So You Want to Visit Florida for the First Time- Here’s Where to Get Started

Many people have Florida on their list of places they want to visit but they don’t really  know where they want to go or what they want to do. I’m here to tell you there’s a lot more to Florida than Disney World. I will also give you a disclaimer that I do not live in Florida, nor have I ever, so while I’m not an expert on Florida, I have been there about a dozen times, all over the state so I at least know a bit on where to go and what to do.

The first time I went to Florida, I don’t even remember it at all. My mom has pictures of me in Florida when I was about two or three years old with these large white strips of bandages over one of my legs. I asked her what the bandages were for and she said, “You fell down.” Honestly, it looks like maybe an alligator tried to take my leg or something far worse than just falling down, but I never pressed her on the subject.

On subsequent trips to Florida as a child, we went to Pensacola a couple of times (which is where the photos of me with the bandaged leg were taken), Orlando to go to Disney World and SeaWorld, and Daytona Beach. When I was in college, I went to Port Canaveral, Miami, and Ft. Lauderdale. After college, I went back to some of the earlier mentioned places, plus down the keys, stopping for a week in Marathon and driving down to the tip of Florida to Key West. My brother lived in Naples for a while so I visited him one summer and explored the area around there including the absolutely stunning Sanibel Island. I later went back to Naples and I’ve been to Miami a few times. Most recently, I completed my circle of the state by exploring St. Petersburg and cities around there.

IMG_3022
Meeting Minnie Mouse

OK. So let’s get started with planning your first vacation to Florida. I’ll start with a popular choice- Orlando.

If you’ve never been to Florida but would like to go to Disney World, Universal Orlando, or one of the theme parks or attractions in the Orlando area, I’m not going to be much help here other than to refer you to someone else. There are websites entirely devoted to all things Disney; a good one is mousesavers. You can easily get lost in all of their information as it sends you deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole but it’s filled with useful information and tips. Two links on the mousesavers “links to useful Disney sites” that I also recommend checking out are Undercover Tourist and TouringPlans. Between these three sites alone, you will gain a wealth of knowledge and be better-informed for your trip to Orlando.

Next up- southern tip:  Miami and Key West. First, figure out what you want to do. Do you want to party at the famous Miami clubs and dance all night then just hang out at the beach during the day? I’ve been to Miami a few times, both before kids and after kids and it’s entirely possible to have just about any type of vacation you want there, whether it’s going to nightclubs, lounging at beaches, going shopping at high-end stores and eating at only the “best” restaurants, enjoying a more family-friendly vacation with your spouse and kids, or getting out in nature and exploring Everglades National Park.

There is a long list of hotels in Miami, ranging in price and amenities from high-end to budget and everything in-between. A splurge is the Loews Miami Beach Hotel but if you want to stay in more of a historical section of Miami, stay in the Whitelaw Hotel in the Art Deco District. I suggest staying in the South Beach part of Miami if you want more of a party scene. If you choose a hotel in South Beach near Citi Bike, Miami’s bike sharing program, you won’t have to worry about renting a car and paying astronomical parking fees. Just remember, Miami’s high season runs from December through March, so prices will be higher and places will be more crowded. Regarding restaurants in Miami, honestly, the hottest restaurants change all the time, so a good place to check is Eater Miami, which focuses solely on this. For a more family-friendly long weekend Miami vacation, check out my post “Welcome to Miami”- Long Weekend in Miami, Florida.

IMG_20171126_102847831_HDR
Airboat tour through the Everglades in Florida

If you want to drive from Miami to Key West (which I highly recommend), it will take about four hours on the Overseas Highway. Honestly, that alone deserves an entire post on its own. I could write up a post on driving from Miami to Key West, with where to stop, stay, and eat, but I’ll simply refer you to a well-written article by Skyscanner:  Miami to Key West Drive. I concur 100% with their suggestions, especially the part that says, “we strongly suggest you spend at least a couple of days on the Keys, booking a nice hotel in Marathon.” Also visit the turtle rescue center; plus you should know the dolphin research center in that article isn’t in Marathon but nearby Grassy Key.

Beaches– Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico? This comes down to what you’re looking for in a beach area and personal preferences. The beaches on the Atlantic Ocean range from the quieter Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island in the far northeast corner of Florida and St. Augustine, to the rowdier crowds that come with Daytona Beach, to the more “refined” crowds at West Palm Beach, to Ft. Lauderdale which is known for the spring break crowds that visit every year, ultimately ending at Miami and then finally Key West.

While many of these beach areas have their charms and positive attributes, I prefer the beaches on the Gulf side. Starting in Pensacola in the northwestern side, or panhandle of Florida, you can find the powdery soft, white beaches found all along the Gulf coast of Florida. The water here tends to be a bit more clear and just prettier in my opinion. As I mentioned earlier, Sanibel Island is on the Gulf coast, as is one of my most recent discoveries, St. Petersburg. I wrote a few blog posts on St. Petersburg and the surrounding area, which you can find here:  A Brief Overview of St. Petersburg, Florida- Where to Stay, What to Do, Where to Eat and here More Things to Do in St. Petersburg, Florida.

20200216_162817
Anna Maria Island near St. Petersburg

Nature and Active Pursuits- Florida is so much more than just Disney World and beaches, however. As I mentioned in my posts on St. Petersburg, Florida is filled with places for people that like to be out in nature and have more active vacations. One place I’d really like to check out is Crystal River, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours by car from St. Petersburg, depending if you take the toll road or not. There you can not only see manatees but swim in the water with them (just don’t touch them), visit the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, kayak the Chassahowitzka River, and visit the Crystal River Archaeological State Park, with remains of an early Native American settlement.

Another place you may not hear much about in Florida is Ocala, in the central part of the state, due north of Orlando. This is where Ocala National Forest lies, with more than 600 lakes, rivers and springs, including three first-magnitude springs where visitors can swim, snorkel and dive in crystal-clear waters year round.

I think I’ve highlighted the more popular areas of Florida with something for everyone. Most of all, I hope I’ve shown that Florida is much more than just Disney World and Miami Beach.

Have you been to Florida and if so where? Have you been to Florida many times but only to go to Disney (I know this is a common thing many people do; there’s certainly nothing wrong with that if that’s what you enjoy)? Is there another area of Florida that you enjoyed visiting that I didn’t mention?

Happy travels!

Donna

The Importance of Strength Training for Runners- My Personal Test Results

If you think this will be just another post about someone telling you that you should do strength training, think again.

When I was in my 20’s I barely did any strength training (or stretching, cross-training, or pretty much anything else other than just running). When I ran my first half marathon, it wasn’t my legs that were the most sore after the race, although they were also sore. However, my arms and shoulders were so sore and tired I could barely lift them over my head for days after the race. That’s when I knew I needed to start some strength training.

I’ve been hitting the gym regularly for the past 20-something years. I feel like strength training has become even more important now that I’m in my 40’s. Depending on what source you believe, you can lose from 3-8% of your muscle mass per decade beginning in your 30’s. Obviously, that can quickly add up to a significant loss of muscle mass if you do nothing about it.

So many runners I’ve known over the years have told me they don’t do strength training because they feel like running is enough to maintain their muscles. The sad truth is, running by itself is not enough to stop muscle loss. In fact, when you’re in your 40’s it’s even more important to not only lift weights but to lift heavy weights. In order to stimulate muscle growth, you need to challenge and stimulate your muscles so they break down and repair bigger and stronger. If you can lift a certain weight with a specific body part more than 10 times easily, it’s not heavy enough. Try to aim for a weight you can lift 8-10 times at the most, and that’s a struggle.

person holding barbell
Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

A good rule of thumb is to perform two or three sets of about 10 repetitions or less, and remember to make sure you have good form. When in doubt, ask a knowledgeable friend to show you or just watch yourself in a mirror. Try to fit strength training into your schedule once or twice a week. You also don’t need to spend hours at a time lifting weights and in fact shouldn’t spend that long on strength training if your primary interest is running. I can cover my full body in thirty minutes, sometimes a bit less than that depending on how busy the gym is and if I have to wait for a set of weights or a machine.

There are many, many opinions on what exercises are “best” for runners, but they’re just that- opinions. No one has undeniable proof that doing x, y, and z when it comes to strength training will help you improve as a runner. Exercises that tend to pop up more than others when you read articles about strength training for runners specifically are squats, lunges, and core-related exercises.

That’s not to say you should necessarily focus on these exercises or even do them at all, to be honest. Everyone is different in what their bodies can handle and for some people it would be too much strain on their legs to do lunges and squats two or three days a week on top of running, especially if you’re training for a long-distance event like a marathon and even more so if it’s your first. In fact, I would say if you’re training for your first marathon or looking to get a Boston-qualifying time, I wouldn’t recommend starting a strength training routine because it will likely be too much for your body. Save the weights for after your big goal race or even better in the months before you start training for your goal race.

My theory when it comes to strength training is try to mix things up. Like I mentioned earlier, I like to do exercises that work my full body by the time I’m done. One day you could do some row-type exercises for your lower and mid-back and chest fly exercises, some planks, and maybe some shoulder presses, bicep curls, and tricep extensions with some leg work like squats. The next time do some lat or upper back exercises, some chest presses, superman (for core), bridge pose, lunges, and push-ups.

Another important point is to make sure you run first before you do strength training if running is your priority. Ideally, it’s recommended to allow 2-3 hours between running and strength training, but I don’t think that’s feasible for most people so just do whatever you can. Make sure you’re not doing strength training on harder running days like speed workouts. I always go to the gym on days when I have an easy, shorter run. I’ll run easy for anywhere from 30-40 minutes depending on where I am in my half marathon training plan then drive to the gym, which may take 30 minutes. I also never start out with leg exercises right after I’ve run, but save them for later in my workout to allow them as much of a break as possible.

If all of this seems way too complicated to you and you don’t even know where to get started, I suggest joining a gym that offers one-on-one sessions with personal trainers if you can afford it or are able to given the current situation. You might be surprised at how affordable this can be, if you shop around. If that’s just not an option for you (especially now during the pandemic), there are some great resources online. Ones that offer videos are the best, so you can actually see the exercise being performed properly. Some of the ones I like are:

Runner’s Blueprint

Women’s Health

Outside

There are of course many others, but these offer a pretty nice array of exercises that you can easily do at home. You just need to pick up some free weights, kettle bells if possible, and resistance bands and you’re all set! If you’re truly a brand-new beginner to all of this, you can just use body weight to start and work your way up from there once the exercises feel easy to you. There are also apps for strength training but I’ve never used any of them nor do I know anyone who has, so I really can’t speak about those.

One of the biggest factors in strength training is actually doing it. Just like you set a schedule for running, put it in your calendar when you’ll be working out and you’ll be more likely to do it. You may find you actually look forward to your time doing strength training; I know I do!

Now to get to the part about my personal results. My gym was closed for six months due to the pandemic. While I have some weights, an exercise ball, and some resistance bands at home, I’ll be the first to admit I slacked off, especially as time wore on. You might think it would be the opposite and after months of not working out I would be craving more of it, but no; I did less. The one thing I didn’t slack off is core work, which I feel is huge for runners.

Finally after my gym re-opened, I was at first a bit hesitant about going back, but my fears were quickly put to ease when I saw how empty the gym was and how everyone was wearing masks and wiping down the equipment after use. Also the bathrooms were closed and there was hand sanitizer everywhere. Still, I didn’t want to over-do it and not be able to move so I was relatively conservative with the weights.

Do you want to know what I found out? The only part of me that was even a little sore was my chest. Even after not hitting the weights pretty hard like I used to for six months I was just slightly sore. That along with the fact that my running hadn’t suffered any while I wasn’t doing strength training changed my opinion a bit about the “importance” of strength training for runners. It doesn’t change my mind about the importance of strength training for everyone to help prevent muscle loss due to aging, however.

Looking back at my running stats those six months when I wasn’t going to the gym for strength training, my times weren’t any slower, even when the heat of summer hit. Honestly, I’m a bit surprised by my findings because I always firmly believed strength training was helping me be a faster, stronger runner. Now I question that. Not that I’m going to stop going to the gym now that it’s open again because again, the whole muscle loss thing.

And before you begin to lecture me, I realize this is a study of one and for a relatively short period. Also, I was starting with a firmly established base, as far as strength training goes, before my break from it. I have no doubt if I would have taken even longer, say a year, from strength training, I would have seen the effects not just in my running but in daily life as well.

What about you- do you regularly do strength training? Do you cycle strength training months with marathon or half marathon season(s)? Or do you hate strength training and avoid it at all costs? Did you stop going to the gym for strength training because of the pandemic and if so have you been back lately?

Happy running!

Donna

Hotels vs. Airbnb- How That’s Changed For Me Over the Years

I remember when I was in college and drove to a friend’s wedding out of state. My husband at the time and I made reservations at a Ramada Inn, and it was not a very nice Ramada Inn. The carpet was musty, the beds were uncomfortable, the bedspreads and decorations in the room looked like they hadn’t been changed in 20 years, and the rooms had paper-thin walls.

Since then, I’ve stayed at other cheap hotels a handful of times but at one point in my life I thought to myself, you’re too old to be staying in cheap hotels. You have a good job and you can afford to stay in better accommodations. When my daughter was born, I started to consider the safety of the hotels as well since most cheap hotels are in “bad” or unsafe neighborhoods. Not that I jumped from staying in 2 star hotels to only 5 star hotels, but there was a noticeable improvement in where I was willing to stay.

dsc03852
A Bed and Breakfast in San Diego that actually came up on an Airbnb search (so it’s not just the traditional places like homes and apartments).

As my daughter got older, my husband at the time and I began to see the benefits of staying in houses through Airbnb or other short-term rental properties. Instead of the three of us piling into a room with only two beds, a bathroom, and a mini-fridge and microwave if we were lucky, we could spread out and have multiple bedrooms, a full kitchen with everything we needed to whip up breakfast or any meal for that matter, a dining room, a family room or living room, usually a backyard, often more than one bathroom, free parking right in front of the house, and best of all it was quiet. So there were no slamming doors in the hallway, no ice machine noises, no kids running down the hallway at midnight, no adults coming in drunk and talking loudly on their way to their room, and on and on.

At first it was hard to break the hotel habit. Many houses rented out for short-term rental don’t have swimming pools and my daughter always loved to swim on vacation. We also missed not being able to walk down to the breakfast area of the hotel and pile on a plate full of breakfast foods, even if they were sometimes sub-par. My husband at the time also missed not having a workout room like many hotels have. But swimming pools, breakfast buffets, and workout rooms weren’t enough to keep us coming back to hotels, so we found ourselves staying at houses through Airbnb more and more.

dsc03883
Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, which I did not stay in, but enjoyed the beautiful beach all around it.

I’ve found houses on Airbnb are often in the range of hotel prices. Over the years the selection of houses offered on Airbnb has also skyrocketed. Just a few years ago there weren’t nearly as many properties on Airbnb as there are today. That being said, some cities have made it illegal to rent a property through Airbnb in recent years and others have begun to crack down on foreign investors, making provisions only if the rental property is a primary residence in the city  plus other limitations. I’m not going to get into the impact Airbnb has had on neighborhoods and home values but that’s been a controversial topic for many areas around the world.

Still, I don’t automatically book a stay through Airbnb without comparing hotels in the area. For my recent vacation to the mountains in Tennessee (Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park- Redux), my daughter and I stayed at a brand new hotel. There were a couple of factors involved here:  because of the pandemic and the drop in hotel stays on top of the fact that the hotel had literally just opened, the price per night was a bargain that I jumped on. There’s no way I could have stayed at an Airbnb house for the same price. I’m sure this time next year the hotel’s prices will be much more than what I paid because by then they will be an established hotel with reviews and (hopefully) by then if the pandemic still isn’t over, we (hopefully) will have moved on to our new “normal.”

My go-to site for checking out hotel prices is https://www.hotels.com/. When you stay 10 nights at a hotel, and it doesn’t have to be 10 consecutive nights at the same hotel, you get a free night worth the average of your last 10 hotel stays. There are also tiers depending on how many hotel stays you have in a year. When you reach silver status after 10 nights or more in a year, you’re eligible for special prices not available to the general public and special benefits like vouchers to use toward breakfast. If you book and stay 30 nights or more (which I’ve never done), you reach gold status, which looks like it comes with even more extras like room upgrades.

IMG_1599
Alyeska Resort and Hotel in Alaska was one of the more expensive hotels I’ve stayed in, but it included a ride to the top of the mountain in a tram and was a nice one night splurge.

I’ve had silver status with hotels.com for the past several years and I’ve always felt like it’s been a good choice for me. For example, in 2017, I redeemed four free nights, which of course saved me hundreds of dollars. If I redeem just one free night per year, I feel like it’s worth booking through the site. There’s no fee and the prices are almost always identical to or less than other hotel booking sites. In the rare occurrence where hotels.com has been more than another site, it’s only been a minimal amount like a couple of dollars.

My bottom line is to always compare my options. I don’t go crazy and check ten different places for hotel prices and property prices. Besides Airbnb for short-term rentals, there’s VRBO, HomeAway, HometoGo, and Booking, just to mention a few. This is on top of sites like Expedia and Tripadvisor. You could easily spend hours if you checked all of these sites and got sucked down that rabbit hole. There’s often overlap between many of these websites anyway, although there are sometimes listings on one website you won’t find anywhere else. Almost always, I’ll check on Airbnb, hotels.com, and sometimes booking.com and leave it at that unless I’m having trouble finding what I want for the price in my budget, then I’ll look around more.

What about you? Do you stay more at hotels or homes/apartments through Airbnb? Has your choice of travel accommodations changed over the years or stayed the same?

Happy travels!

Donna

Thoughts on Walking an Entire Half Marathon (13.1 Miles)

I recently did something I never would have if not for the pandemic- I ran the entire distance of a half marathon (13.1 miles). If you follow my blog, you probably know I have a goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states and was on schedule to run my final three states (New Mexico, Minnesota, and Iowa) this year. Then COVID-19 changed all of that and I wasn’t able to run a single race this year.

While I did run a virtual 5k,I Ran My Fastest 5k, but Does It Even Count? I just wasn’t into virtual races. I was supposed to run the Albuquerque Half Marathon in New Mexico in April but it was postponed until November, then it was outright canceled, with runners told we could (hopefully) run it in April 2021. My training for the race had been going so well that when Nuun announced a virtual Team Nuun Half Marathon that would be free and include swag to the first 1500 people to sign up, and it was going to be held on the exact same day that my New Mexico race was supposed to be, I jumped on the bandwagon.

Then completely out of the blue I started getting pains in my hip when I ran. I worked on it by foam rolling, stretching, and yoga but I just couldn’t quite find the spot that was the problem. After scheduling a massage and finding even that didn’t completely take care of the problem, I decided to take a break from running and even long walks for a week. Still, the pain was there and had gotten to the point where my hip hurt no matter what I was doing.

With the impending Team Nuun Half Marathon quickly approaching, I tentatively tried to run again. I decided to try for 3-4 miles and see how it went but every single step I took from beginning to end was painful, too painful to run through. Even though I was bummed about not being able to be a part of the “race,” I knew there was no way I could run 13.1 miles in just 3 days. I should also mention that Team Nuun is a group of mostly runners but also cyclists, triathletes, and hikers from all over the United States, who all have a love for being active outdoors and a love for Nuun hydration products. We have a pretty active private Facebook page where we can post our recent adventures, share our ups and downs, and participate in challenges and giveaways.

The day before the Team Nuun Half Marathon I decided I would walk the entire 13.1 miles. I knew I could walk for an hour without it making my hip worse because I had recently done that, and while I know it’s a big leap from an hour to over three hours, I figured I could just turn around and cut the walk short if I needed to. Typically I clock around a fifteen-minute mile when I’m walking, so when I did the math, adding in a bit for hills, I calculated it would take me around 3 hours and 20 minutes.

In case you’re wondering, my average half marathon finish time is around 2 hours. I’ve run several races under 2 hours and several over 2 hours, with my slowest finish being 2 hours, 35 minutes when I was severely anemic. I wasn’t entirely sure what it would be like to be out walking that far for over 3 hours. Sure, I’ve hiked for several hours at a time, many times, but this would be different. Instead of climbing up and down mountains and stopping to take breaks for water, take pictures, and have a snack or even lunch along the way, I would not be stopping for anything.

The morning of the Team Nuun Half Marathon was gorgeous albeit a bit on the warm side even for walking. I decided to wear a short-sleeve shirt with shorts and long compression socks. In my running vest, I put the usual two bottles (one is 12 ounces, the other is 10 ounces) with Nuun Endurance and instead of my usual Honey Stinger chews I brought a Honey Stinger waffle. Normally a waffle would be too difficult for me to eat while running but since I’d be walking it seemed doable.

I realized to maintain a 15 minute pace requires mental energy to focus on keeping at the quick pace. When I would let my mind wander I noticed my pace slowed a bit, so I’d have to try to stay on top of my pace, otherwise I’d be walking closer to a 17-minute mile. I also noticed my surroundings more than when I run. Even though I walked the same greenway I’ve run on what seems like a million times, there were little things I had never noticed before.

Somewhere between miles 9 and 10 my feet began to hurt, then around mile 10 my glutes began talking to me, then finally around mile 11 my quads began to speak up. My hip was surprisingly quiet, though, so I figured all was good and I continued pushing the pace, while still walking. With all of this going on, I also learned that the Nuun I had brought, while enough for 2 hours, it was not nearly enough for over 3 hours. It didn’t help that it was a sunny day around the low 70’s. My Honey Stinger waffle was enough, though, and I didn’t feel hungry or like I needed to eat more.

Finally, after 3 hours and 18 minutes, I was back at my house, after having walked 13.11 miles, with an average pace of 15:08/mile. I submitted my time to Team Nuun, knowing full and well that I would definitely be at the very bottom of the results. Still, I wanted to submit my time because even though it was by far the slowest “half marathon” I’ve ever run walked, it was still 13.1 miles that I completed on my own two feet, without stopping.

Another part of the reason why I wanted to do this is, as I mentioned earlier, I still have three states left to run a half marathon in. Should something happen to me in the weeks or days leading up to the races, it would be good to know not only if I could walk a half marathon but what it would be like to walk a half marathon, should I have to. I learned some things along the way by doing this, and now I know yes I could do that again, but I would need to bring more Nuun Endurance. Fortunately I remembered to fully charge my Aftershokz headphones and Garmin watch the night before, and they both were still going strong by the time I finished. This was also good for me to know for the future.

Have you ever walked the entire distance of a half marathon or marathon? What was your experience like?

Happy running!

Donna

Hiking Around the World- Some of My Favorite Places to Hike

I think growing up in the mountains of West Virginia sparked my love of hiking. I’ve hiked through numerous state parks in West Virginia from the southern tip to the northern tip and up through the panhandle, beginning when I was a kid and going through my college years. Since then, I’ve hiked all over the United States and developed a true love for our country’s national parks. I’ve also been fortunate enough to hike in the eastern parts as well as western parts of the Canadian mountains, the Alps in Europe, and even some places where most people don’t immediately think of hiking like Greece and the Caribbean. If there are trails that can safely be hiked through, I’ll find them!

Here, I’ll break down some of my favorite places to hike by country, beginning with the United States.

United States

Utah

Utah has so many wonderful national and state parks and although I haven’t been to all of them, I’ve loved the ones I have been to, including Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park. A tip is to go during the off-season like winter when it’s not only less crowded but perhaps even more beautiful with the snow against the red rocks and hoodoos.

Bryce Canyon National Park in the winter was absolutely stunning with the snow falling on the red rocks

Colorado

There are also many national and state parks in Colorado. Some of my favorite places to hike in Colorado include Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park and Boulder. Even though many people head to Colorado during the winter to ski, hiking in Colorado during the summer months is also becoming more and more common. Try going in the fall when the Aspen trees are changing colors to their gorgeous golden glow.

Rocky Mountain National Park during the summer

Maine

Maine has some great places to hike, including my favorites Acadia National Park and Camden Hills State Park, plus almost 20 other state parks. https://www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm. Boston Logan Airport is about a 4 1/2 hour drive from Acadia National Park if you drive it straight there, but there are so many fun places to stop along the way, I found that a better option for me. Some options of places to stop include Kennebunkport and the surrounding little towns, Portland (a foodie destination), Rockland and Camden, ultimately making your way to Mt. Desert, where Acadia National Park is.

Acadia National Park in Maine

Arizona

I’d be remiss to not mention Grand Canyon National Park. There are many options for hiking here including North Rim and South Rim day hikes plus extended hikes and rim-to-rim hikes. If you plan on hiking down into the canyon, it’s steep and gets extremely hot in the summer months so plan accordingly with plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, and start early in the day so you have enough time to get back up the canyon. Actually, no matter what season, you should always do those things.

Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona

Montana

Glacier National Park is the most popular place for hiking in Montana but it’s by no means the only option. Other great options are in Flathead National Forest, Lewis and Clark National Forest, Bitterroot National Forest, Kootenai National Forest, Lolo National Forest, and Custer-Gallatin National Forest. https://www.nps.gov/glac/index.htm. If you have the time, you can also continue driving north from Glacier National Park to Banff National Park in Canada, combining the two places into one spectacular road trip. That’s what I did, and I thought the scenery just kept getting better the further north I went (and it was pretty great in Montana!). See my paragraph on Banff below under the section on Canada.

Gorgeous Glacier National Park in Montana

Hawaii

The northwestern coast of Kauai is absolutely filled with stunning places to hike including Waimea Canyon State Park, Puu Ka Pele Forest Preserve, Na Pali-Kona Forest Preserve, Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, and Nu’alolo Kai State Park. The Big Island has Waipi‘o Valley, Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Here is my recent post on Kauai and information about hiking there.

Kauai is a hiker’s paradise!

South Dakota

South Dakota is a state that’s also filled with natural beauty and has many hiking options. Some of my favorite places to hike include Badlands National Park and Black Hills National Forest plus so much more that you can read here: Memorials, National and State Parks, and Wild West. The vast majority of hiking lies in the western part of the state so Rapid City is a good place to stay and you can do day-trips from here.

Badlands National Park in South Dakota is often said to resemble the surface of Mars because of the rock formations

Wyoming

Even though Wyoming is the least-populated state in the United States, it has some of the most wild beauty I’ve ever seen (perhaps that’s why there’s so much wild beauty, come to think of it). Of course there’s the ever-popular Yellowstone National Park with so many trail options you could never hike them all in a typical vacation plus there’s nearby Grand Teton National Park as well. I would devote as much time as possible in your itinerary for Yellowstone and choose one or two central areas you want to explore; don’t bother trying to see the entire park in a week because it’s just too enormous. Grand Teton National Park deserves at least a few days to really get out there and explore it, with five days being even better if you plan on spending time on the water. I highly recommend standup paddle boarding here, as it doesn’t get much better for scenery and SUP.

The iconic Oxbow Bend scenic area in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Countries Outside the United States

Austria

I was primarily in the Salzburg Region of Austria, not to be confused with the city of Salzburg, which is only a small portion of the region. Within the Salzburg Region, you can hike all of or part of the Pinzgauer Spaziergang route in the Zell am See-Kaprun region for great views of the area. The entire route takes most people 5-6 hours to hike. For something a little different and especially if you have kids, the Wild Animal Park Preserve in Kitzbuhel has around 200 animals with the Tyrolean Alps as your backdrop. St. Johann is the site of the beginning of the Eagle Walk, a 280 km trek broken into 24 stages. I also highly recommend hiking in Liechtensteinklamm, a gorge with waterfalls and a river.

Wild Animal Park Preserve in Kitzbuhel

Greece

Hiking may not be the first thing you think of when you think of Greece, but there are some fantastic options for hiking on the island of Crete. Lefka Ori, or the White Mountains has peaks over 6500 feet and is the most popular place to hike in Crete. There are also two gorges you can hike through, the popular Samariá Gorge and the much less frequented and more lush and forested Richtis Gorge. Although there are numerous organized tours through Samariá Gorge, you can easily hike it on your own. Just be prepared for a long day since it takes most people 5-7 hours to hike the entire trail. Richtis Gorge is close to the tiny village of Exo Mouliana (about a 15 minute drive from Sitia on eastern Crete). The trail goes through a canyon on an easy, well-marked path going past crumbling ruins, spectacular untouched forests, and several waterfalls before finishing at an often-deserted beach. See my post on Crete here: Planning to Visit Greece? Consider Going to Crete for Beautiful Beaches, Incredible Hiking, and Less Crowds.

Canyons like this are probably not what most people picture when they think of Greece

Canada

Banff National Park is in the Alberta Province of Canada, on the western side of the country with the Canadian Rockies running through it. This is a family-friendly park with options ranging from easy walks around a lake, ski lifts and gondolas if you want to skip the uphill (or downhill) trek, or strenuous and longer hikes. Healy Pass, Citadel Pass, and Harvey Pass are all long trails around 12-13 miles but they’re also some of the most scenic trails in the park. You can always hike a portion of the trails if you can’t or don’t want to devote an entire day to hiking each of them. Lake Minnewanka Lakeside Hike and Banff Bow River to Bow Falls to Banff Springs Hike are two family-friendly easy hikes with water views. Johnston Canyon and Ink Pots Hike is a popular trail that winds its way through the canyon, past two sets of waterfalls, before arriving at the Ink Pots, mineral springs that bubble up in a picturesque meadow. 

Banff National Park in Canada was even better than I expected!

New Zealand

I was only on the North Island of New Zealand, so I can only speak of my experience there, although I have no doubt there are also wonderful hiking trails on the South Island as well. The Tongariro Crossing in Tongariro National Park is the most popular day hike on the North Island and is around 12 miles long. I only hiked a portion of it since I didn’t have an entire day to devote to it. Along the way you can see famous landmarks such as Devil’s Staircase, the three Emerald Lakes, the Red Crater, Mount Tongariro, and Mount Ngauruhoe. Mount Maunganui Summit gives you big bang for your effort, with some amazing views of Tauranga and the beach below for a short but steep hike uphill. Cathedral Cove is one of the many picturesque spots on the island and an easy walk in the Coromandel Peninsula. Te Werahi Beach Track is at Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of New Zealand where you get great views of Te Werahi Beach, ultimately reaching the Cape Reinga Lighthouse. Near the town of Rotorua you can stroll through towering California Redwoods in the Whakarewarewa Forest, known locally as ‘The Redwoods.’

View from top of Mt. Maunganui

Peru

Of course Peru has Machu Picchu, the ancient Incan citadel high in the Andes Mountains, and there are several options for reaching the ruins. I chose to take the Lares Trek with https://www.alpacaexpeditions.com/ and the journey along the way to Machu Picchu is an experience I will never forget. It truly exceeded my expectations (and I had pretty high expectations going into it). Besides this trek, I also hiked Rainbow Mountain and even did a day-trip on my own to the ruins on the outskirts of Cusco. One thing I learned about Peru is believe the hype. Machu Picchu is one of the most-visited places in the world for a reason.

Lares Trek to Machu Picchu with Alpaca Expeditions- Day One

Lares Trek to Machu Picchu- Day Two

Lares Trek to Machu Picchu- Day Three

Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu in Peru

Cusco, Peru- Things to Do and Places to Eat Plus a Day-Trip to Famous Rainbow Mountain

Feeling like I’m on top of the world after this hike up Huayna Picchu in Machu Picchu

There are so many more places where I’ve been hiking and have been in awe of my surroundings but this is just the tip of the iceberg. What about you? What are some of your favorite places you’ve hiked?

Happy travels!

Donna

Review of Nathan Trail Mix 7 Liter Women’s Race Pack

For years I ran with a Nathan hydration waist belt and was pretty happy with it. I say that, but it was honestly more like a love/hate relationship. I loved having my favorite Nuun on my long runs plus a small area for my phone and Honey Stinger chews but I hated having to constantly push the belt down when it inevitably slid up my hips, further and further up my waist.

Finally, last October I took the plunge and bought a running vest, namely the Nathan Trail Mix 7 Liter Women’s Race Pack. From here on, I’m going to call it a running vest even though Nathan calls it a race pack. I had seen running vests primarily on marathoners and trail runners but also half marathoners and debated for a couple of years whether to buy one. Why the delay in buying one? Well, running vests are considerably pricier than running belts, about twice the price. Still, I thought since I could also take my vest hiking it would be dual-purpose and well worth it (plus no more struggling with it during runs).

I ran my fastest 5k ever wearing my Nathan running vest!

After looking at several other companies’ running vests online last fall, I thought I’d go to REI to try one on and see which I liked the best. I tried on an Osprey, Salomon, and this one by Nathan. I just liked how it fit better than the others plus it didn’t seem like more than I needed. The Trail Mix 7 Liter comes with a 2 liter hydration bladder, weighs just 7 ounces without the bladder and 11 ounces with it (empty of course). It’s also specifically designed for women, has multiple adjustable straps, three pockets in the front, and three zippered pockets in the back.

Another reason I bought my running vest at REI is their generous return policy. You can return anything within a year of purchase. I wasn’t sure how breathable and comfortable the vest would be for summer runs, so I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to test the vest out, including for hot, humid runs.

So how did it hold up for those hot runs? Great! I thought for sure I’d have a hot, sweaty back and would be too uncomfortable to wear the vest during the summer months (which, let’s be honest, the heat kicks in during the spring here and doesn’t cool down that much until mid-October) but never once was it an issue. I also took my vest hiking every chance I had, including Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park- Redux. The 2 liter hydration bladder is the perfect amount for me, and believe me, I drink a ton of water when I’m hiking.

When I go out for a long run, I don’t run with the hydration bladder, but I do run with a 500 mL flask in one front pocket, a 10 ounce flask in another front pocket (each has Nuun Endurance), and Honey Stinger chews in the third front pocket. In the back pockets, I have my phone and some emergency supplies should I ever need them (things like Bandaids, tissues, a mask during COVID, migraine pills, and things like that). There’s plenty of room in the back pockets, even with the full bladder. When I’m hiking and have the bladder (it’s full of only water), that goes in one back pocket and my emergency supplies go in the other back pockets.

So far you may have noticed there are only pros mentioned here. The only con I have is the adjustable straps don’t always stay put on long runs. Occasionally I have to grab them (usually both come loose at the same time) and tighten them again. This only takes a second, though, and is really a minor point. There’s probably a way to hook them to something once you tighten them, but I haven’t researched that because it’s such a minor thing.

The Nathan Trail Mix 7 Liter Women’s Race Pack comes in the pink color I have and a blue color that was out of stock when I bought mine. I just checked Nathan’s website and the blue is currently out of stock. They only have the men’s version on the REI site. That’s perhaps also a con I have about this vest: there apparently aren’t enough blue vests that they’re consistently out of stock. If anyone from Nathan (or even a competitor brand of running vests) just happens to be reading this, make more colors of running vests for women. Not all women exclusively like pink and purple.

Do any of you run with a hydration vest? Are you on the fence about buying one?

Happy running!

Donna

My Top Five TV Shows of All Time

Even though my blog is typically about either something running-related or something travel-related, hence the name, I’m going rogue for this post (thanks, COVID!). Although I’m still running, I’m not racing and haven’t been able to run what was supposed to be my final three half marathons this year to finish my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states (Iowa, New Mexico, and Minnesota are the ones left, if you don’t know or didn’t see my map). I’m also not traveling much this year and have had to cancel all of my spring, summer, and fall travel plans although I did have a couple of plan b vacations.

So, I’m stealing this idea from a podcast I listened to on a run recently, which you can find here: https://www.bibrave.com/podcast, episode 215, “The Best TV Show Characters of All Time.” I am going to put my own spin on the idea, however, and talk about TV shows in general, not limited to just show characters. I will also say that these are shows that while they’re no longer airing new shows, there aren’t any from my childhood, so I didn’t go back too far. You know the shows that you look(ed) forward to watching each week, eagerly anticipating what was going to happen? That’s what these shows were to me. Many of them I re-watched over and over again.

I’m not going to rank my top five TV shows because that would be way too hard. It was hard enough to limit it to five but I didn’t want to go crazy and five seemed like a good number. I’ll give some brief background about each TV show for those of you who have never seen the show. I’m also going to talk about some of my favorite moments from the shows and some of my favorite characters. Here goes!

House of Cards

This show is one that honestly surprised me that I loved as much as I did because I almost never like politically-based shows. House of Cards starred Kevin Spacey as Congressman Frank Underwood and Robin Wright as his wife Claire Underwood and was set in Washington, D.C. It aired from 2013 to 2018 on Netflix. The lengths that Frank and Claire would go to to secure the Underwoods’ spot in the White House was astounding. Every week I would just watch in disbelief as I watched some horrific acts being done by the Underwoods and would anxiously wait to see what else the writers of the show would come up with. I will say this show has some dark scenes and may not be for everyone.

My favorite character on the show was Claire Underwood because she was able to gradually reveal just how ambitious she really was. How she ended up where she was by the end of the show was truly incredible and while it may have seemed a bit too unbelievable, it was entirely possible. I loved how they often showed flashbacks of Claire’s childhood and young adulthood to reveal aspects of her character and how she got to where she was in life. The brutal killing of journalist Zoe Barnes was one of the more memorable moments for me, although I can’t say it’s my favorite. I won’t give away how she dies for anyone who hasn’t seen the show but would like to watch it.

Sex and the City

Sex and the City was based on a book of the same name by Candace Bushnell, which I devoured. Luckily for me when Sex and the City aired, beginning in 1998 and going into early 2004, I actually had the premium TV channel HBO (normally I’ve never paid for premium TV channels but it was included in a package I had at the time). Sex and the City was set and filmed in New York City and starred Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw, Kim Cattrell as Samantha Jones, Kristin Davis as Charlotte York, and Cynthia Nixon as Miranda Hobbes. While these four women were best friends, they had very different personalities, which just added to the draw of the show. The show focused on friendship, dating, and of course sex, in a way that was at times funny, shocking, and enlightening.

It’s hard to say which character was my favorite. Carrie Bradshaw was the main character and was kind of set up to be the favorite in many ways, but I found myself intrigued by Samantha Jones. Samantha was the extreme character of the show, who would say and do things that were edgy and pushed the envelope of what’s “normal” or “acceptable” for a woman in her 40’s. More often than not, I found myself rooting for Samantha, all the while astounded by some of the things she would say or do. The quintessential Sex and the City moment was when Carrie tripped and fell on the fashion runway. Instead of running away in tears, she got right back up and continued her walk, holding her head up high.

The X-Files

The X-Files is a science fiction drama that ran on Fox network from 1993 to 2002 and starred FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) whose job was to investigate unsolved cases involving paranormal phenomena. The two characters provided the perfect yin-yang since Mulder was portrayed as the alien-chaser, often obsessive in his quest to prove the government conspiracy to hide the truth and Scully was the skeptical, more sensible medical doctor just out to seek the truth, whatever that may be. Over the years, different plots were revealed, and I found myself curious as to where the show would go with the storyline. Although I’ve never been one to believe in government conspiracies, I found myself intrigued by the ideas on the show.

I was definitely drawn to the character Dana Scully and how her beliefs evolved over the years. By the end of the show, she had become a reluctant believer at least in some paranormal activities, though not nearly to the extreme as Mulder. She attempted to explain the paranormal using science and showed it was possible to believe in both. I liked how she was usually able to rein in Mulder and although she never came close to changing his mind when it came to aliens and the paranormal in general, she could at least get him to see the science behind it. One of the most memorable episodes for me is called “Home” and is about an inbred family of killers. Even though that was in season 4, I still remember that show in grisly detail.

Seinfeld

So far I feel like my choices have been TV shows that cover some shocking and/or controversial material. Seinfeld may have occasionally covered some controversial material, but it was first and foremost a sitcom. Created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, the show aired from 1989 to 1998 and was set in New York City. Although it was often described as a “show about nothing,” the characters made the show one of the most widely loved and influential TV shows of all time. The show starred Jerry Seinfeld as a fictionalized version of himself, Jason Alexander as George Costanza, Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine Benes, and Michael Richards as Cosmo Kramer. Seinfeld was one of those shows that made you laugh at the characters but also relate to some of the often crazy things they would say or do.

I’m not sure I could choose just one character as my favorite. They each had an important part in the show and had so many moments that stand out to me. I remember Elaine’s bad dance moves, wiping her butt on her co-worker’s keyboard, eating olives straight from the jar with her fingers at Jerry’s apartment, and her many bad dating moments. I remember the time Kramer had an elite runner staying at his apartment the night before the NYC marathon and how badly that went, a group of Japanese business men staying with Kramer and sleeping in drawers in a bedroom dresser, and all of the times he barreled into Jerry’s apartment door. Then there’s the time George killed his fiance by buying cheap wedding invitations, when he was going to eat an eclair out of the trash at his girlfriend’s parent’s house and was caught, and the many crazy things that happened when he was at work with the New York Yankees. Jerry has the “puffy shirt” moment, dating the woman called “man hands,” and the “Junior mint” episode with Jerry and Kramer accidentally dropping a piece of candy onto a surgical patient below them.

Breaking Bad

OK, back to the shocking and/or controversial TV shows because this one has it all- drugs, violence, crime, lies, and deception throughout all five seasons. Breaking Bad was created by Vince Gilligan (who wrote for many years for the X-Files) aired from 2008 to 2013 and starred Bryan Cranston as Walter White and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman. Set and filmed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Breaking Bad begins with White, an underpaid high school chemistry teacher, being diagnosed with stage three lung cancer. Desperate for money and thinking he’s going to die soon anyway, White starts making crystal methamphetamine with his former student Pinkman. As you can imagine if you haven’t seen the show, Jesse and Walter get themselves into some harrowing situations but between Walter’s intelligence and Jesse’s resourcefulness they end up living to tell the tale, even if they end up being beaten to near-death upon more than one occasion.

I didn’t like any of the female characters in the show. Not a single one. I think my favorite character was Jesse Pinkman because his storyline was one of the best outside of Walter White’s. What drew me to Jesse was how the writers carefully and slowly over time showed just how complicated his character was. One of the more memorable moments in the show was from the first season when Jesse was told by Walter to get a specific kind of plastic tub to dissolve a body in hydrofluoric acid. Instead, Jesse put the body in his own porcelain tub. The crazy thing is hydrofluoric acid will dissolve porcelain but not the kind of plastic Walt had asked for, so the tub with the dead body and all of the bloody gore fell through the wood floor in a shocking, dramatic way. The final show from the last season was hard to top, though, as Walter went out in a blaze of glory like none other.

What about you? What are some of your all-time favorite TV shows? Did you watch any of these shows?

Happy not-running or traveling!

Donna

I Ran My Fastest 5k, but Does It Even Count?

We’ve all heard the saying, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” I thought about this when I recently ran my fastest 5k but it was a virtual race. Normally I haven’t been into virtual races but I chose to run this one because I saw there was going to be swag bags to the first 350 registrants, a virtual leaderboard, and virtual awards at the conclusion. Competitive? Me? Perhaps.

That brings me back to my thoughts about my “race” time. Both Garmin and Strava show my time for the 3.1 (actually 3.11) miles that I ran, but because I live in North Carolina where our COVID numbers aren’t that great compared to other states and we still aren’t allowed to have in-person races yet, this was a run, not a race. Or was it?

What defines a race? Swag? Check. An official course? Nope. Chip-timed? Nope. Other people running at the same time you are? Sort of; they weren’t running with me, but there were plenty of other people running, walking, and biking on the same greenway where I ran that morning. A leaderboard with results? Check. Awards? Check. A specific day and time that the race starts and ends? Not even close since people have the whole month of September to run 3.1 miles and record their times.

Even though a lot of boxes are checked, I’m not sure I would call this a race for one simple reason: there were no other runners with the sole intention of running 3.1 miles on the same exact course that I was running that day and time. To me, it was still just a run.

Catching my breath after I finished my 5k/3.11 run

It’s a shame really that I can’t claim this 5k as my fastest 5k ever, despite the fact that my watch claimed it was my fastest 5k when I saved the run. It does make me want to go out and run an official 5k just so it’s “official.” Well, kinda. To be honest, running this 5k was HARD. I had to mentally push from about 1.5 miles until I finally reached 3.1 miles. By the end I had a side stitch as well, which I never get. I’m not sure I want to suffer like that again.

Then again, who knows? Maybe once races start back again I will sign up for an official 5k just to prove to myself I can do it again, on an official course that’s chip-timed, with other people on the same course as me, starting at the same time as me. Even if I don’t finish quite as fast as I did for this virtual 5k or run or whatever you want to call it, I will know it “counts.”

How do you stand on virtual races? Love them/hate them/indifferent? Have you gotten any PR’s during virtual races you’ve done?

Happy running!

Donna

Planning to Visit Greece? Consider Going to Crete for Beautiful Beaches, Incredible Hiking, and Less Crowds

Many people choose to visit Greece via cruise ship, stopping at the popular islands of Santorini and Mykonos along the way. Often cruise ships leave from Athens or also commonly from Rome or Venice in Italy, although there are a multitude of cruise options in this area. I understand the draw; it’s much easier to let someone else choose the itinerary and take care of everything along the way.

I often travel differently than most people, however, so it’s fitting that when I went to Greece, I chose to spend the majority of my time on the island of Crete. It was considerably cheaper to fly into Athens instead of Crete, so I spent a few days in Athens and saw the major sites there. Although I liked Athens, I didn’t really love it, as you can read here: I’m Sorry but I Just Didn’t Love Athens.

Transportation

Options for traveling from Athens to Crete are by ferry, which take from 7.5 to 11 hours, or to fly, which takes a mere hour flight time. This was a no-brainer for me, so I flew and arrived in Chania on the northwest coast, where my hotel was. You can also fly into Heraklion, further east on the island. Although I wouldn’t recommend having a rental car in Athens, it’s necessary if you want to explore Crete on your own. Drivers in Greece are aggressive and some of the roads in the remote villages are not in the best condition so there are those factors to consider, but if you can manage to stay on the major highways at least the majority of the time, you should be fine.

Hiking

If you’re staying in the Chania area, just south of here is the White Mountains Protected Forest (Lefka Ori), a great place to hike. This is where you can find Samaria Gorge and Agia Irini Gorge. Both Gorges are easy to do on your own; just pay a small entrance fee and you’re off! The paths are well-marked and well-maintained. Just be sure to bring your own water, snacks, sunscreen, and sturdy shoes.

White Mountains Protected Forest

For views of Crete’s highest mountain, Mount Ida, drive east from Chania to Kouloukonos. There’s a cave and a rocky path to the summit with great views of the area. Very close-by is Ideon Andron, also called  Psychro Cave/Diktean Cave, a limestone cavern said to be the birthplace of Zeus.

Inside Diktean Cave

On the far eastern tip of Crete you’ll find Richtis Gorge near the tiny village of Exo Mouliana. As you can imagine, this area isn’t frequented nearly as much as the gorges on the western area of Crete, so it’s a great place to go if you want to get away from other people. There’s also a stream and a waterfall here, so bring your swimsuit if you want to get in the water.

Beaches

Another reason to stay in the Chania area is for the beaches, since many of the best beaches are here. In fact, one of the top-rated beaches on all of Greece is in Chania, Elafonissi Beach. This beach has crystal-clear water and soft white sand. The part with sunbeds and umbrellas gets extremely crowded so either come early or late in the day to minimize crowds or find a quiet spot on your own. Balos, Falassarna, Sougia, Glyka Nera, Krios, Marathi, and Loutraki Beaches are all in the Chania region and are all consistently ranked high as far as beautiful beaches in Crete.

Elafonissi Beach

Heraklion and Rethimno also have some beautiful beaches including Preveli, Plakias, and Rodakino Beaches (in Rethimno) and Matala and Tymbaki Beaches (in Heraklion). These beaches tend to have coarser sand than the beaches in Chania but they are still great options. Prevali Beach is actually where a river flows into the sea, forming a lake next to the sea, so it’s unique in that sense.

Historical Sites

There are four major historical sites in Crete:

Gortyn- site of the Gortyn Code, the oldest and most complete known example of a code of ancient Greek law.

Hagia Triada Royal Villa- Minoan settlement on the western edge of the same ridge as Phaistos. Not as substantial as Minoan palaces.

Knossos- controversial site due to the “reconstruction” by Sir Arthur Evans but nonetheless a significant Minoan historical site thought to have once been the center of political and ceremonial events of the time.

Phaistos- an important center of Minoan civilisation, once the wealthiest and most powerful city in southern Crete.

To avoid ticket lines, you can buy your tickets for archaeological sites, museums, and monuments in Greece in advance through the Archaeological Resources Fund e-Ticketing System found here: https://etickets.tap.gr/.

The Heraklion Archaeological Museum, located in the center of Heraklion city, is one of the top museums in Greece and in Europe as well, sits on the site of a Venetian Franciscan monastery destroyed by an earthquake in 1856. Here you can find Minoan artifacts from all over Crete.

Also worth checking out, especially if you’re staying in Chania is the Archaeological Museum of Chania. This museum in a former Venetian Franciscan monastery houses a wide collection of Neolithic and Minoan artifacts as well as treasures of the late Roman periods. 

Minoan Palace of Knossos

Crete is a big island and it would be impossible to see and do everything in just a few days or even a week but it is possible to see many of the highlights I mentioned here in a full week. If you have 10 days to two weeks to spend, that would definitely give you more time to fully explore the island and all it has to offer.

Lastly, I would like to say how friendly and kind I found the people in Crete. One morning we drove to what we thought was an open restaurant for breakfast, only to quickly figure out the restaurant was not open yet. My Greek is pretty much limited to knowing the letters of the alphabet and it was clear the restaurant owner did not speak much English, but between us, it was conveyed that our family would like some breakfast.

An older woman quickly went back to what I can assume was the kitchen and whipped up a tasty Greek breakfast for us, and the man and woman both had huge smiles on their faces the entire time. When the bill came it was reasonable and fair. It seemed clear we were their guests and they were happy to have us, even if it was before the restaurant was supposed to be open.

Have you ever been to Crete? If so, what did you do there? Do you have plans to go to Crete someday?

Happy travels!

Donna

Five Lessons in Life I Learned Through Running

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

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

  1. Treat others with kindness and respect.
    • As a runner, I probably tend to notice stories about runners treating each other with kindness and respect more than a non-runner might but I feel like there have been so many examples of stories showing the kindness of runners toward each other.
    • One example is when high school track star Meghan Vogel was at the Ohio state meet in 2012. Vogel was competing in the 3200 meter race, where fellow competitor Arden McMath dropped to the ground a few meters short of the finish line. Vogel ran to McMath’s side where she guided her to the finish line, allowing McMath to finish ahead of herself.
    • This one should be obvious how it applies to life outside running and I’m not saying people that don’t run aren’t kind and respectful of others, it’s just that I tend to notice it more in runners probably because of the bond that runners have with one another.
  2. Food is fuel for your body. 
    • You quickly have to figure this one out when you start running. If you don’t have the proper amounts and types of food and hydration, your runs will be short-lived and you’ll crash and burn.
    • Famous runners have recently cashed in on this by publishing cookbooks specifically aimed at runners. Some of the more popular ones include “Run Fast, Eat Slow” by Shalane Flanagan and  Elyse Kopecky, “Racing Weight Cookbook” by Matt Fitzgerald, “The Athlete’s Palate” by Yishane Lee, and “Eat and Run” by Scott Jurek.
    • Likewise in life outside of running, food should be treated as nourishment for your body. If you fill it with junk, eventually it will catch up to you in the form of obesity, diabetes, or other health problems. That’s not to say you should always deny yourself the occasional special treat, just remember if you have it every day, it’s no longer a special treat but a part of your normal diet.
  3. Listen to your body.
    • Aches and pains can become worse over time if you ignore the early warning signs. Most of us learn it’s better to take a few days off until you feel better rather than pushing through the pain, only to injure yourself worse and having to take months off running.
    •  This one can be tough for runners to learn, but once you learn to do this, it’s key to a long running relationship.
    • Likewise in life outside running, if you feel a nagging pain in your back or other part of your body, the longer you ignore it, the longer it will take to go away, and in fact may not just go away on its own.
  4. Getting enough quality sleep is crucial.
    • Sleep is the single most important element when it comes to running. If you haven’t slept well or only got a few hours sleep the night before trying to tackle a race or a long run that will only make it harder for optimal performance.
    • Not getting enough sleep or not sleeping well night after night wreaks havoc on your immune system, hormonal system, and even makes it harder to maintain an ideal weight.
  5. Having “Me Time” is important for your health.
    • Mothers often struggle with this one. You’re busy taking care of your family and it’s often tough to squeeze in a 30-minute run, especially if you also work full-time outside the home. Not only is this important for your physical health, having time to yourself to go for a run is also important for your mental health. Find a way to make this work for your situation, whether it’s working it out with your partner, taking turns watching a fellow runner’s kids, or calling a babysitter. You should never feel guilty for taking time for yourself.
    • Even if you don’t run, it’s important to take time for yourself, whether it’s taking a relaxing bath, going for a walk, calling a friend, or just sitting down to enjoy a steaming cup of hot chocolate by yourself.
20200421_093725
Stopping to smell the irises on a run!

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

Happy running!

Donna