Vacation Races : Zion Half Marathon

It's been a minute - ok, it's been about two years - since I put my big girl panties on, laced up my running shoes, and signed up for a half marathon. It was high time to get motivated to run more than 3 miles. Scott doesn't understand why I need a finish line to push me to run 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 miles on Saturdays. Call me crazy, but I don't understand why you'd do anything other than train for a race to run those kind of miles?

May it be noted that Scott had never participated in races further than 10ks, and he swore he'd never run a half marathon, sooooo, there's that.

Anywho... for the longest time I'd been seeing Vacation Races pop up in my social media feeds, and they always captured my attention enough for me to click on their links. Then I started seeing the Zion Park Half Marathon more often. I couldn't resist. I told Scott about the race, how epic it would be to run amongst that kind of beauty, and proceeded to ask (beg) Scott if he'd run with me. To my surprise he agreed.

We trained (separately, his idea of an easy "jog" is more like my idea of sprinting), and before we knew it, we were ready for the race.

Weeks out, leading up to race day, we'd been religiously checking the weather. From what we'd heard, late February in Utah was pretty mild and sounded perfect for racing (think highs in the low to mid-60s). Welp. Mother Nature had entirely different plans for us. As we drove to Utah we experienced snow and near freezing temps the entire drive. We kept hoping things would warm up. Spoiler alert. They didn't.

Courtesy of Scott, we stayed in an RV at an RV resort (which is an entire post on its own, and don't worry, that post is coming soon) conveniently located right at the start line of the race.
Race morning came, we rolled out of bed, piled on layers of clothes, and stepped out into darkness and a bitterly cold temp of 11 degrees, accompanied by wind. It was unimaginable cold. The second coldest start I've experienced (the first coldest was in Hutchinson, KS, and a 9 degree start). For several miles I was seriously concerned my fingers may freeze, even with running gloves. It was so cold that many of the water jugs at the aid stations had frozen, and many people's camelbaks - Scott's included - had frozen during the run.

I should also mention this was a trash-less race. To those who've never experienced a trash-less race, when the event planners tell you to bring your own water source, BRING THEM. Camelbaks or running water bottles. I didn't bring one, nor did I think I'd need the hydra flasks the race provided. By mile 3 I realized a trash-less event meant that there were NO water cups at the water stations - that's where personal equipment was to come in hand. By mile 4 I was mentally trying to prepare myself to run 13.1 miles without a single drop of water, in frigid temps, higher elevation than I'd ever run in, and some pretty legit rolling hills. By the grace of God, at the mile 5 aid station I was able to secure the. very. last. hydra flask.

If you see one of these at packet pickup, TAKE ONE! KEEP IT! CLIP IT ON TO YOUR PERSON on race day! You can thank me at the finish line.

As the race moved on, the cold was almost a silver lining. Running was the only source of heat, so putting one foot in front of the other was more than welcome. 13.1 miles is never easy to run, but even though the weather didn't cooperate, and my pace was the slowest I've ever run, the miles seemed to slip right by.

And the scenery. Calling it beautiful is a gross understatement. The course ran along Highway 9, the outer edge of Zion NP, and almost the entire course gave breath-taking views of cliffs, buttes, and always the presence of The East Temple (for those who've never visited, that's the 7,709 summit that's impossible to miss if you're traveling on 9). Runners were constantly stopping to take photos of the landscape. It was just incredible. I really wanted to join the ranks of photo takers, but I honestly could not feel my fingers for seven miles. The best I could muster was one single snap at the start line.
As much as warmer weather would have been welcomed, the snow capped tops of the buttes and ridges gave every view a touch of indescribable magic. Throughout the race I thought of pinching myself for a couple reasons: 1) are my fingers still working? 2)Are limbs frozen? 3) Is this place even real?!

This may have been the first finish line I crossed and didn't cry. Finish line temps had crept up to a balmy 21 degrees, and I was fearful the tears would either freeze my eyes shut, or freeze to my cheeks. But, that's not to say I wasn't beyond thankful for another opportunity to test the limits of my body and mind. The finishers medal was also a pretty spectacular bonus.
Looking back I can honestly say I loved the race from start to finish. The event was so well organized, race planners kept runners informed at all times, and on the running end of things, everything went off quite smoothly. Would I willingly sign up for a race in that kind of cold again? No. But I'd love to run Zion again, when temps are more normal, and with a hydra flask securely in hand.
I'm now trying to convince Scott we should run every single Vacation Race offered. Because what's more awesome than lacing up to run a half, and then turning around to strap on hiking boots and check out some of the most gorgeous land this country has to offer?


A Ninja Climbing Party + Mpix Invites & Thank Yous

Portions of this post are sponsored. 
However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
In keeping with birthday celebrations, we gave Marcus the choice to either go on a staycation of sorts, or have a party. Last year he opted to hit up Great Wolf Lodge. I was secretly hoping he'd want to do more of the same this year. However, to celebrate turning seven, he was very persistent of having a party with his friends.

Over the last few months Marcus has become a bit of a ninja fanatic, so a ninja birthday theme was easily secured. 

Next step was creating birthday invitations. In year's past we've done text invites and email invites, but this year I really wanted something tangible that could be handed out to kids.  

After creating an invite on one of my favorite apps I uploaded my creation on Mpix customizable cards and had them printed up in no time. Per the usual, Mpix was beyond easy to use, shipping was insanely fast, and the quality was second to none.  
I also created a thank you card for Marcus to write his thank yous for birthday gifts. I've heard thank yous are a dying thing, but not in this house! Immediately post party Marcus sat down to write out his thank yous.
Handing out those Mpix invitations and sending thank yous was just so much more fun than hitting the send button on an email.

On to the party and the venue...

It was quickly agreed that Sender City Rock Climbing facility would be perfect place for a ninja themed birthday party. 

Fast forward to party day. Sixteen of Marcus' classmates, baseball buddies, and friends joined us to celebrate Marcus.
With multiple walls to climb, and plenty of staff to help assist with hooking kids into the belays, everyone was able to climb their hearts out.
I was so busy enjoying the party, oogling over how awesome the kids were doing climbing, as well as hooking kids into belays I didn't get as many photos snapped as I'd hoped, but enough to remind me what a fun day it was for everyone. The smile plastered on my face might have been as big as most of the climbers. 

And I have to prove Julia was there too.
The facility hostesses were the best we've ever experienced. From decorations to party favors, everything was set up before we ever stepped foot into the room. And, the food was exactly what seven year olds love (pizza).

The greatest part of all? From party start to party finish I didn't have to do a single thing and had exactly zero clean up. Can I get an Amen?

The icing on the proverbial cake was hearing from kids and parents alike how much fun they had climbing.

But, from Marcus, the words, "That was the best party ever!" Made turning seven the biggest birthday party success.

Cheers to seven, and a year full of ninja awesomeness! 



March 23 marked seven spins around the sun.
With each passing year it doesn't become any less surreal. Even though I beg and plead for him to refrain from growing up, it happens any way.

This year Marcus' excitement over his birthday was nothing short of palpable. Weeks leading to the day there were conversations that sounded a lot like this: "Mom, guess how old I'm going to be in two weeks?" "Mom, only ten more days till my birthday." "Mom, my birthday is coming up!" I love the excitement, but I wish time would slow down.
Thing I never want to forget about Marcus at this particular age:

  • American Ninja Warrior Kids is life. So much so, we now have a ninja obstacle course mounted in our garage.
  • Baseball is the sport of preference. Catcher is where he seems to thrive. 
  • Grilled cheese, hot dogs, and pizza are culinary masterpieces in his mind.
  • School is his favorite place to be. Science and math are classes he enjoys most.
  • Reading is high on his list of favorites.
  • Marcus' manners are second to none. 
  • Sweet, compassionate, and caring best describe him. He cares so deeply for others, and wants everyone to be happy. 
  • Dad Jokes are his very favorite, and he fails to nail the punch line 10 times out of 10.
  • Although Marcus loves a good Dad Joke, and enjoys being silly, he's still very much one of the most serious and literal children I've ever known. 
  • Marcus is the best big brother, even with the constant barrage of little sister annoyances. 
  • It's becoming more and more rare to have him reach for my hand to hold. But, night time snuggles and bedtime stories are still going strong. 
  • His giggle is contagious, and no matter how often I hear it I can't help but smile, and my heart soars with overwhelming joy. 
I'm not sure what I did to deserve such a great kid, but I sure am thankful he's mine. 

Six was good. Really good. Six seemed like a real, nice, sweet spot. But I truly think seven might be even better.


Good Old Fashioned Christmas Family Vacation

In keeping with timely posts, I'm just getting around to this two three months late.

I mentioned in my last post we didn't really do gifts as a family this Christmas. Rather, we opted to go on a vacation.

After some consideration and planning we decided to brave Vegas with the kids.

Before doing any research I was a little worried Vegas wouldn't have much to offer in the way of family friendly entertainment. When I think of Vegas I don't immediately think family hot spot (I think more along the lines of 23-year old Desiree in Vegas). To my pleasant surprise, I was totally wrong.

To start, no trip would be official without the first stop being at *the* most touristy location, complete with a wait of 45 minutes. But, I pulled the mom-card, tossed the family in front of the iconic Vegas sign, rounded up a stranger to snap a photo, begged the crew to give me their best cheesy pose, and called it a solid start.
Our crash pad for the trip was Planet Hollywood. We did some pretty extensive research, and ultimately decided location with little kids trumped all else. We were right in the thick of the strip. Nearly every single location we wanted to get to was within walking distance, even with little people in tow. It was so convenient to be in the middle of all the excitement, as well as near several really good restaurants and tons of shopping.
Bonus points for our bathroom being as big as our room, complete with a small swimming pool disguised as a tub.

Moving along to the beef of this post:
What We Did With The Kids In Vegas.
As alluded to earlier, I was initially worried we'd be looking for things to do. However, by the end of the trip I was bummed we weren't able to fit in all the things we wanted.

The first full day on the strip was filled with all sorts of Vegas highlights.
1. M&M World.

Because with young kids there is no such thing as sleeping in, we made it to the store right at opening. Note to anyone with kids - GO EARLY - you'll be rewarded with a three-story candy store essentially to your selves. As we were leaving, the store was noticeably busier.
The kids were in chocolate heaven, and we spent the better part of an hour perusing each level of M&M glory.
We also decided this was a great place to give the kids some freedom to spend some of the money they'd been saving in their piggy banks. This was also a hard and fast lesson for them, as they quickly learned $20 doesn't go nearly as far as they were hoping. Welcome to my world, kids.

2. New York, New York Arcade
Like every other kid I know, my kids love an arcade. So, we thought NYNY would be a fun stop for them. We weren't wrong. It's the Vegas For Those Under 21. But, as soon as the money was used up on the kids arcade cards, we rounded up the crap they'd won and got the hell out of there. And, I managed to snap exactly zero photos because I was too busy trying to prevent a child gambling addiction from happening at Whack-a-Mole.

3. The Blue Man Group
Our "big gift" to the kids - entire trip aside - was to see a real Vegas show. The Blue Man Group was perfect: kid friendly, funny, engaging, captivating. The kids loved it, Scott and I loved it. We highly recommend to anyone who wants to see a show appropriate for kids. Pro tip: it is a very LOUD show, so proper noise blocking earphones is a really, really good idea.
Because photography wasn't allowed during the performance (which meant we were able to enjoy it fully), the only picture I snagged of the evening was the kids in front of King Tut inside the Luxor.

4. The Bellagio Fountains
Can you even say you went to Vegas without seeing the fountain show at least once?
I was really surprised with how much the kids enjoyed the show. Julia was full of oooh's and aaah's, while I could hear Marcus laughing with delight. My only regret is we didn't go back a few times to watch.

Day two brought the biggest surprise of all for the kids.
My parents flew in to spend a few days with us! Marcus and Julia were so excited to have Grandma and Grandpa just a few doors down from us.

We went right to work exploring more of Vegas with the Grands.

5. Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art - Yayoi Kusama
When I discovered Kusama had not one but TWO exhibits showing right across from where we were staying, going to see them was a must.
Aftermath of Obliteration of Eternity 
Narcissus Garden
Art museums are probably not real high on most kids lists, so I'm not sure I'd recommend this to families who don't frequent museums. I feel I've dragged the kids to enough museums and exhibits that they were pretty engaged with this one. 

6. The Bellagio Conservatory
The Conservatory is free, but holy cow, it is a showstopper. It's akin to the Rose Bowl Parade floats - where everything is made of flowers, plants, etc. And during the holidays it is simply beautiful on the most grand scale.
I wasn't sure the kids would enjoy the displays, but they were just as in awe of everything as the adults. The Conservatory is worth popping in, no matter the time of year! 

7. Circus Circus Adventuredome
Ok, how do I put this nicely... The adventuredome was not my favorite. It was like traveling circus meets town carnival meets small town amusement park. 
The kids seemed to love the rackety rides, and Marcus even surprised me with some of the more adventurous rides he went on. I was so underwhelmed with the place that the only photos I took were in front of "Santa's Village."
There were a couple of roller coasters that Scott, my mom and I went on that were pretty legit. But that said, this was my first time inside the Adventuredome, and I wouldn't be sad if it were the last. 

8. Red Rocks Canyon National Conservation Area
Grandma and Grandpa were absolute saints one morning and gave Scott and I a pass to skip out of the city for a bit to do some hiking.
I had no idea how close this canyon and these trails were to the city! A short 35 minute drive, and the city was nothing but a memory, and we were surrounded by towering red sandstone and the most scenic 13.5 mile loop drive.
 If you've been to Vegas but never made it to Red Rock Canyon, add it to the list. It's definitely worth the drive.

9. Slotzilla
In my mind I had these grand ideas of old Las Vegas and Fremont Street. I remember going there as a kid and thinking the light show in the Fremont canopy was really cool. Naturally, I wanted the kids to experience that as well.

Reality check. Fremont Street is just a big tourist trap with vendors pushing crappy t-shirts and even crappier souvenirs.
Our only saving grace (at least for Marcus), was the Slotzilla zip line that goes over Fremont.
Initially, Marcus was pretty apprehensive to get in the harness. But once he was buckled in and flying above us, his smile was plastered on.

If you've got plans to go to Fremont, I'd suggest going for the zip line and then promptly leaving.

10. Absinthe - Caesar's Palace
God bless my parents for giving Scott and I not one but two opportunities to enjoy Vegas kid-free.
We had an evening to ourselves, which is rarer than a blue moon for us. We grabbed some appetizers and drinks, enjoyed conversation, and then headed to Caesar's Palace to see Absinthe, which came highly recommended. The show was hilarious and raunchy and heart-stopping and unbelievable and so. damn. good. If you can take some (really) dirty humor, enjoy amazing human acts, can handle off the cuff and completely non-PC dialogue, and love to laugh, GO SEE THIS!

Before we even left L.A. for Vegas I was really anxious about how the trip would go. Would the kids enjoy it? Were we in over our heads thinking there were enough "kid things" for us to do? Omg, will my kids starve if we don't find a restaurant that serves either mac and cheese or cheese pizza? (Read: most restaurants have those items on the menu.)
But, here we are, three months out, and the kids are STILL talking about the Blue Man Group, and the M&M store, and seeing Grandma and Grandpa in room 3815.
I'm not sure what we have planned for next Christmas, or where we'll go, but if I were a betting person (fun fact, I didn't bet a single dollar while in Vegas), our LVNV 2018 Holiday Trip is going to be a tough one to beat.