Sunday, April 29, 2012

CARA Lakefront 10-Miler Race Recap

After being in a state of anxiety for most of Friday about whether or not to run the CARA Lakefront 10-Miler yesterday, I did go with the affirmative.  Rainy weather forecast be darned. 

Talk about timing, I was one of the recent winners in Kim's giveaway for an all-weather running shirt (thanks, Kim!) so I had to prove my deservedness!  ;-)  Also, my visiting family was exhausted after having gotten up at 3:15 AM EST on Friday morning to catch their flight to Chicago.  Therefore, they opted to not attend the race, which made logistical coordination easier.

On Friday night as I was laying out my gear, I also packed a separate bag with a towel and a complete change of clothes (including underwear!) for after the race.  After my experience of running in monsoon-like conditions, I was bracing myself for something similar or worse.  I also purposely did not pack my MP3 player.  I've already buried one MP3 player from untimely death due to rainwater exposure, and I didn't want to lose a second one.

Yesterday morning when I woke up, it was overcast and definitely looked like it had rained, but was not raining at that moment.  I said the first of many prayers that the rain would hold off for a few hours, but was still dreading the weather conditions that might lie ahead of me.  Adam was much more cheerful than me as we were driving to the race.  I even lamented to him, "Why do I put myself through these things?" 

His response: "Because you're a runner."

After Adam dropped me off on site, I saw the crowds of runners and started to feel more positive.  Race packet pickup and gear check were both a breeze.  Although, the woman working packet pickup showed us a list of pages and pages of people that had not yet shown up yet, and said that many people were picking up their packets and then going home. (!!!)

After a trip to portapotty city (very short lines!), I lined up near the back of the pack.  At 8:00 AM on the dot, the airhorn blew and off we went.

I wanted to start out slowly, and focused on hugging the corners of the course.  My left hip flexor was hurting during the first few miles.  I was nervously praying that it would calm down, otherwise I feared it was going to be a long race.  Maybe because of this, I was somewhat fascinated by medical personnel (identifiable by bright red "MD" vests) that I saw prowling the course on bike.  But very thankfully my hip pain did eventually go away.

My splits for the first four miles:

Mile 1: 11:38
Mile 2: 11:11
Mile 3: 11:25
Mile 4: 12:29 (includes a bathroom break)

Around mile 3.5, I hit Cricket Hill.  There had been a lot of hype about this hill, such that the CARA Lakefront 10-Miler was being billed as "the hilliest course in Chicago."  I was apprehensively expecting something along the lines of the hills in San Francisco, Seattle, or Pittsburgh. 

I'd pictured something like this. 
This is the real reason people leave their hearts in San Francisco.
I was so relieved when I finally saw Cricket Hill in person that I almost laughed out loud.  It paled in comparison to what I had imagined.

This is Cricket Hill. 
Thank goodness for Chicago's flatness!

I wanted to take my first GU around mile 3 or 3.5, but due to the spacing of the water stations I ended up taking it around mile 4.  I was trying to pace myself to not start too quickly and to run a negative split.  But then the GU kicked in.  Around mile 5.5 or so I started to speed up somewhat unintentionally (though I did consciously think about trying to make up for time lost in the bathroom).

Mile 5: 10:40
Mile 6: 10:50
Mile 7: 10:36

I was feeling good and enjoying how quickly the time had been passing compared to when I run by myself.  I wanted to take my second GU around mile 7, but again due to the spacing of the water stations I ended up taking it around 7.5.

At this point, I decided it was time to really start pushing.  I tried to focus on quickening my cadence and continued to hug the corners as much as I could, even cutting them slightly here and there.

Mile 8: 10:16

I didn't have any real time goals going into the race, although I was hoping to finish below 1:55:00 and even more ideally below 1:50:00.  Up until mile 8 I was only looking at my splits and not my entire elapsed time, but when I hit mile 8 I realized that finishing sub-1:50:00 was achievable.  My lungs and legs were starting to feel it, but I was excited at my prospective finishing time!

Mile 9: 9:58

During the last two miles I kept looking for a person that was a little ahead of me and making it my goal to pass him or her.  Then once I did, I would find another person and make a new goal to pass him or her.  It worked well in keeping me focused.  Then, whenever I looked at my elapsed distance I tried to think of the remaining distance in minutes instead of miles.  E.g., "Just another 10 minutes!"

During the last half mile, the course loops around the finishing area and back so you can see the finish line but still have to circle around to get to it.  It was like the oasis in the desert, so close but still so far away!  I saw Adam at about 9.9, waved at him, then sprinted to the finish as best I could.

Mile 10: 9:25

My official finishing time was 1:48:34.  Yay!

While I was tired afterwards, I felt good - a million times better than I did after finishing my last race, the Chicago Get Lucky Half Marathon.  And in the end, my prayers were answered and the rain and inclement weather did hold off for the entire race!

Overall Race Review
I've heard that CARA races are very well-run, and indeed this race was one of the most organized races I've ever done.  Great resources and communication, really enthusiastic volunteers, and very helpful course marshalls.  It was also very reassuring to see the medical staff patrolling the course on bike.  Great post-race goodies, too (they were handing out Clif Shot energy gels and shot bloks, which I've never tried before but now can!)  I would definitely run this race again in the future.

Lessons Learned:
  • Chicago's "hills" are not to be feared.  =)
  • I ran the first 5 miles in 57:23 and the second 5 miles in 51:11.  While I was happy to have run a negative split, perhaps it shouldn't be THAT much of a negative split?  I'm wondering if I could have finished even a few minutes faster if I'd run a more even split?
  • GU's instructions are to take a GU 15 minutes before activity, then every 30 to 45 minutes during.  I've never tried taking the GU beforehand.  But given just how much of a boost I got after I took my first one yesterday, I might experiment with taking one in advance.  That might also help with reducing the disparity in my first- and second-half splits?
  • Study the course map in advance to know where those water stops are for GU purposes.  Or carry a hand-held water bottle just in case.
  • Work more on getting my hydration plan nailed down so that I don't have to use the bathroom during the race!
  • Thankfully the weather did not end up being a factor.  Even so, know fully what you need to do to represent when you enter and win a contest for an all-weather running shirt just days before a race in Chicago.  (Thanks again for the extra push, Kim!  ;-) )

Friday, April 27, 2012

Logistical issues

It's been said that you shouldn't worry about what you can't control.  While that is certainly true in most instances, there is also the saying that every action has a reaction.  By deductive reasoning, this means that even if you can't control something's occurrence, you can control how you respond to it.  Therefore, you can still worry about how you react to those things you can't control.

Does that make any sense at all?

Let me put this into very specific perspective.  I'm registered to run the CARA Lakefront 10-Miler tomorrow morning.  I've been monitoring the weather forecast for the past few days, and it has consistently been predicting temperatures in the upper 30s/lower 40s, 20+ mph winds, and rain rain rain rain rain.

I'm already concerned about running 10 miles in less-than-ideal weather conditions.  Not to mention a hilly course that I'm not used to, plus my intermittant knee and hip pain that stubbornly can't be shaken.

(By the way, I have quite a history of picking races that end up getting bad weather.  If Las Vegas allowed bets on the weather, you'd probably win millions (MILLIONS!) if you bet your entire piggy bank on bad weather any day that I'm running a race.  Meteorologists of the world, you've been warned.)

Insert my picture here.

Add to this that I also have family in town this weekend from DC.  They are staying in the northern burbs, but they very kindly want to come down to the city tomorrow morning to cheer me on at the finish line.  Since they don't know the city at all, we wouldn't want them trying to find their way to the race site by themselves.  It'd be way too confusing for them, plus parking can be so difficult.  Therefore, the plan is for Adam, bless his true altruism, to drop me off at the race start, then head up to the burbs to meet them for breakfast.  Afterwards, he'll drive back down into the city with them and they'll all go to the race finish line together to watch me cross (hopefully).

My honest thought is that this is an ambitious game plan.  Who knows what the traffic or parking situation will be like, especially if it's raining?  My fear is that it will be a very stressful morning for all involved.

To make matters even worse, I haven't picked up my race packet yet.  This is because packet pickup is being held at a running store that is very inconvenient both to where I live and work.  Therefore, I am going to attempt race-day packet pick-up, and I may also need to check a bag at gear check. 

We've been warned to allow ample time in case packet pickup lines are long.  This means that I'll be walking the fine line of allowing myself enough time for packet pickup/bag check, but not so much time that I end up spending a long time waiting in the rain for the race to start.  Although, I guess in the end it won't matter - odds are I'll be getting completely rain-soaked, no matter what.  But it does throw another variable into the mix.

I really do want to run this race.  I know I shouldn't worry about the weather because despite me singlehandedly throwing off the odds in Vegas, I can't control the rain or wind or temps.  However, I can control how I prepare or react to the weather - and running the race will require an enormous collective effort from so many people.

Therefore, if the weather is as bad as forecasted, I am admittedly considering skipping the race.  I never want to incur a DNS for a race, especially one that I've been looking forward to.  But logistically there is so much involved with this race that bad weather will compound things horribly.

Lots of anxiety for a Friday afternoon.  Ugh. 

To be continued.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why I Run (Runner Photo Challenge Week 2)

Week 2 of Maggie's Runner Photo Challenge!

This week's challenge:

Why do you run? What is the main reason? We all have multiple reasons why we run (physical and mental health, friends, competition, etc), but what is The One main reason you keep lacing up and getting out there? This is a little open-ended, so have fun with it! Be creative.

This one took some thought!  It was hard, really hard, to narrow my motivations for running down to a single reason... but they do say that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Therefore, I present thee with thou:

Deeply philosophical, no?

Here's the symbolism behind this picture (flashback to junior high English class!):

I love to eat, and my combination sweet tooth and salt tooth are forces to be reckoned with.  Running allows me to feel less guilty about downing chocolate desserts or other good eats that don't show up on the food pyramid.

Running calms me down and centers me, and allows me to think more clearly.  When I haven't gone running for awhile, the odds increase for me to teeter into belligerence if provoked.  In short, I am more likely to exhibit monster-like behavior when I am run-deprived.

Monster's Blue Color
Running helps me to burn off any stresses, frustrations, or other negative emotions that might be clouding my mind at any given moment.  A good run always helps ward off any "blue" feelings.

Sesame Street Theme
When I was a child, I was carefree and my goal was to play and have fun, no worries about anything including appearance.  (Gosh, do I miss those days!)  My runs are short times in which, like a child, I can just enjoy myself, let loose, and listen to whatever random music I want to.  No concerns about being sweaty and unkempt, and no worries (albeit temporarily) about grown-up stuff like deadlines, performance reviews, or whatever broke that day.

IN SUMMARY (and so I don't get accused of cheating in this challenge)...
I run because it makes me feel good.  Or at least it makes me feel better, even if just for a little while.

Extra Credit!
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth a million!  There is really only one video that does justice here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Doing the jitterbug

Caffeinated beverages are almost nonexistent in my beverage repertoire.  Generally the only beverages I consume are water, fruit juice (diluted with water), and milk.  At races I might have a cup of Gatorade at the finish line, and on extremely rare occasions I might drink a glass of wine or some tea.  But I NEVER drink coffee or any carbonated beverages, and I've never tried any of those energy drinks.  If not for my mad chocolate consumption, my caffeine tolerance is probably about as close to zero as can be.

Last week I ordered a box of GU in a flavor I'd never tried before (Mint Chocolate).  When the box arrived, I excitedly tore it open but then noticed that the Mint Chocolate GU packets said "No caffeine added" on them.  This was unexpected.

During long runs, GU works wonders in keeping me going, and I've had great success with the two GU flavors I've tried to date (Chocolate Outrage and Vanilla Bean).  I do know those two flavors, like most GU flavors, have a touch of caffeine in them - 20 mg of caffeine per packet, to be exact.  On the back of the Mint Chocolate GU the package said that its cocoa ingredient has a little bit of caffeine, so the Mint Chocolate GU does still have about 4 mg of caffeine per packet.  Comparatively, an 8-oz cup of coffee usually has between 100- to 200-mg of caffeine.  So even a "traditional" GU does not have a lot of caffeine.

GU has never caused me any kind of caffeine side effects.  However, I was admittedly not optimistic about a non-caffeinated GU giving me the same boost as a "traditional" GU.  But, I thought over time I'd conduct a statistically sound stratified sample analysis to experiment with different combinations of GU, thereby isolating the caffeine variables, including the placebo effect, to support/disprove this hypothesis.  (Sounds like I know what I'm talking about, eh?  Credit Wikipedia)

Then yesterday occurred. 

In my attempts to heal my recent aches and pains, I've really cut back my mileage over the past few weeks.  However, I am running the CARA Lakefront 10-Miler next weekend, so I wanted to get in a 10-mile training run yesterday. 

I debated back and forth on trying the uncaffeinated GU in yesterday's run.  I know you're not supposed to try anything new on race day - but I also didn't want to do anything too different in what will be my only preparatory run before this race.

Adam has unfortunately been battling a sore throat over the past few days.  Yesterday he made himself some tea and asked if I wanted any.  I said sure, and randomly had a mug of green tea thinking only about all the health benefits that green tea is touted to have.

Green tea health benefits apply to all forms of green tea!

As I mentioned before, I very rarely drink tea but when I do I've honestly never had a problem with it.  However, fifteen minutes after drinking the glass of green tea yesterday, I felt eerily jittery, jumpy, and very dehydrated.  It was a terrible feeling and I've never experienced anything like it before.

I looked up remedies for reducing the effects of caffeine.  Suggestions included drinking a lot of water, consuming some food, or getting some exercise.  I proceeded to drink two enormous glasses of water.  Unfortunately I felt better only for a few minutes before the feeling of dehydration started to come back. 

I decided it was time to go for my 10-mile run, hoping it would do dual duty and help ward off the caffeine effects.  (At this point, it was pretty obvious that more caffeine was not a good idea.  Science experiment or not, it ended up being a good time to try the uncaffeinated Mint Chocolate GU.)

The good news:
From a conditioning and endurance standpoint, I had no problem completing the 10 miles.  I even managed to do so without listening to any music at all, and didn't get bored until about mile 8.5.

The bad news:
I felt dehydrated almost the entire time, despite still intermittantly drinking a lot of water.  When I got back from the run almost two hours later, I still felt a little jittery even then.  It was a terrible feeling and it took several hours to go away completely.

Also, the Mint Chocolate GU with no added caffeine was not as effective for me compared to the "caffeinated" Chocolate Outrage or Vanilla Bean GU.  Isn't it ironic?  Don't you think? 

Yes, we will cue Alanis Morissette:

Although, I guess to be really fair I should try the Mint Chocolate GU on a day when I'm not already battling caffeinated jitterbugs.

For me, any caffeine must really be taken in very limited amounts.  Based on this experience, I may never touch a caffeinated beverage again.  Ever.

At the very least, I cannot consume tea before going for a run or before doing anything that requires relaxed concentration (e.g. riding a unicycle, balancing golf balls, or refolding a map.)  Mayhem may ensue.  And my jitterbug is reprehensibly ugly.

Friday, April 20, 2012


Yesterday morning while getting ready to go to work, I pulled a neck muscle.  I don't even know how it happened.  I literally was just turning my head and all of a sudden I felt a stinging sensation on the right side of my neck.  Major soreness and stiffness ensued shortly thereafter, leaving me in a state of stunned disbelief.  Ruefully, this is my second incident of sudden neck pain in three months! 

Apparently it's become a challenge for me to get dressed in the morning without injuring myself.

Sadly, even bubble-wrap mummification wouldn't have helped prevent my recent muscle pull.

The neck stiffness got worse throughout the day to the point where I felt like a walking scarecrow.  Thankfully since I am in front of a computer all day long it didn't impede me very much, but I did try to hide at my desk and avoid seeing anyone in the office.  It is on days like yesterday that I am really glad that I am not a construction worker or fitness instructor, or any other profession that requires a lot of active movement.  It would have gotten ugly real fast!

Through the magic of WebMD and other great online resources, I learned that the suggested home treatments for the neck muscle strain were very similar to what they suggest when you have running-related aches and pains: rest, ice, compress, elevate (RICE).

After getting home from the office, I spent the better portion of my evening on the couch cradling a towel-wrapped bag of frozen peas over my neck.

The neck icing helped.  I'm not sure if it was because it was doing its anti-inflammatory magic or if it was simply numbing the pain, but regardless it did make me feel better.  Unfortunately, like many other health remedies it had its side effects - namely, that it made the rest of me very cold.  To combat this, I wrapped myself tightly in a blanket, leaving only a small gap for the frozen peas.

I can only imagine how I must have looked in that state.  I'm sure there would be nothing more unnerving to an observer than a woman who has mummified herself in blankets and towel-wrapped frozen peas, while leaning to one side to hold the frozen peas in place.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

I iced my neck as much as I could handle throughout the evening.  Then I unmummified myself from the throw blankets on the couch and immediately proceeded to remummify myself with the blankets in my bed. 

I decided to use an extra pillow to sleep.  This was both to elevate my neck, as suggested, but also to provide some more stability.  I tend to sleep with my head at an angle, which I've been told can have adverse affects over time.  The extra pillow ended up helping a lot in preventing the angular tendencies.

When I woke up this morning, I feared the elevated level of stiffness and pain that I thought might have accumulated overnight.  Without moving my head, I gingerly unmummified just my arms from the blankets.  Then I literally used my hands to lift my head up off the pillows (kind of like in my junior high gym class where I would cheat on my situps). 

Much to my very pleasant surprise, much of the pain and stiffness was gone this morning! 

My range of motion has improved tremendously and I'm not operating in fear anymore of having to turn my head.  I'm still not 100%, but overall I am definitely feeling a lot better today.  Thank goodness!

I have seen some folks who keep daily gratitude journals (great idea, by the way).  With that and with yesterday's neck incident as my inspiration, today I am very grateful for:

  • Home health remedies and knowledgeable health experts
  • The versatility of frozen peas
  • Cushy pillows
  • Successfully getting dressed this morning without inducing further injury
  • The ability to mummify and un-mummify myself at will

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Runner Photo Challenge Week 1 (and let's go Blackhawks!)

Maggie over at Mag Mile Runner is organizing a weekly Runner Photo Challenge for all of us bloggers.  This week's challenge:

A picture of memorabilia (bib, shirt, medal, trophy, etc - can be just one thing or multiple things) from your favorite race. Include an explanation of why it's your favorite race.

If you've read more than 3.14159265 of my blog entries, you'll know that I am a rabid fan of the Chicago Blackhawks.  Any time the Hawks host any kind of event for their fans, I am the first in line. 

When the Hawks teamed up with the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago White Sox last year for the inaugural Home Team Charity 10K race, I was pumped!  An event that combines my beloved Blackhawks with my passion for running?  It's like they read my mind!

My participating picture in this week's Runner Photo Challenge was a no-brainer for me:

When I was in college and for a few years afterwards, I was an avid runner.  But then I took a several-year hiatus from running, with the exception of doing an annual 5K race that my firm sponsors every year.  Early last year I finally started lacing up my running shoes again.  The Home Team Charity 10K was the first race that I trained for after ending my running hiatus!  And what a great race for me to get myself back on track!

The race course started at the United Center (home of the Bulls and Blackhawks) and ended at US Cellular Field (home of the White Sox).  All participants had their choice of a race shirt representing one of the three teams.  Jim Cornelison, who sings the awesome national anthem at Blackhawks home games, was there to get the crowd going before the race start.  The mascots from each of the three teams were there to keep the crowd laughing (and I got a picture with South Paw, the White Sox mascot!)  Then the post-race party included opportunities for some folks to take photos with the Bulls and White Sox championship trophies (not the Stanley Cup, unfortunately), and to meet retired players from each of the three teams. 

As you can see, I got autographs on my race bib from all of the players that I met.  The ones that stood out most to me, of course, were Blackhawks greats Tony Esposito and Grant Mulvey.  Both were so friendly and personable, and both genuinely seemed to enjoy chatting with all the fans.  (Adam thanked Tony Esposito for drafting legendary Penguins goalie Tom Barrasso - probably a very unexpected topic for Tony-O at a Chicago event!)

Beyond the thrill of meeting such incredible sports legends in person, it was so much fun to be surrounded by other Chicago sports fans/runners just like myself.  It was also awesome to see some of the race outfits (full-body Zentai suits, lots of jerseys, and even a man wearing a goalie mask).  The festivities and race details were so unique and were perfectly suited to my interests.  All in all, the Home Team Charity Run was truly the most fun I've ever had at a race, by far.

There's really only one way that I can sum it up:

Sorry, just couldn't resist an opportunity to showcase the Hawks goal song.  =)

Go Blackhawks!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Have credit card, will shop online

I do a ton of online shopping, especially for my running gear.  This is for various reasons, of which the most prevalent are:
  1. No waiting in line, fighting crowds, or wasting gas sitting in traffic or stalking parking spaces.
  2. It's so much easier to comparison shop across websites than it is to go from store to store to store.
  3. No more having to sift through stacks of merchandise to look for your size/color, often to find out that it's not available.
  4. No pushy salespeople or bored cashiers to deal with.
  5. No store closing hours.
  6. Easy access to product reviews.
  7. Sales tax in Chicago is the highest in the country (9.5%, and 10.75% on restaurants in certain districts), and online shopping usually yields either zero sales tax or only Illinois sales tax (6.5%).  Those savings can really add up!
I usually only make online purchases if I get free shipping, so that saves even more time and cost.

Even when I'm not looking for any running gear in particular, I still browse online running store sites looking for bargain-basement deals. 

If only keyboards like this really existed.  Actually, it's probably a good thing they don't.

The three sites that I view/use the most are:
  1. Amazon
  2. Running Warehouse
  3. ZBSports
Here is my commentary and reviews on each site, followed by some honorable mentions.

No explanation necessary, really.  Amazon sells EVERYTHING you can possibly imagine, and it's pretty easy to get free shipping if you purchase $25 or more of eligible items (of which there are AMPLE selections).

Running Gear That I've Purchased From
GU (Chocolate Outrage, Vanilla Bean, and Mint Chocolate)
Garmin 305
Mizuno Wave Rider 15 shoes
Cho-pat knee straps (2 of them)
SPI belt
Handheld water bottle
Compression sleeves
Saltstick capsules

Regarding the GU...
Their prices are the best I've seen anywhere.  They have a "Subscribe and Save" program on GU (plus a number of other things).  Under the program, you can save 15% on 24-pack boxes of GU if you sign up to have it delivered at an interval of your choice, anywhere from once a month to once every six months.  But, you can stop your subscription anytime, plus you can also skip a delivery or obtain an extra delivery whenever you want.  Plus, they send you an email notification whenever your item will be shipping soon so you can take action if needed.  I have personally never experienced any strings attached with this program, and the convenience is terrific.

Regarding the Garmin 305...
There are so many GPS watches and models out there so it was really tough to know what to look for.  Through all the customer reviews on Amazon, it was so helpful to get both the positive and the negative feedback from literally hundreds of reviews.  I was able to do very thorough research on the various options before making my decision.

Regarding the Mizunos...
Best price I've ever seen by far.  They retail for $97 to $115, but a few months ago I got them on sale at Amazon for about $75.  To this day, I have never seen them on sale anywhere else for anywhere close to that price.

For running shoe addicts, the website is killer.  Deadly.  Unbelievable.  Running Warehouse has an unbelievable selection of running shoes and gear.  They have these crazy shoe liquidation sales where you can get running shoes for under $50.

Beyond shoes, they have an extremely comprehensive collection of any type of running gear you could possibly imagine, and then some.  (Shoe dogs, anyone?)  They have fantastic sales on clothing and gear, too.  Plus, they provide free shipping AND free return shipping on all purchases.  You can't beat that!

Running Gear That I've Purchased From Running Warehouse:
Superfeet Berry insoles
Balega socks

I've also been drooling over two kinds of Saucony shoes, both of which they have on mad clearance at the moment.  But, I'm trying very hard not to buy any more running shoes until I go through one or more pairs of my existing shoes.  The temptation has been tough to resist, though...

Show Me How It Fits and Gait Analysis
One great feature they have for shoe shopping is their ShoeFitr, aka "Show Me How It Fits," which helps decipher varying sizing between manufacturers (e.g. a size 8 in one brand may be a size 8.5 in another brand).  When viewing any pair of shoes, you enter your current shoe make, model, and size, and it indicates what shoe size you'd want to order in the potential new shoe.  It also provides a diagram of how the shoe would feel (e.g. tight in the toebox, looser in the midfoot, etc.)  It's obviously still extremely helpful to try the actual shoes on in person someplace before buying them online, but the online sizer definitely helps a lot in providing guidelines.

Additionally, they also offer a gait analysis service where you can send them a videotape of yourself running and they will analyze your gait for you.  I've never tried it but it's a great service offering!

Running Warehouse periodically provides extra discount codes for their clearance merchandise on their Facebook page, which you can view if you "like" them on Facebook.  They also used to provide general discount codes of 10% to 15% which I used to be able to find with a good google search, but it appears that they've strayed away from these.  Regardless, their prices are excellent and they get rave, rave reviews for their customer service.  They get a ton of people asking individual questions on their Facebook page, and they answer every single one of them. also has phenomenal deals on shoes and gear.  I purchased my Brooks Glycerin 8 shoes from them and got them for about $50.  Incredible!  I've also been very, very, very tempted to buy other shoes they had on sale, namely some other Brooks and some of their Asics, because the prices were so good.

What I love most about ZBSports is that they donate a portion of their proceeds to three types of charities every year, and you get to vote on your choice of selected charities from each of the three categories (environmental, animal, and health).  It was fun being able to vote for charities I was most passionate about!

Sales and Shipping
Certain items are eligible for free outbound shipping, and they offer free return shipping on most of their items.  One kind of bizarre thing that I noticed is in their sales listings, they seem to always say that the sale ends on whatever day you are viewing the sale.  But then, on subsequent days the sale is usually still there with a new end date (whatever later day you are viewing the sale).  I'm not sure if this is a marketing tactic to create urgency?

VIP Membership
ZBSports has a VIP membership you can purchase which is only $1.99 per year which gives you free shipping on everything, plus an extra 5% to 10% off certain "VIP-eligible" items.  I haven't purchased the VIP membership because most of the items I've looked at were big sale items and were not VIP-eligible.  But depending what you're buying, the $1.99 membership could really pay for itself very easily.

Viewing Items
ZBSports sorts their items based on brand.  One drawback to their site is that they unfortunately they do not list their shoes based on type (neutral, support, etc.).  In general I don't think there's a way to determine shoe types on their site.  It's not a big deal if you know exactly what you are looking for.  But if you're just browsing for new shoes to try, it's tough to determine if something falls under your appropriate shoe type unless you go elsewhere to check.


There are two other online running stores that I consistently hear very good things about:
  1. Roadrunner Sports
  2. Holabird Sports
I have perused both for comparison purposes, but have never actually purchased anything from either.  Yet.  But both seem to offer great prices and customer service.

Roadrunner Sports
I specifically recall that Molly had raved over placing an online order with them one day and then having her order at her doorstep the very next day!  There's nothing better than lightning-quick delivery with online orders, that's for sure!  =)  From what I've seen, Roadrunner also offers periodic free shipping sales - always great.  They also have a VIP membership program for $1.99 that offers free shipping and additional savings.

One really great feature that Roadrunner has is to list "endangered shoes" - shoes that will soon be discontinued.  With this, you'll know better when to stock up on your favorite shoes before they can no longer be found.  Love it!

Holabird Sports
My guess is that the owners are fanatics of both running and tennis, and shaped their business accordingly!  As such, if any of you like tennis, Holabird Sports has a lot of tennis gear in addition to their running gear offerings.  It looks like you can always get free shipping on purchases over $69.95.

Are there any other great online running stores out there that I've missed?!?!? 

If so, please share!!!

John "The Penguin" Bingham used to close all of his columns in Runners World magazine with the phrase, "Waddle on, friends."  Taking a cue from him, I will conclude by saying:

Shop on(line), friends!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Conundra, and it hurts so good

Tomorrow is the 116th running of the Boston Marathon, the world's oldest and most prestigious marathon.  Once I get beyond my bewilderment at the Boston Marathon being held on a Monday (such a random day for such a momentous event), I learned that the temperatures in Boston tomorrow are forecasted to be in the 80s and even the 90s.  As a result, registrants are being permitted to defer their entries until 2013; however, they will not have their registration fees refunded if they choose to defer.

I wonder how many people will actually still try to run Boston?!?!?  After my rough experience gutting out a half-marathon in 80-degree temps, I can't even begin to imagine running a full marathon in even higher temperatures.  It is the embodiment of dangerous.  Although, I guess all marathons are dangerous.  (Cue the courtroom scene from "A Few Good Men" where Kaffee asks Jessup if the subject was in grave danger, and Jessup asks if there is another kind.)

Admittedly, I can certainly understand why some folks would still attempt to run Boston.  Most have probably already spent thousands of dollars in travel costs and other expenses, and thousands have traveled from around the globe.  Not to mention the countless hours spent training.  There are probably thousands that have trained for years and years and years to be eligible to run Boston.  Boston qualifiers are amongst the loftiest of many runners' goals, and it would be an enormous letdown to have trained for such extended periods of time to end up just deferring at the last minute.  What an enormous conundrum for so many runners to be dealing with under such time constraints.

(I guess there's one good thing that comes out of me being a slow runner - I'll probably never qualify for Boston and therefore I will personally probably never be in such a predicament!)

Speaking of activities that hurt so good, I went in for my first chiropractor session last Thursday, and they worked on my scalene muscles.  I'd never heard of these muscles before (flashback to high school geometry with the word "scalene"), but these are basically the muscles that run alongside the side of your neck down to your shoulders.

Basically, "working on my scalene muscles" translates to a very painful neck massage.  I was told that my scalenes are extremely tight.  You may recall that I'd pulled my trapezius muscle a few months ago, and it does appear that the muscle pull correlates positively to the tightness. 

The scalene muscle work hurt like you wouldn't believe. 

It reminded me a little of how unspeakably painful it was when I first started foam rolling my IT band.  Those were not fun times - but the scalene work was worse.  I know it's necessary for me and will be helpful over the long run, but ugh.

I wonder if in medieval times they conducted "scalene work" under the guise of a neck massage but was actually meant as a form of torture?

One of the most basic forms of torture - knowing there's withheld
information but not being able to find out what it is.
Here is hoping that with time my scalene muscles loosen up and get less painful.  Here is also really hoping that that the worst is over with unveiling all of my numerous muscular tightnesses in hard-to-stretch places! 

Unfortunately, I made a mistake just now by looking up how many muscles the human body has.  Apparently there are over 640.

That's a LOT of muscles that could potentially still be unbalanced or tight.  Yikes!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Unbalanced and Restorative Justice

I've come to realize that "balance" is an extremely pervasive theme throughout our lives.  For example, we are instructed to eat a well-balanced diet.  We balance our checkbooks.  We strive for work-life balance.  The tires on our cars require balance for maximum fuel efficiency.

I remember decades ago that women were instructed to walk gracefully by balancing a book on top of their heads. (Does anyone still do that, by the way?)  I may or may not have tried the book-balancing walk with varying (read: ghastly) results.  (TIP: Don't try this at home when there are any items that are even remotely breakable and located within a 50-foot radius.)

I think the fear of impending injury is truly among the worst feelings that any athlete can experience.  And based on a recent uptick in hip and knee aches, plus stubbornly lingering neck pain, I've been having more and more doubts that I can make it through an entire marathon training season without injury.

I decided it was time to take action.  Yesterday I went to get an initial consultation at a chiropractic sports physician.  My specific goal was to check out my lingering neck pains, but the office I went to offers fairly comprehensive athlete's treatments beyond chiropractic services.  Therefore, when I mentioned my recent knee- and hip-pain flareups, I also received a high-level physical therapy assessment. 

Since ending active PT treatment last summer, I have been fairly good about doing my PT exercises.  I did want to get a physical therapy refresher, though.  I actually already had an appointment with a primary-care physician this morning to get the referral started.  But, yesterday's consultation also confirmed that more PT would definitely be helpful for me.

Summary assessment from yesterday's appointment: I have quite a few muscle imbalances and could really work on strengthening my hips, glutes, and core.  I have a number of areas of significant muscle tightness, most notably my calves and my piriformis.  My natural posture is no longer ideal, presumably due to years of sitting hunched over a computer at work.  My left leg is longer than my right leg.

I could keep going but you get the idea.

Aside from nagging running-induced aches and pains in the last few years, I consider myself to be a very healthy person.  It is extremely rare for me to ever get sick.  But I have to admit that the assessment results made me wonder how I've really been able to function all this time with only moderate and occasional aches and pains.  Given the magnitude of my imbalances, I would have thought I'd be feeling a lot less "normal" than I do.

Apparently I still need to put a hold on my goal to maintain this pose for 30-60 seconds twice a day.

My weekly fitness routine currently consists of running 3 days a week, doing yoga twice a week, and trying to cross-train (usually on a stationary bike) once a week.  However, more weeks than not I skip the cross-training because I get bored quickly on the bike.  The next obvious cross-training apparatus is the elliptical, but I also get bored on it and I think it's too similar to running. 

The stationary human wheel of gym-based cardio equipment = BORING.

Despite my boredom with stationary bikes, ellipticals, and of course treadmills, my own personal assessment is that I need to focus more on cross-training.  I know that cross-training can help a lot with smoothing out muscle imbalances and strengthening less-frequently used areas.

I'll have to find some kind of cross-training routine that I will enjoy and do consistently.  I was an avid swimmer in my much younger days, so maybe it's time to find a public pool someplace and start swimming again?  I also used to be pretty good about weight-training a few days a week, but that has also fallen by the wayside.  Probably a good idea to pick up the weights again (literally and figuratively).

It's always a balance.
I have my first "real" appointment tomorrow to start working on getting myself realigned and rebalanced.  Mentally I am already feeling better knowing that the wheels are in motion towards improvement.  I am looking forward to pointing all the arrows in the right direction!

Now, if I could just work on my penchants for chocolate, deep dish pizza, and running shoes...

Monday, April 9, 2012

My Life's To-Do List

Recently I've come across several sites dedicated to lifelong bucket lists.  I've thought many times throughout the years about the things I would have on my own bucket list.  I finally decided to compile a fairly thorough list of my own life's to-do's (though the list is still very subject to update/revision/addition with more time to contemplate).

These are in no particular order.

  • Visit all 50 of the United States (42 down, 8 to go!)
  • Visit all 7 continents (5 down, 2 to go!)
  • Fill an entire passport with stamps
  • Visit the South Pacific (Fiji, Tahiti, Bora Bora, etc.) and stay in an overwater bungalow
Bora Bora
  • Take a New Year's Eve cruise that crosses the international dateline and celebrate the new year twice in one "day"
  • Stand on the equator
  • Visit Sicily
  • Swim with sharks in South Africa
  • Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro
  • Visit the Serengeti and experience the Great Migration
Serengeti National Park
  • Visit New Zealand
  • Take a road trip from BC to BC (Baja California to British Columbia or vice versa)
  • Visit Yellowstone National Park
  • Visit the Taj Mahal
  • Visit the pyramids
  • Visit Angkor Wat

  • Angkor Wat
  • Visit the UAE
  • Visit Seychelles
  • Visit the Galapagos
  • Stay in a castle
  • Stay in an ice hotel

Ice hotel in JukkasjÀrvi, Sweden
  • Celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Ireland
  • Go to Oktoberfest
  • Go to Carnival in Brazil
  • Go to Mardi Gras in New Orleans
  • Ride the Orient Express
  • Ride the Bernina Express
  • Ride the Trans-Siberian Railway
Trans-Siberian Railway
  • Experience a summer solstice in a place where the sun truly doesn't set
  • Study abroad
  • Ski the Alps
  • Run with the bulls in Pamplona
  • Visit Machu Picchu
  • See the Terracotta Warriors in Xian
Terracotta Warriors
  • Visit all inhabited Hawaiian islands (3 down, at least 4 to go)
  • Enjoy a weekend of true debauchery in Las Vegas - buffets, upscale restaurants, casinos, shows, shopping, spas, etc.
  • Visit Jerusalem and the Holy Land monuments
  • Visit the Panama Canal
  • Visit Stonehenge
  • Experience arctic wildlife in its natural habitat
Emperor penguins

  • Complete a marathon (hopefully this October!)
  • Run a sub 4-hour marathon (hey, a woman can dream)
  • Run an international race (preferably a marathon) - I have a whole separate other list of races on my race wish list
  • Run a Disney Race (preferably the Disney Marathon or the Wine and Dine Half Marathon)
  • Earn a Disney Coast to Coast medal

Disney Coast to Coast medals

  • Go to a Stanley Cup victory game (preferably played by either my beloved Blackhawks or Penguins, but not both at the same time)
  • Get on the kiss cam at a major sporting event
  • Hold the Stanley Cup
  • Drive or ride on a Zamboni
  • Try on NHL goalie attire and stop a few pucks
2010 Chicago Blackhawks Convention
  • Go to the Super Bowl
  • Watch a Steelers game at Heinz Field
  • Watch a Bears game at Soldier Field (NOTE: Even though these items are in no particular order, it is by Adam's request that the Steelers game was listed before the Bears game)
  • Go to the Summer and Winter Olympics

2010 Olympics Opening Ceremony - Vancouver

  • Be an extra in a movie or music video
  • Learn to drive a stick shift
  • Go skydiving
  • Learn how to sail
  • Travel in a yacht
  • Witness an eclipse
Solar eclipse
  • Learn how to do an overhand serve in volleyball
  • Go hanggliding
  • Learn to scuba dive
  • Do the splits
  • Go storm chasing
  • Get a pilot's license
  • Penguin pilot
  • Be recognized as an expert in something
  • Go on a true shopping spree
  • Know my family tree
  • Ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange
  • Go windsurfing 

  • Ride in a submarine
  • Visit the Titanic shipwreck
  • Drive a motorcycle
  • Drive a convertible
  • Experience an earthquake
  • Experience zero gravity

Parabolic flight - zero gravity
  • Take a local cooking class in a country that has strong culinary traditions
  • Attend a taping of Iron Chef America
  • Participate in a cooking competition
  • Grow my own fruits/vegetables/herbs
  • Stomp on grapes for wine

I Love Lucy

Thing To Say (I need to give these more thought)
  • "You can't fire me.  I quit!"
  • "Quick!  Follow that car!"

Life-List Activities That I've Been Fortunate To Have Already Accomplished
  • Travel overseas alone
  • Get married on the beach
  • See the curvature of the earth
  • Visit the Vatican
  • Visit the Colosseum
  • Gamble at Monte Carlo, Monaco
  • Visit the Grand Canyon
  • Go white water rafting

    White water rafting in Mendoza, Argentina with Vanitha
  • Preside over an organization
  • Serve as an advisor for an organization
  • Do improv in front of a live audience
  • Visit China
  • Visit Russia
  • Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef
  • Meet a koala in Australia 

  • A koala at the Featherdale Wildlife Park near Sydney, Australia
  • Learn to surf
  • Eat street food like a native in Thailand
  • Soak in a hot spring
  • Take a mud bath
  • Walk the Great Wall of China
  • Skate on NHL ice
  • Get on the scoreboard at a professional sporting event
  • Go ziplining
  • See a live volcano

Mount Kilauea, Volcanos National Park in Hawaii

  • Enjoy public speaking (ongoing, but 7+ years of Toastmasters and 3 sets of improv classes have helped)
  • Learn to cook (also ongoing, but several cooking classes and years of watching the Food Network have helped)