Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Runner to Runner Wave or Nod

This afternoon I went on a run. It was 44 degrees.

I saw a dozen or so runners along the path. About half of them gave a wave or nodded. I returned the greeting.

Are runners more friendly during the holidays? Or does the seasonably-mild weather bring it out? Hardly anyone waves along the lakefront path in the summer. Maybe that's because we're too busy trying to contend with all the runner and bike traffic, or we're too focused on training or something else.

I started paying attention to the wave last year as I committed to winter training.

If I have it right, I think the logic goes something like this:

As the weather progressively gets colder, fewer runners venture outside. Now that there's less people, we're more likely to greet the ones we see.

Therefore, at a certain degree Fahrenheit you're left with two types of runners - the hard cores and the crazies.

How do you tell the difference between the hard core and a crazy? Two ways - Gear and speed.

The hard core people wave on the premise that we're all out there to get our training in, regardless of the weather. They are thinking motivational thoughts like 'Live Strong' or 'Dig Deep.'

The crazy people wave to acknowledge the basis of their craziness. They occasionally ask themselves, 'Why the hell am I doing this?' and consider visiting their gym's treadmill for their next run.

The wave or nod can be used interchangeably. However, if you are nodded at, you should nod back (and vice versa). If you throw a wave after you've been handed a nod, it's like missing on a high five.

Waving and nodding seems to be more common in the City.

Along the North Shore, the wave is sometimes followed with a 'Good Morning' which can be quite pleasant. Though I usually don't get a reply in. Then I feel bad I didn't verbally greet the friendly runner. Also on the North Shore, drivers will back up if they are in the right of way of the sidewalk to let a runner through. Amazing! But that's another blog post.

On the rare occasion that I come in contact with another runner in the southwest burbs, I think they must be in shock or don't know of the wave. Maybe we should start the trend?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Soldier Field 10

Dear Soldier Field 10,

We need to have a talk.

As you know, we have a sorted history.

In 2007, I'd signed up and trained with your official training program. I made it to 8 of 12 weeks before coming down with my first running injury. I was not able to run that year. It was the only time I missed a race.

The next two years, I was out of town Memorial Day weekend.

In 2010, after working through an injury all winter, I decided, due to our history of course, that you couldn't be my comeback race.

Tricia and I volunteered with Salute and handed out finisher's medals. Though I wasn't running, you still got the upper hand when you possessed my brand new cell phone to land in to a toilet at the stadium.

Now we're nearing the end of 2011. Nearly five years.

So I made a decision. I signed up again. This time, I will run you.

And so will some of my friends. The stars have aligned.

And there's nothing you can do about it.


Red Bull Trail Daze

Thanksgiving has come and gone. Now it's December.

Racing season has officially ended. Well, maybe.

Red Bull Trail Daze was held on December 10th at 10am in Pulaski Woods in Palos.

After learning a few friends had signed up, I decided to as well.

Race morning was chilly. The alley was slippery. I scrapped a light layer of ice off the windshield.

Then I headed to Palos, where it wasn't getting any warmer.

On the drive down, I thought about the race format. All runners would start as one group and run the first quarter or so mile together. Then each runner would have to choose a trail - easy, medium or hard. The easy trail would be a longer distance. The hard trail, the shortest. The goal was that you'd finish around the same time regardless of what path you chose.

Since this was my first attempt at a trail run, and, because I am so prone to falling on flat pavement, I'd choose the easy trail, of course. Then again, if I wanted easy, I could have just done a quick run from my place and I'd be home and out of the cold already. So maybe I'll do medium.

I went back and forth between the two until arriving at the start line with Kim, Jen and Sara. After some discussion, Sara and Jen planned on doing the medium. Kim, who ran Trail Daze last year, was going to go for the gold.

We were all bundled up in layers of running gear. I was never happier than I bought a pair of fleece lined running tights at Universal Sole a few weeks ago! As the race started, it quickly became hard to recognize runners, and I lost Jen and Sara. Kim was right in front of me. As we approached the split in the path, I decided to go with Kim.

After a short stretch of what I thought was somewhat challenging terrain, we met the real trail. The trail was narrow, pitched, slick, full of tree roots, down branches and trees. If that wasn't enough, some loose rocks and hills were added in to the mix.

The question now wasn't if I was going to fall, it was when. And after I fell the first time, which I was bound to do, would I fall again?

Kim was a good lead as we trekked through with a small steady group. Then we hit oncoming traffic. Our path was a partial out and back. We gave way to the faster runners and tried our best to keep our footing.

Just as we were wondering where the turn around was, we saw a very steep hill. We were to climb the hill and then come straight down it. On the way up, we looked for steady footing. At the top, we feared falling down before we had a chance to brace ourselves. On the way down, we grabbed for branches and tree trunks to slow down. Somehow we made it. It was one of a few truly challenging areas of the path.

Not to discount the trail's overall rating of hard. By the end of the 4 mile trail, I felt as if I'd gone twice as far due to the terrain. I was also mentally worn out from all the decision making that went with the run to keep the best forward momentum.

First Trail Daze = success
Number of falls = 2
Injuries = One bruised shin
Post run breakfast = french toast



Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Drink 3 _____, Get a PR

There's a strange phenomenon in the air.

It goes something like this:

Drink three alcoholic drinks.
Get less sleep than you normally would.
Run a PR the next morning.

It all started by accident. It was the day before the Fort 2 Base Run. I had babysat my godson during the day.  Afterwards, his parents and I went out to lunch at their favorite Mexican restaurant. As with any great Mexican restaurant, there were margaritas.

That evening, I went to bed later than planned. I'd be up at 4am to pick up friends and then head to Great Lakes Naval Station for the race.

I remember thinking on the car ride there - What am I thinking running this race? I'm on five hours of sleep and had drinks yesterday. The outcome of the race, as I'd blogged about back in September, was great.

In that 12.5 mile race, I had beat my PR for an 8K and 10K distances and set a PR for a 12.5 mile. Then again, that's an unusual distance as it was in Nautical Miles. I had held a 9:39 pace.

Without much thought, I found myself in the same situation, the night before the Hot Chocolate 15K. I babysat my godson and had a few drinks with his parents when they got home, then went to bed later than planned.

Hot Chocolate 2011 was a PR. 9:41 pace.

Now I'm noticing a pattern. At brunch, I mention this to Brian and Sara. Brian, who'd also set a PR that day, had a few drinks the night before as well. Sara agreed we may be on to something.

Brian and I were now part of the test group of the experiment. We'd need to run another race to gather more data, of course.

The next weekend was The Chicago Perfect 10 Miler. Again using the tried and true three drinks. Another PR. 9:40 pace.

The following weekend was the beginning of turkey trot season. Brian and I checked in with each other the night before - not to figure out race logistics, but to make sure we were both having drinks.

The next day we completed the lincolnwood turkey trot 10k. A PR for us both. 9:13 pace.

Now two and a half weeks later, Brian and Sara have continued with the study. Last weekend, Sara set a half marathon PR in New Mexico and Brian in Vegas. Congrats guys!

Fluke? I think not.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Marathon Recovery

Last year I wrote about recovering physically from a marathon. What I didn't touch on is mental recovery.

At some point during a marathon, well, at least most the runners I know, you find yourself questioning your sanity. I signed up for this? I thought this would be fun? I trained five months for this? This hurts!

If the mental game hadn't started during the taper, it surely appears around mile 22. That voice gets louder and clearer, until you stop running. But that's the lure of the marathon. You've trained your body to physically complete the task at hand. The mental side is the tougher part.

After crossing the finish line, I think most of us experience a moment of euphoria. We've accomplished a great task that not many have. As the euphoria fades, your conscience returns. He's saying something like 'Never. Again.'

A few hours after the first marathon, I announced I wanted to do another.

This year, it's taking a bit longer to come to that conclusion. In the two weeks following the race, a head cold was getting the best of me. The runs up until Hot Chocolate on November 3rd were pathetic attempts. I wondered if I should hang up running for awhile. Even at the start line of Hot Chocolate, I wasn't completely sold on doing the race. I had signed up just days before. I knew I needed to run another race to get me out of my slump. The post-marathon slump.

Since Hot Chocolate, I've had some good runs which is motivating me to run through winter. Even still, 38 days after the race, I have not decided if another marathon is in the cards. My brother commented that he wants to run Chicago next year. If he signs up February 1st, I know I'll be right behind him.

But for the time being, the brother scenario is the one exception. I'm just not ready to talk about it. Yet.

My friend Carrie announced her retirement shortly after completing the Berlin Marathon this year. Though I have since heard that she would consider coming out of retirement for the right race.

And the cycle continues.

Hot Chocolate 15K; "Don't people know they can buy chocolate at the store?"

Ah, the Hot Chocolate 15K. You're good in theory.

You fall on the perfect weekend. If you were a week earlier, I may still have the marathon too fresh in my mind to consider you. I like that you're a 15K. I like that you're on a Saturday.

Your inaugural year was supreme. A smaller field of runners along the lakefront path. No pressure, just an easy long run after having a few weeks off from dedicated long runs. Best of all, there were boxes and boxes of Hershey's chocolate handed out at the end. So much chocolate in fact, that Kim A. and I had our hats and shirts filled to the brim. It was like trick-or-treating for adults and we loved it.

As the years have gone by, you've grown. This year, I heard an announcement of over 40,000 runners. That's a larger field than that of the Chicago Marathon. That's crazy. For the first time, you were held on "all city streets" which was much appreciated by anyone who ran you last year and hadn't anticipated trail running. But even at that, it was way too crowded to be of much joy.

Your expo is held in Union Station which may be great for suburbanites, but not for most city dwellers. You've picked up Ghirardelli as a sponsor, but they aren't as generous as Hershey's. Or maybe it's that you're too big now for any chocolatier to accommodate. Instead of being showered with more candy than you can eat at the finish, you're handed three squares of chocolate, then told to walk a mile to the post race party which happens to be a mud field. After trucking through the mud, we received a ballpark nacho tray including one marshmallow, one pretzel stick, the smallest rice krispie treat known to man and three apple slices. We then received about three tablespoons of melted chocolate to dip everything in. We walk around a big set up in the middle of the mud field where each person hands out one piece of chocolate each. If were were trick-or-treaters at your house, we'd come back and egg it (ok, maybe not, I'd never do that...) After a ten minute walk, I come back with four pieces. Complete waste of time.

Don't get me wrong, the chocolate is delicious. But after running 9.3 miles, I want to take in a lot of chocolate. I've been thinking for the last 90 minutes how I plan on stuffing my face with everything that comes in chocolate, because, after all, this is the Hot Chocolate Run. I even showed the Roosevelt Street bridge who's boss as I ran up it, just thinking about delicious chocolate. Oh, and how much easier it is to run up that bridge after running 8.5 vs. 25.5.

Some of the runners in our group were wise and decided not to trek to the post race party. Instead, they headed to brunch at Anne Sather's. Now, Anne doesn't disappoint. She advertises cinnamon rolls and you get big cinnamon rolls. Brian was there with a few people when Kim and I arrived. We discussed the race. We all had great times, even some P.R.'s.

As the subject of the stingy chocolate distribution came up, Brian posed a question, "Don't people know they can buy chocolate at the store?" In one sentence, he'd wrapped up the entire conversation, and quite possibly, the last chapter in my Hot Chocolate run career.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Walkers vs. Runners

Let me start by saying I think any form of exercise is great exercise. Luckily there's many to choose from to fit each person's likes and needs. I think walking is great exercise.

I enjoy the ten minute walk each morning and evening from work to the bus or train stop. Or taking a long walk and taking care of a few errands.

When I trained for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day (60 miles), I counted every where I walked, not just training walks. I thought I didn't need to walk as far as the schedule said since I'd run a few 5K's. Truthfully, the main reason I didn't train completely for the 3-Day: walking gets boring. Followed closely by reason number two I didn't train completely: I liked to sleep in and stay out late. As I side note, I was not monitoring nutrition or the amount of sleep I was getting. When I did train, it started whenever I felt like it. I walked until I got bored and then I went home.

That was me. I was not smart then. That's not every walker.


Distance walking seems to get short changed on training compared to, let's say, half marathon training. 

This is where walkers and runners are so different.

When I started training for my first half marathon, I did a lot of research. I consulted known running greats like Hal Higdon and Jeff Galloway. I read up on nutrition, stretching, cross training, recovery and form.

I printed out the chosen training schedule and had it taped in my office at work and at home on the fridge. That way, I could never forget how long I needed to run that day. I went to bed early every Friday night so I could complete a long run early Saturday morning. I started each mid-week run from my condo after work.  I logged every mile in a running journal. I played out my iPod.

That's when I started make running part of my life.

For the last five years, I've thought nothing of giving half of all my Saturdays to running - Up and running by no later than 8am each day, going anywhere from 5 to 20 miles. But in order to keep a routine like this up, you're forced to become a little O.C.D.

My running friends are all* the same way. They have their routines. Their routes. Their plans. Their special shirt or socks. Their pre-race meal. Their power song. I know Sara has to have Apart Pizza for breakfast the morning before a long run. I know Kim always wants to start a run running into the wind.

When my friend(s) say 'Let's meet at 5am on Saturday to get 16 in before it gets too warm,"  I agree, even though this is an hour and a half before our training group usually runs. Whether it's two people running that morning or six, we all arrive on time and ready to go. We have a plan. We execute it. Then we eat. There's no questions or gray area. We're all the same that way.

Every once and awhile, one of us does a walk for charity. Inevitably, we come back with stories of how other walkers aren't taking training seriously. They aren't punctual. They lack focus. As this conversation plays out, I'm reminded of my training walks.

We're just different that way. Maybe the walkers are smarter?

(* except for Brian)

Chicago Marathon 2011

Brian and I cross the start line with positive thoughts. I've been saying 'We're going to kill it' for the last few days, so how could we not?

The Chicago Marathon is such a spectacle. It's easy to forget you're running - At least in the beginning. As a runner, you find yourself looking to the sides of the road or overhead to take in the sights and spectators. In those first few miles as you travel through the packed downtown streets, you marvel in what a cool experience a marathon is. Why wouldn't everyone want to do this?

Unfortunately, the miles of feeling amazing are short lived in the long 26.2 journey. Brian and I ran a solid 10 for the first 7 or 8 miles. As we headed up north on Sheridan to Addison, I started feeling ill. I tried to assess if it was the head cold or something else. I needed to give myself some time to work through it and see if I felt better. We saw Kim and then my Mom, Tricia and Dave around the ballpark.

As I passed my Mom, I wondered if I should tell her I wasn't feeling well. If I was to slow down or go to the medical tent, how would she know?

The ill-feeling became worse. I started to wonder if I would know when I needed to stop. As long as I could keep running, did I feel well enough? Or does your body not tell you when you need to stop? Is that how people pass out while running a marathon?

Then I thought through the process of quitting. If I kept feeling worse, I'd have to stop. So, how does that work? Do I walk to the side, ask the spectators to make way, remove my bib and start walking on the sidewalk? Where would I walk to? I have no phone, no money, no keys, no form of identification; nothing. All I have is five packets of Gu Roctane, my fuel belt, and the clothes on my back. All my stuff is at gear check which far away from Lakeview. Should I walk up to a spectator and ask to use their phone to call my Mom? How embarrassing would that be?

So instead, Brian and I kept going. I didn't tell Brian about any of this until much later in the race when we both felt like complete hell.

Around mile 10, we saw my friend Carrie. I was excited to see her. She told me I looked great. I realized the sick feeling had passed.

We headed back downtown in a blur, then out west. Way west. Have you ever been in bad traffic heading west on  Fullerton or Belmont where it takes you forever to get to Ashland? Imagine running to Damen. At that point in the marathon, it seems like the mental end of the world.  You can look a block south to see you're just going to have to turn around and run all the way back.

On our way back east, the sun was relentless. It was getting warm. We were heading in to Little Italy now at mile 17. We had stopped briefly to stretch as things were starting to ache.

Here's where I start thinking about my reeler. That's Kim. Instead of thinking about how far I have to go to finish (which you can't process doing anyway), I think of how far until I get to Archer just west of Chinatown. That's where Kim waits for me to arrive, then 'reels' me in, like a fish on line to the finish line.

But before we reach Kim, we have to tackle Pilsen. Pilsen is quite arguably the party area of the Marathon. By far the best music on the course and there's usually some spectators handing out beer. I kept an eye out for my Dad, but never did see him. I had found his camouflaged hunting hat twice last year in Pilsen. Brian did find his friends, which I was happy to see. By the time we reached Pilsen, we had seen my Mom, Tricia and Dave four or five times. They are amazing.

Rounding the corner at 18th and Halsted, we see the temperature reading on a bank sign of 89. Better than 90 something, but far warmer than we'd been hoping for.

As Brian and I headed south on Halsted approaching the south branch of the river, we saw a familiar face. Kim had arrived at her usual spot early and decided to walk further up the course and help us over the Halsted bridge. We were so happy to see her. We forgot about our aches and pains as Kim gave us the race highlights she'd watched on T.V.

Chinatown was a madhouse, but Tricia managed to find us in the crowd. She'd made the best signs!

Now we headed south on Wentworth. For me, this is where I'm transported in to a time warp, or as most people call it, the Wall. There's less than 5 miles to go, yet it mind as well be 10. Your body asks why you're doing this. Regardless, you just have to keep moving forward, however fast that may be.

At 33rd we cross the Dan Ryan. Logistically, this is good. We are heading east and we're very close to turning north. Once we turn north on to Michigan, my very fuzzy brain starts doing math. 35th street minus 12th street equals 23 blocks. I can do 23 blocks. This process continues on until the Roosevelt street sign is in view.

At mile 24, we see Ken, Sara and Kim S. They jump up and down when they see me, which makes me smile. Smiling doesn't hurt, but just about everything else does.

Kim helps me push forward up until 13th and Michigan when we run in to John. John's working for the marathon today instead of running. His job is to weed out anyone who's on the course and doesn't have a bib. He looks at Kim, and Kim points that she'll exit the course on the left. Now I have to prepare to climb the Roosevelt bridge alone.

I can only imagine what I must look like 'running' up this hill. I am sure it's a train wreck. But I'm running, or, I think I am. So many people are walking up the hill. We have a quarter of a mile to go.  I see Jen near the top of the hill. She's also working for the marathon today and cheers wildly when she sees me. As I push up the hill, I see a runner with a prosthetic leg. He wears a shirt that has the Wounded Warrior Project logo on it. I'm inspired by this man.

We turn the corner to see the finish line right ahead of us. I run in at 4:54:09 and hold up four fingers.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Head Cold vs. Chicago Marathon

I've fallen off blogging for awhile. Hopefully this entry can explain (at least partially) what happened.

Saturday, the day before the marathon and following the Salute luncheon, we headed home. The goal was to stay off my feet as much as possible the rest of the day.

As afternoon turned into evening, I noticed something new. I had a sore throat.

I could panic or I could try ignoring it.

Ignoring it would use less energy. I downed Airborne and hoped for the best.

I packed up my gear check bag, double checked my list, and prepped for bed.

By morning I had a runny nose as well. I grabbed advil, dayquil and kleenex, then headed to the L.

During my train ride, I looked up the effects of medications and marathon running. As with any internet medical question, in the end, I thought taking any cold medicine may lead to death.

When I arrived at Michigan & Congress to meet Brian at 6am, I had taken nothing. Brian could tell I was stuffed up, and over the next hour convinced me that Dayquil would probably not kill me, and, well, if I felt bad, I could always go to medical.

Easy to say. Harder to do.

We checked our bags, visited the port-a-potties, then headed to the corral.

We'd discussed a strategy over the last few days. We were going to start at a 10 minute mile pace and see where we went from there. Now standing in the corral with the sniffles, I hoped I could hold up my end of the deal.

In a few minutes, I was about to start my 4th marathon. I was nervous. It seems that all marathoners are that way - you just never know what's going to happen between the start and finish lines. That unknown can make you crazy or keep you coming back for more.

About 11 minutes after the gun went off, Brian and I reached the start line.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Marathon Weekend

The Marathon may just be on Sunday, but it really encompasses an entire weekend.

Have you ever been to the Chicago Marathon Expo?

You don't have to be a runner to think it's awesome. And believe me, it's awesome.

Most people I know go on Friday. I guess it's because they're locals and they can. Or because it's less crowded. Or more likely it's because the anticipation is killing them.

Imagine the movie 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' when Charlie walks in to Willy Wonka's factory. I think that's the look on just about any marathoner's face entering the expo. It's sensory overload, in a good way.

I could easily spend half a day visiting the lay of the land. The new gadgets, destination races, celebrity appearances, nutrition samples... But coach Kim reminds me that I need to get off my feet, so we enter the expo on a mission.

Two and a half hours later, we exit with my bib and race packet, a few gus, and two shirts. A new expo speed record.

Friday night's also traditionally a large pasta dinner night. This year I had mine at home since most of my dinner friends were still traveling Europe after their Berlin Marathon. I went to the ethnic market a few days before and got everything we needed to make dinner.

Saturday I sleep in. Like, past 7:30. I haven't done this in about 6 months. Weird.

In the early afternoon, Dave and I head down to my charity's luncheon at the Hyatt McCormick Place. The luncheon was much smaller than last year. Salute said they had a smaller team this year, but were able to raise more money. Great news for a great cause. One guy raised over $9,000! Amazing.

Late afternoon we head back home and talk to my Mom about her arrival. My mom is my biggest supporter. She's come to just about any race she could in these last few years. She could write a book as to how to follow a runner through the Chicago Marathon. As part of the marathon ritual, she comes to the City the night before the race and spends the night.

As Saturday progresses, I notice I'm getting a sore throat. Family, friends and co-workers all around me have been sick, but I'd hoped I could fend it off...at least until after the race. I take tablet after tablet of Airborne and hope for the best. There wasn't much else I could do.

I laid down around 9:30. I knew there was no chance I'd fall asleep at that time. The night before the marathon is the only night of the year I don't sleep like a rock. I tossed and turned for awhile, but eventually fell asleep, crossing my fingers the sore throat was nothing to worry about.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mission: Go to Ethnic Market. Buy Gatorade.

It's four days before the Marathon.

My achilles is on the mend, but my mind's driving me crazy.

Hello taper madness.

I get home from work and I decide a nice walk to the ethnic market in my neighborhood will do me some good. It's about a mile from my place and has fresh, reasonably priced produce. Actually the market has a lot more than that, but most of the dry goods are in languages I can't read (though I know enough Spanish to know it's not in Spanish), so don't tend to go down the aisles.

I have a long list of veggies we need for a recipe. The recipe calls for veggies, chicken and lots of pasta. Perfect for a Friday dinner before the marathon.

I walk around the market with my basket and get red peppers, broccoli, cucumbers, carrots and romaine lettuce. I'm even able to find the market's homemade salsa which is marked in English for the dumb patrons like me.

I start to walk over to the check out line when I remember one last thing on my grocery list: Gatorade. I wanted to make sure I made a better effort to drink more Gatorade in the few days leading up to the race.

Does the ethnic market carry Gatorade? I saw Coke and Pepsi on the way in, so there's hope. I walk down the narrow aisles, the ones I usually avoid, until I come upon a rather large selection of Gatorade. I wasn't anticipating having so many choices, so it takes me awhile to decide what flavors of Gatorade I want. Meanwhile, people who can read the language on the packages other than Gatorade stroll past me with their carts.

Eventually I pony up to the register with 4 - 32 oz bottles of Gatorade and a bunch of produce. What a strange combination the check out girl must have thought.

I pay her all in singles, which likely got her off the thought of produce and Gatorade.

Massage & Physical Therapy

Crossing the finish line of the twenty miler was good and bad.

I was pleased with being able to stick with the 10:30 pace throughout the run.

My achilles, on the other hand, was hurting.

Sh-t! How do I manage to do this to myself each year?

I headed over to the NovaCare tent where a PT took a good look it. There was a long line of people, all with similar aches from training.  She said she was happy to hear I'd been experiencing it for only a week and thought some deep tissue massages and PT would put me in good shape for race day. I appreciated her positive attitude as I was trying to stay positive myself.

Flashbacks of last year's doctor's visit just a few weeks before race day appeared in my mind as I called the doctor on Monday. If I went to the doctor's office, I was certain to hear, one way or the other, that I should give up running. Or I may have to visit an orthopedic, have an MRI, maybe an X-Ray, all before going to PT. So I took a different approach when calling the doctors office. Instead of calling and saying I had a running-related injury and wanted to see the doctor, I just asked if I could go straight to PT. The nurse wasn't sure if this was possible, but said she would check.

Ok, that went better than I thought. Now on to the next thing that will help straighten out the achilles - massage.

Who doesn't love a massage? I found a massage therapist (a former distance runner no less) who lives two blocks away and tends to run long on his sessions. Really? Yeah, really awesome.

We worked out a game plan for working on the achilles over the next week. After I left the massage therapist's house on Monday night, I already felt better.

Wednesday came and I still hadn't heard back from the doctor's office. I call the doctor's office in the morning and the answering service tells me they are not in the office yet. I call later on and I told they are at lunch...twice. Then I call again in the evening to find out they close early that day. I then call their suburban location and get a hold of another nurse who was able to tell me the doctor approved my request for PT and she'll send it over.

Thursday morning I have the script from the doctor and call PT. Their schedule is booked for the rest of the week, so I'll have to come in Tuesday. Now I start to worry. I'm basically losing a week here. I won't be doing a 12 mile long run in this condition. Then I remind myself what Kim A. has told me all too many times - as long as you have a 20 miler under your belt, the runs during the taper don't matter.

Thursday night I go back to the massage therapist where he's able to loosen up my calf muscle and I continue to stretch it out. I do a two mile light run that evening and it tender, but not painful.

Saturday I go out on a run on my own. I'm fearful I can't or shouldn't push a 12 mile run on a bumb wheel, so I go out on my own to see what I can do. I end up run/walking about six miles. I am frustrated, but I try not to let those thoughts linger. It's still bothering me, but it's bothering me less. That's good.

Tuesday I get in to the PT and she works her magic. Thursday I return. More magic.

The following Saturday I go out to run a great 8 miler, my last long run before the marathon.

I continue to stretch and go to PT, but I feel much better.

I'm good to go.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

20 miler #2

Alright. I've had one great 20 miler with Carrie. Now I'm going to do the official 20 miler - the Newton Ready to Run.

Each year we do the Ready to Run in the third weekend of September. This year, with my close friends resting up for Berlin, I was going to tackle it alone. Well, not alone really. Instead of three hours of constant conversation about anything under the sun but running, I'd have short dialogs with some of my fellow 10:30's in my wave. The rest of the time I'd try doing a long run with my iPod.

The twenty miler course started at Wilson and headed north to around Bryn Mawr. We then headed south, like, so far south we ran out of lakefront path.

At the start, samples of Gatorade prime was handed out. I used it to wash down a few gu chomps, then it was our wave's turn to start.

I approached the twenty miler different this year. The weather was cool and overcast. I decided to announce a goal finish time of 3:30 to a few friends. I wanted to see if making a decision to state a finish time would help me mentally stick to a consistent pace.

The 20 miler is a journey, literally and figuratively. It's certainly a long distance to run, even for the best in shape. But I think the mental part is really the toughest. I find it's easier to keep my legs moving forward than it is to often deal with whatever is going on in my head. Whether I have made the mistake of counting backwards from 20 or if I realize I've underestimated where I am on the route.

Year and after year, the 20 miler has been a warm race. This year, the course weather condition flags stayed green meaning 'ideal running conditions.' Not something you see often mid-September in Chicago. There was on and off light rain, but from the sounds of chatter around me, most appreciated the cooling effect as opposed to heat.

As mile one turned in to five and ten, my pace stayed on target, but my achilles was not happy.  It continued to grow tigher and my calf muscle throbbed along with it. In the last few miles of the run, my left IT band had begun bothering me as well.

Once again, the group I finished with was happy to see the South Shore Cultural Center where the finish line was. Immediately after crossing the finish line, I headed over to the the NovaCare tent. I had finished in 3:33.

It's been a week - time to have someone take a look at the achilles.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hello, Achilles

Yay! I crossed the finish line of fort2base.

I ran a fast race. I was happy.

My left Achilles tendon on the other hand, was pretty pissed off. I had determined it was my achilles by doing what any one does when they have something wrong medically - ask the internet. The trick with asking the internet is to not ask just one source. One source may tell you not to run (and truthfully, who can follow that advice?). Too many sources will lead you to believe your injury could cause death. Two or three sources may be just right.

I'm pretty sure it happened somewhere up the climb of that large hill that I refused to walk up. Maybe the other runners had it right.

Injuries, to a certain extent, are second nature in distance running. It's not a question of 'if' but 'when.'

Post fort2base I decided to take a few days off, eat some pizza and drink some beers. Oh, and visit the foam roller. Who thought I could do a 9:35 for 11.5 miles anyway?

Around lunch time on Tuesday I was getting restless. My lower left leg was tight and my achilles was puffy. From what I had read, you can run with an achilles injury, just as long as it's not severe.  How was I going to find out if it was severe? Go out on a run. So I did just that. Sort of.

I ran for about a mile and a half, then walked. Then it got tighter. I stretched it out and tried running again. But I couldn't loosen it up. After some short, slow runs and more walking, I called it a day.

For the next few days, I would RICE (rest, ice, compress, elevate) to get me to Sunday, CARA's Ready to Run 20 Miler.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Will [Fort2Base]

Early in the spring, I came across a booth at the Shamrock Shuffle Expo for a Fort2Base run. As a save the date, they passed out a door tag which has been on my office door since. As the summer months have gone by, I've kept the race in mind.

 

Race Day:

 

We rose shortly after 3:30am, picked up Jeff and Sara by 4:30, and were then on our way to Great Lakes. We cruised to our destination until the last few miles, when we reached a traffic jam. A combination of traffic lights, two lane roads, and a military checkpoint had slowed matters.

 

When we parked, it was still dark as night. We followed dim street lights and verbal directions to find packet pick up, a lucky porta potty on the way, and then to the bus.

 

Jeff would run the 5k which was held on the base. The 11.5 mile run was a point to point, and Sara and I were on our way to Ft. Sheridan. 

 

We arrived to a small field of runners. Many had shirt memorializing the day or supporting Salute Inc. Many members of this group were in the military. A short speech followed by the National Anthem occurred right before the start.

 


Then the gun went off. Sara planned on running a fast race. I however, was not so sure. I had thought of running the race safe at my training pace of 10:30. Then I'd thought of just going out to see what happened.

 


The cool morning allowed for a great start. As I looked down at my watch, I realized I hadn't calibrated it as I had planned to during the week. Now while running I couldn't remember - was it reading miles as too short or too long. At mile 2 I decided just to look at time. I had done two miles in less than 19 minutes. If I kept this up, I thought, I may be looking for a bus ride back to base.

 

At the 5K I checked my watch again; 27:30. Wow. I've never run a 27:30 5K. How am I going to finish this race? Around the four mile mark, I was reintroduced to Curt. Curt is a charity runner with Team Salute as well. He had said hello and good morning to me on the bus. We were wearing matching shirts for the charity.

 

Curt and I got to talking about a lot of things - The day, our height, where we lived, what we did, the traffic jam, the military, my brother.  And as we continued to talk, the miles kept going by. 

 

Mile 5 was equal to my best Shamrock Shuffle time a few years ago. 

 

The 10K mark time beat my best 10K by a few minutes.

 

So then Curt and I worked in to the conversation what we had been avoiding - our speed. Curt said I was running much faster than he was prepared to run that day, but he wasn't showing any signs of backing down. I admitted I normally ran 10:30's. He checked his watch from time to time reminding me we were killing 10:30's. Thanks so much Curt!

 

We reached mile 8 and I still felt great. We were getting ready to head on to the base. I had thought of a strategy of how I would gradually slow down as to not burn out and have to walk at the end. I would still have an amazing race if I did this. But as we approached the base and I saw young men in uniform, I couldn't help but feeling an overwhelming sense of Gratitude and Will.

 

I shelved my strategy and instead said:

 

I can keep going for 3.5 more miles. I can do this because I have trained to be able to, but more importantly, I will do this because my brother has spent years away from his home, his country, his friends and his family. He has done this because he felt it was important. I am ever so grateful. Ten years ago he was 18 and in basic training. Ten years ago we had no idea what was about to happen. In ten years, he has been to Korea, Afghanistan Iraq and back. He has done so willingly in service to his country. So I will keep going.

 

Curt and I traveled through the streets of Great Lakes. Then we headed down a steep hill. So steep that we had to shorten our strides and slow ourselves down from going too fast. When we reached the bottom, we knew eventually we would go back up. But for a mile or so, the course smiled at us, letting us believe for a moment that maybe there wouldn't be an uphill.

 

Then around mile 10. It appeared. It wasn't a Nasvhille rolling hill. It was a straight up, man-I-wish-it-was-snowing-and-I-had-a-sled-hill. At the bottom of the hill were Navy members. They cheered us on and yelled at us to conquer the hill. 

 

Everyone in front of us was walking. Curt said he would walk up the hill. I looked at him and said it was ok, I would meet him at the top. I knew it would be hard, but I had decided some time ago that I was going to run this race as hard as I started it. I had to. And so, for as far as I could see in front of me, along side me, or a quick glance behind me, I ran alone, up the hill.

 

The last aide station had military members handing out water. They saw me running over the top of the hill and were cheering hysterically for me. My vision became cloudy with tears. All I am doing is running. Why are they cheering for me? Then I turned the last corner where I saw Jeff and Sara, and then, the finish line.

 

One hour, fifty-one minutes later.

 

Thanks Dan.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Post 20-Mile Explanation

Last Saturday,  I had a great 20 mile run with the CARA 10:30's, but more importantly, with Carrie. We decided at the North Avenue water stop to leave the group behind and continue on with a two man show. Finishing out this way allowed for no lines at any drinking fountains we felt the need to visit, plenty of trees to use as support to stretch, and a two-on-one assault on Cricket Hill.

I've had a my far share of sub-par runs this training season. Saturday rebuilt our spirits that we will have great race days. Carrie's now tapering for Berlin, while I'm preparing for 20 mile run #2 on September 18.

Running 20 miles is a process. Once you finish running, there's stretching, icing, driving home - the list goes on. I had plans to meet up with Brian and Kim later in the day. Both understand the processes of training for a marathon.

Here was what I told them I needed to do -

North Coast Music Festival starts at noon, however, there is no way I will be there at noon. I have 20 to run Saturday morning. We doing 2 miles before the 6:30am group and then 18 with the group. My very bad math estimates that it will take us 3.5 hours to do 18, and thus, ending at 10am.

I will then hobble to the lake where I'll ice down my legs that already hate me. From there, I will proceed to my brand new car, with it's amazing new car smell, and enter it covered in sweat, salt and lake smell. I will then drive said car through a McDonald's drive thru where I will purchase one large fountain Coke using a credit card (since I don't run with cash).
 

I will then proceed home, now regaining consciousness, feeling empowered that I got my ass out of bed and accomplished 20 miles before noon. As I park at my place and attempt to get out of my car, I will realize that I'm already getting stiff. Walking up one flight of stairs to my place will be challenging, but the most important thing is to no spill the cherished McDonald's fountain Coke.
 

I will enter my place where Dave will kindly ask how my run went. I will give him a really long explanation, during which, he will come over in my general vicinity and smell me. A rather disgusted look will appear on his face and he will tell me to go shower.
 

After the shower, I will eat three huge pieces of Captain Crunch french toast, covered in butter and syrup, because, well, Captain Crunch + french toast is not enough sugar or fat for me already. A food coma will soon follow. I will then enter my bedroom and crash for approximately two hours.

Sad thing is, I was right on all accounts with the exception of the length of my nap. 90 minutes was all I could handle - I was too excited to head to North Coast.

A Nashville Tale [Brian's Story]

Brian had a pretty incredible experience in Nashville, though I'm not speaking of the race. Here's a true tale of a runner's attempt to reach the starting line of a destination race.

"The story of my first experience doing a destination race starts with fading sunlight in the city of lost children. 

No, wait, that's not where it starts.  The events leading up to that are every bit as important for the reader, to provide the proper context.  It is April in Chicago.  I'm planning to leave for Florida for a week to visit my grandpa and play some golf ... and then head to Nashville to meet up with my friends for the Country Music Half Marathon. 

My last training run before the half was 8 miles.  Well, it was supposed to be 10, but since I hadn't run anything longer than 10k in months ... the training run, at 95 degrees on a humid Florida morning, didn't go smoothly.  This was further complicated by something my Chicago Lakeshore trail training didn't prepare me for - how the properly share the trail with Alligators. 

So back to the city of lost children.  I try desperately to never book flights out of Orlando.  Millions of children of all ages, all backgrounds, nationalities, cultures and customs ... all with one thing in common.  They are all crying because they don't want to leave Disney World.  So my exit from the city of lost children is filled with their cries and their howls (which I drown out with my iPhone and headphones).  And my journey has yet to begin.

Because I made the brilliant decision not to stay downtown in the $500/night Holiday Inn Express with my group (Important note:  All of them are women) the night before the race, because I ... um ... the morning of a race.  You know, there are things.  One needs to do.  So after a lovely dinner with the group, I headed off to check in at my hotel - you know, the one that's not conveniently located. 

Backing up a moment, when I picked up my rental car (note:  a VERY nice Ford Escape - I was really, really impressed with the vehicle) they offered me a GPS for $20 a day.  Now, I have an iPhone - what do I need a GPS for?

Does everyone remember that part where I was drowning out the cries of the children by playing music?  Anyone with an iPhone knows what's about to happen.

THe address for the hotel on my reservation actually doesn't exist.  I'm staying at a very nice, classy Days Inn near what appears to be the airport. 

Actually, that's the address that doesn't exist.  After a quick call using SYNC (yes, it works) (iPhone Battery 6%), the guy at the hotel gives me a different address, which doesn't appear to be as close to the airport.  But upon arriving, I realize it is actually closer to things ... hm, how to say this ... nearer to say, night workers.  

As I pull up to the hotel - the impossibly steep driveway that reaches the hotel perched high on a hill overlooking what could only be described as a sketchy diner - complete with thuggy late-teen, early 20s folks in loitering in the parking lot.  But that's not really what I noticed first.  No, its the crime scene tape blocking two of the rooms on the second floor.  That's what really draws my eyes.

Upon entering, there are several people in the lobby ahead of me.  At this point, I'm concerned about the wellbeing of my rental.  The guys behind the counter - two guys of Indian descent - both have their shirts unbuttoned further than is appropriate, and both are wearing gold chains.  I've actually walked into a SNL sketch.  For the first 5 minutes, literally nothing is said.  The two are on the phone, apparently on hold, no one in the lobby is talking ... its just weird.  Oh, and the people in the lobby - the "couple" in front of me - a guy who clearly came to Nashville to be a rock star - Jack White meets Kid Rock - and his ... um, escort - a charming couple.  He - despite not actually actively smoking, he was producing a full cloud of an entire bar of cigarettes ... from his faded and cracked leather jacket and ironic t-shirt.  (Her dress, on the other hand was certainly far too small to retain any such odors).

When its finally my turn ... the guy explains to me that ... my room isn't available - indicating the upstairs where the crime scene tape is.  Now, I should point out, that I pre-paid for this room ($45) though American Express - its not just a reservation, its a pre-pay.  But, he can't offer me my money back ... instead, he'll book me at the sister property ... just down the road. 

Now, I can't argue with going anywhere that's not this place.  I'm in.  Nothing could be worse.  But, I tell him I need extended checkout.  I need to have the room until 3pm.  (I'm thinking I didn't want to leave my luggage in the back of the rental while we run the race).  He agrees for $15 I can have extended checkout. I give him the cash, and he gives me, in return, a business card with the words "checkout at 3pm OK" scribbled on it (Note: Easy way to save $15). 

Now I'm off to the next property.  Americas Best Value Inn.  It is NOT just down the road, its another 10 miles away.  And its 11pm.  iPhone battery = dead.  Race meeting time 5am. 

Ok, I show up, and I'm in another movie, but this one is far creepier.  There's no one in the parking lot, and it ALMOST looks passable as a hotel.  Of course the guy at the desk (also a wild and crazy guy, but this one of eastern european descent) tries to haggle with me about the checkout, and about the room in general ... calls the other hotel ... begrudgingly gives me my key.  And then I walk into the room.

Holy mother of god, I wasn't prepared for this.  The first thing that draws your eye, after the horrifying polyester bedspread and the broken lighting fixture is the bloodstain on the floor.  It also had a few drips ... like whomever was bleeding was trying to either get to the place they bled the most, or trying to get away from it.  Whichever, the efforts to remove the stain were weak. 

Then I noticed the fact that the toilet wouldn't stop running (and the water squeaked) and when I went to go over and have a look, that's when i found the toilet seat was not attached to the toilet.  Hmmph.  Oh, oh oh... and they have haphazardly screwed plywood over the area under the sink. (Later, I learned this is a precaution to prevent their clientele from removing the pipes to sell as scrap - typically in exchange for crystal meth.) 

There are no bedbugs.  its late.  I'm tired, and I need to get to sleep. 

When I wake up (at 430), and realize my luggage is FAR safer in the back of my rental than it is in this room, I carry everything to the car.  I walk by the office, and the guy behind the desk (wild, crazy guy #3) now has his shirt off standing at the desk and is either dancing or copulating with an unseen party ... or just being extra special creepy.  As I'm loading my luggage into the car ... a woman - EYES WIDE OPEN, very few teeth - walks by and says "OH!  I'm surprised to see someone!  I thought i was the only crazy one up this early!" ... and wanders off. 

Lesson learned.  Sharing a room with 3 girls is TOTALLY ok. "

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Shorter Days, Longer Runs


I've been noticing something's different lately when I walk out early in the mornings - It's dark.

The days are getting shorter, but my runs are getting longer.

It's harder to get out of bed at 5, so often I'm waiting until 5:30. Even 5:30 was pushing it this week.

In order to run 8  miles before I head home, get ready for work, and then commute in, I have to get up pretty damn early. Or start picking up my pace.

Which leads me to think I may need to transition out of the morning runner in to the evening or lunchtime runner again here soon.

Which reminds me that in 6 weeks, it's race day.

[Anxiety starting to build]

Friday, August 19, 2011

Now Training Gets Serious.

Week 11 of 18.

No more staying up late, drinking beer and eating light. 

Training now gets serious.

I need lots of water and tons of sleep.

More food and bring it often.

The foam roller and fuel belt are my best friends.

I'm tired of my running playlist from overuse.

I'm going for calorie consumption, with some limits.

The Wednesday mid-week run this week is the same distance of our Saturday long run the first week: 8 miles.

Saturday's long run is 18. It is the 3rd longest run I'll do before race day.

Scary to think training's already at that point.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Run Because... [motivation we all need]

Run because you have to. Run because you love it. 
Run because you want to be fast. Run because you want to be skinny. 
Run to find some quiet time. Run to sweat. Run to eat. 
Run hear your heart pound in your ears. Run because you're a runner. 
Run because you gotta keep the streak. Run because you don't know why the hell you're running. 
Run because you fought with your partner. Run because your job is shitty. 
Run because you got no money. Run for the sunrise. Run for a race. 
Run because it's impossible. Run because it's easy. Run instead of doing the laundry. 
Run instead of watching TV. Run because no one else understands. 
Run because the cool kids do it. Run because you're tired of talking. 
Run for numbers. Run for feel. Run to prove something. 
Run because it f-ing hurts. 
Or don't run...If you got something better to do.
 [Borrowed from i <3 to Run's facebook page]

Monday, August 01, 2011

Darth Vader does Yoga

In the spring, I discovered a yoga studio with the help of GroupOn.

It's a few blocks away from my place, which is quite nice. There are classes that start shortly after I usually get home from work. You can pre-register online to save your spot in the class which is ingenious.

After trying out a few classes, I found a vinyassa flow class with an instructor I liked quite well.

I was enjoying getting back in to a routine of yoga practice - finding my inner self and all that good stuff - until he appeared.

On the outside, he appeared to be your average man in his early thirties. He sat next to me in the seated position as we relaxed and waited for practice to start.

The instructor welcomed us to practice and then asked us to start lengthening our breath. That's when I noticed something wasn't right. Instead of the sound of even tempered, rather quiet breathing, I heard heavy, labored breathing. Like that of Darth Vader.

Certainly DV couldn't continue like that for an entire class. Maybe he was warming up?

Nope.

I tried my very best to block him out and enjoy the practice.

Exactly a week later, the same thing happened. I should have memorized what he looked like the first time, then I could have avoided this!

A week later, I try setting myself up at the far end of the room from him to no avail. DV can fill the entire room with his breath.

So I've stayed away for awhile - partially because marathon training has picked up but mostly because I can't enjoy a yoga practive with DV.

I plan on going back to yoga tomorrow. We'll see if the dark side still rules practice.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

SARA Training

CARA (Chicago Area Runners Association) is the non-for-profit group I've been training with for the last four years.

Sara is someone I met in 2008 while training for the first marathon.

SARA Training is when one takes three years of CARA training and does their own thing. Not because they don't love CARA, but because, for one reason or another, it's easier to take a different approach.

For example, to avoid 90 degree heat, SARA training will start at 5am (or 6am, pending trenchal downpour)whereas CARA is stuck with their schedule. SARA training can start anywhere, but chooses to start at Sara's house.

CARA's program has announcements and large groups of people divided by pace group. SARA training gets down to business. A pair runs together, picks up a third on the path at Foster, and what remains of our CARA group around North avenue.

Instead of post-run gatorade, there's iced coffee.

Brunch is just as important to a post-run routine as stretching, and the SARA program takes it quite seriously. There's pre-run logistic emails that start on Tuesday. Brunch is a hot topic - where we will go, what time we will get there, if there will be a line, and, most importantly what we will eat. Nothing is off limits. During the run, brunch plans adapt for the late start due to weather. Post-run, we speed up stretching and showering, forego sleeping. And head to brunch.

I order eggs benedict AND a bacon cinnamon roll.

Friday, July 22, 2011

What's crazier than running at 6:30 am on a Saturday?

Running at 6am.

Nah, let's make it 5am.

It's been in the upper 90's the last few days with high humidity, and Saturday looks to be no different.

If this was my first summer training, I might think that I'd be finished with a 14 miler before it really got hot by starting at 6:30am.

Truth is, I know better.

In 2008, there was a particularly hot Saturday where our long run was 16 miles. I'm not the only one that remembers the day. I guess you could call it one of our war stories from training.

I don't recall the run south to the loop being all too bad. It was the journey back that got us. That's the day I learned how much I dislike the lakefront between Ohio and Fullerton. It's an uncomfortable mass of concrete being continuously blasted by the sun.

Between Ohio and North Avenue, we went from two groups of ten to groups of 3 or 4. Each person was doing whatever they could to keep moving forward, but it wasn't pretty. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't call it running. But we finished the run and learned a valuable lesson.

Check the weather and run earlier.

Which leads me to thinking about the last few days of intense heat. Remember during the blizzard we were wishing for this? Now we have all the heat we could ever dream of but we don't want it. In lieu of complaining, I read a facebook status from Salute Inc. which I found to some things up quite nicely:
I was going to complain about how hot it is, then I realized that: 1.) It isn't really 109 degrees; 2.) I'm not 5,700 miles from home; 3.) I'm not dressed in a full BDU uniform and helmet and carrying 70+ lbs.; and 4.) There is very little chance that anyone will shoot at me. Thanks to all that serve!
Thanks for reminding us Salute, and, thank you Dan.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Return of the Morning Runner

Shortly after October 10th, 2010, Laura, the morning runner, retired.

Right around that time, Laura, the afternoon or evening runner, returned.

I find the morning version, although someone resistant to getting up at 6, or maybe 5am, tends to be more productive with a run out of the way in the morning.

But, as we all know, if you go out too hard too early, you might be in trouble.

As was the case last Friday (before the 4th of July weekend).

Skilling's prediction was humid and growing warmer throughout the day.

So much for knocking out 11 on my way home from work, thought the afternoon runner.

Then the afternoon runner had an epiphany: What if I turned (back) in to a morning runner?

We're not talking about the morning runner who wakes up a half hour earlier than normal to run three miles.

We're talking two hours earlier. 4:45am

The sun wasn't yet up when I headed out. I ran for about a mile before I passed another runner on the sidewalk.
Once on the lakefront path, I noticed something quite unusual. No bikes.

By the time I made it down to Diversey, bikes were whizzing by and the path had a fair number of morning runners.

Morning runners, even in a city as big as Chicago, will smile or wave at you. Afternoon and evening runners do not. Why is that? Does it have to do with sleep deprivation or is there a common belief that anyone out at that time in the morning must be doing it for the same reason you are?

By the time I reached my house, I had just enough time to get ready, eat a quick 2nd breakfast, and head to work on the bus.

As I stood waiting for the bus, I realized how tired my legs were. Thoughts of taking a nap on the bus, as per usual, crossed my mind.

Then the bus came. No seats were left.

I thought of how it would be better to walk then to have to stand still. So when the bus reached it's first stop (about a mile and a half from work), I got off.

I walked to work, beginning to think of all the things I needed to do. Once I did sit down, however, I found it very hard to do much of anything.

I was beat.

It was 8:30am.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Intermediate Training Schedule

Many would think a novice training program would be used by a person preparing for their first marathon.

Or 2nd.

Or 3rd.

But not 4th.

So this time around, I'm training with an intermediate schedule.

What's the difference?

You run more. More miles during the week, more days a week and longer long runs.

Instead of doing 3-3 mile runs during the week, I'm scheduled to knock out 16 before an 11-mile long run this Saturday.

Why?

Because you can, and, for some reason, want to. You've at some point decided that the novice program isn't beating you up enough or that it's leaving you with too much free time. Hours spent sleeping or relaxing should be, of course, replaced with more running.  More running which will likely require more stretching with our favorite friend the foam roller, sleeping, and the best benefit of training, eating.

Now that I made the intermediate program sound so appealing, I am wondering why I waited so long to do it.

This year, many of my friends are running the Berlin Marathon which is two weeks before Chicago. They are all experienced marathoners who are masters of the novice program. The intermediate program will allow them to get a 20 mile run in two weeks earlier than the novice program and from there, they will taper for Berlin. Me on the other hand, I'll run 20 twice. That's my punishment for not traveling Berlin and repeating Chicago a 4th time.

This time I'll get it right (I hope). Whatever that means...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ragnar Recap

On Thursday, June 9th, a twelve person passenger van pulled up outside my house with a Scottish driver - Joanne. Don't let the driver position fool you, she's really a quite fast marathoner and a member of the Universal Sole team!

Joanne and I drove up the North Shore, picked up Jessica and Jackie, and then headed up to Madison. We spent the car ride getting to know each other. The fifth member of our van would meet us at the start line the next day. The sixth member of our van was Kim, who sadly couldn't participate in Ragnar due to a stress fracture.

We checked in to our hotel that evening, had a bite to eat and then headed to bed. Our van (#1) would arrive at the start at 8:30am for a 9:30am start. Van #2 arrived in Madison later in the evening and would not begin their legs until the afternoon. I had a hard time falling asleep. I had so many questions. How would this all work?

Friday morning we grabbed breakfast and headed to the start. That's when we saw the true size of this event. Hundreds of passenger vans, suvs, and mini vans were parked at the start, transporting their respective teams. The start line was staggered depending on your team's overall predicted pace. The faster overall pace your team had, the later you started in the day. We heard of some teams starting at 6:30am and others starting at 1pm.

After a few safety briefings, the gun went off and Jessica began her first leg of the race. Our van would meet Jessica at the first exchange point, where I would take the baton (er, slap bracelet) from her and run the second leg (in place of Kim).  The van would continue in this leap frog fashion until we reached exchange point 6 where van #2 would take over legs 7-12 with their runners.

I started leg two (my first run) around a lake in Madison. The 4.5 route took me through a few neighborhood streets and then in to a church parking lot where I passed off the baton. The first run felt good. I had about an hour and a half break before run 2 (leg 5) started.

Run two started at a high school in Cambridge, Wisconsin. The 6.4 mile run started down Liberty street in Cambridge. The street was lined with American Flags - fitting for a small town. Then I turned on to the Glacial Drumlin trail. After a short distance on the trail, I ran across the path of a possum.  No worries, he was more scared than I. Then on to country roads where I saw farms and dairy cows for a few miles. At one point, a cow ran along side me. This kind of stuff just can't happen running along the lake in Chicago!

At the conclusion of my second run, I took was was the first of many baby wipe baths of the relay. Let's just say I'm glad I bought the biggest container Target had. The bath made a world of a difference and I thought of how my brother went for weeks without a real shower the first time he was deployed to Iraq. Putting on a fresh pair of clothes seemed ok now. No point in taking a real shower anyway - I was running again in less than 12 hours.

After Jackie ran her first leg, we headed forward to exchange point 12 where we attempted to get some sleep. Trying to sleep outside in a sleeping bag in the middle of the day does have it's challenges, but we caught what little sleep we could, or couldn't.

It was reaching dusk when our team's runner came in to exchange 12 and Jessica was on her way again. This time, she was outfitted with a headlamp, tail lamp, and safety vest. By the time she finished her leg, it was dark out. As the night carried on, the relay became more challenging. Signs were harder to see. It was easy to lose sense of direction. Not to mention, we were sorta getting tired. But we pushed on.

Around midnight I prepared for a 4.3 mile run through a park in Greenfield, Wisconsin which would take me into Milwaukee. I have never had a run quite like this. This was the first time I was running with a headlamp. With no street lights. With no cars passing by or barely the sight of any other runners. I was scared. Scared of what else was out in the night and also scared of falling on my face. As I started running, all I could hear was the sound of my footsteps and the faint echo of other runners footsteps. No sirens, no horns, no crickets, nothing.  Weird.

After arriving at exchange 18, Jackie had to run one more leg before the van could rest for a few hours. When she finished, it was after 1am. We drove to a church somewhere in the Milwaukee area and parked in a field with hundreds of other vans. We tried to get comfortable in the van to take a catnap. I managed a short baby wipe bath and put on my compression socks. We had lights out for a about two hours, then it was time to pack up and head out to Racine where we'd meet up with van #2 again.

The sun had yet to rise as Jessica started her last leg. Once she completed her leg in Racine, Joanne ran two back to back 6 mile legs (one for Kim and one of her own). Amazing! Around 7:30 it was time for me to run my last leg, which was just 2.9 miles through Kenosha. The run was labeled 'easy' which, I would agree, it was the easiest of all my runs, but after the day I'd had, it felt like the last six miles of  a marathon. I think that's what kept me going - the debate of if the way I was feeling at that time was better or worse than the last few miles of the marathon. Then, somehow, I was at the exchange point and my part of the race was complete.

Later in the day, we met the runners of van #2 down at Montrose Harbor at the race's finish line. Our last runner was about to come in the home stretch of the race at 3:30pm on Saturday. As our runner approached, we jumped in with her and ran to the end. Volunteers offered us snacks and metals which double as bottle openers (now somebody's thinking!). We took a few photos, had a few laughs, said our goodbyes and headed our separate ways.

It's 4pm on a Saturday. I've run over 18 miles in the last 24 hours. I'm on about three hours of sleep in the last day and a half.  But I had a great time, and I can't wait to do it again.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Ragnar; It's like Bonnaroo...with Running.

After carefully reading through the Ragnar Relay Race Bible a few days ago, I've started packing.

So far my pile consists of:

• Sleeping bag
• Yoga mat
• Instant oatmeal
• Flashlight
• Cargo shorts
• Glow sticks
• Tarp
• Crocs
• Hand sanitizer
• Baby wipes
• Sunscreen

I pause for a moment realizing I've packed like this once before - for Bonnaroo.

Bonnaroo is a four day music festival held in Manchester, Tennessee. Two summers ago, I went with a group of friends. It was the incredible journey. In four days, we saw every type of weather possible - torrential downpours, tornado-like winds, blazing heat, and chilly nights. Oh, and we saw a lot of cool bands too.

Much like the Ragnar relay, we didn't get much sleep and we were camping.

One thing we certainly were not doing at Bonnaroo was running. I'll be interested to see how Ragnar parallels Bonnaroo...or doesn't.

[Ragnar Relay Chicago is a 200 mile relay race from Madison, WI to Chicago. My team will start at 9:30am on Friday and will run continuously until arriving in Chicago, sometime around 3:30pm on Saturday.]

Thursday, June 02, 2011

One Month til Ragnar

A month from today, I'll be one of twelve making up the Universal Sole team at Ragnar Relay. Ragnar Relay is a 200 mile relay race from Madison to Chicago (formerly called the Madison to Chicago 200).

Unlike a regular road race, there are thousdands of unknowns with a relay race and a million logistics. How can one even begin to strategize?

Here's what little I do know:

I will be in runner position 5. I will run 12.4 miles in three legs.

My first leg will be in the afternoon on June 10th.

My second leg will be somewhere around 2am on June 11th in a town nearby Milwaukee.

My final leg will be somewhere around 10am. I will run the team over the state line.

This morning I ran three miles. I plan on heading home this evening and running another 3 or 4, just to get my body used to the idea of running twice in a day. I'm not sure how much this is going to help me since I'm on a good night of sleep. I imagine it's the sleep deprivation that really gets to people. Oh, and I'm running a course I know very well. Unlike when I get dropped in Wisconsin. I'm about as familiar with Wisconsin as I am with Brazil.

Here's a cool video that one team did of their Ragnar Relay experience in D.C.

Excerpts from the Ragnar Relay Race Bible

The Ragnar Relay Race Bible (yes, that's it's actual title) is 22 pages long.

It contains a lot of good information. Especially for my team, since, well, none of us have done this before.

Page 9: 
Each van must have two flashlights or headlamps, six reflective vests and two LED tail lights.
Crap...We are running at night.

Slap braclets will be used as batons.
Sweet!

Page 13:
In the event of an injury, any of the remaining runners can replace the injured runner...If an IV is administered, the injured runner is no longer eligible to run.
Note to self: Don't trip over own feet.

If a runner gets off course, they are to return on foot or in their support vehicle to the point where they went off course and continue from there.
I hope we don't get lost!

Page 16:
Each van will be required to have a safety officer/navigator that is awake and alert at all times. The safety officer is responsible for helping the team behave safely during the race. He or she must be seated in the front passenger seat and must have the safety guidelines and rules within reach at all times.
Sounds like a lot of responsibility!


Page 18: 
If a runner encounters flooded areas that cannot be ran through, have your runner get into the support vehicle, drive the runner ahead where the road is no longer flooded and continue running his or her leg.
Good thing I know how to swim. Now.


Page 19:
If a runner encounters any wildfile that is aggressive on the course, get your runner off the road and into your support vehicle. 
Are we talking dogs or bears here?

One week from today, Joanna and I will be on our way in the van!

Friday, May 27, 2011

CARA Marathon Training & Charity Fundraising

Wow, it's Memorial Day weekend.

Summer couldn't come fast enough (actually, I'm not even sure if it's here yet) with the winter we've had.

I know it's summer when I am counting down my last weekends of freedom. Freedom in the sense of not having to wake up at 5:30am on a Saturday, every Saturday until October.

Why would I do something like that to myself?

Marathon Training. I'll be training again this summer with the Chicago Area Runner's Association - www.cararuns.org

Training kicks off on June 11th, the weekend of Ragnar.  It's safe to say I'll be up much earlier on that Saturday.

A few weeks ago I agreed to fund raise for Salute, Inc.  - www.saluteinc.org 

It's a great local cause that's easy to support. I enjoyed being a part of their Marathon team last year. I feel like it's the least I can do considering that so many volunteer to serve in the U.S. Military to protect our freedom.

Which just so happens to be a much greater freedom than sleeping in on the weekends.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Tale of Two Left Shoes

A story from Nashville.

Kim and I flew in to Nashville from Chicago. Tracy met us at the airport. She came in from Texas.

We took a cab to our hotel early in the morning. We couldn't check in yet, but the hotel held our bags while we walked around downtown and went to the Expo.

While at the Expo, Tracy mentioned she didn't like the shoes she'd been training in. She said she was pretty sure the running store by her house had put her in the wrong shoes. She felt like her form was off. She's always had Sauconys, so when we approached the Saucony booth, she went to talk to the guy about her shoes.

One of the rules of distance running is "Don't do anything new on race day." Which includes buying new shoes the day before at the Expo.

Kim and I waited and watched as Tracy talked with the guy and tried on a series of shoes. Then, to our surprise, we watched her buy a pair of shoes.

After leaving the Expo we went to lunch. Tracy said she was almost positive the shoes she bought at the expo were the same as the shoes she had had before her current pair, which she loved. Kim and I were skeptical.

We got back to the hotel, checked in to our room and relaxed for awhile. Shortly before heading out to dinner, Tracy began unpacking her bag. This is when she discovered she had packed two left shoes.

It was after 6pm on Friday, the day before the race. Had she have not bought the shoes at the expo, we would have been pounding on any athletic store's doors to get Tracy shoes for the next morning.

Tracy opened her new pair and compared them to the two left shoes she brought. She was right - The pair she'd bought at the expo was the same as her older running shoe, which she liked.

Despite any concerns Kim and I may have had about Tracy running in a new pair of shoes, she showed us on race day. Tracy ran the fastest half marathon of the four girls, coming in just over two hours.

A PR for her. She said she felt great.

Sometimes rules are meant to be broken.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Country Music Half Wrap Up

Destination races can't rightfully be compared to hometown races. Nashville is no exception.

Take people from Chicago and insert them in to the rolling hills of Nashville - A challenge within itself - and we haven't even started talking about logistics.

As if I didn't know what we were getting ourselves in to, or, more likely, forgot to remember what the course was like, we landed in Nashville on Friday morning optimistic.

My goal was to show up and run a decent race.

The question is, how is a decent race defined?

Walking around Nashville on Friday, in addition to attending the completely packed expo, caused uneasiness on Friday evening. Which lead to some anxiety Friday night that carried in to Saturday morning.

4:40 a.m. came pretty fast. Kim, Tracy and I got ready and met Brian at LP field at 5:40.

We boarded shuttles to take us to the start line. It was a cool morning. We talked on the way to the corral, hoping for the best. It wasn't until we stood on the side of the corral #13 gazing at the flag for the National Anthem that it really hit me.

I'm remembering more of this race now. Shit. This is going to be hard.

We walked our way down the massive hill to the Start line. Once crossing the start line, we would work our way up a hill for close to a quarter mile, then down, then back up, before crossing the first mile. This pattern repeated itself, in it's entirety, for the first 8 miles.

What started off as a cool morning seemed to get warm awfully fast.

Very early on, I could tell my 2:15 goal time was not in the cards. I'll admit it, I could have focused more (ok, maybe the right word is 'some') efforts on hill training. I probably could have ate better. It would have been great to not have been sick for a few weeks. Or for it not to have rained every day in the last two weeks. Or if the Easter Bunny hadn't been so good to me with those delicious Cadbury Eggs.

All excuses set aside, none of it matters when you're running the race. In that period of time, you're just trying to get through it. That's the part that was tough. Somewhere after 3 but before mile 5,  I had an overwhelming feeling to stop. I felt like my body was not acclimating to the conditions. I remember thinking to myself, 'The next medical tent, you're out.'

But here's the problem - Brian was next to me. Brian was having an easier time than I, but he admitted it was by no means an easy race for him either. So in this race, more so than in the marathon, I found myself mentally defeated early on. But it was Brian who guided me through it, whether he realized it or not.

We decided later on the in the race that we were in fact pulling each other through the race. Eventually we would reach the end. Most importantly, thank God we weren't doing the full. Those people are truly crazy.

In the end, I beat my course P.R. in 2009 by two minutes. Maybe it's not the win I was thinking of, but it's certainly not a loss. And four people in our group, including Tracy and Brian, had P.R.'s at the half marathon distance. Just goes to show one person's bad race is another person's 'A' race.

Now, entering May, I have a half under my belt for 2011. Not a bad position to be in.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Country Music Half Marathon Pack Job

It's Wednesday at 9:30pm.

60 hours from now, I will be finished with the Country Music Half Marathon.

There's not a lot of time, and there's lots to do.

Maybe I should be panicking.

The race is 450+ miles from Chicago and we're at the travel mercy of O'Hare airport.

Destination races are fun, right?

I printed off the confirmation email for the race. The Competitior Group must think I still live with my parents. That's cool. I can run this race as Laura from Mokena.

Then I was on the phone with Kim determining how we're getting to the airport. Our flight is early Friday. I'm still looking for the confirmation email from the airline.

I am in the process of packing. That is, if you can call an empty suitcase with four packets of Gu, a empty fuel belt, running shorts, four packets of oatmeal and a hat thrown on top of it packing. What a random list of crap. Pretty amazing I am thinking of Gu and oatmeal before I'm thinking of other essentials like running shoes or socks. Then again, depending on how well you know me, you know 'I gotta eat!'

This is only my second destination race. My first was this race two years ago. I enjoyed it enough to do it again, but first I had to give myself two years to forget about the hills.

Packing isn't coming along so well since I'm blogging and making up a list for stuff I need to do when I get back. This is part of my OCD while tapering. Tapering for a full will take control of your life for two weeks. A half, well, maybe you can get away with just a few days. I've been worried all day that I'm not hydrating enough, so I know that the taper mentality has certainly set in.

Here's the course map:






Looks like a tangled web of insanity. And it looks really hilly. Somehow.

This race is a half marathon and a full marathon. I'm running the first 11 with the big boys and then I'm taking a sharp right and wusing out. And I'm completely ok with that.

I looked up my time from last year 2:22:something-or-other. Do seconds really matter anyway? If I can do a sub 2:25, I'll call this race a success.  And even if it's not sub 2:25, it's still a success because I had fun, I ran, went on a vacation, and I wasn't sitting on my couch eating (insert favorite Easter candy).

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

12 Mile Run and the Nashville Taper

Last Saturday, Katie and I had plans to start our 12 mile run (the longest run in preparation for our Half Marathons) at Foster and the Lakefont. When I arrived at 7:45, the street was closed.

As soon as I saw the squad I remembered - CARA (Chicago Area Runners Association) Lakefront 10. Kim S. had asked the week before if I wanted to do it. Had I not needed to run 12 that day, I would have.

I called Katie and we relocated a few miles north to my neighborhood. I guess that's the nice thing about running. It's easy to find alternative places to run if your place of preference is taken.

By the time we worked our way down to Foster, the street was back open. We got to see a good number of the Lakefront 10ers working their way north to the finish. It's not often I get to see the fast people that win races. Scanning for familiar faces certainly helped pass the time. We saw Kim around Belmont on our way south and then saw Sara on our way north around the same spot.

We also saw a group of familiar faces out running that morning - Ken, Carl, and Laura. Ken and Carl were pace group leaders for CARA last year. Laura and I met in 2008 through CARA while training for the marathon. Seeing so many running friends, well for sake of a better word, running, made me start thinking about summer and training. It was the first time I'd been excited about starting in on the summer commitment of marathon training.

The Chicago Marathon's registration opens February 1st. Race day is October 11th, just over 8 months later. This year, the marathon sold out (45,000 registrants) in a record 31 days. As you can imagine, a lot can happen in 8 months. When I signed up, my thinking was that I wanted to have the option to be able to do it again. I couldn't think far enough in the future of actually doing it again.

The Country Music Half Marathon is April 30th. After our 12 mile run, Katie and I began tapering for our races (Katie's is on May 1st in New Jersey). I started it off right by having a huge celebratory burger where I out-ate Dave. But in all seriousness, hope the starts align for me on race day. My training hasn't been perfect this time around.

Once this race is over, and certainly once the weather turns, I'll start setting my sights on the next big thing: Rangar Relay. You thought I was going to say marathon, didn't you?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Elmhurst, You Almost Killed Me.

Instead of running the Shamrock Shuffle last Sunday morning, Kim and I met up and headed to...Elmhurst.

Why Elmhurst?

Well, Elmhurst has a hill. It's actually a sledding hill, but it's a mean looking sledding hill.

We sized up the hill for a few moments, then went over to a soccer field where a group of people were doing a boot camp type class. It was lead by a guy who was Kim's high school trainer. Turns out that he knew my high school trainer, Aaron, very well.

We participated in the first half of boot camp. Kim fared much better than myself. Young kids were running faster and doing more push-ups than me, which goes to show that being a runner doesn't mean you're in tip-top shape. If Kevin (my former personal trainer) and I do meet up in May as we've planned, he is going to beat the you-know-what out of me.

After boot camp had handed us our asses, we headed over to the hill, because, well, we needed to be tortured some more.

So why do I keep coming back to the hill?

Nashville is hilly. Chicago is not. You can figure out the rest.

Kim made up a loop. A wide circle around a soccer field and then up and down the hill. Repeat and repeat...until we reached over 5 miles. It was brutal. It reminded me why I stay away from stair-steppers and stair climbs.

Had I not done the Country Music Half two years ago, I would be pretty freaked about the rolling hills of Nashville.

I can't decide if it's confidence or ignorance that's going to see me through on race day.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Good Running Form

Saturday I was at the Shamrock Shuffle Expo and heard a representative of a popular Chicago running store speak. He had some great insights on proper running form, and gave some simple tips to correct bad form.  Here's the Cliff Notes edition I'd written into my Blackberry -

Proper running form allows faster speeds, most efficiency and less injuries.

When you run, you shouldn't be able to look down and see your feet.

To bring your pelvis and spine in line while running, put hands above your head and your body will adjust  to take out leaning at the waist.

Keep arms on the sides of the body. Don't allow them to cross your center plane. Otherwise you are turning at the trunk and causing over or under pronation. Can also lead to tightness in shoulders.

Over striding and heel striking causes strain, uses three times as much energy AND slows you down.   Plus it can lead to shin issues. To see how it feels to land on mid-foot, try marching in place.

Try shortening your stride when running. Aim for 180 bmp cadence to create quicker turn over. Do this by counting for 30 seconds on one foot - it would strike the ground 45 times.