Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Comparing barre studios

I recently completed my 30-day trial ClassPass membership that I won from Katie. During this time, I took a total of 17 classes, of which 16 were barre classes.

Feeling the burn with the deceptively simple-looking barre exercises

I wanted to share my experiences on the studios that I visited. Before I begin, here are some overall thoughts that applied to every barre studio:
  • There wasn't any single barre studio whose workouts consistently challenged me more than any other studio. At each studio, there might be more emphasis on working a certain body area one day versus the next. Every barre studio had times where the class felt more or less difficult on a day-by-day basis.
  • While some of the studios had general class formats (e.g. warm-up followed by arm-work, then thigh-work, then ab-work, etc.), no two classes were ever alike.

Now, here are my thoughts/reviews on each studio. I've listed them in alphabetical order by studio name.

The Bar Method
Visits: 4*, all of them at the Loop location
Pros: Roomy facilities with an ample locker room and shower facilities/supplies; friendly, welcoming staff and instructors; very detailed emphasis on form; the instructors were unscripted in a good way; the Loop studio is SUPER convenient for me
Cons: The instructors call you out on your form in front of the whole class. E.g. "Emily, square your hips. Mary, lift your arm more. Jane, relax your shoulders." This could be embarrassing for some. Also, there was no transition time scheduled in between classes (e.g. one class ended at 6:30 while the next one started at 6:30), which could make things a little hectic.
Summary: After I got used to how the instructors corrected everyone's form, I appreciated the strong attention to detail. I found the atmosphere and ambience to be comfortable. From what I can tell, Bar Method offers the lowest-priced "new-client" price ($75 for the first month, compared to $100 elsewhere). Because of this and the great location, I would be interested in getting a Bar Method membership in the future.

The Barre Code
Visits: 4* (two at the Michigan Avenue location, two at the River North location)
Pros: Diverse class offerings such as Barre-dio (barre + cardio), Baryasa (barre + vinyasa yoga), Burn (barre done in a heated studio); accordingly, the classes had the most changeable format of any that I attended; convenient-to-me studio locations; stylish facilities
Cons: The instructors placed almost zero emphasis on proper form; when pushing students to work to the max, they were too over the top for my taste; none of them made any effort to personally interact with students or get to know them; the facilities got very cramped during class transition periods.
Summary: While I got a good workout during my classes at the Barre Code, the studios felt very impersonal to me. One of the reasons I go to workout classes in general is for the live interaction. If it wasn't for that, I'd just do a workout DVD at home. However, at Barre Code, I got almost no acknowledgement from anyone. I almost felt like I was just following a live workout video. For this reason, I would not want to get a Barre Code membership.

The Dailey Method
Visits: 3 (two at the Bucktown location, one at the Lincoln Park location)
Pros: The Bucktown studio is gorgeous - very spacious and zen, and everything you could ever ask for in a locker room facility is provided. Both locations have onsite childcare services, for those who need them. Both instructors I had at the Bucktown location were detailed and knowledgeable. One of the instructors I had at the Bucktown location is a Radio City Rockette, so she was incredibly inspirational!
Cons: The instructor I had at the Lincoln Park location seemed noticeably less-experienced, e.g., she would mix up left and right, her cues were off, she fumbled to explain things a few times. The Lincoln Park studio wasn't nearly as nice as the Bucktown location. Classes at the Bucktown location were very crowded.
Summary: I was surprised by how different my experience was at one location versus the other. I was focused on barre-intensive workouts, but the Dailey Method included a wide range of floor and mat exercises with a comparatively smaller portion devoted to barre. I would actually prefer a stronger focus on barre exercises. Because of this, and because the locations are not the most convenient to me, I would be 50/50 on getting a Dailey Method membership.

Pure Barre
Visits: 4* (three at the Old Town location, one at the Bucktown location)
Pros: Instructors made a strong effort to greet everyone personally and compliment you by name; they come by your side to correct your form individually with the microphone turned off; very consistent classes and instructors; the Old Town location's student population was nicely diverse. One Old Town instructor introduced me to some other students within the class, which was nice.
Cons: There were times when the music got so loud I had trouble hearing the instructor. Both locations I visited have no private changing area other than a single bathroom, and both only have open shelves to store your belongings. Neither location has lockers, locker rooms, or showers.
Summary: I'd taken classes at Pure Barre in Bucktown before, so I knew what to expect in advance. In my opinion, Pure Barre classes feel the most like a soiree versus a workout class - which is a good thing. If Pure Barre had locations that were more convenient to me, I would be interested in getting a membership.


Others:
In addition to the above, I visited Zen Yoga Garage once for a yoga barre class, and I visited Bare Feet Power Yoga once for a yoga class. It's tougher for me to evaluate these two studios given the single visit to each, but here are my thoughts on both:

Bare Feet Power Yoga - The yoga class I took here was the only non-barre class I attended during my ClassPass membership. The facilities were very small. It had only one bathroom, no changing facilities, and a miniature reception area with open shelves for students to store their belongings. The class was insanely crowded, to the point where I was very uncomfortable. I was afraid that I was going to get kicked in the face by the person in front of me, and I couldn't move freely for fear of hitting those next to me and behind me. The instructor taught the class using only yoga language without providing further explanation. If you were a beginner to yoga, you would probably be completely lost. Even though this studio is just a few blocks from my home, I would probably not visit again.

Zen Yoga Garage - As the name would imply, they mostly offer yoga classes. However, I had an excellent instructor for my yoga barre class. Her cues were impeccably good and her music selection was fantastic. The facilities were nice but I wasn't quite clear on whether or not you were supposed to bring all of your own equipment, or if it was provided. The website didn't specify, either. But if I had the opportunity, I'd definitely like to check out more of their class offerings in the future.


Other notes:
  • I had intended to check out Exhale Chicago and a couple of other studios that offered barre classes, but didn't make it. Location was a big factor.
  • Pure Barre was the only studio where I had an instructor more than once. At all of the other locations, I had different instructors for every visit.
  • I've read some reviews saying that barre classes are full of teeny-tiny women in their 20s who are all decked out head to toe in Lululemon attire. While I can see why people would say this, there were definitely certain locations where this was more true than others.

On a final note, I was thrilled with the results that I experienced from the barre classes. They targeted all of my areas of weakness, especially my hips and core. The barre classes gave me much quicker body changes in just a month compared to what running has done for me over several years.

This runner may have found a fitness pursuit that will give running a run for its money (pun intended)!!!

*ClassPass only allows you to take three classes per studio company per cycle; however, each cycle is 28 days and my membership was 30 days. In case anyone is wondering how I was able to take four classes at three places, my extra two membership days counted as a new cycle of classes. I took advantage of this at two places. I was able to schedule a fourth class at one other studio through what was probably a system glitch.

Monday, October 20, 2014

2014 Prairie State Half Marathon race recap

Sorry for falling off the planet again over the past few weeks. Quarter-end is an extremely busy time for me in the office, and I haven't been feeling overly motivated to blog these days, to be honest. But more about that some other time.

Before I begin, my congratulations to everyone that has run marathons over the past few weeks! Way to go and way to push through! Very special congrats go out to the first-timers, including MeghanIrina, Agnes, and Natali. Welcome to the club. =)

Two Saturdays ago, I ran the Prairie State Half Marathon for the second consecutive year.


Last year Kim paced me to a goal time (recap here), and in 2012 she also helped me achieve my best half marathon result of that year (recap here). Therefore, when I decided to sign up for Round 2 of Prairie State, I asked Kim if she'd be up for joining me again. I was thrilled when she said yes - especially given that she was running the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon the weekend prior. The woman is a powerhouse!

I planned on this race being a PR attempt. However, when it came down to it, I didn't train much beyond the minimum. In the month leading up to the race, I was much more focused on using my ClassPass trial membership to cram in as many barre classes as possible. From a running perspective, all I did was one 10-miler and one 12-miler, plus one or two shorter runs each week. Nevertheless, my long runs felt good amidst the glorious fall temperatures, and my hips and core were feeling stronger from all the barre classes. I was still feeling fairly confident.


Things were harried on the morning of the race. Last year, parking at the race was a complete disaster. This year, the race organizers banned on-site parking, instead implementing off-site race parking with a shuttle bus to/from the race site. While I appreciated the attempt to alleviate parking congestion, it didn't work very well. Basically, it just shifted the parking disaster from one location to the other. It also added undetermined wait times for the shuttle buses. Thank goodness this was a chip-timed race.

After I finally arrived onsite, I found Kim and then scurried to use the portapotties and gear-check my belongings. Apparently the organizers were asking everyone to place their stuff in clear plastic bags, and then attach a tag with our bib numbers. Gear check was pretty harrowing (and was very disorganized at post-race). Kim helped me as I was fumbling around trying to pin my bib, put on my knee straps, and adjust the layers that I was wearing. The race had already begun at that point, and we noticed that the course crossed right in front of the portapotties. That could have made for some unpleasant surprises!

We finally crossed the starting line about 8 minutes after the gun went off. I tried to settle into my pace but my Garmin was showing very different numbers than Kim's was. We decided to go with Kim's Garmin instead of mine, which turned out to be the right decision. My Garmin's numbers ended up being vastly different from hers for almost the entire race, sigh.


When I ran this race last year, I was so focused on my footing, my pacing, and running the tangents that I barely noticed the course scenery and had trouble keeping up conversation with Kim. This year, that wasn't the case! We were gabbing away and I was enjoying the fall foliage against the blue sky. The weather conditions were absolutely perfect for racing. Here's a picture with some of the foliage colors in the background:


Here's another picture with some of the scenic water views that were visible along the course:


I wanted to run the first 6-7 miles at around a 10:15 per mile pace, and walk through all of the aid stations. If things felt good, then we'd speed up during the second half.

I took my first GU around Mile 4. Around Mile 5, I started feeling worn down, which wasn't a good sign. I told Kim that I didn't think it was in the cards for me to run a negative split for the day, but hopefully I could hang on and run an even split?

This race has minimal spectators other than at the start/finish and at the turnaround point. My mom was going to be at the turnaround point, so I was holding out for that moment. We saw Erica tearing it up on her way back. Then we did start seeing spectators, which perked me up. I was really happy to see my mom, and we even got to see a surprise spectator in Bobbi! So awesome!

The path got crowded along the turnaround point. I embraced the forced opportunity to slow down for a few minutes and to ham it up for some of the cameras.


I slowly started feeling better and more energized. This made me a lot more optimistic. I mused to Kim that maybe I just needed the GU to kick in? I was wearing a 2:15 pace band and our splits were indicating that we were about a minute ahead of pace. I was all set to revel in this cushion. However, both of our Garmins were also registering that the course was at least a tenth of a mile short. Kim smartly said that we should be cautious of trusting the mile markers lest we receive an an unpleasant surprise at the end. I agreed, albeit reluctantly.

Kim and I had some passing conversations with a few other folks along the course, which was fun. In between, she was telling me to pump my arms because my legs would follow, etc. Some runners asked if she was my trainer. This made me grin. Other folks mentioned that they were also taking advantage of the advice she was giving me, too. This picture probably wasn't taken during one of those exact occurrences, but I like to think that it epitomizes the spirit of Kim's advice helping everyone!


During the last few miles, my right IT band was starting to bother me. Being the flatlander that I am, I was subdued by some of the gentle hills along the course. Beyond that, though, I felt solid. I took my second GU around mile 9.

Normally I am really feeling the exertion by Mile 10 or Mile 11, and craning my neck to see the next mile marker. This day, I didn't feel much different during that stretch. At one point I actually had to ask Kim which mile marker we had just passed because I forgot what mile we were on (in a good way). It was encouraging to be feeling so much stronger overall. For once, I was actually enjoying my surroundings instead of ignoring everything to focus on putting one foot in front of the other.

Obligatory race photo body spasm

As we got closer to the finish area, Kim told me that she knew I had a kick in me after running two other races with me. Though I was feeling comparatively good, I couldn't quite find it in myself to sprint. Then, I saw Adam along the course waving his Terrible Towel. What a boost it was to see him! As I passed him, I yelled, "I am going to PR today!" and he said, "Run it home!" I told Kim, "Let's do this!" and at that point I finally got myself to sprint for the last tenth of a mile.

Here's a picture of Kim and me crossing the finish line:


Just for giggles, here's a quick throwback/side-by-side comparison to last year's finish line picture with Kim:


My final time this year was 2:13:51. This was an improvement of 90 seconds over my previous PR. Yay!

Here are some post-race pictures:


Adam, Kim, and I had a great brunch afterwards to celebrate. Super fun times!!!

Speaking of which, congratulations to Erica A. for winning her age group, to Erica H. for PR-ing, and to Jennifer for completing her first half marathon! Kim also mentioned that amidst her marathon recovery period, she felt great running this race (read her recap here). It was a great day of racing for all!

Thanks again go out to Kim for helping me achieve yet another time goal! It was so much fun catching up with her, and I know that I will always be in good hands with her help. It is definitely going to have to become an annual tradition for us to run at least one half marathon together every year, and then brunch afterwards. =)

My next race: the Carrera de los Muertos on November 1

Monday, September 29, 2014

Hitting the barre with ClassPass

I had shared here that I recently won a 30-day ClassPass membership thanks to Katie, and also to Jessica. I was so excited to have won this prize!


I've been using ClassPass for two weeks so far and wanted to share my thoughts.

As I mentioned before, ClassPass is a monthly subscription where you can visit numerous boutique fitness studios under one membership. There are almost 90 studios included in Chicago, and the number keeps rising. The offerings span everything from yoga and pilates to barre, strength training, cycling, dance, and any combination/variation thereof that you can possibly think of (e.g. barre done in bikram-like conditions, ballet boxing, etc.). They've even got things like Bollywood dance, aerial silk acrobatics, and rowing fitness.


It's been incredible (and almost overwhelming) to have so many choices in so many locations. I'm working hard to take as much advantage of my membership as humanly possible. This means that I've been going to a new class every day/night that my schedule permits. From a timing perspective, it's unfortunate that I'm training for the Prairie State Half Marathon right now. This is because my running regimen knocks out three days per week that I could be trying classes (unless I do two-a-day workouts, of course - but I am not that hard-core).

My membership strategy has been to focus on barre classes. I've heard so many claims of amazing results from folks that do barre classes at least three times per week - so that has been my goal. Over the last two weeks, I've taken seven barre classes. (My hips, thighs, abs, and arms are feeling the burn, big-time. It is easy to see why barre is effective.)

These women look serene but barre is a LOT tougher than it looks in pictures like these.
Source
Another part of my rationale for focusing on barre is that barre classes are expensive in general, whereas things like yoga classes can vary a lot in price. In Chicago I think the drop-in rate for barre typically runs around $20 per class, and non-intro monthly memberships start around $200. ClassPass is $99 per month, so it's more affordable than a monthly barre studio membership.

One catch is that under ClassPass, you are only allowed to attend three classes per fitness company per month. However, there are so many barre studio companies and barre classes to choose from that it will still be easy to take 3+ barre classes per week, and then some.

A screenshot of the ClassPass reservation page

So far I've tried barre classes at The Bar Method, Barre Code, Zen Yoga Garage, and the Dailey Method. Additionally, in prior months I had taken Pure Barre classes on my own - and I am attending more of them through ClassPass. I plan on trying Exhale Chicago next.

All of the studios that I've visited have been solid, but there are definitely some that suit my preferences more than others. After I've completed my trial membership, I'll pull together some thoughts about my comparative experiences.

A few precautions I've noted with my trial ClassPass membership:
  • The reservation system generally only allows you to reserve classes up to one week in advance. I like to schedule things out as far in advance as possible, so I've never had issue reserving any class that I wanted. I'd actually prefer to be able to reserve even further in advance than one week. However, I have heard others say that popular classes fill up quickly.
  • From what I've seen, certain studios only make select classes available to ClassPass attendees. There are a few studios who only offer daytime classes on weekdays, which I will rarely/never be able to attend.
  • It goes without saying that if you're focused on marathon training or some other fitness event that requires a lot of specific focus, then maybe ClassPass is more effectively utilized another time.
  • If you make a reservation and change your mind, you have to cancel at least 24 hours in advance. Otherwise you get charged a late cancellation fee. This can be a bit tricky for me as sometimes things arise in the office at the last minute, etc. So far I haven't had a problem, but I have learned to be cautious when selecting classes to reserve. 
Mix it up, mix it up!!!

Precautions aside, I really do love all the amazing and diverse fitness options that ClassPass provides. With so many choices to pick from, you would certainly never get bored! I also think that ClassPass is a great way to test-drive and evaluate different studios before committing to any one place. For me personally, ClassPass very well may be my long-awaited alternative to a hefty monthly barre studio membership, too. HOORAY!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Favorites

Happy Friday, everyone!

The unfortunate news is that I actually have to work this weekend. My team works one weekend per quarter, and this is the magical weekend that we'll be closing out Q3. Nevertheless, I am still happy that it's Friday.

(SIDE NOTE: The one highlight of these work weekends is the food that we order in for the team. Last quarter we ran out of cookies so I made it a point for us to order extra this time around. Translation: productivity will be up at least 235%! =D )

Today I'm going to play along with the "Friday Favorites" theme that I see on so many blogs.

1. Blue Angels
I've watched the Blue Angels several times as part of the Chicago Air and Water Show. Their performances are literally death-defying. They steal the show every year.


Recently, my workplace brought in former Blue Angels pilot, John Foley, as a keynote speaker. It was fascinating hearing his experiences. A few highlights:

  • The distance separating the planes in their aerial formations is a mere 18 inches.
  • Pilots are only allowed to be Blue Angels for two years because 1) their life expectancies drop significantly after two years of participation, and 2) complacency could start setting in after two years, and complacency in this role is very dangerous.
  • The signature Blue Angels helmet is earned, not given. When a new pilot joins the team, the other pilots decide when the new pilot has reached the level whereby they deserve to wear the helmet.
  • The pilots do debrief meetings after every flight session. They are BRUTALLY honest with each other in providing feedback and sharing thoughts on what did and didn't go well. However, no matter how tough the feedback or how difficult it was to admit mistakes made, the phrase, "Glad to be here" was constantly repeated. This was an ode to acknowledging and remembering how fortunate they were to be a part of such an incredibly elite team.

I could have listened to John Foley all afternoon. His keynote was the talk of our office for quite some time. For days afterwards, all of my colleagues and I found every opportunity to quote lines from "Top Gun"!!!

2. Big Apples
I recently won an 8-pack of Big Slice Apples from Erica's giveaway. Thanks again, Erica!


These are packets of kettle-cooked apples in a wonderful array of flavors (e.g. Raspberry Hibiscus and Green Coffee Extract, Boysenberry Chocolate, Cinnamon French Toast). My prize package arrived earlier this week and I immediately tore open the Banana Mango and Hemp Seed flavor. SO GOOD.

In all seriousness, it's rare for me to try any product sample and be blown away enough by it to immediately want to go out and buy it. But I really do love these apple packets. They would be perfect to throw in your bag for a quick snack on the go.

3. ClassPass
Speaking of winning prizes, I recently also won a ClassPass membership from Katie's giveaway. (Given this lucky streak, maybe I should go out and buy some lottery tickets...?) Thanks again, Katie! Thank you also to Jessica, the ClassPass community engagement manager.


ClassPass is a monthly subscription where you can visit numerous boutique fitness studios under one membership. Almost 90 studios are included in Chicago, and they keep adding more!

I've been using ClassPass for nearly two weeks now. This is definitely a topic for its own post, so I'll talk more about it next week. But in short, I am up to my ears with workout options and (to quote Maria from "The Sound of Music") having a marvelous time!!!

4. Shopping mayhem
This isn't so much a favorite as it is just something I wanted to share. The Blackhawks Store on Michigan Avenue is having a moving sale right now. Everything is either 50% off or 75% off (!!!!). I Divvy'd over there yesterday during lunchtime, hoping to snag a few things.

Unfortunately, in yet another testament to the Blackhawks' crazy popularity, the line just to get into the store stretched all the way down the street.
This picture was taken after I'd already been in line for 15 minutes.

I waited almost a half hour to get in. Once I finally did, it was total chaos inside. People were clutching and grabbing wheelbarrows-worth of merchandise like it was lined with $100 bills!

I picked out a few things and got in line to pay. The checkout line occupied every remaining free square inch of space. Most of the people in line were carrying so much merchandise that they looked like a parade of pack mules getting ready to stampede. It was kind of like this:


I waited in line for about 30 minutes and barely moved. I needed to get back to the office but there were at least 50 people still in line ahead of me. This meant that I ended up having to bail. Disappointing! (I bet the people behind me in line were thrilled, though.)

The Blackhawks even had to bring in security personnel to control the crowds at the store. Who knew!?!?

5. Divvy, divvy, divvy
The Divvy bike sharing program rocks. It's made it so easy for me to zip around the city. I used to balk at going to fitness classes or events around the city because of the inherent inconvenience of getting to/from on public transit. But now, I can just hop onto a bike, fly by the cars backed up at stop signs, and go! Why didn't I become a Divvy member earlier!?!?!

Someone's tearin' it up with Divvy
Source
6. No pain, with gain?
I came across this article on how to trick yourself into not feeling pain. A few suggestions are no-brainers, others are more interesting. I plan on trying some of these tactics out the next time I am dying in the final few miles of a run or race!

7. 2014 Space Odyssey
I've used an iPhone 4 for three years and it was basically operating on life support. It was far and away time for me to get a new phone. Normally I get my phones a model year or two behind the curve. But last week, in a rare feat of technology exploration, I got an iPhone 6. 

In case you were wondering, I preordered my phone online and got it in the mail. I did NOT do anything so extreme as to camp out for hours in front of an Apple Store, or anything like that. (I save my long-line-waiting for Blackhawks functions, haha.)

The iPhone 6 has been a night-and-day improvement in comparison to my old phone. The new Siri technology is impeccably good. It's to the point that it is scary!


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Frames from three cities

I am linking up with Irina again this week on her Frames From the Weekend series.


In lieu of the "weekend," I'm tweaking the link-up to share photos from the last two cities that I've visited, plus some local shots from Chicago.

1. Georgia On My Mind
This past weekend, Adam and I went to Atlanta to visit Vanitha and Asheesh. It was so great to see them and catch up with them! We did lots of hanging out, talking, cooking, and eating. I really enjoyed getting to experience a glimpse of their lives in Atlanta.

Other activities included checking out the Coca Cola Museum:

Left: V and me, plus a giant Coke-themed art bottle
Middle: Adam and I trying one of approximately 3,000 different types of Coca Cola beverage samples (thankfully there were lots of bathrooms nearby).
Upper Right: Adam and me with Coca Cola "pop"-culture displays
Bottom Right: Asheesh, Vanitha, Adam, and me donning cool 3D glasses for a 4-D Coca Cola movie. We are stylin'! (Do people still say that!?!?!?)

I rarely consume soft drinks. Therefore, I've never given Coca Cola much thought beyond noticing some of their unique advertisements. But visiting the Coca Cola Museum made me realize the magnitude of the Coca Cola empire and all the science behind its products. Wow!

The four of us also met up with Chetan and Noreen (who were so great to meet!) to attend a Braves game at Turner Field:

Left top: The outfield and scoreboard at Turner Field
Left middle: The playing field
Left bottom: Watching the Heavy Hitters drumline performance
Right top: Chetan, Noreen, Adam, me, Vanitha, and Asheesh 
in the Turner Field Entertainment District
Right bottom: All of us in our game seats

Turner Field used to be the Olympic Stadium during the 1996 games, and was since converted to its current ballpark build. I've only been to a handful of ballparks in my lifetime, but I thought that Turner was a very nice stadium. The weather was absolutely gorgeous for an evening baseball game. I reveled in wearing shorts for what might be my last opportunity in a very long time. =)

Here's a compilation of various other scenes from Atlanta:

Upper left: We sampled some amazing frozen treats from the King of Pops
Bottom left: Unique beverage displays at Two Urban Licks, where we had dinner on Saturday
Upper right: Sunday brunch at Radial Cafe
Lower right: Exploring the Beltline, a former railway corridor which is being converted to trailways

The weekend in Atlanta went by so quickly. Thanks again to Vanitha and Asheesh for being such wonderful hosts! I absolutely can't wait to get together with y'all again! (How's that for attempting to channel my inner Southerner?)

2. There's more to Anaheim than Disney
I've been involved with NAAAP for over a decade, and have attended the annual NAAAP National Convention for 12 consecutive years. (In case you were wondering, it was definitely scary for me to do the math on that!)

As I mentioned before, this year's convention took place in Anaheim. The timing coincided perfectly with the Disneyland Half Marathon, which took place the prior weekend. I've obviously shared a ton of photos from the race, but nothing yet from the convention. So even though this is ridiculously delayed, let's remedy that right now:

Left bottom: The convention delegates from Chicago
Left top: After the Saturday night gala with Ben, Petula, George, and Rose, with Tim lurking in the background
Right top: Epic selfie/photobomb courtesy of Dominic, with Marynka, Tamara, Cynthia, Kelly, and me in the background
Right middle: Ben is one lucky guy - he's at dinner with seven women
(Cyndy, Sarah, Rose, Tamara, Marynka, Cynthia, and me).
We are giving him the thumbs up because how could we not?!?
Right bottom: Check out the sweet ride that Tamara got from the rental car company.
We are once again giving Ben the thumbs up because again, how could we not!?!?

3. Here Come The Hawks
This past Monday night was the unofficial kick-off to NHL hockey season in Chicago... Blackhawks Training Camp Festival at the United Center!

Left: Divvy's bike sharing system is releasing five Blackhawks-themed bikes. Here's me in front of the Patrick Sharp bike!
Middle top: Player warm-ups on the United Center ice
Middle middle: Fans started lining up outside of the UC starting at 8:30 AM (the doors opened at 5:00 PM). There were four lines, one at each corner of the UC. Each line stretched 3-4 blocks long.
Middle bottom: The United Center decked out in preparation for the festivities
Right: A feathery long-time friend came by for a visit!

The crowds at the UC were packed in and everyone was completely fired up. I am amazed at how the Blackhawks' popularity still continues to soar to new heights with every passing year. (I may get kicked out of the Hawks fan union for saying this, but I actually think that their popularity has begun going overboard. However, that's a whole other topic for another day.)

It always feels good to see hockey starting up in Chicago each fall. I am looking forward to a great season!

--
Things in the office are going to get crazy for me starting this weekend. I'll be working to catch up on all of your blogs before then.

In the meantime, I hope everyone is having a great week!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Lung Run 5K race recap

I am very delinquent in posting my recap of the Lung Run 5K that I ran on September 13.


The Cliff-Notes version:
I ran to support Anne and her fundraising efforts for Uniting Against Lung Cancer. Simultaneously, I was hoping to achieve a new 5K PR but I was wildly UNsuccessful.

Now, let's talk about the race in more detail.

The Good
  • In the days leading up to the race and on race day, the weather in Chicago was very suddenly and very starkly fall-like. Race-time temps were in the 40s. I wore tights, a long-sleeve shirt, and gloves, and I had even been debating wearing a hat or something to cover my ears.
  • The race had a very comfortable 9:00 AM start for the 5K (the 10K started at 8:30 AM).
  • In accordance with this article and this article, I was up at 7:00 AM to do a one-mile shake-out run on the treadmill. This was in the hopes that it would enhance my race performance.
  • I hit no traffic enroute to the race, had no trouble finding parking, and packet pickup was a breeze.
  • As is typically the case for events focused towards a cause, the event organizers and lots of participants were commemorating loved ones who had been stricken by lung disease. It was touching to see the pictures and signs.

  • There were about 500 participants in the 5K. Anne and Bob had advised me that if I wanted to attempt a PR, to line up near the front as a lot of participants were not serious runners. This was great advice and ended up being easy to execute.
  • The post-race refreshments included mountains of Kind Bars! I love them, but I don't get them often since they are rather expensive. What a nice treat!
The Bad
  • Normally, the 40-degree temperatures would have been perfect for racing. However, I had recently gotten back from 10 days in Anaheim, where the sun was blazing and the temperatures were in the upper 80s/lower 90s every day. It would have been hard enough to acclimate my body to the sudden cold even had I been in Chicago the whole time. The contrast from Anaheim made it ten times worse.

  • I had trouble getting my pacing right in the first mile. I was aiming for per-mile paces around 8:15 or 8:20. When I started out, my Garmin was showing a per-mile pace of 7:10! It sure didn't feel that fast to me, but my history definitely suggests that I do tend to start too quickly. I began slowing down but my Garmin still kept reading paces in the 7's. I kept slowing more and more to the point that it felt ridiculous. Then, all of a sudden my Garmin pace slipped to around 8:45. WTH? I tried to speed up again but by that point I had lost my rhythm. 
  • My first mile was done around 8:30 - so not the best of starts for my goal. I was struggling not to let my mental state slip into the vortex of negativity. But as per usual, the discomfort was hard to ignore, and I wasn't thrilled about having to fight an uphill battle to make up for the lost time.
The Ugly
  • Somewhere in the latter half of Mile 2, I started getting a cramp in my side and part of my abdomen. It hurt like the dickens for the remainder of the race.
  • There were times when I was fighting the urge to slow down to a walk. Even though I already knew that there would be no PR for me that day, I thought to myself that walking would sure make for an even more ruinous PR attempt. So I kept running. The pain was so bad that I was doing my best imitation of the Hunchback of Notre Dame while running. I am sure that I looked like hell. But I kept running. 
Great running form, eh? I probably embodied the green color and furrowed brow as well.
  • My second mile was done in around 8:45 or so. All things considered, that actually wasn't too bad. I knew my third mile was going to be a doozy, though, so I didn't even bother looking at my pace during the final mile.
  • My Garmin ended up measuring the course at 3.24 miles. I talked to Anne afterwards and she said that she had also measured the course at about three and a quarter miles. I was happy she corroborated my measurement because I am starting to have Garmin trust issues. It's too much of a variance for a 5K, especially as I am militant about running course tangents.
  • Too-long course included, my final time (28:06) was a personal wurst and worst for any 5K that I've attempted to run for time in recent years. Real nice, eh? (At least it was better than had I been hitting my paces throughout the whole race, only to realize a long course in the end.)

Here is the one and only picture that I have from the event. This is a post-race gathering of Team Take My Breath Away, led by Anne.


On a very positive note, Anne's team raised nearly $5,000 for the UALC, making us the fifth place team for fundraising. Anne herself was the second-place individual fundraiser, as well. Go Anne!

As for setting a new 5K PR, that goal still remains unachieved for me. One of these days I will crack the nemesis that is the 5K distance. One of these days...!

My next race: The Prairie State Half Marathon on October 11

Monday, September 8, 2014

Disneyland Half Marathon race recap - Part 2

Continued from here.

[Get ready for a TON of pictures in this part of the recap!]

On the morning of the Disneyland Half Marathon, I was awake before my 4:00 AM alarm went off. I had prepped all of my gear the night before so all I had to do was get dressed, put on my contact lenses, and head out the door to catch a shuttle bus.

As is sometimes the case for me on race mornings, I woke up with all kinds of bizarre aches and pains. My right knee was still feeling dodgy and out of nowhere my left ankle was feeling achy. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps my legs weren't going to work today. Even though I had exactly zero goals going into this race, the pre-race jitters still announced their presence with authority.

It was a good thing Mickey was going to be at the race!

I hopped onto a shuttle bus packed with runners dressed in all kinds of sparkly, glittery race costumes. Adam and I were staying at a hotel that was only about 1.5 miles away from the Disney gates, so it was a very quick ride. The runners got dropped off and everyone started walking towards the start village near Downtown Disney. The sun hadn't risen yet and the parks looked magical in the dusk.

Runners walking into Downtown Disney

I got to the start village and was mesmerized by the brightly-lit stage up front, accompanied by rocking music. I took this picture with some green military men in front of the stage:


The crowds were pretty thick but gear check and all of the other pre-race amenities were easy to find. I found a patch of asphalt to eat breakfast, apply BodyGlide, etc., and tried to absorb as much of the pre-race energy surrounding me as possible. Then I met up with Kayla and we took this photo. (Isn't her race outfit adorable!?!? You can't see it in the picture, but she's also wearing a matching sparkly headband.)


After visiting portapotty city and dropping our bags off at gear check (both were a snap), Kayla and I joined the mob of runners heading towards the start corrals.

An emcee announced that there were over 18,000 runners participating at the Disneyland Half. There were so many people that it felt like the number was much higher than that, though. There were runners everywhere the eye could see.

Trying to make my way to my corral

The corrals were packed. My corral didn't end up crossing the start line until almost a half hour after the gun went off. After all the waiting, I began needing to use the bathroom again and feeling nervous. As my corral inched towards the start line, I was overjoyed to discover that there were some portapotties nearby. I jumped out of the corral and made a beeline to the portapotties again. Afterwards, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. NOW, I was ready to run this race!

Here's a picture of the starting line:


As race adrenaline kicked in, I was thankful that all of the aches and pains I had been feeling pre-race were now gone! Not surprisingly it was quite crowded at the outset. I nearly tripped over a couple of the road reflectors embedded in the asphalt, so I started being careful of my footing.

The first mile of the course ran through the streets outside of Disney California Adventure. There were plenty of spectators, plus some local school bands and color guard team members (sorry about the blurry pictures):


Then, we rounded a corner and entered Disney California Adventure. Whoo! Right away, I started seeing parade floats:


We ran in front of Paradise Pier and the World of Color. So festive with all of the twinkling lights!



Here's what one of the mile markers looked like:


Then it was on to Pacific Wharf and Hollywood Land:

Pacific Wharf
Entering Hollywood Land
Me running through Route 66 in Hollywood Land

Time for Cars Land, with lots of runners lined up to take pictures with the adorable cars:



I saw at least one lovable Disney character in that area posing for pictures:


The runners exited Disney California Adventure to throngs of pom poms cheering wildly:


Then we headed into Disneyland. There was an enormous crowd of folks lined up to take pictures at the front entrance. I attempted a selfie but couldn't get it to come out very well, so I settled on taking a regular picture.


Here are pictures from Main Street and in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle. There was a very long line of folks wanting to take photos with themselves in front of the Disney Partners Statue of Mickey and Walt. This backdrop was too priceless to pass up for a photo so I decided to wait.


We ran through various "lands" within Disneyland (e.g. New Orleans Square, Tomorrowland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Mickey's Toon Town):



We ran past Mickey's house and Minnie's house in Toon Town:

Mickey's house is on the left, and Minnie's house is on the right

There were lot of Disney characters available for photos, of course:


Running through Disneyland felt like one enormous party!

As the runners exited Disneyland, we were met by spectators of all different shapes and sizes. The crowds included this gathering, which really warmed my heart:


The runners then hit the streets of Anaheim - in a big way. Here's a picture of the runners en masse (this was taken around Mile 4.5):


There were TONS of local cheerleaders and dance squads giving us their all:


Lots of local high school bands were stationed along the course playing music:



We saw Mexican dancers and Hawaiian dancers strutting their stuff:


Dozens of spectators offered us fruit, pretzels, candy, cold sponges, ice, and hugs (literally - there was a guy with a sign that said "Free Hugs!") I high-fived as many people as I could, plus I thanked everyone for being out there and for all their offerings. I did get a Free Hug, pretzels, ice, and some orange slices. Everything was awesome but the oranges were a real standout for me. They were so sweet they tasted like candy. Delicioso!

As the runners started approaching the Honda Center and Angel Stadium, the streets were lined with a seemingly endless row of antique cars. Their proud owners were gathered amongst the cars, cheering us on:


I couldn't resist taking my photo with this particular car, which was adorned by the two guests of honor:


Amidst the antique cars, we passed by the Honda Center, home of the Anaheim Ducks. 


Check out the name of the street in front of the arena - "Stanley Cup Way." I think that's pretty bold for a team that has won only one Cup! Also, one of the Ducks' trucks was parked along the course. I wonder if they were trying to pass it along as part of the antique car lineup? LOL.

After passing the Honda Center, we ran along the Santa Ana River Trail. However, the Santa Ana River was dry as a bone. It was so dry that at first I thought it was a construction site for a new highway.


This made me sad. I know that California is in the midst of an extremely severe drought right now, and seeing this really put things into perspective for me. Water conservation efforts, unite!

Next, it was time for the biggest highlight of the race outside of the Disney parks themselves: running through Angel Stadium! Here are some pictures I took as I was approaching (they were also handing out Clif Shots right before we entered the stadium):


Inside the field, the crowd of screaming spectators was enormous. It gave me chills.

The entire lower deck was packed with spectators.
The Angel Stadium scoreboard was specially set up for the Disneyland Half Marathon
The Angels logo in front of home plate

I've never been a big baseball fan but there is something so magical about running onto an MLB baseball field (or through the field of any major sports arena, for that matter). It was an unbelievable experience.

I was snapping pictures at every angle I could think of. However, my phone chose that particular moment to run out of memory. Argh! I stepped off to the side and tried to continue enjoying the atmosphere while I furiously deleted old photos off of my phone to free up memory. Note to self for next time.

We exited the stadium a little before the Mile 10 marker. Then it was back through the streets of Anaheim to return to the Disney parks. Enroute, there were tons more cheerleaders, bands, and screaming spectators offering us all kinds of support.

A band playing outside of Angel Stadium

Up until this point, the weather had actually held up very nicely with overcast skies, which kept the temperature pleasant. But then the sun started coming out, and things started heating up big-time. I was thankful to be in the home stretch.

My Garmin was measuring the distance more than a half-mile longer than the posted mile markers. I had expected this to some extent, since my picture-taking frenzy had me doing a ton of veering around on the course. I was still surprised that it had added up to THAT extent, though.

After exiting Angel Stadium, I took fewer pictures and started speeding up the pace. (For once, my splits for the last three miles were by far my fastest of the day!) As we got closer and closer to the Disney parks, the crowds started swelling. Incredible amounts of energy everywhere.

I saw my old friend Minnie Mouse just before crossing the finish line. High fives all around! Whoooo!!! Then the finish amongst the roaring crowd.

Here's the medal:



What a blast it was to run the Disneyland Half Marathon! It was so exhilarating to run through the Disney parks and Angel Stadium. Everything was well-organized and I absolutely loved all the course entertainment and the incredible spectators. If it weren't for the high cost and time associated with the Disney races, I'd want to run every Disney race every year!

One last picture. After going back to the hotel and resting a bit post-race, Adam and I headed back to the Disney parks and met up with Kayla again. Here's a picture of Kayla and me in front of Big Thunder Mountain. She is wearing her Disney Coast to Coast medal (congratulations, Kayla!), and I'm wearing my Minnie-themed New Balance shoes (thanks again, Adam!) =D


I thought this picture was a great commemoration of all the fun and festivity of the Disneyland Half Marathon weekend. =)

60 days and counting before my next Disney race - the Wine and Dine Half Marathon in Orlando. Yee-haw!!!