Monday, September 30, 2013

The unusually bad or good

Much is said, discussed, and written about the variables that contribute to or result in an unusually bad run or race. I was thinking about this the other day and I brainstormed a list of potential factors:

  1. Fueling (what you've eaten before, during, and after)
  2. Hydration
  3. Sleep (or lack thereof)
  4. Injury (can include anything from the traditional runner's injuries like plantar fasciitis to blisters/skin chafing)
  5. Training
  6. Weather (includes everything from sun, wind, humidity, temperature, and precipitation)
  7. Hills
  8. Terrain (asphalt versus trail, etc.)
  9. Gear (e.g. shoes)
  10. Crowdedness (are you trying to weave in and out of other runners, dodging cars/bikes/stoplights, etc.)
  11. Altitude (are you at sea level or at 12,000 feet above sea level?)
  12. Course (e.g. straight line vs. lots of hairpin turns)
  13. Time of day/night (6 AM versus noon versus 6 PM versus midnight)
  14. Hormones (women, but possibly men also to a certain extent)
  15. Mood (are you feeling happy, sad, angry, scared, etc.)

(This picture would be a great Demotivational Monday submission, no? Rachel, are you hosting another round of Demotivational Monday this week?)

All kidding aside, it seems that there is less frequent discussion about the variables that contribute to or result in an unusually GOOD run or race. I started thinking about this last night.

Very specifically: I had an 11-miler on the docket for this past weekend in preparation for my next half marathon coming up in two weeks. I was planning on taking a stepback week next weekend. However, due to work commitments, lack of time, and lingering soreness from a new fitness class that I took last Friday (more about that another time), I had to change up my plans. I will be doing the 11-miler next weekend instead and therefore took this past weekend as my stepback, as all I had time for was a 5- or 6-miler. 

I don't usually take these "stepback" weeks very seriously. So I went out yesterday late afternoon with an attitude teetering on reckless abandon. And wouldn't you know it - I felt really, really good yesterday. It was one of the best runs I've had in quite some time. My legs and lungs both felt great, and unintentionally my pace ended up being about 45 seconds per mile faster than I usually train at. It figures that an unplanned stepback-week run is the run that feels fluid and effortless, eh? Ah, the irony.

Now I am trying to isolate the variables that contributed to yesterday's unusually good run. I want to do what I can to replicate them again in the future! As far as I can tell, there are three potential variables:
  1. I squeezed in a 3-mile run on Saturday. I almost never run consecutive days, especially on long run days. But things were so busy over the weekend that the 3-mile run was the only thing I could muster on Saturday. I know some folks like to get in an easy shakeout run the day before a big race in order to get their legs going. Perhaps following this practice made an impact for me?
  2. With the exception of bananas, I usually wait at least 45 minutes after eating anything to go running. Yesterday I was so pressed for time that I scarfed down some Greek yogurt and then left for my run just a few minutes afterwards. This seems more questionable/risky as a positive factor (I don't usually have GI issues, but I know that doing something like this certainly tempts fate). But perhaps it helps to have something with some substance/protein in my stomach right before I leave?
  3. I do almost all of my long runs first thing in the morning on weekends. Maybe I operate better in the late afternoon? When I was in college I used to love doing my workouts around 4:00 or 4:30 PM because that was when I felt most energetic. Perhaps on a fundamental basis, that hasn't changed?
I'll be experimenting more with these three variables in the coming weeks. This is going to be fun!!!

In the meantime, I would love to hear about any other practices or rituals that any of you have stumbled upon that mysteriously contribute to good runs? Any superstitions? Please share your secrets!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Petco 5K9 5K race recap

This past Sunday I ran the Petco 5K9 5K. This race is held in various locations across the U.S., but this year was its inaugural running in Chicago.

The proceeds from this race benefit PAWS Chicago. Excellent! I've said many times how much I value the cause of animal shelters. So when I saw this race I signed up immediately.

This was actually my second 5K in seven days. Having been happy with how things went at the Mad Dash to Madison less than a week ago, I debated how to handle the 5K9 5K. Part of me wanted to just run easy and enjoy myself, but part of me wanted to see if I could beat my Mad Dash time.

There were a couple of other factors, too. Since I'm running the Prairie State Half Marathon in three weeks, I needed to get a 9-mile long run in sometime over the weekend. I know some folks run races and then tack on extra miles before and/or after to achieve their long run distances. I didn't feel like doing that, though. Instead, I went ahead and did my 9-miler the day before, planning to make a race-time decision on how to handle the 5K9. I do usually try to avoid running on consecutive days, especially on long-run days, but this time I figured I'd give it a try.

Now, onto the race itself. The weather was absolutely gorgeous - sunny with temperatures in the upper 50s. The race's start and finish line were both at Montrose Harbor. I was a little bit worried about finding parking since the start line for the CARA Ready to Run 20-Miler was only a few blocks away. Thankfully, I had no issue since I arrived pretty early, but I bet it got tough for participants that arrived later.

I went to pick up my race packet and shirt. The volunteer working the goodie bag table asked me if I was running with or without a dog. I told her I was running without a dog and she handed me an "athlete-only" goodie bag. It was stuffed to the max, so I got excited (I'm so used to the goodie bags that are basically just a stack of flyers). I eagerly went to a nearby table to check out the contents. This is what I found:

Lots of doggie products!

So much for the "athlete-only" goodie bag (although I have to admit the little sausage thing looked somewhat tasty). I am guessing I was given the wrong type of bag. But no worries - I gave the contents away to a dog-owner (there was obviously plenty of them at the race).

I found out there was no gear check so I went back to my car to store my belongings. I took a GU for good measure, then did a 1-mile warm-up run and hit the portapotty (no lines!)

Here are some pictures of the festivities pre-race:

I think dog owners were able to get a free collar tag with their dog's name on it?

Dogs and their owners hanging out.

More dogs and owners hanging out.

In addition to medical personnel for the humans, it was nice to see an onsite veterinarian for the dogs.

I then headed over to the start line. "Runners without friends" (i.e. runners doing the 5K without a dog) got to line up first, followed by "Runners with best friends" (runners with dogs), then "Walkers with and without friends." Since I was a "runner without friends" I went to the very front of the line (wow!). There were probably only about 100 or so runners without dogs, so in the back of my mind I was wondering if I might actually be able to snag some kind of age-group placement amidst the limited field?

An emcee announced that the runners without dogs would get a one-minute head start before they let the runners with dogs begin the race. Seemingly in answer to my ambitious thoughts on possible race placement, he informed us that the Petco Foundation has hosted this race in ten different cities across the country this year but only once had a human actually won the race. Every other time, a dog had won. The emcee joked that in most instances, the dogs had provided their owners an advantage by pulling them along the course!

While we were waiting to start, the emcee told all of us that they had poop bags available. He instructed us to raise our hands if we needed one. A runner without a dog standing next to me immediately raised his hand. Everyone laughed.

The starting airhorn sounded and off we went. The crowd spread out quickly. Even with the one-minute head start, it seemed like it took no time at all before runners with dogs started catching up to us and zooming past us.

Some of the dogs, which came in all shapes and sizes, were FLYING. I couldn't believe my eyes that the owners were even able to keep up. The emcee wasn't kidding when he said that the dogs provided their owners with a boost! I tried to push myself but seeing so many dogs careen past me with their owners in tow, I realized right away that the odds of me earning any kind of age group placement were exactly zero.

Mile 1: 8:04

Oh wow. Since I started wearing a Garmin two years ago, this is by far the fastest mile split I've ever recorded at a race (previously it was 8:29 at the Mad Dash to Madison). Who knew that trying to race alongside dogs could have such a positive impact? I thought, "It would be nice if I could maintain this... but more than likely it means I started too fast. Again!"

Mile 2: 8:36

Yeah, that's more like it.

I was still watching dogs fly past me. But I chuckled when I saw a couple of dogs suddenly stop to do their business right in the middle of the path, much to the chagrin of their owners. But hey, when you're a dog out for a big day in the park and you gotta go, you might as well just go, right? Just be careful where you step. =D

I kept at it but my legs definitely started feeling the effects from doing my long run the day before. I could feel myself slowing down. But the views of Lake Michigan from the course were gorgeous and I was still enjoying seeing all the dogs romping along.

Mile 3: 9:10

Yikes, did I ever slow down! I didn't think it was to THAT extent, but so be it. I did my best to sprint to the finish.

Mile 3.1: 0:52

My official time was 26:42. 

Despite running a hugely positive split, I did succeed in beating my Mad Dash to Madison time by 5 seconds. Admittedly I had been hoping to do better than that and I now wished that I had pushed harder in the final mile. But I was very happy to have achieved the 8:04 in the first mile. It's been a goal of mine for quite some time to run a sub-8 mile, so it felt good knowing that it's within shouting distance.

I went to get some post-race food (they had bananas, oranges, bagels, and a variety of pastries). Then I walked around a bit admiring all of the dogs. Here are some more pictures:

Dogs and their owners crossing the finish line while others cheer them on.

There were several tents with dog treats, so the organizers very kindly distinguished the human food from the nonhuman food.

The doggie agility area.
(It's not a coincidence that I photographed the dog in the Blackhawks shirt.)
It wasn't hard to identify the owners for the dog in the Blackhawks shirt.

In addition to some pet trainer demonstrations, there was a doggie costume contest. I didn't stick around for the contest but based on some of the cute costumes I did see, I am sure was ridiculously adorable.

I was thrilled, as always, to run while supporting the cause of animal shelters. This race reminded me quite a bit of the PAWS Run For Their Lives, which is a must-do race for me. The Petco 5K9 race is going to become a must-do for me, too. I had a great time and I can't wait to participate in it again in the future!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Race predictors

In the past, I have dabbled with the various random race time predictors available online. It was more out of curiosity than anything else.

Pete has discussed using the McMillan Pace calculator to predict his marathon times and his results seem to be fairly accurate. Therefore, I decided today to take a more serious look at my race predictors. I used my 26:47 finishing time from the Mad Dash to Madison this past Monday.

First off, my results from the McMillan Pace calculator:

Next, my results from Runners World's Race Times Predictor:

And finally, my results from Marathon Guide:

The predictions from all three sources are surprisingly consistent.

I know that race predictors have varying degrees of accuracy and that every runner is unique. However, based on all three predictors, my 5K time seems to be an outlying result compared to my other race times. To illustrate:

  • 10K - I ran the Home Team Charity 10K this past July in 1:02:49 (albeit in hot, humid conditions), compared to predictors of about 55-56 minutes.
  • 10M - I ran the CARA Lakefront 10-Miler this past April in 1:46:32, compared to predictors of about 1:32 to 1:33.
  • Half Marathon - The time I am currently trying to beat is from the 2012 Chicago Half Marathon, which I ran in 2:22:52. Compare this to the predictors of 2:03 to 2:04.
  • Marathon - My single marathon time of 5:27:33 is not a great sample size, but it's hard for me to fathom running my next one anywhere near the predicted times of 4:16 - 4:20.

I'm not sure what to make of this analysis. It does tell me something when all three of these race predictors indicate such similar results. Plus, the variances in my ranges of predicted times versus my actual times are pretty significant. It would definitely seem to indicate that I am leaving something on the table. This looks to be more and more true as the race distances get longer.

Admittedly I don't enjoy pushing myself to the max (hence why I don't do much speedwork). But it does make me think about the mental aspect and what I believe I can do versus what I actually can do.

This reminds me of the sub-4:00 mile and how for centuries it was considered unattainable. Then, one day someone finally ran a sub-4 mile... and shortly after, more and more folks began doing it. Basically, the 4-minute mile was a mental barrier, not a physical barrier. (Here is a nice write-up about it.)

I hesitate to say that I am going to go for broke at my next half marathon. But, given the idea that there could be much more upside potential than I've been realizing, I am ready to give it my best shot.

Really, though, there's probably only one truly reliable prediction when it comes to any PR-attempt:

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Demotivational Monday #4: Matters of Life and Death

Another week of participating in Rachel's Demotivational Monday linkup!

I'm going to take things in a more serious direction this time. Here is my submission for the week:

I was led to this picture by signing up for the Carrera de los Muertos ("Race of the Dead") 5K, which takes place on November 2. The race is done to celebrate Dia de los Muertos ("Day of the Dead"), which is a Mexican holiday observed to remember friends and family that have died. However, despite what the name would imply, the holiday is more of a celebration of life.

This picture was posted on the Carrera de los Muertos Facebook page. In similar context to the holiday, it had the accompanying description that, "This quote is more about 'life' rather than 'death.' Do your thing." 

Very appropriate for a race of the dead that celebrates life!

Specific races aside, it's always great to accomplish your goals, of course. But that race pace that Steve Prefontaine so eloquently and colorfully refers to is definitely not for the faint of heart (both literally and figuratively). Ahh, the joys of trying to push yourself to the max while teetering on lurching across the sidelines to throw up...

(NOTE: I have never pushed myself while running to the point where I've needed to lurch across the sidelines. Here is hoping that it never even becomes a consideration...!)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mad Dash to Madison 5K race recap

As I've said many times, I am about as rabid of a Blackhawks fan as you'll ever find out there. Even so, it was still startling to me when Blackhawks Training Camp Festival and the Mad Dash to Madison 5K rolled around yesterday evening.

Where has the summer gone? It was only about 10 weeks ago that the Hawks had their championship parade down Michigan Avenue with the Stanley Cup! Is it really time for hockey already!?!?

This was my first experience running the Mad Dash to Madison. I had signed up for last year's Mad Dash, but last year the race got cancelled due to the NHL lockout. Also, Blackhawks Training Camp Festival usually takes place on a Saturday morning. However, this year there were arena conflicts at the United Center with the Disney on Ice show. Therefore, this year's festival took place last night, on a Monday evening.

Given the weekday timing, things got a little hectic for me leading up to the race. I left the office a little later than I wanted to. As a result, I ended up having to rush home where I literally threw on running clothes, slopped a gear bag together, and smashed a protein bar into my mouth. Then I scurried over to meet Erin for a warm-up run to the United Center.

To paraphrase the famous Blues Brothers quote: It was one mile to the United Center, I was carrying my gear bag awkwardly in one hand, was wearing capris that kept riding down on me, the sun was super bright, and I wasn't wearing sunglasses. Hit it.

The Blues Brothers with their Blackhawks Bluesmobile

Once we go to the United Center, the lines to enter the building were already stretched all the way down the block and around in every direction.

The Hawks are kind of popular.

We met up with my friend Gina who I hadn't seen in probably 10 years! Gina was so kind to act as our personal gear check. She also got seats for Erin and me for the team scrimmage inside the United Center while the 5K was taking place. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures with Gina or with Erin. #BloggerFail

Prior to the 5K race and the team scrimmage, the team hosted a viewing of the Stanley Cup at center ice. Here's a picture that someone tweeted from the viewing:

Back outside, Erin and I discussed race strategy. She wanted to race the 5K but I was undecided on whether or not to race it. Therefore, we agreed on a post-race meet-up point and went to line up at our respective pace areas. We were surrounded by a sea of red shirts and it very crowded trying to line up. I managed to squeeze my way in between the 8- and 9-minute pace signs.

When the starting airhorn blew, it was quite chaotic for the first few minutes. The sun was shining directly in our eyes, which made it very difficult to see more than a few feet ahead. Given the lack of visibility and the crowds, I did my best to get my pace up and I even moved up onto the sidewalk for a little bit. I decided I would try to run at a reasonably hard effort and see if I could beat my best 5K time from the last year (27:52). Once the course turned a corner, the sun was no longer in our eyes and it was much more pleasant.

Mile 1: 8:29

I know all too well that 5K paces are supposed to hurt. But this is actually the best mile split I've ever clocked at a race during my history of wearing a Garmin (about 2 years). Not a bad way to start! Although it also meant I might have started out too quickly.

Mile 2 is usually the hardest, most painful mile for me, both mentally and physically. And painful, it was. It felt like Mile 2 would never end. Somewhere along the way there was a water station with some really great volunteers. I was thirsty, but I was so focused on keeping my pace that I didn't want to stop for water. Instead, I just barreled through.

I kept thinking about how much I hate 5Ks. I focused on pumping my arms. I also tried to focus on leaning forward slightly in an attempt to let gravity help propel me. I felt like I kept getting passed by other runners and it didn't feel good.

Mile 2: 8:44

I was actually pleasantly surprised at my Mile 2 split. I knew I had slowed down and my Garmin had been showing paces anywhere between 9:05 to 9:15. So this was good.

As the remaining distance started ticking down, I started feeling better. I had studied the course map, knew the neighborhood well, and knew exactly where the finish line was. As the Mile 3 marker and the United Center came into view, I glanced down at my Garmin and saw that my time was 25-something. Yay! At that point I knew that I was going to beat my 27:52 time. The question was - by how much?

To quote one of Jonathan Toews's finest acting moments:

Mile 3: 8:42
Mile 3.1: 0:52

My official time was 26:47. Woo hoo!

Little known fact: My all-time 5K PR, which I set in July 2001 (yes, over a decade ago), is 25:55. I am excited because I am finally starting to get within spitting distance of that PR. Maybe in another year or so I'll finally be able to break it?

I met back up with Erin, who had also run a great race. We headed into the United Center, collecting our Jonathan Toews bobbleheads along the way.

L: Captain Jonathan Toews (aka "Tazer") in human form
R: Tazer in bobblehead form
What do you think of the resemblance?!?

We found Gina, then settled into our seats to watch the scrimmage. Ahhh, it felt so good to be watching hockey again! I reveled in hearing the sounds of pucks hitting the sticks and boards, the old familiar goal horn, and the blare of Chelsea Dagger.

The view of the scoreboard from our seats

I didn't get many pictures of the actual scrimmage (another #BloggerFail), so here are a few pictures that I poached from the Blackhawks' Facebook page:

This was a great night for me. A great 5K race performance followed by Blackhawks hockey with great friends? For me, you can't get much better than that!

I am definitely ready for hockey season to begin now. Just two more weeks until Banner Raising night at the UC. Let the countdown officially begin!

Go Blackhawks!!!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Food, drink, orange/blue, and Vegas?

Happy Friday (the 13th), everyone!

I'm usually fairly even-keel when it comes to the days of the week. I.e. I'm not usually one who spends the entire workweek counting down to Friday. But this week, I have to admit I have been looking forward to having the weekend to really relax.

Here are some things going on in my neck of the woods:

Save the earth - it's the only planet that has chocolate
I am going on a Chocolate Tour of Chicago this weekend! There is a great Groupon deal for it right now.

As luck and timing would have it, I've built great momentum over the past few weeks on a very healthy eating streak. I'm actually a bit reluctant to quell that momentum with an afternoon spent sampling chocolate (what the heck has happened to me?) Ah well.

The reviews for this tour have been mixed, so we will see how it goes. (But how bad could any tour be when chocolate is involved, right?)

Fermenting away
I've been hearing a lot about kombucha and all of its health benefits. A quick google search yielded the following description:

"Kombucha is a lightly effervescent fermented drink of sweetened black tea that is used as a functional food. It is produced by fermenting the tea using a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, or "SCOBY."

Hmm. In all honesty, the word "fermented" is not one of my favorite words when it comes to food or drink. But then there are all the marketing signs touting kombucha, e.g.:

Interesting. I was at the Chicago French Market with a friend earlier this week, and one of the vendors was selling kombucha. I decided to try it.

The verdict? Not my favorite. It was sour and zingy and to me it tasted like something that was in the beginning stages of getting spoiled. Personally, I will not be going out of my way to drink more kombucha in the future. My apologies to those that love kombucha.

Many Sundays I pass by Soldier Field and smell the glorious aroma of food on the grill. Then I see the hordes of people dressed to the nines in NFL team attire, enjoying the great (parking lot) outdoors. Ahhh, tailgating. What better way to enjoy a beautiful autumn day?

I think I've only ever tailgated at a football game once in my life. This was when I was just out of college and attending an Illinois football game in Champaign-Urbana. It might have been Homecoming weekend? I can't remember.

Tailgaters in front of Memorial Stadium at my beloved alma mater

In any event, I have definitely never tailgated at an NFL game and have always wanted to do so. In addition to observing tailgating aficionados live and in person, I've watched a lot of Foot Network TV, have seen how some folks have tailgating down to a science, and have strategically plotted ways to acutely emulate their techniques!

I have also been bugging Adam about trying to tailgate when we go to Pittsburgh in October for the Steelers game. Unfortunately, it is apparently difficult/very expensive to get a spot in the "tailgate-able" parking lot.

However, my tailgating wish is about to be granted! One of Adam's friends invited us to a Bears tailgate party this Sunday. I am really excited (to the point of ridiculousness)!

Orange and Blue
Speaking of Da Bears, I just heard about the inaugural Ditka Dash 5K which is being held on November 30. So awesome! Here is a funny article about the race that mentions a $5 discount code (DITKA).

I would have so loved to participate in a race honoring DA COACH! Unfortunately I'm out of town that weekend. =(

But on another side note, and speaking of my alma mater, I am very proud of the origin of the Bears' team colors. DA BEARS and the University of Illinois both use orange and blue for their colors because Bears' founder George "Papa Bear" Halas was an Illinois alum! I-L-L...

Discount Double Check!
Lots of Bears talk today, I know. One last thing about Da Bears and Da Superfans. This is one of my new favorite commercials:

And finally...

Vegas, baby?
I just found out that the Rock N Roll racing series is offering a TourPass 3-Pack for $249. The 3-pack allows you to run three North American Rock N Roll races of your choice (plus a $7.99 initiation fee and $7.99 processing fee per race).

I've been wanting to do the Rock N Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon for quite some time, but it is expensive ($145 for early registration, and the price keeps going up from there). However, the TourPass 3-Pack apparently has no restrictions on usage for Las Vegas. Therefore, it would be a very good deal to get the 3-Pack if used for Las Vegas because you'd basically get to run two additional half marathons at about $50 (or less) per race (not including the $7.99 processing fee).

So if I were to get the 3-pack, Rock N Roll Las Vegas would be a gimmee, and I could definitely see running Rock N Roll Chicago again for the second race. But, I'd still need to pick one more race...

You think we need one more?
You think we need one more.
Allright, we'll get one more.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Demotivational Monday #3 and 10QRQ

Two things on the agenda for today: Demotivational Monday and 10QRQ.

Let's start with installment #3 of Rachel's Demotivational Monday link-up! Here is my submission for the week:

I can personally vouch for this. To all the Kenyan marathoners out there who can run faster than I can ride my tricycle, you wouldn't look nearly as good if it wasn't for the rest of us.


Now, onto the 10QRQ. Kim posted a 10-question running questionnaire (10QRQ) last week. I am rather late to the party, but here are my responses.

1. Who is your running shoe twin?
My workhorse running shoe is the Asics Gel Cumulus. Speaking of Kim, she wears them, too!

I am also currently rotating the Mizuno Wave Rider and the Saucony Progrid Kinvara; however, I haven't personally met anyone else that currently wears either of those shoes.

Unscientifically, though, it seems like a ton of the runners I know wear either Brooks or Mizuno shoes.

2. When do you pause your watch on a run?
When I'm running a race, I never pause my watch. But during training, I pause my watch any time I am not moving forward, i.e. when I am waiting at a traffic light, guzzling at a drinking fountain, dancing around inside a portapotty, etc. If I am walking forward or moving forward in any way, I do not stop my watch. It's all about forward progress.

Although, technically "forward progress" can be accomplished in a host of different methods, e.g.:

3. What is worse - being called a jogger or hearing someone call a 5K a "marathon"?
Hearing someone call a 5K a "marathon." To me, no doubt about it. While it certainly takes effort to run a 5K, there is absolutely, positively, zero comparison to the effort that it takes to run a marathon.

4. What is your preferred running shorts inseam length?
I'm not sure of the exact measurement, but I'm going to estimate 4 inches. Basically I'm looking for something long enough that my shorts won't ride up on me in the most unflattering way. Nobody wants to see that.

Although, from a clothing fashion standpoint, it isn't all just about shorts length, of course. Case in point:

Believe it or not, this picture was NOT photoshopped.

5. Spitting when you run - gross or necessary or neither?
I myself don't spit, and having been personally spit-bombed a time or two, I don't like when people spit.

On a side note, if anyone used to watch Seinfeld, there was an episode devoted to "the second-spitter theory" (a la the JFK movie) which was hilarious. (Yes, I know I am unfortunately dating myself when I make a Seinfield reference these days.)

6. What is more exciting, randomly seeing a friend on a run, or hitting a goal pace/workout?
Sadly, the odds of me hitting a goal pace/workout are much, MUCH lower than the odds of me randomly seeing a friend. Therefore, I'd say it's more exciting to hit a goal pace/workout!

7. What has been your worst running injury?
I've had a lot of running ailments throughout my lifetime but my most nagging and debilitating injury has been IT band syndrome on my left knee. I've written about it many times. In short, the injury was so bad that for awhile it hurt just to walk, and I was sidelined from running for several months. I've been in physical therapy twice for my knee problems and to this day I still battle to keep the injury under control.

8. What is your perfect running temp?
Temps in the 40s and the 50s are my ideal range, but if I had to narrow it down I'd say temps in the 50s are perfect for me. However, I'm more than happy with anything between the 30s to the low 70s.

9. Do you follow a running plan or make your own?
Both, but I lean a bit more towards making my own. When I was marathon training, I created a hybrid of Jeff Galloway's plan and Hal Higdon's plan. I was good about the weekend long runs but gave myself some flexibility on the weekdays. In recent days I have become adept at creating emergency 3-week half marathon training programs (albeit with mixed results).

All in all, though, I try to focus on high-level training goals. But, I always allow myself some flexibility based on how things might be going that particular day, e.g. injury pains, long nights at the office, travel, don't feel like it, etc.
10. Preference - treadmill, road, groomed trail, or technical trail?
Out of these four, I'd have to say groomed trails would be my favorite. They are heavenly for their softer surface, and the usual peace that they typically offer. My dislike for treadmills is very well documented, and my one experience with a very mildly technical trail didn't leave me wanting more. I don't love roads, especially when interrupted by traffic lights and when sharing with pedestrians and other wheeled contraptions - but I do 99.999999% of my running on roads.

Your turn!

1. Who is your running shoe twin?
2. When do you pause your watch on a run?
3. What is worse, being called a jogger or hearing someone call a 5K a "marathon"?
4. What is your preferred running shorts inseam length?
5. Spitting when you run - gross or necessary or neither?
6. What is more exciting, randomly seeing a friend while running or hitting a goal pace/workout?
7. What has been your worst running injury?
8. What is your perfect running temp?
9. Do you follow a running plan or make your own?
10. Preference - treadmill, road, groomed trail, or technical trail?

2013 Chicago Half Marathon race recap

Half marathon #10 completed yesterday!

It's funny, though. The more and more I run these races these days, the less effort I put into training for them and the less that I care about performance.

However, I do still like adding to my medal collection. And since I ran both the Allstate Chicago 13.1 Marathon back in June as well as the Chicago Half Marathon yesterday, I earned an extra medal for completing the "Windy City Challenge." Excellent!

Pre-race I met up with some bloggers at Sara's Run for HD tent. Many thanks to Sara for hosting us there!

From L to R: Maggie, Sara and her dog Waffles, Eric, Jennifer, and me

Now, onto the race itself.  Let's go with "the good, the bad, and the ugly"-type race recap today.

The Good
  • For once, I did not have trouble getting up at the usual ungodly hour on the morning of the race!
  • The race start and finish are in Hyde Park. Having previously worked in the neighborhood, I knew exactly where to park, which helped take away a lot of potential pre-race stress.
  • Fantastic course support. Countless enthusiastic volunteers and tons of aid stations along the course. From mile 9 on, it felt like there was an aid station almost every mile.
  • The portion of the course along Lake Shore Drive has some good views of the lake. Plus, since all the streets are number-streets (e.g. 47th Street) it's nice to have a sense for exactly how much distance you've covered/have remaining.
  • Lots of spectators and funny signs along the course that said things like, "The only time I run is when the ice cream truck is doing sixty."
  • The weather was decent. It was in the 70s and overcast, albeit quite humid.
  • No issues with fueling pre-race or during the race. For the most part, despite fatigue setting in around mile 11 as usual, I felt pretty good out there.
The Bad
  • There was apparently some kind of a corral system, but I had no idea what corral I was in and didn't see any indication on my bib. It seemed like nobody else really knew, either. So instead, I just lined up in between the 2:20 and 2:30 pacers.
  • I had to make a stop just after mile 3 to use a portapotty. One of these days I will get my pre-race hydration routine down so that I can consistently avoid losing time to portapotty stops.
  • As much as I love spectators, there were areas where the spectators were crowding into the course and the runners had to weave around them.
  • I went into this race without caring very much about my finishing time, but was ideally looking to finish sub-2:25. I kept the pace fairly comfortable for the entire race, didn't look at my Garmin too much, and forgot to hit the lap button at several of the mile markers. I didn't even attempt to pick up the pace during the last couple of miles. It wasn't until I was probably 50 feet away from the finishing line that I saw on my Garmin that I was approaching 2:25. So I sprinted the last 50 feet. But I ended up finishing in 2:25:04. Had I picked things up just a tiny bit more, I could have easily broken 2:25. Grrr. Oh well.
The Ugly
  • You may recall that I was plagued with groin pain starting last year around this time. This year, up until this point groin pain had not been a problem for me (which I was crediting to more cross-training and more yoga). But lo and behold, I started experiencing some groin pain again yesterday. I don't remember exactly at what point it started to hurt, although I think it was somewhere around mile 9 or mile 10. In any event - clearly this problem is not entirely behind me.
  • Usually at any given race I will only see a couple of runners down and/or in need of medical treatment. But yesterday, I think I saw at least seven or eight runners down. There seemed to be an unusually high presence of medical personnel zooming around in their vehicles and frantically communicating on their walkie-talkies.
  • Near mile 9, I saw a woman who, shall we just say, had obviously needed to use a portapotty but clearly didn't make it in time. I won't go into further detail other than to say that it looked very, very uncomfortable. Nevertheless, she was just plugging along as if nothing had happened. Kudos to her for not giving up!

Post race I met up again with some bloggers:

From L to R: Lindsay, Maggie, Jess, Amanda, and me 

Final Thoughts and What's Next
I did enjoy this race, the atmosphere, the views of the lake, and the energy of the crowd and the volunteers. But I won't kid you that I am sore today and walking more slowly than usual. Basically I am reminded yet again that the half marathon distance should not be taken lightly. And oh my god, I still have two more of them to run this year, including what is supposed to be a PR attempt for my next half marathon in five weeks.

I continue to not be very motivated to keep the training dial turned up. Last year, after running a full marathon, I said that I wanted to tone the distances down a bit this year and just focus on half marathons. But now, I am thinking that next year I might want to tone the distances down even further and just focus on 10Ks, LOL.

All in all, it is definitely time to change things up a bit with my next two races: The Mad Dash to Madison 5K and the Petco 5K9 5K. Here we go!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

From the sublime to the ridiculous

I always enjoy reading the "Favorites" posts that I've seen on several other blogs, so today I am joining in the festivities. Here are some recent faves.

Kal Haven Trail
When I mentioned that I was headed up to South Haven, Michigan with Adam for Labor Day weekend, Erin mentioned running/biking the local Van Buren and Kal-Haven trails. I'd heard of both but was not very familiar, so I was excited to explore. As luck would have it, the start of the Kal-Haven trail was less than a mile away from where we stayed in South Haven.

Some research taught me that the Kal-Haven trail is a 33-mile trail located on a former railroad bed which stretches between South Haven and Kalamazoo, Michigan. I ran the trail on two separate occasions over the weekend and I just loved the scenery. We are talking about woodsy, shaded gravel/dirt paths with views of the Black River, interspersed with covered bridges and other historical points of interest.

Some pictures:

It was so peaceful and tranquil. It was such a nice change from running Chicago city sidewalks where I always have to be so careful not to get hit by hazardous cars, bikes, or baby strollers. (Don't laugh, I once nearly had a head-on collision with a double-baby stroller rounding a blind corner at full speed.)

I can't wait to explore the path more the next time I'm in Michigan. I am even more excited to check out the Van Buren trail in the future, too. (I wonder if there are any races held on either trail?!?)

Stop the Rock
I have a pretty good mixture of music on my MP3 player - anything from the Eagles to Frank Sinatra to Andrea Bocelli to Lupe Fiasco to Ted Nugent. However, when I am running I usually stick to uptempo rock music.

This recently changed in a rather unintentional manner. Long story short, I am the program director for the NAAAP 100 Awards program. One of our NAAAP 100 honorees this year is the famous pianist, Lang Lang.

Lang Lang (hard at work)

I happen to already have some of Lang Lang's works on my MP3 player. During one of my recent runs, one of his performances came up on the shuffle. Since I was in the midst of running, normally I would have just skipped to another rock song. But having recently learned more about his biography and background, I decided to listen this time.

WOW, is he talented. Just WOW. Lang Lang's music is described as open-hearted and emotive (which are favorite characteristics of mine from a musician's standpoint). It was enthralling to listen to while running. It put me into a completely different frame of mind. I loved how it felt to be doing something so active with my body while mentally focusing on the beauty and artistry of the music. It felt like I was using a different part of my brain. I might even describe it as cross-training the mind while running, if you will.

In case you are curious, here is the exact piece that I was listening to when the revelation struck:

I am really, really inspired by Lang Lang's music and by listening to classical music in general. I have a whole list of classical works that I can't wait to listen to while running in the future. (Examples? I happen to especially love piano concertos, and some lifelong favorites include Beethovan's Concertos #1 and #3; Chopin's Concertos #1 and #2, and Tchaikovsky's Concerto #1.)

Going neon
I mentioned here that I'm usually not all that creative when it comes to my runner's fashion. I rarely ever stray from dark solid bottoms and a jewel-toned shirt of some sort.

Well, folks, that is about to change. Check out these shorts that I recently purchased:

I just love the colors. It is so energizing to look at them! Add an orange top and a pair of obnoxiously-colored running shoes (like the neon-yellow Sauconys pictured here) and I will never get lost in the shuffle.

The same shorts were available in a couple of other color selections (e.g. royal blue with neon-yellow, etc.). At the time I thought I'd just buy the one pair of shorts and see how I liked them. But they've grown on me so much so quickly that I am now wishing I'd purchased other pairs in all of the crazy different colors.

Neon legwarmer collection, anyone?

I'm so excited about the shorts that I'm even considering breaking the rule that thou shalt not wear anything new on race day. I am running a half marathon this weekend and really want to wear them there. But alas, better judgement will probably win out in the end over the unknown risks of severe skin chafage.

Afterwards, though, I may never go back to black running shorts.