Virginia Beach is for Lovers

  “The calming movement of the sea along with the restless ocean breeze gently caresses me creating a soothing trance which lulls me to a place of peace.”–M. L. Borges

It had been one year since I had last seen the ocean and its companion shoreline.  Last March, (2021) when John, my husband, and I last visited the beach, it was for the Shamrock Marathon held annually at Virginia Beach. However, it was under COVID restrictions with limited dining and hotel options. Regardless, the creators and sponsors of the Shamrock Marathon found a way to create a safe and well-organized weekend getaway!

Flashforward one year, and we decided to return.  With COVID restrictions greatly reduced, there was more hotel and restaurant availability.  On the downside, overall prices were understandably higher to cover the past year’s losses.  Nonetheless, this did not seem to deter visitors for the 50th anniversary Shamrock Marathon weekend event as hotels were sold out throughout the town.  (I would later find out that for many hotels, this had less to do with room availability and more to do with lack of enough available support staff.)  Furthermore, with a weather forecast full of ample sunshine, light breezes, and temperatures hovering in the 60s and 70s, what was not to love? 

This year, John and I stayed at Holiday Inn & Suites North Beach.  Ideally situated alongside the north end of the VB boardwalk.  We were within walking distance to numerous dining choices as well as the King Neptune statue, the heart of the Shamrock events. The staff of this hotel was friendly and accommodating, and it was located next to the starting line for the marathon and half-marathon!  When you combine that with the ability to fall asleep listening to the waves gently lapping the shore, we are sure to return here on future trips.

One dining spot for which we were eager to return was the infamous Pocahontas Pancake and Waffle House!  This iconic VB gem serves up breakfast and lunch, and visitors need to be ready to wait during peak hours.  No matter, it is worth the wait!  The wait staff is attentive, friendly, and since this was our second year to visit, we couldn’t help but take note that much of the wait staff was the same–a sure sign that this establishment is doing something right.  

Looking over the menu at Pocahontas Pancakes is like reading a novella; they have so many choices!  I am in love with their gluten-free waffles since I cannot get those anywhere in the local Tri-state area.  Plus, they offer a wide array of scrumptious toppings. The fresh fruit bowl is actually fresh–not one of those thawed frozen fruit cups with underripe fruit, devoid of any taste.  John loves their sandwiches, biscuits, and eggs, and we both feast on their ample portions.  Oh, did I tell you about their signature, locally roasted coffee?? Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, this place, well, takes the cake!  What can I say? John and I both LOVE this restaurant and cannot recommend it enough!

Another local VB gem, we discovered last year, is Side Street Cantina.  This restaurant, located at the southern end of VB, features Peruvian-influenced Mexican fare, served up in a colorful atmosphere, filled with bold and lively artwork. Their housemade chips and salsa are fresh, crisp, and tasty.  Their menu offers a wide variety of signature dishes and cocktails for those so-inclined.  John ordered Arroz Con Pollo, and I ordered Vegetarian Fajitas.  Both meals were full of deliciousness!  While dining at Side Street, the manager, Alicia Mummert, recommended that we go visit her best friend, Julie, the manager at Mannino’s Italian Bistro for dinner one night.

Therefore, John and I decided to head to Mannino’s for our Friday night dinner–a perfect location for carb-loading before I ran my own virtual half-marathon on Saturday.  Entering this bistro felt warm, welcoming, and the aromas were mouth-watering.  Our server was none other than Julie’s daughter, Abigail (Abbi) and her friend, Katie. Along with Julie, these ladies were engaging, made excellent recommendations with regards to food and wine, and provided exceptional service.  The gluten free choices were as wide and varied as I have experienced in an Italian restaurant, and there were even a few gluten free dessert options!

  Ultimately, John chose Vitello Parmigiana with fresh melted mozzarella on top, and I savored every bite of the gluten free variation of Penne Semplice without sausage.  Additionally, I ordered their gluten free truffles to go.  (Fortunately, our room had a mini-fridge, and I was able to save a couple of those luscious truffles to take home!)  I have to say this meal fully fueled my 13.1 mile run the following morning; and best of all, NO digestive issues–which can sometimes be a real thing with some foods and long runs.  Mannino’s is another establishment John and I would highly recommend for those who love Italian!

Saturday night, after a half-marathon run, I was ready for some full-on not-so-healthy grub.  We decided to give Abbey Road Pub and Restaurant a try.  This eatery offers breakfast, lunch and dinner!  What’s more?  It makes the bold claim to have the BEST gluten-free menu in Virginia Beach!  Sounded like the perfect place for us to check out! Additionally, they also boast over 42 drafts and crafts, are certified Green Virginia, have a dog-friendly patio, and offer free parking for patrons.  Their menus were wide, varied, and while I could have easily eaten on the more healthy side, I chose to indulge on a plate of Nachos Supreme sans chili and served up with black beans instead. It was not my usual plant forward meal, but I did enjoy it with a fresh green salad!  (Hey, it’s all about balance–it’s not like I normally eat this way.)  Meanwhile, John splurged on Lobster Mac and Cheese.  Abbey Road had an upbeat and energetic vibe, it offered attentive service, and a uniquely diverse menu, including vegan and gluten-free options!   This is one place John and I will visit again, and we would also recommend it to those traveling in the Virginia Beach area!

On a side note of interest, John and I visited Sandbridge Beach, one afternoon, and found that it reminded us somewhat of the Outer Banks of NC, full of ample vacation homes, both of new construction as well as traditional beach bungalows.  Located south of VB, it struck us as a more quiet area in which to stay, especially for those larger family/friend gatherings in which you are more than happy to complete your own cooking, relax, and soak in nothing but sand, shoreline, and ocean vibes!  

Regardless of which type of vacation you prefer, the VB area offers visitors plenty of options–from low-key to highly engaged and all choices in between.  The Shamrock Marathon weekend especially offers a family-friendly atmosphere, but is also chock of full options for adults.  And, if you love new food adventures, as John and I do, rest assured, Virginia Beach has plenty to offer.  Perhaps, it is true, Virginia is for lovers–lovers of fun, beach, sun, water, and, of course, food–glorious food! 

Sandbridge Beac

I Run, Therefore, I am a Runner

“No matter how slow you go, you are still lapping everybody on the couch,”–Unknown

I try to be careful about how I write/talk/post about my so-called running practice.  When doing so, I typically attempt to lower the expectations of the readers/listener with some sort of self-deprecating humor.  Why?  Beside the fact, that I can’t take myself too seriously, I’ve also had too many encounters with those competitive souls who immediately insist on knowing my stats/pace/race times in order to determine, it seems to me, how to best classify me:  Real competitive runner or the oh-aren’t-you-so-cute-in-your-attempts-to-jog?

Personally, I am not ashamed of my snail-like pace when I run, but I have allowed myself, at times, to feel less-than, especially in conversations with those runners who throw around finishing times and running paces like bodybuilders flexing their muscles in a gym mirror.  If running paces were bicep bulges, then mine would be that proverbial image of a skinny kid with biceps drooping down like a lowercase u.  Okay, maybe not the best illustration, but the point is this: I still cover the same distance and cross the same finish line as any other runner, and I have finally decided to no longer feel like a less-than runner because I am not as fast.

“We are all runners, some are just faster than others. I never met a fake runner.”–Bart Yasso

Since the week following Thanksgiving 2021, I followed a training plan for the 2022 Shamrock half marathon/marathon weekend in Virginia Beach.  I had previously trained for and ran this virtual event last year, which was highly restricted due to COVID.  Training, at that time, was challenging, not only because I was returning to running after several years of a hiatus, but also due to the snow, ice storms, flooding, and other winter events that seemed to plague last winter.  Therefore, most of my training, including those all important weekly long runs, were mostly completed on a treadmill.  

During 2021 Shamrock weekend, the Virginia Beach boardwalk was nearly devoid of visitors. This was not the case for 2022

This year, however, I committed to completing as many of my long Saturday runs as possible, outside, despite winter weather with the goal of running in Virginia Beach.  I also made changes to my weekday training, moving my workouts to early morning, before my workday began, as well as incorporating more strength training, stretching, and a weekly yoga session. Since this was the 50th anniversary of the Shamrock, it was sure to be a big event for the town, especially with many of the COVID restrictions of last year lifted.  Nonetheless, runners still had the option to run it virtually. 

Therefore, traveling to Virginia Beach this year, I knew I was ready to give it my best–nothing record breaking, but it was my best, and I was ready to enjoy the fruits of my consistent winter efforts!  Upon Thursday’s arrival, John, my husband, and I could sense the town’s atmosphere–full of anticipation, joy, and celebration.  Signs welcoming visitors were posted throughout, and we met numerous people in the service industry expressing their genuine excitement for the “first event of the season,” especially after the challenges of the past two years. 

The famous Shamrock sandcarving is safely blocked off until the day of the event.

On Friday, John and I interacted with an abundance of the participants while attending the Shamrock Sports and Fitness Expo. Like me, they were there to not only pick up their race day bib and shirt, but also to browse the vendors’ displays and soak up the levity leading up to the event. Walking around the large arena, what surprised me the most was that there were so many other runners who, like me, did not fit the so-called mental construct that is often associated with what it means to be a runner.  All ages, shapes, shades, sizes, and any other manner of differentiation–it seemed–were represented as if every possible background category box was checked. Oh, to-be-sure, there were plenty of competitive runners who obsessively talked to anyone who would listen about finish time, pacing, and other stats, but the majority of runners seemed to be there in order to have fun and relish the experience.

Let’s go!

Perhaps, I always knew this about running, and had not allowed myself to see this, but surrounded by the high spirited energy of all those different types of runners made me rethink my own feelings—so much that I recall telling John, over dinner that night, that I was no longer going to choose to feel less-than because I am not a fast or competitive runner.  

I run, and therefore I am a runner.  

Bottom line, I find joy in any movement, but especially running.  Running is what I do to reduce stress, increase my sense of energy and positivity, it provides me the ability to sleep soundly, and other countless benefits. Furthermore, after years of experiencing the captivity of an injury, I feel grateful for having the ability to recover and move my body freely.

Let’s make friends and have some fun!

Ultimately, this year, I decided to virtually run the half-marathon on Saturday, instead of Sunday, when the actual Shamrock was scheduled.  I made this choice in order to have the rest of Saturday, after my 13.1 mile run, to enjoy beach and relax before making the seven-hour drive home on Sunday.  This meant I would have to slightly modify the route, due to the fact the actual Shamrock course looped through Fort Story, and that section of the course would remain closed to runners the day before the event.  Nonetheless, if I ran the course as an out and back route, I would still cover 13.1 miles.

John and I were fortunate to watch a beautiful sunrise over the ocean the morning of my 13.1 mile virtual run.

Saturday morning, I began my personal half-marathon at the starting line area at 7:30, the official start time of the following day.  The roads were not closed, as they would have been during the actual event, so I had to carefully navigate the sidewalks through town and run the bike path section of the isolated, four-lane stretch of Shore Drive.  Fortunately, it was not a work day, so traffic wasn’t as busy as it might have otherwise been. Still, there were a few times in which I had to hop off the lane to make way for curb-hugging cars and/or bikes.  

As a runner, especially on those long runs, it’s always good to know where the “Elite Seats” are located!!

All the while, John kept driving in a loop, repeatedly checking on me, and shouting out encouragement through the car window.  As part of the plan, John met up with me at the halfway point.  This allowed me to pause for a quick drink break before turning around and heading back into town.  

Reaching the halfway point, I felt strong. However, since I had trained through winter, I was acclimated to cold temperatures.  It had been months since I had run in the 70 degree temperatures for which I found myself running.  Therefore, my pace began to slow the closer to the end I came.  Still, I finished.  I. Ran.  In fact, I ran slightly over 13.1 miles.

“Running slow isn’t a character flaw: Quitting is.”–Unknown

Dear Reader, I am a runner, and I will never allow myself to again feel slighted by my pace, my age, my stature, or any of those supercilious definitions–AND neither should you–no matter what your endeavors.  God designed our bodies for movement, and we should celebrate and enjoy that ability.  One day, Dear Reader, I may not be able to move freely, but that is not today . . . and so, I will continue to walk, hike, move, stretch, and, yes, even run. 

Time to start!
That feeling when it’s over, and the distance is covered!
John and I can relax now relax on the beach!

Shamrock Green Smoothie

“No matter when you start, a diet that is focused on plant foods will help you work toward the prevention of many illnesses and feeling better overall”–Julia Zumpano, RD, LD

Diet choices have long been debated.  From Adkins to Keto, 7-Day Rotation to Whole 30, Paleo to Low Carb, Mediterranean to Pritikin, and all variations in between, regardless of the varying diet trends, there’s no denying that fruits and vegetables are nutritionally sound food choices for promoting health. Experts may argue about which fruits and vegetables are the so-called better choices, but most will agree that eating unadulterated food from the ground is more nutritionally sound than eating chemically enhanced processed foods.

In fact, when going through the research, numerous medical clinics, cancer centers, and disease prevention sites recommend Americans increase their intake of fruits and vegetables.  It makes sense too.  All those different colors offer a wide array of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and anti-inflammatory properties that cannot be found naturally in processed food.  

“Eating healthy food fills your body with energy and nutrients. Imagine your cells smiling back at you and saying: “Thank you!”.” – Karen Salmansohn

Think about it.  Fruits and vegetables don’t need a label that says, “Vitamin-D enriched” or “Fortified with 12 essential vitamins and minerals.”  They don’t need it because they naturally contain a wide array of vitamins and minerals–depending upon which plant you choose to consume.  This is why, “eating the rainbow,” is an often quoted expression.  If you eat a wide variety of colorful plants throughout your day and week, Mother Nature, thanks to the infinite wisdom of our Creator, provides all the nutrition your body needs for healthy functioning and vitality. 

Like many, since March of 2020, I have become increasingly more focused on what I eat.  Keeping my immune system running high, and my inflammation low, seems more important than ever in the era of living in a global pandemic.  While I’ve been a plant based eater for nearly ten years, I find myself more attentive to daily consuming dark leafy greens and/or cruciferous vegetables as part of my desire to remain healthy and avoid COVID.  While I recognize that eating well isn’t the only protective act I need to do when dealing with a highly contagious virus, these vegetables have long been established as possessing cancer and disease preventive properties, reducing oxidative stress, and lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Additionally, they increase bone health, protect eye health, and boost the immune system.  Plus, their varying shades of green are chock full of fiber and a wide array of vitamins and minerals.  

Photo by Toni Cuenca on Pexels.com

“The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.”–Thomas Ediso

Below is a green smoothie recipe I drank throughout most of March that features leafy greens and cruciferous.  After such an extraordinary winter with snows, ice, and then flooding, drinking a bright green smoothie felt like a personal manifestation of spring. Furthermore, since March was also the month in which I was wrapping up 12-weeks of training for the Virginia Beach Shamrock Marathon, this smoothie felt like extra-nutritional insurance for remaining healthy and ready to run. 

I like to think of smoothies as a blended breakfast salad.  When made fresh at home, I am the controller of ingredients, calories, fiber, and nutrition.  I keep my smoothies whole food and plant based food based in order to start my day off on the right foot–especially since I would otherwise, at least during the work week, skip breakfast.  While I often add healthy fats in the form of nuts or seeds to smoothies, I personally do not with this one, but you could.  Instead, I tend to add a teaspoon of greens powder for an extra boost of concentrated green goodness, and sometimes matcha (ground green tea) if I feel I need a boost of energy and focus.   This smoothie fuels my morning and keeps me full until lunch.  The flavor is bright and tangy, and it’s super refreshing to drink.  

Here few other tidbits and factoids I have learned while refining my smoothies techniques:

*  Put greens and liquid in the blender first and blend well, this is especially important, if, like me, you don’t have a top-of-the-line blender.

* Spinach is always the sweetest greens, which is why I often blend it with other greens such as kale and swiss chard.

* Riced cauliflower, fresh or frozen, works well as a “green” since it’s cruciferous and makes smoothies extra smooth and creamy.

* Lightly peel/cut away any citrus fruit, leaving part of the pith (the white part).  It is high in fiber, vitamin C, flavonoids–which boost the immune system–and it is anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial.

* Ginger and turmeric are both known for their immune boosting properties, reducing inflammation, and decreasing chronic pain.  Fresh ginger and tumeric–both are roots–offer the most benefits, but ground versions are still beneficial.  Therefore, I tend to add both spices to not only nearly all of my smoothies, but also incorporate them throughout the day.

I hope you’ll give this vibrant green smoothie a try. It is an easy way to increase your fruit and vegetable intake.  Plus, you’ll start your day fueled with the power of green!

From my home to your, I wish you health, vibrancy, and vitality.  Be well, and, if you do give this, or any of my other smoothie recipes a try,  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Shamrock Marathon Green Smoothie

Ingredients:

1 cup water

1 cup of your favorite greens, fresh or frozen, feel free to combine 2 different ones (think spinach, kale, 

½ to 1 apple, quartered (I use granny smith apple.)

1 lemon, peeled, quartered & seeds removed 

1 mini cucumber or ½ large cucumber, quartered

1 stalk celery, quartered

1 ¼ teaspoon ground ginger or 1” fresh piece

¼ teaspoon turmeric or ¼” fresh piece of turmeric 

Dash of salt

Optional add-ins: 1 teaspoon greens powder and/or matcha powder, 1 tablespoon hemp, chia, or flaxseeds, and/or 1 scoop favorite protein powder 

Makes 1 generous serving

Against the Wind

“I’m older now but still runnin’ against the wind”–Bob Segar

It started out as an email.  I get a similar email every year due to the fact that my daughter and I once ran the 8k event of the Shamrock Marathon/Half MarathonWeekend in Virginia Beach while she was still in middle school.  Since she’s nearly 22, and the emails have never before planted a seed, it seemed unlikely that the December 2020 email would plant such a seed.  Nonetheless, the seed was planted, wriggled, niggled, and forced its way through my gray matter until it could no longer be ignored.  

Why not run a half marathon?  Let’s see. There’s a global pandemic raging.  My job is more challenging than ever.  Life is busy.  A back injury required me to step away from running for over three years.  I only returned to running in May 2020 via a walk/run program.  It’s hard.  I’m 55 for heaven’s sake. The list could continue.  However, like a pesky fly on a horse’s rump, no matter how many times that horse swishes its tail, that fly keeps returning, so too did this seemingly crazy notion. Throwing caution to the wind, I downloaded the beginner half-marathon training plan, and I was, dare I say, off and running. 

“Run for your life my love,

Run and you don’t give up”— Isaac Slade / Joseph King as performed by the Fray

The Shamrock was virtual, but with in-person hybrid options.  I did not have to travel to Virginia Beach; and in fact, when I initially registered for the event, I did not plan to go there. However, since John and I were both fully vaccinated, and the pandemic–though not gone–was beginning to wane a bit, we ultimately decided to travel to Virginia Beach.  

In-person participants could choose to run at any time from 7:00 to 5:00 pm on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.  The various courses were mapped and marked, but no roads would be shut down.  No more than ten participants could be at the starting line at any given time, and participants were encouraged to wear a mask throughout the entire event, but required to wear masks at the start and finish line area.  Water bottle refill stations were provided at designated spots along the route with social distancing requirements, and participants were encouraged to run safely, stay on the route, and wear their numbered bib visibly as a form of identification.

“Ride like the wind, Bullseye!”–Woody, Toy Story 2

With an early wake-up, as planned, on Friday, I was up and ready to run.  However, the weather, like the rest of 2020 & 2021, offered an unplanned twist.  Strong winds and storms had ravaged the east coast Thursday evening.  In fact, winds were galing around 31 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph, wreaking havoc throughout the town sending scaffolding and signs down, debris soaring, and flags flapping at right angles to their poles.  Additionally, rain was moving back into the area and temperatures were dropping by the hour from the low 50s into the 30s.  I could technically put off running until Saturday morning, but with an 11:00 am hotel check-out, I would be short on time–especially given the fact that I am not a particularly fast runner.  

John did not want me to run for the sake of my safety, but I wanted the experience.  This was what I had trained for! Throughout my training, I envisioned running along the Virginia Beach boardwalk, basking in ocean views and sunshine with a gentle breeze caressing my face.  Okay, so in reality the day was cloudy, wet, and the breeze was not so gentle, but it would certainly qualify as a memorable experience!

I compromised my running plan, due to the weather, and ran the 8K route rather than the 1/2 marathon route because the 1/2 marathon route would have kept me in town longer where debris was soaring through the air like a child’s frisbee.

In the end, I compromised by running on Friday but only for the 8K distance.  While it broke my heart to NOT run the actual mileage for which I had trained, my instincts told me that I needed to respect the weather and my personal safety.  I’d be running alone in wet, cold, and windy temperatures with random windborne projectiles.  Given my natural clumsiness, there was a definite increased risk of injury. 

There was no climatic build up of pulsating music.  No welcome speeches and heartfelt prayer given by a local pastoral dignitary.  There was not a gun fire start either.  Show up with your runner’s bib on the outside of your clothing, mask on, and then, unceremoniously take off running.  Push, step, step–the tempo began.  

With the start/finish line right behind me, I used my ear band to not only protect my ears from the chilling winds, but to also hold my hat down! Notice, my mask is in my hands at the ready.

The first mile was like running straight down the steepest possible incline even though I was gliding along fairly flat ground.  With the wind thrusting me forward, I could have sworn that either I had a superpower, or God was at my back not-so-gently imbuing me with momentum and speed.  I giggled aloud repeatedly. At times, I windmilled my arms to keep from toppling forward.  Meanwhile, sand bit and clawed at the back of my exposed calves and ankles.  Push, step, step. Then, came the turn-around point.

Winds that had felt like the hands of God, now felt like Satan’s strongest snares.  Was this what it felt like to push a football blocking sled?   Push, step, step.  That is when the rain began to fall, needling my face.  My glasses were covered with droplets. Push, step, step, the cadence continued.

The race director drove up beside me in his warm, dry-looking truck.  He was checking on runners. He offered words of encouragement, as I headed towards the in-town section of course, and stated the conditions would be less challenging.

“Dust in the wind

All we are is dust in the wind”–Kerry Livgren as performed by Kansas

Ha! False hope!  The wind speed, along with the rain, increased.  Furthermore, at the end of every block, between each building, a trapped swell of wind would send me sideways, like dust in the wind, running nearly in place to hold my own.  Push, step, step. Water splashed out of my shoes with each step.  Two more miles of this. 

The final mile loomed ahead.  Half of it would be more topsy, turvy in-town-running, and the other half returned me to the boardwalk again with the wind surging me forward once more.  Push, step, step.  God at my back again. The Divine sure does have a sense of humor. 

Finally, the Virginia Beach icon, King Neptune sculpture, was once more in sight, right where I had earlier left him, at the starting/ending point.  Push, step, step. I laughed all the way to him, pushed by a force greater than me.  I didn’t resist.  I welcomed the opportunity to work with it, rather than against it.

Push, step, step–the rhythm came to an end. There was no cheering crowd in the end.  No congratulations, high fives, or “Way-to-go” cheers.  I started as I began, without fanfare or festivity.  Nonetheless, I quietly knew what I had accomplished, from the taxing Saturday runs to the tiresome after-work-I-don’t-feel-like-running-but-I’m-doing-it-anyway runs, all of those moments had led me to facing down the storm’s winds, learning when to resist the winds of change and when to work with them; and the realization that even when plans go awry, God will have my back the entire journey.  What a metaphor for life.

No.  I did not run a half-marathon.  Instead, I opened my heart to an opportunity that I most likely would not have ordinarily permitted.  My reward, if you will, was an experience I will always remember, and a first hand lesson, like no other, about the ever-presence power of God.  And for that, I am eternally grateful. 

“I run for hope

I run to feel

I run for the truth, for all that is real . . .

I run for life”–Melissa Ethridge

My hair standing straight up says it all! What a scarey image!
The official training plan!