Tag Archives: Texas

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

IMG_3181.JPG

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.
 

IMG_3273-0.JPG
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!

IMG_3274-0.JPG
Most of the path is cinder but there are some concrete sidewalks like this.

IMG_3276-0.JPG
Some pretty landscaping under a footbridge crossing the lake.

IMG_3277-0.JPG
Some super cool bathrooms along the trail. There were multiple bathrooms along the 10 miles but these were by far the coolest.

IMG_3280.JPG
Some nice cactus along the cinder trail. This is still on the north side.

IMG_3283.JPG
The western “end” of the trail as it loops under MoPac Highway (aka Loop 1). The footbridge connects the north and south sides.

IMG_3288.JPG
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.

IMG_3289.JPG
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.

IMG_3291.JPG
A cute mini railroad. Don’t mind me…

IMG_3293.JPG
This is the point I got lost – I turned right while everyone else turned left.

IMG_3296.JPG
If you see this cool spot you are not on the Town Lake Trail.

IMG_3301.JPG
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.

IMG_3307.JPG
This is not Town Lake Trail.

IMG_3304.JPG
Unfortunately neither is this. (BTW the wildflowers are in a riot around Austin right now. Just beautiful.)

IMG_3309.JPG
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.

IMG_3310.JPG
Back on Town Lake Trail! Notice any differences between this and the spider trail above?

IMG_3312.JPG
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.

IMG_3322.JPG
The eastern “end” of the trail, where you cross the spillway bridge.

IMG_3326.JPG
Looking back at the spillway bridge.

IMG_3330.JPG
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!

Where's the Finish at the Houston Marathon

Marathon Recap – Chevron Houston Marathon, Jan 18, 2015

Houston Marathon 2015 shirt and medals

The Houston Marathon 2015 finisher’s shirt along with ABB 5K medal, Marathon medal, and “extra” medal for running both.

I learn something from every marathon, usually something about myself and always something about the city and race.  This time I learned a bad lesson – I can finish a full marathon with only a 12-mile long training run and then not running (and being sick) for 3 weeks.  It won’t be fast, it won’t be pretty, and only works if it’s a flat, easy course with perfect weather, but still – I felt no worse immediately after this race than usual, and the day after I felt mildly stiff and my joints clicked like castanets, but that’s typical (and I felt loads better than after Vermont when I pushed hard to beat 5 hours and could barely walk the next day).  Houston wasn’t even my Personal Worst.  Really, it’s a terrible lesson for me to learn, since what I love about running is all the jazz around it (the clothes, the gear, the travel, the people) and not the actual training.

 

I’ve already posted about the expo on Friday, the 5K on Saturday (and the sightseeing I did in Houston), so now for marathon Sunday:  I was seeded into the last corral (D) which didn’t have a closure time, and my hotel (the Westin Houston Downtown) was so close to the start I only had to walk a couple blocks to reach my corral.  So I left my room at 6:58 for the 7:00 start time, knowing that it would take some time for corrals A, B, and C to clear before we were released.  It ended up being too much time, actually!  (So much time that I used one of the many porta potties located in the corral – in general this race gets an A+ for all the porta potties along the course.  There were a few stretches that didn’t have any but I noticed more potties than usual, plus when they did have them there were a lot, so you didn’t have to wait.)

Westin Houston Downtown collage

The Westin Houston Downtown was an ideal location for the expo and the start (and the construction wasn’t actually a problem, despite the scary note with earplugs).

I didn’t cross the start until 7:30, and I was far from the last person to start.  I tried my best to start at the proper pace area (13 min miles or 5:40 finish time) to avoid the 6-hour sag wagon and so I didn’t have to weave around too many walkers nor be swept away by faster runners.  My plan was to aim for 13 minute miles and save enough energy to attempt a finish, but be smart enough and willing to let go of any ego and embrace a DNF if I felt terrible.

 

Apologies for not having pictures of the actual race – it was all about game day decisions so I made a last minute switch and left my phone in my room.  That freed me from my SPI belt (I wore a Level Flip Belt to hold my gels as I had left my Gas Cap Hat in NYC since I had no real intention to run the full when I left) and it freed me from the psychological pressure to take photos during the race. There were a couple of times during the run that I wished I had a camera but ultimately not having my phone helped me focus on covering the miles and not worrying about anything else.

Downtown Houston

I’m 99% sure we ran down this avenue during the race, but this shot was taken the next day. Beautiful weather all weekend!

The course overall was blessedly flat (the biggest “hills” coming at a handful of highway underpasses) but most of it was on concrete which was pretty punishing on the joints.  It was a bit congested until the half/full split at mile 7.5.  That was by far my favorite part of the race.  I was trying to hold myself back to leave gas in the tank to finish the full (Chevron pun not intended), and was hitting about 12:35 min miles.  At the split, 70% of the runners crammed into the half lane, leaving a sweet open field for the full runners.  It was glorious.

 

The full’ers were also rewarded with an incredibly beautiful tree-lined street next to Rice’s campus.  The trees touched overhead to form a living canopy for about a full mile – really beautiful and shady.  The course continued through some tony neighborhoods and featured American flags lining the course for several miles.  Clearly Texas owns 90% of the American flags in America and they want runners to know that.

 

Houston Marathon 2015 route

The Marathon route according to my Garmin.

I think there was some highway running after that, then we went through a fancy shopping area, then more highway, and then back to and through the downtown to the finish.  I had definitely slowed down and was feeling every step after about mile 15.  I had some beer at mile 21 (I skipped the beer at mile 25), and felt pretty good because I knew I could walk the last 5 miles and still finish in time.  But I hit the wall at mile 24, when I suddenly felt totally exhausted. I didn’t even realize it was “the wall” until now – my brain clearly wasn’t working that well because I couldn’t understand why I suddenly felt soooooo tired.

Where's the Finish at the Houston Marathon

Counterclockwise from top left – jumping for joy at the half/full split, running under big metal arches in a fancy district, shrugging while approaching the finish since I was walking up to the finishing chute, and posing with my treasure.

I actually did walk the final two miles – I could not make my legs or knees manage even a slow run (but I did manage a fairly brisk walk).  I thought I might even finish waking, but I gritted my teeth and ran the .1 mile through the chute for the finish.  I was laughing like a crazy person the whole time because I couldn’t believe I had actually finished the entire marathon.  Ridiculous.  Crazy.  Not possible.

 

The area immediately past the finish line was weirdly deserted (or it was for people who finished near the end) – you got your medal (the full finisher’s medal was plain but ok) and you got your picture taken, but you had to enter the convention center for water, bananas, finisher shirt (white for full and blue for half – dammit!), “extra” medal for running both the 5K and half/full (the “extra” medal was super chintzy) and surprise commemorative glass (the wisdom of giving a large heavy glass to exhausted runners is questionable).  There was no food bag or heat sheet, but they did have a hot breakfast (powdered scrambled eggs, sausages, a biscuit and white gravy – not terrible and not great), soda, hot cocoa, yogurt, and ice cream sandwiches (which I had been craving during the run and which was one of the greatest things I’ve ever eaten).

 

So, I finished!  I ended up averaging 13 minute miles (walking the final two miles), and I feel ok now, although I pulled my left calf muscle this week and I’m not sure if it’s related to my inadvisable marathon completion last Sunday.  But my Houston success did spur me to sign up for TWO marathons this spring/summer – the Wisconsin Marathon on May 2nd and the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon on June 7th.  I can almost promise I will train more for those than I did for Houston.  Almost.

 

Back of the Houston Marathon 2015 shirt and medal

The back of the Houston Marathon 2015 shirt and medal. This is why I hate white t-shirts (you can read the logo through the material even doubled over and see the 5K medal like it was under tissue paper).

Thinking of Running Houston?

It was fun, but if you want to run Houston I recommend signing up early!

 

All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best.  Note that this review is based on running as a “back of the packer” with a finish time approaching 6 hours (the cutoff).  Your experience may vary.

  • Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 8/10 – Very easy to fly there (IAH is a big airport, RT tickets from NYC were $300 but would have been cheaper if I bought them at the right time).  I didn’t need to rent a car to get around the city but the taxi to/from the airport was surprisingly expensive for a 20-minute ride (about $60-65 with tip each way).  (Airport Super Shuttle was $23 one-way without tip.)  If you’re staying downtown and want to explore the Museums, the Metrorail is easy to use and only $1.50 per ride.
  • Staying There – 7/10 – There are several hotels in downtown Houston that would have worked, but I stayed at the Westin Houston Downtown which was a perfect location (a couple blocks from the Expo/finish line, a couple blocks from the start).  This category only loses a couple points because all the prime hotels were a little expensive (again because you’re in a big city).
  • Cost & Registration – 7/10 – The Houston Marathon ($125) sells out really fast – it opens for early registration right after the race and sells out in a couple days, so it’s best to be ready to register a year before (or try to get a spot during regular registration in June).  But, if you remember to register early, it was pretty simple, painless, and not a bad value for a big-city race.  The expo had a lot of great free stuff, the finishing food was ok, the glass is nice, but that damn see-thru white finishers shirt & short-sleeve cotton race t-shirt are annoying.
  • Organization – 7/10 – The race itself was well-organized – plenty of Gatorade and water (although the beverages were spaced too far apart – sometimes a couple blocks between the Gatorade and the water, which would have been a bigger problem had I wanted to run more and get into a rhythm), plenty of potties, and only slight congestion (and no congestion after the half split off).  The expo, however, was crazy on Friday morning with the aforementioned long and slow lines.  Also if you wanted to check a bag you had to do it at the convention center/finish area, then walk to the start several blocks away instead of checking your bag near the start itself.  But overall the weekend went smoothly.
  • Course – 7/10 – It was wonderfully flat and you got a good tour of the city, but there was a lot of concrete and a fair amount of exposed (aka non-shaded) areas.
  • Crowd – 6/10 – Not a huge crowd for a big city, but there were enough that it didn’t feel deserted.  The volunteers were great.
  • Other Factors – 7/10 – If you live in the Midwest or Northeast, going to Houston in January is a real treat.  I also loved the Houston Museum of Natural Science (especially the Butterfly Center) and the Phoenicia Grocery Store, and heard good things about the Art Museum (and wished I had time to visit the downtown Aquarium and the Space Center 40 minutes outside of town).
  • Overall Rating – 7/10 – The marathon was totally fine, but Houston gets an extra point because I had such a fun weekend and actually finished.  Finished!

 

Finally, a plea to the Houston Marathon organizers:  please get rid of those damnable kilometer signs at every kilometer. Do you realize how disheartening it is to see a big “20” ahead of you, then notice the little “k” next to it and be reminded that you’re actually only at mile 12? I was not the only runner who was complaining about all those signs. Thanks for the bonding opportunity but we’d prefer if you just scrapped those signs.

 

Have you ever run Houston?  Do you ever improperly train?  How do you feel about measuring 26.2 miles in kilometers?  Share in the comments!

I finished the full!

IMG_1917.JPG
I finished the full Houston Marathon! Full recap tomorrow or Tuesday, whenever I’ll be able to move again. Actually, I don’t feel any worse than I normally do after a marathon. Which is to say, I spent the entire afternoon laying in bed and watching my tablet (finally saw 22 Jump Street).

Thanks for your support and goodnight!

What do you like to do after a long run? Have you ever seen 22 Jump Street? What do you think of Channing Tatum’s, um, running? Share in the comments!

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

IMG_1851.JPG

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.

IMG_1890.JPG

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.

IMG_1887.JPG
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.

IMG_1888.JPG

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.

IMG_1897.JPG

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.

IMG_1891.JPG

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.

IMG_1892.JPG

I’m pretty sure this was a movie.

IMG_1894.JPG

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.

IMG_1898.JPG

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.

IMG_1889.JPG

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.

IMG_1895.JPG

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)

IMG_1704.JPG
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).

IMG_1667.JPG
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!

IMG_1717.JPG
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!

IMG_1672.JPG
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).

IMG_1713.JPG
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).

IMG_1709.JPG
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!

Race switches for the 2015 Houston Marathon no longer allowed.

Houston DQ?

Race switches for the 2015 Houston Marathon no longer allowed.

🙁

I know I’ve said this before, but this time I really mean it – I’m totally unprepared for the Houston Marathon happening in 11 days.  My longest run was 12 miles on December 19th.  I only ran once during the 2 weeks I spent with my family over the holidays, plus I was mildly sick for most of those days, so I was more focused on not getting sicker instead of running.  I’m back in the city now, and finally feel mostly not sick, but it’s now negative 1,000 degrees outside and it’s too late to do any training that matters anyway.

 

It was a hard decision, but I decided to transfer to the half marathon (although I haven’t yet fully admitted I’m changing my 50 States goal to “half or full,” but it seems inevitable).  I logged on yesterday to pay the fee to make the switch, but I was greeted with the message above instead.  Turns out I missed the December 30th deadline!  I called the organizers today and a nice woman explained that the bibs and whatnot had gone to print, and with 25,000 runners they had to adhere to a cutoff.  While I totally understand that, it’s also a major bummer.  She explained that I could simply run the half course which splits from the full at mile 8, but I’d be disqualified.  That means my time couldn’t officially “count” for anything (plus I think it would show up online as a DQ, which is slightly alarming – I don’t want people to think I’m a Rosie Ruiz!).  I’d also only be able to get the full marathon shirt and medal, which again makes sense because of the numbers, but I’d still feel like a super huge fraud collecting them.

 

Since I’ve already purchased my nonrefundable airline ticket, I plan on going to Houston and making a game day decision.  That’s right, I’m going to decide at mile 8 whether to turn around and do the half and get a DQ (or a DNF, as long as I don’t cross the finish line), or run another 18 miles for the full marathon and all the painful glory that would entail.  Odds are good I’ll turn around even if it means a yucky DQ/DNF.  It’s funny how much a simple official transfer would have made me feel so much better, even though it’s just a meaningless time on the internet.  I guess without the transfer it feels like I’ll just be doing a lousy training run instead of a race, and I’ll feel apart from the other runners instead of heading towards a common goal.  Plus, of course, I would have gotten a legit bib, medal, and shirt.

 

This whole thing has gotten me a bit down, of course.  2015 was never going to be a good year of marathoning for me regardless, but now it’s going to be abysmal.  I’m slowly coming to terms with a major goal change (from completing a full marathon in every state to completing a full or a half), and that’s also depressing.  Plus of course I’ve been sick, not running, not posting, and now freezing.

 

My relentless optimism will still get me to the starting line in Houston (my first time visiting Texas!), and I’m excited for the overall experience regardless.  I always learn something new from every race, and I’ll certainly learn a lot from this one, whatever happens.

 

Did you think maybe this post was going to be about Dairy Queens in Houston?  What’s your favorite thing to get at DQ?  Have you ever cut a race short and/or had a DNF?  Share in the comments!