Arrrr. Shiver Me Pinchers

My beach fantasy:

 I am strolling along a quaint beach town with my flip flops in hand and my gauzy dress billowing out behind me in the breeze. I hear only the sounds of the seagulls and the gentle crashing of the waves. It’s a quaint southern town where the locals smile and haul in the daily catch as I watch, knowing that is the fish I will have for dinner that evening at the diner where they welcome me as if I was one of them.

My beach reality:

My husband loves Myrtle Beach. I think it’s the familiarity of the place that he likes. He knows he is going to enjoy himself when he goes there, he knows exactly what he will get. It’s sort of like going to McDonald’s when you’re in a strange place because you know what the food will taste like (even if it’s not that amazing). I’m not much of a fan of Myrtle Beach, or McDonald’s for that matter, but he averages about one trip a year with me so if Myrtle Beach is what it takes to make him happy then off we go!

I really don’t mind all that much because I know that when we’re together we can make anything fun. I know, insert cheesy awwww here, but it’s the truth. So we spent four days in the bustling beach city and of course had a blast. We did compromise a bit by eating at local off the beaten path restaurants.

We were the only customers at Mrs. Fish. I will admit the place made me a bit nervous, but the grilled Grouper was really delicious as was the Flounder. Service was good and so were the prices.

My search for delicious Maryland style crab in the south has come to an end. Here was my little slice of heaven right in the middle of the Grand Strand. The food was fabulous!

Jon was only slightly appalled at the sight before him. Ok, he thought it was pretty gross. He actually quoted Leviticus at me and then called my delicious crabs an abomination. I just dipped my abomination in butter and made sure to give him an extra loud slurping noise with my next bite. 

If loving a crustacean now and then is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

On the way back from my crab feast I came to a realization- it is possible that I could someday afford my dream beach home.

I mean, who says it has to be a magnificent stilted structure overlooking the ocean? As long as I’m close to the crabs.

 

The Scream Half Marathon

I can think of very few reasons why a person would run screaming down a mountainside for thirteen miles in the drizzling rain.  I’m thinking bear attack or escape from an ax murderer, but last week my friend Allison and I did it because it sounded like fun. The Scream Half Marathon took place in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina and we were lucky enough to be two of the just over two hundred people that were able to participate.

We traveled to the mountains on Friday afternoon to stay with Allison’s mother at His High Places. The landscape was gorgeous and we couldn’t have been more excited. Get a load of this place!

The weather was a brisk 59 degrees when we arrived- a welcome relief from Virginia’s blistering heat, but it did leave me a bit worried about my race plans. I was expecting (and training for) a race day that would be hotter than Hades, and worse yet the forecast was calling for a slight chance of rain. After a giant dinner we got our race gear ready….

And tucked in early for our 4:45 wake up call.

Can you spot a couple of nerds when you see them? 

We awoke Saturday morning to a light drizzle, thick fog, and temps in the low 50’s. So hard to believe in mid-July, but I guess mountain weather is unpredictable.  Allison’s mother and sister dropped us at the starting line and headed down to the two mile marker where they had volunteered to hand out water. I should add that this was Allison’s first half marathon (she’s only been running less than two years) and her mom was busting with pride. Can you blame her? I was proud of her too. A half marathon is no easy feat and then you add something as crazy as a downhill run through the mountains into the mix. She’s fearless I tell ya.

We checked and double checked our laces. I was a bit intimidated by the wet road surface, the rain, and the fact that it looked as though we were literally running inside of a cloud.

One last trip to the bathroom before the start.

A race with Allison and myself wouldn’t be complete without a restroom adventure. As seems to be our M.O. we found the porta-potties to be full and headed to the woods. And as usual, we were caught. Fearless Allison went first while I was on the lookout. Just as she was in the middle of her “break” I spotted a man coming down the trail. I coughed a quick “Man coming!” at her and she whipped her pants up so fast I thought she was going to fall over into the weeds. All I can say is thank God it was raining anyway…Bwahahaha!

Finally we all lined up at the starting line, covered in the light mist but thankful the sun wasn’t blazing heat down on us. There was such a mix of people at the race. It seems as though people came from everywhere to be the pioneers of The Scream.  I was extremely impressed with how organized this event was. In the mountains of what seemed like the middle of nowhere, I thought it stood a chance of being a disaster but as soon as we arrived I knew this was going to be an excellent race.

The first two miles were mostly flat and a little uphill. The surface was blacktop road. Shortly before the two mile mark we made a turn and headed down a gravel/dirt road. This would be our surface for the next eleven miles. 

One quick drink and then I’m off. 

Miles three and four were such a blast, I found myself holding my arms out, smiling, and fleeing down the mountain like a little kid. The twists and turns of the road were a little tricky with the road beginning to become muddy from the rain but it just added to the fun of it.

At mile 5 my feet were totally wet.

At mile 6 I developed a blister the size of Rhode Island on the ball of my foot…and the drizzle turned to  a full on rain.

Mile 7 was a hill that appeared to descend straight to…. I was like the train in Unstoppable. You could have put something in front of me to slow me down but I couldn’t have stopped if I wanted to. This locomotive had no breaks.

At mile 8 I happened to reach back and feel my hair. The rain had soaked it and the running had made it tie itself in one giant knot that stood straight out on the back of my head. I imagined I looked like Marge Simpson.

Miles 9- 11were a blur of blister, mud, rain, Clif shots, and pain but I don’t think I ever stopped smiling.

Right around mile 12 I crossed a concrete bridge and heard a woman say that we were still under 2 hours. After running on that dirt and gravel surface the concrete burned my feet. It was sort of like landing on the ground after jumping on a trampoline, but it looked like this:

and it was amazing.

Mile 12 was cruelly flat. Enough said about that.

I was so happy to see the finish line. 

My husband says I have the world’s most unattractive run. He is correct.

But it doesn’t have to be attractive to get me to where I need to be. 

It wasn’t long before Allison joined me at the finish line. 

Allison’s first 5K (less than 2 years ago)

I’ve said repeatedly that this will be my last half marathon. I told myself that all summer and the whole way down the mountain. It’s hard on your body and takes so much time to train. The race itself isn’t the hard part, it’s all the miles that lead up to it. I’m thinking it’s time to slow down a little (as if I was fast to begin with). I’ve pretty much made up my mind…..but I think there may be one race that could pull me out of retirement next year. I’ll see you at the bottom.

 

Tips for Running The Rugged Maniac

I find myself more and more interested in running races that are not simply road races. I haven’t really ran any 5K races in my area this year and I’m not really sure I’m going to do any. Ever since I have been doing Crossfit workouts, I have been seeking out things that are much more physically challenging. The Rugged Maniac was the perfect arena for my new-found love for mud, sweat, and physical exertion.

My husband, and a few friends, and I ran the Rugged Maniac in Asheboro, NC a few weeks ago.  This is a 5K race with about 20 obstacles built in along the way. There is everything from a giant mudslide to a wall of fire. It isn’t for the faint of heart, the sluggish, or those who wish to remain clean. It is, however, an absolute blast! 

BEFORE

AFTER

Here’s a few tips I thought I’d share now that I have experienced the Rugged Maniac.

1. You will get muddy and cold. You will feel disgusting. The lines at the water hoses are pretty long, but not unbearable. Bring a couple gallon jugs of water to get yourself started and then when you feel a little less disgusting you can stand in line for the “shower”. There’s also a changing room so be sure to bring something warm to change into. We had a beautiful day, but after being soaking wet for an hour or so, sweatpants are a blessing.

2. In Asheboro, you can’t park at the event. You will park a few miles away and be shuttled to the race. The wait isn’t too long, but you don’t want to plan on going back to your car to change or pick up anything you’ll need while you are at the race. The line for bag check is very long and I just can’t see waiting while dripping with sludge to pick up your bag. We packed inexpensive items that we didn’t care about in inexpensive bags and stashed them in an inconspicuous spot. They were still there, untouched, after the race. There are still good people in the world.

3. You can donate your shoes if you’d like to after the race. That is if you don’t lose them on the course. To prevent this, I recommend duct tape. 

4. Be sure to bring a trash bag to put your muddy things in after the race. You will also need your id and cash. Wrap these in a plastic baggie and put them in a pocket- they will still get wet and disgusting. It’s unavoidable.

5. Embrace the yuck. You will go under muddy water- the whole way under. There is no possible way to keep your head above water. Hold your nose. Don’t swallow. Trust me.

6. Apparently, it doesn’t take a flying leap to cross the wall of fire. 

But I didn’t get that memo.

Instead of finisher’s medals, the race directors decided to hire professional photographer to place themselves along the course and take these great pictures of everyone. Watch for the photographers and try to look excited. You’ll have so much fun looking for yourself when they send you the link. You are free to download or print the pictures as much as you’d like. It’s really a nice touch.

7. Cover as much of you skin as possible. The rocks that are hidden under the mud might be the worst part. I am still scratched and bruised- a minor inconvenience. Wear knee pads if you’ve got them. People might think you’re weird until after the race. Then they will think you’re a genius.

8. Be prepared to immediately want to sign up for another one. These things are addictive. I haven’t had so much fun in the mud since I was a kid. 

Get Rugged!!

Going Wild at the Conservators Center

Things are getting wild in North Carolina.  Tucked away on a back country road near Mebane, NC rests the Conservators Center, a refuge for various wild animals that have been dealt a bad hand in life. The Center takes in animals that have been mistreated, kept as pets and then disregarded, and abandoned. Currently they have nineteen different species including lions, tigers, and wolves. They have 33 big cats, one of the largest populations in the United States. This is not a zoo. It’s a home for these otherwise forgotten animals. Their stories are heartbreaking, but their recoveries are inspirational.

The Conservators’ Center has been forced to expand very quickly to meet the needs of the animals that have come to them.  In 2004 the center took in 3 big cats and agreed to temporarily hold 14 others, the plan fell through and they found themselves stuck with all of them. Then they learned quite a few were pregnant. In the end they found themselves with 33 lions and tigers. They didn’t turn their backs on them, they got creative and opened to the public. They never intended to do public tours, but have found it necessary to raise the funds that are required to maintain the animals.

 It is truly a hidden gem. The thousands of people that flock to the Tanger Outlets in Mebane would never know these caged predators are lurking just beyond the trees off route 119. If you’re lucky enough to know about the Conservators’ Center, you have to be even luckier to actually find it.

It took us about 40 minutes to reach the Conservators’ Center from Danville, VA. After a few turns onto country roads we came upon the wooden sign that marked our destination. A slow drive up the muddy lane had me questioning if we were in the right place. We pulled up to a picnic shelter with a small shed and a port-a-potty. A group of people were clustered there looking a bit unsure of themselves. The roar of the lions echoed even inside the car.  The first thing we did was sign a waiver stating that we were aware that we may find ourselves in a dangerous situation. I have to tell you it was a little creepy to sign this with that roaring going on in the background.

The Center offers several different types of tours. All tours are by reservation only, and the number of participants is kept very small. We opted for the Twilight tour. It is only offered every once in a while. It’s a chance to see the nocturnal animals, and the big cats and wolves when they are most active. Believe me they were active! This was one of the most amazing things I have experienced in my life.

We started with the smaller animals.  I was surprised by how interesting the Bintarongs were. They are found in Southeast Asia, where they play an important role in maintaining the rain forest canopy. 

The Jungle Cats, Sahara and Little One, were brought together for breeding purposes. The problem? Sahara couldn’t stand him. The solution? There is a brand of Target perfume that drives the big cats crazy, so they doused Little One in it and Sahara decided he might be ok after all. Now they get along just fine.

The Servals were so beautiful. It was really a treat to be able to get so close to these animals.

As darkness began to fall we met the wolf pack. Amadeus felt the need to show his dominance right away. But we learned that the only female of the pack, Hopa, is really the boss. She’s just knows that it’s easier to let Amadeus do all the talking.

 Hopa and Amadeus are actually brother and sister that were separated as pups. You can read all about her long journey back to him at the Conservators’ Center website, but what I thought was most adorable was that on her first night next to him, big bad Amadeus dug a hole under the fence and shoved all his toys and stuffed animals over to his sister. Insert, awwww here. For me, I think the wolves may have been the most amazing part of the tour. They were so spiritual and majestic. Their howling was incredible. I didn’t get it on video, I just stood in amazement and listened.

As it began to get very dark we moved to the big cat area.  We stood on a path between two lion prides and the earth shook as they called back and forth to each other. Something you don’t get to hear much of on the daylight tours.  Then we got to walk around and meet them up close. I didn’t get a lot of good pictures because it was getting so dark, but is was really fantastic.

One thing I didn’t realize about getting close to these big cats is that they like spraying on you. You had to constantly be on guard if they put their backside up to the fence and lifted their tails. You have about three seconds to move to the side when that happens because you are going to get peed on. They have a 12-15 foot range, so unless you move sideways fast enough. You will not escape. Thankfully, I’m pretty swifty when I need to be. 

This is Arthur Tiger. He has a Facebook page. Seriously, look him up! He came to the center as a baby. He was used as a photo booth tiger (like those places at the beach where you can get your picture taken holding a baby tiger.) I didn’t realize this, but to be used in that way they have to be kept under a certain weight.  Arthur was fed only gruel so he wouldn’t grow. He was kept so hungry that he would focus only on the bottle of food and would hold still for pictures. Thankfully, he was taken away and placed at the center where he has lived a happy, healthy life.

If you’re looking for an interesting date idea, a place to take the family, or just and educational adventure The Conservators’ Center is an amazing experience. Money for the tickets is used to keep the center running. It survives on these tours and generous donations. Area farmers, hunters, and even Walmarts donate unused meat to feed the animals. You can sponsor an animal and even donate needed materials to the center. I highly recommend you check it out the next time you find yourself feeling the need to get a little wild.

Sake Saturday and Other Thoughts of Charleston

Charleston, South Carolina is one of those places where you can literally feel the history in the air. The tree lined streets beg to be explored. Every corner holds another story. The smell of salt and low country cooking takes me back to a time when men were heroic and history was still being written. The city is beautiful down to the smallest detail.

From gas lanterns to iron gates, the city itself puffs up its feathers for visitors from around the world.

An opportunity for beauty is never missed, even in the most mundane places.

But what I think makes the city so magical is its proximity to water. Maybe it’s because I’m a Pisces (if you buy into that mumbo-jumbo), but there’s something about the ocean that calls to me. It makes me feel small and powerful at the same time.  Standing on the water’s edge, I feel a hush come over me.

This trip to Charleston held special meaning for me though. This trip was all about the Cooper River Bridge Run. My friends and worked towards the goal of getting over this monster for months and we couldn’t have asked for a better day to do it. If you’re a runner, I highly suggest you put this race on your calendar! If you do, be sure to check out Tips for Running the Cooper River Bridge Run. This is a race that requires a little bit of planning.

 No trip to Charleston (or blog for that matter) would be complete without mentioning what I ate and drank while I was there. We’re talking amazing. AMAZING! The first stop on Friday night was my absolute favorite place in the world. 

Located on the northern end of King Street, it’s easy to walk to and you will need to walk after eating one of these babies. There are different flavors available each day, so you have to go back more than once while you’re there. Luckily, my favorite flavor was waiting for me when I arrived.

Chocolate Tuxedo- chocolate with white chocolate chips, cream cheese icing, and ganache. Seriously.

After the race on Saturday it was impossible to get into any restaurant in Charleston. The place was full of 40,000 sweaty, starving runners and their families so we decided it would be best to get out of town. We headed out to my other favorite place in the world, Folly Beach, and hit up Taco Boy.  This was the perfect post-race relaxation spot. As you can tell by this picture….

The mint that lined the patio smelled so fresh. It really was a gorgeous day. This place has the perfect outdoor seating. Here’s a pic of a few of my favorite people- the best race day buddies ever!

Taco Boy is one of the most popular places on Folly Beach. Here’s why: I love this.

Here’s a philosophy I try to live by- buy local and put as little junk in your body as possible. Taco Boy seems to share my thinking on this. You can taste the difference in their food. This is no Taco Bell.

I had the Baja Fish Taco, but don’t let the pic fool you. I did some serious eating that day. I followed this delicious munchie up with Grilled Shrimp Quesadillas and the largest assortment of salsa, queso, and guacamole you have ever seen. 

A stroll down Center Street led us to a brew pub that is definitely worth a mention. The Folly Beach Brewing Co. takes the phrase “hole in the wall” to a new level. It is literally a small room with a concrete floor and a bar. However, most of the patrons enjoy sitting out on the sidewalk and watching traffic roll by. We took a spot at the bar and became fast friends with the bar dog. You have to love a bar that has a dog. I believe her name was Mookie. Isn’t she adorable? 

Hanging with the locals here made me want to shed my life as mainland school teacher and live the island life. I was so jealous of the bartender with her cute dog and island home.  Wonder if I could talk the husband into making a move? Nope. While I couldn’t be a local, we were treated as such when they shared their tradition of Sake Saturday with us. The locals in the bar started yelling SAKE as loud as they could and we were quickly informed that when this happens everyone in the bar must take a shot of Sake. Um, not so delicious, but why not?

Warning: Sake may make you consume large amounts of ice cream and walk into traffic.  Maybe.

Before leaving on Sunday we had to hit my favorite breakfast spot, Hominy Grill.  This is an absolute “must visit” spot if you are planning a trip to Charleston. Since it’s such a hot spot there is a bit of a wait and parking is a problem, but it is so worth the hassle. We arrived ten minutes before opening to find a line down the street waiting to get in. 

I stepped out of my comfort zone of Shrimp and Grits or Huevos Rancheros and tried the French Toast with Apple Maple Syrup and Pecan Butter.   Out. Of. This. World.

The drive home was a sad one because I don’t have any immediate plans to return to South Carolina. But somehow I get the feeling I’ll find a reason to make a trip. The girls have already been discussing a half marathon in the fall. Savannah, maybe? 

Here’s to good food, great friends, big adventures, and reaching your goals. Isn’t that what life is really about?

Tips for Running the Cooper River Bridge Run

On April 2, 2011 three of my friends and I stood with 40,000 runners in the still-dark morning waiting for the start of the Cooper River Bridge Run. As the sun rose over the crowd, excitement filled the air. We huddled together against the predawn cold, corralled into our section for the wave start.  Then it hit me, I had to pee.

Thousands of runners gather as the sun rises at the CRBR 2011

Running the Cooper River Bridge Run takes a bit of clever planning.  Although it is an amazingly well-organized event, there are still some logistical problems runners must deal with. Here is a collection of tips and tricks we used to make the event smooth and stress free.

Tip #1

The race is point to point, starting in Mt. Pleasant and ending in downtown Charleston. The race starts at 8:00, but the bridge closes at 7:00.  There are shuttles from downtown beginning at 5:30. The last one leaves at 6:45. If you miss it, you’re out of luck. If you park in Mt. Pleasant, you’ll have to get back to your car. There are return shuttles, but you may feel rushed to get back. We were lucky enough to have a ride to the starting line. We got there at 6:00 to allow plenty of time for our ride to get back over the bridge. The night before the race, we parked a car downtown at a parking garage so we could leave after the race whenever we were ready without having to rely on anyone else.  We used a parking garage on St. Phillip Street near George Street. It was practically empty the evening before and free on weekends. It was also very close to all the race festivities- both the expo and the finish party.

Tip #2

Spring weather in Charleston is typically amazing, but early morning is still very cold. Since you have to arrive over and hour before the race starts, you WILL be cold. You’ll see people covered in trash bags and huddled in doorways waiting for the sun to rise. Bring an old shirt or jacket that you don’t mind throwing away. As the race starts, shed it and toss it to the side. Volunteers will pick them up after all the people are gone and (hopefully) donate them all to Goodwill.

Tip #3

Adequately hydrating is a tricky situation at CRBR. There are hundreds of Porto-potties near the corrals. Get in one early (like we did) and the line shouldn’t be more than twenty minutes, but then you may find yourself in my situation…fifteen minutes before start I had to pee! There was no way I could run six miles like that. The other girls were in the same boat. There we were, already corralled in and the lines were at least an hour wait. If we tried it, we would miss the race for sure! I thought we could get into Starbucks and use it, but so did everyone else and the line wrapped around the building. So I did what any respectable woman would do in this situation, I found a bush behind a grocery store and did my business. Look, I don’t recommend breaking the law under any circumstances except a complete emergency. I consider having to pee with no access to a bathroom an emergency. We took turns crouching, when I heard my friend fiercely whisper, “Cop!” I looked up to see my friends pretending to stretch while an officer approached our hedgerow. He was on to us immediately. However, here’s where I picked up tip #3- the officers are told not to write tickets for this particular offense on race day.  Please use a potty if at all possible, but you can’t just find a good hidden spot. If you look closely and pay attention you will see runners pop up from behind bushes and cars all over the place. It looks a little like that game Whack-a Mole.

Tip#4

There are 40,000 runners in this race. If you think the crowd will thin out after you get moving, think again. Plan your run accordingly. Pick a hole in the crowd and pass. Watch your step! You will not be able to see very far ahead of you and people will stop without warning. Especially while heading up the bridge. Even runners with the best intentions will stop to walk on the incline and they will give you no warning. This is not a race where you can zone out and run. My GPS read 6.44 miles at the end, due to all the zigging and zagging I had to do while running. Just be careful.

Tip #5

Train on hills. This isn’t really a race day tip, but more of a warning.  Do not underestimate the bridge. The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge is 2.5 miles long and 200 feet high. The slope is 4%. The uphill portion is over a mile long. You will not make it if you do all your training on a treadmill or flat surface. You will be one of those people that stop suddenly and seat belt check the runners behind you. Don’t be that person, you tick the rest of us off.  If you do decide to walk, move to the right side before you stop and get out of the way. I’m all for people that want to walk for their health, that’s awesome, but this is a RACE so if you aren’t going to race me then get out of my way. Please.

Tip #6

Take a minute and enjoy the view at the top. You worked hard to get there so cherish the moment. Then get ready to fly! The downhill is the best part of the race. Spread your arms a little, embrace your inner-child and let go. This will be the part of the race you really remember.

Tip #7

On the home stretch take advantage of the sidewalks to pass. People will be getting tired and slowing down so move to the side to zoom past them.  When you cross the finish line, remember that there are pictures being taken and try not to have a squished up getting ready to drop dead face. The picture choices they email to you later are actually really nice. I would have bought one if my pictures didn’t look like I’d been run over by a train.

Tip #8

Take advantage of all the free goodies after the race. Don’t bother standing in line for the ice cream or barbecue. They are just tiny samples that won’t make a dent in your hunger. Go for the bottled water, fruit, bagels, and Clif bars. There is less of a line, and you’ll get your fill much faster.  Also, there is no merchandise for sale after the race. If you want a race t-shirt or souvenir, buy it at the expo the night before or order it online. I was disappointed at this. I didn’t want to buy a Get Over It shirt until I actually Got Over It, so I missed out.

The Cooper River Bridge Run is a fantastic event in one of America’s most beautiful cities. Looking out over the crowd of runners and walkers, adults and children, all different races and nationalities, I felt a great sense of pride. It truly is an adventure that you will want to repeat time and again.