After our September 2022 Europe trip, Renee and I started planning our return, based very loosely on the need to come back and run our deferred half marathon.
We decided to squeeze in 4 countries in 10 days. I know that sounds very ambitious for many people, but we feel pretty comfortable with that cadence.
Renee & I met up in Atlanta and we took a direct flight to Milan. At the airport, I let Renee in on a little secret. Read on to find out more about that. Our flight was delayed about 1.5 hours. I know that doesn't seem like a lot, but we had a very tight timeline on our first day (rookie mistake probably) so it was a bit stressful. Trains seemed easier to figure out here, thank goodness! We took the train from the airport to the Milan central station, and our hotel was just a block or two away. Even the train station was like an art museum. Lots of cool sculptures.
Day 1 - Lake Como
After a quick freshening up, we set our sights on Lake Como. We had a cooking class in Como scheduled for 5pm, so we wanted to see the lake a bit first. We took a train to Como San Giovanni station, less than 30 minutes away. As I stepped off the train, the views were taking my breath away. The station was set up high on a bluff, and the scenery around it was dramatic. Very lush. It was about a 10-15 minute walk to the lake from there. We wanted a peek at the lake before our class. The narrow streets twisted and turned and were full of art exhibits and people eating lunch out on the piazza. I would have loved to stayed and check this are out! However, we were on a mission.
We strolled around the lake area for a few, taking in the scenery. Then I contacted our host, Damiano, regarding his exact location for the pasta and tiramisu cooking class. He offered to pick us up at the train station. We were like "seriously?, that is so nice of you!". So he ended up picking up 2 other ladies who were taking the class, and then picked us up and took us to his home in Lomazzo for the class. When we got there, another couple was already there on the patio enjoying welcome cocktails, along with the host's partner, Frederico.
We were greeted with the best Aperol Spritz I've ever had, and plenty of snacks to nosh on. We all got along so well, it was crazy. We had Olivia and Ohad from Tel Aviv, plus 2 girls from Minneapolis.
This was proving to be an AMAZING way to kick off this vacation. We felt so at home, so welcomed, so spoiled by our hosts and already like friends and family with everyone. We got put to "work" making the pasta. You have to have a lot of patience to make homemade pasta and tiramisu. We learned some things along the way. Finally it was time to eat! We had an absolute feast - we made tagliatelle pasta and pesto fresh from his garden. And stuffed ravioli with spinach and ricotta. And holy cow was the tiramisu rich and creamy. He did not use any coffee liquour in it which I thought was unusual. We had a tasty chianti to wash it all down. Splendid. If you're ever in the Milan area looking for a cooking class, I can highly recommend Caesarina cooking classes with Damiano. Get more info here.
When class was over, our hosts paid for our train ticket back to the city center, and then Frederico accompanied us almost all the way back, just to make sure we got home safely. They seemed concerned that us 2 ladies were walking around Milan by ourselves at night. We were SO SO tired since we did not sleep on the airplane on the way over, and were just running on fumes.
Day 2 Cinque Terre
The next day was equally amazing. No sleep for us - we only had one more full day in Italy so we had to make the most of it. We took the 3 hour train to Monterosso to explore Cinque Terre. Once again, we stepped out of the train station and basically on to a movie set.
We settled in for lunch and Aperol Spritz, which had become the go-to refreshment of choice. The beach was so captivating. Then Renee really wanted to do this hike along the "path" through Cinque Terre. We had seen a few very tame pictures and were under the impression that this was an easy stroll between towns. Not.
I forgot to mention that basically all of Europe was having a heatwave. Sunny and mid-80's every damn day. So here we are mid afternoon setting on a hike. Smart, right? It is a very, very narrow hiking trail up and around the cliffs. Full of steps. PS - I'm afraid of heights. This was not enjoyable for me. We could go a little ways before we had to pay a small fee to use the path. The goal was to make it all the way to Vernazza, which was less than 2 miles. HOWEVER, between the direct sun, heat, constant steps, and my fear of heights, it just became too much. There were sections with no railing that were very exposed with steep drop offs. I finally decided I had to turn around. Renee was very disappointed; I was not. I was grateful to live another day!
We continued by train to Vernazza for some gelato and shopping, then on to Rhiomaggiore for dinner before we needed to catch the 3 hour train back. These 2 days in Italy were the highlight of the trip for me. So worth it to see these incredibly vivid sights.
Day 3 - on to Switzerland
When we arrived at the train station for our 8am train to Interlaken, we learned it had been cancelled. It was kind of an informal process. We stood in cust svc line and he basically hand wrote some notes on my ticket and said that my original ticket would still work. We had to go a different route, which was very scenic.
We arrived in Interlaken and had some lunch. Switzerland to me feels like nature living out loud. The colors are so vivid, it is a feast for the senses. Just pure. Mountains, lakes, rivers, flowers everywhere. Our hotel here was very authentic - old and rustic. Some old guy working the front desk was rather gruff with us. There of course was no elevator or air conditioning. Renee asked for a fan and he started basically yelling at her "what for? - just open a window" . It was a great location though, and daily breakfast was actually quite nice. We learned a lot about the layout of Interlaken with the Ost and West train stations just a mile or so apart, and a free bus in between.
We went for rooftop drinks to watch the sunset while we made plans for the next day.
Day 4 - Lauterbrunen and Grindelwald Switzerland
We took a short train ride to Lauterbrunen, which is the home to 72 waterfalls. You're basically walking on a alpine road with waterfalls on one side of you and a river snaking through on the other side of you. We hiked up behind the first waterfall which wasn't too scary. I was very inspired by the number of extremely athletic people (mostly older and retired presumably) who were there doing all the nature things. They had their hiking poles and bikes and were camping and enjoying nature. Now that's how I'd like to spend some of my retirement. Amazing!
From there we hopped back on the train and went to Grindelwald. Any equally stunning alpine setting. We had bought some bread and wine at the grocery store the night before and sat outside admiring the views of the Jungfrau. The best part of being in these 2 towns was that it was 10-15 degrees cooler than back in Interlaken. It was like living in Phoenix and driving up to Flagstaff. So refreshing! After all of that walking around, we settled in for some fondue with a view! Awesome.
Day 5- Switzerland to Amsterdam
This morning we decided to take a cruise on Lake Brienz, which was literally across from the train station. It was so convenient. I love being out on water and really had wanted to cruise on lake como, but this would do! It was a great way to kill the time before our train to Amsterdam.
So we decided to try something new - a sleeper train! It was a long ride from Zurich to Amsterdam (10-11 hours). Ugh! As we were waiting to take this train, we were having a few drinks in the Zurich train station and met a lovely singer originally from the US but now living in Switzerland. She was a lot of fun to talk to felt like a "happy accident". Shoutout to Bonnie!
Our sleeper car was SOOO tiny. It had 3 tiny bunk beds, a table and a sink in there. We did not sleep well, as it wasn't a direct train, it still made stops and woke us up. Also it was hot in there so Renee wanted the window open, which was noisy with trains passing by. Ugh! They brought us champagne at take off, slippers, and then breakfast before arrival.
Day 6 - Amsterdam
We made our way from the main station to our hotel area. The subway there felt very similar to the London Underground. Easy to figure out and manage. Very, very metropolitan. The canals looked cool, but man that city is dirty. And bikes rule there. Pedestrians are stuck dodging them and it seemed like way more bikes than cars, at least in the city.
This was our nicest hotel of the trip. Our first activity was a canal tour. We got some of the history and lay of the land. All while sipping wine and eating cheese. Not a bad start to the trip!
Time for activity #2 - the Amsterdam Ice Bar!
This was a "cool" experience - pun intended. So we got 3 tokens. 1 was for the pre-ice bar experience and 2 were for our time in the ice bar. There was a lot of theatrical drama with "whisking us off on this expedition". Then we donned puffy jackets and gloves and got to go in. They limit your time in there to 20 minutes. Temperature was -9 degrees. It wasn't bad, just my fingers were frozen.
We met a nice couple from Milwaukee in there. The bar was made of ice, as were all the glasses. It was a good deal though - $26.50 and included 3 drinks.
Ok - time to let you in on that "secret". At the airport in Atlanta, I mentioned to Renee that I would be "open" to getting a tattoo in Amsterdam. I have none. She has 6. Her eyes lit up like a christmas tree and she said "oh yes, we are doing this!". I have thought it was inevitable I would get one at some point, but just didn't know what or when. We agreed on something travel themed.
When we had arrived in Amsterdam, we did scout out a few places for our special activity. We still had to narrow down what we wanted, but we managed to do that and select a place. As we were heading out for dinner, Renee made a beeline for that place and said lets do this first. That girl was on a mission! I've never done this before, but here's the proof. Matching tattoos that say "travel" with a heart and a plane.
Day 7 - Amsterdam
We were supposed to have a sunrise running tour today. However, our guide was injured and had to cancel on us the day before. Instead we went out for our own run. This turned into a bit of a pain due to dodging all the bikers.
After our run, we ventured out on a short train ride to Zaandam. When we were planning this trip, we saw pictures from this town and thought it looked really cool. So we went out and spent time shopping and seeing the cool buildings.
Our last activity of the day was a party bike. It was us, and a group of guys from the UK. We did not actually pedal, only our driver did. It felt like karaoke on wheels. Such a good time. Bottomless prosecco for us and beer for them. They were highly entertaining. The driver tried to engage us with silly games, but overall it was a good time!
Day 8 - on to London
This morning we took the Eurostar train to London. Easy peasy. We made our way back to Richmond - because oh yeah - we were meant to be running a dang half marathon tomorrow!!! You probably forgot that little detail since we had been doing so much partying on this trip! We stayed very low key today and just got settled in for the race. Renee was very concerned about the race because she hates the heat and they were predicting unseasonably hot weather. Add that to a ridiculously late start time - 9:15am =Recipe for disaster!
Day 9 - race day - Richmond
The race started in Royal Kew Gardens, and then went out on the path along the Thames River. It was humid and tough conditions. I had low expectations and just planned to take it easy. In the second half of the race, I started seeing more people laying on the ground getting medical attention. The water at the water stops was lukewarm/almost hot. Gross. There was a full marathon that started an hour before our half marathon. Those people were in real trouble.
Around mile 12 a very unofficial looking lady came by on a bike yelling "the race has been cancelled" and waving her arms at us. I was so close that I chose to just keep moving forward. Then about a half a mile later, actual officials said that too. Made it to the finish line where I just sat down and regrouped for a bit. Once Renee joined me, I said let's go get our finisher beer. So we go to the bar to get the official free one, and they said they couldn't serve us since the race was cancelled. Utterly ridiulous. We learned that it was cancelled because the town RAN OUT OF AMBULANCES! Can you believe it? It took me just under 3 hours and I was just relieved it was over.
We checked out of our hotel in Richmond and went back to the city to enjoy what was left of the trip. Ended up having drinks by Tower Bridge, our favorite place.
Final thoughts: We did an incredible job of planning this adventure and squeezing everything we could out of it. I started a new job in the spring, so my vacation time was a bit limited. I'm so grateful that I was able to experience all of this! I do think Italy was my favorite. I know that I've only scratched the surface of it. I started learning Italian on Duolingo, so I'll be ready for my next trip there!
Several months ago, I was listening to a podcast, We Run the Desert podcast. The topic that day was a brand new trail running format that was coming to the valley. The company was called Double Black Events and they were bringing a race called the Onyx Race to town.
For background, I’m only a casual trail runner. I basically just run Ragnar trail and maybe a few others here and there. I like them, but after falling and getting hurt, I became very scared of trails.
So I’m listening to them describe the new format and something made me listen more closely. This was different. It wasn’t just about being fast. It also had another challenge built in – the OPTION of carrying a sandbag to earn more points. This race is on a points system. You earn more points based on the distance or difficulty of the route you take, and then you have the option of doubling your points if you choose to carry a sandbag on the 2nd half of the loop. It’s all strategy on making the most of your time (2 hours or 4 hours) and playing to your strengths. I’ve never picked up a sandbag in my life. I have never done an obstacle course race. But, I am an avid weight lifter and at the very least consider myself strong. So, challenge accepted!
A week prior to the race, the course program was announced so you could start strategizing. I was considering backing out, I was so nervous! I started doubting my abilities and really wished I had a partner in crime joining me for this challenge.
After looking at the program, I initially decided I’d try the red route and then the white for my 2 hour time frame. This uses many of the same trails as Ragnar AZ. I was trying to equate it in my head and started to freak out that the red loop would be part of the same as the red loop from Ragnar, with 1000 ft elevation gain. There are so many loose rocks on that course that I couldn’t imagine trying to carry back a 25 lb sandbag on that type of terrain. So I revised my plan and decided on blue first, then 2 loops of white, time permitting.
Since this was a brand new race, it was not a large turnout (which was fine with me). The race was very well organized. The 4 hour group was larger and started at 7am.
My anxiety continued to grow as more people arrived. Definitely a smaller group for the 2 hour Onyx Half. Like 25 or so. One nice girl from Tucson started chatting me up and that helped calm me down a bit. The race kicked off at 8 and all but 2 of us headed for the yellow or red loop. Just me and another guy went for the blue. This trail was very nice. Not technical. It has 500 ft elevation gain, but it is all at a hill at the turn around point. I get to the aid station and he tells me I need to go up this hill once and then come back and either choose the sandbag (35 lbs for women) or a small flag and then run the route again. Ugh! He was really funny and just doing the hill without the sandbag was tough enough. So then he says what’s it going to be? I said the sandbag, that’s what I’m here for. So I managed to carry that up the hill and back down , then another 2 miles back to the start. There aren’t any handles on the sandbags, so they are super awkward. But overall not as bad as I expected. I tried to run a little with the sandbag in little spurts, but for the most part just ended up hiking.
I came into the exchange, dropped my sandbag, gave them my runner number and headed out for the white loop. White loop is only 1.3 miles, and pretty flat through a wash. BUT, the sandbag weighs 40 pounds on this loop (50 for men!). I felt light as a feather when I dropped the sandbag and was just running again. I decided to go for it and it and bring the sandbag back. Didn’t really feel worse than the 35, but running with it in the wash felt pretty impossible.
I finished 2 rounds of that and crossed the finish line in 1:56. Really was amazed at how good I felt in general. Just for fun I checked the leaderboard and about fell over when I saw that I was in 2nd place for females. Shortly after the 2 hour window was over, the final numbers were in and I dropped to 3rd, out of 8 that participated. Low and behold they had awards for top 3! I received a unique flag commemorating my achievement.
2 days later, I’m still sore but glad I tried this unique race. I’d totally do it again. What would I do differently next time? Train with sandbags! I fully intended to, but I never did.
Keep pushing past your comfort zone!
This trip came about after my friend Renee and I got rejected for the London Marathon lottery. We decided we still wanted to have a European racecation, so we just needed to pick a new race. We picked the Richmond Runfest in Richmond UK and started planning our adventure. We went back and forth on what countries to add on besides England, but settled on adding in France and Belgium over 8 days. Renee & I split up the booking responsibilities and researching so that up front costs were shared.
* We wanted a way to collaborate on the trip planning and I found an app called Wanderlog. With Renee being on an android and me on an iphone, we were both able to add in itinerary suggestions, trip confirmations and so much more. It even has the capability to keep track of your budget and split costs between multiple people.
Day one – London
On our first day, we made our way to our hotel, the Beverly Hotel. It was located off of the Pimlico tube station. Naturally we got off and had a little trouble finding our hotel. It turned out to be about 6 blocks away. It was a drag (pun intended) lugging our suitcases over the unforgiving bumpy sidewalks. Our room was the smallest we had the whole trip, barely room to walk around the twin beds. Also they put us on the 3rd floor with no elevators.
Pick a hotel that has more than one tube line stopping there. We only had the Victoria line servicing Pimlico, so it made it a challenge to get back to that line on the return.
We dropped our luggage and headed out for lunch. Decided to try the cable cars over the Thames River. I thought it was a nice alternative to the London Eye. It’s a short ride but still great views and just a fraction of the price of the Eye.
Pay cash for your ride and save 1 GBP each way!
Day two – London
We wanted to check out one of the local markets, so Borough Market was super easy from Tower Bridge area. It sure was cute. The vendors were so friendly and there were endless options of treats. I felt bad that we had already eaten brunch before we came and didn’t have room for much. I had a yummy cappuccino and bought chocolate and a mini cannoli for later but was also mesmerized by all the cheeses.
Stopped for cocktails at Coppa Club and had really crappy service. From an unnecessary wait to be seated to no server coming over, it was overall disappointing. But the drinks were refreshing, and they had a cute photo spot outside.
It was a nice way to kick off before our afternoon tea cruise on the Thames River. I bought this tour from Viator. We were looking forward to afternoon tea but were unimpressed once we sat down. There is no choice of tea, it’s the same for everyone. Super generic. And the quality of the food was just not there. However, once we finished, we went up on the top of the deck of the boat and they started giving a guided tour of the landmarks along the Thames. Now that part, I enjoyed!
Skip this tea cruise and go for a true authentic afternoon tea somewhere local. Then if you want a sightseeing cruise, do that separately.
Stopped at Harrods to check it out. What a waste of time. It is way too high end and took up like 3 city blocks. We were so tired from walking that day, that walking around this immense store required too much effort. If you do go, I recommend hitting up the food floor - lots of great gifts and souvenirs here. I bought a tin of Harrods tea.
Finished out this day with a visit to a “secret” underground bar hidden within a restaurant. You enter through a refrigerator door. They served up amazing cocktails in a speakeasy type vibe.
Day three – Paris
We took the Eurostar train from St. Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord. Easy and just two hours. I don’t like the big cattle call once the gate opens to start boarding, but oh well. We arrived at the train station in Paris and were immediately struck with the fact that we had no idea where we were going on how we were going to get there. There were so many different types of tickets you could buy – and different trains you could take. 2 different types of metro tickets and an RER train which apparently goes outside of the city. We panicked because we hadn’t prepared for this and had no idea which train to take. We asked for help but ended up just winging it and buying metro tickets and found the route suggestions on some app.
Do your research ahead of time on which trains to take to your hotel in the event you don’t have wifi when you arrive.
So, with 10 metro tickets in hand, and a tentative plan on which stops to get off on, off we went. Cut to 5 minutes later when I’m being continually bumped into by some random dude at the door of the train. He’s mumbling to me in French and looking down at my purse. So I looked down only to see that my purse was unzipped with my wallet clearly visible and not too difficult for grabbing. Oy. I quickly zipped it up and he got off on the next stop.
Always be alert. It’s hard not to get mesmerized by the sights and by the thrill of the experience. Don’t be careless like me and set yourself up to be pickpocketed.
We came off the metro which was actually not bad, and were pleasantly surprised to find out that our hotel was less than 2 blocks away. We stayed at the Hotel Derby Eiffel. It was definitely a step or two up from the last hotel. Larger room, elevator, friendlier staff, and a fantastic location. I do believe that it was the most expensive out of all of our hotels, though.
First stop was lunch at a nearby café. We had some bubbly, and quiche. The waiter immediately recognized my bad French accent and came over with English menus.
We set off for the Eiffel Tower tour we signed up for. Kinda lame and not cheap, but it did help us jump the numerous security lines. Once we got into the tower, we left the group and just explored on our own. Our mission was to go to the top an enjoy a glass of bubbly. I’m afraid of heights, so I honestly wasn’t wowed by this experience – but I understand that it’s a box for many to check off.
That night, we wanted to see the Eiffel Tower lit up and sparkling – it sparkles for 5 minutes at 9pm, 10pm, 11pm and midnight. It’s pretty cool, I wish it lasted longer. We found a nearby rooftop bar to take in the sights. Magical!
Another fun thing to do is people watch at a sidewalk cafe. Especially one lined with little markets. The locals walk everywhere and the produce is so fresh and vibrant. Love it!
Day four – Paris
We booked a sunrise running tour in Paris, which ended up probably being our favorite tour we did. Wow! Our guide took us past all the major monuments at sunrise and took our photo! We did just over 4 miles and stopped a bunch for photos. This tour was such a good deal and so memorable!
After the tour we went back to get ready for our Gourmet Lunch River Cruise on the Seine. I wasn’t sure if this would be too fancy pants, but it sounded like a good experience. It was a 4 course meal with wine and champagne. We got there and the average age had to have been at least 75! We were delighted when a younger couple got seated next to us. This was a very classy affair, with many gourmet options. The dark chocolate dessert was the best thing I ate on the entire trip! And the wine just kept flowing, and we befriended the couple next to us. Spectacular!
From there we went to the Arc du Triomphe. We pre-bought tickets to be able to go the top. They were cheap and not time specific. This to me was a waste of time. It was 250 + stairs to get to the top and the view was nothing exciting.
Skip an Arc du Triomphe tour and just take pics in front of it.
For our 3rd and final tour of the day, we went to a French champagne and wine tasting. It was about 15 people, mostly Americans, who wanted to learn more about French wine and champagne. It included charcuterie and was informative. We enjoyed this.
Day five – Brussels
Today we took the metro back to Gare du Nord and took the train to Brussels. This was another 2 hour trip that went by pretty quickly. Upon arrival in Brussels, more confusion over how to get to the Grand Place (center of town) area. We took a bus and missed getting off at the right stop and had to lug our luggage again over cobblestone for what seemed like a mile. But wow, the streets of Brussels are wonderful! So many sights and smells. The entire time we were in brussels it smelled like Belgian waffles. Yum!
Our hotel, NH Carrefours , was perfectly located near Grand Place and literally behind the Central train station. This hotel was very nice, large room, full service, and a window that opened up onto a courtyard. But location was killer. We ended up going to a travel help desk and the staff was AMAZING. Super helpful, we could buy our tickets right inside their office. We had some local Belgian brews (very affordable!) and I had to try the famous fries. Basically cheese fries in a cone with your choice of a dozen sauces. Not bad! We toured the numerous markets and were wowed by all the chocolate options.
Choose a hotel right off of Grand Place and by the Central Train Station. It's a win-win!
Day six – Brugge and Ghent
We took the train to Brugges, it was our one rainy day of the whole trip. It was less than an hour from Brussels. Walked around the whole town, over canals and bridges. This town was so full of charm. Finally had Belgian waffles there and it was delicious. Man, is it hard to find large coffee there though! LOL.
Did some shopping and then hopped back on the train to Ghent (which was halfway back to Brussels) The main reason we wanted to go here was because of the castles and medieval feel. We walked over a mile to the center of town (should have been brave and taken the local bus). They take their biking very seriously there. They bike everywhere, and fast! Wow was this town cute, the castle is incredible and all the canals around it are so charming. Could have spent more time there for sure. Next time I would take the boat ride.
Day seven – London/Richmond
We were smart this time and took the train from the central station right behind our hotel to catch the train back to London. Our race in Richmond was cancelled due to the death of the Queen, so we were basically coming to Richmond for no real reason now. We dropped our luggage at the Kew Gardens Inn and headed back to central London on the metro. Had some cocktails and did more souvenir shopping along the river. Then back to Richmond for dinner. We stopped at the White Swan for sticky toffee pudding. Delicious. And such a cute place.
Then of course as a Ted Lasso fan, I had to go check out his pub Princes Head, just around the corner. Took some pics there, went inside, so cool to be there. Our hotel had a pub on the ground floor and big cozy leather chairs and fireplace. Perfect place to hunker down and met some other runners there.
Day eight – London/Richmond
We went out for a run along the Thames (part of the race course) and then stopped in the Kew Royal Gardens.
Highlight for today for me though was going to a traditional afternoon tea, which far surpassed our river cruise tea experience. We went to Candella off of High Street Kensington. Highly recommend! Very affordable and quaint – and the food was so good! We added a bottle of prosecco and it was just a fantastic time, a great way to end our trip! After that just poked around for final souvenirs and then back to Richmond for dinner along the river there.
I feel so blessed to have been able to do this trip and experience these places. We deferred our race to 2023, so we'll be back again next year, adding on a new set of countries!
Disclaimer: I received a free entry to the Hot Chocolate Phoenix 15k as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review, find and write race reviews!"
The Hot Chocolate race series is always such a popular event. I have participated many times, but this was my first time running the new downtown Phoenix course. I actually trained for the 15k - it was my longest distance since the pandemic, and gave me something to focus on. The expo was Friday and Saturday at the convention center downtown. I took the light rail, which I highly recommend. I got there right when it opened and was in and out quickly.
The actual race started at Wesley Bolin Plaza, which I was not familiar with. I ended up getting together with friends and taking an uber. It was a crisp Phoenix morning, which definitely put you in the mood for hot chocolate! The 5k started at 7:25 am and the 15k started at 8:25. Corrals were set up very efficiently and signage was good.
The course wound around several sections of downtown Phoenix. Most water stops included chocolate and/or some honey stinger goodies as well. The course was flat and fast, only one or two inclines.
Given my numerous injuries in the past year or so, and a cutback in mileage, I'm super pleased with how it turned out. I felt good, and finished in 1:38, top 1/3 of my age group.
The hot chocolate really hit the spot. I brought most of the other goodies home to my son. They handed out the finisher mugs pretty efficiently, but seating is an issue. There are signs "No sitting or standing" all over the parking lot. It's hard to enjoy these hard-earned goodies and still abide by these rules.
Let's talk swag and bling! Hot Chocolate has always given out really nice jackets that people actually want to wear again - and this year was no exception! This year we received black puffy lightweight jackets, which look really nice and fit well. And the medals were nice, large, and distance-specific, which I always appreciate. I also enjoyed being able to scan my bib for my results immediately. Next year's race will take place on December 11, 2022. Until next time!
I haven't ran a trail race since 2015, and that is by design. The last time I ran a trail relay, I fell and sprained my ankle, and had to walk over 4 miles on it back to camp. It really freaked me out and made me feel like I just can't do this.
Fast forward to 2021, when I decided to give trails another chance. In fact, the exact same trails that scared me last time. Spoiler alert: I loved it!
I became a Ragnar Relay ambassador back in May and the trail race is now our only local Ragnar Relay. So, I got some friends together and made my own team, determined to not let my previous bad experience weigh me down. I started with my local "brew crew", 3 friends who I met in a women's running group many years ago - and met for lots of virtual races during the pandemic.
Then the team got filled in from another friend (and former colleague) and her husband, plus 2 out of state friends I met at other Ragnars. Building the team would prove to be the easiest part. My biggest challenge was the logistics of getting us and our stuff to the campsite. It's a long story but basically 2 people were flying in and had no gear or transportation, and another 2 of us had very small cars with little storage for all the gear we needed to bring. So I rented a SUV. Problem solved right? Wrong. I showed up to the car rental place and was told they did not have the type of car I needed, or anything similar - IN THE WHOLE STATE! Connie came to the rescue and got us a uhaul cargo van. It was ghetto, but we made it work!
While we were dealing with the van, other team members went up early and snagged us a good spot. 6 of us spent the first night before the race started
We settled in next to good friends (who made delicious food all weekend!), and then waited for our start time and for our remaining 2 teammates to arrive.
We had hoped to do glamping, which sold out 6 months in advance. We were on the waitlist and never got in, and it ended up working out just fine. We had an early start time, and Amanda was our first runner on deck.
It got hot really quick, so we were each treated to a some crazy hot runs in the afternoon. My first run was the yellow loop, the dreaded technical loop. It has some tricky spots for sure, lots of ups and downs and some nice runnable sections.
I survived this run, and actually enjoyed the end section where it merged with the other trails.
Spent the rest of the day rehydrating, chilling, and cheering on our remaining runners.
My next run would be around 11:30pm. It was the green loop, which is a nice rolling trail on packed dirt. It was just us and the stars and moon. Really peaceful, maybe 55 degrees? It was such a relief to not deal with any technical terrain or loose rocks. I absolutely loved it and felt like I was flying.
After this run, I crawled in the tent, feeling satisfied and got a few hours of much needed sleep. My last run was around 930 am, and it would be the red loop, the longest one, and the one I fell on last time. It has a long steep incline in the first 2 miles on loose rocks that I don't understand how anyone can run on it. As soon as I hit the one mile mark, I fell and my watch did the one mile chime. Nothing was hurting, so I popped up and kept going. But it would be 2 more miles before I was able to fully run on solid ground. Once I was back running again, I enjoyed it and was trying my best to beat the heat.
Then it was just a waiting game for our final runners!
Here they come!
All in all, a great time was had and I have discovered that I CAN do hard things, I CAN run trails! So happy to be able to have done this with my friends.
I have heard great things about Hood to Coast - literally the "mother of all relays" but have never had the chance to run the traditional course from Mt. Hood to Seaside, Oregon - until now!
This race is so popular that you can only get in through lottery , or by charity team.
I saw a FB post from a friend that they had an opening on their charity team. My plans had changed for that weekend and I decided to jump on the opportunity. I knew 3 people on the team, so I had a feeling it would be a good time. And they were sooooooo organized it made it easy for me.
I got picked up at the airport on Thursday - my entire team but me arrived on Wednesday to hang out for 5 full days - they must really like each other, huh?? We stopped at the worst, weirdest Subway on the planet in an industrial park in Portland on the way. More than just the bread was "baked" there, LOL. Anyhoo, we met up with the rest of the team who was having an amazing time partying in the lodge at Mt. Hood. Such a cool setting, and everyone was relaxed, welcoming and fun to hang out with.
Then off to dinner where more fun commenced. Here's Stephen being shy...
Ok, time to get serious. Our team had a start time of 3:10 am and I was in van 1 - YIKES! It was an odd night of sleep for sure, but we made it to the top of Mt. Hood where it was around 37 degrees, windy and drizzling. Not exactly my favorite combo! I hit up that gear store, saw runner 1 off and hopped back under the covers in the van. My first leg would be 4.6 miles, somewhat downhill. I suprisingly wasn't cold, it warmed up about 10 degrees once we drove down the mountain. But still drizzling. Unbeknownst to me, my leg would take me in part on a trail through the woods. At 4am. Once I turned onto the trail, the fast people quickly went by and I was suddenly alone on the trail which was not marked along the dirt trail. Kinda freaked out a little, as I am NOT a trail runner and wasn't 100% sure I was going the right way. It eventually merged onto a paved trail that was marked and shortly after that I was back on the highway. Whew!
Leg 2 would take our van through downtown Portland (sketchy) and the outskirts. It was heating up a bit, so most people did not enjoy their jaunt through ugly industrial areas and homeless encampments. My run was the longest I had, which was around 7.5 miles. Straight stretch of highway, but rolling hills which kept me entertained.
Being a charity team, we got to take advantage of a huge VIP area at exchange 24 where they had swag, recovery tools, comfy chairs, and FOOD! Made a quick sweep through there and then went off to sleep for a bit. Where we ended up is known to not have cell reception. So when we got up at the time we had agreed on, we learned that the other van finished a good hour early and was waiting for us. Oops. Our last legs would be in the dark (at least the first 3 runners) and it was pretty uneventful. Legs were soooo sore from all the hills so it was more of a shuffle.
Quite literally, as we finished our legs and were driving on towards the coast for breakfast, we were stopped in the road by a pig offering us bloody marys. Naturally, we had to stop and check this out. After breakfast we headed for the finish at the beach. This was such a cute area. Seaside is super touristy. There were a bunch of tents set up on the beach, it was quite a sight.
All in all, we did pretty well! Our captain David brought us over the finish line where he proceeded to formally medal us, which was kind of cool.
We did all the obligatory putting our feet in the water, taking goofy pics and then it was time for a ceremonial finisher beer.
After lunch, I left the crew to meet up with 2 girlfriends who flew in for the weekend. The team ended up spending another day and a half sightseeing, going to waterfalls, goonies house and Nike store.
This was a perfect way to cap off an epic Oregon adventure. I absolutely loved it here and will definitely come back. Feeling blessed to have been with such a great group that I'm sure in one capacity or another will race with again!
A few takeaways in terms of differences between Hood to Coast and Ragnar:
It’s been a minute since I wrote a blog post. Time sure flies. Busy with a new job and life in general. I’m so happy that things are starting to return to normal, including travel and racing – 2 of my favorite things!
One new thing that is taking up some of my time is that I became a Ragnar ambassador!!!! What does that mean? I’m helping to share the good word about Ragnar, and have my own discount code to share, which I will include at the end of this post. The ambassador community has been really great so far. These are my people!
So, 2021 is almost half over, I have a lot of lost time to make up for! I’ve got plans, let me tell ya!
I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am that ragnars are back, and it’s safe to travel! I am even captaining my own team for the trail race in AZ this November. The Brew Crew ladies are going to have a blast! If you want to build your own team for any Ragnar Relay, use code EWAMB21 for 10% off your team registration!
I was recently a guest on the Michigan Runner Girl podcast (how cool is that?!). I met Heather in real life when I was on her Ragnar team back in 2018. She’s pretty great. We talked about running, injuries, adapting our goals, and of course, RAGNAR! You can listen here.
So, the countdown is on! A month from now I will finally get back to what I love – travelling for Ragnar races! I’m back training and couldn’t be happier. I hope to see some of you at a Ragnar this year!
Disclaimer: I received a free entry to the Hot Chocolate Phoenix Virtual Race as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review, find and write race reviews!"
Ah 2020, the year of virtual races. It seems like just yesterday I was sitting at the Rock n Roll AZ expo in Phoenix, representing the Hot Chocolate race and helping them promote race registrations. I would never have predicted that the race would not be taking place in person, and everyone would be running it on their own virtually.
When I registered, I had full intentions of running the 15k, as it would be perfect training for Rock n Roll AZ the following month. Well, you know how that played out. Then,over the summer and fall I had a string of various injuries that had me take an entire month off from running. My 15k hopes were dashed. But, there's no shame in a 5k, right?
So, registered for the virtual race, and got some pretty nice swag. High quality hoodie, medal, bib and a treat bag of hot chocolate and honey stinger waffles! Then I talked to my girlfriends and got them to sign up, too. The 15k ladies started about an hour before, then we met up with them for the last 5k. And of course celebratory drinks after LOL.
Once I got home, I made the hot chocolate for myself and my son. It was so unbelievably rich and decadent, we loved it! Just missing that delicious chocolate fondue. I'll make up for it next year!
Disclaimer: I received a free entry to the Hot Chocolate Phoenix Virtual Race as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review, find and write race reviews!"
I ran my first Hot Chocolate race several years back, and really enjoyed it. This race brings out ALL the local runners and walkers, since you can choose from 15k or 5k - - and everyone LOVES chocolate, right???
Your typical Hot Chocolate race has sweet stations along the way - grab a handful of m&ms, hershey kisses, etc. to keep you motivated along the way...and then finish with a glorious mug of hot chocolate, and chocolate fondue with various dippers. It's typically a chilly day here in Phoenix , so the warm chocolate really hits the spot!
As everyone knows, nothing about 2020 is typical! So, all the Hot Chocolate races since March have gone virtual. So how does that work, exactly? Obviously you will run or walk whichever distance you choose on whichever date you want, wherever you want! Then you'll receive a Hot Chocolate swag bag in the mail!
Swag bag includes:
Hot Chocolate Phoenix takes place on December 13. Register today and start training for that chocolate!
"Disclaimer: I received a free entry to the Resilience Challenge as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review, find and write race reviews!"
It seems like everyone and their mom is doing a mileage or movement challenge to keep their sanity during quarantine. I've done some virtual races, and a 50 mile challenge with Honey Stinger. I saw that Team in Training was doing one, and I decided to jump in!
I have a longstanding history with Team in Training. I did my first 5 marathons with them. They are such a fantastic organization, and a very worthy charity (Leukemia & Lymphoma society).
So How Does It Work?
Team In Training’s Resilience Challenge is a 30-day movement & fundraising challenge dedicated to supporting The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) mission to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.
1. Register here
2. Join my team!
3. Walk or Run 50 miles between Sept 1- Sept 30
4. Tell your friends! You'll have a personal fundraising page - there is a suggested goal of raising $500, but there is no fundraising commitment.
5. Have fun and log your miles!
6. Win prizes for the fundraising levels reached
LETS DO THIS! Join My Team "Movin' and Groovin' to Beat Cancer" today! Even if you aren't able to fundraise, I think raising awareness for blood cancers is super important too.
Hi, I'm Emily! I'm an avid runner in Arizona with a passion for travel and racing around the country!