Is an Ironman worth the price?

>> 8.23.2012

I know that I'm not a fitness blogger and most of you could care less about triathlons, but I thought this topic might be helpful for some people who might Google search the blog or want to participate in an Ironman in the future. 

Fun fact: the largest group (by far) of athletes at our Ironman were the >40 men. To these guys who normally have well-paying jobs, the cost of an Ironman doesn't usually become a big factor in their planning. According to the race organizers, the average salary of the participants was >$150,000! For a <30 female with a husband also participating and a very tight "fun money" budget, the value of the experience was definitely on my mind!

Background:
An Ironman is a multi-sport endurance triathlon consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 26.2 mile run. The professionals finish in around eight hours while the rest of the group has to finish in under 17 hours. It begins at 7:00 am and ends at midnight. The race is responsible for providing a safe course, food, drinks, medical staff, volunteers and clean-up for the event. The athletes have to provide their own equipment, attend mandatory meetings, and get from point A to point B.


The price:
The entry fee alone was.... wait for it... $650 (each).
Yep. Doesn't sound super thrifty does it? This fee covers things like road closures, food, medical staff, etc. Seeing as there are iron-distance triathlons out there that do it for $100-300 cheaper, I'm not sure how much of the fee was necessary and how much we were paying for the name brand race. We, of course, had to do this event at least once because we wanted to be "Ironmen" officially and not just "Iron-distance men."

Their professional pics cost a lot of money, but we were both feeling sick afterwards so pre-swim pics are all I have!

The extras:
They make you come into town the Thursday before the Saturday event for mandatory check-in/ so that you spend more money at the local hotels. I can't imagine any non-local wanting to drive home after 10+ hours of exercise, so there's really a minimum of three nights of hotel stays for each athlete, or around $600. Personally, I ended up buying a tri-specific bike last winter for $1,300 and needed to buy a gym membership for $25/ month so that I could train for the swim in the winter.

It's easy to get sucked into buying logo merchandise after the event. I bought these cookies and a logo shirts as well.

What they give you:
For Ironman Texas, we received: a finisher's shirt, a finisher's hat, a medal, and a really nice backpack. I'm not sure that you get the finisher's items if you don't finish because they hand them to you at the finish line. 
There were also two non-race meals (pre/ post race) included in the entry fee (family had to spend $30/ ticket). The amount of food/ drink that they offered during the actual race was really impressive and the medical tent was a big bonus as well. Nate and I both had IVs afterward for dehydration at no extra cost! I also saw plenty of people taking advantage of the bike's mechanical support- they had extra tubes and even wheels in case anything went wrong.

The value:
I went into the race upset with myself for feeling the need to do a name brand race. As we did a 100-mile bike ride during our training, I thought, "People pay a lot of money to participate in century bike rides. Why are we paying a lot for this Ironman. We could just do the same distances on our own!" It wasn't until I was participating in the race itself that I really understood the value of the experience.
  • The crowds/ volunteers that show up for an Ironman (vs. iron-distace) are amazing. 
  • The organization and support provided by the company is absolutely top-notch.
  • A racing environment is actually fun. Doing a 14-hour workout alone at home is not so much fun.
  • I know that I'll be able to refer back to this race at age 90 and impress great-grandchildren similar to the way people can bring up climbing a certain mountain peak or running a marathon.
In the end, I did pay a lot of money, but I also felt like I got a lot back. I'd give the race as a whole a B+ for value. I can't promise that I won't do an off-brand event in the future, but I don't regret spending the money on Ironman at all.

My tips for first-timers:
  • Train to finish in <14 hours.
  • Arrive before transition opens.
  • Park near the bike transition. 
  • Remind your friends/ family to take pictures of you. 
  • Follow your nutrition plan! Don't make any decisions during the race.
  • Don't stop during the race unless you need to stop.
  • Don't allow yourself to think quitting is an option. Plan on crawling across the finish if you need to.
FAQs:
Are you going to do it again?
Probably, but not in the next five years. I'd like to improve my time/ feel stronger at the finish.

Was it harder than you thought it would be?
Yes and no. I knew going into it that I would/ could finish and I had experience with doing a half Ironman before. The Ironman was just so exhausting! I started crying during the bike at mile 85 when I realized that I had two more hours of cycling then, during the run, I was thisclose to laying down on the side of the trail and taking a nap.

I've said before that a 5k race can be just as hard as a half marathon depending on how hard you're pushing yourself. The Ironman doesn't even compare to any race. A half Ironman is easy compared to doing a full. EASY. Still... I think that any able-bodied person that puts in the training can complete an Ironman.

Did you stop and take breaks?
I did stop/ walk a few times. I mostly tried to keep up a good pace so that I could bank the time in case of a flat tire or other issues. I stopped twice during the bike to stretch my legs/ use the restroom. Then, on the run I walked through a lot of the water stops while I re-hydrated/ re-fueled... up until mile 19 where I started throwing up. I sat at the medical tent for a while to regroup and then ran/ walked until I threw up again. I walked the last 4ish miles because my stomach was upset and it was really nice to have that option because I had the extra time built in. Remember, finishing after midnight meant "not finishing."

How do you go to the bathroom?
Porta-Potty. They had food/ restrooms every 10ish miles on the bike and every mile on the run.

Why do it?/ You're crazy.
I like a good challenge. More than anything, I like to impress myself. I still remember the first time that I ran five miles without stopping nine years ago because I was so proud of myself. If you would have told me that day that I would eventually finish an Ironman, I would have laughed at you... and that's why I think it's so great that I actually did it!

Read more...

when being thrifty =/= weight loss

>> 8.21.2012

I exercise a lot and eat healthy foods most of the time. I'm on auto pilot most of the time with my weight so  when I get off of my routine and gain a little weight or have a reason to cut back I don't have the easiest time adjusting! I have a few runs coming up this fall that I'd love to PR (personal record) in and losing 5 lbs (=2 sec faster/ lb) by then would really help me to reach my goal. I know what I need to do, but my deadline is approaching and I'm still just hovering around my normal weight.

My biggest setback lately? My thriftiness.

It isn't the cheap food that gets in my way (I like to think that most of my inexpensive groceries are healthy)... it's the "free" food! I'm having the roughest time turning away free treats. Whether it's a sample at the grocery store, a birthday cake at work, or leftovers at dinner, I've had a rough time turning anything away. The work treats are the worst. In the last month alone, we've had: breakfast tacos, a catered lunch, cookies, and cupcakes. And of course, there's also a bottomless candy bowl in the break-room!

Because I live a thrifty lifestyle where we budget for about one restaurant meal and one special dessert a week, these work treats (and they're usually from restaurants I rarely get to go to) seem too good to pass up.

Thrifty Little Tip~

When you're faced with free food that gets in the way of your weight loss goals, ask yourself: 
How much is my weight loss goal worth to me? How much would I pay right now to have that weight gone?
Based on the number of people enrolled in diet programs and purchasing special diet foods, I'm guessing it's something. If the answer is >$0, say the following: 
I'll skip that food for now, but set aside that value of the weight loss. When the weight is gone, I can always go back and just buy that food myself.

Chances are that you won't remember the food once the weight is gone, but if you're in a healthier state and have spent a few weeks skipping the freebies, I'd say that you've earned a $3 cupcake* guilt-free!
*or a non-food treat, as the nutritionists might say

story behind cake here

Don't treats taste better when you've earned them? What are your biggest weight loss setbacks? 

ETA: I wrote this post before work and, of course, found a box of these cupcakes waiting in the break-room :(. Brownie Sundae, Italian Creme, Chocolate Hazlenut, and Cherry Bada Bing... I'll just buy one later!

Read more...

So you want to move to Austin...

>> 8.17.2012

Maybe it was the fact that we found someone to rent out our tiny garage apartment in less than 48 hours... or maybe it's the fact that our area made up the #2* and #3 fastest growing cities last year, but I've been feeling the urge to share more about the city I live and grew up in.
 *Many, many people move to Round Rock and work in Austin.

I took this picture just a few years ago- there are several new high rises now!

If you're one of the 80+ people moving here each day, there are probably a few common reasons why you're interested in Austin:
  • Jobs- Yes, our (and Texas's) unemployment rates are below the national average. We definitely have job openings here, but make sure that there is a market for your profession before moving! You'll probably find a part time job at a retail store pretty easily, but I can't promise you'll be able to use your marketing degree to its fullest (and you better have a good degree or experience because you're competing with University of Texas students). 
  • Cool stuff- You're right about this as well. We get a lot of our cool points from our festivals like ACL and SXSW. We also keep it weird by encouraging local businesses. That said, if SXSW was your only experience with Austin, you should probably come back again to experience everyday living.
  • Cool people- Our median age is really low thanks to University of Texas students hanging around that "cool stuff" drawing more twenty-somethings in. With that population come more healthy and  I can definitely see how a fifty-something can feel left out around here because things seem to be marketed towards younger generations.
  • Liberal atmosphere- True, Texas is generally conservative while Austin is generally liberal. There are always exceptions to this rule and definitely conservative pockets scattered around the city.
  • Cost of living- It's not as cheap here as you might be expecting (especially near the "cool stuff"). Compared to NYC or LA, yes, but housing is definitely pricey thanks to the rapid growth. Remember, we're renting out a 300 sqft place for $650 (including bills). Also, if you're buying a house, don't forget about that 2.31% property tax!
  • Weather- If you're sick of winter weather, you're coming to the right place! At the same time, this is NOT  the place for people who hate sweating. We're in the "hot" range from around May- September each year. Like, 90+ as the high every day and 95+ July to September.
Thrifty Little Tip: Barton Springs is free during the off season, before 8 am, and after 9 pm.

So, there is a lot of truth to the common reasons that we're drawing people in, but there are also several common things that you might find disappointing or surprising when you get here:
  • Transportation- Traffic is hooorrible and our public transportation isn't the best either. We just weren't ready to accommodate the growth.
  • Attitudes- I'd say that we're generally nicer than average around here, but there's a weird phenomenon going on where people feel like they own Austin. Like it was always cooler back in their day (or when they moved here). Once people feel like they belong, they think the new people don't. Don't worry, these people get over it once they get to know you.
  • Travel options- You can drive to one of the other big Texas cities (Houston 2.5 hrs, San Antonio 1.5 hrs, Dallas 3 hrs) or you can drive 6+ hours to get out of the state. The Gulf of Mexico does not compare to beaches on the coasts and you don't want to drive across the boarder of Mexico at this point in time. By plane, you should expect to have connecting flights if you're not traveling to one of the major US cities. 
  • Big entertainment- This means things like: no professional sports teams, no main zoo, no aquarium, and the big concerts skip us most of the time. We used to be like this with retail stores as well, but we've slowly caught up with the other big cities in recent years. 
  • Diversity- Austin is just not as diverse city-wide as most would expect a bigger city to be. 

With all of that said, I'll leave you with my big three tips for making the most of living in Austin:
  1. Live close to your work. You don't want to cross the river or depend on I35/ Mopac for >10 miles, trust me. 
  2. Live close to the cool stuff (whatever you think it is).
  3. Avoid chain restaurants and stores! I promise that you won't need them- just use Yelp to weed out the so-so places.
Anyone else live in Austin? Do you agree with the points that I've listed?

Read more...

The (Garage) Apartment- Ready to Rent!

>> 8.16.2012

For those of you paying close attention... I've symbolically changed the title of this 10-part series because this place finally feels more like an apartment than a garage! I think I'd actually live in the place- which was the goal for our improvements in the first place. Let's take a look at the changes:


As I mentioned in my post yesterday, we replaced the rock "path" to the door with a much more functional path that avoids cutting through our yard.



We painted the yellowed walls and trim, replaced the AC unit, tore out the already ripped sheet vinyl flooring, stained the floors, replaced the baseboards, updated all of the electrical outlets, and added new blinds to the doors. Oh, and it's impossible to show the horrible mold smell in the blog, but it's gone as well!




We did the best that we could with the tiny kitchen area by removing the super narrow built-in (too narrow for a plate), replacing the useless upper cabinet, adding a new outlet to the far wall for the refrigerator, and painting the whole thing.


I tried to unify the kitchen wall by adding shelves above the kitchen cart and refrigerator (shelves which took me three trips to Ikea to get right). The cart was a great $20 Craigslist find that I painted in the same white as the cabinets.



Yes, the before cabinet is was as small as it looks in the picture- you couldn't fit a plate in it either!

We needed to replace the sink faucet because it was leaky, but went ahead and changed the pulls and hinges on the cabinets to make them look more like a set.




There was another broken faucet in the bathroom in addition to the yellowed paint so we swapped everything out for a fresher look. I'm not thrilled with the new shelf, but we were rushing somewhat to get that up. The light green paint was an attempt to tie in the shower tile and kitchen countertop, but I think the dark shelf takes away from the airy feel I was going for.


It was interesting going through this process with the mindset of a landlord. There were definitely a few choices (like buying cheap blinds) that I would never make for design purposes, but decided to do based on the goal of actually turning a profit one day....

Speaking of profit, we have a bit of a happy ending to this story! After contacting a few people directly based on their housing wanted ads, we decided that things were moving a little slowly and put up a descriptive ad with a couple of pictures on Monday. By Monday night, we had six showing scheduled for Tuesday. One of the people has already turned in an application and Nate did the background check yesterday. With a little more luck, it looks like we'll have a lease signed this weekend ($650/ month with all bills paid).

I'm a little scared to take a look at the receipt totals right now, but you know I'll be back with a budget breakdown at some point soon.

Read more...

The (Garage) Apartment: New Path

>> 8.15.2012



The pile of rocks leading to the garage apartment is finally a functional path!



We went with 48" x 22" slabs of limestone for the path for a few reasons:
1. They tie back in with the limestone exterior of our house.
 Sorry for the bad shot with a guy on a ladder- it's the only pic I have of the front!

2. The long, flat surface would be much easier to walk on compared to smaller stones.
3. We could install them in a less permanent, labor-intensive manner as compared to the granite path that we put in our last house.

Speaking of reason #3... The smart thing to do when you're putting in a path like this is to do various preparation steps including laying weed blocker, leveling the ground, adding a sand base, etc. Honestly, we barely leveled the ground before doing this path. In the long-term, we want to follow a master plan for the layout and design of the yard, but we're not ready to commit the resources towards that plan at the moment. The best compromise seemed to be to use materials (the limestone) that would probably fit into our master plan and make them easy to reuse in the future by installing them in a less permanent way.

Thrifty: buying our dream materials now and reusing them in the perfect way later
Not Thrifty: buying something cheap now and having to spend a lot of time tearing it out later

So, there won't be any tutorials on this project. We basically: ripped out the old rocks, leveled a little, plopped down the new stones (well, I hired two people from Craigslist to do that), wiggled them into place, then finally used mulch to fill in the gaps.

 leveled ground:


The door leads to the laundry and the little window is for the bathroom.

I will say that I'm enjoying the modern feel that they've  added to the yard. Have I mentioned that our goal with this place is "modern cottage?"
I think that in the place of the scraggly bush, a rectangular planter would look really great as a visual divider- maybe one made of concrete or metal.  Again, that will be covered in the "master plan" phase (someday)!

PS One of the steps is off on purpose- there's a sprinkler head that we don't want to spend the time/ money re-routing blocking the way. I'm just going to pretend that it's a design feature for now ;).

Read more...

When Being a Landlord is NOT Fun

>> 8.08.2012

I ended the My (Many) Thoughts on Becoming a Landlord post with a very rainbow/ unicorn view of the whole process. Things have been extremely easy for us during the past several months, but in the interest of full disclosure, I wanted to share that the past month has not been easy at all!



Earning extra income is the best part of the whole thing, but it also happens to be the only good thing about being a landlord. There are tenant issues, of course, but I think the big thing that has hit us this month is the reality that we actually have to deal with 3x the regular hassles of owning a home because we have three homes (#1- my old house, #2- garage apartment, #3- our current house). Seems like something I should have expected, right?

Some readers have expressed interest in the process so here's a bunch of the real-life inconveniences that we've been faced with this past month:
  • Tenants in #1- Once of the tenants is getting transferred to another state for work and moved out this past weekend. Her roommate found someone else to move in and we had to put time into amending the lease, resigning everything, etc. With the tenant who wanted to stay put long-term gone, we don't know if the lease will be renewed again in January or if we'll need to look for someone again.
  • Tenants in #2- Our August tenants totally bailed on us last minute. In addition, after showing it to a couple of people pre-advertising, we realized that we needed to completely finish every detail of the unit before showing it to anyone again. Not having the place rented out and having spent so much to get it to this point definitely gives me a combined feeling of guilt, frustration, and disappointment.
  • Bad luck in #3-  We had both the hot water and AC go out within one week= $$$.
  • HOA in #1- I'm not sure that I've mentioned this before, but my old house was part of a very small, nontraditional HOA... which I am unfortunately still the president of [insert curse words here]. To make a long story short, my neighbor had water problems in her home and the problems affected the common areas covered by the HOA. So, on top of everything else, I'm juggling calls from contractors requesting payments, calls to the insurance agency requesting that they make payments, and random permit issues that seem to be never-ending!Oh, but best part: I get to pay my part ($500) of the deductible. Actual best part: getting to deal with the neighbor harassing me with emails because I'm apparently not doing my job (that I don't even want) well enough.
With all of that complaining, you might be surprised to hear that I'm still happy that we do not have a property management company. For some reason, I feel like they might be even more of a headache to deal with at this point based on the number of phone calls I'm fending off already! I'll keep you updated if that feeling does change in the future ;).

Read more...

Our Thrifty(ish) Honeymoon

>> 8.03.2012

Okay, so things are quite "blog finished" in the rental apartment. After driving all the way to IKEA last weekend, I ended up coming back without a shelf component. We've been too busy to go back again (happy birthday to Nate) so I won't have the finished pics this week. Soon!

As I mentioned earlier, after nine months of marriage, we finally went on our honeymoon this past May. It was an especially overdue vacation because Nate and I had never taken a "real" vacation (we only traveled to visit relatives) in the time we've been together! We had originally talked about going to Hawaii, but changed our tune after paying for our wedding and buying our new house.

Hawaii appealed to us because we knew it would be an easy (no passport/ English speaking/ safe) and memorable (culture-rich/ drastic change in scenery/ not something we could do every year) choice. At the same time, we realized that no matter how we crunched the numbers, Hawaii was going to be a $5,000+ trip the way we wanted to plan it. So, the challenge was to get an experience similar to the $5,000 one we originally wanted, but save money somehow! Oh, and Nate wanted to snorkel to it had to be near the water :).

snorkeling: check!

ps Here's the cool snorkeling platform 400 meters from shore. Nate's thing was snorkeling while I wanted to do glass bottom kayaking. Somehow I managed to get seasick on the kayak, the platform, the ferry, and the bus :).

The first decision that we made in the process was to do the trip in May directly after doing our Ironman. We knew that we'd be ready for relaxing at that point! Plus, being near the Houston airport, we would have many more flights to choose from and probably cheaper prices compared to flying out of Austin. From there, I matched up my "easy and memorable" selection criteria with possible destinations. 


Thrifty Little Tip: Consider your travel options before choosing your destination...

For us, Bermuda quickly rose to the top of our list for several reasons:
*Airfare costs: At the time (gas prices have changes since), we were able to find flights for just under $500 where Hawaii was closer to $750. Savings = $500 (together)
*Travel time: The flights available to us were much shorter than the ones to Hawaii and among the shortest travel time to the other "easy and memorable" islands on our list. Savings = 6 hours
*Safety: It doesn't get much safer than Bermuda. This meant that we were able to take advantage of exploring the island without having to worry about no tourist zones.
*No rental cars: They don't even allow them, but scooters are available. They have a really great bus and ferry service that can get you anywhere on the tiny island and we went that route. Savings = around $200
culture: check!

*Culture: It's a whole different country, but it's a British territory so English is the primary language spoken there.
 *Shoulder season: Bermuda isn't a tropical island so they experience colder temperatures in the winter and warmer temps in the summer. We were able to take advantage of this by visiting the week before the summer season started. Savings = $400
 bonus culture: we were there on Bermuda Day (their start to summer) and got to see half the island racing by one morning

Thrifty Little Tip: Limit your hotel stay. Fly in as early as possible and then leave as late in the day as you can. My opinion: fewer days in quality hotel > more days in so-so hotel

the ocean view from our room... we could see fish swimming in the water from here!

I knew going into this trip that people get the most happiness out of planning for their vacations and that the duration of the trip didn't matter all that much... so we decided to do a four night trip instead of the more popular seven night honeymoon. We scheduled the trip so that we would arrive well before dinner on the first day and then leave later in the afternoon on our last day. These additional hours really made it feel like we had spent more time on the island than did because we didn't waste away time traveling. The amount of time that we were there was perfect because we were able to see the entire island and enjoy ourselves on our travel days- we even snorkeled on the same day that we left!

Thrifty Little Trip: Get the inclusive plans for your sanity and your budget. The all-inclusive and meal plans that hotels offer don't always necessarily save you money because local restaurants often charge less, BUT they do make your travel budget very predictable and your meals less stressful once the waiter brings the check :).

With the destination set, I made things really easy on myself by booking the #1 rated hotel on tripadvisor that claimed to have good food, views, and easy access to the ocean for snorkeling. I knew that it would be a mood killer to have to sign checks for each meal (island food = $$$) so I went for the American meal plan that included breakfast and dinner and it was sooo worth it!

our hotel

In the end, our trip wasn't "cheap" at all, but I would consider it to be thrifty because we got a lot of value for the experience that we got from our money. I don't plan on doing a full budget breakdown because I didn't save all of the small receipts, but the airfare after taxes/ baggage was $1,150 for both of us and the hotel was $2,350 including breakfast and dinner. There were a few other small costs here and there, but we hit both our experience and budget goal at somewhere between $3,500-3,750. Again, I know that we could have done Hawaii at that price, but not with the experience that I wanted.

Has anyone else considered the travel options before selecting the destination? Where did you end up going?

Read more...

Stained Concrete Floor Thoughts

>> 8.01.2012

With the mold issues in the garage apartment, we had to go with new flooring. As I mentioned before, there were several good reasons for going with a stained finish: 

  • The sheet vinyl that we ripped up caused mold issues and we wanted to go with something that would allow the flooring to breath a bit more.
  • The stained look is popular with our target tenants.
  • We knew that we could DIY the project and do it for less $$ than most other options.
  • It would be a pretty green choice: no ugly temporary flooring to rip up in the future.
  • If we hated it, we could always put a different flooring choice over it. 
So, we did DIY the flooring and things seemed to work out the way we thought it would:
The mold is gone.
It has that currently trendy studio apartment look.

It was super cheap and took less than a week for us to DIY! 
$10.98 to etch + $25.96 to stain + $25.98 to seal + $8.98 sprayer +$3 paint roller and scrubbing tools
=$74.90 for a new, livable flooring!
 

....but then the reality set in...

This is not going to be a durable, long-term solution for the flooring. We really tried to follow all of the manufacturer's directions and give the floor substantial time to dry, but portions are chipping up already. We weren't sure that the etched floor had the sandpaper feel that it needed so that could have been our downfall. 

I still don't necessarily regret the choice to go this route for a rental because it saved us a lot of money and a bit of time, but I would not choose to do this for our own home. So, we're going to let the new tenant know that they won't be responsible for large scratches and dings in the floor because I'm sure that their furniture will make a few. This $75 solution will work for the next year or so and then we'll have to see where we go next! 

Read more...

  © Blogger template Simple n' Sweet by Ourblogtemplates.com 2009

Back to TOP