Thursday, February 27, 2014

What I look for in a blog

I've been seeing several posts discussing the characteristics that make a blog worth following. I've recently been on the hunt for new blogs to read, so I thought I'd share what I look for.

Here are things that I DO like. These are in no particular order.
  • Being relatable. Sharing a perspective on life that I can understand and appreciate. Having a persona that makes me want to be friends with the person in real life.
  • Honesty. Telling it like it is without making excuses or hiding relevant information.
  • Humor. Appropriate humor.
  • Connecting with readers and responding to communications. If I post a comment on someone's blog, I very much appreciate if they respond to my comment and/or if they post a comment of their own on my blog. No black holes.
  • Everything in moderation, and mixing things up at least once in awhile. This could mean different topics, different writing styles, different types of pictures.
  • Writing with intention and clarity.
  • Having an appropriate balance between the amount of text and the amount of pictures/graphics/video.

Now, let's move on to the things that I do NOT like. These again are in no particular order.
  • Lots of sponsored content and/or advertisements, where the blogger has turned themselves into a marketing tool.
  • Recurring narcissism, vanity, and self-pats on the back where the blogger aptly describes or displays their own awesomeness. This is made even worse if the blogger belittles others at the same time.
  • Typos, grammatical errors, spelling mistakes
  • Frequent pictures/details of designer clothing, gourmet restaurants, 5-star vacations, high-society events, expensive shopping excursions, etc.
  • Constant complaining and/or airing of dirty laundry. I've seen bloggers who wrote posts shredding their workplace, their colleagues, even friends or family. Do they not realize that blogs are public by definition, and that the targets of those posts may someday see what was written about them?
  • Excessive pictures/details about kids or pets, and/or excessive selfies
  • Posts on useless topics, e.g. details of household chores, trips to the post office, meaningless food consumption. I'll definitely pick reading fewer posts with substance over reading frequent posts about nothing.

What are the deal-breakers or deal-makers for you in the blogs you read?

Friday, February 21, 2014

High hopes for the year

I have high hopes for my running goals in 2014. I've made a lot of improvements to my training regimen since last year, and I am optimistic about seeing how these adjustments might make a difference.

Here's what I've been doing differently:

Running the easy runs easy
I wrote a post about this a few months ago entitled Run slower to fun faster? I've been following this practice for the last several months where I've really been keeping the pace comfortable. In training, I usually do a 4:1 run/walk ratio during my long runs - but occasionally I've even been doing run/walks during the shorter, easy runs. My legs have been feeling noticeably fresher. It also feels easier both physically and mentally to ramp up the miles. This will make a difference when it gets to those final tough training weeks prior to a goal race.

I've always had a love-hate relationship with speedwork. It's historically been tough for me to push myself out of my comfort zone in the way that speedwork usually demands. However, over the past couple of months I've built up some momentum and I've been pretty consistent about doing speedwork once a week. I default to doing 1-minute tempo repeats (described here in more detail). But, to mix things up I have thrown in some pace runs here and there. I am encouraged because speeds that were once challenging for me to maintain are now feeling much more achievable.

More yoga
I am relatively new to my current workplace. A few months after I came on board, my company completed a fitness center renovation and began offering free workout classes to all employees. This is a wonderful perk and I am trying to take advantage of it as best as I can. My goal is to try at least one new class per week, while also sticking with my tried-and-true favorites. Two classes that I strive to attend every week include a yoga sculpt class (yoga done with light hand weights), and a traditional vinyasa yoga class. I think the increased yoga has helped a lot in keeping my muscles looser. Up until this point, I've never done yoga so frequently. In the past, I probably averaged only one yoga workout every 10-14 days!

Foam-rolling, stretching, and PT
In addition to doing more yoga, I've been better about keeping up with my foam-rolling, stretching, and my physical therapy exercises - especially monster walks and planks (any kind of core work is my least-favorite). It's become almost a nightly routine to foam-roll, stretch, and plank while watching TV. Despite being more consistent with these practices, I am often surprised at how certain areas (my hamstrings, hip flexors, calves, and IT band) still feel pretty stiff every day. It reminds me how important it is to keep up with the routine.

I used to be unenthusiastic about cross-training. I wanted to focus just on running. After all, what better way to improve your running than to run, right? Wrong. Cross-training has made a huge difference in relieving some of my running-induced muscle imbalances, and in helping me feel stronger on an overall basis. I usually go on the stationary bike at least once a week, which has improved my hip strength (one of my biggest areas of muscle weakness). Beyond the bike, I've been trying to mix things up where possible with things like the rowing machine, boxing classes, pilates, and Pure Barre. The variety has definitely helped reduce the boredom factor, too, which is great.

Eating cleaner
I've mentioned before that I am trying to focus on eating more natural, unprocessed foods (e.g. instead of instant boxed mashed potatoes, making real mashed potatoes from whole potatoes). Shinianen recently wrote a post about the horrors of processed foods and dining out, which further renewed my resolve to eat as healthfully as possible. As an added benefit to improving the quality of my food intake, I've lost about 15 pounds over the last 6-7 months. I think the weight loss has also made running easier. Win-win all around.

So with all these newfangled training improvements, what the heck do I hope to achieve?

I have two PRs which I am hoping to break this year. I set both of these PRs over a decade ago:

5K - 25:55 (Race to the Taste, July 2001)
Half Marathon - 2:16:37 (Chicago Half Marathon, September 2002)

Last year I ran the Petco 5K9 in 26:42 and the Prairie State Half Marathon in 2:19:16. So even before making most of these training improvements, I was starting to get close to those PRs. I am hopeful that this will be the year that it will finally happen for both distances.

BONUS - I don't run the 10K distance nearly as frequently as the 5K or the half marathon. However, it would be awesome to knock out my 10K PR this year, too, which was also set over a decade ago:

10K - 55:46 (Main Course 10K, May 2001)

I only have one 10K on the calendar so far this year, the Esprit de She 10K in July. I am currently considering signing up for the BTN Big 10K, but it also takes place in July. Unfortunately, the month of July is usually not great for PR attempts. So we will see how things go. I will keep an eye on PR-friendly months for other cool 10Ks (no pun intended).

Lofty goals, all rejoice!!!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Pure Barre and Piece

All hail to President's Day yesterday! Blessed be thy President's Day for it was good to have the day off from work in observance!!!

I took advantage of the extra time by knocking out my semiannual dentist appointment (and got the all-clear on my teeth, woo hoo!) Then, I trekked through the snow blizzard to the Bucktown neighborhood, where I met Lauren for a Pure Barre class. It was the first time "barre-ing" for both of us!

I was really excited about finally getting to try out a barre class. However, I was also a tinge nervous. Based on reading a host of online reviews, the consistent opinions were that the workouts were highly intense. There were also a lot of references to your muscles shaking during the workout, and to expect lingering soreness afterwards. The good news was that many folks agreed that if you attended the classes consistently, you would see great results very quickly. And I like results!

Allright... here we go.

This is a good representative sampling of the exercises we did during the class.

After warming up, we used light hand weights to do a series of arm exercises. We did a variety of floor exercises and stretches with and without a small rubber ball and/or a resistance tube. We rotated the floor exercises with various standing exercises that we performed using the barre to stabilize or hold ourselves.

The exercises mostly consisted of variations of tiny, controlled movements. For example, in a standing position you would extend one leg forward as high as possible, point the toe, and rotate that leg as if you were tracing the outside of a coin with your toe. Another example included standing in a plie with our heels raised, and then doing squats or pulses while holding that position, like this:

Some of the exercises were very challenging to maintain. My legs and various other muscles started shaking several times while I was struggling to maintain my form and keep going. Our instructor, Blake told us, "Don't be afraid of your muscles shaking. A shaking muscle is a changing muscle." Wow, was I feeling the burn! There were times where I couldn't hold the position any more and had to take a momentary break. At times it felt like the series of exercise repetitions would never end. It was energetic and fun but the exercise was very intense, indeed!

From an instructor standpoint, I thought Blake was fantastic. I found her very approachable, knowledgeable, and down-to-earth. Before the class started, she greeted everyone individually, introduced herself, and talked to each of us about our barre experience. During the class, she was very encouraging, addressed each of us by name, and put forth a lot of effort to ensure that we were using the correct form. She used a great selection of music during the class, where she tailored the musical selections based on whatever series of exercises we were doing. Then, after the class, she came by to find out our thoughts, make sure we were doing okay, and answer any questions.

The attendees at our class. Our instructor, Blake, is the one wearing the pink tights. I'm to the right of her in the turquoise shirt. Lauren is to the right of me in the fuschia tank top.

The workout aftermath? My glutes were feeling sore immediately after the workout. This morning, I woke up with soreness in my arms, back, and abs which I have been feeling all day.

I can definitely see why these barre classes are effective! The Pure Barre website says that "clients typically see the best results when they attend classes 3-4 times per week" but right now I am way too sore to think about attending that frequently. You'd definitely have to work up to that! But, what I love most about the class is that it is very low-impact. It really is perfect for runners like me who battle knee problems and would really benefit from great muscle-toning/strengthening workouts. (Check out Lauren's recap here.)

There was only one thing to do after a killer workout like that. Hit up one of the most popular pizza joints in the neighborhood.

I hadn't been to Piece in years, so it was great to check it out again. I mentioned to Lauren that I'd only ever been there at night, so it was cool getting to see it during the daytime. It is very laidback. There was a good mix of locals and families there, presumably because of the President's Day holiday.

Normally I am all about deep-dish pizza through and through, but Piece's thin-crust "New Haven-style" pizza is very delicious. Lauren and I both took advantage of their amazing lunch special to get customized individual pizzas. We hung out and talked about everything from running to laundry to travel bucket lists to shoes. It was a blast!

I really do love neighborhood joints, in general. Now I am getting more and more inspired to start checking out all that the Bucktown/Wicker Park neighborhood has to offer.

In the meantime, bring on the next barre class! I am already looking forward to going back as soon as the schedule permits and after my soreness subsides a bit. Maybe next weekend? My burning muscles are gearing themselves up for round two!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Winter bucket list

You know it's been a rough winter when you see that the temperature is 30 degrees Fahrenheit and you pull out your "light" winter coat! Seriously, 30 degrees has never felt so balmy and springlike.

I am definitely looking forward to the end of winter. I've been hearing about a lot of spring and summer races. The thought of running in shorts amidst a warm breeze has me practically bouncing off the walls with anticipation. On that note, here are two warm-weather races that I've currently got on the brain:

1) The BTN Big 10K just opened up registration yesterday! As I mentioned here, I have had my eye on this race for awhile and so now it's just the question of pulling the trigger. Representing my alma mater, racing, a big summertime tailgate party along the lakefront, and a 1-gallon tin of Garrett's Popcorn for the first 1,500 registrants? It all sounds great to me! (Fingers crossed that they will offer a finisher's medal again this year, too...)

Yes, I purposely found a picture in which an Illinois alum is prominently featured front and center.

2. The Run for the Zoo 10K also just opened up registration! This would be another new-to-me race. I've mentioned many times that animal shelters are a cause that is very close to my heart. A run whose proceeds go towards the Lincoln Park Zoo would most certainly be a cause that I'd love to support, as well.

Alas, before we officially get to warmer temps, we still do have some significant winter weeks yet to get through. In the spirit of embracing what is in the here and now, here's what I need to get cracking on before the season ends:


Go Ice Skating Outdoors
One of the most classic and festive of all winter activities, in my opinion. The most obvious locations for outdoor skating in Chicago would be Millennium Park or any of the other Chicago Park District ice rinks. If you've got your own ice skates, it is free to skate!

The Millennium Park Skating Rink, with the Chicago skyline in the backdrop

Go Skiing
I've only gone skiing a handful of times in my life, so I am a pretty amateur skier. However, I do enjoy skiing when I get the opportunity. 

Katie and I had talked about hitting the slopes in Wisconsin at some point this winter. However, she's got a lot on her plate right now taking care of a foster dog named Charlie who is about to undergo surgery. So we'll see if we can make it happen or not. My prayers to Charlie and here is hoping that everything works out!

Watch "Miracle" (again)
If you're not familiar, Miracle is the movie about the 1980 U.S. men's Olympic hockey team. Yes, the motivation to watch this movie is definitely inspired by watching the Sochi games every night. I am also missing watching NHL hockey during its Olympic hiatus.

Here is a video clip of what I consider to be one of the most memorable scenes from "Miracle":

Have Fondue
Preferably homemade, but certainly I'd be happy to go to a fondue restaurant, too.

Cheese, glorious cheese

Make Homemade Dumplings
This might include potstickers, wontons, ravioli, gnocchi, pierogies, or any combination thereof. I am an equal opportunity dumping eater. I eat them all.

Have a Board Game Night
Popcorn, hot chocolate, and cookies are obviously also required to ensure proper board game mental alertness. Scrabble and Bananagram are two current favorite games! But I do love many of the old classics, too.

See the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives Exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry
Okay, this isn't winter-themed per se, but the Disney exhibit is only in Chicago until May 4. I have heard rave reviews about all that this exhibit has to offer.

Your turn! What items do you plan to check off of your winter to-do list yet this season?

Sunday, February 9, 2014


I've seen several bloggers writing "Currently"-themed posts, and I always enjoy reading those posts. Here is my take!

Current mood: Upbeat. Things have been crazy busy in the office, but the most stressful period of deadlines has now passed. It feels good to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And speaking of seeing light, I was also absolutely thrilled to notice last week that the sun was still up at 5:00 PM! I can't wait to get up in the morning to complete daylight, too. Wooo!!!

Currently drinking: Water, straight up. As much as I love fruit juices, especially orange juice, they can be so high in sugar. Therefore, I've been making a conscious effort to drink more plain water instead.

Currently craving: Guacamole (especially after reading one of Lauren's recent posts where she had avocado pictures!) I just picked up a couple of perfectly ripe avocados at the grocery store, so never fear - I am about to kick the craving. Major gorge-age on homemade guac will be ensuing in the next 24 hours.

How good does that look!?!?!?

Currently looking forward to: The 2014 NHL Stadium Series game at Soldier Field between the Blackhawks and the Penguins on March 1 (more info here). The experience of watching a hockey game outdoors at Soldier Field is going to be absolutely amazing. Yes, the game is going to be the proverbial doom matchup between my two favorite hockey teams. Even though I will be clad entirely in Blackhawks gear, Adam will be clad entirely in Penguins gear, and we'll be cheering for the opposite teams that night, I am very excited.

Currently wanting to try: Three things in particular:

1) Universal Sole's Pizza in the Park Fun Run Series. Basically a group fun run followed by pizza brought in from a different pizzeria every month. How have I never heard of this event until just recently?!? I probably won't be able to make it to the February event on the 12th, but does anyone want to join me for the March event?

2) Eataly. I watch a ton of Food Network, and Iron Chef Mario Batali is one of Eataly's owners. Additionally, I'm a fan of Lidia Bastianich (I've been to her restaurant in Pittsburgh twice with Adam's side of the family), and she is one of Eataly's business partners. Very cool. When I do go to Eataly, the first thing I want to check out is the Nutella Bar!

3) La Casa del Pueblo. I love checking out local neighborhood grocery stores, especially in ethnic neighborhoods (this place is in Pilsen). Vanitha gave this place two thumbs up for high-quality, affordable selections. I hear they serve very tasty, authentic prepared foods, too, particularly tamales. Sounds good to me!!!

Current running revelation: I always thought that I preferred very soft, cushy running shoes. But I'm starting to think that I may actually prefer shoes that feel a little firmer underfoot. Case in point: I am really loving my Mizuno Wave Rider 16s - so much that they are threatening to give my long-time favorite Asics Gel Cumulus shoes a run for their money.

The Mizuno Wave Rider 16
(The red color makes me very happy)

Current new find: My hair has been extremely dry and straw-like, especially amidst the harshness of winter conditions, so I was looking for a really good conditioner. After reading rave reviews on Amazon, I decided to try an argan oil leave-in conditioner. It has done wonders! I've already got a second bottle on the way in the mail.

Current indulgence: Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches. Adam and I demolished a package of six within about 2.33333333 days last week. But, in making sure I keep a well-stocked pantry at all times, I just bought another two packages of six. My over/under on how long the two new packages will last is 5.75 days. If even that.

Current pet peeve: People who don't recycle and/or who waste natural resources. I've posted about this topic before here, but I get very irritated when people throw recyclable items into the garbage when the recycling bin is right next to the garbage bin. I also dislike seeing the constant usage of disposable everything. Come on, folks. Reduce, reuse, recycle!

Current fashion trend: Not really a trend so much as something that is new to me, but I used to rarely wear yellow or orange. This was because I never thought either color was very flattering on me. My closet has historically been filled with red and blue (my two favorite colors), lots of black, and hints of green, pink, purple, and the various other neutral colors. I've recently broken through my hue barriers and have added some yellow and orange pieces to my wardrobe. I am really enjoying the versatility that these two new colors provide.

Currently reading: Things have been so busy in the office that I haven't really had time for any kind of reading, but I have been going through The Best of the Best from Hawaii Cookbook. Every time I visit Hawaii, one of the many highlights is enjoying the local food. After my most recent trip there, and in the midst of this polar vortex, I wanted to bring some of that Hawaiian spirit back home. What better way to do so than by cooking some Hawaiian dishes? I'm in the recipe reconnaissance phase.

Current recipes: I've got two on the brain:

1) One of Anne's healthy recipe roundups included a recipe for tilapia and quinoa with feta and cucumbers. A few weeks ago I needed to make something quick and simple for a potluck gathering with Vanitha, so I gave this recipe a try. I loved it! Especially the quinoa - the flavor combination of feta, lemon, and dill was perfect and I could not stop eating it. I've already got plans to make a second batch of that quinoa very soon.

2) Chia seed pudding. Light, healthy, and the preparation is ridiculously quick and easy. I made this for a different potluck gathering with Vanitha and we ate it with some fresh blueberries on top. Incredibly delicious. In the coming weeks I am also going to try this version that Irina posted with her highest recommendations!

Currently not looking forward to: Going for my semi-annual dentist checkup. My appointment is next week. Also, having to practice for an upcoming presentation.

Current things on the to-do list: We'll break this up across a few categories:

From a health/fitness perspective, go to the eye doctor to get examined for new glasses/contacts, get started on attending the Pure Barre classes I got through a Gilt City deal, and schedule an Aerial Fitness class that I just won from Erin (thanks again, Erin!).

From a travel perspective, I need to book my airfare to Anaheim for the Disneyland Half and NAAAP Convention, plus book a hotel in Panama (in the country of Panama, not the city in Florida) for a cruise that Adam and I are taking next month.

From a home perspective, I desperately need to organize the contents of the kitchen cabinets and shelves (they currently look like a Tetris game gone very, very wrong).

Your turn! I'd love to hear all of your "Currently" items!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Treadmill Tell-All

Dare I say that with the obscenely brutal winter in Chicago which seems to have no end in sight, I am starting to get more and more used to using the treadmill?

I have historically been a treadmill hater due to the boredom factor. I usually get fed up of hearing myself pounding away in the same spot after about 10 minutes (or less). Getting bored makes makes me mentally tired, which makes me think that I must be physically tired, which makes me feel like I AM physically tired, which makes me think it's high time to get off the treadmill. It's a vicious cycle. Literally and figuratively.

To me, running outdoors is so much more interesting than treadmilling. But when the endless weather pattern is snowstorms one day, sub-zero temps the next, repeat repeat repeat, it is too much for me to brave the great outdoors. Treadmill, it is.

On that note, Marcia posted a treadmill tell-all quiz a few weeks ago. I am ridiculously late to the party, but I thought I'd join in anyways.

1. What's your favorite workout to do on the treadmill?
I actually like doing speedwork on the treadmill, since it's really easy to monitor your speed, distance, time, and heart rate. One of my most frequent treadmill speed workouts is to do a 10-minute warmup, then alternate one minute at a tempo pace and one minute of recovery. I try to do 10 of these intervals. Then, I cool down for 5 minutes.

2. How many miles on average do you do on the treadmill each week?
When the weather is reasonable, zero. But I'm currently doing almost all of my miles on the treadmill, so right now between 12-15.

3. What was the most mileage you've ever completed on the treadmill in one workout? When? Why?
6.2 miles. Usually 5 miles on the treadmill is my mental limit, but that day I was randomly feeling inspired to slug out an extra mile. Once I got to 6, I figured I'd go to 6.2 just to make it an even 10K.

4. Do you mill at home? The gym? Both?
Mostly at the gym in my condo building, but occasionally at the gym in my office. Unfortunately, the gym in my condo building only has two treadmills. Therefore, when the weather has been as nasty as it has been, the competition for those two treadmills becomes pretty fierce. It's to the point where when I ride the elevator to the gym, I've eyed other folks also headed there. I assess if they might be someone that I might have to knock over in order to claim the treadmill first. Kind of like this:

I am totally kidding, of course. But in all seriousness, I've been thinking that I should try to 'mill at my office gym more frequently instead. It's a much bigger facility so there's never been a wait.

5. What distractions/entertainment do you use to help pass the time?
As many as I can utilize all at once. I usually bring my MP3 player and listen to music, while simultaneously watching the TV on silent with the closed captioning on, while also occasionally looking out the window at the world going by. Music, the TV, AND the world. How about that for the trifecta of distraction?

6.  If you have a mill at home, how old is it?
No treadmill at home for me.

7. Do you fuel any differently for a treadmill workout than an outdoor one?
On a pre-run basis, definitely not. For fueling during a run (e.g. energy gels for long runs, et al), I've never done a long enough treadmill run where mid-run fueling was necessary. I usually just have a water bottle at hand and will take regular sips.

8. Any treadmill mishaps to report?
I once stepped onto an already-moving treadmill without realizing how quickly the belt was turning. I ended up doing something along these lines:

Thankfully, no one was hurt. And I learned my lesson pretty fast. (I've also realized that it is NOT a good thing to have a wall or other object very close behind the treadmill, as it appears that this gentleman does.)

9. Do you mill at inclines to compensate for not being outside?
Sadly, no. I once tried to do an entire run at a 1% incline, but my calves began to burn. I didn't push myself to keep going, and I've never tried again.

10. Describe your perfect (if there is such a thing) treadmill conditions.
The room is comfortably cool. I've got a good TV screen tuned into something that I actually want to watch. My MP3 player is going and I have a place to put it down so I don't have to hold it. I've got an easily-accessible place to hold my water bottle where it is not rattling or in danger of tipping over. No window glare. No loud noise in the background. There is nobody waiting to use the treadmill after I get off (this makes me feel rushed).

Your thoughts on treadmilling? I'd love to hear your answers to any or all of these questions!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Race budget-breakers and service fees

As excited as I am about going for my Disney Coast to Coast medal this year, the Disney races are probably not going to be a regular occurrence for me in future years. They are too expensive. The 2014 Disneyland Half Marathon has recently taken the honor of being the the most expensive race for which I've ever registered.

Here are my current three medalists in that category:

1. 2014 Disneyland Half Marathon: $195 plus $13.18 in service fees
2. 2013 Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon: $175 plus $11.85 in service fees
3. 2012 Chicago Marathon: $150 flat

These amounts are definitely at the very top end of what I am willing to shell out for a race. Especially the Disneyland Half. When I clicked on the "Confirm Your Payment" button, I think I literally said "ouch" out loud.

I am certainly willing to pay a premium for a Disney race, a World Marathon Major, or a unique experience like, say, running on the Las Vegas Strip. I am also more willing to pay a premium for a race if its proceeds go towards a charitable cause that means a lot to me.

Comparatively, if I'm running a more "everyday" race, I have a considerably lower limit on registration fees.

I will go ahead and quantify here. My two most-commonly raced distances are the half marathon and the 5K. For races that take place in the city of Chicago, my upper price limits would be roughly $80 for a half marathon and $40 for a 5K, respectively, inclusive of any service fees. Those amounts are not just for any old race, either - they would only apply to races that I really want to do. (For example, I'm personally not into mud runs, color runs, foam runs, etc.)

On a related note, I dislike when races tack service fees on top of their publicized registration rates. I always got irritated when airlines published amazing fares, but then when you went to book something you'd find out that the published fares didn't include a few hundred extra dollars in taxes and fees. It felt a little like this:

Last Friday was my most recent registration service fee surprise incident. I found out that my company is offering an employee discount to the Chicago Spring Half Marathon. I thought, what the heck, this race is logistically easy and the date works well in my calendar. I went to sign up, and found out that my employee discount would be negated almost to the penny by previously unmentioned registration service fees. Ugh.

Personally, I would really prefer that race organizers build any service fees into their published rates. Yes, it's psychological. But I don't like those surprises during the registration process. Just be straight with me upfront!

And with that, I will get off of my soapbox.

Your turn! What are the most expensive races you've done? How much are you willing to pay for a race? And how do you all feel about additional registration service fees?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Brooks Ghost GTX shoe review

A few weeks ago I'd mentioned here that I had self-justified a new pair of running shoes.

For years I've been reserving my oldest, crappiest running shoes for foul-weather runs. Even so, nobody wants to run with cold, sopping wet feet. I wanted a pair of waterproof shoes to be used in rainy, slushy, or snowy weather conditions. I had heard of Gore-Tex shoes, which are designed for this very purpose. So I went shopping.

ENTER: the Brooks Ghost GTX

I took these shoes out for an inaugural 5-miler last Saturday. It was snowing that day, there were a number of sidewalks/streets that hadn't been shoveled/plowed, and there was plenty of disgusting brown slush all around, e.g.:

In short, it was the PERFECT day to test these shoes out.

The verdict? The waterproof feature is amazing. I ran through puddles of wet slush and ankle-deep snow with reckless abandon, and my feet stayed dry the whole time. It was great!

Notice, though, that I said my feet stayed DRY. Not warm. When pools of slush water ran over my feet, I could still feel the coldness of the water. The first few times it happened, I thought for sure that the shoes were leaking. In actuality, it was really just the coldness which I initially took for wetness. But a few moments later, all would be good again.

My other observation is that while my feet did stay dry inside the shoes, my ankles still got a little wet just above the shoe collar. This happened when I ran in snow that was deeper than the height of the shoe collar. Therefore, I think for true waterproofedness, you would want to wear a pair of gaiters with these shoes, something along these lines:

On that note, I did take a quick look at the prices of running shoe gaiters. The ones I saw started at about $25 and went up from there. I don't think I would get enough use out of them to justify the cost, so I am probably not going to invest in a pair. Instead, I would probably just try to wear compression socks or other socks that offer good ankle/shin coverage, plus running tights that cover my ankles well.

Getting back to the shoes, this time beyond the waterproof feature. My workhorse running shoe is the Asics Gel Cumulus, but I enjoy experimenting with different shoe brands or types. The Brooks Ghost is supposed to be a comparable shoe to the Asics Gel Cumulus. This is why I chose the Gore-Tex version of the Ghost. Might as well try out a new shoe while also getting something waterproof to my shoe arsenal, right?

As much as I love the Gore-Tex's ability to withstand moisture, I have to say that I was a bit disappointed with the Ghost shoes themselves. They feel like they have such a thick sole, but at the same time they are not supportive enough for me. Quite frankly, I was surprised that the Ghosts are considered comparable to the Gel Cumulus. To me, the two feel very different.

This is actually the second time that I've been less than thrilled with Brooks shoes. I previously tried the Brooks Glycerin, and also felt that it wasn't supportive enough for me. Coincidence? Not sure.

I wanted to like the Ghosts. I really did. And I have so many runner friends who absolutely RAVE over Brooks shoes in general. But sadly I don't understand the hype. To each their own, though, right? We all find what works best for each of ourselves individually.

Though I don't intend to wear the Brooks Ghost GTX shoes for my everyday runs, I will definitely still make very good use of them. There will be plenty of days when I want to go for a run in nasty wet weather - and on those days these shoes will serve exactly their purpose. Can't argue with that!

Bring it on!!!

Monday, February 3, 2014

My Spring 2014 Half Marathon training plan

Last year, I ran six half marathons. Unfortunately, I didn't focus on training for any of them nearly as much as I would have liked. This was for a variety of reasons, the most prevalent being that I just wasn't very motivated last year.

I actually became quite adept at undergoing the 4-week crash course in half-marathon training during 2013. For obvious reasons that kind of preparation is not really recommended. But in case you are wondering, this is what it looked like:

Week 1: 8- or 9-mile weekend long run
Week 2: 10- or 11-mile weekend long run
Week 3: Step back (6-mile weekend long run or less)

It's a new year of running, and I am feeling stronger and much more motivated now. This time around I plan to utilize a REAL training schedule. For once, I want to get to the starting line feeling prepared and ready to leave it all on the course.

With that in mind, here is my self-designed training plan:

Notice that the Illinois 5K and the Illinois Half Marathon are highlighted in blue and orange. Those are the school colors for the University of Illinois (my alma mater), which is where those two races take place!

This training plan is basically a hybrid of Hal Higdon's Novice 2 Half Marathon Training plan and his Intermediate Half Marathon Training plan. Here are the details:

The Novice 2 Plan:
  • Has 4 days of running a week. I could probably handle that, but it is borderline given that I am injury-prone. 
  • Includes midweek speedwork every other week. This is good, but I do feel like I could handle a little bit more of a challenge.
  • Prescribes long run distances increasing for the first five consecutive weeks before stepping back for the first time in week 6. That seemed like a long period of time without a stepback.
The Intermediate plan:
  • Prescribes long run stepback weeks every third week. That sounds perfect for me. 
  • Generally includes two speed workouts per week. That is too much for me.
In my custom plan (call it "Nov2Mediate," perhaps?):
  • I reduced the number of running days from four in the Novice 2 plan to three days, with the plan to swap out that fourth day with an extra day of cross-training (yoga in this instance).
  • I switched around the cross-training and rest days to accommodate two different yoga classes that I take every week at my fitness center. I am also giving myself the option to use those days as additional rest days if needed. If not, the Monday yoga sculpt class (which combines yoga with strength-training) is a good workout, but the Friday yoga class is pretty low-key. Therefore, I am not worried if Wednesday ends up being my only rest day of the week.
  • With the exception of stepback weeks, I scheduled speedwork on a once a week "you-pick" basis. This would give me the fun flexibility of picking the speed workout du jour amongst, say, a tempo run, interval training, or fartlekking. Or maybe even some hill work on the treadmill if I'm feeling really ambitious. (I am all about choices!)
  • I utilized the weekend long-run buildup from the Intermediate plan.
  • While I didn't list it out on the plan, I do intend to be as consistent as possible with doing my daily planks, squats, foam-rolling, and stretching. My goal is at least 5 days a week.

The Illinois Half Marathon is really the target race here, and the training plan is intended to be a 12-week plan. However, I added weeks 13 through 15 to keep myself on track for the Chicago Spring Half in week 15. Admittedly, the workouts in those three particular weeks are much more of a crapshoot, since I don't know how I am going to feel after Illinois. In general, we will see how things go and I'll definitely readjust on the fly if needed.

This is definitely more art than science. At least for me.
(Although, I think the "art" side of this picture could be interpreted rather creepily. But you get the idea.)

It is exciting to have a real training plan that I truly intend to follow! I am very optimistic that a focused training effort will really pay off for me.

I don't have to wait long to get the wheels in motion, either. The Illinois Half Marathon is 12 weeks out. This means that the training plan starts TODAY.

Here we go!!!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A little help from an unknown friend, more race plans

[Best Irish accent:] Top o' the mornin' to ya!

No, St. Patrick's Day is not yet upon us (not even close). But with St. Patrick's Day comes the promise of warmer weather, and that couldn't come soon enough for this stir-crazy being. With today also being Groundhog's Day, unfortunately the word on the street is that the groundhog saw his shadow. Apparently this predicts that there will be no early springtime in these drifts. Blugh.

It continues to be a very busy stretch for me in the office. I've been working 12-14 hour days, plus putting in considerable weekend hours. I did give myself a bit of a reprieve this current weekend, though, and it has been glorious. Yesterday my friend Kate posted on Facebook that, "In my opinion, a Saturday night on the couch is a treat, not a waste" and I couldn't agree more.

I'm going to Disneyland!!!
Registration for the Disneyland Half Marathon opened up this past Tuesday at 11 AM CST. I knew from prior years that it would sell out quickly - possibly within a matter of hours - so I set a calendar reminder for myself.

At 10:58 AM, armed with my credit card, I tried to click onto the RunDisney website... only to receive a "Gateway Timeout" error.

I tried refreshing my browser a few times, closed out all of my browser windows and reopened, switched between Internet Explorer and Google Chrome, asked Adam to try on his laptop. NOTHING!

The clock struck 11:00 AM. I frantically went onto Twitter to check the real-time state of the RunDisney union. The result? A landslide of tweets claiming successful registration. NO!!!!!

I continued scanning the tweets for any sign that the website outage wasn't just a singular conspiracy targeted directly at me. Thankfully, I came across this extremely helpful tweet from a previously-unknown resource:

The direct link to the Active registration site worked! A few minutes later, I was the happy (and relieved!) recipient of this in my inbox:

I had never crossed paths with Patrick of @WhatThe5K before, but I immediately tweeted him to say thank you for posting the direct registration link. He quickly responded that he was glad to help.

When social media works, it is a beautiful thing!!!

And now that the plans are official, I am ridiculously excited for the weekend's festivities. In addition to crossing California off of my list of states-raced-in, I'll also get to catch up with Kayla and Zenaida, who will both also be running Disneyland that weekend. It's gonna be great!

Race Calendar Updates
Beyond pulling the trigger on the Disneyland Half, I've got a couple of recently planned additions to my 2014 race calendar:
  • After a disastrous running of the 2011 Chicago Spring Half Marathon, I'm going to give it another go this year. I'd mentioned previously that my plan is for the Illinois Half Marathon to be a PR-attempt. In short (this is a topic for another post), I have very high hopes for myself on the running front this year. Therefore, I won't kid you that I'm looking at the Chicago Spring Half as a backup goal race pending how things go at Illinois. The Chicago Spring Half is also logistically very easy for me and its timing works well in my calendar. Here we go!!!
  • One of my intentions for 2014 was to run in more neighborhood races, since they are such a great showcase of Chicago's diversity. With this in mind, I am looking at running the Chinatown 5K this year. I was born in the year of the horse, so this is my year! Not to mention that unless the race organizers change the race date timeframe, it will take place right around my birthday. I can't think of anything more appropriate than to run a race in the neighborhood of my own ethnicity, right around my birthday, during my Chinese zodiac year!

Happy Lunar New Year, Happy Super Bowl Sunday, and Happy (or not so happy) Groundhog's Day to all!