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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.

Flash 6K/12K, St. Marks, Florida

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I’ve seen a million pictures lately of dads taking their daughters to dances – daddy and daughter dances. I love it! But now, instead of going to dad and daughter dances, we will just have to settle for dad and daughter races. Come on, what doesn’t beat that?

I called dad and asked if he wanted to run a 12k with me. He had recently beaten his longest run and was super proud of completing 8.5 miles. I thought, if he can do that, he can run this 12k. And of course – apparently this is where I get it from – he said yes, always being up for a challenge.

So, Saturday morning we loaded up and headed over to St. Marks, Florida, a small fishing town just south of Tallahassee. The St. Marks Trail runs from the south end of Tallahassee for 20 miles, finally landing smack in the heart of St. Marks. Part of the race course was going to take place on this trail and I couldn’t have been more excited. Flat and fast.

The weather this morning was nice. It was cool, but not too much so. I mean, it is February in Florida. I was able to get away with a short sleeve shirt and leggings.

Once we parked, hit the potties and took a couple pics, it was time to line up for the race start. Dad and I took off, somewhere in the middle of the pack, and I waved goodbye, telling him I would see him at the finish.

The course wound its way through the small town and made its turn onto the trail. I thoroughly enjoyed the run down the trail. It was shaded and completely flat. Hello, PR. However, I wasn’t going for a PR today. I simply wanted to get out and stretch my legs and have fun on this 7.5 miles. I found a good pace and got into a rhythm. Not far into the trail head, they had the 6k runners turn around. The rest of us, which were quite a few, continued on the trail.

They had us turn around at around mile 4. I passed dad at about the halfway point, giving him a high-five. I also passed an older gentleman carrying the American flag, being flanked by other runners carrying flags. It was awesome! The men were wearing shirts that advertised running for veterans. Yes, it totally choked me up.

As I came towards the end of the course, the sun had finally decided to come out and the day was absolutely beautiful. There is nothing quite like running along the water. I would definitely be signing up for this race again.

Once I finished, I hung back, waiting for dad. As I waited, I heard that a couple of runners had to be picked up by the golf cart, so I texted dad. Surely he would have called me if something had happened. Although, knowing him, he would crawl across that finish line before he ever let that golf cart pick him up. Thankfully, he texted me back, telling me he was at mile 6.5. He was almost there.

The race officials were starting to talk amongst themselves, asking who was still out. I quickly chimed in that I was waiting for my dad. In the background, they had begun giving out the awards to the other runners. It was perfectly fine. All I cared about was that we both crossed the finish line, no matter how fast or how slow that was.

Dad texted me again. Mile 7. He was making his way towards the finish. I ran up a little, spotting him making his way towards me.

Dad officially crossed the finish line with a PR. He was a machine! Not bad for an old guy of 71.

After the race, we were both famished, so we headed over to Riverside Café. Cooter Stew Cafe, another restaurant in the area, was packed with runners. They also were having live music outside. But I was glad we opted for Riverside Café. I mean, you can’t quite beat this view.

Dad and I both ordered a beer with lunch. I’m beginning to realize that post-race beers are just not my thing. Maybe it was my empty stomach that wasn’t agreeing with it. I ordered a Cuban sandwich and a side of roasted veggies – literally the best veggies I had tasted in a while – and I started to feel a little better. So, note to self, perhaps leave the beer to others with stomachs of steel.

As we packed up and headed out of town, I was reminded of just how lucky I am. Over the past six years, while sis and I have undertaken this crazy love of running, our parents have joined us. Sure, mom mainly walks the 5k’s, but she’s bravely out there doing her best. And dad has found this deep love of running again that just amazes me. I guess we have truly turned this into a family thing.

 

Note-worthy restaurants in the area

Riverside Café – a surprisingly large restaurant right on the water. You can sit outside, while still covered under their giant thatch roof, and enjoy the weather. You can watch as boats pull up and take off from the marina just to the left of the restaurant. They offer a multitude of things to eat from burgers, to sandwiches to salads. One of the most interesting parts of this place is the markers along one of the beams indicating where the water levels have risen to during different hurricanes.

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Cooter Stew Café – a smaller restaurant that has a great, down-to-earth feel that usually offers live music on the weekends. Similar to Riverside, they offer sandwiches and burgers alike.

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Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

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It had finally arrived; the day I had been waiting for, the marathon I had been training endlessly for and the moment I could finally put these legs to the test – the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend.

It felt like I had just signed up for this race days ago and had just begun my preparations when, in fact, I had made the decision to run this race nearly six months ago, devoting my time and attention to work, family and training and more training. Truth be told, I had planned to blog about my 25-week training plan, but as it usually does, life happens. We suffered the loss of a dog, a family member, changes in jobs and everything else you can throw into the mix. However, the one thing I somehow managed to keep on a continuum was my running. Some days, it was like my therapy, escaping for a solid hour or more with just my music and my feet on the pavement.

And then fast forward to January. It was suddenly here.

Usually, sis and I have everything planned for months and months in advance. Yeah . . . . not sure what was going on with us this year, but we didn’t even book a room until a mere week before race day. In fact, I didn’t even sign hubby and I up to run the 10K until a week before we left! At this rate, I would be equally unprepared for the entire weekend and would be getting swept up by the balloon ladies telling me to pick up the pace or I would be forced to call it quits.

This year, instead of staying at the usual Bonnet Creek Resort, we opted to branch out. We started a search on Airbnb and realized there were a ton of great properties within easy driving distance to Disney. We booked an amazing three-bedroom condo in an area that was about 12 miles from Disney in the quietest neighborhood that was devoid of crazy tourists or loud children. Normally, I could overlook this, but for this kind of race with its incredibly ridiculously early bedtime, it was welcome. The pictures were exactly as it had been described on Airbnb and the place was simply perfect.

On Thursday, we met sis and Jake at our usual Chick-Fil-A stop around lunchtime, this time not blowing past the exit. So far, this was off to a good start. After a quick bite, we caravanned to the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney to get our race packets. This was definitely our first stop before checking into the condo. No packet pick-up by 7:00 p.m., no race the next morning. Since this was dad’s first Disney race, we sure didn’t want that to happen. Fortunately, things were looking up this year. We managed to all make it to ESPN without a hitch, a gas shortage, or getting lost like we did last year.

Since hubby and I waited so long to sign up for the 10k, we were placed in the last corral – literally in a special lane at packet pickup called “Last Corral.” At first, I was going to have the family fall back into the corral with us, but with our finish time and dad’s finish time differing, this worked out for the best.

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So, with packets in hand, we wandered around the expo for an hour or so and finally made our way to the condo. This year, we planned out meals ahead of time and both brought coolers of food to get us through the non-Disney eating days. I would absolutely do this again. This saved us from having to make that Publix stop that always seemed to take way longer than planned. So after dropping our luggage off, instead of heading to the grocery, we enjoyed a nice dinner at Texas Roadhouse.

With our bellies full, and dad’s silly “dehydration” tactic in place, we set off for the condo. We were all tired from traveling, getting up early and the usual chaos that comes with a Disney race, so getting to bed tonight would be a breeze. We set out our clothes and fuel for the next morning and headed to bed.

2:30 a.m. came early. So, so early. However, I bounced up, ready and excited for the race. I did manage to get some decent rest. Maybe after all of these Disney races, I’ve finally been able to train my body to get used to this . . . . if you can ever get used to 2:30 a.m. wake-up calls.

The weather, however, had taken an unexpected turn. It was cold. COLD. At least for this southerner’s bones it was cold. Hubby and I had been watching the weather and brought plenty of options with us. I had even made a stop at Goodwill the day before so we could ditch our top layers if necessary. Because if there was one thing we had learned was that the wind whipped through the open parking lot of Epcot at 4:00 a.m. and the cold was even colder. So Hubby dressed in a hilarious amount of layers, thermal pants and all, while sis donned a tank-top, tights and a tutu. Fortunately for everyone involved, I had purchased emergency mylar blankets for times just like these. So no matter who was dressed for the arctic or not, we would be warmish.

Since I had thrown together a 10k costume at the last minute, I used my favorite pink sparkle skirt and turned myself – literally overnight – into the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. I went to hobby lobby, made myself a tail, matching ears, and was ready to go! This was probably the fastest I have ever created a costume for one of our Disney runs and I definitely would have put in more effort had we not attempted this at the last minute, but it’s okay. I was able to still go as the Cheshire Cat while completely warm.

When we arrived at Epcot, we had smooth sailing getting into the parking lot – albeit we were at the complete opposite end of the lot from where we were supposed to be, but it didn’t really matter. We were going to be walking and running plenty anyway! We stood around as usual, took pictures, froze and froze some more, and then waved goodbye to dad and sis and Jake as we headed off to separate corrals.

Hubby and I decided this was going to be a complete fun run for us. We were going to run, take pictures, enjoy the sights, and savor every second of running a Disney race. And we did.

As all of the other corrals took off, it was finally our turn – the last chance corral. Disney had opted to split up the different corrals into mini sections within each corral. It was a great idea. This prevented the thousands of runners attending to bottleneck at certain spots along the course. Luckily for us, we were at the very front of our mini section. I’ve never been at the very start of a Disney race and the view was awesome!

When the fireworks exploded overhead, we took off. As I said, we took our time on this course, absorbing all of the amazing entertainment along the course. Epcot will always be one of my favorite places to run through. I adore the torches they have lit around the countries and all of the workers standing out there cheering for the fellow runners. And, as usual, it didn’t disappoint this year.

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It wasn’t long after we crossed the finish line that I received a text from sis saying that they had just finished and were in line to get their post-race goodies. I couldn’t believe the impeccable timing. We quickly met up with them – dad sporting his new and super-hard-worked-for medal proudly. We took pictures, dug into our goody boxes, and set off for the car. Sure, we had just rocked this incredible 10K, but we had other things to do – Hollywood Studios!

Once we had all cleaned up, we headed back into Disney for a completely fun-filled day at Hollywood Studios. This was Jake’s first time at this particular park so we did all of the must’s – Rockin’ Rollercoaster, Tower of Terror – twice, the new Toy Story Land and everything else in between. It was truly a magical day with the family.

We decided to close the park down this night, which wasn’t very late at night, thank goodness. By 9:00 p.m., we were all wiped out. In fact, by the time we got back to the condo, I’m not even sure I said goodnight to anyone. I went straight into a shower, climbed into bed, and was out before the lights even went out.

The next morning I got up at another ridiculous hour. On purpose, nonetheless. I knew if I slept in, I would never go to bed at 7:00 p.m., which was my anticipated bed time before the full. So I got up, made a cup of coffee and relaxed until the others began to stir. We didn’t have much on the agenda today. We had breakfast plans and were going to hit Disney Springs afterwards. I knew that I needed to rest my legs as much as possible that day. I was afraid if we did a park, or anything that included a lot of walking, it would show in my performance the next day.

Sis had brilliantly made a reservation at Cape May Café for Minnie’s Beach Bash Breakfast – a character breakfast – at Boardwalk. Fortunately, we had arrived early, were seated without a hitch and had ample time to take pictures with characters. I will give it to sis, she had done her research. She read that this was a hidden gem, that you really get plenty of time with the characters at this breakfast, and she wasn’t wrong. We saw each character at least once, took plenty of pictures, and had the most amazing time ever. And, come on, what a perfect pre-race fuel of more Mickey waffles than I could handle.

Stuffed silly, we left breakfast and decided to wander around the Boardwalk for a little while – perhaps to work off some of this food we had just devoured. We took lots of pictures, drank coffee and enjoyed the incredible weather we had been blessed with this day.

And then sis had another brilliant idea. Let’s rent the surrey bikes. Well, apparently five perfectly grown adults can ride the surrey bikes together. Luckily for me, and much to their dismay, I got stuck in the middle where I didn’t have to pedal at all, since I was resting and everything, of course. So off we took. We had been warned there were a couple of hills on this route and, boy, did we find them. We hilariously made three rounds on this mile or so course, laughing hysterically along the way, and only nearly taking out a few pedestrians.

Once we gladly turned the surrey bikes back in, we set off towards Disney Springs. I had a table along the water calling my name.

And just as I had envisioned, we found a table along the water. I sat with dad and hubby, while sis and Jake did some shopping. We got some popcorn, the guys had a beer, and we even got a little entertainment with a dance group that was performing on stage next to us. We did a little shopping ourselves, but around mid-afternoon, we knew we needed to head to the condo. We also still needed to stop by Publix for my requested chicken, green beans and sweet potato for dinner.

Once back at the condo, we all ate dinner together. This is also where we decided at the last minute that using sis’s Garmin watch, as opposed to my older version, would be best so they could text me along the route. I’m not sure we realized this would be quite the undertaking at the last minute, but sis being the amazing sister she is, went the extra mile to make that happen.

As hubby and I went to bed, which didn’t come as difficult as I was anticipating, dad, sis and Jake took off to run a couple errands. I didn’t sleep as great as I would have liked – the anticipation kept getting me up every hour after around 11:00 p.m. I kept worrying my alarm wouldn’t go off, or I would oversleep, or something crazy would happen to force me to miss my race. But, the alarm did go off. I was probably already fully awake with excitement as the sound went off. I climbed out of bed, left hubby sleeping for a few more minutes, and began race-day preparations.

This day, I opted for minimal makeup. After putting in those long miles, I knew what 26 miles would do to even the best makeup. So I kept it simple today. Since I wasn’t dressing up with quite the flair like usual, getting ready was a breeze. When I wandered out into the kitchen, I found the Garmin watch all set up and ready for me – with the sweetest message on it – Good Luck, Dede! I needed that.

Slowly, the others began to stir. By 2:30 a.m., we were all ready and heading out the door. We had quite a debate going about whether we needed to leave quite so early, but Disney made it clear we needed to be parked in the lot by 3:30 a.m. With this in mind, we managed – sort of by not following clear directions – and landed a parking spot almost near the entrance to the race. Total score! I would need this post-race.

So we probably got to the lot a tad too early, but it wasn’t long before other cars had piled in around us. It had warmed up only slightly, but we stayed in the car enjoying the warmth until about 3:00-ish.

It was odd, usually I’m donning tutus and costumes galore, but this time I easily hopped out of the car and was ready for pre-race activities without a hitch. Today I was wearing a polka-dot Sparkle Athletic skirt and matching shirt – credits to Sweet Pea in a Pod Designs on Etsy – and a sparkle Sweaty Bands headband with a matching Minnie bow. It was comfortable and about as costumy as I was getting for this race.

Since we were so early, we took plenty of pictures and even had a chance to stand in line for a photo-op with Minnie – something we never seem to have enough time for. By now, two of my friends I had been training with gave me a call and we managed to meet up. When I began this adventure, I was planning on racing on my own. Then, by happenstance, I met these two amazing women out running one Saturday morning where we discovered we were all participating in the Disney full. Truth be told, I was really excited to have someone to hang out in the corral with. I wasn’t sure how far or how long we would be running together, but at least for the start we would be going at this together.

As I waved goodbye to my family, I set off towards the corral with my friends.

Everyone kept asking me weeks preceding the event if I felt ready, if I was nervous, if I was excited. To be honest, I felt somewhat neutral. Sure, there was a little bit of uncertainty about how the marathon would feel, but I had been preparing over the past 21 weeks and I felt good. I am a firm believer in the power of positive thinking, and I believe that mental preparation is what really helped me to get ready for this race. So, as we sat there together at the corral, I was ready.

I had been getting texts of encouragement already from sis and hubby. The whole family was already posted out at mile 4 awaiting my arrival and sending me pics of coffee and donuts. Lord, help me, I would have knocked someone over for a cup of coffee. As a side note, sis had spent a good amount of time planning out their route literally chasing me around the parks for the 26.2 miles. We weren’t sure if they were actually going to be able to pull this off and meet me at their designated points, but I was hopeful. I sure needed all of the support I could get!

And then, suddenly, the fireworks went off and it was our turn. I took off, quickly falling into a comfortable pace with my friends. I felt flipping amazing.

Miles 1 – 4 – I was on fire. In fact, my energy was bursting through the seams. Sis and hubby sent me super detailed texts about where to find them. Perhaps this kept my mind busy on this first leg of the race. Suddenly, we were at Mile 4 where my family was waiting for me at the Ticket and Transportation Center. There were so many runners and so many Minnie’s in the sea of runners, I wasn’t sure my blonde hair would even stand out. But then I remember the bandana I had stolen from Jake – the bandana he had forgotten to bring for his Woody costume for the 10k and the bandana I thought would be perfect as a sweat rag. I didn’t know at the time it would also be the perfect flag to wave in the air to catch my family’s attention. As I found them standing there cheering me on, it was like a rush of joy. I was jumping and yelling and full of excitement. I even managed to snag a kiss from hubby.

Miles 4 – 7. Life was good. I felt good. I was amazed, however, at the short lines for the characters. I wish I had known this ahead of time. I would have had plenty of time to jump in line for a quick picture and been able to keep with a good pace. Next time. We ran through Magic Kingdom, the infamous castle, which was absolutely beautiful at this time of the morning, and wound our way towards Animal Kingdom. At mile 7, sis had informed me they were waiting just outside of the Polynesian on the back stretch, just after Shades of Green. I was just as equally excited to see them here. I jumped around, weaving that silly bandana. They were across the street from me this time, since Disney needed to leave one side of the street open for drivers. But that didn’t stop me from blowing a kiss to hubby.

Mile 7 – 14 Around mile 11, I lost my two friends. They decided to start implementing a run/walk pace and we agreed would see each other at the finish. I didn’t mind running alone. In fact, that’s sometimes the beauty of running to me – alone time. So I started my music and just did what I loved to do – run.

As I was running through Animal Kingdom, which is between miles 12 – 14, I noticed a line of people at the Expedition Everest ride. I wasn’t sure if there was a character I was missing or something really cool, but then it dawned on me. They were waiting in line to ride! If this hadn’t been my first full and I wasn’t worried about timing, I definitely would have jumped right in line. Another addition for next go-round.

As I came out of Animal Kingdom, I knew the family was waiting for me just outside of the entrance. This time, however, there seemed to be soooo many people. Between the runners, the spectators and the regular Disney patrons, it was a bit crowded. But, with my lucky bandana, I was able to jump around and catch their attention. They cheered me on, literally the best cheerleader squad I could have ever asked for. I snagged another quick kiss with hubby and kept running, feeling absolutely empowered and still full of energy.

Miles 15 – 24 After I left them at Animal Kingdom, I knew it was going to be a number of miles before I saw them again. We weren’t anticipating meeting up again until Mile 25 somewhere in Epcot. I’ll give it to Disney, there was ample entertainment – even live donkeys outside of AK – and lots to see. There were even spectators hanging out in open parking lots and standing along the side of the course with signs and loud cheers. Some even were handing out fuel! They had clearly done this before.

I decided to FaceTime mom because, well, why not. Since she and other grandma couldn’t be there, I still wanted them to be a part of this. We chatted for a brief few minutes where I was able to share the course with them and their quick iterations of good luck. After we said goodbye, I focused my attention back to the road.

And then mile 17 came. Oh, you silly wall. You stupid, infamous, awful wall. I’ll be honest. I didn’t question why I was doing this, or start rethinking my once clear-decision making skills. Instead, I felt like this would be the longest nine miles I had ever run. We were nearing the ESPN Wide World of Sports when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and there was one of my friends! She had managed to catch back up with me. It was a God send. Perhaps with someone else to commiserate with, I could tear this wall down.

As we came into ESPN, the course wound deep into the park. We ran through the entrance, past the intramural fields, and around the baseball field. As we came out of the park, we were led back onto the main roadways where the sun was out in all its force. I tried to remind myself that it was better than being cold, but at that moment, I could have used a pair of sunglasses, some shade, and perhaps a scooter to get me to the finish. Truth be told, I can’t really remember much about the next few miles. I walked some, ran some, trying to keep my head in the right place.

Mile 25 – finish – If I could just make it to Epcot, I knew sis and Jake was there, waiting on me with a beer in hand. I do believe that this was the longest loop around Epcot I had ever run. Usually, I love this part. At this point, it was questionable. But there, just as sis described, they were waiting for me. Jake held out a beer where I stopped long enough to take a great big swallow and keep on running. The finish was ever so close. The patrons in Epcot motivated me to keep on running, whether they even realized it or not. The last few miles were long. In fact, the longest I had ever run. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other. And then, we made the last turn towards the back lot. I knew that turn well. The finish was just around the corner. And what was there as we made the turn? My choir. I nearly started crying. As they sang, I cheered for them, knowing I was going to make it.

And then there it was, the finish. I pushed my legs and my lungs, willing them to keep working. Hubby had given me a landmark to fund him and dad by and I was so grateful. In the sea of spectators, without that landmark, I never would have found them. They were there, cheering me on, watching me cross that finish line.

I didn’t cry as I thought I would. Instead, I felt pure joy. I hugged my friend and we parted ways. And slowly, ever so slowly, I limped my way towards the parking lot where hubby and dad were there waiting for me. Hubby greeted me with a beer and told me how proud he was of me. I had actually done it. 26.2 miles. I felt amazing.

I sat down with my goodies and beer, trying to stretch out my legs. Sis and Jake managed to find out in the parking lot where we all began to share stories. And then, the beer started to taste not so great anymore. I handed the beer back to hubby and started to stand up. As we slowly started making our way out of there, everything started to look a little funny – that’s about the only way I can explain it. I was going to see if I could walk it off, but then it felt funny as in I might pass out. So, I said, I feel a little off. Before I knew it, they had me sitting back on the ground, in the shade behind a sign, and had opened a packet of applesauce and told me to eat. That did the trick. Apparently, I needed that influx of sugar.

Once I felt better, we made our way back to the car. There was no time to waste now. We had Epcot eating and drinking around the world waiting for us!

Once back at the condo, I showered quickly, donned a pair of flip flops, super comfty yoga pants, and was ready to head out the door within 30 minutes. We got to Epcot around 2:00 that afternoon. Our first stop, Mexico. I had a margarita and a plate of Mexican food with my name on it. In fact, what started in Mexico went to Japan, Morocco, France and Italy. I ate my body weight in delicious food that day.

As I sat there that evening, I realized I would absolutely do this race again. Perhaps it was a little like childbirth, as they say. You tend to forget the pain and instead remember the joy. And I also decided I’m not sure I would do anything different next time. I had trained right, I discovered what fuel worked best for me and I was mentally prepared. I would, however, take the time to jump into that Expedition Everest ride next go ‘round. Maybe, just maybe, next year.

Old guy running, 70 years young

Seventy years old is never too late to begin a career in running….. or at least break a 30-year-old running hiatus.

That’s my dad. Super hero, kick-butt seventy-year-old guy who took his two daughters’ advice to pick up running again after a long stint of attending his kids’ sporting events rather than trekking out on his own.

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Here’s a little bit of background. Dad had run a few marathons in his time. In fact, he rocked a 3:37 time at the Miami Marathon in the mid-1980’s. But balancing work, family and marathon training was just too much. After running that incredible time and accomplishing a major PR, he put up his sneakers for a bit. Although, perhaps that time off from running turned into a bit more than he anticipated. So, after cheering me and sis on from the sidelines for so long, we FINALLY convinced him to start running again.

 

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That’s dad standing with his Metro Dade running group along with Don Johnson from Miami Vice and David Soul from Starsky and Hutch
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Metro Dade Police Department running group

He began by running a quarter of a mile and working his way up. He would set up a one-mile loop, run a bit and then walk the rest. We did scold him a couple of times. Slow down, we told him. You’re going to roll an ankle or send yourself to the hospital. I think sis and I even had a conversation that consisted of, dad just goes from zero to sixty….

Well, it wasn’t long before sis and I were getting regular updates on the new goals he was achieving and longer and longer distances he was climbing. In what seemed like a matter of weeks, this old guy had broken a new record and ran his first 10k in nearly 30 years. I couldn’t have been more proud.

Fast forward to a hot and steamy Saturday morning in June. Me, hubby and dad had all signed up for the Watermelon Festival 5k. It’s June in Florida and it’s hot. HOT. In fact, it’s so hot and muggy, I’m sure that we’ve somehow managed to space-time-warp into the middle of the jungle. Nonetheless, we set off towards the quant and lovely town of Monticello, Florida early that Saturday morning.

The town of Monticello is not large. In fact, downtown consists of close to roughly the size of six city blocks. However, whether from lack of coffee that early morning or in anticipation of my performance on this race, we had one heck of a time finding parking and race packet pick-up. We wanted to park close enough to walk to the start, but also far enough away from the main thoroughfare that we didn’t get caught up in the Watermelon festival parade that commenced immediately upon conclusion of the race. After a brief disagreement about the best place to park, we finally agreed on a spot and made our way towards packet pick-up. Fortunately, pick-up was held at a church with ample room and clean restrooms. Yes! It was like scoring a running goldmine.

After collecting our awesome race t-shirts, we had plenty of time to make our way back to the car and get ready for the race. Although, once we did that, there did seem to be a bit of confusion and misconception about where the race was to begin. We had numerous folks ask us if we knew where the start was. I assumed it would be where the most activity was going on and usually with the ones who had the clocks and timing mats, but that was not the case here. The start was in the center of the street.

We had one minute – literally – to gather our thoughts, set our cell phone apps to start, and hit the pavement. The local police cars whipped into the street, blocking oncoming traffic – including large semi-trucks which I’m sure reveled with joy at our slowing their deliveries down – and after a fast countdown, we took off.

Hubby and I waved goodbye to dad with promises to meet him at the finish line. I said a quick prayer for him, hoping that his first race after all these years turned out to be amazing.

From the start, the race seemed to bring out the community spirit. As we turned off the main highway and wove into the local neighborhoods, we were greeted by a couple standing at the end of their driveway playing banjos for us. Yes, I said banjos. Honestly, they were pretty amazing, although I was tempted to whisper to hubby, run faster, I hear banjo music.

As we wound our way into mile two, community members stood outside of their cars and houses and cheered us on as we went by. Yes, it was about 100 degrees and felt like 130 with the humidity, but the excitement buzzing around us kept me going.

However…..there is always a but, isn’t there… we were forewarned about two of the major hills towards the end of the race. I was prepared for hill number one. I channeled my CrossFit nothing-will-defeat-me attitude and charged at that hill like a beast. I rocked it! I knew I was in the homestretch.

And then, the last hill. Agonizing. I will just leave that there. Or perhaps with the lack of water I had consumed, zero breakfast – so dumb on my part – and the sun that was now beating down on me, it felt more like I was on the verge of meeting my own demise. The hill was huge, I was on the edge of near disaster and I wasn’t sure I could make it. But I did. I kept going and pushing, watching that finish line creep closer. If my dad could do this, so would I.

As I crossed the finish line, I realized how ridiculous I was for not having eaten breakfast this morning, or for assuming there would be bananas at the finish. But after guzzling two cups of water, I was starting to feel a little better. However, I would have given just about anything at that point for some food and a cup of coffee.

Looking down at my watch, I fully expected we had about a good thirty minutes before dad would start cresting that hill. I almost even convinced hubby to walk with me to find that coveted cup of java, but instead we hung around the finish and chatted with some friends.

And then, well before I ever expected to see him, there he was. My dad. I ran to the finish line screaming at him to keep going and to keep pushing forward, all the while trying to take videos and pictures. The funny thing is, I don’t think he ever heard me at all. He was so incredibly focused on that hill and keeping himself moving forward. Perhaps that’s where I get my tenacious I-can-do-anything-I-set-my-mind-to attitude.

As he came to the finish, my heart was filled with pride and, yes, I even choked back a couple of tears. He had done incredible and knocked nearly ten minutes off his time. What a PR! What a comeback!

 

Afterwards – after he managed to catch his breath and celebrate his amazing finish time – we slowly made our way to the church where packet pick-up had been. Maybe there I could snag my banana. But what did I find instead? Watermelon. It was the best tasting watermelon I had had in a long time.

We decided to stay for the awards where I found out I placed second in my age group. We didn’t stay for the parade. We did, however, walk over to Tupelo’s and snagged a delicious cup of coffee and a scone. Not exactly the most nutritious post-race treat, but it sure was scrumptious.

Despite the slight mishap at the beginning, this was a great race. The community spirit was alive and invigorating and the course was challenging enough to make you know you earned that watermelon… or scone.

However, the best part of all of this was watching my dad. Not only had he conquered something he had been working hard for over the past few months, but I think he found his passion again.

I asked him just a couple weeks ago if he was going to stop running again. He said, no way! He felt too good. He also told me not long after he started running it was like a light had opened up inside of him. Welcome to the cult, Dad. We expect to be cheering you on well into your 90’s.

 

New runner tips

Start slow. Be patient with yourself. Some days will be good days, other days will downright suck, but go out on every run day and simply put one foot in front of the other. Soon, you’ll be able to go farther than you ever imagined.

There are some fantastic apps out there. The one I am simply in love with is Runkeeper. I have both hubby and my dad hooked on it. You can set up training sessions or simply log in every day to track your runs. It’s motivating to receive those award badges every time you hit a new record. There is both the free version and a paid version. Try it out for free! I think you’ll love it.

I haven’t personally used Couch to 5k, but I have a ton of friends who have and love it! This is a great app for those who are wanting to begin running or run/walking and have no clue where to start.

Walt Disney World Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend

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It was finally here. Disney race weekend; one of my very favorite weekends of the year. After an entire year of planning costumes, race day post- and pre-events, the time had finally arrived. To say I was excited would be an understatement.

This year we decided to tackle the Star Wars Marathon weekend. Sis wasn’t exactly happy with me since this forced us to miss the 10th anniversary weekend of the Princess Half Marathon, but I assured her this would be worth it…. at least I was hoping. We also had quite a group attending this year – nine of us to be exact. I was beyond thrilled that not only was hubby joining in me in every race this year, but my brother and sister-in-law would be there to cheer us on.

As we have in the past, we set off for Orlando on Thursday morning with plans to meet sis and her family at Chick-Fil-A. This particular Chick-Fil-A is only a couple hours from us and a good halfway point for them. However, in typical family chaos, we completely missed the exit, pushing lunch even further into the day and completely throwing sis off course. Not only we were all STARVING, but we had about fifteen people trying to find the best place to stop, giving directions all at once, and making me wonder for a split second what we were thinking by taking this road trip. However, we finally managed to settle on another Chick-Fil-A, have lunch, and were able to hit the road before too long. All in all, this worked out slightly better. We only had a couple hours and we would be at our condo. Normally, time wouldn’t be so much of an issue, but we were in a bit of a crunch since we had to check into the condo, unpack, go to packet pickup AND hit Publix.

When we finally made it to Disney, we were all ecstatic. However, unbeknownst to me, other grandma had failed to alert us we were in need of gas. After we quickly checked into the condo, unloaded our belongings, and headed back out towards packet pickup, she told us we had two miles before empty. WHAT?!! I just knew we were never, ever going to make it.

There was a gas station about one mile up the road. However, when we got there, it was a like pre-hurricane frenzy at the pumps. Utter chaos. I had this horrible picture of completely missing packet pickup, of having to call AAA, and waving bye-bye to the family 5K in the morning. No packet pickup today, no race bibs, no participation. No good. However, as I was beginning to lose hope, sis managed to finagle us a spot at the pump and off we took, heading back towards the ESPN’s World Wide of Sports with a full tank of gas.

Everything was smooth sailing now. Unlike last year, we had time to spare! We would be able to get our race packets, spend a little time at the expo, and even could hit Publix before our very early wake-up call. But…it’s never quite that simple for this family. There was a lot of construction going on around the ESPN Wide World of Sports area. Just a tad more chaos than normal. Traffic was insane, cars were all trying to merge at once. Somehow, we managed to get ahead of sis. When we turned, she kept going. All I can say is that one little missed turn delayed their arrival time by way, way too long. As panic and frustration was taking over their car, we made our way to the ESPN center and tried to wait as long as possible for them. When we realized their delay was going to be a while, we went ahead and got our packets and even had time to check out the expo. Hubby grabbed a beer, we split a plate of – yes – grapes, cheese and crackers – go Disney – and then finally, FINALLY, sis arrived.

After we all had our packets in hand, we spent a little bit of time exploring the expo where we found some awesome new gadgets and running toys. We bought some Caterpy Laces – these nifty little guys that I’m totally sold on! Hubby got some new running socks and we both purchased new Nathan running belts that fits our phones and is small enough to not be cumbersome during a run. Love them!

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Disney expo

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After the expo, we loaded up with a grocery list in hand and headed to Publix. Unlike last year, this trip to the grocery was a fast one. We were able to get everything we needed and managed to make it home in time to have dinner and make it to bed at a decent hour.

Fortunately, we were all pretty tired from the super busy day. We laid out our clothes, got ready for bed, and prepared for the excitement of our very first race day of the weekend.

 

5K RACE DAY

The wakeup call was early…Very early. Mom was up and atom, dressed and ready to go, acting as if she had already dipped into the coffee. Other grandma was another story. If we could have left her in the bed to sleep until about 8:00, I think she would have been happy. But instead, she put on a happy face, donned her racing gear, and we all headed towards Epcot for the 5K.

This year was a special year. P could finally race with us! The big race, as she called it. I could not have been a more-proud aunt when she donned on her Princess Leia themed tank top and matching tutu. She is the bravest kid I know. Nerves didn’t even seem to phase her. Instead, she was bursting at the seams with excitement.

Somehow, both grandmas ended up in the B corral and the five of us ended up in F, the last corral. Not sure how that happened, but we just went with it. And it kind of worked out this way. Both grandmas could take their time with the race, stop and take pictures if they wanted, and we could all likely finish around the same time.

When it was finally our turn, the guys took off, and sis and I ran with P. She did amazing! She ran as far as her tiny legs would take her, going at a great pace for the first quarter mile. I suggested then that we do a run/walk. This seemed to really work for her…. Almost. By the time we came into the back side of Epcot, she was tired. So we improvised. We kept up this run/walk/sis-carries-her-routine until we were near the finish line.

Both grandmas had slowed down quite a bit in order for all of us to finish together. As we met up with mom, somehow other grandma got lost in the mix in front of us. For those of you who have participated in Disney events, you can understand how this would happen. There is loud music and runners and spectators all narrowing toward the finish. It’s a great bit of organized chaos going on at that very moment.

Well, naturally, P was beyond excited to see both grandmas and to be near the finish. Without warning, she took off at a sprint and I suddenly realized sis was not going to cross the finish line with her. I looked over and sis was absolutely crushed. After trying to scream their names, which was a joke with the organized chaos happening around us, I did exactly what the best sister in the world would do. I took off at a sprint, stopping other grandma and P before they could finish. And to me, the picture below says it all. Sis was over the moon excited to cross the first 5K finish line with our little P.

After the race, we went back to the condo, quickly showered, ate breakfast and prepared for a fun afternoon at Disney Springs. Uncle J and sis-in-law were going to be joining us! I couldn’t be more excited. But first, coffee. We enjoyed an amazing and delicious treat from Starbucks while relaxing and enjoying a view by the water. We milled around for a bit, shopping and having a great time, and then FINALLY they arrived. Now the weekend could truly begin!

That evening, we had a great time hanging out and catching up for a bit. But, the morning wake-up call would be coming early and we had to get to bed. For hubby and I, it wasn’t that difficult. We headed to bed around 7:00-ish and were probably fast asleep by 8:00.

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Heading to the starting line

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See ya guys at the finish!
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I couldn’t imagine any better Yoda than these two

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Best finish line expression ever

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10K

The morning of this race is early…. So very, very early. My alarm went off at 2:30 a.m., but I felt like a rockstar. Both hubby and I were well rested, energetic, and ready for the race to begin. Honestly, this was a bit of a shocker. I didn’t think waking up at 2:30 in the morning would ever warrant anything other than complete and utter exhaustion.

This race, it was only hubby and I, sis and E that were tackling the 10K. We set off toward Epcot, a little bummed that hubby was in a different corral than we were. Not exactly sure how that happened, since we all put in our finish times at the exact same time, but nonetheless, it did. So we had a plan. We were simply going to sneak him into our corral.

As I sit here writing this, it makes me laugh. Sneaking someone into a coral, especially at Disney, is a big risk. What if we got caught? What if they demanded we return our bibs and we couldn’t compete in the race? Was it worth it? We were going to find out.

We got to the race pretty early and decided to make our dangerous trek into the corral. Since they are extremely careful about checking each and every bib as they pass in, we decided to make a semi-circle, showing each and every one of our bibs, except for hubby’s, and carefully ushering him in the middle of us, quickly passing by the bib-guard and making it into corral together. It was exciting and terrible all at once. Clearly, the guilt I felt for being so dishonest on something so silly reminded me that I must carry the conscience of a bowling ball around with me constantly.

As we sat there, enjoying watching the other participants start to file in, we realized we were so anxious on getting him into corral that we never hit the bathroom. Big mistake. So, continuing in our ridiculous semi-childish behavior, we had hubby and E switch bibs so they could make the bathroom before the race began one at a time. As I write these words, the guilt continues to flood over me and makes me wonder how I managed to come out of that race without any rolled ankles or knee injuries for being so deceptive.

As the fireworks commenced, we took off. Hubby and I left sis and E behind so they could take the race at their own pace and simply enjoy the scenery. Since this was one of E’s first big races at Disney, I know they wanted to absorb every second.

Hubby and I poured into the run like we did at home and it felt great. Once we were able to find a good pace, we managed to weave in and out of the fellow racers with ease. I was so excited to share this course with hubby. He missed last year’s amazing entrance into Epcot with the torches lit along the water, the countries full of life and the most amazing topiaries and flowers I have ever seen in my life. Thank you Flower and Garden Festival for the beauty of the festival!

As we wound our way through the countries, I tried to absorb every moment. This was truly one of my favorite parts of the course. It was only as we came somewhere between mile four and five did hubby suddenly start to fall back. My feet, he kept telling me. My feet hurt. His feet hurt? Since when? He told me he’d catch up with me, so I let him do a little bit of walking. He did speed up a bit and caught up with me not long after mile five where he trudged through until the end.

As we finished the race, we waited for sis and E where we met up with the rest of the family at the family reunion area. It was here that J and sis-in-law waved us goodbye for a fun day at Magic Kingdom. It was also here where a super-fun scavenger hunt for our sweet little princess went underway. Since it was around her birthday, sis had created an incredible surprise for her. She had left “clues” all along the way where she ultimately was led to the Grand Floridian Resort where a very special Princess Tea was waiting for her with none other than Aurora herself. Sis knocked it out of the park on this one.

As she and P enjoyed their tea with a few other select princesses, the rest of us grabbed much-needed coffee and a quick bite of breakfast at the Grand Floridian. We selected a table outside overlooking the water and enjoyed our delicious treats.

After we spent much of the morning here, we finally made our way back to the condo where we spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the pool and the lazy river at the resort. This day was amazing.

We ate dinner at a ridiculously early hour, since we were planning to be in the bed by – say what – 6:00 p.m. That was somewhat of a chore, but we managed. I didn’t fall asleep right away, as I suspected, since my stomach was doing somersaults of excitement for the race to come, but finally…. FINALLY…. I found la-la land.

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Half-Marathon

The alarm went off at 1:00 a.m.. Yep, you read that correct. One A.M. It was the earliest we had ever, ever gotten up for a race thus far. But, we had no choice. We needed to get dressed, eat a quick bite for, uh, a midnight snack, and board a bus leaving the Epcot parking lot by 3:30 a.m. at the latest. We had a lot to do.

I rolled out of bed so incredibly excited. It was my birthday after all! I did feel a bit groggier than the previous day’s race, although perhaps I had no idea just HOW groggy I was.

I braided my hair and headed into the bathroom to spray it down with hairspray. As I dug through our toiletry bag, I grabbed what I thought was my travel size bottle of hairspray. As I sprayed and sprayed and sprayed, I thought to myself, man that hairspray smells unusual. Yep. I was dowsing my hair in hubby’s travel size Axe. In fact, I believe I had just emptied the entire bottle on my head. So I hit the floor, literally, in laughter that wouldn’t stop. I knew we were in trouble already.

In the meantime, hubby was working on his own problems in the bedroom. I walked in, spotted the state of his feet and continued in my ridiculous laughter. So, his feet had been hurting the day before. Well, he had managed to get a blister – probably from the new socks purchased at the expo and not previously worn yet – so not our best decision –so he had taken it upon himself to turn his feet into something that resembled mummy feet. That’s the only way I can describe it. Tape and mole skin and more tape adorned each of his toes to the point he could barely even walk. This was going to make for one fun race.

By the time we all were dressed, semi-fed, hydrated and ready to head out, we were giggly and silly and clearly all running on very little sleep and a whole lot of adrenaline. Fortunately, leaving as early as we did certainly ensured we completely missed the traffic we ran into last year. Perhaps we left a tad too early, but it’s okay. We were able to sit in sis’s car, listen to music for a while, irritate one of the workers with our headlights – oops – and relax before the big event. That’s never usually the case, so I’ll take it!

After riding the bus a short distance to our start at Magic Kingdom, I was overcome with excitement. It was finally here! The big race I had been dreaming about for months and months was finally happening. Our outfits felt right on par and the guys were troopers. Since it was my birthday, and I could see no other amazing way to spend it, we had adorned ourselves to resemble cupcakes and the guys had matching shirts. Yep, they are keepers.

After taking pictures and hydrating well, we got into corral. This time, we all got into the correct corral. No guilt here this day. Fortunately, we were all assigned the same corral this go ‘round. We were early and made it to the very front of our corral where we had a perfect view of the festivities going on while we waited for the race to begin. Since we were there with about 20,000 of our closest friends – literally – they have fantastic entertainment to keep you occupied for the couple hours before kick-off. We danced and sang and laughed in our sleep-deprived state and enjoyed every second of our pre-race fun.

But then, it was our turn. The fireworks went off, signaling it was our start of the race. Hubby and I fell into a good rhythm together and took off, waving a quick goodbye to sis and E. Since this was E’s very first half-marathon, they had plans to do their own unique run/walk/run and some picture time, so we agreed to meet at the finish line.

I will tell you already, this course rocked! It is now one of my all-time favorites. As you come out of the starting line, you are immediately taken down a back road where there is a Star Wars Ewok “war” going on before your very eyes. Fire in the bushes, laser shows, the works. It was fantastic! And I wasn’t even a full-fledged Star Wars fan at this point yet. After we ran the first few miles, we were taken into the back entrance of Animal Kingdom. I will warn you, it is a bit stinky here. I’m not exactly sure if it was from the animals, or perhaps the waste station we passed, but it doesn’t last too terribly long. As we tried to hold our breathe/run/run faster to get away from the stench, we made it into the much-anticipated Animal Kingdom. Amazing. Just freaking awesome. It was beautiful running through this already incredible park with the sun coming up. We passed Pandora, which was a huge attraction for those wanting pictures. I loved it.

As we left Animal Kingdom, we made our next destination towards Hollywood Studios. We had to run a bit along the interstate here, but it was nice because there was ample room for people to pass, to fill up on water and anything else you might need, without feeling like you’re running on top of each other. As we came into Hollywood Studios, I was just as equally enamored. It is so beautiful running along the streets, watching the park lit up just for you, and, God bless the workers, passing out tissues to wipe the sweat that is now covering every inch of your body. We passed by the infamous Tower of Tower, Rockin Rollercoaster, some of my all-time favorites, and made our way through the park.

Next, it was almost back into Epcot where I knew the finish line was just within reach. Hubby was most definitely struggling with his mummified toes at this point, but he muscled through. He is truly amazing. That is all I will say.

As we ran through the most beautiful Epcot and rounded the countries, I was amazed that the race was almost finished. Running through the parks and having very little interstate time made the miles fly by at the speed of light…. Or maybe that’s 12 parsecs. Okay, bad Star Wars joke.

As we came to the finish line, got our medals and goody box, hubby and I made it to the family reunion area where he collapsed, ready to strip his shoes off and release his feet from their mummified bandages. Sis and E were a good bit behind us, as they decided to take ample opportunity to take tons of great pictures and enjoy the scenery. Not a bad idea for E’s very first experience running an incredible Disney race!

After everyone had crossed the finished line, we took pictures and finally made our way back to the condo to shower. We spent the remainder of this pretty perfect day at Epcot, enjoying one too many adult beverages in celebration of our incredible feat.

As always, this weekend was one for the memory books. It was full of laughter and fun and unforgettable stories I will forever cherish. And, as in typical sis-and-I fashion, we were already planning the next race the day we watched this one come to a close.

Fantastic job, Disney. As usual, you put on one heck of a race.

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Pre-race nap
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It’s time!!

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Best feeling ever

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Race tips

This race proved to be a new challenge for those driving to the race. Unlike other Disney run courses, you have to park at Epcot where you will board special transportation bus that will take you to the starting line at Magic Kingdom. Although it’s a bit unconventional, it’s worth it. This course rocked!

 

Note-worthy restaurants in the area

Disney Springs offers some incredible eats at their newly expanded and renovated area. I, of course, find Ghiradelli one of my favorite post-race stops, but there are so many delicious and fun alternatives here that don’t include copious amounts of chocolate upon chocolate.

 

Hotels near the race site

Just as in the past, the Wyndham Resort is a fan favorite in our house. I love the ability to have a full kitchen, a living room, and all of the amenities of home. We usually can book this directly on VRBO or Travelocity, both of whom we’ve had great luck with. You have access to all of the amenities at the resort, like their lazy river and pool area, especially if you need to take it easy after a race day.

However, Disney hotels are also a fantastic choice because they offer so many great amenities, like race transportation, transport to all Disney parks, and easy to access dining. And, honestly, who doesn’t love having one less thing to worry about like where to park and who is willing to get up that early to drive you.

Half Shell Hustle 5K, Apalachicola, Florida

Frozen. Absolutely, downright FROZEN. At least that’s how it felt the second we stepped out of the car on race day.

Usually in Apalachicola, Florida during this time of the year, the weather is slightly cooler, nestled comfortably somewhere in the mid-70’s. Not this year. Instead, this year we were battling a freak artic blast that had come barreling through the southeast. The temp had reached an incredible low of 32 degrees and with the wind blowing like crazy, it felt like 27.

When I originally signed us up for this race, I expected we would spend the morning running at this annual event and then enjoy the oyster festival that ensued directly afterwards, perhaps even catching a few hours on the water. However, the second we stepped out of the car, I knew a leisurely day at the beach was definitely not going to happen.

We arrived in Apalachicola with plenty of time to get our race packets (which consisted of an awesome long-sleeved athletic-tek tee) and headed inside for a little pre-race cup of coffee. This run kicks off the Saturday morning of the annual Apalachicola Oyster Festival. There were already daring vendors setting up their culinary delights, trying to brave the cold weather with coffee, hot chocolate and miniature heaters.

After huddling for as long as we could inside one of the buildings trying to keep warm, race time was just around the corner. Bundling up, we begrudgingly got into corral. There were not as many participants as there have been in the past and I imagine it was due to the weather. But we weren’t going to let this deter our spirits. We donned our head phones, set Runkeeper to go, and took off.

The course was absolutely fantastic. Imagine running through Old Florida; where you pass beautiful houses overlooking the water, where palm trees swayed in the distance, giving the illusion you were lost somewhere in 1950 in a Floridan paradise. Well, this was pretty close.

The race did not have but a couple of small hills, just enough to get your heart rate up. It was a down-and-back, which usually isn’t my favorite, but this time I didn’t care. The second I made the loop back as the sun was coming up over the water, it was worth it. The view was incredible, I didn’t care about anything else. Also, by this point, I began to get feeling back in my toes.

The truth was, I had never ever been so cold in a race before in my life. It took me a good mile and a half to get my feet from feeling like I was running on something other than two pairs of cinderblocks.

As the race came to a finish, we had finally gotten somewhat used to the cold. We decided to hang around longer than usual, waiting to see who had placed first in their age divisions. Unbeknownst to us, hubby had placed first in his! When they called his name out, neither of us could believe it! I was never more proud of his hard work than at that moment.

After collecting his award, we headed over to Café Con Leche for some much-needed post-race coffee and a little bit of celebration. And what a fantastic find this place was! It was our first time in this eclectic café that served delicious coffee and lattes, as well as a full breakfast menu. Had it been a little warmer that day, they had a front porch with tables and chairs that overlooked the bay that would have been amazing to take part of. I was in love.

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After finishing our coffee, we were going to hang around and enjoy the festival, but we were FREEZING, yet again, and it was still two hours until the festival kicked off. So, we elected to head back home this time. Perhaps next year, if the weather is more in our favor, we can make this an all-day affair.

Apalachicola is a beautiful hidden gem in northwest Florida, nestled somewhere in between Tallahassee and Panama City. It’s a small town that offers unique shopping, delicious food and a local brewery called Oyster City that you simply cannot pass by.

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Race tips

Parking can be tricky. Make sure to park a distance from the race start – on the opposite side of the street. You can quickly get trapped in by festival-goers or vendors if you’re not careful.

 

Note-worthy restaurants in the area

Oyster City Brewing Company – A beer connoisseur’s dream. This local brewery offers a wide variety of drinks for anyone’s taste, from the typical Pale Ale to a deep (and quite delicious) Honey Ale. When you enter the establishment, you’re greeted by a casual and relaxed vibe, drawing you in to enjoy one of their crafts at either the bar or one of their tables. This is a definite stop on your first trip to Apalachicola.

Café Con Leche – Coffee. Lattes. Omelette. Criossants. My mouth is beginning to water at remembering this fabulous little café. Make sure to stop in for a quick bite for breakfast or lunch and sit outside and enjoy the view. You will not be disappointed.

Boss Oyster – If no one told you about this great little find, you would probably just keep on walking. From the outside, it’s a plain, wooden building that doesn’t look much bigger than a single store front, but the second you step inside you realize it’s actually a very large restaurant where the majority of the establishment sits right on the water. If you want good oysters, local beer and a great view, go no further. They also offer plenty of other food choices, but while you’re in Apalachicola, you cannot go without sampling some of what this little town is famous for.

 

Hotels near the race site

Gibson Inn – A historic hotel and bed and breakfast that also touts to be haunted. I couldn’t tell you if it’s haunted, as I didn’t encounter anything of the sort, but I can attest to its haunting beauty. This building has been refurbished and sits in the heart of downtown, overlooking the water. A perfect evening would be sitting out on its enormous balcony that wraps around the entire second floor with a glass of wine in hand.

Completely unofficial just for fun bridal run – Key West, Florida

December in Key West is always a good idea. The weather was, in fact, perfect this particular day. The rain was gone, the sky was clear, and the temperature was a beautiful 70-ish something degrees. Not only was one of my best friend’s getting married, but she had decided to host a pre-bridal run. Best. Day. Ever.

Since this was a completely unofficial run, she had mapped out a course for us, complete with start and finish signs that began and ended at our hotel. She even managed to get the non-runners out of bed to cheer us on.

I bounced out of bed just as excited as I would have been had it been a real race day. I mean, it was a race after all, wasn’t it? I left hubby sleeping this morning and set out to meet friends and family in front of the hotel. Our bride-to-be KP had created little race bibs for us to wear and was handing them out as I walked up. Honestly, this rocked. Leave it to a fellow runner to come up with such a fantastic pre-wedding get together.

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At around 8:15, it looked like we had everyone that was going to participate at the hotel entrance. Since it was early – and quite early for Key West party-goers – we had the run of the street. We lined up just like we would for a regular race. I got another brief explanation of our route – since there wasn’t any signs along the course to mark our way – secretly hoping I wouldn’t get lost. But with my phone, surely I could find my way back if I did manage to get off course.

We took off on a count of three. Silly string shot out like a cannon as our send-off. I took off, leading the pack, quickly getting into my comfortable pace. It was a gorgeous morning, traffic was no where to be found, and I was relishing in the nice, flat course.

Heading south on Whitehead Street, just up ahead was the iconic Southernmost Point marker. Yes, I sure did attempt a selfie as I ran past. I might need to work on this skill.

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As I ran past the marker, I looked at the road ahead and couldn’t believe my eyes. Either I was hallucinating or there was another race going on. Sure enough, a couple blocks over there was a sign that marked – caution, runners on the road – along with a start and end clock where other runners were gathered. Fortunately, I turned left on Duval Street and managed to miss getting tangled up with those other runners.

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I ran down Duval Street, loving to see this usual bustling street still well asleep. We continued down Duval Street until we could run no more – basically ending where the cruise ships come into port – made a left turn, and headed back up Whitehead Street to the finish line at the front of the hotel.

I got back a few minutes before the rest of the group, which worked out perfectly. I was able to wait there on the sidewalk, cheering KP and her entourage on as they came to the finish – and of course getting some pics of her crazy-happy-grin as she made those last few steps to the end.

To sum this amazing race up in just a few words… well, I’m not sure I could. If you ever get a chance to visit Key West, make sure to take KP’s completely unofficial race route and snap a selfie as you pass the Southernmost Point. You won’t be disappointed.

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Note-worthy restaurants in the area

The Blue Macaw. Blood Mary Bar. Yep. That’s what I said. If you like bloody mary’s this is your place. You can make your own concoction at this elaborate bar. The food is also incredible. It’s a mix of typical Key West favorites with an artistic flair.

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Sloppy Joes – not exactly a prime place to grab some grub, but it’s a must-stop for at least one drink. They do have quite a few choices of appetizers, but this would be your typical pub-type fare. Yet you simply can’t come to Key West and pass this place by.

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Pinchers – a complete touristy restaurant, yet one with a fantastic view and good food. Make sure to order the crab dip – simply delicious – and get a dozen steamed oysters. Top this off with a two-for-one glasses of sangria and you are completely set.

 

Hotels near the race site

Lighthouse Court Hotel – a fabulous old building(s) that has been completely renovated into a boutique hotel, complete with a pool and mojito bar and little alcoves that offer just the right amount of privacy with tables and chairs tucked away in hidden areas of the resort. They also offer a complimentary breakfast in the morning at their pool and lounge area. However, parking is a little tricky here. If you’re driving, make sure to take the tiny little street – that looks more like an alley – directly behind the hotel. There will be parking behind the hotel. We managed to get a Tahoe jammed in between the street and the building, so there is some room.

Ocean Key Resort – a beautiful resort that somehow makes indoor/outdoor living quite glamorous. It’s a surprisingly good-sized hotel right on the water with a view you can’t miss. You can wake up in the morning and watch the cruise ships come into port, or you can make the nightly celebration of watching the sun go down. The cost of this hotel is slightly more expensive, but it offers all of the amenities you would expect in a five-star resort.

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