Combining running and travel.. Maui Oceanfront half marathon

My two running goals for 2013 were to chase down my Dad’s City2Surf PB and to run sub 90 minute in the Blackmores half marathon. After my fractured foot meant I didn’t finish the City2Surf and couldn’t run Blackmores, I looked to the Maui Oceanfront Half Marathon as the event to finally break the 90 minute mark.

For someone who loves to travel and loves to run, a half marathon in Hawaii seemed like the perfect combination.

The two and a bit months leading up to the event were somewhat of a mixed bag. A 5km PB in my first few weeks back to running was followed by a tougher than expected 10km at the end of November.

But with the major focus being Canberra marathon in April, starting a long run program made it easy to look at the half as another training run.

Arriving in Hawaii, I was more interested in the list of things I wanted to do than running. Diamond Head, Pearl Harbour, the Oahu North Shore and the Road to Hana were the things I was determined to fit in while I was there.

After fitting in two in the first couple of days, we flew to Maui where the trip really started to get interesting. The house we were staying didn’t look great on the outside, but the inside provided that familiar hostel feeling – communal kitchen, large dorm, wifi not working – so I didn’t think we would have too many issues. The first hint that this might not be entirely accurate was the pig named Lulu who was living in the garden.

Lulu looked less like Babe and more like this:

She was gone later that afternoon, but the fun didn’t end there. Our only big night out in Hawaii happening in Maui, and a vomit incident in the dorm led to a couple of us sleeping in the lounge room. The following morning, I couldn’t find my phone, and assumed I had left in the bar the previous night. A trip back there to find it was unsuccessful, so I tried not to be disappointed and went to collect my race bib before a group of us left for a full day road trip along the Road to Hana.

The long, winding road along the Maui coastline was slow, but offered beautiful scenery before we find made it to our destination – the Pools of Oheo.

With our races the next day, an early night was on the agenda. We arrived back to the hostel around 7pm to find everyone standing out the front. It was obvious that something wasn’t quite right, my feeling was that we had been robbed.

My guess couldn’t have been further from the truth. The ceiling in the living room had collapsed, where I had slept the previous night! The good news was, that in cleaning up the mess, my phone had been found. The bad news, we had to move to a new hotel. With the marathon on, there were limited options available, and nothing in a similar price range to what we had been paying. Before long, we were moving from the “falling apart” hostel to living it up at the Hyatt.

By the time we arrived and checked in, the marathoners didn’t have a lot of time to sleep before their 3am wake up. I was a little luckier, only having to be up around 5am. It was still dark when we arrived at the race start. Some quick thinking when we saw how long the bathroom line was had us jogging back to the hostel (where we knew the door wouldn’t be locked and we were still paying for accommodation) to use their bathroom.

Making it back to the start line not long before the gun went off, it was finally time to go after the sub 90 minutes goal. Running the first few kilometers in the dark, I relaxed and enjoyed the early stages on the race, trying to make sure I didn’t go out too hard. I held a comfortable pace, around 4.18, as the sun started to rise. I found myself gaining on runners in front of me, and made it my goal to catch them. After passing two, I found myself running alone with no others runners in sight, and focused on maintaining my pace.

Getting closer to the turnaround, I could see runners coming back and counted two women in front of me. It vaguely occurred to me that the turn seemed quite close to when my watched beeped for 10km, but I was enjoying the run and didn’t think much of it.

The way back was slightly uphill, though I didn’t notice it being particularly downhill on the way out. At around 14km, I noticed myself starting to feel tired, and was spurred on briefly by seeing people from my club waiting to start the 5km event. It didn’t last long, and not long after I felt like my pace was dropping and was starting to wonder how I would hold on.

I had been reading Paula Radcliffe’s book on the plane, and remembered reading that she counted to 100 three times in a row, in which time she would run approximately a mile in marathon. Obviously I wouldn’t get anywhere near that far in the same amount of time, but I decided to try it as a distraction.

Not longer after I heard my watch beep for 19km, I reached the turn off point that took us off the highway and back towards the finish. I couldn’t remember exactly how far back it was, and thought the 12 mile marker I had just seen must be slightly out since I still had 2km to go.

In my excitement (desperation) to finish, I pushed towards the finish line, holding 3rd place female and was surprised to see a time of 1.26.55. After getting some water and looking closer at my watch, it turned out I had only run 20.5km. I was well under sub 90, on a short course! After a little bit of initial frustration passed, I decided it still counted as a sub 90 as I knew I could have done the extra 600m in less than 3 minutes.

The funniest part about this, is that I am writing this many months later and remembering how hard it felt holding on to 4.15 pace in the last 5km of that run. At the time, I thought my half marathon PB would be impossible to beat since it was so fast due to the short course. I wouldn’t have believed anyone who told me at the time that in 8 months time I would be able to run almost that same pace for a full marathon.

As the day warmed up, we waited for the other half marathoners, 5km runners and marathoners to finish. It got warm as the marathoners battled through, especially after their short sleep the night before.

The reward we had waiting for us after a hard mornings running effort? A relaxing afternoon with drinks by the pool and this amazing view. Maybe I should run in Hawaii more often!

Gold Coast half marathon race report

I registered for the Gold Coast half marathon with a bit confidence after running 1.25 at the SMH half marathon. After a slightly sporadic month of training in June, I arrived at the start line happy to just do whatever I could on the day.

I travelled with two friends, Kate and Tony, and we arrived on Friday night with time to get dinner and have drinks, before an early start on Saturday for the 10km event. Even though we were up early, Kate and I relaxed while Tony ran his first 10km in a year, but by 4am on Sunday morning it was our turn. Despite some issues with the transport, we made it to the start line with a bit of time to spare.

My plan was to start at 3.55 pace, and make sure I didn’t get caught up in the fast course and go out too hard. It worked well for the first few kilometres, before I started to notice I was running a little bit faster than I had planned. I was caught in between feeling really good, and wanting to conserve energy, but as the kilometres ticked over and I found myself enjoying the pace I decided to go for it and see what I could do.

My favourite part of out and back courses is that you get to see people during the run. At about 12km, I saw Kate, and while I was feeling good, it was her acrobatic cheering that got a smile out of me. Not long later, I saw another friend, whole told me I was around 20th female.

heading in to the last third of the race, I heard two guys chatting away behind me. They came up next to me at about the 15km mark, and a quick glance at my watch showing 3.56 pace convinced me that I was slowing down. Looking at my splits after the run suggest I may not have been, a good reminder that a single moment on your garmin might not reflect your overall pace! It worked to my advantage though, because I decided I needed to stick with them to avoid slowing down.

Leading up to the 16km mark, one dropped off and the other, realising I was trying to keep up with them, started to chat and offer a bit of encouragement. With about 4km to go, I was working hard to keep up with him, and it made sense why when I went through the 19th km not far off my 5km pace! Being ahead of the 1.24 pacer, I knew if I could hang on I would run a PB.

At 20km, the guy I was running with disappeared off to the side. It turned out he wasn’t even officially in the race! I briefly realised I wouldn’t be able to say thank you since he wouldn’t be at the end, then turned my focus back to the long stretch of road ahead to the finish. I crossed the finish line in 1.22.13 and 19th female, taking almost 3 minutes off my time from SMH.

The funniest part of the day came after Kate had finished (in PB time as well!), and I said how much I wanted to go in the spa back at the hotel. Tony pointed out that cold water was probably better, and to highlight the point we noticed groups of people standing in the water next to the finish area. After laughing over how funny it was, we decided to join them! I think my legs definitely appreciated it.

I enjoyed this event and the fast course is a definite plus. Gold Coast marathon might be on the cards in the future!

My really belated Canberra Marathon report

Towards the end of last year, I stuck a post-it note on my mirror with an estimated time for my debut marathon. I was inspired after watching my friends finish the Sydney marathon, and I wanted to find out what I might be capable of over this distance. Finally having the time and motivation to put in the training, I entered Canberra with a few goals in mind. The first was to see if I could break my club’s female marathon record of 3:16:51, which was set in the same year I was born. The second was to see if I could run the time I put up on my mirror – 3 hours 9 minutes.

I drove down to Canberra with my dad the day before the marathon, and after a solid few months of training and no recurring issues from my stint in a moonboot due to a fracture in my right foot, I was feeling pretty confident. We discussed my plan for the run, Dad attempted not to laugh while I rapped Linkin Park songs, and we went to the Gold and the Incas exhibition at the National Gallery. Going for a pre-race dinner with friends from my club was a relaxed night. While the anticipation was rising, the nerves I was expecting to feel hadn’t set in. There was one thing I was becoming surer of, I was ready.

Arriving at the start the following morning was different to any training run. The tiredness caused by backing up from parkrun was replaced by feeling fresh from weeks of tapering, and the feeling of a huge task looming was replaced by the excitement of the biggest day in my twenty years of running. My plan was to start with a friend who was expecting to finish between 3 hours and 3:10, and run with him until he wanted to go faster than I could manage. My pace plan was to start at 4:30 per kilometre, think about increasing it slightly if I felt good after 10km, and then see what I had left after 30km. We lined up to start just behind the 3:15 pacers, as the starter reminded everyone not to go out too fast.

 The new, one lap course included several “out and back” sections, meaning there were plenty of opportunities to see the other runners in the marathon and ultra. The first 15km were fun, with plenty of chatting between runners as we settled in.

My dad was waiting to cheer us on at 10km, and I remembered our conversation in the car as we drove down. He said that by 10km I would have a good enough idea of how I was feeling to know if it was going to be a good or bad day. Having gone out at a pace that should be comfortable for 10km, I would have been worried if I wasn’t feeling good. But after waving and smiling as I ran up the hill, I knew things were going well. We increased the pace and even though there was a long way to go, I was looking forward to the feeling of running a bit harder.

My mind started to switch from enjoying the early parts of the race to focusing on some of my goals around the 12km mark. Coming into the race, I thought that if I was able to run around 3:09, I would have a shot of finishing in the top 10. We ran strongly over the next 5 or 6km, and passed quite a few people. Just before half way, I started to feel like I was working a bit harder than I expected to be at that point. Around the same time, I noticed that my friend was chatting a lot more than he had been, and my responses were becoming limited to “yep, yep, yep, what, yep, okay”. My one word answers obviously clued him in to the fact that I working a bit harder, and he told me that we just needed to get through 10km and we would be at 30km. It gave me a boost as we had a quick few kilometres along the Black Mountain Peninsula.

My first real moment of doubt was just before the 25km mark when another friend, who was running strongly and running the ultra, caught us. We all ran together for a few hundred metres, the guys chatting away, while I just focused on maintaining the pace. Realising how comfortable they were running, I had a brief moment of panic that my pace would drop off if they decided to push on together. That didn’t happen, and as our friend who was running ultra disappeared into the distance, I found the ability to speak again to vocalise the fear that I couldn’t maintain the pace alone. I was reminded to just focus on getting to 30km and that I was on target for my goal.

My dad, who did a great job of driving around the course, was waiting just before 27km. While I thought I was still going okay, he told me later that I looked quite tired. The undulating nature of the course started to feel more challenging after that point, and the excitement of making it to 30km was overshadowed by the toughest hill on the course. My friend started with pep talk number three before he finally decided to pick up the pace, telling me it was just the distance of one of our Tuesday night runs to go, and that all I needed to do was keep going as I was and I would finish under the club record.

I once again found myself focusing on just trying to maintain the pace, which I was happy to see hovering around 4:30 per kilometre. Tiredness mixed with small bouts of energy until about the 37km mark, when I hit distances I had never run before and started to feel like I had nothing left. My thoughts centred on counting down the minutes I had left of running and not letting the 3:15 pacers catch me. I was surprised to see my dad again with about 4km to go, and was also surprised to still be passing people. While it was briefly tempting to join those walking up the hills, I knew I wouldn’t start running again and the desire to get to the finish line kept me moving forward. There is also a good chance I hallucinated seeing Buzz Lightyear on the course somewhere around then, since no one else seems to remember him being there!

In what felt like the longest final kilometre of my life, I ran past friends cheering me on, but didn’t have the energy to focus on anything but getting to the end. I crossed the finish line in 3:09:32 and was 7th placed female. I’m happy that I managed to achieve all the goals I set myself for this event, and I’m looking forward to challenging myself to improve next time.

A huge thank you goes to my friends who inspired me to run a marathon and everyone in my club for their encouragement and support. The biggest thank you goes to my friend who ran with me for 32km and helped me through some of the tough parts. I loved the experience of my first marathon, and am looking forward to (slightly scared by) the mental and physical challenge of running one by myself!

Central Coast 10km

The past few weeks of running have highlighted the highs and lows of returning from my injury.

In what was a huge surprise to myself, my third and fourth runs at Parramatta Park Run resulted in two PBs in a row, both under the all important 20 minute mark for 5km. I thought that speed would have been the first thing I lost, so I wasn’t expecting to run anywhere my current best of 19.32.

I think it ended up giving me a false sense of security about how well I was doing, because stepping up to 10km at the Central Coast event on Sunday was another story altogether. I did have some doubts before the run how I would go over the distance, but it was overshadowed by the feeling that my 5km time suggested I could run a PB. That was definitely out of the question.

The first half of the run wasn’t too bad, although I wasn’t feeling my best. By about 6km I could tell I had slowed down a lot and the temptation to quit was almost overwhelming. I nearly did just before the 7km mark, when I stopped to walk.

The night before, I had a seen a post on Facebook that said something along the lines of running not being about beating the other athletes, but beating the voice that tells you to quit. I shared it on my page, along with a comment about how it’s totally about winning. I’m competitive, and I my finishing position is important to me, but on that day it actually was about not giving up.

I started running again simply because I didn’t want a DNF just because I was a bit tired. The last 3km felt like they took longer than the first 7km, and I was ecstatic to cross the finish line and stop running.

My dad summed it up best when he said that it probably just meant I was fit enough for 5km, but not 10km. It makes sense and is a natural part of recovering from an injury – rebuilding conditioning. And on that day, it was a good reminder that these things to take time and patience. One step at a time!

Even though it wasn’t close to PB pace, I still achieved the target for November in my comeback timeline – 10km. Next race distance, half marathon in January!

Should travel experiences become part of real life..?

Not long ago, I read an article from SMH’s Backpacker blogger Ben Groundwater titled “You Will Never See These People Again” about friends you make when you are travelling and promises to meet up that often fall through.

Ben’s article considered an interesting point; that perhaps these encounters when you travel are supposed to be just that – encounters that affect, influence or even change your life in that moment, but forever remain in that situation and not be brought back to your real life at home.

I had mixed feelings when I read it. I have made travel plans with people I met on the road that we actually saw through, and had a great time. I have met people during one part of a trip, and caught up with them again later in the same trip, and had a great time. I have also hung out with people I met travelling when they have visited Sydney and enjoyed it. But after spending a few days in Colombia with someone who had a big impact on my life at the time, and never seeing or hearing from them again, I can understand the value of a meeting that was only ever supposed to last a short time.

It got me thinking about the experiences you have when you travel, and if these are something that are supposed to become part of your “real life” or stay on the road.

Before my first trip to Mexico and Central America in 2009, I was curious about the Mayan history in the area, and only knew a few words of Spanish despite having a close friend with South American background. But when I was over there, I became captivated. I wanted to come back and study Spanish, I wanted to learn how to dance salsa and, of course, I “fell in love” with a Latino.

When I arrived back in Australia, I split the time I used to spend running or watching sport with salsa and Spanish classes. My schedule was so busy trying to fit everything in that I didn’t have a single night of the week where I just went home and relaxed. It got a point where something had to give, and after a second trip in late 2010, it did.

In preparation for another 8 months travelling, the only thing I cared about was Latin America. Group Spanish classes had become one-on-one lessons, and salsa classes had eventuated into social dancing a few times a week, sometimes late enough that I’m not sure how I made it to work on time the next day. The third trip took the situation to the extreme – months of being immersed in the culture meant I had reached a point where I wanted to live there. When I got home, I was happiest when I was around my South American friends, they knew my music, and the places I had been and understood why I loved it so much.

It didn’t seem like a big deal when friends I met over there who had started going home seemed to go back to their normal lives, without the desire to sign up for salsa classes, go to reggaeton clubs or join Spanish conversation groups. It just meant I loved it as more than just a place to travel. It had been a joke with a friend I met in Brazil that I had been born on the wrong continent. The truth was that I was completely obsessed.

Leaving for the fourth trip was supposed to be the one where I stayed over there. I had my TESOL qualification on hand, had narrowed my choice down to three countries and had started to look at schools where I could get a teaching job. But when it came time to put research into action, it turned out that I didn’t want to stay.

The disconnect didn’t happen as soon as I returned to Australia. I went on a few dates with an Argentinean guy, and I was still going to salsa once a week. I even finally managed to convince my South American BFF the significance of Ai Se Eu Te Pego.

The first hint that something had changed was buying a ticket to Pitbull after a few drinks, and when I remembered the next day I really didn’t want to go (so glad it was cancelled).

But it was when I walked into Margaritaville for salsa last night that it became really obvious. I hadn’t been dancing for about 6 months, at first because of City2Surf training, then because of my broken foot and lastly because of lack of motivation. When I arrived last night I realised the underlying reason behind all three – lack of interest. I had a few dances and while it was fun enough, my heart wasn’t in it. It was a strange feeling, how something that not long ago was a huge part of my life, now felt so foreign. The description of bachata as “the most beautiful dance” and merengue as “sexier than salsa” might have resonated with me in the past, but last night felt impossible to relate to.

I have amazing memories of dancing merengue in Panama, but I’m happy to let them stay as memories. It will never be the same trying to recreate them here, because they represented a moment of significant change in my life. It was as much about the feelings associated with it as it was about the dancing.

I loved travelling in Latin America. I love the culture, the music, the food, the language. I loved watching the top 20 countdown on HTV while eating breakfast, shopping at Exito, buying Choco Bigger ice cream to survive the heat, running on the beach in Rio, drinking Aguila, Pilsen and Club Colombia, and of course, dancing.

But after a few years of trying to incorporate some of those things into my life here in Australia, I realised that I like it just fine the way it was. Because sometimes the experiences you have when you travel are about the impact they have on your life in a particular moment, not something you need to bring home with you.

*Disclaimer, I’m not suggesting all dancers, Spanish students or Pitbull fans are obsessed with Latin America, just was the case for me.

Parramatta parkrun and Carcoar Cup

In the last few weeks, the feeling associated with running has gone from pure happiness just to be out there, to fear of reinjuring my foot, to excitement over being able to race and finally landed at that feeling where I’m itching to do more, like yesterday.

My first race was almost three weeks ago, when I lined up for Parramatta parkrun. I promised myself I would take it easy, and just focus on getting through the 5km run pain free. I managed to stick to it, and after being conservative for the first half I picked it up for the run home and finished in 22.25 – not a bad effort for 8 weeks off running. The following weekend was the Bay Run, and after a 6km training run during the week I felt confident that I could manage 7. Not sure of how long it would take, I estimated 32 minutes, starting slowly once again to feel out how my foot was going. When I wasn’t in any pain, I increased the pace and finished in 29.50, two seconds slower than my Bay Run PB. That wasn’t part of the plan!

Last weekend started with parkrun again, and I wanted to try run it closer to PB pace. Sticking to my strategy of not going out too hard, I tried to push the pace in the second half, finishing in 20.49. That afternoon I went to Carcoar in country NSW for the annual Carcoar Cup, running the approx 6km Carcoar to Creek Dash. There was a bit of explaining about my formerly broken foot each time I mentioned what distance I was doing. I definitely would have loved to have been out there with the half marathon runners, but following on from Park Run, my hilly 6.39km event was tough enough.

Mostly a mental battle with myself, I had convinced myself I couldn’t catch the girl in front of me because I thought I was too tired for a race to the finish line. I decided to go for it with about 500m to go, willing the finish line to come closer because I was almost out of energy. The fast pace on the steep downhill at the end meant my ITB was complaining the next day, but it was great to win back to back runs! Getting my first prize money was nice as well.

That little taste of competition has made me want to do more, and I’m feeling pretty excited for events I have coming up. First goal is 10km at the end of this month, but my thoughts are already drifting towards Canberra Marathon in April.

One step at a time, bring it on!

Return to running – week two

Sometimes inspiration and advice comes when you least expect it, and that definitely happened to me this week. I was talking to a fellow runner who had a stress fracture nine weeks before Canberra marathon. She still managed to run Canberra, and three other marathons since then, which is the inspiring part. Hearing a story like that gives me confidence that I will be able to get back to running long distances, specifically a marathon which has just become my goal for 2014.

Then there was the advice part. She said that she is more grateful for the failures than the successes, because if we always just improved we would never understand that sometimes we actually don’t.

It was one of those things that I didn’t know I needed to hear. It made complete sense, because in a way I didn’t understand what it felt like. This injury is my first setback in almost 20 years of running. I have taken time off, had other priorities and periods where I hadn’t improved. But this is the first time when I have been focused and training well that I haven’t achieved what I was aiming for. Maybe it was a lesson I had to learn, that I’m not actually invincible.

If I didn’t understand it before I definitely do now, and it was evident in my run earlier tonight. After running 13 minutes with breaks last Thursday, then 16 minutes with breaks on Sunday and not feeling any pain in my foot, I was happy with where I was at and was aiming for 19 minutes tonight.

I started off with a 7 minute walk, then got through 5 minutes of running with no problems. After walking for 2 minutes, I started another 5 minute run and almost straight away had a weird feeling in my foot, similar to when I had started walking without the boot, where I couldn’t tell if I was experiencing mild pain or just being paranoid.

The physio I have been seeing said that a weird feeling was nothing to worry about, and that I would definitely know if I was feeling pain. He explained that while our brain filters out all the useless messages it receives, like the feeling of our clothes on our skin, everything about what is happening in my foot would be getting through because it knows there was a problem there. The weird, slightly paranoid feeling of possibly experiencing pain is because my brain is paying extra attention to mt foot and what is happening the more I start to use it.

Knowing all of this, I continued running until the weird feeling developed in what was definitely a slight soreness. It was underneath my foot, towards the back and generally not in the same area that was broken. But despite telling myself this, the paranoid feeling took over and my body seemed to have a mind of its own when I stopped after 3 minutes of my second run.

I walked for a few minutes, then started up again, this time only getting through a minute before I stopped running. Even though the pain was in a different part of my foot, I couldn’t help but think back to City2Surf when my foot started hurting slightly. I tried to keep running, and 2km later I had a fracture. There is nothing I want less right now than another injury. As disappointing as it was to stop and walk, I knew it was the right decision.

Thinking back to New Zealand last weekend, I remembered how my foot felt sore after walking, but it was a muscular pain as opposed to anything to do with the bone. I stopped and stretched my foot for a few minutes, then decided to give it another go. Recommencing at a slower pace, I eventually got through 5 minutes, then after a short break, another 4 minutes.

The soreness didn’t really reappear in the last 9 minutes, and I was running slow enough that my sister probably could have kept up with me (sorry Meggie!). But that isn’t what was important. This run was about helping my mind differentiate between paranoia and real pain, and rebuild the confidence to run normally. Because there is one thing it is now completely certain about – I’m not invincible.

Return to running post fracture – week one

Upon reaching 8 weeks since City2Surf and fracturing the third metatarsal in my right foot, I finally returned to running!

The physio told me that the best way to think about what I’m doing at the moment is “running for the love of running”, and he couldn’t be more accurate. The running I’m doing isn’t long or fast, but I get to run and that is the best part about it!

My first two runs back were:

October 3 – walk 10 minutes, run 7 minutes, walk 10 minutes

October 6 – walk 10 minutes, run 3 minutes, walk 2 minutes, run 3 minutes, walk 8 minutes

The first run was on the grass, the second on the beach. I leaned towards soft surfaces out of desire to be extra careful (aka paranoia), but will run on a hard surface this weekend.

After another physio appointment today, I am going to step it up over the next two weeks to build up to 40 minutes total (half walking, half running) and decrease the recovery time between each block of running.

I’m excited!

My A-Z of Travel Bucket List

Earlier this week I read an article on SMH that listed the ultimate A-Z travel bucket list, so I decided to compile my own. Fitting everything in the alphabetical format did make things challenging, and I had to bend the rules in a few places to fit everything in and will admit that some of my reasons are a little weird. But I’m a little weird, and I think it’s a great list!

Here is my A-Z travel bucket list:

A – Atlantic Coast of Portugal – walking trails along a beautiful coastline, sim por favor.

B – Brazil 3.0 – I always say that Brazil could be a trip of its own given the size and things to do. Next time I go back, Salvador, Florianopolis, Buzios, Lopes Mendes beach (Ilha Grande) are all on the list. And Rio, again.

C – Colombia 5.0 – I don’t know how it’s possible, but there are STILL things I haven’t seen in Colombia. I’m not sure I will ever get enough of this country. Caño Cristales, Rio Claro, San Andres Island are top of the list.

D – Dominican Republic – I love the Caribbean, and it’s hard to go wrong when choosing an island destination to visit. Personally, I’m a little biased towards the Spanish speaking countries which means the Dominican Republic won over Jamaica.

E – España – What to do when there are too many places starting with “S”?! (Yep, I think I’m pretty clever). Spain is on the top of my list for Europe. I’m curious to explore the cultural similarities and differences with the Latin American countries I’ve visited.

F – Fraser Island – I will admit that I didn’t know much about Fraser Island until a backpacker friend stayed with me earlier this year. The largest sand island in the world, 100 freshwater lakes and it’s right here on the Queensland coast. What’s not to like?!

G – Germany, Switzerland and the UK to visit my friends in Europe – is it cheating to list three places under “G”? I have friends in these three countries I’ve been wanting to visit for a long time (and I guess I could do some travelling while I’m there too).

H – Hong Kong – I didn’t have time to stop here when I went to China in May, but it’s a priority for when I go back. I want to take the tram to Victoria Peak for views of the city, eat as much street food as possible and see the city skyline from the harbour. Macau is a must visit too.

I – Israel – This is on the list mostly due to constantly hearing how amazing it is on my 2011 trip. First it was a guy I met at the Grand Canyon, then it was the abundance of Israeli travellers I met in South America telling me how amazing their country is. One in particular I remember told me about its diversity, and said that you can drive from the beach to the desert to the snow in one day. Combine that with a big coastal city that has captured my interest (Tel Aviv) after being named in the top 3 most innovative cities in the world in 2012 along with two of my favourites (Medellin and NYC), and Israel definitely makes the list.

J – Jurassic Coast, UK – I love any kind of coastal walk or drive that offers beaches, cliffs and views out to the ocean. Highway 1 in California is my current favourite, but this is one of two on this list that might compete with it.

K – Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Enough said.

L – Lisbon – I’m cheating a bit her again by separating Portugal into two letters, because I wanted “P” for something else! Lisbon fascinates me, mostly because of its coastal location, food and nightlife. I often get surprised reactions when I tell people that I haven’t been to Europe, and my love for Latin America does make me biased towards wanting to explore Spain and Portugal first. I’m expecting them to have their differences, so I’m interested to see if these countries end up being my favourites in Europe or I prefer somewhere else.

M – Marathon overseas – I have been considering running the Rio marathon for awhile now (any excuse to go back to Brazil), but New York, Boston, maybe London if I could get an entry would be awesome too.

N – North Western coast of Australia – Cheating again here, because I couldn’t use “B” for Broome. This has been on my list for awhile, I just wish it wasn’t so hard (expensive) to get to. The isolated west coast beaches, with their beautiful sun sets and the striking red colour of their rocky surroundings are calling me!

O – Other Spanish speaking countries – Aside from the ones I already have on this list, Paraguay and Puerto Rico are my next choices. I have been to 15 of the 21 countries that have Spanish as an official language and I think it would be cool to make it to as many as possible.

P – Pearl Harbour, Hawaii – I want to go to Hawaii in general (and am in January), but this was the easiest way to fit it on this list. But I will also admit that I do want to go to Pearl Harbour and visit the USS Arizona memorial. Why? I’m not really sure. Morbid fascination about being able to see the sunken boat maybe. Like I said, I’m weird.

Q – Queenstown – I’ve been told by the same friend who went to Fraser Island that Queenstown in the highlight of New Zealand. I’m going to the north island this weekend, so next time I go back I will visit the south island and see if I agree!

R – Road trip the Great Ocean Road, Victoria – This is part two of the coast lines that could beat highway 1 in California. The Twelve Apostles look amazing in pictures, I imagine they would be even more impressive in real life. This is one of the places in Australia I am yet to visit and have wanted to see for a long time.

S – Sailing Croatian Coast – When thinking about Europe, this was actually on my list before Spain and Portugal after a friend told me about it when she went in 2008. I’ve wanted to go ever since. My list for Europe is a little abnormal, I don’t even have France or Italy on there yet! Though anywhere on the Mediterranean Sea would be awesome, and so would the French Open. And Wimbledon. I’m going off topic! Croatian Coast is on the list.

T – Turquoise Pool, Chile – Maybe Chile is my France and Italy of South America because in the two times I went I didn’t have a huge interest in going to Chile. I’ve heard mixed reports, some people loved it and some say I didn’t miss much. But when I saw this photo of the Turquoise Pool earlier this year, this is definitely something I’d want to see!

U – US cities I haven’t seen yet, mostly Chicago. I’m pretty lucky with the US cities I have managed to get to, but Chicago is a notable exception. Memphis would be cool too.

V – Vietnam – This originates from watching a Top Gear special about a motorbike road trip around the country. Random, but it looked amazing. And I’ve only heard good things about it since then. I was donated a copy of the Vietnam Lonely Planet guide earlier this year, next destination maybe?

W – Watch planes land on the beach in St Maarten – Planes fascinate me. Yes I’m weird!

X – Xela and Semuc Champey, Guatemala – Yes, it’s a real place! Years ago I read about a 3 day hike from Xela to Lake Atitlan, which I haven’t had the chance to do yet. There are also hot springs scattered around Xela which I never say no to. As for Semuc Champey, I’ll let the picture talk again.

Y – Yacht the Whitsundays – I’m bending the rules again to include the Whitsundays, another place at home that has been on the list for ages. I’ve never been further north than Brisbane in Queensland, but have had a few failed attempts at going to Hamilton Island. The Whitsundays is a must, I will make it there sooner or later. And I’m sure I will go on a yacht at some point.

Z – Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Utah – I love the Grand Canyon, one of my favourite places ever. Sedona, Arizona is amazing too. For completely different scenery, Yosemite is stunning. There are reasons to visit so many of the national parks in the US, and you can guarantee that different parts of the country have different landscapes to offer. But my first choices would be Utah, Zion and Bryce Canyon. The emerald pools of Zion National Park and the vivid colours of the unique rocks pinnacles in Bryce Canyon are two things I would definitely return to the US for.

Broken metatarsal.. picture progress

While I was walking to lunch today, I saw a colleague who noticed that I was back to walking with normal shoes and was surprised that my foot healed so quickly (7 weeks). Since the injury, I’ve done a lot of online research about broken metatarsal bones. I’ve read a lot of stories about bad breaks and the time they took to heal, that made me realise I’m pretty lucky to be back on my feet already. Most of them were from more serious accidents, like falling off a swing or a roof, not a running related stress fracture that turned into a real fracture. But the good news is that my injury is evidence that a non displaced fracture can heal relatively quickly.

A few weeks ago, I took this picture showing the progress from 3 days after the fracture happened to 33 days after. Big difference!

And yesterday, for the first time in seven weeks I went out without supportive shoes on.

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