Earning a Star in Chicago

The Chicago Marathon was my first of the six Abbott World Marathon Majors (AWMM). These high profile races are: New York City, Boston, Chicago, London, Berlin, and Tokyo. For elite runners, the annual series determines the world’s best distance runners. The champions are those who score the most points in the qualifying races. For the rest of us marathon enthusiasts, the races often comprise running bucket lists. “Six star finishers” are marathoners who have finished all six races.

Entry into the six marathons varies in difficulty. The Chicago Marathon offers guaranteed entry through:

1. Time qualification: Marathon qualifying standards depend on both age and gender. For my age category (16-29), it requires a marathon finish on a USATF-certified course in the past year in under 3:35:00, roughly a 08:20 min/mile pace.

2. Charity entry: Each charity that is part of the official charity program will have its own fundraising requirements, but the minimum is generally around $1,250.

3. Legacy finish: Finishing the Chicago Marathon five times in the previous ten years constitutes eligibility for a legacy entry.

Non-guaranteed entry is offered through a lottery. Of course, the odds of getting in through the lottery will differ every year. Though I haven’t had any success with the NYC Marathon, I was selected to run the Chicago Marathon on my first attempt.

Admittedly, I did not feel as physically prepared for this one, especially in the weeks leading up to the race. It was a combination of not carving out enough time for my long runs, and lacking my usual drive and motivation in this training cycle. Luckily, the race seemed to be a testament to mind over matter. I didn’t try to push myself to beat my personal best; rather, I actually enjoyed the run and just focused on being present.

I felt like I truly saw the city during the marathon. The course brought runners through 29 distinct neighborhoods, and the amount of spectators was truly incredible. The positive energy was palpable; I felt in better spirits while running, and I even managed to shave a few minutes off of my Marine Corps Marathon finish time. It helps that this marathon has a reputation for a fast, flat course, too.

Other Chicago Highlights

1. Architecture Boat Tour:

In the weeks leading up to my trip, many people suggested this as a different way to see the city, especially because Chicago is known for its architecture. In fact, the world’s first skyscraper was built in Chicago, back in 1884. There are quite a few tour companies to choose from, but we did a bit of research and picked Chicago’s First Lady Cruises. We booked a 5:30 pm tour, and we were able to enjoy the sunset, and see the skyline after dark. My biggest learning, besides the names of the five tallest buildings in the city, would be that October in Chicago is definitely cold enough to warrant packing a winter coat.

2. Three Dots and a Dash:

Located down an alley and underground, this speakeasy cocktail lounge has a strong tiki theme. I ordered a Painkiller, and we shared crispy coconut shrimp and spicy Thai fried chicken, all of which I would recommend. We went on a Sunday night, and we had a reservation, so the experience felt pretty seamless. Supposedly it can be very crowded, so reservations are strongly encouraged.

3. The Second City:

The Second City is a theater famous for hosting improv and sketch comedy. Notable alumni include Bill Murray, Steve Carrell, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler, among others. The shows often sell out, so we bought tickets ahead of time. I truly didn’t realize just how clever and political it would be, and I was so impressed. We laughed for the entirety of the performance.

4. 875 N Michigan:

When we initially tried to go to the Sky Deck in the Willis Tower, we encountered a 3+ hour line, which seemed daunting, and we decided to bail. Instead, we headed over to 875 N Michigan, formerly the John Hancock Center. We were able to wait less than 15 minutes and take an elevator to the 95th floor without purchasing a ticket. We enjoyed a drink at the bar, and were treated to some amazing views of the city’s other skyscrapers.

5. Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder Co:

This restaurant is known for its Pizza Pot Pie, which has flavorful homemade sauce, plentiful melted cheese, and thick crust. We also ordered the restaurant’s most popular menu item, the Mediterranean Bread, and a Chef’s Salad. The salad comes with three types of dressing, and our waiter suggested mixing the sour cream garlic and the sweet and sour poppy seed. It was definitely one of the more memorable salads of my life.

6. Shedd Aquarium:

The aquarium is located within Museum Campus, which offers stunning views of the city skyline. It is one of the most visited aquariums in the US, and is home to more than 1,500 species. We especially enjoyed the Caribbean Reef exhibit, a circular tank that holds a rescued green sea turtle, and lots of sharks, rays, and schooling fish. The aquarium also has dolphins, belugas, and sea otters in the Oceanarium!

7. Skydeck:

Later in our trip, we did make it back to the Willis Tower for the Skydeck. We went about forty minutes before it closed, and it was a much more pleasant experience, with a minimal wait time. The Skydeck has enclosed glass boxes that jut out 4 feet from the building on the 103rd floor. In order to keep the line moving, we were allotted 60 seconds in there, which was surprisingly enough time to take pictures and soak it all in. It was both terrifying and exhilarating to step into the box and seemingly float over the city, watching cars beneath my feet.

London, Part II

This is a continuation of my last post, highlighting some of my favorite places/experiences in London.

1. Natural History Museum

I can’t emphasize enough how much I love a good science museum, and this is objectively one of the best natural history museums in the world. The actual architecture of the building is beautifully intricate, with details like ceiling panels covered in illustrations of plants, and carved monkeys that seem to be climbing the arches of the Central Hall. My favorite exhibit was Treasures, comprised of objects with special stories, such as original images from Audubon’s Birds of America, a first edition of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and a moon rock gifted to the UK by President Nixon. Another must-see is “Hope,” the suspended blue whale skeleton.

2. Notting Hill

We wandered through Notting Hill admiring the pastel buildings, and we had lunch at the Cock & Bottle, a traditional corner pub. We ordered fish and chips, and I tried their in-house hard cider (would recommend). Embarrassingly, I used to be a huge Hugh Grant fan, so I also made it a point to visit two of the filming locations from Notting Hill: 280 Westbourne Park Road, which is the blue front door to character William Thacker’s flat, and 142 Portobello Road, the travel bookshop, which is actually a trinket shop. Thirteen-year-old Sam would have been especially stoked at this part of the trip.

3. Kensington Gardens

Kensington Gardens is said to have provided author J. M. Barrie the inspiration for Peter Pan, and he often wrote in the park. Today, the park is home to a bronze Peter Pan sculpture. Near the sculpture, in the bushes and trees, waits a population of bright green parakeets. We noticed some people brought pieces of fruit to attract the birds, but they landed on us even without the proffered snack. Some of the birds began to get feisty and tried to peck us, but most contentedly perched on our shoulders and backpacks.

4. Harrod’s

Unlike anything I have seen in the United States, Harrod’s is a luxury department store that is overwhelmingly massive. We primarily explored the food halls, ogling the confections and cakes. We also rode the Egyptian Elevator, and visited the gift shop on the second floor, where I bought tins of English Cream Toffee. Interestingly, Harrod’s also has a lululemon “shop-in-shop” within the building.

5. Mr Fogg’s Gin Parlour

Part of a collection of professed adventurous bars, this one in particular feels like a Victorian living room. It had intricate wallpaper, floral couches and armchairs, and it was filled with treasures seemingly from the 1800s. A reservation is highly recommended, and that holds the table for a two-hour time slot. There is a long gin list, but we ordered specialty cocktails from “Aunt Gerturde’s Notebook.” The drinks were outstanding, the service was excellent, and it really felt like a wholly unique experience.

London Calling

When I go on a vacation that includes more than one destination, I inevitably compare the two places, and they become inextricably linked. Did I like Italy? Well, I thought it was just okay, but that’s probably because I was far more enamored with the sunny Greek islands that I visited on the latter half of that adventure. Similarly, I enjoyed San Antonio more than Austin, Texas, especially because I was there during Fiesta, the city’s annual festival. It’s possible that I would have different opinions if I visited each of these places individually, but there is some value to qualifying my experiences.

Thus, as I left for a trip that included both London and Paris, I was far more excited to walk by the Eiffel Tower, see the Mona Lisa, and explore Disneyland. I had it in my head that London would be great, but not as enchanting as Paris.

As it turns out, I adored London. I mean, I liked Paris, too. It wasn’t merely okay; it was magical. But for me, on this trip, London eclipsed even my overflowing feelings about Paris.

London Highlights:

1. British Museum:

With limited time, we found a guide online that suggested what to prioritize in only an hour in the museum. We worked off of that list and took turns deciding where to go and what to see next. The museum is free, which is astounding, given that it is routinely ranked one of the best in the world according to TripAdvisor. We saw the Rosetta Stone, an Easter Island statue, Samurai armor, and the Mummy of Katebet (one of the most studied Egyptian mummies).

2. Afternoon tea:

One of my absolute favorite experiences in London was a traditional British afternoon tea at Roast, a gorgeous restaurant overlooking the Borough Market. We each received a whole pot of tea, and they brought over tiered trays with dainty finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, cakes, and shot glasses full of sticky date pudding. I am not a coffee drinker, but I love a good cup of tea, so this was heavenly.

3. Imperial War Museum:

This museum was also free, and the one I unfortunately spent the least time exploring. The most incredible thing about this museum was that it was the first time I read about world wars from another country’s perspective. Aside from the Atrium, which houses a Spitfire, I spent the majority of my time in the First World War Gallery.

4. King’s Cross:

As a kid, the Harry Potter series ruled my imagination. I remember using little pink straws in the cafeteria as wands, and sprinting outside at recess to collect all of the rubber playground balls to play Quidditch with my friends. Likewise, it would not be an exaggeration to say I have read the Harry Potter series more than five times; I even went to a midnight release party for the final book. Thus, I had to visit the Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9 ¾ and pose with the luggage trolley embedded in the wall. They even have wands and house scarves to use as props in the photo. We waited in a longer line for the photo than for any ride at Disneyland Paris, but it was worth it.

Allons à Paris

Though our trip to Paris largely revolved around Disneyland Paris, we did spend time exploring the City of Light. After we had booked both plane and train tickets, we realized that we would be in Paris for Bastille Day, a national holiday in France. Bastille Day, celebrated annually on the fourteenth of July, marks the anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille, which was a turning point in the French Revolution.

As part of the Bastille Day celebrations, we started our day watching an impressive military parade that passed along the Champs-Élysées. There were aircraft flyovers, and the parade procession included both regiments on foot and large tanks.

We were also able to get into the Louvre for free on Bastille Day. Allegedly, it is one of the better times to tour the museum, since the crowds are generally elsewhere. I can’t confirm that claim, because it still seemed very crowded, and we waited in quite a line to go through security and enter. With limited time, we rushed through, taking special note of the parquet flooring and the Mona Lisa.

We ended the day scoping out a spot to watch the fireworks. We knew that we didn’t have a whole day to spend camped out on a blanket reserving a space, so we ventured to Parc de Belleville, in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, as the sun began to set. The park is the highest in Paris, with incredible views overlooking the city. We went to a nearby market and picked up fresh fruit, cured meats and cheese, and a bottle of wine, and we picnicked while waiting for enveloping darkness. Ultimately, we didn’t see too much of the fireworks since we were so far away, but the entire experience felt serendipitous and special.

Parc de Belleville 

 The neighborhood surrounding the park had some really interesting graffiti.

Other Highlights:

1. Bouillon Pigalle:

This restaurant had a long line of people queued up outside at lunchtime, but the line moved swiftly as patrons were seated efficiently. It definitely felt like a big production: we were served quickly, and the food arrived just as quickly (as I’m sure they have a fast turnaround on tables). But, the prices were very reasonable and the menu was exactly what I envisioned at a French bistro. We tried garlicky escargot, steak frites, and lamb stew.

2. Catacombs of Paris:

When the city’s cemeteries became overfilled in the seventeenth century, the solution was to relocate and bury remains in abandoned, labyrinthine tunnels under the city. The tunnels were originally dug to access quarries for mining limestone, but they now house stacks of femurs and skulls. It’s an eerie, yet hauntingly fascinating, experience.

3. Eiffel Tower | Geocaching:

I know that I would like to go back to France, and I think next time I would allot more time to explore the Eiffel Tower. We didn’t have the time to wait to go to the top, but we had time to look for one of the most popular geocaches in Paris, which was nearby the base of the Eiffel Tower. Named “Eiffel Power,” this geocache was a tiny birdhouse hung from a tree branch. So for at least the second time this year, I climbed a tree in a new city.

4. Our Lovely Airbnb:

Since we planned on spending so much time in Disneyland Paris, which is far from the city center, we tried to pick an Airbnb that would be in between both locations. We ended up in Champigny-sur-Marne, in a cozy second floor apartment with a waterfront view of the nearby river. The neighborhood was very quiet, and, though the apartment was about a mile from the train station, we always enjoyed the walk.

 The view from the front window in our apartment.

The river nearby the apartment!

 Couldn’t write about Paris without including at least one picture of the Eiffel Tower!

Disneyland Paris

I don’t know if I’ll make it to all six Disney resorts (for a total of 12 theme parks) in my lifetime, but I checked another one off the list in July.

Disneyland Paris, formerly Euro Disney Resort, is comprised of two theme parks: Disneyland Park, and Walt Disney Studios. In terms of size and scale, the resort felt similarly to California Disney. The Walt Disney Studios Park was especially small, and we felt we only needed a half-day to tackle all the rides; Disneyland Park, however, needed at least 1.5 days with all of its attractions and shows. As a result, we planned two full days in the parks with a multi-day ticket package, which allows for park hopping.

The Walt Disney Studios park had two really special attractions that we loved: the Crush Coaster, and Ratatouille: the Adventure (which is rumored to be coming to Epcot’s France Pavilion in Florida). On the Crush Coaster, riders climb into a turtle shell and glide through the Great Barrier Reef and the East Australian Current (EAC) with Nemo and friends. The Ratatouille attraction features “ratmobiles,” and riders are shrunk down to size in order to follow Rèmy through his preparation of the famous dish.

The parks offer a lot of classic Disney attractions, including ‘it’s a small world,’ Big Thunder Mountain, Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast, Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups, Peter Pan’s Flight, etc. However, a lot of the rides seem more thrilling, and some have a more compelling storyline. Phantom Manor, the park’s Haunted Mansion, was the best iteration of the ride I’ve seen so far. Additionally, the park’s Hyperspace Mountain has a Star Wars overlay, and it’s much more exhilarating, with multiple loops and steep track.

Disneyland Paris still offers a paper FastPass system, which I will always believe creates a level playing field for all guests, not just those staying on Disney property. In this way, we were able to seek out the attractions with longer wait times, and grab the FastPass tickets to return later in the day. We easily got at least five FastPass tickets a day, we didn’t have to plan our day months in advance, and we hardly waited in lines longer than 20 minutes. The Disneyland Paris mobile app was also essential in avoiding waiting in long lines, as we could periodically check the estimated wait times, and hop around to shorter lines. The parks offer complimentary WiFi, as well.

Another really interesting difference is the Disneyland Park’s Discoveryland, which replaces the classic Tomorrowland theme, a standard in many other Disney parks. It features a lot of bright gold buildings with teal accents, and elements of steampunk design. It definitely feels more Jules Verne than the Jetsons.

The park also offers some fascinating walk-through attractions. Guests are able to climb to the second story of Sleeping Beauty’s castle and walk along the outside overlooking Fantasyland. Underneath the castle is a cavern with an animatronic dragon (Maleficent). In addition, there is a hedge maze called Alice’s Curious Labyrinth, which is whimsically themed like Alice in Wonderland.

The view from the second floor of Sleeping Beauty’s castle.

The only aspect of the park I found disappointing was the food, which was underwhelming. While the actual restaurant interiors were beautifully designed, it felt difficult to find lunch options that looked appealing. We did enjoy our meal at the Cowboy Cookout Barbecue, but I wasn’t truly impressed like I am at Walt Disney World. The food carts seemed to close randomly, and the park didn’t have a lot of the standard Disney snacks, such as churros, Mickey pretzels, Mickey Premium Bars, etc.

The park’s merchandise was not as subpar as its food; I was very excited about this sweatshirt!

Despite my assumption that the park’s attractions would primarily be in French, there was a very good balance of English and French, and often subtitles. We really didn’t have an issue with a language barrier, especially as the cast members seemed fluent in multiple languages. A definite highlight was Mickey’s Philharmagic, a 4-D show that incorporates classic Disney music from Peter Pan, Aladdin, and the Lion King. All around us, we heard little children singing along to the songs in French, which was endearing and memorable.

Overall, while the resort felt familiar, like the Disney parks I have visited so many times before, it was also new and exciting.

Visit PA

I will forever be thankful for my Disney College Program experience because it gave me two of my closest friends. It’s very reassuring to know that you can make lifelong friends after college, when it seems like everyone’s friendship rosters are solidified and finite. Our bond was forged over Whirley Pop, laps around Epcot’s World Showcase, ice cream, wanderlust, and a love for all things Disney.

Our career paths after the program spread us out across the United States, but thankfully, we have planned many trips to visit each other and explore new places. In March, we spent a weekend in a very cozy cabin in the Poconos. Normally our trips are jam-packed with activities, so this relaxing weekend of board games and puzzles, paint by sticker books, and slow cooker chili was a definite contrast.

For our one big weekend adventure, we decided to hike to find “The First Pocono Mountain Geocache,” originally placed back in 2001. We trudged through snow along the trails until we reached Tobyhanna Creek, and followed along the bank. I loved listening to the rushing water and looking at the frozen waterfalls. The most exhilarating part of the hike was the military cable bridge that we had to traverse. The cache, an ammo can, was on the other side of the creek, hidden amongst a field of boulders. I have found many geocaches, and this was one of my very favorites to date because it was so challenging.

TPA

Sometimes you find the place where your soul lives, and I think mine resides in Tampa, Florida. There are many reasons to love the city, including: the countless outdoor festivals, Bayshore Boulevard (my favorite place for a sunset run), a subtropical climate, diverse restaurants, the Tampa Bay Lightning (aka the best hockey team around), and gorgeous white sand beaches. I traveled back to Tampa for the first time in nearly 3 years this February for the Gasparilla Distance Classic, and to visit with one of my best friends.

Gasparilla is a season in Tampa running from mid-January to mid-March; the biggest event is the Parade of Pirates, held annually on the last Saturday in January. On this day, the pirates invade the city and celebrate with the country’s third largest parade. Different pirate krewes create many of the parade’s elaborate floats, and they throw beads to spectators. Other community events during the season include the Gasparilla International Film Festival, the Gasparilla Music Festival, the Sant’Yago Knight Parade, and the Gasparilla Distance Classic.

I didn’t train for the race since my decision to run the half-marathon was impulsive, but I think muscle memory carried me through. The course followed much of the same route I would run in college through Davis Island and along Bayshore. The race started before dawn, but it was already humid and warm; still, it was nice to run comfortably in shorts and a tank top.

The weather all weekend was beautiful, and we spent much of it outside. After the race expo on Saturday morning, we went to the beach in St. Petersburg. We also had lunch at No Vacancy, a new restaurant/bar in downtown St. Pete. It has a retro motel theme, and a great outdoor lounge with plastic pink flamingos.

Downtown St. Pete generally has a lot of really good street art + murals

At No Vacancy, I ordered a jerk chicken sandwich, which I would highly recommend!

The Don Cesar, an old hotel rumored to be haunted

Other weekend highlights included an afternoon in Hyde Park with a stop at The Hyppo for homemade, all-natural ice pops; a long walk along the newly-renovated Riverwalk; brunch at Oxford Exchange, arguably the most photogenic place in the city; and the new food halls, Armature Works and the Hall on Franklin.

 The Riverwalk was under construction for many of my college years

Outside of the Amalie Arena – go Bolts!

Hyppo Pops

An interior shot of Oxford Exchange

Armature Works

Though I always talk about wanting to move back to Tampa, I had started to wonder if I was chasing the past. If I move back, my life still won’t be what it was in 2014. But, my weekend in Tampa was a positive reaffirmation that I love the city as much as I thought I did. It’s undergoing a lot of development, and there are a lot of exciting new places to explore.

Walt Disney World: December 2018

Most of the trips I planned in 2018 revolved around a race, but I decided to go to Orlando to visit my best friend, no running required. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the Sunshine State, and I really think it is my place. I felt my heart lift as soon as the plane landed and I saw the palm trees.

The Disney College Program gave me some of my best friends, plenty of great memories, and a new approach to Disney trips. I have always loved visiting Walt Disney World, but I previously felt pressure to get on every single attraction, especially given the expensive ticket prices. Spending months with unlimited time in the parks really mellowed me out; I can skip the attractions that aren’t worth the wait time, and I can enjoy sitting down to eat without feeling like I need to keep moving.

Shannon and I decided to visit Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Magic Kingdom (because no Disney trip is complete without a view of the castle). Visiting during the holiday season was especially wonderful with all the beautiful Christmas decorations and the extra seasonal food menus.

Hollywood Studios

I saw the construction begin on Toy Story Land back in 2016, but it was amazing to see the finished product. The attention to detail was meticulous, and I was overwhelmed with nostalgia.

While there are several good rides in the park, it is still undergoing serious renovation, so it can feel like there isn’t much to do. Then again, I am probably still bitter and mourning the closure of the Great Movie Ride, which used to be my favorite attraction in the park. The park was not as crowded as we anticipated, and with FastPasses, we were able to avoid long wait times.

Epcot

Epcot has always been, and will always be, my favorite of the Disney parks. I particularly love the World Showcase, which is a fun way to travel the world in an afternoon. The park’s “Festival of the Holidays” began in November and added holiday kitchens with separate menus in each of the country pavilions. I was most excited to try the turkey poutine, since I tried the Canadian dish for the first time this year in Vancouver.

Magic Kingdom

This park absolutely has the worst food, but the snack options are the most memorable, from the tangy Dole Whip to the salty Mickey pretzels and popcorn. Plus, it feels the most classically Disney, with rides that have inspired animations and vice versa. Since I worked in Magic Kingdom watercraft, I have many memories of this park and its surrounding bodies of water. I used to especially love watching kids catch their first glimpse of the castle from the ferry docks at the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC).

MCM Class of 2018

Last year, I happened to be in DC during the 2017 Marine Corps Marathon. It was a crisp autumn day and, though I enjoyed giving out high fives, I got a twinge of regret knowing that I was cheering instead of participating.

The Marine Corps Marathon is the fourth largest marathon in the country, and as such, offers a lottery registration. I haven’t had the best luck with race entry drawings (as evidenced by my 0-4 streak with the NYC Marathon), so I was very excited that there was another option this year: 11,000 spots were reserved for the quickest to register back in March.

For this training cycle, I decided to follow a 14-week program outlined in Robin Arzon’s Shut Up And Run. Though I felt more prepared this time around, I also felt a little burned out by week 10. Then, with all my nervous energy and excitement, I went out way too fast on race day. By the time I reached mile 21, I hit a wall and it was very difficult to push through to the finish. As an admittedly competitive individual, it was frustrating to not come close to my goal time. But, not every race can be a personal record (PR), and I know that I am a stronger person for it.

In many other ways, this race was a dream. The weather was ideal: it was sunny and a comfortable 55 degrees. The streets were lined with spectators holding entertaining signs (like the crew passing out Fireball with a “Whiskey for Winners” poster). Most importantly, the course was both emotional and inspiring. I was very moved during the wear blue Mile, which is a tribute to our nation’s fallen soldiers. American flags and Faces of the Fallen posters lined the course during this stretch. I also loved reaching “the Gauntlet” (17.5 mile mark) because the next part of the course took runners on a tour of all the Smithsonian buildings on the Mall. Overall, the race really showcased many of the monuments, memorials, and notable places in our nation’s capital.

DC is truly one of my favorite cities, and I know I’ve shared in other posts some of my favorite places and experiences within the city limits. My Marine Corps Marathon weekend flew by, and I didn’t even get to all the items on my to-do list. Nevertheless, here are some of the things I checked out:

1. Renwick Gallery

The Renwick is part of the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum, and it is walking distance from the White House. The current exhibition, “No Spectators: the Art of Burning Man,” is on display until January 2019. It showcases vibrant installations from the annual cultural and artistic movement that is Burning Man.

2. Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers at the NMAH

The National Museum of American History created an innovative (and slightly controversial) Kickstarter campaign in 2016, which fully funded an intense research and conservation effort beginning in April 2017. The slippers returned to view in mid-October 2018, and remain an American icon.

3. Hank’s Oyster Bar in Old Town, Alexandria

Old Town, Alexandria is a charming historic district with cobblestone sidewalks and brick townhouses. Hank’s Oyster Bar is listed in many DC travel books as a highly rated restaurant, and I agree with all the rave reviews. The crab cakes were excellent, and the service was quick. They also have some interestingly pleasant touches like complimentary Goldfish crackers before the meal arrives (instead of bread), and dark chocolate for dessert.

4. Ice Cream Jubilee

I know I have written about Ice Cream Jubilee before, so consider this another profession of my love for their eclectic flavors. The seasonal Sweet Potato Molasses Candy was sublime, and I paired it with the perennial favorite, Cookies & Cookie Dough.

Vancouver Vibes

SeaWheeze 2018

SeaWheeze is lululemon’s annual half marathon, or, as they refer to it, “yoga run party,” in Vancouver, British Columbia. The race draws 10,000 runners to Vancouver for an entire weekend of festivities, including a showcase store and a sunset festival.

Though I heard rumors about runners camping out in line for the showcase store in previous years, this year, we were able to register for an “in-line time” when we could start waiting on Friday. The showcase store was located inside the Vancouver Convention Center in an enormous room, where the special edition product was organized by size. They had funky patterns, bright colors, and 360 degree reflective pieces.

The weather forecast all weekend predicted rain, and I was a bit apprehensive when I woke up Saturday morning to a downpour. I don’t mind running shorter distances in the rain, but I usually swap my long runs to days with nicer weather. I knew beforehand that I wanted to stop and take some pictures and hug my personal cheer squad at the 18 km mark. So, I checked my nerves, and just committed to enjoying every minute and soaking it all in (literally soaking, given the rain).

The race surpassed all of my high expectations. I was emotional when I first began running after listening to the Canadian national anthem at the starting line; this was my first international race, and hopefully not my last. There were many cheer stations around the course with groups from local run clubs, F45 Training, November Project, and the Vancouver Police Department. There was even a 20th birthday party outside of the lululemon Head Office. One of my favorite stations was the Ride Cycle Club; they lined up on their stationary bikes, cheering on the runners while riding.

The course was absolutely beautiful, even in the rain. Much of the course follows the Stanley Park Seawall, with salty air and views of the Pacific Ocean. I finished in less than two hours, and I received a beautifully vibrant medal, and overnight oats and banana bread for the post-race brunch.

Saturday night was the SeaWheeze Sunset Festival, held in Stanley Park. They had yoga, local vendors, food and drink tents, a Ferris wheel, a festival store, and musical performances by Diplo and Felix Cartal. I especially enjoyed the special edition beer, a collaboration by Poshmark Brewing with lululemon, called “Could You Be More Pacific?”

 Other Vancouver Highlights

1. Rain or Shine Ice Cream

I love visiting homemade ice cream shops when I travel, and two of the best places I have been to date are also on the West Coast. Rain or Shine offered some eclectic flavors like Blackberry Cassis, Cracked Mint, and London Fog. My favorite was the Malted Milk Chocolate, which incorporated dark chocolate-coated honeycomb and malted barley. Rain or Shine is definitely up there with Molly Moon’s in Seattle and Salt & Straw in Portland.

2. Gastown Steam Clock

There are very few functioning steam clocks in the world, and this was the first designed by Raymond Saunders in 1977. A trail of steam pours out the top, and the clock chimes every 15 minutes. It is an interesting contrast to the trendy Gastown neighborhood where it is located, just across the way from a Starbucks.

3. Granville Island Public Market

This indoor market boasted fresh produce, handcrafted wood products and souvenirs, and prepared food. While walking through, we were able to sample fresh bread, pickles, and maple syrup. I was really torn on what to order for lunch, since there were so many tempting options. I ended up with deliciously spicy pad thai from Sen Pad Thai, which I would highly recommend.

4. Cambie Climbing Tree

There is no exact address for the climbing tree online because locals are worried about the inevitable litter and vandalism that comes with an influx of visitors, so I won’t share the exact location either. Part of the adventure was checking through a row of trees for the signature “easy-to-climb” thick branches close to the ground. I probably didn’t get more than two stories up before I decided to just hang out. I don’t have time for another broken bone this year. While we were sitting in the tree, someone came along and climbed to the top to scope it all out, and he shared his panoramic pictures with us.

5. Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

The Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is one of Vancouver’s most popular attractions. It encompasses a 450’ suspension bridge, a series of wooden paths winding through the evergreens, and a walkway around a granite cliff. The bridge was both terrifying and exhilarating; it swayed as we traversed across with a hundred or so other tourists in bright rain jackets.

6. Jam Café

Early in our trip, we drove past Jam and saw a line of people down the block waiting for this brunch spot. We decided to make it the last big meal we had on Sunday. We ended up waiting somewhere between 1.5-2 hours for a table, but it was absolutely worth it. We all ordered some variation of Eggs Benedict, but I’ll always remember their homemade jam with sourdough toast.