OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon – Indianapolis, IN (May 5, 2018)

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Me crossing the finish line of the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon – Indianapolis, Indiana

Race: OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon

Place: Indianapolis, Indiana

Date: May 5, 2018

Time: 1:44:14

At the beginning of my training season, after Dopey in January and after I got over the flu, my coach asked me, specifically, for some goals this year. I laid out two. And one of them was to PR my half marathon distance, specifically at the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon.

It was in writing. And I was actually starting to finally have a good training cycle, when, one morning, as you read in a previous post (and I swear I will blog about the saga…maybe…perhaps), I fell hard on a training run early one morning. It was a long run I was doing to beat the rain and storms that were supposedly coming. And…it took me out of any sort of strong training for the entire time leading into the KDF miniMarathon.  I kept telling myself that this would actually work out for me in the end.  My body would recover…and I’d be well-rested coming into this race, despite having a half marathon the week before.

Mind you…I took it very easy on KDF.  I barely broke an 8 minute mile when all was said and done.  So, my legs felt good and my foot was finally feeling good…but I haven’t been feeling strong or fast as of late.  Keep in mind, the races I have been doing, I haven’t been doing at pace.  This was supposed to be what makes me able to do this for goal/key races.  So, I assured myself that the missed runs wouldn’t matter.  I was ready.  I could do this.

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Perfect Day-Before-A-Race Breakfast: Gluten Free Avocado Toast & Hash Browns

Friday morning came and I went out for an easy shake-out run for 30 minutes.  Showered.  Then began to prep breakfast for that morning.  Melissa and Paul were coming over (we were all driving up together) and I was going to make us a hearty breakfast to get us through the Panel of Olympians (I won two tickets to it and Melissa and I were going to attend) that morning, the race expo itself, and whatever else we ended up doing afterwards until dinner time.  The menu: Avocado Toast and Hash Browns.  I used Simple Kneads Gluten Free Quinoa Power Grains Bread, smashed ripe avocado on each slice, topped it with some Trader Joe’s Everything But The Bagel Seasoning, then capped each slice with a sunny-side up egg.  Served with some Ore Ida Hash Browns (with onions and peppers).  It was perfect.  We ate.  We drank coffee.  We eagerly discussed the events that day.  And then…we were literally off to the races.

We talked…the entire time heading to the hotel.  We were staying at the JW Marriott (I’m a princess…sorry, not sorry!) and we were going to check in and take things up to the room before heading over to Indiana Convention Center (we could do this via walkway, but why not enjoy the wind that day?) for the Champions Panel that started at 11 am (but they wanted ticket holders in by 10:45 am).

We pulled up to the hotel and while everyone else was unloading the car, I was sent inside to check into the room.  And this friends…is where the tale truly begins.  Because, upon entering the hotel, all wind-blown and looking like a hot mess…I notice someone in a race jacket holding a cup of coffee near one of the pillars at the front of the lobby.  And my brain went…

MEB!!!!!  MEB!!!!

This is where I lost all motor functions for a moment.  I smiled at him and walked toward the line for the front desk check-in.  I pulled out my cell phone to text my group, but I couldn’t get my fingers to hit the right numbers on my unlock screen.  I did finally get there.  I typed a simple message, “HOLY SHIT! MEB!”  And I sent it.  And just as it sent, Cathy came strolling in.  At this point, Meb went to go talk to a group of runners in the lobby and I started pointing at him (his back was to me).  She glanced over, did a shrug, then did a double take.  It was awesome.

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She told me to go ask if I could get a selfie with him.  I’m not shy.  So I did.  I’m surprised I could now find words.  I’m honestly not the type to get star-struck like that…but Meb is a one of my running heroes and I was..honored to be in a hotel lobby with him.  Also, no one informed me that I looked all a mess from strong winds and car ride.  But…hey…at least he looks good in the photos.  I took a selfie and then someone took a picture for me.  Both of which I look like a star-struck fool with really, really bad hair.

Hey…you never know when you’ll met your heroes.

He was so very gracious and generous and never once made me feel like I was inconveniencing him.  And that’s one of the many things I love about Meb.  After the photos in the lobby, Cathy and Paul sent Melissa and I on our way to get to the Champions Panel while they took stuff up to the room.  Paul was on a business call at this point anyway.  So…we braced ourselves for the windy walk to the Indianapolis Convention Center (we could have walked it inside, honestly) and went to get in line for the panel.

We were seated in the second row when doors opened.  And as they brought in the Champions for the Champions Panel…they also introduced the woman who was conducting the panel, Indianapolis’ very own Lindsey Hein, the host of the “I’ll Have Another” podcast…which I am a total fan and listen to every week.  So, I fangirled a little there and hoped to snag a picture with Lindsey afterwards…but we were escorted out of the room quickly and I never got to ask.  Dang it.  NEXT TIME!!

The Champion’s Panel was amazing.  It started off with having us introduced to the Elite Ambassador and Special Olympics athlete, Andrew Peterson.  His story and the way he told it was inspiring and tear inducing.  Seriously.  What an inspiration.  From being told he could never do things…to being the second Special Olympian to qualify for the Boston Marathon…he is nothing but inspiring.  What a way to kick off the panel.  Then…they brought up the rest of them:

Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, Alexi Pappas, and Meb Keflezighi!

Meb, Alexi, Bill, Frank

The stories all of these athletes could tell about mental fitness, experiences in running, etc.  I now have a major girl crush on Alexi for one thing.  She’s a doll.  Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers had tales to tell about the running community and running game back when they were at the top of the game.  And Meb had lots of uplifting and insightful things to say.  Alexi is training with Deana Kastor for her first marathon.  And I’m currently reading Deana Kastor’s book.  Full circle.  Just…love.  This was the way to kick off the weekend for sure.  It was the day before Meb’s birthday, so we all sang Happy Birthday to him.  So that was amazing.

After the panel dismissed the audience, Melissa and I met up with Cathy and Paul, who had already gone shopping through the expo area.  So…now it was our turn.  We went to pick up our bibs and race packets first before setting out to see all of the expo area and try not to spend too much money.  HA!

Actually, because Newton wasn’t there (I really want to try on the Distance VII), I came out of it on the plus side.  Cathy bought me my mandatory Bondi Band’s (this has to happen at every race or bad stuff happens!) and I was told I wasn’t allowed to buy any Finisher’s gear (which means, she got me something).  And with those being the only restrictions, I just set out to see what was there.  This is a great expo. Lots of samples of products, lots of vendors…all very relevant.  Area races were present and promoting.  And, while we paused for bathroom breaks, that was when Corey Queen found us!

He actually started sneaking up on me and got pretty damn close before I saw him and gave him a hug.  He’s a ninja, that one.  The five of us stood around and talked for a good while.  We discussed races and being ambassadors and weather and just life in general.  Seriously, if this weekend proved anything…it’s that the five of us could stand around and talk and not get bored with it.  HA!

When we all finally decided we needed to finish seeing the expo and make Meb’s autograph session before heading to our dinner reservations.  We did traverse the rest of the expo, killing time before standing around near the area the line would be forming for Meb.  Currently Bill Rodgers was at the autograph table.  So, we hung out until the volunteers at the expo came and put up some partitions and had us maneuver inside to wait for Meb.

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Bill Rodgers and Me

Melissa asked me if Bill Rodgers book was worth buying, and I told her definitely.  So she asked if she could get into the back of his line for an autograph.  We had thought of doing this earlier, but Cathy had overheard one of the handlers say that he was just signing books…but the man ahead of Melissa had his Boston Marathon shirt so she looked at me and said, “Do you want Bill Rodgers to sign your medal too?  He’s a four time Boston Marathon champion.” I took my medal from her and went to stand with Melissa.  This worked out because it meant I could take photos with her and Bill and she could return the favor for me.  Bill was awesome.  He recommended to Melissa that she run Chicago Marathon and she told him she was this year.  And he wouldn’t let up on how amazing the crowd support is there and how amazing the race is (everything I have touted all along) and as I was taking their picture, he apparently kept whispering “Chicago. Chicago. Chicago.” in her ear.  HA!  My turn.  I brought him my medal and I told him my Boston story.  When I told him about my hip labrum tear, he said, “That’s a bad injury.  Did you have to have surgery?”  I told him no.  He said, “Lots of physical therapy.”  I nodded.  “So much physical therapy!”  He signed my medal and graciously took  a photo with me and wished me luck in Chicago this year too.  Melissa and I went to duck back into our spots at Meb’s line.

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Meb Keflezighi and Me

Meb arrived and we were seriously near the front of the line.  Meb took his time with people, signing an item for each person.  We sent Paul and Melissa up to him first and it was so amazing to see just the sheer joy in Melissa’s face as she got to talk to Meb and tell him how much he inspired her to run her first race.  He was the best and gave her encouraging words and was so uplifting.  He signed a photo for her and a quote for Paul, and they took pictures with him.  Then…it was my turn.

I knew telling my story to Meb was going to be emotional to me.  So, thankfully I had Cathy on hand to tell him about my path to the Boston Marathon and the injury that I wouldn’t let take me out of it.  She also mentioned the hip labrum tear, and his eyes got wide and he said, “That is a BAAAAAAAAAAAAAD injury.”  He’s not wrong.  It was (and still his and will hopefully forever be…the worst injury I have ever endured).  I laid out my medal and asked him to sign it for me.  He said, “This is the first one I have seen of these today!”  One of the professional photographers took photos as he signed it.  And then we did the stand and smile photo ops.  Honestly, everything you have heard about Meb is true.  He’s very humble and very human and very generous.  And uplifting.  Man, I walked away from that table feeling like I had just met a rockstar.  I had.  I mean…for real.

We needed to drop off our race expo stuff, so we took the walkways back to the hotel.  We dropped things off in the room (Melissa and I hadn’t been here yet) and then set back out to go to the Hard Rock Cafe and then make our way to dinner at Harry & Izzy’s in downtown Indianapolis.

Originally, I thought Cathy and I were going to split one of the gluten-free pizzas.  BUT…she started eyeing other things on the menu.  Pizza has been a good food for me the night before the race, but as I knew I couldn’t eat the entire thing by myself and it would be a waste of money to just eat half of it (I wouldn’t have gotten back to it after the race or anything), I went a very different direction.  I ended up ordering the Oven Roasted Beet Salad (hey…beets are supposedly good for athletic performance), which consisted of artisan greens, local goat cheese (I asked them to go light on the cheese), candied walnuts, and had a tarragon vinaigrette.  And then I placed an order for the gluten free fries on the side.  It was super yummy and I devoured it all.  I mean…you need to be fueled for the race, right?

Afterwards, we walked to the candy store, just for some fun, and then headed back to the hotel to charge Garmin’s, shower, lay out race day stuff, and finally, get some rest.  I had Melissa help me pick between the two outfits I brought, a tank and shorts or a crop and a running skirt.  As the tank and skirt were in Boston colors and my Boston Marathon medal was now autographed by Bill Rodgers and Meb Keflezighi, it seemed like a good omen.

We set alarms for 6 am.  And race morning dawned and alarms went off.  We went with the bathroom circuit that we’ve established since the NYC Half Marathon.  I grabbed my stuff and went to change into my shorts and tank before coming out and allowing the next people to work their way through.  I always use the bathroom one last time before leaving the hotel.  I realized I didn’t eat anything leading up to this…or take in some water.  So…that was that working against me.  I did have a banana, which I ate as we made our way to the lobby, as we were 30 minutes out from the start of the race.  I know better than to JUST eat a banana before a distance race.  A shorter race it would be fine…but not for a half or full marathon.

We got outside and gave hugs to Melissa and Paul.  My corral was in Wave 1, which was going off at 7:33 am.  So, Cathy went to cut across to the other side, and didn’t think that there was openings to the corals on that side (there was), so we hugged and she told me to have a good race.  And….I went to get into Corral B.  I had to pause though, as the National Anthem was starting, so I did that before heading up to the actual corral entrance and ducking inside.  I didn’t move too far up, but I got out of the crowd there at the back.  In fact, I wasn’t far from a guy in a penguin suit.  No joke.  I also noticed a lot of other Corral’s in my corral.  Like a woman who should have been in Corral L.  Okay…

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From my Instagram Stories on race day!

I felt nervous energy as the light breeze kept the start line cool.  The humidity was higher that day than what I was used to running in and the start line was a gorgeous 54 degrees…but it was going to hit the 60s fast that morning.  When Wave 1 was sent off after the wheelchair start, I headed over the start line, waved to Cathy and took on the streets, telling myself that it was going to be a good day.  And for the first mile I felt strong.  And was definitely on pace to hit my PR.  But that didn’t last long.  My endurance is shit these days and immediately, I dropped off that pace and that was the story of my race.  A steady decline and a huge missed opportunity.

Mile 1 was clipped off at a fast 7:10 minute mile.  But they got slower soon after that.  Mile 2 through 4 were steady and still in a good range of where I could be to finish ahead of my goal.  Or so I thought.  I never once looked at my watch or the clocks on the course.  I didn’t want to fuss over time on this race.  I felt strong heading up W Michigan and really thought I was pacing myself well.  But as I turned onto Main Street just around Mile 5, I could hear conversation behind me.  Whenever there is conversation, there is a pace team.  I had no idea which one, until they started pacing me for a brief moment.  It was the 1:40 pacer.  I was way behind my goal and I could feel my energy really fading fast.

“It’s not meant to happen today,” I said to myself, and then just set my next focus on finishing a strong race.  The 1:40 pacer faded and I decided I would at least try to stay ahead of the 1:50 this time.

Heading into the track, the lugs on the bottom of my Newtons picked up a stone, so just after Mile 6, I pulled over to dig it out.  It apparently fell out on its own just as I slowed.  So, I jumped back into the race.  The race track has always been the thing that slows me down.  And it was no exception this year.  I kept telling myself to relax, but the humidity had gotten the best of me and at this point, I was no longer sweating.  You know what that means?  I was now overheating.  I also fuel on half marathons during the time I’m inside the track, where we weren’t allowed to take any sort of gel at the time.  So…I waited it out and made my lap of the track.  I could feel my legs slowing down, and at times just feeling tingly.  Definitely not having a good race.  I didn’t let it dishearten me too much, and I did pick it up for the part where I ran across the brickyard.  Flashing devil horns, as always.  Coming out of the track, I usually am able to pick it up, but my body just had nothing left.  I started making stops at the water stations to pour water over my head.  I took my Hammer Gel, but it was too late at this point.  I was now just focusing on counting down the miles to the finish line.  My training plan said to try to finish ahead of 1:44…it was going to be close.

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Me running as fast as I could at this point to cross the finish line. I was ready to be done.

At Mile 12, I did glance at the course clock.  It was where I should have been heading to the finish.  But this mile does bring in crowds and cheers and the road lined with checkered flags, so my staggering pace started to slightly (not by much) pick up.  I ignored the people handing out the leis and just kept pressing on.  In order to finish, I just needed to focus on getting my legs to move.  I forgot how awful crossing that last bridge felt, but kept going…feeling like I was moving through mud.  As I was in the last quarter mile, I noticed medics near the curb and a young woman laying on the ground.  They were radioing for an ambulance.  I made the final push, seeing the finish line and could see Cathy with the sign near it.  And I powered through, crossing at 1:44 and change.  I missed the goal by seconds that I was supposed to aim for in my training plan.  But I was just glad to be done.  Meb was supposed to leave after finishing to head to Texas for his brother’s wedding, but he was at the finish line for as long as he could be, and he happened to still be there after I crossed.  He gave me a fist bump, and it made me at least smile at a moment when I didn’t really feel like smiling.

I made my way through the finisher’s area, getting my medal and my bag that then had snacks from bananas and fruit to Clif Bars tossed into it.  I got my photo taken at the backdrop and then headed into the Runner Reunion area where the after party was happening.

IMG_6847Normally, this is where Cathy would meet me at the letter X and we would take photos and head back to the hotel so I could shower and all that.  But she wasn’t there.  I had looked for her as I was coming into the area, but never spotted her or the sign.  So, for the next 30-40 minutes, I was wandering around trying to find her, always returning to X, just in case she showed up there.  I was really upset about my race and now this was upsetting me more…but I finally spotted her near the entrance to the runner reunion and came up behind her.  She gave me a hug and my official finishing time – 1:44:14.  I just decided to harp on her about not being at X and she admitted that she “got cocky” and tried to catch me before that point.

We went to take a photo before heading back to the hotel.  I needed to drink water, but I wasn’t ready to.  My stomach wasn’t loving anything at this point.  The lobby of the JW Marriott had employees handing out water bottles (bless them) and cold towels.  It was just what I needed.  I went up to my room and Cathy went to pack up some stuff and make my BCAAs up while I showered and changed.  We were going to check out, leave our luggage, and head down to wait for Corey, Melissa and Paul.

When our friends finished, we gathered together under a shady tree and just…voiced our thoughts that day.  Being that none of us have really had humid or warm days to run in up to this point, we were all glad to have finished and sweat it out.  I know Melissa and I were not happy with our times, and our coach, Linda, called to talk to us about the race.  I don’t know what she said to Melissa, but Linda said she was looking at my splits and I just looked like I got tired.

Told you…endurance is shit right now.  MEH!  I told her I felt good up until Mile 5 and then it just spiraled from there.  I was frustrated and disappointed, but she was very uplifting and positive about it.  Did it make me feel better about it?  Not really.  But the positive affirmations did so much for my mental state at that point.

After Cathy, Corey and Paul shared a beer and a half (they were apparently VERY stingy with the free beers offered at the after party), and we passed the lemon blossoms I baked around…we decided to make our way back to the hotel.  I needed to actually start the recovery process with some nutrition and Paul and Melissa needed to change before we spent the rest of the day in and around Indianapolis.  This was where we found out that the guy who came to take our luggage gave us the wrong tag.  And this is where we all freaked out because my backpack had my Boston Marathon medal in it and Melissa’s wedding rings were in her bag.  But, Cathy went back to find the correct cart and we did have our stuff.  We went separate directions to let them go to the Fitness Center to change and us to get some coffee.  Nutrition after a race is important to recovery and coming back strong.  Sometimes I don’t want to eat anything, but I always make sure I do.

I drank my protein shake and, while it wasn’t what I wanted, it would do for now until we would get dinner.  Melissa got a coffee and Paul got himself coffee and a sandwich of sorts from Starbucks.  We decided to head out…headed to Greenwood for Half Price Books, Strange Brew Coffee…and finally…dinner at Hops & Fire.  After that…the long drive home…where we once again talked the entire way.

So, the official results of the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon is that I finished in 1:44:14.  It was definitely NOT the results I set out for or wanted.  But you never know what will happen on race day.  So, you learn from it.  I was 1304/19,588 finishers overall. I was 224/10,403 female finishers. And I was 50/1438 finishers in my division! I am trying really hard to not let these results bother me.  But I would be sugar-coating it to say that I was okay with this.  I set out for a PR…and I didn’t come close.  And yeah…I’m disappointed.  But this just drives me to step up and try again.  I’ve been chasing PRs for years now.  Eventually one of them is bound to fall.  Disappointed…yes.  Deterred…never.

Onto the next…

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Louisville Half Marathon – Louisville, KY (November 12, 2017)

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Me heading to the finish line of the Louisville Half Marathon – Louisville, KY

Race: Louisville Half Marathon

Place: Louisville, Kentucky

Date: November 12, 2017

Time: 1:44:09
Training has kicked in for sure this week for my January races.  And these days, I’m slowing down my speeds on races and weaving more runs together.  This is imperative.  And I have to be smart about speeds at distances because I am just DONE with the whole hip/body falling apart JUST before races.  Usually just prior to taper, so when the mileage is super high.

So…that is what went down with this race.  I know…I just ran a half marathon last weekend (the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon), which I finally blogged about yesterday!  WOO!  See, I’m getting this done early.  Good for me! *pats self on back*

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that this week I took two full days off in the middle of the week (Tues & Wed), and then had short runs through to the weekend.  Yesterday, I ran half of my distance by myself and then met up with some amazing ladies to do the Thanksgiving course with them (they have never run it) to finish up the rest of my distance.  Damn, I love running with people.  Maybe that’s why I love racing so much.

Today I was supposed to run/walk this half marathon (which I signed up for last week, no joke) as part of my training, with my training partner, Matthew.  But he had some family come through unexpectedly and texted me last night to let me know.  It was just me today and I had to decide on my run plan.  Since I really took it easy yesterday, I made an agreement with myself to walk the hills and water stops at this race instead of doing the 4 minutes running/30 seconds walking I was originally going to do.  Since this is held in The Parklands, I knew there would be hills.  BIG hills at times.  SO…this was a good compromise with myself now that I had no one to reign me in with standard 4/30 intervals for a run/walk.

Packet pick-up was a MESS!  Seriously.  It was held at our local Fleet Feet in Louisville, but, the new location has very limited parking spots and the race organizers were setting packet pickup for 5 hours only…on Saturday.  Whew.  So, I arrived when the store opened and was told I needed to come back at 1 pm.  *sigh* There was also race day packet pick-up, but I like being able to pin up and be ready on race day and not have to get there even earlier and concern myself with more lines and people and waiting.  Especially when the weather is cold.

It was 20 degrees warmer than my 10 mile run yesterday…but it didn’t feel like it.  HA!

Anyway…I went back at 1 pm. and got my bib and my shirt.  It was a madhouse.  I signed a waiver thingy…had to go up and tell people my bib number.  There was nothing on it with my name, so then I started to second-guess myself on that.  MEH!  I double checked on my phone and I did have the correct bib.  I just hate not having the security of my name being on the big itself…somewhere.

I spent the rest of the day grocery shopping and making homemade nut butter.  I do that.  HA!  OH…and I swung by Annie May’s Sweet Cafe to place my Thanksgiving order and buy something to eat post-race (the pumpkin coffee cake was the winning selection!).  Sorry, race organizers…I can’t have your Derby Pie at the finish, or beer, or granola bars.  I mean…what race doesn’t have bananas??!!  So…that happened.  I made sure I recovered well from my 10 miles that day so I would be good to go for 13.1.  This meant, I did finally get in some stretching.  And then, my feet were up and I was on the couch, watching the new Spider-Man: Homecoming on blu-ray.  Thanks, Redbox!!

Went to bed later than anticipated (I was up at 3:30 am to do my Saturday run and now I was going to have to do the same to get to the shuttle area and to the start without being too crunched for time)…but slept pretty well.  I was probably just overly tired because I was fussing about the time my roommate was going to get up so she could eat breakfast and get ready without feeling rushed.  And she is the worst about getting to races for parking.  We were parking at Papa John’s headquarters and being shuttled and she still was stressing over that. But not as much as parking in a muddy field.

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I chose my outfit today because I wanted to wear my Pink Argyle Pro Compression socks, LOL!  Good morning!

We were out the door in time to not be stressed for sure.  I had my pre-workout mix with me and a Pamela’s Products Gluten Free Big Fig Bar to eat before the race.  That was new for pre-race.  But as I wasn’t running this race for time…I figured…why not try something new. I had the Pamela’s Products Gluten Free Matcha Happiness Ambition Bar before Monumental and that was new too!  Whatever!  I needed something to start off my race with some fuel in the tank.  And I, myself, failed on the banana front for the second race day in a row.  I think it’s time to get back into the banana habit.

I took a short power nap on the way to the shuttle buses and happily toted my blanket from the car with me to the bus and the race start.  It was chilly, and while I was wearing my longer compression shorts, I knew I was going to be cold. I am ALWAYS cold.  Getting on a bus to the start line was super easy.  The return trip…is going to come at the end of this post.  Wait for it!  It might be in the form of a rant.

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The blanket that kept me warm-ish prior to the race.

But I’m getting ahead of myself!  GAH!  So much running around in my head.

Okay…the announcer at the start/finish line was actually really perky and excitable.  But he did keep using the same jokes over and over again.  It was definitely too cold for the runners to be all excited at the start line, and he kept trying to get us to shout.  At one point, I let out a loud “WOOOO!” and he said, “ONE PERSON…ONE PERSON IS EXCIED.”  HAHA!  Honestly, I was miserable because I had to give up my hoodie and really didn’t want to.  But, we all started to crowd into the start corrals, which had tiny little areas for paces.  No one really wanted to go up front…but there were some who honestly did belong to be up there and proudly went up to take their spots.  There were also some overly-ambitious sorts too.  HAHA!  But I took up my spot around the 9 min milers at first and then was shuttled forward as the race neared the start time.  They played the national anthem (we had NO flag in sight), and then…with a countdown from 10…we were off.

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Cathy trying to get me to give up my hoodie and me resisting…and saying, “I’ve been lifting weights, I’m STRONG now!”

Now…I knew how tough the first 2 miles of this race would be because it was the same route as the Great Pumpkin 10K.  I knew there would be ONE SUPER BIG HILL within the first 2 miles.  I left the start area feeling good and loving not having any sort of time goal for this run.  I just wanted to run it smart and get to the finish line.  The first hill I ran up, but knew that the next one would be done at a walk because it would be STEEP!  Totally didn’t care that I tossed up a hand to indicate my intention to walk and went up the hill that way.  Of course, after doing that, it was difficult to get back into my stride…but I fell back into eventually.  The first water stop, I didn’t walk.  I had just finished climbing an evil hill.  MEH.  I kept going.  Just before Mile 3, the turn-around for the 10K was happening.  Most of the people ahead of me were turning around, but I was continuing on straight.  This did open up the course a lot more, which was nice.  I crossed over the timing pad for the 5K at 23:42.  I can’t complain with that.  I walked a monster hill, which also meant I conserved a bit of energy for the rest of the race as well.  Miles 3 through the turn-around point were pretty much a steady downhill, with a few small inclines thrown in.  Mile 4 was Pope Lick Park where I train a lot with my training partner, so I loved being familiar with the twists, turns, and terrain there.  The hills aren’t bad through there and I figured out exactly where we would be turning around.

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Me cruising out of the start line at the Louisville Marathon/Half Marathon/10K – Louisville, KY

There was a water stop at Mile 4, but one of the pace groups was right behind me so I had to wait for them to pass before tossing up my hand to alert anyone else of my walk break.  I took in some water and a bit of my Nuun Performance, then picked it back up again.  The turn around was tight, but manageable.  I hate hairpin turns in races, but when you are running an out-and-back race…it’s going to happen.

After turning around, the fun began.  I actually caught up to a woman I had been talking to at the start of the race.  We were just started talking and she mentioned she was from Minnesota.  I told her that I was born in Minnesota.  She asked where, and I told her Bloomington.  Turns out she was a teacher in Bloomington for 34 years.  I never went to school in Minnesota though…we moved to New York before I turned 4.  But that was really cool.  Her racing season is usually over by now and she goes into cross country skiing (how Minnesotan…my Grandpa did the same thing when he was a runner), but she came down for this one.  That’s pretty cool.  I was set for some fuel, so I let her go on ahead and I fell back to take in more Nuun Performance. Short break…back to it.

Out and backs are awesome because I can see friends of mine on the course.  And I tried to say “HI” to as many as I could.  I saw Nikky, Katie, and a few others that I know through Instagram and smaller races.  And I got an amazing high five from my friend Melissa, who was pacing the 6 hour group for the marathon.  That was just what I needed.  I knew a crazy bunch of hill climbing was coming.  And that basically started around Mile 9 and lasted through around just before Mile 11.  BIG shout-out to my friend Kathryn who cheered for me when I came through the race initially and then on my way back through.  It was fantastic to get the shout-out on the course. Really lifts you up.

I was actually concerned as I was coming back as the mile markers were a little off from my watch beeps, but as I started down the steep hill that I had walked up near the start of the race, my Mile 11 beep came just as I passed the sign.  All was right in the distance world.  With 2 miles left, I just did what I could to get there.  My legs were tired, sure.  Even walking hills takes a lot out of you.  Just not as much.  I started to catch up to people, which was nice.  And as Mile 12 ticked by, I was ready to get to that finish line.  There was one last hill to go up before making the turn to round out to the finish line.  I decided not to walk it, but my pace slowed.  This nice man in front of me, who had commented about me not liking hills when I was walking the bigger ones between miles 9 and 11 (and I explained I was coming back from injury and just not going to blow it all on a hill), waved at me and said, “Come on!  We got this.  Let’s do this one together.”  It was just what I needed.  Up and over and down.  From there…it was just a matter of making the turn and taking the road around to that finish chute.

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Me having to, literally, squeak past the couple finishing their 10K walk while holding hands.

Some of the 10K walkers were still coming in at this point, and there was a couple right at the finish line as I was running in.  They were holding hands and pretty much taking up the entire finish area.  I squeezed past, which was fine, but it also meant they blocked the finisher photo that Cathy was trying to take.

I ran into Paul and Michelle (I met Paul through the KDF Ambassador Team last year and Michelle is gluten-free like me) just after finishing.  Results weren’t posted yet for the half, so we were just sort of hanging out.  Cathy was checking the phone for finishing results and told me that I had “unofficially” placed in my age division.  Heck yeah!  So did Paul, for that matter!!  It was cold, so I pulled my blanket out of the backpack Cathy had and wrapped it around me.  It wasn’t enough. I was sweaty and the wind had picked up.  No Mylar blankets at the finish…no banana…meh.  I was over it.

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Finisher of the Louisville Half Marathon!

The official results finally were posted, and officially both Paul and I placed.  YAY!  But now we had to wait for the official results to be given to the age group award holders…which involved a lot more waiting. I was cold and hungry now.  But…I’m glad I waited.  Once I saw the papers handed off, I went right up there and…yep…there I was.  Number 3 in my age division.  BOOM!

Paul and I both obtained our age group awards and we went to take some photos.  Afterwards, we parted ways.  They were heading back to their car and I was on my way to meet the shuttle bus.  We were told by people there that the shuttles were picking up at the dog walk park. So, we hiked that way.  There were people standing there, so we joined in, after double-checking with the kid who was the volunteer there to be sure we were in the right spot.  He said the buses had just left and would be back soon.  After 10 minutes, a bus came into view.  Full.  And kept driving.  And then, another 10 minutes later, the same thing happened.  One of the ladies who had been standing there before then, flagged down that bus driver and asked about where the buses were picking up people.  He said they were told to go to the finish area.

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Me with my finisher’s medal and my age group award medal at the Louisville Half Marathon – Louisville, KY

Now we were all pissed as we were told to come here and had been freezing waiting on a bus.  He called back to the finish and said a bus was coming for us.  Thank God.  After a total of about 30 minutes, we were on a warm bus and making our way back to Papa John’s headquarters and the car.

I was extremely tired and hungry.  The plan had been to go home and do breakfast, but the whole return to the car took longer than expected. It was almost 11:30…so Cathy decided we would go back to North End Cafe today and have brunch. Good call. We had a 30 minute wait, but we already knew what we were ordering.  Coffee…and the potato melt (minus the cheese and sour cream for me).  Food and coffee hit the table and then were used as recovery as we both devoured our food.  Coffee…they gave us some to go on our way out if that tells you anything.  HA!

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Unexpected breakfast at North End Cafe with protein, carbs, and COFFEE!!

So…the official results of the Louisville Half Marathon are that I finished in 1:44:09…walking the steep hills and the water stops.  Hell yeah!  I was 59/749 finishers overall.  I was the 12/420 female finishers.  And I was 3/76 in my age division.  Once again, taking smart and planned walk breaks.  It’s all about staying injury free right now.  I’ll focus on time again when this body is really ready and fit to race.

For a first-year race…not bad.  But they really need to work a bit on the after-race situation with shuttles, when shuttle use is being encouraged.  Having runners stand out in the cold that long after a run is not good for anyone involved.  Especially runners.  Hypothermia is real, friends.  Thankfully, it all worked out in the end.  Also, I would like bib’s to have some sort of deciphering quality as to which race is being run.  There was a mass start for a 10K, Half Marathon, and Marathon this morning and no real way to tell who was running which race.  ALSO…I wish the medals were different.  The finisher’s medal was for all three races, with no separate ones for the 10K, Half and Full.  Which…I guess saves money, but having one for your distance is way nicer.

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Me with Paul & Michelle at the finish line!

Quick Thoughts From the Week

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

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

MEH.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

I love getting chefy.

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

Product Review: Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes

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Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes

Product: Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes – $3.99+

Sometimes, I don’t remember why I pick things out to try…they just sort of intrigue me at the time when I am at the grocery store.  It happens.  And while I have been steering mostly clear of packaged and processed foods, sometimes you just have to give in and try something that calls to you.

And that is apparently what happened when I snagged a box of Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes.  Let me tell you…the box makes these things look amazing.  Like little broccoli hashbrowns.  Or…broccoli and potato latkes.

I love potato pancakes (latkes)…and I love broccoli.  So this was basically Dr. Praeger’s brilliantly meshing the two of them together.  BRILLIANT!!

Dr. Praeger’s is a multi-generation, family-owned food company founded by two heart surgeons.  The company is committed to encouraging a more sensible and healthier way of eating.  Everything created by Dr. Praeger’s begins with their no-compromise recipes that help support an active lifestyle.  Every ingredient that goes into each and every Dr. Praeger’s product is pronounceable and recognizable.  You know how I love that!

As I stated above, I LOVE Broccoli!  Like…LOVE IT!  Always have.  Always will.

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So, imagine my elation when I spotted this little box in the freeze section of one of the many grocery stores I frequent.  I don’t know why I felt the need to snatch it up and try it…but it was like…meant to be.  Because it was BROCCOLI…and…

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…POTATO!

I’m Irish.  Potatoes and I are BFFs.  Like…for real BFFs.  I eat at least…at least two potatoes a week, but usually more.  No joke.

The box of Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes describes these little treats as a savory blend of broccoli, potatoes and onions.  There are six (6) cakes in each box, making it easy to decide whether you want to eat these as a snack, a side, or as a meal.

For me…MEAL!

Oh yes…meal time.

It was actually a Friday afternoon where these were pulled out of my freezer.  I had a half day at the office and was going to head into Louisville to get my grocery shopping done early so that I could go pick blueberries Saturday afternoon instead of running around and grocery shopping then.  So, I wanted something that was easy to make, not too big (as I was cooking up Gluten Free & Vegan BLT Sammies…with a side of guac and blue tortilla chips.  So, an easy, fast, and filling lunch was what I was looking to make for my roommate and I before we hit the numerous grocery stores.  Because otherwise we are a bit like this with any samples at said grocery/natural food stores.

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The Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes are really easy to prepare.  Each round cake is individually wrapped, so, again, you can pick how many you make.  The serving size is two (2) cakes, but as this was lunch, I made up all 6, so each of us could have three (3) each.  The preferred method for cooking these is the one I used…preheating the oven to 450°F and putting the cakes on an ungreased baking pan.  The cakes go into the oven for about 5-7 minutes until browned.  Then, you carefully flip them over, cook for another 4-6 minutes, until heated through and browned.  You can also cook these in a skillet or in the microwave, but the oven baked these up to perfection.

They honestly looked like little broccoli hashbrowns.  Which is fine.  Because hashbrowns are one of life’s best foods to ever be invented, created, and consumed.  They smelled fantastic.  And I ended up topping them off with a drizzle of a vegan lemon cream sauce that I had made earlier that week for another dish.  Lunch was served…and it took less than 20 minutes.  LOVE it.

First of all, the oven technique really does cook up the Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes to a crispy perfection, all without the use of butter or oil.  And as I’m trying to cut back on some of that…that was a big thing with me.  I was afraid they would be mushy and soft, but they totally crisped up on the outside, getting that gorgeous golden color and crunchy texture.  The inside…warm…soft…and perfect.  You get a lot of broccoli flavor in each bite, but you get potato and onion and whatever spices are blended into the mix.  It was delicious.  I was beyond surprised.  I had one without the sauce, and it was fantastic.  They have the same consistency as a latke or potato pancake…but the flavor is more complex with the addition of the broccoli.  I loved these.  So simple…yet so delicious!

So, let’s take a look at the ingredients that go into the Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes.  These amazing cakes of green goodness are made from broccoli, potatoes, onion, expeller pressed canola oil, oat bran, potato flakes, egg whites, arrowroot powder, sea salt, garlic, and black pepper.  The Broccoli Cakes are gluten-free, kosher, and non-GMO.

As far as nutrition goes, with ingredients like that, you will love the nutritional info in the Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes.  A serving size is two (2) of the cakes and their are 3 servings (or 6 individually wrapped cakes) per box.  This serving will provide you with 130 calories, 6 grams fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 250 mg sodium, 16 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 2 grams sugars, and 4 grams protein.  Believe it or not, these are quite filling…because the sampling snack monsters were kept at bay.

Dr. Praeger’s as a remarkable line of gluten-free and vegetarian offerings in their product line-up.  Not everything they make is gluten-free and vegetarian though, so read the boxes.  They label everything, so you will know just by looking at the box.  I have never had a Dr. Praeger’s product that I haven’t loved…and I think lots of that is that they really do strive to use real ingredients and real foods in each and every one of their products.  If you haven’t tried the Dr. Praeger’s Gluten Free Broccoli Cakes yet…go to wherever Dr. Praeger’s items are sold near you…and grab a box.  Trust me…you will not be disappointed.

Restaurant Review: Hops & Fire: Craft Tap House

Hops & Fire: Craft Tap House, Greenwood, Indiana

Hops & Fire: Craft Tap House, Greenwood, Indiana

Restaurant: Hops & Fire: Craft Tap House, Greenwood, Indiana

Normally, whenever I venture up to Indianapolis for an event, race, or whatnot, my one requirement is a stop at Cheeseburger in Paradise…because I can get a gluten-free veggie burger with gluten-free fries (or sweet potato fries)…and the burger custom made (no cheese; no sour cream) to fit my dietary needs.  This is awesome, as any frozen burger patty, or even homemade burger, tend to be a bit mushy and end up slipping out of any sort of gluten-free bread used as a bun (be it an actual gluten-free bun or just some gluten-free bread).  Cheeseburger in Paradise doesn’t have that problem…and it’s nice to be able to safely eat a veggie burger (so many use breadcrumbs as binder) out at a restaurant AND not have to eat it with a fork and knife (meaning…they have a gluten-free bun and I can pick it up).

Needless to say, I ran two half marathons, two weeks apart up in Indianapolis.  After the first one (OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini Marathon), I did hit up Cheeseburger in Paradise.  But two weeks later, I wasn’t ready to revisit Paradise.  I just had it.  My craving had been satisfied.

That being said, when I returned to the Indianapolis to run the Geist Half Marathon, I wanted to try something different.  Step out of the comfort zone…try something new.

I had been hearing some buzz around a place located in Greenwood, Indiana, by a bunch of my friends up in that area.  It was a craft beer tap house called Hops & Fire.  And what was pointed out more than once was that when you step inside to be seated, the hostess will ask if you require any special menus.  In addition to their regular menu, they have extensive vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free menus.  I told her I was a gluten-free vegetarian and she grabbed both of those menus and a regular one for Cathy and told me that the menus don’t often cross over each other, but anything on either menu can be made gluten-free, vegan, or vegetarian.  She took us to our table and we were seated.

Our waiter was totally adorable and came over to introduce himself.  His name was Kyle and he asked how we were doing.  Cathy pointed at me and said, “Well, she just ran a half marathon…”  He raised his eyebrows and said, “So I’m guessing you want water.”  HA!  He was so right.  Cathy had thought about trying one of their craft selections, but in the end started with the water.

Two menus and having so many options was a bit overwhelming to me.  The only thing I knew I wanted to try was Gluten Free 3-Cheese Garlic Bread.  I bought Lactaid specifically for this meal.  No joke.  We went ahead and mentioned that we wanted that as an appetizer and Kyle said he’d put that in while we finished making our decisions on what to eat, as it was the appetizer that took the longest to prepare.  While he was gone, I started to narrow down my choices, getting it down to three options.  After a little back and forth and pros and cons, I went for the one that didn’t contain cheese…as I was certain I was about to consume more cheese than my body was going to like momentarily.

Kyle returned to take our order, and as usual, as I’m the complicated one, I ordered first.  I went with the Gluten Free California Wrap…keeping the House Chips as a side.  Cathy went with the Stout Pork Belly BLT, which was served with a side of their Parmesan House Chips.  Orders were in…after Kyle had to go and figure out how to combine two menus to make a dish.  Poor guy!

Hops & Fire Gluten Free 3-Cheese Garlic Bread

Hops & Fire Gluten Free 3-Cheese Garlic Bread

Only a few moments late, a large plate was being carried to our table and put in front of us.  Clearly, when I saw the fact that I could get Gluten Free 3-Cheese Garlic Bread…I didn’t read the description.  This plate and appetizer was HUGE.  Definitely enough for 4-8 people.  Hops & Fire Gluten Free 3-Cheese Garlic Bread ($9.00), is a full gluten-free baguette, which is drenched in roasted garlic and salted butter, served with a gooey, melted blanket of shallots and chives, which are smothered in Provolone, Mozzarella, and Romano cheeses.  This is then baked so that the top of the cheese gets golden and everything is melty and ooey-gooey.  It comes with a side of marinara.  I took my Lactaid and hoped for the best (sometimes it helps; other times, it doesn’t).  I grabbed the slice on the end and pulled it away, the cheese stretching and making me…so happy.  I cut it up, dipped a piece into the marinara…and immediately lost my mind.  If you go to Hops & Fire, this is their signature appetizer and it is not to be missed.  The gluten-free baguette was crispy on the outside and that perfect toasty, but still soft on the inside.  The cheese was melted to perfection.  The garlic was superb.  Yeah…this made me SO happy.  And, for the record, the Lactaid worked…this time.  Thank goodness!  This was A LOT of food, so Cathy and I said we’d eat half of it and get a box and take the rest of it home.  That’s what we did as our food arrived.  We boxed it up…and it was lunch the next day.

Hops & Fire Stout Pork Belly BLT with a side of Parmesan House Chips

Hops & Fire Stout Pork Belly BLT with a side of Parmesan House Chips

So, let’s start with Cathy’s lunch, shall we?  My om-nom-nomnivore (haha) friend loves to eat pig in any form she can.  This is no joke.  She loves her pork products.  So it was no surprise to me that she chose the Hops & Fire Stout Pork Belly BLT ($12.00) off of their Brewed Baskets selections on the regular menu.  It came with a decent serving of their Parmesan House Chips on the side.  This sandwich is not your typical BLT.  Hops & Fire serves up a stout beer and kosher salt-brined local pork belly, which is seared, roasted, sliced thin, and pan fried, then topped with baby bibb lettuce, beefsteak tomatoes, and homemade apricot onion jam…served on their grilled garlic shallot bread.  Here’s the thing…they do NOT skimp on the pork belly bacon in this BLT.  Not one bit.  You’ll see by the photo I’m putting up here for those of you who are not a gluten-free vegetarian like me.  I mean…it was BACON. FOR. DAYS.  She had more bacon than Parmesan House Chips.  And that’s not a bad thing, as the protein is, honestly, what you are shelling out money for.  She said the garlic shallot bread was amazing (we Celiacs will never know…).  She said it could have used a slight bit more mayo…but it was awesome.  And yes…she devoured it all and the chips.  Carnivores.  Oy!

Hops & Fire Gluten Free California Wrap with a mountain of House Chips

Hops & Fire Gluten Free California Wrap with a side of House Chips

As for me…I went ahead and combined an offering on the Vegetarian Menu and asked that it be made gluten-free.  I opted for the Gluten Free California Wrap ($12.00)…mostly because it didn’t have cheese and avocado always wins.  The California Wrap is a gluten-free tortilla that is stuffed and rolled up around fresh sliced avocado, beefsteak tomato, bibb lettuce, pickled onions, and a roasted garlic aioli. OH MY GLUTEN FREE GODS!!  This was a simple, basic, wrap, but it tasted amazing to me.  Maybe it was because I had just pounded out 13.1 miles and was living off of watermelon and water at that point, but this wrap was great.  Gluten-free tortillas are nothing to write home about, and I’m pretty certain this was the standard gluten-free teff tortilla.  But it just serves as a way for me to pick up and devour the veggie-licious produce that was stuffed and rolled up inside.  The aioli, by the way, was delicious.  The avocado was ripe and sweet.  The tomatoes…so good.  I loved every bite of this wrap.  It came with a mountain…no…a landslide of their House Chips, which I couldn’t even finish.  Where Cathy had a decent side of hers, the chips serving was bigger than my wrap…so…I ate what I wanted and left the rest.

Hops & Fire Gluten Free and Vegan Ice Cream Sundae

Hops & Fire Gluten Free and Vegan Ice Cream Sundae

We were full, but we couldn’t end our experience there.  Kyle tempted us with a dessert menu, pointing out that those marked with a gf were gluten free and also the codes for vegan and vegetarian as well.  We were very tempted to get one of the Desserts For Two (yeah…we so wanted the Gluten Free and Vegan S’mores Cast Iron Cake), but in the end, decided we were too full for that and went with splitting a single serving of the Vegan Ice Cream Sundae ($5.00).  This was a small bowl (thank goodness) that had a scoop of vegan ice cream, drizzled lightly with hot fudge.  It was perfect and a great way to end the meal.  It was amazing.  The ice cream was not as creamy as regular ice cream, but it was cold and melty and amazing.  And the hot fudge…that’s always a welcome addition to anything ice cream-ish.

Kyle brought us our check once we had polished it off and we paid in cash and got our things together to go.  We talked about the food for a bit of the drive home…and how amazing and good it was.  I was beyond happy with the service and the attention paid to each dish that was ordered, making sure that it fit my dietary needs…nothing that made me take pause and question whether it was safe for me to eat or not.

I’m already planning my return to Hops & Fire.  So, if you happen to be in the Indianapolis area, or traveling through, do make the trip to Greenwood and check out this amazing and delicious place.  You have a specialty diet…they have you covered.  And I love it.

Next time…gluten-free onion rings.  It’s happening!

Restaurant Review: Toasted, Orlando, Florida

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Toasted, Orlando, Florida

Restaurant: Toasted, Orlando, Florida

Sometimes I find food places to try in the most peculiar and unexpected places.  As I was prepping to head out to Orlando, I was sitting on my couch at home, scrolling through my Instagram feed…when I spotted an amazing looking photo on #NationalGrilledCheeseDay from someone that I follow on there.

And it just happened to be in Orlando.

And it also just happened to feature grilled cheese and…FRIES.

Fries.  I rarely get to eat fries when I go out to eat.  And it’s potato.  And potato is one of my favorite things in life.  So, naturally, I had to check them out.

The place was called Toasted.  And I suddenly needed to know more…like…was there more than just gluten free fries that I could eat there?  Like…did they have…vegan cheese??!!  Was it possible??!!

I went to Toasted’s Web site..and lo and behold…they had a regular menu, a vegan menu, and a gluten free menu…and they were all interchangeable.  They even have a gluten-free vegan burger if I wanted to do burger rather than sandwich.  And as tempting as a burger was…GRILLED CHEESE!  Hello!!

I was handed the gluten free menu first and was looking it over…and when I asked about vegan options, I was handed that menu as well.  And the first thing that caught my eye was a sandwich that involved all the spicy goodness that I love.  Sriracha, jalapeno, and then…random tomatoes.  Mmmm.  That was easy.

So, my traveling brigade and I decided to get our orders in because we had been on the go pretty much all day (since downing bagels from Erin McKenna’s at Disney Springs around 10 am.

Jenn ordered the Truffle Melt ($6.25), which is a sammie made from Havarti, truffle oil, arugula, and fresh ground pepper.  Mmmm…cheese-y goodness.  She got the Truffle Fries ($2.50) as her side.

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The As Gouda As It Gets with Rosemary Truffle Fries from Toasted, Orlando, Florida

Cathy ordered the As Gouda As It Gets ($6.75), which is a sammie made with Smoked Gouda, pulled chicken, roasted red peppers, and garlic spinach.  She also got the Truffle Fries ($2.50) as her side.

As for me…as I said…I saw some spicy goodness listed on the vegan menu.  So, I ordered the Vegan Fireball ($5.75) done Gluten Free (+1.25).  This was gluten free bread with Housemade Vegan Cheese with jalapeno, sriracha, and tomato.  And I went for broke and ordered the Vegan Truffle Cheese Fries ($3.50)…which was a happy accident, as I really just wanted the Truffle Fries.  Oh well.

We were given one of the signs, which contained a code from their Periodic Table of Cheese.  We had Gr (Gruyere).  It was a short weight…long enough to listen to a woman having a loud conversation on her cell phone and discuss how excited we were about dinner.  Maybe about 10 minutes later, our food arrived.  This was when I realized I had somehow got the Vegan Truffle Cheese Fries.  Like I said…happy accident.  I was ready to dive in.  I needed to slice my sandwich in half and it made for a gooey (yes…GOOEY VEGAN CHEESE!) sandwich mess.  And I loved it.  Usually vegan cheese doesn’t melt to the point of epic gooeyness.  This one…this one did!  God bless amazing housemade vegan cheese.

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The Gluten Free Vegan Fireball Sandwich with Vegan Truffle Cheese Fries from Toasted, Orlando, Florida

One bite…and I no longer want Tom + Chee or….well…that’s really the only place I’ve been able to have a gluten free and vegan grilled cheese.  And they don’t get gooey runny vegan cheese in theirs.  THIS WAS LIFE CHANGING!!  I loved that it was spicy, without being too spicy.  It had a nice balance with the warm, melty, messy cheese (YAY!), the jalapeno slices, the cooling tomato, and just the right hit of sriracha.  SO good.  I was seriously dredging the crusts of the bread through the cheese puddle on my plate.  And the fries…oh…those were good.  I was sort of disappointed at first because I’m such a huge fan of ketchup, but the vegan cheese was delicious with the truffle and rosemary flavors.  The only downside…was when the cheese got a bit cool.  Nevertheless, despite saying I wouldn’t be able to eat them all…I did.  Happily.

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Look at the GOOEY vegan cheese in the Gluten Free Vegan Fireball from Toasted, Orlando, Florida

Cathy loved the fries…and thought they were amazing.  She liked her sandwich, but despite being a fan of Gouda, she felt the sandwich needed a stronger cheese to pair with the boldness of the garlic spinach.  But she LOVED it. She also stole some of my Vegan Truffle Cheese Fries and thought the vegan cheese was awesome.  Nice smokey flavor.

Jenn gives two thumbs up to her sandwich and fries.  Wouldn’t change a thing.  We all just hoovered and loved every moment of our culinary sandwich and fries.

Yeah…Toasted is just that good.  It’s simple, easy, but crafted and amazing grilled cheese sandwiches.  If you aren’t into sandwiches (and if not…what is wrong with you) they have burger options (also available gluten-free and vegan), salads, amazing side dishes, and even a kids menu.

If you are going through Orlando, Florida…not doing the whole Disney thing where you pretty much just stay on Disney property and don’t leave until you are forced to go to the airport…check out Toasted!  They have two locations in Orlando – Winter Park and Lake Nona.

Seriously, I’d go back to eat here in a heartbeat.  When you give me one of my favorite comfort foods and do it up beyond my expectations…you have my full and undivided attention.  Toasted…thank you!  I am one happy gluten-free, dairy-free girl!

Product Review: Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo)

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Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpeas & Sweet Potato Picadillo)

Product: Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo) – $4.99+

I love discovering products I might have not seen, might be new, or just may not have noticed in the past when I go grocery shopping.  Such is the tale of me and a line of frozen entrees by the company Buen Sabor.

Whole Foods.  Freezer section.  At least, that was the beginning of this tale for me.  Grocery shopping on a budget isn’t easy…but sometimes you just have to make exceptions to the budget rule.  Especially when you have events to be at every Tuesday evening (running event) by 6 p.m.  I don’t like to turn up late, because then I feel like I need to try to catch up to everyone, and with the current day-to-day status of the injured hip…I just don’t like to take risks.

Taking risks with food that fits into my kind of restrictive diet…that is sometimes worth splurging on and taking a risk.

So, yes…Buen Sabor.

Buen Sabor was created by Sarah, who grew up on an organic farm in Maine.  With the help of her mother, she used to cure, can, freeze, and dehydrate almost everything they ate.  The family freezer became an invaluable asset to a busy family that wanted to enjoy humble foods that tasted great.  When Sarah became a new mom in 2008, she delved into the quest to solve the “busy persons” food dilemma once again.  And, with all that she learned growing up on the farm, she harnessed that knowledge and started Buen Sabor.  The team at Buen Sabor is passionate about offering simple, crave-worthy foods that…yes…come from the freezer.

In fact, Buen Sabor actually wants you to become a “freezer believer.”  One thing freezer meals have going for it is convenience.  But another thing is…given the right ingredients…they can actually be a clean eat.  Buen Sabor is deeply committed to creating the best possible (and super convenient) food.  All of the sauces are made from scratch, their vegetables are picked and cooked at the height of their freshness, and the proteins are cooked just right and then frozen immediately to preserve the dishes most naturally.  Don’t knock delicious frozen meals…simply put, freezing food is nature’s pause button…it is, literally, the most natural preservative there is.  Frozen foods are nutritious, have real nutritional value, are convenient, and naturally preserves foods.

Buen Sabor aims to build a business that creates as many happy customers possible, who are able to spend more time doing the things they love.  They want their products to exceed all expectations as far as quality, focusing on freshness, flavor, and nutritional value.

But do they achieve this?

Well, I picked up one of their vegan and gluten-free meals at Whole Foods that afternoon, to keep in my freezer for those rushed, hurried, “I need to go run hill repeats” Tuesday nights.  Leave work, rush home, eat, change, out the door to drive over the river to meet with a group who simply…runs up a hill…jogs down…repeats it for some set amount of time.  It means Tuesdays are rather stressful and rushed.  So I grabbed the Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo) for me and my roomie opted for one of the meaty dishes…the Arroz Con Queso Y Trocitos De Chorizo (Savory Chorizo-Seasoned Rice With Cheese).

Super easy to warm up.  I made Cathy’s first, simply by cutting a slit into the plastic on top of the tray and warming it up for 5 minutes.  It sits for 1 minute and then…ready to eat.  It doesn’t LOOK amazing like it does on the box…but it smelled good.  And when Cathy ate it, she said it was good…for a frozen meal.

Okay…

So, needless to say, I wasn’t feeling too optimistic about the Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo).  Just like with the meaty one, the vegan one also had the plastic film sliced through to allow everything to steam.  Into the microwave for about 4-5 minutes.  I let it go for 5, because I have an old microwave.  Peel back the film and stir, letting it stand for one minute.

And…much like Cathy’s…upon taking it out of the microwave and pulling back the plastic, the meal really doesn’t look appetizing.  It looks…like a frozen microwave meal.  The picture on the box is GORGEOUS…but this is just sort of…one tone…one note…brownish.  LOL!  Over rice.  That being said, once I stirred it up, it looked…slightly more appetizing.

Looks aside, I decided it was time to test the frozen meal waters myself.  And, you know what?  I was actually really surprised.  I mean, packed with flavors.  Just loaded with a hint of spice, fresh vegetables, and rice that ended up cooking to perfection.  I was expecting something bland, perhaps tasting as unappetizing as it looked.  But I was blown away by the flavors.  The chickpeas and potato reheated gorgeously.  Nothing got mushy  And I love that quinoa is included for a bit more of a protein boost.  Picadillo translates into “little (savory-yummy) chopped things.  And the aim of Buen Sabor with the Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpea & Sweet Potato Picadillo) was to deliver “a delightful dance of flavors with roots in the Caribbean and Spain.”  I might have devoured mine long before Cathy (who had a headstart on hers) finished hers.  A little spicy, but I have an iron stomach for the most part, and I knew this wouldn’t bother me while running hard up some hills in a local park.  SO tasty.  So good.  And really good for you too!  I loved the spice and the bit of heat that each bite brought.  And I love that brown rice is used instead of white.  YES!!  This company is speaking my language.  None of the vegetables were mushy or soft.  Everything had great texture and heated through perfectly.  All-in-all…a dinner win!  A convenient, easy dinner win.

Speaking of being really good for you, let’s take a look at the ingredients that Buen Sabor puts into the Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpeas & Sweet Potato Picadillo)!  One thing that Buen Sabor prides itself on is that they don’t add any hormones, antibiotics or preservatives to their food.  Their products are 100% natural.  Pure and simple goodness.  The Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpeas & Sweet Potato Picadillo) is made from brown rice, onions, quinoa, chickpeas, water, sweet potato, tomatoes, red peppers, poblano chili peppers, olive oil, spice, sea salt, garlic, corn starch, and smoked sweet paprika.  All real ingredients.  Nothing fake. Nothing that has me questioning my dietary choices.  I love that.  This particular meal is gluten-free, vegan, contains no added sugar, and has no trans fat.

Now, let’s discuss nutrition, shall we?  A serving of the Buen Sabor Picadillo De Garbanzos Y Camote (Chickpeas & Sweet Potato Picadillo) is 1 cup (159 grams) and there are 2 servings per container.  Except, if you’re making it an actual meal…you’ll eat the entire thing like I did.  No worries, nothing bad or outrageous with these stats.  For one (1) serving, however, you will be taking in 160 calories, 5 grams fat, 0.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 570 mg sodium, 25 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams dietary fiber, 3 grams sugar, and 5 grams protein.  LOVE IT.  Even after running 8 miles of hill repeats, I still felt full.  And the heat didn’t bother my system at all.  Good food to fuel a tough run that day.

Check your local natural foods stores for the Buen Sabor products.  Honestly, you won’t regret it.  Freezer section.  Good stuff.  Very good stuff.  I think I might have to pick up a few more…at least until this group stops meeting…which, sadly, happens in a couple of weeks.  But, it’s always good to have a quick meal on hand…because you never know when time might get away from you or something might come up!  Buen Sabor…has your back!