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

 

 

 

Learning to Love Running in the Rain

I didn’t used to be a big fan of running in the rain unless it was summer time. Warm rain doesn’t bother me nearly as much as cold rain. In fact, I’ve always enjoyed the feeling of running in the rain on a hot summer day, feeling the rain drops wash away the sweat, jumping through puddles like a kid, and finding that rainbow when the rain stops. While I’m still not a huge fan of running in the rain during the spring or fall, I’ve found myself more likely to do so as I’ve gotten older.

Inevitably, it rains quite a bit where I live in the spring. I used to run on the treadmill if it was raining, particularly if it was raining hard. This spring, I’ve run in the rain so much I’ve strung a line in my backyard so I can hang my soaked running clothes to dry afterwards (assuming it’s stopped raining). They just don’t seem to dry out that quickly if I hang them over the bathroom shower, so outside they go now.

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April showers bring May flowers!

Recently, my daughter and I were running together and we were supposed to go for 7 miles. It was sprinkling but wasn’t coming down that hard when we were leaving the house. I put on a hat, my Aftershokz headphones, put my phone in my armband, and off we went. After about 3 miles, it started to downpour. Hard. So hard I was seriously concerned about my phone getting ruined and my headphones as well. I put the headphones under my hat, on top of my head, to give them a little more protection, but there was nothing I could do about my phone except hope it would stay dry in the zippered compartment it was in on my armband.

We were doing some speed work that day, which was comprised of five one-mile repeats after a warm-up and before a cool-down. There were deep puddles all over the sidewalk, road, and grass; literally everywhere we were stepping, there was no avoiding these puddles so we didn’t even try after a while. Our feet were long-ago soaked anyway so what did it matter at that point.

I had one of the best speed work sessions I’ve had in a long time on that day. Never would I have thought that pouring rain would be so conducive to a speedy run. It’s not like I was only out for a mile and sprinted home. This was also the type of rain where I had to look a few times to make sure my shorts hadn’t gotten pushed down (or up) from the sheer force of the rain since it was raining that hard.

My daughter has always enjoyed the rain, whether it’s been to walk in the rain with an umbrella, jump in puddles when she was younger, or to watch the dark storm clouds roll in. Since she’s become a regular runner, I’ve never once seen her shy away from a run in the rain, unless it’s a thunderstorm. So she certainly wasn’t going to say no to our recent run together in the rain. Running in the rain is probably one of her favorite running conditions. I was thinking about all of that when we were out running because I saw her mood change from cranky and irritable at the beginning to calm and happy after a couple of miles.

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Soaking wet after a run in the rain!

While I was running I was also thinking about how just going out and embracing the weather conditions helps with races. I don’t remember that many races where it was raining but there were a couple. One of the worst for me, the Run the Reagan Half Marathon just outside Atlanta, Georgia was absolutely miserable because it was a cold rain on top of the boring course. In fact, the only other race I can think of where it rained during the race was the Newport Half Marathon in Rhode Island but I actually liked that race, unlike the one in Georgia. The scenic course, filled with mansions, water views, and historic sites in Newport made all the difference. Plus I wasn’t freezing cold during the race in Rhode Island like I was in Georgia.

Back to my point about just sucking it up and running in poor weather conditions. If you never run in the rain and it rains on race day, you’ll be far less capable mentally of dealing with that than if you would have run in the rain while training for the race. Likewise with snow, heat, humidity, and windy days. If you don’t ever plan on running a race during the winter months, running in the snow shouldn’t be a concern, or if you don’t ever race during summer months, you don’t need to be concerned about running in hot, humid conditions. But if you have races planned for upcoming years during the summer or winter months, it’s best to mentally prepare yourself by running in those conditions beforehand.

You might find you enjoy running in conditions you thought you hated. Or you might find it’s not as bad as you thought it would be. The latter is the case for me when it comes to running in the rain and I’m even finding myself starting to enjoy it although I wouldn’t say I’m quite there yet.

What about you? Do you enjoy running in the rain or do you hate it? Have your feelings changed over the years when it comes to running in the rain?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Missing a race, training for another that may not happen, and other running-related things I’ve been doing lately

Hey guys! Usually my posts aren’t of this nature, where I just chat about what’s going on with me, although I have historically posted some like this, usually a couple of weeks before an upcoming race. So, if you follow my blog, or maybe even if this is the very first post you’ve ever read of mine you may still be aware that I have a goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states. I was supposed to run a half marathon in New Mexico in April, which would have been state number 48 but that was postponed until this fall.

Of course I was disappointed but then I realized it’s actually rescheduled on a weekend that I can go, assuming the pandemic is under control and people can fly for vacations again. So, hurray for some good news! Now that leaves my other remaining states of Minnesota and Iowa. As of right now when I’m typing this, neither of those races have been cancelled. The race in Minnesota is scheduled for Father’s Day and the one in Iowa is scheduled for Labor Day weekend.

My feeling at the moment is that anything can happen in a month. Look what happened between mid-March and mid-April. Not only states in the US but entire countries shut their borders, people were told to only go outside when it was absolutely necessary and some weren’t allowed to go outside even for a walk. Then around early-to-mid-May states and countries began opening back up gradually.

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This begs the question, would I be willing to fly to Minnesota in June? Absolutely, without a doubt, YES! I have no fear of “catching” the virus, whether it’s from an airport, airplane, rental car, hotel room, etc. The way I feel, I could just as easily have someone cough or sneeze on me in a grocery store and get the virus then. In short, I am not living in fear of contracting this Coronavirus. I’ve been wearing a mask in public and taking all of the other necessary precautions to protect myself and others but I’m also not going to stay in my home forever because I’m afraid to go outside and live my life. The way I look at it, if I contract COVID-19, I’ll deal with it then. I’m still young and healthy and not immunocompromised nor do I live with anyone who is elderly or immunocompromised so this is easy for me to say. I’m sure if I were at risk or lived with someone who was, I would feel differently.

Back to running, though. Like I said, my half marathon that was scheduled for April was rescheduled, but by the time it was rescheduled, I was already well into my training plan. I continued “training” for the race even after it was rescheduled, but instead of running 13.1 miles on the date that was supposed to be race day, I just ran 10 miles, if I recall. After that, I took one week off running entirely, as I do after every race (I prefer to take two weeks off but in this case there wasn’t enough time) and jumped right into half marathon training for the race in Minnesota in June.

I’m in my peak training weeks now and to be honest, things couldn’t be going better for me. I was supposed to run 9 miles on a Tuesday last week, which wouldn’t have happened if I was at work (I’ve been working from home, like most people) because there wouldn’t have been enough time in the day with my commute and everything else. However, being at home meant for once I could actually complete the entire 9 mile training run, instead of cutting it short like I would have in the past.

Another thing I’ve been doing much more of since I’ve been working from home and only leaving my house once every couple of weeks to go to the grocery store is to run more with my daughter. She’s in high school and is also training for the half marathon in Minnesota. She’s been running for several years and has run a couple of half marathons before but I’ve seen her running times go through the roof these last couple of months. Whereas she used to struggle to maintain a 9-minute mile for more than a few miles, now her easy pace is more like 8:45-minute miles and she recently averaged that on a 12-mile run with me. Not only is she getting faster, she’s pushing me to get faster as well.

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I’ve also been running more with my super-speedy dog, a lab-mix named Chile whose greatest joy in life is to run with me. When she realizes I’m getting her leash to take her on a run, she spins in circles and her happiness is palpable. I feel super guilty when I can’t take her with me, like the other day when I had gotten a couple of blood blisters on my fingers from a previous run with her (she saw a squirrel and darted for it, jarring my fingers) and I needed more time to heal. Usually by now in May it’s hotter than what it’s been, otherwise I would have had to have stopped running with her at least a couple of weeks ago due to the heat. Still, inevitably it’s going to get hot and stay hot in the next couple of weeks most likely so her days of running with me are limited.

One thing I’ve also been working on is my hip flexibility. I’ve been good about continuing to do yoga stretches regularly and once a week I’ll do a yoga session of about 45 minutes to an hour, which is what I used to do pre-pandemic, only it was at a gym with an instructor. BUT, now I can actually almost stack my bent legs on top of each other without the top knee at an embarrassingly high angle above the ground. Now the top knee is at a more reasonable angle and I look like most everyone else in my yoga class used to look when we’d do the pose in class. This is called double pigeon or fire log pose, if you do yoga. Here’s a link:  Double pigeon (fire log pose). Most people probably would take one look at that and say, what’s the big deal? I can easily do that. For me, it seemed like a “pie in the sky” kind of dream to be able to do it because my hips have always been incredibly tight, even as a kid.

The final thing I’ve been working on that’s running-related is updating my blog. I went through each post for all of the half marathons I’ve run and corrected some of the spelling or other errors and made sure the links to races were still active links. I’m sure there are still things that need to be corrected but it’s as good as it’s going to get for now and is better than it was. It’s something that desperately needed done but honestly probably wouldn’t have happened if not for the pandemic, so I guess that’s one good thing to come out of all of this. I have a page with links to all of my half marathons that you can find by clicking here.

So, yeah, that’s about all I’ve been up to when it comes to all things running-related. For now, I’m continuing with the plan to run the half marathon in Minnesota next month. As I said earlier, I realize a lot can happen in a month, but all I can do in the meantime is continue to prepare for the race. One mantra I sometimes fall back on when things get tough during a run is “Just keep running” to the tune of Dory who kept saying, “Just keep swimming” in the movie Finding Nemo and that’s how I feel right now, I need to just keep running.

I know races everywhere have been cancelled or postponed but do you have a race you’re currently training for that you’re hoping you’ll actually be able to run in person (not a virtual race)?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

How to Be a Runner (Borrowed from Runner’s World)

If you’ve read Runner’s World magazine, you’ve most likely seen their spotlight on a runner on the last page called “How to Be a Runner.” Over the years, they’ve featured famous runners to everyday runners. I always like to read this section and I feel like it’s a fun way to get to know other runners, which is why I thought it would be fun to do here. The idea is to choose one of the word prompts that you feel best describe you. Some of the words are vague and others are more obvious. Here’s mine with the ones I chose highlighted in orange:

Wave                Nod

Heart Rate       Feel (1)

Lead                 Follow

PR                     Finish (2)

Stride               Glide

Athleisure       Sweats

Gel                    Chews (3)

Hat                    Gloves

Morning          Night

Swift                Strong

Struggle           Slay

Hot (4)              Cold

Low Socks       Tall Socks

Shoe Store       Online

Uphill               Downhill

5k                      Half Marathon

GPS                   Naked

Stop (5)            Go

Start                 Finish

Heel                  Toe

Calves              Quads

Headphones    Inner Voices (6)

Bagel                 Banana

Treadmill         Frostbite

Medal               T-shirt

Warm Up         Cool Down

Distance (7)     Time

400s                  Hills

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My daughter picked these flowers for me during one of my races

Let me explain:

(1) I tried heart rate training before and just didn’t keep it up long enough to see results. (2) When you run enough races for as long as I have, you realize you can’t PR all the time. (3) I’ve tried a bunch of different gels and chews and the only ones I can stomach are by Honey Stinger, which I take on all of my long runs. (4) I do much better in hot weather than cold weather. (5) I stop at all stop signs, lights, and road crossings; there are far too many distracted drivers out there. (6) I like to run my long runs with my AfterShokz to listen to podcasts but the rest of the time I don’t listen to anything. (7) I like to run both by distance and time but if I had to choose one, I’d choose distance.

Have you read this section of Runner’s World? What do you think of it- a silly waste of time or fun? Feel free to do your own version of this.

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

How Travel Has Helped Me Cope With the Coronavirus Pandemic

While I feel like I probably travel more than the average American, by no means would I consider myself an expert on travel (whatever that even means). However, I’ve chosen to travel to some off-the-beaten path destinations, at least for an American, and this has ultimately changed me forever as a person. I was thinking recently how travel has impacted how I’m dealing with Coronavirus, specifically not being able to travel or leave my house except to run or go grocery shopping but also all of the trickle-down effects of travel on my life.

By traveling to tiny towns in Chile, Costa Rica, Peru, Austria, Germany, and other places where the locals didn’t speak much if any English, travel has helped me become more resilient and to deal with issues that arise. Travel has also shown me that life often doesn’t turn out as we plan and we’ll be much happier if we learn to go with the flow. Instead of losing my temper or panicking when I got lost or couldn’t figure out something because of the language barrier, I would take a deep breath and try to figure it out. When my travel plans for April were cancelled because of the pandemic, sure I was sad my vacation wasn’t going to happen, but I knew it was better that way and eventually I will be able to travel safely.

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Although we missed a connecting flight to Malta, we eventually made it to this incredible country

I’ve learned to make the best of what I may find in a grocery store and figure out how to make meals for my family with what is on the shelves. One of my favorite things to do when I’m in a foreign country is to see what their grocery stores have to offer and how much things cost in stores. It’s always been an adventure and more times than not, I’ve ended up with some pretty delicious meals out of what I’ve found on the shelves. I may not have been able to fully read the labels, but that’s just added to the adventure. At least in the US, I can read the labels (unless the food is imported). I have been to countries where they routinely have had shortages of things like toilet paper, with the difference being due to hoarders in the US and more of a routine problem with supply in other countries.

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This market in Peru was HUGE and quite the experience to walk around

One of the things I love to do as a stress-reliever is run outside, whether I’m on vacation or at home. I can do it virtually anywhere, although there are places where I would not run for safety reasons. Another bonus is all I need are my running shoes and appropriate running clothes. I can run outside or on a treadmill if running outside is not an option (assuming there’s a treadmill I can use). If I can’t run, I can do body weight exercises like lunges, squats, core work, and push-ups. I can also make up my own yoga routine no matter where I am. Being able to exercise on my own while traveling and at home has been a huge asset to my well-being and overall health and something I’ve always been grateful to have in my life but perhaps even more so during this pandemic.

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Some of the stunning water views I got to enjoy while running in Hawaii

I’ve learned that family members need a break from each other every now and again. When you’re traveling with family members, you’re in close proximity to one another for days on end and even the best of us can get tired of all of that one-on-one time. This is one reason why I’m such a huge fan of staying at Airbnb properties, because if we’re staying in a house, we can stretch out a bit more, have a kitchen to cook some of our own meals or just snack if we’re hungry and have a place to store our food, and usually we have more than one bathroom (although certainly not always). We all like to have some time on our own to catch up with friends through various social media apps, listen to a podcast or music, or just read a book in a quiet room to decompress. Being stuck at home for weeks on end while the Coronavirus pandemic has been going on has reminded me what a good idea it is to give family members a break from one another.

I’m sure there are more things that travel has shown me to help deal with the Coronavirus pandemic, but these are the first things to come to my mind. Are there aspects of travel or other parts of your life that have helped you deal with the pandemic? If so, I’d love to hear about them.

Happy travels (someday),

Donna