Chattanooga Trip

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Last week I posted about my experience at the 4 Bridges Half Marathon, and I barely touched on anything about the weekend besides the race.  This post is going to be about the sights  and experiences that Susan, her sister, and I had over the weekend.  There might be a little overlap with my previous post, but the majority of the info will be new,  I will not rehash the race or our bed and breakfast, The Mayor’s Mansion, which was awesome.  I will, however, talk quite a bit about food, especially food that is not ideal for weight loss.

The view from the park

The view from the park

The Places We Ate

Anyone that knows me knows that when it comes to going out to eat, I prefer to go to a local place.  It is great to support your local community, try some unique recipes, and bathe in the culture.  This is doubly true when I travel away from Memphis.  I can have the same mediocre steak at an Applebee’s anywhere!  I usually refer to Yelp!, Urbanspoon, the Man vs. Food website, or Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives website to see what is out there.  This trip, however, I did not have to rely very heavily on electronic reviews since my sister-in-law lives in Chattanooga and served as our culinary tour guide.

The first place that we ate at was Good Dog, which is a hot dog restaurant by the park in which the race expo and packet pickup was at.  I know not everyone likes hot dogs, but I do, and this place was beyond amazing.  There were numerous varieties to choose from and a plethora of toppings as well.  The fries were home cut in-house and come served in a cone that sits in a hole drilled into the tables.  There are four types of house ketchup available on the table and a house rub as well.  I went with the BLT dog, which was exactly what it sounds like.  The homemade mayo, called fritesaus was great, and I cannot wait to try some more of the menu items here in the future.

Our food was a little bit better than this

Our food was a little bit better than this

The second place we visited was the Big River Grille & Brewing Works.  This is not 100% local because there is a restaurant open in Nashville, and Lake Buena Vista, FL, but we don’t have one in Memphis, so it counts.  The wait here was insane, so we opted to sit on the patio.  This was a big mistake.  The temperature was steadily dropping and by the time we finished our meal, all of our teeth were chattering.  It was this experience that prompted the trip to Wal-Mart for my cold weather gear.  I did not order a beer since it was cold and we were trying to rush our order, but I really wish I did.  Susan had a grilled chicken sandwich with avocado and bacon, my sister-in-law had a cobb salad, and I tried the Mac ‘N Chicken.  My meal was rich, but very good, and portion was huge.  I only ate about half of it, which I appreciated the following morning during the half marathon!

After the race on Sunday, we went to Taco Mamacita.  This is another local place that is expanding to new markets, namely Nashville and Sullivan’s Island, SC.  The place is billed as “Fresh-Mex” due to the high quality of the ingredients.  We all three opted for the two taco and side deal.  We ordered the California Club (chicken, avocado, bacon), Taco Royale (double stacked taco with chicken and chorizo), and Oy Vey (brisket) tacos, and the Mexican street corn, charro beans, and green chilli rice as our sides.  The California Club and street corn were the far and away winners, but I would have no reservations about ordering anything that we had again.  I also enjoyed a Sweetwater 420 while the ladies had homemade sangria.  There was also something on the menu called a Durty Sanchez, which was a PBR and shot of tequila.  The man beside us order this against the wishes of his wife and young daughter.  She almost had him convinced that it was too early to drink when are drinks from the bar came out.  Whoops!

Durty Sanchez

Durty Sanchez

For an afternoon snack, I suggested that we try an ice cream place called Clumpy’s.  My sister-in-law had never been there, but it was next to Good Dog and seemed promising.  The was a considerable line when we got there and it only kept growing as we waited.  There was only one poor soul working, and he was earning every tip that he got.  The ice cream and waffle cones are homemade on site, so this is what I had.  I used opt out of a cone, but the ones coming off of the waffle iron smelled too good to pass up.  The ice cream selection seems to change daily and my chocolate peanut butter and pistachio ice cream waffle cone combo hit the spot.

This the whiskey available at Urban Stack

This the whiskey available at Urban Stack

Dinner was a Urban Stack Burger Lounge, which is actually owned and operated by the same people who own Taco Mamcita.  This was a burger joint with a vast selection of whiskey and beer.  They use local ingredients and have several specialty burgers, which is exactly why I eat at local places, variety and fresh ingredients.  I opted for the Good Day, Sunshine, while Susan and her sister went for a more traditional burger.  My burger was topped with a fried egg, bacon, a white vinegar mayo, and cheddar.  It was big, tasty, and excellent, even if it was not the best burger of my life (that honor is still bestowed upon the Pharmacy in Nashville).  The fries were house cut and there was a homemade chilli ketchup as well.  Also, all of our burgers came with a side of house-made Fire and Ice pickles.  I ate all three orders of the pickles and had no regrets.

Greatest sign ever! No Crocs!

Greatest sign ever! No Crocs!

Our breakfast at the Mayor’s Mansion was also delicious, even though I missed my all time favorite, French toast, on Sunday morning since I was running.  We also stopped at Publix on our way home because Susan loves the subs from there and she cannot get them here since Kroger has a grocery store monopoly in Memphis.  This is the second trip in a row where Publix subs have made an appearance and will be a sign of things to come on future trips to Publix friendly towns.

The Places We Visited

Susan & her new friend

Susan & her new friend

The biggest attraction in Chattanooga besides the mountains is probably the Tennessee Aquarium, which I had actually never been to.  The place is separated into two buildings, with one being the ocean side and one being the river side.  All three of us agreed that the ocean side was better mainly because of the penguins and despite the butterfly massacre.  The penguins were all over the place and very energetic.  They interacted with the spectators as much as the could behind all of that glass.  It makes me feel sad for the penguins here at the Memphis Zoo.  Side note, Susan and I are Memphis Zoo members which carries discounts at almost every zoo, museum, or aquarium in the US, especially the southeast, yet this aquarium was not one of them.  The butterfly massacre is in reference the nets in the butterfly room.  There were hundreds, maybe thousands of dead butterflies caught in the nets surrounding the ceiling.  It was kind of off-putting.  There was a gigantic tank that was four stories tall and all manners of ocean life in it.  There was also a couple of touch tanks where you could touch a shark or ray.  The river side would have been better the otter exhibit would have been open.  That is the major draw for that side of the aquarium, and without it, the place seemed kind of dark and empty.  Also, when we walked into the building, somewhat commented that I looked like Walter White.  I’m 31 and I was compared to a 51-year-old meth dealer with cancer, so that wasn’t great.

Entrance to the park

Entrance to the park

After our ice cream snack, we went to Point Park Battlefield, up on Lookout Mountain.  It is a national park that thankfully had reopened after the government shutdown.  It was a Civil War battle site and has a great view of the city.  There is a small museum, a couple of cannons, and several places to take in the view.  This was the only place we went on the mountain since it was so late in the afternoon.  We didn’t have a chance to go to Ruby Falls or the haunted cavern that was up there.  Apparently the haunted cavern is a top ten haunted house and I was the only one that wanted to go to it.

If you need this sign, you are in trouble

If you need this sign, you are in trouble

4 Bridges Half Recap Addendum

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The following story was supposed to be included in my 4 Bridges Half Marathon recap, found here, but I completely forgot to include it.  I guess I was tired last night.

4 Bridges Medal

4 Bridges Medal

So after the race, my stretching, getting my time, and some refueling, Susan and I started to head towards her car which was parked approximately a mile away, maybe a little further.  Parking is a travesty in Chattanooga.  There probably is one parking space for every 30 residents downtown.  There are a few parking garages, all of which have had at least one rape in them in the last three years according to my sister-in-law.  There is a one way street with angled parking spots for cars coming in the opposite direction!  So, needless to say I thought it was very fortunate that Susan found a spot this close.  So as we were approaching her car, a Buick Enclave (this is important in a second), three fellow race participants approached us.

It was a male and two females, and they proceeded to tell me that they were lost and looking for the Chattanooga Choo Choo.  The Choo Choo was one of the shuttle locations, but no directions were given on how the shuttle was going to return patrons to their cars post race!  So these three individuals had been wondering around, trying to find the shuttle location or the Choo Choo.  I told them that I was from Memphis and had no clue had to get there, but that Susan and I would help them if we could.  We decided that since we all had iPhones that we could find the directions so we head towards Susan’s car for the minor detour.  I throw my race stuff in the back hatch and we determine that it is about a two and half mile straight shot up the road we are on.  As we drive off we talk about how the race went and what brought us to it this year and so on.  They were all students of Lee University in nearby Cleveland, TN, and the guy is considering running his first full marathon at the Country Music Marathon in Nashville in April.  It was at this point that he noticed that our back hatch was still open!  Yep, five people, including the driver, had gone half a mile without noticing that the entire rear of the car was wide open!  Of course, once we noticed this we were in heavy traffic on a bridge, so there was no pulling to the shoulder to shut it.  We had to continue a little further until we could pull over.  Oddly, not a single passing car honked, pointed to the open hatch, or tried to communicate anything to us about the hatch being open.  When we able to pull over, I noticed the problem, my water bottle had rolled down into the clasp, so every time the hatch came down, it could not lock, and would open back up.  Luckily, none of our stuff that was in the back hatch flew out on the road, I guess that was the good karma of helping out some fellow runners!

Sadly, we didn’t think of getting a picture with our additional passengers until after we parted ways, but we all still have this random story.

4 Bridges Half Marathon Recap & PR

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Finish

Finish

I ran in the 4 Bridges Half Marathon in Chattanooga over the weekend.  This was the first time that I have run in this event and since the weekend coincided with my anniversary, we incorporated the race weekend into our anniversary trip as well.  This was the first time I had been to Chattanooga for more than a night since I was a young child, so I honestly did not remember much about the city.  After spending an extended weekend there, I can see why my sister-in-law loves the city so much.  Chattanooga is very scenic, with the Tennessee River running through the middle of it and surrounded by mountains.  There is a great mix of modern and retro architecture, and actually a growing culinary scene much like the ones in Memphis and Nashville.  When I go out-of-town, I try to eat at local places, and this weekend netted a few amazing options.  After packet pickup and expo, which was held in one of the several parks in town, we went to a hot dog place called Good Dog.  It was excellent, even if it isn’t the healthiest of meals.  I went with the BLT Dog, which is exactly what it sounds like.  After lunch, we checked into our hotel for the weekend, the Mayor’s Mansion, a fantastic bed and breakfast that was built-in 1883 and is just off of the UTC campus.  It was definitely a better place to stay than the Holiday Inn.  There was quite a bit of character throughout the building, and the service was top-notch.  Originally, we booked the Cumberland Suite, but my mother-in-law upgraded us to the Laurel Falls Suite.  Honestly, from the pictures, I was not crazy about the new room, but the pictures did not do the room justice.  Yes, these curtains and wallpaper on the ceiling are weird, but it did kind of work.  And the bathroom was as large as the rest of the room, including a gigantic tub that was great to soak in after the race.

Laurel Falls Honeymoon Suite

Laurel Falls Honeymoon Suite

Sadly, I did not pack well for this race since the weather I was expecting turned out to be ten degrees cooler than I anticipated.  Also, I was mistaken on the time for the start of the race.  I do not know why, but I thought the race started at 8:00 am, but it was actually 7:00 am.  I guess that I saw the start time, and automatically assumed that it was in central standard time.  Of course, the 7:00 am start meant that the race was beginning in the dark.  But, since the temperature was expected to be 40, and I would be starting before the sunrise, I needed to find something to keep me warm.  Sadly, this realization came to me rather late on Saturday night, so a trip to Wal-Mart was my only option.  This impromptu trip netted me some hand warmers, body warmers, and a Ninja Turtle winter hat, because when you come across a TMNT hat with a built-in mask, you buy it.  The hat actually was warm, and the hand warmers certainly served their purpose, but the body warmers were worthless.  After an hour of waiting for them to finally heat up, I just discarded them.

1 hour before the race w/ my TMNT hat

1 hour before the race w/ my TMNT hat

There were no staggered corral starts for this race, but rather signs and pacers posted with expected finish times for people to line up according to.  There were 1,200 registered runners for the half marathon, and probably close to the same in the marathon.  The 5K runners started after all of the half and full marathoners left.  I love how the concept for this race is to incorporate the several bridges in Chattanooga.  As the name suggests, there were four in the half marathon.  Within the first half mile, we were already running across one and since it was still dark, there was a great view of the downtown lit up.  Both races followed the same course for the first ten miles before the marathoners split away.  The race started in Renaissance Park and ended in Coolidge Park, which I honestly thought was the same park.  By the time we reached mile three, the racers were separating and hitting their desired pace.  The course went by the minor league baseball stadium, Tennessee Aquarium, UTC, and several other local landmarks.  The city is beautiful, but has a significant graffiti problem.  Everywhere we went the entire weekend, there was something tagged.  The race course was no different.

Heading to the finish

Heading to the finish

I did not look at my Nike+ watch until mile three, and I was plugging along at a very steady pace.  The cooler weather was definitely helping me maintain a steady pace.  The second bridge came at mile five, and it was here that I started to think that I might have a shot at eclipsing my PR.  I was running ahead of my expected pace and feeling great.  This and a turn downhill led to my fastest mile of the entire race.  Mile 6 was ran mostly on a running trail through a park, with a part of the course ran across the grass.  After exiting the park, it was time for more streets and another bridge.  Miles 7 and 8 were a steady incline, that I was able to maintain my pace on, including a negative split on mile 8.  Mile 9 was the longest straight shot of the course, and as the two races separated, we looped back on another running trail along the Tennessee River.  This lasted until the mountain that was mile 12.  I actually had an average pace under ten minutes after nine miles, but I gave away a good chunk of that time in mile 12.  The last mile took us racers across the pedestrian bridge into Coolidge Park.  That bridge was very cool and enabled us to have a little bit of a downhill jaunt to the finish line.

I finished the race in 2:11:09 according to my Nike+ watch, which was a PR by 5:17!  Of course, this was not an official time, so I was very eager to see what my official time would be.  After waiting in a ridiculously long line for my time, I noticed that my time read gun time and was over a minute slower than my Nike+ watch.  I was curious about this, but thought that it would be sorted out once times because official.  It was then that I noticed that I had a chip malfunction.  My chip time was 0:00:00, which was a little off.  This was quite a bummer!  I ran a great race, and now I am saddled with a gun time rather than a chip time.  But at least the gun time was still a significant PR at 2:12:16.  I know how well that I ran this race, and it was a PR, on a very hilly course, so that is definitely a positive!  Plus, even the gun time should be good enough to bump me up a corral at the WDW Marathon in January if the corrals are similar to what they were last year.

Course: A: The multiple parks, four bridges, several landmarks, and mix of grass, road, running trails, and stairs, yes, there were a few stair towards the end, made for a very interesting course.  The course was very hilly, as was to be expected, and did a great job of showing off the city.

4 Bridges Swag

4 Bridges Swag

Swag: A: There was  some great swag in this race.  I got a good-looking tech shirt, panoramic poster of Chattanooga, and a good medal, even if last year’s medal was even better.  Also, at the end of the race, reusable water bottles were distributed instead of disposable plastic bottles, which was an awesome touch.  Food at the end of the race was in a prepackaged box and there was also a table of fruit for runners as well.

4 Bridges Medal

4 Bridges Medal

Overall: A-: Great swag and neat course, but there was some organization and communication issues with this event, which were the only blemishes that I noticed.  I emailed the race director on Monday and as of Thursday night, I have not heard back from him.  There were several friendly volunteers, plenty of aid stations, and a great vibe.  Plus, I did PR, so that is always a good thing.

I am not sure want the protocol is, but I am claiming my Nike+ time as my PR time for a couple of reasons.  One, I started in the ten minute pace group, so I certainly did not cross the start line as soon as the race opened.  Two, it gives me more of a goal to strive towards in future runs and PR attempts.

I will post more about our trip on a later date.  I have a midterm to study for and paper to start.