Friday, April 25, 2014

9 Mudless Obstacle Races


Obstacle races are the latest and greatest craze these days. There are mainstream national events that almost everyone has heard of such as the Tough Mudder, the Spartan Series, and Rugged Maniac. There are women only mud runs and new start up mud runs that seem to pop up every other month. 

But let’s face it, sometimes you just want to test your abilities and not ruin your clothes and shoes in the process. Sure, you could skip obstacle races all together and keep doing road races chasing that PR. But, since we can’t PR at every race, why not have some fun and try one of these mudless events?


  Spartan Stadium Series

Spartan Stadium series photo, curtesy of Spartan website



As one of the top races in the sport, I’m sure everyone has heard of the Spartan Series by now. But, did you know they have a mud-free option? 

Called the stadium sprints, these races are 3 to 4 miles, with many of the same obstacles as the regular spartan sprints, sans the mud. Although the distance is beginner friendly, I would rate the obstacles as difficult, with burpee penalties for not being able to complete them.

There are 3 upcoming stadium events left in the 2014 season:

Citizen’s Bank Park (Philly) -  September 20th 2014, Link: HERE 

Miller Park (Wisconsin) - November 1st 2014, LINK: HERE

Fenway Park (Boston)- November 15th 2014 LINK:  HERE

Unfortunately, the Citibank event in New York has already past, so we won’t be able to participate in the Stadium series this year. However, we do plan on doing the Super Spartan in Vernon New Jersey in September!

ROC race 

ROC race wrecking ball
The wrecking ball, the highlight of the ROC Race


Ever seen the TV game show Wipeout? This 5k obstacle race is similar to the TV series, and was the first game show inspired race of its kind. With obstacles like the wrecking ball, the sweeper, and the gorilla bars, this untimed race is more about fun than anything else and is beginner friendly, but some of the obstacles will test your agility. You won’t get muddy but there is some water at this event. This is a nationwide event so check the website listings for a location near you!
Brian and I participated in this last year along with Larissa from www.thetravelingmortician.com  and had a great time; you can read about our experience HERE 


Hit and Run 5k

Bouncy bridge obstacle, courtesy of Hit and Run 5k


This untimed race popped up about a year after the ROC race went national and is slowly gaining popularity. With only 6 obstacles, mostly inflatable, listed on their website, I would rate this as easy and for beginners, and also something to bring the whole family to, as they have parent/kid waves for children as young as 10. There also seems to be the possibility to stay dry, provided you clear the Duck or Dive obstacle, which looks extremely similar to the ROC race Wrecking ball. Although this event is national, they have stuck to middle America and Florida to date, so we have not yet had the opportunity to test it out.

Epic Fail Challenge


Photo Courtesy of Epic Fail Challenge


This untimed 5k is the new kid of the block, with the inaugural event taking place at the Aviator center in New York on May 3rd. While this is the only scheduled race on their website, they do have a location tab, and they indicate that they intend to take the series national. It seems similar to both the ROC race and the Hit and Run 5k, but has the addition of some more challenging obstacles such as “Swing or Swim,” where you cross a pool of water while swinging on multiple ropes. It also has innovative fun obstacles, such as foam pits. Sadly, it looks like we will be unable to make the race date, so we have to hope it’s a success so we can try it at a later date!

Fitathlon


Photo courtesy of Fitathlon Challenge


As a new concept in the sport, the Fitathlon deems itself a true fitness test, with obstacles geared specifically to test one of four areas of fitness: speed and agility, strength, endurance, and balance. There are about 15-20 obstacles and there is a choice between a 5k or 10k distance. This series also differentiates from the group by making participants register in the level they want to race at: newbie, beginner, challenger, competitor, super competitor. The series is currently centered around the east coast, and we are hoping to participate in one of the upcoming events.


Insane Inflatable Race

Photo courtesy of Insane Inflatable 5k


By now, you can probably tell that it seems the obstacle race mudless community thinks inflatable obstacles are the way to go. This 5k race takes that idea to the extreme, with every single obstacle being inflatable, designed by the company themselves. The inaugural event just took place in El Paso Texas and they have events taking place in various states throughout the rest of the year. This 5k clearly is for beginners and more about fun that a challenge, but since we will try anything once, we are planning to give it a go this summer!

 Great Inflatable Race



Photo Courtesy of Great Inflatable race, family oriented fun run


The inflatable craze continues with yet another untimed approximate 5k run that is more geared towards family fun that the races previously mentioned. While there is no mud at this race, you will unfortunately get dirty on the 100 ft Jello inflatable slide. The next event is set to occur in Salt Lake City on May 31st 2014, following by events in Seattle and Fresno in June and September. Fun runs don’t get more beginner friendly than this, so if your just starting out on your fitness journey and live in one of the cities this event is being held, this race is for you!

Alpha Warrior


Photo Courtesy of Alpha Warrior


Ever watched American Ninja warrior and thought, I can do that?  Well, this event is your chance to try it out something extremely similar! It is run by Brent Steffensen, a multi-time top performing American Ninja Warrior contestant, and is based on the slogan “No mud, no miles, no mercy.” This course has over 30 obstacles, with no running breaks in between, and requires pure upper body strength combined with agility and stamina to complete. As a fan of ANW, I was excited to hear about this up and coming obstacle course and waited for the 2014 event schedule to be announced. Sadly, the 2014 event page has been “coming soon” for 5 months, and since we are almost mid way through the year, I am afraid this event may already be defunct. Let’s hope they get it together soon as this is an innovative event that we would love to try!















Xtreme Obstacle Challenge

Photo Courtesy of Xtreme Obstacle Challenge facebook page


Starting as a local Florida obstacle race, Xtreme Obstacle challenge is taking their tour national with events coming to Iowa and Wisconsin later in the year. This 3 mile race has some unique obstacles such as the Dizzy Lizzy, and a few that seem similar to the Alpha Warrior level of difficulty. They also have a morning competitive  wave, so based on that I would rate the difficulty as moderate as compared to others. Although the website doesn't appear to be completely up to date, they have a facebook page with all necessary information.


Clearly, most of the current mudless events cater more towards fun and less towards a challenge. For now, if we want to experience some of the better obstacles, we still need to get dirty. However, we hope to see new events appear in the future that are a combination of a mudless run with some more challenging and innovative obstacles to keep us on our toes!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Guest Post: Castles in the Bavarian Alps


Hey everyone-it's Larissa here from thetravelingmortician.com and I'm excited to be a guest blogger on this fabulous website! 

One of my favorite things to do is explore castles. On my last trip, we managed to visit 13 different castles in 18 days-not too shabby. Usually, when people think of castles, they think of England-and they certainly have a TON of them. But for most people, Germany doesn't come to mind. And the Bavarian Alps are home to one of the most spectacular. So as soon as I booked my side trip to Germany, I went on a mission to find some castles. 
I booked into the Royal Castles of Neuschwanstein and Linderhof Day Tour tour through viator.com for a few reasons. The price was right (aka I was able to google a coupon code), it included visits to two different castles, and logistically speaking, it was just easier. We were based in Munich for this leg of the trip, and it's quite a hike whether you're driving it or taking the train. I avoid tours when I can since I like to do things at my own pace (which is usually faster than everyone else's). But the great thing about this tour is that they give you some guidance, advice on routes, and set you free to go about on your own. 

Before we get down to business, a little bit of background on the mad king: "Mad" King Ludwig II of Bavaria succeeded to the throne when he was 18. He basically said to hell with affairs of state, and spent every penny that he could get his hands on building these extravagant palaces. And then when he ran out of money, he borrowed every penny that he could to support this habit. Liberace would have been proud.  

Our first visit took us to his "Summer Residence".  Known as Linderhof Palace, it was the smallest of the three palaces that he commissioned to be built, and the only one that he lived to see completed. This particular tour does not include admission INSIDE of the palaces, but rather only to the grounds. After looking into it prior to the trip,we decided to skip it as the tours at both palaces took up a majority of the time there and didn't leave much time to explore.

The summer residence - bavarian alps
The Summer Residence
Linderhof itself is actually quite small-but the grounds that it sits on are quite large. It's supposed to look spectacular in the spring and summer with the large gardens and hillsides in full bloom, but since we were there in November, we didn't get to see it. Aside from the gardens, the grounds are still quite picturesque, and I highly recommend taking the time to wander around.


After that, it's off to the main attraction - Neuschwanstein Castle! The castle was originally intended to be a private refuge for the reclusive king, and in an ironic twist, it became one of the country's most popular tourist attractions, visited by over a million people a year.

 We were dropped in town at the bottom of the mountain. From there, you have two options for making your way up: you can take a horse drawn carriage ride to the top (which takes quite a while), or you can take a shuttle bus up for about one Euro each way, which we opted to do. One advantage with taking the shuttle bus is that it drops you off at an intersection at the top of the mountain, where you can either trek to the suspension bridge, or start the hike towards the castle. If you're planning on hitting up the suspension bridge, trust me when I say that this is the way to go. The horse and carriage drops you off on the complete opposite of the mountain, and if you're on a tour, chances are you won't have enough time to do both. 

As soon as we disembarked from the bus, we decided to head to the suspension bridge since we were so close. If you're looking for on of those magnificent pictures that you see when you Google Neuschwanstein, this is the only way that you can get them-by braving the suspension bridge from hell. Why do I call it that? Because when it's loaded with people-like it was when we were there, the wooden bridge begins to bow. But since I didn't trek all this way for nothing, I was going to get my picture, whether I fell to death or not.

suspension bridge Bavarian Alps
The view from the suspension bridge looking down

Neuschwanstein castle
The money shot!
Does this castle look familiar? It should-it's the inspiration behind Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disney World. Make sure you have on comfortable shoes for the day, because it's a good hike to get to the actual castle itself, with some slippery spots and steep hills. Again, there's an interior tour that you have the option to purchase, but it takes so long to get up and back that it doesn't leave time to do anything else-at least on this particular tour anyway. Make sure to allow yourself at least an hour to get down from the mountain to make your ride back. The buses fill, and you may have to wait for a few shuttles before you make it onto one. 

King Ludwig died before it was anywhere near completed. Though he never wanted the castle accessible to the public, it was open for visits only six weeks after he died to pay off the construction debts. During World War II, the SS actually considered blowing up the entire thing to prevent it (and it's valuable artwork) from falling into the enemy's hands. Thankfully, the war ended before they were able to do so.

If you have time to kill in Munich, it's worth the trip out to see these two amazing castles. And if you're crazy like we are, there's also the opportunity to go gliding over Neuschwanstein in the warmer summer months.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Iceland grand finale - relaxing in the Blue Lagoon


By: Janine


As I mentioned here in my previous post, our Icelandair package included transportation to the Blue Lagoon and then directly to the airport from there, which is only a short 15 minute drive. After an awesome 3 days in Iceland full of jammed packed activities with little sleep, we all were really looking forward to relaxing in this geothermal hot tub for a few hours. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating at all. It was extremely windy and raining, which conveniently turned to hail just as we arrived at the blue lagoon. We soon realized this wouldn't be the relaxing experience we were hoping for, but being the good sports that we are, we decided to make the best of it anyway.

The lagoon will hold your luggage for you, but beware that they charge about $5 per bag for this service. Since we had no other option, we paid the $15 to have them hold our 3 suitcases. Once that was taken care of, we began the long 10 minute walk to the actual spa area. Here is where you hand in your vouchers and receive your robe, towel, lotion, and a bracelet. Before you do anything else, make sure this bracelet is securely fastened to your wrist. This is the key to your locker, your entrance card, and your wallet all in one, as it will pay for your drink and face mask in the lagoon (or in our case, it was our free drink and face mask voucher due to the comfort package)

We found the whole process of getting ready for the lagoon to be really confusing. Make sure you wear your bathing suit to the spa as there is only one private changing room. Once we had everything in our lockers, we had to use the bracelets to lock them, which was a mission in itself. There was a centralized locking area where you had a few seconds to press the button, close your locker, and swipe your bracelet so that it would lock and give you the correct number. I had multiple attempts at this before correctly locking my own locker. We then entered the shower area, where we were told we had to shower before entering the lagoon. Similar to the changing area, there were only 4 private showers. The other showers had no doors and were opened for everyone to see. There were women letting it all hang out everywhere we looked... We waited for the private showers, and then were finally ready to go into the blue lagoon.

I am happy to report that you enter the lagoon indoors! This really brightened our mood as we were not looking forward to running outside in 30 degree weather, in a hail storm, to get in. The water was a perfect temperature, not scalding but warm enough for us all to feel comfortable enough to venture to the outside portion of the lagoon. Once outside, you see those beautiful white mountains surrounding the lagoon and the steam rising from it, which is a very unique sight.  We put our waterproof camera to use and spent a good amount of time taking pictures of the group, and then ventured to the drink stand. Our free drink included anything on the menu, and they had everything from smoothies (non alcoholic), to strawberry champagne, wine, and even beer. I tried out the strawberry champagne while most of the rest of the group got the smoothie, and we all agree the drinks were tasty. This is also where you get your face mask. There was a choice of the white algae mask that is most frequently seen in pictures, or a green volcanic mask. Our group of 7 was split pretty evenly between choice of mask, which made for good pictures. Note that if your Blue Lagoon entry doesn't include the comfort package, there is also a big jar of another white face mask at the far end of the lagoon.
blue lagoon face mask iceland
With our drinks and facemasks

Blue lagoon iceland
You can see the steam fogging up the camera. Notice the mountain
We spent the rest of the time taking more pictures and relaxing in different caves to get away from the hail. They also had a sauna outside, which we tried for a few minutes, and it was one of the hottest saunas we have ever been in. About an hour before we were scheduled to leave, we got out and went back to the locker rooms for our second shower. Ladies, make sure you wash your hair and condition multiple times, because we were told by multiple people throughout the trip that the lagoon will leave your hair a knotted, stiff, puffball mess for a week. I tried to avoid getting my hair wet in the lagoon but it really is inevitable... There is a viewing area outside the locker rooms where we got some great aerial photos, as well as a gift shop, restaurant, and cafeteria.

blue lagoon aerial shot
Aerial shot of the lagoon

 Tip: Leave yourself almost a half hour to walk back to the luggage area, actually get your luggage, and board the bus. We left about 10 minutes and we had to run back and were then scrambling to move up the baggage line to board the bus and not be left there.

No visit to Iceland is complete without a visit to the Blue Lagoon, so make sure you leave time for this on your trip!

Bucket list experience - Iceland Glacier Climbing




The highlight of our entire Iceland trip and the activity we were most looking forward to was ice climbing Solheimajokull glacier. Our good friend Larissa was kind enough to lend us her Gopro to video the event! Check out my guest post and the video on her blog www.thetravelingmortician.com


Here's some still shots we managed to take as well:


ice cave in iceland
Inside an Ice cave on the Glacier

ice cave in iceland
Hole in the Ice Cave

Ice climbing in Iceland
Conquering the glacier

Ice climbing iceland
Brian rappelling back down



Friday, April 4, 2014

Beautiful Iceland

By: Janine


If I had to sum up Iceland in one word, that word would be beautiful. We saw snow capped mountains from every single place we went, along with multiple waterfalls, volcanic rock covered terrain, farmland, countryside, glaciers, and geysers. They don't call it the land of fire and ice for nothing! On the second day of our trip, we walked around Reykjavik in the morning, then opted to see the famous Golden Circle on an express tour run by Iceland Excursions grayline.is. The Golden Circle is basically a tourist route that shows some of the famous highlights of the country, the 3 main stops being Thingvellir National Park, the waterfall Gullfoss, and the geysir's.  It seems like every other tourist in Iceland also opted for this tour, as they picked us up from our hotel around 12:15 and brought us to a bus depot where we had to pay the $80 or so per person and then proceed to board one of 4 extra large buses that were all going to the same place.

Mountains iceland
The moutains can be seen from anywhere in Iceland, even on a cloudy day
Hallgrímskirkja church Iceland
Hallgrímskirkja church, can be seen from anywhere in Reykjavik

If you know Brian and I at all, then you know a cow herding type tour like this is something we usually would not partake in. There are more adventurous options to see these sights, such as by super jeep or a combo tour which would take you horseback riding, snowmobiling, snorkeling (yes, they snorkel in Iceland in the winter!), or any other choice of activity in the morning and then would take you to see the Golden Circle highlights in the afternoon. However, on this occasion, since we had done 3 tours the night before (Yes 3! Caving, the brewery, and the Northern lights boat at night), and were climbing a glacier the next morning, we opted to take it easy on this day and just join a few of our other friends who were already signed up for the express tour.

beautiful Iceland
The view from the bus, we weren't complaining
The tour took 6 hours total (the classic golden circle tour will take you to the same stops but is longer at 8-9 hours), and it was about 2 hours to the first stop, Thingvellir National Park. This park is famous in Iceland because it is where you can see the two tectonic plates split between North America and Europe.

Thingvellir National park Iceland
The view at Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National park Iceland

Thingvellir National park Iceland tectonic plate split
You can technically walk in between Europe and North America here, where the 2 tectonic plates split

We spent about only 20 minutes here before heading towards the second stop, Gullfoss waterfall. There is some walking involved down steep stairs to get to this waterfall, and in the winter much of this is covered in ice, so beware! We watched about a half a dozen people fall on their face... Just use some common sense and avoid obvious ice patches and it should be fine.. The waterfall is worth the walk and is breathtaking! They also have a cute but pricey gift shop where they serve traditional lamb soup. We had about an hour at this stop.

Gullfoss waterfall Iceland
Beautiful Gullfoss waterfall

Gullfoss waterfall Iceland

Tradtional lamb soup iceland
Traditional lamb soup at the Gullfoss cafe
Last stop was the geyser, where we had about 30 minutes. The geyser here is actually named "Geysir" and is where all other geysers get their name from. This geyser is actually inactive now though, so the one we watched erupt was the one next to it called Strokkur. It usually erupts every 5-10 minutes, and I believe it went off about 5 times while we were in the area.

Iceland geyser eruption
The geyser erupting from afar


We then took the 2 hour drive back to the hotel. Overall, we weren't a fan of the bus tour in general, but still think it was worth it to see the famous sites as they didn't disappoint.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Foodie post - Icelandic cuisine

By Janine:



In all my time in the tristate area, I have yet to see a single Icelandic restaurant. (If anyone knows of one, please let me know as I would love to check it out!) So, the first question I received after returning from Iceland last week was “What type of food did they serve there?” As far as I can tell, the answer is everything. We passed regular pizzeria’s, subways, and plenty of burger joints. That being said, Iceland is also know for some of their more unusual cuisine. 

We did some adventurous eating while there but also opted for some comfort food after a long days tour. I’ll take you through our culinary experience from the most harmless to the ewww you ate that...

The first night of our trip we were exhausted and were looking for something convenient. We were in luck, since the Lebowski Bar(lebowski.is) was right around the corner from our hotel! As you may have guessed, this is named after the famous movie “The Big Lebowski” and references to the movie can be seen everywhere throughout the bar. The menu consisted of bar type food such as burgers, fries, chicken wings etc. More importantly, they have an entire menu of White Russian’s! No trip to Lebowski bar is complete without one! Brian and I split a burger and fries, and the food was good but not earth shattering.

Lebowski bar Iceland
Lebowski bar complete with neon signs

lebowski bar white russians iceland
The white russian menu has so many tasty choices, we ordered the white chocolate russian
Now, if you have ever googled “food in Iceland,” the burger’s are not the first thing to come up, but their hotdogs are! It seems the most famous food place in all of Iceland is a hot dog stand, called Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. The stand is located right by the harbor and was opened late (we made a 1am hotdog run after our Northern Lights tour and there was a long line even then.) Famous people such as Bill Clinton and Anthony Bourdain have even eaten there.

famous hot dog stand iceland
Iceland's most famous restaurant, a hot dog stand!
When ordering the hot dog, they will encourage you to get everything on it, so just go with it. “Everything” consists of ketchup, sweet mustard, fried onion, raw onion, and remoulade, which is a yellowish sauce that is sorta mayonnaise and relish combo. Beware that the ketchup and mustard are not the same as what what we use on our hotdogs here. We thought they were good, but not the “best in the world.”

famous hot dogs iceland
Notice the color of the condiments
Since we were in Iceland and not at a backyard BBQ, we had to try more than just their hamburgers and hotdogs! Being an island, Iceland is of course know for their fresh seafood. On Saturday night, we opted for a restaurant called Tapas www.tapas.is, which has Spanish style tapas except with Icelandic food. They had something called an “adventure menu” which was an Icelandic gourmet feast of almost everything they are known for in one sitting, which I obviously had to order. Two of our friends split a double order with me since this is a lot of food. Below is a snapshot of the offerings, and the waiter also strongly recommended we order an additional horse tapa, so we went for it.

Tapas adventure menu iceland
The adventure menu at Tapas
The 3 notable items were puffin, mink whale, and the additional order of horse. The puffin was a cold dish, and because of the blueberry Brennivin sauce, it tasted like a shot with sushi consistency. Sounds good right?? None of us really liked it, but we ate it, mostly out of guilt. 

eating puffin iceland
Cold Puffin Dish. Does this look like it tastes good?
The whale... the controversy over whale killing weighed heavy on the three of us. In the end, we opted to try it, out of curiosity and to see what all the fuss was about. Unfortunately, we now realize why the Icelander’s eat this endangered animal. It was perhaps one of the most amazing things we have all ever eaten. It came in some sort of reduction sauce which greatly added to the flavor and tasted unlike any fish or meat we have ever had before. I can’t even describe the flavor. We were all glad this dish isn’t ready available in the states as we don’t want the temptation of eating it at home!
eating whale iceland
The whale with some mashed sweet potatoes
Finally, the animal that got the ewww factor when telling people at home, horse. Horses are to Iceland as sheep are to Ireland/New Zealand. They are everywhere! So it was no surprise that they also eat them since there are so many in the country! The taste was actually very similar to that of a roast beef, and it even came with a similar brown gravy sauce. We all agreed that it was tasty.
eating the Icelandic horse
Horse. Looks like roast beef...
Honorable eww factor mention: The last night of our trip, we opted to forego another expensive dinner since last night's was $50+ per person. So, we ended up at another burger joint, called Roadhouse. The man at the front desk of our hotel recommended this to us and told us they serve “American” style burgers. You can see the menu here- http://roadhouse.is/burgers3 and this just shows you what they must think of the way Americans eat. Burgers had things on them like mac and cheese and... I kid you not...an entire grill cheese sandwich in between a layer of bacon on a burger. They also had a burger that replaced the buns with a donut on each end (disgusting.) A few of us ordered the mac and cheese burger and one in our group even ordered the grill cheese burger. It was as fattening and deliciously gross (in a good way) as it sounds. DISCLAIMER: we do not eat like this at home!

Second honorable mention: We didn’t indulge in this gem; but worth mentioning, is the Icelandic delicacy fermented shark, called Hakarl. You can read more about it here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hákarl , it is a traditional dish sometimes served at holidays and is described as producing an involuntary gag reflex. We had heard about this from many people before arriving and asked the front desk receptionist as well as tour guides  about it and got a resounding response of “this tastes terrible, don’t eat it.” So, we didn’t see it on any menus during our trip, and we didn’t bother to seek it out.

What do you think of trying whale and puffin? Would you have sought out the fermented shark?