Saturday, September 17, 2022

End of Summer Training Update

We've reached that time of year when it's darker in the mornings and evenings, leaves are starting to fall off the trees, but yet here in the Washington DC area. . . it's still warm and humid! A few updates on how

it's been going.

Race schedule
My race calendar looks like this:

  • October 8: Hartford Half Marathon
  • November 5: Indianpolis Monumental Marathon
  • Thanksgiving: Turkey Trot 5K
  • January 15: Houston Marathon

There are 10 weeks in between Indianapolis and Houston, which is a very quick turnaround, but I wanted to do it for a number of reasons. I've always wanted to run the Houston marathon (I've done the half twice) and I also want a season to focus on the half marathon as the target race, so I will be choosing a target half marathon in late March.

New Training Approach
While I've been using McMillan coaches for 8 years, this is my first marathon cycle working directly with Greg McMillan himself. Up to this point, my weekly mileage has been in the low 50s and the marathon is just 8 weeks out. This week I will climb into the upper 50s, but that is still low for me. 

But optimizing training is all about experimenting. I've typically done well with very high mileage (in the high 70s) but there have been a few occasions when that has burned me out. And given that I have TWO marathons I'm training for, why not experiment with the first one with some lower mileage?

The thing is. . . mileage is just one piece of the massive training puzzle. Other pieces include the types of workouts, the frequency of workouts, fueling/hydration, stress levels and more. I think it's easy to get hung up on weekly mileage because it's a tangible, measurable thing. And as someone who loves analytics, mileage is definitely something I can get too focused on.

When I ran Boston last spring, I had to take 25 days off for Covid, and then another 9 days off just weeks before the marathon. And when race day came, I felt as fit as ever. I learned that I don't need to be so rigid with my training. I have a coach who is renowned for his approach, knows 100 times more than I do about running, so I am putting it in his hands. 

That said, the key to an effective coaching relationship is the communication. It's important for him to receive my feedback on how the runs felt so he can tweak the plan as needed. I am also experienced enough to tweak the plan myself in terms of moving days around.

After years and years of running 70+ miles per week during marathon training, I think I have established a solid endurance base. Endurance has always been my strength, so the ability to work on speed without having super tired legs is worthwhile.

The past 5 weeks of training have been all about TRUST. I have trusted that I am in better shape than my paces suggest due to the heat and humidity. I have trusted that the lower mileage could really work for me. I have trusted that runs that feel bad are a product of tired legs and/or the weather.

A few key workouts
I'll recap a few of my workouts here so you can get a sense of what training has been like.

17.6. miles, 8:52 pace on September 3. It was warm and humid so I kept it really easy. Although when I got back home, I started to see black spots and my vision was slowly getting more and more black. I lied down on the kitchen floor and felt horrible for a few minutes but then I was fine. While everyone struggles in the humidity, I have found that I am susceptible to heat exhaustion and it's not entirely safe for me to be running this kind of distance in the heat. But I did it and survived. Hydration was a major focus for the rest of the day. 

9 x 1000m Cruise Intervals with 200m recovery jogs on September 5. Nine might seem like an awkward number, but Coach Greg prescribed 8-10 so I thought 9 would be a happy medium. I was encouraged by this workout. I was extremely consistent with my paces in the 6:44-6:50 range and everything felt controlled. Given the humidity and short recovery jogs I was surprised I could run at that pace for so long. 

Marathon Pace workout: 10 miles at 7:37 pace on September 10.  Greg's company sponsored a local 10-mile race which meant that many of his co-workers were running it. We both signed up for this last spring and my intention was never to race it full out. Due to the humidity, I adjusted my goal pace from my actual target of 7:15-7:25 to 7:20-7:30. This was not smart. I KNOW that I need to adjust more like 30 seconds per mile in the humidity, not just 5! This meant that I ran the first half of the race too quickly and by mile 6 I felt like I was running half marathon pace just to maintain it. And then it felt like a 10K, followed by a final mile up a 120 foot hill that was a death march. So I ended up averaging 7:37, which is probably what I should have targeted initially, and it would have felt much better at the end. 

20 miles, 8:27 pace on September 16.  I did my long run on a Friday this week. I have a 10-mile marathon pace workout on Tuesday and looking ahead, Tuesday's weather is the hottest of the week! So I decided to move that marathon pace workout to Monday, but I wanted two full recovery days post 20-miler. So today is a rest day and tomorrow will be an easy day.

This 20-miler did wonders for my confidence. It was cooler and less humid and running a pace of 8:00 towards the end of the run felt like 8:30 a few weeks prior. It's amazing how much weather matters! My average heart rate for this run was 154, and it was also 154 for the 17.6 miler. But this run was further and faster by 25 seconds per mile! So that kind of tells me that maybe 25 seconds per mile is what I need to use in terms of adjusting for the humidity. 

New Balance SuperComp Trainer
Shoes I am loving & not loving
Road Runner Sports gave me a pair of the New Balance SuperComp Trainer in exchange for a review of it on my Instagram. I didn't ask them for this shoe and I had never heard of it. But once I learned about it and wore it on a few runs, it quickly became my new favorite shoe. 

I don't like wearing carbon fiber plated shoes in training because I like to save that magic for race day. And this shoe does have a carbon fiber plate. But it's meant to be a training shoe due to its weight. It does feel heavy in the hands but light on the feet. And even though it has an 8mm drop, it's more friendly to my Achilles than the ASICS Nimbus, which has a 13mm drop. This is not at all what I would have expected, but I guess it has to do with how the shoe fits me overall and how it changes my stride. I've worn it for two long runs, including the 20-miler, and it performed like a champ. 

And as for "saving the magic" of carbon fiber plate for race day - I feel like I am at a disadvantage with the heat and humidity so the carbon fiber plate levels the playing field! 

As for the ASICS Gel Nimbus, I think I have fallen out of love with that shoe as quickly as I fell in love with it. I really loved the Nimbus Lite for long runs, but when they came out with Version 3, it was too big for my feet. By the time I realized this, it was too late to exchange the shoe for a smaller size. (The downfalls of letting shoes sit in your closet for too long). The regular Nimbus 24 initially felt great but the more I ran in it, the more I realized it was too big as well. I kept stopping during runs to make the laces tighter. Additionally, the arch support in the Nimbus 24 is way too noticeable. 

It's possible that the previous versions (Nimbus 23 and Nimbus Lite 2) were simply superior shoes and maybe the upcoming versions will be better. But as for now, I am not nearly the Nimbus fan I once was. 

My current rotation is the New Balance SuperComp Trainer for long runs, the Adidas Adios Pro 2 for races, the Brooks Ghost 14 and ASICS Nimbus 24 for easy runs, and the Adidas Adios 4 for speed work.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

South Africa: Zebras Crossing Lodge

With a name like "Zebras Crossing Lodge" this place had been on my bucket list for over five years. On Instagram I follow #zebras and this lodge kept coming up. What attracted me to it was that the zebras come up to the pool! It's a private game reserve with only six rooms, and you basically just chill out with zebras. 

Zebras Crossing Lodge was the perfect final stop after an action-packed safari in Botswana. The Chobe Game Lodge guide dropped us off at Kasane airport, where we checked in for our 2:00pm flight to Johannesburg. This airport was insanely small and it seemed as if our flight was the only one departing out of any of the six gates. It was delayed by about 30 minutes and it felt like we were waiting forever. We were so eager to get to Zebras Crossing!

Thankfully the flight was short (under two hours) and when we arrived back into Johannesburg, customs was very quick. After baggage claim, we were greeted by someone who escorted us to our driver. A nice Mercedes was waiting for us and we climbed inside for a two-hour journey to Zebras Crossing. As we drove the sun set and with the darkness I was lucky enough to fall asleep for about 20 minutes. When we arrived at Zebras Crossing Lodge, we couldn't see much of anything in the darkness, but we were taken to our room immediately.

Even though our accommodations at our previous lodges had been incredible, this was by far the nicest room. It was extremely spacious and the bed was huge. Even bigger than a king size bed. Most notably, everything was decorated with zebras! Zebra artwork on the wall, a zebra sink stopper, zebra blankets, a zebra keychain for our key, zebra pillows and more. The bathroom had a walk-out shower and it was so cool to shower outdoors! The water at this lodge came from nearby springs and was perfectly safe for drinking and bathing in. 

After we settled into our room, we went to the main lodge area for dinner. There was a family of three staying at the lodge as well. But they would depart the following morning and we would be the only guests at the lodge for the remainder of our stay. 

They had a table set up for us and the dinner was delicious. I can't even remember what it was anymore, but all the meals at Zebras Crossing were excellent. I looked outside at the pool, but there were no zebras. I asked the other family if they had seen zebras and they said absolutely, the zebras had come up to the lodge. I couldn't wait!

Dinner table Zebras Crossing Lodge

It's really hard to describe the feeling of being at Zebras Crossing lodge. Greg used the word "magical" and I agree with him. Inside of our room and inside of the main lodge, there was a feeling of total peace and relaxation. The main lodge had a wood burning fireplace, which felt amazing with the temperature falling into the 50s in the evening. There were cozy couches and cushions and zebra artwork adorned all the walls. The lights were dim. The lodge was surrounded by nature. It was comforting, welcoming, and unlike any place I had ever visited. I couldn't believe we had finally arrived at the place I had wanted to visit for over five years!

The next morning after breakfast, we went on a bush walk. Zebras Crossing Lodge is situated on a private game reserve. From the photos, I thought maybe that meant 10 acres of land or something. But it was much, much larger than I had expected. This was both a good and a bad thing. Good, because it meant the property was expansive. Bad because it meant the zebras could be anywhere on the property, not just by the pool. The manager told us that the property had 25 zebras in total. We didn't see any zebras on the bush walk, but it was nice to get some exercise. There was really no place to run around the lodge, as I had anticipated.

After the walk, I changed into my zebra swimsuit and sat by the pool waiting patiently for the zebras to arrive. My swimsuit was covered in zebras and I had a matching cover up as well. I waited, waited, and waited. But they never showed up! We ate lunch, we read books, I dipped my legs into the pool. Some ostriches came by, and we could see some impalas. But alas, no zebras. I was disappointed, but because the lodge was so beautiful and relaxing, I was still in a really good mood.

There was supposed to be a zebra in this photo

We ate dinner and even though an entire day had gone by without seeing any zebras, I was still happy to be there. 

The next morning, we had breakfast and took another bush walk. We walked for just over an hour and there were no sign of the zebras anywhere. Actually, the lodge manager could recognize some zebra hoof prints, but he couldn't tell when they were from. After years of following this lodge on Instagram, what a disappointment it would be if we didn't see any zebras!

We waited patiently by the pool again for them, and when they hadn't arrived by 2:30, we decided it was time to go for a drive around the property. The lodge manager took us on a drive and we searched high and low. We even stopped for a snack and a drink at one point as we took in the scenery from a scenic view point. As we headed back to the lodge, we finally found them! There were about 8 of them hanging out near the owner's house. And they definitely did not disappoint!

I was expecting to view them from the vehicle, but the lodge manager told me to get out of the vehicle and approach the zebras. He encouraged me to pet them on their noses, and to stay in front of them (because they will kick you if you are behind them). I walked up to the zebras and most of them didn't seem to want me around. But one pregnant female took an interest in me. And even more so once the owner came by with a carrot for me to feed her with. She did not have a name, so I named her Zella. And the lodge manager said he would send me a WhatsApp message when she had her baby. 




I had so much fun playing with the zebras while trying not to get kicked or bitten! But the sun started to set so it wasn't long before it was time to head back to the lodge. Thankfully we were the only guests at the lodge so the manager was able to accommodate our desire for zebra searching!

For our last night, the lodge staff really went above and beyond to make things special for us. They knew it had been our anniversary, so they put rose pedals, candles, balloons, and champagne in our room, all set up on top of a zebra blanket. It was so beautiful!



I am not sure if the above video will work or not (I have never tried uploading a video to blogger). 

Anyway, our final day of our vacation was filled with zebras and relaxation and love!

The next morning, we packed our bags and got ready to depart. We both wanted to stay longer at Zebras Crossing Lodge, in the hopes that the zebras would come up to the pool. They fed us one final gourmet meal before we departed:


Zebras Crossing Lodge was a truly magical place to relax and connect with nature. As the only two guests, the staff made us feel like royalty and attended to our every need. I loved the zebra decor, the warmth of the fireplace, and the comfort of our room. 

It was a two hour drive back to Johannesburg airport, but it would take us a total of 31 hours to get from Zebras Crossing to our front door! We were rested and prepared for all the travel. 

Getting Home
The trip had been a total success. No illness or injuries or major disruptions. Everything had gone as smoothly as possible. There hadn't been much to buy in the way of souvenirs, so Greg and I tried to find stuff to buy at the airport. Unfortunately, there wasn't much there that we liked so we settled on a magnet. I did, however, buy a bracelet with zebra charms on it from Leroo La Tau. And a t-shirt that said Botswana with an elephant on it.

Of course the best souvenirs are the photos and the videos and the memories. We plan to make a photo album and create prints of the amazing photos Greg took. We have plenty of empty wall space just waiting for safari animals to adorn it!

After browsing the airport shops, Greg and I hung out in one of the business class lounges. The Emirates lounge was closed so we were directed to another lounge. Our flight departed at 2:00 and we landed in Dubai 9 hours later. Our plan was to stay awake on the first flight so we'd be nice and tired for the second flight. The second flight from Dubai to Washington Dulles would be 14 hours. 

In Dubai, we hung out in the business class lounge, which was really nice. I was even able to brush my teeth. The security was pretty intense, though. We had to go through security after stepping off the plane. And then we had to go through security again before stepping onto the next plane. We ate a full meal in the business class lounge so once we were in flight, we could sleep without having to worry about eating. 

Unfortunately, they really want you to eat! They served three separate meals on the flight home. Even though it was a "red-eye" (departing Dubai at 3:00am and arriving at Dulles at 8:00am) - they woke us all up mid-flight to serve lunch. Yes, they called it lunch. Who eats lunch in the middle of the night!? Yes, I was annoyed by this - and I couldn't simply refuse it and sleep because all the lights were on and all the utensils were clinging and clattering. No amount of noise cancellation or eye coverage would drown it all out. So. . . we ended up only sleeping 3 hours on that 14-hour flight. Even though Emirates business class is very nice, if you are considering it, keep in mind that food is prioritized over sleep!

Finally, after 31 hours of travel and 23 hours of flying, we were back home. It felt good to be back, but I definitely miss the zebras and everything that Africa had to offer!



Friday, August 26, 2022

Chobe Game Lodge: An Elephant Paradise

For those of you who follow me more for the "Racing" and less for the "Stripes," the racing posts will resume once I am done documenting my stripey journey in Africa. It's important that I write about it while it's fresh in my head so I can remember as much as possible about this trip of a lifetime. 

When our light aircraft landed back at Kasane airport in Botswana, it was time to collect the luggage that we checked. Greg couldn't immediately find the checked baggage slips and I was wondering how they would find our luggage. But as soon as we entered the airport, our luggage was right there, waiting for us! Everything was so well organized; they knew exactly when we would be coming back to the airport. 

We were greeted by staff from Chobe Game lodge, and driven about 40 minutes to the lodge. This is the only lodge inside of Chobe National Park; all of the the surrounding lodges are outside of the park. 

Chobe Game Lodge was more like a traditional hotel than a small lodge like Leroo La Tau. I think they have about 40 rooms, so it's significantly larger. It's managed by the same company - Desert & Delta Safaris. Several of the people we met at Leroo La Tau had already been to Chobe Game Lodge.

Chobe Game Lodge is staffed primarily by women. All of the safari guides are women, and I was told that was intentional. Our guide, Maggie, was phenomenal. We even had a personal restaurant server who knew our name and made sure we were taken care of at each meal. 

The first thing we did at this lodge, even before eating lunch, was to use the treadmills at the gym! After not having run in three days, it felt so good to get the legs moving. We only ran for 30 minutes, but it was enough to get our heart rates up and to get back into the groove of running. 

After we ate lunch, it was time for a sunset river safari. The lodge sits on the river, so it's super easy to hop on board a boat and see the wildlife gathering around the water. By the way, I should mention that both Leroo La Tau and Chobe Game Lodge are all-inclusive. All of the food and activities are included in the price of the stay. Daily laundry service is also included, which we definitely took advantage of. Light snacks and beverages are served and all river cruises and game drives. 

Elephant Selfie from the boat!

So many elephants!


Elephants walking down to the river

I found the river cruise to be much more relaxing than the game drives. It was smoother (the drives are pretty bumpy) and I always love being out on the water. 

After the cruise it was time for dinner and then we headed to sleep!

The next morning, we took advantage of the treadmills to run some speed work. We realized that the treadmills were on an incline, and there was no way to flatten them out. They were set up on a slant, which made it extra hard. Also, Chobe Game Lodge sits at around 3,500 feet of elevation, which is enough to make a difference for sea-level runners like Greg and me! So what started as a tempo run turned into tempo intervals. And then those turned into 5K effort intervals because it was so hard with the incline and the elevation. I was happy to get some harder work in; that's really all I cared about it. It was my only speed work for the entire two weeks.

We spent some time exploring the grounds of the lodge, went on another river cruise, and then had lunch. And then in the afternoon it was time for our first game drive in Chobe National Park. I was told that zebras did exist in the park, but they were not very common. Instead we saw loads of elephants, some giraffes and a group of lions!

An abundance of elephants, captured by Greg
Greg got this amazing giraffe shot

Our guide received a phone call that lions were seen near us, so she drove us to the location where we found them sleeping. I could not believe how close we got to these lions. Apparently they do not recognize humans as prey as long as we are still and blend in with our surroundings. Maybe this was one of the times it was good to be wearing neutral colors! Anyway, I was about 10 feet away from these lions. As a zebra lover, I didn't expect myself to be so enamored with the lions. But I was. They were absolutely adorable and we had the pleasure of seeing them wake up and play with each other. 

So cute.

Adorable, even though you probably ate a zebra.

It was definitely an action-packed game drive. When we arrived back at the lodge it was time for yet another gourmet dinner. They did amazing job at making the dinners feel intimate and romantic.

On our way to dinner


Such a beautiful view!

We stayed at Chobe for a total of three nights. It was an experience of a lifetime and I highly recommend it. We went on a few more game drives and river cruises. We encountered warthogs while walking around the lodge. 

The only zebras I saw were very far away when we were out on the boat. Everyone on the boat was focused on the hippos, which were in close view, but I was focused on the zebras that could only be viewed with binoculars! I knew I would be seeing more zebras at our next location, so I wasn't too bummed out that Chobe wasn't abundant with zebras. 

From Chobe Game Lodge, we were driven to Kasane airport. We had a full day of travel ahead of us, which we weren't particularly looking forward to, but it would be worth it for our next and final destination.  Here are a few more photos from Chobe:

Hippos on the water





Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Leroo La Tau: A Zebra Paradise

This post a continuation of our trip to Africa. See my previous post about how we got here.

Zebras in the background
The next stop on our African adventure was Leroo La Tau in Botswana. Our light aircraft landed on the air strip and we were immediately greeted by Metal, who would be our guide for the next three days. This location was extremely remote. Metal drove us in a safari vehicle to the lodge on a bumpy, sandy road. (Thank goodness for Dramamine!)

Leroo La Tau had been recommended by our tour operator due to its high concentration of zebras. A few years ago, Greg and I had watched a zebra documentary and learned about the Botswana zebra migration. It's the second largest zebra migration in the world (Tanzania is the largest) and they all migrate to the Boteti river during the dry season. We had been familiar with Boteti, and we we realized that Leroo La Tau was situated on the Boteti river, we were very excited.

When we arrived, I was immediately taken in by the view. Many, many zebras were gathered on the other side of the river and they were easily viewable from our room. And more would come later in the day! 

Leroo La Tau has 12 rooms, which are individual huts along river. Because it's so small, it was a very intimate atmosphere and the service was extremely personalized. Our room was quite large, and the best thing about it was the balcony and the view. And the room was even set up so you could watch the zebras while showering, or in the mirror behind you while brushing your teeth. 

The view from our balcony

There would be no running at this lodge because running triggers the predators. And it wouldn't be out of the question for a lion to be on property. In fact, there was a lion there the second day. 

When we arrived, lunch was being served. We enjoyed our meal and then got settled into our room. The ability to see 100+ zebras from our room means this was the best view I've ever had in my life. It won't ever be surpassed no matter where we go. Even with zebras roaming around outside of our room in Victoria Falls, it wasn't like hundreds of them in their natural habitat. 

That afternoon, we went on a game drive through Makgadikgadi Pans National Park. We saw many, many zebras along with a few elephants and giraffes. The landscape itself was beautiful and we stopped for drinks and snacks to watch the sun set. Here are a few photos from that game drive:




Basically, it was a zebratastic day and we have so many wonderful photos and videos. Greg really captured some amazing images and the plan is to make prints of them and hang them around our house. We will also be creating a photo book with all of the amazing photos we captured. 

So yes, this was definitely a dream come true for me. When we returned to the lodge, we enjoyed an amazing dinner. Because the lodge only has 12 rooms, we felt like we were guests in someone's home. The meal was home cooked, the service was personalized, and we sat at a large table with the other guests. It was really interesting to meet other travelers. Most of the people we met were from Europe.

Dining table set for dinner

Before heading off to bed, we were handed "bush babies" which are essentially large rubber flasks of warm water that you sleep with because it gets cold over night. I loved those things so much! It got down into the mid 40s but instead of feeling cold in the traditional sense, it was refreshing.

There was no sleeping in at this lodge; the animals would not allow it. All sorts of birds and baboons jump on your hut and make lots of noise, reminding you that you are in the middle of a wildlife area. It was both rustic and luxurious at the same time. It's like we were camping but also staying in a luxury hotel.

After a light breakfast, we were off on another game drive to see even more zebras:


Zebra Selfie

That afternoon, instead of opting for another game drive, we stayed back at the lodge and enjoyed the view from our room. 

The next day, we could have gone on a trip to Nxai Pan, which is a salt pan where nothing lives. It's essentially a vast area of nothingness. Nothing lives there; not even bugs. It's a huge salt pan. It would have taken all day to get there and come back. I didn't see the appeal of going to an area to view completely nothingness so we stayed back and enjoyed the view of the zebras from the lodge. 

In the evening we went on our final game drive and Greg captured many amazing photos, including this one:

When we arrived back at the lodge for dinner, we were pleasantly surprised that they set up a special private dining area for us to celebrate our anniversary. It was situated in the top level of the main lodge and we had an entire spread all to ourselves. They made it very romantic with candles, flowers and champagne. 


The next morning, it was time to depart. It was sad to leave, but I knew there would be more adventures ahead. After breakfast, Metal drove us back to the airstrip and we boarded our light aircraft flight to Kasane airport, which is where we had left the rest of our luggage. 



Inside the light aircraft departing Leroo La Tau

A lifelong dream of seeing zebras in their natural habitat had been fulfilled. And after seeing them in masses like that, I love them even more. Special thanks to Giltedge for recommending and booking this lodge! We did see some other animals, but this destination was truly all about the zebras. I'll share photos of other animals in my next post. 

The Tanzania zebra migration is larger than the Botswana one, so there is more for us to do in the future! Keep an eye out for my next post about our third destination in Africa.




Sunday, August 21, 2022

Africa: Victoria Falls

Our first of four destinations was Victoria Falls. Similar to how Niagara Falls have a United States and a Canada side, Victoria Falls can be viewed from Zambia or Zimbabwe. We stayed on the Zambia side and did not cross over to Zimbabwe. This would have required purchasing an extra visa, and we were only there for a very short amount of time.

We picked this location not because of the falls, but because our hotel had zebras roaming freely around the grounds. I had been following Avani Victoria Falls on Instagram for a few years and I told our tour operator that I wanted to include it in our itinerary. I found this hotel by following #zebras and seeing that zebras walked around the swimming pool very casually!

We only stayed at Avani for two nights, and we left at 7:00am after the second night. So we didn't even have a full 48 hours there. 

Upon arrival, we were taken to our room and I immediately got changed to go to the pool. I had the perfect bathing suit: rainbows and zebras! Victoria Falls also has a rainbow and zebras!

Before even leaving room, I looked outside the balcony and there we saw her: our first zebra of the trip! Right outside of our room. And then another one followed! I was so excited. We rushed out of the room so we could get closer. We were told we shouldn't get too close, because the zebras didn't like that. I made sure to stay a good six feet away, which I had practiced during covid.

The zebras had their own security guards. The guards were there to make sure that guests didn't get too close to the zebras. Although we did see a two-year-old child running towards a zebra and the zebra not being happy about it. But thankfully the child was quickly rescued by a parent!

The great thing about Avani is that it's a five minute walk to the falls. So after hanging out at the pool, we went for a quick exploration, with the intent of spending more time there the following day. The falls were beautiful and there were many different view points from which to observe them. 

We then went back to the hotel for dinner, at which point we had to walk through a few giraffes. Giraffes also roam freely around the hotel, although they do not get as close to the pool as the zebras. 

The next morning, we decided to run outside. There was a nice path around the hotel grounds that also went by the neighboring hotel. It also went out onto the main road, so we ran on that a little bit too. It felt great to be running after three days off. This hotel also had a small gym with treadmills, but we much preferred running outdoors. And I think we did need to stop once and wait for some giraffes to pass.


Then we had breakfast and their buffet was huge. I made sure to have something with fat at every breakfast to help with the absorption of the Malaria pills. Those pills made me a little dizzy and gave me strange dreams for the first few days, but then I got used to them. 

We sent more time exploring the falls and they were truly magnificent. 

You can see the mist in front of our faces

When we returned to the resort we were greeted by EIGHT zebras! The previous day we had seen only three, and we didn't realize there were more. I just loved admiring their stripes and watching them graze. The other guests loved them too as they were the focal point of the hotel. 

Eight Zebras outside the hotel rooms


That evening, we went on a sunset cruise on the Zambezi river. We saw some elephants and hippos and enjoyed the beautiful sunset. 


The next morning, we were picked up by our transfer at 7:00am so there was no time to run. It was definitely a short stay and I would have loved more time with those zebras. But I knew there were more zebras ahead.

Our next destination was Botswana. We were driven about one hour to the Zambia/Botswana border and we actually drove through a place where Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia all met up with each other. We had to sanitize our shoes to prevent Foot In Mouth disease from spreading between countries. At the immigration center, we were handed off to another driver who drove us about 25 minutes to Kasane airport. 

From Kasane, we flew to our next destination: Makgadikgadi Pans. (I still cannot pronounce it). We traveled on a light aircraft and Greg and I were the only two passengers! Just us and the pilot.

But before getting on the light aircraft, we had to leave our large luggage at the airport. We were allowed to take the backpack, the duffel bag and the small luggage. We knew this in advance, so we repacked everything accordingly. I was a little nervous about leaving my luggage at an airport, but all of the important things were packed in the smaller bags. 

Thank goodness for Dramamine because the first 20 minutes were very, very bumpy. the seats were small and cramped and it was too loud to be able to talk to Greg. In other words, the novelty of it wore off pretty quickly. The flight lasted one hour and 20 minutes and I was happy when we finally landed. More to come in my next post!

African Safari Adventure

My number 1 goal for this year was to go to Africa and return home safely. And that goal has been accomplished. Greg and I were in Africa from August 7 to August 19. We visited South Africa, Zambia and Botswana. In this blog post, I am going to summarize some general topics that might be helpful for those seeking to go an African safari, as well as the pre-safari preparations. I will write a separate post about each of the places we stayed.

Booking the Safari
We booked this trip in 2019, a year in advance of our originally planned August 2020 vacation. This was meant to be a 10-year anniversary trip, but ended up being a 12-year anniversary trip. We were married on August 14, 2010. I researched various tour operators and settled on Giltedge to book the trip. 

We knew of two properties we wanted to visit (I had been following them on Instagram for years) and we left the rest up to them. We told them that zebras were a priority. After a few phone conversations and some back-and-forth emails, we settled on an itinerary that Greg and I were excited about. They took care of everything for us except for our flights from the USA to Africa. They booked all of the transfers, all of the flights within Africa, and all of the accommodations. 

Packing for the Trip
This was a big deal. I started packing about six weeks prior with the world's most extensive and organized Excel spreadsheet packing list. We packed every possible medication we might need from Pepto Bismol to Benadryl to NyQuil to Dramamine. We knew we wouldn't be able to go to the local CVS and buy whatever was needed. We packed sunscreen, bug spray, swim suits, safari clothing, running clothing, anti-malaria pills, binoculars, sunglasses, power convertors, camera equipment, books, and more. But we managed to fit it all into one large suitcase, one small suit case, a carry-on duffle bag and a backpack.

Packing cubes were a lifesaver. We had never used them before, but I learned about them on a travel website. They keep everything organized while maximizing the space you have in your suitcase. We were especially grateful we used them because both pieces of checked luggage ended up with sand in them during transit. I am not sure how or why, but we had to shake sand off of the packing cubes when we opened our bags.

We even had enough room in our luggage to Pack for a Purpose. The website had a list of items that were most needed in the communities we were visiting. We packed a large supply of pencils, colored pencils, and toothbrushes to give to the community. These items are so inexpensive on Amazon but make a huge difference in the communities that need them.

Vaccines
We went to a Passport Health travel clinic to get guidance on what types of shots were needed. I had actually researched everything myself online and knew what was needed, but none of my doctors would prescribe anti-malaria pills. We received:

  • Hepatitis A/B vaccine (two doses. . . a final dose to be taken in six months)
  • Typhoid vaccine - I got the shot and Greg preferred to take the pills
  • Tetanus shot - my last one had been in 2013
  • Anti-Malaria pills - not a vaccine, but pills you take while you are in Africa and for a week after
Safari clothing
All of the websites advised neutral color clothing to blend in with the surroundings. To avoid white
because of all the dust. To avoid black because it attracts bugs. To spray the clothing with Permethrin to repel bugs. But having been there, I don't think any of this mattered. What mattered was to have comfortable clothing for sitting in a safari vehicle.

But of course, I found it necessary to buy an entire safari wardrobe, so I bought 3 pairs of safari shorts from Eddie Bauer, safari pants, and neutral colored tops from Athleta. The safari hat was an absolute must because the sun was bright and I wanted to keep it off my face. I had also bought prescription sunglasses before the original 2020 trip. I had never worn them until now because I never have issues with my contact lenses. They were helpful because sand/dust gets in your eyes and having contacts in can be annoying.

Two of the four lodges we stayed at had a daily laundry service included, so we didn't need to pack two weeks' worth of clothing. This is how we were able to have just one large piece of luggage with the two smaller ones.

Weather
The climate was extremely dry, resulting in my skin feeling itchy/burning towards the end of the trip. My face was particularly dry, but thankfully Emirates had provided facial moisturizer in their overnight bag they gave us. The temperature was in the high 40s in the morning and it rose to the mid 80s in the afternoon. The heat never felt uncomfortable because it was a dry heat. I absolutely loved this weather, although my skin did not. It did not rain at all because it's their dry season. The weather was one of the best things about this trip.

Running
Two out of the four places we stayed had treadmills. The other 2 lodges were completely un-runable, particularly since running would trigger the predators to chase you. And you didn't want that! One of the places with treadmills also had an outdoor path, so we ran on that instead of the treadmills. I ran a total of 5 times on this trip, which is about what I had expected. The runs were short - no more than an hour long. Just enough to keep my body used to running. 

Food, Drink and Water
3 out of the 4 places we stayed included all meals. I was worried that with my dietary restrictions there would be times when I wouldn't be able to eat what was served. So I brought a nice stash of UCAN bars, Lara Bars, and protein waffles. It turns out I rarely dug into my stash because the food options were plentiful. 

The quality of the food was excellent. Greg said he had the best beef he's ever tasted in Botswana. I don't eat beef or pork, and all of the lodges knew that in advance. But apparently I had to say that I also don't eat lamb, ostrich, or a slew of other non-beef meats that are popular in Africa. 

I was a huge fan of the ginger ale (even though I am not a huge ginger ale drinker) because it actually tasted like ginger. Like a drinkable gingerbread cookie!

The tap water was drinkable at only 1 of the places we stayed. Otherwise, we had bottled water. 

Hospitality
All of the lodge staff and the transfer drivers went out of their way to make us comfortable. It was obvious that it was not just "a job" for them- they were personally invested in making sure that we were taken care of. The guides were extremely knowledgeable and we had no needs that ever went unmet. I have not encountered such genuine service in the USA or Europe. The staff took the time to learn our names and always called us by our names. Also, our tour operator had informed the lodges that it was our anniversary so they each had something special planned for us!

Internet
All of the places we stayed had internet access, although it was often spotty. This was important to me because I enjoy sharing my experiences as they happen. I was able to post photos to Facebook everyday as well as Instagram. There was no internet access while out on safari, which was nice. 

Covid
We were required to show our vaccination cards whenever transitioning countries. I think a negative PCR test would have worked too, but I am so thankful that we didn't have to worry about that. Masks were not required anywhere except when going through immigration. Supposedly they were required on all flights, but only about half of the passengers were wearing them, and this was not enforced by the flight attendants. In fact, there was a sign at the airport check in that said "please wear your mask" but the person behind the counter, next to the sign, was not wearing a mask.

I brought some heavy duty immune system vitamins with me, and I had been taking them regularly for the two weeks leading up to the trip. In the two weeks leading up to the trip, Greg and I did our own self-imposed quarantine. We did not want to risk getting sick beforehand. We didn't go out to eat and we made large grocery trips when the store was not crowded. 

Thankfully, we did not get Covid on this trip, although I was quite sniffly. Possibly allergies or a mild cold. 

Getting There
We flew on Emirates because my best friend travels to Africa regularly and told me it was the best airline. This meant a connection in Dubai. I didn't really think about it at the time, but flying through Dubai is not the most direct way to get to Johannesburg. So we probably could have had some shorter flights, but at least we were very comfortable. 

We flew business class which was a real treat. I had never flown business class before. It's extremely pricey, but we couldn't imagine flying for over 20 hours in normal airplane seats. As a bonus with business class, Emirates has a high-end car service included. So we were picked up in a luxury vehicle from our house on Saturday morning, August 6. Not having to pay for Ubers helped offset some of the cost!

It was a 13 hour flight to Dubai. We stayed awake the whole time and planned to sleep on the second flight. Our connection was 90 minutes, but that proved to be very tight. We did not anticipate having to switch terminals via bus and go through security again. By the time we reached our gate, it was already last call for boarding. But, at least I can say I was technically in Asia! Getting outside of the airport and getting on the bus counts in my book!

Then we had a 9-hour flight to Johannesburg and I was able to sleep for about half of this flight. We arrived at around 4:00pm local time. We spent the night at the airport hotel (inside the airport) because our first destination was Victoria Falls, which required yet another flight. 

The airport hotel was pretty standard. It felt really good to get a solid night's sleep. And then the next morning we were off to Livingstone in Zambia. The flight was quick, but we needed to get a Visa when we reached immigration which took an annoyingly long amount of time. After that, our driver met us and drove us to Victoria Falls. Thankfully, that was a quick 20 minute drive.

More to come in the next blog post!