Sunday, March 1, 2009

How Irish Ate Her Way Through Texas: An Austin Marathon/Vacation Report (Finally!)

Let me just start by saying that, FOR REAL Y'ALL, Austin is just one of my favorite places ever. EVER! I love it so much that this is guaranteed to be the longest Race/Vacation Report of all time. So grab a bev and some snacks (and maybe a pillow and blanket) if you're in for the long haul, because I promise you that this is going to take FOREVER to read! ;)


Okay, so let's go WAY back to Thursday, February 12 . . . the night before we left for Austin. I ended up working until 10:30-ish, which meant I got home well after 11:00 p.m., and still had to eat dinner and pack. Oh, and did I mention that our flight was at 7-something a.m. out of Newark the next morning? Because it totally was. For some reason, I left Wilson was in charge of making our travel plans (I guess because I had been busy-busy), and he thought this was reasonable. I? Did not. But I digress. With our flight so darn early in the a.m., it meant we would have to get up at around 5 a.m. to make it to the airport in time.

I tried my best to pack, not really knowing what the Austin weather would have in store for us. Further complicating things was the fact that I hadn't 100% made up my mind whether or not I would be running the half-marathon, which I had signed up for prior to contracting my bronchitis from hell. Finally, around 1 a.m., I felt like I was good to go and we headed to bed for a whole FOUR HOURS of sleep. Ugh.


We woke up the next morning and turned on the television while we were getting ready. Now, keep in mind that I am sorta/kinda a superstitious person by nature . . . so I, of course, was quite unhappy that Wilson's stellar travel plans had us flying down to Austin on Friday the Thirteenth (dun dun dun . . . !). As if I wasn't worked up enough about that, plastered all over the early-morning news was a story about a Continental flight that crashed the night before in Buffalo, NY! We? Were also flying Continental. WE WERE DOOMED (too dramatic? Yeah okay, maybe just a little bit)!

We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Since this pretty much NEVER happens, I started to think that our day might bring us reverse good luck instead of bad Friday the 13th luck. Well, our good luck continued when we realized there was a Dunkin Donuts across from our gate. SCORE! We sat and sipped our coffee and snacked on muffins, and then eventually headed to our gate, only to realize that our flight had begun boarding early. As someone who is very used to delayed flights, this was certainly a welcome sight! As an added bonus, when I opened my issue of Domino on the plane, the city they profiled for the month was Austin! Thus, I got to read all about the awesome places to shop and eat in the city. Talk about perfect timing!

I slept through most of the flight . . . and when we landed, I turned on my blackberry to find an email from Karen, a friend of my sister's. Now first of all, folks, Karen is a crazy fast marathoner. She's seriously just awesome. Second of all, she's a Notre Dame grad (woohoo!). Thirdly? I can't even believe how sweet and hospitable she was towards Wilson and I. She took the time to a) give me all kinds of awesome Austin recommendations and suggestions, b) give an awesome course description and some helpful race-day tips for Wilson, c) lay out a kick-ass plan for spectating on marathon day, and d) give me her phone number and tell me to call here if we needed anything at all. Honestly, people are just plain nice down there! None of this cranky-pants New Yorker stuff . . . everyone we met--from servers in restaurants to hotel people to the car rental dude to race volunteers and spectators--were just genuinely friendly, good people!

We picked up our rental car and headed to the hotel to check in. The front desk girl gave us a map and circled all of the fun, hip areas to hang out . . . and she seriously was just the nicest, cutest thing ever. She talked to us about the races and seemed genuinely interested in what we had to say about them! Ha, I'm sorry if I seemed shocked by this, but I HAVE been in NYC for five years now, and that stuff just doesn't happen (outside of the running community, who is--for the most part--really nice).

We vegged for an hour or so in the super-comfy hotel room until we both realized we were STARVING. We headed out to grab a bite and do some exploring. Our good luck only continued when one of the first places we passed downtown was a Jimmy Johns. Oh lordy. Let me just confess my love for Jimmy Johns . . . I know it's terrible for you, but it is SO darn good. Beach Club, how I love thee! Yum. We scarfed our food and then headed off to explore Austin.

We headed in the general direction of the Expo, but still had some time to kill before it opened. We decided a walk along Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail was in order. It was SO nice and peaceful. I would kill to run down there! The path goes on for miles and miles (I just looked it up . . . apparently it is 10.1 miles long). We were pretty pooped from our early wake-up call, so after a while we stopped and sat on a park bench, chatting and just enjoying the waterside views. Ah, bliss!

When it was time, we headed over to the expo, grabbed our packets and tees, and proceeded to laugh ourselves silly when we saw my bib. I had forgotten that I put down "Irish Cream" when it asked for a name on my bib during registration! After a good chuckle, we took some time to check out some of the expo booths. Being around all of the runners and the excitement of the expo came REALLY close to convincing me that I should run come Sunday (okay, fine, I admit it . . . I really just wanted to see people's reactions to my "name"). We eventually left the expo and walked back to the hotel, noting all of the fun and interesting looking watering holes on the way (seriously, Austin is just jam-packed with awesome bars, you guys!).

We returned back to the hotel and decided it was time to grab some more grub. We hit up Kerbey Lane, which came highly recommended by both my sister and her friend, Karen. I was shocked to learn that Kerbey Lane is actually a really veggie-/vegan-friendly place. For some reason, when I pictured Austin, I pictured all Tex-Mex/Barbecue. But there are really a lot of great healthy-ish options in Austin (I mean, Whole Foods originated there . . . that has to say something!). We started with the Kerbey Queso (Guacamole covered with queso and topped with pico de gallo, served with salsa and tortilla chips), which my sister had insisted we HAD to try. Um, thanks Mallory . . . I now have longing dreams about this stuff every night! I swear, it is like cheesy, liquid crack, you guys! SO GOOD. I followed that up with some avocado and black bean tacos . . . simple but absolutely delicious! With full bellies and HUGE smiles, Wilson and I headed back to the hotel and turned in for the night.


Okay, let me just preface this by saying that you will probably laugh your asses off at what I consider to be the best Valentine's Day ever. But it really was just an all-around great day. We slept in, then got up and lazed around with some television and coffee. We couldn't ignore our growling tummies for long, though, and thus began the search for something to eat. We first tried to hit up Juan in a Million (featured on an episode of Man vs. Food--one of my favorite shows! I seriously need to host a show like it!). But um . . . we kind of forgot about the fact that it was noon-ish on a Saturday (does anyone else totally lose track of what day it is when on vacation?). There was a HUGE crowd outside waiting to be seated. We opted instead to hit up Whole Foods; after all, we thought it might be cool to check out THE original Whole Foods. Um, WRONG. It was a ZOO! Now, first of all, this place was MONSTROUS . . . it even had its own parking garage in addition to the front-of-the-store ground level parking. As huge as it was, it took us nearly half an hour to find a parking spot! THAT is how packed it was! Luckily, our made-to-order sandwiches were totally delish and SO worth the trouble to find parking. Oh, and we were able to score Wilson's race day breakfast there too, which was definitely good news.

After scarfing our food down, we decided to drive the marathon course and get a good look at some of those hills. They were . . . well, kind of scary. Ha, I think that drive was the final nail in the coffin of my half-marathon plans (okay, the hills and the fact that I knew I'd be helping Wilson out a lot by focusing my attention on being his support person on race day . . . see, I am a good person sometimes!). The funny thing was that there were several other cars obviously driving the course at the same time we were. It was comforting to know that we aren't the only freaks who insist on driving the course before a marathon!! :)

We finished up with the course drive, and headed back to the hotel to change (it was COLD out!). Then came the coolest thing EVER. We headed out to see Spirit of the Marathon at the Alamo Drafthouse. Now, the Alamo Drafthouse is pretty much my favorite place ever. It's a movie theater where they have servers come around and serve you drinks. I was worried they would get in the way of the movie, but it actually worked really well somehow, and I hardly noticed the servers at all. I was pleased to see that we weren't the only runners imbibing alcoholic beverages during the screening (although, truth be told, I did raise my eyebrow at Wilson when he told me he was ordering a beer)! And I have to say, it was really cool to see the movie again after having actually run a marathon (the last time I saw it was a few weeks prior to my first marathon). Anyway, I am in love with the Alamo Drafthouse and am SERIOUSLY wishing there was a place like that near me!

After the movie, we headed to our dinner reservation at Taverna, a cozy and warm Italian place in the Second Street District. It was . . . SO good. I know the place has had mixed reviews, but seriously? My meal was just incredible. I had one of their specials that night: a butternut squash risotto with sea scallops. The scallops were perfectly cooked, and the risotto? To die for. Even the salad we ordered as a starter was really, really good. It was just a fantastic meal. After dinner, we walked hand in hand through the magically lit Second Street District and back to our hotel. This photo doesn't do it justice, but trust me, it was really pretty:

I got overly excited when someone stopped and asked us if we knew where this wine bar we'd once passed was . . . "Why yes, we do! Take a right on 2nd street, it's towards the end of the block." I really kind of liked pretending that I was an Austinite :) We made the 10-minute walk or so back to the hotel, with a soundtrack of live music blaring out of just about every joint we passed. It made me wonder how Austinites decide what band to go see on any given night, considering there are so darn many options! You could literally just wander around downtown and listen for something you liked . . . you would be guaranteed to find SOMETHING you liked, no matter how picky you are! We got back to the hotel, got our stuff ready for the big day awaiting us, and hit the sheets around 11:00 p.m.


After a restless night of sleep (I think I was more nervous than Wilson was!), I anxiously got up around 4:45 a.m. I (again) fought off the temptation to pin my bib on and run the half-marathon. Instead, I planned on walking to the start with Wilson, then meeting him at two different spots . . . mile 6 and mile 21. When I had asked my sister's friend for tips on spectating, she had given them to me with the assumption that I would use our rental car to get around. But no . . . that's just not my style. I planned to cover it all on foot!

We got ourselves ready and headed out the door at 6 a.m. (for a 7 a.m. race start). We arrived at the start area, and I couldn't help but get REALLY ridiculously excited! I just LOVE the energy at the start of a marathon . . . nothing compares to it. Standing in the middle of Congress Avenue, it would have been the perfect opportunity for a night-time photo of the Capitol Building. It was all lit up and was simply breathtaking! Sadly, I had forgotten to grab the camera before we left the hotel (what kind of spectator am I? Yes, a bad one). Ah well . . . maybe next year ;)

Wilson got on line for the porta-potties and I headed to the mile-6 point to "get a good spot" (ha). For some reason, I was really worried about getting the spot I'd pointed out to Wilson the day before. In my defense, though, mile-6 was super close to the start (just a few blocks away), and I figured tons of people would have the same plan I had in mind. I quickly made my way over there. And? I was the only idiot in sight. And also? I was FREEZING my arse off!! It was in the low-thirties at that point, and I had to get really creative in finding ways to stay warm (at least there was nobody out there to see me!) And what made matters worse was the fact that the race started about 15 minutes late, throwing in a little extra wait time. The one really cool thing, though, was that I could hear a really great blues-y gospel band playing from about a block away. It was certainly nice to have some music to jump around to! At long last, I heard the gun go off and saw the runners take off in the distance. Now, I just had to wait for Wilson to show up!

As I waited ( . . . and waited . . . and waited), a big crowd did indeed begin to form in my area, including a couple of mariachi bands and lots of kids and dogs. It was quite a lively spot! As much as I was enjoying it, I was still pretty chilled and could NOT wait until it was time for me to run! Finally, a minute or two after the 4:00 pace group had passed, I saw Wilson running towards me. I gave him a quick peck and told him to "Get going! I'll see you at 21!" Finally, the moment I had been waiting for! Time for me to run . . .

Now, it was starting to warm up a little by this time, and I had a bit of a run ahead of me (about 5 miles) to get to mile 21 (not to mention, I was planning on running Wilson in from that point to somewhere near-ish to the finish). Thus, I decided to make a stop at the hotel and change from tights into shorts. I filled up my water bottle, changed, used the bathroom . . . and I was off on the hike up Guadalupe. At first it was kind of fun because I got to run past the University of Texas. But soon? I was BORED STIFF. I don't know why, but I was just hating on that route. I think it had something to do with the fact that the cross-streets were climbing in number (my destination was Guadalupe and 47th street), but they were WAY farther apart than NYC city blocks! Not to mention, there were random named streets in between some of them, as well as half-number streets in some instances (i.e. 28th 1/2 st.). UGH. Finally, after what seemed like forever, I arrived at my spot (the UT Intramural Fields), just in time to see some of the leaders go by.

I picked a good, sunny spot and started cheering. Have I mentioned how exhausting cheering is? Because I was seriously pretty wiped by the time Wilson came by a couple hours later! He motioned for me to join him, and I gladly took off to run him in for the final 5-ish miles. I tried to talk to him and gauge how he was feeling, but he wasn't so much in the mood to chat. It seemed that he was doing pretty well, all things considered. As we ran, I tried my best to keep him motivated, especially with the hills we were facing. "You can do it, Wilson. It's just like the hill in Prospect Park . . . you've got it." I'm assuming he wasn't THAT annoyed with my little bits of encouragement, as he didn't bother to respond (whereas I would have been spouting obscenities had the situation been reversed).

At one point, with less than three miles to go, Wilson stopped to stretch, and I kind of didn't know what to do. I wasn't sure if he just wanted an excuse to stop or if he really needed to stretch. I let him stretch for a minute, but then told him that we should get going again . . . luckily, he didn't really put up much of a fight. We took off, and chugged on until we reached the monster of all hills at about mile 25.5. Who puts a huge, evil hill at that point in a marathon??! Wilson was REALLY slowing down, but I convinced him to just keep moving forward up the hill. After what seemed like forever, we finally crested that sucker. We trucked on for another half-mile or so until I had to duck out to avoid the barricades around mile 26. Wilson had been mumbling something that I couldn't at all understand (which I later found out was him just repeating where we would meet up), and I was a little worried, not knowing what he had said . . . but I'm telling you, once he saw those barricades, he REALLY picked it up . . . so much so that I could hardly keep up with him! As I veered off the course, I screamed at him, "Don't stop until you cross that line!"

And with that, I took a detour over to our meet-up spot. Before too incredibly long, there came Wilson wearing his medal and carrying his finisher's shirt. He had finished his first marathon in a very respectable 4:12:50. He immediately plopped himself down on a chair out front of the cafe where we met. I begged him not to sit down, knowing that I wouldn't likely be able to get him up anytime soon if he did. After a few minutes of resting in the chair, he agreed to get up and walk the half-mile or so back to the hotel.

Once we got there, we showered, ordered huge room-service cheeseburgers and fries, and then took a much needed nap. Amazingly, I woke up just in time to get us up and head over to the Austin Convention Center to see a roller derby bout between the Cherry Bombs and the Putas Del Fuego. We had tentatively penciled the 7:00 p.m. bout into our schedule, not knowing how Wilson would feel after the marathon. Luckily, he was feeling well enough to attend. And am I ever glad we did! I was a huge fan of the A&E show "Rollergirls," so it was really cool to get to see the TXRD live! We shared nachos and beer, and stayed for the entire bout, despite the fact that the Cherry Bombs were pummeling the Putas. Let me tell you, those girls are BADASS! And if you are ever in Austin, this is something you MUST check out! I know they have roller derbies elsewhere in the country (including NYC), but this is the REAL DEAL. It is not to be missed.

After the bout, we started to get REALLY hungry again, so we stopped by Sonic. Ah, Sonic! Let me just say that it is a good thing that I don't live within driving distance of a Sonic! We ordered way too much food, brought our chow back to the hotel and scarfed it down before promptly heading to bed after what was one of the LONGEST days ever!


This was our last full day in Austin, so we decided we would make the most of it food-wise. Our first stop was Juan In a Million (the place we had tried to hit up on Saturday morning), home of the Don Juan breakfast taco (of Man vs. Food fame), shown below (yummy!).

Luckily, it was only moderately crowded this time around, and we were able to get a table right away. Let me tell you, the food there was SO good. Wilson went for the monster Don Juan taco, as well as a chorizo and black bean taco. I opted for the chorizo y huevos breakfast plate. Yum! We left there seriously stuffed and decided we needed a serious walk to burn off our brunch! Off we headed to check out the University of Texas. Here are some of the photos we took while on campus:

Wilson with his Austin Marathon medal

Me and a longhorn statue (I wanted to meet Bevo, but had to settle for this one)


Why yes, that is a huge stuffed bear on the front porch! Ah, college.

After exploring the UT campus, we headed to SoCo to do some shopping. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this area. It is chalk full of all kinds of antique-y, quirky shops . . . my favorite of which is Uncommon Objects. We spent a good hour in this store, and we weren't even looking to buy anything! It's just full of so many treasures . . . it's like they collected all of the "junk" from a million different sets of grandparents' houses. There's everything from kitchenware to apparel to decorative items to jewelry to toys . . . I mean EVERTHING. When we finally left Uncommon Objects, we headed to Allens Boots, where I tried to convince Wilson to buy a pair. No dice. But it was really, really fun to get to see all of the beautiful cowboy boots!

After we hit up a few other stores, we decided it was time for snacks. Our plan was to hit up Amy's Ice Creams and to grab some cupcakes from Hey, Cupcake to eat the next day. Sadly, Hey, Cupcake is apparently closed on Mondays, unbeknownst to us :( But here's a picture of it (isn't it adorable?):

On to Amy's we went. I cannot explain why, but that stuff is SERIOUSLY addictive! It's just so creamy and delicious! I had the coffee ice cream (my weakness), and it was TO DIE FOR! Here's a photo of Wilson in front of the location on South Congress:

Next time I am SO trying the "shiner" flavor!

With that, we headed back to the hotel to relax a little before dinner. We watched some television and I answered some emails until it was time to head to the meal we'd been waiting the entire trip for: The Salt Lick (DROOL!). This was the barbecue place EVERYONE told us we had to try out while in Austin. It's actually in Driftwood, TX, about 20-something-ish miles outside of Austin. The drive out there was . . . well, dark and kind of scary for this city girl! But when we finally got there, the smell alone was WELL worth the drive! HEAVENLY!

So here's the deal . . . the best thing ever about The Salt Lick is their family-style all-you-can-eat barbecue deal. You pay $18.95 per person, and they literally will just keep bringing you plates of meat (brisket, pork ribs, sausage) until you tell them to stop. It also comes with sides--white bread, pickles, cole slaw, beans, potato salad and, of course, extra barbecue sauce. To. Die. For. See for yourself:

Wilson had to stop me from diving in there head first!

How can you not drool over this (assuming you aren't a vegetarian, that is)!

Good Stuff. Now, I am almost too embarassed to admit this . . . but due to the earlier events of our self-declared "Day of Gluttony," Wilson and I were only able to finish one measly plate of meat. I know. Simply shameful! I think our server was seriously confused when we told him that one plate was enough! Poor guy. At any rate, I have EVERY intention of heading back there some day, and doing the family-style deal justice! In fact, Wilson and I were talking . . . and we think we may have to get started on planning a marathon that starts in Austin and ends up at The Salt Lick. Then, we REALLY think we could get our money's worth (who's with us?)! Needless to say, we have to INSIST that you check this place out if you are ever in Austin (quick tip: this place is BYOB--so don't forget to bring your favorite brews with you!)

After dinner, we drove around and took some night-time photos of Austin, including these:

Texas State Capitol

If I was a dog, I would totally want to pee on this hydrant. (And no, I was not drunk . . . or well, I guess I might have been "drunk on barbecue." Mostly, I'm just really, unbelievably immature).

With that, our last night in Austin was officially over. It was back to the hotel to pack and get ready to head home to NYC the next morning (boo!).

So there you have it, folks! My loooooong race/vacay report has finally concluded. In case you couldn't tell, my heart is still aching a bit for Austin . . . I am in the process of trying to convince Wilson that we need to move down there. I think The Salt Lick alone may have him convinced, though, so we shall see! I'm definitely thinking at the very least that I will tackle the marathon next year. It's on Valentine's Day! And what better way to spend Valentine's Day than running a marathon and stuffing your face with plates and plates barbecue? I think none :)


Heather said...

great vacation and race report. Congrats to Wilson on finishing his first marathon! Sounds like it was an awesome trip.

aron said...

SUCH a great race and vacation report!!!! congrats to Wilson for his marathon finish! spectating IS a hard job (just posted my spectator report from this weekend!) so congrats to you too for being an AWESOME supporter!!

Spike said...

that was a massive trip/race report. it was great, and it sounds like you and Wilson had a great time. the "day of gluttony" is almost as good as a birthday in my book. food comma is a good goal on days after a marathon.

The Laminator said...

Wow, Irish, you weren't kidding when you warned me this was going to be a LONG race/vacay report. Well done. But seriously, all I read was this...

...I ate here...and then we ate here...and we had beer here...and we ate here too...and here...and here...oh and by the way Wilson ran his first marathon...and then we ate here...and here...and we drove and ate here...and here...and then we came was a good trip!