Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Springtime in December

I can't believe I haven't blogged since mid-November! What a slacker! Actually, life has become more hectic again. I started a new job in the middle of November, and with work/home/volunteering/running life to balance out, things have been busy for sure. Throw the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations in there and that equals not much time for typing about running. 
Somehow I've managed to at least keep my running going. I caught a head cold/sinus thing earlier in the month of December, but kept pushing through. Most of my running has been shorter distances at the gym on the treadmill. This has been fine given the winter weather (cold temps and dark mornings). 
But today was an amazing exception...we had 53 degree temps and sunshine, so I hit the road. It wasn't an easy run, but any outdoor distances I can do this time of year feel wonderful. I'm carrying around a bit of holiday (and general bad habit) weight gain, so it was a slow 10.7 miles, but at least I did it. I am on track to complete 100 miles for this month with only a few days left to make it happen. 
I missed more days near the beginning of December than I cared to, but many of those were due to my husband's travel schedule and not being able to get to the gym with my kids to care for. That's ok, a few longer runs have helped make up for it, and I should be fine in terms of hitting my goal for the month. I'm noticing that I need to try to be more consistent about my running days though. I can't blow off my workouts on days when I'm feeling lazy...those are the days I need to get the running done because I never know when I will have to miss a day due to schedules. I guess that is one of my New Year's resolutions. Be more consistent. That and to add more weight training. And to clean up my diet. Time to shed those extra pounds that have been creeping up on me. 
My family and I spent a fun night with two of our good friends last night. Dinner at our house to celebrate the holidays. We had a super time, and my friend Patti gave me the best gift. It made me laugh, and I love it so much! Here's a pic:

So I continue to put the miles on my sneakers...through December and on in to 2017. I wish you many happy and healthy miles in your new year, too.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

State #33, Marshall University Half Marathon,Huntington, WV, 11.6.16, Part

I had a pretty good night of sleep before the Marshall University half marathon which was helped along by the “fall back” of the clocks giving me an extra hour. Sort of. I still had to get up at 5 am to get going. It was an easy morning though. Everything went according to plan, and I managed to get myself to the MU stadium parking lot at 6:30 am, a half hour before the race started. 
Mugging with my morning coffee!
I tried to eat my oatmeal breakfast in the car when I got there, but for some reason, it just wasn’t going down. I don’t know if it was the oatmeal or the blueberries in it, but it just didn’t taste good. I chomped down a banana followed with a couple swigs of water and left it at that. 
Stadium view upon arrival.
It was pretty chilly (39 degrees) and very foggy when I arrived at the stadium. Runners seemed enthusiastic despite the cold. I made my last porta potty stop before heading to the starting line. I chatted with a couple of women while we waited. A student from Marshall University sang the National Anthem (and did a great job, by the way). The starting cannon was fired, which scared me out of my wits, and we were off. 

At the starting line with my garbage bag.
Starting line area.
The first loop of the race was done around the MU campus and residential area. There are also some commercial parts mixed in like fast food restaurants, the grocery store I stopped at the day before and some other shops. It was a pleasant, flat run to start, and the fog stayed with us to keep the sun out of our eyes which was good. 
After passing underneath the footbridges that connected university buildings over the road, we curved to the right and headed in to a more industrial area along the Ohio River. This was where I got my first glimpse of the flood wall I had read about in the Runner’s World article. I can see how it blocks the city from a beautiful part of nature. We passed by the businesses down in that area which were largely in warehouses and then curved down through a small park (Harris Riverfront Park) that ran along the river. It was beautiful, but we couldn’t see much of the river due to the fog.
We continued marching along through mostly residential areas, but it still had the flavor of an industrial location. I found myself running alongside a young boy as we turned left and up a hill past some antique shops. He was chugging right along, and I gave him some encouragement as we both pushed up the hill. It always blows me away when I see a kid of 12-13 years old out on the half marathon course. I never would have done anything like that as a kid! I give him a lot of credit. 
We continued through the residential areas and passed a Railroad Museum. It had old steam locomotives and railroad cars, and miniature buildings such as a gas station, train station, etc. The next main part of the race brought us along a wooded area that ran along a creek, called Ritter Park Trail. It was very pretty and a nice change from the industrial feel we already completed. The paved path gave way to a crushed gravel/packed dirt trail that followed the creek. The homes in this area were absolutely gorgeous! They were large and varied in architecture. It was a really different neighborhood than those I saw near the downtown area. 
The creek path opened up into Ritter Park which was lovely. It is a large park with footpaths, bridges, sculpture and green space in this neighborhood area of Huntington. It was my favorite part of the run up to this point. There were many spectators throughout the park, which is always helpful. 
I have to say, the West Virginians were quite creative in their handmade signs. Instead of seeing the usual "Worst Parade Ever" or "Run Faster! They are drinking all the beer at the finish line!" signs, I saw emoji signs (including the dreaded poop emoji), "You are running better than the government," and a bunch of others that I, for the life of me, cannot remember at all right now. This is one of those times I wish I could have a teeny, tiny camera mounted on myself during a race in order to capture all the fun moments. 
We ran a loop around Ritter Park and through a really fun water station at the corner of the park. It was filled with volunteers, including one in a gorilla costume, and they were blasting dance music...just what I needed to get me started on the return trip to the finish line. Exiting the park we had to diagonally cross an intersection (I think of 8th Street and 6th Avenue) and with all the excitement of the water station, the spectators and my general lack of focus at that moment, I got a little confused and didn't know where to go. Luckily, the volunteers in that area were ready and shouted/waved/pointed to guide me along. 
The last few miles back brought us back along the industrial area near the Ohio River and back through Harris Riverfront Park. We backtracked along the MU campus the way we originally came out, and the full marathoners took a turn to run through the campus and loop around to begin the whole route a second time. I was glad to be heading straight on toward the football stadium to finish.
I finished my run along the main road and entered in to the ramp bringing me onto the Marshall University football stadium field. As I ran through the tunnel and on to the turf, I was handed a football to run with (so much fun!). My first impression of the field was that it was so green! Green is the color of the MU team, so I think they must have had the artificial turf made to match their school colors. Wow! Talk about vibrant!
Inside the stadium, looking toward the finish line.
I ran the length of the football field, which was lined with American flags, and then turned the corner and ran back along the length again to the end zone. Along the way, I high-fived the buffalo mascot of Marshall University who was standing alongside our path, and then I finally crossed the end zone line where I spiked my football. Run and done! My finishing time was under two hours, 1:56:56, and I finished 10th in my age group. Hooray!
Selfies after finishing. 
Selfies after finishing.
I made my way through the finishing chute, collecting my medal and a bottled water, then I walked along the side of the field to find a place to stretch out. I took my time stretching and watching other runners finish. It was a really nice environment for all who were there. Eventually, I made my way out of the stadium and back out to the street where the starting line was. Other runners were continuing to come in, and I spied the food tent. They were giving out hamburgers and hotdogs! Since I hadn't had a substantial breakfast that morning, I scored a hamburger, and it was probably the most excellent hamburger I'd ever eaten. Just the perfect thing on a cold morning after you've just run 13 miles. YUM!
Walking along the street, cheering for full marathoners and halfers about to finish.
I walked along the main road, passing the university buildings and shouting encouragement to runners along the way. I was hoping to hit the campus bookstore to grab a couple of magnets for my kids, but it was closed. I decided to go visit the memorial fountain on campus that was erected to remember the people killed in the plane crash. I walked through the center of campus and found the fountain. To my surprise, the full marathoners were heading through this area (where they split from the course to do the second loop, they came through the center of camps and past the fountain) carrying carnations and laying them at the fountain as they ran by. Wow. What a moment. 
Memorial fountain. Note the runners leaving their carnations on the edge.
Closer view of the memorial fountain.
I met a man from Nebraska who was also visiting the fountain. He was there that day to run the 5K. He could no longer run long distances because of problems with his knees, but he still gets out there to race when possible. We chatted about the fountain and the tribute taking place with the runners that morning. We also chatted about races in Nebraska and elsewhere. We wished one another well, and I began my walk back to the car. I made one detour in to the local CVS to see if they had any MU magnets, but they didn't. I ended up having a nice chat with the woman working there. We chatted about Huntington and the university, the plane crash and the memorial service they do every year on November 14th. It was apparent that this community still feels the scars of that horrible tragedy.
I drove back to my hotel to shower, pack and rest a bit before heading to the airport. My flight wasn't until almost 4 pm, so I had some time to kill. I asked the guy working at the hotel desk if there was a gift shop somewhere nearby that I could visit to try to get the magnets. He directed me to the local mall, about 10 miles away, and off I went. Thankfully, when I got there and found the Hallmark store, they had the Marshall University magnets I so desperately sought. Mission Accomplished!
The return trip home was fine, despite a small delay getting out of West Virginia. The Marshall University half marathon was a great race, very well-organized and the course was varied enough so that it was interesting all along the way. West Virginians are super friendly and the Marshall University campus was a poignant place to visit. I'm glad I ran this race and feel as though I can say...I am Marshall!

Monday, November 7, 2016

State #33, Marshall University Half Marathon,Huntington, WV, 11.6.16, Part One

I arrived in West Virginia without any travel hang-ups, happy to be here in time to pick up my race number. The drive from the airport to the Marshall University/St. Mary's Medical Center area didn't take very long, and I easily found the race expo at the medical center.
As I drove into and through Huntington, though, I could see what the Runner's World article was getting at. Many homes in the area were run-down and many businesses were boarded up or closed. Aside from the grand university buildings and some surrounding homes, much of the area I drove through looked downtrodden. It made me sad to see the town this way.

Number, shirt and duffel bag from expo. Love the buffalo in running shoes!
The expo was lively and I got my number without a problem. I even managed to meet the race director and get a couple of last minute questions answered. Thanks, mister! I mentioned to him that I had read the article in Runner's World and that it must have been some good publicity for the race. He responded that he was rather upset by the article and the way it portrayed the town. He thought the town was painted in such a poor light and that all the people who lived here were generalized as Appalachian caricatures. I told him that I hadn't had that feeling about the article, but rather that it was showing a growing momentum for health in the area, thanks in part to events like the marathon. He was glad to hear that perspective, but I could see how someone from Huntington would feel differently about the way the city is portrayed in the article.
Placard sign at Marshall University.
Engineering building at MU. 
Science building at MU.
Campus housing along Fifth Avenue.
When I left the expo, I drove around the University campus a bit to get back around the one way streets to the grocery store I passed on my way in to the medical center. I grabbed some fruit and water and gatorade there (the usual), and some garbage bags (so I'd have one to wear in the morning), and then headed to my hotel which was a few miles outside of the downtown area.
Garbage bags for the morning chill.
Once at the hotel, I settled in, called home and then researched where I could get a decent plate of pasta. I settled on Rocco's in Ceredo, WV which was back toward the airport. The restaurant was already very crowded when I arrived at 5:30 pm, but I was able to grab a single seat in the bar for dinner. I ordered my usual spaghetti and meatballs, and it was perfect! 
Carb-ing up for the big race.
The restaurant was obviously a favorite in the area, and crowds kept coming in and the wait got to be fairly long. I ended up chatting with two women who sat next to me while they waited for their table. One lived in Indiana but was originally from WV and was back visiting her friend. They were nice to chat with. We talked a little bit about the race and Marshall University and a few other topics. They wished me well on the run when they left for their table.
It was really dark inside the restaurant, so when I left and walked outside, it felt really weird that it was still light out. Thankfully it was still early (and we turn clocks back an hour tonight for extra sleep!) so that was good. I drove back to the hotel to get my things ready for the morning, do some blogging and turn in on the early side.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Heading to Huntington, WV

Just two weeks ago I was in St. Louis for my 32nd state half marathon, and now I find myself enroute to my 33rd in Huntington, West Virginia. Selecting this race wasn’t difficult, as it seemed like one that was well established (having been around for 12 years), was linked with both a medical center and university, and was accessible in the sense that it wasn’t completely in the middle of nowhere. I registered a few months back and put it on my calendar. 
Fast forward to my race trip to Milwaukee in September. I was reading my latest issue of Runner’s World magazine on the plane, and there was an article all about Huntington, WV and its status as the fattest/unhealthiest city in America (as determined by the CDC in 2008). The article went on to chronicle the rise in obesity, heart disease and diabetes in the area as being related to the demise of the coal, steel and chemical industries (and closing of factories there), the lack of a welcoming green space along the river (instead a wall was built separating the river from the community), and the repercussions still felt from the plane crash that killed the Marshall University football team and staff back in 1970
Two young men were profiled in the article, the local running store merchant and a local running enthusiast. These two men have worked to help improve the health and well-being of their community, and the half marathon I had registered to run there is a big piece of the shifting momentum. After reading the article I was really glad I had selected this race and that I’d be supporting the efforts to highlight healthfulness in Huntington. 
The article also prompted me to borrow the movie We Are Marshall from my local library. Matthew McConaughey plays the coach who came to Marshall University to rebuild the football program after the devastating loss of nearly the entire team back in the 70’s. The cards were stacked against him and his players, but they persevered in their goal to reestablish a football team for the University and its town. There is a memorial fountain on the Marshall University campus remembering the boys who perished in the crash. It surely is a bit of history the school will never forget. I’m glad I watched the movie so that I could learn about these events and keep them in mind during my time there. 
One of the neat perks about this half marathon is that the finish line is on the Marshall University football field. Runners who are interested can have a football handed to them as they enter the stadium so that they can run the field and make a touchdown at the finish line. I already know I’m going to do that. And as I run to the finish, I will keep all those young men who lost their lives in my mind and in my heart. I look forward to the experience. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A very good fall running season

Pumpkins for sale at a roadside stand along my running route. 
So, Runner’s World magazine beat me to the punch (sort of) last week when they posted a gif-fy article on their Facebook feed about the merits of fall running. I’ve really been enjoying my autumnal running this year, which is unusual for me, as spring is always my favorite running season. I love the spring because everything starts sprouting, the air and sun begin to feel warmer, people are in happy moods because it is getting lighter out and warmer. Little league sign-up signs appear all along my running routes. It is an optimistic time of year. I love that.
View of woods along my driveway as I left for my run. Gorgeous!
Fall used to be my favorite season when I was a kid. I loved the changing colors on the trees, the cool air so I didn’t get so hot outside while playing in the neighborhood, apple pies. Now when fall comes, I mostly just feel the impending dread that long, dark, winter is heading our way. It is a pessimistic time of year for me.
Tree on the corner of my street. 
Gino tree in a nearby neighbor's yard. Stunning!
Maples a couple of blocks from my house.
This year, however, fall has been really nice, especially for running. The temps have mostly been mild, but mornings are cool, helping to edge me out the door to take in that sweet chill in the air. It has reminded me of my days running on the cross-country team in high school...cool mornings and warm afternoon practice runs and meets. The colors on the trees have been amazing, too. I stopped and took some photos during one of my runs a couple of weeks ago because the colors were just show-stopping. I’m a bit surprised by this, as the summer was so dry I thought for sure the leaves would go straight from green to brown this year. Not so!
I also had to adjust my running route this fall which really helped make being out on the road more enjoyable. My most regular route is currently under construction and has been for several weeks. I’ve had to try some new places to get my mileage done, and the change in scenery has been very enjoyable. Funny how breaking out of one’s regular routine can really liven up one’s experience. 
Farm field dotted with Canada geese.
It is early November and the temperatures were in the low 70’s here today. It was sunny and warm and beautiful. Not only was I able to bang out a 7.24 mile run, I also started a project outdoors…refinishing a table. How nice to be outdoors sanding a piece of furniture on a November afternoon! Lucky me! 
Gorgeous foliage along my return route.
Bright sun on stunning colored trees.
However, I also realize that the Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts a colder and snowier winter than normal. Although it isn’t predicting a complete snowpocalypse or anything, just a bit more than normal. I can deal with that, especially since we have a family ski pass this year. I’ll be getting my miles in on the slopes, I guess. 
For now, I will enjoy my out door running while it lasts. I already had to use my gym membership twice due to very cold morning temps and the threat of rain/snow. My gym knows I’m back for the treadmill. Hey, gotta have a back up, right? But I hope that the remaining weeks in November allow me to follow my sidewalks and smell the fresh air with an occasional whiff of a warm fireplace mixed in. Feeling like a really fortunate runner these days getting to take in all the spectacular views. 
Sign o' the times!

Monday, October 31, 2016

State #32 GO! St. Louis Halloween Race Half Marathon, St. Louis, MO 10.23.16: Part Three

I slept better the night before the race than I had the previous night, but I still experienced some restlessness. I woke up around 3:30 am to use the bathroom and then tossed and turned until my alarm at 6:00 am. Tired again, but at least I had the adrenaline of race day to get me through. I was looking forward to having my own bed back at the end of the day.
I went through my usual pre-race steps after waking up: coffee, oatmeal, yoga. The weather was pretty much perfect, low 50's, but because I am usually always cold, I erred on the side of caution and went with long pants, a short sleeved shirt and a long sleeved half zip and cheap gloves I purchased the day before at a convenience store. I also had a large black garbage bag to protect against cold and wind (should I need it) while waiting in the starting corral. 
Funny story about that black garbage bag...I meant to bring one from home to have on hand, but of course, I forgot. The first night I was in St. Louis (rooftop deck night), when I was heading back to my room for the night, I found myself in an elevator with a bunch of people who were in town for a school marching band competition. High school musicians (and their chaperones) were everywhere! Anyway, we were in the elevator heading up to the rooms. The elevator made a stop at a lower floor before I had to get off, and when the door opened, there was a woman standing in the hallway (presumably one of the marching band chaperones) holding a box of black garbage bags. When I saw her and the bags, I remembered that I'd forgotten to pack one for myself. I got very excited and asked her if I could have one of the garbage bags. She obliged, thank goodness, but she must have thought I was an absolute lunatic! I laughed and laughed the rest of the ride up to my room. What a good samaritan she was for helping me out! 
Walking up Market Street to starting line area.
The race start time for the half marathon was 7:30 am, so I headed out around 7:00 am to get down to the starting line. The atmosphere was festive, as people were dressed in costumes and the announcer was reminding folks that there was a place to get photographed if you wanted to be considered for the costume contest. Halloween music was playing, the sun was just coming up behind the Gateway Arch, and the crowd was lively and ready to run. The races ended up starting a little later than planned with the 5K going off at 7:30 and the 10K/Half going off around 7:45. It wasn't a big deal though because the weather was warmer than I expected, and waiting around wasn't bad at all (plus I had the extra protection of my garbage bag).
Selfie with garbage bag!
The starting line was on Market Street, just a few blocks from where my hotel was located. The street was lined with beautiful buildings. They looked like a bunch of Federal buildings (courthouse, etc.). 
In the corral just prior to start.
As the race stepped off, we headed west on Market Street running past all the nice architecture. We turned right and then right again on to MLK Blvd which ran parallel to Market Street but had a much more industrial feel. We followed that stretch for a couple of miles until we reached the Mississippi River and made a right hand turn on to the access road that runs alongside the river. It was absolutely gorgeous during this stretch of the race and was my absolute favorite part. Miles 3-4.5 brought us along the river on the left side and passing next to the majestic Gateway Arch on the right side. It was an exquisite view, one I felt extremely lucky to experience on such a glorious morning!
As we continued along the river, the touristy area gave way to a wall painted with (at first) a fish mural which eventually morphed in to more graffiti laden spots. Just past the 4 mile mark was the "Zombie Zone" which I thought was going to be a bunch of people dressed like zombies chasing runners, but thankfully it was just a water stop manned by volunteers dressed in zombie costumes. At this point in the race, my bladder was not going to let me ignore it any longer, so I made a porta-potty stop. I generally try to never stop during a race, as it is such an interruption to my pace and momentum, but when ya gotta go.... The bad thing is that after you've been running and sweating, it isn't easy to negotiate the porta-potty. I also had removed my half-zip around mile two because I was hot, so that was tied around my waist along with my cheap gloves tucked in to my pants. I felt like a pack animal with too much stuff on me. The toilet break took me way too long, and I knew I lost a couple of minutes of time, but I felt better after emptying my bladder and was happy once I was back out running, feeling lighter and more comfortable. 
Around the next corner, we hit mile 5, and this area was still very industrial in landscape. Train tracks crossed the area and ran alongside. Not much seemed to be out this way, but there were some side streets that led to residential areas. A couple of people were miffed that they couldn't drive through the area due to the race and street closures. 
Around mile 6 we passed the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, home to Budweiser and other beers. It was a big brick factory, really a network of factories with a big iron fence around it that made me think if the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory. It was interesting to see, but (no offense, Budweiser) I thought the Miller Brewery out in Milwaukee looked more historic. About another mile and a half after the brewery was the turn around point for the race at mile 8. This turn around came in the neighborhood where the Alexius Hospital was located. It looked to me that this neighborhood was pretty hip and was in a transition of renovation. I suspect it will be the next up-and-coming place to live. 
We hairpin-turned and then took a sharp left before the return past the brewery through a historic neighborhood called Cherokee Antique Row. The small side street was lined with brick row-houses and several store fronts that were antique shops, art stores and cafes. It was quaint and lovely to run through this neighborhood. We took a right hand turn out of this area on to S. Jefferson Avenue which was a main thoroughfare featuring traffic and the bus route. This section of the race was not fully closed off, so it was busy and traffic was moving. It was a mix of commercial, single home residences and apartments. We turned right and ran through the Sidney Street area which was a much quieter residential area. The homes here were so nice, but it still had a distinct city feel to it. As we came out of this neighborhood and made the turn on to S. 12th Street, a guy in one of those inflatable costumes was standing there giving high fives. He looked so funny, but I can't even remember what his costume was (a pig, maybe?).  Anyway, he mad me laugh and helped give me a new burst of energy to get to the finish. 
This race was largely flat, except for a couple of minor hills near the brewery. It was nice not having to struggle through late mile elevation. My legs appreciated that. From S. 12th Street, we were set on basically a straightaway path to downtown. I don't remember much about the surrounding area in this last two miles except for the bridge we ran over that crossed the highway just prior to getting to the downtown finish area. We came out back to Market Street and had to run one loop of a block around before hitting the finish line. As I crossed the finish, the announcer called my name, "Kristen Frost from Enfield, CT, welcome to St. Louis!" What a terrific way to finish. 
Post-race photo with Arch in background.
I walked through the finishing chute, collected some water and my very cute Halloween-themed medal. While I struggled to take a finish line selfie, a nice woman came along and offered to help me out. I made my way over to the family/trick-or-treat area located in a small grassy area in front of one of the St. Louis University buildings. It was a nice finish line space with games for the kids to play, tables giving out candy for trick-or-treating and just some open space to stretch. I stretched out and then headed back up the street to my hotel. 
Park/finish area.
On my walk back, I passed through the City Garden which was a lovely corridor garden and sculpture park. I snapped a few photos of some of the statues there. 
City Garden sign. 
City Garden statues.
City Garden statues.
City Garden statues.
City Garden statues.
City Garden statues.
Back at the hotel, I finished my stretching, showered and made it in time to still catch my breakfast in the hotel restaurant. A made to order veggie egg-white omelette and a glass of chocolate milk for added protein and recovery. Yum! I went back to my room to pack and rest a little while before catching the 1:20 pm shuttle to the airport.
I checked my results on line and my official finish time was 2:02:37. Even though that's a little slower than I prefer to be, I knew I killed a couple of minutes with that bathroom break, so all in all, I was happy. 
Finisher's medal, race shirt and number.
More importantly, it was a wonderful trip to Missouri and so excellent to meet up with my old friend and meet his husband. Thanks for the fun, Will and Zak, and thanks St. Louis for the fantastic experience!
Missouri card.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

State #32 GO! St. Louis Halloween Race Half Marathon, St. Louis, MO 10.23.16: Part Two

I woke up tired, as I had a very fitful sleep. Maybe it was all the excitement of seeing an old friend, maybe it was the wine I had before bed, or maybe it was just being in an unfamiliar place. I was tired. 
I got up and made my way to breakfast in the lower level of the hotel and then decided to take a walk around. I was hoping to go up in to the Gateway Arch in the morning, but a thick blanket of fog draped the city in the morning, so I instead decided to purchase a late afternoon ticket to do that. 
The front steps of the Old Courthouse.
I crossed the street from my hotel and headed to the Old Courthouse to check it out. The exterior of the building is beautiful. It is a white building with a green dome. When I entered in to the rotunda, it was decorated with red, white and blue buntings and flags and was absolutely gorgeous to look at from below. 
Looking up in to the dome.
Old Courthouse rotunda decorations.
I took a look at an exhibit room that had the early history of the St. Louis settlement. St. Louis was explored and settled by the French and belonged to the country of France until the Louisiana Purchase took place. It was interesting to read this part of the early history. 
Dred Scott trial room in courthouse.
Next, I found the courtroom where the Dred Scott slavery trial took place. What a sad chapter in the history of our country. The courtroom had exhibits about Dred and his wife Harriet telling their story of how they tried to sue in court for their freedom. Videos played detailing the trial and various parties involved. It is just so sad that these people had to go to trial twice to be told they were not considered citizens of the country. They were only property. Their story is truly heartbreaking. I went outside to head to the arch for a walk and passed by a statue of Dred & Harriet Scott. I was glad the courthouse had this history available for visitors.
Dred and Harriet Scott Statue outside Old Courthouse.
View of Gateway Arch as I walked toward it.
The Gateway Arch is just a short walk from the courthouse, and the fog had lifted, so it was a gorgeous view the whole way. I also passed the earliest Catholic Cathedral along the way. It is no longer a cathedral, but is considered a basilica now and it is still actively used. It is called the Basilica of St. Louis, King St. Louis.
Basilica of St. Louis, King St. Louis exterior.
The Gateway Arch is such an amazing work of engineering! It stands right alongside the mighty Mississippi River and is really just a marvel! It is a pretty special feeling to be standing with the arch on one side of you and the river on the other…two icons side by side. I snapped a bunch of pictures including one where you can see the moon underneath the arch. 
Archway views.
Archway views.

Archway selfie.
Mississippi River and riverboat dock.
Gateway Arch with (tiny) moon.
Next I made my way out to Washington Avenue where Will and Zak had driven me the day before. It is considered the entertainment/restaurant district, and I figured I’d take a walk there to see what kinds of restaurants were around. There were several eateries, but many of them weren’t open yet. I just strolled around and took in the sights. 
I headed back to my hotel around 10 am, as I needed to go to pick up my race bib and packet. The pickup location was pretty far away, so I was either going to take a cab or see if Zak could bring me (if he was up for it). I heard from Zak when I got back to the hotel and he didn’t mind bringing me. Yay! He was going to meet me around 12:30 pm. We would get my number and then go to have some fun at City Museum. 
We met up and went to the running store which was a good distance away. I was so grateful that he could bring me, as there was no way I could’ve walked there, and a cab would have been expensive. Thank you, Zak, for doing this for me! You are the best!
Exterior view of the City Museum.
Side view of exterior. The fence is a giant serpent!
Once my number was claimed, we were off to the museum. And what a museum it was! Before you even enter this place, you realize how cool it is. There are all kinds of weird cages outside the building for climbing that connect to one another, seemingly in mid air. There are connections between old airplanes that you can climb out of and through a cage to a slide that brings you to an old fire truck. There is a school bus sticking halfway off the roof that you can get inside of. And the surprises just keep coming and coming as you explore. 
Zak told me that the man who created this wonderful place basically collected a bunch of stuff from junk yards and demolition sites that he turned in to these amazing welded creations. But it isn't just a bunch of cage-like ladders that you climb through outside the building. Inside this old (former shoe factory) warehouse are rooms like nothing I'd ever seen before. 

First Floor "underwater" scenes.
Oceanic views...
Sea creatures galore!
Giant white whale!
The first floor looks like an underwater scene, with a ceiling dressed in silver fabric that sways and moves as the people climbing within it move. There are cages all through the ceiling, walls, and tree-house like for you to explore. You can go under things, climb over and through, and chances are where you come out, you'll find a slide to slide down. There is a big whale that you walk inside where you can enter in to a cave-like area made of concrete. However it isn't concrete block; it is smooth cave walls with stalactites and stalagmites that morph into dinosaur mouths and other sculptures along the way. There are crystals and more climbing tunnels followed by slides. 
Crystal formation in cave area.
Eventually you come out to the main open climbing and sliding space that looks like something Tim Burton would put in his amusement park if he had one. It is all spiral staircases that lead up to the 5-story spiral slide or the huge 10-story spiral slide from the roof of the building. Zak and I did the 5-story slide. What fun! As he said, it is a great place for kids and adults and is like a day of playing chutes and ladders in person. 
Open climbing/sliding to the 10th floor of factory space. 

Looks like a Tim Burton set, doesn't it?
Not to be ignored is the amount of detail that was put in to every nook and cranny of this place. Everywhere you look there are small displays of oddities, like an entire entryway made of printing press molds. Or all throughout the ocean area, caves and upper floors there are stunning mosaics. The staircase leading from the foyer to the second floor food court was made with large bobbins that have been painted in bright colors with various designs on them. In the bar area there were displays of vintage candy, vintage Star Wars toys in dioramas, old pieces of robots, and other items in homage to the Beat Poets, especially Jack Kerouac. 
Robot pieces.
Star Wars diorama.
Star Wars ships near ceiling.
It is a virtual feast for the eyes. I was so visually stimulated by all of it that I almost couldn't focus on any of it. I just kept saying over and over that I couldn't believe how amazing it all was. 
Gooey butter cake. Yum.
Zak and I took a break in the bar area to grab a drink and some gooey butter cake. Apparently this cake is a Missouri thing. It was delicious. We were treated to the sounds of a three piece jazz ensemble while we had our snack. How about that?! Live music in this place, too! He told me that the museum is open late and becomes adults only after a certain hour. So really, this is a playground for kids and adults both. He also shared with me that he and Will attended a wedding reception in the museum. How cool is that?! He said that the only drawback was being dressed up while trying to climb around and do all the fun stuff. 
Live music.
World's largest underpants...
After our break, we headed to the outdoor portion of the museum. This was the stuff I could see from outside. It basically is a bunch of welded cages that connect with each other for you to climb all around. So that's what we did. It was so fun. Up on the roof there is a ferris wheel and the school bus which boasts an amazing view of the entire surrounding area. We climbed and slid some more and then I made my way in to a wire basket that hangs inside a dome and looks down on these funny "rubber stopper" shaped chairs that teeter-totter. I had to try those, of course, after we made our way down another big slide from the top of the dome to the lower level. The fun just kept coming and coming!
Slides with dome behind and praying mantis at top of dome.
School bus hanging off the roof.
Climbing cage and elephant. 
Ferris wheel and more climbing stuff. 
Panoramic view from top of the dome.
Airplane you can climb through and out on to wing.
Alternate view of bus.
Me, in the cage that hangs from the ceiling inside the dome. It is like being in a big basket.
Me on the wing of the plane. The climbing was no joke.

Climbing high!
Finally, it was getting close to my ticket time to visit the arch, so we had to leave. This museum was seriously the most fun I've ever had at any museum anywhere. ever. If you are ever in St. Louis, you must go visit and play. Thank you, Zak, for bringing me here. The memory of this fun will stay with me forever. 
Looking straight up the Arch near the entrance.
Selfie with Arch.
Zak drove me over near the arch, and I jumped out to run and get in line for my viewing time. He was heading home for a bit, but we were going to meet up again for dinner later. When you go to visit the Gateway Arch and plan to take the elevator up in to the arch, you actually begin by going down in to a lower level under the arch. Much renovation is happening right now with the monument and surrounding area, so a lot was under construction. The museum that is usually below the arch was closed, so we just heard a few remarks from one of the employees about how the elevators worked and some of the statistics (height 630 ft. etc.). Also on the way in to the elevator waiting area, the staff make you pose for a photo...one of those ones you have to purchase on your way out that has the background of the Arch on it. I really didn't want to do it, being there alone. How lame would it look for me to have a picture by myself in front of the fake Arch background??? So a fine young employee there offered to pose with me. Thank you Dwayne for making my photo so much more fun to look at!
Dwayne and I in front of the faux Arch.
Before too long, we were ready to head to the top. The elevators aren't actual elevators, rather they are more like ferris wheel cars that are cylindrical and somewhat podlike. They are tiny inside and hold 5 passengers each. I felt like I was climbing in to Major Tom's capsule. It was a four minute ride to the top, clicking and clacking along the way. Once up there, the space is fairly narrow and the windows are narrow horizontal slits looking out on either side. One side overlooks the Mississippi River over in to Illinois and the other side overlooks the city of St. Louis. The day was clear and beautiful and the views were great! I have to say though that the space is a bit confining and would not be great if you suffer from claustrophobia. I'm so happy I was able to get to the top.
At the top. 
Height sign. 
View of Old Courthouse and my hotel from atop the Arch. 
View of downtown St. Louis from atop the Arch. 
View of Mississippi over to Illinois from atop Arch.
Once back down on the ground, I perused the Gateway Arch gift shop and stopped to snap a few shots of this beautiful carved mural in the lower level. Not much else was down there because of the renovation construction. I look forward to visiting again someday (hopefully) to view all the new areas and info they will add.
Centerpiece of mural. The engineers of the Gateway Arch.
Right side of mural...Mt. Rushmore, Washington Monument.
Left side of mural...Statue of Liberty, Rainbow Bridge.
Once back on the ground, I walked back to my hotel for a quick change and to meet Zak for dinner. He was taking me out to the neighborhood called The Hill which is the St. Louis neighborhood known for its Italian restaurants. He suggested a restaurant called Zia's. The restaurant was bustling and there was about a 45 minute wait, so we grabbed a drink in the bar area and had a nice time chatting. Zak is such a terrific person! I felt like we had been friends for years. Once seated we continued our wonderful "date" ordering yummy authentic Italian goodness. I had my usual spaghetti and meatballs, and Zak ordered an amazing looking pasta with fish. YUM! Bellies full, we headed back toward the hotel.
Zak thoughtfully drove us back a different way than the way we came so that I could see some other areas of the city. We drove through the Grove neighborhood which is the "gay" area of the city, passed through the St. Louis University area and the theater district where we saw the gorgeously restored Fox Theater. I really appreciated that Zak took the time to help me see as much of the city as possible. Thank you again, Zak! Once back at the hotel, we said our goodbyes, and I was off to organize my things for the morning and get some much needed sleep. What a fun and wonderful day it was in St. Louis!