Monday, December 12, 2016

Getting Back Into the Swing of Things

I planned to take a few weeks of recovery following the marathon in October, but that few weeks ended up stretching into a few months, and now I'm struggling to regain the fitness that I've lost and get back into a regular running/workout schedule.

I've lost strength and endurance, and I've gained quite a bit of weight. I'm not happy. In fact, I'm pretty disappointed in myself. I slipped back into old habits and started indulging in too much junk food and spending too much time on the couch. Now I feel sluggish and soft, and I'm angry that I did this to myself.

I've spent the last couple of weeks trying to get back into the swing of things. I set a training schedule for myself, I purged my kitchen of all junk food, and I started tracking my meals and snacks. hasn't been easy or enjoyable. My long runs are...not very long. Speed work is painful and terrible again. And strength training? Don't get me started about my current hatred for strength training.

It is a lot harder getting back on the horse than I thought it would be, but I know that if I work hard and stick to a schedule, then I'll eventually lose the weight and regain my fitness.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

2016 Chicago Marathon Recap

I can finally say that I ran a marathon. 

I ran it really poorly, but hey, I finished within the necessary time to be an official finisher, and that was what I was aiming for, so I'm pretty sure that I can call my efforts at the 2016 Bank of America Chicago Marathon a success.

I was terrified of this race from the moment I registered, but I can honestly say that I'm glad I ran it. It was an incredible challenge, and though it was painful and disheartening at times, I learned that I can really push myself when needed and that my body is capable of much more than I give it credit for. And hey, running through the streets of my city with 40,000 other runners was a pretty incredible experience.

Read on for my full Chicago Marathon recap, including training, expo, and race day.

This race was a big deal for me. I know...I know...the marathon is kind of a big deal for everyone, but I honestly wasn't sure if I was going to be able to finish. 

My training didn't go very well. In fact, pretty much the entire year didn't go too well running wise for me. After last year's success with setting new PRs, improving both speed AND endurance, and generally being in the best shape of my life, I slowly slid backwards starting mid to late January - I dealt with a few injuries that I stupidly insisted on running on, gained a lot of weight, and generally lost my running mojo.

I was both terrified and excited at the thought of running a marathon, and was considering it for 2017. Then a friend approached me about taking a sponsored spot on the charity team she works with for the 2016 Chicago Marathon. A 100% free, guaranteed entry was just too good to turn down.

The marathon took over my life. From June until October, my days were spent thinking about running and nutrition and generally freaking out. My training schedule looked like this:

Monday - Rest/Stretch
Tuesday - Easy Run/Hills
Wednesday - Cross Train
Thursday - Speedwork
Friday - Cross Train
Saturday - Easy Run
Sunday - Long Run

I was generally exhausted all the time, and my small nagging pains in my hip and calves because large screaming pains. I saw my doctor and a physical therapist and was told that all my pain was due to weak hips and glutes, so I was given a series of exercises to help strengthen my problem areas as well as instructions to stretch and foam roll twice a day, even on non-running days.

Between the pain, my asthma, and the heat and humidity of summer, I was running more slowly than ever, experiencing terrible upset stomachs during every long run, and regretting even thinking I could complete a marathon. My long runs got longer and more difficult. Luckily, I had an amazing support system of other runners and Chicago Endurance Sports coaches and pacers who cheered me on and helped drown out my negative self talk so that I could finish even the most difficult of runs (my 16 mile long run was AWFUL). 

My 20 miler was one of the most difficult things I've ever done (I think it was actually more difficult than the actual marathon). There was a lot of walking that day, a couple of bathroom breaks (my stomach was not happy), and one prolonged break to try to work out a giant knot in my calf. But the fact that I finished it at all gave me that little extra boost of confidence I needed.

I have never been so happy for taper! As everyone else worked through taper madness, I welcomed the shorter runs and less intense workouts. I was still afraid of the race, but I was finally starting to feel rested.

The expo was big. I've been to many race expos, but this was the biggest and most smoothly run expo I had ever seen.

I made the trek out to McCormick Place, aiming to get there on the first day of the expo, as soon as it opened, to try to avoid the lines as much as possible. Apparently I wasn't the only one with this strategy. There were already sooooooo many people there when I arrived. That being said, the folks working the expo had everything down to a science. I had my race bib and my shirt/race packet in my hands in under 10 minutes of arriving.

Yes, there was tons of shopping to be had at the expo, but, being rather cash poor at the time, I came in knowing what I wanted:

Although the line at the Nike shop was rather intimidating, it moved incredibly quickly. And I had my new favorite t-shirt to wear the day after the race.

Although there were a ton of booths, shops, etc. that I didn't visit, I'm glad that I went in with a plan, because the expo quickly became incredibly crowded and my anxiety kicked into high gear. The crowds were officially becoming a little too much for me to deal with.

I spent the rest of the relaxing, foam rolling, and generally trying to pretend that I wasn't running a marathon on Sunday. Saturday morning dawned, and I did a quick shake out run, treated myself to brunch, and spent the day packing and unpacking my gear check bag and generally freaking out. 

I set multiple alarm clocks for Sunday morning, laid out my race clothes, charged my phone, and mentally prepared myself for what was to come.

The morning of the race, I woke, prepared my pre-race breakfast (bagel, almond butter, banana), got dressed, fed my cat, and headed out to meet my ride. Having very generous runner friends who have cars has proven to be pretty great this year. I was dropped off bright and early at Chicago Endurance Sport's Race Day Resort. 

The Race Day Resort was one of the big perks of training with Chicago Endurance Sports. Private gear check, post race medal engraving, pre and post race food, and, best of all, INDOOR RESTROOMS. It was also nice being able to see all the coaches, pacers, and other runners who helped me get to that marathon starting line before the race. 

I made myself comfortable and watched the sun rise as I ate my breakfast. I did my best to ignore the nagging voice in my head asking what I was doing and telling me that I was going to fail. I had one goal for the race: be an official finisher. That meant that I needed to finish in no more than 6 hours and 30 minutes. 

I reviewed my race strategy: run/walk intervals of 5/1, keeping the pace slow and steady, taking in fuel regularly even if I felt that I didn't need it, etc. 

Once it was time, I added one extra layer of sun screen, used the restroom one more time, and made my way to my start corral. I was really doing this! There was no turning back now! I was going to run a marathon!

Even though I was at the back of the pack (corral J, to be precise), there was a ton of excited energy flowing through that start corral as everyone prepared themselves to run 26.2 miles through the city streets. Once the wave started, we slowly began inching our way towards the start line.

We managed to have the perfect weather for a race. It was cool but not cold, there was a light breeze, the sun was shining. As we got closer to the start line, the butterflies in my stomach started trying to escape. I had my phone and earbuds with me, but I had promised myself not to listen to music unless I was really struggling during the race.

I checked that my watch was ready to go, made sure my shoes were tied, and told myself that I could and would finish this race. Then we were off!

Thankfully, as soon as I crossed the start line, my terror switched over to genuine excitement. I was running a marathon! I ran with a huge smile on my face for the first 10 miles or so. It felt great! 

My pace was right where I wanted it to be, and I felt strong. I was happy to see so many other people doing run/walk intervals, so I didn't feel so alone. The spectators were amazing, the volunteers were awesome, and I was actually enjoying myself. I think the marathon may just be the best tour of the city!

I had a friend who told me she would be spectating near Elvis. I didn't quite know what she meant, but it became clear right around mile 10.

I saw some other friends around the half way point. Even though I was still feeling good, it was so nice to see some friendly faces and hear words of encouragement as I realized I still had another 13.1 miles to go.

Sadly, my happy feelings began to dissipate shortly after the half way point. My calf started to cramp and I started to slow down. By mile 15, I was dragging and badly needed a bathroom. I made a pit stop as soon as I spotted some port-o-potties, refilled my water bottle at the aide station, and then tried to get back to business. I had to repeatedly tell myself to just keep moving forward. I had run 20 miles before, so why was I hurting so much at mile 15?!?

Thankfully, around mile 16, I was feeling better and was able to pick things up a little bit. Just 10 more miles to go? I can run 10 miles! I've done that plenty of times before! And I can really run/walk 10 miles!

I finally gave in and put one earbud in and turned on the Hamilton soundtrack. I was at the point where I needed any help I could get, it just happened a lot sooner than I was expecting.

Yes, I was hurting, but I was still moving forward and seemed to be faring better than some of the folks around me as I started to pass people who had passed me in some of the early miles of the race.

Soon, I was at mile 20 and only had a 10k left. I was proud to have made it this far, but that final 10k felt like an insurmountable obstacle. My stomach was not happy with me, my legs kept cramping, and I was starting to worry about not finishing.

Then I started doing the math. Even if I had to walk the next three miles, I should still be able to finish before the cut off. I started running again, though my intervals had changed to 4/2 by this point. Instead of thinking about the final 6.2 miles, I started focusing on getting to the next mile marker. "I only have to run one more mile," I told myself. 

At mile 21, we entered Chinatown. The dragons and drums were great, the spectators and volunteers were still fantastic, but my stomach felt like it was trying to escape my body.

From mile marker 21 to mile mark 22, I slowly walked, trying not to throw up, as feelings of nausea and dizziness took over. As I worked to not allow myself to cry, I did a quick head to toe check in to try to figure out if there was a reason I felt so ill and if I needed to stop or could keep going.

I realized that I couldn't remember when I had last taken in any fuel. That had to be it! I hadn't been properly fueling, and I know from experience that I tend to feel sick when I'm running on empty. I needed to eat something, even if the thought of food made me want to vomit. As I walked, I slowly ate the Teddy Grahams I had with me (food works much better for me than gels or chews do - I learned this the hard way last year, so I usually carry pretzels or mini Teddy Grahams with me on long runs). Thankfully, by the time I hit that mile 22 marker, my nausea had passed and I was able to once again resume my run/walk intervals.

I was moving. I was moving slowly, but my pace was steady, and I no longer felt sick. Doing some more math made me realize that I could easily finish within the necessary time, and it was as thought a weight was lifted from my shoulders.

I saw several friends at mile 23, and they were the best friends a girl can ask for because they came stocked with supplies. Other runners know! They had water, pretzels, gummi bears, ice, pain killers, body glide, tissues, band aides...basically anything a runner might need or want at mile 23. I grabbed some pretzels, hugged my friends, and kept moving.

Before I knew it, I was turning onto Roosevelt. It may take me 6 hours to finish a marathon, but I was going to conquer Mount Roosevelt! Even though my watch told me it was time for a walk break, I charged up that hill! Then I was turning toward the finish line!

As soon as I saw the finish, I started to cry. I tried to hold back my tears, but there was no stopping them.

And crossing the finish line...well...that was one of the most emotional experiences of my life.

I did it!

As volunteers handed me water and bananas and placed a medal around my neck and a heat blanket on my shoulders, I was blubbering mess. I slowly walked back to the Race Day Resort, getting hugs and high fives from my coaches and pacers, and sat down, took my shoes off, and turned into a useless lump on the floor until I had time to collect myself. I turned off my phone's airplane mode (I turned it on to save the battery during the race) and saw the text messages congratulating me come flooding in.

Before I could get up to gather my things, I had various people offering to bring me food and drinks. I'm not going to lie, it was pretty great being waited on, even for just a little bit. While I stretched, someone brought me my bag, and then someone else brought me chocolate milk, someone else suggested I take off my shoes. 

My trainer had offered to pick me up after the race and drive me home, and if I finished in 6 hours, she promised to bring her dog with her so I could meet him. My finish of 5 hours and 54 minutes meant that I got to hang out with Bubba while I got a ride home.

As soon as I was home, I showered, fixed a protein smoothie (I wasn't feeling up to real food, yet), and stretched some more. I attempted to foam roll, but my legs were already so tender that it felt like torture. As I drank my smoothie, I iced my legs. Once I no longer felt disgusting, I went for a very slow walk around my neighborhood because I knew that I needed to keep moving, even if all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and watch Netflix.

The next morning, my emotions were still running high. Yes, I was sore, but I didn't feel nearly as bad as I thought I would the day after the race. I had managed to get the day off from work, so after a leisurely breakfast, I made my way to Fleet Feet to get my medal engraved.

I also picked up a congratulatory gift for myself while I was there.

I am so happy that I followed through with my training and ran the race. Unlike most of the folks I know who ran, I'm not terribly excited about the thought of running another marathon. I didn't finish with the thought that I can't wait to do it again. I was just so happy to finish that nothing else really entered my mind. Yes, I was slow. But I did it.

It was a long, painful, and exhausting summer, but the experience of crossing that finish line was worth it. I don't know if I have another marathon in me or not, but I now feel like I can accomplish anything if I work hard enough. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Marathon Recap On the Way

My marathon recap is on the way! I promise!

I had planned to finish it on Thanksgiving to post on Friday, but then my computer crashed and took all my pictures and my draft with it (this is what I get for not backing things up or saving to a cloud system).

Thankfully, everything was able to be recovered, so I will finish my recap and post it tomorrow.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

I Did It. Now What?

So....the answer to the question I've been getting for the past moth (almost two months, actually) is yes. I did it! I ran the Chicago marathon! I was super slow, but I'm an official finisher and can now proudly say that I completed a marathon.

The answer to the second question is that I haven't been posting because I'm not sure what to say. To be quite honest, I haven't really been running much since the race in October. I was hurting after the race and needed some time to recover as well as some time to not think about running after spending all summer doing nothing but thinking about running, but that unfortunately ended up stretching all the way to Thanksgiving. I will be posting my full recap of the race on Friday, as I'm finally feeling ready to get back on track with the blog.

I think part of my problem is I don't quite know where to go from here. I ran the race. I can finally cross 26.2 off my bucket list. But what do I do with myself now? Should I take a break from races or sign up and train for another race? Get back to running or take a break and try out something else?

I spent most of the year working towards one goal, and now that it has been accomplished, I'm feeling a little unfocused.

Monday, September 26, 2016

It Finally Feels Real

I've put in the miles and followed the training plan, but while everyone else I know has been freaking out during the beginning of taper, I've been feeling strangely calm and distant. I've been watching others countdown the days to the race, but it didn't feel real. It still felt like something distant on the horizon. A "someday" kind of thing.

Until today.

When this arrived:

And suddenly it all feels far too real, and all the terror of the past several months of training has come rushing back.

My 20 miler was rough. Actually, it was more than rough. It was a horrible and demoralizing experience, but completing it still felt like an enormous achievement, and the next day an odd sort of serenity had descending upon me.

Finding the participant guide in my mailbox tonight and reading through it has brought the real world crashing back down around me more than any of my runs this week could have. This is a real thing. This is happening. And it is happening soon.

In 12 days I'll be making my way through 26.2 miles of my city.

I don't know if I'm ready for this. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

5 Ways I Get Out the Door When I Don't Want to Workout

Let's be real. Some days just feel harder than others. I know that for me, those hard days see me wanting to spend as little as time as possible doing...well....everything. On those hard days, I just want to hang out with my cat and watch Netflix.

Who wouldn't want to lazily hang out with this furry face all day?
Don't get me wrong. Everyone needs a rest day now and then. Rest days are important. But a whole bunch of rest days all in a row? Not really the best idea. Here are five things I do regularly to help get my butt out the door for a run or workout on the days when I really really really don't want to exercise.

1. Set yourself up for success. Lay out anything you need for your workout the night before. I'm heading to the gym in the morning before work for some cross training, so I have my workout clothes, shoes, headband, inhaler, and water bottle ready to go. Sometimes, if I have a morning workout planned, then I'll even sleep in my workout clothes. By making my morning as easy as possible with as few decisions to make as possible means that I'm more likely to follow through with my plan in the morning.

2. Workout with friends. Set a specific date and time to meet with your workout buddies. Write it down and commit to being there. Knowing that I have a friend or a group of friends who are expecting me means that I will show up. And once I'm there, it is nice to have someone cheering me on, especially when my self talk turns to the negative side. Having someone telling you that you can do it can make a huge difference. I honestly don't know if I would have gotten through my whole 18 miler without the awesome runners I was with that day.

These awesome people kept me going for those last few miles when I really wanted to give up.

3. Create accountability. Find someone or something that will hold you accountable on a regular basis. I have a friend who has been having trouble sticking to her workouts recently, so now she texts me every time she works out, and if too many days go by without a text, then I check in with her to remind her about her goals. For me, simple keeping a training log helps. I have a written plan for each day of the week posted next to my door, and everyday I mark if I complete the workout or not and why or why not and my thoughts/feelings about the outcome. Having to write down that I didn't complete my run because I was feeling lazy doesn't feel good and is usually enough of a motivator to get me out the door.

4. Treat yo' self! Rewards are awesome! Creating a reward or a series of rewards for working out can help give you that extra little push you need. Last year, I put a dollar in a jar after every workout. Once I had enough cash in my jar, I treated myself to some new running clothes. Right now, I treat myself to either coffee or brunch after each long run. I've come to associate exercise with these delicious things. Positive reinforcement isn't just for our pets. And if I miss a long run? Well, then there is no brunch for me that week.

The chocolate smoothie at Starbucks is delicious when you can't stomach solid food after a long and hot run.
5. Give yourself a specific goal. Exercising for the sake of being fit and healthy is fantastic. After all, I started running because I wanted to improve my health. But that wasn't enough to keep me going. I had a lot of starts and stops. Some of us just need a little something more. This is one of the reasons that I run races. One of the ways I was able to establish a consistent running routine when I first started running was by signing up for my first 5k. Even now, three years later, I use races as goals to keep me running on the days that I would rather just wear pajamas and hang out on the internet. Would I have run 18 miles last weekend if I wasn't registered to run the Chicago Marathon next month? No. Absolutely not. But knowing that I have to run 26.2 miles on October 9 has kept me going all summer. Today I overslept, had a long and hard day at work, and really didn't want to run when I finally got home at 9pm. Then I thought about the race, changed my clothes, and went for a run.

Monday, September 12, 2016

18 Miles

I ran 18 miles yesterday.

I've never run that far before.

I did something new! And it feels great!

It was a little rough, especially the last 3 miles when all the muscles in my legs decided to start hurting at the same time, but I did it. And I really wanted to give up and walk the last mile, but I didn't stop.

And the view! Sometimes I forget how beautiful Chicago can be. That is something that even my not so good long runs give me, a chance to see views of my city that I don't always get to see, as I'm rarely by the lakefront unless I'm running.

Today is a rest day, and boy do I need it! I've been making a point to walk and stretch and foam roll today, because my legs, especially my calves, are tight and sore from yesterday's 18 miles (did I mention that I ran 18 miles?).

I'm still scared of the marathon, but I'm feeling a little bit better with each long run that I complete.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Trying to Look on the Bright Side

The Chicago Marathon is one month away. 

Yeah...I'm terrified. 

My training this summer has not gone very smoothly. I'm been plagued by injury and illness, and I've been really frustrated as I've had to slow down considerably while I struggling through heat, humidity, and pain. In fact, I've been questioning if I'll actually be able to finish the marathon in October. 

But I'm trying to be positive. I'm trying to look on the bright side.

Yes, I've struggled with my training, but I've also set new personal records for longest distance run, finally learned to embrace hills rather than dread them, run with some awesome people, gotten some great advice from more experienced runners, and found some fueling options that work well for me.

Some mornings I question why I'm up and running when it is still dark out, but then I get to watch the sun rise. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Super Quick 2016 Summer Race Recaps

Between all sorts of weirdness with work (received a job offer, then the offer was rescinded, then there was a different offer - just all sorts of craziness) and marathon training (so tired, so hungry, everything hurts), this summer has felt like a whirlwind. So much so, that I chose to limit my time on the internet. I've been spending my summer running, working, eating, running, cross training, running, working, doing jigsaw puzzles, sleeping, and running.

I keep trying to write up recaps for races I ran, but then I start to panic when I realize how long I've gone since last writing a post. I finally admitted that I'm never going to get full recaps posted, so here, for your entertainment and my own peace of mind, is a quick and dirty recap of the races that I ran this summer but never posted about:

Ragnar Relay Chicago

Ragnar was an experience. It was my first time running a Ragnar Relay, but I had heard about this relay series before from friends and from running bloggers, and it always looked like a lot of fun, so it wasn't too difficult of a decision when I was approached by a friend who was putting together a team.

12 people. 2 vans. 200ish miles. Good times!

Each runner runs 3 legs of the race, and mileage can vary greatly for each leg, so some runners will end up running more than others.

You really get to know people well when you are running with them and spending the entire weekend together in a van. Although we had a lot of fun, enjoyed the scenery (running somewhere new was amazing - and my night run was pretty much the best thing ever), and were happy that we ran the relay, we did experience all sorts of problems.

The weather was unusually hot and humid, which caused problems for everyone, slowing people down and creating some dangerous conditions for the longer legs. I got sick shortly after finishing my first leg of the race. We experienced a lightning delay when a surprise series of storms rolled in and there was very little communication from the race about how to handle things. And, the big one for our team, one of our vans broke down, stranding 6 of our runners and causing them to miss their 2nd round of runs.

Even with all the problems, we still finished!

Would I run Ragnar again? I think so. Now that I know what to expect, I would be better prepared for the craziness. I would pack lighter, plan food better, and would train for the race rather than relying on my training for other races that happened right before or after the relay.

Proud to Run 10k

Proud to Run was my first 10k, and it has become a bit of a tradition for me, so I knew that I would be running the race again this year. I love that it is entirely volunteer organized and run. There was lots to see and do both before and after the race, with various sponsor/vendor tents set up, a group warm up before the race, and post race entertainment.

As was to be expected for a summer race in Chicago, it was hot and humid. I ran, hoping for the best, but I was still having problems with my legs and feet, so I ended up having to do run/walk intervals throughout the race. My finish time? 1:12:38, giving me an average pace of 11:42, which is much much much slower than my usual 10k pace. 

I was slow, but I finished. And sometimes you need to celebrate even the small accomplishments.

Why do I continue to run this race every year? It is well run, the volunteers are awesome, the other runners are some of the nicest and happiest that I've encountered, it benefits worthy causes, and it is just a lot of fun.

Esprit de She 5k

Finally, we have the Esprit de She 5k. Another tradition. Another hot and humid race. So hot this year, that the 10k that was supposed to accompany the 5k was canceled shortly before the race began, so all runners ended up doing the 5k. So hot that for the first time since I started running, I seriously considered not running a race for which I was registered. A friend and I convinced each other to still go to the race, planning to walk it if needed.

The heat index was well over a hundred degrees when I arrived at the race site. There were multiple announcements about the heat encouraging runners to slow down, walk if needed, and take advantage of the water stations.

I don't think I have ever moved so slowly in a race before. I ended up having to walk a lot more than I ever have before because I kept feeling sick. I have some amazing friends, though, and they walked with me and kept me moving. I finished with an average pace of 13:55.

I'm glad I finished, even if it was with my worst ever 5k finish time. I've been feeling really down about running before the race, and even the simple act of making it across the finish line felt like a huge achievement.

They had ice cold wash cloths, bottles of water, and, best of all, popsicles at the finish line. Sadly, due to unfortunate timing, my friends and I didn't get to enjoy the post race party. My slow finish meant that I made it to the party just in time for it to be canceled due to a quickly approaching thunder storm. I felt a little bad for my friends, because I really played up how great everything at the finish line was - bubbly bar, snacks, swag, and after party - and because of me we finish too late to take part in the post race festivities. We got our bags from gear check and then parted ways as we tried to beat the storm. There were already strong winds, and we could see lightning and hear thunder. I made it to the bus just a second before the downpour started.

As usual, the Esprit de She was a really well run race. All of the problems (canceled distance, canceled post race festivities, etc) were due to problems beyond the race's controls. They did a great job in communicating everything clearly to participants and making sure that everyone was safe. I'm not sure if I will run the race again, but that is more because I've learned that I don't do well in the heat, and this is a summer race. 

Boom! Quick and dirty race recaps! I won't slack off in the future when it comes to recaps, but I do feel better having gotten these out of the way, even if they aren't very detailed.

I did a lot fewer races than usual this summer because I've been concentrating on marathon training. I've learned that heat and humidity are not my friend, so summer and I don't tend to get along well. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Big Things Ahead

I'm taking a short break from my race recap extravaganza to share some big news.

Are you ready for this? Because I'm not.

I'm running the Chicago Marathon on October 9, 2016!

I think I just died a little by typing that. I'm seriously freaking out. I'm terrified of this race, and I'm worried that I've made a huge mistake, which is why I've waited so long to publicly say anything. Training started at the beginning of June, and my level of fear continues to grow a little each week. Basically, this is my schedule until October:

Monday - Rest/Stretch
Tuesday - Easy Run/Hills
Wednesday - Cross Train
Thursday - Speedwork
Friday - Cross Train
Saturday - Easy Run
Sunday - Long Run

Wish me luck!

Oh, and if I don't make it out this alive, then please tell my cat that I loved her.

Monday, June 27, 2016

2016 Run for the Zoo 5k Recap

The Run for the Zoo was one of the races last year that I had decided I didn't need to run again. Then, they offered a really good discount and waived sign up fees at another race earlier this year, and I totally got suckered into registering. 

Note to self - discounts don't mean you have to buy things. Learn to say, "No."

So...yeah...I signed up for the race again. With the race falling one week after the Soldier Field 10 Mile and one week before the Madison to Chicago Ragnar Relay, I at least had the presence of mind to choose the 5k instead of the 10k.

The zebra didn't care what race I ran. He was too busy thinking deep thoughts.
This year, packet pick up was held outside the zoo for several days leading up to the race instead of at the New Balance store (the store is, quite frankly, too small to host a race packet pick up). Packet pick up was also available the morning of the race for anyone who couldn't make it on any of the earlier days. I headed over to the zoo before work one day, arriving right around the opening of packet pick up for the day. 

The packet pick up tent was easy enough to identify, but, even though there were only two other people in line, I had to stand around for quite a while before getting my packet. Apparently, the woman who arrived just before me had some sort of problem with either her bib number or shirt, and it took all four volunteers working the 5k pick up to help her sort it out. The 10k volunteers weren't busy, but they made it quite clear that they were only able to help folks running the 10k and continued to sit and watch the turmoil unfold in next to them as the 5k pick up came to halt with every volunteer trying to help the same person. There was another volunteer behind the counter not doing anything, but they said that they couldn't help me because they were assigned to shirts. 

It was a bit surreal and one of the longest waits I've ever experienced at packet pick up for a race, as I watched four volunteers help one person and a handful of other volunteers do nothing to help the only other person in line (that would be me). Once I finally had my packet, I had to hail a cab in order to make it to work.

This year's shirt - I like the animal foot prints and wish they had been more incorporated into the design.
Long story short, packet pick up was a mess. Perhaps my mistake was showing up so early on the first day of pick up and they just hadn't found their groove, yet? I hope they found a way to make things a bit more streamlined. It wasn't the best first impression, and I found myself starting to worry a little about what race day had in store.

Last year's race was a bit of a mess. Packet pick up and gear check were ridiculous, there was little to no support on the course, and it just generally felt unorganized and rushed. I was a little worried that I was in for the same experience this year. 

Race morning dawned to beautiful weather. It was warm but wasn't expected to get too hot, and there was a nice breeze blowing. It looked to be a good day for a race!

A gorgeous day in Chicago!
I made sure to arrive early, after last year's long lines for bathrooms and gear check. I made a quick tour of the site, noting gear check, the start line, finish line, and all the post race goodies (hello, beer area). They had indoor bathrooms available at the big cat house, which was opened early for the race, as well as port-o-potties stations around the starting area. This was a nice change from last year, and I never had to wait in line for a bathroom either before or after the race.

Lincoln Park Zoo's west gate.
As soon as I entered the big cat house, I was struck by all sorts of conflicting emotions. I have serious misgivings about zoos and putting animals on display for the amusement of us humans. Don't get me wrong, I go to the zoo and enjoy seeing the animals. Many zoos do a lot of amazing conservation work and provide valuable educational resources. 

This doesn't change the fact that it is incredibly depressing seeing a majestic animal in a tiny cage.

This is one of the problems I have with the Lincoln Park Zoo. It is a historic zoo. But with that historic status comes a lot of out dated, tiny, and sad exhibit halls. I know that the zoo keepers genuinely care about and even love the animals that they are tasked with caring for, and they are doing the best that they can with the space they have, but I can't help but wonder if perhaps your zoo shouldn't have big cats or other large animals if you can't provide them with adequate space. 

Seriously, this guy was depressing. He was pacing and just seemed so sad. The enclosures in the big cat house are just too small for the animals that they house.
Sorry. I'll step off my soap box. I just spent the whole day reminding myself about the conservation work that the zoo does in an effort to justify its existence.

Back to the race. After my pit stop, I headed over to gear check, which was right by the start line. Thankfully, they seemed to have gotten the message that gear check needed some work, as this year gear check was larger, better staffed, and much more organized. Bags were labeled with each runners' bib number and hung up in rows that were assigned by number and distance (5k or 10k). There was none of last year's throwing bags on the ground in a big pile.

After dropping off my bag, I found myself with a little extra time on my hands. I walked around, made one more pit stop, and stretched. Finally, it was time to start lining up. The 5k timed run would be starting first at 7:45am, then the 10k would follow at 8:30am.

They planned a wave start and would release runners every couple of minutes based on estimated pace and had pace markers along the road so that runners could seed themselves, as corrals were not assigned. Even with the wave start, I began to prepare myself for a lot of weaving, which always happens when corrals are self seeded. The 5k had two options, timed or untimed (those who opted for the "fun run/walk" saved a little money as they didn't have timing chips, while those of us running the timed race did). Those who opted not to run for time were repeatedly encouraged to start at the back of the pack, as were those running with strollers, as the path was quite narrow in places. Finally, there were multiple announcements that anyone planning to walk the 5k needed to start in the very last corral.

There were the usual pre race announcements, the national anthem, and one final plea for walker to move to the last 5k corral and then the race official began. After my numerous problems experience running in the past month (numb feet, painful calves, various stomach issues) I had left my watch at home and planned to run by feel, so I lined up at the front of the 10 minute per mile corral, as that would be a nice and easy pace for me for the distance, even if I once again experienced the pain that I had recently come to associate with running.

It took a long time for my corral to get close enough to see the start line.
As soon as I was across the start line, the game of weaving began. As expected, too many runners either didn't know their pace or just didn't care about lining up correctly and too many walkers just didn't want to wait to start and decided to line up in the first couple of corrals instead of the last. I've grown accustomed to a lot of weaving for the first bit of every self seeded race, but on this day I encountered big groups of walkers throughout the race, and the weaving just never stopped until the final half mile or so.

Mile one seemed to fly by, as we headed through the zoo and out to the harbor. The path through the zoo was pretty narrow in places, making it difficult to pass slower runners and walkers, and the path was also a bit slick, so it was exactly a bit of relief when we switched over to the dirt path. Yes, there were some puddles to dodge and the path was a bit uneven, but I wasn't as concerned about slipping and fallen as I ran.

There was one aid station on the 5k course right around the half way point. Much like last year, it was understaffed and the volunteers tasked with pouring water were doing their best to pour as quickly as possible to keep up with demand.

As we moved over beside the zoo (only the first and last part of the race are inside the zoo), the field spread out a little and there was slightly less weaving, though there were still random pockets of walkers and a handful of unlucky souls who were out for their own run, walk, or bike ride and didn't know that a race was going to be taking over that part of the lake front.

I was feeling pretty good as we passed the mile 2 marker and knew that I would have no trouble maintaining my pace and finishing strong. My feet started to tingle a bit, but they weren't numb, yet.

As we headed back into the zoo, I saw a few runners who were running in costumes. Their outfits were, of course, animal themed, which was a lot of fun. There were also signs along the side of the path on our way back into the zoo with various animal facts. I don't know if these signs were for the race or if they are always there, but it was a nice touch, either way.

Once back in the zoo, we were in the home stretch. I made sure to increase my pace a bit, as I still had plenty of energy left. There were monkeys swinging around like crazy as we ran by their area and towards the finish. Once I saw the finish line, I gave one final burst of speed.

The finish line was right by the lion enclosure, and, sure enough, the king himself was there watching the finishers.

He was unimpressed with our efforts.
At the finish line they had water, Gatorade, apples, bananas, granola bars, and bags of popcorn. Some items, such as the water and Gatorade, had folks handing them out, while other items, such as the fruit, were just piled on tables for the taking. I grabbed one of everything.

Snacks! The Jalapeno Skinny Pop is pretty delicious.
The best thing offered at the finish? Popsicles! It had warmed up a bit during the race, and I was thrilled to see that just after the finishers' chute ended were people handing out popsicles to all of the runners.

Seriously, all warm weather races should find a way to have popsicles at the finish line.

I demand more popsicles at summer races! Refreshing and delicious!
I enjoyed my cold treat, drank some water, stretched, and then made my way to gear check. Luckily, the line wasn't very long, and I quickly had my bag and was able to throw on my jacket, stash my finish line snacks, and hit the bathrooms.

My plans to see some of the animals were thwarted by two things: 1.) most exhibits didn't open until 10am and 2.) chunks of the main zoo path were still closed because the 10k had only recently begun. I figured that I might as well make the best of it and grabbed my beer (Goose Island 312 = delicious) and pizza (cold and a very very small slice, but still tasty) and went in search of a shady area to sit and rest and eat. I found the perfect spot over by the wolves. It was quiet and shaded, so I was able to eat in peace.

I was feeling pretty good about my effort, especially after finishing my beer.
Once I was sated, I headed over to watch the kids race, known as "The Safari Stampede". Instead of a regular race, the kids had an obstacle course to go through. The kids were corralled by age, and they were allowed to be accompanied by one parent or guardian on the course.

Watching the youngest groups go through the obstacles was pretty much the best thing ever.

I kind of wanted to try my hand at the kids' obstacle course, but I figured that would be weird so decided against it.
Once the 10k was over and the path and various exhibits were opened, I walked around the zoo for a while thinking about the race.

I really appreciated that I saw improvements after last year's race - gear check was much easier and more efficient, and there were more bathroom options and therefore shorter lines for the bathroom. They also seemed to have a better sound system, as it was easier to hear announcements this year. The beer, post race treats, and shirt are all nice, and it is great seeing that they are working to make improvements. I appreciated getting a survey about the race emailed to me the next day, as they claim that they want to continue trying to improve.

Despite the improvements, the race still feels very unorganized and understaffed. I left with the same feeling I had last year - the race meant well but it had just grown too big and too popular for its own good and organizers just didn't know how to handle it. I'm not really sure what the next step is.

One big change that I think would help considerably would be to have the 10k start before the 5k. It would help out everyone - runners, walkers, and volunteers - because it would help alleviate some of the congestion on the course.

The great apes house opened at 10am, which is apparently feeding I guess this was brunch?
Once results were posted, I found out that I finished in 29:09, which gave me an average pace of 9:23. Not my best 5k time, but far from my worst, so I'm pretty happy with it.

I don't think I will run the race again, though. My conflicted feelings about zoos in general and the odd sense of disorganization that I always get from this race just create a strange storm within my brain that has me weighing the pros and cons and feeling confused.

I'd rather find the races that are genuinely fun and cause me to be excited about the thought running the race again than continue running a race every year that ends up feeling like a chore.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

2016 Soldier Field 10 Mile Recap

Last month's Soldier Field 10 Mile was an interesting event. It was a sort of anniversary for me, as last year's Soldier Field 10 Mile was my first real distance race. I was hoping for a similar experience, having fond memories of last year's run (I ran with one of the pace groups last year) and finish (yes, I cried last year as I crossed the finish line).

We meet again, Soldier Field!
This year was the first that RAM Racing was in charge of the race, having taken control of the former Fleet Feet race series, of which Soldier Field 10 Mile was one of the highlights. I was a little nervous, as I'm not too sure how I feel about RAM or RAM taking over all of my favorite races (a few changes to future races leave me less than impressed, but that is for a future post), but I went in with a positive attitude and hoped for the best.

Packet pick up was thankfully simple. A quick stop at Fleet Feet's Old Town location saw me get in and out of the store with no trouble, packet in hand. Packet pick up was very well staffed with friendly and helpful folks, and, as a little bonus, Fleet Feet was having their Memorial Day Sale, so I may or may not have left with a few extra items that day. What can I say? I love a good sale!  

I dig the shirt design this year.
Race day conditions were less than ideal for running 10 miles. It was a beautiful day, with beautiful blue skies, the sun shining, and warm temperatures, but that temperature and humidity wasn't great for running when you've been training in 50 degree weather all season.

My awesome friend Karen was also running, and she was kind enough to give me a ride to and from the race. Soldier Field isn't the easiest location to get to on public transit, especially very early in the morning on a weekend, so having a ride literally saved me hours that day. Thanks, Karen!

Parking was surprisingly easy, and we were soon heading towards the starting area. Beyonce's Formation Tour was playing at Soldier Field Friday and Saturday nights, and it was a little hard to miss that fact while in and around the stadium.

Beyonce! She was everywhere!
Soon, we were hanging out with our friends from Chicago Endurance Sports. I was in wave 1, thanks to having a previous race finish time that made me eligible for preferred corral assignment. and my nerves were already on high alert, so I tried to distract myself my talking to people, applying and then reapplying sunscreen, triple checking that I had my inhaler, and pinning and unpinning my bib number.

I was a little bummed that all of my friends who run a similar pace were going to be in wave 2, and a couple of them suggested I move back to run with them (you were able to move back corrals, but not move forward). I almost took them up on it, but I decided that with the forecasted heat, I wanted to start as soon as possible, and moving back would have meant waiting a minimum of 30 extra minutes to start, so I chose to stay in my assigned corral.

When it was time, I made my way to my corral and waited for the start. They were strictly enforcing the rules regarding corrals, and the opening for each corral was manned by folks who were tasked with keeping folks from jumping up to an earlier corral than what they were assigned. There were definitely a few folks who were surprised by this and weren't too happy with being told that they couldn't move forward.

In the corral. Waiting to start. Getting nervous. 
Before the race officially began, the national anthem was sung, and there was a brief ceremony to honor the troops, both past and present and to remember those who have fallen. Having grown up in a military family, it was actually a really touching moment.

Soon, the race had begun, and my corral slowly started inching towards the start line. I had butterflies in my stomach and was genuinely worried about the race and my ability to run it. I've not been having a great year and have actually been regressing when it comes to running. I've been getting slower, running has become less pleasant and even a little painful, and I've had to accept that run/walk intervals are my only option, right now.

As I got closer and closer to the start line, my nervousness took over. I didn't have a pace group to run with this year, as the run/walk pacer I would have followed was only in wave 2 and not in wave 1. I sucked it up, though, put in one earbud, and decided that the Hamilton soundtrack would be my companion for 10 miles. I was here, so I might as well finish the race, even if I had to walk it. I set my watch for run/walk intervals, and then it was my corrals turn to start.

I was seriously freaking out when I took my ritual pre race selfie.
The course was pretty much the same as last year's race, up until the very end (more on that shortly). It is a nice, flat course, heading south from the stadium on a closed Lake Shore Drive before turning around and head back north on the Lakefront Path to finish inside Soldier Field. This makes for a simple, easy to follow course. It is also incredibly boring and offers little to no shade. After the turn around, you have the Chicago skyline to run towards, which was a much more enjoyable view.

There were five aid stations on the course, all of which were stocked with water and Nuun. There were also port-o-potties and medic/first aid tents at the different aid stations. I always run with my own hand held water bottle because a.) I like to drink by thirst, b.) I usually run on the North Channel Trail, which doesn't have many water fountains, so I almost always carry my own water during training runs, and c.) it has a pocket that is the perfect size for my inhaler, which I like to keep with me, just in case.

I made sure not to go out too fast this time and started at a slower than usually 11:30 pace, with plans to pick up the pace later on. I tried a different lacing technique on my shoes, in hopes that it would alleviate the problem of my feet going numb that I experienced at the Chicago Spring 10k the week before, but, sadly, I didn't have much luck and began experiencing tingling and numbness in my left foot at mile 2, with the right foot soon following right before mile 3. Planning for run/walk intervals helped quite a bit, though, as it made it easier to stay on pace while still getting at least a little bit of feeling back into my feet during the walk breaks. By the turn around point, my calves felt like they had rocks in them. I was less than thrilled with the situation. At least I didn't have any of the stomach problems that plagued me during the Chicago Spring 10k! So...numb feet and painful calves are a less than ideal way to run, but, hey, I was feeling better than the week before!

Because I had my trusty water bottle, I didn't really take advantage of the first couple of aid stations because I didn't need to refill my bottle, and I'm not a big of Nuun's new formula. By aid station 3, however, I was grabbing water to dump over my head in an effort to cool off, a bit. I really started to feel the heat and was getting pretty toasty by the turn around, and I noticed a lot of other runners taking walk breaks.

At some point during the race, the alert level was raised to red, making this the second race that I've run where we were at a high alert level, the first being the Magnificent Mile Women's Half Marathon. I kept hoping that they would have ice or cold wash cloths at the last two aid stations they way they had at the Women's Half, but there was no such luck this time.

At the 4th aid station, I had to stop to use the facilities. I always hope that I won't have to stop during a race and lose time, should I put this? When nature calls, you have to answer.

After my pit stop, I was back and running again. I was at a place where I was just ready to be finished. I was hurting and hot, and I started counting down the remaining miles and reminding myself that this was easy and that I had done it before and could do it again.

Finally, I was in the home stretch and was soon running right by the stadium. This is where I noticed the change in course. Last year, you entered a tunnel and went straight out onto the field and ran down the field to finish at the 50 yard line. This year, due to the concert stage on the field, there was a lot of running through the inner concourse of the stadium before finally making it out onto the field, basically right by the finish line. It was a good solution to the problem of having the concert and race the same weekend, and I know that the race organizers had no other option, but it just wasn't the epic finish that I was hoping to experience.

Thankfully, what hadn't changed, was the service men and women at the finish line handing out the finisher medals. This was by far my favorite part of the day.

I finished in 1:56:14, which gave me a PR. It wasn't much of a PR, but I'll take what I can get.

I finished!
There were bottles of water at the finish line, but they were just piled up on tables, with no one handing them out, which made it a struggle to reach them, as everyone crowded around, trying to grab a bottle. There was no Gatorade or similar drinks available at the finish line, as RAM partners with Nuun, which doesn't come in handy dandy individual bottles, so it was a very long walk to get outside the stadium before any sort of electrolyte drink was available.

Heading out, you walked quite a ways before finally getting outside the stadium to the runner refresh area where food was available. I was very sad to see that the snack bags were just plain plastic bags instead of the fun and sturdy reusable bags from last year (I still have and use last year's bag all the time). The snack bags were also not quite up to snuff compared to last year's goodies, containing one piece of fruit (a horribly bruised mushy banana, in my case), one bag of chips, and one mini Clif bar. The highlight of the food line was the cold wash cloths being handed out right after the food line. Finally! Something cold and refreshing!

The other cool and refreshing thing was the water slide that was meant as an advertisement for an upcoming race and was quickly becoming the most popular part of the post race festivities.

Best. Thing. Ever.
The post race party was already hopping when I arrived to meet up with friends. There were the usual sponsor tents with various freebies, a live band, and general merriment. The most important thing as far as I was concerned, however, was the food and the beer. 

Every runner got one free beer, and the beer being offered was Goose Island (score!). And Chicago Endurance Sports gave those of us who trained with them this spring a coupon to use at one of the food tents for a free sandwich after the race. They had either sausages or hamburgers. There was a lot of grumbling from folks that there was no vegetarian option this year. Don't get me wrong, this meat eater was happy with her food, but I do think that it was a bit of an oversight to have zero vegetarian options, especially when a veggie burger would have been super easy to provide.

Nothing like a sausage, chips, and beer before noon.
Ultimately, I was happy with my effort at the race. I didn't run the pace I wanted or have the finish time I wanted, but I did my best given the conditions and I finished. Sometimes simply finishing the race is an achievement.

I wasn't as thrilled with the race this year as I was last year. Maybe it just wasn't all shiny and new for me the way it was last year. Maybe completing the race didn't feel like the huge achievement it felt like last year. Maybe I've just officially run enough races that I've become a little jaded and they don't have the appeal that they once did. Even after having some time to think things over, I'm still not able to place exactly what was missing for me.

Sure, there were several little things that irked me, but most of those things weren't actually a true problem. The Nuun, for example, is just a personal preference thing - I'm just not a fan of their new formula and would rather have a different option. Also, I was bummed about the change to the finish, but I recognize that the race did the best they could when they had no control over the concert or its setup that took over the stadium for the weekend.  

I do really miss the reusable bags, though. Please bring those back.

Peace out, Soldier Field! I'm sure I'll see you again!