Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013: Run. Yoga. Love.

Do you ever find yourself looking back at the end of a year and asking yourself, "What was 20___ the year of?" 

I'm not much on New Year's resolutions, so I can't say I started this year off with goals in mind. Life happens and plans evolve, and with it (I'm happy to say) came two proud accomplishments of 2013. 

I started 2013 knowing that I would keep my marathon streak alive and run the Chicago Marathon for the sixth year in a row.  But due to  a combination of luck, chance and some healthy peer pressure from Jeff, I found myself early in 2013 registered for two marathons two weeks apart. 

It was exciting and also scary to have a new twist on summer marathon training. I found myself from time to time getting wrapped up in the physical questions of how to properly prepare myself for such a feat. Truthfully, what I should have tried to prepare myself for was the level of raw emotion I'd feel throughout my nearly five hour journey at the Marine Corps Marathon. Even to this day, I fight to explain how moving that experience was. I thought very little during that experience about my physical state. Instead, I thought an awful lot about the cause. The faces. The very young faces of our military. The volunteerism for the cause. And in a short period of time, my thoughts became very personal as I thought of my brother. 

By early afternoon of October 27th, my 34th birthday, I'd completed my second marathon in two weeks. As the Marine Corps Marathon organizers would say, mission accomplished.

Sara and I started the year continuing our yoga studio journey throughout the city. That is, until February when I was introduced to The Lab. Sara warned me that The Lab was a yoga experience like no other. Shortly after entering the studio for our first class, I saw exactly what she meant. This place was going to push and challenge me to do things I would never think were possible this year - arm balances, inversions, twists and back bends. As each month has passed, I've experienced small victories in poses which have lead me from my start at level [insert a very low number] to level [insert a higher number to show progress]. For that, I have to thank the instructors and owner of The Lab, as well as Sara for the introduction.

My approach to yoga used to be that it was an important supplement to running, and therefore, I had to do it. Over the last two months, I've noticed that thinking has changed. Yoga is now it's own important thing. Whereas I used to plan my schedule around running, I now find myself making time for yoga - classes after work or even practicing poses in my living room.

So, 2013, you've been a pretty good year. Thanks.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Day Running Stopped

Over the last six weeks, I've been struggling to explain to myself what happened to the runner in me. I crossed the Marine Corps Marathon finish line and essentially hung up my running shoes.  I've never done that before. 

Around Thanksgiving, I wrote a post explaining the beginning of this experience. How strange it is not to run. Or have a desire to. For the first time in many years, have runners pass me by and I've not been jealous. 

Since that post, I've run zero times.

Does this mean my running career is over? I keep thinking back to the scene in Forrest Gump where he suddenly stops running. 

Maybe this is me (minus the facial hair). 

But today, like any, is a new day. For the first time in a number of days, it's a balmy 29 degrees and the sun is out. To top it off, I'm off work today. 

Maybe today's the day to say hello to running again. I'm going to charge up my Garmin and iPod, then put on my cold weather gear. I'll head down the route I've taken countless times over the last seven years and I'll see what happens. It might be a little bit awkward like a first date, but hopefully running understands that sometimes we need to give it a break. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

November: What a Difference a Month Makes

In an evening, October changed to November. Along with it went my desire to run.

How can someone spend so much time running and then shut it down in a matter weeks? 

When I had this feeling last fall, I decided it was a sign (and time) for a break.

I read up on taking a break from running. Runner's World and other sources recommended it in varying lengths. It seemed like the thing to do, well, or at least try.

Before I could even experiment with a lot less running, I needed to find an activity that could fill my workouts (because in the back of my mind, I was on the path of a Marathon to Couch Program)

So I rode my bike on the bike trainer and got back into a routine with yoga. Some people would say the cross training is enough to do for a period of time. Months even.

But I couldn't let it go completely. I kept with a weekend long run and tried to do a mid-week run to keep with some type of schedule.

This year and very quickly after Marine Corps, the weather changed to winter in Chicago. A few years ago I would have told you the cold weather didn't stop me from getting outside. But I'm singing a different tune this year. I've been getting over to The Lab about twice a week this month. A nice change of pace from running and truthfully some of most challenging workouts I've done in some time.

Last Wednesday was November 27th. A month since the Marine Corps Marathon. Since the marathon, I've run three times. Each effort was a poor existence of a run. Runs in which I wanted them to be over soon after the start. I could blame it on a lot of things, but I think an off season training plan of little running is in order. At least in the short term.

Two weekends ago I headed downtown for a yoga arm balance and inversion seminar. As if I can't find enough injury in running, I'm now finding fascination in poses that cause bruising and falling. I saw a few runners as I drove out to the studio. Normally, I would see a person running and think how I'd like to be running, especially if I hadn't yet that day. But on that day, I was happy to not be running. I really didn't have any desire to. I was more interested in checking out this yoga seminar for the afternoon.

So I'll take that as a sign. We'll see what happens with this not running (or not running very much) thing. It could be good. Maybe the not running thing will allow me to grow in yoga. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

[Sorta] Being Bob [Vila]

Somewhere in between tapering for Chicago and leaving for Marine Corps, an unfortunate situation appeared in my kitchen. The light had stopped working.

I heard a crackling noise when I flipped the switch and had a sense as to what it was. Dave volunteered to fix it.

As weeks went by, not having a light in the kitchen was driving me crazy. The more time that passed, the more I read up on how a bad switch being an electrical hazard. And, well, that's never good.

I watched a few youtube videos and decided I was going to fix it. 

The first weekend of November was a strange one for me. I had no long run scheduled. I woke up early and ran some errands. Errands that eventually brought me to Home Depot.

I love Home Depot. The smell of freshly cut lumber is by far my favorite smell. It reminds me of my childhood and my Dad's never-ending home improvement projects. He can destroy and then rebuild anything (though sometimes to my Mom's dismay).

We watched a good amount of This Old House with Bob Vila back then. Bob reminded me of my Dad - the flannel and jeans, tool belt, boots, mustache/beard combo. Bob worked on projects in New England where people had funny accents. A big change from the job sites in the Chicagoland area I imagine.

By the time I left for college, I'd helped with a variety of projects - painted few rooms, assisted with the construction of a gazebo, sealed a deck and laid tile in a bathroom. So I was no stranger to a Handy Andy or Builder's Square back in the day.  

But on this Saturday morning, I was at Home Depot alone. It's strange to go into a home improvement store without my Dad. He has the place memorized and knows exactly what to get. I on the other hand, wander the aisles looking for the short list I've created based on a few trusty youtube videos. Though I had hoped I'd get everything I needed in this trip, the rule of Home Depot is that you'll make two to three times the number of trips you'd originally thought to complete a project. 

I pick up a switch, electrical tape and wire tester, then head to the cashier. As I check out, I wonder - Have I bought the right switch? Will I end up electrocuting myself? How bad will it hurt? I pay the $9 bill and leave the store.

I head home and decide to tackle it right away. I re-watch the youtube video on my ipad and follow the steps. I take photos along the way. This way, if I screw something up and have to call in reinforcements, at least he'll know what I did. 

In less than ten minutes, I had replaced the switch and had a working kitchen light again.

Electricity is amazing.

The old switch pulled out from the wall.

The new switch before reattaching to the wall.

Monday, November 11, 2013


 Now that October has concluded, I'm shifting gears out of running (at least a bit) and realigning my focus with yoga. I dusted of my Lab class pack and headed back for challenging practices of arm balances and inversions. 

Last week Sara and I took a class with Carmen, owner of The Lab. Carmen is (and truthfully all of the instructors at The Lab are) amazing. We spent time working on a variety of poses, including Dragonfly (or Parsva Bhuja Dandasana for those of us using sanskirt).

Here's an photo example of the pose:


When I first started at The Lab in February, I remember watching our instructor set up this pose and thought I'd never see a Dragonfly of my own.

I'll do my best to explain how you get into the position:

You start sitting on the ground with your feet on the floor and your knees bent. Place your left leg into a figure four so that the left ankle rests just below the right knee. From there, you work on your breathing and twisting your torso to the right. Only once you've established contact with your left foot on the back of your left tricep can you move on.

Here's where it really got tricky for me - Now it's time to get into position to balance on your arms. Without losing the foot/tricep contact on your left side, swivel up onto your right toes allowing your arms to get into position about shoulder distance apart.

For months, I struggled with this transition. Having enough strength to lift my hips with one foot. When I could lift my hips, my foot would often slide right off my tricep.


Last week, I was finally able to connect the steps above and then lift my right foot. A few seconds of yoga glory and a reminder that things that seem impossible become possible with hard work and dedication.

Here's a short tutorial on Dragonfly pose:

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon

Sunday was the day. We had traveled to Washington DC with one goal in mind - to complete the Marine Corps Marathon.

Jen and I woke up around 5. We had breakfast and put on our race outfits before heading to the Metro at 6. We boarded the train to see it filled with other race participants. More got on at each proceeding stop. When the train reached the Pentagon, there was a mass exodus.

 We followed people in front of us up the Metro's stairs, through the exit fare turnstile and up onto the street. It was still dark out as we walked along a road and eventually into a parking lot. The parking lot set up looked similar to other race staging areas, but instead of volunteers, there were Marines. 

We met up with Carl and Jeff before dropping our bags off at designated UPS trucks. From there, we followed the crowd onto a highway which was the race's start corral.

At first glimpse of the field, I could see this race would have a different feel from Chicago. Many participants wore red, white and blue shirts for military and veterans charities. Some had laminated photos safety pinned to the backs of their shirts. Photos of fallen heros. 

The National Athem was sung in a way I've never heard before. It was the perfect accompaniment to the spectacle before our eyes - military veteran skydrivers with large Ameican flags. We were in awe.

Shortly thereafter, the race started. We crossed the start line under the large Marine Corps marathon arches and headed into Roslyn. The course quickly began it's hilly climb in the first few miles. As we headed up the second incline, we saw the first struggling hand cycle participant. The wheelchair and hand cycle participants has started a few minutes ahead of the runners, but the hills proved challenging for many. A few people ran around the hand cyclist helping to clear the way for him as we all continued up the hill. Other participants yelled ahead "make a hole" to which the field parted to make way. As the hand cyclist passed participants, people clapped, cheered and yelled encouraging Marine sayings. 

The participant camaraderie was like nothing I'd ever experienced during this race. It reminded me that the meaning of this race went beyond the 30,000 individuals participating that day. Each aide station was staffed with Marines handing out Fluids and Marine medical staff at first aide. As we continued out of Roslyn and into Georgetown, we saw individuals and small groups of men in Marine fatigues. Some wore full gear. As they passed, other participants gave them words of encouragement or thanks. Once again we were reminded. 

The steep hills in the first few miles lead to smaller hills, and eventually to semi flat land. That is, until there was a bridge to cross. Some areas were heavy with spectators and some were desolate. I remember wondering if the lower level of crowd support might be a downer, but is enjoyed the section through the tree lined streets around the National Zoo. 

We headed back in to Arlington and reached mile 15. Signage appeared on the left side of the road for a charity called "Wear Blue Run to Remember." For a solid mile, signs were placed about every five feet. Each sign stood for a soldier lost in combat. The sign contained a photo, name, home town, unit/base. As we approached the signs, I heard a runner behind me say she was fighting back tears, and soon, so was I. We found a way to run a bit faster that mile. 

We crossed over a bridge and eventually onto the National Mall. We headed towards the Capitol building, rounded a corner, and then headed away from it. We cross the 20 mile mark and kept chugging along. 

Along the way, I saw a few runners who had pinned signs to their shirts about running the Chicago Marathon two weeks ago. I tried to talk with them a bit. Crazy can only seem normal if it finds another crazy, right?

In the last few miles of the race, we crossed over what the race refers to as "Beat the Bridge." Keeping in mind that even moderate hills can seem monstrous as this point in the race, this bridge was a might one indeed. 

We headed into Crystal City, then down the highway we had started on. I prepared myself for the hill I had heard so much about. I had heard it was huge. A half mile, oh no, a mile straight up. And so steep...I'd probably never seen anything like it. As we moved down the highway, barricades and signage appeared. It can't be long now. We turned off the highway and I saw the hill. It was steep, but it wasn't long. And if I was thinking about walking, well, there were Marines, of course. 

As I ran up that final stretch, I tried to look at each and every face in uniform lining the curb. I wondered where they're form. Are they stationed in DC right now? Did they travel far to get here? How did they decide they wanted to be a Marine?  

Then there was a finish arch and the memorial. I was congratulated by several Marines, then presented with my race medal. I was thanked for my support, had the medal placed around my head and then saluted. Again, I teared up. Wow, this is just an incredible day. 

I finished about 12 minutes behind my time in Chicago two weeks earlier. Overall, the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon was my median marathon time of seven. As I walked up to the memorial, I wondered if I could have pushed myself a bit harder. Inspiration was everywhere.

What a great birthday. 

More on Wear Blue Run to Remember 

Thank you to Jeff Reardon for the great photos.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Big Question

The question of the summer and fall was, could a person of moderate fitness run two marathons in 14 days?

The answer? A surprising yes. 

I wasn't sure, back in the spring, if I would be able to pull it off. So much can happen in training, and they're all things that have happened before - injury, head cold, heat.

The million dollar question was, could a person train for one marathon but, in essence, then run a second, "bonus" marathon? 

Why yes, you can. 

Following the finish at Chicago, I stepped onto unfamiliar ground. Instead of the finish line marking the end of my training, it was instead a highlight in the journey. 

Post Chicago was much like any marathon I've run. I was sore and stiff. After a number of days, I went to yoga to stretch out. All in all I felt good, but like I was carrying lead in my shoes. That Saturday, I went on a 6 mile run. Again, I felt a lot like I knew post marathon week to be. 

Yet I had another marathon on the horizon. 

I was semi-following Hal Higdon's plan of "training in between marathons" but more that that, I was practicing the art of not freaking out. What will be will be. 

Until Jen and I started to set our clothes out the night before, it didn't seem real anyway. I'd never run a marathon outside of Chicago. I was on vacation as far as I knew. 

As morning came, reality came quickly as we grabbed our gear and shuffled to the metro. This was it. Race day two. 

A year ago, this race was just an idea. One that I thought fitting I run. Now I had four friends joining in the experience. 

I had thoughts of uncertainty along with some nervousness, but overall I knew one thing - I would finish. Hopefully, I would finish strong. I would do this because it's what needed to be done. Today wasn't about what I did two weeks ago, it was about the cause today. I would be reminded of that with each mile. 

And so, the four of us stood on an unassuming highway in DC. We heard a perfect rendition do the Star-Spangled Banner as paratroopers jumped out of an airplane with flags strapped to them. We were about to start on one of the most patriotic journeys do our lives. And in that moment, I knew I was ready.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Reardon

Thursday, October 24, 2013

First Thoughts After Finishing

I had anticipated during training how my range of post Chicago Marathon emotions would be.

As I crossed the finish line this year, I teared up a few times.

I remember not getting emotional the first year and then wondering if I was missing out on something by not crying. If everyone else is, shouldn't I? Am I missing out on an experience? I made up for it the second year where I completely lost my you know what in the finisher's corral. A sobbing mess. Come on, can't I get something in between?

The tears were ones of triumph. Though my body and mind have been through a marathon several times, the rush of emotions after finishing is so incredibly unique that I fight to find a word other than triumph.

The running great Frank Shorter once said "You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can't know what's coming." 

Ah ha, Frank, you're a smart man.

A little bit of triumph and a lot of the Marine Corps Marathon Godzilla.

What was I thinking? I just finished a marathon and I'm in pain. I want to do this to myself again in two weeks?

Yep Frank, not forgotten yet. I must give myself some time.

I walked through the finisher's corral and loaded up on water, Gatorade (I can barely stomach the thought of drinking another cup, but my body needs it, so let's do this), bananas, a box from Mariano's and of course, a beer. I skip over the mylar blanket (not really feeling the spaceman post marathon thing) and the finisher photos. I make eye contact with a guy my Dad's age who puts the medal around my head. He says he is proud of me. I start tearing up again.

I walk slowly towards gear check. This has to be the slowest I've walked. Ever. But I try to enjoy it for what it is. It's not running and I'm happy about that right now. I find Jeff at the end of the finisher's corral. He tells me he beat our 2012 PR by 30 seconds. I am so happy he went for it. I'm so happy for Jeff in that moment that I don't care about my time.

We grab my bag and talk for a few minutes. Jeff's heading back to the CARA compound in the Hilton and I'm going to meet up with my Mom, Dave and Kim at runner reunite. I wobble my way to K and see three familiar and very smiley faces.

We pack up and head to the train to go home. We reach the train station at Jackson and the elevator is out of order. Of course it is. The one day I'm willing to use it. I walk down the two long sets of stairs backwards to the platform.

A few minutes later a train arrives. I'm lucky enough to grab a seat. To sit feels glorious.

My mind wanders as we travel back to my place. I find myself thinking of Marine Corps and being excited.

It doesn't take long, does it Frank?

Race Day [Chicago Marathon 2013]

Sunday was the day, October 13th.

A day I've trained for 18 weeks for.

Marathon morning.

I laid everything out the night before and slept surprisingly well. Maybe the nerves settle over time as you form a routine with a race.

I walked to the train around 5:30. This year the marathon required that all participants use the expo issued bag for gear check. I walked into the station and up to the platform. It was filled with people carying the same bag. It amazes me to see all these people, likely my neighbors, have all been training for the same race I have. We've run on the same streets for hours over the summer. We are just one section of one neighborhood of Chicago.

The reach of the Chicago Marathon never ceases to amaze me.

I head downtown a bit earlier that morning planning extra time for added race security. I meet up with Jeff and Ann on the train. Jeff and I exit the train and walk into the Chicago Hilton around 6:30. The hotel is a marathon runner mad zone. We run in to one of our pace leaders and reshuffle the items in our gear check bags. The bathroom line is crazy, so we head out to the super secret CARA porta potties. We arrive at the location to no line. Every year I think to myself that having quick access to a restroom this close to the start line is worth it's weight in gold.

Shortly after 7 we are set up in Corral G. The 7:30 wave starts, but we're too far away to hear the gun go off. There's a good 20,000 runners in front of us. The mass moves forward and the Start line structure grows larger. By 8:08, we've crossed the start line.

From the start line on out, much of the race is a blur. I feel good. Jeff and I are talking as the miles click away. We see my Mom, uncle and Dave at a few locations on the North Side. On the way back south, we see my friend Sara. We maintained our pace well back through downtown and the out and back west.

Through UIC is where my body started to realize we were nowhere close to done. We kept up a good pace in the next few miles. During this time, I began to feel cramping coming on in my left foot. I've had this feeling while sitting or sleeping, but never while running. As we pass mile 21, the cramping is growing more pronounced to where I'll have to walk it off. Our pacing has been great up to this point. We're on pace to break last year's PR by eight minutes. I look to Jeff and tell him to keep going. He should PR today. I don't want to hold him back with whatever my foot has going on.

Kim jumps in with me through mile 25. That's where the best laid plans can fall apart. I am always so grateful to have her there on Archer. She tells me the runner tracking system hasn't been working well this year. We talk in small spurts about how I feel, how the elites did (they've been finished for hours by now), funny posters we saw, and keep working our way through miles 22-25. I walk through the aid stations and any time my foot ceases up.

During this time, I continue to switch my watch back and forth between current pace and overall time. I'm checking in to see if I can still make it in under last year's time. I watch the minutes pass until I realize it's not possible. Then, for a short time, I'm mad. I should have been able to do this. Then I realize what I'm doing to myself. I'm running a marathon. I have trained for months for these 4.5 hours today. I've been looking forward to it. Now I'm spending time being mad at myself for not PR'ing? Seriously? Why do I even care that much? I flush these thoughts away and focus on the positive. I'm doing this. Every step I'm closer to done, no matter how I get there.

As we reach the final mile, Kim turns off the course and I continue north on Michigan. One more mile. I can do this. After I finish this mile, I don't have to run for awhile. There will be beer at the finish. I inch up the Roosevelt bridge until I can see the Finish line just around the corner. Suddenly I can run a bit faster until my foot hits the sensor mats.

Finished. Chicago Marathon 6. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Race Day Plus One

Columbus Day has taken on a new meaning to me over the last few years. One in which I'm grateful to have the day off.

The Columbus Day holiday is now known as marathon plus one. 

My routine on this day is unlike any other:

I sleep in late (relative to the 5 or 6 a.m. that's been a standard most of the summer). I realize even before I'm fully conscious that I'm sore and stiff. Yep, I know what day it is. 

I hobble out of bed and get dressed. I feel like I'm elderly. I lay my outfit on the bed, then sit down to put my socks on. I can stand. I can sit. But everything in between is hard.

 I have a long massage scheduled for this morning. I'm looking forward to it, however, there are obstacles between my kitchen and my massage therapist's house.

First, there's a flight of stairs down to street level. My building has no elevator. The stairs register as a level of difficulty that's not normal. I make a plan as to how I'll get down them. The easiest way is to turn around and walk down backwards, but I'm too proud to do that. Instead, I do a sideways shuffle down the stairs, holding into the handrail for the first time this year. 

There's one more step out the building, then I'm in the alley. I now have to walk just two blocks to my therapists house. I start walking slowly, using proper crosswalks and making sure the walking man isn't flashing. Where normally I like to challenge the crosswalk countdown and walk or run across, today I have one speed. And it's slow. 

My body feels marginally better following the massage. I know today is the hardest and slowest day. I'm thankful today that my world is so small.

Halfway between my house and the massage therapist is Starbuck's.  Usually I treat myself to any crazy Starbuck's concoction that sounds good. I burned thousands of calories yesterday. I deserve it. But today I walk in to Starbucks and order something light on the caffeine and sugar. Though I was lucky enough to not have my neck issue fair up in the race, it's still there. The MT thinks I need to curb back my intake of both of these delicious controlled substances, so I'm trying to play along. I buy the paper today. All marathon finisher's names and times are posted in a special section. 

I sit outside and enjoy my drink and read up on the elite race yesterday. My day is wide open now. No training run to do today. 

My best friend came to visit later on in the day with her son. We went out to lunch and spent the rest of the day catching up on life.

How different today is from yesterday. It's nice and I enjoy it, but I know it can't be every day. 

Especially not this year. This year, I'm running another race 13 days from now. 

Marine Corps Marathon Video

In the unlikely event that I wasn't excited enough or had my doubts about the Marine Corps Marathon, this video provides all the confirmation I need:

Bring it. I just hope my road to recovery puts me in a good position for a week from Sunday.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Taper Panic

Early this morning, I was on the bus headed to work.

A majority of the time I doze off on the bus. I welcome the bus ride most days. It breaks apart my work like and home life. I catch up on social media, emails, maybe even read up on the government shut down.

Today I was wide awake and my mind was racing. Here's what it was thinking -

A pain has developed down the left side of my neck which has my sleep schedule in flux. 

After the first few days of the pain, I went to my massage therapist. He worked through the problem area and checked my alignment. The suggestions - stand up straight. No more purse on the shoulder. Stay away from caffeine and sugar. And possibly try - seeing a chiropractor or a muscle relaxer. 

The first two recommendations are easy. Staying away from caffeine and sugar is pretty challenging, but I'm trying to reduce as much as possible. Then there's the chiro and muscle relaxers. I'm reluctant to do either. 

When I was a kid, I was always the tallest one in the class. It remained that way until high school when finally some of the basketball and football players were taller.  Being tall at a young age has it's pros and cons. One con being that for whatever reason, if you are tall, you're almost automatically on the scoliosis watch list. 

Did anyone else have that in middle school or junior high? I don't remember if they ever explained what it was to us, but rather that we had a screening. I'd had my hearing and vision checked at school and nothing bad had happened. But the scoliosis screen was different. After being reviewed in a makeshift exam room covered by sheet partitions in the gym, I was given a colored slip. I remember bring the only one in my class who got one.

 I was officially on the watch list.

In 5th or 6th grade, I was pretty sure scoliosis meant death. Why am I the only messed up one? This is what I get for being tall? I didn't even ask to be tall. 

For years there after, I was checked and screened regarding the spine. And I hated every minute of it. That is, up until it ended (as in, the screening stopped). Then I was free. 

Every time I see a chiropractor's office set up for a free screening, I think back to middle school. Certainly they will find something wrong with me. Then I'll have adjustment appointments for life. 

But I trust my massage therapist. So I guess I should do it. 

Then there's muscle relaxers. I know they have their purpose and some people swear by them. I'm more focused on getting to the source of the pain than masking the pain. I don't think it's the solution for me.

Especially not when I have a race Sunday.

Hope it magically goes away by then.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

In Between Races

This year, I'm mixing things up.

I waiver between thinking my change of pace is completely awesome or completely and utterly dumb.

I've registered for two marathons...14 days apart.

The Chicago Marathon is this Sunday, October 13th. I'm proud to say this is my hometown marathon. 

When I first started training for a marathon, my goal was to run Chicago once. I was inspired to run Chicago after watching my uncle run the race while I was in high school. Talk about a memory that has lasted nearly a lifetime.

I've thought about not running Chicago. I could, per say, run a marathon somewhere else. Maybe another big city marathon. But the thing that always brings me back is what a great, I mean fantastic, race Chicago is. How can I not run Chicago when it's so damn convenient? 

It would be like me telling you I don't like the new Trader Joe's location in Evanston. It has everything every other TJ's has but its in my backyard. No more traveling to Lakeview or Glenview for my Orange Chicken, Mango Salsa, Cookie Butter and everything else uniquely Trader Joe's that I now cannot live without. Location is key. Being in my car less makes me happy. Big win for TJ's Evanston (even if your parking lot is sort of a nightmare).

No really, Chicago truly is an outstanding race.  One in which I am lucky enough to sleep in my own bed the night before, jump on the same train I take often to work and can navigate downtown better than any other city. Huge pluses, er stars. 

So when Chicago's registration opened in February, I was one of the lucky few who got in without registration issues. Chicago Marathon #6 was confirmed. 

A number of weeks later, registration for the Marine Corps Marathon opened. This was the race I had my eyes on this year. Though the registration process proved challenging, I had a registration confirmation before the race sold out. 

And then, back in March, suddenly I had two marathons two weeks apart. 

So, to the question everyone is asking me - How are you training in between?

Well, that's a great question. One in which I've done maybe a half hour of research on so far. My first source was Hal Higdon. Hal's the man. His training programs have gotten me through five marathons and probably two dozen halves, so if he says he has a plan for two marathons two weeks part, I'm just going to go with it. One day, after my thirty minutes of research concluded, I wrote down the run schedule on a napkin and pinned it to my cork board in my office. Very official. 

I've talked with a few friends who've done multiple marathons in a condensed period, including my friend George, a man who knocks out two marathons in two states in a weekend on a regular basis. The wisdom passed along to me so far has been to pick one race as my goal race.  The other is just for fun. What if goal race and fun effort are the same? I'm trying to wrap my head around that. 

My plan thus far goes something like this. Run Chicago. Don't die. Don't get sick. Don't get injured. Run a smart race (mainly this means listen to your body - my body doesn't like heat). Drink beer after crossing finish line and start honing in on best recovery practices for 13 days. Go for a long massage the next day. Maybe another before boarding the plane to DC. Drink lots of fluids. Stretch. Try to jog it out like Hal instructed. Attend a moderate yoga class (tone down the arm balances or inversions at The Lab if needed). Eat a lot and anything I want, cause, I just bought myself two more weeks of it. 

The end. 

Let's see how this works (or doesn't). 

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Race Spectators & Support Crew

There's a lot to be said about training and racing (I think that goes without saying from someone who blogs weekly about it).

But one important aspect that I have written very little about to date is the spectator.

What would a race be with no spectators? I can tell you it's not a race I'd want to participate in.

Spectators can make two races on the same course feel different. They create an uplifting and inspirational vibe, often right when I'm feeling far from inspirational.

I may have gotten up early on race day to participate in the race, but those people on the sidelines, they got up early to cheer someone on. They could have stayed in bed. They probably have many things on their to do list. But on that morning, they made their way to the race site, grabbed a cup of their favorite coffee and established camp somewhere along the sidewalk. For the next hour to few hours, they have dedicated and volunteered their time to cheer.

From the Boystown Cheerleaders on the north side to the block party through Pilsen, spectators make every mile of the race different, just like the City we live in. 

They bring along balloons, funny signs and crafty comments. All are a distraction from the task at hand, so I welcome it, well, almost all of it. I have to fight back the urge to correct the guy at mile 20 who tells me I'm "almost there." Almost where? I barely know my name right now, where am I going? Or the ones who give false information about how far to go. I know they're trying to be helpful. But right then, in that moment, it takes everything in me to not correct them.

My Mom has spectated every marathon I have ever run. My Dad and best friend are right behind her. My boyfriend and a list of friends have been a great group of support as I've ran around Chicago in the last five years.

I've never known a marathon to be any other way.

What would it be like to run knowing there was no one out there trying to pick me out of the pack? It's a truly foreign concept, but yet, I'll find out in a few weeks in Washington D. C.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Peer Pressure Marathon

Running a marathon alone would be no fun.

Luckily, this probably never or very rarely happens.

But many runners do choose to train alone and then race where they may not know anyone else in the field.

The idea of a destination marathon always sounded fun. I've traveled to a few cities for half marathons which proved to be a fun weekend (Brian's Nashville hotel horror story aside).

Through the years of running the Chicago Marathon, I've met people who took on Chicago once and then went on to other states and countries to run other races. I've heard great post-race stories of journeys to OktoberFest in Munich, Amsterdam and Paris to name a few.

The question wasn't if I wanted to run a marathon in another city, but rather which marathon I wanted to run. After running Chicago five times, I have a love for the big city marathon format. Having tens or even hundreds of thousands of spectators cheering you on is truly inspiring. Nowadays, just about every large city has a marathon, so which one was I to choose?

I was pointed towards the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. Kim A. had run the race in 2005 and had a great experience. I'd met a few other people who had echoed her experience. I love Fort2Base, a race from Fort Sheridan to Great Lakes Naval Station, due to it's military theme. Then there's my brother, grandfather, uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbors and friends who have been members of our armed forces. What a great way to honor them.

These thoughts had been stewing in my head for some time before last year's Ready to Run 20 Miler. It was during the 20 Miler that Jeff and I got into a conversation about destination marathons. Jeff was running Chicago and then heading to Amsterdam for a second marathon two weeks later. As we discussed his plans that fall, we also discussed future plans. What other races did we want to run? We both said Marine Corps.

After the New Year, we regrouped on race registration plans. The Marine Corps Marathon registration was not until late March. It had sold out in less than a few hours in 2012. Knowing Marine Corps would be a tough race to get in to, Jeff and I both decided that we would register on February 1st for the Chicago Marathon.  Chicago is a great race, and neither of us minded running it again at all!

Amidst registration complications for both races, I was able to get into both. Our friend Carl had been successful in getting a Marine Corps registration. Jeff had gotten in to Chicago, but not Marine Corps. A few months later, he found a charity who works with Wounded Warriors to fundraise for. Jeff and I were now locked into two marathons in 14 days.

As they say, misery, or maybe insanity is a better word, loves company. It's more fun to run two marathons when you talk others in to it. So, in July as we had a few drinks at Jeff's before the Pearl Jam show, we managed to convince Jen to join us in D.C. We didn't have to work too hard to convince her. 

In a few weeks, the four of us will travel to Washington D.C. For three of us, it will be our second marathon of the fall.

The journey continues...

Monday, September 30, 2013

70 Miles To Go

Last Saturday, Jeff and I ran together in the last few miles of our 12 mile run.

This past weekend was the first weekend of our taper period before the Chicago Marathon.

We're enjoying the taper with some nerves as this will be first of two taper periods - We'll run the Marine Corps Marathon in DC two weeks after the Chicago Marathon.

We kept conversation going as we were both a bit sluggish and sore from a 20 mile run the weekend before.

One memorable conversation went like this -

Jeff: "From what I can figure, we only have about 70 miles to go."

Me: "70?"

Jeff: "Yeah, Chicago and Marine Corps are 52, 8 next weekend, 8 the weekend in between, then a four miler somewhere in there."

Me: "Sounds about right. The scary thing is we're doing this all in the next 28 days."

Jeff: "Yeah, but it's going to be fun."

Yes, Jeff. Yes it is.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Bus Driver Cherio

Variety is the spice of life, and so, I create variety with how I travel to work.

My routine changes in waves, though I don't particularly relate it to traffic, the Cubs home game schedule or preference. 

When I feel like being an outgoing commuter, I ride my bike. Seriously, how cool is it that I can do that? Surprisingly, I can do it in about the same amount of time it takes people to drive the same route. I get exercise, didn't use gas and feel like a bad ass. 

Then there's the train. The train is solid. It also smells like piss sometimes. Though I appreciate the train for what it is, I think I've worked through any nostoglic connection to it after I hit a million rides on it. 

Finally, there's the bus. More specially, the 147 on weekday evenings. I routinely pick up the bus off of Michigan Avenue within a 20 minute window. More often than seems possible, I end up with a bus driver I'll just call Cherio.

He is awfully happy to be driving a bus which is a pleasant surprise. He takes his role seriously and acts as a cruise director while navigating the bus back up north. He uses the intercom system on the bus to provide traffic updates ("the drive looks like a mess. Get comfotable!"), call out stops (even though the CTA voice has been taking care of that function for 15 years) and gives rider reminders ("make sure you're not leaving anything on the bus!").

The last comment should go without saying, right? Who leaves stuff on the bus? Well, last week, that person was me. I left my backpack on the 147 bus. It had a variety of items in it including my running shoes. 

In what I can only call a stroke of luck or good karma, I was reunited with my backpack the next day. Not one item was missing from it. 

So Mr. Cherio Bus Driver, keep on with your announcements. You know better than I what we need on the commute home. Thank you for reaffirming that there are still good people out in the world. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Morning After [the 20 miler]

Sunday was CARA's Ready to Run 20 miler.

It was around the 10th or so time I've done a 20 mile training run over the last six years.

The run went well overall. The weather was reasonably cool with periods of cloud cover. Jeff and I maintained pace with our group through 15, then slightly behind them through the finish. All and all, it's a 20 miler I'll call a success. If it was a race, we might say I PR'd the 20 miler.

For the most part, I feel like someone should feel after a 20 - sore and stiff but with a sense of accomplishment. 

Going down stairs was a slower process than normal on Monday morning, but not as bad as years past. 

I took notice of curbs as I navigated public transit that first morning, but I did not feel they were getting the better of me with their uneven ways. 

I stopped at an Argo Tea in the loop before a meeting Monday morning. I placed my order and then looked over a wide selection of loose leaf tea while others picked up their orders. I looked out the window for a moment, then thought it would be nice to sit.

That's when I saw this:

Just when I'd thought I was managing pretty well the morning after the 20 miler, reality slaps me in the face with an available, yet not attainable chair hovering a foot off the ground.

Though I imagine they wouldn't be so easy to get in and out of on a regular day, either.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Athleta Love

One August evening a few summers ago, I sat in my Aunt's kitchen drinking wine and catching up on life. As we sat around her table, I thumbed through a catalog called Athleta. In it I found a swimsuit I thought was cute (a rarity for any woman - the wine must have helped) and ordered it without thinking twice about it. By the time we came back from our trip, my swimsuit had arrived. It fit so well that I ordered a second. 

This Athleta catalog was pretty amazing.

A few years later, I received an email from Gap Corporation (I heart Banana Republic) saying they had recently acquired Athleta. Not only could I now get points on Athleta purchases, but they were building brick and mortar stores.

A short while later, an Athleta store opened on Southport. I can't say there's one item I've purchased that I've been disappointed in. With their 'give it a workout' guarantee, it's impossible to go wrong. So instead of shopping for the next trendy shoes, I'm focused on varying lengths of Lycra with CoolMax technology -

For the runner:

And the part-time yogi:


...and I don't seem to be the only one. Sara and Jen have Athleta Love, too.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pre Race Hydration [Drinking 3]

A few Mondays ago, I was in a series of meetings that ate up most of my day. The highlight of the morning was when I received a text from Brian, with this image:

My mind immediately went to where his was when he sent it - drinking three. 

Though Brian lives in New York now, we still seem to be on the same page with our pre-race ritual: Drink three alcoholic drinks the night before a race and get a PR. 

The Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon (which is an amazing race) is talking about proper hydration - water, Gatorade, maybe some Nuuns. 

We're thinking of three craft beers. Or when running Napa to Sonoma last year, maybe a few bottles of wine followed by a very late night supermarket trip for Gatorade and snacks. 

It's all relative, right?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Costco Portion of Gatorade

What American doesn't love Costco?

Costco symbolizes some values that are true to the American core: large consumable portions, competitive prices, strategic marketing (yes, you came in for peanut butter but you may buy that smart TV, too) and fair company values that allow their employees to earn an above board living wage. 

You know what you rarely see at Costco? Someone walking out of the store without a cart. Why? Because if you buy more than two things, the sheer volume or weight of the goods prohibits you from carrying it out on your own will. 

It seems fitting then that Costco would be the home to this bad boy:

Make no mistake about it, that's 4 pounds of Lemon Lime flavored Gatorade Endurance formula in powdered form.

On a solo trip to Costco (which is a rarity), Dave came back with this monster sighting that it was a good purchase based on the amount of Gatorade I'd drink in the next year. Though I appreciated the thought, I didn't see how I could go through that much in three years. I drink Gatorade, but not that much (or so I thought).

The purchase was timely as I was packing up for Ragnar Relay. I opened up the vacuum sealed container, put some into a Tupperware container and packed it in my bag. 

Fifteen months later, the container is just about empty. I'll have to say that Dave made a good call buying Gatorade in bulk, even if we have found ways to use it that were not just for training. 

Fighting a cold? Hung over? Need a work pick me up? Your answer is Gatorade. 

And truthfully, why shouldn't it be?

So thank you, Costco. You knew just what we needed.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Pushing Through

Long runs can take a long time. I like to think of them as journeys.

You can experience a variety of emotion, physical challenge and weather all on the same long run. 

September 7th's 18 miler was just that.

After a tune-up massage on Thursday night,  I foam rolled and crossed my fingers that my sore hip and quad would cooperate during Saturday morning's group training run.

That morning, I met Jeff and Carl, along with many others fellow marathoners-in-training, down at the Montrose site.

The weather was cooler than expected for what would be a hot day. Even still, it was humid.

The run started off ok. As we pulled into the first aid station at Diversey, I started to experience the lightheaded symptoms I had two weeks ago. I wonder where this is coming from. I've managed to train for five marathons and never have this.

I didn't want to give up 2.5 miles in to an 18 mile run, but at the same time, I didn't want to push too hard and pass out either. I decided to slow down the pace a bit and stay in the back of the group where I could trail off if needed.

I let Jeff know I wasn't feeling 100% and encouraged him to go on at the front of the group without me. He checked in with Carl, our group leader, and then came back to me. He said not to worry about it, he would run with me.

I have known Jeff since the summer of 2008 when I trained for my first marathon. With the exception of one year, he's been there with our group each year. Last year, Jeff and I ran the entire Chicago Marathon course together. Talk about stars aligning! This year, Jeff's training is going quite well. He seems stronger this year than in any other year I've known him. He could have easily continued with Carl at the front of the group, leading the way down to McCormick Place and back. Instead, he came to hang back with me. What a great friend!

We chased our group from a distance down to the turn around, then headed back north. Some miles I felt better (physically or mentally), others worse. The clouds parted to sun, back to clouds, to rain, to overcast again.

We talked about anything we could think of. Any topic could fly except to talk about running.

In the end, we finished where we started. 18 miles was complete.

A McDonald's fountain coke was purchased on the way home followed by a check mark placed next to the date where 18 miles was written.
The run wasn't pretty, but it was done.

[Thanks, Jeff]

Thursday, September 12, 2013


After a few hiccups, I started blogging on a regular basis in 2010.

The idea for the blog came out of a question I'm asked from time to time, "How's training going?" To which I reply, "It's going well." or some other one line or two line statement to summarize weeks and months into a schedule.

Depending on the person, we may get into a deeper discussion on training. Especially if the person is a distance runner, marathoner or Ironman. 

As I started creating posts a few years ago, I thought my Mom would be the only person to read them.

Thanks to sites like Chicago Running Bloggers, Facebook and Networked Blogs, my little training blog is being shared (and now, more people than just my Mom are reading).

Earlier this week the view counter hit 10,000.

So, thank you to all of you that are reading. I know many of you personally and others just through blogging communities. Thanks for taking a a few minutes out of your day a few times a week. I hope from time to time, my training journey can make you laugh and smile.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Running and Remembering

I left my place around 5am this morning to go on a run. It's a practice I've grown accustomed to over the last six years.

As I headed south, the city was dark and quiet. There was a nice breeze which I welcomed after a few days heat and humidity.

It wasn't until I turned around just south of the golf course that I saw the sun break the horizon. I chugged along until the path brought me closer to the shoreline. That's when I came face to face with the sunrise. It was a magnificent display of rays through a low hanging cloud. As I marveled in the beauty of the sunrise, I remembered that today is September 11th.

I paused for a moment to gather my thoughts, then continued on the route home.  How could I have started today not realizing what the date was?

It brought me back to where I was then. I was a senior in college, finishing my last semester at Illinois State. I had the TV on and was getting ready for work. Back then, I worked on Tuesdays and Wednesday mornings for the Illinois State Representative of the area. Truthfully, I don't know that my 21 year old mind could even process what I saw. I'd never been to New York or knew much about the World Trade Center, but in the next few days, I would learn a lot.

I drove to work just to find out that the office would be closed that day. Illinois State emailed it's students later that morning saying the university would be closed. I was near the gym I belonged to, so I headed there. I got on the treadmill and started in on a mile or two run. As I watched news coverage on surrounding TVs, it started to sink in.

It was standing on that treadmill that I started to think of how the world could change. One of my first thoughts was for my brother, then in basic training with the US Army in Ft. Knox, Kentucky. Would my brother's dreams of traveling to Europe as my Grandfather had during WWII still happen? Would he be sent somewhere as soon as he graduated from basic? What if we do go to war. Will the government re-institute the draft? Could I be drafted?

I headed back home and met up with my friend Mary Beth on the quad. Illinois State held a remembrance service which we had learned of through word of mouth. As we walked up to the quad, my phone rang. My uncle had been on business in Springfield. Springfield was, in essence, shut down. At the same time, people were fleeing the city, which is where he needed to head to get home. We met up for lunch and he killed some time before heading back.

That evening, after watching nearly a solid day of news, I needed to get out of the apartment. I headed back to the gym. Going to the gym twice in a day is not something I did back then (or do now, really). My mind was racing. What was going to happen now?

Last fall, I went to New York for the first time. My Mom and I visited many sights, including the 9/11 Memorial. During that visit, I took a few photos, including this one:

This morning, I took the few miles I had on the route back to reflect on a few things. To remember what happened. Honor those who are no longer with us because of this day. To thank those who have been sent to conflicts within and outside our borders in the name of terrorism and Homeland Security. Before I knew it, I was at my front door.

12 years is a long time, though sometimes it seems like yesterday.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

SOSing the Massage Therapist

There comes a point in training where things that were once way down on the to-do list go right to the top.

Case in point last week - A desperate need for a massage. 

I'd run four miles on Tuesday morning with the same dull ache in my hip I've had for a few weeks. Weather was cool with low humidity. I felt pretty good. 

On Wednesday, I went out to run five at lunch. About two miles in, the run turned into a run/walk. Then with breaks to stretch. My right quad and IT were getting tight. 

I stretched as best as I could and rested that evening, hoping the phantom pain would disappear. 

Thursday morning the exact opposite thing happened. The muscle tightness caused me to reach for my phone and text my massage therapist at 6am. In an act of true desperation, I hoped that he had some time to fit me in that evening. 

Luckily, he did.

That evening, he checked my alignment and discovered something was off. My left hip was higher than my right and in turn, made my left leg shorter. This is not something he had ever noticed before, including when I was in to see him five weeks ago. 

After an hour of stretching and massage, I was sore but hopeful. I have to remind myself this is the hardest period of training. These things happen. But how did this happen? Did I push myself too hard in yoga? Am I sitting in a bad position at my desk? I'm searching for an answer. 

In the meantime, I've traded my desk chair in for an oversized exercise ball and rekindled my romance with the foam roller.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

A Tale of Endurance Runner Food Cravings

There's a running joke in my family about my Dad (Mike). When he becomes hungry - there's no negotiation - he just has to As my brother and I have become adults, we have slowly taken on this trait.

Now imagine that on speed and you have August and September of marathon training.

I've heard the peak of endurance athlete training compared to that of a pregnant woman. I don't know if I'd go that far, but there are out-of-the blue cravings. For example, this morning, I left my place shortly after 5am to run 9 miles. About halfway in to my run, I started thinking about Flavor-ice. Cherry Flavor-ice. Luckily there was one waiting for me in the freezer when I got home around 7am.

Who eats Flavor-ice at 7am?

Probably the same type of person who calls her intention in yoga to a Jimmy John's Beach Club. Yeah, it's happened.

On a Saturday morning long run, the group's conversation often goes to what we'll have for brunch. Some people have elaborate plans post run. My most common response is a large fountain Coke from McDonald's. It's probably the last thing on earth I should have post run. Truth be told, when I do go through the motion of purchasing just one large Coke in the McDonald's drive thru early on a Saturday, I can't finish it. But during the run, my craving was so incredibly strong that I just had to follow through to appease my inner Mike.

One year, I've craved the Hombre Burger from Revolution Brewing.  Needless to say we traveled at a lot to Logan Square that summer.

Another summer, I wrote a story about the perfect sandwich I ate post run from Whole Foods. 

Today I may have hit rock bottom. By a weird stroke of luck, a skid (yes, it was delivered to a loading dock) of Hostess Donettes arrived at work today. Each employee was given a few bags to take home. By the end of the day, I was light one bag.

Who eats 1100 calories in Hostess Donettes? This girl. I'll blame it on the distance running.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wearing a Race Shirt to a Race

There are plenty of rules in racing, but there are plenty of unspoken rules too. Let's call them racing faux pas. They are debated in groups on long runs, during brunch after said run and in the "Ask Miles" column in Runner's World.

Here's one that has to be in many runner's top ten: Wearing a race shirt at the race

There's a rule that keeps race preparation simple: Don't try anything new on race day. From the food you eat to hours of sleep, from hydration to outfit. Who wants to run the risk of chaffing in a new shirt on race day?

Then there's the runner's need for a sense of accomplishment - I can't wear a race shirt until I've ran the race (and crossed the finish line).

But it's obvious not all runners share the same thoughts. From a 5k to a half marathon, you see people wearing the race shirt during the race. I wonder, do they think they are supposed to wear the shirt? Do they not know any better? Are they chaffing?

The inspiration for this post came last weekend as I was driving to Ravinia with my friend Corbin. As we drove, we got on the subject of his training - Corbin is training for a metric century ride. He has raised an impressive amount of money for a charity in conjunction with the race. The charity called him last week thanking him for his contributions. They offered him a few premiums for his fundraising efforts, including delivery of a jersey to wear during the race. Corbin thought the jersey was a nice offer and told his wife Margo.

Margo's an experienced runner and marathoner. Instead of showing excitement, she showed concern. What if the jersey was the race jersey? She told Corbin about the unspoken rule. Corbin challenged her on it. Her response was, "Ask Laura. She'll tell you."

And so the conversation in the car continued on this subject. Corbin is now well-educated on the subject. Let's see what he wears on race day.

Friday, August 23, 2013

I Hate Running. I Love Running.

Last week, I was driving to work down Lake Shore Drive. For a short while, I was behind a Volvo SUV which had the following sticker on it's window:
I smiled at the sight of it. Ok, I thought. I get it. You're sick of seeing the patchwork of 13.1, 26.2, 70.3 and 140.6 stickers on proud endurance athletes' vehicles. Or, quite simply, you really hate running.

I hear "I hate running" or "I would run, but I'm not a runner" a lot. Let me first say that I don't believe every person should run. I believe each person has to be focused on living an active and healthy life, and thus, should find an activity that they enjoy doing. If golf, tennis or Pilates is your thing, go do it and do it a lot. Do anything that gets you moving.

My relationship with running is a love/hate one. I think most runners would say the same. How can you possibly love it all the time? Sometimes you hate it - you have a bad run, an injury. And then (hopefully a short time later), you rekindle your romance with it.

I don't believe I was born a runner. I disliked running most of childhood. Even in high school I didn't like running - and I was on the track team. I had to decide that maybe running was ok before I started running, for lack of a better word, fun. It was a number of years after that before I fell in love with running and would call myself a runner.

Through the highs and lows, life carries on. As does your relationship with running. Maybe the "I hate running" people's journeys will evolve in time, too.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Baby Wipe Bath

Life doesn't always provide the time or location to shower. This can be problematic, especially to someone who's just run.

Never fear. One of the world's modern marvels is here to help; The baby wipe.

I can't say I spend much time walking the baby supply aisles of Target, but you better believe I know what aisle the baby wipes are in. I don't need the fancy containers or prints. I just need it to clean and de-funk in my time of need. And I need it in volume.

Thanks to the baby wipe, there's a lot fewer excuses of why I can't get a run in from the office. Or anywhere, really.

My cousin Camille is training to run her first Chicago Marathon this year. A few weeks ago, she posted that she had taken a baby wipe bath while driving in on the highway to work. I've done some crazy things in the name of training, but Camille, I think you've taken the baby wipe bath to a whole new level!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Concrete Jungle

In a city where we like to contain our nature and surround it by concrete, it's only fitting to have a place called the Concrete Jungle.

 Every Saturday morning, my group meets at Montrose Harbor and heads south on the lakefront trail. We start on a crushed limestone path, then move to an asphalt spur that brings us onto the formal bike path at the northern end of the golf course. We tuck under Lakeshore Drive just south of Belmont which puts us back on the limestone path down to North Avenue.

Earlier in the summer, our shorter routes don't push us over the North Avenue bridge. But by July, we're treking over the bridge and meeting up with our summertime training nemesis - The Concrete Jungle.

The Concrete Jungle, at least in my training group's terminology, is the 1.5 mile stretch between North Avenue and Ohio Street beach. This section of the lakefront is highly photographed and a popular place for Chicagoans and tourists alike to do all things recreation.

Though the skyline makes for a beautiful backdrop against the lake, I've never been able to figure out what the draw is to North Avenue and Oak Street beach. In my opinion, neither of these beaches has anything on Montrose, Foster or Hollywood Beach (or the quaint Rogers Park beaches for that matter). But nevermind beach talk - let's get back to the jungle.

We start just south of North Avenue. As the group merges onto the path at this curve, we're about five miles in to whatever our distance is of the day. We feel fresh and relatively rested. It's around 7:30am and likely not blazing hot...yet. 

The Oak Street Beach turn throws us a curveball with it's pitched path. Whereas we were running closer to the wall at Lake Shore drive for the first leg of the jungle, we now have to cross down the pitch and run right on the water. Why is the path pitched around Oak Street you ask?

 Because for a  period of the spring, winter and fall, waves crash up onto the path in the jungle. You have to use extreme caution in the winter where the path could have black ice. Ice + pitched path into lake could mean trouble. Or if nothing else, a wet remainder of your run or ride.

After crossing down to run along the water, the smooth concrete terrain becomes uneven with a decade of asphalt patchwork done between Oak and Ohio Street. It's at about this time that I wonder why and how it is that this heavily populated area of the path is still not fixed.

Fifteen minutes after meeting the Concrete Jungle, we've found it's end as we run up the ramp at Ohio Street beach. There's a few moments of shade before crossing in front of Navy Pier and then over the lower Lake Shore bridge to cross the river.

One may think the journey on the Concrete Jungle has come to an end. However, most runs have to finish where they started, and thus, our training run would not be complete without a round trip through the jungle.

Heading back North is two to four times as grueling as coming south. We're growing tired. Some of us are cramping. The sun is blazing down on us to no avail. I look longingly at the North Avenue boat house in the distance knowing that once we reach that point, there will be water and Gatorade, and most importantly, shade.

Over the years, we've had every variety of run possible coming back through the jungle. We've had overcast, cool weather or days we felt particularly strong. We have hot, humid days that broke our group into pairs of run/walkers.

Though I never look forward the Concrete Jungle during my long runs, I sure do wish I was running when I pass it driving on Lake Shore Drive.

Monday, August 19, 2013

To Jam or not to Jam?

For as long as I can remember, I've loved music.

Vinyl albums as a young child and cassette tapes in grade school. Then came along the dual cassette player (and the ability to create a mix tape). CDs in junior high and high school. CD burners and MP3's in college.

I remember bringing my cherry red GE walkman to elementary school. I'd received it as a Christmas gift from my aunt and uncle along with my first Madonna tape. When recess time came, I walked around listening to music instead of hanging out with other kids. It was handy on the bus throughout high school, too.

In college the no-skip Discman was a backpack utility as I walked to and from class. Not to mention a great aide as I labored for hours in the design and photo labs.


The digital music player invention changed the way many of us worked out. Being mobile with music was no longer any different than moving around the world without it. Your digital music player could be Velcro'd around your arm and provided an hour or two of music (and unlike it's predecessor, no skipping).

Today, the iPod (or iPhone) has become as much a part of the runners outfit as shorts and shoes. So the question of this post still remains - Do you run with music or without? And it's ok if you say both.

Throughout my training career, I've come and gone in waves with music. There's certain activities where you can't have music (cycling, yoga and swimming), some where you can (lifting, running) and others where it's a gray area (races).

My current habit is to run with music when I'm running alone and run without music when running with someone. I seem to get the best of both worlds this way. My latest playlist keeps me moving during those early morning weekday solo runs. Then I enjoy catching up with a friend or discussing our breakfast plans with the CARA training group.

If I ran with music all the time, I'd probably catch less of each conversation. There would be a lot of jokes and happenings I would have missed over the last eight or so years. Those moments created memories which created friendships.  I may have missed an important safety notice on the lakefront path like "bike back" or "group passing" which could have led to yet another avoidable injury.

 So, though music and I have had a lifetime love affair, I'm going to use it sparingly while running.