Sunday, October 27, 2013

Rock 'n' Roll Marathon (St. Louis, MO)

I can't say it happens often, but over the years several people have asked me the same question:

"Rob, how do you manage to survive a full marathon and always look so darn good at the end?"

Well, as G Gordon Liddy once told me many years ago, we're not going through this life merely trying to survive; we want to thrive! I've never answered the question in much detail because I really needed some images to help illustrate the process. This trip to the St. Louis Rock 'n' Roll Marathon with my other brother (not Juice) provided a great opportunity to get those photos, so I can finally share my secrets here.

Let's start with a quote from the marathon website which says you can "marvel at the soaring arch, savor the delectable cuisine, and experience the bustling riverfront while you rock 13.1 or 26.2 miles in the Gateway to the West."

I'm here to say you can indeed do all those things. Even better, you can just do some of them...

Rob's Rules for Enjoying a Marathon:
  1. Select a race in an unfamiliar town. This is a great way to see a new city for the first time, and I've never been to St. Louis.

  2. Don't be the person running the marathonThat would ruin everything! Those people have put themselves in a horrible situation! I mean, can you imagine running for like four or five hours straight? Ugh. The best these folks can hope for is survival. We've all heard them talk about their goals, the pace they intend to run, their hydration strategies, and blah blah blah. That's silly talk -- they're really just hoping to not die. Even if you do survive and make it to the finish line, there's a pretty good chance you've pooped yourself and your nipples are bleeding. Who wants to deal with any of that?

  3. Support your runnerThese poor guys and gals need a lot of support and that's why we're here. Maybe they need somebody to drive them home afterwards? Maybe they just need a high five at the 18-mile-mark? Remember, your runner has already paid for the hotel room and the gas, so man up and do what is requested of you -- within reason, of course. You can't let them plan your whole weekend because rule #4 takes time.

  4. ThriveYou've got a lot of free time on yours hands -- not just during the marathon, but also on the night before the race when the runners go to bed early. Do whatever you want! This is the most important rule since #2. It's also very flexible, so use your imagination and tailor a plan specifically suited for you. This is your day! 

Unlike some marathon strategies, mine does not require a lot of training or planning so don't be afraid to sign up at the last minute. You'll do fine. In fact, I had very little time to plan this trip and it went great.

It started one weekend morning a few weeks ago. I fell out of bed after a whole three hours of sleep and went straight to the grocery store. It was early -- probably around 10:00 AM -- and I really did not want to see anybody I knew. But of course there's my brother over in the healthy food section looking all good and rested and stuff. There was nowhere to hide...

BIG BRO:  "Hey, what's up? You look like crap."
LIL' BRO:  "Me? You really look like crap."
FAT BRO:  "Yeah, well I feel like crap. Didn't sleep. Must eat. What are you doing?"
FIT BRO:  "Oh, nothing. I ran fifteen miles this morning."

At this early hour of the day, it's perfectly OK to just shake your head and walk away from crazy talk. If that was true, he must have woke up at like midnight to run 15 miles already. And why? He later caught up and explained the why, and he also mentioned something about how sad it would be to spend a couple days in St. Louis all by himself.


SMART BRO:  "Throw in some Monday Night Football tickets and I'll go with ya. I'll even drive back. Not there, but back."

It worked! It ended up being a quicker trip that didn't include Monday Night Football after all, but that was my fault. On the bright side, I think my change of plans saved him exactly $16 in football tickets. Everybody in St. Louis this weekend was there for the marathon or the World Series, which was a nice coincidence that made the city more fun.

I love to sample new restaurants when I travel, so the strategy for rule #4 is pretty simple. Little bro is going to burn a lot of calories this weekend. I'd hate to see them just disappear (wouldn't that be bad for the planet?), so I'll try to consume as many as he burns. The bottom line is that we've both got a challenging few hours ahead of us. He did train longer than me, but he still might die of exhaustion and that's not my fault. Some challenges are just more enjoyable than others...

St. Louis, MO from somewhere over the Mississippi.


The hotel lobby was packed with Boston Red Sox folks waiting for their room.
And they would wait until check in time. Precisely.
No early rooms for the visitors!

A room with a view... of other rooms.

During the ride over to St. Louis I asked some online friends for BBQ recommendations. I was looking for spots within walking distance and most folks recommended Pappy's, which is over two miles from the hotel. Of course that's too far to walk, but they're open on Sundays so I figured we could hit them up on the way out of town.

The winning Saturday suggestion came from Canada of all places -- Rockin' Ronnie Shewchuk pointed me toward Smoki O's for their pig snout. For real? For real. Pig snout. I don't think Ron has actually been there, but he knows BBQ and this place is just a mile away, so while my runner went to the Marathon Expo to prepare for his challenge I started my mission by going in search of pig snout.

Hi, horse.
If you were a pig you'd be in trouble around here, but you're not a pig, so why the long face?

Looking back at the city from above I-70.
I soon learned that you can't escape The Arch.
It's visible from everywhere you go. Everywhere.

Shady Jack's.
Based on looks alone, this is obviously the coolest place in town.
Heck, I just walked past the football stadium and it wasn't even cool enough to make a good picture.
I'll be back, Jack.

The Broadway landscape changes big-time when you venture north of I-70.

Smoki O's.

Like many of my favorite BBQ joints, it's primarily considered a carry-out spot.



Here's a cool character who will take plenty of time to walk you through the menu and answer any questions with style and humor. Apparently the pig snouts are called "snoots" around here, and if I'd seen Andrew Zimmern's advice (and picture) before visiting I definitely would have tried the Rib Tip & Snoot Combo. What I saw instead was some big ribs that looked too good to pass up.

Richmond makes sure you at least sample some snoots even if you order something else, so he later brought two samples out -- one naked, one sauced. He also cracked me up while talking to some visitors from Boston.

BOSTON:  "You know what's neat about Richmond, VA?"
RICHMOND:  "Yeah, I know -- it's named Richmond."

I guess that was the right answer because they didn't offer another one.

Top left -- Steven Raichlen's BBQ USA and How to Grill.

While talking to Richmond I spied something awesome on the shelf behind the counter. Earlier this summer when we visited BBQ U in Colorado I brought exactly two books for Mr. Raichlen to sign -- How to Grill & BBQ USA. Why those two? Because they are my two favorites and they've served me well for many years. This was the first time I've noticed a cookbook in a restaurant, and I'm sure any cook who keeps these two on the shelf is cooking up my kind of food!

This newspaper article from 2001 reads like it could have been written yesterday.
Good BBQ doesn't change much with time!

Also like many of my favorite BBQ joints, this small family-owned establishment is full of some of the friendliest people you'd hope to meet. Otis & Earlene weren't here but their son Christopher came out to say hi while I was eating. He's a nice guy who seems proud of their product, with good reason.

Rib Coma!
With six big ribs and two sides, you definitely get your money's worth with the Rib Dinner.

A look at that smoke ring says more than I can say about the ribs, so I'll just say they were pretty close to perfect -- smokey, tender, and cooked just right for my tastes. I did get some sauce on the side, but forgot about it and never even tried it with these ribs. My brother later had a couple leftover ribs and he didn't go for the sauce, either. Ironically, they are not cut St. Louis-style and that didn't bother me one bit. The greens were great and the potato salad was notable for its sweetness, with a lot more sugar than anything I've come across in Kentucky.

Back home, I later cracked BBQ USA open to see what Raichlen had to say about St. Louis. He mentioned the snoots, of course, and he also described a 1997 tour of the city that revealed a lot of oven-braised spare ribs, sweet tomato-based sauce, and a lack of real smoke flavor. But Smoki O's wasn't around back then! And that reminded me of something funny I noticed on their menu -- a little comment basically explaining what a smoke ring is. If that's necessary, then it's safe to assume there is indeed a lot of oven-braised BBQ being served elsewhere in the neighborhood!

I'm very glad I found this place, and I will definitely be back the next time I'm in town.

Ciao, Smoki O's...
Looking forward to that Rib Tip & Snoot Combo.

A bag of Snoot Chips went back to the room.
They are a lot like pork rinds and we thought they were best when dipped in the sweet sauce that has a hint of cinnamon or cloves.

Shady Jack's.

Just a block down the road on the other side of the street, Shady Jack's provides a remarkably different atmosphere. I may have spotted a new Ducati Panigale pulling in and I tried to follow it, but never found it. I did see everything else from stunt bikes to ape hangers, though.

Feeling a bit out of place in a WKU hoodie while carrying a bag of BBQ leftovers, I still had to pop in to the bar/restaurant area real quick. What did I find? Plenty of halloween costumes and more Red Sox fans, of course. That team travels well...

Back under I-70...
...and back in the Big City.

A bit later we walked a couple blocks in the other direction to meet bro's coach for the pre-marathon dinner at a place called Stefano's. It's a cool little place that's little, so when there happens to be a marathon, three World Series games, and a Monday Night Football game all happening on the same weekend in downtown St. Louis, you might have to stand around and wait a few minutes for a table. It's worth it, though. Good stuff.


Representing BG Crossfit Old School, Brother M & Coach M.

Well, this is awkward.

Worlds collide.

Over there, the Crossfit marathon runners. Over here, the guy who just came to town to eat.

And what did I do when it was my time to shine? I ordered a salad. What?!? Just a salad?!? I totally caved under pressure and they beat me at my own game. Embarrassing.

Luckily, they were gracious in victory and they let me try the lasagna. If I ever go back, that's what I'm ordering. Unless I order a pizza, because they looked pretty incredible, too. We may have been the only table that didn't order at least one pizza, so that's a good indication they are better than decent.

Stefano's Special Salad.
It's like an Italian version of a Cobb Salad, and as far as salads go it was great.
Really all I look for in a salad is a positive protein-to-lettuce ratio, so it gets an A on looks alone.

Ciao, Stefano's...

After dinner it was about time for the runners to get some rest, so I traded city for suburbs and watched the World Series game with some friends at their home a few miles outside of town. I don't even like baseball, but what a game! Crazy ending. Afterward, while everyone else was streaming out of the city, we went back downtown for a midnight stroll. Cool scene...

Busch Stadium & the ESPN guys.

The ESPN guys have a security presence, believe it or not.

Busch Stadium after Game Three.

After Party.

Pretty cool city they got here.

After about twelve hours in St. Louis, I'm really digging this place and I look forward to bringing the family back in the spring. By most accounts, the St. Louis Zoo and the City Museum are great places for clean family fun, so I think we'll stay a little longer next time.

In the meantime, four hours of sleep sounds like a good idea. The race starts at 7:00...

6:55 AM.

Turn 1 of the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon.

This picture shows the third or fourth corral going off. My people were in the fourth but I never saw them. Sounds like they were hugging the curb on this first corner so it's no wonder.

The Rock 'n' Roll Marathons feature bands playing live music at the start line, the finish line, and several spots in between. I don't know how many bands are setup, but I spent 45 minutes listening to this one behind the hotel. With up to 20,000 runners streaming by I guess it's easy to miss a few, and indeed I missed my runners at this spot, too. Next time I'll just sleep in and lie about it.

Less than a year removed from the Boston tragedy, there were a lot of Boston Strong shirts on the course, of course. There was a good police and security presence, but it didn't seem like anything out of the ordinary. I saw a few guys running in Red Sox jerseys and this had to be a neat weekend for any Sox fan who originally planned on being in town just for the marathon.

Being this close to Halloween there were also plenty of other costumes.

The Joker.

The Fireman.

The first pair of throw-away gloves. I forgot to mention it was cold.

After about an hour, the sun finally appeared.

It's gonna be a few hours before they're back in this part of the city, so it's breakfast time. I was hoping to score a greasy sloppy mess known as a St. Louis Slinger -- usually some combination of meat, potatoes, chili, eggs, and cheese. Chili Mac's Diner is close by, they open early, and they are supposed to have one of the best slingers in town.

Chili Mac's Diner.


Apparently they open early only on weekdays. If you want a weekend slinger, you gotta find one somewhere else. What a shame. This looks like my kind of place. Oh well, it's a big city...

"It all comes down to Monday Night."
The poor Rams are begging people to come to the football game.
Hey, at least the ESPN guys will be there!

The Arch.

Didn't expect to stumble across this in Missouri.

Oh, I see. This is the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
End the Fed!

These empty streets have a Walking Dead feel at times.


Rooster must be popular because there was already a good wait at this early hour. There was also exactly one open seat at the bar. The staff was wearing "Eat Local" shirts, and a chat with the bartender (kinda weird at this hour) revealed that this is a proper Farm-to-Table restaurant in the big city. Sweet! Always happy to support local farmers...


Rooster Slinger.

Sounds like they're known for the crepes, but I had to try the slinger. I guess their version is a little different than most, featuring andouille sausage with the potatoes and sausage gravy over sourdough (my choice). I took this back to the hotel room and I'm sure it looks better when served on a plate at the restaurant, but it was awesome. And it looks like something that can easily be made at home with fresh ingredients from Kentucky farmers.

In the meantime, it's time to check out of the hotel and stroll on own to the finish line. The runners can sign up for a service that sends time/distance updates out via text message or social media at certain check points throughout the race, so I knew M&M were on pace through the half. Unfortunately, the messaging system crashed and stopped sending out notifications late in the race. Family back home started getting worried. No worries here... ain't no quit in that kid.

Mark Twain.

The Old Post Office.

An hour later, the line at Rooster was now outside.

This church has its own block.

World War Memorial.
Just across the starting line, the steps on the other side were a popular place for the runners to crash.

They had a TON of event photographers on hand.
Also, that guy from KISS finished.

I setup camp at the beginning of the last straight, which had the runners going slightly uphill after rounding the last corner. Some people were not happy about that. And some of those people were quite vocal in expressing their displeasure. You'd be amazed at the vile words a pretty women who has just run 26.0 miles can spew.


I tried to keep up but I was weighed down by a backpack, you see...

I believe she carried the flag for the entire race. Nice!

A forced smile a few minutes after finishing.


Unforced smile.
As you can see, the Mich Ultra dude was pretty cool.

I'm sure it felt good to finally stand in front of that last stage with a cold one.

Who am I kidding? I know it felt good to finally stand in front of that last stage with a cold one!
Hey, I had a long morning, too...

After a slow walk back to the car we headed for Pappy's. Everyone who recommended it mentioned the long line we'd likely encounter. I'd been seeing big restaurant crowds all across the city, but Pappy's is located right on the marathon route so hopefully the road closure would keep most people away, right? Wrong.

We parked two blocks away, and it didn't take long to realize I wasn't getting any Sunday BBQ.

The road is closed and they opened two hours ago, but there's still a line to the corner.

I can't tell you how good it smells on this block, but I can show you why!
If it tastes as good as it smells...

Ciao, Pappy's.
I'll plan better next time.

Cheers, St. Louis... it's been fun for one of us, and at least the other one survived.

In all seriousness, I was damn proud of my brother. As The Stranger from Big Lebowski might say, "Sometimes there's a moment..." Sometimes there's a moment where you see what a person is made of. Sometimes it's a rotten moment that is uncomfortable for everybody. Sometimes it's a moment you're proud to witness.

I saw it at the finish line. He knew he was in trouble early enough to consider taking the "easy" path and heading for the half marathon finish line. Five miles later he was really in trouble. Three miles after that he was done. DONE. Somehow he got it together, and maybe someday he'll tell me how. Those last five miles sucked more than I'll ever know -- the look on his face told that story. [I was also there when he finished his first marathon in miserable conditions. This was different.] To bring it full circle, Liddy would say this was the look of sheer WILL.

He didn't do the time he trained for, but he crushed his previous time to set a new PB in a Sunday morning run he shouldn't have finished. One that sensible people don't even start.

So, yeah, I paid for Hooters.

A marathon medal, a table full of fried food, and football on TV.
I know a thing or two about two of those things.

I also bestowed upon him my fourth honorary KAK sticker from Kentucky for Kentucky.
Mostly because he earned it, and partially because I really hate those oval-shaped 26.2 deals...

Return to St. Louis (3/31/14)

We took the boys back to St. Louis for a quick weekend to see the City Museum and the zoo, and to eat. The eating went better than the museum and the zoo.

Ole South Barbeque.
Owensboro, KY.

Ole South buffet plate.

I preferred the pulled pork over the mutton, and I wish they had some meat available that wasn't already sauced.

I think this is the fourth Owensboro BBQ joint I've been to, and I'm starting to think of them more as good southern restaurants than just BBQ spots. They all seem to have a well rounded menu with sides that are nearly as good as the meats. Ole South has a buffet -- not nearly on the same scale as the Moonlite buffet, but it's a nice way to sample their fare, and it features non-BBQ items such as fried catfish, shrimp, and hush puppies that the little guy likes. The mutton and the black dip still haven't caught on for me, but I've never had a bad meal in the BBQ Capital of the World.

Back on the road to St. Louis, where we stayed in the Union Station Hotel, which is currently undergoing a major renovation. Neat building!

Union Station.
St. Louis, MO.

Union Station.
This building and property occupies 2 x 4 blocks.

St. Louis Union Station.

The huge lobby area is receiving a makeover.

Hotel dude said they were putting a $1,500,000 laser light show in here.

Behind the lobby, the building has two uses.

On one side of the bridge is the hotel rooms and this huge convention space that has meeting rooms along the side.

On the other side of the bridge is a shopping mall that's seen better days.
Hopefully better days to come, too...

Union Station Hotel Breakfast Buffet.

Union Station Hotel Burger & Fries (room service).

Union Station is cool. I think we got a discounted room rate because of the non-stop construction currently underway, and I look forward to visiting again when the renovations are finished. It's a huge building and the folks at the hotel couldn't have been any nicer. The breakfast buffet was the best I've ever had at a hotel -- bagel & lox?  Sweet.

Now, time for pizza. I've wanted to try Imo's ever since seeing Jimmy Kimmel argue pizza with John Hamm. Like Kimmel, I prefer homemade wood-fired pizza over anything else, but that doesn't mean other styles of pizza suck and I find it hard to believe that Imo's could be as bad as Kimmel says it is. Only one way to find out...

Imo's Pizza.
At Washington & 19th, this location is an easy walk from Union Station.
Fortunately we got there three minutes before that bus load of people arrived.

Pepperoni & Banana Peppers.

Pepperoni & Banana Peppers.

Pepperoni & Banana Peppers.

Pepperoni (to go).

While I hate to disagree with Jimmy Kimmel, I have to say this pizza doesn't suck. It's quite tasty in its simplicity and it's fun to eat. Those most noticable characteristics to me were the square cuts, the thin & crispy crust, and the sauce. The sauce was noticable for it's lack of flavor -- it tasted like tomato paste that was barely sweetened and didn't have much added in the way of herbs. That doesn't sound very appealing, but with the cheese and toppings it all seems to work. (Apparently the cheese is what other people notice most.) Anyway, I'll be glad to eat at Imo's anytime I'm in St. Louis.

Now time for the City Museum, which turned out to be a horrible idea on the first Saturday of Spring Break...

City Museum.
Yeah, that's a school bus hanging off the roof.

The ticket line is what finally convinced us this wasn't going to work.

So, instead of the City Museum we went to The Magic House -- pretty cool place if you're three years old. If you're not three years old, it's a guaranteed headache! No worries, after the Magic House we met some old friends at Fitz's Soda Bar & Grill.

Fitz's Soda Bar & Grill.


Fitz's craft soda bottling operation.

Grilled Portabella Sandwich.

Mt. Everest Special.

Four-pack to go.

Fitz's was the perfect touristy St. Louis dining experience, especially since our group had two sleepy toddlers and sitting upstairs with the video games and pool tables they couldn't really bother anybody, even if they did get fussy. The food was great, the portions were huge, and everybody left happy. I didn't try any, but I saw plates of pulled pork and brisket that looked like proper BBQ. Next time.

Next up... St. Louis Zoo.

The Hippo was probably the coolest thing we saw.

The train ride was the most fun...

...except for the terrifying Space Mountain flashback.

Little Man would ride the train all day if we let him.

The zoo was cool because the price was right -- it is free. And it's probably not a popular opinion, but we enjoyed the zoos in Louisville and Cincinnati better. Anyway, after a nap, it was time for our last dinner in the big city and we didn't feel like walking very far.

Behind the hotel and the mall, and still under the Union Station roof, there is a Hard Rock Cafe and a Landry's Seafood House.

While I would prefer Landry's, an irritable toddler made the noisy Hard Rock Cafe a much better choice.

Obligatory souvenir glass.

Cobb Salad.


Of course the food is overpriced, but it's usually good food and we always enjoy Hard Rock.

As mentioned above, I missed out on a true St. Louis Slinger at Chili Mac's Diner on my marathon trip, and I wasn't going to miss it this time. So early Monday morning Bubby and I took a cab downtown and enjoyed a nice walk back...

St. Louis.


Chili Mac's Diner.

It's kinda like a way cooler version of Waffle House.

The famous St. Louis Slinger.
Two Cheeseburgers, Fried Potatoes, and an Egg topped with Chili, Cheese, and Onions.

Chili Mac's did not disappoint! I did, however, disappoint the waitress as I didn't even come close to finishing my plate. Of course, she then pointed out that there is a half-size version available. Doh!

The City Hall building is awesome.
No idea if it's really still the City Hall.

St. Louis was fun. We'd still like to visit the City Museum sometime, but I think it won't be on a Saturday...

Ciao, St. Louis.
Bye, train.
I can't believe he talked me into buying St. Louis Rams hats.

Owensboro, KY.
Because Dee's Diner is apparently closed. Boo!

Arby's Turkey Club.