Wednesday, April 16, 2014

NHL Round 1 playoff predictions

I'm feeling much more laidback about the NHL playoffs and the Blackhawks in general this year. Being fan to the defending Stanley Cup champions really does take away a lot of pressure and anxiety. Yes, some may call it the "hangover" effect. But I'll still take it over the alternative! And regardless of would-be hangover or not, I really do enjoy NHL playoff traditions - most notably the playoff beard.

I also get a huge kick out of how the Blackhawks, uh, personalize the traditions.

Top: Playoff mullets by Patrick Kane (L) and Brandon Saad (R)
Bottom: Joey the Junior Reporter and Jonathan Toews sporting their "beards"

Here are my predictions for the first round of the 2014 NHL Playoffs. (Please feel free to comment or email me if you want to let me know how wrong you think I am.)


Boston Bruins vs Detroit Red Wings
This one's a doozy. Both teams are deep, talented, and loaded with experience. Boston ended the regular season on an amazing hot streak, and walked away with this year's President's Trophy. Detroit got hit with injuries this year, most notably to Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. However, Datsyuk is back and Zetterberg may also be back soon. I think Boston is favored overall, but in my opinion this series really has the potential to go either way. Plus, there are always upsets. So I'm going to go out on a limb on this one. (Sorry Samson, Peter, and any other friends who are legit Bruins fans.)

Prediction: Wings in seven

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Montreal Canadiens
I don't have a lot of in-depth knowledge about either of these teams. However, I do know two things. First, Tampa's starting goaltender, Ben Bishop, is out with an injury, and the Lightning lack goalie depth. Second, Tampa traded Marty St. Louis, the defending Art Ross winner, to the Rangers this year. It's hard to imagine that Tampa can overcome these changes during a moment of truth.

Prediction: Canadiens in five

New York Rangers vs Philadelphia Flyers
Very interesting matchup. Vezina-winning Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist vs the Philly goalie turnstile of Steve Mason and Ray Emery (former Blackhawk!). New York bringing in Marty St. Louis. Alain Vigneault's first playoff coaching stint after trading places with John Tortorella. Inconsistent performances from both teams throughout the regular season, but Philly heating it up during the second half. This is another one that could really go either way.

Prediction: Rangers in seven

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Columbus Blue Jackets
There is a lot of pressure on Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury going into these playoffs. More pressure than I can put into words, so check out Adam's blog for a really great discussion. Personally, I think the expectations of Fleury are unfair, given that the Penguins have been completely decimated by injury for much of the season. They did just get Kris Letang back, though, and are about to get Evgeni Malkin back. However, my biggest concern about the Penguins is their lack of depth. Columbus is one of the hardest-working teams I've seen and their goalie Sergei Bobrovsky won a Vezina for good reason. But in the end, this is a pretty straightforward pick for me.

Biased Prediction: Penguins sweep


Here's a fun flashback to the 2013 Blackhawks convention: A dance-off between Jonathan Toews's "Tazer Moonwalk" and Patrick Kane's "Kaner Shuffle"! (I was fortunate enough to see this dance-off live and in person!)


[pause, take a breath]

And now. Back to the predictions.


Anaheim Ducks vs Dallas Stars
The Ducks are a team with a lot of girth and they had an outstanding regular season. But, their goalie situation with Jonas Hiller/Frederick Anderson/John Gibson seems very precarious. Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau also has a history of his teams having great regular seasons but then flaming out in the playoffs. The Stars seemed to have shown significant improvement this year with the addition of Tyler Seguin. I've never seen a team look as giddily happy as the Stars did to make the post-season this year. The Stars also have a more experienced coach in Lindy Ruff. I'm going to go out on another limb with this one, too.

Prediction: Stars in seven.

Colorado Avalanche vs Minnesota Wild
The Avs have been the surprise of the year. I don't think anyone would have guessed that they would go from their doom and gloom of last year to winning the division title this year under new coach Patrick Roy. They've certainly got momentum working in their favor after finishing out the regular season on a very high note. However, they lack playoff experience. The Wild are under fire to perform given all the talent they acquired in the last few years. But, the goalie situation in Minnesota is not good and I don't have a lot of confidence in Ilya Bryzgalov.

Prediction: Avs in six

Los Angeles Kings vs San Jose Sharks
Another intriguing match-up. I just read that the Kings suffered the fewest man-games lost to injury this season. Everyone is still riding the Jonathan Quick bandwagon. The Kings are a solid, physical team. Comparatively, San Jose is a talented, scoring team but I don't think they match up well against the Kings. I think the Sharks need to play their own style of game in order to succeed, and I think it'll be tough for them to impose that style on the Kings. I also hate to say that Sharks goalie and former Blackhawk Antti Niemi has not looked sharp in recent weeks.

Prediction: Kings in six.

Chicago Blackhawks vs St. Louis Blues
Ordinarily this would have been a very difficult match-up. But the Blues have been absolutely crushed by injury in the last few weeks of the regular season. They limped to the finish line with a six-game losing streak, and they seem to have lost a lot of confidence in recent weeks. Goalie Ryan Miller was supposed to be the missing piece to the puzzle, but he doesn't have the experience in this type of situation. The Hawks have also had their fair share of injuries throughout the season, including playing the last two weeks without Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane. But the Hawks injuries came at a time that allowed them to get some recovery in time for the playoffs. The Hawks also have the edge in experience, depth, scoring, and coaching. I think the Hawks' biggest challenge is to stay "hungry" enough after winning the Cup last year.

Heavily Biased Prediction: Hawks sweep


As per usual, no blog entry of mine featuring the Blackhawks would ever be complete without a great Hawks picture. I just love this wedding picture photobombed by Patrick Sharp:

(By the way, did you see the bride's shoes? LOVE!!!)


Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Race That's Good For Life 5K recap

This morning I ran The Race That's Good For Life 5K. It was my first race in 2014.

This race is put on by Erin's running club. It has also been voted "Race of the Year" for two consecutive years by the Chicago Area Runner's Association. Given all the amazing things I'd heard about it, I was very excited to check it out this year for the first time.

Lindsay, Kelsey, and me post-race
Photo thanks to Adam

I had very high hopes for myself going into this race. Unfortunately, things didn't go nearly as well for me today as I wanted. But we'll come back to that in a moment.

Let's talk first about the race itself. I can certainly see why this race won its awards. The organization was spot-on and the logistics were really easy. Among the highlights:

  • The race site was accessible by both CTA and Metra, was just a few minutes driving-distance off of the interstate, and had ample free street parking available along all the surrounding streets. 
  • Gear check, day-of packet pickup, and all sponsor booths were held inside the Oak Park River Forest High school. No lines for anything. Weather wasn't a factor today, but if it had been it would have been nice to have the protection from the elements.
  • We were allowed to use the indoor bathrooms. INDOOR bathrooms! No lines for these, either!
  • The course was nearly completely flat, and approximated a square through a posh residential neighborhood. This made it easy to run the tangents.
  • There were separate start times for the men and women. After the first minute or so the runners spaced out nicely and there were no issues with crowdedness along the course.
  • Friendly, enthusiastic volunteers.
  • In addition to the finish line food (bananas, bagels, granola bars, pretzels and hummus), other post-race refreshments (Jimmy John's sandwich samples, brownie/cake bite samples, and portable apple sauce packets) were available inside the school's cafeteria. I'm used to either standing up or sitting on the grass at post-race parties, so I appreciated all the tables and benches in the cafeteria. Again, no lines.
  • Each woman received a carnation at the finish line.

In addition to the stellar organization, the weather was perfect. Sunny blue skies, no wind, and temperatures in the low 40s. Everything was set up for me to blow things out of the water.

My vision for the day

Now, getting into my actual performance.

From the day that I registered for this race, I had targeted it as a PR attempt. My best recent 5K time was 26:42 in September of last year, but my goal was to break my all-time PR of 25:55 from July 2001. Admittedly, I wasn't hoping just to "break" the 25:55 - I wanted to destroy it. Hit it out of the park. Smash it to smithereens. I was even thinking that maybe, just maybe I might be able to run a sub-25.

Why the crazily-lofty goals? Because of all the training improvements that I had made as described here. There were two changes in particular that I really thought would make a difference. The first was the uncomfortable weekly speedwork sessions that I'd been undergoing. All that effort had to account for something, right? The second was that I'd lost some weight. I had read this article about how much weight loss could improve pace, and accordingly I thought it was an automatic 60-second improvement staring me in the face.

I don't have a conscious idea of how this photo relates to my point here, but it just seemed appropriate.

I had also read this article and this article about pre-race shake-out runs (done in addition to pre-race warm-up), and how they could enhance race performance. I decided to give it a go. The women's race started at 9:10 AM this morning (by the way, I LOVED the later-than-typical start time). Accordingly, I was up at 6:45 AM to do an easy shake-out mile on the treadmill.

Unfortunately, I felt awful during my shake-out run. My stride didn't feel fluid, I felt like I was going much faster than the treadmill pace indicated, and I just felt sluggish in general. But, I attributed it to being so early in the morning and not having had any breakfast yet. Plus, I thought that maybe the shake-out would help work out some of the kinks that I would normally have otherwise felt during my pre-race warm-up.

Fast forward to 20 minutes prior to the race start time. I went to do a 1-mile warm-up run. At slower paces, I felt fine. But, when I tried to do a few acceleration gliders, it didn't feel great. I remember thinking that it would be a long race if I was feeling this way at that type of pace. I tried to steel myself away from thinking that way and to stay positive, but deep down I was apprehensive.

Fast forward to the race start time. When the gun went off, I set off on what I felt was a comfortably hard pace. I looked down at my Garmin a couple of times and saw that it read 7:37, which would be too fast for me. I dialed things back a bit and hit the Mile 1 marker in 7:54. After trying for so long to run a sub-8:00 mile, this was a nice win for me and I was happy. I didn't think much about the fact that I might have started too quickly. Instead, I thought that this was the payoff from all my speedwork. I told myself that if I could hold this or a reasonably similar pace for the next two miles, that I WOULD be able to achieve all my goals. Push, push, push.

Shortly afterwards, the wheels started falling off. I could feel myself slowing down. I tried to fight it but I was hating the exertion and how uncomfortable it felt. At one point I thought I had to be getting close to the Mile 2 marker, only to look down at my Garmin and see that I was only at about 1.4 miles. Ugh, not even close, and not even halfway done. Mile 2 was done in 8:49.

I wanted to stay positive. I told myself that Mile 2 was always the hardest mile for me, that all wasn't lost yet, and that if I could find a way to pick it up a little bit in the final 1.1 miles, I could still PR.

I tried to push a little harder. Then, I started getting a cramp in my right side. I wanted to ignore it but it kept nagging me and I didn't have the drive to push through it. Mentally I began spiraling into a vortex of negativity. All I could think about was that I couldn't reach my goal, that I wanted to slow down or stop, that everything hurt, how much I hated the 5K distance, how could there still be so much distance left before the finish line, why the [expletive] was I doing this. People were passing me left and right and the last mile felt like it was taking forever.

As the finish line finally came into view, I looked down at my Garmin and saw my goal time come and go. At that point, I lost what little remaining competitive drive I had left. I was resigned and still hurting from the cramps, but I tried to finish strong. 

Here's me while dying, shortly before crossing the finish line
(Photo thanks to Adam)

I didn't clock my Mile 3 split, but my official finishing time was 26:32. That comes out to an average pace of 8:56 per mile during the final 1.1 miles. Way to completely positive-split the race, eh?

Needless to say, I am unhappy and very disappointed in myself. I truly believed I could do better - much better - than I did today. I know it's just one race. But I keep thinking about how I can't believe that all of my training efforts over the past few months only netted me a 10-second improvement from last year. Ugh.

Right now I don't have any other target-able 5Ks on the calendar until this fall. That's both good and bad. I am in no hurry to experience that feeling of running at puke-speed again, and more training can only help me. But, I also want to get this bad taste out of my mouth as soon as possible.

In summary, the race itself was superb and very well-organized. I enjoyed seeing Erin (who was volunteering), Lindsay, and Kelsey there. I was very grateful to Adam for coming to spectate, and for trying to keep my spirits up after my finish. But it was not a good day for me on the course.

Back to the drawing board for me with the 5K PR. But, time to keep focusing on my next goal race - the Illinois Half Marathon on April 26. Probably with some adjusted goals.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Things I would blog about if I had the time (part trois)

During periods of peak schedule-disastrousness, I wrote this post and this post about all the things I would blog about if I had the time.

Time for part trois. Today's post is brought to you by the number three.

  1. I finally joined Instagram! My handle is Emmers712. (NOTE: I'm still trying to learn the ropes, so I've been a little sporadic with it so far.)
  2. I caved in and registered for the Soldier Field 10-Miler for the first time. This race is expensive but consistently draws rave reviews from everyone that has done it in the past. Time for me to find out for myself.
  3. I just got a discount code for the Fort2Base race (F2BSHAMROCK, good until April 11). This race is 10 nautical miles (about 11.5 miles) and it sounds AWESOME. If it weren't for the complex race logistics, I'd definitely sign up.
  4. My first race of 2014 - the Race That's Good For Life 5K - is this Sunday. I've never been a fan of the 5K distance in general, and the nerves are starting to set in.
  5. Through my company, I'll be running the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge for the first time. In my entire career, I've never worked for a company that participated in the Challenge until this year. Excited!
  6. Half marathon training has been going okay. I've been reasonably consistent, but there is definitely room for improvement. The nerves are starting to set in here, as well, in addition to a lack of confidence.
  7. Despite some long-time apprehension, I finally tried acupuncture for the first time with good results. I'm going for my second acupuncture session tonight with Vanitha.
  8. Things are not looking promising to me for the Blackhawks right now. It's quite a blow to have both Tazer and Kaner out for the rest of the regular season with injury.
  9. My nephew is going to visit UIUC next weekend as a prospective student! I'm doing what I can to sway his decision in that direction. =) Thanks go out to Shane for helping arrange a host student for his visit, too!
  10. In terms of some upcoming weekend trips, Adam and I are going to Pittsburgh next month for the Steelers Fan Blitz. I'm also hoping to leverage a business trip that Adam is scheduled to take to San Diego in June (I've already got a local race in mind for that weekend!)
  11. I still hope to do some recap of my vacation from a few weeks ago, despite the fact that so much time has already passed since then.
More to come, hopefully soon!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Michelob Ultra Chicago 13.1 Half Marathon winner

Congratulations to Pete for being the winner of the Michelob Ultra Chicago 13.1 Half Marathon giveaway!

Pete, let's get you set up with your entry - my email is

Thanks to everyone that entered! If you didn't win, there are other race entry giveaways posted here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Giveaway: Michelob Ultra 13.1 Half Marathon

It's been full-throttle catch-up mode for me since getting back from vacation this past Sunday. I have a lot to share about the trip (Adam and I went on a cruise that visited Panama, Colombia, Curacao, Aruba, and Bonaire). But, we'll get to those details when time permits more fully.

In the meantime, let's talk about some spring races. I've run the 13.1 Chicago Half Marathon the last two years (check out my recaps from 2012 and 2013).

Obligatory race photo body spasm from the 2013 race
Photo courtesy of Xaarlin
This year I am going for the three-peat!


The race organizers are offering ONE FREE RACE REGISTRATION to anyone who would like to participate!

Here are the race details:

Date: Saturday, June 7, 2014
Time: 7:00 AM
Location: South Shore Cultural Center (7059 S. Shore Drive, Chicago, IL)

This race has a gorgeous course along the lakefront path, beautiful views of the Chicago skyline, a finish line that is just steps from the beach, and an incredible post-race party (deep-dish pizza, anyone?!?!?)

Yummy yummy!!!

If you'd like to enter for a chance to win, please leave a comment below. I will use to select a winner on April 1.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The 98th percentile, bikram yoga, and everything else

I've been working on this blog post in bits and pieces for the last week but FINALLY getting around to publishing it!

Registration opened up for the 2014 Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon last Tuesday at 10 AM CST. I put a reminder in my calendar. When it popped up, I turned it off and promptly forgot about it.

During lunchtime the next day, I was surfing the internet and a Disney advertisement popped up (gotta love internet cookies). I thought, "Oh yeah, I should probably register for Wine and Dine. I wonder how full it is?" I went onto the Run Disney website to take a look.

To my complete surprise, the Wine and Dine Half was already listed at 98% full. Worse yet, I was met with the glaring disclaimer that "Events may sell out before percentages can be updated."

Ruh roh.

I did my best Speedy Gonzalez impression and blew through those registration pages as quickly as I could type and click.

I zipped through so quickly that who knows if I even selected the right shirt size or entered my birth date correctly. Nevertheless - I got in!

BUT - if I end up with a race shirt that fits me like a dress, or if I end up in the "10 and under" age group, then we'll all know why.

Shifting gears -

I've been wanting to try bikram yoga for a really long time. Through the magic of Gilt City, I found a great deal on a 5-class pack at the Bikram Yoga West Loop studio. I gave it a go this past weekend.

I'd heard a few things about bikram yoga that made me uncertain about how I would like it. Namely:
  • The 107-degree room temperatures, of course, and their potential effect on the body
  • Instructors generally do not demonstrate the moves during class, they just talk you through them
  • A standard set of 26 poses that are always done in the same order
  • Classes are 90 minutes in length (the longest yoga class I've ever done previously was 55 minutes, and that already feels long to me)
  • No music
I was most concerned about how I would react to the heat. The last thing I wanted was to succumb to nausea in the midst of class. Generally it's not a good idea to blow everyone's zen to smithereens.

I prepared by taking a couple of salt capsules and hydrating fiercely in advance. I think I overdid it, though, as I found myself needing to use the restroom during the middle of class. (We were instructed to try to stay in the room during the entire class, though, so I held it.) Add bikram to running races as times where it's challenging to get the hydration strategy down.

The verdict after my first class? Thumbs up! The heat didn't bother me at all, I was able to follow along easily by watching the other students, and I didn't even think about the fact that there was no music. The 90 minutes went by pretty quickly, too. I felt really good afterwards - very limber and refreshed.

I do wonder if it would get tiresome doing the same set of 26 poses during every bikram class? We will see how it feels after I've gotten a few more classes under my belt. But as of right now, I am looking forward to doing more bikram in the future.

Other random notes:
  • I just saw that the Chinatown 5K announced its date for 2014. It is none other than July 12 - my birthday! This is going to be a really fun way for me to celebrate.
  • Maggie hosted an awesome clothing swap this past Saturday. I just love these types of events. They are such a great way to catch up with friends while cleaning out your closet and getting some amazing new-to-you stuff. I picked up some fabulous items that I've already begun wearing. Can we do things like this more often!?!?
  • I've been battling a scratchy sore throat, stuffy nose, and overall tiredness since this past Sunday. My ears feel clogged, too. It's made it tough for me to be on my A-game.
  • I had three miles on my training plan yesterday. I wanted to do my best to stick to the plan despite not feeling 100%. So I slugged it out on the treadmill. It was slow and very ugly, but it got done. And call me a wimp, but I will think again before attempting to run through cold symptoms in the future.
Wah, wah, wah

To end things on a more positive note, I am going on vacation tomorrow! So even amidst my sporadic posts, I will be away from the blog for a little while. Good luck to everyone running races in the near future (I've heard of a ton of St. Patrick's Day-themed ones...!) I look forward to catching up with everyone when I get back!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Blackhawks-Penguins NHL Stadium Series game

This past Saturday night Adam and I attended the much-anticipated Blackhawks-Penguins NHL Stadium Series game at Soldier Field.

Mother Nature obliged by putting forth her finest weather conditions:

Translation: spending the evening sitting in the uncovered upper deck of an outdoor football stadium in frigid temperatures, icy winds, and blizzard conditions. Sounds like a blast, doesn't it?

Given this prognosis, I did the best that I could to prepare. Here is what I wore:
  • 3 pairs of socks (compression socks, then two other pairs of socks on top) plus my winter boots
  • Running tights underneath a pair of jeans
  • 2 long-sleeved winter running shirts, a running jacket, my winter jacket, and a Blackhawks jersey
  • Balaclava, scarf, ski hat, and Blackhawks knit hat
  • 2 pairs of gloves
Adam and I also brought two blankets, plus some cardboard pieces to sit on and to put underneath our feet.

"Shapeless blob" is the way that I would describe how I looked and felt wearing that quantity of layers. To illustrate, it was kind of like this:

(Note that the shapeless blob was wearing red to represent the Blackhawks)

On the bus ride enroute to Soldier Field, it was really easy to identify which passengers were headed to the game. Many were wearing full-body ski suits and masks with their jerseys. Plenty of other hockey fans had successfully achieved similarly shapeless blobdom as I did.

After we arrived at Soldier Field, we went to check out the NHL Fan Festival being held next to the stadium.

The stage where they had live music performers.
Dueling Stanley Cup ring hats
Adam and I cross-representing our two favorite teams.
Left: A giant Blackhawks jersey!
Right: A giant Penguins jersey!

Fans getting into the spirit of things

We played some Blackhawks and Penguins trivia games, checked out a few merchandise stands, and collected a random assortment of sponsor giveaways (Advil, Shamrock Shake coupons, and Geico water bottles, to name a few). Then we went through the stadium security lines to enter Soldier Field.

It wasn't much warmer inside the Soldier Field concourses compared to outdoors. Unfortunately, our seats were in the upper deck of the north end zone where there was exactly zero protection from the elements. We reluctantly climbed the stairs towards the upper deck. The wind was howling and the snowfall was steadily increasing. Once we got to our seats, we immediately decided it would be best to go back inside and stay there as long as possible.

The indoor bathrooms were heated and were by far the warmest area in the entire building. Therefore, Adam and I decided to go hang out in our respective bathrooms and meet back up in a few minutes. Plenty of other women were standing around in the ladies room just trying to keep warm. Adam said the same was true in the men's room.

The time came to go to our seats. Here are some pictures from where we were sitting:


One of the scoreboards behind us

As the pregame ceremonies and the game got underway, the snow came down in buckets. It made visibility very challenging. Our seats were far away and high up to begin with, so it would have been difficult to see the game even in clear conditions. It was like watching an ant farm.

Additionally, numerous fans were standing up and blocking what limited view many folks did have. This elicited some raucous shouting for everyone to sit down. The standees generally ignored them. As time went on, the demands to sit down became progressively more and more comical and/or derisive. If my own view wasn't being blocked, it would have been almost entertaining to listen to some of the exchanges.

Despite all the layers I was wearing, it was so cold that I had no feeling in my hands or feet. My blanket, jeans, gloves, and balaclava were all getting wet from the snow, too.

The snow

Game attendance was announced at over 62,000. During the intermissions, the entire crowd (men and women alike) made a mad dash to the concourses, food/beverage vendors, and especially the warmth of the bathrooms. When you've got pretty much the entire population crammed into a concourse all at once, many of them inebriated, things can get pretty squishy. Basically, you really need to make sure that you keep your balance!

I've made it blatantly obvious that my most lasting memory of this game is going to be the weather. But that aside, it was a unique experience getting to be a part of 62,000+ screaming hockey fans gathered under the outdoor lights. Blackhawks fans have the long-time tradition of cheering and clapping as loudly as they can during the national anthem at home games, and to see that tradition in action at Soldier Field was cool. It was also fun to see the masses celebrating, singing, and dancing to Chelsea Dagger whenever the Hawks scored a goal.

Hawks win! Hawks win!

The final count for the night?

Zero discussions of the doom scenario (believe it or not), despite the game being played by...
Two of my favorite NHL teams
Five degrees Fahrenheit (the real-feel temperature during the game)
Six goals scored by Hawks players, including one in the wrong net
45 minutes, give or take, that I spent huddling for warmth in the ladies room over the course of the night
62,921 rabid fans in attendance
97,836,523,314 gallons of hot chocolate that I consumed when I got home

O come, all ye hot chocolate...