Friday, December 30, 2011

Wait, I can explain

There used to be an Adidas advertising campaign about 10 years ago entitled, "Runners.  Yeah, we're different." It had pictures of runners doing things seemingly bizarre by nonrunner standards, but which make perfect sense to runners.  This one was one of my favorites:

I've certainly done a few things in my day as a runner that might require some explanation to a casual onlooker.  Here are three:

Getting a foam roller
Well, maybe not so much getting the foam roller, more like transporting it home. I obtained my foam roller through my physical therapist's office, which is in downtown Chicago.  They didn't have foam roller boxes, and a log of foam that is three feet long and six inches in diameter does not fit very well into a purse or computer bag.  Therefore, I had to walk home through the busy and very crowded streets of rush-hour downtown Chicago, manually carrying my foam roller.  Needless to say, I was not popular and I got some stares.

What's the problem? Haven't you seen three-foot
pieces of cylindrical hard-celled foam before? 
Remedying potential plantar fasciitis
I had started experiencing a little bit of heel pain on my left foot. I am one who will always seek out home remedies whenever possible (I really dislike any kind of medication and I avoid going to the doctor unless I am in dire straits). Some googling led me to several recommendations to roll a frozen golf ball under your foot a few times per day.

Adam had some golf balls in the office that he'd received from Harris Bank as a promotional gift, which he happily provided towards my cause. Since the instructions said to do golf ball therapy several times a day, I decided to give it a go right there in the office.

The area where I sit in the office, including the kitchen, is usually pretty deserted since many folks frequently work onsite. However, I didn't want coworkers walking in on me while putting golf balls into the office freezer. So I tried to be nonchalant about looking around carefully and making sure the coast was clear, then went purposefully into the kitchen to do my business.  As I headed back to my desk, I tried to make it look like I was busy in the hopes that it would reduce any potential suspicion - I intentionally carried a messy stack of papers and tried to scowl. 

I repeated the entire pattern later that day when I went back to take the golf balls out of the freezer.

Back at my desk, I took off my shoe and hosiery, and tried to roll the frozen golf ball under my foot.  I was pretty clumsy at first - the golf ball kept slipping out, so I had to keep kneeling awkwardly under my desk to retrieve it. 

My cube also happens to be right near one of the exit doors.  Everytime I heard someone coming, I quickly sat up, slid my feet out as far forward as possible underneath my desk to hide the evidence, and tried to look busy (messy stacks of paper really do wonders in scenarios like this). 

Who's rolling a golf ball under their feet?  NOT ME!
I swear that during those five minutes I was trying to golf-ball roll my foot, at least 35 people walked by, including facilities maintenance, recruiting candidates, and an entire new-hire orientation class.  Then, the moment I stopped, nobody walked by my desk for the rest of the day. 

Seriously, how do people just know those exact moments when you're trying to surreptitiously golf-ball roll your feet?

Overcoming Muscle Imbalances
My physical therapist diagnosed me with some muscle imbalances.  I also attended a CARA clinic where Coach Bill Leach recommended some exercises focused on tuning up some of those areas prone to muscle imbalance, which would improve gait, etc.  I'd read about the many benefits of walking or running backwards, so I decided to give it a try.

Living in Chicago, it's tough to find ample-sized places to run or walk backwards without being prone to traffic, people walking their dogs, or potholes the size of Mishawaka.

I decided to use a treadmill instead.  Normally I am not a fan of treadmills primarily because I get bored on them... but desperate times call for desperate measures. 

I briefly considered using a treadmill in the fitness facility at my office building, but many of my coworkers (including the executives) work out there and I didn't want to have to explain.  However, I am also fortunate in that the building I live in has a workout facility which rarely has more than a couple of people there at any given time.  Plus, I don't know many other people in the building anyways.

After several successful and semi-peaceful workouts of walking along backwards on the treadmill (it's much harder to do than it looks) without anyone seeing me (Adam doesn't count), I start getting less self-conscious.  Hey, it's my workout, and who cares what anyone else thinks, right?  I actually venture to walk backwards on the treadmill on a day when other people are there to see me in all of my backwards glory.

A man (who reminds me of that goofy uncle or grandfather we all have that always makes ridiculously corny jokes) walks by me, busts out laughing, points at my feet, and jovially and gleefully yells, "Hey, you know, you're going the wrong way!!!"

Yes, yes, I know, I know.  I mumble something about how I'm doing this on purpose for physical therapy, and he grins and says, "Just giving you a hard time."  But as good-natured as his ribbing was, I haven't gone backwards treadmill walking ever since.

Yeah, maybe not so much anymore.
As a result of some of these experiences, I've become much more open now to some of the unusual things people might do.  (For example, at one of my Toastmasters clubs, one of the members attended a meeting while randomly wearing a Mexican wrestler mask.  He drew a lot of stares from the other members, but I didn't bat an eyelash!)

In the meantime, I am continuing to learn how not to concern myself with what other people think about my workouts... while keeping some of my more, uh, eccentric physical therapy exercises confined to the privacy of my own home.  :)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Drawing Strength

I lived in Chicago's near south side for nine years.  I did enjoy my time there, but one of the drawbacks of that area was that I still had to get into my car and drive to most places.  I had missed out the city-life joy of being able to walk to shop and restaurants (although, I did have fabulous access to the lakefront path and also to a running track across the street from my building).

Lakefront Path - South Shore
Fast forward to the present.  I've lived in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood for about a year and a half now, and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I love the location (so close to downtown that I can walk to work!), love having Greektown, UIC, and the Randolph Street food markets and restaurants right there, love the residential feel of the area, and love that visitors can actually find unmetered and unzoned street parking relatively easily on any given normal day!  I read someplace that the West Loop is Chicago's version of New York's SoHo neighborhood, which I think is a wonderful comparison.  I actually feel somewhat hip by living here - and this is coming from someone who prefers NOT to follow the crowds living in the uber-trendy neighborhoods.  Call it a case of individualism and wanting to be a little unique in my own way (that, and I conduct training workshops on personal branding so I probably pay more attention than most do to these things).

Another incredible benefit of living in the West Loop is the proximity to the United Center, aka the UC, aka the Madhouse on Madison.  I am, as Adam puts it, a rabid Blackhawks fan, and there is nothing that I like better than to go see a Blackhawks game live at the UC.  At 1.25 miles away from home, it's an easy walk to get there.  Parking at the UC is expensive - a minimum of $17 per vehicle.  Certainly, public transit helps. But being able to walk there for free just can't be beat, and having the flexibility of being able to pick up last-minute tickets at last-minute prices to go to a game at the last minute has been amazing.

One of the best things about running is being able to explore neighborhoods while doing it.  I have a 5K course loop that I frequently run in my neighborhood based on an old 5K race that used to be held here (the Wacky 5K). However, thanks to the powers of the Garmin, I've been able to get out there and just run wherever the path (or the traffic patterns) may lead me.  Sometimes the path and the traffic will lead me to run by the United Center.

Gorgeous skyline

I've done this early in the morning or at times when the UC has no events going on, and I enjoy the quietness surrounding the Bobby Hull/Stan Mikita statues and the Michael Jordan statue. (Back in the Jordan era, I was a diehard Bulls fan - and to this day I still have the utmost in appreciation for MJ's skill and drive and talent.)  I enjoy seeing the UC sign out front with the rolling lights, announcing that this is the home of the Blackhawks and the Bulls. I enjoy seeing the Hawks and Bulls logos emblazened near the gates.  I enjoy seeing the wide-open spaces from the empty parking lots, and I envision the inside of the Madhouse and all of the great history that has taken place inside.

MJ is a Hawks fan, too

Other times I've run past the United Center on Hawks game nights.  It's a completely different scene.  The streets and parking lots are packed to the gills with cars displaying Hawks banners and Hawks license-plate frames.  Fans clad in red Hawks jerseys are spilling out into the streets from the Madison Street bars and crowding the sidewalks.  It's a spectacle just to check out which Hawks player's jersey everyone is wearing, because the jersey you choose evokes an image of you as a person and as a fan.  There are dozens of people wearing the #19 Toews jerseys or the #88 Kane jerseys - but for me there is a great appreciation for those who stray the path to wear, say, the #4 Hjalmarsson jersey or the #32 Versteeg jersey.  

Thanks to Adam, I have a #31 Niemi jersey in honor of my favorite goalie of all time, who inspired me with his hard work, great attitude, and refusal to back down from the many obstacles and challenges that he faced along the way.  I also like his unorthodox goalie style of making tush saves and "beating up the puck."

The Finnish Fortress

I draw strength from the Blackhawks.  Watching the Hawks battle on the ice each night emboldens me.  I continue to be amazed at how the team refuses to give up under even the toughest circumstances - and how frequently they overcome the impossible and find a way to win. The Hawks embody everything that I admire in top athletes - perseverence, fortitude, humility, love for the game, and a true appreciation for those that brought them there and support them.

When I am out there running, and the going gets tough, I often remind myself of the Hawks.  I think about how they handle their training and their opponents, how they continue to push themselves even when it is impossible to push any further.  And it inspires me to keep running just a little farther, just a little longer, just a little faster.  I think about the video footage of the players grinding it out in the weightroom both before AND after an entire game.  I think about how Duncan Keith once lost seven teeth after getting hit in the face with a puck, but was back out on the ice just a few minutes later and played the rest of the game.  I think about how another time the Hawks pulled out a short-handed goal with 13.5 seconds left and then killed a 5-minute penalty to win the game in overtime.

Then there are those moments when I need a little humor.  At those times I pump up my MP3 player and listen to Chelsea Dagger, the Kaner Shuffle, the Wee Knee commentary.  Here is my most recent addition to the Hawks humor collection:

Frolik Navidad, everyone!

These are the things that inspire me to keep going.  This is why I frequently run past the United Center whenever I need a little boost.  Seeing the United Center and all that it represents reminds me of what is truly important in my training, and that no matter how hard it gets that another gear does exist for the truest of champions, but at the same time I shouldn't take myself too seriously and just have fun. 

I am thrilled that the Chicago Marathon course passes the United Center around mile 14.  I know that seeing the UC will uplift me and I can't wait to crank up Chelsea Dagger and chuckle to myself while I am running past.  It'll be something for me to look forward to in the midst of all the craziness.

Go Blackhawks!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Beginning Blogger's Word Vomit

I've been wanting to run a marathon for literally over a decade.

I first started running on the treadmill at my local YMCA the summer after my senior year of high school. I was getting ready to start college at the dear old University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Go Illini!). I was looking forward to a new start at UIUC and I was determined to get myself into the best shape possible for this next phase of my life. So I ran. And ran. And ran.

Inspiration can come from anyplace

Running became a way of life. It stayed that way throughout most of my college career, although I did have my ups and downs - including a painful injury to my right knee which scares me to this day. I was an avid runner through much of my 20s and would run 6 miles at least once a week without batting an eyelash. Some friends and I once ran a half marathon on pretty much zero training. Ah, those were the days of my 20s when I was much more resilient and faster than I am now.  Those were the days when I trained with reckless abandon, my times and paces didn't matter, and I ran simply because I enjoyed it and I liked the health benefits. All of my PRs occurred in those days:

5K - 25:55 (Race to the Taste, July 2001)
10K - 55:46 (Main Course 10K, May 2001)
13.1 - 2:16:37 (Chicago Half Marathon, September 2002)

Wow, the speed I took for granted back then. I took a few years off of running for various reasons, but picked it back up again this past year.  Therefore, contrast the above to my more recent performances:

Race Judicata 5K (August 2007) - 33:42
Race Judicata 5K (August 2008) - 34:15
Home Team Charity Run 10K (April 2011) - 1:04:01
Magellan Chicago Spring Half Marathon (May 2011) - 2:41:19

I have a lot of catching up to do from my younger days and I don't know if I'll ever get back to that level again.  Maybe after several years of consistent training.

In any event, ever since I was in college I've dreamed about running a marathon.  Up until this point, I have been held back by fears from my knee injury as well as time limits from a career which started out with 80% - 100% travel and very heavy working hours.  So what has changed since then?  My working hours are much more stable now and I don't travel on business anymore.  I've started training much more effectively with a lot more help and resources, and I have plenty of time to prepare for October 7, 2012 (the date of the 2012 Chicago Marathon).

I'll be lined up in the back someplace

My ambitious and lofty goals (including some personal competitiveness against friends) brought me to think that maybe I could attempt running the Chicago Marathon in 2011. After running just a few miles here and there over the last several years, I laced up my running shoes in February 2011 and basically went from ground zero to running the half marathon in May 2011. In the process of doing so, I trained very aggressively (though I didn't think I was doing so at the time) and wound up with a knee injury, this time to my left knee. I had to put running on hold for almost the entire summer while I rehabbed my knee. It was the most frustrating experience ever to want to be out there running and training and working towards my goals, but being sidelined by injury.  Marathoning in 2011 was obviously out of the question when it hurt just to walk. But thank goodness for the magic of physical therapy and other devices such as Cho-Pat knee straps (more on both another day).
I now rock this stylishness on both knees when running.
Makes me look like a hard-core runner.

They say that injuries can be beneficial because they teach you what NOT to do. As such, I slowly started picking running back again, with many, many improvements:
  • Training very, very conservatively - avoiding the urge to push myself to the limit every single time, not building up mileage too quickly, taking real rest days
  • Improved my stride and footstep. I used to be a heel-striker with a long stride, but have since shortened and quickened my stride and become a midfoot-striker.
  • Taking GUs during long runs (I have a box of 24 Chocolate Outrage packs which I bought from Amazon, and am excited to try some of the other GU flavors out there). I used to run for two hours with no refueling or with just eating a granola bar. Shudder.
  • Cross-training and stretching, doing yoga at least twice a week.
  • Doing my physical therapy exercises as regularly as possible and focusing on strengthening my hips and core muscles.
  • Foam rolling - especially my hips and IT band.
  • Getting professionally fitted for running shoes. I'll admit that up until literally a few weeks ago, I always just went to the Nike Outlets and bought whatever pair of running shoes was priced lowest. Now I know that I've been recommended to wear insoles with neutral shoes (which help counteract some of the heel and hip pain I've started feeling). At my fitting, I got Asics Gel Cumulus 13 shoes in size 8.5 Wide, with Superfeet Berry insoles. The Asics have been fabulous and have made a huge difference.  I later bought a second pair of those insoles to wear with another pair of neutral running shoes that I already had which I do like (Nike Air Citius 2+). I'm excited to eventually experiment with other brands of running shoes, particularly Mizunos.
  • Tracking my mileage and pace, and also tracking the mileage on my shoes. I use the Runner's World online training log.
  • Running with a Garmin 305 to track splits, pacing, and distance.
  • Purchasing real running clothing (running tights, socks, techno shirts, etc.) as opposed to wearing any old workout clothing.
  • Wearing Cho-Pat straps (which I love) on both knees. (Also tried using KT-tape, which did work but I didn't like how the tape caused skin irritation and quickly lost adhesiveness.)
  • Slowing down my pace when I run and taking regular walk breaks, ala Jeff Galloway. The jury is still out on whether it works for me to do the 4:1 run-walk ratio he recommends, because it slows me down SO much, but at the very least I like doing the 1 mile run, 1 minute walk pattern or the 4:30-0:30 run/walk ratio.
  • Taking midweek runs seriously but also slowly (ala Hal Higdon, whose book I bought a few weeks ago and whose training plans I peruse regularly on his website). I've been working to memorize the long-run pattern on his Novice 1 marathon training plan so that I know what I have in store for me in the coming months.
For the last few weeks, I'd been about 99% certain that I'd sign up for the 2012 Chicago Marathon, barring injury. I then mentioned this to one of my coworkers, Aimee, who has done four marathons. She told me, "Time to stop thinking 'maybe' and start thinking 'Definitely, 100% for sure.'"

I took her advice and started thinking that way. I've started studying the Chicago Marathon race course, per the advice of my friend Jenny (who ran it in 2010). Began recalling the memories of being a spectator and thinking about what it would feel like on the actual course. Read the discussion boards on Facebook and Runners World about the experience. Started running parts of the course on my training runs and trying to imagine how it would feel on race day. Began plotting out my hydration and fueling strategy. Thought about my pacing, goals, and running negative or even splits. Thought about what I would wear. Started thinking about what the expo is like (I've never attended a race expo before in my life). Thought about where my wonderful husband, Adam, might go on the course to support me, and had dozens of late-night conversations with him on trying to achieve this goal. Circled the calendar for the projected registration opening date (February 1, 2012) and signed up for notifications. Read many blogs with other peoples' marathon training and marathon day experiences, trying to learn from their lessons. Have been debating for a very long time on whether I want to train alone or if I want to train with CARA. Thought many, many, many times about starting a blog, even if nobody reads it but me (and quite frankly, I'm more on the private side so I might even prefer if nobody else reads it because I don't like putting myself up for display).
I've watched a lot of NCIS in my days
This has become real to me now. I know so many people that have completed marathons (last count was over 30 people). If they can do it, I can do it. I can and I will. This is where the journey begins.

Official marathon training won't begin until next June. Until then, I am on a quest to solidify my base training, get my running legs in order, and hopefully improve my speed along the way.  My current routine involves running three days a week (usually Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday), where I'll do 3 (or more recently sometimes 4) miles on Tuesdays and Thursdays and then do my long run on Sunday mornings. In my attempts to be conservative, I've been repeating my long run distances several weeks each and have most recently done 7 miles twice. Last Sunday (Christmas Day), I did a step-back long run of 5 miles. I'm not sure how high I'll try to build the long-run mileage before official marathon training - maybe up to 10 miles, with a half-marathon race in the spring (still waiting for them to announce the date for the 2012 Chicago Spring Half) - but the intent is again just to be conservative given that time is definitely on my side.

My goal for the marathon is to finish with a smile on my face. Other goals:
  • Finish sub 5:00:00
  • Race negative or even splits
  • Go out slowly in the beginning and run my own race without getting caught up in being competitive
  • High-five at least one child per mile
  • Have fun, enjoy the atmosphere, and observe the diversity of the neighborhoods
Latest running gear that I've recently ordered which should be arriving in the mail soon:
  • SaltStick capsules to help with electrolyte loss
  • Hand-held water bottle so I don't have to leave water bottles on street corners for potential theft
  • SPI belt so I can carry my phone, ID, gels, keys, etc.
  • Capri tights for those in-between temps

The SPI belt (NOT me in the photo) and more
stylishness.  Windswept hair not included.

Other things on my running wish list:
  • Mizuno Wave Rider 15s - I am dying to try these out
  • Summer running hat
  • New flavors of GU - particularly mint chocolate, vanilla bean, and some of the non-caffeinated flavors. (Would love if GU came up with savory flavors - I like salty more than I like sweet, and salt loss is a concern during running anyways, right?)
  • ID bracelet or shoe tag
  • Compression socks, although I have a tough time with their hefty price tag
  • Entry to a Disney race (Disney World Wine and Dine Half, Disneyland Half, Disney World Marathon)

Disney Wine and Dine Half (insert my picture there someday)

OK, now that I've written out almost all of the endless and random ramblings in my head (maybe I should have started blogging a long time ago), I'll stop here and try to blog "normally" from here on out (i.e. less word vomit. :)  ) 

I am looking forward to where this journey will take me over the coming months and years!!!