Halloween at Disney World: Animal Kingdom & Hollywood Studios.

Halloween at Disney World actually got me in a festive Halloween mood. It probably helps that September in Orlando is 90 degrees with humidity and it still feels like summer, but nevertheless, one of my least favorite holidays (because I legitimately mourn the end of summer) became something I enjoyed this past week.

Wanting to get the most out of my annual pass, Justin and I booked a fall getaway to Disney (my 3rd Disney trip of 2016 – January, February) to attend a Magic Kingdom ticketed event (Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party) and enjoy Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival. September is a great time to visit Disney as it is considered a low season. Kids have gone back to school, there is a chance of thunderstorms every afternoon (bring a poncho, it ain’t no thang), and the Halloween/Food and Wine crowds are still light.

Last Saturday morning, we sacrificed sleep and got on a plane that left before sunrise. #WorthIt

I don't hate this

I don’t hate this

We landed in Orlando a little after 8, dropped our bags off at the Grand Floridian, and left for Animal Kingdom to get a full day in the park.

Animal Kingdom

Saturday was H-O-T hot. We eased our pain by walking in and out of shops throughout the day and taking in a showing of The Festival of the Lion King.

While on the subject of pain, I had been suffering from an allergic reaction from my knees to my toes (both legs) and Saturday it got so bad that I ended up in First Aid. My doctor called in a couple of prescriptions for me and they were delivered to my hotel Sunday morning. The local pharmacist was extremely helpful; he spoke to me about the claim process with my insurance company and he sent along all the necessary paperwork. Disney made this process super easy and I’m so thankful because I was actually able to enjoy the rest of my trip. #DisneyWinsAgain

animal-kingdom-day

I haven’t been to Animal Kingdom since they began nighttime hours so I was excited to catch a sunset Kilimanjaro Safari (amazing) and experience the Tree of Life show (SO GOOD). The crowd was oohing and aahing before the projection show officially began whenever one of the animals on the tree would move.  Our bus driver back to the hotel told us that there are multiple projections so on any given night or time, you may catch a slightly different one.

Tree of Life - Animal Kingdom, WDW

Tree of Life – Animal Kingdom, WDW

When we got back to the room, we were hangry, tired, and cranky but all that disappeared when we walked into our room and saw the view from our balcony:

Cinderella's Castle from Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

Cinderella’s Castle from Grand Floridian Resort & Spa

After I stopped freaking out over the view, we grabbed a late dinner at Grand Floridian’s 24-hour dining restaurant, Gasparilla Island Grill. I got something called the “Idaho Dog” after joking with a couple castmembers about how silly it sounded but how good it actually tasted. In case you haven’t guessed it, it’s a hotdog in a baked potato… and it was all sorts of awesome. I kid you not.

Hollywood Studios

Before heading to Hollywood Studios for the day, we brunched at Grand Floridian’s Narcoossee’s. Oh boy is this food delicious. Also, the mimosas are incredible and I dubbed them “the greatest mimosas I have ever had in my life.” Must be those Florida oranges, eh?

With full bellies and light wallets (magic bands?), we got on a bus to Hollywood Studios with just enough time to get to our first FastPass of the day: Toy Story Midway Mania. With the new tracks on the ride, the standby time is significantly reduced. Good to know for future Hollywood Studios adventuring!

hollywood-studios

It felt like our time at Hollywood Studios flew by and before we knew it, we were exiting with thousands of others as they closed the park for the night.

Sunday night was a Halloween Party so we parked ourselves on our balcony to watch the Hallowishes fireworks.

Fireworks view from Grand Floridian

Fireworks view from Grand Floridian

Watching the finale from this spot was incredible and it got me even more excited for our very own Halloween Party on Tuesday.

Spoiler alert: I was still not prepared for the finale in front of the castle.

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NEXT UP: Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival and a morning in the Magic Kingdom. 

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I think I’ll take a moment, celebrate my age.

Whether you noticed or not, I haven’t updated this blog all summer. Actually, my last post was right after the Brooklyn Half at the end of May so I technically have not updated this blog since the spring… and there’s been many a reason (all wonderful ones like life is beautifully busy and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been) but really, none of that matters. I needed a blog break, I took it, and it was wonderful. But I’m back now.

Anywho, big things from the summer…

I turned 30!

Years ago, just the idea of 30 was terrifying. True story: I once started crying in the Orlando Airport and whined “I’m almost 30!” when asked why I was crying. I had just realized my license expired in 2015 (when I’d be 29) and that year didn’t feel far away. I was 24.

But something happened in the years following my ridiculous sobfest in the Orlando Airport – I started to *gasp* get excited to leave my 20s behind. After all, I saw friends turn 30 and none of them imploded. In fact, they seemed to enjoy life even more in their 30s. So I started to embrace the idea of turning 30, listened to “My Next 30 Years” on repeat, booked a birthdaycation to Nashville, and checked “plan something awesome for your 30th birthday” off my to-do list.

And then the weekend before my birthday happened…

Friday

Friday nights are hard because I typically do not want to go out. This Friday night was no different. Justin was able to get me out by picking a place for dinner just steps from our apartment. Location is key, people.

He wanted to sit outside so I walked through to the back…

SURPRISE!

To say I was shocked is an understatement. I think I wore this shocked expression for the first 30 minutes or so. I legit said things like, “how did you get here?” (because apparently in my mind NYC is some far off NeverNeverland that is difficult to get to?) and “who told you about this?” to the majority of my friends/family who came out for my lil’ 30th birthday shindig.

30th-birthday

It all felt so surreal and even now, one month later, I have trouble wrapping my head around the fact that so many people showed up. #ICantEvenBelieveImLuckyAsMe (this works best if you sing it ala Phil Vassar)

Saturday – Sunday

Saturday morning, we got on the road to head to my upstate house for what was supposed to be a quiet weekend with Justin and my parents, and it was… until my college friends showed up.

I don’t have a reaction photo of when they walked into the house but it was something like this:

so-excited

The weather wasn’t the greatest but we were able to get in some pool time, a walk to a nearby waterfall, a ride out on the pontoon, and so, so many laughs.

30th-birthday-in-saugerties

Justin’s family showed up for a Sunday lunchtime celebration and my weekend was complete.

I am the luckiest.

We went to Nashville!

I wanted to honkytonk my way into this next decade. And I did. And it was awesome. We will DEFINITELY be back.

nashville

Highlights:

13934920_10101817405761097_7783888353409917139_n

Now that I’m back and writing again, I should probably let you know that next week I will be back in Disney World so expect Disney posts here and on Instagram (in real time). I’m not going to run any races, unless running around Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival so that Justin can eat, drink, and ride everything counts as running. Turns out, people go to Disney World and don’t run a marathon.

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Hope anyone who still checks here (hi mom) had a wonderful summer 🙂 

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2016 Brooklyn Half-Marathon.

Brooklyn Half weekend was finally here! After 12 weeks of training, it was finally time to celebrate 12 weeks of Justin’s hard work with a 13.1 mile party.

BK Half Pre-Party

Brooklyn Half Pre-Party

We met up at Carmine’s for a carbloading dinner after work on Friday (it was so hard to not order my favorite frozen cosmo) before heading home to pack all our stuff for the morning and binge watch a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother. #RaceEveWinning

Race Morning

With an alarm that went off before 5am (bleh), Justin and I wearily gathered our things and headed out the door before the sun to grab a cab and pick up Meghan (just like old times!) on our way to Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Half - Start Line

Brooklyn Half – Start Line

We got to the start nice and early and were able to relax a bit before handing in our bags and heading through security.

In my bag:

  • A bag of Cheerios, banana, and small water for pre-race
  • Two packs of Honey Stingers (one caffeinated)
  • Change of sports bra, two long sleeves, and Adidas sandals for post-race
  • Small bag carrying chapstick, cellphone, money, and ID

A checked bag with post-race comforts is essential for the Brooklyn Half if you want to hang around Coney Island for a bit after the run.

bk half 2

Brooklyn Half – Start Line

Even with 2 port-a-potty stops before the start, it felt like we stood in the corrals forever. It’s definitely a long morning for Wave 2ers. Oh, and I fangirled quite a bit upon realizing we were standing behind Virgil in the corrals. Gah!

Brooklyn Half – The First 5 Miles

While a few days out it looked like it may rain on our parade, come race morning, the weather was perfect for running – 60s, overcast, and only slightly humid.

After so much waiting in the corrals, it took a while for our legs to warm up once we did start running. We checked in with each other a few times during these miles but for the most part, I yapped away about random things while Justin shlogged alongside of me.

Brooklyn Half

Brooklyn Half

We joked at every Chronotrack point that if we listened hard enough, we could hear mama runnerindenial cheering from afar as she got our running update on her phone (the ‘rents were at a wedding in the Catskills).

The crowds are decent in certain spots along these miles but there are definitely pockets of silence (this seems to be the case throughout the entire race though).

A major highlight of these miles was a gentleman with a giant blow-up Trump doll and a huge sign saying, “Punch Trump.” We meandered over to the right so we both got a chance to punch Trump. Little did we know, we’d get two more punches in before the finish. #thiskidwinsthebkhalf

Brooklyn Half – The Second 5 Miles

We picked up the pace here ever so slightly as our legs loosened up and we started to get into a rhythm.

I had a fueling strategy going into the race and we stuck with it throughout:

  • Water at every station until more than halfway where we’d alternate Gatorade and water
  • Honey Stingers around miles 3, 6, 8, 10, 12, with caffeinated stingers starting around mile 8

This fueling strategy doubled as a mental strategy because I felt so accomplished once we started integrating Gatorade and the caffeinated chews in. Hey, whatever helps, right?

We were excited to get out of Prospect Park and finally get to the long stretch that is Ocean Parkway. We punched Trump one more time and headed down the ramp to the highway.

Brooklyn Half – The Last 5K

With only about 30 minutes of running left, we picked up the pace a bit more. We hugged the right side of the course on the lookout for friends Jenny and Daniel, who we spotted around mile 10.5.

Our sign! Thanks, Jenny and Daniel!

Our sign! Thanks, Jenny and Daniel!

After some high-fiving, we continued on with renewed energy. Seeing friends along the course is pretty damn great. Thanks, guys!

As we got closer to the end of Ocean Parkway, the crowds really began to thicken. I love this part of the race where you’re running alongside the boardwalk but haven’t gone up the ramp to the finish yet. I imagine most people hate this but whatevs, my being strange would be of no surprise to anyone.

We punched Trump one more time and passed the 800m mark, where I made my usual 800m remark, “you can do anything for 5 more minutes.” 

Once we got onto the boardwalk, Justin picked it up and sprinted it to the finish line.

Brooklyn Half - Finish Line

Brooklyn Half – Finish Line – 2:12:37 (10:07)

Post-Race

After grabbing our bags and a quick change in the parking lot (#imsoclassy), we sauntered over to MCU Park for a stretch on the field. Jenny and Daniel had made it down to Coney Island so we met up with them at Coney Island Brewery before finding Justin’s parents and driving back to Manhattan.

Brooklyn Half - After Party

Brooklyn Half – After Party

Coney Island is a mob of runners and spectators after the race and it is all sorts of wonderful. This is probably my favorite part of this race, being able to hang out afterwards just relaxing and celebrating the run with a beer.

Once back on the UWS, we showered and grabbed lunch with Justin’s family and then promptly parked it on the couch for a serious nap – we had a night of beers at the Central Park Zoo ahead of us!

central park brew at the zoo

Have I mentioned before that I love this zoo? Because I love this zoo.

It was a great ending to a wonderful (but long, oh my god so long) day with my best friend.

Congrats, Justin, on your first half-marathon 🙂 

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Selecting a race: best and worst race experiences.

First up, workouts from last week’s Brooklyn Half “training:”

brooklyn half training

Selecting a Race

With a good chunk of races occurring in the fall (especially here in the Northeast), it’s about that time of year to pick a goal race if you haven’t already done so (like myself, whoops – I’ll get to it). Even if you’re not looking for a goal race but just a race in general, there are a few things to consider.

For me, the biggest factors affecting my race experience are:

  • Family/friends/spectators along the course
  • Course route
  • Organization (before, during, and after the race)

It’s these 3 main things that have made my past race experiences either positive or negative.

Best Race Experiences

Chicago Marathon

  • So much about this race felt EASY (not including the running, although, I did have a good day and the running felt great too).

chi marathon

  • Getting to the start line was EASY, finding my family along the course was EASY, it was EASY for my family to see me in THREE(!) different spots and barely travel a few blocks, getting my medal/food/foil was EASY, finding my family after the finish line was EASY. Chicago, you are doing it right.

Disney

runDisney

  • It’s no surprise that Disney puts on great races. Everything is so well organized and free race day transportation makes getting to and from the race simple. While the routes do travel on local highways, they also include multiple character stops and the chance to run through Disney parks before they open. Also, it’s very easy to convince people to go to Disney World so you’ll either have a running buddy or a gang of spectators just for you.

NYC Marathon (2010, 2011, 2014)

  • This race is obviously near and dear to my heart but, I promise, this race is incredible no matter where you are from.

  • It’s my local race so whenever I’m running, I have people to look for throughout all 5 boroughs. I’ve learned as a New Yorker and a 4x NYCM veteran that choosing the ferry for race day transportation is the best option if you enjoy sleeping and not being cold on Staten Island all morning. The course offers amazing views of the city and runs through so many different types of neighborhoods and let’s not forget the spectators who are ABSOLUTELY OUT OF THIS WORLD. Seriously, be prepared to get choked up multiple times during these 26.2 miles.

Worst Race Experiences

Las Vegas Half-Marathon

  • I ran this the first year it became a nighttime race and it was a fiasco from start to finish (and beyond). I’ve since heard that Rock ‘n Roll has improved upon the issues from that first year but my experience was enough to make it so I’ve never run another Rock ‘n Roll race.

vegas half

  • The corrals were not managed properly, the course was not well lit in certain areas, there was a WAIT to cross the finish line (yes, you read that correctly), there were no signs in the finish area, I couldn’t find my family or the buses for a significant amount of time post-race, and I later heard that they ran out of water and medals for those finishing later. Eek.

Philadelphia Marathon

  • The only reason I was calm during the security line nightmare at the Philly Marathon was because it wasn’t a goal race and I knew I had Nicole with me for the entire 26.2 no matter when I crossed the start line.

philadelphia marathon finisher

  • Long line story short, the security line for runners barely moved, many runners missed their start time, and when the race started, it seemed security “gave up” and just started eyeballing and patting down runners as they walked ran through to try and get to the start line.

NYC Marathon

  • Are you confused? Wasn’t this on my list of best race experiences? Well, yes… and I want to put it out there that I truly believe that the NYC Marathon is one of the greatest marathon in the world (I’m only slightly biased, right?), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that can’t be improved.

4:11:09 (9:35 pace) - 13 minute PR

  • NYRR has done a lot to try and improve the finish line/post-race experience but the truth is, it’s still a bit of a mess. You can help yourself out by electing to not check a bag but even then, it’s one of the worst ways to end such an overwhelmingly incredible marathon. The walk out of the park is extremely long and the ponchos aren’t handed out until the very end. In 2014, I was freezing and on the verge of tears by the time I had my poncho and was able to make my way to my family.

I’m still in the process of finding a goal race for this year (and also mulling the idea of not  having a goal race). At this stage in my running game, I find myself getting pickier when it comes to which events I choose to spend my money (and time) on. I see an intense search in my near future.

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What have been your best/worst race experiences?

Any race suggestions for me?

Visit Eventbrite for local events (remember my race day factor #1!) or to create your own event, visit Eventbrite’s Event Management page.

Happy running 🙂

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