Season’s Heatings! {Holiday Halfathon Recap}

When I registered for the Holiday Halfathon earlier in the year, I had no intention to aim for a PR.  With these plantar fasciitis feet, my PR days are gone, however, I expected to beat my time from three years ago.  Since I was pregnant, I could totally redeem that time even with bad heels.

Being a stunner runner, my attire is crucial next to the training.  Chrissy, Maribel and I wanted to match, so we decided on homemade tutus with striped furry stockings and a red wicking running shirt.  I added a little sequined clip-on Santa hat to my ensemble to finish my sporty Santa Baby look.

Lots of our Strider friends were also at this race as well as many of my runner blogger friends, Katrina of Sneakers and Fingerpaints and Beth of Discom-BOB-ulated Running.  Everybody looked so festive in their holiday attire.

About 4 miles into the race, I was dying from a heat stroke.  Usually, December races are cooler, but with the warmer weather, overcast and humidity, it felt like we were running in a Santa sauna.  I haven’t exposed my post-pregnancy belly in a sports bra in public, but I didn’t care.  I stripped off that shirt faster than a Catholic school girl at a frat party and then, I rolled down my cute striped socks.

Although Chrissy had been suffering from a sinus infection, she looked like a rock star out there.  She showed those bridges that she was the boss and she smiled the whole time.

The bridges were another reason I didn’t anticipate a PR.  I didn’t even want to push myself on that course.  I just wanted to finish better than I did three years ago.

Between the bridges and the heat, I needed to walk a large portion of the course.  Another runner on the course ridiculed Chrissy and I every time we walked the course.  John teased us about our tutus and socks having superpowers, but I don’t think so.  Those furry striped socks were my kryptonite!

Eventually, Chrissy and I caught up to Marie who was struggling due to a nasty bronchial infection.  Poor thing!  You know speedy little Marie is not up to par if she’s pacing with me.

Even with all the bridges, that last mile had to be the toughest for me.  We ran for a short distance on a sidewalk and then final half mile led us along a sandy, soft uneven trail covered with pine needles.  It was difficult to judge my footing and I stumbled a few times.  I decided to walk the trail and then I ran the last stretch to the finish line.  I suppose my tutu did give me some superpowers because I saved a sprint just for John.  I finished a few seconds before him and I beat my time from three years ago by nearly 30 minutes!

13.1 miles
Gun Time 2:26:55 
Chip Time 2:26:36
Ave Pace 11:13

We lost Maribel early in the race, but after we crossed the finish line, we all ran back to meet her.  The week prior to the race, her knee had been giving her a lot of grief and now, Maribel was really hurting.  When she spotted us, her spirits lifted and she sprinted the final stretch of her first half marathon.  Once past the finish line, we all cried in a huddled, blubbering mess for Maribel and everyone’s accomplishments and then we helped poor Maribel hobble over to the picnic tables to ice her knee.

Poor sick speedy Marie could barely talk.

I just wanted JM’s cookie cake beer.

At the post-race party, I found Jina of Behold the Turtle and we posed for a quick photo.  I loved her reindeer shirt!  As you can see, I was still so hot after the race and I was looking real hot in my white, very see through sports bra.  Yep, I’m a classy act.  Thank goodness for Cliff Shots covering my ta-tas like pasties!

I am so making Santa’s naughty list this year.

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Elf The Musical: Buddy Brings Tights and Tinsel Town to Tampa

I’m singing.

I’m in a theater watching Elf and I’m singing.

Every since the Straz Center provided tickets to Tampa Bay Bloggers, I’ve been all sparklejollytwinklejingley with excitement.

Matt Kopec (Buddy) and the cast of “Elf The Musical”. Photo by Joan Marcus

Elf The Musical is based on the Christmas classic Elf starring Will Ferrell.  Through high energy dance numbers and toe tapping tunes, Elf The Musical tells the tale of Buddy the elf, a human misplaced in the North Pole who travels to New York City to find his father while uncovering the true meaning of Christmas for others along the way.

Matt Kopec (Buddy) and Gordon Gray (Santa) in “Elf The Musical”. Photo by Joan Marcus

Elf The Musical shares many of the same comedic antics, one-liners and funny punch lines from the film, but many new funny moments will make your belly shake like a bowl of jelly.  Although some favorite moments from the movie appear in the musical (the revolving door) others didn’t make the cut, such as the famous snowball scene or the singing in the shower scene.

The overall warm cocoa feeling of Christmas and the colorful costumes set the stage beautifully for the start of the Christmas season.   Having visited New York City during the holiday season, the show captures that magic brilliantly.  Rollerblades replace ice skates on a mock rink in front of Rockfeller Center, but the merriment still feels genuine.

Since we’re already share an affinity for elf culture, my family and I loved the live performance.  After watching Santa’s sleigh soar through the final scene, we left the theater full of Christmas spirit and singing, of course.

We just watched Elf The Musical and we’re singing.

Elf The Musical is now playing in Tampa.  Visit strazcenter.org for show times and tickets.

For tour information, visit elfthemusicalontour.com.

*The Straz Center provided my family and me with tickets for Elf The Musical in exchange for my honest review of the show.  The opinions provided are my own.*

*Production photos of Elf The Musical provided by the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts .*

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Pretty Muddy, Pretty Dirrty and Pretty Fun

Pretty MuddyAh, dirrty (dirrty)
Filthy (filthy)
Nasty, you nasty (yeah)
Too dirrty to clean my act up
If you ain’t dirrty
You ain’t here to party (woo!)

What better way to recap the Pretty Muddy race than with a help from Christina Aguilera!

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, a mud run was never something I thought of trying.  Fear of over-the-top tests of endurance, electric fences and well…mud mostly steered me away from ever participating.  I had heard horror stories from friends who found mud in the nether regions for days after their mud run.

But when Courtney of Journey of a Dreamer challenged her fellow Sweat Pink Sisters to take on the Pretty Muddy, I simply had to go for it.  Who can resist a good challenge?

Obviously there were mass quantities of mud, but Pretty Muddy lacked an electrical fence which was a bonus for me.  Plus, there was a promise of beach balls and bubbles instead of bales of hay.  So with that, I would give it a go and I decided to make “Keep Calm and Get Pretty Muddy” my mantra.

The Friday before the event, a few fitness bloggers and I had the opportunity to preview the course.  I even tested out a few of the obstacles to see if I could even scale them.

Each obstacle offered a “pretty please pass”, however, for me to truly understand the whole mud run experience, I felt I had to at least attempt the obstacles even if it meant falling face down in the mud.  Either way, it would all make for a great blog post and interesting race recap.  Given my race number, I was doomed destined to have a hell of a time.

On race day, Jenny of Metamorfit and I started at the first wave at 8:00 a.m., which I now know was great strategy in itself.  Later I learned that some mud runs have long lines for each obstacle, but since not many people want to start at the first wave, there were no lines and no waiting for us.

I also learned that Pretty Muddy offers a lot more running than obstacles, which was perfect for a mother runner like me.  I loved running through the gorgeous grounds of the Little Everglades Ranch and I managed the soft terrain of the farm quite nicely.

At the start of the race, we ran through bubbles and I lost Jenny somewhere in the foam.  Very soon after the bubbles, we plunged into a pond and my soggy pond-soaked shoes felt 10 pounds apiece.  Once back on the trail, I wrung out my shoes with every squishy step.

Soon enough, my shoes were all wrung out just in time for the first mud pit positioned in front of a barn.  With my first step into the mud pit, I learned there is a strategy for stepping into mud pits.  Per my mistake, I stepped in too close to the edge and I couldn’t move my feet.  I had to pull my foot out and start over with a giant step forward. Giant step right! Giant step left!  Grab hold of the opposite edge and PULL yourself out! 

Just after the barn was an obstacle I like to call, “What Wood Jesus Do?”  Since I didn’t know the best way to attack this 2×4 wood carrying obstacle, I chose to carry my plank crucifixion style (over the back of my neck and across my shoulders) while I ran.

Past the planks, we found a huge inflatable slide with a pool of mud at the base rather than water.  Just after the slide and close to the 1.5 mile mark, I could hear the M.C. calling for the 8:15 wave to start and I knew I was making good time.

Around the bend just after the slide, there stood a cargo net to climb. Then, after another short run, I crawled through two tunnels full of mud, which made me feel a little claustrophobic.  Thankfully, I was off running again.

After a short distance, I had to scale the over and out obstacle.  I climbed over one, crawled under one into a pit of mud, back over another and under once again in yet another pit of mud.  Then, I was back on my way, but in the wrong direction.  I ran about a quarter mile off the trail when a sheriff on ATV cashed me down and told me and a few other ladies to go back the other way.

Once back on the right path, I bounced through beach balls and then shortly after that, I had to maneuver through the rope netting of the “get a leg up” obstacle, which included more mud of course.

The last mile led us back toward the start where only two more obstacles remained.  With only a little distance left to go, I had a few more wooden walls to climb.  Once over the walls, I ran as fast as I could up a slight incline to the finish line.   But first, there was one more mud pit to crawl through, which is where most of my mud damage happened.

Even with all the obstacles, I finished somewhere around 35:00, which I think is pretty excellent for someone with no previous crossfit experience.  Besides running, the only training I did to prepare for this race is climbing a playground apparatus at the park with my two year old son.  Honestly, I thought I lacked the upperbody strength for such an event, but I am in better shape than I thought.

So would I do it again?  Abso-pretty-lutley!

I am so on board for Pretty Muddy again next year!  I loved the endurance race adventure run without all the competitive pressure of a clock or all-star athletes.  Pretty Muddy was good wholesome, down and dirty fun.

Next year, I would love for my runner mother girlfriends to join me because I could have used a hand in that barn dance mud pit.  Plus, it would be fun to be part of a team with matching shirts and a team motto.   Of course, I’ve already got a ton of team ideas floating around in that Pretty Muddy brain of mine.

So who’s with me?

Ladies, please don’t fear the mud because it washes off better than you’ve heard!  Think of it more of a mud bath spa experience minus the sliced cucumbers on your eyes and a bit more climbing.

*A special thanks to Courtney for roping me into Pretty Muddy and for sharing her photos with me!*

Frankenfooter Living Dead Challenge {Recap}

Apart from speedwork, I prepared for Frankenfooter Living Dead Challenge by sorting out my costumes.  Deciding what to wear is equally important as training for a stunner runner.  For the 5K, I decided to dress as the Sun Drop girl.  Perhaps not my smartest decision, but it was definitely a fun one.  (I even wore it again on Halloween night.)

I really loved my Sun Drop costume, but it was ridiculously hot.  Between the legwarmers and the leggings, I thought I would have a heat stroke once I crossed the finish line.   No doubt it took me a while to cool down.

For the 5K Saturday, we started a minute or two into the race and Chrissy and I paced together trying our best to keep up with Marie.  I had no idea how fast that little mama is!

Chrissy and I really pushed it to finish around the 27:00 mark, but we also observed that we don’t like pushing it that hard.  It’s difficult to enjoy a run when you’re trying to run your fastest.  At least we enjoyed our finish time!

5K
Gun time 28:00.6  
Garmin Time 27:40   
Ave Pace 9:02
Garmin Ave Pace 8:47
Max Pace 6:50

As for mighty fast Marie, she and Bob placed in their division.

The next day, we all ran the half marathon.  The first few miles followed the same course as the 5K and part of the Starkey trail.  It was a cooler, cloudy day than the night before, and the occasional light drizzle was a welcomed relief.

I chose not to wear my fuel belt which I regretted around mile 9 when the water station ran out of water.  We desperately attempted to hydrate ourselves with a few ice cubes.

Chrissy and I were pretty impressed with our pace for the duration of the half marathon.  Even with walking the water stops, we kept our pace around the 10:30 mark.  I conserved my energy for a sprint at the very end and Chrissy and I finished seconds apart.  Not a PR for me, but definitely a personal best, post-baby or what I like to call my “PB PB”.  However, it was definitely a PR for Chrissy!  She shaved 30 minutes of her half marathon time!  Chrissy and I celebrated out achievement with a bit of post-race bubbly served it some dollar store Frankenstein goblets, of course.

Half Marathon
Gun Time 2:15:34.8
Garmin Time 2:15:24
Ave Pace 10:21
Garmin Ave Pace 10:14
Max Pace 7:11

One of my readers, Tommy, ran the race with his son and his son placed in the 5K for his age group. Outstanding!  It was such a pleasure meeting Tommy and his son!

Marie and Bob also won for their age group again!  Incredible!  (By the way, Chrissy and Marie’s matching attire was completely a coincidence.  How funny is that?!)

Despite, the mile 9 water station mishap, the race was far more organized than last year and truly a pleasant experience.   When we complimented the race director and the Gulf High Shool student volunteers on a job well done, she rewarded us with some really cool frosty Frankenfooter mugs!  WOOHOO!

 And for the second year in a row, I won best costume as the Devil With Blue Dress.

Now I have two of these Frankenstein dancing toys, which my kids love.  They especially like to stand the monsters’ hair up which reminds me of Kid ‘n Play, or as I prefer to call it, “Frank ‘n Play”.  When standing face to face, they even dance like Kid ‘n Play.

Frank ‘n Play…Now that would make an interesting costume…

Oh la, oh la, ay.

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Race for the Cure 2012 {recap}

Last Saturday, “sweat pink” was more than a clever catch phrase from my SPA sisters.  With temperatures in the 90s and stifling humidity, I took sweating pink to a whole new level at the Race for the Cure.  All 664 10K participants have officially sweated pink for a good cause.

Normally, the weather is cooler for this event but it’s so hard to predict if fall will arrive in Florida in time for the race.  Maybe moving the start time up an half an hour would eliminate some of that heat?  Either way, we would still get to enjoy a gorgeous golden pink sunrise over St. Pete Pier.

Though year after the heat may be unpredictable, we can always count on a beautiful backdrop for this pink cause. It’s like the race officials roll in the sunrise with the balloons before the start of the race.

As we lined up for the start, we were oddly nervous about this race.  Chrissy and I wanted to finish under an hour.  Faith just wanted to finish for Miss Sharon, which is all we really wanted to do.

Chrissy and I paced together for the first couple of miles but I was really struggling with the heat and I had to walk the water stations.  Since I wanted to finish under an hour, I decided against snapping photos while running, a decision I now regret.  I was walking anyway and capturing the race in photos makes me happy.  I definitely was not running happy and snappy for this race.

The tutu I wore may have had something to do with the heat I felt.  Normally, I make my own tutus, but this kid’s petticoat costume from Target was so much cheaper than making one.  However, instead of hand-knotted tulle like my other tutus, this one had a nylon skirt underneath.  Let it be known, nylon does not wick away the sweat or the water I kept dumping on myself at every water station.

The little girls manning the 5 mile water station put a smile on my face and pep in my step with all the compliments they showered on me while handing me water.  “I LOVE your tutu!”  “I love that headband!”  I felt like the belle of the ball at the 5 mile water station.

Thankfully, my knees and heels held up for the duration of the race.  When I would feel a twinge of pain here and there, I looked for level ground to avoid running at an angle.  I also walked the “uphill” portion of the course through downtown St. Pete.

I tried to push it a little harder for the last mile, but I didn’t have a sprint in me.  With only 0.20 of mile to go, I went for the sprint, but then the race didn’t end.  The course ran longer than 6.2 miles!  I felt deflated.  Then, I heard the Suncoast Striders cheering for me and my attitude perked up.  My Strider family helped turn that frown upside down and I finished the last 0.15 of mile with a smile.  It wasn’t my best time but at least I beat my time from last year by 3 minutes.

10K (actual distance 6.35)
Chip Time 1:01:19
Garmin Time 1:10:19
Ave Pace (chip) 9:54
Ave Pace (Garmin) 9:40
Max Pace 6;35
Div Place 19/74
Gender Place 142/476
Overall Place 244/664

But the race did put things in perspective for me.  No matter how hot or tired or the pain I felt for the duration of the race, there are women who are suffering for more than a mere hour. Every minute of every day they are feeling pain, sick and nauseous.  Along with losing their hair and their breasts, they’re losing hope. They can’t see the finish line and they are feeling deflated.

I want those women to know that we are here for you!  We’re cheering for you in the homestretch!  Be strong!  You, the survivors who fought the battle against breast cancer and even the women who lost their lives in the battle are our inspiration.  You are our heroes.

That’s why even in the heat and humidity, I will always sweat pink and Race for the Cure.

A shout out to David and Aaron for capturing these pink moments and many other fantastic photos for the Suncoast Striders! xox

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Run to Remember (9-11 Memorial 5K)

When I heard about a free 5K held on 9-11, I immediately signed up for the race.  Although the event was held early Tuesday morning in Spring Hill and would interfere with my family’s morning routine, I really wanted to be part of the memorial race.

The event page announced a start time of 6:30, but that’s when the race formalities and memorial service started.  The ROTC presented the flags accompanied by the national anthem sung by the YMCA children’s program director.  Then, local figures, the YMCA CEO and the Hernando County Sherriff, offered a few words followed a prayer led by a local minister.

The race director also mentioned the Twin Towers artwork on display had won national recognition for its design.

Around 7:00 a.m. we were told to move the start line and instructed to follow the fast runner with the flag.  With a crowd of a few hundred participants, I wanted to be as close to the start as possible and I found a spot behind some young male high school students.

Surprisingly, not many participants wore red, white and blue although many people wore the race shirt from the event.  However, I was the only one wearing a tutu and Obama tube socks and since I made such a spectacle of myself, I had to prove I was a real runner.

At the gun, I started my Garmin and followed the flag through the streets of Seven Hills.  That is not just a charming neighborhood name.  There are actually hills in Seven Hills.  Those steep inclines were pretty intense, but I stayed strong.  At one point, I even passed the young high school boys.

At the 1.5 mile water station, I took a very brief walking break to drink some water and then I quickly returned to pushing it up those hills.  One last large hill before the finish line and I sprinted the last quarter mile.  (After all, it was Track Tuesday.)  Even with all the hills, this was my fastest 5K post-baby.

Gun Time 28:01

Garmin Time 28:01

Ave Pace 8:58

Max Pace 6:01

Afterwards, we were rewarded with juice and doughnuts for our efforts.  Actually, the free continental breakfast after the race was an unbelievable spread of juice, coffee, pastries, bagels, granola bars and fruit.  Thank you to the Hernando YMCA, all the volunteers and sponsors who made this wonderful free event possible.

PhotoStory Fridaythe hollie rogueUnknown Mami

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Tarpon Springs Triathlon

Sometimes races make good learning experiences.  Such was the case with the Tarpon Springs Triathlon.  Although it my fifth sprint triathlon, the event was full of first time experiences.

For one, it was my first gulf swim.  That had me a little nervous, but I thought I could handle it.  That was until a storm rolled through.  As I drove into Fred Howard Beach beach that morning, lightning illuminated the pitch black sky over the Gulf.  That should have been my first sign to turn around and go home, but I saw others unloading and entering transition, so I decided to ride out the storm.

Since I missed early packet pick-up, I still had to receive my bib numbers and goodie bay.  Already looking like a pack mule, I now had another racing backpack to carry.  I tried to enter transition to just unload everything, but since I didn’t have my number on my bike or my body marked, I wasn’t allowed to enter transition.  So I stood outside of transition and unloaded everything to make my numbers and papers visible.

Once finally in transition, I found my rack, but it was full and there was no place to even set my belongings.  Apparently, someone racked their bike in the wrong place, but even after she moved her bike and belongings, there was still barely any room for me.  With two backpacks, a towel and running shoes, I made do with the little space available.

Now, that I was all set up, I could take a breather and snap some photos.  I watched the sun rise in the east as lightning still lit up the sky over the Gulf to the west of us.

“Excuse me,” spoke the girl to my right. “You know you have a flat tire, right?”

“What?  Are you kidding me?”

I checked my tires last night, but I forgot to check them again this morning.  With the race starting in ten minutes, I quickly dismounted my bike and carried it over the Chainwheel Drive tent.  I must have looked like a deer in headlights, because my friend, Scott from Suncoast Running, reassured me that the Chainwheel Drive guy could fix it in minutes.  Like a sleight of hand magic trick, he literally fixed my bike in minutes.  My hero!  At that moment, I realized I need to pack an inner tube emergency repair kit in my car.

With minutes to spare, I mounted my bike again and headed down to the swim.  Over the beach, a rainbow appeared through the large dark gray clouds that blanketed the pink morning sky.  Once down at the shore, I realized I forgot to take my Garmin off, but I couldn’t reenter transition because it had closed.  I attempted to stash it under the water table but a volunteer offered to hold it for me and I was grateful for his chivalry.

The first swim wave entered the water with waves crashing down on them.  The large inflated buoys looked like sails.  As my wave lined up to enter the water, I decided to stay to the right of the pack. When the horn blew, we all charged into the water. Once I started swimming, I realized being on the outer right of the pack was not the best decision because the waves carried me farther out, which meant I had to swim back to the buoys.

As the waves rolled over me, I tried to swim my best.  Unfortunately, my stroke just wasn’t cutting it.  I struggled with each stroke.  At that moment, I realized I should learn to backstroke for this type of situation.  The lifeguards kept watch over the competitors from their canoes and I could feel their gaze on me, so I know I looked pathetic out there.  Once around the buoys, swimming back to shore was easy as the waves pushed me along.

As I ran back up the beach, my noble volunteer held out my Garmin for me, just as he promised.  In transition, I threw on my shoes and rolled on my way.  My Suncoast Striders friends cheered for me as I set on the course along the causeway, but riding through an ugly storm left me feeling less than cheery.

*Shout out to Aaron for the photo of me on my bike.*

We followed the road out of Fred Howard Park and rode through a residential area of Tarpon Springs, which had its share of hills.  The combination of hills and wind from the approaching storm was yet another struggle for me.  Once the storm hit, cold hard rain pelted me.   The wind picked up and my speed slowed down to 6 mph.  I felt like I was peddling backwards.  I contemplated hopping off my bike and running with it but I didn’t know if I would be penalized.  So, I continued slowly pedaling forward.

Finally back in transition, I racked my bike and ran off in the rain.  I was ready to be finished.  For the run, the course took us back along the causeway and through Fred Howard Park.  The path through the park was almost a trail run and on a better day, I would have loved it.  Large puddles covered much of the trail and I tried to find higher ground to avoid most of them; not that it would matter because my feet were already drenched.

As much as I hate rain, this leg of the triathlon felt good.  It may have been because I was nearly finished, but more likely, I knew this was my strongest suit.  I could redeem myself after nearly drowning and pedaling backwards.  Even with harsh wind and cold rain pouring down on me, my stride was strong. I even had a sprint left in me which I saved for the last stretch to the finish line.

Division Place 21/28

Overall Place 363/426   

Overall Time 1:22:55  

Swim 6:58   

1 Transition 2:38  

Bike 43:21   

2 Transition 1:20  

3 mile Run 28:40

I see everything is a learning experience and this triathlon was no exception.    I now know I need to pack a fix-a-flat kit and learn how to change a tire.  Even though I’ve been saying it for years, I fully understand the importance of taking a master swim class so I can learn other swim styles and stroke techniques.

Although the weather and hills were horrendous, I would participate in this well-organized, small sprint triathlon again.  Next year, I hope to be better prepared and back with a vengeance to improve my overall time.