2017 Travels – Road Trip Edition

I packed in quite a bit to this summer, so much that remembering things like where I put this notebook so I could type up the previous post. For that reason, I have just one post about the road trip rather than a before and after.

The idea for a road trip first occurred to me some time this past spring. My cousin and his wife currently live there as do many members of our non-mutual family. The idea of a road trip popped into my head. I have the whole summer off. Why not?

The idea did not remain nebulous for long. As soon as I mentioned the road trip to someone, I felt locked in but in a good way. Taking this solo road trip stretched me. Telling people about it kept me from backing out and taking the easy way out by staying home and vegging on the couch.

Then comes the planning. Although everything came together in the end, I left a lot, way too much, up to the last minute, like visiting my cousin and his wife. By the time the trip was almost upon me. I focused on the logistics and by default figured that it would take too much work to try to plan a meet up. That won’t happen again. In the end, I likely would have had to skip the meet up to get back in time for the funeral.

Back to the point, I planned this trip in fits and spurts, starting with the discovery of a useful tool, tripmaker.randmcnally.com. It’s not perfect but it gave me a great place to start. This tool allows you to put in a starting and ending location and find sites of interest along your route. I found one of my favorite stops, the Mark Twain House, with this site.

I learned, however, that addresses on this site are not always reliable. Sometimes the difference stretched up to an hour longer. The site also omits sites of interest while including many obscure sites that sometimes have out of date information.

Another difficulty with this site comes with its search feature. Perhaps some of the distance estimation difficulties come from inaccurate location approximation. I learned that I have come to rely quite heavily on Google’s “fill-in-the-blank” or “read-your-mind” feature. This site is best used in conjunction with sites like Google, obviously, and tripadvisor.

Tripmaker served as the primary tool for the initial stages of planning. One look at my “first draft” would confirm to anyone that I have a serious case of wanting-to-do-it-all. If I had followed through with that first draft, the trip would have caused far too much stress.

Tripadvisor helped me revise and “finalize” the details for this trip. I have no idea how people planned trips before this website existed. With regards to this trip, I used tripadvisor to research the details of each site to evaluate just how important each site was to me. Each time I went over the printed trip plan I ended up eliminating sites, like Prince Edward Island or rearranging the entire itinerary.

Looking at tripadvisor also helped me plan out how much time to budget for each site which is crucial to a road trip, especially if you book your lodging ahead of time. The wealth of reviews often gives helpful hints and tips. A lack of reviews also helps with evaluations. The website has been around long enough that locations with few reviews are often obscure and perhaps not worth going out-of-the-way to visit. Sometimes hidden gems pop up but not very often.

When it came to what to bring on the trip, I relied on my experience from my 2009 trip, a much more extensive trip. I brought a cooler for water, plenty of snacks (way too many as it turns out) and a container to sit in the front seat to hold toll money and snacks since I wouldn’t have a copilot to grab and hand stuff to me while I drove. Most of the last-minute logistical things came together things to Dad. While I was at the beach he periodically texted to ask if I had various items, some of which I had forgotten all about.

As I headed to the airport to pick up the rental car, Mom marveled at how well I had planned everything. Right then I did not feel that way. If anything, this trip felt like the proverbial red-headed stepchild of my three major trips this year.

Then came the trip itself…

Despite all the bumps in the planning process, I absolutely loved it. I loved it so much that I want to make this a yearly tradition.

I learned a lot on the way. Make sure your debit card works so you can withdraw cash to pay outrageous New England tolls. *Cough* George Washington Bridge *cough* Some tolls are so large you should not pay them with change or face the potential wrath of all the drivers you hold up as the toll operator counts $8.80 in coins. *true story* Massachusetts has all cashless tolls. Watch out. Your rental car company will charge you a $3.95 “convenience fee” for five days worth of tolls when you actually incurred only two $0.90 tolls. If you prefer having your own space, private room is not the way to go on airbnb. Always check behind you to make sure that you have everything. One can’t depend on Good Samaritans to turn in driver’s licenses and credit cards or mail back camera batteries and chargers at no cost. Make a schedule flexible enough tom ix it up should the urge strike you. Sometimes hidden gems away just off the highway. Drink plenty of water so you don’t become a cranky pants on guided tours. I could go on.

This trip far surpassed my wildest expectations. I fell in love with the road trip all over again, even more so than the epic trip of 2009. I cannot wait to take what I learned and apply that to next year’s road trip and the next and the next and … you get the picture.

San Francisco First Half Marathon 2017 – Race Recap

Race #131
Half Marathon #40
California Half Marathon #4
2017 Race #14
2017 Half Marathon #5
San Francisco First Half Marathon #2
San Francisco Marathon Race #5

Last year during wedding planning for Mom and Ellis we talked about all running the San Francisco Marathon this year. Plans changed; Ellis hasn’t been running and Mom and I decided to run the half marathon instead. Then I learned that this was the 40th running of the marathon and that it just so happened to be my 40th half marathon. I am a huge numbers nerd and also mildly obsessed with the number four. I had to run this race.

After a four year consecutive stretch of coming out for this race, I took a break in 2015 and 2016. My work schedule was not conducive to this race. As low man on the totem pole at the bank, I often did not have the ability or the personal days to take off a Friday and a Monday to come out for the race. I am so glad that my schedule works a lot better for the race now. I will be back.

San Francisco First Half Marathon 2017
That’s me, signing up for next years marathon. That’s right, the full marathon.

Back to this year’s race…

We, after a slightly awkward start, got a Lyft to the start line. After a portopotty stop – I was not about to make the mistake of six years ago and skip that – we headed into the corral. I joined Mom in the third wave. The time I entered as my estimated time put me in wave 2.

San Francisco First Half Marathon 2017
This is right before we entered the wave since Ellis, obviously, couldn’t go with us.

We didn’t have long to wait. A few minutes later we were off!

San Francisco First Half Marathon 2017

I really enjoyed every bit of this race, even the ridiculous hills.

We started off at a fairly good pace and stayed to the left. Pretty soon we settled into a good routine of moving single file to pass people. (That happened a lot in the first few miles.)

The temps were low and the scenery beautiful if a bit foggy. I could tell that we would not have very scenic vistas on the bridge.

We ran our fastest miles in this section which also was the flattest except for one hill in mile 3 which we happened to walk up the day before after picking up our packets. We explored the Fort Mason area. As we explored I recognized the vista and remembered that we ran this way. That hill is no joke. When we ran up, that was the first time I wondered what I was thinking

Mile 1: 8:49
Mile 2: 8:42
Mile 3: 9:05
Mile 4: 8:34
Mile 5: 8:51

After mile 5, the few flat-ish miles ended. We headed up the steep incline leading to the bridge. This one is also no joke.

As we headed over the bridge, I felt a little sorry for anyone running this race for the first time. I remember being in complete awe over the view. (I also took some of my first and only “running selfies” while going across the bridge. Never again) We could see between 50 and 100 feet in front of us. Fog covered the rest. This also made the bridge wet and a bit slick. This ended up making my left shoe and sock a bit wet. Thankfully the organizers blocked off an extra lane so that we had three lanes to work with instead of two. This made the middle lane a “passing lane” and lessened the chance that runners going opposite directions over the bridge would run into each other.

The water stop at the “scenic” overlook also had Gu gels and chomps. I decided to grab one of the packs of Chomps even though that meant I had to back track a few steps because the volunteer, a kid, didn’t have long enough arms. 🙂 (Of course, I’m not actually critiquing the kid. I thought it was pretty cool that he was out there volunteering.)

We made the turn around quickly. Before the race I had thought about stopping here and taking a selfie with Mom but the fog prevented that. We headed back onto the bridge and back towards San Francisco.

Mile 6: 9:50
Mile 7: 8:53
Mile 8: 9:00
Mile 9: 9:07

After we got off the bridge, Mom wanted to get some fuel but her hands were numb. On the Marin County side of the bridge there was a small section of the bridge where the wind blew quite freely making it just a bit chilly. We walked for a brief section while I got the chew out of the pack for her. Soon after that we started running again.

Mile 10: 9:03

The hills start in earnest during the last 5k. Up and down and up and down and up and down some more.

Also during this section comes a portion where they do traffic diversions. I don’t understand it completely but I think they alternate a certain section of the course so that vehicle traffic isn’t impaired significantly. That means that every so often runners are shifted to an alternate portion of the course. Obviously, I have run through these sections before. I’ve just never been the first runner to have to turn onto the new section. It’s just a bit unnerving to turn off from running with several hundred other people to seeing no one in front of you. The volunteer who directed us to the alternate section kept shouting “It’s the same race. I promise!”

The mile from 11.5 to 12.5 … wow … killer, mainly because of the frequent and significant rollers.

Finally we rejoined the course just outside Golden Gate Park. We knew the end was near. We made the turn into the park. Only half a mile to go. After looking at the video Ellis took of us with less than a tenth to go, I know that I need to work on my form, especially at the finish. I make conscious effort to maintain proper form at the beginning but then the thought usually fades after a few or several miles.

A few minutes later and we made the left turn, splitting from the marathoners. Just before the finish shoot Ellis stood, positioned to get some great shots of us coming in to the finish.

San Francisco First Half Marathon 2017
San Francisco First Half Marathon 2017

With mere feet to go, I started to sprint and pulled away from Mom. Other than that we were pretty much side by side the entire race!

Mile 11: 9:17
Mile 12: 9:12
Mile 13: 9:28
last .28: 7:19

I finished in 1:59:51.
Mom finished in 1:59:55.

That’s a whole lot better than the first time I ran this race (2:24:xx).

Race Review

Registration and Packet Pick Up
Registration is painfully easy for this race. The pain comes from the area of your credit card.
Packet pick up is wonderful. I love their expo. The last time I ran this race back in 2014 was the first time that the expo was held in the Fort Mason center. I didn’t like it as much then. I liked the old venue better. I had no such qualms this year.

Race ShirtPrerace/morning (evening) amenities
From our end, everything was well organized with plenty of portopotties available. I have seen on social media that the UPS trucks that served as the gear check vehicles for the full marathon did not arrive on time for the earliest waves which resulted in many people just leaving their gear behind with the workers who still waited on the trucks. Traffic can be an issue in San Fransisco.

Course
This course challenges you right out of the gate with its early start time. (If you run the second half you get to “sleep in” a little.) I absolutely love running over the Golden Gate Bridge, even if the fog completely obscures the vista. The hills are not for the faint of heart either. I love every bit of this course.

Course Support
Each aid station is more than adequately staffed with volunteers. I am not a fan of Nuun at all. I do not like the 0 calorie electrolyte beverages. I have also seen other complaints about this on social media. Since water is always available, it doesn’t bother me too much.

Finish line and Post Race Amenities
Plenty of food awaits at the finish line. The first thing you get is a bottle of water. Then you walk a little ways to receive the medal. This was genius. Instead of having everyone come to a complete stop shortly after the finish line and cause a bottle neck, there is plenty of space.
They also have a special challenge tent where I picked up my 40 for 40 medal. I love all the special extra medals and challenges that the SF Marathon participates in. To qualify for this challenge, you had to have run a 2017 race that when combined with another SF Marathon race that you have run in the past five years equals 40 or more. For most people, that meant a marathon and a half marathon which is how I qualified.
I am not a particular fan of Muscle Milk though and its artificial flavoring.

Photography
Photography is available. As of this recap, it has not been posted yet.

Results
This took several hours for the race to post. When they were available, however, the race sent an email with a link where you could search up your results. My results are not correct. I had to submit a correction request since my gun time and chip time were mysteriously the same and had me starting 13 minutes before

2017 Travels – UK Edition – Lessons Learned

This post was supposed to go up last Tuesday. However, I very cleverly hid the notebook in which I had written the post by tidying up my room so that I overlooked the notebook when packing for my road trip. Thus, I had to wait until after to get the post up.

This is what I wrote a couple weeks ago…

Several weeks have passed since the trip, enough for it to pass into memory and make me wonder if we actually got to do all that. This trip fulfilled all of my expectations and then some.

I should have had this post up last week (aka the last week of June) but this is the summer of travel and distraction. I thought I had a different post scheduled for that week and thus chose to enjoy the beach rather than check to be sure.

On to the lessons learned:

Lesson #1 Book as much ahead of time as possible.

I learned my lesson through my mistakes in earlier trips like Italy in 2015. For example, I did not book tickets to the Vatican ahead of time. We ended up in a massive line which led us directly to getting suckered into a guided tour with a sub par guide that we lost less than halfway through the tour. (We were relieved though.)

Booking ahead of time has two primary benefits. First, online advance tickets often come with some sort of discount. Even if the tickets cost the same online as in person, booking ahead of time helps budget planning, both setting and maintaining. Second, advance tickets usually come with the added benefit of a formal or informal skip-the-line status. Several times we arrived at a particular stop and found a long queue but got to jump to the front.

For example, on one day we skipped the line twice. At Westminster Abbey we got in the one line. I took the tickets out of the folder and held them face out in the hopes that an employee might see and invite us to the front. That move paid off mere minutes later. When we arrived at the War Rooms after touring the Abbey, I was surprised to see a line down to the street and around the corner. I spotted a separate skip-the-queue side. We got to go inside minutes later.

Lesson #2 Factor in the exchange rate.

Of course, I knew that our dollars would not go quite as far-although father than my dollars went six years ago-but I neglected to take a look at the average exchange rate and calculate how many pounds roughly equaled the $100 a day I budgeted for us to spend. Each night as I entered the charges (something I learned in Chicago) the total usually reached $10-20 above the $100 threshold. That’s not much, of course, just enough to cause mild frustration but not a budget buster. It could, however, easily become a budget buster depending on the exchange rate and record-keeping diligence of the traveler.

Lesson #3 Communicate with your travel companions about the budget and the plan.

While Mom and I have similar tastes and methods, I have been to England before and brought back souvenirs. I forgot to ask Mom what she planned to purchase. Thus, I neglected to factor that into the budget. Complete information makes for easy budget planning.

Lesson #4 Plan for navigation needs.

Unlike six years ago, I printed out no maps. That trip took place pre-smartphone for me. We did not have too many issues and none of the ones that we did have were significant. However, things could have flown a lot smoother had I made better navigation plans. The biggest oops moment for me came when we left the train station in Edinburgh and headed to the bus station to store our bags in secure lockers. I took screenshots of the directions from the bus station to the meeting place for our tour and from the bus station to our airbnb but neglected to screenshot directions from the train station to the bust station. I mistakenly assumed that the information stating the closeness of the two stations meant that the bus station would be easy to locate upon leaving the train station. We made it to the bus station with the help of an employee of a restaurant in the train station. Once we stowed the bags int eh lockers, we picked up a map and were good to go for the rest of our time in Scotland.

Possible solutions include the low-tech paper map to the high-tech European sim card or international plan. I have yet to explore the latter.

Lesson #5 A good tour guide can make or break a tour.

We witnessed this first hand, starting with our tour to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath. Our guide started to rub me the wrong way from the beginning thanks to her tabloid-focused speech and glaring historical inaccuracies. I ended up putting my headphones in and listening to music whenever she started to speak. For example, she described Stonehenge as being built four to five million years ago based on the carbon dating of the stones. No, that’s how old some believe the stones to be, not the structure. Both Mom and I laughed when we got the official brochure which stated that the structure was estimated to have been built three to four thousand years ago. Slight difference.

Two days later, our tour guide on the Oxford and Harry Potter Studio Tour, Oz, impressed us, especially Mom, so much so that she made sure that we were in his group when we split in Oxford. Then there was Martin, our guide on the Loch Ness, Glencoe and the Highlands tour. He did such a good job that I gave him the remainder of our cash as a tip. (That would be even more impressive if we had had more than a mere two pounds left.) Although application of this lesson is a bit more up to chance than the others, careful perusal of reviews helps select the best tours. I remember reading high praise for our guide, Martin, before purchasing tickets. When I found out that we were on his bus, I was very happy.

Lesson #6 Airbnb is the way to go.

Laura has long been singing the praises of this service. I finally had my first personal experience on this trip. I loved having access to a full apartment. Not only did it feel more like home, it also made it easy to save money on food. We stocked up at the local grocery store which kept costs down and saved space in our backpacks, crucial for a frugal minimalist.

Lesson #7 Minimalist travel rules!

I could not have done this six years ago on my first self-planned international adventure. Experience and a growing propensity towards minimalism helped significantly. I had everything that I needed and only a small handful of things that I brought but ended up not using. Although for the first several days Mom and I wished that we had brought more than one plug adapter, I realized shortly before we headed to Scotland that the adaptor I brought had two other plug-in options available; I had simply overlooked them for several days. We had plenty of laughs about that.

I loved traveling with just the backpack. Several times Mom expressed her gratitude by commenting on how difficult various treks would have been if we’d had a rolling suitcase of any size with us.

We also made a tight-tightest I’ve ever had-connection that we likely would not have been able to do had we had to wait for a checked bag like Dad and I did coming back from Italy. (Our bag was the last to be unloaded which delayed us a good forty or so minutes.)

Now it’s time to apply these lessons to the next trip, wherever that may be!

Red, White, and Blue Shoes 5k 2017 – Race Recap

Race #130
5k #47
2017 Race #14
2017 5k #4
Red, White, and Blue Shoes 5k #7

I keep coming away from this race a bit disappointed. Given the weather and my prior training though, I have nothing to be disappointed in. Still, when my time at this race has gotten slower each year since my PR… There’s always next time.

Optimistically I planned to run around a 7 minute pace. I knew that was probably unrealistic but I still wanted to shoot for it. Obviously, I should try to be a bit more realistic. That quick early pace set up rather perfect positive splits.

When we arrived we jogged over to Paladin Stadium to pick up our bibs. That was a bit of a mess. Everyone there was supremely helpful though. Long story short, we got bibs. However, a little research after the race showed that I actually forgot to register us this year! The lady helping must have found last year’s information. I have already reached out to the race organizers and asked how I can pay for the registration. Hopefully I will be able to clear that up.

I got in the mile warm up by jogging up to the start line and then around the little loop in front of the Cherrydale Mansion. (I realized when I got home that I forgot to get in the mile cool down afterwards. Oops.)

Red, White, and Blue Shoes 5k 2017

We made our way to the start. I mentioned my goal pace to Mom. She told me to go ahead and run by myself.

A minute or so later and we were off, on time!

Red, White, and Blue Shoes 5k 2017

Since I had worked up fairly close to the starting line, I made my way through the congestion fairly quickly. Immediately I could feel the heat and humidity. This drains me more than just about anything else. I think it would be fantastic if they could move up the start time to at least 7:30 or 7:00. It is South Carolina in July, after all.

At some points during the first mile I was almost at my goal pace. A couple hills interfered and slowed my pace for the mile. I knew that the first mile would be my fastest of the race.

Mile 1: 7:23

The remaining two miles felt like they stretched out forever in front of me. I had no idea if I would be able to keep up this pace for the next two miles. *Spoiler alert: I did not.* I was already drenched in sweat and wishing for my water bottle. I never carry one on a 5k. I gave myself permission to slow to a walk and grab water at the water stop, also something I never do on a 5k.

The water reenergized me a little but that quickly faded. I kept telling myself, one more step, one more step. I could feel my pace dropping but I switched my Garmin over to the heart rate screen for the middle mile, yet another thing that I never do in a 5k.

Mile 2: 7:38

I could hardly wait for this last mile to be over. I had to go up the hill behind McCallister though. I hate that hill, especially in this race. It’s just steep enough to cut out all the momentum but not steep enough to make you feel like you’ve conquered anything.

My muscles tightened as I went up that hill. After I crested the top, I kept waiting for my muscles to release, feel the relief. It didn’t come. I told them to release but they wouldn’t. I ended up walking again, yet another thing that I never do in a 5k.

While that did the trick, it felt like a terrible slog to the end. I was determined to get it done though.

I managed to get up the hill right by the stadium and make the second to last turn. Everyone urges you to finish strong. Everything in you wants to sprint right there. This time, though? I did not feel like sprinting. I just wanted to be done.

I did increase my speed a little after I turned into the stadium and made it across that finish line which could not come soon enough.

Red, White, and Blue Shoes 5k 2017

Mile 3: 7:57
.05 nubbin 5:59
Overall: 23:13

Mom came in about a minute later at 24:40. Ironically, this is 9 seconds faster than last year where she placed in the Grand Masters Female but this year she barely snagged 5th place in her age groups. A lot of speedsters showed up this year!

Red, White, and Blue Shoes 5k 2017

While this may have been only of my most poorly executed 5ks, I am still pleased with my performance and the race overall.

Red, White, and Blue Shoes 5k 2017

Also…no race review today. I’ve run this race 6 times before. 🙂