Lumiere’s Challenge – Orlando, FL (November 5-6, 2016)

Ah, Disney.  My dear, sweet, Disney.  I wanted to hate you for not deferring my Dopey Challenge entry after I was told by my doctor, I physically could not run.  I was angry…because that was a lot of money to be out…despite having doctors notes and all.  I wanted to swear you off for life.

But I couldn’t.

Especially since I had to cancel my trip in January due to the injury and I opted, instead, to sign up for your latest challenge…Lumiere’s Challenge…which is a 2-race challenge (not the 4 races you do in January)…a 10K on Sunday and a half marathon on Sunday.  I had the date marked on my calendar to sign up…and was so busy at work that I totally missed it…by a day.  I figured it would be okay…but it wasn’t.  The races were sold out.

I was sad, but then I recalled I wanted to do some more running for charity.  So, I chose a cause near and dear to my heart…Alliance For A Healthier Generation.  I blogged on this during my fundraising effort…and I totally raised a little bit more than the $1000 required for the charity.

THANK YOU to anyone who donated.

So, this was the weekend it all went down.  And it has been a bit of a struggle getting here.  Not physically…well…not here to Disney World.  Physically, my foot ligament has been twinging every now and again, and sometimes is just painful. Also, just under a week before leaving for Disney, my sinuses suddenly decided that they wanted to just get all cloggy.  I wasn’t sneezing or coughing, but I was definitely congested and lost my voice.  This also meant my training runs were a mess of stops and breathing issues. Which didn’t make me feel confident heading into this weekend.  While some of it has cleared up, I’m not 100%, but I was definitely ready for some running for sure.

Two days…two races…19.3 miles.

Let’s do this thing…

 

Disney Wine & Dine Inaugural 10K - Orlando, FL
Disney Wine & Dine Inaugural 10K – Orlando, FL

Inaugural Disney Wine & Dine 10K

Race: Disney Wine & Dine 10K

Place: Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida

Date: November 5, 2016

Time: 48:19

It is my long-term goal for the coming year to set a PR in a distance race.  Short or long.  With my return to running from injury, I’m having a hard time, mentally, dealing with the pitfalls of this hip labrum tear and the other aches and pains that have cropped up.  So, after getting back with my running coach, we’re setting a few goals to aim for.

This was not one of the races I was using to hit a new PR.  In fact, I was a little under 4 minutes from doing so.  But I didn’t care…because this race was so freakin’ fun!

This is the first year that the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend included a 10K distance as well.  I love doing inaugural races.  I really do.  And then I love returning to them.  Disney puts on fantastic races, as I have mentioned before.  And I do love these challenge race weekends that are popping up…EVERYWHERE now.  But Disney…Disney has always done it best.

I actually got to Disney World on Thursday, giving me time to hit up the expo and have an entire day of exploring the parks before needing to worry about running.  It also gave me time to recover well and be ready to run.  We all know that race mornings come very, very, very, early at Disney World.  And while Wine & Dine is usually a night race…this year they changed it to morning.  So…I set three alarms on my phone…the first 2 for me and the final one for my entourage (aka: Jenn & Cathy).

Officer Judy Hopps - Costume #1 for the Disney Wine & Dine Race Challenge
Officer Judy Hopps – Costume #1 for the Disney Wine & Dine Race Challenge

I always do Disney races in costume, and I had originally intended to break out Vanellope Von Schweetz again (I was Vanellope when I did Wine & Dine in 2014), but my hip labrum injury had me not running for close to a year.  Despite keeping a clean and healthy diet, I’ve put on some weight.  So, the costume wasn’t flattering on me…at all.  So…in the span of 2 days, my roomie and I managed to piece together an Officer Judy Hopps costume (from Zootopia).  And that took a little while for me to get on (as it involved hair extensions and accessories), but I managed to get it on and get out the door in time to catch the shuttle over to the start.

I was supposed to meet up with my friend (and fellow #KDFMarathon Ambassador, Stephanie) at the shuttle bus from our resort (she was also staying at Port Orleans Riverside), but it turns out she turned off her alarm and slept through the start of the race.  But, I did manage to meet up with another #KDFMarathon Ambassador, Melissa, at the start line.  She and her husband were running the 10K as Disgust and Fear from Inside Out.  Their costumes were totally cute!  So, it was nice to converse with them before we were heading into the race.  Melissa is a Run Disney pro…for real!  And her costumes are AMAZING.  So when she complimented me on my Hopps costume, that meant a lot to me.

#KDFMarathon Ambassadors collide...Melissa as Disgust (Inside Out) and me as Officer Judy Hopps (Zootopia) at the start of the Disney Wine & Dine Inaugural 10K
#KDFMarathon Ambassadors collide…Melissa as Disgust (Inside Out) and me as Officer Judy Hopps (Zootopia) at the start of the Disney Wine & Dine Inaugural 10K

We took some photos and then headed toward the start line.  She and her husband were in a different corral, so I went to get into mine.  It was pretty crowded in Corral A, but I found a spot to sit (even with my pinned on bunny tail) and let myself relax a little before being moved to the start line.  I wasn’t there for too long before the group began to move.  We passed by the other corrals and I heard a few people calling out to Corral A and wishing us luck.  Love that.

Once at the start line, there were some announcements made and the National Anthem was sung.  And the wheel chair racers were sent on their way.  At this point, I was drawing a deep breath as the corral moved forward and we waited a couple of minutes before our fireworks and start time.  And soon, Remy from Ratatouille was sending us off for the start of our run.  I was hoping for the best.  Continuous running was a mere impossibility leading into this race due to some sinus issues.  I still had the lingering effects, so I just hoped I could get through it.

I was less than enthusiastic about the first three (and then some) miles of the 10K race.  As with most Disney races, a majority of your time is spent out on the highway.  They sort of curb your boredom with character stations and areas with jumbo television screens and fast, fun music.  Still, by the first mile, I was already not loving my costume.  The long hair extensions were hot…and annoying.  I honestly don’t know how women with long hair can run with it down.  I was so DONE with it.  It just kept getting in my way.  I can’t count the number of times I flung a extra-long pigtail back behind my shoulder.

Also…wearing three layers on your top half in humid Florida…not my best idea.  HA!!  Yep…three (3) layers.  My sports bra, my t-shirt (which was originally long sleeve, but I thought better of it), and my other sports bra that I made into Judy Hopps vest.  Yep…it got hot pretty fast for me.  But, you know, you just keep trekking.  I mean, it was 68 degrees with 88% humidity (it is Florida, after all) at the start of the race.  I knew the layers were going to be hot when I threw this costume together at the last minute.

Regardless…I felt a little better about life (even if all the race photos are unflattering and tell a different story), once we entered Epcot for the last part of the race.  At about 3.5 miles, we take to the park, starting around the World Showcase, cutting down across the boardwalk (and I love the people staying at those resorts along the boardwalk who come out and cheer that early in the morning!), and then cutting back into the World Showcase to round out the run by running past the big Epcot ball.  From there, it’s down a stretch into the parking lot and across the finish line.  I could tell I was slowing down once I hit Epcot.  The hills inside the World Showcase aren’t bad…but my legs had been going on a full day of parks and I was tired.  Seriously.  I was tired…and a little grumpy.  That 2:30 am wakeup call came too early and I was doing my best to not fall asleep in the corral at the start of the race.  So, finishing was a relief.  I didn’t even care about my time.  And after crossing, I saw Cathy and Jenn waiting up in the bleachers, waiving the sign that was made the night before…and cheering.

None of us were really firing on all cylinders.  But I do love having my peeps at the end of a race.  I walked through the finisher’s chute, getting my 10K medal (this thing was HUGE and HEAVY) and continuing down for the water, snack box, banana, and then the official photos near the end.  Cathy and Jenn were going to meet me outside of bag claim…so I went through after that and there they were, heading my way.

Mama Melrose's did away with their flatbreads (gluten free and otherwise) it seems, so I went with pasta.  This was gluten-free penne with sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and onion.  Perfect pre-half marathon eats, even if it wasn't my standard pizza.
Mama Melrose’s did away with their flatbreads (gluten free and otherwise) it seems, so I went with pasta. This was gluten-free penne with sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and onion. Perfect pre-half marathon eats, even if it wasn’t my standard pizza.

I gave them sweaty hugs and Cathy helped me change out of my race shoes (I raced in my Altras for the first time!) and into my recovery flip flops.  My feet thanked me for that.  I had wanted to take some photos with the Disney characters in the finish area, but the lines were super long.  I told them we could head back to the resort as long as I got to get pictures after the half marathon.  I think they were all relieved.  We got on the bus after a few pictures and headed back to Port Orleans – Riverside, where I showered, ate some real food, and got ready to spend the rest of the day out in Hollywood Studios.  Yep…at Disney, I don’t rest these legs. I get on rides, chase down characters, and have a blast.  It’s Disney.  And even though lacking mega caffeine and oomph, I had a brilliant time.  Spent the day on my feet, and ended with a traditional (gluten free) pasta dinner at Mama Melrose’s.  I even got to indulge in more carby goodness with the gluten free dinner rolls.  I only ate one.  And I ate only about 2/3 or my huge pasta dish.  I was full.  And tired.  It was back to the resort after that.  I climbed into bed, setting three alarms for the following morning…when I would run the half marathon!

Oh…so my official results of the Disney Wine & Dine Inaugural 10K are that I finished in 48:19.  Not too bad given the circumstances!!  I was 164/9260 finishers overall.  I was the 42/6556 female to cross the finish line.  And I was 6/1102 runners in my age division.  Considering I am still not 100% physically (damn ligament in my foot) and was dealing with the last of a sinus…thing…I’ll take it.  It was a fantastic race and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

 

Me after finishing the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon and completing the Lumiere's Challenge - Disney World - Orlando, FL
Me after finishing the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon and completing the Lumiere’s Challenge – Disney World – Orlando, FL

Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon

Race: Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon

Place: Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida

Date: November 6, 2016

Time: 1:44:30

What a difference an extra hour of sleep makes!!

Seriously, THANK YOU TIME CHANGE!!  It was a lot easier to get up at 2:30 am when we had to fall back on Saturday night/Sunday morning.  I’ll take that extra hour.  I could tell we all needed it regardless.

Especially Jenn.  Jenn was not feeling the early morning love all day on Saturday as we trudged around Hollywood Studios.  I kept offering coffee and/or caffeine in the form of soda, but I think she was determined to just be tired and (a little cranky) ride it out on her own.  NOT ME!!  I downed a Iced Soy Caramel Apple Latte from Joffrey’s just after riding Tower of Terror on Saturday and that was the kick I needed, honestly, to help with the rest of the day.  I don’t play around.  If I’m tired…I get my caffeine.  Lessons learned along the way.  Definitely helped make the day easier to navigate through.  And it was another long day…this time at Hollywood Studios…still undergoing renovations.

We did take in the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular show, which meant we were sitting for awhile.  So, I think she liked that part.  Be that as it may, she was not loving much of life all day Sunday, and after hearing, “I’m so tired I could cry” more than once, I told her that it wouldn’t hurt my feelings at all if she stayed at the resort on half marathon morning and slept.  In fact, I’d prefer it so that we could avoid another adventure like Saturday.

She ignored all three alarms, and slept through my hurried dash back into the room after forgetting my sunglasses (sunrise was now earlier…I didn’t have time for the sunscreen I didn’t put on thinking it would be like the day before and still be dark when I finished).  The one other race weekend she came to Disney with us, I was doing Wine & Dine in 2014…and it was still a night race.  Note to self: Jenn doesn’t handle Disney wake-up race times well.  LOL!!  Hey…those schedules on Disney weekends are brutal…I admit it.  But I’m sort of used to the early mornings, and the on-the-go days, to the semi-late.  And I’m pretty much a Disney race veteran.  This lifestyle isn’t for everyone for sure.  I think Saturday was the breaking point for Jenn.  And that’s fine.  The extra sleep and down time meant that she was ready to go at Epcot that afternoon.  So, YAY!  And that was a long day, as we had the after party that night as well.  So, this was probably the best option for her…so I’m glad she did what was best for her.

Now, Cathy and I were up at the ass-crack of dawn and out the door to the shuttle to take us to the ESPN Wide World of Sports where the race was to start.  For the half marathon, I was running as the Disney Princess that my niece, Kaytlynn, requested this time around…Ariel.  Yep…I was The Little Mermaid.  Simple costume (and much cooler too, although this race morning was a bit cooler (64 degrees) and windy…but the humidity was higher…pretty much at 100%.  UGH.  That being said, I had a throw-away shirt on over my purple sports bra and it helped keep me warm up until I shed it for the #KDFMarathon Ambassador photo before the start of the race.  Anyway, the big shuttle left the resort pick-up spot just as we were getting to the front of the line…so, when the next bus showed up, it was WAY smaller.  I said, “And they sent us the short bus!”  It made everyone laugh.  That being said, we boarded, settled, and let the bus carry us to the start of Sunday’s adventure.

Me, Richie, Stephanie, and Melissa...representing the #KDFMarathon Race Ambassadors at Disney!!
Me, Richie, Stephanie, and Melissa…representing the #KDFMarathon Race Ambassadors at Disney!!

The plan was for all of the #KDFMarathon Race Ambassadors (Stephanie, Richie, Melissa and me) to meet up at Bag Check before the race.  This time, all four (4) of us made it.  And we all looked amazing in our cute outfits.  We got our pictures (which meant I ditched the shirt and then just never got it back) together and chatted a bit about the 10K, upcoming races, and just other stuff…that general stuff.  Richie and I were in Corral A together so, after we all broke to get to our corrals, he and I stuck together and made our way into ours.  I stood with him until the wheel chair racers kicked off.  Then I gave him a hug and said I was going to move up and attempt to meet the goal that my coach had set for me for this race.

That goal…run it in 1:45:00.

As I had run (not raced) the Urban Bourbon Half Marathon two weeks prior to this (that race blog is incoming, life has been a busy, frantic, hectic mess) in less than this time (but barely), I figured this was an acceptable goal and one that I could accomplish.

But it wasn’t a walk in the (Disney) park either.

Once again, we had the fanfare of fireworks for Corral A to start off to.  We also had Olympian Jenny Simpson running with the first corral.  She was using this as an easy training run, you know…only running 6:15 min miles and all.  She came in second, overall, btw…after a back and forth to the finish with the eventual winner.  Her husband, Jason Simpson, won the Wine & Dine Half Marathon and set a new course record.  So, that’s kind of cool to run in the footsteps of Simpson running greatness.

It was also in this first mile that I noticed a familiar running stride ahead of me.  I pushed a little to catch up and was able to say “HI” to another Louisville runner, Lynn Riedling.  That was about all I got to say before she pulled ahead and then was gone in the darkness.  Probably about halfway through the first mile we heard the fireworks go off to send off Corral B…and one of the guys just ahead of me goes, “Run faster…they’re coming for us!”

Once again, this Disney race was mostly highway miles.  But they did make a point to have character stops and some scenic stops along the way.  There were also the music and television monitor stations throughout the course, to sort of shake up the monotony.  The first three miles of this race…I felt like I ran well.  I was comfortable in the moist air, as my layers today consisted of a purple sports bra and a green sparkle skirt.  MUCH better in the Orlando humidity.

My first noticeable pace slow-down came between Mile 4 and Mile 5.  Surprisingly, or maybe not, this was while I was inside Animal Kingdom (THANK GOD, they let us run completely through a park, because when the course maps were first released, it looked like we were running to the middle of nowhere and coming back).  The course did narrow in some areas, and I do get distracted by the photo stops that are set up with characters.  But I pressed on through to the 10K mark, my pace picking back up.  I told myself that I would take in nutrition at the 10K line, and I did, downing a Hammer Gel (giving these a try…despite the rule to never try something new on race day).  This and my Nuun I was hauling in one of my bottles on my fuel belt both had caffeine, which I hoped would wake me up when I was feeling tired and ready to stop.

I completed the Lumiere's Challenge for the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekend...I was NOT missing my chance to take a photo with Lumiere at the end.
I completed the Lumiere’s Challenge for the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon weekend…I was NOT missing my chance to take a photo with Lumiere at the end.

It worked its magic.  I managed to pick the pace up a little again for Mile 7 through Mile 11.  These were all on the highway, and despite being Florida, we actually had a few hills to navigate over.  Two of them came in a row.  My favorite one though had to be the first hill we hit.  Disney stationed a character out there…one of the Green Army Men from Toy Story.  He was calling out to runners to push hard up the hill.  If anyone slowed down they would have to do pushups.  He noticed one runner just ahead of me.

“You…you in the blue shorts…get over here.  Give me one pushup.”  To my surprise, the runner did just that.  And then the army man said, “Now…run fast and make up the 3 seconds you just wasted.”

I LOVE DISNEY!

Mile 12 had us entering the Epcot area.  Like most of the races at this point, we just sort of duck into Epcot.  It isn’t like the 10K where we get to run around the World Showcase and see it all.  At this point, I spotted one of those inflatable T-Rex Costumes and the wearer was holding a sign that said, “Free Hugs.”  LOVE IT.  I was in my last mile…and really cutting it close on time.  I hated that I felt like I ran this race better and was still coming in so close to what I did Urban Bourbon in without even trying.  Returning from injury is frustrating at times…but you just end up being thankful for the gift of running that day in the end.  I did the weird jog around the Food & Wine Festival centerpiece and headed up past the Epcot ball.  And with that said, I made the turn and heard the gospel choir that is always at Mile 13 (or 26 if it’s the full marathon) at the Disney races.  This is always uplifting…and I picked up my pace.  I rounded a corner…got nailed by all the Disney photographers taking pictures of the runners coming toward the finish…and just pushed with every ounce of strength I had left in my hip and (sore) foot…and crossed that finish line…before it hit 1:45:00.

Goal…achieved.

I saw Cathy up in the stands cheering and gave a wave as I made my way down the finisher’s chute.  Here I received my medal for the half marathon, then proceeded on to get water, my snack box, and eventually go through the tent to get my medal for completing the 10K and the Half Marathon.  This was “Lumiere’s Challenge”.  As I was about to grab my water bottle, I hear my name being called over the fence.  It was Cathy, sticking her camera over to get a photo.  She said, “Want to know your time?”  I said I did.  And she said…”You did 1:44:30…BOOM!”  She even texted it to my coach for me.  HAHA!  The volunteers at the table found this entire conversation amusing being as it was done over a covered fence.  I got to the Challenge Medal tent, had them look up my name, and they sent me through to receive the medal.  Afterwards, I exited through Bag Check and met up with Cathy on the other side.  Sweaty hugs were given, and my race shoes (today I was in my Brooks), were changed out for the flip flops again.  I was lingering a little, hoping to catch Richie again as he came through, but Cathy noticed that the lines of the characters were super short, and didn’t want me to miss the opportunity to get photos with them, since I passed it up due to lines on Saturday.  I was able to get photos (rather quickly) with Lumiere and with Remy (from Ratatouille).  And after that…I went back to see if I could catch Richie, but he had already finished and left for Port Orleans French Quarter.  I had just missed him.

We arrived back at Port Orleans Riverside and trekked back to the manor house we were staying in.  Jenn was up, and she was rested.  So this was good.  I went to shower, change, and eat some real food before we got our stuff together and headed out to Epcot for the day.  We finished up around 4-ish with everything and decided to go back to the resort for a little while to unwind before returning to check in and then enjoy the After Party.  This also meant that everyone else was kicked out of Epcot and we got to stay and eat at all the countries, drink at all the countries, and ride any of the rides that were open.  This was, in fact, how we got on the new Soarin’.  We had fast passed the Frozen Ever After ride.

Michelle just FOUND ME (for the second time in a row) in all the chaos at Epcot.  She's awesome!!
Michelle just FOUND ME (for the second time in a row) in all the chaos at Epcot. She’s awesome!!

I did manage to meet up with Stephanie and Richie while walking the showcase that night.  I didn’t ever find Melissa.  Ironically, my friend Michelle, for the second time in a row, managed to find me in the huge crowd of people at the After Party. We took a picture to commemorate her awesome GPS honing skills.  HAHA!

I was able to enjoy a few stops at the After Party as well.  I started my night off with Dole Whip…then went on to Brazil where I devoured two large rolls of Pão de Queijo, and then finished off the night with a Dark Chocolate Red Wine Truffle.

It was close to 1 am when we got back to our room at the resort.  And we had to get up early (but not race morning early) for a character breakfast the next morning.  BUT…that involved gluten-free Mickey waffles…so I was okay with this.

Disney Food & Wine Festival After Party Eats!!  All gluten free.  All super delicious.
Disney Food & Wine Festival After Party Eats!! All gluten free. All super delicious.

Oh…and I guess I should give you the official race results.  The official race results of the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon are that I finished in 1:44:30.  So, yay…I managed to hit my coach’s goal time with 30 seconds to spare.  Whew.  I was 208/12651 finishers overall.  I was 56/8749 women to cross the finish line.  And, I was 11/1513 in my age division.  Not too bad.

Now…if I can get this whole endurance with speed (and no pains or issues breathing) thing down, I might be well on my way to a way better race year next year.  But this was Half Marathon #23…and the final one for the year.  No better way to finish it up than at Disney!

I will say…I still miss running this race at night.  But it wasn’t a bad way to start a Sunday off either.

OH…and before I forget…a big THANK YOU to all of you who donated funds to the charity I was raising money for by doing this race.  Alliance For A Healthier Generation is a fantastic charity doing great things for the future of our country and the children that are to be our future.  I went slightly over my fundraising goal, never a bad thing…and I have many of you to thank for that.  So…THANK YOU…from the bottom of my heart!

Kauai Marathon – Poipu, HI (September 4, 2016)

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Me after finishing the Kauai Marathon – Kauai – Poipu, HI

Race: Kauai Marathon

Place: Poipu, HI (Island of Kauai)

Date: September 4, 2016

Time: 4:52:18

“That’s what a comeback is.  You have a starting point and you build strength and momentum from there.  Stay the course…remain patient.  Focus on small steps that are constantly forward.”

~Kara Goucher

Comebacks are hard.

Comebacks are very hard.  And I have been building up to this one for a long, long time now.  A very long time.  Over a year kind of time.  SO…much time.  Sometimes…it has gone very well.  Sometimes…it has gone all sorts of wrong. The winter months were painful.  Rainy days are painful.  Humidity has been soul-crushing and run-ruining.  And, believe it or not, I discovered trying to stay safe during speed work by running on a treadmill…wasn’t so safe and actually ended up causing a bit of damage to my foot…right before this marathon.

You want to talk about a freak-out, panic-inducing, last few days before taking off for Hawaii.  All sorts of visions of last year’s Hawaiian adventure with Bootsie…my boot I was put in for 8 weeks thanks to a stress fracture in my leg…that all started flashing through my mind.  You want to talk about some physical and mental breakdowns…the whole build-up to this race has been one big emotional roller coaster.  One I really, really needed to get off…and the sooner the better.

Thankfully, I have a fantastic podiatrist…and very understanding and encouraging friends in my life.

And despite all of the anxiety and problems…I made it.  First to San Francisco.  Then…to Hawaii.  And Hurricane Lester took a turn back out to sea.

The race was on.

The pressure was on.

And I can’t even count how many times I had minor to major anxiety attacks in the days (despite being in Hawaii!) leading up to the race.

Like I said…comebacks are hard.

Sunset on Waikiki Beach, O'ahu, Honolulu, Hawaii
Sunset on Waikiki Beach, O’ahu, Honolulu, Hawaii

My adventure started, as it always does, with good friends and good support (non sports bra division).  For the first few days I was in Hawaii, my friends and I were exploring O’ahu.  We were stationed out of Honolulu, but we doing some serious exploring and shopping there.  From the Dole Plantation to Waikiki Beach…we pretty much did it all.  Oh, and we ate amazing food.  I had pineapple, pretty much, at every meal.  Fresh cut, amazing, pineapple.  One from a roadside stand where a woman sliced it up while I waited.  I was having a blast.  We were on O’ahu until Saturday morning, when we caught an early flight over to Kauai.

Upon landing, we literally hit the ground running.  After getting our luggage and our rental car, we piled in and began our adventure on Kauai.  We had a few things to do before hitting up the expo.  This involved coffee at my favorite coffee spot on Kauai (Ha Coffee…where I ate half a peanut butter and chocolate chip cookie and downed my favorite of their specialty signature drinks…The Bee Sting.  SO good.  Then we went to find Sweet Marie’s…a dedicated gluten free bakery because…we needed a gluten free cake of some sort to celebrate Jennifer’s birthday that night.  The set-up was strange, and the fact that she is open only 2 days of the week (Saturday & Sunday) made this challenging…but we finally figured it all out and, after she was a little rude and snippy to us…we picked up one of her Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Pecan Streusel Topping.  She got a little huffy at us for paying with cash (who does that??!!)…but we got our cake (it was about the size of a large muffin) and left to go check out the race expo.

Me at Bart Yasso at the Kauai Marathon Race Expo
Me at Bart Yasso at the Kauai Marathon Race Expo

Getting there was fun.  We got to drive part of the course backwards and I made note of just how damn hilly it was going to be.  That sort of kicked up the anxiety again.  But as we got to the resort where the expo was being held, I had calmed down a little.  A little.

The first thing I did at the expo was go to check out the list to get my bib number.  One problem…

MY NAME WAS NOT ON THE LIST!!!

And this was even after I contacted the race prior to the trip to make sure that my deferral from last year was on their records and I was on the list to run.  They told me I was. Apparently…I wasn’t.  Frustrating…and did nothing to help calm the anxiety and nerves at this race.  It took…awhile…but after talking to about 4 different people, they simply had me fill out a form and turn it in.  They got me a blank bib, added me to the list…and I was ready to run.

After that…I was ready to shop.  I had my Kauai Marathon reusable bag, which my friend Tanya really wanted.  She even went to ask if she could purchase one, but they wouldn’t let her.  As I have more than enough reusable grocery bags, I told her she could have mine.  YAY!  There was much happiness.  What there wasn’t a lot of…was size small merchandise for the race itself.  I had wanted a few of the rainbow race shirts…but they were out of the smaller sizes…at the start of the expo on Saturday morning.  REALLY??!!  I was starting to think I wasn’t going to purchase anything…but then I spotted this amazing backpack.  And…it had to be mine.  So…despite being way more than the shirts, that’s what I left with.  And I was quite okay with that.  Afterwards, I spotted Bart Yasso at a table at the expo and went over to say hello to him.  Cathy told him to reassure me that I was going to be okay…and he did…quite a few times, and gave me numerous high fives and words of encouragement.  I love Bart Yasso.

Lunch on the day before the race - Molkai Potato Salad from the Live Foods Market on Kauai
Lunch on the day before the race – Molokai Potato Salad from the Live Foods Market on Kauai

Soon after that…we left.  We had to buy a few groceries and get a few more important things done…like checking into the resort and all that.  We first stopped off at The Spouting Horn, where I thought I needed to put on some sunscreen…but we were ready to go check out the water.  So, I said I would do it when we got back into the car.  We spent a bit of time on the lookout, watching a blowhole spout a plume of sea water into the air.  This waterspout occurs whenever waves are forced under the lava shelf and up through an opening in the rocky coast.  The spout, sometimes, can shoot water as high as 50 feet into the air.  It’s always amazing.  We did need to grab some lunch, so we swung by the Living Foods Market.  On the short journey there, I put on some sunscreen because I am prone to sunburn easily.  And I finished up just as we hit the market.  What I didn’t realize until later was…I forgot I had taken my Claddagh ring off and put it in my lap, so when I climbed out of the car to go into the market…it dropped.  Deciding on a light lunch was not as easy as I thought as so much sounded so good.  And…we were at the time where it could be breakfast or lunch and we were all having a hard time deciding on which way to go.  After waiting a bit too long for breakfast, we settled on lunch.  I got a small bowl of their Molokai Potato Salad, which is purple potatoes, coconut milk, green onion, and coconut flakes.  And it was fantastic.  Tawn got a poke bowl, Cathy got a BLT Sandwich, and Jennifer got the fish tacos.  After lunch, we were off to check into the resort, hit up a couple of shops, and then buy some groceries.  I was, after all, making something new (I know…nothing new on race day…but…I felt better about this than a pizza place)…Pizza Stuffed Sweet Potatoes.  And we hit up the grocery stores hard.  We got the tomato sauce, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, cheese, and even pepperoni (the other 3 are meat eaters) for the potatoes that night…along with waters and a few snacks to have on hand.  And my banana for race morning.  That is super important.  And a bonus kabocha squash that we found so I could roast it up.

Oven roasted Kabocha Squash...cooked up by me...as part of the pre-race dinner.
Oven roasted Kabocha Squash…cooked up by me…as part of the pre-race dinner.

That night, after settling in at the resort, I started immediately in on roasting up the kabocha squash.  Cutting it wasn’t too much of a hassle, but I realized we had no aluminum foil or any olive oil at the resort.  I thought they might have that on hand…but I was wrong.  So, I cooked without it.  The squash cooked for about 30
minutes…and as it was cooking, I prepped the sweet potatoes.  No olive oil meant seasoning the skins was a bit harder, but I did what I could.  The moment the squash was out and plated, I turned up the oven and began to bake the potatoes.  They were a bit larger…so I knew they would take about an hour to cook.  In the meantime, we through in our trip playlist, danced around the resort, talked, and looked at photos from O’ahu and earlier in the day.  It actually took a bit longer, but soon we were slicing them open, laying out the tomato sauce, the mushrooms, the cheese, and for the other three…pepperoni.  Back into the oven for 10 minutes to allow the cheese to melt.

Pizza Stuffed Sweet Potatoes - my pre-race dinner...something new. And delicious.
Pizza Stuffed Sweet Potatoes – my pre-race dinner…something new. And delicious.

And, finally, dinner was served.  And it was delicious…and filling.  But…there was still room for cake.  And we had picked up candles and everything to make it special for Jenn.  We were glad that the “cake” was actually more of a muffin because it was perfect once we split it 4 ways between us.  And it was pretty good.  Lighter than I expected though, so there is that.  And it was good.  It was.  But Annie May’s Gluten Free Coffee Cake is WAY better.  WAY!  We were happy to have this though.  And after staying up a little longer for showers and some talking, we turned in.  We all knew an early, early morning awaited us.

Jennifer with the Gluten Free Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Pecan Struesel that we picked up from Sweet Marie's that morning.  It was her birthday after all.
Jennifer with the Gluten Free Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Pecan Struesel that we picked up from Sweet Marie’s that morning. It was her birthday after all.

Sleep didn’t come easy…but I managed a little.

Race morning arrived. Early. I had my first alarm set for 3 am so that I could get up and do my first round of preparations. I went back to sleep for another 45 minutes before getting up for the second time. This time it was to actually get dressed. I used the bathroom, got into my race gear, and nervously began milling about the room, not quite ready to duck out into the main room, where Tawn was milling about getting ready for the day. Cathy was up and moving, slowly, because it was 4 am. While she was changing and in the bathroom, I began the very, very, very tedious (but important) task of getting myself coated in sunscreen.

When in Hawaii…and a super fair-skinned, Irish girl…you lather up. You take a dip and swim in that stuff. You do whatever you can to keep your skin protected. Especially when you are already a skin cancer survivor, like me.

Cathy emerged eventually and helped me with the hard to reach areas on my back (after all…I was going to die in clothes, so it was a bra top race for me). She also had me sit down so she could actually attempt to get some sunscreen on my scalp. This was sort of awkward and left me looking, at first, a bit like a skunk, but at the end of the day…no sunburn on the scalp. And that, in and of itself, is a wonderful thing.

I threw a shirt on over my top after the sunscreen had had time to soak in…and then headed into the main room. Tawn and Jennifer were both there, in various states of readiness. I grabbed my water from the fridge and sought out my normal morning routine.

Thankfully, Cathy thought ahead while we were out hitting up grocery stores the night before…picking up a banana and a little individual serving of Cheerios for me to eat. I had my cheerios at the resort, standing in the kitchen, talking to Tawn as she put on her makeup. That was actually calming, because in my mind, I was about to have another anxiety attack. My heart was racing, my mind was racing faster, and my entire chest just wanted to explode. I wanted to burst out into tears.

But I didn’t.

Thanks to my friends.

I filled up my water bottles…2 with regular water and then 2 with my fuel (I am using Hammer at the moment…something I only had time to test out on an 8 mile run the weekend before…so I can’t report back on it quite yet). And then…after getting pinned up, we gathered up our stuff and we were, literally, off to the races.

I look nervous in this picture because I was...and I had just stopped crying...before I said goodbye to my friends at the start line...
I look nervous in this picture because I was…and I had just stopped crying…before I said goodbye to my friends at the start line…

It was just over a 30 minute drive from the resort in Kapa’a to Poipu (?) where the race started and ended. We didn’t really encounter much traffic, so this drive went very smoothly. In fact, we arrived with some time that Cathy actually pulled into the parking lot where I figured I had lost my Claddagh ring the day before…and all three of my friends got out with the flashlights on their iPhones and began searching. They came up empty handed though. Everyone got back into the car and we set out to find some parking…following cars to an area on the side of the road, just a short stroll from the start and finish line areas. We watched a truck next to us totally pull up far enough to block the sidewalk and spent some time ridiculing them from the comfort of our car. But…it was time.

And as much as I wanted to delay…I couldn’t. It was go-time.

I think I was shaking as I opened up the door and stepped out into the humid morning. It was already moist, the air heavy and wet. Ugh. I took in a shaky, but deep breath, and told myself, once again, to not freak out or panic. It was easier said than done, because I was falling apart on the inside. The last memory I have of a marathon was Boston 2015…and it did not go well for me. And it was replaying…every painful, horrible step…every moment that I had to walk…all of it…right there…fresh in my mind. And it was MESSING with me.

Torches and Conch Shells sent off the Kauai Marathon & Half Marathon.  It was amazing.
Torches and Conch Shells sent off the Kauai Marathon & Half Marathon. It was amazing.

The four of us began the trek toward the starting area. Which, we found very easily, following not just the announcement sounds, but also the other runners heading in that direction. We crossed the road right where the start line was corralled off and took a couple of quick photos. And…just like that…it was time for me to get to the staging area and them to go find a spot for the start of the race. They all gave me hugs. I cried…wiped my eyes…handed over my shirt…and walked away…nervously…into the staging area. It was already 5:30 am…so I had to get my banana eaten so I wouldn’t be regretting putting it off until later. So, as I walked, I noshed, slowly, on the banana. I noticed very few marathon bibs…much of the over 2000 people who run these races do the half marathon option.

These…are the smart people.

These people are brilliant. These people must have looked at the elevation chart before signing up. I had an extra year…and I still didn’t do this up until it became clear that…yes…I could run. And yes…I would run.

I tossed my banana peel in the garbage and went to get in line for the bathroom. I had already used it 3 times at the resort…but I was nervous…and needed to pee. Again. I’m like an excitable puppy in that regard. It’s a curse. The lines moved relatively quickly though, and I managed to get one where the person coming out didn’t start with…”Just warning you…this one is pretty full.” Since I hate using port-o-potties anyway, this was a blessing in disguise.

Afterward…I saw everyone moving away from this staging area, so I grabbed a small tray of watermelon (I know…nothing new on race day, but it was humid enough that I was feeling the dehydrating effects already) and ate it. Then…I stepped up to the crowd waiting to enter the start area.

The announcer, Ron Wiley, from the local (and best) radio station there in Kauai, KONG, was doing some schmoozing and talking at the start. He mentioned the heat we were having…and the humidity…and said that no one was going to PR today. As that was never my intention in the first place, I was okay with that. It was hot and it was humid. Bart Yasso was brought up and, despite a couple of microphone malfunctions, wished everyone a good race. He was doing the half…his girlfriend…the full. And then, the national anthem was sung by a local woman…and, we were counted down and sent off to the sound of conch shells blowing. It was fantastic. I mean, seriously…the sun wasn’t up yet…tiki torches are lit…and conch shells are being blown by locals as the starting gun. I was taking it all in, and waving at the drone…just telling myself to take it easy, breathe, and to have fun.

Me crossing the start line of the Kauai Marathon
Me crossing the start line of the Kauai Marathon

As I crossed the starting line, I spotted Cathy, Tawn, and Indy…and they cheered and screamed and I waved…and that adrenaline took me through the slow-moving packed start of the race. I was thankful for the much easier pace of the start because I tend to just go all out in the first mile and tire quicker. With the humidity already pretty intense, I was already soaking wet within the first half mile. My pigtails were plastered to my neck. This humidity was NO JOKE. And with the first 7 miles being a steady uphill climb, I wanted to really pace myself and save something for the second part of the race. Mile 1 ticked off, and I was moving without breathing hard. And then…a light, misting rain started up. We’re in the gorgeous Hawaiian countryside…and here comes this light mist. I can see gorgeous mountains ahead, hear roosters crowing, and see the lightening of the sky, with the promise of a sunrise coming. I focused on my surroundings more than how I was feeling. Which was good…because with the steady incline going…by Mile 3 I was already feeling this race in my hip adductor. Not good. Not what I wanted at all.

I had hoped that my hip would hold out longer and do better…but the long climb was not something I could practice. Not for that long or that distance. Which…was now getting into my head. I focused on my form at that point, and as I came into Mile 4…was moving a bit better. My foot, however, was still an issue in and of itself. Even taped up, it would flare up with every few steps, reminding me that it was not 100%…and that I needed to keep that in mind as the race continued. Thankfully, some beautiful hula dancers were on the side of the road and that made me focus on something else for the moment. Distractions are a beautiful thing.

At Mile 5, way earlier than anticipated or hoped for…I took my first walk break. I had ever intention of at least powering through the first half of this race without needing to walk, ideally getting to Mile 15…but that didn’t happen. And I actually cried a little when I had to take this break. But the elevation was wreaking havoc on both my hip and my foot…so I took it. And once I got to a designated spot ahead (I think it was a road sign), I started back to a jog…and then an easy paced run.

Tunnel of Trees around Mile 6 of the Kauai Marathon
Tunnel of Trees around Mile 6 of the Kauai Marathon

Ahead was the part of the race I had been looking forward to the most…the Tunnel of Trees. Just before Mile 6, you run into this gorgeous area canopied by old Eucalyptus trees, creating a natural gateway to Kauai’s South Shore. Just inside the Mile 6 marker was placed. A woman runner from Kauai, just ahead of me, went…”Alright…6 down, 20 to go!” She pumped her hands and two runners from Honolulu began talking to here. The two from Honolulu were doing the half marathon. And, as we were running, it came out that our excitable Kauai native was also doing the half. She said she knew the course and wanted a beer after 2 hours of running. Not 4 or more. Another runner, a guy in floral shorts, stopped here and there to take amazing shots within the tunnel of trees. It really was amazing. And, as we left, we rounded into our 7th mile…and finally…FINALLY…got some downhill time. The lady from Kauai went, “Downhill…time to make up all that time we lost on that climb.” She was adorable and so excited…it was rather uplifting, actually. If she had been doing the full, I’d have wanted to have her along to keep me going. I sort of stayed with this group…having a nice back and forth with them for a few miles. They were talking about how running for over 4 hours didn’t sound appealing to them. I told them about how I was supposed to do this race last year, but couldn’t due to a stress fracture. And this was great. This got me through to Mile 10…when I pulled ahead and soon was at the point where the half marathon runners went left to run the last 2.5 miles into the finish line…and the marathon runners went right…at the rooster sign…and continued for the next 15.5 miles. This is where it really thinned out.

Half Marathon & Marathon Split signs at the Kauai Marathon
Half Marathon & Marathon Split signs at the Kauai Marathon

I made the turn, and immediately, another steep hill was waiting. I managed to run a few more feet before I stopped to take another walk break. I didn’t cuss myself out or cry this time…I just told myself to not worry too much about it. This race wasn’t for time anyway. And…at this point a beautiful rainbow was arching over the roadway. So, who needs to run when you can really drink in a Hawaiian rainbow for a moment. I did start up again as I neared the crest of the hill…and took on the downhill.

My foot was now starting to bother me more. As far as long runs went after seeing my podiatrist…I had done 8 miles. So, I was already over the distance I tested this foot out on. And it was screaming at me. I took a deep breath…turned my focus back to my form again, and kept on going. Miles 11-12 were relatively flat, but I soon found myself walking again as the hills returned near the halfway point. I picked it up to run across the half marathon mark which translated to anyone following me via tracking that I was at least halfway done. This was just under 2 hours into the race…and I was now hitting the hardest part of the course. The volunteer they had at the halfway mark though was awesome. And I am so glad he was there, cheering and encouraging people. He told me I was halfway there…and doing well. And he said it that I believed him. I was hitting my unspoken goal…to finish around 4 hours…at this point…on target. I knew I’d be slowing down though with the course being harder on the other side. But…making it this far was good…even if I was really starting to feel the effects of the humidity and heat of the day. After all, the sun was up and blazing now…and there wasn’t a lot of tree cover on these roads. You run the day…so I was running (and walking) to my abilities now.

I ran through Mile 14 before having to slow again. I drank in some water and poured some over my head to keep my body temperature cool. That was not an easy thing for me to do…but it was necessary. Also…Mile 15-17 was the huge climb that I had heard and read stories about. And I knew…I knew I would have to walk some of it.

Truth was…I walked the entire hill. I just couldn’t get my mind to tell my feet and legs to go. I probably could have run some of it, but my mind was not in a good place at this point and the word “can’t” was probably running around more than it should have been. But, once I got to the top…I started to run again. This part of the race went through a very rurual area, with broken down houses. But this…this part had my race moment. I was running along a road that looked like it was made of red clay. And this little girl, also in pigtails, come running up alongside me…just smiling. I told her that I loved her hair and we ran together…the two of us…pigtails bouncing at our shoulders. It was amazing. And even when she hit the chalk finish line she had etched into the road…she kept going with me. When she dropped back, I shouted a thank you to her and continued on my way. Seriously…highlight.

After that is where things sort of spiraled out of control. It’s hard to remember much because it got a little bit…scary. Despite taking in water (my own and that along the course) and fueling the way I have always fueled for races…by Mile 18…I was starting to feel sick. My stomach was not happy with me, probably due to taking in more water than I am accustomed to. Or, maybe it was the new fuel. I can’t say since I didn’t test it out, but I took the fuel in at my usual spots ahead of this and had no issues at all. But the heat was really starting to lay into me. And, needless to say, I started to succumb to it.

I jogged with a Marathon Maniac from Mile 17…and we walked a hill through Mile 18. He took off after that and I told myself I would start to run again. But, my body wasn’t feeling it. My stomach hurt. My head was foggy. And I was aching. Foot and hip. Just…no desire to start up again. I tried…and my foot rebelled. So, I decided to walk a little more. I walked through the next couple of miles, taking offered cold water despite feeling like I really just wanted to throw up. As I crested a hill around Mile 21…I was seeing dark spots in my vision and my lips were tingling. I was in a bad way. But I didn’t want to call it quits. I have never DNF’d a race and I wasn’t ready, after traveling this far, and having had to give upon this race last year, to give up now. I slowed it down. Breathed deeply, and kept putting one foot in front of the other. If I hit a water stop, I would drink half the water, even though I really just wanted to throw up more…then pour the rest over my head to cool down. We had rounded back and had to go over the timing mat I had gone over at the halfway point. The same enthusiastic volunteer was there as I walked…WALKED…over it. He said…”It’s only 5 more miles and mostly down hill from here.”

It was niceto hear. But I knew my pace wasn’t going to be picking up any time soon. And it wasn’t just me. I’d have people run by me who were stopping to walk. They didn’t have the added fun of an injured foot and hip to contend with and eventually would start up again. It was frustrating, to me, and I was trying hard to not worry about the time ticking away with each slow, walking step I had to take. I cussed at myself when I had to walk the downhills. I felt horrible…and the few times I talked myself into jogging, I had to stop almost immediately. I held tears back, because I didn’t want to break down and not be able to breathe. It was already hard enough in the humidity. The heat of the day was upon us now and I just wanted to get to the finish line and find some shade. When I was at Mile 23, I saw two of the volunteers on mopeds. One of them asked about some medical thing at Mile 18. The other guy said it was just a runner who was done. The heat and humidity and hills had done him in. I overheard this and said…I know how he feels, but I just decided to walk it in. And one of them said, “You’ve looked strong all day. Keep going!”

Hearing that made me feel a little better, and despite the runners catching up and passing me, I just kept that steady mantra of just putting one foot in front of the other. Keep going. 2 miles…I could walk 2 miles. I was walking 2 miles. Around Mile 25, the resort near the finish line was handing out cold, wet towels. I took one and draped it over my neck, then my head. I touched it to my shoulders and face. I kept it with me until it was no longer cold. And by then…I was near the finish line. So close.

But my legs still weren’t ready to go. And I was getting so mad at myself and the entire situation. As I was nearing a bend in the road, and seeing the ocean again, a guy was walking up to the runners heading our way, a medal around his neck, giving us high fives. He saw me and said, “You turn that corner and you will see the finish. You’re almost there, girl.” And with that, I came around the bend, and started to jog.

Hugs from friends.  And they gave me a lei!  I have amazing people in my life.  I think this is where I said, "That was so fucking hard."  And cried.  A lot.
Hugs from friends. And they gave me a lei! I have amazing people in my life. I think this is where I said, “That was so fucking hard.” And cried. A lot.

It took every bit of my willpower to keep going. I pushed. I pushed more. And I ran toward that finish line, hearing Ron Wiley (the DJ of KONG radio) say, “And here comes Karen Brady of The Brady Bunch”…and I tossed up my hands and crossed the finish line.

I could hear Cathy, Tawn, and Jenn. I could see them. I slowed to a walk and tried to catch my breath. Tears just flowed. Those ugly cry tears. And I walked up to them, Cathy reaching over to give me a hug, and all I could say was, “That was so fucking hard.” And then I melted down.

After a few moments of sweaty hugs, and getting a lei put around my neck, I slowly walked down the chute to receive my medal. Cathy had me pose with the cute Hawaiian man handing out medals before I made my way to the reunion area to meet them. Cathy went to grab a bag of ice to lay me down on and I went to get into the shade and put my feet up. Jennifer and Tawn went to get me some iced coffee and I was content to lay there, feet up, recovering…and trying hard not to cry. My friends were awesome. They told me how good I did and how proud they were of me. And I focused on that instead of the fact that, while my only true goal was to finish the race, I had hoped for a little bit better time. But, this was a brutal course and brutal weather. I did what I could. I left everything I had out there. And while I was disappointed in myself, no one else was.

After I felt recovered enough to move, I called my mom to talk to her.  She and my dad had been tracking me, which I had no idea they would be doing.  It almost made me cry…especially when they both started telling me how proud they were of me.  I talked to my mom as we were getting to the car and hung up as we climbed in.  Cathy asked if I needed water…and as my stomach was still off, I requested a cold Sprite Zero.  She said we could swing by the Long’s Drugs that was near the finish line.  So…we did.  And I didn’t realize she didn’t enter with me.  I had gone right over to the cold beverages and grabbed a Sprite Zero.  Then…couldn’t find her.  Tawn had me help her look for some travel size products, and as I was ready to leave and sit down again, Cathy comes in, grabs my hand, and drops my Claddagh ring into my hand. Turns out, a customer at the Living Foods Market found it in the parking lot and turned it in.  My amazing friends had called to inquire about it as they ate breakfast while I was out running. And the market had it.  And now…I had it back. I purchased that ring in 2007 in Ireland…I was so upset it was gone.  And now…thanks to the amazing people in my life…and a special and honest person who found it and turned it in…I have it back.  I ugly cried for the 4th time that day.

After that, we went back to the resort so I could shower off and get changed.  Once I was clean…and in the process…noticed that the date was wrong on the medal…I was dressed and we headed out to lunch and to explore Kauai for the rest of the day.

Lunch, by the way, was Gluten Free Vegan Tacos at Verdes.  It was amazing.  Just what I needed.  Lunch with friends…and good food.

Me with a handsome Hawaiian at the finish of the Kauai Marathon - Kauai - Poipu, HI
Me with a handsome Hawaiian at the finish of the Kauai Marathon – Kauai – Poipu, HI

So…the official results of the Kauai Marathon are that I finished in 4:52:18.  I was 97/258 finishers overall.  I was 31/101 female finishers. And I was 6/13 finishers in my age division.

Was this the race I had hoped for?  No.  Nowhere close.  Unfortunately, this race was the race I needed, but didn’t need.  The outcome wasn’t the one I wanted.  There was way more walking than I had anticipated. The hills, the heat, the humidity…they crushed me and I am still battling this mental block of mine.  A part of me wonders if I can honestly take on 26.2 anymore.  This race defeated me…but I was not defeated.  Despite feeling horrible…despite the brutal heat and course…I finished.  I found that little boost at the end to run it in and cross that finish line.  And in the end…all that matters is that I crossed that line…my friends were there to hug me…and I survived.  I made it.

Was this the comeback I dreamed of?  Nowhere close.  But there will be other races.  Just not anytime soon.

I am proud of myself though…despite pain and nagging injuries…and the weather conditions (possible hurricanes up until the day before!)…I finished.  I FINISHED!  Marathon #11…done!

From here…I focus on getting stronger.

Aloha, Kauai.  Thanks for the memories…even if my race date is wrong on the medal (which…by the way…has yet to be acknowledged by the race peeps…despite it being mentioned numerous times to them via social media).

OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon – Indianapolis, IN (May 7, 2016)

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Me heading into the finish line of the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon

Race: OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon

Place: Indianapolis, Indiana

Date: May 7, 2016

Time: 1:39:28

Four years ago…four years ago I ran the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon as my second half marathon EVER!  I was fortunate enough to have a friend in my corral, a local runner I met with the (now gone) Blue Mile Monday running group.  It was a fantastic race that day.  Hot.  Steamy.  Sweaty.  But fantastic.  It was such a spirited, fun, and well-run race and expo…that I vowed to go back.

And then…it didn’t happen.

Until, I decided to run it again.  It was a really random, really quick decision to run it.  And I didn’t really shout about it because, as I’ve said before, every day is different for me.  I never know when there is a good day ahead or a bad day…so, I haven’t really been talking about races I’m doing just in case it’s not a good day and I don’t actually run it.  It’s hard coming back from injury, but I’m being cautious and smart about it and I’m not pushing it.  So…I left work early on Friday and trekked up to Indianapolis, Indiana to get checked into the hotel.  I always stay at the JW Marriott when in Indy for a run, when it’s convenient.  It was for this race.  The start line was right out the door!  HA!  Besides, I’m a princess…I like to stay in nice places.  (Joking…sort of…).  After checking in and dropping off bags in the room, Cathy and I headed down to the race expo to pick up my race bib.  This was a little bit of a hike through the convention center, but it’s a hell of an expo and worth the hike.

We noted the Starbucks in the hotel and said we’d stop and get a banana for me for in the morning on our way back.  Once we got into the expo, we were handed drawstring backpacks and we immediately headed to the Packet Pickup area.  Since I registered later, my number was pretty high up there, which meant hiking further back in the line of windows with bib numbers.  I found my spot and went up to the window.  They said to have your photo ID ready, but the guy didn’t even ask for it.  He did find my bib and got my shirt…tucked it into a Blue Mile bag and handed it over to me.  YAY!  Officially ready to run.  But first…shopping…

…and the official merchandise store always has some goodies to offer.  Cathy went and bought an official Finisher shirt for me (I can’t buy that…bad mojo).  And I ogled a few other things, but opted to leave it with just the shirt.  So…we began a quick weave through the expo.  This is where I fell in love with the Ocean Spray PACt Cranberry Extract Water.  I am forever having this stuff in my fridge.  HOLY COW!!  SO GOOD!!  We scooted past the Clif Bar place, which had a line due to all the samples they were handing out.  And then…

…I signed up for another race.  It was one I was considering anyway…and with the expo discount and the promise of a free hat…I ended up going ahead and signing up.  Somebody stop me!!  LOL!!  This one isn’t too far away, so I  feel confident I’ll be in good form to run it.

We then found the BondiBand booth…and…oh yeah…there were purchases made.  I ended up getting 3 more…because…I can’t have too many of these.  I wear them on runs, at the gym, and in spin classes…so, yeah…they get used.  I still own the very first BondiBand I ever had…my 13.1 one that my friend, Heather Dillon, purchased for me at my first half marathon in Chicago back in 2011.  You might say that I am a fan…but I’m also a brand ambassador for them now too.  More on that once it’s officially official.  Anyway…more money spent and it was time to leave the expo to get to our dinner reservation.  We stopped for a moment to sign the banner wall at the exit.  Then, food.

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My Gluten Free Penne with Tomato Marinara and Vegetables from Osteria Pronto at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis, IN

Now, my pre-race eats is always…ALWAYS…a gluten free pizza.  BUT…we couldn’t find a close spot that offered that near where we were in Indianapolis.  And we really didn’t want to leave the area…so Cathy found out that the hotel restaurant, Osteria Pronto, offered gluten-free pasta on their menu.  I normally don’t do pasta as I am a pasta freak and will EAT ALL THE PASTA…and sometimes it’s too much and I still have it with me in the morning.  But, you gotta do what you gotta do.  Turns out, this place had their act together. The chef and servers were very knowledgeable about gluten-free dining and when they brought out Cathy’s bread…they brought me out some toasted Udi’s Gluten Free Sandwich Bread to have with either butter (no dairy for me) or olive oil.  It was a nice gesture.  The chef threw together a pasta dish for me using the Gluten Free Penne and their amazing red marinara and some fresh vegetables (onion, red pepper, broccolini).  Cathy got their signature pasta dish – Straw & Hay (chive noodle & egg noodle, lardo, English peas, garlic cream, pine nuts, and topped with a soft boiled egg).  I didn’t think I was that hungry…but as I said, I love pasta…and I devoured mine.  LOL!!

IMG_20160506_191251
Just hanging out with my NUUN guys!  I loved them.  I really loved them.

After dinner, we returned to the expo to finish up.  Starbucks was closed…so Cathy said she’d get a banana in the morning for me. We revisited the entire expo, walking through the slightly less chaotic area this time.  Cathy bought another BondiBand for spin class, and the lady working there gave us the discount so she only paid $5 for it, since we previously bought some that day.  YAY!!  I found the NUUN table and got to talking with the cute guys behind there.  I told them I was a #nuunambassador and we got a picture together.  LOVE!!  It was fun.  My new favorite flavor…the Mango Orange.  WOW!  And…then I signed up for ANOTHER race.  Seriously…stop me.  This one is in the fall…and they gave me a free wine glass and an expo discount for signing up.  Cathy was given a race shirt because they were so impressed with what a great running fan she is and everything she does for not just me…but other runners.  SUPER awesome.  We wrapped up the expo and hiked outside to Circle Center to hit up Rocket Fizz.  We ended up purchasing a Diet Root Beer for Cathy and a Nut Goodie Bar to split for dessert.  I am a firm believer in dessert.  And then…it was back to the hotel.  I talked to my sister on the phone on the way back…and I even stood at the window in my room and watched an ongoing baseball game…which was totally awesome.  Cathy went to go shower and I needed to do my nightly foam rolling.

I had made a promise to my good friend, Deana, after the Derby Mini, that I would dedicate the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon to her.  I kept my word, and in Sharpie, on my race bib, I wrote: FOR DEANA!  I texted her a picture and we chatted for a little while…as I watched some Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives (seriously…this is a tradition!) and did more foam rolling and used THE STICK on my hip and hip adductor.  After that…it was time to set the alarms for the morning and get some sleep.

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The final race day outfit…I was told to NOT wear the tank…I am glad I didn’t.

My first alarm went off and I got up, turned it off, took my medicine, used the bathroom, and then…went back to sleep.  My second alarm got me up at 5:30 am.  I grabbed my pile of race gear and headed into the bathroom to change and put on ALL THE SUNSCREEN.  Hey, I’m a pale, blonde, Irish girl…I burn easily.  And I had to slather it ALL OVER myself.  I wasn’t sure at this point if I was running in just a sports bra or if I was throwing on a tank, but I acted as though I’d do the bra only.  Once I had my Injinji socks on and my Newtons laced up, I put my hair up in my signature pigtails, dressing them up with red and black hair extensions.  And the BondiBand was a pink and black checkered one I found at the expo.  It was the closest thing to a checkered flag I could find.  I went back into the hotel room and made sure Cathy got up out of her bed.  Her mission was to go get me a banana from Starbucks.  They were giving them away for free, but it was a madhouse, and she was gone long enough that I managed to eat my cereal, do all my PT stretches and turn on the news/weather.  When she got back, she changed, ate a protein bar, and drank her Starbucks Cool Lime Refresher.  At about 6:45 a.m., I had my fuel belt on and was heading out the door.  Cathy realized she forgot the sign, so back to the hotel room to snag it.  And then, we were on our way, heading down the elevator and out the door.

My friend, Julia, was running in the 5K, which was going off at 7 a.m.  I was hoping to find her, but, there were SO many people that I never did see her.  I looked and waited.  And never saw her go by.  DANG IT!  Cathy thought she heard the announcer say something about corrals closing and said that it involved mine, so now we were walking the line down to the split in the corrals.  She found an information guy and asked and he aid that my corral was going to open as soon as the 5K runners were though…since I was in C.  So…Cathy made me panic for no reason.  She does this a lot at races.  Seriously.  *deep breath*  We walked back up and I downed my banana and I went to get into Corral C.  I had a moment to do my dynamic warmup moves before Cathy said she needed to stake out her spot at the other side of the start…so she made me take off my NYC Marathon zip I had put on to keep warm.  I parted with it, and was surprised that it wasn’t too chilly at the start.  A little, but not enough that I was shivering.  The National Anthem was sung BEAUTIFULLY and the wheelchair racers were sent off by Meb.  Meb was there running from the back of the mini to the front…I never got to see him.  Dang it.  In fact, I finished the race before he even started.  I did beat his time though, LOL!

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Meb waiving the green flag up in the bucket. I didn’t even see him. I suck.

The corrals moved up and the first wave was prepared to be sent off…by Meb…at 7:33 am.  The horn sounded, Meb waived the green flag, and we were off.  I crossed the start line, started my Garmin, and just went with the crowd.  I saw Cathy and gave a wave and headed toward the Indianapolis Zoo.  I didn’t see any animals out this year…but it is a nice way to start the race regardless.  That zoo is gorgeous!  This was a quick pace for me, though it didn’t feel it at the time.  My first mile was 6:57, apparently, but I dropped back after that.  Let me say, I am very glad that Cathy told me to go with the bra top only and not the tank.  The humidity was very real at Mile 2…and it was still early.  So, yeah…that worked out wonderfully.  I would have died with fabric on me.  As it was, my legs felt heavy and I was wondering how well this race was actually going to play out for me.  But, I pressed on, hoping I’d find my stride and fall into a comfortable pace and hold it.  Mile 2 and 3 are run on W. Michigan Street.  In fact, much of the first 5 miles of the race is through residential and such areas…but always with spectators and people there to cheer, some more populated than others.  Mile 5 is Main Street…and a banner is spread over the top welcoming runners to Main Street.  There are restaurants and the like out here and the crowd was loud and proud.  It was a nice way to make the turn toward the Speedway itself.  You enter the speedway via a steep downhill slope, and then back up.  Inside, you hit Mile 6 and the run around the actual Indianapolis Motor Speedway is on.  This is the part I always look forward to.  This was also the slowest miles of the race for me.  I think it’s because the sun had come out, the humidity was high, and there was no shade out on that track.  But I was running ON THE TRACK of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  How cool is that.  They have 2 pit stops (water stations) inside the track, but I carry my own water and fuel with me, so I never make use of these.  I thought about it though, with the humid air.  I was sweating!  The best part…the highlight, is hitting that brickyard.  I flashed devil horns to the photographers and carried on.  You exit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway just before Mile 9.  From here…it’s 4 miles to the finish.

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Me leaving the start gate of the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon

4 miles is a morning run for me.  So, despite feeling like I was really slowing down, I was super happy with how I was plugging along.  I kept saying, “This is for Deana…and Deana doesn’t quit!”  Or “Be relentless…like Deana.”  Mantras really help.  LOL!  I wasn’t about to quit…when it’s humid and hot, you just slow it down and run comfortable.  Miles 9-11 wind you back toward downtown, and when you get to Mile 12, you see the checkered flags, and hear the crowds, and you just run.  You just run because you’re almost done.  You just run because you are heading to that finish line. You just…do what you’ve been doing all along, but with feeling and spirit and maybe jazz hands.  Or maybe not.  Jazz hands might be a little much…

I love this part of the race.  The energy is amazing.  I could hear the finish line announcer and I knew I was getting close.  My watch beeped long before the 13 mile marker (I was about .20 miles ahead of the mile markers), and I picked it up some more.  I gritted my teeth, dug deep, and pushed it.  I saw Cathy to my right with my sign and just screaming at me.  And I noticed, as I neared the finish, that the clock time said 1:39:45…I crossed.  I just turned out another half marathon (13.29 miles on my Garmin)…and was only 1:07 minutes off of breaking my PR set at the Geist Half Marathon in 2014.  I felt amazing.  And accomplished.  And…yeah!!  I was ushered toward the medals and was handed one, which I eased over my head, somehow not spilling any water in the open water bottle I was holding.  I’m just that talented, folks.

I was given a plastic bag to put water, banana, fruits, energy bars, and whatever else into as I walked through the runner recovery area.  As I got a Dole cup, one of the Dole employees said he loved my outfit and smile and asked if he could get my picture with the Dole cup.  So, I agreed.  If I turn up on any Dole advertisements, let me know.  I am almost famous, LOL!  Afterwards, I headed into the After Party area where I was to find Cathy in the family reunion zone around the end of the alphabet.  I spotted her and rushed over…and she gave me my official time!!  I was SO happy with it.  Impressed because I felt like I was running through tar at some points…no joke.  But this was 2 minutes better than Derby…which was 2 minutes better than NYC.  Nice pattern there, yes?  LOL!

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Getting my post-race massage.  I obviously approve, LOL!!

I changed out of my shoes and put on some recovery shoes.  I snagged some chocolate milk for Cathy and then headed into the massage tent.  I NEVER miss a post-race massage whenever possible.  Seriously, this just helps me with my recovery.  The lines weren’t long yet either.  The nice lady who gave me my massage was awesome.  It was, seriously, one of the best post-race massages I have ever had.  She asked me a lot about running and how I got into it…and she really stretched me out and worked my muscles.  She told me she loves working on people where she can feel their muscles and see how they move when she works on them.  GO ME!  Afterwards, I was ready to head back to the hotel to shower, so Cathy and I headed that way.

The hotel was handing out cold towels to runners so we could wipe our faces and get refreshed, which was SO awesome.  Once we got up to the room, I went to go shower and Cathy packed up everything.  Once I was clean and dressed, she called down to have the car brought out by valet and I downed some water and played on my phone for a moment.  We finally went down just as our car came around.  Packed up…we hit the road to go to Target and then meet up with our friend, Greg, at Cheeseburger in Paradise.  A celebrator Gluten Free Veggie Baja Burger (no cheese or sour cream) was in order.  I got mine with the gluten free sweet potato fries.  I devoured it.  No joke.  We did a bit of shopping after lunch, hitting up Half Price Books…Strange Brew for coffee…and the outlets in Edinburgh, before heading home.

Half Marathon #18…done.  And it’s my third fastest one to date!!

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Half Marathon #3 this year…done…Half Marathon #18 in my running career…done…3rd fastest half marathon time…achieved. Call it a comeback!

So, the official results of the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon is that I finished in 1:39:28.  I was 889/24,768 finishers overall.  I was 123/13,487 female finishers.  And I was 21/1,939 finishers in my division!  I am so happy with this result and I texted Deana and she was so honored and happy.  It was a wonderful race, and now I remember why I loved it so much.  I hope not to wait another 4 years to return to this one.  That being said, I’m already in talks with Deana about some upcoming stuff for next year, which I’m super excited about.  I’m sure I’ll discuss that when it all falls into place.  I am certain my endurance will continue to get better.  Half marathon distances used to feel so easy for me, but I’ve been struggling in the last few miles as of late.  But this one surprised me, because I thought I had really slowed down, but I never once hit a sub 7:45 minute pace.  At all.  WOW!!  And to think I slowed down to a pace that felt “easy.”  At least my fitness has been kept up over the span of time I was out with injury last year.  I credit that to my spin classes, regular gym visits, and sheer determination on my part.

Deana…I ran hard and strong for you…I’m glad this race turned out the way it did.  Thank you for being an inspiration, a badass, and truly, an amazing friend.

Product Review: Freedom Foods Fruity Rainbow Rocks

Freedom Foods Fruity Rainbow Rocks
Freedom Foods Fruity Rainbow Rocks

Product: Freedom Foods Fruity Rainbow Rocks – $2.99+

I will be the first person to admit that in the past couple of months, I fell off of the cereal train.  I did.  Don’t get me wrong…I absolutely love cereal…but I was just in a rut and really just needed something different in the morning.  I went to fruit and yogurt and enjoyed it well enough and was content with it.

Until I went to the Gluten Free Food Allergy Fest in Indianapolis, Indiana back on October 24, 2015.  My mom, also a Celiac, came up from Birmingham, Alabama, with my dad and we all went together to scope out the expo.  Trust me, I do this event every year that it has been in Indianapolis…and I love it.  Freebies, samples, and local products/businesses all come out and reel me in.  I won’t lie…I walk out of there broke…but it’s worth it in the end.  I have never regretted a moment.

Now, one of the booths I have started to look for each year belongs to Freedom Foods.  Why?  Well…I’m getting to that.

Freedom Foods makes a variety of products, although only a few items are available in the United States at the moment…and most of these include cereals, which, for the record, are made in a dedicated and specially built allergen-free facility in the Riverina region of New South Wales, in Australia.  As Freedom Foods was specifically developed to make allergen-free foods, they test every batch made in their facilities, to the most stringent levels possible, leaving no doubt that the Freedom Foods products you pick up will be free of the allergens that are necessary to avoid.

LOVE THAT!

Because we live in a world where it’s not enough to just be health conscious.  Now we have to be allergen conscious too.  With the growing number of food allergies and intolerances, it is nice to find a company that really proves that it is dedicated to creating products that are safe to consume.  Freedom Foods has been around for over 20 years, making great-tasting and nutritious allergen-free food.  I can attest to this, as I am a huge fan of the products I have had from them thus far.  All of their products adhere to the strict guidelines laid out by Australia’s food industry, meaning all their products are non-GMO.  They even test for GMOs just to make sure.

One of my favorite products, mind you, is the Tropico’s cereal, which is a gluten-free version of Froot Loops, but made without artificial colors, ingredients, partially hydrogenated crap…you know…all that bad stuff that Kellogg’s puts into their cereals and people consume freely.  I am a cereal girl.  I start most of my mornings with a small bowl.  A serving.  And yes…I do measure.  You knew that already though, right?

So, imagine how my mind was blown when I found the booth at the GFFAF and saw that they had a new fruity cereal out.  Like…brand new this year.  It’s the Freedom Foods Fruity Rainbow Rocks (think Fruity Pebbles).  They gave me a little cup to sample and it won me over wholeheartedly.  It was like…little flakes of everything I love about Tropico’s.  Well, I might even prefer them to the Tropico’s…which, naturally would happen, since I haven’t seen the Freedom Foods Fruity Rainbow Rocks anywhere outside of the GFFAF that day.  I purchased two boxes.  I should have bought them out, HA!

I almost didn’t want to pop open a box so soon, but with the cereal that brought me back into cereal now completely consumed (that would be the Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Pumpkin O’s, for the record), I needed something else this morning.  Yes…this very morning.  Before heading to the gym for my 5:30 a.m. spin class…I needed some fuel.  And with two boxes staring at me from the pantry…I grabbed one and tore it open, measuring out a serving (1 cup), topping it with some unsweetened cashew milk, and then devouring it while standing right there at the counter in my kitchen.

It really is that amazing and that good.  This cereal is everything all rolled up into one healthier package than average regular and gluten-free cereals out on the market.  And, because of the fruity flavors, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on my cut fruit and yogurt.  Honestly, this cereal amazed me.  The little flakes of fruity goodness get a little soft in the milk, but it only helps to emphasize the flavor.  And, when your cereal is made with real ingredients, not fillers and artificial bad stuff, well, I give it a pass on how long it swims around in a pool of cashew milk before getting soft.  It didn’t bother me, as I was standing in my cycling clothes, hunched over my Eeyore cereal bowl, just shoveling this stuff into my face.  Food is fuel.  Real food is the best kind of fuel.

If you like fruity cereals…low in sugar…big in flavor, then Freedom Foods Fruity Rainbow Rocks is the cereal for you.  Who knows, you might even find yourself hunched over a bowl in your kitchen.

Let’s talk about what goes into Freedom Foods Fruity Rainbow Rocks, shall we?  This cereal is made from a gluten free flour mix (rice flour, yellow corn flour), sugar, resistant dextrin, psyllium husk, paprika oleoresin color, carrot oil color, sweet potato color, turmeric oleoresin color, tricalcium phosphate, salt, sunflower lecithin, and natural flavor.  It is free from gluten, nuts, wheat, dairy, eggs, soy and sesame.  Freedom Foods believes that the less salt you eat, the healthier you are, so they only put in a pinch of salt in this cereal.  This cereal also contains a natural, grain-based prebiotic that help to nourish the good bacteria in our digestive tracts which…helps with good digestion and overall health.  This is a simple cereal that is doing really amazing and big things for your body and your health.  And that’s why I love this brand so much!

As for nutritional information, hold onto your gluten-free knickers, my friends.  Freedom Foods Fruity Rainbow Rocks is a healthier take on cereal, and that’s evident in the nutritional facts.  A serving of Freedom Foods Fruity Rainbow Rocks is 1 cup.  This serving will give you 180 calories, 1 gram fat, 0 gram saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 75 mg sodium, 36 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 7 grams sugars, and 3 grams protein.  For being little flakes of fruit flavor, these can actually feel and be quite filling thanks to that fiber and protein. Fruity Pebbles has 0 grams of fiber and 1 gram of protein, if that tells you anything.  What a difference real ingredients and no artificial…anything makes!

There is a lot to love about Freedom Foods.  They set a high standard for themselves and aim to create delicious food that is free from the “stuff” that your body doesn’t need— gluten, nuts, wheat, dairy, eggs, fructose, soy, yeast, GMO’s, and artificial flavors. Here you have a truly allergy friendly cereal.  YAY!  Not only this, but all the products from Freedom Foods focus not only on allergen-free safety, but, better nutrition and taste.  They use clean and recognizable ingredients so you won’t feel guilty noshing on a serving.

Come on, what’s not to love.  So, whether you are a kid at heart or just love fun cereals in the morning, I encourage you to seek out, or even order, Freedom Foods.  Your body will thank you for it!

Product Review: Daiya New York Cheezecake

Daiya New York Cheezecake
Daiya New York Cheezecake

 Product: Daiya New York Cheezecake – $8.99+

Earlier this year, around the time Expo West was going on (one day…I will get there!), the leading name in vegan cheese products, Daiya, unveiled a line of cheesecakes.  For those of you unfamiliar with the sheer awesomeness of Daiya, let me tell you about my love affair with their products.  Daiya is a household name for so many vegans.  This brand offers a vast array of vegan options, including cream cheese, frozen pizzas, cheese-like wedges/blocks, non-dairy cheese slices, and, what they are most famous for, their cheese shreds (which melt the best of any vegan option out there).  You can imagine the ruckus I made when it was revealed that they were dipping their toes into the cheesecake world.

I grew up in New York – and New York is in love with its…cheesecake.  And who doesn’t appreciate a good cheesecake, right?  They are rich, creamy, dense, and “oh-so-bad-for-you-it’s-so-good.”  Nothing beats a perfect crust with the perfect, dense, creamy layer of cream cheese goodness baked on top.  It is the ultimate comfort dessert.  You eat a cheesecake when you just don’t give a flying flip about anything else.  You eat cheesecake as a treat.  You eat cheesecake and you savor each bite.

It has been years since I’ve had a cheesecake.  I mean…a real cheesecake.  I have made a couple of dairy-free versions of cheesecake…but they haven’t worked out so well.  One spilled out of my springform pan, while the other one was the perfect density and tasted good…but it cracked on top…so it wasn’t perfect and pretty.  But, hey…I tried.

So, leave it to Daiya to swoop in and save the day.

All hail Daiya!

So, I figured it would be awhile before these turned up in my area.  That’s usually how new products unveiled at Expo West happen.  BUT…it was different this time.  A few weeks ago, I was in Whole Foods and as I was walking down the frozen food aisle, I glanced over and saw a shelf of all four flavors of the cheezecakes that Daiya has put out on the market.  For those wondering, these four flavors are: New York, Strawberry, Key Lime, and Chocolate.  I made a few happy noises and my roommate and I vowed to pick up one of the Daiya Cheezecakes the following week, when we could bring a cooler and not leave it in the car while we finished up the rest of our shopping.

True to our word, we did return.  And after a very short discussion over which flavor we should try first, we unianimously settled on the Daiya New York Cheezecake.  Why?  Because nothing is better or more versatile than a New York-style cheesecake.  Trust me.  I know.  We purchased the dessert and brought it home, where I put it in the freezer and let it sit while I made some out of town trips and all that good stuff.

But, with my running on hold (which, granted, probably isn’t the time to develop a dessert-crust on a high-fat treat) while I am in recovery and physical therapy for a torn hip labrum, I am making my way through some of the things in my pantry, freezer, and fridge.  This Sunday, it was all about the cheesecake!

Daiya New York Cheezecake is fairly simply to prep for devouring.  Simply remove the cheezecake from the package and transfer it to a cutting board or plate, and then place it in the refrigerator.  Allow it to thaw for 5-6 hours.  Then, slice into it (it says it feeds 4-6 people, for the sake of my waist and my weight, I opted for 6) and transfer it to plates.  Thaw these slices for an additional 20 minutes at room temperature before serving and refrigerate any unused pieces immediately.  If you don’t have 5-6 hours to kill, you can thaw the unwrapped cheezecake at room temperature for 30 minutes, slice it, and then thaw an additional 45 minutes.  You should NOT refreeze this dessert.  And, according to the box, it is best if consumed within 48 hours of thawing.

So…I did all of the above on Sunday afternoon, allowing the Daiya New York Cheezecake to thaw in the fridge while I went about my crazy Sunday afternoon.  After eating dinner that night, I popped into the kitchen and sliced up the dessert, serving up tiny little wedges to both myself and my roommate.  Settling in, I was eagerly anticipating my first bite.  So…I took it.

And fell in love.  Seriously.  My first thought was that these were going to taste like Daiya.  Let’s face it, my vegan and Daiya loving friends…Daiya products have this particular taste about them.  But the Daiya New York Cheezecake doesn’t have that.  It is light and soft and tastes like a New York Cheesecake.  That’s the great thing about a plain cheesecake.  You can dress it up if you want with berries or jams or even caramel or chocolate.  But I’m a purist.  I wanted to taste it on its own so I could draw a good conclusion on how I felt about the taste.  And, I was beyond impressed.  While it is nowhere near the density and richness of an authentic New York style cheesecake, it was creamy and rich.  I actually appreciated that sort of texture because some New York style cheesecakes are a little hard to swallow.  This could be, honestly, the most perfect dessert.  I also loved that the graham cracker crust is only a tiny, itty-bitty layer on the bottom, because this made the main focus the cheesecake itself.  I don’t want a lot of crust.  It isn’t the star of the dessert.  It’s that creamy topping that everyone wants.  And this was smooth and light.  And that…was a winner for me.  The cheesecake itself is rather small when compared to a regular one, but…I appreciated the size.  No over-indulging.  Just right.

So, let’s talk about what goes into a Daiya New York Cheezecake, shall we?  The Cheezecake Filling is made from filtered water, dessicated coconut, evaporated cane sugar, coconut oil, tapioca starch, non-GMO expeller pressed canola and/or non-GMO expeller pressed safflower oil, potato starch, pea protein isolate, vanilla extract, sea salt, vegan natural flavors, vegetable glycerine, sodium alginate, xanthan gum, lactic acid, tricalcium phosphate, cultured sugar, agave syrup, titanium dioxide, and vegan enzyme.  The Gluten-Free Crust is made from tapioca starch, coconut oil, evaporated cane sugar, brown rice flour, white whole grain sorghum flour, potato starch, filtered water, non-GMO expeller pressed canola and/or non-GMO expeller pressed safflower oil, blackstrap molasses, vanilla extract, milled flax seed, psyllium, leavening, sea salt, xanthan gum, and sunflower lecithin.  Whew.  This dream come true dessert is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, cholesterol free, and vegan.

So, let’s talk about the nutrition facts of the Daiya New York Cheezecake, shall we?  I know it’s a dessert, but it is about half the size of a regular cheesecake…but it will eat like a real cheesecake.  I cut my portion down by making 6 servings instead of four, but if you stick to the 4 slices per the box recommendation, you’ll be taking in 16 grams of saturated fat.  My thighs are already planning their revenge at the gym today.  The fat and sugar contents are both high as well…but…this is a dessert.  I get that.  SO…with that preface…a serving size is 1 slice (100 grams), with 4 servings per box.  One serving will give you 360 calories, 24 grams fat, 16 grams saturated fat, 420 mg sodium, 34 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 17 grams sugars, and 3 grams of protein.  So, it’s up there on the calories and fat…so remember…it is a treat.  Do not overindulge.

This was, truly, one of the most amazing, decadent, and fantastic store bought desserts I have had the honor of indulging in since having to give up gluten and dairy.  Rich, creamy, and sinfully good.  Daiya definitely did an amazing job creating this line of cheesecakes and I look forward to trying the other three flavors.  In moderation.  And after hitting the gym.

Well done, Daiya!

Product Review: Master’s Hand BBQ With Integrity (Medium) BBQ Sauce

Master's Hand BBQ With Integrity (Medium) BBQ Sauce
Master’s Hand BBQ With Integrity (Medium) BBQ Sauce

Product: Master’s Hand BBQ With Integrity (Medium) BBQ Sauce – $6.99

It was the heat of summer, August 23rd, when I ventured up to the Indianapolis to visit the Exposition Hall of the Indiana State Fairgrounds.  I was attending the Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest and was so excited to see the number of big name brands who had booths there.  But even more exciting were the booths from local artisans and businesses that had gluten-free products to offer.

One such booth was the Master’s Hand BBQ booth.  Master’s Hand BBQ line of products was created by Steve Beers over 20 years ago.  He began with the original flavor (now called A Taste of Heaven), and after people who would eat the foods he would put with it (meatballs, pulled pork, and other food varieties for weddings, graduations, and get-togethers), it was suggested that he start marketing his sauce.  It didn’t really go further than that until his daughter, Amanda, came to him and insisted that they look into the process for marketing the infamous sauce.  Once everything was in place, they began with famers markets and had such success that they moved on to fairs and craft shows.  Meat markets and grocery stores began finding them and they have now grown their production line to being available in over 80 retail locations.  This business is based out of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

We had the great opportunity to try some of their spice rubs and their BBQ sauces that they had out for sampling while there.  While I am a fan of hot, my roomie is a spice wimp.  We wanted to definitely get one of the sauces, so we compromised and went for the medium heat one.  When I was craving a pizza last night, I decided to do it up with some BBQ sauce instead of pizza sauce, and top it off with my vegan pepper jack shreds, some sauteed onions and some roasted Brussels sprouts.  Then, to cap it off…some vegan and gluten-free bacon.  YUMMY!  I was out of BBQ sauce in the fridge…so…it was between this one and the Stubbs Sweet Heat that my roomie and I purchased before I reorganized the pantry and found this jar of Master’s Hand BBQ sauce.  As I had Master’s Hand longer…it won.

And it kept winning.  This is one fantastic sauce.  I, naturally, had to try it before slathering it on top of the gluten-free flatbreads that were making up our pizza crusts.  The Master’s Hand With Integrity (Medium) is a sweet and spicy BBQ sauce.  The Web site says it is great for bits, chicken, sloppy joe’s and ham.  However…I can now say it’s great on a BBQ pizza as well.  Even one topped off with roasted veggies.  Fantastic. I loved the smokey flavor and the sweetness and how the medium heat doesn’t overwhelm anything, but leaves a nice spicy note on the tip of your palate.  It simply is BBQ sauce perfection.  And now I know where I need to get my BBQ sauce from now on.  Seriously unlike any other sauce out there.  Thick, rich, sweet, savory…it’s everything you want a BBQ sauce to be.  So in love with the Master’s Hand line.

So, let’s talk ingredients.  Master’s Hand BBQ With Integrity (Medium) BBQ sauce is made from tomato concentrate, brown sugar, cane sugar, onion, molasses, kosher salt, onion powder, cayenne powder, spices, paprika, garlic powder, mustard powder, and celery powder.  All of the products that Master’s Hand offers are free of high fructose corn syrup, gluten, and MSG.  They are all natural!  And they are all delicious too.

As for nutrition, a serving of Master’s Hand BBQ With Integrity (Medium) BBQ sauce is 2 tablespoons.  This serving will provide you with 80 calories.  This is a fat-free condiment.  It is also cholesterol free and trans fat free.  You will be consuming 160 mg sodium and 22 grams of sugar.  A serving gives you 24 grams of carbohydrates, but no protein or fiber to fill you up.

Seriously, if you love BBQ sauce, you need to give Master’s Hand With Integrity (Medium) BBQ Sauce a try.  Trust me…when it comes to a smokey/sweet flavor that feels good going down and tastes amazing…this is the sauce for you.  Once you’ve had this, all those store brands will seem inferior.  Very impressed.  Craving more for sure.

And if you don’t live anywhere near Fort Wayne, IN…you can order their products online.  Highly recommended.

Gluten Free BBQ Brussels Sprouts Pizza made with Master's Hand BBQ With Integrity (Medium) BBQ Sauce
Gluten Free BBQ Brussels Sprouts Pizza made with Master’s Hand BBQ With Integrity (Medium) BBQ Sauce

Product Review: Freedom Foods Ancient Grain Flakes Cereal

Freedom Foods Ancient Grain Flakes
Freedom Foods Ancient Grain Flakes

Product: Freedom Foods Ancient Grain Flakes Cereal – $5.99+

It’s no secret how much I have latched onto and been supportive and vocally outspoken about how the natural and naturally delicious products from Freedom Foods are surprisingly nutritious and packed with nutritious goodness.  So many cereals out there are loaded down with sugars and artificial ingredients.  But Freedom Foods prides itself on using only natural ingredients…yes…even for those wild colors in my much loved Tropicos.  So…yeah.  There is a lot of love here.

Last month, I went to the Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest in Indianapolis, and one of the vendors in attendance was none other than Freedom Foods.  After buying them out of Smudge (their nut-free and dairy-free Nutella), I decided I would try one of the cereals in their lineup that I don’t see at any of my stores.  Right now, only Kroger carries some of their products, and very few of their cereals.  After a little bit of pondering…I finally decided to try the Freedom Foods Ancient Grain Flakes.

This cereal is a blend of sorghum and buckwheat, creating a cereal that is a good source of fiber and also low in salt.  What sets this cereal apart from others on the market, Freedom Foods Ancient Grain Flakes are a true super food.  Why?  Because they grains that they rely on are those that were consumed around the world for thousands of years.  The Aztecs relied heavily on these superfoods for both strength and endurance.

Strength…and…endurance.

This runner definitely perks up hearing that!  So, I gave it a try.  And on the morning before I attempted my first double-digit run since I was injured…I ate a serving and went to meet up with some friends for my run.  As I poured my bowl of cereal, the flakes reminded me of those that would be in, say, Raisin Bran.  They were that dark flake without a coating of heavy sugar.  Very nutritious looking.  No raisins in sight.  None needed, apparently.  Right?

Well…mostly.

I love the nutritious aspects of this cereal.  I really do.  But…the flavor, on their own…was not good.  Really dry and sort of like…cardboard.  Not to be deterred though, I went ahead and poured some almond milk over the flakes themselves…and that actually helped.  It wasn’t…say…my favorite…but…it wasn’t bad.  It wasn’t great…but I didn’t want to just pour it into the sink and start the garbage disposal either.  It definitely is my least favorite product I have tried from Freedom Foods to date…I mean…cardboard is not a good taste at all.  But…it is packed with a lot of nutrition, which does my body good.  And with the almond milk…it was consumable.  So, there is that.

This cereal is made from rice flour, yellow corn flour, sorghum flour, buckwheat flour, psylliam husk, cane sugar, apple juice concentrate, and less than 2% salt and sunflower oil.  This cereal is preservative free, a great source of fiber, non-GMO certified, low in salt, and also gluten-free, wheat-free, nut-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and egg-free.

Nutritionally speaking, this cereal is definitely higher in calories than I would like…especially since it’s not knock-me-over delicious…but it still has some great things going for it.  One serving is a cup of the Freedom Foods Ancient Grains Flakes cereal is 1 cup.  In this serving, you are dished up 220 calories and only 1 gram of fat.  This serving also provides 60 mg sodium and 5 grams of sugar.  You also get 5 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein.  Filling…for sure.

So, while I wouldn’t personally purchase this cereal again, it isn’t so bad.  Nutrition wise it is a powerhouse.  And if you like bran flakes or something similar, perhaps this is for you.  For me, it lacked something…but…it’s edible.  I’ll polish off the box.  Maybe it will at least bring me some added strength and endurance…

Product Review: BeeFree Gluten Free Lemon Loaf

BeeFree Gluten Free Lemon Loaf
BeeFree Gluten Free Lemon Loaf

Product: BeeFree Gluten Free Lemon Loaf – $3.00

It was two weekends ago that I was walking around the Indiana State Fairgrounds at the Living Without Gluten Free Food Allergy Fest.  I had such a great time going up to the various booths, some from big name and well-known gluten-free companies and corporations.  And then…some of the booths belonged to local businesses…bakeries and sauce makers and the like.  It was an amazing variety and a great time.  I had a blast talking to the various vendors, from local and nationally acclaimed businesses and finding out more about their products and/or company.

One booth that I dropped by was BeeFree Gluten Free Bakery, based out of Noblesville, Indiana.  The bakery is owned and operated by Jennifer Wiese, the mother of four teenage boys, the eldest of which is on the autism spectrum.  She attended an autism conference a few years ago where she learned about the benefits of a gluten-free and casein free diet in helping to alleviate some of the behavioral issues associated with autism.  With a limited amount of good gluten-free and casein free food in Nobelsville, and an 8-year-old with limited patience for being asked to give up some of his favorite foods, Weise decided to get creative.  With the assistance of her mother, they eventually were able to put together a winning combination of rice, tapioca, coconut, and potato flours, with corn starch, as a base for her baking.

In the end, the diet had positive effects on her son.  And Weise wanted her son to be able to eat at social events, often meaning she had to bake a cake or pizza to be offered alongside the glutinous one that everyone else was eating.  When people started complimenting Weise on how good her creations were, she began to get asked to bake for their parties.

With the demand there, Weise decided that starting a business was the next step.  So, in 2010, BeeFree Gluten Free Bakery opened.  Weise rented out kitchen space in a restaurant after hours and would start baking.  After a year, she realized she couldn’t keep up with her orders and grow the business like she wanted to, so she rented a bakery and started producing her baked creations on a larger scale.  This meant she could do her baking in the morning while the equipment was freshly sanitized and there wasn’t any wheat flour wafting around the air.

Today, Weise’s entire family has gone gluten-free.  Now that Weise has more time freed up for working on business, she is interested in getting BeeFree Gluten Free Bakery carried more widely across the region and expanding her line.  She recently even developed a cereal for people on the Paleo Diet, which tends to avoid grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar and processed oils.

So…here the bakery was, participating in a huge gluten-free expo.  As I strolled up to the table, they were offering samples of their Warrior Mix (which is a cereal).  But, for sale, I noticed one lonely loaf on the table…and it caught my attention for one reason – it was LEMON!

I love, love, LOVE lemon flavored things.  And so does my roommate.  Which, I immediately pointed the loaf out to Cathy and she nodded her head.  I spoke to the guy behind the counter and said that I’d love to take the Lemon Loaf off their hands.  He picked it up and informed me it was the last one they had.  WOOT!  Good timing.  Cathy passed over the $3.00 they were asking and we walked away with something lemon and delicious looking.

Upon returning home from our day in Indianapolis, Cathy and I sorted out our stash of free goodies and the items we bought, including ones that needed to be refrigerated.  The BeeFree Gluten Free Lemon Loaf went into the refrigerator.  I had every intention of busting into it before today…but we were working hard on polishing off the banana bread I had prepared from the mix I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. And then…we were heading out of town, and taking my own gluten-free zucchini bread loaves with me to my parents home.  So…with all of that finally gone…this morning’s after-gym breakfast had to be simple…and I had nothing.  NOTHING.  Until I recalled…the BeeFree Gluten Free Lemon Loaf.  Breakfast…was served.

That morning, before we left for the gym, I pulled out the Lemon Loaf and opened it up.  The serving size was 1/4 of the loaf, so I cut it in half, then cut that half in half…so that my roommate and I each had a serving.  I immediately noted the gorgeous lemon yellow color of the loaf.  However, I was a bit uncertain about the white layer of thick icing on the top.  I’m not big on frosting or icing…and the sheer amount of it was a bit…overwhelming.  But…I placed the slices into a container and we were off to face the cardio machines.

After going to the gym this morning, we hiked over to the office and I removed the two slices (or half of the loaf) from the cooler I bring on gym mornings.  I placed each slice on a plate and gave it a small warming (about 15 seconds) in the microwave before handing off one slice to Cathy and settling in at my desk with the other.

I cut through the top part, getting the huge chunk of icing with a little bit of the loaf.  I took a taste…and aside from the sweetness of the lemon-flavored icing…the loaf itself was moist, rich, sweet, sour, and just plain…delicious!  Yes…delicious.  I ended up breaking the icing away and cutting it up so that I could get smaller bits of it with each bite instead of having it just sitting on top.  Because…there was a lot of it.  By breaking it up like that, it definitely gave the loaf more depth as I got a bit of icing with a bit of bread with each bite.  Otherwise, I’d just get the icing and it was far too sugary sweet for a breakfast.  More like a dessert.  Maybe that’s what this was meant for.  Dessert for breakfast…it happens.  But…with the volume of icing, it was best eaten this way.  Trust me.

I was rather impressed with the texture, taste, density, and flavor that came in the BeeFree Gluten Free Lemon Loaf.  It was light, and airy, not dense and heavy.  Like I said, my only complaint is that the ratio of loaf to icing was…way off, in my opinion.  It was a little overwhelming with that thick layer of icing on top, but I made it work.  Truth is, the loaf would have been just as delicious even without the icing.  And probably would make it feel like less of a dessert too. But, to each their own, and this is truly just a personal preference.

The BeeFree Gluten Free Lemon Loaf is made from sugar, organic enriched rice milk, corn oil, eggs, white rice flour, tapioca flour, corn starch, organic lemon juice, organic lemon peel, coconut flour, potato flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, and sea salt.

As for nutrition, a serving of the the BeeFree Gluten Free Lemon Loaf is 1/4 of the loaf.  In this serving, you will be consuming 250 calories and 11 grams of fat.  You will also be consuming 125 mg sodium and 22 grams of sugar.  And finally, you will be taking in 1 gram of fiber and 2 grams of protein.  It isn’t filling…but it is one sweet treat in the morning.

I love supporting a local business, so I was excited to tear into my BeeFree Gluten Free Lemon Loaf this morning.  Fantastic flavor and just the right amount of lemon.  For my own tastes, I find the amount of icing a bit of overkill, but it does add great flavor to the loaf.  I was one happy lemon lover this morning.  And this loaf gets another eating on Thursday.  Already anticipating.

Loving the Gluten-Free Iced Lemon Cake from Truly Wize Bakery

Truly Wize Bakery Gluten-Free Iced Lemon Cake
Truly Wize Bakery Gluten-Free Iced Lemon Cake

Product: Truly Wize Bakery Gluten-Free Iced Lemon Cake – $6.95

Lemon.

Who doesn’t love lemon.  There is just something so refreshing about a dish that is flavored with lemon.  It’s crisp.  It’s delicious.  It’s my favorite flavor to use as a palate cleanser.  And…one of my favorite flavors for a dessert.  Like I said…it’s refreshing.

Remember that Cinnamon Coffee Cake I picked up at the gluten-free expo I attended in Carmel, Indiana?  Well, my roommate got to pick a cake too, and as she is as much of a lemon freak as I am, she went with the Iced Lemon Cake from Truly Wize Bakery.  So…here we were…two girls…two cakes…and a freezer.  And a time span of a couple months.  I knew they were in there…it was just a matter of getting the pantry down to managable levels before hitting up the freezer.  My biggest concern was that these cakes would suffer for having spent so much time in the freezer.

They didn’t.  Not at all.

As I mentioned previously in my blog on the Gluten-Free Cinnamon Coffee Cake, Truly Wize Bakery, a gluten-free and allergen-free bakery,  is based out of Greensburg, Pennsylvania.  Their Web site states that their mission is simple: they want to provide delicious, healthy, premium quality gluten-free and allergy-free cookies, cakes, brownies, and other confections without the use of wheat, gluten, dairy, butter, soy, peanuts, artificial colors and flavors.  They carry this out by using the finest selection of premium natural and organic ingredients from growers and suppliers who are committed to the highest environmental standards.  Everything they make is from scratch in a dedicated gluten-free facility and baked to order so that everything is also fresh.  You gotta love that.

The bakery was brought to life by the Chef/Founder Caren Weaver, who was on a mission to create healthier desserts for her children.  Her passion for baking kick-started this plan and she finally decided to really only incorporate organic and natural ingredients in her handcrafted, gluten-free products.  With the evolution of the gluten-free market, and the fact that one of her friends was a diagnosed Celiac, Caren set out to make gluten-free products that her friend could enjoy.  They had to taste great.

So…obviously if my roommate and I sampled the lemon cake…and then bought it…it actually must have tasted great.

The fact was, it had been so long since we had those samples…I couldn’t remember.

Truly Wize Bakery Gluten-Free Iced Lemon Cake
Truly Wize Bakery Gluten-Free Iced Lemon Cake

Since the cake was frozen, I set it out on the counter while I was at work that day to allow it to thaw.  I wasn’t sure what this would do to the cake.  It didn’t seem to harm the Cinnamon Coffee Cake I had a few days before…but this actually had icing on it.  So, it was a little bit different.  That night, after having leftovers for dinner, dessert was just as easy as slicing into the cake and serving it up.  The icing survived the thawing process better than anticipated, though it was nowhere near the beauty it was when I originally purchased it.  But…it’s one of those little sacrifices.  Aside from that, flavor-wise, you’d never guess this cake was frozen…ever!

Luscious lemon flavor explodes across your taste buds with this fantastic cake.  It’s that right balance too.  Sometimes lemon can take over and just overwhelm your palate.  Not in this case.  The lemon cake with the lemon icing finds that perfect citrus balance so that it doesn’t cause your eyes to water and your lips to pucker.  This cake is incredibly rich and incredibly moist.  And I loved every bite of it.  I tried not to hoover it and devour it without any thought, but took time to taste…get the full effect of the flavor and the texture.

And, nutritionally speaking, the nutrition facts attached to this cake aren’t so bad.  Not for…a cake.  The Iced Lemon Cake serves 4 people and one square of this cake will provide you with 95 calories and 5 grams of fat.  That’s not bad for a slice of cake.  I love having a dessert under 100 calories.  It tastes like it should be laden with calories and fat…but thankfully, it’s not.  This cake is rich and moist and tastes so refreshing, it’s hard to believe it’s only 95 calories per serving.  Trust me…you won’t believe it either.  But…a healthier option for a dessert is always welcome.  And while you do only get a little square of cakey goodness…it’s just enough after a meal.  A couple of bites and dessert is done.

I know that we don’t all have gluten-free expos that crop up near where we live.  I also realize that Truly Wize is based out of Pennsylvania.  But,  never fear.  The Web site is set up to take orders that will be shipped to you.  So, yes, now even you can give these fantastic products a try.  I highly recommend their fantastic cakes.  But now I’m seriously thinking about heading over to their Web site and trying out their cookies, brownies, and OMG…they have cinnamon rolls!!!  Go and browse through the goodness (with pictures) at the Truly Wize Bakery Web site and, trust me, order something.  If the two cakes I purchased are any indication of how the rest of their products are, then everything is a real treat.  A healthier version of a real treat!

I was truly surprised by the products that Truly Wize Bakery offers.  The cakes were both fantastic.  One was refreshing, the other was sinful.  And both were fantastic.  I love this lemon cake…because the lemon isn’t too much, nor is it too subtle.  It makes that last bite after a meal a truly memorable one.  And with it being gluten-free and allergen free as well…even better.

Find their products…or order online.  But trust me…this bakery is not to be missed.

A slice of Truly Wize Gluten-Free Iced Lemon Cake
A slice of Truly Wize Gluten-Free Iced Lemon Cake

Gluten-Free Cinnamon Coffee Cake a Truly Wize splurge

Truly Wize Bakery Gluten-Free Cinnamon Coffee Cake
Truly Wize Bakery Gluten-Free Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Product: Truly Wize Bakery Gluten-Free Cinnamon Coffee Cake – $12.95

Oh, great Gluten-Free Expo that I attended back in October…I returned with so many fond memories…and some great items that I either was given to sample or purchased to try.  That was a good time.  And I came across vendors, brands, and foods that I didn’t even know existed.  And that’s saying something being that I have been a member of the Celiac club for over two years now.

But, these tasting fairs and expos are great experiences and a good way to learn about other brands, other companies, local businesses, restaurants, and the like who do cater to the gluten-free community.  This particular expo was taking place up in Carmel, Indiana.  It was the Gluten-Free Living Now Expo…and unlike the last expo I attended in Indianapolis, this one was HUGE.  It filled a banquet hall from end-to-end, rows and rows of vendors, grocery stores, local bakeries, not-so-local bakeries, restaurants, etc. filled the space.  I was happily overwhelmed.

My roommate and I took our time, walking the aisles, taking samples, talking to the people at the tables.  We wanted to really soak in the experience and not feel rushed like we normally do at these events.  We even made some splurge purchases.  There are so many great deals at these expos…prices on products you can find in stores that you’ll never get anywhere else.  Like I said…we splurged a little.

One such splurge came from a bakery that was giving out samples of some of their cakes.  I love cake.  And two of these weren’t frosted.  Even better…since I don’t like frosting.  My roommate and I stepped up and spoke to the nice woman at the table.  She offered samples of either the Chocolate Decadence Cake, the Cinnamon Coffee Cake, or the Iced Lemon Cake.  Cathy immediately jumped on the sample of the lemon cake.  Me…I went with the cinnamon one, as cinnamon is one of my favorite things in the wold.

Moist.  Delicious.  OMGSOGOOD!

Splurge purchase.  We bought two of the three cakes…the two we sampled.  SOLD…with one little bite.  That’s how you know you’re doing something right.

The bakery is actually based out of Greensburg, Pennsylvania.  And it is Truly Wize Gluten-Free Bakery…which is a gluten-free and allergen-free bakery.  Their Web site states that their mission is simple: they want to provide delicious, healthy, premium quality gluten-free and allergy-free cookies, cakes, brownies, and other confections without the use of wheat, gluten, dairy, butter, soy, peanuts, artificial colors and flavors.  They carry this out by using the finest selection of premium natural and organic ingredients from growers and suppliers who are committed to the highest environmental standards.  Everything they make is from scratch in a dedicated gluten-free facility and baked to order so that everything is also fresh.  You gotta love that.

The bakery was brought to life by the Chef/Founder Caren Weaver, who was on a mission to create healthier desserts for her children.  Her passion for baking kick-started this plan and she finally decided to really only incorporate organic and natural ingredients in her handcrafted, gluten-free products.  With the evolution of the gluten-free market, and the fact that one of her friends was a diagnosed Celiac, Caren set out to make gluten-free products that her friend could enjoy.  They had to taste great.

Well, that mission was definitely a success.

Truly Wize Bakery Gluten-Free Cinnamon Coffee Cake
Truly Wize Bakery Gluten-Free Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Like I said…this expo took place back in October, so the cakes that we purchased have been taking up space and residence in my freezer.  But, with this past week being so crazy and I needed a break from the pre-packaged cookies I’ve been going through in my pantry of gluten-free doom…I reached into the freezer and grabbed the Truly Wize Bakery Gluten-Free Cinnamon Coffee Cake.  I put it on the counter while I was at work to allow it to thaw out.  I wasn’t sure how this would affect the cake…but I went with it.  Hoping for the best.

Returning home, I had a busy night, including a circuit workout and a dinner to make.  I’ve been very pressed for time lately as my schedule is getting kind of crazy and hectic.  But…I do get by.  With an already hectic day behind me and a super-busy evening, the fact that dessert was ready and waiting for me on my counter made my night.  Honestly.  I’m a dessert girl…it’s something I always treat myself to.  Nothing big.  Just a little palate cleanser after a meal.  I have to have it.

So, after devouring dinner…it was time to give Truly Wize Bakery’s Gluten-Free/Casein-Free Cinnamon Coffee Cake a try.  The expo where I first sampled the cake was so long ago, the flavor memory had left me.  I pulled off the top of the eco-friendly packaging and sliced into it.  I expected it to be dry from the months it sat in the freezer.  Quite the opposite.  This cake was moist and soft.  I was already elated.  I scooped out a slice for my roomie and then one for me.  We settled in for dessert…

…and…there it was.  The reason I purchased this cake in the first place.  Amazing.  Moist.  Flavorful.  Not heavy or dense.  This coffee cake is light.  Airy.  Perfection.  The reason I was blown away by it at the expo was just how fantastic it tasted.  Texture was better than any coffee cake I had ever had.  The balance of cinnamon and coffee…perfection.  The crumble on the top…pure decadent heaven.  I mean, who doesn’t like a good cinnamon-sugar crumble?!  It really just added to the already awesomeness of the cake.  This cake was moist.  If you pressed your fork to it, it would spring back without any crumbling.  Cake perfection.  Truly one of the best gluten-free cakes I have ever tasted.  That’s saying something.  You can tell that only the best ingredients go into this product because it is so damn good!

And…nutritionally speaking…they do provide a healthier option as far as baked goods go.  According to the attached nutrition info on the Cinnamon Coffee Cake, the cake serves 4 people and one square of this cake will provide you with 95 calories and 5 grams of fat.  That’s not bad for a slice of cake.  I love having a dessert under 100 calories.  Especially when it tastes like it should have at least 300 calories in it.  Not kidding, peeps.  This cake is rich and moist and tastes so sinful, it’s hard to believe it’s only 95 calories per serving.  LOVING IT!!

I know that we don’t all have gluten-free expos that crop up near where we live.  I also realize that Truly Wize is based out of Pennsylvania.  But,  never fear.  The Web site is set up to take orders that will be shipped to you.  So, yes, now even you can give these fantastic products a try.  I highly recommend their fantastic cakes.  But now I’m seriously thinking about heading over to their Web site and trying out their cookies, brownies, and OMG…they have cinnamon rolls!!!  Go and browse through the goodness (with pictures) at the Truly Wize Bakery Web site and, trust me, order something.  If the Gluten-Free Cinnamon Coffee Cake is that foodgasmic…then the rest of their stuff has to be just as good, if not more amazing.

Truly Wize Bakery definitely surprised me…wowed me…and won me over.  Proof, once again, that allergen-free and gluten-free doesn’t mean taste-free.  My local bakery proves that time and time again…and here is another bakery doing the exact same thing.

This is a trend I would love to see continue.

So, if you haven’t tried anything from Truly Wize Bakery…either visit Pennsylvania and stop in…or…trust me when I say their products, especially their cakes, are worth ordering online.  So hop over to their site and place an order.  You’ll thank me for it.  Trust me!

And…I highly recommend the Cinnamon Coffee Cake.  Seriously.  To.  Die.  For.  (In a good way!)

A slice of Truly Wize Bakery Gluten-Free Cinnamon Coffee Cake
A slice of Truly Wize Bakery Gluten-Free Cinnamon Coffee Cake