Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 Rudolph Ramble 8k Recap

Time flies! I completely lost track of time and forgot to post my recap of the Rudolph Ramble 8k! As the year quickly draws to a close, I knew I needed to rectify this oversight, especially because I had a great time at the race.

I didn't get to run last year's Rudolph Ramble because I woke up incredibly sick the morning of the race, so I was determined to finally run it this year. I signed up online as soon as registration opened and began counting down the days. Like last year, participants would receive a winter cap, and there were two colors to choose from, red and blue.

I chose the blue hat. 
As I've come to expect from Fleet Feet's races, everything was easy and well organized. Registration was simple and straight forward, there were multiple packet pick up opportunities, and there was plenty of communication leading up to the race with all the pertinent information needed for a good race day experience.

We'd been having some unseasonably warm weather for December, and the day of the race was no different. Instead of the usual wintery weather, we had warm temperatures and rain. Lots of rain. I packed my gear check bag and prepared for a wet and muddy race - choosing to wear an older pair of shoes and taking some dry clothes to change into after the race. Due to the warmer than usual weather, I decided at the last minute to wear shorts instead of tights or capris. 

Hannah really wanted to run the race with me.

Luckily, the rain stopped around the time my train arrived, and it ended up waiting until after the race to start up again. As I walked from the train to the race site, I saw a lot of other runners out and about. There were plenty of people who dressed up for the race, and I saw a lot of Santa hats and reindeer antlers.

The race site and the course incredibly muddy and covered in water, but the race organizers and volunteers did what they could. Gear check had extra plastic bags to place everyone's gear check bag in to protect runners' personal belongings from the mud and water. Nothing could be done about the mud and water on the course, but I did see several folks working to clear any debris that the storm had blown onto the course during the night and early morning.

Only the start of the mud.
As usual, I was early, so after dropping off my toy donation at the Fleet Feet tent (a portion of the proceeds from the race went to Lurie Children's Hospital, and Fleet Feet also accepted toy donations during packet pick up and at the race site) and dropping off my gear check bag, I made my way around the race site to see what there was to see.

I found Rudolph right away, but he was pretty hard to miss.

Rudolph! Once I spotted Rudolph, I knew I was in the right place.
I made a mental note of where the cider and donut tent was, because that would be my first stop after crossing the finish line (every runner got a free Do-Rite Donut and a cup of apple cider following the race). In addition to the usual sponsor and vendor tents, there was also a place to have your photo taken with Santa and the Big Shoulder's Coffee truck (coffee was free at the race - something I took advantage of after crossing the finish line). 

FREE COFFEE! The most beautiful phrase in the English language.

When it was announced that it was almost time for the race to begin, everyone started making their way to the starting line. There were signs posted displaying various paces, and runners were asked to line up according to estimated pace. I made my way to the 10 minute pace sign, as I averaged about 10:14 per mile at my last 8k and was hoping to do something similar or slightly better.

I was pleasantly surprised to find several ladies that I see every week at Fleet Feet's Chick's Night. We chatted a bit before the race, wished each other good luck, and got ready to run through the giant mud puddles that were just beyond the start line.

Pre-race selfie = tradition.
The race started, and we began slowly trudging forward. The start of the race was even slower than usual, and not due to too many people over estimating their pace. No, on this morning, the hold up was all of the runners who tried to avoid stepping in puddles. I was also guilty, as I tried to slowly manuever around puddles and skip over them, but I quickly realized that the entire course was going to covered with these small lakes, so I just gave up trying to avoid them and ran straight through them.

Yes, I was quickly covered in mud, and my shoes and socks were soaked through, but it was much easier than trying to hop and jump around the water, and I didn't really have to weave in and out of other runners by just going down the middle of the path, as everyone else was sticking to the extreme sides in the hopes of avoiding water.

The first couple of miles felt great. I was right on pace, my breathing felt easy, and I quickly got over being muddy and wet. It was fun seeing the leaders on their way back. They were so fast!

I was running in shorts and a thin long sleeved shirt, and I wish that I had actually worn a short sleeved shirt, as I was too warm by mile three. I was shocked at the number of people racing in full winter running gear. I kept seeing runners in long tights, jackets, hats, gloves...the works! If I was hot in shorts, then they must have been boiling!

The last couple of miles weren't as easy as the first. My breathing became a bit labored and my calf cramped up, but I kept moving, even if it was a bit more slowly than I would have liked. Soon there was only a mile left, so I tried to pick up the pace a little.

I crossed the finish line with a new 8k PR! It was nice getting another PR at my last race of the year. This has been a pretty great year for me when it comes to running and setting new PRs. There was only one way to celebrate. With donuts!

Every runner got a Do-Rite Donut and a cup of cider. The cider was nothing to write home about, but that donut was delicious! I got a nice hot cup of coffee from the coffee truck, grabbed my gear check bag, and checked in with my Chick's Night friends to see how they had done. Everyone was had a great race and was in a festive mood, even if they were covered in mud.

I stuck around to cheer on more runners as they crossed the finish line and to cheer for those who won awards. It was getting close to the time I needed to leave, but I had one more thing I needed to do. To really celebrate my new PR, I had to have a photo with Santa!

I don't think I've had my picture taken with Santa since I was about eight years old.
I cleaned up as best as I could and changed into clean clothes and bid farewell to the Rudolph Ramble.

I really enjoy the 8k distance and always have fun at Fleet Feet's races. They know how to put on a great race, and I'm always impressed by how well organized and well run they are. Even with the unseasonably warm weather and the wet and muddy conditions, the Rudolph Ramble was a fun race, and I look forward to running it again in the future.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Few Good Deals This Weekend

Looking for discounts on running or fitness gear? A lot of places are offering various holiday promotions, right now, and there are some pretty great ones going one today. So, if you are in need of a gift for a runner in your life, then here are a couple of places to start. Or of if you are in need of a gift for yourself...because we should all treat ourselves to something special every now and then.

Here are a few of my favorite deals for this weekend:

Brooks is offering a different daily deal for a limited time through their website. Each day they choose one item that will be 35% off for that day only. This weekend (Saturday, December 12 and Sunday, December 13), they have 35% off all men's and women's bottoms.

If you like your sneakers to look a bit more retro, then head over to Saucony's website, where they are offering 30% off their Originals line this weekend using code ORIGINAL30.

Oiselle also has been rolling out some deals available through their website. is offering 25% off all of their Wazzie Wool styles using code WOOWOOL now through Tuesday, December 15.

Fleet Feet Chicago has some sales now through December 24 as part of their Fitnatic Celebration. A few of the highlights currently found in their various locations around the city (there are a bunch of other offers currently available, so check out Fleet Feet for the full scoop):
  • 30% Off Brooks Fall and Winter Apparel
  • 30% Off Moving Comfort Fiona Sports Bras
  • 20% Off Nathan Visibility Bundle
I'll let you know if I see any other good discounts this weekend. Remember that if you are planning to order Christmas gifts online, then most places require your order to be in by December 17 to guarantee delivery by Christmas. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Sleep, I Miss You

The past week has shown me the importance of getting a good night's sleep. I've had bouts of insomnia pretty much my whole life, and I've been hit hard by it recently, getting little to no sleep and then being exhausted all day.

The first couple of days weren't a terribly huge deal, but I really noticed a difference yesterday and today.

I'm having trouble focusing and am generally lethargic, and I've caught myself being more irritable and snapping at people, leading to apologies and feelings of guilt. Everything just seems really difficult, whether it is walking up the stairs to get to my computer at work or deciding what to eat for lunch.

I've also notice a big difference in my workouts. I find myself slowing down and struggling to complete workouts that usually give me no trouble. For example, I went to the gym for some strength training the other day and found myself having to use lighter weights than usual, and, even then, I had trouble completing my usual reps. Also, at last night's Chick's Night run, I just couldn't find my groove and had to run much slower than usual and really struggled during what is usually an easy five miles.

To make a long story short, sleep is important. Sleep has a big effect on your body and your mind. It can be the difference between a good day and a bad day. Right now I'm just waiting for sleep to return to me, and once it does, I will never take it for granted again.

Monday, November 30, 2015

2015 Turkey Day Run 8k Recap

Like many people, I woke up early on Thanksgiving morning in order to run. The question every Thanksgiving seems to be, "Which turkey trot are you running and how far is it?" 

Turkey trots will always have a special place in my heart, as my very first race was a turkey trot. This year, I was determined to not just run a turkey trot, but to settle a personal vendetta. Last year's Thanksgiving race, the 2014 Turkey Day 5k, didn't go so well for me and was a pretty big disappointment. To keep it brief, I was hoping to PR and had specifically trained to do so, but I actually ended up running my worst time ever for a 5k and struggling to even finish. 

So this year it was easy to decide on which turkey trot to run. I would once again run the Turkey Day Run and redeem myself after last year's problems, but this time, I would tackle the 8k. 

I'm coming for you, turkey.
I woke up on Thursday feeling pretty terrible. I had been sick all week, and although I had felt much better on Wednesday, things had taken a turn for the worse overnight. I decided against my better judgement to go ahead and run, so, after getting dressed and eating breakfast, I took some cold medicine, added a handkerchief to my gear check bag, and set out.

It was a little chilly and wet from the rain the night before, but I was thankful that it was so much warmer than last year's race. Learning from my mistakes last year, I didn't show up quite so early this year. I was at the race site about 40 minutes before the race began, giving myself enough time to drop off my donation to the Greater Chicago Food Depository, stop at the bathroom, and then shed my outer layer of clothes and check my bag.

The Greater Chicago Food Depository does good work, so it was nice being able to provide some support.
Everything, from packet pick up and gear check to games and giveaways, was easy to find, and there was plenty of things to see and do both before and after the race. I stopped by the Fleet Feet tent to say hello to a friend who was volunteering that morning, then I made my way from booth to booth to see what was being offered before heading over to the start corrals.

Yeah...I wasn't feeling all that great and kept coughing, so I was happy that a.) I had my inhaler with me and b.) I had already planned on running at an easy pace. I wasn't trying to PR. I just wanted to finish without the pain of last year.

I found the marker the start corrals and lined up appropriately between the 10 and 11 minute markers, planning to run at about 10:30 per mile. Even though I wasn't feeling great, I was excited to be at the race. There is just something about running and sharing the race day experience with thousands of other people that gets my blood flowing.

Corrals opened, and I was ready to run.
Unlike last year, the 8k and 5k both started together. As we got closer to the 9am start time, the corrals soon began to fill with more people than I was really prepared for, and it got pretty crowded pretty fast. There were a lot of families and groups of friends running together, which was nice to see.

The corrals quickly began to fill with runners.
The race started promptly at 9am, and we began slowly creeping forward to the starting line. Music was playing and people were chatting and seemed to be genuinely happy to be out on Thanksgiving morning. Runners were released in waves, so it took a good chunk of time before the starting line was really in sight.

So close, and yet so far.
At 9:26am, my wave was released and I started running. As usual, there was some weaving at the start, trying to get around folks who had not seeded themselves correctly, but thanks to the wave starts, the course soon opened up a bit and there was room to breathe.

It took until the first mile marker for me to find a comfortable pace, but once I found it, I was good to go. The course was simple and straightforward, heading north on Lake Shore Drive before cutting over to the Lake Front Path around Montrose and heading back south to the race site. Once the 5k and the 8k split, the course was much less crowded, though the two joined up again for the final mile.

I had found my groove and was chugging along. I was still coughing from time to time, but I actually felt a lot better once I was running. I don't know if it was just the power of running or, more likely, my cold medicine finally kicking in. Either way, it felt great to be outside and moving.

I did start to slow down a little bit during the final mile, but I was still feeling pretty good when I spotted the finish line. I didn't sprint across the finish the way I usually try to do, but when I stopped my watch and checked my time, I was pleased to see that I had actually managed an 8k PR.

I took one of everything that was handed to me at the finish - water, Gatorade, yogurt, and various other snacks. I quickly grabbed my bag from gear check, threw on my extra layers, and then made my way to the results tent. Sadly, they only had results for the top finishers. The rest of us would have to wait up to 48 hours for our chip times to be updated online. Not a big deal, as I knew my time based on my own watch and was happy with my overall effort. A few people weren't thrilled with not being able to immediately check their results, so I felt a little bad for the volunteers working the results area.

Next up, food and fun.

There were the usual mini Clif Bar samples, as well as some of Clif Bar's kids products. The My Fit Foods tent had samples of a pretty tasty pumpkin baked oatmeal, and there was also hot apple cider, which was both yummy and festive.

Hooray! Apple Cider! Warm, spicy, and delicious!
There were several games for the whole family to enjoy - bean bags, a football toss, and turkey bowling, where you actually throw a frozen turkey down a bowling lane. You could win tickets at each of the games that could then be redeemed for various prizes.

Games Galore! I still love the Turkey Bowling!
I stuck around long enough to cheer on some finishers, cheer for those who won awards, and have a second cup of cider, but once I started feeling ill again, I hit the road and made my way back to the train to head home.

As soon as I was home, I took a hot bath, drank some tea, threw on some pajamas, and then quickly fell asleep. I woke up several hours later to find Hannah sleeping on top of me, so clearly, I had to stay in bed a little longer.

Sleepy Hannah is cuddly Hannah.
I was happy I ran, but I honestly probably should have stayed home instead of going to the race, as I was feeling worse than ever. I abandoned my remaining Thanksgiving plans, choosing to stay in bed, relax, and hydrate.

Later in the evening, I fixed a quick and simple dinner for myself - a grilled cheese sandwich, roasted green beans, and a quick cranberry sauce. Hannah and I enjoyed the rest of the evening watching Netflix before turning in early. Run, sleep, kitty cuddles, food...overall, not a bad Thanksgiving.

I think I may be one of the few people who genuinely enjoys cranberry sauce.
Even though I was sick, this year's Turkey Day Run went much better than last year's. Running what felt like an easy pace, I managed a PR, with a finish time of 50:48 (my previous PR was at the PAWS 8k this summer, with a finish of 51:46), so it is nice to once again see that I have improved this year.

The Turkey Day Run is well done, with plenty of packet pick up opportunities (there was almost a week of pick up options available at Fleet Feet's Lincoln Square location as well as a few other places in the city, and then there was also race day pick up), a comfy long sleeved shirt, and an easy to follow and well marked course. There was plenty of fun for everyone to enjoy in the form of games available both pre and post race, as well as tasty snacks available at the finish line and at the post race party. The winners get Thanksgiving goodies in the form of pies and turkeys, which is fun and very appropriate.

There are so many turkey trots to choose from, so it is hard not to find a fun race to run. I really do prefer the turkey trots that are actually on Thanksgiving, as opposed to the weekend before or after, as it gives me something to do on what could otherwise be a lonely holiday for those of us unable to travel to see family.

I'll continue the turkey trot tradition again next year.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Turkey Trot Tradition Continues

My first ever race was a Turkey Trot, and I'll be continuing the tradition in the morning by running the Turkey Day 8k. It is a great way to celebrate Thanksgiving - heading out and running a few miles before indulging in a gluttonous feast. Running a race on Thanksgiving morning also helps make the day a little bit more special for those of us who spending the holiday alone.

I'm excited to be attempting this race again. Last year's race didn't go very well for me, and I struggled a lot just to finish the 5k. I'm hoping for a bit more success this year thanks to a consistent running schedule and a great deal of improvement over the course of the year. I've gotten stronger and faster, so I signed up for the 8k instead of the 5k.

My primary goal in the morning is to finish close to my current 8k PR (51:46). I feel that I could finish more quickly and set a new PR, having maintained a better pace at the recent Hot Chocolate 15k, but I've been struck down with a nasty cold the last few days. Although I feel much better, I still have a nagging cough and am not feeling my best, so I won't be pushing myself the way I had originally planned to.

My gear check bag is packed. My alarm clock is set. My clothes are laid out. I suppose I should turn in for the night. Have a happy thanksgiving! Maybe I'll see you at the race in the morning!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Choosing Which Races to Run

I currently find myself in a bit of a conundrum.

I love running races, so this year I had a goal to run more races than I ran last year. Mission accomplished! And the year isn't even over, yet. I still have the Turkey Day 8k on Thanksgiving and then the Rudolph Ramble 8k in December.

The problem? I'm running so many races that it is starting to feel like a bit of a chore. It just isn't special anymore, and some of the races are starting to run together in my memory.

I'm very happy with my progress this year, having tackled new distances (10k, 15k 10 miles, and half marathon) and repeatedly improving my 5k finish time. But now I'm trying to decide what to do next year. Should I keep it up? Running any race that strikes my fancy? Or should I be more selective and limit the number of races I run? Am I going to just keep running the exact same races year after year, and, if so, is that really a bad thing?

And then I think about the financial side of things. Races cost money. Why did I spend so much money this year to run races when I can run for free any day I want to?

I'm currently being inundated with emails about how registration is now open for this race or that race, but I just can't decide which ones I should run, if any. I'm worried that I'll find myself in the same malaise of running too many races OR I'll be kicking myself for missing out on what looked like a really great race.

So I'm putting the question out there for anyone to answer. How do you choose which races to run?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday Favorites - Library Edition

I love to read, and I love libraries. I can just barrow a book? For free? That's awesome! This week saw me making multiple trips to multiple libraries. 

Little Free Library. If you don't know about Little Free Library, then you should check it out. It is basically a free book exchange. Take a book. Leave a book. Simple. I pretty much love it, as it helps promote literacy. It is also usually a really adorable little house. Every now and then I discover one in my neighborhood that I didn't know about, and I'm always happy to find them. My most recent discovery was during yesterday afternoon's run.

The Chicago Cultural Center.  I love the Chicago Cultural Center! It is an absolutely gorgeous building, and there are always great free events and art exhibits to enjoy. If the weather isn't great, then I'll use my work breaks to wander around the cultural center instead of the park. Construction was completed in 1897, and it was Chicago's first central public library. Though no longer a library, there are plenty of reminders of its past scattered throughout the building's beautiful halls.

Library books. Sometimes, my library books make me a little sad, usually when I have to return them. Ghostly was fantastic, and I wish I could have read some of the stories multiple times, but its due date was drawing near, so I made a stop at my local library branch this morning to return it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

2015 Hot Chocolate 15k Recap

This was my first time running the Hot Chocolate 15k. I had avoided this race after hearing some horror stories from other runners. I don't know if those stories were from a bad year for the race or if they were just meant to scare me, but after being convinced by some friends who were running to register, I was prepared for the worst and ended up having a great time. 

The race had a pretty great finisher's medal.
15k was a great distance, and everything went incredibly, almost shockingly, smoothly, from the expo and packet pick up to the actual race to the post race party. I had a really great time at this race and was lucky enough to know a lot of other folks running either the 5k or the 15k, which meant that I had the pleasure of bumping into a lot of friendly faces either before the race or during the race.

The expo was held at the Hyatt Regency, which was incredibly convenient. It was easily accessible by CTA, and had the added bonus of being only a couple of blocks from one of my jobs, making it easy to stop in and pick up my packet before heading to work one day. With a race this size, there was no race day packet pick up option, so if you opted not to pay extra to have your packet mailed, then you had to pick up at the expo in order to run. The expo ran for three days, so there was plenty of opportunities to get there to grab the essentials.

Everything was well labeled at the hotel, with plenty of signs pointing the way to the expo. Once there, I started with the basics - bib number and goodie bag. There were so many people working that I had what I needed within minutes. There was no wait for picking up the bib number, and then I only had to wait maybe five minutes in line for the goodie bag corresponding to the size I had requested for race jacket. The goodie bag was very simple and consisted of just the race jacket (which is pretty great, in my opinion) and a page of race day information. The bag itself was a reusable draw string bag, which I'm sure I'll use at another race in the future. There was also a gentleman passing out clear plastic gear check bags, so I made sure to grab one.

Once I had the important stuff, I made the rounds of the expo to see what there was to see and eat what there was to eat. Yes, I would like a free cup of hot chocolate. Yes, I would like a free bag of marshmallows. There were plenty of vendors offering freebies and plenty of merchandise available for purchase. I tried to keep things simple, so I took any offered flyers or samples, but I kept my money in my wallet for future race entries, though I did break down and buy a new headband to replace one that I left at the gym a few weeks ago. 

All my goodies from the expo. 
The day before the race, I went through my usual pre race rituals - drinking lots of water, going for a short and easy run, sticking with my usual pre race dinner (baked chicken with rice and a small salad), packing my gear check bag, laying out my race clothes, and setting a million alarms to make sure that I wake up on time.

The morning of the race I woke up early, showered, ate my usual pre race breakfast (half a bagel with almond butter and a banana), fed Hannah her cat food, and left to catch the train that would take me downtown. The race had two different waves, and I was in wave 1, so I had to be in my corral by the time it closed at 6:45, or I would have to move back and run with wave 2. 

I was surprisingly nervous as I made my way downtown. I just wasn't sure what to expect. I hadn't really done much distance since my last half marathon, so I was worried about suddenly needing to run 9 miles. 9.3, to be precise. It is that last .3 that gets you.

I kept going over my race strategy and reminding myself not to start out too fast. I planned on doing run/walk intervals, as I was more concerned about finishing the race than I was about time. Soon, I was downtown and walking towards the race site. The sun was just starting to rise, and I joined the groups of runners heading east to Grant Park.

Damn it, Chicago! Stop looking so picturesque! 
Things were easy to find, and there were thankfully what seemed to be thousands of bathrooms. Seriously, there were so many bathrooms. At no point during the day did I ever have to wait in line for a bathroom, which was pretty much the best thing ever. What can I say? It is the little things that make me happy.

I packed up my extra layers, adding them to my gear check bag, and quickly checked my bag. Gear check was just as well staffed as the expo had been, so there was little to no wait when it came to dropping off my bag and being on my way.

I was incredibly cold, but I knew I was actually overdressed for the race, wearing running tights, a long sleeve shirt, and a jacket. I was happy for my layers before the race, but I would soon come to regret them.

One of the only problems I had was getting into my corral. There was simply no easy way to do it, as you had to go all the way around the back of the last corral in wave 1 in order to get to the side of the corrals that allowed entry. I barely made it into my corral before it was announced that the wave 1 corrals were closing.

In the corrals waiting to start running.
Everything started right on time at 7am, but being towards the back of wave 1, I didn't cross the starting line until about 7:20am. The staggered start was excellent when it came to helping keep the course less crowded and more manageable.

The course was fully on Chicago streets, which was great, as I sometimes get a little tired of paying to run races that use the lakefront path. The first chunk of the race was on Lower Wacker, which throws everyone's GPS off and isn't terribly scenic, but luckily it was only a short while before we reemerged into the sun shine. I had forgotten to turn off the auto lap feature on my watch, but I was more concerned about keeping my run/walk intervals consistent, so I wasn't too bothered by this. 

I was keeping a good pace for me, about 10 minutes per mile, and was feeling great as we turned onto Michigan. At Roosevelt, the 5k and 15k courses split, with 5k runners heading to the left and 15k runners continuing down Michigan. The course was now even less crowded and had much more room to comfortably make my way to the side when it was time to slow down to walk.

At each of the aid stations, there was some sort of candy treat at the start of the station - M & Ms, strawberry marshmallows, or chocolate marshmallows - before you got to the electorlyte (I believe the race was offering Nuun) and then water. There were also port-o-potties available at each aid station and a plethora of friendly and exuberant volunteers handing out treats, hydration, and high fives.

At various points on the course, there were also cheerleaders, music, and even a marching band to keep runners entertained.

When I hit the 5k mark, I was already a little too warm, having made the mistake of dressing for pre race temperatures instead of looking ahead at the predicted temps once the race started. By the 10k point, I was just plain uncomfortable. Having attached my bib to my outermost layer, there was no option to remove layers, so I unzipped my jacket as much as I could and kept moving. I will not make this same mistake again. 

I was maintaining my pace pretty well, but I started to slow down during the last couple of miles. That was when we hit the hills, or what felt like hills for Chicago. I feel that almost every race in Chicago tries to find a way to end their race  with a hill.

As I passed the mile 8 marker, I was definitely feeling the miles and cursing myself for having abandoned my weekend long runs in favor of short and easy runs during the month of October. Note to self - don't sign up for any distance longer than a 10k at the last minute again. 

Soon, the finish line was in sight, so I gave what little energy I had left to make it across. I forgot to turn my watch off, so I wasn't sure what my final time was, but I was more concerned about getting some water and food. 

Love it! 
A little bit more walking brought me to volunteers handing out cups of Nuun, and a little more walking brought me to bottled water, which I quickly downed. All I wanted to do was curl up and take a nap, but I knew I needed to keep moving. I made the hike over to gear check to collect my bag, which was just as quick and easy as dropping it off had been.

I quickly ate the snack I had packed for after the race (a packet of almond butter and a handful of pretzels) and immediately felt better. I changed into my extra clothes, made a pit stop at the restrooms, which were still surprisingly fresh after the race, and then headed over to the post race party to collect my mug of chocolatey goodness and meet up with friends.

The party was quite a walk from the finish line, but there was food and music and fun to be had. I felt a little overwhelmed by the number of people, so I made a beeline for the food. There were a lot of lines for the participant mugs, and they were all moving quickly. Everything, from gear check to aid stations to the post race party, was well staffed, making even the longest lines a fairly short wait.

The mug was filled with tasty treats. Hot chocolate, chocolate fondue, banana, mini pretzels, rice krispie treat, marshmallow, cookies...there was a lot of sweet deliciousness to be enjoyed. They were smart enough to also include a wet wipe so that folks could clean their hands after eating.

Yummy! This deliciousness didn't last very long!
The post race party had music and dancing and merriment. I made my way around the perimeter to hit up the various vendor and sponsor booths. I was handed a few more bags of marshmallows (I have so many bags of marshmallows in my apartment right now) as well as a bag that I could put my mug in once I was finished so that chocolate didn't get all over my belongings. 

Making meet ups with friends easier was the fact that they had "Runner Reunite" areas arranged alphabetically, so I made my way over the the letter we had agreed to meet at. I ate my yummy treats, stretched, and once we had all assembled we compared notes about the race and congratulated each other.

The post race party had Runner Reunite areas so runners could easily find friends and family.
I was pleased to have finished the race, and although I wasn't sure of my finish time, I was very happy with my effort. Once I had stretched and eaten, I felt a lot better, and it was great to have seen so many friends running either the 5k or the 15k. 

To celebrate our accomplishment, a group of us headed to brunch. Once we all had drinks in hand, we toasted our accomplishment and got down to the real business of eating as much as possible. Hooray! Brunch! Mimosas and omelets and bacon, oh my!

A good race calls for a drink.
Once I got home, I had just enough time to shower and change before heading to work. I really wanted and needed a nap, but there was just no time, and all of my co-workers asked if I was okay when I arrived because I apparently looked a little worse for wear. 

As soon as I was in front of a computer, I went online to check my results. I was thrilled to see that I had finished in 1:34:32. As expected, the last 5k was slower than the first, but I was extremely happy with my finish time. Not bad for my first 15k! I had done much better than expected, and I know I could do even better with some proper preparation. 

My results! Not too shabby...for me, at least.
I had been warned that I wouldn't enjoy the race, that it was crowded and expensive and poorly run. But I didn't experience any of that. In fact, I had a blast and would love to run this race again next year! Everything was well organized, there was plenty of communication from the race leading up to race day, and things were just really easy and hassle free.

I liked the jacket. I liked the course. I liked the party. Even better, I was able to see and/or run with a lot of friends of various running levels - some ran the 5k, some ran the 15k, and we even had a few spectators in our group. It was a great day, and I was happy with my effort and my finish time. I look forward to running another 15k in the future.

Monday, November 9, 2015

30 lbs Gone

I have officially lost 30 pounds this year.

My blood pressure and cholesterol are normal, and my body fat percentage is now "ideal".

I still have more work to do to be the healthiest me that I can be, but I'm solidly on my way thanks to regular exercise and a healthy diet. To be honest, diet and nutrition have been much harder to tackle and get under control than exercise has. I enjoy running and usually look forward to my workouts, but my relationship with food has always been rather fraught. I've mentioned a few times about how I've struggled with my weight and my eating habits, but I've chosen not to go into too much detail, as talking about it tends to make me anxious. But I'm happy to say that I'm finding a much better balance when it comes to food.

By focusing on whole foods, but still allowing some for some indulgences, I've been able to find a pretty good balance in recent months that still has room for the occasional dinner out or post race beer or popcorn and candy at the movies. By eating well the majority of the time, I can finally eat the occasional treat without feelings of guilt. Yes, I can have my mug of chocolatey goodness after the Hot Chocolate 15k AND still go to brunch with friends after we have all crossed the finish line. It is a celebration, after all, and that is something to enjoy and savor.

I'm hoping that things will continue in the direction that they are going for the remainder of the year and on into next year.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Friday Favorites - Saturday Edition

A crazy week and a super late night at work yesterday led to my Friday Favorites post going unposted! Oh no! Luckily, this is easily remedied. So, here are this week's Friday favorites, just a day late.

This shirt. After a lot of bad information being given out by the Rosehill Cemetery Crypt 5k and ending up with the wrong shirt size and then no shirt at all, I was fully prepared to not receive the promised race shirt in the mail. But I had a pleasant surprise when a package arrived for me earlier this week and it was my new race shirt! I'm still a bit perturbed at the lack of communication and being given the wrong information to start with, but I'm happy to see that the race followed through on their promise to mail shirts to those of us who ended up with the wrong size or with no shirt when they ran out of sizes.

The Tempest. I was finally able to see The Tempest at Chicago Shakespeare on Wednesday afternoon. You guys...this show blew my mind and helped reawaken my love of theatre. The shows that I've been seeing lately and the shows that I've been working on have...well...they have not been the best, and I've been starting to reevaluate my life and my place within the theatre community. The Tempest, however, reminded me of why I went into theatre in the first place. The production was gorgeous and I was so overwhelmed by the wonderfulness of the experience that I started bawling during curtain call. It is closing soon, but the show is amazing, and if you are able to snag a ticket, then you have to see it. Shakespeare. Magic. Music by Tom Waits. Those of three of my favorite things! What is not to love?

Fall Walks. I've been loving the gorgeous fall weather we've been having here in Chicago. I've been making a point of taking a walk outside during my breaks at work each day so that I can enjoy the weather and my city before winter arrives and ruins everything.

Sweets! I've been allowing myself a few more sweets than usual the past week. I'm experimenting with having a small daily indulgence instead of denying myself completely until I have a cheat day and then going crazy. It is a good thing, too, because I'm running the Hot Chocolate 15k on Sunday. The expo for the race had plenty of sweet treats, including hot chocolate, chocolate squares, and even chocolate marshmallows. Yum! I'm a little trepidatious about the race, having not done a long run since my last half marathon, but I'm looking forward to seeing some friends (who convinced me to sign up for the race against my better judgement).

Monday, November 2, 2015

2015 Pumpkins in the Park 5k Recap

What is the best way to get into the Halloween spirit? By running a Halloween themed 5k, of course!

I've done a lot of races this year, blowing my goal of 9 races for the year out of the water. Some races were run with a specific goal in mind, either distance or time. Others were run just for fun. The weekend before Halloween, I ran one of those "just for fun" races and had a blast. 

The Pumpkins in the Park 5k was a lot fun and a great way to get ready for Halloween. The family friendly event took place in the afternoon, as opposed to the usual early morning or evening times that most races have. There was a kids' race (called the Spooky Sprint) at 2pm, and a 5k race starting at 4pm.

I picked up my packet a couple of days before the race at Fleet Feet's Lakeview location on Southport. As is usual with Fleet Feet races and packet pick ups, everything was quick and easy. I was in and out with my packet in about 5 minutes. I was given a friendly greeting as I entered the store, helped with my packet, asked if I had any questions, and then I was back out in the world. The packet consisted of my bib number, clear plastic gear check bag, race shirt, safety pins, and then there were some printed sheets of race information available, if desired.

There were two shirt designs to choose from when I registered - a vampire theme and a Jack-O-Lantern theme. I went with the Jack-O-Lantern shirt. The race is called Pumpkins in the Park, after all.

I've already put this shirt to good use by wearing it for my run Halloween night.
The afternoon of the race, I made my way over to Lincoln Park. I had some friends who had children participating in the "Spooky Sprint" kids race at 2pm, so I wanted to make sure that I got there in time to see them run.

I was worried about rain, as it had poured overnight and a good chunk of the morning. Luckily, the weather seemed to be clearing up as I left for the race, and the sun even came out as I walked to the race site. It was still windy and a bit chilly, though, so I wore a jacket and an extra pair of pants over the t-shirt and shorts I would be wearing for the race.

Hooray! Fall!
I arrived just in time! The kids' race was just starting. The kids ran based on age, with the youngest children going first. The distances for the kids were also by age, so the little guys didn't have too far to go. Distances ranged from 10 yards to a quarter mile, depending on age.

Most of the children were in costume, which made the race even more adorable.

Loving the Yoda costume in the center.
If you want to see what pure joy looks like, then just watch a group of little kids run. They weren't running to meet a goal time. They weren't running to lose weight or gain fitness. They were running because it was fun. It was pretty much the best thing ever, and I'm glad that I was able to see it.

The son of one of my friends ended up winning the race for his age group and was very proud of his accomplishment. Their family and I ended up hanging out together for much of the afternoon. The kids seemed to be having a good time, and we made the rounds of the race site as we waited for the 5k to start.

There was food for purchase from a couple of food trucks. Both trucks seemed pretty popular, and you could smell the donuts cooking from the donut truck no matter where you were. That combined with the smell of popcorn from a table in the middle of the site made everyone hungry.

Mmmm...all of my favorite foods in one place - donuts and hot dogs.
There were the usual tents around the area - race day packet pick up, gear check, tents for the various sponsors of the race, etc. Each tent at the race site had treats out so that the kids could go Trick or Treating from tent to tent.

Trick Or Treat?
Keeping with the family friendly nature of the event, there was also a tent with pumpkins and craft supplies, so each child could pick out a small pumpkin to decorate and take home with them, and in between the Spooky Sprint ending and the 5k starting, there was a children's costume parade featuring all of the kids who had come dressed up for the event.

There were just so many fun activities and treats!

There was even some marshmallow roasting going on before the race.
As it got close to the 5k starting, it was still windy and chilly, so I waited until the last possible minute to take off my extra layers and check my bag. Gear check was well staffed and both drop off and pick up were incredibly quick and easy.

The usual pace per mile signs at the starting line so that people could line up accordingly were missing due to the wind, but there were several announcements made urging people to still line up according to anticipated pace, with fast folks at the front and walkers at the back.

After a couple of announcements, we were off! The first few minutes were the usually frustrating race experience of trying to find a hole to get around folks who had either overestimated how fast they were or just didn't care. After a little weaving, though, it was clear sailing. The course started by the South Field House and utilized the path between the zoo and the Rowing Lagoon.

Although an open course (generally the paths along the lakefront and in the parks remains open to the public even during the races), there was surprisingly little traffic on the path that was not associated with the race. I only saw a handful of runners, walkers, and cyclist who were caught by surprise as hundreds of people of costume ran by.

That's right, the kids weren't the only ones who came in costumes. The adults also got into the spirit of the season, and plenty of runners were sporting their best Halloween gear. I was dressed as Runner 5 from Zombies, Run! and was wearing my favorite Runner 5 shirt, wrist band, and other zombie apocalypse appropriate gear.

I was worried about running in short sleeves and shorts, as it was quite chilly and I was freezing at the starting line, but after the first mile I was quite comfortable and was glad that I hadn't worn more. I was making surprisingly good time and was feeling pretty good. I passed the first mile marker pretty quickly, and then the aide station, which was well staffed and stocked with friendly and enthusiastic volunteers handing out water and Gatorade. Before I knew it, there was only one mile left to go.

I started to slow down a little as I got a stitch in my side, but I was able to keep running. My favorite part of the course was that little bit at the very end where we went under the Grant statue and through the twisting path next to South Pond before coming back to the path and heading to the finish line.

I was ecstatic to see the final clock displaying a faster than usual time for me and was thrilled to hear my name announced as I crossed the finish line (this will never get old). I had a new 5k PR! My official finish time was 27:42, which was even better than the PR I had set just a couple of weeks earlier at another 5k.

I, as usual, grabbed one of everything handed to me at the finish - water, Gatorade, an apple, fruit snacks, a protein bar, etc. I met up with my friend who had finished before me, grabbed my stuff from gear check, and threw on my extra layers. As soon as I stopped running, I started shivering, so I was happy that gear check was so quick and efficient so that I could have my jacket and long pants to warm up again.

Every runner 21 or older got a free Goose Island beer, which was delicious. I enjoyed my beer while waiting by the finish line to cheer for the other runners, including my friends who were finishing after me. High fives were given, and we went to the stage to cheer as the various top awards were announced. After awards, there was the the adult costume contest. There were prizes for the best original costume, the best group costume, and the best Star Wars costume. To be eligible for the prizes, you had to run and finish the race in your costume.

The best Star Wars costume came down to Darth Vader and a Storm Trooper. Apparently, the Dark Side was winning.
After the costume contest came the real competition. Sure, you can run a 5k. But can you consume an entire pumpkin pie without using your hands in a limited amount of time? That's right, friends! It was time for the pie eating competition!

The brave contestants lined up in front of their pumpkin pies and waited for the start. Every one put in a valiant effort, eating as quickly as they could. The winners got a gift bag and a whole pie of their very own to take home with them.

So. Much. Pumpkin. Pie.
I had a great time at Pumpkins in the Park and look forward to running it again next year. It was a fun race with great pre and post race festivities and was the perfect way to get into the Halloween spirit.

The afternoon time was a little strange but helped make it more accessible to families with small children. Although billed as a family friend event, even runners without children, such as myself, had plenty to keep us entertained.

I really can find no faults with this race. Fleet Feet knows how to put on a good race. There weren't many bells and whistles, but it was well organized and managed and just a lot of fun. Good shirt, good course, good communication, ample opportunity for packet pick up...yeah...I'm a fan. And I got a PR, which was just the icing on the cake.

I think it is safe to say that I'll be back again next year.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween!

Halloween is my favorite day of the entire year! I love everything about it, and today was a truly lovely day. I watched my favorite Halloween movies, ate some candy, and carved a Jack-O-Lantern.

But that's not all. All week long, I've been getting ready for Halloween. I've been running at night so that I can enjoy everyone's Halloween decorations lit up in all their glory:

And at Chick's Night on Wednesday, we had a costume contest, and there was a representative from Brooks there who let us all try out Brooks Ghost 8 during our run. Get it? Halloween. Ghost. Eh?

And finally, Halloween arrived! I actually had the day off from work today, and it could not have been a better day. I slept in, had a leisurely breakfast, went for a walk in the rain, and hung out with this furry little creature all day:

And, of course, I went for a run. My usual running path was completely deserted tonight, which made tonight's run a little creepy. I always see other runners or cyclists on the path, but tonight I was all alone.

It was a wonderful and relaxing day. Sometimes I feel bad about not going out and doing things, but I have to say, spending Halloween at home was pretty great today.

I hope you also had a great Halloween.