Wednesday, November 28, 2012

PNC YMCA Turkey Trot 5-miler Race Recap

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  My apologies as this post is coming to you on a very delayed basis given the craziness of being back in the office.  (By the way, does anyone else feel like they could use a vacation from their vacation right about now?)

On Thanksgiving Day I ran my first-ever Turkey Trot, the PNC YMCA Turkey Trot 5-miler in Pittsburgh.

I will admit that I had some qualms going into this race.  As I'd mentioned before, I've done very little running since the Chicago Marathon, am still trying to heal my plethora of injuries, and have put on a little bit of weight over the past month.  In short, I have lost a lot of my running mojo. A few months ago, I would have been excited to test my limits at this or any race.  This time, my goals were just to have a good time and to not place last.

The 9:00 AM race start time would normally be a huge breath of fresh air compared to the 7:00 AM or earlier start times that I am used to.  But when the alarm went off on Thanksgiving Day morning, I wasn't thrilled.  I dragged myself out of bed, got dressed, and dutifully ate a bowl of cereal, all the while wondering why I put myself through these things "for fun."

Julie, Brian, Shawn, and Scott came by to pick us up and off we went.  I started feeling better after seeing everyone in their running gear and having a few minutes to catch up with everyone.

The race started at PNC Park, and traffic was light until we exited the highway approaching the park.  It unexpectedly took us a good 25 minutes just to get into the parking lot.  Once we were finally able to park, we had probably five minutes to spare before the race was scheduled to start.  Definitely not enough time to do any kind of warm-up, but I went ahead and choked down a Citrus Clif Shot Gel (yuck).

I was in desperate need of a portapotty and with the size of the crowds I was nervous that there would be crazy-long lines.  Thankfully, I only waited for a few minutes.  The starting airhorn blew just as I was emerging from the portapotty, and I saw hordes of runners go flying by.

I ran towards the starting line and wiggled into the crowd from the side.  We were using the timing chips that you attach to your shoe, and I just barely got my foot on the timing mat.  I heard the announcers telling us, "If you want your timing chip to be activated, you need to run over the timing mat!" so it sounded like a lot of folks got crowded out.

It was very, very, very crowded for the first couple of miles.  We were literally running elbow to elbow.  Despite what I had outwardly vocalized as my plan to "just have fun" at this race, my competitive side was in the back of my mind still whispering for me to go all out.  However, it was so crowded that I couldn't get my pace up very smoothly.  It made for an easy decision to keep things loose.

Yup, that's me.
As I was running, I was looking around at my fellow runners and at the scenery, trying to soak it all in.  I saw Shawn and Scott somewhere near Mile 1 and said hello.  Then I ended up missing the first mile marker entirely.  Completely missing it.  I had seen it from the expressway earlier, so I knew it was there and it puzzled me that I never saw it.  I glanced down at my Garmin several times, wondering if the distance was off or if I really had been that distracted.  Turns out I was really that distracted.

The course went by Heinz Field (home of the Pittsburgh Steelers), by PNC Park (home of the Pittsburgh Pirates), over the Roberto Clemente Bridge, past Point State Park, and through downtown Pittsburgh, before looping back over the bridge.  I absolutely LOVED running over the bridge.  (Never mind that I am a Midwestern flatlander and could feel the incline on the bridge!)  It was definitely the biggest highlight of the race for me.

The Roberto Clemente bridge
(You can tell that people in Pittsburgh like their sports)

There was a water stop around mile 2.5 that I also ended up completely missing.  I was running the tangents and the tables were set up on the opposite end of the street.  Oops.  I briefly considered either backtracking or cutting rudely across the crowd to get to the water, but decided to just keep going.  Thankfully they had another water stop close to mile 4.

The runners and the crowd were all pretty quiet, save for one guy.  He was fartlek-weaving through the crowds screaming, "YEEE-AAA-YAHH!!!  YEEE-AAA-YAHH!!!" at the top of his lungs, high-fiving and low-fiving everyone he could.  He ran up several hundred feet ahead of me but then all of a sudden he was right next to me, "pulled over," dusting himself off, and getting up from the street.  Amidst his exuberence, he must have taken an uncharacteristic spill.  Oops.  But more power to him for trying to keep us all pumped!

I saw Brian close to mile 3 as we were getting close to the return trip on the bridge, and said hello.  The crowd was starting to spread out at that point, but several folks were cutting corners on the sidewalk and on the grass.  I started following them and was paying attention so that I wouldn't trip over anything and take my own spill.

I had no idea where Adam was going to be on the course spectating.  Normally when I run races in Chicago, I look for his Steeler sweatshirt or his Terrible Towel, both of which make him stand out very easily.  But I realized very quickly that I would never be able to find him by looking for Steeler gear in Pittsburgh.  Tons and I mean TONS of people were wearing their Steeler gear or other Pittsburgh-based sports gear.  They really do take their sports very seriously out there.  (I know that Adam will skewer me for even thinking this, let alone writing it - but if he wanted to wear something that would have stood out in the crowd, my Blackhawks jersey would have done the job nicely.  Just saying.  Not that I miss hockey or anything, of course.)

We did another pass by Heinz Field, and around mile 4.25 I saw Molly and Julie and waved to them.  By that point, the race felt like it had gone by too quickly and I found myself almost wishing it were longer!

I ended up seeing Adam fairly close to the finish line.  It was there that he took this picture of me:

(High fives for everyone!!!)

I crossed the finish line into a huge mob of people.  My official finishing time was 48:53, with minimal groin/hip/knee pain to boot.  Not too bad.

There were hordes of people crowded around tables at the post-race area, trying to get water and Gatorade.  I didn't feel like fighting the crowds, so I forewent the post-race refreshments entirely in favor of hanging out and chatting.  Here is a picture of all of us after the race, including Adam's friends Mitro and Jen, and their son Zach, who Adam hadn't seen in years.

Top (from L to R): Scott and Brian
Middle (from L to R): Adam, me, Molly, Julie, Mitro, and Jen
Bottom (from L to R): Shawn and Zach

All in all, I had a great time at this race.  I really enjoyed the festivity, the scenery, and the company.  I also loved the feeling of accomplishment from running a race on Thanksgiving Day prior to gorging myself on food.  This race is going to become an annual tradition for me anytime I'm in Pittsburgh over Thanksgiving.

And maybe next year I'll even be the one leading the high- and low-fives along the course and cheering so loudly that I scare all the turkeys away!!!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving, and my first Turkey Trot

Greetings from Pittsburgh!

I've mentioned before that Adam grew up in Pittsburgh, so the usual tradition is to spend Thanksgiving with Adam's family here.  I've visited Pittsburgh many times, yet everytime I do I'm still stunned by the city's surprising beauty and diversity.  When entering the city, the view you get while emerging from the Fort Pitt tunnel is unlike any I've ever seen.

Backing up a bit.  This past weekend, Adam and I made the 8-hour drive from Chicago to Pittsburgh with an overnight stop in Cleveland enroute.  For all you Food Network fans, we had dinner at Iron Chef Michael Symon's restaurant, Lolita, on Saturday night.  I am by no means a foodie, but Lolita was very enjoyable.

Iron Chef Michael Symon
(In case you were wondering, he did NOT greet us at the front door in this pose.)

After arriving in Pittsburgh yesterday afternoon, we had tickets to the Steelers-Ravens game at Heinz Field last night.  The game is worthy of a whole post by itself, which is off-topic for me here (I'll leave that to Adam to cover in detail).  However, in short it was a great game against a bitter rival.  And after screaming my innerds out for most of the night, I am paying for it today with a voice so hoarse that I could put Louis Armstrong to shame.

(Maybe the reason Louis's voice sounds so distinctive is because he's also a big sportsfan and has also gone overboard with vocalizing his sportsfan enthusiasm?)

Here are some pictures from the game last night:

Festiveness in front of Heinz Field

Fans waiting to go through the security lines

The view from our original seats

Fans in action, waving their Terrible Towels. 
It was an absolutely incredible sight to see 63,000+ fans doing this in unison.
This picture so does NOT do it justice.

We got asked to trade seats from Section 519 to Section 219 by a woman who wanted to sit with some of her friends.  Who were we to argue?
This was the view from our new seats.

Beyond celebrating Thanksgiving in Pittsburgh, I'll also be running my first-ever Turkey Trot here - the PNC YMCA Turkey Trot 5-miler on Thanksgiving Day.

I am excited to run my first race outside of Illinois.  Come to think of it, I've actually never even run a race outside of Chicago city limits.  So as much as I love the Chicago lakefront and neighborhoods, I am looking forward to some new scenery.

Unfortunately I am NOWHERE near peak condition for this race.  I haven't even logged 25 miles TOTAL since running the Chicago Marathon on October 7.  I don't even want to think about how much my endurance and fitness levels have probably plummeted in these last few weeks.  When I do run, I am still battling groin pain, hip flexor tightness, and knee discomfort.  I'm even starting to experience some wonkiness in my left foot.  Then, to add even more insult to injury (both literally and figuratively), I've put on a couple of pounds, too.  Not a great feeling going into the holiday season, that's for sure.  (I'll probably be one of those folks who causes irritation to all regular-gym-goers by taking up all kinds of workout space starting on January 1.)

I would love to put forth aggressive goals for myself going into this race, but now is really not the time for me to be trying to set a PR.  So as hard as it will be mentally, I'm going to try not to focus on goals and just have a good time.  Several of Adam's lifelong friends (Hi, Molly, Julie, and Shawn!) are also running the Turkey Trot, so it'll be fun to enjoy the festivities with them.  Heck, this might even be the first-ever race where I try to take action pictures from inside the race course.  (Yes, me taking MORE pictures.  Hard to believe, I know!)

Happy Thanksgiving week to all!  And happy racing to all that are doing Turkey Trots or other races this week!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

An NFL-inspired workout at Soldier Field

The lovely Xaarlin won a "VIP" entry to a Nike Training Club event last night at Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears.  She very generously invited me to attend as her "plus one" (THANK YOU!).  I was so honored to join her!

Nike really outdid themselves with this event, which was free to all participants.  The event took place last night and all I can say is WOW.  Just WOW. 

[WARNING: Get ready for tons o' pictures.]

Xaarlin, her co-worker Adele, and I arrived at Soldier Field amidst a cool, clear night.  The VIP participants were whisked through the bowels of Soldier Field to the visitor's locker room.  I was expecting for us to just get a nice little behind-the-scenes tour of the facilities.  But instead we were met with this:

Each of us were assigned a locker stall, labeled with our names, which included a selection of complementary Nike gear.  This included a Chicago Bears t-shirt, a long-sleeve Hyperwarm shirt, a sports bra, socks, running tights, and trainer shoes.  Probably $300 worth of Nike-brand gear per person!

I stood there with my jaw on the floor in disbelief.  Then I picked up my jaw just long enough for Xaarlin and I to take this picture:

Don't I look stylin' with all of my hair stuffed into my white ski hat?

The event organizers told us to go ahead and change into our new gear.  Once we were set, Nike Master Trainers Alex Molden (former NFL defensive back for the New Orleans Saints) and Marie Purvis came in.

They told us about an NFL-inspired workout that we were all about to undertake on the grounds of Soldier Field.  Then they lead us out to where the NFL players wait prior to the start of each game before they get introduced.  They told us that when the door opened, that we should run out onto the field, just like the NFL players do! 

Here is a picture of all of us waiting to run out onto the field:

Here is the door opening and us starting to run out:

Here is us all out on the field, taking pictures of our own images being displayed on the Jumbotron:

Here's me cheezin' it on the field:

Here's Xaarlin looking much more at-home on the field than me.

Once we got out onto the field, we got set to partake in the NFL-style workout.

The stage

One of our training leaders
I wasn't sure what to expect from the NFL-style workout.  Having seen some footage on TV I expected that we'd be running sprints while dragging weighted sleds behind us, or something similar.  Our workout ended up being comprised of short intervals of lunges, squats, jumps, and arm movements.  It was deceptively hard!  I was sweating and my hips and glutes are still feeling the burn today.  (Xaarlin and I joked that if they had wanted us to run laps around the field, we could have done that for an hour without breaking any sweat.)  All in all, though, was an amazing experience getting to work out on the Soldier Field grounds! 

Following the workout, we had an appearance from Earl Bennett (Chicago Bears wide receiver):

Afterwards, Xaarlin, Adele, and I frantically took as many more pictures on the field as we could until security starting giving us the evil eye.

Touchdown!  Field goal is good!  Jumping-jack pose!
All of the above!
You make the call!

We then went back inside to one of the lounge areas, where they had food and beverages for us while we waited to view a Nike fashion show.

Here are a few pictures from the lounge area:

The crowd

Pictures above the bar

Old-time football posters

A Steelers-referenced picture for Adam
(I am sure he is appalled that this blog entry could possibly have gone this far without any Steeler mention.)

The fashion runway.
We were joking that we'd jump up onto the runway and take pictures of ourselves strutting our stuff.
That would have been really fun to do had it not been for the threat of security dragging us out of the premises.

The fashion show was emceed by Kristin Cavallari (Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's girlfriend, among many other things), and Brittney Payton (daughter of Bears legend Walter Payton).  Here is a picture of Kristin approaching the stage.

She is so tiny in person!  She looks like she weighs about 88 pounds.  (And yes, Blackhawks fans, that was an intentional reference to Kaner's number.  Oh how I miss hockey.  But as usual I digress.)

The fashion show models were all local fitness trainers or others that work in the fitness industry, which I thought was awesome.  Here are a few action shots from the fashion show:

We were hoping to get to meet Kristin Cavallari at the end of the show, but security guards whisked her away very quickly.  (Are you noticing a recurring theme here with all the security guards, by the way?  =D ) 

We did, however, get to meet Brittney Payton, who seems like an incredibly sweet woman.  And wow, is she pretty.

And that was the end of the evening's incredible festivities! 

Xaarlin, Adele, and me
(thanks to Xaarlin for letting me steal this picture!)

Here's our final picture of the night - our lookback view as we were departing Soldier Field.

I am truly blown away by Nike's unparalled generosity in sponsoring such an amazing event.  Many, many thanks go out to Nike Chicago for all of their wonderful hospitality!  I can only imagine what other amazing events Nike will host next.  In the meantime, I will be most definitely putting my new Nike gear to super good use.

And once again, HUGE thanks go out to Xaarlin for so graciously allowing me to be her guest at these festivities - the evening was a BLAST!!!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Catching up, and about the Road Runner Sports VIP Membership program

Two consecutive 70-hour workweeks have buried me into oblivion and I fell off the planet for a good while there.  As of yesterday afternoon, I am sifting through the rubble but at least I am finally able to come up for some real air.  Big lesson learned these past few weeks: Never take for granted the ability to take a deep breath (both literally and figuratively).

It goes without saying that I am horrifically behind on all of your blogs.  Please bear with me as I work to catch up!

Now I do exaggerate a little bit as despite getting slammed with work, I have done some fun stuff, too:
  • I met up with Erin last week for a great dinner at NellcĂ´te, which was a place that I've been wanting to try for quite some time.  (By the way, I couldn't figure out how to type the French-style "o" with the little carrot on top of it.  So I googled "Nellcote" to find a listing with the proper carrot-top "o" and then copied and pasted it here.  Yes, throughout the duration of my career I've written many reports in which I got review comments indicating that I was using the wrong type of comma.  I only wish I were kidding.  But I digress.)
  • This past weekend, I met up with Xaarlin for a windswept run along the lakefront path.  We both enjoyed the very unseasonably warm temperatures and I relished wearing shorts for what I am sure will be the last time this calendar year.
  • I attended a baby shower this past weekend for my friend Erica.  The vast majority of my closest friends do not have children, so this was actually the first baby shower I've ever attended.  I had heard stories about some of the crazy games that get played at baby showers, so I enjoyed that Erica's baby shower was nice and relaxed.
  • When I went to purchase a baby shower gift for Erica, I couldn't resist stopping at the brand-new Road Runner Sports (their first store location in Chicago) which was right next door.  Coincidentally, they were hosting packet pickup for Chicago's Perfect 10, which took place this past weekend.  So they had some food and beverage on hand, and were hosting some giveaways and drawings.

I've ordered from the Road Runner Sports website in the past.  I took advantage of a free shipping offer, and delivery was timely.  However, Road Runner Sports has a VIP membership which is $1.99 on their website.  The VIP membership gives you an extra 10% off your purchases plus access to a VIP customer service line and free shipping all the time. 

I had debated purchasing the VIP membership, but ultimately I chose not to.  The reason was because there are plenty of other retailers with similar or better prices that also offer free shipping, whether all the time or through promotions.  Plus, I've never utilized a customer service line (when I need professional advice I visit a store in person).

The night that I was at Road Runner Sports, though, they had a promo where everyone got an extra 10% off their purchase, but VIP members would get 20% off.  I found two great shirts and calculated that it would be more than worth the $1.99 VIP membership to get the extra 10% off.


Imagine my surprise as the cashier rang me up and the VIP membership came to $9.99.  I asked why it was $1.99 online but $9.99 in the store.  The cashier told me that it was actually $9.99 online now too.  She said they had just implemented a new membership price, and that the price might even rise beyond the $9.99 in the future.  But then she told me that she would give me a $10 gift certificate that I could use for my next purchase, so the membership would really be free. 

OK, fine.  Sold. 

But I should have known better.

When I got home, I looked on the Road Runner Sports website.  VIP Membership is still priced at $1.99, clear as day.  The cashier lied to me.

Also, the $10 gift certificate?  I read the fine print and it is only good off of a purchase of $75 or more.  In short, it's not really a gift certificate - it's a discount.  And not even a good one at that.  It's really no big deal to get $10 off of a $75 purchase.  Many retailers offer that all the time.

Going back to those VIP "benefits."  There are promo codes out there almost all the time for 10% off and free shipping.  As I mentioned, I never use customer service hotlines, so their VIP hotline is pretty much useless to me.  They also claim that your VIP benefits allow you a 90-day shoe trial period.  But plenty of other retailers also offer similar shoe trial periods with a no-questions-asked return policy - with or without a "membership."

This is how I would visually depict my experience with Road Runner Sports and their VIP Membership program.

In review, I am annoyed with my Road Runner Sports "VIP Membership."  If I had it to do over again, I would not have purchased it.  Granted, it was not a lot of money.  But it's so not worth it when so many other retailers, most notably Running Warehouse, give you all the same perks with no strings attached.

In the meantime, I'm going to try my hand at cancelling this membership as soon as I can.  I am not looking forward to what will probably be a lot of hoops to jump through during the process.

Buyer beware!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Should the New York Marathon be cancelled this year?

My prayers go out to everyone that has been impacted by Hurricane Sandy.  The pictures and stories of the devastation break my heart.

From a runner's perspective, I cannot believe that the New York Marathon is still going to take place this weekend.  LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark all have backlogs of thousands of cancelled flights.  The New York subway is barely operational in some places, and still out of commission in Manhattan and many other areas.  Traffic at bridges is backed up for miles, people are waiting in line for hours at gas stations. Thousands upon thousands are still without power, and countless others are now homeless.

Is it really a good idea for the New York Marathon to still go on this weekend?  The logistics of a marathon the size of New York City will strain local resources even when intact.  But how are nearly 50,000 runners possibly going to make their way just to the starting line on Staten Island under these circumstances?

More importantly, the marathon will require emergency resources that would be much more urgently needed in other places. I think it is more important to ensure that the locals of New York are taken care of before utilizing valuable resources to put on this event.

From the flip side, I understand the New York mentality that "We will prevail" and "We are resilient and we will go on, no matter what."  I also understand the magnitude of planning and cost that goes into the New York Marathon - not just from the organizer's perspective, but also from the runners.  The New York Marathon probably has a seven-figure price tag for its organizers.  Also, people travel from around the globe to run New York, many spending thousands of dollars in plane tickets and lodging.  I can't even begin to think about how many man-hours of planning that it took.

Then there's the countless hours of training.  I spent over nine months training for the Chicago Marathon - and if it ended up being cancelled, I would have been overwhelmingly disappointed.  Let's not even talk about New York's lotto system for registration.

In summary - while there are certainly two sides to this issue - I personally do not think that the New York Marathon should take place this weekend.  Put more bluntly, there are much, much bigger concerns right now.

Thoughts?  I'd love to hear your opinions.