Mississippi Blues Half Marathon Recap

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Saturday was the first race, and first half marathon of 2015, the Mississippi Blues Half Marathon, for myself. Susan and I (she did not run, but tagged along for moral support ans see family friends) traveled down to Jackson, MS for a race that I have heard quite a bit about. Having family friends in Jackson as well as its proximity to Memphis makes traveling there for races very tempting. It is always great to be able to drive to an out-of-town race without missing work and not needing a hotel room.

For 2015, the race was chosen to be a part of the Marathon Maniacs and Half Fanatics reunion, along with the First Light Marathon in Mobile, AL. The two races even have a Back to Back Challenge for runners that want to participate in both events. While tempting to tackle both events, I decided it was not financially prudent this year. I will be running in Alabama next month anyway, so I just enjoyed the festivities in Jackson.

Start Line

Taken from the MS Blues Facebook page

 

The race was honestly my toughest half marathon to date for various reasons. One, the course is tough. It is very hilly, even if none of the hills are monstrous. The elevation gained and lost is completely manageable, you just need to train for it. Two, it was cold. Really f’n cold, especially for us southern folks. At the start of the race, the temperature was 25 degrees, and it felt much colder than that. We froze while waiting to start. Three, my training was not quite adequate enough. Since the St. Jude Half during the first week of December, my longest run has been five miles. I was not as prepared for this race as I should have been, but I was thankfully able to finish, in the upright position for my sixteenth half marathon!

The race itself was very well-organized, with a clearly marked course, lots of support staff, information shared efficiently, and a dedication to its theme that makes you want to return in the future. The national anthem was played on a steel guitar to open the race, and every aspect of the race reflected the blues. For any runners staying in town on Saturday night, there was a race organized Blues Crawl in local restaurants to listen to more blues music that seemed like it would have been an awesome time.

2015 Mississippi Blues Half Marathon Medal

2015 Mississippi Blues Half Marathon Medal

Swag: A+: Instead of shirts, runners received running vests, which is a first for me, and will certainly get used quite a bit over the next few weeks. Runners also received a harmonica, which was an awesome way to include the theme while standing out among other events. The swag bags are also reusable, and there was a CD of local blues artists included that I have yet to listen to, but will this week. And then there is the medal. Guitar shaped, and larger than most medals, this thing is truly outstanding. The finisher’s medal will stand out on any medal rack! It is one of my all-time favorite medals, and I would gladly endure the hills again today to earn another one! The marathon medal had an attached guitar pick, and might have been even large than the ten inch guitar I received for the half marathon.

2015 Mississippi Blues Half Marathon Swag

2015 Mississippi Blues Half Marathon Swag

The post race refreshment tent was a madhouse, I ended up grabbing a drink, a banana, and exiting quickly, so I did not get to enjoy everything that there was to offer there. There were heaters inside the tent, and several people wanted to warm up. I get it, but I had no desire to fight the crowd any more than I had to that morning. The Mississippi Museum of Art was open for runners to eat, relax, and warm up in as well. You also received free entry to the museum with your bib.

Course: B: The support was great, and there were plenty of aid stations. The hills were noticeable, and definitely became a challenge late for me. The course took you through Jackson State University as well as Millsaps College, along with some other landmarks of Jackson. Towards the end, the course went through some residential neighborhoods which had some potholes to navigate around.Being that I twisted my ankle during the latter stages of the race, I can confirm that these potholes were a nuisance. There was music along the course which certainly helped with runner morale.

Overall: A: Great race with a great atmosphere and very memorable race swag. The biggest downside to the race is that it is held during the same weekend as the WDW Marathon events. A runner could not participate in both events, but, for anyone that misses out on the WDW registration, the Mississippi Blues Marathon and Half Marathon would serve as a great, and cheaper, backup plan. I would not hesitate to participate in this race again in the future! Also, the event has its own iPhone app for easy access to event info and pictures on the go!

New York, New York

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For an extended weekend just prior to Christmas, Susan and I, along with her parents, had the privilege of visiting New York City! This was my first trip to the Big Apple and I was determined to make the most of it. Our primary focus was Manhattan, which I assume is natural, and we basically hit every landmark possible in three and a half days.

This selfie became our Christmas card photo

This selfie became our Christmas card photo

Thursday, December 18, 2014: Arrive at LaGuardia Airport. By virtue of using LaGuardia, the borough of Queens was visited, even if it was just by the virtue of a cab ride to and from. It did seem odd that Citi Field is so close to the airport, but at least it is in New York and not New Jersey (looking at you Giants and Jets).

Times Square was always busy, but it was great place to start each day

Times Square was always busy, but it was great place to start each day

From the airport, we headed towards our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn at Time Square. The cab ride was long thanks to traffic, but it allowed me to observe the skyscrapers and landmarks along the way. We were early for check in, but our rooms were ready, so we were able to get our bags to our room and start being tourists. And luckily for us, our rooms were upgraded to king beds, which I am sure no one in history has ever complained about! From our hotel window we had a view of Times Square and the ball that will drop on New Year’s Eve, which was better than the side of a building that my in-laws were treated with.

Awesome view of NYC

Awesome view of NYC

Lunch was at a burger place called The Counter, which was really good, the amount of customization for each burger was astounding. After lunch, we walked around Times Square and Bryant Park. Susan and her mom enjoying looking through all of the Christmas shops in Bryant Park and I was just taking in the sights. I must say that the characters that wander around Times Square are creepy. Most of them do no speak English, and costumes are not exactly top-notch quality. We saw a Mickey Mouse with a pink face and pointy ears, a hybrid of Cookie Monster and Animal from the Muppets, a Leatherface Statue of Liberty, and a blonde Mario. There were several others, but those will be etched into my nightmares for a while. And to be fair, there were some really good ones, most notably the man dressed as Batman.

If this has to be a warning, then you should not engage the characters.

If this has to be a warning, then you should not engage the characters.

We then walked to the Empire State Building. I know it is touristy to do, but I wanted to go to the top of it, so we did. The views were awesome, and the architecture and design inside of the building was beautiful. I tried to do a self-guided tour, but my device was broken.

Impressive

Impressive

After the Empire State Building, we returned to our hotel to get ready to watch Aladdin on Broadway. Aladdin was being shown at the New Amsterdam Theatre which was very ornate inside, but the seating was cramped. I thought my legs were going to be horribly bruised from how I was sitting for the show. This was excused because of the performance of James Monroe Iglehart as The Genie. It was the most amazing single performance that I have every had to privilege of witnessing! I could watch and listen to his rendition of “Friend Like Me” on repeat for the rest of time! After the show, we just grabbed dinner at a hot dog stand in Times Square and called it a night.

Great show!

Great show!

Friday, December 19, 2014: We awoke and headed out early. We had breakfast at a little place near the hotel called the Evergreen. It was a good and cheap breakfast place, that got insanely busy before we left. Afterwards, we trekked on to 30 Rock, Radio City Music Hall, 5th Avenue, and FAO Schwarz. It there was not a line of children, I would have played that piano from Big! Seeing the tree at Rockefeller Center seemed to be that most asked about landmark from everyone about our trip, so, yes, we saw and took our picture with the tree on Friday morning.

Tree at Rockefeller Center

Tree at Rockefeller Center

After walking around all of the stores and sights near and around 30 Rock, we headed to Brooklyn for some pizza. we ate a Grimaldi’s Under the Bridge, for some fantastic pizza, and a great view of the Brooklyn Bridge. We gorged ourselves on this pizza since it is nothing like what we can get here in Memphis, and then headed back over the bridge to continue our touristy adventures.

Nice view post slice

Nice view post slice

First, we hit Battery Park for a view of the Statue of Liberty. We decided since the weather was on the chilly side, we would not venture out to the statue, and I just got a glimpse from the park.

9/11 Memorial (South Tower)

9/11 Memorial (South Tower)

Then we headed to Ground Zero. There is so much that I can and want to write about this portion of our trip that I am going to at a later date to try to do it justice. I will say that it was very sobering to see the Freedom Tower, and 9/11 Memorials and Museum. The entire time you are there you are either crying or on the verge of crying. There is so much to see in the museum and the tribute to each victim will give you chills. We also visited St. Paul’s Chapel, “the Little Church That Stood” which is a remarkable building in its own right. I will go into greater detail when I do my Ground Zero post, but this church has stood for centuries, and was protected from a downed cedar on 9/11. Susan has book about it that she shares with her children every year on 9/11.

Freedom Tower

Freedom Tower

After the very emotional visit to Ground Zero, we took a cab back to Times Square where we ate a Junior’s, and discovered amazing cheesecake and black and white cookies. Both items were delicious, and were consumed repeatedly throughout the rest of the trip.

I had to get my cheesecake to go

I had to get my cheesecake to go

Saturday, December 20, 2014: The day started at the Evergreen, and then we headed to Central Park for a carriage ride. We walked around Columbus Circle and then headed to Tom’s Restaurant, which is better known as Monk’s to those of us Seinfeld nerds in the world, and then had lobster rolls at Luke’s Lobster Rolls.

This might be the most common photo from every Seinfeld fan when the visit New York

This might be the most common photo from every Seinfeld fan when the visit New York

After lunch, we had a museum tour/scavenger hunt at the American Museum of Natural History conducted by Watson’s. The hunt was very detailed, and was designed to take over two hours to complete. And since we were double booked with scavenger hunts, and the temperature in the museum was somewhere between the sun and the seventh layer of Hell, we left early.

I could have spent all day in the dinosaur exhibits.

I could have spent all day in the dinosaur exhibits.

Our second scavenger hunt was in the Village so we exited the museum, grabbed a cab, and headed south. This scavenger hunt was conducted by Accomplice: The Show. There is one for New York and The Village, but during December, the New York show is not available. The actors in the show are of great quality, and you end up seeing quite a bit of the Village as you go from place to place to gather clues. It is a fun way to spend an afternoon, but the amount of fun heavily depends on the amount of engagement of your fellow participants. If you get some duds in your group, your experience will be tarnished somewhat.

Triceratops!

Triceratops!

After solving the crime in Accomplice, we headed to Katz’s Delicatessen for dinner. We did not sit in the When Harry Met Sally table, but we did get to absorb the full Katz’s experience. I went with the pastrami and it was delicious! I was able to conquer the entire sandwich, which was not an easy feat.

So freaking good!

So freaking good!

After dinner, we, along with 6 billion other people returned to Rockefeller Center to see the tree at night. My mother-in-law wanted a family photo with the tree, but that was not happening. We fought the crowds for a bit, looking at the decorated store front windows, and then headed back towards the hotel, making sure to detour for some more cheesecake before retiring for the evening.

The tree, at night, with several other spectators

The tree, at night, with several other spectators

Sunday, December 21, 2014: This was our last day in New York, and it was mainly a travel day. We did have another trip through Times Square and Bryant Park, buying some last-minute souvenirs and getting one more taste of the culinary fare of New York. Over the course of the extended weekend in New York, we saw everything on our list, walked over 23 miles along the streets of the city, and got a brief glimpse into another area of the country. I guess you can say that we enjoyed our trip, and we look forward to our next visit to NYC! Also, sorry for the novel of a post, I guess I should have separated it by each day!

A pic of Susan and I at the tree at Rockefeller Center

A pic of Susan and I at the tree at Rockefeller Center

Angels Game During Disneyland Half Weekend

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Another stadium marked off my 30 MLB park tour

Another stadium marked off my 30 MLB park tour

One of my non-running goals is to attend a baseball game at all 30 MLB stadiums.  This is not an original goal, but much like the 50 half marathons in 50 states goal, it is a great way to see the country.  Angels Stadium marked my fourth active MLB stadium to attend a game at, joining Turner Field, Busch Stadium (the third one), and Fenway Park.  I have also attended games at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, the second Busch Stadium, and Riverfront Stadium, but those do not count on the 30 parks tour.

No ballgame is complete without a beer and a hot dog.

No ballgame is complete without a beer and a hot dog.

Going to an MLB game requires at least one beer and hot dog.  This trip lived up to this expectation, even if it was not the best meal to eat the night before a race.  Luckily it was before the 10K, and I did not overindulge in anything.

Panorama of Angels Stadium

Panorama of Angels Stadium

The game was between the top team teams in the AL West, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Oakland A’s.  The weeks prior to the game, it was looking like the game would potentially be for possession of first place in the division.  However, by August 29, the Angels had started to pull away in the division, but I was still able to watch two aces go at it.  Jon Lester was pitching for the A’s, and Jared Weaver for the Angels, and both pitched well.

Yes, this is a helmet full of nachos. No, I did not order these.

Yes, this is a helmet full of nachos. No, I did not order these.

The game ended 4-0 Angels, with home runs by Chris Iannetta and Albert Pujols.  Sadly, Mike Trout did not do anything SportsCenter worthy during the game, but it was still a good game.

T-Shirt giveaway from the game

T-Shirt giveaway from the game

Honestly, the stadium was better than I expected.  There were a ton of food options, and while the stadium is one of the older ones in the league, it holds up well.  The organization does it best to make the game day experience a fun one, and the fans were much more rabid than I was expecting. The helmet nachos were very popular, partially because at $16.50, they were a good value by ballpark standards.  I cannot imagine eating all of those nachos in one sitting.

With my fourth active stadium marked off the list, I have no clue which one will be next, but it probably will not be until next season that I will be able to travel to a new stadium.

WWII Veterans Honored at Airport

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I was out-of-town last week at a work conference (more on that in a later post) and on my return trip, I witnessed one of the greatest moments of my life.  I was at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport changing flights when it was announced over the PA system that a group of World War II veterans were landing at gate C7.  I luckily was in the area, so I headed over to the gate.  As it turns out, so did the rest of the passengers in C terminal, and what happened next was truly amazing.  As each vet exited the plane, they were greeted to a standing ovation and a series of thank yous.  One by one these men were warmly greeted by the crowd as they went on to their next stop.  The looks of gratitude on the faces of the vets as well as the crowd was truly inspiring.

Thank You

Thank You

The whole process lasted for about 20 minutes, and hardly anyone left from start to finish.  The best exchange of the entire event happened between a young boy and one of the USO workers.  It went, as follows:

USO Employee: Have you ever met a hero before?

Kid: No.

USO Employee: You have now.

The airport got quite a bit dusty at this point for almost everyone within earshot of that response.

This is a little blurry, but this is one of the vets exiting the plane.

This is a little blurry, but this is one of the vets exiting the plane.

This was one of the few times in my life that I have been able to see a WWII vet in person.  My own grandfather served in the army, but he was not quite old enough to serve in WWII, but he did serve in Korea and Vietnam.  I remember in grade school having some vets come to school to talk about the war, but I do not think that I truly appreciated the gravity of what they did at that time.  Soon, none of us will have the opportunity to see or speak with any of these incredible men.

Gratitude

Gratitude

It was very humbling to shake hands with these men and thank them for what they did.  This chance encounter will stay will me for years to come.

WDW Marathon: Everything But the Race

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I feel that I covered the WDW Marathon and my experience rather thoroughly, so this post is going to be about everything else that I did while I was at my runcation.  Susan and I traveled to Disney World on the Thursday prior to the marathon and left on Monday.  During that time, we squeezed in four days in the parks and several excellent meals.  And since we went down to Disney for the marathon, our approach to visiting the parks was altered slightly from what we have previously done.  Instead of going 100 miles an hour from the second the parks opened until the second the parks closed, we scaled back our time in the parks, but still logged several daily miles.  I also brought my GoPro camera along on some of the rides.

The Resort:  Usually, Susan and I stay at Coronado Springs when we visit Disney, but we could not book a room there for marathon weekend.  Instead, we stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort, which is the largest resort at Walt Disney World, and falls into the moderate resort category.  Caribbean Beach was very disappointing and honestly was overpriced for what you get.  The interior of the room felt and looked cheap.  There were pools, and beaches, and dining at the resort, as it is at all of the moderate resorts, but the rooms were lacking.  There are no rooms with king sized beds in the entire resort!  Our room had a cheap, white ceiling fan, a Finding Nemo wallpaper runner around the top of the room, and uncomfortable, bland bedding.  For the same price, Coronado Springs has ornate doors and decorations, much better bedding, and closer proximity to the amenities that make the resort a moderate resort.  We will never stay at Caribbean Beach again.

Nemo wallpaper from our room

Nemo wallpaper from our room

Thursday: Between flying into town, checking into the resort, the expo, and an intense rain storm, most of our day was consumed outside of the parks.  We did manage to go to Epcot late in the afternoon to ride some rides and dinner.  Test Track is by far the best ride at Epcot (sorry Soarin’ fans), even if it is just a Chevrolet commercial. and enjoyed dinner at the Coral Reef, which is an underwater themed restaurant with a large aquarium.  You pay more for the atmosphere than the food, but every time that I have gone there, I have found something worthwhile to eat.  On this evening I tried the grilled Mahi Mahi with laughing bird shrimp, hearts of palm, jasmine rice, cilantro, and a coconut-lime sauce.  Susan had the crab cakes and both were good.  After dinner we grabbed a cronut for a snack, which is the greatest thing ever!  It is a croissant prepared like a doughnut (not runner friendly), covered in cinnamon and sugar.  This was the first time we had one and it was not disappointing.  After our dessert, we watched the fireworks show Illuminations, which is a phenomenal show and it is the personal favorite of both Susan and myself.

The Cronut!

The Cronut!

Friday:  We did some park hopping, trying our best to maximize the value for our tickets.  Our day started at Hollywood Studios, where we rode the Tower of Terror multiple times and took in several shows since we were trying to limit the miles we walked.  We also were able to work in a ride on Aerosmith’s Rock ‘N Roller Coaster thinks to Fast Pass+ on our Magic Bands.  Dinner was at the Brown Derby where we enjoyed their “world-famous” Cobb Salad and grapefruit cake.  After dinner we headed over to the Magic Kingdom to check out the new Fantasyland, including Beast’s Castle and the new Little Mermaid ride since that is Susan and my sister-in-law’s favorite Disney movie.  We also watched Wishes, which is their nightly fireworks show.

I used my GoPro on several rides throughout the day, but honestly, they were not that impressive.  Tower of Terror and Space Mountain were too dark to be worthwhile, whereas the Little Mermaid ride is a little slow to post.  I honestly shot that one specifically for my sister-in-law.  I did not use my GoPro on the Rock ‘N Roller Coaster because I was afraid it would fall off (same as Test Track) and it was dark in there as well, so the video would not have been great.

Saturday: We started our day at Animal Kingdom, which is the best park to start at since everyone wants to go to the bigger parks first, so you can do everything you want in a relativity quick manner.  We rode Expedition Everest three times, Dinosaur, and the Kilimanjaro Safari within the first hour an a half of going to the park.  I got an awesome video from the front seat of Expedition Everest since there was not that many people to contend with for seating.  My video for Dinosaur was not great, so I will not be posting it.  So enjoy my video of Expedition Everest!

After leaving the park, we returned to our hotel to relax with Susan’s cousins at the pool.  I did make a return trip to the expo for some fuel and a last second walk around.  Dinner that evening was at Il Mulino and it was easily one of the best Italian restaurants in which I have ever eaten.  I took it easy, but all of our friends and family really enjoyed the food and wine.  The rice balls and gnocchi were both phenomenal and the Caesar salad was hands down the best I ever had.  The portions were huge and I am really glad that Susan and I decided to split the gnocchi.  And honestly, the place was the most reasonably priced meal of the entire weekend, especially when you consider the quality and amount of food you get.  I can not wait to return there when I can fully enjoy the menu and atmosphere.

Sunday:  After the race, we went to Germany in Epcot to refuel and enjoy some liquid refreshment.  My grandmother is from Germany and my mom spent many years over there, so I love German food.  Not to mention the gigantic beers that they serve there.  After lunch, I had to have another cronut, this time a la mode, and then we went back to our hotel to shower and crash for a couple of hours.  That was the best sleep of the entire week!

Prost from Germany after the race for some beers

Prost from Germany after the race for some beers

After our nap, we returned to Epcot for dinner at Le Cellier, which is the steakhouse in Canada.  My first impression of the restaurant was that every employee was incredibly attractive.  It was quite noticeable and unexpected.  Apparently there is something in the water up north.  Now onto the food.  Susan and I split the cheddar cheese soup and Caesar salad for appetizers.  You are also given a trio of breads, all of which were good.  Dipping the pretzel bread into the cheese soups was great. Then we both ordered the filet with wild mushroom risotto and the steaks were on par with any steakhouse that I have had the privilege to previously visit.  It was the most expensive meal of the trip, but it was worth it.

This is Disney Parks photo of the filet at Le Cellier. Ours looked really close to this actually.

This is Disney Parks photo of the filet at Le Cellier. Ours looked really close to this actually.

We enjoyed our trip to Disney, and even though we did not do as much as a typical trip there, we did hit all of our favorite rides and enjoyed some great meals.  I really did a poor job of taking photos of my food while in Disney, so I do apologize for that.

Weekly Recap

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This was my view for most of the week

This was my view for most of the week

It has been a busy and expensive week (in a good way) for me this week.  This week was a down week for the Galloway WDW Marathon training plan which also serves as a brief taper period for the 4 Bridges Half Marathon.

Monday: This was a rest and recovery day after my fifteen miler.  I left work early so I could meet the driver from my buddy Zach’s dealership at my house because I purchased a new vehicle!  I did not really need a new vehicle, but I decided to upgrade to the 2014 GMC Sierra SLT.  It is an awesome truck with all the bells and whistles.  It is bigger than my old truck, so there is a little bit of an adjustment period to driving it, but taking it to and from the beach was good practice.

My new truck

My new truck

Tuesday: No run since I opted for an extra hour and a half of sleep.  I went to work, then class, and then I loaded up the new truck and headed to the beach to meet Susan and friends.  Seacrest, FL is eight hours from Memphis, so this was quite an endurance test.  I would like to thank the makers of Perky Jerky, Monster Energy, Diet Mountain Dew, and Snickers for helping fuel my midnight ride to the beach.  I am happy to say that I made the trip without an incident and really was not too tired to enjoy my mini vacation.

I reached Nike+ blue level while on vacation

I reached Nike+ blue level while on vacation

Wednesday: After a quick three hour nap, I woke up to enjoy the day.  I first went for a four mile run along the bike path parallel to Highway 30A.  It was a strong run with great scenery.  It was even better than the Greenline here in Memphis simply because the scenery was even better.  The rest of the day was spent at the beach and dinner consisted of some peel and eat shrimp and fried crab claws at a local eatery.

Thursday: I started the day with a mile long beach run followed by a quick circuit of incline pushups, crunches, bicycles, jumping jacks, side crunches, and normal pushups.  I followed that with a key lime doughnut from the Donut Hut, which was good, but would be trumped later in the week.  Afterwards, I discovered that Samuel Adams Octoberfest is an excellent beach beer and tried the local Grayton Beer IPA, which was excellent.  Dinner was at The Back Porch, which has great food, but next time I will order a blackened sandwich instead of the Angry Amberjack Sandwich.

Studying on the beach

Studying on the beach

Friday: I started the day with another four mile run down 30A, this time in the opposite direction as my Wednesday run.  I followed with more beer on the beach, as well as some grad school studying.  I very well might be the first person ever to read the textbook Mission Mystique on the beach!  Dinner was my first experience at The Red Bar, which was by far the best meal of the week.  I had their famous crab cakes and was not disappointed!  We opted for dessert, and it was the right choice.  Susan had bread pudding and I had the key lime pie, which rivaled any that I have ever eaten.

Everything at The Red Bar was great, but this was the bread pudding

Everything at The Red Bar was great, but this was the bread pudding

Saturday: Sadly, we had to return to Memphis.  Before we left, we ate at The Donut Hole, which is very well known in the Destin area and if you get there late, you will wait for a very long time.  We thankfully beat the rush there and were seated almost immediately.  I went with the “Diet” Plate, which is biscuits, sausage, eggs, and hash browns, covered with cheddar cheese and country gravy.  Amazing, even if it is not healthy.  We also order some doughnuts to go for later in the day.  We went with the key lime, chocolate chocolate, blueberry cake, and plain glazed doughnuts.  They were all amazing, and the key lime doughnut here was even better than the Donut Hut.  The biggest positive to returning to Memphis was that we were able to see our dog again!  Maybe next time we will take him with us.

Sunday: My weekly “long” run was actually just another four miler.  It was my only run of the week that did not have the ocean in the background, but I did not let this get me down too much.  It was another solid afternoon.  After my run, I decided to wash my truck since the drive accumulated quite a bit of dirt and grime.  This may have been more of a workout than my run!  But, the truck looks almost as good as it did on Monday when it was delivered.

If we could have prolonged our vacation another day and a half, I would have tried my best to run a half marathon on 30A.  Maybe I should have done some research before getting down there, because the Blue Mountain Half Marathon was Sunday morning and would be a great addition to my running resume.  Oh well, I could not justify the extra expense of two more days at the beach and an extra half marathon to my schedule.

Now, it is almost time for SNF between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, and The Walking Dead returns tonight as well!

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Cancun, Mexico 2013

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One of the views from the condo

One of the views from the condo

Last week, Susan and I traveled to Cancun, Mexico with he family and best friend.  This is an annual trip for her family, and was only the second time that I was able to go.  And since I was in another country with rather spotty internet service, I did not post or check the blog much.  It was a trip full of ups and downs, so I thought my title separation was a good one, even if the trip had nothing to do with the famed Spaghetti Western.

Photo cred to my sister-in-law for the pic of the week

Photo cred to my sister-in-law for the pic of the week (this is our favorite restaurant, La Palapa)

The Good:  This was a vacation and that in itself is a good thing.  No work, the beach, and no chores made it even better.  We were in Cancun from Saturday to Saturday, which afforded us plenty of time to decompress and relax.  Also, being in a foreign country is about the only way my job will not call me, so I actually could avoid work for the week!

Our condo was at the Royal Mayan, one of three resorts that are adjacent to one another and are a part of the Royal Resorts chain.  My in-laws have owned there for twenty-five years and have gone to the same room during the same week for that many years.  Most of the staff has been there for that entire time as well, and it really was a second home for Susan’s family.  So, when you have that kind of relationship, it makes the week even better that being in some random hotel.  They have also made friends with other guests that own during the same week and one couple even came to Susan and I’s wedding!  This same couple is going to help me get a great discount on some new sunglasses for running since they are optometrists.

The food is amazing down there, and I certainly ate my fair share of blackened grouper this week, as well as the best fajitas that I have ever eaten.  I also drank enough banana monkeys (add rum to this recipe) to send me into a diabetic coma during an AA meeting!  Let’s just say that I wasn’t as stringent on what I ate as I should have been, but I was on vacation and every calorie was worth it.  Happy hour was from 3 – 6 pm daily, and half price drinks are hard to turn down.

There are sea turtle nests everywhere, including 18 at our resort

There are sea turtle nests everywhere, including 18 at our resort

I did maintain my Runner’s World Summer Streak, which now stands at 16 days, by running at least one mile each day while on vacation.  The day we left, I woke up at five to run my long run for the week, ran on the beach each of the seven days I was in Mexico, and then returned to my normal training/streak schedule upon returning to the United States.  I liked the new element of running on the beach and had no problem finding time to work in the runs since I was usually up a couple of hours before everyone else.

Susan and I have decided that we are going to have a Royal Mayan night periodically here in Memphis.  I am going to make the seven layer dip (Pico de Gallo, beans, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, black olives, and jalapenos) and blackened grouper tacos like the ones at La Palapa, as well as banana monkeys.  It may take a few attempts to perfect my recipes…

The Bad:  It rained in biblical proportions while we were down there, especially the first four days.  Tropical Storm Andrea was developing while we were there, so there was quite a bit of precipitation.  It rained so much that our room was flooded by rain water coming in from the balcony of our sixth floor condo!  I thought my bed was on an island the first night!  No one wants to go to the beach and have it rain everyday, but we were able to salvage a few hours each day for beach and pool time, and by the end of the week, the weather was back to normal.

Not what you want to see at the beach

Not what you want to see at the beach

Sadly, this is the last year that we will be going to the Royal Mayan.  The land lease is up, and the company has decided to sell rather than renew for another thirty years.  The other two resorts adjacent to the Royal Mayan, the Royal Caribbean and the Royal Islander, have five and ten years left, so we could arrange a return to the Royal Resorts, just not the condo that they have called home for twenty-five years.  It was a sad realization on the last day for Susan’s family, but it could definitely be worse.  There are hundreds of employees at the resort that are very uncertain of what their future holds, and with no pensions or contingency plans, their lives are about to take a devastating turn.  When I think about that, it seems petty to complain about all of the extra work that I have done this week now that I am back at the office.

If you have never been to the Cancun airport, I have some advice for you, avoid being there in the middle of the day.  It is crowded and there is little to no air conditioning.  You will suffer in the Mexican heat and humidity there at 2 pm.  You have been warned.

The only guy at the airport hotter than me

The only guy at the airport hotter than me

The Ugly:  I gained seven pounds while on vacation, so that was not ideal.  But, if I had not been running my streak miles, I’m certain that I would have hit double-digit in the weight gain category, so I will choose to look at the positive.

When I checked my luggage at the airport, I had my Armpocket stuffed into a side pocket on my suitcase.  The reason for this is because I had run with it that morning, so it was still sweaty and I did not want it on my clean clothes.  Well, after checking my bags and before picking them up in Mexico, my Armpocket absconded from my luggage!  At first, I was very confused why someone would want my sweaty armband, but Susan pointed out that whomever helped themselves to it probably assumed that my iPod or iPhone was in it, and that is why they stole it.  I had also held out hope that I had left it at home on accident, but after searching for it on Sunday, the theft was confirmed.  I registered a complaint with the airline, but I know that nothing will come of that,  so today I shelled out another $40 to get a new one.  At least the new one will be more suitable to use with my iPhone 5.

And probably the worst thing to happen to me over the week was that my banking account information was compromised and someone helped themselves to a little over $900 of my hard-earned money!  I was poolside checking my account because I am that OCD and I noticed considerably less money than I should have.  Upon investigation, I noticed that two electronic checks had been drafted from my account to pay someone else’s bills!  I immediately called my bank and was placed on hold.  Forty minutes later, I was still on hold and quite pissed.  I hung up and called back to discover that the bank was closed!  That’s right, I was placed on hold during normal business hours and forgotten about, while listening to the same recording on repeat for forty minutes of international call rates!  I let several f bombs fly over this and as of today, I have yet been able to speak to the branch manager responsible for this blunder.  Yesterday I did close the compromised account, opened a new one, changed my direct deposit and debit cards, and filed a police report over the fraud.  I have a name, address, and picture of a suspect, and later this week, the company in which the checks were drafted to will provide me with the account info associated with the fraud.  My bank did at least return my money the following day, so I wasn’t stuck in Mexico maxing out credit cards to pay my tabs.  I do

Road Trip: Arlington, TX

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This past weekend, Susan and I traveled to Arlington, TX for Susan’s graduate school graduation.  Susan had been taking master’s degree classes online through the University of Texas at Arlington with her best friend and a few of their coworkers.  So, when it came time to graduate, Susan and her best friend decided that they wanted to walk in the ceremony at graduation, especially since this would probably be the last degree that they earn.  So, on Friday, Susan, her parents, sister, grandmother, best friend, best friend’s boyfriend and family, and I took a caravan from Memphis to Arlington.   This is a seven to eight hour trip, and for whatever reason, I-40 in Arkansas always seems to be under construction, so we wanted to leave early on Friday morning to maximize our trip.  The only downsides to the trip were that we had to take Beau to a kennel since Susan’s parents were going on the trip and I would be missing Mother’s Day with my mom.

On Friday, the road trip started about like I expected, thirty minutes late with a decent amount of traffic and quite a bit of road construction.  Interstate 40 is probably has the most amount of road work with the least amount of road work completion in America, especially the 120 or so miles between Memphis and Little Rock.  Luckily, we did not get delayed too much by any of the construction, and really had an uneventful trip to Little Rock.  Once in Little Rock, we had our first setback of the day.  My in-laws ended up taking the wrong exit and detoured several miles before returning to the correct route.  Susan tried to call them about this to no avail.  Once they got back onto the beaten path, there was just several hours of driving, avoiding state troopers, and the guessing of the proper pronunciation of small towns in Arkansas and Texas.  This was at least an easier feat than trying to pronounce names in rural Mississippi, which becomes futile after a few miles.  We made it all the way to Rockwall, TX before we had another issue.  My father-in-law hit a chunk of wood on the interstate going well over 80 MPH and needless to say, his tire was not happy.  He busted the rim and had to hobble into a local gas station to change it out.  At least he had a full size spare, even if there was no air in it.  After a jack malfunction, some air pump manoeuvrings, and shifting of luggage, we finally started our final descent to Arlington.  As Memphians, we love to complain about our traffic, but after seeing what residents of the Metroplex endure everyday, I will try to cut back on my gripes.  Once we got to our hotel, my first thought was that our room was bigger than my first apartment in college.  We had a king six=zed bed, couch, recliner, mini fridge, microwave, and huge bathroom.  I can get used to traveling with free hotel rooms!  We went to dinner at the Mexican place next door and called it a night.

Father-in-law changing the flat

Father-in-law changing the flat

Saturday began with a blueberry waffle shaped like the state of Texas, because, why not.  After breakfast, we headed to campus of UT Arlington for Susan’s first, and last trip to a school that she is an alumnae.  My first impression of the campus was of utter shock.  I was expecting rundown buildings and an abandon all hope decor.  I was completely wrong.  The campus was great, with several new buildings, and was much larger than I anticipated.  Graduation was held in their on campus basketball arena, which was just built in 2010.  And since the arena is a little on the small side, and the graduating class was gigantic, UT Arlington spits their graduation up by colleges.  This is genius and saved us several hours of sitting.  After the graduation, we decided to try Chop House Burgers, a local restaurant that has been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, one of my go to shows when eating in new cities and claims to have the best burger in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  I ordered the Mushroom Swiss Burger, Susan ordered the Blacken Bleu Burger, and her father ordered the Cheeseburger, which uses two grilled cheeses as the bun!  Susan’s burger was the best (of what we ordered) and the blackened seasoning had a nice kick to it.  Susan and I shared some fresh cut fries and I sampled some of her parents’ onion rings as well.  The onion rings may have been the best thing that I ate there.  They were double seasoned and deep fried to golden perfection.  I really enjoyed my lunch, but it would not crack my top five, or possibly my top ten list of favorite burgers.

Don't Mess With Texas. Waffle.

Don’t Mess With Texas. Waffle.

After lunch we were supposed to go to Six Flags, but we had discovered that Kenny Chesney was playing Cowboys Stadium that evening.  I went to a Cowboys game there a few years ago, and no one else had ever been, so going to the concert just to see the place was enough for some of our crew.  After some investigation, we discovered that tickets were still available and Susan decided that she would rather go to the concert than Six Flags.  Her grandmother agreed, and even said she would buy our concert tickets, so the concert became an easy choice.  The concert stated at five, and would have four total performers, Kacey Musgraves, Eli Young Band, Eric Church, and Kenny Chesney.  For $50, and that lineup, this concert was a bargain, especially since it lasted a little over six hours!  The only downside is since it was in Cowboys Stadium or Jerry’s World, the acoustics were terrible.  If you didn’t know a song, you had trouble understanding any of the lyrics and forget trying to listen to any of the performers speak.  And the Eli Young Band, who are great live performers usually, were completely inaudible for their entire set.  It was a little disappointing.  How Eric Church and Kenny Chesney have so much energy throughout their sets is phenomenal, especially Chesney.  Eric Church sang all of his hits plus a cover of A Country Boy Can Survive, which is fitting since he is copying Hank Williams, Jr.’s look (sunglasses, beard, drinking whiskey on stage).  Honestly, his hour on stage would have been worth the $50 alone.  They opened the roof when Chesney came on stage since it was such a nice night and he performed twenty-four of his hits!  The most impressive part, at least to Susan and I was that he barely paused between songs, and just kept coming with his high energy performance.  Towards the end of the show, we moved down a couple of levels (we were up rather high) to the standing room only section, and the acoustics were much improved.  I will have to say, however, that the stadium was much better suited for its intended purpose, hosting football games.  Parking was a nightmare around the stadium (as always) but since our hotel was close, I parked on a street going away from the traffic, and we moved to the standing room only section, we were able to make it back to our hotel in under ten minutes.  Some other concert goers that were at our hotel told us the next morning that it took them over two hours to make the same, two mile trip.

Us in front of Jerry's World

Us in front of Jerry’s World

Also at the concert, our group saw something quite funny.  At Cowboys Stadium, there are huge walls of glass that extend from the floor to the ceiling several feet above.  As you approach one of these walls, it is easy to confuse them for doors.  Or at least my group did, along with a few others.  Well, we noticed within ten feet or so of the wall and turned around to find the actual door.  Well, this poor guy behind us was not so fortunate.  He approached the wall in full stride, and never slowed down until he crashed face first into the wall!  He hit it so hard that people on both sides of the wall stopped and watched the man stagger away from reverberating wall.  The man was too stunned from the hit to be outwardly embarrassed, and we had to clear the area to keep from laughing directly in his face.  We did notice, however, as we passed the wall that the man left a grease spot on the wall from his forehead, nose, and mustache!  I lost it when I saw that, but did refrain from snapping a picture.  My only question is did the man think that the wall was a door or that there was no wall at all?  I mean, if he thought it was a door, leading with your face seems like an odd way to open it.

Sunday only had the following three things on its itinerary: drive home, visit the Grand Prairie Premium Outlet Mall, and eat at In-N-Out Burger.  The outlet mall had many premium brands, including several athletic outfitters.  Susan wanted a purse, I was interested in grabbing some new running gear.  I succeeded in my goal, Susan did not.  I ended up getting a new running shirt and two pairs of shorts from Under Armour and a pair of Saucony shoes to use as my everyday sneaker for around $100.  In Memphis, this would have been over $150 easy.  On our way out of town, we stopped at the In-N-Out burger in Rockwall (a nice bookend for our trip) to have some of burger heaven.  I had only had In-N-Out Burger once in my life when I visited Anaheim a couple of summers ago, and I have been craving it ever since.  I am very thankful for their eastern expansion to Texas back in 2011 since it makes my acquisition of a burger slightly easier.  Maybe one day Memphis and Tennessee can have a franchise as well!  This was Susan’s first time to have In-N-Out, and she was definitely impressed with the bun.  With 100% fresh ingredients, including the bun, it is hard to argue with the quality.  I did not try “animal style” a variation of their burger on their “Not So Secret Menu” simply because I find mustard to be the single most disgusting food item on the planet.  Just the thought of it makes my stomach turn, so I avoid it at all costs, even telling some servers that I am allergic to it.  Nothing can ruin a burger like mustard.  Sadly, on this trip at least, the fires were very lackluster and grossly under seasoned.  I guess we will have to make a return trip so they can redeem themselves to Susan!  Our drive home was uneventful and the only real issue was getting caught up in some traffic fives miles from home on I-240 due to some night paving.  But since this happened in Memphis, we knew enough back roads to navigate a detoured route home.

Double Double goodness

Double Double goodness

I have written a rather extension post about our trip and I have not mentioned anything about running.  The reason for this, despite my intentions, I completely ignored my running during this mini vacation.  Yep, I went four days between runs.  And when you take in account that I had three burger joints (Chop House, In-N-Out, and Whataburger), it is plain to see that I was not as dedicated to my health as I should have been.  So my punishment is taking the stairs at work.  I work on the eighth floor in my building, and travel to the basement frequently.  I decided last week that once a week, I was going to take the stairs all day once a week.  As my punishment, I was going to double that.  Yesterday, that meant that I took 1,360 stairs!  Of course, as I am writing this, that doesn’t seem like enough of a punishment, so I am going to take the stairs for the rest of the week.  Maybe I will make this my daily habit, or maybe I won’t skip anymore runs!

It’s Groundhog Day…Again

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Today’s blog title is inspired by the 1993 Bill Murray film which happens to be the greatest (maybe only) movie about Groundhog Day, the aptly titled Groundhog Day.  I remember going to see the movie at my hometown’s twin cinema back in ’93 and looking back, I didn’t really appreciate the movie nearly as much as I do now.  And how could I?  I was only eleven, Murray was somewhat distancing himself from his SNL roots comically, and I went to see the movie with my parents.  I’m sure I was expecting to see Ghostbusters or possibly Stripes, but got something a little more refined.  Now, I know it is no Citizen Kane, but I still love this movie and watch it at least around Groundhog Day every year.  Susan, however, hates it, so I have to watch it whenever she is busy doing something else.

Today is the day I usually run my long run for the week, but thanks to the forecast of freezing rain this morning and some prior obligations, the long run has been postponed to Super Bowl Sunday.  One of those prior obligations had me visiting the bustling metropolis of Holly Springs, MS, about a forty-five minute trek from Memphis.  Holly Springs has four things of note, Graceland Too, Rust College, Wal-Mart, and Phillips Grocery.  And I drove by all four today.  Graceland Too is a shrine to Elvis strategically placed roughly halfway between Memphis and Elvis’ birthplace, Tupelo, MS.  We only drove by since we didn’t have the time to go on the tour, but as I understand it, it is rite of passage for slightly to extremely inebriated coeds from Ole Miss.  Since I didn’t actually go in, the only difference that I can point out about about the linked article and what I saw is that Graceland Too is now two shades of blue instead of pink.  Rust College is an old, primarily African-American Methodist college that is probably the only thing that most outsiders have ever heard of in Holly Springs.  The Wal-Mart is notable for a couple of reasons.  One, as in every small, southern town, Wal-Mart tends to be the focal point of all town excitement, and statistically speaking, it is the most shoplifted from Wal-Mart in the world!  The fourth attraction was the one that I was most excited about, Phillips Grocery.  I have been told for years how good the burgers here are, so I am happy to say that I finally have tried one for myself.  And I must report, the burger lived up to the hype!  You pull up to the restaurant, which is an old community grocery store, on an one lane road and it is surrounded by a few other older buildings.  When you walk in, the first thing you notice is two buckets full of MoonPies.  The second, or at least for me, a random fifth of Wild Turkey Bourbon sitting behind the counter.   The place does not have a liquor nor beer license, I am a fairly certain that the owner takes pulls from the bottle whenever he feels the urge.

Not what I expected to see (but maybe I should have)

Not what I expected to see (but maybe I should have)

The place only accepts cash or checks (yes, there are still places that take checks!), and the family that came in after us had a check issue on their previous visit that they were working out with the owner.  I ordered the double cheeseburger and seasoned fries, while my wife and father-in-law both had the single cheeseburger and fries.  Susan also ordered a fried peach pie and he ordered a MoonPie.  With drinks, our meal was only $25, and served quicker than I anticipated.  The burger was seasoned well and very juicy.  The fries were crisp and the bite of the fried pie I had was also fantastic.  Anytime that your travels bring near Holly Springs, you should stop by.

My burger and fries

My burger and fries

Fried peach pie

Fried peach pie

After I talked about getting nice and fat, let me discuss my workout for a minute.  Since today wasn’t going to be a designated run day, I decided to do a Warrior Dash workout.  Today’s home circuit consisted of the following:

  • Pushups
  • Jumprope
  • Squat
  • V-Sit
  • Supermans
  • Chair Dips
  • Lunges
  • Stair Run
  • Glute Bridge
  • Bicycle

I used the twenty seconds of exercise, thirty seconds of rest with two cycles again for today’s workout and next week is when I am going to the :30/:30 split.

I’m getting off of here for now so I can get some dinner and relax a bit.