travel

Four Years

Four years ago I finally made the decision to go vegan. After being vegetarian for 13 years and toying with the idea of being vegan for three years, I finally took the plunge in August of 2010. It has been one of the best decisions of my life. I’ve met some great people and eaten some delicious food over the past four years. And now I get to share that experience with two amazing people: E and Little H. 20140209-112103.jpg

E and Little H were born last October. We got off to a rough start with E spending almost 6 weeks in the NICU, but she was able to come home for Thanksgiving and has been doing great ever since. After many sleepless nights over the past nine months, I feel like we have somewhat of a routine now.

E and Little H have a great nanny, which has allowed me to go back to work part time, cook, train for a marathon, and occasionally take a nap. I’ve filled the blogging void with Instagram (follow me here), but I hope to get back into blogging at least once or twice a week now.

Besides baby smiles and laughs, the highlights of the last few months include:

1. Isa Does It. This cookbook is amazing. Most recipes are pretty quick, so it’s great for a week night. Everything we’ve tried has been delicious.

2. Getting back into running – the Woodstock Challenge 5K.

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3. A family trip to Wisconsin and a meeting of the cousins!

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4. A road trip to Nashville to celebrate the marriage of my best friend from high school.

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(The Wild Cow)

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(Khan’s Desserts)

5. A 24-hour trip to New Orleans for a bachelorette party

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6. Cookies – for Christmas, Chinese New Year, the Super Bowl, Groundhog Day, and St. Patrick’s Day

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Vegan Adventure California – Part 3

We considered taking the coastal highway back to San Francisco, but ultimately 5 hours in a car was too much for me. Regardless of which way you go, it’s a beautiful drive between Mendocino and San Francisco.

The Coastal Highway –

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Mendocino County –

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I didn’t need the Ravens’ cookie or scone though, because I found a vegan restaurant in Petaluma thanks to my VegOut app. The Sunflower Center is a gluten-free vegan restaurant with a significant number of raw options, but does have a good selection of cooked items (I knew I could get H to go there if it was all raw). H had the shiitake mushroom pizza and I had Lydia’s favorite salad with a side of black beans for protein (adding in what I expected to eat for dinner, I was severely short of my protein requirements on Friday). We shared a mint chocolate volcano for dessert.

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Our road trip buddy

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Coming into San Francisco…

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Vegan Adventure Califonia Part 2

After our sugar overdose, we got on the road towards Mendocino. Some road work and congestion around Santa Rosa made it a tad longer than it should have been. It was a lovely drive through forests and rolling fields of vineyards. We checked in to Stanford Inn by the Sea around 6. H started a fire and we split a chocolate chip cookie, because we certainly had not had enough sugar that day.

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Our first meal at Ravens’ restaurant was on ethnic night. H ordered the special Japanese meal and I got a mushroom sandwich. This was my least favorite meal at Ravens’. The teriyaki was good, but nothing special; same with the sushi. My sandwich, both the bread and the mushrooms were a little dry. The best part of the meal was the roasted potatoes. Still in a sugar shock from Cinnaholic, we skipped dessert.

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The next day we woke up fairly early, as we were still adjusting to California time. At 9:30, we headed over to Ravens’ for breakfast. Breakfast is included in the price of the room, including an entree, coffee and juice. The fresh-squeezed orange juice was delicious. Everything on the menu sounded good and I had a hard time deciding what to order. I settled on the Stanford Inn Florentine with tempeh. H ordered the portabella Benedict. The hollandaise sauce on both dishes was phenomenal. Pre-vegan, I never really liked hollandaise, but I could have licked the plate to get the last drop of this sauce. The sweet potato hash was a good complement.

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I went to a gentle yoga class after breakfast. It was me, a newly wed couple who checked into the Stanford Inn because they were unprepared for the chilly weather during their camping honeymoon, and about 15 elderly people. The average age in the room was about 80. This was a very gentle yoga class using a chair for much of it, but it was just what I needed after a 4 1/2 hour flight and a 4 hour car trip.

Continuing the relaxation, H and I went to our scheduled massages at 1:00. It was 90 minutes of pure bliss. Robin, my masseuse, really went at my back, which has been in pain for several weeks. After massages, we walked around the resort to see the water, llamas and gardens.

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At 4:00, we headed over to the main building for tea, another free treat for Inn guests. The dessert of the day was a plum tart, which went well with my fruity cup of hot tea. H took advantage of half-price cocktails with a Bombay martini.

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For Thursday dinner, we split a Caesar salad with grilled tofu. The croutons weren’t that great, but the tofu and dressing were fabulous. H had Xxx entree and I had the ravioli. It was 4 large raviolis, which was not what I expected, but I’m use to the frozen bags of ravioli you can get at whole foods. This was clearly made from scratch and filled with nutty cheese deliciousness. We finished the meal with a banana split and creme brûlée.

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Friday morning I woke up early and drank a cup of coffee on the balcony while reading Vegan Health and Fitness. At 8:00, H and I went to a much more strenuous yoga class. The yoga room at Stanford Inn is a lovely space. There are forest views and from one corner or the room you can see the llamas. I had never done yoga with llamas watching.

Our last meal at Ravens’ did not disappoint. H loved the portabella Benedict so much, he ordered it again. I had the cinnamon swirl French toast. Not knowing what our lunch options would be, I also got a strawberry scone to go with the last in room chocolate chip cookie.

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Vegan Adventure California – Part 1

Not that I would describe the flights H and I have been on as easy but I can only imagine how hard it will be flying with twins. Our last child-free escape was to California for a vegan adventure. After what happened on our last flight from O’Hare (we missed our flight due to a short, but ridiculously slow moving security line and United closing the gate early), we got to the airport two hours before our scheduled departure time. We breezed through a security line three times as long as the June flight only to find out that our flight was delayed. And then delayed again. And again. We got into San Francisco about 2 hours later than planned, picked up our rental car and checked into a nearby hotel after midnight.

After a leisurely morning at the hotel (Aloft sells soy milk!), we headed out to Berkeley for lunch and cinnamon rolls. We ate at Cafe Gratitude, where we split the I am Magical (black bean burger) and Yo so Bueno (black bean tacos). Both dishes were very good.

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For dessert, we walked over to Cinnaholic and had two amazing cinnamon rolls. H ordered the oreo explosion, but they gave him a s’mores instead: frosting, chocolate chips, crushed animal crackers and Dandies marshmallows. I got the chocolate chip cookie dough roll: frosting, chocolate chips and a mound of cookie dough. I probably gave myself gestational diabetes from eating it, but it was one of the best things I’ve eaten in my life.

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Green Bay

This past weekend I went to Green Bay to celebrate a birthday and cheer some friends on at the Green Bay marathon and half-marathon. I came prepared with a bag full of snacks to make sure I didn’t starve in an city known for cheese and football.

The expo was at Lambeau Field, so we stopped at Curly’s Pub for lunch. This is literally inside cheesehead stadium, and yet its veggie burger is vegan and the classic burger doesn’t even come with cheese. All but one burger can be subbed for the vegetarian burger. There is also a vegetarian wrap; the grilled veggies are cooked in oil not butter and it can be served without cheese or mayo.

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The waitress even knew the word “vegan”!

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Lambeau Field

We walked around the expo and got to see some of the stadium. We also came back for dinner, which was a very sad pasta dinner. Thankfully, I was not running the next day. It was included for runners, but I had to pay $17 for some mass produced penne pasta and marinara.

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The race. It was a tad bit warm for even spectating, so terrible marathon conditions. Not as bad as the 2007 or 2010 Chicago marathons, but 70 and sunny is too hot for 26.2 miles. Still, I was jealous of everyone out there running. I watched them take off and then saw them at mile 4, mile 11, and a half mile before the finish line.

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For lunch we went to Glass Nickel Pizza Co., which someone on Yelp had said served vegan pizzas. They are in the process of changing menus, so while the waitress initially said there was a special menu, she came back to say there was no menu, but I could order the vegan delight. The vegan delight is a crust of your choice with barbeque sauce, red onions, broccoli, and pineapples. I’m not a huge fan of pineapples, but it was still pretty good.

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For Nancy’s birthday, I made a campfire cake – a four layer chocolate cake with chocolate malt and toasted marshmallow frosting. I topped it with more toasted marshmallows.

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DC Wrap Up

My trip to DC included many delicious meals: Cafe Asia for veggie sushi combo, Rasika for delicious, upscale Indian food, Busboys & Poets for brunch, Sticky Rice for creative vegan sushi rolls, Farmers, Fishers & Bakers for meatloaf & mashed potatoes, quick meals at Teaism and Sticky Fingers, and hot pot at Mala Tang.

Despite not eating fish, sushi is one of my favorite meals. In McHenry County though, sushi consists of avocado rolls, cucumber rolls, and asparagus rolls, or you can get an AAC, which is an avocado, asparagus and cucumber roll. (In all fairness, there is one restaurant with egg-free tempura rolls). Sticky Rice takes vegan sushi to a whole new level.

We started out with a bucket of tater tots. Yes, the entire bucket is full of tater tots. A dipping sauce with Vegenaise was also included. It’s the first time I’ve eaten tater tots with chopsticks.

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I ordered the Santa Fe (Tempura fried sweet potato with agave, jalapeno and sesame seeds) and the Hot Hippy (Spicy marinated tofu with scallions, peanuts, cucumbers and carrots). Both were good, but I really enjoyed the sweet potato and jalapeno combo.

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For desert, I had some mango sorbet. It was good, but hard to eat with the spoon.

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Busboys & Poets
One of my favorite spots in DC to hang out was the U Street Busboys & Poets. They have expanded and for Sunday brunch we checked out the Shirlington location. There was a decent wait. We killed the time at the bar with some fresh-squeezed orange juice.

There are many vegan options on the menu. I settled on the vegan egg wrap (tortilla wrapped tofu scramble with mixed veggies, vegan bacon and vegan cheese; served with home fries) and a Blueberry Rooibos.

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Le Pain Quotidien

H had a conference on Monday and Tuesday, so I was on my own. On Monday I headed down to Alexandria for lunch and shopping. Le Pain Quotidien is a chain restaurant with a large number of vegan dishes, which it clearly marks on its menu. I ordered the Sweet Pea Hummus Tartine (an open-faced sandwich with sweet pea hummus, organic carrots, spring peas, radish and smoked tea vinaigrette) and a cup of tea. I sat at the large communal table.

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From the bakery, I ordered an apple cannelé. I’ve never had a cannelé before, so I can’t say whether this was a good one or not. It was rather dense and not very sweet. I could only eat half, but I took the other half for a morning snack on Tuesday.

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After lunch, I walked down to the art galleries and water.

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On my walk back to the metro I stopped at a toy store to buy a gift for my friend’s baby and a second-hand store where I bought a flowy floral Tracy Reese shirt and a Valentino jersey skirt.

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Archives and Teaism

On Tuesday, I planned on going to Teaism and the National Gallery of Art. But once I got to the Penn Quarter Teaism I decided to go to the National Archives. I’ve been to the art gallery more times than I can count, but I had never been to the Archives. At Teaism I had the Irish oatmeal without milk and a berry tisane.

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Archives was a fun museum. Although, the room with the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights is so disorganized.It’s a good think we made a copy, because the documents are very faded.

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Sticky Fingers & Columbia Heights
After the Archives, I headed up to my old neighborhood for lunch at Sticky Fingers. I had the tempeh Reuben and a vanilla cupcake.

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Mala Tang
Last, but not least, we stopped at Mala Tang for hot pot on our way to the airport. I liked Mala Tang, because they do individual pots, so I can order my own special vegetarian broth. I got the spicy broth with the American vegetable combination (potatoes, broccoli and mushrooms) and dried bean curd. We also ordered some vegetable baozi, which I thought wasn’t very flavorful on its own, but much better with a spicy dipping sauce.

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DC Cupcake Tour

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I’m pretty sure the only vegan cupcakes in McHenry County come from my kitchen. But maybe there’s another vegan baker or two out there. It’s a different story in DC, where even regular bakeries have a vegan option.

1. Cakelove
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First up is Cakelove. Founded by a former lawyer (my role model) Cakelove was baking cupcakes before they became popular. I was a big fan in my pre-vegan days, but unfortunately the deliciousness does not transfer over to vegan baked goods. This was an embarrassment to vegan cupcakes everywhere. I got the chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting. The frosting was good. It wasn’t very sweet, nor was it very chocolate-y. The lack of sweetness wasn’t a problem, but chocolate frosting should taste chocolate-y. The cake part was just dreadful. Very dense. I cut off the bottom and ate the frosting with a tiny bit of cake. At $4.20 a cupcake (more than a regular cupcake and the most expensive of all the bakeries), this was a terrible deal.

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2. Sticky Fingers
No trip to DC is complete without a trip to Columbia Heights for Sticky Fingers. I stuck with the plain vanilla. It was delicious and confirmed that I am excellent at following directions. My cupcakes taste just like it. The cupcake was moist, the frosting was sweet and there was a perfect frosting to cake ratio. It’s almost not fair to have other bakeries competing against Sticky Fingers for best vegan cupcake, but not including Sticky Fingers would be wrong. Plain cupcakes are $3; a little more for something fancy.

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3. Sprinkles
Sprinkles and Georgetown Cupcake are less than 1/2 a mile from each other. They both have TV connections. Sprinkles was founded by Cupcake Wars judge Candace Nelson and Georgetown Cupcake has its own reality show on TLC. I took H with me, because I couldn’t eat 2 cupcakes all by myself (after eating Sticky Fingers for lunch that is). Both just have one vegan option. Sprinkles has the same red velvet flavor every day. This cupcake is huge! Probably the size of two Georgetown cupcakes. The cake was moist and the cream cheese frosting was the perfect sweetness although a little firm because it probably came right from the refrigerator. However, it had a strong coconut taste that I didn’t care for (I am not a big fan of coconut). H liked it though. Cupcakes are $3.50

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4. Georgetown Cupcake
Last but not least, the extremely popular Georgetown Cupcake. Georgetown Cupcake offers three vegan favors on a rotating schedule: apple cinnamon, cranberry spice and carrot cake. Fortunately, we were not there on a carrot cake day (vegetables should not be a star player in a dessert!) We got to try the cranberry spice with cream cheese frosting and it was delicious. The cake was moist; the flavor was interesting; the frosting was sweet and soft; and the cupcakes are pretty. They are small, but only $2.75. I do love frosting, but the frosting to cake ratio was 1:1. Other than that, the cupcake rivals Sticky Fingers. Of course, the lack of variety knocks Georgetown Cupcake down a notch.

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Rankings:
1. Sticky Fingers – cupcake perfection
2. Georgetown Cupcake – a tad too much frosting
3. Sprinkles – due to the coconut taste. However, H thought Sprinkles was better than Georgetown Cupcake
4. Cakelove – gross

Sugar River Trail

Last Sunday, my friends and I drove up to Brodhead, WI and rode our bikes on the Sugar River Trail to New Glarus, a cute little town that celebrates its Swiss heritage. When we arrived in Brodhead, my tube broke while Walt was putting air in the tire. Fortunately, Anne had a spare. It should have fit because Anne and I are about the same size, but the bike store sold her the wrong size for her bike, so it was too big. Somehow Walt was able to make it work. There was no problem, which was good because the New Glarus bike store is closed on Sundays.

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And we’re off! Twenty-three miles one-way. The trail is beautiful. The limestone surface takes some getting used to; it’s a much harder ride than pavement. It’s bumpy, too.

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This is the infamous Bridge 14. Three years ago, we did this trail and got caught in a horrible thunderstorm. We were drenched, cold and hiding in a barn next to cows to get away from the lightening. (I tricked H into coming along by telling him that it was a 23-mile ride; I failed to mention that was only one way). These bridges get slick in the rain. I fell on the bridge, which caused the person behind me to slam on her brakes and she fell and then the girls behind her did the same – like dominoes. Then guys in front turned their heads to see what happened and they fell, so all six of us were on the ground, or the wet bridge rather. Fortunately no one was hurt, but I’ve been teased relentlessly for causing the bridge 14 accident. I think Walt is trying to reenact the scene (or recreate the scene by pouring his water on the bridge).

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When we get to New Glarus, we walk around town and then head over to The Glarner Stube for lunch.

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The Glarner Stube has a vegetarian portabella mushroom sandwich on the menu. It is served with cheese and they cook the mushroom in herb butter, but will leave both of those off upon request. I topped my mushroom off with horseradish and mustard. The fries are pretty tasty, too. We got a couple pitchers of New Glarus Brewing Spotted Cow.

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After lunch, we took a trolley over to the New Glarus Brewery for a tour and tasting. There is no tour guide (except on Fridays when you have to book months in advance); you just walk around by yourself. A guy is there to answer any questions. You have to pay for the tasting ($3.50 for 3 3-oz tastings), but you get to keep your glass. You can also take your beer with you on the tour.

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I tried the Raspberry Tart, Two Women, and Moon Man.

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After the tour, we sat outside and enjoyed our last tasting. It was a beautiful day and there is a lovely view.

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We couldn’t buy any beer at the brewery, because we still had to bike back, but we stopped at a gas station on the way home. New Glarus beer is only sold in Wisconsin. I did buy a biking jersey at the brewery. How cute is that cow jumping over Wisconsin? I was a little chilly on the ride up in a sleeveless shirt (but hot with my jacket on), so I wore my new jersey on the ride back.

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Labor Day Weekend in Milwaukee

Our former neighbors had their wedding reception in Milwaukee last weekend.  We went up on Friday night, grabbed a drink at the hotel (the Yard at the Iron Horse Hotel, great cocktails) and made it an early night. I had to run 20 miles the Saturday morning.  When we checked in, a package from Rent the Runway was waiting for me with two beautiful designer dresses from Moschino and Versace Collection.

I had a great run Saturday morning along the lake and up on top of a hill covered withbeautiful houses and parks.  After the run, H and I walked over to Verduras Tea House, a vegetarian cafe with vegan options. I ordered the Italian sandwich and a refreshing Rosewater Lemonade.

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We met up with our friends at Alterra and grabbed a latte, heart-shaped foam art in honor of the wedding.  We went to the location by the lake. It has a great coffee shop vibe, but unfortunately, we didn’t get to hang out there very long.

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The reception started at 7:00 and I wore this amazing Moschino dress.  Rent the Runway is a great resource if you have a habit of buying fancy dresses that you only wear once. It’s hard to sift through the silk dresses, but there are plenty of vegan-friendly dresses on the site. This one was listed as silk on the Rent the Runway website, but it didn’t feel very silky and the Moschino website doesn’t say it’s silk (it’s also on sale on the Moschino website if you want to buy this gorgeous dress at the bargain price of $1,158).

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Scary eyes!

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The lovely bride and groom

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The girls, post-reception.

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There wasn’t much for me to eat at the reception, which was kind of a problem after running 20 miles that morning. Fortunately, the hotel offers a tofu scramble for breakfast, which is just what I needed Sunday morning.

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For lunch, we went to Classic Slice, where we went after the Milwaukee marathon. I ordered the Anne Curry. It was good, maybe not as good as the pizza I had last time, but it was different and a little spicy. And look- they even have nutritional yeast to sprinkle on your pizza!

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Howl at the Moon 8-hour Ultra

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So running kind of loses its fun after 6 hours, which I know because Saturday, I ran for 8 hours. For Walt’s 50th birthday, we went down to Danville, IL to run Howl at the Moon. It’s an 8 hour ultra. You run a 3.29 lap as many times as you can and the person with the most miles wins. You only get credit for laps completed, so at 7 1/2 hours they open up a mini (1/2 mile) course so you can get in more miles even if you don’t have time to complete another loop.

Pre-race:

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Walt’s ready to go with his party hat.

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Race:

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Dave only took pictures while we walked, but we did actually spend some of that 8 hours running. You can kind of see that going on here:

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Post-race:

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I ran 12 laps, plus 5 1/2-mile out & backs for a total of 41.98 miles (which I am rounding up to 42). I ran a pretty consistent race. The first 9 1/2 laps I ran with Anne and Walt, who have both done the race before. There were two parts of the course Walt designated as walking points, so even on the first lap we stopped to walk. I assumed that by the later laps I would be walking more than running, but I only walked at the designated spots. We changed shoes & socks during lap 7, so that was our longest lap. On lap 9 I was a little late in pressing the lap button, so lap 9 was about a minute and a half faster than the chart and lap 10 was a little slower. During lap 9, Walt’s knee started to bother him, so he took a walk break. Anne and I finished the lap together, but she was starting to pick up the pace. After 33 miles, she is gaining speed! I hung with her for lap 11, my fastest lap (we even stopped for Anne to get a rock out of her shoe), but I couldn’t hold that pace on the final lap. I could see her up in the distance, but was quite happy with my slower pace. I knew I wouldn’t have time to finish a 13th lap and the mini-course wouldn’t open until 7:30, so there was no point in pushing it just to stand around and wait. Which is what lap 13 is – the time spent waiting for the .5 out & back to open up. Lap 14 was 5 out & backs (2.5 miles). I was running under an 11 minute mile here with no walk breaks – that was all adrenaline and excitement about almost being done. I almost stopped at 4 laps, but I knew I had time for one more, so I pushed through. There was 2:43 left on the clock when I finished my fifth lap. Even on the best day I can’t run 1/2 mile at a 5:26 pace, so that was the end.

After the race we walked over to the barn for the awards ceremony. So many awards. I got three medals – I’m like the Michael Phelps of ultra running. The first one was for meeting my goal. My goal was 35 miles, so I completely crushed that goal. The second medal was for all runners who ran 35 miles or more in honor of the 35th anniversary of the Kennekuk Road Runners. The last huge medal was for the third highest mileage in my division (women under 40) (that’s after you take away the overall female winners; I actually tied for 9th in my division). The reach your goal award is a bottle opener and the huge age division award is a belt buckle.

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For Walt’s birthday, I made a howl at the moon cake. The cake was chocolate with mocha frosting (both from Sticky Fingers Sweets); the moon was frosted in buttercream. I found a howling wolf cake topper on ebay and she sat on a grassy cupcake hill.

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I also made some runner sugar cookies from Vegan Cookies Invade your Cookie Jar. Some of them suffered from typical runner ailments: broken leg, decapitation, but most of the arrived in tact.

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