Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Running away from home

As I look back on my year of running, some of my fondest memories were of running away from home. No, not fleeing the confines of Stately Wasser Manor, but rather enjoying a nice run while traveling for work.

When I'm traveling for work, I am completely away from my normal life. When I get up in the morning, I don't have a cup of coffee with Steve, make Jack his morning strawberry milk, and get him ready for school. Instead, I wake up and pretty much get to work, then do the same all day, then at night until I decide to get to sleep.

I forget that other people are not existing out of time like I am. I'll sit at the desk, impatiently wondering why no one has answered my emails, only to remember that it's only 8:00, most people have not been working for the past hour and a half, and that they are, in fact, trying to get ready for work.

I have learned that when I'm away from home, I always need to bring my running shoes and I always need to go for a run.

Those early morning jaunts have been terrific adventures. I wandered through a neighborhood in Charlotte, lined by honeysuckle bushes, and two little girls waiting for the school bus ran with me for a little while. I found trails around beautiful frozen lakes outside Minneapolis. In San Antonio, I zipped along the cobblestone paths of River Walk and watched the sun rise at the Alamo. I spent another morning with Lake Michigan to one side, the skyline of Chicago looming large in front of me. My favorite travel run was in Seattle, where I ran through memories of the summer I lived there with Steve, the summer we fell in love.

Running while on the road connects me with the city where I'm staying in a way that eating breakfast at the hotel and going to and from whatever project I'm working on does not. More importantly, it keeps me connected to who I am. When I'm away from home, I have to keep running.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Fab Four

Back when Jack was just two years old, we went to a birthday party for a little boy who was turning four. This other little boy was quiet and solemn, a huge contrast to the zany little bundle of energy that was my kid. I watched the other boy calmly unwrap his birthday gifts and eat a modest amount of cake and dreaded the prospect of Jack turning four. My cute, funny, entertaining little guy wouldn’t be so cute anymore.

This year has proven to me that I was wrong. That other kid was just weird. Jack’s fourth year has been fantastic.

Our family went through a lot of changes this year. I lost my job in January, which enabled us to spend a lot of time together, in the Mommy-Jack Academy. We went to dance classes and acted silly, we put on plays with his tigers, baked cookies, and had a great time. When I went back to work, he and I missed our time together, but it felt like things were a bit more back to normal… except that they weren’t, because all of a sudden, I had a job that required me to travel pretty frequently. And at around the same time, Steve also had to do more travel for his job. Jack has adapted really well. We keep a calendar in his room and mark when Mommy or Daddy is coming home. Sometimes he gets a present after one of us has been on a trip, but more often, we go out for a special breakfast to spend more time together.

Jack absolutely loves his preschool, especially the main teacher Miss Toya. Miss Toya has helped Jack improve his writing, so he will surprise me by pulling out a crayon and writing WASSER on a piece of paper. She teaches the kids to say “yes” instead of “yeah,” and it sounds so much nicer that Steve and I have adopted the same habit. The kids in Jack’s class put on a circus this spring at which Jack was an acrobat. She even showed up at one of his soccer games.

Jack has an incredible curiosity about words and language. When we go to the library, he loads up the bag with all kinds of reading material – picture books, non-fiction materials about animals, and now chapter books. His favorites are the Magic Treehouse series, about a boy named Jack who travels through time. Jack will sit and listen to me read for as long as I’m willing. He has also started noticing words everywhere and will ask, “What does ‘O-P-E-N’ spell?”

We have done some fun traveling together as a family this year. In June, we took a weekend trip to Chicago, Jack’s first big city. He was fascinated by the tall buildings, the pigeons, the noise of the El track, and the fact that he was allowed to go in a taxi without his car seat. Our big vacation was to the Wisconsin Dells and the Great Wolf Lodge. Jack had a blast playing in the many swimming pools and going down water slides.

The little guy has had a few dark moments. He got in the most trouble of his entire life when, mad at me, he used his scissors to cut a small hole in the back of one of our living room chairs. And when I tell him to apologize for things – “you don’t have to mean it, you just have to say it” – he steadfastly refuses.

At the same time, he’s sweet and affectionate. He was eager to help his three-year-old cousin play hide and seek with the big kids at Thanksgiving. Jack gives lots of love to Roary and his fleet of “stuffed guys,” telling them, “It’s okay, Sweetie,” if they are sad. And when I started to cry during the movie Up Jack reached over and held my hand.

He also loves to make people laugh. He will tell jokes over and over again, figuring that the knock-knock joke about the interrupting cow will only be funnier the 900th time you hear it. He is even a fan of physical comedy, pretending to walk into walls, then laughing like a loon.

Year Four has been wonderful. Jack does or says something every single day that makes me proud of him. When I look ahead to Jack’s fifth year, I have no fear. My little guy will still be my clever, funny, sunny little guy.

Happy birthday, Jack!

Monday, December 21, 2009

2009 report card

At the end of last year, I posted some running goals for myself. How’d I do?

1. Run at least two half marathons triskos. Set new trisko PR of 2 hours or less (down from 2:05).

Goal OBLITERATED! I ran four half marathons in 2009, three of them in a 29 day period, earning me a spot in the Half Fanatics. Of those four triskos, the first was the best, with a finishing time of 1:56:51. Boo-yah!


2. Run at least one marathon, setting a PR of 4:30 or less (down from 4:38).

Goal FAILED! As awesome as I was at Goal #1, the second was not meant to be. I started a new job in February, which requires frequent travel. I do run while I’m on the road, but when I’m home on weekends, I don’t want to ditch Steve and Jack to go run 20 miles. I’m sure I’ll tackle the marathon again some day, but at this point, I’m not called to it. The half marathon is my favorite distance, not only because it suits my lifestyle, but because I feel like I can more successfully race it, not just survive it.


3. Get a Fuel Belt and a Road ID. That should be easy enough, but they are important things to do nevertheless.

Goal accomplished, and I’m glad I did. The Fuel Belt has given me the freedom to explore a bit more on my long runs, to go further afield of my house and the bottle of Gatorade that was always waiting at the end of my driveway. And that’s been great. And because I have been running while travelling, the Road ID gives me a little bit more peace of mind.


4. Run at least three new races.

Betsy SMASH puny race goal! In 2009, I ran 13 new races: an indoor track meet (one event, three races, so I am counting it as three), the Frostbite Footrace, the St. Patrick’s Day 5K, Steve’s Old Time Tap Chaser 5K, Imagination Library 5K, the Madison Half Marathon, 13.1 Chicago, an outdoor track meet (one race), Run With Carl, the Quad Cities Half Marathon, and the Governor’s Cross Country two-mile. I do have to travel for my new job, but the wellness program sponsors 50% of my entry fees to local races, thus making it very appealing to check out new things.



5. Here's the big one: get more involved in running locally. I love my online running friends, but I also want to make some real life running friends. To that end, I am working to participate more in my local running club. I am also planning on joining the group track workouts on Tuesday nights, and anything else I can think of. I want to go to races and see people I know.

Done and done! I’ve been going to club meetings, joined training groups for the Quad Cities Distance Classic and the Quad Cities Half Marathon, and volunteered for a couple of races while I was injured, just to stay in touch. And it’s worked!

Thanks to a combination of goal 4 and goal 5, I got second place in my age group in my running club’s 2009 circuit. Fellow Runner JP gave me my t-shirt and medal, insisted on getting his picture taken with “my favorite age group, women from 30-39,” then later told me that he was really glad I’d come out and done so much running this year. I really feel like I’m part of something bigger, and it’s great.

I’m mulling over 2010 goals now, but in the meantime, I’m happy with how well 2009 has turned out.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Half Crazy? Half Fanatic!

When I tell people that I ran four half marathons this year, three of them in a 29 day period, they think I’m (at least) half crazy. Thanks to a fellow Betsy over at Eat Drink Run Woman, I’ve learned that I’m not just half crazy… I’m a Half Fanatic!

That’s right, those nutbars over at Marathon Maniacs have a little sister club devoted to my favorite distance, the half marathon! And thanks to my running streak this spring, I qualify as a Neptune-level Fanatic, #249, to be specific.

I encourage my fellow trisko enthusiasts to join up so that we have more brothers and sisters in blue at upcoming races.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Run, Run, Rudolph

It’s definitely cold outside her in the tundra known as the Midwest, but I refuse to let that keep me from getting a run in. Naturally, I’m not going to do anything extreme and foolish like run on a treadmill. Much better to cover myself in layers and layers of clothes, yank some Stabilicers over my shoes, and suck it up.

Last night, I was reminded of another benefit to running out in the cold: Christmas lights!

I meandered all through my neighborhood, running down unfamiliar streets, and enjoying the beauty of houses all lit up for Christmas. I like driving around looking at lights, but this was even nicer than a quick drive-by.

As runners, we see a world that non-runners don’t. This is just one of many examples.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Circuit

One of my 2009 goals was to get more involved in my local running community. So, when I saw in our club newsletter that you could compete in something called the "race circuit," and that it was free, I figured why not?

Here's how the circuit works:


  • Run a 4Km to 4Mi you will earn 10 pts. for participating.

  • Run a 8Km to Half Marathon you will earn 15 pts. for participating.

  • Run a Marathon or greater distance you will earn 20 pts. for participating.

  • Run in a Duathlon you will earn 15pts. for participating.

  • Run a Relay Leg or part of a Duathlon Team you will earn 10 pts for participating

  • Volunteer for any event on the circuit and not run in it you will earn 10 pts.

  • Participate in CBRC Club Races you can earn double points.

  • Tie-Breakers will be determined by the most volunteer points.



I ran a lot of races this year, but not all of them were on our "circuit." I kept track casually of how I was doing, but didn't think about it too much. It turns out, I ran enough races to count - at our club meeting last night, I got second place in the women 30-39 group! And for my efforts, I scored a medal with our club's logo on it, and even better, a t-shirt! A red t-shirt, with all of the races listed on the back - in a technical fabric! I cannot wait to wear it out for a run.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Last race of 2009

I often find myself grateful that I'm a runner. That feeling was especially strong last week, when I ran my last race of 2009.

Especially because that race wasn't an actual sanctioned race, but more accurately, a race through the airport.

I'd just finished a challenging, but hopefully productive trip to New Jersey for work and was eager to get home. The meeting ran over, so I missed my first flight and got booked on a different airline. The flight from Newark to Chicago was delayed... and delayed... and delayed.

Slowly but surely, that 45 minute layover evaporated.

The pilot announced that many flights leaving Chicago were also delayed, so "All bets are off." As soon as we landed, I checked the flight to Moline on my phone and saw that, sure enough, it was delayed, too.

I had a chance.

I got off the plane as quickly as possible, groaned when I saw that I needed to get to a far away concourse, and started running.

I ran through Ohare airport in a long skirt, tall boots, and pearls, with my heavy laptop bag on my back. I ran past legions of amused looking travelers, along moving walkways, and up escalators.

All told, I ran a distance of probably a mile. It was really hard racing in my high heeled boots (feeling a rip in my stockings) with my zillion pound computer, and there was certainly no guarantee I'd make it before they closed the doors. I wanted to stop and walk, to just give up.

But because I'm a runner, I can do more than just physically move myself from Point A to Point B quickly. More importantly, I know how to keep going even when I want to quit. I know how to motivate myself and push through. I thought of Steve and Jack and how if I kept running, then maybe I'd see them that night, but that if I quit, I definitely would not.

You know how this story ends: I made it. I made it because I'm a runner.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Race Report: Hawk Hustle

Saturday marked the third time I've run the Hawk Hustle. Every time it's happened, things haven't gone quite according to plan.

The first year, I hadn't planned to run a race at all that day. I signed up spontaneously and had a great time... but the hills kicked my butt.

The second year, I slacked off on my training and suffered for it. Despite a tough race, I came home with a second place trophy for my age group and promised myself that in year three, I'd be prepared.

That brings us to that third year. Thanks to the injury in my shin, I was lucky to be able to run at all, much less train hard on hills and rock it out like I'd planned to.

Still, I took the line feeling excited. I had a new plan: run a smart, tough race. Four miles would be the longest I'd run since my ill-fated half marathon trisko. Knowing how challenging and hilly the course was, I planned to make judicious use of walk breaks. Short steep hills I'd tackle; long slow slopes would be broken up with walks. My finishing time? Irrelevant. I just wanted to get through the race.

Ready? Go!

The first mile featured a few giant downhills, which I used to build up momentum and zip up some uphills. It was one of the easier miles of the course, so I ran the whole thing in a surprisingly fast 9:05.

Shortly after the first mile marker was one of those gradual uphills. I did a brisk walk in the middle for 9:36. It must have been a short break.

By the third mile, the course was getting tougher and I was getting more tired. A couple of walk breaks slowed me to 10:06.

Mile four is the toughest of the course and was also my slowest at 10:15. With half a mile to go, runners head up a very steep hill, and just when you think it's over, the trail turns and you're confronted with yet more trail. I leapfrogged back and forth with several other runners, all of us trying to find a sustainable pace.

When we were finally (and literally) out of the woods, I told myself that with just a short amount left - and all of it flat - it was time to reel in and pass some runners. My first target was a woman in a black jacket who had been in my bubble for the entire race. I passed her and worked hard to keep up my pace so she'd stay behind me. Then I went after a young woman whose purple shirt had been ahead of me for the entire race. Passed!

I crossed the finish line in 39:02. It was the slowest I've ever run the Hawk Hustle - and the proudest I've been. While I was injured, one of the things I missed most was being able to challenge myself physically. To do something that I knew would be hard, and to tackle it. Finally, I was able to do that again, to dig deep and to push through.

That feeling was a victory for me. As icing on the cake, my efforts were good enough for a second place age group trophy. That trophy will remind me of how good hard work feels.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Ready to Hustle?

Because my hurt leg survived last week's race, I've been thinking about attempting another cross country race: the Hawk Hustle. I've run it twice before, so I know that it's tough.

The first time I ran the race, I wasn't quite ready for how hilly and challenging it would be. I ended up adjusting my goal times on the fly. I also had a great time.

The next year was no easier. I slacked off on training before the race and wound up struggling through it. However, it was a small race on a day with lousy weather, so I ended up with a second place age group trophy!

This year will probably be my toughest experience and slowest time. Since I messed up my leg, the longest distance I've run was two miles, and that was with walk breaks. Could I really do a four mile race that's tough when I'm not coming off an injury? Should I just sign up as a walker and figure I'd place in the top ten and get a trophy?

I decided to do more research and actually run the course. Yesterday, I lined up pretty much where the starting line was and traced the course as best I could. I got it mostly right- there were some hills and paths that I remembered, but I ended up short on distance, so I obviously cut things too much.

I ran at a relaxed pace and took walk breaks, but it was still tough. The hills taxed me, both up and down. I figured if I did decide to run the race, it would be slow going; walking would be relatively easy.

At the same time, I couldn't imagine myself not running it. It has been really taxing to not be able to run. Going out and tackling something difficult would feel great - no matter what my finishing time is.

I started forming a strategy, looking for long flat stretches to run, downhills that would allow me to coast the uphills, and steep hills to use as walk breaks.

Before I knew it, I was signing up for the race and clicking "Runner."

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Greatest of All Time

Runners' World's December issue features "The Best of Running." It's a fun list, and I'm in agreement with almost everything listed there. Badwater as the hardest race? You bet - the more I read about that race, the less I ever want to experience it. Bananas as the ideal runner's food? Sure - portable, tasty, cheap, full of potassium. Pre as the coolest runner of all time? Shoot, that hardly even seems like an opinion; nobody's cooler than Pre.

But then, on page 70, they claim that Haile Gebrselassie is the greatest male distance runner of all time. Runners up (no pun intended)include Kenenisa Bekele, Frank Shorter, Roger Banister (debatable whether a miler counts as a distance runner, but no matter), and Jim Ryun.

Crazy talk!

Okay, yes, Haile is a great runner, with a pile of wins to his name. But he is not the greatest male distance runner of all time. That honor clearly belongs to Emil Zatopek.

In the 1952 Olympics, Zatopek won THREE gold medals: in the 5K, 10K, and his first ever marathon, which he entered at the spur of the moment. That is hard-core awesome. Even more awesome, he was generous with his fellow runners, offering training advice to men attempting to break a four-minute mile.

Emil Zatopek is the greatest male distance runner of all time.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Race Report: Governor's Cross Country Race

After a few successful sessions of running in quicksand, I decided to brave a race. And not just any race: the Governor's Cross Country Race. I ran this race for the first time last year, and it was probably the most fun race I did all year.

Sure, running through extreme, hilly, muddy trails and diving through creeks isn't exactly an easy way to come back from an injury. But, the race had a two mile option, the ground would be softer than a hard road, and it's not a race anyone tries to run fast. I figured it would be a great way to go out and have some fun.

My fellow two-milers watched the four milers take off, then the race director (my running coach from the training program, Russ) lined us up in the opposite direction. He told us to keep the blue flags to the right and said there'd be a pink ribbon marking the first mile. Throughout the course, we'd find shortcuts marked with yellow flags. Russ told us that they would be shorter, but not necessarily faster. And like last year, there were ribbons hidden throughout the race course that could be redeemed for prizes afterwards. With those instructions, we were off!

After just shy of a quarter mile on the dirt next to the road, the course took us into the woods. We followed a narrow trail that darted in between trees and scraped past bushes. Every single runner stopped to walk up a steep hill, then started running again at the top.

It felt glorious to be out there. The weather was perfect - in the 60s and sunny. The park was beautiful, and the experience of running through the woods felt natural, primal. We reached a clearing, and a volunteer stationed there told us all, "There's a big fallen tree here. You decide: over it or under it?"

I stood and looked at the tree for a moment, considering my options. The space under it was small. I'd have to get on my hands and knees and crawl under it. Climbing over it didn't seem like a good option, either. It was pretty tall, and it wouldn't be easy to get started. I also thought I'd probably scratch up my legs if I tried it. Under it was, and it worked fine. A few minutes later, I snagged a blue ribbon hidden in a grove of trees. I saw another ribbon nearby and called out to my fellow runners, in case anybody was still looking for one.

There were several creeks along the course race that we had to cross. I stepped into the first one and was surprised to see that the water was over my knees. At the next one, I followed the yellow flags and found a volunteer holding a rope that I could use to swing across. Tellingly, a man with a video camera was stationed at the other end. I grabbed the rope and swung... right into the deep water. I laughed and crawled out of the creek.

At the next creek, there was another rope swing. This time, I was ready for it. I knew that I needed to grab onto the rope as high as I could to avoid landing in the creek again. I held on as high up as I could and... SPLASH! Right into the water!

By this point, I was, naturally, soaking wet. Last year, I didn't know what I was getting into and looked a bit silly in really nice new running clothes. This time, I wore a sweatshirt that already had mud stains on it from running Living History Farms in it. Twice. I wore my good shoes because I didn't want to mess around with an injury, but I wore a pair of gloves that already had mud stains on them. I remembered from last year that knee socks were a good idea, but did not remember that a skirt was a bad idea. Just like last year, my skirt ended up sopping wet and clinging to my legs. Maybe the third year will be the time I get it right.

I ran along at a relaxed pace when a dad, decked out in an Afro wig, and his son (who was probably about eight) ran towards me. "Come on," said the dad. "We don't want to get beat by Pigtails here." I laughed, and he added, "And she probably doesn't want to lose to a guy in an Afro." I told him that was true, but that I didn't mind losing to a kid because kids are fast.

I took a walk break so that I could be sure my leg wasn't taxed too much. Two more women passed me... then I realized that the finish line was near. I picked it up, passed both of them, and closed the gap a bit with Afro.

I happily crossed the line in 24:40, then went into the lodge to reap the rewards of this great race. First, I grabbed a beer. Then, I turned in my blue ribbon. Prize choices included a water bottle (just like I got last year), coffee cups, and Snickers bars taped to lottery tickets. I snagged a coffee cup with the logo from the 2004 Pumpkin Dash on one side and my running club logo on the other. Finally, I hung out by the blazing fire and warmed up.

It feels wonderful to be out there again. It will take a while before I'm back at real racing speed, but I don't care. I'm just happy to be running.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Running through quicksand

After Sunday's poor attempt at running, I made another go at the walk five minutes, run five minutes for a total of 20 plan. I was rested and ready to go.

I still felt like I was running through quicksand. The good thing is, I learned from this article by Pete Pfitzinger that, "During the first few runs you will just be getting your body used to the running motion again. You may feel as though you have never run before. Rest assured, this feeling will go away after a few runs."

When my legs felt weird, I ran a little slower. I looked like this:


But because I was able to run at all, and because I finished without pain, I felt like this:

Pants on fire


It would appear that our friend Mr. Jackson Wasser (pictured with superhero friends), is enjoying a lying phase. I consulted renowned child psychologist Dr. Google, and he says that such a phase is common among preschoolers and can take two forms: tall tales and attempts to get out of trouble. Jack, gifted child that he is, employs both techniques.

Steve and Jack went to a Halloween party on Saturday while I was volunteering. Jack told me that he was very nice at the parade and shared his candy with other kids, including "some kids who had broken legs and could not get their own candy." I told him that was very nice and that I was proud of him. I was less proud when Steve told me that Jack did share his candy with other kids, but that there were no kids with broken legs.

Yeah.

Then, Steve discovered some marks in black pen on the back of the bathroom door. Turns out that Jack is some kind of graffiti prodigy. I confronted Jack with the evidence and he swore that he didn't do it. He was so adamant and so stubborn in not admitting any kind of wrongdoing that I think he could have passed a polygraph test. Dr. Google says this is common - kids Jack's age work so hard to lie to get themselves out of trouble that they believe it themselves.

Dr. Google further says that preschool aged kids are not quite ready developmentally to understand that lying is wrong. I shouldn't let it go, but I shouldn't make a big deal out of it either. Good thing, because I have some kids with broken legs to give candy to.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Race Report: Pumpkin Dash

Once again, we have a race report in which I am not actually racing. Hopefully this will not be too common of an occurance.

On Saturday afternoon, I volunteered to help with packet pick-up for the Pumpkin Dash. If you're a runner and have never volunteered for a race, then you should. It's definitely good running karma, and it's really a lot of fun. I basically hung out for a couple hours at my running club's offices, gave people bibs and t-shirts, took some money, and talked about running with friends. What's not to like? Plus I got one of the race t-shirts for my troubles, and it's really cool: a long-sleeved technical shirt with cool pumpkins and scarecrows on it! I have to admit, the fact that I'd be scoring a long-sleeved technical shirt was about 20% of why I wanted to volunteer! After my shift ended, I went next door to the running store and got a pair of inserts for my shoes, as recommended by my orthopedist. They are lovely and cushy.

Sunday morning, Steve decided at the last minute to run the 4K race (there was also an 8K), so the boys and I got dressed and headed out. The race was held at Credit Island Park, and I was immediately bombarded with sense memories of cross country races that I ran there in high school. There was a picnic shelter that I specifically remember standing by while my teammates and I cheered on the boys' team. It's a really pretty place on the Mississippi River, and it was a perfect fall day - great for running!

Steve headed to the starting line, and Jack and I walked about 3/4 of a mile away so we could find a spot to cheer for the runners that was away from everybody else. Steve almost missed us - he had his iPod on and wasn't expecting his cheerleaders to be in a spot so early in the race.

After we cheered for all of the runners, then all of the walkers, we moved to a spot near the finish line. We got to see the 8K leaders cruising past the 4K finish line, then started clapping for the 4K finishers. When Steve approached, I held up Jack and the two of us started yelling for him. Steve gestured for Jack to join him, and they crossed the pumpkin-lined finish together. Steve did very well, beating his goal of 10 minute miles.

Half an hour later, it was time for Jack to run the kids' race. Costumes were encouraged, and really, it doesn't take much to encourage Jack to wear a costume. In fact, he has so many that it's nice to have the opportunity to rock out more costumes than just the one worn trick-or-treating. For the race, he selected his Venom costume. People got a kick out of it because it has built-in muscles and Jack looked totally ripped.

Steve and I walked Jack to the starting line and showed him the cone that was the turnaround point. After some good luck hugs, we went to the sidelines to watch him. As always, I absolutely love watching Jack run. He has a look of pure joy as he races along, one that I always try to bring to mind when I'm struggling with a tough run myself. Jack ran great, smiling all the way, then happily collecting his finisher's medal, adorned with pumpkins.

That night, I decided it was time to attempt some running of my own. I set my Garmin (praise be thy name) to beep at me every five minutes. The plan was to walk five, then slowly run five - and to stay on the grass as much as possible - for 20 minutes.

How'd it go? Results inconclusive. The biggest thing is that running didn't feel quite natural. It was like I had a weight on my left leg and my stride never felt quite right. In retrospect, it wasn't the best day to try running again. I was on my feet all day in ballet flats, so my feet were tired before I started. I'm going to try the five-five 20 minute test again tonight, after a relaxing day of sitting at my desk. Right now, I'm not optimistic, but I want to try so I can really see what I'm up against. Wish me luck!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Walk this way

Good news, Internet!

Today, I walked a mile with no pain in my shin.

Tomorrow, I'm going to try two miles.

And if that works, I'm going to try some slow, easy walk-running.

I am so happy.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bad luck duathalon

I cannot wait for the fling I am having with biking to end so that I can get back to my true love, running.

I planned an hour-long bike ride this morning and did my best to enjoy it. I tried not to think about how I'd really prefer to have my feet on the ground and just use my own body to move forward. I cruised through pretty neighborhoods and enjoyed the fall leaves.

Then, a mile and a half away from home, something screwy happened with the bike. The pedals locked up, there was something wrong with the chain, and basically, the damned thing didn't work anymore.

Crap in a hat.

And while they say that you never forget how to ride a bike, I can promise you that you do, in fact, forget how to fix the chain on your bike when it goes kablooey.

I had no choice but to start walking home, towing my useless bike along with me. All the way, I thought about how if I were running, this would not have happened.

Running is simple, beautiful, and free. There is no equipment that can suddenly fail in the middle of a run that keeps you from finishing. You either keep running, or you walk home... and if you walk home, you don't have to lug a stupid bike with you.

The good news is, a mile and a half long walk did not hurt my leg. I may be able to switch from biking to walking, which would be great.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Like riding a bike

I decided recently to take a break from moping around feeling sorry for myself that I can't run by doing some other form of exercise. Normally it's the kind of thing we call "cross training," but apparently there are other people who just straight-up ride bikes for reasons not at all related to running. I know! It's a crazy world out there.

I went to the gym (which again, I have heard people do for reasons not at all related to running) and logged 45 minutes on the stationery bike. The gym I go to is at one of the local colleges, so while I pedaled away, I was able to watch dancers rehearse for the upcoming halftime show. Wasn't it considerate of them to put on a show for me?

The biking was... okay. I was indoors instead of outside feeling the wind in my face, and I didn't actually go anywhere, so that's a drawback. I was far from experiencing the freedom that comes with running. But you know, it was better than nothing. It felt good to sweat, work hard, and get my heart rate up. I will keep plugging away at it until the glorious day that I can lace up my shoes and RUN.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Race Report: Nancy Kapheim Memorial Classic

Here's a first for me: a race report with no actual racing involved, at least not on my part.

Friends, my leg is still in bad shape. It still hurts when I walk, stairs are still tricky, and going from sitting on the floor to a standing position is more challenging now than it was when I was pregnant. The situation really blows. Not only am I without the outlet of running, but let's not forget: my leg hurts. It's not especially bad, and I'm not taking anything for it, but it's a constant reminder of something I'd rather not think about.

That's a long way of explaining that no way was I going to be able to run the Nancy Kapheim Memorial Classic, a 5 and 10K race put on by my running club on Sunday. Instead, I asked the race director if I could volunteer.

Race Day preparations were not especially different for me. I still woke up early, drank coffee, and hada light breakfast. I still gave some thought to what I'd wear. It was very cold outside, probably in the 40s, so I put on a comfy pair of track pants, knee socks (cotton, argyle, cute and totally inappropriate for running), a long-sleeved t-shirt (cotton, totally inappropriate for running), a sweatshirt that I planned to exchange for the race shirt when I arrived (again, inappropriate), a striped hat, and at the last minute, a pair of thin gloves.

The race was held at a pretty park along the Mississippi River and had a bike path that I should check out some time soon. The race director told me that I'd been assigned to work the finish line, removing chips from the runners' shoes. Cool! I helped set up the timing mat at the starting line, then busied myself with chatting with my running friends. For the first time ever, I stood off to the side while my fellow runners lined up to start and watched them take off.

When the runners were away, it was strangely quiet in our part of the park. What had been a hive of activity was just a handful of people. After a few minutes, we rolled up the starting map. Then I killed some time by drinking a cup of hot cider. We chatted about when the first 5K finishers would cross the line; everybody figured that based on the field, it would be around 17 minutes. With just shy of 15 minutes on the clock, I took my position on a folding chair in the finishing chute, along with two other volunteers.

Sure enough, shortly after the 17 minute mark, the first finisher crossed the line, well ahead of the runner in second place. From then on, we were steadily busy. Chip removal was a great job to have. I got to watch every single runner cross the finish line, chat with the other volunteers, admire really cute running outfits (which would probably only happen when all three volunteers were women), and cheer for everybody, especially my friends.

The only drawback is that it got really cold. I could have used an extra pair of socks, as my toes were getting numb. One of my running friends brought me a cup of hot coffee and thus proved himself to be a special kind of running angel, a running angel who doesn't help fellow runners, but instead, icy volunteers.

The 10K finishers started to slow up, and after a while, we heard that there were only two women left on the course. I moved my chair closer up to the finishing line, and the other two volunteers departed. It was the first time I'd ever been there to see someone finish last in a race, and I'm happy to say that the women with that distinction crossed the finish line with an exhilarated smile on her face. I sat around for a few minutes, rather than yelling, "Okay, last place just cross the line. Let's pack this up!" That smiling runner had just finished a 10K, maybe her first. I wanted her to enjoy her moment no matter how many runners finished ahead of her.

After the race was over, I dove into a huge catered breakfast that was free for all of the volunteers and runners. There were eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, cinnamon rolls, and muffins. The food was delicious, and everyone had fun hanging around eating, despite the cold.

Just like I do when I finish a race, I am already making plans for my next. I am afraid that, in two weeks, I am still not going to be up to running, not even a slow 4K. But I can get out there and help my fellow runners by volunteering. I know that, in time, I'll be back there toeing the line with the others. Until that day comes, I want to bank some karma by giving back.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Mrs. Brightside

But it's just the price I pay
Destiny is calling me
Open up my eager eyes
'Cause I'm Mr Brightside


I'm not seeing the bright side to my injury today. I don't want to think about how it could be worse. To be honest, I'm pretty down.

Sunday will mark two weeks I've gone without running. The pain in my leg is better than it was, but it's not gone. Still there, after almost two weeks of resting.

I am used to being strong and capable. Now I have to walk down the stairs slowly and carefully. I ran a few steps yesterday to catch up with Steve and Jack in the parking lot, and it was very painful. I have a bin of summer clothes that needs to go to the basement. I am afraid that if I try to carry them down myself I will hurt myself, so I am going to have to ask Steve to do it for me. He will, of course, without complaint. But I don't want to have to ask help for something I should be able to do myself without thinking.

I experimented with wearing high heels again, even just low ones. When I'm not in running shoes, I am in heels, but apparently not now. That experiment made me come to the conclusion that it was time to buy some more flats. Flats are cute, and I don't want to look cute. I want to look authoritative and sexy. Ballet flats aren't going to cut it.

My running club has a race in a few weeks, the Pumpkin Dash. There's an 8K, a 4K, and a 1/4 mile costumed kids' race. I've signed Jack up for the kids' race. Today, I was emailing Steve about the possibility of our running the 4K together. It'll be a full month after the half marathon, so that seemed like a good amount of recovery time before easing back into running. He'd help me keep my pace slow and easy, and it would be fun to run it with him. Then I decided not to register now, to play it by ear and see if I am up to it.

The fact that I am wondering whether or not I will be capable of running a slow race of around 2-1/2 miles is really depressing.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The injured runner

An injured runner is a sad creature. We want, more than anything, to be out running. When you're injured, every glance out your car window reveals a veritable army of fellow runners, racing happily down the sidewalks. Every weather forecast might as well say "Perfect running weather! Sucks to be you!" And your running shoes, naturally, taunt you.

Running is a favorite activity, a way to rationalize eating a cookie, an opportunity to spend time with friends, a chance to be alone on a Sunday morning, and the best stress relief there is. Without running, what to do?

I am trying to be the best injured runner I can possibly be.

If running was the first thing to go for me, the running diet was the second. I am not burning the calories I was just a few weeks ago, so I am being much more mindful of what I eat. In addition to keeping the cookie quantities in check, I'm also working to strengthen and heal those bones that are giving me a hard time by eating more calcium rich foods. My new snacks of choice are yogurt and cottage cheese.

Like most (slightly obsessive) runners, part of me fears that if I miss a workout, my legs will atrophy and I'll be the slowest slug out there. So yesterday, I literally dusted off my bike and helmet and went for a ride. It felt good to get my heart pumping again, and the exercise didn't bother my leg at all. Of course I would rather be running, but it's better than nothing.

Finally, I don't want to shut myself off from the running community. I'll be posting updates from Injury Land, and of course I'll still read my favorite blogs. And there's a race on Sunday that I had been planning on running. Since that's not in the cards, I'm going to volunteer. The time to give back is long overdue, and if I can't run myself, at least I can support those who can.

It could be worse

It could be worse. When I googled "injured runner," here's one of the pictures I got:



I am continuing to rest up my leg and stay positive. The race director took me up on my offer to volunteer on Sunday morning. I am going to be "course control," which I believe consists of standing on the course, telling everybody which way to go, and making sure nobody cheats. It may also involve wearing an orange reflective vest. The really great thing is that I get one of the race sweatshirts (totally okay to wear a shirt for a race you didn't participate in IF you volunteered instead) and can join the post-race breakfast.

My biggest inspiration during this time is a guy in my running club, John. John started out the marathon/trisko training program with me, but had to quit his training because of a really bad injury that had him in a cast.

John quit training, but he did not quit coming to training runs. The guy showed up at the crack of dawn every Sunday morning. While we all ran, he rode his bike, made sure everybody was safe, and gave us words of encouragement.

It had to have been hard on John to see everybody else running when he couldn't, but he had a smile on his face every single time I saw him. Near as I can tell, he is one of the planet's all-time greatest humans.

So, if John can come out with a cast on his leg, smile, and be supportive, I can most certainly suck it up for a while.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The doctor says...

The injury that started screaming at me after Sunday's half marathon trisko continued screaming on Monday. It screamed so loud that, without delay, I picked up the phone and made an appointment to see my doctor.

I was pretty sure how that appointment would go: he'd take a good look at my leg, ask me some questions, determine he could not tell what the problem was, and refer me to an orthopedist. It's a little dance the two of us have done before, and sure enough, that's exactly what happened this time. The only things that were different were that he gave me a prescription for some pain meds... and that his nurse misunderstood me when I said I ran a half marathon. Apparently she took that to mean that I ran half of a marathon; that is, that I tried to run a marathon, hurt my leg, and only ran half of it.

If that's not a strong argument for re-naming that race, I don't know what is.

So, I spent Monday through today hobbling along. The leg has gotten a bit better every day, but I still look pretty pitiful. I was really eager to see the orthopedist today and find out what was what.

They started out by doing an x-ray of my leg. Then, I met with the doctor and she asked me some good questions about my injury, how long it had been bothering me, how severe the pain was, and how many miles I run at any given time.

She showed me my x-ray and said that she is 95% sure that it is not a stress fracture. Without a bone scan, she can't tell for sure, but evidence is that it is instead a stress reaction.

I know: stress reaction sounds totally made up. But I got a second opinion from Dr. Google. He explains that it is a trauma to the bone that doesn't actually fracture it. Silly name, bona-fide injury common in the tibia in distance runners.

So, here's the plan: no running for a while, though biking and swimming and the like are fine. Gradual return to running. I invest in a pair of orthotics. And I am also investigating the possibility of some physical therapy to build strength.

It's sad to be injured, but I know it could be a lot worse. And come next spring, I'll be back and ready to race more half marathons.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Race Report: Quad Cities Half Marathon

So, during the course of my training for the Quad Cities Marathon's half marathon trisko, there was a little something I neglected to mention: a nagging pain in my left shin.

Why did this never come up? Well, for one thing, it wasn't that bad. It would be sore for a while after a run, but not too bad and it never slowed me down. But the little bugger persisted. For months. And if I actually said out loud that I had an injury that wasn't healing, then people might suggest something sensible, like that I not go out and race for 13.1 miles. And that was a conversation I was not interested in having.

Still, between that little nagging injury and the fact that my training has not been as focused this season (and that is another post altogether), I knew that this race would not be my best work. That's okay, though - they can't all be PRs, and I was very excited to run on a beautiful course, support my fellow club members, and have a good time.

I met my running club at the hideous hour of 6:30. We all wore our neon yellow training t-shirts and posed for a very bright group photo. Everyone was excited, especially the firs time marathoners. I was so glad that I decided to train with the group instead of on my own. The sense of camaraderie was great. The weather was a bit chilly, probably in the 50s, so I waited until the absolute last second to, as they say in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, pop off the shirt.

I think that the fact that I ran the 26.2 version of this race last year made me really appreciate the trisko course. It had all of the good - running over bridges across the Mississippi, stunning views of the river, friendly spectators, and a conveniently timed hot air balloon festival - and none of the tedium of spending far too long of a stretch running on Arsenal Island.

A half marathon, while more than half as easy as a full marathon, is still not easy. As I hit miles 10 and 11, I was feeling tired. I kept on pushing forward, though, knowing how close I was. I was definitely not on track for a PR (thanks in part to a bathroom break I took at mile 2, figuring that would help me enjoy the race more, especially without any records in the offing), but I still wanted to finish respectfully.

At mile 12, huge spasms shot up and down my left leg. They hurt so much that I actually said, "Ow!" out loud. But no matter, I kept on running listened to Steve, Jack, and my mom cheer me in, and happily crossed the finish line with a totally decent time of 2:05:32.

As soon as I did, that nagging injury, which was pretty quiet through the entire race, started screaming at me. I stayed on my feet and limped through the after party, figuring that would be better for me than sitting down. I enjoyed my first post-race massage, which was heavenly.

The bad news, Internet, is that my shin is in very bad shape. Standing or walking on it is incredibly painful, and walking up and down the stairs is an exercise in toughness. When I got to the post-race party my club had, I groaned when I saw I'd have to go up stairs to join everybody. Russ, my coach, immediately saw me limping and wanted to know what happened. He was glad to hear my plans to see my doctor and rest, though still concerned about me. The party was great. Everyone was in a celebratory mood. And Paul, the president of our club, had spent the entire day completing a slide show, set to music, that documented our training. It was amazing to see how long we'd all be running together and how hard we had all worked. It ended with shots of each and every one of us crossing the finish line.

I limped my way through work and limped my way to the doctor's office today. My doctor thinks that I have some kind of soft tissue damage and doesn't think that the bone is injured. I am going to an orthopedist on Thursday who will have a better assesment of what's wrong, and I will go on from there.

One of my co-workers saw me dragging my semi-useless leg around today and asked if I hurt myself, "In a one-legged ass-kicking contest." I like to think that's exactly what happened. I ran a great race despite what seems to be a bad injury, and I kicked ass.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Last one!

Sunday marked my last long run before next week's half marathon trisko. The entire group - both those training for the marathon and for the trisko - ran eight miles. Russ, our coach, told us to run them easy, have fun, and try to run with somebody new.

That sounded like a good idea, so I kept my iPod in my pocket and found a couple of runners to hang out with for eight miles. I'm glad I did. Both women were training for their first marathon, and it was fun to hear what they were thinking about and how excited they were about their first race.

After the run, we had a potluck picnic. I read somewhere that runners have no guilt at the buffet table, and our training group definitely proved that. One guy loaded up his plate with both fried chicken and doughnuts. John, another of our coaches, had a cinnamon roll in one hand, and a beer in the other - a fine Sunday morning breakfast. My own breakfast included a ham sandwich, tuna noodle casserole (surprisingly delicious after an 8 mile run and before 9:00 in the morning), lots of fruit, and cake.

So now, with that last run behind me, I am feeling excited. I have my race day outfit ready to go (featuring a new pair of Wright Socks), have looked at the course map, and am excited to do some shopping at the expo. Let's get this party started.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Doping

My half marathon trisko is a little over a week away. Since I'm husband-free this week and can't go out for a running, I'm grabbing inspiration elsewhere.

To kick things off, I am re-reading Once a Runner. Sure, the main character's race is 12.1 miles shorter than mine, but any runner can read this book and relate to what he's going through. It makes me want to throw on my running shoes, get out there, and WORK.

Then, I just finished watching my DVD of Spirit of the Marathon. I seriously think I should watch this movie before every single race that I run. I love that it shows the hard work and determination of the runners not just on race day, but during their training. It also makes me proud to see that the elite runners have many of the same challenges that the ordinary runners do.

Between Spirit of the Marathon and Once a Runner, I am so completely pumped to get out there and race that it may count as doping.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

6.2 miles of friends

This week's Take It and Run Thursday asks a fun question.

You get to run the last six miles of your next marathon with 6 different people. They can be dead or alive; famous or not famous. Who are these people and why did you pick them? Furthermore, why did you pick them for the specific mile you did? Remember, you get an extra .2 miles with runner #6.


Fun, right?

Mile 21: Ryan Reynolds. I think we are all aware of the simple fact that any good looking guy becomes exponentially better looking when you find out he's a runner. Ryan Reynolds is funny, seems to put a reasonabl eamount of effort into his core fitness, and has run a marathon before. Ryan and I would hang out in mile 21, and I'd be sympathetic to the fact that he doesn't get to run with his wife, Scarlett Johansson. That's got to be a bummer for him, and hopefully Scarlett wouldn't be too jealous of the time we were spending together. Poor girl probably has trouble running because of her enormous rack, a problem I do not share. I'd bid Ryan farewell, then it'd be time for

Mile 22: I would spend this mile hanging out with Non-Runner Nancy. In case you live under a rock, NRN recently faced an injury and surgery that she's recovering from nicely... but learned that running and her body don't mix. Well, through the magic of Take It and Run Thursday, Nancy can, in fact, run again. She would hand me her red lipstick, and the two o fus would laugh through that 22nd mile. Nancy would help me remember that, even in the hardest parts of any race, I should be grateful about the fact that I can run at all.

Mile 23: I'd spend the 23rd mile of the race with two of my favorite people in the world - my brother Andy and my sister Jenny. The three of us would spend so much time laughing and telling stories about each other that the miel would be over before I knew it... something that would definitely be appreciated so far into a marathon.

Mile 24: Mile 24 would mean time for a different kind of inspiration. Sharing this mile with me would be a group of women who would have to slow down one whole hell of a lot to hang out with me: Paula Radcliffe, Kara Goucher, Deena Kastor, Catherine "The Great" Ndereba, Joan Benoit-Samuelson, and Katherine Switzer. Their strength would carry me through that mile.

Mile 25: I would love to spend the 25th mile with the man who really turned me into a runner: my high school cross country coach, Jeff Quick. Coach Quick taught me a lot about running - how to do speedwork, how to run hills, the same stretching routines that I use today. He also taught me toughness, tenacity, and to trust my own instincts. I'd love to run with Quick to show him how those lessons have stuck with me.

Mile 26-26.2: The final 1.2 miles could only be spent with my guys, Steve and Jack. The fact of the matter is, I couldn't run at all if it weren't for the love and support that the two of them show me. Neither of them ever complains when I leave the house to go running. Steve always makes sure I get enough to eat after a long run, Jack always talks about how he wants to be a runner "like Mommy," and the two of them do a million other things every single day that help me get on my shoes and be my best. Steve and Jack would run that last 1.2 with me because the two of them are with me every step of the way. Every mile I run, not just in a marathon, but every inch of my training, I run with the two of them in my heart.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Taper Dreams

Let's get this out of the way: it's been almost a month since my last post. In that time, I've been busying myself with a family vacation, a trip to the circus with Jack, beating Steve at Rummikub, working like a maniac, and... the occasional run.

My half marathon trisko is just a few weeks away. I've completed some really solid long runs, so I'm confident that I'll be able to finish the race in a respectable time. I'm also confident that this will not be my finest work ever.

I was chatting with Tom from Runners' Lounge recently. He said that to have a really successful race, everything has to come together: running, work, family - everything. It's a beautiful thing when it happens, but it's also rare. For me, for this race, the stars have not aligned. I think the biggest problem is that my shorter runs have lacked the intensity I've put into my long runs, so my speed work has not been very strong.

Why is this? Well, I've thought about it so much that it's a post in and of itself, so I'll shelf that one for later. Now I am truly excelling at tapering. In fact, I am over-achieving by not running at all. Steve is out of town this week, so I've been spending lots of time hanging out with Jack. I'll grab a 5 miler on Saturday, then run 8 with my training group on Sunday. Then, just a few easy runs before the race, and that's it.

Maybe it's been this lack of running that caused me to have a really crazy nightmare last night.

It was the day of the race, and I decided it would be a good idea to go to the dentist, "just really quick, before the race." Yes, in my dream, the dentist's office was open at 6:00 in the morning on a Sunday. Just go with it. The dentist had just finished telling me that I was going to need to get braces again (braces are a recurring theme in Betsy anxiety dreams)when I realized I had completely forgotten my running clothes at home.

I had to call my mom and ask her to go to my house to get them for me. I tried my best to walk her through the exact details of what I needed, because if you're running 13.1 miles, any old thing will not do. She kept getting distracted and couldn't find what I needed. My mom was ignoring my requests for the Wright Socks SLX or at least the DLX in favor of talking about how cute and little Jack's socks are when, mercifully, the alarm went off.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Runner II: Electric Boogaloo

I set off for a 3 mile neighborhood run today to shake off the cobwebs of a day of hanging out with a sick little boy (croup + strep = no fun) and to test out my latest pair of WrightSocks, this time the Runner II.

I was overcome with a strong feeling of "Meh" about the whole thing. Lately, I've been pretty solidly rocking out my long runs, or at least getting through them in heroic efforts. But I am having trouble mustering up much enthusiasm for my shorter runs during the week. It is really not a good thing, you guys, because I can't run a great half marathon just based on great long runs.

Today, I attempted to make my neighborhood 3 miler a little more exciting by Running Like Jack. Running like Jack means occasionally tearing off at full tilt. And it means that if I see a puddle, I am going to blaze through it and splash as much as possible.

Running Like Jack made that 3 mile run more memorable and helped me muster up more enthusiasm for something that has gotten mundane. I am also happy to report that the Runner II held up like a champ. Even soaking wet, I had no blisters, chafing, or discomfort.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Not exactly what I had in mind

I planned very carefully for today's 12 mile long run. And my run did not go remotely as planned.

The people in my training group who are preparing for the full marathon were doing their first 20 miler of the season, whereas we trisko runners were doing a mere 12. We got an email from one of the coaches advising us that it was going to be a hot today, so we should plan on hydrating carefully. Plus, to avoid some of the heat, we'd start at 6:15 rather than 7:00.

However, this weekend, Steve was away at a fraternity reunion in a cabin in remote Kentucky. How was I going to get away for a run? I obviously can't leave him alone, and it seemed like a lot to ask of my mom to come to Stately Wasser Manor at the crack of dawn. Then, I got a brainstorm - Jack and I would spend the night at my mom's house. I'd get up, go running, then the Cub and I would have breakfast with my mom and Doug. A huge bonus in this plan is that my mom can make the hell out of some blueberry pancakes.

I didn't sleep well, due to a combination of an unfamiliar bed, pillows other than my own, and sharing a bed with Jack. And then... my alarm didn't go off. I woke up an hour later than I should have.

A huge part of me wanted to just stay in bed and decide it wasn't meant to be. But I thought about how supportive my family was being, and that was enough to get me up and in my running shoes (and Wright Socks DLXes). I wasn't sure how to do a 12 miler from outside my usual base of operations, so I decided to break it into two 6 mile runs, stopping at the house in between for water breaks.

The weather was brutally hot and humid. In no time, I was completely soaked. And it was one of those days when nothing on my iPod was quite working for me. I kept hopping back and forth between podcasts and music. My heart definitely wasn't in it, and the miles, to put it mildly, did not fly by.

I've often heard that, in a marathon, you run the first 10 miles with your head, the next 10 with your legs, and the last 6.2 with your heart. I ran this entire 12 miler with my guts, just toughing it out because I knew that even if I didn't want to, I could do it.

When the run was over, I'd like to say that I felt triumphant, but I really just felt tired. Too tired, tragically, to even eat the blueberry pancakes.

The run was not exactly what I had in mind. But you know what was 100% awesome? The WrightSocks DLX. They were cushy and comfy, with that bit of snuggness at the arch that I like. Despite my profuse amounts of sweat (sexy), I had no problems at all with sweaty feet. Better still, I didn't have a single blister.

Friday, August 14, 2009

My Socksual Experience

Friends, the Wright Socks Challenge is on!

Sock #1: The Cool Mesh. I wore this little friends on a 3 mile run on a business trip in San Antonio. I don't know if you all were aware of this, but it is really catlicking hot in Texas in August. Anyway, I thought that thin socks would be the way to go. They were comfortable and not hot, but I wasn't wowed. They were innocuous, though I've got to say, I think I like thicker socks better. So, it was on to...





Sock #2: The SLR. I wore this on a morning run to the Alamo. These were even more comfortable. They were a little thicker and even more comfortable. They're the kind of socks that hug you around your arches, which is delightful. They were a little thicker than the Cool Mesh, and I liked them better. But do I like them four times as much as the Target ones? I don't know... maybe not.



And then, there was Sock #3. This was the SLX. First of all, do they not look fast? They also hugged the arches of my feet and were the cushiest pair yet. I wore them on a 10 mile long run in brutally hot weather. Like the other two pair, they were quite comfortable and didn't annoy me in any way. But the very best news of all was that even on a long run on a sweaty day, I had no blister whatsoever. Ladies and gentlemen of the internet, we have a WINNER! I will definitely get those again.

More details of my socks life will follow.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

My Socks Life

My socks life has been pretty boring for quite a while.

For most of the time that I've been a runner, my socks have been totally vanilla. From 1984-2007, you could describe them in three words: cheap white cotton. When I decided to train for a marathon, I upgraded to cheap white non-cotton, fearing blisters.

Is it time for a socks change?

The fine folks at Wright Sock and Runners' Lounge think it might be. I have been chosen to participate in the Wright Socks challenge. I scored six pair of Wright Socks to test and review here on my blog. You might be wondering if that means that you can expect more of this cringe-inducing sock puns for the duration of the challenge. Yes, you can. To do anything less would be to admit de-feet.

My current socks of choice, the cheap white non-cottons, are C9 from Target. Do I like them? Eh, they're okay. They serve their purpose of providing a barrier between my foot and my shoe, but they don't really do much else. I do get blisters after long runs, though Body Glide seems to make that a little better. They are comfortable enough, and I can get them readily for about two bucks a pair.

That might not seem like much, but as far as I'm concerned, the Wright Socks have a lot to live up to. I can't throw a pair in the cart while I'm stocking up on paper towels. And at five or six bucks a pair, they better do more than just provide a barrier between my shoes and my feet. If I'm going to abandon the C9's, they need to (wait for it...) knock my socks off.

My box of socks arrived Thursday, and they look fantastic. There are all different kinds to try - thick, thin, double-layer, and single layer. The first pair will be tested today.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

How Runner Are You?

How much does being a runner influence your day to day life? I was thinking about this when, a few weeks ago, I decided to cut my hair. It was below my shoulders (which is Crystal Gayle levels of long for me) and getting a bit scraggly. The very first thing I said to the stylist was, "I'm a runner - how much can you cut off for me to still be able to have a ponytail?" And anytime I get a pedicure (admittedly rare), I make sure I tell the aesthetician, before she so much as fills the foot bath, that I am a runner and she'd best not mess with my calluses.

On the other hand, I rarely dress like a runner unless I'm actually running. And by "dress like a runner," I don't mean "wear a singlet and tights to the grocery store." I mean, there are people who I can immediately peg as runners even when they are in their civilian garb. That is because that civilian garb consists of race t-shirts with jeans or shorts and an old pair of running shoes. I don't do that (at least not very often). To prove my point: when I'm not wearing running shoes, I am usually wearing heels.

What about you? How runner are you?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Way You Look Tonight

Tonight was one of those ordinary nights that is, at the same time, special and magical.

Jack and I went to Lincoln Park to listen to a band, bringing with us a picnic of McDonald's. Then we played on the playground, where he was a knight and I was a dragon. I said it was time to go, but he wanted to dance.

The band was playing "The Way You Look Tonight." I looked down at my dance partner, four years old, wearing a t-shirt that's too big for him and his favorite pair of faded red shorts. He was covered in a mixture of sweat, dirt, and chocolate. And his dancing consisted of manic spinning and flailing arms.

The lyrics were apt:

Lovely... Never, ever change.
Keep that breathless charm.
Won't you please arrange it?
'Cause I love you... Just the way you look tonight.

Garmin's Many Uses

Devoted followers of the Church of Garmin (praise be thy name) know that it is an invaluable tool for runners. Garmin can track your time, pace, distance, and elevation. It can record splits of any length or beep at you if you're going too fast or too slow. It can pit you against a virtual opponent in a race, graph your running history over time, and help you find your way home if you're lost.

I have also heard that it can tell time, but that feature's a little harder to find than the rest.

Recently, I uncovered another of Garmin's many widgets, one I was not aware of before. Garmin is also an effective babysitter.

I came home from a run, and Jack's desire to be entertained didn't mesh well with my desire to sit on a chair and drink Gatorade. Then, I had a holy Garmin vision (praise be thy name), divine inspiration if you will.

I put Paula Garmin on Jack's wrist and told him to run around the backyard so I could see how fast he was going. Jack thought this was the coolest idea ever. I gave him my iPod (tuned to the Captain Cubtastic mix) and added a headband to hold in the earphones. The result looked like this:


Garmin then proceeded to entertain Jack until dinner time. He raced around the back yard, creating obstacles for himself, and singing along to his music (particular favorite: "We Will Rock You"). My job was to occasionally throw out some encouragement: "You're doing great!" or "Don't stop running" bought me plenty more valuable chair sitting time.



His average pace was 15:something, probably slowed by the zillions of times he fell, the one time his shorts fell down, and the times he spent hiding behind a tree.

Now we just need Garmin to come out with My First Forerunner, because as this picture of Jack after the Bix illustrates, my boy loves to run.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Race Report: Bix 7

I had big plans for this year's Bix 7. I was going to smash my PR of 1:06:58 and run it in 1:03. I was pretty sure I could do it - I recently ran a 10 miler at 9:02 pace. Subtract three miles and add in crowds and hills, and it seemed challenging, but possible.

But plans change. What was going to be a tough race turned into a weekend of running with my guys.

Friday night was the Junior Bix. Jack was incredibly pumped for his race. I got him dressed in his Quad Cities Micro Marathon t-shirt, since Jack is certainly not going to run wearing the race t-shirt, a fact that the vast majority of the other kids were clearly unaware of. Amateurs! On the walk from the car to the starting line, Jack asked me at least three times if I would run the race with him. Every time, I answered, "Yes, if you want me to. Or if you want to run by yourself, that's fine too."

Jack insisted that we would run together - and we did, holding hands the whole way. Running with Jack is good for my spirit. All I need to do is see the joy on his face as he races to the finish line and the pride he feels upon finishing and I am reminded of my own love for the sport.

As for Steve, he was more nervous about the big race on Saturday. Last year, he ran the race despite not training well, and he suffered for it. Steve announced months ago that his goal was to run the Bix without feeling like he was going to die afterwards - and enlisted me as his coach. I put him through a series of long runs of gradually increasing distances, intermixed with the Gentleman's Three (a relaxed three-miler) and 5K's for fun. We also ran the Bix at Six training run a few weeks prior to the race, so I knew he could do it.

Steve was less confident and asked me if I would run the race with him. That was not my plan, and as visions of my 1:03 finish faded away, I said, "Um, do you want me to?" He nodded and said, "I'm asking you to." It was clear that he needed me, for moral support at least, so I agreed to run the Bix not as a racer, but instead as a coach.

Race morning! Steve woke up feeling more excited than nervous. He declared that his goal was to run the race at 12:00 pace - a more ambitious goal than "finish and not want to die," but one I was sure he could achieve. I made sure he had a good breakfast, both water and coffee,and a couple of Advil. Then we engaged in my favorite pre-race ritual of people watching - cute couples ready to run together, gaunt high school cross country boys, a shirtless guy in denim shorts, and spectators smoking cigarettes and squinting at us uncomprehendingly. The Bix is held at the end of July every year, and really, the end of July in the Midwest is a typically horrible time for running. But the weather was unseasonably cool, in the 70s, with delightful breezes. It was a great day to run, and I wondered if course records would be set.

The gun went off, and about ten minutes later, we crossed the starting line and began our assent of the Brady Street hill. The hill is about 1/4 mile long, with a challenging grade. We spent a lot of time weaving around people who apparently decided to walk it while standing shoulder to shoulder with five of their closest friends. We finished the first mile in just over 12:00, which is excellent given both the hill and the crowds.

Steve was relaxed and comfortable in the second mile. We saw Meb Keflezighi looking fantastic with a huge lead (he went on to win with a blazing time of 32:25). I later found out that Magdalena Lewy Boulet was also racing. It felt great to be running the very same race as such elite athletes! Equally cool, we ran mile two behind a phalanx of firefighters that included two who had been injured in the line of duty and were racing in wheelchairs. At the two mile mark, I heard another runner remark, "That was only two miles? You've got to be kidding me!" Steve still looked great.

People talk about the Brady Street hill when they talk about the Bix, probably because it's big and at the very start of the race. But to me, the hardest part of the course comes in the third and fourth miles, where there are steep rolling hills. Steve was a little quieter, but was still running strong.

At around mile five, Steve asked me to run a little slower. I was proud of him for opting to do that, rather than walking. I babbled away, hoping to distract him by making up a plot for "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" in which the gang runs a 5K. Steve told me later that it was obvious that I was trying to distract him, but that he appreciated it nevertheless. When I told him we had just a mile and a half to go, he was thrilled, not having realized we'd crossed the five mile mark.

Soon, we turned to run back down the big hill. I advised Steve to relax and let the hill do some of the work for him. Some of the runners around us were clearly suffering, but Steve was hanging in there pretty well. I reminded him that we were almost finished, just a mile, less than a mile to go. "You've got this," I told him.

At the bottom of the hill, the finish line was in sight. Steve picked up his pace, knowing that the race was almost over. We crossed the finish line holding hands with a time of 1:19:48.

Steve's 2008 time was 1:33:51. Not only did he finish the race feeling strong, not only did he beat his 12:00 pace goal, but he shaved two minutes per mile off his previous pace! I could not be more proud of him.

My weekend may not have included the PR I was planning, but instead, I got to enjoy running with the two people I love most.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I'm Going on a Long Run


Lately, the song "Going on a Bear Hunt" has been running through my head... but with some slightly different words. Sing it with me!

I'm going on a long run.
I'm gonna run a big one!
I'm going on a long run.
I'm not afraid!
Ooh, looky!
What is that?
It's a swamp-uh!
Can't go over it.
Can't go under it.
Can't go around it.
We gotta go through it!


I did indeed encounter a swamp on a recent long run. I was out with my running club a few days after a rain that would best be described as "monsoon-like." The path was still covered with puddles, patches of mud, and so on. The miles flew by as I'd come across a new obstacle and decide if the mud/water/gunk was too deep to run through.

One of the times I decided that it was too deep, I veered to the right hand side of the path. The other runners had the opposite instinct and went left.

I chose wrong.

Within seconds, I was sloshing through swampy long grass, soaking my feet up to my ankles, and giving my three-day old running shoes (Brooks Adrenaline, btw) some character. Everyone had a good laugh.

I'm going on a long run.
I'm gonna run a big one!
I'm going on a long run.
I'm not afraid!
Ooh, looky!
What is that?
It's a hill-uh!
Can't go through it.
Can't go under it.
Can't go around it.
We gotta go up it!


For this week's long run, we started at a different park than usual. My fellow half marathon trisko runners and I did ten miles. I was feeling great (9:02 pace makes me want to use the f-word), and the setting was beautiful. I saw two baby deer as I crossed 9-1/2 miles. I even managed to finish mile 10 as a great song finished on my iPod.

Then I remembered that in order to get back to our picnic shelter, my car, and my Oxysox, I would have to go up a gigantic hill.

I'd given those 10 miles everything I had, and Internet, my calves were burning. Still, I thought about the popsicles and watermelon that were waiting for me, and I climbed that hill.

As runners, we learn to meet obstacles head-on. We learn how strong we are, and we learn that when something daunting is ahead of us, we can confidentlly say, "I'm not afraid!"

Friday, July 17, 2009

Babyproof No More

As soon as Jack was even thinking about being mobile, Steve and I babyproofed the utter hell out of our house. Every stairway had a gate on it. Every cabinet and drawer in the kitchen was locked. Plug-ins had covers on them, and I bought a cover to keep him from turning off the computer. We even had locks on the toilets to keep him from chucking stuff into them.

When we left our house in Virginia and moved into Stately Wasser Manor, he was two years old and a lot more steady on his feet. We got rid of the gates on the stairs, the locks on the drawers and cabinets, and the plug covers.

But we did keep all of our cleaning products way up high in the pantry. If I needed to run the dishwasher (which it seems like I do every day, rolling that rock up the hill), I have to walk to the pantry to get it, then put it back away again.

This morning, it occurred to me that was unnecessary. I moved all of the kitchen cleaning products to under the sink, where nature intended them to be. This time, my childproofing consisted of a single conversation.

Me: Hey, Jack! See this stuff here?
Jack: Yes.
Me: Leave it alone.
Jack: Of course.

I have felt this many times over the past four and a half years, but Jack really seems to be at an ideal age. He's little and cute and charming, but he can also be quite reasonable.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The F-Word

Take It and Run Thursday challenges us this week to write about something controversial in the running world. To that I say fine, but just remember it was your idea, because today, I'm going to use The F-Word, a word that running bloggers everywhere are afraid to use. In a few minutes, this post is going to be riddled with F-bombs. You have been warned. Here it is:

Fast.

That's right, I said it: Fast.

It's just a little word, right? So why are so many of my fellow runners afraid to use it to describe themselves?

I have read many race reports about new PR's, the really great kind that smashed the previous best... without a single use of the F-Word. Descriptions of blistering track workouts, pounding out 400 meter repeats... without anyone so much as whispering F-A-S-T. I've even seen truly talented runners demur from using that word to describe races where they've placed or even won. The closest thing you'll hear is, "I finished with a really good time."

You didn't finish with a really good time, my friend. You were FAST! The fact of the matter is, there are a lot of runners out in the blogosphere who are extremely fast runners and just won't admit it. I read several race reports from the Boston Marathon in which the blogger noted that they'd never felt so middle of the pack as they did in Boston. Okay, so maybe you weren't in that lead pack in Boston, but if you were running the Boston Marathon at all? Let's face it: You. Are. Fast.

Is it modesty? It's true that runners are really nice and inclusive people. If I brag about how fast my 23:44 5K race was, I don't want to discount the accomplishment of a fellow runner who worked just as hard to finish in 30:00. Or, are we comparing ourselves to elite runners? Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia is the fastest woman to run a 5K, and her time of 14:11:15 makes my 23:44 look like walking. Can I really call myself fast compared to her?

Yes. I am fast. And so is Tirunesh Dibaba, so are the Boston qualifiers, and so is my fellow runner who worked her butt of to score that 30:00 5K.

We all have our own Fast. Fast happens for all of us when everything clicks together just right, when we feel like we're flying, when our lungs are burning, and when we look at the time on the clock (or just the feeling in our hearts) and it is good.

I challenge you, my fellow runners, to own your Fast. To embrace the F-Word. And to shout from the rooftops when you have an amazing workout, run a strong race, or get a PR these words:

I am fast.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Race Report: Surprise Track Meet

Last night, I went to the track at Augustana College for my running club's weekly track workout. To my surprise, there was a track meet going on. People were setting up hurdles, pole vaulters were warming up, and the place was teeming with people of all ages in brightly colored running clothes. Just as I was starting to think that my plans to run on the track with the club had changed, an announcement came over the loudspeaker: Cornbelt Runners, go find Russ. He'll give you your bib number.

Well, allrighty, then.

I tracked down Russ, who is our coach, and several other runners trickled in with me. "Russ, what do you have cooked up for us?" I asked. Russ grinned and said that we were going to run in the 1500 meter race.

I have to admit, one of the first things I thought was, "If I'd known I was running a race, I'd have worn something different." My black running skirt and neon yellow marathon training group just isn't the fastest looking outfit I have. But so be it, because my second thought was, "Hey, all I have to run is a 1500? Nice!"

I warmed up and chatted with my fellow runners. Several of them had never run a race so short and had never run a track meet at all, so the excitement and nerves were high. Before I knew it, it was time for the 1500. All of the Cornbelt Running Club runners walked over to the starting line - and there were a lot of us! They had the women go first, followed by the men. And we women were joined by several kids.

Now, I have learned my lesson about kids at track meets. I ran against several of them at
an indoor meet in January, and they are freaking fast. I immediately decided to just discount the kids and focus on running against the grown-ups. We women rationalize that it was okay if the kids beat us because, um, they didn't have to work all day.

The gun was off, and so was I - probably way too fast. I glanced down at Paula The Garmin in the first 200 meters or so and saw that my pace was at a 5:something mile. I resolved to relax. Before long, there were a couple kids in front of me (ignored the little scamps), along with Kathy, who I know is one of the best runners in the area. I figured I'd have no chance of catching up to her, and sure enough, I think she ended up finishing about 150 meters ahead of me.

At around the second lap, a younger woman passed me as well. I focused on running strong, keeping my arms relaxed, and making a game of pretending to be the main character from Once A Runner, out running the mile of my life.

In the final straightaway, I picked up my pace and shaved quite a lot off of my time by chasing after one of those young whippersnappers. No, I didn't actually catch him, but again, kids are fast.

My final (unofficial, Paula Garmin) time was a speedy 6:11, putting me as the third grown-up to finish the race, and probably first in my age group if I'm right about the ages of the other two women.

I spent the rest of the night on an absolute runner's high. I hung out and watched the guys run, then headed home. As I was pulling up to Stately Wasser Manor, I saw Steve out for a run, so I parked the car and joined him for a Gentleman's Three, a great opportunity to cool down and tell him all about the race.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lonely Too Long

For a long time, I've really preferred to run alone. That's still true - the solitude and silence can be absolutely great. But at the same time, I really want to get more involved in my local running community. I want to know my fellow runners and be able to chat with people I see at races - that was one of my 2009 goals. So, when the opportunity to join a training group for the Quad Cities Distance Classic half marathon trisko, I decided to go for it.

Turns out, running with a group is fun... and doesn't cramp my style at all. There are cool people to hang out and talk with before we hit the trails. I usually end up running by myself, but I can join someone else if I want to.

So, when the opportunity presented itself through my running club to train for fall races, I jumped on it. For fifty bucks, I get supported group runs every week, coaching, access to weekly track workouts, a discount for the Quad Cities Marathon or trisko, a pasta party, and a t-shirt. Sold!

The group has been wildly popular. There are 120 people signed up right now to train for fall marathons and triskos. Last Tuesday, I went to my first group track workout and saw that about a hundred people showed up. One hundred people, willing to do speedwork on a sweltering hot Tuesday night! I am so proud of my running club.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tremmy

Jack likes to play a game in the car in which his various stuffed animals call him on the phone. Emmy will call to make sure he's not doing anything dangerous (which is a problem because Emmy tends to think just about everything is dangerous), or Roary will call to say he misses him and to ask when he's coming home.

One day, Jack mixed it up by getting a phone call from "Tremmy." We told Tremmy she had the wrong number, but she kept on calling back, Jack laughing progressively harder every time. Tremmy started calling us more and more often. The phone calls would go like this...

Jack: Ring, ring!
Me: Oh, no. That's going to be Tremmy.
Jack: (giggling)
Me: Hello?
Tremmy (aka Jack): Tremmy!
Me: Hi, Tremmy.
Tremmy: I am just calling to say that I have a big bag of mice.
Me: Oh, no. Tremmy, what could you possibly be doing with all of those mice?
Tremmy: I'm going to throw them at every light in the city!

Steve and I started to wonder more about Tremmy, so when she called, we asked her what kind of animal she was. Jack/Tremmy told us that she was a bird. That sounded about right to us, some kind of crazy looking bird.

So, imagine our surprise when we were at the mall and saw this crazy-looking bird:

It could only be Tremmy.

Tremmy lives with us now, but that doesn't stop her from calling us with crazy news, such as that she smeared all of the toothpaste on the windows and was throwing mice at it to see if they'd stick (Tremmy says they do not).

I am really proud of Jack's amazing imagination and sense of humor. Only Jack could invent a crazy bird who spends too much time on the phone and does weird things to mice.

What else is Jack doing? Oh, being a kid. See?


Like, eating only the middle of his Oreos.


And running through the sprinklers.

It's good to be a kid.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Running in an Oven

I have spent the time since 13.1 Chicago feeling like a bit of a slacker. Maybe that's not fair; the race was on a Sunday. I was travelling in the middle of the week, but got up early Wednesday morning to run a Gentleman's Three. And then on Saturday, I ran Race for the Cure with Steve (yes, I owe you a race report). So, it's not like I haven't been running, but the intensity hasn't been there since that last half marathon trisko.

Today presented a golden opportunity: The Bix at Six.

The Bix 7 is one of my favorite races, it being a challenging seven mile course that attracts elite runners. It's pretty cool when your hometown race is popular to the extent that there are statues of Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson, no? And the Bix at Six is a series of training runs, open to the public, that are on the race course.

I have said it before, and I'll say it again: it is so damned cool to have a local race that is such a draw that hundreds of people show up for a training run, the streets are blocked off, and there are water stops.

I left the office after work and hurried home to grab a quick sandwich and to change clothes. As soon as I opened the door to go outside, I knew it was going to be a tough night: it was blazing hot and humid to the point where I felt like I was inside an oven.

Uh-oh.

This summer, so far, has been blessedly mild, so this was the first really hot weather run I'd done. And having that start out with seven miles worth of hills, after not running a whole lot was a recipe for disaster... baked in the oven I was running in.

So, I made a promise to myself to take it easy and have this run be my first one in getting acclimated to the heat. I dressed in a tank top and running skirt, strapped on the Batman utility belt filled with Gatorade. I was sweating before I even started running. I slowed my pace way down, cut the course to about 5 miles, and took frequent walk breaks. I also make the delightful discovery that my makeup, which has an SPF in it, immediately melts into horrifying pools of poison when I sweat.

Was this the most fun run ever? No, it was not. But it could have been a lot worse. I am going to tough it out through my next couple of oven runs until the heat doesn't seem like such a big deal after all. And I will sing the praises of the glorious volunteers, who actually had ice water.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Race Report: 13.1 Chicago

When we last left off, I had a bag of frozen peas tied to my ankle and was trying not to freak out about an injury that could make running 13.1 miles tricky to say the least. I am happy to report that the peas and their ally the Advil did their job: by Saturday morning, my ankle was no longer bothering me.

Steve, Jack, and I left Saturday morning for Chicago. It was a lot of fun taking Jack to a big city for the first time. He found absolutely everything fascinating: the tall buildings, the pigeons, and all of the people. He also noted, "Chicago is noisy," which was especially true since we were near El tracks most of the time. There were also several firsts for Jack - his first ride in a taxi - with no car seat - and his first ride on a Ferris wheel. He seemed to find them equally thrilling.

There are, of course, lots of things to see and do in Chicago, but we decided to keep it simple. We went to Navy Pier to ride the aforementioned Ferris wheel, then went to the Chicago Children's Museum. The museum was a lot of fun, with many the opportunity for Jack to put on costumes, play music, and so on. The best part was a huge net that he climbed way up and around, like a pirate's ship. Jack pretty much did that over and over again until the museum closed. Jack spotted a pirate show on a stage nearby, so we watched that, then had pasta for dinner. On the way back to the hotel, we took a quick detour to the toy department at the old Marshall Field's store (which I hate to acknowledge as a Macy's), where he selected a cat. Jack introduced Kitty Kit to Vincent, the doorman at the hotel, then we headed to bed at the ripe old hour of 8:30.

Naturally, it was onlhy too soon that my alarm went off at 5:00. I had my clothes laid out in the bathroom so I was able to quickly get dressed and head out. I ignored sage advice and wore a new outfit for the race: a bright pink Asics singlet with a black and grey Race Ready skirt. I highly recommend the Race Ready skirt. All along the small of my back were mesh pockets, with elastic holdin git in almost bungee style. I was able to easily carry my iPod, phone, a couple packs of Biofreeze (I was still worried about my ankle), emergency cash, and two packs of sport beans. It was also really easy to get things in and out of the pockets. I'll definitely be buying the skirt in more colors.

Chicago at 5:00 in the morning on a Sunday is virtually desserted. I walked out of the hotel and didn't see another person for a few minutes. Then, I saw groups of runners all headed towards Millenium Park, ready to catch the shuttle buses to the start. The bus service was smooth and easy - very well organized.

We arrived at the South Shore Cultural Center, a lovely building where the Obamas had their wedding reception (Steve noted that it probably didn't smell like sweat that day). It was then that I discovered a crisis: there was no coffee anywhere near by. The Starbucks near my hotel was not open yet, and there was absolutely nothing near the starting line. No caffiene is not a good thing for me. My coffee addiction is a bit like heroin addiction in that the first hit isn't so much to make me feel good as it is to keep me from feeling bad. I ate my second emergency pack of sport beans, figuring at least that would get some caffiene in my system.

The energy at the starting line was terrific. Rob Powers did the announcing, the White Sox mascot was wandering around, as were actors playing the Blues Brothers. The start was organized in waves, which was a first for me. Each wave got its own pomp (music that introduced the Blues Brothers in the movie), and there was ample space between each wave so that the paths were never crowded. It was terrific, and more races should do this.

The course itself was spectacular. It was an absolute thrill to run alongside Lake Michigan with a view of the Chicago skyline. Support was impressive, with water and Gatorade available approximately every mile. I also saw lots of Brightroom photographers, so here's hoping that there will be some good pictures of me.

And how'd I do? Well, for the first 11 miles, I felt awesome. Then I started to fade. I'm not sure why. I'd like to blame the lack of coffee, but it may just be that I wasn't quite as focused and mentally strong as I was when I ran the Quad Cities Distance Classic. Nevertheless, I kicked it up a notch, waved to Steve and Jack, and finished strong with a final time of 2:00:56.

The finisher's medal is the most gigantic thing you ever saw. It's a 13.1 (with the decimal point actually spin-able), easily twice as big as any of my other medals, and in gold. I feel like a rapper in it.

It was a spectacular way to end my spring Trisko Festival. When it was all said and done, I ran three half marathons triskos in just under a month - and had a blast doing it.