Monday, October 31, 2016

Hot Chocolate 15k (Chicago) Recap

I know what you're thinking...a race recap the day after a race. The world must be ending. And it might be...World Series and election situations and all.

Or I'm just on it with this. So let's get to it. (Don't worry, the last two Europe posts are coming!)

The Hot Chocolate 15k Recap

I don't think I've ever been less prepared for a race than I was for this one! But that's okay because my friend Stef totally had my back.

Lots and lots and lots of people have done this race. When I told people I was doing this race there were many who said they'd done it before and/or were doing it this year...and yeah. This is a crowded race...!

Race "Review"
Overall, it was a good race and well organized, the course was well marked and staffed, etc. I can't speak to the expo or packet pick up because I didn't go - Steffi got my stuff for me but she said she didn't have any problems. Bless her though, it was a McCormick Place packet pick up and I loathe those!

The race itself benefits Ronald McDonald House (woot!) and since this was a fall race the swag was a really nice two-toned paneled hoodie. I was worried it wouldn't be great quality, but after getting it from Stef I was super excited to shower yesterday and put it on after the race. It is definitely warm and comfy! There were a lot of people who wore them for the race, and I'm not sure how because it would have been wayyyy too warm for me.

Logistically the race is pretty well organized for its size. RAM racing does a good job. Like I said up top, there are a ton of people (11,000 for the 15k), and this race has a 5k option which means there are even more people (another 20,000). Of note: only the 15k finishers get a medal! Aside from the start waves (always takes forever), lines were quick and there were tons of them available where necessary (gear pick up, porta potties, post race party) so you never had to wait long.

There are two waves and a ton of corrals (A-T), and rolling starts. Our wave started at 8:15, and we crossed the start 8:37 according to Chronotrack. Since we were in the back of the 15k corrals there were 5k runners and walkers who started with us, which made for a crowded 2.5 miles at the start. We all agreed that those 2.5 miles until the 5k/15k split were the worst because of how crowded it was, and because there were so many walkers taking up the middle of the road. Once the split came there were practically no obstacles.

Nuun is provided on course at the second, third, and fourth are chocolate and marshmallows! You can read more about that below though!

Overall: Good race. It was fun, the crowd was decent. I really gotta say though...I'm over these HUGE races and ready for a "small" half marathon in a couple of weeks! After the Marathon ...I was ready for a "fun" run. 9.3 miles is not a short run, but this was definitely more fun that some other runs I could have picked so I'm glad I did it. It helped get me out of my training funk, and I'm looking forward to my first OFFICIAL 13.1 on November 26th! race experience!

I don't have a ton to say about the day before except that it was busy. I killed my chest, triceps, and abs at the gym lifting weights, and then Anthony and I babysat for his sister's three (very energetic) kids in the evening. We made homemade pizza (my idea...I bet you're all super surprised lol) and I made sure to grab some salad too. Pizza and salad - the race tradition continues!

After that I did the dishes and we watched some of the World Series (GO TRIBE!!!!) and then I promptly fell asleep when we put Hotel Transylvania 2 on for the kiddos. At 11 I woke up and realized I needed to go sleep in a bed, so I told Anthony where to find me, checked to see that the Indians won, and crawled under the covers.

And I slept terribly. Just like I had the two nights before. Great. I woke up completely convinced that the race was going to be awful. I felt pretty tired, and I also felt under-prepared as far as training and logistics were concerned, and both of those things meant my confidence was shot. I told Anthony as we were getting ready, 'This is going to be a tough run. I dunno how it's gonna go.'

He told me that it was a lot shorter than the marathon, and I could do it. Bless him for always being confident for me when I'm not!

Also, bless him for getting up at 5:45 with me and driving downtown for this.

It was chilly and rainy when we left so I dressed in crop leggings and a tank top, and then pulled a light thermal over that since it was supposed to get into the 60s. I also wore my Cleveland Indians sweatshirt (GO TRIBE!!) until we entered our start corral. For hydration, I had my flipbelt with some salt sticks, and a 10oz waterbottle too...more than enough!

It took us around 45 minutes to get downtown, and we snagged $9(!!!!!!!!!!) parking in the Financial District, about 5 blocks from the race, using SpotHero. I cannot praise this app enough. It has been a gem this summer for all the stuff I've gone downtown for since it lets you find, reserve, and pay for parking in advance.

We walked to Buckingham Fountain to meet Steffi, and her sisters joined us shortly after.

Michelle was awesome and bought us all matching German flag headbands, which my ears appreciated (these three lovely ladies grew up in Germany!). See corral pictures below!

We wandered around for a bit before deciding we might as well head to our corral, and when we got there I pulled of my sweatshirt, told Anthony to have a fun few hours, and we lined up to race!
Me, Michelle, Maryann, Steffi
Ready to run!
Annnnnnd forty minutes later we finally started!

We paced as a group, and found something somewhat steady right away. Like I said up top though, the first 2.5 miles were chaos.  It was honestly hard to run in a straight line and we were dodging people all over. I mean, there were SO many people and we ran through Wacker drive which is a very confined area (don't believe me? Go watch that truck chase scene in The Dark Knight!). It got hot down there too, and after the first mile I peeled off my thermal shirt and ran in my tank top until the last mile. Of note: The 5k/15k split is VERY well marked and if you accidentally end up running the wrong race I'd be super surprised.

The split took the 15k group south, and it was really cool because we ended up running the last mile or so of the marathon backwards. It was cool to look down and see the blue line and reminisce on how I felt during that mile on October I could do anything! And it really helped make the third mile FLY by for me!

I also loved that they had hot chocolatey things at the aid stations for this race...after adhering to my nutrition plan so strictly for the marathon, I was ready for some fun food on course. I never thought I'd say something like that, but I was totally feeling it during the race. So at the first aid station I chomped down three oversized chocolate chips and gulped some water. At the second I ate a pink marshmallow (no idea on the flavor) and took the Nuun. At the third it was M&Ms and water, and at the fourth/last it was another (S'mores?) marshmallow and Nuun. It seemed to add to the race experience, so why not?

In all, I honestly felt way better during this run than I thought I would. I haven't done a run this long since the marathon and I thought it would be harder to "find my legs" but I settled into a good pace. Miles 4-6 were my favorite, which is a trend for me with runs this length. I don't know what it is, but I love those miles. Around mile 6.5 it got windy because we turned onto the lake front (which also made it chilly so I put my thermal shirt back on) and there were a few hilly incline parts. I'm happy to say I was able to power up the hills and through the wind with little extra effort...I felt like I was floating! My legs were tired at the end, but even during the hills they didn't burn.

When the finish came and it was pretty clear that we wouldn't all be crossing that line together, I powered up. Once we turned onto Columbus (for the fourth time this season!) I hit the gas and sprinted for the finish (12:00min/mi down to 7:00!). It was an amazing feeling, and my legs felt strong the whole way. Flyyyying! People commented! My lungs were burning, I thought for sure I would trip and sprawl across the course, but I didn't!

Happy finisher!
All done!

All happy to be done!
After the race we found some bottled water - normally there are tons of tables with water available and post race nutrition, but here there weren't, which was odd. So if you're expecting to get all your nomz on right after you finish, you'll be disappointed. We had to go into the post race party in Grant Park to get our finisher mugs which had melted chocolate, a banana, a marshmallow, pirouttes, a rice krispie treate, and pretzels (oh yeah...and hot chocolate!).
Note: not my picture.
We stood around and ate our stuff, then Anthony and I bid the others goodbye to begin the super extra long journey home. I can't say I'm a huge fan of the 1:30 hour+ drive back to my house, but whatever...that's what it is!

I got home, smashed some food, took a shower and planned to lay down on the couch but ended up doing stuff almost all night - including making chicken soup and spรคtzle for me sick mommy.

At this point it's fun to reflect on where I used to be with running (like back in the day when 12 miles almost killed me) and where I am now. I mean...this distance was actually easy for me yesterday, and aside from my feet hurting a bit - almost time for new shoes! - I didn't have any major struggles with this run. It's gotten me back on track for an 11/26 half and everything! And after a few "solo" races with no planned partners, it was very fun to do this while sticking with a group! Steffi, Michi, and Maryann made great running partners :)

If you ran the Hot Chocolate run yesterday (either the 5 or 15k!) I hope you had fun, and perhaps even an easy run like I had!


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Eurotrip Days 9 & 10: Grays (and my 'other' family)

Both Sunday and Monday were "family" days for me. I have completely lucked out that Hannah & co. (mostly Paul, since I suppose he had a choice to not like me or let me stay with them) adopted me into their little family, and give me a place to stay when I visit. I am fortunate beyond words that I have them in my life, no matter how far away they may be!

Anyways...Sunday we went out around lunch time for a picnic at the park. I got thoroughly worn out because, as the visitor, I was the only one Miles wanted to play with! I didn't mind one bit (except when I was trying to eat my sandwich!).

Even though it's such a mundane thing, I wish I had some pictures from playing at the park. I was too busy actually playing though, so I don't.'s the little things like random playtimes that I really feel like I miss out on being so far away. For all the lifting and triathlet-ing I do, Miles still has way more energy than I have ever, but he was fun to spend time with the whole family doing everyday type stuff :)

After picnicking and walking home, we headed for the mall. I had some stuff to pick up and Hannah and I wanted to wander around, and while we did that Paul took Miles to soft play (that's actually exactly what it sounds like). 

On the way there I took this picture, and right after this one he started saying "NO MORE PICTURES!" Fine, kid. Go through that phase while your auntie who never gets to see you is visiting from really, really far away!!!

When we got home from the mall it was time to chill...and that's exactly what happened...and there may have been a drink (or two) and some more biscuits involved...
We completely wore these two out during the day!
Break out the Pimm's!!
If I could have brought home a case of those cans I would have. It is a travesty that we don't have Pimm's in the States!

Sunday night was also the night for curry! Even though I have access to more Indian food now around where I work, I still don't eat it nearly as often as I'd like. We ordered everything we desired and then Paul and I walked over to pick it up while Hannah got Miles ready for bed so we could have some adult-only time. Never a bad decision, right? ;)
Indian food is always better when enjoyed with friends in England! And that Riesling made an appearance too!
I was full as can be...and still wanted more! Go figure though, when I spend so much time wanting Indian food and not being able to have it (mostly because not many people I know in the States have the same love for it that I do). It was delicious, the company still wonderful, and I slept soundly once again.

On Monday I got to be in charge for a while. Hannah and Paul went to work (Hannah ended up taking half a day and came home early because why not, when your best friend is in town!), but in the morning I hung out with Miles. I took care of his breakfast and then entertained him by playing with bubbles for hours and hours (slight exaggeration) and then got him dressed and walked him over to his nursery where I got to wait in line with all the parents and grandparents to drop him off for a few hours.

I felt like such an adult. Being all in charge of a little human and making sure he held my hand and looked both ways before crossing the street (and, like, still crossing it in the wrong spot anyways...whoops #adultfail). I let Hannah adult on the way home though. Wayyyyyy too much work for me (jk, jk!).

I have to say friends have raised a great little kid, and I can't wait to see him grow up!!!

After dropping Miles off I had a few hours to myself. I went for a run (longest three miles of my life) and nearly got myself locked out of Hannah's because I am 100% terrible at unlocking things. Doors, drawers, whatever, I suck at it. By the time Hannah got home I had showered and was starting some laundry, and we had enough time to sit and chat before going to pick up Miles.

There was definitely a heat wave that week too, and poor Miles was so hot and sweaty when we picked him up. He got some juice right away, and when we stopped at the shops for some dinner things and he got a Kinder Egg too! (Side note...I brought home so many Kinder eggs because they're not the same here. Something about putting toys in food is 'illegal' or something.)

Daphne and Percy climbed all over me and were grateful to have some extra attention while I was there too!

At the end of the night before I got ready for bed I did some preliminary packing...I had to be on the train relatively early in the morning for the next stage of my adventure...visiting my cousin Katie!


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Eurotrip Days 7 & 8: London Bound, "Home" at last

There's not a ton to say about leaving Germany except the following;
  • I actually flew out of LUX (Luxembourg) from the tiniest airport ever.
  • I had to go through passport control to leave (weird, never had that happen!)
  • There were a bunch of French frat-boy-bros on my plane (thank goodness for noise cancelling headphones!)
  • Customs at Gatwick was stupid ridiculous and took forever because apparently people don't know how to follow directions to scan their own passports
Saying goodbye to Dani was so difficult (like with any friend outside of the States) because I really don't know when I'll see her again. I usually see her once a year, and lucked out enough to see here THREE times this year! I hope I continue to be that lucky!!

The upside of leaving Germany was that I got to land in England, where I saw Hannah for the second time in just a few short months (and later I saw some family too!).

Once I landed I hopped on the Gatwick Express to get to Victoria station and a short Tube ride later I was meandering through London looking for the Strand Palace Hotel, where Hannah was waiting for me.

Our plans:
  1. Go out.
  2. Get drunk.
  3. Have a blast.
Mission accomplished, all around!
Landing in England - it always makes me teary-eyed and nostalgic, because it truly feels like coming home every time!
A random bus and my face.
London looking London-y
Finally sighted! Our hotel!
Selfies everywhere.
Obviously I found the hotel. I cleaned up (because I was gross and sweaty from the train, tube, and walk), and Hannah called a cab so we could book it to the cocktail bar we were starting at.

I will spare you the details of the entire night, but it was a total blast! I had about 7 cocktails at this first place (I don't even know how because it was about seven billion times more sugar than I have ever consumed in my life). I kind of did well documenting them...and then it all fell apart.

My favorite bit of the night (aside from being out in London with my best friend!) was that Hannah's friend, Sarah, met up with us. She was so hilarious and fun...there will definitely have to be more girl's nights when I go back...or when they come here!
Drink one.
Drinks two and three.
Four and five?
More drinks...and Sarah looking a bit nervous?
Five and six? Six and seven? Who knows.
Or maybe this was seven? I don't know. But it was a pornstar martini and that's how I ended that place.
Hannah said this place reminds her of her youth...all the cheesy songs they play!

My second 'favorite' part of the night due to sheer stupidity and providing me with a good laugh: We met up with a group of Sarah's friends at a pub to end the night. One of the guys ended up being super annoying and unfortunately latched on to me literally for no other reason than my accent. I kid you not: All he wanted to do was talk about how well traveled he is. It took me a fair few minutes to escape him, but he spent it all being a condescending arse, trying to flash his money. I don't know what his goal was - maybe make himself feel like a big shot? - but he spent the whole time talking about: How much more of America he's seen than I have - how have you not been to Colorado, eww, you went to Idaho? What's wrong with you??; That the Cubs are better than the Sox -that's when I said we couldn't be friends; That Scotland isn't a country - whaaaaaat...??!? I've lost all respect for you!; And generally acting like an entitled you-know-what.

I can't even explain how hard I was laughing inside, and after that misery I made it back to Hannah so we could laugh about him saying Scotland isn't a country?!?!?!? I do my best not to make fun of other people to their face or behind their backs, but some people are so clueless, and it was proof that you don't have to be American to fall into the "dumb and loud" stereotype!
I think I look pretty good after a night of hard partying!
This burger though? That's what really looked good. Two AM burger? Delicious.
I loved hitting London at night. It was something I've never done before but felt I should have...and I finally did! Definitely need to do that again!

Saturday - Heading to Hannah's
Saturday morning we woke and breakfasted at the hotel restaurant (included with the room) and then packed up to go back to Hannah's. I won't lie, my stomach was a little off from all that sugar the night before, but I was excited to get back to hers and see Paul and Miles!!!
I wasn't kidding about the selfies everywhere thing. That poor dude behind me got snapped eating his breakfast all because I needed a picture of a long, long escalator!
I feel like the Tube is easier to use than just about any underground system out there! Super traveler friendly if you're ever in town ;)
Standard Tube hallway
We finally made it back to Hannah's (I spared everyone from selfies in the car when Paul picked us up), and the following are my "Welcome Home" pictures:
Daphne, getting a good sniff of Archie

She's adorable and she missed me *heart*
The ice cream man went by and Hannah insisted on 99s for us.
Children. Pros at making the biggest mess possible out of anything. Also: how adorable is my godson!?!?!?
It cannot go without mentioning that MILES CAN SAY MY NAME!!! Like, he can actually say it. Hannah obviously worked on that with him because most kids either can't say my name, or nickname me immediately. I get it too, three syllables is a lot! But Miles has "Christina" down pat!
This was also my first time meeting Percy, the scruffy new addition to the family!

He finally warmed to me, but he hated being picked up.
Hannah makes the best guacamole, and she obliged me with this.
No point being in England and not eating my weight in biscuits!
After all that guac and biscuits, Hannah and I of course went out for dinner. Given our wild partying the night before, we decided dinner and a movie was in order, so we went to a restaurant called Giraffe and then to see Bad Moms. I loved the movie!! Hannah had already seen it, but it was so good that she was totally fine going again.

And with that, we wrapped up my first full day in England! At home, comfy, and well fed...and it was soooooo good to be back ;)


Monday, October 24, 2016

Eurotrip Day 6: Hiking the Mullerthal...and Riesling

Holy crap! I have soooo much to post about still. All of this stuff from Europe, all the stuff I've been doing this month...there really is a lot. Clearly I need to get better about posting...

That aside:

This post will have more pictures in it than any other post I've ever put up. The Mullerthal was absolutely gorgeous, and I'm gonna share all of that with you!! You should be able to click on photos to enlarge them and see them in a slideshow :)

And we're back at it with the Europe posts! Let's dive in, shall we!! (Sidenote...I can't believe it's already been over a month since this trip! Crazy how time flies - and how slow I blog :P)

Of all my days in Germany, this was probably my favorite...and I actually spent it in Luxembourg!

Danielle suggested we go hike the Mullerthal, a hilly region in Luxembourg that I (just) learned is referred to as "Little Switzerland". Who knew!

To get there you drive through a town called Echternach, which I also (just) learned is the 'capital' of the region.

To sum up our trip before accosting you with 10 million pictures of a fairy-like forest: We first stopped at Beaufort Castle for a brief wander. It's a ruin, but it was fun to poke around. After that we headed onto a trail and hiked about a mile and a half in, before turning around to hike back out so we could make it home to shower and then to our wine tasting on time!

So have some fun scrolling through these pictures - hiking the Mullerthal with one of my best friends was truly a highlight of this trip. We had so much fun and the landscape around us was absolutely stunning the entire time.

To and through Echternach
The fog in this picture looked so cool!

Just a random fortress wall. Nbd.

Fog obsessed :P

Beaufort Castle
Into the woods!

Driving up to the castle.

Dani asked me to take this picture and I almost had a stroke thinking Archie would fall out the window.

I took a lot of pictures of Archie.

To scale model of the entire castle in its heyday.

The crows nest! (Or whatever it's called.)
Sidenote since I look super tan here: Yes. I went to Europe in September and came home with a tan!
Peeking down at the atrium below.

The Mullerthal!

Inside the ruins...I have no idea what anything is, I'm sorry.
Pretty sure this was the dining room...
Me and this nugget.

Dani and the nugget.
Nugget in a sink.
Long way down!
Probably shouldn't have been sitting here...

Torture stuff!

Leaving Beaufort.

Hiking the Mullerthal
Literally about 10 feet in. (Okay, like 1/10th of a mile.)
This was as high as I could hike into this crevice without slipping...
Then I did slip anyways :P
Dismount skillz.
The trail I left behind...
Another little bit of climbing I managed.

This giant head!

Dani and I both thought this looked like something a bit rude. Ahh, Mother Nature.

Practically the only picture from the whole trip that we took together!
Stairs in the woods!

Mom and pup! Loooove!

One of my absolute favorite pictures from my entire trip!
This time Dani took the picture of Archie :P

Archie and his tiny legs were pretty tired after all that!

After the hike...
We were pretty hungry so Dani and I decided to stop at a restaurant on the way home for pizza. Pizza in Europe is so different from pizza at home! Like mine...all of the toppings were divided into sections on the pizza! Strange. It wasn't bad, but it made me miss my Lou's :P

Also of battle for free water in Europe continued to be waged. I asked for TAP WATER at the restaurant, and the waitress immediately went from friendly and helpful to unfriendly and unhelpful. I do not understand it, I don't, I DON'T!!! She brought me a tiny glass of water and I photographed it to document the tale:
Don't worry though...I had a nice big bottle in the car that I demolished as soon as we got back there ;)

Archie though? He got free water without comment, and without us even having to ask *side eye*

Wine Tasting
When Danielle and I got back from hiking we showered up and rested for a bit, then got ready to go to a wine tasting at a local winery called Weinbau Schartbillig. We took the train to Igel (I ran there for my long run!) so that we wouldn't have to worry about a) parking or b) drinking too much.

I've never actually done a wine tasting so I didn't know what to expect. For those of you out there who also haven't done one, you basically get to try a few types of wines plus a sekt (which is like champagne). We started with the sekt (you go dry to sweet, apparently), and that ended up being my favorite. Even though I was hell bent on not checking luggage, after 6 glasses of wine I was more than happy to buy two bottles. The sekt (for my birthday) and a half-dry Riesling that Hannah and Paul and I enjoyed with some Indian food a few days later.

The owner conducted the tasting for us and he was very nice, but Danielle hadn't told them that I'm not fluent in German (whoops) so there was some back and forth that involved extra explaining, or her interpreting for me. Towards the end of the tasting his son came down and he and Danielle remembered each other from another tasting she'd done, so we spent a good while talking to him.

And that train? It ended up being a very good idea :P

Bread and cheese to accompany the tasting!
I bought the Sekt (in the middle) and the half-dry Riesling (on the right).

I got my picture with an Igel (hedgehog).
A great ending to a wonderful week with one of my besties :)
We were not drunk at all.
Taking random pictures of things in German.
That was our stop!
I think it's pretty clear that even though it was my last full day in Germany, we made it count!