Running pic

Running pic
Yup, that's me!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Fleet Feet Women's Half-Marathon Recap

I signed up for the Fleet Feet Chicago Women’s Half-Marathon about 6 or 7 months ago – maybe even longer.  When they opened registration the price was the lowest it would ever be, so having done and enjoyed the race for several years (even back when it was a 5K/10K), I knew I’d want to run it this year.

Flash forward to last week when I knew that the weather would be hot and muggy and I also knew that the last time I had run over 10 miles was at the Green Bay half-marathon back in mid-May – I decided that instead of trying to race (and probably dying from heat exhaustion in the process) I’d just run with my friend Heather who would be running her first half-marathon. 

Heather wanted to run between 10:30 & 11-minute miles so I took off my timing chip so I wouldn’t be thinking of my own time and would be able to concentrate on running at Heather’s pace.  I’ve done this for a few friends and if I may say so myself, I’m pretty good at keeping up a constant patter of random stories and encouraging words to keep my friend’s spirits up.

Heather started out a little fast for her projected pace – she was doing 9:45’s – I mentioned this to her but she didn’t seem too concerned.  From past personal experience, I know that going out too fast comes back to haunt you.  We were doing great until the sun broke through the clouds and we hit about 6 miles.  Heather started to feel like her legs were heavy and she was heating up.  The turn-around helped – it’s always nice to know you’re headed back towards the finish line.  We hit a few ‘hills’ and Heather took walk breaks to get up them – we also walked through the aid stations. Around mile 9 my back started killing me – I think this may have been because I was running slower than I usually do and I was probably using different strides and positioning my back differently. Heather started to really feel crappy around mile 10, but she persevered and even picked it up a little bit when we had 2 miles left to go.  She wound up just squeezing in under 2:30 – off her goal a bit, but it was a lousy race to try to either PR or run a goal time – just too hot.

Quick Recap:

Packet Pick-up: Easy for me – one of the dates was at Fleet Feet-Lincoln Square on a night I’d be there anyway for a group run. But, for suburban runners it was probably a pain.  No race-day pickup meant that they would have to make a special trip down to one of the FF stores or arrange for someone to pick up their packet for them.


Transport: Yeah, I could have taken the CTA but I used the parking app SpotHero to find a sweet space in the garage at the Palmer House Hotel for only $14. I gave a ride to 4 friends so it was only about $3.00 per person. It was easy, cheaper than the CTA, and gave us the opportunity to use the flush toilets in the hotel before heading to the race grounds.


Swag: A nice short-sleeved Brooks tech-t (white for Half runners, grey for 5Kers), a custom race logo Sweaty Band, and a sweet, quality medal on a nice custom ribbon– free engraving today and tomorrow evening at Fleet Feet-Old Town if you want to commemorate your time. There were a ton of samples/food at the race – popsicles, frozen Kefir, ice cream, Luna products, bananas and probably more that I’m missing.  I also snagged some samples of gluten free products and a new Australian yogurt on the bridge heading out of the race area – probably guerilla marketing taking advantage of all the grocery deciders at the race. One complaint was that there was only water available at the race finish and it would have been nice to have an additional water station somewhere near the booths.

Course/aid stations: It started out on streets which was smart – start out with wide lanes and hope that it gets thinned out by the time we all get to the path.  I’ll admit – a wave start would have been nice because the path gets so crowded during races. It was a congenial crowd though – I got complimented on my shirt a couple of times and I told a woman she had a nice tattoo (a Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass window). In the last mile or so there was a little switchback that was kind of irritating – I hate running away from the finish line to have to double back – it’s like a mean trick that kind of sucks the life out of you. Overall, not a bad course though.  Plenty of aid stations and they all had port-a-potties, some misting stations too. One Clif Shot station. Since it was so hot it would have been nice to have an ice station or sponge station added – I’m thinking of the Green Bay half two years ago when it was hotter than balls and they really stepped up their game by adding an ice station or two – I don’t know what guys do with the ice, but for women it’s awesome to grab a cupful and pour it down the front of your sports bra.


Post-Race: An ice cold towel draped around my neck caused me to profess my love for some random volunteer.  There was a DJ playing pop hits and a stretching area. Plus a booth of mattresses that I was tempted to collapse onto but I felt like I’d just sweat them all up and that prospect was just too gross. Once I’d rounded up the friends I drove down I pretty much just wanted to get somewhere I could change into the dry clothes I’d packed and head to brunch.


CES Compound: The private compounds that they have a big races might be reason alone to sign up for their training programs. They had 4 porta-potties, private gear check, a tray of personal products in case you forgot something (Glide, Cotonelle Wipes, 2-kinds of tampons, sunscreen), food (Luna/Clif products, bananas, Skinny Pop popcorn, Gatorade & water, and probably more that I’m missing). They have a tent to keep you out of the sun and tables and chairs to hang out.  Coaches were present to answer last minute questions and to greet you when you got back to ask how your race went.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Chicago Running Bloggers Run for Boston 5K Review

So, despite it not at all being part of my fancy training schedule, I did the Chicago Running Bloggers Run for Boston 5K on Saturday morning.  When this race was organized I registered right away because, duh! - good cause! I also registered my long-suffering husband because I love springing on him that I have signed us up for races. I probably mentioned it to him at the time, but then two months passed and suddenly I got a reminder about the race and packet pick-up instructions. He wasn’t exactly thrilled about the race but he gamely agreed to do it – after all, it was just a 5K. The weather report didn’t look great and I declared that if it was raining in the morning when we woke up that we could bail.

Morning came and although it looked grey and a little threatening, it was not raining. The race was scheduled for 9am in Libertyville. I assume the 9am start was because many of the participants were probably coming from Chicago and it’s a 45 minute drive just to get up to Libertyville. Whatever – I was just happy it didn’t start at 7am. The race was held at a stunningly beautiful forest preserve. Seriously – it looked like a slightly less floral version of the Chicago Botanic Gardens. A tiny drizzle had started by the time we got up there but there were enough trees around to block most of the rain. Everyone was in good spirits despite the rain and about 4 minutes before 8am we all lined up in the start area. A couple of the organizers spoke, there was a moment of silence, and a representative from the recipient charity (Who Says I Can’t – they provide artificial limbs and support to those hurt in the Boston bombings) thanked everyone for helping to raise over $10K – pretty impressive! The race started right on-time at 8am and we all took off on a paved path that wound around the (man-made?) lakes and through the preserve. There were a few small hills and we crossed (I think) three bridges which luckily were not too slimey with mildew since the rain was starting to pick up. People had mostly lined up to their abilities and the pack thinned out pretty well after about a half mile.  My Garmin had crapped out right before the race so I didn’t have any idea of what my pace was or how far I’d gone – I was only able to judge a bit by how many songs had played on my shuffle.

 As with any 5K the end came pretty quickly.  There was plenty of post-race refreshments and I grabbed two water bottles and waited for my husband to cross.  He was about a minute behind me and we hightailed it to the car since it was starting to rain a little harder.

The low-down:

Packet Pick-up:  held at RAM-Deerfield I was able to get there on my lunch hour and pick everything up. I think they may have had some confusion about handing out the numbers to people picking up multiple packets because I realized once I looked at everything that I didn’t know which # was mine and which was my husband’s. No biggie – we asked at the race and they said it didn’t matter because times would be listed by # and not name. There was also race day packet pick-up and the line was very short.

Swag: a nice, gender specific tech-t in an unusual color – light grey. Also in the race bag were bars from Kind and Luna and a Biofreeze sample. There were also a selection of flyers from sponsors and a couple of nice coupons.

Setting/Course: really nice – I had no idea this forest preserve was even there and I’ll certainly bring my running group up here for a run later this year. The course didn’t have mile markers (at least I don’t think so, but sometimes I don’t really notice stuff like that when I’m running) but was well marked as to directions. The path was paved and about 10’ wide – plenty of room once the crowd thinned out.

Organization: Great – especially for a first time race. There were plenty of volunteers and they were all really nice, especially the ones near the end who were cheering runners .

What I wore: Oiselle Bum Wrap skort (still my favorite running skort), my 2013 Ragnar shirt, Balega socks and Saucony Kinvara 3s (closeout price $60 – what a deal!)

I’m still trying to find out my time – nothing has been posted yet – but I’m thinking it wasn’t a PR anyway and in reality, this race wasn’t about time anyway – more about coming out to support a great cause.
Lots of workouts this week and then the Fleet Feet Chicago Women's Half-Marathon on Sunday. I'm already thinking that this isn't going to be a superb race for me. I'm undertrained and it's going to be hot.  I'm thinking of ditching my timing tag and finding a friend who would like to be paced for a finish around 2:10 and see if they want some help.  We'll see how I feel on race morning.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ragnar Relay Recap

I cannot even begin to tell you how much I love doing Ragnar Relays. I love them so much that I was chosen to be a Ragnar Ambassador for this year – a post I hope to continue next year when I put together an all-gal ultra team. I’m assuming if you’re reading this you have an inkling of what a Ragnar is, but if not, it’s a point-to-point race with 12 runners spilt into two vans of 6. Each runner completes 3 legs and will run a total of between ~14-20 miles. You spend (in our case) 29 hours with some of your best running buddies bonding over incredibly strange things that only become funnier the longer you’ve gone without sleep (and showering, and brushing your teeth).

I organized my team (The Lincoln Squares) for the second year in a row – frankly after the miserable heat last year I’m surprised that any of them were willing to do this a second time, but out of 12 runners from last year we had 9 recommitted to the fun. I’ll freely admit that I’m a serious Type A person so organizing is, for me, a good time. Renting the vans, reserving the hotels, shopping for the food, making sure we had all the safety equipment, putting together a training weekend and yes, even collecting the money, was fun.

We picked up our rental vehicles on Thursday evening at O’Hare (I wish it was as economical to rent in the city nearby, but alas it was not) and then headed back to basecamp (my house) to pick up the other runners. Luckily everyone heeded my suggestion to pack light so we had plenty of room in the van & Suburban. The van had 7 occupants (6 runners & a driver) and the Suburban had 6. We headed up to Madison after a late start – it’s kind of like herding cats to get everyone into the vehicles, especially when two of the runners are old friends who came from Canada and San Francisco just for the race and everyone wants to chat. We finally made it up to the hotel around 11pm and went straight to bed – at least my room did.

I was in Van 1 and our start time was 8am so we woke up at 5:30 to take our last decent shower and grab some breakfast in the lobby. Our hotel was close to the start so we didn’t have any problems getting there an hour early for the safety check in and mandatory safety talk. I was runner #1 and it was really fun to line up at the start and kick off the whole race.  Not to mention that the Runner 1 legs were pretty cushy compared to my Runner 12 legs from last year. My route took me around Lake Mendota and through residential Madison neighborhoods with really lovely homes and few hills to keep me on my toes. It was over before I even knew it and I even managed to beat my expected pace by a minute per mile – the cool weather was a real bonus. When all of our six runners were done we were in Lake Mills and would have about 5 hours before we needed to start again so we ate lunch at a restaurant that was totally unprepared for the influx of hungry runners that had descended upon them.  Then we headed to the next major exchange to wait for our runners. We were at some park and we took the opportunity to stretch out and wait in the shade.

Leg 2 for me was mostly on a trail – the Glacial Drumlin trail I believe – and it was really pretty. I started out right around 6:30 and when I finished the sun was just starting to set. This year the Ragnar folks staggered the starts more so I didn’t see too many runners while I was out on the course.  I’m proud to say that I managed to get a few ‘roadkills’ (when you pass another runner) on each leg and was only ‘killed’ 4 times total – not bad for a mediocre runner. This leg was my best leg ever – I was averaging 8:23/mile – which for me, in the shape I’m in right now, was a scorching pace. Our van finished up around 10:45-ish at a huge school of some sort. They had showers, hot food and a place to sleep but we wanted to get to the next major exchange to try to get some decent sleep so we found a local pizza place and placed an order to go before heading up to the next major exchange at the Racine YMCA. Our driver (my long suffering husband) and our nephew Matt (the only guy on our team) headed into the Y to take showers and sleep and the rest of us crashed out in the van – probably not the best idea. It was pretty cramped and there was a foghorn on the lake that made a long, sad honking noise about every 30 seconds. I probably got about 20 minutes of sleep – not necessarily because of the conditions, but mostly because I’m always afraid that if I fall into a deep sleep I’m going to miss the next runner when they came in.

My last leg started at the Y and headed out of Racine along the lake then through some semi-industrial areas, some residential, some commercial and finally onto a completely pitch-black trail. This was my slowest leg – not only was I pretty tired, but much of my leg was on sidewalks and I am a known tripper so I slowed down to make sure I wouldn’t wipe out. When Van 1 was done we had the luxury of heading into Chicago to one of our apartments that was fabulously close to the finish line. We had time to take REAL SHOWERS and have a decent breakfast complete with Bloody Marys before walking down to Montrose Harbor to wait for Van 2 so we could all run in together. My team finished in 29:08 which to me is amazing – it meant that every single runner had to do a little better than expected.  I can’t lie and I must apologize for the cheese, but it truly makes me so proud and so happy. We finished 60th out of ~250 mixed-open teams. Considering that we only had one guy this amazes me. I didn’t stack the team with speedsters – except for our lone guy who runs 6:00/mile, we had everything from a gal who runs 10:30/mile to a couple of gals who run 8:00/mile with most around 9:00/mile. So proud.

Here’s the lowdown:

Cost: Not a cheap race – registration starts at $1260/team and only went up the later you registered. Plus you have to factor in van rental, gas, hotel, and food. Luckily we got some really good van prices and it only came out to $140/person for the rest of the necessities.

Swag: A short-sleeved tech-t and a nice bottle opener medal. There was plenty of Ragnar gear to be purchased at the start and the finish and their prices aren’t too bad.  Not cheap, but you don’t feel like you’re getting bent over either.

Course: Supremely well organized for a race of this magnitude. There was one glitch where because of construction a runner had to do an extra 3 miles and they didn’t communicate that very well before the leg started, but other than that it all went very smoothly.  This probably isn’t the most scenic Ragnar but the course is fairly flat and easy to run.


What I wore – Saucony Kinvava 3’s, Balega socks, and Nike Pro Compression sports bras on all 3 legs:

Leg 1: It was a little chilly but I knew I’d warm up once the race started so I wore a Moving Comfort Sprint running skort and an Icebreaker Zest tank.

Leg 2: Much warmer, so pretty much the same idea as Leg 1 – Oiselle Bum Wrap skort (probably the most comfortable running skort I own – the under shorts never ride up and are long enough to prevent chafing without needing Glide), a different Icebreaker Zest tank (these are not only comfortable, but really, really flattering).

Leg 3: Much chillier than I had planned for – in fact, I hadn’t even brought along a long-sleeved running shirt so I had to improvise. I wore Brooks Infinity capris, and a lightweight Ragnar Ambassador hoody that I had just thrown in to wear when I was lounging around between legs. I though the hood would drive me insane, but I actually didn’t notice it at all.

Downtime: A pair of ancient Nike long pants, an Icebreaker t-shirt, an Icebreaker Crush Hoodie and/or a Ragnar Ambassador zip jacket. Can you tell I’m an Icebreaker fan? It’s spendy, but it lasts and it’s good quality – consider it to be investment pieces for your running wardrobe.


I love, love, love Ragnar and if you have any questions about the race I’d love to answer them!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Belated Soldier Field 10 Report

Yeah, OK, so I’m a little behind on my blogging and now I have to backtrack.  I guess I should throw up a quick entry on Soldier Field.  Here’s how it all went down….

I have a friend who was planning on driving so I hitched a ride with her. It meant getting picked up at 5am, but in the grand scheme of things that’s not that much earlier than I usually get up to go running anyway. I ate a piece of peanut butter toast and had a big glass of water and managed the all-important PRP (pre-race poop).  We parked with no problem in one of the Soldier Field garages  and headed to the CES/Fleet Feet Racing Team compound where we could check our bags (I recently signed up for CES training and my buddy is a FF Racing Team member). I have to say that whatever you have to pay to access a VIP compound like this, it’s totally worth it. Tents to keep you dry or escape the sun, private gear check, tables & chairs to hang out around and best of all – a private bank of portapotties. I was wearing a pair of Roadrunner house-brand capris (they chafed me in a spot I have never chafed before and hope to never chafe again – I will retire these capris from anything longer than 4 miles in the future), and a short sleeved shirt from this year’s F3 Half-Marathon. I had originally thought I might wear a long sleeve because it was a little chilly, but at the last minute I grabbed a short sleeve shirt off the top of the pile and after looking at what most people were wearing I chose the short-sleeve and was happy I did.

I was supposed to be in either the blue or purple corral (so sue me – I don’t remember anymore) but I was enjoying hanging out in the fancy compound so much that I missed the closing time for my corral – oops. So I lined up in the orange corral by the 9:00/mile pacers. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I have a horrible tendency to bust out of the gate too fast and then lose steam later in the race. I hung with those two CES pacers like white on rice. Luckily I didn’t need a bathroom break and I was well hydrated enough to not need water during the race. The pacers were spot on for keeping within 5-10 seconds of a 9:00/mile pace and I was listening to my usual iPod mix of EDM, remixed pop hits and crappy techno to keep me going and with about a mile to go I sped up (marginally) and managed to finish about 45 seconds ahead of the pacers.

After the race I got my medal from a cutie army guy and then grabbed my conveniently pre-packaged food sack and headed out to the compound to grab my gear and look for my friend. CES was handing out food vouchers to their members and it bought me a delicious pulled pork sandwich and a salty bag of chips. I wandered around for awhile and bumped into loads of people I know before finding my friend. We hung around to watch Soul Asylum for a bit and left after they played Runaway Train. If I can sound like a crochety old college DJ for a moment, I remember back when Sould Asylum was a pretty decent sorta punky band.  Sadly they did not play any of their older stuff despite a request from me on their Facebook page.

Here’s the ‘quicky’ recap:

Cost: I registered on the very first day that this race opened up so I honestly don’t remember. I know even than it wasn’t cheap and it only got more expensive the longer you waited. I know the cost scares off some people and there’s lots of bitching about how much it costs, but the permitting for this race must be a holy nightmare to organize. Between shutting down part of Lake Shore Drive, and negotiating with the Park District to use Soldier Field, and the cost of added security because of what happened in Boston, I think the cost is pretty justified.


Start Line: The corrals were very well policed and not too crowded. There was a wave start with a minute or two between each wave so although the elites started at 7am, my corral didn’t get going until 7:30.


The course: Not much deviation from years past – but because of the wave start it wasn’t too crowded.  I don’t usually notice much when I’m racing and this was no exception.  I pretty much kept my eyes fixed on the eyeball tattoos on the shoulders of the pacer and didn’t stop.


Post-Race: The party after the race was pretty nice. Good food offerings to buy and the runner refreshment bag had decent refuel food – banana, Clif Bar, etc. It was nice to see Soul Asylum too – they played all their hits and seemed pretty awake for rock stars up at 10am.


Swag: I heard some complaints about the women’s shirts, but I like mine.  It’s not as long as some shirts but that means it won’t hug my hips. As I mentioned, the medal was super-nice. There was no picnic blanket as party of the swag this year – I think the blanket money went to Soul Asylum.