We haven't gone on a family vacation since... well.... four years and three children ago. The last time we took the kids to the beach we were a typical family of four and our life looked very different. As a disclaimer of honesty, I will tell you that the humanity in me wants to pretend that who I am today is who I've always been, but it's important to turn around and face the past... for me to turn around and face the person who used to walk around in my skin, living my life.
When people don't believe me about what I used to look like, it is a picture taken on the Myrtle Beach boardwalk four years ago that I show them. I was at least 75 pounds heavier than I am now. Two years prior to the picture being taken, I had given up the vegetarian diet that had been a part of my identity since I was a child. If you would have told me four years ago that I would be a plant-strong runner who trains for marathon distance races, I wouldn't have believed you. I'm sure that Nate, who was raised by second generation butchers and only began running this past year, would also have been surprised by the turn our lives have taken.
So what does vacation look like now? How do we make it work not only as plant-based runners mid-training, but also as the parents of five children? Here at home we've worked out the challenges of this lifestyle. We have our favorite grocery store with the ingredients to make our kids favorite meals. We are lucky enough to have a vegan restaurant downtown, only 10 minutes away, and we know which other restaurants are both kid and veg friendly. We have our training plans adjusted to fit the craziness of our lives. We have a vegan bakery within walking distance that makes excellent energy bars and other good running food. So what do we do when we venture out of the comforts and familiarity of home? Here are the things we did, the things things that worked, and the things we learned:
This was probably the easiest part of the trip. It took us approximately 10 hours to get from our home in Northeast Ohio to our condo in Ocean City MD. Not only do we have kids who love their veggies, they are also exceptionally good travelers. A stocked bag of snacks, bottled water, and sippy cups got us from point A to point B nicely. Carrots, hummus, Lara Bars, and trail mix were all easily consumed by big and little hands alike. For the babies, we opted for Plum Organics baby food in a pouch. It has a twist off top that allows older babies to feed themselves. (Warning, this can be a little bit messy!) Having healthy finger food at the ready meant that we weren't eating gas station / rest stop food or anything out of a vending machine. It also meant that our time lost for stops was kept to a minimum, (as minimum as they could be with five kids needing potty breaks and diaper changes). We tried only to stop when we needed to pay an astronomical amount of money for gas, or to purchase copious amounts of coffee. By a stroke of sheer luck, we stumbled across a smoothie place that made delicious fruit/veg smoothies with chlorella, and spirulina and had a delicious lunch as we drove.
We ate breakfast and lunch everyday in our condo. Mostly fresh berries & bananas for breakfast, salads, pita, peanut butter, veggies for lunch. Cooking/cleaning for 7 was not on my vacation agenda, so we stuck to easy raw foods. At a local grocery store we found a bottle of dark chocolate, dairy free chocolate sauce. I planned to eat it with berries on the balcony with Nate after the kids were all tucked in bed, but we broke it open first thing in the morning and had it for breakfast! The kids thought it was a serious special occasion!
Like most other people, we like to eat out and planned to do so for several dinners. We had a few epic fail restaurant experiences during our first few days. We thought we had done adequate research, we had read customer reviews, and picked out several restaurants that seemed like they would be a good fit for our large veggie lovin family. Unfortunately, this did not work out as planned. Let me just say that we are not high maintenance restaurant goers. We ask polite questions, order the best plant-based options, with hopefully a minimum number of special requests, and we tip really really well. The first restaurant (one that we had read great things about) was not serving their full menu that night. The menu was so limited that I couldn't even order a salad. Anther restaurant that we had intended to visit was closed for the week! After two days of similar experiences, I broke down and bought all the ingredients to make a huge pot of our favorite soup and we ate that for the next few days. We did eventually come across a Mexican restaurant that had great vegetarian options and pleasantly accommodated our special requests (they charged a premium for them, but it was worth it!) and we found a breakfast shop that made smoothies and veg-friendly wraps.
There were more options for running than I had originally expected. The boardwalk had mile markers for runners and wasn't crowded until the weekend. Plenty of runners took to the sidewalks down Coastal Highway. Nate and I stuck to simple and peaceful runs along the beach. It was a new experience to learn to run in the sand! Since it was pre-season, the beach was almost completely deserted no matter what time you took off on a run. With all the kids, we obviously couldn't run at the same time. We would alternate, one of us going first thing in the morning while the kids were still asleep and the other going at nap time. This arrangement ensured that we both got our runs in, but the workouts never got in the way of our primary goal of spending time away as a family.
The week wasn't perfect. Our restaurant experiences definitely left something to be desired. Next time I will do our grocery shopping here at home for both cost reasons as well as food preferences (and I hate being lost in a new store)! We didn't stick to our training plans as diligently as we would at home. On the last night, we walked the boardwalk and treated the kids to a funnel cake, which is not a food that would appear on their plates any other time.
But you know what? There is more to life than training and food. We played hard, laughed hard, and slept well. We climbed and ran and splashed. I've had some delicious gourmet meals in my life, but they pale in comparison to the joy I felt while sharing a simple, but somehow decadent breakfast of berries and chocolate with my sleepy-eyed kids. Running makes my life infinitely better, but even running along the beach at sunrise doesn't compare with watching the expressions on five little faces as they stared out across the sand, most of them for the first time, and saw the ocean.