Here’s their website:  Decathlon.com.

Even though there are currently only a couple of stores in the San Francisco area in the US, Decathlon is apparently the largest sporting goods retailer in the world. They are able to keep costs low by offering 20 of its own brands and cutting out the middleman. Their running-specific brand is Kalenji, though of course there are other brands of running apparel than this one. Still, you won’t find brands like Nike, Adidas, or any other “big-name” companies at Decathlon.

I took a chance and placed my first online order in January of 2019. In that first order, I bought a pair of capri running tights for $10.90, a long-sleeve running pullover for $11.90, a fleece jacket technically for sailing according to Decathlon for $17.90, and a pair of ankle-length running tights for $14.90, with free shipping, coming to a grand total of $55.60. I’ve run in, gone to yoga class, and lifted weights in this athletic apparel many times since then and everything still looks brand new.

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One of the hats and tights on the left, pullover on the right

When I first received the tights and capris, I’ll admit I was a little concerned because the material seemed a bit thin. However, I’ve run in both pair of bottoms through a total downpour and/or more manageable rain, extremely windy conditions, and just your average chilly day and have never been cold (or overheated) in them, meaning they “breath” extremely well, perhaps surprisingly well given the price. Everything from my original order has been worn through many conditions, washed, and dried many times and as I said earlier, still looks like new.

Since that initial order, I’ve ordered a pair of running shorts for $7.00, a “mountain backpacking” cap that I wear to run in for $7.99, another “mountain backpacking” cap that I also run in for $3.00, and a “hiking” fleece jacket for $10. This all came to a grand total of $27.99 with no shipping fees. Currently for orders over $30, Decathlon offers free shipping (that minimum amount for free shipping has ranged from $25-$50 since I first ordered with them). Just like with my previous order, I’ve absolutely loved everything I’ve ordered. Everything has fit well and doesn’t feel “cheap.” The tights, capris, and shorts all came with a zippered pocket in the back. Both fleece jackets came with zippered pockets. The caps are fully adjustable.

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When I found out there was an actual Decathlon store in Spain near where I had a vacation planned for the end of June, I was very excited and of course was looking forward to visiting the store in person. Then COVID-19 hit and American citizens were prohibited from flying to the EU so I had to cancel that trip.

Still, online sales work for me, especially now that I know what sizes fit me best. I should note too that I’ve never had to send anything back because of poor quality or it didn’t fit. Just about the only complaint I have is they’re sometimes out of stock in my size. If you’re looking for multiple items and/or can be flexible, that definitely helps, otherwise you’ll likely be disappointed. I have no doubt that their inventory is depleted even more so now because of COVID-19.

Finally, I’d like to argue against anyone who might say their gear is cheap and bad for the environment because it doesn’t last long and has to be thrown out every couple of seasons. I still have every single item I’ve purchased from Decathlon and every thing is still in great shape. Besides, running clothes typically don’t last for anything like a decade anyway whether they’re $158 running tights from Lululemon or $14.90 running tights from Decathlon.

Have you ever bought anything from Decathlon? Are you the type of person that’s brand-loyal and will pay more money just because you’re comfortable with the brand or are you more willing to try new brands and new companies?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Long Weekend in Greenville, South Carolina- An Unexpected Surprise

Once things started opening back up during the COVID-19 crisis and it became clear that South Carolina was a safe choice to visit, I wanted to plan a road trip from North Carolina for a long weekend getaway. I’ve been to Charleston, South Carolina and all along the coast many times but I hadn’t been to many places inland. I had heard good things about Greenville so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to do some exploring.

Greenville, South Carolina is on the northwestern corner of the state, about an hour from Asheville, North Carolina or 2 1/2 hours from Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s only the sixth- largest city in the state with almost 71,000 people, but there is plenty to do especially for a city of its size.

I knew we wanted to do as much hiking as possible, because that’s what we enjoy doing on vacation. On our first day, I knew we wouldn’t have much time for hiking, though, so a visit to Lake Conestee Nature Preserve was perfect. The Preserve is 400 acres on the Reedy River 6 miles south of downtown Greenville. There are both an evergreen forest and hardwood forest, wetlands, and wildlife from deer, raccoon, beaver, fox, river otter, and hundreds of bird species. Unfortunately, only paved trails were open due to the pandemic, but we were still able to spend a couple of hours walking around in the peaceful setting.

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Lake Conestee Nature Preserve

We arranged to spend the entire next day at Paris Mountain State Park, which is about 20 minutes from downtown Greenville. There is an admission fee for entry of $6 for adults and $3.50 for children. Tent or RV camp sites are available and there is a designated swimming area. However, we were there for the trails and there are 15 miles of hiking trails in the park.

We decided to hike the Sulphur Springs Trail first. It’s 3.6 miles and is labeled strenuous. There are several steep sections, deep ravines and running streams lined with mountain laurel and rhododendron. We saw a few waterfalls and came to a large dam. Since we like to pick up lunch at a grocery store and eat along the trails when we hike, this saved us time of not having to leave the park for lunch and re-enter, plus we had a nice view while we ate. Before the day was over, we also hiked several other trails including Lake Placid Trail, Mountain Creek Trail, and Turtle Trail. You can find all of the information on trails in the park here.

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Our third day was reserved for the Falls Park on the Reedy area. My daughter and I ran along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, an incredible greenway system consisting of 22 miles of paved trails along the Reedy River on a historic rail bed. We absolutely loved running here- there were trees and flowers everywhere and so many choices of directions to run (or biking is also a popular option). This was my unexpected surprise; I knew we would spend some time on the Swamp Rabbit Trail but I had no idea it’s as extensive as it is nor as absolutely beautiful as it is.

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The Swamp Rabbit Trail (just a tiny fraction of it)

After a 6 mile run on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, we met back up with my husband and the three of us went to breakfast at a unique and tasty place, Coffee Underground. With our bellies filled, we walked around Falls Park on the Reedy and explored around there. You can hear the rushing falls as you walk around the numerous gardens and over Liberty Bridge, a suspension bridge built as a work of art.

Shops and restaurants are all within walking distance of the falls. There are no shortage of art galleries and one of our favorites is Open Art Studios, where we bought a small painting. They have a diverse collection of art at affordable prices. In fact, we enjoyed the Falls Park on the Reedy area so much we decided to go back on our fourth and final day in Greenville. On that return trip, we came upon a small arboretum and more gardens we hadn’t seen before. We also had a filling breakfast at Maple Street Biscuit Company, which is near the falls.

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Falls Park on the Reedy

A final place I’d like to mention is The Commons, a 12,000 square-foot food hall with open dining, outdoor seating, and is right by the Swamp Rabbit Trail. For food, you can choose from Automatic Taco, Bake Room, The Community Tap, GB & D (Golden Brown & Delicioius), and Methodical Coffee. We picked up some freshly baked goods from Bake Room, some beers from The Community Tap, and a kombucha from GB & D and sat outside with our dogs and enjoyed the beautiful day. There are also a couple of shops, Carolina Triathlon for people who like to run, bike, and/or swim and Billiam, a custom-designed denim shop.

Greenville, South Carolina may not be a top vacation spot for many people but I found it to be even better than I expected. It’s a place I highly recommend spending a long weekend in if you’re ever in the general area and are up for a road trip. Greenville has so many different places to hike, bike, run, walk, eat, and shop, I feel it has something for everyone.

Have you been to Greenville, South Carolina? Never heard of it but are intrigued?

Happy travels!

Donna