Category Archives: Running

Follow the Water Fountains

I have an impressively poor sense of direction.  One of the many reasons I don’t drive is that it’s just not feasible to pause every block or so to wonder if I’m on track and to pull a U-turn all the times I realize I’m not. Biking, walking, and running are much more forgiving of these lapses. Thank goodness Chicago’s streets are mostly a grid with a very logical numbering system.

It’s curious that I have worked on so many bike maps as part of my professional life considering how much I struggle to use them. Heading south? Unless I can quickly turn the map upside down, forget about it. Left and right is confusing enough when facing forward. But for all my spatial bumblings, I do have solid skills for planning pleasant routes for self-propelled travels. The problem is just remembering them.


Yesterday, I turned a dreaded run into a fun exercise in map making (the time spent planning may or may not have also been a form of procrastination). I’m overdue for getting in some distance and decided to aim for 6-8 miles. As much as I adore the heat, it seemed prudent to avoid the elevated, unshaded Bloomingdale Trail on an 85 degree, sunny, and likely quite crowded day. I considered taking the bus to the lakefront and running on the path and then home. But the lake has no shade either, it would take more time, and the trip back would involve highway and river crossings on major streets.

Sticking with local, tree-rich, residential streets made the most sense. But I needed a route, or else there was a high likelihood of losing steam and sneaking home too soon. So I pulled up Map My Run and created an 8 mile loop that managed to avoid major infrastructure crossings and minimize time running into the westering sun.  I incorporated Drake and Avondale, some of my fave mellow biking routes.* It was a treat not to have to worry about one ways. Oh wait, oops. What about water fountains? A few tweaks looped in some parks and I was good to go. . . with a route I would never be able to remember. Thanks to modern technology, I sent it to my phone. And since I am in no shape to run 8 miles, I was glad for the built-in excuse of frequent stops to check directions.

Here’s some running commentary (see what I did there) and pics. I will definitely do this loop again. Hopefully with stronger legs and less need to look at my phone every few blocks.


A. Oh yeah, feeling strong. Hey, there’s the tween daughter of one of my running friends. Hi five! I’m heading out for 8 miles. Think I can do it? Thanks! Wait, why did I do that? I’m such a dork. And a big talker. Now I really have to finish this.

B. Ugh, I haven’t even gone a mile and am so over this. Oops, meant head over to Drake here. Is the app recording my deviations from the map?

C. Much walking (yay, a break!) while studying the Drake crossing of Milwaukee.

D. Water stop inside the Avondale Park Building. Should have checked if there is an outside fountain for early morning runs.

E. Avondale Ave! I love biking on this low-traffic diagonal hugging the Metra tracks. Major intersections are tricky, but otherwise you can go full throttle. Just be sure to veer off at Central Park unless you feel like hitting the highway. Time to take a bunch of pictures and catch my breath.

If you are barreling down Avondale and just follow the cars, you will end up on the highway. The turn off to Central Park is easy to miss. Exciting!

F. Avondale Ave! Have I mentioned how much I love this street? On this year’s Father’s Day ride, Kevin alerted us to a magical little spot with vegetation arching the sidewalk.


G. Is this the turn? Yes. (Also: Must. Stop. To. Catch Breathe.)

H. Is this the turn? No. One more block. (Also: Must. Stop. To. Catch Breathe.)

I. Private property?? What’s up with this map? Have these fancy folks blocked off the north end of the park? I misread the map. The scrappy park with its old school water fountain was right in front of me.


J. Woo hoo! The app had suggested a Metra crossing I was skeptical of, but hopeful for because it  dodges a tricky, detouring intersection. It was an easy scamper up a relatively short set of stairs and a short crossing of two tracks. However I was waylaid by a couple confused by the confusing signage. Hooray for an excuse to be helpful. . . and take a break.


K. Great, another water fountain! Oh, that person is washing their clothes in it. I’ll pass.

L. Love these little stretches of parkways. (I hadn’t been on Kolmar before.)

M. Ok, enough dawdling. There’s no way to get turned around now. One mile south. A mile and change east. Pick up your damn feet. Zip up the phone pocket. This is supposed to be a *run* not a stroll.

N-P. The final stretch. Time to start ticking off the building numbers. . . .Need to remember to look up why we have this section of streets that start with K. . . . Tripp Street? Hahaha that “trips” up the K pattern. Uh-oh. Getting loopy.

Q-T.  I hate this. Why am I doing this. . . .Oh good. Pulaski is up ahead. Maybe I will hit a red light. . . .Damnit, just a stop sign and everyone is yielding to me. Keep chugging. . . . Oooo, I love these old rusty train overpasses. That’s why I do this.

U. Hark! Mozart Park. I could just take a little water break. Really, Kilgore?!! You are less than ten minutes from home.

V-W. Avers. Running friend mom of aforementioned tween used to live here. Remember those days of regular runs with friends–many of whom don’t run anymore due to injuries and/or realizing they don’t actually like running. Hmmm, maybe they are on to something. . . .No, you are *not* going to walk the rest of the way home in the spirit of “injury prevention.”

X-Y. Just pretend you are close to the marathon finish line. Oh egads, no need to be so dramatic. . ..Just stop thinking.

Z. Home! Phew! No, don’t just plop into the house. That calf stretcher is by the door for a reason.


*Ever since I helped John Greenfield with this Mellow Chicago Bike Map, I have been taking the extra time to plan out bike commutes to avoid the “Oh crap, I’m stuck on Damen again!” phenomenon. For example, I am trying to sear into memory the Drake zig zag to minimize time on Kimball when crossing the highway.



Wherever You Are, There You Are*


“Woo! I am going to qualify for Boston next year!” This thought bubble was inspired by my friend from high school who just qualified. Since I will be in a new age bracket, I only need to shave 75 minutes from my marathon PR. (Yes, 75. Not 7.5)**

Sure, there are some differences between me and Julia. Most notably, she trains really hard and has many fleet races under her belt. She also used to be a competitive athlete; she’s got baked in grit. I hardly train, I ran no races this year, and have barely logged a hundred miles since last year’s Chicago marathon, below. My grit is patchy at best, sort of like the heat rash that sometimes flares on the back of my neck.


However, I do have tenacity. I don’t mean this in a braggadocious way, but I can bust out top quartile results when I really put my mind to it. Sometimes at the last minute, and with appropriately reduced expectations, but still. I can get shit done–especially when I am not Super Depressed.

Unfortunately, despite the gift of a warm fall and the Cubs still playing in October (!!!!!), I have been struggling lately. No need to go into details, and I am fine enough. Thanks to big pharma, better habits of thought, an amazing family, and a solid foundation in Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,” my depressive episodes are now more akin to a slow grinding traffic jam than a siren inducing crash.


Still, I’d like to find an exit ASAP. If I don’t start exercising again, things will only get worse for the next few months. Writing helps, too. That’s something else I haven’t done in months. Textbook symptoms and causes of depression.

I put on running clothes this morning. (Bonus! This means I also got out of my PJs.) Maybe I will jog the mile to pick Miguel up from school today. I am definitely going to sign up for the 2017 Chicago marathon via Girls on the Run again.

But first, I need a nap. I really, really, hate being in this traffic jam.

*The phrase is supposed to be “Wherever you go, there you are.” That implies you’ve gone someplace. I’m having a hard enough time leaving the house!
**I am definitely not going to qualify for Boston, but–assuming I keep adding on the years–I will age into the qualifying time eventually.

It’s Not About Time

After Sunday’s pleasant 11.4 mile run, I’m finally on schedule with training for the Chicago Marathon. At least on paper. I should have entered week 5 of the 18 week plan with more base miles and fewer pounds, but so long as I can muster through the Long Slow Runs (LSRs), I’m not going to stress out.

This year’s aspirations are all about what happens before race day. Tackling the following long festering, pestering issues is more important than tackling a personal best on October 11.

    1. Breathing. You don’t know what you don’t know. The first time I used an inhaler, it felt like a performance enhancing drug. But I still struggle to consistently get a full gulp of air. Might pranayama before runs help?
    2. (NSF-PAT-DA-PAP)*Period Poops. Too many runs have been cut short by a sudden, knee buckling need to deliver a poop baby.  Inevitably, a few hours later, I get my  period. Since I get my period every three weeks, this really stinks. If I can’t eliminate this problem, can I better work around it?

      Losing 10 pounds suddenly seems very daunting.
    3. The Big Ten. It’s always a bummer when my doctor heartily agrees I should lose weight. “But I’m strong?” I whimpered as her finger climbed up the BMI graph, where I straddle the line between  healthy and overweight. Although she affirmed that BMI has limitations, she didn’t totally let me off the hook. Can I lose 10 pounds before mid-October while enjoying the late nights of summer?**
    4. Grit. Ah, the buzzword of education. Our kids need to toughen up! Tenacity wins the day! I’m not sure I am on board with sandpaper-based pedagogy for little ones (and too many little ones need grit just to get by outside of school), but I know I can up my brain game when it comes to physical exertion.
    5. Wooziness (unless collapsing is truly justified). Sometimes I almost pass out after running “hard.” At least two of my races have involved medical tents to get my bearings. Is it low blood sugar? Low blood pressure? Low grit? Should I strive to cross the line as a desiccated potato chip?***
    6. Preventative maintenance. I am ever grateful to start each day with no chronic pain or injuries, and I want to keep it that way.  How about trying all those “5 key moves to protect your knees” articles I’ve bookmarked?
    7. Noodles. Doing push-ups and crunches every other week is not enough to build the core and upper body  strength so critical to running form and carrying groceries.
    8. Gear. Running requires very little stuff. But I don’t have enough grit to run barefoot, or backwoods knowledge to dead reckon distance and pace. Will I ever get my Garmin to lock in to a GPS signal? Hack in an extender for my water belt? Three years after first writing about my belt, it still pops off when I bend. (See number 3.)wpid-CameraZOOM-20130904123352092.jpg
    9. Compliance.I need to refer to each week’s Training Plan for more than LSR distances. Refer back to this list to keep priorities in mind.  Follow some guidelines. Follow through! For better, and often quite worse, I’ve never had to worry about hobgoblins and foolish consistency.
    10. Blogging. I don’t care that these posts are tiny drops in an ocean of blogs about marathon training. They keep my inner writer warmed-up in case I ever tackle something bigger and harder. And I enjoy it.

*Not Suitable for People Averse to Discussions About Periods and Poop. Also, be grateful that I opted to avoid visuals. I would like to unsee the images called up when searching poop baby.
**I’m not bumming bout the bod. This is more about staying ahead of things before I hit menopause and sneaking a few seconds off my pace.
***The 1982 Marathon is famous for the Duel in the Sun between Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley. Great story. Here’s a quote from an article about it: “You pushed me harder than anybody’s ever pushed me in my life,’’ said Salazar, who had Beardsley join him on the award stand before he went to the medical tent, where six bags of saline fluids were pumped into a desiccated body that the attending physician likened to a potato chip.”

3-1-2. . . Go!

Imagine that speed, not shoddy camera work, caused the blur. That is not me BTW. I dont blur. . .yet.
Imagine that speed, not shoddy camera work, caused the blur. That is not me on the track, btw. I don’t blur. . .yet.

After yesterday morning’s speedwork with the bad ass folks from ThreeRunTwo,  I predicted I was either going to take on the world or need a nap by noon.

My first sighting of this Logan Square-based running group was a few years ago at Dunlays. While we and a dozen other budget-minded families wrapped up a kids-eat-free-before-six dinner, the front of the restaurant began to fill with neon-footed, mango-calved, young (ish? er?) adults. Their conversations about upcoming races, goals for the evening’s paces and other serious sounding running topics drowned out the complaints of children impatient for parents to finish their last glasses of wine.*

By the time we rolled out, the bar was holding more water than beer bottles. A woman about my height who looked like she could lap me in minutes explained that they were going to do a long group run and circle back for drinks. My kind of people! But I concluded they were out of my league because they seemed to be engaged in more rigorous work than I was up for. By the time they were leaving Dunlays, I was already thinking about

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers dear friends from the swift completion of their appointed rounds runs.

Running magazines often suggest joining a group to improve speed, skill, stamina, and your social network. I am lucky to already have dear running friends with kids of the same age who will meet wait for me on the darkest, coldest, January mornings. But sometimes talking undermines training. Pausing by a garden disrupts pace. Tight schedules keep outings short. Some might call these “junk miles” because they lack specific performance goals. I call them joy miles, because I share them with friends I can share anything with.**

This summer, performance is more on my mind. The Chicago Marathon is only three months away. My first try in 2012 was about completing. 2013 was about suffering. Both took about five hours, which is not *terrible* considering how little I trained. Not counting long runs, weekly mileage stayed below 10; cross training was limited to short bike rides for errands; stretching involved an occasional downward dog. My longest run was 17 miles.

My son gave me a boost towards the end of my first marathon.
My son gave me a boost towards the end of my first marathon. “Wear something to make you easy to find,” they said. Wishing I had not been *that* easy to spot.

A decent baseline of fitness and perhaps lack of judgement have always allowed me to muster through physical challenges for which I am ill-prepared. Back in the long distance bike-camping/caper days, my recruiting slogan was “If you can ride ten miles, you can do a century!”*** I am not sure Lisa P. has ever quite forgiven me.

What would my running times look like if I actually followed a training plan, put in the miles, ate well, lost some weight, did some yoga, pushed my push ups into the double digits (or at least past three)–in other words, really tried?

Thanks, Nico (white hat), for getting me oriented.
Thanks, Nico (white hat), for getting me oriented.

When I learned that ThreeRunTwo was organizing a speedwork session a mere two miles from my house, I decided to overcome my nervousness about 1) meeting new people and 2) running poorly in front of new people.

The night before, I slept in my running clothes to increase the odds of getting out the door on time. After a brisk bike ride on near empty streets, I pulled up to the relatively new, bouncy track at Westinghouse High School. It was already dotted with people stretching, jogging, and sprinting. Per the event instructions, I found Nico, who explained the workout: 200m at 5k pace (25x) with a 60 second recovery between intervals.**** I was secretly thrilled that I finally know what that means. I ended up running mostly by myself, since I am not as fast on the sprints, but everyone was friendly and supportive. Towards the end, someone yelled “You’re working hard!” I’m trying, I gasped back. “You’re not trying, you’re doing!” was the encouraging retort.

I didn’t make it to 25 intervals because I had to return in time for Michael to go for his own run. But I worked a helluva lot harder than usual! I confess to napping instead of conquering the world. At least I am a little bit closer to conquering the marathon. (And, if you feel like helping me conquer my fundraising goals for Girls  on the Run, you can donate here. Thanks!)


*Which means we really aren’t so budget-minded after all. Hook me with free dinner for the kid, reel me in with the price of booze.

**In fairness, I am usually the one slowing us down with chatter. We also do long runs together to prepare for races, though not as often or as long as we would like. If I can sneak in some extra work on the side, maybe I will finally beat Clare and Megan!

***Here is a piece my now husband wrote about a hungry, 110 mile, with camping gear, bicycle journey from Starved Rock back to Chicago.

****run 200 meters at your current 5k speed (about 9.5 min/mile for me) and stop/walk for 60 seconds. Repeat 24 times.

New Training Partner

I've added the Bloomingdale Trail to my treasured running partners.
I’ve added the Bloomingdale Trail to my team of treasured running partners.

When the skies exploded Monday morning, each burst more intense than the last, like the final moments of fireworks on the 4th of July, I was glad to be on the Bloomingdale Trail. I had flipped off the forecast to finally kick off training for the Chicago Marathon. After a week of skipping runs due to laziness, busyness, and/or weather, I was overdue.*

I’ve always wanted to use the lakefront for training, but am not keen on adding a 12 mile round trip bicycle ride to 12 mile runs. In accordance with my hyper-local lifestyle, I stick to neighborhood sidewalks and parks. Nothing wrong with that, especially since so many Logan Square sidewalks flank grand boulevards and Humboldt Park and Palmer Square are no ordinary parks. But something about a trail elevates my effort. And, as of last Saturday, there’s an elevated trail a mere 12 minute (round trip) walk away.

Palmer Square is nice, by a 1/2 mile loop isn't the same as 5 1/2 mile.
Palmer Square is nice, but a 1/2 mile loop isn’t the same as a 5 1/2 mile there-and-back.

Almost 3 miles long, the Bloomingdale Trail is nearly perfect for a 10k run. The distance from my house to Drake, to the west end, to the east end, and back to Spaulding–with some forays into parks for water–was 6.08 miles. Only need to do four more round trips and I will be marathon ready. I could not be more thrilled about my new training partner:

mmmm, Juneberries. remember to leave some for the birds
mmmm, Juneberries. remember to leave some for the birds
  • No intersections: no excuse need to stop every 1/4 mile
  • No cars: no cars.
  • Blue running track: a boost for flagging energy
  • Access ramps: hill work. not easy to find in Chicago
  • Floating above the streets: cleaner air, real or perceived, and fewer puddles
  • Creative land and hardscaping: lots to notice.
  • Juneberries: mid-run snack
  • Fellow runners: motivation. I can’t keep up with half of the folks I’ve seen flashing by.
  • The Bloomingdale Trail as a whole: inspiration. A marathon is a nothing compared to the herculean efforts that pulled this project across the finish starting line.
  • Did I mention no cars and intersections?

However, there are intersection-type situations at the access points and overlooks, which means potential for conflict. Folks need to learn how to safely cross lanes and merge. Moving the garbage cans a smidge would help with sightlines. A few trees and shrubs are encroaching on the running strip. It would be nice to know where to find water fountains, especially those in access parks. Maybe more street signs to help with overall orientation?  Improved crossings of nearby arterials to improve access (cough, looking at you, Armitage)?

streets puddles
Water, water everywhere. The puddling on the trail was nothing compared to what we see at intersections after every heavy rain. And, the trail is not the only place where foliage is elbowing into “our” space.

Yes, there is work left to do on the trail, and much to dream and scheme about. But it is also wonderful just the way it is. Judging by the number of fellow runners laughing through sheets of rain, I am not alone. I’ve got a good four months of hard training ahead to see how it all evolves.

*My first two marathon times hovered around the five hour mark, reflecting a shameful lack of training. I drew more upon confidence from surviving longish distance bike-camping capers than miles of running. This year I *intend* to do better. If you are interested in supporting my fund-raising efforts on behalf of Girls on the Run, please click here. Thanks!

My son, (blue shirt) loves rollerblading up here and has promised to help me train.
My son (blue shirt) loves rollerblading up here and has promised to help me train. And the burbling water spigot has been fixed. The trail is getting better every day!

Fit, not Fat: How to Lose 20 Pounds in 20 Minutes

weightgraphic2Last summer, I lost 20 pounds in less than 20 minutes, and have kept it off without changing my diet or exercise habits. Read on to see if my free, easy, transformative system might work for you. Or just click on the flow-chart.
I have disliked my short, sturdy body as long as I can remember. Like so many other people of completely healthy weight, I have wasted more time than I care to admit moping in front of mirrors, sucking in, and berating myself for not fitting into clothes I wore in high school.

When thin, I wanted to be skinny. When trim, I mourned the loss of thin. Now, softer and rounder with middle-ish age, I want to shrink back to trim. I’ve “ballooned” from a size 4 to 8 in twenty years, feeling fat all along. I attribute about 93% of those ridiculous, unfounded feelings to screwed up cultural norms,* and 7% to being 5′ 1″. (Minor fluctuations in weight really do make a difference in how I look and feel, and they affect my athletic endeavors, such as they are.)

When I furtively buy magazines that promise dropping three dress sizes in three weeks, I always start at the back for inspiring stories of weight loss. It’s not so much their strategies that interest me; at the core, most are versions of calories in and out. I don’t need a magazine to tell me to cut down on sweets and ramp up the strength training. What intrigues me is that they often pinpoint a moment—big or small—that sparked a sustained transformation. I saw myself in a friend’s wedding picture. I got out of breath chasing my kids around. My dad died young of a heart attack.

Before the Catalyzing Moment, my first thought about this pic would be “I am so fat!” Now I think: “How cool is it that we can ride 44 miles with our** kids–and they still love us! Look at those smiles. What a great trip.”
Before the Catalyzing Moment, my first thought about this pic would be “I am so fat!” Now I think: “How cool is it that we can ride 44 miles with our** kids–and they still love us! Look at those smiles. What a great trip.”

My Catalyzing Moment happened this August, while on a muggy, 12 mile run with friends, during our annual takeover of Gary, Indiana’s Miller Beach. The overgrown limestone trail, once a railroad, was flanked by wildflowers, scrubby trees, and a slow river clotted with beaver dams. It was a welcome change from Chicago’s hard sidewalks and loud streets, but also a melancholy echo of Gary’s proud industrial past. Our lungs burned and legs churned in sync as we chased the ghosts of the Iron Horses that built both cities. I felt strong, and full of gratitude for the companionship and scenery.

Then, a familiar refrain interrupted. “I am fat, ugly, and a failure.” The words pounded with our footfalls, and I feared the moment would be lost in a squall of negativity. But something amazing happened. Other inner voices pushed back.

One wailed: “Why? Why are you *still* buzzing in my ear???!!!!  Pleeeease leave me alone!”

One cursed with anger: “For fuck’s sake! Right now?! In this beautiful place with these beautiful people??!  Shut up and get out!”

But the best voice was firm and logical: “I am not fat, I am fit. I am not ugly, I am loved. I am not a failure, I am alive.” Somehow that mantra melted 20 pounds of heavy thoughts by the time we wrapped up the run.

A new take on the before/after weight loss genre. Left: before a summer run, simulating the “I hate my body” feelings of the past. Right: a sweaty hour later, feeling pretty damn good about myself. Fit, not fat.***

I had tried before to stop obsessing about my weight, but ever since that afternoon, that mantra–fit, not fat–has kept the body-hating thoughts at bay. “Oh well, who cares” I declare when catching a reflection of three rolls of belly-smush while leaning over my handlebars. “Not the end of the world” I shrug when a favorite skirt won’t zip. “Behold these curves!” I whistle when donning a body-hugging dress I would never have worn before I started ignoring my “extra” 20 pounds.

Because, should I really call them extra? Does a 42 year old need to weigh the same as she did 20 years ago? Should someone with bi-polar disorder stop taking life-saving medication that contributes a bit to the chub? Should someone concerned about social justice waste time concerned with just looks? I eat well, can run over an hour, and can bicycle all day. I am not overweight, have never been.  I am currently a little pudgier than I would like, but until I am ready to take sustained, healthy action to get leaner and stronger, I refuse to waste time and mind worrying about my m(ass). According to a recent survey, 41 of my friends unanimously agree. ****

weightypollSure, I would like to slim down. It would help running performance, and I am not ready to give up the size 6 jeans that are my favorite, hard to find, shade of brick red. It would also be irresponsible to ignore the tight correlation to date between increasing years and numbers on the scale. Halting, let alone reversing, the trend is only going to get tougher. And  I have a wicked sweet tooth that can attack a pan of brownies in a day–one small “just one more” piece at a time. Regardless of weight, that’s just not healthy. But I am not doing anything about it today. Soon, but not today.

I just checked the mirror. The sweater and other layers make me feel like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. “At least I am warm!” And my butt looks cute, too. Fit, not fat.

marshmallow-man-ghostbusters-terri-hardin*Borrowing from my friend, Jessica: “Part of the struggle is that we have competing feelings. On the one hand we want to conform to a certain body ideal, so pervasive in media and culture. No matter how media savvy we are, and no matter how much we reject it intellectually, this ideal exerts a powerful influence, right? And on the other hand, we feel that it’s lame and shallow to care about this. We resent caring about it. We *know* that it doesn’t matter, and yet it matters.  That’s some cognitive dissonance.”

**Our is meant here in the collective sense. That’s my friend Scott, not my hubby.  But this gives me a chance to plug his wife’s awesome blog. Clare Fauke is my favorite contemporary blogger.

***I feel weird about all these “look at meeeeee photos.” But since this is a post about body image, I hope folks understand.

****I also asked the even sillier question: Do you think I am fat? I thought 100% would say no, but three stinkers said yes. I stick my tongue out at them and say:

Boone County was an important influence on my childhood years. I think I wrote about it in a college essay. And I still want Milo's hair style.

Marathon Checklist: Shoes, Bras, and Bars

imag4805.jpgThis is a cautionary tale of pre-race preparation gone wrong. On the morning of last year’s marathon, I deviated slightly from routine to both comic and painful effect. I hope others will learn from my mistakes.
CHANGE NOTHING. That is the Race Day Rule that trumps all others.

No new shoes, socks, shirts, sunglasses. . . .Anything that touches the body should be road tested to avoid blisters, chafing, and any other attacks on our largest organ.

No new gels, gummies, or Gatorade colors. Go with what you know to minimize gastrointestinal surprises, which, as regular readers know, is often at the top of my mind.

And for goodness sake, DO NOT change race prep rituals.

While not a seasoned race participant, I have enough “yay, you completed” medals to have a general sense of how to get to the starting line. With the aid of reminders strewn and taped all over the house (lip gloss! inhaler! check train schedule!!!), this is what has worked for me:

  • Two nights before: get a decent night’s sleep because I will stay up late the night before no matter how ready I am.
  • Day before: eat something involving a potato.
  • Night before: eat an early dinner and scurry around gathering stuff and checking off tasks. If done early, stay up anyway checking out FB posts on the marathon page and refreshing the weather report.
  • Morning of: wake up around 4:30, microwave yesterday’s coffee, get oatmeal going, get dressed, eat, hit the loo with hope, triple check that everything is packed, pedal briskly through empty streets to the California Blue Line stop, and head downtown.

Screech! Rewind to “get dressed.” At the last minute, before the 2013 Chicago Marathon, I decided to pack my running clothes and wear my post-race clothes instead. This small, unnecessary change snowballed into a chain of mishaps.

The nearly forgotten shoes
I wore floppy sandals so I would not forget to bring post-race foot liberation. Instead, I almost forgot my running shoes. Thankfully, I realized this before I was too far from home.

The nearly missed train
Set back a few moments by the shoe problem, I leaned in, shifted up, and pedaled like mad. Oh no! The roar of the inbound train hit me a minute from the station. I banked sharply around the corner and scanned the bike racks, half a block away. I skidded to the best spot then dug deep for the calm concentration needed to corral frame, wheel, and bike rack within a snug U-Lock on the first try–kind of like the two wheeled version of parallel parking.

Nailed it! I then charged the turnstile, my transit card out like a lance. Thud! Out of order. The station shook as the train approached. Move to the next turnstile. Out of order. !!!???

File photo–I def did not take time to snap this picture.

An older man was fumbling with the lone functioning turnstile. Behind, I squirmed with suppressed impatience: “Respect your elders! Your emergency is not his crisis!” When he, then I, finally got the green light, I (politely) pounded the stairs past him. I heard my knee crunch. “Hold the train!” We squeaked in. “Bing Bong–the doors are closing.”

The re-injured knee
I’d won the race against the train, but at an expense. My flip floppy sandals, while perhaps ideal for post-race swollen feet, were not at all appropriate for flying up the stairs. After my heart rate slowed, the static from my knee increased, echoes of old injuries. The silly thing was that I could have waited ten minutes for the next train, or even twenty for the one after. Knowing my tendency to cut things close, I always build in a buffer.

The wrong turn
My destination was not the marathon gear check, but rather Jones College Prep, just a few blocks away from the start line. One of the perks of raising money for Girls on the Run (yay!) is that they provide off-site gear storage, food, and other merriment so you don’t have to deal with race day mayhem.

When I emerged from the subway, I was disoriented.Even though Jones is about 10 steps from the stop, I ended up walking in the opposite direction for almost 10 minutes. Granted, it was still dark out, but since I still get turned around in my own neighborhood after 13 years, I should have checked a map. Good thing I made that early train.


It takes a special kind of spaciness to miss this connection.

The missing piece
Now things really started to fall apart.

At GOTR race central, I was thrilled to see Mindy volunteering at the food table. She was an acquaintance (now friend, and you will soon understand why) from my son’s school. I headed to the bathroom to change. As I dug through my stuff, a slow burn of panic crept from belly to fingertips. “Here’s the damn lip gloss, but where’s my bra?!”

Though I am no Victoria’s Secret model, my unfettered boobs can’t manage 26.2 miles of jiggling. I sidled back to Mindy, who is of similar stature, whispered my problem, and, er, asked if she happened to have a spare bra, or, if, er, I could borrow hers. She gamely offered the one off her back, but it didn’t quite fit. Time was ticking and the room was emptying of runners. Emboldened by the ridiculousness of the situation, I blurted out my predicament. Moments later, a GOTR staffer ran to me waving a sturdy, black bundle of hope. A runner from out of town had an extra bra in her luggage. It fit! The race was on.

But wait–there’s more.


The narrow escape
I could have, and should have, left the building through the same doors I entered. Instead, I saw a door leading in the direction to a courtyard I recalled using as an entrance last year. I proceeded, followed by an ominous click. No choice but forward. Past more doors that locked behind me. I started to get nervous for the umpteenth time of the morning. I finally reached the courtyard door, which opened into sunshine. . . and a closed gate.

This was a real pickle. I had no phone number for GOTR staff. I guess I could have flagged someone down and asked them to walk the half block to the entrance and then search for the GOTR crew. . . .but that seemed a bit much, especially since I was already wearing a stranger’s bra.

I finally decided to take inspiration from having witnessed countless children wriggle through fence openings half their width. First one leg, then a side contortion, sucking in, one butt cheek at a time, perpendicular limbo, grateful for flexibility. . .Freedom.


The extra mile
My race went poorly, much worse than the year before. By about mile 15 my knee was hurting so much I feared I would not make it, but I scraped along. So this is why just completing a marathon can be a big deal for people!* More than five hours past the start, I limped across the finish and made the slow, unsteady walk of shame and pride to the family meeting area. Which turned out to be an agonizing mile away! I should have studied the race map more carefully to arrange an earlier exit from the gauntlet. But this final goof seemed a fitting end to the day.

I decided to take this year off, but will be back in 2015 with my own bra. In the meantime, learn from me:

  • Leave the house/hotel wearing what you need for the race.
  • Study both ends of the map.
  • Stick with your routine,
  • but leave enough time for mistakes
  • and then be willing to laugh about them.

*It’s not that I think a marathon is a trifling thing, but the year before it didn’t feel like an accomplishment. “Oh, anyone with a moderate amount of baseline fitness can shuffle along for 5 hours!” Erm, maybe not.

7/10th of a Half Marathon

The warrior, pacer, and cheater. Album cover material?
The warrior, pacer, and cheater. Album cover material?

The best part about failing to complete a recent half marathon was being at the finish when Megan crossed the line. While slapping a cold washcloth on already soaked hair, I heard the MC boom her name. I turned to see her gliding forward, calm and strong,  with a look of hard earned disappointment.  She had missed her goal of under two hours by less than two minutes.  But adjusting for the heat, sun, and 113.1% humidity, I call that mission accomplished.

I think I saw a flicker of surprise as we staggered into a sweaty hug. At mile four, I had eased my pace and urged her ahead. Her times are always better than mine. How could I have stealthily overtaken her?

My speech was still a little slurred when I explained: after (barely*) missing my mini goal of running the first half (10K) under an hour, I hit the wall so hard I thought I would need a medic to haul me the six miles back to the finish.

This has happened before: woozy, dizzy, stumbling, incoherent, eyes rolling back like an upside-down slot machine. The medic kept asking if I was diabetic as he clamped a small device on my fingertip to find my pulse or maybe it was my blood pressure. Apparently my no-chip nail polish prevented a reading.

Even Mo Farah has a bad race every now and again.
Even Mo Farah has a bad race every now and again. Um, no, I am not comparing myself to Mo Farah. But I might swoon if I ever saw him.

After lying down a bit and eating some more carbo-chews, the lakefront came back into focus and lucidity returned. In my confusion, I had bungled the course math. When I learned the finish was only 2 ½ miles away, I decided to jog back instead of waiting for a cart, and promised to leave the course before the end so as not to cheat. Another runner  resting in the shady grass nearby urged me to  stay on. I don’t remember her reasoning, but I trotted off feeling reluctantly  ok about it.

The last miles felt great, and I was inspired by racers on pace to finish below two hours with all 13.1 miles under their belt. As I reached the finish, the hearty “Go Gin!!!” cheers of a former coworker/Serious Runner caught me off guard. Then I saw a parent from my son’s school beaming me on. I wanted to yell “This is fake! I am not worthy!”

As I concluded my tale, Megan and I reached the race medal gauntlet. I was going to pass, but Megan urged me to take one, reminding me of our many shared miles and long runs. (Hmmm, maybe I have an issue with peer pressure.)

This means two things:
1) I must complete a half in under two hours. Gotta pay back those cheers and pay off that bling. In retrospect, I should have gone with my instincts. Better to err on the side of honesty, especially since my fake time is listed in a public document–not that anyone’s looking.
2) I need to figure out why I bonk so hard sometimes.

*I got confused about where the halfway point was and accidentally dropped my pace a bit before my watch registered 6.2 and 1:00:03. But up until that point I gave my all, and I feel good about that.

Next Up: How Does this Thing Work Again?

Taking Back the Track

This lane is your lane, this lane is my lane
From Sacramento to the Kedzie Island
From both sides of Palmer, to the slushy wa-ah-ters
This lane was made for you and me.
Speedwork is all the rage in the magazines, websites, and books I have been perusing about running and exercise in general. The other day, I finally took a break from words, and headed to the local track at Palmer Square for a “High Intensity Interval Training” session and the hope that the calories would keep burning once I returned to the computer.
Miguel follows the trail that lurks below.
Miguel follows the trail that lurks below.

Palmer Square, spanning seven acres, is one of the smaller gems on Daniel Burnham’s emerald necklace, aka Chicago’s Boulevard System. About 6 years ago, in response to Logan Square’s relative lack of park facilities, the Chicago Park District added a .5 mile crushed limestone trail around Palmer’s edge and a subtle playground in the middle.* My running buddies and I often meet there for a few laps before heading south to Humboldt Park, one of the necklace’s grander gems.

Because of this winter’s persistent snowpack, we have not seen the track in months.  After researching indoor options, which all require fees and travel, I realized we do still have a neighborhood facility: the excessive pavement that surrounds Palmer Square!** In the past, I have advocated for taking back a lane (or two) of asphalt to enlarge the park. That has not happened (yet), which is a bummer from a green, permeable surface, traffic calming perspective.*** But the good news is that it provides a back up winter running track.
For 30 minutes, I circled (or parallelogrammed) the streets around Palmer, speeding up between light poles and street signs and imagining kicking my friends’ butts at our next half marathon. There was plenty of room for the few early morning cars to pass me. The “less time/more work” got me home in time for Miguel’s 2nd wake up call, and my brain buzzed happily all day.
The mantra, “streets are for people, not cars” has felt particularly germane to this winter. When the sidewalks are impassible, we walk in the streets. Drivers usually slow down and exchange a friendly wave as I scooch over to let them pass. During heavy snowfalls,  Miguel and I carefully nose the tandem along the soft, tan tire tracks left by bigger wheeled vehicles. Rarely do drivers behind us honk. At the next intersection, we stop to let them pass and usually share smiles of “we are all in this together.” Of course, we also get angry (and/or disapproving) looks about the two minute delay we might have caused, but what should I do? Our mobility needs are as important as theirs.

Roads evolved to move and connect people and goods. They are public spaces that can and should serve many needs. And when snow and lack of shoveling (grumble, grumble!) erase the sidewalks, you’ll find me in the streets, politely taking my lane.
Lots of room for an early morning dash. Talk about excess capacity.
Lots of room for an early morning dash. Talk about excess capacity!
*I intended to dive into the back stories of Palmer Square’s renovation, but will save that  for another day. In the meantime, here is a big thanks to the folks at the Chicago Park District who patiently and creatively worked with community members to improve recreation opportunities while honoring the historic significance of the area.  Below are some related links.
**Not that I mind running  around the neighborhood. But sometime’s it’s nice to take a break from intersections and stay close to home.
***A buffered bike lane has been added, which helps. And since there is so little traffic,  and the stretch is short, the traffic situation already feels pretty calm. Kedzie and Sacramento on the other hand. . .
From Daniel Burnham’s Plan of the City

snow eyes for Jim

Freewrite from the morning of Jan 26.

I left the run early and eased to a walk. With each squeaking step on a fresh layer of snow, my eyes adjusted. Jim had challenged me to write less about myself, and more about the world. To focus around instead of within.

Walking helps. Not just because the pace opens the lens to more details, but because it brings me back to childhood. And those memories are not triggered just because I was a child during the last Big Winter, decades ago, but because my eyes were strong and every detail mattered.

On Albany Street last night, an apparition approached, dark clothes blurring into the darkness behind. The whole block seemed to recede into darkness. But the squeak of boots on packed snow, followed by Gareth’s familiar voice, pulled the buildings back to the foreground.

Gareth is always cold. He is strong but thin, a robust and handsome step up from skin and bones, but lacking insulation. He explains that he has been forcing himself to walk daily through the wall of cold that hits him harder than most people. We agree that the snow has helped. He compares it to walking on sand. I think we have all being thinking about beach time of late, as evidenced by last week’s flurry of booking houses for the annual August takeover of Miller Beach.

I praise the waves of snow that keep smoothing out the parkways. I want to compare it to wiping off a white board, but it’s more like burying the mess: the soot, dog pee, and other indignities that usually fade into the background, but are now showcased—a rebuke—against the whiteness. Every dusting tidies things up, just like shoving dirt under a rug.

Now I am thinking about the daily battle between store floors and the dirty snow that hitchhikes on boots. Business as usual, the customers buy mangos and bananas that have traveled so far, that have never seen snow. And their long travels, fueled by more energy than they provide, are likely changing our seasons, giving us these extremes. Chicago now has tropical storms in the summer. Maybe we will be able to grow our own mangos and bananas. In the meantime, the mop is always moving at Armitage Produce, sweeping out the slush at the same rate we carry it in.

Of course I am thinking about waves. Ebbs and flows, texture and erasure. It is hard not to compare snow to both beach and waves. I am thinking how the snow makes our ankles work hard on the run, just like running on the beach. And how snowflakes are like grains of sand. Snow, a soft but solid form of water. Sand, a solid but soft form of rock. Both can fill buckets to build igloo or castle. Funny that water is sturdier than rock.

A few weekends ago, we took our big ole black dog to an untouched field of snow, maybe 18 inches deep. I am not sure there is a purer expression of joy than a dog romping in the snow. His running usually reminds me of a hurdling horse, his spine drawing a wavy line, curving up and down. Here he looked like a dolphin splashing in and out of the water—especially when he buried his nose and flung up a spray, or dove to fetch a stick.

I am thinking about scale and contrast. He looked small, but the black fur popped against the calm white surface. This morning I could see from afar my running friends, or rather their spectrum of jackets, gathered near whitened trees in Palmer Square: Megan’s green, Claire’s red, Julie’s blue, Christine’s aqua, was Karen wearing purple? They too seemed more like specs than people, dotting the white and grey background, returning the third dimension.

As I walk home the last few blocks, having split from the group upon our return to Palmer Square, I am thinking about Jim, and being more observant, and I notice the things you tend to notice when walking in a city after two fresh inches of snow have cleaned up the new topography. Parkways and yards undulate thanks to the snow plows, shoveling, snow men, and igloos. An old mountain range in miniature. A treat in the flatlands.

I see a snowplow and exchange a wave of solidarity. I think it was the same one we ran behind in Humboldt Park—at a safe distance because we think it was replacing snow with salt, but not as much as in years past. Not sure if this is due to budget or concerns for the environment.

There are more hellos and quick smiles on an early morning like this amongst the few people who have ventured out. Probably because it is not terribly cold (because 15 degrees feels warm now, and we know there will be few smiles in the next few days—sub-zero temps predicted for 60 hours.)

But I mostly listen to the snowplow pushing the slush of a busy road to the side—please don’t bury the corner—and the wheels of cars splashing forward—because there are still many streets to be plowed. And they sound likes waves as they always do.

I think of Jim and his poem about a loping (?) dog running along the rails in the snow, I think, and how he uses so few words to bring the world into such clear focus. And I think about his urging for me to observe, and I feel kind of lame for the ye olde winter/summer/snow/water/beach language, but I have also promised to simply write, uncensored, when I get home, the way I used to urge others to do, when I was helping adults or children trust that they have a voice and things to write about, and that in free-writing you almost always find a little pebble and sometimes, if you are lucky, a gem, that you might want to write about, or at least mull over, in the future. “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” If you want to revise, you can always slash the ands, buts, and sos.

So I walk down Dickens, and keep my eyes open, and forgive myself for having unoriginal thoughts, including the one that follows. That we are specs as Jim reminds me, but also unique as snowflakes. It almost staggers me to think that there are no other moments in time or universe that are the same as the ones I am moving through. I follow footprints. People have walked before and will walk behind the temporary tracks I am making, but none will have also just left behind their rainbow jacketed friends and looked at the nooks of trees holding cups of snow, as well as straggling Christmas decorations on front porches and fences. And even if they have or will, is their vantage point from five feet?

I am thinking about music, and how people don’t stop writing about love, heartbreak and anger, and how all those same songs have their own opening notes, so that you can recognize them within seconds. This has always astonished me. How can there be so much music, each with its own signature?

I bring my focus back to the street, and the one thought I have, which is probably not original, but is one I like: that snow fall reminds me of rubbings, those art activities where you place paper on something textured, and rub it with a sideways crayon, so the structure pops. Or like invisible ink blooming onto paper after the antidote has been applied. That’s what I am enjoying in addition to the smoothing of mounds  of parkways and yards. The contrast, etching, reliefs—I am not sure the word or phrase I want, that call attention to edges and lines—hard, firm, not like the mounds—like the sides of poles in black fences, or sometimes even the grout of brick buildings, reminding me of the individual bricks that make the whole, and the individuals who placed them there.

And now I have to intercept Michael, Miguel and Meatball, because Miguel is walking home and his feet are too cold. He is seeing the world from 3 and ½ feet, which sounds like less wonder than I had this morning. Of course, I have been in those shoes many times.