Thursday, June 27, 2013

Fenn Valley Frolic in the Vineyards 5K Trail Race recap

Oh my goodness, I am so behind on blogging again this week! 

Before I begin today, let me start with what simply HAS to be said (even if I'm a bit late to the party here).  HUGE CONGRATULATIONS to the Chicago Blackhawks on becoming Stanley Cup champions again this year!!!  I couldn't be more proud of my beloved Blackhawks for their grit, perseverance, fortitude, and unbelievable work-ethic.  Who would have ever imagined that in the last 80 seconds of Game 6 the Hawks could go from the despair of a 2-1 deficit to the jubilation of a 3-2 lead within 17 seconds flat?  Talk about heart-stopping moments.  Even now I am still shaking my head in disbelief.

Much more about the Hawks to come another day.  But for now, here's how Adam and I watched Game 5 from a Michigan beach town:

Not a bad way to roll, eh?

Okay, let's get down to the topic of the day.  Last Friday I ran the Fenn Valley Winery 5K Frolic in the Vineyards.  I was really excited to run my first-ever trail race through a vineyard with its own wine served during the post-race party!

I thought that running a trail race through vineyards wouldn't be that hard.  I knew that trail races are generally done at slower paces than road races due to the terrain, but it's not like we were navigating through heavily wooded Brazilian rainforest mountains or anything of the sort.  A vineyard couldn't be that different than your typical road race, right?


The race course involved running over unmowed grass, dirt, mulch, and just a bit of gravel road.  I learned very quickly just how much the type of surface can slow you down.  With the exception of the gravel roads, all of the surfaces were incredibly challenging to run through.  The grass was soft and uneven with random sticks and branches providing plenty of trip hazards, and the dirt and mulch were not much better.  I literally felt like I was running in quicksand the whole time.  It was exhausting.

Do not be fooled by this picture of the gravel path along the vineyards.  Only a tiny, TINY little portion of the race was done on the gravel path.  The vast majority of it was done in unmowed grass.

To add to the challenging running terrain:

1) I forgot to bring my Garmin with me.  And there were no mile markers out on the course.  Therefore, I was basically running blindly with little or no sense of how far along I was, how fast I was going, and how much further I had to go.

2) There were several killer hills along the course.  Given my state of struggle even without any inclines, I didn't even bother trying to run up any of the hills.  Not a chance, not a chance.

Here are a couple of pictures from the start.

Me lining up with other runners, waiting for the race to start.
And we're off!  I'm a little off-center to the right in the white hat and purple shirt.

I spent nearly the entire race looking down at the ground directly in front of me and doing what I could to stay upright.  Even despite my caution, I still managed to turn my left ankle a couple of times.  Regretfully, I was so focused on the immediate ground surfaces that I barely enjoyed the vineyard scenery.

All in all, it was the longest and toughest 5K I can ever remember running.  35 minutes and 12 seconds of gritting my teeth and trying my best to avoid tripping and falling and breaking my skull. 

I was really, really relieved when I got to the finish line.

Obligatory race photo body spasm celebrating the sight of the finish line

I have a lot more respect now for cross-country runners.  I seriously had no understanding until now how challenging the courses can be.  Wow!

Onto the post-race party.  It had a very local vibe to it.  Refreshments featured some picnicky foods (sandwiches, chips, and pasta salad), plus gelato samples and one glass of wine per participant.  A local band played and lots of raffle prizes were given out.  Unfortunately there were a lot of mosquitos keeping us company and no bug spray to be found, so Adam and I didn't stick around very long.

I am very happy to make Michigan #4 on my list of states raced in, and I was happy to experience a trail race for the first time.  However, I don't think I will run any more trail races.  My joints and all trail runner afficionados will hate me for this, I know - but give me a running surface of asphalt and/or concrete anyday over grass!

My next race: the Home Team Charity Run 10K on July 14.  (What better way to celebrate the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup victory than a race that features them, eh?!?!?)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Big changes, digressions, and a winner

A lot has been going on in my corner of the world these days.

First off, I am starting a new job on Monday!  I am very grateful for this new opportunity and for a fresh start.  The last several months have involved a lot of soul-searching for me, and I am really thankful, as always, for everyone's support throughout the process.  My new office is only about a 10-minute walk from where I live, too!  The much-reduced commute will be awesome.*

I have had the luxury of enjoying a little bit of time off before starting the new work.  It has been very restful and has allowed me to finally take care of a lot of things that were piling up on my personal to-do list.  During this time, I've been logging some good miles in my running shoes.  I've also been watching a LOT of Blackhawks Stanley Cup Finals hockey.

OK, OK, yeah, I would have watched a lot of Blackhawks Stanley Cup Finals hockey regardless of my schedule.  But at least now I don't have to worry about trying to get to bed right after each game ends.  Instead, I can stay up late watching post-game shows and trolling social media outlets for ardent displays of fan loyalty. 

Curious?  Here are a few classics:

While we're at it, check out this video of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra saluting the Blackhawks with a classical rendition of Chelsea Dagger.  Cool, eh?

Anyways, I digress!  All in all, I couldn't be more thankful for this time to regroup and get myself back on track both mentally and physically.

Moving on to other news.  I made a change to my hair yesterday.  Here's the "before" - a representative picture of how I've been wearing my hair for the last several years:

Adam and I at a birthday celebration for the son of my friend Erica.
Photo courtesy of my friend Jenny.

Here is the "after" - a self-portrait that I took last night:

I've worn the bob hairstyle a lot throughout my life and love it, so I decided to go back to it again.  It's a nice cut for the summertime.  (Although, I'm sure it will be weird washing my hair for the first time today post-haircut.  I will probably use too much shampoo and it'll feel like something is missing.)

A few other notes:
  • I am off to Michigan this weekend and will be running the Fenn Valley Winery 5K Frolic in the Vineyards tomorrow night!  This will be my first-ever trail race so we will see how it goes.  I don't think that vineyards are considered very hard-core trail but I am sure that my tripping propensity will still be tested, regardless.

  • I've said before that the 10-miler was my favorite race distance, but I think I'm starting to have a change of heart.  Maybe it's because I'm not training for a marathon this year, so 10 miles feels like a bigger deal now than it used to be?  At this very moment I think I like 10Ks better.
  • Speaking of 10-milers, I just found out that the Toronto 10-Miler will not be taking place in 2013.  That is disappointing, as I was looking forward to adding Ontario to my list of states/provinces raced in.  Hopefully the opportunity will present itself again another time in the future.
  • Incidentally, the Toronto 10-Miler is the third recent race that I'd planned on running but was then cancelled by the race organizers.  The other two include the Rock N Roll Pittsburgh Half Marathon and the 2012 running of the Mad Dash to Madison 5K.  Yikes!  Here is hoping that there will be no more race cancellations after this.

And last but certainly not least:

The winner of the Chicago Half Marathon race entry giveaway is: Amanda from Get To Goal.  Congratulations, Amanda!  Please drop me a line at

Happy Summer Solstice weekend to all!

*Sorry, Maggie, I don't mean to steal your thunder regarding new jobs, much-reduced commutes, and some time off!  But we'll definitely have to do a joint celebration.  =)

Monday, June 17, 2013

What I love about summer

This week's Runner Photo Challenge: Why we love summer.

I can sum up my answer to this question in three fundamental points:

1. Being outdoors
2. Celebrations
3. Food

One or more of these factors are apparent into pretty much everything that I love about summer.  Simple enough, eh?

To illustrate, here are three personal case studies in the joys of summertime.

Running evening races
I love love LOVE evening races for their festivity, the cooler temperatures, and for not having to set my alarm clock at some ungodly morning hour.  Evening races also cover all three of my summer fundamentals:

1.  You run the race outdoors. 
2.  There is a post-race party afterwards. 
3.  The post-race party always includes food!

One of the most prime examples of awesome evening races is the Strike Out ALS 5K

I ran this race last year and had a blast, so I'm back for Part Deux this year on July 16.  The festivities take place at US Cellular Field (plentiful free parking!) and the course finishes on the warning track inside the ballpark, which is very cool.  This race also takes the cake for one-of-a-kind post-race parties - you get the entire ballpark to yourself and your runner friends/spectators to watch the MLB All-Star game on the Jumbotron! 

From the post-race festivities last year

It is an amazing experience, especially with a nice helping of ballpark food and a cold beverage in hand.  There is seriously no better way to spend a gorgeous summer evening.  And as the name would imply, the race proceeds also go towards people with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), so it's a great cause.

Runners, baseball afficionados, and nonbaseball afficionados, all unite!  Who else is doing this race?  I would love to arrange a meet-up there.  We can even pose for a picture with home plate in the background.  =)

Independence Day
My favorite holiday.  What could be better?

1.  You are outdoors all day long to picnic and watch fireworks.
2.  The entire day is one giant celebration.
3.  Picnicking involves lots of grilling and other great food!!!

Yummy yummy!

For many years, my family and I would spend July 4 picnicking at Waukegan Harbor and watching the fireworks there at night.  Unfortunately, I think they've stopped the shows now due to budget constraints.  But back in those days, Waukegan had a truly spectacular fireworks show.  It was breathtaking.  In fact, the only fireworks display that I've ever seen that topped Waukegan's shows would be those at Disney.  (Ah, Disney!!!!!)

From Illuminations: Reflections of Earth at Disney's Epcot

Farmer's Markets and Food Festivals
These are a no-brainer.

1. They take place outside!!!
2. They are a celebration of great eats!
3. There is plenty of great food!!!

Summertime produce is the best.  I find it is so much easier to eat healthy when you've got gorgeous fruits and veggies surrounding you everywhere you shop for food.  Fruit salads and any dishes that involves fresh fruit are huge favorites of mine for any summertime menu. 

Look at those beautiful colors.  It is really true what they say about how you eat with your eyes first.

There is also no better feeling after getting back from a good run than to refuel with a luscious cold smoothie.

How good does that look!?!?!?
(Now if I could only get someone to come to my kitchen and do all of the post-smoothie-making cleanup work for me...)

A few years ago, my family and I went to the National Blueberry Festival in South Haven, Michigan, which was a blast.  The events even include a 5K and 10K run!  Unfortunately I won't be able to attend the festival this year since I'll be in Toronto the weekend it takes place.  But Michigan hosts a lot of great fruit festivals - they've also got the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City and the National Strawberry Festival in Belleville, both of which I would love to check out someday.  I think Michigan has a peach festival and a grape festival, too.  You have to love the bountifulness and celebration of all that local fruit.

Viva le summer!!!

Friday, June 14, 2013

PAWS Run For Their Lives 4K walk recap

This past Sunday was my second year participating in the PAWS Run For Their Lives event, which includes both an 8K run and a 4K walk.

Animal shelters are a cause that I support from the bottom of my heart, so this event is a must-do for me.  Last year I did the 8K run and absolutely loved the festivities.  This year I opted to do the 4K walk instead since I had a half marathon the day before.  Pets are not allowed to participate in the 8K run for safety reasons, but they are plentiful in the 4K walk.  It was so heartwarming to be surrounding by all of their wriggling energy every step of the way.

Adam was planning to attend the 4K walk with me.  Unfortunately he wasn't feeling well the morning of, so I went by myself.  I found parking quickly and zipped through packet pickup.  I stopped by the fundraising booth to make an extra donation to PAWS Chicago.  Then came the fun part - the dog-watching!

A dog demonstrating its mad hops with a frisbee-catching, leaping over crouched-humans stunt.
Dogs running in circles around their owners
Dogs awaiting the start of the 4K walk and getting to know each other.
After meandering around a bit to see the various pets, I went to watch the start of the 8K race.  Here is a picture at the starting airhorn:

And they're off!!!
Then I headed over to the start of the 4K walk.

Me at the 4K start
The 4K walk took us through a stretch of the lakefront path between Montrose and Foster, with plenty of water bowls and wading pools for the pets.  There were signs along the walk with pictures of the pets that were part of the PAWS system, and pets that were in need of homes wore yellow bandanas.  As usual, seeing the signs and the pets in need of homes brought tears to my eyes.  But "alumni" pets and pet owners who had adopted from PAWS wore royal blue bandanas/blue shirts, respectively - and it was very touching to see how many of them were in attendence.

Here are some pictures from the 4K walk:

And they're off!!!

Wonder Dog!!!

Enjoying the lakefront bluff mid-walk.

More lakefront bluff enjoyment.
Taking a break to enjoy the shade and some belly rubs.

I noticed that there were many Hawks fans at the event basking in the glory of the previous night's victory!  ;-)

The Hawks fans in attendence were not limited just to humans.
Even on a sunny summer day in Chicago, it's never too warm to wear your matching Hawks jerseys.

After completing the 4K walk, I headed over to the post race party.  It was fantastic.  There was so much energy and so much mutual affection for all the animals.  In addition to plenty of pet-friendly booths and activities, there was an incredible selection of refreshments including pizza, cake, burritos, ice tea, and champagne, just to name a few.  I heard later that over 5,000 humans and over 2,500 pets participated in the festivities, which is amazing.  

Me with a PAWS mascot at the post-race party
I love this event.  I love the cause, love the cameraderie, love seeing the adorable pets of all shapes and sizes on race day.  This race continues to be at the top of my list of must-do races each year and I wouldn't miss it for the world.  From what I've seen and heard, it just keeps getting better and better each year, too. 

I can't wait to do it again next year!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Chicago Half Marathon Giveaway (and how NOT to run your first half marathon)

There went another decade of my life expectancy last night after watching the Hawks' triple-overtime victory against the Bruins.  To quote Doc Emrick, "MY GOODNESS!"  What a series this is going to be!  I was so relieved when the Hawks finally scored that I didn't know if I should laugh, cry, or wind my watch.  (Yes, Penguins fans, that was a Mike Lange reference.  ;-) )

I continue to be so inspired by the Blackhawks and their incredible resiliency.  The level of athletic prowess that is required to play in games like this just blows my mind.  When I'm out running long races and I'm dying at mile whatever, at least I know exactly how long I have to go before I can head home.  Comparatively, in these overtime playoff games, the players literally have no idea how long they'll be out there gutting it out.  Can you imagine the physical and mental fatigue!?!?!?

Speaking of amazing races and physical/mental preparation.  I may or may not have ever shared the details behind the first half marathon that I ever ran: the Chicago Half Marathon (in 2002).

This is a photo from a more recent running of the Chicago Half Marathon. 
(Unfortunately I don't have any pictures from 2002 when I participated.)

Since I'm so smart and conservative about the way I train, surely I researched expert training plans well in advance, picked out a plan that worked best for my level of fitness and my schedule, and followed the plan to a T, right?  It's what intelligent runners do.

But I was not an intelligent runner back then.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.

At the time, I was younger, more risk-seeking, and much more likely to shoot from the hip, literally and figuratively.  (And yes... I'm still not the most intelligent runner now.  But I am much better now than I was back in 2002.  That is for sure.)

So what exactly happened?  I was hanging out with two friends who were also runners.  It was a Tuesday night and we were discussing how we all wanted to run a marathon someday but that it seemed so crazy.  One of my friends said, "I don't know if I could ever run 26.2 miles.  But I bet I could do a half marathon."  My other friend and I agreed that 13.1 seemed much more doable.

The next day, my friend called me and said, "Hey, the Chicago Half Marathon is this weekend.  You up for it?"

Me: (without even really thinking about it) "Yeah, sure.  What the heck."

That night, both of my friends and I signed up for the Chicago Half Marathon.  On a total whim.  Just three days before race day.  None of us had done any focused training, whatsoever.  At the time, the longest race I'd ever run was a 10K, and my personal distance record was probably only about 7 or 8 miles.

Then, three days later, all three of us went to the 2002 Chicago Half Marathon.  And all three of us just did it.

It wasn't pretty.  For me, it hurt to walk for a week afterwards.  I know my two friends were also hurting pretty badly, too.  But each of us finished in one piece, though just barely.  (And believe it or not, my time from that race back in 2002 stands as my all-time half marathon PR by far to this day.  Crazy, eh?)

Obviously after that experience I learned my lesson about training properly for half marathons: "Thou shalt not run a half marathon without adequate preparation." 

Until this past weekend, of course.  (But that's obviously another story.)

In all seriousness, though, last year I ran the Chicago Half Marathon again, this time with proper training, and had a blast.  The race closes Lake Shore Drive down entirely to runners - which is an incredible experience.  It also affords gorgeous views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago city skyline.

Scenes from a Chicago Half Marathon running on Lake Shore Drive.

Now on to the really good part!!!  This year will be the 17th running of the Chicago Half Marathon and Hyundai Hope On Wheels 5K, which takes place on Sunday, September 8, 2013.  The organizers are offering ONE FREE RACE REGISTRATION to anyone who would like to participate!

To enter, please leave me a comment of any sort.  (Comments about the amazing Blackhawks will make me happy, of course... but sadly they won't be given any preference over non-Blackhawks-related comments.  I know, I know.)

The giveaway is open until Wednesday, June 19 at 11:59 PM CST.  I will use to select a winner, which I will announce on Thursday, June 20. 

Good luck to all!!!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

2013 NHL Stanley Cup Finals predictions

The stage has been set: an Original Six Stanley Cup Finals matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins, starting tomorrow.  WOO HOO!

I've lost a couple years of my life watching my beloved Blackhawks in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs.  First, the insane Game 7 overtime win in the second round against Detroit.  Then, the unbelievable Game 5 double-overtime victory against the Kings this past Saturday.  STRESS.

Playoff hockey is not for the faint of heart.  But I wouldn't have it any other way.  It's tradition!

I love the palpable Blackhawks buzz all throughout the city.  Everywhere you look you see the Blackhawks logo, people wearing Blackhawks gear, coverage of the Blackhawks on all media channels.

Check out these awesome Chicago skyline photos:

Ticket prices to attend the Stanley Cup Finals at the United Center are OBSCENE.  Just for giggles, I took a look at some of the ticket resale websites.  The standing room tickets are starting at about $250 apiece and the nosebleed seats start at about $375 apiece.  I've heard stories of fans so desperate to get tickets that they offered to sell their iPads, usage of their apartments, wedding photography services, and even their blood (literally) to get tickets.  Wow.  As I've said many times, I am as rabid of a Hawks fan as you'll ever find anywhere, but even I will be watching the Finals from my couch.

I do wish that the Hawks or the city of Chicago would offer the option for fans to camp out and watch the games outdoors on a big screen outside the UC or at, say, Grant Park.  The Penguins have outdoor viewing parties in Pittsburgh and I think they would be the coolest thing ever, especially on a beautiful summer evening.

Penguins fans watching the game on a big screen outside the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh

Allright, let's get down to business here.  The Blackhawks and the Bruins are an incredible matchup and I could go on for hours about the nitty-gritty details.  But I'll try to keep it high-level here.  I will also try not to be TOO biased.  (I know, I know.  But it's the thought that counts.)

While the Bruins have some very talented forwards in Patrice Bergeron and company, I think the Hawks have more depth at forward.  Especially when you consider the Hawks' incredible "third"-liners, most notably Bryan Bickell, who has had an absolutely explosive playoff season.  Consider the fact that the Hawks are in the Stanley Cup Finals and I think Jonathan Toews has only scored one goal this entire postseason.  Now THAT is depth.

The Hawks will certainly have their hands full dealing with the likes of Zdeno Chara in all of his 7-foot monstrosity.  But again, I think the Hawks have more depth at defense with their Olympic-caliber pairings, and I tend to feel that the Hawks' defense has a bit more of a scoring touch.

From a goaltender standpoint, both Tuukka Rask and Corey Crawford have played stunningly well - but even Adam will admit in his Penguins post-mortem that the Penguins made life too easy for Tuukka in the Eastern Conference Finals.  I think Corey has more battle wounds so far this year, which is a good thing.  But between Corey and Tuukka it'll definitely be quite an exhibition of goaltenders.

Commercial Break
Check out this cute picture that was posted on the Blackhawks Facebook page.

And how about this adorable picture of my fellow Hawks fan/running blogger Bobbi and her mom's dog, Brie?

Another photo of Brie:

I think I could do an entire photo-blog post on pets supporting the Blackhawks.  =D
Tangential note - I participated in the PAWS Run For Their Lives 4K Walk this past weekend and had an absolute blast.  More details and pictures to come in an upcoming post!

And now, back to your regularly-scheduled programming.

Special Teams
Both teams are strong penalty killers.  However, the Hawks' penalty kill has been nothing short of astounding - they are 58 for 61 in the playoffs, which I heard is a 25-year record.  Both teams have struggled on the power play, too.  I still don't understand how teams with so much talent can struggle so mightily with the man-advantage.  It's one of the great mysteries of the hockey universe.  In the end, I think that converting on power plays may end up being the difference-maker in this series.

Joel Quenneville and his team are phenomenal and the Hawks are exceptionally well-coached.  Claude Julien has had his ups and downs in Boston, but he and his team are also very well-respected and experienced.  Obviously both head coaches have already taken their respective teams to a Stanley Cup championship within the last 3 years, so they both know what it takes.  I don't know Claude Julien's coaching nearly as well as Coach Q, but I do feel that Coach Q is more willing to take risks and mix things up on the fly, as needed.

Everyone is talking about the Bruins' physicality agains the Hawks' speed and finesse.  It was the same story in the Western Conference playoffs with both the Wings' and Kings' physicality against the Hawks' speed and finesse, and look at the results.  As brutal as the Hawks' series was against Detroit, and as tough as a matchup as the Hawks' series was against the Kings, I believe that those two series helped truly prepare the Hawks for this final challenge.

MY HEAVILY BIASED PREDICTION: Hawks in 5. (Go get 'em!!!)

Side note: Not surprisingly, I would love to see the Hawks win a championship on home ice.  Living so close to the United Center and given the opportunity, I thought it would be fun to go partake in the outdoor jubilation nearby.  (When I mentioned this to Adam, he said "You mean the riots?")  However, as it turns out, Adam and I are going to be out of town the weekend of Game 5.  Talk about timing.

And finally...
If the Hawks need another goalie, I am ready and available!

NHL goalie pads are no joke.  It's amazing that anyone can even move while wearing those things, let alone stopping pucks being fired at you with lightning speed.