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.