Travel with me – Runner’s review – Sheraton Panama City Beach Resort

View from the boardwalk, overlooking the resort

Quiet days filled with sunshine are the ones that make my heart soar. But then so do early mornings where my feet hit the pavement just as the sun has come up. This trip to the Sheraton Panama City Beach Resort was no different. Not only did I get a chance to take in the local sights, but I also got a chance to check out this hotel from a runner’s perspective. 

Fitness enthusiast amenities:

Swimming: This hotel has two pools with plenty of space for lounging pre- or post-run. It offers a gorgeous view of the bay from both pools. These pools are not set up for swimming laps but is a perfect place to stretch out your muscles. There is also a hot tub situated right near one of the pools with an equally great view of the water. 

Hotel gym: This gym is your standard hotel gym. There are large windows that overlook the back of the resort where you can get a perfect view of the bay. There are a good number of both cardio and weight-training equipment available for whatever your training needs are that day.

Walking paths: If you enjoy a nice, long walk along the water, you can take advantage of the hotel’s boardwalk. It goes out across the water that eventually takes you through an open-air bar and restaurant. If you continue past the restaurant, the boardwalk will take you to a private beach on the bay available for resort guests. 

Golf: For the golf lovers, this hotel offers an 18-hole Nicklaus Course with views of the bay and the surrounding marshes. 

Spa: If you want to treat yourself to a massage post-workout, there is a facility on site that can meet all your needs. Serenity Spa at Sheraton.

Eats:

If you want good food with views for days, this hotel has two restaurants that offer both of those. 

The first is Flip Flops. This restaurant is situated in the center of the hotel where it is just as casual as the name portrays. You can have lunch or dinner wearing your bathing suit, a pair of flip flops, or whatever makes you feel comfortable. They offer your standard menu of sandwiches, salads, quesadillas . . . . you name it. I tried both their quesadilla, which could easily be shared between two people, and a Cesar salad with grilled shrimp. Both were quite tasty!

View from Flip Flops Restaurant

Pelican’s Bar and Grille is another restaurant on-site that is located directly on the boardwalk. This is another casual restaurant. Many of the guests returning from a day-trip with Paradise Adventures Catamaran (which is located at one end of the boardwalk) make this an evening stop for both a drink and dinner overlooking the water. 

View from Pelican’s Bar and Grille

Running route:

This resort is in a beautiful location, with rolling golf-course hills, ample sidewalks, and views that will make your heart sing. 

On my run, I took out from the hotel entrance and made a left onto Jan Cooley Drive. After a small jaunt on the grass, I reached the sidewalk. This sidewalk will take you through the golf course, where you can wind through the course, or you can take this sidewalk all the way to the end of Jan Cooley Drive. I chose to take the sidewalk to the end of the road, which meets Delwood Beach Road. I took a left onto Delwood Beach Road, where there were more sidewalks, and followed it for another couple miles. Eventually, Delwood Beach Road turns into Magnolia Beach Road, where you can easily get a good long run out of this route. If you stay on the sidewalk, this route is nice and flat – great for working on some speed! 

If you want a shorter run while visiting, you can easily use the boardwalk or make a loop around the golf course, being careful to avoid the golf carts, of course, to get in your miles. 

If you are not used to the Florida heat and humidity, depending on the time of year you arrive, you’ll want to plan your outdoor runs in the mornings or evenings to ensure the best temperatures. 

Need a running route? Create your own here.

Final take:

If you are searching for a beach destination without the hustle and bustle of a tourist trap, where you don’t have to wait in line for a beach chair, and the evenings are spent quietly watching the sun go down at the edge of a dock, you might have found the perfect getaway for you. From the perspective of a runner and fitness junkie, this resort offered just the right amount of running/walking routes with views that would make you want to keep going for miles. 

Travel with us – Grand Cayman

There is a special place where the sand meets the surf, where golden sunsets whisk me to an other-worldly place. This time, that place landed me in Grand Cayman. 

Standing in the surf, Grand Cayman

How to get there:

You can access this small but action-packed island (it’s only 75 sq. miles) via airplane or cruise ship. We have traveled here by both cruise ship and plane. This trip, we elected to fly into the island where we could spend the week exploring the sights and getting a real feel of the local life. The airport is easy to access with friendly attendants willing to help you with any questions. Once you arrive, simply follow the signs for a cab to take you to your hotel or vacation rental. We snagged a minivan ride with other airline passengers. A point of note, if you do decide to share a minivan with others, it’s not necessarily cheaper and you will make multiple stops on the way to your hotel. For example, we stopped at two other resorts before coming to our hotel.

Where to stay:

There are plenty of gorgeous places to stay on this island. We chose to stay on Seven Mile Beach at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort. We chose this hotel because of the great location and the many amenities offered on-site. Our hotel offered beach access with chairs and umbrellas that were available for no additional fee. We also had use of water sports and activities. Most of these activities were at no additional cost. For example, you can snorkel, use the kayaks and paddleboards at the hotel. This property also had nightly/evening activities and themed events. One night we chose to dine at the resort where our entire theme of the dinner was lobster. This was an additional cost, but worth every penny.

Things to do:

If you love the ocean and love to explore, this island is jam-packed with all you can imagine. 

Hotel activities: we snorkeled at the resort, as well as made use of the paddleboarding available on site. One afternoon, we rented a couple of bicycles and rode from our hotel into Camana Bay, which is a fabulous area that has great shopping and some restaurants. 

Day excursion, Stingray City: we signed up for an excursion through our hotel to visit Stingray City. This is a Grand Cayman must-do. A small tour bus picked us up at the hotel where we picked up a couple of other hotel guests along the way. We stopped at a marina to catch the catamaran that would take us to Stingray City. Once we are there, you have the opportunity to swim with stingrays in the wild. No, these are not in cages or swim tanks. If you’re lucky and get a chance to hold a ray (with help from the local professionals, of course) and snag a kiss from a ray, consider yourself doused with seven years of good luck. Once everyone has had their chance to swim with the rays, you are next taken to a gorgeous reef where you can snorkel to your heart’s content. 

Day excursion, horseback riding/swimming: After some research, we found Pampered Ponies, a local horseback riding and swim facility. If you have never had a chance to swim with a horse, this is an experience you won’t want to miss. We rented a cab to take us to the facility, where we met the owners and guides who would be helping us that day. After a few brief introductions and instructions, we were matched with a horse and set off for our tour. A short walk down the road took us into a trail right off the beach. From there, we were able to stop for some pictures. This facility even had GoPro cameras that we were able to borrow in order to capture videos and pictures of our day. I thought this was an incredible way to capture the adventure without having to worry about renting or buying one, or accidently losing your own while having fun. The guides were assigned to a family and took as many pictures and videos as you wanted. A major bonus! After a nice long swim with the horses, we made a loop through a sandy trail which led us back to the facility. 

Day excursion, rent a jeep: A quick word of warning. If you’re not used to driving on the left-hand side of the road, this may take some getting used to. There are multiple round-abouts, so if you do rent a car, make sure to pay attention to the road signs. Luckily, most of the island isn’t very crowded, so once you get the hang of it, driving along the beach is incredible. If you do rent a Jeep, or a car, these are the major sites we hit along the way:

            Rum Point. Here you can spend an entire day relaxing on the beach. There is a restaurant and bar in the area.

            Lovers Wall. I’m still not exactly sure why this wall was dubbed as such, but it made for a lovely picture and is an iconic stop as you tour the island. 

            Blowholes. Nature at its best! It took us a little bit to find this area. There weren’t a lot of signs to indicate we had made it, but once we found it, there is a small walkway that leads you from the street, down to the rocks, where you can watch these blowholes in action.

            George Town. Shopping, restaurants, cruise ship tourists. If you want a little bit of bustle, some great port shopping, you could easily spend an entire afternoon here walking along the streets and enjoying some local fanfare that overlooks the water.  

Eats:

We love to eat local. We love to try foods that are not just catering to tourists. We discovered two restaurants that are on our must-stop places to eat for anyone who visits the island.

Peppers. https://www.peppers.ky A local restaurant within walking distance from our hotel that offered delicious local food and drink.  If you like Jamaican jerk chicken, look no further. It also offers plenty of seafood options for those that want to stay away from the spice, as well as sandwiches for others wanting to play their palettes a bit safe. 

Case 43. https://www.casa43.ky We love Mexican food. It’s just that simple. So, wherever we go, we can’t seem to steer away from the stuff. This time, we asked a local where to find great, authentic Mexican and it led us here. It was a short cab ride from the hotel, although you could probably walk there if you felt like stretching your legs a bit. The restaurant is small and gets packed with locals very quickly. The restaurant offers typical Mexican dishes with a flair. There is quite a large taco menu, which you can choose to purchase a-la-carte. If you enjoy Mexican food as much as we do, you can’t go wrong here. In fact, we loved it so much, we ate there twice. 

If you are looking for a laid-back vacation where you can be as busy as you’d like, or as relaxed as you prefer, you won’t want to miss Grand Cayman. This beautiful and small island truly feels like paradise and welcomes visitors with open arms. 

Santa Claus Classic – 10K

Santa Claus Classic

With the world seeming to have come to a halt over the past number of months, I certainly had my fill of virtual races. Sure, I am forever grateful they were available for us run junkies, but when sis told me there was a chance to attend a real live in-person race, I could hardly believe my ears. Where did I sign up?!

In typical running family fashion, we turned this race event into an all-out family run weekend. The Santa Claus Classic is held at the beautiful Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga. Just north of Columbus, Ga, this quaint town offers all the feels of a small mountain community. For this race we rented a beautiful cabin at the Pine Mountain Club Chalet resort, which did not disappoint. It was a fabulous three-bedroom cabin that overlooked the lake with a lovely screened in back porch and fully functional wood-burning fireplace. 

After arriving at Pine Mountain, we opted to meet at Callaway Gardens to explore for a bit before heading to the cabin. We had reservations to ride the trolley to see the lights that evening at the gardens, so we were a bit pressed for time, but we did manage to snag some time at the butterfly garden before check-in. It had been a number of years since we’d been to Callaway and they’ve added quite a bit – like a complete ziplining course! 

After exploring, and since sis I had been this chaotic pre-race arrival before, we had carefully planned out all of our meals and brought the necessary groceries for the weekend. After check-in, the boys immediately hit the grill. We ate burgers and hot dogs and enjoyed a little relaxation before heading back to the gardens to see the lights. With a couple of pre-trolley Christmas toddy’s in hand, we took to the lights.

The next morning, we slept in, enjoyed some coffee at the cabin and planned out our activity for the day. Usually, sis and I would have everything planned out to a T, but this time we actually just winged it. Truth be told, it was the best “winging it” we had ever done. Sis mentioned a safari that was in the area that had gotten good reviews. Since we didn’t have anything particularly planned that day, we all said, why not? What we never expected, however, was to have quite so much fun that afternoon.

The Pine Mountain Safari was truly that – a 3.5 mile safari drive where we got up close and personal with zebras, buffalo, goats, cows…. you name it! We rented the van they offered for a small fee, which was worth every penny. If you’re in the area and decide to take on this amazing safari, a word to the wise, rent the van. The goats simply love to put all of their hooves on the side of your car so you can feed them . . . . or pet them. 

After ending our fun afternoon at the safari, we headed back to the cabin for a small pre-race meal and to change into our run outfits. We were told by race officials to get to the race pretty early and I’m thankful we did. We had plenty of time to get our t-shirts, bibs, take a few pictures and even drop off our goods at the car before race time. 

Once it was time to head to the race start, there was a bit of confusion. We followed the directions to where we believed the corral was, but we didn’t see any markings to indicate we were in the right place. After a few brief conversations with other fellow runners, we elected to stay right where we were. Before long, the street began to fill up. 

As the race began, I now understand why there weren’t any markings in the road. We were going to begin the race, briefly hold up traffic coming through the park, and get over 500 runners going at once. 

When it was time to take off, it felt absolutely, downright incredible to be racing again. Real racing. Me, hubby, sis and Jake did what we did so good as a family – we ran. After so many virtual races and terribly missing that energy, this was like a little slice of heaven. 

Now, if you really want to see the Callaway Gardens lights, I feel like this is an incredible way to do it. As the sun goes down, and the lights come on, you are there in full color experiencing them all. 

We didn’t plan on making this an all-out PR type of race. Instead, we took our time, stopped for pictures and enjoyed every second of running through this winter wonderland. There were plenty of runners, walkers and families pushing strollers. And the water stops? Every few miles there was water, along with peppermint and chocolate candies for the taking. Can we say best water stops ever? 

As we made our way through the lights, we ended the race loving every second of our run, and already making plans to do this again next year. Since it had started drizzling, we finished the evening off with gourmet hot chocolate and pizza back at the cabin. As we ate our post-race dinner, enjoyed a glass of wine by the fire while we watched Christmas movies, I realized this was another perfect and successful race weekend and simply can’t wait to do this again. 

Providence Canyon State Park – Hiking

In the heart of south Georgia, about 30 miles south of Columbus, Georgia, lies a little hidden gem called Providence Canyon State Park; an unusual geological site for hikers and explorers. In fact, the whole science behind the beauty of this strange Georgia coastal plain is that the colors were created by sediment from ancient streams. Translation, this makes for one super unique hiking experience.

We headed north for the day to explore this park. There are a few different hikes offered. One is roughly 2- 3 miles and the other is around 7 miles round-trip. You can also explore the canyons, which adds a little bit more mileage. On this day, we opted for the moderate White Blaze Canyon Loop trail, which equated to about 3 miles.

A word of warning, the hills are fairly steep here, but there are plenty of stops for anyone needing to take a break from the trail. 

We started at the Visitors Station and took the trail down into the canyons. After exploring these amazing sites for quite a while, we continued on the White Blaze Trail Loop as it carried us up, up and away. 

As we finished the loop, we were completely taken aback by the beauty we saw! What cool views. 

As you finish the White Blaze Trail Loop, there are plenty of photo opportunities. There are even two playgrounds and multiple picnic pavilions where, when you plan right, you can enjoy quite the meal post-hike.

All in all, this makes for an absolutely fun day out in nature. If you happen to be in south Georgia, definitely plan on taking a little detour and checking this unique place out.

Run Disney Princess 5K Recap – 2020

Calling all princesses. 

It was that time of year again. It was the moment we could dust off our tiaras, don our tutus, and set off for Orlando to celebrate another Run Disney event together.

It was my favorite time of year.

This year we chose the 5K race to include the entire family, which meant all siblings, their respective spouses, and the kids. This also meant carefully spending the time to select a group of characters that would work with eight runners! This year we chose a Beauty and the Beast theme. It was perfect for this vibrant group.

Race morning:

Wet, misty rain. Throw in a 2:30 a.m. wake-up call and an arctic blast from somewhere way up north, it set the scene for quite the Run Disney morning. 

Since we had been this route before, and February in Orlando can be chilly in the open Epcot parking lots, I had purchased a number of emergency mylar blankets on Amazon. Since we were completely taken by surprise by this cold, wet morning, I was handing the blankets out to the family like candy. They were now not only protecting us from the wind, but they were serving as ponchos.

As we stood in the corrals, huddled together like sardines, the rain finally subsided as the race began! Let the running commence.

We took off, allowing the smallest one to lead the way. Unbeknownst to us she would be a little rocket this early morning, flying past the other runners at the speed of light. 

This particular 5K course is one of my favorites. You start in the Epcot parking lot, circling through the back lot and come into the actual park through a back entrance in the area of Mexico. As you run through the park, the sun is just beginning to rise. The enormous torches that surround the lake are lit, providing an amazing backdrop. There are already workers out in the park, standing outside of their designated countries and/or work stations, cheering you along the way. 

As you make your way towards the infamous Epcot ball, you know that the course is nearly over. The finish line is back in the Epcot parking lot where family and friends are there to cheer you to the finish. 

Post Race Breakfast:

This year, since we waited a bit too long to book a table, we decided to branch out and try the Trail’s End Restaurant at Fort Wilderness. This is a breakfast buffet that received rave reviews on all the Disney forums we could find. Since we weren’t staying at or near Fort Wilderness, it would take a little bit of transportation maneuvering to get to it, but it seemed like it would be worth the effort.

However, getting there on this cold morning, proved to be quite the task. Normally, when it wasn’t feeling near 30 degrees, taking the boat across the lake to Fort Wilderness would have been fun. This year . . . . we wound up like frozen popsicles by the time we reached the restaurant. 

If you elect to try this perfect post-race buffet for breakfast, you can leave from the 5K race (yes, wearing your costumes, because isn’t that half the fun?!) and head towards the Monorail. From the Monorail, you will ride to the Ticket and Transportation Center. From there you can either hop on a bus to Fort Wilderness or you can elect to take the Ferry across the lake. Both are great, fun options. But perhaps don’t choose the coldest day of the year to take that ride on the boat like we did.

Once we had arrived, and completely thawed out, we ate to our heart’s content. Mickey Waffles and every delicious breakfast item you could dream up was served. This was a perfect post-race breakfast option. In fact, we enjoyed it so much, we will absolutely come here again. 

Carbs . . . friend or foe

Carbs, friend or foe

Just eat the baguette. The thought of letting a morsel of bread past my lips brought a shudder to my innermost being. What? Eat a piece of bread without having to pay penance for that ungodly indiscretion? Never!

All joking aside, for many years that’s exactly what the world preached, that’s what we all believed, and according to plethora of misleading information out there, carbs were surely the reason we were all fat.

But, I’m here to share the best news of all – eat that baguette and enjoy every last bite of it.

Carbohydrates, as hard as it is to believe, are not the enemy. Carbs alone will not make you fat. In fact, we need carbohydrates to function properly. Let me explain why.

Carbohydrates are actually our main source of energy. They are the macronutrients that give us that get up and go that we so desperately need to fuel workouts, playing with the kids, taking long walks with the dog, the list goes on. Without this energy source, we will likely only hurt our workouts, forcing us to run into that ever-despised ‘wall’. 

If you are worried about gaining weight, or keeping the weight off, or even avoiding that dreaded marathon weight gain, don’t ditch the carbohydrates. What we want is sustainable weight management and a lifestyle that will stay with us for many years. Sure, it would be simple to hop on the latest diet craze, to limit your intake of breads and pastas, or to even kick them to the curb altogether, but where is the joy in that? Can you really live the rest of your entire life without enjoying a delicious slice of bread? Realistically, the answer is most likely a resounding no.

So, where’s the balance? How can you really eat carbohydrates without the fear of packing on the pounds? It’s simple. It all comes down to moderation and balance. Eat one slice of bread instead of two. If you enjoyed a nice stir-dry dinner with a cup of white sticky rice, pass on the dessert. There does not have to be an all-or-nothing way of eating. There can be an amazing life of perfect harmony between finding your best athletic self and enjoying the daily slice of toast. 

The reality is, no one macronutrient will make you gain weight. Carbohydrates are our friends, and delicious friends I might add. We need them to function at our optimal best! If you are concerned about weight loss, or avoiding weight gain, turn your focus on the portions going onto your plate and into your mouth. Weight management is a simple balance between energy in versus energy out. 

Boston, Ga – Boston Mini Marathon

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Imagine farm land, rolling hills, cows grazing in the distance, pecan tree groves creating a picturesque backdrop to a south Georgia landscape. Welcome to Boston, Georgia. If you drive too fast, you’ll simply blow past this quaint small town an hour north from the Florida border.

And that’s exactly where I found myself this October Saturday morning. I had signed up for this particular half-marathon months ago. I had seen it advertised while driving one year – Boston Mini Marathon. For years, the timing was never right. We were always traveling, or doing other races, but this year the stars aligned. What I intended to be just another half-marathon soon turned into an all-out full family event. Somehow, this always seems to happen with us.

Sis and Jake decided to drive down for the race. In fact, they were planning to bike the entire course with me! It was pretty awesome. It would be like having my own little running entourage to carry water, gels, etc.

The morning of the race, the weather was questionable. It had a slight chance of rain, although it didn’t seem like the rain would come until the afternoon. I just prayed it would hold off until I had crossed that finish line.

Hubby and I arrived in Boston first. Since there wasn’t a ton of information on their website other than the start time and where to pick up packets pre-race, we got there around 7:00 a.m. just to be on the safe side. There was a couple of roads already closed, but we found a great big parking area – a giant open, field really – where there was plenty of spaces. I called sis to find out where they were and tell them of the parking lot. Let the chaos commence. I’m not exactly sure how they got “turned around” or trapped, or lost, or whatever had happened that morning, but somehow it took them a few chaotic minutes to make it around the closed road barriers and find this elusive parking lot. As always with this family, it can never be quite so simple.

Once everyone finally arrived, we unloaded the bikes and made our way towards the start. Hubby and dad were going to hang around while sis and Jake biked. Mom and other grandma were also on their way to the race and promised to be there at the finish.

Before the start, the runners lined up on the street for a prayer and the National Anthem. As we took off, I plugged in my music and ran. Sis and Jake agreed to meet me about a mile into the course.

As you leave the city of Boston, you are immediately shot out into the countryside. Gone are the houses and cars and instead you’re immediately thrust into rolling farmland. All in all, it was beautiful. Even though I had prayed for sunshine and blue skies, the clouds overheard were exactly what I needed. There isn’t any shade on these roads and the overcast day was absolutely perfect. It wasn’t too hot, it wasn’t cold. In fact, the temperature was just right.

It wasn’t long before sis and Jake caught up with me. Let the chatter and giggles begin. I put away my headphones and started running my mouth. We talked and laughed and took pictures – I even watched sis nearly run her bike a few times into the ditch. Clearly, she cannot be trusted to ride a bike and have a cell phone. I was having fun. So far, this was a great race. Truth be told, my pace was a bit all over the place and I was expending a lot of energy talking and laughing and being silly. I didn’t really think much about this until I hit mile 8/9.

The dreaded wall. It was like something inside of me turned off – just simply shut down. My energy was gone, my giggles were gone, and instead it felt a bit like torture. What was happening? This was so not like me.

Jake tried to say something where I commenced to biting his head off, saying something totally snarky, and telling them I needed some miles alone with my music. Trying not to laugh, and trying to be super patient with me, they left me alone. It was in those alone moments that I had to dig deep. DEEP. I was frustrated with myself. This wasn’t like me. I just knocked out 14 miles two weeks ago like a champ. I had trained properly. I had tapered properly. What was going on?! Maybe I had gone out too fast. Maybe I had giggled and played too much in the first half. I don’t really know. All I know is that the next four miles felt like the hardest four miles I had run in quite some time.

At about mile 11, I was able to talk to them, although they surely kept their distance, giving me plenty of space in case I decided to snap again. It might have been around mile 12 that they stopped to offer some water to a fellow runner who was sidelined with some stomach issues. As we all know from past experiences, gels with no water can equal GI disasters.

And then, there it was, Boston. The finish line was so close and yet so far away. I pushed myself up over the hill, trying to thank the volunteers who came out, high-fiving a police officer, anything to keep my spirits up. And then there was my most-amazing family – every one of them out there – cheering me on. Seeing them standing there, always my biggest fans, was exactly what I needed to push through to the finish.

I crossed the finish line much slower than I had wanted – 2:47:21 to be exact. I had been shooting for 2:30 this day. But, despite the clock time, I knew I had 13.1 miles to be proud of.

After the race, we cheered a few more of the fellow runners on, swapping stories of what each of us had seen – me, on the course; them, watching the elite runners come barreling in like the speed of light. I slowly sipped on my Nuun drink – the one magic drink that seems to help my cramping muscles like a champ – and we made our way for some food. We found a fabulous pizza joint where we snagged a table outside on the porch. From here, we had a perfect view of the tiny town of Boston and the parade that was about to commence.

Quite honestly, it was a perfect day. I sat around the table that day, sharing pizza and stories with my family feeling like the luckiest girl in the world. They had driven out there just to share this experience with me, to cheer me on and to show their love for me. And then it dawned on me – this is what racing and family is all about.

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Note-worthy restaurants in the area

Buzzery: Right in the heart of downtown Boston, Ga, this small-town restaurant offers a big-city selection of pizza, classic Italian dishes and mead – yes, I said that right – mead. Pizza makes up the majority of the menu, but this great establishment also offers calzones, spaghetti, and a variety of sandwiches. So, what makes this pizza place so unique – besides the down-home feel, friendly staff, and fun outdoor patio seating? Honey is what makes this pizza special. Yep, that’s right. They put honey in their crust. And from one hangry runner to another, this pizza was simply out of this world. So, if you happen to be in south Georgia, set your GPS for Boston, Ga and give this great place a try. I’m positive you won’t go home hungry, or disappointed.

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Firecracker 5K – 4th of July

I debated right up until the last minute whether to sign us up for this race or not. I knew with our crazy work schedules and life it would require missing out on the one day we get to sleep in, but it was the 4th of July and I had been eyeing this race for the past few years. So, despite listening to my body telling me to rest, we ran.

The morning of the race, I was up early and ready. I had hydrated, made a quick breakfast of a Cliff Bar, and hubby and I were out the door in no time flat. The race was being held downtown at one of our local parks. They had been spending a great deal of time renovating this area and the park turned out really fantastic. I also realized what an awesome place it was to hold a race. Ample parking, pretty views. All in all, the race was going to be amazing.

After the one-mile group finished their leg, we lined up on the street. It was already pretty darn hot out. Long gone was the beautiful race we had experienced at the Watermelon 5K. Now it was July, in Florida, and it was HOT.

We took off, doing our first loop through the park. For the first mile, hubby and I stayed together. He was rocking the first mile at around a 9:50 pace. Once we came out of the park and went into the street, he fell back a little and told me to go on. So I did. The heat – wow. It was like running in the middle of a sauna; no breeze, incredibly high humidity and the sun beating down on you, sucking every last ounce of energy out of you.

I pushed through, knowing our halfway point was just around the bend. In the small moments I could find the shade, I snagged it. But between the asphalt, the sun and lack of breeze, it was rough.

At one point, there were two volunteers with water guns. I gladly ran through their designated “splash zone”, getting completely soaked in the process. It felt amazing. But with a mile left to run, it didn’t take long for the water to absorb fast. And in that last mile was when I really started to struggle. The sun and heat was so intense, I wasn’t sure I could finish. But I pushed myself.

When I crossed the finish, I felt that rolling nausea come fast. Trying to avoid embarrassing myself with any projectile vomit this time, I grabbed a bottle of water and found some shade while I waited for hubby.

After he crossed finish line, looking about as bad as I had, we sat in the shade for a few minutes to cool down. Once we both felt better, we set off towards the food and water station. I grabbed an orange and continued nursing my bottle of water. We wandered around, looking at the different tables they had set up. They had a water spraying station, even a place to take selfies. After a quick picture, I decided we needed a sno-cone. I mean, why not.

As we got home that morning, I kept telling hubby I wasn’t feeling well. In fact, I spent the remainder of the day curled up on the couch with a stomach bug. I did, however, read an entire book that day, in between sleeping on and off.

I’m still not sure what caused me to go from running to being knocked back with a stomach bug in mere hours. Was it the heat? Maybe it was the sushi I had two days prior. Or maybe it was that sno-cone. Regardless, I have made a very adult decision that I will never eat sno-cones again.

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Watermelon Run – Florida – June 2019

Somehow, the days have sped by faster than you can say the word lightning, and we’re already back here again – at the annual watermelon run!

This has somehow become one of my favorite small-town runs to participate in, where most of the locals come out for the 5K and a parade that commences afterwards.

This year, we headed into town feeling much more prepared than last. We knew where to park, how to pick up our packets, and exactly what to expect when it came to the starting point. Once we had everything in hand, we waited around for a couple minutes before the police cars moved into position in the center of town. We knew what this meant. Race time! The police cars halted all traffic and allowed us to gather in the roadway. After a short countdown, we were off!

Today, the weather was absolutely, incredibly gorgeous. I’m not sure what happened, perhaps a bizarre cool front had whisked through, but unlike last year, it was stunning out! In fact, with temperatures like this, I could run all day. The humidity was even at a strange low. Was this really June in Florida?

As we took off into the first mile, I somehow lost hubby in the crowd. We weren’t planning on staying together for this run, so I didn’t worry too much up waiting around for him. I did, however, finally manage to snag a quick video of one of the highlights of this race for me. I’m not sure who the couple is, but apparently every year they sit outside and play music on their banjos for the runners. All kidding aside about banjos, they do an awesome job!

As I passed the banjo players, I snapped some more pictures as I ran. How lucky am I to get to run through this town? Historic homes, canopy roads. It’s like stepping back in time.

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I’m not sure if it was the weather this year, or my energy was at an all-time high, but I cheered and waved and thanked the volunteers for taking their time to help out with this annual event. As I came to our first big hill, I tackled it like a champ, feeling great. And then, there it was, the last enormous hill before the end. I struggled a bit here, fading in and out of energy to keep pushing forward. But then I reached deep down inside and told myself I wasn’t stopping until I crossed that finish line. I ran, my lungs and heart nearly exploding, and crossed that finish line.

Not long after me, hubby crossed the finish line. Despite what he expected, his timing was great! We grabbed some water, waiting a few more minutes for dad.

And then there he was, moving up the hill like the champion he is, refusing to ever give up. This year, he was easy to spot in his lime-green t-shirt. He trudged up that hill, marking a great PR and beating last year’s finish! That’s what his goal was – simply to beat last year’s time. I’d say for a man in his 70’s, he’s an incredible example of what sheer determination and perseverance can do.

Afterwards, we enjoyed a few slices of watermelon and waited while awards were presented. This year, I snagged third place in my age group. I realize my competition at this small race isn’t that large, but I’ll take third place any day!

Before walking back to the car, we made it to the same café as last year where we enjoyed hot coffee and blueberry strudels. I have to admit, the race wouldn’t be complete without this post-race stop for breakfast and conversation.

The Mountains are Calling

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The mountains are calling. In fact, they’ve been calling for some time.

Hubby and I got the opportunity to spend a little bit of time in Tennessee in April – a beautiful state that we adore – and took every opportunity we had to explore the area.

We booked a cabin – an absolutely amazing cabin, in fact – at the highest point of the mountain we could find. Didn’t exactly know that at the time of booking. And, despite the terrifying drive up, up, up, and up, the views we got were worth every frightening hairpin turn. Although, the first evening we arrived it was pouring down rain, the front office had just closed for the day, and the road at the near top of the mountain was completely closed. Can we say panic? But, despite this chaotic detour, we managed to find the cabin and we were in heaven.

The first day there, we decided to explore Clingmans Dome. The last time we had been there, the fog was so heavy, we could barely see a foot in front of us. This time, it was like we had walked into a winter wonderland. Yes, in April. Because of the previous night’s torrential downpour, and the freezing temps still at those high altitudes, we had this. Can we say absolutely breathtaking?

The hike to the top isn’t a long one. In fact, it’s a whopping half a mile. But it’s the steepest, hardest half mile I have ever trekked. We hadn’t exactly planned well since I was wearing a pair of Converse sneakers, but luckily the walk – even though insanely straight up – wasn’t that awful. I would like to think, however, that the high altitude had something to do with me having to work so hard to get to the top.

Once we arrived at the top, the views were stunning. This is the highest point of the Smoky Mountains at an insanely high 6,643 feet. We snapped a few pictures, trying to do a dance around the other brave tourists since the concrete platform we were standing on was iced over – Ice! At this elevation, the wind was intense. I wasn’t exactly sure how cold it was, but it quickly cut right through the thin jackets we were wearing. Once we took all the pictures we could stand, I was ready to head back to the warm car.

On the descent down, we managed to warm up some. We discovered part of the Appalachian Trail and a couple of other side trails. We decided to venture off, following one of the trials for a little while. Since we had more plans that day, and it didn’t include getting off the grid too far that day, we turned it back around before it got too late – but of course not before having way too much fun taking more pictures.

The next day, we decided to tackle not only one, but two hikes. Call us a bit gung-ho. Before deciding on which trails to take, we stopped at the Sugarland Visitor’s Center to get some information from one of their volunteers. The gentleman we spoke to had been a great source of information. After speaking with him, we decided on the Alum Cave Bluff Trail and Laurel Falls. Since Laurel Falls was the shorter of the two trails, and likely to be the most crowded as the day went on, we started there first.

We arrived at the trailhead around 8:00 in the morning. At this time of the day, there were only a few hikers and we felt like we had the trail all to ourselves. This particular trail is 2.6 miles round-trip and is paved the entire way. It’s a great trail for anyone of any fitness level. Because of this, the entire trail is completely accessible to everyone.

On the way up, the views were beautiful. Since it was so early and there were so few hikers, we were able to stop and take plenty of pictures. As we neared the falls, you could hear the water rushing in the distance. Laure Falls is a beautiful, picturesque waterfall that stands 80 feet high.

As we wandered around, we noticed a man had climbed down the side of the trail and perched himself on one of the rocks below to have breakfast. Like children, we couldn’t resist following suit. So down, down we went. The climb down wasn’t difficult and we were able to take some more pictures, but it wasn’t long before other hikers decided to join us. That was our queue to head back up.

As we headed back to the car, we passed a ton more hikers. Clearly getting here early was the key. We met up with a nice couple from New York that commented on how they were enjoying the heat. Heat! We just laughed and said how much we were enjoying the cold weather.

Next on the agenda, Alum Cave Trail!

The drive to the Alum Cave Trail entrance from Laurel Falls took us a good 30 minutes. Distance wise, it’s not that far, but between the slow, winding roads and the traffic, it slowed us down quite a bit. However, I couldn’t complain. The drive there, through the mountains and alongside the river, is simply stunning.

When we reached the trailhead, the parking lot was already completely full. We parked on the side of the road, like other day-hikers, and started for the entrance.

The first portion on the trail is beautiful – you’re walking adjacent to one of the rivers for quite some time. We stopped a few times, noting the color of the water. Other than some of the Caribbean waters I had seen, this was the clearest, most pristine water ever. We tried our best to capture it in pictures, but I’m not sure photos will ever do it justice. Hubby filled up one of our water bottles so we could see if it was just as clear as it looked. It was incredible. Holding it up next to our unopened bottle of water, they looked identical.

As we continued on the trail, it began to grow a little steeper. Since I had failed to start my watch at the trailhead, we weren’t getting a completely accurate read, but it was up, up and up. We walked through the cave stairs, continuing up. The trail began to grow pretty steep after this point. At the halfway point, we decided to turn around. We weren’t intending to go all the way to the top today, but after listening to some other day-hikers, we definitely put it on our list. I didn’t realize when we began this trail that at the very top was the LeConte Lodge, a completely electricity-free lodge that held numerous cabins where hikers could spend the night, have dinner, or even have lunch. How had I missed this?

On the way down, we talked about how we would love to do this hike again, maybe even inviting sis and Jake with us, since they were such hiking fanatics. The idea of spending the night on top of the mountain with no cell phone service, no electricity sounded . . . . well, kind of amazing.

Once we reached the bottom, and completely out of the National Park before I got cell service again, I began researching. Since hubby and I were pretty novice hikers, we needed some better gear. My feet were a bit sore after hiking all day in a pair of old running sneakers.

As we talked, my fascination with this new sport grew. We pulled into an outdoor center before heading back to our cabin. Maybe this runner could do a little cross-training in the mountains from time to time. As I said, the mountains were calling. In fact, they had been calling for quite some time.

 

Note-worthy restaurants in the area

Log Cabin Pancake House in Gatlinburg, Tennessee – French Toast Royale. That is all I will say. Every time we stop at this breakfast place we both order a plate, and eat every delicious morsel of it. Imagine French toast doused in a sugary, cream cheese syrup, topped with bananas. It’s by far the unhealthiest breakfast you can have, but sitting there, next to the restaurant’s fireplace, with a cup of coffee and this meal in front of you, is worth every fat-laden calorie.

Old Mill in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee – If you like southern cuisine served homestyle, this is your best stop. We have been to this restaurant on many occasions and it never disappoints. The meals offered are your typical southern fare of fried chicken, pork chops and chicken and dumplings. Definitely bring your appetite to this establishment. The servings are overly generous.

Apple Barn in Sevierville, Tennessee – This is another one of our favorite stops in this area. Not only does this restaurant serve delicious southern cuisine, it also has a store where you can buy their famous apple butter, along with a ton of other goodies. They even have a creamery where you can buy real ice cream to go with a fresh baked apple fritter. One of our must-stops is the Apple Barn Wine store. We always seem to come home with one too many bottles of their delicious and unique wine.