Disney World Marathon (Part 2)

I had big plans for my birthday (January 9th) at Disney World, which just happened to be the day after the marathon. To celebrate not only turning 38, but also successfully completing my first 26.2 mile race, I had several reservations booked throughout the day at different Disney parks. First was breakfast at Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom. If you haven’t eaten there before it’s a beautiful place with three different dining rooms that are impeccably decorated like the Beast’s castle. I had a delicious meal of quiche and pastries in a spectacular ballroom setting. The Magic Kingdom is my favorite Disney park so my parents and I spent a lot of time there after breakfast. As soon as we arrived that morning I made sure to get my birthday button so just about every Cast Member we encountered all day wished me a happy birthday. I also wore my Disney World Marathon shirt to the parks that day to advertise my accomplishment, but it was cold enough to warrant wearing a jacket over it most of the day. In the afternoon we caught a bus from the Magic Kingdom to Hollywood Studios where I had an early dinner reservation at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant. The opportunity to have a meal in a booth shaped like a car at a drive-in movie theater was too intriguing to pass up. And it was a lot of fun. The food wasn’t very impressive, but I loved watching the old sci-fi movie trailers, clips, and cartoons while eating. But by far the highlight of the evening was the Star Wars Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party. Rather than have a birthday dessert with dinner I made reservations for all three of us for the dessert party preceding the Star Wars fireworks, which also came with priority viewing for the show. The party was in the Star Wars Launch Bay and I ate more than my fair share of indulgent sweets to celebrate my birthday. It was great. I also got my picture taken with Chewbacca where I was able to show off my marathon medal. And then Star Wars Galactic Spectacular Fireworks were really incredible. For a nerd like me it was the best way to end a birthday.

January 10th was my last full day at Disney World, but it was a little less structured. After breakfast my parents and took the bus to Disney Springs and spent the morning doing a little shopping there. We ended up being pretty frugal, only buying some Disney t-shirts at Uniqlo. They turned out to be the perfect souvenirs from our trip, and much more affordable than anything from the parks too. Our only obligation for the day was dinner at Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood Studios. It turned out to be one of the best meals that we had the whole trip with salads, steak and duck entrees, and delicious desserts. It was a fixed-price meal that included priority seating for the Fantasmic show later in the evening. Fantasmic has been on hiatus at Disneyland for over a year now due to extensive construction so I haven’t seen it in a long time. And the viewing options are much better at Disney World anyway with stadium bleacher seating. I really enjoyed seeing the show again. As soon as we got out of Fantasmic I made a beeline for Tower of Terror in order to use the Fast Pass I’d reserved. At Disneyland Tower of Terror closed permanently on January 2nd (I wrote a whole post about the last time I went on it back in November) to be transformed into a “Guardians of the Galaxy” ride so I was excited to be able to still be able to experience the Disney World version. It’s a bit more elaborate than the one in Anaheim was so it was an enjoyable surprise.

I flew home to Los Angeles on January 11th, but my flight wasn’t until the evening so had a chance to spend a few more hours at a Disney park before departing. I decided to go back to the Magic Kingdom and get on some rides that I missed on my birthday. Like Space Mountain, the Peoplemover, Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion, and Country Bear Jamboree. I also bought a Disney World 45th anniversary shirt and pin. I realize that the 45th anniversary was technically in the fall of 2016, but Disneyland was decorated for its 60th anniversary for over a year and a half so I figure the Disney World celebratory items were still applicable. I was really sorry to be leaving Orlando after such a great trip, including completing my first marathon and my 38th birthday, but it was time to get back to reality. I have a few souvenirs, a bunch of pictures, and even more great memories. And luckily I’ll be back at Disney World for the Wine & Dine races in November!

Disney World Marathon (Part 1)

I got to Orlando without too much trouble on January 6th. It was my first time having TSA Pre-Check clearance and I definitely enjoyed it. Not having to take off my shoes or jacket, and being able to leave my laptop in my backpack when going through security was definitely worth the minor hassle involved in getting cleared. When I arrived at the Boardwalk hotel at Disney World my parents and I had some pizza for dinner and made sure to get inside before the storms arrived that night. Even wearing earplugs the thunder and lightning woke me up overnight. It was quite the storm. Run Disney preemptively cancelled the half marathon for the next morning due to the storms so a lot of runners were not pleased. It was the best choice for everyone’s safety, but I understand their disappointment.

Due to the rain we did almost nothing the morning of January 7th. The only thing I absolutely had to do that day was go to the expo and get my race bib for the marathon the next morning, but we waited until the rain was just about over before attempting that trek. The expo was a madhouse with not only the marathoners picking up their things, but also the half marathoners returning to get their medals for the race that didn’t take place. Some of them were really dedicated and ran 13.1 miles in the rain earlier that day so that they felt like they truly earned the half marathon medal. I applaud them for the extra effort, but I’m not sure I would have done it! Most of Saturday afternoon was unproductive due to the time required to get to and from the expo with the added ridiculous number of cars and buses that were trying to get to ESPN Wide World of Sports in the bad weather. It was nuts. Fortunately I picked up my bib and shirt, and purchased a skirt for the next morning, without too much trouble. That night I had a delicious pasta dinner at Trattoria al Forno (conveniently located at the Boardwalk hotel where we were staying) in preparation for the marathon the next morning. I went to bed as early as I could manage, but I was really nervous about the upcoming race.

My alarm went off at 2:30 AM on Sunday January 8th. I got dressed and ready for the marathon as quickly as I could because I wanted to be on the bus to the start line at 3 AM. After the storms went through the previous day it was extremely cold on Sunday morning. I had arm warmers, gloves, a fleece jacket (courtesy of my mom), and a mylar blanket, but it still felt frigid outside. I had the foresight to sign up for Race Retreat which gave me access to a tent and breakfast before the race, but it was only marginally warmer inside. I could still see my breath as I was eating my banana with peanut butter! I was a bundle of nerves waiting for the race to start. I’d never run 26.2 miles before and I had no idea how it was going to go. I met my old high school friend Missy at 4:45 AM and we started the long walk to Corral L. While we were moving it didn’t feel that cold, but standing still was awful, especially when the wind was blowing. We were huddling close to strangers and stomping our feet to stay warm, but neither was really working. We finally crossed the start line around 6:20 AM (being in the 12th corral didn’t do us any favors that morning). I was so glad for all of the layers I had on even after we started running. I only took off my fleece jacket around mile 5, right before we reached the Magic Kingdom, and I kept the gloves on even longer because my hands felt so toasty warm. The arm warmers stayed on a bit longer, but had come off by the half marathon mark. The sun was plenty warm by that point, but anytime we ran through the shade we got a reminder of how cold the air still was. I was feeling pretty good for a majority of the race, but between mile 17 and 18 it started to go downhill. My stomach was upset and I was tired, and I basically felt like garbage. I expected to get a second wind eventually, but it never happened. Luckily I had Missy with me for moral support and we crossed the finish line in 5:28:41 which is a lot faster than I expected for my first marathon! I wasn’t in great shape after the race, though. My knee hurt, my foot hurt, and my body started going into shock when I got back on the bus to my hotel. Luckily a hot shower, a piece of pizza and a Coke, and some rest helped. Many hours of rest and relaxation later my parents and I walked over to Epcot. My foot was still really hurting, but I figured it would pass. I purchased the Disney World New Year’s pin that I wanted and we had a fabulous dinner at Spice Road Table that night. It was the perfect end to my marathon day!

Marathon recap pending

My first full day back in LA after the Disney World Marathon has been a little crazy, but I will start writing some recap posts from my trip to Orlando soon. The above photo was taken around 3 AM on Sunday morning just before I departed the hotel for the marathon start line. Don’t I look happy? I was blissfully unaware of exactly how cold it was outside in the pre-dawn hours (temperature was in the 30s with the wind chill even lower), and also how difficult running those 26.2 miles was going to be. But just so you know (especially if you’re not friends with me on Facebook where I’ve posted a few other pictures), I did successfully complete the marathon! It was an amazing trip to Disney World and I promise to tell you all about it in the upcoming days. But tonight I have to go to sleep a little early because I will be headed to the Star Wars 5K at Disneyland in the morning!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Today was the first full day of my holiday break (I don’t have to go back to work until January 3rd) and I didn’t waste any time getting in the Christmas spirit. I got up and went to Disneyland first thing this morning and it was lovely. Granted, the sky was cloudy and gray after raining overnight so the crowds in the park were very light. What a wonderful gift! I wasn’t expecting that two days before Christmas, but I really enjoyed it. I went on all of the rides on my holiday to do list (Jingle Cruise, Haunted Mansion Holiday, and Small World Holiday) in a very short amount of time. After that I wandered around and did some shopping, found a pin I’d been looking for, bought one last Christmas present for a friend, and had a holiday turkey sandwich (turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce) at Earl of Sandwich for lunch. When I got home from Disneyland I got started on the task of making Christmas cookies. In an effort to eat healthier I haven’t done a lot of baking this year, but I figured the holiday season deserves a little splurge. Plus, I promised to bring some peanut butter and chocolate treats to a friend’s house on Monday. Usually I like to try new recipes when I get a chance to bake, but this time I fell back on a couple of tried-and-true favorites since I didn’t want to risk serving mediocre cookies to my friends! First I whipped up a huge batch of peanut butter blossoms, as seen in the above photo. I first wrote about these back in 2011. These cookies are a holiday tradition in my family and they never fail to disappoint. They’re incredibly easy to make and absolutely delicious. By the time the peanut butter blossoms were done it was time for my to go to boot camp at 4 PM. The class was particularly grueling today, probably payback for indulging in the turkey sandwich and a few cookies today, but I’m glad I went. Christmas is no excuse for my fitness regime to suffer! When I got home from the gym I used another famous family recipe to make a large batch of peanut butter bars. They’re in the fridge right now, but I’ll slice them up (and take the obligatory photo) tomorrow. I wrote a very unsatisfactory post about these incredibly addictive treats about five years ago, but I will revisit them later this week because the recipe absolutely deserves to be shared again. After today most of my Christmas baking is done. I still have one more batch of cookies I’m planning to make for Monday, but those will probably have to wait until Sunday.

It’s raining right now, a sign of a real winter finally returning to Los Angeles, and I’m perfectly content to be inside, warm and dry, on this December 23rd night. I’m watching an old “Doctor Who” Christmas Special right now (“A Christmas Carol” from 2010), but earlier I put on my DVD of “The Bishop’s Wife” while making the peanut butter bars. I intend to watch a bunch of classic Christmas movies over the next couple of days. There will also be some more “Doctor Who” Christmas episodes, including the new one on Sunday night. It was a lovely first day of my holiday break, and this weekend promises to be busy and delightful as well.

Potluck Day 2016

Yesterday was my favorite day of the year – holiday potluck day! It was a great day. Since it was Casual Friday I got a chance to finally wear the holiday running shirt I ordered last month. I arrived to work early to get the hot chocolate started. It needed two hours in the Crockpot before it would be ready for the breakfast crowd. When I tested it at 6 AM it was the perfect temperature, and so delicious! I can’t believe anything that simple could be so popular, but I had several people ask me for the recipe again this year. I am happy to share it, of course. The biggest lesson I learned is that I need to get an extra large Crockpot so that I can make a double batch next year! (Also, I need to get a picture of a finished batch and post the recipe again. A good recipe is worth another share.)

Speaking of breakfast, I’m not sure if you’ll believe it, but I only had two scones yesterday – one caramel apple one and one maple bacon. They were amazing, but I didn’t want to go overboard before 9 AM. However, those two scones were accompanied by half of a waffle, a glass of milk, and a little hot chocolate. Maybe I did go overboard after all, but my scone consumption was still significantly reduced this year. When lunchtime rolled around I was still pretty full from breakfast, but I still loaded my plate with Chinese chicken salad, BBQ lil smokies, stuffing, and sweet potato casserole from the buffet. My contribution to the feast was turkey meatballs with cranberry barbeque sauce which turned out really well – and disappeared fast! I started cooking them in my other Crockpot at 6 AM so they were just right when everyone was ready for lunch. This was just the second time using the recipe, but this time I used a whole cup of barbeque sauce rather than the usual 1/2 cup, and I think the sauce was great. I’ll have to make those more often. I did indulge in a rare can of Coke, as you can see in the above photo, because of the cute polar bears on the can.

After all of the food I consumed at breakfast and lunch I absolutely zero room for dessert. Nothing looked at that exciting to me anyway, but I did take a couple of extra scones back to my desk with me. I thought they’d be great when I got hungry later. But by the end of the day I was still so full that the idea of eating them didn’t appeal to me at all so I shared them to my cubical neighbors. ‘Tis the season for giving! As usual, my favorite day of the year didn’t disappoint. Good food and a lot of laughs with my co-workers. I can’t wait for nest year!

Last race weekend of the year

“I don’t think the promise of an extra medal will tempt me to return next year, though. That half marathon course was killer and I’d honestly rather not repeat it.”
12/20/16 webpage post

It’s funny how often I’ve vowed never to run a particular race again, only to find myself back there at some point. I this case it took me two years, and encouragement from my running buddies, for me to sign up for a repeat of the Golden Snowflake Challenge. The first time I ran the Holiday Half Marathon two years ago I hated how hilly it was. I wasn’t all that used to running long distances (I think it was only my third half marathon?) and my overall fitness wasn’t the best, so the uphill portions of the course were not enjoyable. Luckily things were different this time around.

Last Saturday morning was the first part of the Golden Snowflake Challenge – the Holiday 5K. The first half or so of the 5K course is steadily uphill, but then it finishes with a lovely gradual downhill that makes you feel like you’re flying. I was prepared for that this year and I was excited to see how well I could handle it. The first two miles were just OK, averaging about 10:30 min/mile which wasn’t terrible, but then the amazing downhill portion kicked in. My last mile was under 10 minutes, which earned me a 5K PR of 31:45 minutes! That’s 2 minutes faster that I ran the Long Beach 5K back in October so I was really pleased. The fall is definitely PR season thanks to the rigors of marathon training and running with friends who push me to increase my pace. It’s a lot of fun!

The Holiday Half Marathon on Sunday morning wasn’t quite as fun. Not only did we have to tackle those same hills that I hated in 2014, but it was drizzling heavily on us for most of the race. The temperature was in the 50s which was great, but thanks to the rain we were pretty soaked. The good news is that since I’m in much better shape these days the hills didn’t feel nearly as difficult as they did two years ago. Still challenging, but I was able to maintain my running intervals without taking extra walk breaks on the inclines. In spite of our legs feeling incredibly sore from boot camp on Friday and the 5K on Saturday, my running buddy and I finished the half marathon in 2:35:06. It wasn’t a PR for me (I hung back a bit to run with her), but it’s still really good compared to some of our other race times from earlier this year. That’s 20 minutes faster than the OC Half Marathon. We’ve both improved so much since May! It was a great way to end the 2016 race season. Here’s to an even better 2017!

Late 2016 resolutions

I only made four official resolutions in 2016, and my adherence to some of those has been less than dedicated. But that’s a post more suited to the end of the month when I admit how much of a slacker I’ve been over the last 365 days. Luckily I actually satisfied two draft resolutions that I made at the beginning of the year, but never seriously committed to. This happens so rarely that I wanted to take credit for these successes while I can!

New Year’s Resolution #5: Weight training/cross training
At the end of last year I realized that running had become my only form of exercise, and I wasn’t even doing that with enough consistency. Going to my weekly spin class (when I actually made an effort to get there) wasn’t really helping because I needed something besides another form of cardio. I knew that if I wanted to be stronger and overall healthier that I needed to diversify my workouts. Unfortunately this wasn’t something that I was motivated to improve on my own. Luckily in June my running buddy invited me to try a class at her gym and I’ve been going to a couple of classes every week since then. It’s amazing! Not only have I changed my body’s shape (a combination of diet and exercise), but I’ve also changed my body’s composition. Over the summer I got a fancy Withings scale that sends data to my phone and tracks my statistics in an app. Since September not only have I gotten lighter, but my muscle mass has increased and my body fat has decreased. I am so pleased with my progress and I hope I can keep it up in 2017.

New Year’s Resolution #6: Fit into my old clothes
I’ve already written so much about this one that you’re probably tired of reading about it! In the past three months I’ve bragged about how some old clothes (and some new ones too) are now too big, and others are finally wearable again. As another example, today I wore a favorite blazer to work that I haven’t fit in to for about two years. And the jeans I wore with it have also been sitting in a box for the same amount of time. They are even a little big! My winter wardrobe is now much larger and I didn’t have to spend a dime! However, I have made a few apparel purchases over the last month as a celebration of my diet/exercise success. Clothes are actually fun when you don’t hate your body! My mom and I had a blast shopping in Tallahassee at Thanksgiving, my Cyber Monday shopping was heavy on clothing, and I found several other items for myself at the Ontario Mills Outlet Mall over the weekend. ‘Tis the season for consumerism! But it’s even more satisfying when I can easily wear items that I haven’t dared try on for years due to my weight. At this rate 2017 is going to be amazing.

Beginning of December

The last month of the year always seems to slip by so quickly, and it’s a real shame because I love December. Because this is my favorite time of the year I have vowed to do at least one celebratory thing every day this month. The daily activities don’t have to be big, but I want to make sure I enjoy every remaining day in 2016. I started on Thursday, December 1st (after I got home from my boot camp class) with my first viewing of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” of the season while I got started on my Christmas cards. I want to get all of my cards in the mail as soon as possible because my schedule is just going to get more packed as the holidays approach. Then on Friday, December 2nd I watched the Seal Beach Christmas Parade with some friends, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post. That brings us to today, December 3rd, which was a big day because I met my friend and her daughter at Disneyland to watch the Christmas Fantasy Parade. I got there right when the park opened so I was able to hop on Star Tours, Hyperspace Mountain, Path of the Jedi, and Haunted Mansion Holiday before the others arrived. Actually, I had a Fast Pass for Hyperspace Mountain but I lost it at some point so I had to stand in the regular line instead. With as often as I go to Disneyland I’m getting spoiled! Luckily all of the lines were short this morning. After I met up with my friends we rode Alice in Wonderland and It’s A Small World Holiday before scoping out seating for the 1 PM parade on Main Street. We were there early enough to get a spot on the curb in a prime location. Front row seating for a Disneyland parade is the best! While we waited we had chili cheese dogs and churros for lunch. The Christmas Fantasy parade was wonderful, and my friend’s daughter absolutely loved it. That was the most fun part of the experience. This is how the holidays are supposed to be. I’m looking forward to the rest of December!

Thanksgiving 2016 (Part 2)

On Friday we decided to honor REI’s Opt Outside campaign, which emphasizes outdoor activities over shopping on Black Friday. Our first stop was Mission San Luis, a living history museum of that shows the interaction between native Apalachee Indians and Spanish settlers in the Tallahassee area. It’s a fascinating place and I can’t believe I’ve never been there before. After that we drove down to Wakulla Springs, a favorite childhood summer getaway, in the hopes of seeing some manatees in the springs. Unfortunately all of the boat tours in the near future were full by the time we got there so we only walked around for about an hour, but it was still fun to visit. There was even some beautiful fall color in the trees (not something that usually happens in North Florida), as you can see in the above panorama I took. The reason we couldn’t stay at Wakulla Springs and take a later boat tour was because we had tickets to see “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” at 6 PM. I was skeptical of the movie when it started out slow, but once it hit its stride I really enjoyed the film. I’m excited for the other Harry Potter universe movies that are coming in the next few years.

On Saturday morning I got up early again (doesn’t everyone do that on vacation?) because I needed to run 12 miles. I slept later than I planned, and I was worried that it was going to be too warm for my run, but luckily the weather was lovely. I always forget that the tall pine trees in North Florida provide very accommodating shade! Once again we had McDonald’s Egg McMuffins as a post-run meal, which was perfect for me. My mom and I did a little shopping afterwards, but except for purchasing a few things at Old Navy we were less successful than on Wednesday. Our time was limited because we had to get home and prepare for the UF vs. FSU football game that night. We had some leftover spaghetti for an early dinner, and then I set up the Roku streaming stick that I bought my parents as an early Christmas present. Inexplicably, neither their smart TV nor Blu-ray player had the capability to connect to the Amazon Prime Video app so I covertly ordered the Roku streaming stick so we could watch “The Grand Tour” while I was in town. We only had enough time to watch half of the first episode before leaving for the football game, though. My dad got some amazing sky box tickets for the game so we got to watch in luxury with catered food and spacious seating. It was a fantastic experience except for the fact that the Gators lost badly. Florida lost both of the football games I attended this year – I guess I was a jinx! We managed to get out of the stadium a little early after realizing that the Seminoles were going to prevail, and we got home around midnight.

My alarm went off at 4 AM on Sunday morning so that I could get ready to go to the airport for my 6:12 AM flight. It was rough only getting a few hours of sleep, but the trade-off was arriving back in Los Angeles in the early afternoon. In spite of the serious sleep deprivation I would have survived the trip unscathed except for the fact that I caught a cold on my flight home. (Luckily it turned out to be fairly mild, and I am feeling 100% better now.) It was a rough end to my Thanksgiving trip to Florida, but I had a great time. Now it’s time to put up my Christmas tree and prepare for Christmas!

Thanksgiving 2016 (Part 1)

What better way to end November than with a Thanksgiving recap post? Or half of one, at least!

After flying to Florida on Tuesday, Wednesday was Thanksgiving prep day, but before that I got up early and ran 5 miles around the neighborhood. Being out of town was no excuse to let my marathon training slide. After I showered we ate some homemade egg sandwiches for breakfast and went to the mall for some pre-holiday shopping since we didn’t want to be anywhere near there on Black Friday. I was actually fairly successful. I found a pair of work pants at Loft and a blazer at Limited. On our way home we stopped at Supercuts so I could get a much-needed haircut, and also made a stop at Publix in the same shopping center for the last few required Thanksgiving dinner ingredients. Once we got home the cooking began. First I made some spaghetti for dinner so I could get my carb fix before the turkey trot the next morning. Then my mom and I assembled the ginger-coconut pumpkin pie and baked some sweet potatoes for a casserole recipe I found in Cooking Light. And while watching “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” I also made a batch of my favorite cranberry sauce recipe.

On Thanksgiving morning we all got up early to go to the Tallahassee Turkey Trot. I was running the 15K while my mom and her friends walked the 5K and my saintly dad waited for all of us at the finish line. It was a warm morning (the race didn’t start until 8:45 AM) and the 15K course was hillier than I expected so it wasn’t an easy run. My time was acceptable (for me), but it was challenging. I’m still glad I did it. Since it was week # 12 of my marathon training plan I was supposed to do an 8-mile mid-week run, so a 9.3 mile race fit very nicely. One the way home was stopped at the first open McDonald’s we could find and had Egg McMuffins for a late breakfast. The perfect post-race meal. Cooking started in earnest once we got home and got cleaned up. And of course we watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while we prepped for the big meal. Thanksgiving dinner was absolutely delicious (see our complete menu here). We tried several new recipes this year and most of them were a success. Some could use a few tweaks, like the sweet potato casserole, so I’ll keep that in mind for next year. One recipe that is a definitely keeper (with no changes) was the ginger-coconut pumpkin pie. It was by far the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever tasted, so I have a feeling that one will become a holiday tradition in my family.

Check back tomorrow for part 2!