Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sailing into sailing

A few months ago, I saw a Gilt City deal for a heavily-discounted 3-hour introductory sailing lesson through Go Sailing Chicago. Having never been on a working sailboat in my life, yet having gawked for decades at the dozens of sailboats cruising along Chicago's waters, I decided to take the plunge (not literally).

Other than being a boat passenger, I have zero boating experience so I didn't have much idea of what specifics we'd be learning. I wasn't too concerned about potential seasickness, though I was a little nervous about those instances when the boat is heavily angled sideways. Beyond that, the only thing I knew to expect from sailing was that it could be a lot of work.

Lesson day arrived this past Tuesday. I donned my best sailing clothing (aka comfortable shorts and a t-shirt), a lifejacket, and sailing gloves, and hopped aboard a 30-foot Catalina sailboat named FINS. Here is a picture of FINS from the Go Sailing Chicago website:

Each class is limited to a maximum of four students, and during my lesson there were only three of us - myself, and two other guys. Captain Tom, our instructor for the night, got FINS off and moving right away. FINS has a backup motor, which he used until we cleared the harbor. He explained that boats operating without a motor have the right-of-way over motored boats, and during the time that FINS was utilizing its motor it was considered a motorboat.

Once we got out to open water, Captain Tom turned off the engine and the true experience began. He described each of the parts and functions of the sailboat, then shared details with us on wind direction and their impact on sailing direction, dropping the sails, etc. It was a hot, humid, and very blustery day - so right away we got to work releasing and trimming (adjusting) the sails. Captain Tom instructed us on the proper methods, and the work definitely required both speed and muscle.

Captain Tom initially gave his instructions by using the proper equipment names. Unfortunately, none of us could remember what the names represented, so Captain Tom quickly resorted to saying things like, "Tighten up the red line! Give the green line some slack!"

This isn't from the sailboat that I was aboard, but it's an example of some of the lines used to adjust the sails.
The winds kept changing direction and the waves were rather high, so initially we were adjusting almost constantly. My arms and hands started aching from the work. Eventually there came a few times where I had to have someone help me get an adjustment to completion.

We gradually worked our way to the lake area north of Navy Pier, where the waters and winds calmed down quite a bit. At this point, we were able to relax, take turns at the steering wheel (it was actually pretty easy), observe the boat's features in more detail, and chat.

We asked Captain Tom lots of questions about the sailboat's design and architecture, the sailing community, and his sailing experiences. He shared stories on the process of getting his captain's license, regattas such as the Race to Mackinac, boating etiquette, the Chicago Harbor Locks, sailing in inclement weather, and hosting sailing charters complete with wine and a grill. It was fascinating to hear about the science and the strategy behind sailing.

From a recent running of the Race to Mackinac

Funny side story about the Race to Mackinac: A former coworker of mine named Eric is very involved in sailing, and has done this race several times. He told us that each sailboat has a GPS monitor during the race which enables folks back home to track location and progress. However, he mentioned that there were some signal dead zones. Therefore, if there was ever point at which their boat had seemingly disappeared off the radar screen, we shouldn't necessarily panic. (This is good to know.)

We saw plenty of other sailboats on the lake in the vicinity along the way. Captain Tom said he could tell just by looking at other sailboats whether or not the folks on board knew what they were doing based on the direction and/or tautness of their sails or other techniques.

As the sun set, the temperature cooled down. We got a very comfortable breeze off the lake with a gorgeous view of the nighttime Chicago skyline. It was incredibly peaceful and tranquil.

Captain Tom explained that at night, boats and the harbors had different-colored lights to help indicate direction. For example, on boats, there is a green light on the front right of the ship, a red light on the front left of the ship, and a white light on the rear of the ship.

As the lesson approached its end, we helped Captain Tom prepare the boat to re-enter the harbor. My hands were still burning from the exertion so it was nice to finish that off and then just enjoy the last few minutes of the sail.

This introductory sailing lesson was an amazing way to spend a Chicago summer evening. There was so much information to take in and I learned a LOT. It has made me truly understand how learning to sail can be an ongoing, lifelong process. Now, whenever I see sailboats out on the water, I am going to be more observant of things like the angles of their sails.

I obviously still have a LOT of learning to do about sailing before I can be dangerous! But this lesson has definitely deepened my appreciation for all that goes into sailing and why people love it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The search for satellites (Demotivational Monday #2)

This is my second week of participating in Rachel's Demotivational Monday linkup. Yes, I am participating late on Tuesday... but it is still an improvement from last week when I participated on Wednesday!!! :D

Here is my submission for the week. This was inspired by real-life occurrences.

Any time I am getting ready to run, I end up standing at a street corner waiting for my Garmin to locate a satellite. And every single time, I get hundreds, even thousands of people that walk past me during those very moments. I try to look nonchalant, of course, but inevitably they all look at me as if I am wearing an orange-flowered adult onesie with footie pajamas. Every single time.

"C'mon, satellites!!! Go, go, go, go go!!!"

Sausage Fest, upcoming travels, and all the good things

It has been awhile since I have participated in Katie's Take Time Tuesday linkup. I have much to be grateful for, so it is definitely time to partake again!

Live Half Full 

Sausage Fest
Last Thursday, Anne hosted a Sausage Fest Fun Run to help raise funds for Uniting Against Lung Cancer. We first went for an easy 5K run around the neighborhood. It was a beautiful evening and I enjoyed being able to see some sights and sounds from a different neighborhood.

I did almost the entire run with Katie. During this time, I got to catch up with her on her upcoming European vacation plans and a triathlon that she'll be doing next month (woo-hoo)!

After the run, we came back for a grillmaster feast of sausage, veggies, and all kinds of great side dishes, beverages, and dessert. Anne even had raffle prizes to give out!

Here are some pictures from the evening, courtesy of Pete:

The festivities were a blast. I had a great time catching up with so many other running blogger friends, both old and new. I am so blessed, as always, to have such a wonderful community of running friends. When is the next running blogger get-together!?!?!?

Travel Plans
It is really hard for me to believe that it is Labor Day Weekend this weekend. Where did the time go?

Adam and I will be headed up to Michigan again for the long weekend. We are staying in South Haven, where we've spent a lot of time over the years, but we also plan to spend some time exploring Saugatuck. I am looking forward to the opportunity to relax and enjoy all that the area has to offer. Other than the 5K trail race that I did in Fenn Valley back in June, I've never gone running in SW Michigan. It will be nice to get in a relaxed training run amidst the quaint scenery.

Southwest Michigan at its finest!

As far as other near-term travels, I'll be headed to Pittsburgh with Adam in October for a weekend of Pittsburgh sports. Namely, we'll be going to a Penguins game on Saturday night and a Steelers game on Sunday afternoon. It is going to be epic!

Other travel plans coming up:
  • My first-ever runcation will happen in November for the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon! I have still never worn a costume to run a race, and I am semi-entertaining the idea to wear one there. Where better to do so than in Disney? Or maybe I'll just keep it simple and wear mouse ears.
  • In December, Adam and I are taking a trip to Maui. (I am searching desperately for a race of any reasonable distance that will take place while we are there, but so far no luck!)
  • Next March, we are going on a cruise that starts in Panama (the country, not the city in Florida), then makes stops in Colombia, Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire.
The travel bug never stops biting and I am always scheming on more wish-list destinations. All in all, though, I am very lucky and incredibly blessed to have so many fun travels to look forward to.

Other things I'm grateful for
  • Enjoying my new workplace, its people, and its resources very much
  • The change of seasons in the Midwest
  • The wonderful charitable organizations out there that serve their purposes the very best that they can
  • Remaining healthy and relatively injury-free these days (knock on wood)
And finally...
  • All of my amazing friends, family, and husband, as always, for everything that they do.

Monday, August 26, 2013


I am feeling a bit unfocused these days when it comes to my running and my health and fitness priorities.

Over the past year, running has generally taken a backseat to other pursuits. The recent exceptions are whenever I've got a half marathon coming up and I'm trying to undergo emergency training (aka right now). Otherwise, I've been diversifying my workout routine with more emphasis on yoga, pilates, biking, and rowing. Whenever I can get access to a pool I go swimming. I've also really enjoyed the new fitness dabbles I've tried this summer (e.g. stand-up paddleboarding and trapeze).

I know how important cross-training is, of course. But even so, it has been surprisingly refreshing, both mentally and physically, to work all the different muscle groups that running doesn't cover. I feel stronger on an overall basis. It's been a mini-rediscovery of sorts. Last year I spent so much time focusing just on running, and when I wasn't running I was focusing on the stretches/PT exercises that could help me keep running. Now, I don't know if I could ever go back to that level of focus with running.

I did finally give in today and register for the Prairie State Half Marathon. I'd love to run a sub 2:20 there, but really it's no big deal either way. I am more excited about the scenery and backdrop for the race, the company (Kim has graciously offered to pace me if her schedule permits), and the fact that I'll likely have some family members there who have never seen me run a race before. Who cares about anything else?

I also started looking at other races for the rest of 2013 and for 2014. I definitely want to run the Wisconsin Half Marathon again. I am considering giving the Chicago Marathon another try next year, pending a potential change to a registration lottery-system. I've spoken at length about my other must-do races, e.g. the ones hosted by PAWS or the Blackhawks. Other than that, I think I am in a race rut where I am looking for races that are very different or very unique to pique my interest. (No color races, mud races, glow races, etc., though. I'm more of a purist when it comes to running races.)

Several runners have the goal to run races in all 50 states and all seven continents. I think these are fabulous goals and there is nothing that I would love more than to travel the world to run races.  Unfortunately, I am challenged by limited vacation time and funds.

Speaking of which, my travel bug is biting me big-time. This is somewhat mollified by having just booked a trip to Central America for next March. It's a topic for a whole other post but in short, the travel bug still itches incessantly.

Running is certainly not just about running races, of course. On a related note, I've put forth a recent effort to improve my eating habits. Much has been written and discussed about the benefits of "clean" eating (i.e. eating healthy, fresh, unprocessed foods) and I am trying to abide by these guidelines as much as possible. For example, boxes of instant mashed potatoes used to be a staple in my pantry. Now I try to cook whole potatoes instead, and save the instant potatoes for emergencies.

Yeah, it's kind of like that.

I've even been trying to cut down on the amount of fruit juice that I drink in favor of drinking plain water and eating whole fruits. (Since I usually drink orange juice like it's going out of style, this has been quite a change for me.)

As you might guess, I've definitely had varying measures of success with trying to eat better. I still love cookies and brownies and ice cream, and it's still tough to contain myself when it comes to salty snacks like chips or crackers with cheese. It's a process, but at least things are headed in a positive direction.

I think it matters less which way you go - just as long as you aren't standing still.
This sign obviously begs to differ.

Where am I going with this? Other than trying to keep my fitness pursuits balanced, diverse, and novel from both a healthy and a hedonistic perspective, I'm not sure. But that's okay because not all goals have to be measurable. In fact, it's probably better that some goals aren't. It's always great to enjoy the results of your work - but you can also enjoy just getting to do the work. It doesn't always matter whether or not there's an end goal in mind.

Here's the motto of the day (and no, my love of cookies will never change):

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Demotivational Monday and my Road Runner Sports VIP Membership epilogue

I just learned about the new Demotivational Monday linkup that Rachel is hosting. Hilarious! I am obviously a couple of days late to the party (call it a direct demonstration of demotivation, perhaps?) But I wanted to participate anyways.

Here is my submission. I took some liberties with the guidelines.

As you may have surmised, this is also an excuse for me to talk tangentially about some recent frustrations.

Last November, I had posted here about my negative experience with Road Runner Sports and their VIP Membership Program. In summary, the sales clerk lied to me about the online membership price versus the in-store membership price.

The "perks" of the membership program are not all that they are cracked up to be, either. Basically members receive free shipping on all purchases plus 10% off select items. However, there are almost always promo codes available to nonmembers for free shipping and 10% off. So why bother becoming a member?

The free shipping was a marginal perk, too. Before I became a member, I ordered from Road Runner online using a promo code, and my order arrived a couple of days later. However, I have twice ordered from Road Runner online as a member. The first time my order took a week and a half to arrive, and the second time it took my order over two weeks to arrive. Neither of these orders were for back-ordered merchandise or anything, either. It was frustrating that I received faster shipping service as a nonmember than as a member.

A few weeks ago I submitted a membership cancellation request. However, I never received a confirmation or acknowledgement. I followed up with Road Runner Sports on it today. I was put on hold for quite some time while they tried to investigate. I was finally told that it had never been processed. They put me on hold again while they tried to process the cancellation on the spot. They then told me that they were having technical problems and couldn't cancel the membership until November 2013. They assured me they would set up arrangements to ensure it would be cancelled at that time. Here is hoping.

There was one positive note to the membership cancellation process. When I expressed my discontent regarding my incident with the membership price, they indicated they would refund me the entire membership fee. That helped a lot.

I do like the Road Runner Sports-branded merchandise that I've purchased, and their in-person shoe-fitting process was very detailed. However, given my mixed experiences with their customer service and their pricing, Road Runner Sports will not be at the top of my list when I shop for running gear in the future.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Sorry to disappear again!  It's been a hectic few weeks but here is a mishmosh of recent updates:

NAAAP National Convention
I was in Toronto the weekend before last for the NAAAP Convention, my 11th consecutive year attending the convention.  As per usual, it was great to see old and new friends and to enjoy all that the host city has to offer.  Toronto reminds me a lot of Chicago - both are large financial cities with unique architecture and stunning lakefronts - so I always feel very at home whenever I visit.

During my free time in Toronto, I made a visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame to see my old friend again:

I also went for a run along Toronto's lakefront.  The weather was absolutely gorgeous and I wanted to take full advantage.  Here are a few pictures:

I was disappointed that the Toronto 10-Miler had been cancelled that weekend, but it was nice to be able to run just to explore and observe the locals enjoying their weekend.  I can't wait to run a race in Toronto or elsewhere in Canada whenever the opportunity next permits!

New Fitness Pursuits
My workplace just started offering free fitness classes for all employees.  I've been trying to attend a cross-section of the offerings to get a feel for how I like them.  So far I've tried Zumba, a yoga sculpt class (yoga with some light hand-weights), and pilates.

I am proud to say that all three classes left me feeling the burn for days afterwards. Wow. You would think that running would translate into increased ease when it comes to some of these other fitness pursuits, but it was so not the case.  

The Zumba class was especially humbling.  The classroom has a floor-to-ceiling mirror where you can see your own form (or lack there-of, in my case).  There are certain (many) moves that I just can't pull off gracefully, no matter how hard I try.  A lot of practice is definitely in order for me when it comes to Zumba.

Race Talk
  • After taking a multi-week hiatus from running, it hit me that my next half marathon is in less than three weeks.  Better get cracking on my training!  I had planned to run 8 this past weekend.  After a slow and very painful start to the run, a GU got me back on track.  I ended up feeling so good that I did 9 and could have kept going.  This was a great confidence booster!  The plan for this weekend is to run 11 or 12 this coming weekend, then give myself one stepback week.  Nothing like trying to undergo emergency half-marathon training yet again.  But I am happy with how things went yesterday so at least my 3-week training plan is off to a good start.

  • I signed up for a new 5K called the 5K9 Walk/Run, which takes place on September 22.  I've mentioned many times that animal shelters are a cause that I support from the bottom of my heart, so I was thrilled to find another race that goes towards them.  There's actually a Groupon available for this race, but since I wanted to donate directly to the cause I opted to register on the race website.
  • I just heard about the Pittsburgh Penguins 6.6K Run, which takes place on October 6.  I would have loved to run this race for the cause and for the instant PR (I've never seen a 6.6K race anywhere else).  They even give out medals to the finishers!  But unfortunately the timing does not work out for Adam and I to go to Pittsburgh that particular weekend.  Hopefully next year.
  • I am really trying to hold myself back from registering right now for the Prairie State Half Marathon. This is all pending how the body holds up as well as some family potentially coming into town that weekend.  If I do end up registering, I am eyeing this race as a "current" PR attempt (my all-time half marathon PR, which is from about 10 years ago, is probably out of reach this year).  The appeal of an uncrowded race with easy logistics amidst gorgeous fall foliage is getting harder and harder to deny. As much as I love summer, I love fall even more.
Non-Race Talk
  • Speaking of fall, Blackhawks tickets for the 2013-14 regular season went on sale this morning at 10:00 AM sharp.  After much advance planning, strategizing, and testing of the tangled web that is Ticketmaster (and its exorbitant fees), Adam and I managed to snag tickets to a total of six Hawks games for the season.  Score!!!
  • Cubs games for the non-baseball fan!  My company is having a Cubs game outing this Thursday, plus had some extra tickets available to other games last week and this week.  Adam and I took advantage and went to last Friday's game.  I hadn't been to Wrigley Field in probably five years, so it was fun to check it out (plus the Cubs won!)  Here's the view from our seats:

  • Other neat stuff in the works: 
    • Anne is hosting a fun run/BBQ to raise funds for the Chicago Lung Run!  What a great way to celebrate the last few weeks of summer.  Should be a great time.
    • I will be taking an Introduction to Sailing class!  I've always gawked at the folks sailing along the Lake Michigan coastline.  It looks like a blast (although I've heard it is a lot of work).  I've never been on a real sailboat so this will be quite an experience for me.
    • I am considering a trip to Six Flags Great America one of these weekends.  Adam has never been there and I haven't been there since high school.  Only question is whether or not I can still handle rollercoasters.  As I've gotten older, my propensity for motion sickness has increased a lot (I get queasy these days just riding the CTA bus or trains).  TBD, TBD...
That's all, folks!

Medal Talk
On a final random note, I was looking at all of the race medals I've accumulated in the past few years.  Two things:
  1. I've actually got several duplicative medals from doing the same races in multiple years.  It would be nice to diversify the medals somewhat.  Any suggestions on good (preferably local) races with cool, unique medals?
  2. I am utilizing a very unorthodox method right now to display my medals.  If you can picture it, I am hanging my medals from the stand portion of an upright ironing board stored in my closet.  (Not very glamorous.)  The lowest-priced medal holder that I've ever seen was $60, which is a bit more than I'd like to pay.  For those of us who are DIY project-challenged, anyone have suggestions on affordable alternatives to medal holders?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Where I run

The current topic for Maggie's Runner Photo Challenge is: Where do you run?

Ahhh, great question.

On weekends, it seems like Chicago's entire running population takes to the lakefront path.  When I lived at 31st Street, I was a mile away from the lake so I would always run the path between 31st and Roosevelt. But now that I live in the West Loop, I don't make it out to the lakefront path too much anymore.

So where do I run these days?  Obviously I run in the West Loop neighborhood and surrounding areas. Within very close vicinity are Greektown, the restaurant row on Randolph Street (try saying that five times fast), and the United Center.

Top from L to R: Greektown columns; Randolph Street restaurant row; rooftop dining at Pegasus restaurant
Bottom from L to R: Michael Jordan statue at the United Center adorned with a Blackhawks jersey; Mary Bartolme Park, Greektown ATM

Venturing just a little further out brings a whole other blend of diverse neighborhoods and areas: Little Italy, Pilsen, UIC, and the Illinois Medical District, just to name a few.

Clockwise starting from top left: St. Ignatius College Prep; Nuevo Leon restaurant in Pilsen; the Casa Aztlan community center in Pilsen; the UIC campus; Mario's Italian Lemonade stand in Little Italy.
Center: Rush Hospital in the Illinois Medical District

When I lived at 31st Street, I was pretty close to Chinatown.  At the time, I went there a lot to eat or shop, but didn't explore it much in my running shoes.  However, last year during a run Erin took me to the Ping Tom Memorial Park in Chinatown:

So peaceful.  Notice the Chinese pagoda along the waterfront

When I was working in Hyde Park, I had intended to blog about my running adventures there, but never got around to it.  So now, here are some pictures from Hyde Park, mostly in or near the University of Chicago campus:

One of the things that I love most about Chicago is that while it is a large city, it is really more a collection of neighborhoods.  Within those neighborhoods, there is so much diversity within very short distances.  It is amazing how much contrast you can see within just a quick walk.  This is especially true when you go off the beaten path, which I like to do as much as possible no matter where I am.

I could live in Chicago my entire life and still always be exploring all that it has to offer - with or without my running shoes.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Ch-ch-ch-chia and other news from the homefront

When I was a child, I used to giggle at the commercials for Chia Pets.

How could you not chuckle at some of these figurines?

Apparently what comes around, goes around.  Recently I've been hearing a ton of accolades about the countless health benefits of chia seeds.  I figured I would give in to the hype and try them out.  What the heck.  (And no, I am NOT being compensated for this post).  Thanks to the beauty that is, an enormous bag of chia seeds showed up at my door a couple of days ago.

I haven't had a lot of time to experiment with the chia seeds yet, but I did want to share the picture from a chia drink recipe that I've made the last two nights.  This is really for no reason other than the drink looks uniquely cool (in my opinion, at least).


The recipe is very simple.  Basically you soak the chia seeds in water or coconut water for about 15 minutes, then add lemon or lime juice and a sweetener (I used honey) to taste.  How's that for effortless gourmet?

Now, in other news...

No More Excuses
My workplace just opened up a terrific new exercise facility.  They are even offering a variety of daily fitness classes (e.g. Zumba, spin, yoga, etc.).  Everything is free for all employees.  It is such an amazing and convenient amenity!

I am also very excited for the opportunities it will provide to help keep my workout routine diverse.  Case in point: I went on the rowing machine earlier this week for the first time in probably 15 years. It was nice to really use some upper-body muscles for once.  I could barely row for 20 minutes before giving in to my aching back and arms.

Good thing I wasn't in this situation.

Hello Lord Stanley!
I had a great time at the Blackhawks Convention this past weekend.  More on that to come later, but for now here is a quick picture from the festivities:

I could get used to seeing Stanley every few years...

Get Your Kicks on Half Marathon #6
I'm about thisclose to signing up for my sixth half marathon of 2013: the Prairie State Half Marathon.  I've been eyeing this race since its inaugural running in 2011.  It runs through a gorgeous local forest preserve that I've visited many times over the last decade to go hiking or picnicking.  I also love the October timeframe, when fall foliage should be in full bloom.  (Ahhhh, fall races... sigh!)

Check out this excerpt from an email that I received about the race:

The only thing holding me back from signing on up is that I've been battling a flare-up of tendinitis in my right knee (as opposed to my usually-wonky left knee).  Therefore, I'd ideally like to see how things go over the next month or so before committing to another half marathon.

I do have to admit, though, that it is pretty hard to not live my life by the concept of "sign up now, ask questions later"!

And finally...
Once again I have fallen horrifically behind on all of your blogs.  Bear with me as I've got a busy couple of weeks ahead of me with work and the NAAAP Convention next weekend.  But afterwards I should be home free.  Like a bird!  (Extra credit to anyone who recognizes where that quote came from.  =D )