Saturday, December 29, 2012

Refocus

Part of training is being honest with yourself.

Even the most disciplined person can fall off the wagon. Or, at least partially.

I had a great marathon this year. There were times in training this year where I was beginning to feel burnt out. I've focused on running as the main form of training for about 7 years now. That's a lot of time. A few injury periods may have put me on the bike or in the pool for awhile, but shortly after the all clear came from the doctor, I've been back at it.

So I decided to dial down the running focus on training. Some parts of that process were quite easy. Like the not running part. Some parts were difficult. Like attempting to adjust the food intake and missing out on some mild late fall days to run.

I'd read a few articles on changing up training in the winter. It seemed great in theory. Truthfully, it's been a slippery slope. So much so that it's now the end of December and I have not blogged once.

I have been running, but it's been less miles and less often. I've been very picky about when and where I've run. There are mornings where I've woken up, looked outside, and decided to not put on my running shoes. I have missed beautiful days to run by not setting a lunch date to do it.

I'm sharing this because I think it's important that I own up to my current state and refocus on my training for the F^3 Lake Half Marathon (in less than four weeks) and then on to a spring half marathon most likely.

Though The path I've been on over the last month hasn't been the training straight and arrow, I can say that I have enjoyed some of my shorter runs lately. I head out and don't worry about time or pace. I take the time to find good music.

Shortly after starting, I am happy I'm out there, running in the winter in Chicago. When I finish I feel accomplished and know I can get back on the right track.

So with all the New Years resolutions out there, I guess I'll add one to the pile - in 2013, I will fall back in love with running.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

[No So] Perfect 10

Last year was the Chicago Perfect 10's first year.

It was held on the same weekend this year.

Brian and I started on Saturday being just a month out from running the marathon. Just like last year.

Yet this year, for some reason, it didn't start out like last year's race.

Very early on in this race I had a feeling we wouldn't be pulling the 9:40 average we had last year.

Talk about starting the race off on the wrong foot.

I think Brian could have left me in the dust many miles before the finish. But he didn't, because, well, that's not Brian's style usually.

As we ran, we discussed why today's effort (though it wasn't exactly over yet, was it?) wasn't going to compare to last year.

The number one reason being that neither of our drank three the night before. We did what? What were we thinking? We spent all of last winter and spring testing this groundbreaking hypothesis and conducting hours of self analysis. Yet we throw it out the window and have just one drink the night before the Perfect 10? Honestly, what were thinking?

And for some reason that paragraph reads as a script for a political ad. Farewell, election season, farewell. 

I've had some tightness and strain in my right calf ever since the 20 miler in September. I nursed it along and ran through a dull pain during the marathon. I said that afterwards I would do what I always read about - give my body a break from running. That theory lasted three days. I somehow manage to forget that it's been bothering me until I warm up around a mile and some change, then wham, it's throbbing.

But for some reason, during the Perfect 10, I didn't have any pain. I was hopeful that I could chalk up this slow and average run turning a corner on recovery. That was, until today when I ran and had another flare up.

PT, looks like you're getting a call. Soon.


Thursday, November 08, 2012

Fall Back to Dark Runs

Last weekend we changed the clocks and 'fell back' an hour.

The hours of daylight are growing shorter each day as we approach winter solistice.

By 5pm, the sun has left the sky.

I change into my running gear which includes a long sleeve shirt, capri's and gloves.

Somehow at night, the city seems quieter.

A few cyclists pass along the lakefront path with their bright lights.

I see a handful of runners on my 4 mile run.


The marathon seems much longer than a month ago.

I run based on comfort, rarely looking at my watch.

Tonight I'm grateful for the stress relief running provides.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Creating a [Marathon] Monster

A few days after the marathon, I talked to Doug.

Doug is a friend of mine who ran the marathon for the first time this year.

He completed the race with an amazing time of 4:34.

We were on the phone for some time.

He went over each section of the race, giving me the play by play I wanted to hear.

As he talked about the last few miles, I could tell he was disappointed and asked why.

"Well, because I had muscle cramping and had to walk." He said.

I told Doug I understood his frustration, but I also wanted him to bask in his newly found marathon glory. He finished a marathon! Regardless of what his pace or overall time was, he should be happy.

Doug paused for a minute, and then said "So, I've decided I have to do it again." to which brought a smile to my face.

I've created a marathon monster. I can think of nothing better than to bring someone else into and share the love, glory and pain of this sport.

Then Doug reminded me of the last few summers as we've run together. During our runs, the topic of the marathon would come up. I would encourage Doug to sign up the following year. I argued that he was a strong runner. I knew he could do it if he trained for it.

In the last few moments of our conversation this week, Doug commented that I was right. - He could do it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I introduce Doug, the marathon runner.

Marathon Joy

Crossing the finish line of a marathon is an emotional experience.

The best way to describe it is an overwhelming sense of joy.

Like the sense of joy when you've done something very thoughtful for or helped a friend.

But this time, it's something you've done for yourself.

It's not like buying your self a gift. Or graduating college. It's nothing like that, actually.

At some point in our lives, we've all thought the marathon was impossible. Over the many months of training and just a few hours of running, you've made the impossible a reality.

Complete joy.

Suddenly nothing seems impossible.

Ok, maybe an Ironman does. At least for now

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Chicago Marathon 2012

Sunday morning arrives. The sun has not yet risen.

I rise to put on my carefully laid out outfit, adding a layer of bodyglide with each article of clothing.

I eat the same breakfast I have every morning - maple brown sugar oatmeal, flax seed and milk.

I run over the race day checklist, carefully checking that each item has been placed into the partcipant bag.

This year, thanks to the cool weather, I am wearing pants, gloves, arm warmers and my Team Universal Sole warm up jacket as I walk out the door.

The streets are quiet. I'm reminded of my very early morning runs in the heat of summer around this time. A wait a few minutes, then board the bus.

Jeff, Brian and I have planned to meet at the Congress Hotel (which on race day functions as the CARA compound) just before 7am.

We meet inside the hotel among the bus of hundreds of CARA shoetag wearing runners.

The line for the bathroom is long, so we head to a special set of porta potties for CARA members in Grant Park. Porta Potties are a hot commodity on race day, and CARA knows all too well what it's runners need!

We drop off our bags at gear check, pack our Gus into our compartmentalized shorts, grab a cup of water and head to our corral.

This year the marathon is using a wave start format. Each runner is placed in a corral based on a past race time (for the faster runners) or estimated finish time (for the average to slower runners). We are in wave 2 which starts at 8am.

As we stand in the corral, I think about how lucky I am to be not sick (like last year) and not injured (like the year before). The three of us make fun of the music being played (Bruce Springsteen's 'Born to Run' pumps people up to run? We don't get it)and talk about the aide station strategy and other miscellaneous small talk as we wait.

We cannot see the start line from where we stand. 7:30, the start time of the first wave, comes and goes. Slowly, the mass of people moves north. We step over piles of clothes and water bottles. Then, in the distance, we see it. The red arch that is the start line.

We cross the start line and start our watches. We're nervous, but excited to get started. We want to warm up and get this show on the road.  The weather is great. Cool with a slight breeze.

Jeff presents a new fact at each mile. Brian and I follow with a comment to Jeff's fact. The only one I remember now is that we all talked about prom. Just goes to show that while running, you talk about everything but.

Jeff and I both have our names taped onto our shirts. People cheer for one of us or both of us. It's encouraging to hear random spectators cheer your name.

As we reached Wrigleyville, Brian decided to slow down a bit and saw us off. Jeff and I both ran in to family and friends around Addison. No matter where family and friends may be on the course, it always proves to be a huge boost to my morale. Instead of the race being about miles to go, it's how far until I see my Mom, or my Dad and brother, or Kim.

We work further south and I see my friend Maggie who's out today, a few months pregnant, with her husband Mike. I look for her on the steps of the Lakeview Athletic Club, but then see them standing on chairs just south of the club by a Jimmy John's. I'm happy to have spotted them.

As we work our way back through the loop and then head west, Jeff and I talk about how we feel. We're approaching the half marathon mark and we both feel pretty good. We thank the cool and overcast weather for letting us conserve much of the energy we're usually using at this point. As we hit 13.1, Jeff comments that we're on pace to run a 4:24. I try not to think about that number. A lot can happen in the next 13.1 miles. But as we continued on through the high teens, we seemed to keep a great pace. Maybe that time wasn't out of reach.

We traveled through the party zone that is Pilsen. Far off the street, I saw two tall men dressed in a combination of Carhardt and camo. They both held Dunkin' Donuts cups in their hands. That had to be my Dad and Dan. I waved and they smiled and waved back. Jeff and I checked in with each other, yep, still feeling pretty good.

Soon 20 miles came in to view. It was around this time that we began making motivating comments to each other. We were both impressed with each other's efforts. Today was (probably) going to be a PR for both of us.

Kim met us around Archer. She's a great coach. She was happy to see we were together and keeping a good pace. We worked our way through Chinatown and Bridgeport.

As we crossed the 33rd street bridge, I saw my Mom, Dave and Sara, then Tricia and Jim not long after. Tricia jumped in with me for a few minutes. She asked how I was feeling, then said I looked great.

Now it was just a matter of finishing the last piece of the south before turning north on Michigan. Here's where I truly started to feel the hurt. My body was done with this experience. But my mind was set on that time. How close could we get to it? What would our excuse be if we slowed down now?

Truthfully, I don't find myself on south Michigan Avenue all too often. But when the course takes me to mile 23 of the marathon, I have 23 blocks of it to take on. They are the longest, toughest, 23 blocks of the race. This year, I try not to focus on the numbered cross streets, starting at 35 and going down to 13 before I reach Roosevelt Road.

Jeff had been looking for a porta-potty for most the race now. We really wanted to stay together, so he said he'd only jump out if he found one with no line. As we finally turned north on Michigan, he pointed off to the right. He said I could go on without him. The porta pottys are positioned at the beginning of an aide station, followed by medical, gatorade, then water. Each aide station is a few blocks long. As the race had progressed, we'd gone from running through the aide stations to power walking the portions where we were drinking and running in between, to a slower version of power walking. As Kim and I reached the end of the water, she asked if I was going to start running. I looked back for Jeff. I didn't see him. I decided I would count to 20, then go. As I reached 20, I started shuffling my feet. At that time, Jeff showed up next to me. This made me very happy. Ok, now we can go!

We kept together and kept pushing. All the way until we were staring the Roosevelt bridge in the face. Then we were running over it and turning the corner. There it was. The finish line. As we turned onto Columbus, Jeff looked over to the spectators and raised his hands to encourage cheer. They return with cheers and call our names.

We both had huge smiles on our faces as we crossed the finish line side by side at 4:32:54. A huge PR for both of us. 

Chicago Marathon 2012 was a huge success.

Thanks, Jeff. Thanks, weather.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Chicago Marathon 2012 - Race Preparation

Unofficially I've been preparing for the marathon 2012 since the day after marathon 2011.

The mild winter allowed me to keep my weekly mileage up in what are typically low mileage months. I ran a number of races in the spring, leading up to a good base once marathon training officially started in early June.

In the last 18 weeks, I've spent roughly 70 hours training or racing and another 50 hours in the yoga studio. That's not counting Ragnar Relay, because, well, it should be it's own thing.

And there's marathoners who dedicate significantly more time than that.

All for one day. Not even a full day.

A morning. One morning in October.

 Normally I find myself obsessing about the weather or my nutrition strategy during the taper. This year I tried to remain calm. In the end, maybe a bit too calm.

When Brian, Kim and I headed to the Expo on Friday. We walked throughout the Expo - a hundred thousand square foot utopia of all things running. I managed to spend a mere $8 on Gu and forgot to pick up Spectator Guides for my family and friends. Not my normal expo strategy.

Then it was off to dinner where we had delicious pasta and a few glasses of wine. (Wine less than two days before race day?)

But I did do some things right. I hydrated and ate well in the week leading up to the race. I logged good hours of sleep. I felt ready.

That is, until Saturday night.

Shortly after my Mom came over, I started going through my pre-race ritual - laying out the outfit, pinning the bib number onto the shirt, etc.

I looked all over the condo and couldn't find Dave's famous cowbell sign. He always has that big yellow sign. So I made a new one. 

Then I couldn't find duct tape to attach my name to my shirt. I searched high and low for it. Just before walking out the door to CVS to buy some, I looked one last time in a place I'd checked six times before and finally found it.

Oh boy, it's going to be a long night.

I went through the marathon check list, sealed up my participant bag and went to bed.

In a few short hours I'd wake up and head downtown for my fifth marathon.

The Bus Dancer

(Written with less than a week to go to race day...)

In a city of a few million people, one would think you wouldn't run in to the same person twice. Or not twice a week.

Not me. I run into a guy I affectionately call 'The Bus Dancer.'

I've come to know him for a few reasons.

Whenever he's seated on the bus, he's on his Samsung flip phone. He talks. A lot.

Whenver he is standing, well, I think you can guess what he does. He can't stand still.

Keep in mind that bus is usually pretty full. As in, the standing passengers are close to if not touching each other already.

Yet he moves around. Leaning on one foot and then the other. Changing the hand that grips the bar. Doesn't grip the bar for awhile. Sighs. Looks longingly out onto traffic. The cycle restarts. Sometimes he does some weird stretching.

I try to ignore him when I see him.

However, last night, he was standing right next to me in the vestibule of the bus's back door.  He used the pole he held onto to stretch out his foot, constantly changing his position. Sometimes his position would back into me.

I kept hoping that my stop would come before he stepped on my foot or fell on me.

It would really stink if The Bus Dancer put me on the injury list for the marathon.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Excuses & a Cruddy Run

Not every run is a great one.

Sometimes they're downright terrible.

I'm willing to admit that, because in all honesty, yesterday's three mile run was a downright cruddy run.

I couldn't wait for it to be over.

Even though I felt that way, quite often the challenge lies not in the action of running the distance of the day, but rather in the steps to get you out the door.

Excuses. They're a dangerous thing, aren't they?

Too tired. Too sore. Sick. Not enough time.

Too warm. Too cold. Too windy.

Forgot shoes. Forgot gloves. Forgot socks. Forgot music.

I have a meeting. I have dinner plans. I can't do it today.

There are thousands and thousands.

I think the most dangerous though is the rather passive 'I'll do it later.' I must have spent a collective two hours yesterday thinking about running and a whole 30 minutes doing it.

Which brings me to this: 


Sorta sums up this post.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Running to Yoga

Over the last month, I've been trying to use up the remainder of my class package at Yoga Studio #1. As I had blogged about a few months ago, getting to Yoga Studio #1 is a bit of a challenge.

YS1 is a nice place. If  lived or worked closer to it, I'd be a frequent practitioner there.

Lately, I've been trying to squeeze in a yoga session during lunch. YS1 offers hour long classes at noon which works nicely. Now to getting there. Here's where it's truly faster to ride a bike or run.

Case in point:

To arrive to YS1 about five minutes before class starts, I'd need to board a bus at 11:30. Even though YS1 is just a mile and a half from work.

We had a few beautiful days last week. It was on one of these days that I planned to go to the studio. After looking out my office window and seeing people walking around without a coat or a cloud in the sky, I decided to adjust my yoga transportation strategy.

I would run there.

This makes so much more sense. Why haven't I done this before?

I left work with just my clothes on my back, my work ID and my phone.

I estimated 20 minutes would be plenty of time to go a mile and a half at an easy pace, even if I stopped at every stop light.

I arrived at YS1 with a few minutes to spare. I left my phone, ID and long sleeved t-shirt in a cubby and grabbed a loaner mat.

I walked into the studio to see an instructor I'd had earlier that week. We had talked in class about the marathon. She remembered me. This made me feel better as, upon entrance in to her warm class, delayed sweat from running poured out of me and onto the mat.

While in downward dog during warm up, I looked down to see the loaner Lulu mat was not going to be up to the task of staying a viable yoga mat. Instead, rather quickly, it was becoming a slip and slide.

As we moved through practice, I thought about how truly amazing my new mat, called 'The Mat' from Lululemon is. It's made to handle big yoga sweaters like me.  I also was making an effort to not be obnoxious on the slip and slide.

As we jumped out of downward facing dog to the front of the mat at our hands, the sound of feet slipping on rubber was apparent each time as we moved through sun salutations.

A quick survey of the other women in the room showed that none of them were breaking a sweat. Yet here I was, looking like I just came out of a sauna.

As practice progressed, we moved into balancing positions. I stepped off the slip and slide for that.

Then into seated positions for ab work and binding. Maybe now I would finally stop sweating.

Nah.

As I laid on the mat in final relaxation pose, I felt sweat running down my face from my temples.

Practice concluded. We picked up our mats and props and headed out of the studio. The instructor wished me luck on the race. I wished luck for the future of loaner mat. That poor thing got more than it was bargaining for that afternoon.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Last Long Run

Friday night we celebrated my Uncle's birthday. He's the one that inspired me to run a marathon.

This weekend is my last long run before the marathon. A measly 8 miles.

Though I normally try to stick to Saturday morning training runs with the exception of vacation or races, 8 miles could wait until Sunday.

I went out after lunch this afternoon. It's so rare that I run on a weekend afternoon. I took notice of everything that seemed out of place.

More traffic on Sheridan. Cars blaring music as they wait in traffic. Kids on bikes. College kids with backpacks, anxiously attending to their smart phones.

Then onto the path where couples were walking together, some dogs ran without leashes, runners passed by and cyclists whizzed by.

A pick up basketball game was in full swing at the court north of Foster. Some visited Foster Avenue beach for what could be the last warm Sunday of the season.

Soccer games were held for all ages with varied field sizes - pint sized for the little tykes and regulation for the adults. A band performed before a game held around Wilson. Groups gathered for barbeques. Kids rode their bikes and ran up Cricket Hill. Mobile ice cream carts strolled by.

I turned around at Irving to head back north. The golf course seemed quiet today. I imagined many would be patrons were busy watching the Ryder Cup.

I took notice of fall colors coming out in the trees' leaves. In some ways, I can't believe I'm at this point in training, week 17, again. Each year these 17 weeks seem to go by faster.

This coming Sunday will be the fifth time I've stood in the start corral for the Chicago Marathon. Though I've done the same race four times so far, each year has been drastically different from the other.

I'm sure this year will be it's own story as well.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Blisters Under Toenails

I've tried to stay away from blogging about the more gruesome aspects of running.

GI issues. Chafing. Blistering.

But truthfully, they're very much part of training. If the car ride up to Great Lakes this past weekend was void of bathroom stories, well, we would have talked a lot less.

One topic of discussion was my toenails. Yum.

I will advise that you not read on if any discussion of feet or toenails grosses you out. 

If it doesn't, and you decide to read on, I would advise to not google 'blisters under toenails' and then click over to images. 

During the marathon last year, I had some foot pain. I think that's relatively normal as your feet swell after hours of continuous activity. What I realized toward the end of the marathon is my big toes hurt the worst. Immediately after the race, I changed into flip flops and headed to the post race party. So much of my body hurt by that point that I was willing to overlook some silly toe pain.

The following day, I got a massage. My toes were still sensitive, but I was willing to chalk it up to inflammation.

By Monday night, I couldn't take it anymore. It hurt to put a sheet over my feet. Socks were out of the question. What was going on? Well, it felt like a blister.

So I googled blisters under your toenails. Do you have any idea what is recommended? Drilling a hole through your toenail to release the pressure. Yeah... there was no way I was doing that.

I examined my toes. I could see the nail was raising off the nail bed a bit. As I pushed down on the nail, I felt pain. At the same time, I saw a sack much like a blister, appear between the nail and the end of the toe. Ah ha. Now I had a strategy. I sterilized a needle and went to the problem area.

On contact, I achieved the desired effect. Pressure was relieved.

I repeated the process a few times over the next two days until all pressure was gone.

Many months later, one of my toenails fell off. No big deal. It had happened before. It's likely to happen again.

I continued to train through the winter, spring and summer with no issues.

That is, until the 20 miler.

I seem to be back at the beginning.

Oh well, at least I know what to do.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fort2Base

Last year, Fort2Base is what I'd consider a breakthrough race in a series of fall PR's.

I have fond memories of my experience in 2011, some had to do with running and other have to do with the significance of the race. The 2011 race was held on September 11th, and just in case that wasn't enough to get me teary eyed, my brother was stationed in Afghanistan at the time. I decided to dedicate the race to him.

Fort2Base is a point to point race from Fort Sheridan to Great Lakes Naval Base. Distances for the race are measured in nautical miles (that's 1.15078 miles for us land dwellers). There's a 10 and 3 nautical mile option. The 10 nautical mile race starts in a large loop on the streets of Fort Sheridan and then merges onto Green Bay Trail. This race has generous shade which is always a plus! Around mile 8, runners exit the trail and onto the sidewalk surrounding the base.

Entering the base is emotional for me. I think of all the people who call and have called Great Lakes home. I remember the time I drove my brother to the hospital there to see a doctor one time when he was on leave. I think of my family and friends who have served. I wonder if I can ever put in to words how grateful I am for their service.

This year's Fort2Base started out early with a 3:30 am alarm.

Jeff and Kim would swing by at 4 am to pick me up, then we were off to grab Jen and Sara.

As we drove through Wrigleyville, we saw people just leaving the bars. We were early risers this morning (can you call waking up in the 3am hour an early riser?) instead of night owls.

We made great time up to Great Lakes. Being that it was so early in the morning, we navigated with the help of a Garmin and off memory from 2011. We arrived at an entrance gate to Great Lakes and were let in.

From there, we had little direction as to where we were to park. So we drove around. In the dark. On a military base. Until finally one nice soldier said he thought we should exit the base and park in visitor parking. So we followed his advice. We looked over the visitor parking lot to see, well, not that many cars. This couldn't be right.

We were told a bus would be by to pick us up in the parking lot. We saw some other runners who were in the same situation as us, so we waited patiently. After we boarded the bus, we drove over to the medical campus. Here's where everyone else parked (and so much for us reading directions in the packet!). From there, we traveled onto Fort Sheridan.

It was a cool fall morning. Not something we're used to yet. We didn't look forward to handing over our warm clothes to gear check, but hopefully we'd be moving soon.

It didn't take long to warm up once the race started. The cool and overcast weather made running feel effortless. I like this distance. Too bad more races aren't measured in nautical miles.

Once the route took us on to the base, I turned my focus onto "hero hill". I believe it's the steepest hill I've ever run up. In the last mile or so, we turned a corner and were looking at it.

There was nowhere to go but up and the fastest way to get there was to run.

Once we reached the top of the hill, I knew the finish wasn't far. We turned another corner and saw the finish line.

We all finished within a few minutes of each other. We grabbed some post run treats, grabbed our bags and headed to the car.

Fort2Base complete. Next mission : brunch.

Goodbye, Sunshine.

Photo courtesy of Margo Kidd


As training has carried on from the beginning of summer to the end, we gained and then lost hours of sunlight in each day.

A run starting at 5am welcomed a sunrise shortly after it's start in June.

A run finishing by 7am in September sees the sunrise in it's last few moments.

Changing seasons have played a part in cooler temperatures.

The very necessary morning run is now more of a novelty.

Last weekend, following our 20 mile run, we began to taper.

The theory behind tapering is you trim back on mileage to allow your body to recover from the intense part of training and rebuild stronger for peak performance on race day.

Long run distances are cut in half. No more 9 or 10 mile midweek runs.

At this time, after work and lunchtime run sessions return.

It's the calm before the storm. A calm with less light and less running. 




Sunday, September 23, 2012

Running in Circles

I don't like running in circles.

Or the sight of tracks.

Every time I see a track, it reminds me of high school. I'm taken back to tennis practice. We did a lot of running. We ran to warm up. We ran drills. Anytime you lost in a practice game, you ran. Anytime you were goofing around, you ran. Each time you had to run, you'd set down your racquet, run through the parking lot, and onto the track. Each time this happened, you knew you were in for a least a half mile.

In our sophomore year, our school built a field house and we had a winter Track team. Since we had spent a lot of time running during summer and fall, my friends and I thought that it made sense to check out what track had to offer.

Which was, of course, even more running. Warm ups, speed work outs, strength conditioning, running over hurdles, running in your approach over the high jump bar. Lots and lots of running.

I drive by my high school and look at the area where the tennis courts were, the parking lot, the field house and the track and I cringe.

So needless to say, I don't spend lots of time doing track work outs.

However, you have those days where it makes the most sense.

Maybe you're pressed for time and need to do a quick, efficient work out.

Maybe your friend Kim A. has convinced you to do a mock Bootcamp class.

Or maybe you're fending off an injury and think the cushy track a few blocks from your place would be a good alternative to hitting the concrete jungle.

On Wednesday, a new pair of shoes arrived at my place. They are the pair of shoes I'll run the marathon in. As a runner, it's awfully hard to resist a new pair of shoes.

Since I was leery about my the inflamed soleus, I took the track approach. An easy jog.

The track by my house is smaller than a quarter mile. I'm grateful to have one so close when I need it, but running around it more than four times for a mile is complete torture. It seems to take forever to get to a mile. I'm already getting bored. I stop a few times along the way to stretch out. I try to focus on my playlist or the college kids playing Frisbee. I finally hit three miles and head home.

Hopefully tomorrow I can go back on the road.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Hello, Soleus


The 20 miler is a lot of things.

Kind isn't one of them.

You can be at the starting line seemingly injury free, yet manage to tweak something in that long journey to the finish.

I've strained my calf before. I've had an inflamed achilles tendon as well.

This time the issue was the soleus. Do you know about the soleus? I certainly didn't.

I've never taken an anatomy class, but I'm pretty sure I can outline every muscle in the legs after distance running for the last seven or so years.

Post 20 mile run, I got a lower leg massage and followed up with RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) over the next few days.

Though there was a bit of swelling, the RICE method seemed to do me some good.

Two days of rest followed by a new pair of running shoes arriving in the mail.

Now you know I can't resist breaking them in...


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

20 Mile Prep



Every marathoner does at least one twenty mile training run.

Some of us do multiples.

For most, this is your furthest and therefore, at least on paper, your most difficult run.

The 20 miler is the peak of your training. Once you finish this run, your taper officially begins.

We are told to treat the 20 miler as practice for the race. This is an opportunity to test your outfit, your pre-race breakfast and dinner the night before, hydrating, suspect chafing...and the list goes on.

What you realize as you prepare for your 20 miler is how intricate a process running has become.

Remember when you used to go out on a run in shoes you bought at Kohl's and soccer shorts? Ah, those carefree days. When you didn't worry about how far or fast you were going. Before you knew what Gu was. When you wore (gasp) cotton socks.

Those days are long gone.

Now, the night before a 20 miler, I'm running through my long run checklist:

• Outfit, socks, hat and shoes
• In-run nutrition
• In-run hydration
• Storage for nutrition and hydration
• Music (just in case)
• A contingency plan for if I get in to trouble (house key along with a phone, cash or CTA card)

The 20 miler I did this year was an organized training run that was a point to point along the Lakefront path. We started at Wilson, went north to about Bryn Mawr, then headed south to around 63rd Street. I completed this training run with a few of my close friends and about 2000 other people. There was a party at the finish complete with massages, food, beer and most importantly, my gear check bag with a pair of flip flops in it.



Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Doug: Tale of a First Timer

I remember meeting Doug on a late night in December of 2004. That's when he woke me up on the Metra right before the train was about to leave my suburban station. Doug worked on my Metra line. Doug was a life saver that night.

Over the next few years, I would see Doug working on my rush hour evening train. There are many unexplained myths of the Metra. One being as to why people have to stand in the vestibule for stops before they plan on getting off the train. (You're on the comfortable Metra that doesn't smell like pee, why wouldn't you want to stay in your seat?) But regardless, people do this. And when they're participating in this weird activity, they often talk to Doug.

Doug was in a one man battle against all the Sox fans the year the Sox won the World Series. One man battles are hard, especially when you work on a train that's going through the southwest side of the City and burbs. I joined Doug's team at one point, and from there, we talked about many random things, including running.

I'd caught the running bug by this time, but a marathon was still on the horizon. Doug seemed interested in taking on the marathon as well. I recall at one point I'd printed out a training schedule for both of us. We both liked the idea in premise, but neither of us executed...that year.

Soon after, I moved to the city and traded in the Metra for the Red Line.

In the following years, as I was training for the marathon, there were a few times where Doug and I met up for a run. I encouraged him to sign up the next year.

It wasn't until I received an email from Doug regarding marathon fundraising that I knew for sure he had signed up. 2012 was going to be his year. We emailed a bit early on in training. He seemed to be taking it in stride.

Then last week he emailed me saying we needed to talk. He said he was 'freaking out.' We talked one night last week for awhile about his training. He had a lot of questions. Questions that I asked my Uncle Mark the first time I trained for a marathon. Other than a few concerns about heat and what pace he should run, Doug seems to be nailing training. Doug has been training on his own. I give him a lot of credit. Training on your own, especially for your first marathon, is tough. 

As we wrapped up our talk that evening, I told him I was excited for him. This was his first marathon! There's nothing like your first time!

He must think I'm crazy. Crazy excited. For him.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Glen

 For the last few years, between June and September and between the hours of 5am and 6:45am, I run through the intersection of Glenlake & Sheridan two or three times a week.  It is one of the many intersections I run through while making my way to the lakefront path. Overall, I wouldn't consider this intersection particularly memorable. There's high rises and a park nearby. You can see the lake from Sheridan and faintly hear the red line from a few blocks away.



During these early morning runs, I often see my friend Glen. Glen's (the name I've given him, of course) in his 70's. Maybe 80's. He always has a white t-shirt on. He sits on a short wall bordering the sidewalk outside his condo complex. Sometimes his friend, another older guy whom I haven't named, sits with him. More recently he's had a small dog in his company.

I used to see Glen in the mornings at the Loyola track. He would always walk the opposite way I was running. We started saying hi then. Maybe he still goes to the track. I just don't run into him there anymore.

I imagine Glen sees a lot of activity on his stoop each morning. Hundreds of cards flying down Sheridan. The annoying bus announcing itself (this is the 147 Outer Drive Express to...Howard) at the bus stop just in front of his place. The Catholic school kids heading to Sacred Heart up Sheridan and the Jewish kids heading to school down Sheridan. People walking their dogs with retractable leashes. The group Teamsters camping out with their Dunkin' Donuts and their large inflatable rat at a building further south on Sheridan all summer. This is, in essence, Glen's morning world.

Then there's the runners. I'm not sure, truthfully, if Glen says "Hello!" "Good Morning!" or "Have a great day!" to every runner. He may. Or maybe just to the few he has come to recognize over time. Or maybe it's just me.

Either way, I've grown accustomed to looking for Glen. I see him a mile into each run and with a mile remaining. We always greet each other. Over time, I've decided that Glen would probably think something was wrong if I was walking, so I make sure to always run by him. We always smile at each other.

I wonder if he knows he's the first person I talk to on those mornings.

As the hours of sunlight in each day grow shorter and marathon grows closer, I know I have just a few weeks left of seeing Glen. That is, until next year.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Pole Banner Anxiety [They're up...Glup]


How is it possible that 2' x 6' sheets of mesh material hanging throughout the city can make many nervous? When they're branded with the Marathon's theme and you're running the race.

About a month out from race day, the banners appear on Columbus and all around downtown.

Yes, tens of thousands of us committed to run the race on October 7th back in February. But that was a long six months ago.

Since then, we've come out of hibernation and hit the streets. Starting with three milers and increasing to a spring 10 miler.

In early June, we started a marathon training program. We traded in our fun Friday nights to instead rest for a Saturday long run. We woke up early. We ran. We Gu'd. We iced. We showered. We ate. We foam rolled and didn't enjoy a minute of it. We went to work like normal beings. Then the next day, we did it all again.

We started loving Fridays not for going out after work, but for sleeping in until some ungodly hour, like 7am.

Saturday mornings were reserved for logging an ever-increasing number of miles, often followed by brunch with friends.

We talked through all aspects of training with family, friends and coworkers. We talked about everything but running while on a training run.

We gave up our heels for flats. Our frozen vegetables became ice packs.

But now, with the banners up, it all seems real. The Marathon is really going to happen. The city's getting ready for it.

This is what we're training for. It's happening. Soon. Nervously, very soon. [Glup]

The Gatorade Bush

Last weekend was Labor Day weekend. The official last weekend of summer.

My Labor Day weekend usually starts off Saturday morning by running 18 miles. Followed by a lake ice bath, brunch and a nap. By the time I resurface from the nap, it's mid-afternoon.

Kim and I had a music festival we wanted to attend this past weekend. It started Friday night.

Should we go to the show Friday night, leave early, then run our traditional 18 Saturday morning?

Or, if we ran it Friday morning, we could enjoy the show Friday night (not to mention the rest of the weekend) with our run out of the way.

Last Friday, I was up by 4:30 and driving downtown. I parked my car and met Kim just south of the river. She had our course mapped out, we'd split the 18 over the two sides of the river - 9 north and 8 south.

Some of our friends had the same idea. We ran into Ed twice. Jen was out on the lakefront as well. 

Since there were no aide stations on the route that day, she'd come up with a great plan - to stash Gatorade in a bag with some ice, then place under the cover of a bush.

We headed north first to tackle the concrete jungle before the temperature rose.  Four and a half north made for a turn around right by Fullerton. We talked about family, work, traveling and upcoming races. Then we ran back south to the Gatorade bush.

We took a few minute break, re-hydrated, topped off our fuel belts, then headed south. The southern leg of our run provided some shade that we welcomed in the heat. We replenished our water at the new 31st street marina building. It's always nice to find a new water fountain on the lakefront. As the heat rose, we were happy to be finishing our last few miles ending at the Gatorade Bush.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sleeping with Cats

There's a lot that goes into training besides running.

Hydration. Nutrition. Gear. Fuel. Stretching. Cross Training. Body Glide.

Even the dreaded foam roller.

What's the most important component of training? It's the one I've yet to mention - sleep.

Sleep in the evening. More sleep than normal as training progresses. 

Sleep after a long run and a big brunch.

Sleep (rather tactfully) on the bus.

Sleep in the car.

Sleep on my parent's couch.

Sleeping when you don't intend to - Like when you sit down to go through your mail and wake up to Wheel of Fortune's bonus round and two cats in your lap.

And it's not even 7 pm.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Choosing a side of the fence

Yesterday I had lunch with a coworker.

We sat outside, under a tree by the water, enjoying the summer day. It's hard to believe we're coming up on Labor Day weekend.

She asked if I had plans to retire from the Marathon.

I'd given some thought to my plans for 2012. Maybe I'd take a year off. Or run a marathon somewhere else.

Ultimately, the decision was made the evening after registration opened, February 2nd.

I told Dave a record number of people had signed up in the first day. The Marathon was expected to sell out in just a few days. I told him I was still thinking about it.

Then Dave asked me a question - Can you stand the thought of being on the other side of the fence this year (as a spectator)?

I really enjoy watching the marathon. It's a thrill. I wish I could run it and watch it. But truthfully, no, I'm not ready to say goodbye to running it. Not just yet.

I checked the Marathon's website last night. The home page has an up-to-date countdown to race time. 40 days.

2012 will be number five, yet the thought of running one in 40 days makes my stomach churn.

Organic Peas

After a Saturday long run, I try to limit the places I go. I smell and I'm sore. I need a shower, some food, compression socks and bed.

But a few weekends ago, I found myself close to a Trader Joe's after brunching with friends. I decided to run in and grab a few things we'd had on our list.

Side note: TJ's Joe Joe's (their version of the Oreo) is amazing. Yep, I said it...and it comes in ice cream.

As I walked down the frozen food aisle, I came across a bag of frozen peas. My mind switched out of grocery shopping mode and into training mode. Frozen peas is the perfect food ice pack. I threw a bag in the cart.

I used my new found ice pack over the next few Saturdays. It worked perfectly.

Then last Saturday, Dave noticed them in the freezer. He mentioned wanting to eat them.

Since I'm pretty sure the contents are no longer safe for anyone to eat, I suggested we not eat that bag. I explained what their purpose was.

He looked at me and said 'And you needed organic peas for this?' 




Monday, August 27, 2012

Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon


Over last winter, Brian brought up a great destination race - The Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon.

We discussed among friends. When registration opened, Brian was the only one who registered. The race sold out in a few hours. A few months went by. After some research and good luck, I found Rudi. Rudi had signed up to run the race but wouldn't be able to make it. Suddenly I had an entry. I was heading to wine country in July.

Brian and I joked about our perceived success for this race. Was it realistic to think you're going to PR when encircled with wine? We decided going in to the race that we'd have PW (personal worsts) for the distance. This race would be more for fun and the experience than racing to race.

In the weeks leading up to the race, Brian planned out our schedule - we would spend a few days in San Francisco where we'd eat some incredible food, see some sights, eat some more food, and then have drinks. After we'd covered all that was San Francisco, we'd head to wine country.  We'd spend Saturday at the expo, touring some vineyards, then getting a good night's sleep before the race on Sunday.

San Francisco went pretty much as planned. Wine Country was flying by the seat of our pants.

We checked in at our hotel and headed to the expo. Small race equals a small expo, so we were out of there in about twenty minutes. Now on to wine. We arrive at our first vineyard. What was to be a two hour experience turned into the rest of our day. After making friends with the ladies serving us, they offered us concert tickets to see Five for Fighting at the Robert Mondavi Winery. It sounded like an experience we couldn't pass up. We canceled our dinner plans and headed over to the concert. The concert's set up was a lot like Ravinia, but in a vineyard. Which, of course, meant more wine. We left the concert before the end and make a stop at a store like Target to get some race day essentials. Back at the hotel, we had a late night snack with some gatorade, then on to bed...after one a.m.

A few short hours later, our alarms went off. We drove over to a hotel in Napa to board a bus to the start line. The Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon is a point to point race which starts, of course, in a vineyard. On the bus ride, we went over our evening before. Maybe we had hit the nail on the head when setting ourselves up for a PW in this race.

The race started by climbing a rather large hill. This caused concern as to what lay ahead, but by then we were running and committed.

All joking aside, the Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon ended up being a great race for both of us. The field was around 2500 runners. How doesn't love a point to point race format? At the last aide station, sips of wine were handed out in addition to the standard gatorade and water. The race was quiet and scenic with beautiful rolling hills. As we ran into Sonoma Plaza, the crowd grew as we closed in on the finish line.

After crossing the finish line, we were handed a wine glass and walked into a wine festival. Would you expect anything else from this trip?





Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Newbie's Guide to Gear

Have you ever wondered how it's possible for a race as large as the Chicago Marathon to sell out in just a few days?

I know how. Peer pressure.

Though I'd hope that talking someone in to signing up for a marathon is good peer pressure (as opposed to the negative peer pressure your parents warn you about in your pre-teen years).

Peer pressure is alive and well in my workplace. Earlier this year, I convinced a co-worker to sign up for the Chicago Marathon.

As training demands more of us in the later part of July, there are questions.

The same questions I asked Mark the first time I trained for a marathon. He always had good answers, too.

Over time, my friends and I have transitioned from asking questions to answering the questions. Though we certainly don't know it all, we enjoy helping newbies out. There's an excitement to living vicariously through someone else as they train for their first.

Earlier this week I was asked "Where do you get your gear?"

Seems like a simple enough question, right? I didn't have a simple answer.

Endurance athletes can't walk into their local Wal-Mart and walk out with everything they need. (This scenario doesn't work for a variety of reasons, most importantly being that Wal-Mart only sells complete crap. I could go on, but I'll spare you.) Instead, you find yourself on a scavenger hunt for good gear, based on recommendations by other runners and online reviews.


I wrote down a hit list on a large post-it note and handed it off:

_______________

Shorts & Shirts: Nordstrom Rack, Marshalls, Nike Outlet or a speciality running store. Try a variety of moisture wicking material cuts. Determine your favorite and buy more.

Socks: Buy a variety of pairs a running store recommends. Test them out, then by a small collection of your favorite online.

Shoes: Get fitted at a REAL running store. If you love the shoes they've put you in, continue to buy them. (Don't mess with what works unless the shoe model changes or you find something better.)

Nutrition: REI.com If you're looking to buy 12+ Gus and the like, you get 20% off and free shipping to their stores. They have a wide selection to pick from which will let you test out different brands, flavors, consistencies.

Miscellaneous gear: Fuel belt or the like, Body Glide, a foam roller. Talk with friends to gather their options. Test out items and purchase at a running store or if you know it's a sure thing, buy online.

_________________

Six years of distance running gear advice fit onto a post-it. Not bad, I guess.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

4:30 am Run

This summer has proved to be a hot one thus far.

Morning running has proved a necessity instead of a convenience.

However, sometimes even early morning running isn't enough.

Last Friday, for the first time in the five years I've been training, CARA canceled a Saturday long run due to the heat at all their sites. They advised against running Saturday altogether, noting that Sunday's forecast was predicted to be favorable for exercise.

Soon after the CARA email came out, emails flew between a small group of runners. Runners that were somewhat determined to get their 10 mile run in Saturday.

So how does one go about running on a black flagged day?  Run earlier than the 6:30 or 6 am training groups.

5am was tossed around as a meet up time at Montrose Harbor.

My alarm went off at 4:00am. I checked my messages to see Kim had a restless night of sleep and planned to run instead on Sunday. I ate breakfast and put on my gear. I filled my water bottles and made a strong concentration of Gatorade.

It was 4:30. I was ready. And so I went.

Running at 4:30am on a Saturday proved to be much different than at 6. The streets were relatively quiet with scattered police on patrol. I ran down the sidewalk, toward the lakefront path. I could hear my footsteps. A rarity in a city of a thousand sounds.

I wondered how long it would be before I saw someone else with the same crazy idea. I made it just three blocks from my house before seeing the first runner. I decided I would wave or say hi to each runner today. Anyone out at this time had to be partially crazy or a total bad ass.

As George had posted regarding his Friday run, I broke the run into segments. I took time to focus on hydration, stretching and tuning in to how I felt. Today wasn't a day to push through anything. I might think I was tough, but I wasn't going to be a hero for crashing on this training run either.

I was lucky enough to reach my turn around point shortly after the run broke through the clouds as it rose for the day. I had shade on my side on the way back. I barely looked at my watch but to check the overall distance.

I finished right around 6:30. It wasn't a memorable run as to how I felt physically or mentally, but I was happy to have the accomplishment complete for that day.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Training for the [5th] Marathon

Marathon training officially began the week of June 4th.

I'd missed the CARA Super Clinic the weekend before and was preparing for Ragnar. Instead, I showed up to Montrose Harbor for the second week's long run on June 16th. I recognized a lot of faces, but was happy to see Jeff was back and running in the 10 minute group with me.

We finally took the leap into the 10 minute group.

The first few weeks have been hot, but overall good. We talked with a few people last week who are training for their first marathon. We tried to be encouraging and not tell too many war stories (though we stressed the importance of running Cricket Hill).

The weekday runs have been short and sweet - just three or four miles. 

This Saturday is week 5 and our first double digit long run.

Last week someone said we're a 1/3 of the way through training already.

Sounds about right, though it's hard to believe it's gone by so fast.

Very Hot Yoga

Yoga Studio #2 is shaping up to be a great place.

Sara and I have taken a variety of classes here, including a forest inspired class, power flow, vinyasa and hot yoga. The instructors and class sizes have been great.

I'd been meaning to try Hot Yoga for some time. The reason I haven't doesn't have anything to do with Yoga Studio complications, but rather to do with something personal. Sweat.

I have reason to believe I sweat more than the average woman.

I've done my fair share of vinyasa. I find myself, a few minutes into class, staring at my shins in downward facing dog watching sweat cascade down onto the tops of my feet. Then onto my mat.

Now my mat's getting sweaty so my feet and hands slide.

Halfway into class I'm using a towel to keep a firm grip on my mat. I'm the only one doing this. Ok, maybe there's one guy too.

As we began taking classes at studio #2, I mentioned my theory to Sara. We tend to take classes together, so over time, it's become a running joke.

One teacher tells us to 'recall our intentions' for the practice as we hold a difficult pose. One day, I looked to Sara and said my intention was to get Jimmy John's after practice. Last week, I had visions of a Portillo's shake. I'm positive we're not supposed to be thinking of food as we focus on our practice.

Somewhere between the sweat and fast food cravings, I'm pretty sure we're experiencing some good yoga sessions.



Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Road to Ragnar 2012

Signing up to run a road race has a set of steps associated with it. Sign up day can give you butterflies, sometimes followed by slight panic. Then training starts and continues sometimes for months. Closer to race day there's race logistics, travel plans and the ever-important weather check.

That's just planning for one person. A Ragnar team has 12 people.

Seven months before the event, the process starts. You have three months to convince 11 people to join your team before early registration closes and registration prices increase.

You ask friends to join you. You tell them it will be a fun adventure including some running, a lot of driving and a little sleep. Shortly after those emails go out, questions come back. Questions like - Where will I sleep? What will we eat? When and how far will I run?

Ragnar is a much larger, logistical monster.

After convincing 12 people, it's time to find three more people to volunteer. Somehow this is more challenging than getting your 12 team members. Next it's time to hunt for what you'd consider 'good' volunteer assignments (and not sticking them in a location overnight in rural Wisconsin).

Now it's time to find two 15-passenger vans and hold them at a fair price for race weekend. Van 1 needs hotel accommodations in Madison the night before. The team needs a time table to give a best-case scenario of when each leg will be run. By now, some team members are contacting you regarding possible date conflicts for the race and injuries.

Lots of emails go out to the team over the next few months to make decisions at each juncture.

Head lamps, tail lights and safety vests are purchased. Van drivers are determined. Costco trips are made.

The week before the race: Sleeping bags, snacks and running gear is packed. Time tables are finalized. More questions are answered. Meet up times are set.

Suddenly it's 3pm on Thursday and I'm driving to Sara's house. After a drive-by pick up, Sara joins me to head to the van rental location. We trade in my small sedan for a big van. An hour later, we pick up our four van mates. A quick stop at Jimmy John's then we're on the road to Madison.

Our Ragnar start time is just 16 hours away.

[I Finally Did The] Soldier Field 10

The Soldier Field 10 is the only race I've ever signed up for and not done. Twice.

The first time was 2007 when I was a distance newbie. I over trained and found myself with a hamstring injury that sidelined running for six weeks.

The following year I was out of town for a wedding.

Soldier Field seemed like bad luck for racing. That is, until this year.

Kim A. sent an email out over winter suggesting we sign up for the race before the registration price went up. Sounded like a good idea.

After a great Chicago Spring Half (time wise, not weather wise), the Soldier Field 10 seemed reasonable.

Kim, Karey and I headed south around 6am. We passed Roosevelt and saw traffic backed up on Lake Shore Drive. This was race traffic. We pulled a few classic Chicago driving moves to merge our way onto the 18th street ramp then over to the parking garage.

The parking garage was nearly full on the lower level when we pulled in. As we parked and headed up to the stadium, people parked in the remaining handicapped spots. These people were going to run 10 miles and they choose to park illegally in the closest parking spot? Doesn't seem right to me.

The Soldier Field 10 has a large field. I believe it's somewhere around 10,000 people. The field was divided into sections based on your bib number. The 1000's started first. Followed two minutes later by the 2000's and so on. This process, though it helped with congestion in the first few miles of the race, made for a long waiting process to start. Every few minutes with the start of a new group, a trumpet from Arlington Race Track did the infamous race start call. This got old. Fast.

By the time we crossed the start line, the race clock was closing in on 30 minutes.

Over excited to finally be running and with the wind at our backs, we went out at a more aggressive pace. A few miles in, we decided to pull it back.  The weather was overcast. Dark clouds rolled over us in a passing weather system. We hoped the rains would hold out.

The wind was in our face as we turned back north. Now I was feeling the affects of the faster pace. The wind seemed to take my breath away and I tried to get in a rhythm. As we came up on a water stop, Karey and Kim continued at their pace and I slowed down a bit. Actually, I slowed down a lot. Ok, I walked through the aide station.

And I walked through all the remaining ones as well, with the exception of the last one.

This is a humbling experience for sure. In racing, along with so many other things in life, you have good days and bad days. Sometimes you can equate your bad days to one or a series of actions. Other times you can't. As you get step by step closer to the finish line your mind can fill with these thoughts.

I had looked up my Perfect 10 mile time from last November before the race. I knew what overall pace I needed to maintain in order to tie 1:37. The first half of the race had me out ahead of that pace. if I could maintain my slower pace, but not loose too much ground, maybe it would still be within reach.

Once we reached the stretch of road leading in to the stadium I found that quicker pace again. We can't have far to go now.

After entering the stadium we ran in dark hallways until we saw light at the last turn. It had to be the stadium opening. And it was. Now just to sprint that last 50 yards to the finish. And done.

I catch my breath and look at the spectators in the stands. For a moment I soaked in what it must be like to be a Chicago Bear. I check my watch. It says 1:37.

We'll mark the Soldier Field 10 as a win today.



Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Chicago Spring Half Marathon

One of the benefits of being part of a running team is the occasional free race entry. I'm scared to even ballpark a dollar amount to what I've spent on race entries over the years (but hey, it's better than spending the money on fast food, right?). The Chicago Spring Half happened to be one of them.

Kim S. turned me on to this race a few years ago. The race's start and finish is extremely convenient to her place, which has been the home of some fun post-race parties over the years. But this year, Kim was out of the country and Jen and I were taking on the race.

We decided we'd meet each other down at the start line. This race has a small field for a half marathon. As I got off the bus at Michigan and Randolph at 5:45am, the bus driver asked me what race I was doing. I told her of the race and she said she wished me luck on winning it. (right!)

After checking my bag at the Universal Sole tent, I headed to the start line and found Jen. The weather was overcast but warm. A few announcements were made as the field faced south. The weather didn't look good in that direction. A dark, heavy cloud was hanging that way. It looked like rain. The announcer ensured us the race was keeping tabs on the weather and we may get drizzled on at the southern most part of the course, but after that, we should be in the clear. As we stood there waiting for the delayed start, the temperature started to drop and the wind picked up.

The race finally starts and Jen and I spend the first few miles catching up. Around mile 5, she picks up the pace and I maintain mine. All was good until about mile 6. Rain. Then came mile 6.5, our turn around. Now wind.

At the halfway point, I checked my watch. I had a good pace going in relation to my half marathon PR time at about three minutes faster than anticipated. But could I maintain in the rain and wind. Then I remembered the 2008 Chicago Half Marathon - my standing half PR race. Conditions were anything but ideal then.

From 6.5 to the end, it was a tough, windy race. The rain pelted our bodies from the air and reflected off the ground onto us. The path was covered in puddles. Our shoes were soaked. The wind made our shirts into sails. Out on the the lake shore we had no cover. I'd set a good pace to start with. Now that it was nasty out, I figured it best to try to maintain and get out of the elements.

In the last mile, the rain slowed to a drizzle. I checked my watch as we came into the River East neighborhood. This race would be a PR. And by six minutes.

Maybe the key to PR success (besides drinking three the night before) is rain.

Jen and I met right after the race and headed to a brunch spot to change our clothes, have a hot cup of coffee and celebrate with oreo smores pancakes.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

CARA Lakefront 10

The alarm goes off at 5:30am. I hear rain rapping against my bedroom window. It's overcast and quite gray.

In a few hours, I'll be running the CARA (now with FirstMerit as title sponsor) Lakefront 10.

I get dressed, check the weather and start texting. It's cold and scheduled to rain most the morning. I'm being a whimp. I need to be talked in to this.

After some convincing by Kim S, I grab my bag and umbrella on my way to the car.

I drive down to the start line and find a parking spot. I'm early, just as I like to be the morning of a race.

I sit in my car listening to the radio and watching the rain. My mind wanders and I think "I don't have to do this race. I could just go home and back to bed."

Then I remember the F^3 Lake Half Marathon earlier this year. It was cold and icy then. Or the Chicago Half Marathon in 2008 during the monsoon. I was soaked before reaching the start line. I'd run in worse conditions than today.

I walk to the start area around 7am. The rain has eased up. I'm glad I thought to grab an umbrella and happy to see Joel and Kim are set up under a tent. As we get closer to 8am, the rain stops and we head to the start line.

Kim and I look over the participant pool. This is a small race. It's likely many people whom registered opted to not run this morning on account of the weather.

Shortly after we cross the start line, Jen finds us in the crowd. She'd stayed back at home hoping the weather would break before coming to the race. We laugh and remember many mornings where Jen arrived just in time to start a CARA training run from the same location. Those summer Saturdays will be here before we know it!

We discuss our race strategy. We're out here just to do it today (and hopefully not get rained on...too much). We bob and weave around the northern part of the path, crisscrossing Cricket hill around mile 4. Passing over Cricket hill is not a problem this morning. Come to think of it, I think that's the freshest my legs have ever been going over that small patch of grass between Montrose and Wilson.

The wind plays in our favor, then works against us. I hope that it's direction doesn't change because as things look at the southern most end of the course, we'll get a push back. There's a slight drizzle for a moment or two around mile 7.

I look at my watch around mile 8 and figure I'm averaging a 10 minute mile. I'll take it. I'm not out here to prove anything, right? But then something gets in to me as I reach 9. I grab a cup of water and keep moving through the last aide station.

I pick up the pace heading in to the last mile. For the first half mile or so, I feel pretty good. I can hear the megaphone. I know the finish line is very close. Then I pass a volunteer saying I have a half mile to go. Uh oh, maybe I went out a bit too fast. This is what happens when you don't memorize the course map! Well, I committed to picking it up to the end, so I better just keep going until I'm finished.

I cross the finish line to see Jen standing on the sideline. She finished just a few moments before me. We head to the last turn of the race to cheer Kim to the end. By the time we get in position, she's running past. The wind starts picking up and we decide it's best to head back to the tent and wrap it up for the day.

Thanks Mother Nature. You were a champ today.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Katie Perry, Get Out of My Head

Shortly before the start of the Lakefront 10, Kim and I stood near the start line. As usual, upbeat music was played leading up to the gun going off.

The song of the moment was "Last Friday Night/TGIF" by Katie Perry.

The gun went off. For the next ten miles, my internal soundtrack had been set. Katie Perry. One hour and forty minutes of Katie. That's a lot of Katie.

Friday night was stuck on repeat for some time. Then it shifted from "Teenage Dream" to "California Gurls" then to "Hot and Cold."

Wow, who knew I could sing so much Katie Perry to myself?

It seemed to do the job, so I kept going. Now I was searching for a new Katie song.

I pulled out "I kissed a girl" from the memory bank and saved "Waking up in Vegas" for the home stretch. Which, ironically, started playing as I crossed the finish line

Saturday was a Katie Perry kind of day.

Monday, April 30, 2012

4 Races in 8 Weeks

While filling in the calendar for April and May a number of weeks ago, I realized I'm running four races in the next eight weeks:

Saturday, April 28th - CARA Lakefront 10 miler
Saturday, May 12th - Chicago Spring Half Marathon
Saturday May 26th - Soldier Field 10 miler
Friday June 8th and Saturday June 9th - Ragnar Relay: Madison to Chicago

In past year's I've done a race in the spring. Not two. Or four.

I guess this is one way to mix things up!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Yoga Studio; Take 2

Last summer I found a yoga studio just a few blocks from my house. They had classes that worked with my schedule. The commute was non-existent. Life was great.

Then the studio announced they were closing their Rogers Park location. They encouraged everyone practicing at Rogers Park to check out their River North location.

Sounded fancy.

In truth, I put off going to the River North location for months, mainly because it's not convenient. When I finally went, it was January and I was wearing Uggs, riding a bus way out west (well, in relation to work) to this studio.

The building was locked down like Fort Knox. On top of that, there's a trick to using the Fort Knox security system - Apparently it's learned over time. So I stood outside cold and frustrated until another woman was able to open the door. Not a good start.

By the time the elevator comes down there's a small pack of us with our yoga mats. We crowd in the elevator. When the elevator doors open up, we're inside the lobby of the studio. The lobby space was quite small, so we shuffle around each other to tuck our belongings away in cubbies before practice. We all have similar jackets and boots. This is going to be a nightmare when we leave.

As we enter the studio, I see that this is going to be a full class. Mats are getting moved closer and closer together. Then I notice a noise - yep, that's the brown line. Just what I wanted to hear while doing yoga.

I debate leaving. Then I decide that my 2' x 6' space in this room is valuable River North real estate I should use over the next 90 minutes. Then the teacher walks in. He's a happy, very chatty fellow. I'm happy to get to know him in the first few minutes of class, but not throughout the entire class where I'm trying to breathe and let go. He seemed to be popular with many in the class, but overall, not for me.

That's ok though. I'm sure there's another instructor there.

So I go again. The bus, the buzzer, the stupid brown line, the cubby, another not-for-me teacher, then the two train ride home.

And once more, since three seems like a better number. By the end the third class, I'm asking why anyone uses public transportation in Chicago as I wait forever for a train at the brown line stop.

This yoga solution seemed like too much work.

And so, like so many, I stopped going out of inconvenience (though I still have a few classes left there).

Until tonight. Tonight is class one at Yoga Studio two. Studio two is also located west, but has parking. Parking eliminates the bus and the train nightmare, so I'm game.

I'm cautiously optimistic that studio 2 is the yoga I've been dreaming of.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Damn You, piriformis!


On Good Friday, I woke up early and got my 9 mile long run out of the way.

It was my first run testing out Motorola's Motoactiv. My first test product. Thanks Motorola! I'm not going to blog too much about the device yet as I think it's only fitting I use it many times before writing a fair review. But I will say this - Out of the box, it had music loaded and was ready to go - literally. For some reason, that made me really happy.

Not the best 9 miler of my life. I dressed too warm. I was in a rush.

I got home, showered, threw my bag in the car and started driving south. Far south. Hundreds and hundreds of miles.

Around mile 100 I was feeling a bit stiff. Then it dawned on me. I didn't stretch after my run. I too often forget to do this.

I'd had a stiffness in my hip earlier in the week which I hadn't given enough thought to.

Over the weekend, it throbbed more.

Now the drive back from my southern destination was really the killer. My hip hurt when I drove. Because driving requires use of your hips? Who knew? Either way, not a good sign.

Again, not thinking, I rest on Monday and Tuesday. I reintroduce myself to the foam roller. Do some basic yoga. Then out of boredom, do back to back runs later that next week.

The hip's still not liking me. Now I'm listening.

Advil, ice, rest, try to compress, and yes, foam roller, we're hanging out during the 10 o'clock news.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Shamrock Shuffle 2012

Sunday comes and it's Shuffle time.

Traffic's a bear, though it's what you'd expect 30,000 plus people converging on a few city blocks.

Margo, Chris and I start in corral G. I'd been assigned D based on my Fort2Base race time last summer. The Shuffle allows runners to go down in the alphabet, but not up. I let my friends know I'm attempting to break my previous time. We agree that if we are to get separated, we'll all meet at the end. My strategy is to go out hard and get past the leisurely shufflers. Hopefully I can find a pocket that moves closer to my pace.

The first mile is constant bobbing and weaving. I was prepared for that, but thought I'd been more efficient than a 9:45 mile. I decide I need to step it up to break my time. At the 5K, I'm averaging at 9:24.

Ever since the Fort2Base run, something's changed in the way I mentally approach a race. I used to concern myself with pace. In turn, I think I shortchanged my abilities and overall fitness. A race should be a challenge. So now, instead of letting the voice in my head say 'You better slow down,' I'm encouraging myself to think 'You can keep this pace. You can keep going to the finish.' It seems to work, though maybe it's the drink three ____ strategy that's trimming down my times.

The race route turns onto Michigan Avenue as we run south to Roosevelt. I try hard not to look at each numbered street sign reminding of the inevitable. That damn bridge. But as I work my way south, I remind myself this isn't the marathon. In fact, I'm only on mile 4. Time to show the Roosevelt street bridge once again it can be conquered.

As I reach the crest of the bridge, I set my sights on the finish line on Columbus. I measure the distance to determine when I should start sprinting. I decide now is as good a time as ever.

I hit the finish line at 46:22. A two minute improvement.

This calls for a Revolution Brewing Hombre Burger and a beer!

Winning* the Shamrock Shuffle

Last week I mentioned to my boss I'd be visiting the Shamrock Shuffle Expo Friday around lunch. I told him I was running it for the first time in 5 years.

He was busy responding to an email on his iphone, so I dropped the subject. A few minutes later, he followed by asking, "Are you going to place?" As in, am I going to get in the top three. For a moment, I'm shocked and somewhat honored. There's no way I'll ever be a contender, but he isn't aware of that.

I told him my goal was to beat my former best Shuffle time of 48:22 (around 9:45/pace). Which is still about four and a half minutes too slow (per mile) to win the Shamrock Shuffle. I read off last year's times, which leads in to a conversation about who holds the world record in the mile.

More googling, followed by what I can only assume is boredom on his end.

Overall, he's a good sport about all the aspects of training - lunchtime runs, showing up to work like I just rolled out of the shower (since it was more important to run before work than look presentable), eating like a horse, icing aliments on top of my desk, and talking about any and all things running.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Marathon First Timer

Back in February, registration opened for the Chicago Marathon. A few days later, it closed. The fastest sell out in the event's 36 year history.

On opening day, a co-worker came by my office asking if I had signed up. I said I hadn't yet, but I planned to. I could sense he was interested, so I asked if he was going to sign up. He said he was thinking about it.

As I heard the race was filling up at a record pace the next day, I asked him if he was going to sign up. He said he might over the weekend. I let him know that I had signed up.

Though he was still sorting it out in his head, I started getting really excited for him. He was thinking about training for his first marathon. This is awesome! Very quickly, I got to the point where I couldn't contain my excitement and started emailing him. My first email was something like:

"I heard 13,000 people registered the first day. That's a record. It may sell out in the next few days. You should sign up"

This started an email chain, which resulted in him coming in my office the next day and throwing a piece of paper on my desk. It was his registration confirmation.  Later, I walked down in to his office and saw a look of distress. He asked me "What have I done?"

I told him he was going to be accomplishing an amazing feat and a life experience before the end of the year. I talked him in to something good - not like going on a spur of the moment trip to Vegas.

He said that he may rather go to Vegas.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Rudi

A number of months ago, possibly during a post-marathon haze, Brian mentioned a great race.

The Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon.

13.1 miles through wine country. Who wouldn't want to do that?

He sent an email out to a group of our running friends regarding registration. No one acted on it.

The race sold out in a day.

In early February, I started thinking of racing season. I had lined up a few Chicago races in the spring, Ragnar in the early summer, followed by the marathon in the fall.

But I didn't have a Nashville, or an Indy, or a duathlon to speak of.

And I started thinking about Napa. And Sonoma. And running. So I went to the race's website. To my surprise, the race allows registration transfers. Which got me thinking, maybe I could get into this race afterall.

I went on the race's facebook fan page and pleaded my case - If anyone had signed up and couldn't run, well, I was their girl.

Within two weeks, I had a message from Rudi.

Rudi had signed up for the race but wasn't going to be able to make it out to California in July. She was currently training for the Publix Marathon and taking care of her grandson.

We exchanged a few emails and discovered we had a central Illinois connection.

We transfered information and I sent her a check.

Today she emailed me to say she had received my letter. She was surprised to see I was from Chicago. She mentioned her daughter lives in Evanston. We exchanged a few emails about the area, to which she followed the last one with, "I'll be in town in a few weeks, want to meet for a run?"

Why, yes, I would.

I love runners.

Where Are the Barefoot Runners?

Yesterday I read another article on barefoot running.

It got me thinking. Then wondering.

Have I ever run across a barefoot runner?

No, I haven't.

I like the idea of barefoot running. The theory that a human 'has everything they already need to run' seems right on. I recently heard that children posses better running form than adults because they run naturally as opposed to adults who fall into habits (be good or bad) over time.

I have run in to a few people wearing Vibram Five Fingers or other minimalist shoes. But I always wonder how far they're running or how often they run.

I've thought about barefoot or minimalist shoe running. I'm just not sure how I'd incorporate it in to training. I think I'd have to ditch my Saucony's for, well, nothing. Or close to nothing.

If Nike and other big athletic retailers have, (to quote the idea in the book Born To Run) 'created the need for running shoes', I'm ok with giving money to the man and buying in to the idea.

I recently compared barefoot running to sleeping on the floor. Sure, it's available, but why would you when there's a posturepedic mattress right next to it?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

February, You're Pretty Awesome Too

January's weather was amazing.

February's turning out to be pretty awesome as well.

Last night, I listened to Tom Skilling speak with excitement as he talked about our unseasonably warm winter. I get a kick out of Skilling. His voice rises and hands move as he talks about isobars, reflectivity in the jet stream, and cumulus clouds. If someone was ever excited about the weather, it's him.

To date, 2012 has brought 8x more 40 degree days than 2011 for a total of 40 days - incredible to think when we're just halfway through February.

Winter Training isn't so bad after all, eh?

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Marathon 2011 Memory


I remember the exact moment this photo was taken. After completing the race, I hobbled through the chute and grabbed a bag of nutrition, water, the finishers medal, gatorade, and most importantly, that post race beer. It's true, it's the best tasting beer you'll ever have.

I cautiously walked over to gear check to grab my bag. A short walk later I came upon an open bench where I traded my shoes for flip flops. When I stood up my body felt tight and sore. I took a moment to look out at my surroundings.

And there it was, Buckingham Fountain. A spot I run by quite often but rarely find the time to admire.

Cheers to 2011 and doing it all again in 2012.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Registration for Chicago Marathon 2012

Wednesday, February 1st. I headed to work with a thought in the back of my mind - Marathon registration opens today. Marathon registration for runners is comparable to opening day to baseball fans. Excitement is in the air. The possibilities are endless. It will be a long season.

I didn't sign up first thing in the morning. Or at lunch. Or when I got home that evening. I still wasn't sure. Would I do Chicago again?

That evening, I had an email from the Marathon. A record 13,000 people had signed up on the first day. A first day registration record.

I thought long and hard about what I was going to do.  I had looked in to running an international race or of running a few destination U.S. half marathons. A final decision had yet to be made.

So I approached it from another angle. If I had any desire to do Chicago again, I was going to need to make a decision and fast. Was I OK with not running Chicago in 2012? What if that meant no marathon in 2012? Or if I meant a marathon in another city, where? Would another city's marathon compare to Chicago?

Thursday, February 2nd, I received another email from the Marathon. Registration had reached 30,000. I decided I didn't want to take a chance of missing the opportunity, and I signed up. As I signed up, I texted Brian. He said he'd been thinking of the same thing. If I was going to sign up, then he would sign up too.

Brian and I, now accomplices in registration, focused our attention on to stage 2: Talking others in to registering for the marathon. Brian worked over a friend on facebook. I worked on a co-worker. By the end of the day Friday, we were both successful. Training is more fun when you're sharing the experience with someone. Especially a first timer.

I can't wait.

This morning a third email came from the marathon. The race is expected to sell out today.
Just five days after opening. Unbelievable and somehow, quite exciting.

Elite Race Shirts

When I first started running races, I remember the excitement of packet pick-up.

In a race packet, you'll find your bib, a timing chip, flyers or special discounts, race information and, most importantly, the t-shirt.

Though a recent 'Dear Miles' column in Runner's World says differently, I've always believed that you can't wear the race t-shirt until after you've finished the race. But more power to anyone that chooses to wear it during.

I remember my first few shirts. Long sleeved cotton t-shirts. I was so proud I'd run the Reindeer Run 5K, the Run to the Zoo, and the Wrigley Run. Those shirts saw a lot of use.

As I ran more races, I got more shirts. Including unisex dry-fit tech shirts. Now I'd reached the next level of race-shirting. I separated the cotton t-shirts from the tech t-shirts.

Then came gender-specific tech t-shirts. And v-neck. And long sleeve. A long sleeve zip up. And tank tops.

As the collection grew, many of the cotton shirts were scarified. I kept a few in memory of the first races and others were donated to Goodwill. 

There's now a full drawer of race shirts. I weed out the shirts that are too big, too short, or create chafing. I like a mix of sleeveless and short sleeves. I prefer Nike, Asics and Green Layer brands. I guess you could say I keep only the elite of race shirts.

At this rate, I'm likely to be set on running/workout shirts for a number of years.

One less piece of gear I need to buy. I like that.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

An Uncomfortable Love of Peanut Butter

One night at Lifetime, I packed my bag in the locker room after working out. A woman came in and sat on the bench near me. She was eating peanut butter with a spoon. I remember thinking the choice was quite odd. Just peanut butter? Not an apple with peanut butter? Or peanut butter and crackers?

I didn't ask about her choice, nor did I think about it until recently.

Over the last few years while training, I've made an effort to keep a stock of healthy snacks at work. Once you leave the office here, you wander in to the tourist's candy land. Candy land isn't a bad place to be as a tourist - you're likely not staying there long. But if you work in candy land, well, there in lies a problem.

I started bringing an apple and peanut butter for an afternoon snack. I'd keep the apples in the fridge down the hall and the jar of peanut butter in my desk drawer.

At first, I was bringing an apple every once and awhile. Maybe one a week if that. Sometimes I wouldn't remember about the peanut butter.

Then it developed in to an apple a few times a week, always with peanut butter. It was a delicious snack. Consumption went up and extra crunchy peanut butter became a common item on the grocery list.

The process of cutting up and apple and putting peanut butter on the slices became too time-consuming, so I've moved to streamlined version; Eat an apple with one hand, spoon in peanut butter with the other.

Over time, the apple to peanut butter ratio has become unbalanced. Usually the apple is still present, but maybe it's too small in comparison to the peanut butter craving. Which leads to a higher peanut butter intake, and thus, we now buy peanut butter at Costco. 

On a few occasions, a co-worker has walked by my office to see me eating peanut butter right out of the jar.  I know they find this odd. I used to find this odd. Now I'm the lady at Lifetime Fitness and I love peanut butter.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Beer Run! article in Runner's World

I've subscribed to Runner's World for about six years now.

I don't recall ever reading an article that so deeply described the relationship of running and drinking, yet there it was a four page color spread in Runner's World.

Maybe there is something scientific to be said for drinking 3 beers and getting a PR after all.

http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-242-302--14186-0,00.html

Spring Races: Signing up 'Early'

I'm turning over a new leaf in 2012. I'm not going to wait until the last minute to sign up for races.

Though I may be motivated to train, I lose it when it comes to committing to races.

There's really no excuse for it. I'm training year round.

In the spirit of this, I've signed up for the CARA Lakefront 10 and the Shamrock Shuffle.

This will be my first Lakefront 10, but I figured it's well-placed on the calendar and it won't hurt to do another ten mile race before the Solider Field 10.

I've had a few year hiatus from the Shamrock Shuffle. The last time I ran the race was 2008 I think. Vacations and training for other races have gotten in the way the last few years. A few friends are back in this year, so why not, right?