Tuesday Things

IMG_902

1. My work-life balance is struggling. Our annual audit begins each year in March but doesn’t really kick into high gear until the end of April and carries through the month of May. May is also one of our busiest months on the revenue side. For the past several years I’ve made the stupid mistake of taking vacations the first week of May: New Jersey Marathon, Long Branch Half Marathon, Ragnar Relay Cape Cod. No matter how well I plan for the time off, I’m inevitably buried for the remainder of the month. The third week in May is always our annual user conference, so basically as soon as I have a handle on my to-do list I have to somewhat abandon it again for four days. I try to stay caught up on emails between sessions but it can be overwhelming. This was my 5th year working the conference and for the first time I actually came back to the office to get work done. It definitely helped me stay on track but there were still items that didn’t get done and ended up coming home with me last weekend. No idea why I keep doing this to myself year after year, but I want to declare right now that MAY 2015 WILL BE A VACATION-FREE ZONE. It has to be. I miss my sanity.

2. I was chosen as an ambassador for the Houston Marathon!  I was blown away in January by the organization of the race, the number of spectators on the course and how great the course actually was. The weather was pure perfection [this is a variable, I know] and despite having a miserable race performance-wise, I knew this wouldn’t be my last time in Houston. As an ambassador, this also means I will be running the Houston Marathon. After quite a lengthy hiatus, I’ll be making my grand return to the marathon distance in January 2015. And possibly the most exciting part of all? Training doesn’t start until September. So while I may be slightly jealous of everyone running Chicago and NYC this fall, I won’t have to do any sauna-running at 4am this summer.

COME RUN HOUSTON WITH ME! Early registration for my fast friends [sub-4 full marathon or sub 1:52 half marathon] closes on May 29th. The lottery opens up on June 4th and will run through June 19th , with results announced on June 23rd.

Houston Marathon Registration

3. In August I’ll be running Hood to Coast with Nuun. After several years of trying to make it on the team and now finally securing a spot, it still doesn’t seem real. Airfare has been purchased and 3 months from today (!!) I’ll be heading out to Seattle. After running Ragnar Cape Cod last weekend I feel less nervous and much more excited for HTC. I have a loose training plan sketched out for the next few months but probably will push the kickoff to the 26th. My shin & knee are now more of a dull pain, but I don’t want to rush into it just because the plan was supposed to start this week. Once it’s underway I’ll talk a bit more about the training. HTC_logo4. RedFest starts on Friday and we FINALLY won tickets. I’m not even sure how many different contests we were entered in to win tickets to this festival. Eventually we came across a voting-based contest, which allowed us to plaster the link all over social media. All of the begging [so annoying, I know] paid off when we scored 3-day VIP passes! To be honest I’m a little nervous because there is little to no information about the event on their website. They finally uploaded a map and schedule over the weekend, but there is nothing about what time the gates open or what activities are included with the ticket. I emailed them two weeks ago to find out and apparently they were “still in the process of figuring that out”. Two weeks out from the event. In any case, we’ll be drinking and eating for free all weekend while listening to country music. I highly doubt we won’t have a good time.

KASE-101-Cutest-Couple

5. We’re going to Europe! Unfortunately, the trip is 18 months away. After we unexpectedly had cancel our Mexico trip [which coincidentally freed me up to run HTC…] Brad was on a mission to find us a replacement vacation. One of his suggestions was a European cruise. I was hesitant initially because while our all-inclusive resort in Mexico was fairly pricey for 7 days, the airfare to Cancun was about $350 per person. A trip to Europe requires a ridiculously expensive [and ridiculously long] flight and the total cost of the trip was almost twice as much as Mexico. There was no possible way we could go anytime soon, so we pushed the date out to Fall 2015.

Cannes, France

It’s hard for me to get excited about it because it’s really far away and there’s definitely potential for a wrench to be thrown in our plans. But this didn’t stop me from ordering a couple books on Mediterranean cruise ports. On the agenda: Barcelona, Cannes, Rome, Naples, Palma Majorca, and Florence/Pisa. I’ve already been researching hotels and we’re in the process of learning Spanish. The plan is to be pretty damn fluent en Español by the time we leave. We’ll be spending an extra day before/after the cruise in Barcelona so if you’ve been there [or any of the ports we’re exploring] please tell me EVERYTHING.

2014 Ragnar Relay Cape Cod Race Recap

If you had told me five years ago I wouldn’t think twice about flying across the country to meet a group of strangers and proceed to spend 30ish hours in a van with 6 [we're fancy & had a personal chauffeur] of them, I’d undoubtedly declare you crazy. Since the idea was tossed around back in the fall, our team went through several iterations and the final Flock You Like a Hurricane runners who met up at Union Fish in Plymouth the night before race day were Ali, Anne, Rebecca, Amy, Danielle, Carolyn, Jess, Jessie, and our team captain Stacey. Kelly was coming down on Friday morning, Lindsay was dealing with horrendous travel delays out of Dallas, and Deb would be meeting up with Van 2 at Stacey’s on Friday afternoon.

Union Fish - Group Photo

Our team started at 10am on a super foggy morning in Hull and Ali was our leadoff runner. This girl had just run a marathon [and PRed!] the weekend before and absolutely crushed all of her legs. Anne and Amy were seriously fast and as many times as they said they were going to “take this leg easy”, they flew from exchange to exchange ticking off miles consistently in the 7s. I loved Rebecca – her last leg was tough and she was definitely hurting, but was still all “I LOVE RUNNING!” Wish I could kidnap her and run with her in Texas every day. Kelly displayed her impressively strong running skills as she powered through a hilly first leg and finished out the race with about 32 miles under her belt.

Van 1 Runners
I went into the relay with a twisted left knee and achy right shin, both courtesy of a nasty fall I took when Sox cut me off during one of our early morning runs. The knee was my main concern because shin issues are the bane of my running existence. My first leg went off without a hitch and as runner 6, passed off the slap bracelet in Duxbury Beach to Van 2’s first runner – Lindsay.

Ragnar Relay Cape Cod - Duxbury Beach

983668_10100204571075047_7981574762989369285_n

Van 2  Runners

Our van had a break from 2 to 8ish, so we grabbed a quick lunch at Driftwood Publick House and then attempted a nap in a field at the exchange where we’d start running our second legs. Napping is a skill I’ve never been able to master so I spent the downtime Stick-ing my calves and following Van 2 via the #FlockYouLikeaHurricane hashtag on Instagram. We kept in touch with the other van through text message but Instagram was a great way to follow along and see which runner was currently out there knocking out their miles. Despite not being able to nap, it was still nice to take my shoes off and just stretch out the legs. Once nighttime fell, it was time to dress head to toe in reflective gear and prepare to send Ali on her way!

Van 1-2 Night Exchange
The night leg seemed to be everyone’s favorite so I was super pumped by the time 11pm rolled around and it was time for me to run. However, my right shin was less than enthused and throbbing only a mile into it. I decided to walk/run to keep it somewhat happy but running quickly turned into a shuffle. My gait started to change in an attempt to relieve the pain in my shin and then I felt the strain on my other knee. The last thing I wanted to do was bail on the leg, so I grabbed some ibuprofen at mile 3 and Kelly jumped in to keep me company. She was a lifesaver and kept my mind off of running while we finished out the leg together. After the handoff to Lindsay in Hyannis, Anne grabbed me some ice from the aid station and we set up some sleeping bags in a ditch [no, seriously…] near a school to sneak in a couple hours of rest.

Van 2’s night legs weren’t that long so we only had a few hours before it was time to run again. Shaun (Kelly’s husband and our fantastic driver) woke us up and we tried to quickly get our shit together after realizing we weren’t even at the right exchange. I had a minor meltdown when I realized my phone was missing, but while we were driving to the exchange Amy found it rolled up in one of the sleeping bags. Crisis averted. Once we pulled in, Ali hauled ass to the exchange and made it there just in time to grab the slap bracelet from Jessie as she ran in.

I spent the next couple hours trying to convince my teammates I could run my final leg, since it was “only” 3 miles. The response was a resounding “NO” and eventually I accepted it would be for the best if Kelly picked up the mileage. After she was done, we handed off to Van 2 for the final time and headed to brunch in Wellfleet. This was followed by a killer cheer session on either leg 33 – or was it 34? This is what I get for not writing the recap right away. We positioned ourselves at the top of a huge hill and busted out the megaphone and cowbell, blasted music from the van, and yelled at the top of our lungs for every runner that came by. Definitely a lot of fun and one of the highlights of the weekend.

It was also at this point where we started playing #SELFIE by The Chainsmokers on repeat. I entered the weekend with an extreme hatred for this song, but now every time I hear it I think of Van 1 rocking out and it makes me happy. But first … let me take a selfie! We made it to the finish in P-Town around 12:30 and just after 3pm Van 2 joined us. We backtracked on the course to find Jessie and then jumped in with her to cross the finish line together! Pretty sure this one is going in a frame – so many freakin’ amazing women in one photo:

Ragnar Relay Cape Cod - Finish Line

Ragnar Relay Cape Cod - P-Town
I have to send a HUGE thank you to Kelly’s husband, Shaun, for being our chauffeur all weekend. He navigated us from exchange to exchange flawlessly and surprisingly didn’t seem irritated at all to be stuck in a van all weekend with a group of girls he barely knew. He also was our professional photog, snapping 200+ pictures of us on our journey from Hull to Provincetown. He was a rockstar and made our lives so much easier.

Also a big shout out full of gratitude to Stacey, who despite being unable to run stayed on as captain and helped keep our team organized over the past several months, as well as through the weekend. She was Van 2’s driver / photographer and provided a place for Van 2 to stay between legs 1 & 2. She also took in 6 internet-turned-IRL-friends on Saturday night, which all of us appreciated SO MUCH. Her and her husband cooked us dinner, all while keeping the champagne and wine flowing as we recapped the incredible race. Best hosts ever, hands down.

I had always heard that team relays were a life-changing experience and couldn’t help but write it off as an exaggeration. How could spending almost 30 hours in a van with people you didn’t know be enjoyable? All of my skepticism flew right out the window while we were dining at Mamma Mia’s on Thursday night. The conversation flowed effortlessly and everyone’s passion for running caused us to bond instantly. The transition from ‘strangers’ to ‘friends’ was almost instantaneous. I couldn’t have asked for better teammates – each and every one of them are phenomenal. A reunion [Ragnar location: TBD] for 2015 was already in the works before we had even left the cape.

 And I absolutely cannot wait.

Ragnar Relay Cape Cod - White Crest Beach

All photos courtesy of Stacey Hedman, Shaun Gallagher, and Jess Clarke.

The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step

Disclaimer: Runner’s World provided me with a copy of this book and no additional compensation has been received. All thoughts, opinions, and awkward running habits are my own.

When running first became a priority to me in the spring of 2010, I was completely winging it. My runs were done in a pair of Nike+ running shoes that synced to my iPod, which never produced accurate mileage on outdoor runs no matter how many times I calibrated the damn thing. I trained with Gu on 5 mile runs and ran in cotton T-shirts until finally discovering tech tees several months down the road. Five days a week, as fast as I could, and wondered why I could never finish a run without walk breaks. No one ever told me running would be easier if I just slowed down. That I didn’t HAVE to maintain a 9 minute mile as a brand new runner. No one told me not to judge running shoes by their color. I wanted to be a runner and figured the best way to get there would be to put one foot in front of the other.

Runners World - Big Book of Running for Beginners

One thing I wish I would have had in my corner back when I started is The Runner’s World Big Book of Running for Beginners. It serves as a fantastic reference for beginners and even a source of inspiration for experienced runners who might be in a rut. I’ve had a subscription to Runner’s World for several years and while some of the information in this book I already knew, it was still an informative read. It’s split into three sections: Getting Started, Nutrition / Weight Loss, and Staying Healthy / Managing Injuries. One of my favorite parts of the book is the testimonials from normal non-athletes, explaining how and why their journey to become a runner began. Many used running as a tool to lose weight, stop smoking, and overcome illness. As someone who has absolutely no sports background, I found these testimonials to be very relatable and inspiring.

If I had to fault the book in one area, it would be the lack of training plans. There’s a Run for 30 Minutes plan in the appendix, but nothing for a beginner looking to complete their first 10K or half marathon. One might not use the terms ‘beginner’ and ‘half marathon’ in the same sentence but the 13.1 distance has become more popular over the past few years and a basic plan might be helpful for a runner looking to complete their first. It does reference The Starting Line, Runner’s World’s online training program for beginners which range from $9.99 to $19.99.

Overall, I definitely would recommend this book to runners of all levels. My skepticism was pretty high initially as it appeared to be geared towards beginners, but found a considerable amount of value in it as someone with a few years of running under their belt. I’ve flagged many of the pages with post-its to easily reference when training starts to ramp up (base building for marathon #3!) over the next few months.

And I Will Run 200 Miles

… well, at least 13 of them.

Ragnar Relay Series

In roughly a month I’ll be heading up to Massachusetts to run Ragnar Relay Cape Cod with 11 strangers. In any other life situation this would be considered ridiculously dangerous and downright dumb. But since most of them are my Oiselle teammates and we’ve been chatting in our Facebook group for several months now, I think everything will be just fine. Also no one threatened to kick me out when I went all Type A on our doc in Google Drive. We’ll see what happens when I show up at our team dinner with color-coded binders for each van.

Ragnar-Relay-Cape-Cod-Hull-to-P-Town
All jokes aside, I’m incredibly excited for Ragnar Cape Cod and have been counting down the days for months now. Since it’s my first relay that pretty much means I’ll do almost everything wrong.  I plan to Google “relay tips” eleventy billion times between now and then, filling my brain with everything I could possibly need to know to get through my 3 legs successfully. Speaking of legs, this is what’s in store for me as Runner #6:

Ragnar-Relay-Cape-Cod-Runner-6

I’m in the process of putting together a personal packing list and would love any additional input from those of you who have done a relay before. I have all of the basics down: 3 sets of running clothes packed into 3 separate Ziplock bags, baby wipes, comfortable clothes for downtime, portable charger, reflective vest/tail lights, etc. Please share your favorite “lifesaving” item for an overnight relay in the comments below!

Ideally I’d like to avoid checking a bag for the flight since handlers like to beat the crap out of duffel bags. Carrying on a bag will ensure everything I need for the relay makes it to Boston, which (unfortunately) isn’t a guarantee if the bag was checked. However, this means I probably can’t bring my Stick since TSA will likely assume it’s a weapon. Which, of course, it’s not.  Although my calves would beg to differ. A duffel bag will be big enough for 4 days, right? Please say yes.

Now I’d like to introduce you to my lovely team (if something happens to me, this list is a good place to start – kidding) and our fantastic sponsors!

Team Flock You Like a Hurricane

Ali // Anne // Rebecca // Kelly // Amy // Lindsay // Danielle // Greer // Carolyn // Jess // Jessie // Stacey

Sponsors

Oiselle // PRO Compression – use discount code FLOCK for 40% off all socks & sleeves // ShowerPill // EnergyBits // Pocket Fuel Naturals // Mission Athletecare

Evolution of a Writer

photo of laptop and notebook 
Writing is something I’ve been passionate about since grade school. Several summers were spent as a member of a Young Authors Club at the local library, which resulted in a published book. High school was filled with AP English classes and writing for the school newspaper. I knew initially it would be tough to earn a solid living as a writer if I pursued a journalism degree in college. While money shouldn’t have been something to sway my decision on a major, I was paying out-of-state tuition and an entry level writing gig post-college wasn’t going to help me pay off those student loans. Sallie Mae and Wells Fargo currently own me. So I went into finance. But the English classes were still my favorite and my secret power was being able to crank out 20-page papers in less than 4 hours on zero sleep.

After moving to Texas and securing a full-time job, an opportunity to write for an online publication came along. While it was awesome to make a small income on the side doing something I enjoyed, the company I was writing for wasn’t my favorite. I struggled with it for awhile but in the end decided writing for myself for free was more desirable than the money I’d make writing for someone else about content which didn’t interest me.

A week after crossing the finish line of my first half marathon I created an account on WordPress and became co-author of the blog We Run For Wine. It has been 3 1/2 years since I published my first post and it’s pretty amazing how far I’ve come since that day. My Google Reader (remember when that was still a thing?) was filled with healthy living blogs and a handful of running ones. I was under the impression I should be posting as much as possible, no matter the length or quality. Some people even posted 2, 3 times per day. Back in December while transitioning Melissa Runs (Phase 2 of Blog Life) over to So These Are My Thirties (Phase 3 – and hopefully the last), I was pretty embarrassed by the content in the early days. The quantity was clearly there, but the quality? Not so much. It took awhile to get the hang of this whole blogging thing.

Over the years the way I wrote and the blogs I read changed quite a bit. HLBs were left behind and replaced by inspiring runners, both fast and back of the pack. Race recaps and track workouts were more interesting to me than repetitive photos of overnight oats and veggie burgers. It turns out runners are more honest and transparent than any HLB I’ve ever read. A picture perfect online presence is pretty easy to maintain but let’s be honest: no one’s life is perfect. My favorite writers are the ones who hit the tough subjects, smack you in the face with a dose of reality, and speak from the heart. I want to hear about this impossible tempo run that almost broke you and how you powered through it to nail splits you didn’t think were possible.

One of my goals in 2012 was to post more consistently, but in the back half of the year I had done quite the opposite. While one might classify this as a ‘fail’ in the resolution department, I’d have to disagree. I appreciated the direction my writing was headed and embraced “writing for a reason” in 2013. An identity crisis mid-year had me yearning for a change. An overhaul of my Google Reader Feedly resulted in the addition of several lifestyle blogs and the push I needed to leave ‘Melissa Runs’ behind. I wanted to share more of my personal life and a fresh new blog was the perfect way to do it. In hindsight I wished I had done it sooner.

I’ve been awarded some pretty fantastic opportunities through this blog and not once have I wished I was still writing for the online publication with a side income. There aren’t any advertisements on STAMT and I fully intend to keep it that way. It’s not about the money for me. It’s not about the page views or the clicks, the sponsored posts or blogging for a living. It’s about the writing. It’s about the people I wouldn’t have otherwise met without this small space of mine on the internet. It’s about the doors which never would have opened – or I would have never even thought to approach – along the way.

Whether you’ve been around since the beginning, somewhere in the middle, or just happened to end up here today: thank you. Writing is incredibly important to me and I’m glad you’ve decided to come along for the ride.

What are your favorite topics to read about? What would you like to see more (or less) of on So These Are My Thirties?

I Need to Ask You a Huge Favor

It’s no secret we’re HUGE country music fans and try to make it to as many concerts in Austin as possible. Jeff Foxworthy [yes, you read that correctly] recently announced a new festival to be held out at the Circuit of the Americas: RedFest. It’s a redneck festival 3 days of live music, comedy, reality stars, and outdoor events during the last weekend in May. The music lineup is killer: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Tim McGraw, Florida Georgia Line, Justin Moore, Kip Moore, Kellie Pickler, Easton Corbin, Craig Morgan, Big & Rich, Love & Theft, Parmalee – and that’s not even all of the acts!

We REALLY would love tickets to the festival, so I entered us into Kase101’s Cutest Couple contest. I normally wouldn’t do this sort of thing, but for a 3-day festival full of country music in Austin? I think it would be wrong NOT to enter.

KASE 101 Cutest Couple

So here’s where that favor comes in. If you’re logged into Facebook on your current computer and have 30 seconds to spare, I would be forever grateful if you headed over to our entry and commented on the photo, letting KASE101 know that we should definitely win a set of tickets. Not sure why, but if you click on the link from your phone it will take you to the first photo in the set, rather than our photo. We’re entry #135, if you don’t mind clicking through. Otherwise, desktop voting is the easiest! It would be much easier if you could just click ‘vote’ and be done with it, but I guess they’re trying to weed out cheaters? I did find quite a few couples that commented on their own photos – not sure if those votes count, but it seems somewhat unfair. But if they do count, BRB I need to go vote for myself…

Anyway, we’d love it if you could click on this link and leave a quick comment under our photo before 11:59PM tonight, March 20th. The fact I even entered us in a Cutest Couple contest is slightly embarrassing, but it goes to show you just how much I want to attend this festival! The comment could be something as simple as “Melissa & Brad love country music so much, tickets to RedFest would be perfect for them!” or “I vote for Melissa & Brad” .. that’s it. 30 seconds & I’ll love you forever. THANK YOU!!

 

Small Things That Warrant a Big WTF

If there’s a chance your super-sensitive feathers may get ruffled, I recommend skipping this post. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Obviously I’m feeling a little feisty today and it’s compounded by the fact that Google Hangouts is down and I have no one to talk to.

Only 2 registers open during the after-work rush at Target. I thought eventually they’d come to their senses and staff a little better, but I’ve pretty much given up hope on that. There’s always that one employee pacing around with the walkie talkie directing people into lines. No, I don’t want to be behind the lady with a decently full cart and three kids using the conveyor belt as a rock climbing wall. I want to be behind guy with a bottle of wine and wheel of cheese. Not just because I approve of his shopping choices, but because that line will move MUCH faster. Hey Mr. Walkie Talkie Man – how about YOU get behind a register and ring me up?

People who don’t drive the speed limit. In the great state of Texas, many of our roads are 70 or 75mph. We even have the fastest highway in the United States at 85mph. Considering a majority of these highways are toll roads, it irritates the hell out of me when I get behind someone doing 55 or 60. If you’re interested in driving that slow, save a few bucks by taking the access roads and leave the highway clear for the rest of us. I spend almost 3 hours and $5 a day in tolls to drive 75mph. I’m Ricky Bobby: I wanna go fast.

Sub-par music recommendations. Every so often my running playlist needs updating and I poll the masses via Twitter/Facebook for suggestions. The responses are usually found in the top 10 downloads on iTunes or that damn OneRepublic song every Top 40 radio station out there is playing the crap out. The iTunes Top 200 list is my first stop when searching for new music, so recommending “Timber” or “Dark Horse” just isn’t helpful. I’m looking for (and always specify this) lesser known favorites, like a song from an album you just purchased that likely won’t ever make it to the radio. Maybe it’s just me but if these will be on a playlist for months to come, the last songs I want are the ones the radio is going to beat to death. And since we’re on the subject, what’s your current favorite song that I’ve probably never heard of?

The perpetually empty coffee carafe at the office. I want to put a hidden camera in our kitchen to catch people in the act as they go to pour themselves a cup of coffee, realize the carafe is empty and then leave the kitchen. It’s nine freaking thirty, brew another damn pot! This girl loves her caffeine and what she does NOT love is heading in for a refill only to be faced with an empty sputtering carafe. Every time my palm presses down on that top lever I feel like I’m playing Clue Boom on Hollywood Game Night.

People who insist on entering the elevator before others exit. When did this become okay? No, I do not want you plowing into me while I’m juggling my coffee and laptop. The elevator isn’t going to leave without you, so I really don’t understand what the rush is. Step aside, bitches!

Boycotting all airlines because MH370 is missing. Don’t get me wrong, this is a tragic (and truly bizarre – where the hell is that damn plane?) event and my thoughts are with the families of those 239 individuals onboard. I cannot even begin to imagine what they’re going through. But do you know how many international flights have taken off and landed since March 7th? Hundreds. Thousands even. Saying you’re not getting on a flight because of this isolated incident is ridiculous. You should probably also avoid roller coasters, cruise ships, bicycles, trains (I mean, have you seen either of these Denzel movies?) and never get behind the wheel of a car again. You will probably need to live in a bubble for the rest of your life.

The WP plugin that tweets out links to archived posts. I get the idea: you’re looking to increase site traffic and get new eyes on older posts. But when your Weekly Workout Recap from October 2011 or a giveaway marked ‘CLOSED’ pops up in my Twitter feed, it’s confusing. And to be honest, kind of annoying. Buffer is a much better tool and you have 100% control over the content shared, as well as when it’s being shared.

Your turn: what’s making you say WTF on this fine Monday?

The Battle of Need vs Want

One of my tactics lately on miscellaneous purchases is to make myself wait. If I can hold out for 30 days and the urge to own the item is still pretty strong, then I’ll pull the trigger. This is really hard when you come across something that’s on sale for much cheaper than normal and you’ve somewhat convinced yourself that you “need” it. For example, a pair of $150 heels I’ve been eyeing for several months recently dropped to $90. Great price – I have to buy them, right? Rather than jumping on the deal, I still held back from making the purchase. After two weeks I realized that money would be better spent elsewhere. Like on running shoes a new laptop battery.

Exercising restraint for a few weeks is difficult but I’ve found that 9 times out of 10 the thing I once needed should have actually been classified as a want.

you can't always get what you wantIn February I was caught up in the excitement for the impending lottery openings of a few bigger fall marathons like NYCM and Marine Corps. Reading blogs and being active on Twitter sometimes causes major race envy and this was a standard case. I needed to run a fall marathon! Houston in January 2015 seemed incredibly far away and I wanted to get back to the full marathon distance sooner than that, which had me crunching numbers and scrutinizing my budget looking for a way to finagle a trip to NYC in the fall. I realized if I was diligent about putting every extra dollar aside, I could run the race.

Marine Corps Marathon

 But after taking a step back for a few weeks, I don’t think I really want to. There’s underlying anxiety about being able to finance the trip. The thought of eliminating concerts, dinners out, and any semblance of a social life for the next 8 months in exchange for one ridiculously expensive weekend in NYC just isn’t that appealing. Running NYCM in 2014 is certainly a want, not a need.

Houston Half Marathon Medal

The race I have my heart set on is Houston. It was on the half marathon course earlier this year where the urge to run 26.2 returned. I’m determined and ready to make my comeback. So Houston is where that comeback needs to be! None of my race times are fast enough to qualify for guaranteed entry so I’ll be entering through the lottery once again. And if I don’t get in, there’s always the possibility of running for a charity. But I’ll cross that road when I come to it.

So that’s that. I NEED to run Houston. [and Houston NEEDS to let me in!]

What’s your current “need vs want” battle? 

 

 

Counting My Pennies :: The Recap

February was the month we kept the debit cards tucked nicely in our wallets and spent quite a bit of time wielding Santoku knives in the kitchen. It required a little additional work each week and getting creative in order to stay under budget, but last month’s No Spend Challenge was a huge success.

I discovered Cooking Light’s Weeknight Meal Planner and it was the perfect tool to get back in the swing of cooking every night.

Cooking Light Weeknight Meal PlannerYou drag each image into the appropriate day of the week and then print out the recipe/ingredient list. It’s seriously idiot-proof and the recipes are super easy. Here’s a few of the winners and what I’d recommend tweaking:

Filet Bourguignonne with Mashed Potatoes Probably the best dish from the planner. You can’t really go wrong with steak in a wine sauce and velvety mashed potatoes. Double the sauce – it’s rich and fantastic.

Sausage, Tomato, and Arugula Fettuccine This one fell pretty short. It came together quickly but the flavor wasn’t impressive and the fettuccine overpowered the dish. For light ingredients like cherry tomatoes and arugula, angel hair or thin spaghetti would be a much better choice.

White Pizza with Tomato & Basil One of the quickest meals of the bunch and while it was good, it definitely could have used something else to take it up a notch. Prosciutto would have been a nice addition.

Maple-Mustard Glazed Chicken This prompted me to finally invest in something I’ve been putting off for a couple years: a cast iron skillet. It’s not 100% necessary for this recipe but considering it’s been used three times a week since it came home with me from Target, I’d say it was worth every penny. It cooks food evenly and being able to go from a burner straight into the oven is a huge perk. Anyway, back to the recipe. This one is a keeper. I doubled the sauce and went a little heavy on the stone ground mustard so it wouldn’t end up too sweet. Skip the starch and serve this with crisp haricot verts.

Chicken Orzo Salad with Goat Cheese If you want to know what summer tastes like, it’s this. I’m ready to make this salad again already, it was that good. The flavors intensified as time went on and made it perfect for leftovers.

After the first week I got back into the swing of things and switched back into recipe development mode. Something about coming up with a dish on my own is so satisfying and I’d much rather start from scratch than follow a recipe line-by-line out of a cookbook. One thing I was worried would be an issue last month was lunch at the office. If I didn’t have time to throw something together in the morning before heading out the door, I’d grab lunch next door at Whole Foods. It’s a healthy and convenient choice. Obviously with the challenge in place, I wouldn’t have this option to fall back on. But since I was cooking dinner every night and most recipes served 4-6, there were plenty of leftovers to have for lunch. Crisis averted.

Overall, it wasn’t as difficult as expected and the month flew by. The extra time spent in the kitchen was enjoyable and we definitely appreciated the money saved by eliminating meals out. The hardest part was figuring out what to have for dinner on Friday nights. After working all day and grocery shopping immediately after, the last thing I want to do at 8pm on Friday is cook. I tried to plan ahead so there would be leftovers from Thursday night, but a couple times we ended up having either cereal or eggs for dinner.

cookbooks and spices

The purpose of this challenge was to save money and to get back on track after several months of excessive dining out. But in the process my passion for cooking was reignited and I’m looking forward to spending more time in the kitchen for the remainder of 2014.

How often do you go out to eat each week? Do you follow recipes or create your own?

How to Plan a Vacation That Won’t Break the Bank

Over the past few years, Brad and I have been trying to take advantage of every opportunity we can to travel. Maybe it’s a few hours away to Dallas for a concert or across the country to visit friends in San Diego. Either way, we’ve grown accustomed to building a few vacations into our schedule each year. Neither of us bring home a huge salary and I can almost guarantee that you on your own make as much or more than both of us combined. So it’s not like we can wake up one day and book a trip with little to no planning. Last summer I did a boatload of research, created a savings spreadsheet to track our finances and booked us a vacation to Mexico for the end of summer 2014. Unfortunately, a few things came up and we had to postpone the trip until next year. But I thought I’d share a few of my tips and tricks to help you plan your best vacation yet.

How to Plan a Vacation

1. Decide where & when you want to go. Whether you’re planning a week-long tropical getaway or 3-day trip to run a marathon, you should have a pretty solid idea [especially if you’ve already registered for said marathon] of where you’d like to stay. Negril boasts beautiful beaches in Jamaica but it’s several hours from the airport, while Montego Bay is less than twenty minutes away. If you want to squeeze every single minute out of your vacation, a location closer to the airport would probably be best. If your mind is set on a quiet relaxing week of doing absolutely nothing in Mexico, you should avoid the Hotel Zone in Cancun and research resorts in Playa Mujeres or Riviera Maya. A cruise might be more affordable in winter months but it might be due to lower temperatures. Make sure you review the average highs and lows [as well as historical precipitation totals] for your destination so you don’t end up spending that beach vacation playing board games in the room.

2. Set a savings goal. After preliminary research you’ll probably have a rough idea of how much this vacation will cost you. Do you want to sacrifice a little quality to spend $1500 at an all-inclusive or are you willing to buckle down to spend $2500 at a nicer resort with more perks? It all depends on how much wiggle room your budget has. Can you save $50 or $150 a paycheck? Also, does the resort require only a deposit to secure your reservation and the balance is due at check-in or do they need the entire stay paid for when you book? Sandals charges a $400 deposit [unless booking a package with airfare, in which case it will run you $1,000+] while Excellence Resorts collect the cost of the vacation a week prior to check-in. The latter may be a better option if you don’t have the money to shell out up front. Make sure you count meals, souvenirs, parking at the airport, baggage fees, etc. They may seem like small insignificant charges but they’ll add up and should definitely be accounted for.

Savings Goals 3. Do your research and read the fine print. Become best friends with Trip Advisor and other similar sites. Take all reviews with a grain of salt. If you’re staying in a city with public transit and want to avoid renting a car, look at hotels close to rail stations. In both Philly and DC I was able to take the rail from the airport to my hotel and also to travel around the city. Rail passes are much cheaper than renting a car AND you won’t have to pay for parking at your hotel, which averages $20/night in bigger cities where parking is at a premium. Find out if your hotel charges incidental fees and how much they are per night. In Vegas we were hit with $750 in incidental fees at check-in and it put a significant dent in our vacation fund. Lesson learned. Use a credit [not debit, unless you have unlimited funds in your checking … in which case, I’m super jealous] card for incidentals. The charges usually don’t drop off for 3-4 days after you check out. Are there additional resort fees? Some charge an additional 15-18% per night to cover things like WiFi and Fitness Center access. It’s best if you do a little research beforehand so you know exactly how much you’re looking at spending on accommodations and can include them in your budget.

Excellence Playa Mujeres on Trip Advisor

4. Book far in advance – and shop around. When planning my race weekend in Philly, I started looking at hotels and airfare in June for the November trip. This resulted in roundtrip airfare for two + 3 nights in a 5-star hotel for only $1,000. For Marine Corps I started even earlier, researching [and booking] in February for the October trip. This landed us a hotel less than a 1/4 mile from the marathon finish line and a one-bedroom suite with a full kitchen for less than $200/night. I started planning an August 2014 vacation in August 2013. Planning that far in advance gave us a reservation for a two-story rooftop terrace with a private plunge pool for the exact same price as a standard room without a view in April or May. If you have to book last minute, use either Priceline’s Express Deals or Name Your Own Price tool. It gives you control over the price and star-rating of hotels, while allowing access to exclusive deals to hotels trying to fill their vacancies. Hotwire is another excellent resource.

Priceline Express Deals and Name Your Own Price 
5. Put on the finishing touches. Book your airport transfers, buy tickets to that show you’re dying to see, crowd source for must-try restaurants in the area you’re visiting. If you’ve been on a vacation with me, you’ve probably caught a glimpse of my trip itinerary in Google Drive. Prior to departure, I get a spreadsheet together with an hour-by-hour schedule. It’s not an ‘end all be all’ plan, but having some general direction gives me peace of mind. It avoids the “what do you want for dinner?” “oh I don’t care, what do you want?” “eh, I’m not really in the mood for anything in particular. what’s around here?” “I have no idea” conversation. Then it turns into a big clusterfuck because no one can agree on anything. Yeah, no thanks. Restaurant reservations, museum tours, excursions, pool time, after dinner drinks, shopping, etc. It’s all plugged into the spreadsheet. Even if things aren’t done in the exact order, at least there’s an idea bank to work from and everyone on the trip has access to it so there’s no surprises. Maybe I sound crazy [I call it organized] but if you ever come with me on vacation I can promise you won’t have to worry about a thing.

And while we’re on the subject, here’s a list of my Top 10 Travel Tips.

What’s your best vacation planning tip? What mistake have you made on a previous trip that you learned a lesson from?