Friday, January 31, 2014

Visiting Lovely Sedona Once Again...

I've parked myself in the Village of Oak Creek, just 7 miles south of Sedona, and plan to do not much of anything for the week.  A little food, a little wine, a little chocolate.  I'm set for the week!

Sunrise greeted me with a glorious view off my balcony.

Tuesday morning, all resort owners were invited to a hot breakfast and members' benefits update presentation.  Of course, this is just a thinly disguised sales pitch, but I did get a most excellent breakfast burrito with chorizo, pico, and a giant bowl of fresh fruit.  For agreeing to sit one-on-one with a representative for about an hour after the presentation, I walked away unscathed but with a $75 Mastercard gift card.

By the time Thursday rolled around, I was ready to get out and explore, so I mapped out a little route to take me to some of my favorite places.

First stop, the yarn shop in town called Knit Wits, where I spent every dollar of that $75 gift card!

Knit Wits Yarn Shop, Sedona AZ

Pretty blue-green yarn...I have a project in mind for this!

The owner of the shop shared one of her knitting patterns with me and now it's underway with some of the yarn that I purchased.

Gorgeous Teresa Ruch Designs Tencel 3-ply

Next it was down 89A to Page Spring Road and a couple of my favorite wineries.  Oak Creek has a particular white wine that I love but there were other wines I'd not tasted before.
Oak Creek Winery

Tasting room at Oak Creek Winery

Their list is extensive and a $20/5 glass tasting only touches part of that list!  I had the shop keeper all to myself and since I didn't have to be anywhere, I took my time and had a great chat with her.  They  have a very nice little cheese plate to nibble on while sipping the wines.   5 different cheeses, candied pineapple bits, almonds grown right there at the winery, Spanish olives, and some tasty little wine biscuits.  Perfect!

Nice little cheese and nibbles plate

Their deal is buy three get one free, so I bought 9 (3 each of various varieties) and added three more to make a full mixed case.  Sweet!

Sufficiently "buzzed" but not too much so, it was on to Page Springs Winery.  I had two blended reds on my list and bought 3 bottles of each.  Now my cargo area is filled with clinking wine bottles and it was time for a late lunch.
Page Springs vineyards

Page Springs Winery

Just down the road is a truly great restaurant "find," discovered a year ago when I spent a week in Scottsdale.  Harry's Hideaway.  I wrote about them a December 2012 blog entry.  This visit I had a thin-crust fig and proscuitto pizza and it was excellent!  Sounds like an odd combination, but the fig is rendered into a thin paste and spread onto the pizza dough just as pizza sauce would be.

It was after 3:30 PM by the time I returned to my villa, sated and with my day's "booty" in tow.

Tomorrow:  I'm volunteering at the Sedona Marathon packet pickup in the really pretty Tlaquepaque village in Sedona.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Biggest Loser RunWalk Half Marathon...

To the uninitiated, this race name seems like an oxymoron.  I mean, finishers of this race are winners in so many ways.  Being a huge fan of the TV reality show The Biggest Loser, I just had to do this race.  The fact that I needed to add the state of New Mexico to my 50 States-50 Half Marathons quest helped my decision, as well.

So Sunday morning I woke up just before the alarm went off and started my morning, preparing to run this half marathon.  The race starts at 9:00 AM so at 7:45 AM I drove the short 1.5 miles to the venue where parking was plentiful.  I worried that the parking lots would be jammed, but they weren't.  Heck!  I could have slept in another half hour!

But the lines for the paltry number of porta-potties were another matter!  I stood in line for 45 minutes.  With just 4 minutes before the start of the race, I finally got to the head of the line. It was frustrating and put a lot of us in a bad frame of mind just before the race. Many others no doubt didn't get their business taken care of before they had to abort and head to the start corral.  But it did kill all of that time I had on my hands by getting there so early, and I did strike up a conversation with the gal in front of me in line.

Taking off from the start line

They sent us off in "waves" and we headed east with a spectacular view of the Organ Mountains ahead of us.  The first couple of miles were rolling hills, then we turned onto the paved path with a relentless downhill grade.  All I could think of was how we would have to run up this grade on the return leg.

Pavement turned to sand, some of it loose and deep and rocky, making the going somewhat rough and effort-intensive.  As long as I was running on level pavement I was okay, but once we hit this unpaved section, the effort left me winded.  We're at about 4,000 feet elevation and I was feeling it.  Anything that presented some resistance - sand, uphills, even the slightest of uphills - and I was gasping!!

We did the turnaround at the halfway point and then I knew that after mile 8, the next 3 miles were going to be all uphill.  It was wretched!  My pace slowed considerably and I was stopping at each of the water stations to hydrate and catch my breath.  When the 15:00 minute/mile pacer caught up with me, I knew I was in trouble!

Finally!  We got past the relentless uphill grade and onto a short stretch of level ground and I could have kissed the sidewalk!  From that point to the finish was mostly level or downhill, with just a couple of brief uphill segments.  But my pace picked up considerably.  I started passing folks who had passed me on the long uphill section.

At one point I caught up to the 15:00 pacer and we chatted for a bit, commenting on how the mile markers weren't agreeing with our GPS watches.  As it turned out, when I finished the race and saw my GPS tracks, it was apparent that they had mis-located the turnaround needed to be placed about 1.5 tenths of a mile farther down the trail.  We were about three-tenths of a mile short of a half marathon distance.

Then I made one last turn heading west with just 1/2 mile to the finish line.

High five at the finish line

I was pretty sure I'd at least placed in my age group so I grabbed a banana and sat near the stage where they were announcing the age-group winners.  First place in my age group!  This makes three times in the last four races that I've placed first in my age group!  All in all, a fun race and enjoyable experience, especially seeing some of the cast members from previous Biggest Loser seasons.

First place award, photo taken with Vinnie from BL season 12.

My medal and first-place award:

My Garmin GPS tracks:

Here's what my 50 States-50 Half Marathons map looks like now:

Tomorrow I head for Chandler AZ to have lunch with friends then continue on to Sedona for a few days.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Race Packet Pickup...Excitement in the Air

There's just something pretty special about the whole packet pickup experience before a race.  For me it brings the entire event into focus, up front and center where it belongs a day or two before race day, elevating it above ordinary days that can sometimes get hectic with other demands.

The energy of it all...all the runners lined up to get their packets, the special volunteers who can make the whole experience so fun.   It can be so energizing in fact, that one time a few years ago it even convinced me to go ahead with a race that I had pretty much talked myself out of running - The Houston Aramco Half Marathon, part of the huge Chevron Houston Marathon weekend.  I'd done this race several times - both the half and the full marathon - but this particular year I just wasn't "feeling it."

That particular year I'd had a terrible couple of training months leading up to that race.  So I thought I'd just go downtown to the convention center and  pick up my race packet, claim my t-shirt, shop the huge number of vendors that always exhibit at this fitness expo, then go home with plans to watch the live coverage on TV that weekend.  Well, that plan was out the window as soon as I got to the Fitness Expo, felt the excitement, actually had my running bib in my hands.  I ultimately ran that race, did it in pretty good time, claimed my official finisher's shirt and medal, and thanked whatever it was that motivated me to go ahead and get that race packet.

The line of runners, waiting to pick up
their race packets.  It very carefully
winds around the colon tunnel.
So now here I am in Las Cruces NM heading for the convention center and the fitness expo.  I could feel the excitement for the Biggest Loser RunWalk as soon as I pulled into the parking lot behind the convention center.  The huge lot was packed with cars!  Walking around the side of the building toward the entrance, the line was halfway down the sidewalk.  Wow!

But then one of the many volunteers working this event came down the line, telling us that there was no line for the half marathon packet pickup.  Cool!  A few of us could bypass this really long line and go right up to the entrance door where we filled out a waiver form and then took it inside to the half-marathon packet pickup table.  No line!  I stepped right up to the young man, gave him my waiver form, and it was done!  I had my bib and a cool reusable bag.
Half Marathon packet pickup table

Around the corner was the stage where a fitness instructor was leading a small group through some stretching exercises.
Fitness instructor leading a group through stretches

Around the next corner, more exhibitor tables, and then out the door to the lobby area where I picked up my race shirt.
Adorable volunteers at the t-shirt pickup table.

I realized I hadn't taken any photos!!  So I backtracked into the hall, reversing my route and went back to the packet pickup table, then couldn't resist the handsome Sargent in uniform and just had to get my photo with him....I'm a Navy brat, a Navy mom, and am such a sucker for a man in uniform.

Who can resist a handsome man in uniform!

He directed me to his cadets at the New Mexico State U. Army ROTC recruiting table and told me to make them drop and give me twenty.  Well, I didn't do that but I did introduce myself to them, learned what class they were in - one was a senior, two were juniors, and what their plans were after commissioning.  The senior told me he'll be going into military police work after training in Missouri.

Great guys and our Future Army.

Many exhibits, mostly for health products and services, lined the serpentine route through the hall.

Fun table promoting a Valentines Day 5K

As I left the building and started toward the parking lot, I realized that the large orange Quonset hut-shaped structure that the line was carefully snaking itself around was actually an inflated model of the colon!!  And we could walk through it!! Surely the intent here was for the line to pass through here.  I laughed out loud and said to those within earshot that they were all too chicken to walk through the giant colon.  This got a big laugh!  And some folks did actually redirect themselves into that colon.

That dreaded colon!  Note the line of people in back,
carefully avoiding walking through it.

Before getting to the fitness expo, I spent the morning at the huge Farmers Market in Las Cruces Center browsing and strolling and chatting with some of the vendors.  Some mesquite honey - definitely curious about the taste - and some green chili pepper pecan brittle made it into my bag.  I chatted at length with the brittle vendor.  He makes it himself in a shop nearby, 35 lb batches of each chili, red chili, and plain, available with pecans, peanuts, or pistachios.  Decisions, decisions...!

Delightful couple singing traditional Mexican folksongs
Lots of high school band quartets and ensembles
playing on various street corners.

Afterward I found a Subway shop along the route to the convention center.  Perfect!  A foot-long ham and turkey with spinach, cucumber, black olive and brown mustard - half  for lunch, the other half for dinner later.

Race packet in my possession and food in my tummy, I took the short drive over to historic Old Mesilla and walked the small town center, taking photos, buying hand-dipped chocolates (oops!).

Basilica of San Albino

Now it's time for my usual pre-race ritual the afternoon/evening before...get off my feet, watch old movies on TV, hydrate, then lights out.

Tomorrow:  Biggest Loser RunWalk Half Marathon, baby!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Yes We Have (No) Bananas

No trip to a destination half marathon would be complete without searching for bananas, a search made all the more difficult when transportation involves planes, cabs, and airport shuttles.

But this trip, I'm in my car and the grocery store near the hotel - an Albertson's - has already been scouted.

Leaving my home town....boy, was I lucky!  One day later and I'd have been on icy, treacherous roads getting out of town.  I droned along I-10 heading west through Texas, the clouds heavy, smatterings of rain here and there, the temperature dropping from 55 degrees at the start of the day to 32 degrees that felt like 15 degrees with the stiff northerly winds.  The light rain in near-freezing temps had me worried.  Whew!  But the roads were dry by the time I got to Fort Stockton for the night, with no rain in the forecast.

The next morning was clear and cold.  Very little traffic and a wide open road to El Paso!

I took a break in Van Horn, stopping at a Love's truck stop and there they were...bunches of gorgeous, perfectly unblemished bananas!  Just a little green near the stems, just the way I like them!  I scooped up a small "hand" of four bananas and added them to my little food stash.

Then it was through the gauntlet that is El Paso and on toward Las Cruces NM.

It's early...will the hotel let me check in?  Yes!

With the car unloaded, I made a quick trip over to a nearby Hobby Lobby.  Ridiculous!  I've rediscovered knitting as an idle pastime and brought a couple of projects with me for next week when I'm relaxing in Sedona.  To get one project off the needles, I need a set of double-pointed needles for the finish work and don't have any.  But Hobby Lobby does!

Tortilla was chock full of vegetables and chicken
and it was delicious!

A late lunch/early dinner at the hotel restaurant and then chill out for the evening.

Tomorrow:  packet pickup at the convention center and then I'll check out historic Old Mesilla nearby.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

It's Not Hard - It's Just the "Getting There"

I've put this off long enough.  Time to start packing for my trip to Las Cruces NM and beyond.

Packing for cold weather always throws me for a loop anyway, so imagine how in a tizzy I am over this trip.  Low 30's in the mornings; mid 60's by the afternoons.  I've lived in near sub-tropical climes for so long that I've lost all good judgement when it comes to matching clothing to outside temperatures.  Even more difficult to gauge how much - or how little - clothing I can get away with when running a half marathon.  Oy!

Yesterday I made sure that every single article of clothing I own was clean and folded and put away.  Silly, I know, but consider more tearing the house apart looking for that one particular shirt or that special pair of socks that I absolutely MUST take on the trip but absolutely CANNOT find.

The cat knew that something was up as soon as the piles started to appear on the blanket chest next to the bed.  That's her signal that mom is about to go out of town.

Let's see....if the lows on race day morning will be 31 degrees, how warm will it get?  Wait.  That's 31 degrees at 7 AM.  Two hours later, at 9 AM when the race starts, it will be up to 45 degrees.  By the time I cross the finish line, temps will be in the high 50's, maybe even the low 60's.  But then, on the other hand, there will be some standing around in the early morning, waiting for the race to start, which brings me back to considering those low 30's temps again.  [Sigh].

The cat was absolutely no help at all.  She laid there, feigning indifference, as I tried to decide what to wear on race day, and changed my mind several times.

The only solution is to bring a "disposable" sweatshirt - the kind that I buy in the boy's department at Walmart for six bucks.  I'd bring an old ratty long-sleeve race shirt, knowing it will get tossed along the roadside, but I've long since used up all that I'm willing to part with.  I regret a few of those that I did toss aside callously, with no consideration for how that shirt got into my wardrobe in the first place...long-forgotten 5K and 10K races, Komen run/walks, jingle bell runs.

No time to wax sentimental!  Time to wrap up this packing chore and ready the house and cat for the trek across I-10, west to Las Cruces and the Biggest Loser RunWalk!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Confessions of a Wayward Runner

Atalanta, Greek god of running

Forgive me, running gods, for I have sinned.  I have dined with the devils of excess and 
dallied at the tables of the dessert gods.  Temptation and laziness - and cold weather - have 
led me astray from my straight-and-narrow healthy ways of running.

Shower your forgiveness upon me by letting me repent my ways. 
Assign me acts of contrition so that I may stay mindful.

Give me fartleks and speed intervals so that I may grow strong of mind.
Lead me through 10 mile runs so that I may gain endurance.
But what ever you do...don't take away my chocolate!


Truth be told, I've let myself fall into this state of slothfulness on purpose.  My last meaningful long run was the half marathon in Charlotte NC in mid-November.  Desperate for relief from the metatarsal pain I had been experiencing for the past 3 months drove me to visit a podiatrist after Thanksgiving.  It was the classic joke:

                             Me:                  "Doctor, it hurts when I do this."
                             The Podiatrist:  "Well then stop doing it."

Easy, right?  So, based on that recommendation and some recommended metatarsal pads, I didn't run a single mile for 6 weeks.  But then the "need for speed" struck and I went for a tentative run just before Christmas and a couple more short runs between Christmas and New Year's.  So far, so good.  The metatarsal pads and the break from running seems to be helping, but the real test will be the longer runs.

I did a few short runs in early January and even sneaked a little bit longer run the end of last week with no adverse effects.  Feeling emboldened, I've done a few more short runs and now, here we are.  The Biggest Loser RunWalk in Las Cruces NM is little more than one week away.

I still haven't gotten the long runs in that I normally would have, just prior to a half marathon, but adrenaline goes a long way!  See you at the Biggest Loser RunWalk start line!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The "Birds" Return to the Roost

I've been doubly blessed this holiday season, blessed with an abundance of time with my son and his family. Five days in Orlando visiting Disneyworld and now for several days after Christmas.

My return home from Orlando was long, yet uneventful and safe, and I was greeted by a very grateful and affectionate kitty.  She hates it when I go out of town, often expressing her displeasure by leaving one or two upchucks on the carpet in the living room or master bedroom.  Miraculously there were no "gifts" left for me this time.  One less thing to do when I got home.

A stock-up run to the grocery store and then I spent the next few days quietly enjoying old movies on TV, a few football bowl games, and getting caught up on my reading.  I knew that I would again be seeing my son and his family after Christmas and I still had very recent memories of our vacation time in Florida just a few short days before, so spending the holiday alone was fine.

They arrived Saturday afternoon and I was ready for them!  I made a run to the grocery store the day before and had plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, cereal, snacks.  On their outbound leg of the trip, they only stayed over one night and then continued on to San Antonio to stay with some of son's college friends and to attend the Alamo Bowl game - Oregon (daughter-in-law's alma mater) vs. Texas).

A trip to Big Horn BBQ was definitely in the plans!  I didn't feel like cooking and I knew they'd really enjoy this place.  They had a great little combo band comprised of father doing vocals, 13 year-old son on drums, and girlfriend doing backup vocals. And as expected, the food was great and my grandson in particular really enjoyed listening and watching the little combo band play.

And then they came back to Houston on Wednesday and stayed a couple more nights!   I had a crockpot dish - Texas sausage and fingerling potatoes in a southwestern roux - ready for them when they arrived.

The next morning they all went off to visit the Natural History Museum in Houston while I chose to stay back and avoid the Christmas-break crowds at the museum.  I had stuffed peppers cooking in the crockpot when they returned home.  Trevor and I made chocolate chip cookies for dessert later and there was plenty of relaxing and visiting for the rest of the afternoon.

before continuing on home to Louisiana Saturday morning, my little granddaughter came outside and helped me rake leaves in my backyard - such a good little helper! - while her mom took a quick trip over to Pearland Roasters to pick up some of their awesome freshly roasted coffee beans.

And then, too soon, we were saying our goodbyes in the driveway and they were driving away, the kids waving furiously.  Now the house seems so quiet and empty!  Their toys are put away, no more cute little shoes lined up at the front door, no more tussles between siblings, no more little bodies to hug!