Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Goodbye, 2014

2014 was, in general, a bit of a mixed bag. It had a few highs and a few lows and plenty of moments in between the two. Long story short: it wasn't a great year for me, and I'm hoping that 2015 will be better.

The same is true for my year in running. The year started out great but then took a nosedive into terrible and is just now starting to even out again.

First, the good:

I ran a total of eight races this year: seven where 5k and one was 8k.

Although I started running in the spring of 2013, 2014 was the first year I considered myself a runner. Yes, I couldn't bring myself to run outside during the dead of winter and ended up not running at all during January, I was able to regain and actually improve my fitness when I started running again in February. I also started working with a personal trainer to improve my overall fitness, and she has helped me improve my balance, strength, and flexibility. When the spring finally rolled around, I hit the ground running. Literally.

I may hate the treadmill, but it comes in handy from time to time.
My overall best race experience was at the 2014 Ravenswood Run 5k. The race went incredibly smoothly for me, from packet pick up to getting to the starting line to running to enjoying some post run treats. In fact, it was the only race this year that felt...dare I say it...effortless. I achieved my 5k PR this year by finishing in 35:22, giving me an average pace of 11:24. It was my second race ever, and it was a blast. I'm excited to run the race again in 2015. I thought it was well organized, I enjoyed the course, and it was in my neighborhood, so I saw people I knew and met some people I didn't.

Lining up for the 2014 Ravenswood Run 5k.
The coolest race I ran was the Rosehill Cemetery Crypt 5k. Running through Rosehill Cemetery at night was just generally awesome, and I'd run this race again in a heartbeat, though I wouldn't pay the extra for chip timing and would probably prefer to run with friends, as I most people were there in groups and I felt a little lonely. 

Just waiting for it to get dark enough to run through the cemetery.
Of all the races I ran, I think I had the most fun aUno 5k Carrera de los Muertos. The people, the music, the decorations, the overall atmosphere...this race felt like a great big block party, and I spent the whole morning with a smile on my face

Why not celebrate the Day of the Dead with a run through Pilsen?
The most supportive race had to be the Proud to Run 5k. I was actually supposed to run the 10k race that day, but was feeling ill. The other runners and volunteers seemed genuinely concerned about my well being and helped me finish the 5k. In fact, another runner actually slowed down and walked with me for a little bit to make sure that I was okay and to encourage me to keep going once she was assured that I wasn't going to die then and there.

The crowd slowly forms at Proud to Run in anticipation of the race starting.
And my favorite racer ever had to be this guy, spotted at the PAWS Run for Their Lives 8k:

Hot Dog dog is very happy to be participating in the 2014 PAWS Run for Their Lives 8k & 4k.
Oh...and how could I forget, I also started blogging this year. I began this blog to help hold myself accountable when it came to my running. It is really easy to skip a run and stay on the couch, watching movies and snacking on junk food. It is much harder to skip a run if I'm publicly stating my goals and documenting my successes and failures.

Of course, the whole year wasn't great. In fact, there was a lot of disappointment when it came to running. So now it is time to remember the bad:

I encountered my fair share of rude people while running this year. Although I find the running community to generally be incredibly welcoming and supportive, there are still a few jerks who feel the need to bring others down. There was the woman at the Esprit de She 5k who told me to get my "fat ass out of the way." There was also the dude bro who called me a jogger and told me to "learn to run or stay home." At the beginning of December, I encountered the gym rat who felt the need to loudly ridicule me following my attempt to take a class that I had never taken before at the gym.

This spring, I started having some health problems that made running incredibly difficult, but I refused to stop and give my body the rest it needed. I kept training and racing even though I should have been resting. I ended up just making myself feel even sicker and more tired. I ended up having to run the 5k at Proud to Run instead of the 10k, and I had to put my plans for a half marathon on hold.

What was supposed to be my first half marathon ended up being just another 5k.
My worst time was at the Turkey Day Run 5k. I finished in 40:01, giving me an average pace of 12:53. I had worked really hard and actually trained for this race in the hopes of a PR, but my dreams were quickly dashed when I had to walk after only one mile. 

My worst performance at a race ever was at the Turkey Day Run. Even a giant inflatable turkey couldn't cheer me up.
My biggest disappointment was missing the Rudolph Ramble 8k. I got horribly sick the night before the race and spent the next couple of days in bed.

The race that never was. I still have my sad, unworn bib number.
Although I made a lot of progress early in the year, I found myself in a pretty awful slump at the end of this year. Between my horrible performance at my last several races (each race saw me running slower than the last race) and missing the Rudolph Ramble, I was feeling pretty terrible. 

Luckily, things are looking up! I'm excited for what 2015 has in store for me. My last couple of weeks of running have been great and have made me motivated to keep moving forward. I won't be sad to see 2014 go, and I welcome 2015 for the challenges it will bring.

Maybe the Slump is Over

I've been in a bit of a slump for the past couple of months. I've experienced a backwards slide in my performance, with what were once easy distances suddenly feeling incredibly difficult and my already slow pace becoming even slower, which I didn't think possible. There was no obvious reason for my downward spiral. I wasn't sick or injured. I wasn't being lazy and skipping my runs.

Running was just starting to feel like more of a chore than a pleasure.

The good news is that I think the slump may be over. 

My last couple of weeks of running have felt great! In fact, yesterday, I did something that I don't think I've ever done before. As I was nearing the end of my planned route, turning onto my block and getting close to my building, I thought, "I'm not that tired. In fact, I actually feel pretty good. I think I could keep going." And so instead of stopping and heading inside to stretch, I ran past my building and did an extra loop around my neighborhood. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

What Did I Just Do?

I just registered for the 2015 Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8k.

What have I done?

I missed what was supposed to be my last race of 2014 due to illness, so I went looking for another 8k to sign up for in the new year. I've heard about the Shamrock Shuffle every year that I've lived in Chicago, and I've known people who run it every year and love it. draws 40,000 runners. That's a lot of people in one place.

This may turn out to be a great experience, or it may be a huge mistake. Only time will tell.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone.

I wasn't able to visit my family this year due to work, but that doesn't mean that I didn't have a wonderful holiday. I got to sleep late, have a big breakfast, and watch movies with Hannah. Don't worry, I also called my family to wish them a Merry Christmas.

I'm a crazy cat lady, which you probably already knew, so Hannah had a stocking to open this morning filled with cat toys and treats.

Hannah dived right in. The smell of cat nip was irresistible. 
She also got a new litter box (partly a gift for me, as it meant I didn't have to scrub her dirty litter box clean) and enjoyed some people chicken for dinner. It was possibly the best day of her little kitty life. Toys, cat nip, treats, people food, and plenty of naps...what more can a cat ask for?

I think it is safe to say that she was a fan of her new toys.
As a child, one of my favorite parts of Christmas was piling into the family car and driving around to look at Christmas lights.

I decided to relive this tradition in my own way by going for a run tonight before dinner to look at the lights. It was surprisingly warm and nice outside, so in addition to seeing some great decorations, I had a really enjoyable run. I actually overdressed, thinking it was going to be colder than it actually was, so I found myself tying my jacket around my waist and stuffing my hat and gloves into my waist band. I really need to get better about checking the weather BEFORE I leave for a run.

Some people really went all out when it came to their decorating.
It was actually really nice having nothing to do and nowhere to go today. It is very rare for me to have nothing on my schedule. My evening run was a wonderful finish to a relaxing day.

I hope that your day was as pleasant and comfortable as mine was.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ravenswood Run Registration Open

I'm super excited, everyone!

No, I'm not excited for Christmas or the new year. No, I'm not excited about a recent run, though things have been looking up on that front (hooray!).

I'm excited that registration is open for the Ravenswood Run 5k. The race will be on April 26, and it costs $35. I ran this race last year and had a lot of fun, so I've been eagerly waiting for registration for 2015 to open. I love this race for many reasons.

2014 Ravenswood Run participants eagerly waiting for the race to start.
1.) It is close to where I live, so I can easily walk to the starting line. This means no waking up super early to get to a race on time.

2.) Because it is so close, I really don't need to take anything with me, as I can always run home quickly if I need to, so I don't have to worry about gear check.

3.) It was well organized last year, and the volunteers were all great.

4.) The course is on the streets in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago. That's right. Closed streets. So this isn't just another race on the same lake front path that almost every race in Chicago uses.

5.) It benefits Ravenswood Community Service's Food Pantry, so it is not only in my neighborhood, but it also helps those in need in my neighborhood, which fills me with warm and fuzzy feelings. In addition to registering for the race, you can also purchase a post race pancake breakfast, the money for which goes directly to the food pantry. Or you can make a monetary donation to the food pantry, too.

Sorry, I really didn't mean for this to become an advertisement for this race. I'm not affiliated with the race or Fleet Feet Chicago, and I'm not getting any sort of kick back. I just had a lot of fun at it last year and am excited to run it again in 2015.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

First Missed Race

I was registered to run the Rudolph Roundup 8k this past Sunday. I didn't end up running it. It is the first time I have ever missed a race.

After my horrible performance at the Turkey Day 5k, I was concerned about finishing this race in the allotted time, but I was also excited. I was trying to look at it as a chance to run with others and to run along the lake front, neither of which I do nearly as often as I should. It also just sounded like a really fun race.

I went to packet pick up a couple of days before the race. I loved that packet pick up was available at all three Fleet Feet Chicago locations, so I didn't even need to leave my neighborhood to get my packet. I was stoked that they gave out winter hats instead of the usual ill fitting race t-shirt.

As you can tell by the kitty paw, Hannah was also a fan of the hat.
I wasn't feeling great on Saturday, but I chalked it up to stress and working too much. I assembled everything I needed the night before the race and laid out the appropriate clothes, pinned my bib number to my shirt, and packed my SPI belt (I didn't want to use gear check because I was worried about finishing before gear check closed) with my id, transit card, and a little cash, and I made sure that my phone was charging. Last, but not least, I set my alarm clock to make sure that I would wake up early enough to get ready and get to the race site on time.

So what happened?

I woke up before my alarm went off and had to make a mad dash to the bathroom before I was sick all over everything. It wasn't pretty. I didn't feel good, but I was convinced that I would be fine by the time the race rolled around. I got back into bed and hoped for the best.

Unfortunately, by the time my alarm did go off, I wasn't any better. I hadn't been able to get back to sleep, and I still felt sick. I made breakfast, but I couldn't keep anything down. I tried to get ready for the race, but it was soon apparent that I would not be running that day.

Being sick is never fun, but it is even worse when it causes you to miss something that you were looking forward to.

My sad, unused bib number.
I'm finally feeling normal again, but I'm bummed that I missed the race. I don't know if I can wear the hat in good conscience because I never actually ran the race, so maybe it is okay that Hannah keeps trying to claim it as her new cat toy.

I want to make my way over to the Lakefront Trail at least once before this month is over. I may have missed my chance to run this particular 8k, but I can run an 8k distance on my own to make up for it.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Good Run...Finally

Sometimes, I need to remind myself not just why I started running, but also why I continued running.

I've been really struggling lately. When I started running last year, I saw a lot of improvement really quickly. Before long, I was easily able to run four or five miles without stopping. Yes, I was slow, but could do it.

Last week, I couldn't even run one mile without stopping to walk.

I've been getting more and more frustrated, and the more I run, the worse I seem to get. I've been dreading my runs, lately. This isn't just a plateau, this a giant leap backwards. I've been getting really close to just giving up on multiple occasions.

A few nights ago, however, I was reminded that running can actually be enjoyable.

It was cold and snowy, and I really didn't want to go outside.

I somehow managed to convince myself to go for a run, anyway.

At first, I was miserable. It was cold, the snow was blowing in my face, my glasses kept fogging up and making it hard to see. I was convinced that this was going to be just another terrible, painful, unhappy run.

Something magical happened as I was about to give up and turn back towards home. I actually started looking around me and noticing all the things that I had been missing. Yes, the snow was cold, but it was also beautiful. There were Christmas lights and decorations up everywhere. I could smell pine trees, and sure enough, there was a Christmas tree lot just to my right.

Instead of focusing on how uncomfortable I was, I started focusing on how pretty everything was. Instead of beating myself up if I needed to walk, I used those walk breaks to soak up my surroundings. Before long, I was actually enjoying myself.

I loved seeing all the decorations around my neighborhood.
I soon realized that this is what I had been missing. I have been so focused on my performance that I had forgotten to enjoy myself.

By the time I got home, I had actually been out longer than planned, but I was happy and relaxed and felt great.

Sure, running won't always be fun, but I need to remember that it can be fun.

Monday, December 8, 2014

2014 Chicago Turkey Day 5k Recap

Finally getting around to writing about my last race. Time has kind of gotten away from me lately, and I haven't been feeling all that great, goes.

On November 27, 2014, I ran the Chicago Turkey Day 5k. It was Thanksgiving. It was my birthday. And it was cold.

Last year, I ran the Grant Park Turkey Trot. It was my first ever race, and I had a blast running it with a friend. This year, I knew I wanted to run another Turkey Trot, but I decided to try a different one. Luckily, there are quite a few in the Chicagoland area from which to choose. The Turkey Day 5k seemed like my best option. It wouldn't require me to wake up insanely early in the morning, it was easy to get to, and it was actually on Thanksgiving, which meant that I didn't have to take any days off from work in order to run it.

Giant inflatable turkey? That's how I knew I was in the right place.
Registration was, as usual, incredibly easy. The race was benefiting the Greater Chicago Food Depository, so there was an option during registration to add a donation to your registration fee. The website also stated that donations of non-perishable food items was also encouraged at packet pick up and on race day.

The Greater Chicago Food Depository truck, waiting to haul away food donations.
I chose to take advantage of advanced packet pick up, and I was glad I did. The lines on race day were really long, and there were several people signed up for the 8k who started late (the 8k started at 9am, with the 5k starting half an hour later) because they were still in line at packet pick up when the race started. 

Advanced packet pick up was incredibly quick. Held at Fleet Feet Chicago's Old Town location, it was half way between home and work, which made it easy for me to stop in at the start of the day to pick up everything I needed before heading in to work. I actually arrived a little early, which may be why it was so quick and easy. I was only the third person in line when packet pick up began, and I had my packet and was on my way in about five minutes. Note to self - always show up early to packet pick up. As an added bonus, the store was having a pre-Thanksgiving sale, so I was able to pick up a pair of thermal pants and a thermal top at a pretty good discount. 

The packet included the race shirt, bib number, safety pins, gear check bag, timing chip, a bag for food donations, and a few goodies (sample packets of gummy vitamins and a couple of mini clif bars). As usual, my shirt was too small. I guess I need to always order a size larger than I think I need. I packed it in my gear check bag to try to exchange it after the race. Luckily, this time I was able to exchange for a larger size with the help of a very friendly volunteer.

The contents of my race packet.
The morning of the race was incredibly laid back. With a start time of 9:30am, I didn't need to wake up at the crack of dawn. Those extra moments of sleep were amazing! I had time for a leisurely breakfast and a final check that I had everything I needed. I knew it was going to be cold, so I packed an extra jacket to wear before and after the race. I got dressed, attached my timing chip to my shoe laces, pinned on my bib number, and made my way to the train.

Even though I took my time getting ready, I was super early for the race. I left my bag of canned goods with the volunteers from the food bank and walked around to keep warm.

I was really happy that they were accepting food donations on race day.
I forgot to take my donation to packet pick up the week earlier.
I have to hand it to all the race volunteers for being out there in the cold making sure the race happened as planned. It was cold, windy, and overcast, and the volunteers had been there setting up all morning.

I kept walking around the race site, going up and down and around the park trying to keep warm. I have to say, I really appreciated that there were bathrooms near the starting corrals and another set near the finish line, and I took advantage of both locations during the morning. Sorry if that is too much information, but running with a full bladder is just not comfortable, so bathrooms are an important part of my race experience.

The sad thing is, it wasn't even that cold for a Chicago winter. 
There were some games to play both before and after the race. My favorite game had to be the turkey bowling.

Turkey bowling = the best pre-race game.
Turkey bowling is exactly what it sounds like: bowling, but with a turkey. Sure, there was a football toss and beanbags...but how often do you get to throw a frozen turkey around?

As it got closer to the start of the race, I made my way over to the corrals. Luckily, the sun came out in time for the race. We also had a really beautiful and short snow shower as the race was starting. Big, picturesque flakes of snow slowly falling while the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. It was lovely.

I was, as usual, in the last corral. What can I say? I'm realistic about my incredibly slow pace. I really appreciated that the corrals were marked for your estimated pace per mile and that there were announcements reminding those walking or pushing strollers to move to the last corral.

Pre race selfie! A time honored tradition for those of us with no one to take pictures for us.
There were a lot of families and groups of friends out running together, which is always fun to see. There were so many people, and every age and body type seemed to be represented in the race's participants.

The 5k started, and as each corral was released, I slowly crept closer and closer to the starting line. Finally, I was at the start line and able to start running.

That's the start line way up there. If you squint, you may be able to see it.
The course was great, with a lane of Lake Shore Drive being shut down and used for the race. It is always fun being able to run on city streets that are usually closed to pedestrians instead of running an entire race on the lakefront trail. It makes a race feel a bit more special and like a real event, instead of feeling like I paid to run my usual route. The turn around was clearly marked, and the volunteers along the course were great in cheering everyone on and providing any help that was needed. The folks at the water station were still peppy and cheering even as us slow pokes finally made our way to them.

The course and volunteers were lovely. My running, however, was awful. Or perhaps I should say my lack of running. I barely made it one mile before I had to start walking, and then I ended up walking most of the remainder of the race, with occasional short bursts of running. It is usually the other way around. By the time I crossed the finish line, I was incredibly disappointed in myself and ashamed of my performance, which is one of the reasons I've taken so long to post my recap. I had hoped to PR and had actually trained for this race. I ended up having my worst time, yet. I'm still disappointed in myself.

At the finish line, there was bottled water, energy drinks, apples, and packages of crackers and hummus (delicious crackers and hummus - I may have taken two). There was also hot apple cider, more vitamin packets being passed out, and a stand with mini clif bars.

Once I had my gear bag back, I threw on my extra clothes I brought and traded in my shirt for a larger size. While doing so, I discovered that a lot of people were very unhappy. Apparently, they had some sort of glitch with timing, and everyone's time was recorded based on gun time, not chip time. Considering that some of us didn't make it to the start line until a full 20 minutes after the race started, very few people had correct times listed. The volunteers were clear that everyone working on the race was aware of the glitch and they were working on getting it sorted out and correct times would be posted online once everything was fixed, but some people were still very upset. Personally, I knew I ran terribly, so I was happy not to be confronted with any real numbers that day.

This was my first race using a timing chip attached to my shoe laces.
Overall, it was a great event. Even with the problems regarding timing, I still thought that the race was well organized, and I would attempt to run it again. The course was great and easy to follow, with a clearly marked turn around. The race volunteers were cheerful and helpful, and I loved the games before the race. They already have race registration open for next year's event, and I'm considering signing up again.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Still Going

Despite my less than stellar race Thanksgiving morning, I'm still running.

I was very disappointed with myself both during and after the Turkey Day 5k. I considered giving up and began to think that maybe I shouldn't run anymore.

But then I remembered how much I have enjoyed running in the past year and a half. I remembered the feeling of freedom and exhilaration that running has given me over the past year. I remembered the calming influence that running can have on my life when I'm having a bad day and am angry or sad. I remembered that running is capable of bringing me joy and a sense of accomplishment.

I may not have that same feeling during every run, but it is something worth working towards.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Turkey Trot Failure

I'll make this short.

I didn't meet my goal at yesterday's race.

I failed.

I'm starting to get really frustrated. I feel like I'm not making any progress. In fact, I feel like I'm moving backwards.

I don't have a time or average pace for the race. They had a glitch with their timing chips, so there are many runners, including myself, who don't have chip times. I have my gun time, but that isn't accurate because based on the gun, I started at 9:29am, when I was really still standing in the corral waiting to get to the starting line at 9:36am.

I'll post a full recap of the race in the next day or two. I need a little time to lick my wounds and reevaluate my goals and plans.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Turkey Trot Goal

I'm running the Chicago Turkey Day Run 5k tomorrow morning to celebrate Thanksgiving and my birthday. Initially, my goal was to PR at this race. I was sure that I could achieve this goal. Now, I'm not so sure.

The last couple of weeks have been good, but not great. Sure, I've been running regularly, but I've also been struggling with both pace and distance. At the beginning of the month, a PR tomorrow seemed easy. As of today, well...I just don't know.

After a lot of thought, I've decided to set a new, simpler goal: Run the whole race. I've been taking too many walk breaks during my regular runs. Tomorrow morning, I want to run the whole time. It is only a 5k, so this should be doable.

Wish me luck!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hit or Miss

This past week has been a little hit or miss. I had one amazing run, one terrible run, and two runs that I would classify as "meh". On the bright side, I was having a terrible morning one day last week, and my day was instantly brightened by the discovery of a tiny Stonehenge in someone's front yard in my neighborhood.

Mini Stonehenge? Thanks, Chicago. I needed that today.
I'm still loving the cold weather, but I have not been loving the rain that has accompanied the cold temps the last couple of days. This morning was a real struggle. Kind of. Okay...not really. I slept in and snuggled with Hannah and basically stayed in bed until I had to get up to go to work. At the time, it felt like the right decision. It was cold and rainy outside. And it was warm and cozy inside.

Image Source
The only problem is that now I have to run tonight. Blerg.

I'm really not feeling it today, but I'm going to suck it up and go for a run anyway. If it is still raining/snowing when I leave work, then I'll be heading to the gym to run on the treadmill. I made sure to bring my gym bag with me to work so I have no excuses, where all my will power is drained the moment I sit down.

It is a struggle to get going each day, but I genuinely enjoy myself once I'm out the door and actually running. I keep reminding myself that I have a 5k this Thursday and an 8k in December. I'll never be fast enough to be competitive, but races still keep me motivated to keep running, even on days when I just want to nap.

Monday, November 17, 2014

I Love the Cold

This may come back to bite me in the ass later, but I feel I have to say it....I love the cold weather!

Or, more specifically, I love running in the cold weather.

I was scared to run in the cold and was convinced that I would freeze. But having run outside for the past week in 20 degree weather, I'm kind of in love with winter running right now. My runs this week have all started out freezing, but my body quickly warms up and before long, I'm nice and comfy. As long as I'm smart about what I wear to run, I'm fine. And the best thing is that I've been running faster and longer than I did even a few weeks ago. It is like magic!

I know my tune may change when the snow and ice hits. And I've been lucky that it hasn't been super windy during any of my runs, yet. Even so, things are looking up. Weeeeeeeeeee!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

I Need New Shoes

I'm in need of some new running shoes, but I don't know what to do.

Last year, when I first started running, I did what you are supposed to do. I went to one of my local running stores and was properly fitted for a new pair of running shoes. They measured my foot, watched me run on a treadmill, and asked questions about what I would be using the shoes for and what my goals were. I was told that I was an overpronator. Of the shoes that were suggested, I went with the Saucony Omni 11. It felt good and was what I stuck with until they were basically falling apart.

My first ever race wearing my first ever pair of running shoes.
When I went in search of new shoes, I was again made to run through hoops (not literally, of course), even though I had my old shoes with me and was looking for something similar. This time, I was told that I was an underpronator. Of the shoes offered, I ended up choosing the New Balance 860.
My first run with my New Balance shoes was great, but they aren't as comfortable as they once were.
The New Balance have been my primary pair of running shoes this year, and they have served me well. Recently, however, I've noticed that they just aren't as comfortable and are really starting to show some wear and tear. 

I've had pretty good performance from both the Saucony and New Balance shoes that I've worn over the past year and a half. I was gifted a pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS 14 earlier this year, and they didn't work too well for me - I just didn't find them comfortable and the fit wasn't quite right.

I may not have loved the Brooks shoes, but Hannah sure loved the box they came in.
I began searching for new shoes this week, I went to three different running stores. One told me I overpronate, one said I underpronate, and the third said that I neither over nor underpronate and that my gait was normal. 

In the past, I've always just gone with the suggestions of the folks who work at the running store. After all, they know more about running and running shoes than I do. But now I've gotten vastly different recommendations from different people. One person was shocked at the shoes I'd been wearing and insisted that they were terrible shoes for me and would never have been suggested by anyone who knows anything about running. Ummmm...okay.

So now I'm confused and don't know where to go or what to buy. All I know is that it is time for a replacement pair of shoes. Running shoes aren't cheap. I don't have money to throw away on something that will only be worn once or twice. Does it really matter what type of shoes I wear? I've thought about just searching online for the shoes I'm currently running in and seeing if I can order them again. They've worked well for me so far, so they should continue to be fine. Right? Right!?!

Does anyone have any suggestions for a good pair of running shoes?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Welcome to Winter

In the span of a single day Chicago went from a beautiful warm fall day to "Holy crap! It's cold!"

Or at least that is what I was thinking this morning. Ladies and gentlemen, winter is officially here!

I don't completely hate winter the way other people do. I love piling extra blankets on the bed and enjoying mugs of hot tea and cocoa and wearing cozy sweaters. I'd much rather feel too cold than too hot. That being said, I really hope that I'll get used to running in the cold.

My running was really improving last year until the winter hit. As soon as it was cold outside, I just stopped running. I don't want that to happen again this year. It isn't even that cold, yet. But what happens when it starts snowing? What about when there is ice?

Does anyone have any advice about running in the winter? I want to continue running outside as much as possible.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Running in the Dark

I often find myself running in the dark. Sometimes it is before sunrise, but more often than not, it is after sunset. There are a lot of extra things that I have to consider when running in the dark. There are a lot of safety issues to be aware of when running super early or late.

1. Being visible. In my regular life, I usually try to fade into the background and disappear. But when I'm running, especially when I'm running in the dark, I try to make myself as visible as possible. I'm talking about bright colors, tons of reflective detailing, lights, etc. The more visible I am, the safer I am. It is getting easier to find good reflective gear, as almost every brand now seems to offer reflective detailing on their running clothes. There are also plenty of vests, belts, arm bands, etc. that offer lights or reflective accents to help keep you visible.

I've been wearing a top from ASICS Lite Show line. It offers 360 degree reflective detailing. L
ike most of my gear, I found it on the sales rack at one of my local running stores. (Image Source)
2. Seeing where you're going. The routes I run at night are very different than the ones I run during daylight hours. At night, I try to stick to better lit paths or streets. This helps with cars being able to see me, but it also helps with me being able to see where I'm going. I'm clumsy under the best of circumstances, so I try to make my path as safe as possible, and that means being able to see what is coming next, whether it is a pot hole, a tree root, or another person. If I really want to run along a poorly lit street, then I'll break out the head lamp to help light my way. The headlamp lets me see where I'm going and also helps me be more visible to traffic and other pedestrians.
I use the Sprinter Headlamp from Black Diamond. It isn't cheap, but I got mine on sale. (Image Source)
3. Personal safety. Let's be real, folks. I'm a woman who runs alone (I don't have any friends who run, which is why I need to find a good running group or club). I also live in a big city that isn't a stranger to crime. All that being said, I refuse to change my life or live in fear. I do, however, understand the world can be a dangerous place, so I take as many precautions as I can.
  • I am always aware of my surroundings when I run, and I trust my instincts. If I'm uncomfortable or don't feel safe for any reason, then I head back home.
  • I love running in parks and on running trails along the river or lakefront. I love the cute little side streets in my neighborhood. But late at night, I stick to the well lit and well populated main streets where I should be able to find assistance if I need it. 
  • I love listening to music when I run, but I'll usually leave the headphones at home when running in the dark. The less distractions, the better off I am.
  • In addition to my id, my phone, and just enough cash for a cab (only to be used for an emergency), I have been known to carry pepper spray with me when I head out for a late night run. Better safe than sorry.
  • I also always let someone know that I'm heading out for a run. It could be a simple text to my mother or to a friend letting them know where I'm going and either saying I'll check in with them when I'm done. If I'm heading out super early in the morning, then I'll let someone one the night before.
Chicago is beautiful at night.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Future Races and Goals Check In

Soooo...I signed up for some more races to help keep me motivated and running on a regular basis.

Although I'd love to run faster, I've realized that I'd rather work my way up to longer distances. Don't get me wrong. I'd still love to PR at the Turkey Day Run 5k on November 27. I've just realized that my naturally slow pace may be better suited to longer distances (I'm hoping - fingers crossed), and knowing that I have to work on adding mileage tends to motivate me more than speed work does. I'm looking at a couple of 8k races, as well as a couple of 10k races. I'm excited about running the Rudolph Ramble 8k next month, but I'm a little nervous about how quickly it is coming up.

So far my goals for the month are shaping up pretty well. I've added my runs to my schedule to help stop me from making excuses, and last night's run was short (only 2.5 miles), but it felt great. I love the cooler weather! I want to continue running outside as long as possible, though I know that I'll eventually head inside to the treadmill once the frigid Chicago winter weather hits. Although healthy eating is posing some challenges (mostly due to poor planning on my part), I have had breakfast every morning, so far.

So far, so good. I fitting all my runs into my schedule, even if it means running at night after work on days I oversleep (like yesterday). I'm just going to have to wait and see what happens at the 5k on Thanksgiving to see if I accomplish that goal or not, though I still think it is possible as long as I keep working. I may not have run as far as I should have last night, but I made excellent time and was able to keep my pace up the entire time.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

2014 Carrera de los Muertos 5k Recap

After eating my weight in candy on Halloween, I woke up super early on November 1 to make it to the Carrera de lost Muertos 5k in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. I wasn't excited about waking up at 5am, but I was excited to run what sounded like an awesome race and start off the month of November on the right foot.

I had assembled my bag for gear check and laid out my clothes and shoes the night before, so it was easy to get ready. Half a bagel with pumpkin cream cheese, a banana, and a cup of coffee served as breakfast as I got dressed, fed Hannah (kitty was not happy about the early start to the day, either), and did a final check that I had everything I needed before heading to the train.

It was easy enough to reach the race. I simply took the brown line to the loop and transferred to the pink line. After exiting the train at the 18th Street stop, I simply walked around the corner and there was the race!

Race of the Dead! Let's do this!
I quickly made the rounds to check out the area and figure out where everything was. It was all contained in a tight area, which made it easy to find everything, albeit a bit crowded. Bathrooms, gear check, corrals, food tents, stage...everything was well labeled and easy to find. I was happy that I had picked up my packet in advance, as the line for the race day pick up was very long and moving somewhat slowly.

Gear check was underneath the train tracks. A bit strange...but it worked.
I have to say, this was easily the most colorful and joyous race I have participated in! I loved all the decorations and the displays.

Part of the altar display.
In addition to decorations, there was also music and people in costumes.

Love it! These folks were along the race route and at the after party.
It was cold out, but I was happy and having a good time and knew that I would warm up as soon as I was running. The only real problem I encounter pre-race was when I made my way to the bathrooms to discover that not even one of the port-o-potties had toilet paper! None of them! 30 minutes to race time and everyone was hopping from toilet to toilet in search of TP. Luckily, word got to the race organizers, and rolls of toilet paper were soon being placed in each port-o-potty. Crisis averted. Note to self - always remember to bring a pack of tissues to a race.

Anyone want to take their picture?
I took off my coat and scarf and shoved them into my bag and handed it over to one of the volunteers at gear check. I liked having different gear check tables based on bib number - it kept things moving quickly and helped make it easier for them to find people's bags after the race. Gear check was under the train viaduct, so it was a little odd and dark, but it was also sheltered from the wind, which was blowing cold and strong.

These papier mache skulls were amazing, but I don't know how they managed to run in them.
I made my way over to the corrals and got into my assigned one - corral C. Now that I didn't have my coat and scarf, I was freezing. I was ready to start running for the sole reason of becoming warm again.

Hello, happy skeleton.
More and more people started getting into place for the start of the race.

That's the starting line way up there. People were ready to get moving.
Everyone was there to have fun and a lot of people were there to show their support for their neighborhood and schools, but that meant that this was the first race for a lot of folks. It was good that so many people were out there to do something healthy and have fun, but I had to do a lot of weaving once the race started, as there were many people who did not adhere to their corral assignments and jumped into corral B even though they were there to walk the course and had been assigned corral D.

Prerequisite pre-race selfie.
The race started, with corrals being released one at a time. This was great, because the course never felt too crowded. The route was easy to follow and pretty wide, so it was easy to weave around people who were slower than me, and each mile had a very clear mile marker, which helped you know exactly how far you had to go. The volunteers and spectators along the route cheering everyone on were great, as was the music. The mariachi band was my favorite. Yes, there was a mariachi band playing at one point on the race course, and they were fantastic!

I knew I was running slower than usual, and I had to walk for a bit around mile two, but I was having a lot of fun.

When I saw the finish line, I picked up the pace a bit. It was super crowded immediately after the finish line, as folks slowed down or stopped to  grab water, so there were clumps of people blocking the street and making it hard to navigate back to the parking lot that served as home base for the pre and post race events. I ended up having to push my way through groups of people in order to get a drink and make my way out into a less crowded area.

All the beverages shall be mine!
As soon as I stopped running, I started to get cold. I quickly made my way to gear check to grab my bag so I could get my coat back on. The festivities continued after the race. There was music and dancing and food and fun. I loved watching the dancers on stage.

The dancers were great, and I loved their outfits.
If you were hungry, then there was plenty of food to purchase. You could trade in cash for food tickets that could be redeemed for the various offerings: tamales and soup and tacos and all sorts of delicious items. Beer was also available for purchase with cash. Everything smelled amazing, but I had forgotten to bring any cash with me, so I couldn't partake. This is a mistake that I will never repeat again.

There was a costume contest, and then the awards were announced. The winners in each age group got hand painted skulls instead of medals, which was awesome. They all seemed excited about their prizes.

Those skulls are sooooooo much better than a medal.
As things started winding down, I was freezing and ready to head home for some food and a warm bath. 

I had a blast at this race!
I made my way back to the pink line station to wait for the train. There were quite a few other race participants crowding together under the warming lamps on the train platform.

Even the el stop was festive.
I had a blast at this race. It seemed well organized, the course was great, and the festive atmosphere was contagious. This was a wonderful neighborhood race that really seemed to honor the neighborhood's heritage. I can't wait to run this race again next year!

My advise for anyone interested in running with me next year:

1.) Bring cash for food. I still regret not having money for some tamales and a beer.
2.) Bring a pack of tissues in case there is no toilet paper. This is really a good idea for any race.
3.) Pick up your packets in advance, if possible.
4.) Know that this is a neighborhood race, so there are a lot of non-runners and/or runners for whom this is their first race. Not everyone will know to line up at the back if they are walking. Not everyone will know to move to the side of the course if they are slowing down or stopping. And please don't bring people down by disparaging other participants for any reason.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

November Goals

I'll be posting a recap of yesterday's race either later today or tomorrow. But first, I wanted to take a minute to set some goals for the month of November.

1.) Run regularly. This was a goal from way back when that I've been failing hard at in the last few weeks. In November, I want to run a least 4 times a week.

2.) I want to PR at my next race, which happens to be at the end of the month on Thanksgiving. I had been making progress and was slowly but surely getting faster, but then I back slid and am back at my original slow pace. As long as I stick to my first goal, then I should be able to get my pace to a slightly more respectable place. There is nothing wrong with running slowly. This is bugging me because I know that I am capable of running faster than I currently do.

If you want to join me and are in Chicago, then I'll be running the Turkey Day 5k on Thanksgiving.
3.) In addition to my running goals, I also have a couple of food goals. First up, I will eat breakfast every day. I tend to skip breakfast and then go overboard with snacks the rest of the day because I feel like I'm starving by the time I get to work. So far, I've started out strong, having had breakfast yesterday and today.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
4.) I also want to generally start eating better. This one is going to be the hardest for me because I love candy and soda, but I've fallen into the trap of fast food and vending machine lunches at work followed by take out for dinner and realized when I stepped on the scale last week that I am at my heaviest weight ever. I'm not going to completely give up my beloved junk food, I'm just going to switch it to the occasional treat as opposed to an every day meal/snack.

I need more of this - side salad, rice and lentils, and roasted cauliflower - and less burgers, fries, pizza, and wings. 
Weeeeee! Aren't goals fun? Seriously, though, I need to make some changes and reinforce some good habits while breaking some bad habits. I may as well start now.