Wow, 4 whole Friday’s of blogging? Time flies when you are having fun reliving your vacations I guess!
I have grave news. I attempted to download iOS 9.2 and it crashed my phone. I am currently phoneless while my poor little broken phone is at home trying to restore itself. All because I wanted the new taco emoji. I will never look at tacos the same again (that’s a lie, I love tacos).
This weekend will be a really fun one, I am headed to Richmond for healthnut’s bachelorette party! We are going to have a spa day followed by a night out, I can’t wait!
Recovery from the half marathon has went really well. I felt less sore than I have with previous halfs (halves?? Someone please tell me!!). The only thing I really did differently (except for not completing my training) was the compression socks. I will be wearing these always.
Also unlike previous races, I actually feel like I want to continue running and work on my speed for a while. I still want to continue on with the Lauren Gleisberg plan I mentioned previously, but will shoot to incorporate two run days per week. I’m eyeing a Turkey Trot 5k or a Jingle Bell Run for some short-term motivation.
I started reading “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt this week. I’m only 50 or so pages in and I’m having some trouble really getting into it. Has anyone else read this one? I wanted to continue the Joe Abercrombie series I mentioned last week, but they don’t have books 2 or 3 available at my library.
Dinners were really good this week! Nick had a ton of poblanos from our garden that needed to be used up so we made up a stuffed pepper recipe of sorts. I cooked some ground beef with onions, garlic, chili powder and cumin. We mixed that with black beans, mexican blend shredded cheese and green enchilada sauce. We stuffed the peppers with the mixture and put them in a 9X13 pan. I then put more cheese and enchilada sauce over the top. It turned out great! We served it with rice, salsa, and extra cilantro.
Talk to me: What are your plans this weekend? Have you read any good books lately?
I ran the Myrtle Beach Mini Marathon this past weekend on October 18th. My friend and I were originally supposed to run a half marathon a year and a half ago (the Flying Pirate Half Marathon), but she rudely went and broke her foot on me.
I ended up running the half anyway, but it was still on our list to run one together (it wasn’t quite the same with my less than enthused husband that I forced to take her place). On a girl’s weekend to Savannah earlier this year, we decided the time was right and started searching out new halfs (halves?) to tackle.
We wanted something in the fall, but also wanted it to be far enough away that we had adequate time to train (this ended up being an unnecessary demand). We looked for October and November races in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
The Myrtle Beach Mini Marathon ticked all of our boxes and had those beautiful words “fast and flat” posted all over the race website. My two previous halves (halfs? I’m really hoping someone chimes in and corrects me) were in Pittsburgh (land of bridges and hills) and the Outer Banks (which is relatively flat, minus the sand dunes, but somehow they managed to locate the one hilly area and make this the last mile of the race), so this was music to my ears. We signed up and got to training.
I modified this Jenny Hadfield training plan. It was really important to me to find something that only had three run days per week. I’ve done plans with more than that I’m the past, and I always end up feeling completely burnt out and tired of running by the end of training. I don’t think I’m one of those people that LOVES running, but I enjoy the challenge and the discipline of training for a half marathon and it’s a great way to switch up my fitness routine. The modifications I made were to change the lengths of some of the long runs since I would be leaving to Greece for two weeks for part of the training.
This training cycle was my toughest yet, which was a real mind game for me since I was more fit and running more consistently than I had in the past. It was a huge adjustment to be training in the summer, the heat and humidity were pretty brutal. My previous races were spring races so my training took place in the preceding cool winter months. I was NOT used to having to set an alarm on Sunday mornings at 6 am so that I could get up before it was 1000 degrees outside. Even with the early hours, I would end my long runs completely soaked in sweat (sorry for being gross), like, I could actually wring out my shorts and had to bring a towel with me to wipe down after. I also had some nausea issues due to the heat and humidity. Despite all of this, I felt the pressure of running with another person (what a great motivator) and was determined to be able to keep up. I stuck with all of my scheduled long runs and got in a great feeling 10 miler before we left for Greece for two weeks in mid September.
That’s when things….declined. I didn’t run at all in Greece (I didn’t plan to) and figured I would just jump right back into the plan when I got home. I didn’t take into account the jet lag, and then we were hit with a LOT of rain here for two weeks straight. I wasn’t able to run outside (I’m just not hardcore enough to run in the rain) and I sure as shit wasn’t running that long on the treadmill.
Turns out, my friend was having some similar issues. The rain was affecting her area as well and she was working on starting out a new school year with classes she hasn’t taught before. We convened and decided that we would do the best we could at this race, which would involve some run/walk intervals, shooting to finish it strong and have fun.
This took a lot of pressure off and we both went into the weekend greening excited and ready to finish the dang thing!
Wilmington is about an hour and a half from Myrtle, so we went down late Friday night to give ourselves some time to relax and hang out and pick up our packet.
Saturday we were up and about around 10 am. We were really excited about the prospect of carb loading all day (the anticipated carb loading is probably 90% of what motivated us to sign up) and started the day strong with some brunch. We used Yelp to find Johnny D’s Waffles and Bakery. We hydrated up with coffee, water and mimosas. For our meals we got the California eggs Benedict and chicken and waffles. We shared half of each because we are adorable like that.
Side tangent: I thought about framing this post in a travel-y way, but I don’t think I did a great job of finding local and authentic things to do here. Myrtle beach is rather commercialized (not saying good local places don’t exist, just that I didn’t make it a priority to find them) so I’m not sure our trip is a great reflection of what to do here. That said, I REALLY enjoyed both of the restaurants we hit and would highly recommend them to visitors. And they were certainly more charming than the typical calabash seafood buffets you see everywhere down there.
After brunch, we headed over to the expo to get our bibs. The expo was pretty basic and smaller than other ones I had been to. But we got our bibs quickly and easily and spent a little time browsing around. We started talking about race day outfits (typically this is something you would have planned out in advanced, but unprepared was the name of our game this weekend). The predicted weather for Sunday was a high in the mid-60’s. But of course, races start at early o’clock and our starting line temps wouldn’t be anywhere near the high for the day. We decided on shorts with fancy new pairs of compression socks that we bought at the expo (another major faux pas, don’t do anything untested on race day).
We spent the rest of the day shopping around. Myrtle Beach has a couple of great outlets, for this trip we went to this one, located right off Route 17. We had a successful shopping trip and suffice it to say my wallet and I aren’t on speaking terms right now.
For dinner we obviously wanted something carby. We used Yelp to find this burger joint, River City Cafe. We ate early, around 5 o’clock since we were looking to get an early bedtime. I got the Palmetto Cheeseburger and my friend got the Black-N-Blue. Both were delicious and the fries were fantastic. We loaded up on those bad boys.
We had an uneventful rest of the night, we had some beers (we limited ourselves to buying a six pack to avoid hangover) and partook in a lovely beach walk at sunset.
The next morning came quick, we set an alarm for 5:30 to get ready for the 7:00 am start. We got dressed quickly, ate our bagels with peanut butter and bananas and grabbed some coffee on the way to the start. We parked at Grand Coastal Mall, where the start line was. The Mini Marathon offered shuttles at the end of the race back to the starting line parking lot. This was the opposite of previous halfs/halves that I’ve done (shuttle in the morning from the finish line to the start) and I think I prefer it the other way. It’s nice to be done and next to your car to leave at the end of the race.
The corrals in this race were separated by times (rather than A, B, C, etc) which I really liked. We lined up by the 12:00 min/mile sign and tried to stay warm until the official start.
The first few miles were good, it felt great to get moving and warm up. We held a pretty steady 10:30 min/mile pace and focused on just trying to weave and thin out the crowd some. The water stops on this course were every 1.5 miles and had water and lemon-lime gatorade (my fav). My plan was to get Gatorade at all of the stops and eat my Gatorade chews every 2 miles or so. We switched to run/walk intervals around mile 3 and tried to stick to a 5 min run/1 min walk set up.
The initial race adrenaline started to wear off around mile 5. Krista put on some music for us (The Bachelorette Pandora station, for those interested) and that helped.
Around mile 8, you start running along Ocean Blvd and get glimpses of the beach and water which was lovely. Things definitely started feeling tough around mile 10. My knees were aching, Krista’s ankle was hurting and it was harder and harder to start up the run again after every walk break. We definitely started to feel our lack of training, but overall we were pretty pleased with our time and pacing (considering above mentioned lack of training). We kept making comments to each other that for the NEXT one, we were REALLY going to train hard! This is the first time I had run a race with another person and I REALLY enjoyed it. I thought for a loner curmudgeon such as myself, running with someone else would be the ultimate torture. But it was quite the opposite, it made the miles fly and having someone to complain with was lovely.
We stayed solid on executing our intervals and before we knew it, we had less than a mile to go! Things were getting really tough and we took a couple unscheduled walk breaks, but kept pushing ourselves to get running again. The finish line was truly a sight for sore eyes (and ankles and knees), and we crossed that bad boy in 2:42!
We did a little stretching, hydrating and banana-eating and then made our way to the real prize, the beer tent! There were three types of beers available, a grapefruit shandy, a lemon shandy and Sam Adams Octoberfest. The grapefruit shandy was SO refreshing and perfect after the long race. We had two beers and then headed back to the shuttle and eventually on home.
Overall, I REALLY enjoyed this race. The course was great and they definitely delivered on the “flat, fast” promise. The medals were cool, the beer was delicious and unlimited. The only factor that would make me pause before registering for it in the future is the summer training mentioned above. I just don’t know if I can force myself to do those “90 degrees and sunny” long runs again. I think this race would be ideal for someone who lived in a cooler climate and wanted to come down to Myrtle and make a trip of it. Or for someone who isn’t a huge weenie with summer running, like me.
On the fourth day of our vacation, we started off by catching a train from Rome to Florence. The train ride itself was pretty uneventful, but Nick and I were both nervous about the adventure ahead: driving a car in Italy. To be more specific, for Nick to drive a car in Italy. This portion of our trip involved renting a car in Florence and driving to our villa in Tuscany. It was explicitly stated that the car would be a manual (automatics are rare in Europe) and that the driver should be prepared to drive a manual for the entire three days. Since I don’t know how to drive a manual, the full brunt of this fell to Nick. He got his international driver’s lisence beforehand, which involved a trip to AAA.
This is the car we had reserved:
We had to carry our luggage from the train station in Florence to our rental car place, about half a mile. I’m sure this was quite a sight, navigating the one-person wide, bumpy sidewalks with our rolly suitcases and me trying to balance my enormous travel bag/purse. If I were to do it again, I’m not sure if I would get a cab or not. I mean it was definitely inconvenient and stressful and I felt like we looked ridiculous. But getting a cab to travel less than a mile does not resonate with my cheap soul.
When we got there we thought to ask if they had any automatic cars available. The guy made a face and let us know that he did, but it was REALLY big and hard to drive around. He pointed it out to us outside.
Haha, oh, um, yeah. I think that van (that is roughly the size of Nick’s Honda Accord) will be just fine. Just fine, in comparison to trying to drive a manual in a strange land. We will take it. As a bonus, there was no increase in cost and we had tons of extra room.
We got a GPS with our car, which was infinitely helpful. Definitely recommended if you are going to be driving at all in a foreign country. It was maybe 15 extra euros? I would have paid three times that much. We had map apps on our phone, but they tend to drain your battery pretty quickly and we wanted our phones to do other things throughout the day (finding restaurants, navigating while walking around, etc). You could also try the paper map route, but….we saw how well that worked for me in Pompeii.
We were both pretty nervous while driving, Italian drivers have a less strict adherence to the rules of the roads than your typical Americans and we had seen that to an extreme in Rome. Scooters will zip by you constantly (even while turning), and it’s not unusual to see a single lane road with three cars side by side.
To add to that, roads are usually cobbled and narrow and we were in a major city. I was the default navigator (this would not have been the case had any otehr person been available), and the combination of our nerves resulted in our shouting at each other, but also somehow in a calm, reassuring manner.
Nick: DO I TURN OR GO STRAIGHT??
Me: UMM OK HANG ON, LOOKS LIKE IT’S A RIGHT TURN!
Nick: A RIGHT TURN?
Me: YES THAT’S CORRECT!
Nick turns right.
Me: OK YES, GREAT JOB!
Nick: OK GREAT, WHAT NEXT?
and so on……
The drive was absolutely beautiful. I didn’t take any pictures (due to above mentioned intense navigating) but seeing the rolling hills, Tuscan architecture and fields of olive trees and grape vines was really amazing. We eventually found our villa, we stayed at Riserva di Fizzano, which was a perfectly lovely accomodation. The grounds were beautiful, our room was great, the wifi worked pretty well. BUT, we came to find out that this agriturismo is actually associated with the Olive Garden. This didn’t really matter for the accomodations and we only ate at the restaurant once, so this wasn’t a HUGE deal. But I think in an ideal Tuscan vacation, you would stay at a place with a more unique and authentic restaurant. It’s not like the restaurant was offering lasagna and the Tour of Italy with salad and breadsticks or anything….but there is just something NOT OK about being in Italy and eating/staying somewhere associated with the OG.
Our hostess set us up with a winery tour at the associated winey, Rocca delle Macie. Sound familiar? If you have ever been to an Olive Garden it should, because the wines are served there. We were again, a little disappointed about participating in an Olive Garden associated activity in Tuscany Italy, but I have to say that we had a GREAT experience at the winery. The woman giving us our tour was super knowledgeable and friendly, gave us great local tips of things to do in the area and even gave us extra samples of things that we liked or had never tried (like Sambuca). I would definitely recommend this winery, and it tasted nothing like the wine I get at Olive Garden.
We finished our tour and headed back to the villa for dinner. At the Olive Garden. We tried to keep an open mind and were mostly excited to try some Tuscan specialties. We got excited when we saw the menu. BURRATTA was one of the offerings and we excitedly blurted that to our waiter first thing. We also decided to split a Tuscan T-bone.
The food was far and away better than Olive Garden, don’t get me wrong. But we also weren’t blown away by it. Ultimately, I’d say steer clear of this particular agriturismo in your Tuscany travels.
The next day we got up and decided to explore around the Tuscany area in our hip van. The hostess of our villas and the wine tour hostess gave us some great recommendations of nearby towns. We started with San Gimignano and then made our way to Siena. San Gimignano was a cool town and had your standard churches, shops and restaurants to see. If you are close by, I’d say it’s a great stop, but I wouldn’t travel TOO far to see it. However; Siena is a must do if you are in the Tuscan region. Siena used to be a rival town to Florence and is large and has beautiful architecture in its own right. My favorite church of the whole trip was in Siena and it had great food, shopping and a unique town square.
We had lunch in Siena, but I unfortunately can’t remember the name of the place. Our meal was excellent though.
After a full day of traveling around, we headed back to our villa and got ready for dinner. We decided to explore the town where we were staying, Castellina in Chianti. The town was very small and quaint, but had a surprisingly decent number of restaurants to choose from. We picked one, put it in our GPS and went on our way. When we got there, we realized it was closed for the season. Uh-oh. We wandered around a little more and encountered closed restaurant after closed restaurant. Yikes. We started to get a little frustrated, but then happened upon an absolute gem. We walked by a place that was open, and Nick said “Well, we might just get stuck going to this place.” When I looked at the name, I recognized it and realized I had seen it on one of the top 10 restaurant lists for Castellina!
This was Antica Trattoria “La Torre”. The waiter and owner here were extremely friendly and talkative. I will be the first to admit that I’m a little anti-social and don’t LOVE having conversations with strangers, but this didn’t feel intrusive at all. We felt very welcomed and the place overall felt very warm and authentic. We got wine to start and two pastas. I got the truffle ravioli (side note: It was truffle season while we were there and it was basically the most amazing thing every. I ordered truffles at almost every opportunity. Can’t get enough truffles). Nick couldn’t decide between wild boar or beef pasta and the waiter offered to prepare him half of each so that he could try more.
For our main dishes I got the wild boar and polenta and Nick got a braised beef. These tasted amazing and rustic. They are not much to look at, unfortunately, but we were thrilled with these dishes.
After we finished, our waiter asked about dessert and named off a few things that he recommended. One of those things was Torta della Nonna. When he saw our puzzled faces, he gestured over to the case and showed us this beauty. This cake was mildly sweet and custardy. It’s flavored with pine nuts and powdered sugar, which results in a lightly sweet delicious little dessert. After we paid, the owner encouraged us to hang out and use the wifi (guess he saw those not so discreet checks of our phone while trying to plan out tomorrow’s events haha) and we did just that. I also got a decaf espresso to sip on.
In my Tuscany research I kept stumbling across mentions of Terme di Saturnia (Saturnia Hot Springs). We kept this on the list as a secondary thing to do. Not one of our MUST DO’s, but something that would be cool to experience if we have some extra time. On our third day we found ourselves with just such time available. We decided that the Terme di Saturnia was too far away (two hours) and we didn’t want to spend half of our last day driving. We eventually found Terme di Petriolo that wasn’t too far away (45 mins). There is an associated spa with this Terme where you can go inside and pay for access, but we went the cheap natural route and just dove into the public hot springs.
It was a cool experience and we enjoyed our time. I think we ended up staying an hour before deciding to pack up and head to the last village we wanted to see. I would say this activity is in its rightful place on a “secondary” list of things to do. We enjoyed it, but would have fine if we had not experienced it also.
Our next stop was Monteriggioni, another medieval walled town. Monteriggioni was much smaller than San Gimignano, and only has two main entries/exits. It was really charming, we enjoyed walking around and decided to have lunch here. We went to Il Pozzo and got a meat plate and pici. Pici is a very thick spaghetti that originated in Tuscany. I got Pici with “traditional pesto”, which includes capers, almonds and sun-dried tomatoes maybe? This dish was so unique, I loved it. I could be biased, I’m obsessed with capers and will eat them on almost anything. I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to recreate it since the day we got back. Nick got pici with bread crumbs, but he didn’t love it. It was pretty heavy on the bread crumbs and was a little dry.
By the time we were finished with lunch, it was well into the afternoon. Knowing that we were getting up fairly early to make our way back to Florence in the morning we decided to keep the evening casual and relaxed. We picked up some meats, and cheeses from a little shop in Monteriggioni and headed home.
Overall I really enjoyed our time in Tuscany. I definitely recommend carving out some time for this region, whether you stay here or take day trips to small towns and wineries from Florence. One of the things we really wanted to do is take a cooking class, but as we were there in November, a lot of the “regular” activities were not available. Our villa hostess told us that most of the locals take their vacations in November after the main influx of tourists are gone. I still felt that there was enough to do, but if I were to go back I would choose an in-season month.