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

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

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

When did you start running?

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

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

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

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

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

Describe some of your favorite race courses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have a bucket-list race?

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

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

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

 

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Beach Photos From Around the World

I grew up in land-locked West Virginia and while it’s a beautiful state full of mountains, as an adult I’ve found I much prefer ocean and beach settings. If I can have mountains to hike in with views of the ocean, then that’s just about perfect to me. I’ve spent my fair share of time at beaches since I started traveling as an adult. In fact, the first international vacation I went on was to the Bahamas when I was in college.

Given the fact that I’m completely over winter and ready to move on to warmer, sunnier weather, I thought it might be fun to share some of my favorite beach spots and of course include photos. We’ll take a little photo journey around the world, in no particular order, although I may have to divulge some of my favorites at the end.

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I even got married at the beach! St. Kitts in the Caribbean to be exact
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Agaete at dusk in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
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Sunset Cliffs in San Diego, California, one of my favorite places in the world
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Don’t you just love her enthusiasm? Taken in Naples, Florida
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Nearly deserted black sandy beach at Mount Maunganui in New Zealand
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Coronado Beach in the San Diego, California area during the winter
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Crete, Greece- the water was so clear and beautiful
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Black sand rocky beach in Tenerife, Spain just before a storm blew in
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One of my favorite beaches in Malta
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Black sand, rocky beach in Hawaii
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Powdery soft white sand dune in Charleston, South Carolina
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Quintessential Aruba photo
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World-famous Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman Island with the softest sand I’ve ever felt

I alluded at the beginning to listing some of my favorites but it’s funny because photos are really art, which taken as a whole are not only subjective to the eye of the beholder but also the context. For example, a person’s travel experiences are influenced by things such as who they’re with, what stage in life they’re at, how they were treated by the locals and other travelers, and even the weather. I may look at a photo and it brings back happy memories while someone else may see the same photo and just see the landscape and/or people in the photo without any context of what was going on when the photo was taken.

So what are my favorite photos here? I’m not going to take the easy way out and say I could never choose because they’re all my favorites. I really like the stormy photo taken at the beach in Tenerife, Spain because I love how I was able to capture that moment just before a huge storm blew in. I also love the photo of the beach in Malta because of the different hues of blue in the water and the rocky protrusion, so I’ll narrow it down to those two photos for my favorites here.

What about you guys- do you like black sandy beaches, powder-white, or the more traditional tan/beige the best? Rocky beaches or sandy beaches? What are some of your favorite beaches?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rediscovering trail running

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

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Color Vibe 5k

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

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

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Finishing strong at the half marathon in Arkansas

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

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

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

Exploring Grand Cayman Island on Foot-Crystal Caves, Botanical Gardens, Hiking a Trail, a Historical Site, and Hell

Previously, I wrote about the beaches and water-related parts of Grand Cayman Island, (Grand Cayman Island- Beautiful Beaches, Bioluminescent Water, Stingrays, and More) but the beaches and water aren’t the only beautiful and fun places to spend your time. If you enjoy exploring caves, you’ll love Cayman Crystal Caves. This 1.5 hour group tour through Cayman’s oldest landmark is one of the island’s newest natural tourist attractions. There are three caves, the roots cave, the lake cave, and the open-ceiling cave.

My favorite cave is the lake cave, which as you may guess from the name has a small lake in it. The color of the water is such a pretty shade of blue, and it is so peaceful in the cave. I can see why people used to come here on their own before the tour company took over and restricted entry. However, the stalactite and stalagmite crystal structures are extremely fragile, and without supervision, many formations were being broken.

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The Lake Cave

A cool bonus was we saw fruit bats in some portions of the caves. They were tiny little bats just hanging out (literally) in clusters, and one bat would occasionally fly from one side of the cave to another. We also saw tiny litte green tree frogs that the guide pointed out on the leaves of a couple of trees.

Tours are offered seven days a week at every hour starting at 9 am until 4 pm, except Good Friday and Christmas. Tickets are $40 for adults and $30 for children 12 and under. Be sure you wear appropriate footwear (i.e. not flip-flops).

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Bats at Cayman Caves!

We always love going to botanical gardens when we’re traveling and were happy to discover there is one in Grand Cayman Island. Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park is on the east side of the island, not far from the Crystal Caves. There are three garden areas, each very different from one another. The Heritage Garden has a restored Caymanian House showing how life was like in the Cayman Islands at the turn of the century. The Xerophytic Garden has plants like cacti and succulents that require minimal water to grow. My favorite is the Floral Colour Garden, with a series of gardens arranged by color and a gazebo and seating area overlooking a lily pond and waterfall.

There is also the Lake and Wetland area on the edge of a Buttonwood Swamp. We saw some birds in the water here and I was very excited to look over at a nearby tree and see several Green Cayman Parrots. As excited as I was to see the parrots, the blue iguanas were the real reason I wanted to come to the gardens.

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Blue iguana on our tour guide’s head at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Gardens

Blue Cayman Iguanas are highly endangered animals and you can see them on the Blue Iguana Safari, which is a behind the scenes tour of the breeding and recovery program. Our guide, Alberto, was entertaining and enthusiastic about the blue iguanas. He fed some of the iguanas from a plant growing throughout the gardens and held a couple of the more tame ones, although he did show us quite a few of his scars from bites and scratches. We saw a couple of blue iguanas in the park on our own but it wasn’t nearly the experience as from the tour so I’m glad we took the tour.

Very close to the Botanic Park is the Mastic Trail, a two mile trail (although really 4 miles since it’s out and back) that you can arrange a guided tour through for $24 or just do on your own for free (we hiked it on our own). The trail is well-marked and easy to follow. There are some areas where the footing is a bit tricky, but being in Grand Cayman Island where everything is pancake flat, Mastic Trail is the highest point of the island at 60 feet. It’s an easy out and back hike and the only trail on the island as far as I can tell. The trail is well-shaded and quiet. We didn’t see many birds but it was the afternoon; I expect you would see more birds in the morning when they’re usually more active.

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Mastic Trail

I have to briefly mention a unique little part of Grand Cayman Island, known quite simply as Hell. Hell is an area in West Bay the size of half a football field made up of limestone formations. Stories abound about how the area got its name but some think “A ministration exclaimed, ‘This is what Hell must look like.'” Sure, it’s touristy but it’s still fun to go and get your photo taken in Hell.

There are actually two stops here, side-by-side, one that looks like it has a post office and the other has a small tourist shop in the front. I noticed tour buses stopping at the place that looks like a post office in the front and people in rental cars stopping at the other place beside it. We chose the one where tour buses were not visiting and were greeted by an older man who cheerfully brought us out some props for photos and led us inside where his wife or companion gave us a tour of the place and took some photos of us. The woman told us about the limestone formations and pointed out some birds and other things while she gave us a commentary and history about the area. Afterwards, I looked it up and found there are a few other places called Hell, namely one in California, Michigan, and Norway, in addition to Grand Cayman Island. Still, it’s not every day when you can say you went to Hell.

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None other than Hell

Finally, we visited Pedro St. James National Historic Site, a three-story house built by William Eden, an Englishman, in 1780. This was a mansion in comparison to the other houses on the island at the time, which was just a tiny fishing village. Perhaps best known as the “Birthplace of Democracy in the Cayman Islands”, Pedro St. James was the venue for a meeting on December 5, 1831 where the decision was made to form the first elected parliament.

You can tour the house and grounds on your own for C.I. $10 (Cayman Island dollars) and there is a 20 minute movie inside Pedro Theater to give you some information about the house. Outside, there is a gazebo and gardens and a building with some historical photos and information and other items like historical stamps. When we were there, they were setting up for an event at the gazebo. No doubt there are many special events like weddings held here because of the beautiful setting, with the ocean as the backdrop. It was a nice way to end out time in Grand Cayman Island and we made our way to the airport to go back home after our tour of Pedro St. James.

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Having fun at Pedro St. James and wishing I didn’t have to leave Cayman!

Cayman Crystal Caves

Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park

Pedro St. James National Historic Site

Have you been to Grand Cayman Island and if so what did you think of it? Want to go now if you’ve never been? Have you been to Hell?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

Some of My Favorite Running-Related Products

I’ve been a runner pretty much since I can remember. I took a few years off running when I was in college after getting some intensely painful shin splints. I was also super busy with classes and working my part-time job. Clearly I needed a bit of a break. After graduate school, I dove back into running and began racing and haven’t stopped since then.

Over the years, many things about running has changed. The apparel has gone from people just running in old cotton t-shirts, beat-up cotton shorts, tube socks (does anyone remember those atrocities), and athletic shoes normally worn for yard work or whatever you happened to have at the time to “performance” apparel made of material specifically meant to wick sweat away from the body and running shoes that are so high-tech some cost $250 (I’ve seen them selling for $350 on Amazon) and are so popular stores initially couldn’t keep them in stock (yes, Nike VaporFly 4% I’m talking about you). Nutrition has also radically changed over the years. When I was running in college (on my own, not on a team) the only option for me regarding options specifically geared toward athletes was Gatorade to drink and Powerbars to eat. Now there are so many different hydration and refueling options it could make your head spin or at least overwhelm a newbie runner.

I’ve tried many different running-related things over the years and would like to share some of my favorites here. I don’t receive free products from any of these companies and am not compensated in any way. Although I am a brand ambassador for Nuun, Honey Stinger, and Zensah, I receive discounts for their products but that’s it. I’ve entered into many giveaways and have never won anything from any of these companies, with the exception of a different product from a different company, which I will get into later.

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How many of my favorite running things can you pick out here? Flat Donna before a race last summer.

So I’ll begin with fueling since it’s something I feel is hugely important to running. Several years ago I began hearing about Nuun hydration from other runners so I gave it a try. I was currently bouncing around trying different hydration products but I wasn’t completely satisfied with any of them, until I tried Nuun. Honestly, once I tried my first tablet of Nuun, I was hooked and haven’t tried anything else since. If you’re not familiar with Nuun products, they use all-natural ingredients for all of their products, which include Nuun Sport, Nuun Immunity, Nuun Vitamins, and Nuun Performance. All of their products contain only 1-2 grams of sugar except Nuun Performance, which has 12 grams of sugar per serving and is meant for longer runs (over an hour) and/or runs that require more intense effort. What I like most about Nuun, besides the fact that it’s a healthy, hydrating product is all of the choices of flavors. If you try one kind and don’t care for it, try another; there’s bound to be a flavor you’ll like! Nuun products

Shortly after I discovered Nuun, I also discovered Honey Stinger. Like with hydration products, I was also bouncing around trying different things to eat before, during, and after running, especially for long runs. I have a pretty sensitive stomach and many things I would try to eat just wouldn’t sit well in my stomach and I’d end up with every type of stomach issue you can think of. Not so with Honey Stinger. I finally found something that I could eat before running (or during) and not get sick. In fact, a couple of hours before I run a half marathon I’ll eat a Cracker N’ Nut Butter Snack Bar (my favorite is almond butter and dark chocolate) and 15-20 minutes before the race starts, I’ll eat a waffle. Those two things along with Nuun Performance are enough to fuel me through the race and I never feel sick, have heartburn, burping, gas, cramping, or any of those other GI problems that runners sometimes feel when running a long distance. I like that Honey Stinger uses wholesome, organic, non-GMO ingredients whenever possible and True Source Honey. Honey, which has a low glycemic index so you don’t get that insulin spike and crash, is the main source of carbohydrates for all Honey Stinger products. Honey Stinger has a huge variety of products with many different flavors including gluten-free varieties so there’s really something for everyone. Link to Honey Stinger

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Three of my favorite running things!

The third company that I’m an ambassador for is Zensah. Zensah is best-known for their compression socks and cute themed running socks like mini-crew socks with dinosaurs, donuts, hearts for Valentine’s Day, aliens, bees, Day of the Dead, hot dogs, cupcakes, beer, watermelon, and many more with new themes being added all the time, like one of the latest, mugs of coffee for all the coffee lovers. The Zensah products that I love the most are the Grit running socks, compression socks, recovery tights, and sports bras. My feet have never blistered since changing to Zensah socks and I’ve even run in the rain with my Grit socks and my feet were absolutely fine when I got home. Likewise, I’ve never gotten chaffed when wearing my Zensah sports bras, which for someone who runs during the hot, humid summers of the south, this is huge. After wearing the recovery tights after long runs of 12 miles or more, I feel like my legs are less tired afterwards. I always bring my Zensah recovery tights to half marathons so I can put them on after the race and I definitely think they help with recovery. You can shop online at Zensah.com here. Although some local running stores have some Zensah products, you’ll find a much wider selection online, so try local first then go online and try to contain yourself!

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My Zensah Grit socks and a Honey Stinger waffle

Now on to headphones. When I discovered the headphones from Anker, it was a game-changer for me. First I had the SoundBuds Slim Bluetooth Headphone and loved them, then I tried the Spirit X Sports Earphones and also loved them. Both sets of headphones had excellent sound quality, long-lasting batteries, and are extremely affordable. I have a post on the Soundcore Spirit X Sports Earphones by Anker here  and the link to Anker’s audio products is here. I would still be using my Spirit X Sports Earphones if not for a bit of serendipity. I saw a contest on Instagram offering the chance to win a free pair of AfterShokz Trekz Titanium by a blogger I’ve been following for quite some time. Cut to the chase, my name was drawn in a random drawing and I WON! Now, I had been well aware of AfterShokz for at least a few years but had never bought a pair because, well, I was quite happy with the aforementioned headphones I had from Anker, and let’s face it, AfterShokz products are not cheap. For comparison, the Spirit X Sports Earphones are $39.99 compared to $99.95 for the Trekz Titanium. However, the technology is completely different so it’s like comparing a Toyota Camry to a Tesla Model S.

If you’re not familiar with AfterShokz products, they use bone conduction technology, so nothing goes into your ear canal. Transducers in the headphones guide mini vibrations through the cheekbones to the inner ears so there are small pieces that rest just outside your ears to deliver sound. I’ll freely admit I was skeptical at first- would they truly live up to the hype? When I first tried them, they did seem a bit odd. How could I hear what I was listening to without having things stuffed into my ears but people around me couldn’t hear it, AND here’s the kicker, I could also hear everything going on around me. What now? Yes, not only can you hear your music, podcast, or whatever you choose to listen to on the headphones but you can also simultaneously hear that car that’s coming up behind you or that person on the bike that’s getting ready to pass you but isn’t calling out. Talk about game changer. Just about the only drawback I’ve noticed with the AfterShokz Trekz Titanium headphones is it can be a bit hard to hear what you’re listening to if there’s a lot of ambient noise around you. They do come with earplugs for times like this, but I haven’t had to use them yet. I also haven’t flown with them and am curious about the quality on flights given how noisy airplanes are. I should add that AfterShokz has a pretty wide range of products including more affordably priced wired headphones and even accessories, plus they have some great bundle deals right now. Find all of the AfterShokz products here.

Finally, there are a couple of smaller things that I absolutely love and use all the time. I got a wool Buff several years ago and I swear it still looks brand new even though I’ve worn it on countless runs and traveled around the world with it. If you don’t have anything from Buff and aren’t familiar with them, the great thing about their products is they last forever (unlike say a bandana). The original is also extremely versatile; you can wear it a half dozen different ways and easily pull it around to adjust it mid-run if you need more or less coverage. Like everything else I’ve mentioned here, Buff has a wide range of products including hats, balaclavas, shirts, jackets, and headwear. Shop Buff online here.

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My hat-hating daughter happily borrowed my Buff to wear hiking in the Grand Canyon on a particularly chilly day!

The last running-related thing I’m loving right now is my Garmin watch and Garmin Connect. No, I don’t have the latest and greatest Garmin but I have the Forerunner 630. Over the years, I’ve had athletic watches by Polar, TomTom, and Garmin. I have to say my favorite has always been Garmin and now that I have Garmin Connect, it definitely pushes it over the top. I’ve had my current Garmin watch a little over a year now and it still works just as good as it did when I first got it. I’ve only rarely had to wait for it to pick up a GPS signal and then it was when I was in remote areas or extremely cloudy. Garmin Connect shows you all of the statistics from calories, heart rate, pace, speed, VO2 max, cadence, distance, time, elevation, and more. You can pull up reports and check your progress over the last week, month, or year. Garmin Connect also syncs nicely with Strava. Similar to Strava, you can also add “connections” meaning other people who use Garmin Connect and even arrange them by groups but I haven’t done that.

I  sometimes get discount codes I can share with others for Nuun and Honey Stinger products. If you follow me on Instagram at Runningtotraveltheworld and on Twitter at Runningtotravel I often post discount codes and other special offers there.

What about you guys- what running gear and running-related products do you love right now?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

Christmas at Biltmore Estate and Exploring Asheville, North Carolina

George Vanderbilt, whose family made its fortune in the railroad industry, chose Asheville, North Carolina for his “little mountain escape” summer home that lies along the French Broad River and called it Biltmore Estate. Built in the late 1800’s, it is the largest privately owned house in the United States, although in 1956 it ceased to be a family residence and continued to be operated as a historic house museum. The estate has 178,926 square feet (16,622.8 m2of floor space and 135,280 square feet (12,568 m2) of living area. The home was opened to the public in March 1930 at the request of the City of Asheville, and today brings in an estimated 1.4 million visitors per year.

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The library, one of my favorite rooms in the Biltmore Estate

You can tour the Biltmore Estate’s four floors and basement which includes 250 rooms (though not all are open to the public) including 35 bedrooms for family and guests, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, three kitchens and 19th-century novelties such as electric elevators, forced-air heating, centrally controlled clocks, fire alarms, and a call-bell system. There is even a swimming pool, gymnasium filled with what was then state-of-the-art fitness equipment, and a bowling alley in the basement.

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Winter Garden, another of my favorites

The grounds are definitely worth touring and include many different gardens, fountains and statues, a bowling green, an outdoor tea room, a terrace, conservatory, Bass Pond, restaurants, gift shops, and Antler Hill Village and Winery. There are many options for tours whether of the house or on the grounds from self-guided tours to rooftop tours to private tours and many others in-between. There are even winery tours and a motor coach tour where you learn about the history of the land, structures, and former residents while you tour areas not open to the general public.

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The Conservatory, which apparently is a fancy name for a greenhouse

I’ve been to the Biltmore Estate several times over the years, and have seen the house during all four seasons. I have to say Christmas at the Biltmore Estate is my favorite of any other time of year, although spring is a close second. I’m a big fan of Christmas decorations and the ones at the Biltmore Estate are every much as beautiful as you might imagine. Every room has at least one tree elaborately decorated and the lower parts of the house smell of gingerbread because of the enormous gingerbread house on display in one of the kitchens in the basement.

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Yes, it does get crowded at the estate during the weeks around Christmas and New Year’s, so be sure to get reservations for entry far in advance. The house doesn’t feel too crowded for the most part (there are a couple of places where people tend to bottleneck) thanks to the timed entries during the holidays. Don’t worry if the Candlelight Evening tickets are sold out and you’re left with tickets during the day because you’ll still enjoy the lights inside the house even if it’s daylight out. If you plan on eating at one of the restaurants on-site, you’ll want to get reservations in advance as well.

If you’d like to stay at one of the hotels on the grounds, you have three options:  The Village Hotel, The Inn, and The Cottage, with each place going up in amenities and price. There are also plenty of nearby hotels and houses through Airbnb. If you follow this link, you’ll get a discount through Airbnb:  Airbnb discount link.

Asheville Regional Airport has daily flights to Atlanta, Charlotte, Washington, D.C., and Chicago and seasonal service to many other cities including New York, Denver, and some cities in Florida. If you fly into Asheville, you can either rent a car or take an uber, although if you plan on going to the Blue Ridge Parkway or other areas to hike, you’ll want a rental car.

Asheville has plenty of other things to see and do besides the Biltmore Estate, especially if you like outdoor activities. As I mentioned above, the Blue Ridge Parkway is a short drive away, as is a plethora of hiking and camping options. There are so many options it would be crazy to list them all, but I’ll throw out a few I’ve personally been to, all of which are an hour or less from Asheville:  Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pigsah National Forest, Black Mountain, Chimney Rock State Park, Dupont State Forest, and if you venture a bit further (about 2 hours from Asheville) there’s a cluster of great places to check out that includes Linville Falls, Blowing Rock, Grandfather Mountain, and Boone.

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Hiking with Libby and Chile near Asheville

If you’re a foodie, Asheville won’t disappoint you on that end either. Again, the options are endless for great places to eat, with places for every budget. For a splurge, try one of the restaurants at the Biltmore Estate like Deerpark Restaurant or Biltmore Estate Dining Room. Curate is a popular spot for tapas and Biscuit Head came highly recommended to us by someone who lives in Asheville but the line was crazy long out the door and we weren’t willing to brave the cold weather for it. We loved White Duck Taco Shop for their huge selection of tacos and Early Girl Eatery for great breakfast offerings.

My favorite restaurant of all has to be Sierra Nevada Taproom, which is near the Asheville Airport and yes this place deserves a paragraph entirely to itself. All I have to say is this place is like no other brewery I’ve ever been to (and I love breweries). The food at breweries is usually pretty good, but the food at Sierra Nevada is so crazy over-the-top good it makes me hungry just thinking about it. It gets super-crowded, so get here early for lunch (or dinner but they seem to be less crowded for lunch) and if you’re lucky you won’t have to wait for a table. They also have tours but we didn’t take a tour because of the timing of things, but I’d love to go back and take a tour. They also have a great outdoors area with games and fire pits, plus they have special events like dinners and concerts. Make this a must-do place if you’re ever in Asheville and like breweries and/or incredible food. Just know it isn’t cheap, but it’s so worth it.

Finally, here are a few other options for spending some time in Asheville. The River Arts District is great if you like art (Asheville is filled with fantastic artists), WNC Farmers Market is open daily year-round, Grove Arcade is a beautifully designed place to do some shopping and dining, and if you’re into antiques, check out the Antique Tobacco Barn.

I also have a post on Asheville when I went camping there one summer, which you can read here. This post is focused more on outdoor pursuits such as hiking, camping, and waterfalls in the area.

Final tips: Purchase your tickets for Biltmore Estate at least seven days in advance to save up to $10 on each daytime admission. If you’re going during the holiday season, purchase your ticket at least a couple of weeks in advance, and even longer out would be better if you have a specific day and time in mind. Christmas at Biltmore runs from early November through the first week of January, with the house being open 365 days a year. Reservations are required during high volume days, which you can find on their website.

Biltmore website

Have any of you been to the Biltmore Estate and/or Asheville? Is it on your list of places you’d like to go to?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

Book Review- Run the World by Becky Wade

If you could have done anything after college for one year all expenses paid, what would it have been? Becky Wade is a runner who applied for the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which is awarded to 40 graduating college seniors to fund a dream year. She was a runner at a college in Texas and chose to spend her time in foreign running communities, searching for unique and common ways people approach running and build their lives around it. In the 12 months (beginning July 24, 2012) she spent in England, Ireland, Switzerland, Ethiopia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Sweden, and Finland, she talked to recreational runners and coaches, followed the same lives as professional runners, interviewed running historians and retired legends, watched and competed in local races, and explored running routes with locals.

Wade originally came up with a list of five countries that evolved into 22 countries, some of which were spent briefly in transit. In many of the countries, she had cooking lessons by a local runner and includes a recipe at the end of each chapter of her book. Speaking of food, she found that oats, muesli, and pancakes are the breakfast of champions and there is never enough tea for runners. Other similarities Wade discovered are that Sundays are universal long-run days, kilometer repeats are a common foundation workout, and distance runners with the luxury to do so treat afternoon naps very seriously.

In the chapter on her time in England, she explains how she met up with Kenyan runners who taught her her the importance of warming up naturally, running by feel, and always wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts regardless of temperature. Runners in Switzerland taught Wade the importance of mountain trails and altitude training. She went up again in elevation when she moved on to the running training camp and hotel complex Yaya Village at 9000 feet in Ethiopia. In Australia, she joined the Melbourne University Athletics Club annual team trip and later ran in Melbourne.

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Becky Wade finished 3rd at the Chevron Houston Marathon on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017. Photo: Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle

Arthur Lydiard, running coach from Auckland, New Zealand, is attributed with starting the first global jogging boom, which was brought to the United States after US coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman visited Lydiard in Auckland. Wade ran the famous 22 mile Arthur Lydiard’s Waiatarua Circuit, considered a marathon predictor. In Japan, Wade joined an international running club, saw an acupuncturist with her first exposure to western medicine, and went to an onsen. Ending in Sweden and Finland, she experienced Finnish saunas, which are similar to onsens in that both are filled with rituals and are experienced in groups, without clothing. She also discovered competitive Finnish orienteering and was able to watch Jukola, one of the largest and most historic relay orienteering competitions in the world.

Five months after returning home to Texas, Wade ran the 2013 California International Marathon (CIM) for her marathon debut. The plan all along was to gain valuable insight from runners around the world, and pick and choose what to apply to her own training. It appears her year-long travels were a success, if her results at the CIM are any indication of this. Wade was the first female at CIM, with a time of 2:30:48, good enough for a qualifying time for the Olympic Trials and third fastest marathon time for a woman under 25.

So, what did I think of the book? I truly enjoyed it, perhaps not surprisingly, since it combines my two favorite things, running and traveling. I found the book well-written and liked reading about the friendships she gained over the year and how each country approaches long-distance running. There were several take-aways for me from the book, with probably the most important to take rest and recovery as seriously as logging the miles.

If you’re looking for an entertaining book about running and different running cultures around the world, I hope you get a chance to read this book and I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did!

Link to book on Amazon

Beckyrunsaway.com

Have any of you had the opportunity to run with running groups during your travels? Have you gained any tips from running groups in other countries?

Happy running!

Donna