Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Gone Country

Let's go back to Christmas Day, 1992.

My brother and I sat next to the tree in my parent's house, anxiously opening presents. 

I was 13 and had recently purchased the home's RCA all-in-one sound system with CD player.

As we pulled wrapped gifts out from under the tree, it was easy to decipher CD boxes' tall and thin shape. 

One such gift was addressed to my brother. 

I looked on as he opened it. I hadn't known my brother to be into music, at least, not like I thought I was. He smiled and cheered when he unwrapped the box. 

He received Garth Brooks, The Chase -

"Country? Really? He likes country? Who listens to that? We don't live in Oklahoma. We live in Chicago...kinda." I thought. It turns out that Dan had been exposed to Garth and other country artists during time at a friend's house. 

In a one CD player household, compromises needed to be made to after school's hip-hop party and allow for a few tracks from Garth.

Little did I know that my brother's love of country was beginning to rub off on me.

In high school, I would meet two friends, one being my best friend to this day, who listened to country. In between breaks from long playlists of Dave Matthews, B96 mix masters, BoyzIIMen and the like, a few country songs stuck. Enough of them that when Garth released his first "Best of" album in the late '90's, I knew just about every song.

College exposed me to a world of music. Pink Floyd played in studio art classes. Puff Daddy played at house parties. Dave Matthews played as I worked late night in the graphic design lab. Moby played in my apartment. Musically I was all over the place. All but country.

I thought I had all but kicked country to the curb until 2003. Until one day, I received a hand-written letter from somewhere in Iraq. In the letter was a request, "Please send some music. Stuff you listen to and some country, like Toby Keith." 

Toby Keith? Who is that? Well, whoever he was, I was about to find out. I went to Best Buy and bought all the Toby Keith I could find along with a spindle of CD-R's. I spent the next few days copying CDs and putting them in sleeves with handwritten track listings. My boyfriend at the time donated an old discman he had laying around. We bought a brick of AA batteries at IKEA and we created a musical care package. Next stop, Iraq.

That first deployment was a tough one. He couldn't call much. No internet. Mainly we talked through letters. I wrote him a letter every day of that deployment. In many of the exchanges we talked about music. Toby was a big hit with his group.

Toby found his way into my car along with Garth and a few others. A year later, I subscribed to Sirius - any music I wanted commercial free. Over the years since, I've enjoyed jumping from the '80s station to the '90s. From progressive house to chill out and today's hits to country.

I started running while in college. I trained for my first 5K two years out of college and progressed in distance from there. Country has never made it in a run playlist of mine. However, I've run the Country Music Half Marathon in Nashville twice and enjoyed country coming at me from all sides.

But the last four months have been unofficially the summer and fall of not running (or hardly running in comparison to other years). And in this not-running time, I've found myself from time to time enjoying some slower, laid back music from today's country artists.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Choosing a Side of the Fence [Part 2]

Two summers ago, I wrote a post about Choosing a Side of the Fence.

It stemmed from a discussion I'd had about my future in marathoning. Back in early 2012, I'd debated registering for Chicago again. I'd completed four marathons. Did I need to do another?

At the finish line later that year, I was sure happy I had. To date, the 2012 Chicago Marathon remains my standing PR. Mother Nature provided ideal race conditions that day allowing for Jeff and I to knock 12 and 20 minutes off our standing PR's.

This year I was in for a change.

Late spring I was hopeful that after a few weeks in the PT clinic, I would be able to jump back into training. But as weeks turned into months, I had to come to the realization that a marathon wasn't in the cards for 2014.

That's when frustration really started to set in. So much so, that a few weeks ago I had a complete melt down in the PT clinic.

So for the first time in many years, I found myself on the opposite side of the fence on Sunday. Instead of being a participant, I was a spectator.

I thought about that scenario in the weeks leading up to the race. How would I react to not running the race? Would I be sad? Relieved? Even more frustrated?

As race day approached, I found I was in better spirits than I expected. I was looking forward to watching Jeff and some other friends. I hoped that I could replicate my Mom's to-the-minute spectator guide and see my friends at various points through the city.

Friday night, instead of carb loading, I made Jeff a sign -

It was fitting since Jeff and Ann had turned me on to Untappd while we were in California. I enjoyed creating a handmade sign. It made me remember the last time I'd taken the time to draw a sign by hand - my brother's homecoming from Afghanistan.

It was after the sign was complete that I started to become excited about watching the race. I couldn't wait to put on an old pair of running shoes, grab my Ventra card and hit the streets with the Untappd sign.

When Sunday morning came, we did just that.

Seeing Jeff for the first time on Addison was a rush. It's funny to say that as a spectator. While Jeff ran the race course, we tried to hop trains down to see him through downtown. Jeff was moving at a good clip and we missed him around the 12 mile mark. We then headed down to the south side.

Somewhere in between the miles through Little Italy or Pilsen, a marathoner's best laid plans can unravel. We waited just past the 21 mile marker on Archer for awhile, carefully scanning the crowd for red shirts. Then we saw him.

I could tell by the look on his face that he was happy to see us but also that he was in the toughest part of the race. The wall. But he had a goal and was determined. There was no doubting that. As the body begins to give up in the marathon, it's your mind that keeps one foot in front of the other. But you don't have to tell that to someone who's running marathon 10. Instead, you jump in with a few jokes. A story from earlier in the day. Or just to be by their side for a few blocks. Saying nothing. Saying nothing and wondering if he was listening to "Call Me Maybe" yet.

After I ran over to the side to get out of the race path, I watched him chug along down Wentworth. He looked strong. He was going to do it. He was going to smash his PR. Now it was just a question of by how much.

As I headed on the red line back to the north side, I received a text alert. Jeff had finished. Not only had he finished, but he had absolutely crushed his previous PR.

I smiled as I read the alert again.

Being on this side of the fence is pretty awesome too.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Things We've Learned About Running Shoes

This afternoon, while I was icing in the physical therapy clinic, I read an article about buying running shoes at a specialty running shoe store.

The article came from a tried-and-true mega-source for runners everywhere, Runner's World.

I smiled reading the story (as I'm sure most experienced runners will), remembering the my humble beginnings of running. Truthfully, I think most of us start out that way.

You all know what I'm talking about.

That first pair of "running" shoes you had.

Maybe it was the Reebok Pump. The Adidas Samba? How about Nike Shoxs or Frees?

It's ok, we all did it.

We all took our fifty or seventy bucks and went to a suburban big box store and purchased the "best" running shoe we could find.

And we rocked that shit.

We wore them to school/work, out on the town, walking AND running. They were just that good.

So it was to our surprise, of course, when the best running shoes failed us.

Our feet hurt. Our arches throbbed. Shin splints.

Our shoes were badass, so they couldn't be the problem.

Our problem, we so decided in our weeks of running experience, is that we were not built to be a runner.

So we quit running.

Sound familiar?

If I hadn't just had the specialty running shoe store conversation with my Mom over the weekend, I may have not been so quick to find a relatable tie to the blog. My Mom explained she's been to several stores trying to find the right pair of comfortable every day walking shoes. She isn't looking to be stylish. She just wants her feet to not hurt. She's visited a short list of places - DSW, Kohl's, Dick's Sporting Goods. None of which have produced anything close to what she wants or needs. She's frustrated. She's frustrated and her feet hurt.

After hearing the route she's taken so far, I recommended that she visit a speciality running store. (You know, the ones that we all shop at now. Now that we've learned.)

I'm sure the staff can hear her concerns, weigh and test shoe options and send her home with a shoe that won't hurt.

Monday, October 06, 2014


I'll keep this one short.

Honestly, who wants to read about my running blog?

Apparently, many more people than I thought.

More people than just my Mom (which was my original and only reader).

Over time, my lonely running blog has found a community.

Not just in Chicago, but abroad.

I never in a million years thought such a wide spread of people would follow my words.

So in a short burst of it - Thank you.

Thank you for continuing to read.

You make me want to keep on.

For making one visit ten to twenty through the years.

For making this more than about my day to day.

Doesn't it have to be?