CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Marathon – Indianapolis, IN (November 3, 2018)

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Me heading into the finish line of the CNO Financial Monumental Marathon – Indianapolis, IN

Race: CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Marathon

Place: Indianapolis, IN

Date: November 3, 2018

Time: 3:46:17

“Ever tried. Ever Failed. No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.”
~ Samuel Beckett

I admit it.  The results of the 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon  were a hard pill to swallow.  In all honesty, I had hoped that my training, regardless of changing plans and going solo on it all…making it all up as I went, catching up on miles I didn’t get to run to build up that marathon base…I really thought it would be enough.  I didn’t feel like I was in marathon shape.  But I felt confident.

And, as we know…I crashed and burned soon after the 14 mile mark.  I finished.  But not with a time I was happy with.

Moral of the story.  Do NOT ever leave me along with an upcoming half marathon with the option to upgrade to the full marathon when I’m pissed off with my previous marathon performance.  Less than one month apart.  27 days apart, to be exact.  Because, I figured, hell, I was already in “marathon shape”…might as well try again with a different plan of action.  So, it happened.  I upgraded my registration to the full marathon (trust me, I was starting to doubt the wisdom of this the morning of the race, but I’ll get there, LOL!) and then…didn’t really broadcast it anywhere.  I told my training partner, Lauren.  My roommate, of course, knew.  And a couple of people at the gym who asked me what was next for me knew…but no one else.  Not. A. Word.

My plan for the days in between?  Recovery.  Easy runs.  Not a ton of miles.  Just easy, training runs.  I did maybe 3 speed intervals…all of only 4 miles.  My longest long run was 10 miles…last weekend.  Slow and steady with Lauren who took me on an adventure and kept the pace right where I wanted and needed it.  Some people like to pile on those miles and brag about weekly and monthly totals.  I have never been that sort.  And, honestly, it is a rare thing for me to ever hit 200 miles in a month, even during marathon training.  There is training and there is overtraining.  One of these benefits you.  The other leads to injury, burnout, and a plethora of other issues.  Just like pace, I don’t usually post my miles or mileage either.  Honestly, who cares other than me?

Deep breath.  Let’s start with the day before the race.

Thursday night was filled with packing and not trying to overthink anything.  Cathy picked out my outfit…she packed recovery wear, shoes, race gear, fuel, etc.  Everything I would need for another 26.2.  I made her pack capris because I was nervous it would be too cold at the start of the race for the running skirt she had picked.  She allowed for that…but nothing more.  We went to work as usual on Friday, planning to leave around 2 pm to make the drive up to Indianapolis.

I made certain that I got as much work done that I could in the time I was in the office.  Lunch was just a giant salad, made from all the fresh ingredients/produce that I had lingering in my fridge heading into the weekend.  We packed up, brought bottles of water that had our Nuun Immunity Tablets in them.  If you haven’t tried them…HIGHLY recommended!  And we hit the road, with our mid-day snacks to get us through the drive and the expo before heading to dinner.

We hit a small amount of traffic on the way, but we made it to the Omni Severin Hotel, in downtown Indianapolis.  Honestly, if you’re looking for a hotel in downtown Indy…STAY HERE!!  I was blown away by the hospitality, even if they didn’t do late checkouts due to it being an event weekend (I get it…but after a marathon, I usually appreciate a hot shower).  They did say that they had a fitness center with a shower and if I needed one I could get a key made to get in there and shower.  So…I mean…there was that.  Our luggage was taken up to our room by the nicest guy, Matt, who gave us the rundown about the hotel and the history behind it.  He showed us the amenities in the room and made sure we had plans for dinner because otherwise the hotel was doing a pasta dinner for the runners.  Honestly, I’ve never felt so welcome at a hotel.

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Cathy at her first major packet pickup for the Monumental 5K

Next stop…the expo.  We took the inside path through the hotel and Circle Center Mall to get ourselves over to the Indianapolis Expo Center.  Some roads were going to be closed because Trump and Pence were in town (BARF!), but it wasn’t affecting us.  We had a work-around.  The Expo felt a lot smaller this year than it was last year.  We got there, and immediately collected posters and headed to the back to get race packets and shirts.  YES…that’s plural.  Since I upgraded to the full, Cathy decided she could do the 5K, as it started AFTER the full and half marathons were sent off.  Had I stuck with the half, she wouldn’t have done it otherwise she’d miss my finish.

We stopped at the 5K booths first and Cathy did her first ever official big race 5K packet pickup.  She had to show her ID and everything.  The volunteers at her table were SO fun and very cool.  They even had thrown safety pins into her bag.  It was awesome.

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Cathy and Me with our race numbers for the next morning.

After she got her stuff…we headed over to the marathon tables where I collected my shirt and bib and we went straight into Official Merchandise.  Where I spent more money.  This time only on a lapel pin and a jacket.  The jacket is SUPER nice though.  I could have spent SO MUCH more.  HA!  We made our walk through the vendors and races that were represented at the expo.  Cathy had forgotten a BondiBand to keep her ears warm, so we had to go and get her one of those.  She found one…bright pink…that says, “Nevertheless, she persisted.”  Just like the button she has worn since NYC.  I spotted a different flavor of Gluten Free Honey Stinger Stroopwafels (I can only ever find Salted Caramel…which is GOOD…but I know there are other flavors out there…and I found a Vanilla & Chocolate one!).  But we wrapped it up quickly, stopping to find my name on the poster and then take a few pictures with the banners.  A volunteer was kind enough to get a lot of these photos for us, from every angle.

From there, we made the trek back to the hotel room.  We had about 30 minutes to kill before dinner, so Cathy went ahead and tried on her race shirt to get my opinion on the fit.  I decided I should do the same, and thank GOD I did.  Turns out, the volunteers at my end of the table gave me a men’s small and not a women’s small.  I was NOT happy.  With 20 minutes to get to our dinner reservation, we packed up the shirt and stepped outside to take a quicker route to the convention center in hopes of changing it out.  I booked it down the hall and back into the expo to the shirt exchange area and snagged my women’s small.  Whew!  Cathy was waiting in the hall outside.  We had about 5 minutes to make a 10 minute walk to our dinner reservation at Napolese.  Honestly, whenever we are in town for a race, this is our go-to restaurant.  I mean…GLUTEN FREE FOCACCIA AND GLUTEN FREE PIZZA!!

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Napolese’s Gluten Free Focaccia

I apologized to the hostess for being late and told her we had a 5:45 reservation.  Our table was still there though, next to two very loud men who were drinking a lot and talking REALLY LOUD about Queen and movies and games and whatever.  I was over it.  Thank God they left while we were eating our appetizer.

We had already had plans on what we were going to do for eats that night.  I looked at the menu on the way up so we could formulate a plan.  So when our waiter came over, we got glasses of water and put in our order.  Gluten Free Focaccia (no dairy) and then we were going to Freestyle our pizza and do a Gluten Free Pizza topped with the Housemade Tomato Sauce, Winter Squash, Mushrooms, and Duck Eggs.  He asked if the gluten-free was an allergy and made note that it was for a Celiac on the ticket.  And also made note of the NO DAIRY preference as well.  They are VERY efficient there.  And trust me…the food is amazing too.

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Napolese’s Gluten Free Pizza – no cheese, tomato sauce, mushrooms, winter squash, duck eggs

The focaccia came out first…olive oil, garlic, parsley.  SO GOOD.  And as we were polishing that off, the pizza came out.  But it was missing…the duck eggs.  Cathy pointed it out and he apologized and took it back.  He returned with a little thing of olive oil to go with the pizza if we wanted to add it and said that he took the pizza before they had cooked up the eggs and it would be up momentarily.  And we didn’t really have a long wait before it was returning to our table.  Looking SO good.  And even with polishing off the focaccia…I was ready to eat.  We polished off the pizza and took his advice, adding the olive oil…and it was light and fruity and just added a whole new level of deliciousness to the slices.  BIG FAN.  We finished eating and were given the bill, where they didn’t charge us for the duck eggs (that was sweet…but they didn’t need to do that).  We left a big tip, because or waiter was awesome.  Then headed to CVS to pick up some waters for the next morning, and then hit up the Hard Rock Cafe for a pin.  Mind you…I was not wanting to be on my feet much this time around.  But, we were never far from the hotel and we were back into the hotel by 7:30-ish.  Cathy went to shower.  I got out all my race gear and laid it out and then started my foam rolling because I was determined to do that the night before the race.  As I was doing that, there was a knock at the door.  It was housekeeping delivering a bottle of water, some ice, and a card.  It was from the hotel.  Super sweet gesture.  I knew it would all come in handy.  We finished up an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives…and then…

Lights out…9 pm.  On the nose.

I woke up a couple of times during the night…like my usual wakeup time of 3 am.  At 4

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Cathy’s complimentary drink tray that morning – orange juice and coffee!

am, my first alarm went off so I could take a pill and use the bathroom.  Back to bed for 2 restless hours.  At 6 am…we were both up and starting our morning routine.  I popped open a Pamela’s Products Gluten Free Matcha Happiness Ambition Bar.  I ate one before I ran the Monumental Half Marathon last year.  Why not do it again?  I prepped my pre-race drink and started to slowly get dressed.  At 6:15 am, Cathy’s free orange juice and coffee arrived outside the door.  We got up at 6 am so we could have a more relaxed moment and this gave her the chance to eat her Clif Bar and drink some coffee and juice as she does most mornings.  Including in her own training.

I finished getting ready, and this included slathering on some sunscreen because…it was going to be a sunny day that morning and I refuse to be the person with a sunburn in November.  I was wearing two different color CEP sleeves, my Injinji toe socks, my Newton Distance IIIs, a black running skirt, my Kauai Marathon & Half Marathon singlet, red arm warmers, and a red BondiBand that said “Breathe.”  I had some pajama bottoms to toss away prior to the race and a halfzip that I bought in a child’s size a long time ago that I was okay parting with.   I put my Nuun Energy into two of my bottles and water into the other two bottles and put my fuel belt on.  I put my new nutrition (tested once) into the front zip pouch and called myself ready.  Cathy ended up putting on a second layer on top and then we headed down to the lobby.  They had water and bananas out for the runners.  I usually eat a banana before a marathon so…I snagged one.  We ran into people from Louisville that we didn’t know, but I spotted his Chicago Marathon t-shirt and said I had run it too, but he was smarter than me this morning since he was only doing the half.  We had a good laugh over that.

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Race outfit for the marathon – minus the arm warmers, which got put on soon after.

And after they moved on…I started to have a small meltdown.  Why?  Because, despite being easy on my body and training smart leading up to this…I felt like my legs weren’t going to let me go another 26.2 so soon.  Cathy talked me down, as she usually does.  And then she had us moving out the door and into the cold Indianapolis morning.  It was 34 degrees outside.  We made the walk from the Omni to the start line, where I ate my banana and slowly drank my water.  We made it here and Cathy took a few pictures.  When we saw the pacers getting into the corral, she told me to go find my pacers and talk to them.  She gave me a hug and I left…stepping into the network of corrals and finding the 3:35 pacers (see what I’m doing here?), in the 2nd wave.  My bib was good for the first wave, but like I said, I was learning from my mistakes at Chicago…I hoped.

My plan for this race…line up with the 3:35 pace group and hold on as long as I could.  I

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Cathy & I staying warm in the hotel lobby for a few minutes before walking to the start of both of our races!

didn’t expect to be with them for long, just given how my training runs had been coming off of Chicago.  But, I figured it would be a good way to keep from going out way too fast (and we all know I would have) and at least keeping a constant pace going forward.  The male pacer’s PR was 3:09 and the female had just run a 50K the weekend before, so I can only assume that she is normally super fast as well.  Crazy good.  I never run with pacers, but I figured…this might be what I need.

I ditched my toss-away clothing and got back to the pacers just as the national anthem was being sung.  It was gorgeous.  The wheelchair racers were sent off first.  Wave one was next.  And we were moved up to the start gate.  I gave a wave to Cathy since I wasn’t on the outside of the corral…I was right behind the pacers because…I didn’t want to lose them.  After about 5 minutes…off we went.  We hit the roads of Indianapolis…and Cathy went to line up for her 5K.

The pacers guided our group down Capitol Avenue, reminding us that the pace would be slow for the first couple of miles until the race spread out a little bit.  Since the half and full marathon start together, it can be very congested at points.  Reminder, Indianapolis roads are awful.  The male pacer pointed out holes as we ran and I heard the female pacer say, “You’re going to be saying that a lot.”  HA!  She wasn’t wrong.

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Game face on as I stick close to the 3:35 pacers at the start line

We made a couple of turns before running across the first water/aid station.  They were nice enough to shout out each station as we approached so anyone who needed water or Gatorade could grab it.  It was a little chaotic through there, but I stuck with them as we made a couple more turns and made the half rotation around Monument Circle.  There was another aid station before we hit Mile 3 and the pacer sign was passed from the male to the female.  He had a pace tattoo on his arm and when we hit three, she asked, “How are we?”  He said, “We’re a little over.”  So she picked it up slightly.

Not only was I incorporating a “stick to the pacer” technique this race, I also decided to fuel more.  So every 4 miles…I was trying something new (I know…nothing new on race day, but…MEH)…Maurten Gel 100, which is apparently what Kipchoge uses!  I am no Kipchoge, nor was I aware of this when I purchased it to try…but it isn’t bad.  I like the texture way better than the Honey Stingers or Gu type gels.  I took my first one at Mile 4, which had me ease back on the pace just enough.  I took a drink of water, and pushed my way back up toward the pacers.

It was just about the 10K area that I discovered how dangerous it was to run with a pace

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My new form of fueling – Maurten Gel 100

group.  As more people fell into the group it got crowded…fast.  Someone clipped my foot from behind, sending me stumbling.  I recovered, but was pushed into someone ahead of me, which sent them stumbling.  Then someone else closed in and his foot pretty much tripped me…and again I had to catch myself.  And then someone clipped me again and that one nearly took me down for good.  The adrenaline was rushing at this point which was definitely NOT what I wanted to have happen.  I eased back just enough to allow some space so I wouldn’t get trampled at this point.

At Mile 7, the half marathoners turn left and the marathon runners continue up toward the State Fairgrounds.  At Mile 8…I fueled again.  And I was still hanging onto the pace group.  YAY.  I was a little bit behind them, but I felt that was for my own safety and sanity.  We turned onto Washington Boulevard, which we would be on for almost the next two miles.  They were giving out Clif Gels at Mile 11, but I had my own fueling to contend with.  But it was here…HERE…that I started to get a side stitch.  I wasn’t pushing my pace…but it soon turned into a stomach cramp of sorts.  I gutted through it until we made the turn and hit Mile 12…and then I slowed it to a walk to see if I could get it to pass.  This was when I was supposed to fuel again anyway…and I took the opportunity to do that before I felt I would be okay to pick it up again.  And I did.  No problems.  I made sure to drink more water this time.  I think that was the problem.  I was now further behind the pace group, but was about to hit the halfway mark.  I pushed through and continued…still feeling strong for the most part.  I was just frustrated that I was off the pace group earlier than I would have liked.

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Do you see my name on the poster? I meant to post this earlier. LOL!

I loved winding through the streets of Indianapolis.  There were crowds and people cheering in places you wouldn’t expect.  If we ran through neighborhoods, people were there too.  I may have been a bit off my pace, but I was going strong for the most part.  I made the turn onto Meridian and picked it back up a little.  Mile 16…I eased back again to fuel and drink more water.  And now I decided I would start walking some water stops in order to make sure I was hydrating.  When it’s cold outside, I forget to drink water.  I wasn’t letting anything stupid like that take me down that day.

The 3:40 pacers caught me just before Mile 18, where we ran through this area that felt like a park and were met with a wall of screaming from the people inside.  I think it was a college group, but they were fantastic.  I got quite a few compliments at aid stations and as I ran through here on my pigtails.  Love that story.  We exited onto the highway and headed toward my favorite part of the course, this gorgeous, twisting downhill on an exit ramp.  YES!  Downhill is my favorite speed as we all know!!  And this was fun.

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Cathy after she did her 5K!  She did it in 46:42!

Mile 20…and I had only a 10K left.  I took a little longer on my walk to fuel here because not only did I fuel and drink some water, but I also moved my one and only Honey Stinger Gel from my zip pocket in my running skirt to my fuel belt.  Why?  Because I was going to do one more fueling and I didn’t have enough Maurten with me.  I wanted to feel good and strong at the end of this.

At this point, if there was a hill…I speed walked it.  If there was a water stop, I walked it and took in some water.  If there was a crowd, I ran.  I was running more than walking, which was opposite Chicago, so already my plan was paying off.  I think it was at Mile 23, I went ahead and took my last gel, fueling for the last push.  The water stop here was AMAZING.  They were blaring this great song about being downtown.  And it just helped me pick it back up.

The next three miles went well, even though I could tell I was slowing down.  I think at some point the 3:45 group passed me.  I tried not to let it get into my head.  I took any water break walks that I needed and promised that I would push it at the end.  I was going to finish this one strong.  I made the turn onto W New York Street.  The crowd was amazing.  Someone shouted, “The finish is just around the corner!”  They were right.  I rounded the corner and could see the finish line down the way.  It seemed so far, but I found another gear and I started to pick it up.  As I got closer, I saw Cathy standing near the finish, screaming her head off for me.  I pressed on, crossing the finish line, arms in the air, and stopped my Garmin.  I never looked at it. I wanted to beat my Dopey time.  But I didn’t want to be disappointed yet either.

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Me crossing the finish line at the CNO Financial Monumental Marathon

So I never looked.  I started walking down the row.  I was wrapped in a Mylar blanket.  I saw some people with their medals on…and thought for a moment I had walked right past that station.  But I hadn’t.  I just hasn’t moved up far enough.  I continued on.  A nice woman put a medal around my neck and congratulated me.  I smiled and thanked her, snagging a bottle of water before stopping to get an official finisher photo from Marathonfoto.  On down the aisle of snacks, snagging a banana, a Clif Bar (for Cathy), a bag of Lay’s chips, and the famous cookie (I can’t even eat it…but I knew plenty of people who could).  And then…I made my way out to be greeted by Cathy with a hug.

I asked her, “Did I beat my Dopey time?”  And she said, “You smashed it by over three minutes.”  I was elated.  It wasn’t the time I was hoping to hit, but I once again chipped away from my time I set at the beginning of the year…doing a run/walk for the entire race.  This time, I mostly ran and felt strong and good throughout…and that was saying something.  As Cathy was finding a spot for me to lay down and put my feet up, I spotted the hat in her clear backpack and said, “You got a hat?”  She said I should have gotten one too and I told her I must have walked past that station.  She told me to lay down and she would see if she could get one for me.  After about 5 minutes, she returned victorious, saying she flagged down a happy looking marathoner to see if she could get another one.  It worked.

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Feet up…suns out…guns out.  FINISHER!

After stretching my feet up for a little bit, just basking in the sun, we finally decided to get up and head back toward the hotel.  Cathy checked us out of our room and had our bags checked.  It felt like the walk took forever, but it was a good way, save for the wind that had picked up.  I drew my arm warmers back up over my arms and we zigzagged our way back to the hotel.

We stepped inside and got into the elevator to go up one floor.  Cathy told me to go over to the bench to sit down and wait while she got luggage.  It didn’t take too long.  She opened up my suitcase and pulled out the outfit I had set out to wear afterwards, compression socks, jeans, the race t-shirt, new underwear, a proper bra, the basics.  We went ahead and took off my shoes, socks and put on my compression socks while I was sitting there.  She pulled my pigtails down, getting my hair extensions out and grabbing my hair brush.  And then she sent me around the corner to the bathroom to change.

I ducked into a stall and did that in record time after a marathon.  I realized that I had left my deodorant in my toiletries bag so I made sure I looked presentable, brushed my hair, and then went to grab that while leaving my race clothes with her.  Quick duck into the bathroom to apply deodorant, a wash of the hands, and one more fix of the hair…and I was good to go.  Once I put on my recovery shoes.

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My celebration meal at Woody’s Library Restaurant in Carmel, IN!

We headed out and she gave me the valet ticket to get the car while she went into Starbucks to grab me a much-needed coffee.  They valet went to retrieve the car, which took about 5 minutes and she hadn’t yet made it out.  I had no money on me to top the valet, which I felt AWFUL about, but I couldn’t help that.  I texted her and she said about 14 teenagers had been in front of her and she was coming. She was out in about 3 minutes and we loaded up her luggage.  I snagged my coffee.  And we were off, heading to Carmel, Indiana, the home of Woody’s Library Restaurant, my new favorite place to eat in all of Indianapolis.  Our friend Greg met us there.  I didn’t have an appetite at this moment, but went ahead and ordered the Gluten Free (Lettuce Wrap) Tex Mex Quinoa Tacos with a side of the Gluten Free Sweet Potato Fries, and Cathy got me a little side of pickles…just in case I wanted them.

I made a go at the food…taking my time to chew and to digest so as not to set my stomach off.  And I managed to eat the fries and most of the tacos before calling it quits.  I maybe had two of the pickle chips.  I was surprised I managed that much.  Afterwards, to stretch me out a bit more before we made the car ride home, the three of us went to the Antique Mall and looked around.  They both found things to buy, but I didn’t this time.  Maybe next time.  Then we hit up the gluten-free No Label at the Table bakery there.  I picked up two of their Lemon Cookies, a Brownie, and a Chocolate Pumpkin Loaf.  The lady who owns the bakery was there, and she was excited to see a marathoner there and asked me about other local races and Disney races as I shopped and decided what I wanted.

Afterwards…it was time to make the long drive back home.

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Until next year…BE MONUMENATAL!

So, the official results of the CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in 3:46:17, which makes it my fastest marathon this year and the one that closes out my actual racing season, as far as I know.  HA.  I was 1377/4568 finishers overall. I was the 377/1983 female finishers. And I was 106/391 in my age division.  Very happy with my results as I was dedicating this run to the people I know…who can’t run.  Spontaneous Marathon #14 is in the books and I already can’t wait to sign up for next year.  This was a great race, all around.

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2018 United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, NY (March 18, 2018)

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Me after finishing the 2018 United Airlines NYC Half Marathon – New York, NYC

Race: United Airlines NYC Half Marathon

Place: New York, NY

Date: March 18, 2018

Time: 1:41:29

I love running NYC.  I loved running the full marathon in 2014 and then the half in 2016.  And, by some luck of the NYRR lottery draw, I got the chance to run the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon again this year.

Two things though:

  1. New course…starting in Brooklyn and finishing in Central Park (which meant a whole LOT of hills on your tired legs for the last 4 miles)
  2. I had two friends (Paul & Melissa) coming along for the run as well…which was exciting because Melissa had barely spent sufficient time in NYC and Paul never had been there before!

I was so excited.  Friends…fun…and NYC!

We had plenty of time to plan this trip as the lottery draw happens early.  So over many bowls of pho and lots of text messages and dinner/game night evenings at each other’s homes…we purchased airplane tickets and Cathy had her mom take care of the room…because she has a time share vacation club thing there.  Unfortunately…the race was on St. Patrick’s Day weekend this year which meant…EVENT WEEKEND…on top of everyone coming in for the half marathon itself.  So, instead of staying at the nice Manhattan Club that we had come to love in NYC…we were booted over to the Shoreham through the travel agency that is used.  Cathy called numerous times to ensure that we would have two beds because we were a party of 4, not 2…and was told when the reservation transferred over…it would be taken care of.

Guess what.  The room transferred…and Cathy checked and it was listed with one bed.  One bed.  Four people.  She called the travel agency and they were very unhelpful and it was a task and a half to even get the agent on the phone or to call back.

NOT IMPRESSED!

Cathy then tried calling the hotel directly.  They were sold out of rooms and fully booked and couldn’t change the reservation either.  In fact, the travel agent never changed the request to four people.  So…we were kinda stuck.  Through e-mails, Cathy asked if we could bring an airbed and was told no extra bedding could be brought in…BUT…if they had any, they could provide a roll-away.

Insert me being overly stressed out about this turn of events.  I hate being stressed out over shit that shouldn’t be an issue in the first place but now it is.  These are the things I focus on and, when it happens prior to the trip, it’s all I focus on.

That and the shift in weather that went from lows in the 40s and highs in the high 50s…to COLD AS SHIT!  Seriously.  The weather shifted with some nor’easters that decided that New York needed some snow and ice and cold wind and all that.  MEH.  I don’t like running in the cold at all.  And now…I would be.  This also meant running a half marathon in layers, which is something else that I despise doing.  Cathy had to pack my luggage because I needed to stretch and roll and try to be in a better place with all of this.

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We love flight delays…NOT!

Friday afternoon, Cathy and I left work early and were picked up at our apartment by Paul. We were chauffeured over to his and Melissa’s house where Melissa’s mom was waiting with her van to take us all to the airport.  We packed our luggage and carry-on into the vehicle and got ready to get underway.  After (briefly) getting locked into the van, we set out to the airport, where Cathy and I were checking our baggage (Melissa and Paul were carrying on) and got our seating assignments taken care of.  This was perfect because we were all clumped together.  Cathy and I were behind them on our flights out of Louisville and then out of Atlanta.

Let’s pause for a moment to talk about Atlanta.  We were delayed going out of Louisville and now our connection was going to be very tight.  VERY TIGHT.  In fact, when we landed, supposedly passengers were supposed to let those with a tight connection off first (which would have  benefited us since we were seated pretty much in the back of the plane.  I literally could look out my window and see only the engine.  No joke.  I had no view.

Of course, everyone had a tight flight to catch so everyone (tight connection or not) disembarked as usual.  We decided to have Paul run ahead and see if he could catch the gate agent for our flight and have them hold the plane for us as we all made our way that way.  He is very good at sprinting with a suitcase.  I am not good at running with a backpack on.  And Melissa was in winter boots and Cathy is not a runner.  One train ride and an elevator climb later, and we managed to be near the back of the line for boarding.  But we got on the plane and were NYC bound.

Baggage claim was easy at La Guardia and Cathy put in the call to the car service we always use in NYC to take us to the hotel.  The van arrived to pick us up and we loaded in, somewhere near midnight or 1 am…and made our way to Manhattan and the Shoreham.

I was holding out hope that our hotel mishap was being taken care of, but when Cathy checked us in, the guy behind the desk didn’t even bat an eyelash at the fact that they were giving us a 1 bed, 141 sq food room…to four people.  Nope.  He passed us the keys and played it off like it was nothing.

Guess what.  It’s something.  The room was SO small that after we rearranged it to hopefully fit a roll-away in, which Cathy had to call down to the desk to have brought up, and had the guy who brought it up look around and go, “I have NO idea where we can put this” (NO SHIT, SHERLOCK!), we ended up pushing the actual bed all the way across the room to rest against the window.  The roll-away was set up right next to that, and then, we sort of put a bench and chair together and made an extra bit of bed.

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A view of the Suede Tomb the four of us squeezed into for 4 days in NYC. Cathy is against the wall…the frosty glass is the bathroom, which took up a over 1/4 of the space.  That’s the door right behind Paul.

Paul took the bench/chair and Melissa was on the cot.  Paul was, actually, halfway onto the cot too.  It was a mess.  And it was crowded.  And it was uncomfortable.  But we made it work.  And we were never really falling over each other when we were in the room.  No waiting on the bathroom…we just sort of worked it out without even saying anything.

Welcome, friends…to the Suede Tomb.  Thankfully, we packed our days and nights in NYC and the room would basically just be used for sleeping.  It was close to 2 am and we were setting our phones for a morning wake-up to get up, get breakfast, and head to the race expo.  It wasn’t going to be a night for lots of sleep, but at least we could get some.

The following morning meant showers (which we managed without ever hogging the bathroom too much or too long) and then we were off to breakfast at the local Fresh & Co after grabbing coffee at our favorite coffee shop in all of NYC…Tisserie.  We all got the Nutella Mocha and snagged whatever sounded good for breakfast.  I got a gluten-free bagel that had delicious avocado in it and some other stuff.  It was delicious…and I wanted it again on our last day there…but that didn’t work out as we hit Fresh & Co as they switched to lunch that day.  MEH.

But I digress…

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Race Expo time!!

It was race expo time.  And I love me some race expo experiences.  New York never disappoints.  The United Airlines NYC Half Marathon Expo is held at the Metropolitan Pavilion, and is easy to spot with all the race flags standing outside.  You feel so welcome and get all the excitement upon entering.  For this race in particular, they assign bib numbers on demand, which means you don’t get assigned your bib number until you get there.  And it’s random.  You do know what wave you are in and what corral though…the rest of it just depends on where you stand in line to get a bib.

I was Wave 1 and Corral E and my bib number ended up being 1956.  They stuck on the sticker to my Wave 1 yellow-green bib (Wave 2 was a blue) for my corral (E) and sent me on my way to get my t-shirts and get any photos taken that I wanted in front of the race backdrops.  The race shirts were running smaller than I expected, but mine seemed to just fit, so I kept it.  Melissa and Paul got their numbers and shirts as well and we went to get photos taken before hitting up the rest of the expo…which was basically shopping.

Thankfully…I bought my swag ahead of time because they always run out of my sizes.  Cathy got me a finisher’s shirt.  The only thing I really wanted was the best winter hat to ever exist, but they sold out of that quick.  Probably because it was soul-crushingly cold that weekend and everyone wanted hats.  Melissa had snagged one prior to the race online.  As in…the last one.  It wasn’t meant to be.  I was bummed, but I have plenty of hats as it is.  We took photos with our names on the wall…snagged some free United Airlines buffs that were being handed out…and got on our way to explore some of NYC before heading to dinner that night.

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Pre-Race Gluten Free Marinra Pizza from Don Antonio’s (as always) in NYC!  Also Vegan!

As with every pre-race meal in NYC…it was pizza night, and of course we went to Don Antonio’s is my go-to place for both gluten-free and vegan pizza.  They have a regular menu and a gluten-free menu and take very good care to keep everything safe for you to eat.  Melissa and I split the Senza Glutine Marinara Pizza.  Melissa also snagged a couple of gluten-free appetizers to share.  Cathy and Paul split a regular pizza and each got one of their signature dough puffs to eat.  The food was plentiful and we were definitely full and ready to hike back to the hotel to get everything ready for the following morning. And, yes, we managed to do this and schedule alarms so that we could all function and get what we needed done in the morning.

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We look like we’re going to a slumber party…but really we’re heading to Brooklyn

With the first alarm early in the morning, I was up and at them first to put on my winter tights, an undershirt, my fleece lined tech-top I love wearing due to the collar…and then brushed my teeth and went to step out of the bathroom for the next person to do what they needed to do.  While Melissa, Paul, and Cathy took their turns in the bathroom, I did up my hair, put on my socks and compression sleeves, put on my winged anklet, got my Dunkin Donuts winter hat (the one I got from the 2014 NYC Marathon) on my head, snagged my gloves, and opted to give the buff we got for free at the expo a chance.  I had nothing really to eat in the room, but I brought a Larabar to the start line to eat in the corrals prior to the race.  That went into my fuel belt to stay close to my body to keep it from getting rock hard in the cold.  We headed out the door to get to the train station and take the subway to Brooklyn.  We had to wait in the station for awhile, and when the train did arrive, it was already packed.  We managed to squeak our way in…and with each additional stop…every car just kept getting fuller.  And despite the driver announcing that the train was full and to wait for the train behind us…we kept having people push their way into our car.  Now I was suffocating and dying, especially when the air conditioning would cut off.

But we made it to the Prospect Park stop and disembarked and began to make our way to the starting area, where we would have to go through security.  This was where we had to split from Cathy.  She was going to get back on a train and go to Mile 3 (just after the runners come over the Manhattan Bridge) to hopefully catch me there.

At the start line…we had very little time to hang around and talk.  After getting through security, I needed to drink my pre-workout drink and eat my Larabar so I wasn’t running a half marathon on an empty tank.  I ate my Larabar while Melissa and Paul fueled up as well…and then I needed to get into my corral in Wave 1.  They were in Wave 2, and apparently had to hunker down in the cold shade and try not to freeze for over an hour.  YUCK!

As for me…I started drinking my water and making my way up to Corral E.  There were going to be quite a few starts, so I was NOT shedding my toss-away clothes (yep…I hit Goodwill the day before and picked up clothes to shed since it was going to be freezing at the start line) until I absolutely had to.

The National Anthem was sung…and the wheelchairs and elites were sent off.  It took a long while for me to get up close enough to shed clothing, but I finally did.  And soon, it was my corral’s turn to get ready to go.  As we were standing in the cold wind, the woman behind me pointed to one of the free United Airlines buffs that was shed by runners before us and said, “Not going to lie…I’m tempted to pick that up.” I told her I wouldn’t judge.  HA!  But soon, we were sent off…and it was time to run through the streets of Brooklyn.

The first 2 miles are spent running the streets of Brooklyn.  And then, the first climb happens as you start up the Manhattan Bridge.  I know that the bridges in NYC are beasts, but this actually slowed me down more than I would have liked.  But, as this was being treated as a training run, I wasn’t really focusing on my pace.  This would turn out to be a very good thing as the race continued.  Crossing the bridge was great.  You could see the Statue of Liberty from there…and it was clear and beautiful and COLD that morning.  I put my head down and came down the other side of the bridge, feeling like a rockstar for sure.

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Me coming off the Manhattan Bridge and heading toward the 5K mark of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon

Cathy was near the turn before heading into the 5K and I waved and smiled as I ran through and began to take in the miles before Times Square.  Times Square was such a highlight for me in 2016 when I ran the old course.  This course was definitely tougher, as when we started in Central Park…we got the hills out of the way early.  Now…now they were at the end.  So these were the flat miles in between.  Miles 3-7 are downhill to flat and I loved them.  It just felt good to run, and have the spectators that were out braving the cold yell motivation to you.  I was crossing a bridge near the 10K mark when I spotted Lottie (aka: runningonveggies) doing her thing.  I wanted to shout-out to her, but I wasn’t sure she’d hear me and I am…nobody…and she’s like…super amazing.  She looked strong.

Coming into Central Park, I knew there was a chance that Cathy wouldn’t make it to see me there.  It all depends on the trains.  Apparently she got out of the subway about 45 seconds before I was supposed to hit Times Square based on the tracker.  She at first decided she wasn’t going to make it, but then changed her mind and did the “Sixth Avenue Sprint” to Times Square, where she did actually catch me and I could hear her shouting and waving at me from the other side of the barricades.  Just the uplift I needed at that point, because we were heading up toward Central Park, which meant some minor rollers until hitting the park just before Mile 9.  For a few moments in Times Squre, however, I was running next to former NYC Marathon race director Mary Wittenberg, which was super cool.  She was getting a lot of shout-outs from volunteers and NYRR…but I turned my attention back to the entrance to Central Park. Here come the hills.

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Running through Times Square during the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon

This is also where my watch got WAY off on the mileage and pace due to the buildings in Manhattan…and the rest of the race was just guess work at this point.

My friend Michael told me he would be at Mile 10 near Cat Hill in Central Park with his friends cheering on runners.  So I had that to look forward to.  And, sure enough, as I was making the ugly climb up Cat Hill…I heard him shout my name, I turned and managed to wave before continuing to die a little on that hill.  Somewhere around Mile 11, a woman decided she would cross the road with her dog while texting on her phone right in front of me and a few other runners.  She got yelled at by quite a few people who she disrupted.  I mean…come on!

There seemed like more uphills than downhills for that last 5K…and my watch was beeping with the distance about .9 miles off of what it was supposed to be.  I’m not lying. I was pretty much a mile ahead of myself via my GPS…which was not making me happy, despite not being one who glances at my watch during the race.  I don’t like to put any pressure on myself, but now I was questioning if my GPS was off or the course was long.  There was no way to really know.  The GPS was off (thanks Times Square and Manhattan)…so when I took that downhill toward the finish line…I crossed with 14.02 miles on my watch and crazy fast splits showing me running a mile in under 6 minutes.  HA!!  I wish!!  So, that was the disappointing part if I had to pick one.  Because I love reviewing my actual splits to see what I need to work on after a race.  It was fun though…and, despite never being warm during the entire run…I was elated to be done.  And super surprised with my time.

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Me sitting in Tisserie, post-race, just trying to get warm

After finishing and getting my race medal and a mylar blanket, we were loaded down with snacks and sent hiking out of the park.  This walk takes a good 30 minutes to accomplish.  I made friends with a nice lady named Wendy and we talked until she had to veer off to bag check to get her stuff.  I finally could see the statue marking Columbus Circle, which was where runners were exiting and were spectators were told would be the best spot to reunite with their runners.  I spotted Cathy immediately and she came over to give me a hug.  I desperately needed coffee, and she had suffered through McDonald’s coffee and wanted good coffee…so we made our way to Tisserie (which was on the race course) and each got a drink.  I got a Café Au Lait with Almond Milk and it was one of the best things I had ever drank.  I needed that to start to warm myself up.  But after checking the app to check in on Melissa and Paul (they were Wave 2 and started about an hour after me) we saw they were coming up to the area we were drinking our coffee.  So, we stepped outside and found a spot on the rail to watch for them.

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Melissa and Paul running toward Central Park!

At one point, a guy from Norway ran over to me and took a picture with me.  Random.  But amusing.  And then…we saw them coming.  Cathy and I shouted to them about how they were killing it, and while Melissa didn’t believe me…she was running NYC.  How cool is that?!

As they headed toward the park, Cathy and I hightailed it back to the hotel so I could shower and change and head back out to meet up with them after the race.  We got to Columbus Circle as they were nearing the finish line.  And when they crossed, I let them know, via text, that we were waiting for them there.  Their phone was almost dead, but Melissa was able to fire a response back.  We waited until we spotted them and flagged them down.  The hills had definitely taken their toll on Melissa’s Achilles, so we got her settled for a moment to rest and rant all she needed.  Paul dug food out of the snack pack for the two of them.  Once they had rested, we took them back to the hotel to shower and chill before we went out to our celebratory dinner at Red Rooster that night.

THAT. WAS. FUN.  And the food was amazing.

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Celebrating finishing the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon at Red Rooster Harlem

The new NYC course is definitely much harder than the old one…but I ended up running this one 2 minutes faster.  So…I count that as a win.  A course PR and a race PR.  WOOT!

So…the official results of the 2018 United Airlines NYC Half Marathon was that I finished with an official time of 1:41:29…and that was closer to the 13.1 than the 14.02 my watch showed.  I swear.  I was 2773/21,995 finishers this year.  I was 557/11,075 female finishers.  And I was 86/1847 finishers in my age division.  I couldn’t be happier with these results considering how much stress I went into NYC with and how cold weather affects my body.  I had a blast and would love to do this again.

Or at least get a cute winter hat.

The remaining days in NYC were spent exploring and eating.  And the best of the best was going up to the top of the Empire State Building at night, freezing, and taking pictures and just living life.

And that’s what this was all about.  Fun, friends…and finish lines.

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On top of the world (aka: The Empire State Building) with friends…last night of such a fun adventure!

Product Review: Good! Greens Pumpkin Spice Yogurt Bar

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Good! Greens Pumpkin Spice Yogurt Bar

Product: Good! Greens Pumpkin Spice Yogurt Bar – $2.49+

I am not going to lie.  I’m never without a protein bar of some sort.  When you have food allergies, it is always best to be prepared.  And, sometimes I get a little daring and try new things.  New brands can be a scary thing.  Sometimes you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.

On a recent trip up to Columbus, Ohio, I was (shockingly) shopping at Raisin Rack and raiding all the gluten free stuff.  Seriously.  This is what I do.  Upon reaching the checkout, I spotted, in their line up of protein bars (there are few candy bars at their checkouts…mostly energy bars/protein bars)…something marked gluten-free…and the words…PUMPKIN SPICE printed on it.

So, I picked it up…flipped it over…looked it over…and put it back.  Cathy (the roomie) spotted this and reached over, snagged it, and put it up on the belt for checkout.  Guess I was going to get to try it after all.  The bar was Good! Greens Pumpkin Spice Yogurt Bar.

It came home with me, and due to a lack of preparation, I had nothing to nosh on after my swim this morning at the gym, so I tossed the Good! Greens Pumpkin Spice Yogurt Bar into my bag, went for my swim, and then came into work.

Good! Greens has a goal, which is to help everyone be their best good.  What is good?  Good is a mindset that drives everything we do and make.  For Good! Greens, it’s all about good ingredients, good practices and good community.  Good is what we eat, how we care for ourselves, and how we care for others.  And Good! Greens uses a formula in all of their bars that uses 100% fruits and vegetables, providing an excellent source of vitamins, antioxidants, and a clinically proven probiotic for digestive and immune health.  It’s a power bar that gives you everything your body needs…without all the filler.

I had a few doubts, to be honest.  Upon opening the wrapper, I pulled out this little bar that was coated in this white confectionery coating.  I broke it in half, noting the Lärabar-like middle.  I took a taste…and was actually impressed.  The texture was a bit chewy and hard, but I think some of that was from sitting in the cold car while I was swimming at the gym.  But the flavor was great.  The pumpkin flavor was just enough…not overpowering.  And that coating…amazing.  It really made it feel more like a dessert than a protein bar.  It even filled me up.  I ended up being surprised by this bar.  Not my favorite…but not bad.  It was a nice surprise and one that makes me even more curious about their other flavors of bars.

Let’s talk about the ingredients that go into the Good! Greens Pumpkin Spice Yogurt Bar!  This bar is made from fruitrim (natural fruit juices and grain dextrin), sunflower seed butter (sunflower kernels, sunflower oil, soybean oil, molasses, salt), dairy free confectionery coating (evaporated cane juice, palm kernel oil, soymilk powder, soy lecithin [emulsifier], vanilla), brown rice protein, good greens superfood powder, agave syrup, gluten free oats, soy protein crisps, chicory root fiber, natural pumpkin flavor, peanut paste (peanuts, salt).  This bar is vegan, gluten free, contains probiotics, and is made from real fruits and vegetables.

As for nutritional information, this actually stacks up really nice for a protein bar.  A serving of the Good! Greens Pumpkin Spice Yogurt Bar is the entire bar.  This bar will deliver 189 calories, 8 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 100 mg sodium, 19 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 14 grams sugar, and 10 grams of protein.  It is a nutritional powerhouse, for sure!

These days, I’m searching for better foods with less processed ingredients that are more real than fake.  Good! Greens Pumpkin Spice Yogurt Bar definitely fit that demand.  I was quite happy with this bar.  It was a nice change from my usual suspects.

 

Product Review: Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar

Bobo's Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar

Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar

 Product: Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar – $2.50+

Ever see one of those products that intrigues you…but you just can’t get up the nerve to purchase one to actually try it?  That is the relationship I have had for a few years with Bobo’s Oat Bars.  I spotted these first at my natural foods store, Rainbow Blossom, on an endcap.  Not all flavors are gluten-free, but there was quite a variety.  I really wanted to try one, and, for a gluten-free bar…the price isn’t so bad.  I just never could actually talk myself into it.

Lo and behold, my May (Is For Mom) 2015 Cuisine Cube brought Bobo’s Oat Bars to me, instead.  It was like a “if you build it, they will come,” moment, save more of a, “if you covet it, someone will send it to you.”  HA!

So, first let me recap for you what Cuisine Cube is all about, shall I?  Cuisine Cube is a subscription service that delivers 5-6 gluten-free, full-size products to your door for as little as $34.99/month. Inside the cube, you will discover full-size products (not sample sizes) that are made by local and smaller, artisan companies, rather than those that you can find at the average grocery store.  It has introduced me to so many new and delightful products.  Each box contains a breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, and dessert product…and then, sometimes, an extra bonus item.  Who doesn’t love a little something extra, right?   Keep in mind, however, that Cuisine Cube has gone through some changes as of May.  No longer do they strictly only offer gluten-free cubes.  In addition to their gluten-free option, they now also offer Artisan and Vegan cubes as well.  The Artisan cube means that you have no food allergies and foods that contain common food allergens will be included.  The Vegan cubes contain products that are dairy and animal free.  And, they still have the Gluten Free cubes, which will have products that contain no gluten or wheat.  So, if you’re really interested in being introduced to the smaller, lesser-known, artisan companies, give Cuisine Cube a try!  It’s like…Christmas…or your birthday…every month!  Who doesn’t love that?!

In the May 2015 box, there were quite a few snacks/candies/sweets packed in.  It was the Mother’s Day cube, that’s how it should be.  And for the Breakfast/Snack option, the people at Cuisine Cube sent me a much coveted, highly anticipated, Bobo’s Gluten Free Oat Bar.  The flavor – peach.

Now, peach for me can be hit or miss, honestly.  You either get it right, or you get it wrong.  As a huge fan and connoisseur of peaches (fresh, tinned, frozen…you name it!), peach is one of those flavors that either wins me over or loses me.  So, peach was the risky flavor of bar to send from the gluten-free line, I think.  It’s not a common favorite, but, honestly, it is one of the most refreshing and summer-inducing flavors around.

Bobo’s Oat Bars was founded by Beryl Strafford in 2005.  This Boulder, Colorado, based business is still headquarted there today.  These bars are named after Strafford’s eldest daughter, who she has affectionately called “Bobo.”  These bars were developed out of a simple mother-daughter baking tradition, and soon grew to become a sought-after snack bar that are enjoyed by families, athletes, and healthy minded people everywhere.  Strafford wanted these bars to embody two of her highest values in life: being a mom, and living an active and healthy lifestyle.  Bobo’s Oat Bars are baked from scratch using only the finest organic ingredients, with no additives or artificial sweeteners.  These bars are not only convenient, but a wholesome snack choice that are convenient for the busy kids, students, athletes, and adults in life.  Not all of Bobo’s Oat Bars are gluten-free, but they have a core selection of flavors that are, including: peach, maple pecan, lemon poppyseed, chocolate almond, apple pie, and peanut butter and jelly.

Cuisine Cube shared probably the flavor I would have picked up last, due to my love-hate relationship with peach flavored items.  I am either going to love it or hate it.  And after 2 months of not quite getting around to trying the much-coveted Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar, my roommate and I split it tonight as our dessert.

First of all, I loved the texture of this bar.  It was substantial, yes, but it was soft and chewy…like an elite granola bar of sorts.  The oats were stunning and each bite was chewy and wholesome.  I love that these are made with natural ingredients.  I love that very little sugar is in these bars.  I loved how 1/2 of this bar (which is the serving size) was filling enough to double as a meal.  Yes…I loved all of that.  What fell a little short for me, however, was the flavor.  When something declares that it is peach flavored, by the taste gods, bring me that bold, sweet, amazing peach flavor.  At the very edges of this bar, I found it to be very bland.  The center part, still bland, but had more of that peach flavor that I was hoping for.  At least the flavor didn’t taste fake…there just wasn’t enough of it there.  The Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar was filling, for sure, but not all that flavorful.  A little bit of a let-down, but not enough to make me not want to try the other gluten-free flavors out there.

So, with that in mind, let’s discuss the ingredients that go into Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bars!  These bars are made from organic gluten free rolled oats, brown rice syrup (brown rice, filtered water), Earth Balance [natural oil blend (palm fruit, canola and olive oils), filtered water, pure salt, natural flavor (derived from corn, no MSG, no alcohol, no gluten), sunflower lecithin, lactic acid (non-dairy, derived from sugar beets) and colored with annatto extract], organic sucant (non-refined cane sugar), dried peaches, natural peach extract, and xanthan gum.  These bars are gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO, and now certified kosher!

As for the nutrition facts of Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bars, these stats are pretty fantastic.  Do keep in mind, however, that each bar is 2 servings, so cut that baby in half and save the rest for another day.  One serving, or half of a bar, will provide you with 180 calories, 6 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 20 mg sodium, 28 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams dietary fiber, 10 grams sugars, and 3 grams of protein.  Is it any wonder with that low sugar, and the higher protein and fiber that this bar feats more like a meal than a snack?!  Fantastic.

So, the jury is still out for me.  While I wasn’t completely blown away by Bobo’s Gluten-Free Peach Oat Bars, I didn’t dislike them either.  In fact, the texture, chewy, yet substantial, was amazing.  I loved that.  I just wish it was more peachy, given theat it is the peach bar.  However, I’m not counting them out yet.  Next time I’m at my natural food store, I’m going to snag a different flavor and see if it smacks my taste buds around a little more.

For what it is worth, Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar is a great, healthy snack or meal for the busy and on-the-go type of person.  It will leave you feeling full, and with it being made from natural ingredients, keep you feeling full.  Your body won’t burn right through this bar, as it would many protein, granola and/or snack bars out on the market.  The lower the sugar, the happier I am.

If not for Cuisine Cube, I don’t know if I ever would have convinced myself to purchase one of Bobo’s Gluten Free Oat Bars.  That being said, I’m glad that this was shipped to me so I could get a taste of what is out on the market, and what I love and might not love as much about new bars.  I’m a marathoner, I’m always looking for new fuel and recovery items.  This…is off to a good start.

Bobo's Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar (unwrapped)

Bobo’s Gluten Free Peach Oat Bar (unwrapped)

Product Review: The YES Bar Macadamia Chocolate Chip Snack Bar

The YES Bar Macadamia Chocolate Chip Snack Bar

The YES Bar Macadamia Chocolate Chip Snack Bar

Product: The YES Bar Macadamia Chocolate Chip Snack Bar – $3.00+

The holiday season is over, and the New Years resolutions have kicked in, right?  And so many people place eating better, working out, and losing weight at the top of their list.  I am not one of those people.  In fact, I don’t ever make New Years resolutions…and I’ll tell you why…I hate not accomplishing a goal I set for myself.  I usually just make it a point to live that year to the best of my abilities.  That being said, I am doing a little bit of cleaning up when it comes to my diet.  And that does mean I am paying attention to ingredients that are in products that I purchase.  While I prefer to eat natural and whole foods, there is no escaping the ease and convenience of processed and packaged goods at times.

And thanks to Cuisine Cube‘s Holiday cube (December), my New Year is off to a grand start.  Let’s discuss, once again, the benefits and advantages I feel a service like Cuisine Cube offers.  Because, if you’ve been reading this, you should be familiar with the service, but perhaps have been wavering on actually signing up.  Hesitate no more.  Just…DO IT!  Cuisine Cube is a mail delivery service that happens monthly, delivering delicious, lesser-known, local, and less-processed gluten-free products right to your door.  It’s fantastic.  And each month is like Christmas, opening up the box and discovering what goodies are inside.  It’s available at different price ranges, depending on how long you wish to order it for…be it month-to-month or a whole year.  If you haven’t gone to the site to check it out…do it now.  You will not regret it.

Available in each cube is a food that can be used for either a breakfast, a lunch, a dinner, a snack, and a dessert…and sometimes…a bonus.  This month…an extra dessert.  My sweet tooth stands up and salutes the Cuisine Cube gods and goddesses!  But, the product that I tried out this morning was actually the breakfast item that was included.

We all know that I am a huge advocate for breakfast.  It is my favorite meal of the day.  Honestly.  I could eat breakfast for breakfast, lunch and dinner and never get tired of that kind of food.  Never.

This morning was one of those mornings where I would rather stay curled up in bed, hibernating under all my blankets.  With a hard freeze warning in affect for my area, my 7 mile speed work run was not happening outdoors today.  Nope.  So, I had to set my alarm to get up early and go to the gym to run…7 miles…on a treadmill…at varying speeds.  UGH!  But, when training for the Boston Marathon, you do what needs to be done.  You just suck it up, cupcake.

After my run, I returned home for breakfast.  With my coffee brewing, I needed something easy and fast.  I remembered that I still had some products from my December Cuisine Cube…which included a breakfast bar of sorts.

It is called The YES Bar.  Yes…The YES Bar.  It was created over three years ago in a home kitchen in Laurel Canyon, California.  Creator, Abigail, was faced with some food sensitivities and health challenges when it came to her son.  And she found herself constantly having to tell him “no” to the foods he wanted to eat.  So, she set to work, collecting all the healthy, delicious, and yummy foods that she could find in her kitchen that were naturally free of gluten, dairy, soy and corn.  She started with nuts and seeds…added in honey and maple syrup…then vanilla bean powder…cinnamon…dried fruits…and coconut butter.  In went hemp and chia for added nutrition.  And then…chocolate.  Because chocolate should be in everything.  And “chocolate is awesome”…she says on the Web site.  It took months to get the recipe down and find the right consistency to make these little portable treats of breakfast goodness.  From the first taste, even before they were perfected, Abigail’s son loved them.  Her other son loved them.  Her friends loved them.  Her husband loved them.  In fact, her husband started using them for his 50 mile bike rides…and then his cycling buddies wanted them.  From there it was parties…then people wanting to buy them…then into local stores…and so on.

The YES Bar is a grain free bar, so if you follow a paleo diet, they work for you.  I do not follow a paleo diet, nor am I a fan of said diet.  But…every single ingredient that goes into these bars is real foodAnd that is a sticking piont with me these days.  The less processed the better.  No weird preservatives or binders or fillers.  This is not a glorified candy bar.  It is a delicious and 100% healthy bar that you can eat for breakfast, after a run, on-the-go, for dessert, or as fuel for your workout.  In fact…The YES Bar makes the following promise on their site: “If it’s in our bar, it’s good for you. And when you eat it, it will be yummy. Like, really yummy.”

So, does it live up to all the Web site hype by the creators?

OMG…does it ever!!  This is like a Lärabar on crack.  The good kind of crack!  HA!  The package said to try it chilled, so last night I popped it into the fridge so I could enjoy it this morning as a breakfast treat after my treadmill run.  It was fantastic.  Sweet and savory and salty and just all around amazing and delicious.  I loved the crunchy and chewy texture combination.  And it was actually quite filling for a bar…and it should be because it is all real and natural ingredients.  There is some sugar, but it is part of the dried fruits and the honey and syrup that is added.  It’s not granulated sugar of any kind.  Gotta love that.  And the flavor…amazing.  You do feel like you’re cheating on breakfast with this bad.  The chocolate gives it that rich sweetness…the dried fruits add to the texture and sweetness, but the nuts give it a salty and savory feel at the same time.  It’s like eating candy for breakfast…but candy that is actually good for you!

Since we’re on the subject of ingredients, let me give you a run down of what all goes into The YES Bar Macadamia Chocolate Chip Snack Bar.  This bar is made from macadamia nuts, maple syrup, cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, coconut butter, pecans, honey, dark chocolate, raisins, dried cranberries, dried apricots, dried tart cherries, shelled hemp seeds, sesame paste, flax seeds, chia seeds, celtic sea salt, cinnamon, and vanilla bean powder.   It is certified paleo friendly, certified gluten-free, and does not contain soy, dairy, gluten, or corn.  It is also non-GMO!  You gotta love all of that, yes?

As for nutrition, a serving size is one of The YES Bar Macadamia Chocolate Chip Snack Bars.  In this one bar, you will be served up a filling 200 calories and 15 grams of fat.  Do not freak out over the fat…because it is the healthy fat that comes from the nuts and seeds that are inside this bar.  This bar provides you with 105 mg sodium, 160 grams of potassium, and 9 grams of sugar.  That may seem a little high for one bar, but it’s mostly coming from the maple syrup, the honey, and the dried fruits.  So, it’s not the bad kind of sugar.  To top it off, you will be taking in 3 grams of filling fiber and 4 grams of protein.  It makes a perfect on-the-go snack and a great post-workout breakfast.  Or…eat it while on your long run for fuel.  Nothing should be offensive to the stomach.  I might have to give that a try next time as I train up for my upcoming marathons!

I am beyond thrilled with The YES Bar Macadamia Chocolate Chip Snack Bar.  And I never would have even known of its existence without my subscription to Cuisine Cube.  They really do search for the best quality items to go in each cube.  And they definitely hit the mark with this California based snack bar company.  Loved this bar from first bite.  It was great chilled, but I bet it would be just as good straight out of the package.  Another win!

If you can’t find The YES Bar near you…be sure to check out their Web site!  Trust me…you do NOT want to miss out on these!

Restaurant Review: Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria – Epcot – Disney World

Via Napoli - Italy Pavilion - Epcot

Via Napoli – Epcot – Disney World

Restaurant: Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria – Epcot – Disney World

It was Epcot Day!  YAY!  I love Epcot Day.  I don’t know why…because so much of it features the World Showcase…which during the Food & Wine Festival…features foods from all over the world.  Even the regular pavilions that are standard in the showcase don’t offer much for a gluten-free vegetarian.  But I still love Epcot Day.

Since we were in Epcot, on our final night, we wanted to go somewhere in the park for dinner.  It took a little bit of back and forth, but we finally decided on Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria.  It had gluten-free pasta on the menu, so we were good.  Something I could eat.  Which, definitely was important on Epcot Day…as our morning actually started at the Magic Kingdom…where we at Dole Whip for breakfast.  Pictures were taken for proof.  I am not ashamed.

But…let’s fast forward.

The entire day was spent doing a few rides and exploring the World Showcase.  My friend, Jenn, was having a difficult time on the last day.  Her feet…her poor feet…had blisters in places I didn’t know one could get blisters.  It was a slower moving day, but I was fine with that.  Take in the showcase.  Stop and watch the new Lumberjack Show.  I miss Off Kilter though…I’m not going to lie.  Cathy snagged a lunch in Morocco (she had to have her lamb shawarma!), while Jenn and I toddled over to Brazil for the (naturally gluten-free) Pao de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread).  I later had one of my protein bars and half of a clementine (Jenn had the other half) because dinner reservations weren’t until 7:45 p.m.  Late.

But, we made use of our time…checking out different things along the way, resting when Jenn needed to get off her feet, exploring the different countries, and shopping.  Of course.  We got in line for the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros at the Mexican Pavilion…and that sort of ate up (see what I did there?) the rest of the evening down time before food.  It was a bit of a stroll back to Italy in Epcot…but Jenn was a trooper…and she got there.

I went up to the hostess desk in the very crowded lobby and let her know we were there for our reservation.  She asked me some questions, it was hard to hear her over the din of the lobby.  But we got it worked out.  And, of course, my food allergy thing.  So, there was a short wait…but after about 5 or so minutes, the lobby was emptying and we were up next.  The really nice hostess took us all the way to the back for a table with a bench and two chairs.  Cathy and I sidled up on the bench.  Jenn took the chair this time.

We. Were. Starving.

I perused the menu and noted that, yes, gluten-free pasta was the only option for me.  The downside…none of the listed pasta dishes on the menu were vegetarian.  Yikes.  As I was just starting to look at the menu, the customer liaison came over to speak to me about my food allergy.  He noted the gluten-free and pointed out that they do not have gluten-free pizza but any of the pasta can be done gluten-free.  And then he was off.

Which left our poor waiter to be the one who would have to seriously help me out.  Not that he minded.  And as I am the tricky one…I ordered first.  And my first statement was…

“Well, I am a gluten-free vegetarian…so…”

He came over to my side of the table to look at the pasta dishes.  “Gluten-free…it’s easy,” he said.  “The vegetarian…”  He looked at all the pasta options again and finally said, “I tell you what…we will have the chef prepare some mushrooms and vegetables with our marinara sauce.”

Works for me.  Order in.

Jenn opted for the Lasagne Verde, which is a white lasagna that is stuffed with spinach, parmesan, ricotta, and a besciamella sauce ($22.00).  Cathy went for her go-to when we first go to an Italian restaurant…the Spaghetti e Polpettine, which contained hand-crafted veal meatballs in a tomato sauce ($21.00).  I have to say, I usually giggle a little when Jenn orders something with cooked spinach or vegetables in it…because most of those veggies get tossed to the side of the plate.  But…she is Italian…and she knows her Italian food.

We waited for a bit…no gluten-free rolls or any bread at all at the table.  We watched a woman at the table next to us devour an entire pizza on her own, while her dining companions watched her.  And as she was taking her last few bites, their food arrived.  It was weird.  We couldn’t figure out if they were just there to watch her eat (like some crazy Disney World food challenge or something)…but…who knows.  She then got to watch all of them eat so…turn around is fair play…or something?

But, soon our attention turned to our own food as our dishes arrived and were delivered before us.

Pasta with Veggies and Marinara

Pasta with Veggies in Red Sauce

I have to say, my bowl of pasta was beautiful.  A good helping of marinara sauce (which would have been awesome with a gluten-free bread product of some type!) with a variety of vegetables cooked in.  I spotted zucchini, tomatoes, peppers and mushrooms immediately.  And the gluten-free pasta was fusilli…so twisty and perfect for capturing delicious sauce.  I will call this dish…”Pasta for the strange gluten-free vegetarian at the table in the back.”  Or…more simply…Pasta and Veggies in Red Sauce ($22.00).

Now, this is the second Italian restaurant I have visited at Disney World.  Normally we just head over to Hollywood Studios and enjoy our food (complete with gluten-free dinner rolls and gluten-free dessert!) at Mama Melrose’s.  But since were were in Epcot…we figured it would be easier to eat there than park hop.

I sort of wish we park hopped…

It’s not that Via Napoli was bad.  It wasn’t.  The food was actually quite good.  It was just…average though.  The pasta in my dish was actually cooked to perfection.  A lot of gluten-free pastas, especially when crafted from rice flours, tend to get gummy and fall apart.  These were a perfect al dente and held up to the marinara and the vegetables.  But…there was a lot of pasta in that dish and I ended up picking out the veggies at the end and leaving the noodles alone.  I ate about 3/4 of the dish…and that was it.  I was done.  The marinara had a lot of flavor to it.  And the vegetables were a nice touch and I appreciate the chef at Via Napoli for doing that to accommodate my dietary needs.  I just…had better.  Elsewhere.

Jenn enjoyed her lasagna…after she picked out most of the spinach.  And Cathy made sure to eat all of her meatballs.  They were much smaller than what she normally gets in a spaghetti and meatball dish, so she appreciated that too.  But she too had to soldier on and leave some of her pasta noodles behind.

No dessert here for us…we had plans.  Cathy wanted her chocolate cannoli from one of the gelato carts in the World Showcase, and I headed to France to get some Salted Caramel Gelato from an ice cream shop there.  Yummy!

So, as it stands, Via Napoli put out good food.  I can’t think of anywhere at Disney where I have had bad food.  It’s just…Mama Melrose’s had more options for me…and a bit more to offer.  So next time…I think I’ll return to Mama Melrose’s.  But, thank you, Via Napoli, for the fine cuisine.  A little taste of Italy never goes wrong with me.

Product Review: CLIF Mojo Cranberry Almond Fruit & Nut Trail Mix Bar

CLIF Mojo Cranberry Almond Fruit & Nut Trail Mix Bar

CLIF Mojo Cranberry Almond Fruit & Nut Trail Mix Bar

Product: CLIF Mojo Cranberry Almond Fruit & Nut Trail Mix Bar – $1.49+

Today…was one of those days where I just never take a moment to settle in and eat something in the middle of the day.  Always on the go.  After hitting up the pool this morning for some laps, I was ready to get my shopping on.  So, after returning home and taking a nice shower, it was off to the brand new factory outlet store that opened up in the Louisville area.  Retail therapy…it’s great for what ails you and stresses you out.

So is the pair of Tommy Hilfiger skinny jeans I bought too…but that’s beside the point.

What is my point?

My point is…there are days that I just don’t get to sit down and settle into an official “lunch.”  I am very good about eating breakfast and often make it the bulk of my daily meal.  I hit up good protein sources, healthy carbs, and those healthy fats (HELLO AVOCADO!).  Dinner is always a must, but it’s usually something very light and easy, unless it’s a weekend where I have some time to prepare an actual dinner…like a casserole or something…where I freeze the leftovers and keep them for those days where life is just spiraling out of control and the very thought of cooking a meal from scratch is too much to bear.

But lunch.  Lunch sometimes consists of oatmeal or overnight oats, especially during the week.  It’s something light but filling.  But on a day like today, where you’re trying to beat the crowds and actually find a parking spot at a brand-spankin’-new outlet mall…you grab and go.  And that’s what I did, pulling open my kitchen drawer of “run snacks” and retrieving the next protein bar in the lineup.

Today…the CLIF Mojo Cranberry Almond Fruit & Nut Trail Mix Bar.  It was easy to transport and I figured I liked the blueberry one well enough, why not?  So, my roommate grabbed her snack and we were out the door and hitting the road to check out the shops.  On the way, it was time to fortify ourselves for what would be at the very least an hour and a half at the outlets.  At least.  She dove into her snack…and I broke into my bar.

Once again, I have to make the fair comparison between these bars and the KIND bars.  They are loaded with dried fruits and nuts, and you can see each and every ingredient right there.  To give it some added bulk, CLIF also mixes in rice crisps…which you can also see.  I was hungry from my time in the pool…so I took my first bite.

YES!!  CLIF one again hits the flavor combination on the head.  In fact, I want to say it tastes a lot like the fruit and seed mixtures that are included in a few of the Go Picnic box meals every now and again.  You know…the kind that Enjoy Life produces.  That’s what this bar tastes like.  It tastes like a sweet snack victory to me.  It was chewy…yet not overly so.  In fact, this one was a bit more solid than the blueberry, but I think some of that was due to the fact that it had been warm…then in my cool apartment…so it solidified.  Nonetheless, I was loving each and every bite of this bar.  It had that tangy zing from the cranberries and that hit of salt from the almonds.  The rice crisps brought something chewy.  And it was all bound together in this outrageously tasty bar.  I had to keep myself from just shoving the entire thing in my mouth and chewing for about 10 minutes.  I savored…and I’m glad I did.  This bar hits all the right notes at all the right times.  Amazing.

So, let’s talk ingredients.  CLIF is proud to use non-GMO ingredients in their Mojo bars.  And…about 70% of the ingredients are organic.  In the CLIF Mojo Cranberry Almond Fruit & Nut Trail Mix Bar, you will find the following ingredients: organic almonds, cranberries, organic tapioca syrup, organic rice crisps, organic roasted soybeans, organic inulin, organic sunflower oil, sea salt, citric acid, and natural vitamin E.  This bar is gluten-free, cholesterol free, low glycemic, and high in fiber.

Nutritionally speaking, this bar definitely stands up to those that are similar to it.  And in some cases, the stats are even better.  A serving size is one bar.  One CLIF Mojo Cranberry Almond Fruit & Nut Trail Mix Bar will serve up 180 calories and 10 grams of fat.  Don’t panic over the fat.  Most of that is derived from the almonds, making it a healthy fat.  This bar also will give you 110 mg sodium and 11 grams of sugar.  The sugar is higher than I like it, but I’m guessing some of that actually does come from the cranberries.  And, you will also be consuming 4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein.  So, you definitely will feel full after eating it and it does a good job of sticking with you.

I’m finding a lot of great flavor, great textures, and great nutrition from the CLIF Mojo Fruit & Nut Trail Mix Bars.  The two that I have tried thus far have blown me away.  The flavors just blend so well and pop in your mouth.  I guarantee that you’ll enjoy these bars.  And…for that price…go ahead and stock up.  I know next time I hit the store, I will be doing just that!

CLIF Mojo Cranberry Almond Fruit & Nut Trail Mix Bar (unwrapped)

CLIF Mojo Cranberry Almond Fruit & Nut Trail Mix Bar (unwrapped)