All inclusive adventures in Mexico

I’m a planner. As soon as I lock in a trip, I dive into researching the destination and formulate a loose agenda so I can hit the ground running when I arrive. It was a little weird, then, to not have any planning to do for my most recent vacation. I joined two of my oldest friends and one of their husbands for my first all inclusive resort experience at the Hyatt Ziva in San Jose Del Cabo.

Sun, beach, pool, and no agenda sounds like heaven to most people, but I was a little hesitant about how this would go. My typical trips are full of walking, exploring, and immersing myself in the local culture, so I worried about getting antsy. My first cruise introduced me to the all inclusive life, but it helped knowing we had a few ports to venture around off the boat. I’m also pale AF so I literally can’t sit in the sun all day, every day.

Turns out I was mostly able to settle into the slower pace and had a very relaxing week. Our general routine was to hit up the breakfast buffet (hola bottomless mimosas!), post up at the pool, get cleaned up, then go to dinner. I added in a workout each morning to help offset both my restlessness and all the food. I also successfully avoided major sunburns by choosing seats with umbrellas and eventually just covering myself with a towel.

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The resort does offer some activities and excursions to fill your day, for an extra cost of course. We indulged in a massage that was great, but the highlight was definitely the sunset sail with Cabo Adventures. The boat left from Cabo San Lucas so we got a glimpse at how that area compared to the much more chill San Jose Del Cabo.

The sail was 2.5 hours and included unlimited drinks and gourmet hors d’oeuvres. The route took us past the arch and Lovers Beach, all while providing spectacular views of the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean. Angel and the rest of the crew were awesome and provided an all around fabulous experience.

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So would I go all in again? I think the all inclusive resort is a great option depending on who you are traveling with and the vibe you’re going for. I felt like the number of days I was there was just about right for me. But if I did it again, I would make more of an effort to leave the resort and go into the actual town.

Have you done the all inclusive experience? What did you think? Any tips for others looking to try it out? Comment below!

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What I read in 2018

In 2018, I surpassed my goal to read 26 books. Here’s the list:

  1. The Power of Moments
  2. Catcher in the rye
  3. The Child
  4. The Secret Life of Violet Grant
  5. Milk and Honey
  6. Touch
  7. The Lying Game
  8. Break Any Woman Down
  9. Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy
  10. Exit West
  11. The Sun and Her Flowers
  12. Turtles All The Way Down
  13. Not That Bad
  14. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
  15. Whiskey Women
  16. On Writing
  17. The Blue Bistro
  18. Sweetbitter
  19. Constructing the Crossfit Games
  20. Circe
  21. Conference Room, Five Minutes
  22. The Hate U Give
  23. The Great Alone
  24. Lethal White
  25. The Collapsing Empire
  26. Open Heart
  27. The Consuming Fire
  28. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
  29. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing
  30. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
  31. Sing, Unburied, Sing
  32. The Witch Elm
  33. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
  34. Becoming

Hold on longer

Girl you can hold on longer. Long as you want.”

“Hold on longer” by John Legend has been on each of my race day playlists since it came out in 2013. It’s not a bop but those lyrics are everything to me and the song has a way of coming up in the shuffle at the exact time I need it.

For this year’s Monumental half, that moment came in mile 10. For anyone familiar with the course, this is when the half really begins. Up until that point, you’ve been winding and weaving your way through downtown Indianapolis and the near northside, and it goes by relatively fast. After The Children’s Museum though, it’s a straight shot for about 2.5 miles on Meridian. You can see Monument Circle in the distance but the final turns onto New York, Capitol, and Washington feel like they will never come.

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This was my fourth time running the Monumental half and my mantra over the years has become “get to The Children’s Museum then hold on.” It’s tempting to go out fast but I remind myself how much energy (more mental than physical, really) is required in those last three miles. I also get a good sense of what my final time will be based on how I feel turning to stare down Meridian.

I didn’t have a particular goal in mind for this race. I’m competitive so I always hope to PR. I thought I had a chance to get close based on how my 10 mile training run went but knew I would have to start out faster than normal. By mile 3 I was already down to a 9:46 pace and panicked a bit.

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I did a mental scan of my body and decided to just settle in and see if I could hold on. There was a chance it could come back to bite me in that final stretch but I had such a sense of calmness and I was genuinely having a lot of fun. I had awesome friends in a few spots spectating, the weather was perfect for me, and I love this course and this city so much.

Once I reached the Children’s Museum, I was at a 9:32 pace and confident I could stick with it and crush the homestretch. My final time was 2:06:28 for a 9:39 average pace — a 2 minute and 21 second PR. UNREAL.

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In April, I left a piece of my soul on the streets of Louisville in the last few miles to get my previous PR. It was the hardest running I’ve ever done and I didn’t think it would be possible to top that time. But I did, and I felt so much stronger and calmer doing it.

Girl you can hold on longer. Long as you want.”

Going solo in Belgium

I’m a big advocate for solo travel but until last month had never gone international alone. Initially, I was researching Sweden and Norway, but then the World Cup happened. I started cheering for Belgium early on and the more I thought about the country, the more it became the perfect destination.

Arriving in Belgium felt like a homecoming. When I ordered frites and they poured mayonnaise on top, I knew I had found my people. I’m also a second-generation, born-and-raised chocoholic and lover of Belgian blonde beers so it wasn’t just perfect, it was heaven.

Beyond the food though, I loved that Belgium was so bike-friendly. It’s completely embedded in their infrastructure and culture. There are bike lanes everywhere, including paths that go out of the cities and connect to towns in the countryside. Cars respect the bike lanes, but equally impressive is that pedestrians do, too. I love the Indy Cultural Trail and use it daily, but pedestrians here are often clueless when the path separates into a sidewalk and adjacent bike lane.

I was also jealous of the train system and how easy it was to hop from city to city. The National app was clutch for navigating my way around the country. I spent three nights in Brussels, with a day trip down to Dinant, three nights in Brugge, and two nights in Antwerp. Read on for the highlights.

Brussels
I enjoyed the capital city but quickly tired of the crowds and was ready to move on when the time came.

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Dinant
Leffe Blonde is one of my favorite beers so I had to visit the city where it was first created – a beautiful, small river town that is also birthplace of the guy who invented the saxophone. The $7 euro admission included an interactive museum, full beer in the tasting room, and a souvenir glass. Dinant did have a few other attractions I could have checked out but the train ride was about two hours so I didn’t linger.

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Brugge
This city is the definition of picturesque with its meandering canals, windmills, and gothic architecture. It was by far my favorite stop on the trip and I had a hard time saying goodbye.

  • Drink: De Garre (tucked away in a easy-to-miss alley, order the house tripel), Café Vlissinghe (oldest pub in Brugge, cash only), The Monk (soccer bar with the best bartender I had all trip), Duvelorium (flight comes with chocolates, balcony overlooks the markt)
  • Eat: T’ Zwart Huis (onion soup and rabbit dish were both amazing), Juliette’s (bakery)
  • Do: Belfry Tower (views are worth the climb and fee), Groeninge Museum, run along the canal where the windmills are, Quasimundo bike tour through the Flemish countryside (BEST. DAY. EVER.)

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Antwerp
It would have been hard for anything to top Brugge, but Antwerp delivered in its own way. There was a lot of construction though so walking around was a little tough/annoying.

  • Drink: De Koninck Brewery
  • Eat: Roest (the best grilled chicken sandwich I’ve ever had, surrounded by luscious decor), Paters Vaetje
  • Do: Rubenhuis (doubles as art gallery and historical home), MAS (rooftop panoramic views are free but exhibits are worth admission), the centraal train station is also a gorgeous building inside and out

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It really was the best week ever and I am also proud to have successfully navigated my first solo international excursion!

Bourbon Trail Birthday

My love for whiskey/bourbon didn’t start developing until three or four years ago when I started visiting Louisville more often. It took some time for me to graduate from whiskey with a mixer to appreciating it neat or with one ice cube. It’s since become one of my staple drink orders, and like wine or craft beer, I’ve really enjoyed figuring out which styles I like and pushing my palate.

This past weekend, I got to experience bourbon heaven when my friend and I hosted a joint birthday trip to the bourbon trail. Overall it was an awesome experience but I’ll share some tips at the end based on our experience.

The Farm
The bourbon trail is pretty spread out so figuring out where to stay can be tough. We ended up finding a B&B somewhat in the middle (Danville) and rented out the entire place for our large group. The Farm was perfect and Jacob and his staff took care of everything for us. They cooked all our meals (including a bomb ass breakfast buffet), had vans to drive us everywhere, and coordinated the tours and tastings. The property is really relaxing too with beautiful country sunsets and stargazing.

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The distilleries
Heading into this trip, I was picturing the distillery visits to be like wineries where you’d get to taste from 4 or 5 bottles, including a mix of flagship pours and some more rare or special ones. It was a bit of a let down that some places didn’t even offer tastings at all, just a cocktail bar. Most of them did offer tours but, like wineries, those get repetitive fast so we planned for just one or two a day. Here’s a run down of our itinerary:

Friday

  • Four Roses: We were going to do a tour but they had some construction going on so we just did a tasting. We got to try three varieties and kept the glass as a souvenir.
  • Wild Turkey: They had a beautiful patio view where we ate lunch with drinks from the cocktail bar. I learned that Matthew McConaughey is the creative director and took home a bottle of Longbranch.
  • Buffalo Trace: Their property had the look and feel of a European town. We just did a tasting here that included four pours and a bourbon ball.
  • Woodford Reserve: We arrived a little late for our tour but they helped us catch up to the group. They did the tasting inside the barrelhouse, which was unique, but it was only two pours and a bourbon ball. I bought a bottle of a newly released straight malt whiskey.
  • Beer Engine Brewery: Quick pit stop here rounded out a great first day.

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Saturday

  • Jim Beam: I am not a fan of Jim Beam at all but was keeping an open mind heading here. (Side note: I discovered they produce Basil Hayden, which I like a lot and the cognitive dissonance was almost too much for me). Unfortunately we found out upon arrival they don’t do tastings and their cocktail bar wasn’t open at 10:30 a.m. Our next stop was going to be Heaven Hill but our driver called ahead and found out their cocktail bar wouldn’t open until 2 p.m. Disappointing start to the day but we trekked onward.
  • Willett: This wasn’t in our original plan but our driver called and they said they could fit us in right away for a tasting. By the time we showed up, the slots were somehow filled so the hits kept coming. The property was beautiful though so we ended up eating lunch here. And I was pleasantly surprised to find out they produce my current absolutely favorite Noah’s Mill. I got a bottle of that and a bottle of Willett’s standard bourbon since the bottle shape is so unique.
  • Bardstown Bourbon Company: At this point, the only booze we had was the bottle of Jim Beam Honey we passed around their parking lot and the beers we packed for the van. We were itching to get some actual drinks and luckily we found this oasis. It ended up being one of our favorite stops of the weekend! The space is absolutely gorgeous and I believe has only been open two weeks. They collaborated with Louisville-based Coppers & Kings to produce two variations of the same bourbon whiskey. I ordered a glass of the Mistelle finish and later bought a bottle to bring back.
  • Maker’s Mark: This was the tasting experience I had been waiting for! We did the full tour, which was blazing hot but I really appreciated that they weaved in more of their unique story instead of just focusing on the same tidbits you’d hear at any distillery. Learning about Margie Samuels’ role of creating the name, label, and signature dip was so cool. The tasting at the end had five pours, including a private selection that you can’t get anywhere else. They even had a custom Chihuly installation you walked under before exiting through the gift shop. I bought a bottle of one of the private selections as well as a book documenting the stories of women in whiskey. I’d be very interested in a similar book about the untold stories of slaves, like Nearest Green.
  • Jesters Winery: We popped in here for a bit of palate change up and were able to catch a small bit of the Nigeria-Crotia World Cup match. The AC and cool wine was a welcome break!
  • Limestone Branch: Our final stop was a craft distillery. Their tasting leaned on the smokier side, which I’m not as into. But I did like the cocktail from the bar and the patio outside was a chill spot.

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Bourbon trail tips
Long post is getting long so I’ll keep this brief and you can comment if you have any other questions:

  • Leave plenty of time to get between distilleries. Even the ones that are close can have a long travel time due to the winding country roads.
  • It got close to 100 degrees Saturday, which made parts of the tour very miserable. Fall is probably a more manageable time of year to come down, plus the grounds might be even more beautiful.
  • Smaller groups will be much easier and more flexible to fit into tastings and tours.
  • Focus your purchases on bottles you can’t easily get back home. Here’s my haul:

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Pushing through to a PR

For the fourth and final year (for awhile at least), I participated in the Kentucky Derby Festival half marathon. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs at this race over the years, including powering through pouring rain, dodging frat guys with footballs, and battling bronchitis. This year proved to be no different, but ended on the uppest of ups with a new PR of 2:08:49 (9:50 average)!

My training season got off to a slow start with a major work project consuming my life in January and February. I finally hit a groove in March only to start developing plantar fasciitis in my right foot. It was fine during some runs but very painful during others. I set weekly appointments with Carolyn at Myo-Fit Therapy to stay on top of it. She is the real MVP! There’s no way I would have felt as good as I did on race day without her help and expertise.

Because of all that, I had very low expectations. I didn’t set any pace goals but instead wanted to enjoy every inch of the course. I’ve gotten to know this race almost as well as the Monumental and I got a little nostalgic. The city of Louisville has showed up every year, rain or shine, to cheer us on. The churches, senior homes, girls academy, drum band, U of L students…and this year two of my good friends who saw me at mile 6 and 10. All of their support is incredible.

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Mile 6. Photo cred: Solomon Parker (http://solomonjparker.blogspot.com/)

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Mile 8 inside Churchill Downs. Photo cred: MarathonFoto

My first mile was slow but that was fine; my heel didn’t hurt and that was all that mattered. I kept getting faster with each mile split though. I was excited to be running better than expected but also worried I would crash and burn later. There was so much race left, especially on this course which doesn’t feel like it really starts until you leave Churchill Downs in mile 8.

At mile 10, my heel was still pain-free (though my right hip was hurting) and my pace continued to pick up. I realized I had a chance to come close to my PR, which was so insane. My competitive side kicked in and I decided to risk it and go all in. I remembering saying to my friends “I’m feeling really good. I have no idea what’s happening right now!”

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Mile 10. Photo cred: Solomon Parker (http://solomonjparker.blogspot.com/)

The last three miles were miserable and the hardest I have ever worked in any race, especially the last mile when I wanted to quit so badly. No one can make you go faster or push harder. It’s all on you. You have to want it. You have to fight for it. You have to shut down all doubt in your mind and just grind.

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Final stretch. Photo cred: MarathonFoto

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Final stretch. Photo cred: MarathonFoto

I crossed the finish line, checked my watch, and immediately broke down crying. Going into the race, I was just trying to get through 13.1 miles and not be slower than my slowest time. I didn’t think a PR was even remotely possible. But I fought for it with every ounce of physical and mental energy I had left. So many emotions came pouring out: Surprise, relief, shock, pain, and immense pride.  

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Just after the finish line. Photo cred: MarathonFoto

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This was half marathon #10 for me and I still have a bad habit of saying “I’m a runner, but I know it doesn’t look like it” or “I run, but I know you can’t tell.” Here’s the thing about running though: It doesn’t matter what you look like, what your pace is, or how far you go. If you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you are a runner.

Being part of history in Boston

Last weekend my love for running and traveling to new places came together with a trip to Boston to cheer on my badass, speedy friend who ran the marathon. It was an experience I’ll never forget!

The 5k
I never realized how much else goes on during the Boston Marathon weekend, including a 5k run that close to 9,000 people participated in. Luckily the weather was great that morning, the spectators were out in full, and I got to experience running across the marathon finish line. There really is something special about running in Boston and I’m so glad I got a chance to do it (and make Massachusetts state #23 I’ve ran in!).

 

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The marathon
I was so excited to witness this historic race in person. Much has been written about the conditions so I won’t waste space here, but I can tell you it didn’t stop spectators from showing up. I can’t imagine what it would look like on a nice day based on how packed the course was in the shittiest of conditions. This city truly embraces this race!

I did a ton of spectator research before the trip. The logistics are a little insane for this point-to-point course, but we had a solid plan and it ended up working out well. I referenced the 2018 spectator guide and MBTA course viewing map a lot and could probably write a whole separate post on spectating tips. Feel free to reach out if you want more details.

My crew took the Green Line B branch to Chestnut Hill around mile 22. Our home base was Mary Ann’s, a cash-only bar we could easily dip in and out of. On a better weather day, I would have stayed outside the whole time. But with the crazy conditions, I popped out to watch the elites, my friends in Wave 1, and the main runner we traveled with who was in Wave 3. The app came in handy here since I could go out right before they hit our section of the course.

 

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We were inside Mary Ann’s when Des crossed the finish line and everyone went wild. Again, this city is all in on the marathon and it was so awesome to be part of it.

 

 

Everything else
I didn’t fit in as much sightseeing as I normally would have, but I had a great time eating and bar hopping my way through Boston. Some of the highlights:

We did have a brief cultural respite at the Museum of Fine Art. Unfortunately the lines were crazy long for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum next door so we skipped it. I also have to give a shout out to the totally clutch, locally owned store Trend on Newbury. I bought rain boots that were so necessary on marathon day and the owner was super nice and helpful.

 

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