Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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Batiste Dry Shampoo Review

Back when I used to live in Boston a friend recommended this dry shampoo hair product to me, Batiste. This friend swore by it and said it made hair maintenance so much easier as she didn't have to wash and blow dry her hair as often. At that time the dry shampoo came in a plastic bottle with a nose tip and you had to squeeze the bottle to get the powder out. For whatever reason, I could never figure out how to evenly spread the powder in my hair so I gave up on the product and eventually threw the bottle away.

Fast forward to today and I am again trying Batiste, but this time the appearance and delivery are different. Instead of the powder being in a plastic bottle, it is now in a spray bottle. They have also expanded the line to include different scents and dry shampoos that add volume and color to your hair.
The dry shampoo that I have been using is their "fruity & cheeky cherry" and I have been loving it. As someone who sweats on a daily basis and likes to keep her hair as low maintenance as possible, this dry shampoo has worked wonders in turning my damp and sweaty hair into dry hair that actually feels and looks healthier than my hair normally does after a wash. Since I started using Batiste I have been able to push back washing my hair from every day/other day to every three days. That may not seem like much, but to someone who doesn't like to spend more than two minutes a day on her hair, it's a big deal. The best part has really been the change from a plastic bottle to a spray bottle because application is quick and easy. The cherry smell is also great and I even got complimented on the smell. 
Sprays on white but disappears after brushing.
The only downside for me is finding it in store and not having to order it online. Either way, this is a product I will continue to use. If I found it years ago in Boston and then again now, I'm sure I won't have any trouble finding it again soon.
Nice hair, happy face.
Note: Batiste Hair sent me a free sample as a Girls Gone Sport Ambassador, but all the opinions in this review are my own.

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Weighing In on the Chicago Deep Dish Battle

I've been in Chicago for three weeks now (!!!) and I did not waste any time in finding out which deep dish pizza was my favorite. Before moving up here I had heard about Gino's East and Giordano's, but in the past two weeks I had heard a lot about Lou Malnati's. After much negotiation (I'm lying) and hair pulling (I'm really lying), I was able to convince (super lying) Alex to go with me to Giordano's and Lou Malnati's. We had already tried Gino's back in April so the goal in the past two weeks that Alex has been here has been to get to Giordano's and Lou Malnati's and survive a meal there with the girls. I say "survive" because deep dish pizzas can take up to an hour to get to your table and our girls usually max out their good behavior reserves at around the hour mark. The goal was also to try pizzas that were similar so that we could make a semi-fair comparison. So, without further ado, here are my thoughts in order of when I tried each pizza:

Gino's East
This was the first deep dish pizza I tried in the city. My first thought was "What the hell? I need to wait 45-minutes for pizza? There is no way we are ever going to a restaurant to eat deep dish with the girls." It actually wasn't 45-minutes and ordering an appetizer was a must to help us get through the time.  We ordered a small pepperoni deep dish pizza and I was, unfortunately, disappointed. The crust tasted like yeast to me and the pepperoni tasted like salami. I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't what I had. (Note: I have since gone back and it was better, but still not my favorite. Their thin crust pizza was better than deep dish).

Second deep dish pizza I tried in the city and we went all the way with a true meat lover's pizza: bacon, salami, sausage, and pepperoni. Giordano's calls their pizza a "stuffed" pizza and I honestly can't think of a better descriptor. The pizza was loaded with cheese and the meats. The pizza seemed almost upside down with the order of ingredients being crust, meats, cheese, and sauce. I made it through a slice and half of this pizza and had the leftovers for lunch the next day. We waited about 35 minutes for the pizza to come out and, because we went during lunch time during the week, there was no wait for a table. The girls had a thin crust cheese pizza, but our pizza looked and tasted better than their pizza.

Lou Malnati's 
Last but certainly not least was the sausage and pepperoni pizza we ordered from Lou Malnati's. This pizza was, by far, the freshest and healthiest tasting pizza of all the pizzas. The pepperoni was so good that the girls were eating it and they haven't wanted to eat pepperoni in a very long time (they also devoured their thin crust cheese pizza). There are two things that I really liked about Lou Malnati's that the other two restaurants don't offer: (1) personal-sized pizzas and (2) the ability to order your food while you wait for a table so that your deep dish pizza gets to you soon after you sit down. The only thing neither of us were fans of was the sausage as it was a sausage patty (too breakfast-y) and not sausage chunks like in the Giordano's pizza.

Which was my favorite? It's almost a toss up between Giordano's and Lou Malnati's. If it's just Alex and me (or just me), I would go to Giordano's because the level of cheese is out of this world and makes my heart happy. I also liked the way their pizza tasted the next day the best. If we are going with the girls, I would go to Lou Malnati's because I've never seen them eat pizza they way they did there (the left only three pieces of their small pizza) and because you can order your food while you wait saving time at the table.

There are still other pizza places in the city I want to try, but I'm happy I was able to make it out to these three when I did after hearing so many recommendations for them. If you live in Chicago or have been here before and have been to these restaurants, which was your favorite?

For more on my Chicago adventures, follow me on Facebook and Instagram @thecookierunner 

Friday, July 25, 2014

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Race Recap: Rock 'n' Roll Chicago Half Marathon

Rock 'n' Roll Chicago would be my second Chicago half marathon, but my first half marathon as a newly transplanted resident. What really had me excited about this race, however, was that it was going to be my close friend's first half marathon. I have known this particular friend since college and, to this day, we call ourselves Lilo and Stitch. When I mentioned running this race to my friend, she immediately agreed to run it and then suggested we dress up as Lilo and Stitch. This was going to be my first race dressing up as anything so I was excited. My "costume" shows how far I have come in my journey of self-love and acceptance as I ran 13.1 miles in a red Calavera swim top.

One of my favorite parts about bigger races is expo. Expo is like Disney to a runner with a huge room filled with anything and everything running related and lots of freebies. We spent around three hours at expo and I came home feeling like I won the runner's lottery.

There were jitters the day before the race, but the morning of the race I was surprisingly calm. I usually get anxious before a half marathon, but maybe, I knew that I had to be the calm one to help center and calm my friend.

We started the race in the 17th corral but didn't have to wait long as we started running about 20 minutes after the race started at 6:30am. The first third of the race took us through the parts of the city I was familiar with, the second third of the race took us through a part of the city I had yet to explore, and the third part of the race took us through a part of the city and the lakefront I never thought I would run because of how far south the part of the race was.
With Fireman Rob
Between miles 9 and 10 my friend began to struggle as the mind games and the "you can't do this" and "it hurts too much to move forward" started to kick in. She did what she had to do and kept moving. I kept talking and we took breaks for stretching and fueling. She didn't say much but you could see the determination on her face to fight for her finish. Right before mile 13 she had a sharp pain in her left leg. More stretching and then an all-out sprint to the finish line. Her face at the finish line has to be my favorite part of this race as she looked like she was going to cry in pain and out of happiness at the same time. I felt like I was looking at myself last year after finishing my first half marathon. To go from not thinking you can do it to doing it, is one of the best feelings ever. I was so proud of my friend and honored to be the person that got to run 13.1 miles with her and celebrate her conquering her mental bullies.

The races with the PRs are great, but the ones that touch your heart are my favorites. I was a part of my friend's story, that part where she set out to accomplish something she never thought possible.

What I liked:
  • Great expo and easy packet pickup. 
  • Finishing half #12 and helping my friend finish half #1. 
  • Running through downtown Chicago. 
  • Running through unexplored parts of Chicago.  
  • Nice race shirts. 
  • All the GU (I was that girl picking up unopened GUs from the floor). 
  • Water and Gatorade on the course. 
  • Music festival and free beer. 
  • Nice medal (I like the 5K one better though). 
  • Meeting Instagram friends in person.
  • Perfect start time for the weather. 
  • Free beer!
  • Great crowds in the beginning half and end of the race. 
  • Earning my Remix medal for completing the 5K Saturday and the half Sunday.
  • Project Onward Moving Art Museum.

 What I didn't like:
  • I was expecting more entertainment on the course. 
  • Mile 11-ish entertainment: they had talent but the music was so slow. 
  • My Garmin freaked out during the race and says I finished with 14.5 miles done. 
There are a few half marathons I would like to do and, of course, Spartan in September, but for now I am training for Chicago and signing up for things that Alex's schedule allows. 

You can see all my pictures from my Rock 'n' Roll weekend in my Instagram @thecookierunner

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Race Recap: Rock 'n' Roll Chicago 5K

Participating in Rock 'n' Roll Chicago's Saturday, July 19th 5K is proof that I am an impulsive racer. I was signed up to do the half marathon on Sunday, July 20th and I knew about the new 5K on Saturday, but I didn't sign up until the week before the race when I got an email from Rock 'n' Roll saying that Shalane Flanagan would be at the event taking pictures with participants. As soon as I realized that I would have a chance at meeting this inspiring woman, I signed up. It's not every day that you can meet a running phenom with connections to Boston, right?

The race thankfully started at 8:00am, which in Miami would have been dreadful, but in Chicago, with the cooler temperatures, was nice. My Miami friend, who was going to be running the half with me, kindly woke up early and went to the race with me. I told her my goal was to finish in 25 minutes. I had come close to that time in training runs so I was confident that if everything lined up and my body and mind cooperated, I would be able to set a PR on this run.

The race started and, because I was toward the back of the group, I tried to maneuver myself away from the big crowd. I spotted a guy in a blue shirt who looked like he was running at a pace that would help me get my PR and focused on simply keeping him within sight. The first mile flew by as I wove in and around people. The second mile hurt and the third mile hurt even more. Never once did my brain act up and I was so thankful that all that hurt was the burning in my legs. When I finished I couldn't even believe my unofficial time of 24:43 (official time 24:40) because that's a time and pace I never thought possible. All my hard work and dedication are paying off in ways that I can see.

As soon as I finished we walked over the festival area and got in line to meet Shalane Flanagan. The wait was worth it as I turned into a giddy fool when it was my turn to have my picture taken with her. I even gave her two sweaty hugs and I hate sweaty hugs!

What I liked:
  • Expo was great and packet pickup was easy. 
  • Later start time meant I could go through my normal morning routine. 
  • I walked to and from the race. 
  • Ran through a part of the lakefront I hadn't run through before. 
  • The medal is gorgeous. 
  • Meeting Shalane Flanagan. 
  • PR! PR! PR! PR!
  • Boston feels like it could be a reality. 
  • Sufficient water on course. 
What I didn't like:
  • I wish there would have been more of the race on the lakefront trail.  
  • Getting a PR means that I don't even remember what I didn't like! 
Next race recap will be for Rock 'n' Roll Chicago Half Marathon on July 20th.

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Race Recap: Down 2 Earth 13.1 Trail Run

The fact that I am writing about a race I ran a month ago is sad because that's how long the movers had my stuff. I won't even get into the details over our disastrous move so I'll just focus on the positive: I have my stuff, I love living in Chicago, and I've already raced twice in the two weeks since I moved. Before I get to those Chicago races, I have to tell you about my experience with running a half marathon distance trail run.

They say that before you do your second marathon you need to have gotten over your first marathon. This is exactly how I feel about my first trail half marathon, Down 2 Earth. I've had races that are hard mentally and runs that are hard physically. For me, the trail 13.1 was both. I signed up for the race as a training run and somehow roped my friend into doing the race as well. I have never felt so bad about getting someone to run with me as this course was not easy (trails really are a whole different beast).

The run was four loops in the trails and most of the course was spent running alone (my friend had knee issues and told me to run ahead after the second loop and then later stopped at mile 10). If it weren't for the fact that I was hoping to catch my friend cross the finish line, I don't know how I would have finished. In many ways this race felt like my first half marathon with all the mind games and "you can't do this" that was going on in my head. My friend may have been upset she didn't finish, but just the thought of her (and my guilt over convincing her to sign up) inspired and motivated me to finish.

What got to me the most with the trails was how hard the run was; oftentimes, I felt like I was running a 9-minute mile when in reality I was running a 13-minute mile. Certain miles felt eternal and they certainly looked it because nothing ever really looked familiar. Also, I am so used to running races with big crowds, that running alone in such unfamiliar territory was a little isolating. I missed the "you got this!" being screamed at me from the sidelines. I don't think I would ever want to do another 13.1 distance, but I can definitely see myself signing up for another 10K trail run.

What I liked:
  • For as much as I haven't been able to get over this run, I did like the fact that it challenged me and reminded me that I am strong enough to overcome the bully in my head.
  • Inexpensive entry fee and easy day-of packet pickup.
  • Cool trails. 
  • Having my friend as company for half of the race and then seeing her face at the finish line.
  • This race made me really respect all those runners out there who prefer and excel in the trails.
  • 7:30am start time so we started running in full sunlight, but the trails were so well covered you didn't even feel the heat of the day.
  • General feelings of bad-assery associated with having simply finished.
What I didn't like:
  • I would have liked a more memorable medal. 
  • Sparsely populated course.
  • It was hard as hell (whine, whine). 
Next race recap will be Rock n Roll Chicago 5K from July 19th.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

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Easy Chocolate Mousse

The majority of our things are on their way to Chicago. It's hard to believe that the time is nearing for our big move up north. It's even harder for me to believe that this is the second big interstate move in five years and third in nine years. First it was Boston and now it's Chicago; I'm starting to think the north really wants us.

One of the frustrating things about this move has been having to plan what goes, what stays, and what we can live without for two weeks. A lot of my kitchen things went up so I am left having to be creative and making recipes that don't require much kitchen equipment. This recipe for Chocolate Mousse fits that bill perfectly as it doesn't require baking and the ingredients are minimal. The best part is that it comes together quickly and tastes amazing.

Easy Chocolate Mousse
Source: WonkyWonderful
Serves 4

16 oz cold heavy cream
2 Tablespoon powdered sugar
1½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Melt chocolate chips in the microwave, stopping every 30 seconds to stir. Once the chocolate is melted, set aside to cool slightly.

Whip the heavy cream in your stand mixer using the whisk attachment until it thickens and peaks appear.

Add the powdered sugar and melted chocolate. Whip for another 30 seconds or until the mousse is thick and fully blended.

Transfer to serving dishes. Garnish with whipped cream or chocolate shavings. Serve and enjoy.

Note: the Mousse can also be refrigerated and served later.
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Thursday, June 12, 2014

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Spartan The F*ck Up with Joe De Sena

I've spent the past two weeks thinking about the things that I want to accomplish. My list includes mostly fitness things like finishing the Chicago Marathon with a huge smile and qualifying for Boston in the next 5-6 years. It also includes things like embracing myself more and exuding so much happiness and confidence that others around have no doubt about how comfortable I feel in my skin and in my life.

One of the fitness things I want to accomplish is starting and finishing a Spartan Race. I've taken the first step of signing up for one, the Chicago Super in September. I have friends who have run this and each of them has told me how life-changing and life-affirming the experience was for them. In my path to prep for Chicago, I dove into Joe De Sena's book, Spartan Up! If you can, read it. Now. It took me four hours to read the book and left me so excited about the Spartan lifestyle and inspired to take up the challenge of doing 30 burpees a day. There were two quotes that instantly struck me and haven't left me:

"Challenging yourself to accomplish more than you know you can is never stupid--it helps show you what you are capable of. It creates a new frame of reference, one you can draw upon in the face of other things that are perceived as being tough in your life. It shows you the possibilities you didn't know existed." (p. xix)

"Everyone has to suffer to put things in perspective, and bitching burns between zero and zero calories a minute, so there's no use in complaining about your hardships." (p. 180)

My life has had its share of challenges lately and, the more I think about those challenges, the more stressed out and frustrated I become. This book and those two quotes in particular reminded me of the importance of not being afraid to stop thinking and start doing. Thinking and talking about my problems gets me nowhere other than deeper in my problems. Doing something about them, changing my frame of reference, does the opposite and shows me that I am capable of overcoming life's obstacles and of looking back on those challenges and being able to smile ruefully.

To celebrate my signing up for my first Spartan Race and Spartan Up! here's an interview with insanely inspiring Joe De Sena. But first, a video:

What keeps you driven to lead an active lifestyle?
To be better than I was yesterday. My inspiration is in seeking inspiration from others that would wake up and take action in their lives. Isn’t it fun to watch movies where people work against all odds and get it done?

Where did the idea for the book, Spartan Up!, come from?
I have been writing it for 30 years, but now someone wants to listen :)

What is the most unique thing about Spartan Race?
We design our courses in a way that helps really push people up against the wall. That is the best place to be because it helps change your frame of reference. Once your frame of reference is changed life becomes easier. Spartan Race is more like the Special Forces or the Olympics. Others are more like going to a carnival and party.

As someone who is participating in the Chicago Super Spartan, what makes this particular location unique?
Its Chicago home of the deep dish pizza and worst mud in the universe...its brutal.

What has been your proudest athletic moment?
I would say it was the Ukatek in Northern Quebec because it was terrible and pushed me to the edge…I just liked to be pushed! The harder the better.

How is it that you hope to inspire others to lead healthier and more active lives?
Because at our core, we are meant to do this. We are animals and somewhere along the way we forgot. I want to inspire; there is nothing worse than an uninspired person in my mind. Let's get the world off the couch and pumped up to get stuff done in life!

Which obstacle is your favorite Spartan Race obstacle?
Yourself. If you can get your head to believe you can get anything done that is the key. We are all our own greatest obstacles.

What are your hopes for yourself and Spartan Race for the future?
To have Spartan Race in the Olympics!

What has been the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
Be patient. It's a long game and listen to older people.

If a person was only able to read one chapter of your book, which chapter would you suggest they read and why?
The prologue so they get hooked :)

Thank you Joe De Sena for creating Spartan Race and for writing such an inspiring book. Can't wait to conquer Chicago! For more on the book or to purchase a copy, go here.

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Note: the book was given to me by Spartan Race but the opinions in this post are all my own. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

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Fuel Your Better: Vega Sport Pre-Workout Energizer Review

As a Sweat Pink Ambassador I was able to participate in Vega Sport's Fuel Your Better campaign and got to sample Vega Sport's Pre-Workout Energizer. I drink their protein shakes daily so I had high hopes for the Energizer and was curious if drinking something like this would make a difference in my runs.
I've been running long enough to know that I don't hit my stride and get comfortable in my run until mile three or so. This would be my gauge for how well the Energizer worked or if it impacted my workout at all. First, though, I had to actually drink the Energizer. I was sent the Lemon Lime flavor and, while it smelled good, I was not prepared for how it would taste. It wasn't the most horrible thing I've tasted, but it wasn't the greatest either. It's hard to describe how it tasted exactly, but it tasted really healthy and reminded me of the Isagenix cleanse liquid. I drank it as quickly as possible, hung out for 20-minutes, and then went on my run. That run ended up being a great run and I hit my stride quickly after the first mile and ended up running at my target pace. 
The second time I tried the Energizer, I did something different and that made a world of difference in the taste. When I first tried it, I simply put it in a cup with water and ice and stirred. The second time I put it in my Blender Bottle with water and ice and shook the crap out of it. The Energizer was cold and went down smooth. I still had to drink it in shot-like fashion, but I didn't think I was going to be unable to actually finish the 8-ounces like the first time around.

Over the course of two weeks I alternated which runs I drank the Energizer with and the Energizer runs were consistently the ones I felt really strong and hit my target pace. The runs without the Energizer were the ones I felt sluggish on and had trouble keeping a consistent and easy training pace.

Overall, I really enjoyed the box of Pre-Workout Energizer I was sent and was sad when I drank my last packet. The good thing about being able to sample this as part of the Fuel Your Better campaign is that now I have something else to add to my list of "Must-Have Fuel" as I train for all my races and, especially, the Chicago Marathon. Vega Sport and their products have changed the way I think about fueling in general so I recommend everyone to look into them to learn more about proper fueling.

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Note: the Pre-Workout Energizer was given to me as part of the Fuel Your Better campaign but the opinions in this post are all my own. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

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Twilight 5K Race Recap

Last weekend I ran what will probably be my last 5K in Miami, the Twilight 5K. All my races lately have been bittersweet because they are ran with amazing people but ran with lots of emotion because they are marking the end of something: last run with my running group, last run with my school friends, last run with the grandparents coming out and supporting Cati, it goes on and on.

I ran this race last year and it was my second race after my IT band injury. It was this race that made me believe that I could recover from my injury and actually run faster. Since my injury, though, I am enjoying the run more and the people I'm sharing those runs with. Don't get me wrong, I am still training to run faster and have big running dreams, but getting others into running and having fun while running are my priority. So running this race this year with my school friends (now colleagues!) meant so much more than getting a personal best. Signing Cati up for the kids' dash and seeing her really run and laugh was the true highlight of this race.

What I liked:

  • Night race that started at 7pm. 
  • Race shirts were gender specific and fit well. 
  • Smooth packet pickup. 
  • Course was nice (South Miami neighborhood).
  • Free beer. 
  • Rock climbing and bounce house for kids. 
  • Plenty of food for everyone to snack on before and after the race. 
  • The company. 
  • Watching Cati run and having the whole family out to support her. 
  • Cute kids medal. 
  • Announcement of all runners as they crossed the finish line. 

What I didn't like:
  • Just like last year, it was really hot and muggy. 
  • I like the shirt, but I want a medal!
Next race recap will be for my first trail half marathon on June 29th. Cannot wait!

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Monday, May 19, 2014

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Spartan Up! with a Whiskey Caramel Sauce

Today has been a great day. I had an awesome workout this morning, I was able to catch up on this poor neglected blog before lunchtime, and I've handled tantrums so well today that I actually looked forward to picking up the girls from school. On top of that, I received my copy of Spartan Up!, the new book from Joe De Sena, the founder of Spartan Race. If you didn't know, running a Spartan Race is on my bucket list of races and I'm hoping to cross that off my list come September with the Chicago Super.  I can't wait to read the book and find more gems like this one:

"If you don’t shift your frame of reference, 
you become closed off to the 
magic and joy life has to offer." 

To celebrate today and really make it great, I got in the kitchen and whipped up my favorite caramel sauce. I was talking about it with a friend yesterday and, then today, I thought "Why wait? Why not today?" In the last week, I have felt like a very strong runner, I have gotten in the kitchen to bake three times, and I started reading a new book. I am loving not having the responsibility of school or clients anymore and am starting to feel a little more like myself. 

Whiskey Caramel Sauce
Source: Jill O'Connor's Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey
Makes 1 cup

1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup whiskey
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 Tbsp vanilla extract

Combine the sugar, whiskey, and lemon juice in a heavy bottom saucepan over medium heat. Cook, gently swirling the pan occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and starts to turn color. Increase the heat to high and boil until the syrup turns a deep amber color, 4 to 5 minutes. Watch carefully, as it can burn  quickly.

Immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour in the cream and salt. Carefully stir in cream, as caramel has a tendency to hiss and splash as the cold cream hits it. Place pan over low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until caramel thickens, 7 to 10 minutes. The mixture should be the consistency of thick cream. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.

Let cool.

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Note: the book was given to me by Spartan Race but the opinions in this post are all my own.