Saturday, January 26, 2013

Fear factor

It's been 26 days since I last went running.  26 days.  This is easy for me to remember because the last time I went running was on December 31, 2012.  This means that I haven't logged a single mile in the year 2013.

When my left ankle starting to sting me while running, I initially told myself I'd take at least 10-14 days off from running.  My ankle was still feeling tender after two weeks so I decided to extend the hiatus to at least four weeks.  Or even a cool month.  I'm not training for anything at the moment, so I figured the extra healing time could only help.

The self-imposed running hiatus was tough at first.  We had some periods of absolutely gorgeous spring-like weather in Chicago.  I missed the endorphins and the runner's high.  My running shoes looked forlorn sitting idle in the closet.  But I dutifully focused on biking, yoga, and strength-training, even though I was hating that none of these activities left me feeling as good afterwards as running does.

Somewhere along the way, I started to adapt to not running.  They say it takes 21 days to make or break a habit, right?  At some point, my body stopped missing running and now I don't really crave it anymore.

This is both good and bad.

I still miss the idea of running and all of the health effects that it brings.  But now I have developed a feeling of resistance towards physically trying to start up again.  I am apprehensive about physically experiencing the loss of conditioning.  I'd worked so hard for so many months to get where I was, so the thought of having to backtrack again is defeating.  I'm already angry at the thought of the uphill climb that awaits me - and I haven't even tried yet.

My frustration has also been rising with the nearly-constant bevvy of injuries that I've had to fight over the past few years.  I honestly can't even remember the last time that I ran completely pain-free.  It's getting to the point where I'm wondering if my body is just not cut out for running.  Am I trying to fit a square peg into a round hole?

It doesn't help matters that I got a bout of stomach flu earlier this week.  I almost NEVER get sick and my bout wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been.  Regardless, I forgot how horrible it does feel to be holed up on the couch because the simple act of walking makes you feel nauseous.  A lack of appetite is pretty much incomprehensible for me, but I had exactly zero appetite for 24 hours.  Even now I am still feeling tired, I still have not fully recovered my appetite, and I am skittish about what I do eat. 

I remember reading a question in Runner's World once about whether or not you could still run when you were sick or under the weather.  The answer was that as long as the symptoms were limited to the neck or higher (e.g. sore throat, headache, runny nose), that it was fine to run.  If the symptoms were below the neck (e.g. chest cold, stomach issues, body aches), then you shouldn't run.  Amen to that.  Right now, the thought of going running in the winter cold sounds about as appealing as getting my kidneys pulled without anesthesia.

I know that I will hit full recovery from my stomach flu soon.  But right now it feels too easy to just let more and more time slip by on running because I am scared of all of my ailments.

It's totally a momentum thing for me.  Always has been.  And right now the fear factor is the biggest obstacle to overcome.

I will get back out there eventually.  I have to.  I've got spring races that are already creeping up on me from a training perspective.  But today is not that day.  I've got some more recovery to do first, both physically as well as mentally.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Compression, and CEP compression shorts review

Recently I was the lucky winner of a pair of CEP compression shorts, many thanks to Erica!  The shorts arrived in the mail a few days ago.

Compression gear has gotten so popular in the running community these days.  Supposedly compression improves blood flow through the muscles, and that better oxygenation of muscles improves performance and flushes out lactic acid more quickly.  Compression gear is touted for beneficial use before, during, and after workouts.

I guess these full-body Zentai suits could technically be considered full-body compression gear.

I gave into the hype and bought one pair of compression sleeves and one pair of compression socks.  I've tried them both while running and to be honest, I don't think they help very much.  They actually make my calves feel uncomfortably tight to the point of near-cramping.

Post-run, I do think that they make a difference, though.  I've found that my muscle soreness dissipates more quickly.  Case in point - when wearing compression, my calves have felt as good as new within 24 hours after a long run.  But my hips and thighs, where I haven't worn compression, have taken two or three days to fully recover.

At the very least, I do think compression gear makes you look hard-core, though.  Case in point:

OK, bad example.

Here's a better one:


(I'm sure it's just a coincidence that the woman leading the pack is the only one that isn't wearing compression socks.)

Fast forward back to the present.  I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about trying compression shorts.  They are sized based on mid-thigh circumference, and my thighs tend to be a little disproportionate.  I was worried about having sausage legs.  Also, when I am wearing the wrong waistbands, my muffin top will make quite the unwelcome appearance.  I was bracing myself for the bakery that I'd be able to open while wearing compression shorts.

Not surprisingly, the shorts were tough to put on.  It took me several minutes of wriggling and shimmying and twisting and adjusting before I finally got them in place.  Lesson learned: make sure you've visited the bathroom before you try to put these shorts on because it'll take you a while to get them off.  (I had contemplated being able to race in these shorts, but they would take too much time to deal with in a portapotty situation.)

After the shorts were on, though, they were surprisingly comfortable.  They have a nice back pocket and the groin area is designed with a bit more forgiveness.  I could definitely feel the compression, but I had no trouble breathing or sitting in them.  Despite my qualms, the design was such that I actually had minimal muffin top and also minimal sausage leg.

(Speaking of sausages, this is tangential but I just have to share with you this hilarious news-video clip.)

Based on my discomfort from wearing compression socks or sleeves during running, I don't anticipate wearing these shorts while running, either (although I'll certainly give it at least one try).  The true test for these compression shorts will be AFTER a vigorous run.  My quads are usually my sorest and most stubbornly sore area after tough runs, so I am very excited to have something to combat that.  But so far I am pleasantly surprised with how these shorts feel and I am excited to add them to my gear.

What are everyone else's experiences with compression in general?  Am I the only one that finds them borderline-cramping uncomfortable when worn during runs?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Liebster Award and Versatile Blogger Award

Happy Friday to all!

For the first time in my professional career, I have next Monday off for Martin Luther King Day.  Yay!  My 3-day weekend is made even brighter by tomorrow's official return of the NHL (post-lockout).  I am looking forward to a weekend filled with much hockey-watching.  I will also be catching up on all of your blogs.  Woo hoo!!!

Shannon and Irina were both so kind as to nominate me for the Liebster Award, and Erin so kindly nominated me for a Versatile Blogger Award.  Thank you very much to all three of you.  I am honored!!!

The general guidelines for both of these awards are to provide some random facts about yourself, answer some questions from your nominator, create new questions, and then nominate others.

In this case, I am going to punt on the random facts since I've already got 100 of them here.  But let's tackle these questions!


1.  Best thing about your life?

There are so many good things - most notably my amazing friends and family.  But my good health gets special recognition.  I have family members that struggle with diabetes and other life-affecting health conditions, and it is daunting to hear what they have to go through.  I am very, very blessed to have the health that I do.

2.  Scale, yes or no?

No.  The numbers on the scale can change drastically within a very short period of time due to so many factors, many of which are out of our control.  So I don't bother with the scale.

3.  Worst running injury?

I have ongoing knee issues, most notably ITB syndrome.  Two summers ago my left knee was so painful that it hurt just to walk on an everyday basis.  Thankfully with ongoing physical therapy and stretching and wearing a cho-pat strap, my knee problems seem to be under control now. 

4.  Favorite place to visit on Vacation?

My three favorites to date are Bali, Italy, and Hawaii.  I wrote a bit about Bali here.  And I love Italy and Hawaii so much that I wish I was Italian or Hawaiian!

5.  Favorite thing to do on a rainy day?

Cooking/baking.  Also, watching my two favorite teams (the Blackhawks and the Penguins) play hockey!  (Regarding the Blackhawks, see Exhibit 1, Exhibit 2, Exhibit 3, Exhibit 4, and Exhibit 5.)

On a side note, I enjoy the Hawks' and Pens' adventures off the ice, too.  Two of my favorites:



6.  Favorite piece of exercise equipment?

My running shoes, of course.  I wouldn't be able to run without the proper footwear, and I've learned the hard way what a difference it makes to wear the right shoes.  I'm on a self-imposed hiatus from buying any more pairs of running shoes right now, though.  Based on my current shoe rotation and my estimated weekly mileage, I won't NEED to buy another pair of running shoes for at least three years.  Sigh.

7.  Favorite Season?

Spring and fall.  I love spring for its warmth and for being synonymous with new life, and I love fall for the crispness in the air and the foliage.

8.  One thing from your bucket list you have done? 

How about three things?  Last April, I wrote a post about my life's to-do list.  Since then, I've been fortunate enough to cross a few things off the list, most notably completing my first marathon, visiting the continent of Africa (Morocco), and going to a Steelers game at Heinz Field. 

9.  Favorite Celebrity?

Hard to name just one, but I'm fascinated by Anthony Bourdain, Ina Garten, Julia Child, and Warren Buffet.

Since I'm such a hockey addict, I'll also add Antti Niemi (I wrote about him here) and Max Talbot to the list (this video epitomizes why).  Too bad both of them have moved on to different teams now.  =( 

10.  Favorite holiday and why?

Independence Day!  Picnicking, barbequing, summertime, fireworks... what could be better!?!?


11.  Favorite food and drink?

I like all food.  I am an equal-opportunity food eater.  But my very favorites are Chicago-style deep dish spinach and mushroom pizza (see more about my pizza opinions here), and chocolate.

In terms of drink, I love orange juice.  I drink it like water and I consider it to be THE miracle beverage. 


1.  What is the worst kitchen disaster you’ve ever had?

Once I got overzealous with trying to incorporate vegetables into my dishes to health them up.  I thought I would sneak cauliflower into a chicken marsala dish.  It was horrible.  Cauliflower and chicken marsala do not a tasty dish make!!!!!

2.  If you could change your name, what would you change it to?

For last names, I like:

- Kemoeatu (Pittsburgh Steelers fans, you'll recognize this name from Chris Kemoeatu)
- Hjalmarsson (Chicago Blackhawks fans, you'll recognize this name from Niklas Hjalmarsson)


I also think Filipino names are cool in general.  One example: my friend Rose's middle name is Alvarado, which I really like.

3.  What’s your favorite store to shop at?

I worked at JCPenney when I was in high school, so I am still very partial to their clothing and merchandise.  I also like New York and Company very much.  Amazon is terrific all around.  Running Warehouse is great, too.

Do grocery stores count?  If so, I love Woodman's and Mariano's for their incredible selections.  I'm like a kid in the candy store when I go to a good grocery store (if that makes sense)!

4.  What would you do if you won the lottery and had unlimited money?

I'd go to the office and write a financial due diligence report!

Just kidding.

I would travel the world.  Some friends and I once talked about if we had a year to travel the world, how we would allocate the time to all the available options.  Our conclusion: a year is not nearly enough time.

5.  What’s your favorite kitchen utensil/gadget?

The slow cooker!  Hands down the best kitchen invention known to humankind.  So simple to use, so easy and convenient, and no better feeling than to walk in the door after a long day to the smell of a slow-cooked dish waiting for you to devour.

6.  What was the last vacation you took?

Adam and I just went to Las Vegas this past weekend.  Prior to then, we went to North Carolina's Outer Banks last September.  Had a blast on both trips.

On a related note, here's a picture that Adam took of me while in Vegas.  He aptly describes it as me taking my love of shoes to a new level.


7.  What’s the best book you’ve read in the past year?

I've read several amazing books on new product development.  One in particular that stands out to me very much is Brainsteering: A Better Approach to Breakthrough Ideas by Kevin and Shawn Coyne.  Solid, practical, down-to-earth ideas and concepts that reflect real-world challenges and offer great perspective on existing innovations.

8.  What is your favorite beauty product? Share your secrets!

In terms of beauty products, I'd have to say that any kind of blush is my favorite.  It's so quick to apply and I think it does wonders to make you instantly look healthy.

9.  What is your dream job?
Either Guy Fieri's job as host of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, or Samantha Brown's job as a world-wide travel show host.

10.  If you could have one magical power, what would it be?
I'd love to be able to fly!  I have a fascination with aviation, I hate traffic, the world looks so much more peaceful from the skies, and it is always awesome to see the curvature of the earth.

I've wanted to get my pilot's license for quite some time, but I am intimidated by the associated high costs.  Maybe someday...

This might be the closest I'll ever get to being a pilot 
(taking an air tour of the Na Pali Coast in 2006

11.  Quick – what are the three most important things in your life? List them off without thinking!

Friends, family, and health.  Fairly self-explanatory, I am sure.


1.  Best vacation so far? 

A solo trip I took to Bali several years ago, which I had also mentioned above.  I wrote a bit about it here.

2.  Mac or PC? 

Having worked for accounting and consulting firms my entire career until recently, I've really only ever used a PC.  I'm going to say PC but only because I don't know enough about Macs to have a point of comparison!

3.  Do you consider yourself to be a morning person? 

Only on weekends.  On weekdays I struggle to get out of bed by 7:00 AM.  But on the weekends I'm usually up and bouncing around by 6:30 AM.  Funny how that works, eh?

4.  Pie or Cake? 


5.   Describe one of your phobias. 

It's difficult for me to receive criticism.  I try not to take it personally but for me it's hard not to.  So I'd have to say that one of my biggest fears is being a public failure.

In all seriousness, as much as I do enjoy blogging, I've found that it also brings with it the potential of being more vulnerable.  In blogging, I put a lot of my goals and dreams out there for the world to see.  Working towards those goals and dreams also brings the challenges, the trying moments, and the frustrations.  It's scary sometimes to put the tough moments out there.  And on occasion I've certainly thought, "If I am not able to achieve X, then I'll have to face up to it on my blog."  But thankfully my fellow bloggers are all amazing people and are always overwhelmingly supportive, no matter what happens.

6. Least favorite food? 

Tripe.  I won't go into detail other than to say that I can't even look at it without getting a sick feeling.

7.  What is something you think you SHOULD do but you just don’t bother?

I should brush my teeth after every meal, and I should floss every night.  But I don't.  My dental hygienist and dentist reprimand me every time I go in for a check-up.  Sigh.

1.  What motivates you?
2.  What is the next thing on your bucket list that you'd like to accomplish?
3.  If you could go back and do something over, what would it be?
4.  What TV show or movie can you watch over and over and over again?
5.  Do you agree with how others see you or is there more to you than meets the eye?
6.  What was your first job?
7.  Have you ever googled yourself?
8.  If you could live anywhere other than where you live now, where would it be?
9.  Who is your favorite cartoon character?
10.  What is your favorite charitable cause?

Feel free to answer any or all of these questions either in the comments or in your own blog.  I love learning about y'all!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Staying balanced

Yours truly was asked to answer the question,

"What's the best way for busy college students to maintain a healthy lifestyle?"

Great question, and one that I've pondered many times. 

I very much enjoy working with students.  To share some background, I was a Resident Advisor for two years in college.  I've served on the advisory board to the Midwest Asian American Students Union for about seven years to date.  Now, I work for a private university. 

Beyond my background, I also think many times about what the me of today would have told the me of my younger days (if that makes sense).

Here are my suggestions on how college students can maintain a healthy lifestyle.  (Although, these suggestions are certainly not limited to college students!)

1.  Schedule workouts

For many folks, working out is something to do when time permits.  This means that workouts can easily go by the wayside for any number of reasons.  I've procrastinated on working out because I got sucked into Facebook, started cleaning out my email inbox, or finally decided to attack Mount Laundry such that its depreciative effect on my sock drawer could be resolved once and for all.

If you have plans to, say, meet your best friend for dinner, you schedule that time into your day and you do everything you can to keep that appointment.  Why not do the same thing with your workouts?  Put them into your calendar and treat them like any other appointment you make.

OK, maybe not like these appointments.

Now, we certainly can't always control every aspect of our schedules.  There's no telling when some emergency will occur or some unforeseen circumstance will throw a huge wrench into your day.  And it's okay to skip working out on days like those.  But on most other days, having your workout appointment helps you organize your days more effectively, establishes a sense of focus and control, and also keeps your workouts a priority.

2.  Do a little every day

Some folks might feel that they need to go all out with every workout.  They have the philosophy that no pain is no gain, so they push themselves to the absolute limit every time.  In my experience, this quickly leads to burnout and puts you at risk for injury.  Killer workouts are not always enjoyable - and if it's not enjoyable, you're not going to do it.  It's also more difficult to find the time to do big workouts, which means you're less likely to work out when things get busy.

Healthy lifestyles and exercise are cumulative over time.  Therefore, I strongly believe that it's more effective to do a number of shorter, less-intense workouts per week than it is to do one giant workout per week.

I suggest trying to do some kind of exercise seven days a week - and in doing so, to feel free to vary the intensities.  On those days when you don't feel like doing anything, just go for a quick walk.  Unless you are injured or under the weather, the easiest workout is still better than nothing.  Usually getting started is the hardest part - but once you get going, you will probably find it much easier to keep going.

3.  Make sleep a priority

If anyone were to ask me for my biggest health tip, it would be simply to try to get as much sleep as possible, every night

Many folks would disagree, thinking that sleep is a waste of time.  I know plenty of people who even take pride in not getting much sleep, wearing it like a badge of honor.  Many people say, "I will get plenty of sleep when I'm dead."  After all, who needs to sleep when there are emails to be answered, work to be done, or friends to talk to?

I adamantly disagree.  I believe that if you are constantly sleep-deprived, that you'll get to your deathbed much sooner.  We simply function better with adequate sleep.  Sleep improves your mood, your memory, and your immunity; and it reduces stress and anxiety.  I think an hour of much-needed sleep will result in more than an hour's worth of improved productivity the next day.  It's an investment well worth it, in my opinion.

Obviously the key to being able to get enough sleep is to plan accordingly.  If you procrastinate on your work to the point where it's midnight and you haven't even started a 20-page paper that is due at 8 AM the next morning, then at that point you may not have a choice.  Don't let yourself get to that point!  Assess your deadlines and then work backwards from that date to determine what needs to get done now in order to stay on track towards meeting that deadline as best as you can.   

Example: Today is Sunday and I have a report due first thing Friday morning.  I know that I'll need one day to do research, one day to draft the materials, and one day to review and revise it.  Since I need at least three days to complete the paper, I need to get started by Tuesday in order to stay on track for a completion by Thursday night.

I also know plenty of people who are chronically sleep-deprived during the week, but always try to "catch up" on weekends.  As with all healthy lifestyle habits, the effects of getting enough sleep or being sleep-deprived are cumulative.  It doesn't make sense to eat junk food five days a week, but then try to make up for it by consuming only vegetables and water on the weekends.  Sleep is no different.  Do your best to get enough or as much sleep as you can EVERY night. 

4.  Mix things up

It's very easy to get into a routine with your lifestyle, e.g. the same food, same exercise (or lack thereof), same path to/from your home, etc., etc., etc.

However, at most universities, there are plenty of resources - whether they be clubs and organizations, advisors, fitness facilities, food choices, and other people from all walks of life.  With so many resources and so many options, challenge yourself to try something different at least once a week, if not more often.

Instead of your usual workout regimen, try a different workout machine.  Vary the intensity of your workouts.  Run your usual route in reverse.  Try a new type of restaurant or dabble with a different food selection in the dining hall.  Eat breakfast for dinner.  Your body eventually adapts to nearly everything you put it through, whether good or bad, so keeping things diverse will improve your resiliency and your overall health.  It's also easier to stay on track with being healthy when you do not feel as though healthy habits are constraining you.

Now, a quick side note to illustrate a personal example of a routine you REALLY SHOULDN'T do.  When I was in college, the dining hall had a soft-serve ice cream machine.  During my freshman year, there was a long period where I ate soft-serve ice cream three meals a day, seven days a week.  My idea of "mixing things up" that year was more along the lines of this:

Living the dream... six flavors of soft-serve ice cream in a single cone.

Eventually I came to my senses and limited myself to eating soft-serve ice cream only twice a day, seven days a week.  But as you can imagine, I definitely packed on a few pounds that year.  At the rate I was going, it wouldn't have taken long for me to rival the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.  And that is not a good thing.

5.  Take pride in your successes

Thus far I've talked a lot about eating habits and exercise.  However, mental considerations are just as important, if not more important, towards maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Give yourself credit for everything that you do towards being healthy, because it does all make a difference.  Just because a workout might have been an easy one certainly doesn't mean it was worthless and that you shouldn't be glad you did it.

Also, there is no time like the present to maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle.  Even if you only stay on track for a day, that was still one day that you were on track versus another day that you weren't.

If it were easy to maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle, then everyone would do it.  Realize that we are all human so we will all inevitably slip from time to time - and that is okay.  No need to beat yourself up over something that didn't go the way you wanted it to.  Heck, allow yourself to let loose once in awhile so you won't go crazy feeling restricted.  Just keep moving forward and doing the best that you can to the extent possible.

In short, it all adds up and it all counts - and be proud of yourself for taking any steps that you can.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Party, party, party!!!

Three simple words to sum up my current state of mind:


Reasons?  Wrapping up a big meeting at work yesterday.  Gorgeous spring-like weather conditions in Chicago right now (which I predicted here).  Wearing some fun fishnet-like tights to the office today.  The end of the NHL lockout.  Adding a new item to my Goals For 2013 - to have as much fun as possible, all the time.

Having fun is such a simple and downright obvious goal and I feel like a dork for even having to mention it.  But I so frequently forget that running is not just about the numbers, it's first and foremost for enjoyment.  Thank you to all of you for reminding me of this, especially in response to this dilemma.

Other reasons for life's goodness:

Vegas, baby!
Tomorrow I'm off to Las Vegas for the weekend to celebrate one of Adam's milestone birthdays!  I am super excited.  Some highlights of our plans: Staying at Mandalay Bay for the first time, going to see O at the Bellagio, and (for all you Food Network fans) reservations at DOCG by Scott Conant and Emeril Lagasse's New Orleans Fish House.  Yay for birthday celebrations!

This would have been the perfect birthday cake for Adam.  Steelers-themed AND Vegas!  Note to self for next year.

Some side commentary: I am not a gambler.  Although, on vacations like this, my usual practice is to bet a single dollar at a slot machine.  After one pull, I walk away.

Depending on the outcome, I will alter the way I recap my bet.  If I win, say, $2, then I tell people that I went to the casino and won TWICE the amount of money that I bet!  But if I lose my $1, then I tell people I went to the casino and only lost $1.

In short, I describe the percentages when I win, but use the actual dollar amounts if I lose.  (Horrible, I know!)

Also - thank you to everyone for providing their thoughts on my Las Vegas race dilemma a few weeks ago.  Ultimately, I have elected not to run the race for various reasons, most notably because of my now-wonky ankle.  But, let it be known that when I contacted the race director to ask about transit options, he offered to send a friend, one who is also running the race, to drive me.  Now that is personalized service!

Wisconsin Half Marathon
I just signed up for the Wisconsin Half Marathon.

This race has been on my radar screen for a few years.  I am very excited to run it, given its lakefront course and its cheese theme (e.g. "We're on a mission from gouda!").  The registration fees are very affordable and I used Kim's $5 discount code (KIMRUNSWI) on top of the already great price.

My friend Katie lives nearby, and is willing to let me stay with her the night before (thanks, Katie!)  It will be awesome to catch up with her that weekend!  She's so considerate that she even asked me about feeding me carbs the night before.  =)

There has also been talk of a Chicago Running Bloggers get-together for that race.  If so, it would be super fun for everyone to hang out together.  I think Katie would really enjoy meeting the running bloggers and vice versa.  No matter what, the weekend is going to be a blast and I can't wait!

Now on to other important details.  The Wisconsin Marathon/Half has the "All Cheese Corral."  Description:

"This is a start area for any registered runner willing to don the dairy that makes Wisconsin famous. There is no time requirement or pre-registration required. If you would like to participate, all you have to do is arrive on race morning wearing some kind of cheese-themed apparel."

I am intrigued.  I love cheese.

Three words:

Out of principle, though, I cannot wear a cheesehead.  It is a Green Bay Packers symbol, and I grew up in Chicago Bears country.  Being seen with a cheesehead would risk getting me kicked out of the Bears Fan Union (sorry, Helen).  Adam would agree with this from a Steelers NATION perspective, too.  Please note the use of the capital letters (Adam).

So, no cheese corral for me.  But, this doesn't mean that I can't load up afterwards on so much local cheese that my car sags and that mice start following me home! (OK, maybe not the mice part.)

Michigan Wine Trail Half Marathon
Speaking of the Chicago Running Bloggers, last night the ZOOMA Great Lakes Racing Series tweeted that they thought we would be very excited about their upcoming race announcement.

This immediately set off a tweeting frenzy amongst several folks.  I am so curious to find out what the announcement is!  Maggie joked that we could start some rumors, such as ZOOMA Great Lakes in Gary, Indiana (for those of you who are not familiar - Gary, Indiana held rank for awhile as the Murder Capital of the U.S.)  I said that in all seriousness I was hoping for a race in SW Michigan, which is where I got married.  Then Maggie shared with me that there is a Michigan Wine Trail Half Marathon that takes place in Baroda, Michigan.

I got married in St. Joseph, Michigan, and Baroda is just a little southeast of St. Joseph.  How awesome!!!  It's all about any excuse to go visit the area - and if it's running-related, all the better!

A couple of drawbacks, though - the first being that the course is described as "CHALLENGING."  Note that the race's website lists it just the way I have it here - in BOLD CAPS.  This is scary.  I have enough issue dealing with half marathons on flat-as-a-pancake courses.  (If you look in the Funk & Wagnall's dictionary under the words "Midwestern flatlander" you'll see my mugshot.)  But it's all about the experience, right?  I just hope I don't come in last place.

The second drawback is that this race is pricey.  The Facebook page says that 2013 registration will open up at $85.  I am surprised, since this appears to be a relatively small, local race.  Other than headliner races like the Rock N Roll half marathons and the Disney races, I've never seen such a high starting price for a half marathon.  Maybe the high cost is because they are offering a wine-tasting party for post-race?

Regardless, I will be giving this race a lot of thought in the coming months.  I am excited for the prospects!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Choosing between the heartstrings

Prior to running the Chicago Marathon last October, I'd thought many times about where I wanted to attempt my first marathon.  The Honolulu Marathon and the Disney Marathon were strong contenders, and the Las Vegas Marathon got strong consideration as well.  In the end, though, it was hard to deny the appeal of one of the World Marathon Majors right in my own backyard.  Now, looking back I can't imagine having done my first marathon anywhere but in Chicago.

I was born in Chicago, grew up in the northern suburbs, and have now lived in Chicago proper for twelve years.  I love the city.  It is my home and it defines me.

My home

During the Chicago Marathon, the familiarity of my home city was a huge source of comfort.  Knowing the streets and neighborhoods so well, seeing so many of the old haunts where I've spent so much of my time, understanding the vibrant diversity and history that I was seeing.  All of it made much more of a difference than I could have ever imagined.  Running Chicago deepened my appreciation for all that the city has to offer.

Don't get me wrong.  My wanderlust drives me to travel as far and wide as time and resources will permit.  I have the utmost in appreciation for all the amazing experiences that traveling has afforded me throughout my life.  But for me, the best part of any trip is coming home.  Traveling allows you to appreciate where you are when you are not traveling.

After the Chicago Marathon last October, I immediately planned on running it again in 2013.  I couldn't wait to take another whirlwind tour of my home city in my running shoes.  I wanted redemption for a less-than-ideal first performance that was marred by injury.  I'd learned so many lessons from the first go-around and I couldn't wait to improve in 2013.  For months, running Chicago in 2013 was about as done of a deal as it could be without official registration (which opens on February 19). 

I have to admit, though, that over the past few weeks I've started wavering on this intention.

I read another runner's blog post somewhere going back on forth on whether or not to sign up for her first marathon.  Someone had commented that the decision should just feel right and that you should feel confident in your decision.  When I registered for the marathon last year, I never hesitated.  I knew that I wanted to do it, I couldn't wait to officially register, and it felt completely right.

However, the reality of my injury situation has started to cast some doubt on me these last few weeks.  I've been working very hard to rehab my existing injuries and have only been running approximately once a week.  Yet I am now battling a brand-new injury.  Granted, it's only January so I have plenty of time to keep rehabbing.  But there's a nagging voice in the back of my head that is telling me that I'm not getting any younger and this is not going to get any easier.  The voices of doubt are telling me that maybe my body is just not cut out for the stress and impact that running ensues, and that maybe I should take the year off from marathoning.

But then, it's hard to imagine NOT running Chicago.  Other voices are telling me that I don't know where life, family, and career commitments will take me in the future.  My ambitious and driven side is telling me that I should do it now while I am reasonably certain that I still can, and that nobody ever truly succeeded without taking some level of risk.

Further additions to those voices.  Yesterday I received my February 2013 edition of Runner's World Magazine.  In it was a listing of what they had picked to be the 27 best half-marathons in the United States.  I flipped to the article and this is literally the first thing that I saw:

Sigh.  I adore Disney and cannot get enough of its creative ingenuity.  I've been dying to run the Disney Wine and Dine Half since its inception in 2010.  Reading the description certainly didn't help matters.  Is this a sign from the universe?

I know I've written about Disney Wine and Dine numerous times already.  I'm sure some or all of you are probably thinking that I need to either work on my decisiveness or stop talking about this race.  But the timing in November, so soon after the Chicago Marathon and so close to Thanksgiving, really is tough.

I really do think that trying to do both races in the same year is a huge gamble, given how injury-prone I have proved to be.  It would be most prudent for me to choose either the Chicago Marathon or Disney Wine and Dine in 2013, not both.  This is not just from a physical perspective but also from a cost perspective.  Both of these races are pricey (and the Chicago Marathon is raising its registration fee from $150 last year to $175 this year!)  It is incredibly hard for me to choose one or the other, though.

Do I go for marathon redemption in my beloved home city at one of the greatest races in the world, which literally changed my entire perspective?  I'll be battling huge physical challenges and training will take over my life for several months.  But I'll have enormous home-field advantage, no travel costs, and will be working towards improving my performance at the most monumental running goal of my life.

Or do I go for a half-marathon at the amazing Disney theme parks, among the most magical places in the world, which never cease to enchant me every time I visit?  I'll have much less training on my plate and much less pressure, I've been wanting to do this race for years, and the race will be pure, unadulterated, unparalleled fun in a way that only Disney is capable of providing.  But it will also require considerable expense and travel commitments both from Adam as well as myself, and I certainly won't be attaining any PRs there.

Or... do I go for broke (literally and figuratively) and do both?  It will be very tough on the body, the pocketbook, and the calendar... but there would be both great fun as well as goal-striving.  2013 would certainly be a year that would go down in history for me from a running perspective.  Plus...

"You only live once.  But if you lived like me, once is enough."
- Frank Sinatra

(However, it does go without saying that I'm no Frank Sinatra.)

I don't have a ton of time to think about this.  Chicago Marathon registration opens on February 19 and will probably sell out quickly.  I guess if it comes down to it, I could buy myself some decision time by doing a post-close charity fundraising entry.  Fundraising scares me, though, so I'd prefer not to have to worry about it.

So where am I with this decision?  Right here:

 Isn't this fun?!?!?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Wanting what I can't have

I am going to let you all in on a little secret: I have the ability to manipulate the universe.

Yes, yes, I'm sure you are all thinking that surely I jest.  But I am being completely serious. 

How does one manipulate the universe, you ask?  Here are some examples:
  • I can make it rain by washing my car.
  • I can make it sunny by carrying an umbrella.
  • I can make it cold by not bringing a jacket.
  • If I am in a hurry to get someplace, there is guaranteed to be an accident, bad traffic, or marching protesters blocking the roads.
  • If I am waiting all day for a phone call, the phone is guaranteed not to ring for the X.9999 hours that I am sitting by the phone.  But it will absolutely ring during that single minute that I step away to use the bathroom.
  • When I drop toast with jelly on it, the toast will always land on the jellied side.  Always.  Not to mention that the odds of me dropping my jelly toast will increase in direct proportion to the price of the carpet.  If the carpet is white, then I might as well just save myself the trouble by purposefully flinging the entire jar of jelly directly onto the floor.

Dropped toast always falls to the floor in slow motion, too.

I could keep going.  But you get the idea.

My cosmic powers have been hard at work again this week.  Usually it takes significant effort and mustered motivation for me to get myself out the door and go for a run.  This is especially true early in the morning and/or when it is cold outside. 

Once I get myself going I do feel good, and I always feel great after my run.  Getting started can be really rough for me, though.

But not this week. 

My last run was done on New Year's Eve.  After feeling ankle pain, I told myself that I would take a minimum of 10-14 days off of running to try to heal.  But the speed workout went so well that now I've been really, really itching to get out there for another run.  WHY NOW!?!?!?

To make matters worse, the temperatures were warm today by Chicago winter standards.  It felt like everywhere I looked I saw runners outside, smiling, basking blissfully in the fresh air while cavorting in their running shoes, hair blowing in the wind like it always does in those shampoo commercials. 

OK, OK, maybe I exaggerate about the hair blowing.  Regardless, I was tormented.

I was so, so tempted to just make an exception for myself and get out there for an easy run.  How many times am I so motivated to go for an outdoor run in the wintertime?  Just a few miles wouldn't hurt anyone, would it?  I was already promising myself that if I felt any pain, that I would immediately stop.  After all, how would I know how much my ankle might have progressed since last Monday if I didn't test it out, right?

Ultimately I did not go running.  I know from experience that you don't want to keep resetting the "rest" clock when trying to heal an injury.  I know that it's always better to nip any potential issues in the bud, otherwise they will only get worse.

I also know that instead of thinking in the negative, i.e. "I can't go running," that I should try to think of this positively, i.e. "This is an opportunity to cross-train."  I have been doing a lot of indoor cycling over the last few months and I dutifully did yet another bike workout today.  But it's probably no coincidence that today I got fed up with the bike and couldn't wait to be done with it.

It is obviously time to change up my cross-training routine.

I read somewhere that walking on the treadmill at a very high incline is a great low-impact substitute for running.  Sounds good to me.  I will be giving it a go very soon, maybe as soon as tomorrow.

In the meantime, look for the weather to continue being abnormally warm this week while I'm on this running hiatus.  Never fear, though.  The weather will return to normal or below-normal temps during the following weekends when I AM ready to get back on track.  I guarantee it!!!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Speeding into the new year

Happy New Year to all!

I have been feeling inspired to get back on track with speedwork training.  Given the rare wintertime opportunity to go running in broad daylight on a weekday, yesterday I did my first speedwork session in several months.  No better metaphor to closing out 2012 than to push myself out of my comfort zone, right? 

The workout:
  • Run easy for about 12 minutes to warm up
  • Alternate one minute at tempo rate (at whatever speed felt good) with one minute of walking.  Do a total of 9 repeats.
  • Run easy for another 6 minutes to cool down

The first tempo minute felt awful.  My lungs were burning and my legs felt sluggish.  I was thinking that this was a rude reminder of why I don't like doing speedwork.  But then, something clicked and the next several repeats started feeling progressively better.  I think I finally managed to find that "sweet spot" of the perfect tempo training pace.

Andale! Andale! Arriba! Arriba!

My Garmin said that my tempo minutes were done at per-mile paces generally ranging from 7:30 to 7:50, although for one of them I actually briefly got down to 6:53.   Wow - a sub-7:00 per mile pace!?!?!?  ME?  Even though it is obviously much easier to hit that kind of pace when you're only trying to do so for 60 seconds, it was still very empowering just to see the number on my Garmin.  For me, there is no better motivation than to see improvement.  No matter how slight.

I had heard before that you should end your workout feeling like you could still do another repeat.  I focused on hitting that point during the last few repeats as I was beginning to feel tired.  I was tempted to skip my cooldown, but did it anyways.  I came home afterwards feeling really good. 

It's been awhile since I've felt so energized after a run.  Usually I come back after speedwork thinking to myself that I really enjoy the easy long runs so much more.  But for once I am inspired now to keep up with the speedwork.  If only all my speed training workouts could feel this good.  I want to see results!

One note on the not-so-positive side.  Over the last week or so I've started experiencing some noticeable discomfort in my inner left ankle.  I think it is posterior tibial tendonitis (I'll post more about it later).  I am frustrated as I was just starting to get back into my running groove, especially after yesterday's great workout.  But I have certainly learned the hard way that it is not worth it to run through pain.  Therefore, I am going to try to rest it and pray for the best.  Sigh.

Back on the positive side.  Here are some other notes from yesterday's speed session:
  • I wore my Saucony Progrid Kinvara 2 shoes (my minimalist shoes), which I consider to be my "speedy" shoes.  Wow - I had forgotten how great these shoes are and how their lightness really does translate to feeling more nimble.
  • Does anyone have any thoughts or experiences with the pose running method?  I want to hone my running form and I've heard a bit about pose running being very effective, although it certainly has its naysayers, too.  The form reminds me of some of the Kenyan marathoners so I figure it must have at least some validity.  I tried to mimic the form but it will take some getting used to.  Maybe later I'll write a post specifically devoted to pose running.
  • It was a balmy 36 degrees outside.  Absolutely amazing how wonderful 36 degrees can feel after doing several workouts with temps in the 20s.
  • Speaking of weather, I know that I should be happy that we still don't have any snow here in Chicago.  But I've heard so many people mention how much they enjoy running in the peacefulness that is right after a snowfall.  I really want to run in the snow, too!

Happy running and I wish everyone a wonderful start to 2013!