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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!

Image-1 (2)

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.

Image-1 (1)

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.



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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.



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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Image-1 (3)

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.


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.


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.


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


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!

giphy (26)

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…

giphy (27)
…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


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.


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!


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…


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!!

United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, NY (March 20, 2016)

Me after finishing the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon - New York, New York

Me after finishing the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, New York

Race: United Airlines NYC Half Marathon

Place: New York, New York

Date: March 20, 2016

Time: 1:43:53

When I go into a race without any expectations or goals…I seem to do better than anticipated.  While I had a semi-goal of being able to do my first half marathon distance after injury (for a year) in sub-2 hours, I wasn’t going to be too hard on myself if it didn’t happen.

Especially since the weather changed drastically the week of the race.

The weekend before the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon…the weather was gorgeous.  Not just in Louisville (where I ran my first official race back…the Rodes City Run 10K), but up in New York too.  I was hoping it would hold.  I do better in nicer temperatures.  But as the week went on…the gorgeous weather started to go away.


For much of the week, the forecast was calling for rain…cold…wind.  Then snow…cold…wind.  And then, on Friday night, it changed to just really flippin cold and really flippin’ windy.

UGH!!  Now I was in a crisis. I had my outfit planned out for weeks…but the 30 degree temps and the strong winds (and the wind chill it would bring), meant I needed to reevaluate my wardrobe.  With much reluctance, the running skirt went back into the closet and a pair of my (albeit bright) compression tights came out.  Any of you who regularly read my running blog know…I…HATE…PANTS.  So this frustrated me.  I also packed a big turtleneck lined top and a windbreaker…and at the last minute, just before walking out the door early Saturday…I tossed in a long sleeve shirt…just in case, because I never ran in a windbreaker and I was nervous it would annoy me or just not work out…in which case, I’d rather brace against the cold in layers than anything.

So, Saturday morning was an early morning for me.  I was up at 2 am to do all my physical therapy exercises.  The stretches, the dynamic stuff outside, the plyometrics.  I knew once I touched down in NYC…I was on the move…and these stretches were more important than anything else.

I admit, a little voice in my head said, “Go on…go do an easy mile or two for a shakeout before getting on the plane.”  But, as tempting as it was, I quieted that voice.  I knew I’d be on the go both at the airports and once I touched down in the city, the shakeout wasn’t important, and I didn’t need to do it.  I’d be doing ample time on my feet just moving about NYC.

See what I have learned??!!

So, we (my roommate and I) walked out the door right at 5 am (giving us time to get a light breakfast in our stomachs and (SO VERY MUCH NEEDED) coffee into our system.  We got to the Louisville airport in record time…parked…had to take a roundabout way to the Southwest Airlines counter due to renovations that are going on, and which I hope they finish up before Derby, or that airport is going to be a mess.  Security was quick, although I ended up being randomly chosen for the hand swab, and my laptop (as always) had to be examined more closely…but it was quick, painless, and we were off and heading to our gate (which was behind a bunch of renovation boards).  Like I said, the airport was sort of a mess.

Deciding that we weren’t ready to settle in yet, we took a little walk, as usual, through the airport crowds, and Cathy and I grabbed a Cool Lime Refresher at Starbucks (and she got a breakfast sammie as well) and we went back to the gate.  I downed one of the new LUNA Bars (the Dark Chocolate Mocha Almond, which has only 5 grams of sugar and tasted like an amazing caffe mocha) and then…it was time to board.  We were at the end of the A group…so it worked out perfectly.

Our flight had a small layover at Chicago Midway before we went on to NYC.  So, we took the time to stretch our legs and walk the terminal. I was really craving something sweet, so we went on the “Great Fruit Cup Hunt of Midway,” finding that everywhere that normally had fruit cups were sold out.  With 5 minutes to boarding, we finally found something at one of the food court restaurants.  It was a large fruit cup with honeydew melon, pineapple, grapes and strawberries in it.  I carried it onto our flight into Laguardia Airport and ate it while still sitting on the runway.

The flight into Laguardia was uneventful, save for the funny flight crew.  The lead flight

Me with the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon logo - New York, New York

Me with the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon logo – New York, New York

attendant was in her 50s and just…SO funny.  Love that.  It also helps calm my nerves when the flight crew is loosey-goosey like that.  I was drinking my water to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate and we landed in Laguardia early.  Taxied to the jetway…disembarked…and went to baggage claim.  My bag was the 2nd one off the belt.  Cathy’s wasn’t too far behind.  With bags in hand, we called the hired car company and they had a car out to fetch us in about 5 or so minutes.  Luggage went into the trunk and we were now on our way into Manhattan…staying at a different hotel this time (which was totally our fault because we originally had the race pegged for the weekend before this one and it wasn’t until about a month before that I realized the date of the race was for the week after…in my defense, it ran a week earlier last year!)…but the traffic situation wasn’t bad and our driver was really aggressive once he got into the city blocks, LOL!  We were dropped off at the door of The Distrikt Hotel on W 40th Street and went to check in.

We were much earlier than anticipated, so our room wasn’t ready yet.  We did go ahead and leave our bags and went to go buy a Metrocard and take the subway to get to the United Airlines NYC Half Experience (the expo), which was taking place at the Metropolitan Pavilion. We headed into the Expo, which was a madhouse!  Seriously…at some points, I felt like salmon swimming upstream.  I had the registration sheet with me so I went over to where my numbers were to pick up my bib.  From there, it was through the store and over to get my official bag with my t-shirt and stuff in it.  I haven’t really looked through what else was in there.  I made one circuit of the expo before returning to the official store.  There was a great t-shirt in there, pink and purple, that I had my eye on.  But, to no surprise, my size was gone.  Disappointing for sure.  Ah well.  Except, Cathy and I realized almost all official merchandise for women had nothing left in small.  Now I remember why I order things online ahead of this.  She did manage to find me an official finisher’s t-shirt and I grabbed a Sparkly Soul headband that had the event name on it.  Purchases made.  Back into the expo.

I actually thought there would be more vendors there and more to see and lots more places to shop.  But, for the best, there wasn’t. I walked through the line of charities…I got in line to have my picture taken in front of the logo…Cathy made a couple signs (which never got used due to the 21 mph gusts of wind on race morning)…and we settled in for a moment at a table where I could charge my phone and we could catch our breath.

Me and my awesome friend Ellen at the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon Experience

Me and my awesome friend Ellen at the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon Experience

My friend, Ellen, who got in on lottery this year (I deferred last year so had automatic entry…except I had to repay the $127 registration fee), turned up to meet up with me, and brought me a nice salad to boot.  YAY for friends.  YAY for food!  We discussed what we were planning on wearing, food, and…all the crazy shit (hehehe…get it Ellen?) that runners rely on and need to have happen prior to a run.  It was fun.  I even did a Snapchat video for her giving a running tip.  She calls me her inspiration…but I think she’s mine.  She needed to get back to the charity event she was attending, and I needed to get back to the hotel to get into the room.  The travel capris I was wearing weren’t very warm against the already chilly wind of NYC.  So, we returned to the hotel, got our room, gathered our bags, and went upstairs.  We flopped for a moment before changing into jeans and heading back out…this time just to explore.  We didn’t want to stop in for dinner until at least 5 p.m.  So, we had a couple of hours to just explore.  That’s what we did, too.

With no plan, we just wandered through some of the area, stopping into shops that drew our attention.  We went and got our chocolate from Teuscher (I got a mini champagne, dark mocha, and dark salted caramel…and Cathy got a limoncello, almond, and chocolate orange truffle), which is a requirement, and ducked into the Hard Rock Café for a shotglass and a pin.  Back out and seeing the city until we decided to hike over to our pre-race dinner spot of choice, Don Antonio by Starita on W 50th Street.  They have a fantastic gluten-free pizza menu, and while they have a couple of GF and Vegan options, I stuck with the one I knew I loved and wouldn’t give me too much.  The Marinara Pizza Senza Glutine.  OMG…this is my 2nd favorite gluten-free pizza crust in the world (the first being Annie May’s Sweet Café).  I love when there is a real and actual crust on a gluten-free pizza, and not just a cracker crust.  We devoured dinner and then hiked back to the hotel to cycle through showers, giving me time to foam roll, and to eat some chocolate.  HA!  It was an early to bed night…and by 9 pm…we were turning out the lights.

I set the alarm on my phone for the first one to wake me up at 4 a.m.  It went off and I got up to use the bathroom, take my medicine, and then crawled back into bed for another 50 minutes.  The second alarm was the 5 a.m. one, and I got up and started to get changed into my running gear for the race.  Cathy was up at 5:15 to get dressed and ready.  And while I felt good all day prior to this morning, I felt tired, but in good shape for the actual race.  I was not happy that I had to wear pants to run a half marathon, but the windchill was a factor and I under-dressed once before for a full and have been nervous about doing that again ever since (hypothermia is NOT fun, my friends).  I decided to wear a long sleeve tech shirt under my warmer top with the big turtleneck top, figuring it would be good against the wind, without me trying to get used to running in a windbreaker on the fly.  I got my number pinned on, threw on the hoodie I was going to leave behind, filled up my water bottles and we were off.

We took the subway to Columbus Circle and disembarked, climbing the stairs and being

Me at then entrance of Central Park, Times Square behind me, on the morning of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon - New York, New York

Me at then entrance of Central Park, Times Square behind me, on the morning of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, New York

greeted with some of the coldest wind.  I don’t know how the dude in front of us was handling being in short running shorts, because I would have been dying.  I think he was.  But…to each their own, right?!  We walked over to the checkpoint at Central Park where Cathy had to go her own way and I had to show my bib number and enter.  We took a picture of me with Times Square behind me and then I went in.  I walked with a bunch of runners who were just talking about some of the most random stuff.  One was talking about Scott Jurek on Instagram and it was kind of amusing to me.  We went through the medal detectors and then continued on the path to the corrals.  There was a line of port-o-potties without lines and many of the people I was walking with went to take advantage of them…and I kept on trekking.  I made my way to the line of corrals, working my way up to the one for 10000-10999.  I did a few of my dynamic warm-up moves from physical therapy, but the air temperature was enough to make me not want to do it anymore.  I did one set of each, then hunkered down and shivered for a good half hour more.  It was really, really cold.  When the corrals opened for the start of the wheelchair race, I stepped inside and did a few static stretches just to loosen up.  From the onslaught of the cold wind, my hip was already not loving me.  It began to ache during the easy walk from security to the corals.  Seriously, my body and cold weather never got along, but it really doesn’t get along with it these days.

The wheelchair racers, hand crank racers, and elite women were all sent off by 7:15 a.m.  It was awesome standing in the corral and being able to see each group take off.  When the elite women took up, I cheered loudly for Molly Huddle, who is from Elmira, NY…my hometown area.  She’s amazing.  She’s fast.  She set a new course record that morning and it came down to an eighth of a second…it was THAT close.  The elite men went off with Wave 1 at 7:30 a.m..  Then my wave…Wave 2…were shuffled forward for our 7:45 a.m. start.  It was really exciting.  When the airhorn blew to send us off, I began the walk toward the official start, and started my Garmin as I crossed.  The first step already had my hip screaming at me.  I struggled through the final mile of a 10K the weekend prior…and I just started a half marathon.  I really just made a point go focus on my form and my breathing, and just finding a comfortable pace to run at.  As I said, I had no goals or expectations…just to have fun and to finish what I start.  Well…I started.  I now had to finish.

Me running through the 10K mark of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon - New York, New York

Me running through the 10K mark of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, New York

The 6 miles through Central Park are beautiful and quiet.  There were pockets of spectators out there, but mostly it was runners, our feet, and our breathing.  Being the start of the race, I would catch snatches of conversations people were having as they ran the race with friends or running partners.  It keeps me amused.  Some people were tucked into their earbuds, their music propelling them forward.  There was a couple running together, and on the back of his shirt was a sign that said “Baby on Board” and an arrow pointing to his wife who was running right next to him.  The people inside the park were loud and awesome and the little loop we do outside the park to turn around and head back in…was packed, crowded and loud.  I love a good crowd.  The hills of Central Park are respectable, but my hill repeats have been more intense than those, so while they slowed me down slightly, they didn’t have me huffing and puffing.  I’m learning to love to hate to love those hill repeat sessions more and more.  I didn’t check my pace on my watch at any point, but I hit the 5K mark and felt like I was coming along well for someone who was fighting hip pain twinges since the start.  With the hills now behind us, the runners exit Central Park onto 7th Avenue.  Cathy said she’d be outside the park to see me there, so I got to the left per her instructions and headed up 7th Avenue.  She was tucked into the pocket of the turn, but I heard her shouting and screaming and I gave a wave at her as I ran past.  It lifted my spirits, for sure.  And it was on to run down 7th Avenue and into Times Square.

I think Times Square was my favorite part of this race.  The crowd was intense.  There was so much noise.  All the screens were lit up.  The Kids Mile was running through there.  There was so much energy there…that it just pulsed through you.  I loved every stretch of this portion of the race.  And it is the part I remember the most.  I love a good crowd.

And with the extreme winds we were getting, it was a great way to start off the last stretch of the race.  This portion is pretty flat, save for just after the 20K mark.  So, it was nice to easily pick up the pace a little here.  Miles 8-12 really just have you fighting the windtunnels that are 42nd Street.  Here you make a U-Turn and head down the West Side Highway.  Wind.  Lots of wind.  Thankfully there was music blasting at various stages throughout this stretch of the run.  The crowds were sparse, but there were some spectators out there to cheer.  But without the bands, this might have been a tough slog through these 4 miles.  However, as the miles tick down, One World Trade Center/Freedom Tower keep getting closer and closer.  It’s gorgeous.  I can’t tell you how long I just kept my eyes on that building, minding each time I drew up my right leg, making sure I wasn’t overcompensating due to the hip pain.  This was…uplifting.

Mile 12 takes runners through the Battery Park Underpass.  This…was fun.  Seriously.  You are underground for a long while.  Runners scream and shout and let out whoops as they run through the dark, spooky tunnel. I loved it.  I even left my sunglasses on.  Just powered on through.  Running through tunnels is fun.  For some reason, I always smile more in them.  The 20K mark was just as we were let out to run up a hill.

Me coming out of the Battery Park Underpass at the 20K mark of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon - New York, New York

Me coming out of the Battery Park Underpass at the 20K mark of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, New York

This is where Cathy was situated to see me before I hit the finish line.  LOVED this little uplift right at the end.  I waived and smiled as she shouted, “YOU REALLY ARE ALMOST THERE!”  And so, I burst up the hill and got hit by one hell of a headwind.  NYC has this way of always being super windy when I run there.  So…I battled the headwind and just ran…ran…ran…rounding a corner…passing up a pace group….rounding another turn and seeing that finish line.  As I ran this race rather conservatively, I still had some go in the tank and so…I powered up, powered through, and crossed that finish line.

I stopped my Garmin…and the tears just started going.  I didn’t know my official time.  I didn’t check the Garmin.  I competed and finished my first half marathon since my hip labrum tear over a year ago.  And I could still move.  No limping.  Just a small ache.  I had done what I thought I wouldn’t be able to do…and it turns out I did it well.

We were filtered through the finisher’s area where we had medals hung around our necks and mylar sheets wrapped around us to keep us warm.  We were given these nice bags filled with snacks, Gatorade and water, and then shuttled out toward Battery Park.  At the exit, Cathy was waiting.  I hurried over and got a hug and she said, “YOU KILLED IT!!  Do you want to know your time?”  Of course I did.  She told me…and I started crying.  Not only was it better than I anticipated, it was better than I could have dreamed of doing, given the circumstances.

Our bodies find ways of surprising us.  And I think not having a specific goal or pace I wanted to hit helped.

So, the official results of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon are that I finished in 1:43:53.  I was 3318/20,149 finishers overall.  I was 786/10,556 female finishers.  And I was 132/1706 finishers in my division.  I, honestly, couldn’t have run this any better.  Since the cold weather made me sore from just shivering at the start, I just took this race one step at a time…one mile at a time.  And I LOVED it.  I loved this race.  It was…probably….one of my favorite half marathons I have ever run.  Even in the cold…and the wind…and the suck…it was just…fun.  And I had fun running it.  It was a struggle at times…but I finished it and I felt good at the end.

Afterwards, we hopped the subway back to the hotel where I showered and changed.

Cathy, Me and Marisa after a great evening of celebration at Red Rooster Harlem.

Cathy, Me and Marisa after a great evening of celebration at Red Rooster Harlem.

Cathy and I went to Empire Coffee & Tea House where I got a Pumpkin Spice Latte (dairy free…made with almond milk…and YUMMY!).  Then we ended up hiking around NYC the rest of the day with Cathy and my friend Marisa, who I have known since high school.  We stopped in at bakeries (I bought 3 cookies from By The Way (BTW) Bakery) and a tea shop (where I had the Energitea…an amazing green blend).  We settled in for a bit at the hotel before getting ready to head to dinner at Red Rooster Harlem.  You might recall, Red Rooster is where I celebrated my NYC Marathon finish…so I wanted to go back for this.  And it was amazing.  Once again, the chef created a dish to fit my dietary needs…and I was SO impressed.  I even had dessert.  And fun.  We sat and talked over mint tea and listened to the live jazz music in the bar before calling it a night and making the trek back from Harlem to Midtown.  We said goodbye to Marisa and settled in for the night.

Overall…I’m already ready to come back to NYC…even if I don’t have a race.  There is always so much to see and do.  But…this time…for me…the highlight was getting through the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon…after having to defer it last year.  It was just the boost I needed.