Thursday, October 27, 2011

Saint Louis Travel & Rock and Roll Race Write-Up

I'll be honest I wasn't real sure what to expect with Saint Louis in general but I really wasn't expecting much. Pretty much the arch was the only thing that came to mind (beside the Cardinals baseball team but being a Cubs fan you know how I feel about them!) I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the city!

I arrived in on Saturday morning and met up with Mel and BJ. We headed towards downtown and on the way needed to stop for lunch.

This is a pizza place that is a Saint Louis institution apparently due to their unique cheese provel. (Not sure how you spell it but I am guessing that my guess is close and no it is not provolone.) The pizza is very thing crust - Mel described it very well as like a saltine cracker crust. The pizza was okay but certainly nothing to write home about. I ate it but do not think I would ever go back again.

After that it was off to our hotel to get checked in so we could go to the Half Marathon expo to collect our goods.

Crowne Plaza Downtown
I've already told you all about my affinity for the Intercontinental Hotels Group so the Crowne Plaza was a natural selection for this trip (especially since there isn't an actual Intercontinental in this city.) I had chosen this hotel before the race course was even announced and got lucky that it was about half a mile from the start, finish and expo! Woo hoo! Upon arrival they had a room ready for us and we were pleasantly surprised to find we were upgraded to a suite. Even better - we have an incredible view of the arch and even though we are a few blocks away if there was a baseball game going on we could see into the stadium for the whole thing!

There is a bar in the hotel (which is apparently open until 3am on weekends) but they have a lousy tap selection (just lousy Bud!) and we didn't check the place out because we wanted to go see the town when we decided to grab a drink. There is no hot tub at this hotel which is a bummer but overall this is a great place to stay.

Marathon Expo
After dropping off our bags we headed to the Convention Center for the Marathon expo to pick up our numbers etc. and check out what "goods" they had there. As usual Rock and Roll Marathons do a great job of merchandising. They had some fabulous designs on their shirts etc. and I am happy to report that they (as best I can tell) have stopped selling finisher shirts at the expo. (As we like to say at the expo the only thing you have finished is coughing up some money!!) The expo was a little smaller than I had hoped and pretty packed but all in all not bad. The shirts definitely leave something to be desired. They are very plain comparative to other race shirts.

BJ raved about gooey butter cake (which I had never had but Mel had and said it was fabulous!) so we headed out to Park Avenue Coffee for what some folks claim is the best gooey butter cake of anywhere. Along the way we wandered through a park area with some art which was very interesting.

We had beautiful weather and it was great to see so many folks out enjoying it. There are a lot of really pretty and interesting buildings to check out as well.

Park Avenue Coffee
After a stop right down the street at a very cute pet shop (where there were some cute dogs "shopping" that we enjoyed visiting with we arrived at our destination for some yummy goodness. I have to say they did not disappoint!  We ordered 3 different flavors of gooey butter cake to share: traditional, double chocolate and pumpkin. (We tried to order Turtle but they were out. Bummer!) The traditional and double chocolate were melt in your mouth delicious. I am sure the pumpkin was good too (Mel & BJ said it was) if you like pumpkin but I do not so I didn't even mess with that flavor. We all decided that it was a good thing that gooey butter cake is a Saint Louis thing and not down the street from any of us where we live because we might all be 300 pounds!

Square One Brewery & Distillery
You didn't think we'd spend a day wandering about the city and not find a brewpub if there was one did you?! Luckily this one was right down the street from Park Avenue Coffee. We found ourselves a table in the bar area and proceeded to order a sampler to contain one of each beer they have. This actually meant 3 samplers since each contains 4 beers and that's the number of varieties they had available. These sample sizes were 5oz samples which is larger than the standard size which was just fine with us!

We decided to grab a little snackage and ordered some pretzels, beer cheese soup and a scotch egg. The pretzels were decent, the soup was okay but nothing fabulous and BJ said the Scotch egg was really good though I was not a fan of it in general (it was my first time trying it and I don't think I'll have it again irrespective of where I am eating it.) The beers were really quite good with a wide variety including several IPAs, a pumpkin, a weiss, a stout and a few others. Had they bottled there was one or 2 I would have considered buying to take home with me. Definitely stop here to try the beer!!!

We then wandered back towards our hotel. We walked passed Busch Stadium which, in spite of the beyond lousy company it is named for, is a great looking stadium. I really look forward to coming here some day to catch the Cubs beating the Cardinals there for a game. Obviously the city is very excited with them playing in the World Series and all over town there are signs and such, the fountain is red, some statues have jerseys on... it's great to see so much excitement about America's Favorite Pastime.

Apparently Saint Louis is also the birthplace of Toasted Ravioli so BJ had some recommendations from folks as to where we should go for that. It was Saturday night so lots of places were so packed it was out of the question but we found a great place.

Trattoria Marcela
While this place looks small when you step into the bar and hostess area we found out that it is really rather large with a nice outdoor area as well. Since we didn't have a reservation and didn't want to wait until 8:30pm we opted for a table outside. (The weather was nice enough to make this doable.) We ordered the toasted ravioli as an appetizer to share and I will be honest - I loved it so much I wish I had ordered it as my main course! They brought out some bread with hummus which I found strange. An Italian place serving hummus just seems all sorts of wrong to me. Dinner was quite tasty as well and the portions are huge. But by far my favorite part was the Toasted Ravioli and I would go back just to have that again!!!

Solutia Rock and Roll Saint Louis Half Marathon
While Competitor Group is the official company that puts on all these races the main presenting sponsor of this inaugural race in Saint Louis was Solutia. The first impressions we had in the city of the race was that Solutia had done a really great job of signage throughout the city about the race and wishing the runners luck.

The race was set to start at 7:30am so we woke up way to early so we could all put a little fuel in our bellies and get ready to head out. The weather was about 50 degrees which is always a tough one for me to decide what the heck it is that I want to wear. I was thinking that the race was going to be a really bad one for me so I decided to go ahead and put the long sleeve shirt on underneath the short sleeve shirt I wanted to be showing since I figured that stopping to walk so I could toss my long sleeve shirt and put my short sleeve shirt on wouldn't be a problem. (Tip for any runners out there who are new to this - always check for cheap long sleeve shirts that after you wear a few times you don't mind tossing out. These are great for runs that start out cold and then you can just toss it when you are warm enough. I paid $4 or so for this shirt and had already worn it about 20 times in training runs so I had more than gotten my money's worth. And not to worry - it's not littering. The race volunteers pick up all the "discarded"and generally donate them to goodwill or homeless shelters etc.) Boy did I choose badly! (more later...) And as I pretty much generally do I ran in a tutu :) I chose to wear my Tutus for Tatas attire since I didn't run the Race for the Cure earlier in the month.

We got to the start line and near our corral. (That's one of the many things that the Rock and Roll Series does well - they do a lot of corrals to make sure people shouldn't be tripping all over one another.) They announced the race would start a few minutes late so we just hung out. It was a great area to start in - neat buildings near us and the arch in the foreground. After they played the National Anthem it was time to get started. They started letting corrals go and we started moving forward. Before we knew it we were up and it was our turn to be off and running.

I will spare the gritty details of 13 miles of running but I can tell you that I seriously goofed with my clothing choices because I was roasting by mile 3 but didn't want to slow down or stop to rearrange my clothes til about mile 9!!! The course was a very pretty course - in fact I would be willing to go out on a limb and say in the 15 half marathons I have run overall it was the best course as a whole yet! Good support on the route and lots of spectators which is always motivational! A few more rolling hills than I expected but no ridiculously steep ones which is a bonus. I finished pretty sure that I ran a personal best (we call them a PR) but hadn't worn a watch so I didn't know exactly what my time was. I would have to wait til I got back to the room to check.

After the race there was the usual snacks and photos. There was a beer garden by MGD that I simply could not bring myself to drink no matter that I was thirsty and it was free. The medals look fabulous! And frankly it's all about the bling ;)

Got back to the room and I got my big disappointment. While I was pretty sure I'd run a best when I logged on to look it up the online system didn't have a finish time for me. Apparently there was something wrong with my timing chip :( It logged my start and my 5K split but not my finish :( Mel said she saw me and she is certain I finished in front of her so when we looked up her time I knew I had run a PR because her time was better than my previous best time. Now I just really want to know exactly what my time is so I have that benchmark. They are looking it to it to try and piece it together with pictures etc. I sure hope that works out. On a happier note though all 3 of us (Mel, BJ & myself) ran PRs!!! That was cause for celebration!

Our traditional post race is that we run for shower time meaning first person to finish gets to shower first etc. So we all finished up our showers and headed out for some much desired lunch.

Morgan Street Brewery

Lucky for us this place was about half a mile from the hotel. We wandered in and got a seat right away. Great comfortable atmosphere and a pretty good looking menu. We of course ordered the sampler which included their pilsner, pumpkin ale, Oktoberfest, Honey Wheat and Decades their anniversary beer. All were quite tasty (as usual I didn't like the pumpkin) and we each picked our favorite pint to enjoy after the sampler was finished. The food was decent food nothing to jump for joy over but certainly food I would eat again. I had a burger and they have these unique sides instead of fries called Conniques which are deep fried mashed potatoes. Very interesting and pretty yummy.

After that we decided to wander over right to the arch so BJ could touch it (his requirement for the trip). It was a beautiful day so we were quite happy to be outside! We got some pictures outside and then wandered inside to check the gift shop. We had figured that there was a long wait to go up in the arch so we were okay with not doing that. Well thanks to BJ's keen observation we changed that plan! There was virtually no wait to go up in the arch so we decided to go for it. Tickets for an adult to go up in the arch are $10. The little elevator you get on is really quite small and holds 5 people. This is definitely not a place for someone who is overly claustrophobic. The elevator does almost a stair step movement to get up the arch - it's really a fascinating thing from an engineering perspective. It takes 4 minutes to get to the top crammed into the car like sardines.

At the top there are 16 (I think) windows on each side which offer a nice view. Definitely worth being able to say you did if you go to Saint Louis.

Then came time for our standard post run nap which was must needed at this point. Plus we needed to gather some energy for dinner :)

Mike Shannon's
Lately we have been trying to have a steak after our runs for dinner that night as a celebratory treat. We decided on Mike Shannon's because it was walking distance and had been recommended by someone. (We also try and go to a  local place instead of a chain and this fit that bill.) Walking in there's great decor of baseball bats, balls and photos. Sadly the food and service didn't meet the standards of the ambiance or price. The service was haphazard. For example when our bread was dwindling she came by and asked if we wanted more, when we said yes she took the basket (with 2 pieces left) but never returned with more. The visits to the table were very infrequent to see how we were doing or if we needed anything else. The steak was an average steak but nothing special with very little flavor. The sides we ordered were below average as well - the mac & cheese was plain and boring and the broccolini left a lot to be desired. Bottom line - skip this place and head elsewhere for your money because it definitely was not cheap and it certainly was not worth what we paid for it.

Ted Drewes Frozen Custard
We opted to go elsewhere for some dessert and Ted Drewes is another Saint Louis institution - this one known for their concretes (similar to a DQ blizzard). This treat was extremely tasty and very very well priced! I am not a big ice cream fan but I loved my Heath Concrete and would highly recommend that anyone in the area swing by there for a treat!

All in all it was a great trip to Saint Louis and one day I look forward to going back so I can go to Busch Stadium to cheer on the Cubs!!!

1 comment:

  1. Okay - two things. The statue in the park is hillarious, but then I do have a dirty mind. Second - Mel was drinking BEER?!?! There's hope for her yet! Glad y'all had fun. Hope they get your time worked out!