Thursday, October 31, 2013

Three Things Thursday: Halloween edition

1. Do I look like my passport photo?
I haven't dressed up for Halloween in years. But back when I did, a favorite costume of mine was dressing up as a tourist (flowery shirt, khaki shorts, sneakers, hip pack, straw hat, sunglasses, hanging a camera from my neck, carrying some maps/brochures).

Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of myself in my tourist get-up, but something like this was my inspiration:

Come to think of it, I always wore sneakers but it would have been an even better look to wear socks with sandals. E.g.:


(By the way - a little side story on passport photos. The specs on U.S. passport photos include a white background. Adam recently had a photographic adventure with wearing a white shirt during his passport photo-shoot. =D )

2. Fat Tuesdays
Since I don't have a tourist costume picture to share, here's a real Halloween picture. It was taken probably seven years ago with my friend Mark.

Party on, rock on!

Just a mask and some Mardi Gras beads that I got in New Orleans. Keeping things simple!

3. Curses! Foiled Again
I had recently made a loose goal to run at least 60 miles every month. I'm at 56 miles for the month of October, so I was hoping to get in four more miles today. 

This Saturday I am running the Carrera de los Muertos 5K, and they have packet pickup today at a location about 2.5 miles away from where I live. I thought that maybe this evening I could run there to pick up my packet, and log about 5 miles round-trip in the process. Productive AND efficient, right? YES!

Unfortunately, it it is raining like the dickens today. I present to thee, Exhibit 1. Aka, the weather forecast for today. I can't remember the last time I've ever seen a 100% chance of rain for pretty much all of daylight.

I feel bad for all the trick-or-treaters and their parents trying to make the rounds amidst the torrential downpour. What a bummer for them! And needless to say, I don't think I'll be taking a run to packet pickup today, either. =(

Happy Halloween to all! Let me know what fun celebratory festivities you have on the agenda!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The demand for charity

Today I read about how there are 3,000 fewer charity runners in this year's New York City Marathon, with many charity race bibs that will end up going unused.

Given the enormous demand out there for a New York City Marathon bib, I was surprised to hear this. I'm not sure what the currents odds are to obtain an entry via the registration lottery. According to this article there were over 140,000 applicants for approximately 40,000 spots in 2012. However, I've heard the odds were as low as 1 in 11 based on an individual's category. Either way, wow.

As a child, I remember watching lotto drawings take place during the evening news. To this day I am strangely amused by the fact that the drawing results are always audited by some local accounting firm.

Given how much running and marathoning have risen in popularity in recent years, it is definitely getting tougher and tougher to enter the major races.

I recall that not too long ago it was possible to register for the Chicago Marathon just a few weeks away from race day. Now, people are clamoring to sign up the moment registration opens, and Chicago sells out more and more quickly every year. After last year's registration debacle, it seems likely that Chicago will go to a lotto registration system in the near future.

I think it is challenging to commit to a marathon or any major race so far in advance. Who knows where things may be with training, injury, or life in general six or more months from now?

These days, running for charity might become the only option for gaining entry into certain races. Why not give yourself more registration flexibility while helping to benefit a good cause, right? It seems to be getting more and more prevalent every year.

As demand increases, though, it seems that charity options also increase. Every year I see more and more charities offering marathon bib opportunities. Some of them support causes that I've never heard of, which would make it tougher for me to be vested in the cause.

Personally, I am intimidated by the thought of having to fundraise, period. I am not comfortable asking people to donate. This discomfort has roots going back to my childhood. I hated those times when I had to go door-to-door to sell candy. I also hated when I had to set up shop outside the local grocery store to sell to passersby.

From the other side, I have certainly my fair share of bad experiences in general with overzealous salespeople who won't take no for an answer. I've been put on the spot and in awkward situations by others asking me to donate.

To be clear - I do not have issue with folks that are laidback about spreading the word on their fundraising. And I obviously have no issue buying fundraising products that I truly enjoy, e.g.:

I will buy Girl Scout cookies anyday.
Yummy yummy.

All in all, what it comes down to is that I just don't like being pressured when it comes to fundraising. And I think there is a very fine line between pressure versus influence.

Despite my discomfort with fundraising, out of curiousity I have actually looked into marathon fundraising requirements for causes that mean a lot to me. Many times the amounts are not published. But from what I've seen, it looks like fundraising minimums for the Chicago Marathon start around $500 pre-close, but rise for post-close entries.

If I ever did take the marathon fundraising plunge, the $500 range is actually an amount I'd be able to live with. Worst case scenario, I would fund the entire amount myself to help a favorite cause. However, I've heard of some fundraising minimums for organizations starting as high as $3,000, especially for races like Boston and New York. That seems like a lot.

I have friends who have fundraised by way of things like personal bake sales. You'd have to do some industrial-sized cookie-making to get to $3,000.

It is really a shame that so many NYCM charity race bibs will go unused. But, I can't imagine I am the only person who is intimidated by fundraising, and who also feels inundated by so many charities vying for me to join their team.

Ideally those unused NYCM bibs would somehow be repurposed to any of the thousands of people who entered the registration lottery but didn't get in. I realize, of course, that in many ways this is impractical and is not necessarily fair. Plus, this year's NYCM is probably an outlyer given what happened with Hurricane Sandy last year. But, it will be interesting to see what the trend is for charity runners further down the line, both for the NYCM and in general.

Those of you who have run for charity, what was your experience and would you do it again? If you haven't run for charity, what are your thoughts on doing so?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Snack arsenals

Marcia is hosting a One Small Change linkup and I am joining in on the festivities this week.

I brainstormed some ideas and actually had some difficulty selecting which small change I wanted to initiate. The contenders:

1) Focus on not slouching when I am sitting at my desk all day long (yes, reminiscent of my mom during my childhood)
2) Go to bed by no later than 11:00 PM every weeknight
3) Have a healthy snack in the mid- or late-afternoon
4) Bring a toothbrush and toothpaste to the office and brush my teeth after lunch or any snacks

I'm not going to lie. Ultimately I chose #3 for this week because it was the easiest.

There is a lot of discussion about the dangers of late-night eating and how to avoid/control it. I personally don't have much issue with late-night eating (probably because I'm not usually one to skimp on dinner). However, that period of time right after I get home from work can be a rough time for me.

Many times I walk through the doorway so hungry that I'm ready to eat my own arm. It's a deadly combination of being in the comforts of my own home, finally having some time to relax, having easy access to the refrigerator/pantry with my own food choices, and still having some time to go before dinner.

To combat this, I started arming myself heavily with food weaponry for my late-afternoon hunger battles. I've always had a designated drawer o' snacks in my office cubicle, but it was time to expand the artillery. My new and improved arsenal now includes an assortment of fruit, nuts, cereal, peanut butter, protein bars, and crackers. I also stored some extra yogurt and cheese in the office fridge. Then, when late afternoon struck, I was ready.

How did it go? Honestly, some of these snacks worked better for me than others. I have quite a salt tooth and I love crunchy snacks. Therefore, when it came to snacking on the cheese/crackers or the nuts, for example, it was a bit of a challenge not to go overboard with them right then and there. E.g.:

"Why yes, I could easily consume this entire box of Triscuits and this entire 8-pack of sliced cheese in three minutes flat!"

Maybe I can improve upon this initiative by doing what I can to avoid addictive snacks in general? That aside, it did make a difference in allowing me to be in a better state of hunger when I get home from work. It is progress and I will take it. Yee-haw!

Thanks to Marcia for hosting this challenge. And now, onto the next small thing!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Squashing, squashing the disposables, and some lasts for 2013?

Congratulations to everyone that ran the Marine Corps Marathon yesterday! I was cheering you all from afar! I have heard great things about how well-organized the festivities were, too. Awesome!

With all the buzz about Marine Corps and about the New York Marathon next weekend, plus being awash in excitement over the Chicago Marathon two weekends ago, I am starting to consider whether I am up for the challenge of another marathon next year. While I was spectating Chicago, I had absolutely no regrets about not running it this year. Then, I saw how much improvement many friends experienced in their results this year and it reminded me how much I want to improve, too. I am wavering. In any event - I will have another post up later this week about how race plans are shaping up for 2014.

But first - I've got some semi-random things to share:

All the fall vegetables
In my efforts to take advantage of the best seasonal produce, I have already made three homemade pumpkin pies so far this fall (they never last long in my household). I've eaten lots of apples and I am even considering trying to make homemade apple butter. Plus, the grocery stores have been stocked full of colorful squash varieties.

In my cooking repertoire, I've had some success making butternut squash and acorn squash dishes. I had never tried making spaghetti squash, though. That changed yesterday!

Please disregard the banana photobomb in the corner.

I used this recipe as my foundation - it's basically roasted spaghetti squash with olives, feta, tomatoes, and basil. However, I added some baby spinach, and used dried oregano in place of the fresh basil. I liked the results (although Adam is reluctant to try it; he's more of a meat and potatoes type of guy).

In my opinion the feta really made the dish - I found myself pulling out all the feta pieces to eat first. Therefore, I would definitely increase the feta next time. The final results were also a bit watery for my taste, too, so I would make some effort to drain out the tomatoes and the squash next time.

Overall, though, I consider this dish a success. Yay for simple, easy seasonal produce recipes!

A tyranny against the kitchen supplies
The kitchens at my office are stocked with plastic cutlery and styrofoam plates/bowls. I have been hearing a lot about you should avoid microwaving your food in contact with plastic due to potential chemical leaks. Styrofoam has to be even worse since it melts so easily (shudder).

Beware the sinister styrofoam monster who comes alive in microwaves everywhere.

Today I finally decided I was done with the disposables. I brought a glass bowl and a set of real silverware to the office. This is for health purposes as well as for environmental purposes (producing less garbage). I plan to store them either at my desk or in one of the kitchen cabinets, and will just wash them each day.

Plastic and styrofoam, be gone (but not melted)!

And finally...

Last long run of 2013?
The Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon is coming up in less than two weeks. In preparation, I ran 11.4 miles yesterday. (I had 11 on the agenda but in my wanders, I ended up doing some extra in order to get home. In retrospect I should have tacked on an additional 0.1 so I could have logged an even 11.5. Oops.)

Next weekend I will be taking the usual long-run stepback, then the following weekend it's race time! (I'm still need to figure out if I'll be wearing any kind of costume for this race, but that's a topic for another day.)

Wine and Dine is my final half marathon for 2013. Therefore, it hit me yesterday that it was probably the last time in 2013 that I have to do an obligatory long training run! I can't lie - even though my training has been inconsistent for much of the year, it will be very nice to be relieved of the pressure of training for specific distance events.

On the other hand, though, I really don't want to let my current fitness level subside. It's a tough balance.

With that in mind, I am starting to think about what kind of training routine I want to attempt to maintain during the dead of the winter. Maybe a double-digit run once every three or four weeks, at least one 3-mile-ish run during the week, and weekend "maintenance" runs of 6-7 miles during the other weeks. Is that too much or too little? I'm not sure. (It might depend on how cold it gets this winter, heh heh.)

Yeah, I've lived in Chicagoland my whole life and I still brace myself for this every year.

All suggestions on "maintenance" training are welcome, as always.

Happy Monday and I hope everyone's weeks get off to a great start!

Friday, October 25, 2013

My fitness wish list

Erin recently posted about some unique fitness class options. It got me thinking about the various fitness classes that I've been wanting to try, as well as other items on my fitness wish list.

Here's what's on the list:

Barre classes

I've heard these described as "pilates meets yoga meets body-sculpting." Many folks have raved about these classes for very fast results and for being an efficient workout where you don't sweat.

I took ballet as a young child for a few years and wasn't very good at it. But I am intrigued by the possible benefits of any low-impact workout that targets your core and arms.

From what I've seen, barre classes in Chicago do not come cheap. Some of the studios I researched don't even publish their prices online (which is never a good sign). But for the most part it looks like drop-in class prices start at around $20 per class, and monthly packages start around $200 per month. That's a serious chunk of change.

I've been stalking Groupon, Living Social, and Gilt City for deals on barre classes. So far, no go except for classes located in far-away suburbs. Thy deal stalking shalt continue. Maybe as it gets closer to the holidays some bargains will pop up?

Bikram Yoga (aka hot yoga)

Yoga classes taken in studios heated to around 105 degrees Fahrenheit (whew!) People claim that it provides injury-healing and toxin-flushing benefits, and that it enhances flexibility more effectively than traditional yoga. I have several friends who SWEAR by it.

I do like yoga, mostly just because it always feels nice to get a good muscle-stretching. But I definitely don't share the same intense passion for yoga as many friends. Therefore, while I do want to try bikram yoga, admittedly I haven't been as focused on looking for opportunities to do it as I have been for barre.

On that note, though, bikram yoga also does not appear to come cheap. It looks like classes in Chicago start around $15 - $20, with monthly packages around $150 and up. Thou shalt also stalk Groupon, Living Social, or Gilt City deals for thy bikram yoga deals.

Runner's ID
I used to go running without carrying any sort of identification. SO BAD, I know. Now, I do make a point of trying to put my driver's license in my pocket whenever I go running (although admittedly I still don't always remember to do so).

The problem is that when I get back from a long run, usually the only thing on my mind is refueling and taking a shower. In doing so, I will usually just throw all of my running clothes directly into the hamper... with my driver's license still zipped up securely in my jacket pocket. This has resulted in a few incidents where I've left the house to go run errands (sometimes with my car), and then realized that I forgot to put my driver's license back in my wallet.

You better believe that when this has happened, I've taken every precaution to make sure I don't get pulled over by one of Chicago's finest.

Segway Patrol!
I can just picture the conversation now:

Police officer: License, proof of registration, and insurance, please.

Me: Uh, sorry officer. I went for a run this morning and put my driver's license in my running jacket. Then I forgot to put it back afterwards. So it's in the washing machine right now. Or it might actually be in the dryer, hopefully it didn't melt. But I can give you my proof of registration and insurance!

Police officer: Have you been drinking?

Me: No sir. Well, not unless you count drinking water and powdered Gatorade. I drank them both together and apart, since you can't really drink powdered Gatorade unless it has water in it. I didn't drink a lot of Gatorade, though, because too much of it gives me stomach issues. I do need electrolytes, though. So instead, I took some salt capsules. But anyways, I did my long run this morning, which is why I took my driver's license out of my wallet in the first place. 

Police officer: Step out of the car, please.

Me: OK. Hold on a moment. My quads are killing me and I didn't get a chance to use my foam roller, so it hurts to walk.

Police officer: You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can be used against you in a court of law...

All of this could be alleviated by having some kind of runner's ID that doesn't necessitate having to move my driver's license back and forth. Here's an example of a runner's ID:

I need to get on this right away.

Medal Holder
You will never guess how I display my race medals right now. I hang them from the base of a folded-up ironing board that I store in my closet.

When folded and upright, the stand portion of an ironing board is a great place to hang things.
It doesn't get much more glamorous than that, does it?

I see "real" medal holders at race expos everywhere. Here's an example:

The "real" medal holders are nice, but I've never seen them for less than about $75 apiece. In my opinion, that's a bit pricey.

In the past, some of you have provided some nice suggestions on more affordable methods for displaying race medals. Unfortunately I just haven't gotten around to putting anything together. One of these days it will happen!

Other things I'd like to try:

L: sparkly BIC Bands or Sweaty Bands
Upper R: FlipBelt
Lower R: Salted caramel GU

Any other suggestions? What things do y'all have on your fitness wish list?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Black and gold trifecta

I am still ridiculously backlogged with blogging. I have about 10 different post topics piling up in my mental queue. I've also morphed into blogger lurker status where I am still reading all of your blogs but haven't been commenting as of late. But, watch for my floodgates to get released over the next week or so. There will be blogger bedlam!

Last weekend Adam and I went to Pittsburgh with tickets in hand for two live sporting events. (As you all know, I am from Chicago but Adam is from Pittsburgh. Therefore, through Adam's influence I am a big fan of all the Pittsburgh sports teams in addition to my hometown Chicago teams.)

On the agenda for the weekend:

The Pittsburgh Penguins vs the Vancouver Canucks at the Consol Energy Center

The Pittsburgh Steelers vs the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field

Before we talk further about either game, let's address the pink elephant in the room. Or rather, let's address the giant yellow rubber ducky in the river. We finally got to see it in person!

NOTE: It's more intimidating than you might realize to see a 40-foot tall duck on the horizon with eyes that are bigger than your head. The duck doesn't even blink when you stare at it.

Now, moving on to the Pens game. Here are some pictures (all but the upper right picture were taken during the pregame warm-ups):

Thoughts/Observations/Nonastute Aphorisms:
  • It's always fun to visit the Consol Energy Center. It is a shiny, sparklingly new, and modern arena. I've been there four or five times and each time I've discovered fun new features and exhibits. Touchscreen Stanley Cup display? Check. Interactive Nintendo Wii games for the kids? Check. Giant goalie mask the size of my bathroom? Check. 

  • There is a surprisingly nice selection of food at the Consol. In addition to the usual suspects for food vendors like beer, hot dogs, and Primanti Brothers sandwiches (this is Pittsburgh, after all), they even had such gourmet offerings as sushi. Love it!
  • The game started at 1:00 PM. I find that the crowd is usually not as fired up for the weekend matinee games, presumably because there tend to be a lot more kids in the audience. This was too bad, because...
  • The Vancouver Canucks are one of the Blackhawks' most hated rivals. Therefore, I wanted the Pens to win this game both for their own glory, as well as on behalf of Blackhawks fans the world over.
  • Unfortunately even the Pens and the Canucks did not seem very fired up for the game. It's definitely early in the NHL season. 
  • We had good seats in the lower level. Despite the lack of game intensity, I still relished getting to observe the speed and skill of the game and the players up close and personal. After seeing these guys on TV so much, sometimes I almost forget that they are real people.
The final result? Penguins win! Penguins win!

Next, the Steelers game. Some pictures:

Upper left: me on the Gateway Clipper enroute to the stadium
Lower left: Crowds lining up to enter the stadium
Upper right: Action shot during the game
Lower right: The scoreboard and the upper-deck pedway with some of the standing-room-only fans

The view from our seats
Notes/Musings/Nonastute Aphorisms:

I really just have one giant comment to make. Since we are talking about hated rivals, the Steelers and Ravens have one of the most, if not THE most vicious rivalry I've ever seen. Let me take a step back to share some personal context:

A few years ago Adam and I went to a Steelers-Ravens game in Baltimore. Heaven knows that neither Adam nor I were doing anything to draw attention to ourselves other than wearing Steelers attire. However, Ravens fans were kicking the back of my seat, elbowing me, screaming profanities in my face, throwing beer bottles and various other objects at us. It was literally to the point where I was fearing for my physical safety. 

I understand that visiting fans are subjecting themselves to some ribbing by the home fans. But when that ribbing crosses the line to the point where someone may sustain physical injury as the result, it has gone too far. Visiting M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore was by far the most scarring experience I've ever had as a sportsfan. I have definitely been to hostile sportsfan territory before. However, after what I experienced in Baltimore, all other places have pretty much rolled out the red carpet for visiting fans by comparison.

As a result of this experience, I was watching visiting Ravens fans carefully during the game to see how they were being treated by the home crowd in Pittsburgh. The verdict? For the most part, everyone left the Ravens fans alone. No special treatment, barely any acknowledgement, certainly no verbal or physical abuse. How's that for comparison?

Stay classy, Ravens fans.

OK, enough about that. Let's lighten things back up here.
  • Before going to the game, Adam and I went for brunch at the Grand Concourse with his mom and stepdad. For those of you not familiar, it is a restaurant located in the restored Pittsburgh/Lake Erie railroad station, overlooking the riverfront. I happen to love the romance of historical railroads and stations, so this was a treat. Here's a picture:
  • Given the elegance of the Grand Concourse, I was reluctant to go to Sunday brunch in sportsfan attire. Adam told me that it wouldn't be an issue. But I went ahead and wore something else anyways, bringing along my Steelers jersey to put on afterwards. Imagine my surprise when we got to the restaurant and saw that 90% of the people there were already wearing Steelers jerseys. Adam grinned and said, "In Pittsburgh, Steelers gear IS Sunday brunch attire!"
  • There are insane security restrictions on what fans are allowed to bring into the stadium. With minimal exceptions, women aren't even allowed to bring in purses, for example. (To make up for this, I brought a jacket that has about fifteen different pockets and I stuffed belongings into every single one.) Therefore, I was really surprised to find out that fans are allowed to bring outside food and drink into the stadium as long as the food is in a clear plastic bag and the drink bottles still have their original factory seal.
  • This has become one of my new favorite songs/videos (they play the music on the scoreboard with varying team highlights during every game at Heinz Field):

  • The weather ended up being perfect for an outdoor NFL game in mid-October. I put on a hat and gloves midway through the second quarter, but didn't even feel the need to put on my jacket until late in the fourth quarter.
  • The game was a nail-biter. Towards the end as the clock was ticking down, I could feel my heart pounding in my throat.
  • With the exception of the atmosphere, I actually like watching football on TV better than in person because you can see the field from much better angles on TV. Unfortunately, during the final play of the game (a field goal attempt), I couldn't tell from where we were sitting if the field goal was good or not. I had to wait a few agonizing moments to hear the crowd's reaction in order to find out.
The final result? Steelers win!

Adam and me post-game
One last thing. The Pittsburgh Pirates' playoff run ended a couple of weeks ago, so obviously a Pirates game was out of the question this past weekend. However, to complete the trifecta of Pittsburgh sports for today, here's a picture from a Cubs-Pirates game that Adam and I attended in late September at Wrigley Field:

I realize this entire post has had pretty much nothing to do with running. So here you go:

I squeezed in a 30-minute run on Saturday morning before going to the Penguins game. WOW, are those local hills tough. (If you look in the dictionary under the term "Midwestern Flatlander" you will see my picture.) I tried shifting into "low-gear" (i.e. running with shorter strides) on those hills, but my glutes were still screaming bloody murder.

I know that some runners from Pittsburgh complain about how Chicago's flatness is so boring. But I've come to realize that I actually like boring. Boring is good!!!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Prairie State Half Marathon race recap

Sorry for being MIA over the past few weeks - my schedule has been a complete disaster! I have a lot of things to catch up on in the blogosphere and elsewhere, but first things first. This past weekend I ran the Prairie State Half Marathon. It was my fifth half marathon in 2013 and my eleventh half marathon overall.

My goals going into the race:
  • Goal A: Beat my best half marathon time from last year, which was 2:22:53 at the 2012 Chicago Half Marathon.
  • Goal B: Break 2:20:00.

Kim very graciously offered to pace me for this race. She had paced me at the Chicago Half Marathon last year, so I knew that I was in good hands with her and that she would push me in a good way.

I felt pretty prepared going into this race. The course ran along the Des Plaines River Trail. I'd heard many folks praise the trail's crushed gravel surface for being more friendly on a runner's joints than the usual asphalt or concrete. This was reassuring as I've been dealing with some IT band flare-ups in the past few weeks (and resulting in many evening dates with my foam roller).

Unfortunately I spent way, way too much time and consideration debating which pair of running shoes to wear for the race. I've said many times that my Asics Gel Cumulus shoes are my workhorse shoes for longer distances. However, I have one pair with over 250 miles on them, which is a little too close to retirement for my liking, and another pair with only 11 miles on them which was a little too new. I considered wearing my Mizuno Wave Riders, which have appropriate mileage but I've had major blister issues with them in the past. In the end I went with the older pair of Asics. I figured that the softer trail surface would help cushion any old-shoe issues (literally and figuratively).

Getting to the race site ended up being much more hectic and stressful than anticipated due to road construction issues. I was thankful that Adam was driving because it allowed me to get out of the car enroute and book it to the starting line without having to wait for parking. After picking up my packet and using the portapotty, I met up with Kim and Chris at the starting line with only a few minutes to spare. They both got to witness me frantically smearing on Bodyglide, while simultaneously scarfing down a banana and trying to get my hat on straight mere moments before the starting airhorn went off. (This is much harder to do than you would think.)

Before I knew it, we were off! Adam took this picture of me at the starting line (I'm the one waving), with Kim and Chris to the right of me.

The course was peaceful and the trail wound through wooded areas with ample shade. There were some uneven patches of gravel covered with some fallen leaves and some acorns interspersed here and there, so I was trying to watch my footing. Speaking of multitasking, I was also trying to focus on running tangents where I could, keeping up my pace without relying too much on my Garmin, and trying to hold a conversation with Kim. It was actually a bit more challenging than expected and my conversational skills took a bit of a hit (sorry, Kim!)

Given the remoteness of much of the trail, there were only a handful of spectators along most of the path. Anytime we did see spectators, it was very welcoming. The course was an out-and-back and we did see a group of enthusiastic spectators at the turnaround point, including my mom! Here is a picture that Kim took of me interacting with some of the spectators somewhere along the way:

I took my first GU around mile 6, which was later than I should have taken it. This meant that I had a mile or two where I started getting tired and was regretting not taking the GU earlier. After the GU kicked in, though, I felt a lot better. However, I started getting mentally tired around mile 8. The patches of the course that were unshaded started feeling uncomfortable. The rolling hills that had initially felt like no big deal also started to feel tougher and tougher. My left piriformis was tight and I was wishing that I had a foam roller handy.

Since the runners were fairly spaced out and there were minimal spectators, it was around this time that I was especially glad to have company. It really helped keep me going. Kim and I caught up with Chris on the course and we took some pictures:
Kim and me
Chris and me
Me getting ready to take a salt capsule. Chris agrees that a little bit of salt goes a long way!

Around mile 9 I took another GU, plus the salt capsule that you see in the above picture. 

Miles 10 and 11 are traditionally my toughest miles, and this race was no exception. There were a couple of hills around this time which seemed like they would never, ever end. On the first one, I slowed down to a walk about 75% of the way up. On the second one, Kim told me to think about how good it would feel to run up the entire hill without stopping. Not wanting to disappoint, I did manage to run the entire second hill (although I am sure ants and turtles were catching up to me).

At Mile 12 there was a big loop along the course. In my state of fatigue I contemplated cutting the loop, even though it would meant having to climb a fence twice. I didn't, of course, but I started shouting to Kim that I really wanted to run those tangents. I was fighting to maintain my pace, but Kim was encouraging me to kick it up. She told me that she knew that I had a kick in me after running the Chicago Half Marathon with me last year. All I could say in response was, "NOOOOOO!!!!!"

As we approached the mile 13 marker, I could see the finish line but once again there was another outward loop before reaching it. I screamed, "This is cruel and unusual!" but I did manage to pick up the pace a little bit during the last tenth of a mile.

Here is a picture of Kim and me crossing the finish line.

(By the way - the photo is from the official race photographer, hence the "Proof" watermark on it. But isn't it funny to think that the "Proof" could also refer to the photo being visual documentation that we finished the race? LOL)

My official time was 2:19:16. Goals achieved!

After the finish, we met up with Erica, who had run a killer race and took first place in her age group. Congrats, Erica!

From L to R: Erica, me, and Kim
All in all, this was a fun, laidback race. The groomed trail was a nice change of scenery from the usual cityscapes that I am accustomed to at most of my races. The race's mid-size count of participants was nice, too, considering that most of the races I run are the enormous races with tens of thousands of participants. 

From a goal perspective, I was happy to have broken the 2:20 mark in a half marathon. A year and a half ago I was struggling to break 2:30, so it feels good to see the progress. My all-time PR of 2:16 and change is within shouting distance now, and I am looking forward to finally breaking that mark. Hopefully soon!

Many thanks to Kim for being such a great pacer again, and to both Kim and Chris for keeping me company during those tough miles. Congrats to Chris on her strong race, too! (Oh and by the way, did I mention that Kim ran two miles prior to the race to get there on time, AND ran a 5K race later that afternoon? The woman is a powerhouse.) And as always, many thanks also go out to Adam and to my mom for coming out to spectate!

My next race: the Carrera de los Muertos 5K on November 2.