Packing List- What’s in my Family’s Luggage

If you follow my blog, you probably know that I’m a huge advocate of traveling light so I don’t have to check a bag with airlines. As a family of three, we haven’t checked a bag since our daughter was old enough to carry her own luggage, many years ago. We’ve gone on multiple 3-week vacations around the world without checking a bag. I’ve gotten asked many times how we manage to do this. The key is to only bring a week’s worth of clothes at the most and do a load of laundry mid-way on your vacation.

There are several advantages to not checking luggage with airlines, the most obvious being the money it saves you from not having to pay a baggage fee with airlines but there are other advantages as well. I’m in the process of running a half marathon in all 50 states, and over the years we’ve flown 3 or 4 times a year for races (in addition to flying to other places purely for vacations vs. racecations). By having all of my running clothes and gear on the plane with me, I don’t ever have to worry about my suitcase getting lost and not having those things for the race. The first time I flew to a race without checking luggage, I remember what peace of mind it gave me to know I would have all of my running things with me and there was no way my things were getting lost before the race.

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My family’s main carry-ons

 

Having your carry-on luggage on the plane with you also has other perks. I remember being on a flight that was the absolute coldest I’ve ever been on in my life. It felt like I was at a ski resort instead of sitting on an airplane. I was able to pull out several articles of clothing to layer-on and keep me warm, and I was so thankful to be able to do that. I’ve also pulled out sweaters from my carry-on in freezing airports on more than one occasion.

But I don’t want to lug around all of my stuff, you say! Trust me, you get used to it. I always tell myself I really just have to carry my bag through the airport and from the airport to the rental car once I get to my destination. It’s really not that bad. Besides, with the size and weight limitations on carry-ons from airlines, it’s not like you’re going to be lugging around 100 pounds or anything crazy anyway. Speaking of carry-on rules, many airlines limit carry-on luggage to 9 inches by 14 inches by 22 inches ((22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels. Some airlines do allow slightly bigger but some have even greater restrictions, so you should always check the airline you’re flying with in advance.

Since most airlines allow one carry-on bag and one personal bag, I always have my Patagonia backpack with handles and a cross-body strap for my carry-on bag and a backpack for my personal bag. I use the cross-body strap so I can still have a backpack on my back. Since my carry-on is a soft (i.e. flexible) material instead of hard-shell, I’ve always been able to stuff it on the plane, even small planes. My daughter recently asked for her own Patagonia carry-on like mine to replace her small roller bag, so she also has that plus sometimes a backpack but sometimes she’s been able to pack everything in her carry-on and didn’t need a backpack. You can buy the Patagonia Headway MLC from eBags here.

My husband recently down-sized from an already small carry-on bag to an even smaller roller carry-on bag. He also has a backpack for his laptop and other electronics, but he’s debated several times if he should leave his laptop at home so he wouldn’t have to lug it around (I doubt he’d ever leave it behind, though).

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My husband’s little roller bag

 

One of my husband’s new favorite things for travel has been a 100% Merino wool shirt I got him from Amazon. Wool is great for travel because it absorbs odor from sweat so you can literally wear it for days without it stinking. He even wore it on multiple days in Charleston, South Carolina in August when it was hot and humid with no smell. That was definitely a test for this shirt! Find the shirt here on Amazon.

I also am a huge advocate of rolling my clothes and using packing cubes. I like the 3-piece set of packing cubes from eBags, which you can buy here.

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The large packing cube unzipped

OK. So you have your carry-on bag and your packing cubes. Now you just need to fill the packing cubes. The great thing about the 3-piece set is you can use the bigger one for shirts, pants, undies, socks, and a small pair of shoes. The medium-sized one is great for when I’m traveling to a half-marathon and I can fit all of my running clothes and gear in that cube. If I’m not going to a race, I’ll use it for my swim suit and a couple of pair of athletic clothes for runs or working out in, or I’ve used it for things like warm hats, gloves, and a fleece jacket for layering if we’re going somewhere cold. The small cube can be used for beauty products or snacks for travel days or undies and swim wear if you don’t have enough room in your larger cube. The point is, you can categorize your clothes and things so that when you reach your destination, it makes unpacking and finding things much easier.

That covers the larger carry-on. As I mentioned, my husband and I also carry a backpack, and our daughter sometimes carries one. In my backpack, I have my tablet, my camera, cell phone, a paperback book (I’m old-school), medications, my baggie of liquids each 100 ml or less, headphones, snacks, and water bottle. My husband has his laptop, cell phone, sometimes a couple of paperback books, earbuds, snacks, baggie of liquids 100 ml or less, and water bottle.

And that’s it! Nothing complicated, just your basics really with some specifics but nothing crazy.

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Here’s a simple break-down:

  1. Patagonia Headway MLC carry-on for me and one for my daughter, roller carry-on for my husband
  2. 3-piece set of packing cubes typically containing:
    1. 5-6 shirts
    2. 1 pair of pants (if cold) or 2 pair of shorts (if warm)
    3. 6 pair of undies and socks
    4. 2-3 athletic shirts, 1-2 athletic shorts, 1-2 pair athletic socks
    5. Bathing suit
    6. Tank top and shorts for sleeping
    7. Eye mask
    8. Water bottle holder & bottles, running watch & charger, cell phone arm band, Nuun, snacks for race if running a half marathon
    9. Snacks (usually nuts, dried fruit, crackers, sometimes jerky, cereal bars)
    10. Small pair of shoes (slip-ons or flip-flops)
  3. quart-size ziplock bag with liquid toiletries, each 100 ml or less
  4. hair brush
  5. camera
  6. tablet
  7. cell phone
  8. 1 or 2 paperback books
  9. medications
  10. headphones
  11. water bottle

On the plane, I’ll wear a shirt with a lightweight cardigan-type sweater or hoodie, my most comfortable jeans, and my running shoes. If I’m going somewhere cold, I’ll also wear my winter coat and have my scarf, hat, and gloves in the pockets or stuffed in my backpack. I always wear my most bulky clothes and shoes on the plane, to save room for smaller items in my bag.

What about you guys? What do you like to travel with? Anything you’d never travel without?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Book Review- “Runner’s World Your Best Stride”

I recently read the book “Runner’s World Your Best Stride: How to Optimize Your Natural Running Form to Run Easier, Farther, and Faster–With Fewer Injuries” by Jonathan Beverly. The title is a mouthful, but the book is a BEAST!

The whole reason I wanted to read this book is because I had been having several running issues. For whatever reason my gait had changed over the years and I had gone from someone with a nice, fluid natural gait to one where I seriously looked like I was hobbling. My right leg would hyperextend instead of naturally bending when I landed.

Before I even bought the book, I began working on my gait and trying to not hyperextend my right leg. It was a very long, difficult process that was extremely frustrating and I even gave up once but I knew I needed to try again so this past spring and summer I began working on it again. You can read more about that here if you’d like.

So back to the book. Why do I say it’s a beast? It’s so crammed-full of information, it’s almost too much to absorb. I had to read through it and not do any of the million exercises in it then read through it a second time and start doing some of the exercises for it to sink in. This book would be overwhelming to the brand new runner, I would think. I’ve been running for let’s just say a long time, and it was almost overwhelming for me.

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A big part of the book is devoted to discussing foot stride. With many people like physical therapists and running coaches to back him up, Beverly states that it really doesn’t matter where your foot lands on the ground. As runners, we’ve heard that our foot should strike mid-foot as opposed to landing on our toes or heels. Apparently it really doesn’t matter where our foot lands on the ground. Foot strike is variable and changes in different situations. Beverly goes on to say that what is more important than foot strike is what happens with your leg motion and body mass when you touch the ground. We should focus more on having a quick, fluid turnover.

There’s also a huge emphasis on the hips and proper posture. Beverly states we first need to play with balance, to see what it feels like when our hips are rotated in all directions. When we run our hips shouldn’t be twisting from side to side but rather the hips should be stacked under the torso. Since most of us have jobs where we sit for long periods of time, our hips have become tight as a result. There are several stretches in the book to work on not only tight hip flexors but also glutes. While sitting causes tight hips, it also causes weak glutes. When we run, our hips and glutes ideally work together.

Another big piece of the posture puzzle is arm swing. Many people probably underestimate the importance of our arms for running. Beverly devotes an entire chapter to arms and effective arm swing. There are of course multiple stretches for the chest, back, and shoulders and a section on arm swing exercises.

Probably not surprising is that there is another chapter entirely on the foot. Beverly talks about the barefoot running movement and has multiple sections throughout the book about running shoes. Suffice to say the author feels that cushy shoes with tons of padding aren’t doing our feet any favors in the long run. While he doesn’t say to throw out your running shoes and run barefoot, Beverly does say to run in the least shoe possible. There are multiple foot and ankle stretches and exercises designed to strengthen our feet and ankles.

Stride and cadence are discussed with many experts weighing in that a faster cadence doesn’t always make a runner faster. According to the author, one problem with increasing your step rate that can result is your form suffers. Hip flexors get over-worked and arm swing is more in the front of the body rather than the backward motion it should be. Basically Beverly says that some runners may be able to increase their cadence and thereby become faster runners, but only after they’ve addressed posture, hip flexibility, glute strength, and upper body mobility.

I think the book can be summed up from a section in the preface entitled “A Process, Not a Problem.” I’ll paraphrase here. The process of having good form isn’t something you’re born being able to do, nor a matter of good or bad movement like where your foot lands. Running well requires an effective range of motion from our limbs which are restricted from daily sitting. In the US where most people drive to work, drive to run errands, and even drive to a trail head before going on a run, our hips have become tight and our glutes weak. Without working on our posture, hips, shoulders, and overstriding, we’ll never achieve good running form.

You can buy the book on Amazon here. I don’t recommend just borrowing this book from your local public library. There’s just too much information here to be able to read through it in a week or two. You’ll also want to keep it to have all of the stretches and exercises available. Obviously there’s no way anyone could incorporate all of the stretches into their weekly schedule. I suggest choosing some of the ones where you need the most work and focus on those and every so often going back and doing some of the ones you haven’t done in a while.

What do you all think? Does this sound like a book that would help or interest you?

Happy running!

Donna

 

14 Practical Tips to Save Money Before, During, and After Traveling

I’m an American who works full-time with a husband who also works full-time and we have a daughter in school, and we all manage to travel as a family about six weeks out of the year. My husband and I aren’t wealthy, but we do manage our finances tightly and keep an eye on our budget. Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks to help keep travel expenses under control. We don’t stay in hostels or live in a van when we travel, but we don’t stay in 5 star hotels either. I’d like to pass along a few tips for saving money for travel I’ve learned and share them with you.

1. Plan your vacations waaaaaay far in advance. I’m a planner so this one’s easy for me. By purchasing airfare several months in advance, you not only will pay less, you also have better opportunities for choosing your seats. You’ll also save on rental cars by making reservations in advance, but I personally haven’t seen a huge drop in prices for hotels or on Airbnb by reserving in advance. You will have a bigger selection of available accommodations the further out you look (within 11 months or less out usually), however, so you’ll have a better chance of getting more reasonably-priced accommodations rather than getting stuck with whatever happens to be left at the last minute. I know there are websites and apps out there for last-minute deals on hotels but I’ve never had a need for them since I plan well in advance.

2.  Fly to popular destinations during the off-season or even shoulder-season. For example, we’ve gone to  Colorado in June, Utah in February (but not to ski areas), and Italy in October. Each and every time I was thrilled we chose to go when we did. Not only was the weather great, the crowds were fewer, and prices were lower.

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Colorado in June was lovely

3.  Flying during the mid-week (Tuesday-Thursday) is usually cheaper but not always. Always check to be sure. Sometimes flying into a city like New York City may be cheaper on a Saturday because of all of the business travelers during the week.

4.  Watch what you spend on food and drinks when you’re at home. The more you eat out, go out for coffee, spend on drinks, etc., the less money you will have for those things when you travel. My family doesn’t eat out at restaurants that much when we’re home except for special occasions like birthdays so we can eat at restaurants when we’re traveling and don’t have to worry about how much we’re spending on food.

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Restaurant with a view in Valparaiso, Chile

5.  Eat at your hotel, Airbnb place, or wherever you’re staying whenever possible. If a hotel offers free breakfast, by all means partake in it. If they don’t offer free breakfast, buy some groceries so you can make your own breakfast. Depending on what you have in your room or apartment you may be able to have dinner in your apartment a couple of times too, which saves even more money. My family also likes to pick up sandwiches and snacks from the deli at a grocery store before we go on a hike when we’re traveling. That way we don’t have to cut our hike short, go back to find a restaurant and have lunch, then go back to the trails. We get to have a picnic lunch while overlooking some gorgeous scenery, all while saving some money- bonus.

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We recently had a picnic lunch at this gorgeous national park in Chile

6.  If you’re in the United States, look for deals at restaurants through GrouponRestaurants.com, or Entertainment mobile app. While you won’t be able to find every single restaurant that exists, using these three apps together should help you find some good restaurants and save you a ton of money. I’ve gotten many free meals through the Entertainment app, after buying one meal at regular price, or I’ve also gotten deals like 20% off our entire bill pretty commonly.

7.  Seek out free things to do. Be creative! When my husband and I were in Sedona, Arizona, we opted out of the touristy pink Jeep tours that cost starting around $100 per person and decided to go it on our own in our ordinary rental car (not 4 x 4 or anything special). We kept coming to spots where the pink Jeeps had just been or were just leaving and laughed to ourselves. While we may not have had 100% access to every single trail, we certainly had no problems hiking around the area for a few days just using our rental car to get us to trailheads and never once did we get stuck or not be able to go where we wanted. The best part- we didn’t pay a single penny extra and we could go where we wanted when we wanted without relying on someone else.

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San Diego is expensive but hiking in most areas is completely free

8.  Play the credit card game and collect frequent flier miles. Many cards give a 50,000 mile sign-up bonus, which is pretty significant. Make sure you’re earning miles every time you buy airfare, pay for hotels, eating out, and all of your every day expenses as well such as buying gas, groceries, and everything else you can put on your card. Just make sure you pay off the card in full every month, otherwise what you pay in interest could wipe out any potential benefits. Also check to see what airlines are affiliated with the card you’re getting. If you always fly with a certain airline but your miles aren’t redeemable with that airline, find another credit card that is affiliated to your favorite airline.

9.  Be loyal but up to a point. I’m a loyal Delta flyer but only because it’s the most convenient airline for where I live and where I fly most of the time. I recently flew with Southwest, however, simply because the flights for my family were cheaper and direct flights (versus Delta’s more expensive flight with a layover). I have the Delta credit card, so I did at least earn miles with Delta by buying my airline tickets with my card, just not as many as I would have if it would have been a Delta flight.

10.  Speaking of flying, you will save hundreds of dollars, especially if you are part of a family for just one round-trip flight if you can pack minimally and not check any bags. My family and I have flown to multiple places around the world including two weeks in New Zealand, three weeks in San Diego, and two and a half weeks in Chile without any of us checking a bag for years now. At $50 for a suitcase for each flight segment, which is a pretty common fee charged by most airlines, that adds up.

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Flying to New Zealand is expensive but we saved money by not checking any bags

11.  I use Hotels.com. For every 10 nights you stay, you get one free, with no blackout dates or restrictions. There are also different tiers and once you become a higher level tier, by more stays, you are eligible for deeper discounts than those available to everyone else. I’ve saved thousands of dollars by using this website. No kidding.

12.  I also use Airbnb. Sometimes it’s cheaper in the long run if you can rent an apartment with a fully furnished kitchen rather than stay in a hotel room with no cooking facilities so you’re forced to eat out every single meal. Many times you can also wash clothes, so you don’t have to over-pack, and can save money by not checking bags. You can sometimes negotiate the price with your host as well.

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Dinner one evening at our Airbnb in Chile

13.  When you do eat out, eat where the locals eat. Not only will the food taste better, it will be a fraction of the price of a meal targeted at tourists. If a restaurant has menus in English but English isn’t the native language, say no thank you and find another place.

14.  Shop around to find the best market in the neighborhood where your rented apartment, condo, or house is. Each of the small markets will have different varieties of foods and other items they carry so try multiple markets to find one you like best. We had the good fortune of finding a supermercado in Chile that had their own baker in the back of the shop. We quickly learned to pick up hot, fresh bread straight out of the oven for dinner most days. Luckily we did a lot of walking to counteract all of that bread!

How do you all save money when you’re traveling? What tips do you have?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

What to do When You’re Sick or Injured and Traveling

I guess if you travel enough, you’ll inevitably end up sick or injured during your vacation. Over the years, I’ve been sick or injured or someone in my family has been and I’d like to hope I’ve learned a thing or two about what to do. There are of course some things you can do to prevent getting sick or injured but sometimes things just go wrong and there’s not a single thing you could have done to have prevented it.

One of the most memorable examples was when my husband and I were in Costa Rica many years ago and toward the end of our vacation we decided to take one of the resort’s ocean kayaks out for a paddle. We were having a grand time when suddenly the tide changed and our kayak began to get pushed into the nearby coral reef. After being thrown out of the kayak we were tossed around by the waves and struggled just to hold onto the kayak. Neither of us were wearing water shoes or any shoes at all and both of us got some deep cuts on our feet from the coral.

Suddenly my husband screamed out in agony and let go of the kayak. I held onto the kayak and fought against the churning waves to get back to shore as my husband told me what happened. He felt a sharp pain in the heel of his foot and thought he might have stepped on something other than coral. His foot was gushing with blood and he said he was beginning to see stars. We knew we had to get back to our resort quickly and hoped there was someone that could help us.

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My husband and me in Costa Rica before our kayaking adventure

Fortunately the resort had an on-site doctor and nurse so we immediately made our way there. Although the doctor spoke no English, the nurse spoke a little English so along with my limited Spanish we were able to communicate. The nurse told me the doctor suspected my husband stepped on the barb of a stingray and she said the poison released is typically very painful. They administered morphine to my husband for the pain and cleaned up both his and my cuts from the coral. The lesson from all of this? Wear water shoes when ocean kayaking where there is coral? Sure, that would have helped. Make sure you know the language of the country where you’re going on vacation? Well, that certainly was helpful but maybe more importantly, make sure your health insurance covers you when you’re away from home. Call your health insurance company before you go out of town, even if it’s just to another state within the United States, to make sure you will have coverage if you’re injured or hurt. Ask what your limitations are as well. Fortunately for us my husband’s health insurance paid for all of the charges for this.

Depending on your personal health insurance plan, or lack thereof, you might want to purchase travel insurance. Travel insurance is more than just health insurance; your airfare, hotel, baggage fees, and other travel-related expenses will also be covered in the event of an emergency, with varying levels of coverage depending on the plan you purchase. I know a lot of people that travel internationally are big fans of Travel Guard, an American travel insurance company. They provide three levels of coverage called Silver, Gold, and Platinum Plans.

Several years ago my husband, daughter, and I were going on vacation to Hawaii with my in-laws who were older and in poor health and I purchased travel insurance in advance of this trip. This was a two-week expensive vacation and I didn’t want to potentially lose all of the money spent on our airfare and other costs if one or both of my husband’s parents fell ill and we had to cancel the vacation. The money I spent on travel insurance gave me peace of mind so I didn’t have to worry about cancellation fees, so it was money well-spent, although fortunately no one had to cancel the vacation.

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Fortunately everyone was able to enjoy our family vacation in Hawaii

A good thing to do before you travel internationally is to check online to see if you need any specific vaccinations. The CDC website is a good source for recommendations in each country. Some vaccines require multiple shots spread out over time, so do this in the early stages of planning your vacation. I’ve heard some people say they just asked their doctor what shots they needed before traveling to a specific place, only to be told, “Oh you don’t need anything to go there,” which was incorrect information, so always check online to be sure. Depending on where you’re going you might want to get hepatitis A and typhoid vaccines to protect against contaminated food or water.

If malaria is a risk where you’ll be traveling, you can take a prescription medication before and during your trip. When you arrive at your destination be sure to cover up exposed skin and use insect repellent with DEET to protect against mosquitoes.

Not drinking the tap water is easy enough but there are some additional steps you need to do to avoid getting diarrhea from the local water. Only drink bottled water that you personally open yourself. Don’t worry about seeming rude by refusing water from a bottle that is already opened. Your health is more important. Also don’t eat any uncooked vegetables or fruit that have been freshly washed, including salads. Finally don’t forget to skip the ice cubes in drinks.

In the event you do end up with “Montezuma’s Revenge,” despite all your best intentions there are things you can do to feel better faster. Pack some Immodium in your carry-on so you don’t have to worry about finding a pharmacy when you can barely get off the toilet. Activated charcoal tablets can be taken for gas from GI distress and can be found at most major drug stores as well.

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This kind of “Montezuma’s Revenge” is fun; the other kind, not so much!

I also like to pack pain reliever such as ibuprofen, allergy pills, band-aids, and even a thermometer is good to have if you’re traveling. Most of these things can easily be purchased at drug stores in the US, but if you’re overseas it might not be so easy to buy them, especially if the language is different and the packaging won’t be in English. Also, it’s much easier to just pull out the needed medication from your carry-on bag than find a pharmacy and buy the medicine then get back to your hotel to take the medicine and rest. When we were in Oregon, our daughter was so sick with a cold she was vomiting phlegm. I had forgotten to pack some tested and true Mucinex so we had to schlep to a drug store to buy some for her. After that she began to feel much better but it would have been so much easier and quicker if we would have already had it with us.

Over the years I’ve also experienced food poisoning, migraines, bizarre rashes, and cuts and blisters but thankfully nothing life-threatening. Sickness and injuries are bound to happen at some point when you’re traveling but there are some things you can do ahead of time to give you peace of mind and you can arm yourself with a few things that will make you feel better quicker.

What about you all- have any tips or stories to share?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

How I Attempt to Balance Work, Family, and Running

I currently work full-time, have a husband, a twelve-year-old daughter and the best dog ever, and I’m in the process of running a half marathon in all 50 states (I am training for state number 41). Oh, and I’m also the leader for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. It’s definitely not been easy juggling all of these things through the years, and I’ve learned a ton from others and from my own experiences.

By no means am I saying here my life is perfect. Note in the title I said “attempt.” I don’t have the perfect job, family, and win races all the time. I do the best I can, though, and I’m good with that. Sometimes my family and I even have hot dogs for dinner and I’m perfectly fine with that. ; )

Probably the biggest single factor in enabling me to manage to do all of these things somewhat successfully (I think) is my husband. He supports me in all aspects of my life from my career to running and training for my races to spending time with our daughter. If he was the type of husband to complain about me going out for two hours for a run or going to yoga class or spending time doing the myriad other active things I do, it just wouldn’t work. Quite simply, something would have to give and that would either mean my marriage or my active lifestyle. I don’t even want to imagine a non-active lifestyle, so I’m grateful for his support.

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My husband, my hero

My daughter has always been my biggest cheerleader when it comes to running. She was never the type of child that whined or complained when I told her I was going out for a run. I think she grew up seeing me be active and to her, that’s just what her mother does. She’s always told me, “Have a good run!” when I head out the door, or given me big hugs before a half marathon, even when it meant getting up before the sun even rose to get me to the start line in plenty of time. She’s never once made me feel guilty for running or doing any of the other activities I do, and honestly she’s such an active child I don’t think that would even cross her mind to behave that way.

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My daughter, 2nd place AG finisher at a recent 5k

Finally, in my list of supporters is my boss and work place. Although he’s “getting up there in years” at this point, he was an avid runner in his younger years, and he ran the Boston Marathon multiple times. He continued running seven days a week for many years and only when he was in his early 70’s did he cut back his running. As a runner himself, he fully understands the need to go for runs during downtime at work sometimes, in order to get the miles in. I’m also lucky that I work with several other runners so they don’t look at me funny when I come back from a run all sweaty before I cool off and shower. I’m also lucky that my work place has not one but two places to shower and a small fitness center with treadmills, stationary bikes, weights, and instructor-led classes.

So what do you do if you don’t currently have support from family and/or your boss at work? Ask for help for starters. There’s absolutely no reason you have to do it all by yourself- clean the house, cook dinner, run errands, take care of the kids, and work a job outside the home. Even if you didn’t run, it would be exhausting to do all of that on your own. If you’re married, ask your spouse to help with responsibilities around the house and beyond that, ask for specific things you’d like help with. Give your kids lists of things they should be doing to help out such as picking up their toys when they’re done playing or washing their own clothes when they’re old enough. Ask your boss if you can work a flexible schedule- maybe come in for a few hours on the weekend in exchange for leaving early or coming in late to get some runs in.

Aside from the people in my life that help support me, I’ve also found ways to squeeze in a run over the years. When my daughter was younger and played soccer for the town team, I’d run when her team was practicing and before games started. After a few years, she decided soccer wasn’t for her and joined a year-round swim team, and I’ve often run the neighborhoods around her swim facility when she’s been at practice more times than I remember.

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Running before soccer practice or games was a great way to sneak in a run!

When my daughter was really little, I ran with a jogging stroller. She loved going out in the stroller and never once didn’t want to go or asked to go back home. The only downside to that is it was hard pushing all that weight between the stroller and her. I think I did that from when she was old enough to sit in the stroller until she was about 2 years old. That’s when she decided she was done with any and all strollers and wanted to walk on her own.

Although I’ve never done it, another option I know some people do is run to work. I’ve always lived too far from work to do this but if I was training for a marathon, I’d definitely consider it. You’d need to have a stash of work-appropriate clothes at your desk or office and a way to clean up after your run. A shower would be ideal but if it wasn’t extremely hot out, you could possibly get by with wipes, powder, and deodorant. Don’t underestimate the power of these three items. They go a long way to cleaning up if all you are is a bit sweaty, believe me.

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Some wipes, powder, deodorant, change of clothes and I’m good to go!

Finally, a great thing to do and I know many runners do this is prepare your meals for the week ahead of time, ideally on the weekend. Instead of making one casserole, make two and freeze one for later. This is something I’ve done over the years but lately have been slacking off a bit. It’s truly a huge time saver, though. Let’s not forget the almighty Crock Pot either. They’re great for just putting in something in the morning before you go to work and you’ve got dinner waiting for you when you get home.

How do you all manage to somewhat balance running with your life? Any tips you’d like to share? I love hearing tips like these from other runners!

Happy running,

Donna

Travel Meltdowns

Similar to my Racing (Running) Mishaps post, I started looking back to travel meltdowns I have had over the years. One of my biggest travel meltdowns happened many years ago, before all of the security that happened as a result of 9/11. I was flying to the small Bahamian island, Harbour Island, and missed my flight, completely unaware of a time change by the airline until I showed up at the ticket counter.

So let’s go way back to the early 90’s when this travel meltdown happened. This was before smart phones or even cell phones, before everyone checked in online before their flight, when you were issued a paper ticket then just showed up at the airport to check in and check your bags. Continental Airlines, which doesn’t even exist any longer, changed my flight time, moving it up an hour earlier, unbeknownst to me. When I cheerfully told the ticket agent I’d like to check in for my flight to Harbour Island, and she said they just closed the gate and no one could board, I started to panic. “What do you mean I can’t board?” I asked, tears starting to form. I knew flights to this small island were extremely limited so it’s not like I could just wait an hour and board another flight there. In the end, the extremely nice gate agent booked me on a flight on a different airline entirely, which meant I would get to Harbour Island, but instead of arriving around 11 in the morning, I would arrive around 9 pm that evening. It meant I would pretty much miss an entire day on the island, and I was only going there for 3 nights, but still, it was better than waiting until the next day, so I took it.

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Harbour Island; photo credit meteoweb.eu

Many years later, my husband and I had a destination wedding on the island of St. Kitts and we were on the ferry to the island of Nevis for our honeymoon. We had just received a very nice camera as a wedding present from my mother-in-law, which we had used while were at St. Kitts. Pretty early in our ferry ride, my husband was going to take a picture of me when a nice man offered to take a picture of my husband and me together. Just as my husband was handing the camera to the man, the camera slipped, hit the boat, bounced, and never turned on again. It was broken. We wouldn’t have our camera for honeymoon pictures and we didn’t know if the memory card was still intact. I couldn’t help but give the man on the ferry dirty looks the rest of the ferry ride even though I knew it was an accident. When we reached Nisbet Plantation, where we were staying on the island, one of the workers offered to go into town and buy us a disposable camera. So yes, all of our honeymoon pictures were taken with a disposable camera, but at least we have photos!

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Beautiful St. Kitts

Not long after my wedding, I was planning a trip to Italy and realized my passport was still in my maiden name so I would need to change my name on my passport. There was no way I would have time to get it updated and there were no regional passport agencies near where I lived. Again, this was before 9/11 so you didn’t have to put in your passport number when you purchased an airline ticket, like you do now. I had already bought our airline tickets and it was only a couple weeks before our departure when I realized this about my passport. I started to panic, but then I remembered something. Lucky for me, we just so happened to be going to Philadelphia for a half marathon, The Philadelphia Distance Run, and Philadelphia also just so happened to have a regional passport agency. I went there and updated my passport on the spot, and breathed a sigh of relief.

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Beautiful Italy

Over the years, my family and I have also gotten hurt or injured (nothing life-threatening), forgotten items in hotel rooms (we discovered this after getting home), had to run through airports multiple times to get to the gate on time because of delayed connecting flights, gotten stuck at airports because of bad weather, gotten lost driving in strange places more times than I can count, gotten swindled by a taxi driver in Italy, and probably swindled by others more than I realize, and I’m sure there are more incidents that I can’t remember. We’ve been in countries where we barely (and pretty incoherently sometimes) spoke the language and have had to muddle our way through. While none of these experiences were exactly pleasant, they didn’t cause a meltdown either.

My daughter has had so many meltdowns on vacations, I could write a whole book about just that. I remember once when we were standing in a TSA line to go through security at an airport, my daughter was crying (I don’t remember about what) and a nice agent gestured to me to come through another area she just opened up, so we essentially got to go to the front of the line. Sometimes traveling with children can have its upsides even when things look down!

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One of my daughter’s not-so-happy moments. Just look at that face!

In the end, even with all of our travel mishaps and meltdowns, things have always worked out although not exactly what we had in mind originally. We certainly haven’t been deterred by all of this. On the contrary, the more we travel, the more we want to travel. We’ve been shown over and over again, we are resilient and people are generally helpful and honest.

What about you all?  What travel mishaps or meltdowns have you had that stand out in your mind? Please share them!

Happy traveling!

Donna

Photos of My Running Route

Other than a couple of random shots here and there, I’ve never really posted many photos of where I run. I feel fortunate to live in an area full of running/walking/biking trails that are along areas with trees for some shade but are close enough that I don’t have to drive to get to the trails. Honestly, there’s something for everyone with the diversity of trails in my “neck of the woods,” and I thought I’d share some of them with you all. I know Paula from Neveradullbling and Slowrunnergirl often have photos of their running routes, so the inspiration for this post comes from those ladies. Check out their blogs sometime if you don’t already!

Without further ado, I’ll show some of the places where I get to run and some of what I see along the way. I hope you enjoy!

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This part is nice going down, not so much going back up!
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Another hill, but at least this part is usually shady
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#spottedthebunny
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One of my water views
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One of several bridges I run over
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One of the creeks I run over on a bridge. The water is really low right now!
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I love this strip of trail with all of the yellow flowers
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An early morning water shot

There’s more of course but you get the gist of it. I have some lovely greenways to run along and feel fortunate to live in an area with miles and miles of greenways to run, bike, and walk on. I could literally choose a different route for every one of my long runs for months, only I would have to drive a short distance to some of them.

I think the thing I like best about my running routes is the trees. We have a nice variety of different trees around here so the scenery changes along with the seasons. In the next few weeks or so the trees will be lovely shades of yellow, orange, and red, mixed in with the evergreens. Hmmm, maybe I should have waited to have taken these photos. Well, I still think the green leaves are still beautiful!

What’s your favorite thing about your running routes?

Happy running,

Donna

How to Plan a Vacation to Charleston, South Carolina, Part 2

In ““How to Plan a Vacation to Charleston, South Carolina-Part 1” I went over how to decide when’s the best time of year to visit, based on your interests. I also went over some of the best places to stay, also based on your interests. Now I’m going to dive into some of the best places to eat and things to do.

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To say there are no shortage of top-notch restaurants in Charleston would be an understatement. Charleston must have some kind of record for most “foodie-friendly” restaurants per capita or something. If you want southern classics like fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits, Hominy Grill is a popular choice. I personally had some of the best shrimp and grits I’ve ever had at High Cotton. There’s also the ever-popular Fig, Husk, Poogan’s, Magnolia’s, and I could go on and on. For something a little different on our last vacation to Charleston, we went to Leyla and had some truly delicious Lebanese food.

Many of the restaurants in Charleston are upscale but there are also some great casual restaurants. The Grocery is great for brunch and lunch, with a wide array of meals to choose from. Brown Dog Deli  has great chili, hot dogs and sandwiches, and you can try She Crab soup here if you’ve never had it before. If you want to try chicken and waffles go to The Early Bird Diner.  This is just a sampling of some casual fare in Charleston. On our last visit to Charleston, we had milkshakes at Kaminsky’s and they were some of the richest, creamiest milkshakes we had in a long time.

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I’m a big fan of staying in Mt. Pleasant when I go to the Charleston area, so I would be remiss to not mention some of my favorite restaurants in Mt. Pleasant. It seems like every year there are more and more great restaurants in Mt. Pleasant. One of my favorites on my last visit there was The Obstinate Daughter. We also had some great BBQ at Home Team BBQ, which has locations in Sullivan’s Island, downtown Charleston, and West Ashley but we ate at the one in Sullivan’s Island.

Just like there is a long list of great restaurants to choose from, there is a long list of activities in Charleston. If you enjoy history, Patriot’s Point is home to the USS Yorktown Aircraft Carrier, USS Laffey Destroyer, USS Clamagore Submarine, Vietnam Experience Exhibit, aircraft, and a museum. You can even sleep on the USS Yorktown, like my daughter’s Girl Scout troop did one year.

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USS Yorktown

The Old Exchange is another great historical site to visit. My daughter enjoyed being able to handle replicas of historical money thanks to a volunteer who gave us a bit of information about each piece.  She also got to sign a replica of The Declaration of Independence. We all thoroughly enjoyed our guided tour of the dungeon and learned quite a bit about the area. If you have younger kids (around 4-6), the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry might be a better fit for your family. America’s first museum (from 1773) is also in Charleston, The Charleston Museum, with a focus on the Lowcountry’s cultural and natural history.

Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie are great options for families as well.  Although Fort Sumter does not charge a fee for entrance to the national monument, it is only accessible by boat and there is a fee for that.  Fort Moultrie is accessible by car at 1214 Middle Street, Sullivan’s Island and you can buy a family pass that covers up to 4 adults for $5, with free admission for children 15 and younger.  See more information here National Parks Service.

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If you’re interested in seeing a historical plantation, Boone Hall Plantation and Gardens is a fun way to spend an afternoon. Included in one fee ($24 for adults, $12 for children), you get a presentation about the Gullah culture, a house tour, plantation coach tour, black history exhibit, slave history presentation, butterfly pavilion, and garden tour. There are also special events throughout the year such as for Christmas, a strawberry festival, and oyster festival to name a few. There are several historical homes you can tour, such as Nathaniel Russell House and Edmondston-Alston House.

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There are also many different tours to choose, from carriage rides, walking food and/or drink tours, ghost tours, and general walking tours. One of my personal favorites is a nature boat tour offered by the company Sandlapper. We took their guided nature tour and cruise of Charleston harbor recently and it was a highlight of our vacation other than the total eclipse. You can read more about our nature boat tour here if you’re interested in more details.

If it’s shopping that interests you, you can shop for everything from jewelry at Crogham’s Jewel Box, shop for unique gifts and sign up for a candle-making class at Candlefish, or browse fine books and gifts relating to Charleston’s history at the Preservation Society Shop.  To meet with locals and shop their wares, stop by Charleston City Market, which is busy day and night.

Finally, the Charleston area has some beautiful beaches. Two of my family’s favorite beaches are Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island. They are completely free and open to the public.  Another option for a beach near Charleston is Folly Beach. Lifeguards are on duty mostly during the peak summer months of May through part of September. Check out more info at Charleston County Park & Recreation Commission.  A word of warning about the waves, as they can be quite rough.  We found the water to be considerably calmer at an inlet we were able to walk to at Sullivan’s Island going through neighborhoods to the far end of the beach.

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There are also some options for side trips if you have several days in Charleston. If you’re a runner like I am, the Kiawah Island Marathon and Half Marathon is a great race that I’ve personally ran (read more about that here if you’d like) and I have friends that have ran it multiple times. It’s only about a 45 minute drive to Kiawah Island from Charleston. Another fun city full of fantastic restaurants and southern charm is Savannah, Georgia and it is about a 2 hour drive from Charleston.

Well, I think that about covers the highlights anyway!  I once heard a podcaster talking about Charleston and she said to allow two days to spend in Charleston, and I couldn’t believe it.  There’s so much to see and do in Charleston, there’s no way you could even scratch the surface in two days. I would recommend spending 4 or 5 nights in Charleston, adding another day if you do a day trip. You wouldn’t have to have a rental car especially if you’re staying in the historical area, but if you want to be able to get out of downtown Charleston and explore on your own, a car is highly recommended.

Hopefully I’ve piqued some of your interests about Charleston and you’ll see for yourself why so many people voted it number one city in the United States by Travel and Leisure.

How many of you readers have been to Charleston?  Do you love it as much as I do? How many people have never been but would like to go now?

Trying to Change my Running Gait aka Training Myself to Run with a Bent Knee Again

I know that sounds like a strange title for a blog post. The fact is, I had been running with a bizarre running style these past few years and it was a long road to figuring out how to correct it and even how to diagnose the problem. I noticed a few years ago that my running gait was somehow “off,” but I couldn’t really figure out what was going on. I even had a co-worker make a comment on my strange way of running when she and I crossed paths (literally) on a run one weekend, so it was obvious to other people as well.

Still, I continued like this for years. One evening when going through photos online I found a video my husband has recorded of me running a race in New Hampshire. My gait was flat out terrible! I looked like I was hobbling and this was only in the first couple of miles of the race, and I wasn’t injured.

It was time to seek advice of others so early last fall I found a physical therapist who could at least tell me what the problem was. At my first physical therapy appointment, the therapist watched me walk and immediately saw the issue I had tried to describe to her. I didn’t even know how to put it into words other than “I straighten my right leg when I should be bending it.” Apparently that’s knee hyperextension. Of course it makes perfect sense in hindsight.

In a case like mine when knee hyperextension isn’t caused by an (apparent) injury, there are three main causes:  postural habits, weak muscles around the knee, and having very flexible knees. In my case, I think all three apply to me. Also, this is the same leg I broke when I was 7 years old and since then I’ve always felt like it was weaker than my other leg. See my post Biking, Broken Leg, and a Bribe- How to be a Better Runner by Cycling.

The physical therapist had me do several exercises including single-leg ball squats (so as to not put so much pressure on the knee as regular squats), lunges, single-leg leg presses, and other exercises to strengthen my ankles, and relax my tight IT bands. In addition to the exercises I did during physical therapy I was sent home with a list of other exercises including diagrams and instructions how to do them. That first couple of weeks of therapy, I was exhausted by the end of my hour of PT. I quickly realized just how bad the imbalance was in my legs and just how much weaker my right leg had become than my left leg over time.

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My strange gait at the Super Hero Half Marathon in New Jersey (I’m wearing a white hat)

In addition to all of the exercises I was prescribed, the therapist also used Graston technique around my knee and on my quadricep. This technique is a trademarked method using a set of stainless steel instruments of various sizes and shapes, to essentially loosen adhesions in tight muscles and tendons. Chiropractors and physical therapists often employ this method with their patients. A tool is used to “scrape” over the effected area to help break up scar tissue, move toxins out, get rid of tendonitis, while increasing blood flow to the area. I found it uncomfortable but not painful until she did it to my quadricep. That was very painful and it reminded me of the first time I had a massage therapist do deep tissue massage on my iliotibial band when I had iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) many years prior.

After going to physical therapy for four weeks and doing the prescribed exercises daily at home, I began to question at what point do I stop going to physical therapy. My knee definitely felt stronger at this point. I could do things on that leg that I hadn’t been able to do in years, like hop up and down just as easily as I could on my left leg. Five weeks after my first appointment, I told myself I would see how I did on my next long run and then talk to the physical therapist about ending my therapy. That weekend I ran 10 miles with no problems during or after running.

Six weeks after starting therapy, I mentioned to my therapist that I felt like I didn’t need to come back any longer. She asked me how my running was going and told me if I had any problems come up I could always come back. As I mentioned earlier, that was last fall and I haven’t been back.

Another thing that I’ve been trying to work on is to improve my gait mechanics. That’s been the most difficult of all of this. At first, it was pretty easy to try to maintain a slight bend in my right knee when walking, but the really difficult thing was to do this while running. The first few times I practiced changing my gait when running, I felt so out of breath and so utterly exhausted that I questioned whether it was worth it. I started doing this way back when I was training for the half marathon in San Diego and honestly, I gave up and went back to hyperextending my leg. After that, I ran another race in New Jersey with my same hobbled gait; that’s me at the finish for that race in the gif above.

This summer when I wasn’t training for a race, I decided to try and work on my running gait again. I’d like to continue running for many years to come and I was worried if I don’t change my gait, that may lead to other problems such as with my hips until I eventually wouldn’t be able to run. After a full summer, it’s definitely gotten to the point where I feel like I can run about the same pace as I used to with a hyperextended right leg without getting out of breath, so I think it’s getting easier. By the time I run my next half marathon in November, hopefully there will be enough muscle memory there for me to be able to run the race with a bent knee, the way it should be!

Have any of you tried to change your running gait?  How did that go?  Have you tried any apps or devices that analyze running gait?

 

Racing (Running) Mishaps

So far I’ve ran 42 half marathons, one marathon, two 5k’s, one 10k, one 10-miler, and one 15k, all over a roughly 20 year span. Mishaps are bound to come up if you run enough races. Over the years, I’ve been pretty lucky, though. There really haven’t been that many mishaps come up.

One of the biggest racing mishaps to happen to me was just before the Allstate New York 13.1 Half Marathon. I was staying within a short cab ride in Queens from the start of the race, but my taxi driver couldn’t seem to find the race start at the National Tennis Center, even though I told him where it was. Hello, Google Maps? At the time I didn’t run with my phone and my husband didn’t have his on him, so we couldn’t just punch it in and tell the driver. After about 10 minutes of the driver circling the park, I just got out and ran toward the start, completely in a panic. I managed to make it to the start in time, and all was well in the end.

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I thought I wasn’t going to make it to the start of this race in New York in time!

Another thing that happened that was almost a racing mishap was I didn’t pack running pants or even capris for my the Missoula Half Marathon in Montana, and a cold front moved in, making it much cooler than the predicted weather I had checked before flying out. I thought I would freeze if I wore the running shorts I had packed. I tried to find running pants but was unable to do so, not surprisingly since it was July. One running store had one pair of capris that was really a size too small for me, but I squeezed into them, and was glad I had them when it was in the low 40’s at race start.

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Finish area of the race in Missoula

I hadn’t planned on running the McKenzie River Half Marathon in Oregon until a few weeks prior. In fact, I had planned on running a completely different half marathon for my one in Oregon. This is a big deal because I don’t live anywhere near Oregon so I would be flying cross-country with my family to get to this race. Knowing it was a small half marathon, I didn’t feel pressured to sign up early and there were no breaks in price so I had planned on waiting until a few weeks out to sign up. I had already made hotel and flight reservations and I thought I was all ready to go, until I emailed the race director with a question before I signed up, only to find out the race had been cancelled. Luckily she suggested another half marathon in Eugene, only instead of being the Saturday I had planned on running, it was the next day on Sunday. That was almost a huge racing mishap!

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I was glad I made it to the McKenzie River Half Marathon in Oregon

Can you believe I’ve only had three mishaps out of almost 50 races? I can’t! The best part is everything worked out in all three cases before the half marathons took place so my races weren’t even effected. I’ve heard of people go to races only to realize they’ve forgotten their watches, shoes, or other running gear. There’s the famous Seinfeld episode where the guy flew in from another country and overslept before the New York City Marathon. That would be the worst!

What kind of running/racing mishaps have you all had or almost had?