Friday, April 29, 2016

Pittsburgh Half Marathon prerace thoughts

Greetings from Pittsburgh!
I flew in last night and am very excited to be here. (BTW - I cut the time so close I was sprinting through the terminals and was literally the last passenger to board the flight. This is a story for another day!)

After three months of incline training, countless prior-year race recaps stalked, and two weeks of weather monitoring, the time has finally come to run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon this Sunday.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about the hills. However, I am happy with the training effort I put in over the past three months. Could I have done more? Of course - we can always do more. But at this stage of the game, I feel as prepared as I think I can be.

Truthfully, that isn't saying much, as I am realizing the full extent of the challenges that await me. Allow me to elaborate.

Last week, I showed Adam the course map and elevation chart. Here is the elevation chart. Note the giant incline starting after Mile 11:

For my contribution to today's episode of the Hill Running Horror Show, here is a nice, terrifying close-up:
Since Adam is a Pittsburgh native, I asked him about that hill.

His verbal response: "You'll be running through Duquesne University? Oh wow. Uh, yeah. [brief pause, momentarily averts eyes to the side] You're going to do great. Really, you are!"

His nonverbal response looked like this:
What do they say - 80% of communication is nonverbal, 20% is verbal? This is not good at all.

OK, OK, I kid. He didn't ACTUALLY look like that. Let's be clear, he wasn't really wearing a Blackhawks jersey when we had this conversation. But you get the idea.

As you might surmise, this was not exactly the reaction I was looking for. This is what my nonverbal response looked like:
I asked Adam if we could drive over to see that part of the course in advance. As bad as it might be, I do want to know what to expect. His response:

"Are you sure you want to do that? I think you'd be better off just going out there and running it on Sunday. Don't you want to be surprised? The element of surprise would be good!"


To make matters even worse, Adam talked to our friend Julie, who has run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon several times. He told me Julie also advised NOT going to see the hill in advance. Something about not being able to get a true sense for the hill from the car?

Please allow me to reiterate:
Allright, I get the idea. It is what it is, and there isn't anything I can do about it at this stage in the game. If I have to walk the entire debacle from start to finish, so be it. I think the course time limit is 3.5 hours, and all that matters is getting to the finish line. There's a reason why we all get the same medal, right???
Unfortunately, the weather is not looking great for Sunday. The current forecast lists temps in the upper 50s and low 60s with periods of rain. The precipitation would be a bummer because I am hoping to take a lot of pictures on the course. But again, it is what it is. All I can do is get my stylish garbage bag dress ready to go!
From the 2015 Rock N Roll DC Half Marathon
All of these things aside, I am genuinely looking forward to the experience this Sunday. Here are my five goals for the race:

1) Enjoy the course, entertainment, and the spectators
2) See Adam on the course a few times
3) Take full advantage of getting to tour so many of Pittsburgh's neighborhoods and bridges on foot
4) Stay confident when tackling any hills
5) Cross the finish line healthy with a smile on my face

I have heard so many great things about this race and I know it will not disappoint. I am going to have a good time even if (borrowing a great expression from my dear friend Xaarlin) I end up finishing DFL. =D

Here we go!

Linking up with MarCynthia, and Courtney for the Friday Five.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ravenswood 5K race recap

Before I recap the Ravenswood 5K, let me talk briefly about my beloved Blackhawks after last night's results. They had an amazing run this year. I am always proud of the team for battling to the finish with everything they've got. Win or lose, I love the team with all my heart. Nothing will ever change that.

Time for the Blackhawks to get some well-deserved rest. We'll get it back next year.

And now, switching gears onto the topic at hand.

Last Friday afternoon, I was at the office trying valiantly to maintain some semblance of productivity. All of a sudden, I got an email from Erin saying she might be able to get me a free entry to the Ravenswood 5K on Sunday if I was interested.
OH HECK YES!!! I responded back to Erin's email as quickly as my fingers could type. I love neighborhood races and I have heard countless rave reviews about Ravenswood.

It turns out Erin's running club had received some race entries to use as raffle prizes, but two of the winners were injured and unable to run. They offered up their entries to anyone who could use them. Erin snagged one for herself, and when nobody claimed the other one she was able to claim it for me.

Huge, huge, HUGE thanks to Erin for thinking of me!!!
I don't think I ever mentioned it here, but over the last few months I had actually thought about signing up for the Ravenswood 5K as a PR attempt. I had initially decided against it because the Pittsburgh Half Marathon is next weekend. Plus, I haven't been doing any speedwork. But now I had a great opportunity to test myself without having too much time to overthink things.

In general, I am not a huge fan of the 5K distance. I find the breakneck tempo to be extremely challenging - much more so than longer distances like the half marathon. I've been so gunshy that I haven't made any 5K PR attempts in almost two years.
On race morning, I still had reservations about making an attempt. After going to the Blackhawks game the night before, I had gotten very little sleep. My nerves caused me to suddenly be conscious of all kinds of bodily niggles. The weather was noticeably warmer compared to a few days prior. On and on and on.

Erin and I drove up to the race site to find everything extremely well organized with great volunteers. Easy parking, no lines at the portapotties, good signage, and gear check was a snap.

We headed out for about a 1.2-mile warm-up run together. During this time, I still had phantom aches and pains. Why must the body and mind torture us in this way?
At the starting line, I enjoyed the energy of all the runners and spectators surrounding me. During the pre-race national anthem I stood with my eyes closed, let the anthem sink into my heart, and prayed for a strong race. I thought about the adrenaline I had felt less than 12 hours earlier at the Blackhawks Game 6 victory, and I tried to channel that feeling.

At exactly 8:00 AM on the dot, the starting airhorn went off. As the runners were underway, we were serenaded by church bells tolling from the All Saints Episcopal Church nearby. It was perfect.
My plan was to try to run the first 2.6 miles at around an 8:20 pace, then pick things up in the final 0.5 miles. As is typical with most races, the course was crowded at the start, making it challenging to get my pace going smoothly. I tried to run off to one side to minimize any weaving and bobbing. In the first half mile I glanced down at my Garmin a few times and saw my pace was below 8:00, so I made myself slow down a bit. I told myself, Run by feel and keep the pace comfortably hard.

The Ravenswood 5K is famous for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel making event appearances, since he lives in the neighborhood. Incidentally, he is actually quite the athlete, too! 
Mayor Emanuel at the 2012 Chicago Triathlon
Pete mentioned that the Mayor liked to spectate near the 0.70-mile point on the course. Initially, I planned to keep an eye out for a sighting. Ultimately, I ended up being completely focused on pacing, running the tangents, and keeping my footing (the roads had a plethora of speed bumps, plus some potholes and debris).

Mile 1: 8:15

Mentally, the second mile of a 5K is always the toughest for me. I was starting to feel the exertion from the fast pace, contemplating if I'd started out too aggressively, and wondering if I could keep it up. At one point I looked down at my Garmin thinking the Mile 2 marker had to be close - only to see I was only around 1.35 miles in. Yowza.
After slowing down to make one of the course turns, I made the mistake of checking my pace. My Garmin showed 8:40, which messed with my head. It brought flashbacks of a previous 5K PR attempt where my second mile fell off considerably. I tried not to think about it, instead trying to be conscious of feeling reasonably strong while reminding myself I had a 5-second cushion from Mile 1. Every second counts, right? Sure enough...

Mile 2: 8:20

Whew, still on track! It was a relief to see the Mile 2 marker. Just over a mile to go! Despite the exertion, I was feeling pretty good. Normally I feel no joy while on a 5K course. Here I actually had a few moments where I might have thought I was having a slight hint of fun???

The course included some straightaways which allowed me to keep my tempo solidly on target. At one point we were running straight into the sunshine, but I tried not to let it bother me. If you can keep this same tempo up, you'll hit your goal!

There was a course turn near the 2.6-mile point after which my plan was to give everything I had left. 
My breathing was ragged and my lungs were burning, but I knew I was close. Come on, you can do anything for just a few more minutes! I kept stretching my eyes to look for the finish line, but couldn't see it.

We made one final turn. Suddenly, there was the finish line just past a small downhill and uphill slope. Ahhh, the agony! But I hit the Mile 3 marker in 24:46 and knew I was going to PR. I was too exerted to physically smile, but mentally I was already smiling inwardly.

Mile 3: 8:11
Mile 3.1: 0:49

My official finishing time was 25:35, which is a 20-second PR for me. Most importantly, since my previous PR was set well over a decade ago, I am so thrilled to finally have a relevant current PR. High-fives all around!!!
Post-race, I met back up with Erin, and then we found Eric, Pete, and Annabelle. It was so great to see everyone!
Pete told me Mayor Emanuel had run the race and was standing right behind him in the starting corrals. Wow! We later tried to look up the Mayor's race results but couldn't find him. He must have run under a pseudonym?

Afterwards, one of Erin's triathlete friends, Gurneet, hosted a post-run brunch. The festivities were a great time with terrific food and company. I am grateful to both Erin and Gurneet for inviting me! It was wonderful to meet so many other like-minded folks and talk shop.

Many thanks again to Erin for giving me the opportunity to finally achieve such a longstanding goal at the Ravenswood 5K. It feels redeeming to finally see payoff after a period of stagnation! This race has increased my confidence in perfect time for...

My next race: The Pittsburgh Half Marathon on May 1

Linking up with MarciaPatti, and Erika for Tuesdays on the Run.

Monday, April 25, 2016

My weekend in photos

Happy Monday! I'm trying desperately to switch back into office mode now after an extremely action-packed weekend.

I've got a ton to share from the last few days! Let's do a photo-based recap today.

On Saturday morning, I attended a Windy City Bloggers brunch at DL Loft. Here are some snapshots from the event:
Mimosa bar
Decorate-your-own-doughnut bar!
I learned the hard way just how difficult it is to decorate baked goods.
Much increased respect to all those cake decorators who make their intricate creations look like second nature!
The event space was adorned with beautiful French-themed decor.
More beautiful French-themed decor
Not pictured - there was a braid bar where I got a cute miniature French side braid. I loved it and I plan to try replicating the style on my own in the future.

After brunch, it was time for a double-hockey header. That afternoon, Adam and I watched the Penguins clinch a first-round playoff series win against the Rangers. The Pens look fantastic right now and I am absolutely thrilled to see them advance to the second round. Woo hoo!!!

Later that night, we had tickets to watch Blackhawks Game 6 against the Blues.
A sea of Blackhawks-red during pregame warm-ups
More pre-game warm-up action
Adam and I with one of our Hawks rally towels
I always believe in my Hawks, but I was admittedly nervous going into the game. Being surrounded by the masses of loyal, diehard Hawks fans helped a lot.

Over the years, I've been to games with extremely raucous crowds. This includes a Hawks-Kings playoff game where I thought everyone must have undergone intravenous caffeine consumption in advance for 72 hours straight. Even so, on this Saturday night the crowd's energy skyrocketed off the charts. The cheering, chanting, and singing were so deafeningly loud that I had to scream to communicate with Adam, even though he was sitting right next to me. The United Center's roof was in very real danger of blowing off.
Honoring the Blackhawks as defending Stanley Cup Champions during the pregame show
Awesome special effects during the pregame show
It was an awesome, adrenaline-filled, and euphoric game. I love playoff hockey so much!

After I got home post-victory, I remained fired up for several hours. It took me a really long time to unwind and fall asleep.

Unfortunately, the timing of my delirium wasn't great because I had made last-minute plans to run the Ravenswood 5K early the next morning! Go figure, right?! But there is no question that I wouldn't have traded the Blackhawks game for anything. Let's go Hawks!!!

On that note, let's move on to Sunday morning's Ravenswood 5K. The race definitely deserves its own post, as always. I am working on my recap right now. In the meantime, here's a post-race photo with some of my beloved fellow running bloggers:
Top: Pete
Bottom, from L to R: me, Erin, Eric, and Annabelle
More details coming soon, but in short - I had an excellent day on the course. I finally, finally, FINALLY bested my ancient 5K PR from well over a decade ago. Thank goodness.

Allright - one more thing to cap off the whirlwind weekend!

On Sunday night, Adam and I went to the UP Comedy Club to watch #DateMe: An OKCupid Experiment. The show is about an experiment where 38 "undateable dating profiles" were posted to see who would interact with them - with rollicking results!

Before the show, Adam and I had fun at the show's photo booth:
Check out Adam's killer abs!!! =D
Then it was time to delve into the performance, which consisted of both scripted acts as well as some improv sketches. The show was hilarious and super unique!

Here are a few snapshots:

I thoroughly enjoyed the entire show, but the improv portion was my favorite. Having previously taken three levels of improv classes at ComedySportz, I have a full appreciation for the challenge of improv - and the cast NAILED it. They completely knocked it out of the ballpark!

After the show, I had the privilege of meeting Robyn Lynne Norris and Dana Robie. Both are cast members, and Robyn is the show's writer and creator. Those ladies are amazing comedic inspirations. Wow.
From L to R: Robyn, me, and Dana
... and that concludes the weekend's biggest shindigs. Whew!

Now it's your turn! Tell me about your weekend adventures, whether that includes racing, training, eating, sleeping, or anything fun?

Linking up with HoHo and Tricia for the Weekly Wrap.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Cookies, knishes, and Apr 11-17 weekly recap

The stress of the NHL playoffs is wearing on me. We're less than a week in and there have already been a lot of shocking developments. I joke about people telling me how wrong I am in my predictions. However, I can't imagine anyone would have foreseen the Kings and the Ducks going a combined 0-4 in each of their first two games at home.
It's going to be a crazy, crazy week of hockey ahead!

Speaking of my favorite hockey teams, back in February I wrote about the privilege of watching a Blackhawks game from a suite for the first (and probably only) time ever. I'd mentioned getting two Blackhawks logo cookies from the dessert cart that night:
As I said back then, the cookies were too cute to eat. I took them home and have kept them to this day as artistic masterpieces.

Wouldn't you know it? Over the weekend, Adam and I discovered the source for these cookies: a north suburban restaurant/deli/bakery called Max and Benny's.

Check out some of their cookie creations!
It wasn't just about stumbling onto those cookies, either. I always enjoy exploring any of the restaurants featured on Chicago's Best - and Max and Benny's was highlighted for their matzo ball soup. Adam and I love traditional Jewish delis so we went to check it out.
L: San Francisco Reuben and potato pancake
Top R: Lox platter
Bottom R: The legendary matzo ball soup!
The food was really good. We were both stuffed, but that didn't stop me from popping into the bakery/deli afterwards. I bought a spinach/feta knish and a Reuben eggroll to take home. After my long run yesterday, I devoured that knish so quickly that I could have gotten arrested in at least four, maybe five states. (Sorry, no picture since I ate it too fast.)

I think race organizers should start serving knishes at their post-run refreshment tents.
On the note of long runs, here is how the week's training went:

TUESDAY - Yoga class, 45 minutes lifting
WEDNESDAY - Zumba class, run 3.5 miles on treadmill
THURSDAY - 10 minute warm-up on stationary bike, 55 minutes lifting
FRIDAY - Yoga class
SATURDAY - 30 minutes of stationary biking on "hill" setting, lift 15 minutes
SUNDAY - Run 12 miles with intermittant inclines

For yesterday's long run, I thought I'd do 10 miles outside with some random hills, then come home and finish with 2 miles of focused treadmill hills. That didn't end up happening for two reasons: 1) the random route I was running outside didn't get me back into my own neighborhood until about the 11.2 mark, and 2) my legs simply weren't having it.

I did fare pretty well on the intermittant hills, including a series of hill repeats around Miles 7-8. However, I am still in so much trouble for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. Despite all the effort I've put into hill training over the past few months, I think it's going to be too little, too late.
On a more positive note - I've been testing out doing long runs without wearing my Cho-Pat knee straps. So far I completed both a 10-miler and yesterday's 12-miler without issue. This is great news, as I've had to wear the straps for years!

Ideally I would like to run the Pittsburgh Half sans knee straps, but I'm also a little nervous about taking that risk on race day (May 1). This week is a stepback week, so I won't get much more opportunity to really test before then. Maybe I'll start the race with the knee straps, then take them off and give them to Adam at some point mid-race? TBD, TBD.

Who raced this weekend? Special congrats to all of you who PR'd and/or BQ'd (Xaarlin and Pete!) Who is running/watching Boston today? 

Linking up with HoHo and Tricia for the Weekly Wrap.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

NHL Round 1 playoff predictions

Brace yourselves, folks - NHL playoff season is upon us starting tonight. It's the time of year when I metamorphosize into one of those crazed hockey fans that stays up watching games until all hours of the night.

At some point, the hardest-core fans will probably be so sleep-deprived that they might as well wear their pajamas around the clock. E.g.:
Modeling Blackhawks-logo adult onesies with footie pajamas.
Don't we all need some of these?

Ready for my annual attempt to moonlight as a hockey writer and spin the hockey brackets? Below are my first-round predictions.

Here is my obligatory disclaimer that I have strong bias in favor of the Blackhawks and the Penguins. I am not even going to try to hide it. As I say every year, please feel free to email me or comment if you want to let me know how wrong you think I am on any of my predictions. 


Washington Capitals vs Philadelphia Flyers
This year, the Caps ran away with the President's Trophy for best regular-season record in the league. However, it's pretty rare for President's Trophy winners to win the Stanley Cup. I believe this correlates with a lack of proper pacing during the grind of the extremely long NHL season. (In the salary cap era, only two teams have won both in the same year - and the Blackhawks did so in a lockout-shortened season.)

In my opinion, the Capitals are the epitome of the team that pushed too hard during the regular season and overplayed their starting goaltender (Braden Holtby). They appear to have taken their foot off the gas pedal over the last month, and it's hard to flip a switch when the playoffs begin. They also have a history of some early exits. Comparatively, Philadelphia has been playing with purpose and momentum after battling hard just to get into the playoffs. The Flyers already have their game on. Philly will also be playing with extra motivation after the recent passing of the team's owner, Ed Snider.

Most hockey experts heavily favor the Capitals, but I think this series has upset potential.

Prediction: Flyers in seven

Pittsburgh Penguins vs New York Rangers
The Pens' lineup has been riddled with injury. At the close of the season, they were playing without Evgeni Malkin, Olli Maatta, and Marc-Andre Fleury. Yet, over the last month the team pulled together a torrid mass of wins, decimating their opponents one after another. Imagine how scary the team would be if they had all of those guys healthy - and early reports indicate many will be back soon. Time will tell if the team is just on a ridiculous hot streak or if their level of play is for real. Either way, right now the Penguins are a tremendous force to be reckoned with.

On the Rangers side, I heard reports of Henrik Lundqvist leaving practice early this week. All kinds of rumors are now swirling around about him being hurt. I'm also hearing captain Ryan McDonagh has a broken hand. On top of everything, the Rangers have mortgaged their entire future to go all in this year. However, I don't think their moves (e.g. adding Eric Staal) will be very impactful.

Prediction: Penguins in five
Marc-Andre Fleury blowing bubbles
Florida Panthers vs New York Islanders
I have limited knowledge on both of these teams. The little I am familiar with includes the former Blackhawks players that have gone to both teams, the goaltenders, and Jaromir Jagr still playing in Florida at age 44 (!?!?!?!?!). Would you believe Jagr's two linemates's ages combined is still younger than he is? I don't have an enormous amount of trust in Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo, mostly based on what I saw of him when he played in Vancouver, but he does have a lot of experience.

From the Isles side, I understand they started trending downwards during the last few weeks of the season. Their starting goaltender, Jaroslav Halak is out with an injury. This means they'll be playing a career back-up goaltender.

I don't think either of these teams are Cup contenders, but:

Prediction: Panthers in six

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Detroit Red Wings
Tampa has had a rough year with all the Jonathan Drouin drama, Anton Stralman being out with a fractured leg, and learning Steven Stamkos is out 1-3 months with blood clots. Yes, Tampa went to the Finals last year. Even so, I think the injury blows are too significant for them to overcome - especially at this point in the season.

The Red Wings squeaked into the playoffs for the 25th consecutive season, which is a huge accomplishment. They've certainly got the veteran experience, but the team also has a lot of tread on its tires. I heard rumblings about the Wings playing like a team who was more interested in short-term goals than a long Cup run. It has to be a huge blow to them to know Pavel Datsyuk is leaving after the playoffs - but that's another story. Do they have a goaltender controversy between Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek, too? In any event...

Prediction: Wings in six


I thought this was hilarious! (For those of you not familiar, Artemi Panarin moved to the US from Russia last fall, and he's been trying to learn English)

We now return to your regularly scheduled programming.


Dallas Stars vs Minnesota Wild
There's been a lot of talk about Dallas's dual goaltending approach, as opposed to having a starting goaltender. I don't necessarily think it's a drawback for them, to be honest. What I'm more focused on is the team's lack of playoff depth experience (with the exception of former Blackhawks Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, and Antti Niemi, of course). I thought they would meet their demise with Tyler Seguin on injured reserve for an extended period of time, but they continued to play well. I think they are talented, but they need a little more seasoning to get to the top.

In my opinion, Minnesota has been very Jekyll and Hyde. There are times when they've looked unstoppable, and other times when they've struggled mightily. Changing coaches this season did seem to spark them a little. However, they have by far the lowest point total of any playoff team. They lost their final five games of the regular season. I don't have a lot of confidence in Devan Dubnyk, and I heard Zach Parise might be out the entire playoffs with a back injury. Ouch.

Prediction: Stars in five

Chicago Blackhawks vs St. Louis Blues
The Blackhawks have had major injury problems over the last few weeks. After a stretch of alarmingly mediocre play, the team appears to have righted the ship. Their full line-up, most notably Corey Crawford, is expected to be healthy for the playoffs. The special teams, particularly the penalty kill, have improved drastically since Marcus Kruger's return. In my opinion, their forward depth is unparalleled, and the Kane-Anisimov-Panarin line is unstoppable. I am thrilled to see Andrew Ladd back in a Hawks jersey. Defense is not as deep compared to prior years, but the team did also win the Cup last year basically only playing 4 defensemen. In short, there are many reasons this team has won 3 Cups in the last six years.

I am not a fan of the Blues' style of hockey. They slog around clogging up the neutral zone, throwing all five guys in front of the net, and basically sucking the living soul out of the game. In my opinion, they are a team that tries to win by destroying the opposition's skill rather than creating plays of their own. They also have a goaltender controversy (as it seems they do every year). Some folks say the Blues are better on paper, but I say:

Prediction: Hawks in six
Artemi's got mad hops!
Anaheim Ducks vs Nashville Predators
Anaheim is a scary team, in my opinion. They pushed the Blackhawks as hard in last year's playoffs as any team I've ever seen. Their forward tandem of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaff is powerful, and the team is strong and physical, yet deft offensively. After starting out the year 1-7-2, they've come roaring back in stunning fashion to win the Pacific Division. It's one of the most unreal comebacks I've ever seen during the regular season.

Nashville has some offensive talent, but I think they were burned by the Jimmy Vesey blowout. Hindsight is 20-20, of course, but I think it was risky to forgo trade deadline moves because of him. I will give Nashville credit for having some decent depth on defense. I think goalie Pekke Rinne is overrated, though.

Prediction: Ducks in five

Los Angeles Kings vs San Jose Sharks
The Kings terrify me. They are loaded with offensive and defensive talent, depth, strong goaltending, physicality, and experience. Their players are also mindblowingly resilient. No matter what, you can never, ever count this team out until the final series buzzer. There's a reason the Kings have won two Cups in the last four years. That aside, the Kings played an absolutely brutal stretch of hockey to close out the regular season. They played 16 games in 29 nights and I think it took a visible toll down the stretch.

I am not hugely familiar with the Sharks, but I know they are still going with the same core of Thornton, Pavelski, and Marleau that they've had for years and years and years. They are yet another team with a goaltending controversy. This match-up is made more interesting by the Sharks having had a 3-0 series lead over the Kings two years ago, only to lose to the Kings in 7. Surely revenge is on the Sharks' minds. Even so...

Prediction: Kings in six

Speaking of the Kings, and since we are doing hockey-related Twitter humor today, I saw someone resurrect this from a few years ago. The Kings' social media team is really funny.

Let the playoffs begin!