2017 Big Sur International Marathon Race Recap

2017 Big Sur International Marathon Race Recap

I did it!  Successfully (mostly) completed my fourth full marathon.  I am currently recovering from a hard effort.  I’ll have a separate post about our time in Carmel that is unrelated to the actual marathon itself.

Let’s start with the race expo.  We drove down from Sac on Friday late morning and went straight to the Portola Hotel, where the race expo was being held.  We had the dog with us so I didn’t get to explore the expo too much on Friday but went back Saturday morning to get a better idea.  I had read on other blogs that the expo is typically fairly small for a major marathon and they were correct.  Packet pickup was very smooth.  The organizers were great in sending out emails prior to the weekend letting me know my bib number since that was what you needed to get your bib.  Because there is only one way to get to the race start, I also had to pick up a bus ticket (free) from my pickup location (which was in the heart of Carmel).  There were about 4-5 different areas of pickup for the full marathon.  After grabbing my bib and bus ticket, I got my shirt and gear check bag and the helpful volunteer put everything into the bag for me.  The following morning I walked through the expo.  There were a few of the usual booths for various races as well as a few gear booths selling everything from gels to water bottles to clothes.  The largest merchandise area belonged to Asics, who is one of the big sponsors.  Overall it was a nice little expo area but nothing to write home about.  I did find my name on the Big Sur poster that is comprised of every runner.

I had all intentions of a breakout run on Saturday morning but that fell threw just because I was doing enough walking around with the wife.  The day before the race, we did drive down Highway 1 to Big Sur because my wife had never been.  Essentially we drove the course backwards on our way down and then in the proper direction on our return trip back to Carmel.  The drive really showed me just how non-flat the course actually is.  When you look at the elevation chart of the race, you go “okay, there are a few major hills and few minor ones,” but when you’re actually driving the course you realize the entire thing is essentially either “up” or “down.”  There aren’t actually many flat spots to the course.

Elevation

The drive is when I really did start to worry about my race and my training.  I knew that my trip to Japan as well as my illness didn’t hep matters but I wasn’t that worried about it.  After driving the course, I started to wonder a bit.  I had an “A” and “B” goal for this race.  The “A” goal was to PR the race, which I know is a challenge given the above regarding elevation changes.  My “B” goal was to finish under the 6 hour course time limit, which given that I was overall physically okay I figured I should be able to do.  Honestly I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt but knew that I had signed up, gotten in the lottery, and trained for it so I might as well give it a shot.  Outwardly of course I didn’t reveal my concerns to my wife.

We had our pre-race meal of pizza and I tried to hit the sack early (7:30 pm).  Because you have to take a school bus to the race start, they start bussing people down at an ungodly hour.  My bus ticket said to arrive by 3:45 am (yes, 3:45 AM!!) and the latest was 4:15 am.

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Of course trying to go to bed at 7:30 pm when you’re used to going to bed around 11 pm is tough.  I tossed and turned and managed to get a few minutes here and there and then maybe 1-2 straight hours of sleep.  I had set my alarm for 1:30 am because I like to get up a few hours before I head out the door.  This is due to a chronic GI issue that I have that I try to just deal with.  Luckily the Inn that we were staying in had a refrigerator.  I had an unconventional breakfast of 2 slices of Margherita pizza and a banana.  I made a plain bagel with peanut butter and saved it for when I was actually waiting at the start line.  I left the Inn around 3:42 am and walked about 5 minutes to where the buses were waiting. Luckily I managed to get on the first bus and the 2nd seat and off into the night we went.  Since I was so close to the front, I actually watched as the bus wound its way in the darkness along the course.  It was a little eery going over the bridges when all that was lit was the road in front but I knew there was a large drop on both sides.  About 50 minutes later we were dropped off.  In years past, the buses dropped you off at the start (Big Sur Station).  Due to the large amounts of rain that has hit California this year, the bridge just south of the starting line failed and was demolished.  This required the buses to turn around earlier and so we were dropped off at Big Sur Lodge, about a 1/2 mile from the start.  Once off the bus, we made the trek uphill to the starting area.

I arrived and there were already people just sitting around waiting and drinking coffee.  The temperatures weren’t too bad and with me bringing a long sleeve shirt and some pants, I was quite comfortable.  I hit up the port-a-potty and then got in line to get some coffee.  It was around 5 am and the start of the race wasn’t until 6:45 am so I had some time.  I also ate the majority of my peanut butter bagel and had a small cup of coffee and some water.  And then it was a waiting game.  The Big Sur Ranger Station area isn’t exactly cut out to fit a few thousand people so anywhere you could sit, someone was probably sitting.  I ended up walking around for the majority of the waiting time, which in hindsight probably wasn’t the best idea.

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On the majority of the port-a-potties they had funny signs.  I only captured one of them.

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There are 3 waves for the start and I situated myself in the 2nd wave, which was for people estimating a finish time of 3:46 to 4:45.  My plan was to stick with the 4:45 people for as long as possible and possibly finish before 5 hours (which would be my PR).  They had people starting to line up around 6:10 am and took the entire next 35 minutes getting people behind the starting line (remember there’s a bridge out behind the last wave of people and a sharp drop off – I didn’t actually walk back there to see what it looked like though).  At 6:45 am, the first wave of runners were off and about 5 minutes later so was I.  Since I had essentially done the course twice backwards and once forward in a car, I actually had a decent idea of what I was getting into.

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The first few miles were quite crowded but I still felt like I had decent room.  I actually am glad it was crowded because it kept me from blasting downhill.  The first 4 miles or so are mostly downhill.  However, there still are a few small uphill climbs in that first few miles that no one mentions.  You also start out in the Big Sur area, which means you’ve got these giant redwoods on both sides of you.  It was quite peaceful (I didn’t get any pictures of this part of the race).  Those first few miles I was just getting back into the rhythm of running and focusing on keeping it at a decent pace.  It had been a LONG time since I’d run any real meaningful distance.  Overall I felt pretty good in those first few miles.  We passed through the Big Sur Village, where my wife and I had lunch the previous day.  There were also some nice folks out cheering us on in that section.  I didn’t have a concrete race plan but I had been toying with the idea of doing a “run-walk” method.  I realized in the first few miles that walking with so many people and a narrow road probably would only create more problems for me.  So I elected to start my “run-walk” a little later into the race.  I also wasn’t sure what my intervals were going to be (probably something I should have worked out ahead of time).  I had done two half-marathons with run-walk and one I did with 4 minutes run-1 minute walk and another 5 minutes run-1 minute walk.  During my long training runs I did a 1 minute walk after each mile.  I elected to go with the 1 minute walk after each mile since I could easily figure this out with their fun mile markers on course.   Each of the mile markers had fun life-sized pictures of people.  Lots of people were stopping to either take selfies or just take pics with it.

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Around the 5 mile mark is when the course opens up some, the trees fade away and you start to get a glimpse of the ocean.  The day also was turning out to be a gorgeous one.  Blue skies and very little wind (until later portions of the course).  The beginning part of the course we were allowed to run on both sides of the road but starting at mile 2 they wanted us only on the ocean-side of the road.  This was because they needed half the road for cars, emergency personnel, etc.  This caused a bit of congestion and people were running on the wrong side for a good chunk of the first 6-8 miles.

The above mile marker was fitting since there were some actual cows right near this mile marker.

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Cheering us on!

Miles 5-9 were comprised of big flat land to the left with the ocean beyond it and on the right were treeless hills with lush green grass and small flowers on it.  It was quite beautiful and I did take a moment to just “take it all in.”  I was running the Big Sur Marathon on Hwy 1!!  I had come to the realization the day before that I have run on Highway 1 in a race in San Diego, Huntington Beach, and Santa Barbara.  4 very different and distinct locations.  I have to say that this stretch of Hwy 1 (the entire course) is the most beautiful.  In this same section there were some good-sized hills already and I chose to run when I felt I could and walk when I felt I couldn’t.  I really tried to just listen to my body.

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As we came upon mile 9 cresting one of the smaller hills, I could see the dreaded climb to Hurricane Point.

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Climb to Hurricane Point in the far off distance

I could also hear the Taiko drummers.  I hit the port-a-potties to pee at the water station just before getting to the Taiko drummers and the climb.  Luckily I only had to wait about 20-30 seconds before I got into a port-a-potty.  With my business finished, I managed to get video (and a few pictures) of the drummers and told myself that I could “do this!”

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So from mile 10-12, you basically just keep on going up.  You’re running up the side of a mountain and so you make some turns and each time you turn, you just see that you have to keep going up.  I knew that I had to make a few turns before reaching the high point of Hurricane Point so at least I didn’t get myself too disappointed when I would make the turn around a bend in the cliff and see that I still had to go up.  The wind also started to blow in this 10-12 mile stretch.  It wasn’t super super hard but it was enough to tell you that it was there.  I employed a walk-run method up the hill and started to use my Garmin 225 to help.  I had it set on my heart rate and so I would walk until my heartrate dropped to 168-169.  Then I’d start running again and immediately it would go over 180.  At one point I could feel my heart beating really hard and so I started walking and waited until that feeling subsided – luckily it never came back again for the rest of the race.

After what felt like a long time, I made it to Hurricane Point!  As said earlier, there was a little bit of wind but nothing too dramatic and definitely nothing that would cause me to be blown over (as I read nearly happened in last year’s race).  Coming around the bend of Hurricane Point, you get a great view of the Bixby Bridge.  I think this bridge is the most well-known for Big Sur/Carmel and is iconic.  I managed to get a few good pictures of it.  I actually jumped onto a raised area to the side of the road (yes it was tough to make that high step, probably about 2 feet).

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There were a handful of these houses just hanging out on the cliff all isolated. 
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Bixby Bridge
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Bixby Bridge – halfway through the race

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As you make the descent toward the Bixby Bridge, you can start to hear the piano sounds coming from the other side of the bridge.  Michael Martinez has been playing a piano during the race for a long time now.  I stopped on the bridge to get a shot because how often will you be able to walk onto the bridge to snap a view downward.

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And then snapped a quick pic of the piano man (I didn’t spend the time to hang out like a lot of people were doing).

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At this stage I kept telling myself to keep chugging along.  Surprisingly I was actually making decent time according to my Garmin 225.  I realized that I was actually on track to PR if I kept up with what I was doing.  I felt pretty good at the halfway mark and actually had some ideas of pushing for a PR.

The second half of the race is comprised of uphills and downhills (just not as long as the climb up to Hurricane Point).  I settled into a routine where I’d start my run up a hill and when I got tired, I’d start walking.  Then I’d wait until my heart rate came down to around 168 and then back to running.  Since I was potentially on track for a PR, I definitely took a lot less pictures in the second half.  I laughed when I saw the mile 18 marker because I definitely could have gone for a beer.

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I was on track to finish around 4:50-4:55 until I ran into mile 20.  Literally as I was coming up on the mile 20 mile maker (the dreaded “wall”), I felt my right quadriceps muscle cramp up and seize.  I had to start walking and started to try to massage out my right quad.  I realized at that stage that I hadn’t done enough hill training.  Actually I had done pretty much no hill training.  I also knew that I didn’t get enough of my long runs in towards the end so felt like maybe my legs were ready for the distance.

So once I realized I wasn’t going to PR, I just wanted to finish.  I knew that I’d be in well under the 6 hour mark. I  think that partially deflated me and I just didn’t push myself from then on.  I felt a little defeated and did a LOT of walking in the last 10K.  I definitely enjoyed the wonderful views though.

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And then finally I made it to the end!

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I loved the ceramic medal.  It felt great to receive.  The weather was in the low 70s at the end of the race so I didn’t need the space blanket.  I did like that they made a “box” that had a banana, pretzels, gummi bears so that you didn’t have to try to pick things up individually.  I also picked up some chocolate milk – my goto for after a hard workout.  I did some stretching and then checked out the merchandise booth since I had finished!  I picked up a license plate holder.  I thought about getting my free beer at the Sierra Nevada beer garden but it seemed crowded and I just wanted to get back to the Inn and get clean.  So I hopped on the shuttle (short bus) back to Carmel and made my way to the Inn.

My overall impression of the race was that it was very well-organized.  I thought the weather was good for a marathon (though I do prefer it to be a little colder – my ideal temperatures probably would have been in the high 40s and low 50s).  I felt like I ran a good race and I just need to work on that last 10K.  I had quad issues with my 2nd marathon (that one also had a lot of rolling hills) so I wonder if that is my issue.  I’d definitely recommend this race to any marathoner.  I probably won’t ever do it again because there are just so many marathons out there that I think I want to experience and my race schedule (self-imposed) is to do a full marathon every other year.  I think this will provide me with the right challenges but also not tear up my body too much.  The day after the race I actually was getting around okay and walking.  I drove us back to Sac.  Two days post-race I was at work and somewhere in the middle of the day my left ankle/Achilles area started to give me some pain.  I definitely limped the rest of the day.  Not sure if it is a delayed injury or just because my work I am getting up and down a lot.

This was my 4th full marathon.  I don’t know exactly how to explain it but I feel like I’m starting to feel more comfortable with the distance.  Even though I struggled at the end, I knew I was going to finish.  And then at the end of the race, I felt pretty good and not just plain exhausted/dead.  I’m never going to be fast and I’m okay with it.

Finish Time: 5:26:30

I like their long sleeve tech shirt that you get.

-StewsCat

Marathon Training Week 15 & 16

A bit late but I figured I should get my 2nd to last week of training in before the actual Big Sur Marathon.

I was pretty much recovered from my GI illness and was able to get some okay runs in.  I know that I’m supposed to be tapering so I didn’t really push myself too hard but I wanted to at least get some decent mileage in.  I also tried to hold back a little in terms of pushing the speed (not that I’m fast to begin with).

Tuesday – 3.75 miles

Thursday – 4.25 miles

Friday – 6.25 miles (treadmill)

Saturday -3.5 miles

Sunday – rest

Total – 17.75 miles

Week 16

Tuesday – 3.5 miles

I’ve been experiencing some tenderness in my left distal calf.  It doesn’t seem to bother much after I get about 0.5 mile into my run but I can feel it when I am done with my run.  I’ve only done one run in week 16 because I don’t want to exacerbate my calf.  I will probably do a very short shakeout run on Saturday before the race.

I’m still working on my Japan posts but here’s a sneak peek:

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-StewsCat

Marathon Training Week 12, 13, 14

Hello!

It’s been awhile since my last post and that is because I’ve been on vacation.  My wife and I had planned a trip to Japan during Cherry Blossom season and so we traveled halfway around the world and visited the beautiful country for a few weeks.  I realized after booking the trip that the timing of the trip would interfere with my training for the Big Sur Marathon, but it’s Japan!  I had also read an article on Runner’s World about how a marathoner stopped being so stringent and strict about sticking to the training plan especially when on vacation.  They went on to say that their overall race times didn’t suffer and they were less stressed because they didn’t constantly worry about missing certain workouts.

Of course I had good intentions of doing some runs while on my trip to Japan.  I packed a few sets of running clothes and also planned on doing some laundry while over there.  Just prior to leaving, I managed to get in a very short run during week 12.  This turned out to my only run of week 12.

3/28 – 2 miles

Once we arrived in Japan, we did the normal touristy thing and did a TON of walking.  My wife’s phone provided us with an indication that we were walking anywhere from 5-10 miles per day.  A lot of this involved going up and down stairs so I count that as my workouts of the day.  I still did want to at least get some actual running in and managed to get a treadmill run done at the Park Hyatt Tokyo.  The neat thing about the gym/pool at the hotel is that it is located on the 47th floor.  If you’ve seen the movie Lost in Translation, you’ll know the pool.  The treadmills sit on one side of the building with full-length windows overlooking the city.  It’s a fantastic view.  Here’s a link to some views (pictures are not allowed in the gym): pictures.

4/4 – 4.25 miles

I figured that I’d get in a few runs (maybe 2) in Kyoto and call it a day for runs on vacation.  Of course the night before my first planned in Kyoto, I woke up at midnight with chills, fever, and diarrhea.  This went on to afflict me the rest of the trip and so now running was to be had.  I barely ate anything for 2 days while sick and was overall sick.  We returned to the States this past week and after getting on some medications I’m doing better, though not 100%.  While at work, my co-worker pointed out that I only have 2 more weeks until the Big Sur Marathon.  I know that I’m in my taper but since I barely have done any running for for almost 2 weeks I decided to jump back into it.

Thursday – 4 miles

Saturday – 6 miles

Sunday – 4.44 miles

Total – 14.44 miles

While not an ideal total for 2 weeks from race day, I’ll accept it.  Like I said, I’m still not 100% and my GI is still having some re-structuring issues.  Hopefully it irons itself out over this next week.  Overall I’m still happy with where I am and still look forward to the race.  I’m not dreading it yet.

Happy Easter!

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-StewsCat

Marathon Training Week 11

Another week down, another 100+ mile month.  This is the first time I’ve ever done this much mileage two months in a row.  I’ve never had more than one 100+ mile month in a year prior to this year.  I’m happy to report that I’ve managed to do this high mileage while avoiding any major injuries.  I’ve had a few days of some soreness in my right knee and also left calf, but overall nothing that doesn’t go away after a day of rest.  So I’m pretty happy with how my training is going thus far.

Now for the not so great news.  My longest run (20 miles) was set for this past Friday.  Of course Friday was the one day we were supposed to get rain for most of the day.  I also altered my plan during the early part of the week and ran Tues-Wed instead of Mon-Wed.  Seemed to work out okay.

Here’s a summary of last week’s running.

( ) = # of miles on my plan

Tuesday – 2.5 (3)

Wednesday – 4.5 (9)

Friday – 16.07 (20)

Saturday – 3.2 (4)

Sunday – 3.0  (3) – treadmill, walking.

Weekly Total – 29.27 miles (39)

I woke up on Friday and wasn’t really feeling all that motivated.  The weather wasn’t helping matters that much.  Normally I’ve been starting my long runs around 9 am so that takes me anywhere to 12 or 1 pm usually for anything over 16 miles.  The morning started kinda hazy with a very fine mist sprinkles while I was having breakfast and coffee.  I continued to kinda of mozy around and get myself psyched up to go on my long run.  I stepped out of the door around 9:30 into some light rain but with some decent winds that were quite chilling.

Luckily for me I have a loop in my neighborhood that is almost exactly 1 mile (slightly over 1 mile) from my house.  With the way the weather was, I decided I’d just run this 1 mile loop for as long as I could so that I had somewhere to take shelter if the rain got really bad.  I also like it because that means I have bathroom access (not just at my house but there’s a park about 1/2 mile into the loop as well).  The only downside with loop running is that it can get boring and you want a new view of things.  I made it to 3 miles and then took off on another path to do 2.5 additional miles.  My tummy had not been feeling the greatest before I started running and I ended up having to make a pit stop at the house.  Soon I started to bargain with myself.  I told myself I could stay out in the cold rain for 10 miles and then do the last 10 miles on the treadmill.  I also didn’t want to spend too much time on the dreadmill because it too can also be boring for too long.

I knew it was also good for me to be out in the rain because it is a possibility for my race in about 6 weeks.  I need to learn to run in different types of temperature and weather.  This year has been especially wet in California so who knows if it may be raining on race day.

I ended up making it to 8.75 miles out in the rain when I called it quits (had to make another pit stop) and switched over to the treadmill.  I started my run there and soon realized I’d rather be out in the rain.  I made it about 3.25 miles on the treadmill and then decided to go out into the rain again (the rain was heavier than it was during my first 8 miles). I pushed and persevered and hit 4 miles (I had told myself that 4 miles was my minimum up to the 8 miles to complete the 20 miles).  I had recently read that one theory for marathon long run training is not to exceed 3 hours because beyond that the benefits do not outweigh the risks (i.e. injury).  So that’s where I came up with 4 miles minimum on my 3rd leg to have a final of 16 miles.

So the end result was just a tad over 16 miles.  I’m happy with it, especially given my lack of motivation and the rain.

No pictures on my runs this week with the rains.

Sunday morning I woke up with a lot of sneezing and a constantly dripping right nose.  I do have pretty bad allergies in the springtime but this felt more like maybe I was getting sick.  Even though I thought maybe I was getting sick I still wanted to get some miles in.  So I compromised with myself and did 3 miles of walking on the treadmill (~3.5 mph so I still broke a sweat).

Overall I’m still happy with my training thus far and hope to keep it up and be ready for the race in Big Sur.

We also went to a pizza joint we used to go to a lot (Hot Italian).  Since I’ve been making pizza myself we haven’t gone in awhile.  I do like their cocktails though, and Saturday was decently warm so I had a Negroni.

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Negroni

-StewsCat

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Marathon Training Week 10

I got back on track with my running in week 10.  I also changed up my training schedule to try to make it better with my new work schedule.  Rather than running Tuesday/Thursday, I switched it up to Monday/Wednesday.  This also allows me to have a rest day before my long run day (Friday).  This week was a drop-back week for my long run.  I again did a mixed effort run where I did the middle 4 miles of the 10 miler at a quicker pace.  Sadly my “quicker” pace these days is actually not all that fast.  I’m not sure if it is due to the high mileage I’ve been putting in causing me to be more fatigued and slower or if it is age-related (diet-related, weight-related, etc).  I definitely feel okay though know that with the increased days and miles, I’m putting a lot more stress on my body than I have before.  I certainly am quite cognizant of how my body is feeling because I have much experience with injuries in the past.  I definitely do NOT want to hurt myself before this marathon like I did with the last one (that was not a fun experience).   Wednesday’s treadmill run happened after I had dinner and surprisingly wasn’t too bad – considering I did it about 30 minutes after finishing my dinner.  Saturday’s 7 miler also was on the treadmill and I did some long incline walks/runs to try to build some hill mileage into my training.  I probably should be doing more hill type stuff but we’ll see what happens.

Here’s a summary of last week’s running.

( ) = # of miles on my plan

Monday – 4.5 (3)

Wednesday – 4.1 (6)

Friday – 10.03 (10)

Saturday – 7 (8)

Sunday –  4.25 (5)

Weekly Total – 29.88 miles (32)

We’ve not had any rain for a while so things have dried out a bit and all the previous wet weather has caused a lot of plants to blossom early.  It is quite pretty out although my allergies have been driving me nuts as of late.

 

 

My long run also took me through some interesting neighborhoods along with a small park that I like because they have an actual restroom (yes I do plan many runs around where I can make pit stops).

Other fun things that happened this week included making some bread for a work potluck.  One of my coworkers has some health issues so we were all trying to come up with low-fat recipes to bring.  I figured I could just make some bread since I already had some dough sitting in the fridge just waiting for me.  I had made the dough for sandwiches but decided to switch it up and use it for dinner rolls.

I really find it fascinating how yeast works.  I just love watching how bread rises and gets so big!

For this recipe, I did an egg wash on the dough and baked it for ~23 minutes (internal temp hit around 205F).  The small cast iron was a tester for my wife to make sure it tasted okay.

I got her approval and took it to work and it was a big hit.

This past week we also hit up one of the local Korean BBQ places, Blue House Restaurant.  We had been once not too long after they opened last year.  They have an “All-You-Can-Eat” option.  I noticed they added a lot more cuts of meat to their selection and as they started bringing meat out I realized they changed up how they were serving it.  When we first came, each meat order came as a large plate of meat.  This time they only brought out essentially a one to two person portion.  This is smart because it allows us as patrons to try more types of meats rather than getting full on just one type.  I definitely went to town and had the Kalbi, Bulgogi, octopus, pork bulgogi, shrimp, chicken.  It was all very good and we cooked it up right at the table.  I’m always a fan of Korean BBQ.  The banchan (“side dishes”) were only okay at this place and not as plentiful as it is at other Korean establishments we’ve visited.

Since it was St. Patrick’s Day, we had stopped by a local micro brew, Sactown Union Brewery, for a few beers before dinner.  I had a Nitro Stout that they just released on that very day called Big Fella and then the Carpe Noctem (a coffee oatmeal stout).  At Blue House, we shared an OB (Korean beer) and a bottle of their Pomegranate soju.   The soju was a bit too sweet for our tastes.

Overall a pretty good week for both running and eating.

-StewsCat