Monday, November 25, 2013

Frames From The Weekend of 11/22/23

Linking up with Irina on her weekly "Frames From The Weekend" posts to summarize the happenings of the weekend!

My weekend began got off to a great start with a date night on Friday with Adam. First, we went to our favorite local neighborhood sushi joint for dinner:

Then, we went to see a performance of Wicked in the theater district. I had never seen Wicked, but Adam had seen it once before and wanted to see it again.

Left: The Wicked playbill and my Broadway in Chicago ticket stub
Top right: The gorgeous and very ornate foyer at the Oriental Theater
Bottom right: Looks like s
omebody illegally photographed the view from our seats while waiting for the show to begin (the theater ushers sternly informed everyone that no photographs were to be taken at any point while inside the seating area). 

Wicked was an incredible production! I didn't know much about the plot, other than it was the "untold story of the witches of Oz." I had heard many others say that the story was unexpected and very surprising, and that it would make me look at the Wizard of Oz in a whole new light. Given this, I was mentally prepared to be shocked when I went in. Even so, I still walked out with my jaw dragging along the ground. The story is ingenious. Now I want to rewatch the original Wizard of Oz to more closely understand some of the details.

On Saturday, three awesome ladies came over for a facial/potluck party:

L to R: Me, Kassia, Jen, and Vanitha

These women are the most amazing, inspirational, and supportive friends. I don't get to see them nearly as much as I would like so it was fantastic getting to catch up with them. As is usually the case whenever we all get together, our conversations make the hours fly by.

We always have obscene amounts of food/drink at our gatherings, too. Here is a very, very small sampling of what we had on hand:

Upper left: Mimosas courtesy of Vanitha
Bottom left: Homemade cookies made by me using this recipe.
Bottom middle: Grapes and Jen's homemade cheese spread (similar recipe here) on baguette slices.
Right: Gourmet Belgian chocolate squares courtesy of Kassia

Later that night and as is usually the case in my household between October and June, Adam and I watched ample amounts of hockey:

Upper left: Penguins versus Canadiens
Lower left: Hawks versus Canucks
Right: A little memento that Adam recently picked up while visiting Hartford on business (if you're interested, you can read more about the history of the Whalers here). 
Ever since picking up the Whalers shirt, Adam has been humming their theme song:

Since we're talking hockey, a couple of quick notes on the Blackhawks:

  • I was thrilled to see the Hawks score two goals in 9 seconds to defeat the bitter-rival Canucks on Saturday night. It was very reminiscent of the Hawks scoring two goals in 17 seconds to clinch the Stanley Cup this past June. To quote Patrick Kane, "That's hockey, baby!!!"
  • I am also thrilled that Kris Versteeg (aka "Steeger") is back as a member of the Blackhawks. I think he is going to provide the team a huge boost both on the ice and in the locker room. But hey, if nothing else, the Hawks just improved their weaponry in rap battles:

By the way, Adam doesn't think the video is as funny as I do. He proclaimed Steeger's rapping even worse than this video:

(For what it's worth, I thought both of those videos were hilarious. But, I digress.)

Throughout the weekend, I continued progressing on my Runners World run streak. I am up to 9 days now and feeling good!

Left: Running shoes and physical therapy equipment, all heavily used over the weekend.
Upper right: The weather conditions during my outdoor run on Saturday. T
he PNC YMCA Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day is currently forecast to have similar conditions. Therefore, I wanted to acclimate myself a bit to the elements in preparation (I've been wimping out and using the treadmill a lot this week). It was brutally cold and it took me quite awhile to warm up after I got back.
Lower right: Me dressed in my winter running garb. I opted not to wear my balaclava, but it will be making its first appearance of the season soon if this weather holds up.

I'm starting to get really excited now about the upcoming holidays. I've also been looking at Black Friday offerings and contemplating my dining strategy. Here are some pictures honoring my anticipations of festivity:

Upper left and lower right: A life-sized gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian in Orlando (these pictures were actually taken last weekend when I was still in Orlando)
Upper right: Watching lots of Food Network in preparation for the Thanksgiving cook-a-thon coming up next week. I think that the Food Network folks truly, truly live for this time of year. They were positively giddy on their broadcast of Thanksgiving Live!
Lower left: Mickey bag clips from Orlando, which will be a little gift for my in-laws in Pittsburgh when I see them later this week. Who couldn't use some hidden Mickeys in their pantry?

Who else is running Turkey Trots? Do you have a plan of attack for Black Friday, or do you plan to avoid the shopping attack?

I won't kid you, it's going to be a challenge for me to get through the early part of this workweek. Must. Stay. Focused...

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bulu Box review, ohana, and RW streak

I've heard a lot about the box subscriptions where each month you receive a box of themed goodie samples. There are all kinds of these boxes out there covering dozens of themes - food, health, fashion, art, sports, pets, you name it. I happen to love getting packages (or really any kind of mail other than bills, advertisements, or dumb product solicitations) so I was looking for an opportunity to try a box subscription.

A few months ago, I saw a Living Social deal for 50% off a 3-month subscription to Bulu Box (premium health products). Bingo! I signed up and was never so excited for those little boxes to arrive. I had a choice between a standard Bulu Box or a Weight Loss Bulu Box, and I chose the standard box.

I wanted to share some thoughts on my subscription. Here's a picture of the contents from my November box (my third and final one):

To summarize, the box included some kind of coupon for workout DVD products, a code for a one-month virtual assistant membership, some "energy" chocolate, a hangover preventer, PMS treatment pills, and two energy bars.

Out of the entire package, the only things that I will consume are the two energy bars. The "energy" chocolate is borderline, since I am sensitive to caffeine and try to avoid it where possible. I don't intend to use any of the remaining products.

Even so, for me this month's box is actually probably the best assortment of products out of the three boxes that I've received. For the prior two boxes, I might have tried just one item out of the entire contents. One month I think there was some sour-gummy vitamins that I tried, and another month there was some pocket protein fruit thing. But other things that were sent in prior months included some nasal health package, some super-caffeinated energy gel, some antacid, and a couple of metabolic pills. All of these things are just sitting in a bin on my kitchen counter right now collecting dust.

The Bulu Box subscriptions are definitely not for me. I've found very few of the samples pertain to me, and some of the samples (like the metabolic pills) were so small that you wouldn't be able to ascertain how well they worked for you even if you did try them. I will not be renewing my Bulu subscription.

I don't have mail.

Despite being disappointed in my Bulu Box experience, I am open to trying other box subscriptions. Any recommendations?

No More Jane Doe
After first mention here of needing a runner's identification, I finally ordered a Road ID via some pre-Black Friday sales!

I debated for awhile on what color to get, but finally picked orange (one of my alma mater's colors). I also debated what info to include on it in addition to my name. Based on recommendations, I went with my birth year, city/state/country, and two emergency contacts.

There was one more line that you could personalize with "a meaningful quote or slogan." Suggestions included the usual things like "One more mile" and "Believe in yourself" and "Practice makes perfect."

I decided to go with something a little different: "Ohana means family." This was inspired by one of my favorite Disney characters - STITCH! =)

And finally...
My Runners World Run Streak (first mentioned here) has been going well. I completed Day 6 of the streak today.

Thus far, I have done every run on the treadmill purely for convenience. Two out of the six days I've done the bare minimum - exactly one mile. One other day I did a whopping 1.3 miles (woo hoo!). Nonetheless, the 6 consecutive days of running is already longer than I've ever maintained in my entire running life.

I won't kid you, there have been days where I've gotten out of bed and the thought of trying to find a time to run that mile sounded awful. But I've found that the single mile really isn't very much of a time commitment. My hips and knees seem to be holding up okay, as well. So right now, the goal of maintaining this streak through the new year seems like it will be reasonably attainable.

We'll see how things go as we enter some of the more challenging days next week. (Thank goodness for Turkey Trots!!!)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


I don't like beer. Never have, never will. I don't get excited about the beer being served at post-race parties or being handed out by spectators. At races I always bypass the beer tent altogether. I am probably the only runner who will ever attend a beer run purely to socialize, not to drink. (I can already hear the collective gasps of horror spreading rampantly across the Milky Way Galaxy.)

I am prepared to get kicked out of the running union (and perhaps even the human being union) for this. I am also prepared to be served my papers:

While we're at it...

I don't like coffee, either. I don't understand how so many people can drink such bitter stuff. I will never understand the Starbucks craze. Nor will I ever understand the need to have coffee first thing in the morning in order to function properly.

More horror of horrors, I know. Bring on my severe flogging and more papers:

My apologies to all of you that I have offended with my anti-alcohol and anti-caffeine words. But on a reconciliatory note - if anyone ever wants to ensure that my allotted drink coupon doesn't go to waste at races, I am always happy to give it away to the first person that asks for it!

Moving right along...

I don't like seeing my reflection when I am running. It doesn't matter if it's via store windows, in a mirror, whatever. I get self-conscious of my form, especially when I am tired.

For the same reason, I don't particularly enjoy looking at my race photos. It's pretty rare for me to find a race photo of myself that I like. Probably four times out of five I cringe when I see the evidence of things like my strangely supinating feet and my t-rex arms.

On that note, I am a running hypocrite. If anyone else said about themselves what I just said about my own running form or other things, I wouldn't hesitate to tell them that they were being absolutely ridiculous and that nobody notices these things or cares. But somehow, it's very difficult for me to believe this myself.

You all already know that I have a problem with collecting running shoes. I've got eight pairs of running shoes in my closet right now. Two pairs are effectively retired, meaning that I don't run in them any more but will still wear them to bike, attend fitness classes, etc. One other pair has been downgraded to "junk" status, meaning that I will only wear them to run in crappy weather. Recently I have been trying to pile the miles onto a single pair of shoes so that I can move them out of rotation. However, that doesn't change the fact that I still have five active pairs of running shoes. Yet, every time I hear about an online running shoe sale or pass by a store that sells running shoes, I am always still tempted to add to the collection.

Sadly, this isn't too far from the truth.

I often wonder why I am a runner. Running is extremely challenging in so many different ways. It drives me to sacrifice social time and/or sleep. I've run in blizzards, searing heat, pouring rain, through numerous injury pains, and at all hours of the day or night. It's a much more expensive activity than most people realize. I'm not even that good at it! Yet I keep plugging away. (By the way - I completed Day 4 of my Runner's World Running Streak today.)

I fall into the comparison trap far too often. It's hard for me not to compare myself to others and wonder why I am not more talented, stronger, faster, etc. For this reason, I get upset at myself a lot. This goes beyond running into many other aspects of my life. I am trying to focus just on controlling what I can control and letting everything else go. But, it is by no means easy.

Thanks to Marcia for inspiring me on the topic of runfessions. If any of you have any runfessions to share, I would love to hear them!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Holiday season fitness goals

It's hard for me to believe that Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away. With that in mind, I wanted to set forth a few holiday-season fitness goals for myself:

1. The Runners World Holiday Running Streak
I first heard about this from Lauren. The challenge is to run at least one mile each day between Thanksgiving and New Year's.

I do love the idea of this challenge, as well as the personal incentive that it will create to keep the streak and the momentum going. However, this streak is intended for runners who are not injury prone, for which I consider myself borderline.

In any event, I am going to give this streak my best shot. I'll even up the ante by starting the challenge yesterday!!! (I ran 5 miles yesterday, so might as well take all the credit for it, right?)

Too bad the Chicagoland area is under a tornado warning/severe thunderstorm warning today. (To put things in perspective, there is a Bears game at Soldier Field today and all morning the newscasters have been flushed with rampant discussion about potentially delaying the game due to the weather. You know it's bad outside when THAT becomes a consideration, LOL!)

Check out this shot from my TV:

Given this, it's probably not the best day to run outdoors. I guess I'll be completing Day 2 of the challenge by hitting up the treadmill.

Here we go!!!

2. Plank-a-Day
Out of all of the exercises in my physical therapy routine, the planks are the ones that get skipped the most because I dislike them so much. This is not a good thing for me. I really need to get back on track with strengthening my core muscles since they are so key towards overall improvement. Therefore, I am making it the goal to nail my planks every day between now and New Year's.

At one point, I was able to complete a 2:15 forward plank with relative ease. However, after weeks and weeks of plank inactivity, yesterday I struggled to hold a forward plank for 60 seconds. My goal now will be to do a total of at least 2 minutes worth of forward planks every day, whether they are completed in a single set or multiple sets. Similarly, I will also strive to do at least a combined total of 2 minutes in side planks, either in a single set or multiple sets.

Get ready for lots of this:

3. Squatting
Behind my planks, my squats are second-in-line for physical therapy exercises that I tend to skip a lot.

I know that I could do a lot to strengthen my hips and glutes. I will never forget going to a physical therapist for an initial assessment a few years ago. She told me that she could tell right away that I had hip weaknesses since I "don't have much of a butt."

Yeah, I need to work on that. My goal will be to do at least 30 squats of some form every day. E.g., this can be done with or without hand weights, on a bosu ball, while using an exercise ball against the wall, whatever.

In the meantime, check out these fashion fixes for people like me with, uh, visible hip weaknesses:

Gotta love how clothing designs can help, eh?

In summary, my three holiday-season goals are to streak on, plank on, and squat on! =D

That's all from me today. I hope everyone has a good Sunday - and to those of you in the Chicagoland area, stay safe amidst the inclement weather!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Another runner's quiz

Happy Friday!

I am coming back home from Florida tonight. By the way, lest you all think that my week away from Chicago was all warm sunny beach weather, let me tell you that it really wasn't. Two days ago, my mom and I took a day trip from Orlando to the Daytona Beach area. We ended up getting literally whipped around by coastal gale-force winds.

Here are some pictures (which do not do those weather conditions justice):

OK - moving on to the topic of the day. I recently came across another runner's quiz and thought I would tackle it here.

1.  On average how many races do you run a year?

The number keeps growing each year. I have run 15 races this year so far, with one more still to go. I had too many of them this year. It was to the point where some of them started feeling burdensome on the calendar. Therefore, I hope to be more selective of the races that I do next year. If I were to extrapolate or estimate my ideal future average annual race count, I would say 10-12 races per year.

2.  Head accessories, things you have to run with: a hat, a visor, sunglasses, headband, ponytail, braids, sweatband?

I usually pull my hair back in a ponytail, and if it's bright out sunglasses are a must. If it is very sunny and/or warm out, or if it is about 45 degrees or colder out, I will wear a weather-appropriate hat.

Side note since we are talking about head gear: when it's cold out I try to carry some Kleenex. I personally don't like snot rockets and I shudder at the thought of being hit by one.

3.  Where do your workouts come from? A training plan, a coach, whatever you feel like doing that day, or what your training partner is doing that day?

In an ideal training week, I would run three days a week: usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays, then a long or longer run sometime over the weekend. The weekday runs are usually a leisurely 3-4 miles, maybe 5, and I try to do at least 6-7 miles on my weekend run. I'll tweak things based on whatever races might be on the schedule that require specific preparation. Otherwise, these days I really just do whatever I feel like. There's not a lot of decoration with me.

4.  How many miles on average do you put on a pair of shoes?

I try to log 300 miles on a pair of running shoes before retiring them. However, some pairs get an early retirement based on how much I actually like the shoes and/or if they start feeling worn down before they reach 300.

On that note, does anyone know if the more minimalist running shoes are supposed to have lower mileage expectancies? My Saucony Progrid Kinvara shoes only have about 115 miles on them, but the soles are already showing a lot of wear. I am thinking I might take those up only to a max of 200 before retirement.

5.  Cell phone - do you bring it with you on your run or leave it at home?

Leave it at home. I like to be carrying as little as possible when I run. The only exception to this is if I'm running a big race and would need to use my phone afterwards to reunite with friends or family, or if I plan on taking a lot of pictures along the course.

Related thought: at races that offer runner tracking, I've heard that some runners track themselves so they can receive notifications of their own progress on a real-time basis. I've never done this, but plan on trying it soon.

6.  What was your last running-related injury or have you been an injury-free runner?

I've mentioned many times that I have a wonky left knee from IT band syndrome.  I've also been diagnosed with piriformis syndrome and muscle weaknesses in my hips and glutes, which have resulted in some pretty bad groin pain and hip flexor pain. I have done a lot of physical therapy, yoga, stretching, and strength-training to keep things under control (although recently I haven't been as good about keeping up with my preventive measures as I should).

Sadly, I've started feeling some aching behind my right knee. I also have occasional twinges of plantar fasciitis in my left heel. The end of racing season definitely couldn't come at a better time for me to focus on all the rehab efforts.

7.  Is your current running goal about running a farther distance (adding more mileage) or getting faster or both?

Right now, I'm pretty happy with my endurance. These days I feel like I could pretty much go out and run a half marathon on a whim, which to me is a big accomplishment. I would really love to improve my tempo, though. In my experience, speed is much, MUCH harder to build than endurance. I have definitely been making progress, but ironically it has been a long and slow process for me to build speed.

8.  Speedwork - at the track, on the treadmill, on the roads, or don't do it?

When and if I do speedwork, it's on the roads. The exception is when the weather is horrible and I have no choice but to use the treadmill (I don't like treadmills). Unfortunately I don't have easy access to a track.

9.  Stretching after a run: hit the ground after a run and get stretching, stretch in the shower, stretch once you get to work/school, skip the stretching?

I always try to do some fundamental stretches right after I get home from a run. I used to be much better about doing my entire stretching/foam-rolling routine after long runs (which can take at least 30 minutes). These days, immediately after a run it's usually just about quickly working over whatever is sore - usually my piriformis, hip flexors, and IT band. More thorough stretching and all other focus areas usually wait until whenever I have enough downtime.

10.  What was your reason(s) for starting to run?

When I was in high school, I first began running recreationally as a way to try to lose weight. I would huff and puff through a mile maybe once or twice a week. It wasn't until the summer after I graduated from high school that running became a more regular practice for me. My boyfriend at the time broke up with me and I was hurt and angry. I was determined to whip myself into shape for when I started college that fall. It motivated me to get out there and run as often and as much as I could. Somewhere along the way the practice stuck.

Funny how these things happen, no?

Your turn! I would love to hear your responses to these questions either here or on your own blog!

1.  On average how many races do you run a year?
2.  Head accessories, things you have to run with: a hat, a visor, sunglasses, headband, ponytail, braids, sweatband?
3.  Where do your workouts come from? A training plan, a coach, whatever you feel like doing that day, or what your training partner is doing that day?
4.  How many miles on average do you put on a pair of shoes?
5.  Cell phone - do you bring it with you on your run or leave it at home?
6.  What was your last running-related injury or have you been an injury-free runner?
7.  Is your current running goal about running a farther distance (adding more mileage) or getting faster or both?
8.  Speedwork - at the track, on the treadmill, on the roads, or don't do it?
9.  Stretching after a run: hit the ground after a run and get stretching, stretch in the shower, stretch once you get to work/school, skip the stretching?
10.  What was your reason(s) for starting to run?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Music memory

When I was in college, one of my professors once discussed how memories go beyond just mental recollections. In short, remembrances are made using all of your senses - i.e., you remember things you've seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched.

When it comes to memories from things you've heard, I associate a lot of music with where I was when I heard it. There are also songs that remind me of certain people. This might be because I heard them singing it at some point, or because they chose to play it at specific times, etc.

Here are a couple of random examples:

- The "West End Girls" song reminds me of London. I happened to hear it on my MP3 player when I was in London. At that moment the references to the East End and the West End suddenly made sense to me.

- Hearing anything by Louis Armstrong reminds me of a friend who sang karaoke with this song using a perfect Louis Armstrong voice.

- This song reminds me of an old coworker. He played it in the office at 5:00 PM as a signal that the "official" workday was over, and it made several of us giggle at our desks. "Chaka kahn, chaka kahn, chaka kahn, chaka kahn..."

My musical remembrances cover all areas of my life, of course. From a runner's perspective, there are some songs that now remind me of certain races I've run. Examples:

Be Like Mike reminds me of the 2011 Home Team Charity Run 10K because it was playing at the finish line when I crossed it. "Sometimes I dream, that he is me... you've got to see that's how I dream to be..."

Gangnam Style will forever remind me of the Chicago Marathon. I heard it a number of times in several different neighborhoods throughout the day. Each time it was played, I saw a different gathering of runners/spectators dancing to it in their own unique way. =D

- As of last week, the Perculator song is going to remind me of the Carrera de los Muertos. After not having heard it for quite some time, I heard it played there two or three times just that morning. "It's time for the perculator, it's time for the perculator, it's time for the perculator... [repeat repeat repeat]..."

As of this past weekend, I have another addition to the list. I heard the song "Applause" played a few times during last weekend's half marathon. I find it very catchy. At the time, the lyrics made me think of how runners feed off the energy of spectators, e.g., "I live for the applause, applause, applause... live for the way that you cheer and scream for me..." But now I can't get the song out of my head altogether! It may need to be a new addition to my MP3 player.

How about all of you? Do you have any specific music that reminds you of certain people, places, or races?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Changing the hamster wheels

Linking up with Marcia again this week on her One Small Change challenge.

I read an article somewhere that the brain is a very "expensive" organ for the body to operate. Therefore, the brain will try to automate as much behavior as possible, even trying to run on empty if it can. This is why we become such creatures of habit. It's especially true for people as they get older.

Every time I go to the gym, I see some of the same people doing the exact same workout every single time. The same cardio machine, the same setting, the same length of time, usually even wearing the same clothes and shoes.

Hello, hamster wheel!

It wouldn't be hard to understand why those people might get bored and unmotivated to work out. I get tired of just seeing those people doing the same thing day after day after day!

The routine applies more to just working out. It applies to life in general. We all know our drills. Getting ready for the day in the usual pattern. Taking the usual route to work. Eating the usual foods. Doing the usual activities in the office in the same manner.

After awhile, our daily existence can become a collection of auto-pilot habits where our brains essentially switch off. This is the explanation behind why sometimes people have no memory of, say, driving a familiar route after they arrive at their destination.

The remedy is simple. We need to frequently take on new and increasingly difficult activities. This will help maintain the vibrancy of our minds, bodies, and lives.

Challenge accepted!

I had already begun mixing up my workout routine over the last few months, both out of boredom and out of necessity. More recently, though, I am making it a point to try changing some of my little daily "life" habits.

This includes things like taking a different route to work, picking a different spot to sit in the kitchen, grocery shopping in reverse order. I am right-handed but I've tried doing more things with my left hand, e.g. opening the door, brushing my teeth, using the remote control.

Speaking of being right-handed, trying to do some of these things with my left hand has made me realize just how right-handed I really am. Perhaps the more right-handed I am, the more right-handed I am making myself because I always cater myself towards being right handed (if that makes sense)?

In any event - just because a routine is small, doesn't mean changing it won't make a difference, especially over time.

Heck, just coming up with the little daily things to change has been a nice challenge. That by itself is a good way to keep the mind fresh, no?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon race recap - Part 2

Continuing from here. (Get ready for a gazillion pictures in this part of the recap!)

The course departed from ESPN and started out along the roadways in between the parks. Our first theme park destination was the Animal Kingdom around mile 3.5, but I knew that there would be plenty of entertainment along the way. I decided to keep my phone out and run with it in my hand the whole time so that I would be immediately ready for any picture opportunities.

At the start, there were several deejays spaced out along the course playing a great selection of music with lots of neon lights. Here is one of the deejay vans:

Then, I saw the first of many Disney characters along the course that were available for photos. Each set of characters had official race photographers to take pictures. Additionally, a cast member was available to use your personal camera to take your picture if you liked.

We came across a giant TV screen broadcasting a variety of Disney cartoons (unfortunately the TV didn't photograph well in the darkness):

There were aid stations approximately every 1.5 miles with plenty of enthusiastic volunteers handing out water and Powerade. There were also portapotties available at every aid station.

Here is something I've never seen before at a race. Each of the portapotties had big numbers on them, and volunteers were stationed nearby with flashlights. The volunteers helped direct runners to any open portapotties by number. That was very well-appreciated. What great customer service!

Check out the awesome mile markers - each one had a different travel destination pictured on it:

Then I came upon the next set of characters available for photos:

Many of the volunteers along the course were wearing Mickey Mouse gloves and giving high fives and course directions with those gloves. It was cute and they were very informative, e.g. "Watch out for the speed bump coming up ahead!" or "There's a sharp right turn coming up!"

There were also several people wearing "Coach" shirts stationed along the course, encouraging runners and offering running advice as needed. Nice!

The miles flew by and I arrived at the Animal Kingdom. It was such a surreal experience running through the park at night. All the lights and decorations were on, but other than the runners and the course marshalls, it was completely empty. Quite a change from the usual mobs of park-goers that I am used to seeing!

Here are some pictures from the Animal Kingdom:

Animal Kingdom's main gate
Holiday tree near the Animal Kingdom entrance
The Tree of Life
Mount Everest
Holiday-decorated buildings
Festive animal-themed lights

I saw at least six different sets of characters available for photos around the Animal Kingdom:

We didn't get to see any of the animals, given that it was nighttime and they were probably all sleeping. However, I loved seeing the gorgeous African-inspired backdrops and scenery along the course.

The course exited the Animal Kingdom around mile 4.5. Next stop: Disney's Hollywood Studios near mile 9.5.

Somewhere around mile 6.5, another giant TV screen was set up. This one was broadcasting footage of various spectators from the post-race party back at Epcot. The spectators being filmed were saying things like:

"Can't wait to see you back at the finish line!" 
"We've got a big celebration waiting for you when you get here!"
"We are so proud of you! Keep it up!" 

It was so uplifting. I loved it.

At the mile 8.4 aid station, volunteers handed out Clif Shots in an assortment of flavors.

Near the 9-mile marker, there was someone from one of the U.S. military units taking pictures with runners. Someone (not sure if it was the military person or another person I didn't see) broadcasted humorous remarks over a loudspeaker while playing Yankee Doodle Dandee. I remember one thing in particular that he said, which was:

"Runners, after you have finished this race, you have earned the right to indulge yourself. When you get home, it'll be time to have some deep-fried Cocoa Puffs with rainbow sprinkles covered in Alfredo sauce!" 

I literally laughed out loud.

There were more deejays along the course playing different varieties of music. I started hearing the twang of Elvis Presley. My ears perked up, as I knew this might mean a photo opportunity with one of my very favorite Disney characters - Stitch!!! Sure enough, there he was with Lilo! I immediately got in line to have my own picture taken with them.

From left to right: Stitch, me, and Lilo

This was actually the only character photo I chose to take of myself along the entire course. I immediately texted it to Adam, who was waiting for me at the post-race party. This photo was too key not to share immediately. (Adam told me later that when he first saw my text come through, he got nervous since I'd never texted him while in the midst of a race. But then when he saw the photo, he understood its magnitude. =D )

I got back on course. The mileage continued to fly by. All of a sudden, the course made a turn, heading through one of the back entrances to Disney's Hollywood Studios with the Tower of Terror arising in the background.

The Tower of Terror
Wow!!! So cool!

Here are more pictures from Hollywood Studios:

Sunset Boulevard
Rock N Roller Coaster
Mickey's Sorcerer Hat
Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights
Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights from a different angle
Disco lights set up in the Studio Backlot Tour path

Running through the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights was an especially magical experience. I haven't started getting into the holiday spirit just yet, but seeing those beautiful lights put an enormous smile on my face. There were many, many other runners stopped during that portion of the course to take pictures.

There were at least four different character photo stops at Hollywood Studios:

The music was also really great at Hollywood Studios, since it was all movie-based. I remember hearing the themes to Rocky and to Star Wars, among many others. What a great way to keep all the runners pumped up!

We exited Hollywood Studios close to Mile 11. Next on the course: running through Disney's Boardwalk during miles 11 and 12, then entering Epcot around mile 12.5 to head to the finish line.

Normally miles 10 or 11 are where I start breaking down both mentally and physically. However, this evening I was so fired up and exhilarated from all the sights and sounds that I barely felt the mileage at all. I seriously couldn't believe how quickly the miles had flown by.

I only took one picture along the Boardwalk:

However, since we were now running past several of the Disney resorts, there were a growing number of spectators camped out along the course. They had lots of signs and were giving us high-fives while cheering everyone on. I enjoyed seeing the diversity of college- and professional sports-team gear that I saw amongst the spectators. Truly the spectators represented travelers from all over North America.

After entering Epcot around mile 12.5, I finally reached the point where I was ready to cross the finish line. I stopped to take these few photos within Epcot, then tried to complete the remainder of the course without stopping.

Mouse-ear lights!
Aladdin (sorry for the blurry picture, you can tell it was taken close to the end of the race)

There were so many spectators along the final stretch at Epcot. It was awesome!

We went through a big curve underneath some colorful spotlights. (In my rush to finish, I didn't stop to photograph the spotlights, but now wish that I had since it was really cool.) There was the finish line!

I actually took this photograph of the finish line much later after the race had concluded, hence why there are no runners pictured.
My finishing time was pretty much irrelevant for this race, given all the photo stops and other pauses I had taken, etc. However, my official time was 2:35:21.

There were volunteers stationed past the finish line handing out the medals (here is a picture of the medal), bananas, bottles of water and Powerade, and individual boxes of food that held quinoa chips, hummus, graham crackers, Clif bar sample, fruit puree, almond pops, and a moist towelette. Excellent.

I retrieved my bag from gear check. Gender-specific tents were provided for runners to change their clothing, if they desired, prior to attending the post-race party. It was crowded inside but I found an open patch and changed as quickly as possible into a warmer set of clothing.

Back outside, I followed the crowd towards the race exit. I skipped the beer line, but volunteers and cast members were handing out individually-sealed glasses of either white or red wine so I took a red wine. Then, time to re-enter Epcot for the post-race party!

Spaceship Earth (aka the giant golf ball) at Epcot

Adam and I had picked a hierarchy of three post-race meet-up spots. However, given the crowds and the distances involved, we ended up just coordinating our reunite location via cell phone communication.

We checked out a couple of the rides that were open for the post-race party (Spaceship Earth and Soarin'). There were almost no lines for any of the rides or activities, which was nice.

Unfortunately, at Soarin', we saw one runner exit the ride and then nearly collapse along the wall. Another runner apparently passed out while on the ride. The cast members halted operations for a few minutes while they contacted medical personnel for assistance. (I have to imagine that the cast members that work the Wine and Dine post-race party are accustomed to seeing a higher-than-usual number of health incidents due to runner exertion.)

After Soarin', we went to the World Showcase. In conjunction with the International Food and Wine Festival, there was a wide variety of booths offering tapas-sized food and beverage tastings from all over the world (above and beyond the usual countries represented at the World Showcase). It was packed.

Approaching England
In England
Approaching France
View of the Epcot lagoon with Japan in the background

By this point, it was after 3 AM. Adam was fading rapidly due to the late hour. My race adrenaline was also starting to dissipate and I was starting to get tired as well. At that point, we called it a night; however, the party was still going VERY strong when we departed!

The next day was definitely a bit rough with the whole self-induced jetlag factor, LOL. But it was well worth it!

In summary...
The Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon was an incredibly magical and exhilarating experience that was unparalleled in so many different ways. I loved the energy, the entertainment, the camaraderie, the music, the lights, the attention to all the little details, everything. If time and resources permitted, I would run this and any other Disney race again in a heartbeat!!!

When can I come back for my next Disney race!?!?!?

My next race (and my final race of 2013): the PNC YMCA Turkey Trot 5-miler on November 28