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!

A Christmas present and a tribute to a legend

For Christmas this year my parents gave me a new GPS watch for my running habit/obsession and I love it. It’s a Garmin Forerunner 235 with a color display and an optical heart rate sensor, which is an upgrade from my old GPS watch. I set it up and wore it for the first time on my 5-mile run around Seal Beach last night. The wristband is more flexible than my old watch so it fits well, and it’s incredibly comfortable, unlike a first-generation wrist-based heart rate monitor that I tried some years back. Technology improves at a fantastic rate these days! It was fascinating to see a plot of my heart rate from my run last night. I’ll have to check out trends over the next few months to compare my heart rate during runs where I feel great and compare it to runs where I feel terrible. As an engineer who loves to analyze data this is going to be fun.

I went running again tonight (6 miles) so I got to wear my new GPS watch a second time. Also, I wore my Princess Leia shirt, which I’ve worn for multiple half marathons (including the Star Wars Dark Side half marathon in April), in honor of Carrie Fisher who passed away this morning. I’m a child of the 80’s so I grew up watching the original Star Wars trilogy on a regular basis, and Princess Leia was one of my role models. She was a strong, independent woman who brought down empires. She was not only a princess, but a general who fought alongside the men and often eclipsed them. For a young girl who didn’t want to wait around for a man to come along and define her, Princess Leia was a beacon of hope. RIP Carrie Fisher. May the Force be with you.

Christmas cards in progress

Last year I mailed 30 Christmas cards to friends and family and I thought that was a lot. However, so far this year I already have a list of 32 households that I need to send cards to and I haven’t even received my annual card swap list yet! Yikes! Back in November I ordered two boxes of 18 cards (one Star Wars and one Peanuts, as you can see in the above photo – I’m nothing if not classy) so I thought I’d be more than covered for 2016. Then once I started tallying the folks I wanted to send cards to I realized that 36 may not be enough. So I went out and bought another box of 10 cards. If that doesn’t get me through the holidays I don’t know what I’m going to do. I started the Yuletide activity of sending greeting cards to everyone I love on December 1st, and as of this evening I have completed and mailed out 21 Christmas cards. Not bad, really, but there’s still so much work to do. I think next year I’m just going to get my picture taken with Darth Vader at Disneyland and have custom cards printed. That’ll save some time!

Pre-Thanksgiving cooking

I’m in Tallahassee for Thanksgiving and, as you can tell from the picture above, we’ve had a busy day of important preparations for the holiday tomorrow. With the mediocre results of the Maple, Pumpkin, and Sweet Potato Pie from last Christmas last year, we decided to try something a little different this time. But I’m still determined to make a good pumpkin pie at least once so I wanted something in the same family. I was leafing through a Food Network magazine at the airport earlier this month when I saw a recipe for Ginger-Coconut Pumpkin Pie that looked amazing. And not too complicated either. After reviewing it with my mom we deemed it worth of a Thanksgiving dessert. So today when we got back from some day-before-Thanksgiving shopping and errands we started preparing the pie. And as you can see in the photo, it came out of the oven looking really beautiful (whipped cream topping not shown as we haven’t made it yet). And if it tastes half as good as it smells then we’re in for a real treat to end our Thanksgiving dinner. Since I haven’t actually had a slice yet I can’t tell you how it tastes, but I will report back tomorrow with the verdict. I’m excited!

Running in Arkansas

In order to keep my marathon training on track while visiting family in Arkansas this weekend I ran 10 miles around Lake Fayetteville this morning. It’s a lovely spot, especially with the fall color starting to emerge this time of year, and there’s a 5.5 mile long paved trail that goes all the way around the lake. I ran the loop twice to get all of my needed mileage. It was quite cold (for this Californian, at least) when I started my run, about 42 deg, but it warmed up significantly during the two hours I was out there. I didn’t need my arm warmers for more than the first few miles. When I planned this trip I was a little worried about missing this weekend’s required run, so I’m really glad that I got it done while I was out of town. I’m flying home tomorrow so I have no excuses to miss any upcoming training runs. Darn!

Christmas 2015

Christmas in Tallahassee this year included a lot of food, a lot of fun, and a bit of running in the record-breaking Florida heat. The first full day I spent in Tallahassee (December 23rd) we bought all of the groceries we needed for the holidays, had a delicious lunch at Smashburger, made some homemade lasagna for dinner (and many, many leftovers!), and took a walk in the neighborhood to see the Christmas lights. I even got all of my Christmas presents wrapped rather than leave them until the last minute, like I usually do. Not that wrapping gifts on Christmas Eve isn’t festive, but it’s pretty much the pinnacle of procrastination. On Christmas Eve my mom whipped up some homemade egg sandwiches for breakfast (my favorite), I bought stocking stuffers at Target, and went on a long walk at Maclay Gardens with both of my parents. It was unseasonably warm that week so it wasn’t the best weather for outdoor exercise, but I love to see the gardens anytime I can. We walked 4.5 miles today, which helped us work up an appetite for leftover lasagna for dinner. My mom and I also took a short walk in the neighborhood that night to see the Christmas lights on a different street. It’s a Christmas Eve tradition! Christmas Day was also full of traditions. A breakfast of my dad’s pancakes, my mom’s scrambled eggs, plus some bacon and fruit. It’s always one of the best meals I eat all year. The three of us opened Christmas presents while watching the Disney Christmas parade. Due to the hot and humid weather I didn’t think I’d get any running done while I was in Florida, but my dad and I braved the heat for a jog anyway. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be, but I was sure glad I’d packed running shorts in my suitcase! Christmas dinner was another tradition – smoked turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, herbed corn bake (I need to post this recipe sometime), and green beans. Delicious. Dessert was my mom’s incomparable pecan pie (another recipe I need to post) and an experimental pumpkin and sweet potato pie from a magazine recipe that I doctored up a bit. The pecan pie was marvelous, as usual, but the other pie was only a marginal success. Some recipes are winners and others aren’t! Our last activity for Christmas Day was going to see “Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens.” I had been looking forward to that movie for months and I wasn’t disappointed. It was so good! The perfect end to the day. On December 26th we braved the mall in search of some post-Christmas deals. We had minimal luck, but it was still a good trip, with the added benefit of Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets for lunch. My dad and I went for another run that afternoon to burn off some holiday calories. And it’s a good thing too because we had leftovers from the previous day for dinner. That night we watched the extended edition of “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” (which I thought was far superior to the theatrical version) while I baked an eggnog cake for the next day. My last full day in Tallahassee was a mixed bag. First of all, I learned that broiling a pan of brownies doesn’t work as well as baking them. I should pay more attention when using ovens that aren’t my own! My dad and I had to go to the grocery store after that disaster to buy ingredients for another batch. We discovered that finding toffee chips after Christmas is not an easy task. No luck at either Publix or Target so we resorted to buying some mini Heath bars and chopping them in the food processor. Fortunately I got the second pan of brownies, including the improvised toffee chips, just right. I had some old friends from high school coming over for a little party that night so I made a big pot of chili for everyone. Seeing my friends was so much fun. We always talk, laugh, and eat a lot when we get together. We took care of that entire batch of chili! I was so glad we could all get together while I was in town. December 28th was the day I flew back to Los Angeles, but my dad and I still made time to go to a jog that morning. Without him my workout clothes wouldn’t have gotten any use on that trip! My parents and I had lunch at Burgerfi on the way to the airport. (This was the second gourmet hamburger place we went to since I don’t have the opportunity to visit them in California. Not the healthiest meal option, but very tasty!) My flight back to LA was uneventful and I got back to my house without any trouble. It was a great Christmas trip and I loved every minute of it.