Five Lessons in Life I Learned Through Running

As I wrote in my very first blog post, Why I Run, I feel like I’ve always been a runner. I ran for the sheer joy of running when I was a kid and other than taking a few years off during college prompted by severe shin splints, I’ve been a runner pretty much as soon as I could run. Even though I was on my grade school track team (does that even count?), I was never on my high school cross country or track team nor was I part of any running teams in college. In other words, other than my grade school track coach I never had a running coach so everything I’ve learned about running I learned on my own.

Being a runner for so many years has also taught me how to interact with people and be a better person myself. I’ve learned many life lessons through running and I’d like to share some of them here. For each one I tried to give an example that relates to running and then give an example that relates to life in general.

  1. Treat others with kindness and respect.
    • As a runner, I probably tend to notice stories about runners treating each other with kindness and respect more than a non-runner might but I feel like there have been so many examples of stories showing the kindness of runners toward each other.
    • One example is when high school track star Meghan Vogel was at the Ohio state meet in 2012. Vogel was competing in the 3200 meter race, where fellow competitor Arden McMath dropped to the ground a few meters short of the finish line. Vogel ran to McMath’s side where she guided her to the finish line, allowing McMath to finish ahead of herself.
    • This one should be obvious how it applies to life outside running and I’m not saying people that don’t run aren’t kind and respectful of others, it’s just that I tend to notice it more in runners probably because of the bond that runners have with one another.
  2. Food is fuel for your body. 
    • You quickly have to figure this one out when you start running. If you don’t have the proper amounts and types of food and hydration, your runs will be short-lived and you’ll crash and burn.
    • Famous runners have recently cashed in on this by publishing cookbooks specifically aimed at runners. Some of the more popular ones include “Run Fast, Eat Slow” by Shalane Flanagan and  Elyse Kopecky, “Racing Weight Cookbook” by Matt Fitzgerald, “The Athlete’s Palate” by Yishane Lee, and “Eat and Run” by Scott Jurek.
    • Likewise in life outside of running, food should be treated as nourishment for your body. If you fill it with junk, eventually it will catch up to you in the form of obesity, diabetes, or other health problems. That’s not to say you should always deny yourself the occasional special treat, just remember if you have it every day, it’s no longer a special treat but a part of your normal diet.
  3. Listen to your body.
    • Aches and pains can become worse over time if you ignore the early warning signs. Most of us learn it’s better to take a few days off until you feel better rather than pushing through the pain, only to injure yourself worse and having to take months off running.
    •  This one can be tough for runners to learn, but once you learn to do this, it’s key to a long running relationship.
    • Likewise in life outside running, if you feel a nagging pain in your back or other part of your body, the longer you ignore it, the longer it will take to go away, and in fact may not just go away on its own.
  4. Getting enough quality sleep is crucial.
    • Sleep is the single most important element when it comes to running. If you haven’t slept well or only got a few hours sleep the night before trying to tackle a race or a long run that will only make it harder for optimal performance.
    • Not getting enough sleep or not sleeping well night after night wreaks havoc on your immune system, hormonal system, and even makes it harder to maintain an ideal weight.
  5. Having “Me Time” is important for your health.
    • Mothers often struggle with this one. You’re busy taking care of your family and it’s often tough to squeeze in a 30-minute run, especially if you also work full-time outside the home. Not only is this important for your physical health, having time to yourself to go for a run is also important for your mental health. Find a way to make this work for your situation, whether it’s working it out with your partner, taking turns watching a fellow runner’s kids, or calling a babysitter. You should never feel guilty for taking time for yourself.
    • Even if you don’t run, it’s important to take time for yourself, whether it’s taking a relaxing bath, going for a walk, calling a friend, or just sitting down to enjoy a steaming cup of hot chocolate by yourself.
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Stopping to smell the irises on a run!

What about you fellow runners? What are some life lessons you’ve learned through being a runner?

Happy running!

Donna

Fun in the Sun in the Outer Banks, North Carolina

I’ve been to the Outer Banks of North Carolina many times. My first time was with my mother and brother when my brother and I were both teenagers. Since then I’ve been all up and down the Outer Banks, which stretches from Corolla in the northern tip, down to Kill Devil Hills/Kitty Hawk/Nags Head in the middle, and Hatteras and Ocracoke in the southern portion. At one point or another in my life, I’ve been to every portion of this series of barrier islands.

This summer I had a trip planned to Kitty Hawk after winning a story contest with the prize being two free nights at a hotel on the beach in Kitty Hawk. Even with the pandemic in full force in North Carolina, we were able to have a great time and relax a bit. Everyone we saw in public was wearing a mask, there was hand sanitizer everywhere we went such as at our hotel, shops, and restaurants, and the beaches are wide and long enough it was easy to socially distance from other people.

Like I said, this wasn’t my first time to the area but it was my daughter’s first time to this particular part of the Outer Banks. I wanted her to see the Wright Brothers Memorial and Jockey’s Ridge State Park in particular. I also wanted to take her to some of the locally owned restaurants and little beach shops. Most of all, I wanted to allow her to have a nice, quiet, relaxing weekend and have some fun before all of the stress of high school started.

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My daughter’s first time in the Outer Banks (l) and 2020 Outer Banks vacation (r)

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Jockey’s Ridge State Park is a fun place to spend an hour or two, more if you want to try hang gliding. It’s the tallest living sand dune on the Atlantic Coast and covers 426 acres. You can go sand boarding, fly a kite, watch the sunset, go hang gliding, or just walk along the dunes. There are three very short trails, one of which has brochures at the trailhead. Most people just wander around and end up watching the people trying their hand at hang gliding with Kitty Hawk Kites, the only company that offers hang gliding lessons on the dunes.

Every time when I’ve been to Jockey’s Ridge State Park, I’ve just walked around taking in the views. It’s always been quiet and serene and the dunes are large enough that even if there are several other people there, it can feel like there’s hardly anyone else but you. The dunes seem like they go on forever but it is fairly easy to reach the point where you see the end where they meet the ocean. You can get great views of the surrounding area from this vantage.

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Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Wright Brothers National Memorial

The Wright Brothers National Memorial is impressive whether it’s your first or fifth visit. If you’re not familiar with the history behind the memorial, Wilbur and Orville Wright forever changed the world with the first successful powered airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903. The two brothers lived in Ohio but chose this area of North Carolina to test out some theories about flight they had beginning in 1900.

This is another place in the Outer Banks where you can spend an hour or two just walking around. For some reason, the memorial seemed even bigger to me this visit. There is a great visitor center that serves as a museum that’s full of historical information and photos but it was closed due to the pandemic. You can check out the First Flight Boulder and the Flight Line with boulders that mark the first flights on December 17, 1903. It’s funny to see the first three boulders clustered together and then the fourth boulder noticeably further from the previous boulders. I can imagine the Wright brothers’ excitement when they were able to fly to that fourth boulder.

There is also an area with reconstructed 1903 Camp Buildings where the Wright brothers lived and worked during the summers of the three years they spent there. After their successful flights in 1903, they returned in subsequent years but abandoned the camp site in 1911. Now you can see a reconstructed hangar and living quarters of the brothers. While I was checking it out, a park ranger pointed to the bunks at the top part of the living quarter and said the brothers were so excited when they figured out how much more comfortable it was to sleep in the top part of the wood cabin than on the ground. I didn’t think to ask why until later so I’m not sure if it was simply a softer place to sleep or an escape from the inevitable ants and other bugs on the ground.

As always, the National Park Services website for the Wright Brothers National Memorial is full of information for planning a visit or if you’re just interested in the history, which you can find the link for here.

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What about the beaches?

If you do a  Google search to ask what are the best beaches in the Outer Banks, it’s likely Kitty Hawk will come up as one of the best. Honestly, I don’t see much of a difference in the beaches whether you’re in Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, or Nags Head. The sand is consistently the same golden color and the beaches are wide and long in all three areas. There are some pretty decent waves, though nothing like you see in the Pacific Ocean. Nags Head does have Jennette’s Pier, the longest public pier in North Carolina, which sets it apart from the other nearby beaches.

Since the Outer Banks consists of more than just Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head, I should also mention a few of the other beaches in the Outer Banks. From Rodanthe southward including Avon, Hatteras, and Ocracoke there are unincorporated communities and villages most with only a few hundred residents. This area is quiet and not full of chain restaurants or hotels so if you like to really get away from it all, this is a great area for that. Just north of Kitty Hawk, you’ll come to Southern Shores, Duck, and much further north is Corolla, where the wild horses are.

My daughter’s first trip to the beach was to Duck, North Carolina, as shown in the first photo above. Duck is known to be one of the most dog-friendly beaches in the Outer Banks, but that wasn’t why we chose that area. Honestly, a co-worker of mine had a condo there and was renting it out at a good price so we decided to check out that area since we hadn’t been that far north. It seems to be a bit more expensive than Nags Head and the surrounding cities and caters more to the upper middle-class and upper class. However, the beaches are pretty much like what you see as you go south along the Outer Banks, just quieter.

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A word about the food

The Outer Banks is full of seafood restaurants, as you can imagine, some are over-the-top cheesy and touristy, like Dirty Dick’s Crab House (a chain restaurant), plus plenty of chain restaurants specializing in fried seafood, but there are also plenty of locally-owned BBQ restaurants like High Cotton and Pigman’s. We stumbled upon a wonderful small Italian restaurant, Josephine’s Sicilian Kitchen after an Asian fusion restaurant we had plans to eat at turned out to be closed, even though their website said they were open (no doubt COVID-related). So you see you can find much more than just seafood restaurants if you do just a little looking around (not that I don’t enjoy seafood, it’s just good to have options).

We also discovered the closest thing we’ve been able to find to true Hawaiian shave ice at Booty Treats Ice Cream and Shave Ice. I had a coconut shave ice with cookie dough melt-in ice cream sprinkled on top and my daughter had banana shave ice with chocolate melt-ins and we both loved our choices. Another of our favorite ice cream shops is Kill Devil’s Frozen Custard and Beach Fries. I had been here before a long time ago and it was still as good as I remembered. They have a huge selection of sundaes, malts, floats, milkshakes, hurricanes, but also have some pretty good sandwiches and are well-known for their fries so come with a big appetite!

Accomodations and Day Trips

There are plenty of options of where to stay, depending on if you’re coming by yourself, with a friend, family, or group of friends or family. You can find by far the biggest selection of places to stay in the middle part of the Outer Banks- Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, and Kitty Hawk. This goes for hotels, Airbnb properties, and house rentals. Likewise, you can find the biggest range in prices of accommodations in the middle part. Because there are fewer options in the northern and southern sections, the prices tend to be higher in general.

There’s not much reason to get too hung-up on where you choose to stay because you can also easily drive from the southern portion of the Outer Banks to the northern portion in a day. Say you decided to drive from the Hatteras Lighthouse to Corolla to check out the wild ponies. It would take about 2 hours each way, notwithstanding traffic along the way. Still, that would be a pretty fun way to spend a day. Another option is to drive to Roanoke Island, which has historical sites and the North Carolina Aquarium. Say you were staying in Duck and drove to Roanoke Island for the day, that’s only a 45 minute drive each way. The point is, if you’re going to be in the Outer Banks for at least a few days, it’s easy to check out more than just the city you’re staying in, and there’s so much to see in this area, I encourage you to do so.

Have you been to the Outer Banks? If so, where did you go and what did you do? Is this a place you’ve wanted to visit but haven’t made it there yet?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 





Confessions of a Mother Runner

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

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

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The half marathon in Arizona when I was pregnant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Color Run 5k my daughter and I ran together

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

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

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

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

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

Happy running!

Donna

Gatlinburg, Tennessee “Myrtle Beach in the Sky”

If you’ve been to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina you’ll understand the reference. For those of you who haven’t been to Myrtle Beach, the best way I can describe it is touristy and crowded. An estimated 14 million people visit Myrtle Beach every year (compared to around 12 million people for Gatlinburg). As for the “in the sky” reference, the elevation of Gatlinburg is 1,289 feet, while that for Myrtle Beach is a mere 26 feet.

Although Myrtle Beach is a year-round destination, the majority of tourists visit during the summer months to go to the beaches, play golf (including miniature golf), go shopping at the outlets and other often cheesy beach-themed shops, go to the aquarium, and eat at some of what seems like hundreds of restaurants, most of which are either chains or serve fried seafood. If you can’t tell, I’m not a huge fan of Myrtle Beach. Traffic is horrendous and there are much better places I’d rather go to in South Carolina. However, obviously plenty of people like going there, so to each his own.

So back to Gatlinburg. Yes, it’s crowded just like Myrtle Beach. We were there during the pandemic and even then there were mobs of people everywhere; most were wearing a mask but not all. There are places to play mini golf and a few 18-hole golf courses a bit further from all of the chaos. There are also a crazy amount of attractions all piled-up on top of each other in such a small area. For example, there’s not one but two places you can go up ski lifts to take in the view, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, Guinness World Records Museum, Gatlinburg Space Needle, Hollywood Star Cars Museum, a Dukes of Hazzard store and museum, an indoor waterpark, a winery, a moonshine distillery, the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum, just for starters. That’s not even including all of the t-shirt and gift shops, candy shops, restaurants, and hotels.

I like what Wikipedia says about Gatlinburg:  “Downtown Gatlinburg may come as somewhat of a shock for those on their way to a nature getaway in the national park – from the Space Needle to the amusement rides, the town hasn’t necessarily chosen to embrace its “nature” side. That said, there is plenty of lodging, restaurants, and other amenities to make this town a useful base for exploring the park.” True enough, to get to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you almost always have to go through downtown Gatlinburg first. Traffic during the day and evening is so bad you could probably walk faster than you could drive. Then there’s the issue of parking- expensive and not much of it.

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The Parkway in downtown Gatlinburg

So with all of these options of attractions and things to do in Gatlinburg, guess what we chose to do while we were there? Absolutely not one single thing that I mentioned here other than go to restaurants and a little bit of shopping. Most of the attractions seemed too tacky and just not how I would choose to spend my time. When I was younger I visited some wax museums and Ripley’s museums but I don’t care to spend my money or time at any of them now. No offense to anyone that enjoys this kind of museum or attraction. If you’re a huge car fan and love movies, then the Hollywood Star Cars Museum would probably be a lot of fun for you. That’s just not my cup of tea. Besides, we spent all day hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (you can read my post about that here), so that just left time for dinner and whatever time we had left after that before heading back to our hotel.

I probably would have gone to Anakeesta had the pandemic not been going on. This is an outdoor play area as much for adults and it is for children. You choose whether you take a chair lift or enclosed gondola to the top of the mountain. Once you reach the top, there’s an observation tower, a treetop skywalk, ziplines, a mountain coaster, gem mining, and shops and restaurants. However, although they were scanning people’s temperatures upon check-in at the base, they weren’t cleaning the chair lifts or gondolas after every group, and I didn’t feel comfortable with that, so we skipped it.

You may be thinking I really don’t like Gatlinburg, but honestly this wasn’t my first time here, although it was my daughter’s first visit. I feel like it’s one of those places that everyone should experience once in their lives, like Las Vegas or New Orleans. It’s difficult to explain places like this to someone who has never been there, other than you really just have to go and see for yourself. I do have some positive things to say about Gatlinburg, like the restaurants and shops we enjoyed.

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This was at a restaurant where our server told us there was a bear in the parking lot just across the street, apparently a regular occurrence!

Some locally-owned restaurants that we really enjoyed include:

Tom & Earl’s Back Alley Grill, a casual pub-type setting with salads, wraps, sandwiches, and burgers. We thought the food was very good and affordable.

Mama’s Chicken Kitchen, a restaurant that shares space with J.O.E. and POP’s Sub Shoppe and specializes in fried chicken. This is especially good when you’ve spent an entire day hiking and burned what feels like a million calories because this isn’t healthy food by any stretch.

Gatlinburg Brewing Company, a brewery with a limited menu (so they don’t have the huge range of items on the menu you typically find at a brewery). They specialize in pizzas and have pre-selected ones or you can create your own. Good selection of beer as well.

Sonador– a Mexican restaurant with a huge menu. Our food was quick, very good, and reasonably priced. They have your typical American-Mexican menu offerings but there are some items you may not normally see at a Mexican restaurant. My daughter had a burrito with grilled chicken, pineapple, onions, and mushrooms and said it was one of the best burritos she’s ever eaten.

There are numerous chain restaurants here, so if that’s your thing, you’ll be happy. There also seem to be plenty of pancake restaurants. If you’re looking for healthy food options, you’ll have to look a bit harder because much of the food here is fried, as is tradition for the area, but it is possible to find salads, healthy sandwiches, and other healthy or at least healthy-ish meals.

Some shopping areas and shops we liked include:

Village Shoppes- there are 27 shops here including an art gallery. Some shops are touristy but others are worth going to. I was told the Donut Friar is good but we didn’t go since we had already had dessert when we were there.

Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community– numerous artists and artisans selling paintings, baskets, woven products, metal works, and so much more. This isn’t the kind of shopping area where you can walk from shop to shop; you have to drive around because they’re so spread out.

Mortons Antiques and Coins– one of the better selections of antiques I’ve seen. My daughter loves antique tea sets, so she drags me into an antique shop at every opportunity.

Have you been to Gatlinburg? If so, what did you think of it and what did you do when you were there?

Happy travels!

Donna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about you? How has the pandemic changed you?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park- Redux

Even though I’m sure I visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park at least once if not twice before my recent trip, I honestly didn’t remember any part of it. Nothing looked familiar, none of the trail names sounded familiar, and no parts of it seemed vaguely familiar to me. Granted, my first visit would have been roughly 22 years ago and the other visit around 19 years ago, but still, I would have thought I would have remembered at least some of it. Then again, the first time I was with a friend of mine in high school and her family so I would have just been driven around by her parents, totally clueless about my whereabouts. The second time would have been a quick trip so I’m sure I didn’t spend much time in the area and certainly wouldn’t have had time to do as much hiking as I did this time.

I feel like I really didn’t give the park enough justice before when I was there but this time, I thoroughly got some hiking miles in and saw at least a big chunk of the park. That being said, Great Smoky Mountains National Park covers over 500,000 acres divided between Tennessee and North Carolina (so maybe just a little chunk of it). It is the most visited national park by far, with more than double the number of visitors at the second most visited park, the Grand Canyon. The elevation ranges from 875 feet at the mouth of Abrams Creek to 6,643 feet at Clingmans Dome; sixteen mountain peaks exceed 6,000 feet in elevation.

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Trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I’m primarily going to go over the trails we hiked since that’s the vast majority of how we spent our time at the park. We spent five full days plus a partial day hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and went to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center on our first day. This was a good place to start because you can get a feel for the history in the park. Many years ago, log buildings were gathered from various places in the Smoky Mountains and preserved at places like this visitor center. We saw a historical house, barn, applehouse, springhouse, smokehouse, and blacksmith shop. The Oconaluftee River Trail is easy and short at 1.5 miles from the museum entrance. We were also excited to see an elk by the visitor center as we were leaving.

We also visited the Sugarlands Visitor Center, on our second day. There’s a short and easy trail to Cataract Falls, but I felt like the waterfall was pretty small and disappointing (good thing it wasn’t a long, strenuous hike). One of the more popular trails we hiked is the Alum Cave Trail, a moderate hike of 4.5 miles. On this trail we saw Arch Rock and Alum Cave. After a quick lunch of sandwiches we had previously bought that morning, we hiked Chimney Tops Trail. This was listed as moderate and is only 3 miles, but it’s extremely steep with only a few switchbacks so it felt like we were climbing straight up the mountain. We saw plenty of rhododendron and wildflowers but not a whole lot else.

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Highlights from Chimney Tops and Alum Cave Trails

On our third day, we did the Roaring Fork Auto Tour. For this, you turn onto Historic Nature Trail, which merges with Cherokee Orchard Road. Our first stop was the Noah “Bud” Ogle Place, a historic house. There was a short nature trail behind the house that we took but somehow we ended up on a much longer trail, the Gatlinburg Trail, which we hadn’t planned on hiking and we ended up having to get back to the main road and walk back that way rather than backtracking, which would have taken much longer.

Next stop on the Roaring Fork Auto Tour was Rainbow Falls Trail. This trail is 2.8 miles each way, if you can actually find parking close to the trailhead, which we couldn’t, so we ended up hiking more like 6.5 miles total. There is a much smaller falls area just before (maybe 0.5 miles) you get to the actual Rainbow Falls. Don’t make the mistake of stopping at the first waterfall, as we almost did, but keep going until you see a massive waterfall.

After another quick lunch of previously purchased sandwiches, our next stop was the Trillium Gap Trail, also known as Grotto Falls Trail. This hike was pretty easy compared to the others in the area and is 1.3 miles each way. The waterfall was one of the best we had seen so far and absolutely worth the hike. We also saw a bear! It was slowly lumbering around the long line of cars, not paying any attention to any of the people. We were walking to our car when we saw it and it was far enough away from us that I wasn’t scared. That would come later during our second bear encounter.

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Sights seen along the Roaring Fork Auto Tour

There were historical sites next on the drive but we only stopped at Ephraim Bales Place. By now most of the historical sites seemed the same- small two-room log cabins, completely empty, with low ceilings and maybe one window (to save money on wood and windows). We probably would have stopped at the most “modern” of the historical sites on the drive, Alfred Reagan Place, but there were only three parking spaces and they were all occupied, so we skipped it.

The final stop on the drive is at Place of a Thousand Drips. This is a unique waterfall, as the flow of water splits into numerous channels, cascading around rocks and “creating a thousand drips.” There were several people climbing around the waterfall and of course my teenage daughter wanted to climb up. I chose to watch from the bottom and was glad for my decision when I saw so many people slipping and/or falling (my daughter was fine and never fell but said it was extremely slippery coming back down).

On our fourth day, we hiked Laurel Falls Trail, the most popular hike in GSMNP. It’s one of the few longish paved trails in the park, at 2.6 miles roundtrip. It’s an easy hike and the payoff is big, with a 25-foot waterfall that seems even bigger than that, after just 1.3 miles of easy walking. After lunch (yes, you guessed it, sandwiches we had previously purchased) we drove to Jakes Creek Trail, near the village of Elkmont in a historic district referred to as “Daisy Town.” The Little River Lumber Company logged the area into the mid-1920’s. Adjacent Daisy Town was an escape for the elite people of Knoxville. Currently, the park is restoring 19 of the former 74 homes. You can walk through some of the former homes, which we did before starting out on the trail. Jakes Creek Trail is 3.7 miles each way and runs along Jake’s Creek for a huge portion of the trail, giving plenty of water views and the sound of water flowing all around you as you hike. There was hardly anyone else on the trail, so it was quiet and peaceful.

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Jakes Creek and Laurel Falls Trail Highlights

Our last full day in the park was the most exciting, as you will see. The longest single hike for us was Ramsey Cascades Trail, at 8 miles long. We expected to have bathrooms at the trailhead, as was common at many other trailheads in the park, but alas there were none, and the tea we had at breakfast was running right through us. Maybe a mile into our hike, I found a huge boulder not far off the trail and told my daughter to go first while I waited for her, then I went to use the bathroom. As I was walking back around the boulder, my daughter said in an extremely calm voice, “Momma, there’s a bear.” Sure enough, there was a bear standing right in front of me maybe 4 feet away. My daughter started slowly walking away from the bear, going further up the trail. The bear looked at me, made a grunting sound, clawed at the tree in front of it, then slowly started walking away in the opposite direction from us. I slowly backed away and we continued on our way up the trail.

I kept checking to make sure the bear wasn’t following us, but it didn’t appear to be. When we passed people going the opposite direction from us, we were told a couple of times that they had seen a bear, but we never saw another bear on that trail. Finally after 4 miles, we reached the waterfall, which was an impressive one, at 100 feet tall. The trail was pretty intense towards the falls, with slippery rocks that we had to scramble over, but most of the trail was fairly easy, with gradual climbs. When we reached our car, we decided to dip our feet in the ice-cold water and it was so refreshing!

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Ramsey Cascades Trail (nope, no bear pics this time! We just wanted to get away!)

There are of course many more trails in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but those are the ones we chose to do. Some came recommended by the hotel staff where we stayed and others were ones I had researched on my own that sounded interesting. You can also easily just drive around the park, park at overlooks, and take in the views that way if you’re not really into hiking. I believe that’s what we must have done the first time I went with my friend and her family, as best as I can remember, but you obviously don’t get as much of a real feel for a place when you see it that way.

For information on camping, pets, history, wildlife, and all the information you could possibly want or need to plan a trip there, check out the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website by the National Parks Service.

Have you been to Great Smoky Mountains National Park? If so, did you hike when you were there? Any amazing trails I missed that you recommend? Did you see one (or two) of the estimated 1600 bears in the area?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy running!

Donna

 

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

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

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

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

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Badlands National Park

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

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

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Mount Rushmore

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

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

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Custer State Park

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

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

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Learning about panning for gold

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

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

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy running!

Donna

 

Long Weekend in Greenville, South Carolina- An Unexpected Surprise

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

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

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

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Lake Conestee Nature Preserve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Falls Park on the Reedy

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

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

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

Happy travels!

Donna