Running pic

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Madison Mini-Marathon recap

Despite being sorely undertrained I ventured up to Madison this past weekend to run the Madison Mini Marathon (really a half – why do they have to say it’s ‘mini’?). Here’s my thoughts on the race:

Registration: I wish I could remember – it was so long ago.  I do remember thinking it was cheap (compared to Chicago-area halfs). It was on-line so I’m sure it was pretty easy and standard.

Packet Pick-up: I hear the parking was a complete clusterf*ck. Luckily for me one of my fellow racers offered her husband as pick-up lackey.  He works in Madison so it wasn’t horrible for him, but he did mention that it took him awhile to find a spot to park.  Sadly this meant I missed the expo (because I am an total sucker for expo deals & steals) but if I had to pick up my packet I couldn’t have done this race because I’d have had to take Friday off work and I’m running out of the precious vacation days. They did have a will-call option for race day but I believe that it was extra $$.

Goody-bag: Not much here: a shirt that is OK but huge, and a drawstring bag. I suppose there weas stuff I could have bought at the expo, but again: didn’t go.

Getting to the race area: One of my college buddies offered to host me for Friday night – she lives in Janesville. I drove up using her secret route that kept me off of 90 and away from most of the construction and was actually fairly pleasant.

Dinner: We went to a place in Janesville called the Speakeasy and had an ill-advised pre-race dinner of fried cheese curds (what? You just can’t get them like that at home in Chicago!), a salad, pasta with a cheese sauce and a New Glarus Spotted Cow.  Not my finest moment as far as pre-race food goes, but the choices were kind of limited.

Getting to the race: We got up at 5am and each had a piece of peanut-butter toast and some coffee.  The coffee ‘worked’ for my friend but not me.  Wah, wah. Our ride showed up at 5:40 and we drove to Madison. The same husband who picked up our packets was our driver so he dropped the three of us off near the start and went to find parking. We got there about 6:30.  This is where my first bad thing happened.  When I got out of the car I shook off my jacket because we weren’t going to gear check.  I walked a half block away from the car and realized my iPod shuffle was in my jacket pocket. I hate running distance without music.  DOOMED!

Bathroom situation: Not good. Porta-potty lines were LONG, and it seems that Wisconsin racers don’t get the concept of the multiple lines for each bank of porta-potties with each line ‘in-charge’ of two or three porta-potties. So it was one long line for the whole bank. At least people were well behaved and no-one cut in line because my coffee had finally kicked in if you know what I mean – and I think you do.

Start area: I think we were in corrals G, H & I so we all stared in I so we could start together. The corrals weren’t heavily policed (or crowded) so we could have probably started anywhere except right up at the front.

The course: Absolutely beautiful. We ran past the UWM campus, their football stadium, the farmers market, the capital building, through the arboretum and next to the lake. Rolling hills but nothing that was too Alpine. I’d say 75% shaded. Luckily I ran with one my friend’s friend (now after two hours of running, my friend too) and she kept me company, but she also was running a tad bit slower than I could have mustered for the day (2nd bad thing to happen) and then I had to use the porta-potty again on course (3rd bad thing if you’re keeping track). This all equaled a time that was not my best but I’m fine with that – I have several more halves this season and I’m hoping for betting showings in those.

Post-race:  Short organized beer line for a large, draft, craft beer in a commemorative cup plus cookies, granola bars, bananas and Bucky Badger popcorn (2 flavors!). The post-race gathering spot was on the UWM terrace (apparently a hot spot in Madison) overlooking Lake Mendota.

I would absolutely do this race again – next weekend if I could.  It was that good.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Quickie Elvis is Alive 5K recap

I am such a fan of the Elvis is Alive 5K – it’s so nice to take a break and just run a race for the sake of running with friends and not worry about trying for a PR or reaching a time goal. I’ve done it for the past several years and here’s my experience this year:

Sign-up: Easy on-line sign-up. I signed up both my husband and myself with one checkout.

Packet Pick-up: Also easy if you are located near one of the Chicago Fleet Feet Stores. They had pick-up Mon., Tues, Wed. of this week – all nights where one store or the other has a fun run or chicks night run.

T-Shirt:  A stylish cotton-blend charcoal grey t-shirt with an Elvis logo that is more subtle than in the past few years – very nice and a shirt I will certainly wear. The ladies shirts ran small as seems to be the trend recently, but I was able to exchange my shirt on the spot for a larger size.

Getting there: Parking near Diversey Harbor is pretty crappy so I took public transport.  Brown Line to the Diversey bus – last stop dropped me right at ground zero for the race.

Pre-Race: Lots of people milling around but I managed to find the friends I was meeting up with. The Elvis impersonator was warming up with a few classic Elvis hits. Always great people watching at this race especially with all the people in full-Elvis costumes.  Plus,  it seems that there are a ton of non-racers/non regular runners that show up and some of what they wear is pretty baffling.

The Course: Crowded. I’m happy this was just a fun run – if I was busting a hump to get a PR or hit a goal time I’d have been pissed. Other than that the course was well thought out and has some nice turns to make things interesting. It did eventually thin out and I can blame some of the crowding on the fact that I waited a long time to get into a the coral and had to start pretty far back.

Post-Race: THE BEST. Fleet Feet was giving away award poker chips for the race in the previous few weeks so I had extra beer chips. Foodwise they had: peanut butter-banana sandwiches, Snyders pretzels, Clif Bar minis, bananas, and watermelon. They also had bottled water and Gatorade if you weren’t a beer drinker. Plus you get the free Elvis impersonator concert and it was such a nice night we all stuck around to listen for awhile. There were two food trucks there selling something, but my group had dinner plans for after so I didn’t investigate too closely – it was a nice touch though for hungry people who wanted to hang around for the festivities.

Yeah, it’s a crowded lakefront path race – but it’s not timed so you can just run for fun.  You might say, “hey, I can run the lakefront path for free any time I want to – why pay for an untimed race?” To that I say how often is your lonely run finished up at a party? 

Homestretch for Heroes 5K Recap

I am truly a sucker when it comes to running – I can almost never say no if someone asks me to do a race with them. My sister-in-law told me that she was doing the Homestretch for Heroes 5K at Arlington Park so of course I could not say no. I’ll admit I’m also a sucker for a good gimmick in a race and the prospect of getting to run a half-mile or so on the polytrack surface intrigued me. 

Sign-up: I missed on-line registration so I headed to packet pick-up at Runner’s High & Tri in Arlington Heights.  Luckily that’s only about a 10 minute drive from where I work.  It took just a few minutes to fill out a form and hand in my check for $35. I was able to get a t-shirt (not gender-specific and cotton, but with a cute jockey-style design silk screened on the front).  There was also a re-usable grocery tote as the goodie bag.

Getting there: After work on Tuesday I drove to my s-i-l’s house and carpooled to the race with her family. Since the race was at Arlington Park Racetrack, there was ample parking close to the start. If you worked downtown you could have easily gotten here by Metra as the train stops right at the park – not sure about the return trip though.

Pre-Race: They had the grandstand area open so you could use the flush toilets – this has been a theme for the past few races I’ve done and nothing says “I care” like letting runners use flush toilets. There were only about 450 runners registered for the race so the start area wasn’t crowded. This was a gun-timed race so I tried not to start too far back but still staying about where I thought I should be considering my pace.

The Course: I guess I didn’t realize how much land it takes to have a racecourse because I’d say that 90% or more of this race was on Arlington property.  We started in the parking lot, headed out on a service road past the stables and practice track, onto a regular road (shut down for the race), back past the other side of the stables, around the parking lot and then for the gimmick: onto the track for the last ~.75 mile.  The track has a polyform surface – basically fake dirt – that they rolled for the race so that it would be hard enough to run on without sinking into it.  I assumed that by the time I came along it would be kind of churned up but that was not the case.  It had the give and feel of a well-padded running track but there were treadmarks all over from the tractor or the roller so it wasn’t the smoothest surface – and no shoe marks (I guess runners aren’t heavy enough to make a dent in the surface).  It was not so uneven so that you had to worry about tripping, but you did have to watch so that you wouldn’t roll an ankle – I tried to pick out a particular tread mark and run on that for as long as I could and then pick out another one. I will say that there was never a time that I felt crowded and the roads we ran on were wide enough to pass and be passed as necessary. One water stop about half way through.  This race is not for the OCD runner though - no mile markers or time clocks that I saw so you had either better know your own pace or have been running with a Garmin.

The Finish: I’ve done chip-timed races aplenty with all manner of chips: Champion, B-Tag, ankle chips, shoe chips, etc., and I’ve done completely untimed races before but this was the first old-school style race where they wanted the rip-off part of your bib to put on a spindle to record your time that I’ve done.  Frankly I still don’t get how they match your bib-tag to the finish time,  but they did have my time accurately as to what the finish-line clock said so I’m not going to ask too many questions. Of course I had pinned that part of my bib underneath but as I approaceh the finish I saw what they were doing and managed to reach down and unpin the bottom of my bib.

Post-Race: The free stuff was apples and granola bars from Whole Foods, mini Jelly Belly packets, cold bottled water and one free beer. They also had the concession stands open and you could buy their totally overpriced food and more beer. They had a DJ playing music and she was really trying to drag out any song that had the word ‘horse’ in the lyrics.  I wanted to let her know that White Horse by Laid Back isn’t really about riding THAT kind of horse.

I’d definitely do this race again next year – I like smaller, uncrowded races and like I said, I’m a sucker for a gimmick. Plus with the 10K they plan on adding it would be a fun way to get the mileage in.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Effingham, IL Bulldog Challenge 10K recap

I often have trouble motivating myself to run while I’m on vacation so if I can find a race of some sort wherever my destination is I’ll try to fit it in.  Every year since I since I’ve known my now-husband we have spent a long weekend in Effingham, Illinois at a sort of informal family reunion. Most of the weekend is spent hanging around by his aunt’s pool and trying to ace out old ladies at the church picnic BINGO tent, but we also have made it an annual event to run the Colin Woods Memorial Bulldog Challenge 10K. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever be down in Central Illinois, but you never know – and just in case here’s a race recap for you:


The Good:

Sign-up: It’s not like the race is EVER going to sell out, but I still dutifully print out the registration forms and mail them in a few weeks before the race.  It’s also possible to register the morning of the race. The race is a paltry $25 whether you do the 5K or the 10K and you get a small-town style goodie bag with a tech-t, a can coosie (or whatever you choose to call them), a mini-flashlight, and some race flyers.  The race is put on by the St. Anthony High School Booster Club in memory of a student who died shortly after graduating and I’m sure the money raised goes toward a good cause.

Getting there:  Effingham is known for the fact that two major highways cross, and at the cross someone paid to erect a HUGE cross statue.  It’s seriously big. But, because of the two major highways there is just about every kind of hotel you could want. We stayed at the Holiday Inn and the start of the race was about 10 minutes away by car. Since it’s held at the school there is plenty of parking.

Packet Pick-up/Pre-race: I got the most sincere thank you I have ever received when I picked up my packet – the volunteer was truly grateful that my husband and I were participating. There was no line and I had my bib# in seconds.  They open up the school so that racers can use the flush toilets – always appreciated.

The Bad:

Start: The race starts at 8am which is not such a great idea for a sunny course in central Illinois.  Every year I try to find someone to suggest that they start at 7 or 7:30, but it hasn’t happened yet.  I think the race used to start at 8:30 when it was only a 5K, but there was one super-hot year and I think some people didn’t feel so great when the race was over so they moved the start to 8am. The race never starts on time because the priest does a blessing and the family of Colin Woods also speaks about him and thanks everyone for participating.


The Ugly:

Course: Nobody is doing this race for the awesome or scenic course. It starts out residential for a few blocks, goes though a small park and then it’s cornfields for a couple of miles. Another housing development with a hill, then a totally un-scenic mile along a highway access road (on steamy blacktop no less). Another little bit of cornfield and then up an Alpine-quality hill only to continue winding up yet another hill through another housing development. Then through a small grassy area to the high school track (also steamy and black) where you have a humiliating lap with everyone watching you. I’ll assume it’s not humiliating for everyone, but this is consistently one of my worst races every year and I’m usually gasping through the last ¼ mile.


And Back to the Good: The race is the kick-off to the church picnic and after the race they open the beer tent so that racers can pretty much have unlimited beer.  They also have plenty of cold water bottles, bananas and granola bars.  The male & female winners for the 5K & 10K each get $100 and since my nephew-in-law won the 10K he took us all out for breakfast – it’s good to know speedy people.


What I wore: I almost don’t even need to say it, but I wore my black Oiselle Bum Wrap skort along with their Mio Mesh Tank in dark pink. A Nike Pro Compression sports bra, Balega socks, and my Mizuno Sayonaras completed the outfit. I should have worn a hat or sunglasses because it was BRIGHT out there.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

4.1-Mile Run for Walk review

To continue with my weekend theme of Northwestern University races I also did the 2nd annual 4.1-mile Run for Walk on Sunday. This race is in memory of Northwestern Football Coach Randy Walker who passed away unexpectedly in 2006 and benefits the Evanston Animal Shelter where Walker and his family adopted a dog and where I volunteered for over 15 years.

Packet Pick-up:  Very easy if you live or work in the north suburbs. I picked up my packets at a running store in Wilmette but they also had locations at a couple of other locations and race-day pick-up was also available.

Shirt/Goody bag: A nice purple short-sleeved  tech-t and a ton of goodies: a stress ball, a tennis ball, a mini-flashlight, a packet of sunscreen, mints, a lip balm, an Northwestern pencil, Northwestern mini-tattoos and a bunch of flyers and coupons for local businesses. This is how I remember all goody bags used to be and often still are for smaller local races. With your race entry you also got a free ticket for a non-conference football game and I hope that I’ll be around on September 21st to watch the Wildcats crush the Maine Black Bears.

Getting there: I carpooled with my husband, our out of town guest and another friend.  Since the race starts and ends by the football stadium (sorry, I still can’t bring myself to call it Ryan Field – it will always be Dyche Stadium to me) there is a ton of parking nearby.  The L’s Purple Line and the Metra are also reasonably close by for those needing public transportation.

Start area: It was unseasonably cool on race morning so I was happy to see that they had Welsh-Ryan arena (where the basketball team plays and right next to the football stadium) open so that people could wait in the concourse. They also opened up the arena bathrooms so there were plenty of flush toilets and sinks for all – a very nice touch.

The course: Same as last year, but a really nice change from all the races on the Lakefront Path in the city. We ran south from the stadium and then east on Lincoln – a wide, tree-lined street with pretty houses – to the campus where we headed south on Northwestern’s lakefront path. We looped back (luckily there was only a short distance where there was 2-way traffic) and retraced our steps back to the stadium where we finished by running onto the field on the 50-yard line.

What I wore: A black Oiselle Bum-Wrap Skort, a grey long-sleeved Saucony shirt that was a mileage award for Fleet Feet’s Chicks Night runs, new 2XU compression socks (these are tester models for their new lighter-weight socks and whereas I usually hate the sock part of compression socks these were pretty awesome – excellent cushioning around the foot and the sock part wasn’t tight. The compression was great – medical grade and very supportive), an old Reebok sports bra (that chafed and went right into the trash at home), and my new Mizuno Wave Sayonaras (love, love, LOVE those shoes!). Not particularly showing my school spirit, but it was too chilly to wear the purple tank I had planned on wearing and I hate wearing a race shirt to the race so I just opted for what was on top of the pile of long sleeved running shirts.

Post-Race: The usual – bananas, bagels, water – plus a Vitamin/Mineral Water tent, Maxwell House iced coffee, and  AMAZING freebies – stainless steel travel mugs and coffee scoops from Gevalia coffee.

Amusing extras: I was running with 2 friends and we were just planning on jogging this race but we wound up running a little faster than planned. We kept picking people to pass – the guy with the rattling sports belt, the heavy breather, the woman with the wandering dog on a waist leash - until finally we were in the home stretch.  We passed a woman who then sprinted past us….and then slowed down.  So we passed her again. And then she passed us again….and then slowed down.  This drives me bat-shit crazy.  So I looked at my friends and said we should crush her soul.  Since we hadn’t been running at true race pace we all had enough left in the tank to speed up enough and muscle past her and stay in front of her to the finish line. I know – juvenile - but when you run 9:00 miles you take the little victories.