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.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

And Another PR!

This afternoon I ran the Pumpkins in the Park 5k. I had a great time and will be posting a recap soon.

I was a little worried that my finish time at the Rosehill Cemetery Crypt 5k was a fluke, as it was the first time I finished a 5k in under 30 minutes, but it looks like I had nothing to worry about...

...because I got a new 5k PR today!!!!

My official finish time was 27:42, with an average pace of 8:55.

I am thrilled to have made so much progress this year, and now that I've reached two big running goals (running a half marathon and getting my 5k time under 30 minutes), I can take a step back and focus on why I run rather than focusing on a specific distance or time. I'm going to take some kind advice and try to mix things up this winter with some more and different cross training to help keep things interesting.

This has been a big year for me when it comes to running, and the year isn't even over, yet. I'm excited to see what else the future holds.

For right now, though, I'm pretty thrilled with my new PR.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Lack of Motivation

I love running and have made a ton of progress this year by successfully tackling new and longer distances and also improving my times for short distances.

The past week, though...yeah...I'm just not feeling it.

I've found myself facing a severe lack of motivation lately and have been struggling to force myself to go for a run. I always feel amazing after I've run, and I always think, "That was great! I can't wait to do it again!" But then getting out there again the next day is a serious fight and a test of will.

Long runs? No thank you. Easy runs? Yeah...maybe not. Cross training? Not tonight. Okay, fine, I guess I'll run home from work tonight, but only because I was smart enough to bring my running clothes and leave my CTA card at home, so I have no other choice.

I've been sleeping late and making excuses and skipping workouts and just generally disappointing myself. Because that is the hard part of it all...the feeling of disappointment with myself and my actions, or lack of actions in this case.

I'm not sure what is happening. Maybe this is my body's way of telling me I need some rest. No matter what, I hope this running malaise goes away soon. I don't like that something I have grown to love now feels like a chore.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Friday Favorites

It is a rough day today, so I'm using my work break to remind myself that there are some good things in life. Here are my favorite things from this week:

Zombies, Run! I've written about how much I love this running app before (you can read about it here), but I ended up taking a break from it earlier this year while I trained with CES for my first half marathon. Now that training is done and the race is run, I'm back to running for the joy of it, and I have returned to my beloved running app. For the first time, they are offering a virtual race that is run with the app, so, of course, I had to sign up. My race packet arrived yesterday, and I can't wait to download and run the race mission. Zombies, Run! is what helped me become a runner, as the story element helped me get out there to run, even when I wasn't feeling it.


APPLES!!! Fall means that apples finally taste the way they should. I'm eating them all the time and can't seem to stop. Whether it is gala apples from the grocery store or honey crisp apples from the farmer's market, they are all delicious!


Yummy Baked Chicken. I tried a recipe that I found online at Gimme Some Oven a couple of weeks ago, and I've become a bit obsessed with it. It is super easy and yields perfectly moist chicken breasts. So far, I've just used the seasoning blend suggested in the recipe, but next time I'm going to try them with some different seasonings. I made another batch at the beginning of the week and have been enjoying it all week for lunch or dinner. Did someone say lean protein?
Image Source
Coffee Breaks. Confession time. I've been offering to run to pick up coffee for my co-workers. They think I'm being nice, but I'm really being selfish. Going to pick up coffee for the office gives me an extra break during the day AND allows me to walk around outside in the sunshine. It is a win for everybody! They get to be properly caffeinated, and I get to leave the office and walk around Millennium Park for a little while.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

2015 Rosehill Cemetery Crypt 5k Recap

I had mixed feelings about last year's Rosehill Cemetery Crypt 5k, but it has such a good gimmick (a 5k in a cemetery at night) and offered such a good discount after I completed a survey about last year's race that I decided to run it again this year.

My mixed feelings have caused me to do several rewrites of my recap. I had a lot of fun, but there were just so many things done poorly that I don't know if I will run this race again, despite it being one of the only ways to explore the cemetery at night.

The starting line was easy enough to find.
Unfortunately, this year's race had many of the same problems suffered by last year's race.
Communication leading up to the race was...not great. I was starting to worry that I hadn't actually registered, as I hadn't gotten any email about packet pick up or race day information the week of the race. Finally, the day before packet pick up began, I got an email with the pertinent information. I feel the email should have been sent at least a week before the race, not a day or two before. 

There was plenty of information provided on the Facebook event page, though, and whoever was in charge of the event page was doing a great job of answering people's questions and responding to comments in a timely fashion. The only problem was finding the event page. I didn't know it existed until two days before the race.

Things continued to be a little rough at packet pick up, where, much to my chagrin, I discovered that the race shirts were actually unisex and not gender specific sizing, despite being told when I registered that they were gender specific this year (yes, I did ask before registering due to the problem with sizing last year). So I ended up with a shirt several sizes too big due to be given incorrect information. I expressed my disappointment on the Facebook event page and was told that as long as I was early to the race, then I could exchange my shirt for a smaller size.

I had arranged to leave work early on race day, so I had hopped on the train and headed home to change into my running gear and grab my gear check bag, which I packed the night before. One of the perks about this race for me is that it is a pretty easy walk from my Lincoln Square apartment, so I headed out, choosing to take the scenic route through various side streets and Winnemac Park.

I love all of Chicago's random parks.
It was a beautiful afternoon that would turn into a beautiful night for a run. I was a chilly, but I knew that I would be comfortable once I was running. I had gone back and forth over what to wear, debating if it would be cool enough to need long sleeves. In the end, I chose to wear a pair of running capris and a tank top for this race, and I had a jacket with me that fit in my gear check bag to wear before and after the race. I also had some home made arm warmers (an old pair of knee socks with the toe cut off and a hole cut for my thumb) that I could wear and then discard when the race started. 

I was ready for a spooky good time, and it was fun walking by neighbors' Halloween decorations. Some of which were wonderfully appropriate for the race I would be running that evening.

Spoooooky. 
It took only about 30 minutes, and I was at the race site. It was pretty small, so it was easy to find everything. Starting line, port-o-potties, race day registration, pre registration packet pick up, gear check. It wasn't fancy, but it got the job done. They could have done with a few more port-o-potties, though. The small handful available just didn't cut it once more participants started to arrive.

Rosehill and Ravenswood. Pretty great street names for an intersection immediately outside a cemetery. 
I had my too big shirt with me, so my first stop was packet pick up. I had been instructed to arrive early and head to the pre registration packet pick up table to exchange my shirt. Well, with a race starting at 7pm, I figured my 5:45pm arrival was certainly early. Sadly, I had once again been given bad information.

I was told that I could only exchange my shirt AFTER the race, not before. When I tried explaining that I had been told to come early, I was treated to some eye rolling and a blunt "Well, whoever said that was wrong."

Needless to say, I wasn't happy. I had only arrived so early because I had been instructed to.

Not happy. Again.
I sat on the curb, watching as time ticked away, wondering why I kept being given bad information. As the start time slowly approached, I grabbed what I needed from my bag (water bottle, head lamp, inhaler, tissues), pinned on my bib number, and placed my jacket in my bag. After checking my bag, I was approached by one of the folks in charge who had heard the conversation when I tried to exchange my shirt earlier, and she told me that they simply hadn't ordered enough shirts, but that they could mail me the correct size as long as I turned in the shirt I was given.

I went added my name, mailing address, and desired shirt size to a list that I was handed and then headed back to gear check to get my shirt out of my bag. After turning in my shirt, I saw it quickly handed over to another runner looking for that size.

So...yeah...I don't have a shirt. I'm hoping to get a shirt in the mail, but after all the confusion and wrong information, I won't be holding my breath.

I want to be clear that I'm not upset about unisex shirts. I've run plenty of races with unisex shirts, but they are always clear and upfront about that being the case and don't change their mind without notifying participants. I'm upset that I was told they were gender specific when they weren't. And I'm upset that last year, I was told they were unisex when they weren't. For us ladies, unisex sizes and gender specific sizes are very different things, and I would have ordered the appropriate size if given the correct information. And more than anything, I'm upset that I was repeatedly and consistently given wrong information.

Back to the race! I ran into a friend who I didn't know was running, and she and I decided to run together as much as possible, though we agreed that if we got separated, we would just meet up again after the race. She checked the board listing everyone's bib numbers and then headed to packet pick up table to collect her bib and shirt, but they couldn't find her bib. It turns out that the pile of race bibs weren't actually in numeric order, making it understandably difficult to quickly find a specific number. After some searching and checking through the various piles, it was determined that her number was simply not there, so she was sent back to verify her bib number, then told that she would have to be assigned a new number. She was understandably frustrated, and it was just another example of poor organization of the part of the race.

Once everything was sorted out, we decided to skip the long lines for the port-o-potties and get in line at the start. It was getting closer to the start time, and we were eager to get going and put the rough start to the night behind us.

Official pre race selfie. This time with more headlamp.
There were the usual announcements with a few extras added in about being aware of the path in front of you and be careful because it was going to be dark once we were in the cemetery. They also asked that people who planned to walk start at the back of the pack, a suggestion which was sadly not heeded by many people, but I'm glad that they at least made the announcement this year.

The race started at exactly 7pm, and as we all crossed the starting line and went through the gates of the cemetery I switched on my headlamp. I loved that they had a fog machine running as you passed through the gates of the cemetery. It helped add to the eerie mood of the event.

Let's do this!
I immediately found myself behind a tight pack of walkers. I had purposely started closer to the front than usual after having the same problem last year. If you want to walk a 5k, then that is great. I have friends who will be walking a race that I'm running later this month, and I can't wait to share the race day experience with them. However, if you are going to walk the course, then you need to start at the back of the pack. This is both common sense and common courtesy to the people who do want to run the race, especially at this race where those of us running for an official time had to pay extra for chip timing.

Unlike some of the other runners, I wasn't shy about squeezing through any hole, no matter how small, in order to pass the walkers. I made sure to let those in front of me know I was passing and tried to be as polite as possible, but I fear that I may have come off as a little overbearing with all of my announcements of "coming through" and "passing on your left" and "excuse me". Sorry, folks, but you should have started at the back the way the announcer requested.

I was feeling a little claustrophobic, but once I had made it through the first chunk of walkers, the path cleared up pretty well and the herd of people thinned out a bit, making it easier to run. I had lost my friend, however, but I knew we would be able to meet up again after the race.

I was very happy to have my headlamp again this year, as the path was extremely uneven, posing a bit of a hazard in the dark. I was careful to make sure that the lamp was pointing down and on one of its lower settings to avoid blinding other runners. The light started to give me a headache towards the end of the race, but I'll take that over falling on my face any day. I'm clumsy on my best days, so running in the dark with no light would have been a recipe for disaster for me.

Although not well lit, the path was well marked and much easier to follow this year, with small battery operated tea lights being lined up along either side of the path. As long as you stayed between the lines of lights, then you were heading in the right direction. There were also volunteers station at all of the turns to make sure that runners turned when they were supposed to, which was much better than last year's arrow signs that were impossible to see. It was nice to see at least a few improvements from last year's race.

I did very much like the mile markers, which were projected onto the path itself. There were also a few larger monuments that were lit up, which was really lovely, though I wish that a few more had been lit.

Yeah, my phone doesn't like taking pictures at night.
I was trying not to pay attention to my watch and was trying to run by feel, but I could tell that I was keeping a good pace. I carry my own water with me, largely because my water bottle's pocket is the perfect size to hold my inhaler, so I didn't stop at the water station that was right around mile 2.

I enjoyed seeing the different ways that people were wearing the glow sticks that were handed out before the race. Although they didn't offer much light, they made it much easier to see the other people around you and helped more than one person avoid a collision with another runner.

The course was interesting, running through a good chunk of the cemetery path, with several twists and turns that were a little disorienting at times. At the end of the race, I was running straight towards the finish line, only to suddenly have to turn and go in a circle before heading back towards the finish again. I actually thought that this was a lot of fun and helped keep things interesting.

I glanced at the time as I crossed the finish line and did a double take. It said that I had finished in under 30 minutes. A check of the official times the next morning showed that it was true. I had a new 5k PR with a finish of 29:08! The funny thing is that I was telling friends before the race that this wasn't a race to try to PR at, as the dark course meant that you need to run more slowly for safety reasons.

The finish line was a mini party before the actual post race party.
There was music playing and a party atmosphere at the finish line. I was handed a cold bottles of water and given a high five by a volunteer and then grabbed a banana and a tiny bottles of smoothie from a table piled high with food. I hadn't realized how hungry I was until I took a bite of banana.

Creepy lighting = not the best pictures.
I stuck around at the finish line to cheer on the other runners. It is always great crossing the finish line, but it is so much better when there are people there to cheer for you.

Most people seemed super happy as they crossed, but there were a few runners complaining about how they had just run their slowest 5k or about how the race was so much longer than a 5k according to their GPS. Although I clearly have my own list of complaints about the race, I wasn't thrilled to hear these specific complaints. I would have been much slower if I hadn't been wearing my headlamp to illuminate my path, and the distance can be off due to a weak GPS signal and/or weaving on the course, as the distance is measured from the most efficient path (something I didn't realize last year when I had the same problem).

As there were more and more gaps in the folks crossing the finish line, I decided to explore the cemetery a little bit. It was really interesting being able to explore and wander a bit and see the different gravestones and monuments at night. I was careful not to wander too far off the path, as I didn't want to get lost and end up locked in the cemetery.

It is so much creepier at night than it is during the day.
I made my way back to the finish line to continue cheering on the other runners, but I soon had a text from my friend letting me know that she and some others were already at the post race party, so I headed to get my bag from gear check and join them.

The post race party was at Fireside Tavern, conveniently located across from the cemetery. The party was fairly festive, with lights, a DJ, and food and drink. I enjoyed last year's party a lot more, however, thanks to the live band that performed. The DJ kept the music playing all night, but it just didn't compare to the energy of a live performance.

Party time! Food is on the left and drink is on the right. Runners love their beer!
Each runner got one free beer, while supplies lasted. There was also additional beer available for purchase, as well as food available for purchase. There was the option to pre purchase food for $10 per plate, which I went ahead and took advantage of at the time of registration, as I knew I would be hungry after running and wanted to enjoy some of the post race festivities.

The food and drink lines were not well marked or differentiated, as many people who thought they were in the beer line found out too late that they were actually in the food line.

I was happy that I had remembered to print and bring my meal confirmation with me, as they didn't have me on the meal list. My meal (a BBQ pulled pork sandwich and a choice of side - I went with the shells and broccoli) tasted pretty good, but it was cold. The party was right outside the restaurant, and by the time the race was over, it was pretty chilly out and with the constant opening of the catering trays, it was pretty much impossible to keep the food hot.

Mmm...saucy. And overpriced. 
I eventually found my friends inside the restaurant. They had managed to get a table and were ordering from the full menu, which I hadn't realized would be available. I was a little disappointed to see that the exact meal I had paid $10 for (a discount, according to race organizers) was only $8.50 on the regular menu, so I felt a little cheated.

As I walked home from the race, I felt a little annoyed at the whole experience.

To be honest, I don't think I will be running it next year, which is a little sad.

I really love the whole idea of this race, and it is perfect for the Halloween season. It was great running through Rosehill Cemetery - the course was a lot of fun, and I genuinely enjoyed the time spent in the cemetery, itself - but everything surrounding the race felt so poorly organized and managed that it was just not a good overall experience, and I don't like leaving an event feeling frustrated. They will redeem themselves somewhat if they actually follow through with mailing out the shirt sizes for those of us who ended up leaving without a race shirt, but I don't know if that would be enough to convince me to register next year.

Long story short: running through a graveyard at night is awesome, but repeatedly being given wrong information is not.

The best way they could improve this race is by simply improving communication between the race organizers and the race participants.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Running Commute

I've been doing something recently that I never thought I would do.

I've been running home from work. Because I want to.

This doesn't happen everyday, as my schedule sometimes has me leaving one job and going straight to another job. But at least twice  a week, I pack a bag with my running clothes and work day essentials in preparation to run home after work is done instead of taking the train.

So far, I've only run home after work, but I could probably run to work, too. That gets a little tricky for me, though, when it comes to timing and packing for the day, as I would have to give myself enough time to get to work and clean up and change clothes before the work day actually begins and I would need a way to carry a lot more stuff with me, such as toiletries and food for the day. I have several different jobs, and an inconsistent schedule, so I have to be able to carry anything I need with me, as I'm not able to leave things like a change of clothes, toiletries, or snacks/meals at work.

The nice thing about running home at the end of the day is that I don't have to worry about fitting my workout into my day. It is pretty efficient, as it takes me about the same amount of time to get home running as it does taking public transit. In fact, sometimes it is faster to run home. I love working out at night, so it makes sense to me to run home after work instead of taking the train home to then change clothes and go for a run. It is nice running home and then just being home. I get home, shower and change, and the rest of the night is mine to do with as I please.

It also has helped keep me from getting bored. Lately, when I run in the mornings, I almost always stick to the same path. On my running commutes, I've mapped out a few different routes I can take. My two primary jobs also give me two distances to play with. One gives me a nice easy run that is between 5 to 6 miles, depending on which route I take. The other gives me a more challenging 10+ miles, again depending on the route I take. I usually choose to run home from job #1, as I'm still more comfortable with the shorter distance, especially at night.

Spending my commute running is strangely exhilarating and feels like a real accomplishment, as my run has a specific purpose. The only downside that I've found is that I don't have as much time to read, as that is what I usually spend my time on the train doing.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A New 5k PR

Guess who got a new 5k PR last night?

I didn't want to post about it until I had seen the official results from last night's race, as I was worried that maybe my watch had malfunctioned, but it turns out that my finish time was actually correct.

I finally got my 5k down to under 30 minutes!

I finished the Rosehill Cemetery Crypt 5k in 29:08.

To give an idea of how far I've come in the past year, my finish time for last year's Rosehill Cemetery Crypt 5k was 37:36. And my previous PR was set earlier this year at the Original 5k with a finish time of 30:39.

Consistency and hard work really do pay off! Of course, so does nice, cool weather.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

May the Wind Be Always At Your Back

I have several friends running the Chicago Marathon in the morning. For some of them, it is their first marathon. For others, it is their third or fourth or fifteenth. No matter what the number, it is a special thing. It is the culmination of months of early morning and long runs and hard work and perseverance.

To all of my friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and even the tens of thousands of runners who I have never met but will be running 26.2 miles through the streets of this city I call home, I hope you have an amazing race!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Friday Favorites

A little late, but it is still technically Friday, so here are my favorite things from the week:

The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett. This is the final of the Discworld books, being the final book Terry Pratchett finished before his death earlier this year. I've read and loved all of the wonderful stories about Discworld and was eager to read The Shepherd's Crown when it was finally published, and I was lucky enough to be the first person to check it out of the library. I was already sobbing within the first 30 pages, and I am feeling conflicted as I am nearing the end of the book because I want to know how it ends, but I'm not sure if I'm really ready for it all to end.


Sparkling water. I love this stuff! I started drinking sparkling water when I gave up soda because I found that the thing I missed most about soda was the fizziness. My current favorite is La Croix's Pineapple Strawberry flavor, which I found on sale recently, so I stocked up.


Chick's Night. I have made it a point to attend Chick's Night at Fleet Feet's Lincoln Square Location as often as possible. My work schedule doesn't always allow it, but I've been lucky enough to be able to attend on a fairly consistent basis in the last couple of months. It is great being able to run with a group of awesome ladies every Wednesday night. Chick's Night is a women's fun run held at Fleet Feet each week (the different locations have different days of the week - I run out of Lincoln Square, which has Chick's Night on Wednesday nights). You log your miles after each Chick's Night run, and as you rack up the miles, you earn pretty sweet gear. This week I earned my long sleeve shirt by completing a total of 100 miles run with Chick's Night.


Barnana snacks. I found these in Whole Foods last week, and I went back and bought two more bags after trying them. They are little chewy morsels of dried banana, sort of like banana jerky. The look strange (little brown lumps), but they taste amazing (as long as you like bananas, which I do) and help satisfy my sweet tooth. I have discovered that I need to be careful and portion each bag out into individual portion sizes. Otherwise, I end up eating the entire bag in one sitting.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

2015 Rosehill Cemetery Crypt 5k Race Info & Packet Pick Up

Everyone has marathon fever right now, with the Chicago Marathon taking place this Sunday. Not all of us can run a marathon, though. That is a distance that is still far beyond me. I will be virtually cheering on some friends who are running, though.

Just because I'm not running the marathon doesn't mean that I'm not racing this weekend. Luckily, there is a pretty cool and thankfully short race happening on Saturday that is perfect for those of us who can't tackle 26.2 miles.

I'm running the Rosehill Cemetery Crypt 5k again this year. You can check out my thoughts about last year's race here. Long story short: a 5k in a cemetery at night in October. Yes, please. As a bonus, I got a discount on the race this year for completing a survey about last year's event. Although online registration has closed, they are offering last minute race registration at the race site on Saturday night starting at 5:30pm. Check out the info here.

Am I excited for the race Saturday night? Of course! I can't wait to run through the cemetery Saturday night. You can explore the cemetery any time during the day, but with strictly enforced hours, this is pretty much the only chance to explore it after dark.

However, much like last year, there are already problems with this race, and it isn't even race day. 

The biggest problem so far has been lack of communication and incorrect information. For example, I finally got an email with race information, including packet pick up information, yesterday. I was starting to worry, because I had not heard anything about the race since I registered back in April. Maybe I'm a little demanding, but I feel that the race information should be sent at least a week in advance, and packet pick up information should be sent out as soon as a location is finalized, not the day before packet pick up starts (packet pick up location and hours were TBD when I registered and every time I checked the race's website).  

I learned from the email that packet pick was today, Thursday, October 8, from 11am to 8pm and tomorrow, Friday, October 9, from 4pm to 8pm. There would also be race day packet pick up starting at 5:30pm, when the race site opens.

Luckily, I didn't have to be at work until 1pm today (hooray for strange work hours and evening shifts), so it was easy to get my packet at Road Runner Sports before heading to work this afternoon. Road Runner Sports was pretty easy to get to, being a fairly short walk from the North/Clybourn Red Line stop and had the benefit of being an easy walk to work after I had my packet. 

The process was pretty simple, but, like last year had the potential to be slow and tedious.

Packet pick up was set up in the back corner of the store. First, everyone had to go to one table where they looked up your bib number, then you sent to the next line that was for the table where you would get your packet. Although this is pretty standard for races that don't email bib numbers in advance, there was only one person working each table, so it was easy for the line to move slowly, especially if they couldn't find someone's name on their printed list and/or someone was picking up multiple packets. 

This is what happened this morning. The line was short and moving quickly when I arrived, until someone ahead of me was there to pick up six different packets. Then the line just stopped moving as the one person working the look up table scrambled to find all the different bib numbers/ordered shirt sizes and then relayed that information to the one person working the packet table, who had to try to find and assemble all the different packets quickly with the correct shirts and bib numbers. I hope that they have more folks working the tables this evening, when I think they will get more traffic as people head to packet pick up after work.

The packet was super basic - race bib, race shirt, and safety pins. 

I have to say, I love the shirt design this year. Check it out:

YESSSSSSSSSS!
The only problem with the shirt is that it is unisex sizing. Why is that a problem? I was under the impression (because I had been told) that the shirts were gender specific sizing and had ordered accordingly. This was the exact opposite problem I had last year.

Last year, I ended up with a shirt a couple sizes too small because registration listed unisex sizes, so I ordered a smaller size than usual, only to be handed a gender specific shirt at packet pick up. This year, I was told that it would once again be gender specific (after last year's shirt problem, I made a point of asking about sizing before I registered, rather than relying on the information online), so I selected the size I needed for a women's shirt.

Today, however, I was rudely informed that it was unisex sizing when I expressed concern that they were giving me a men's large instead of the women's large that I had ordered, so I now have a shirt that is far too big to wear comfortably unless I intend to use it as a sleeping shirt (these shirts are generously sized, even for unisex sizing).

I'm more than a little disappointed because I went out of my way to confirm sizing after last year's mishap, only to have the same problem happen this year.

I was told rather brusquely that I can try to exchange my shirt for a different size the night of the race. I'll give it a try, but I'm not holding my breath as that is what I was told last year and it ended up not being possible.

I did find the race's facebook event page today, and I will say that the race organizers have been great about answering questions from me and other runners who have been posting there. I just wish that things had been more clearly and correctly communicated earlier and that I didn't have to rely on facebook to find out about race information.

I'm still excited for the race. It is a cool gimmick, running through the cemetery at night, and it gets the Halloween mood going nice and early in October. The after party was also a lot of fun last year, so I'm hoping for something similar again this year. I have my headlamp out and charging in preparation (it is a night time race, and I was glad to have the light last year, as the course isn't terribly well lit) and will be checking the weather forecast Saturday morning to determine what to wear that evening. Some folks come in costume, but I'm terrible at putting together costumes (though I do want to figure something out for Pumpkins in the Park later this month), so I'll be sticking to my regular running gear.

I'm ready for a fun night run. I have no real goals other than to enjoy myself and soak up the spooky fall atmosphere. I'm not shooting for a PR with this 5k. If I want to stop to take a picture, then I will. I may even ask to get a picture with someone there in costume. We'll see.

Though I'm looking forward to the race, I am a little bummed that the same problems that plagued last year's event and being replayed this year. I guess I had hoped that the organizers would have learned something and worked to avoid the same mistakes.

Why am I such a sucker for a cool race theme?

Monday, October 5, 2015

2015 Chicago Half Marathon Recap

I'm finally getting around to writing my recap of the 2015 Chicago Half Marathon. I needed a little bit of time to decompress after the race and my family's visit to Chicago, which were followed by a whirlwind week of extremely long work days and then a weekend of feeling terrible thanks to a nasty cold. 

Anyway....

I ran my first ever half marathon at the beginning of September and then decided to run another at the end of September to see if I could run a better race if the weather was more favorable. 

My first half didn't go so well. You can read about it here. It was great in that I finished, but it was terrible in that I felt absolutely awful for a good chunk of the race and crossed the finish line feeling sick and dizzy. It was just too hot. I spent the second half of the race feeling ill and generally being miserable as my goal time quickly slipped away when I had to slow down. 

I finished the race, but I wanted to know if I could do better.

That's where the Chicago Half Marathon comes in. I wasn't really prepared for another half marathon so quickly after already running one, having pretty much stopped training after the earlier race, but I wanted to see if I could stay on pace if the weather was cooler. 

I was a little worried about what was going to happen on race day. Okay, I was a lot worried. But I knew that I would finish, even if it wasn't within my goal time. I set the same goal that I wasn't able to reach the first time around - 2 hours and 30 minutes. 

I woke up at 2:30am on a Sunday morning after never really going to sleep and was out the door by 3:30am. I had 13.1 miles to run, and I had to catch a shuttle leaving at 4:15am if I wanted to get to the starting line in time.

I realized after the race that I spent more time on this bus than I did running.
It was great that the race offered free shuttle buses for runners, but it was a little frustrating having to leave so early for a home town race that didn't start until 7am. You see, the week of the race, an announcement was made that they were shortening the time frame available for shuttles, with the final shuttle leaving at 5am instead of the initially posted 5:30am. This posed a problem for me because I don't have a car or a bike and therefore rely entirely on public transit. And, living on the brown line, which doesn't even start running until 5am on Sundays, made it a bit more of a hassle than usual to get to the Belmont el stop to catch the shuttle.

So I left the house at 3:30am, walked to Lawrence, took the Lawrence bus to the red line, and took the red line to Belmont to catch the shuttle.

Runners had the option of signing up for the shuttle at the time they registered for the race or signing up at the expo. Runners also had the option of purchasing extra shuttle tickets for family/friends. I'm glad I went ahead and signed up for the shuttle when I registered, because by the time the expo rolled around, all of the shuttle spots had been claimed.

Once they allowed us to start boarding the shuttles, I ran into a friend who had also done the Magnificent Mile Women's Half Marathon and trained for it with Chicago Endurance Sports. We chatted about the race, CES, and what our goals for the day as the shuttle took us down to the race site in Jackson Park.

There was just one problem, our shuttle driver didn't actually know how to get to the drop off point. He had directions, but the directions didn't take into account the various street closures that had already started in anticipation of the race. We drove in circles for a while, but we still had plenty of time, so no one was too worried. We finally made it to the drop off point only a little bit behind schedule.

It was still dark out, but there were already a good number of people ready and waiting for the announcement that corrals were open.

It was still pretty much night time. They had several spot lights set up to provide some light for all the sleepy runners.
I made my way over to the CES tent to say hello to some of the folks I knew who were also going to be running that morning. I also wanted to check out the pacer information, as I planned to runner with one of the official pace groups to make sure that I had a shot of reaching my goal time.

I'm really glad I stopped by, as they said that as a CES Alum, I was welcome to use their gear check and hang out with the other CES folks before and after the race (there were several people I knew from my spring and summer training). I got to chatting with some of the other ladies who had trained out of Lincoln Square this summer, and it was like a mini reunion.

Love my CES family!
I was anxious to get going, so I distracted myself with breakfast (a banana and half a bagel with almond butter). I also applied a couple of layers of sunscreen, applied my CES temporary tattoo, threw my bag with the other CES gear in their gear check area (a very nice perk, allowing me to avoid the regular gear check lines after the race), and made my way to the already long lines at the port-o-potties.

While waiting in line to pee, the sun started to rise and they made the announcement that corrals were open. There was a strict closing time of 6:45am, and anyone not in their assigned corral by that time would not be allowed to run the half marathon and would have to switch the 5k. I wasn't about to let that happen, so I headed to my corral as soon as I could.

Traditional pre race selfie.
More and more people started trickling into the corrals, which were all clearly marked, though they weren't quite as regulated as much as I had expected, and plenty of people moved to the corral they wanted into the one they were assigned based on estimated finish time (which you had to give at the time of registration). I was in corral L, and that is where I stayed, as it was also the corral for the 2:30 finish pacers.

Corrals slowly filled with people ready to run 13.1 miles for fun.
I was getting nervous as we got closer to the 6:45am closing time and the pacers hadn't arrived. Luckily, they were soon in their places, and I found the ladies who would be my new best friends for the day.

The pacers introduced themselves discussed their plan with the various folks who started to gather around them, explaining how they would handle aide stations, that if you stuck with them then they guaranteed their finish time (they always aim to be right on time with an over/under of only 30 seconds, which is super impressive if you ask me), and, to prove that the 2:30 group had the most awesome pacers, mentioned that they had some extra nutrition with them if anyone ended up needing it.

Just follow the sign!
After a few announcements and the national anthem, the horn was sounded and the race began promptly at 7am. I was in corral L, and it took us about 7 or 8 minutes to get to the start line.

Once on the course, things were actually pretty great. It was cloudy and cool, and we had a little bit of misting at the very start.

Within a mile, runners had spread out pretty well and there was a little room to breathe, even though the course always felt a little crowded, but thankfully not overly so. The pacers were great about giving cues for upcoming aide stations, mile markers, etc. We also got a few updates about an upcoming landmark that we should look for, including the occasional mini history lesson, which was pretty fantastic.

We had a great group of people running together, all aiming for a 2:30 finish, and everyone chatted and cheered each other on. It was pretty great seeing everyone supporting each other, despite being total strangers. Unlike my earlier half marathon, I didn't have any friends running my pace. All of the people I knew were either faster or slower than me, so it was really lovely the way everyone running with the pacers bounded so quickly.

There were a total of 10 aide stations along the course, which initially seemed a little excessive, but I was always glad to see one coming up, especially in the second half of the race. The aide stations were well stocked and well staffed and all had water and Gatorade. There was also at least one aide station handing out gels, but, having a finicky stomach, I stuck with my own nutrition (I had Swedish Fish and Honey Stinger chews with me).

The course itself was pretty awesome simply because it was a completely different route for me. We ran through city streets the entire race, with most of the race being on a closed down Lake Shore Drive. It was pretty much the best thing ever. We were lucky that it was cloudy, however, as we wouldn't have had any shade otherwise, and I think it would have been a little miserable running in direct sunlight the whole time with no shade.

I felt surprisingly good for almost the entire race. It was cool and cloudy, but it was also pretty humid. Even so, I never had to break out the inhaler. I was super careful about taking in fluids and nutrition regularly, and I didn't start feeling tired until the last two miles, but even then, I was able to maintain my pace. I ended up a little bit in front of the pacers after the final aide station, so I finished just a minute or so ahead of them.

My goal was to finish in 2:30, and my final time was 2:28. Hooray! I felt pretty great as I crossed the finish line. I was a little tired, but that was about it. To put it all into perspective, my earlier half marathon finish was 2:42, and I felt sick and dizzy and miserable as I crossed the finish line. Yay! Improvement!

After crossing the finish line, I grabbed everything that was handed to me: water, Gatorade, a banana, a bag of pretzels, and, of course, my ridiculously large finisher's medal.

I have no idea what to do with this, but it is beautifully designed. 
I made my way back to the CES tent, got a few congratulatory high fives, and then did some quick stretching while downing a bottle of water and my bag of pretzels. I felt great running. I felt fantastic crossing the finish line. But as soon as I stopped moving, my legs felt heavy and tired and started cramping. Stretching and foam rolling (thanks for having these on hand, CES) helped immensely!

I had been feeling a little down at not meeting my goal at the Magnificent Mile Chicago Women's Half Marathon, so I was elated to have met my goal this time around. I'm not terrible at running! I'm just terrible at running in the heat!

I think I may need to stick to spring and fall races from now on. Or at least I need to avoid summer when it comes to distance.

After stretching, getting a few photos in front of the CES background, and thanking the awesome pacers who helped me meet my goal, I wander the grounds until some folks I knew who were aiming for a 3 hour finish time crossed the finish line.

Yay! I did it!
My first stop was for pizza and beer. Every runner had a food ticket and a beer ticket on their bib. I was sad when I was handed my slice of pizza, especially when they told me I couldn't have a second one. I try not to be ungrateful when it comes to post race food as long as there is food and they haven't already run out by the time I finish, but I just ran 13.1 miles and I was hungry.

My pizza slice was just so tiny and sad sitting on its plate. It only took two bites to eat it. I guess I went to the wrong person at the pizza tent, because some people were walking away from the pizza tent with two or three or even four small slices, and other people had just one great big slice.
The saddest pizza slice.
Luckily, my beer made things right again. And my post race meal of a cheeseburger and fries once I got home helped, too.

I stopped at the results tent to make sure that my watch was right and saw that yes, I had finished a full 14 minutes earlier than my first half marathon. I considered getting my medal engraved, but I decided against it, not knowing what to do with the medal, as most of my finisher medals just sit in a box. I listened to the band playing, hung out with some fellow CES alumni, and once everyone I knew running had made it across the finish line and we had all congratulated each other, I gathered my belongings and made my way back to the shuttle so that I could get home. It was a looooooonnnnngggggg walk back to the shuttle bus. I was tired, but happy.

In the end, I am very happy that I chose to run this race. I really enjoyed it, but I don't know if I would run it again.

It had a good course that is different from all the other Chicago races I have run, it had a good expo that was easy to get to, things seemed well organized and aide stations were plentiful and well stocked staffed, and the volunteers and spectators were simply amazing. It was just too difficult to get down to the race site, however, and I was a bit thrown by some of the last minute things, such as the change in shuttle times (though very thankful that the shuttle was free). If I can figure out an easier way to get to the race next year and the weather is once again favorable, then I will absolutely run it again. So let me know if anyone has a car and is willing to drive!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Friday Favorites

Today, I give you this week's favorite things!

It is finally October! I love autumn, but my absolute favorite month is October. It is when it finally starts to feel like fall, and all things Halloween finally make an appearance. Halloween is the best day of the year, so that means October is the best month of the year. Plus, there are some really fun Halloween races coming up in Chicago this month.

Yay! Halloween is sooooooo close!
New Shoes! I retired my old shoes following the Chicago Half Marathon on Sunday (I'll be posting my recap soon). They just had too many miles on them and were no longer comfortable. While my parents were visiting me, they asked what I wanted for my birthday this year. The answer? New running shoes, of course! Luckily, they just came out with a new version of my shoe, so the old version that I've been wearing was on sale and Fleet Feet had one pair in my size. It was meant to be!

The last pair in my size, and they aren't pink. I win!
My foam roller. I was hurting after Sunday's race, but my foam roller helped make everything better. I really need to get back into the habit of foam rolling on a daily basis. Foam rolling just hurts so good.

Hannah likes the foam roller, too.
Furiously Happy. This book is seriously amazing. If you don't follow The Bloggess, then you should. She is real and honest and hilarious and just generally awesome, and her books are no different.

A great cover for a great book.
Movie nights with friends. Last night, my friend Derek and I made our way to the Music Box Theatre after work to see Goodnight Mommy. It was unsettling in the best possible way. Movies are always more fun to see with friends, and this was a great one to catch at the theatre. There is a certain magic to sharing an experience with others.

I love the Music Box! It truly is a Chicago institution.