New England and Canada Cruise – Part 1

Jason and I took our first cruise in November 2013 which can be read about here – First Cruise Review.  We just returned on Sat. from our second cruise which I think it’s safe to say we enjoyed even more due to the itinerary as well as friends from Chicago joining us.  We sailed from New York City to Boston MA, Portland ME, Saint John New Brunswick Canada and Halifax Nova Scotia Canada.  Similar to the blog I wrote about our first cruise I will break it down into topics to make it easier to read.

PreCruise – Once again we chose to book the cruise through AAA.  Carnival’s website seems simple enough but I like the travel agent’s ability to click through the various levels on the ship to look for the room we want as well as the security of knowing we’ll get the best price possible.  Deb was very helpful and gave us information on taking a train to NYC as we were stressing about the possibility of having to drive there.  She also gave us plenty of booklets on the areas we were visiting.

Train/NYC – I think I woke up almost every hour on the hour the night before we left for the cruise.  Despite being super organized and always preparing for the worst I get pre-travel anxiety something terrible.  It’s a little backwards as most people get anxious about the actual vacation or mode of transportation, but I freak out continuously until I am on the actual vacation.  We drove to my parents’ house who in turn drove us to the train station in Lancaster.  It’s a nice and quiet station which helped calm my nerves though I knew Penn Station would be chaotic in comparison.  One of the oddest and slightly unnerving things I found was the lack of security – no metal detectors, bag checks, etc.  TSA won’t let me take a bottle of water on a plane yet I could’ve taken my handgun along on the train with no one knowing.

The train itself was very comfortable with plenty of leg room, free WiFi and outlets built into the sides.  The ride was going smoothly until we were 5-10 minutes from the Philadelphia station.  We came to a stop and waited in wonder for several minutes before an announcement finally came on notifying us there was a switch problem and that we may have to go back to the previous station.  Slight panic arose and I worked to keep myself calm knowing that we had until almost 4pm to board the ship and were due to arrive around 12p.  Still the fear of being late kept me on edge and I was relived when we finally started moving again, forward and not backward.  We were just nearing the tunnel to go into NYC when again the train was forced to stop due to a switch problem.  We had to wait for 4 trains coming in the opposite direction to pass us before we were able to move again.  I was grateful I had changed our arrival time at the cruise terminal to be between 1pm and 1:30pm as we finally reached Penn Station around 12:30p.

I hadn’t been to NYC since a bus trip in 2007.  I was looking forward to seeing it once more but that excitement quickly dissipated when upon reaching the street level a gentleman came up to Jason asking if he could spare change.  We quickly began moving down 8th Ave pulling our luggage behind us.  I wore a backpack containing our travel documents as well as other important items and Jason followed behind me to keep an eye on it.  I know caution and awareness are needed in any city but compared to other cities I’ve visited I just feel as though NYC is the worst for needing to be on one’s toes.  Maybe it’s due to the insane masses of people or the number of sketchy people, but I just don’t feel that I can enjoy myself there anymore.  Most people would’ve likely taken a taxi but we didn’t feel that the 1.7 mile walk would be all that difficult other than the crowds of people.  When we turned off 8th Ave it was a lot less crowded and we were able to pick up speed.  We reached the cruise terminal before 1:30pm.  After a little stress of having to fill out a customs form while we were moving with the line of other travelers we were getting our photos taken and boarding the ship!

Carnival Sunshine – The Ship – We booked an interior cabin this time as opposed to a balcony one.  The first reason being we would only be at sea 2 total days instead of 3, the second reason figuring we would be spending time with our friends and not holed up in our room as much and the third reason because it was cheaper.  The cabin was still a nice size including the bathroom.  I wish the closets would’ve had shelves like the ones did on the Pride but I just chose to live out of my suitcase for the week instead of fulling unpacking.  The TV had a few channels to watch other than the movie channels and Carnival’s info channels which was nice.  Jason liked the decor of the Pride more but agreed it was nice to have a bigger Serenity area to enjoy this time as all the lounge chairs were always taken on the last cruise.  We actually enjoyed some time in the whirlpool as there were 3 on the ship.  I’m not sure if it was the ship itself or just the seas but it was also a smoother sailing.  We both were slightly nauseous the first morning at sea like we were on the first cruise but were able to walk it off after breakfast and did not have to take the Dramamine I packed.  The rest of the week we were fine and only felt the ship moving a handful of times, none of which made us sick again.

Carnival Sunshine – The Entertainment – Over the course of the week we went to 2 comedy shows, a magic show, a movie, a 70s/80s show and 2 trivia sessions.  All were very good.  My only grievance would be that the music trivia in the piano bar that we so dearly loved on the Pride wasn’t available.  We actually didn’t even go into the piano bar the entire trip as every night was just sing-alongs.  The other issue I had was sometimes the timing of the entertainment was challenging – a comedian would start at 7pm but we didn’t go to dinner until 6pm some nights which meant we weren’t finished in time to go to that event.  Also sometimes there were shows at 7pm and 9pm but we had to kill time in between.  Two nights they did special midnight shows which given we were in port early each day we didn’t have the energy to stay up that late.  Overall the variety was nice and movies were shown every evening on the big screen above the pool which was something we didn’t have on the Pride.

Carnival Sunshine – The Food and Drink – If you ever go hungry while on a cruise there is something seriously wrong with you.  There are so many food options that even the pickiest of eaters can find something good to eat.  Jason and I ate in the dining room every evening for dinner except the 2nd elegant night (we only dressed up for the first one) and we tried out several new foods.  I seemed to be on a soup kick as over the course of the week I tried strawberry bisque, pumpkin soup and lobster bisque.  He made me try a piece of his escargot the one night which I promptly spit back out into my napkin.  It tasted exactly like what I expected a snail to taste like.  He also had braised rabbit and ox tongue neither of which I chose to sample.  One night I made a dinner out of 3 appetizers; the ability to order any and everything you want off the menu is fabulous.  We went to the seaday brunch both days at sea where he enjoyed huevos rancheros and I had chocolate chip pancakes drizzled in chocolate sauce.  We also ate burgers from Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint and burritos from the Blue Iguana Cantina.  Those are just a few highlights of the ship foods we enjoyed.  As far as drinks it seems the ship has an endless liquor supply for its multiple bars.  We enjoyed the RedFrog Rum Bar which featured a lot of drinks containing Barcadi but did actually have Captain this time!  My favorite though was the Rum Chocolate Shake from the Shake Spot.  Coconut rum mixed with real chocolate ice cream (none of that cheating by using vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup) was utterly delightful and I indulged in two during the week.

I was hoping to make this all one blog entry but alas as usual I am too wordy and think it will be best if I write up a second entry to detail all the fun we had in our ports of call… Part 2 coming soon!

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My “Doggone” Running Route

One of the most fun yet challenging parts of increasing my weekly long run for my half marathon training is determining my running route.  I have only lived in my town for a little over 2 years now so I’m still finding new streets to go down and new areas to explore.  I will drive to sections of the rail trail for a change and also throw in some of my old running routes from my high school cross country team days.  I like variety as to avoid boredom but sometimes it’s just easier to run a familiar route.

After 2 weeks in a row of running the northern part of the rail trail into and through John Rudy park I knew I had to try something new yesterday.  I already have a 6 mile loop from my house through town and to the more rural areas and back.  I often rely on Google maps to see what roads connect to my regular loop.  This ensures I don’t get lost (I don’t run with my cell phone so no GPS to reference) but doesn’t indicate how challenging a route may become.  It also doesn’t accurately determine the mileage.  I did sign up for MapMyRun yesterday but after several attempts at trying to create a 10 mile course I became frustrated as I kept coming up short.  I decided to just expand on my 6 mile loop by running farther down the one road to a different road that ran parallel to my usual turnoff and throw in some jaunts down no outlet roads to tack on some extra.  Having rode my bike on the rail trail the day prior for 21-22 miles I figured as long as I ran over 8 miles it would be sufficient for the week.

I ran out the first road until it came to a dead end then turned around to pick up the second road.  This road has a lot of uphills and downhills in it which helps to engage my different leg muscles.  I turned off this road to run down a “rich street” (seriously I think some of the garages were almost the size of my house) until I reached the dead end then returned back to my main road.  I passed my usual next road and continued free fall running downhill into a new area that I had never explored.  It became very rural which I always enjoy as the roads I run don’t always have wide shoulders and the more rural the area the less traffic on the roads.  I turned onto a new road and continued passing farmland and fields.  I was approaching my next turn when up ahead I saw a German Shepard outside of the house at the corner.

I will stop right here and say I have always had a fear of dogs.  Part of this is likely due to being bitten in the butt by a sheepdog at a very young age; I’m fortunate to not remember the incident but it still left a mental scar apparently.  Trick or treating was very scary for me as anytime I rang a doorbell and heard a dog barking it was immediate panic for me.  I had a friend in high school who had 3 very large dogs, one of which wasn’t very friendly, and I required him to put them in another room before I would enter the house.  I have progressed a great deal as I’ve gotten older and I don’t have such a deep fear of dogs anymore fortunately.

That being said dogs are still one of my biggest fears as a runner.  The moment I hear a bark, whether it’s coming from a tiny Chihuahua or a friendly Golden Retriever, my heart races and I immediately locate the nearest car that I could jump on top.  Luckily I’ve never had to actually jump on a stranger’s car, but believe me when I say I would do it rather than risk being bit.  Even carrying pepper spray I don’t trust it to stop a dog from attacking me.

So back to the German Shepard.  I couldn’t see anyone in the yard with the dog nor could I tell if it was tied to anything.  There was a swing set in the backyard indicating that children lived in the home, but that just concerned me more as I know German Shepards can be very protective.  I know many people love that breed of dog but to me it is one of the scariest looking ones out there.  I was torn between wanting to continue on my new route and running the risk of the dog coming out on the road after me.

Caution prevailed and I decided to turn around and retrace my steps.  By retrace I mean begin running back that road to my main road which then become an uphill climb.  I wasn’t prepared for this climb mentally as I had already mapped the route to include a different challenging hill.  Once I reached my former turnoff road I turned on that and was grateful for the slight downhill grade to allow my legs to recover before tackling the next hill.  The bottoms of my feet began to burn which was an unusual experience for me and at that point I no longer cared how many miles I accumulated but rather just wanted to finish the run.  I had worn my water belt to stay hydrated but was still disappointed when I stopped by the high school stadium to get a drink only to find the bathroom was locked.  With only a few streets and turns left until home I mustered up some strength and focused on finishing the run.

As I was coming down the alley behind my house I look at my watch and saw I was at 9.82 miles.  This is what a runner would consider a mental challenge.  Do I just turn into my property no matter what the mileage or do I continue on to hit that official 10 mile mark?  Maybe it was just pure stubbornness to say I ran 10 miles that day, but I ran part of the street parallel to mine twice just so that when I finally turned on my street and touched my yard my watched beeped for the 10th mile.

My planned running route certainly didn’t go as I thought it would, but I suppose a runner needs as much mental flexibility as he or she needs it physically.  I guess I have that doggone German Shepard to thank for ensuring I reached my original 10 mile goal.

Double Digit Miles

With my second half marathon less than 2 months away I achieved double digit miles yesterday in running 10 miles.  The irony of the day was that Facebook’s memories notified me of my status posted in 2011 in which I had ran the York Rail Trail 10 miler that day.  I raced that in an hour and 31 minutes.

My training run was also on the rail trail but the northern part instead, as well as into John Rudy county park.  I ran it in an hour and 42 minutes.  While 11 minutes doesn’t seem like that much of a difference to me it was.  I kept reminding myself that I couldn’t compare the two; one was an actual race with others running with and against me.  That’s how a runner’s mind tends to work though in always comparing oneself against one’s former self.

Physically my training has been going well.  The previous week my 9 mile run felt wonderful with my legs seeming to have a mind of their own the last 2 miles.  I’m also running two other times during the week and mixing up off days with some mobility, yoga or other 30 min workouts.

Mentally I think I’m at the point where training gets challenging.  I’ve often said it’s not that hard to physically run X number of miles, one merely needs to train to do it, but rather it’s the mental drain that is the struggle particularly if one is running alone.

I remember training for my first half marathon.  Every Fri. evening after work was my long run and it was always ran by myself.  Once I reached the 8-9 mile point of my long runs I became bored.  Physically I was fine and could continue to run but mentally I just wasn’t into it anymore.  This is one of the reasons I have yet to consider ever running a marathon.  I know physically with enough time I could train for it, but how one mentally prepares for those long training runs eludes me.

For me a 5-6 mile run is the perfect distance.  It’s challenging enough to be a solid workout but short enough that I can pick up the pace if I feel really good and not fear burnout.  Mentally I find that distance to be the best in terms of thinking.  I have created to do lists, analyzed dreams, planned out vacation details and written blog entries in my head all while running 5-6 miles.  I often come home mentally energized after those runs as they seem to spark the creative juices.

Once I begin to push over 8 miles, however, and particularly once I reach those double digit miles my brain starts to lose focus  I can start out clear headed and thinking well, as if my brain thinks it’s on a shorter run, but around mile 8 it begins to falter and get fuzzy.  I begin to either jumble thoughts together or repeat thoughts I’ve already had or just straight up brain drain and don’t want to think at all.  I can no longer focus on the beauty of the nature around me.  “Runner’s high” becomes less frequent and I have to try to distract my mind from thinking about any physical pain I’m feeling less the negative thoughts begin to discourage me from finishing the run.

I know I’m at a pivotal stage in my training.  Physically I know I could complete the half marathon even though I plan to get in more long runs before the race in hopes of achieving my race time goal.  The challenge is going to be keeping myself mentally focused during my double digit mile training runs.  I did it once so I know I can do it again; it’s all in how much I stay focused on the end goal.

Saving Your History

There is a lot of controversy going on right now over the removal of Confederate statues.  With that comes the topic of history and culture and whether the removals are wrong.  My opinion is that if the statue is located at a government building then it should be relocated as the government should not be displaying anything that is symbolic to a particular group.  If the statue is part of a historical landmark or area such as the Gettysburg Battlefield then it should be left alone.

This entry is not about the current controversy though but rather its argument about preserving history.  In our modern age of social media I often wonder if people ever keep their own histories by writing anymore.  I’m talking paper to pen type of writing.  At minimum typing something up and printing it out.  Do they develop pictures and keep them in albums, scrapbooks or even old shoe boxes?  I’m certain members of older generations do.  Even some within my generation, myself included, do.

What about the younger generations though?  Those who have never known a world without cell phones or computers.  Those who will never know the fun of finding an old roll of film and having it developed to see what pictures were taken.  Those who will never experience the anguish of taking the “perfect” photo only to have it developed and turn out completely dark.  Those who likely have never had a pen pal to write letters to in elementary school.  What could become of their history?

We shouldn’t trust computers or the Internet to preserve our thoughts, our memories, our life.  I know it’s said that nothing deleted truly ever disappears from the Internet, but should we really take that risk?  Call me a doomdsay thinker if you will, but an EMP could easily wipe out our grid and with it the Internet.  In that pre-Industrial Revolution world wouldn’t it be nice to have journal entries to read and pictures to remind us of what our life was like before the blast?

Write down your thoughts.  Develop your pictures.  Anything that you have stored on social media or a computer that you would be devastated to lose forever have it in a hard copy.  While I realize disasters such as flood or fire or even simple “lost it in the move” situations can happen, you will find a greater satisfaction and deeper connection to your history if you have a physical copy of your treasured memories.  The government and the people may be the ones to decide what part of and where to preserve the country’s history, but you are in charge of preserving your own for years to come.

Random Reasons I run

I run for a lot of reasons.  Some are practical such as building strength and endurance and keeping my good cholesterol levels up.  Others are personal such as relieving stress and keeping balance in my life.  The following are just some of the more random reasons why I run:

1 – It’s cheap.  Running shoes?  Check.  Shorts?  Check.  Tshirt?  Check.  No other sport costs so little and gives you back so much.  Who needs a gym membership when you can buy a pair of running sneakers and be ready to go?

2 – Lifting weights is boring.  There’s plenty to be said about cross training and strength training no matter what sport you do.  But how much fun is it to lift weights?  Not as fun as finding a new trail to explore or racing a 5k.

3 – To escape the zombie apocalypse.  Until the walking dead can learn to pick up the pace those who run will always have an upper hand in a survival situation.

4 – Weird looks and comments.  Tell someone you run for fun and you’ll get a load of amusing responses.  Better yet, go for a run in the afternoon when the heat index is over 90 degrees and watch how many drivers stare at you in confusion.

5 – It’s tough stuff.  Automatic bragging rights are bestowed on anyone who says they run.  The farther the distance or faster the speed the more satisfying it is.

The Knee Bone’s Connected to the Hip Bone?

I have considered myself a runner since 7th grade when I first joined the track team.  At 30 years old I like to think all these years of running have made me fairly tuned into my body.  That being said it seems that there’s always something new to learn.

Winter 2012 I started to develop some knee pain while running.  I recall a run that resulted in me having to actually stop completely and walk the final 2 blocks home because the pain would shoot through my knee with every step.  That was usually a sign it was time to replace my running shoes.  Unfortunately getting new sneakers didn’t alleviate the problem so off to the family doctor I went.  I was lucky in that my doctor was also a runner and referred me to a physical therapist who was a runner as well.  I can’t speak for all runners, but I think most of us feel a lot more trusting of someone who actually does what we do as he or she is less likely to tell us to just stop running.

The physical therapist went through his normal protocol in analyzing my running style as well as my feet.  He stated that I was wearing too much of a motion controlled shoe and that because my arches were normal I should be in a more neutral shoe.  I found that quite interesting as I had been wearing Asics Adrenaline shoes for a few years without any issues.  Rather than put me through sessions physical therapy if it wasn’t needed, he recommended that I change my shoes first and see if that helped.  Luckily Scranton Running Company took back my recently purchased pair without issue to exchange them for Asics Glycerin instead.

That seemed to do the trick.  I was able to train for and run my first half marathon Sept. 2013 without knee pain.  I was glad to have such a simple fix.  Or so I thought.

Over the years the knee pain started again.  It never was bad enough to stop my runs, but it also made them a lot less enjoyable.  I knew there was no injury as sometimes my right knee would hurt and sometimes the left.  Sometimes it was along the outside of my knee, sometimes the inside and sometimes the kneecap.  Sometimes I could run 5 miles pain free while other times 2 miles would have them locking up.  It was a frustrating mystery that left me feeling as if I’d never be able to train for a half marathon again.  I tried telling myself there was no point in seeing a doctor unless I got to the point where I couldn’t run since there was no consistency in the pain.  I tried to be content with the fact that I was physically able to run at all and accept the fact that maybe just age and wear and tear on my body was causing it.

This winter I reached a breaking point.  Nearly every run, particularly if the weather was less than 50 degrees, was resulting in knee pain.  I was afraid to run fast and I was afraid to run more than 3-4 miles.  It wasn’t enough just to be able to run, I wanted to train again.

I finally caved and went to the family doctor who referred me to sports medicine.  When I scheduled the appointment I was told the doctor was a runner and that all his patients said nothing but good things about him.

I was partially concerned that I could have the start of osteoarthritis, but the xrays of my knees taken at my visit showed nothing of that nature.  I was diagnosed with squinted patellas (meaning my kneecaps turn inwards) which is fairly common among women given our hip structure as well as a slight leg length discrepancy, again something fairly common among most people.  Neither of these sound like anything major but when you start putting your legs through mile after mile they can make an impact.  The doctor recommended 2 sessions of physical therapy, one to include a thorough gait analysis, and said to follow up if I didn’t find improvement in my running.

I was extremely impressed by the physical therapy sessions.  The first one the physical therapist identified my hip flexibility as a likely source of my knee pain.  Having ran hurdles for years in track and done numerous hip flexibility drills I found this very surprising.  He said often when we have sit down jobs it leads to losing mobility in our hips.  He gave me various strengthening drills as well as foam rolling techniques to use to help improve this.

My second session was my gait analysis.  This consisted of running on a treadmill while a different physical therapist filmed from behind and alongside of me.  While my form and stride were very good, she pointed out that I was a hamstring dominant runner meaning I wasn’t engaging my quads or glutes as much as I should be.  By relying on my hamstrings to do the majority of the work  this was putting more stress on my knees.  She also pointed out that my hips were dropping more than they should be, again a sign of limited mobility in them.  She went over warmup drills and cooldown stretches to begin including before and after my runs.

My physical therapy sessions were right before the start of my first season coaching track for Dallastown.  As any coach will tell you it seems counterintuitive but you’re usually not as in shape during the season as you are the rest of the year.  This was certainly true for me as while I found time to workout, I was usually getting in just 1 run per week so it was quite challenging to figure out if my newfound strategies were helping much.

Once the season ended I began running more frequently and I’m happy to say that 90% of the knee pain is gone and I’m building up my mileage to hopefully run my 2nd half marathon this fall.  As long as I do a thorough warmup with my mobility drills and foam roll regularly I only get a twinge of knee pain here or there.  I have also tried to add more hills to my runs as it forces me to engage my glutes more and build strength.  The days I’m not running I do DailyBurn workouts and I give props to the trainers on there for incorporating a lot of mobility and stability moves that I believe complement the exercises the physical therapists gave me.  I had a follow up visit with sports medicine last week and the doctor was very happy with my progress.  He said that I had even decreased the slight leg length discrepancy from the hip exercises I had been completing.

I would have never guessed the pain I felt in my knees wasn’t from anything in my knees at all but rather in my hips.  Proof once again of just how connected our body really is and how much more there is to learn about it.

 

Mindfulness

The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis – Merriam-Webster

I have never been much for meditation.  I have tried it several times in the past few years and it’s never seemed to click for me.  I find I either am too mentally stirred up to quiet my thoughts or am too tired to focus and start to fall asleep.  The breathing portion of it I have found relaxing at times, but as far as an overall daily practice – not exactly my cup of green tea.

For me mindfulness is something entirely different.  While I’m sure those who regularly engage in meditation would consider the two interconnected, I don’t see mindfulness as something I need to practice but rather something that just happens naturally.  Sometimes I become so lost in it that I don’t actually realize that I’m being mindful at the time.

The most recent example was last evening while sitting on my zero gravity chair in the yard.  My husband pointed out several bumblebees flying to various flowers.  We have concerns about the declining bee population so we like to point out when we see them in the yard.  We sat there for several minutes just watching the bees.  At one point I said to him I wonder how many other people do similar activities, just sit in their yards and watch nature.

We weren’t attempting to be mindful; it just happened.

I would like to say that I’m blessed in having time to smell the roses, or in my case, watch the bees, when so many others are busy working overtime, raising children or going back to school.  In reality though I just make quiet time a priority in my life, and I believe that allows for more opportunities to be mindful.

Every evening through the week that I make dinner I sit at the table to eat.  My husband works 2nd shift so I’m alone, but I rarely turn on the TV or touch my phone.  Often I will find something to read such as a magazine.  The important thing though is that I don’t allow myself to be distracted by news, social media, etc.  It’s almost like a time out of sorts that allows me to reset for the evening.

When I go for a run I never wear headphones.  Safety is a primary reason, but even on the rail trail I choose not to.  Instead I tune into the world around me.  Nature.  The other people near me.  My body’s reactions to the temperature, terrain, intensity of the run.  I allow myself to get lost in my own thoughts.  It’s not uncommon for me to come back from a run and want to write; the increased blood flow seems to stir creativity within my mind.

I don’t believe true mindfulness can be scheduled.  While taking time out of each day to relax is certainly beneficial for people’s health, it doesn’t necessarily cause one to become aware.  I think the more often we choose to disconnect whether it be in the literal sense from our phones or TVs or the figurative sense, the more likely we are to become lost in the quiet moments of life.  The moments that may not seem overly important or special, but that bring us inner peace just by being part of them.  That to me is true mindfulness.