Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Night Before a Race

The night before every race is always filled with excitement and nervousness. This year, I've come to accept that I won't be getting much sleep. In fact, most of the time, I don't get any sleep the night before a race.

Tonight is no different.

I'm running the Chicago Half Marathon in the morning.

I'm incredibly tired, but I'm also incredibly antsy. I can't seem to sit still for very long, and I keep double checking that I have everything I need for the morning. It doesn't help that I have to leave the house by 3:30am in order to get to the race, and I'm terrified of over sleeping and missing the last shuttle to the race site. I've set three different alarm clocks to make sure that I get out the door on time.

This is really happening!
I've been making sure that I have everything that I need. I made sure to pick up my race packet as soon as I could to have one less thing to worry about this weekend. And when I say "as soon as I could," I mean it. Literally. I arrived about 10 minutes before the race expo opened on Friday. I wasn't alone, either. A lot of people were there early.

Once the doors opened, everyone rushed in to get their bib numbers and shirts and peruse the various vendors at the expo.

Things were labeled well, so it was easy to find everything. First, bib number. You needed to know your number to pick it up, but the race had emailed everyone earlier in the week with their numbers and corral assignments. If you didn't remember your number, then they had a station where you could look it up.

Next, the rest of the packet - gear check bag, safety pins, shirt and, for some of us, vest. The first however many runners who registered for the race got a running vest in addition to the race shirt.

I had limited time to spend at the expo, as my family was getting into town that afternoon, so I made basically one big circle to see what there was to see. I didn't end up with quite as much swag as I did with some other races/expos, but I got everything I needed and made it home just before my family arrived, so I'd call it a success.

My stuff from the expo - shirt, vest, bib number, purchased shirt, and various vendor goodies.
I've spent today with my mother, shopping and eating and showing her around my neighborhood. She left for the hotel fairly early this evening to give me time to get everything ready for the morning. My clothes are laid out. My gear check bag is packed. I hit the grocery store earlier today to make sure that I have my pre race breakfast of choice.

All that's left is the race!

I'm trying not to let me nerves get the best of me tonight. To be honest, I don't really feel ready for this race, having had trouble pushing myself since my last race at the beginning of this month. I've been running, of course, but my runs since the half at the beginning of September have topped out around 9 miles, so I'm feeling a bit unprepared to run another 13.1 miles.

That being said, if I did it once, then I can do it again. The weather is looking like it will be much better tomorrow than it was for the Magnificent Mile Chicago Women's Half Marathon. It should be cooler, with the high forecasted for the mid to high 70s. I plan to run with one of the pace groups that will be provided in hopes of reaching my goal time of 2:30, but I won't be too disappointed if I can't maintain the pace and have to slow down.

Wish me luck!

I'm going to need it.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday Favorites

I thought I'd try something new this week by posting a few of my favorite things this week.

I tend to focus a lot on the negative things in life, and I've been making a real effort this year to find the good in things and not dwell on the bad, so I think this will be a good exercise for me. Stepping back occasionally and recognizing the things that make me smile, whether they are big or small, will be a good habit for me to cultivate. So here are my five favorite things from this week:

My inhaler, aka the sweet breath of life. I haven't needed it as much these last couple of weeks, but every now and then I am reminded that my lungs don't always work as well as they should. When this happens, I'm glad that I have my inhaler.

Ready, Wait, Wait, Go! with Peter Sagal. I'm a huge NPR nerd, so when I had the chance to sign up for a 3 mile fun run led by Peter Sagal, I couldn't say no. It was a gorgeous night for run through the West Loop on Monday, and as an added bonus, I got to meet Peter and talk about running and current events. And there was beer and pizza after the, it was a prefect great way to start the week.

It is race weekend! I always get excited in the days leading up to a race. I'm running the Chicago Half Marathon on Sunday. I don't know if I'm ready, but I'm excited and hoping for the best.

My family! I don't get to see my family very often, but they are visiting Chicago this weekend, so I have a chance to show them around the city. Bonus: the brought me gifts (who doesn't love presents?), including some homegrown vegetables from my mother's garden.

And last, but certainly not least, Hannah. I'm pretty sure that she is the best cat in the world. You can make fun of me for being a crazy cat lady, but I love this fur ball. She makes me a happier person and is always there for me when I need her.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Ready for Another Half?

I don't know if this is a good or bad choice, but I'm sure to find out Sunday morning. I'm going to run the Chicago Half Marathon this weekend.

It has only been a couple of weeks since I ran my first half marathon, the Magnificent Mile Chicago Women's Half Marathon, so I'm a little worried about running another half so soon. I'm concerned that I may be trying to do too much too soon. My longest run since my race a few weeks ago was 9 miles, but that felt surprisingly good. Really, I'm just too impatient and want to see how I'll fare running a half marathon when it isn't so hot outside.

I don't know if I'm really ready for another half, but I'm going to do it, anyway.

The rest of my race calendar this year is filled with shorter races - a couple of fun 5ks in October to get into the Halloween spirit, an 8k on Thanksgiving day, and I'm currently on the lookout for a fun race to run this December to finish out the year.

I'd love to run more half marathons, as I've found that I really like the challenge that comes with distance. I also strangely enjoy the stability and regularity that sticking to a set training schedule provides me. However, I also have a lot of fun doing shorter races, so I need to find a good balance between the two.

Friday, September 18, 2015

A Nice Surprise

Back in July, I ran the Esprit de She 5k, which was sponsored by Gildan. In addition to the usual pre and post race festivities (which were awesome, by the way - check out my race recap), Gildan had an Instagram contest, which you entered by tagging your event photos with their Every Thread Counts hashtag. 

I never win anything...until now. Earlier this month, one of my Instagram photos from the race was selected as a winner in Gildan's weekly contest. They contacted me and asked for my shirt size and mailing address. Then, a few days later, I arrived home after work to find a fun surprise waiting for me at the door of my building:

Hooray! I won a prize!
Inside the box was a nice selection of Gildan merchandise - a hoodie, a long sleeve shirt, a short sleeve shirt, a pack of socks, and a few other goodies. I hate to say it, but I think the socks may be my favorite thing from my prize box. They are super comfortable!

In addition to the apparel, there was also this journal and a reusable water bottle.
It was really lovely and very much needed. As I continue to lose weight and am slowly becoming more comfortable with my body, I'm finding myself with a new problem that I've never had before - a lot of my clothes are now too big and too loose. It is a nice problem to have, as I am much more familiar with the opposite problem and over the years grew accustomed to having trouble with clothes being too tight or too small as I continued to gain more weight every year.

Once I started exercising regulary and eating better, my weight slowly started decreasing, which is awesome. I'm still on my weight loss journey, so the size I am now will hopefully not be the size I am in a few months. I can't afford to constantly buy new clothes every time I drop a size, so I've been holding off until I get close to my goal. Also, I have been splurging a little too much in recent months with race entries and new gear and the occasional meal out (post long run brunch is a wonderful but expensive habit), so money is a little tighter than usual while I reign in my spending and start trying to save again.

Thanks to this box of goodies, I have at least a few items that actually fit properly for my current body size.

And I'm not the only one who is enjoying this prize:

Hannah has turned the box into her new fort. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

2015 Magnificent Mile Chicago Women's Half Marathon Recap

I finally did it! I completed a half marathon! I ran the Magnificent Mile Chicago Women's Half Marathon. It was both amazing and terrible, and I kind of want to run another one. 

Traditional pre race selfie.
On Sunday, September 6, my alarm went off at 4am, but I didn't need to wake up because I was already awake. I had spent a sleepless night just staring at the ceiling waiting for it to be time to get ready for the race, so I was thrilled when the alarm finally went off and allowed me to start getting ready and start freaking out so much.

Hannah was not as thrilled about the alarm going off.
I  had laid out everything before getting into bed, so my clothes and gear check bag were ready to go. I took a quick shower, got dressed, ate the first half of my breakfast (a mini bagel with 1 tablespoon of almond butter), threw a banana into my bag for later, fed Hannah, and made my way to the train. I actually ended up on the first brown line train of the day.

I normally like an empty train platform, but it is a little creepy first thing in the morning.
As my train got closer to downtown, more runners joined me. Before I knew it, I was walking around downtown Chicago before the sun was even up. The only other people I saw wandering around were other runners.

Hello, Chicago.
I made my way to the race site and quickly found the port-o-potties. Sorry, but I have a nervous bladder, so I always have to pee a million times before a race starts, so this was the first of many pit stops. The magical thing was that it was a brand new fresh bathroom - no terrible smell, fresh toilet paper, no wet or sticky floor. I was the first to use it that day, and it was amazing.

Next, I made note of where all the other important stuff was - starting line, corrals, finish line, etc. As I've come to expect from Fleet Feet races, everything was well laid out, well labeled, and easy to find. I made note of the various tents (Athletico, Class Pass, etc.), planning to make the rounds after the race. I then made my way over to the Chicago Endurance Sports tent, checked in, and began my final preparation for the day ahead.

One of the many nice things about training with Chicago Endurance Sports is that you get access to their tent at the goal race for the program. Private gear check, our own CES port-o-potties, food, cold beverages, foam rollers...basically everything you could want or need is made available to you. They even have extras of often forgotten items like safety pins, sun screen, body glide, etc.

I ate my banana while I pinned on my bib number and applied some SPF 75 (I don't mess around when it comes to the sun). I chatted with the awesome ladies that I had spent the summer running with and we discussed race strategy and nerves. I was super nervous! Everyone else seemed so calm and collected, but I was seriously freaking out about the race. I don't do well in the heat, and it was looking like it was going to be a hot and humid day. The alert system was already at yellow before the race even started!
I couldn't run without my CES temporary tattoo, now could I?
Once the sun was finally up and the start of the race was getting closer, Lauren Fleshman (yes, that Lauren Fleshman) led some warm ups and gave some words of encouragement to all of the runners.

Warming up!
When the announcement came that it was time to make our way to the corrals, my CES peeps and I started to follow the rest of the pack. The corrals were not preassigned at the race, so runners were asked to select their own start positions based on estimated pace. The different pace signs were easy to see, as were the signs for the different pace groups, so it wasn't hard to find the best place based on the pace I was planning to run.

Ready and waiting to start.
Once the race started, I was feeling pretty good. I was surrounded by friends from Chicago Endurance Sports, and my pace felt good and should have been one I could maintain. I started out with one of the pace groups because I know I often start out too fast and lose momentum early. I planned to stick with the 11:30 per mile pace group (2:30 finish time) for as long as I could, and that seemed like a great plan. Until it didn't.

The course was pretty easy to follow: we went up Michigan Avenue, did a U-turn at Superior, and then made our way down Randolph until we hit the lakefront path, and the rest of the race was along the path (first heading south, then making another U-turn to return north to the finish line). There weren't a ton of spectators, but the ones that were out were great!

I felt great for the first chunk of the race. I even remember thinking around the 10k mark that I was feeling much better than expected, considering the heat. That changed pretty quickly, however. By mile 8, I felt terrible and was really starting to struggle. I had to stop and walk and ended up losing the pace group and my friends. I was hot and tired and was having trouble breathing (my asthma inhaler made an appearance shortly after mile 9). I kept going, though.

Around mile 9, I stopped to use the restroom. I shouldn't have stopped (I could have held it until I made it across the finish line), because I had a lot of trouble getting going again. I was really, really struggling. I started to wonder if I was actually going to be able to finish the race. By this time, the alert system had gone up to red due to the rising temperatures. Prepared for the hot weather, the aide stations were very well stocked and had water, gatorade, and, best of all, ice and ice cold towels. There were also a few misting stations along the course. Even with all of this, I was still suffering.

Meghan, one of the Chicago Endurance Sports coaches that I had trained with, saw me on the course and realized how much I was struggling so she started running with me. My pace had slowed down considerably, and I wasn't very good company because I was frustrated and in pain (my legs started cramping up with only two miles left to go), but she stuck with me to the end. I honestly don't know if I would have finished the race had it not been for Meghan cheering me on for those last several miles.

I was miserable, until I saw the finish line. I finished my first half marathon in 2:42:47. It wasn't pretty, but I'm glad I didn't quit. I ran a half marathon!

I was handed my finisher's necklace, a cold can of water, and a cold towel.

My finisher's necklace. I clearly got a little sun, and yes, I wore my necklace all week after the race.
Various people tried to also hand me food (I think there were apples and also some frozen chocolate covered bananas, but I'm not sure). I was feeling awful (elated, but awful) and knew that I needed to cool off before I tried to eat anything if I wanted the food to stay down.

I made my way back to the CES tent, was handed more stuff (a rose, a Saucony towel, a picture frame, and a 13.1 finisher's pin), and then found a place to sit in the shade.

I wasn't kidding about the rose.
I was seriously feeling terrible, and I guess I looked as bad as I felt because everyone kept checking in with me. I think they were worried that I was going to pass out, which, I will admit, seemed like a real possibility. I felt queasy and light headed. I knew I needed to eat, but I also knew that I wouldn't be able to keep anything down, so I stuck to water and Gatorade until my stomach settled down. Someone brought me an ice cold bottle of water to put on the back of my neck. It took a while, but I eventually started to feel better. Not good, but better. I was able to eat a little, which helped a lot.

I probably should have stretched and foam rolled, but I wasn't feeling up to it. I never made the rounds of the various tents, I missed a lot of photo opportunities with my friends, pacers, and coaches, and I probably missed out on a lot of fun because I just couldn't bring myself to walk any more than necessary. I headed home as soon as I was sure that I could move around without falling over. After a shower, a real meal, and a good nap, I felt normal again.

My goals were to finish the race and have fun. Well, I definitely finished. And I did have a lot of fun before the race and during the first half of the race - basically up until the point that everything started to hurt - so I'm going to say that I was successful.

I'm really happy that I ran the Magnificent Mile Chicago Women's Half Marathon. Although the course was primarily on the lakefront path, it was on part of the path that I rarely visit, I did enjoy the first mile being on Michigan Ave. I thought everything was well organized, with plenty of communication leading up to the race and plenty of information available on race day. There were lots of fun events leading up to the race - yoga on Friday night, a shake out run Saturday morning, and the market/expo. And, of course, the volunteers were really amazing and helped lift my spirits when I was really struggling at the end.

All that being said, however, I don't know if I'll run this race again. I have never fared well in the heat, and this race was no exception. I think I may need to stick to short distances in the summer and save my longer races for cooler weather.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

I Did It!

This morning, I ran my first half marathon!


It was hot, and I really struggled (especially those last 5 miles), but I finished. I want to thank all the volunteers, pacers, runners, and the Chicago Endurance Sports coaches (especially Coach Meghan who stuck with me during those final miles when she saw that I was struggling) for being out there today to cheer everyone on and offer support when needed. I don't think I would have been able to finish the race without everyone's help and enthusiasm.

Now I want to run another one in cooler weather to see how I fare when it isn't so hot out.

I'll post a full recap later, because let's be real, I'm tired and hungry, and all I can think about is eating lunch and taking a nap.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Goals for My First Half Marathon

My goals for the morning are pretty simple, and you've probably seen them here before for other races:

1.) Finish the race. This is my first ever half marathon, so I have no real expectations in terms of time. I just want to run the race and cross the finish line under my own power. If I run another half marathon, then I'll set a time goal. Tomorrow, I just want to finish the race, even if I have to walk most of it.

2.) Enjoy the experience. I sometimes fail to fully appreciate the races I run. In fact, I sometimes fail to appreciate running in general. Every now and then, there is a race or a run that is special. Tomorrow is one of those. It is my first half marathon, and, once completed, will be my longest run ever. I want to fully experience the race and take in all the sights and sounds and the joy of sharing the experience with all the other runners running the race.

Lead Up to Mag Mile Half

I'm still really nervous about tomorrow's race, but I've been distracting myself all week with various activities. There was my final group training run on Tuesday, Chick's Night at Fleet Feet on Wednesday, then the expo and packet pick up yesterday and today, candle light yoga last night, a shake out run this all that is left is to wake up before the sun tomorrow and run 13.1 miles.

I went to the expo yesterday to pick up my packet and see what there was to see. It was nice walking around the Magnificent Mile and spending a couple of hours out and about. The expo was at Pioneer Court on North Michigan Avenue and was held in conjunction with The Magnificent Mile Shopping Festival.

"Public Event" means that there are a lot of tourists confused about all the people in running clothes.
Before checking out the various booths, I got down to business and picked up my packet. The lines were surprisingly reasonable and moved very quickly. I had originally ordered an XL shirt, but they were nice enough to let me exchange it for a large right there at pick up. The race organizers planned well and had some shirts set aside specifically for exchanges like this, and it was great being able to do it right away instead of having to wait until race day.

It took maybe five minutes to get my packet. Thanks for keeping things moving, Fleet Feet!
Once I had my shirt and bib number, everything suddenly felt much more real. This was really going to happen! I was going to run a half marathon!

I plan to take my shirt with me in my gear check bag to change into after the race.
I checked out the various booths - there were lots of different Magnificent Mile stores with booths handing out information and doing raffles. There were a few samples and give aways (I got a free drawstring bag from North Face by showing my bib number), but some of the booths were just too crowded (Nordstrom had some cool activities and give aways, but the line was ridiculous and was moving too slowly), and I just didn't feel like waiting in a long line.

I did notice a sign that got my heart racing:

50% Off running clothes? Yes, please!
Fleet Feet's tent had apparel on sale for 50% off. I know a lot of it is older styles/colors and end of season items, but I just couldn't resist and got a couple of tanks and pairs of shorts to see me through the last bit of summer.

Saucony and Oiselle at 50% off makes this girl very happy.
Then, yesterday evening, I made my way back to Pioneer Court for some candle light yoga. The event was presented by Lolë and ClassPass. Starting at 6:30pm, costing only $15, and billed as a way to "unwind from the week and get ready for race day", it seemed like a great event to help calm my nerves and keep me busy.

I was a hair too early for check in, so I stopped by the Vita Coco booth to grab a bottle of coconut water. I normally don't like coconut water, but I was parched and hadn't brought anything to drink with me. I have to say that the lemonade flavor was pretty good, so maybe I've been drinking the wrong coconut water all this time.

The best coconut water I have ever had. The lemonade flavor was nice and tart.
Once they were ready for yoga, I checked in, signed a waiver, and found my way to a mat. One of the ladies I run with at Chick's Night was also at the class, and it was great getting to catch up and hang out a bit outside of our regular Wednesday night runs.

The best part of the class? They not only provided the yoga mats, but you got to take your mat home with you at the end. There was also a free water bottle and a goodie bag filled with stuff, such as a two week trial membership to ClassPass, a coupon good for a free class at BareFeet Power Yoga, and a coupon for the Lolë store on Southport.

Yoga mat, water bottle, goodie bag...I was happy to pay for the class itself, so all the swag was a really nice bonus.
It was a pretty great experience getting to do yoga outside in Chicago, right next to the Magnificent Mile. And it was the perfect night for it thanks to some beautiful weather. The teachers were great, leading us through an hour long vinyasa class, and reminding all the participants that there was no right or wrong way to do yoga and that your pose may look different than that of the person next to you.

Thanks for the great class, ladies!
This morning, there was a group shake out run, which was led by some pretty amazing ladies: Lauren Fleshman and Summer Sanders. Before our two to three mile run, these awesome runners led us through a group warm up and shared their stories and passion with us, as well as giving everyone words of encouragement and a pep talk for the race tomorrow.

Amazing athletes sharing some inspiring words with a group of runners.
Lauren and Summer were also there after the run and were fantastic about meeting with runners to answer question, take pictures, sign autographs, etc. They were really lovely, and I was thrilled to have the chance to meet a couple of real athletes.

A couple of the ladies that I've been training with all summer were at the shake out run this morning, too. It was so much fun having a chance to run together one last time before race day.

Tonight's plan? Pack my gear check bag, lay out my race clothes, eat a healthy dinner, double check that I have everything I need in my gear check bag, charge all of the things (phone, ipod, watch), take a shower, and try to get at least a little bit of sleep before the alarm goes off bright and early in the morning.

 I have to say, this was a pretty great lead up to race day. And the expo had possibly the best view of any expo ever:

You sure are pretty, Chicago.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Nerves Are Kicking In

It has been a bit since I last posted anything. Not much has happened, really. I just decided to step away from the computer for a little while and have been trying to limit my screen time in order to reconnect to the world around me. I had mixed results, though I did get a lot of reading done, which was nice. And now I'm back!

I'm still running, of course. In fact, this weekend is the big one.

That's right! I run my first half marathon this Sunday!

I'm running the Magnificent Mile Chicago Women's Half Marathon Sunday morning, and I'm filled with emotions! The nerves really started kicking in today. As usual, I keep going through everything that could go wrong this weekend in my head, but I'm trying my best to not let my nervous and self doubt overshadow everything. I'm trying to focus on the positive so that I can enjoy the race.

I've spent the summer training. I've put in the miles. I will cross that finish line.