A Good Way To Start The Morning

Sometimes you feel like getting a little exercise while on vacation and this was one of those days. Having lived in Phoenix for 4 years, we did quite a few hikes, mostly over at South Mountain park, but never Piestewa Peak, which is north by Paradise Valley.

I had contacted one of our new sales gents a few months prior to let him know I would be in town, knowing that this particular hike was one that he does a few times a week. He was gracious enough to allow me to tag along for an early morning version of the hike.

We met at the parking lot at 5:45am to get the hike in before the work day started. Although I was on vacation, I wanted to get to see Simon and try the fairly steep peak. The hike covers approximately 1.2 miles up, with a vertical climb of almost 1,200 feet. The path is very well cut (into rock), but we did the incline in the dark so it was a challenge for a first timer. Not too many people on the path, but those that were on the path, had headbands with lights, or were using their cell phones.

Simon has done the hike regularly, so he knew the path very well and took off at a quick pace. I tried to keep up, but was second guessing my footing, despite his cell phone light, which was a little too far out in front of us to be useful for me. I eventually pulled out my phone to light up the path, by which time Simon had a bit of a lead on me. A combination of caution and getting stuck behind a few slower folks had me loose site of him. This caused me to make two wrong turns that I had to backtrack from and find my way. By the time I caught up with him, he had made it to the top and had come back down about 30 yards where he met me on my ascent. He went back up to the top with me where I was rewarded by a pre dawn view of the city.

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On the way down, Simon was doing a speed decent and took a bad tumble. He popped back up and said he was ok, and seemed so all the way down and during our work conversation in the parking lot. But about 30 minutes later when I sat down back at the hotel, I received the following two images via text.

StitchesPhotographic evidence that it was not a harmless tumble, but instead a gash that required 5 stitches to close up. I joked with him that I hoped this was not his contract signing hand, as it is end of the year for the sales team. Nope, he is right handed so he can sign away and enjoy a Christmas pint at the pub.

I will recap the rest of the trip in another post.

Life is Moving Fast

Thought I would be back on track in the last few weeks with my training, but work had different plans for me. We are very much underwater with too few resources and too much business, so most of my days start when it is dark and end when it is dark. That makes it difficult to get any training in at all.

I have always had a challenge with working out too late in the evening as it keeps me from getting meaningful sleep. This makes it hard to get up the next day and makes the day even longer. The cycle is vicious and impactful.

Not sure what I am going to do about this as my next race is in about a month and I have given in to the fact that I will need to walk run to make it through. It makes me cringe to say that but if I push too hard, it will be very difficult to recover so I can start training for my next race.

Back in the Saddle

Travel has been crazy the last few months (writing this while sitting in a seat on a flight from MSP to PHX), and I don’t see it getting too much better. My training has definitely suffered as it is had to find time to get even a small run in. The body and mind are willing but the location is not always able. I know I can try harder to make that happen and I need to do that soon, as the Dark Side Half in Disneyworld  in April is going to be painful.

I had hoped to finally get my sub 2 hour PR but I don’t think that is possible now. Running is not something you can catch up in quickly like catching up on email or even sleep. If you don’t put the mile in, you don’t get the results. You can’t do 11 tomorrow if you got 5 in two days ago but missed your 6 yesterday. That would not only be painful but also foolish for your body.

The good news is I was able to get into the Disneyland Paris Inaugural Half Marathon in September so I have plenty of time to train for the PR during that race.

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The focus not is planning for runs during travel, even if it means inclement weather locations like Minnesota this week. I have never had good luck with my lungs and running in cold weather, it always end up in a hacking cough and sickness. Perhaps I need to look into a nationwide chain of fitness centers like LifeTime, or even check on day passes if the weather is bad and my hotel does not have facilities. I have some homework to do.

Australia 2015

As I mentioned in a previous post, I had an opportunity to go to Australia at the end of 2015 to spend Christmas with my son. As with any trip I learned a bit about what I liked and what I would do differently next time I come down.

The first thing I would do is spend more time here. I really only had 4 days to spend on activities as you loose (literally) the first day traveling (getting from Phoenix to LA, a layover then a 15 hours flight to Australia) and loose a day (but gain a calendar day) going back.

The other thing I would do is get out of the city more. Although there is quite a bit to see in Sydney, I want to get into the country more next time and see what I envisioned Australia to be like. We did visit a few beaches (Bondi and Manley) and did the usual items like the Opera House, Darling Harbor, worlds largest IMAX, Paddy’s Market, Royal Botanic Gardens, Contemporary Art Museum and the water ferry system. We also walked about 10 miles a day and even got a good run in.

Of the two beaches we visited, I prefer Manly because it has more space and has more variety of places to get food and drink nearby. We did visit Bondi on Christmas day so it was packed and all the restaurants there had all in one pricing as they had a captive audience.

I was scheduled to leave Monday so we decided to do the Sydney Bridge Climb on Sunday late in the afternoon. Sunday turned out to be an overcast day which is OK as we overdid it and Bondi, and my Irish skin was cooked despite sunscreen on MOST areas.

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I highly suggest the climb, even if you are scared of heights. Matt is not a heights person, and I have been known to get the heebie jeebies as well, but after talking to a few locals on the ferry to Manly who are also scared of heights, they both agreed that as long a you don’t look straight down, it is one of the best experiences in the city. It is not cheap and as of this writing the cost is $293.00 per person Australian or $213 US per person after the conversion.

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We arrived about 15 minutes before our scheduled 3PM departure and ended up being two of the four Americans in the group along with a big family of 8 from Argentina. The other two Americans were high school aged girls from Santa Monica and Portland respectively visiting the California girls uncle who lives in Sydney.

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The thorough prep instructions and gear up session took almost 40 minutes from the time we walked in to the time we clipped on the guide cable for the start of our walk.

I wont give a step by step review, but let me just say, WOW, what an experience, and doubly so that I got to do it with my son. Unfortunately, my daughter and wife would never  have been able to complete it because of the height, so it was good that we were able to take advantage of opportunity.

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We had a fantastic guide named Phoebe (smelly cat), who was very bubbly and knowledgeable about the history of the bridge and city itself, and there was not a question she could not answer. She was sure to include everyone in the conversations and her jokes (both good and bad) throughout the 2 plus hour climb and decent. one of the highlights for me was seeing one of the P&O cruise ships leave port and go right under us as we were almost at the top of the bridge. It really showed how high we were and how big those ships are.

When we reached the top, the wind was whipping at about 35 kph which was a bit unnerving, but Phoebe said they still lead groups if the wind is 90 kph or less, so more than twice what we were feeling.

One the way down Phoebe talked about the accidents and deaths that had happened during the construction of the bridge (only 16 over the 8 year project) and that only 3 actually happened on the steel. She  purposefully waited till the down trip so as to not make anyone to nervous on the way up.

When we returned to the equipment room to take off our gear, there we square holes in the wall that measured about 16 inches by 16 inches. All participants were to put their gear in the correct hole, like straps in one, kerchiefs  in another and our pillow like fleece bundles on another. I decided to try a jump shot from about 8 feet away and the father of the Argentina group  saw me may the motion and he put up his had to stop me and said “10 dollars you don’t make it.” I said ‘You’re on’. I proceeded to sink the shot which got his whole family whooping and laughing. I turned to him and said  ‘that is 10 dollars US, not Australian’. He wanted to redeem himself so he suggested if he makes his we are even. I agreed, and he proceeded to brick it. USA, USA, USA. You cant beat a guy who grew up going to see Michael Jordan. I decided not to be ‘that guy’ (with some suggestion from Matt) and let him slide. After the climb, we walked back to Darling Harbor to meet two of Matts co workers for dinner by the water, some ice cream and one final walk back to the Westin before we turned in.

We took a taxi to the Airport on Monday  for our flight, breezed through security and gained access to the Quanta First lounge. This was my first ‘first’ lounge experience and I am now spoiled for all other travel. I have never had such a pleasant experience including full free breakfast, at any airport. Now I know is was not actually free, as getting to Executive Platinum had considerable cost to it, but just being handed a full breakfast menu with no prices on it was strange and a bit exciting.

I am writing the rest of this from the plane, flight 72 back to LA. I was able to use my system wide  upgrades  to get  business class pods  for both Matt and I, so I am looking forward to getting some sleep on the 14 hour flight back. I know there has been some controversy on the availability of system wides and when they clear, but these two cleared for me 3 days before. I did need to call the Executive Platinum desk to get a system wide added to Matts reservation, but the rep was able to clear both of us all the way through to Phoenix.

I would (will) go back at some point in the future and will use what I learned on this trip to make it an even better experience next time.

A Busy 2013

It has been quite a year since I last posted to the blog. My next post was going to be about the 2013 Disney Marathon but between then and now I have taken a new job, my father in law passed away and I sold my house, twice.

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I have been heads down with the new job traveling quite a bit so my postings have taken a back seat to day to day operations. I will expand on all the above events very soon, but for now, its good to be back.

A Very Expensive Upgrade

I have been traveling quite a bit with my new job which involves lots of planning. We don’t have a travel planner or anyone at our organization that handles that function so it is up to me to juggle schedules with all the clients. Now this is fine with me because there are no errors in scheduling because of lost emails or missed phone calls, and if a client has to reschedule I can pull up the calendar and immediately make the change to the next available opening.

So this week I was looking to reserve a car for my sons Sports Management Banquet in Slippery Rock, PA. Lately I have been renting with Enterprise because they consistently have the lowest price and are at just about every airport I fly into. This time however, Hertz had a better price for the same location and duration. I will usually reserve the subcompact if I am by myself then get an upgrade at the counter since I rent so much (dinner for one Mr.Durden?). So I went through the usual selection and saw the were a few incremental upgrades, like going from a subcompact to a compact for 95 cents more per day (take it). Compact to Standard for $3.00 more total (take it). Full Size for $7.00 more total (take it). But then the next jump was ridiculous and had to be a mistake. Upgrade to a premium for ‘less’ than $1322.00. That’s a very expensive upgrade.

Expennsive HErtz Upgrade

At that point I had to back out to see what the daily rate was for that car and it was over $900 per day. Must run on rainbows and single barrel bourbon! I am tempted to call Hertz just to see if anyone noticed that rate and why it could be so high, but I am sure someone keyed it in wrong.

I had a similar experience down in Orlando about 15 years ago on one of our trips to Disney World before they had the Magical Express. I was looking at prices for rental cars and usually use Hertz at MCO because they have the gold service where the car is waiting for you and jut just put your bags in it and go. During my research I found a minivan (which I swore never to buy) that was available for $22.00 per day. Now, $22.00 per day for any car during peak season is awesome, but for a minivan it is incredible. Minivans are usually close to $100.00 per day in some locations during low season.

When I returned the car after our week there, the attendant printed out my receipt and had to do a double take. She said, ‘wow this is really cheap for a minivan’. I just smiled and said yes it is.

Workout While on the Road

I was traveling again this week and had a chance to try out the Westin WorkoutWestin Bag while staying and the Westin Imagine in Orlando, right across the street from the convention center. Trying to workout while on the road can always be a challenge, but at process at least helps simplify the solution. During check-in, I mentioned that I would like to participate in the rental of the workout gear. The woman checking me in simply asked what size shoes, shit and shorts I needed (woman can get capri pants or a sports bra as well). We finished check-in, and she stepped away for maybe 3 minutes before returning with a mesh draw string bag that contained all the gear. She explained that I just needed to leave the gear in the bag in my room when I was leaving for checkout (I was staying for only one night) and that I would be charged a small fee of $5 for the rental. The rental also includes a pair of padded shortie New Balance socks that you get to keep, so the total cost is really just a few bucks.

Westin GearAll four items in the bag were clean and fresh smelling and the shoes and socks were brand new. The shoes were in the retail box with the normal crushed paper stuffed in each shoe and the socks still had the not for resale zip tag on them. Also included in the bag was a 10% off coupon for a next purchase on New Balance gear from the New Balance website, and a small postcard explaining the program and the philosophy of the program. You can also request maps of local running trails or paths when you request your gear. I did not this time as I knew my time for a run was short (explained below).

Each item fit very well and the shoes themselves were fresh, shiny New Balance model 759s. The shoes were very light and comfortable to wear. I laced them up and went downstairs for a quick workout. I unfortunately had recent back surgery (external) so I was only able to do a quick run so as to not aggravate the wound. Since I knew I would not get to do a full 1 hour test of the shoes, I had planned to go over to Downtown Disney and walk over to Saratoga Springs for dinner, wearing the shoes as a test.

Westin Shoes

I spent a good 3 hours in the shoes today and overall was impressed with their weight, comfort and size. They felt a bit less  supportive than my Brooks Adrenaline 11’s, but I think I need a 1/2 size smaller next time. I was not a picky during this process as I would normally be if I was buying so I just estimated on the size I normally wear.

Bottom line is this is a great program if you forget your workout gear or if you just want to try some new equipment. The possible downside is the property could be really busy with health conscious gests and could be sold out (rented out) of your size. Since this program is so new, that was not an issue for me. I will be adding this to my list of positives when I am deciding on which property to stay as during my business trips.

What do you do to stay on track for your workouts when you are on the road? Please leave a comment.

Westin Now Offers Workout Gear During Your Stay

Being on the road so much I needed to choose a hotel loyalty program that meets my needs and has properties in most of my destinations. I choose two a few years ago and have attained top level status for both of them. I choose Priority Club because you can find a Holiday Inn or one of their other properties in pretty much any town in the US or Canada, and I choose SPG because I live the rooms, the upgrades and the points I can earn with Sheraton and Westin properties.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Westin has recently started a program called the WestinWorkout whereby guests at a Westin property can ‘rent’ gear from New Balance during their stay. In addition to gear, the hotel will provide running maps for local routes and in-room video workouts to help you stay on your training track when you are away from home.

If you ever wanted to try New Balance shoes (I am a Brooks guy myself), this would be a great way to be able to do so at very little cost. They are offering the 759 as their rental shoe as of this article. For clothing, they offer the NP Short and Tech Tee for men and the Fitness Capri and the Tonic Crop plus CB Tempo Short Sleeve Tee for women. The product types and availability will vary by property so you should check before you arrive at your hotel.

If you don’t like the idea of wearing someone else’s clothes, thoroughly washed or not, you can wear your own, but this is great if you forgot to pack your own stuff and want to stay on your training regiment. I buy lots of my items at the local thrift store so this does not bother me at all.

The email I received says the rental is only $5 for shoes and clothing but does not say if it is $5 each or for the whole package. I will do a little research and find out. You can find more information at westinnewbalance.com.

I have two stay in Florida this month so I will try the rental program and report back.

Happy running.

Update: I called the Westin Imagine in Orlando and she confirmed that it is a flat $5 fee which includes the shoes and the clothing.

My First Letter to the Editor

Today there was an article in the Sunday Chicago Tribune about visiting Disney World. I felt compelled to write a few comments to the editor based on the comment that one of the benefits of staying at a Disney property was the free use of transportation. While this is true, it is not only available to those who pay to stay on property. Any guest to the parks has free use of all Disney transportation including the bus system, the Monorail and the boats. Once you have parked at one of the lots for one of the parks, you can use any of the transportation that will get you to other parks, hotels, water parks, Downtown Disney/West End etc.

Parking for the theme parks is not free if you arrive by car, but the cost of you parking at a Disney hotel is not really free either if you have arrived by car, as you have paid to stay at that hotel.

So if you did drive to a park, spend a little time exploring the rest of Walt Disney World via their hassle free transportation system.

I Did Go to Disneyland

DisneyLand 002It has been over 25 years since I last visited Disneyland. It was a trip I took with my soon to be wife as a day trip when we were in Palm Springs. I was excited to see how things have changed and looked forward to sharing the experience with my daughter before she went off to college. She has been to Disneyworld quite a few times since she was 2, but this would be her first ever visit to Disney on the left coast.

We spent some time planning the trip as I always like to do so that we would be sure to fit all the activities into a quick weekend, including a trip to the beach and an Angels game (I wanted to check another Major League stadium off my list). We decided we would do the ball game the Friday night we arrived, visit the parks on Saturday and go to Huntington Beach on Sunday before we drove to the airport.

We took an early flight to LA from Chicago and arrived at before noon. I had gotten a good price on an Advantage rental car from www.autoslash.com, so we took the shuttle over form the airport to pick up the car. A word of advice if you are renting from the. Their location is a good 10 – 15 minutes away from the airport, dropped in the middle of an industrial neighborhood so make sure you make note of the address and put it in your GPS if you have one. It is NOT easy to find on the return and my Google maps took us to the wrong place (similar address the first time). We secured the vehicle, a KIA soul, or toaster as some call it, which Jenna was not too thrilled about, but I enjoy driving something different when I have the chance, even if it look weird. Weird is good.

I had reservation at the Sheraton with a high floor facing the Disney parks and we were not disappointed with the floor to ceiling windows with gave us a great view of the fireworks each night. What we were disappointed with was the amount of time if took to get into the room. It ended up taking more two hours to get into our room, but luckily I had suggested to Jenna that we grab out suits, stow the baggage and head to the pool instead of waiting around in the lobby. We went up to the pool, it is on a deck in the center of the U shaped hotel, and got some California sun and a drink while we waited.

After about 90 minutes our German/Irish skin exposed to some color, we headed back down to the lobby to try to check in. Still not ready so we grabbed a coffee in the lobby Starbucks and waited another 20. We finally checked into the corner room facing the parks and although we had a view of the Cinderella castle the hotel DisneyLand 024is far enough away that the castle is only about an inch tall in the distance. We were not here for the view so it was no big deal but just be aware that you do pay a premium for park view and now with the addition of Cars land, you are looking at the back of Radiator Springs which is just a view of a bunch of rust colored girders.

We got cleaned up and drove about 2 miles down the road to Angels stadium for the ball game. I had not purchased tickets ahead of time so there was a brisk line of people buying same day seats. The stadium is now part of the Disneyland half marathon so you get to run into and out of the stadium if you decide to run that particular race. It was a perfect night for a game and we enjoyed some of the local ballpark fare ( some Rudy’s Steak sliders and a strawberry shake) for dinner and walked all around the park before heading back to the hotel. The Angels ending up winning in extra innings.

The next morning we were up early so we could be at the park for rope drop. Early AM is not Jenna’s favorite time of the day so I appreciated her indulging me on this trip. We planned on Disneyland first to hit the classics and then California Adventure in the afternoon to see some of the new rides, some of which we had experienced already in Florida.

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I made my first mistake early which I have done once before in Disneyworld. I got on a motion ride first thing, with no food in my stomach. I have a pretty wimpy dizzy factor when it comes to motion rides so I need to be careful. I hate to say no to the kids but there are just some things I can never do, like Mission Space in Disneyworld, and sometimes not even Expedition Everest. This morning we decided to do Space Mountain first as there was no line out of the gate and The Matterhorn was closed for renovation (sad face).

The California version of Space Mountain ‘seemed’ to be darker and faster than the Florida version, plus it is two seats wide instead of a single. It took me about 1 minute before I was dizzy and trying to keep from throwing up what little I had in my stomach from the night before. We exited the ride and I had to sit down for a minute to stop the spinning before we walked a few yards to the Nemo submarines.

Jenna was too young to remember the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea subs at Disneyworld so she was excited to try this one and enjoyed the effects of the Finding Nemo characters projected into the water outside the sub windows. I enjoyed the subs in Florida so this brought back some good memories.

Next was a ride you can only do in Disneyland now as they closed the one in Florida; Mr Toad’s Wild Ride. This was another one that she really does not remember as it has been closed for a while. The joke in our family is that the ride was closed because of my wife. On one of our trips to Disneyworld. Lorie was on the ride with Matt while I was sitting outside with Jenna. The ride stopped as they sometimes do for various reasons, so they were both stuck inside the non moving ride while the doors between rooms continued to open and close with the music still playing. The recording to stay in your cars played occasionally as they waited for a good 10 minutes for the ride to start. Lorie is a bit claustrophobic and Matt was getting a bit upset himself, so Lorie decided to get out of the car with him and try to find the exit. That is a Mickey No No. As soon as they got out of the car and headed for one of the doors, the ride started up, but it was too late to get back into their original car. They had to press up against wall, wait for a door to open then rush into the next room avoiding the passing cars. The repeated this process until they found the exit and walked out to some very surprised cast members. She received a scolding and was on her way. The next year we visited the park the ride was closed. Thanks Lorie.

After Mr. Toad, we headed for my two favorites; the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. They were both as awesome as I remember, except for DisneyLand 013the insertion of the movie characters in the Pirates attraction. It was nice to share them with her for her first rides on the classics. I had always wanted to eat at the Blue Bayou restaurant which you see when you first get in the boats for the Pirates attraction so we had made a reservation for that evening. I will come to find later that the kitchen that serves this restaurant also servers the private Club 33 which you can see from any of the outside tables at Blue Bayou.

We spent the rest of the day hopping back and fourth between the two parks trying things we had not done before and comparing rides we had experienced in Florida like Soarin’. As the lines started to get longer we were able to do less and less rides so we just walked around and did some people watching until dinner.

One of the areas we went to was the animation exhibit where we me a new friend. I really like the fact that Disney has the cast members put their home town on their name tags. I always look for towns I know and have even seen a cast member from Downers Grove where we live. This time as we were entering the animation area, I noticed the gentleman (Disney Dan as he calls himself) was from Niles, IL. I struck up a conversation with him and we talked for a good 30 minutes about what brought him out here, what different jobs he has done over the years and how he landed with Disney. Turns out he is a member of Club 33 and offered to get us in for dinner there. Now this is no simple feat as it is a private club, and I felt bad turning him down as I had wanted to eat a Blue Bayou for more than 30 years. He made me promise to take him up on it next time I am here, with advanced notice. I agreed and was happy to have made a new friend. We have kept in contact and I plan on getting out there soon to take him up on it.

We headed off to Blue Bayou and had just an outstanding meal. as we were dining I noticed a set of stairs and a terrace up and to our left where may of the wait staff were going with trays of food. I asked our waiter what that was and that is when I found out that our kitchen also served Club 33. I now have that to look forward to next time I/we visit.

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After our fantastic dinner, we crossed over to California adventure where they had set up a Tron Legacy area that was open only in the evenings. They had a Flynn’s arcade were we spent some time playing some of the classic arcade cabinet games, like Zaxxon, Frogger and Robotron.

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Just outside the arcade in the court yard they had created a large dace area and bar like Zeus’ club in the movie. They had cast members dressed as Tron characters including Zeus with his cane and had thumping music and light shows. I grabbed an adult beverage with a light up ice cube, Jenna had something soft and we enjoyed watching everyone do their best ‘ You Got Served’ dance moves. A nice way to end the evening before our walk back to the hotel.

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The next morning we checked out, got in the car and headed for Huntington Beach so Jenna could see the Pacific and the beach scene. We lucked out and there was a HUGE pro surf competition, so the whole town and beach was packed with every shape, size and color of humanity. We wandered around the beach and pier before we grabbed some lunch at one of the little sidewalk cafes. Jenna grabbed some souvenirs for her friends and we were off to the airport for our flight home.

Although it was a quick three days, we packed a lot in and I had a fantastic time with Jen. It took me a long time to get around to writing this post, but the upside it it gives me time to go through the whole weekend again, which is why I am typing this with a big smile on my face.

Thanks Jen, I had a great time.