Wednesday, November 23, 2011


I love Thanksgiving. It's my favorite holiday. So many memories!

Each week on Facebook, I write a note entitled "Things I Love Thursday". It's a weekly reflection on what I'm feeling particularly grateful for. But here, I thought I'd take just pause for a moment and spew gratitude for all the things that have helped me so far along the journey toward health. Here goes:

  • Healing. This year brought me my first-ever athletic-related injury. It also brought me through the healing process. I can't begin to explain how it feels now to run, knowing that I wasn't sure I would again. It makes me appreciate being able to do it so very much. I take no run for granted, and it fills me with joy.

  • Technology. I have this app on my phone, Nike + GPS, that posts to Facebook when I'm running. When people "like" the post, or comment on it, the app cheers in my ear. I also have apps that track my activity, show me a good running route, and help me monitor my food. It does help! Although perhaps just because it keeps it fun. However, technology will never take the place of ...

  • People. Holy crap, I have incredible people. If you have to get healthy on your own, you should still do it - it's worth the work - but the work is so much more fun when you have support. I didn't go into this with a network. I actually joined a gym intending to let this be a solo process. But that's not how things ended up. Instead, I now find myself fortunate enough to be surrounded by active, generous people who bolster me along the way. Whether you've run with me once or countless times, helped me make a wise choice on a menu, waited for me at the finish line, reminded me that I can do anything for 30 seconds (even if it's more push-ups), told me I'm looking good, believed in me (and helped me do the same), woke up at the ass-crack of dawn to get to a race, told me I don't look ridiculous in those skin-tight running pants ... or other countless acts of kindness I have experienced, I am unspeakably grateful.

  • Epsom salts, foam rollers, tennis balls and this thing. Thanks to these tools, I am able to walk after a long run.

  • Red Mango. When I need, want or feel like I deserve a post-workout treat, this is it.

  • Having enough money. This has been an expensive year. I have registered for 15 races (one of which I could not complete, one that happens tomorrow and one that will happen on December 3) this year, plus planned ahead and registered for two in early 2012. This isn't free. (Especially considering that one of them in 2012 is the Disney Princess Half Marathon, for which I also had to pay for airfare. And a commemorative necklace.) So the fact that I've managed my money reasonably well and am not weeping in the corner at the sad state of my finances is a Very Good Thing.

  • Uggs. There is very little in the world that feels better than putting on a pair of warm shearling boots after a hard run. Or an easy run. Or a trip to the grocery store.
Yeah. Lots to be grateful for. And now, on to the pie ...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Running gets real

Runner friend Linda and I drove to La Grange on Saturday (after a six-mile run and an hour of lifting weights) to pick up race packets for the Pie Run on Thursday. Yes, we are running 3.14 miles ... and getting a pie at the finish line.

Anyway, pickup was at this great running store in downtown La Grange, and while we were there we browsed a bit and talked to their buyer. I ended up buying a pair of awesome running tights. (And are they every tight!) They are stitched together from two different fabrics to support muscles the way kinesio tape works. I also picked up a super-cute wicking shirt with thumb holes (I wish every long-sleeve top I have had thumb holes) and some other running essentials (Body Glide, gloves and The Stick.)

And this morning, I got to thinking: When you reach the point that you purchase scientific pants and Body Glide, you are a real runner.

My 13-and-a-half minute mile is the same mile as those who run it in half the time. I am a runner. I run.

I also squeeze into scientific pants.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nut Run

I have become that girl.

I've become a person who goes away for the weekend and packs athletic gear.

I've become a person who takes a few days away, and registers for a race in her destination city.

This person is pretty much unrecognizable to me sometimes. I still giggle - yes, giggle - when I open up my suitcase and find running shoes. It's a little crazy, but it's all me.

So, on November 11, I flew to Tucson to visit my dear friends Mike and Racheal, and their daughter, Kaylee. (Curious about the trip? Read about it here.) Calling them friends is like calling chocolate merely good. These people go so far beyond friends, it defies description. They are family. So it should have come as no surprise that they were willing - or, at least Racheal was - to get up at the ass-crack of dawn to drive me to Sahuarita for the Pecan Festival ... and the 3.7 mile Nut Run that was part of it.

It was one of the most beautiful runs I've ever experienced. The run was through the Green Valley Pecan Orchard. I don't ordinarily refer to the desert as green and lush, but this place? Yeah; all that and more.

The aroma of pecans hit us almost as soon as we got out of the car; the parking lot was covered with pecan shells, and they gave a satisfying crunch/crunch under our feet. Soon, it was time to head off to run 3.7 miles. This is what it looked like:
Trees, soft dirt path and mountains in the distance. I've been on lots of runs, but there has never been anything quite like this.

At the end of the run, my time for 3.7 miles was 51 minutes, 34 seconds, at a pace of 13:56 per mile. That's slower than it felt, but those are the official results.

And now, we're nearing the end of November. Between now and the end of the year, there are two more races scheduled. It's been a helluva year, and 2012 is showing a lot of promise, too.

Yeah, I've become that girl.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Hot Chocolate 2012

This day was a complete success. From the easy wakeup (5:00 is not so bad, after all) to the omelet, to the fact that I get to set the clocks before bed tonight, I don't think there has ever been a perfecter day.

Yes. Perfecter.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

Well, if we are to go back to the very beginning, we have to re-cap this race last year. It was my first actual race - the Hot Chocolate 5K. I didn't sleep the night before; nerves about destroyed me! I remember wondering if I could do it, and then finally finishing, and being just absolutely wiped out. In the end, I finished the race in 2010 at 49 minutes and 56 seconds - or 50 minutes in actual time. My average pace was 16 minutes and five seconds per mile. I ran what I could, walked most of it, and did my best. The only thing that was important was that I finished, and that felt really good.

Fast forward to this year. After a full year of training, racing (racing? Is it racing when you run this slow?), injury and recovery, I decided to venture into uncharted territory. I was running a 15K.

Am I completely nuts? That's three times as far as I ran last year. That's further than I have ever run before. But, seeing as I'm training for a half marathon, it seemed logical. When I registered, back in February, I figured it would be good to have one long race under my belt before the half in February of 2012. So I decided to do it.

I met up with my running pals from Schaumburg Life Time Fitness and we carpooled in. Linda, Pam, Dee, Megan and Shelly were the perfect accompaniment for a day of merriment. As Linda and I were the only ones going for 15, the others hurried to the starting line for the 5K. Linda and I, naturally, stopped to take photos in the parking garage.
Please note that the woman in this photograph looks happy, and not completely crazy.

Soon, we found ourselves in beautiful Grant Park in Chicago. It was a clear, sunny day. A little chill in the air, but that's perfect running weather! After waiting for about three years to get into a bathroom (this seems to be a trend in Chicago race porta-potties) we made our way toward the starting line.
But not before we took the traditional long-arm photo.

The run itself was incredible. I started off feeling incredibly strong. I knew in my heart, my soul and my gut that I had done everything I could to prepare for this race. The rest was just in the doing. So off I went.

The first mile passed before I even realized it. That's the beauty of running through Chicago; this city is so incredible, it's easy to get caught up in the surroundings. The first half of the race, really, seemed effortless. (This, I remember thinking, is a new sensation. Effortless? For serious?)

When we ran around United Center, I knew we were about halfway done with the race. I was starting to feel a little fatigue in my legs and discomfort in my knees, but other than that, I was totally happy in the moment. Joyful, even, with the way I was actually able to continue moving forward.

My RunKeeper crapped out on me, so I had no idea how I was really doing. Mile split timers showed my difference between each marker, but I would have to do math to actually figure it out. I felt like I was within reach of meeting my threefold goal: Finish, smiling, before the sweepers picked my ass up. I figured I had two and a half hours, start to finish. I was hopeful.

I ran the full course, with the exception of walking up to and away from water/Gatorade stations. I tried to take a wee walk break around mile seven, but my calf felt a little wonky walking, so I just continued to run.

Time passed. I smiled. I felt strong, powerful, capable. I thought back to last year, and how hard it was to mostly walk a 5K. I marveled at how much difference a person can make in just one year.

And then, blissfully, the course turned back on to Columbus Drive; the finish line was within sight. In mere moments, I heard my friends. Linda jumped off the curb to run me in toward the finish, and Pam, Dee, Meg and Shelly were hollering in support. I started to tear up. That made it really hard to breathe! So I promised myself I would keep it together until I crossed the finish line, and I propelled myself forward.

To say I was emotional would be something of an understatement, to say the least. After a year of hard work, of injury, of physical therapy, of giving it my all, I was crossing the finish line in what I knew would be something to remember. With one last push, it was over. Nothing left except more Gatorade, a bottle of water and ... chocolate.
Ran into Diane (and her husband Justin) just past the finish line. They already had their chocolate. They have been incredibly supportive over the past year; I love them.

What would a race called Hot Chocolate be without delicious chocolate? Sponsored by Ghirardelli, this is one race you don't want to miss out on if you have any interest in the ooey gooey addiction I like to call melted chocolate. Seriously. Fondue is served with a pretzel rod, Rice Krispy treat, marshmallow, apple slices, a banana and ... your finger. Nope, I wasn't going to waste a single bit. (Note the glob on my lower lip; I ate that, too.) (The blob, not my lip.)
One satisfied, happy runner.And here's the full posse, full of chocolate and joy. Back row: Linda, Me, Kristen's Friend and Kristen. Front row: Pam, Shelly, Dee and Megan.

I can't stop smiling. This race just felt incredible. And with good reason, as fate would have it. The unofficial times have been posted, and it would appear that I absolutely shattered my performance a year ago. Now, let's be honest - shaving two minutes per mile still means I'm a slow runner. But this is progress, and that's what it's all about. When all is said and done, here's how my race shaped up:

I came in 631 out of 644 in my age group. Nope, not last, although that would have been okay!

8841 out of 9061 overall. Yep; 220 people were actually slower than I was. I didn't know that was possible.

But here's where it gets really interesting:

My overall time was 2:09:33, with a per-mile average pace of 13:54. Scroll back up and check last year's pace, okay? I'll wait.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I took a little more than two minutes per mile off my average pace, while tripling the length of my race. That felt good. A year's worth of hard work paid off.

But it's not just me. My ability to run this race today has been a collective effort. Everyone who has run with me, everyone who has encouraged me, everyone who believed in me or told me I could do it, everyone who told me I could heal from injury and be stronger than ever ... today was a culmination of all of that. I am proud, yes, but what I am mostly proud of is being worthy of the faith others have put in me. I don't have words to express what it's meant to me to have this incredible support network at my side, but I can say one thing for sure:

I could not have done it without you.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Of scales, beating hearts and wanderlust

Did you notice that I didn't weigh in this week?

Well, I did. Sort of. Three times. I just didn't report it ... until now. Remember back in the spring when I though my at-home scale was broken, because it kept weighing me at 207.4 for weeks on end? Turns out the scale wasn't stuck; I was.

I've been feelin' pretty stellar over the last couple of weeks. After taking a road trip a few weeks back, I've broken out of my routine a bit, and started eating when I was hungry instead of according the the clock. It's kinda cool. And, apparently, it worked - I could totall feel a change in my body this week. So when Monday passed and I wasn't at the gym, I was disappointed that I couldn't weigh. Tuesday came and went, I was at the gym but totally forgot to put my ass on the scale. So when I got home, I got out the scale, got nekkid, and got on. Twice. It said 204; I am not going to own that. But it sure did give me the motivation to hop on when I got to the gym on Thursday.

205.6. That's down about three from the last time I officially weighed, which I think was two weeks ago. I'll take it. I'm actually thrilled with it, considering that I was up at about 213 a month ago. Lots going on with the body, honestly - hormones, aging and stuff - but man does it feel good to take a little off the top.

I'm not going to pretend that I know everything that went into making this happen. I would love to say, "Well, when you stick perfectly to your eating and workout plan, of course you'll take of the weight," blah blah blah. Whatever. What actually happened was, I totally switched up my life. I've run outdoors, I've run hills, I've run alone on a treadmill, I've run with some amazing friends who coached and encouraged along the way. I've connected with people over things that aren't food and I've gotten a little extra sleep. I've felt a lot of love and I've gone with the flow and BAM ... my ass shrinks. It's not a coincidence, but it isn't really by design, either. It's my life aligning a little bit more with my values - health, activity and human connectedness.

So last night as I ran my final two-mile training run before the 15K this weekend (holy crap, I'm going to run 9.3 miles!), I was mindful of the change. I propelled myself forward, thinking about the people in my life who love me, about having a little less weight impact on my poor old knees, and how my heart is healthier now than ever in my adult life. It's not just more full of love and stuff; it's doing it's job more effectively, too. I can feel the difference. Oh, don't get me wrong - I still gasp for air and my lungs still burn, even at the mad pace of 4.2 miles per hour. But feeling any improvement is incredible. The human body's ability to change just fascinates me.

Once the Hot Chocolate 15K is over, I officially begin the Season of Travel. Over the next couple of months, I will be training for the Disney Princess Half Marathon, and running in Tucson, Orlando and San Antonio, and I'm really excited about that! I haven't travelled a whole lot over the past few years, in part because my finances suck, but in part also because fitting my ass into an airplane seat has been a challenge. I am so ready to head out of town and experience travel as someone a little more normal-sized.

It's difficult not to be a little emotional about that. There is so much that will occur between now and the end of the year - to say nothing of my first half marathon in February - that was simply foreign to me even just a year ago. Although I've said it before, I think it bears repeating: If you want something different, change one thing. The difference between Life Then and Life Now is nothing more than a series of small changes, built upon each other over time.

And I'm not done yet.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Nerves, excitement and 15K

I'm a control freak. I'm sure this finds you completely shocked. Life, however, has a way of gently nudging me in the direction of growth, when I'm ready for it.

Can't help but be reminded of my toughest bout with control, back in the late 80's/early 90's, when my desperate attempt to control something in my life lead to bulimia. Yes, it happened. It also provided a very clear picture of just how destructive control can be. It's a lesson I regret having to learn, but a valuable one nonetheless. Now, when life spins out of control, it's good to have this memory to rely on, and hopefully (in time, maybe after learning how futile it is to try and control the situation) loosen my grip a bit.

Which brings me to now. I've had episodes of car trouble, family health issues and workplace drama lately, all of which has presented a distinct lack of control. It is not without effort, but I am trying to go with the flow. Aging divorcee learns new skills.

So I logically, intellectually accept that there is very little these days that I truly can control. Perhaps it's time to just enjoy the process? A valuable tactic going into this coming weekend, during which I will attempt to do something I have never done before: I will run a 15K.

That's nine-point-three miles, for those of you who care nothing for the metric system.

What can I control about this run? Well, I have thus far controlled my training. I have completed every run along the way. (Except for tonight's; I'll log a wee two-miler after work.) I have gone through extensive physical therapy to heal from a tear in my Achilles. I have taken off some weight, and I have allowed myself to let go of expectations and just run for the sheer joy of running. The rest, really, is just a matter of trying it, getting out there, completing 9.3 and seeing what it brings.

I'm a bundle of nerves and butterflies, so excited to try something new while at the same time nervous about potential injury. I've done everything I can to prepare, but some things ... well, some things you just cannot control.

So here's the deal: You send good thoughts my way on Saturday morning while I'm running the Hot Chocolate 15K, and when all is said and done, I'll eat some chocolate on your behalf. Expect a follow-up post with results and photos!