Mazzaro’s Italian Market and Iron Girl

23 04 2012

Happy Monday! Is there really such a thing as “happy” Monday? Meh!

Saturday marked only one week til my marathon! EEP! I’m fully in taper mode, so my plan called for “only” 8 miles. I originally had plans to run my 8 over in St. Pete or Clearwater and then hang at the beach the rest of the day, but when I saw that it was likely going to rain, I decided to stick close to home.

Now I just need to do that 2 more times + 2.2 miles. No big deal. (YIPES!!)

I still had to head over to Clearwater though, because I signed up to volunteer at IronGirl and I needed to check in on Saturday. While over on that side of the state, I figured I’d head down to St. Pete. A few friends had told me about this magical Italian market called Mazzaro’s. They insisted I check it out, and since I didn’t have anything else to do, I figured I would!

Friends, I was NOT disappointed. I was a little overwhelmed, but OMG this place was incredible!

From the moment I arrived, I knew this was going to be an experience. I pulled in to the parking lot, and a man directed me to where I could find a spot. Their 1st lot was full, so I had to go into their second lot.  When you need someone directing traffic into the 2nd parking lot, I think you’ve got something good going on…

As I walked towards the entrance, I passed these cool cars. Definitely some fun photo ops at this place!

I also passed a few groups of people sitting at the picnic tables or benches eating some delicious looking gelato. Oooh baby, I was excited! I walked through the door and immediately started beaming. This is my kind of place! The entry way was bustling with people – to my right were people who were checking out, to my left was the meat counter, and people were in line waiting to get their steaks.  I pushed through, and made it to the hallway of beer and some other refrigerated food, including these sausage:

Then to my right I saw a man and a woman with a glass of wine. Just walking around the grocery store with a glass of white wine! I was a little confused, but then I saw it; right behind them was the wine and cheese room! I walked in and was amazed by the number of wines they had. There was a wine bar set up where they were doing tastings, and I’m also assuming that is where the couple got their glass of wine, but there were too many people crowded around so I just perused the aisles. I really liked the rustic/wine cellar feel of this room. I just wish it hadn’t been so crowded! I hung around the cheeses for awhile, sampling a few and debating whether or not I wanted to buy. I figured I’d stop by this room on my way out, but I needed to explore the rest of the market!

As I made it towards the back of the store, I really didn’t know how this whole thing worked. I saw the prepared foods counter (pictured above) but there were too many people in front that I couldn’t really make my way in to see what was actually in the case! I scanned the aisles in the center of the store with the canned goods (imported tomatoes, olive oils, etc.etc. YUMM), but I kept bumping in to people and was afraid I’d knock something over and break it! So, I went further back to where it seemed a little less crowded. I went around and off to my left, and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the freshly made pasta. There was a row of freshly made LOBSTER MANICOTTI. OMG. Unfortunately, it was like $12/lb and I didn’t bring a cooler with me in my car. (excuses, excuses). I’ll be prepared next time!

I cut to the opposite side of the building and caught sight of what I was looking for: the bakery, the gelato bar, and the coffee bar!

So many yummy things on this side of the market!! I thought about getting a gelato, but I wasn’t really in an ice creamy kinda mood. What I WAS in the mood for was a cannoli!! You can’t go wrong with a cannoli at an Italian market, right?

I grabbed a number, and a few minutes later, I had a cannoli on a small tray, ready to be eaten! I had to ask the lady where to pay, because I wasn’t sure what to do next! She said, “You pay where you eat.” Um, Ok. So, I figured I’d grab a seat at the coffee bar and enjoy an expresso with my dessert. WRONG. There were zero seats at the coffee bar. Plan B: there’s a semi-outdoor patio; I’ll just sit out there. I grabbed a fun chocolate soda from the cooler by the door leading to the patio, but then I saw the sign that said you can’t pay out there, and you need to check out else where. DOH! So, I trekked to the front of the store with my cannoli and soda in hand, and stood in the check out line. As I was in line, I finally had a chance to stop and take it all in. This place actually had some really cool decorations. There were Vespas on display up high, and black and white photos all over the walls behind the cashiers. Pretty neat stuff.

After I had finally checked out, I went outside to sit at a picnic table and enjoy my cannoli.

It was DELECTABLE!!!!!! Unfortunately, I had to scarf it down because it was starting to rain. I ran to my car, and then the skies opened up. Though it was incredibly crowded, I certainly enjoyed the experience. Believe me, I WILL be back. And now that I at least sort of know what to expect, I can go in a be a bit more bold. Maybe I’ll even take home some of that manicotti!

I had a not so fun drive home in the rain and enjoyed a relaxing evening at home because I had an early wake up call on Sunday for Iron Girl!

I got up at 5:45am so I could be at the course by 6:45. I was signed up to be a “course marshall” which basically meant that I stood at a corner and told the girls to turn so they stayed on course. I personally know how much it sucks to go off course, so I gladly took my place at the corner of Chesnut and Palm, rattled my cowbell, and made sure everyone turned where they should.

It was so inspiring watching women of all ages, shapes, sizes, and colors running together. Everyone had trained hard and was here to see their hard work pay off. I didn’t know the reasons why people were running; I didn’t know if it was their first 5K or their 15th half marathon. But everyone was there, smiling (maybe becuase I was at mile 1? 😉 ) and making it happen.

I always get excited when I watch people race, and today I left with that “warm and fuzzy” feeling. I’m going to take that feeling with me to Nashville, and get excited on that starting line. I can do anything I put my mind to, just like all of those ladies today. Bring it on Nashville!!

On a somewhat unrelated note, if you’re in the DC/VA area on April 28th and you’re looking for a race, check out the Run for Shelter 10K – The race to end homelessness. It’s for a great cause and right now, there’s a Schwaggle deal for 40% off registration!

(old) Hometown Races Are The Best

19 03 2012

One of the perks of my new job is that it allows me a spring break. How awesome is that? As it turned out, spring break happened to fall the week before the Rock N Roll USA half marathon in DC, which I had sign up for before I knew I was moving. So, I capitalized (Capitolized? hehehe) on my time off and spent the first half of break relaxing in Tampa, and then I spent the second half hanging out in my dear old DC!

I was so glad to go back to visit so many of my friends, and hang out in the city I called home for nearly 7 years. I filled my schedule and my belly for the few days I was there. I hit up happy hour with an old coworker at Guapos,  enjoyed some Vietnamese with Chloe, fueled up for the half marathon with some pasta at Sette Osteria (great meal, terrible service!), replaced all the calories I had burned off (and then some) with brunch at Los Tios, and spent some time catching up with my friend Steph at Busboys and Poets. Man, I miss the food scene in DC! There were so many more places I wanted to go, but not enough time to eat at them all.

As I mentioned, I didn’t only go back to visit friends, I had a race to run too! I didn’t put a lot of pressure on myself for this race because I had a pretty tough week of workouts, and lately, my training runs haven’t been so stellar. I also had heard bad things about RnR races and knew there would be a ton of people, so I just wanted to go out there, have fun, and get some miles logged.

Well, I surprised myself, and ended up having a stellar race. I don’t knowing it was just the fun and familiarity of being back in my old stomping grounds, the incredible crowd support all over the course, or the sheer excitement of racing, but I felt great throughout the entire race, and walked away with a new PR!

But let me back up a little.

I spent the night at my friend Sue Ellen’s house, and we got up bright and early to fuel up and head out to the metro. I knew there’d be a lot of people, so we gave ourselves a little bit of extra time to get to the start, use the porta potty, and get to the right corrals on time. The first train pulled up, and it was already crowded. Ugh. We moved towards the door, and I was reluctant to get on the train since it was so crowded already. Sue Ellen grabbed me and her friend Andrea and said we could fit. So, we squeezed in like sardines with the hundreds of other runners.

Good morning friends!

I’m sure glad that we crammed into this mess, because I later heard from several different people that their experience on the metro was MISERABLE. 2 hour waits? Off loading? ICK! That would have completely stressed me out. Thanks Sue Ellen for still being a city-dweller and forcing us on the train:-)

Anyhow, we made it to the start with enough time to check our back, stand in the incredibly slow moving porta-potty line, and get to the starting corrals. We parted ways because Sue Ellen and Andrea were in a different corral than I was, but planned to meet up at the finish line.

I was supposed to be in corral 10 (I had estimated a 2 hour finish when I had signed up), and I moved up to corral 9 before starting. I spotted a 3:55 marathon pacer, and figured I should try to stay near him. That didn’t work out so well, and I quickly lost sight of him. I don’t think he was really well marked, and I guess I could have STOOD next to him at the start instead of 20 yards away. Oh well. I figured I’d just watch my Garmin, and try to run a comparable race to Gasparilla.

As we ran up and down and across DC, I’m pretty sure I had a smile on my face.  I LOVE THIS CITY. It was so fun to run by the Capitol, by the mall, through Dupont, Columbia Heights,  H Street, and other neighborhoods, passing so many familiar sights, and running along streets I knew like the back of my hand. After this race, I really realized the benefit of knowing the course. Though I had never run this course exactly, I knew the streets well and was prepared for hills and straightaways.

I occasionally checked my Garmin, and I seemed to be pacing myself alright. I felt really strong, so I decided to push a little harder. The hill in Dupont? It was not going to get me down. I heard the cheering crowd, saw some familiar faces, and I told myself that I was going to dominate it! I was shocked at how good I was feeling, and just let myself run free. As I passed mile marker 12, I checked my watch and saw that I was on track to beat my Gasparilla time. Heck, if I push myself really hard, I may even be able to break 1:50!

Well, I kept running strong and, though I didn’t break 1:50, I crossed the finish line in (officially) 1:51.40. Booyah!

Here’s my splits:

They’re certainly interesting…I really need to  figure out pacing. I think that will come with more experience (this is my 3rd half ever), but in the meantime, any tips people? How do you pace yourself in a half marathon?

After the race, I found Sue Ellen and Andrea (who both also PRed!)

We met up with a few others, then decided to head home. Unfortunately the thousands of other runners were doing exactly the same thing, so we decided to walk a bit and then catch a cab. After nearly a mile (!!!) trek, we finally found a cab. It felt So. Good. to sit down! We got home, and hauled our smelly selves to brunch. Ahh. Perfect way to end a racing morning. 🙂

I had a fantastic time in DC and was completely stoked about my race. Did you race? How’d it go? Leave a link to your race report in the comment section!

Aaannnd, I’m BACK!

13 03 2012

Hey friends! Long time no see! Sorry I (Steph)  took a little hiatus from the blog; work became overwhelmingly busy. I guess I was a little ambitious back in January thinking I could handle a move, a new job, training for a marathon, adopting two kittens, and keeping up with the blog…whoopsie. But, I’m on spring break now and I have a little bit of time, so I thought I’d catch up with you all!

In February, my life was pretty much consumed with work. However, one of the cool work-related things I was able to do was attend a conference for Physical Education and Health teachers. No, I’m not teaching either of those subjects, but my job allows me to work really closely with those educators. Attending a conference where they expect you to get up and dance and play games was completely different than my previous conference-going experience.  But it was really fun! Kinda made me want to be a PE teacher!

One of the coolest parts of the conference was the Keynote session with Jeff Glasbrenner. Jeff is a world champion wheelchair basketball player who is also an Ironman. And by Ironman, I don’t mean he’s done just one Ironman. Check out his resume, he did 9 in 2010 alone! Jeff lost both legs in a tragic farming accident as a young boy, and he told his story at this conference. It was really inspiring to hear him speak about overcoming challenges, and his positive attitude is contagious.

The conference was in Orlando, so I was able to spend some time with Bill 🙂 Unfortunately, we didn’t have too much time together before he needed to head out for a contract, and I had to get back to work. But, while I was in Orlando, my marathon training plan called for a 12 miler. I didn’t really know where to go to run in Orlando, so I sent out a tweet to ask for suggestions. As it turned out, Kelly, Michelle, and Paula were all headed out for a long run together, so I tagged along. Score! Running with people is so much better than running alone!

Speaking of marathon training, its…going….I have been doing my best to keep up with my miles, but it was really hard to do so last month. I think the sporadic training left me tapered for my first race of the season. At the beginning of March, I ran the Gasparilla half marathon right here in Tampa. How could I not, when the starting line was a mile from my house, the course is along the beautiful Bayshore Drive, and the course is as flat as a pancake!? It’s a pretty popular race actually; all of the ladies in the above picture ran it too, and so did Mary, Courtney, and Meghann.

The half marathon is actually part of a whole racing weekend, which includes 4 races with staggered start times, so that you can actually compete in all 4! The mileage for all of the races ends up being approximately 20 miles or so, and when you’re done, you can say that you “ran for the booty” because you walk away with 5 medals! Check out Mary’s recap; she did all four races. What a rockstar!

I stuck to one race, and got one pretty sweet medal:

This was my first half marathon since I did the Country Music 1/2 marathon in April of 2007, before I really got into running and triathlons. On race day, I was a bit worried because minutes before I stepped out my door to run to the starting line, the skies opened up and rained BUCKETS of water. Fortunately, it was a typical Florida storm, and didn’t last terribly long. I was able to run to the start in just a little bit of misting rain. Thankfully, the rain cooled the air down, but the storm brought some serious gusts of wind. They didn’t bother me much throughout the race though.  When it was all said and done, I  actually surprised myself with my performance! I ended up with a PR (by about 20 minutes or so), crossing the line in 1:53.29! Even more surprising was the fact that I negative split the race! Wowza!

I get another chance to run a half marathon this weekend- I’m headed back to DC for the DC Rock N Roll USA half marathon! Who else is going to be there? I’m really excited to get back to DC and see all my friends and the city I love:-) Hit me up if you’re in town!

Still riding the high from the half marathon, I decided to start investigating some triathlons. I recalled a rumor I had heard last fall that Rev3 was starting a new race in Florida. As it turned out, registration had officially opened and there were only a few hours left to register before the price increased. You all know I can’t resist discounted registration so I clicked a few buttons, filled out a form, and $210 later:

Half Ironman, here I come!

So, there you have it! That’s a little bit of what I’ve been up to over the past month and a half! Now I’m going to go hang out with these guys while I wait for the pool to open:-) Enjoy your day friends!

Question of the day: How have you been keeping busy this month?