Monday, February 6, 2012

Running Pensacola

This past weekend my husband and I flew south to visit Pensacola, Florida, home of the Double Bridge Run 15k.  Although we've been enjoying the milder Michigan winter this year, it was still nice to head to the beach for some warmer, more humid temperatures.

Beautiful Pensacola Beach
We arrived in Florida at 10:30 a.m. on a Thursday. This entailed catching a 6 a.m. flight out of Detroit which means we woke up around 3:30 a.m. My husband might still be annoyed with me about the early flights. The good part is that we had all day Thursday to enjoy Pensacola as well. We picked up our rental car and headed straight to lunch at The Fish House, a phenomenal eatery overlooking the Pensacola Bay. I was looking for seafood and southern food, and this place had it all. They are renowned for their grits, and let me tell you - incredible. I had fried oysters, cheese grits, black eyed peas and of course sweet iced tea. Their hush puppies were absolutely amazing. This was unequivocally the best meal we had in Pensacola. 

Outdoor seating at The Fish House
Our hotel was the race hotel - the Hilton at Pensacola Beach. We had to cross the two bridges I would later be running to get to the beach. Pensacola Beach is its own little contained community with hotels, restaurants and shops surrounded by white sand beaches. We enjoyed it there, but we were glad we'd rented a car so we could also explore the rest of the area.

The race expo was at the hotel, and it was a small but well organized affair. Packet pick-up was fast and easy, and we made our way through the various vendors. My favorite part was filling out a short survey to receive free Asics arm sleeves sporting the race logo. The race shirt is a long-sleeved cotton t-shirt, which will be fine for wearing around the house. I'd prefer paying a little more for a tech shirt that I'll actually use instead of eventually adding to the pile that I hope to one day turn into a quilt.  We spent the rest of Thursday relaxing, walking the beach, and having a quick dinner near the hotel.

Beautiful scenery and pier right near our hotel
On Friday morning we headed out to explore downtown Pensacola. As a fan of downtowns, I was impressed. There was free two-hour parking, so we hopped out of the car and set out. There were lots of shops and restaurants, and a surprising number of music establishments - theatres and music stores.  Pensacola is also rich in history with its French and Spanish roots. Downtown is home to a number of beautiful, old, historic buildings including Historic Pensacola Village. We spent hours just walking around and enjoying the architecture. 

Pensacola also had a number of pelican statues downtown and elsewhere. The city of Norfolk, VA does this with mermaids, and I love cities that have a mascot of sorts. I got my photo taken with several pelicans.

It turns out Mardi Gras is a big deal in Pensacola although we were a few weeks early for the big festivities. All of the shops downtown were decked out in Mardi Gras finery. The downtown has a New Orleans type feel, and I'm sure Mardi Gras would be so fun. I wish we were there for that celebration too.

Mardi Gras decorations downtown Pensacola
There were even beads in the trees downtown!
Lunch on Friday was at McGuire's Irish Pub, a local place established in 1977. The food was typical Irish and okay, but the atmosphere was really what this place was all about. The owner's daughter had signed a dollar bill that is now framed on the wall, and a tradition started for patrons to sign dollar bills that they would affix to the walls. The hostess informed us that they had approximately $1.3 million worth of dollar bills at McGuire's.  The signature cocktails were also impressive. My husband decided to have an "Irish Wake", a large concoction featuring Bacardi 151 rum in a keepsake mason jar. There is a three drink limit, and unfortunately with a race the next day I just got to sample and envy while he enjoyed two of them.

Debauchery? I'm in!

Dollar bills everywhere at McGuire's
Following McGuire's we headed out to Fort Pickens on the Gulf Island National Seashore.  Fort Pickens is one of four forts originally built in the early 1800s to defend Pensacola Bay.  It was amazing - definitely one of my favorite parts of the trip. There is still a lot of the fort standing, and we spent hours exploring and taking photos. The famous Apache Geronimo was imprisoned at Fort Pickens in the late 1800s. The rich history makes Fort Pickens a must see.  Plus there's a ton of stuff to climb on. I am pro climbing.

Friday night was relaxing with a walk across the street to an intimate little Italian place - Lillo's Tuscan Grille. The reviews we found online were mixed, but we had a great experience. The service was impeccable, and our food was fantastic.  The clearly homemade sauces are delicious, and I had spaghetti with their homemade Italian sausage - awesome.

I was up bright and early on Saturday for the race. The 15k buses boarded right near the hotel, and I was on the bus by 5:15 to head downtown. We got downtown around 5:45, which left an hour and a half to just...stand. The race was extremely well organized - the buses and starting area ran like clockwork. The corrals were well-marked as was the course.

Even in running, fashion matters.
 I'll admit up front that this was not a good race for me. I've been breaking PRs and running much faster the last few months, and this was just not one of those times. The temperature at the start of the race was low 60s. It was warm and beautiful, although a bit windy. The race headed right down Palafox Street (Pensacola's main downtown street) and through the historic district before heading to the first of the two bridges. 

The first bridge is a three-mile span over Escambia Bay. The bridge began right around the three mile mark, and it was quiet. Due to the nature of the course there weren't really any spectators, so I could hear other runners and the wind. About halfway over the bridge I was really losing steam. Thankfully there was a deejay probably in between miles four and five that really helped boost the energy.

Following bridge number one, we ran through Gulf Breeze, a small town connecting us to bridge number two. Gulf Breeze was my favorite part. There were tons of spectators and tons of energy. The best part was we ran by the start of the 5k, and 5k runners were lined up cheering on the 15k runners. I actually teared up a little bit. It rocked. 

The second bridge was the Bob Sike's bridge over the Intercoastal Waterway. While this was much shorter than the first one, it was around mile eight, and I was running of out energy quickly. At the nine mile mark I began debating when I should really start kicking. It's not as though .3 miles is a huge distance, but it's not quite sprinting distance for me. The last stretch I really pushed and finished strong. I love the photos my husband got of me running toward the finish. He's the best paparazzi ever. My biggest disappointment with this race was no medal. I love running swag, so very disappointing.

My husband spotted me far away -I'm in the purple on the right.
All smiles once I'm done.
Post race I was feeling pretty good, so after a shower and a snack, we headed off to Naval Air Station Pensacola to visit the National Naval Aviation Musueum and the Pensacola Lighthouse. The Aviation Museum was really cool with tons of military aircraft, and with free admission, it really can't be beat. I also loved the interactive ones because, as I've established, I like to climb things.

This is the actual plane where Nixon gave his victory sign.

Like I said - I like climbing things.
Speaking of climbing things, following the Museum we headed to the Pensacola Lighthouse, the same one recently featured on Ghost Hunters.  The guide at the entrance informed us it is considered one of the most haunted lighthouses in the United States. The 177 steps to the top were a challenge following 9.3 miles, but it was worth it for the panoramic view of Pensacola Bay. Frankly the walk down was harder on the legs.

The Pensacola Lighthouse
Going up
Beautiful view

Saturday afternoon was spent relaxing and resting before we headed out for cocktails and appetizers at Flounder's, a restaurant across the street from our hotel and owned by the same people who own McGuire's.  We had more excellent service at Flounder's, and the signature cocktail (with keepsake mason jar) is Diesel Fuel. I celebrated finishing the race with a key lime martini and a blue marlin (aka pina colada) while my husband enjoyed the Diesel Fuel. The appetizer we ordered was great, but the location is really Flounder's crowning jewel. It's right on the water with open air dining, a HUGE patio, and just a fantastic atmosphere. It is also home to the original Pensacola Beach sign, a cool old sign that presents a great photo opportunity.

Cheers to our last night!
All in all our trip to Pensacola was successful and relaxing. I really love the city - the history, atmosphere and great food. The race was well organized and a really fun experience.

How would I rate Pensacola? A (I mean really - water, great downtown, relatively walkable. I approve.)

How would I rate the Double Bridge Run? B + (Throw in a medal and a tech shirt, and it's an automatic upgrade)


  1. Great article, Samantha! Thanks for the compliments! I love Pensacola!Yes, a medal would be great!! Will have to talk to the directors! The long sleeve cotton T's have become a tradition.
    Glad you could visit and hope you can come back!

  2. I remember seeing you at the race! I noticed because I really liked your skirt, and we had on the same socks. :) I agree about the shirts and medals. Last October I ran the Blue Moon Wicked 10k in VA Beach and though it was a shorter race, we received long sleeve technical t-shirts, tech hats, and a nice medal. I was a bit bummed when we didn't get one after the DBR. Anyway - my husband is from MI but we are currently stationed down here in the Pensacola area. Glad you were able to come enjoy the area and the run!

  3. Thanks for the comments ladies! It was a fun weekend. We loved Pensacola!