I’ve always thought of myself as more of an independent runner, although the idea of running with a group always appealed to me on one level. Since I’ve always got specific half marathons that I’m training for, I always thought it would be too difficult to run with a group because they would ultimately have to conform to my running schedule or I would have to alter my schedule. I know other people run with local groups all the time and they’re training for a specific race that perhaps no one else in the group is training for, and they make it work.
Many years ago I joined a local running group and I went to the monthly meetings. They would bring in people to talk about running-related things and they would talk about specific runners in the group and events they recently completed. I don’t remember going to any running meet-ups with the group, though, and I never really clicked with any of the members. After being a part of the group for several months, I finally quit going to the meetings. This is probably not a great example since I never actually ran with any of these people.
Then I was approached in April 2018 by a blogger I know to join her online running group (well, she and her husband used to have separate blogs but they haven’t posted anything in quite some time). I agreed to join the RunninDownADream Squadrunner team. Squadrunner is an app with an easy premise. You run, import your data (linked to Strava, RunKeeper, Fitbit, MapMyRun, Runtastic, or Endomondo), answer the daily quiz for bonus points and boost a teammate. There is a daily mission that varies usually from 30 minutes, a specific number of miles, or a team mission where everyone from the team can contribute. If you complete the mission within 24 hours of it posting (and hit accept mission on the app before you run) you get bonus points on top of the points you receive for your run. In short, you get points for running, with distance, speed, and elevation factored in.
Teams are ranked by number of points and since joining the team, our group has consistently ranked in the “Golden Wolf” to “Silver Wolf” rankings. White Wolf is the number one team, followed by Diamond Wolf (teams 2-9), Golden Wolf (teams 10-29), Silver Wolf (teams 30-59), Bronze Wolf (teams 60-99), and so forth, down to Teddy Beta Wolf (teams 550-669). Teams are up to 20 people although some teams don’t have the full 20 people; teams with less people would obviously earn less points than teams with 20 people. Points accumulate for each month then go back to zero on the first day of every month, to re-start, but teams retain the medal they earned for that month. Our team currently has 6 gold medals and 7 silver medals.
I’ll have to admit being part of this team has influenced some of my runs, especially if I’m boosted by a teammate. Each team member can boost one person a day, giving them 10% more points while they’re boosted, for a maximum of 3 boosts from three different people for 30% more points for that run. You feel like you’re just wasting those extra points if you don’t run when you’re being boosted. It’s also made me run a bit faster if I’m boosted, wanting to get the full benefits from the boost.
Of course the best part of being part of this online running group has been the camaraderie. Over the past several months I’ve gotten to know most of the members fairly well, who are scattered throughout the US, Canada, and Europe. We chat on a private online message board using an app that we’ve all joined (different from the Squadrunner app). People sometimes post photos of their runs, running-related gear, or more personal things like photos from pets or vacations, or simply make comments about their day or events. Some are more chatty than others but I feel like it’s a space where we can all be ourselves and share pretty much anything we want. Our group is filled with some truly inspiring people and I’m happy to be a part of such a great group of people. I’ve long believed that runners are the best kind of people, and this group surely attests to that.
Probably some day I’ll join a local running group but in the meantime, I’ve got the Runnin’ Down a Dream team!
Are any of you part of a running group, either in person or online? If so, what have your experiences been like? Would you like to join our group?
If you follow my blog, you may recall I had a teaser post before the holidays on Grand Cayman Island, 10 Reasons to Skip the Cruise and Stay in Grand Cayman Island Instead. Now I’d like to dive a bit deeper in this caribbean island, beginning with the beaches. Seven Mile Beach is a world-renowned beach on the northern part of Grand Cayman Island with some of the softest powder white sand you’ve ever ran your fingers or toes through and turquoise blue water so crystal clear you can see six feet or more straight to the bottom. This is one of my favorite beaches I’ve ever been to. Parts of the beach can get crowded, especially when the cruise ships have just dropped off their load of passengers.
However, there are ways around the crowds, such as going to a part of the beach behind one of the many hotels. You may have to pay a few dollars to rent a chair and a few more for an umbrella or maybe you’ll get lucky like I did and your hotel has an arrangement with one of the hotels (Royal Palms in my case) and you can snag a chair at no charge (though we did have to pay for the umbrella) and not have hordes of people around you either. Many people assume you have to stay at a hotel to use their beach area, but this usually isn’t the case, at least not in Grand Cayman Island.
There are of course many other beautiful beaches in Grand Cayman Island, each with their own unique properties. Rum Point is a small beach area with shallow, clear waters and a handful of restaurants. Spotts Beach is a small beach area with some shade provided by palm trees where you can spot some turtles off past the pier if you’re lucky. East End Beach is on a more quiet end of the island with several restaurants and some shops nearby. Governor’s Beach is also a beautiful beach located near the Governor’s House and is part of Seven Mile Beach.
One of the most unique features of Rum Point is the bioluminescent water on moonless nights. I was lucky enough to see bioluminescent water in Long Beach, California and when I saw Grand Cayman Island also has bioluminescent water, I jumped on the chance to experience it again. If you’ve never seen bioluminescent water, the best way I can describe it is when you drag your hand along the water, it’s like you’re seeing pixie dust. There are tiny plankton in the water that emit bioluminescence when they’re touched (even though you can’t feel them). We took kayaks out with Cayman Kayaks and it was an hour and a half of pure magic. I wish I had some photos but we were told to leave our cameras behind because they wouldn’t capture the bioluminescence.
We also went snorkeling with Red Sail Sports off the coast of Rum Point to an area known as Stingray City. While the coral reef wasn’t the most colorful or biggest I’ve snorkeled through, it was still one of my favorite things to do on the island. We saw loads of colorful fish in the coral and even an eel that would occasionally pop its head out of the coral. The stars of the show, though, were the stingrays. Countless stingrays were hanging out in this shallow sandbar where we could stand while the graceful creatures floated by us. Some of the guides would pick up a stingray and let snorkelers touch, hold, or kiss a stingray. The guides said if you kissed a stingray you’d have seven years of good luck.
Finally, also in the Rum Point area is Starfish Point. Some of the snorkeling trips took people here, but we had a rental car so we just drove here on our own. True to the name, there are dozens of starfish here. Technically, starfish should be called sea stars, since they aren’t fish, just like jellyfish should be called jellies, but they’ve been called starfish and jellyfish for so long, their proper names will probably never fully catch on. As a scientist it’s a pet peeve of mine, but I know I digress.
Grand Cayman Island has warm waters year-round, so you can always find something water-related to do regardless of the time of year. The coldest the water gets is around 78 degrees in February, so even then you could have your choice of how to spend your time in paradise.
Have any of you been to Grand Cayman Island? Did you love it as much as I do? If you haven’t been, are you ready to go now? What Caribbean island(s) is/are your favorite?
This time last year I posted my so-called Running Resolutions for 2018, but if you read the entire post, you would have seen it was filled with hugely exaggerated tongue-in-cheek largely unobtainable goals meant more as a joke and certainly not meant to be taken seriously. That is until you got to the very end with my final resolution, which was the only true resolution, “Number 10- I will not take myself so seriously when it comes to running and I’ll forget every single one of resolutions one through nine!” For the record, I didn’t achieve any of those resolutions in 2018 except for number 10!
You may have guessed by now that I’m not normally a New Year’s resolutions kind of gal. I’ve always felt like if that’s what you want to do, that’s your business, but I never really got into the whole idea of making resolutions for the year. I do see the merit of having goals to strive for, but I just never sat down and formally wrote mine out.
All of this is leading me to my point in writing this post, which is I actually have a resolution for 2019, yes, a single resolution, or more like a goal really. I know by putting it out here for the whole world to read makes it more real, but here goes. I want to finish in the top three for my age group in one of the half marathons I’m running this year. There I said it. That doesn’t seem too unreasonable, does it? After all, I finished fourth in my age group at the last half marathon I ran in Arkansas, White River Half Marathon, Cotter, Arkansas-44th state and I was even dealing with anemia then, so I certainly wasn’t in peak fitness.
Looking back, the last time I placed in the top three in my age group was at the McKenzie River Half Marathon, Oregon- 36th state in March 2016. This was in Eugene, Oregon, the mecca of running and home of former runner Steve Prefontaine. Just ask any runner who Steve Prefontaine was and I’d be shocked if they couldn’t tell you unless they’re too young to know. He’s one of the most famous runners in American history. But I digress. My point is if I could place in the top three in my age group in Eugene, Oregon, where running is in these people’s blood, I should be able to do it again somewhere else.
Now, you should know I only have three half marathons planned for 2019, one in the spring (the date for a race I want to run in Delaware hasn’t been announced yet), one in Wyoming in the summer, and one in Nebraska in the fall. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of chances for me to reach my goal. I’m pretty much throwing out the race in Wyoming because based on the previous couple of years finish times for women in my age group, I don’t have a chance, coupled with the fact that it will be at almost 6,000 feet of elevation, I’ll be lucky to finish in the top 10 in my age group! That leaves the ones in Delaware and Nebraska. Both will be possible, but I’ll have to fight for a spot in the top three for both. However, if I have to run my second choice race in Delaware, I pretty much don’t have a chance for that one, which means it all rests on Nebraska if I don’t run my first choice race in Delaware.
Even if I don’t finish in the top three in my age group at any of the half marathons I’ll be running this year, I know I’ll still have fun trying! Delaware, Wyoming, and Nebraska will be states 45 through 47 in my quest for a half marathon in all 50 states, and I’ve never been to any of these states. No matter how the races go, I’ll still enjoy myself before and after the race with my family; that’s the great thing about a racecation, even if the race isn’t that great, you still get a nice vacation out of it (hopefully)!
In other news, I’ve been chosen to be a part of nuun hydration’s legacy ambassador program! Woo hoo! I’ve been a huge fan of their products for a few years now and am honored to be a part of this group. I’m also part of Honey Stinger’s ambassador program again, which I’m also excited about. If you haven’t tried Honey Stinger’s cracker ‘n nut butter bars, you should give them a try! I’ll be sure to pass along discounts for you guys when I get them throughout the year. If you don’t already follow me on Instagram, you can find me there at runningtotraveltheworld or on Twitter at runningtotravel. I often post discounts on both places when I get them.
How about you guys- do you have any running resolutions for 2019?
My first travel lesson I learned for 2018 came from going to Carnival. Either choose your accommodations very far in advance (several months to a year) so you can find a place within walking distance from the parade route or if you have a rental car like I did, park your car in a place where you won’t be blocked off by the parade route when you want to leave.
The second most important thing I learned in the Canary Islands is having a rental car is by far better than taking the bus to get around the islands. Driving in the Canary Islands is pretty easy for the most part. I found locals to be courteous drivers and not overly-aggressive. One of the worst parts about driving in the Canary Islands is how narrow some of the side roads are. I recommend getting a small rental car. Overall, the roads in Tenerife seem to be a bit wider than in Gran Canaria in general.
A third thing I learned in the Canary Islands relates to going from one island to another. Choices for inter-island hopping include taking a ferry or flying. When I checked into prices and options for going from Gran Canaria to Tenerife, the prices weren’t hugely different to fly versus take a ferry. We enjoyed the ferry to the San Juan Islands in Washington in the US and from Gozo to Malta so much that we decided to take the ferry to Tenerife. This was a mistake. The water was so rough both my daughter and husband were sick the entire time so they didn’t even enjoy it. Honestly, there isn’t much to look at either other than the water. Next time I would fly for sure.
A few months after going to the Canary Islands, I spent some time at one of my favorite theme parks, Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia. In 2017, I had gone to Colonial Williamsburg and spent very little time there, so this year I decided to get Spring Bounce Tickets, which include admission to both Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg. My family and I spent four nights in Williamsburg and we were able to get our fill of the rides and shows at Busch Gardens plus see what we wanted to at Colonial Williamsburg. My lesson here was that Spring Bounce tickets are perfect for a few reasons: 1) It’s not quite as hot and humid as it will be if you wait until later in the summer to go, 2) You have up to a week to use your tickets, 3) You’ll save money by purchasing tickets this way.
Almost straight after going to Williamsburg, Virginia, I flew to Idaho for a racecation. Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon in Boise was state number 42 for me. After the race, we had a great time hiking all around the Boise area and discovered just how beautiful Idaho is (you can read about our adventures in Boise here). I learned Idaho has to be one of the most under-rated states in the United States in my opinion, especially by east coasters, many of whom don’t even know for sure where Idaho is and all they relate it to is potatoes. It is one of the most beautiful states I’ve been to, and is full of outdoor activities year-round.
A couple of weeks after returning home from Idaho, I went to Charleston, South Carolina, one of my favorite cities in the United States. I’ve written about Charleston before and it’s one of the few places that I’m happy to return to time after time. Even after having visited Charleston many times, I learned that there’s always something new to experience in Charleston. On my last visit, I went on a walking tour and went to a raptor center.
In August, I went to Alaska for another racecation, beginning in Anchorage, where I ran the Skinny Raven Half Marathon, my 43rd state. My family and I decided to skip the ever-popular Alaskan cruise and instead rented a car and drove from Anchorage to Denali National Park to Seward and finally to Girdwood. I was immensely grateful we didn’t go on an Alaskan cruise because my husband and daughter were sick the entire time on the 6 hour cruise we took through Kenai Fjords National Park near Seward. I learned that boats in general are not a good idea for our family, and we’ve decided not to go on boat tours or ferries again (my husband and daughter have a history of getting sick on some boats in the past, although not every boat they’ve been on). Another thing I learned while in Alaska is that things are extremely expensive here. I was astounded at how much some things cost at grocery stores (I understand they have to travel a long way so it adds to the cost) and tours and ticket prices were expensive pretty much everywhere we went.
An incredibly early arrival of cold weather happened to coincide with my next racecation in Arkansas in November. Normally the weather should have been much warmer but unseasonably cold air made its way through and it looked like we were going to have some cold, rainy days. On top of the cold weather that I hadn’t acclimatized to, I had been dealing with anemia and my hemoglobin was extremely low so my expectations weren’t much for the White River Half Marathon, state number 44.
It turns out the White River Half Marathon was on a blazing fast course so I surprised myself with a sub-2 hour finish. It was freezing cold (31 degrees at the start) but I could deal with that. My full race report can be found here. After the race, we drove 3 1/2 hours to Hot Springs to spend a few days. I learned that mineral water from hot springs works miracles on tired muscles after you’ve just run a race the previous day. Seriously, I’ve never felt better after a half marathon than I did after this one. If I could, I would run half marathons in all of the remaining states in places near hot springs. Sadly, I don’t think Iowa, Delaware, New Mexico, Minnesota, or Nebraska has hot springs but Wyoming does.
Hot Springs, Arkansas is a pretty touristy area but we enjoyed ourselves and especially liked hiking at Hot Springs National Park, seeing the lights display at Garvan Woodland Gardens, and soaking in the thermal baths the best. You can read my full blog post on Hot Springs here. Everyone we talked to seemed like genuinely nice, friendly people. The autumn leaves were a bit past their peak, but the trees were still colorful and it was a beautiful time to visit.
After a brief time back home, we were off once again after Thanksgiving, this time to Grand Cayman Island. I hadn’t been to the Caribbean since my honeymoon, 14 years prior, so I was well over-due for a visit. We aren’t cruise-type people (see references above to my family and boats in the Canary Islands and Alaska) so we spent a week at a resort on the quiet east side of the island and drove all over the island in a rental car.
The first thing I learned is don’t let the rental car agents intimidate you into buying extra rental car insurance. When we picked up our rental car at Hertz, we were told the roads were narrow, drivers were aggressive, and if we were to get in an accident, it would basically be a horrible mess to take care of without the extra insurance purchased through them. In fact, what we found was the roads are in great condition, the drivers are not anymore aggressive than anywhere else (meaning some people can be aggressive at times but in general they were fine), and we never had any issues with driving, albeit driving on the left side of the road takes a bit more brain effort if you’re American.
On our first night in Grand Cayman Island, I learned if a local gives you a recommendation for something to see or do or a restaurant to go to, listen to them. Many years ago when my husband and I were in Hawaii, a local told us to be sure to watch the moonrise, and we blew them off and never saw it. However, when we were at dinner on our first night in Cayman, the server told us to be sure to stay to watch the moonrise, and we almost didn’t, but it wasn’t going to be much longer so we decided to stay. If you’ve never had the pleasure of watching a moonrise, let me try to describe it. It’s sort of like watching a sunrise but better. You see the moon slowly rising in the horizon until it’s high in the sky. It’s much more exciting than what I’m describing too. Several people around us were making comments like, “Wow! That’s so cool!” and “I’ve never seen anything like that before!” We were never disappointed when we followed the advise of locals on this vacation and have definitely learned our lesson.
Finally, I learned that I absolutely love Grand Cayman Island. Seven Mile Beach has the softest, powder-white sand I’ve ever seen and all around the island, the water is so clear you can see fish swimming around you without a snorkel mask. The island may be small (though not as small as neighboring Little Cayman and Cayman Brac islands) but it’s filled with natural beauty. The Crystal Caves are definitely worth checking out, as is the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Garden (be sure to get the extra ticket to see the endangered blue iguanas, not to be confused with the endemic and pest-like green iguanas). There’s also the fairy-dust-like bioluminescent waters in the Rum Point area, the sand bar with stingrays known as “Sting Ray City,” and nearby coral reef garden where you can snorkel, Starfish Point which is filled with starfish (sea stars technically), and the many other beaches where you may see some turtles if you’re lucky. Just about the only downside to Grand Cayman Island is it’s pretty expensive, although our airfare was cheap from the east coast, so it did balance out that way.
I feel very fortunate to have visited the Canary Islands, Williamsburg, Virginia; Boise, Idaho; Charleston, South Carolina; Alaska; Arkansas; and Grand Cayman Island this year. Using airline miles, credit card points, and watching for good deals on airfare, I saved a ton of money. I was reminded I need to check airports at cities within a few hours of my home every single time I check airfare prices. When I did this for Grand Cayman Island, I saved almost $300 per ticket, which for three people is close to $900, definitely worth the extra hassle of driving from another city. I realize some people have to do this any time they fly and I’m fortunate enough to have an international airport close to my home, but still it’s worth checking other airports if it’s going to save several hundred dollars or even a couple hundred dollars.
What about you guys? What did you learn from your travels in 2018?
For the past several years, I’ve run three half marathons a year, in my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Because I make a racecation out of every race, and spend at least a few days checking out the area with my family after the race, I simply can’t afford to do more than 4 a year (which I used to do), nor do I have the vacation time, and since I’ve run all of the southern states with races during the winter, I usually run races in the spring, summer, and fall now (with a couple of exceptions like Utah in February 2017).
I began 2018 by running the Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon in Boise in May. Idaho was state number 42 for me and this race was a highlight. The race began in a canyon, which was beautiful, and the course was nicely chosen as it ran along greenways and had water views of the Boise River several times. I managed to finish just under 2 hours, which I hadn’t done in quite a while. Because of the excellent course, volunteer stations, post-race goodies including a potato bar, and overall vibe of the race, it’s high on my list of favorite half marathons.
The following weekend after the race in Boise, I had to start training for race number two of the year in Alaska, which I’ll get to shortly. First, though, a word on running through the heat and humidity during the summer, which I did a post on here. I’ll be honest, running through the North Carolina summer is tough. I’m just not that much of a morning person to get up at 5:30 to run before work, so I ended up running after work, when the temperature was often around 90 degrees, sometimes in the upper 90’s with high humidity on top of it. Yeah, it’s every bit as brutal as it sounds, but I did it, with very little running on the treadmill.
Finally in August, I ran the Skinny Raven Half Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska, state number 43. I was very much looking forward to spending some time in Alaska and running the race in Anchorage. Although the race wasn’t one of my favorites, I wouldn’t say it was a low point of running. The race shirt and medal are my absolute favorites ever from any race, I got to go to a pasta lunch with speakers Bart Yasso and Jeff Galloway, and the race was well-organized, so it does have all of that going for it. Some people would probably enjoy running along the greenways that the race was on, but I just found it a bit disappointing since I run on greenways all the time at home and was hoping for something more unique to the area.
In September, I ran my first 5k in almost 20 years, not counting the one I ran with my daughter at her pace a few years ago. So this was the first 5k I ran at my pace since the very first race I ran as an adult, and funny side-note, they were both in mall parking lots. I ran the Color Vibe 5k in Raleigh, North Carolina. Color Vibe is a huge conglomeration with races in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. plus several other countries.
When I signed up for the race, I didn’t realize that it was untimed. Still, I thought, it would be something new and fun. Originally, the plan was for my daughter to run it with me, but the morning of the race she decided she wanted to run at her own pace. There was a local Zumba instructor leading the crowd before the race start and everyone seemed to be in good spirits. However, it was hot (80 degrees at the start) and not a single bit of shade along the course. I found it hard to be motivated to really try my hardest since it wasn’t timed. Ultimately I discovered I’m more competitive than I may have thought, and fun runs just aren’t for me. As expected, we were covered from head to toe in colored powder by the end of the race and my watch had me finishing in 23:33. I should have been happy because it was a definite PR for me, but since it was unofficial, I felt like it didn’t even count. What should have been a high for me turned out to not really be, although I wouldn’t count it as a low either. My race review is here.
Sometime in September, I began experiencing some boredom in my running routes. First I thought about changing my route for my long runs, Changing My Long Running Route- Maybe, then I began finding new running routes for my runs during the week, Exploring While Running and Fighting Boredom. I discovered entire neighborhoods I never even knew existed even though I drove within a few miles of them to and from work every day. More importantly, I began to realize there was absolutely no reason to run the same route four days a week during the week. There are greenways all over the place where I live and even where there aren’t greenways, there are nice, safe neighborhoods where I can run. This helped with my boredom and seemed like it was going to get me through the training plan for my final race of the year.
Then it all came crashing down. I had noticed I was getting more and more out of breath on runs. This went on for months, honestly, but I kept thinking it was the heat and humidity. When it finally cooled off and the humidity dropped and I was still out of breath when I would try to run, I knew for sure something was wrong. I suspected it was low iron, and I have a history of this, so I know exactly what it feels like. Sure enough, when my blood work came back, my hemoglobin level was 6. The normal range for women my age is 12-15. This was bad, very bad. Even worse, I had a half marathon coming up in less than three weeks.
I started taking a high dose of iron prescribed by my doctor and continued to run, no matter how slowly. I figured running slowly was better than not running at all. It was hard and frustrating though. Running up a small hill felt like I was climbing a mountain. During one of my long runs, after every mile I had to pause my watch, stop and catch my breath before I could go on. I did that for 12 miles and yes, it was some of the longest miles I’ve ever run.
Still, I could feel the iron was slowly building back up in my body and while I wouldn’t say I was feeling completely better when it was time for my next half marathon (not even close, really), I knew I could at least finish it even if it meant walking, a lot. The White River Half Marathon was in November in Cotter, Arkansas, state number 44, and in hindsight after running the race, it was the absolute best race for me at the moment.
As you might guess from the name, the race is along the White River, which means it’s flat. More importantly, the first mile is downhill and you don’t have to run back up the hill at the end either. Although I can’t say for sure because I was so completely wiped out at the finish that I forgot to hit save on my Garmin and I ran more by feel so I didn’t check my watch hardly at all, I’m pretty sure my first two miles were my fastest and I seemed to be consistent after that. I finished in 1:57, which was 4th in my age group. I was of course thrilled, especially given my health. This was a great way to end my racing for the year and give my body plenty of time to get back to normal. You can read my full report on the White River Half Marathon here.
How about you all- any running highs or lows you’d like to share?
Caribbean cruises are hugely popular and many stop at Grand Cayman Island, which is a British Overseas Territory. However, many of these cruises arrive at Grand Cayman Island in the morning and depart in the afternoon. To really get a feel for the island, I suggest you stay at a hotel on the island and rent a car or take taxis to be able to see and do more. Here are some of the things you can do in one week:
Beach hop! In addition to the famous Seven Mile Beach, there are so many more white-sand beaches. If you stay on the island for a week, you will have time to explore them all and decide for yourself which ones you like the best.
Eat your way around the island. There are some diverse restaurants spread around the island, ranging from those offering Mexican food, Italian, Indian, Australian with a Caribbean twist, Caribbean, steakhouses, seafood, and gourmet restaurants.
Explore the island’s newest nature attraction: Caves at Cayman Crystal Caves, only recently opened to the public.
Go shopping in one of the most beautiful open-air shopping areas I’ve ever seen at Camana Bay. In addition to a nice array of shops and restaurants, you’ll find the area nicely landscaped with plenty of trees, flowers, fountains, and seating areas.
Try out all of the water sports. You can rent jet skis, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, go sailing, parasailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, or deep sea fishing. Many people from cruise ships will arrange a tour to go snorkeling at Sting Ray City but if you stay on the island, you can do much more than that, at your own leisure.
Have your choice of where to stay. You can stay in a plush hotel like Westin, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, or a bed-and-breakfast, a family-friendly resort, or condo.
Take in some historical sites. Georgetown gets much more busy and crowded when cruise ships are in, but if you choose a day when no cruise ships are in town, you’ll be able to walk around and have a more enjoyable day. Elmslie Memorial Church, the National Museum, the Government Post Office, the Government Library, and the Town Hall are all historical sites in Georgetown. In Bodden Town, learn about the island’s history at Pedro St. James castle, a wonderfully restored 3-story house overlooking the water.
Go to Hell. Hell is the name given to a large outcropping of sharp limestone rocks in the district of West Bay. Sure it’s touristy but it’s still fun. While in the area, visit the Hell Post Office where you can send a letter postmarked “Hell” and take some photos with devil-themed props from the nice people who live next door to the post office.
Kayak through bioluminescent waters and experience the fairy-dust-like magic as you skim your hands or kayak paddle along the water. You can only do this on certain nights when there is no moon. You can also touch a jellyfish; my husband and daughter both did this. Our guide showed us how the jellies in this area don’t have that potent of stingers so you feel only slightly numb after touching them (or so I’m told since I didn’t touch one). Bonus- see dozens of sea stars at nearby Starfish Point during the day before you go kayaking at night.
Experience a moon rising. We were lucky enough to be able to see this on our first night and it was truly magical. I know it doesn’t sound nearly as fascinating as it actually was, but the only way I can describe it is to say it’s sort of like a sunrise, only in reverse, so you see the moon slowly rise over the horizon until it’s high in the sky.
I have a couple of more in-depth posts coming that cover some of the things to do I listed here, but this was meant to pique your interest.
Have any of you been to Grand Cayman Island? Did you stop as part of a cruise or did you stay on the island? Have you ever seen a moon rising?
I first heard about this book while listening to the Another Mother Runner podcast about it, which you can find here. The co-host, Dimity McDowell said both she and her teenage daughter had read the book and she recommended that any parent with teenagers who might end up on an athletics team in college to read this book. Well, my teenage daughter is a runner now so I thought I should definitely read this book. Not to exclude the other co-host Adrienne Martini, who also had some helpful insight and comments of her own, having gone through depression herself and having written a book about it.
Author Kate Fagan is a sports writer for espnW, ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine and was a college athlete herself. She doesn’t have children of her own, so she can’t write from a parent’s perspective, but she does write from a former college athlete’s perspective. Fagan interviewed Madison Holleran’s friends and family, read Maddy’s phone messages, emails, and social media feeds to try to perhaps portray a bigger picture of what might have happened to lead to the tragic death of Madison Holleran by suicide.
Right from the beginning, you know what you’re getting into by reading this book because you know how it ends. What you don’t know at the beginning is just how quickly things can turn from bad to worse to desperate in someone’s life, even when things appear fairly smooth on the surface. Despite telling her closest friends and family members she was not happy at the Ivy league University of Pennsylvania, no one could have predicted she was so completely out of hope that she would take her own life.
What stands out the most to me is the pressure kids have to face during college and for most of them, there is little to no professional help when they need it. When Madison sought help from counselors at college, she was given a lengthy wait time, which to me is unacceptable. More resources need to be available, especially for freshman or new students.
You may say pressure is nothing new; kids have always faced pressure in school that increases steadily through high school and peaks during college. True, pressure has always been there, but it does seem like the pressure kids are facing now is much greater than 20 years ago. All of this pressure results in anxiety and it seems like teens today are at an all-time high rate of anxiety. From the moment they enter middle school, they’re told they need to get good grades so they’ll get into AP and honors classes in high school, which they need to get accepted into “the best” colleges, then they need to excel in college to graduate with honors to get “good jobs.”
This is just the academic portion of the source of anxiety. When you add in athletics in college and how demanding the schedules are for college athletes, you have the perfect storm. Madison went from playing soccer, her self-professed true love in high school to running for University of Pennsylvania on a scholarship. She clearly missed playing soccer and wasn’t happy running at college partly because of the demanding schedule, to the extent that she typed a letter to her running coach explaining to him why she wanted to leave the team, and she brought her mother along for the meeting. However, her coach didn’t want to see her leave the team and ended up talking her into modifying her workouts but not leaving, to which she agreed.
Another aspect that Fagan covers thoroughly is social media and how it can downplay or mask negative feelings. For example, if I texted a friend that I had a bad day but then added in some silly emoticons, it might look like things weren’t really as bad as they were; the tone can easily be misinterpreted by the receiver. Tone is always difficult to portray electronically, whether through an email or text. Madison also was sure to always put up photos of herself and friends on Instagram that on the outside looked like everything was great.
So as a parent, what can we take away from this book? For starters, don’t assume you can just send your child off to college and everything will be wonderful- they’ll make friends, do well in their classes, and adjust easily. In fact, a majority of students that go away to college are woefully under-prepared both emotionally and physically. We aren’t doing our children any favors by doing their laundry for them all the time and never discussing difficult subjects with them. It’s the ultimate job of a parent to prepare their child to be an independent adult.
Keep the communication lines open, which you’ve hopefully done from the start with your child. Ask them how they feel about something rather than assuming how they feel. Make it clear that if they’re ever not happy about how things are going in their life, they should talk to someone about it, whether it’s a roommate, RA, counselor, friend, or family member. It should also be clear that if they want to transfer schools or drop out of a sport, that’s perfectly acceptable and while it’s a big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly, it’s certainly a viable option.
When Madison mentioned to family members she wanted to transfer schools, she was told to wait it out just a little longer, but clearly she couldn’t wait any longer. I’m sure her family had no idea things were as dire as they were with Madison, and I think that’s a huge takeaway from the book. No one ever truly knows how another person is feeling. Maybe that’s the most important thing we all need to remind ourselves.
Did any of you play on a sports team in college and if so, what was your experience like? What about you guys with kids- do you tend to avoid “difficult” conversations with your teenagers? It’s tough, I know. Teenagers especially often become quiet or don’t want to talk about certain subjects with their parents, so it’s a fine line to walk as a parent to ask questions and get conversations going but not be so pushy you scare them away. Mental health is a subject many people shy away from talking about but it’s an important topic that needs to be discussed.