Thursday, July 17, 2014

2014 Strike Out ALS 5K race recap

On Tuesday night, I ran the Strike Out ALS 5K for the third consecutive year. This race is hosted by the Les Turner ALS Foundation. It's a wonderful organization and the proceeds of the race go towards helping those with or affected by Lou Gehrig's disease. Great cause!

The race started at 6:30 PM at US Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox. Time was short after work and I needed to do race-day packet pickup. Plus, I hadn't laid out any of my race gear in advance. This resulted in me rushing home from the office, smashing a protein bar into my mouth, stuffing a gear bag together, and tearing my dresser drawers apart trying to decide at the last minute what to wear. Nothing like being prepared, eh?

In connection with the White Sox, whose team colors are black and white, I opted to wear black shorts and a black tank top. I hopped into my car and made the quick trek down to 35th Street. Parking in the ballpark stadium lots was a cinch. I love races like this with easy logistics!

We've been having an unseasonably cool summer, and Tuesday night was no exception. The temps were in the mid to upper 60s and it was breezy and overcast. Zenaida texted me before the race and said that we should go for PRs tonight! I cautiously agreed.

On my way to packet pickup, I ran into Amanda and Melanie. We chatted for a bit and took a prerace photo:

From L to R: me, Melanie, and Amanda

Packet pickup was a breeze. I dropped my belongings off at gear check, which was also a breeze. Then I went off on my own to do a one-mile warm up, adding some acceleration gliders at the end. My legs were a little sore from an intense yoga sculpt class the day before, but otherwise I felt pretty good.

Time to line up. I ran into Zenaida at the starting line. Shortly afterwards, we saw that Melanie was standing right behind us. Yay for pre-race company!

Zenaida's coach had instructed her to take things a little easier tonight, and Melanie was dealing with some hamstring issues. As soon as the race began, we all went out at our own paces.

After starting out so many 5Ks too quickly and then crashing and burning at the end, I wanted to work on running even splits. I focused on trying to do an average per-mile pace of 8:20. If done successfully, this would result in a PR. During the first mile, I told myself to keep things steady. The first quarter mile or so was crowded, but the runners spread out fairly quickly.

Runners in front of the US Cellular Field welcome sign
(Photo from the Strike Out ALS 5K website)

I had studied the course map in advance. It was filled with turns and back-and-forths. (Unfortunately the map is no longer available on the race website, otherwise I would have shared a copy of it here.) I put forth a very strong effort to run the tangents. Since there were so many turns, this took some concentration. It seemed like as soon as I rounded one turn, it was time to work my way over towards the tangent on the next turn.

My Garmin was indicating that my pace was right on target during the first mile. As I was approaching the Mile 1 marker, I realized that I hadn't turned off the autolap function on my Garmin. While still trying to maintain my pace, I fumbled to changed my Garmin to the manual lap setting. Almost immediately afterwards, I passed the Mile 1 marker and hit the manual lap button. Mile 1 was done in 8:20. PERFECT!

Runners charging along the course
(Photo from the Strike Out ALS 5K website)

I was feeling really good. My breathing was comfortable, and my stride was fluid. Hitting 8:20 exactly on the nose buoyed me even more. I started thinking, "Oh my goodness - I could PR today! I could actually do this today!"

Very early into Mile 2, I looked down and saw that my Garmin was indicating a pace of about 9:00. I thought for sure that it was wrong. My pace hadn't felt like it had dropped off at all, especially not to that extent. I figured that maybe switching to the manual lap function had thrown something off? I didn't dwell on it. I just kept going at what I felt was the same pace.

More turns and in-and-outs in the streets and parking lots surrounding US Cellular Field. All I was thinking was, "Run those tangents! Keep the pace steady!"

Runners passing some of the US Cellular Field statues
(Photo from the Strike Out ALS 5K website)

I was still feeling really good. As it turns out, there was a reason for this and I was feeling TOO good. I saw the Mile 2 marker from a distance. I glanced down at my watch and realized that my elapsed time was higher than what it should have been. My Garmin had been right all along (darn it!)

I did Mile 2 in 9:02 and was displeased. How could such a significant drop in pace feel so completely unnoticeable to me? Usually I'm really good at being able to tell when I've slowed down, haha.

Thankfully, this didn't faze me. When I am running a 5K for time, I am generally gritting my teeth by the time I enter the third mile. Not this day. Plus, I was looking forward to an upcoming portion of the course which lapped the warning track on the US Cellular playing field.

I started trying to push the pace a little more. We were starting to see some of the front-runners now looping their way back to the finish line. Into the stadium we went. While circling the playing field, I did my best to try to enjoy the surroundings and observe the scenery while still running those tangents.

This is NOT a picture from race night, but it gives a sense of what it looked like to the runners at field level.

I knew that after we exited the field, that the finish line was not too much farther away. It was getting windier and it was starting to rain, so that jolted me to keep trying to push the pace.

I finished Mile 3 in 8:18. Around the corner, and there was the finish line. I completed the final 0.1 mile in 0.48.

(Photo from the Strike Out ALS 5K website)

Immediately after crossing the finish line, there were two computers set up where you could enter your bib number and get a printout of your results. My bib number was 465. But, since I was challenged in reading my bib upside down, I first entered 495. This gave me a printout with some random guy's name who hadn't even finished the race yet. I was about to complain to one of the volunteers about the inaccuracy of the results. But then I realized my mistake. =) I got back in line to try again and this time, I got it right.

My printout showed that my final time was 26:28, which was right in line with my Garmin. But... my printout also showed that I had placed first in my age group.


Who wins their age group with a time of 26:28? That HAD to have been a mistake. Either that or, my age group must have been really small. And when I say small, I mean really, REALLY small. As in, I wondered if perhaps I was the only person in my entire age group?

I found Amanda and Melanie again. We also ran into Eric briefly. His results indicated that he had also placed in his age group. (THAT I had no trouble believing, given how speedy Eric is!) We went back to claim our bags at gear check. Then we went to check out the post-race party. This year, in lieu of broadcasting the MLB All-Star game on the Jumbotron, the post-race festivities were taking place at the ChiSox Bar and Grill, which was connected to the stadium.

From L to R: me, Melanie, and Amanda in front of the entrance to the ChiSox Bar and Grill

Melanie, Amanda, and me in front of the outdoor seating area at the ChiSox Bar and Grill

Here are some pictures of the post-race party festivities in full swing both outside and inside the bar:

Amanda, Melanie, and I chatted for a bit and walked around the party. Then I went to go find Zenaida, who was inside the bar with some other friends.

Zenaida and me

While we were there hanging out, Kim McIver (the race director) came by to tell us that the awards ceremony was going to be starting shortly. I showed her the printout of my race results and asked if I had really won my age group. She consulted some papers and confirmed it!

To quote the great Haray Caray:

What a thrill it was to receive personal recognition at the awards ceremony! This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime honor for me. To illustrate, I looked at the times for the females one age group younger and one age group older than mine. The winning times: 22:50 and 23:27, respectively. So I obviously squeaked in on a statistical anomaly of the greatest proportions, ever. (Maybe I should have bought some lottery tickets last night?!?)

I used to dread the 5K race distance as my least-favorite race distance. But, the experience of feeling so good during this race in tandem with receiving this honor (even if I didn't deserve it) has completely changed my whole outlook on 5Ks!

Admittedly, I am discontented with myself for zoning out/ignoring my Garmin and not running a more even split in Mile 2. I know I could have done better. But I am fired up to go for it next time!

Now I am genuinely excited about running more 5Ks in the future. Bring on the paradigm shift. =)

My next race: the Esprit de She 10K on July 24

Monday, July 14, 2014

Chinatown 5K race recap

This past Saturday I ran the Chinatown 5K.

This was the design on the race shirt, which I LOVED.
(The actual race shirt was red and black, which made the design pop even more.)

The race took place on July 12, which is my birthday. (In case anyone has ever wondered what the "712" on my blog URL stands for, it represents July 12.) I was also born in the year of the horse, so I was absolutely thrilled to get a race shirt that commemorated my Chinese zodiac year. =)

I will admit that I had entertained the notion of trying to attempt a PR at this race. After all, what better time to get a new PR than on your birthday, on your zodiac year, in a neighborhood of your ethnicity? The pressure was on to earn a picture perfect ending!

But then the day of the race arrived. And it was raining. And raining. And raining. It was relentless. It wouldn't stop.

[NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, all pictures are from the Chinatown 5K Facebook page.]

I drove down to Chinatown with Adam and my mom. After we found parking, I stayed in the car for as long as I possibly could before venturing out into the elements.

Prior to the race, I had been debating which shoes to wear. Under normal circumstances, I would have worn my Saucony Kinvaras, which are very lightweight and great for racing. They certainly wouldn't stand up too well to extreme elements, though. Comparatively, my Brooks Ghost GTX shoes are waterproof. What better time to wear them? However, the Brooks are much heavier shoes and not nearly as nimble.

I put on the Ghosts and brought the Kinvaras with me in the car, just in case. But, it became very obvious very quickly that the Ghosts were going to be the choice for the day. There were not going to be any PR attempts in the flood-threatening conditions.

The pre-race scene - runners trying to find cover wherever they could.

All too quickly, the time came for me to hit the portapotty and head to the starting line. When I stepped out of the car, I got soaked within mere seconds. 

Adam asked if I was really certain I wanted to do this. I didn't hesitate before saying yes. It would have been different if it was a cold-weather rain - but the temps were in the 70s. I could handle a summertime rain. Plus, I had already come this far!

Adam then smartly asked if I wanted to keep my Garmin on during the race. Indeed, my Garmin is water resistant but not waterproof. Since I had already sent one Garmin to the graveyard by wearing it in pouring rain, I agreed. I took off my Garmin and gave it to him to keep in the car. This would be the first race that I had ever run while intentionally NOT wearing any kind of a timing device. I left my phone in the car, too.

Runners starting to line up

As I was walking towards the starting line, my Goretex shoes kept my feet dry... for all of about 10 seconds. Lesson learned: Goretex shoes are helpful only up to a certain point. Even waterproof shoes can't help when you are trudging through ankle-deep puddles! As I lined up at the start line, my shoes were already squishing water with every step I took. Blech.

The starting line

After waiting at the starting line for a few minutes, we were off. I quickly spotted Natalie in the crowd with her Sriracha leggings. Woo hoo! I went to catch up with her and joined her on the course. Yay for having some company while running in the torrential downpour!

The course started on Archer Street, near New Chinatown Square, before turning south on Wentworth Avenue where we ran underneath the Chinatown gate.

Natalie and I chatted as we ran. It was then that I got to hear the story behind her surprise visit to Chicago. It turns out that her husband, Brent, had been in Boston on business the week prior, but had gotten diverted to Chicago on the way home to Minneapolis due to flight issues. In lieu of him dealing with further hassles trying to fly from Chicago to Minnesota, she told him to stay in Chicago while she drove down to meet him. What a great idea! I was very happy that it worked out for me to run this race with her.

The course was an out and back. It went south on Wentworth to approximately 34th Street before turning around. At first I was trying to dodge the pools of standing water on the streets. Eventually I gave up and just ran through whatever water was on the path. Since I wasn't wearing my Garmin and I missed all of the mile marker signs, I was relying entirely on my knowledge of the course to estimate our progress.

I was grateful to the race volunteers and police officers stationed along the course amidst the pouring rain. They really went above and beyond the call of duty to be working the course on a day like that.

Course marshalls doing their thing

Somewhere around Mile 1, Zenaida caught up with us along the course and said hello. I was happy to see her and I introduced her to Natalie. Zenaida mentioned that she had seen Erin whiz by earlier on the course, too. This was helpful as I had not seen Erin at all, so I knew to look for her up ahead. Natalie mentioned that she'd run into Erin at the starting line, too. Those Sriracha pants apparently made Natalie quite easy to identify. =)

Zenaida went on ahead. As Natalie and I approached the turnaround point, I looked for Erin but did not see her. However, we did see a race photographer stationed just past the turnaround.

Time for a race photo body spasm!

Natalie mentioned that she had never been to Chicago's Chinatown before this day. I said, "Wow, what a great way to experience it for the first time!" Unfortunately we were both so busy watching our footing that neither of us got to enjoy the scenery as much as we would have liked.

Natalie and I counted down the streets from 34th Street to Cermak Road (22nd Street), then made the turn back onto Archer Avenue. There was the finish line, along with a crowd of spectators cheering us on through the final stretch. It was invigorating to get the crowd support at the end.

Natalie and me approaching the finish line.

I looked for Adam and my mom near the finish line, but did not see them. However, Natalie did see Brent. He took this picture of us:

I had no idea what my finishing time was. When I looked it up later that afternoon, it said 31:11. This was actually better than I had anticipated considering how poor the weather conditions were.

Water, bananas, and apples were being served at the finish line. Each race finisher also received a goody bag with a individual-sized carton of soy milk and a can of energy drink.

I found Adam and my mom in the post-race crowd. A lot of other runners were departing right after crossing the finish line. However, the race was hosting a post-race raffle drawing. I had heard that they were raffling off a lot of great prizes, so I wanted to stick around for it. Natalie and I enlisted the help of our family members to take more pictures of us while we were waiting for the raffle to begin.

There were a couple of kids races that took place after the 5K was over. It was cute watching the kids racing down the street. Then, there was a lion dance performance. It had originally been scheduled to take place prior to the race but was postponed due to the rain.

Finally, the awards ceremony started! First, the male and female winners were announced. Then, the kids' raffle prizes were given away. These included an enormous Hello Kitty, which was heavily coveted by many attendees. The crowd gasped as the winning child came forward to claim the Hello Kitty.

The Hello Kitty is literally three times the size of the winning child!

The crowd waited impatiently as the 5K raffle prizes were being announced. There were some very nice giveaways such as mini-iPads, gift certificates to local businesses, and race entries to the Oak Brook Half Marathon.

A sea of anxious raffle-prize entrants

I was getting progressively more and more uncomfortable standing around in my wet clothes and shoes. Adam and my mom were visibly uncomfortable standing in the rain, too, which was making me feel bad. I was fighting the urge to leave before all the raffle prize winners were announced. But, everyone's patience ended up paying off as I got called as one of the winners!

Me claiming my raffle prize on stage

I ended up winning a basket with two coffee mugs and a book on Asian art from the Chinese American Museum of Chicago. Yay!

Big cheers to the race organizers, volunteers, and all the race participants and spectators (especially Adam and my mom!) for so cheerfully taking things in stride despite the torrential rainfall. Natalie actually registered for the race the morning of, when she already knew how impactful the rain would be. Kudos to her and Brent for persevering!

Despite all that Mother Nature threw at us, I enjoyed the local neighborhood feel of the Chinatown 5K. The race shirt is an instant new favorite! I definitely look forward to running this race again in the future (albeit preferably under better conditions).

My next race: The Strike Out ALS 5K on July 15 (tomorrow!)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

New races, no Madness, Sriracha surprises

Remember how I said here that my race calendar was pretty quiet during the months of July and August?

Yeah, things change pretty quickly in this corner of the woods. I have since registered for three more races:

1. Packers 5K
2. Strike Out ALS 5K
3. ZOOMA Chicago Half Marathon

About these three races:

1. The Packers 5K is a doozy. In short, I've never been to Green Bay and my friend Helen is letting me come hang out for the weekend. There is a lot more to this race, though. I'll talk about it more in another post.

2. This will be my third consecutive year running the Strike Out ALS 5K (check out my recaps from 2012 and 2013).

This is a fun summertime race that benefits a great cause. In the last two years, I also gave it my personal award for the coolest post-race party, ever (getting to hang out in US Cellular Field and watch the MLB All-Star game on the Jumbotron). The organizers have improved the course this year, and I'm excited to see what other changes they have in store for us. Plus, I absolutely love this race's evening start time. So festive!

3. I've been on the fence for quite some time about running the ZOOMA Chicago Half Marathon. The race sounds like a blast and from what I hear, has great swag. But, I balked at the early-August race date as well as the relatively high registration cost. However, after hearing about a Groupon deal for less than half the normal price (thanks for the tip, Erica!), I finally pulled the trigger.

So what else is going on?

I was really surprised and bummed to learn today that the Blackhawks will NOT be hosting the Mad Dash to Madison 5K this year. The Mad Dash is one of those races that I plan on doing every year, no matter what. I am very disappointed that there will be no Madness in 2014.

I wish I knew the rationale behind this decision. The race sold out in prior years, and ANY event that the Hawks host is an extremely hot ticket.

The Hawks are kind of popular

I do have a theory, though. I just got an email today from the Home Team Charity Run, which is the 5K/10K race that works with the Blackhawks, Bulls, and White Sox charities. It looks like the Home Team Charity Run is planning to host their race on September 21. Comparatively, Blackhawks Training Camp Festival is on September 22. Obviously it wouldn't make a lot of sense to have two races involving the Hawks fan base on consecutive days. The question is whether or not this was intentional or coincidental?

In any event, I really hope that the Hawks bring the Mad Dash back next year!!! I would be the very first to sign up.

And finally...

I am running the Chinatown 5K this Saturday. Several months ago I had chatted about this race with Natalie, who lives in Minnesota. She mentioned that the race sounded like fun, and I told her it would be awesome if she could come on down for the festivities! She said that she had a pretty busy summer schedule, so she'd have to see how her schedule shook out.

Today, out of nowhere, she posted on my Facebook page, "Ever seen a Sriracha bottle run a 5K? ;)"

I got suspicious and immediately accused her of scheming.

There were a few more exchanges and the sharing of this picture:

And with that, my suspicions were confirmed. Natalie will be in Chicago this weekend! What a fabulous surprise!!!!!

She'll be running the Chinatown 5K with the coolest (or rather, the spiciest!) leggings I've ever seen.

You better believe that there will be pictures. =D

Friday, June 27, 2014

2014 PAWS Run For Their Lives 8K race recap

Last weekend I ran the PAWS Run For Their Lives 8K.

This was my third consecutive year attending the event and my second year running the 8K. (Last year I did the 4K walk, since I ran a half marathon the day before.) This event is one of my very favorite races and has become a must-do for me every year. (Check out my recaps from 2012 and 2013.)

Proceeds from this event go towards homeless pets and animal welfare in Chicago. As I've said many times, this is a cause that I wholeheartedly support. I am especially reminded of this each year when I arrive at the race site and see the hundreds of happy dogs enjoying the day!

This year, the PAWS organization was attempting to break the Guinness world record for most costumed dogs in one location. As a result, everywhere you looked there were dogs dressed in darling little outfits. Here are a few. (Adam took some of the pictures that I am sharing in this post, but most of the photos are courtesy of Jason):

Dino-dogs, hot dogs, dogs in their pajamas, dogs in ethnic attire, cowboy dogs, Santa dogs, and more!

PAWS hasn't announced yet whether or not the event successfully set the new world record. Regardless, it was fun witnessing the attempt!

I'll talk first about the race itself. Then, I will share more dog costume pictures. =)

We've been getting an onslaught of insanely fog-covered days in Chicago this summer. (Blame it on last winter's polar vortex, apparently.) As timing would have it, Chicago was under a severe-fog advisory on the morning of the race. I woke up to see this view from my balcony:

The temperature was pretty good, at least, for a late-June race. It was forecasted to be in the upper 60s/lower 70s during race time.

Adam and I navigated the fog-cover and drove to the race site at Montrose Harbor, where we met up with Erin and Jason.

On a related note, Erin just adopted a dog named Chewie a couple of weeks ago! I got to meet him earlier in the week and he is adorable. Check out some pictures of him here. Erin had been debating whether or not to bring him to the event. However, Chewie is shy and still trying to get used to his new home and surroundings. Therefore, she opted to let him relax at home. Maybe next year!

Here's a picture of Erin and me before the start:

Erin and I lined up at the start line about midway through the pack of runners. I asked Erin if she had any time goals for the race, and she said no. I didn't really have any major goals for myself, either. Although, I was thinking that it would be nice to beat 44:12, which was my time from when I ran this race two years ago. However, it wasn't an entirely level playing field. In 2012, the race took place in late September when I was at the tail end of my training cycle for the Chicago Marathon. The temperatures were much cooler on race-day in 2012, as well. I wasn't brimming with confidence that anything spectacular would happen this day.

(I have actually been feeling pretty spooked these days about shorter-distance races in general. But, that's a topic for another time.)

The PAWS mascots and New Balance (shoe sponsor) mascot hanging around near the starting line

The starting horn blared and the crowd slowly started moving forward. Here's a picture of Erin and me right after we crossed the starting line:

The path was packed at the beginning and we were all pretty hemmed in. I tried not to waste too much energy bobbing and weaving. Erin had more success working her way through the crowd and within a few minutes she zipped ahead.

It was very humid and the fog was so thick that it felt like we were running through a stream of mist.  I wasn't feeling particularly great, but I was doing okay.

Initially, my left piriformis and hamstring were feeling sore and tight. Both have been persistently troublesome for me for the past several weeks. Clearly I need to spend more time stretching these areas out. Much to my relief, things did start loosening up after a couple of miles.

The race took place on the lakefront path, which was not closed to the public. We were all trying to be cautious of bikers and other folks on the path who were not part of the race. I saw a number of near-misses. (Not surprisingly, some folks got into some heated debates about who had the right-of-way and who should be watching out for the other.)

The course was an out and back which passed by one aid station twice. I opted not to stop either time. As I approached the course turnaround, I looked for Erin but did not see her.

My splits for the first four miles were pretty even. As I approached the Mile 4 marker, I looked down at my Garmin and realized that I still had a chance to break 44:12. It would be close, but it was doable. I tried to speed things up.

Adam, Erin, and Jason were all standing near the finish line and they cheered me on as I approached. Here's a picture of me as I was sprinting towards the end:

Here are my splits:

Mile 1: 9:07
Mile 2: 8:59
Mile 3: 8:56
Mile 4: 9:03
Mile 4.97: 8:11

My official time was 44:16. Just four seconds slower than my time from 2012! In retrospect, I know that I could have pushed just a little harder to meet that goal. Grrrrr. Ah well.

After getting some water, I met back up with Adam, Erin, and Jason. I had made a donation to PAWS along with my race registration, which gave me access to the VIP Life Saver Lounge with post-race refreshments. I made a quick stop to check it out. On top of the usual water and sports drink, they were serving fruit salad, muffins, pizza, pasta, gourmet pretzels, and adult beverages with keepsake mason jars. They were also handing out doggie treat bags which included what appeared to be the canine version of an energy gel. Who knew there was a market for doggie "GU"? Very interesting, to say the least.

Now, time to get back to sharing pictures of dogs in costume!

While Erin and I were on the course, Adam and Jason had walked around the premises taking pictures for us. I am sharing just a handful of their photos here.

I noticed a few costume themes in general. For example, there were lots of dogs in dresses/tutus:

Many dogs adorned Chicago sports-themed attire:

Da Blackhawks, Da Bulls, and Da Bears

Many dogs were out enjoying the ride:

And many dogs looked like they were ready to be heroes for all of dog-kind and human-kind:

I especially love the doggie sunglasses!
Super cute and adorable! Many thanks go out to Jason for sharing his amazing selection of photos.

Here's one last set of photos:

Me at the start line, plus hanging out with the two PAWS mascots

This race was a great time, as always. I am looking forward to participating again next year for the fourth consecutive year. For all pet-owners and animal-lovers out there, this race is for you!

My next race: the Chinatown 5K on July 12

Monday, June 23, 2014

Frames From The Weekend of 6/20/14

It's been a long time since I've participated in one of the Frames From The Weekend linkups hosted by Irina. I am going to get back into the fold today!

I have to work next weekend for quarter-end close, so I really tried to take advantage of my time this past weekend.

First, the health and fitness pursuits of thy weekend:

Upper Left: My third time attending the PAWS Run For Their Lives. This is a picture of Erin and me just after crossing the start line (action shot courtesy of Jason). I will post a full separate recap of the PAWS race and festivities soon.
Upper Right: Since I devote so much time towards running and lower-body PT, I tend to neglect focusing on upper body fitness. I've suddenly gotten very motivated to change this. My new goal is to do upper body strength work at least three times a week. Bring on the fitness bands and dumbbells, baby.
Bottom: Trying out a new style of bikram yoga! Traditional bikram classes are 90 minutes in length. I tried a new "Smart 60" bikram class, which is the same series of bikram poses but condensed into a 60-minute class instead. The verdict? Thumbs up. The 90-minute classes always feel like a big commitment, so the 60-minute version is a lot easier to fit into the calendar.

Left: One of the mascots from the PAWS run. Adam posted this picture on Facebook and jokingly tagged himself in it with the description, "Emily and Adam? I forgot to shave this morning." Hee hee hee.
Upper Right: I met up with Rose to explore the Maxwell Street Market. It was the first time visiting for both of us! Rose tried some of the eats from a Filipino food vendor, which is where we are pictured here. 
Lower Right: I met up with Xaarlin for some potstickers (not pictured here since my photos unfortunately didn't come out well), and also to attend an outdoor showing of the the USA vs Portugal soccer game at Grant Park.

More about the Maxwell Street Market
Upper Left: Vendors sold every range of merchandise you could possibly imagine. We're talking anything from origami kits to cosmetics to power tools to antiques to shoelaces (literally I saw a vendor whose entire booth consisted of shoelaces).
Lower Left: The storefront at Rubi's, where the line of people waiting for tacos went down the street.
Right: A Rubi's worker cranking out handmade tortillas right on site. Tortillas don't get any fresher than that!

More about the USA vs Portugal soccer viewing at Grant Park
Upper Left: Lots of fans showing their patriotic support in every way possible
Upper Right: The entrance to the viewing area, where we had to clear a security area.
(Photo by Xaarlin)
Lower Left: Our view of the screen, along with the reaction from the crowd after the U.S. scored their first [best Mexican soccer announcer imitation] GOOOOOOAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(Photo by Xaarlin)
Lower Right: Jam-packed fans in the viewing area. It was so mobbed that security was turning folks away at the gate 30 minutes before the game even started.

On that note, go read Xaarlin's FANTASTIC recap of our game viewing. She did an absolutely amazing job capturing the spirit of the evening. Her video footage is really incredible!

Some of the weekend's eats!
Upper Left: Earlier in the week, I picked up a raisin challah bread from the bakery. What better way to use it than to make raisin challah French toast with orange zest, mango, and blueberries for brunch?
Upper Right: What I ate at the Maxwell Street Market - a huitlacoche taco! I've wanted to try huitlacoche for the longest time so I was excited to finally do so. It was soft and tasted earthy and kind of nutty. Next time I'd want to try adding some cheese on top.
Bottom Left: Adam and I made a visit to Flat Top Grill (a make-your-own stir-fry joint). On top of having a great selection of ingredients, I love the enormous array of sauces they have on hand for you to mix and match.
Bottom Right: The Potsticker House that Xaarlin and I visited, which was featured on "Chicago's Best." I am all about local places that are off the beaten path. This place did not disappoint.

Upper Left: Visitation to one of my local branches of the Chicago Public Library, where I saw this on display. What a cute play on Carl Sandburg's "city of big shoulders" description for Chicago!
Upper Right: One of the books that I checked out from the library. I'm a big fan of Anthony Bourdain and I've been wanting to read Kitchen Confidential for quite some time. I'm only about 20 pages in so far, but right off the bat I can hear Bourdain's voice in the words that I am reading.
Bottom: Adam and I were thisclose to buying last-minute tickets to see the Cubs vs his hometown Pirates at Wrigley Field on Saturday night. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other ideas. It's been quite an interesting stretch of weather as of late!

I am gearing up for a busy stretch of work over the next few weeks. Outside of the office, my race calendar is pretty quiet for the next two months. The break in racing couldn't come at a better time. I want to get back in the saddle with doing speedwork, taking advantage of all the yummy summer produce offerings, and enjoying all the gloriousness that is summertime in Chicago.

Viva la summer!