DiFfErEnT DiSh – Cafe Bar Lurcat

On this months edition of DiFfErEnT DiSh, it was my turn to surprise and treat Nellie to a special date night. After all, we were celebrating our first year of marriage (5/25/2013). I wanted something classy and fun, yet I wanted it to be unique. So I dug around a little bit and found a new Twin Cities hotspot that I felt would be the perfect place. So I put my plan in motion by calling in a reservation for 5:30PM that night.

Nestled in a vibrant nook Downtown Minneapolis is where this trendy gem is located, Cafe & Bar Lurcat. Conveniently our anniversary landed on a Sunday this year and it seemed too perfect that this restaurant offered a special date night that aligned. So weekly on Sundays they offer a really great deal for couples; a three coarse meal for both and their selection of a red, white or bubbly. All of this for only $50!

When I placed the reservation, I also made a note to inquire as to the dress attire which they readily offered up as clean and casual. So the queen and I both cleaned up but dressed in our street attire. As we often do, we were running a good 10 minutes late, so I called in to ensure that we would not lose our place and the hostess was very charming and sweet. It was no problem and soon there after we were arriving.  Parking was a snap and though they don’t have a ton of free parking slots, there were plenty of pay meters available and that really doesn’t bother me much.

Super excited for dinner and sharing company with one another. I love this girl... and the Lurcat was pretty great too!

Super excited for dinner and sharing company with one another. I love this girl… and the Lurcat was pretty great too!

After getting the entrance doors mixed up we eventually found our way in and were warmly greeted.  We were then escorted through the restaurant from one side to the other and sat at a cute table for two.  It was impressive how large the interior was and how the space was used.  There almost appeared to be three main dining spaces and an outside patio. I recall Nellie and I discussing how great it would be to reserve one of their rooms for a large party or celebration.  It was a beautiful interior that gave a welcoming and modern yet rustic feel to it.

A service staff member ensured that our waters were filled and that our server would be right with us. Good service so far! Our table was right next to a large window which seemed to be a theme for the wall facing the street. This feature gave great natural lighting and also a sweet view of Loring Park and the surrounding area. Across the room was an open kitchen where you were able to see many different artisan chefs busily working and preparing their work stations. Seeing all that they were doing, made you feel like the food was going to be really great.

Soon our server for the evening greeted us and made sure that we knew a little about the place. Quickly we decided upon the date night special and he proceeded to walk us through the menu recommending a few dishes in particular. See the picture collage a little further below to see the options that we selected.  We decided against a bottle of wine and instead Nell wanted a Red Sangria, yummy!  He took $15 off our tab and just charged us for the drinks separately, not bad. Shortly after taking off to fulfill our order in their POS system, his assistant delivered to us a basket of hot fresh-baked baguette style bread. It really was some of the best I have had.

My wife Nellie enjoying her Sangria. Super tasty warm bread brought by the wait staff assistant, awesome! Date Night menu totally rocks!

My wife Nellie enjoying her Sangria. Super tasty warm bread brought by the wait staff assistant, awesome! Date Night menu totally rocks!

We found it rather unique that servers at the Lurcat also had their own assistance to help keep service at a premium. It was much welcomed and together they made a great team at delivering our food, keeping our glasses full and table clean. Each course had an incredible amount of flavor and pleasant textures, some would say that it really was cooked to perfection! As we chatted and shared each of our dishes with each other Nellie and I were able to reminisce on our first year of being married. With our successes and shortcomings, we together realize that it is things like ‘Date Night’ that keep relationships going.

Our three coarse meals were awesome. The serving sizes were petite but by the end we were full.  We recommend sharing the plates so you can enjoy a bit of each dish! Very tasty!

Our three coarse meals were awesome. The serving sizes were petite but by the end we were full. We recommend sharing the plates so you can enjoy a bit of each dish! Very tasty!

By the time we were wrapping up our dinner at around 7:15PM, the place had quickly filled out with couples, some coming as double-dates. Everyone seemed to be in a really good mood, perhaps it was the good deal, maybe the wine or if not that then hopefully cause they were all spending a little time with their significant other. The Sunday special for couples is the way to go. For a first-timer to the Lurcat, it provides an affordable way to experience a top-notch gourmet restaurant and for those that frequent it allows a great way to unwind without breaking the bank.

Soon it was desert time and we both ordered what we wanted and enjoyed the sweet and chocolatey end to our date. This gentleman paid the tab and thanked our wait staff.

Cafe Bar Lurcat – Recap:

  • Food – 5/5 stars
  • Decor – 4/5 stars
  • Music – 3/5 stars (**note this score reflects my wife’s opinion, neither of us recall it being significantly note worthy, chill background music that allows conversation between couples flow**)
  • Service – 5/5 stars
  • Price – $$$

Till next time, this was DiFfErEnT DiSh – May 2014!

Good Night!

Good Night!

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Honeymoon @ Sunscape – Ixtapa Mexico

Months before exchanging wedding vows with my now wife Nellie Carroll, we decided that delaying our honeymoon until our one year anniversary would best allow the dust to settle and us to budget accordingly. The first few months seemed to fly and I thought it was cute when we would call out our ‘monthly anniversary’. We had been batting ideas around about exactly when and where but we needed to get our financial ducks in a row and make a decision.

Months prior to the wedding, while stopping at my local StateFarm agent’s office, I was recommended to contact Ketti Menne (see her site here), an experienced travel agent that had assisted. She had assisted my agent and got a good review so I gave it a shot. After an initial consult we began narrowing our travel scope and available budget. Eventually we booked a trip to Sunscape Dorado Pacifico in Ixtapa, Mexico.

This was to be an all-inclusive getaway that offered a beautiful getaway on the pacific side of Mexico. The price was very reasonable and our package included flights and ground transportation which can greatly reduce stress when in a foreign destination. With the arrangements made, the excitement began to build and soon we were counting down the days in till our trip.

We booked for a full 7 days and were both looking forward to that extended getaway. It was going to be a trip focused on celebration. Nellie had just converted to a FTE in her career at Prime Therapeutics, and I had just completed all my course work for graduate school and studied for and passed my CISSP (a gold standard exam for those in the IT Security profession). Let’s not forget that this was also about reconnecting with one another and sharing time discussing our first year of marriage.  No marriage is perfect and we are not invincible from the harmful realities of demanding jobs, financial bumps, and daily temptations. But, we weathered the storm and deserved a celebration and it was now upon us. After a long weekend Saturday of shopping, thank you Macy’s, we had fresh new clothes for our getaway. We were ready; it was go time.

Once we had surpassed the Herculean task of packing, we departed early the morning of May 17th. Together and as a team we traveled from Minneapolis to Phoenix and eventually to Zihuatanejo/ Ixtapa, MX. Once we had finally arrived, we were escorted down a ramp of stairs from the plane onto the Tarmac and quickly into customs. At that moment we finally were able to get our first taste of the hot and humid weather that was to be our new paradise for the next week. Love it!

Couldn't be more excited for our honeymoon! Officially on our way to Ixtapa, MX.

Couldn’t be more excited for our honeymoon! Officially on our way to Ixtapa, MX.

Once through customs, Nellie and I were quickly identified by an Apple Vacations representative that squared away our travel to Sunscape. As we began our travels through Zihuatanejo to the tourist sister city Ixtapa, it was obvious we were in a third world country. Things were visually much less developed; the city itself was nestled in a large valley and most houses were built into the steep sloping countryside. While the living conditions are at a much reduced convenience for most, our taxi driver assured us that the city offers electricity and large water-tank trucks would deliver water for a reasonable fee. Overall, it was a change of pace, but to the inhabitants this was home and they were very happy to share it with tourists like us.

Finally we arrived at our stacation destination, Sunscape Dorado Pacifico and were greeted with smiles from the concierge. We quickly checked in and were then requested to attend an informational meeting regarding all the available experiences available to us. There were several other Americans that had just arrived, initially we exchanged common salutations but didn’t realize we would end up experiencing much of our vacation with them as new friends. That was really great!

Note – Travelers beware, Emilio at the front desk will try to convince you into attending a two-hour meeting for $50-100 worth of pesos; however, he downplays that it is a really a pitch to sell time shares and pressure travelers.  This definitely took away a bit of the ‘warm welcome’ that we received, but we didn’t fall for it.

While attending, our fantastic consultant, Roberto, explained what excursions were available for booking and what times throughout our stay that they would be available, which was very helpful. Once we had that foundation, Nell and I began tossing around comments on which we would both like to attend. By the end we were well-informed and able to knowingly have a minimal sight-seeing agenda that still allowed for enough poolside relaxing! Loving it even more! When we made it to our room we were welcomed with a ‘Honeymoon’ banner and a desert made specially for us. It was okay, but it was really the view that captured us, WOW!

After a warm welcome, we made it to our room and got to look out as our new view from the 10th floor, not bad!

After a warm welcome, we made it to our room and got to look out as our new view from the 10th floor, not bad!

The temperature outside was a steamy 93 degrees and sunny; we could not ask for better weather. Having barely survived a hellacious Minnesota winter, the tropical weather was more than welcomed. That said, while on this trip we were in swim attire the vast majority of the time. Prior to the trip, the wifey decided to take a chance and try out braids which were super cute and very functional. I loved them and she was instantly received as a model amongst the guests staying at the resort. We made our way downstairs and got a little time in at the poolside enjoying a drink and scoping out the resort. On our first night we kept things pretty casual and decided to do dinner at the Bluewater Grill which was quite good!

Night 1: So much fun taking in all that the resort has to offer. Great evening with such a beautiful woman!

Night 1: So much fun taking in all that the resort has to offer. Great evening with such a beautiful woman!

The next day we slept in and eventually made our way down to breakfast and enjoyed the buffet, Nellie especially liked their sugar doughnuts and decided to spoiled herself. We found everyone from the resort staff to the other vacationers to be extremely pleasant and more than willing to teach you spanish. Buenos Diaz! There was little to no language barrier at this destination which made things very convenient, and you could tell that the locals appreciated your attempts. It seemed that everyone enjoyed getting to know us and had curious questions to ask, like where we were from and whether we like Ixtapa very pleasant atmosphere!

After getting our fill, the whole day was dedicated to relaxing and spending time poolside lounging and swimming in the ocean.  Often Nellie would be resting from shore as I would battle the strong waves along the ocean’s shore. They may have only been 6-8 feet waves but they were quite powerful. I am thankful that swimming is one of my strengths because the ocean current can be very formidable. Beyond being a total vegetable, there were several volleyball games hosted by the resorts entertainment crew (which were fantastic) that I was able to participate in. Actually during one of the games is when I ran back into one of the Americans we had met the day before, Jason, which was cool. I really started to absorb a lot of the Mexican sun and added a few shades to my complexion.  Luckily, Nellie was great about keeping me covered in active sunscreen.

To cool off, we waded through the pool to the swim-up bar and ordered another round of drinks. I think we enjoyed a piña colada and a Bahama Momma as we chatted. Before we knew it the entertainment crew had sprung back into action, but this time it was an adults only drinking game. Essentially, they showed us some of their favorite Mexican shots and how to make them, of course they had to cap it off with a tequila shot at the end, yikes!  The libations were all fantastic and it really opened up the group of us Americans into conversation and getting to know one another.  From there we had many laughs and decided to all coordinate dinner.

Nothing better than having shots and changing complete strangers into new vacation friends! Can you say "Tequila"?

Nothing better than having shots and changing complete strangers into new vacation friends! Can you say “Tequila”?

For this night we were going to be checking out Da Mario, an Italian influenced restaurant. We got dressed up and were looking the part of a couple relaxed honeymooners and headed down.  As always we are usually operating about twenty minutes behind schedule but oh well, its vacation and we didn’t take things too seriously. Afterwards we made our way outside where they had music playing and people were dancing and drinking well into the late hours! It was cool that each night offered a different music theme.  Once we had our nightcap we went back to our air-conditioned room for some much-needed rest!

Great dinner with new friends and of course, my best friend! Looking cute in our vaca threads we just had to snap a few!

Great dinner with new friends and of course, my best friend! Looking cute in our vaca threads we just had to snap a few!

The next morning we woke up and headed down for a breakfast.  I had finally gained my barring now as to the different accommodations and found that Coco Cafe made a really good Americano so I grabbed one on my way into Windows for a bite. We found our group and immediately were sat and served some tasty mimosas to get the day started. To that I say cheers!

Breakfast mimosas and yummy food, must be rough living like this everyday, lol! Loving our all inclusive getaway!

Breakfast mimosas and yummy food, must be rough living like this everyday, lol! Loving our all-inclusive getaway so far!

Soon there after we were back into our swim attire and out enjoying the day. We had no difficulty finding different activities to get involved with. After having a couple of drinks we were feeling comfortable and really enjoying the weather I got intrigued by all of the vendors on the beach offering parasailing.  I knew that it was something that I wanted to do and for only $20, I had to give it a chance!

Awesome rush all the way up parasailing.  I had the best view of all Ixtapa; what a cool experience!

Awesome rush all the way up parasailing. I had the best view of all Ixtapa! What a cool experience!

When I returned, I found my wife being entertained by Gabriel who was leading a group of about fifteen people in water aerobics. It was so silly some of the things that they did, I was laughing so hard when I saw Nellie try to carry Gayle through the water in a buddy exercise.

Note – probably the most memorable experiences were only attainable with the fun and energy that the Entertainment Team brought to the table.  You had 1) Carlos – a really great guy that was eager to play a game of volleyball, 2) Gabriel – this guy is probably the best dancer at the entire resort and knew how to make people smile, and 3) Blanca – a very outgoing woman who knew how to charm the crowd with her coconut bowling expertise and smile. They were so polite and gracious, I consider all of them to be my friends!

Earlier that day, I had checked the schedule and Carlos was scheduled to lead those interested on bike ride around the surrounding neighborhood.  So we suited up and went for a nice hour-long bike ride and history lesson of the surrounding area. Lol, I recall the bikes being quite uncomfortable and squeaky, but we managed and I snapped a couple of bike selfies as we rode along.

Fun bike ride around Ixtapa had us sightseeing and sweating... HOT! Such a fun time, Carlos was a great guide!

Fun bike ride around Ixtapa had us sightseeing and sweating… HOT! Such a fun time! Carlos was a great guide!

It was a cool experience but by the time we got back we were a bit worn out and in need of more beverages. We got back grabbed some refreshments and made sure to meet up with Roberto so that we could finally book the excursions that interested us the most.  Nellie wanted to do horseback riding and I wanted to go snorkeling and zipplining through the rain forest.  She was much more open to adventure than I thought, which was really awesome! We booked them all and found that the rates were fairly reasonable. Overall we only had to spend about $300 on everything that we wanted to do including a day trip to Zihuatanejo to do some additional shopping on our last full day.

That night we once again got dressed up for another fantastic dinner with the group and even were able to enjoy some dancing afterwards. This was the first night that we really got it in and cut a rug until 2AM! It was a lot of fun dancing with Nellie and just letting go.  There is no judgement when no one will remember you tomorrow or tell the stories back home, lol!

Night number 2 done right... Dinner and dancing couldn't have been more fun. Pretty sure I easily burned dinner off!

Night number 2 done right… Dinner and dancing couldn’t have been more fun. Pretty sure I easily burned dinner off!

The next morning we had to wake up a bit earlier as we had scheduled a fun morning of horseback riding.  So we enjoyed breakfast and rehydrated after a long night of drinking and partying. Thank you Coco Cafe for the caffeine; I quickly grabbed something to perk me up as we exited and hoped into a suburban that drove us to the horse ranch about 20 minutes away from the resort.

When we arrived we saw the horses and were quickly designated a suitable stallion. We mounted up and were escorted by a guide down a long road before heading onto the horse path that led out to the ocean. My horse liked to linger towards the rear of the posse which was okay with me as it allowed me to take some good pictures of Nellie and of the surrounding area. It was exciting to have the both of us experience something like this for the first time. It was great.

Probably my favorite moment here is when my horse decided to gallop on the beach. It was truly remarkable how strong they were and they made it seem effortless. We eventually turned off and made a loop through the rainforest before heading back. It was well worth it and we would love to do it again.

Horseback riding on the beach was a total blast! One of the most memorable experiences while on my honeymoon!

Horseback riding on the beach was a total blast! One of the most memorable experiences while on my honeymoon!

With our adventure over by no later than noon (to avoid the hottest part of the day), we were back in our swim wear and enjoying more of the resort. The rest of the day we enjoyed a wine tasting event put on by our favorite entertainment team and relaxed poolside. That night there were to be more dinner stories and dancing. This was a long and fun day and I couldn’t have had a better time swinging my girl around on the dance floor.

Another amazing evening with Nellie and our travel friends Jason, Tara, Kia and Gayle

Another amazing evening with Nellie and our travel friends Jason, Tara, Kia, Gayle, Victoria and Mike. It was a wild night of dancing and drinks!

The next day we had planned an exciting day trip to Ixtapa Island where we would be able to enjoy their three main beaches. I was especially eager to go snorkeling as they have some of the better coral reef in the area to swim over and investigate.  My wife Nellie was onboard for this adventure but also quite terrified as she cannot swim. I have to commend her on her bravery, because with only minor hesitation did she willingly strap on a life jacket and flippers and make our way to the ocean’s edge. Thankfully, my mom had provided us her set of snorkeling masks.  The ‘tube’ or breathing apparatus with her set did a really great job at blocking water from accidentally going too far under and made expelling extra water really easy.

Nell got a bit more comfortable, she was able to participate and really enjoy herself and see all the beautiful fish and coral. Keep in mind that when she would panic she would grab my vest push down to get her head fully out of the water.  This means that she essentially almost drown me like three or four times, but I was very understanding. It was also extremely cool of my brother Justin to borrow me his waterproof camera for this trip, which I wanted specifically for these pictures, enjoy!

What a perfect day to go snorkeling and to swim with the fishies! Way to go to my sweetie Nellie for being so adventurous and brave!

What a perfect day to go snorkeling and to swim with the fishies! Way to go to my sweetie Nellie for being so adventurous and brave!

After about 30 minutes of snorkeling we felt like it would be best to wade back into shore and enjoy some refreshments and partake in our group lunch.  So funny, the folks that ordered the spicy fish didn’t know what they got themselves into… it was insanely spicy even for Nellie! We transitioned to the beach and enjoyed some fresh coconut water and caught some rays. While nellie was prancing around and hanging with the girls I was able to capture a few pics of her looking cute; she is a 10!

Pretty sure that this is the definition of vacation.  Sunshine, coconut water and relaxation!

Pretty sure that this is the definition of vacation. Sunshine, coconut water and relaxation!

Before I had left on vacation I had also promised my little Peanut Butter (Madison) that I would bring her some sea shells back. Once again I grabbed my scuba gear and accomplished my mission and pocketed several nice ones and gave a few others to some of our travel companions. With our time nearing an end on the beach, I was able to successfully negotiate us a wave runner jet ski for about a half hour, costing us only $25. Having never been on one before, Nellie was overly cautious but I had a little fun opening her up on the straight aways.  For some ominous reason I was always worried of falling off and having a shark take a nibble, yikes.  Safely back we caught a couple of pics and said goodbye to the fantastic Ixtapa Island. I would not hesitate to recommend this place to travelers.

A first for the both of us, wave running out there on open ocean was a real treat! I am sure that I terrified Nellie a few times, sorry honey!

A first for the both of us, wave running out there on open ocean was a real treat! I am sure that I terrified Nellie a few times, sorry honey!

Later that night we got back and decided to catch dinner together at Gohan. This was a real treat as it was the first night that it was open since arriving and they served sushi. If you know my taste buds then you know that I am a sucker for sushi. I think it is just because you can eat as much as you want and never feel too full. So we smashed and then wandered over for a nightcap and dancing once again. Super fun!

Another nice dinner with friends! We each had someone to share a special moment with and collectively we felt connected and in good company.  Great dancing followed a wonderful meal!

Another nice dinner with friends! We each had someone to share a special moment with and collectively we felt connected and in good company. Great dancing followed a wonderful meal!

The next day we woke up and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast, Nellie and her sugar doughnut and me with my Americano. Are you beginning to see a pattern happening here, lol? We had to get our energy up as we were about to embark on our last major excursion, zipplining through the Ixtapa jungle. Not really knowing what to expect, we kept an open mind and dressed comfortably. Soon our driver arrived and took us to a remote residential area on a hillside outside of the tourist city. Having been a little early we were able to jump right into our harnesses and get through a minor ropes course before we got onto the big stuff.

We made it through our low ropes course portion and surprisingly Nellie never lost a flipflop! Oh and Polly was able to say 'hola', hahaha!

We made it through our low ropes course portion and surprisingly Nellie never lost a flipflop! Oh and Polly was able to say ‘hola’, super adorable, but dang with a beak-like that I wasn’t about to get too close!

 

The guide took his time teaching us how to attach and detach to each safety wire and how to ensure that we always had a safety latch attached just incase.  Now the equipment and wood planks and wiring at times looked a little suspect, we still continued on and enjoyed pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones. Nellie really took on this challenge and beat her fear of heights one step at a time. What transpired over the next hour was an amazing adventure of self exploration and daredevil adrenaline packed thrills weaving through the jungle trees. Here are some of my favorite pictures!

Swinging by a teathered wire and catching a thrill doing it. Spending time in the trees definitely qualifies this as an adventurous honeymoon!

Swinging by a tethered wire and catching a thrill doing it. Spending time in the trees definitely qualifies this as an adventurous honeymoon!

Generously we tipped our driver as we arrived back at the resort and bid our farewells. It was now time to relax by the pool, drink perhaps a bit too much rum and fall deeply asleep for a few hours, well at least I did. Nellie also found her R&R and after she woke me it was time for another dinner and dancing session. So we took a few pictures and made the most of the night. Gosh I love me some linen pants, so comfy!

She looked so good, I just had to sweep my queen off her feet. I love this woman! You have to love the diva pose too, lol!

She looked so good, I just had to sweep my queen off her feet. I love this woman! You have to love the diva pose too, lol!

With our trip nearing its completion, we had only one full day left to do some serious shopping.  The next morning we embarked on a day trip to the main shoppes of Zihuatanejo  During our shuttle ride we were given great insights by our driver as to what stores were the best places to buy goods. When we arrive we saw different types of textiles and wares for sale that were all so colorful. Quickly you realize that everything has a negotiable price, but the people were very friendly and wanted to do business. Together Nellie and I set out to buy a few dresses for Madison, some shot glasses for my neighbor Marcus, a decent picture frame for our home to remind us of this trip and of course a refrigerator magnet.

Our shopping didn’t stop until they drug us out at the last moment before our shuttle was about to leave to head back to our resort. All of the items we had desired to get were readily acquired at a fair price and I was also able to purchase a legit silver chain. With our bags in hand we boarded and left happily with lighter wallets; after all, we had little desire to bring any pesos back to the States with us!

The remainder of our stay was really about rest, relaxation and some one on one time with Mrs. Carroll.  Though we decided to do a group dinner on our last evening, it really was all about us enjoying ourselves and watching our last Mexican sunset (at least for a while anyway). Happily our dinner host took some photos of us just prior to being seated. The night was perfect and allowed for some really great pics, take a look!

 

A beautiful evening with my gorgeous wife Nellie. As our honeymoon comes to its final dusk, we absorb as much as we possibly can. Feeling blessed!

A beautiful evening with my gorgeous wife Nellie. As our honeymoon comes to its final dusk, we absorb as much as we possibly can. Feeling blessed!

The next morning we finally have to wake up and pack our bags for our final departure.  Thankfully our flight is not until later in the afternoon so there was no need to rush. We had one last resort breakfast and in the meantime I made sure to cash my last $50 into pesos and thankfully walked around and said my sincerest thankyous to the kind staff for their service and hospitality.  A special thanks goes out to all those that were on the Entertainment Team (Carlos, Gabriel and Blanca), to our personal room attendant (Gloria), all the bar and restaurant staff, and the hotel concierge staff.  It never felt better to give a little extra when nothing was expected, super thankful!

I took one last stroll on the beachfront and enjoyed my toes in the sand before having to return to the resort for our final departure. I was glad that all of our new comrades were leaving at the same time, it gave us a great opportunity to say our final farewells and to grab a couple of group selfies.

A farewell salut to all of our new found friends! It was a total blast and we were so thankful to be able to come and visit your paradise.  It really has been a slice of heaven! Adios!

A farewell salute to all of our new-found friends! It was a total blast and we were so thankful to be able to come and visit your paradise. It really has been a slice of heaven! Adios!

This concludes our most amazing and adventurous trip together ever.  What a great way to mark our 1 year anniversary and honeymoon! May there be many more of years of happiness and trips such as this one! Thanks for joining us as I did my best to recapture this profound and exciting trip, god bless!

7@7 – 2014

Hindsight is 20/20 right? Well had anyone told me 5 years ago that I would be running races and leading a healthy lifestyle I would think nothing of it. It really is who I am to my core, “MarathonJake”. However, if you told me that I would be crossing the finish line with my brother Justin, I would have called Shananagins!

Alas, I was wrong and for that I am thankful. This story is in my Autoblography is a testament to how people can change and for the better.

Over the last couple of years my brother has found a new calling, physical Wellbeing and fitness. It began when my brother first gave up smoking after roughly 10 years. He traded in his lighter for a fresh pair of running shoes and gave the pavement hell. If you know him well then you know he doesn’t do things half-assed; often quite the opposite and tends to be extreme.

When my brother Justin found his running legs for the first time... I was proud to see him complete his first solo race, awesomeness!

When my brother Justin found his running legs for the first time… I was proud to see him complete his first solo race, awesomeness!

This got the better of him and a sore set of legs turned into an injury. So he dialed it back and one day asked if he could borrow my road bike. I had only used it for preparing for and competing in triathlons. I thought for two seconds and quickly offered her up (thinking that the race season was over and he could put her to better use for the time being). He did just that and soon my almost brand new Specialized Allez was broken on and a new love was formed. I digress.

After rehabbing his leg his adoption for fit living continued to take over his life. He learned more about health and nutrition and began doing even more independent research into running shoes and form. He quickly began his love for barefoot style footwear, not that I ever followed suit, but hey, it works for him.

Perhaps the culmination of my brother’s transformation should be credited to his sense of civic duty. To shine additional light on this I must mention my brother had also begun another passion for becoming a First Responder. A very challenging and noble way to give back to you community. Soon these aspirations grew and all of a sudden he was in EMT school and learning how to save lives. Good on him!

As you can tell by all of Justin’s changes and investments towards self-improvement, this was his new normal. We had briefly discussed doing a run race sometime in the future, but you know how that can easily be put on the back-burner, especially with our busy lives.

However, and much to my surprise, Justin gave me the best gift ever this last Christmas in the form of two entry fees paid for the 7@7 trail race near Mankato, MN. I think I was probably just as excited for the race as I was about the opportunity to spend more time hanging out with him. Our friendship had come along way and this gesture showed me just how far.

So for the next several months we stayed in touch and logged our miles in perpetration for race day. As time drew closer, the logistics were decided upon and with a week remaining my anticipation was mounting. Our better halves decided that they wanted to join us and that was awesome. Nothing makes you feel more like a man when your lady is there to see you accomplish a great feet and cheer you on as you cross the finish line!

So the Friday before the race, Nellie and I took a road trip down to Winona, MN to spend the evening with them before we raced (the next morning). Graciously they offered to prepare dinner for us and when we got there we were able to pitch in. We ate and chatted for a while before calling it an early night. Out like a light until game time tomorrow!

Better friends and much closer than we have ever been.  Love my big brother Justin!  Super thankful for him and liz hosting us for the night!

Better friends and much closer than we have ever been. Love my big brother Justin! Super thankful for him and liz hosting us for the night!

We woke up before the early bird had a chance to catch the worm. A quick granola bar and cup of hot coffee and we were on our way to the event. The drive went quick and gave us both some good one on one time chatting with our ladies. Upon arrival we were able to check-in and get our race bibs like usual. Nell helped pin my bib on and to take a few pre-race snapshots.

Leading up to this moment, I had been giving Justin some guff about being able to keep up. Truth be told, he was probably better prepared on the cardio front to handle 1) the distance and 2) the amount of drastic elevation change that were strewn throughout the race course. He had been good about averaging a 10K distance during his training while I am more apt to training at a 5K distance so I can have adequate cardio but also keep my suit of armor.

Anyway, my smack talk was quickly put to rest as it was now race time. This was a less populated race with approximately 120 participants; but to put it in perspective, this group of athletes are not your run of the mill “Color Run” or “Rave Run” type of runners, instead this was a solid group of athletes ready for an intense trail run. My brother and I lined up towards the front of the pack. It was decided that we would listen to music throughout the race and I proactively readied an up tempo song. Together we made a pact to run this race with one another and that we did.

A quick jog to get a light sweat before the race... Nice and limber after our stretching.  All our training is about to be put to the test!

A quick jog to get a light sweat before the race… Nice and limber after our stretching. All our training is about to be put to the test!

With a stern and confident look we fist bumped and hit our play buttons as the starting flag was dropped. Off we went down a nice and easy straight away for about half a mile. Nice and easy but with a brisk pace, soon thereafter we took a turn into the trails and instantly we were hit with some steep elevation changes. This was to be Justin’s strong suit as his training and lighter too half allowed him to make quick work of the hills. Without our pact to stick together, he probably would have dusted me here, but for my sake he dialed it back a bit. The miles seemed to fly by quickly and I was usually pretty good about staying on my brother’s heels.

I recall there being only a few leveled-off sections to offer relief from the barrage of peaks and valleys. I took advantage of these and regained my steam to continue powering through the course. I do recall running through a creek (too large to jump across), so after a quick glance we splashed through and enjoyed coming out the other side.

By this time I felt that the worst must be in the rear view, but I was wrong again. Soon we would encounter the mother of steep hills. Justin’s pride and determination had him continue to run up it at a much reduced pace. Experience from my many other crazy races like CampTITAN, Warrior Dash, Rugged Maniac, ect… has taught me that the value add from running up the hill as opposed to briskly walking up is not significant. Often I notice that by the time you hit the apex that you’re so winded that working back into your run takes a lot longer. So while he may have beat me to the top, I soon caught up and felt solid. Then I capitalized on my ability to effectively open up and run downhill, which can be tough to do in a controlled fashion.

After surviving the colossal hills we knew that the end must be fairly close, maybe a mile left. Around this time Justin started getting a stitch in his side, which can really slow you down and be painful. Often you can get them from drinking too much before the race start or by not being hydrated enough. He was able to power through it without much impact on his pace.

With the finish line and crowd of supporters insight my bro looks over and says something to the effect of “let’s give it hell” and in a flash we were spending our last in a full-out sprint. On our tip toes and blazing we crossed the finish line victorious! We were sooner welcomed by Nellie and Liz. They were surprised by how quickly we had finished the race. I wanted a completion time of sub 1 hour and we successfully achieved that mark.

After a really exciting, yet mentally challenging race we crossed the finish line side by side... each of us took a beating but finished strong... GREAT RACE! #loverunning

After a really exciting, yet mentally challenging race we crossed the finish line side by side… each of us took a beating but finished strong… GREAT RACE! #loverunning

Soon after we had got our wind back and grabbed some fresh fruit to start the recovery process and getting our energy stores back. Next we went and swapped out our clothes for the road trip home. We went back for the awards ceremony shortly thereafter. According to the overall finisher, Justin and I respectively tied for 15th overall. It just so happened that I got 2nd place for my age bracket (which only had about 7 competitors) and received a metal. Justin unfortunately did not medal as he had a bracket with many more racers, I felt bad because he deserved it more than me an if anything, I probably slowed him down a bit overall. But, with a good attitude he vowed to return to take the bluffs on yet again at the 7@7 race!

Super proud of our overall results, especially given the challenging elevation changes!

Super proud of our overall results, especially given the challenging elevation changes!

The trip ended with a few more pictures to capture our victory and log this one in the record books. With hugs and mutual respect we parted ways. Till next time my brother and friend! “Hats off to you”, I say to the positive changes he had made in his life!

Post race, brothers unite victorious over the 7@7 with a pretty darn decent time too might I add!

Post race, brothers unite victorious over the 7@7 with a pretty darn decent time too might I add!