Monday, May 2, 2016

Packing in all the fun, and Apr 18 - May 1 training recap

Happy Monday! I got back last night from the long weekend in Pittsburgh and am right back at it in the office today. Wooo!!!
My dear friends, the Pittsburgh Half Marathon yesterday was simply awesome. Thank you to all of you for your tremendous support!

I am working on my race recap right now. In short, the event is extremely well-done and the hills weren't NEARLY as bad as I had envisioned. I had a blast. Many, many more details coming soon.
The starting line yesterday
I am behind one week in sharing my weekly training recaps, so here are the last two weeks:

APRIL 18 - 24
TUESDAY - Yoga class, lift 45 minutes
WEDNESDAY - 3 miles incline work on treadmill (10 minute warm-up, 2-minute intervals between levels 3-7)
THURSDAY - 10 minutes stationary cycling, lift 45 minutes
FRIDAY - Yoga class, run 3 miles on treadmill
SUNDAY - Ravenswood 5K

APRIL 25 - MAY 1
TUESDAY - Yoga class
WEDNESDAY - Zumba class
THURSDAY - 10 minutes stationary cycling, lift 40 minutes
FRIDAY - 3.5 miles of hillwork in Pittsburgh
SUNDAY - Pittsburgh Half Marathon (recap coming soon)

Last Friday was my first opportunity during my Pittsburgh Half Marathon training cycle to do a training run on what I'll call legit hills. I've talked at length over the past few months about how I tried to simulate hills on the treadmill, bridge overpasses in Chicago, etc. However, there is truly nothing like training on the real McCoy. E.g.:
My family in Pittsburgh lives within a stone's throw of some extremely challenging hills (as do probably 99% of all Pittsburgh residents). Traditionally, just going for a neighborhood run has always caused my quads tremendous grief. But wouldn't you know it - on Friday, I could already tell my incline work was handing out major dividends. I genuinely felt comfortable on those hills! This made me so much happier than I can even begin to describe.
I know some of you might be getting so tired of my hill talk that you are thinking about making a run for the hills. (Get it? RUN for the HILLS? HAHAHAHAHA yes I know that was a bad joke.) So let's talk briefly about a few other fun highlights from last week. If you follow me on Instagram (I'll follow back!), you'll recognize a couple of these photos.

Last Tuesday, I attended a Windy City Blogger event at Snap Kitchen. There, I got to try out my first-ever hand at food styling. Here is a snapshot of my finished product:
Spinach and goat cheese scramble plus an anti-oxidant juice - styled by yours truly
I learned food styling is SO MUCH HARDER than the professionals make it look on the Food Network or other cooking shows. This picture took me more than 30 minutes to stage. I went back and forth a dozen times on which props to use, where to place them, what colors to highlight, what background/plating/silverware to select, what angle to shoot, lighting considerations, on and on and on. I have much-increased respect now for all the beautiful food photos you see in magazines, etc.

Not surprisingly, the best part was that we all got to eat our photo subjects afterwards! The food was delicious - and of course, everything tastes better when you've styled it yourself. =D

Later that night, I attended the Fleet Feet RUNway Fashion show. This is a really fun annual event where various running brands showcase their latest runners' fashions. Here's an action shot from the night:
After the fashion show, the Fleet Feet store hosts a shopping party with appetizers, beverages and goody bags. All attendees receive a $20 store credit that night. Obviously I couldn't let it go to waste! I snapped up a new running tank top which was already marked down - and made out like a bandit!

The next day, Fleet Feet hosted a giveaway for all the outfits featured at their show. I entered and was super fortunate to win the below outfit. Thank you, Fleet Feet Chicago!!!
My friend Radhika is on the board of an organization called Asian Americans Advancing Justice. Last Wednesday, she invited me to attend the AAAJ Milestone Awards Benefit at the Chicago Cultural Center. What an honor! Many, many thanks to Radhika for thinking of me.
From L to R: Radhika, me, and Karthik
I met so many amazing people who work extremely hard to serve the Asian American community. The Milestone awardees were all incredibly inspirational. I loved hearing their stories.
Khai Yang, one of the night's awardees from Allstate's Employee Resource Group, making her acceptance remarks
In summary - it was a great, action-packed week! Now I am looking forward to a more low-key week to catch my breath. Whew!!!

How about you? Tell me about your week or weekend? Do you like having a calendar packed with lots of fun events, or do you prefer having a more open schedule to play things by ear?

Linking up with HoHo and Tricia for the Weekly Wrap.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Pittsburgh Half Marathon prerace thoughts

Greetings from Pittsburgh!
I flew in last night and am very excited to be here. (BTW - I cut the time so close I was sprinting through the terminals and was literally the last passenger to board the flight. This is a story for another day!)

After three months of incline training, countless prior-year race recaps stalked, and two weeks of weather monitoring, the time has finally come to run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon this Sunday.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about the hills. However, I am happy with the training effort I put in over the past three months. Could I have done more? Of course - we can always do more. But at this stage of the game, I feel as prepared as I think I can be.

Truthfully, that isn't saying much, as I am realizing the full extent of the challenges that await me. Allow me to elaborate.

Last week, I showed Adam the course map and elevation chart. Here is the elevation chart. Note the giant incline starting after Mile 11:

For my contribution to today's episode of the Hill Running Horror Show, here is a nice, terrifying close-up:
Since Adam is a Pittsburgh native, I asked him about that hill.

His verbal response: "You'll be running through Duquesne University? Oh wow. Uh, yeah. [brief pause, momentarily averts eyes to the side] You're going to do great. Really, you are!"

His nonverbal response looked like this:
What do they say - 80% of communication is nonverbal, 20% is verbal? This is not good at all.

OK, OK, I kid. He didn't ACTUALLY look like that. Let's be clear, he wasn't really wearing a Blackhawks jersey when we had this conversation. But you get the idea.

As you might surmise, this was not exactly the reaction I was looking for. This is what my nonverbal response looked like:
I asked Adam if we could drive over to see that part of the course in advance. As bad as it might be, I do want to know what to expect. His response:

"Are you sure you want to do that? I think you'd be better off just going out there and running it on Sunday. Don't you want to be surprised? The element of surprise would be good!"


To make matters even worse, Adam talked to our friend Julie, who has run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon several times. He told me Julie also advised NOT going to see the hill in advance. Something about not being able to get a true sense for the hill from the car?

Please allow me to reiterate:
Allright, I get the idea. It is what it is, and there isn't anything I can do about it at this stage in the game. If I have to walk the entire debacle from start to finish, so be it. I think the course time limit is 3.5 hours, and all that matters is getting to the finish line. There's a reason why we all get the same medal, right???
Unfortunately, the weather is not looking great for Sunday. The current forecast lists temps in the upper 50s and low 60s with periods of rain. The precipitation would be a bummer because I am hoping to take a lot of pictures on the course. But again, it is what it is. All I can do is get my stylish garbage bag dress ready to go!
From the 2015 Rock N Roll DC Half Marathon
All of these things aside, I am genuinely looking forward to the experience this Sunday. Here are my five goals for the race:

1) Enjoy the course, entertainment, and the spectators
2) See Adam on the course a few times
3) Take full advantage of getting to tour so many of Pittsburgh's neighborhoods and bridges on foot
4) Stay confident when tackling any hills
5) Cross the finish line healthy with a smile on my face

I have heard so many great things about this race and I know it will not disappoint. I am going to have a good time even if (borrowing a great expression from my dear friend Xaarlin) I end up finishing DFL. =D

Here we go!

Linking up with MarCynthia, and Courtney for the Friday Five.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ravenswood 5K race recap

Before I recap the Ravenswood 5K, let me talk briefly about my beloved Blackhawks after last night's results. They had an amazing run this year. I am always proud of the team for battling to the finish with everything they've got. Win or lose, I love the team with all my heart. Nothing will ever change that.

Time for the Blackhawks to get some well-deserved rest. We'll get it back next year.

And now, switching gears onto the topic at hand.

Last Friday afternoon, I was at the office trying valiantly to maintain some semblance of productivity. All of a sudden, I got an email from Erin saying she might be able to get me a free entry to the Ravenswood 5K on Sunday if I was interested.
OH HECK YES!!! I responded back to Erin's email as quickly as my fingers could type. I love neighborhood races and I have heard countless rave reviews about Ravenswood.

It turns out Erin's running club had received some race entries to use as raffle prizes, but two of the winners were injured and unable to run. They offered up their entries to anyone who could use them. Erin snagged one for herself, and when nobody claimed the other one she was able to claim it for me.

Huge, huge, HUGE thanks to Erin for thinking of me!!!
I don't think I ever mentioned it here, but over the last few months I had actually thought about signing up for the Ravenswood 5K as a PR attempt. I had initially decided against it because the Pittsburgh Half Marathon is next weekend. Plus, I haven't been doing any speedwork. But now I had a great opportunity to test myself without having too much time to overthink things.

In general, I am not a huge fan of the 5K distance. I find the breakneck tempo to be extremely challenging - much more so than longer distances like the half marathon. I've been so gunshy that I haven't made any 5K PR attempts in almost two years.
On race morning, I still had reservations about making an attempt. After going to the Blackhawks game the night before, I had gotten very little sleep. My nerves caused me to suddenly be conscious of all kinds of bodily niggles. The weather was noticeably warmer compared to a few days prior. On and on and on.

Erin and I drove up to the race site to find everything extremely well organized with great volunteers. Easy parking, no lines at the portapotties, good signage, and gear check was a snap.

We headed out for about a 1.2-mile warm-up run together. During this time, I still had phantom aches and pains. Why must the body and mind torture us in this way?
At the starting line, I enjoyed the energy of all the runners and spectators surrounding me. During the pre-race national anthem I stood with my eyes closed, let the anthem sink into my heart, and prayed for a strong race. I thought about the adrenaline I had felt less than 12 hours earlier at the Blackhawks Game 6 victory, and I tried to channel that feeling.

At exactly 8:00 AM on the dot, the starting airhorn went off. As the runners were underway, we were serenaded by church bells tolling from the All Saints Episcopal Church nearby. It was perfect.
My plan was to try to run the first 2.6 miles at around an 8:20 pace, then pick things up in the final 0.5 miles. As is typical with most races, the course was crowded at the start, making it challenging to get my pace going smoothly. I tried to run off to one side to minimize any weaving and bobbing. In the first half mile I glanced down at my Garmin a few times and saw my pace was below 8:00, so I made myself slow down a bit. I told myself, Run by feel and keep the pace comfortably hard.

The Ravenswood 5K is famous for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel making event appearances, since he lives in the neighborhood. Incidentally, he is actually quite the athlete, too! 
Mayor Emanuel at the 2012 Chicago Triathlon
Pete mentioned that the Mayor liked to spectate near the 0.70-mile point on the course. Initially, I planned to keep an eye out for a sighting. Ultimately, I ended up being completely focused on pacing, running the tangents, and keeping my footing (the roads had a plethora of speed bumps, plus some potholes and debris).

Mile 1: 8:15

Mentally, the second mile of a 5K is always the toughest for me. I was starting to feel the exertion from the fast pace, contemplating if I'd started out too aggressively, and wondering if I could keep it up. At one point I looked down at my Garmin thinking the Mile 2 marker had to be close - only to see I was only around 1.35 miles in. Yowza.
After slowing down to make one of the course turns, I made the mistake of checking my pace. My Garmin showed 8:40, which messed with my head. It brought flashbacks of a previous 5K PR attempt where my second mile fell off considerably. I tried not to think about it, instead trying to be conscious of feeling reasonably strong while reminding myself I had a 5-second cushion from Mile 1. Every second counts, right? Sure enough...

Mile 2: 8:20

Whew, still on track! It was a relief to see the Mile 2 marker. Just over a mile to go! Despite the exertion, I was feeling pretty good. Normally I feel no joy while on a 5K course. Here I actually had a few moments where I might have thought I was having a slight hint of fun???

The course included some straightaways which allowed me to keep my tempo solidly on target. At one point we were running straight into the sunshine, but I tried not to let it bother me. If you can keep this same tempo up, you'll hit your goal!

There was a course turn near the 2.6-mile point after which my plan was to give everything I had left. 
My breathing was ragged and my lungs were burning, but I knew I was close. Come on, you can do anything for just a few more minutes! I kept stretching my eyes to look for the finish line, but couldn't see it.

We made one final turn. Suddenly, there was the finish line just past a small downhill and uphill slope. Ahhh, the agony! But I hit the Mile 3 marker in 24:46 and knew I was going to PR. I was too exerted to physically smile, but mentally I was already smiling inwardly.

Mile 3: 8:11
Mile 3.1: 0:49

My official finishing time was 25:35, which is a 20-second PR for me. Most importantly, since my previous PR was set well over a decade ago, I am so thrilled to finally have a relevant current PR. High-fives all around!!!
Post-race, I met back up with Erin, and then we found Eric, Pete, and Annabelle. It was so great to see everyone!
Pete told me Mayor Emanuel had run the race and was standing right behind him in the starting corrals. Wow! We later tried to look up the Mayor's race results but couldn't find him. He must have run under a pseudonym?

Afterwards, one of Erin's triathlete friends, Gurneet, hosted a post-run brunch. The festivities were a great time with terrific food and company. I am grateful to both Erin and Gurneet for inviting me! It was wonderful to meet so many other like-minded folks and talk shop.

Many thanks again to Erin for giving me the opportunity to finally achieve such a longstanding goal at the Ravenswood 5K. It feels redeeming to finally see payoff after a period of stagnation! This race has increased my confidence in perfect time for...

My next race: The Pittsburgh Half Marathon on May 1

Linking up with MarciaPatti, and Erika for Tuesdays on the Run.

Monday, April 25, 2016

My weekend in photos

Happy Monday! I'm trying desperately to switch back into office mode now after an extremely action-packed weekend.

I've got a ton to share from the last few days! Let's do a photo-based recap today.

On Saturday morning, I attended a Windy City Bloggers brunch at DL Loft. Here are some snapshots from the event:
Mimosa bar
Decorate-your-own-doughnut bar!
I learned the hard way just how difficult it is to decorate baked goods.
Much increased respect to all those cake decorators who make their intricate creations look like second nature!
The event space was adorned with beautiful French-themed decor.
More beautiful French-themed decor
Not pictured - there was a braid bar where I got a cute miniature French side braid. I loved it and I plan to try replicating the style on my own in the future.

After brunch, it was time for a double-hockey header. That afternoon, Adam and I watched the Penguins clinch a first-round playoff series win against the Rangers. The Pens look fantastic right now and I am absolutely thrilled to see them advance to the second round. Woo hoo!!!

Later that night, we had tickets to watch Blackhawks Game 6 against the Blues.
A sea of Blackhawks-red during pregame warm-ups
More pre-game warm-up action
Adam and I with one of our Hawks rally towels
I always believe in my Hawks, but I was admittedly nervous going into the game. Being surrounded by the masses of loyal, diehard Hawks fans helped a lot.

Over the years, I've been to games with extremely raucous crowds. This includes a Hawks-Kings playoff game where I thought everyone must have undergone intravenous caffeine consumption in advance for 72 hours straight. Even so, on this Saturday night the crowd's energy skyrocketed off the charts. The cheering, chanting, and singing were so deafeningly loud that I had to scream to communicate with Adam, even though he was sitting right next to me. The United Center's roof was in very real danger of blowing off.
Honoring the Blackhawks as defending Stanley Cup Champions during the pregame show
Awesome special effects during the pregame show
It was an awesome, adrenaline-filled, and euphoric game. I love playoff hockey so much!

After I got home post-victory, I remained fired up for several hours. It took me a really long time to unwind and fall asleep.

Unfortunately, the timing of my delirium wasn't great because I had made last-minute plans to run the Ravenswood 5K early the next morning! Go figure, right?! But there is no question that I wouldn't have traded the Blackhawks game for anything. Let's go Hawks!!!

On that note, let's move on to Sunday morning's Ravenswood 5K. The race definitely deserves its own post, as always. I am working on my recap right now. In the meantime, here's a post-race photo with some of my beloved fellow running bloggers:
Top: Pete
Bottom, from L to R: me, Erin, Eric, and Annabelle
More details coming soon, but in short - I had an excellent day on the course. I finally, finally, FINALLY bested my ancient 5K PR from well over a decade ago. Thank goodness.

Allright - one more thing to cap off the whirlwind weekend!

On Sunday night, Adam and I went to the UP Comedy Club to watch #DateMe: An OKCupid Experiment. The show is about an experiment where 38 "undateable dating profiles" were posted to see who would interact with them - with rollicking results!

Before the show, Adam and I had fun at the show's photo booth:
Check out Adam's killer abs!!! =D
Then it was time to delve into the performance, which consisted of both scripted acts as well as some improv sketches. The show was hilarious and super unique!

Here are a few snapshots:

I thoroughly enjoyed the entire show, but the improv portion was my favorite. Having previously taken three levels of improv classes at ComedySportz, I have a full appreciation for the challenge of improv - and the cast NAILED it. They completely knocked it out of the ballpark!

After the show, I had the privilege of meeting Robyn Lynne Norris and Dana Robie. Both are cast members, and Robyn is the show's writer and creator. Those ladies are amazing comedic inspirations. Wow.
From L to R: Robyn, me, and Dana
... and that concludes the weekend's biggest shindigs. Whew!

Now it's your turn! Tell me about your weekend adventures, whether that includes racing, training, eating, sleeping, or anything fun?

Linking up with HoHo and Tricia for the Weekly Wrap.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Cookies, knishes, and Apr 11-17 weekly recap

The stress of the NHL playoffs is wearing on me. We're less than a week in and there have already been a lot of shocking developments. I joke about people telling me how wrong I am in my predictions. However, I can't imagine anyone would have foreseen the Kings and the Ducks going a combined 0-4 in each of their first two games at home.
It's going to be a crazy, crazy week of hockey ahead!

Speaking of my favorite hockey teams, back in February I wrote about the privilege of watching a Blackhawks game from a suite for the first (and probably only) time ever. I'd mentioned getting two Blackhawks logo cookies from the dessert cart that night:
As I said back then, the cookies were too cute to eat. I took them home and have kept them to this day as artistic masterpieces.

Wouldn't you know it? Over the weekend, Adam and I discovered the source for these cookies: a north suburban restaurant/deli/bakery called Max and Benny's.

Check out some of their cookie creations!
It wasn't just about stumbling onto those cookies, either. I always enjoy exploring any of the restaurants featured on Chicago's Best - and Max and Benny's was highlighted for their matzo ball soup. Adam and I love traditional Jewish delis so we went to check it out.
L: San Francisco Reuben and potato pancake
Top R: Lox platter
Bottom R: The legendary matzo ball soup!
The food was really good. We were both stuffed, but that didn't stop me from popping into the bakery/deli afterwards. I bought a spinach/feta knish and a Reuben eggroll to take home. After my long run yesterday, I devoured that knish so quickly that I could have gotten arrested in at least four, maybe five states. (Sorry, no picture since I ate it too fast.)

I think race organizers should start serving knishes at their post-run refreshment tents.
On the note of long runs, here is how the week's training went:

TUESDAY - Yoga class, 45 minutes lifting
WEDNESDAY - Zumba class, run 3.5 miles on treadmill
THURSDAY - 10 minute warm-up on stationary bike, 55 minutes lifting
FRIDAY - Yoga class
SATURDAY - 30 minutes of stationary biking on "hill" setting, lift 15 minutes
SUNDAY - Run 12 miles with intermittant inclines

For yesterday's long run, I thought I'd do 10 miles outside with some random hills, then come home and finish with 2 miles of focused treadmill hills. That didn't end up happening for two reasons: 1) the random route I was running outside didn't get me back into my own neighborhood until about the 11.2 mark, and 2) my legs simply weren't having it.

I did fare pretty well on the intermittant hills, including a series of hill repeats around Miles 7-8. However, I am still in so much trouble for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. Despite all the effort I've put into hill training over the past few months, I think it's going to be too little, too late.
On a more positive note - I've been testing out doing long runs without wearing my Cho-Pat knee straps. So far I completed both a 10-miler and yesterday's 12-miler without issue. This is great news, as I've had to wear the straps for years!

Ideally I would like to run the Pittsburgh Half sans knee straps, but I'm also a little nervous about taking that risk on race day (May 1). This week is a stepback week, so I won't get much more opportunity to really test before then. Maybe I'll start the race with the knee straps, then take them off and give them to Adam at some point mid-race? TBD, TBD.

Who raced this weekend? Special congrats to all of you who PR'd and/or BQ'd (Xaarlin and Pete!) Who is running/watching Boston today? 

Linking up with HoHo and Tricia for the Weekly Wrap.