How to Raise an Active Child

I have to admit it makes me cringe when I hear parents say things like, “My child isn’t active.  She doesn’t have any interest in sports,” or, “My child doesn’t play sports.  He’d rather do other things.” When I come back with questions like, what activities have they tried, the parent will usually only give one activity. WHAT? Over the years, my eleven-year-old daughter has been in ballet, gymnastics, on multiple soccer teams, volleyball camps, a running camp and after-school running group, and swimming teams. She’s also had tennis lessons and snow skiing lessons. My husband and I decided when she was 4 or 5 that she would be involved in some sort of activity and if we had to try them all until we found one that stuck, then so be it.

So of all of the activities above listed, which one(s) stuck with my daughter? She’s now an avid swimmer and runner but all of the other activities fell to the wayside. My daughter has been on a year-round swim team for several years now and is going to try out for her school track and field team as soon as she is able next spring. That being said, our road to her being an avid runner has not always been easy.

My daughter’s first experience with running came when I signed her up for the kids’ dash at the Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure. She was three years old and ran 50 yards.

IMG_4419
Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure

After the Kids’ Dash at the Race for the Cure, her next major running event didn’t happen for several years later. When she was 8, she ran in a kids’ marathon where she ran with a running group at her school, tracking her miles up to 25.2 and ran the final mile on the adult marathon course. A year later, I ran a half marathon in Branson, Missouri, the Roller Coaster Half Marathon and they offered a one mile run for kids. She ended up finishing in 8:25, despite the extremely hilly course during a cold, rainy morning and she had just turned 9 years old then. Sounds pretty good so far, right? Fast forward a bit from there and things went downhill quickly.

IMG_8374 (2).JPG
Gymnastics is really hard if you’re a super-tall kid, like mine is

I am a runner with a goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states. So far I’m up to my 40th state and I’ve been doing this since before my daughter was born. I currently run three races a year, so I’m out running quite a lot throughout the year. A few years ago she asked if she could run with me, to which I replied sure, thinking it would be a great way for us to bond. Then the whining and complaining started. She would say, “This is too hard!” and complain that she was too hot or too thirsty or too tired, and on and on. I told her before we even left the house that she would be setting our pace and if she wanted to take walk breaks that was fine. Quickly, however, I realized it just wasn’t working. She’d only last a few minutes before she was ready to walk and the whole time she would be complaining and whining. I couldn’t take it any longer.

DSC00741[1]
Running the last mile of the kids’ marathon
Instead of giving up, however, I tried a different approach. I signed her up with Girls on the run, an after-school running group meant to encourage girls to live a healthy active life and help them build up their confidence in themselves over a 10 week period that culminates in a 5k event. This worked even better than I could have imagined.. Not only did she see that she was indeed a good runner but she began to gradually build a love for running. Since that Girls on the Run 5k, she’s gone on to run three other 5k races, one of which she won second place in her age group.

Not only is my daughter a runner, she’s also an avid swimmer, her true love. At a pretty young age (two), I had put her in swimming lessons and she had always taken to the water well. So after ballet and gymnastics didn’t work out, I decided to put her on a swim team during the school months when she was in the second grade. This was the activity for her! She loved her coach and even enjoyed participating in swim meets. Since then she has had multiple coaches and has been on two different swim teams and if anything her love for swimming has only increased.

DSC00854
First swim meet at the young age of 7

What is the biggest take-away from all of this? Don’t give up! If you put your child in a sports camp and it goes horribly, try another sport. If gymnastics isn’t for your child, try tennis, or basketball, or running, or ice hockey, or volleyball, or pick another sport. Keep trying until something sticks with your child. There are so many activities offered in most areas of the US that surely your child will enjoy one of them. Most of all, though, don’t wait. The younger you get your child active, the more it will become a normal part of their life.

Another piece of advice, don’t push your child too hard. Coaches are there to do their job so don’t try to coach your child or you risk turning your child away from the sport completely because it’s too much pressure. Simply encourage your child and tell them often how proud you are of them no matter what.

For resources in your area, try searching Eventbrite. Among other things such as music, they have a link specifically for sports and wellness and one for classes; both links include activities for children as well as adults. You can even search for specific events or categories or search by dates. I’ve found it to be a great resource for finding things going on in my area and when I’m traveling as well. Check out this tool to help you find events in your area.

How many of you are like me and are proud to have active kids? What activities are your kids involved in? Have you found it to always be easy to keep your kids active or has it also been a struggle at times for you?

Happy running!

Donna

Las Cabras in the O’Higgins Region, Chile- A Test of Resilience

When we drove into Las Cabras in the O’Higgins region from Vina del Mar  and went to check in at the small resort where we were staying, we felt like we were in an episode from ‘The Twilight Zone.” Although we were staying in a golf resort area, there was no front desk, no reception area, no one to greet us and give us our key. The people at the front gate noted our names on a sheet of paper they had, so we were pretty sure we were at least in the right place.

After driving around the property and finding condos and houses, we stopped at the only thing resembling a building for check-in. We later found out that was where golfers check in before they play a round of golf. The woman working there spoke no English but with our limited Spanish we were able to get her to call someone else who spoke a small amount of English. This man arrived in a few minutes and was very kind and helpful. He got us in touch with the woman I can only assume is responsible for checking in guests in at the resort, and thankfully she spoke some English. Her name was Claudia.

Claudia handed us a folder containing the resort rules (all in Spanish), and said “Make yourselves at home. Treat this place as if it was your home.” With that, she handed us the keys to the apartment, wrote down her phone number (although we had no cell phone coverage in Chile, and we had told her that), and she left. Claudia told us while there was no Wi-Fi in the condos, there was Wi-Fi in the restaurant for the property, which was just across the street from the front gate. No big deal. When we recently stayed at one of the hotels in the Grand Canyon , it was the same thing and we would just check emails and get maps, etc. when we were at the restaurant there.

IMG_20170528_165949917_HDR
View from a hilltop in our resort

After getting settled in, we drove to the restaurant and were told there was no Wi-Fi at the restaurant or anywhere in town for that matter, for the next three days (or at least that’s how we interpreted it since the person at the restaurant spoke no English). WHAT? No Wi-Fi for three days?! We hadn’t planned ahead very well and hadn’t downloaded maps for the area or things to do.

We drove into town, searching for cafes or restaurants that had signs for Wi-Fi, gave up, and went to a few different mini-markets (we found they were all different inside even many of them looked similar from the outside), bought groceries, went back to the condo, made dinner, then relaxed for the rest of the evening. It looked like we would be spending the next few days off-line.

IMG_20170530_153318069_HDR
Using my tablet in off-line mode in our sunroom overlooking the pool area

The next day, we decided to go back to the restaurant at the resort for an exorbitantly over-priced lunch, where we were told again that there was no Wi-Fi, and decided to go to plan b. We drove to the biggest town we could find, which was about 25 minutes away, walked around, again looking for Wi-Fi. None of the few cafes and restaurants that were even open had Wi-Fi.

Resorting to just trying to find an open hotspot, we kept searching. Finally! We found a signal that didn’t require a password. It just happened to be by a bench, so we sat down and downloaded maps of a national park where we could hike, some wineries, and of the area in general. We checked email and replied to the ones that we could.

After leaving this town, we decided it was so late in the afternoon pretty much all we had time to do was go to a winery. We went to MontGras, a “new winery, at only 22 years old,” in the words of our tasting guide. The grounds were lovely and it was a beautiful day out. From the comfort of a sitting area in the open-air patio, we had a tasting of 3 wines and appetizers to accompany the wines. First we had a Chardonnay from their Amaral line that was easily one of the best Chardonnays I’ve ever had and some cheese on a cracker with a touch of palm honey to begin. Next we had a Carmenere from their Intriga line that reminded me of Zinfandels (please don’t mistake me to mean White Zinfandels, which are nothing like red Zins) from California, paired with chorizo. Finally we had a Syrah from their Antu line paired with date and ham.

Our guide was very informative, gave us much history and information about the winery and different varieties of wines, and spoke perfect English. We bought a bottle of Carmenere using the 30% discount we were given for doing the tasting. Our tasting guide even gave us a bottle opener with the MontGras label on it for free when we mentioned we didn’t have a bottle opener in our condo where we were staying. We figured we’d take a chance coming back to the States and hoped it wouldn’t get confiscated (spoiler- it didn’t so we have a nice souvenir now!).

IMG_20170527_162341049

This was only the beginning of our week-long adventure in Las Cabras. The restaurant at our resort never did have Wi-Fi available while we were there. We learned there was a problem in the entire town with the internet that week. We only had Wi-Fi for about 30 minutes twice that week plus the roughly 10 minutes where we found the open spot, but each time we were relying on other people’s mobile phone hotspots. Twice at restaurants we were allowed to use data from the phones of extremely generous people working there when we inquired about Wi-Fi.

Other than going with almost no internet access for a week, we learned to be resilient in other ways during this week. In stores and restaurants no one spoke English so it was up to us to figure things out. How my husband figured out directions and how to get us to some of the places we went to is beyond me but I’m forever grateful. As a family we played card games and watched movies like “Madagascar” in Spanish. I’m sure given the choice any one of us would have gladly have chosen having internet access in our apartment, but I think not having it brought us a bit closer together. I know that week in Las Cabras is a week I will never forget.

IMG_20170530_193942556_HDR
Relaxing with mud masks
IMG_0438
Just another beautiful sunset in Chile

My Age Adjusted Half Marathon Times

After reading Runner’s World Train Smart Run Forever by Bill Pierce and Scott Murr (see my review here), I wanted to see how my age adjusted half marathon times looked. One of the main takeaways from the book is that although your race times will inevitably increase as you get older, particularly beginning in your 40’s, your age adjusted times should actually remain the same or decrease if you’re lucky.

Warning: this blog post is full of data and probably only for true data geeks. If it puts you to sleep, don’t say I didn’t warn you. For those of you that are into this kind of thing, you’re in for a treat!

First I plotted all of my half marathons from the very first one in North Carolina to the  one I ran in Utah. I did not include my last race in New Jersey, however. This includes half marathons I ran over an almost 20 year span with 41 half marathons in 39 states, so there are a lot of variables here besides just age to consider. For instance, the terrain and weather varied greatly from one race to the next. Beyond that, I was anemic for a period of years, so there is a spike in my times due to that until I was fully recovered.

You’ll see my race times are in red and my age adjusted times are in black. Initially, the age adjusted times are the exact same as the race times, so you’ll only see a black square for the first few races. Only around my mid-30’s do you even start to see a separation between the red circles and black squares.

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 2.36.43 PM

There is also a spike in my times for the race in Colorado. Running at a high elevation really took it out of me so this was definitely one of my slowest finish times. I decided to take out the times when I was anemic and the points from Colorado, since I thought they were outliers from the rest of the data.

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 2.42.02 PM

OK. So now I’ve removed the points from when I was anemic and my race in Colorado. With these two graphs, I can get a better idea of the “big picture” of my running.  The obvious outlier in the first one is my first race ever. Even with that point included, however, the general trend for my age adjusted times are decreasing, as shown by the linear fit shown by the blue line. When I throw out my first race time, the trends are more consistent. My race times have averaged around 2 hours and a couple of minutes over the years and have slightly increased. However, and here is the main point of the whole thing, my age adjusted times, again, as shown by the blue line, have definitely decreased over time, which is what I wanted to see.

Another interesting thing is the very large degree of separation between my race times and age adjusted times in my 40’s. For my half marathon in Utah, the difference between these two times is almost 10 minutes!

My plots aren’t anywhere near as “pretty” as the ones in the book, but I think maybe a big reason for that is the author’s age spans over a much longer time than mine do. Perhaps when I’m in my 70’s (as one of the authors is) and I plot my race times versus my age adjusted times, I’ll see something even more linear, rather than what I see. Hopefully even though my race times will (inevitably) increase, my age adjusted times will continue to decrease linearly.

Here’s the link to the Runner’s World website where you can plug in your numbers to see your age-graded race times.

Dealing with Premature Hearing Loss

I’m sure this isn’t anything any of you that follow my blog would have guessed you’d be reading about here. It’s nothing I would have thought would happen to me in my 40’s. Most people have some form of hearing loss around age 65. I developed tinnitus and accompanying hearing loss 20 years earlier than most people. Less than 48 hours after flights returning from a two week vacation in Chile (I am home now), I woke up to the sound of a white noise machine (kind of like static or a fan running) and reduced hearing ability in my left ear.

Capture2

I spoke to some friends at work about it and was told I had tinnitus. I had to look it up to be honest. I always thought tinnitus was a high-pitched ringing sound that goes away after a few seconds or maybe lasts a minute. But apparently it’s much more complicated than that. If any of you are interested in reading more about it, here’s the link.

Capture

Anyway, after it didn’t go away on its own I went to see my primary care physician three days after the tinnitus started. She prescribed the oral steroid prednisone for seven days and said if I still didn’t feel better in four days to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist. The prednisone did nothing for my tinnitus so I made an appointment with an ENT.

The first test the ENT did was a hearing test. I have some damage to my hearing, especially at higher frequencies, which correlated with what I had also been experiencing. There was no obvious cause, however. I hadn’t had an ear infection. I didn’t have a blockage anywhere. I haven’t been exposed to loud noises on a regular basis. At the end of my hour-long doctor visit I was sent home with a prescription for very high doses of prednisone and a follow-up visit was set for a week later. This was of course not what I was hoping for.

Capture3.PNG

Being on the high dosage of steroid has not been fun. With the lower dose, I had a constant headache and was extremely dehydrated despite drinking even more water than I normally do (which is a ton). I finally wised-up and started supplementing with nuun electrolyte tablets for the second week and that helped with the muscle cramps I had been having previously. Still, I’ve had trouble sleeping, I felt anxious, and nauseous at times, but I thought I could get through ten days of it if it made my ear better. I decided to take the week off from running or at least cut back drastically. Now was not the time to run in the heat and stress my already-stressed body even more. I need to focus on healing and recovery.

I am trying to be optimistic about it all and look on the bright side. At least the hearing in my right ear is perfect! At least I can still hear from my left ear, just not as well as I could a month ago. At least it’s not my eyes and my vision. At least I can still run.

For now, I’m going to wait and see what happens. I’m sure there will be more tests to come, to rule out other things such as tumors. And who knows, there’s always a chance it can just go away on its own, just as quickly as it began. I could wake up one morning and the tinnitus could be completely gone. Wouldn’t that be music to my ears!

Walking Tour of Santiago- My First Taste of Chile

My husband, daughter, and I just barely made our flight to Chile. We had a connecting flight through Atlanta which was delayed, so we had about 20 minutes to get from the terminal where we had flown into to the international terminal. This was the last flight of the day from Atlanta to Santiago, too, so if we missed the flight we would have had to wait until the next day. Atlanta airport is huge and has trains to connect the terminals because they’re so far apart. As soon as we got off the plane in Atlanta, we ran to the international terminal and were next-to-last to board the plane (one guy was right behind us). With huge sighs of relief, we were off to our South American adventure!

The flight from Atlanta to Santiago is about 9 and a half hours. Since we left at 10:30 at night, that means we arrived the next morning. Despite getting almost no sleep, the plan was to stay awake all day. Chile is on the same time zone as eastern standard time, so there was no time zone adjustment for us, which made it easier.

Surprisingly, our hotel, the fabulous and highly recommended 5 star Regal Pacific let us check in when we stopped by around 10:00 that morning. I was just going to see if we could drop our luggage at the front desk but they actually let us have our room, which was a pleasant surprise.  Our room was spacious, had very comfortable beds, and a great view of the city and the mountains. The hotel is in a great location, right by a metro station, close to restaurants, bars, and cafes, and has one of the most impressive free hotel breakfasts I’ve ever had. There is also a pool and spa. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend staying here. We had enough points through hotels.com that our night here was free!

IMG_0317
View from our room at the Regal Pacific

On our first day in Santiago we took the metro and had our own walking tour. Our first stop was Palacio de la Moneda. This huge building takes up an entire block that was once the Chilean mint now houses the president of Chile and other government offices. Not far from the Palacio de la Moneda is Bandera Street, where you can find many clothing stores.

IMG_20170522_130207066_HDR-EFFECTS
Palacio de la Moneda

If you continue down Bandera to San Pablo Street you’ll come to Mercado Central that’s full of fresh seafood, fruits, and vegetables. We stumbled upon Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago, truly one of the most ornate churches I’ve ever seen. My husband said he would place it in a tie with St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I didn’t take any photos inside because there were signs saying not to but here’s one of the outside.

IMG_0325
Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago
IMG_0320
Sculpture in Plaza de Armas
IMG_0321
Plaza de Armas

IMG_0323

Not far from Catedral Metropolitana de Santiago is Plaza de Armas, a big square full of street entertainers, a fountain, an amphitheater, and the Museo Historico Nacional. Our final stop on our tour was my favorite, Cerro Santa Lucia, a place that is difficult to fully encapsulate all that it is. Cerro Santa Lucia is a park on a hillside with something new to see at every turn. There are cobblestone walkways, winding and steep stairways, gardens, fountains, turrets, towers, and some great views of the city.

IMG_20170522_152941705_HDR
Cerro Santa Lucia
IMG_20170522_153356021_HDR
View from the top of Cerro Santa Lucia
IMG_20170522_155712024_HDR
Cerro Santa Lucia
IMG_0337
Cerro Santa Lucia

There are free walking tour groups available in Santiago. I thought about going with this group but decided to just go it on our own instead. While I’m sure there’s a lot of historical information we missed out on by not taking the tour, I just wasn’t feeling up to a 4-hour tour confined to a group. We were able to go to these places I mentioned here at our own pace and while I had specific stops in mind, it was fun to just wander around a bit!

One thing to note about Santiago, driving is not recommended. Although we picked up a rental car at the airport upon arrival for the latter portion of our vacation in Chile, we simply drove the car from the airport to the hotel, and parked it safely in the garage until we were ready to leave Santiago. We had no problem figuring out the Metro system and found it to be quick, reliable, cheap, and safe. I can’t say the same about driving in Santiago, as we found out when we came back the day we were flying out of Santiago. Driving in Santiago seems worse than driving in Manhattan (which I also wouldn’t advise to a tourist)!

Happy travels!

Donna

Superhero Half Marathon, New Jersey- 40th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. New Jersey was my 40th state.

When I arrived in Morristown, New Jersey three days before the 2017 Superhero Half Marathon, the highs were in the low 90’s, not exactly running weather. Fortunately the weather gods came through and at 8:00 the morning of the race, it was 54 degrees, more like my idea of good racing weather for a May race.

Packet pickup was as simple as it comes, simply pick up a short-sleeve technical shirt and bib at the local running store, Morristown Running Company. There were two days plus race day morning for packet pickup, which was very generous.

IMG_20170521_083415344-ANIMATION

IMG_0310
My flat runner

Honestly, this race kicked my butt. The course description states there are rolling hills for “the first three miles but the last 10 are relatively flat.” I guess the term “rolling hills” and “relatively flat” can be subjective. In my opinion there are pretty continuous big hills for the first four miles then you get a little break before the hills begin again, and these are not “rolling hills” but steep, seemingly never-ending hills. I drove the course the day before the race so I knew it was going to be a tough race but even still I underestimated just how hard it would be.

IMG_20170521_083440382-ANIMATION
Quick- how many superheroes can you pick out?

The best part about the course, in my opinion, is when it goes through Loantaka Park. Although it’s a bike path, by the time you reach this portion of the race the crowds have thinned out enough that it doesn’t seem too crowded. This portion of the course is shaded pretty heavily, mostly flat, and scenic. Unfortunately the course only briefly goes through the park. The rest of the course takes you past many nice homes in what I’m sure are extremely expensive neighborhoods, but as beautiful as some of the homes are, it’s not nearly enough to provide a diversion from all of those hills.

So what do you get for your registration money? In 2017, the first 3000 registrants got a bright yellow wicking t-shirt in addition to the medal, water and aid stations every 1.75 miles, personalized bibs, and photos at the finish (although I didn’t hear about this until after the race so I didn’t get one). Food at the finish was bagels, bananas, cereal bars, and water (alas, no chocolate milk).

IMG_0309
This shirt should be good for visibility when I’m running on the roads!

I did enjoy seeing other people’s superhero costumes even though I didn’t dress up myself. There were many Wonder Women and Supermen on the course. Some of the more original costumes included Poison Ivy (from Batman) and Dr. Octopus.

IMG_20170521_103212071_HDR
Captain America just barely beat Dr. Octopus

The only thing I can say to explain my slow slog to the finish is the hills just were too much for me. Even though I did my long runs on a hilly route, and even had a breakthrough  before the race, it wasn’t enough to prepare me for the hills of this race. My legs felt tired after the first two miles, and that was just when the hills were really getting going. I was doing great following the 2 hour pacer until the hills started getting intense, then the group got so far away from me I knew there was no way that was going to happen for me in this race. Usually I can make up some time in the last 5k of a half marathon, but by then I was so exhausted all I wanted to do was just to finish.

20170521_111740

My sad stats are as follows:

Chip time: 2:13:46

Gender place: 337/667

Age Group place: 36/82

All I can say is, these women from New Jersey are FAST!

If you enjoy hilly half marathons that are pretty low frill, this one would be for you. There is also a relay option for the half marathon.

Superhero Half Marathon

 

 

A Breakthough!

So I’ve been having a knee/calf/ankle issue for some time now (years?) that I’ve been unable to even pinpoint where the problem is, hence my lumping the three body parts together. The issue is that when I run or even walk, I’ve been hyperextending my right leg. Basically my leg is straight when it should be bent, or at least partially bent. Have I lost you? I know, it’s complicated, which is why I couldn’t figure out what was causing the problem or how to fix it.

colors-2203720_1920

When I run or even walk, but especially when I’m going uphill, it looks like I’m limping. It’s not terribly noticable when I’m walking, but when I’m running, it’s easy to see something’s “not right.” I’ve even had various people ask me about it when I’ve been out walking or running. When I saw a video of myself running at a half marathon a couple of years ago, I was appalled that my form had gotten so bad. That prompted me to seek out a physical therapist, but that didn’t happen right away, because, well, I guess I just kept hoping the problem would go away, and honestly, I wasn’t in pain so I just kept going on like that.

I went to a physical therapist last fall and what I found out was:  1) I hyperextend my right leg when I walk and run and 2) I have a muscle imbalance between my right and left legs. My physical therapist gave me a bunch of exercises to do that would hopefully help balance out my left and right legs. For the several weeks I was going there, I was diligent about doing the exercises, then I slacked off for a bit, then I started doing them again after I would run. I stopped going to physical therapy because I wasn’t even sure if it was helping me and I figured I could just save myself a lot of time and money by doing the exercises on my own at home.

Lately, somewhat miraculously, I started to notice I wasn’t hyperextending my right leg as much. It’s really hard to watch yourself while you’re running but I seemed to notice something different in my gait. It wasn’t dramatic so I wasn’t even sure what was going on. Then my daughter said out of the blue a few weekends ago, “You don’t seem like you’re limping like you used to, with your knee problem.” This was fantastic to hear! I think I’m still hyperextending my knee but not as much as I was. To me, this is a breakthough.

I’ve been doing other things besides the prescribed exercises from the physical therapist. I’ve also been working on my core (with my 30 day plank challenge), doing clamshell exercises, side leg lifts, and throwing in a bit of lunges and squats even though I detest doing both of those latter exercises, but all part of helping with dead butt syndrome. I know this isn’t very scientific of me, just throwing in a bunch of changes instead of one new thing at a time, to try to figure out what exactly is working, and I’m even a scientist- I should know better. I was desperate, though. I just really wanted this problem to go away so I’ve been throwing every single thing I could think of to try to fix it. So now it seems something, or many things are working.

On a recent 12 mile run on a very hilly route I’ve been running on for the past two years, I was able to run up every. single. hill. I’ve never even come close to running up every single hill on this route. I would end up going so slow and would be so out of breath, I’d end up walking until I was at least close to the top before I would start running again. To run up every hill was HUGE for me! I was elated! I took a quick photo of one of these hills just to give a little perspective, but I’m not sure the photo does it justice.

20170506_120128_HDR

Now I guess I’m stuck doing all of these things in hopes of forever and truly “fixing” my leg imbalance so I don’t run like I’m limping any longer. If that’s what it takes, so be it.

Happy running!

Donna

What I Learned from 30 Days of Plank

After reading yet another article about a “30 day plank challenge” and similar things related to doing plank exercise I was curious about what this would really do for me. I wanted to know, are the reports from other people exaggerated? Would I see any improvements in my running? Would I see improvements in my posture? Or would I not really notice much of anything?

My plan was simple. I would do a one-minute plank every day for 30 days in a row. I had been pretty good about doing core exercises these past few years, but then suddenly the gym where I work stopped having the Friday afternoon core class. Even though I promised myself I would do my own 30 minutes of core exercises at home on Fridays, I wasn’t consistent. Pretty much the only core exercises I was doing was about 5 minutes at the gym once a week and what was covered in my yoga class once a week.

20170420_182658

Day 1 began after going for a run with some fartleks mixed in. For all of you non-runners or new runners, fartlek is Swedish for “speed play” and basically means you mix in some short sprints with slower, more continuous running. But I digress. The point of this isn’t to talk about running, but planks, and more specifically what would happen to me after doing a one-minute plank every day for 30 days? The first day of plank felt fine. I didn’t have a problem holding it for a minute and could have gone a bit longer.

I’ll spare you the day-by-day blow of what happened but here’s a summary:

For the first several days, I felt pretty much the same each day. I was a bit shaky starting around 30 seconds into it but not so bad that I wasn’t able to hold for one minute. By around day 6, it felt like it was getting easier to hold. On day 8, I did 30 minutes of core exercises in the evening then a couple of hours later did my one minute plank, so on day 9 I was a bit sore. On day 13, I felt like it was definitely getting easier to hold. Half-way though on day 15, the 60 seconds went by quicker than usual and I actually went over by 5 seconds, accidentally (I zoned out).

Then something unexpected started happening. I noticed it was a bit easier for me to run up hills on my long runs. Whereas before, I would have to walk up some of the especially steep or long hills, now I could run at least partly if not all the way up them. I didn’t expect that to happen after just doing one-minute planks for a couple of weeks! I’m not saying I could now power up every hill I came upon, but I was definitely able to run up some hills I couldn’t before.

Also, I had an easier time in my yoga class. I take a Vinyasa flow yoga class once a week that’s geared more for athletic people; it’s definitely a power yoga class. It’s tough and our instructor usually has us do something like 5-6 flow sequences where we go from plank to chaturanga then upward-facing dog to downward dog over the course of about 30 minutes, before we move on to other things. The other option is to just hang out in downward dog and skip the plank, chaturanga and upward-facing dog. If you don’t do yoga, I’ll just jump to the important part. Instead of getting through about 3-4 flow sequences then choosing downward dog for the other times, I was able to do the full flow sequences easily. I wasn’t even that tired after class. Normally I’m wiped out by the time I get home, but when I was about halfway into this plank challenge, I felt fine when I got home from yoga and wasn’t the least bit sore the next morning. I didn’t expect that.

On day 18, I did a 30 minute core workout on my own and was only a tiny bit sore the following day. For the rest of the days up to day 30, I felt like my abs had definitely gotten stronger. This is something I can stick with too. It’s hard for me to fit all of the stretching, foam rolling, etc. after I run, but this is only one minute. Even I can squeeze in an extra minute!

Now my plan is to continue doing plank every day for one minute until I reach the point where a minute feels easy, then I’ll do some side planks or dynamic planks. I’ve read conflicting information about planks, but all I know is the results I’ve personally seen, and they work for me!

 

 

 

Three Places to Stop if You’re Driving from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon

When planning a family vacation to Utah and the Grand Canyon in late winter, I wanted a place or two to break up the drive between Bryce Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon. Page, Arizona came up as an option. To drive straight from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon takes about 5 hours (depending on weather and how busy the roads are), which isn’t awful, but to drive from Bryce Canyon to Page, Arizona is about 2 hours, 40 minutes. That sounded like a better idea to me, considering we would already have a 4 hour drive from the Grand Canyon to the airport in Las Vegas. Plus, I discovered “The Wave” and fell down that rabbit hole which turned out to be a bit complicated. Alas, hiking in the Wave was not to be (that deserves a post all to itself).

Stop 1:  Page, Arizona- Antelope Canyon

The biggest reason you may want to add a stop-over in Page is to visit Antelope Canyon. You can take an Antelope Canyon Boat Tour that takes you along Lake Powell, or you can take a guided walking tour. We opted for the walking tour with Ken’s Tours and it exceeded my expectations. Not only was the tour just our family, so we got our own private tour, we also got photography lessons along the way. The tips our guide showed us were invaluable and worth even more than what we paid for the tour itself. Not only did he physically show us how to adjust our cameras for different settings along the tour, he also took photos of us on our cameras. He also gave us advice and tips for future times. I am definitely a novice photographer so any and all tips were greatly appreciated.

IMG_0165

IMG_20170301_115604320_HDR

The tour took us one hour from start to finish, but our tour guide told us in the busy summer months, it often takes an hour just to get from the main building where you check-in to the start of the tour (it took us maybe 10 minutes at the most). This is another reason why visiting during the winter can be the best time of year to visit the area.

IMG_0174

There are two types of tours, the general tour, which lasts an hour and costs $25 per person for ages 13 and up, $17 for children ages 7-12, and children 6 and under are free. The photographer tour lasts 2 hours, 15 minutes and during the summer you need to get a special use permit from from Navajo Parks and Recreation (another reason to visit during the less-busy winter). This tour is only for ages 16 and up and costs $47 per person.

IMG_0176

Where to stay and eat in Page, Arizona

We stayed at Comfort Inn & Suites and found it to be comfortable, clean, and the suite I reserved was enormous. There were two rooms, one with a king bed, TV, and patio off it, and the other room had a sofa bed, desk, TV, refrigerator, and microwave. We swam in the indoor pool and relaxed in the hot tub after we took our tour of Antelope Canyon. The location was convenient to restaurants and shops in Page. We ate lunch at Mandarin Gourmet, a Chinese restaurant that we found to have a surprisingly delicious and affordable buffet. We had dinner at Big John’s Texas BBQ, and while my husband liked his brisket, I didn’t care for mine, but our daughter said her pulled pork sandwich was good. I guess overall that’s a pretty good rating.

Our tour guide from Antelope Canyon told us about a place where the rich and famous stay when visiting the area, and I looked it up; it does look pretty amazing. It’s Amangiri in Canyon Point, Utah, and the room rates when I checked were around $2000-$3000 per night before taxes and fees. Our guide told us actor Hugh Jackman once stayed there and took a tour with their group of the canyon.

Stop 2:  Glen Canyon Dam

Just outside Page, Arizona is the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which includes the Glen Canyon Dam. The recreation area encompasses hundreds of miles from Marble Canyon and Lees Ferry in northern Arizona to southern Utah, including Lake Powell. There are trails for hiking, boat tours, and tours of the dam. Dam tours are 45 minutes long and cost $5 for adults, $2.50 for children 7-16, and free for children 6 and under. Adults 62 and older and members of the military are $4. Tour times vary by season, so check the website for details.

IMG_20170301_160558393_HDR
View from Glen Canyon visitor center
IMG_20170301_162110399_HDR
Glen Canyon Dam
IMG_20170301_163134380_HDR
Views from Glen Canyon visitor center

Stop 3:  Cameron, Arizona

Another option for a place to break up the drive between Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon is Cameron, Arizona. Cameron is smaller than Page but is an unexpectedly unique little place to stop for lunch or dinner. We stopped at Cameron Trading Post and had Navajo tacos for lunch. Not only were the tacos delicious, it was interesting just looking at all of the handmade blankets and other artwork on the walls and around the dining room. There were also shelves upon shelves of pottery, dreamcatchers, clothing, and many other souvenirs in the gift shop. Touristy? Yes, but still interesting.

IMG_20170302_122342831_HDR

IMG_20170302_122518828

IMG_20170302_122751928

In addition to the gift shop and restaurant, Cameron Trading Post also has an art gallery, convenience store, and garden. You can also spend the night at the motel here. Although the single and double rooms look pretty simple, the luxury suites look a bit nicer and the prices seem reasonable. If you have an RV, there’s also an RV park here for $35/night.

IMG_20170302_124214956_HDR

Cameron is a great place to stop to fill up with gas, have lunch, and stretch your legs for a bit before you finish up the drive to the Grand Canyon. A word of warning, there are long stretches along the drive from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon where there is nothing but Navajo- or other government-owned land on either side of the highway with no businesses or gas stations for miles upon miles. Make sure you fill up the car with gas before you leave Bryce. You definitely wouldn’t want to run out of gas on this road. Cameron Trading Post is about 57 miles from Grand Canyon Village, so you’re in the home stretch at this point!

I Volunteered at a Race and All I Got Was This T-shirt

How many of you remember the t-shirts that were popular beginning in the late-70’s and peaked sometime in the 80’s, with the saying, “My parents went to Florida and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”? There were many others as well, not just Florida. Choose a place and insert it in place of Florida. Here’s an example:

_parents_went_to_florida_t_shirt-

Well, I volunteered at a 5k and 10k race recently and I got a t-shirt, but I also received so much more in intangible rewards.

It had been a while since I had volunteered, and I felt like I was due to “give back” for all of the races I’ve ran. This time, my daughter who has recently started running 5k’s also went with me. She very wisely said, “I think all runners should volunteer at a race to see what all goes on and how much work the volunteers do.” I agree 100%.

My daughter and I volunteered at the race-day registration portion, which meant we had to check-in at 6:30 a.m. Ouch! The sun wasn’t even up when my alarm went off. The 10k started at 8:30 and the 5k started at 9:45, and for whatever reason it was mostly people running the 10k that were doing race-day registration. I noticed several things while we were there that might be a bit surprising and thought I’d share them here.

Out of about 20 volunteers that were at this particular station (registration) only two of us (my daughter and myself) said that we were runners when the person in charge asked. No one else there was even a runner, and yet here they were spending their way-too-early Saturday morning in the cold volunteering at a race. I found that a bit surprising. I’m sure there were at least a couple of other runners volunteering out there somewhere, maybe at an aid station or handing out bananas at the finish, but the point is, the majority of people volunteering at this race weren’t even runners.

My daughter was also surprised at just how many volunteers there were. This was a fairly small race (I later heard there were about 750 runners total for the 5k and 10k and 75 people doing the 1 mile fun run), so there wasn’t a need for huge numbers of volunteers, but even so, we were by the volunteer check-in station so we saw all of the people who came by, and it was a lot. I think runners sometimes forget or simply aren’t aware just how many volunteers are required to help support a race. There are volunteers first of all that help with planning the race before it even begins, then on race day at the check-in station for volunteers, more at registration, t-shirt pick-up, timing, water stations, course directors (to show you the way at turns), parking attendants, passing out food at the finish, handing out medals at the finish, police directing traffic, and the list goes on.

20170408_090629
Runners signing up at the race-day registration tables
20170408_091653
Post-race aid tents

I was also surprised at how big of a time commitment many of the volunteers are asked to put in. As I said, I was at the race-day registration station so I was asked to be there by 6:30 that morning. We were asked to stay until right up until the 5k began in case there were last-minute stragglers (there actually were a couple of people who registered for the 10k with maybe 5 minutes until the start). This means we were there from 6:30 until 9:45. That’s a pretty big chunk of time, and we weren’t even there as long as some other volunteers were. I saw volunteers cutting up oranges and bananas when we got there around 6:30 and they were still there passing them out to runners who had finished racing the 5k when we left at 9:45.

Before I registered online to volunteer for this race, I had tried to volunteer at other races in the area but was surprised to find that they seemingly didn’t need any more volunteers. One of the bigger races had a link on their website to volunteer, so I clicked it and every single slot for volunteers was full. I tried another race website and found the same thing- no more space for volunteers. I emailed a race director for another race to ask if I could volunteer and received no response. I understand these people are busy because most of them have full-time jobs on top of organizing a race so I’m not faulting them for not getting back to me. I just didn’t expect it to be so difficult to find a local race where I could volunteer. I’d like to volunteer again for another race or two this year and hopefully it won’t be so difficult to find some that would like my help!

The next time you run a race, don’t forget to thank a volunteer! It definitely takes a village to put on a race and the bigger the race, the more people it requires. I know I have more appreciation for volunteers at races after being a volunteer myself.