Blue-Gray Half Marathon

Note – If you are interested in reading a description of the course please click The Time Trial.

Yesterday was my 2nd half marathon.  My husband, parents and I spent the night in Gettysburg which made for a lot less rushed morning as I only had to walk a few hundred feet out of the hotel room to the start line.  The weather was as close to perfect as anyone could ask for to complete a race.  It was close to 50* at the start but knowing it would warm up to near 70* as the morning went on I went with my usual tshirt and shorts.

I was a little unsure of where to lineup as I expected them to have signs indicating pace times.  I didn’t want to be too close to the front and get caught up in a fast pace nor did I want near the back where I’d exert a lot of effort to get around people.  I wished my dad and running buddies good luck and settled in a few rows behind them.  The race was chip timed so after the gun went off I did my best to start my Garmin watch as soon as I hit the actual start line.

My original goal was to run the race faster than 2:08 since that’s what I ran during the time trial.  I knew if I kept all my miles under 10 minutes that would be reasonable.  The first mile was typical of a large race with runners weaving in and out to pass people and settle into spots.  I did my best to go out at a solid pace but despite an uphill grade I still ran the first mile faster than I had originally planned, a low 9.  The second mile was even faster, a sub 9.  I felt really strong and relaxed but did not want to risk burn out that early in the race, so I worked to back off the pace slightly.  There were several runners around me whose breathing was literally grating on me.  One person’s sounded like they were saying “Help me” in a low breath while another’s sounded like a horse whinnying.  I was grateful when I finally got far enough ahead of them to no longer hear the sounds.

As we entered the East Calvary Fields (part of the Gettysburg battlefield) I was entertained by the various signs that were posted along the course.  Sayings such as “Remember you paid for this” and “Run person I don’t know run” made me smile.  Every aid station was well organized with volunteers handing out water and sometimes Gatorade as well as port-a-potties.  Despite feeling as if I could pee (I blame race jitters/being chilly at the start) I was fortunate in not needing to use those at any point during the race.  There was only one true viewing spot for spectators located at a church along the course, but it seemed that there were a least a few people at each intersection to cheer the runners on.

Going into the race I expected the most challenging part to be miles 6-7.  It wasn’t that bad though as watching the runners coming back from the turn around spot made it fun.  I cheered on my dad and running buddies as they passed.  Seeing them though made me think the actual turn around spot was closer than it was; it seemed as if the road was never ending until I reached that point.  Knowing I was halfway I focused on reaching miles 8 and 9 as they are always my mentally challenging miles.  Twice the course passed farms with cows and their moo-ing made me feel as if they were cheering the runners on too.

My mile times fluctuated but all stayed at a 9:30 or faster.  I only ever glanced at my watch when it beeped with each mile.  By mile 8 I had decided when I reached mile 10 I would look at the overall time and do the math to figure out what time I could expect to be finished.  Mile 9 felt rather long and I was anxious for the upcoming aid station.  Up until that point I had only drank water at each station but I knew Gatorade would be best to keep powering me through the rest of the race.

Mile 10 became the turning point in the race for me.  My watch beeped and I looked at my current overall time – 1:31.  I had only a 5k left to run and as long as I ran it in less than 29 minutes I could break 2 hours.  I knew I could do it but that I would have to race the last 3.1 miles very smart.

By that point the bottom of my right foot was slightly burning and I anticipated that a blister might be forming.  I didn’t want to pick up the pace too much too soon but I knew I couldn’t afford to back off either.  This part became the true mental challenge.  I knew physically I would be able to finish the race but to get the time I wanted I had to coach myself through to the end.  I told myself to open up my stride on the downhill portions, maintain the pace through the flat part and keep driving strong on the uphill grades.  The long grade to the final aid station was a true challenge.  I was nervous about losing time and kept fighting to keep the same pace.  I kept saying in my head “This isn’t Blymire, this isn’t Blymire” (Blymire being a very long hill in my town that is part of my regular 6 mile loop).

I had toyed with the idea of skipping the last aid station as I would have only about 1.5 miles left to run.  My body needed the hydration though and mentally I felt it would give me a boost.  I almost choked on the Gatorade but kept pace through the aid station and was grateful I had utilized it.  The final uphill grade I began singing a Breaking Benjamin song in my head to distract myself.  The last half mile was a downhill grade and I opened my stride a lot though I didn’t fly down it nearly as fast as I had during the time trial which made me a little nervous knowing I was so close in terms of time.  In high school cross country I was always known for my sprint to the finish; it was rare anyone would ever beat me in a final all out sprint.  I did not have that kind of energy approaching the finish line but I did drive harder.  As I saw the time clock showing 1:59 I began smiling bigger than probably any other runner in that race.  I think I even teared up but with the sweat on my face it was hard to tell.

I crossed the line with a grin from ear to ear and proudly accepted my finisher medal from the volunteer.  My mom and husband had rushed to pull out their phones to snap pictures as my dad told them to not expect me until around 2:05.  My dad brought me a cup of water and I attempted to walk around to not cramp up, but ultimately had to sit for a little as I was starting to see spots and feared passing out.  I’m sure it was low sugar and my dad brought me a cup of Gatorade and a banana.  After doing some light sit-down stretches I was able to get back up and moving.  My final chip time was 1:59:09 and the gun time was 1:59:27.

We listened as they announced the overall winners (the first female ran a 1:28!) and then age group winners.  Our friend Todd placed 2nd in his age group and another friend, Armand, placed 2nd in his as well.  Awards were only give to the top 3 in each group but my dad finished 5th in his and I finished 10th in mine.  The hotel did not require us to check out until noon so we had time to go back to the room and shower before making the drive home.

I was tired and hungry most of the day after the race but the strongest emotion I felt was pride.  I had trained hard and gained speed that I don’t think I even knew I had until I was racing.  I give credit to my running buddies – my dad, Todd, Armand and Scott – who helped me along the way with advice and faster runs to push me.  I thank my husband who spent most Sunday mornings the past 3 months alone while I completed my long runs, but who always had a green smoothie ready for me after and who texted encouragement every time I texted him with my miles ran and times.  I also thank him as well as my mom for tagging along to Gettysburg for the race.

The Blue-Gray half marathon is a wonderful course with great organizers and volunteers.  It is a race for any runner who loves history, rural scenic routes or who is looking for a manageable first half marathon.  It was certainly my kind of race and it’s very possible that I may be running it again in the future.  For now though I will enjoy eating anything I want, foam rolling the sore spots and completing some runs Garmin free.

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Glow in the Grove 5k

For me there are 2 types of 5k races.  Those that are more serious races and those that are more fun events.  The former tends to draw in local regular runners and some of the more “elite” athletes.  The latter usually has more families with children as well as people new to the road race scene.

I am a self proclaimed road race snob in that I typically do not participate in 5ks just “for fun”.  If I am going to train for an event as well as pay money to participate in it, you better believe I am out there to compete.  For this reason I have never participated in a turkey trot, color run, etc.

That being said I knew when I signed up for the Glow in the Grow 5k this past Fri. night it was going to be an event geared towards more of the fun crowd than the regular runner crowd.  I was ok with this for several reasons.  1 – I did not need to be overexerting myself in a highly competitive race less than a week and a half before my half marathon.  2 – I knew I could push myself and make the race a good speed workout without feeling pressure to run a certain time.  3 – A race at night on a glow-stick lighted trail genuinely sounded fun!

I made sure to dress for the occasion wearing white shorts over my running leggings and a neon yellow shirt.  I added two glow necklaces and a glow bracelet on each wrist as well as a running headlight worn around my midsection.  Warming up it was fun to see all the other participants decked out equally in glowing lights.  There were about 150 total participants but it was easy to pick out who was there to run a serious race and who was there just to enjoy the event.  For example there were 3 or 4 members of the Spring Grove cross country team who lined up right at the start line.  Normally I line up near the middle of the pack but given the nature of the race I lined up rather close to the front.  This turned out to be a smart move as I didn’t have to dart around anyone at the start.

The air horn signaled the start of the race at 6:45pm.  The course traveled along the road for less than a block before turning into the Hanover Trolley Trail.  The gravel of the trail made it a very comfortable course albeit slightly tedious when I began noticing tiny gravel fragments in my shoes.  The highlight of course was the large glow sticks placed every few feet.  Within the first half mile there was also a black light spot where volunteers tossed neon pieces of confetti at each runner.  The trail gradually inclined most of the way out to the turn around but having ran so many tough hills over the course of my training I felt like I was cruising along.  While I didn’t want to set any firm goals for the race since my main goal was just to use it as a fun speed workout, I did want to run it in less than 27 minutes.  My first mile was an 8:40 which was much faster than I expected and the second mile was a few seconds faster than that.  The temperature was great though it was misting just enough to feel as if my hands were being stung at times.  I was just grateful it didn’t begin to seriously rain as I hate running in heavy shoes.

Some people do not care for out and back courses as they find them boring, but one of the aspects I enjoy about them is the ability to see the other runners.  I yelled “Good job” to the first place male, one of the Spring Grove cross country runners, who had quite a lead over the next male runner, his teammate.  I saw a few females ahead of me and decided to see how many I could catch until the end – proof that I cannot NOT race, the competitor in me always says to go get them.  The last mile being all a gradual downhill I was literally flying.  My left calf was telling me to err on the side of caution though, pulling just enough to tell me not to try all out sprinting.  I was grateful to have borrowed my head’s head lamp to wear as the trail was so much darker on the way back even with the glow lights.  I was only able to see one young boy a few feet ahead of me.  When we got back onto the road I was able to see that I was approaching the 26 minute mark and determined to stay under that I picked up my pace just enough to finish in a 25:54.6.  My last mile had been an 8:08 which was the fastest mile I’ve ran since I began training for the half.  It made me wonder just how fast I could run a single mile in right now.

Having passed all but one female I was fairly certain I would be getting an award.  After waiting nearly an hour (the only downfall to so many people choosing to walk the 5k vs running it) for everyone to finish and the awards to start I came to find out that they were only giving out awards to the top male and female in each age group.  The overall female who won just happened to be in my 30-39 category.  Every race I have ever competed in always pulls the top male and female out to give separate awards which had they done this I would’ve won my age category.  I was a bit disappointed by that, but I still got a rather nice long-sleeved tshirt, 2 pens, a magnet and hand sanitizer all for the $15 race fee.

The Glow in the Grove 5k turned out to be a fun confidence builder heading into my taper week for the half marathon.  It proved that I have more speed than I tend to realize.  It also helped get some of the pre-race jitters out of my system.  Less than a week to go!

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14 Miles

Sat. I completed the longest run of my life – 14 miles.  Prior to that the longest distance I had ever ran was 13.1 miles.  I wasn’t entirely certain if I would go for a full 14 or if I would be content at 12.  Having ran the time trial of the half marathon last Sun. I knew I could complete the race distance.  One of my running friends encouraged me to go for a 14 mile run though for the psychological element.  Ultimately I decided I would let the weather and my body determine at mile 6 if I wanted to go to mile 7 before turning around.

I chose the Northwest Lancaster County River Trail to log my miles.  Its entire distance is around 14 miles one way so it was perfect for a solid out and back run.  I had ran and biked portions of the trail previously but never ran more than 5 miles total on it.  The starting point in Columbia is nice because there is a visitor’s center with bathrooms as well as ample parking.  Even with the annual bridge bust going on that day not all the spaces were taken.  The trail goes through Chickes Rock County Park which is especially scenic this time of year.  I even saw some rock climbers scaling the side of the cliff.  I thought they were crazy (I hate heights), but I’m sure had I told them I was going for a 12-14 mile run they would’ve thought the same of me.

Upon exiting the park the trail took me along Front Street in Marietta which I absolutely adored.  I felt like I had taken a step back in time with the brick sidewalks and corner taverns.  Many of the houses had candles in the window which gave an 1800s feel to the whole area.  The miles through Marietta were very enjoyable as I spent so much time looking at the houses that I wasn’t thinking about the increasing humidity.

By the time the trail turned back into an actual trail I was starting to play the mind game of whether I would go 12 or 14 miles.  Upon hitting mile 6 and feeling rather good, I decided to continue on with the desire to say that I had ran my longest run ever.  It was good I had mentally psyched myself up as that mile went through corn fields that were very open with no breeze.  I knew I should have started the entire run earlier than 10:30am that day, but the desire to sleep in as well as the time it took to get to the trail pushed back my start time.  I kept my pace rather reasonable and ran every mile slower than even my usual long run pace.  After turning around at mile 7 I was feeling a little tired from the heat but knew I would soon be back in a wooded area again.

Mile 8 was a blur of being lost in my own thoughts but mile 9 hit hard psychologically.  I’ve always struggled with the 9th mile anytime I’ve ran over 10 miles.  Reaching 8 miles always felt like an accomplishment but running the 9th has always bothered me.  Part of it was for some reason I thought I only had 4 miles to go.  When I realized it was actually 5 miles I felt discouraged.  I also realized I would need to start rationing my water a bit more.  I love the river trail for its ample directional signs, several trail-heads and even porta-potties, but I really wish there would be a water fountain or 2 along it for fill ups.

Mile 9 became even worse when after turning a corner, I heard a man call out to a dog to come back and I heard deep booming barks.  I slowed my pace, unsure of where the dog even was, and made an impulse decision to jump over the low wooden fence bordering the yard I was passing.  Hoping that there would not be a dog in that yard I just trespassed into I quickly located the boxer 2 houses away looking at me.  I waited a moment longer, afraid that if I were to resume running that he would give chase.  Fortunately a group of bikers came from the other direction and I used that as a chance to hop back over the fence and continue my run.  I spent the remainder of mile 9 silently cursing every dog owner who lets his or her animal run loose in the yard particularly those who live in developments.

Trying to be a little more positive I began looking at the houses in Marietta again.  By that point I was feeling actual thirst so the wonderment I experienced on the way out was short lived during my return through the town.  Each mile became slower, my feet grew hot, my skin itched and I was kicking myself for not being content to run 12 miles.  I became desperate to hear my watch beep at mile 12.  I knew when I only had 2 miles to go that no matter what I would be fine.  I limited my sips of water to one small one each half mile until I reached my last mile.  I have never been pregnant (nor do I ever desire to be), but I always feel like a pregnant lady at the end of my long runs in that I begin to crave anything and everything.  The smells from the food vendors along the bridge did not help.  I wanted a funnel cake, french fries, a snow cone… anything and everything greasy or refreshing.

When I finally returned to my car I was content to drink my lukewarm bottle of water and stretch.  A quick text to my husband to please make me a green smoothie and I was heading home.  Dehydration became apparent as my calves began to slightly cramp despite stretching them out.  Each stop sign or light I used as a chance to rub the muscles more.  I returned home somewhat tired, a little dehydrated but content that I completed the full 14 miles.  I know when I run my half marathon on Oct. 22nd no matter what I feel I can draw strength from that run, physically and mentally.


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The Time Trial

When I ran cross country in high school we always ran a time trial on our home course prior to ever actually racing on it.  The purpose was to ensure all the athletes were familiar with the route as to not get lost as well as set a base time in which we would try to improve upon throughout the season.

I had not ran a time trial since 2004, my senior year of high school.  This past Sunday my dad, two running buddies and myself ventured to Gettysburg to run the half marathon course that my dad, one of the running buddies and I will tackle on Oct. 22nd.  Again with the exception of high school cross country meets, it was the first time I have ever scoped out a course prior to running a race.  Normally I just sign up for a race and go run it.  There are a few 5ks that I have raced multiple years and I will admit that there is an advantage in knowing what lies ahead.  Instead of being surprised by long hills or seemingly endless roads to the finish line, I can mentally map out where best to pick up my pace and adjust if necessary.

I looked forward to running the half marathon course mostly for a change in my weekly long runs.  To date I have only ran one of them with my dad and it can be a bit lonely logging the miles alone.  I’m also a bit worn out from running the same portion of the rail trail.

Deciding what to wear to run was one of the biggest challenges Sun. morning.  The temperatures dropped substantially overnight into the 40s and it was only around 50 degrees when we arrived after 8a.  I knew it would warm up as we ran though, so the question became to wear the gloves or not wear the gloves?  My fingers are extremely sensitive to the cold and I have a cold condition known as chilblains that I did not wish to trigger any earlier in the season than when it usually flares up.  I chose not to wear the gloves and ultimately that was a smart move.  During the run I actually ended up doing a clothing swap – removing my tshirt and long sleeved tech shirt to put the tshirt back on and tie the long sleeved shirt around my waist.  My running tights layered with shorts were a good choice though given just how long it did take to warm up and because there was a strong breeze during some portions of the run.  I now have a better idea of how to dress for the race based on the temperatures that day.

The course itself was much to my liking.  It began with a slight uphill grade in the first mile which normally I’m not a fan of, but I know the excitement of the start will mask it.  Not long after it turned onto a portion of the Gettysburg battlefield which is extremely neat.  On Sun. the history loving nerd in me kept trying to read portions of the plaques as we ran past various monuments but I know I need to focus straight ahead come race day.  The course then went out onto a lot of rural roads which are my absolute favorite given that’s what I trained on so many years when I lived with my parents.  There were few cars which allowed me to run closer to the middle of the road and avoid the camber which always feels better on my legs.  The turn around point I anticipate will be the most challenging as it has a few “rollers” (my dad’s running term for low grade long hills) but there are no substantial hills.  This gives me more confidence for the race as at least half of my runs have involved solid hills.  The second portion of the course seems to be faster than the first.  The last half mile involved going down the initial uphill grade from the start so that will make for a fast finish, a feature I love.

I actually beat my half marathon time goal of 2 hours and 10 minutes just in running my time trial.  I ran 2 hours, 8 minutes and 2 seconds.  2:08 is actually the time I ran my first half marathon in.  I wasn’t intentionally pushing the pace on Sun. morning but having others to run with helped me run faster than I normally do on my solo long runs.  Overall I just felt really comfortable and the downhill last mile I ran in 9:02 after having had my fastest mile during the run be a 9:48.  Since I’ve already beaten my time goal I have a new goal of getting as close to 2 hours as I can.  I’m not ambitious enough to set a goal of breaking 2 hours as I think that’s too much of a stretch at this point and I know conditions could be vastly different come race day.

One more long run.  One 5k race for fun.  One full week of tapering.  Then it’s go time!

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New England and Canada Cruise – Part 2

If you haven’t already read the first part click here – New England and Canada Cruise – Part 1.  Having summarized the precruise portion of the trip as well as details of the Carnival Sunshine, here is the breakdown of each port Jason and I visited.

Boston, Massachusetts – Jason, myself and our friends were fortunate in that Carnival had a shuttle service arranged (for a reasonable fee) to take us from the ship to downtown Boston as it was a farther walk than my map made it appear.  We began by checking out the marketplaces.  Although we had gotten room service for bfast that morning we bought a very healthy breakfast bowl to share that included beeswax pieces that I really liked.  We then began walking the Freedom Trail – a 2.5 mile path through the city that passes 16 historical spots.  The trail is literally marked on the sidewalks with red bricks so it was very easy to follow.  It took us through Copp’s Hill Burial Ground, founded in 1659.  I was amazed that many of the gravestones were as legible as they were.  The Old North Church was Jason and my favorite spot.  It is famously known for being the chapel to display “One if by land, two if by sea”.  We passed Paul Revere’s house but chose not to tour it as we wanted to see as much of the city as we could.  The New England Holocaust Memorial we walked under was very sobering as rather than have names etched in the glass of the six towers, it has numbers like those branded on the Jewish people.  For lunch we stopped at a food truck in the Boston Common and had truly gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.  Jason was most excited about visiting the Cheers bar though we found the original to be very crowded so after a few pics we returned to walk through more of the Boston Common area.  There is a statue there replicating the “Make Way for Ducklings” storybook.  We wandered through Chinatown before returning to the marketplace.  The second Cheers bar located at Faneuil Hill Marketplace was less crowded so we enjoyed food and drinks there.  We stopped in the Hard Rock Cafe then boarded the shuttle bus to head back to the ship.

Portland, Maine – We didn’t have any particular plans for Portland upon arriving there, so once we debarked from the ship we just began exploring.  While most cruisers likely went straight for the downtown area Jason and I chose to head towards the Eastern Promenade that wraps around the edge of the city.  In doing so we found a small trail that led to a memorial honoring those who were part of the Arctic Campaign in the 1940s, something that we had not heard of but that we quickly learned about in reading the signs.  We continued along the promenade which was very relaxing as there were only a few locals walking or running on it.  After making our way back into the actual city we decided to get a late breakfast at Becky’s Diner, an obvious favorite among the locals given we had to wait for a seat.  We next visited the Victoria Mansion, a historical home that showcases the architecture of the mid 1800s.  The volunteers were very informative and it felt like truly taking a step back in time viewing the rooms.  We spent most of the afternoon just wandering the city, popping in a shop here and there, but not finding much else to peak our interests.  Our friends took a walking food tour of the city which they said was very good and enabled them to discover some places that were featured on food channels.

Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada – Originally we were unsure of what we were going to do in Saint John as looking at a map it appeared too far to walk to the Reversing Falls which is what I most wanted to see.  We turned out to be pleasantly surprised when we discovered that there was a very nice walking trail of about 1.5 miles built leading from the city to it!  Along the trail were various pieces of artwork as well as displays providing various facts about the city and culture of the area.  As a history nerd and fitness fan this was the best of both worlds.  While we didn’t get to actually see the Saint John River run in reverse (which occurs during high tide when the Bay of Fundy pushes against it) the area was still beautiful to see.  There is a restaurant that overlooks it but was closed for renovations, so we headed back the path to the city to find some lunch.  Although the area is most known for its seafood we tried out a place called Taste of Egypt that was superb.  I tried a falafel burger for the first time and loved it!  Our waitress was very sweet and told us some history about how all the places along that side of the street were built after the Great Fire of 1877 and all those across the street were built before the fire.  After lunch we continued to explore the city, taking in the views while appreciating the quietness of everything and the architecture of the buildings.

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada – If it wasn’t so far from my family and the winters much colder than I could tolerate, I think Jason and I would move to Halifax.  It is just an amazing city in having a great cultural and historical vibe while still maintaining a quaintness not felt in most cities.  We started out the morning with our friends walking along the edge of the city on what felt almost like a boardwalk since it was decorated with shops and places to eat.  I’m not a huge tea person, but Jason got a chai tea from a stand that was really good.  I bought a shirt and keychain in a store then we all visited the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.  Because it was Canada’s 150th birthday this year the museum wasn’t charging a fee but just accepting donations.  There was a large exhibit on shipwrecks in the area as well as one detailing The Great Explosion of 1917.  After exploring the museum our friends departed to get oysters for lunch and go on an excursion and we went to find lunch.  I had looked up restaurants in Halifax in advance of our trip and almost every one I found had nearly a 5 star rating.  We settled on The Auction House and sat on the patio that overlooked a park.  I had a wonderful meal of fish and chips but the star was in berry crepes for dessert.  I could not get over the amazing taste and can only hope to find crepes someday that can compare.  Our afternoon was spent exploring the Halifax Citadel which Jason and I both loved.  Walking through the trenches and reading about the soldiers who lived during that era was so interesting.  I only wish we had gotten more time to view the Army museum located within it.  Nova Scotia is an hour ahead of the east coast so while we though it almost 4pm, it was really almost 5pm (their closing time) and we hurried through the rooms before being ushered out.  I would love to return to Halifax someday to discover even more of the city’s treasures.

Going Home – Our ship arrived back in NYC nearly an hour before it was supposed to so we disembarked fairly early.  This meant the walk back to Penn Station wasn’t nearly as crowded as the walk there.  As much as I wanted to love visiting NYC the way I did as a teen, the various smells of trash and sewer that nearly made my stomach sick made that very hard to do.  We were hoping to get an earlier train but after finding out it would cost $119 to do so we decided to just hang out at Penn Station and eat lunch there.  I was afraid it would be chaotic to find out where to go but it was very much like an airport with boards displaying the trains’ information and lots of signs for where the tracks were located.  Our train was 10 mins late arriving but we had an uneventful ride back to Lancaster.

Overall this cruise was one of the best vacations I have had.  For anyone who likes history, food and/or culture the itinerary is perfect.  We kept busy in the cities but never felt rushed so it was still relaxing despite being on the go.  Normally at the end of a vacation I’m ready to go home but I would’ve stayed on the ship and explored even more areas if I had been able!


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New England and Canada Cruise – Part 1

Jason and I took our first cruise in November 2013 which can be read about here – First Cruise Review.  We just returned on Sat. from our second cruise which I think it’s safe to say we enjoyed even more due to the itinerary as well as friends from Chicago joining us.  We sailed from New York City to Boston MA, Portland ME, Saint John New Brunswick Canada and Halifax Nova Scotia Canada.  Similar to the blog I wrote about our first cruise I will break it down into topics to make it easier to read.

PreCruise – Once again we chose to book the cruise through AAA.  Carnival’s website seems simple enough but I like the travel agent’s ability to click through the various levels on the ship to look for the room we want as well as the security of knowing we’ll get the best price possible.  Deb was very helpful and gave us information on taking a train to NYC as we were stressing about the possibility of having to drive there.  She also gave us plenty of booklets on the areas we were visiting.

Train/NYC – I think I woke up almost every hour on the hour the night before we left for the cruise.  Despite being super organized and always preparing for the worst I get pre-travel anxiety something terrible.  It’s a little backwards as most people get anxious about the actual vacation or mode of transportation, but I freak out continuously until I am on the actual vacation.  We drove to my parents’ house who in turn drove us to the train station in Lancaster.  It’s a nice and quiet station which helped calm my nerves though I knew Penn Station would be chaotic in comparison.  One of the oddest and slightly unnerving things I found was the lack of security – no metal detectors, bag checks, etc.  TSA won’t let me take a bottle of water on a plane yet I could’ve taken my handgun along on the train with no one knowing.

The train itself was very comfortable with plenty of leg room, free WiFi and outlets built into the sides.  The ride was going smoothly until we were 5-10 minutes from the Philadelphia station.  We came to a stop and waited in wonder for several minutes before an announcement finally came on notifying us there was a switch problem and that we may have to go back to the previous station.  Slight panic arose and I worked to keep myself calm knowing that we had until almost 4pm to board the ship and were due to arrive around 12p.  Still the fear of being late kept me on edge and I was relived when we finally started moving again, forward and not backward.  We were just nearing the tunnel to go into NYC when again the train was forced to stop due to a switch problem.  We had to wait for 4 trains coming in the opposite direction to pass us before we were able to move again.  I was grateful I had changed our arrival time at the cruise terminal to be between 1pm and 1:30pm as we finally reached Penn Station around 12:30p.

I hadn’t been to NYC since a bus trip in 2007.  I was looking forward to seeing it once more but that excitement quickly dissipated when upon reaching the street level a gentleman came up to Jason asking if he could spare change.  We quickly began moving down 8th Ave pulling our luggage behind us.  I wore a backpack containing our travel documents as well as other important items and Jason followed behind me to keep an eye on it.  I know caution and awareness are needed in any city but compared to other cities I’ve visited I just feel as though NYC is the worst for needing to be on one’s toes.  Maybe it’s due to the insane masses of people or the number of sketchy people, but I just don’t feel that I can enjoy myself there anymore.  Most people would’ve likely taken a taxi but we didn’t feel that the 1.7 mile walk would be all that difficult other than the crowds of people.  When we turned off 8th Ave it was a lot less crowded and we were able to pick up speed.  We reached the cruise terminal before 1:30pm.  After a little stress of having to fill out a customs form while we were moving with the line of other travelers we were getting our photos taken and boarding the ship!

Carnival Sunshine – The Ship – We booked an interior cabin this time as opposed to a balcony one.  The first reason being we would only be at sea 2 total days instead of 3, the second reason figuring we would be spending time with our friends and not holed up in our room as much and the third reason because it was cheaper.  The cabin was still a nice size including the bathroom.  I wish the closets would’ve had shelves like the ones did on the Pride but I just chose to live out of my suitcase for the week instead of fulling unpacking.  The TV had a few channels to watch other than the movie channels and Carnival’s info channels which was nice.  Jason liked the decor of the Pride more but agreed it was nice to have a bigger Serenity area to enjoy this time as all the lounge chairs were always taken on the last cruise.  We actually enjoyed some time in the whirlpool as there were 3 on the ship.  I’m not sure if it was the ship itself or just the seas but it was also a smoother sailing.  We both were slightly nauseous the first morning at sea like we were on the first cruise but were able to walk it off after breakfast and did not have to take the Dramamine I packed.  The rest of the week we were fine and only felt the ship moving a handful of times, none of which made us sick again.

Carnival Sunshine – The Entertainment – Over the course of the week we went to 2 comedy shows, a magic show, a movie, a 70s/80s show and 2 trivia sessions.  All were very good.  My only grievance would be that the music trivia in the piano bar that we so dearly loved on the Pride wasn’t available.  We actually didn’t even go into the piano bar the entire trip as every night was just sing-alongs.  The other issue I had was sometimes the timing of the entertainment was challenging – a comedian would start at 7pm but we didn’t go to dinner until 6pm some nights which meant we weren’t finished in time to go to that event.  Also sometimes there were shows at 7pm and 9pm but we had to kill time in between.  Two nights they did special midnight shows which given we were in port early each day we didn’t have the energy to stay up that late.  Overall the variety was nice and movies were shown every evening on the big screen above the pool which was something we didn’t have on the Pride.

Carnival Sunshine – The Food and Drink – If you ever go hungry while on a cruise there is something seriously wrong with you.  There are so many food options that even the pickiest of eaters can find something good to eat.  Jason and I ate in the dining room every evening for dinner except the 2nd elegant night (we only dressed up for the first one) and we tried out several new foods.  I seemed to be on a soup kick as over the course of the week I tried strawberry bisque, pumpkin soup and lobster bisque.  He made me try a piece of his escargot the one night which I promptly spit back out into my napkin.  It tasted exactly like what I expected a snail to taste like.  He also had braised rabbit and ox tongue neither of which I chose to sample.  One night I made a dinner out of 3 appetizers; the ability to order any and everything you want off the menu is fabulous.  We went to the seaday brunch both days at sea where he enjoyed huevos rancheros and I had chocolate chip pancakes drizzled in chocolate sauce.  We also ate burgers from Guy Fieri’s Burger Joint and burritos from the Blue Iguana Cantina.  Those are just a few highlights of the ship foods we enjoyed.  As far as drinks it seems the ship has an endless liquor supply for its multiple bars.  We enjoyed the RedFrog Rum Bar which featured a lot of drinks containing Barcadi but did actually have Captain this time!  My favorite though was the Rum Chocolate Shake from the Shake Spot.  Coconut rum mixed with real chocolate ice cream (none of that cheating by using vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup) was utterly delightful and I indulged in two during the week.

I was hoping to make this all one blog entry but alas as usual I am too wordy and think it will be best if I write up a second entry to detail all the fun we had in our ports of call… check out part 2 – New England and Canada Cruise – Part 2.

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My “Doggone” Running Route

One of the most fun yet challenging parts of increasing my weekly long run for my half marathon training is determining my running route.  I have only lived in my town for a little over 2 years now so I’m still finding new streets to go down and new areas to explore.  I will drive to sections of the rail trail for a change and also throw in some of my old running routes from my high school cross country team days.  I like variety as to avoid boredom but sometimes it’s just easier to run a familiar route.

After 2 weeks in a row of running the northern part of the rail trail into and through John Rudy park I knew I had to try something new yesterday.  I already have a 6 mile loop from my house through town and to the more rural areas and back.  I often rely on Google maps to see what roads connect to my regular loop.  This ensures I don’t get lost (I don’t run with my cell phone so no GPS to reference) but doesn’t indicate how challenging a route may become.  It also doesn’t accurately determine the mileage.  I did sign up for MapMyRun yesterday but after several attempts at trying to create a 10 mile course I became frustrated as I kept coming up short.  I decided to just expand on my 6 mile loop by running farther down the one road to a different road that ran parallel to my usual turnoff and throw in some jaunts down no outlet roads to tack on some extra.  Having rode my bike on the rail trail the day prior for 21-22 miles I figured as long as I ran over 8 miles it would be sufficient for the week.

I ran out the first road until it came to a dead end then turned around to pick up the second road.  This road has a lot of uphills and downhills in it which helps to engage my different leg muscles.  I turned off this road to run down a “rich street” (seriously I think some of the garages were almost the size of my house) until I reached the dead end then returned back to my main road.  I passed my usual next road and continued free fall running downhill into a new area that I had never explored.  It became very rural which I always enjoy as the roads I run don’t always have wide shoulders and the more rural the area the less traffic on the roads.  I turned onto a new road and continued passing farmland and fields.  I was approaching my next turn when up ahead I saw a German Shepard outside of the house at the corner.

I will stop right here and say I have always had a fear of dogs.  Part of this is likely due to being bitten in the butt by a sheepdog at a very young age; I’m fortunate to not remember the incident but it still left a mental scar apparently.  Trick or treating was very scary for me as anytime I rang a doorbell and heard a dog barking it was immediate panic for me.  I had a friend in high school who had 3 very large dogs, one of which wasn’t very friendly, and I required him to put them in another room before I would enter the house.  I have progressed a great deal as I’ve gotten older and I don’t have such a deep fear of dogs anymore fortunately.

That being said dogs are still one of my biggest fears as a runner.  The moment I hear a bark, whether it’s coming from a tiny Chihuahua or a friendly Golden Retriever, my heart races and I immediately locate the nearest car that I could jump on top.  Luckily I’ve never had to actually jump on a stranger’s car, but believe me when I say I would do it rather than risk being bit.  Even carrying pepper spray I don’t trust it to stop a dog from attacking me.

So back to the German Shepard.  I couldn’t see anyone in the yard with the dog nor could I tell if it was tied to anything.  There was a swing set in the backyard indicating that children lived in the home, but that just concerned me more as I know German Shepards can be very protective.  I know many people love that breed of dog but to me it is one of the scariest looking ones out there.  I was torn between wanting to continue on my new route and running the risk of the dog coming out on the road after me.

Caution prevailed and I decided to turn around and retrace my steps.  By retrace I mean begin running back that road to my main road which then become an uphill climb.  I wasn’t prepared for this climb mentally as I had already mapped the route to include a different challenging hill.  Once I reached my former turnoff road I turned on that and was grateful for the slight downhill grade to allow my legs to recover before tackling the next hill.  The bottoms of my feet began to burn which was an unusual experience for me and at that point I no longer cared how many miles I accumulated but rather just wanted to finish the run.  I had worn my water belt to stay hydrated but was still disappointed when I stopped by the high school stadium to get a drink only to find the bathroom was locked.  With only a few streets and turns left until home I mustered up some strength and focused on finishing the run.

As I was coming down the alley behind my house I look at my watch and saw I was at 9.82 miles.  This is what a runner would consider a mental challenge.  Do I just turn into my property no matter what the mileage or do I continue on to hit that official 10 mile mark?  Maybe it was just pure stubbornness to say I ran 10 miles that day, but I ran part of the street parallel to mine twice just so that when I finally turned on my street and touched my yard my watched beeped for the 10th mile.

My planned running route certainly didn’t go as I thought it would, but I suppose a runner needs as much mental flexibility as he or she needs it physically.  I guess I have that doggone German Shepard to thank for ensuring I reached my original 10 mile goal.

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