Monthly Archives: September 2013

Protesting Neon with a Tight Belt

No water belts or neon shoes here! *

Races and other running misadventures have taught me to wear a water belt. Slowing for water stations messes with momentum, while eagerness to gulp and get out of the way for other thirsty pilgrims compromises actual water intake. There is something to be said for being in control of your hydration, even if the belt look ridiculous. Earlier this summer I bought one for a pretty penny, because it was the only model without neon green bottles. Alas, I ripped off the tags before discovering its ego-bruising impracticality. Ranty digression: I do not (rather, did not) understand why so much running gear seems inspired by the palettes of Skittles and Starburst. Michael’s new pair of shoes are a blinding mashup of yellow and lime; variations on that style zip are all over the city. A large company that rhymes with  bikey might be partly to blame. In an act of “Ambush Marketing,” it clad the feet of hundreds of 2012 Olympians in neon green; according to research, that hue has the most eye-grabbing power, especially in contrast with red tracks. Since I am not an Olympic caliber runner, or even someone who cozies up to the first corrals, I prefer not to draw attention to my feet. And although appearance is not supposed to influence choice of running shoes,  any pair that hurts my eyes won’t be considered. I held on to my basic black super comfortable Mizunos until the uppers starting separating from the soles and duct-taping had diminishing returns.   Leah Etling of A Page a Day, though not targeting neon in particular, captures the spirit of my frustration: ” I think these metallic-accented monstrosities look like something that my Jazzercise Barbie would have worn with her leg warmers and belted unitard back in 1984.” End of ranty digression.

Ok–maaaaybe I can see how the neon accentuates their feet’s amazing feats. Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images.

Back to the water belt. . . Size: When I tried it on at home, I realized It barely reaches around my waist. How depressing is that?! I don’t need any more encouragement to scowl at my body; I am already mourning the slow and steady expansion of my belly due to aging (it can’t be related to love of chocolate, bread and wine). There is also the small matter of breathing. I am thinking about hacking in a belt extender. Function: The water spout things on top never fully close. When I bend over to tie my shoes, pick something up, or stretch my back and hamstrings,  the trickles of water make me feel like I am peeing my pants.  And I better not (again)  carelessly toss it on a wood surface, such as the treasured mid-century modern table I inherited from my grandparents, as it leaves water stains that take some serious muscle to wax and buff away. Other minor complaints: Unless positioned precisely, the bottles interfere with my vigorously swinging arms which supposedly help scoot me along. It also doesn’t have a proper pouch–just a tiny place for a key and a few chews. The bottles are on the small size, though I guess if they were any bigger the belt would need to be longer. Which would be great!  Ah well, I am grateful to have such “problems.”

I am aware of the irony of decrying bold colors while sporting Starburst pink. But the thrift store find was hard to pass up. This reminds me of one of my favorite Simpsons episodes, where Sideshow Bob takes to the airways to denounce TV. The picture links to the episode. The speech is at about 8:50. Oh–and those are poop bags for a run I did with Meatball.

*Re the picture at the top of the post: The 1977 animated film will always be my favorite Hobbit movie.  It hews to the story and still leaves plenty to the imagination. I kind of wish I could unsee the Peter Jackson versions. They were stunning, lush, and in many cases close, but they  smothered the Tolkien universe I have carried in my heart and mind since I was a kid. I am trying to hold my son back from seeing the new movies until we have read all the books together.

Race Day Postscript: Takeaways

No need to pack your own banana unless you plan to eat it before the race. I always feel guilty eating fruit that has to travel so far to get here. But if the banana crisis ( comes to pass, those post-race tables will need to groan under some other perfect fruit.

They say long  training runs before long races are as much about rehearsing logistics as preparing your body. My takeaways from the Chicago Half Marathon:

  1. Sleep more in the days leading up to the event. A sleepless night before a race is OK and usually inevitable. But try not to have an overall sleep deficit.
  2. Eat 2nd breakfast. Despite the 3:30am hearty serving of oatmeal, I was not well fueled. Also, do a better job of gently carbing up in the days before.
  3. Get over feeling dorky about wearing a water belt. Sometimes it is nice to glide by crowded water stations.
  4. Get over fear of mid-race pit stops. It’s not like I am some elite athlete where an extra minute or two is going to make that much of a difference.
  5. Per above, study the route map for porta-potty locations.
  6. Don’t pack bananas unless I plan to eat them pre-race. There are mountains of potassium to be had after the finish line and bananas are gross after being cooped up in a bag for hours.
  7. Bring spare shoes.
  8. Run negative splits. . .according to my own pace abilities. Until I improve my speed, I need to concede that my pals are faster than I am, and forgo in-race company and conversation.
  9. STRETCH! ICE! POP ANTI-INFLAMMATORY PILLS! Take niggling injuries more seriously before they became debilitating.
  10. Oh, and turn up the training.

Race Day Part 3: Just Another Training Run

In case you were wondering if I made all this stuff up. Not that that would make any sense.

 Part 1 Part 2   (Because I am making this retelling of the race day as long as the race itself.)

A couple of years ago, Karen and I cooled off in the lake after a broiling 10K. We were suitably exhausted and started chatting with another woman who had clearly been at the race as well.  “Only 15 more miles to go,” she said cheerfully. We learned she was training for the marathon; the race was a mere warmup to the rest of her run. I found this to be quite remarkable, considering I was not sure I would be able to squeeze my swollen feet back into my shoes for the trip home.

As Clare and I made our way up and down Lake Shore Drive for our 13.1 mile run, I thought of that woman, and my ultimate goal of making it to and through the marathon four weeks away.  This was not a particularly triumphant thought along the lines of: “Check me out; I am like that warrior runner I met years ago!” Rather: “Clare, you go on ahead–pant, pant–I don’t want–pant, pant–to totally mess up my foot. Don’t. care. about. time. Just–grimace–need to finish. Gonna downgrade this to a training run.”

After waiting in line for about 30 minutes to hit the toilets (not worth the wait for me, though I think Clare had some symbolic success), we had worked our way into the two hour pace group, which she described as “aspirational more than realistic.” We would have to average a 9:10 pace over 13.1 miles to meet that goal. We got a sense of how huge the race was because it took seven minutes for our group to get to the start. It was incredible to see Lake Shore Drive brimming with people. Should be like that every weekend!

The first few miles disappeared in conversation and ease. When we passed the 5K mark, I thought there was a mistake. Self flagellation and deprecation aside, I have significantly increased my endurance over the years. At about 5 miles, the sun and humidity rose. We were bouncing between 9:30 and 10:10 min/miles which felt good, but was too fast for me, especially since I was coming off a break. It was also likely too slow for a 2 hour finish, even though we were using the negative split approach.

Laying down the hammer on my curiously knotted gear bag.

My decision point occurred at mile 7:  lay down the hammer, or conserve? That is when  I urged Clare to hammer on without me. We stayed in step for a while but then I floated back and focused on another dilemma:  what to do about my throbbing colon. (Back to the potty talk–sorry!)  If I took a bathroom break,  my time would really be off. If I did not, I would get more and more uncomfortable, which—in retrospect—is also a time killer. I missed one chance, and regretted it, but found a station at around 10 miles. Dashed in, dashed out. Maybe took a minute. Definitely improved the final miles of the race.

Perhaps because I was relatively relaxed and did not attempt a strong kick (running parlance for revving up and sustaining high speed at the end of the race), I noticed and savored the Golden Lady pulling us to the finish line.

Got my medal, sighed a bit about my time (2:15:16/10:19 pace–at least a wee bit better than earlier this summer), got my gear, and connected with Clare, who beat me by 7 minutes.  Instead of stretching properly (which I paid for later), I spent 20 minutes untying the Fort Knoxed knot on my gear bag.

We were soaked. I wrung out my socks, bringing back the memory of our last race where I took off my running bra  in the subway a la Jennifer Beal and made a waterfall onto the tracks. This time my bra was way too structured to be pried off subtly,  so I went shirtless for the operation. Clare made the obligatory screen with her jacket, but since I was sitting and quick, and everyone around us was too dazed or engrossed in beer and pizza (the last things we wanted to put in our bodies), I don’t think I offended anyone.

We made our way to the shuttles buses headed downtown. Sweaty, tired people splayed out with the mood and smell of accomplishment. I nearly  put my head on Clare’s shoulder to fall asleep, but I couldn’t reach it. We then had a long wait at the blue line, followed by a slow bike ride to her house, where her husband, Scott, greeted us with coffee, homemade waffles, and freshly whipped cream. And it wasn’t even noon yet. Postscript

I am digging the tradition of Scott’s post-race feasts. Guess that means I have to pester Clare to do more races with me.

Race Day Part 2: Hurry Up and Wait. Then Hurry.

See part 1 of Gin and Clare’s Chicago Half Marathon morning here:

Ninety minutes. It felt as vast as Jackson Park.  Invoking the philosophy of “when in doubt, wander,” we set off into the moist grass, avoiding the paths packed with industrious organizers and volunteers carrying barricades, clipboards, tents, cases of bananas, and all other matter of race day essentials. We were like guests who arrive to a party early. You sort of want to offer to help chop the vegetables, but often the best bet is to grab a drink and get out of the way.

As we walked, vapor lights  deepened the darkness around us, and popped the green of  the turf below.  It took a while  to realize we were on a golf course. This elicited  conversations about sneakaway spots we had as teens, which in turn helped pass the time.

We eventually  settled and snacked at the base of the “Golden Lady,” the small scaled, but still impressive, replica of the Statue of the Republic. The original overlooked the White City built for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, which was held in Jackson Park and surrounding areas.  Two hundred years later, at the Chicago Half Marathon’s Tent City, I tried to channel the excitement and hope of leaning into the 20th century (no Y2K to worry about!). I was glad to be with a friend and not a lone gal wandering the big, sooty city vulnerable to the overtures of an incinerating psychopath.


At around 6:15am–still 45 minutes from the starting line–we sensed mobilization and hurried to gear check. It reminded me of flying Southwest during the 90’s. Seating was first come, first served, and people would arrive over an hour early  to increase the odds of an overhead bin and a window seat. (That was my motivation, anyway.)The line would snake informally though and around seats and on the floor, with gentleman’s agreements keeping a sense of general order. But eventually–and often unnecessarily early–someone would decide to queue up by the gate, creating a mad scramble of people grabbing their shit and dashing into line. Honor mostly prevailed, but I must tell the truth: there were times I used my sharp analytical skills, lack of height, quick feet, and earnest smile to slip into unearned spots towards the front of the B line.

Our mellow suddenly turned to brisk. Zip over to gear check, then the porta-potty line, which was moving slowly and making everyone near and behind us a little  nervous. It is such a strange thing, this ritual of people hoping to head to the start line with empty bladders and happy bowels. It’s not like a stadium where beer engorged people queue up between innings or quarters with a chuckling “I gotta pee!” spirit. It’s much more serious and collegial. Every time that green half circle clicks the door open, you can see the triumph or defeat; when the people in front of you go in, you think things like “godspeed and may the force (of gravity and peristalsis) be with you.” See what happens next here.


Race Day: Part 1

I just noticed something a little incongruous about this picture. . .

I drafted something up about last Sunday’s half-marathon, but it keeps getting long and less finished. So, I am going for the serial format. 

The alarm went off at 3:40am, about 3 hours after I had finally settled down to sleep. I grabbed my clothes and tiptoed downstairs, following the smell of “caramelized” oatmeal. This is the 2nd time I have unsuccessfully used the slowcooker the night before a race. Next time I’ll stick with the stovetop, even if it means getting up even* earlier. Or nuke some leftovers.

To muffle the acrid notes, I mixed in some homemade applesauce (gotta keep those apples moving!) Then, I chugged iced coffee that I had (more successfully) prepped the night before, got dressed, checked my gear, and hit the restroom with every runner’s hope: to drop a load before crossing the start line. With only a token success, I moped back to the kitchen to finish packing snacks.

Waitasecond—I thought I already grabbed a bagel.  Meaaaaaatball!

Yes, it was foolish of me to leave food at floor level. But the dog had been sleeping. It was the wrong time of day for his stomach to be rumbling. How did he know?? I can’t get a thing past that beast.

Bagel? What bagel?
Bagel? What bagel?

I hopped on my bike, and pedaled about a mile to the Blue Line through almost empty streets. Just some taxis carrying late night revelers, or making early morning airport runs. Spoiler alert: for the only time in the day, I beat Clare. She clambered to the platform as I was taking a picture of three Logan Squares headed our way. Seconds later, the 4:42am train pulled up—right on time—and we joined other bleary eyed runners clasping clear gear bags and wearing bright non-cotton shirts; we probably tripled the normal passenger load at that hour.

At Washington, the train coughed us up and indifferently rumbled along.** We spread east, merging with more rubber soled pilgrims,  boarded one of the many yellow buses queued up on Michigan Ave., sped down Lake Shore Drive under still dark skies, and arrived. . .1 ½ hours early.  Part 2  Part 3  Postscript

*WTF does “even” even mean in this kind of context? Is it one of those words like “got” that are impossible to explain? Our friend, Jim Redd, lives in Ecuador and during a recent visit challenged us to think about how we would teach “got” to someone who does not speak English.
**I love to anthropomorphise trains. Before succumbing to bike dependency, I took a lot of transit. I wrote many odes and rants about the experiences, usually in situ. That’s something I miss.

zzzzzzzzzz. . . . ..

After yesterday’s race, I was going to write a short blog post, to fulfill my goal of writing every day until the marathon. I started it in my head:

The good thing about a three hour nap is that it is a three hour nap.

The bad thing about a three hour nap is that your body has time to start retaliating for the morning’s abuse, and you wake up in the pain that usually waits until the next day.

shakespeare-can-be-fun-r-and-jWhen Miguel got tired of my “just 5 more minutes” mumblings and pulled me out of bed, my right heel hurt so badly that I needed help from Michael to get down the hall and the stairs. I iced my foot like crazy, made the corn for dinner, finished reading Romeo and Juliet* to Miguel, and crashed again.

The early bedtime helped me ignore the pain, but axed my writing streak after only four posts. So I am writing twice today to make up for it.

*I love using these versions of Shakespeare by 2nd and 3rd grade teacher Lois Burdett. She abridges them into an accessible-to-kids poem format that includes language from the plays and illustrations and writing from her students.

beer and tubers

imageMichael and I  share a lot of values, interests, tastes, etc. But there are some significant areas of divergence, including:

1) booze: I like wine, he likes beer.
2) tubers: He loves potatoes, I do not, unless they are yams or sweets, and I just learned that those are technically roots. He has eyes for the stem tubers:  potatoes that are white, yellow, purple, waxy, crumbly, Idaho, and who knows what else.

But in an attempt to “top off the carbs”* before tomorrow’s race, I nuked two old potatoes foraged from the bottom of our fruit basket, smashed them with salt and olive oil, and added some chopped tomatoes. I washed it down with a cider/beer shandy concocted by Michael, who has been diligently juicing his way through the carpet of apples our tree, assisted by squirrels, has been laying out for us every morning these past few weeks.

Although the beverage outshone the meal (especially since the fresh cider outshone the beer), I feel a little buoyed knowing I will have some Michael fuel to draw from tomorrow.


*The Mistake: Eating a Box of Pasta

Many runners like to top off their glycogen stores by feasting on carbs the night before a race. And why not? You’re going to burn through them the next day. But flooding your system with more carbs than it can  process may lead to digestive problems that will have you running to the porta-potty every mile.
The Fix: Consume moderate quantities–not huge portions–of  carbs for several days prior. “Massive amounts of any food throw your  system a curve ball,” says Jauquet. Have oatmeal for breakfast, potatoes at lunch, and pasta for dinner. “Eat just to fullness, so you don’t get indigestion or have trouble sleeping,” says Tara Gidus, R.D., a  spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

Taking Chicago for Granted

I met shivering people from around the world I the marathon corrals last year, many of whom were jealous of my short trip.
I met shivering people from around the world in the marathon corrals last year, many of whom were jealous of my short trip.

This morning, during our run (yay, I made it out!), Clare and I were moaning a bit about the logistics of getting to the start line of this weekend’s race. We have to go alllllll the way down to South Shore for a 7am start. This will involve dragging our butts to the blue line in time for the 4:41 train to get downtown on time for the 5:30am shuttle south.

Oh, the inconvenience!

Not only that,  race packet pick up is at Navy Pier. The ennnnnd of Navy Pier! And, in order for someone else to pick up our goods, we need to give them our ID (a copy used to suffice), and a *notarized* authorization. Thanks to Clare’s husband, who works downtown, for sorting everything out” for us, and procuring the packets.

But then I thought about all the folks who travel to Chicago for these events. The only reason I do as many races as I do is that they are in my own back yard, often in easy biking and/or transit distance. Do I sometimes get tired of starting at Montrose? Sure. But it’s 30 minutes away! No plane ticket and hotel required.

I love this city. (Except for our woefully underfunded public schools.)


runningchartDuring tonight’s snuggle, my son(6) made air quotations and asked what they mean. I relish these questions, even though they are hard to address. So much of what we “know” is buried deeply in experience;  it can be hard to dig it out for investigation.*

I started with examples.  The toddler “cleaned” her room. During our flight to Ecuador, we were served “dinner.” I have been “training” for the marathon. We talked about how quotes around words and phrases are a signal that we don’t exactly mean what we are saying. Maybe it is an incompleteness, or diet version of the meaning.

He caught on quickly. “You mean something like my mom is quote/unquote smart?” Har, har, har. I will save the convo about trying to avoid such speaking and writing tics for another day.

We found this castle on an early morning run through Humboldt Park, and gave thanks to the snow plow that cleared the park roads quickly.

I put the title of this post in quotes, because I am not putting a whole lot of stock in my little chart of race performances in the last few years. There are many variables besides experience and level of training influencing those paces (including race distance). The Sedona 10K in March, 2011 was hot, had an incline, and was at altitude–not something you can train for in Chicago. But running with Karen through single digit temps and double digit snow falls that winter prepared us well enough, and pulled me through some of the darkest periods of my life. Although my pace for that race slightly interrupts the overall downward trend in the 10Ks I have run, it represents some of the most disciplined and challenging training I have done.

But I also like pulling the numbers together; memory and gut checks are not always reliable, and slicing and dicing even small datasets can reveal tidbits. I did not realize how many races I have done (no wonder I have so many darn shirts!) or that most have been 10ks. Those paces have trended gently down, which makes me optimistic about improving at a particular distance over time. In 2012, leading up to and right after the marathon, I started getting into the 9 territory, but my pacing in the longer races was slower, understandably.  I would like to consistently perform below 10 for all distances.

But, mostly I have to survive the next two races. I botched the last half marathon b/c I went out too fast and hit the wall. Bad race strategy. Going for negative splits this Sunday, and not worrying too much about overall pace. I can always put an asterisk on that column about why I was under-prepared. Excuses, excuses!

Getting a Little Nervous


“Did you win?!” asks my  son after each race.
“No, honey,  I don’t run to win these races. I will never win them. But I am proud to have run and finished.”
Look of pity:  “Well, maybe you will win next time if you keep trying.”

Perhaps the concept of being a minnow in sea of sharks, and competing more against yourself than others, is hard for a six year old. It is sweet, though, to think about how optimistic young children can be about our abilities.

In the six years since I broke the 15 minute running barrier, I have maintained a gentle, upwards trajectory of improvement, in terms of both stamina and speed (or, in my case, reduction in slowness ). Race deadlines more than discipline are to credit and blame for this barely perceptible growth. Even with haphazard training, I always do enough to heave myself across the finish line; with each event, my baseline level of running ability improves, if only a bit.

But he’s also correct: if I trained harder, I could win. Not in a podium way, but at least compete, instead of complete. Not in the top three, but the top third, maybe even in the “top quartile” (per age and gender group, of course–improving performance by shrinking the pond, heh, heh). Lose 20 pounds instead of 2, drop minutes instead of seconds! For once cross the finish line before my fleeter, and more disciplined, running pals, Clare and Megan.

Pancake filled after this summer's half marathon (thanks, Scott!)  I came in third. Suspect I will eat Clare's dust this weekend, too.
Pancake filled after this summer’s half marathon (thanks, Scott!) I came in third. Suspect I will eat Clare’s dust this weekend, too.

Each time I sign up for the race, I promise “This time it’s going to be different!” I will do speedwork, tempo runs, and long runs. I will work my core, stretch my hip flexors, and pamper my Achilles. I will eat to maximize performance, recovery, and (healthy) weight loss.

I am sure I will eventually do all those things for a race. But, apparently, not for the 2013 Chicago marathon, a month and change away, and most definitely not for the half-marathon I am running this weekend, where I most certainly will not outrace Clare.

In fact, between a recent bout of plantar fasciitis and more recent bout of  strep throat (NSFW), I have barely run at all in the last few weeks. This is not good. Fear of a DNF at the marathon is starting to scratch at me.  But I am not giving up hope. Being sick helped me drop two pounds–that can count as a performance booster, yes? (hmm, but maybe it was muscle. . .) I have plenty of experience achieving other ill-advised, daunting feats for which I was under-prepared. I have never not been able to cross the finish line.

So I am going to do some crash training in the next few weeks, write about it,  and see what happens.