Kooky Spooky Half Fanatic Qualifier

I am doing my happy dance today, for many reasons.  First, because it is Halloween.  Now, I didn’t always love Halloween

I am part of Team Zissou, obviously.

I am part of Team Zissou, obviously.

but enjoy it significantly more now that I am older.  I don’t like it for the candy, and not necessarily the costumes, although I am digging our office’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou theme today (let’s be honest, I love nautical so it totally works).  I now love Halloween because I love decorating, baking everything pumpkin, and the fact that it’s the gateway to the true holiday season!  Also, the hubs and I like to pass out giant bars of candy and make creative Halloween-inspired cocktails, so it’s great that it’s the start of the weekend.  The second reason for my outburst of enthusiasm is simply that it’s Friday.  And finally, my third reason for exuberance is that the hubs and I are officially Half Fanatics!

What is a Half Fanatic, you might ask.  Well it’s a cult-like community (a nice cult that is) of ridiculously rambunctious runners who tend to be a little overzealous in their running of numerous races.  In my previous post I reviewed the Denver Rock ‘N’ Roll half marathon, but this past weekend, the hubs and I ran yet another half marathon, this time in Golden, Colorado (really it was northwest Arvada, but close enough).  This race featured a half marathon, 10K, 5K, and kids’ fun run.  Given that the hubs and I wanted to stay in running shape for the upcoming Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon (NEXT WEEKEND!!!), we figured why not do one more?  So Sunday morning we drove out toward Golden for the Kooky Spooky Half Marathon!

Wouldn't be race day without this shot!

Wouldn’t be race day without this shot!

This race was a bit kooky and spooky, for both good and bad reasons.  What I was not expecting was the nearly 500 foot elevation difference from about mile 8 to mile 11.  That was rough, and near the end of a race, it makes for a less than triumphant finish.  All the runners met at the North Area Athletic Complex (NAAC) in northwest Arvada, which thankfully had real bathrooms (a big pre-race bonus), and a staggered start time for each race distance.  The half marathoners left first, which was beneficial given the race started at 9:00am.  We arrived at the complex 15 minutes prior, having already picked up our bibs and race packets on Friday evening, and knowing it was a small race.  We weren’t terribly concerned with time, but more just maintaining mileage.

Promptly at 9:00am, the race started, after a few instructions and

Can you find us? Points if you can!

Can you find us? Points if you can!

reminders from one of the race officials.  We made our way out of the NAAC parking lot and down towards a sidewalk path, which unfortunately forced many runners onto the road, heading to the Ralston Creek Trail.  The paved trail takes you first through a scenic and quiet neighborhood, with lovely houses and wildlife refuge areas all around.  Then you snake past a golf course, which on our way out was still fairly unused, and then into a lush open space with trees on one side and stunning mountain vistas on the other.  This first portion of the course was delightfully downhill, and I was loving it.  We made our way about five and half miles before we crossed a road and quickly turned to run in the other direction.  At this point there had already been three water stations and a smattering of helpful volunteers and cheering on-lookers.

Why don't races have difficulty ratings?

Why don’t races have difficulty ratings?

As we made our way to mile 7 I was feeling fine pace-wise (we kept a 10:07 pace through this time), but I was getting hungry.  I grabbed my Vanilla GU and slurped it down quickly.  It took a little while before its intended effect kicked-in.  Come mile 8, however, I was slowing.  The day was warming to an unseasonal 75 degrees, and because the race was later, we were going to be running during much of the heat of the day (this is me complaining, *whine, whine, whine*).  Once we made it back out of the Ralston Creek Trail, we made a right at Virgil Way onto the Blunn Reservoir loop, taking us away from the stadium toward an incredibly daunting continuous incline.  This is where I panicked.  The final portion of the race was completely open to the elements, and forced us up into the undulating hills preceding the foothills of Jefferson County.  I let the hubs go on ahead because I could tell I was losing steam and didn’t want to disrupt his rhythm.  I managed to run-walk my way through the next three miles until I reached the summit of the entire course at 5,967 feet. Yup, that’s practically 6,000 feet.  Not what you’d expect in the second half of half marathon.

Once we crested the “hill,” I gained a lot of speed snaking my way back downhill, descending about 200 feet in elevation.  I could see my hubby chugging along a few minutes ahead of me, and was happy I hadn’t lost too much time.  During this section of the race I met a fun girl dressed as bat girl (including batman printed tutu and socks), who was running her first half marathon that day.  She drove out Friday from Grand Junction, Colorado, which is remarkably flat, so she and I commiserated about this unexpected last portion of the race.  Once we made it to the bottom of this hill, the path snaked through a ravine and worked its way upward back to the stadium.  That “one mile left” sign is really what kept me going, that and the race photographer.  Just before reaching the parking lot to run through the finish line, I was so tempted to give up, but another runner, whom I had been pacing for the last 2 miles cheered me up tremendously, saying, “Just a quarter mile left – we gotta make sure they see us running!  Let’s do it!”  That was the jolt of energy I needed.

The hubs was a superstar and kept on chugging along!

The hubs was a superstar and kept on chugging along!

You have to admit, the background is amazing.

You have to admit, the background is amazing.

I finally crossed the finish line with a 2:27:06, just a few minutes after the hubs with a 2:25:12 finish.  He had just gotten his medal and water before looping back to the finish line to cheer me on.  I was so happy to see him there smiling me through my final steps.  It was definitely an achievement, but I was so ready for a shower and a day with nothing to do.

Now that to me looks like a sigh of relief!

Now that to me looks like a sigh of relief!

This finish line couldn't come soon enough!

This finish line couldn’t come soon enough!

So here we are, Half Fanatics boasting two half marathons a week apart, and soon to be three in four weeks!  It’s a great start to race season, and I can’t wait to feel that rush next weekend in Disney World (with Ms. BakeNBurn and her hubby too!).

Half Fanatic bound!  Victorious!

Half Fanatic bound! Victorious!

Are you also a half fanatic – or have you thought about becoming one?  Am I crazy?  Any other fun Halloween themed races out there?  Anyone else running Wine and Dine?

758095-1103-0047s

Denver Rock ‘N’ Roll Race Recap!

Um, hello Monday, where did you come from?  Ever have one of those weeks (or series of weeks) that in every way flies by?  I have just experienced this the past three weeks.  I am actually not entirely certain where October has gone and how Halloween is THIS WEEK.  But here we are, regardless.  Oh, and my office is dressing up as the crew from The Life Acquatic with Steve ZissouHow amazing is that?  And if you haven’t seen the movie, you definitely should – Wes Anderson is a genius.

A little over a week ago my life was occupied by first a promotion (hooray!  Have I mentioned how much I love my job?), and an incredible training opportunity for our office.  Our entire staff was able to attend certification training for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality assessment.  It was life changing!  If you haven’t taken the assessment and received a personal interpretation of the report, please invest in yourself and do it!  It is so enlightening about individual self, communication and interaction with others, and provides a deep understanding about the people with whom we surround ourselves.  I learned so much and just want to share it with everyone!

Two weekends ago was a big one for the hubs and me.  We participated in my hubby’s first half marathon, and my first half at altitude!  Ms. BakeNBurn gave me the idea to register for the Denver Rock ‘N’ Roll Half Marathon after reading her post on the RNR USA.  After traveling for two weeks abroad, coming down with a serious and lengthy cold, and making major transitions at work, I didn’t entirely feel prepared for this race, and was just praying for a 2:30 finish.  Thankfully two weeks prior I ran the Denver Hot Chocolate 15K, and appreciated those 9.3 miles as practice.  The next weekend the hubs and I went for an 11 mile run in some horrendous weather conditions, and felt pretty good afterwards.  But still, there’s something about hitting those full 13.1 miles that feels different.

Saturday we went to the expo downtown at the Colorado Convention Center, not knowing it was also the Denver Zombie Crawl that day.  The city was nuts, and the expo closed at 5pm.  We arrived at 4:25pm… Thankfully we easily got our bibs, shirts, and VIP passes (definitely worth the investment, even just for the porta potties!).  We meandered a bit around the expo, but knowing everything was going to close, we wanted to beat the rush out and left at 4:45pm.  Besides, we had to wake the same time the next morning, so an early dinner and bedtime were calling our names.

We woke early, readied ourselves and were out the door by 5:30am.  As per parking instructions for our VIP passes, we had to be in the garage by 6am before they began closing the roads around it.  We made it just in time, given the traffic right around the garage.  We took our time putting on our bibs and readying our outfits and paraphernalia, and made our way to Civic Center park for the VIP area.  Unlike at RNR USA, participants were able to pay a $65 fee for VIP area access, rather than spend a certain amount in Brooks gear at the expo.  This was a huge bonus, with pre-race snacks, heat lamps and chairs and tables, and private VIP porta potties.  Race day facilities leave much to be desired, so the fewer individuals utilizing these porta potties, the better.  And boy, was it worth it.

Ready to run this race!

Ready to run this race! Gotta love the cozy VIP tent…

I grabbed a yogurt with granola and bananas, knowing I get the munchies when I run, and hung out in the warmth of the

45 minutes after the "start" I was raring to go!

45 minutes after the “start” I was raring to go!

tent until 10 minutes before 7:15am, the supposed starting time of the race.  We made our way through the crowded, congested throng of people, not finding our way to corral 14 until 7:20am.  The race still hadn’t started at this point.  Finally we heard the gun go off and the wheel chair starters were off.  Then the national anthem was performed and FINALLY the first corral left.  We didn’t move up for quite some time, and didn’t cross the starting line until 20 minutes later.

Thank you Marathon Photo for this awesome shot!

Thank you Marathon Photo for this awesome shot!

Aaaand we're off!

Aaaand we’re off!

The course first took us through the city along 14th street, and then veered off towards Auraria Parkway, at which point we cut back across to the Speer bridge, crossing over I-25 into the Denver Highlands.  If you’re familiar with the Highlands, you’ll know it’s got a fair amount of hills.  The course took us up towards Sloan’s lake, which was absolutely stunning early in the morning with the sun rising over the Denver skyline, reflected in the calmness of the lake.  I would share a picture, but as I was running for time, I didn’t stop for pictures.  Apparently I passed my coworker cheering along Sheridan Boulevard, and didn’t even know it!

Thankfully a beautiful course with lots of good sights and plenty of water/aid stations.

Thankfully a beautiful course with lots of good sights and plenty of water/aid stations.

Totally unaware of the photographer, go me!

Totally unaware of the photographer, go me!

Finally we looped around the lake and took Tennyson Street, and down 29th, before coming by Federal Boulevard and back into the city.  Between the 10K mark and mile 7, the run along 29th was amazing, as the entire street was lined with incredible signs and cheering folks emerging from their homes to rally the runners.  Some of my favorite signs included one held by a 7 or 8 year old boy, which read, “Run faster! I just farted!” and another later in the race another sign read, “You paid for this?”  My absolute favorite was a sign that read my mind: “Keep running, people are watching!”  I am definitely a bit of a self-conscious runner, so I want to be seen actually running when there are spectators.  Silly, but effective!

Once we made it back into downtown we had just hit mile nine.  We ran down 15th and turned left towards Coors Field.  The

Sprinting together towards the finish line!  I love it!

Sprinting together towards the finish line! I love it!

band here was performing “Billy Jean” by Michael Jackson, so obviously I broke into a dance as we crested the hill.  It was awesome.  We wrapped around the stadium and took Walnut north and then ran back down Larimer, before cutting across 20th to Lincoln.  Here the marathoners veered off for the second half of their race which took them through City Park and Wash Park, some of my favorite areas to run in Denver.  We, however, were well on our way to the finish line, which was good because I couldn’t imagine doing another one of these!  With about three tenths of a mile to go, passing right by the capitol building, the hubs and I grabbed hands and sprinted with all our might to the finish line.  It was an epic rush of adrenaline and speed, topped with a heaping pile of victory.  We were so thrilled to have finished strong and together.  We weren’t as fast as we wanted, but better than projected: 2:20:28.  That’s a time I can definitely live with!

Weee! I love running!

Weee! I love running!

Now that's a money shot - capitol in the background!

Now that’s a money shot – capitol in the background!

We flit, we float, we fleetly flee, we fly!

We flit, we float, we fleetly flee, we fly!

Victory!!

Victory!!

New shiny medal hooray!

New shiny medal hooray!

These medals are amazing!

These medals are amazing!

After the race we collected our awesome medals (complete with bottle opener on the back – awesome!), chocolate milk (my post-race tradition), Gatorade, water and Lara bars and found our way through the crowd back towards the VIP tent.  Although we weren’t terribly hungry, I wanted my mimosa like whoa.  I may have had that mimosa on my mind since we arrived in the tent.  I munched on a yummy biscuit, drank my mimosa, and recharged my phone at their charging station.  Yet another genius element of the VIP tent.  The hubs and I then took our leave of the chaos of downtown and made it back to the garage.  It took about 30 minutes to exit the garage, which is irritating when all you want to do is go home, shower, and relax, but we made the most of it.  All in all, it was a fun race and a victorious start to our shared half marathon career.

Will run for mimosas!

Will run for mimosas!

Have you ever run a Rock ‘N’ Roll race – what did you think?  Do you prefer to run through cities or run races in remote areas?  How cool is a medal that doubles as a bottle opener?

Tastes Like Autumn: Apple Cinnamon Oat Scones

Yesterday was one of those rare Colorado fall days that actually makes you think of fall.  Typically autumn lasts for a week, and then winter rears its snowy head.  This fall has been temperamental, but seemingly more fall-esque.  With a rainy day that never reached a high of 60 degrees, and an office autumn potluck to prepare for, I went searching for a delicious seasonal treat that was worth the time of year.  Given my recent trip to the UK, I have been on a tea and scone kick, so I decided to make scones.  Other than pumpkin, which is my automatic autumn go-to, apples are another perfect taste of fall.

In my hunt for the perfect apple cinnamon scone, I stumbled upon one of my favorite baking resources, King Arthur Flour.  They always have great recipes, ideas, and really wonderful products.  I discovered an apple cinnamon scone recipe that I thought would be easy to edit to my tastes.  I didn’t want to add the butterscotch chips, and had some oats and almonds lying around.  After testing it out on my boss and coworker this morning, it has passed the taste-test.  So here it is, my own Apple Cinnamon Oat Scones!

Amy’s Apple Cinnamon Oat Scones

Ingredients2014-10-09 20.06.50

2 ¾ cup unbleached Hungarian High Altitude Flour

1/3  cup granulated/baker’s sugar

¾ teaspoon Kosher salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

½ cup (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter

¾ cup chopped fresh apple, in ½” (or smaller) pieces (about half a medium apple)

½ cup steel cut oats (reserve some for sprinkling on top of scones)

½ cup almond slivers2014-10-09 20.20.48

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup applesauce, unsweetened preferred (I used organic unsweetened cinnamon applesauce)

Topping

Cinnamon Sugar (Penzeys)

Extra oats

¼ cup milk

Tips for Baking

Freeze the unbaked scones for 30 minutes before baking.  30 minutes in the freezer relaxes the gluten in the flour, which makes the scones more tender and allows them to rise higher. It also chills the fat, which will make the scones a bit flakier.

Scones are best served warm. They’re delicious as is, but add butter and/or jam (or apple butter), if you like. To reheat room-temperature scones, place on a baking sheet, tent lightly with foil, and warm in a preheated 350°F oven for about 10 minutes.

Directions

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and spices.  Work in the butter with a pastry cutter just until the mixture is unevenly crumbly and the butter is about the size of peas.  Stir in the chopped apple, oats, and almonds.

Incorporate the filling (apples, oats and almonds) with the dry ingredients.

Incorporate the filling (apples, oats and almonds) with the dry ingredients.

Make a well and pour in the wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.

Make a well and pour in the wet ingredients, mixing until just combined.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and applesauce.  Create a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until all is moistened and holds together.

2014-10-09 20.48.54Line a baking sheet with parchment; if you don’t have parchment, just use it without greasing it. Sprinkle a bit of flour atop the parchment or pan.  Scrape the dough onto the floured parchment or pan, and form the dough in a round about 3/4″ thick. Using a small biscuit cutter, cut out the scones. Brush each circle with milk, and sprinkle with the oats and Cinnamon Sugar.  Place evenly on the prepared pan, leaving an inch between each scone.  For best texture and highest rise, place the pan of scones in the freezer for 30 minutes, uncovered. While the scones are chilling, preheat the oven to 425°F.  Bake the scones for 18 to 20 minutes, or until they’re golden brown.

Remove the scones from the oven, and cool briefly on the pan. Serve warm. When they’re completely cool, wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to several days.

Yield: 12-15 scones.

Enjoy!

I may have also made pumpkin bread... I got fall baking happy!

I may have also made pumpkin bread… I got fall baking happy!

What are your favorite fall flavors and recipes?  What’s your favorite thing to do on a crisp autumn day?  What are you up to this weekend?

Chocolate Made Me Do It: Denver Hot Chocolate 15K

Given that it is the fall semester on a college campus, I should not be surprised that I am finally recovered from an epic early cold season amalgamation of viruses.  After returning from the UK I came down with a nasty cold, but the following week assumed I was on the mend… until Sunday rolled around.  Last week I finally went to the doctor and was prescribed some terribly effective medication, but it all definitely threw a wrench in my fall training plan.  However, months ago I had signed up for the Denver Hot Chocolate 15K, and knowing how great this race was last year, I couldn’t pass it up.

Saturday I decided to try a medium run, so I headed out on Saturday afternoon for a solid 5 miles.  Having not partook in any physical activity for a week, I knew it’d be tough.  Unlike how I usually feel (body is great, lungs would appreciate more air in this mile high city), my legs were a bit shaky, but I could thankfully breath.  I kept a 10:25 pace, and was satisfied at the end of my five miles.  I did a few extra lunges, squats and leg lifts for good measure, and prayed that the 9.3 miles the next day wouldn’t kick my butt too badly.  Thankfully I had already visited the pre-race expo at the National Western Complex Center earlier in the day, getting my bib, AWESOME goodie bag, and some other paraphernalia from the vendors on site, like Skirt Sports, Lara Bars, and Sweaty Bands.

The Hot Chocolate race series hosts races in cities throughout the country, and I was so excited that Denver was one of those cities.  I woke early Sunday morning so as to make it to Civic Center Park (the park by the capitol building in downtown Denver) by 6:40am.  I parked at 6:30 at the Colorado History Museum and walked the two blocks to the event area.  Tents lined the parks, housing merchandise, hot chocolate (courtesy of Ronald McDonald House), bag drop-off, and the post-race chocolate bar.  A number of people arrived early, as the 5K started at 7:00am.  The 5K and 15K had separate starting times, but I found it odd that the 15K did not go first.  My only assumption was that this was designed so as not to disperse the 15K medals to 5K finishers if the two groups converged at the finish line.

Although the 15K didn’t begin until 7:50am, I arrived early so as to meet up with my local sorority sisters participating in the race.  Our sorority, Alpha Delta Pi, works closely with the Ronald McDonald House charities given it is our national philanthropy.  Knowing this race supports Ronald McDonald House charities, our group decided to make this a local alumnae event, garnering more attention and attendance.  In order to get the obligatory photo-op (let’s be honest, it’s what sororities love to do), we had to meet before the 5K race started.

We sorority girls can't resist a photo-op! Throwing diamonds! <>

We sorority girls can’t resist a photo-op! Throwing diamonds! <>

Gotta love the marshmallow man!

Gotta love the marshmallow man!

After our photo, my fellow sisters, Christie and Carrie and I waited for our start time by huddling in the merchandise tent.  It was cool, but thankfully not cold that morning, and absolutely ideal running weather.  We finally made our way to the starting line.  Christie was in corral H, Carrie in I, and I was in J.  Carrie and Christie decided to start together, but I took my place back in J, waiting for the race to start.

The race was much bigger than I expected, about 8,000 people total registered for either of the races.  Thankfully, after we crossed the starting line, I didn’t have to weave through people as much like I would for most of the larger races.  Very few people stopped to walk, and nearly everyone was considerate about their spacing and not blocking people.

Beautiful morning to run a 15K!

Beautiful morning to run a 15K!

Game faces people!

Game faces people!

We snaked our way through a good portion of the city, first heading out on 15th Street, past the CU Denver Business School (which made me happy, go Lynx!), then made our way northeast for about two miles on Walnut Street.  At this point we’d already had a chocolate (not necessarily a good idea this early in the race), water and sports drink station with amazing, friendly and enthusiastic volunteers.  Around this time I caught up with Christie and Carrie and we ran together for a bit.  After we passed the 5K mark, we were heading in the opposite direction on Larimer Street.  Another water station was available shortly afterwards, and one of my colleagues was volunteering!  At this point I separated from Christie and Carrie and kept running.  The course eventually took us left onto 20th Street, which veered into 20th Avenue.  Then I realized where we were… the dreaded hilly section.

The course took us through some fun parts of the city, and was never boring.

The course took us through some fun parts of the city, and was never boring.

Christie and Carrie ran this race last year together, and warned me in advance that the second half of the race was significantly hillier.  Thankfully the first half of the race was practically flat and primarily snaked through both business and industry sectors of the city.  The second half on the race made its way through residential areas of the city, with lovely quiet tree-lined streets, that also happened to incorporate a lot of hills.  The run from just before mile 5 to mile 6 was probably the toughest part, given it was one of those hills that never seemed to end.  Once we made it to the 10K mark, however, the course leveled a bit and the hills afterwards we more manageable.  The course dipped downward first as we headed towards mile 8 and again towards mile 9, which provided great opportunities to gain time and regain oxygen.

Along the course volunteers not only passed out water, Gatorade and chocolate, but also marshmallows (both regular and strawberry flavored), tootsie rolls, and random other themed snacks.  I didn’t partake simply because chewing a sticky marshmallow or tootsie roll while running did not seem at all appealing, and I was desperately looking forward to my hot chocolate and chocolate fondue at the end.

As we finally made it to mile 9, the next .3 miles seemed to stretch on forever along the fairly flat and wide Broadway.  Thankfully kids with incredibly clever signs (“Is your butt hurting?  It’s because you’re kicking ass!” “Keep running so the zombies don’t get you!” “Are you really doing this just for chocolate?”), and a local high-five giving priest (who also added in a “God bless you” as you ran past) were there to motivate the runners to the end.  When we finally reached the finish line, I realized again why I love races so much.  That accomplishment as you pass through is such an incredible feat, regardless of time.  More volunteers were ready with water bottles and the adorable 15K finisher medals, congratulating us on a great race.  I finished in 1:37:31, not my best time, but better than I had expected post-plague.

Victorious ending to a great race!

The fantastic chocolate bar medal - LOVE!

The fantastic chocolate bar medal – LOVE!

While I was en route, I passed an adorable couple who were running the race together.  It sounded like it was the wife’s first race and she kept looking ahead at all the runners around her, worried they weren’t going fast enough.  The husband grabbed her hand and said simply, “Don’t look ahead at those other people, don’t even think about them.  This race is about you, about accomplishing it for yourself, about beating your own time and proving it to yourself.”  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I run: for me.

After the race, I met up with Karen (from the Esprit de She race) and waited for Christie and Carrie to finish.  We went to the

Christie and Carrie couldn't decide which was better: medals or chocolate mug?

Christie and Carrie couldn’t decide which was better: medals or chocolate mug?

post-race party area and collected our finisher mugs complete with chocolate fondue, marshmallow, pretzels, graham crackers, rice krispie treat, banana and hot chocolate.  AH-MAZING.  Best post-race treat ever.  I may have kept the mugs to replicate this idea later…

Chocolate makes me giddy!

Chocolate makes me giddy!

Totally worth the wait.

Totally worth the wait.

Given we had run 9.3 miles that morning we were well on our way to hungry, so we tried to meet up with some of the 5K ADPi runners at Snooze on Larimer, but they weren’t able to seat us, so instead we made our way to Sam’s Number 3 on 15th street.  We waited about 35-40 minutes, but it was worth it.  Where else can you get a burrito the size of your face, a side of bacon, coffee, and chocolate milk for $14?  And it was delicious to boot.

Burrito the size of my face. I could only eat half, but so worth it.

Burrito the size of my face. I could only eat half, but so worth it.

This is a race I would do every year, not just for the amazing swag (check out the incredible zip-up we got!  I may have also

The zip up is awesome, much better than most race gear!

The zip up is awesome, much better than most race gear!

purchased a neon yellow zip-up and purple ear warmer because all the merchandise was just too cute!) and post-race goodies, but for its contribution towards Ronald McDonald House charities.  The race takes place in 15 cities across the nation – I recommend it if you can find one close!

Would you run for chocolate?  Have you ever participated in a Hot Chocolate Run?  Know of any other sweet-incentive races out there?

2013-04-21 17.36.07

A Journey Through Time in Oxford

I spent a significant amount of time planning our trip to the UK, and although the hubs gave a lot of great input and did some helpful research, much of the ideas and implementation was up to me.  Having already traveled in England six years prior, I was the “expert” of the two of us.  I knew I didn’t just want to stay in London the whole time.  Using London as a home base, however, made for easy accessibility to a number of day-trip destinations.  With seven full days in England, four of which were in London, I utilized three of the days to explore 2 cities I had been to, and one other I had been longing to visit.

There are a plethora of day trips you can take from London, as my new travel buddy, Rick Steves, mentions in his guide book for London (aka my travel Bible).  Having been to a number of them already thanks to my incredible study abroad class, I picked two of my favorites: Oxford and Canterbury.  My third selection is a place my romantic British literature heart had always dreamed of experiencing: Bath.

Oxford is the quintessential origin of all Ivy-League schools, except that it is truly old.  The gothic style buildings, rather than replicas of past creations, were truly gothic.  The university itself is comprised of 38 colleges and 6 permanent

View from Christ Church Meadow.

View from Christ Church Meadow.

private halls, each of which are self-governing.  You don’t just go to Oxford – you go to a specific college in Oxford.  The university formed originally in 12th century, and the oldest colleges represented are University College, Balliol and Merton, all constructed in the 13th century.  Needless to say, it is delightfully old, in that “Wow, there is so much history around here my head may explode,” kind of way.

We took a mid-morning train to Oxford on September 2nd, and thankfully it was just over an hour to reach our destination.  Both Oxford and Cambridge are exceedingly accessible via train from London, and given that we could walk to Paddington Station from our hotel, it made the trip that much more simplistic.  We arrived in Oxford at about noon and walked our way into the city center in search for the local bookshop.  Rather than try to meander our way through the interwoven web of colleges, the hubs and I decided to take a tour.  We were thrilled (okay, maybe it was more I was thrilled) to find out that there was a literary tour of Oxford set to start in just about 20 minutes after our arrival at Blackwell’s Bookshop (as my professor put it, “The best bookshop in the world.”).

Our incredible and exceedingly knowledgeable guide, Peter, was a sophisticated older chap who loved regaling us with stories of his travels throughout America.  His literary knowledge, although daunting, was fascinating to listen to, and made my English major heart so happy.  Two other visitors joined us for the tour, one fiery woman from Scotland, and her British friend.  Our little group set off, first passing by Trinity College, where a number of period pieces (aka Jane Austen) have been filmed.  Instead we crossed the street and meandered through Wadham College.  The beautiful structure housed Sir Christopher Wren (St. Paul’s Cathedral, among many other incredible architectural gems), and boasts one of the most incredible English gardens I have seen, including another designated just for faculty.

Stained glass windows in the Wadham College chapel.

Stained glass windows in the Wadham College chapel.

Beautiful study gardens at Wadham College.  This is much better than the UMD Mall....

Beautiful study gardens at Wadham College. This is much better than the UMD Mall….

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The formidable Wadham College, honoring King James I.

The formidable Wadham College, honoring King James I of England (James VI of Scotland).

The infamous Turf Tavern, and an excellent spot for a pint.

The infamous Turf Tavern, and an excellent spot for a pint.

After touring Wadham, we moved on towards the original wall built around the city, as Peter put it, to “Keep out the rubbish and poor-folk.”  We passed the infamous Turf Tavern, where former President Clinton “did not inhale.”  We made our way onto the “right” side of the wall and worked our way through an alley to the Hertford Bridge (the Bridge of Sighs) which arcs over New College Lane, and into the “center” by the Bodleian Library (which boasts columns of each of the five orders in classical architecture), Radcliffe Camera (the gorgeous round reading room), and University Church.  This area is what stood out the most from our original trip, and it was surreal being back here.  The age of the buildings range from the 13th century to the 18th century, yet the styling works seamlessly together.

Making our way to the Turf Tavern.  Why is everything prettier here?

Making our way to the Turf Tavern. Why is everything prettier here?

Scoping out the site of our future beverage...

Scoping out the site of our future beverage…

Bridge of Sighs, so beautiful!

Bridge of Sighs, so beautiful!

Five pillars in one building! This is unheard of!

Five pillars in one building! The Bodleian Library is truly unique.

Loving the  Radcliffe Camera architecture and ambiance.  Soak up the smart!

Loving the Radcliffe Camera architecture and ambiance. Soak up the smart!

It's just such a stunning structure!

It’s just such a stunning structure!

We crossed over the High Street, which curves along Oxford with a number of other colleges, and wandered down Magpie lane to see the now-converted inn where Shakespeare would stay during his travels through Oxford.  Devastatingly enough the building is now a Pizza Express (think Pizza Hut), but the room he slept in has been mostly untouched (except for the tables and chairs running through the middle).  Finally we passed by the Bear, the oldest pub in Oxford, The Bear, established in 1242.  Finally, we passed Christ Church College, birthplace of “Alice in Wonderland,” and then entered the main square of Exeter College, the fourth oldest constituent college of Oxford.  Even with this incredible tour, we barely scratched the surface.

The original wall coverings and fireplace of Shakespeare's Oxford getaway.

The original wall coverings and fireplace of Shakespeare’s Oxford getaway.

The Bear Inn and Pub, established in 1242.  Inconceivable!

The Bear Inn and Pub, established in 1242. Inconceivable!

 

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Beautiful Exeter College.

Beautiful Exeter College.

The chapel of Exeter College.

The chapel of Exeter College.

After the tour, the hubs and I wandered back towards High Street to make our way to the beautifully peaceful Christ Church Meadow.  We made our way back to the Turf Tavern for cider and cask ale, grabbed dinner along the High Street, and ended the day with another beverage at The Bear.  You can’t go to Oxford without going to their oldest pub!  Supposedly there used to be bear fights in the basement, but I haven’t yet verified this information.

Just a little walk in the park!

Just a little walk in the park!

The back building of Christ Church College.  What a place to go to school.

The back building of Christ Church College. What a place to go to school.

Back to the Bear!

Back to the Bear!

A fond farewell to my beloved Oxford!

A fond farewell to my beloved Oxford!

After a fantastic end to a very productive day (we did take 22,103 steps that day…), we made our way past the Oxford Castle to the train station, and back “home” to London.

Have you ever been to Oxford – what’s your favorite pub there?  What is one day trip you’d recommend from London?  Anyone else just love getting lost in time in the history of the UK?

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The Land of Sunshine and Gold: Weekend in Vail

Is summer really over?  It doesn’t feel like it here in Denver.  Supposedly yesterday was the first day of autumn, and although I hung my autumn wreaths on my front doors, and switched out my summer scented candles for those of cinnamon and spice, it still doesn’t quite feel like fall.  To get more in the spirit of the season, however, the hubby and I spent the weekend in Vail with our dear friends Peter and Ade, at Peter’s parents’ home.  Nestled in the valley, East Vail is truly picturesque mountain living.  Surrounded by towering mountain sides covered in now-golden aspens and evergreens, it is a perfect escape from the hustle of Denver.

We left around 4pm on Friday afternoon and battled a little traffic to get to the home of Betsy and Arlen, Peter’s folks, around 6pm.  We beat our friends, but had a great time catching up with their family (they are very much our home away from home), drinking wine, and smelling the delicious home cooking wafting from the kitchen.  Peter and Ade arrived about an hour later, and we all sat down for a great dinner, chatted about everything going on, and planned the next day’s activities.  Ade and I planned on doing a substantial hike, while the gents were going to play golf at Red Sky Ranch and Golf Club (one of the most stunning courses imaginable).  Betsy had done a hike a few days prior on the Bighorn trail, about 10 miles total from where we were staying, and this would be prime time for the changing aspens.  With that decided, we finished the night with delicious chocolate mousse, and hit the hay.

The next morning we got started around 8am with a hearty breakfast and we ready to go for the hike around 9:30am.  It was in every way the perfect day for this hike: the sun was shining, barely a cloud in the sky, high of 72 degrees… all around ideal.  The trek up to the “top” of the trail (you could make this hike longer by connecting to the Gore Creek trail for about a 6-8 hours round-trip hike), was steep in a few sections, but I could feel it more given I am hiking at an even higher elevation than normal.  The five miles up from the house felt like they took forever, and for Ade and I, both recovering from a cold, seemed fairly slow in spots, but that allowed us opportunities for amazing pictures and taking in the view.

Perfect day for a hike.

Perfect day for a hike.

The aspens were amazing. I'd never seen them like this!

The aspens were amazing. I’d never seen them like this!

This trail followed a stream throughout, and boy was that some clear water!

This trail followed a stream throughout, and boy was that some clear water!

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We were going up for quite a while…

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Hello beautiful golden aspens!

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Straight up snow melt: cold, clear and refreshing.

By the time we reached the cabin, which everyone on the trail was using as a landmark, we reached 10,788 feet in elevation and hiked a little over 4 miles from the trail head.  The infamous cabin was very old and on the verge of collapse, but as the Forest Service website said, it could be used for hikers as shelter during inclement weather.  Thankfully, no such weather occurred during our hike.  Ade and I walked around it and crossed the stream to sit at the base of the peaks to the right of the cabin.  We brought grapes and nuts to snack on while we chatted and basked in the gloriousness of this perfect day.

Some of the rock fields on this hike were intense.

Some of the rock fields on this hike were intense.

"The hills are alive" anyone?

“The hills are alive” anyone?

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So beautiful it looks fake.

So beautiful it looks fake.

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This is where we sat and had our snacks.  Doesn't suck.

This is where we sat and had our snacks. Doesn’t suck.

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She could totally be an outdoors sports model.

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I could swear I’ve seen this in a magazine…

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Aspens as far as the eye can see!

I was tempted to never leave.

I was tempted to never leave.

We ventured back down, taking significantly less time to get back, and started chatting with a local who lives at the base of the trail and has hiked all of the 14-ers in Colorado at least once, if not twice.  I was wowed, not having hiked a single one… yet!  My goal for next summer, needless to say.  After returning home, and following a most delightful shower, we made a quick salad lunch and went for an early evening yoga class at the East Vail Racquet Club.  We got home, and shortly afterwards our men arrived, and we ended the evening with steaks, grilled veggies, and oven roasted potatoes.

The next day was cloudy and rainy, so rather than a short morning hike, we decided to hit the road around noon and stop by the outlets in Silverthorne on our way back to Denver and Boulder.  I will never say no to outlet shopping, and we

What's a post without a picture of my pup?

What’s a post without a picture of my pup?

even got great items for the hubs (he was so excited about the deals we got, I may have converted him to the dark side…).  Before reaching home, we picked up our pup from my hubby’s parents and then got back, made a great dinner, watched the Bronco’s game (alas…) and called it a day!

Thankfully this week I am finally back into the routine of work and workouts.  This week kicked off the LacyFit Fall Fitness Challenge (of which I am SO excited, more on this later), and I finally feel like I have regained my sense of normalcy post-vacation.  Maybe every vacation should end with another vacation!  This weekend should be a fun one for spending it all at home, given we have dinner plans on Friday and Saturday!  Friday the hubs and I are getting dinner with his folks at a steakhouse I haven’t yet tried in Denver, Grace and Guard.  Saturday we will meet up with our foodie friends Scott and Danielle (our typical Foodie Friday couple, but on Saturday, oh my!) for dinner at Lower48 Kitchen.  We’ll definitely fit in some long runs, given that our first half marathon of the season is only 25 days away (eek!).  But for now, let’s just get past Wednesday!

What are your favorite signs of autumn?  Where do you go for an easy weekend getaway?  What are your weekend plans (it’s never to early to think about the weekend)?

Gates to Buckingham Palace.

Post Vacation… Vacation? UK Trip Part I

You know that feeling you get after an incredible, phenomenal, epic vacation?  It’s like a punch in the gut type of sensation when you return to reality (especially as an adult… with responsibilities).  Well I am trying my hardest to avoid that feeling by following up my adventures through the British Isles (and Scotland is still part of the UK!) with a mini mountain retreat.  This afternoon the hubby and I will be making the drive up to Vail to stay with our friends and their folks (thank you, Betsy!) for a relaxing little getaway weekend.  I adore Colorado in the “fall,” which is really like a two week whirlwind of beauty in this state, so I finally really get to take advantage of it!

I do feel that I should finally comment about the amazing holiday the hubs and I were able to take in England and Scotland.  About six years ago I had the wonderful opportunity to study abroad with ten other students in the United Kingdom.  We lived in London, but traveled to numerous other parts of the country over a month long excursion.  My husband has not really left the country, except to go to Canada and Turks and Caicos (for Mrs. BakeNBurn’s wedding!), so for years we have been planning this trip to the UK, knowing it’d be a great gateway to European travel.  Being the anglophile I am, I could not wait.

We left on Saturday, August 30th to begin our 14 hour journey to London.  We flew from Denver to Dulles, outside of Washington DC, and then took a red-eye to Heathrow.  We arrived in London around 10am local time (after both of our flights arrived EARLY – when does that happen??), after maybe 2 hours of sleep… but we gathered ourselves, made our way to our charming hotel north of Hyde Park, cleaned up and hit the London streets.  We walked first through Hyde Park southeast toward Buckingham Palace.  Of course we took some obligatory photos of the palace and the guards.  We then followed the Princess Diana Memorial path towards Westminster Abbey and the Westminster Palace (the Parliament building).  We crossed the Thames and meandered along the bank for some time through a festival taking place, then crossed back over into Charring Cross, worked our way to Trafalgar Square, and stopped for a quick bite at one of my favorite chains, Pret a Manger (yum!).  We had walked this whole way, got our bearings, and appreciated the absolute gorgeousness of the day.

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Gates to Buckingham Palace.

Necessary photo op in a red telephone booth!

Necessary photo op in a red telephone booth!

Big Ben and the Queen's Clock Tower.

Big Ben and the Queen’s Clock Tower.

Beautiful day wandering around the Parliament building.

Beautiful day wandering around the Parliament building.

The ever-beautiful Westminster Abbey!

The ever-beautiful Westminster Abbey!

We ended the day by taking the Tube back to Paddington, one of the two conveniently located Tube stops, and had a filling pub dinner at the Pride of Paddington.  Of course I ordered fish and chips and my first Bulmers of the trip.  Let me tell you, the ciders of America will never compare, even the imported Magners and Strongbow are bottled in the US, and the essence of true cider is lost.  I will step off my soap box, but just know, if you go to the UK and want a great cider, Bulmers is a true delight.

Really, try a Bulmers.  SO GOOD.

Really, try a Bulmers. SO GOOD.

The next day we arose, after a lengthy night’s sleep, to our only rainy day of the entire trip.  We decided it was the perfect morning to spend at the British Museum.  We took the Tube to Tottenham Court Road and wandered towards the

Who doesn't love a rainy day at the British Museum?

Who doesn’t love a rainy day at the British Museum?

beautiful wrought iron gates of the museum entrance.  We made our way through ancient Greece and Rome, ancient Egypt and Cleopatra, and ancient China, with a good long look at the Rosetta Stone and the Pantheon freezes.  Occupying much of the morning, we found a quaint little eatery, Salt and Pepper, to grab a sandwich and cup of tea.  I realized the Brits love sandwiches and toast.  I haven’t had that much bread in a long time.

 

Glass ceiling surrounding the round reading room.

Glass ceiling surrounding the round reading room.

Freeze from the Pantheon in Greece.

Freeze from the Pantheon in Greece.

The incredible Rosetta Stone.

The incredible Rosetta Stone.

Moai!!

Moai!!

That evening we had dinner at a restaurant recommended by the friends we are visiting this weekend: The Gay Hussar.  It’s a tiny, obscure, and nondescript Hungarian restaurant on Greek Street full of history, political drama, and some of the best caricatures I have ever seen!  After an incredibly delicious dinner, we strolled down the street to the Queen’s Theatre for a show of Les Miserables.  Overall, it was a fantastic start to our trip.

The hubby's first live performance of Les Mis!

The hubby’s first live performance of Les Mis!

On that note, I must ready myself for the weekend ahead.  I anticipate a lot of R&R mixed with hiking, running, and enjoyment of this beautiful state in which I live.  Cheers!