Oh Yes, Omaha, Nebraska

What do you think of when you think of Nebraska? Farmland? Prairie land? Corn fields? Something else? Never really thought about it? Omaha, Nebraska and in fact the state of Nebraska isn’t exactly one of the most-visited areas of the United States. For those of you that don’t know, I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states and I recently ran the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon in Omaha, Nebraska. Nebraska was my 47th state and I was happy I had chosen a race in Omaha for my race in Nebraska. The city surpassed all of my expectations.

I read in a book (Judgmental Maps) in a bookstore in Omaha that Omaha is the “least Nebraska-like city in Nebraska.” I’ve only been to Omaha, so I can’t speak about the other cities in Nebraska. All I know is I really liked Omaha and was constantly surprised at just how much I liked it. There are so many restaurants with delicious food, all kinds of museums, and outdoor activities like a top-notch botanical garden for starters. It’s easy to quickly fill-up your days here. Omaha certainly gets a bad rap by people who have never been here, unjustly so in my opinion.

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Omaha is beautiful in the autumn!

Just some fun facts before I go on. Omaha is on the Missouri River and is the largest city in Nebraska. The headquarters for five Fortune 500 companies are in Omaha including well-known Berkshire Hathaway. CEO multi-billionaire for Berkshire Hathaway Warren Buffet calls Omaha his home at least part of the year. The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha is known for having the largest indoor rainforest in the world. The NCAA College World Series has been held in the city of Omaha for more than fifty years till present date.

So before I went to Omaha, I chatted with a local to get some suggestions for places to eat and things to do. He sent me a long list, way more than I could ever do in the few days I was going to be there but it was good because I had plenty of options. I’ll share here some of the things my family and I did and also some of the things that came recommended but we didn’t do. I realize Omaha, Nebraska isn’t at the top of most people’s list of vacation places, but honestly, I would go back if given the opportunity. There are several things we didn’t have time to do that I would enjoy doing. Who knows when you might find yourself in Omaha, Nebraska, and when that happens, you’ll have a long list of places to choose from!

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Lauritzen Gardens

Outdoor Activities

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a botanical garden, Lauritzen Gardens. I would imagine the gardens are especially beautiful in the spring and fall but thanks to a conservatory, you can even visit the gardens in the dead of winter, if you choose to do so. The gardens are on 100 acres and include several diverse areas like an English Perennial Border, Rose Garden, Tree Peony Garden, Woodland Trail, and one of my favorites, the Model Railroad Garden. A Japanese Garden is currently being constructed. There are even different types of garden areas within the Marjorie K. Daugherty Conservatory. I also loved the sculptures and art work within the gardens.

Also mentioned earlier is Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. This zoo has the world’s largest indoor desert under the world’s largest geodesic dome, the world’s largest nocturnal exhibit, and North America’s largest indoor rainforest complete with waterfalls. In addition to all of those area, there’s the Hubbard Gorilla Valley, Hubbard Orangutan Forest, Cat Complex, Butterfly and Insect Pavillion, Expedition Madagascar, African Grasslands, Asian Highlands, to name some. Owen Coastal Shores, a one-acre new home for sea lions with a $275,000-gallon pool, will be opening in spring 2020. There’s also a train, tram, skyfari, and carousel if all of that wasn’t enough. You can find ticket prices, hours, location and much more information on their website, Omaha Zoo. One good thing to know is prices vary based on season, so they’re cheaper in the winter and fall than the summer. Another plus, outside food and beverages are allowed.

The Fontenelle Forest Nature Center including the Raptor Woodland Refuge is just a short drive (10-15 minutes) from Omaha, although it’s in the nearby city of Bellevue. This is a great place to walk on trails in Fontenelle Forest and Neale Woods with a wide variety of ecosystems from wetlands to oak savanna to prairie to deciduous forest. For those wanting more adventure, there’s Treerush Adventure Park with zip lines, bridges, and swings. Fontenelle Forest invests heavily in conservation efforts in activities like habitat restoration and erosion control and volunteer opportunities.

Old Market

The Old Market is known as Omaha’s arts and entertainment district. There’s so much here you might want to find out what’s here first before you go or you could be wandering around aimlessly for quite some time. Here’s where you can find information on everything to do, eat, and shop plus hotels and business services:  Old Market. I found the area architecturally-pleasing and enjoyed checking out some of the cool buildings. There are several art galleries along with all of the pubs, coffee shops, and so many restaurants. Two of our favorite restaurants here are M’s Pub and Upstream Brewing Company. For a stroll down memory lane, The Imaginarium is absolutely stuffed with all of the dolls, collectibles, games, and about a million other toys that I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. No joke, I even got lost wandering around in this store and had to go back out and come in again to find my family.

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Courtyard in the Joslyn Art Museum

Indoor Activities

If you like art museums, Joslyn Art Museum is a great one and even better, admission is free. The museum is divided into distinct sections including one for special exhibitions, American Art, American Indian Art, Asian Art, Modern and Comtemporary, just to name some. One of my favorite sections was the Asian Art area but I really enjoyed the other sections as well. There are also sculpture gardens outdoors and the Discovery Garden, an interactive  outdoor space. For small children, there is an interactive hands-on experience, Art Works, with nine activity stations.

The Durham Museum is a history museum in one of the coolest spaces I’ve seen for a history museum, Union Station. When you walk in, you’re surrounded by the massive former train station complete with bronze statues made to look like former train passengers and workers and interactive displays. There’s also a gift shop and soda fountain where you can order drinks like an old fashioned phosphate (I had to ask what that was because I had no idea), milkshakes, sundaes, ice cream sodas, malts, sandwiches, and other snacks. Most of the museum is actually downstairs, where you can find many different exhibits like the original Buffett Grocery Store that opened in 1915 in Omaha’s Dundee neighborhood, replicas of a former home, teepee, and a collection of things like coins, maps, and documents of historical significance. One of my favorite things we did there was walk through a train car that was decorated for Halloween, complete with skeletons, lights, plenty of spiders and spider webs, and other fun decorations.

Also in the Durham Museum when I was there were also two temporary exhibits, Louder Than Words: Rock, Power & Politics that has interactive displays, photography and artifacts to look at how music has both shaped and reflected our society on things like civil rights, LGBTQ, feminism, war, censorship, political campaigns, political causes and international politics. I liked checking out which musician or band was singled out and associated with each president, from Eisenhower through Trump and reading about the influence they each had on one another. My family and I had already seen the second current exhibit RACE: Are We So Different? so we didn’t spend much time checking that one out but it’s a good one as well. This exhibit encourages visitors to examine race from the perspective of biology, history, and personal experiences.

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Union Station of the Durham Museum

About 35-45 minutes from downtown Omaha in Ashland is the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum. If you’ve been to the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, D.C. and enjoyed the section there with aircraft, you will likely enjoy this museum. It’s an affiliate with Smithsonian and home to the U.S.’s largest collection of Cold War aircraft and artifacts. There’s a flight simulator, children’s learning center, and enormous collection of aircraft in 300,000 square feet.

For something a little different, there’s the Czech and Slovak Educational Center and Cultural Museum. According to this website Nebraska has “the largest number of Czech farmers of the first generation (born in Europe), or one-fifth of all who live in the United States.” At the museum, you can find a cafe with traditional kolaches, a gift shop, monthly movie night and conversational Czech language gatherings.

The Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters has local history and also offers free admission. Here you can learn about the migration of Mormons from Illinois to Utah. Winter Quarters is just one of 90 temporary settlements utilized by the Mormons along the Missouri River in Nebraska and Iowa. Although this was meant as a short-term home, many people established businesses here and published a newspaper. You can see many artifacts, paintings, photographs, and play around with an interactive map.

My daughter is way too old for children’s museums but had we gone to Omaha when she was younger, we definitely would have visited the Omaha Children’s Museum because it looks like a really fun place for young children. There’s a Super Gravitron ball machine, Zealand, Imagination Playground, a science and technology lab, art studios, a grocery store, car repair center, splash garden, carousel and train, plus more. In addition to permanent displays there are special exhibits and special events.

Restaurants

In addition to the ones in Old Market that I talked about earlier, we also went to Spezia’s, a wonderful Italian restaurant with a brunch on Sunday. I could eat to my heart’s content after the race, so it was wonderful! There were so many delicious options to choose from from healthy options like salads, fruits, and vegetables to pastas and deserts and many things in-between.

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Some falafel cakes at one of our favorite restaurants, M’s Pub

Some of the many restaurants that came recommended but we just didn’t have time to go to include:  Cascio’s, Johnny’s Cafe, and the Drover all for their steaks and meats; Benson Brewery and Zipline Brewery; Hook and Lime, a Taqueria and Tequila bar; Lo Solo Mio and Spaghetti Works for Italian; Oasis Falafel for Mediterranean food; eCreamery, Coneflower Creamery, and Ted and Wally’s for ice cream; Cupcake Omaha, Olsen Bake Shop, and Petit’s Pastry for bakeries.

Now are you convinced that Omaha, Nebraska is a pretty cool city with tons of things to do and really great restaurants? Of course this just scratches the surface of the highlights, too!

Have you been to Omaha, Nebraska? If so, what did you think of it? What did you see and do?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon, Omaha, Nebraska- 47th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Nebraska was my 47th state.

When I was looking at half marathons in Nebraska, I only found a couple that interested me, to be honest. Once I had run half marathons in around 40 or so states and had gotten the list down to my last several states, of which Nebraska belonged, I thought I would run the Feast and Feathers Trail Half Marathon in Omaha on Thanksgiving weekend. But then more recently I started thinking about all of that and then I started overthinking everything.

I’ve never run a trail race before. Ever. That’s one strike. Omaha weather over Thanksgiving weekend can be pretty cold and I don’t run well in the cold. That’s two strikes. I started to question if that was really the best race for me given those two big factors. Then I saw an ad for the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon in Omaha and that race suddenly seemed much more appealing.

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Not only would it be warmer because the race was a month earlier than the other race the end of November, it wasn’t a trail race and part of the course was around a lake so it should be at least fairly scenic and hopefully flat. It was for a good cause, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, too. Plus there would be hot cider and caramel apples at the finish! Even better, you get a finisher mug and pullover! That’s way more pros for the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon than for the Feast and Feathers Trail Half Marathon. I’m in!

Packet pickup was on Saturday, October 26 at Fleet Feet Omaha from 10 am to 5 pm. There was the option of race-day packet pickup, but that was “not suggested” according to the race website. Finally, you could also have your packet mailed to you for $12.99. The only thing in my packet was the aforementioned pullover and race bib in a reusable tote bag. There were no other vendors presumably because it was in a somewhat small store so there wasn’t room for much else.

I did have a bit of a panic attack the night before the race when I happened to click on something on Google Maps on my phone and it said the race was at 8:10 am. I thought the race started at 8:30, so I went through my emails and the race website and everything else I could find to clarify. The confirmation email I had said the race start was 8:30, but the race website and everywhere else said it was 8:10. I figured it would be safer to go with the earlier time and if I was early that would be fine. It turns out the race start was indeed 8:10 am. Also, it was chip-timed, so even if I would have shown up at the race 20 minutes later than I did, it would have been fine, but I would have been in a total panic and wondered (wrongly) why the race started early.

A cold front moved into Omaha on Saturday evening and by Sunday morning, there was a frigid wind that had come down from Canada with gusts up to 18 mph, and to top it off, the sky was completely overcast. The temperature was in the low 40’s, which would have been fine for running a half marathon, but with the wind and lack of sun, it was so cold my feet were numb for the first three miles of the race.

The race start and finish was at a local high school, Skutt Catholic. Although there were plenty of parking spaces, many were already full by the time we got there around 7:40, but we were still able to find a spot. I made my way to the port-o-johns, reluctantly handed over my warm coat to my husband (who wasn’t running), and lined up at the start. The half marathon started promptly at 8:10 and included a 5k that also started at the same time. This caused quite a bit of congestion for the first couple of miles until the 5k runners split off from the half marathoners.

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Just before the race start

The vast majority of the race was around Lake Zorinsky, criss-crossing, looping, and zig-zagging around the paths that went around the lake and through the park. Lake Zorinsky has an interesting background story that you can read about here, which goes to show the power of the running community. Overall I would say the course was scenic and there were plenty of water views.

All was going pretty well for me until I noticed somewhere between miles 4 and 5 that my left shoelace had become undone, despite double-knotting it. I took off my gloves, tied my shoe, put my gloves back on, and continued on my way. Later, those 20-something seconds that took it to do all of that would come back to bite me.

Most of the course was relatively flat with short, moderate hills until we reached mile 7, and that was uphill pretty much for about a mile, but then we got to go downhill for a while to make up for it. We had to run uphill again in the 10th and 11th miles, but thankfully we got to run downhill for the last section until the course leveled off at the finish. There was almost no crowd support but there were these two women who were cheering everyone on at the first part of the race, around mile 5 and again towards the end, around mile 13. They were shouting things like, “You’re beautiful! You’re strong!” and for me because I was wearing a purple shirt, “Go purple! You’ve got this!” I love people at races like that. At races where it’s freezing cold like this one, people like that are appreciated even more by me.

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Lake Zorinsky in the background, where most of the course wrapped around

There were plenty of aid stations along the course, with water and Gatorade being handed out at five places along the course. I don’t remember seeing port-o-johns along the course, but perhaps I missed them if they were there. There are bathrooms at the park, though, so that would have been an option for runners.

My goal for this race was to finish under 2 hours, preferably under 1:55, and I finished in 1:54. Given the weather and the fact that I run far better when it’s warm than when it’s cold, I was happy with my finish time. Now for the DOH! moment. I checked finish times that were posted as they came in and the woman that finished third in my age group finished 23 seconds ahead of me. Of course all I could think about was, “Had I not had to stop to tie my shoe, I would have finished in third place.” BUT I don’t live my life by what-if’s, so I happily took my fourth place in age group finish along with a time that’s my second-fastest ever for a half marathon.

Now for the fun stuff- the swag! When I crossed the finish line, a volunteer handed me a mug that had a medal, bottle of water, and small bag of trail mix in it. The mug is of good quality; for some reason I expected a small, metal mug but this is a nice-sized ceramic mug with the Hot Cider Hustle logo and year on it. There was another table full of caramel apples, some with nuts, some without. I can attest that the caramel apple I got was absolutely delicious! Finally, the name-sake of the race, the hot cider. There was a table with big containers to dispense the hot cider either into your own mug or paper cups. A nice and friendly volunteer happily poured a cup for me when she saw my hands weren’t working properly after the race. This was delicious, steamy hot cider, as it should be, not lukewarm or watered-down in the least. I ended up getting two cups because it was so good and warmed me up.

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Sorry about the dark photo, but it was so overcast!

Would I recommend this race? Yes, despite the frigid wind and hills on the latter part of the course. I realize weather can vary from year-to-year, especially in October in Omaha. Besides, the temperature itself was reasonable for a half marathon, it was just the wind that got me, and maybe next year it wouldn’t be so windy. The hills at the end weren’t exactly fun, but they were short enough that I didn’t hate the race director either, and I did at least get to run downhill afterwards, straight to the finish line. The race was well-organized and had plenty of volunteers from pre-race to finish. Finally, this race coincided perfectly with peak fall foliage in Omaha, so it was absolutely beautiful seeing all of the yellow and orange leaves on the trees everywhere (not much red, for some reason, but a little).

Date of my race was October 27, 2019

Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon and 5k in Omaha, Nebraska

Have you run a race in Nebraska? If so, which one did you run? If not, is it on your list of places to run? Have you run another Hot Cider race in another city?

Happy running!

Donna