Friday, November 30, 2012

Jamaica - Ocho Rios 2012

We're back in chilly Illinois after a very nice week in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. We stayed at Sandals Royal Plantation, which is a couples-only resort we've been to several times over the last 11 years. This is one of the smaller hotels in the Sandals chain with only 70+ rooms, but offers superior food and service over the other properties. You also have access to one of the largest Sandals properties, Grande Riviera, which is a quick walk down the beach (but Grande Riviera guests can't access Royal Plantation). This gives you all the activities, dining options, and privacy you want.

When we arrive in Jamaica we always have grandiose plans of taking a few tours - and Ocho Rios is a great town for a lot of nature-based tours. But then we settle in on the beach and don't go anywhere. We only left property once - and that was by catamaran from the resort. It only really counts because we docked for a half hour at Dunn's River Falls to let a seasick lady off the boat. We did actually go to the spa twice. Both treatments were couple's massages where we were in the same room together. The first massage was a basic massage, but the second one involved hot lava shells. Nice.

Cocktail Hour favorites: Cosmos and baked coconut slivers
Our dining experiences included room service breakfast most mornings, Japanese cook-in-front-of-you, lobster BLTs, great fresh fish, and really good jerk pork at lunch. This particular week there were many Europeans at the resort and they were excited to try the traditional Thanksgiving buffet the hotel offered. We ate seafood that night.

We'll note that one of our new cameras had a really easy to use panorama feature so expect to see more of those style photos in future posts. We lost one camera on this trip. Dave gave Holly the underwater camera while Paddle Boarding and she dropped it into the water while trying to secure it. She didn't know that is didn't float..... Luckily most photos were downloaded to the iPad that morning and we bring backup cameras with us (Learned this on a Disney trip).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

2012 Chicago Hot Chocolate 5k/15k Video

We filmed a bit at the Hot Chocolate race last month in Chicago. We've had some busy weekends with very little time to edit it into anything meaningful so that's why we're posting it so late. We're updating the race report to include the video as well.

The video covers pre-race, the 5k portion of the course only since Dave was the one working the camera, and the post-race. We spent time with our friend and Team AllEars teammate Laura. The weekend after the Hot Chocolate Laura completed her first half marathon at Walt Disney World's Wine & Dine Event. Wine & Dine is a night race, which adds extra complications beyond a morning race. This past weekend Laura completed her second half marathon. We are very happy for her.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Treadmills in the Tropics

Dave here...

For several years Holly's marathon training cycles have overlapped with our vacations to all-inclusive resorts. This means alarms go off at 5:30AM so she can head over to the small gyms at these resorts before other people start to show up. This sort of activity seemed nuts to me.

Unfortunately I've had to join her this year. Now my half marathon training session conflicts with vacation. Luckily my distance requirements are shorter and I am not required to hit the gym as many times as she has to.

I've learned some new things from getting up early and exercising on vacation:

  • It's pretty this time of morning
  • The ocean is a a little cooler this early, but still pleasant
  • On your way back from the gym you can grab chocolate croissants from the buffet
  • Time on the treadmill can temporarily relieve your hangover - temporarily is the key word
It hasn't been the vacation-killer I thought it would be, but I don't see it happening for me on future trips either.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bob Marley's Grave

Jamaica is one of our favorite vacation destinations. Limited flight hassle from Chicago, great hotels, fantastic food, beautiful and diverse landscape, influential culture, and the friendliest people you've ever met. Since we are in Jamaica now, we thought we'd share one of our favorite Jamaican adventures.

We first visited Royal Plantation in Ocho Rios in 2001. At the time it was a newly acquired Sandal's that was still off the radar. Being a smaller hotel there weren't many activities or any crazy all-inclusive resort newlywed games. This gave us time to get to know some of the staff members well. Those relationships continued over repeat visits.

By our third trip to RP (2003) we knew Sibony and Hensley very well. These were two very fun and caring individuals. They asked if we would like them to take us to Bob Marley's grave - about 90 minutes away from our location. Hensley would borrow a friend's car and asked if we could just pay some money, like a rental. At first we were hesitant, not that we didn't trust them, but what was the condition of the car?ow long of a trip is it? But the chance to go see Bob's birthplace and grave with friends could not be passed up.

Since this trip was technically against policy we couldn't talk about it. We did tell one other couple our in itinerary and to call out a search party if we weren't back by dinner. We walked off-property to the craft market across the street to be picked up in the older model small Nissan. We stopped at a nearby gas station while another staff-friend, Dave, saw us in the backseat with his coworkers. He just gave us that look of "what the hell are you up to."

We didn't realize that our tour would start in Fern Gully. This is a 9+ mile stretch right outside of Ocho Rios where you drive through a forest of giant ferns. We've never seen anything like it. If you are visiting Ochie, you could probably hire a cab for an hour to give you a tour - worth it. As we kept driving, we just kept our faces glued to the windows. This was our first time in the interior of the country. It was very pretty.

About an hour into the trip the car overheats. Luckily, this occurs in a small town. Within a few short minutes we had several people come over to help with water. This would never happen in America. Dave kinda remembers talking to one of the men, telling that guy would not happen at home, and the man replied that they had to help us as guests to their town and to their country. After a bit more time we were off and shortly arrived at Bob's grave. Hensley stayed outside, partly to watch the car, but we think also because he was not very fond of all the "Rastafarians" hanging around. That statement is in quotes because we think some of them were posers just so they could smoke in public. Bob's grave is one place where smoking for locals was tolerated.

So into the complex we go with Siboney. He was a great escort given his size. When we would get a barrage of offers to buy weed he'd wave them off and that was the end of the story.

Bob's grave is up in the mountains and has a great view of the surrounding countryside. We did talk to one or two legitimate rastas while on the property and heard stories about their customs and why Bob Marley was so important to them.


I think Siboney was more excited than we were to be there. There were so many points he wanted to stop and have his picture taken. At first we thought this was odd since he had been there before, but then we realized he didn't own a camera. So we snapped away...

Top: Bob's birthplace kitchen Bottom: chair inside the home
Once we were done with our tour we met back up with Hensley and took off back down the mountain. The car stero was playing some ol'its or "old hits" ska and rocksteady. That's when the police pulled us over. Uh oh, Babylon! Apparently two obvious tourists in the car with folks that look like locals leaving Bob Marley's grave is just-cause. We knew we shouldn't worry, but Hensley had time to run an errand...... They approached the vehicle with assault rifles in-tow. Our friends talked to the police in high-speed patois and we were eventually asked to get out of the car. They did a quick check and sent us back on our way. As suspected, a scenario like ours is usually suspicious. Our friends told the cops "not these people" and that seemed to work. On our way back to Ochie we stopped in Siboney's village and saw his soccer field - which was the cow pasture, with a view of the sea.

We were delivered around the corner from our hotel safe-and-sound. As we walked around property the rest of the day the staff asked us how we enjoyed our trip. Seemed like everyone knew our secret.

We're back at Royal Plantation this week. A lot of things are the same, but Hensley and Siboney are long gone. Working elsewhere around the island. Maybe the coconut telegraph can help us find them so we can meet up for drinks?


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Costume Party

Leave it to us to come up with an idea for a Halloween post two weeks late.

One year we decided to put our dog Rufus in a Halloween costume. It gave us a good laugh and we've kept up the tradition. The poor dog has to tolerate it just long enough for pictures and the walk around the neighborhood in hopes of entertaining the neighbors. Many of these photos are hanging in Dave's office. The disguises are so good people often ask how many dogs we have.

These were actually pretty decent costumes. He was ok with the pirate hat and put-up long enough with the Darth Vader helmet.

The dinosaur outfit was a train wreck for him. The head kept falling down so he couldn't see. At one point he bumped his head into the coffee table.

The bee outfit worked out well. He was kind of neutral on the monkey outfit.

Both of these outfits were the same year. Both were just too funny to pass up. We like the guy's face in the submarine porthole.

Last year we went with the jockey and this year the hot dog. We can't get him to sit still anymore like he did in the first photos.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

2012 Marine Corps Marathon Race Report and Video

Here's Holly's report from The Marine Corps Marathon:

I have been looking forward to this marathon for a long time. I had heard nothing but good things about it. It's always a popular race that sells out quickly so I registered right when the time came and lucky for me I did. The race sold out in under 3 hours!

Race weekend was quickly approaching, but unfortunately, so was Hurricane Sandy. We kept looking at the forecast and it seemed like it was going to hold off until Monday night or Tuesday (Sunday was race day). Dave and I were scheduled to fly in Friday night and out Monday at 6:10am. We thought we would be fine except for the fact that it did look like the marathon was going to be wet and windy.

We arrived Friday night and had a quick taxi ride to our hotel in Rosslyn, The Holiday Inn at Key Bridge. This was right by the finish line/after-party and I would recommend this hotel to anyone doing the race. We were right across the Key Bridge from Georgetown. We ended up taking a taxi over to Georgetown because we didn’t know how far (or safe) everything was. Everything was actually really close (and safe) and we ended up walking the rest of the times. Dave picked a place called Mr. Smiths for dinner. The food was nothing special. The main attraction seemed to be the piano bar in the front of the building. Luckily, the night was saved by finding a great beer bar in the basement of a Paradiso Pizza. The pizza looked amazing and I wish we would have eaten there for dinner. I was planning on eating here after the marathon. Before we called it a night we hit the Continental Pool Lounge. This was a fun 50's retro-inspired bar in Rosslyn.

The next day we got up and the weather forecast looked much worse. We started worrying about getting out Monday morning. We decided to try and change our flight out to Sunday evening. No luck, everything was booked. We went with Plan B and reserved two rental cars, one leaving Sunday afternoon if they started canceling flights, and one Monday morning in case they canceled the flight that day.

With some kind of plan we decide to head to the expo. The expo was at The Armory and easily reached by taking the Metro. It was a very nice sized expo but so crowded. Packet Pick up was quick and very easy. The official merchandise area had a long line so Dave jumped in line while I shopped. We have this down! I picked up a couple of things and did a quick run around the expo. I ended up buying some of those Tyvek throwaway rain pants for the predicted start-time rain.

We spent the rest of the day walking around the DC. Our tour started in The Mall. I wanted to see the WWII Memorial, which was very moving. We went to lunch at Capitol City Brewing and had some good food and drinks. Finished up the afternoon at Georgetown Cupcake - which we mentioned in an earlier post. We then went back to the room and rested up before heading back to Georgetown for dinner at Il Canale. It was good and Dave had a delicious pizza.  Georgetown is a great place to shop, eat, and bar hop but it is really busy all times of the day. 

We got up early for the race and the first thing I did was look out the window to see if it was raining. So far so good! We hadn't decided on whether to walk to the start or take the Metro. Everyone said take the Metro but we had a friend who told us he walks from that hotel every year. We chickened out and followed the crowd to the Metro. The train was crowded and there was a very long walk to the start area once you got off the Metro but I still think we made the right choice. We met up with our Team AllEars friends, Brad, Dan and Christine and chatted in the Runners Village before the race. Pretty soon we made our way to the corrals. The race had an awesome flyover by two Ospreys. Very cool! Pretty soon the Howitzer was fired and the corrals started moving. 

I was lucky to be by a set of Port o Potties with no line during the slow walk to the start. Unheard of! I quickly jumped out of the group and back in with little time lost. SCORE!!

The start was downhill and I saw Dave on the left hand side. The course was much hillier than I expected it to be. The hills were off-and-on for the first eight or nine miles. The course was beautiful, especially once we got into Georgetown. The crowd support was awesome.

The whole time I was waiting for the rain. I would say to myself, ok we are at 10 miles so at least if it starts raining now it will only be for 16 miles. I kept doing that until I was done and it never rained. A miracle!!

I saw Dave again right around the Lincoln Memorial. He actually made me turn around and run back so he could get a better picture. I can’t believe I did it. It was probably because I was feeling great. This is the first race in a long time where I felt good the whole time. I finally figured out the shoe issue that has been plaguing me all summer.

We then went into the Hains Point area of the course. People had said this was a tough area. I was having some mental trouble here, but came across the Wear Blue to Remember group. They had many, many pictures of young men and women killed in action. So very sad and moving.After the pictures they had women lining the course with American flags. Again, I was very moved and was choking back the tears and saying thank you. Really puts any marathon pain in perspective and I pushed on.

Soon we were back on The Mall and it was great to run by the Washington Monument and Capitol. I missed Dave at the Washington Monument but saw him once more at the other side of The Mall. We then headed across the longest bridge ever! This was really draining and by the time I got to Crystal City I was starting to slow.Then my magic elixir appeared. I saw a lady holding a Bud Light sign. She also had little Dixie cups. I said, “Wait, are you handing out beer?” She said, “Yes. “ I said, “Thank the maker!!!” There is something about that cold carby goodness that I love in the late stages of the marathon. I felt instantly better and pushed on.

Whenever I got tired there was inspiration around. I saw many Marines running in full Kevlar gear. One was at the side of the road adjusting his prosthetic leg. It was obviously irritating his leg. It made my pain seem so insignificant. The finish was up a huge hill. A great finish lined with Marines. You get your medal from a Marine and they salute you. I honestly don’t really remember what I did. I think I may have saluted him back. I hope I didn’t but hope he understands if I did. I know I said Thank you to every Marine I saw.

Here's our video from the race:

Now for the long, and I mean long, walk out of the finish area. At this time I found out our flight was cancelled and we would have to rush to get out of D.C. and hit the road to try to beat the storm. I finally hooked up with Dave who was mad that he couldn’t get to the finish. We quickly got back to the hotel, showered, and packed. I didn’t sit down. We miraculously found a cab and shared it with a father and son who were Marines and just did their race together. We got them to their hotel and got us to the airport for the rental car.

We got in the car and drove as far as Hagerstown where I had to get something to eat. A quick stop at a Wendy’s and we were back on the road finally having to stop overnight in lovely Streetsboro, OH. We hit some rain and then had a bit of rain the next morning but were thankful to make it home Monday afternoon safely. It was quite the adventure. I would love to do the MCM again someday. It is definitely on the top of my list for the course, organization, and support. I would highly recommend it.

Dave's comments

I will say it was nice to be able to walk from the start to the Lincoln Memorial (about a mile), and then proceed to the Capitol side of The Mall. As for snacks: I had brought a bagel from the hotel with me and ate that by the Lincoln Memorial. The next opportunity to get anything (which I didn't) was a little cafe outside the Lincoln Memorial (more of a snack bar). On The Mall I got a Diet Coke from an ice cream/hot dog truck. Interesting enough the truck operator said sales were slow on the marathon day. This surprised me given how many people were lining the course in this area.

For the spectator this race can be a logistical nightmare. A lot of the race is not located near the Metro. So each Metro stop on the course ends up being crowded. At one point I was stuck in a station for twenty minutes. The Rosslyn stop dumps you into the post-race party, making it an upstream battle to get near the finish. Somehow I got directed by volunteers to the nearest place to see your runner after the finish, as opposed to the finish line itself. Defeated, I went back to the party, sat at my runner reunion sign, and ate half a roll of Sweettarts. If Holly does this race again, I think I'd just go to Georgetown, enjoy the neighborhood experience, then go stuff my face somewhere until she was near the finish.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Chicago's 2012 Hot Chocolate 5K/15K

On November 4th, Dave and Holly participated in Chicago's 2nd running of the Hot Chocolate 5K/15K. Dave walked the 5K with our friend Laura and Holly ran the 15K. Based on the way the packet pickup and corralling went this is likely the last time they will participate in the event.

RAM runs several smaller races in the Chicago area that are relatively popular. The Hot Chocolate series is really popular, mainly because it features chocolate treats at the finish. This year's race brought in 40,000 people. That's 5,000 less than The Chicago Marathon. The difference - the marathon spreads folks all over the city for 7+ hours. Hot Chocolate concentrates everyone in a couple mile sliver of Chicago's shoreline.

Holly went to pick up the packet on Friday. Packet pickup was in a tent in a parking lot of Soldier Field - which is near the shore of Lake Michigan. Holly encountered a line of about 1,000 waiting outside the tent. It was around 40 degrees and windy. Her wait time outside was over an hour and the line was much longer when she left. This was a disaster of a pickup process. Their Facebook Page is full of negative comments form irate runners and apologies from RAM (check screen shot atend of this post). A lady at lunch yesterday said she was brought to the front of the line because she brought her toddler with her - and it still took 2 hours.

Corralling was another mess. Corrals were lettered A-T and are usually assembled based on runners' pace per mile. Holly and Laura were placed in Corral R and Dave in Corral Q. Holly's pace should have pushed her up further in the letters. Dave was able to enter Corral R with them because no one was checking. Each corral would cross the start 3 minutes apart. We were in Q....We crossed the start line at gun time +1:07. Yes, we crossed the start line an hour after the race started. Laura and Dave were quickly walking/jogging and ended up isolated on the course within the first half mile. Then we got trampled by the waves behind us. The bibs passing us were alphabet soup - proving the corralling system just did not work, nor was it enforced.

Oh yeah, it was cold out too. Standing that long in the cold is not that much fun and not really too good for the muscles.

The course had it's pluses and minuses. Both distances ran together until about 2.6 miles. There were some nice views of Lake Michigan, Navy Pier, and the skyline. Unfortunately about a mile of the 5K was in a tunnel system. Holly also got to experience the McCormack Place Tunnel on the 15K course - twice. At least another mile of tunnel. She also stated there were two places where she was on grass - a no-no for a race course. We did notice that volunteers did a great job pointing out potential course hazards along the way. Water and Gatorade stops were well-manned and efficient. In the finish shoot we received water, Gatoade, but no chocolate. There was a sign for it, but no one handing any out.

The swag for this race wasa sweatshirt and a plastic cup. The shirt was a nice hooded tech shirt. The complaints we were hearing in the corrals were that shirt sizes did not correspond with your usual sizing. Dave's XL shirt fit like a Large.

We waited about ten minutes for our other swag item: a large plastic bowl. You received this bowl at the after-party and it was filled with your treats. In the center was a place that held a paper cup of hot chocolate - which was branded Ghiradelli. If anyone from that company tried this hot chocolate they'd be embarrasses for their brand. It was way watered-down and tasted like the plastic urn it was held in. Another compartment held chocolate fondue while another portion held our dipping items: a banana, marshmallow, pretzels, apples, and Rice Crispy Treat. The hole was awkward for dipping in and made a mess. When you were done you still had to hold this thing filled with liquid chocolate. Many of these items ended up in the trash. A plastic / rubber medallion would have made a better keepsake.

The piles of Ghiradelli squares we received last year were nowhere to be found. Major disappointment. The band at the party was a decent local band and the port-a-potties were plentiful.

Here's our video covering pre-race, 5k portion of the course, and post-race.

Overall not a good event. The high registration fees ($48 5k and $68 15K) were partly justified by the quality of the shirt, but not for the food and bowl. Last year's post-race treats were way better and we didn't have to lug around some stupid bowl filled with liquid chocolate. we still had fun hanging out with Laura and enjoying lunch at Bar Louie.

Be sure to follow the action on their Facebook Page. It can be entertaining.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Using Music to Break-Up the Race: Finale

Dave here....

To recap, I'm setting up a playlist for the Walt Disney World Half Marathon to help me break the 13.1 total miles down into 4 3-mile segments with a little leftover. Part One: use music from Jamaica to help set my pace. Part Two: maintain that initial steady pace by listening to some songs from Paul Simon's Graceland album. Part Three: listen to some fun songs from the 80's to cover the start of a boring portion of the course.

My plan for the last 4.1 miles is pretty simple. Don't start thinking about how tired I may be and how much this may actually suck. Miles 9-12 will be the boring trip down World Drive back to Epcot. As a race spectator I've watched this portion of the course from The Monorail. There's not much going on. So to keep it uptempo I'll be listening to some more recent music, likely mixed in with a couple of reggae/ska favorites. I just need to keep occupied until Epcot.

The final mile of the course will be in Epcot. I'm not even sure I'll keep the headphones in the last mile. But just in case I do......I'm playing Bob Marley. I picked up this idea last year when we were in Negril, Jamaica for The Reggae Marathon. During the last mile of the half and full runners pass by signs with quotes from Bob Marley songs to help keep the motivation high (side-note:  Check out the new documentary Marley.  It's a really good film - available on Netflix streaming).

To keep me going I'm going to be loading songs from some of these bands/singers: Enrique Inglegias, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Olly Murs, Example, Icona Pop, Metirc, The New Pornographers, Chris Brown, David Guetta, Chiddy Bang, Crystal Castles, MIKA, Martin Solveig, Tokyo Police Club, The Asteroids Galaxy Club, Michael Franti, The Aggrolites, Deals Gone Bad.....

The Marley set will be a bit shorter and may lean more to the early ska stuff. Songs like Simmer Down, One Cup of Coffee, Ska Jerk, Bend Down Low, Waiting in Vain, Keep on Movin', Soul Shakedown Party.......ok too many.

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