Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Frames From the Weekend in Green Bay

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

The Lambeau Field Atrium set up for race packet pickup

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



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

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

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

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


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


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


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


Folks waiting in line to get seated by field ushers

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


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


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

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

Check out those cheese wheels.

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



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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


Final thoughts:

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

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Esprit de She 10K race recap

I have blog topics coming out of my ears right now. I have a lot to share about my Green Bay visit this past weekend. On top of that, I got to meet Rita Jeptoo at a Nike Running event last night!

First things first. Let's talk about the Esprit de She 10K that I ran last Thursday night. This was my second year running this race (check out my recap of last year's race here). Both years, I've been an ambassador for this race, as well.


Last year's race was the first time I've ever run an all-female race. I was pleasantly surprised at the positive vibe that surrounded all the festivities, and was looking forward to experiencing that energy again this year. Mother Nature obliged with absolutely gorgeous weather on Thursday night - clear and sunny, with temps in the low 70s.

After work on Thursday, I met up with Katie near our respective offices. She had parked downtown and had graciously offered to let me ride up to the race with her. She just started a new job a few weeks ago, so I had a great time catching up with her on that and everything else.

Unfortunately, Katie and I hit some terrible traffic enroute and we had to take a detour. Both of us were doing race-day packet pickup, and it was starting to look like we wouldn't arrive in time. Thankfully, Marcia and Erica were already on site and willing to stand in line for us. Hooray for the magic of iPhone technology, which I used to text Marcia pictures of both of our driver's licenses. Whew!

We arrived on site. This was the scene:

Source

Time was short and things felt a bit chaotic trying to go through gear check, etc. But we still managed to meet up with everyone and get a great pre-race photo. I finally got to meet Meghan in person, too!

From L to R: Katie, Erica, me, Marcia, and Meghan

Marcia, Meghan, and Katie were all running the 5K, and Erica and I were running the 10K. The 5K started at 7:00 PM and the 10K kicked off at 7:10 PM. After this picture, all of the 5K runners went immediately to go line up.

Erica and I made a portapotty stop, then chatted while waiting off to the side to watch the 5K start. (By the way, Erica ran 33 miles the previous Saturday! Holy cow!)

Here's a picture of the ladies lining up:

Source

After the 5K runners cleared, the 10K runners got set. They made some announcements about some rough patches along the course due to the recent thunderstorms in the area. This was helpful to know.

There appeared to be nearly twice as many 5K runners as 10K runners. Many women were dancing along to the music being played at the starting line. It made me smile. I was prepared to give the race a strong effort with the hopes of attempting a PR.

I heard later that the 5K course was fairly crowded, but fortunately crowding was not an issue for me at the 10K start. I started out right on pace and felt good for about the first two miles.

Runners along the course
Source

As I was cruising along, I was thinking about how the 10K was one of my favorite distances. This was going to be fun! But then, a few minutes into the third mile, I started thinking that it was going to be tough to maintain this pace for another 3+ miles. Let's just keep this momentum going as long as possible. There were several water stops set up along the course, but I only stopped once for fear of losing my rhythm.

Here's another picture from the course along the lakefront:

I stole this picture from Katie's race recap.
By the way - Katie had quite the eventful evening that night. Go check out her recap for all the details!

The lakefront path in that area, while affording beautiful views of the beaches, also brought with them some rough areas as warned. There were some muddy areas, some standing pools of water, potholed asphalt, and patches of sand. I was very focused on maintaining my footing. As a result, I didn't pay nearly as much attention to the scenery as I would have liked.

On that note, I had studied the course in advance and had been a little nervous about it. It was basically an out and back for the 5K runners, but the 10K runners looped through part of the course twice. Here's the course map:


As expected, the second loop was mentally difficult. My splits started dipping.

I was thinking that I wanted to take back everything I had ever said or thought about the 10K being a favorite race distance. In the final 1.2 miles, I started getting passed by other runners. It was frustrating. I kept looking down at my Garmin and trying to calculate approximately how many minutes I had left.

The finish line came up suddenly on me. I glanced down at my Garmin in the final stretch and was shocked that based on elapsed time, I could still achieve a PR. Seriously? My Garmin was measuring the course a little short, but OK! Away we go!

My official finishing time was 55:43. My previous 10K PR was a 55:46, which I set in May 2001. (You read that correctly - my 10K PR was set over 13 years ago). This means I set a 3-second PR.


I know that three seconds is not much at all. But, I ran that course in its entirety (and I set my previous PR years and years before I ran with a Garmin). So I will take the new PR!

Honestly, I am happier about having a 10K PR from this decade than I am about the PR itself. This isn't just because it was only a 3-second PR. It's more because knocking out a 13-year old PR makes me feel like my running progress has finally come full circle from my much (MUCH) younger days.


After crossing the finish line, I went to check out the post-race night market. There were booths serving wine, sangria, and hummus/veggies. Other booths were giving away yogurt cups and energy bar samples. There was also a photo area as well as booths offering massages, manicures, and hair braiding. So festive!

Here are a few pictures from the night market which were posted on the Esprit de She Facebook page:




What a fun event amidst an absolutely gorgeous evening along Chicago's lakefront! It was awesome seeing the groups of gal pals, sisters, and mother/daughters bonding at the festivities together. I am excited to see what the race organizers have up their sleeves for next year's event in Chicago. I definitely hope to check out some of Esprit de She's future events in other cities, too!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Packers 5K Preview

There are so many things going on! Last night, I went to Member Open House at the Museum of Science and Industry, and tonight I am running the Esprit de She 10K. More to come about both of these soon. But let's first talk about the upcoming weekend.

In less than 24 hours, I will be enroute to Green Bay, Wisconsin with my friend Helen.


Helen is moving to Korea next month for a teaching stint. Therefore, we've been trying to find a time to get together before her departure. I've never been to Green Bay, but Helen has roots there. She and I have talked for years and years about doing a weekend trip there. We are finally pulling the trigger on doing it! Yay!

I had mentioned here that I signed up for the Packers 5K. Whenever I travel someplace, I always look for local races to run. As luck would have it, the Green Bay Packers are opening their NFL training camp this weekend. They are hosting all kinds of fun events, such as a family movie night at Lambeau Field tomorrow night, tours of the stadium, etc.


Then I saw that the Packers 5K was taking place this Saturday night. Talk about great timing! A Packers race probably takes the cake for any and all races hosted in Green Bay, ever. Runners get to run on the Lambeau playing field, go through the player's tunnel, etc, etc. Wow!

Normally when I shop for races, I evaluate location, logistics, cost, cause, and swag. But I had some different considerations for this race.

Namely, I am not a Packers fan. But for those that are (including Helen), Lambeau is sacred and hallowed worshipping ground. In short, this is a really, really big deal.

Here's my obligatory mention of the historic rivalry between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers. It's the stuff of legends.


I think I've mentioned before that I am generally not amused by insurance ad campaigns. But I have to say that I get a kick out of this commercial featuring Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and da Bears Superfans:


Being from Chicago, I won't go into all the details about my sportsfan dilemmas. I do root for my hometown Bears, of course. In fact, my friend Rose and I are going to watch Bears Training Camp in Bourbonnais in a few weeks. We're even dragging Adam along to Bears Family Night at Soldier Field next weekend (even though the first question he asked me was, "Can I wear my Roethlisberger jersey?") You get the idea.

I wasn't sure how well my Bear-fan friends would react to me running a race in rivalry territory, though. Believe me when I say that some would consider this grounds for getting kicked out of the union. The rivalry has resulted in the common sighting of things like this:


and this:


and even this:



(That license plate? Wow. Just wow.)

I mentioned my thoughts on the politics of this 5K to Helen. Being the very supportive friend that she is, she said I could register for the race under her name. =D


I actually did give some consideration to the idea of running incognito. But, ultimately I wanted to be able to share the experience openly. There's no reason not to run a race at Lambeau Field because of hometown sports loyalties. At least not as long as I don't give the impression that I am jumping ship on my own teams, right? FINAL VERDICT: Happily registered in my own name!

With this in mind, some consideration also went into what attire I should wear to the race. No Packers gear. I didn't want to be obnoxious and wear a different team's gear to a Packers-hosted race, either. So my plan is to wear something neutral. In a perfect sportsfan world, this means no green or yellow (Packers colors), and no orange or blue (Bears colors).


I do know that rabid sportsfans such as myself tend to take these things way too seriously. So all sportsfan considerations aside, I am looking forward to an absolutely awesome weekend hanging out with Helen. She is going to be a great hostess that will help me do as the locals do. And this weekend's festivities will be the ultimate in great local experiences! =)


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.

WHAT!?!?!?!?

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