First time cruiser

Last week I went on my first cruise. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I ended up having a ton of fun! Three friends and I sailed with Royal Caribbean from Tampa to Key West and Cozumel. It happened to be Spring Break and we quickly showed the 21-year-olds that life doesn’t end in your 30s.

   

 

 

 

 

Brilliance of the Seas
Some notes about the ship:

  • It was definitely big but it’s amazing how quickly it became small. There are only so many places to go, of course. We made a routine of bar hopping but ended in the dance club most nights, where we made fast friends with the bartenders.
  • I never knew what time it was. That was partly because of our pitch black interior rooms. But also because we had to deal with the Daylight Savings Time switch and a time zone difference in Cozumel.
  • I can see how easy it would be to overeat. Most days we ate a slighter bigger breakfast, skipped lunch, then enjoyed dinner in the main dining hall. The food was on par with what I expected given how much food they are churning out around the clock.
  • Our dinner table was a little awkward the first night but we got over that. Our two servers were outstanding and we genuinely looked forward to seeing them each night. By the end of the week, we were giving them big hugs and didn’t want to say goodbye.
  • I ran three miles the second morning to add Gulf of Mexico to the list of places I’ve ran. The rest of my calories were burned on the dance floor.

Key West
As many times as I’ve been to Florida, this was my first trip to Key West. We only had about five hours but we made the most of it. We beelined it to the buoy to get the obligatory Southernmost Point photo but there was a long line. So instead, we got some quick #sidebuoy action, walked past the Hemingway House, and bar crawled our way back to port.

We stopped at Green Parrot, Sloppy Joe’s (my favorite beer of the day – Sloppy Joe’s Island Ale by Funky Buddha Brewery), Hog’s Breath, Garden of Eden (nude rooftop bar!) and Two Friends.

Cozumel
We didn’t actually spend any time in Cozumel since our excursion took us immediately on the ferry to the mainland. There were several Mayan ruin excursions but we chose one that included climbing 126 feet up a very steep/slick Mayan pyramid in Coba then climbing down 80 feet underground to swim in a cenote. It was such a cool experience and after hearing how the other ruins excursion was from our tablemates, I was so happy with our choice.

So, would I cruise again?
Yes, but here are some thoughts if I do:

  • I think it’s great for a group trip. I’ve been on some trips where groups try to do everything together but that’s not super realistic and usually means someone isn’t doing what they want to do. On the boat, everyone can easily do their own thing but still come together for the main dinners, excursions, etc.
  • Five nights was a good length. I don’t think I could have done another night unless I made a point to sleep more.
  • We had two days at sea where we were on the boat the whole time. I don’t think I would want to do a trip that had more than that based on my preferred vacation style. I can only lay out by the pool so much.
  • The all inclusive booze package was 100% worth it but there were some limitations. It only included drinks that were $12 or less, which unfortunately didn’t include prosecco. We powered through, but the last night I splurged for two bottles for our dinner table because it’s not a real vacation without bubbly.
  • I should have boarded the ship wearing my swim suit and cover up. I knew they would take my suitcase so I packed a tote bag and changed when we got on board. But I could have started enjoying the sun and pool deck that much quicker.
  • I would stick with the cruise line for booking excursions. We debated this a lot for Cozumel but once we got off the boat I was so glad we went through Royal Caribbean. They took care of the ferry ride and getting us everywhere on time.
  • I would pack more layers. Our last day at sea was relatively cold, almost too cold to lay out. I wasn’t really prepared for that.
  • I never ended up taking Dramamine but I was glad I had it just in case.
  • I would bring more cash. We had a base level of gratuity included in our package but there was a chance at the end of the week to tip individual staff members who went above and beyond. I had to get some more cash out on the boat to properly thank our two dinner servers and our favorite bartenders.

Have you been on a cruise? What do you love about it? Share in the comments below!

 

What I read in 2016

This is my third year aiming to read 26 books. Happy to report I hit my goal again this year, with three weeks to spare! There’s still time for me to slip in another book or two, but here’s the list as it stands today.

  1. We Were Liars
  2. The Girl With No Past
  3. What Alice Forgot
  4. Big Little Lies
  5. A Reunion of Ghosts
  6. My name is Lucy Barton
  7. How to be Single
  8. Euphoria
  9. The Widow
  10. The Nest
  11. One Plus One
  12. Black Eyed Susans
  13. All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation
  14. The Girls
  15. Reconstructing Amelia
  16. Find Her
  17. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
  18. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
  19. The Hopefuls
  20. Good as Gone
  21. With Malice
  22. The Wonder
  23. Everything We Keep
  24. Wintergirls
  25. Bad Feminist
  26. The Royal We

Check out my lists from 2014 and 2015 and let me know in the comments what I should line up for 2017!

NOLA

New Orleans has been near the top of my travel wish list for a long time and I was so excited to check it out with two of my favorite people for a college roomie reunion. Leading up to the trip, we were a little overwhelmed by the long list of recommendations from friends who had gone and loved it. In the end, our trip was a combination of some of those tips and some things we stumbled upon. At the risk of adding to said long list, here are some of the highlights.

French Quarter
We stayed a block off Bourbon Street in a great apartment. I had some people tell me to avoid this area completely, which I think is a bullshit recommendation. It’s the thing to do in the place to do it. We drank hurricanes. We did a tarot reading. We had absinthe. We danced in the street to Beyonce. We had no regrets.

Beyond the booze, we had some delicious noms. I don’t eat seafood but I kind of get into crab in certain formats. I really enjoyed the crab cake alfredo at Oceana and the super unique crab meat cheesecake at the Palace Cafe. And of course we had to get beignets, though we opted for Cafe Beignet over du Monde since it was close by. It had the most adorable courtyard where I could have sat forever.  

Garden District
Our second night, we ventured over to the Garden District and had one of the best fried chicken meals of my life. No, it wasn’t at Willie Mae’s, where pretty much everyone told us to go. We got a tip from a local to eat at Joey K’s and it was in the area where we wanted to bar hop so that’s where we went. I’ll never be able to compare it to Willie Mae’s but I kind of don’t care. It was my death row meal come to life, it was unreal, and once again, I had no regrets.

Our server there was awesome and wrote out a list of places for us to go, which we followed almost to a tee and it made for a great night. Balcony Bar gave us call backs to house parties at UD. The Bulldog had a great courtyard with a cool tap fountain. I had trouble finding anything local on tap up to that point so it was nice to order a flight of local brews. And we wrapped things up at The Delachaise wine bar before heading back for some more Bourbon Street debauchery.

Frenchmen Street
For our last night, we checked out Frenchmen Street. It was very crowded but a different vibe than Bourbon Street. There was live music at each bar we went to: A super fun band at Bamboula’s; a band I don’t really remember because we were so focused on the absolutely stunning bartender at Maison; and the Jason Neville band at Vaso who had us dancing and loving life and never wanting to leave NOLA. It was seriously the best night.

The daytime stuff
We did two tours: Mardi Gras World and Save Our Cemeteries. It was super interesting to learn about the history of Mardi Gras and everything that goes into it. I had no idea there were so many parades, for example. Seeing the elaborate artwork of the floats up close was really cool, too. And our guided walk through St. Louis Cemetary #1 provided some history on the city and fun facts – like seeing Nicolas Cage’s future burial tomb. Oh and I added Louisiana to the list of states I’ve ran in (number 19) with a nice route down to the riverwalk.

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Normally this is the part in my trip recaps where I would ask what I missed out on and what you think others should check out. But we’re at maximum information overload as it is. To summarize: NOLA was everything I hoped it would be. The people were so nice. The food was ridiculous. The music was so good. And I was so happy to be with my two college roomies!

Indy Half race recap

Since I started running five years ago, my big fall race has always been the Monumental, which is my favorite race. This year I will be out of town though so I took the chance to check out the Indy Half.

My training season, if you can even call it that, was the shittiest I’ve ever had. My schedule has been insane. I didn’t run nearly as much as I should have. And when I did, it definitely wasn’t fast. This is also the heaviest I’ve been in a long time so that’s literally been weighing me down. Oh and did I mention this course is super hilly (relative to Indiana) and everywhere I normally run is super flat?!

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Heading into race day, I was mentally preparing for the worst but also trying to relax and enjoy it. The weather was perfect and the course was beautiful, winding through Fort Ben on a mix of roads and trails. I started out a little faster than planned with my first mile at 10:18. I decided to go with it but faced my first challenge in mile three. Some people walked up the giant hill but I knew I had to keep moving, even if it was super slow. There’s something mentally for me about walking in those situations. It feels like it would be too easy to never start running again.

I was so glad when the road started evening out. I made it! Now I just had to calm my breathing and pick up my pace. I was really happy with how quickly I recovered and got back in a groove. I panicked a little after mile 6 when my watch told me I was under a 10:00 pace. There was no way I could maintain that until the end, I thought. But I felt really good and my competitive drive wanted to see how long I could hold on to it.

There were some smaller hills sprinkled throughout the course but I grew more confident with each one. I kept my pace under 10:00 and knew I was going to finish strong. Then mile 11 almost crushed my soul. That damn mile was entirely uphill (or at least felt like it) but I kept fighting and only slowed down to a 10:18 split.

In the final push, I felt like I was moving so slow but posted a 9:31 split on the last mile and crossed the finish line almost in disbelief. I conquered the toughest course I’ve ever raced and finished in 2:12:09, my third fastest half (of seven).

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I expected the worst and instead left with a complete runner’s high and huge sense of pride. I worked hard for my 2:09:15 PR in April, but this race was a different accomplishment and yet another reminder that I need to believe in myself more.

My unofficial guide to the Pacers Bikeshare

I’ve had a Pacers Bikeshare membership for just over a year. I love how convenient it is, so much so that I use it instead of my own bike to get to and from work every day. I’m a big fan of the program and have become an unofficial advocate for it, so I thought it would be helpful to share some of my tips.

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  1. Invest in the annual pass. Day passes are $8 for 24 hours’ worth of unlimited 30-minute rides. Annual passes are $80. So riding just 10 times a year makes it worthwhile. And with the annual pass, you get a card that lets you bypass the kiosk and go straight to the bike you want to check it out.
  2. Know before you go. Download the app and check to see if there are bikes at the station near you. When you get close to a station, a “Get a bike” option will appear and you can enter the dock number to check out a bike. Don’t forget to check near your destination to make sure there are open docks. If a station you’re picking up from is empty, most locations have another station within walking distance. If you’re returning a bike and there are no open docks, go to the kiosk and click “more options.” There, you’ll be able to see what nearby docks are open and it will credit your account with 15 minutes to get there without being fined.
  3. Stay on the cultural trail and in bike lanes, not the sidewalk. For the most part, all of the stations are on or near the Cultural Trail, which is designed for cyclists. Biking on the sidewalk is illegal (I think) and also not safe for pedestrians. As much as possible, respect the rules and stay on the trail or in designated bike lanes in the road. There are a few stations that are just off the trail and require you to be on the sidewalk in order to dock. In those situations, I recommend getting off the bike and walking it to the station.
  4. Use the bell. The Cultural Trail can get crowded and there are times when the sidewalk and trail are one in the same (i.e. in front of the Conrad on Washington Street). Give pedestrians around you a heads up by ringing the bell. Don’t be afraid to call out “biker on your left.” And remember, cyclists always yield to pedestrians.
  5. Bike defensively. Some cars don’t care about cyclists. In fact, some cars get super annoyed by cyclists. Don’t assume that because they have a red turn arrow that they will stay stopped and you can fly through with the right of way. Always, always be on the defensive.
  6. BYOH. Bring your own helmet. I’m guilty of not wearing mine… which I justify since my route is entirely on the Cultural Trail. But realistically everyone should be using a helmet every time.
  7. If you see something, say something. It’s true with Homeland Security and with the Pacers Bikeshare. If you notice a flat tire, loose chain, broken seat or anything else, call the number listed on the bike. They will want to know what station and dock number you are at, and may ask for the bike number as well (located on the frame). After you’ve called, turn the seat around backward as a sign to approaching bikeshare users that the bike is out of service.
  8. Don’t hog the bikes. The system works best, and the stations stay balanced better, when people dock their bikes once they get to their destination and pick up a new bike when they are ready to leave. It’s not designed for you to keep the bike out and lock it up somewhere away from the stations. If you want to spend the day joy riding, that’s cool. Just dock and pick up a new bike often.
  9. Explore the city. The location of the stations being on the Cultural Trail makes it so easy to explore parts of the city you might not normally get to. Head to Fountain Square. Check out the north end of Mass Ave. Get over to the canal. I already loved Indy but being out on the bike every day has made me appreciate everything our downtown has to offer even more.
  10. Explore other cities. The Pacers Bikeshare is part of the larger BCycle system, which has locations in several cities across the country. You can use your membership card in any of these locations!

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Are you a bikeshare user? What tips did I miss? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

Traveling in Toronto

“Why Toronto?”

I got that question a lot when talking about the bachelorette party I planned for my best friend of over 20 years. When thinking about a trip that would properly celebrate Kim, I wanted a destination that was as unique as her – someone who lived a year in Argentina (read about our adventures in Buenos Aires and Mendoza) and spent six weeks in India, among many other worldly travels.

Toronto was a short flight from Chicago, where the bride-to-be lives, and the more I researched it, the more sure I was that it would make for a great trip. The city definitely delivered!

The digs
We stayed in an Airbnb apartment that was in a great location just a few blocks from the waterfront and a short walk to the CN Tower (balcony view below). Like my previous Airbnb stays, it was nice to have a home base with more space to relax. I have a tendency to fall in love with everywhere I visit and it’s that much easier to imagine living somewhere when you’re staying in an apartment versus a hotel.

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The eats
Many of my favorite memories with Kim surround meals we’ve shared. This trip would prove to be no different as everything we ate was pretty much delicious, starting with a Nutella pastry from the Tim Horton’s across from our Airbnb. Other highlights included:

  • WVRST – Multiple friends recommended this restaurant, self-described as “sausage hall and other wonders.” I tried the kangaroo, which felt weird to order but tasted great. Realistically, though, we could have just had the duck fat fries with our various dipping sauces and been perfectly satisfied.
  • The Elm Tree – This was a super cute spot with a great wait staff and modern Mediterranean menu. My steak frites were delicious (are you picking up on my fry addiction yet?!) as was the burrata appetizer we split.
  • Afternoon tea at the Ritz Carlton – I don’t drink tea but after enjoying my high tea experience in London, I was interested to see how this would compare. The treats were perfectly dainty and delicious and I ended up picking a tea I didn’t hate (read: I actually drank an entire cup).
  • Toula – Located 38 floors up in the Westin right on the waterfront, Toula offers a 360-degree view of Toronto. I made our reservation so that we would be there during sunset. While the tall buildings blocked our view of the sun, it was beautiful watching the sky morph from bright blue to shades of red, pink and purple. We also had a great view of the CN Tower lit up for Pride, which was that day. The food was also great but the service was a little slow.

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The things to do
The CN Tower dominates the skyline and is seemingly always in sight. We decided against going up though, partly to avoid wasting time in line and partly because we knew our dinner Sunday night would have a (somewhat) comparable view.

Instead, we ventured to the St. Lawrence Market and wandered our way through more than 100 booths. We settled on some meats and cheeses to take with us on our beach trip as well as some ice wine from Peller Estates for the apartment. The wine was pretty unique and had a syrupy texture that made me want to pour it over ice cream or a piece of cheesecake.

Sunday morning, we took the ferry to Hanlan’s Pointe on Toronto Island. And because it was a bachelorette party, it’s only appropriate that we ended up at a clothing optional beach (naked men – check!). It was much less crowded than what I imagine Centre Island would have been, at least based on the size of the ferry going that direction versus ours. The couple hours we spent out there were super relaxing and we got an awesome view of the cityscape on the ferry ride.

I also snuck in a three-mile run Saturday morning on the Waterfront Trail — my second time logging international miles!

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The nightlife
We arrived on Canada Day and posted up on the patio of Macho, just a block down from our place, to watch the fireworks. After that, we walked to King Street West where there are a ton of bars. The first spot we tried was only offering a $1,000 bottle service minimum. No thanks! Luckily our waiter earlier in the night recommended Early Mercy, which had a reasonable $10 cover and a decent enough DJ. A quick stop in Locals Only across the street rounded out our first night in the city.

The second night was devoted to Kim’s love of Latin dancing. My extensive research turned up El Rancho, a salsa club on College Street that ended up being the perfect spot. We danced for a solid four hours, spinning and sweating our way through salsa, bachata, merengue and reggaeton. It was seriously the best time ever and I loved watching my BFF in her happy place.

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After such a fun weekend, my response to the question is now “Why not Toronto?”

2016 Derby half recap: Fastest filly on the track

In my last post, I mentioned the marathon burnout was so real and I was enjoying focusing on crossfit for awhile. That continued through the 2016 Crossfit Open, during which I pushed myself really hard and hit multiple PRs.

That theme would carry over into my running as I ramped up training for the Derby half. This is by far the least amount of training I’ve ever done for a race. I don’t necessarily recommend it but luckily everything else I was doing kept me in decent enough shape that I was able to work up to 10 miles with relative ease. Based on the times I was posting, I thought I might have a PR performance in me, which was crazy to think about.

For the second year in a row, the Derby forecast called for rain. I was much more mentally prepared for it since I survived 13.1 miles of rain last year. And once you’re wet, you’re wet. There’s not much you can do but keep moving.

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I didn’t necessarily have a game plan for this race but I knew I would have to work really hard to maintain the pace needed to PR. My first mile was a lot slower than I intended, mainly due to dodging traffic and finding my lane as the field settled. I told myself I had 12 more miles to make up that time and not to freak out too early.

I was quickly reminded how awesome the crowd is in Louisville. They came out in huge numbers all throughout the course, despite the rain. It was amazing! Until it wasn’t… In mile 11, there was a huge group of guys cheering. As I passed them, one guy threw a football and it hit me in the head and knocked my hat off. He apparently thought it would be fun to play catch. With runners. In the middle of a race. In the pouring rain.

After screaming “what the fuck?!?” I grabbed my hat and took off. I was worried about how much time it would cost me since I was on track to PR. Once again I was telling myself to stay calm and just get refocused. I wasn’t about to let a dumbass ruin the hard work I had put in so far – and still had left to do.

Derby half 2016

This was the first race where I felt like I was actually racing. I pushed myself harder for longer than ever before. It was work. It hurt. There was no smiling during these race photos. And I wanted to stop so many times in those last few miles. But I pushed through and it paid off in a big way.

2:09:15

My time was 4:00 faster than last year on this course and about 2:00 faster than my previous best half. In some ways, I’m more proud of this race than the full marathon. Or at least proud in a different way given everything I faced that morning.

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What’s next?
I’m hoping to ride the runner’s high that came with this PR and maintain a better base than I did after the full. And I’ll continue crossfit, of course.

As far as races go, I need to figure out a new fall half to try. For the first time since I started running, I’m missing the Monumental. That race will always have a special meaning for me since it was the first half and full I did. It also feels like my home court race since I know the streets so well and I love the course.

What fall race should I sign up for? What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you during a race? Drop a note in the comments below!

 

**Also want to note I emailed the race director about the football incident and they were very responsive and are contacting the group. This is a great race overall and I’d hate for that one instance to deter anyone from signing up.