Thursday, May 31, 2012

I'm Going Streaking!

Before you get too excited, I'm doing a running streak. Fully clothed. Runner's World is challenging its readers to run their first ever summer running streak - running every day for a 38 days between Memorial Day and the 4th of July. I'll be honest - as much as I love running, I'm kind of a baby. I'll run a half marathon and take two days off to rest my IT band (which, let's be honest, kind of needs it). I'll run 3-4 days a week and think that's enough. When I saw the Runner's World streak, I saw an opportunity to challenge myself this summer.

Who doesn't love Will Ferrell's infamous scene in OLD SCHOOL?
I'm four days in, and I'll admit that if it weren't for pushing myself to do this streak, I would've begged off running a few days this week. It was on Tuesday. I was tired this morning. There are all kinds of excuses, and completing the streak is not letting me give in to any of them. The streak will also help push me to do speed training for my goal to break a 25 minute 5k in the Playmakers Race Series this summer. 

Runners waiting for the Mason State Bank 5k, my first race of the Playmakers Race Series
This summer also starts a traveling streak of sorts for my husband and me. Our next "free" weekend is in August. I have two work trips in June - to Munising, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula and Boyne Highlands in northern Michigan. I will be attending a bachelorette party in Traverse City, Michigan in June. We're taking our New England/Montreal road trip the first week in July. I'm heading to West Virginia to see my parents for a weekend in July and am in a wedding in Southeast Michigan at the end of the month. My husband then finishes his Masters degree from Penn State, prompting a trip to State College, PA for his graduation. After that we're free...for a few weekends until football season starts. We have football season tickets at Michigan State, so I have to work fall races around the football schedule.

This summer I'll be seeing a lot of Pure Michigan
Adding a run streak to my traveling streak really only makes sense. Who has time for relaxation anyway? How are you challenging yourself this summer?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Getting my Chicago fix

It's no secret that Chicago and I are having a torrid love affair. I visited her again this weekend with my sister and niece. It was their first visit, and I had to warn my sister that I would say, "I love it here" about 100,000 times. And I did. It still remains my favorite city, and I continue to marvel with every visit about how Chicago really gets it right - probably more than any other place I've ever been to it. Yes, we're definitely still in love.

We had a short, whirlwind visit filled mostly with touristy things that I actually had never done. We stayed at the Congress Plaza hotel on Michigan Avenue. I stayed at the Congress Plaza last fall for the first time, and it's now my go to spot in Chicago. It's in a great location, has very reasonable prices, and I am just a fan of an old historic hotel. I also found out (inadvertently and much to my 7-year-old niece's worry) that the Congress Plaza is allegedly haunted. As a matter of fact it's supposed to be one of the most haunted hotels in the country. I have yet to have a paranormal experience, but there's always next time.

Michigan Ave and our haunted(?) hotel
We arrived in the late afternoon and immediately headed out to check out the city. We walked over through Grant Park to the landmark Buckingham Fountain. I had never actually seen the center jets shooting far into the air (I read later that it is around 150 feet). It was beautiful and a great way to start our trip.

Buckingham Fountain

Enjoying a beautiful walk by Lake Michigan
The weather was perfect as we walked along the lake over to Navy Pier. I had never been to Navy Pier either, and there were tons of people on a gorgeous afternoon. We visited some of the shops and then headed up to ride a few rides. I had never ridden a ride like the Wave Swinger and had always wanted to. It turns out I am a giant wimp, and along with the gusty winds was actually a little frightened. My niece was much braver than I. We also rode the carousel, and then it was already time for dinner (the lines for the rides were pretty long).

No trip to Chicago is complete without deep dish pizza. There was a Giordano's on the walk back to the hotel. There were lines out the door, but we put in our name and were seated after only ten minutes. The pizza was fantastic, as always. We stopped at my favorite Chicago spot, Millennium Park, on the way back to the hotel. I realize it was a holiday weekend, but there are always so many people out enjoying the park. We headed back to our (haunted?) hotel to get some rest after an exhausting few days.

The Bean in Millennium Park

Crown Fountain at Millennium Park

I had to force myself to get up and run on Sunday. Those three pieces of Giordano's deep dish weren't going to work themselves off. I ran toward the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears they could change the name is a tragedy). The streets were filled with cyclists at 7:30 on a Sunday morning. Even early, there were people everywhere. 

Willis Tower from the ground

I ran a quick 30 minute loop around the Willis Tower and back to the hotel. Breakfast was at the eclectic Artist's Cafe near the hotel. The French Toast Napolean and Intelligentsia coffee were the perfect way to start a Sunday in Chicago. We then decided we'd go up to the Skydeck in the Willis Tower that morning. There was a line down the block, but it moved very quickly. In total the wait was around an hour and a half, but they shuttle you to various points in the building with some interactive exhibits, so it didn't seem like it was that long. When a 7-year-old isn't restless, you know you've done well.

Incredible views from the Skydeck

The views from the Skydeck were breathtaking. The tower is 103 stories, and the panoramic views of Chicago are just incredible. The most thrilling part was the ledge, a glass box that holds you 1,353 feet over the city. It was thrilling and gorgeous. 

On the ledge
It was a quick 24 hour trip to Chicago, but it was enough for me to get my Chicago fix. It may last a few months. I'm already thinking I should look into a fall race there. No matter how often I go, I simply adore Chicago. I love this quote I saw this weekend by Hank Sauer: "But when I go to Chicago, I know I’m home." Until we meet again, Chicago. Until we meet again.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Life, unexpected.

I admit it - I'm a little antsy these days. I'm anxious about running in the right number of races this summer. What is the right number? I have no idea. But I'm still anxious about it. I'm anxious about traveling this summer. Our dream trip to visit my BFF overseas got derailed due to some major life events happening in the near(ish) future so I am anxious about having a "good" vacation. If I can't have a trip to Africa then I want a fabulous domestic getaway.

We'll be visiting Maine for the first time this summer.
It's no secret that I can be a little particular about planning my life. (This is the part where my husband rolls his eyes and mutters, "You think?") Having Crohn's has helped me readjust and realize that I can't plan every detail of my life, but that doesn't mean I'm not itching to try.  When you're growing up you think your life will happen a certain way. You'll go to college, meet someone, get a great job, get married, have 2.3 children and a well-behaved Golden Retriever (unlike my sweet lovable monster), and life will carry on. Buy a house, see said children grow up, have grandchildren, etc, etc.

The perfect family?
Except life isn't predictable. At all. My life certainly hasn't been, and no matter how hard I try to control everything, it's completely uncontrollable. Running is one of the ways I try to stay in control, but even that is hit or miss. I went to run a marathon last weekend and ended up running 15 miles instead. Some days you head off on a long run and have bad weather or injuries. It's never predictable.

I also like to think I'm a totally predictable cityphile. I love the things that make cities great: walkability, public transit, dense streets with shops, restaurants and tons of people. But every great once in a while I visit a city that may not have it all right, and yet I fall in love with it anyway. It's unexplainable. Unpredictable. 

We visited Cincinnati in 2009. It was surprisingly lovely.
My husband and I are in the process of adopting a baby domestically. We are approved and waiting, and it's an eerie calm before the storm that we know parenthood will be. Again - this is a completely unpredictable process. Having 2.3 kids biologically wasn't the plan for us, so here we are, making our own path. It's fantastic and terrifying and again, unpredictable.

Are you ever ready for this?
We've only been waiting for about three months. We have no idea how much longer it will be. Maybe three weeks. Maybe another year. Maybe somewhere in between those two times. And as we wait for the news that we are going to be parents, I'm restless. I want to run all the races I can and travel to all the places we can before our life changes forever.

The exciting thing about not being pregnant is that I don't miss a beat with running or traveling (or enjoying a glass...or two...of wine.) I know that we'll still travel a lot once we have children because that's who we are. And I won't stop running. But it will be an adjustment. I will be forced to reevaluate priorities and planning will take on a different meaning with a little one.

It'll be just like this, right?
With every mile I run I think, "Wow soon I'll have to work my runs around a baby". With every trip we take I wonder if it's the last city we'll visit before we're traveling with a child. I'm fidgety and anxious and thrilled all at the same time. I can't wait to share my love of running and cities with our child. Maybe someday our little family will run these towns together. Until then I'll try to expect the unexpected.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

PR Interrupted

On Sunday I ran (well mostly ran) the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon. The race was extremely well organized, and yet it was my most disappointing race ever. I guess I need to start at the beginning for this all to make sense.

We got a late start driving to Green Bay and rolled into town around 1:15 (central time) Saturday morning. We stayed at the Cambria Suites just across the street from Lambeau Field. The hotel is new and beautiful with great staff. It was the perfect place to stay in Green Bay.

On Saturday morning we headed to the race expo at the Lambeau Field Atrium. As soon as we walked out of the hotel we were surprised by how hot the temperature was. The sky was clear, and the sun was brutal. Although we could have easily walked, we drove to the expo so we could explore Green Bay after. In the expo parking lot I saw people in the bed of a truck drinking beer. Tailgating for packet pick-up? Definitely a new one.

Lambeau Field Atrim where the race expo was held
The race expo was unequivocally the best expo I've ever been to. It wasn't huge, but it had lots of merchandise, and everything was well priced. There was a wide variety of booths including one with U.S. Track and Field Olympic gear. My husband and I are huge Olympics fans, so I was excited to get a U.S. Team running hat. 

After the expo we headed downtown Green Bay for lunch. This lunch was possibly the highlight of the trip. We ate at Titletown Brewing Company, an old train depot turned restaurant. We sat out on a covered patio looking at the river. The atmosphere at the restaurant was so cool, and our service was great. I started carb loading early with a delicious pasta carbonara. My husband had a peanut butter and bacon burger. It sounds weird, but he loved it. The menu was eclectic and interesting. My husband also enjoyed the beer, but I had to abstain from cocktails the day before a race in the heat.

We relaxed at the hotel for a while and then headed out for more exploring. We were on a mission to go to downtown Green Bay, but we were disappointed. We learned later that there was a cute downtown strip, and somehow we missed it. Before this race I knew one thing about the City of Green Bay - that they are home to the Packers. After this race I pretty much know the same thing. The City left a lot of be desired.

We changed tactics and started looking for the beach. We ended up finding the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary. I love animals, and it was such a cool park with walking trails and various animals (birds, otters, wolves, coyotes). We spent several hours walking around and enjoying the park. As we were leaving we discovered an amusement park virtually across the street with carnival rides and a wooden roller coaster right on the bay. We found the park right as it was closing, but it was a very cool space with tons of people.

Gorgeous scenery at the wildlife sanctuary
That night we ate at Old Chicago. We were on a mission to find a pasta and/or pizza place that could accommodate our large group (there were 11 of us). My husband and I are generally anti-chain restaurant, but we were desperate. Dinner was fine, and we headed back to begin our early morning.

I have issues with hydration in general, and I was terrified about the heat. Being a woman who has Crohns and no large intestine means I have to drink even more fluids to stay hydrated. I woke up two hours before the race on Sunday to drink a Gatorade and get ready for the marathon.

Already hot before the start
We walked from our hotel to the start line, and I was already sweating by the time we got there for the 7 a.m. start. My mantra was to keep a steady pace and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.  The race started promptly and we headed off into Green Bay's neighborhoods. The course was very crowded for the first few miles, and despite the heat runners seemed to be in good spirits.

Right after crossing the start
Apparently enjoying myself at mile 3

It started happening early - around mile 2: runners going down. We saw a girl passed out cold on the side of the road. I saw another runner sitting on the curb, head in hands at the second water station. It was warm, but I felt okay. The neighborhoods were shady, and we were only a few miles in. The race organizers had been communicating with runners before the race urging them to hydrate. They set up additional water stations. They gave marathoners the option to switch to the half during the race if they chose. 

One of the many awesome fluid stations

This race had some of the best spectators of any race I've done. Green Bay residents were out in full force, many with hoses and sprinklers to spray water on runners. It was the hoses and sprinklers that kept me going. The strategy was drink a Gatorade, drink 1½ cups of water, pour ½ a cup of water over my head, stuff ice in the front and back of my sports bra and run through every available hose. When I saw my husband at mile 11 I was soaking wet but felt great.

Excited Spotting my husband at mile 11

SOAKED from hoses and ice
I promised myself that if I felt sick or dehydrated in any way I would just do the half, but when the race split at mile 12 I was feeling great. The next few miles from 12-14 were a little tougher because there was less shade. We were also in a more industrial area, so there were no longer any hoses. Despite that the race had tons of fluids and ice at every station, so I was still feeling strong.

Only in Green Bay...

At mile 15 it all came to a halt. Literally. As we approached the 15 mile marker, there was a race volunteer with a sign that said "Marathon canceled". A male runner near us said, "Are you f*&king kidding me?" They weren't. Due to the heat, the medical staff was overwhelmed, so they were closing the course. I was shocked. A race volunteer gave me her phone to call my husband, and we sat on a curb in disbelief. 

At first I was angry with the race because I felt so good. But then my anger shifted to the unprepared runners. People down at mile 4?!? SLOW DOWN. HYDRATE. Come on, people. I have no large intestine. I get dehydrated doing nothing, and yet I was fully hydrated and felt great. I think many runners just jumped in thinking it was no big deal and they ruined it for the many of us who were taking care of ourselves and adjusting to the heat. I hope the girl passed out at mile 4 was okay. And I hope she knows she is part of what ruined it for everyone.

My friend's sister came to pick us up and dropped us at the finish. We were determined to get our medals for the 15 miles of the marathon we ran. We were walking around the finish trying to figure out how to get into the finishing area. There was a break in a gate, so we ran in and ran across the finish, which at this point was completely devoid of runners. We got our medals and headed home.

After the race
My sad face for not being able to finish
Despite the heat, we were solidly at a 4:40-4:45 marathon pace with 11 miles to go. If we had kept it up (which I think would've been easy) it would've shaved 35-40 minutes off my marathon PR. That was the most disappointing thing. Now I've got to find a race to do this fall so I can cut down on this PR once and for all.

I couldn't be more disappointed about the race stopping, but I understand the liability issues. The race had to put runners first, and I get that. The race director sent out an e-mail after the race explaining the decision. From registration until that e-mail the communication from the race organizers was stellar. I never felt like I didn't know where to go or what to do. 

I have a medal for a marathon, and I only ran 15 miles. Race weather is always a total crapshoot, and this just ended up not being a great day for a long run. I hope all of the runners who needed medical attention are okay, and I hope all of us learned that we need to adjust to conditions and take care of ourselves. 

How would I rank the Green Bay Marathon? B. I want to give them an A; I really do. If I'd gotten to finish it would be an A+. I understand the decision, but it was still disappointing.

How would I rank the City of Green Bay? C-. Other than the Packers, I just don't get it.


Monday, May 14, 2012

The cure for this taper hypochondriac

I admit it - I am a TOTAL taper hypochondriac. These last few glorious weeks when the tough marathon training is over should be a time of relaxation. Instead I am stressed that maybe I'm not running enough, and every single twinge or pain is a new one that will affect my ability to run a marathon. I realize it's all in my mind, but that doesn't make it any easier.

Before my first marathon in 2010 I was very injured. My recurring IT band problem was at its worst, and I was terrified that I'd have to permanently abandon the idea of doing a marathon altogether.  I went to see my sports medicine doctor about a week and a half before the race. My knee was causing so much pain that I was terrified of doing irreparable harm. It had to be something else - there's no way my IT band was hurting this much.

My sports medicine doctor on the right. Yes- he's the MSU basketball team doctor. He's awesome.
My doctor is a runner, and his advice was exactly what I wanted to hear. After he asked me what on earth he was supposed to do so close to the race, he told me to go for it. He said it would hurt, and I would need to walk. But it wasn't going to cause irreparable harm. I took his advice and went the distance. I felt great until the 5k mark, and it was down hill for the next 23.1 miles. When I crossed the finish line, 5 hours, 23 minutes and 32 seconds later, I just wanted to (and did) cry. I'd run a marathon, but I felt like crap. I hadn't reached my goal of running the race in less than five hours. Even though it was done, I wasn't satisfied with it.

Hugging my mother-in-law after the Detroit Full and of course crying.
This year I decided to take the marathon plunge again. Fortunately (knock on wood) my IT band has been relatively under control. I have been using the foam roller religiously, and I've worked in more cross training than last time. My other secret is that I haven't been running as much. That may sound counter-intuitive to race training, but if I run fewer miles I'm not getting injured. My half marathon, 5k and 10k times have been great, so we'll just have to see how this affects a marathon.

The cure for my taper hypochondria is running a new town. I've never been to Green Bay, and from everything I've read and seen online it looks like a quaint beach town. Unfortunately this year's race doesn't end in Lambeau Field (much to my husband's chagrin), but I'm looking forward to checking out the sites as well as checking Wisconsin off my 50 state race list (that will give me 44 states to go...I've got a ton of work to do).

The infamous Lambeau Field
Hopefully next week I'll be posting a celebratory post about shaving a minimum of 24 minutes and 32 seconds off my marathon time. For now I've got to go take care of this twinge in my hip...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it people like me

Unlike Stewart Smalley I don't do a daily affirmation, but maybe I should. Who knows - maybe we all should. I have a lot of blessings in my life, but that doesn't mean that there aren't things I wouldn't change. Like many women, I suspect, I have body image issues. I know - hear me out. When I say that I get a few things. One is "No way - you look great". While I appreciate the vote of confidence, it doesn't mean I see myself that way. The other thing I hear (generally from women who weigh more than me) is: "If you feel like you're fat what do you think about me." What they don't realize is my view of myself has absolutely nothing to do with them and absolutely everything to do with my image of myself.

I remember being 12 years old, the summer of 1991. I ordered this fabulous lime green ruffled bikini from JCPenney (the catalog - long before internet). It arrived, and as I excitedly tried it on I remember thinking, "Wow - I look fat." 12 YEARS OLD! That's insane. When I look back at that time I can't believe how tiny I was.

I've never thought of myself as an athlete really, but I was a cheerleader and ran track in high school. I tend to be very muscular, leading me to get asked regularly in college if I was a gymnast. Nope, I'm not a gymnast, but I have been blessed with muscular, gymnast-like thighs.  When I was a freshman in college I tried out for cheerleader at West Virginia University. I worked my tail off, and I felt great about it. The squad had a weight limit of 120 pounds, and I had starved myself down to 121 pounds by living on salads with fat free dressing and low fat frozen yogurt. After tryouts, when I didn't make it, I was told it was because my weight was over the limit. Talk about a blow to the ego and the self image.

My senior high school track photo

I was a gym rat in college, and looking back, I looked fantastic. But I never felt thin enough.  Then my junior year I got sick with Crohn's. All of the health issues wreaked havoc on my body image. After I had surgery to remove my colon in 2000, I weighed 95 pounds. I was so skinny that people did a double take as if to note that I clearly had an eating disorder. I felt self-conscious, and I realized that apparently you can be too thin. Then that was my new problem.

Just a few weeks after surgery. I weighed less than 100 pounds.

For several years I didn't put on weight. I was so small - wearing jeans in a size 0. I ate double quarter pounders from McDonald's every single day my first year of law school. And I didn't gain an ounce. After I started IV infusions in 2002, I gained a little weight - settling into a size 2 or 4. This is the size I remained until I started running.

With my niece in March 2005. Holy size 2 jeans.

When I started running in 2006, I started gaining weight. I gained about 6 pounds which doesn't sound like a lot, but it felt like it. I thought what in the world?!? I am running and now I'm gaining weight? How does that work? My pants became tight in one place - my quads. I had to go up a size in jeans and pencil skirts. I was told "You've got runner's legs. You're gaining muscle." And it took me about six years to buy it.

Fall of 2006 in San Francisco, the day before my first half marathon. Check out those quads (and bad hair)!

Last week during a 5k, my husband took a photo of me that I loved. I look muscular, strong, and kind of bad ass if I'm being honest. I'm no longer a size 2. I am a 33 year old woman who wears a size 4 skirt/6 pants. I am 5'4" and weigh about 131 pounds (give or take a few). I'm not perfect, but I'm strong. I am a runner. And that is my daily affirmation.

Welcome to the gun show.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A weekend with Playmakers

Playmakers is our local running store, and they host most of the area's running events (at least most of the ones I participate in). This year is the 11th year in which they've hosted a local race series. If you compete in 7 out of the 13 races you get a long-sleeved tech shirt. I decided, after talking about it for several years, that this year is the year for me to complete at least 7 races in the race series. I started on Friday night at the Mason State Bank 5k in Mason, MI.

The Ingham County Courthouse and Playmakers flag.

Mason is the county seat of Ingham County (where Lansing is located). I've only been there a couple of times in the six years I've lived here - mainly to visit the cool antique stores in town. The race was on a Friday night, which was somewhat unusual, but we headed out after work to downtown Mason.

Downtown Mason has tons of cute shops and restaurants. Lansing has lots of eateries (mostly catering to the legislative/state employee lunch crowd), but very little retail. I was surprised at the significant amount of retail in Mason. There were a number of great stores in the downtown. The most impressive is Kean's, a charming store (also a Hallmark) that's been downtown Mason since 1928. We looked around inside Kean's before the race - such a great place.

Shops in downtown Mason

Friday was a warm and muggy day, so the race was sure to be an interesting one. I have a goal of breaking a 25 minute 5k this summer (my PR is 26 minutes on the dot) but I generally run around 28 minute 5ks. Being in the middle of marathon training, I was hoping to run somewhere between 27 and 28 minutes.
Before the race started

All smiles at the start
The course ran a loop through cute neighborhoods in Mason before heading back toward the start downtown. I am generally a relaxed 5k runner, but I started hard and kept going hard after running 8:20 miles the first two miles (that's VERY fast for me).

The finish was up a short hill back in front of the courthouse. I was very focused knowing that I had a good time (for me). I crossed the finish line at 26:33. That's 8:33 miles - which for me is very fast. With some solid speed work I should be able to shave a minute and a half off my time this summer.

Totally focused.

And done.
I was really excited with my time. As usual Playmakers did a fantastic job organizing the race. I picked up my packet before the race, and all of the volunteers were knowledgeable and friendly. Everything about the race seemed to go effortlessly.  This is why I love doing races sponsored by Playmakers.

Of course there were clowns.
On Saturday morning I headed out to attend a Playmakers group 20-mile run to finish my last long run of marathon training. I should already be tapering, but some health issues have been messing with my ability to get all the long runs in. 

We met at Hawk Island Park in Lansing. There were tons of people there from all ages and fitness levels who were running various distances. Because I'm not a member of Team Playmakers I had to fill out a form with my contact information and emergency information. I'm sure this was a relief to my husband who is always worried about my safety on long runs.

The run was as organized as an actual race. There were markers at each mile (along with inspirational quotes - I loved that), aid stations, and the company of lots of other runners along the route. Playmakers has a running team that gets together regularly, and many of the runners clearly knew each other. I realized then that I'm definitely joining Team Playmakers. I can't believe it's taken me so long.

My muscles are still sore and achy from the 5k/long run combination, but I'm feeling confident and ready for 26.2 in a few weeks. I am grateful to Playmakers for (without their even knowing) playing a huge role in motivating me for that last run. On to Green Bay!