Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Yes There Really is a Kalamazoo Michigan

We've established that a lot of my leisure travel in Michigan happens in Southeast Michigan. My husband is from Metro Detroit, and we generally head east. The beauty of my job, however, is that I get to do lots of traveling. As a result I have discovered the gem that is Kalamazoo. It's inching in on Marquette as my current Michigan city love interest.

I've been to Kalamazoo several times in the last month or so. At the end of March I attended Populus, a cool placemaking event hosted by Kalamazoo based economic development consulting group Southwest Michigan First.   Then earlier this past week I headed to Kalamazoo for a reception and some networking. I had registered for the Kalamazoo Half Marathon months ago before 1) I knew I'd be spending so much work time in Kalamazoo and 2) before I knew we were buying a new house in our free time.

I have to admit I wasn't super psyched to head back to Kalamazoo twice in the same week. My stress level has been off the charts for weeks because of buying a house and renting our current home as well as just general work related stress. For those of you who know anything about Crohn's you will know that stress is great for it (is the sarcasm translating?) It's been a rough couple of weeks, and I was really dragging at the thought of another overnight trip and another race.

What I have discovered in the last few weeks, however, is that Kalamazoo is a fantastic town. I wouldn't say I'm quite in love yet, but there's definitely a serious lust situation happening. We headed to Kalamazoo on Saturday afternoon and went straight to Wings Stadium for packet pick-up. The race expo was small, but it was well organized and efficient. I LOVE the shirt (which is always a big deal), and I found myself getting in the race spirit.

We checked into the Radisson Hotel in Downtown Kalamazoo and immediately headed out to the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange for some mid-afternoon snacks and cocktails (as you do the day before you run 13.1 miles). The Beer Exchange prices its draught beers based on real-time sales as a sort of beer stock exchange. It's an interesting concept, and for those of who don't drink beer the cocktail menu is legit. It was Kentucky Derby day, and this girl discovered $5 Woodford Reserve Mint Juleps. They were fantastic. The bar snacks were also delicious. Fried pickles and bar chips have carbs right?

After a few cocktails I was losing steam fast, so we headed next door (essentially) to Water Street Coffee Roaster. This place is adorable. Super charming, delicious coffee. Their rich and delicious cappuccino was exactly what I needed to get my second wind.

The best part of this trip (along with the race) was our Saturday night dinner at Food Dance. I must announce that the dinner we had at Food Dance was the best food I've ever had in Michigan. It was amazing. And the cocktails? The Ginger Rogers was the ABSOLUTE best cocktail I've ever had. This is saying a lot if you know how much I love cocktails. Gin, muddled mint, ginger syrup, lime juice? Shut up.  No competition. It was so amazing that I quizzed our server on how they make their ginger simple syrup and will be attempting to make my own for porch parties at our new house this summer. Food Dance and I are having a serious food love affair.

The incomparable Ginger Rogers

Following our food coma we went to be relatively early, and I was up bright and early for the race on Sunday. There was a shuttle from the Radisson to the start and finish which was extremely convenient. I'd also forgotten to bring a granola bar for breakfast, and the Radisson had snacks out for runners. Very handy. I was extremely impressed.

The only downside was that the shuttles were so early. I ended up waiting almost two hours for the start of my race. I did find an indoor area (a fitness center near the start) to wait inside. The race started promptly at 8:20, and we were off. Similar to the Cocoa Classic in Detroit a few weeks ago I resolved to stay with the pace groups to meet my goal of under two hours.  The race had excellent fan support. I had heard there were spots where it was quiet, and there were. But overall Kalamazoo fans made a great showing.

I saw my husband just before mile three. I loved the huge two hour pace group. I had no idea until I saw the photos that there were so many people in the group because I was staying just ahead of the pacers. After we saw my husband we turned onto the Kalamazoo Mall, a great, narrow downtown street. There was a band and spectators everywhere. I had tears in my eyes the whole time. It was an awesome race atmosphere. Way to bring it Kalamazoo.

Excited to see a familiar face

All smiles

Love this one of the runners and the city
My husband was there again around mile seven after the fans started to thin out.  Our pace group was still going strong, and I still had a smile on my face. 

Big two hour pace group still going strong

How can I not smile when doing something I love so much?

Around mile 11 I realized I was pulling away from the pace group. I was feeling great, so I dug in and pushed through the last few miles (even the giant hill toward the end). I was all smiles as I crossed the finish in 1:58:12, 47 seconds faster than my Cocoa Classic PR. That meant I had run my personal best in three out of the last three races. I couldn't be more thrilled.

So psyched to finish with another PR...and I totally blew past this girl beside me.
Snacks, hydration and hardware.

We took the shuttle back to the hotel and then headed to Studio Grill for brunch. Studio Grill boasts the best burger in Southwest Michigan, and I had to give it a try. I had the BBQ bacon cheddar burger and sweet potato fries. The burger was tasty...although I'm not sure it was the best ever. The atmosphere and service were both fantastic though, and the overall experience was great. 

My husband and I both really needed a night away from work and new house stress. A night in Kalamazoo was the perfect quick getaway. I am intrigued by all that Kalamazoo has to offer. It's a really cool town, and it feels like it's on the verge of some really great things. I have been comparing every recent city experience to Marquette, and there was something magical about those few days there in the winter. But Kalamazoo has something...and it's something I like. The race was fantastic, the city charming, and Food Dance was ridiculously good. I'll be back soon, Kalamazoo. Let's keep this good thing going.

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