Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Feeling lucky

Katie is hosting her monthly "Take Time Tuesday" link-up where we share what is making us feel grateful. This month, the theme is Feelin' Lucky!

Here are a few of the many things that are currently making me feel both grateful and lucky. Let's go in chronological order.

Last week...
I won Melanie's giveaway for an entry to the Sunburst Race series in South Bend, Indiana. A HUGE thank you to Melanie and to the race organizers for this privilege! It was an amazing stroke of luck for me to be selected. I have been eyeing the Sunburst Half Marathon for years so I am incredibly pumped to finally run it.

There are so many things to look forward to with this race. In particular, I can't wait to run the course along the St. Joseph River. I've run part of the riverfront path during a previous visit to South Bend, and it is gorgeous.
This a course photo from Amanda's race recap in 2014

Additionally, the course finishes on the field at Notre Dame's football stadium. Call it the luck of the Irish, yes!?!?!? I consider the privilege of running on any pro/college stadium to be one of the coolest things that runners get to do during races.

Thanks again so much to Melanie and the Sunburst Half Marathon!

This past Sunday...
The Shamrock Shuffle this past Sunday was wrought with cold temperatures and heavy winds. But... IT DID NOT RAIN.

As I mentioned here, I've been taking a lot of heat over the past few weeks (no pun intended) about being a racing rain magnet. In the days leading up to Shamrock Shuffle Sunday, I was horrified to see that the meteorologists were once again forecasting rain.

Mother Nature clearly likes to toy with me. While it did rain on Sunday, the rain didn't start until about 11:00! WHEWWWWW. I feel so lucky that we all dodged that bullet!!!

(But now... so it begins with the no-rain dances for the CARA Live Grit Lakefront 10-Miler on April 18. ;-) )

Last night...
Adam surprised me with last-minute tickets to the Blackhawks vs. Kings game at the United Center! Originally my intention was just to watch the game from our living room. But then, Adam called me in the office at 5:45 PM and said, "So, regarding tonight's Blackhawks game. Does it matter where we watch them play tonight?" Right away I knew what he was up to. (He's so sneaky!!!)

Here are a couple of pictures from last night's game:

The national anthem at a Blackhawks home game. Best live moment in all of professional sports.
Game on!
Admittedly, I was a little nervous going to the game. The Hawks have been playing inconsistently as of late, and the Kings are a very tough team. Luckily, the game ended up being action-packed and the Hawks won in dramatic fashion.

Huge thanks to Adam for being the wonderful person that he is! He knows me so well; always senses exactly what to do to make me smile; and always inspires me with his humor, intelligence, and his approach to life. I am so grateful and so lucky to have him!

The usual suspects...
In addition to Adam, I've got several other things for which I am eternally grateful and lucky. It bears repeating them again here, since I believe you can never be too grateful.

As always, I am thankful for my inspiring friends and family; my good health; having so many resources available at all times; the wonderful company that I work for; and living in the fabulous city of Chicago.

Life is good!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Frames From the Weekend: 3/26/15 - 3/29/15

I had quite the whirlwind of a weekend! Once again I'm linking up with Irina and Tara to share my recap.

Normally I recap starting with Friday, but this week I'm going to go back a little further and begin with Thursday. That night, Rose and I attended the Chicago Blues and Jazz Tour. Here are some snapshots from the festivities:

Upper Right: Rose and I at the historic and legendary Green Mill Jazz Club.
Lower Right: We had a fabulous soul food dinner at Pearl's Place Restaurant. I absolutely love local neighborhood joints like Pearl's, so this was quite a discovery for me! I left feeling even more stuffed than after a Thanksgiving Dinner.
Lower Left: Blues/jazz recording artist Fruteland Jackson gave us a harmonica lesson!
Upper Left: We finished the night off by taking in some great music at Andy's Jazz Club.

I'll be starting quarter-end close this week in the office, which is extremely busy. Therefore, I took Friday off from work to try to catch up on things before the craziness hits. The first thing I did was get a much-needed haircut. Check out my before and after:

Here are some other pictures from the rest of Friday:

Right: After my haircut, I checked out a local neighborhood taco joint called Taqueria El Asadero. Another great "hole-in-the-wall" type of place! Had a great lunch.
Upper Left: I spent the afternoon reading 4:09:43 - Boston 2013 Through The Eyes of the Runners by Hal Higdon. Holy cow! I had tears in my eyes within just the first few pages. I'll be writing up a book review in the coming weeks.
Lower Left: Book club night! Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures from the actual festivities (hence another picture of this month's book selection). But, the night was filled with lots of great discussions, laughs, and eats! Thanks to Amy B. for hosting this month.

Moving on to Saturday! In the morning, I met up with Xaarlin and Luis, and we perused the Shamrock Shuffle expo. (Check out my full Shamrock Shuffle race recap here.) Since I have already shared lots of Shamrock photos, here's just one more race expo photo:

Saturday night, Adam and I went out for dinner, then we went to a Preservation Hall Jazz Band concert. HUGE thanks again to Maggie for sharing that they would be in town! The concert was AMAZING. Those musicians are unbelievably talented.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band working their musical magic!!!

Within the first seconds of their show, my jaw was already on the ground, where it would remain throughout the duration of the entire night. It was nonstop energy the entire time, both from the band members as well as the audience. I was completely captivated. Now I want to go back to New Orleans and listen to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band play in their home venue!

During the intermission, Adam and I met up with Maggie and her husband Robert. Here's a picture of Maggie and me:

Doesn't Maggie look fabulous? Love the burgundy tights she is wearing.

Sunday morning was the running of the 36th Annual Shamrock Shuffle! Again, since I already included a ton of pictures in my race recap, here is an action shot:

Obligatory race photo body spasm

Whew! My weekends are not normally this action packed, to say the least. I spent the rest of Sunday desperately trying to regroup from all of the activity, and preparing for the busy week ahead. Sunday night, Adam and I watched two different hockey games on our two TVs (the Penguins game for him, the Blackhawks game for me). We are still a two-hockey-team household!

Your turn! How was your weekend? Tell me what's going on with you!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Shamrock Shuffle 8K race recap

I have literally spent decades hearing all the stories and seeing all the pictures from the famed Shamrock Shuffle. Every year there was a reason I couldn't run it - work commitments, weddings, being out of town, etc., etc., etc. But this year I finally crossed the Shamrock Shuffle off of my runner's to-do list!

Shamrock is the largest 8K in the world and is unofficially considered the kickoff to Chicago's racing season. The Shamrock Shuffle and the Chicago Marathon are both organized by Bank of America, and both courses start and finish the same way.

Before I talk about the race itself, here are some pictures from the race expo the day before:

Entering the premises at McCormick Place
L: Me (having trouble seeing behind my Shamrock glasses)
R: Xaarlin and me
Upper L: Visiting the Bears 5K booth
Lower L: Zenaida and me wearing leis from the Chicago Tiki Run booth
R: Deejay playing up the Irish theme
Now on to race day!

I have a growing affinity for shorter races that take place in downtown Chicago. I am much more relaxed about my pre-race nutrition, hydration, and sleep. I also love being able to just hop onto a Divvy bike and be at the start village in 15 minutes.

My biggest concern going into the race was the weather. The meteorologists were forecasting winds of 20 MPH and more, with temperatures in the low 30s. There was also some rain in the forecast, but thankfully it wasn't supposed to start until around 11 AM (whew!). The weather made for some last-minute wardrobe debates. I do prefer to be too warm as opposed to too cold, so I elected to err on the side of what I thought would be overdressing. (I ended up still being very cold.)

Pre-race, I met up with my beloved Chicago Running Bloggers posse for a photo:

Included in this photo: Xaarlin, Luis, Eric, Lauren, Maggie, Pete, Maureen, Kelly, and Zenaida, plus some other folks that I didn't get a chance to formally meet. I'm on the far right in the white jacket.

Afterwards, I dropped off my bag at gear check, used the portapotty, and headed to my starting corral.

The corrals for my wave closed at 8:20 AM. I had been warned that the corrals were strictly enforced, and that the gates got very crowded in the final minutes. With this in mind, I checked into my corral at 8:05 and began the uncomfortably cold wait until the race got underway.

I took this photo from my corral. Check out the gorgeous blue-sky backdrop of the Chicago skyline. It masks the fact that all the runners were standing there shivering in the freezing air.

Note all the folks festively wearing green!

I didn't see many folks wearing costumes, but I did see this guy's impressive 'do:

I hope this guy's hair didn't get messed up by the extreme winds!

Unfortunately, as I was waiting in the corrals, I started feeling the need to use the portapotty again. By then, announcements were blaring that the corrals were closing in a few minutes. I definitely didn't have time to exit and re-enter my corral, so I opted to stay put. And pray. =D

After a stirring rendition of the national anthem, the race was finally underway. I crossed the starting line approximately 17 minutes later.

The first few miles were rough. I hadn't been able to do any pre-race warm-up, and I couldn't feel my fingers or my toes. The course almost immediately went underneath the Wacker Street bridge. I quickly lost signal on my Garmin.

The Shufflers in mass!
Despite the discomfort, I was looking around and enjoying running the streets of downtown Chicago. I had been expecting crowds of spectators, but it was actually very quiet. I am guessing the weather scared away a lot of would-be spectators.

I finally started to warm up during Mile 3. I knew that I would be seeing Adam close to the Mile 3 marker. This gave me something to look forward to. It ended up being easy to find him because he was the only one standing there! Adam ran alongside me momentarily. He joked that it was easy to keep up with me when he was only running one block and I was running 8 kilometers. =)

Shortly afterwards, the runners hit an enormous wall of wind. That same stretch included an aid station, too, which must have made things tough for the volunteers. Some were shouting that we were almost through the wind tunnel, but we weren't. It was brutal. It took so much effort to keep running that I considered dropping down to a walk, but didn't.

Running underneath the famed "L" tracks in downtown
As I neared the Mile 4 marker, I started seeing a handful of spectators. I was thinking that although this was a short race, I was looking forward to finishing. The final stretch included the infamous hill on Roosevelt and then the straightaway on Columbus Drive, just like the Chicago Marathon. It brought back some memories for me.

My final finishing time was 45:01. I was a little disappointed with myself because it was nowhere near my PR of 44:12. But, given the weather, no warm-up, needing to use the restroom the whole time, and being so early in the training season, it could have been much worse. And as Adam reminded me, I do these races first and foremost to have fun!

I hear that this year was the first year the organizers gave out finisher's medals!

For me, the biggest highlights of the day were getting to see so many friends, plus seeing Adam along the course! It is moments like those that remind me how much I love the cameraderie of running races. I get the hype behind the Shamrock Shuffle.

I look forward to Shuffling again in the future when the weather is more pleasant!

My next race: The CARA Live Grit Lakefront 10-Miler on April 18

Friday, March 27, 2015

Tri newbie

My company hosted an inaugural indoor triathlon this week for employees. Over the years I have had some passing thoughts of trying a tri. Therefore, I signed up for the event the moment I heard about it.

How did the company's indoor tri work? Participants were ranked based on total distance covered across three disciplines:
  • 10 minutes on the rowing machine
  • 15 minutes of spin-biking, with higher resistance translating to more distance covered
  • 15 minutes of treadmill-running at a 1% incline
Since my company doesn't have an on-site swimming pool, I thought it was very clever to substitute rowing for swimming. It also made for much easier transitions, too (we were given two minutes of transition time in between each segment).

If only!!!
Let's talk strategy. Here is how I approached each segment:

I have almost no rowing experience. I've only used a rowing machine maybe ten times my entire life? I knew the rowing would be my downfall, but I was hoping that maybe the comparatively shorter timeframe of 10 minutes would reduce the deviations across contestants. My only hope was to pull out something semi-respectable here.

I have some experience with spin bikes, but not a ton. I wanted to try to find a happy medium between speed versus resistance. One of my coworkers and I strategized that the biking segment could manifest the biggest potential mileage spreads. Therefore, I wanted to push the biking as best as I could.

Of the three disciplines, I am most comfortable with the running portion by far. However, I do not usually run with a 1% incline, as was required here. I also knew that my legs could potentially be shot by the time I got to the running segment. My thought was that I would start at a pace that felt comfortably hard, and then gradually try to increase the speed.

Every hard-core sports strategy discussion requires the unwielding of the X's and the O's!

So how did things actually go on the big day?

Rowing - 2040 meters completed
I started out feeling good, but like any other race I realized after a few minutes that I had started out too quickly. I tried to use a combination of leg strength and arm strength. I also leaned backwards a little on the extension in the hopes of making gravity work for me.

Towards the end, my hands were sweaty so I had trouble maintaining my grip. To compensate, I tried to squeeze the handlebars more securely. This made my forearms ache. The 10 minutes on the rower couldn't go by fast enough.

As expected, my performance on the rower was eyeballed by a race volunteer as being "a little bit south of what we've seen on an average basis." He was probably being charitable when he said this, too.

Biking - 4.0X miles completed
I did most of the biking between levels 8 and 9. I tried going up to levels 10 and 11 for a few seconds, but found it a little too challenging. One of my fellow participants stood up on her pedals a few times, but I elected to stay seated the whole time.

I was unhappy that the bike only measured distances in tenths of a mile. My odometer was at 4.0 miles for a good twenty seconds at the very end, even though I was pedaling like crazy. I hit 4.1 miles at the 15:02 marker, but I only got credit for 4.0 miles. Grrrrr!

Running - 1.65 miles completed
Admittedly, I had high ambitions for the run segment. I was thinking maybe I could maintain my target 5K race pace (8:20/mile) for 15 minutes. But those ambitions quickly came crashing down as I was getting underway. My legs felt like grape jello.

I did still want to run a negative split on the treadmill. I started out at a 9:20 pace, then I gradually upped the speed a notch or two at a time. During the last two minutes, I went all out. The last 30 seconds or so, I was flying at a 7:07 pace. During those moments, I was thinking to myself that I could very well die right now.

My pace for the 15 minutes averaged out to a 9:06 pace. Not too bad, but in retrospect I think I could have done better.

At the end...
I was completely zonked. I was sweating like a fire hydrant, and my legs and arms were both shot to pieces. Even though it was only about 1:00 PM when my participant wave finished, I was ready to call it a day and go home!!!

As I write this, the final rankings have not yet been posted. Despite a subpar rowing performance, I was told that my biking and my running were comparatively strong. That made me feel good.

I know I have no hope of placing. On the contrary, I could largely be at risk for coming in last place! But honestly, I will more than happy if my performance ends up being at or above the 50% percentile.

Tons and tons of renewed respect for all you triathletes out there. This tri stuff is no joke!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

All that jazz

I've quite literally got a lot of jazz in the works!

My friend Rose and I are attending a Chicago Blues and Jazz Tour. It includes a soul food dinner, speakeasy drinks, and live music that explores Chicago's musical history and architecture from north to south. Very cool!

These signs were on display at a Chicago History Museum exhibit focused on Chicago's jazz and blues scene.

Side notes: I think the Green Mill is the coolest jazz club in Chicago, and I've been dying to check out Kingston Mines. I think this tour is really going to whet my appetite for further exploring Chicago's various music venues. I credit visiting New Orleans for my renewed interest in jazz these days.

Saturday night...
Speaking of New Orleans! Adam and I are going to a Preservation Hall Jazz Band concert. Many thanks to Maggie for the tip that they would be in town.

Preservation Hall in New Orleans

Adam and I didn't get a chance to check out Preservation Hall while we were in New Orleans, so I am super excited that their band is coming to Chicago.

It is going to be amazing to experience and compare/contrast Chicago/New Orleans blues/jazz within the span of 48 hours. I hypothesize there are a lot of cross-influences between the two. Let's find out!

So what other jazz is going on other than all that jazz?

The Ravinia Festival just announced their 2015 concert schedule. This year's line-up is fantastic and very diverse - there is something for everyone!

Here are some of the shows that caught my eye:
  • June 25 - Sheryl Crow
  • June 26-27 - Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga
  • July 5 - Beethovan's Appassionata
  • July 8 - Porgy and Bess
  • July 12 (my birthday!) - Disney's Fantasia
  • July 29 - Brahms First Piano Concerto
  • August 1 - Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture
  • August 2 - Gladiator Live
  • August 7 - Harry Connick, Jr.
  • August 8 - Ramsey Lewis
  • August 20 - Chopin and Rachmaninoff

Beyond what I've listed here, I am always up for any performance featuring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Add a pianist, and I'll be as happy as a baby in a tub!

Ahhh, Ravinia! One of the symbols of Chicago summertime.

Any other jazz/blues lovers out there? Concert-goers in general? Ravinia goers, what performances are you most looking forward to?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Disney photo flashback

Recently I found out about Deb's Disney photo linkup. Needless to say, I was super excited to join in the fun!

Focused on the Magic

This week's theme is "Photo Flashback."

Since I am always in runner mode, I will share some throwback photos from the 2013 Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon and the 2014 Disneyland Half Marathon.

2013 Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon

The starting line
Travel-themed mile markers

Osbourne Spectacle of Lights

Lilo and Stitch!

Nearing the finish line at EPCOT

2014 Disneyland Half Marathon

Meeting Jeff Galloway at the race expo

Pre-race with Kayla

Festive mile markers
In front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle, plus other scenes from the course

What are some of your Disney favorites? Movies, music, parks, food, characters? Anything is game!

"I only hope we never lose sight of one thing: it was all started by a mouse."
- Walt Disney

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Favorite spectator signs

Linking up again with April, Patty, and Erika for Tuesdays on the Run.

This week's topic: favorite race spectator signs!

I happen to love reading the spectator signs along a course. As much as I enjoy running in solitude, when I run a big race I do enjoy going all out. It's fun to interact with the crowd and feed off of the crowd's energy. I think reading the race signs is one of the best ways to do so!

When it comes to selecting my favorite race signs, it was hard to narrow it down. I am an equal-opportunity race-sign liker! However, there are a few categories in which I would classify my very favorite signs:

Interact with me!
I love when spectators promote true interaction between the runners and the crowd. I always try to follow suit with what the sign encourages. Some examples:



It is always so great to see the signs where the spectators GET it. Give credit to the runners who are spectating, and/or to the family members/friends who understand the unique challenges that us runners go through. Examples:


Pure encouragement
When I'm dying on the course, sometimes the simplest words make the biggest difference for me. Examples:


Honorable Mention - "the fill in the blank"
I get a kick out of these. I just think they are really funny.



I had a lot of fun looking for race/spectator signs to share! Kudos to Jill at Best Race Signs for being an absolutely amazing resource on this topic.

One more mention. At Rock N Roll DC there was a spectator cradling her adorable sleeping puppy in her arms. She was shouting, "Smile! I have a puppy!!!" It did indeed make me smile. It wasn't technically a spectator sign and unfortunately I didn't get a picture. However, it was definitely one of my favorite spectator moments!

What about you? What are your favorite spectator signs?