Category Archives: Travel

36 Hours in Nash-Vegas

One of many enormous boot stores in Nashville.

One of the many enormous boot stores in Nashville.

Last weekend a group of friends and I went to Nashville, TN, for a bachelorette party.  What we didn’t know was that every other bachelorette party in the world was also going there.  Apparently Nashville has eclipsed Las Vegas as the #1 bachelor and bachelorette party capital of the U.S.  Despite this, we still had a good time.  Oh, and we spent more than 36 hours in Nashville… (But yes, I’m doing a play on The New York Times36 Hours In… series, which actually covered Nashville, but to no one’s surprise, the Times seemed to have quite a different experience from us…)

 

Friday

1.  Up and At ‘Em | 4:40 am – Wake up and get a car to LGA for my 6:30 flight.  There were four of us going on this trip but we all flew separately due to geography and airline/ticket considerations.  Spoiler alert – we all had various major and minor travel problems to and from Nashville.  One girl missed her flight on Friday, and my flight was cancelled on the way home so I had to spend an extra night in Nashville.  Not sure if that always happens if you try to go to or from Nashville, but it’s worth considering if you value your sanity.

 

A quiet Broadway on a Friday morning in Nashville.

A quiet Broadway on a Friday morning in Nashville.

2.  Most Important Meal of the Day | 10:30 am – Two of us have arrived in Nashville, and we hit Broadway to scope out the neighborhood and eat ice cream as our first meal of the day!  (Ok, it was my second meal…)  Mike’s Ice Cream was pretty good, but a lot of flavors were sold out at 10:30 am – maybe because little else seemed open at that time in that area?

 

The steak salad at Etch.

The steak salad at Etch.

3.  Etch a Sketch | Noon – The bride-to-be has arrived and the three of us wander back down to Broadway for boot shopping and lunch.  We take a break from shopping to have lunch at Etch, which turns out to be excellent – really good food, big portions, nice ambiance, friendly service, and low prices for New Yorkers ($15 for large steak salad entree, for example).  We later hear it’s a favorite of many visitors and locals, and I’d definitely recommend a visit to Etch if you’re in town.

 

So many boots.

So many boots.

4.  These Boots Were Made For Walkin’ | 2:00 pm – After a big leisurely lunch, we continue boot shopping on Broadway.  We stop in almost every boot store we pass, and I’m determined to buy a pair of boots for only about $100.  I succeed!  But I also buy a second pair for a lot more.  I get endless grief for this, but I still maintain it was a totally different thing.  The bride also buys a pair at Big Time Boots, and a girl who wasn’t buying boots at all buys a pair at Broadway Boots.  Every boot store was similar, but each had a different feel and a surprisingly diverse selection, so if you’re on a mission to buy boots in Nashville, it’s worth stopping in a lot of the stores to get a sense of what’s out there.  And yes, you can get boots for around $100, but your selection will be a lot more limited.

5.  Naptime | 5:00 pm – Back to the hotel to nap (for the girls) and do PT exercises (for me).  We pushed back our dinner reservations in hopes the final girl would make it in time, but unfortunately she wasn’t able to arrive until about midnight.

 

Not our pedal tavern, but they were ubiquitous.

Not our pedal tavern, but they were ubiquitous.

6.  Pedal to the Metal | 7:00 pm – Our Nashville Pedal Tavern Midtown tour starts.  Yep, it’s one of those giant bike-vehicles with bike seats and pedals on the sides to power the moving “tavern.”  We had heard the pedaling was just for show and that they all have motors, but the pedaling was a lot harder than we expected!  When we were on a hill, we were basically standing up on the pedals to push down – more resistance than I ever use in spin class.  Downhills and flats were almost no resistance, however.  The pedaling was the best part, as our guide was surprisingly surly and totally unhelpful as a guide (he didn’t point out a single sight or tell us a single fact about Nashville).  The other guests were almost all other bachelorette parties, and since they didn’t have black souls like we did we were so much older and more boring than them, they hated us.  And the “guide” blasted music which just caused the other girls to scream even louder.  The bar stops were fine, but the bike was BYOB and you couldn’t see anything since you’re facing in while seated.  I’d put this in the “skip” category if you’re ever tempted.

 

No picture of Husk - instead enjoy this neon boot sign.

No picture of Husk – instead enjoy this neon boot sign.

7.  Tusk Tusk Husk | 10:50 pm – We finally get seated 20 minutes after our 10:30 reservation at Husk.  Don’t get the bride started on Husk.  She was not a fan.  We were not fans.  No one should be a fan.  The food wasn’t that good, was mislabeled (“pork prime rib” was actually fatty pork belly), was crazy expensive for what it was (e.g. $30 for a small plain chicken breast and side of corn), and we were seated late with a disingenuous apology (despite arriving at 10 pm).  But the biggest problem was the service.  If you enjoy being served by pretentious bearded hipsters with horribly condescending attitudes, you’ll love Husk.  The only good thing about Husk is the historic mansion it’s housed in (although the dining room is ear-splittingly loud for such a small room), but the building is definitely not enough to make it worth a visit.

 

8.  Reunited | 12:15 am – Our final friend arrives and we are complete!

 

Saturday

I still kinda regret not getting this pastry.

I still kinda regret not getting this pastry.

9.  Panera Dreams | 8:00 am  – Why are we up so early?  Maybe because there is a 1 hour time change between Nashville and NYC that none of us realized until we landed.  Oops!  Regardless, we are up, and get some breakfast at Panera Bread one block from the hotel.  I get a chocolate chip bagel and have my NYC card revoked.

 

The pool and outdoor area at the Renaissance Hotel.

The pool and outdoor area at the Renaissance Hotel.

10.  500 | 10:00 am – We exercise our minds by trying to learn the card game 500 while sitting on the outdoor patio next to the hotel pool.  (It’s like a dumbed-down version of Bridge or a more complicated version of Euchre.)  It starts to rain and our brains start to hurt, so we decide to get lunch.

 

11.  Salad Days | 1:00 pm – Lunch at The Southern Steak & Oyster is noisy but fun, features amazing grits, and their hot chicken salad is a tasty way to eat fried chicken for lunch while also being “healthy” because you’re eating a salad.

 

Part of the Corsair tour.

Part of the Corsair tour.

12.  Corsair Don’t Care | 2:15 pm – We grab an Uber to take us to the Corsair Distillery and Taproom on Clinton Street for our 3 pm tour.  It’s good that we get there early as it gives us time to get some marshmallows at the Bang Candy Company (they taste like marshmallows, nothing that special, but I love my new t-shirt), and browse the knickknack shops along the row where the distillery’s located.  The tour is very short (basically just a peek into the back warehouse area) but worthwhile for the knowledgeable and friendly tour guide and for the tastings (1 gin and 3 whiskeys – none of us could finish the tiny pours).  They also served the most delicious whiskey-lime-ginger cocktail at the bar there, which made me a happy camper.

 

No pictures of Escape room so here's another of Corsair!

No pictures of Escape room so here’s another of Corsair!

13.  Trapped in Nashville | 5:00 pm – We arrive for The Escape Game Nashville at 3rd Ave North in Downtown Nashville.  I’ve done 4 different escape rooms with 3 different companies across the country (in NYC, Portland, and San Francisco) and this Nashville room was the nicest and most high-tech.  We chose the Nashville music producer room since it had a Nashville theme and was the “easiest” room for 7 people (we booked the entire room for the 4 of us).  Unfortunately, we were one clue away from escaping when time ran out!  So frustrating!  But we still had fun and another girl and I are addicted enough that we’re planning another attempt on a different room in the near future (but we were not so crazy as to book another room for the next morning, although that thought did cross our minds…).

 

Huge main dining room at 5th and Taylor.

Huge main dining room at 5th and Taylor.

14.  It’s Located at 5th & Taylor | 7:30 pm – Dinner at 5th and Taylor, a gorgeous modern American restaurant housed in a former warehouse in Germantown.  It was packed with diners but had great service and good food and cocktails.  The homemade ice cream was delicious and helped me forget the pain of not escaping.  We all had a great time and even stayed after dinner for a drink at their outdoor bar.

 

Sunday

15.  Away in the Night | 5:00 am?? – Our first departure.  The rest of us were still asleep.  She actually gets delayed at the airport for several hours.

 

16.  Union Jack | 9:00 am – A simple diner-style breakfast at 417 Union.  The grits weren’t nearly as good as the ones at The Southern, nor was the service, but it was in a cool old building.

 

There.  You've seen it.  Saved you $20.

There. You’ve seen it. Saved you $20.

17.  No Photos, Please | 11:00 am – We have our second departure and the two of us remaining in Nashville tour Ryman Auditorium.  I’m glad we saw it, but I gotta say it’s such a rook.  $20 per person for a self-guided tour is ridiculous since all it gets you is a(n admittedly good) short film on the history of the auditorium and then just a walk through the place with employees yelling at you not to take pictures near the stage.  Everything is an upsell ($20 or $30 for a photo?) and there’s not much there.  But, again, glad I went, since it was the only museum-type experience I had in Nashville, and now it means I’m cultured.

 

Hot chicken with a local beer flight.

Hot chicken with a local beer flight.

18.  Count Your Chickens | Noon – We take an Uber to Hattie B’s for hot chicken, but the line is crazy long so the driver recommends Party Fowl which has no wait.  There are both regular sit-down tables and two separate bar areas. The famous Nashville hot chicken was good, but basically it’s just spicy fried chicken (the spice is in the breading for the chicken) served on top of a slice of bread.  I think it’s just an elaborate excuse to eat fried chicken (not that one should need an excuse).  A couple of guys at the bar told us Hattie B’s was actually a lot better than the chicken at Party Fowl, and that we’d have to come back and get it again.  Hard sell on the hot chicken in Nashville, but if it means I can try Escape the Room again, I’m in.

 

Of course I re-visit the candy store and get ice cream after my fried chicken lunch.

Of course I go to the candy store and get ice cream after my fried chicken lunch.

19.  Kid in a Candy Shop | 1:30 pm – My friend leaves for the airport, leaving me all alone in Nashville, since my flight is delayed due to “aircraft maintenance.”  I head back to Broadway to visit some of the shops and bars we didn’t get a chance to visit (like Savannah Candy Kitchen for some banana and chocolate chip ice cream), and I keep getting texts saying my flight has been delayed again.. and again… and again… and then cancelled!

 

20.  Airline Fun | 3:00 pm – I rush back to the hotel to get on the phone with Delta to try to get on another flight out of Nashville.  Any flight!  Any airline, any city, even if it means a connecting flight… nothing.  I’m on the phone with them for almost 2 hours.  I ask about them putting me up at a hotel etc. and the guy says just submit the receipts to Delta and I’ll get reimbursed.  (A week later and I’m still waiting on reimbursement…)  I’m rebooked for a flight out at 7:00 am the next morning.

 

My second, unexpected room.

My second, unexpected room.

21.  Lock In | 5:00 pm – I check back into the Renaissance Hotel and sit in my lonely hotel room.  I flip channels on TV.  I’ve failed again at Escape Nashville.

 

22. De-Hermiting | 7:00 pm – I force myself to go out to dinner because I know I’ll regret staying in the room all night.

 

This photo, nay, any photo could not do this dish justice.  It's heaven on a plate.

This photo, nay, any photo could not do this dish justice. It’s heaven on a plate.

23.  #blessed | 7:30 pm – Dinner at Rolf and Daughters, a place the guy at the front desk recommended.  It’s a small-plates type restaurant which I usually hate (small portions for too much money, too chic for old people like me, and get off my lawn!), but the food is excellent and I have the best pasta of my entire life – “Sweet corn agnolotti, lime, pecorino, jalapeño.”  They were little pillows of pasta filled with sweet corn cream that burst in your mouth, and there was also some heat from the peppers – just amazing.  I’ve seriously thought about it every day since.  Skip the carrot starter and even skip the olive oil cake dessert and get two orders of the pasta with the sourdough and seaweed butter starter on the side (it’s half a loaf of amazing chewy crusty bread with delicious butter and salt).  Ugh, now I’m depressed I’m not eating it this very moment.

 

Monday

24.  Sound the Alarm | 4:45 am – I get up early and rush to the airport to make sure I’m there in plenty of time for my flight.

 

25.  Overslept | 6:30 am – Flight is delayed because there was some confusion and a flight attendant is “at the hotel.”

 

26.  Putting on Makeup | 7:15 am – Flight attendant is still “at the hotel.”  Apparently the hotel is not in Nashville.  I’m still failing at Escape Nashville.

 

27.  Home Sweet Home | Noon – I finally arrive back in NYC when I should have been home at 7:30 the night before.  But I’ve finally escaped!  Good thing or I might have missed the wedding.

 

If you go…

The Renaissance Hotel ($704 for two weekend nights, guaranteed 2 queen beds, with tax) was perfectly fine and they were really nice when I had to check-in again on Sunday (only $221 with tax for 1 night, 1 king bed), although one of our two original rooms had a faulty A/C (and I swore it smelled like piss the first day – I blame the bachelor parties).  It was really nice that our rooms connected (via the internal door) which in retrospect was key for the weekend.

 

Lots of Ubers were taken over the weekend, but almost every trip was only $5 (except for the airport, which was about $20 for an Uber and a $25 flat rate for taxi, not including tip).  And if you’re not going to Nashville for a bachelor or bachelorette party (or even if you are), just prepare yourself to be surrounded from the moment you get on your flight to the moment you escape.  And if you do ever find yourself in Nashville and can get to Rolf and Daughters for that corn pasta, just know I’m jealous of you.

 

Have you ever been to Nashville?  Have you ever gone on a bachelor or bachelorette trip?  Have you ever visited Bachelor in Paradise?  Share in the comments!

Packing “Light” for a Fall Marathon

Yes, this is packing light for me.

Yes, this is packing light for me.

I haven’t done a normal marathon packing post in a while, and since I have four fall/winter marathons coming up, all (?) of which I’ll be traveling to without renting a car, I thought I’d share my experiments with packing “light.”  For this trip, I’m flying out to Minneapolis on Saturday morning, running the Twin Cities Marathon on Sunday, and flying back on Monday night.

 

I plan on visiting the Mall of America (to ride a roller coaster!) on Monday before my flight, so I’ll have all my luggage with me then (they have lockers for rent at the mall).  I’m also using the metro system a lot (to get from the airport to downtown (where my hotel is, not far from the marathon start), from downtown to the expo and back, and probably from the marathon finish back to downtown (unless I use one of the race’s buses)) so I decided to go with a small roller bag plus an expandable briefcase-style bag that will slip over the rolling bag’s handle for ease of carry.  I considered using my normal roller but I wanted to see how two smaller bags would work, and I also considered using just one large backpack and skipping a roller altogether, but I thought I’d get tired shlepping all my stuff through the airport and on the trains.

 

Ok, so what’s all in the picture above?  Starting from top left and working (sorta) down and across:

Packing stuff left side

  • Lipault Wheeled Pilot Case – fits two packing cubes, all my toiletries, socks & underwear, massage tools, two sandwich Ziplocs of gels/gummies and Clif bars, and a Garmin watch in a case.  Unfortunately it does not fit my shoes along with all those other items.
  • Nike Studio Kit 2.0 (almost invisibly sitting on top of the roller case) – to use as my “purse” but it’s big enough to fit my kindle, tablet, papers/notebook, snacks, etc.
  • Herschel Supply Co. Packable Daypack – to bring to the expo so I can carry all the expo goodies back
  • Socks and underwear (in Ziploc bags)
  • Hoka One One Clifton – I just got these but they’re actually the Clifton 1 from last year – I loved them in the 10-Miler and hopefully they’ll hold up for the full 26.2 (and beyond!)
  • Road ID (on the shoes)
  • Adidas Adipure Slides – This is the most important new thing I will always pack – slides!  I realized after South Dakota that once I was back in the hotel room, I really didn’t want to put my sneakers on after the race, so I actually just stayed in my room the whole afternoon.  Slides won’t hurt my toes post-marathon, and they can also be used as slippers so your feet don’t have to touch nasty hotel carpet (but can be used as actual shoes unlike slippers).  The Adipure slides are very lightweight.
  • CEP calf compression sleeves – just in case it’s really cold the morning of the race (it effectively transforms my capri running tights into full length tights, although it looks terribly dorky)
  • Garbage bag
  • Assorted head and neck warmers (e.g. Bondi Band, Buff, headband)
  • SPI Running belt
  • Hat (black and grey) – from Target, I think
  • Gloves (pink) – also from Target, I think
  • Oakley sunglass case & glasses (on hat) – I’m actually packing my training sunglasses instead of my fancier photocromatic ones because for some reason I want to wear them.  I got them years ago, but I think they are the Radarlock version?  Or maybe the Radar Path Asian Fit?
  • Packing stuff middle“Regular” sunglasses (on American Flag soft bag – great deal on Amazon – ‘MERICA!) – to wear while not running (I could have downsized here and just brought a single pair, but I splurged and am packing two).
  • Gas Cap Hat
  • Clothes – Zoot Sports IceFil shirt (in case it’s hot), long-sleeved pink shirt (for expected temps), white rain jacket (stained, to toss), pink rain jacket, CW-X Stabilyx 3/4 tights, “Everything Hurts And I’m Dying” cotton t-shirt and comfy black pants to wear Sunday night/Monday, pj shorts, cheap grey fleece to toss, and grey sweatpants & animal-print fleece for bag check (to wear after race).  The weather is supposed to be perfect running weather (partly cloudy and temps in the 40s to a high of 60) so I’m not packing as many “contingency” clothes as I sometimes do.
  • Koss Fitclips headphones
  • Charger and cables
  • Kindle and Samsung Tablet (Galaxy 4)
  • Footstar massage ball and a massage tool (I got the tool at some expo and it doesn’t have the brand on it – sorry I can’t remember! You could try this or this.)
  • Garmin 620 – with charger in a hard sunglasses case (otherwise I find the buttons get pushed in transit and the watch does weird things and dies).  BTW it’s been finding satellites much faster recently in NYC – more satellites up there now?
  • Pink flower, blue flower, and hot pink long gloves (back up at the top of the photo) – I don’t have a great costume for this race, so I’m just going with a pink theme.  No real reason.
  • A. Saks Expandable Tote Bag – only $35 on Amazon right now, this bag will swallow everything you own, so you have to be careful not to overpack (to leave room for Mall of America goodies!).
All packed up!

All packed up!  It’s a surprising amount of stuff, even still!

 

Also, yes, I PACK my marathon shoes.  A lot of space could be saved by simply wearing them, but after I was vomited on twice on airplanes, I pack my precious, precious shoes.

 

The Twin Cities Marathon elevation chart.

The Twin Cities Marathon elevation chart.

 

And now for my expectations!  I always try to include my expectations because I think a lot of how someone feels about a race depends on what they were expecting.

  • I’m expecting it to be “The Most Beautiful Urban Marathon in America.”

    Twin Cities Marathon elevation miles 20 to 23

    A three mile hill!

  • I think the course is mostly flat to rolling, except for a crazy 3 mile hill between miles 20 to 23!
  • Potentially cold (temps in the 40s at the start), but secretly I’m expecting it to be perfect weather.
  • Easy walk from my hotel to the start, but I’m expecting a long wait for the bus or train back to the hotel, so I’m checking sweatpants and a sweatshirt so I don’t freeze while waiting.
  • I’m aiming for 12-13 minute miles (ideally between 12:00 and 12:30 – or a 5:15 to 5:30 marathon), but I’m not sure how realistic that is considering my training (longest run was a single 16-miler at a much slower pace) and recurring knee pain.
  • And finally, I’m a little worried I’m sick – I’ve felt bad all day today, with a headache that won’t go away and a slight loss of appetite (only slight – I’m not dead!).  I even took a nap but the headache didn’t go away.  So…. yeah.  If I’m sick, I’m sick, and that’s gonna suck and change all of my expectations.  Hopefully I’m just tired and can go to bed early tonight and feel better for my big travel day tomorrow…

 

Have you ever visited the Mall of America?  What’s your favorite flavor of Clif Bar?  Do you have any packing tips or tricks?  Share in the comments!

Where to Run in Westchester? Try Waveny Park in New Canaan, CT!

Waveny Park path

Ok, so Waveny Park is in Connecticut, not Westchester, but it’s close enough.  And I did this run in late August, a little over a month ago (the week before my long run in Pound Ridge Town Park).  The color of the leaves might have changed in a month but the trails are still there!

 

In a turn from the usual, I’m trying to do at least a little training before my next marathon (Twin Cities in Minneapolis/St. Paul on October 4th).  So this week I forced my lovely family to go to Waveny Park so I could do my long run and they could run, too (… and wait and mess around on the exercise equipment and wait and watch the model airplane people and wait).

 

This was kinda neat to see - tons of people had their airplanes out - and it looked like something they did every weekend.

This was kinda neat to see – tons of people had their airplanes out – and it looked like something they did every weekend.

Wavney Park is in New Canaan, Connecticut, not far from the downtown and just off the Merritt Parkway (you can actually see cars on the Merritt while running).  The high school is inside the park, along with a track, a pooltennis courts, a grand old house, and a theater theatre.  I did my entire run inside the park on the various trails – I did not run on the roads as it seemed dangerous and I seem overly cautious.

A lot of the trails looked like this, but narrower and more crowded as the morning passed.

A lot of the trails looked like this, but narrower and more crowded as the morning passed.

Unfortunately, the trails in the park do not form any sort of coherent loop or route (see map here).  So I spent 10 miles going up and down and back and forth and left and right depending on my mood and how crowded certain sections of the trail seemed to be at the time.

Like the path of an insane person, which I became by the end of this run.

Like the path of an insane person, which I became by the end of this run.

 

The good:

  • The trails were easy, in the sense you could wear road shoes and be fine.
  • Hard to get lost, despite all the random turns and dead ends.
  • Lots of shade.
  • There’s a real bathroom inside the park (near where they fly the model airplanes – it looks like a maintenance shed and isn’t too far from the parking lot near the “house”).

The bad:

  • No loop!  Surprisingly frustrating and made the miles creep by.
  • Kinda crowded.  If you start early in the morning or go on a weekday, I imagine it would be much better.
  • No loop.  Seriously, I decided to run in Pound Ridge Town Park the next weekend because I just couldn’t face running random paths in Wavney again.
The Wavney House on a hill.

The backside of Wavney House (on a very gradual hill).

I also tried listening to a book on tape for the first time during the run (Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan – it’s ok, but his stand-up is better).  I enjoyed the experience enough that I listened to Girl Walks Into a Bar by Rachel Dratch during parts of my next two long runs (Girl was easier for me to listen to than Dad, for some reason).  Right now, it’s more appealing for me to listen to comedy than music during my long runs, since I have such a slow pace and upbeat music can be irritating after a while (well, anything can be irritating after a while, which is why mostly I run in silence).  Anyway, if you’re looking for something to pass the time while running, I’d say try it out!  There’s usually a special on Audible memberships (at least one month free but often you can find deals like 3 months for $3 or something), and their different membership levels are explained here (1 credit is basically 1 book).

 

After the run we all went for a big lunch at Le Pain Quotidien and then bought candy at a candy store, where I found my future everyday outfit:

I'll take 100 in my size, please.

I’ll take 100 of these in my size, please.

Back to real time = Tomorrow is the Bronx 10-Miler!  See you there!

 

Do you run on open roads?  What do you listen to while you run?  Where should I try running next time I’m in Westchester?  Share in the comments!

Where to Run in Westchester? Try Pound Ridge Town Park!

This is not the section where I fell down.

This is not the section where I fell down.

I’m a little behind on posting – here’s a mini-review of one of two locations I ran in Westchester County, NY, (about 1 hour north of NYC) in late August.

 

For my long slow distance (LSD) run this week, I did 14 miles of 1.5 mile loops in Pound Ridge Town Park, which was not quite as mind-numbing as it sounds.  I enjoyed the company of my niece for the first 6 miles (she was kind enough to slow down for me), then promptly fell down, then finished another 7 miles before driving back home and doing nothing for the rest of the day (some things never change).

 

Yes, I fell during this run.  Hard.  But let’s run a few loops first, shall we?

Yes, it was a lot of loops.

Yes, it was a lot of loops.  No, it did not stay 57 degrees for very long.

We started the 1.5 mile loop by running along the small pond in the park (the same pond over which the town shoots their amazing 4th of July fireworks every year).  It’s a mostly shaded paved path that has a couple of minuscule hills, heads past the police department, then unfortunately dead ends at Fancher Road.  We’d double-back at this point, continue past the pond and head up a gravel fire road-type thing, through the trees uphill of the baseball fields, then turn right and up another gravel road to pass the basketball courts.  Then we’d head into the woods for a couple short blocks downhill before spilling out onto the tennis courts.  We’d run on/past the courts, veer left on the paved road, run past the playground, past the grassy field, around the parking lot, and start the loop all over again.  One loop down, 8.5 loops to go…

 

After my niece finished her miles with me and went to the playground, I was feeling pretty good as I headed into the woods for the downhill trail portion.  I decided to pick it up a bit on the downhill – just for fun, you know?  I promptly tripped on a rock and went tail over teakettle.  I had a split-second moment of clarity as I went airborn, knowing I was going to fall and trying to figure out how best to fall without seriously injuring myself.  My years of being a terrible snowboarder helped me, as I was able to roll once before coming to a stop, relatively unscathed.  I sat there for a few minutes, pressing hard on my scraped leg and palm, as that always seems to help the pain for me.  I stood up, brushed off, used my hydration pack to irrigate the small wound on my hand, and slowly walked downhill out of the woods back to the tennis courts.  That’s where I shook out my legs and tried trotting around the safe, stable surface of the courts.  I felt fine, no worse than during any other long run, so I continued running the remaining 7.5 miles to finish my LSD run of the week.

By the end of the run, I was this slug.

By the end of the run, I was this slug.

 

Pound Ridge Town Park is not a bad place to run.  We saw several other runners that morning, lots of dog walkers, and lots of people playing on all the various courts and fields (little league, basketball, and tennis).  I’d definitely run there again, but next time I’ll watch my footing.

 

Where do you run in Westchester?  Are you annoyed I posted this route review almost a month after I ran it, or do you not mind?  Are you being inconvenienced by the Pope today?  Share in the comments!

Ecuador Multi-Sport Adventure – April 2015

A view of Quito, Ecuador, with unknown dog.

A view of Quito, Ecuador, with unknown dog.

The Wisconsin Marathon is 4 short days away so I decided to spend last week traveling around Ecuador, hoping that the high elevations (from 3,000 to 14,000 feet) would substitute for the training which I did not do.

 

Actually, I had booked this trip months ago via the discount website The Clymb – $725 for a full week tour, activities and most meals included (if you wanted your own room at the various hotels and home stays, the single supplement was $350, and tips for the guides and drivers was also extra, adding about another $160 or so).  The company that provided the trip, Ecuador Pure Life, normally sells the trip as “Ecuador Multisport Once In a Lifetime” for $1950 and says it’s 8 days but it’s really a full 6 (the first and last days are simply arrival/departure days in Quito with no activities planned).  The company will also arrange transport to/from the Quito airport for $45 per person, each way, which was fine for me but if you’re traveling with someone you can save quite a bit by just using a taxi (about $30 or so one-way).  Regardless, it was all very much worth the experience, and I’ll just have to cross my fingers it’ll help me finish in Wisconsin.

 

Since this is a post about multi-sport travel and not about running, I’ll try to keep it brief, but I did want to share the trip with you since I think the Venn Diagram of “People Who Like to Run” and “People Who Would Like This Trip” overlap greatly (as evidenced by the fact that two ultramarathoners and many other runners were on this trip).

 

Day 1 – Horseback Riding & Cotopaxi Volcano [Stay at hotel in Baños]

They provided us with the standard helmets and the not-so-standard alpaca ponchos and furry leather chaps.

They provided us with the standard helmets and the not-so-standard alpaca ponchos and furry leather chaps.

The first day of the trip was the most stunning – we rode horses in the mountains while a storm threatened in the distance, then walked a bit in the shadow of Cotopaxi Volcano, the highest active volcano in the world.  None of my pictures could capture the stunning beauty of this place.  We were at about 12,500 on the “highland plain” at the base of the volcano that reaches 19,347 feet.  I could barely breathe and questioned for the first of many times the wisdom of going on a trip that included professional ultra-runners.

On the plains by Cotopaxi - usually there is no snow at this level but the storm was actually hail that created a beautiful frozen effect.

On the plains by Cotopaxi – usually there’s no snow at this level but the storm was actually hail that created a beautiful frozen effect.

Day 2 – Bike Ride in Llangantes National Park & Visit to The Swing At The End of The World [Stay at the same Baños hotel]

The courtyard of our hotel in Banos - lush and beautiful, with mountains rising up behind it.

The courtyard of our hotel in Banos – lush and beautiful, with mountains rising up behind it.

There is no way not to look like a dork while wearing a bicycle helmet.

There is no way not to look like a dork while wearing a bicycle helmet.

The biking was thankfully mostly downhill, otherwise my lungs would have exploded.  There was some beautiful scenery along the way, and some not-as-beautiful scary barking dogs and donkeys that liked to stand in the middle of the road.

 

Tungurahua Volcano in Banos, Ecuador

Tungurahua Volcano in Banos, Ecuador – one of Ecuador’s many active volcanoes.

 

The Swing at the End of the World in Banos, Ecuador.

The Swing at the End of the World in Banos, Ecuador.

The swing (at La Casa Del Arbol, aka The Treehouse) has been greatly modified since it became famous and added to all those “1,000 Things You Must Do Before You Die” lists.  The tree itself has been fortified with a steel beam disguised to look like a trunk, they added two swings which now hang from steel beams instead of tree branches, they built a platform to help you gain momentum, and they even have a little rope “seatbelt” that clips you onto the swing.  That’s not to say you still couldn’t slip off the seat or break the rope, and it was still the scariest thing I did during the entire trip, but it’s a lot less death-defying than before.  Also, they charge you $1 for admission and our guide says they pull in thousands of dollars per week now.  All-in-all, it still makes for a very cool pic.

Day 3 – Zipline/Cable Car across Pastaza River (Bride’s Veil Waterfall), Short Hike to Pailon del Diablo waterfall, & Waterfall Hike in the Amazon Jungle [“Home Stay” in Amazon Jungle Lodge]

This is the waterfall we ziplined over.

This is the waterfall we ziplined over – you can’t see the cable but it’s there somewhere.

Day 3 also triggered my fear of heights with a zipline across a canyon and waterfall.  Normally a zipline wouldn’t be quite so scary to me, but this one was so high and exposed and you flew “superman-style” across with no control over speed or brakes or anything.  It ended up being less scary to me than the swing, even with all that.

 

Pailon del Diablo Waterfall (aka Devil's Cauldron)

Pailon del Diablo Waterfall (aka Devil’s Cauldron)

You get a better sense of why they call it the Devil's Cauldron from this picture.  Instant drowning if you were down there.

You get a better sense of why they call it the Devil’s Cauldron from this picture. Instant drowning if you were down there.

 

This was the "jungle lodge home stay" in the Amazon - surprisingly comfortable but no electricity in the rooms.

This was the “jungle lodge home stay” in the Amazon – surprisingly comfortable but no electricity in the rooms.

Sorry for the terrible pic, but this does somewhat capture our waterfall hike experience.

Sorry for the terrible pic, but this does somewhat capture our waterfall hike experience.

The waterfall hike in the Amazon was many people’s favorite experience of the trip.  After getting our faces painted with traditional symbols so the jungle would recognize us, they tied woven palm fronds around our heads that made everyone look like a badass.  They also gave us tall rubber boots that immediately filled with ten pounds of water.  The hike itself was basically hiking upstream in a small creek/river in the dark jungle.  There were a couple sections with rope “handrails” and one larger waterfall we had to climb up using a rope, so it was a bit of a challenge but not overwhelming.  The air was warm and muggy, the water cool and refreshing, and I wasn’t swallowed by a snake, so the hike was a big win for me.

We also made chocolate that night from cocoa beans - this is a shot of fresh beans with their sweet fruit coating, before being dried, roasted, ground, and roasted some more.

We also made chocolate that night from cocoa beans – you can imagine my excitement!  This is a picture of a cacao pod of fresh beans with their sweet white fruit coating, before being dried, roasted, ground, and roasted some more into chocolate.

Day 4 – Whitewater Rafting Down the Jatunyacu River & Soak in Hot Springs at Hotel [Stay at fancy Papallacta Resort Spa]

Our rafting guide, Diego, on the Jatunyacu River.

Our rafting guide, Diego, on the Jatunyacu River.

The Jatunyacu River is considered Class 3 in Ecuador, but the Americans thought it was a solid 4.  Translation – it was awesome.  Maybe the most fun I’ve had rafting, not the least because of the great people on our boat and our amazing rafting guide Diego, who had us doing tricks I’ve never done while rafting (including tipping the boat up on its end and balancing it like that while floating downstream).

Hot springs at the Papallacta Resort Spa.

Hot springs at the Papallacta Resort Spa.

We ended the day soaking in the hot spring pools just outside our hotel rooms.  It was incredible but the altitude and heat combined to make me feel not so good that night.  Several people got sick or slightly injured during the course of the trip (including one that required a late-night visit to the hospital) but supposedly that’s rare on this trip.  I’d advise you bring a full arsenal of OTC meds if you do go, though.  And lots of hand sanitizer and baby wipes.

Day 5 – Short Hike Behind Hotel, Shop at Otavalo Indigenous Market, & Roast Guinea Pigs [“Home Stay” in San Clemente]

In the morning after breakfast we did a short hike behind the hotel before hitting the road for a quick stop for pictures on the equator line and then to Otavalo Market where I did some fast and furious shopping.

All the goodies I got at the Otavalo Market, including gifts so maybe avert your eyes.

All the goodies I got at the Otavalo Market, including gifts so don’t look too closely…

The market was fine and about what I expected from the reviews I read online.  I’m not much of a bargainer since a few dollars for me matters less than for the seller, and as my dad says, if you can’t take advantage of tourists then who can you take advantage of?  So my main “strategy” was to buy two of everything.  Perfect for the hoarder in you!

First they're cute little pets...

First they’re cute little pets…

...Next they're dinner.

…next they’re dinner.

We reached the “home stay” in San Clemente and after milking a cow and feeding some alpacas pure salt and sugar, we roasted guinea pig (cuy) over an open fire.  I love trying strange new animal meat, but this is one of those I won’t be having again – I found the meat greasy and slightly fishy and overall unpleasant.  But I’m glad to check that one off!

Day 6 – Hike Around  Cuicocha Crater Lake & Short Boat Ride on the Lake [Stay back in Quito]

Cuicocha Crater Lake at almost 12,000 feet elevation.

Cuicocha Crater Lake at almost 12,000 feet elevation.

Our original itinerary had us hiking 9 miles for about 5 hours around this lake, but there was a new road that allowed us to skip most of the uphill portion, leaving us with only 2.4 miles of relatively easy hiking (“relative” to my wheezing lungs, “easy” to everyone else).  2015 is the year of failed circumnavigations of crater lakes for me!  The shorter hike did allow us time for a quick boat ride on the lake to see the little islands up-close (so many bromeliads everywhere!), make a wish passing between them, and to watch the sulfur bubbles rising from the bottom of the lake.

Bonus – Departure Day

Seven of us (from the original group of twelve) did a half-day tour of Quito on Friday ($45 per person booked through Pure Life).  We visited Old Town, several churches, an anthropology museum, and El Panecillo hill above the city (aka where the virgin statue is), where I took the first picture above.

Interior of the Basilica in Quito.

Interior of the Basilica in Quito.

Now I’m back in NYC and need to finalize my plans, packing, and cheese-themed outfit for Wisconsin, despite being bone-tired from Ecuador!  Where’s that coca tea when I need it?!

 

Have you ever visited Ecuador?  Does high elevation bother you?  Did you run Boston or London recently?  Share in the comments!

Fun Things to Do in Austin

Austin, Texas, in B&W glory.

View of Austin looking northeast from mid-river/lake. (Arty B&W effect thanks to Google+, which edited this photo for me without asking, like the world-dominating AI it is.)

Since crossing off Texas with the Houston Marathon this January, I have no plans to run the Austin Marathon anytime soon, so I can’t recap that here for you (besides repeating the rumor that it’s hilly).  But if you’re curious about things to do in Austin (besides the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail reviewed here), I’ve laid out what I did this week during my four-day visit.

DAY ONE

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Chuy’s on Barton Springs Road.

I arrived Monday afternoon, checked into my hotel (the W Austin downtown), then ate a very huge, very late lunch of beets and pizza at Due Forni, which was not the greatest decision since it was only ok and I had dinner plans about 2 hours after that at Chuy’s, pictured above.  Apparently Chuy’s is a chain but it doesn’t feel like a chain, and I had never seen one before.  They had an amazing happy hour special where they provided a FREE nacho bar with unlimited chips, different salsas, refried beans, nacho cheese, and seasoned ground beef.  I don’t know how they stay in business.  Anyway, it was great, even though I almost died of heatstroke walking there.  Note that about a week ago I was camping in the snow.  Moving on!

DAY TWO

bluebonnet in TX

The bluebonnet is Texas’s state flower, and despite common belief it is not illegal to cut (unless you’re trespassing or some such).

The next morning I took a 90-minute driving tour to get a sense of the city and the surrounding area (which is still technically the city).  My biggest takeaway from the tour was that the highways were covered in wildflowers (some pictured above, but really impossible to capture all the many kinds and colors).  It was very beautiful.  Also the house from Spy Kids is in the hills, and Andy Roddick plays tennis sometimes at a club up there.  Moving on!

Shopping haul from SoCongress

 

After the tour I walked from the Austin Visitor Center (really nice bathrooms there, BTW) to the South Congress shopping and eating district, where I had some great fish tacos at Guero’s Taco Bar and purchased the fun things pictured above at various shops.  I resisted buying any cowboy boots, but I did buy a lot of candy at Big Top Candy Shop, which as far as candy shops go was pretty excellent.

vegetable tasting menu at Qui

The vegetable tasting menu at Qui in April 2015.

I resisted getting a scoop of Amy’s Ice Cream on the walk back to the hotel only because I had 5:30 reservations at Qui, which is probably the best restaurant in Austin (according to people who know these kinds of things).  You might know it as the restaurant from that guy who won Top Chef recently.  I used to watch Top Chef, but I haven’t in several years, so I didn’t know who this guy was, but he put out a tasty menu, pictured above.  At $55 for the full tasting ($65 for meat, $100 or $110 with wine pairings) it was a relative bargain, as a similar meal in NYC would have easily been over $100 without beverages.  I recommend!  After dinner I strolled back along the infamous 6th Street, where I bought a pretzel at Easy Tiger (for my run the next morning) and stopped in at a bar that had some live music going (the Dirty Rooster).  It was still so early it was light outside and the crowds were sparse, so it was a good time to visit 6th Street without having to deal with the crazy drunkies.  I recommend!

DAY THREE

The next morning I did my long slow run around Town Lake, reviewed here.  I was so tired afterwards I barely managed to get a salad at Jo’s Coffee before falling into a deep, spiderweb filled sleep.  That night I had meatballs and brussels sprouts at Malaga Tapas a block from my hotel, which were ok but I think I should have waited for a spot at La Condesa to open up.

DAY FOUR

horse in Driftwood TX

Fastest walking horse I’ve been on, and he’s like 29 years old or something.

On Thursday I drove down MoPac Highway to Driftwood, where I rode a horse with Texas Trail Rides.  We saw three snakes during the ride, including one HUGE rattlesnake.  The guide kept talking about how there were a lot of water moccasins around, and how she hated them so much because they chased you.  Needless to say I never got off my horse until we were back in the parking lot.  I recommend!

bbq at Salt Lick

 

Since I was already down there, after my ride I went to The Salt Lick for their famous BBQ.  The turkey and brisket were my favorite, but overall this meal was only ok.  I preferred Chuy’s and Guero’s, so I think I just like Mexican more than I like BBQ.  I did appreciate that The Salt Lick offered free refills on soda.

 

I drove back into Austin, making a quick stop at The Whole Foods grocery store downtown, because while I’m not a fan of Whole Foods per se, the tour guide had told us it was the “second largest Whole Foods in the world” and that Whole Foods actually started in Austin.  (The internet indicates that the largest Whole Foods in the world is in London, but that the largest grocery store in NYC is in fact the Whole Foods on Bowery.  I’m not 100% sure any of that is correct.)  It was a pretty standard Whole Foods, but I splurged on a cup of mixed berries that I ate that night and they were the best berries I’ve ever had in my life.  So, there ya go.

Inside capital at Austin

Some impressive room at the Texas State Capitol. House of Representatives, I think? I was not a good tour guide for myself.

 

Finally, after dropping off my car at the hotel, I walked down to the capitol building, where I enjoyed the A/C and felt awkward watching the people in business suits going about their work while groups of sweaty, t-shirt wearing tourists gawked around them.  Or, rather, I felt awesome that I was not one of those people in business suits, because I bet a lot of them were lawyers and would rather be on a horse, eating BBQ, or buying berries at Whole Foods than wearing a black poly suit on a beautiful spring day in Austin, Texas.

 

While I was in Austin I really wanted to walk around the UT campus, tour the Bullock Museum, and maybe stop at the Blanton Museum of Art, too, but I was just too wiped out from the heat and the touring and the running on the days before.  So I wandered back to my hotel to swim, except the pool was like ice water, so I just sat next to it reading some John Scalzi.  The next morning I packed up and went home!

 

Have you ever toured Austin?  Did you manage to visit Hula Hut, swim in Barton Springs, eat breakfast tacos, or climb up the stairs to Mount Bonnell?  What do you like to do when you travel?  Share in the comments!

Austin’s Town Lake (aka Lady Bird Lake) Trail

In honor of my friend’s new blog, runningroutesreviewed.wordpress.com/, or rurore.com for short, here’s a brief, illustrated review of Austin, Texas’s Town Lake Trail, also known as Lady Bird Lake Trail, also known as the Roy and Ann Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail (Austin loves multiple names for things). It’s a 10-mile, mostly flat, mostly cinder path that loops around the lake/river that bisects Austin.

 
There are multiple access points to the trail and multiple bridges that cross over the lake, so you can tailor a loop to suit your distance needs, but I went for one full loop, plus I got lost when I headed off on Barton Creek Trail instead of staying on Town Lake trail, so I did a total of 14 miles.
 

Note – if everyone is turning in one direction, and you don’t know where you are exactly, you should probably also go in that direction instead of heading off into the woods. On the plus side, I got to see Barton Springs and added in the extra miles I wanted. On the minus side I ran through more gross spiderwebs/tree worm webs than I could count, and I was also scared I was running through poison ivy (several signs said it’s present along both trails), so it was a bit of tense running experience. But I also got to feel a million miles away from the city, even though I was less than 4 miles from my downtown hotel at that point.
 

Let the photo journey begin! Note that I started downtown on the north side and ran counterclockwise, but runners and bikers were going in both directions and I don’t think there was a right or wrong way.
 

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This is near where I started downtown – one of the many cute bridges you cross on this trail. Notice the construction crane in the background – Austin is booming!

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Most of the path is cinder but there are some concrete sidewalks like this.

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Some pretty landscaping under a footbridge crossing the lake.

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Some super cool bathrooms along the trail. There were multiple bathrooms along the 10 miles but these were by far the coolest.

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Some nice cactus along the cinder trail. This is still on the north side.

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The western “end” of the trail as it loops under MoPac Highway (aka Loop 1). The footbridge connects the north and south sides.

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Looking back at the city from under the highway. It looks so far away but it’s only actually a mile or two from here.

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One of the many water fountains along the trail. In the background is Zilker Park’s huge lawn which hosts the Austin City Limits Festival.

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A cute mini railroad. Don’t mind me…

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This is the point I got lost – I turned right while everyone else turned left.

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If you see this cool spot you are not on the Town Lake Trail.

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Barton Springs! It’s a quarter-mile long natural spring-fed pool that’s 68 degrees year-round. I thought I’d loop back onto Town Lake trail at this point but instead I went further along Barton Spring Trail and into Barton Hills.

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This is not Town Lake Trail.

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Unfortunately neither is this. (BTW the wildflowers are in a riot around Austin right now. Just beautiful.)

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Nor is this. After running through the umpteenth spiderweb I checked my phone for directions and backtracked to Town Lake. Luckily I had already broken through all the webs so the way back wasn’t as panic-making. Also, you’re welcome whoever ran that trail today after me.

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Back on Town Lake Trail! Notice any differences between this and the spider trail above?

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Just south of Congress Street Bridge (the bat bridge) the trail turns into a concrete boardwalk, which is pretty but wasn’t my favorite to run along.

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The eastern “end” of the trail, where you cross the spillway bridge.

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Looking back at the spillway bridge.

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My spirit animals for the day. I was soooo slow even with the helpful overcast day. I barely managed 14 miles and my knees were hurting by the end, so this will have to do for my last long (and longest) training run before Wisconsin. Yipes!
 

Overall, I enjoyed the Town Lake Trail by any name. It reminded me of the loop in Central Park (no cars, no smoking allowed, lots of people and bikers, lots of water fountains and restrooms, customizable distances) but it was totally flat, so if you need to do hill work you have to look elsewhere. The biggest advantage over Central Park? This trail never has snow or ice!
 

Have you ever visited Austin? Have you ever run this trail? Have you subscribed to rurore.com yet? Share in the comments!

Race Recap & More – ABB 5K, Butterflies, & Burritos

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Today I had a little too much fun running around Houston and eating burritos and chocolate and now I feel like these taxidermied animals, but less mobile.

The ABB 5K was plenty of fun and easy – starting and ending at Discovery Green next to the convention center, it was a flat, looped course out and back through downtown. It had a lot of kid and charity runners but was a wide course so it didn’t feel too congested. At the end you got a medal (from men and women in army fatigues), a bottle of water, a banana, and a mini muffin (had to brave a chaotic line for the food). Post race I had to look up what ABB is – apparently it’s a “global leader in power and automation technologies” based in Zurich, Switzerland. It’s the largest supplier of industrial motors and drives, wind generators, and power grids. It’s also the main sponsor of a 5K in Houston for some reason.

 

The weather today is supposed to be the weather for tomorrow’s marathon – warm and sunny, supposedly in the 50s at the start but it felt even warmer. I tried to hold back but the excitement of the race and the appreciation of my metallic costume got me a little revved up, and I averaged 11:30 minute miles, about 1.5 to 2 minutes faster than I want to go tomorrow. (I freely admit and acknowledge I am too slow for my age and non-injured status – something to work on in 2015?)

Where's the Finish in silver outfit

Channeling my inner astronaut. This is actually a toned-down version of what I wore for the Marshall Marathon at which I got about zero comments on my costume. Today I had many, many glove admirers. They are available at Amazon!

After the race I had a quick shower and some oatmeal at the hotel, where I asked the concierge how to get a taxi to the Museum of Natural History. He told me to take the Metrorail (aboveground light rail) instead. I told him that if I got lost and a missing person alert went out on me it was on his head. He laughed since there is only one track that goes north and south so I’d have to be an idiot to get lost. He didn’t say “idiot” but I saw it in his eyes. He gave me a map and circled the two stops I should use (Main Street to Museum District, easy enough). I asked him how to buy a ticket and he was a little cagey and unclear about that process, even though he said he took the train every day to work. I thanked him and went off to have another public transit adventure in another US city.

Metrorail in Houston

(This was actually the train I took back home (northbound). Trains come about every 10-15 minutes.)

I managed to find the station with one detour (I initially stood at the northbound stop before realizing, but another woman did the same thing and she was a local so that made me feel better. We ended up chatting the whole ride.) I also learned why the concierge was so cagey about the ticketing – there are machines at each station where you can buy tickets ($1.50 per trip) but there is no one on the train that collects or checks for your ticket. I assumed it’d be like a NYC bus – you swipe your metrocard (or give your ticket) as you get on. Nope – you just get on and ride and don’t see anybody official the whole time. I think I was the first sucker all year to actually buy two tickets. That’s three dollars to honesty. Thank god for that gas card.

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I was instantly rewarded for my journey with some beautiful gardens next to the Natural History Museum (the circular hill with a winding path and waterfall is the “Garden Mount,” part of a $31 million 2014 renovation in Hermann Park). I didn’t walk the path or spend much time in Hermann Park (or visit the Japanese Gardens there) because I was desperate to see the butterflies at the museum, and I wanted to spare my legs for tomorrow.

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Before you enter the butterfly garden ($8 admission, separate from the $20 admission to the main Natural History Museum, and you don’t need a main ticket to access the butterfly garden), you walk through some informative exhibits about insects and see some incredible (HUGE) specimens seen here.

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The butterfly garden itself is hot, humid, and filled with greenery & butterflies. They were difficult to capture with my iPhone but they really filled the air. It’s a lovely spot and I’d highly recommend a visit if you’re into that sort of thing.

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When you exit the garden there’s a vending machine that sells edible bug candies and products. (Do those live butterflies know they are bookended by dead bugs? Bit creepy, no?) I got some ant candy for my niece who ate a cricket lollipop once (she said the cricket part was like horrible-flavored dust). This is one candy I won’t be personally reviewing.

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Then I went into the main museum for a whirlwind tour. That place is a labyrinth and I had no idea where I was half the time. I crisscrossed more than I should have and stopped to read (aka learn) almost nothing.

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I’m pretty sure this was a movie.

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This was my favorite part of the museum. It was like being in a really nice Cabelas or Scheels minus the camo clothing for sale. Look at that crocodile pose! Awesome.

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I saw a bunch of other stuff too, but I promise I didn’t learn a thing. The gift shops (two!) were nice but they didn’t sell any pins, just buttons and jewelry (and a million other things, including a lot of dead bugs in lucite). The only food option at the museum is a small McDonald’s (which had a crazy long line at lunchtime, surprise). I’d recommend going to the museum as early as possible as there was a long line at the ticket counter when I left and the place was filling up.

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By noon I was starving and the ladies at the gift shop directed me to a Mexican place two blocks away. I got a burrito and sat outside to eat it while reading texts from my friends who were freezing in NYC.

 

I took the train back to downtown, visited my new favorite grocery store for more treats, and finally headed back to the hotel. I was so exhausted I fell asleep for almost two hours. Oops. Definitely overdid it a bit today, then ate too much candy for dinner, so it was not the most prudent of pre-marathon days but I had a super great time.

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I also got the most amazing souvenir at the Phoenicia – this little gold dinosaur planter. I love it more than a grown woman should love a plastic dinosaur anything. When I feel tired tomorrow, I’m going to draw strength from my gold dinosaur. Wish me luck!

 

What’s your most favorite souvenir ever? Have you ever visited a butterfly garden? What’s your go-to order at a Mexican restaurant? Share in the comments!

On the Road in Houston (Pre-race Hubris)

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Lots of free stuff at the giant Houston Marathon Expo!

I woke up at 4 am today and arrived in Houston by 11 am (with the 1 hour time difference, huzzah!). Since it was too early to check into my hotel I dropped off my luggage and went straight to the expo where I encountered the longest line I’ve ever gotten into in my life – no exaggeration. Even though I got there at 11:10 and they said they opened at 11:00, the line wasn’t moving. Luckily I chatted with some other lady runners and the time passed quickly (and once the line did start moving it also moved quickly enough).

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I could not capture the enormity of this line with my cell phone camera. It was about 3 city blocks long when I got in it (and of course my route started at the front so I passed everyone in line while searching for the end).

Bib pickup was also a bit of a pain (a very long & slow line for 5k pickup) but I got all my materials (5k bib and cotton tshirt, marathon bib and cotton tshirt) and then wandered the expo for fun and profit. I was not the most aggressive collector, but even still I walked away with all the free stuff you see in the photo above. It’s probably the most I’ve ever gotten at any expo, and repeat runners said it was the stingiest one yet. Everything really is bigger in Texas!

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Front and back of both the 5K and full marathon tshirts – just boring cotton tshirts. Supposedly there are finishers shirts for the half and full on Sunday (no second shirt for 5K). And of course the medals – 3 total medals if you run the both the 5k and the half/full!

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Idyllic ice skating scene just outside the convention center – slightly less crowded than Rockefeller Center.

One of the runners I met in line told me to go to the Phoenicia grocery store for lunch. I headed there (only a few blocks away) and was immediately overwhelmed by their selection. It made Whole Foods look like a crummy bodega. I kinda chickened out and got a flatbread with feta and veggies instead of the hot schwarma, which I still don’t know what is (despite it being discussed in Iron Man or Avengers or something).

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I also got all this candy. So! Much! Candy! (Large bag of chocolate covered pretzels not pictured.) I limited myself to candy bars I hadn’t tried before (and I left some on the shelf) but it’s still a bit much even for me. When in Texas!

I chatted with another runner at lunch (a 76-year-old multiple marathoner from Boston) who also encouraged me to try finishing the whole thing (but also emphasized that there’s no shame in a DNF, nor does anyone care what time you get in any race). Chatting with all these runners, walking around the expo, visiting a new city, buying lots of snacks and getting my outfits ready — all this has once again gotten me all hyped up on marathoning. I love this part!

So this evening, two nights before the marathon, while I’m full of chocolate and happily resting in my hotel room, I feel more optimistic about going for the full than I was a few days ago. It will still be a game day decision, but I’m not going to sabotage myself by going out too fast or not carrying enough Gu (I stocked up on some fun salted caramel, caramel macchiato, and espresso flavors at the expo).

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This is it – the marathon course “circled” at the half/full split. Yes, the 5k is tomorrow morning, and it’ll be a good test to see how I feel after basically not running for a month, but my mind is on Sunday. Sunday. Sunday…

What are you doing this holiday weekend? Have you ever tried any of the candy bars pictured? At which expo have you scored the most stuff? Share in the comments!

Boudin Bakery Display Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco

A San Francisco Treat

I went for a 3 mile run in San Francisco today – my first since the Chicago Marathon.

I saw a pretty beach.

San Francisco Beach

I saw a cool boat.

San Francisco Harbor

Then it started to rain.  I ducked inside the Boudin Bakery on Fisherman’s Wharf.

Boudin Bakery Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco

Boudin Bakery Display Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco

And got a bunch of treats.  The end!

Treats from Boudin Bakery

Have you ever been to Boudin Bakery in San Francisco?  Occasionally, is your only motivation to run so you can buy treats?  More than occasionally?  Share in the comments!