Sunday, March 29, 2015

Shamrock Shuffle 8K race recap

I have literally spent decades hearing all the stories and seeing all the pictures from the famed Shamrock Shuffle. Every year there was a reason I couldn't run it - work commitments, weddings, being out of town, etc., etc., etc. But this year I finally crossed the Shamrock Shuffle off of my runner's to-do list!

Shamrock is the largest 8K in the world and is unofficially considered the kickoff to Chicago's racing season. The Shamrock Shuffle and the Chicago Marathon are both organized by Bank of America, and both courses start and finish the same way.

Before I talk about the race itself, here are some pictures from the race expo the day before:

Entering the premises at McCormick Place
L: Me (having trouble seeing behind my Shamrock glasses)
R: Xaarlin and me
Upper L: Visiting the Bears 5K booth
Lower L: Zenaida and me wearing leis from the Chicago Tiki Run booth
R: Deejay playing up the Irish theme
Now on to race day!

I have a growing affinity for shorter races that take place in downtown Chicago. I am much more relaxed about my pre-race nutrition, hydration, and sleep. I also love being able to just hop onto a Divvy bike and be at the start village in 15 minutes.

My biggest concern going into the race was the weather. The meteorologists were forecasting winds of 20 MPH and more, with temperatures in the low 30s. There was also some rain in the forecast, but thankfully it wasn't supposed to start until around 11 AM (whew!). The weather made for some last-minute wardrobe debates. I do prefer to be too warm as opposed to too cold, so I elected to err on the side of what I thought would be overdressing. (I ended up still being very cold.)

Pre-race, I met up with my beloved Chicago Running Bloggers posse for a photo:

Included in this photo: Xaarlin, Luis, Eric, Lauren, Maggie, Pete, Maureen, Kelly, and Zenaida, plus some other folks that I didn't get a chance to formally meet. I'm on the far right in the white jacket.

Afterwards, I dropped off my bag at gear check, used the portapotty, and headed to my starting corral.

The corrals for my wave closed at 8:20 AM. I had been warned that the corrals were strictly enforced, and that the gates got very crowded in the final minutes. With this in mind, I checked into my corral at 8:05 and began the uncomfortably cold wait until the race got underway.

I took this photo from my corral. Check out the gorgeous blue-sky backdrop of the Chicago skyline. It masks the fact that all the runners were standing there shivering in the freezing air.

Note all the folks festively wearing green!

I didn't see many folks wearing costumes, but I did see this guy's impressive 'do:

I hope this guy's hair didn't get messed up by the extreme winds!

Unfortunately, as I was waiting in the corrals, I started feeling the need to use the portapotty again. By then, announcements were blaring that the corrals were closing in a few minutes. I definitely didn't have time to exit and re-enter my corral, so I opted to stay put. And pray. =D

After a stirring rendition of the national anthem, the race was finally underway. I crossed the starting line approximately 17 minutes later.

The first few miles were rough. I hadn't been able to do any pre-race warm-up, and I couldn't feel my fingers or my toes. The course almost immediately went underneath the Wacker Street bridge. I quickly lost signal on my Garmin.

The Shufflers in mass!
Despite the discomfort, I was looking around and enjoying running the streets of downtown Chicago. I had been expecting crowds of spectators, but it was actually very quiet. I am guessing the weather scared away a lot of would-be spectators.

I finally started to warm up during Mile 3. I knew that I would be seeing Adam close to the Mile 3 marker. This gave me something to look forward to. It ended up being easy to find him because he was the only one standing there! Adam ran alongside me momentarily. He joked that it was easy to keep up with me when he was only running one block and I was running 8 kilometers. =)

Shortly afterwards, the runners hit an enormous wall of wind. That same stretch included an aid station, too, which must have made things tough for the volunteers. Some were shouting that we were almost through the wind tunnel, but we weren't. It was brutal. It took so much effort to keep running that I considered dropping down to a walk, but didn't.

Running underneath the famed "L" tracks in downtown
As I neared the Mile 4 marker, I started seeing a handful of spectators. I was thinking that although this was a short race, I was looking forward to finishing. The final stretch included the infamous hill on Roosevelt and then the straightaway on Columbus Drive, just like the Chicago Marathon. It brought back some memories for me.

My final finishing time was 45:01. I was a little disappointed with myself because it was nowhere near my PR of 44:12. But, given the weather, no warm-up, needing to use the restroom the whole time, and being so early in the training season, it could have been much worse. And as Adam reminded me, I do these races first and foremost to have fun!

I hear that this year was the first year the organizers gave out finisher's medals!

For me, the biggest highlights of the day were getting to see so many friends, plus seeing Adam along the course! It is moments like those that remind me how much I love the cameraderie of running races. I get the hype behind the Shamrock Shuffle.

I look forward to Shuffling again in the future when the weather is more pleasant!

My next race: The CARA Live Grit Lakefront 10-Miler on April 18

Friday, March 27, 2015

Tri newbie

My company hosted an inaugural indoor triathlon this week for employees. Over the years I have had some passing thoughts of trying a tri. Therefore, I signed up for the event the moment I heard about it.

How did the company's indoor tri work? Participants were ranked based on total distance covered across three disciplines:
  • 10 minutes on the rowing machine
  • 15 minutes of spin-biking, with higher resistance translating to more distance covered
  • 15 minutes of treadmill-running at a 1% incline
Since my company doesn't have an on-site swimming pool, I thought it was very clever to substitute rowing for swimming. It also made for much easier transitions, too (we were given two minutes of transition time in between each segment).

If only!!!
Let's talk strategy. Here is how I approached each segment:

I have almost no rowing experience. I've only used a rowing machine maybe ten times my entire life? I knew the rowing would be my downfall, but I was hoping that maybe the comparatively shorter timeframe of 10 minutes would reduce the deviations across contestants. My only hope was to pull out something semi-respectable here.

I have some experience with spin bikes, but not a ton. I wanted to try to find a happy medium between speed versus resistance. One of my coworkers and I strategized that the biking segment could manifest the biggest potential mileage spreads. Therefore, I wanted to push the biking as best as I could.

Of the three disciplines, I am most comfortable with the running portion by far. However, I do not usually run with a 1% incline, as was required here. I also knew that my legs could potentially be shot by the time I got to the running segment. My thought was that I would start at a pace that felt comfortably hard, and then gradually try to increase the speed.

Every hard-core sports strategy discussion requires the unwielding of the X's and the O's!

So how did things actually go on the big day?

Rowing - 2040 meters completed
I started out feeling good, but like any other race I realized after a few minutes that I had started out too quickly. I tried to use a combination of leg strength and arm strength. I also leaned backwards a little on the extension in the hopes of making gravity work for me.

Towards the end, my hands were sweaty so I had trouble maintaining my grip. To compensate, I tried to squeeze the handlebars more securely. This made my forearms ache. The 10 minutes on the rower couldn't go by fast enough.

As expected, my performance on the rower was eyeballed by a race volunteer as being "a little bit south of what we've seen on an average basis." He was probably being charitable when he said this, too.

Biking - 4.0X miles completed
I did most of the biking between levels 8 and 9. I tried going up to levels 10 and 11 for a few seconds, but found it a little too challenging. One of my fellow participants stood up on her pedals a few times, but I elected to stay seated the whole time.

I was unhappy that the bike only measured distances in tenths of a mile. My odometer was at 4.0 miles for a good twenty seconds at the very end, even though I was pedaling like crazy. I hit 4.1 miles at the 15:02 marker, but I only got credit for 4.0 miles. Grrrrr!

Running - 1.65 miles completed
Admittedly, I had high ambitions for the run segment. I was thinking maybe I could maintain my target 5K race pace (8:20/mile) for 15 minutes. But those ambitions quickly came crashing down as I was getting underway. My legs felt like grape jello.

I did still want to run a negative split on the treadmill. I started out at a 9:20 pace, then I gradually upped the speed a notch or two at a time. During the last two minutes, I went all out. The last 30 seconds or so, I was flying at a 7:07 pace. During those moments, I was thinking to myself that I could very well die right now.

My pace for the 15 minutes averaged out to a 9:06 pace. Not too bad, but in retrospect I think I could have done better.

At the end...
I was completely zonked. I was sweating like a fire hydrant, and my legs and arms were both shot to pieces. Even though it was only about 1:00 PM when my participant wave finished, I was ready to call it a day and go home!!!

As I write this, the final rankings have not yet been posted. Despite a subpar rowing performance, I was told that my biking and my running were comparatively strong. That made me feel good.

I know I have no hope of placing. On the contrary, I could largely be at risk for coming in last place! But honestly, I will more than happy if my performance ends up being at or above the 50% percentile.

Tons and tons of renewed respect for all you triathletes out there. This tri stuff is no joke!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

All that jazz

I've quite literally got a lot of jazz in the works!

My friend Rose and I are attending a Chicago Blues and Jazz Tour. It includes a soul food dinner, speakeasy drinks, and live music that explores Chicago's musical history and architecture from north to south. Very cool!

These signs were on display at a Chicago History Museum exhibit focused on Chicago's jazz and blues scene.

Side notes: I think the Green Mill is the coolest jazz club in Chicago, and I've been dying to check out Kingston Mines. I think this tour is really going to whet my appetite for further exploring Chicago's various music venues. I credit visiting New Orleans for my renewed interest in jazz these days.

Saturday night...
Speaking of New Orleans! Adam and I are going to a Preservation Hall Jazz Band concert. Many thanks to Maggie for the tip that they would be in town.

Preservation Hall in New Orleans

Adam and I didn't get a chance to check out Preservation Hall while we were in New Orleans, so I am super excited that their band is coming to Chicago.

It is going to be amazing to experience and compare/contrast Chicago/New Orleans blues/jazz within the span of 48 hours. I hypothesize there are a lot of cross-influences between the two. Let's find out!

So what other jazz is going on other than all that jazz?

The Ravinia Festival just announced their 2015 concert schedule. This year's line-up is fantastic and very diverse - there is something for everyone!

Here are some of the shows that caught my eye:
  • June 25 - Sheryl Crow
  • June 26-27 - Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga
  • July 5 - Beethovan's Appassionata
  • July 8 - Porgy and Bess
  • July 12 (my birthday!) - Disney's Fantasia
  • July 29 - Brahms First Piano Concerto
  • August 1 - Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture
  • August 2 - Gladiator Live
  • August 7 - Harry Connick, Jr.
  • August 8 - Ramsey Lewis
  • August 20 - Chopin and Rachmaninoff

Beyond what I've listed here, I am always up for any performance featuring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Add a pianist, and I'll be as happy as a baby in a tub!

Ahhh, Ravinia! One of the symbols of Chicago summertime.

Any other jazz/blues lovers out there? Concert-goers in general? Ravinia goers, what performances are you most looking forward to?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Disney photo flashback

Recently I found out about Deb's Disney photo linkup. Needless to say, I was super excited to join in the fun!

Focused on the Magic

This week's theme is "Photo Flashback."

Since I am always in runner mode, I will share some throwback photos from the 2013 Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon and the 2014 Disneyland Half Marathon.

2013 Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon

The starting line
Travel-themed mile markers

Osbourne Spectacle of Lights

Lilo and Stitch!

Nearing the finish line at EPCOT

2014 Disneyland Half Marathon

Meeting Jeff Galloway at the race expo

Pre-race with Kayla

Festive mile markers
In front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle, plus other scenes from the course

What are some of your Disney favorites? Movies, music, parks, food, characters? Anything is game!

"I only hope we never lose sight of one thing: it was all started by a mouse."
- Walt Disney

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Favorite spectator signs

Linking up again with April, Patty, and Erika for Tuesdays on the Run.

This week's topic: favorite race spectator signs!

I happen to love reading the spectator signs along a course. As much as I enjoy running in solitude, when I run a big race I do enjoy going all out. It's fun to interact with the crowd and feed off of the crowd's energy. I think reading the race signs is one of the best ways to do so!

When it comes to selecting my favorite race signs, it was hard to narrow it down. I am an equal-opportunity race-sign liker! However, there are a few categories in which I would classify my very favorite signs:

Interact with me!
I love when spectators promote true interaction between the runners and the crowd. I always try to follow suit with what the sign encourages. Some examples:



It is always so great to see the signs where the spectators GET it. Give credit to the runners who are spectating, and/or to the family members/friends who understand the unique challenges that us runners go through. Examples:


Pure encouragement
When I'm dying on the course, sometimes the simplest words make the biggest difference for me. Examples:


Honorable Mention - "the fill in the blank"
I get a kick out of these. I just think they are really funny.



I had a lot of fun looking for race/spectator signs to share! Kudos to Jill at Best Race Signs for being an absolutely amazing resource on this topic.

One more mention. At Rock N Roll DC there was a spectator cradling her adorable sleeping puppy in her arms. She was shouting, "Smile! I have a puppy!!!" It did indeed make me smile. It wasn't technically a spectator sign and unfortunately I didn't get a picture. However, it was definitely one of my favorite spectator moments!

What about you? What are your favorite spectator signs?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Frames From the Weekend 3/20/15 - 3/22/15

Linking up with Irina and Tara to share some photos highlighting my weekend.

I had a pretty low-key weekend planned. In the office, my team is currently enjoying the calm before the storm. Next week, work is going to get real busy real fast. In preparation, I am trying to rest up and get all of my ducks in a row.

Vincenzo's Pizzeria and Sports Bar

On Friday night, Adam and I met up with friends Eric and Sarah, plus their adorable children, at Vincenzo's. It's one of my favorite neighborhood sports bars. It's laidback and has fantastic thin-crust pizza (this means a lot coming from a deep-dish diehard such as yours truly). Normally it's not insanely crowded, but the place was packed with NCAA basketball fans when we were there. (Disclaimer: as you might guess, the above picture was not actually taken on Friday night.)

Practicing my public speaking at my bi-monthly Toastmasters meeting

On Saturday morning, I went to a Toastmasters meeting. I love Toastmasters! It is priceless to be able to regularly practice my public speaking and communication skills in a safe and supportive environment. To me, public speaking is like a muscle that needs to be continually worked and challenged to stay strong. I've been a Toastmasters member for over ten years and I intend to be a member for life.

I've also met so many wonderful friends through the club. Thanks to my friend Kim for taking this photo of me at the meeting - and congrats also to her for making a magnificent skydiving speech at the meeting!

Top Left: Artful creations at Sushi Pink
Top Right: Exploring the menu at Olympic Meat Packers
Bottom: Newly-installed Fulton Market District sign in my neighborhood

On Saturday afternoon, Adam and I went for lunch at Sushi Pink, which is our go-to sushi joint in the West Loop. I had a mad sushi craving and this really hit the spot.

Our plans for the night included relaxing at home and watching the Blackhawks and Penguins games. Therefore, I decided it would be fun to make an at-home steakhouse dinner. After lunch, we stopped by Olympic Meat Packers to pick up some fixings.

While walking the long way home, I came across a newly-installed Fulton Market District sign. My neighborhood is changing so quickly that I can't keep up with all the new additions!

Left: Stretch-work and strength-work
Upper right: Blueberry blintzes
Lower right: Animal print accessories!

Quick update on Operation Eliminate Janky Stride: it is not going well. My left knee began bothering me a few days ago. I had been looking forward to logging some miles this weekend, but decided I didn't want to push things. Instead, I spent a lot of quality time with my foam roller, my offending Stick, and some hand weights.

On Sunday, Adam and I trekked out to the suburbs to see my parents. We went for a nice brunch, of which blueberry blintzes were a big highlight. Note to self that I need to add homemade blintzes to my list of recipes to try!

These days, I have a mild obsession with anything animal-print. Weeks ago, I saw an animal-print purse that I loved but didn't purchase at the time. This weekend I finally decided to go for it. I made a quick stop at a nearby mall on the way home from visiting my parents. (Credit to Adam for not rolling his eyes while he was being dragged along. =D )

The goods from my latest visit to the Chicago Public Library

Over the weekend, I finished up One Day, which was this month's book club selection. (For those of you who have read it and/or saw the movie, I enjoyed the story and its premise but I was not thrilled with the ending.) I'm already looking forward to reading next month's pick, How to Be A Parisian Wherever You Are by Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret, and Sophie Mas. Has anyone else read it yet?

And now, cookbooks!!!

I've been to Lidia Bastianich's restaurant in Pittsburgh, so I was excited to peruse some of her published recipes.

The Parthenon is a popular restaurant in Chicago's Greektown, so I jumped at the opportunity to try some of their recipes at home. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book includes some interesting details on the history of Greektown. For example, the owner of the nearby Rodity's Restaurant originally wanted to call their restaurant The Pantheon. Given how similar the name was to The Parthenon, the matter went to court. It resulted in the Rodity's name that remains today. Who knew?!?

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend! Cheers to a great week ahead!

Friday, March 20, 2015

2 seconds of fame, and Friday favorites

Happy Friday! I wanted to share a fleeting moment of publicity that I experienced earlier this week. I am also going to join in a few of the many Friday Favorites linkups!

Almost famous (okay, not really)
Comcast Sportsnet Chicago had a special "Behind the Lens" broadcast of the Blackhawks game this past Wednesday. It was a very unique introspective. They displayed various snippets of the work that goes on behind the scenes to produce a smooth and informative broadcast. Clearly there was an unbelievable level of coordination and detail involved. However, the directors and staff made the telecast flow like a piece of cake.

Fans were asked to tweet their pictures and reactions from the broadcast. Yours truly did just that:

Here's a television shot from the Behind the Lens broadcast. Check out the familiar-looking tweet scrolling at the bottom!

Woo hoo!!!

Now if I may toot my own Blackhawks fan/Twitter horn for just a moment, this is actually the second time that one of my tweets has been shared on TV. Here is a screenshot from the first time, which was back in December:

And with that, my 2 seconds of fame are officially OVER!

Let's move on to some of my current favorites.

Honey Stinger Waffles
Honey Stinger had a booth at the Rock N Roll DC race expo. They caught my eye with an enormous array of waffle samples. (Note to all running expo vendors - if you provide product samples, I will come!) 

WOW, are those waffles yummy! I am normally very partial to GU, with the occasional foray into Clif Shot gels. However, I couldn't resist picking up a few of the Honey Stinger waffles. I like them so much that I went onto Amazon and started a purchase subscription. These babies are going to give my GU and Clif Shot gels a run for the money (no pun intended).

Crazy tights
For the longest time, my lower-body workout attire consisted entirely of plain black shorts, plain black capris, plain black tights. Not anymore! I love love LOVE the patterned workout bottoms that are all the rage this year. I can't get enough of them. 

One of everything, please!

Totally rad
Adam and I were out to dinner earlier this week and the restaurant was playing a fantastic selection of 80s music. Best decade of music EVER. (The 60s are a close second, in my opinion.) I was inspired to start putting together an all-80s playlist for myself. Why did it take me so long to do this!?!? I can't wait to hit the streets in my running shoes with the dulcet tones of Foreigner, Journey, and so many others ringing in my ears. 

Once again, one of everything, please!


Just a kid from Chicago
I saw this commercial the other day and it brought chills to my spine. I found it on YouTube and have watched it at least 10 times. It's especially meaningful to me since it is Chicago.

Linking up with Claire, Katie, Heather, Courtney, Cynthia, and Mar.