tropical smoothie cafe’s unBEETable new menu items & giveaway

This is a sponsored post. Tropical Smoothie provided me with gift cards for my own personal use and to giveaway in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe is making some changes.

Big changes.

And I was part of a group of bloggers and social media mavens to see (and sample!) some of the new things and tastes that the crew at Tropical Smoothie Cafe has blended up.

With Kristin from A Mom on the Run, ready for a morning of sampling.

We were invited out to the newest Tropical Smoothie Cafe location in Middleburg. When we walked into the store, I was thoroughly impressed by how bright and fresh the new decor was.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe CEO Mike Rotondo, our host for the morning, explained that he felt it was time to make Tropical Smoothie locations more of a destination to dine in, rather than grab-and-go. As a result, the new and improved store model showcases an actual smoothie bar and open kitchen. All drinks and dishes are created right in front of the customers, producing a new, more comfortable, vibe for the establishment.

There are some other changes in the works. For one thing, there will no longer be soda machines in Tropical Smoothie Cafes. Instead, offerings will add an assortment of fresh lemonades and teas to the menu, to supplement the smoothies and water offered as beverages. We got a taste of one of the lemonades and it was lovely: crisp and not too sweet.

It was time to start tasting.

First, the smoothie “bartender” made us a sample of their most popular product: “Island Green”, (a blend of spinach, kale, mango, pineapple and banana). It was a great example of how vegetables, especially greens, can also be part of a yummy drink. I confess that I have never had a green smoothie of any kind, and I was surprised at home much I enjoyed it. I do love green veggies and eat a lot of them, but the idea of having them blended up in a frozen concoction always gave me pause.

Next up was the all new UnBEETable Berry.

I’m a pretty big beet lover. My great grandmother made the world’s most delicious pickled beets and I will always load up on beets in salads. That being said, I was pretty interested to see how a beet-infused smoothie was going to go.

The UnBEETable Berry is a combination of fresh beets (skins and all), strawberries, blueberries, banana and cranberries.

There was a definite earthiness to the flavor. It wasn’t unpleasant, but a little different. However, after a few sips, the tart crispness of the cranberries caught up, with just a hint of sweetness from the berries, making the whole thing quite refreshing and delicious. I would definitely order this on my own.

Mr. Rotondo spoke at length about the processes involved in getting just the right flavor and texture combinations, especially when it came to using vegetables.  With that, we were offered a taste of the Totally Green smoothie. This is a slightly less popular item than the Island Green, featuring cucumber, green apple, kale, spinach, celery and kiwi.

I loved it. It didn’t have the (to-me) sweetness of the Island Green, but the flavors were incredibly fresh and clean. I loved the hint of celery and green apple peeking through, and I never would have known kiwi was included (not a kiwi fan).

After our smoothie sampling, we were invited to sit down for the next “course”: noodle bowls!

Tropical Smoothie Cafe regularly tweaks its menu, substituting less popular items with new offerings, in an attempt to keep everything up to date and enjoyable. Noodle bowls are currently available as a limited time offer in two varieties: Spicy Mongolian Steak and Ginger Miso Chicken.

First up was the Ginger Miso Chicken

Grilled chicken, edamame, shredded carrots, scallions, cucumber, sesame seeds and noodles sit atop a bed of baby spinach, dressed in a Carrot Ginger Miso Sauce. The dish was light enough for lunch in a hot Florida summer, but satisfying as well. I loved the crunch of the fresh veggies with the warm noodles and chicken, and the flavors worked well together.

The spicy Mongolian Steak was also delicious. I don’t often eat red meat, and the noodle bowl can be customized with a different protein (chicken or a vegetarian option) if desired, but this was probably my favorite. Sliced, marinated steak is tossed with green and red peppers, scallions, sesame seeds, noodles and a Spicy Asian BBQ sauce on the same bed of noodles. I am a big fan of spicy, things, and this was definitely a hearty dish, perfect as comfort food.

I’m excited to see how Tropical Smoothie Cafe continues innovating and developing along the way.

Stan, Kristin, Tropical Smoothie Cafe CEO Mike Rotondo, me and Daisy at Middleburg’s new Tropical Smoothie Cafe.

After sharing all the tempting deliciousness from our special morning, I am thrilled to be able to offer a $25 Tropical Smoothie Gift card to one lucky reader! There are lots of ways to enter for your chance to win, so don’t be shy. Giveaway ends at midnight ET on Sunday, August 31. Good luck!

 

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weekly recap: 8/17 – 8/23

So we have come to the conclusion of Week 9 of marathon training. Which means we are going into double-digit training week numbers. Which is almost more intimidating than double-digit long runs. Which I need to start getting a handle on, soon.

One step at a time; one run at a time; one wall at a time. That’s pretty much where I need to keep my mind.

All in all, it was a decent week.

Sunday9 miles

As promised. And it wasn’t without excitement. Apparently, my planned route was also that of a nice-sized triathlon, which kind of threw me for a loop. Fortunately, I had a little bit of time before they started, and the first racers wouldn’t be at my stretch of bridge until a little later. I did some mental calculations, prayed I wouldn’t need the restroom (which was pretty much in the heart of their transition area) and changed up my original plans.

It ended up being a beautiful run, even if the weather was ridiculous. I was also pretty happy that even with the temperature and four hill repeats, I kept my pace under 13 minutes. Small victories.

 

Monday - rest

Monday was a pretty big day: little man was due to start first grade! He was so incredibly excited about it and Mr PugRunner and I loved dropping him off at schools with the rest of his supplies.

He was so proud, walking into his new classroom, and we are thrilled that he loves school so much. It’s going to be a great year.

After drop off, I hurried over to meet Kristin for a pretty fun event. I will be filling you in on details tomorrow!

 

Tuesday - 3.1 miles

This was a pretty uneventful 3.1 miler. These runs are becoming pretty second nature, provided I am able to get myself out of the house early enough in the morning. Not that it’s helping too much with the high temps and humidity, but it’s better than being out there in the blazing sun. The pretty sunrises are a great motivator, though.

Afterwards, Mr PugRunner and I went over to the new Earth Fare store for a very special, behind-the-scenes, pre-opening tour.

 

PS – We have a winner for that great gift card giveaway: Carole S! Congratulations, Carole! You are going to love Earth Fare!

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 10.51.11 AM

 

Wednesday – yoga

Lazy, lazy, lazy day. Our temperatures have been close to 100* and it’s just so hard to work up the energy to get moving and do anything productive. I’ve gotten back into reading the Outlander series, so I spent a lot of hours just enjoying that.

 

Thursday – 3.1 miles

Another uneventful training run. My pace is slowing down a bit, but I think it’s completely normal given the fact that it’s almost 90 even before the sun comes up.

 

Friday - 6 miles

I was supposed to run 3 or 4 miles for my “long run” day, but that didn’t feel right, so I elected to do 6, instead. I need to get back up to 13 in the next week or two, so I feel more comfortable going from 6 to 13 than 3 to 13. I made sure to incorporate four bridge repeats, just to keep things interesting.

I felt pretty good afterwards, but after my shower, I laid down to take a nap. We had a pretty fabulous surprise planned for little man after school and I wanted to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

 

Saturday – rest

Mr PugRunner had his eight mile long run planned for this morning, so I took the opportunity to lounge around with little man. We had a quick breakfast at home, and then went over to Nana and Papa Bear’s for a light lunch and to let little man have a sleepover with his grandparents.

In the meantime, we went out for a long-overdue date night and enjoyed a delicious dinner. It’s been a while since I’ve had two incredibly late nights in a row like that, but it was totally worth it.

 

Not too bad. I ended up running an extra day this week, but once in a while shouldn’t hurt. I think we are in a groove as far as our school morning routines are concerned, so that should make things easier as far as our runs are concerned. For the week, I tallied 21 miles, and so far, for August, I have 42 miles on the books.

I am debating a Labor Day 5K – I want to race but not really sure if  I need to, if that makes sense. I guess it will be more of a game-time decision.

 

How was your training this week?

Have schools started back up where you are?

diagon alley

I don’t think I’ve made any secret of the fact that I am a huge Harry Potter fan. It’s even more fabulous that little man has discovered the magic of Hogwarts and is following along in my footsteps! (Mr PugRunner has yet to fully embrace the glory of Gryffindor, but we are working on it).

Of course, paying a visit to the all-new Diagon Alley at Universal Studios was a natural next step. Even though we are annual pass holders, I really couldn’t fathom going during opening week, due to the predicted crowds on top of regular summer visitors, but I kept looking for an opportunity to go.

That opportunity came when a good friend told me she would be visiting the area with her family. I instantly said I would make the drive and meet her. I loaded little man in the car before the sun was even thinking about rising, and cheerfully drove the distance.

We arrived right after 8:00 AM, got great parking, and were permitted to enter the park at about 8:15. Since we were not guests of any of the four Universal hotels, we were not entitled to early entrance to Diagon Alley, but we were all herded off to the right of the main walkway to wait in a long, winding line.

It wasn’t awful, especially when the employees moved the line a bit to make sure we had a little more shade. Little man was getting a bit impatient (after all, we were kind of on a line to wait on line), and our friends were already touring the park (since they were hotel guests), but we chatted and enjoyed the semi-peace, until things finally started moving.

I didn’t really have a clear plan. I know I just wanted to soak up the atmosphere of Diagon Alley. We had no intention of going on Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts (I don’t do well on simulator rides, and regardless the wait was rumored to be at about three hours, even before the official park open), but I was hoping we would be able to easily ride the Hogwarts Express over to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Islands of Adventure, and back again.

Finally, finally, we were moving with purpose and we entered the Diagon Alley section of the park right by Grimauld Place.

The crowd wasn’t awful at this point, and we just followed where it led, through some brick walls

and then…

We were there.

It felt so real. It was even chilly. I don’t know how they managed it, with so many people and in the open air of the inland Florida summer, but there was a definite coolness to the air. The feeling was… well… magical.

We lingered for a minute before winding our way to King’s Cross station.

Staff are stationed at the entrance of King’s Cross to scan tickets. In order to board and ride Hogwarts Express, guests must have an annual pass or other park-to-park ticket. On the one hand, it’s a great way to limit crowds, but on the other, it’s unfortunate for those who only have single park admission, since they aren’t able to admire the queue or the ride.

At that point of the day, the queue was pretty much empty, and little man charged through. I would have liked to linger a bit, especially at the entrance point to Platform 9 3/4, but that will have to wait for another day. I will say that the station was decorated very much like one would imagine a wizard-based train station would be, with trunks and owl cages and the like.

And then, there it was. Hogwarts Express, scarlet and smoking, just as one would imagine it.

We were shown to our compartment in one of the train cars. They were pretty much replicas of what one sees in the movies. Each compartment seemed to have room to seat 6-8 guests, on upholstered benches, facing each other. There was a window to the “outside” and a compartment door, that closed before departure, made of frosted glass.

The ride was pretty cool. Rather than seeing outside the train, a “movie” of sorts scrolled by the exterior window, to replicate the journey through London, then the countryside, and finally on to Hogsmeade station. Shadows of characters appeared on the compartment door, with accompanying audio to make it seem like Harry Potter and his friends were actually walking up and down the narrow corridor outside. While it wasn’t the most exciting or technologically advanced ride, we thought it was well done and very enjoyable.

At Hogsmeade, we exited the train, walked through a little bit of the “town” there to return to the entrance. We scanned our tickets again and hopped in line for the return ride. It was  different experience this time around – I’m not sure how many movie scenarios are shown, but at least two that we experienced).

Upon our return to Diagon Alley, we really tried to take it all in. The streets were narrow and bustling, and the shops even more so. It was so authentic, in a way, because the Diagon Alley of JK Rowling’s invention was certainly not any kind of traffic-friendly collection of mega-souvenir stores. It was hard to really browse because of crowds, but the Weasley’s joke shop was definitely stocked with jokes and pranks, the Quidditch supply store had broomsticks, jerseys and Quidditch balls, and Madame Malkin’s sold beautiful quality Hogwarts robes.

We didn’t get to try any of the dining establishments (next time!!!) and I also didn’t see any butter beer for sale on the streets (it was so hot that a frozen butter beer would have been just the thing), but we did get little man a water from an outside vendor. It was just regular bottled water, labeled “Gilly Water.” You could have it plain, or purchase one of four different “elixirs” to mix in with it.  Because what’s a wizarding world without potions, you know?

It was a fun concept.

We explored more. Little man had a conversation with Stan Shunpike at the Knight’s Bus.

The shrunken head participates, quite relevantly, in the conversation, which makes this a pretty ingenious interactive experience.

He also rode in the motorbike that Sirius Black loaned to Hagrid.

Just a warning: the wait for this photo opp is pretty much directly under this guy.

This guy? Breathes fire. You can definitely hear it coming, but we just weren’t expecting it to be quite so loud, so hot or so close. Do with that information as you will.

There was definitely more to see, but we also wanted to spend time with our friends, so it was back to the Muggle world to hang out.

The kids enjoyed Kang and Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl, actually meeting the Simpson’s Family,

Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster, and Fievel’s Playland. I even got little man on E.T. Adventure for the first time, and we got to ride Men In Black: Alien Attack, which he has declared one of his favorites.

Unfortunately, the lines for Depsicable Me Minion Mayhem and Transformers: The Ride 3D were ridiculously long, and we had to get on the road for a quick stop at IKEA before heading home, so we had to pass them up this time. As a consolation gift, we did wait on a very hot and slow-moving line so that little man could meet Optimus Prime.

Worth it.

We are planning to return to Universal when the weather cools down and the crowds are greatly reduced for a weekend, so we can really take our time and explore all there is to offer. There is just so much to see and do, and not enough hours in a day trip to get it all done.

Have you been to Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, yet?

Who is your favorite Harry Potter character?

PS. Don’t forget about the great giveaway I’m running! We just celebrated the local opening of Earth Fare’s newest store and we are giving away a $50 gift card to go shopping! There are almost 400 Earth Fare locations (check here to see if there is one by you), stocked full of great organic, local and natural foods items. Don’t miss out: Earth Fare Giveaway

earth fare jacksonville grand opening & giveaway – CLOSED

This is a sponsored post. I was compensated by Earth Fare for my review of their new store. Earth Fare also provided the gift card used in the following giveaway. All opinions are my own. 

Today, something new is hitting Jacksonville: Earth Fare.

Founded in 1975 in Asheville, NC, Earth Fare is an organic and natural foods grocery store, offering a wide variety of delicious items, including fresh, local produce, meats and seafood, cheese, made-from-scratch baked goods, health and wellness products, pet foods and treats, and a variety of bulk and ready-to-go hot and cold items.

However, what sets Earth Fare apart from other stores is its commitment to quality and wellness. Upon entering the store, customers are greeted by this sign

And shoppers can rest assured that Earth Fare will not compromise those standards. The company maintains an extensive and expanding “Boot List“, which details ingredients and additives that will never appear on their store shelves.

What shoppers WILL find is a vast selection of good, quality food products that they can eat and feed to their families with confidence.

Yesterday, I was treated to a special preview of the new Earth Fare location. Even though some of the perishables wouldn’t be stocked until first thing this morning, I was very impressed by the variety and quality of what was available.

Beautiful produce, locally sourced as much as possible;

A huge bulk department, boasting nuts, grains, candy, flours, dried beans, grind-your-own nut butters, honey, agave, and syrup. Use a reusable container provided by Earth Fare or supply your own;

A health and wellness department, boasting vitamins, natural remedies, supplements, lotions, soaps and even cosmetics. All are natural and cruelty-free and some are even entirely vegan;

And an enormous cheese selection.

Items produced locally are clearly marked

And gluten-free products are plentiful, and also clearly marked by wood-grain shelf edges to take the guesswork out of shopping and reading labels.

Another of Earth Fare’s goals is to make good, wholesome foods accessible to everyone. Certain items are marked with a red sign with an arrow pointing down, to indicate that these things are not only priced incredibly low, but also that this is a long-term price. I was very pleasantly surprised, at a cursory glance, to see that products seemed very reasonably priced, for the quality.

The store is staffed by friendly customer service reps, who are on hand to answer questions and help guide you through your choices. Shoppers who aren’t sure if they will like a product can ask to sample (within reason), before committing to a purchase. Customer satisfaction is a definite priority.

Savings are also key. Earth Fare patrons can sign up for mobile deals by texting “EAT” to 71700, subscribe to deals and news by email, or download an app for great coupons and discounts. Check out all the ways to save here.

There are great in-store deals as well, like $5 rotisserie chickens on Fridays, and Family Dinner Night, where up to six children can dine free for every $5 or more purchase made from the hot or cold ready-to-eat bar (scheduled to begin 8/28 in the Jacksonville location).

With all this to offer, today’s Grand Opening promises to be fabulous. The new Jacksonville Earth Fare will open after the ribbon cutting at 7:45 AM, at 11901 Atlantic Boulevard, Suite 250. Come on by to shop, explore or enjoy a bite to eat in a warm and welcoming environment, full of healthy and delicious options.

And here’s something to help make your shopping trip more fun. I’m giving away a $50 gift card to Earth Fare, so one lucky shopper can stock up on some fresh, natural groceries. Leave me a comment telling me what kind of item you’re most excited to try at Earth Fare, which will unlock more opportunities to win! Winner will be selected by Rafflecopter and announced on Monday 8/25/2014! Good luck!

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weekly recap: 8/10-8/16

Sunday - rest

We had a day of errands, and hanging out at home. Nothing too exciting, but we did pick up a great patio set on clearance and I got in a nice, long nap. I also finished up Beautiful Ruins. Loved it. I really didn’t think it was going to be quite my thing, but once I got into it (it’s the story of relationships, over generations and continents, set against the backdrop of the production side of the film industry, which is totally my jam), I had a hard time putting it down. Next up? The 100-Foot Journey.

 

Monday - 3.5 miles

Back in business! Since I bailed on a real long run last week, I wanted to make this one longer, but I have been struggling with exhaustion, and didn’t think I had it in me. I felt strong at the 3.5 mark so I called it good. And then counted down til nap time.

I got a wonderful view of the full moon on my way out.

And then the sunrise on my way back.

 

Tuesday - 3.1 miles

I hated to get up super early again, but I wasn’t sure I would get a chance later in the week if I wanted to do a long run (and by “if I wanted” I mean “since I had to”). It was a little tough, but I got it done.

 

Wednesday - sunrise yoga

P took us through a few different flows today, which would lead into some different and complicated poses. I have a few that really interested me, and I am going to work on making them happen. I have only been able to get in one practice a week, but hopefully, with the start of school, we can get back to a routine where I can be in the studio a little more.

 

Thursday – rest, arms

Since term is starting for little man next week, I had some things I needed to do at the school. Afterwards, we drove to Nana and Papa Bear’s house and visited with family before a quick lunch. I had to be back at school that night to do some volunteering, so Mr PugRunner and little man were on their own for the evening. We had some awful storms, but then we were treated to this amazing sight.

I was also able to work my arms a little – I have a set of 5 lb hand weights, and it seems ridiculous to leave them collecting dust, so I did a series to focus on biceps, triceps and shoulders.

Friday – rest

Well. Sort of. We had little man’s meet and greet with his new teacher, and then we packed up and went to the beach with family. We happened to arrive in the middle of a huge skim boarding competition. I’ve never seen anything like it! We had a blast watching.

In the meantime, Mr PugRunner made a detour to take Molly for her final follow up at the vet. If her eye still hadn’t healed, we were going to have to make a trip to the doggy ophthalmologist. Fortunately for everyone, the vet declared her all better!

Afterwards, we had a late lunch/early dinner and called it a night. We were in bed before 9:00 PM. I was really hoping to attempt a 9 mile long run on Saturday, but things were not in my favor. I was tired, hadn’t hydrated enough and had spent a lot of time out in the sun. Not a great combination for a long run. Mr PugRunner told me to play it by ear and see how I felt in the morning, so I agreed.

 

Saturday - 1.2 mile walk, arms

I did get up with the alarm at 4:50, but I had nothing to give, so I went back to bed. I ended up sleeping until almost 8:00, which is unheard of for me. I would have been in no condition for a long run, and would have to make up for it after a day of proper fueling and rest (Spoiler Alert: the long run happened on Sunday). In the meantime, we had a busy, busy, busy day ahead of us.

Little man was testing for his next belt in karate – yellow with white stripe. He has only been in karate since June, but he has been doing a great job and was invited to take the test to move up. I was so stinking nervous. My stomach was a mess all morning (also would have ended badly for me on a long run) and I just couldn’t get settled. The instructors and owners of the dojo are so awesome and great with the kids, but I had no idea how serious this was going to be. When I walked in and saw that the kids would be performing in front of an actual judge’s table, I broke into a sweat for them. Little man was cool as a cucumber though. He followed instructions, went through his maneuvers and was then lined up for the final challenge: breaking a wooden board with a stomp kick!

Say what?

All three of the kids testing executed the breaking of the board beautifully and they were asked to kneel, remove their white belts and then received their new belts. We couldn’t be more proud.

One of the instructors tied the old white belt around the pieces of broken board and suggested we write the date on it in Sharpie for a great memento for the trophy shelf. Brilliant.

We all went to lunch at a restaurant of little man’s choice with his grandparents (they were also there to see his triumph), and then hurried home to change into swimsuits for our neighborhood’s end of summer party. There was a DJ, face painter, hot dog truck and Mister Softee truck. The boys went over while I waited for some laundry to finish in the dryer, and then I walked down to meet them (.6 miles each way). In reality, I just wanted the ice cream, but I hung out with them for a bit and then we got our ice cream.

Neither little man nor I had ever had Mister Softee – it was heavenly. I am craving it and have to figure out a way to get the truck back to my house so I can have more.

After I walked home, I did another circuit of weights for my arms, and was ready for bed right around 9:00 PM. I was feeling better fueled, better rested and in a much better place to take on my nine miles.

 

So, all in all, another disappointing week in terms of mileage. It seems clear that I needed a bit of a break and that’s ok, but I’m hoping I can get back in the game. School starts back up again today so we will have a bit more of a routine in place, which will help with training and, consequently, motivation.

Is school back in session by you?

Have you ever had Mister Softee? 

How was your week in workouts?

race report: riverside pain physicians tour de pain, day 2 {8.2.2014}

Read about Day 1 of Tour De Pain and the 4 Mile Beach Run here.

Of course, with my awful sleeping, I was awake before the alarm rang, way too early, on Saturday morning. The course for the 5K road race was much closer than last night’s race, so we didn’t have to really rush, but with a 7:00 AM start time, we needed to be out the door by 5:30 or so.

I’m not going to lie: my stomach was unsettled. Not just because of the 5K, but because of the 5K, and having to make it home for a birthday party, then regroup and take little man back to his grandparents’ for the night and then make it downtown for the one mile sprint, all under the threat of thunder storms. It was a lot for me to process, which was probably for the best in a way, because I wasn’t focused on the actual running part of things.

And breathe.

All that to say I had to use the port-a-potty twice – there weren’t that many and the line was pretty long the second time. In fact, I was actually afraid I would miss the start of the race.

Fortunately, I was able to get in and out and line up with minutes to spare. Eeek.

However, I do think that burst of adrenaline and fear helped my running overall, so I can’t complain. The course was a flat, shaded loop down a main road and then through some residential streets. I felt pretty comfortable the whole time, but stopped once for a quick sip of water because I was getting thirsty. What made my day was the family who had set up a table in their driveway right after the official water stop. The kids were handing out what looked like pink lemonade. I didn’t take any, because I didn’t know what it would do my tummy, but I waved and thanked them for being out to cheer us on. It was really cute.

After the race, we didn’t hang out long.

We had water and I snagged a banana for each of us to have for later.  Then we grabbed bagels and coffee (iced for me) from Dunkin Donuts on our way home to shower, change and get ready for little man’s friend’s birthday party.

It was nice to get some downtime with friends and let the kids play arcade games and chow down on pizza. I was definitely sorry to have to pack it up and head out.

At home, we changed into running clothes, packed our race bags (again) and loaded up the car to bring little man back to his grandparents’ for the night. We chilled out there for a little while, before leaving for downtown and the One Mile Sizzler. I was very anxious about parking and the weather.

And, let’s be honest, I was losing my mind over having to sprint one mile.

I am not a sprinter. From day one, I have had distance in my sights, not speed in shorter bursts. I can’t breathe correctly on a good day, let alone for something like this. The intimidation had a firm hold on me.

The closer we got to downtown, the worse things got. The clouds were rolling in fast, thunder was rumbling, and there were definite stabs of lightning forking through the threatening skies. We were about 90 minutes early, and it looked like the race organizers were setting up for a go ahead.

We parked and walked around a bit. The rain was sporadic, but frequent peeks at the doppler seemed to show that the storm would be passing us by. The big benefit of the rain and clouds was that the weather had cooled significantly. It was still humid, don’t get me wrong, but not having the late afternoon sun beating down on us would be a a blessing.

As we waited for our friends, we tailgated a little.

We kept a wary eye on the weather.

 

As we met up with our group, we moved our way down to the staging area. The Sizzler would be a double loop around one city block, next to the Jacksonville Landing.

It was organized in four waves: Master’s Men at 4:30, Open Men at 4:45, Master’s Women at 5:00 and Open Women at 5:15. The waiting was awful. For some reason, I had it in my head that I wasn’t going to finish. That they were going to run out of medals before I crossed the finish line. That there wouldn’t be any finish line by the time I got done. I was a hot mess, and really struggled to get a grip. I blame exhaustion.

To distract myself, we chatted and took lots and lots of pictures. The threatening sky made for a powerful backdrop, and our city is quite beautiful, so it only made sense to take advantage of it.

And yes. For the first time in my running history, I was wearing shorts. I bought them for Crocodile Crossing a few weeks ago and was surprised by how comfortable they were, and how not hideous they appeared on me. While I usually run in skirts, and they are usually satisfactory, I somehow felt I needed a change. On race day. While running a distance that intimidated me. Go big or go home, right?

Then, it was time for Mr PugRunner and our friend’s dad to line up. Poor Mr PugRunner learned that he is, indeed, at the ripe old age of 40, considered a “Master,” so he got to go out in the first wave.  It was absolutely jaw-dropping to watch those athletes sprint. I wanted to throw up when I saw the first finisher come in at 5:08. That’s not even human. We cheered like crazy as our guys crossed the finish line (Mr PugRunner kicked butt!), and then we cheered two more times for the Open Men and Master’s Women.

Finally, the Open Women were up. There was a sense of urgency because even darker storm clouds were rolling in and of course, they wanted everyone done in case of lightning.Once again, our time would be from the gun, so I lined up as close to the front as I dared. My stomach was in my shoes. I’m pretty sure I was shaking. I needed to run.

When the gun sounded, I sprang out. I know it was way too hard and way too fast, but that was the point: run as fast as you can and vomit later. In my head, I had it worked out. Eight lengths of street and then straight through the finish. I wish I could say I ran the whole thing. I can definitely say I ran most of it. It was hard and it hurt and the crowd on the streets was so close and so loud, even over the music in my earbuds. My legs were in it, but my lungs and throat weren’t (because they never really get on board for these moments), but I did what I could, and somehow, I managed to finish at 10:09.

This picture pretty well sums it up.

Obviously, I had no idea there was a camera anywhere near me.

I didn’t see Mr PugRunner, and the crowd was so tight, with people in line for pizza and beer and cookies. I had to get away, and found a tiny patch of curb behind one of the race company’s trucks, so I could just take a few minutes to sit and decompress. I was fine, just overwhelmed and so very happy to be done.

When I rejoined the group, we were ready to celebrate! We got our complimentary beer, but I couldn’t stomach the pizza at that moment, so I got a cookie instead.

We pulled up a piece of curb and waited for the awards presentation. Our friend T won third in her age group! Rockstar!

At this point, I think we were all just flat-out exhausted. Twenty-four hours of being mentally “on” for racing can do that a person. We said our goodbyes and Mr PugRunner and I decided to get dinner at one of the Landing restaurants. Zoning at the bar was just what we needed.

All in all, it was quite the experience. I actually really liked it (except for the lead up to the Intimidating Mile). I don’t think it’s a race series I would feel compelled to do every year, because it’s hard and brutally hot and really leaves you drained, but I also wouldn’t mind doing it again, either.

Everything was well organized. The volunteers were wonderful. There were plenty of water stops and water at the finish line (although it would have been nice if they had more water on ice). I didn’t notice if there was food after the 4 Mile Beach Run, but there were  Dunkin Donuts, munchkins, bagels and bananas after the 5K Road Race and munchkins, pizza, cookies and beer after the 1 Mile Sizzler. The only thing I really didn’t love was the gun-timing, but I did my best to compensate for those lost seconds and it wasn’t a huge deal.

Summer racing in Florida is serious business, and Tour De Pain was no exception. In spite of it all, it felt good to take part and push myself in a different way. I don’t know if major “series” racing is for me, but I enjoyed the challenge and overcoming the hurdles that are uncomfortable for me.

Is there a distance that particularly intimidates you?

How do you distract yourself during the wait for a race to start?

race report: riverside pain physicians tour de pain, day 1 {8.1.2014}

If you’ve been reading here for a while, you probably know know the tale of how I started running last year, but then had to take a major hiatus to have my tonsils removed, and spent about one and a half months recovering in the dead of summer, missing out on some really fun-sounding runs and being generally frustrated with my slow return to the sport.

The Riverside Pain Physicians Tour De Pain was one of those fun-sounding races. A local favorite, Tour De Pain invites runners to test their limits by completing three races in 24 hours.

I’m not really sure what I found intriguing about this series of races. Maybe it was the additional challenge. Maybe it was testing my body beyond what I normally would. Maybe I was delirious. It’s hard to say. But Mr PugRunner and I registered for the three-race series several months ago, and I have to say I was really looking forward to it.

We actually weren’t sure if Mr PugRunner was going to be able to participate at all. He had spent the week and a half leading up to Tour De Pain not feeling well. He was being quite careful to rest and stay hydrated, and at the last minute, with the blessing of his doctor, decided to go for it. I’m proud of him for doing so, even though I know it was hard on him.

I picked up our packets on Thursday at the running store: we each got drawstring backpacks and our race t-shirts, along with the bibs and timing chips we would need to wear for the duration of the event. Mr PugRunner kind of laughed at me as I laid out my outfits for the series, and then asked if I was going to put out his, too.

I did.

I didn’t photograph them, though. Maybe next time.

Our first race was Friday night at 7:00 PM – a nice 4-mile jaunt on Jacksonville Beach. Running on the sand was going to be a first for both of us, but we were up for the challenge. We arrived a little over an hour before the gun, and got a relatively close (and free) parking spot. Score.

We met up with our friends, used the bathroom and found a nice spot in the shade.

The weather felt alright. It was definitely hot, but there was a somewhat refreshing breeze and in the shade, the humidity was tolerable.

I had some more Gatorade and used the bathroom a last time. We had both brought granola bars with us, but I decided I didn’t need mine. I was pretty relaxed, for me, but my stomach wasn’t up to anything solid. With about 15 minutes to spare, we walked over the boardwalk to the beach and the starting line.

Once down by the water, we realized that the breeze was going to be a factor, and probably not a positive one. Our friends also told us that we would be timed by the gun, so to line up as close to the front as possible. I hate to do that, because I am terrified of serving as a speed bump to the faster people, but I figured that if I just stayed to the right, hauled butt through the start and then scrambled out of the way, I would be able to minimize extra seconds my time and not trip up anyone.

My strategy worked, and when the gun sounded after the National Anthem, I went out fast. The group of runners almost immediately split, with half running down closer to the water, and the rest staying higher up on the beach. There was plenty of hard-packed sand for running, and I was pleased to find it wasn’t that much more difficult than pavement running.

The challenges came from running two miles into a pretty stiff wind. And what I can only describe as tide pools, leaving wide, sometimes deep, puddles and ridges of sand on the course. And people lounging in beach chairs with their families. And dogs whose owners couldn’t quite control them cutting through the runners (it didn’t bother me, but some runners did stop in their tracks when a very large and excited canine leaped at them and that wasn’t right).

Water stops were set up at miles one, two and three, which was much appreciated, especially after the turnaround at mile two. While it was great not to have to contend with the wind anymore, we were now running straight into the setting sun. I felt like I was sprinting between the shadows of the skyline cast on the beach, just to get some relief. Ugh.

I don’t really love out-and-backs, but in this case, it was very, very helpful to have the finish line in my sights. Even if it did feel like it was taking me forever to get there. But, get there I did, and I was so very happy to be done. At least, for the night. It was hard, hard run, and even though my legs weren’t bothering me (thank goodness), the elements and taken a lot out of me.

It was a bizarre feeling, to be finished, but to know that you had to get home, get cleaned up, and be up before the sun to do it all over again. Twice. We were both tired, but buoyed by that runner’s high. We said our goodbyes, went back to the car to wipe down and change into clean shirts and make the almost-hour drive home.

We were starving so we stopped at the local Italian joint for a quick bite. I had a beer but by the time dinner actually came to the table, I wasn’t hungry anymore. I forced myself to eat some, and then it was home for a shower and lights out. I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to sleep, but I managed.

Up tomorrow? The 5K road race and one mile sizzler!

Are you able to sleep after a race?

What’s your favorite post-race meal?

 

weekly recap: 8/3 – 8/9

At some point, I was going to hit a somewhat slow week. In terms of pure mileage, that is.

I am ahead of my training by a few weeks, and so I didm’t think it would a huge issue to step back a little, especially after Tour De Pain. Of course, that could just be one of those things I tell myself to make myself feel better about my laziness.

Sundayrest

 

Monday -  rest

 

Tuesday –  3.1 mile run, 75 minutes yoga with weights

I knew I wasn’t going to have a lot of time to run this week, so, even though it pained me, I set the alarm extra early to squeeze in 3.1 miles before my practice.

Yoga was also much-needed. I was very stiff after the weekend, and I was relieved to have the opportunity to stretch and work out the tightness from the weekend.

 

Wednesday - Universal Studios

Ok, this isn’t really a training session, but I can think of few better workouts than walking around for hours on end, in blazing heat, sweating buckets. I may not have been running with my Garmin, but it sure felt like it.

 

Thursday - rest

We got home on the later side Wednesday, after a day at the theme park and a side trip to IKEA. I was exhausted and most likely very dehydrated, so I didn’t worry about pushing myself in the morning. Not in my running shoes, anyway. I did take the opportunity to deep clean the living room and continue refinishing some furniture. Because that’s how rest days get spent.

 

Friday - 3.1 mile run

I was able to catch the sunrise with this one. It was a relatively nice run, and a good way to start the day. We had a playdate at the pool with some friends, and then nana took little man for the night while Mr PugRunner and I took papa bear to the first Jags preseason game. It was a long day and a late night, and while I did have hopes for running on Saturday, it was a no go.

 

Saturdayrest

Instead of working out, we worked around the house. I repainted two end tables and four dining chairs, picked up three new-to-us chairs for repurposing, and cleaned out little man’s loft – purging old toys and reorganizing furniture. Mr PugRunner got the car detailed and sold our old patio furniture so we can make room for something new when our back patio gets overhauled in the next few weeks. After little man went to bed, we got Chinese food and watched Divergent as a way to unwind.

 

I was thinking about getting up tomorrow for a run, but… eh. Mr PugRunner wants to get his miles in and I can wait til Monday. I wouldn’t say my motivation is lacking, exactly, but I just need a little break. I want to stay up later than necessary, reading one of my new books and sleeping in a little bit. I imagine it’s ok to do that once in a while. :)

 

How was your training this week?
How do you treat yourself when you aren’t planning to get out for that early morning run?

writing process – a blog tour

Last week, a lovely blogger asked me if I would participate in a blog tour about the “writing process.”

Anne of Candy Crazed Runner has been a favorite of mine since I started blogging about running. She is absolutely sweet and positive with a very encouraging tone. I love her posts on her trips and her family, and of course, her training. She even used to live in the area where we currently reside, so there is some overlap in our interests.

The purpose of this tour is to share some of the inner workings of Runs With Pugshow and why I do what I do in this space. It was fun to sit down and think about how I operate, and I love reading about how others do the same.

What am I working on?

At the moment, I have a lot of things in the hopper. I need to write my weekly recap, and my recaps of last week’s Tour De Pain. There is a review of Diagon Alley in Universal to come, and if I can organize myself, perhaps a post or two about some of the DIY things going on around the house (hint: lots of chalk paint. lots of furniture). I am also planning a little back-to-school photo shoot for little man and would love to share some of those images if they turn out.

I am very obviously behind. :)

 

How does my work differ from others of its type/genre?

This is a tough one to answer. I like to think I’m a little different in that I’m not really naturally talented and certainly not elite. In fact, I’m pretty solidly average (and maybe even below average, depending on the day), with the understanding that this may be as good as I get. But I go out there, week in and week out, logging my miles and registering for races. I think that resonates a little bit.

 

Why do I write what I do?

The easy answer is very simple: accountability. Running is something I really do enjoy on a certain level, but I find that I am much more likely to push myself if I am putting myself out there and sharing my progress (or lack thereof). I started blogging about running when Mr PugRunner and I first began Couch 2 5K last year, and I quickly found a wonderful, supportive community within the running world. It was completely unexpected, but has become so crucial to my success as a runner. I love sharing my highs and lows, and getting advice and support from so many amazing athletes out in the cyber-running community.

 

How does your writing process work?

My writing process varies between very structured and very casual. I usually blog at night, after little man is in bed and Mr PugRunner is wrapping up with his work. We sit in the family room and sometimes watch a movies or sports while we work. I edit my photos, watermark them, and then type out a post that is either scheduled (something like a weekly recap or product review) or one that has just come into my head (my thoughts on running in 110% humidity). I type everything out, then edit. If something doesn’t sound right or I can’t convey something properly, I save my draft, move on to something else and return to it later. It’s important to me to take my time and be both relatable and professional in my writing. I want to establish a rapport with readers, but I always want to present the very best of my writing.

I usually schedule posts to publish first thing in the morning. When they are live, I will amplify on the Runs With Pugs Facebook page, some other Facebook groups to which I belong and Twitter.  And then I open up bloglovin and try to make the rounds of my favorite blogs. This is something on which I need to improve, but I’m getting there.

And that’s how we do it!

 

Sharing the love…

Now that you know how I do it, check out some of these other great blogs and keep an eye out for their posts on their own writing processes!

A Mom On The Run: Kristin is a close, personal friend of mine. She is one of the people who got me and Mr PugRunner involved in the sport and we love spending time with her and her wonderful family.

Karen Loves to RunKaren has been one of my favorites since the beginning. I enjoy reading about her training and her travels, and she is always incredibly sweet and supportive.

Amateur At Large: I love Stacie’s blog. Not only does she post about her running and workouts, but she does great fashion posts on a fairly regular basis AND she shares a lot of awesome things about her horses and pugs!

 

If you have a blog, do you have a process for writing? Share about it in comments or feel free to craft your own post! Don’t forget to link up so that we can see what goes on behind the scenes in your corner of the internet!

recovery with PRO Compression

PRO Compression provided me with a complimentary pair of calf sleeves in exchange for this review, through my association with SweatPink. All opinions are my own.

After my injury and bout with plantar fasciitis, recovery is something I am taking extremely seriously. I have a long way to go until my first marathon, and it’s important to keep my eye on the finish line.

So, how does this change things for me in my training?

Last year, when I was new and not quite as serious, I ran without much regard to taking care of myself in other ways. I ignored designated rest days. I neglected stretching. And let’s be honest. I pretty well forgot about cross training. I didn’t foam roll or ice or do any of the things recommended to keep me healthy and well.

Lesson learned.

I had to make some serious adjustments and break some bad habits. My experience showed me that rest and recovery are just as important to the training process as logging miles, and if I have any intention of finishing a marathon on my feet, I need to respect that.

After running 11 miles and then Tour De Pain (three races worth eight miles in 24 hours), my body was begging for a bit of a break. I committed to several days of resting, promised myself for at least two yoga classes, and took a lesson from this little pug (she has “resting” down to an art form).

My calves have proven to be a big source of my problems, and while stretching and resting help, the use of compression sleeves help my muscles heal and recover.

The calf sleeves from PRO Compression will definitely be a regular part of my recovery routine. They are made of a soft, wicking material, which I found to be extremely comfortable. The fabric is a bit thicker than I’m used to, but it makes the quality of the sleeves quite evident. Something else I appreciate is the length. I am on the taller side and I have long legs. Usually, things like knee socks (or anything that is supposed to come up to, or even down to the knee) fall several inches too short. With the PRO Compression sleeves, I got complete coverage, from low on my ankle to right beneath the knee joint. Totally comfortable and I didn’t have to worry about things riding up or down.

Which is certainly helpful for spending the day out and about with little man and friends, fishing and playing.

I was comfortable all day and my calves absolutely appreciated the support. There are no aches and no soreness, and I know it’s because I’m taking those extra steps and being more careful about my recovery habits.

What are some of the essentials in your recovery routine?
Do you use compression socks or sleeves to help give your legs some extra help after particularly strenuous workouts?

Interested in trying out PRO Compression marathon socks or calf sleeves? Now is a great time to try them out (or stock up on some favorites). By entering “PINK” at checkout, you will get 40% off your entire order. And don’t forget to share the word with your friends by tweeting about this great offer (just click on the link!): Tweet: I #KeepItTight w/ @PROCompression! Use the code PINK for 40% OFF your entire purchase! http://ctt.ec/W2UDL+ @fitapproach #sweatpink

Have fun shopping and happy running!

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