Travel to Raleigh, North Carolina

The capital city of Raleigh, North Carolina may not be the first city to come to mind when you’re thinking about where to go on vacation, but I’m here to put some ideas into your mind, plant some seeds if you will. You may not even know where Raleigh, North Carolina is. Raleigh is in central North Carolina in what’s referred to as the piedmont area. Thanks to Research Triangle Park (roughly 30 minutes from downtown Raleigh), the largest planned research center in the United States, and all of the biotech jobs that come along with it, Raleigh has been booming for the last few decades so many people have moved here for the prospect of jobs, which is precisely what brought me to Raleigh way back in 1997.

I’m going to focus primarily on downtown Raleigh here, but there are also many things to do in nearby Durham, Cary, and Apex, all within a roughly 30 minute drive from Raleigh. For instance, you can see a Durham Bulls baseball game, a minor league team that is an extremely affordable way to spend a few hours with family or friends, even if you’re not that big of a baseball fan; plus there’s DPAC, Durham Performing Arts Center. Cary has been ranked by Money magazine as one of the best places to live in the US and has several breweries, amazing restaurants, and Koka Booth Amphitheater with year-round events. Apex has a quaint downtown with unique shops and restaurants and events at the Halle Cultural Arts Center.

Things to Do in Raleigh

If you like museums, Raleigh has one for everyone. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is one of the best in the southeast, https://naturalsciences.org/ and has exhibits that span over four floors. If you have young children, they will love Marbles Kids Museum, https://www.marbleskidsmuseum.org/. I’ve spent many days at this hands-on children’s museum and my daughter even spent the night here with her Girl Scout troop once. For history lovers, there’s the North Carolina Museum of History, https://www.ncmuseumofhistory.org/, the Pope House Museum, https://raleighnc.gov/pope-house, and Mordecai Historic Park, https://raleighnc.gov/places/mordecai-historic-park. If you like contemporary art, there’s CAM Raleigh, http://camraleigh.org/ and for art lovers of all genres, there’s the much bigger North Carolina Museum of Art, https://www.ncartmuseum.org/.

Fun at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

There’s a great stand-up comedy club, Goodnights Comedy Club, https://www.goodnightscomedy.com/ that has shows on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings most weeks. Duke Energy Center for the Arts has a wide range of shows from opera and classical music, lectures and talks, comedians, and musicians from many genres, https://www.ticketmaster.com/duke-energy-center-for-the-performing-tickets-raleigh/venue/369155. Red Hat Amphitheater has some great shows year-round, and you can choose from traditional lawn seating, elevated lawn seating, and premium box seats, https://www.redhatamphitheater.com/. Finally, there’s the Raleigh Convention Center that largely has symphony shows but also other musicians and other events like local graduations and shows like boat and car shows, https://www.raleighconvention.com/.

Outdoor Activities

You can run, walk, or bike along two scenic greenways, the Neuse River Trail and Capital Area Greenway. Pullen Park and Umstead State Park are some of the best parks in the area and you can spend several hours at each. Annie Louise Wilkerson, MD Nature Preserve has activities for children at the park office and three trails ranging from around a half mile to a mile each. If you like ziplines and outdoor obstacle courses, there’s TreeRunner Adventure Park, https://www.treerunnerraleigh.com/ and Go Ape Zipline and Adventure Park, https://www.goape.com/location/north-carolina-raleigh-durham/. Dead Broke Farm offers horseback riding, https://deadbrokefarm.com/. Citrix Cycle is a bikeshare program where you can rent a bike from 30 stations around the city. About two-thirds of the bikes are electric assist and can be rented for $2 for a single pass or $6 for a day pass. https://www.citrixcycle.com/

You can borrow kayaks, standup paddleboards, and pedal boats for an hour free of charge at Lake Crabtree County Park, located near the Raleigh-Durham International Airport

Where to Eat and Drink

Downtown Raleigh has so many restaurants with truly amazing food. Some of my favorites, which are also consistently top-ranked include:

Beasley’s Chicken + Honey (American)

Bida Manda (Laotian, Asian Fusion, Thai)

Morgan Street Food Hall (many different restaurants)

The Pit (Barbecue)

Brewery Bhavana (Asian Fusion)

Gravy (Italian)

Caffe Luna (Italian)

Hayes Barton Cafe and Dessertery (American; their desserts are to die for)

Most of those are primarily only open for lunch and/or dinner. For breakfast, I really like:

The Morning Times

Manhattan Cafe

Flying Biscuit Cafe

The Optimist

There are also dozens of breweries, the Raleigh Beer Garden, Pinetop Distillery where they make gin and moonshine, Raleigh Rum Company, Seventy Eight C Spirits where they make limoncello in three different flavors, plus other distilleries in Durham and other nearby cities.

Beasley’s Chicken + Honey. Photo courtesy Jonathan Beaver.

Where to Stay

If you want to splurge, The Umstead Hotel and Spa, https://www.theumstead.com/?gclid=CjwKCAiArbv_BRA8EiwAYGs23CbjD0x_7pyDNZDEVqQE8uoY4IuIeCc9VSLjcXPmVXWWaqYMY6Pe9BoCXeIQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds is one of the best hotels in the area, although it is in Cary, only a short drive from downtown Raleigh. You can go to the spa without staying at the hotel and I hear the restaurant, Heron’s is also fabulous.

Raleigh Marriott City Center, Sheraton Raleigh Hotel, and Residence Inn by Marriott are all nice hotels in a good location in downtown Raleigh. If you have a rental car or don’t mind taking Uber or Lyft, Carolina Inn and The Siena Hotel both in Chapel Hill are super nice, as are JB Duke Hotel and Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club, both in Durham. Washington Duke Inn is my daughter’s favorite place to indulge on her birthday for afternoon tea, which we’ve done every year since she turned thirteen.

For each of the sections above, especially the things to do and places to eat, I had to stop myself from including more than I did because there’s just so much to see and do in downtown Raleigh and the surrounding area. I tried to limit each section to some of the tried-and-true standards of Raleigh (although some are newcomers). As you can see, I’m a huge fan of this area, and feel like it’s a hidden gem.

Have you been to Raleigh? If so, what did you do? Did you have zero interest in traveling to Raleigh before but now you’re intrigued? If anyone has specific questions about Raleigh, I would be happy to answer them.

Related posts: Travel to North Carolina- Some of My Favorite Places and Things to Do

Happy travels!

Donna

My Birthday Challenge

Taking a page from #JeffsBirthdayChallenge, https://rundemtrails.wordpress.com/2020/11/12/2020-jeffsbirthdaychallenge/ I’m going to have the first annual #DonnasBirthdayChallenge beginning in 2021! After all of the craziness that was 2020, I’d like to do something fun and different for my birthday this year but it will be a bit different from Jeff’s post. So what is a birthday challenge you ask, or more specifically, what is Donna’s Birthday Challenge?

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

I invite all of you, whether you run, walk, hike, bike, practice yoga, swim, dance, or however else you choose to move your body to get moving for your choice of one of the following: 2 miles/km, 4 miles/km, 24 miles/km, or 72 minutes (sure go ahead and do 72 miles/km if you want to really celebrate!). What’s the significance behind all of the numbers? I was born on the 24th of February in the year 1972. If you’re doing the math, yes, this is the last year in the 40’s age group for me.

Let’s celebrate the entire week of my birthday, so that means you can do your movement of choice any day from February 21 through February 27 (Sunday-Sunday). Then the best part comes- CAKE! Have a piece of your favorite kind of cake and share it with me on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/runningtotraveltheworld/ and let me know how you moved your body and for how long. Fun, right?

I can’t wait to hear how all of you helped me celebrate!

Happy birthday to me!

Donna

Travel to North Carolina- Some of My Favorite Places and Things to Do

I consider myself a North Carolinian even though I wasn’t born and raised here. I’ve lived in North Carolina longer than I’ve lived in any other state and definitely consider it my home. I also travelled here several times before deciding to move here. Funny story- when I was in grade school I had to write a story about my future self. I was supposed to write like it was set in the future and I was looking back on my life. I wrote about where I lived, what my career had been, and described my family and home in detail. In my story I lived in North Carolina.

The weird thing is at that point I’m pretty sure I had never been to North Carolina before. I remember going to the Outer Banks when I was in junior high school and again in high school and I remember going to the Charlotte area when I was in junior high school but I’m pretty sure I had never been to North Carolina in grade school. Somehow I must have known this is where I would end up as an adult. Strange, huh? I guess it was my destiny. Anyway, I digress.

I’ve lived in North Carolina since 1997 and since then I’ve explored the entire state, from the Atlantic Ocean on the east, to the piedmont area in the middle, and the mountains on the west. North Carolina truly is a unique state with plenty of diversity, natural beauty, and plenty of things to do. The estimated 50 million visitors annually seem to affirm that North Carolina is a great place to visit.

For simplicity’s sake I’m going to break down this post into the three main regions of North Carolina, the coastal plain, piedmont, and mountains.

Some snapshots from my recent visit to the Outer Banks

Coastal Plain

Within the Coastal Plain is the Tidewater region, which is the area of land along the coast at or near sea level. There are seven sounds, wetlands, the Great Dismal Swamp, and all of the beaches of North Carolina. The top part of the Coastal Plain begins with the long stretch of land called the Outer Banks. I recently went back for a vacation to the Outer Banks, which you can read about here: Fun in the Sun in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. As I said in my post, the Outer Banks area runs along a large section of the coast of North Carolina and includes several cities. There’s no shortage of places to stay or things to do in this area and I feel it includes some of North Carolina’s prettiest beaches.

The most popular beach town south of the Outer Banks is Wilmington, which I’ve been to many times. It’s your typical beach town with some good restaurants, cheesy tourist shops as well as some decent local shops, and a wide range of accommodations in all prices. If you’re looking for a luxurious Bed and Breakfast for a special occasion, you can’t go wrong with https://graystoneinn.com/. If you want to stay right on the beach, Blockade Runner has been a good choice when I’ve stayed there. Embassy Suites by Hilton Wilmington Riverfront is also nice and a convenient option for easy access to some of the best restaurants and shopping.

Discovery Place Science in Charlotte is one of the best kids’ hands-on museums I’ve been to

Piedmont

In the middle of the state is the Piedmont region where you can find Raleigh, the capital of North Carolina, the Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and many smaller towns. This area has the highest concentration of universities in the state as well as technology industries in Research Triangle Park, locally known as RTP. RTP is the largest planned research center in the United States and has brought much prosperity to the area along with all of the jobs.

Raleigh is not a place people from other states would first think of when planning a vacation but it’s an up-and-coming tourist destination, with almost 18 million visitors in 2018. Downtown Raleigh has several music and theater venues, James Beard award-winning chef Ashley Christensen plus some Top Chef winners, and plenty of art, science, and history museums. Raleigh really deserves a post of its own, which I plan to post soon. More well-known Charlotte had an estimated 29.6 million visitors in 2018 and hit a record high of visitor spending in 2019. Also deserving of its own post, Charlotte has everything from the popular indoor water park Great Wolf Lodge, NASCAR and NASCAR Hall of Fame, Carowinds amusement park, U.S. National Whitewater Center, Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, many wonderful museums, and two James Beard Award semifinalists.

Blue Ridge Mountains

Mountains

The Blue Ridge Mountains separate the Piedmont from the Mountain region. Other mountain ranges include the Bald, Balsam, Black, Brushy, Great Smoky, Iron, Pigsah, Stone, and Unaka, all of which are part of the Appalachian Mountains. I’ve been to most of these mountains and have hiked a fair portion of them, and I have several posts on regions in the mountains including: Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park- Redux, Camping in Asheville, North Carolina, and Christmas at Biltmore Estate and Exploring Asheville, North Carolina. In addition to Asheville, I also love Boone, which has Grandfather Mountain, Linville Caverns, Mast General Store, ski resorts in the winter and mountain biking the rest of the year, hiking, golf, Tweetsie Railroad, and ziplining.

One of the fun things about staying in the mountains is you can find some unique accommodations. Of course there’s the obvious tent or RV camping but there are also Bed and Breakfasts and cabins galore. Just be sure to ask your host about the area to see if you need a 4 x 4 vehicle to safely get around. I once stayed at a place with a gnarly hill to climb to get up the “driveway” but fortunately my vehicle was able to get up it and had a high enough clearance I didn’t have to worry about dragging the bottom of the car out. In the winter you will need to be better prepared for snowy/icy roads if you plan on driving and also know that backcountry roads don’t get plowed and treated nearly as quickly (if ever sometimes) as city roads.

As of this writing North Carolina has no state-mandated COVID travel restrictions.

Have you been to North Carolina? If so, where did you go and what did you do? Have you never been but would like to come here and if so, what area interests you?

Happy travels!

Donna

The Effect of Mood on Running and the Effect of Running on Mood

The evening before my half marathon in New York City (which you can read all about here: Allstate New York 13.1 Half Marathon, New York- 30th state), my husband and I got into an argument that was started by him. It was pretty serious and I was furious with him. Not furious because he was mad or why he was mad but furious that he chose that moment to bring up the subject. It was something that could have certainly waited until after my race.

I was worried I would have the argument on my brain during the race and as a result do poorly in the race. You see, even though I went on a journey to explore the importance of the mind and running in 2018, I’ve known well before then how my mood can effect my training runs and race performance. However, it’s a subject not many people talk about, which is why I’d like to explore it a bit here.

For some people, anger can actually get them fired up so much that they run faster. I’ve found I’m not one of those people. If I’m angry and try to go for a run, I usually end up working through the problem by the time my run is over but my average speed isn’t that great. I’ve seen other people who seem to go faster when they’re angry, though, so I guess some people are able to use their anger to fuel their runs.

What about running when you’re sad? Again, that’s not a good combination for me. I end up working things out emotionally if I’m sad or have sad feelings during a run but I inevitably end up going slower. Actually, come to think of it, maybe I’ve been looking at all of this from the wrong perspective.

This little girl always makes me smile when I see how happy she is to go for a run!

I’ve always thought that it’s not a good idea for me to go for a run if I’m angry or sad because it will distract me in a way that slows down my run. Maybe the speed of my run isn’t the point, though. The bigger point is to work through my anger, frustration, or sadness. If I can accomplish that on a run, who cares if I’m slower. Unless it’s during a race, of course.

I listen to the Another Mother Runner podcast regularly and one of the hosts, Sarah Bowen-Shea has mentioned that she started running when she and her first husband divorced, many years ago. Running can certainly be cathartic for many people going through a rough time in their lives, not just a one-time event, like you get in an argument with someone. Beyond the endorphins being released when you run, there are many other benefits of running. You begin to see positive changes in your body, so your self-esteem increases. If you join a running group, there are the benefits of being part of a group. All of this brings me to the second part of my title about how running effects our mood.

There have been many scientific studies on the effects of running on mood, including one from 1988 titled, “Effects of running and other activities on moods.” This was a study of 70 college undergraduates who participated in running, aerobic dancing, lifting weights, or no physical activity over six weeks. As you might guess, the researchers found that the runners but also the aerobic dancers experienced more positive moods than those in the other groups. A more recent study published in 2019 by researchers at Harvard found a “26% decrease in odds for becoming depressed for each major increase in objectively measured physical activity.” This study wanted to determine whether being physically active can improve emotional well-being, or if we simply move less when we feel sad or depressed. They found the former, people who moved more had a significantly lower risk for major depressive disorder.

It’s interesting how more and more people are realizing this and implementing things like running groups in prisons and therapists and mental health doctors are recommending exercise like walking and running for patients dealing with depression. I know throughout the pandemic, running has definitely been a mood stabilizer for me. Fortunately this past spring, the weather was absolutely gorgeous where I live, and I cherished those moments when I could go for a run outside and clear my head. Even during the hot, humid summer I knew I would always return from a run in a better mood than when I left.

When fall came and cooler weather along with it, I kept running and once again was reminded how beautiful fall is where I live. Even with no end in sight for the pandemic and my patience long ago worn thin, running has kept me going, literally and mentally. Because I’ve been running throughout the entire pandemic, I haven’t gained the COVID-19 extra weight that many other people have. Despite having a major life change on top of the pandemic, I’ve been able to stay optimistic and know that eventually things will get better, thanks in part to running.

What about you? Does anger fuel your runs and make you run faster? Do you go for a run when you’re trying to work through something? Have you been running throughout the pandemic or did you just start running during the pandemic?

Happy running!

Donna

The East Coast’s Newest National Park- New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in West Virginia

Thanks in part to a 2021 stimulus package sent for approval by President Trump in December 2020, the New River Gorge National River was upgraded to National Park and Preserve. This is a 73,000 acre canyon in southern West Virginia famous for its whitewater rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking, camping, and even base jumping once a year at Bridge Day. Basically the new status will allow the Park Service to buy more land around the area to add to the national preserve and add necessities like more parking near trailheads. It’s also expected to increase tourism by 20%, which is typical when previous monuments have been upgraded to national parks.

I grew up in southern West Virginia and have visited the New River Gorge many times. The first time I went whitewater rafting was on the New River. I was absolutely terrified but loved it so much I went back a couple more times. When I was dating someone many years ago not long after I had moved to North Carolina and brought him to meet my parents in West Virginia, the first thing my step-dad said was that we should visit the New River Gorge. The New River Gorge Bridge is likened by West Virginians as the Golden Gate Bridge is to San Franciscans- it’s a beauty to behold.

Bridge Day has grown to one of the largest extreme sports events in the world. Every third Saturday in October the New River Gorge Bridge is closed off to traffic while thousands of people visit primarily to watch BASE jumpers descend 876 feet into the Gorge below and rapellers ascend and descend from the catwalk. In 2019 there were nearly 100,000 visitors so if you want to go, I suggest you make plans well in advance. Also, you do need a Gorge ticket, which goes on sale in January every year and sells out quickly. https://officialbridgeday.com/bridge-day-info

New River Gorge Bridge- my grainy photo taken many years ago but it still looks the same today!

If you don’t have a huge fear of heights, you can walk the catwalk under the New River Gorge Bridge with a few different options. You can book a Bridge Day Bridge Walk, a Bridge Walk Full Moon Tour, or a Moonrise Sunset Tour. You begin near the Canyon Rim Visitor’s Center on the north side of the bridge and walk the entire 3,030 feet on the 2 foot wide catwalk, all while fastened to a safety cable. All of the tours take around 2-3 hours. https://bridgewalk.com/

ACE Adventure Resort is one of the more popular companies for whitewater rafting but they have grown to be undeniably the largest outdoor adventure company in southern West Virginia (probably the entire state). Not only can you go whitewater rafting, you can also go ziplining, mountain climbing, go on an obstacle course, standup paddleboarding, kayaking, plus so much more; and they have a huge range of accommodations from tent sites, cabins, bunkhouses, and RV sites. Plus, if that wasn’t enough, there’s also Wonderland Waterpark on a lake with fun things like giant waterslides and huge water toys. https://aceraft.com/

If you’re really into mountain biking (or even if you would like to learn more about it), there’s Arrowhead Bike Farm where you can visit the bike shop, rent a bike, sign up for a clinic, eat at The Handle Bar + Kitchen, or reserve a campsite. Arrowhead is near the Arrowhead stacked-loop trail system and the Long Point Trail giving you the opportunity to hike or bike right from your campsite into the New River Gorge. They are also located near Kaymoor Top, a premier rock climbing location, and public put-in and take-out for boating on the Lower New River. https://arrowheadbikefarm.com/

Being an avid hiker every opportunity I get, I have to include some information about hiking in New River Gorge National River. To read about 23 trails in the area, head to https://www.alltrails.com/parks/us/west-virginia/new-river-gorge-national-river to find trails ranging from easy, moderate, and hard, in many different lengths. These trails include everything from waterfalls, rivers, old coal mines, views of the bridge, and mountain views. Although there are black bears in the area, I’ve personally never seen any; mostly you’ll see deer, squirrels, birds, skunks, and the occasional raccoon and groundhog.

If all of this just sounds like more adventure than you’d care to take on, you can always just rent a cabin and sit outside while you enjoy the sounds of the river with an ice-cold beverage. There’s just something about getting away from it all and sitting outside and truly relaxing in nature. New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is a great place to do that! https://www.nps.gov/neri/index.htm

Have you ever been to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve? Have you seen the bridge on your way driving through to go further north? Gone whitewater rafting here? Any interest in going here someday?

Happy travels!

Donna

Caffeine as a Boost For Running

I’m not a coffee drinker and in fact the only time I’ve ever semi-regularly drunk coffee was while I was an undergraduate in college. Even then I wouldn’t drink coffee by itself; I’d mix coffee with hot chocolate for mochas, but this was still just an occasional splurge for me. For one thing, I don’t care for the taste of coffee but also I’m extremely sensitive to caffeine. If I have an iced tea with lunch, I’ll be wired 10 hours later. If I were to have 3 or 4 glasses of iced tea in one sitting, my heart would start skipping beats and I’d feel like my chest was going to explode.

I do drink tea in moderation, however, and I enjoy a cup or two of hot tea in the morning on occasion. The amount of tea I drink varies but lately it seems like I have hot tea about 2-3 mornings a week. I never drink tea more than two days in a row, though, because I’ve done that in the past and that’s all it takes for me to become addicted to caffeine. By the third day if I don’t have caffeine, I’ll have a raging headache and feel terrible. No thanks.

When it comes to caffeine and running (or other endurance activities), several studies have shown that caffeine can in fact give you a bit of a boost for endurance based exercise; however, like many things when it comes to running, it’s complicated. The first report concerning the effects of energy drinks on physical performance was carried out by Alford and co-workers in 2001. These authors found that approximately 1 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight (one 250-mL serving of an energy drink) improved reaction time, alertness and aerobic and anaerobic performance. Conversely, later studies found that 1 mg/kg/caffeine is not enough to see significant extensive improvements in endurance exercise.

This recent study looked at the tolerance of one group of male cyclists who took 3 mg/kg/day of caffeine for 20 days vs. another group of men who took a placebo. The researchers noted improved VO2max for the first 4 days in the caffeine group compared to those taking a placebo, but the benefits seemed to drop off quickly. The researchers also discussed how there are differences in studies like this based on whether participants in the studies take caffeine on a daily basis or not and how much caffeine they consume on a regular basis.

It may seem intuitive that you will benefit from caffeine supplements more if you don’t regularly consume caffeine vs. people that consume caffeine regularly, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Improvements in both people that regularly consume caffeine and those that don’t have been seen in studies on caffeine supplements. It also seems that elites may have smaller improvements in endurance events with caffeine than the average athlete, which is good news for most of us. Remember, too, that until 2004 caffeine was considered a performance-enhancing drug and was not allowed in competitions by elites.

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Companies have sold caffeine-containing products geared toward athletes for many years and that just seems to be increasing. Honey Stinger has Energy Chews with 32 mg caffeine per serving and recently released Plus+ Performance Chews with 75 mg caffeine per serving. One tablet of Nuun Sport + Caffeine has 40 mg caffeine, while a serving of Nuun Endurance + Caffeine has 25 mg caffeine. One serving of Tailwind Caffeinated Endurance Fuel has 35 mg caffeine. Gatorade Endurance Energy Gel with Caffeine has 30 mg caffeine. And on and on. I haven’t checked but probably any company that sells electrolyte drinks, gels, and similar products most likely have at least some caffeinated versions in their line of products. For reference, the average cup of brewed coffee has between 95-200 mg of caffeine. The average cup of tea has 25-75 mg of caffeine.

One thing I found out in reading about caffeine is that most studies gave their participants caffeine one hour before exercise. That may or may not work for you personally; I know it’s not feasible for me on most days when I would use caffeine for my runs. Here are my thoughts on that, though:  you’re still going to feel the effects of caffeine unless you’re only exercising less than an hour or shortly over an hour. Say for example, you’re going for a 3 hour run and you’re drinking your sports drink with caffeine from the beginning of your run, you’re going to feel the effects, although maybe not within the first hour. For exercise that’s two hours or more, you should feel the effects from the caffeine while you’re still out.

Caffeine has also been touted to reduce muscle soreness after endurance activity but that seems to be even more controversial. Personally, I don’t notice any difference at all in muscle soreness whether I have a sports drink with caffeine or a caffeine-free sports drink. Some people may have reduced muscle soreness, though, since there are studies out there reporting this. Then again, that’s another thing that’s tough to measure without bias because of the placebo effect. Some people may think they’ll be less sore if they think their drink has caffeine in it versus the placebo drink, while others may have it in their heads that caffeine doesn’t reduce muscle soreness and they will report no reduction in muscle soreness (even if their drink had caffeine in it). Again, it’s tricky to measure, like so many other studies of this type.

I say, if you don’t already, have some caffeine prior to your run and see what it does for you. You should give it at least a few weeks to be fair, though, and note how you feel before, during, and after your run. One final thing to remember is that caffeine is a strong stimulant on not only your brain and muscles but other parts of your body as well such as your GI system. If you’ve never experienced “runner’s trots” before, caffeine just may be the stimulus for that to happen if you don’t take care of business before your run.

What about you- are you a big believer in the power of caffeine for endurance activities? Or have you tried it and don’t see a difference? Are you a big coffee drinker but never use supplements or sports drinks with caffeine when you run?

Happy running!

Donna

Eating My Way Around the World- Memorable Foods I’ve Enjoyed While on Vacation

I would say I’ve always been at least a somewhat adventurous eater, although not to the crazy extreme as some people (like eating maggots or worms). When I was growing up, my mom would always tell me I would have to at least try everything that she was serving at dinner. One of my earliest memories is of me eating hot banana peppers with my grandpa when I was around three years old. When I was about 11 or 12 years old I tried frog’s legs and escargot while on vacation with my mom and I really thought I was a big time adventurer.

As an adult I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to 47 states in the United States, both ends of Canada, Mexico, several countries in Europe, all over the Caribbean, Peru and Chile in South America, and the North Island of New Zealand. Some places were definitely full of more memorable foods than others, for good and bad. There are some places that stand out more than others, just looking at the unique and memorable foods I ate there.

Just a sampling of some of the not only delicious but beautifully presented food and drinks in Peru

Peru was such a huge surprise to me that it’s such a foodie destination. Who knew it has so many amazing foods of gourmet quality but not that gourmet price tag? Certainly not me. Even on the trek to Machu Picchu, we had some amazing meals that were just cooked over a fire but were so full of flavor and everything tasted so fresh. Some of my favorite foods I ate in Peru were ceviche, Lomo Saltado (stir-fried beef), Aji de Gallina (creamy chicken), Causa Limeña (potato casserole), and Pollo a la Brasa (roasted chicken). I also enjoyed the Maracuyá Sour, which is made with passion fruit and is a delicious variation on the pisco sour.

In the Caribbean, I loved the jerk chicken and Jamaican Patties in Jamaica, all of the French foods and pastries on the French side of St. Martin, Conch salad in the Bahamas, and I loved Bahama Mamas (alcoholic drink) way too much (of course there’s a story that goes along with that but I won’t get into it here). Canada is well-known for their poutine, which may sound disgusting to some people, but I loved it. If you don’t know, poutine is french fries and cheese curds smothered in brown gravy. I also had the pleasure of eating Montreal-style smoked meat from Katz’s Deli, and it was every bit as good as the hype. In fact, Montreal is also a foodie destination, with amazing food on every corner.

Montreal-style smoked meat, Maple syrup, Canadian back bacon, Butter tart, Nanaimo Bar, Poutine. Photo credit Wikipedia

Before I even set foot there, I knew the food in Italy was going to be out of this world. I swear, even the street food was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Even though I tried, my Italian wasn’t that great, but I could just point to anything in a deli case and know I would get something delicious. Some of the best Ethiopian food I’ve ever had was in fact in Italy. I was in Rome, Venice, Florence, and Pompeii and in every city, the food was truly some of the best food I’ve had anywhere. Oh, and the house wine, which was also cheap, was amazing. There were some places where the bottled water cost more than the house wine! Some of the most memorable foods I had in Italy were pizza, so much pasta (tortellini, ravioli, lasagna, carbonara, tagliatelle, and more), breads, prosciutto, and all of the gelato I could possibly eat.

Navajo “fry bread” from Cameron Trading Post in Arizona

Looking at places I’ve been in the United States, I tried Indian Fry Bread (aka Navajo Tacos) for the first time in Arizona and it was so good I couldn’t wait to have more on subsequent visits to the southwest. Navajo Tacos are large discs of fried dough with taco toppings like ground beef with taco seasoning, beans, shredded cheese, sour cream, diced tomatoes, peppers, sliced black olives, and anything else you want really. Staying on the west coast and some memorable foods I had there, I had delicious fish tacos in San Diego, sourdough bread in San Francisco, and so much wonderful fresh, seafood in Seattle.

I probably never would have had Hawaiian shave ice if not for my daughter. She wanted to get some one day so I got one as well, and I was blown away. I expected to get what I thought would be a snow cone, but real shave (this is no typo, either, it’s shave, not shaved) ice is no snow cone. Shave ice is made by shaving a block of ice, versus the crushed ice you get with snow cones, and has syrups like Tiger’s Blood, Dragon’s Blood, and Bahama Mama. More importantly, you can (and should) get your shave ice with sweet cream over and ice cream under. That first shave ice I had was followed by several others on that trip. My only regret is that I didn’t discover it sooner, as this was my third trip to Hawaii, and you can only get real Hawaiian shave ice in Hawaii, unfortunately for my taste buds, but fortunately for my waist line. Also on my vacations in Hawaii, I discovered poi, kalua pig, poke, and malasadas. Now I want to go back. With so much good food and amazing views, you just can’t go wrong.

Hawaiian shave ice

Anyone else hungry right about now?

Let’s go to the Midwest in the United States. How about Chicago-style deep dish pizza or Chicago-style hot dogs? Yum to both! I’ve been to Chicago a few times and every single time I had to have both of these foods or I felt like my trip just wouldn’t have been complete. I was looking forward to eating Kansas City BBQ before my vacation to Kansas City, Missouri and it was every bit as good as I had hoped. Michigan is known for their Montmorency cherry, and I had some awesome cherry pie in Traverse City, Michigan.

I’ve spent the majority of my time on the east coast of the United States, since that’s where I grew up and have lived as an adult. Philadelphia has Philly Cheesesteaks of course, but you can also get great ones in other Pennsylvania cities like Pittsburgh, and the best buffalo wings are in the Northeast (meaning Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, northern West Virginia, Delaware). With hot wings, the quality of meat, spices, and overall flavor diminishes greatly when you get outside that area. I also had some amazing lobster rolls and seafood chowder in Maine and I can’t forget the New York-style bagels and pizza I had plus all of the great Asian foods I ate in New York City. Oh, and some of the best shrimp and grits I’ve had were in Charleston, South Carolina. In fact, I don’t remember ever NOT having a meal in Charleston that wasn’t only good but in fact great, which is a convoluted way of saying it’s a true foodie destination that lives up to the hype.

Some of the sweets in Charleston, South Carolina

There were other memorable foods that weren’t so great, like all of the sausages and schnitzel in Germany. I got to a point where I was so sick of those two foods comprising 99% of the menus everywhere I went. Seriously, there’s only so much schnitzel a person can eat before they’re sick of it, or maybe it’s just me. When I discovered the Italian food is actually really good in Germany, I was thrilled! Surprisingly, I found the food in Austria to be more varied than it was in Germany, and it was very good, although nothing in particular stands out but I do remember having some good desserts there.

What about you? What are some of the more memorable foods you’ve eaten while on vacation?

Happy travels!

Donna

Running Resolutions for 2021

Last year I only had one running resolution and that was to enjoy every moment of my final three half marathons of my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. The full version can be found here: Running Resolutions for 2020. As we all know, COVID-19 put an end to most races in 2020, certainly ones that were in late March or later.

My first half marathon of 2020 was supposed to be the Albuquerque Half Marathon in April, followed by a half marathon in Minnesota in June, and a half marathon in Iowa in September, completing all 50 states. I thought I was going to be able to still run the race in New Mexico since the race director postponed it until November. Of course no one could have predicted that the pandemic would still be going strong through the end of 2020.

With no scheduled races in sight for 2021, this year I’ve decided to make some running resolutions that aren’t related to my goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states. I’m confident I’ll be able to reach my goal when the time is right, but who knows when that will be. Sure, I could probably run three half marathons in 2021 but the question is can I run a half marathon in New Mexico, Minnesota, and Iowa in 2021? As much as I would love for that to happen, I’m not going to hold my breath waiting on that to happen, with all of the uncertainties of the pandemic continuing into 2021.

Since before the New Year, I’ve thought about what my goals for 2021 should be and I had a really hard time coming up with any. Then a few days ago while I was on a run, I finally came up with my first running resolution for 2021: to be more spontaneous when it comes to races. As you probably have figured out, I’ve been completely structured and organized when it comes to my previous half marathons, at least once I had the goal of one in every state.

Most of my half marathons were chosen and planned out several months if not years in advance (really). This year, I’d like to be completely spontaneous and if I see a race that seems interesting and I can feasibly run it, I want to do that. As you may or may not know, I’ve run relatively few local races because I was concentrating on my goal and didn’t want to overdo it with too much racing. Now, however, I can be more spontaneous and run more local races, assuming COVID restrictions are lifted and racing has resumed locally.

My second running resolution came to me when I was walking my dog. I’d like to incorporate more walking into this year. Walking is good cross-training and as I get older I know the importance of not “just” running. Currently, I do yoga once a week, strength train once a week, ride my bike when the weather is conducive, and this year I’ve started walking my dog most days, with a really long walk on Sundays. In 2020 I also hiked in the mountains quite a bit, and I’d love to continue to do that this year as well, but since I don’t live in the mountains I’m limited to when I travel to places with mountains.

That’s it- just two running resolutions for 2021. The second one will be easy for me, but the first one depends on the pandemic. With people already getting vaccinated, hope is on the horizon that things will get “better” and we can return to racing once again.

What about you? Did you make any running resolutions for 2021? Care to share any?

Happy running!

Donna

What Travel Taught Me in 2020

Once again, I’d like to continue my tradition of re-capping my travels for the year and note all of the things I learned while I was traveling. 2020 was unlike any year ever in travel for me obviously because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Before flights began to be cancelled and states and entire countries started enforcing closures, however, I was lucky enough to go on a vacation in February.

Even though I had been to several different parts of Florida from the northern panhandle down to the very southernmost point and other parts in between, I had never been to St. Petersburg before. I was really missing out, too, because I loved this area. A friend of mine recommended the area, citing powder white sandy beaches and crystal clear water. Skeptical, I thought I’d check it out for myself.

Sure enough, the beaches are all of that and then some. The beaches are clean, not overly crowded, and not overly touristy. Beyond the beaches, there are interesting museums, a plethora of restaurants, and so many incredible outdoor areas to spend time in nature. I was impressed. What I learned about this vacation is to always keep an open mind to places you’ve never been to, even if you’ve been to other cities nearby, and think you “know” an area because you just might be surprised by how little you really know. A Brief Overview of St. Petersburg, Florida- Where to Stay, What to Do, Where to Eat and More Things to Do in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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After that vacation, I was supposed to go to New Mexico in April to run a half marathon, my 48th state, in Albuquerque then do some hiking in Santa Fe. Thanks to COVID-19, I had to cancel that vacation. Then in June I was supposed to go to Minnesota to run another half marathon that was going to be my 49th state. That vacation was going to take place in St. Paul and then north of Duluth to spend some time in the little towns along the water. Again, that was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Vacation number four for 2020 was supposed to be a week in southern Spain followed by a week in southern Portugal in July. You guessed it, that vacation was also cancelled. At the time I naively thought the ban against Americans flying to Portugal would surely be lifted by August so I re-scheduled that vacation for August. The hotel in Spain cancelled my reservations and the airline in Spain cancelled the flight so I rearranged my plans to just spend time in Portugal and anxiously watched the news to check the international flight status every day. 

By now I had become a pro at cancelling flights, Airbnb reservations, and hotel reservations. Not that this was a good thing because it made me depressed to have to cancel all of my vacations, but fortunately the travel industry was flexible and generous with cancellations over the summer. Amidst all of the travel cancellations in the spring, I was able to take another short vacation, however.

For years I had heard about Greenville, South Carolina and had been intrigued. Since so many of my other vacations had been cancelled, I had plenty of vacation time saved up so I decided to plan an impromptu long weekend in Greenville over Memorial Day weekend. It turned out to be even better than I expected. There are art galleries everywhere, unique restaurants and shops, a huge waterfall in the middle of it all, and a scenic running/biking trail that goes for miles. What I learned from this vacation is when you keep hearing about a particular city, the universe is trying to tell you something- just go! You can find my post on Greenville here:  Long Weekend in Greenville, South Carolina- An Unexpected Surprise.

Of course I had to eventually cancel my August trip to Portugal since Americans weren’t allowed to enter the country (and still aren’t as of this writing). I have wanted to go to Portugal for years and that was a tough blow for that to be cancelled indefinitely. I hadn’t had a long vacation since February and I knew I desperately needed to get away. The highlight of my week being going to the grocery store was beyond old at this point. I realized flying wasn’t a great idea and frankly I was tired of having to cancel my airline tickets. I tried to find somewhere within a reasonable drive but I also wanted somewhere new. Although not exactly new, I decided going to Great Smoky Mountain National Park would be a good, safe option.

Although I had been to this part of Tennessee and North Carolina before (it’s right on the border between the two states), it had been several years since I’d been there. This vacation taught me that even though you’ve been to a place before doesn’t mean you’ll remember it when you go back. I had been to Gatlinburg and Great Smoky Mountain National Park not once but twice but there was so much about the park that I didn’t remember so it was like it was the first time for me. Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park- Redux and Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

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This vacation in the mountains taught me it’s possible to have a great vacation even in the middle of a pandemic and still be safe. Since my daughter and I spent the vast majority of our time hiking in the mountains, we were able to socially distance ourselves easily. There were places in the town of Gatlinburg where we didn’t feel safe and we simply didn’t go there. I also learned that 1600 bears in the area is no exaggeration- we saw bears on multiple occasions but don’t let that stop you from going hiking in the mountains. Just be alert, make noise when you’re hiking, and if you do see a bear, don’t panic and most of all, don’t go screaming and running.

Not long after my vacation in the mountains, I had a beach trip that was planned many months prior to the pandemic. This was another vacation to a place, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, that I had been to many times but once again I learned there’s always something new to see or a new place to visit even if you’ve been there before. As I said in my post Fun in the Sun in the Outer Banks, North Carolina, the first time I went to the Outer Banks I was a teenager and I had been back a few times before this time as an adult.

We discovered some new restaurants that I hadn’t eaten at before, plus we went back to some of my old favorites. From this, I learned it’s nice to have a place that feels comfortable to you because you’ve been there so many times. As much as I enjoy discovering new places to travel to, it is nice to have a couple of places that I’ve returned to multiple times over the years, like the Outer Banks. That doesn’t mean it has to get stagnant or boring, though, because you can always mix in some new places along with the places you’ve been to before.

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Finally, what was supposed to have been my final pre-pandemic-planned vacation for 2020, a half marathon Labor Day weekend in Iowa, and this was also supposed to have been my 50th and final state in my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, was cancelled. So I was zero for three for races planned and races actually ran for 2020. This had never happened, not in all of my 20 years of running half marathons in different states. I had been able to run each and every one of the 49 half marathons in 47 states over the past 20 years and now suddenly I couldn’t run all three consecutive races in a single year and I wasn’t even injured.

It took some time to fully sink in, but eventually I realized How COVID-19 Changed My Attitude About Running a Half Marathon in All 50 States. Initially I was sad that I hadn’t been able to finish my running quest in 2020 as planned, but finally I came to accept it and move on. That doesn’t mean I no longer have this goal, but I’ve accepted that sometimes things are out of our hands and we can either get upset and fight it, or we can realize it’s just not the right time but when the time is right, it will happen. I’ve had to adopt that mindset for other things in my life during 2020 as well.

I thought about taking some more relatively local overnight vacations to my home state of North Carolina or venturing into Virginia or Georgia. When I went to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina a couple of years ago I had taken a day trip to Savannah, Georgia and really enjoyed that. I thought maybe I could go back to Savannah and spend a few days. But there was the issue of crossing state lines and all of the potential complications with that.

Then my daughter mentioned how she’d like to go hiking again after her Christmas break started. Hiking in December? There are some fabulous places to hike in the North Carolina mountains, west of where I live, but they also get quite a bit of snow there in December, and since I don’t regularly drive on snow-covered roads, I wasn’t comfortable doing that (we barely get any snow where I live). The weather in the mountains can be extremely unpredictable in the winter and I felt like that was the last thing I needed at the time so I nixed that idea.

With 2020 winding down, it’s been a crappy year in so many ways, including travel. However, I was able to go on one nice vacation to a place I had been wanting to go to and explore my home state a bit more, which is always a good thing. I chose to live in North Carolina way back in 1997 and 2020 taught me what a good decision that was because it really is a beautiful state with so much diversity between the beaches and mountains and everything in-between!

How was your year in travel? Were you able to travel locally?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Running Highs and Lows of 2020

Every year I write a post to summarize my running for the year with all of the races I ran and the highs and lows for the year. I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone how different this post is going to be from every other year I’ve written these. Yes, 2020 sucked when it came to races because of all of the cancellations, but it wasn’t all low points when it came to running for me.

As you may or may not know, I’m on a quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states and only have three states left, which I was supposed to run in 2020. My remaining states are New Mexico, Minnesota, and Iowa. All three half marathons were cancelled in 2020. No idea when they will be rescheduled or what will happen in 2021 with those races or quite honestly anything at all at this point.

So what did happen in 2020 when it came to my running? Well, as I said in my post Running Highs and Lows of 2019, last year was a stellar year for me with only highs and no lows. I continued on that high early this year when I was training for what I thought would be my half marathon in New Mexico in April. Then I hit my first low point for the year when the pandemic started and my race was postponed until November 2020. Little did I know back in April that this pandemic would still be in full force in November and registered runners would have the option to run the race virtually in November or (hopefully) run it in April 2021. I opted for the latter since the whole idea is for me to run a race in all 50 states.

For most of 2020 I averaged around 130 miles each month. May was my highest mileage month with 186 miles. May was also near-perfect running weather where I live and one of the most stressful months so far for the year (although little did I know June would be much, much worse). I kept running to clear my head, get outside to enjoy the weather, and keep healthy.

Even in June, when I was supposed to run my half marathon in Minnesota, I still thought that race might happen right up until about a week prior (yes, I know it seems crazy now). The race director for the half marathon in New Mexico had been excellent with his communication, letting us know the plans for the race so we could plan accordingly. However, the race director for the half marathon in Minnesota was terrible. The website was not updated and when I tried multiple ways of contacting him, he didn’t respond. Finally at the last minute I found out the race was postponed until September. I decided to not run that race at all, even if it did actually happen in September, which was doubtful. Not being able to run my second scheduled race for 2020 was another low point for me.

Still, I kept running, ever hopeful (naively) that I would still be able to run the half marathon in Iowa in September. The race director stated that the race would go on even with the pandemic; that they would figure out a way to put on the race safely. As you already know by now, this did not happen. Yet another running low for me.

Running on the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville, South Carolina with my daughter was a high point!

Not to give you the impression I don’t or didn’t understand why all of these races were cancelled. I fully understand that obviously there could be no races when states had limits on the number of people who could be together, some as few as 10 people. No race director in their right mind would have wanted to have a race and risk spreading the virus throughout their city and state and have runners come in from out of town on top of that. Only when it was deemed safe to have bigger groups together did in-person races start resuming and even those were more common in some states than others.

In September the town where I live hosted a virtual 5k, with what I thought would include race swag, an online leaderboard, and prizes to the top finishers in each age group. On top of that, it was free. Normally not one for a virtual race, given all of the above listed, I entered and ended up running my fastest 5k yet, I Ran My Fastest 5k, but Does It Even Count?. I was the top female finisher for my age group but I was told by the race organizer that prizes weren’t going to be given out after all, and I could download my finisher certificate. Um, great! Thanks! This one was a high point for sure since I hadn’t even trained for this distance but was able to run 3.1 miles much faster than I ever had before, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed to not get an age group prize like I thought I was going to. Would I have pushed myself as hard as I did if I knew there wouldn’t be prizes? Nope. I’ll fully admit I need that carrot out there to really push myself.

When October hit, my mileage and motivation slipped but I continued running until I started having hip pain. It was something I had experienced before so I was confident I knew how to treat it. For starters I had to take at least a solid couple of weeks off of running and even long walks. This was a bit of a low point for me because October is one of the best months for running where I live. The weather is perfect and the autumn leaves are in full display. To not be able to run or even walk in that was tough.

I really love checking out all of the fall foliage when I run!

The time off and babying my hip paid off, though, because I was able to run again in mid-November and still enjoy that gorgeous fall weather. The first time I was able to run again without pain was definitely a high point. It felt great to be outside running again, even if it was a struggle because I had lost some fitness during that time off. When I worked my way back up to six miles for a long run, that also felt great.

December has been mostly spent getting my fitness back and watching my pace split times gradually drop. With no races in sight, I plan on maintaining my fitness throughout the winter and to keep running moderately. I’ll probably try to run around 6-8 miles for my long runs and run a few times during the week. With all of the holiday baking I’ve done lately, I also need to make sure I don’t add any holiday pounds!

Overall, 2020 has had plenty of running lows for me but also some running highs. I’m a pretty optimistic person and I like to try to find the positive in most things; running is no exception. Even though I wasn’t able to run any of my planned half marathons this year, I know I will eventually be able to run them. I’ve been able to keep running for most of the year and was only sidelined for a small portion of the year with my hip injury. For sure, running has helped with my mental health and dealing with the pandemic and that has been priceless.

What about you? How did your running go this year? Any running highs or lows you’d like to share?

Happy running!

Donna