Friday, August 30, 2013

Early mornings, hot sun and running with the pros. Also, pride.

The simpler title for this post would be "The Chicago Triathlon" ... but where's the fun in that?

This whole endeavor started out with Linda's decision to do her first international-distance tri. I, being brilliant, suggested that Pam, Jim and I form a relay team. That way we could experience the distance, but not have to do it. And much to my surprise, they agreed.

So when the alarm went off at 3 a.m. (I must be lonely) yesterday, I had no one to blame but myself. I piled into the car with Linda and her sisters, Lorna and Terri, and we met Jim and Pam to caravan into the city.

Before sunrise.

Arriving at Millennium Park in the wee hours is kinda surreal. I helped Linda set up her transition area by flashlight while Pam helped Jim get his set up. The early morning breeze felt wonderful, giving no clue as to the heat that was to come, and I can honestly say I rather enjoyed the experience. Soon, we were as ready as we could be, which was a good thing because the transition area closed at 5:45. In the morning.

We took the time to survey the course - where the competitors got out of the water, jogged to the bike, got onto the bike course, finished it and then started the run. All told, the swim wave for the International distance was a mile (a full mile, in Lake Michigan; God love 'em); the bike was 25 miles; and the run, a 10K. Linda was doing all three, while Pam, Jim and I split our duties. We wandered down to the water to the swim finish line, and waited.

It was incredible to see the swimmers come by. Almost a mile into their day, they looked strong and capable. As the sun came up across the harbor, it was time to enjoy the view and bolster Linda and Pam's courage as they awaited their turn in the water.
Monroe Harbor, in all its sunrise glory
They put on their wetsuits and off they went, leaving me, Lorna, Terri and Alexis to watch the clock and the water for them to come in. Jim headed to the transition area, where he would meet Pam prior to heading out for the ride.

As we sat there along the water's edge, it was impossible not to be moved by the incoming athletes. The wave leaders, with their incredible ability and perfect form, seemed to glide past us. But the ones who struggled to finish were the most inspiring. They dedicated themselves to the task, and there was no way they would get a DNF (did not finish). Lots of reasons to cheer here; real effort was happening in the water.

It took awhile, but soon we saw purple caps heading our way; this was Linda's wave. I knew she'd be middle or back of the pack, but I kept an eye out for her the entire time. How I thought I'd recognize her, I do not know, but before too long she appeared, out near the lifeguard boats, pulling strong toward the swim finish. There is little in this life more satisfying than watching a good friend achieve a goal. She was all smiles coming out of the water. We cheered and hollered and followed her a bit as she ran toward transition, and then it was time to get back to the water and watch for Pam. She came in right on schedule, swimming along the wall like a champ. My friends were so strong that day!

I followed Pam to the transition area, and she transferred the chip to Jim ... off he went! We wouldn't see him for 25 miles. Pam was pooped but exhilarated. She changed out of her wetsuit and was now able to relax; she had done it! I am so proud of her for getting out there and trying, doing something amazing while much of the world was still asleep.

As we waited for Jim to return, we relaxed in the shade. It was starting to really heat up outside, we also kept our eyes open for Linda to return from her bike portion. When she arrived back at transition, she was all smiles but also upset. She had bike malfunction issues, and was not happy by the time she finished the ride. Her legs were sore, but on she went. Shortly after that, it was my turn. Yes, at shortly past noon, in full sun, with the temperature reading 91 degrees, I was running 6.2 miles.

It took a long time, but the tri staff did a great job keeping us safe and hydrated. My favorite part (other than seeing the EMTs at about the 2.5 mile mark) was the fire truck with a huge industrial fan, raining cold water down on the runners at miles three and four. It was enough to give me a new lease on life!

Shortly before my run leg took off, the pro wave began. Yes, at 11:30 a.m., the "real" athletes started their swim. I wasn't too depressed when they started to pass me on the run; I mean A) these people do this for a living and B) even if they didn't, they are certainly in a helluva lot better shape than I am! I did the smart thing; I let the ease of their stride and their obvious athletic prowess propel me forward. Concentrating on them rather than the heat or the fact that I felt stupid for doing this in the first place really helped!

Being on the course with the pros was an incredible experience, because they offered encouragement and inspiration, just like the amateurs. I didn't expect that at all, but I shouldn't be surprised; I know athletes to be some of the most supportive people in the world. It was in the last mile when two pros ran past me, together. One of them said, "You got this. Finish strong!" and I replied, "Thanks! You guys look great; I'm just gonna follow you!" and he gave me a thumbs-up and kept running. Awesome.

When I finally approached the finish - hell, I'd only been out for six miles, and Linda had done the entire race herself! - I was pooped. POOPED, I tell ya. But I ran in strong and confident; hot as it was, sore and tired as I was, I felt great! Here's me with less than a half mile to go:
Photo not yet purchased. I like that the watermark covers up my cottage cheese thighs.
Even though I didn't complete the full tri on my own, this was a special experience. Being part of a team is different. It allows you to put your focus on your friends and move through the event without the panic of wondering how you'll do in the next discipline. It's actually a very relaxed way to complete a tri!

As I approached the finish line, my posse was there waiting - Terri, Linda and Lorna Clegg, and Lorna's daughter Schlex. 

The posse, just after Linda finished - Schlex, Terri, Linda and Lorna
When I crossed the finish line, I got my water and more water and have I mentioned water? And my medal. Can't forget the medal; do you think I do these things for fun? No. I like medals.

Because laying in the grass is EXACTLY what you should do after finishing a six-mile run.
And just like that, it was over. I'm so proud of Linda, and I'm equally proud of Jim, Pam and myself. Out of 98 relay teams, we came in 35th! Plus, we had a good time ... which is always the goal.

As we were packing up Linda's bike back in the transition area, we met a guy named Frank, who had won his age group. We struck up an easy conversation, which happens a lot at events like this because hey, we have something in common, right? Anyway, he teaches spin at the Midtown Athletic club in Palatine, and he invited Linda and I to stop by and take a class - nice guy! We congratulated him (and objectified him a bit; the man was clearly created by a technician very close to God) and he chuckled. He said thank you, offering us this bit of advice: "Always accept a compliment, and always accept a gift. They are always given in hopes you will take them." 

Okay, Frank. I'm trying.

Monday, August 19, 2013


I have had an interesting week of running. Beginning last Monday, I decided to incorporate a little tactic I learned from my favorite Marine - "Attack the Day". Ryan taught me that getting up early and busting through the workout before anything else sets the tone for the day, and totally puts you in charge. So as much as early mornings make me want to punch myself repeatedly in the lady business, I've been setting my alarm. 

For 4:30 a.m.

Up and out the door by 5 is not easy for me. But once I'm out, I love it. And that love is starting to show up in the run itself. Last week, I had two miles on the training plan. I ran them in under a half hour - 28 minutes, 40 seconds, to be exact, for an average pace-per-mile of 14:11. Not bad for a clydesdale such as myself. But today was another story entirely.

Today it was three miles, just as the sun was beginning to make the horizon glow. The air was chilly and perfect, and the birds were whistling at me. (They do like to flatter, don't they?) I took my first mile at a relaxed pace, letting my legs warm up. This is sort of a requirement, because when it's early, my everything hurts. I set off through the subdivision and decided I could speed up in mile two.

I felt strong, and I will admit I felt kinda special, being up before the rest of the world. I thought about form, taking care to do the work as cleanly as possible. Even steps; core tight; head up. On short runs, I don't use headphones and I don't listen to music; I just listen for the app to notify me at each mile, and to let me know when I am half done so I can turn around and head home. 

It wasn't until I made the turn to come home and heard my final mile come to a close that I realized I had reached an elusive goal: I had run negative splits for each mile (with my pace getting faster each mile, instead of slower). Not only did I do it, my third mile was almost 30 seconds faster than my first!

I am hoping to keep this up throughout my training for the Wine & Dine Half Marathon in November. I've given myself over to the training, and I am determined to follow it as closely as possible right up until race day. There will be tweaks, but over all, I'm keeping my eyes on the prize.

Speaking of which, this weekend promises a unique prize of its own. I am participating in the Chicago Tri on a relay team! Yes, my friends Pam and Jim were foolish enough to allow me to do the run leg! Pam is doing the one-mile swim, Jim will be biking 25 miles and I ... foolishly, I've been elected to run the 10K (6.2 miles) anchor leg to finish out the race. Mostly because Jim didn't want to run. Linda is doing the full race, and I am so proud of her! I'm looking forward to busting out of my comfort zone, doing something different, earning a shiny new medal, and working as part of a team.

And finishing. I always look forward to finishing.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

And so, she ran

On Tuesday night, I had a tempo run on the training plan. The intention was to run a mile to warm up, run three miles at a pace of 14:33, and run a fifth mile to cool down.

For me, tempo running or speedwork is best done on the treadmill. That way, I get to set the 'mill to run at my goal pace and get it done without worrying about it. But last night ... oh, my, last night the weather was perfect. It was as if the air were begging me to get out in it, to let it dance past me for five miles. So, I drove to my dad's house and made my way to the Fox River Trail.

It. Was. Perfect.

And apparently, I was ready to go. Usually, my warmup and cooldown pace is in the 16-minute mile range. (Don't judge.) Yesterday, my one-mile warmup was at 15:24, and my one mile cooldown was 16:12. I averaged pretty much a perfect pace. But the real fun happened in the middle three - the "tempo training" part of the run. Remember, I was supposed to hit the 14:33 mark. Mile two was 13:37; mile three was 14:10; mile four, 13:44 ... for an average pace-per-mile of 13:50.

Not fast, by any means. But damn good for me, shaving 45 seconds per mile off my training time! This is progress.

The entire run felt successful. I felt good - if a little bit sore and fatigued now and then - the entire time. I pushed myself to run a lot of it, when generally I am a lot more generous with the walk breaks. I am improving. So the real success was not in the pace or the time, but in my ability to keep myself moving forward in confidence. It didn't hurt, though, that a few of the people I passed out there served up some great motivation. Like the lady who said "Keep going!" when I was about half way. The girl who told me I looked like I was having fun at mile three. And especially the dude who gave me a high-five when I was finishing up the last tempo mile.

It felt great. And I thought to myself, "Yeah. I'm a runner."

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Rest is Over

As of this morning at 5 a.m., I am no longer resting. I got up early and got my run on!

My friend and fake step brother Ryan, who can basically be single-handedly blamed for the fact that I run at all, taught me years ago that the key to fitness is to "attack the day." Meaning, get out of bed and get it done before your day officially "starts." Makes sense, but it is oh, so hard to do.

But not today. Today, I was up and at 'em.

Okay. Today I was up. At 'em may take time. But I had two miles on the training plan, and I got 'em done. I'm proud of that! (I even made it to the office on time.)

I also weighed in (205.8) and packed a (mostly) healthy lunch. So it's back to the drawing board, time to get real, time to prepare for the fourth and final half marathon of the year.

And I feel good, because the week of rest and a weekend of fun with friends left me feeling balanced and alive. I'm capable, and I'm energized. So let's see what the week will bring!

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Last week, I was right on with the training plan. I mean, dedicated. Every step of the way.

Then the weekend came and I felt absolutely spent. Monday came, and I didn't run. Tuesday. Wednesday. Here we are on Thursday, and I'm going to get a short, easy run in tonight. But that may be all the working out I do this week.

I think I have been physically and emotionally exhausted, burning the candle at (at least) three ends. So I re-programmed the training plan to start over on Monday.

It's not throwing in the towel; it's more like taking the towel off the rack, washing it in hot water with bleach, and starting fresh.

I give myself permission to do this. Life is far too short to stay attached to a training plan that needs a recharge. And that's what I am doing.

As for my weight, I am still doing well, post-cleanse! Monday morning I logged in at 205.2; now, this week has been hit or miss, with barely anything logged, calorie-wise. But I am confident I haven't gained much (if anything), so I'm just giving myself a little grace to come back refreshed on Monday. And I absolutely will not allow myself to go completely off the rails this weekend. For realz.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Diva Dash Obstacle Race

Posting quickly because this was a busy damn weekend, but on August 3 my sister Jenn and I did the Diva Dash 5K Obstacle Race in Sandwich, IL. It was a great run!

Jenn and I try to do something each year around her birthday; this year, we ran Jenn's first obstacle race and it was awesome! I finished in 50:43.39, averaging a 16:54-minute/mile, which is pretty slow but hey, obstacles.

The race was sponsored by Shape Magazine, and it was really well done. Jenn and I had a blast, and we'd do it again!
I'm the king of the tire pile!
And I didn't pay to use this photo!