Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My ideal St. Louis day: restaurant edition

One of my favorite things to do since moving to the city is check out new bars and restaurants. There are so many great neighborhoods chock full of restaurants and bars —Soulard, The Hill, Central West End, Clayton, Dogtown. The list goes on. In all of my travels, I've acquired quite a long list of favorites. If calories didn't count and money grew on trees, these are the places I would spend a glorious, food and drink-filled day in my favorite city.

Brunch- Benton Park Cafe
Dish of Choice- The Slinger
Benton Park is a short drive down the highway from my apartment and the cafe is absolutely worth the wait. Although I've had to wait an hour every time I've gone, the friendly staff, cozy atmosphere and bottomless iced coffee makes it all okay. The food doesn't hurt either. So far I've tried a burrito, the slinger and the biscuits and gravy. The Slinger is a definite must. If you're not familiar- the Slinger is the gooey butter cake or toasted ravioli of breakfast food. It's a St. Louis staple. It's some sort of bread served with runny eggs, chili or gravy and meat all mixed together. Sounds gross. Tastes great. Benton Park's is a must-try because of the spicy homemade gravy they sling on top (see what I did there?).

Is it really brunch without mimosas? I think not!

Lunch- Crushed Red 
Dish of Choice- Five Cheese Flatbred
Crushed Red is great for a number of reasons. Most importantly, it's super close to work. I can be in and out and full of salad within my hour lunch break. Bonus-it's delicious. The menu is filled with fresh made salads and flatbreads, but you can also create your own which is always fun. They make the salads right in front of you and they chop the ingredients into tiny, ultra bite-size pieces, and I absolutely love that. There are so many choices that there's no way you can mess up your salad. And the flatbreads are delicious, too! My favorite is the five cheese. Splitting the flatbread and ordering a salad is the perfect amount of food to get you through the rest of the day without feeling the need to nap under your desk all afternoon.

Dinner- Gringo
Dish of Choice- Carinitas Tacos
I fell in love with the Central West End while I was apartment hunting and vowed to try as many of the restaurants as I could. Then I went to Gringo, and now, if I'm in the neighborhood it's the only place I want to go. It has everything. It's adorable on the inside and out. It's full of yellow decorations and bright blue chairs. It's bright and full of character. And the food is SO good. The chips have seasoning on them, the salsa is the perfect amount of spicy and the queso is divine. The Gringo fries are amazing and of course, there's the tacos. You order by the taco, so you can mix and match, so to speak. And perhaps even more important than the food, there's the margaritas. They're a little strong, but that's what makes them great. They're sweet, but not too sweet and they taste fresh, not out of a bottle.  Overall, Gringo is a ten out ten —maybe even an eleven.

Watching the game- Nick's Pub
Dish of Choice- Whatever is on special
Nick's is your classic tavern/dive bar/neighborhood watering hole. The bar is full of people chatting with each other and the bar tenders like they're all old friends. It's small and dark but it feels really welcoming and cozy. It's a mix of young and old, guys and girls. The best part? There are always specials —and lots of them! There are drink and food specials every day and for every type of game- baseball, football, college football, etc. And they're dirt cheap. Matt and I love figuring out how much we can order for the price of on dish at another place. We've been buzzed and completely stuffed for $30 or less. And that's the sure sign of a great place! 

Monday, November 10, 2014

A lazy weekend is a great weekend

Remember yesterday when I was talking about how busy/fun/great my October was? Well, as great as it was, it was definitely due time for a weekend doing next to nothing. Matt had to spend the weekend in Des Moines, and outside of Friday night, I had no plans. I was intent on keeping it that way. Goodness,  I have come a long way from the college girl who didn't consider it a successful weekend if it didn't include face-timing at the bars Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Anyway, my lazy weekend was fabulous and I woke up this morning well-rested and ready to take on the week.

It all started Friday night with a night of volunteering for my roommate's work's annual gala. It was a night of dressing up, people watching, drinking wine and dancing with some of the new pals I've gotten to meet through Monica. I've gone to quite a few of these type of events through work, so it was fun to get more of a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on during these events, which raise thousands of dollars for awesome organizations. My favorite part? The photo booth. I was originally supposed to be a greeter but got switched to manning the photo booth. It was one of those that's not your traditional photo booth —it's a real camera, attached to a computer where you stand in front of backdrop and adorn yourself in as many props as you can without messing up your hair. I had never gotten to do one of those so I loved watching everyone awkwardly pose, and I LOVED getting to take a few pictures of my own!

Since we didn't get home Friday until 2:20 a.m., I was ready to sleep until late morning and spend the day in bed. But, in true Katie form, I was wide awake at 7:30 a.m. I tried and tried to fall asleep, but ended up just laying in bed catching up on Buzzfeed until 11:00 a.m. The rest of the day was spent running a few errands (CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS ARE OUT!!!!!!), painting my nails and watching many, many episodes of Gilmore Girls. Can you think of a better way to spend a Saturday?!

Sunday was another early morning, but it included an AWESOME 3.5-mile run around Forest Park with my mom and dad followed by an excellent brunch at Benton Park Cafe —a new favorite among my roommate and me. The afternoon was full of cleaning, blogging, eating taco salad and watching Pretty in Pink before bed. Perfect!

I used to consider a great weekend one where I ran into all my friends at the bar. Now, I think the perfect weekend is one where I go to bed before 9 p.m. two out of three nights. But don't worry, I still LOVE a busy, fun, adventerous weekend. It's just nice to hit the reset button every once in a while.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

October in review

It's hard to believe we're already ten days into November. I feel like I should still be stocking up on tailgate essentials for homecoming, not getting ready to go shopping for Christmas decorations for my place.

October was quite a whirlwind month. Work was as busy as ever, I was in the thick of my half marathon training and every weekend was booked solid with trips and tailgates. Although it was nice to have a lazy weekend this weekend, I had such a fun October!

The first weekend, I drove to Des Moines to visit Matt. He's been up there for work, and it was nice to see a new city and go to his favorite hangouts. My favorite part of the weekend was our little Friday night bar crawl. Des Moines has some fun spots. My favorite was The Exchange, which is a play on the stock Market. The drinks fluctuate in price based on their popularity and the place has sublte odes to Wall Street, including a table with a picture of a hundred-dollar bill and a few pictures of bulls. I also liked Shotgun Betty's, which was your typical country bar. I loved spending the weekend with just Matt and it was nice to get away for a few days.

Five days later, I was back in the car driving to Columbia for the first of two tailgates in October. The weekend started off with one of those pesky migraines, but it ended up being a great weekend in Columbia with Matt and my family. I don't think the Tigers enjoyed their weekend as much as we did. Georgia absolutely killed us.

Work was also pretty busy in October. Two of my bosses and I moved over near the rest of our department so I was busy coordinated that and picking out supplies for my new desk, of course. I'm glad I get to sit near my entire department and I think it will end up being more responsibility for me, which I'm all for.

After a day of unpacking my new space at work, it was time for race weekend! I've already talked (or written, I guess) your ear off about that. It will be a weekend I will remember forever and one of the best I've ever had.

Then, after a year of anticipation, it was time for a long weekend in Columbia for the most wonderful time of the year — Homecoming! Although it was very weird being back and not quite as incredible as I thought it would be, I was so happy to see a ton of my friends I hadn't seen in so long. AND Matt and I threw our first-ever tailgate. I've been learning from the pros (my parents) for years, and I was so proud of how ours turned out and so flattered that so many of my friends spent their day with us.

Then all of the sudden, it was Halloween! For the first time in 15 years, I broke out my homemade Cruella de Vil costume and headed to St. Charles with Monica and my new pals. We played drinking games and laughed like crazy and it was all around a great end to a fabulous month.

Now it's all about counting down to Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's finally my favorite time of year!

My hard work finally paid off

Wow! I would say I can't believe I actually finished my first half marathon, but every once in a while a little bit of leg pain sneaks up and reminds me that I did indeed run 13.1 miles and lived to tell about it.

Confession: I totally got one of those foil cape things because it looked really official. It totally came in handy once I stopped sweating. I was FREEZING for a good hour after the race.

I'm not kidding when I say that if you told me a year ago that I would run a half marathon, I wouldn't have believed you. I distinctly remember going with my mom to pick up a race packet for a 5K she was doing and talking about how I would never ever have one of those cliche "13.1" stickers on my car because there was no way I could actually run that much and stick with training long enough to do it safely. Fast forward to today and I have a medal and one of those totally stupid and cliche yet awesome stickers on my car. And in even more surprising news, this morning I started running in preparation to start training for my next half.

The journey to 13.1 was not an easy one. I started considering running a half back in the spring and questioned whether or not I could actually do it until I was about three miles into the actual race. Thankfully, I decided to sign up for Fleet Feet training. My weekly runs with my awesome coach and pace group really made all the difference. As the distance increased each week, so did my confidence. I quickly exceeded my distance records and found that I actually had the attention span to run 8, 10 and 12 miles at a time. Before Fleet Feet, I was a girl who ran sometimes. Now, I'm a runner.

Now, for the actual race. The week of the race was spent gulping down water and eating bagels and pasta every day because I had the excuse of "carb loading." I had two easy runs during the week and spent the rest of the week resting and convincing myself that yes, I was actually about to do this. Saturday Matt, my mom and I headed to the expo to pick up our packets and buy any last-minute necessities —still thanking the good lord I bought my fanny pack water bottle holder thingy (see, I'm not an expert yet). The rest of the day was spent doing some last-minute carb loading, laying out my gear (and instagramming it, obviously) and forcing ourselves to go to bed at 8: 30.

Here's my "flat Katie," as they call it in the running world. Note the new, flashy leggings. It's not really a special occasion until you buy a new outfit for it, right?

On Sunday, we had a 4:45 wake up call and excitedly got ready and posted selfies on snapchat so everyone knew what we were up to all day. We got downtown pretty early and and hung out until about 6:45 when we headed to our corrals. Then the nerves set in- mostly because my Pandora wasn't working. With the release of each corral my nerves started disappearing but I kept thinking how crazy it was that this was actually happening. Around 7:20, we were off! The first half mile my mom and I stuck together, but then I bolted ahead. I was feeling good. Then around mile 1.5, my foot started to hurt. I ran through it and was good to go by mile 3. Miles 3 through 5 were kind of a blur. I know I felt good, but I was in the zone. At mile 5.5, I saw Matt's dad, which was exciting. He's a marathoner so it was good to hear him say I was looking good. I saw my dad a little later, posed for an awkward picture and was back on my way. I knew I'd see him at the finish with my aunts, cousin and grandpa so I really wanted to keep going.

After mile 6.5, I knew I could do this thing. I was halfway there, feeling good, full of bananas, sport beans and gatorade and the course was really starting to get pretty. The second half of the course was through the Grove, around Tower Grove park and through Compton Heights and Lafayette Square. I had never been around that area and was pleasantly surprised by it. The day was gorgeous and sunny and running through the park was gorgeous as the leaves were changing and Compton Heights was two or three miles through residential streets full of old mansions and lots of cheerleaders using the race as an excuse to tailgate all morning.

Around mile 10, someone set up an unofficial beer stand and I was feeling great at that point (hey there, endorphins) so I indulged and was off once again. I ran into my coach around mile 11 and the head coach of the training program. His thumbs-up was great motivation to finish with flair. The last mile and a half was almost all down hill and I felt the best I had all race. The elation was definitely setting in. After one last hill, I turned the corner, saw the finish line and my eyes filled with tears. I did it! I stopped crying pretty quickly because I'm pretty sure people thought I was in pain instead of sheer disbelief and pride, but oh well I did it! I crossed the finish line a few seconds later and was so so so so happy and proud and hungry and cold and tired.

I grabbed some food, met up with my family and waited for my mom to finish and she wasn't far behind!

 It was fun watching her finish because this was such a huge accomplishment for her and she had no idea her sisters and dad were going to be there, so it was fun to be in on the surprise. 

 The rest of the day was spent eating, recapping the race, eating and starting to feel the pain set in. Matt and I definitely struggled even getting out of bed the rest of the day, but every second of pain, every bad run, every dollar spent on water bottles and leggings was absolutely worth it.
Recovery at its finest

I've always been hard working when it comes to school or work because my parents were paying for it or I had to be a team player, but I've never been dedicated to doing something just for me. Heck, I can barely finish the books I start. I am so so proud of myself for sticking with this for the better part of 2014. I'm so proud of myself for waking up every Saturday at 5:20 and going home almost every day after work and lacing up my shoes and hitting the trail. I'm so proud of myself for ignoring the part of me that said I would never do this. And I'm so proud of myself for finding a passion and a hobby and something to stick with. I've got two months between now and when training starts again and I'm confident I'll be ready to log another 150 miles come January. Who knows, maybe one day I'll even get to add a "26.2" sticker to my car ...