Saturday, June 27, 2015

Talking to a Future Marathoner

Last night, I talked with a guy who is training for his first half marathon. He explained his training so far. I tried to offer up tips on recovery weeks, gu and when to buy new shoes. He said he thinks this will be is one and only half, but then later mentioned the marathon.

Each story is unique. We come in all shapes, sizes and ages. We run for different reasons.

This story happens to be mine. All nearly 20 years of it.

In the fall of 1997, I was a freshman in college. That October, I witnessed an incredible event - my uncle ran the Chicago Marathon.

Watching someone you know and love take on a marathon makes the spectating experience a very personal one. First, you're likely on the sidelines scanning for one familiar face. Second, you know this person is not super human. They like Oreos and beer just as much as you do, though maybe not together. Watching this regular person you know run a marathon means that maybe, just maybe, one day you could call yourself a marathoner too.

Somewhere in between the first few miles of that race to when we met him in runner reunite, I'd decided I wanted to run a marathon.

But we all know that talking about doing something is much different than training for something. I ran on and off in college, but not more than a few miles and never with enough regularity to make it habit. I had plenty of excuses why I didn't have time.

After graduating in 2001, I bought my first book on marathon training, the Non Runners Guide to Marathon Training. The title appealed to me as at the time, I would not have called myself a runner. I read most of the book and xeroxed its training plan. That spring, I made my first unsuccessful attempt at training for the marathon. I barely made it through the pre-marathon training program and had hung up any chances of the race by June. Good thing I hadn't registered, I thought.

Though I know now I'd been making a lot of rookie mistakes, I had experienced my first true runner's high. Just enough to want to chase training further over the next few years.

In those early years, I was building knowledge on distance running though I wasn't running long distances. No more cotton socks or running shoes from Kohl's for this girl. I started working with a trainer and doing a mix of lifting and running. Later I introduced yoga.

Three years to the day after I graduated college, I ran my first 5k - a Reindeer Run at a Lifetime Fitness. That experience was rewarding enough to sign up for more 5ks the following spring and summer. The next year, I ran a 10k.

Now in grad school and closing in on ten years since I spectated the marathon, I needed to formulate a plan to make my marathon dream a reality.

I ran a few half marathons in 2007 with varying success. In 2008, I took the plunge and registered for the marathon. I would graduate that spring and felt that the time I'd spent studying for the last four years could now become training time. On an early October 80 degree day, I completed my first marathon.

Through the CARA (Chicago Area Runner's Association) Marathon Training program, I met like-minded runners who became friends. What I thought was a once-in-a-lifetime experience turned into six years of training. Six Chicago Marathons, one Marine Corps Marathon and over twenty half marathons. Distance running became my thing (hence the blog). I have some incredible memories, funny stories and great trips all bound by racing.

Who would have known watching a marathon would lead me down that path. Maybe the guy I talked to last night is next.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Adventures in Yoga Matting

In running, it's said the only gear you need is shoes.

A person can buy a pair of "running" shoes anywhere, right? That's what we all used to think.

We all started with a pair of shoes we thought we could run with. The same pair of shoes we went to the gym in, or maybe the same pair we mow the grass in.

For most of us, that one pair end-all-be-all solution didn't last long. Our achy feet and knees told us it was time to step up and in to a real running shoe. We traded in a Kohl's purchase for a specialty running shoe store purchase. We no longer pick shoes by color or price, but by feel and experience.

Much the same can be said for the yoga mat.

My yoga practice started about ten years ago at Lifetime Fitness. Back then, I used the exercise mats the gym had. There were a few problems with the mats - They were too cushy for balance poses, the smelled horrible and they were too short.

That Christmas, I asked for a tall person yoga mat. Santa brought me one which met exceeded my needs and had none of the Lifetime mat's shortcomings. A year later, I moved and shelved yoga for years.

Two and a half years ago, that old yoga mat came back out as Sara and I toured yoga studios in the city looking for the right place. I first talked about my yoga mat evolution at that time here, which lead me to purchasing The Mat by Lululemon.

The Mat is an amazing upgrade for anyone who sweats during practice. And for those of us who pour buckets in class, well, you love The Mat even more.

As months went by, the only problem I had with The Mat is there wasn't enough of it. As in, it's 72" length wasn't enough for my 74" tall body. Not to mention the shifting through poses in class which would position me far off the front or back end of the mat.

Santa answered my yoga wishes once again and brought me The (Big) Mat by Lululemon. Not only is it longer than a standard mat (84" long) but it's also wider (29").

The Big Mat (at 8 1/4 pounds) stays at the studio and my original The Mat usually lives at home or sometimes travels with me. That is, until last week when I decided it was time to wash the studio mat. I brought the regular mat to the studio and have been using it for the past week.

After using the standard length mat for a few sessions, I'm reminded what a difference that extra space makes on the longer mat! If you're tall (or find yourself in need of more mat space one way or the other), look into a bigger mat. It really makes a difference!

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Marathoning [equals] Morning Person

If there is one life habit that marathon training changed,  is it's made me a morning person.

A grateful morning person.

I remember my Mom trying to make me a morning person in my teens. I would fight her on it. Why would I want to get up that early when I could sleep? She would tell me that I might be pleasantly surprised in becoming a morning person. Those who rise early can get their to-do list done and still have a day ahead of them.

Well Mom, you were right.

However, like most children, I had to learn that lesson for myself.

I couldn't learn it just through graduating college and entering the workforce.  

Or by how I almost always opt to buy the first flight of the morning when I travel.

Oh no, I had to learn this in a 20-week commitment - marathon training.

If I remember correctly, I fought the morning runs for as long as I could. I signed up for the latest (6:30am) Saturday long run group. I ran my midweek runs after work. 

But that summer of 2008 was a hot one. 

If there's something my body liked less than getting up early, it was humidity and heat. 

I slowly eased into early morning runs like one starts training. First, to try out a short three mile run. It's only three miles. A mere 30 minutes of time. 

From there, out of necessity and seeing the benefits of (to avoid being cheesy, but) starting out on the right foot, I continued with morning mid-week training runs for years.

Certain race days or weekend long runs called for an earlier than 5am alarm. I think that's when it really hit home how much running was changing my sleeping habits. I was up and running some mornings before the sun rose. Or, on one occasion, Jeff, Jen, Sara, Kim and I were heading to run Fort2Base (a 12 Nautical Mile run from Fort Sheridan to Great Lakes Naval Station) while people were leaving the bars in Wrigleyville.  

If there's one thing that's been truly strange about this past summer, it's that I didn't wake up before the sun rose to run. It was weird to sleep in past 6am during the week. I felt like I accomplished less last summer. That I missed out on weeks of mornings with a beautiful sunrise.

As I ease back into a running regimen (and while the city's sidewalks melt), I find myself looking forward to those spring and summer mornings.  

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rats! [Part 3]

Ah ha. Some of you thought the rat journey was over. Not just yet, my friends.

The fun continues.

Before I pick up where I last let off, let me explain why I am writing a multi-part rat series on my running blog. When something like this happens, at first you're mad/frustrated/in tears...your choice of emotion. But after that passes, you need to find a fix. A plan of attack. And where better a place to look than Google, your local hardware store or rodent removal employee? These all seemed like logical places to look. Some gave great advice. Many gave quite poor advice. Throughout the last six weeks of last year, I just wanted someone, something, somewhere to give me the solution. The one set of actions that could, for once and all, make the rat stop eatting my car.

With that said, let me pick up where I last left off. As I recall, I was at my wits-end and had emailed my alderman, complete with pictures of the rat nest. I wasn't sure what the alderman could do. I just wanted him to know this was happening. 

Much to my surprise, I received a reply from his office less than a day later. The email informed me that the office had shared my issue with Streets & Sanitation and someone would be in contact with me in a few days. I was so surprised to receive such a quick reply that I never thought I'd receive the same from Streets & San. Sure enough, by the end of the workweek, a Streets & San truck rolled up to my alley. Dan had come to the rescue.

He assured me that his team would take a look at the property and surrounding area and provide me with updates. I told him he could call me as much as he wanted if it meant finding an end to the rat. Later that morning, after I had talked to Dan several times, I talked to Bill from the Rodents Department. 

Dan and Bill confirmed that my alley had a serious rat infestation. Add to it the drop in temperatures before Thanksgiving, and you had many rats looking for a warm place to live. From the City's side, they could only do so much - they would elevate my area on the service list to bait and trap for the next few months. They said they would then inspect their work weekly to ensure it was working. 

Then, they provided a few pointers that my property could take to be less rat appealing. 

• Rats apparently find dog feces delicious. So though you might not have a dog or are a responsible dog owner, that lazy person who isn't is leaving a rat buffet by your back door. Literally.

• There was a compost bin on the far side of our property. The bin in itself wasn't a problem, but the bottom of the unit had broken down and rats had chewed holes through the bottom of it, allowing for an easy food source nearby. Streets & San recommended that we remove it.

• Lastly, and honestly it was the most obvious yet overlooked, our dumpsters. My building has two large dumpsters which sit against the building, less than a car length from where I park. I hadn't noticed, nor had anyone else for that matter, that both of the dumpsters were rotting out on the bottoms. Rats were able to climb in and out through the bottom of the units. Once Dan and Bill mentioned this, I came to realize that most of the time I was seeing rats they were running away from our dumpsters. Between our building's management company and I, our scavenger service supplied new bins around the holidays.

So, to conclude my saga (or at least for the time being), here's what I learned:

1. If a rat wants to live in your car, it will. They do not discriminate by make or model. A rat can fit through an 1" hole and all vehicles have that.

2.Apparently newer cars are made with more soy based products which, when heated, can smell like food for rats. 

3. A good recommendation (if you live in a rural or suburban area) is to get a cat. The Treehouse Cat Shelter in Chicago has a feral cat program where you can adopt cats just for needs like mine. A few people told me about the program and it's one to look into if you can provide some basic needs for the cat.

4. Though it might not be your mess, you have to be diligent about removing trash, dog poop and anything else that could be a food source in the surrounding area.

5. Moth Balls, Critter Ridder, and whatever else in spray or dry form that Home Depot sells in their Rodents section does not work. Remember, if we had a nuclear melt down, only two things would survive: cockroaches and rats. Some residential-grade gardening tool isn't likely to phase them. Or at least not for long.

6. The best strategy to get rid of rats is to first find why they are attracted to your area. Remove the item(s) they are attracted to. Hire a private exterminator to assess and treat your property if needed to provide a steady plan. If your issue is in the public way as mine was, contact your village, city, ward, etc. to find the right person/department who deals with rodents on a daily basis. 

Dan and Bill are the unsung heroes of my story. They provided invaluable information which hopefully now means rat-free car operation for myself and all my neighbors. However, if we ever have an issue again, you better believe I saved both of their numbers.

For the time being (and hopefully forever), this concludes my rat story. I hope it helps someone, somewhere find their way out of their rat hell. 

And now we'll resume normal programming (running and yoga posts).