Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon – Lexington, KY (March 31, 2018)

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Me coming into the finish of the Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon – Lexington, KY

Race: Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon

Place: Lexington, Kentucky

Date: March 31, 2018

Time: 2:04:43

There is something to be said about not coming into a race wanting to smash it.  Pressure can be a friend or foe, and with me, more often than not…it’s foe.

There is also something to be said about choosing an almost local half marathon to run…one that you’ve wanted to run for a couple of years but have always been riding the injury train…and spending it with important people in your life.  Not fussing over all the minutiae…stressing over goal times…all the stuff that comes with races.

There is something to be said about running the race that is billed as “America’s Prettiest Half Marathon.”  Running it, my friends, but really taking it in.  Drinking in the gorgeous horse farms, and the running horses by the roads you are running, taking selfies with strangers and friends alike.

Yeah…it’s something I rarely get to experience because I do get wrapped up in finish times more than finish lines sometimes.  That was a lot of “-imes and -ines” all at once, yeah?

I registered for the Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon after being encouraged by my enabler…er…friend…Melissa.  I knew this one was going to be a tough course, as I heard about the, anywhere from 33-40 hills (it’s all in who you ask and talk to!).  We all know, my broken down hips love the downhill and flat spaces.  The uphills…well…let’s just say I’m working on that.

My coach, Linda, actually provides her runners as pacers for this race.  No…I did not sign up to be a pacer.  She and her local and amazing Frankfort pack were going to see runners to their goals on race day.  Linda was going to be pacing the 2:10 group, fresh off of the Chattanooga Marathon where she punched her ticket to the Boston Marathon next year.  I was told to line up with her and to stick with her.  And while, for a brief moment, I felt like I was wasting an opportunity to race…it turned out this was a blessing in disguise (and maybe it was all part of her plan from the start…Melissa is convinced that it was!).

The Friday before the race just happened to be Good Friday.  So, my office gave all employees a half day.  This meant that Cathy and I could hit the road to Lexington early and get to the expo and have some time to look around.  I had packed some Asian soup for us to eat before we hit the road, and we had dinner plans that night with Melissa and Paul at the BEST place to get pasta in Lexington – Bella Notte.

The drive down was easy and uneventful.  We were pumping ourselves up for the race, so I put in the Britney Spears Greatest Hits album (don’t judge!) and played it all the way through.  Then, my Garmin GPS in the car took us some weird route toward the race expo, where we were driving on narrow back roads.  It was wet and rainy and beautiful.  We passed a chicken farm…where I declared, “That there is a chicken farm!”  Because, I wanted to talk in a hick-deep-South accent, I guess.

It was at that turn, however, that Cathy made note of the signs marking the Run the Bluegrass route.  As we turned and took the road toward Keeneland, where the race expo and the start of the race would happen, we wound through the beautiful horse country.  And as Cathy pointed out the course signs, she literally turned her head and said…

“You’re going to die tomorrow.”

I am still laughing over this…because she knows my hatred of uphills.  And there were going to be 30 something uphills to conquer.  She probably wasn’t wrong.  My saving grace was going to be running with Linda…my coach…the 2:10 pacer.  Linda and I have run in the same races before, but never together.  So, I was pretty stoked about it.  Linda was too.  And that helped.

Walking into the expo at Keeneland in Lexington, KY

We arrived to the expo and parked the car.  Keeneland is gorgeous and we walked into the main building of the expo where you are immediately greeted, handed info books and catalogs and directed to the packet pickup area.  This is done by bib number, which is corresponding with the corral/wave that you are in.  My bib was 1052…first corral…but I was falling back to wherever Linda was going to be stationed.  I texted Linda as I got there and then went to get my bib.  A lot of the Frankfort runners were manning packet pick-up and when I gave my bib number, I was given a long look, the bib was flipped over to get my name info, and she said, “I though that was you, Karen.  You’re just not in running clothes.”  That must be one of those #runnerproblems.

Linda caught up with me just as I was entering the expo space to look at all the things for sale and really just wanting to buy everything.  We hugged and she showed me all the great things I should by.  In the end, I ended up with one of the Run The Bluegrass Ponya Bands (I was going to get a Bondi Band, but was literally seconds too late as the woman at the table and grabbed the last two), and the official Run The Bluegrass jacket, which is gorgeous and I love it and want to wear it all the time.  It has, actually, come in handy with the crazy rainy days we’ve had since the race.  I also had Cathy buy me some of the special popcorn from Popcorn Paradise.

Photos, Packet Pickup, Shopping…Run The Bluegrass Expo has it all!!

Melissa and Paul were on their way in, so we made the rounds through the rest of the expo and checked out all the vendors.  I’m still searching for some shoes that I can simply train in (so I don’t wear out those hard-to-find Newton’s that I race in), but none of the ones for sale at the expo spoke to me.  Ah well.  I did finally get to try Sword.  It was pretty good…but I’m still doing well with my combo of Hammer gels and Nuun Performance.  When my stomach is happy…I stick with it.

At the very back of the space, you get to pick up your race shirt.  In this case, it’s this t-shirt hoodie thing.  Which, honestly, has become my favorite thing to wear at the moment.  Just slip it over my workout clothes and good to go.  They also had out next year’s gear and…the hoodie shirts aren’t coming back.  They are bringing in long sleeve and short sleeve tech shirt options, and the upgrade jacket has omni heat lining.

I ran into Tammy and Dean back here and we got to talk for a little bit.  This was also their first time running Run The Bluegrass…so we were all pretty excited to be taking part in it this year.  They were catching dinner at BJ’s…and we were hoping to squeak in as walk-ins at Belle Notte eventually.  They went to head out and we turned around to go back toward the front of the expo.

Melissa and Paul texted to say they were parking so Cathy and I maneuvered back up to the entrance area.  Twenty minutes later and we were wondering if they got lost in the parking lot.  But, they did eventually come through the doors, hit up the bourbon table, got their bibs and texted to see where we were.  I texted back to turn around.

And we were reunited.  We all made our way back through the shopping, vendors, and races that were there to hopefully catch your eye.  Many of them did…so…who knows.  Paul replaced his sunglasses as his old pair went missing on the NYC trip.  And they got their shirts/jackets.  Melissa stayed with the hoodie…but Paul had upgraded to the men’s jacket.  It was NICE!

As we were standing around about to try more Sword, I got a text from my friends Ron and Shawn, and they came on back to where we were so we could talk for a moment.  Ron was going for a race PR the following day and he looked relaxed and ready.  They would be heading to Bella Notte for dinner as well later that evening.

Bella Notte Gluten Free House Salad

With all the expo excitement done, the four of us split up to make the trek to Belle Notte for our pre-race dinner.  Bella Notte has an amazing gluten-free menu and knowledgeable staff.  I have never had issues at this restaurant, and I make sure I eat here every time I’m in Lexington.  I often contemplate trying something else…but in the end…I always end up getting the same thing: Gluten-Free Pasta Arrabiata with a Salad (no croutons; no cheese) with their balsamic dressing.  Melissa got the Caesar Salad (no croutons) and the Bella Original Rigatoni Crema (which actually comes out as Fusiili pasta).  Cathy got the Tomato Basil Soup and the Bella Origina Rigatoni Crema, and Paul got Salad and got the Baked Rigatoni Romano.  There was a lot of food…but it was all fantastic, good…and we ate it all.  I was on the right amount of full.  And afterwards, we went to walk it all off for a bit at the Half Price Books nearby and then hit Kroger up for some bananas, waters, and whatever else we needed for the hotel room.

Bella Notte’s Gluten Free Pasta Arrabiata

The plan was to play some games (it’s been awhile since game night and that was the never-ending game of Stranger Things Monopoly).  But instead, we ended up watching a few YouTube Videos (one a comedian doing a bit about fitness trackers and joggers…and triathletes.  It was funny…and of course…Marathon Thoughts).  And then Melissa had us watch the episode of The Office where they run a 5K for rabies awareness.  It was so funny.  So…the games didn’t happen..but we were chill and relaxed and got our stuff laid out for the following morning to help make life easier. Cathy made up my Nuun Performance to go in my water bottle for fuel and then we did a Shaun T stretching video to realign, relax, and prepare ourselves for some sleep and hopefully get out the door on time to head to the start the next morning.

I heard some horror stories about the traffic going into Keeneland on race day.

I actually slept really well.  My alarm went off at the same time as theirs.  And, much like when we shared the Suede Tomb in NYC…we just sort of went in rounds through the bathroom.  I snagged my race clothing (I started in a tank top and running skirt…and of course had my sports bra) to change into while I used the bathroom and brushed my teeth.  I came out of the bathroom to let whoever was next go in and do their thing.  And while that was going on…I put on my compression sleeves, my anklet, my earrings, put my hair extensions in and put my hair in pigtails…

My 2nd outfit that morning…and even this got to be too hot early in the race. How do you dress for freezing at the start and 50 degrees at the finish?

…and then Melissa checked the weather again.  And everything needed to change.  It was about 30 degrees at the start of the race with a decent wind going on.  I changed my entire outfit to a totally different tank top (which I added arm warmers to), bright capri’s…changed my compression sleeves and then put on a jacket and my pants over it to stay warm.  It was going to be close to 50 by the time I would be finishing the race…but we were starting in the freezing temps.  This is why I don’t know how to dress in spring.

To top everything off…I donned my “Hills Suck” Bondi Band.  It was perfect for this race.

Cathy headed down to the restaurant to snag some real food from the complimentary breakfast.  Apparently runners had this plan too because she texted that she was in a line.  She grabbed an English Muffin (line too long to toast it), potatoes, eggs, and bacon and gobbled it down while the runners of the group got their shit together and headed down.  Melissa wasn’t sure how the race would go, so she and Paul went ahead and loaded their stuff up into their car instead of bothering with late checkout.  I went to find Cathy and she casually finished her breakfast, got her coffee to go, and we were all out the door and en route to Keeneland.  Cathy took the first gate (despite instructions to take Gate 2) and we got stuck in a bit of a line waiting to get parking.  Melissa and Paul took Gate 2 and got in and parked in a prime spot without a wait.  Naturally.

Cathy’s Embassy Suites breakfast…don’t know what was in the bowl if anything…

We ended up being directed up a hill with every other vehicle coming in at that point and parking in the grass in the middle of a field.  Thankfully the grass wasn’t too soft from all the rain we’ve been getting or I fear my little Toyota Corolla would have had some problems getting out.  We sat in the warm car until I heard from Melissa and Paul that they were heading to the RunDisney tent for the meetup photo there.  Cathy made me get out into the cold, but we decided to wander into the expo building.  I figured I could use a flushing toilet while there…but then I saw the line and, since I really didn’t have to go…I really didn’t bother to wait in the slow moving ladies room line.  Hey…the port-a-potty lines were just as long.  We eventually did make our way out to the muddy tent area, found Melissa and Paul and then went on a Linda h

Cathy and I before heading to the start line of the Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon.

unt.  Since she and her runners were pacers, it was no surprise that they weren’t at the tent.  Cathy decided we needed to head down to the start line anyway.

And on the way, I did fuel up with my Banana Bread Lärabar.  The bar worked for New York, even though I definitely used more energy there.  Actually, with all the hills…I figured it would probably be comparable effort.  Maybe?

Ron and I at the start line of the Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon

At the start line…I saw no one.  No one that I recognized.  No pacers yet.  So I devoured my breakfast and then finally saw a smiling, happy face.  Ron!!  He was hoping to run a RTB (Run The Bluegrass) PR (he has been saying if he can sub-1:45 he’d burn a couch) and he looked good and strong  and we had perfect weather.  I told him I knew he was going to do it and wished him luck and let him go and get lined up where he needed to achieve his goals.  Then, I saw Tim walk by with the 1:45 pacer sign.  AH…the pacers were here…which meant Linda would be here.  Which meant, I needed to head back in the corrals and find her.

On the way, I spotted Greg, who was a 2:00 pacer and stopped to give him a hug and talk to him.  He told me Linda was the next corral back to lead Wave 3 out…so I told him to have a good race and skipped back to where I saw the next pacer sign.  YES!  There was Linda and her pacing partner, Mark!  I had never met Mark, but I had seen him earlier, because he was wearing a kilt.  I notice kilts!

Me, Linda and Mark leading Wave 3 and the 2:10 hopefuls!

The start of the race was actually delayed by about 15 minutes because the ambulances were stuck in traffic and not at their stations on the course.  So, I got to know some of the people around me.  I had this couple asking me questions about my Newton running shoes…we talked about half marathons…and then…finally…go-time!!!

Except…I was in Wave 3…so it was walk up with the 2nd wave and wait…and then finally move to the front.  I think Linda said there was supposed to be 2 minutes between waves, but as we got to the front of the line for Wave 3, I heard the announcer say 40 seconds before Wave 3’s start.  Two minutes my runner’s booty!

And just like that…I was off…running my very first Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon.  So many of the runners I know continue to return to this race, so I knew I was in for something special.  I also knew that I could really take in the experience, which was both frustrating and amazing all at once.  My legs like to run…and I was moving at a trot (horse reference, get it?).  I knew that hills awaited and, honestly, this was probably the best way for this race to be approached.  Linda had the breakdown specific to this race on how each mile needed to be run and I’m not used to checking my watch, but I figured I could at least help with that.  Maybe?

First hill…of so many!

We headed up Keeneland’s Back Gate Drive – the first hill…and I felt strong and my legs really wanted to push and power up…but more hills awaited and Linda was keeping me right where I needed to be.  She’s good at that.  HA!

I knew this was going to be a good run when I saw horses within the first couple of miles.  Seriously.  Horses that were in one of their fields.  They were running away from the big group of humans that were running and we all joked that the horses were thinking, “Well, all the people are running…we should too.”  HA!!  It was…SO amazing.  We were still ahead of pace, and Linda said that worked to our advantage because that meant we could walk some of the bigger hills.  I was totally okay with that.

There were definitely a couple of selfie-stops along the way.  And when we hit the split for the 7 Milers and Half Marathoners (which also happened to be that Chicken Farm) and said to Linda to take note to tell Cathy…because I promised her I’d say it.  And then I let go with my “That there is a chicken farm!”  I had so much fun running with Linda and the group of runners that she and Mark were leading.  I got to talk to a few of them about Disney races, Dopey, New York City, and Linda let me in on a secret…it’s good luck to throw your hands up in the air when you run across railroad tracks.  So, the three sets that we crossed during this race, I did that and let out an enthusiastic, “WOOOOO!” at the same time.  I mean, if you’re going to do something…do it with gusto!

It was also around the second or third water stop that we realized that, unlike it was stated in the race guide, Sword was not at every water stop.  And this concerned a lot of runners who had planned to use this as their fuel on the course and didn’t bring their own.  Every water stop we would ask for the Sword…and were told they just had water.  A few runners were already starting to panic as the day was heating up (I shed my arm warmers and was comfortable in a tank), the sun was up, and electrolytes were needed.  I always carry my own fuel regardless, so I said I had Nuun Performance if needed…and Linda had salt tabs to offer if needed as well.  We FINALLY ran across a stop with Sword at the halfway point.  That came as a relief…but the rest of the way…Sword was only in one or two other water stops.  That would be my only compliant…mostly from other runners standpoints.  I have never trained with Sword and am kind of in love with my Nuun, but I could see the frustration and worry of those I was running with who were looking for Sword at every stop.

That being said, the various farms that we came across were stunning.  I particularly liked the one near the end that had spires and is just absolutely stunning.  The fact that that is a BARN and not a house still baffles me!  Honestly!

Going into this race, I was warned about the hill at Mile 9…the dreaded S-Curve.  You start up…it levels out, you round a corner…you go back up.  I was prepping for this and the drums pretty much the entire way.  This hill is, apparently, notorious!  As we were heading toward this hill though, we were coming up another one and had caught up with the wheelchair racer.  He was blind as well and had his helper.  The runners did good to get over at this point, but Linda said to me…”they will fly past us on the downhill in a few minutes.

She heard them too…and started to shout to the runners to GET TO THE RIGHT!  Of course, most did, except those with headphones on.  One woman almost got completely taken out because she couldn’t hear the TEN times Linda had shouted at her to move over for the wheelchairs.  And then…The hill leading into Mile 10.  The dreaded hill I heard so much about.

As we started the climb, a runner started up it with us and said, “This isn’t so bad.”  I laughed and said, “Those might be famous last words.”  She shook her head.  “Nah.  I’m from Cincinnati…I run Mount Adams.”  And then she picked it up and powered on up the hill

I did hear the drums that I had heard so much about.  I was told to put my head down and ignore everything and to just get up the hill.  We climbed, turned…and climbed some more.  That being said…the hill after that one is probably the one that you’ll hate more than anything.

Linda did pass me her pacer sign at this point to run fast downhill to hit use the bathroom near Mile 10.  Mark had me back off the downhill pace (downhill is my favorite speed…this was hard to do, LOL!) and he let Linda know we were going past as we rounded the corner at the water stop and continued onward.  Linda is amazing and caught up with us not much longer…on an uphill.  We like to make her work for it.  After all, running slower than my norm is not easy for me and she had to keep calling me back if I would get too far ahead on the course.  Around Mile 10 I had to take a gel.  My stomach was rumbling (I was usually done with half marathons at this point and I still had three miles to go) and drank some water with it.  It didn’t really do much for the hunger, but my energy was picking back up.

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY! I’M FREE!

Near the start of the race, Linda had told me that she was going to let me go at Mile 12.1 to spring into the finish line.  Just after we passed Mile 11…she said, “You can go.”  I looked at her.  “Really?”  She nodded.  “Yes…you can go.”  I threw my hands up in the air in a kermit flail and yelled, “YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY” as I took off.  And trust me, despite the hills, I had energy to burn at this point.  I know I was probably getting the stink eye from some runners at this point.  Pretty much legs are done by this point, but the course only has some small rollers with the long not-steep climb at the end to the finish line.  So, I’m surging.  But, more often than not, what I got was, “You go girl!”  “That’s how you finish!” “Looking strong.” “Get it girl!”  I loved that.  I wasn’t even moving up to race pace at this point, because hills, even at a slower pace, are still hills and my legs weren’t accustomed to running fast.  They adjusted.

The final two miles flew by and when I hit the timing mat at Mile 12.1, I tried to pick it up just a little more.  They record your final furlong (last mile) and I really hoped to pour on the power and speed.  I think I managed to pick it up slightly more, but not where I would feel like I was just…flying.  But I felt good.  I was having fun.  I was smiling.  I looked good.  And I made the turn to come into the finish line and put on that final push and crossed.

That. Was. Fun.

Ron flying into the finish line of Run The Bluegrass

I had a medal put around my neck and I made my way through the finisher’s chute.  The entire time I was heading into the finish, I was looking for Cathy and the sign, but never saw her.  Never heard her either (which is weird, because she is always screaming at me at the finish line!).  I stopped near the end of the chute, across from the donuts and just…kept raising up on tiptoes expecting to see the sign walking toward me.  It never happened.

Ron found me. He had a fantastic race…and there will be couch burning because he ran a 1:40.  Totally flew on this course.  I was so excited for him.  I asked him if he had seen Cathy and he hadn’t.  Soon after that, I spotted Linda coming down the chute.  She came over to me and asked me my finish time.  I said it was 2:04 something…and she said she was in the 2:09’s…right on target for that 2:10 pacer!  She’s amazing.  I asked if she had seen Cathy and she hadn’t…so…we figured she might be at the ForWord Running tent so we headed that way.

She wasn’t.  I told Linda to try calling her, which she did, but Cathy didn’t answer.  So, she tried my phone.  This time she got her.  Cathy had been in a panic for about 20 minutes because she had gotten the time I crossed the mat for 12.1 miles, but never received notification that I had finished.  She never saw me sprinting it in.  She thought maybe something had happened to me, and of course, having Linda call her didn’t make her feel any better.  Linda assured her I was fine and we were at the tent.  She came over and looked so relieved.

I ate a few grapes and drank my water, but I knew Cathy and I had a Louisville City soccer match to hit up at 3 pm.  With it coming up on noon-ish at this point…Cathy was ready to get back to the hotel so I could shower and we could get on the road back to Louisville.  I gave Linda a hug and we started through the masses.

Me in the Keeneland Starting Gates after the Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon

But I did make Cathy stop, even though she didn’t want to at the time, so I could get the infamous Keeneland Starting Gate photo.  It had to happen and I was going to be stubborn about this one.  I managed to find a short line and pulled myself up to stand in the gate.  I felt amazing.  Cathy snapped some photos and then had to lift me down because that gate is pretty high up.  HA!

Later, when I sent the photo to Melissa, she texted me back and said that was the most genuine smile she had seen on me after a race/run in a long time.  She wasn’t lying.  I felt amazing.  I had so much fun.  I could have cared less about my time.  Genuine.  You better believe it.

So…the official results of the Run The Bluegrass Half Marathon are that I finished it in 2:04:43, running with the 2:10 pacers for the first 11 miles and then being turned loose for the final 2.1. I was 743/3163 finishers overall. I was the 283/1989 for women finishers. And I was 65/388 in my age division. I’m really happy with this. I averaged a 9:32 pace for the race, none of which ever left me feeling like I was dying or about to die.  The hardest thing was suddenly being hungry.  That never happens.  LOL!  But this race now holds a near and dear place in my heart…and yeah…I’ve already registered for next year!  Can’t wait to smile all over again.

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The Dopey Challenge – Orlando, FL (January 4-7, 2018)

The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.” — The Emperor, Mulan.

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All the Dopey Challenge Medals at Magic Kingdom!

I can do hard things.

That became my mantra during the last run of The Dopey Challenge this past weekend.  To be honest, I think the whole experience was a comedy of errors, but it led to four amazing and different finish lines.

Four races.  Four days.  Four different distances, each race getting longer.  And the hardest part to grasp as that you aren’t even halfway through the entire mileage by the third race.

I did the Dopey Challenge during its Inaugural year, in 2014.  I felt invincible back then and went into it with little training and no plan.  And it was amazing and inspiring and fun.  I missed out in 2016 when I thought I would give it another go due to lingering hip injuries.  That was a lot of money to lose out on…trust me.  MEH!

I never even thought of running in it again (okay…I perhaps thought about it every year it did run…but never pulled the trigger, really gun-shy about what this body could actually manage anymore), but then, last year, I became great friends with Melissa and Paul…and with a little peer pressure…I found myself registered for the 5th Anniversary of the Dopey Challenge (and also the 25th Anniversary of the Walt Disney World Marathon).

With two setback with the opposite hip that has the labrum tear this past year (in January and July, I believe)…I was really starting to lose hope that Dopey or even marathon running would happen again.  I had to defer Chicago due to lingering hip issues back in September, which broke my heart and did nothing to boost my confidence.  It was through my last round of physical therapy and adopting a run/walk method on long runs that I managed to get through Dopey training (I think to the surprise of everyone, including my coach, bless her) in one piece.

Mostly.

Because after the holidays, I had a 3 day stint at work…where people returned to the office sick.  And despite my best efforts…I caught the crud.  I started feeling bad on Friday night.  Saturday I went to bed before 8 pm after cancelling my last training run and basically living on the couch.  Same story on Sunday.  Sunday was also New Years Eve…and I couldn’t even ring in the new year.  I was in bed before 8 pm again.  I woke up feeling a little better on Monday, but not wanting to risk anything, I called in sick to work and stayed home to finish packing before being taken to the airport by our dear friend and neighbor, Laura.

So…here I was…heading into a 4-race series….with a lingering cold, a damaged immune system…and into a Florida cold snap.  No joke.  The weather turned at the start of the year.  It went from being lows of 50s and highs of mid-70s…to below freezing temps.  Considering my costumes I was going to run in consisted mainly of tank tops…some modifications had to be made.

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Toasted’s Gluten Free & Vegan Inferno w/ Gluten Free Truffle Fries (YUM!)

I arrived in Orlando late on Tuesday night.  My rommie and I had a hotel room off-property that night, just giving us an extra day to not rush through the runDisney expo, packet pick-up, and all that craziness.  We went to our favorite Orlando eat spot…Toasted…where I could get a Gluten Free and Vegan grilled cheese sandwich with a side Gluten Free Truffle Fries.  I got The Inferno…which is their house-made vegan cheese (this stuff melts AMAZING), tomato, jalapeno, and sriracha.  SO good.  I figured the spice might help the whole sinus situation I had going on.  This is where the madness began.  Upon returning to the hotel, I realized that my pajamas never made it into my luggage…so I was now sleeping in my plane clothes.  Whatever.  We decided that the following morning, we’d hit up Target and Publix for pajamas, snacks, water, and other necessary items.

When we woke up that morning, it was pouring down rain in Orlando.  We bundled up in hoodies and went out to the stores.  We even picked up a few requested items for our friends, Melissa and Paul, who had spent the New Year at Disney.  We got all of that together and headed to Disney Springs to park and head to Erin McKenna’s, the gluten-free bakery there, where we picked up a Scone (which we split right then), a Thin Mint Cookie (and one for Melissa for her birthday), a Cinnamon Roll, a couple of Donuts, and a slice of her Lemon Tea Cake.  Then, we headed over to Pop Century to pick up Melissa and Paul so we could all head to the expo together and do the whole packet pick-up, expo, shopping thing together.

It was a mess.  We ended up standing in the rain for a good chunk of it.  Cathy had ducked into CVS before we headed to Disney property for ponchos and only found child sizes.  Mine was super tiny (but had Disney princesses on it) and hers ripped as she unfolded it.  So…staying dry wasn’t happening.  All of this wasn’t helping the whole cold/sinus issue I was still dealing with at this point either.  We got into the building and followed the line down to the area where you show your ID, turn in your waiver, and get your bib.  If you’re doing the challenge (and the 3 of us were), you get your photo taken so they can confirm that it was, in fact, you, who finished.  After that, we were ready to get our official merch on and then hit the expo.  Cathy had gone on ahead to get in the Official Merchandise line…and it was a line.  Over a 2 hour wait…mostly outside…mostly uncovered.  Melissa and Paul had pre-purchased items, which normally, you would just go ahead and get without having to stand in said line…because you did, after all, pre-purchase them.  No such luck.  We decided it wasn’t worth it and headed into the other part of the expo where the vendors were.

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Me and two of my favorite partners in crime…Paul & Melissa!! Outside the expo. Cold. Wet. Disappointed.

I felt that the vendor area was much smaller and had fewer products/companies that I recognized.  I didn’t see Nuun or Newton there, which I had been hoping for.  I need to get more Nuun tablets, and my roommate forgot to bring my new pair of Newtons home from work with her on Tuesday, so I had one pair of shoes for all four races.  My intent had been to purchase new shoes at the expo. I could wear them in the shorter races and feel confident that I would be fine.  No luck.  I did end up getting the Roll Recovery R8 and R3 rollers for a huge discounted price at the expo.  And I am totally in love with these products.  Cathy went in search of BondiBand and got me needed bands for two of my costumes…and a bonus one she said I had to have.  She was right.  HA!  And after that…we gave up and headed back to Pop Century.  The weather was cold, but we had some Fast Passes at Animal Kingdom with Melissa and Paul (it was Melissa’s birthday so we were totally making a day of it…and so far it wasn’t going right), so we parked at their resort, hopped the Animal Kingdom bus and went on the Kilimajaro Safari, the new Flights of Passage in the Avartar part of the park (OMG…THIS RIDE!), and went out for a birthday celebration meal at Melissa’s favorite spot, Tiffins.

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Tiffins Meal & Dessert: Autumn Vegetable Harvest and Neapolitan Macaroon

I ordered the Autumn Vegetable Harvest, which was a Roasted Red Kuri Squash, Sweet Potatoes, Pumpkin Custard, Black Rice, Baby Spinach, Pumpkin Seed Pistou, and Cranberry.  It tasted like Thanksgiving.  It was SO good.  And of course, dessert happened.  Both Melissa and I got the Neapolitan Macaroon off the kids menu, FTW!  After dinner, we took the bus back to Pop Century, told Melissa and Paul we would see them bright and early for the 5K the following morning and headed to Port Orleans Riverside to claim our room.  It was late when we arrived and we had a 3 am wake up call facing us down.  So, we hauled our luggage up in two trips and got ready for bed.  Cathy noted that the bathroom door was latching strange, but nothing too bad.  Loved the royal room…and this time we had a gorgeous view of the courtyard.  Lights out.  We were down for the day.

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Stephanie, Me, Genie, Melissa & Paul during the Walt Disney World 5K

Walt Disney World 5K

Race: Walt Disney World 5K

Place: Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida

Date: January 4, 2014

Time: 1:02:09

“The belonging you seek is not behind you…it is ahead.” — Maz Kanata, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Disney doesn’t officially time their 5Ks.  Did you know that?  It’s true.  And with everything happening in 4 days if you’re doing Dopey…this is probably a good thing.  I had an alarm set for 3 am to change into my costume for the 5K, modified due to cold temperatures (it was below freezing that morning and my original costume was Tron…I ended up bringing BB-8, with a fleece top and a base layer to go under the actual bra top).  I got up, used the bathroom, and started to change.  Cathy went into the bathroom after me, and as I am pulling on my orange CEP Compression sleeves, I hear her messing with the door knob.  She says, “I can’t get the door to open.”  WHAT?!  So, I let her jiggle and mess with it while I layered up.  When she still wasn’t out of there and I had tried from my side and she had tried from hers…I called the front desk and explained that we were doing the 5K that morning and that my roommate was trapped in the bathroom in our room.  She had me try to get the latch to release with a credit card…and that didn’t work. So she said she would send someone up.

Meanwhile, she has me scoot her clothes under the door to her so she can change while we wait on help.  I am texting Melissa and Paul and trying not to panic and laugh at the same time.  Steve, the manager on duty, knocks on the door.  He comes in and tries the door knob.  Nope.  Stuck.  So he leaves to go get a screwdriver.  He returns…and still has no luck.  He tells me that I need to get to the start line…so I’m putting on my throwaway clothes (remember…it’s freezing here) and he said he was going to get another tool and try again.  In the process of doing that, he also calls 911 to get the fire department out and calls their engineering department, and whoever got there first, he promised, would get Cathy out.  I tossed on my BB-8 winter hat and told Cathy that I hoped to see her at the finish line.  I had to pin my bib on myself (in all my years of running, she has always done that for me.  I’m spoiled), and I headed out the door.  I texted Melissa and Paul as I headed toward the bus line for the 5K shuttle to the start.  I got to talking to the people in line about the saga that morning, and they were all, “What room are you in?  I want to know how this turns out!”  HAHA!

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Bathroom door wreckage after the fire department used an ax to free Cathy!

Just as I was getting on a bus, Cathy texts to say that she’s free and that the fire department had to come and use an ax to free her from her bathroom prison.  She was given a voucher for a taxi to take her to the start line so we hoped we would all meet there.  I arrived just as Melissa and Paul were getting there too.  With no bag to check, I could skip security and wandered into the staging area where I stood at a sign and waited for Melissa and Paul.  They arrived.  And Cathy arrived.  And our friend Stephanie arrived.  And two friends of Paul and Melissa also arrived, Chris and Christy (I might have misspelled her name).  We were all going to chill on the 5K…take it easy…and save our legs for later races.  I rarely get to hang with a group on runs, so this was exciting for me.  I lined up in Corral D with my friends (my bib was for Corral A) and we made our way through the new wave start, ditching our warm layers as we move ahead.  Soon…it was our turn and we were off.

The 5K was pretty crowded, but we had no time goals.  The plan was to just make our way through the course, stopping for pictures if we wanted, and just having a blast.  As we were heading into, or just past Mile 1…a person in front of me moved and I didn’t see the traffic cone in the path.  Down I went.  Hard.  On my hands and my right knee.  Melissa made an attempt to grab me and Stephanie helped me up.  Everyone was making sure I was okay.  I shook it off.  The knee stung, but nothing bad.  I was probably too numb from the 28 degree (not including wind chill) morning that day to even notice.  We carried on through Epcot, stopping to take some photos with Spaceship Earth in the background, with Genie from Aladdin, and then made our way to the finish line.

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Gluten Free Beignets from Port Orleans French Quarter…..YAAAAAAAS!!

5K…done.  I had such a blast.  I even danced across the finish line.  It was only after the sit on the bus back that my knee really started to throb.  I looked down and noticed blood on my black pants.  Plot twist.  Also…thanks to the bathroom door needing to be broken into with an ax…Cathy was told that after the race, we needed to pack up our things and have Bell Services get our stuff and move us to a new room.  Melissa and Paul were kind enough to take the shuttle to our resort to help with that…and we got it done and ready and out the door.  We all went over to Port Orleans French Quarter for the Gluten Free Beignets and coffee.  They needed to go get warm and were going to try to hit up the expo after showers and Cathy and I were heading to Epcot for the day.  Our first Fast Pass was for Spaceship Earth…but it broke down as we were standing in line.  Of course it did.  So…we wandered around Epcot and did the rest of our stuff until it was time to head to dinner at La Hacienda de San Angel.  They didn’t have gluten free chips for the salsa, but brought me some tortillas so I could have some and Cathy didn’t dip…she used her spoon to put things on the chips.  I got the Enchiladas de Vegetales, which came with a vegan version of their rice and refried black beans.  It was corn tortillas filled with vegetables, and smothered in salsa verde.  It was really good…but I don’t think I’ll do Mexican before a race in the future.

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Enchiladas de Vegetales, refried beans, vegan rice, extra tortillas and salsa from La Hacienda de San Angel

Cathy and I returned to Port Orleans Riverside…and I had to go to the concierge because we never got a text with a new room.  Turns out, they replaced the door and we weren’t moving.  I was limping at this point, mind you, because my knee was killing me.  As we were making the walk to the room, I said, “I hope they moved our stuff back in then.”  They hadn’t.  This meant another call to Bell Services and needing to wait an extra 30 minutes before even being ready to lay out race gear for the 10K, get ready for bed, and turn in for the night.  It was a mess.  But things showed up…we did the best we could to do a few things quickly, and called it a night.  Another 3 am alarm was set.

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Me with Dopey after the Walt Disney World 10K

Walt Disney World 10K

Race: Walt Disney World 10K

Place: Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida

Date: January 5, 2014

Time: 47:40

“You can’t focus on what’s going wrong.  There is always a way to turn things around.” — Joy, Inside Out

This was the race I had it in my head to actually race this weekend.  Until I got sick. And until I banged up my knee the day before.  It was hard to walk, I wasn’t exactly sure how running was going to go.  But the 3 am wake up came and no one got trapped in the bathroom.  We were off to a good start.

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Stephanie, Melissa, Paul, Me (freezing), Christy, and Chris before the Walt Disney World 10K

In fact, I layered up (again), because my I was being Joy from Inside Out, and Melissa and Paul were going to be Disgust and Fear.  I love that I was costuming with friends.  It was fun.  But Joy’s dress was a tank top that I was going to put shorts under, originally…until the weather changed.  With a morning that was 37 degrees, without the wind chill (and the wind was fierce and cold that day), I put on the black base layer I had used with my BB-8 costume, the leggings I had worn with BB-8, and worked the rest of it the best I could.  It had to do under the weather circumstances. No hat…but I did pull the BondiBand over my ears to hopefully keep those warm.  Cathy pinned me and we headed to the bus to get taken to the staging area at the start of the 10K.

I hunkered down since we were there so early and took a nap.  Melissa and Paul somehow managed to slip past Cathy and were, very smartly, gathered near one of the heating lamps at the center of the staging area.  We got up to meet them, and Stephanie, Chris and Christie were there too.  We took pictures, but I refused to shed the throw-away clothes right then.  Too cold.  The mylar wrap was staying as well.  Just after 5, I ate my banana and we headed to the corrals.  We were going to take a photo of the Inside Out characters…but Coral A (my corral) already queued.  I had to now go into Corral B.  Who puts a corral at the start line that early?  UGH.  I had to say a quick goodbye.  Got hugs…and went in…bobbing in and out of people in an attempt to move forward.  No luck.

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Me after finishing the Walt Disney World 10K

I shed the throw-away clothes as we neared the start line and my wave finally went off.  It was cold, so thankfully I didn’t feel my knee bothering me.  I ran calmly and smartly…the first mile meaning I had to bob and weave through the waves of people who went off ahead.  Some of which were walking this one too.  I still had hopes of racing this one and maybe coming close to beating my 10K PR.  It was still hard for me to breathe (thanks sinuses), but I pressed on through.  I managed a respectable time, even with all the dodging I had to do.  Mile 1 clipped off and we made a hair-point turn and headed up a hill.  I felt strong and was passing a lot of people…but hills and I are not friends and it did slow me down.  But what a confidence booster.  Somewhere in Mile 2 a guy snot rocketed on me.  I turned from Joy to Disgust for just a moment.  Miles 3-5 were amazing and fast.  Those were the parts that were actually in Epcot and not out on the highway.  I think distractions are a big help.  And they always do up Epcot great with cast members out to cheer and support you.  The lights were awesome.  I heard one cast member shout…”Happiness is here…I mean Joy.  Joy is here!” HA!  Since I was racing, I opted to skip the character stops and pushed on for a strong finish, past Spaceship Earth and around the corner back into the parking lots.  I stopped my watch after crossing and was shocked that I was closer to 48 minutes than my hoped for 44 minutes.

You know…running with sinus issues and a badly bruised up knee…I gladly took it.

My official results of the Walt Disney World 10K were that I finished in 47:40.  I was 266/12,881 finishers overall.  I was 41/7618 female finishers.  And I was 12/1245 people in my age division.  Not too shabby at all!

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Dole Whip from Magic Kindom and Cathy’s Rice Krispy Treat and my Hummus & Veggies and Iced Coffee at Animal Kingdom.  It was so COLD and I kept eating COLD things!

I went back to the resort to shower and change and head out to the parks that day.  Cathy and I had some Fast Passes to hit up in Magic Kingdom that day.  We ended up getting everything done there (including Dole Whip…despite the cold temperatures) and hopped back to Animal Kingdom, where Melissa and Paul were hanging for the day.  We met up after I snagged a hummus and veggies snack from the Gluten Free cart and some iced coffee (The iced coffee and Animal Kingdom is the best…and despite the cold…I needed it in my life).

Melissa and Paul were able to get me on Everest with them so I did get to have some roller coaster fun.  Which was amazing.  I love coasters and rides, but Cathy isn’t the biggest fans of most of them.  She’ll do some…but they usually aren’t the ones we like to do.  And…at one point, we were hiking through Pandora and saw sunlight coming through the tree and it was SO picturesque.  It was like a painting or straight from the movie (I guess…I never have actually seen Avatar).

We hung out until we took the bus to Animal Kingdom Lodge for dinner that night at Sanaa.

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Gluten Free Bread Service and the Chipckpea Wat and Cilantro-Coconut Vegetables with Basmati Rice from Sanaa!

Melissa and I split the gluten free bread service and Cathy and Paul go the regular one.  We enjoyed that before feasting that night on the amazing food there.  I got the Chickpea Wat and the Cilantro-Coconut Vegetables with Basmati Rice.  It was so good and we were so full.  Afterwards, we took a bus back to a park where we could hop to our respective resorts.  I got all the half marathon stuff together as far as my outfit and called it a night.  I set an alarm for 1:50 am and another for 2:50 am.  The resort wanted people at the buses by 3:30 the following morning to get to the start on time.  We called it a night.

 

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Me (as Boo), Paul (as a CDA Agent), and Melissa (as Roz) from Monsters Inc., before the Walt Disney World Half Marathon

Walt Disney World Half Marathon

Race: Walt Disney World Half Marathon

Place: Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida

Date: January 6, 2014

Time: 1:44:53

“Every dream begins somewhere. Some are born to greatness, and some find greatness on their own.” –Monsters University

And so half marathon morning dawned.  I still felt like crap.  My knee was tight and painful…but it was bandaged across the cut.  I had taken the bandage off when I ran as Joy and had meant to do it for this costume too…but forgot.  It was 2:50 am.  I can focus on one thing at a time.

I got up with the alarm and went to get myself ready.  Today I was running as Boo from Monsters, Inc. Melissa was costuming as Roz and Paul was going to be a CDA hazmat guy.  These were the costumes I was really looking forward to wearing.  Mostly because Melissa pointed out the subtle humor that she and Paul would be chasing me the entire race.  LOVE!!  Even better…today’s costume had short sleeves and long pants.  So, I added arm warmers as it was a chilly 39 degrees that felt still below freezing.  These temperatures were starting to really get on my nerves.  They were also starting to catch up to Cathy.  Bless her…we’re at least moving.  She is sitting on cold bleachers for over an hour at the finish line.

I got dressed…grabbed some Lara Bites (I didn’t plan out pre-race food for this…I was working on feeling better and it slipped my mind) and a banana to take to the race start.  I piled on my throw-away clothes to stay warm, grabbed the mylar from the day before, and headed out the door. There were plenty of people stirring this morning as we all had received the call that we needed to be on buses by 3:30 to make it to the start line.  The deal is…for the Disney World Half and Full Marathons, you make a 1.5 mile hike to the starting corrals.  So, they want to be sure you have ample time for that.  We were texting with Melissa and Paul and they were going to head out.  We got a bus…settled in for the short drive to Epcot…and arrived to file in line and get through security.  No bags for me, so I walked right through.  I waited for Cathy on the other side and the two of us went to claim the spot near the tent that was serving up food and hot beverages.  I could smell the sausage again.  We huddled in on the pavement and I took a power nap while we waited for Melissa and Paul to arrive.

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Minnie Mouse and Me after the Walt Disney World Half Marathon

When they did, I went ahead and shed the throw-away clothes so we could have a picture of us all in the costumes.  The last few times it had been too cold for me to even want to take them off.  So, I was determined to have a photo with them this time.  We missed out when I was dressed as Joy and they were Disgust and Fear.  We talked for a short moment before we decided to go find the entrance to the corrals.  We went through bag check together and made the long walk, comfortably, and chatting the entire way, until my corral had to split away from theirs.  We gave hugs and we separated.

I had to actually off-road here to get up to my corral.  That makes me nervous because when you’re walking on grass in the dark…that’s just a recipe for a twisted ankle or whatnot.  But I managed to get up to Corral A unscathed.  And I managed to get into my corral too.  This was the first time I actually had managed that despite my Corral A bib.  WOOHOO!  I worked my way through the crowd of runners until I found a spot that felt comfortable.The National Anthem was sung beautifully and Donald came out to send off the wheelchair racers.  And after that, my corral moved forward.  As I was easing myself through the crowd, a ribbon was passed between me and the person in front of me.  Looks like I was going to be at the front of Wave 2.  They sent off Wave 1 with music and fireworks and we were moved up to the starting mat…which, mind you…was actually back a ways before the starting gate with the logo that displayed the race with Donald and basically what the medal would look like.

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Me with Pluto after the Walt Disney World Half Marathon

It was really cool to be actually toeing the line for Wave 2.  I watched as a card was passed over the starting mat and would light up.  The woman would then signal 1 minute to start.  Then 30 seconds.  Then 20.  And soon, Donald Duck was counting us down…and fireworks sent off my wave.  I was able to settle in comfortably because it wasn’t crowded here.  Having not raced the 5K at all, I was feeling good.  My knee was a bit of a problem…but when I was running I felt I could at least ignore it.  HA!

My plan for this race was to run most of it, but walk the water stops.  That was how I had been getting through half marathons prior to this one, so I felt it was a good way to handle this one despite feeling so good at the start.  That being said, I also decided that I could go through the first four miles without stopping to walk, so I made that deal with myself as well.  Most of that stretch is all highway and parking lots anyway…so I felt even better about it.  Heading toward Magic Kingdom, we do get to run down a hill, but it sends us right back up.  I stayed on my toes and lifted my legs up to kick up the hill.  It slowed me down some, but I still felt strong at the top as we headed toward Main Street and my favorite part of any race that carries us through Magic Kingdom

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Goofy and Me after the Walt Disney World Half Marathon

 I love the energy down Main Street as you run it.  The crowd is deep and loud and screaming and it really is such a lift.  I always wish that this part was later on in the race because of the boost it gives you.  I arched away and went through Tomorrowland before making my way through Cincerella’s Castle and back out onto Main Street.  The crowd came alive again.  Flash bulbs were going off.  It was amazing.  Then, we turn to head out of Magic Kingdom through Adventureland.  The crowd fades off and we are back to the highways for Miles 6-11.  Disney does put out characters and DJs and some screens running clips of Mickey cartoons or other cartoons to try to entertain you on this stretch…but it really just is a lot of road and little else.

At Mile 8…I started to feel a burning in the bottom of my left foot and I knew…blisters were happening.  I wasn’t running in new compression socks…but I hadn’t had time to Body Glide or Vasoline my feet that morning as I was trying to make the bus in time.  MEH!  That realization lasted through the rest of the race as both of my feet started to feel the effects of friction between my socks and my custom orthodics.  Not a happy camper at all.  My pace ended up slowing down considerably because of it and now my walk breaks were a bit of a relief from the friction.  I was starting to rethink my life decisions here. As we come back into Epcot at Mile 12, I was just relieved that I was almost done and I could go and doctor up my feet.  YAY!  I pushed through it all and managed the turn before the World Showcase to head to the finish.  The gospel choir was singing “We Will Rock You” as I ran past to make the final turn to head toward the finish line.

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Me crossing the finish line of the Walt Disney World Half Marathon

I pushed myself as much as I could on sore feet and threw my hands up as I came through the finish line.  Stopping my Garmin, I made the walk through the finish zone, Cathy waving me down for a photo before I went to collect my medal, some mylar, and the snack box.  Since character lines weren’t too bad, I stopped to take pictures with Minnie, Goofy, and Pluto before we hopped on the bus to go back to the resort.  I told Cathy I could feel blisters and when we got back up to the room and I took off the compression socks…sure enough.  I drained them…took a shower…and got dressed to head out for the day.  The plan was to hit up Hollywood Studios.  Paul and Melissa would join us later.  I got to ride Tower of Terror three times that day, which made me happy.  It was fun to have a few ride buddies this time around.

So, my official results of the Walt Disney World Half Marathon is that I finished in 1:44:53.  I was 502/20,801 finishers overall.  I was 88/12,275 female finishers.  And I was 18/2012 people in my division.  I’ll take that for sure.  I was quite happy with my performance, despite the blisters.  It just seemed like nothing was going right that day.

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Gluten Free Spaghetti and Marinara Sauce from Mama Melroses

After a casual and relaxed day at Hollywood Studios, we all went to Mama Melroses for dinner for pasta to fuel up for the last race the following day.  Melissa and I shared the gluten free rolls and I ordered the Gluten Free Pasta with Marinara.  Unfortunately, for me, when it first came out, it was done with the meat sauce.  Good thing I looked closely!  YIKES!  They took it away and fixed it, bringing out my new dish shortly.  It was an early meal, but perfectly timed for the Walt Disney World Marathon.  I was feeling tight in my hamstring of my left leg as we were heading to the buses to return to the resorts, so I used my Roll Recovery on it that night to try to loosen it.  The knee…was just stiff and sore.  I took some Ibuprofen that evening…and it was lights out.  One more race and we weren’t even halfway through the mileage yet.

 

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Me as Vanellope von Schweetz for the Walt Disney World Marathon

Walt Disney World Marathon

Race: Walt Disney World Marathon

Place: Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida

Date: January 7, 2014

Time: 3:49:45

“There’s no one I’d rather be than me.” – Wreck it Ralph

Marathon morning.

I was ready for it.  We got back to the room early after making it an early dinner at Mama Melrose’s the previous night.  That way I would have time to lay out all my costume stuff and get all my fuel ready to go so I wouldn’t have to worry about it on race morning.  I was reviving Vanellope von Schweetz from Wine & Dine a few years ago.  I made a few changes to the costume…having my mom create a new top and cut the tights down to go over my compression sleeves.  I was excited to be bringing her back…but there was so much small things that go into this costume, I wanted to have it all set to make the morning a lot less stressful.

So when the alarm went off and I got up to get changed, I was feeling as ready as one could for the fourth race of the Dopey Challenge.  I was tired…and nervous.  The marathon is not a distance to take lightly.  Anything can happen.  But that morning…I was feeling prepared.  I even Body Glided my feet and put Vasoline on them in hopes of warding off further blisters.

My left hamstring was a little tight…no surprise with three race events leading up to this one and no real time to stretch or roll my body as is part of my usual routine.  But I felt ready and excited more than nervous, so there was that.  I put three Hammer Gels in my fuel belt and my Nuun Performance and Water in their containers and put on my throw away clothing before my roommate and I headed out the door.

Cathy was actually not feeling well.  She had started to come down with something the day before, and her voice was pretty much shot, but she’s never missed a race start or finish and, even though I thought she was going to this time, she didn’t miss this one either.  Despite the cold, she bundled up with the understanding that she would see me start and then head back to the resort to nap for a few hours before coming back to the finish line.  For any of you who are pondering this in the future…here’s a bit of advice…DO NOT think you can get back to your resort from the start.  Buses apparently don’t start running back to the resort from the finish until the first person crosses the finish line.

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Little did we know that this would end up being the bus ride from hell to the start line!

Cathy and I were right on time leaving our room and heading to the bus.  3:30 am.  There was a bit of a line, but two buses were there waiting.  I climbed on the bus and moved closer to the back than front just because I knew we’d have some time when we arrived.  We texted Melissa and Paul and they were about to leave to catch their bus.

Five years ago when I ran the Inaugural Dopey Challenge, my bus got stuck in traffic heading to the marathon and I just barely made it to my corral on time.  This year…I was determined not to have that kind of stress.

No such luck.  After clear sailing at first…soon…the bus slowed and then stopped.  All around us traffic was ground to a halt.  Total stop.  Nothing was moving.  We got a text that Melissa and Paul were at the staging area because their bus driver took some amazing back way to the start.  I was having flashbacks to five years before.  But then we just continued to sit…and sit…and we’d creep…and sit…and creep and sit…

I was internally freaking out.  I kept checking my watch…because on Marathon morning, I have a food regimen and schedule that I stick to.  At 4:45 am…I was still not moving and I was forced to eat my Lara Bites.  At 5 am…still not moving…the banana had to go down.  And then…at 5:10 am…I drank down my pre-workout drink full of electrolytes.  We inched forward.  Turns out…a bus had broken down in the bus lane and we were stuck behind it. Two cop cars breezed by.  A few minutes later…we were past it and moving again.

 We arrived at the bus drop-off point at about 5:20 am.  If you have done any previous Run Disney races at Walt Disney World, you know for the half and full marathons, you have a 1.5 mile trek to the starting corrals.  And I had 10 minutes to get there…and I still had to go through security/bag check.  I didn’t have a bag, so I could walk on through.  Cathy did have a bag so she had to get that checked.  She gave me a quick hug, handing me a pack of hand warmers, saying Melissa and Paul were going to try to wait to make the long walk with me…and she needed some hand warmers.  I hurried through, sprinting, keeping an eye out for a Dopey and Grumpy lingering on the side.  I could already hear the National Anthem being sung.  My mylar blanket was flapping in the wind as I dodged and dashed through the crowds of people also making their way to the start.  I could hear Mickey Mouse talking as I rounded the first corner giving a count down.  I was sprinting as fast as I could, but soon, the fireworks were being shot and off went Corral A.

“AND…there goes my corral!” I said, tossing my hands up in defeat.  They were doing wave starts this year, so I continued to dash, hitting the grassy patches and hurrying toward the front of the pack. I had to lift my big fleece jacket I had brought as my toss-away to get to my bib and managed to duck into the corral that was the end of B or beginning of C.  The announcers weren’t sure.  I was shedding my fleece pants and top, already warm now from the sprint…and my heart rate was up and I was just stressed and not zen.  But then the fireworks went off and we started across the start line on the chilly Florida morning.

Starting in a further back corral is not a good thing at Disney.  This often makes for a lot of weaving in and out of people for at least the first mile…if not more.  It was within my first mile, however, that I passed Jeff Galloway.  I fan girled.  As I had my watch set for 4 minutes running 30 seconds walking intervals, I’ve embraced the Galloway method as of late to keep this body uninjured during longer runs.  That was a quick boost as the first 4 miles of the full marathon are definitely all highway miles.  The course narrows at times and at one point, as I was making my way through crowds, I saw a guy hop off the course to claim some gloves that had been shed.

“Treasure!” Someone said to him.  I heard someone else ask him if he was a scavenger and he said, “NO…it’s just cold!”  And that was that.  I continued to maneuver through the crowds, waiting for the course to open up more so I could settle in.

That being said, my watch was beeping at me every 4 minutes to take a short walk break.  I would toss up my hand and shout, “WALKING” so no one would run me over.  I had no goals for this race other than to hit the finish line.  I had done as much training with some practice “Dopey” runs of 4 progressively longer runs in a row, always using the run/walk method for the longer runs.  It works.  Seriously.  It got me this far, right?  Here I was…doing the last run of the Dopey Challenge…hitting the halfway point of the mileage about 2 miles into the marathon.  Whew.

The first four miles of highway are never eventful.  Construction.  Speed bumps.  Course narrowing.  And the hill leading up to the parking lot of Magic Kingdom.  You come into Magic Kingdom at Mile 5…and, as always, this is my favorite part of any Disney race.  Nothing boosts your motivation than all the cheering people lining Main Street inside.  It was phenomenal.  I always wish this part came later in the race because it does really lift you.  You just want to run faster because all these people are screaming for you!

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Magic Kingdom Main Street Marathon Morning

I felt so energized as I ran the stretch and made the turn into Tomorrowland.  My favorite part of the race is always where I run through the castle.  I made the curves through Tomorrowland and around through Fantasyland.  And then…the run through the castle.  It’s all shouts and screaming and flash bulbs.  And I love every moment of it.  I come down the path and turn into Adventureland to exit the park at Mile 6.

What I didn’t know is that Cathy was going to catch me at Mile 7 outside the Grand Floridian.  After she discovered that she couldn’t get back to the resort, she hopped the monorail and realized that she wouldn’t be able to catch me inside the Magic Kingdom.  But she could catch me at Mile 7.  Despite having very little voice left, I heard her shouting at me as I ran past.  It was awesome.  I gave a wave and continued on.   I was just glad I was on a running segment at that point and not a walk.  HA!  She left after that and managed to get to Magic Kingdom to see Melissa and Paul go through on Main Street.  She’s awesome like that.

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Cathy managed to be at Mile 7 as I ran by!  It was AWESOME!

Miles 7-12 are pretty much highway miles.  Disney does it’s job with music (each mile marker is a movie that blares the them song), characters, scenery stops, and DJs/announcers just to keep it interesting.  I knew what laid ahead was Animal Kingdom and you get to spend about 2 miles inside that park.  I love Animal Kingdom because the surface is small hills that really wake up your legs.  I never strayed from my run/walk breaks, keeping them going throughout all the miles.  To change it up could have meant disaster.  There is a switchback turn around at Mile 11…and I took it and moved toward the side of the road knowing a walk break would be coming.  But my foot slid off the side of the road where it dipped away and I twisted my ankle.  I stumbled.  Came up.  Took a few precautionary steps…and then carried on.  No sharp pains or discomfort…I could do this.  Up ahead…Animal Kingdom.

I came into Animal Kingdom and always look forward to running past The Tree of Life.  It’s amazing.  It is beautiful.  I love the Animal Kingdom Park.  I normally fuel around this mile, but I refuse to do so inside the park because I don’t want to drop anything that might endanger the animals.  I did take a slug of my Nuun Performance and carried myself through Africa, Asia, and Dinoland.  The cast members in the park are amazing and just cheer and support you as you run though.  You exit the park through the main entrance and settle into about 3 miles of highway miles.  Lots of traffic cones line the way making my walk breaks a little difficult, but I maintained them and stuck with it.  That being said, everything started to feel very hard around Mile 16.  Maybe it was the long stretch of nothing…or the reality that up next was the 2 miles that feels like 20 inside the ESPN Wide World of Sports Center (too many turns…too many different surfaces)…but I did manage to pick it back up as I came into ESPN.  That didn’t last too long.  My legs just felt heavy.  Mile 18…so I took one of my Hammer Nutrition gel to hopefully wake up my body. I should have done it sooner, but after coming out of Animal Kingdom…I wasn’t even thinking about it anymore.  Lesson learned.

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Melissa and Paul running down Main Street in Magic Kingdom.  They were too fast for Cathy’s camera skills!

Here’s what I hate about ESPN.  Around Mile 18.5, you have to step up and enter the track.  So, softer surface which is a nice relief, but you’re now running the curve of a track.  And you aren’t there for too long.  You pop out at the final turn and are sent around the baseball fields.  You wind your way through Mile 19 enter the ball field just before Mile 20.  They announce your name here, which is a booster, but you’re tired from now running on baseball gravel/dirt and you’re just pressing through.  You come out of the baseball field.  After that, you duck out and are on the pathway through the parking lots and back out to the main road.  There was a large puddle there at the end, so I managed to get my legs to step up on the curb and back down to avoid it and continued on.  It was just before Mile 21 that the 3:45 pace group passed me.  They were doing 3 min run/30 sec walk breaks.  My legs just felt heavy and I started to feel a blister on one of my toes on my left foot.  That sensation lasted for about a mile…then it popped because that burning feeling went away and I could run a little more comfortably again.  But my pace was down.  I grabbed another Hammer Nutrition gel and pounded it in hopes it could get me to the finish.

Hollywood Studios was just after Mile 23 and then you know you could walk it in and be fine.  If you make it to Hollywood Studios, you’re golden.  I started to take a few extra walk breaks on hills that my legs protested on.  I was okay with it.  I wasn’t aiming for a specific time.  Just to hit that finish line.  If it beeped for me to walk…I’d continue the walk.  Then I’d pick it back up on the run for the next part.  You come back to life inside Hollywood Studios.  The rolling terrain that leads you through the park and out to the boardwalk.  People are out there cheering and it’s really hard, but you keep pushing through.  That’s how I felt.  At Mile 25, you enter Epcot’s World Showcase.  This is the longest trip around the world ever.  But on your way around, you can keep your eye on Spaceship Earth and press on.  You take the turn out to run toward Spaceship Earth and you feel new life in your legs.  Around the corner and there is the gospel choir.  I don’t remember what they were singing.  I rounded the corner and came made the final turn into the straight away to the finish line.  I pressed a bit more at the sight of the finish.  I had kept my watch on the intervals, so I didn’t know my distance or pace.  I didn’t care.  I was about to finish a marathon.  I threw my hands up in the air as I ran across the finish line and then immediately started to ugly cry.

I spotted Cathy in the stands and she signaled that I had killed it.  She had no voice.  I moved to get my medal and started to ugly cry again.  And as I went to get my Dopey and Goofy medals, I was also handed commemorative Mickey Mouse ears.  I cried again.  I composed myself to get my medals and make the walk to get the photos taken before exiting through bag claim.  As I moved through, everyone started applauding.  And I cried again.  And Cathy saw me and gave me a hug and I cried harder.  I was an emotional mess.  I had never thought, with all my setbacks and hip injuries that persisted since 2015, that I would ever finish a marathon in a sub-4 time.

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Me after receiving my medal at the finish of the Walt Disney World Marathon.  Pure emotion!

But I had.  Rounding out a gorgeous and respectful 3:49:45.  A mere 10 minutes off my BQ time.  I was beyond elated.  Shocked.  And couldn’t stop crying.  My coach texted me telling me I was an inspiration for her BQ in March.  My friends messaged me over Instagram to congratulate me on the sub-4 I had been fighting for so long to achieve.

So, the final results of the Walt Disney World Marathon are that I finished in 3:49:45.  I was 849/20,025 finishers overall.  I was the 184/10,763 female finishers.  And I was 48/1848 people in my age division.  Beyond proud of myself.

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Me with the Dopey, Goofy, and Marathon medals after the Walt Disney World Marathon

Afterwards, I got on the bus to head back to the resort.  I was beyond sore, but managed to shuffle my way back to my room, up the stairs, and into a super hot shower.  I don’t do ice baths.  No shame.  Not my game.  I put my feet up for awhile and made myself down my protein shake.  It was, honestly, the last thing I wanted to do.  My stomach is always a mess after a marathon.  But recovery had to begin immediately.  After awhile, Cathy and I went to stroll down to Port Orleans French Quarter to get celebratory Gluten Free Beignets.  I was hoping the sugar would help settle my stomach.  It worked.  We got some for Melissa and Paul too.  I might have promised to have them at the finish line.  Afterwards, we hopped on the bus to go back to the finish line.  On the way there, Stephanie crossed the finish line.  We ended up getting stuck on this bus for longer than anticipated, and upon arriving, making the hike to security for bag check, and then heading toward the finish line, Melissa and Paul crossed.  JUST missed them.

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Grapes and Gluten Free Beignets

Cathy and I waited for them outside of their bag pick up and ran to go hug them when they came out.  Super proud of them.  Melissa’s foot got injured in the half, so she wasn’t even sure she’d be able to make it through the full.  She’s stubborn.  She did.  We went to get in line to have photos with Dopey, but were told the line was closed because Dopey needed to make it to a parade.  So, Cathy took pictures of Melissa and Paul on their phone with Dopey in the background.  We had Fast Passes at Epcot…so we let them head back to the resort with the Gluten Free Beignets that we picked up for them and went to head into the park.  I managed to make it through the rest of the day before meeting up with them again at Raglan Road in Disney Springs for our celebratory dinner.  Hello gluten free onion rings.

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Drinks and Gluten Free eats all around at Raglan Road to celebrate completing the Dopey Challenge!

The following day, Cathy managed to get through the character breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table before trying a few rides and tapping out.  Her sickness caught up with her.  So, I wandered around Magic Kingdom alone for awhile until I met with Melissa and Paul at Epcot for photos with the medals.  This also involved a monorail fail making it take even longer.  But we eventually got it all taken care of.  And after snagging Avocado Margaritas in Mexico, I called to check on Cathy and she said she’d grab some soup and meet us at Magic Kingdom.  She was moving slowly, but she was out.  And we wrapped up the day in Magic Kingdom with food, fireworks, and friends.  And that…was what this trip and adventure was all about.

A group I’m in figured up all the finish places for those who competed in the Dopey Challenge.  I was 210/7468 overall Dopey finishers.  I was 29th female finisher.  And I was 9th in my age division.  And I’m tired.  And sore.

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Me, Melissa and Paul….all Dopey Challenge finishers!

And currently fighting off the Disney crud.  Being sick prior to the races and coming back sick has not allowed me proper celebrations.  But it’s going to happen.

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This was the perfect way to spend the last day at Disney…with good friends creating good memories…after doing amazing things!  Thank you, Melissa & Paul!

 

Quick Thoughts From the Week

It was a long, holiday weekend.  YAY!!  And, as is usual for me over the 4th of July…I was out of town.  At a convention.  In Indianapolis.  Now, normally when I am up in Indy for this convention, my Saturday morning is spent running the Monon Trail.  It’s gorgeous.  Seriously.  I always look forward to it.  The past few years (last year I wasn’t able to run at all at this point), I have managed to get out there for my long run of 10-12 or so miles.

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But, this past weekend, Saturday’s Monon Trail run wasn’t happening…

MEH.

SO…on Saturday morning, I was down in the fitness center at 6 am…and on a treadmill to do 12 miles that morning.  I started easy and worked up a ladder to a comfortable speed and then took it back down.  It was mind numbing, despite the music (and to think, I almost left my iPod in my room).  But, my training run was done.

And if that wasn’t enough punishment, I got up on Sunday morning to do my shakeout run.  I decided to do an easy run for an hour…getting 7.36 miles in during that time.

I was feeling it Saturday and I really felt it Sunday.  I hate running on treadmills.  They seem to do more damage to me than road running does.  I was sore through Wednesday, honestly.  I don’t know how people do long distances on these things on a regular basis.  My body couldn’t handle it!

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My runs have been suffering since those treadmill runs.  The hip was not mad…but not happy either.  MEH.  Not enough foam rolling in the world.  Of course…the epic humidity with air so thick you could cut it with a knife…isn’t helping either.

But, despite the humidity and the fatigue from late nights, I’ve been keeping up with my training runs.  Which…is impressive for me.  It’s not been easy to get out of bed to just go outside and melt…but…

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…I’ve been getting it done.  It hasn’t been pretty…and I’m not always happy with the results on my Garmin, but I’m doing what my body is currently capable of…so, there is that.

OH…and this past week, I got to play around with recipes that I created.  I made 6 different recipes…2 pasta dishes, a fusion pizza, a rice dish, a sandwich, and a dessert.  I was quite proud of the results…all based off of Peter Cincotti’s recently released EP, Exit 105.  Check out these images of the completed dishes…

 

Top (L-R): Island Spell Pizza (song: Palermo) – Jerk seasoned tofu, topped with onion, bell pepper, pineapple, cheddar cheese, and a Jamaican jerk coleslaw; Missing Sara Sammie (song: What’s Sara Doing?) – sammie layered with sweet potato, hummus, avocado (or guacamole), and kale; Unexpected Beat Tagliatelle (song: Long Way From Home) – tagliatelle pasta in a bechemel sauce and topped with shredded beets, goat cheese, parsley, toasted pine nuts, and toasted bread crumbs

Botton (L-R): Roamin’ Skies Pasta (song: Roman Skies) – my take on the traditional Roman dish – Cacio e Pepe – pasta mixed with butter, black pepper, Pecorino and Parmesan cheeses; Exit 105 Rice-A-Roni (Album Title: Exit 105) – my version of the San Francisco Treat (after all, Exit 105 takes you to the Golden Gate Bridge)…and it has been dubbed my “best rice dish in the history of ever”; Sexy on the Beach Ice Cream (song: Sexy) – a vegan ice cream made from coconut cream, pureed raspberries, pureed pineapple, chambord and vodka…just like the drink Sex on the Beach…

I love getting chefy.

So, aside from a little bit of work stress…that’s what’s going on thus far.  Stay tuned as this weekend is going to be amazing.  I can tell.

Product Review: Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto Pasta Meal

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto Pasta Meal

Product: Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto – $3.29+

You know…it was because I was told that the liveGfree Gluten Free Tortillas at Aldi wouldn’t fall apart and crumble on me (which was false…they did…and I was sad) that I ended up back at my Aldi to grab some gluten-free goods.  Just the tortillas…that was the plan.

But you know how quickly plans fall apart when gluten free products/food are involved.

While standing in line with one item, I spotted the infamous liveGfree box colors on some discounted sale items.  There were three different types of pastas sitting there…discounted…looking for a happy pantry to belong to.  I thought about just skipping that.  I’m trying to move things out, not bring more in, but they were discounted to $1.99…so I grabbed one of each flavor.

With this being an odd week with half days and holidays…my usual meal planning is thrown a bit off.  When I’m not going to be here, batch cooking that much just doesn’t make sense.  So, I pick and choose and then fill in.  So, when my roommate said to just throw together a pasta or something for a lunch on Monday, that’s exactly what I decided to do.

I knew we had these boxes of Aldi lifeGfree Gluten Free Pasta Meals in my pantry, so I gave her the choice of flavors…(all of which will be reviewed here…so watch this space)…and she decided to start with the Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto Pasta Meal.

Cooking this up is super easy.  Simply throw 1-1/4 cup water into a pan and bring it to a boil.  Once there, pour the noodles and seasoning mix into the water.  Cook, uncovered, over medium heat for about 7-9 minutes.  Stir it occasionally, and continue to cook until the water is completely absorbed.  That’s it.  It’s ready to eat.

Well, here is the downside.  A box contains only 1-1/2 servings.  Yes…one and a half servings.  I don’t know where the logic is with that, but after I had this cooked up and split it between my roommate and I…there was hardly anything in our lunch bowls.  So, I reached into my freezer and pulled out the Beyond Meat Gluten Free and Vegan Italian Meatballs, cooking up some of those to add to the dish to bulk it up and make it bigger than just a side dish.  So, please be aware…1-1/2 servings per container.  If there is more than 1-1/2 of you eating…plan accordingly.

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pasta Meal  (cooked) with Beyond Meat Vegan and Gluten Free Italian Meatballs

Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pasta Meal (cooked) with Beyond Meat Vegan and Gluten Free Italian Meatballs

At lunch today, I retrieved the Pyrex containers with the pasta and “meatballs” in it and popped each one in the microwave to heat.  Once heated all the way through…lunch was ready to go.  I do love a no-hassle, fuss-free, easy lunch to prepare at work when the kitchen can get quite chaotic with everyone fighting for counter space and the microwave.

I settled in at  my desk, gave it a sprinkle of red pepper flakes (because I like it hot, LOL!) and dug in.

First of all, I was very impressed with the way the pasta held up, not just in the cooking process, but also in the reheating. It didn’t fall apart or get gummy.  So, that’s a huge plus.  I loved the seasoning that was cooked down over the noodles.  A blend of basil and spinach, mixed with a touch of garlic and Parmesan.  So, yeah…not exactly dairy-free, eh?  I didn’t notice that when I bought it…but…it was all I had for lunch.  I’m not allergic to dairy…just highly intolerant to lactose.  So, I just hoped for the best.  Very full of flavor…which surprised me.  I never expect much from boxed pasta meals, but this one was actually very delicious.  I am, however, quite happy that I opted to include the vegan meatballs to bulk it out.  It also added to the depth of flavor of the dish.  For a pasta meal that I spent under $2 to purchase…this was the happy surprise of the week.  Didn’t see that one coming.

Let’s discuss the ingredients that go into Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto Pasta Meal, shall we?  This boxed meal is made from gluten free pasta (corn flour, rice flour), process cheese food in powder [cheese blend (pasteurized milk, salt, cheese cultures, enzymes), whey powder, salt, sodium citrate, disodium phosphate], cream powder (cream, milk), natural flavor, potato starch, parmigano reggiano cheese (milk, salt, rennet), dehydrated spinach, dehydrated basil, salt, garlic powder, and turmeric powder.  This pasta meal is gluten free and wheat free.

Now that we know what goes into Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Penne Pesto Pasta Meal, let’s look at the nutrition ingredients.  A serving size of this product is 2/3 cup (or 3/4 cup prepared), and there are 1.5 servings fer container.  One serving will provide you with 250 calories, 6 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 570 mg sodium, 42 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram dietary fiber, 4 grams sugars, and 8 grams protein.  If you were to eat the entire box yourself, you would only be consuming 375 calories in total.  Which, really isn’t too bad.  I just think that Aldi should either round it down to 1 serving or up to 2 servings, because this half serving really annoyed me, if you couldn’t tell.

I wasn’t expecting much from this Aldi meal, but, once again, Aldi surprised me.  I should have trusted them a little more.  If you can get your hands on the Aldi liveGfree Gluten Free Pasta Meal’s…it’s a cheap and delicious way to have something on hand for when you don’t really have time or energy to cook something else up.

Check your local Aldi…and pick some up.

Restaurant Review: Mythos Restaurant, Orlando, Florida

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Mythos Restaurant, Orlando, Florida

Restaurant: Mythos Restaurant, Orlando, Florida

Twas the first time since coming to Orlando that my breakfast (the final bagel, it was cinnamon raisin from Erin McKenna’s in Disney Springs) wore off long before I thought it would.  That usually is okay, except my dinner reservation yesterday was actually a late lunch reservation.  So, when my stomach apparently wanted elevensies…I was nowhere ready to pop a protein bar for fear of not being hungry for the best and big meal of the day.

Cathy, Jenn and I all shared a cup of watermelon and hoped for the best…but the 12:45 reservation couldn’t come soon enough.  At 12:30, we went in, hoping that perhaps they could seat us early.

No such luck.  We were told our names would be called around our reservation time.  I wasn’t too surprised though.  Mythos Restaurant, after all, is one of the hottest and most sought over reservations in all of Universal Studios Islands of Adventures theme park.  No joke.  Mythos Restaurant was voted the Best Theme Park Restaurant from 2003-2009, came in third in 2010…and who knows what happened after that.  The thing was…the place was hopping.  There was a 35 minute wait for people/groups that didn’t make reservations…and that wait time quickly escalated.

What makes Mythos Restaurant such hot spot?  Well, it’s located in a prime spot, carved into the side of towering rock formations, cascading waterfalls and ancient figures.  So, you sort of know you’re in for quite a treat as you approach the restaurant itself.  It is known for its exceptional cuisine.  And the setting and friendly staff do make for an exceptional, contemporary dining setting.

About 12:55, we were finally called for our seating and led through the restaurant to a nice corner booth near the open kitchen.  I sat on the side facing the kitchen with hopes of being able to watch the chefs, but the booth was too tall for me to really see.  Ah well.

Our server, Lindsey, was an absolute doll.  And totally hilarious.  I loved that she immediately made us feel welcome by calling us “her friends.”  That continued throughout the entire meal, mind you.  I love making new friends.  Anyway, it took her a moment to come back around to us, but she eventually got there and made us feel immediately welcome all over again.  She asked about where we were from, what all we had been doing, and through in some fun Harry Potter references, because she’s awesome like that.  She took our drink order…a Diet Coke ($3.19) for Cathy, a Unsweetend Iced Tea ($3.19) for me, and Water (FREE!) for Jenn.  We were given some time to look over the menu, which had clear markings for things that could be made vegan and gluten free…not always the same, but some dishes could be both.  This left me with two very good sounding options…the Pad Thai and/or the Seasonal Risotto.  AH…decisions!!

After a spill that Lindsey had to clean up, she came over to the table again to get our orders.  She apologized for the delay and since I was the difficult one, she started with me.  I asked her which she would get if she was a vegetarian and gluten free…and she said that most vegan and gluten-free guests LOVE the risotto, but she is a huge fan of the Pad Thai for that sweet and sour sauce they put on it…that being said, she pairs it with meat and wasn’t sure how it would mix with just vegetables.  So, she highly recommended the Seasonal Risotto.  I went with that per her suggestion. Cathy went with the Mythos Signature Burger with Lamb and the Parmesan Fries.  Jenn went with the Crab Cake Sliders, subbing the potato salad for the Parmesan Fries.  Orders in.

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Mythos Restaurant’s Gluten Free Bread (cut up gluten free hamburger buns)

It took awhile for our meals to come out, which was fine.  I was starving, but I love knowing that food is being prepared to order.  In fact, Lindsey explained that everything, save for two (2) of the dishes on the menu are made to order.  The two that are prepped ahead are the Mediterranean Chicken Salad Wrap and the Pressed Porchetta Panini, due to the volume of orders they get for those.  Interesting trivia.  She delivered some bread and butter to the table…and then said that they had some gluten-free bread if I was interested.  I always am.  She returned a few minutes later with some warm bread…which looked like their gluten free hamburger buns chopped up.  Hey…it worked.  I loved having the option.

But food came out, hot, fresh, gorgeous, and…amazing.

Mythos Restaurant's Signature Burger with Lamb and Parmesan Fries

Mythos Restaurant’s Signature Burger with Lamb and Parmesan Fries

Cathy’s Mythos Signature Burger with Lamb ($14.99) with the Parmesan Fries (+ $0.50) looked fantastic and perfectly cooked.  The bun was huge, encompassing the burger and all the toppings that came on it.  This included grilled onion, shredded lettuce and fresh tomato topped with feta-olive aioli.  She was nervous about the feta-olive aioli, but loved it.  She found the burger to be a little dry (NOT LAMB!), but it was well cooked and full of flavor.  While the patty was thick, it was way smaller than the bun.  To this day, though, she raves about the “killer” feta-olive aioli.  She almost missed out on it as she doesn’t love olives at all…but it worked.  And now, I think she’s smitten.  She ate every bit of that burger.  And the Parmesan fries were “good.” she said.  The cheese, both of my dining compatriots said, needed to be melted so that they stuck to the fries rather than just sprinkled on top.  Otherwise, the cheese fell off the fries.

Jenn’s Crab Cake Sliders ($12.99) dish was her favorite meal of this entire trip.  Nothing overpowered the taste of the crab.  It wasn’t overseasoned.  The remoulade sauce wasn’t drowning the sliders…they had the perfect amount.  While the buns were thick, they were soft and squished down.  She absolutely LOVED this meal.  Like I said, of the 4 days we have been in Florida, this topped her list.  The Crab Cake Sliders were served on mini rolls with lettuce and remoulade sauce.  She subbed the Potato Salad for the Parmesan Fries (+ $0.50) and liked them, but also felt that the cheese needed to be melted on there so it didn’t just tumble off, leaving regular fries.  She didn’t touch the watermelon-tomato medley that was served on the side…it was probably delicious though!

Mythos Restaurant's Gluten Free and Vegan Seasonal Risotto (beet risotto with sauteed mushrooms and spinach)

Mythos Restaurant’s Gluten Free and Vegan Seasonal Risotto (beet risotto with sauteed mushrooms and spinach)

This comes to me.  I ended up ordering the Seasonal Risotto ($15.99), done gluten-free and vegan.  The risotto of the day was a Beet Risotto, which normally would be served with beef on top, but thanks to being practically vegan, that was left off.  This dish was served with sauteed mushrooms and baby spinach on top.  And it was seasoned to perfection.  It was creamy and earthy and just…amazing.  I loved the richness of the beets infused into the creamy rice.  The sauteed vegetables on top added some great texture and bright flavors.  It was really good.  I had to work hard not to inhale it.  But, in the end…gone.  And I was one happy girl.

While Lindsey exercised her Slytherin tendencies and gave us dessert menus, we opted out this time.  We paid the bill and headed out to get over to Hogsmede to wrap up our time at Islands of Adventure at Universal Studios.  Happy bellies and all.

There is a reason that Mythos is a hot ticket at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure.  The atmosphere is really great…the service is phenomenal…and the food was delicious.  Also, serving sizes weren’t ridiculous either.  We were full, but not stuffed.  And after a bit of shopping for sweets at the candy store in Hogsmede, we rode rides and all.

Yeah…Mythos was a nice way to treat ourselves that day after a long morning of wandering the parks and riding rides.  It was great food…and a great experience.

Product Review: Better Way Gluten Free Hamburger Buns

Better Way Gluten Free Hamburger Buns

Better Way Gluten Free Hamburger Buns

Product: Better Way Gluten Free Hamburger Buns – $6.69+

Two ladies in my running group have mentioned Better Way Gluten Free Bread to me on various occasions.  They said they could find it at their Kroger in the regular bread aisle.  I admit, I haven’t visited the regular bread aisle…in five (5) years.  My roommate doesn’t eat regular bread these days unless we’re out or visiting someone…because we keep cross-contamination out of the kitchen.

Needless to say, after putting in miles with these ladies, I ultimately forgot, time-and-again, about the bread discussion.  Despite usually going grocery shopping directly after running and breakfast.  Go figure.  That being said, they both posted friendly reminders and rave reviews on my Facebook page that, ultimately, I remembered while at a Kroger in Louisville.  The one on my side of the river, near my home…does not carry too much in the line of gluten-free bread, save for the standards in the frozen natural food area (Udi’s and Rudi’s).

The brand I was seeking…Better Way.

I was so happy to find a loaf of their white bread (although I have heard I need to definitely seek out and devour the 7 Grains), which I have already used up an entire package.  I haven’t blogged, because I forgot…so with the new one sitting in my pantry…I’ll be sure to do that.

That being said, I had a meal (or 2) on the menu this week that would require hamburger buns.  Because when you’re making Pizza Joe’s (plantbased…made with lentils and lots of delicious stuff to make it taste like pizza)…the bread is highly important.  Normally, I would pick up sandwich buns from my local allergen-free bakery (Annie May’s Sweet Café), but I forgot.  Whoops!  So, while I was out running, my roommate took it upon herself to surprise me…by going to a different Kroger than we normally hit up while in Louisville and returning with…Better Way Gluten Free Hamburger Buns!!

They were a part of lunch today!

This morning, I opened up the orange bag and sliced through the freshness seal that the four (4) hamburger buns were placed in.  I pulled out two of the buns, noting how soft and squishy they were.  That was exciting.  Needless to say, I chose my bun for this afternoon and ripped off a small bit to try right then and there.

That was all it took for me to fall absolutely in love with Better Way’s Gluten Free Hamburger Buns.  If you have ever been able to eat those hamburger buns you had at picnics and at home as a kid (and perhaps an adult)…this is exactly what this bread tastes like.  It is very, very reminiscent of those classic white hamburger buns, which is definitely to be applauded when talking about gluten free bread.  Happiness with just one bite.  The test would be to see how it held up with the Pizza Joe’s filling heaped all over it.

Pizza Joes topping off the Better Way Gluten Free Hamburger Buns

Pizza Joes topping off the Better Way Gluten Free Hamburger Buns

The great thing about these buns is while they taste and feel like those classic hamburger buns of my pre-Celiac diagnosis state…they have a somewhat stiffer crumb to them.  But this is a good thing.  This meant that the buns themselves did not fall apart nor become mush under whatever (in this case saucy lentils that taste like pizza) you top it off with or sandwich between.  That’s a rare thing with gluten-free buns.  Most often I have to toast them and they still fall apart.  Not these.  Nope.  These held up without toasting or warming…it was pure perfection.  And I became smitten.  Enough that I have already picked up another package of the Better Way Bread and Hamburger Buns when I made my Star Wars run.  HA!

Let’s talk about what goes into Better Way’s Gluten Free Hamburger Buns, shall we?  These buns are made from water, brown rice flour, tapioca starch, tapioca syrup, corn starch, xanthan gum, potato starch, cultured rice flour, and contains 2% or less of each of the following: whole eggs, extra virgin olive oil, salt, yeast, and enzymes.  These amazing gluten-free hamburger buns are made in a gluten-free facility, are dairy-free, soy-free, nut-free, contain no high fructose corn syrup (YAY!), and use non-GMO ingredients.

As far as nutritional information goes, these really look good, especially when compared to other gluten-free store-bought brands on the market.  A serving size of the Better Way Gluten Free Hamburger Buns is 1 roll (85 grams), and there are 4 servings per package.  One roll will deliver you 180 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 270 mg sodium, 36 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 4 grams sugars, and 2 grams protein.  That’s relatively close to the same nutrition data on regular white hamburger buns.  Totally winning.

I am so glad that I was told (numerous times) and reminded (numerous times) to pick up and try Better Way Gluten Free Bread.  I’m addicted.  It’s the closest thing I have had to regular bread outside of a gluten free bakery.  Having this bread and these hamburger buns on hand is a definite must these days.  Totally surprised…totally wowed.  Totally in love.  If you’ve been searching for the best gluten-free bread in grocery stores…seek out and find Better Way.  Check with your grocery stores and see if they can order it if you can’t seem to find it.

Veggie burgers are a must in the very near future…now that I have a bun that will hold up to all the fillings!!

Product Review: Sweet Note Gluten Free Tomato Basil Bagels

Sweet Note Bakery Gluten Free Tomato Basil Bagels

Sweet Note Bakery Gluten Free Tomato Basil Bagels

Product: Sweet Note Gluten Free Tomato Basil Bagels – $7.25

I just got home from New York City.  When you’re in New York, you eat bagels.  It’s what you do.  Fortunately for me, there are a lot of places that offer gluten-free bagels throughout the city.  Most of the bagel shops use a store brand version (like the one I went to…Tompkins Square Bagels), but at least I got to indulge.  BTW…if you go to Tompkins Square Bagels, they have a variety of tofu cream cheeses (for people like me who don’t handle dairy well), which makes the bagel experience that much more authentic.  For the record, I got a plain gluten free bagel there which I had them load up with the tofu veggie cream cheese.   It was mighty good.

But…you can tell when a bagel is a store brand.

Tompkins Square Bagels could really benefit from picking up bagels from a company that does New York-style bagels right!

SWEET NOTE BAKERY!

You want to talk about an appropriate bagel…you look to these ladies (and gentleman).

What’s even more exciting is that Sweet Note has expanded their flavor profile on their bagels.  While they are getting rid of the Sesame Bagels (due to allergen concerns with sesame seeds now), they have added 4 new varieties to their already sought-after, highly delicious, amazing bagel lineup.

I think I have stumbled upon my new favorite from their latest creations.  Seriously…i should have ordered 10 packs of these…

While I have already reviewed their new Garlic & Herb Bagels a few weeks ago…today I stepped it up, reached into my freezer, and delivered to my oven the epitome of every gluten-free bagel out there.  Seriously…no comparison…nothing could live up to the flavors, texture, and sheer awesomeness of every bite of the brand new…

…wait for it…

SWEET NOTE GLUTEN FREE TOMATO BASIL BAGEL!!!!!!

Before I begin to wax rhapsodic about this bagel…let’s start with the basics.  Keep these frozen . Do NOT thaw them out to room temperature ahead of time.  It’s on the instructions on the packaging and in the box they arrive in.  Do not ever think you know best.  Simply place in the microwave for a minute to begin to thaw bagel from frozen.  I have found that if I start with 30 seconds, then completely flip the bagel over for the remaining 30, they thaw out evenly and perfectly.  If you eat a bagel in true New York fashion…stop here.  If you, like me (despite being a New Yorker), like to toast up that bagel a wee bit…then stick it in your toaster (or if you, like me, do not own a toaster, get that oven going at 350°F and place on a baking sheet…toasting for about 15-20 minutes or less).  My roommate was awake at this point, so I let them toast lightly while I went to shower, since I had just returned from my Friday morning spin class.

Timing is everything…and that just seems to be the perfect toasting time for these bagels for me.  I don’t get them to the crispy on the inside point, but do get a nice, light, golden color to them.  My apartment smelled frickin’ awesome this morning while these were working.

Since Tomato Basil is a bit more of a savory flavor, I opted for something different than your standard cream cheese.  Because…why do anything normally?  This was a brand new, exciting, culinary adventure.  LIVE IT UP!  I had a container of Heidi Ho Organics Ne Chevre Pure Live Culture Cashew Cheeze.  I used that!  I’ll review Heidi Ho in a little while..but this is some of the best plant-based cheese I have ever had!!  Goat cheese without the goat!!  OH HELL YES!!  On a tomato basil bagel…now I’m just out of control!!  Somebody stop me!!

Or don’t…because…

HOLY GARDEN OF EATING!!  Let me just say…the Sweet Note Gluten Free Tomato Basil Bagels are like eating a pizza first thing in the morning.  It’s a bagel..that tastes like pizza.  In fact, if I wanted to make bagel pizzas like I used to…this bagel would be the ideal base.  No joke…packed…just loaded…overloaded…full of flavors.  It has this rich tomato flavor to it, but the herb-y nature of the basil keeps the flavor profile balanced and just…awesome.  Yep.  Awesome is now a flavor profile descriptor.  There are no other words to describe how life changing just one bite of this bagel was.  If you are into savory flavors…THIS bagel will blow your culinary mind!  Your taste buds will applaud each and every bite you take…whether you savor it (I tried…I tried…) or mow it down on the go (I might have power ate mine…a little…).  If you’re a pizza freak (she’s a pizza freak…pizza freak…so hot and cheesy)…like I am…this bagel is calling your name.  Loud and proud, my friends.  I am in total and absolute love and now needing to go and buy at least 5 more packs of these.  I will not rest until my freezer is properly stocked.  Just…WOW!!  Wow-factor…off the scale…off the chart…OFF THE CHAIN!!!  Pairing it with a more “cheezy” spread was a wise decision I think too.  While regular cream cheese would work just fine…this…highly complimented every bite.  It was…virtually…pizza for breakfast.  Just like when I was in college…ah…those good ol’ days.

Gluten Free and Vegan Pizza Bagels made with Sweet Note Bakery Gluten Free Tomato Herb Bagels

Gluten Free and Vegan Pizza Bagels made with Sweet Note Bakery Gluten Free Tomato Herb Bagels

And…if that wasn’t enough, I went back for more. YES…MORE!!  I came home from work and toasted up another round of these bagels.  This time, along with the Heidi Ho Organics Ne Chevre Cheeze, I topped it with marinara and some dried basil…making bagel pizzas for dinner.  And they were BEYOND fantastic. They were superbagelfragalisticexpizzalidocious!  Blew me away. Pizza bagels…now that really did bring back some memories, LOL!!  You’d think I was carb loading or something.  But I’m not.  I’m just LOVING these bagels.

If I don’t have your attention yet…then you’re not reading a thing I’ve written.  But in case you need a little more…let’s talk about all the good things that go into the Sweet Note Gluten Free Tomato Basil Bagels, shall we?  Real ingredients for starters.  And it all starts with…LOVE.  Yes…that’s an actual listed ingredient.  Everything that makes these amazing New York-style, gluten-free bagels is listed here:  Love, water, white rice flour, tapioca flour, sweet white rice flour, sorghum flour, brown sugar, cane syrup, olive oil, molasses, yeast, xanthan gum, psyllium husk, garlic, salt, tomato paste, and basil.  Nothing fake or processed…just high quality, real products to make a high-quality real product.  Eating a clean breakfast just got so much tastier.  Sweet Note Gluten Free Tomato Basil Bagels are gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, non-GMO, egg-free, peanut & tree nut-free, and cholesterol free.  LOVE IT!!  Vegan & Gluten Free bagels are now ready to be delivered right to your doorstep!

As far as nutrition goes, I LOVE that these bagels keep calories and fat in check.  Honestly!  A serving size is one (1) full bagel (not a half a bagel, but a full)…which is about 4.5 ounces (or 128 grams) of bagel-y goodness.  Each pack of bagels comes with four (4) bagels inside.  The Sweet Note Gluten Free Tomato Basil Bagel will deliver unto you…290 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 320 mg sodium, 62 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 8 grams sugars, and 5 grams of protein.  We are talking about the ultimate powerhouse of nutrients in a delicious carby package.  Mmmm…carbs.  With the high fiber and protein, you’ll feel full and satisfied long after your bagel is gone.

This flavor is not an online exclusive, but in case your local stores don’t carry Sweet Note Bagels or have yet to get their hands on the new flavor…you can order this (and go overboard, for real!) in their ONLINE STORE!

There is nothing better than taking your first bite of breakfast and being blown away by the intense, amazing flavors that touch your palate.  This was the ideal way to start my Friday.  Definitely sets the standard for the rest of what I consume today…which is in no way as interesting as my breakfast.  For real.  I mean, a gluten-free peanut butter & jelly sammie just isn’t the same as a gluten-free tomato basil bagel with a schmear of ne chevre cheeze.  When you hear the old adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day…believe it…and make it epic.

Sweet Note Bagels will definitely take you above and beyond that epic level.  Don’t wait any longer if you haven’t tried these yet.  DO IT!!