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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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Girls on the Run – celebratory 5k

Today was a big day. It wasn’t a celebration of any special running goals for me personally, or even anything remotely close to a PR, but it was a big deal for my running buddy.

I’ll admit it, I had never heard of Girls on the Run before in my life. I didn’t realize that this was an amazing and inspiring activity for young girls, all the way from elementary through middle school age, to get a chance to run, to train and to learn some of the most valuable lessons it took me years to discover – positivity, self-worth, dedication.

When I ran across an advertisement from our local Girls on the Run group, in search of running buddies, I was intrigued. I didn’t know what a running buddy was, or did, exactly. I just knew that something inside of me told me to check it out. So I did. And, boy, am I glad I did.

When you register, you have the opportunity to sign up for a specific school and/or runner. I elected to be assigned a running buddy randomly. The particular school I was assigned to caters to mostly low-income families. I have to admit, I was a little bit nervous. I wasn’t sure what to expect, or how I would be accepted – if at all.

As a running buddy, we have two opportunities to meet and run with our buddies. My first meeting was at the end of October where the team at my particular school held their practice 5k. So far, the girls had been having regular practices twice a week in order to prepare them for a 5k run. When we met for the first time, they had been preparing for a couple of weeks.

When I met my running buddy – and we’ll call her Natasha – I couldn’t believe at the excitement buzzing around her and the other girls. They were looking so forward to meeting us and getting a chance to do this practice run.

After spending a couple of hours meeting the girls and running the allotted distance, I said goodbye to my buddy and anxiously awaited the big celebration 5k at the beginning of December.

Fast forward to December 2nd. It was a chilly morning, but not too bad. I dressed in my Girls on the Run running buddy t-shirt and set off across town. Apparently, I misread the information because the race wasn’t set to kick off at 8:00 a.m., but instead 9:00 a.m., with an hour-long festival beforehand.

However, I snagged a great parking spot and ran into a friend to chat with before my school arrived.

By the time 8:00 a.m. rolled around, the race start and festival area was brimming with students and running buddies. It was, well, inspiring. There were tents set up where the girls could get face painting done, make bracelets, get their hair dazzled with sparkles, and even a spot where they could decorate their race bibs. I sure wish they had this around when I was in school!

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I finally met up with my school and my running buddy. Excitement was nearly bursting from the seams of each one of them. They were all anxious and ready to begin the festivities.

After taking a few photos, the girls were allowed to visit the various tents until it was time to begin the warm-up. The warm-up was a fun dance-style exercise where everyone joined at the front of a stage and danced for a good ten minutes.

Once we were all warmed up and ready to race, my buddy and I lined up at the start. Since this was her first race, she was incredibly nervous! She was worried she wouldn’t be able to make the distance, or that she would come in last. I had a moment where I remembered my very first race and had these exact same doubts. I assured her that even if we were last, finishing the race was the most important part.

We ended up teaming up with two other runners and their buddies. At the start, the girls always take off out of the shoot at a full sprint. After about a quarter of a mile, their little legs start to give out. We tried explaining to them that if they ran at a slower pace, they could keep it up the entire distance. They still didn’t seem to quite grasp that. After a little while, we started running a clock of 30 second intervals. The girls loved this. They even remarked at how fast the distance was moving by doing the intervals.

During the race, friends and family were lined up along the route. Their cheers and shouts of well done had our girls running with more excitement than I had seen before. It seemed like for the first time, my running buddy was finally feeling confident in her ability to do this.

As we rounded the last bend of the race, there was a hill waiting for us at the finish. But the girls didn’t even seem to notice this. They pushed forward with all the might they had and crossed that finish line with ease. I couldn’t have been more proud.

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After the race was completed, the girls were welcome to stay and enjoy the festivities. Once I was sure that my running buddy was safely with her school, I decided to call it a day.

I headed home that morning feeling more accomplished than I had in a long time. I suddenly remembered how fun it was just to get out there and run. I reminded myself, once again, that being the fastest, or the best, didn’t really matter. Just finishing the race was the most important.

I certainly hope my running buddy learned something in this process, and that is if a girl sets her mind to something, she is unstoppable!

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You can find your local Girls on the Run group by checking out their website at: www.girlsontherun.org

Turkey Trot – 2017

For many years, Thanksgiving was a huge tradition for our family. Everyone would gather together, travel to south Florida, and celebrate an annual feast where we had the chance to catch up with aunts, uncles and cousins we haven’t seen since the previous year. However, this year things are different. Since the passing of the great aunt and uncle that always hosted our annual dinner, we are marking a new Thanksgiving tradition for 2017.

This year, we started our Thanksgiving morning by joining six thousand other runners and walkers in an annual Turkey Trot. It’s hard to believe that after all of the races I have been privileged to participate in, this was my very first Turkey Trot. Apparently, I had just no clue at how popular this race was.

My first clue should have been the email we received about carpooling. Carpooling? Really? I can’t imagine that many folks getting up that early to run when this was their chance to sleep in on a weekday and prepare to feast. But, I was proven wrong.

Fortunately, mom had decided to sign up for the one-mile fun run. We met in a parking lot not far from the race start where other grandma was our designated “Uber driver”. Perhaps they had been right after all about that carpooling suggestion.

Once we were dropped off at the race start, we were greeted by thousands – literally – of our fellow Turkey Trot runners. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many people coming out to enjoy this event. Families were there by the droves and it was pretty darn awesome.

We didn’t have much time to waste before the fun run start. We snapped a few pictures, hit the porta potties and before we knew, it was time for mom to begin her race.

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When she took off, we wandered around for a few minutes and slowly made our way to our corral. I was thoroughly impressed with the way the corral was set up. Usually for local races, it’s kind of free-for-all and you stand where you feel the most comfortable. But this time there were signs indicating that if you were under an 8-minute-per-mile pace, you needed to line up behind the sign, and so forth. I was so proud to be able to stand between the 10-minute-per-mile sign and the 8-minute. Maybe all the time spent on the pavement was beginning to pay off.

As the bell sounded, we took off. Honestly, it was like a massive herding of cows – reminding me all too much of a miniature Disney race. But, after about the first half mile, the crowd began to spread out and we were able to get into a good pace. We jumped onto the sidewalk a few times because it was much less crowded and we were able to pass without any trouble.

Despite my excitement for this event, this race was challenging. I felt super sluggish at times and swore that my pace was dragging. But that wasn’t the case. Maybe I was just missing a nice cup of coffee, or maybe it was all that holiday food I had been partaking in the few days before. Not long before we hit mile 3, I started dropping back from hubby. Today just felt hard. I’d like to blame it on the rain that started more than a heavy drizzle on us, but that most likely wasn’t the culprit. Some days, running just felt hard.

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As we rounded the last corner and headed home to finish, I pushed myself harder. And boy, I’m glad I did. After the race – and after a brief stop at Starbucks for a holiday flavored cup of java – we got the results. I placed 16th out of 147 in my age group! I couldn’t believe it. Maybe, just maybe, all of this hard work is really starting to pay off.

What I realized that day is that sometimes running feels great. Sometimes it feels like it’s zapping every ounce of willpower from your already depleted system. Today was apparently one of those days for me. And that’s okay. It won’t always be easy, but I will always keep pushing forward.

Besides, when I look at this one race shot, I realize that I was doing something I loved at that very moment and that makes those hard days all the worthwhile.

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 Race tips

Dress up! Turkey Trots are so much fun and the more adventurous the costumes the better.

Carpool. Heed their advice.

Make this an annual family tradition. Nothing starts off a great day with family more than sharing some exercise before it’s time to feast.

St. Jude 5k Run/Walk to End Childhood Cancer

When my coworker and friend got the news – that her precious and beautiful grandson was diagnosed with childhood cancer, it rocked not only her world, but so many others. To be quite honest, I didn’t know much about St. Jude, or even much about childhood cancer, and the fight these precious little ones put on every single day. That’s why when my friend asked me to join her for the 5k to support such a special cause, I didn’t hesitate.

The morning of the race was a cool and windy one. It was about 50 degrees and the wind was whipping pretty hard. Okay… so it wasn’t sub-zero temps, but it was cold. But really, I didn’t mind at all. It is November and this was one of the first days it actually felt like fall. So, Hubby and I dressed accordingly and headed out bright and early.

When we arrived, I was thrilled to see the community support for this race. Cheerleaders from our local college university were there, along with a couple of high school cheerleading squads. The race was extremely organized. We had no problems finding the tent for packet pickup and, of course, the tent with Cliff Bars, bananas and fresh hot coffee.

Before the race began, I met up with my friend. She had an entire entourage of friends and family who were there participating. Her mother-in-law had taken the time to sew every one of us capes, the same type of cape her grandson had worn on his very last day of chemo treatment. To say it was special to be a part of this would be an understatement.

So, we took off, running this surprisingly flat course feeling a little bit like grown-up super heroes. The course could have been slightly confusing if you weren’t paying attention. It was a fantastic route, but you most definitely needed to watch for the arrows painted on the ground and to the volunteers directing you where to go.

I could tell I was moving at a great clip. Usually, hubby pulls away from me near the first mile, but this race I managed to keep up. We only started to split apart about halfway through the race, but it wasn’t a big gap at all. Unfortunately, I didn’t even think to start my Runkeeper app. Looking back, I wish I would have – I would have loved to see my splits on this course.

As we finally made the last loop towards the finish line, the cheerleaders were lined up along with other participants, cheering everyone on. Since this was the only – and big, might I add – hill that we encountered, I needed every bit of cheering I could get. However, when I crossed the finish and saw my time, I was ecstatic. I had broken 30 minutes. For me, this was a huge feat. I managed to cross the finish line in 29:45, just under that 30-minute mark.

After the race – and after getting medals which I was completely surprised to see – we hung around and cheered the others on.

I will most definitely do this race next year and encourage anyone that comes across a St. Jude event like this to jump on board. It felt amazing to support those that are fighting for their lives every day. IMG_6266

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A little pre-run warmup

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Full-Marathon madness

It’s time. Yep, I said it. It’s time to finally break out of my comfort zone and run a full marathon. Even as I write these words, my hands start to get a little clammy at the thought. 26.2 miles…. or two half-marathons in a row… or eight 5Ks. No matter how I’ve tried to calculate it, the decision has been made. I’m ready… I think.

It all started after my last half-marathon in Fort Walton Beach.

But first, a little back story. About seven months ago, hubby and I joined our local CrossFit box. It wasn’t long before we were HOOKED and official CrossFit junkies. After a couple months, we finally managed to come up with a great schedule that worked for us: three days of CrossFit and three days of running, leaving us one rest day. At first, it was hard. I’ll admit it. And depending on what the WOD (workout of the day) was, sometimes our runs were even harder. I mean, it’s never easy to set out for an easy run day of 3.2 miles when your legs still felt like jelly from the 100 overhead squats you did the day before. But, as time progressed, so did we. We got stronger. Suddenly, our new schedule wasn’t hard at all. It was just our new routine.

Now fast forward to the half-marathon in Fort Walton Beach. I felt, well, amazing. I could tell right out of the shoot that I felt great. Sure, we’ve been running a lot, but it was something else. When we first started CrossFit, we were told that because of the amazing workouts and challenges and muscle-building activities we were going to do, that we wouldn’t need to run as much to prepare for races. Honestly, I didn’t believe it. But race day was proof. I was proof. I was stronger than I had ever been.

What really amazed me was post-race. Sure, I felt a little sore, but it wasn’t like in the past. I could actually still walk. So, the morning after the race, which for me was always the worst, hubby suggested we go for a run. What?! I wasn’t so sure I could manage a stroll around the block much less a few miles after just running a half. But, I did it. And I did great. Sure, I was a little more tired than normal, but I finished. And that’s when it occurred to me. It’s time.

So here I am, in the second week of my official full-marathon training schedule. My dad has a few marathons under his belt. He sent me his tried-and-proven-works marathon training schedule. He tells me if I follow this schedule to a T, it will work. But….I can’t turn my back on my CrossFit. So, I’ve tweaked his training schedule a bit to fit our schedule.

I am thrilled – and a little scared – to be taking on such a big feat on my own, but I am ready. Just one foot in front of the other….

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