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.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

When Yoga Changes Your Life

Last summer, Sara and I started attending yoga practice together. Throughout our class and studio progression, we went from some basic yoga poses to using the wall as a prop for inversions.

At first the upside down thing didn't seem like fun, but shortly after holding a handstand for the first time in 20 or so years, I had a new-found desire to invert.

And that's when I started to notice yoga practice was changing the way I looked at everyday life.

Suddenly, the long hallway that leads from the elevator to my office wasn't so lonesome looking. It was a space where dozens of opportunities to practice foreman balance lied.

My boss's office floor was no longer a work space, but rather an arm balance practice space for crow and side crow while he was on vacation. I'd be lying to say I haven't scanned the conference room a time or two thinking of different poses that could be practiced in that large space.

I recently sold a large piece of furniture in my living room. Though my plan all along has been to replace it, there is something nice about having an open floor plan for scissors and bird of paradise. I find myself using this space more now for yoga than I ever did for sitting, which has lead me to create a few yoga playlists while I "practice my practice" with no witnesses.

It's interesting how something so simple as practicing yoga makes me look at everyday life differently. It's refreshing.

Photos courtesy of and

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Four Long Runs Left

Two Saturdays ago, I met Jen and Jeff at our CARA marathon training site.

Embarrassingly, it's only the second week I've been to group training this year.

The site coordinator made a few announcements including a sound bite that we have just four long runs left in training.

Wait a sec, only four more? How is that possible?

I know I missed quite a few Saturday morning group runs due to weddings, festivals, concerts and vacations...but really, just four?

He went on to explain that there were just four Saturdays where we would run more than what we'd run that morning.

Ok, now I feel a bit better. As I let out a sigh of relief, I started to cringe.

I could see how the conversation would turn into a further explanation of how many weeks total we had left including cut back weeks. Which would lead into the question that gets asked at least once a season to the group of 200 or so runners:

The site coordinator: "This week is a cut back week. What do we do on cut back weeks?"

A few runners mumble their answer that would surely make it on the Family Feud board.

If someone else doesn't blurt it out over everyone at the site, the site coordinator follows with, "Have more sex." 

Some people laugh, smile and cheer. My face flushes red and I fight my hesitation to walk away.  Do we really need to have a conversation like this right now?

I may have dodged the exchange in the earlier weeks of training, but I'm certain I won't make it through the remainder of training without hearing it.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Creating a Training Blog

I started blogging 7 years ago.

That was a long, long time ago.

My intent was to have a forum to note my successes and failures on my journey to become a distance runner.

Most journeys aren't a straight road. There's stops and hills along the way - injuries, life events, bad weather and even boredom. Other times you find yourself moving at a snail's pace.

In that time, I'd forgotten about the blog, trained for and ran two marathons. How did I manage to forget about the blog? I regret that now. Having a blog about someone's first attempt at a marathon would be a great read. [Hint, Camille]

But looking back, I think the reason I didn't chronicle it all was three fold. First, how much could I truly write about training? Second, who would really want to read it? And lastly, what if I failed? I certainly couldn't have a blog based on something I didn't do, right?

This week, I ran into one of my yoga instructors as I was leaving The Lab. She encouraged me to take her new class which is a higher level of difficulty. My first thought was that there was no way I was ready for something like that. I couldn't possibly be even halfway ok in that class.

As I drove home that night, I remembered that I used to feel that way about distance running.