Monday, March 30, 2015

2015 Shamrock Shuffle 8k Recap

The morning of the 2015 Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8k dawned with little fanfare. 

I had been hearing about the Shamrock Shuffle ever since I started running. It was a big deal in Chicago, and I knew a lot of people run it each year. I get really anxious around crowds, so I was mentally preparing myself for the masses of people. 

Soooooooo many people. And this was just Wave 2.
I was groggy and tired after a night of tossing and turning. I can never get any restful sleep the night before a race. I was in Wave 2, so I had a little more time than usual in the morning to get ready. I ate some breakfast (half a bagel with cream cheese and a cup of coffee), got dressed, grabbed my gear check bagged (packed the night before), fed Hannah, and made my way to the train to head downtown to the race. Pretty much everyone I encountered on the train was also heading down to the Shamrock Shuffle. There was a lot of talk about the race and what to expect.

CARA was offering a "VIP experience" for members at the Congress Hotel. I wasn't too sure what that meant, but I was excited about the prospect of indoor bathrooms, so I made sure I had my member card with me. Once downtown, I went straight to the Congress. It was cold and windy, and although the sun peeked out from behind the clouds from time to time, it didn't really help warm things up.

The hotel was right across the street from Grant Park, which made it easy to get to the start corrals.
Once at the hotel, I found the CARA room, checked my bag, grabbed a coffee, and started the waiting game. I still had an hour before I needed to be in my corral, and I was thankful that I had a warm place to wait. 

The bathroom lines were still really long.
I made my way outside with just enough time to get into my corral before they closed. One of my favorite moments of the morning was the announcer stating, "The corrals are now closed. If you aren't in your corral, then you'll have to start at back. If you are starting at the back, then you're probably not going to win." Way to keep it real! Even once the corrals closed we still had about 15 minutes before we were able to start, and those of us in the last couple of corrals had a little longer to wait, as the corrals in front of us were released one at a time.

By this point, my fear and anxiety had turned to excitement. I was finally awake and ready to run. I chatted with some of the folks around me and did what I could to warm up in the tightly packed corral.

There were so many people who were just excited to be outside running! It was great!

I decided to go all out for my first Shamrock Shuffle and wore a sparkly green visor and skirt.
As the corrals in front of us were released one by one, we  moved closer and closer to front. Soon, the start line was visible and everything was finally real. I was running the Shamrock Shuffle! It was cold. It was windy. But I was pumped!

My corral was ready to START!
The race itself was great. Even with all of those runners, it didn't feel crowded and I was able to easily maneuver around slower runners and not feel bad about impeding the progress of faster runners who could easily maneuver around me.

Running through the streets of downtown Chicago was pretty much amazing. It isn't very often that you can run down the middle of what is usually a busy city street. I felt great throughout the race. I hadn't properly charged my watch, so it died on my around mile three, but I felt as though I was making good time (for me, anyway).

It was cold, but I did warm up once I was running. The wind, however, just seemed to get worse as each mile passed by. I have to hand it to the volunteers for sticking it out in the cold and wind. They were amazing! They must have been freezing, but they stayed out there and helped make this a great race.

At the finish line, there was post race food (bananas, cereal bars, chips, apple sauce), bottles of water, and cups of Gatorade. There were also finisher medals, which are awesome because they double as bottle openers. I don't usually care about medals, but it was really cool getting one, so I guess I care a little more than I though I did.

Yay! My medal/bottle opener!
There was a post race party in Grant park featuring live music, food, and beer. I grabbed my free beer and checked out what there was to see and do. I didn't stay very long, though, because I was soon freezing and shivering. The wind was picking up, the dark clouds were blowing in, and I could tell that it was going to start raining soon.

I made my way back to the hotel to get my bag from gear check and add a few layers of warm clothes to my body. There was more beer back at the hotel for CARA members, and it looked as though there were also massages, but I was tired and just wanted to get warm and find some real food.

I decided to do a post race selfie instead of my usual pre race selfie.
The rain started right as I got to the train to head home. It is always fun seeing the other runners make their way home via public transit. There were so many people in running gear carrying bananas and bottles of water.

The real reason people run is for the post race banana.
After the race, I stopped at First Slice Pie Cafe on Manor to pick up some lunch before heading home to check my results. I didn't feel like cooking, and a warm sandwich and slice of pie sounded like the best post race meal a girl can ask for.

Yay! Food!
While I munched on a duck and mozzarella sandwich, I went online and saw that I had indeed made good time. In fact, I had a PR today! Finishing in 55 minutes and 19 seconds, with an average pace of 11:08, I blew my previous 8k time (1 hour 1 minute and 36 seconds) out of the water. I guess all that training this spring is paying off!

Would I run the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8k again? Yes, absolutely! I had a lot of fun and the race was incredibly well organized. I now understand why it is a tradition for a lot of people.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Pre Race Jitters

I don't know about everyone else, but I always get really nervous the night before a race.

Let's make one thing clear. I run very slowly. I'm not going to be winning any awards. I'm simply not fast enough to compete with anyone other than myself, and I'm okay with that. My main goals for each race are to finish the race and have fun, but that doesn't help with my nerves. I know that you are supposed to get a good night's sleep before a race, but for me, sleep seems impossible.

My mind just keeps going to everything that could go wrong, from the possible and mundane to the really strange. What happens if I forget my bib? What if I oversleep and miss the race? What happens if I have to pee right as the race starts? Even worse, what if I pee my pants? What if I get sick mid race? Or can't breathe and have to drop out (a real concern based on a few recent runs where I just couldn't get my breathing under control)? What if I make a wrong turn and get lost during the race?

What if...what if...what if. That is the refrain that goes through my mind the night before a race.

A little planning helps to alleviate some of the jitters. I always pack my gear check bag the night before and double check that I have everything that I need. I triple check the start time and location of the race and make sure I know exactly how to get there. I try to make sure that I know everything I can about the race route and what to expect. I'll even read reviews of past years' races to see if there is any advice that I may want to know.

Still...the nerves don't go away that easily. I don't know if the jitters get better with more experience, but I'm hoping that the more races I run, the easier this will get.

I guess I have a long and sleepless night ahead of me.

Friday, March 27, 2015

2015 Shamrock Shuffle Heath & Fitness Expo

The Shamrock Shuffle is this Sunday! How did that happen?!? I feel like this race kind of sneaked up on me. The Shamrock Shuffle was the main topic of conversation at last night's training run, which is the only reason I remembered that I needed to head down to the expo to pick up my packet today.

I made the trek down to McCormick Place for the Shamrock Shuffle Health and Fitness Expo this morning. Having never gone to McCormick Place before, I had to look up how to get there on public transit. One train and one bus made for a long but pretty easy trip.

There were only three other people on my bus heading to the expo this morning.
I had never been to McCormick Place before, and I was a little overwhelmed. It was just so big.

This place is huge!
Luckily, there were signs to lead the way. And there were plenty of people walking in the opposite direction who were carrying green Shamrock Shuffle bags, so it was pretty clear where to go.

Thank you, sign! I will go in that direction!
After a lot of walking, I saw the "Packet Pick-Up" sign. Huzzah! I have to say, pick up was incredibly simple. Shockingly simple. I mean, seriously, these people knew what they were doing. Everything was clearly marked and easy to find. Just go to the line that corresponds to your bib number, give them you email with the bib number assignment (sent earlier this week), and they hand you your bib. Boom! Done! There was no line when I went this morning, so I had my bib and was ready to rock and roll in seconds.

Packet Pick-Up! I found it!
Next up, shirt and bag pick up. Much like my bib number, this was well organized and made for an easy pick up with very short lines and little to no wait time. You just had to make your way across the whole expo to get there.

So many booths, so little time.
I went straight to the shirt pick up, ignoring the various booths and vendors, because I wanted to make sure that I had everything I needed in case I ran out of time and had to leave for work. I loved that they had a separate table for shirt exchanges ready to go, so you could try on your shirt and immediately exchange for a different size if you needed to.

I really like the shirt design and the super bright green color. I had my bib, I had my shirt, and I had my gear check was time to check out the rest of the expo. There were so many booths and vendors!

I did a bit of shopping, buying a couple of headbands (my hair is too short to tie back and too short for bobby pins to stay put, but just long enough to get in my face when I run) and a new short sleeve running shirt (60% off = awesome).

Then, I hit up a bunch of booths for info about upcoming races, organizations, and, of course, some freebies. Everyone was there - representatives from CARA, CES, Athletico, and a bunch of various charity teams. I made sure to stop at the CES booth, which happened to be staffed by one of the awesome coaches for spring training out of Lincoln Square.

Oh, CES, I think I love you. And your awesome coaches.
There were various freebies. As I made my way through the expo, I was handed a pin, some magnets, a headband, some packets of vitamins, and there were a few "spin the wheel and win a prize" type of things.

The most random freebie today had to be the box of Minute Rice. Thanks for the groceries, expo!
By the time I left and made it to work, I was tired but laden down with goodies. I've never run a race big enough to warrant an expo before, so this was a new experience for me. I have to was pretty fun.

All the stuff I was given today, including my packet and shirt.
I'm looking forward to the race on Sunday, but I'm still a little nervous. My breathing has been a little difficult during recent runs, and the weather forecast calls for rain. I still think it will be a fun race, though, and I'm hoping for the best. I'll let you know how it goes!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Things I Love Right Now

Life has fallen into a bit of a routine, which is both good and bad.

Routine is good because it is a little easier to keep everything balanced and manageable when I know what to expect day to day. It makes it easier to plan meals, workouts, make appointments, and generally keep things under control.

Routine is bad because I tend to get so focused that I turn into something of a robot and forget to look around me and enjoy life. I get so focused on work, that I forget to live life. remind myself to not forget to look up and enjoy the world around me from time to time, here are the things that I am kind of loving right now:

Blue skies and sunshine! I wasn't thrilled with the recent show fall (not cool, Mother Nature, just not cool), but the recent sunshine and pretty blue skies have still lifted my spirits. I just hope we get a little bit more spring before summer shows up.

More sunshine and less snow, please.
Friends! I tend to isolate myself from society, spending most of my time alone. Although I usually value my alone time, I do still get lonely and miss the company of others. I've been trying to make more of an effort to spend time with other people outside of work. My friend Anita and I recently headed over to the Chicago Theatre for Bob's Burgers Live. It was a great show! And it was lovely seeing Anita again. I haven't seen her much in the past year, not since she and her husband moved to the suburbs. I've missed them and will make more of an effort to see them in the future.

Bob's Burgers Live, dinner, drinks, and friends = a great night!
A later start time for work. The earliest I've had to be in at work this month has been noon. Admittedly, I often don't get home until 10pm or later, but not having to start until noon gives me my whole morning to run and enjoy a real breakfast before heading to work. 

I think breakfast is my favorite meal of the day.
My new toy! I was having trouble keeping track of my distance and pace, so I finally invested in a GPS watch. Even though I'm still getting used to running with it and am still learning all the cool things it can do, it is pretty much amazing.

I'm loving my new watch. My next running splurge will be a new pair of shoes.
And, of course, there is also Hannah. I can't leave her off this list. Coming home to her furry face makes every day better.

Hannah is the best cat in the world!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Spring, Is That You?

Lately, I've been feeling drained thanks to a recent bout of insomnia and an unusually busy schedule. It is no secret that I've been a little stressed and not feeling all that great. My workouts have been hit or miss, sleep is pretty much non existent, and it is taking every ounce of will power I have not to breakdown and buy all of the Easter candy and devour it in one sitting.

The siren song of Cadbury Mini Eggs is very real.

All that being said, the weather has taken a turn for the better. It has been absolutely beautiful outside all week! The sun has reappeared, warming the city and the hearts of its inhabitants. Everyone is walking around with a smile on their face. It is pretty incredible.

The warmer weather means that I'm able to run outside instead of on the treadmill at the gym, which has made a world of difference. I actually look forward to my runs again! I'm still at the gym several times a week for cross training, but running outside has made me hate the world a little less. Last night, I didn't even need a jacket during my run. It was magical. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Feeling Better

I still have some reservations about training and adding distance, but after this morning's group run, I'm feeling much better about everything.

It was a little rougher than usual getting up early thanks to the time change, but I managed to make to get out of bed, get dressed, and show up in time for the run. There is something oddly satisfying about walking around early in the morning, before a lot of people are awake. And thanks to the time change, it was already light out - this may actually be the only good thing about daylight savings time.

Good morning, Lincoln Square!
I considered moving to a slower pace group, but at the last minute I decided to stick with the same pace group that I ran with last week. I'm glad I did, because I had no trouble keeping up and probably would have felt that I was running too slowly if I had switched to the other group. As soon as we were running, I felt great. We only ran four miles today, but being able to finish strong helped boost my confidence.

I'm looking forward to continuing training and adding distance and am both excited and terrified to test myself and my capabilities and expand my knowledge.

Friday, March 6, 2015

March is a Monster

March is already a monster, and it is only March 6. I am already exhausted, which doesn't bode well for the rest of the month. It also doesn't help that we are still getting some nasty weather, though the weather report looks promising for the upcoming days and weeks - maybe spring is finally on its way.

Really getting tired of all of this. I need to see some sunshine.
Luckily, I did have Tuesday, March 2 off from work (my only day off for a very long time), so I used it to get as much of my life in order as possible. I spent the day doing laundry, running errands, actually running, and enjoying my final Yoga 101 class. I'm trying to find a way to fit some more yoga classes into my schedule, but they may have to wait until April thanks to the combination of work and training schedules.

I also went to the grocery store and stocked my refrigerator with healthy and easy to prepare foods. I did a lot of food prep for the coming weeks: making hard boiled eggs, cutting and packaging vegetables for snacks, and cooking and freezing some meals for days I just can't bring myself to cook.

Hannah likes to "help" in the kitchen.
Even with my preparation, the week has still killed me. The long hours at work have taken their toll and I'm always tired. I get home from work really late each night, and then I have to wake up early the next morning if I want to fit my runs and workouts into my schedule.

Speaking of runs and workouts, I'm starting to really worry about my training. I've been keeping up with the workouts and following the plan as written, but it hasn't been easy, and I don't know if I'll be able to keep up with the schedule once runs start becoming longer. Worst of all? It has only been one week.

My legs (especially my lower left leg - not sure what is going on there) are sore and stiff even though I'm not running any more than usual (yet) or any faster than usual (in fact, I'm a little bit slower than normal), and the dreaded shin splints have decided to pay a visit again as of this morning.

ONE WEEK! One week of training and I feel terrible! How am I going to run 10 miles when I can barely manage four?

Sorry for that outburst. I'm just a little frustrated with my own inability to improve at one of the few things I actually enjoy. I'm also angry that I allowed myself to become so tired. I can't sleep at night, but I sure can fall asleep on the train on the way home from work.

I've only fallen asleep on the train once this week.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Time to Train

Today is the first day of March, which means that spring is almost here. Or at least I hope it is. It also happens to mean that I had my first meeting/run with Chicago Endurance Sports. That's right, friends, this non-morning person got up early today to attend CES open house for their spring half marathon training this morning at Fleet Feet Sports Chicago Lincoln Square.

Open house before work = best way to start the day.
 I signed up for the training program shortly after registering for the Soldier Field 10 Mile. Although initially excited for the race this May, I quickly began to worry that I wouldn't be able to actually finish it. Simply put, I didn't (and still don't) trust myself to properly train for the race on my own. My longest race so far was an 8k, and I was really struggling with my running at the end of 2014. I felt like I needed help to safely train for a new and longer distance, and I knew that an online program or a book just wouldn't offer the accountability that actual face to face interactions would. I looked at CARA and CES training programs. The CES spring half marathon training fit better with my crazy schedule, met in my neighborhood, and was the official training program for the race (race day perks and knowing I'll see people I've trained with are nice bonuses), so CES was the clear winner.

Although we don't have our first official group run until next week, this morning's open house was a nice introduction to the program. Everyone I met was very nice and seemed excited for training to start. Most people there were either part of CES or were already registered for the program, but there were a few folks who were just there to get some information about the program. We started with a quick presentation of what the program offers, some information about some of the races (including the Soldier Field 10 Mile), and then we were off for a fun run. 

There was a choice of a 1 mile or 3 mile run/walk or a 4 mile continuous run. I chose the 3 mile run/walk at an 11:30 pace. It was cold outside, but I quickly warmed up as we ran. We did end up running a little slower than an 11:30 pace thanks to some snow and ice on the sidewalks. It was strange running with other people, but I really enjoyed it. In fact, the run seemed to fly by as we chatted, and before I knew it, we were back at the store to wrap up the open house and have some snacks. I felt great and found myself wishing that the run had been a little longer. 

Yay! Snacks!
Everyone mingled and chatted, and those of us who were already registered were able to pick up our packets, which including a training plan, shoe tag, and goodies like a shirt, hat, and a couple packs of Shot Bloks. I've never run long enough to need to use chews or gels or bars or anything like that, so the Shot Bloks are a foreign concept to me. I 'll keep them for when our training runs start getting longer and I need them. I like the shirt a lot, but it is too big, which is a problem I've never had before. I've been under the impression that I'm some sort of giant monster, because even the largest size for race shirts have been too small this past year.

The contents of my packet.
I made my way home to shower and change and feed Hannah before heading to work. I really need to get in the habit of getting up early to run. I feel so much happier and more energized after a run, so it is a great way to start the day. Also, my night time runs, though wonderful, make it hard for me to get to sleep at night. I just always feel so much more awake after a run!

I must have had a spring in my step, because I made it to work early enough to grab a cup of coffee before it was time to clock in and sit down. My co-workers even mentioned that I seemed more energetic than usual. But the best thing was finding out that there was chocolate at work today!

The best chocolate is free chocolate.
Group run! Free chocolate! I'll probably be exhausted by the end of March, but the month is starting out on the right foot.