Friday, August 15, 2014

Five Things Friday

Sorry for being MIA, folks. I've been reading all of your blogs but need to catch up on posting comments!

Here's a rundown of some things that I've been up to:

1. New Balance Girls Night Out
This past Wednesday, I attended a "Girls Night Out" event hosted by New Balance. The festivities included a bootcamp-style workout by the lake followed by post-workout refreshments, shopping, music, and photobooths.

Here's the crowd getting their planks on. We look pretty intense, eh?

Check out the view of the skyline and lake in the backdrop!
Source

Here's a photo of some of the Chicago Running Bloggers clan in attendance:

From L to R: Erica, me, Natali, Jennifer, Agnes, and Maggie
Source

On a related note - I have never tried New Balance running shoes. I'll have to give them a whirl one of these days. (As if I needed an excuse to buy more running shoes, haha.)

2. DA BEARS
I attended two Chicago Bears events in the past two weekends: the Bears Family Fest, and Bears Training Camp. Both events involved getting to watch the Bears practice.

Here are photos from Bears Family Fest:

Upper left: Player introductions
Left middle: Player warm-up stretches
Left bottom: Fans outside of Soldier Field
Top right: Rose and me in front of an enormous Bears tailgate tent
Bottom right: Some fabulous samples being handed out to fans. (Bethany, this is for you! =) )
Side note: If all events gave out free ice cream like this, I think we would make significant strides towards world peace.

Here are photos from Bears Training Camp in Bourbonnais, Illinois:

Upper left: Player drills
Upper right: Fans lined up down the street to enter the premises
Bottom left: Rose and me in line
Bottom middle: Ladies and gentlemen, your starting quarterback... Jay Cutler!
Bottom right: Remember this photo from Packers training camp which I posted about here? Apparently the use of giant fitness balls by 300-lb football players is more common than I realized. This is the Bears version.

3. Lung Run
The latest addition to my race calendar is the Lung Run 5K and 10K on September 13. I signed up to support Anne and her fundraising team.

I am opting to run the 5K and this will be another PR attempt.

Back story: My goal in 2014 was to PR the half marathon, 10K, and 5K. The 5K is the only one I haven't been able to crack yet. (It's driving me nuts.) I'm starting to run out of targetable races and free weekends in 2014. Therefore, the Lung Run may be my best remaining shot this year to do it.

Over the next four weeks, I am upping the ante on doing speedwork. I know that I can't expect speedwork to create miracles that quickly, but hey - it's better than nothing!

4. Recruiting
One work-related extracurricular that I've always enjoyed very much is recruiting. I like meeting with employment candidates and doing interviews. I also enjoy going to college campuses to do career fairs or any other career development events. It's a really nice change of pace from sitting at my desk all day long in the office!

While I relish any opportunity to recruit on campus, I especially enjoy doing so at my alma mater, of course.


Unfortunately, my last two employers did not afford me the opportunity to do any campus recruiting. However, my current employer has an entire task force set up to recruit at the dear old University of Illinois! I am already planning on heading there next month to help conduct a Mock Interview workshop.

On that note, my nephew, Reid, will soon be starting his freshman year at UIllinois. Adam and I had joked about all the excuses that we would find to mysteriously show up at Reid's doorstep over the next four years. And so it begins... =D

5. Divvying it up
In Chicago, we have a bike-share system called Divvy.

Initially I didn't consider joining because I already have a bike at home. (Although, my bike has flat tires and I've procrastinated fixing them for much longer than I care to admit.) Lately, though, I've had too many instances where I was stuck agonizingly waiting for a bus or train so I could travel two miles. Each time, it always seemed that there were nearby racks of Divvy bikes staring me in the face, plus thousands of Divvy riders gleefully breezing by. Case in point:

Even Mayor Rahm Emanuel Divvys like there is no tomorrow!
Source
I exaggerate, of course. But in short, I've grown tired of having to rely on public transit for short trips. Therefore, I am finally taking the plunge on joining Divvy.

(Maggie, you should be a Divvy spokeswoman since both Erin and I joined after talking to you! =) )

I submitted my membership form and am eagerly anticipating the arrival of my bike key in my mailbox. It's too bad that summer is almost over because I think Divvy is going to change my whole outlook on tooling around the city. I can't wait to try it!

Happy Friday, everyone!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

ZOOMA Chicago Half Marathon race recap

This past Saturday I ran the ZOOMA Chicago Half Marathon. I had volunteered at the ZOOMA Great Lakes race series two years ago (read my recap here), but this was my first time participating as a runner.

I'll be recapping this race using the "Good, Bad, and Ugly" format.

The Good
  • I had consistently heard rave reviews on this race's swag. Sure enough, the swag was awesome. Very nice race shirt and running hat, a pair of Feetures socks, a cute little tote bag that I'll be using to carry my lunch to work, and a sparkly medal with a detachable charm.
  • For an early-August race, the weather was nice. Clear and sunny, temperatures in the upper 60s/low 70s at the start.
  • The race village was set up in Burnham Harbor, which is a unique location that afforded gorgeous views of the lakefront and skyline. The organizers also provided shuttles to the location, which was helpful.

  • The volunteers were friendly and gear check was effortless. There were a couple of guys along the course who were fantastic spectators (one offered a box of Munchkins somewhere around Mile 11).
  • The post-race party was nice. They served wine, snack boxes with sandwiches/chips, Muscle Milk, etc. They even offered post-race yoga.
  • I enjoyed seeing a bunch of friends at the festivities. This included Meghan, Amanda C., Amanda W., Zenaida, Erica, and Kelly; and I finally got to meet Maureen in person! I also met and had a great time talking to Erica's friend, Meryl. 
From L to R: Meghan, Amanda C., Zenaida, me, and Amanda W.
From L to R: Erica, me, and Amanda C.
  • Despite only doing a single training run to prepare this race (one 11-miler two weeks ago) I ambitiously thought I'd try to beat my time from the Illinois Half Marathon (2:15:21). For the first 10 miles, I was on pace to do so, and my splits were nice and even.
  • Amanda W. helped me out a lot at the end of this race (more about that below).
The Bad
  • There was no "day-of" packet pickup option.
  • I've never enjoyed seeing a race finish line but then having to run away from it. This race, which included both a half marathon and a 10K, took place on the lakefront path. Below is the course map. In summary, the 10K runners did the northbound loop before splitting off to cross the finish line. The half marathoners had to run past the finish line before starting the southbound loop. That was hard.

  • I didn't look at the course map very closely in advance, so I didn't know how far north or how far south we were headed.
  • The temperature started rising as the day progressed. The lakefront path has patches of shade, but there are many long stretches with zero shade. It starting wearing me down after awhile.
  • There were long periods in the final four miles without any hydration options. Yet, there was an aid station just prior to the 13-mile marker. Being so close to the finish line, that didn't seem like the best location.
  • The wheels started falling off for me around Mile 8, which wasn't a good sign. I somehow managed to keep up my pace through Mile 10, but it was a rising struggle.
The Ugly
  • After the Mile 10 marker, I crashed and burned, big-time. My entire body was aching. I was hating the exertion, the sun, and the winding path.
  • I decided that I no longer liked running and that I didn't want to do it anymore. Ever. (My actual thoughts were much harsher than that, but you get the idea.) I scoffed when I saw these signs:
I took these pictures from Zenaida's post
  • I took a walk break around Mile 12.5, but could not muster myself to resume running. I had every intention of walking the rest of the way. Thankfully, Amanda W was there and her cheerfulness helped buoy me. She is the only reason that I was running when I crossed the finish line.
  • I ended up missing my time goal by over 3 minutes, all of which I picked up in those last 3 miles. (My official time was 2:18:16)
  • Throughout the race, I almost got clipped by several cyclists zooming by at full speed. It was terrifying.
  • When I got home, I realized that I had some severe chafage from my sports bra. This was a very unpleasant surprise. I've worn that particular sports bra for many long runs but this was the first time I had any problems. Showering was incredibly painful. It felt like someone was holding a lit match right next to my skin.
  • I felt very worn out after this race. I had all kinds of plans to find a great fall half marathon and attempt another PR this year. But I began thinking that maybe I no longer have the motivation to undergo the requisite training.

I can't end this post on those notes, of course. So here are some shout-outs:
  • Congratulations to Amanda C, who is expecting a new addition to the family! She looks FABULOUS!
  • Congratulations to Erica for winning her division! (I told her that anytime I run a race with her, I go into the awards ceremony expecting to hear her name get called. =) )
Speaking of Erica, here's a great post-race picture that she shared:

From L to R: me, Erica, Meryl, Stacy, and Olivia

I'm ready to take a break from racing. Thankfully, the next one on my calendar could not come at a better time or location.

My next race: the Disneyland Half Marathon on August 31!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Packers 5K race recap

Continuing the recap of my Green Bay weekend visit (click here for the first part). After a busy several days, I'm finally getting around to writing about the Packers 5K. I'll continue with the Bill Simmons timeline-style blogging that I used in Part 1.

5:45 PM - Helen and I arrive back at Lambeau Field to get set for the race. In the interest of maintaining neutrality, I purposely chose to wear pink. This is because no NFL team uses pink as a team color, but they all wear it for Breast Cancer Awareness month. Pretty clever, eh?


6:08 PM - After making a quick stop at the indoor restrooms, Helen and I work our way back outside. I run one mile to warm up. It is bright and sunny, and the temps are in the low 80s. My legs are feeling shot from the 10K I ran less than 48 hours earlier. I attempt some acceleration gliders and my legs aren't having any of that.

6:15 PM - Amidst the mob of Packers fans creating a sea of green and gold, Helen makes a Superman sighting!


6:25 PM - I line up in the corrals behind the Corral 2 sign. I had asked Helen to take some pictures of me during the race. To help myself stand out in the crowd for photos, I pose in increasingly spasmodic ways.

Upper L: Obliviousness
Upper R: One-handed wave
Bottom L: Two-handed wave
Bottom R: Best "Fonzie" impression. "AYYY!"

6:28 PM - The president of the Packers plus some Packers alumni address the crowd. A local school choir sings the national anthem.

6:30 PM - Packers-themed music blares from the loudspeakers and Corral 1 is off!


6:31 PM - The emcee gives countdowns to the release of each corral, which include repeat renditions of the Packers jingle (credit to my friend Dale for finding that video). The crowd is fired up. Everyone around me is cheering along and pumping their fists in rhythm with the jingle.

6:33 PM - I realize too late that I actually lined up in Corral 3. Apparently the Corral 2 runners were supposed to line up in FRONT of the Corral 2 sign, instead of behind it. Oops! Oh well. I take it as another sign from the universe that I should run easy tonight.

I start moving along with the flow of runners but I get boxed in right away. It is very, very crowded, and there is very little room even to bob and weave. That officially seals the deal on taking things easy tonight.

One of the photos that Helen took of the crowd

6:45 PM - We wind through many residential neighborhoods surrounding Lambeau Field. Lots of locals have come out to watch the fun. A couple of folks have their lawn sprinklers towards the streets and many runners take the opportunity to enjoy the spray. There are lots of kids running and they are all having a marvelous time.

6:52 PM - There are gentle hills along the course. My legs are aching.

This is an official event photo (the organizers allowed us to download them for free!) The camera angle makes it look like I am leading the crowd but I assure you that I am most definitely not!

6:59 PM - We enter the stadium. The course narrows considerably, forcing us to slow to a walk several times. We are side by side with oncoming runners, many of whom exchange high-fees with us along the way.

After a short pass through some hallways, we run through the player's entrance and emerge onto the playing field. The course includes a lap around the warning track. It was very cool taking in the sights from ground level.

7:00 PM - I see myself on the Jumbotron! Since Helen has my phone, I couldn't take a picture of myself. But plenty of other folks stop on the field to do so, causing a logjam along the path. Nobody minds, of course.



7:01 PM - After completing the lap around the field, we head back into the stadium halls and reemerge from a side door. In the adjacent parking lot, there is a replica 50-yard line set up which is our finish line. Wooo!

7:02 PM - Helen sees Superman again.

By the way, yes, that is a giant Packers logo "G" on the ground.

7:03 PM - I come barreling across.


...and I am in the end zone. Finish line/touchdown!!!



My official time: 30:13.

7:10 PM - I've collected my finisher's medal and gone through the post-race refreshment tent (apples, bananas, pretzels, and fresh cookies!) Helen and I head back into the stadium to hang out, enjoy the atmosphere, and watch other runners on the course.

We see lots more runners photographing themselves on the Jumbotron. Some figure out where the video camera is placed, and lift their kids up right in front of it.


Notice the one woman doing some kind of cheerleader pose in the background.

Best photobombing, ever. I bet some of those pictures end up on people's holiday cards. =D

8:30 PM - Helen and I are having dinner at Kroll's, right across the street from the stadium. This is a landmark restaurant in Green Bay which has been around for over 70 years.

Upper L: The sign
Lower L: At the restaurant, you seat yourself, then press the button when you are ready to order
R: Covered parking for my car. I think Kroll's used to be a drive-in?

As you can probably glean from the pictures, Kroll's has a unique, old-fashioned vibe. They also have really, really good burgers and milkshakes/malts. =)

--
I had a great time visiting Green Bay! I really enjoyed the local atmosphere at the Packers 5K and all the weekend events, as well as the true friendliness of all the residents. Many thanks again to Helen and her aunt/uncle for being such kind and welcoming hosts for the weekend!!!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Meeting Rita Jeptoo

This past Monday night, I had the incredible privilege of meeting Kenyan marathoner Rita Jeptoo.

This woman's achievements are absolutely mind-blowing. To briefly illustrate, she has won the Boston Marathon three times (including the last two years); holds the Boston Marathon course record; and won the Chicago Marathon in 2013.

A victorious Rita Jeptoo shortly after crossing the finish line at the 2013 Chicago Marathon
Source

Wow. Just wow.

Rita came to Chicago to undergo some local training in preparation for defending her Chicago Marathon title in 2014. Nike Bucktown hosted her as a special guest during their Monday night running club. A small group of running bloggers were also given the opportunity to do a Q&A session with her.

From L to R: me, Zach, Jennifer, and Erica

Nike Bucktown really rolled out the red carpet for us upon arrival. We each received a goody bag filled with amazing Nike gear, which Jennifer, Erica, and I are wearing in the picture. Thank you, Nike!

We hung out and chatted while waiting for the very special guest to arrive. All of a sudden, Rita walked in. I was so excited!

The event organizers brought her over to talk to us for a few minutes. As we did introductions, she smiled at each of us shyly and offered a very delicate handshake. I had visualized her to be energetic and outgoing, but she was incredibly soft-spoken. It felt like she was surprised and almost taken aback by how thrilled we all were to meet her.

Chatting with Rita

We went around the circle and took turns asking her questions. She was so soft-spoken that it was tough for us to hear her words. At first, Rita's responses were shorter, but as time went on she began speaking more and more freely and at length.

After our brief Q&A with her, the event organizers gathered the whole crowd of event-goers and brought Rita up front. They gave Rita a microphone for this portion of the event, which helped a lot.

Source

Once Rita got rolling, you could clearly sense her passion for running and her intense focus. Here are some highlights from what she shared:
  • She flew to Chicago from Bogota, Colombia. She had just run the Bogota International Half Marathon. With modest humor, she summed it up with: "...and I won. Again." The crowd gave her a round of applause amidst some appreciative laughter.
  • When growing up, Rita lived 10 kilometers away from her school in Kenya. She would run to school in the mornings, run home and back for lunch, then run home after school. As such, she would run 40 kilometers every day. She never thought about the distance - she just wanted to go to school.
  • Rita liked playing football (soccer) as a child. She got noticed for her running prowess while playing football. She ended up doing all of the running events at her school because nobody else did them. She joked about having to do the long jump.
  • Her training regimen includes running two or three times a day. This might include a 5 AM "fast" run for 30 minutes; a run at 10 AM for 60-70 minutes, and a 4 PM run for another 40 minutes. When she does long runs, they typically last 130 minutes to 140 minutes. 
  • Rita mentioned the importance of training daily in order to build-up the muscles to be tired and then stronger. She said not to think about yesterday's training affecting today's training; instead, remember that you are always training. She knows that her colleagues and competitors are always training, too.
Rita leading the very competitive pack at the Boston Marathon
Source
  • From a nutritional standpoint, Rita emphasized the importance of doing your own cooking in order to control the amount of oil used. She mentioned not going to McDonald's, only eating pasta once per week, and drinking a glass of milk every evening. Her recommendations were to have coffee, a banana, and water before running; to drink fresh mango juice (not from the supermarket) and have a piece of fruit in the morning after running; and to eat rice and either chicken or fish for lunch. She also mentioned eating millet, as well as ugali (a Kenyan dish similar to polenta).
  • Rita noted that food was so readily available in the U.S. at fast-food restaurants and the like. It was a different mentality in Kenya. She mentioned that it would be good to develop the mentality of needing to "walk for your food."
  • The Boston Marathon and New York Marathon are her favorites, and she likes the hills. 
  • When asked about the Chicago Marathon, she indicated that she really likes the spectators and that many cheer her on by name. This makes her feel very at home in Chicago. (She also loves the shopping in Chicago; she said with an almost impish smile that she came to Chicago last fall with one bag and left with two.)

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Rita speak. She is extremely down to earth, genuine, and likable. I was touched by the fact that while she was speaking, she paused a few times to smile and look around the room. It seemed that she was trying to absorb the crowd just as much as we were trying to absorb everything from her.

At the conclusion of Rita's session, we took some group photos. Rita even asked if the photographers could take a picture using her personal phone. That made me smile.

As the organizers were making some closing announcements, Rita stood with the crowd and listened just as intently as the rest of us.


As the crowd began dispersing, some asked to take individual photos with Rita. She looked genuinely happy to do so.

Here is my photo with Rita!


Afterwards, Rita wandered around the shop combing through the racks of merchandise, just like many others were doing.

I mentioned to some folks how cool it was that she was so normal, despite her superhuman athletic prowess. The event organizers told us a recent story about how they once witnessed her seeing her own picture on the cover of a magazine. Her reaction: surprise and excitement. They asked her if she wanted a copy. Her response: a shy yes, and could she have a few for her family, too?

Love it.

I am so appreciative of the time that Rita Jeptoo spent with us at Nike Bucktown. Meeting her has given me a deeply renewed respect for championship runners. She has profoundly inspired me. I will definitely be rooting for her at the Chicago Marathon this fall. She has my lifelong support at any and all other events that she runs!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Frames From the Weekend in Green Bay

Linking up with Irina this week on her Frames From the Weekend series. I've got lots of photos to share!


On a side note - Adam has always been a fan of using the Bill Simmons "Sports Guy" style of timeline recap blogging. (Click here for one of my favorite examples!) Today I'm going to give this particular blog style a whirl. As Adam would say, all times Central Standard and slightly estimated.

Friday
1:20 PM - Depart for the 3.5-hour drive north to Green Bay, picking up Helen along the way.

2:45 PM - Hit the first of several road construction zones on Interstate 94 and 43. It's a sea of orange cones and signs.

I did not actually see this lovely artistic creation along the way, but I thought it was pretty funny.

3:47 PM - I learn about some Wisconsin driving etiquette. In Chicago, anytime you've got a lane reduction, everyone drives up to the exact merge point (and then some) and squeezes over at the very last minute. Some folks even go out of their way to block others from merging ahead of them. But in Wisconsin, folks change lanes as soon as they see the sign for the upcoming lane reduction. They leave the reducing lane empty.

Illinois drivers don't fare well with this mentality in Wisconsin. During one lane reduction, we watched five cars, all with Illinois plates, go zooming down to the exact merge point before veering over at the last minute. Helen tells me that once when she channeled her inner Illinois driver in Wisconsin, she got a finger wagging from another driver. Yes, a finger wagging!



5:33 PM - We see the first "Green Bay exits" signs along Interstate 43. I get my first local glimpse of the Fox River, as well as Lambeau Field from a distance.

5:40 PM - Arrive at Lambeau Field. Lots of folks are milling around. In addition to race packet pickup for the Packers 5K, the team is hosting a Kids Fun Run plus a Family Movie Night on the Jumbotron.

On the way in, Helen and I see minions taking pictures with passing kids. We wait patiently for the kids to clear out so we can get a picture with the minions, too.

From L to R: minion, Helen, me, minion

6:00 PM - Packet picked up. Time to grab some dinner.

The Lambeau Field Atrium set up for race packet pickup

7:00 PM - Helen and I arrive back at Lambeau. The stands are filled with families dressed from head to toe in Packer attire. We find seats to catch the last 30 minutes of Despicable Me. This is our view of the movie, right in between the field goal uprights:



7:45 PM - The movie has ended and Helen and I are walking the stands taking pictures. We check out the site of the famed Lambeau Leap. It's much higher in person than it looks on TV.

We joke about staying on the premises until they kick us out. A few minutes later, one of the staff tells us that it's time to clear the stands. Mission accomplished.

On the way out, at least five different staff members thank us for coming and tell us to have a good rest of the night. Everyone is so friendly!

Saturday
9:30 AM - We arrive at the Don Hutson Center, where the Packers practice, for the Training Camp kickoff. The practice facility is right across the street from the stadium.


9:35 AM - I see that the Packers rolled out the red carpet for us. How gracious! I decide to take a photo to commemorate their hospitality, shrugging off the fact that we couldn't open that gate. Technical difficulties, of course.


9:37 AM - We walk past lines of bicycles in line with this tradition, as well as hordes of Packer fans lining up to catch a glimpse of the practice in progress.


9:38 AM - We head towards the stands to find a seat, and walk right up to the entrance. We get politely redirected towards the end of a line of folks who are waiting to get seated by field ushers. Oops.


Folks waiting in line to get seated by field ushers

9:50 AM - The ushers take us to some seats and we start watching the action.


10:01 AM - I notice that some of the players are doing drills with giant bouncy red fitness balls. It looks pretty comical. I try not to giggle out loud.


10:15 AM - We head towards the field exit, where we can watch the players riding kid's bicycles back to Lambeau. The crowd is growing and there are several news reporters and news cameras poised to capture the action.

10:30 AM - Players start entering the bicycle area. Some sign autographs and pose for pictures. The crowd is going wild. The players pick kids bikes and start departing. Some are basically scooting themselves along, others build pedal speed and go flying by.

Check out those cheese wheels.

11:04 AM - Helen's uncle got us tickets for a 12:00 stadium tour, so we start heading back to the stadium. On the way, we observe some in-progress setup for the 5K race later that night.



11:15 AM - We check out the pro shop, which is like Ikea for Packer fans. We even learn about the history of the cheesehead.


11:40 AM - Time to say hi to Vince and Curly.


12:00 PM - We embark on a guided tour of Lambeau Field with a passionate tour guide. She asks where all the participants are from. I get a little nervous about what everyone's reaction will be when I tell her I'm from Chicago, but it barely receives a second thought from anyone. A guy from Minneapolis, on the other hand, gets a hard time.

12:20 PM - We take a front row seat in one of the luxury suites (as part of the tour) to listen to the tour guide's stories.


I am pleasantly surprised to learn how community-oriented and down-to-earth the organization is. For example, all concessions are sold by local charitable groups, who in turn receive a portion of the proceeds. The concessions are reasonably priced, too.

12:50 PM - Down on the playing field, Helen does her best referee impression to signal "touchdown" while I do my best "kick is no good."


1:04 PM - Lunchtime at Curly's Pub, where copious portions of battered/fried cheese curds are consumed.


After lunch, we headed back to Helen's aunt/uncle's house to nap before the Packers 5K that evening.

I'll share more about the race in a separate post. In the meantime, here is a quick photo of the starting line:


Final thoughts:

  • After getting to see Green Bay up close, I can see why Packers fans are so diehard. The entire city revolves around the team. (On a related note, I was telling Adam that I think there are a LOT of similarities between Steelers fans and Packers fans. Bears fans are a little different.)
  • I found the locals to be exceptionally friendly. Although, Helen says that it helps that they don't know I am from Chicago, haha.
  • It really does seem true that the Packers-Vikings rivalry is much more bitter than the Bears-Packers rivalry. That changed my perspective.

Many, many thanks go out to Helen and her aunt and uncle for being such fantastic hosts over the weekend!