Race Report: Mini-Marathon in Indianapolis, IN

WWWHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

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Let me just start off and say that on the list of things I’m not good at, one of the top is containing my excitement. As you might have guessed, the Mini-Marathon this weekend turned out to be an absolutely awesome race and a total blast to run. I’m not going to add a spoiler alert, but by now you can PRobably guess how it turned out.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.

The Mini-Marathon was a last-minute add to my race calendar. Just a few weeks prior I found out that the Top Dogs in the department were sending us to Indy. I was thrilled about this for a few reasons. First, I have a couple friends in the area who I was really hoping I would get to see while on the road. Second, was obviously because I could check off one more state on the Race for 50 States, especially when the transportation and lodging is covered!

One of my friends in the area is Rachael, who I know from back in the dorm days at Mizzou. I’ll tell you more about Razzle Dazzle Rachael in the Indy Touristy Tuesday post, but I couldn’t wait to get to see her. I wasn’t the only one either. Our friend David, from Mizzou/Chicago, also wanted to pay her a visit. David is a runner and once I found out I was headed to Indianapolis it was an easy sell to convince him to come down for the Mini-Marathon as well! Luckily we both managed to score bib transfers off Craigslist and managed to get all signed up for the race.

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I was in the Mini-Marathon spirit the minute we got to Indianapolis and immediately set to work decorating the Wienermobile for the occasion. Naturally, I had to make a jumbo-sized 13.1 sticker for the back of the jumbo dog and added a few other embellishments to the bun as well.

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I’m not even going to play it cool. I’ll admit it. I even wore an Indy-500 themed dress to packet pickup on Friday.

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I picked David up at the bus stop and we headed over to the convention center. (This was round II of the expo for me – I couldn’t’ resist and went on Thursday for work anyway.) When David got to Indy the weather was terrible – it was pouring rain. Not a good sign for race day. He ran into the expo through the rain while I went to find parking, something easier said than done in the Wienermobile.

The expo and packet pickup was extremely well organized. With 35,000+ runners and their families in tow all headed to the convention center I was worried it would be a madhouse. The flow of people was probably really well managed because the pick-up was spread out over two days. Neither David or I knew our bib numbers and just showed up. Within five minutes they had looked us up, pointed us to the right registration table, and gotten us squared away with bibs, shirts, and even a swag Mini-Marathon hat!

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The rest of the expo was pretty typical for me. Wander around, sample a lot of protein bars, and make an impulse running purchase of some kind. This time it turned out to be a pretty big buy and I am now the proud owner of a Garmin Forerunner 910XT.

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Once I’m no longer living out of a hot dog I plan on doing quite a bit more cross-training and hope to diversify more into triathlons. The 910XT just seemed like the best option for that. Waterproof and with a long battery life, I figured this would be a good investment for races to come… like a half Ironman maybe? (Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself again!)

After the expo we were on a mission to eat as many carbs as possible. Eliot was joining us for dinner and we headed back to the hotel to pick him up. Traffic was a mess and we opted to look for a place nearby instead of heading back downtown. That turned out to be a great decision.

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By 7:30 the rain had totally stopped and the sun had started to creep out again. To make things even better, we stumbled onto this Italian restaurant which was situated overlooking an absolutely stunning lake. Hello outdoor patios! It’s been way too long since we’ve seen each other!

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Dinner was wonderful! Eliot and David both made more delicious decisions than me, but all around it was the perfect pre-race meal.

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In the morning we woke up to great news – it wasn’t raining! The skies were a little overcast, which I like to keep cool anyway, and there weren’t any any big rain clouds in sight. Hurray!

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David and I made an early exit and headed downtown right away to make sure we could finding parking, which we luckily were able to find fairly close to the race start.

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The start line was insane! So this is what 35,000 runners looks like?

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Similar to the expo, I was really impressed with how organized it was. There were two waves of corrals. The first set were seeded runners who submitted race results proving their speed. This made sure that they were lined up correctly and not running over people in strollers, for example. The second wave, which is what I was in because I registered late, was all self-submitted times. My friend Kathy, who I actually met up with earlier in the week, had warned me that being in the second set of corrals could make the start really difficult – weaving in and out of walkers. I’ll admit it, I was seeded in corral M and snuck up into L to try to get a little extra advantage – I know, I’m a rebel.

With the tragedy in Boston, I was pretty alert at the start line. It felt really safe and there were tons of volunteers, police, and quite a few men in uniform that I would guess were National Guardsmen.

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I slowly walked to the start line and eventually got a jogging start about 20 minutes after the gun went off. Sure enough, the first mile involved a lot of side stepping, trying to pass people. I’ll be honest, I might have been running a little bit like a jerk jumping around people to get through. At the half mile mark my watch said I was on pace for a 9:30 first mile. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but I had high hopes for this race.

The Mini-Marathon was going to be MY race. The climax of a month of running every day. The third half marathon in five weeks. The final race of my year Hotdogging. I wanted to go big. I wanted to PR and in a substantial way, breaking the 9:00 min/mile pace. That was the goal anyway.

Who doesn't love a big American flag?

Who doesn’t love a big American flag?

So when I saw 9:30 I knew I had to step on it. Even if it was just one mile, 30 seconds would be a lot to make up. I anticipated the first mile to be slower, with warming up and the course clearing out, but didn’t want to give it that much time. A few runners had left the pavement and hopped onto the sidewalk, which seemed like a good idea. The first mile I did in 9:06.

This was a pretty strategic race for me. Normally I tend to dilly-dally, taking pictures, sending texts along the way. Don’t get me wrong, I was still set on having fun (which is always priority #1) but had a little more pep in my step and determination in my stride. So no, I didn’t stop for a picture with the Lion mascot in front of the Indianapolis Zoo, but I did run zig-zags across the course to high five little kids and dance with the bands along the way. (Decisions and trade-offs, right?)

The first five miles went by fast. There was just so much to look at between the runners and the course. I was feeling really good and each mile kept coming in under my target 9:00/mi pace.

At mile 6 we turned into the speedway. The first thing you see going into the Speedway was the jumbotron. I had to laugh when I looked up at it and the news was interviewing the winner of the half marathon. Welp… guess there goes any hope I had at getting 1st place today!

I have a love/hate relationship with the Speedway section of that course. Let me first admit that I went in with the totally wrong mindset. Oh, it’s a track. That won’t be too bad. One loop – that’s like a half mile and it will be nice pavement. Well… It’s a car track though (duh silly!) and that’s much longer than I was expecting. It also got a little congested with runners in this portion of the track. Even so, it was really neat to do a lap in the Indy 500 arena! The only thing missing was a number and some sponsorship money!

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It was on the track that I met the two guys who pushed me the rest of the way through the race. Right at the start of the track portion I heard a cacophony of high school girls cheering on this guy Jesse. I figured he must be their coach or something like that and joked he was their hometown hero. Nope, he was just an excited runner and they were reading his name off their bib! Jesse then proceeded to get our group of runners pumped up with some Army cadences.

Jesse – “WHEN I SAY ONE, YOU SAY TWO. ONE.”
Us – “TWO!”

Jesse – “WHEN I SAY THREE, YOU SAY FOUR. THREE.”
Us – “FOUR!”

Jesse – “WHEN I SAY PT, YOU SAY SOME MORE. PT.”
Us – “SOME MORE!”

I knew instantly this guy had the type of energy that would keep me going, at least around the track. I assumed he’d be a short-term running friend and take off past me, but I was more than happy to feed off his energy while I could. We ended up as running buddies for the rest of the race. Jesse had also started running in the grass around the track, which proved to be another useful tactic. It was much cooler than the asphalt, and while probably more tiring, it was a nice change of pace.

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Toward the end of the track, mile 8, Jesse called out to CJ – another runner he had met. And just like that, we were as thick as thieves, three musketeers finishing out the race.

Both Jesse and CJ were faster than me. Jesse claimed to have calf cramps (having not really trained and instead just jumped into the race as a mental challenge – which he was deftly overcoming) but you couldn’t tell at all. This guy was a rockstar and so encouraging! CJ was doing his first half marathon and had that rookie enthusiasm that was also contagious. With them pushing me, the second half I clocked some serious negative splits! If I ever lagged behind at a water stop, they were calling for me to catch up and get back in step – exactly what I needed for a strong finish.

By mile 10 I knew the PR was in the bag. Even if I slowed down I could still make my goal, but those gentlemen weren’t about to let that happen. By mile 11 I was having that weird, emotional “I’m so proud, I love running, I love everyone!” moment that happens at least once during each race. That’s the runner’s high, right?

At 12.1 we decided it was time to sprint. CJ still had fuel in the tank and I told him he better haul it and finish way ahead of us. Even as he booked it to the finish, he was still waving us forward. Jesse and I stepped up the pace too and crossed the finish line together. Even that last mile, when we were both close to empty, he was still cheering. As soon as we passed the finish line and I hit stop on my watch I pretty much collapsed and he managed to catch me before I fell apart too much. Sorry Jesse – thanks for looking out!

I DID IT – 1:56:24!!! Mission Accomplished! My Garmin actually had me doing 13.27 miles, which meant an overall pace of 8:46. Whoo! That’s what I’m talking about. The pace for 13.1 would have been 8:54/mile though, which still shatters the sub 9:00 goal I was working toward. Whoo!!

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I also finished 181/1638 in the W20-24 division, which is top 11% for my division.

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You might have to click this to actually read it. Whoops

We met up with CJ at the finish and we all collected our well earned checker-print Mini-Marathon medals. At the end of a race I’m usually equally as excited about the food as the medals and we grabbed bananas, granolas, and one of the most delicious cookies I’ve had. (Maybe the secret ingredient in the chocolate chip treats were PRs and negative splits!) After exchanging hugs and well deserved high fives we split and I went to cheer on David.

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This was David’s second half marathon and I was eager to see how he was doing. With 35,000 participants, who all started at various times after the gun time it was darn near impossible to catch him and I ended up missing his finish. Drats! I was really bummed because David also PR’d by a whopping 5 minutes! Now that’s what I would call a successful race for the both of us!

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David had challenged me to meet my goal and we had even wished on PRs at the fountain in Monument Circle, so I was glad we both had things to celebrate!

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After the race we went to meet up with Tim and his friend at the Bourbon Street Running Club. Talk about VIP treatment! They were wonderful and offered us sandwiches, cupcakes and beer! I went for the first two but naturally had to politely decline the last. It was a blast to share running stories and hear how everyone’s race went. I didn’t know this until then, but this year Tim is trying to run 62 races for his 62nd birthday. Wow! Now that’s impressive! I love runners and their ambitious goals!

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David and I made the walk back to the Wienermobile, which seemed substantially longer after the race than it had been before, and headed back to change. Even though we had already run 13.1 miles that day, it was just beginning! it was time to celebrate! We still had to catch up with Razzle Dazzle Rachael, a story I will save for the next Touristy Tuesday post.

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Here’s a preview though: the rest of Saturday involved a road trip to Chicago, a margarita pitcher, and Rachael and I losing a beer drinking competition. I know… you’re on the edge of your seat already!

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Mission Accomplished: Run Every Day in April

30 days, 157 miles, 9 cities, and 7 states later – I have officially completed my goal of running every day in April!

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When I set the goal my motivation was to just get back in the habit of running. January through March my training was pretty much nonexistent. Let’s just say, I made excuses much more often than I made an effort. I recently saw this post, which seemed to sum it up pretty well.

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They say it takes 21 days to break/form a habit and I committed April to getting back in the swing of things with training. My only rule was that I run every day by midnight and that I run at least 2 miles per day. (And for the sake of honestly, I’ll admit that sometimes those two miles were more of a trot.)

It actually went really well! The first week was easy peasy. I still had a runner’s high from the Run the Bluegrass half marathon and was leading into the Go! St. Louis half that weekend. “This will be no problem!” I thought.

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Annica and I finishing the half marathon in STL.

Week two was a little more difficult. Eliot and I were in Denver for the week and naturally the night we arrive 8″ of snow are dumped on the city. Let’s just say, I learned to love the dreadmill that week. It was actually a good opportunity to try out podcasts and it reaffirmed my school-girl crush on Ira Glass.

At the end of our week in Denver Eliot and I went to Boulder to visit Tracy, a former Hotdogger. I met up with Tracy when I was in the SW with Abe last September and it was great to get together with her again. She is also training for a half marathon, so she didn’t think I was totally delusional when I got up at 6:30 a.m. after a night out on the town to go run.

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Talk about a beautiful run! I’ve been throwing around the idea of either moving to Boulder, CO or Madison, WI after grad school, and that run just made me even more set on Boulder. Absolutely gorgeous and I was in good company – it is such an active city and so many people were out biking and running! I was worried about the altitude, but after a few days to acclimate it was totally fine.

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Around week two I encountered the first obstacle. There were some days where I wouldn’t run in the morning and by the end of the day I was just exhausted. With running an absolute impossibility because I was so tired, I did what any (in)sane Type-A runner would do – I set the alarm for 11:00 p.m. and then hit the sack. Yep, I did this last minute nonsense not once, but multiple times over the month.

This method was effective for getting the miles in, but was an absolutely terrible idea. Groggy, I was obviously slower. By the end of the runs however I would be wide awake, with a bit of a runner’s high, unable to fall asleep! For someone usually in bed by 10:00, seeing the clock read anything after midnight is not a welcome sight to see.

The roughest late night run though was after our drive from Denver to Lexington, Nebraska, which finally ended when we pulled into the hotel at 11 p.m. This was almost exactly halfway through the month and I knew it would be a tipping point. The hotel gym was pathetic too and my tired brain kept encouraging me not to waste my time. Finishing 15 minutes before the witching hour though, I got my two miles in!

I’m glad I did – the next day was April 15th – the day of the Boston Marathon. This was a very emotional day for me. When I heard the news I was instantly gripped with fear, for my friends running and those who live in the area. Once I was assured everyone I knew was safe the fear turned to paralyzing anger and sadness.

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The tragedy at Boston was the first terrorist attack that truly resonated with me. I was a little young to fully comprehend the horror of 9/11 and many other attacks, while devastating, have felt abstract. I am a runner. I want to run Boston. I know people running Boston. These are my people. I couldn’t believe that there were people out there with so much hate that they would want to rob people of so much joy, on the most monumental day of many of their lives. Even now, I am still eager for answers.

After the tragedy there was no giving up on the goal. There are three people who will never get to run again, and countless others who will face unbelievable obstacles. The least I could do was reach the goals I set for myself and run for Boston.

The second half of the month was challenging, no question. Without the initial enthusiasm, the goal was a little harder to keep up with. My strategy on those days was to go into the workout promising to at least do two miles and usually I ended up doing more.

On a lighter note though, I found this goal had one other unexpected difficulty – laundry. Holy sports bras! My laundry pile doubled in size each week with all the athletic clothes that accumulated as a byproduct.

The running definitely paid off though. I’m a goal junkie because there are always measurable results. You either did it or you didn’t. With running there is the added bonus of being able to compare times, pacing, and distances, and over the month I noticed some serious improvement in my times.

The first mini-goal I achieved was running a half marathon on a treadmill in Milwaukee. Running long distances on the treadmill was something I never really thought I could actually hack, so in a burst of dedication, I decided to give it a whirl. Not only did I do it (Ira Glass and This American Life helped me through the first hour) but I did the 13.1 miles in under 2:00 hours!

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The second goal was actually a really huge deal to me. At the start of the year I set a goal to break the 9:00/mi pace for the half marathon. I knew I was capable of this, but with winter hibernation I figured it would have to wait until I was off the road. It was one of those things I was happy to be wrong about!

When I geared up for a long run last week I initially had only planned to do 12 miles at a 9:15 pace or so, but the run felt good. I’m talking about really good. Like wool socks in winter or a bratwurst at the ballpark good. I still turned back at 6 miles but knew full well that I would do a victory lap to make it a full half marathon at the end. I ended up finishing in 1:56:30, a training PR and an 8:54/mi pace. Whoo! While I would still like to break 9:00/mi in a race, I think it still counts as a goal attained!

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The last few days have simply been recovering from those runs and tapering for the Mini-Marathon in Indianapolis this weekend. (That’s right, that will be half marathon number three in five weeks!)

The month ended on a high note and I did my final run today in downtown Indianapolis with Tim. (We met up in St. Louis at the beginning of April and also did Mississippi back in January.) He had invited me to run with his Tuesday group, the Bourbon Street Running Club. It was a total blast!

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I ran with Tim, another Tim, Mike, and Dan – my friend Kathy’s husband. For four guys that are all roughly twice my age, they kicked my ass.

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We ran the canal and it was beautiful. Indianapolis is a lot like Louisville in my book, a hidden gem of the Midwest. It was 84 degrees out, a drastic change from blizzard conditions just weeks before, and path was packed.

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Running with people was a great change of pace, literally! I most likely would have lolly-gagged through a few miles today in the spirit of “tapering” but keeping a strong pace was no problem with these gentleman to chat with. After the run we headed back to the Bourbon Street Distillery to meet up with the rest of the group. It was a really fun afternoon, meeting all these other runners, and I’m even more excited now to join a running group when I get my bearings in Georgia.

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Now thirty days after starting this journey, I’ve reached another finish line. I DID IT! I’m 30/30 and at an average of 5 miles each day. It was a pretty arbitrary goal, but I’m definitely glad to have accomplished it.

Now who knows what May will bring…

Touristy Tuesday: San Francisco, CA – New Years Eve 2013

Happy New Years! What…? it’s April already, you say? Oh, I guess I’m a little late to the party on that one.

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Even though I’m more than a few months overdue on this blog, I wanted to make sure I documented Abe and I’s second San Francisco adventure. Better late than never right? This was really the last city for Abe and I before the big switch of regions and partners, so to say we made the most of it is an understatement. Here’s a preview, or a TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) for you.

  • Bars.
  • Dancing in bars.
  • Falling while dancing in bars.
  • Tourist traps.
  • Touristy adventure with the musician from the aforementioned bar.
  • Airport bars.
  • Football.
  • Book of Mormon – The Musical.
  • New Years Eve.
  • The morning after New Years Eve.

So if that table of contents gives you any indications for what is to come you should be able to deduce two things: First, that it’s going to be a long post. (Sorry I’m not actually sorry!) And second, that it was quite the couple of weeks.

Abe and I rolled into San Francisco after a week in Bakersfield. If you’ve ever been to, or even heard of Bakersfield, you know it isn’t exactly the most glamorous of California destinations and we were eager for a change of pace. San Fran delivered on that immediately when our dynamic duo turned into a trio for a few days, with the arrival of Hotdogger Ron. Abe and I met Ron at the Hotdogger Reunion in Madison back in October and hit it off immediately, especially since Ron and I are both Mizzou J-School/Geology grads. We all just happened to be in San Fran at the same time, so it was inevitable that we would meat up again!

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Once we got to the city we stopped by the hotel just long enough to change, sip some wine (the buzz helps with that BART ride in) and hit the road. San Francisco greeted us with spectacular Christmas displays and after wandering around Union Square for a bit we settled for a Thai place for dinner. After that is when the bar hopping began. I should have known from the get-go that trying to keep up with not one, but TWO Hotdoggers would spell trouble. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite have that foresight.

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We started at Lefty O’Doul’s Piano Bar, and then headed down the street to another pub. The second bar we went to also promised to be a piano bar but it turned out to just be a singer and his guitar. We were anything but disappointed because he delivered on our request for Sweet Caroline and then kept the hits coming after that. When there is live music involved it’s usually not long until Abe starts calling for shots, and sure enough a round quickly appeared.

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Let me pause and set the scene up here. Up until this moment there had been lively music going on in the background thanks to our friend. The guitarist was doing an excellent job and the make-shift dance floor had one stand-out couple doing their best to keep up with the music. It was picture perfect, right? Of course, with shots in hand, that is when the guitarist decides to take a break! Now, I’m the kind of girl that if I’m taking a shot it’s gotta be fun. A silent bar isn’t exactly my style, so with some cajoling I managed to convince the guitarist for one more song. He warily glanced at the couple on the dance floor, who were more shuffling than dancing at this point, but my enthusiasm must have been convincing because he gave in and started up another tune.

Now that’s where it gets a little fuzzy. It must have been a good song because I decided this was the perfect opportunity to dance with this guy on the dance floor, who’s partner had suddenly vanished. It started out as a fun, innocent dance, but ended in a train wreck. Initially things were going well, with some nice high school prom moves. Then he went in to twirl me, only for both of us to realize a little too late that neither of us were ready for that elaborate of a move. Like two asteroids colliding in space, we crashed into each other. He went down first, and then accidentally brought me down with him. (Abe claims I went first, but I beg to differ, perhaps in an effort to salvage some dignity.) Even this is making it sound far more graceful that it really was. We ate it. BIG time. In front of everyone.

Meanwhile, Abe and Ron were enjoying the spectacle from the sidelines laughing hysterically. Abe, who knows my dance moves all too well, looked neither shocked nor surprised at the calamity. The guitarist, who had warned me when I got up to dance that I would be better off going solo, gave me a knowing I-told-you-so grin. With all the charm and grace I could muster, I quickly regained my step, curtseyed, and left joe-shmo to recover on his own.

Embarrassed? Definitely. Regretful? Only slightly. Everyone has to have an experience of being mortified in public at least once, right?

That story might be one of those you-had-to-be-there moments, but rest assured it was a sight to see! When consulting Abe about this blog post he made sure to tell me repeatedly that this was the single funniest moment from our seven months together.

Anyway, the guitarist later came over to introduce himself. I was honestly expecting a lecture on how to adequately select a dance partner (I’m sticking with Abe from now on) but he ended up just chatting us up. He had a strong accent that I hadn’t noticed while he was singing, which turned out to be Croatian, and introduced himself as Demir. Now believe it or not, but I happen to know just enough Serbian, a sister language of Croatian, to get through introductions. Somehow I think it was my ability to stutter out “Good evening” in his native tongue, rather than my dance skills, that kicked off the friendship. Although Ron, Abe, and I piled into a cab and headed back to the hotel we were all staying at, we made plans for Demir to show us all around San Francisco later in the week.

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The next day was a true Touristy Tuesday, and this one actually fell on a Tuesday! We started off with a trip to the Golden Gate Bridge. Although Abe and I had seen it on our first trip to San Francisco we hadn’t actually been there in the Wienermobile, a photo op we couldn’t exactly pass up.

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The second time around the weather was absolutely beautiful, with totally clear skies this time, and we had much better parking having charmed the bike cops with Wiener Whistles.

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From the Golden Gate Bridge we headed to Fisherman’s Wharf for the first clam fest of many to be had in San Francisco.

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The smell of sourdough captured our senses and we were drawn into the famous Boudin’s Bakery.

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We scored a table overlooking the water and while we waited there were plenty of pretty incredible creatures made out of dough to marvel at. I love bread and I love cool stuff made out of food, so I adored this place! (Send me an Edible Arrangement over flowers almost any day.)

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Between the clam chowder and the clam pizza, it was a true San Francisco adventure.

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After Boudin’s, we headed through the Castro district for some sight-seeing and then went over to see the Painted Ladies Victorian houses. This was another picture-perfect moment. The only thing missing were bread baguettes to sword fight with! (Next time I suppose!)

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For the short time Ron got to spend with us he really assimilated well with the SW team – drink a lot, eat a lot, and do a bunch of touristy things in as short amount of time as possible. I think Abe would agree that would sum up our approach to adventure pretty well over the seven months we were together.

The next day Demir from the bar called. Dobro utro! (That’s “good morning” for all of you non-Croatian speakers out there.) Neither Abe or I really expected to get the local’s perspective, but it worked out wonderfully. After lunch in an artsy-fartsy area of town that I’ve now forgotten the name of, Demir showed off everything from the fanciest of houses to some of the prettiest views.

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We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and went driving through the Marin Headlands. Talk about spectacular! Not only did I come out of the afternoon with some beautiful photos, but I landed another passport stamp! I’ve still been avidly collecting stamps for my National Park Passport, opportunities for which have been strikingly less frequent in the Midwest, and we stopped by the visitors center to get one for the Headlands. Success! (Every time I get one of those stamps I think how proud my Grandma should be, having started me on the whole passport craze from an early age.)

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That evening we went to The Trident in Saulsalito for wine and more clam chowder, while overlooking the bay and the city. It had to have been the best view of the city in the area! That was it for the day, but it proved again how much fun this job is – exploring new places with new people!

Sadly, Abe and I did have to actually work some of those days in San Francisco. Between retail events and a stop at the Ronald McDonald house in town we didn’t have much more time for exploring, and soon enough we were headed home for Christmas.

I was flying out Friday evening on what I thought was a red-eye from San Francisco to Kansas City. Guess I should have read that ticket a little closer…. Yes – I left at 7 p.m. and yes – I got in at 8 a.m. But no – that was not all time spent in flight! Turned out I was actually spending the night in Denver’s finest sleeping accommodations – the United Airlines terminal.

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This wasn’t my first time spending the night in a terminal, having previously been stranded in Newark on my 19th birthday, and Denver lacked the charm of terminal life that Tom Hanks had portrayed so nicely. Oh well, six hours later I was in a slightly comfier, albeit more squished seat headed home.

Even with the headache of overnight travel, it was still a fun trip back. My flight out of San Francisco had actually been delayed numerous times and practically every passenger was camped out at the airport bar. The plane was pretty much filled entirely with 20-something Coloradans going home for Christmas and we had a great time swapping stories from our first years out on our own. If they hadn’t finally called for boarding, I think we would have ended up ordering a bottle of champagne to kick off the winter holidays! We even swapped numbers to meet up on New Years, although that never really panned out.

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Christmas back home was low key and mostly just filled with puppies and good books.

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I feel the need to bring this up specifically given the amount of going out I mention in this blog post. I have to reassert my wholesomeness, ya know?

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In all seriousness, I spent most of my time back in Kansas City curled up by the fire working my way through Pride & Prejudice. That kicked off the classic novel spree that lasted throughout the month of January. (I’ll come clean and admit that it even started impacting my vocabulary!) After Pride & Prejudice I started Jane Eyre and it just continued from there.

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While I was home we also celebrated my step mom’s birthday. With it being so close to Christmas she has had the unfortunate luck of being lumped in with the holidays each year growing up, so I try to always be over-the-top with her birthday now.

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After a few days home, I was due back to San Francisco. Although we get two weeks off for the winter holidays, Abe and I were on a special assignment that was breaking up our off days. For the last three years Kraft has been sponsoring the Kraft Fight Hunger bowl and this year Navy was playing Arizona State at AT&T park. (Yes, AT&T Park is a baseball stadium. Apparently you can play football at it too – who knew?!)

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Abe and I had the tough job of attending the pre-game pep rally in Union Square, staying at Hotel Nikko (which was also on the square) and watching the game from the Kraft box suite. I know – working over the holidays is really rough.

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While the game was a bit of a wash, with Navy losing pretty horribly, one great thing came out of it: this picture.Hotdogger photo bomb

(My friend from high school, Kalah, goes to ASU and saw this in one of her friends’ Facebook albums. Not sure what exactly I’m doing back there, but it was the perfect photo bomb. Probably just being my usual over-enthusiastic self.)

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After our work with the Kraft Bowl was done Abe and I decided to stick around for New Years Eve in San Francisco. I had two goals: have an awesome time on New Years Eve and then check California off the Race for 50 States by doing a half marathon in the morning on New Years Day. Clearly there was some dissonance between those two goals and it was either one or the other. You can probably guess which one I achieved. (Or maybe not, I really do love running.) Spoiler alert: it was the first at the expense of the second.

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Our boss Ed had told us that the Union Square Westin always has a really elaborate and over-the-top New Years Eve party each year, the biggest in San Francisco. The theme was Passport to the World, with 10+ rooms with different international themes, an open bar, and tons of live entertainment. Although the shock value associated with the ticket price would be good content, I’m too embarrassed to admit how much the tickets actually were. Regardless, it was completely worth it.

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Each room had a separate theme, from Asian to 80’s. We were a little confused on the 80’s theme, since that’s not really a country, but hey – why question it because that was one of the best rooms in the place. We used the night as an excuse to pull out the formal wear we had been lugging around for months and actually put our fancy pants on!

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We wandered from room to room, bar to bar, enjoying the ample amounts of people watching. That was probably my favorite part. Everyone was dressed to the nines and I felt like I had stepped into a C-list version of People Magazine! All the dancing we did that night went well and there were no repeat collision incidents to be had.

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After a few hours and more than a few drinks, the countdown to 2013 started. Then, at the stroke of midnight, it happened. Abe and I kissed. Or rather, according to Abe, I kissed him. It may not have been reciprocal. While I certainly believe that story, the combination of it being two hours after my typical bedtime and more than two drinks past my usual limit, I don’t totally remember all the details. It was certainly our first, last, and only kiss that we will ever share. But hey – it’s NYE and it was in the spirit of Auld Lang Syne!

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The trip home was equally adventurous. Trying to figure out CalTrain vs. the BART after midnight on New Years is something you only need to do once in your life. Luckily some kind fellow travelers pointed us in the right direction and we eventually made it back to the hotel.

  • Formal wear – Check!
  • Champagne toast – Check!
  • Midnight kiss – Check!

I’d call that a successful New Years Eve!

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The next morning was less of a success. I actually woke up a couple hours later, at 6 a.m. for the half marathon, and promptly turned over, hit the snooze button, and decided to wake up when 2013 was a few more hours old.

The rest of our time in San Francisco was spent mostly in recovery mode. Partly from New Years Eve and partly from being sick. Abe had the flu and decided to spend most of his time in bed, while I was still determined to get out and about.

We did have one good brunch at this psuedo-southern restaurant called Farmer Brown’s, which had a spectacular buffet featuring chicken and waffles, grits, and bottomless mimosas. At this point we were really only interested in the first two options, and decided to save the mimosas for next time. This was an unexpected treat, which I wouldn’t have expected in trendy, hip San Francisco. It was the perfect post-NYE menu though, that’s for sure!

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If San Francisco is known for anything besides the bridge, it’s known for the gay community and I needed to experience a little bit of that before I left. Since doing anything on Castro Street beyond just driving it is a little too adventurous for me, I decided to take a different route.

As a big fan of musicals I have been dying to see The Book of Mormon since I first heard about it. (Trust me – there is definitely a bit of fab-u-lous in it.) Having been to Salt Lake City, gotten my own copy of the Book of Mormon while there, and been to both the Temple Square and Tabernacle Choir, seeing the musical seemed like a natural next step! (Maybe more of a leap, from serious to nonsensical, but it holds with the Mormon theme at least.)

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Abe and I had looked into tickets, but since it would have been a week’s salary for each of us we just wrote it off. Then, while out on my own grabbing dinner one night, I saw a huge crowd around a theater. I didn’t realize it until then, but I was right by the venue the musical was at! It was about 7:40 and I assumed the curtain call was probably 8 p.m. – talk about the perfect time for cheap, last minute tickets! I figured I would at least see what tickets were going for, just in case it wasn’t astronomical.

I went up to a scalper who said face value was $300. Gulp
Me – “Thanks but no thanks! Have a good one!”
Him – “Well, how much did you want to pay…?”
Me – “I don’t know that I even want to pay three digits for a ticket, much less $300!”
Him – “Oh, no way is that happening. I just sold a pair for $750.”
Me – “BBYYEE.”

By the time I had picked up a quick bite and started walking back to the hotel it was 7:55 and the scalper still had the same number of tickets in his hands. I knew I was golden at that point.

Me – “So are they $100 yet?”
Him – “Hey now! Don’t count my money just yet.”
Me – “Alright, well when will they be $100?” (Figuring I could easily just wait it out at this point.)

And just like that, at the 8:00 curtain call, I ended up with a center orchestra seat to one of the hottest shows in town. I was talking to the couple next to me and they just happened to mention that they had paid $900 for their two tickets! This was probably one of the prouder moments of negotiating I’ve had on the road, that’s for sure!

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The show itself was absolutely hysterical. It was a little too over-the-top, even for my taste, at times, but that is probably to be expected when the writers are the same guys who put together South Park.

And that was it for San Francisco! The day after New Years I was on a flight back to the Midwest to start the Southern road trip portion of break, for the Mississippi Blues Marathon.

Even though Abe and I had one hell of a good time in San Francisco, it is still a city I need to eventually make it back to. There are still a few things to do there on my bucket list, mainly running across the Golden Gate Bridge! I know – how did I not do that?! I also want to see Alcatraz and go out to John Muir Woods to get another stamp for the good old National Park Passport. Since I bailed on my race for California I have to make it back to the Golden State sometime anyway! Till next time San Francisco!

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Touristy Tuesday: Louisville, KY

I initially intended the Race for 50 States blog to take shape as race recaps, running updates, and pretty much all things related to my quest to see all 50 states from the view of a finish line. Since starting to blog, I’ve been doing a lot more running around the country and these Touristy Tuesday blogs have been a great way to chronicle those adventures.

This half of the job though has involved quite a bit more racing about, including a stint of traveling that involved seven different beds in seven days. (Let’s just say, I know how to pack these days!) While hopping from city to city should just give me more material for these Touristy Tuesday posts, I’ve gotten a little lax and I’m due an update!

Back in March Eliot and I loaded up the company car and headed to Louisville, Kentucky. Hurray! 10 weeks into my new half in the Midwest and this was the first new city to me. While in the Southwest almost everywhere Abe and I went was new, and while I’ve certainly had a slew of fresh adventures, none of the destinations up until this point have been uncharted territory.

After a drive the should have taken just four hours, but ended up an eight hour trek, Eliot and I finally pulled into our hotel in Louisville. It had been a day marked by Chicago traffic, hiding out in the back of the “bun” to take a conference call, a gas stop turned parade in a small town, and a crawl across the Kentucky state line during rush hour.

I try to get my picture at every state sign, but these bridge borders never work out. Traffic was so slow I just popped out the bun roof!

I try to get my picture at every state sign, but these bridge borders never work out. Traffic was so slow I just popped out the bun roof!

Exhausted and just ready for bed, Eliot and I started loading up the luggage cart. If there is one time that the peppy Hotdogger persona isn’t totally on, it’s after a long drive day. With only a few weeks left though, I’ve been committed to singing that jingle as many times as consumers want and finishing strong. So when we were swarmed at our hotel first thing I made my famous puns as I threw Eliot our suitcases and duffle bags.

As we finally made our way toward the hotel I saw one of the guys we were talking to head to his truck. It was wrapped in a giant Italian flag and said Steve-O’s Italian Kitchen on the back. I jokingly called out, “Hey Steve-O, ya making us dinner tonight? We could use a break from hot dogs!” Well, as it turned out, Steve-O was making dinner!

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We drove out to Buckner, KY, population 2,000, where Steve-O’s was the hottest restaurant in “town.” Not only was the food amazing (he let us try ALL of his different desserts, even cutting the pie into slim slices for me) but he was terrific.

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You could tell Steve-O was just a really nice guy and all his customers knew and loved him. There is definitely something to be said for small-town America! Even though we were clearly there with the Wienermobile, with hot dogs on every article of clothing Eliot and I had on, no one came up to us while we were eating and Steve-O implored us to just kick back and relax. What a great start to our time in Louisville!

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The rest of our first week in Louisville had its ups and downs. There was a state park half a mile from the hotel with a fitness loop, so I thought I would be able to get some good runs in. Unfortunately I was hit with the flu the second day in town. Again?! I took it easy after that so I would be ship-shape for spring break. We watched a LOT of Food Network on our off days that week.

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Even though it was low key, Eliot and I still managed to get out and see the Louisville Slugger museum downtown. (I know, I know – where is the photo of the Wienermobile next to the giant baseball bat? How did we miss that!) Eliot is a baseball aficionado and while I love games as an excuse to eat brats I’ve never been that passionate about the sport. Since being partners I’ve gotten my share of history though, from the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City (you’d know about that if I ever blogged) to this!

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The museum itself was really neat. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I love seeing how stuff is made! All of their bats are made in that factory, which I think is pretty cool. Our tour guide was hilarious and hit a few home runs with his puns. Eliot and I were the only ones to laugh, and knowing the pain of a pun met with silence, I made sure to chuckle extra loud.

The tour ended and we got our mini slugger bats. That was good for me. Eliot actually had one personalized and I felt bad we didn’t have a ball that I could toss to him so he could put it to the test right away! There was also a small lego exhibit, with recreations of Wrigley Field and Miller Park. Wrigley is definitely my home stadium (ya know – because I’m SUCH a Cubs fan – haha, not really) and actually being a huge Brewer’s fan, Eliot loved the recreation of Miller Park. Not only were those awesome because they’re huge, life-like replicas of landmarks made entirely of Legos, but they also were littered with things to find, like Waldo, the Simpons, and the car from the Blues Brothers – which was obviously in the Wrigley Field display. I was a little disappointed they didn’t hide Ferris Bueller in the Chicago scene too!

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If Louisville is known first for their bats, this spring they are known second for basketball. We were in town at the peak of March Madness, which was really fun to experience. The city slowly started to become more and more covered in University of Louisville Cardinal red as the teams progressed. Our first week in town we did a morning show interview and it happened to work out that the Women’s Basketball Coach, Jeff Walz did his interview in the Wienermobile as well. Talk about a great guy. We nick-named him Jumbo Dog Jeff and Eliot and I decided we were Louisville fans until the end.

Click here to see that interview + plus another awkward interview with Deli Eliot & Cookout Kelly. 

Of course, we ended up leaving town at 6 p.m. on Saturday – the night of the Men’s Championship Game, but as we cross Kentucky and Indiana on our way to St. Louis I had Eliot checking the score left and right. It was almost like we were there … almost!

Our time in Louisville was split up, with a week off for our spring break. (I know, rough life, right?) I returned to Louisville a few days early to do the Run the Bluegrass half marathon in Lexington. While it is always fun to explore a city with your teammate, I honestly love solo adventuring just as much!

Easter Sunday I decided to check off a few things that I’ve been wanting to do lately. I had been running in the state park, but knew that the area had quite a few gorgeous parks perfect for hiking. Not wanting to end up stranded and lost in the woods alone, I looked up a local hiking group on the site MeetUp.com. (If you haven’t heard of it, check it out – it’s a great way to meet people with similar interests and not really have to plan anything yourself – just show up!)

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The hike was wonderful! We did about 4-5 miles through Jefferson Memorial Forrest, which was a good stretch for my legs after the hilly half marathon the day before. I was really impressed to hear that Louisville is currently connecting all of these different parks with a 100 mile hiking/equestrian trail. The group was really diverse and it was a fun way to spend the afternoon, get outdoors, and get a little muddy.

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But it was Easter and I’m just as much a fan of getting dressed up and wearing pastels as anyone else. After spending winter bundled up in extra layers and boots I was craving a day to feel feminine again, even if it was just for dinner on my own. I mean, why not!

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I drove into downtown Louisville and had dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory. (I would have loved something more local, but most places were closed for Easter.) Since it was a holiday and not too busy I scored a seat in the train car, which I’m not even embarrassed to admit was pretty fun. After that I headed to the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts to see this musical I had been hoping to see.

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The musical was called “Urinetown.” Ok, Ok, let me at least provide you with the show description before you start judging my taste. “In an attempt to regulate water consumption, Urinetown has outlawed the use of private toilets. The citizenry must use public, pay-per-use amenities owned and operated by Urine Good Company, a malevolent corporation run by the corrupt Caldwell B. Cladwell.”

I figured it would be pretty funny and I was right. It was a small theater, 100 seats and only 25 were filled, which made for a very intimate experience. As much as I love big Broadway performances, I like local theater just as much because you can tell how much fun the performers are having!

While I’m not particularly religious, I do get into the Easter spirit, even beyond wearing pastels. Since I made it into town before Eliot, and I knew he would be driving back in the middle of the night, I thought it would be fun to have a surprise waiting for him – Easter eggs! I created a make-shift Easter egg hunt for him, hiding eggs in the microwave, on the soap holder, and behind the blinds.

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He brought back an Easter surprise for me too, homemade snacky-snacks courtesy of his mom Carol. Yummo!

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On our next off day we decided to go underground ziplining. We had seen billboards advertising this place on that long drive into Louisville the week before. Billboard attractions are always hit or miss. The berry picking in Bakersfield that Abe and I did on a drive day – totally worth it. (Side note: I was so tan back then.) Little America, the nicest bathrooms in Wyoming – not so much. Leery, I looked into underground ziplining online and was met with rave reviews on TripAdvisor.

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It turned out to be awesome! They squeezed us in (I think something about a giant hot dog being parked out front helped) and we headed out to the cave. You might think, as we naturally did, that this place would be somewhere remote. Nope! There were signs that boasted, “You are now under K-Mart!” and “You are now under the interstate!” This cave is literally right below the Louisville Zoo!

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Ziplining was a blast. It was a lot of hurry-up-and-wait with all the hooking and unhooking of our 12 year old companions. (We landed a spot on the tour with a gaggle of middle school girls on spring break. I felt like I fit right in, Eliot didn’t share that sense of comfort unfortunately.) Even while we were waiting for our turns, the tour guides were hilarious and it was so much fun to watch these pre-teen girls running around.

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The last zipline is a very steep, racing zipline course. Eliot and I are both competitive by nature and the only skill this took was being the first to jump off the platform. Being the wuss I am, it took me a half a second longer than Eliot and he glided into a first place finish.

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That was it for Louisville. I never did get my big fancy Derby hat that was on my bucketlist for the city and we didn’t make it out to Churchill Downs. I’m OK with that though, because I would LOVE to go back to Louisville. Honestly, I think it’s a city I could easily live in. Very outdoorsy, yet also cosmopolitan, and the people and the weather are great! I never envisioned myself turning into a Kentucky girl, but who knows – I think I’d look pretty good for Derby each year!