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


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


 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.