If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you probably know I’m not a huge New Year’s Resolutions kind of gal. Last year I had a single running resolution for 2019, which you can read the full post on here. If you don’t feel like reading that post, I’ll make it easy on you and let you know that my only running resolution for 2019 was to finish in the top three for my age group in a half marathon. I just ran three races, so I only had a one in three shot at doing that, but I did it. I finished second in my age group at the Seashore Classic Half Marathon, Lewes, Delaware- 45th state.
For 2020, I also only have a single resolution or goal. I want to enjoy this year perhaps a bit more than last year (not that I didn’t enjoy last year, because all of the races I ran were fabulous). I want to savor every moment. Why, you may ask? And don’t I always at least try to savor every moment? Well, yes, I do but this year is different because it’s my last year (hopefully) that I will have the goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states. As long as all goes well, I will run a half marathon in my 50th state this year and I want to enjoy every moment of my final states, which btw are New Mexico, Minnesota, and Iowa.
I don’t have any goals of finishing with a PR or placing in my age group or pretty much any time-related goals at all. As long as I remain healthy and finish my final three half marathons this year, that’s all I really want. Of course I’m going to race these final three half marathons, so that’s not to say I plan on taking it easy and not pushing myself hard during training and at the actual races. But I’m giving myself full relief from any pressure from PRs or times.
From as long as I can remember, my ultimate goal for a half marathon has been to finish under 2 hours, which I’ve done a dozen times. This year, I honestly don’t care if I don’t finish under 2 hours. I always try my hardest at races, and I know this year won’t be any different. Of course I will go into the races with the intention of running my best for the conditions of the race that day. If that means I finish just over 2 hours or just under 2 hours, so be it either way. Or if things go terrible and I finish well over 2 hours, that’s fine too.
For many years, I struggled with undiagnosed anemia. My race times had gotten slower and slower over the years and I couldn’t figure out why. When I finally figured out I was anemic, it was such a relief. I had begun to think (and in fact someone had even told me) that perhaps this was just part of getting older and this was the inevitable slow-down we all face as we get older. I was so happy to be diagnosed with anemia because that meant I could fix the problem!
2011 was a low-point for me when it comes to running. I remember barely being able to run a mile without getting out of breath then. After finally getting diagnosed and treating my anemia, I began to gradually get my strength back. I started chipping away at my race times and eventually they came back down to finish times I was happier with.
Finally sometime around the end of 2017 I began to make some major changes to my life when it came to running. I changed my running shoes drastically; I went from only wearing Asics Nimbus running shoes to wearing running shoes in brands I’d never heard of. I changed my running routes from only running in a couple of different places to having a dozen different running routes and always on the lookout for new ones. I started running on trails every so often. More importantly, I changed my half marathon training plan from one where I ran three days a week to one where I ran five days a week.
All of these changes paid off when I ran my half marathons in 2018 and even more so for the half marathons in 2019. I ended up running my fastest half marathon to date in 2019, a fact that I still can’t fully comprehend. Never would I have thought I was capable of a PR at my age. So when I say I just want to enjoy the races in 2020, I mean it. I’ve already had some phenomenal races and if I never PR again, that would be OK with me. I know at some point I will reach the point where I start to slow down. That’s not to say I’m done with trying to run fast because I will continue to do so as long as I physically can do so. But this year, I just want to enjoy the ride!
I’m also happy to say I’ve been chosen as an ambassador again for Nuun, Honey Stinger, and Zensah. When I get discount codes that I can pass along, I usually do so on Instagram and Twitter but also here when I can.
What about you- what are your running resolutions for 2020? What are you looking forward to when it comes to running in 2020?
I love national parks, whether they’re in the United States or elsewhere. However, for the purpose of this post, I’ll focus solely on national parks in the United States, specifically ones that I’ve been to during the winter months. There are several advantages to traveling to national parks during the winter versus during the summer, including they are less crowded during the winter and prices for flights and hotels are often lower during the winter than during the summer.
I’ll begin with Everglades National Park in Florida. Last December, I visited a friend of mine who lives in Miami and she took my family and I here. She often takes friends who come to visit her to Everglades National Park and she told me it’s much more pleasant to come during the “cooler” months than during the summer, not that it cools off that much in the winter, but when you live there, it’s winter to you and you notice the drop in temperature. We didn’t see any mosquitoes or other bugs, but she told me when she was with a visiting friend earlier that year in the summer, they were nearly eaten alive by bugs at Everglades National Park.
We took an airboat tour through Everglades National Park, which I had done before on a previous vacation to the area several years prior. You’ll mostly see some alligators and many different types of birds as you zip around the wetlands. There are also manatees, the Florida panther, and turtles in the area that you may see if you’re lucky (well, probably not a panther because they’re so elusive).
I also visited some national parks in Utah during February one year including Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park. Both parks are located in the southwestern part of Utah, about an hour or so from each other by car. When I think of Bryce Canyon, I think of watching the falling snow on the hoodoos and red rocks while we were walking around the serenely quiet park, with almost no one else there but the three of us. There’s a winter festival scheduled from February 16-18 in 2020 that includes cross-country ski tours, photography clinics, ranger-led snowshoe excursions under the full moon, and guided fat bike rides. There are two ski resorts nearby, Brian Head Resort and Eagle Point. We stayed at Ruby’s Inn, which is the closest lodging to the park entrance, and they even have an ice-skating rink across the street during the winter.
Zion National Park is bigger and more people go there annually than Bryce Canyon National Park, so chances are you won’t be the only ones hiking there even in the winter but the crowds will be thinner than during the summer. Zion National Park is known for its slot canyon, Zion Narrows, which you can wade through given the right conditions (I did not do this). Winding through the main section of the park is Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The Virgin River flows to the Emerald Pools, which have waterfalls and a hanging garden. Another famous part of Zion National Park is Angel’s Landing trail, known for its sheer drops on either side of the narrow trail. We stayed at Cable Mountain Lodge, which you can literally walk to the park from, and the rooms are spacious, clean, comfortable, and quiet.
It’s possible to combine Bryce Canyon, Zion, and the Grand Canyon National Park all in one vacation, like I did (plus we had a couple of other stops as well). Grand Canyon National Park as you might imagine is one of the most visited national parks, so going there in the winter is a great idea. If you can go during the week as opposed to on a weekend in the winter, not only will there be less people to contend with, you’ll have an easier chance scoring a place to stay within the park. Seeing snow on the Grand Canyon is something I will always remember. I’ve been there twice during the winter months and both times it was beautiful and peaceful.
Although not a national park, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is a great place to visit in the winter. In the 18th century, dozens of Spanish missions were constructed across southern Texas. Four of the best preserved are in San Antonio, and can be visited as part of the national historical park. The 12 mile route near the San Antonio River is connected by the Mission Trail and links The Alamo with Mission Espada.
Honestly, there isn’t a bad time of year to visit Hawaii, so visiting during the winter months can only be good. Not only would you get a break from your current winter weather, the crowds will be (a bit) thinner if you go after New Year’s Day and your airfare will be (a bit) lower than if you go in July or August. The temperature doesn’t change that much from one month to the next, but it will be a few degrees cooler in January than August. For example, the average temperature in Kona on the Big Island is 81 degrees in January and 87 degrees in August.
I’ve been to Hawaii three times, once in the fall (October), once in the summer (August), and once in the winter (February). All three times, I was swimming in the ocean, snorkeling, hiking, and loving life. I know my airfare was considerably more when I flew there in August and the lowest when I flew in February. I didn’t notice the crowds being any less in one month than another, however. The first time I went to Hawaii, I visited Haleakalā National Park in Maui and Volcanos National Park in Hawaii (the Big Island), but I wasn’t a blogger then so I don’t have a post on either of those parks but I can say they are both worth spending at least a day at. I’ve been to Volcanos National Park twice and would love to visit it again someday (plus go back to Haleakalā). I went to the islands of Kauai and Oahu on my most recent visit, neither of which have national parks, but still plenty of incredible hiking, including the Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park in Kauai and Diamond Head State Park in Oahu.
What national parks do you like even better in the winter months? Have you been to any of these parks in the winter and/or other times of year? Any national parks in other countries that you loved during the winter?
When you finish a hard run, do you immediately immerse your lower body into an ice bath, cringing but nonetheless telling yourself you’ll feel better afterwards? Or do you chug a protein shake after a long run to help you recover? Are you a big fan of sports compression clothing? Have you ever wondered if any of the multitude of recovery products and services really “work” meaning they truly help your body recover faster or more efficiently? If so, you might enjoy reading Christie Aschwanden’s book, “Good To Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn From the Strange Science of Recovery.”
As the saying goes, Christie Aschwanden wears many hats. In addition to being an author and contributing writer for dozens of publications, frequent speaker at writer’s workshops and journalism conferences, she is an athlete who has competed on the Team Rossignol Nordic ski racing squad, in addition to being a runner and cyclist. I think her scientific background along with being an athlete herself gives her a distinct advantage in writing a book like this and doing it so thoroughly and completely.
Recovery (from athletic activity) has become a huge buzz word in recent years, as Aschwanden points out in her book. There are entire centers devoted solely to athlete recovery now across the country. I did a quick search for my area and two places came up; one was an orthopedic “performance” center that offers things like myofascial cupping, dry needling, NormaTec recovery boots among others and the other was a place that called itself a recovery center but offered other services like posture work and pain relief in addition to cryotherapy wraps and NormaTec recovery boots.
But let me back up and start at the beginning of the book. Aschwanden begins by explaining how the book came to be and how and why she wanted to find out all she could about recovery and the science behind it. She makes it clear that many scientific studies on athletes are flawed. As you may already be aware, many athletic studies are based on small groups of men and as such may not be relevant to women or even other men in general. I like how exercise physiologist and author of many scientific publications and the book, “Roar: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life” Stacy Sims puts it: “Women are not small men. Stop eating and training like one.”
Next, Aschwanden tells the story behind Gatorade and discusses hydration and how the balance has shifted to one where athletes are so worried about being dehydrated that they are dying of hyponatremia, which is when you drink too much water and your electrolytes become unbalanced. In perfect succession, she tells the story of how PowerBar came to be and how so many other companies followed suit and the industry exploded with recovery drinks, bars, and other high-protein concoctions. The bottom line that Aschwanden arrives at for both hydration and nutrition is that we’re over-complicating matters. We should be drinking to thirst and have a meal with real food (!) that’s a mix of mostly carbohydrates and protein after a workout. Our bodies will adjust and rebound on their own unless you’re in a multi-day event like the Tour de France and you have a tough race the following day.
The next chapters are on ice baths and cryotherapy, infrared saunas, massage therapy, foam rollers, and compression gear including compression boots. Ice baths seem to be a bit complicated in that they may not be a good idea after strength training or if you’re in a building phase of training, but if you’re only interested in short-term benefits, then go for it. There’s evidence that icing may inhibit an athlete’s body’s ability to adapt long-term on its own but other research shows by reducing pain and soreness, icing may allow an athlete to train again sooner, so there are somewhat mixed findings at this point. Once again, Aschwanden concludes that perhaps we’re over-thinking these recovery aids as well since all we really need to do is gentle exercise to naturally promote blood flow through tired muscles and speed up the flow of by-products of intense exercise.
Perhaps the most important chapter in the book is chapter 7 titled “The Rest Cure.” I’ll cut to the chase here and put it simply. The single most important thing you can do for yourself to help with recovery is get adequate and restful sleep. She gives many examples of professional athletes and how they’ve come to realize how important sleep is and have made it a priority in their lives. You can be doing a half a dozen different things to aid in recovery but if you’re not getting enough sleep, nothing else matters. Your body needs sleep to repair and re-build muscles and if you’re not getting enough time for that to happen, your performance will eventually suffer.
Aschwanden discusses the multi-billion dollar supplement industry, largely lead by protein powders. Not only are most of these supplements completely unnecessary for most average athletes, they can cost hundreds of dollars in a single month, and even worse many are laced with heavy metals like arsenic and lead. Sure, you can look them up on websites that verify some supplements (although not all of them on the market by a long shot), but there’s still no guarantee that you’re getting what you think you are or that it will do what you think it’s supposed to. We all want to believe drinking a protein shake after a workout will give us that boost to help us be stronger or recovery faster, but the truth is, it’s all such a marketing scam, it’s difficult to know what to trust as solid, scientifically-based information rather than hearsay from a coach, trainer, or other athlete often with little to no scientific background.
The book ends with a discussion on the placebo effect and what a powerful thing this can be. For example, in scientific studies on ice baths, it’s pretty much impossible to fake an ice bath, so obviously everyone in the study that gets an ice bath knows it and the people in the study that aren’t getting the ice bath also know it. However, if you feel in your heart that ice baths have always “worked” for you, whether that means it makes you feel like you’re not as sore the next day or you can work out harder or more intensely the next day following an ice bath, that will effect your judgement and lead you to be biased if you’re in a study on ice baths. She concludes at the end of the book that soothing your muscles and body in a way that makes you feel better emotionally “even if nothing is actually changing in a physiological sense” provides a ritual for taking care of yourself and being proactive in your health, and helps you focus on rest.
Her bottom line seems to be as long as a recovery tool isn’t causing actual harm or costing you large sums of money, who really cares if it’s not doing much for your body in a way that’s been scientifically proven. So if you love to get massages regularly, use compression tights after a tough run, and sit in an infrared sauna once a month, go for it. The mind is truly a powerful thing and often if we think something makes us feel better, then in the end, that’s probably all that matters. I love the quote by Camille Herron who set a world record when she ran her first 100-mile run, who says she recovers by feel and keeps it simple. She said, “I am really in tune with my body, and I pay attention to what I’m feeling.” If she craves a cheeseburger after a marathon or ultra, that’s what she eats. Keep it simple.
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. As great as my travels were in 2018, I think they were topped in 2019. It was a truly wonderful year for travel for me, for which I am so grateful to have experienced. My family and I visited so many incredible places in just one year and it was a wild ride! Let’s begin! Grab a coffee or glass of wine first, because this one is going to take a while.
In February, we visited two islands in Hawaii, Kauai and Oahu. I had been to Kauai before but I still learned some things there. I learned how drastically different vacations to the same place can be given a person’s circumstances. When my family and I last went to Kauai, my daughter was not quite two years old. Our days were spent lazing around the pool and beaches with our daughter and my in-laws. My husband and I went hiking a couple of times while our daughter stayed back in the room with my in-laws.
Fast-forward to this year, where it was my husband and I along with our 13-year-old daughter and it was quite a different experience for all of us. We went zip-lining, snorkeling, and the three of us went hiking several times together. This was a much more active vacation and I saw a different side of Kauai than the previous one I saw 11 years ago. I also discovered shave ice for the first time, thanks for my daughter asking for it. Holy crap is that stuff good! I thought it would just be regular snow cones before I bit into it, but it was nothing like that. We learned to ask for our shave ice with sweet cream over and macadamia nut ice cream under. So, so good! My post on Kauai is here.
I also learned a few things on the island of Oahu. Previously, I hadn’t wanted to go to Oahu because I had heard how crowded Waikiki and Honolulu are. When I pictured Oahu, all I could see was the big city of Honolulu and crowded beaches of Waikiki. A co-worker of mine has been to Oahu several times and has always raved about it, so I decided to give it a try. Yes, Oahu has some definite crowded places, like Diamond Head State Monument and of course Honolulu is crowded, but Oahu is so much more than those places. By the way, I recommend still going to Diamond Head State Monument despite the crowds because you get some tremendous views of the area from the top.
We stayed on the east side of Oahu on a bay and it was absolutely perfect. Not only was it not crowded like other parts of Oahu, it was close enough that we could drive to most places within a reasonable drive. This was a valuable thing to learn about Oahu: you don’t have to stay in the crowded parts of the island. I also learned how to standup paddle board for the first time at the gorgeous Airbnb property where we stayed in Oahu. I learned I’m actually pretty good at SUP and since that vacation I have had so much fun paddle boarding at other places on our travels like Hilton Head Island and Wyoming but also back home on a lake near where I live. It’s become one of my favorite activities along with running, cycling, and hiking. You can find all of the details about my time in Oahu here.
In May, we took a short vacation to Delaware. This was my first time visiting Delaware and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had been to states all around Delaware but honestly didn’t know much about Delaware. We were in the Rehoboth Beach area and I learned that it is so much cheaper to visit this area in May than during the summer months, plus it’s much less crowded. Although it wasn’t warm enough to get in the ocean, it was nice enough to walk along the beaches and also walk the trails at Cape Henlopen State Park. I learned there are several great restaurants and shopping in this area. Lewes, the first town in the first state in the United States, has some unique shops and restaurants as well.
While I was in Delaware, I also discovered a float tank a.k.a. sensory deprivation tank, which I used for the first time ever, and you can read all about here. I learned that I absolutely loved how I felt afterwards and it wasn’t nearly as claustrophobic or strange as I thought it might be. While I was in Delaware, I told myself I would look for float tanks when I travel again because even though there’s a place with float tanks sort of close to where I live, it wouldn’t be convenient for me to go there, but I haven’t followed through with that. I really need to get better about that because I felt like my recovery time from my half marathon in Delaware was quicker and I just felt great all over afterwards.
Later in May, I went to Peru and had one of the best vacations of my life. Our vacation started in Lima, where we flew into and took a taxi from the airport to a hotel for the night and spent a few hours walking around until we had to head back to the hotel for our quick flight to Cusco. That all worked out well, but I learned that one’s experiences in Lima (and really any city) can vary vastly depending on one single person- your taxi driver. So we flew from Lima to Cusco then Cusco to Arequipa and back to Lima (over a couple of week’s time). On our return to Lima the second time, our plan was to take a taxi from the airport to the Miraflores section, which is where we spent the night upon arrival in Peru, and by the way I had read this was the “best” and “safest” part of Lima. Our plan was to spend a few hours in this area having dinner and walking around the shops and neighborhood before we took another taxi back to the airport and fly back home. However, our taxi driver was a dishonest man and told us several lies during that drive to Miraflores. Long story short (you can read the full story here), the taxi driver tried to mislead us into paying him more money than what we had agreed to before getting into his cab (yep, no meters here) and at one point I was starting to fear for my life and wonder if we were going to have to jump out of the car before he kidnapped us.
Fortunately, the rest of Peru was amazing. I learned some things when we were in Cusco, the first of which is that when everyone says to allow a few days for your body to acclimatize to the higher altitude, you really need to listen and do that. I had planned on just taking it easy for our first 2 or 3 days in Cusco and didn’t plan anything for us to do those days. This turned out to be perfect for us and by the third day we were feeling so good we decided to go for a hike to the ruins of Sacsayhuaman and the nearby Statue of Christ. Cusco is a city where you can easily just hang out and take in the sights and not overly exert yourself. That being said, I learned Cusco is crazy hilly and if you stay up at the top of the hill like we did, you’ll get out of breath just walking up the hill and going up all of those what feel like a million steps! It’s definitely easier to stay at the bottom of the hill, where the main square is, but it’s also more crowded and noisier down there. Pick which you’d rather have, peace and quiet or easier physically.
Another thing I learned in Cusco is taking a day trip to Rainbow Mountain is worth it and although it’s not quite a picture-perfect as some of the photos online, it’s still a colorful, unique area. This is a place where it pays to have acclimatized to the altitude first before coming here since the peak is at 17,060 feet. I also learned it’s a good idea to pay the extra admission to the adjacent Red Valley, which is every bit as beautiful as Rainbow Mountain but not as crowded.
More things I learned about Cusco: the heating systems aren’t like what we’re used to in the United States. The hotels and hostels may claim to have heated rooms, but I read online hotel reviews over and over about how the rooms were cold, especially at night, and we experienced this ourselves as well. We did at least have hot water, so that was extra nice. Also, there are a crazy amount of not just good but GREAT restaurants in Cusco. Before going there, I didn’t know Peru is such a foodie country, but at least in Lima, Cusco, and Arequipa, we came upon so many restaurants with not only some of the best-tasting food but also such beautiful presentations of the food! A final thing I discovered on our last day in Cusco was Avenida el Sol, a part of Cusco that I absolutely loved and wished I had known about sooner. It was full of cute shops, restaurants, and hotels and seemed like a place I would have liked to have stayed in. My post on Cusco is here.
From Cusco, we took a trek with Alpaca Expeditions and some of their incredible staff along with a family of four from Connecticut, where we camped in tents and ultimately ended up at Machu Picchu on the fourth day. Along the way, we met with and talked to some local families and school children, went to a local market, got to walk around the Salinas salt ponds, soaked in the Lares Hot Springs, saw alpacas and llamas up-close, and saw some of the most amazing scenery I’ve ever seen in my life. This trek really emphasized to me that sometimes the journey is more important than the destination. OK, maybe not “more important,” but certainly as important in this case. You can read about my Lares Trek to Machu Picchu here: Day One, Day Two and Day Three.
That’s not to imply that Machu Picchu wasn’t every bit as wonderful and awe-inspiring as you might think it is if you’ve never been, because it was every bit that and more. I learned that Machu Picchu is pretty much exactly what I had in my head as to what it would look like. What I was surprised by is Huayna Picchu, the mountain that towers behind the ruins of Machu Picchu. We had decided to pay a little extra to climb up Huayna Picchu, and I was terrified going into it, to be perfectly honest. I had read that some of the stairs are crumbling and parts of it aren’t safe to climb, which is perhaps true. What I learned first hand, however, is there are cables to hold onto for some parts of the climb, which makes it a bit easier, BUT these cables stop just where you really need them in my opinion, at the very last part of the climb. I had to channel my inner strength for this part of the climb in particular to help overcome my intense fear of heights, and I learned that some of the stuff I had learned about overcoming fears really does work, like focusing on the task at hand. Let me tell you, I focused on climbing those steps up Huayna Picchu like nothing I’ve ever focused on before and I was able to get to the top without breaking down or just giving up (which has happened before to me when hiking in the mountains). I was so proud of myself and going back down seemed like a piece of cake after going through what I did to reach the top. My post on Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu is here.
When we went to Arequipa after we left Cusco, I learned an important lesson. If you have a limited amount of time in a place and have your heart set on doing a specific trek or visiting a specific place, make reservations in advance. I thought it would be best to wait to make reservations for Colca Canyon, the big reason why many people visit Arequipa in the first place, until we got there, but due to multiple reasons, we were unable to visit Colca Canyon. Of course I was disappointed, but we found plenty of other things to do in Arequipa and it ended up being even better than I thought it could have been. Still, I wish I had pre-booked the overnight trek to Colca Canyon. You can read all about Arequipa here.
Some final thoughts on Peru in general: traffic in Peru is some of the most insane I’ve ever seen anywhere. Don’t even think about renting a car here. I wouldn’t recommend renting a motorbike or scooter either because the traffic is so crazy. Dress in layers as the temperatures can and do vary throughout the day. Learn some Spanish before you go and I mean learn as much as you possibly can because many people don’t speak English at all and you may not have cellular coverage or Wi-fi to use Google translate.
In July, we went to Wyoming, starting in Thayne where I ran a half marathon and moved on to Jackson for a few days and eventually to Yellowstone National Park, where we spent several days. One thing I learned is that the Jackson Hole area is worth spending more than just a couple of days or especially just a day trip from Yellowstone like some people do. Grand Teton National Park is NOT part of Yellowstone National Park but in fact a separate entity and should be treated as such. I learned you really should take at least 3-4 days to enjoy Grand Teton National Park, and 4-5 would be even better if you like to hike. I also learned that it’s worth renting a paddle board to do stand up paddle boarding on String Lake and Jenny Lake in the park for the day if you’re into SUP like me. My post on Grand Teton National Park is here and water activities (including rafting down the river, which I highly recommend) here.
I learned there’s no possible way to see all of Yellowstone National Park if you’re only going to be there a week or less, so you might as well not even try. It’s an enormous park so the best way to see it is to choose a part of the park for a day and focus your time there, then choose another part of the park and spend a day there, and so on, otherwise you’ll spend half of your day driving from one part to the next. I learned Yellowstone gets crowded during the summer months so it’s best to get an early start in the morning to see the geysers, hot springs, pools, and canyon. It’s also best to make reservations for a hotel within the park as early in advance as you possibly can, because the rooms fill up months out. I also learned it’s possible to get away from the crowds, just by going on some of the trails that are a bit farther from the most popular areas like Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic. I have two posts on Yellowstone, one on general info and learning your way around and another with more specific tips.
In August, I visited Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, which was a return visit for me but I still learned some things. As I mentioned with Hawaii how it was a return visit but we had very different experiences because our daughter was so young the first time, Hilton Head Island was the same for us. The first time we went, our daughter was young, so we mostly hung out at the beaches, did some shopping, and went to the lighthouse. However, this time when we went, we rented bikes and rode them all over the island, my daughter and I ran, my husband and I rented stand up paddle boards, and we still visited the white sand beaches of course. I learned that Hilton Head Island is another place where you can have anything from a relaxing, laid-back vacation to a more active vacation, depending on your current lifestyle and choices. You can read about my family’s adventures in Hilton Head Island here.
Our final vacation of the year was in a place I had heard good things about from a couple of people I know but it’s far from what I’d call a popular vacation spot, Omaha, Nebraska. I chose to run the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon in Omaha for my half marathon in Nebraska, which was in October. This turned out to be a fantastic time of year to visit the area because of the autumn leaves and it was still warm enough (most of the time anyway) to comfortably walk around and visit the cute shopping/restaurant area called Old Market. I learned Omaha, Nebraska has a surprisingly large number of good restaurants and unique shops, along with some fun museums and a great botanical garden. We especially liked the Durham Museum, the Joselyn Art Museum, and Lauritzen Gardens, which you can read all about plus much more here. I learned that Nebraska may be listed as a “flyover” state, and while I can only speak from my experience in Omaha, it’s a place I would definitely return to, given the opportunity.
So, this has been my longest blog post yet, but it was undoubtedly one of the most action-packed travel years for me to date. Honestly, 2020 will pale in comparison, but I know every year can’t be like this one. Besides, it’s not like a contest where we have to go to “bigger” and “better” destinations to top the previous ones. We just happened to have a year crammed full of some amazing destinations. As I stated earlier, I’m so grateful to have been able to go to these places with my husband and daughter. I feel like I learned so much from our travels in 2019 and that is truly priceless.
Where did you travel to this year? What were some of your favorite places? Tell me about them!
If you aren’t already aware, I’m on a quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states and as such I currently only run three half marathons a year. I know that’s a paltry amount of races compared to some of you but since I travel to my races and make a race cation out of them, I have to limit my races. In 2019 the three half marathons I ran were in the states of Delaware, Wyoming, and Nebraska and the three races plus our race cations couldn’t have been any more different from one another.
As you can read in my post Running Resolutions for 2019 pretty much my only resolution or running goal for this year was to finish in the top three in my age group at one of the half marathons I was going to run in 2019. I thought I would have a good chance at doing that at the Seashore Classic Half Marathon in Delaware because it was a small race. As you can read all about here, Seashore Classic Half Marathon, Lewes, Delaware- 45th state I did indeed finish second in my age group and won a nice trophy.
The race in Delaware was a nice start to my races in 2019 and bode well for me. I pretty much didn’t have much time off from running between the race in Delaware until my next race in Wyoming in July. Well, I was supposed to run when I was in Peru but once I got there I quickly found out that wasn’t going to work given the altitude and the terrain. Even though I wasn’t running, I was hiking at high altitude and I think that helped prepare me for the race in Wyoming, which was around 6,000 feet.
Despite an especially hot and humid summer (aren’t they all, though) I managed to push through and get in my training runs outside. I believe between my two week altitude training in Peru and training in the heat they both definitely helped prepare me for the Star Valley Half Marathon, Thayne, Wyoming- 46th state. I surprised myself and finished in my fastest time ever for a half marathon, at 1:54:00. Honestly, I was shocked given the altitude and how much slower I was at the Boulder Rez Half Marathon in Colorado even though the race in Colorado was slightly lower in altitude than the race in Wyoming. I absolutely loved the Star Valley Half Marathon and this was a running high point for me, not just for 2019.
For the next week after the half marathon in Wyoming, I hiked all over Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Just one week later, it was again time to dive back into half marathon training for my next race in October. As if it wasn’t hot and humid enough where I live, we took a vacation at the beach in Hilton Head Island in South Carolina and I ran several times while we were there. However, despite the truly sweltering heat, I enjoyed running on the various running paths and boardwalks in Hilton Head. I’m always up for a run in a new place because I notice things I don’t otherwise if I’m just driving by in a car.
I didn’t feel like it cooled off much where I live until sometime in October, but I wouldn’t say running through the heat was a low point for me. As I’ve mentioned before (My Running Super Power and Kryptonite), I can deal with the heat better than most people and on the flip side, I struggle with cold weather. Breathing in cold air is often painful and makes me cough so when I’m running I’ll have to make sure I breathe through my Buff to pre-warm the air. Even then, I don’t exactly enjoy running in cold weather.
Finally, what I would call ideal running weather came to my neck of the woods and I got a couple of weeks of running in perfect weather in October. I also love all of the colorful leaves on the trees in the autumn and I enjoyed that immensely while out on my training runs. I felt like my training cycle for the half marathon in October went well and I went into the race feeling prepared and ready.
As you can read about here, the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon in Omaha, Nebraska, my 47th state was also a fun and scenic race, like my previous ones this year. A cold front moved into Omaha the day before the race and race day was completely overcast with a quite cold wind but the temperature remained amenable for racing. I had a glitch happen on the course which I will always question whether that cost me third place finish in my age group, but still, I happily took fourth place in my age group, for my second-fastest finish time for a half marathon. EVER. This wasn’t even a downhill course like in Wyoming but in fact had some pretty decent hills going up, including ones at the end, which normally would take so much out of me I can’t finish strong. Out of the 49 half marathons in 47 states I’ve run, this one was my second-fastest. Let’s think about that for a second.
I started running half marathons when I was in my 20’s and I’m now in my 40’s. I ran both of my two fastest half marathons in 2019. The Star Valley Half Marathon was a fast course with a net downhill so that one seems understandable to me, even though it is at altitude, which makes it harder for a person who lives at low elevation like me. However, the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon wasn’t a net downhill course and had some decent climbs. How is this possible?
The only thing I can say is my training plan must be the reason why I’m suddenly seeing such big strides in my race times. As I’ve mentioned before, I switched a couple of years ago from a three-day a week training plan with only hard runs on those three days and cross-training on other days to a five-day a week training plan with a couple of easier runs along with hard runs and cross-training on other days plus one over-lap day where I’m running and lifting weights. There’s no doubt it’s made me stronger. Like a friend of mine mentioned, who knows the gains I might have seen with this plan had I started it years ago. Regardless, it’s working for me now and I’m definitely going to stick with it.
So honestly I can’t think of any running low points in 2019. I feel like I had a pretty amazing year for running and am truly in shock about it all. Never would I have believed I was capable of pulling out a PR at a half marathon in my late 40’s. There goes the idea that you hear about runners hitting their peak 10 years after they start running. I’m way beyond that point and am still going strong! Bring on 2020!
How did your running go in 2019? Tell me about some of your running highs and lows!
I was recently talking to a friend about traveling and she asked me, “You’ve traveled pretty extensively. What’s something that’s happened that caused you to feel out of your comfort zone?” I immediately thought of my two weeks in Chile a couple of years ago. There were times where my family and I were the only English-speaking people around and there were several days where we had no cell phone coverage or even Wi-Fi when the Wi-Fi went down for the whole town for a few days. We had to rely solely on our knowledge of Spanish and hope for the best.
My friend asked me if we ever felt unsafe or scared in Chile and I replied, “Never. Not a single time.” While I felt out of my comfort zone and even a bit frustrated at times, I never feared for my life or anything remotely like that. I always knew deep down that everything would be fine in the end, and it was. That’s largely in part to the extreme kindness of strangers in Chile. We literally had people hand us their cell phones in restaurants and walk away from our table while we used their phones to pull up Google maps or look up other information after we explained to them (in our shaky Spanish) that we couldn’t use our cell phones.
All of this of course leads to many stories to tell others later. Despite posting several things about Chile, there are many stories I never told, until now. Now I’d like to share some of the stories that happened to my family and I while we were in Chile and I hope you enjoy them.
To give a little background, we were in three separate areas of Chile, beginning in Santiago for a couple of days, then to Valparaiso for four days, and to Punta Verde in the O’Higgins region for a week. I feel like our adventures got more and more intense as our vacation went on. There weren’t many stories to tell from our time in Santiago that I can recall. We stayed in a super-nice 5-star hotel that my daughter still talks about, which if it was in the United States would have cost more money than we likely would have paid. We took our own walking tour of the city based on blogs and other information I had read about Santiago. Not much unusual happened, though. Probably our biggest adventure was driving from our hotel to get out of the city. The traffic was some of the worst we had encountered anywhere, but my husband handled it like a pro and got us out of the city (and the rental car) unscathed!
When we drove from Santiago to Valparaiso, there were two options to get there, one was a toll road and one was not. I decided we should take the “more scenic” non-toll road. It turns out they were doing major construction on part of that road, parts of which were not paved, and all of that slowed us down considerably. Then my husband noticed how low the gas in the tank was. We thought we were going to run out of gas on this deserted road where we hadn’t passed another car let alone seen a gas station in a very long time. We had no cell phone coverage and besides who on earth would we even call? Fortunately we came to the end of the construction, got back on “regular” paved highway roads near civilization, and came to a gas station just as we rolled in on fumes and breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Valparaiso is a beautiful coastal town in Chile and our Airbnb there was HUGE with three big bedrooms and a large living room all with balconies overlooking the ocean below. There was a slight issue with the heat, which I had to talk to the host about over the Airbnb messaging site, but once we got that figured out, it was all good. I didn’t realize prior to going to Chile that most apartment buildings and houses there don’t have central heating because it’s too expensive. Our apartment building was heated by hot water than ran through the walls and floor boards. Once the Airbnb host told us how to turn the hot water pipes for heating on, we were able to stay comfortably warm there.
One very sad story about Valparaiso and the other parts of Chile that we were in is due to the huge epidemic of stray dogs everywhere. One day while we were walking around Valparaiso, a friendly black dog started following us. She followed us a long time, turning when we turned, stopping when we stopped, and so forth, until we ultimately reached the gate for the funicular (if you don’t know, a funicular is sort of like an outdoor elevator that goes up the side of a cliff or mountainside usually) to the apartment building where we were staying and we had to say goodbye to her. We named her “Chile.” Shortly after we got back from our vacation in Chile, we adopted a black dog whose foster mom had named “Millie.” This puppy did not in any way resemble a “Millie” to me but I didn’t want to drastically change her name because she was already answering to Millie. We named her Chile (although not pronounced like native Chileans pronounce their country, “Chee-lay” but more like the pepper, “Chil-ee” so it would still sound similar enough to her former name so as to not confuse her).
After Valparaiso, we drove to Punta Verde in the O’Higgins region. Our adventure began on the very first day there, as soon as we drove up to the resort. The guard at the gate spoke no English at all and our broken Spanish wasn’t enough to communicate to him that we were staying there. We were in what I’ve read called “The Lake” region because of Lago Rapel (Rapel Lake), which apparently is quite packed with visitors during the warm months. Since we were there during the shoulder season and it was a bit cooler, literally no other guests were staying at this resort when we pulled up. The guard seemed to be completely baffled as to why this English-speaking family was trying to get onto the resort this time of year.
Eventually, the guard called a friend of his who knew someone who spoke some English. The English-speaking person’s name was Claudia, and this guard’s friend brought Claudia to our rescue, who communicated to the guard that we would be staying at the resort for a week, and thus needed a key to our apartment and to be allowed entry into and out of the resort while we would be staying there. Claudia showed us around the apartment, which was a large three bedroom unit with a full kitchen, dining room, living room, two bathrooms, and sunroom. She told us to make ourselves at home and gave us her phone number if we needed anything (even though we had no cell phone coverage there so we would have to have a local call her if we needed to talk to her). Claudia told us no one else in town spoke English so we would pretty much be on our own as far as communicating with others.
I should note here that I had several years of Spanish in high school and college and I’ve brushed up on my Spanish several times before visiting a Spanish-speaking country including this trip to Chile. My husband has been teaching himself Spanish for the past several years and our daughter has had Spanish in school since she was in preschool. At the time of our visit to Chile, between the three of us, our knowledge of Spanish was usually enough to get by even when the person spoke no English. I learned many years ago that less is better when you’re trying to communicate in another language so I would try to keep my questions or answers brief and to the point. Usually the person was able to figure out what we were trying to say and/or we were able to figure out what they were trying to say, although there were exceptions like the guard at the gate of our resort in the O’Higgins region. Still, we are by no means what I would call fluent in Spanish.
We had so many adventures in the O’Higgins region that I’m sure I’ll forget some of them. One funny story happened when we went to the Rio los Cipreses Nacional Reserva, a national park. We hadn’t seen another person hiking all day and were surprised when my daughter said she saw other people hiking on the trail we were on. As we got closer to the people, she realized it wasn’t human legs she was seeing but cow legs. It wasn’t people in front of us, but rather a couple of cows. What we thought were hoof prints from horses on other trails earlier that day that we also thought must have been carrying riders on these supposed horses turned out to be hoof prints from cows that were grazing randomly in the park. Several times we had gotten turned around on the trails and had decided to follow the hoof prints since surely it was horse prints so surely it must have been part of the trail and the way we should go. We were of course very wrong since we had instead been following cows wandering around aimlessly. Somehow we figured out where to go on the trails and didn’t end up getting too far off trail to get truly lost.
I’m going to back up a bit, though. Just getting to the Rio los Cipreses Nacional Reserva was an adventure. My husband had downloaded Google maps of the area when we had Wi-Fi so we would have it offline and he thought it would be a relatively easy drive to the park from our resort. That is until we had to take a traffic detour. Somehow, my husband still figured out how to get us there just using his awesome sense of direction and by studying his offline map. Driving to other places in the O’Higgins region was often an adventure as well. Once we came upon what looked like a big wooden gate to a personal property that was closed but our GPS was telling us that was the way we needed to go. There were a couple of men standing outside the gate. When we asked if we could go through, they opened the gate and let us in, no questions asked. Once we were on the other side, we quickly realized this was not the right way to go, and drove back the way we came and my husband had to study the downloaded map once again to figure it out on his own.
There was also the small local market in Punta Verde that we discovered sold warm, freshly made rolls every evening. We stood in line with the other locals to get some fresh baked bread and other food to make for dinner. There weren’t that many restaurants in town and the one at our resort was hugely over-priced so we only ate there once or twice. Even after our vacation and we had returned home we still talked about that fresh bread we used to pick up for dinner every evening during our last week in Chile. I remember the first time we went to that market, everyone turned around to look at us when we spoke in English to each other. We still got stares and people turning around to look at us when we spoke English on subsequent visits, but we didn’t think anything of it. Presumably not many people go there that speak English, and certainly not during the off-season. They weren’t doing that to be unfriendly or rude but they were undoubtedly surprised to hear us speaking in a language none of them knew.
As I said, there weren’t that many restaurants in town. One evening we went to what was supposed to be a restaurant and that turned into an adventure. We pulled up to what looked like an average-looking house in the area and wondered if we were in the right place, but there was a sign outside with the name of the “restaurant” so we went in. Immediately I noticed how cold it was in this house. They must not have had heat or perhaps it was turned down to save energy but I really didn’t want to eat dinner in my coat. A man greeted us and was very friendly and obviously happy to have some dinner guests, so we thought we’d at least see what they had to offer. We asked to see a menu and were told they had chicken, chicken and rice, and chicken another way that I’m now forgetting but our choices were chicken, chicken, or chicken; no menu necessary for that. What I can only assume was the man’s wife popped her head out of the kitchen, getting ready to cook us our dinner. I told my husband I didn’t feel comfortable eating at these people’s house/restaurant and we should go but I didn’t want to seem rude. My husband told him we had changed our minds and would be leaving and the disappointment on the man’s face was palpable. Who knows, maybe that would have been a fabulous chicken dinner, but the microbiologist in me just wasn’t willing to risk getting Salmonella or Campylobacter, not that you’re always safe in a true restaurant, but still.
Similar to Valparaiso, there were stray dogs all over the place in the O’Higgins region and it was heartbreaking to me as a huge animal-lover. When we left the resort to drive back to the airport in Santiago, we had some leftover food from the refrigerator that we had brought with us in the car but not for us to eat. I brought the food to give to stray dogs that we would inevitably see along the way to the airport. When I would spot a stray dog along the side of the road ahead of us, I’d tell my husband to pull over, quickly leave some of the food for the dog, and we would drive on. We did this the entire drive back to Santiago, which was about 2 hours. I was able to stretch out the leftovers and gave the last little bit of food to a dog I saw when we were nearing the rental car place by the airport.
That pretty much ended our adventures in Chile. If you’d like to read the full posts about my time there, you can find them here:
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you probably already know I love to hike so I’m going to diverge from my usual Friday running post and write about hiking today. I feel like I’ve always loved hiking in the mountains. Growing up in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia probably sparked my love of hiking mountains. I have fond memories of visiting several state parks in West Virginia as a kid. My love of hiking has only intensified as an adult. I recently wrote a post on hiking tips that you can find here: Hiking Tips for the Beginner.
Recently, I took a four day hike through Peru, ending in Machu Picchu, and it was undoubtedly some of the best hiking I’ve ever done. To be totally honest, however, we were all completely spoiled by hiking standards on this trek. We had porters to carry all but a small daypack, a cook to prepare all of our meals, and a guide to lead us (although he was more often than not lagging behind with one of our fellow hikers on horseback who was not dealing well with the altitude, but he would yell up ahead if we were in doubt of which way to go). My point is, we were far from self-supported thru-hiking (more on that in a second). If you’d like to read about my trek to Machu Picchu, the posts are here: Lares Trek to Machu Picchu with Alpaca Expeditions- Day One, Lares Trek to Machu Picchu- Day Two, Lares Trek to Machu Picchu- Day Three.
Fastest Known Time attempts (also known as FKTs) are well-known in the hiking community. The people that hold the record for FKTs are another caliber entirely than us mere mortals. FKTs have been set for the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and a surprising 840 more routes in the United States alone, as well as many others around the world.
Heather “Anish” Anderson still holds the record for female self-supported FKT on the Pacific Crest Trail that she set August 7, 2013. Self-supported means you never enter a vehicle along the trail and don’t have a dedicated support crew, but you may use mail drops, facilities in towns along the way, and the kindness of strangers. She walked from southern California to the tip of Washington in a record 60 days, 17 hours, 12 minutes. Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home is a recount of Anderson’s journey for reaching this FKT record.
At 206 pages including acknowledgements, this was a quick read for me. There are 36 chapters plus an epilogue, so I found it easy to read a chapter or two before bed. I felt drawn into her story and enjoyed the bits of back-story she included, which allows the reader to better understand Anderson’s history and why anyone would want to attempt an FKT in the first place.
By no means is this written as a manual for anyone who might be interested in hiking a trail like the Pacific Crest Trail, which by the way is 2655 miles from Mexico to Canada, passing through the Sonoran & Mojave deserts, and then over the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. The PCT crosses California, Oregon and Washington, and passes through 24 national forests, 7 national parks and 33 wilderness areas. This is simply Anderson’s story and some of the things she encountered along the way on the trail.
One thing I should mention here is the “Anish” part in her name for anyone that may be wondering. She adopted the trail name “Anish” in honor of her great-great grandmother, who was of Native American Anishinabe heritage. Trail names originally began on the Appalachian Trail to keep all of the hikers straight from one another, by giving them unique nicknames which usually fit their personality or a quirky part of a hiker. Some people choose their own trail name while others wait until someone else gives them a trail name.
Anish grew up as an overweight child in Michigan who was often teased and by no means had an upbringing to prepare her for what her adult life was to become. However, she proves that she is in charge of her own destiny. In 2019 she was National Geographic’s National Adventurer of the Year. By then she had walked 28,000 miles on trails and had become one of 400 people who have claimed the Triple Crown of Hiking, completing the Continental Divide and Pacific Crest trails in addition to the Appalachian Trail in one calendar year. In 2015 she set the record for female unsupported FKT on the Appalachian Trail and in 2016 she set the record on the Arizona Trail.
I found myself cheering her on as I read the book, something it seems other hikers were doing when Anderson was attempting her FKT on the Pacific Crest Trail. She would sometimes go into towns along the trail and overhear other hikers talking about the “Ghost,” which she came to realize was herself. She would be there on the trail one minute and the next, she would vanish and be gone.
Even if you’re never going to attempt an FKT in your life but you enjoy a good day hike (like me) or even a multi-day supported hike (also like me), you would probably enjoy this book. I found the stories about Anderson’s encounters with animals like cougars and rattlesnakes to be frightening but her reactions to be totally empowering, although I’m not sure I would have been that brave.
In the end, I believe this book is about Anish finding her courage in life along the Pacific Crest Trail, and she just happened to finish in the Fastest Known Time for unsupported females.