Gallivanting in Japan and Thailand

Packing 8-10 sets of running clothes for this 2.5-week vacation was probably overshooting in the first place. We ran four times.

But I’m ok with that. Between all the walking, swimming and precious relaxation time, I’d say we struck the right balance.

Highlights:

Swinging through the mountains in Japan

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Temples and palaces in Kyoto and Bangkok

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Running in Kyoto

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Exploring islands off the coast of Phuket

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And, of course, all the eating

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We have a few quick stops on the way home to D.C. I won’t be blogging about them, but feel free to follow my Instagram if you’re interested!

Land of the Rising Sun

It’s amazing the things you can do when your brain has not accepted a 13-hour time difference.

Blogging, for one. Definitely didn’t plan on writing during vacation.

Also, pre-dawn running.

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Dave and I are in Japan, a trip we’ve been planning for a year. First on our jet-lagged agenda: a few miles around Tokyo’s Imperial Palace. A running path stays alongside a moat that encircles the emperor’s residence, making it a perfect place for us to shake off that 14-hour flight and take in some Japanese history. The palace itself is tucked out of sight, but the bridges and gardens on the grounds were peaceful and lovely.

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The next day or so was a blur of ramen, sushi, subways, crosswalks and fumbled Japanese vocabulary — probably a typical Tokyo experience.

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Now we’re in the mountains of Hakone, where the air is crisp, and everything is slower. It’s a welcome pace after I maaay have tossed some cookies on the train ride up the mountain (“Gomennasai,” or “I’m sorry” is now part of my Japanese vocabulary.)

I recovered by keeping my feet on solid ground for a hike around Miyanoshita, our neighborhood in Hakone.

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More scenic adventures to come, but hopefully less insomnia and, well, cookies.

Canyons in Indiana and Stunners on the East Coast

Another month, another collection of stunning views and natural beauty — around the East Coast and back in my homestate of Indiana.

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1. Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, D.C. — This is one of those natural beauties in my backyard that I’m kicking myself for not having visited sooner (much like the National Arboretum). The aquatic gardens are filled with water lilies, cattails, frogs, herons and other swampy things. You can walk along dirt trails and a boardwalk and check out the water gardens that lead out to the Anacostia River.

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2. Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, Pa. — When the boyfriend has a work retreat at a swanky resort, you make room for it on your calendar. Nemacolin is a ritzy spot in southwestern Pennsylvania, and we had a blast checking out the horseback riding, casino and other fancy activities they had planned for us. But the highlight, not surprisingly, was our Saturday morning trail run up and down the green ski slopes and through the woods surrounding the property.

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3. Turkey Run State Park, Ind. — Did you know you could walk through canyons in Indiana? Yeah, me neither. When I suggested to my friend Becky during a recent visit to Indianapolis that we go on an easy hike in the city, she one-upped my idea by taking us out to Turkey Run. The state park, about 65 miles from Indy, features miles of trails through sandstone canyons and mini-waterfalls. Way to deliver, Hoosier State.

And, duh, a couple D.C.-area favorites.

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Rock Creek Park never disappoints.

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Primo picnic spot at Great Falls.

Chasing waterfalls, via rock scrambles

After spending the whole of yesterday tasting wines from every corner of Virginia, I had grand plans today to drink coffee, read the Sunday paper, loaf around and generally avoid the world. The universe had other plans and made that very clear with the stunning sunrise I awoke to.

OkayUniverse, I’ll go outside today.

Thankfully, my adventurous friend Sarah was also ready to sweat out some pinot from yesterday, so after about two minutes of planning, we were on our way to Great Falls. (If you live near D.C. and haven’t been to Great Falls, stop reading my blog right now, go visit and then smack yourself for not having gone sooner.)

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In all my years of going to Great Falls, I hadn’t actually hiked the popular Billy Goat trail on the Maryland side of the Potomac River. So glad I fixed that problem today. Sarah and I opted for Billy Goat Section A, the most challenging of the three trail options. The route is only a few miles but took a good 1.5 hours due to endless rock scrambles and some breaks for breathtaking vistas of the Potomac’s Mather Gorge.

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Definitely going to make a point of trekking out to Great Falls more often. In light traffic, it’s just a 25-minute drive from my place in Capitol Hill and easily accessible by bike, too.

Traveling Well

In Southeast Ohio, I ran on a path next to a sewage treatment plant. In Istanbul, Dave and I worked out in a gym that literally doubled as a sauna. In suburban Chicago, I spent 10 miles on a treadmill looking at a blank wall.

Such are the inconveniences of sticking to a training schedule while traveling for work, vacation, weddings and so forth. So, when IHG’s EVEN Hotels invited me to check out their new wellness-oriented hotel in Rockville, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

The new-concept hotel chain focuses on helping guests stay “on balance” with diet, exercise and sleep while traveling for business. The Rockville hotel features in-room yoga and strength-training equipment, group fitness classes, a healthy restaurant and snack shop, and group runs.

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I particularly appreciated a comment during dinner from one of the corporate officers, who said the hotel is not trying to back any certain health/diet trends or tell guests which approach to take. Rather, the goal is to make healthy options available, whether guests are looking for high-intensity workouts, restorative yoga, gluten-free snacks, protein-packed dinner or just a good night of sleep.

This is beginning to sound like a press release, so I’m cutting myself off now. The point is, I really like this hotel concept. If you’re interested, check it out for yourself.

Holy Hills: Maryland HEAT Race

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When I signed up for a trail race between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, I wasn’t expected much in the way of elevation. The hills of the Patapsco Valley humbled me fast on Saturday at the Maryland HEAT Race 25K. East Coasters: If you’re seeking an annual quad-burning, rock-scrambling, stream-crossing sweatfest, look no further. The HEAT Race has all that, plus an after-party with enough beer, burgers and cake to please all the rungry meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans there.

I ran with my friend Sarah, who was doing her first trail race and longest race ever. We approached the run casually, planning to make a day of it rather than really race, since we were both undertrained. Dehydration hit Sarah hard (sort of a harsh rite of passage on the trails), but she rallied and finished strong.

We stayed together until my Garmin said 15.25 miles. Thinking there was only a quarter-mile left, I began my charge to the finish line, but, cruelly, it didn’t actually show up until my Garmin said 16.1. Ouch. We both finished in a little more than four hours and then collapsed in the grass with popsicles.

Wanna do a challenging trail race without schlepping out to Shenandoah? This is your guy.

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East Coast trail racing

As many of you know, I’m skipping out on the marathon scene this year. I’m pretty pleased with that decision, as I’ve been able to bliss out on trails and nail a couple half-marathons in the meantime. I did my first long(ish) trail race just before I left the Pacific Northwest, and now I have a couple more on the docket.

First, the sure-to-be-grueling Maryland HEAT Race. Apparently HEAT stands for High Endurance Adventure Test, and that’s a pretty accurate description. Outside Baltimore in Patapsco State Park, the 25K race will be boiling hot. But the pictures from past years look lovely, and the course even squeaks in 3,000 feet of uphill running. Interested? The race is Aug. 9. I think you can still sign up here.

Photo courtesy of MD Heat Race Facebook.

Photo courtesy of MD Heat Race Facebook.

Next on the agenda: The Virginia Happy Trails Running Club Women’s Half Marathon (wow, that’s a mouthful). I’ve been wanting to get involved with the VHTRC for months, and I’m excited to be a part of this popular event. Out at Fountainhead Regional Park in Northern Virginia, the course features rolling hills on miles of singletrack. The Sept. 13 race is already almost filled up with early registrants (me!), but you can sign up for some of the last spots on Friday here.

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