Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Christmas Town at Busch Gardens Tampa


My family and I visited Busch Gardens Christmas Town on this year's opening day, November 28th.  My boys were thrilled that their oldest brother and his son joined us for the day at Busch Gardens.

After parking and riding the tram to the park's front entrance, we were greeted by playful elves and stacks of huge ornaments.  I noticed lights and garland decorated the ticket booths and awnings.



Christmas Town transformed Busch Gardens Tampa into a holiday wonderland.  I hadn't realized that the entire park was Christmas Town (instead of a small area within the park). We found lights, carols and tasty treats of the season.  All of the shows were reformatted to have a Christmas theme. Even the park map was replaced with a Busch Gardens Christmas Town map.


Thousands of twinkling lights surrounded many of the Busch Gardens' trees.  Holiday characters, like snowmen, spread cheer throughout the park.  Enormous Christmas trees decorated seasonally named areas like Three Kings Oasis and Christmas Time Terrace.  I loved the organic nativity scene, made of plants and straw.


A 50-foot tree light show that came to life every ten minutes


The sign reads "The tradition of Christmas lights comes from early Christians who displayed lit candles to represent that Jesus is the light and hope of the world".






Live band in Holiday Hills
I was excited to board the Christmas Town Express sing-a-long train!  I sang along to my favorite holiday songs until I had tortured my 10 year old enough (he was lucky enough to sit next to me).

Christmas Town Village was the perfect spot to buy gifts or yummy holiday treats like warm cookies, hot chocolate, or waffles.  My boys enjoyed watching the electric trains go around and around.  The younger kids could go for a ride on the Jingle Bell Express next to the electric trains.







Our entire family had a wonderful day visiting Busch Gardens Christmas Town.  Dylan even wanted a Santa hat tiger to remember the day (his words as he talked me into buying him a souvenir).




Busch Gardens Christmas Town is open 23 select dates from Nov. 28 through Dec. 31, 2014. You may experience all of the Christmas celebrations throughout the day with your park admission.  Park closing times range from 8pm to 9pm throughout the event.

Disclaimer: I was given 4 tickets to Busch Gardens as a Busch Gardens Ambassador.  All opinions are my own.
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Monday, November 24, 2014

A Day at Busch Gardens Tampa


This month my family and I visited Busch Gardens Tampa.  We had not been to the local theme park in a couple of years so it was fresh and exciting for my boys.  The weather was perfectly cool with a clear blue sky and warm sunshine.

I simply love Busch Gardens!  Being a Tampa native, roller coaster junkie, animal lover and former employee, I've visited Busch Gardens more times than I can count. I know this park from top to bottom and enjoyed the recent changes since the last time we visited.

The biggest change was Timbuktu became Pantopia.  The new vivid colors and building decorations were fantastic!  Timbuktu was always a hot area with plain brown buildings that blindingly, reflected the sun.  Not anymore, now that it changed into Pantopia, it was cool and colorful with more shade trees, decorative water fountains, and less cacti.  I loved the theming!


Pantopia was also home to Busch Gardens' new ride Falcon's Fury.  My husband, Mike, and my 10 year old, Dylan, went on Falcon's Fury but Jared and I sat out that time around.  Dylan was impressed that he could see over Sheikra from the top of Falcon's Fury at 335 ft in the air.  Then, the ride turned their seats face down to prepare for the drop at 60 mph.  Mike and Dylan were a little nervous at first, but thoroughly enjoyed the 5-6 second free fall.



Also new to Pantopia was Opening Night Critters which featured rescued dogs, cats, birds, a rat, horse, and kangaroo.  My boys loved seeing the rescued animals have fun on stage with their human co-stars.  They even got to meet some of the furry stars after the show.


I love the intense look of love in Dylan's eyes

Of course we couldn't miss all of the animals.  I always loved the nocturnal cave and the meerkats.  My boys loved seeing the hyena up close and personal.  After seeing the hyena's hair and spots, they thought our newest dog, Rocco, might be part hyena.  He certainly acts like a wild animal!!


Meerkat on a mound posed with my boys
 

And last but not least, the Busch Gardens' roller coasters.  This was Dylan's first ride on the big coasters.  The last time we visited Busch Gardens, he was not tall enough.  He rode those coasters like a pro!  Montu was his favorite with it's 60 ft vertical loop, Immelman loop, zero-G roll and intense 3.85 G pull.  Dylan road Montu 5 times!


My favorite coaster at Busch Gardens was Cheetah Hunt.  This coaster started with a 30 mph launch that took us up, around and down a big drop.  Cheetah Hunt launched us two more times with a top speed of 60 mph and 4 Gs.


Boys ready to ride Cheetah Hunt

Cheetah Hunt
Jared and Dylan even got me to ride Sheikra again.  Its 200 feet high, 90 degree drop down at 70 mph, freaked me out in the past.  But I rode it for my boys and it wasn't as scary as I remembered.  The back row was better for me so I didn't have to look over the edge for those agonizing 5 seconds before the first drop.  It was a gorgeous day to be at Busch Gardens Tampa!


Sheikra

Are you a roller coaster junkie or animal lover?

Disclaimer: As a Busch Gardens Tampa Ambassador, I received 4 tickets to the park.  All opinions are my own.

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Savannah Rock n Roll Half Marathon Recap 2014


My very first half marathon was from the Rock n Roll series in St. Pete, FL so I decide to give Savannah, GA a try.  A girls' weekend with my Suncoast Strider running peeps.

With a new marathon PR under my belt, I wanted to run a half marathon under 2:00 hours.  I wasn't sure if Savannah would be the place I'd try or if I wanted to enjoy my run.  Because let's face it, if I'm trying to PR or beat a time, I'm not enjoying the pace I have to keep.  I picked up a free pace bracelet from the expo incase I decided to go for under 2 hours...at an average 9:09 pace for 13.1 miles.  Yikes!

photo by David
I had a great time at the Savannah Rock n Roll Expo!  Some of the vendors had discounted shirts, jewelry and PB2 for only $5.  I loved getting deals at this expo instead of everything being full price.  After a little sight seeing, dinner and hotel drama, I settled in for a fantastic night sleep.  The start corrals were literally right in front of our hotel on Bay Street.


Pre-race team pic, photo by David
The weather was a cool 46 degrees and crisp with humidity.  I had another throw-away jacket from Goodwill to keep me warm while I waited in my corral for the race to start.  I decided to try for a 2 hour finish time.  I honestly didn't think I'd get close because my weekday runs sucked since Chicago and I didn't do any runs longer than 6 miles.  My friend, Patty, offered to try to pace me for a 2:00 finish time.

My corral started shortly after 7:00am.  After warming up, I tossed my jacket about a quarter mile into the course.  Patty and I were going strong, keeping a nice pace.  I wasn't used to running with Patty and knew she ran faster than me so that pushed me a little because I didn't want to hold her back.  At about mile 3 when I started to feel the effects of my exertion, I told Patty that she didn't have to stay with me if she wanted to take off, but she stayed.

I ate a vanilla GU with caffeine WHILE I RAN.  I finally mastered that task while running.  Yeah me!!  If only I could drink water without spilling or pouring it up my nose, while running.  That caffeine GU gave me a boost!  I felt great for the next couple of miles.

I loved the course so far with even streets and cheering spectators along the way.  Handmade signs always make me smile.  This race my favorite was "You've got stamina, call me".  The water stations were well managed and the GU station was clearly visible.  At about mile 7, Patty needed to slow down but she told me to keep going.  I felt great so I continued on the course.

I needed some energy around mile 10 so I tried the salted watermelon GU.  Not my favorite, nor will I try it again.  According to my free pace bracelet, I was more than a minute behind pace.  At this point, I stopped looking at my Garmin and pace bracelet and just ran the 5K I had left.  I knew I wouldn't be under 2:00 but thought I could still PR.


The last part of the course (it felt like a mile but was probably a quarter mile) was a continuous incline to the finish line.  I had a little bit of a sprint in me as I crossed the finish line with a new PR of 2:02:26!

photo by David
You can't see the chocolate milk in my right hand but it was cold and delicious after running 13.1 miles.  I drank two!

photo by David
photo by David
We ran in support of Friedreich's Ataxia, a progressive neuro-muscular disease, for Team Gavin & Team Mike.  With permission from his doctor, Mike ran the entire half marathon!  We were so proud of our fellow Strider and his accomplishment!

Mike in blue surrounded by his supporters
It was another beautiful day in gorgeous Forsyth Park where we got to see Phillip Phillips in concert!  We sang along, danced and enjoyed life.

5K: 28:55
10K: 57:36
10 miles: 1:32:53
Division: 187/1195
Gender: 1308/7327
Overall: 2709/10603
Avg pace: 9:20
Chip time: 2:02:26


My next half marathon is in 3 weeks at Space Coast.  Will I get under 2:00???

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Chicago Marathon Recap 2014


I always wanted to run one of the big city marathons so when my cousin Erin moved to Chicago, it was the perfect time to make that happen.  I suggested Erin and her husband Alex run the marathon with me and what do you know, they signed up for it too!  2014 was the first year for the Chicago Marathon lottery and as luck would have it, all three of us won the lottery and registered to run 26.2 miles through the windy city!


After 20 weeks of training, with a slight interruption for influenza B, Mike and I were on our way to Chicago for the October 12th race and my 5th marathon.  We arrived Thursday afternoon so we had plenty of time to visit with Erin and Alex and see some of the city.

Walking along Lake Michigan

Relaxing our nerves at the ale house

On Saturday we visited the Expo for packet pickup and shopping.  This was a nice, big expo with lots of venders and fun pre-race activities.  Even Mike enjoyed the expo samples!





Marathon morning was finally here!  First time marathoners, Erin and Alex, were a little nervous.  I tried to give helpful tips to ease their nerves.  One tip was to use body glide in lots of places because races cause you to chafe in weird places you've never chafed in before.



The temperature was in the high 40s that morning but Erin and I stuck with our matching running tanks.  We kept warm before the start with throw-away jackets that I found at Goodwill.  It warmed up nicely to the mid 60s which was perfect running weather!  FYI - all throw-away clothes are collected and donated to local charities.

Alex, Erin, and Me

My fellow Suncoast Striders
Our corral started slightly after 8:00am.  I was a bit chilly at first without my jacket but warmed up by mile 1.  My goal was to finish around 4:30, ideally by 4:29:59, so I started off at a nice pace that I hoped I could maintain throughout my 26.2 miles.  I needed an average pace of 10:18 to finish under 4 hours 30 minutes.  With all the tall buildings and tunnel we ran though, my Garmin's GPS was all over the place.  I didn't have an accurate average pace so I just ran and did my best!

The streets of Chicago were filled with spectators cheering for runners.  I loved the huge cardboard heads on sticks.  With over 40,000 athletes passing by, that was a great way to get a specific runner's attention.  The hand made signs were funny and made me smile. Especially the one that read "Smile if you just peed a little".  The energy in each of Chicago's neighborhoods was electric!  This was a perfect first marathon for Erin and Alex (and maybe their only according to Alex).

Around mile 7, I passed a young, fit looking, man lying in the middle of the race course receiving CPR by paramedics.  I thought about him throughout the rest of the race hoping he was ok.*

By mile 10 I thought, why am I doing this...I don't like the marathon distance...this should be my last marathon.  That was an early wall for me...usually I don't feel that way until mile 17-18.  I remembered my body was tired from three nights of not sleeping in my own bed.  I was in Chicago, maybe running my last marathon, so I made the best of it!

After that, I ignored the signs, tuned out the people and focused on the blue marathon course line...which I didn't notice until halfway through the race.  I also watched the road for uneven pavement and manholes that weren't flush with the road as I felt my legs get heavy.

In the last couple of miles, I really thought I might pass out.  I felt overheated, my fingers were tingling and my head was out of it.  I stopped for Gatorade and a short walk before hurdling the bridge on the last piece of the course. I ran in place on that mile 26 bridge.  There was no sprint in me at the end.  I felt like I might fall over at any moment.  My legs had never hurt so bad in my life.  But through it all, I finished my 5th marathon with a new PR!

I met my goal of around 4:30, coming in at 4:34:15.  My Garmin had me over 26.2 miles probably because I didn't stick close to the blue line in the first half.


Erin and Alex also met their goals coming in at 5:05 and 3:56 respectively.


I relaxed on the grass enjoying the gorgeous weather and sunshine.  I replaced my running shoes with my beloved flip-flops, noting that I didn't have a single blister on my feet. I met up with some running buddies and enjoyed our victories over the Chicago Marathon!




Place Gender

7995/18402
Place Age Group1157/2641
Place Overall22215/40598
Finish Time04:34:15


That's a new PR for me!!  I shaved off over 15 minutes from my previous PR at A1A Marathon.  Another plus, no areas chafed and zero blisters on my feet!



*The man I saw receiving CPR on the course was 29 and ok after a hospital visit.

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