Saturday, February 28, 2015

F^3 Lake Half Marathon race recap

Since I've been in major catch-up mode with blogging, I am FINALLY sharing my recap of the F^3 Lake Half Marathon that I ran on January 24. (I've been working on this in bits and pieces for weeks.)

After I officially registered for F^3, I spent the next several weeks quaking in apprehension, thinking, "What did I just get myself into?" However, Mother Nature blessed us with absolutely fantastic weather for race morning. It was sunny, the temperature was in the upper 30s, and there was almost no wind. For a late January race along Chicago's lakefront, I couldn't have asked for anything better! I was so relieved. Now that I didn't have to worry about the weather, I was so excited to enjoy the gorgeous scenery.

The nice weather actually made for some other challenges, though. All along, I was thinking that I'd need to wear a full arsenal of my best cold-weather gear. I wasn't sure what to wear for the warmer temps. I debated across a dozen combinations of what types of layers to wear. I finally just stuffed a bunch of options into my gear check bag.

The race started at a very comfortable 10:00 AM. Can I just say how much I love having this late of a start time? I didn't have to set my alarm, I was actually hungry for breakfast when I got up, and I had ample time to hydrate and then let nature run its course pre-race. Since we'd literally be running into lunchtime, I had a heartier breakfast than usual.

Adam dropped me off at Soldier Field at about 9:15. I went into the race headquarters at the United Club, which were SO NICE. It was a heated, carpeted, roomy indoor space with ample bathrooms; lots of tables, chairs, and couches; bars and TVs; indoor gear check; and plenty of room to stretch out. All of us F^3 runners were living large in that club.

Check out the mural of Chicago BEARS players behind the info desks.

I could already tell just from the walk in between the car and the building that I was overdressed. Therefore, I popped inside one of the bathrooms (almost no lines!) and changed things up. Then, I took care of my last minute gear prep and dropped my bag off at gear check.

The crowd began making its way to the starting line.

Runners packed inside the United Club

On the way, I ran into Pete, and then a few minutes later I saw Erica! It's always so great to run into friends at these races. It makes the events feel much more personal.

I emerged outside. Ahhh, sun and visible blue sky at the starting line!

After waiting about 15 minutes in my corral, I got underway with a loop around Soldier Field.

I was feeling good all around. I was so buoyed by the unexpectedly pleasant temperatures that my mind started running away with possible goals. I'd heard of many other folks who had PR'd or run very strong races at F^3. Even though I was not in peak training mode by any stretch of the imagination, I entertained the idea of trying to go for a PR.

The course was an out-and-back along the lakefront path. The path was not closed to the public, and usually races along the path are plagued by bikers and other non-race users jockeying for position. The relative solitude of the path this day was nice.

Near McCormick Place, I saw a familiar owl hat and did a double take. Sure enough, it was Xaarlin!!! What a wonderful surprise to see her! She jumped onto the course and ran with me for a a little bit. It was fabulous having her company and having the time to catch up with her. The first few miles flew by as a result.

Race runfie, courtesy of Xaarlin!
Xaarlin stepped off the course around Mile 4. Then it was on to my own devices to keep the pace going. I was reasonably on pace to attempt a PR, but I knew that I might be dealing with some headwind after the turnaround point.

The course turnaround point was at 63rd Street. The numbered streets are nice since they make it easy to count down the distance. =D

As I started seeing oncoming runners, I began looking for familiar faces. I saw Pete looking like he was in the zone, and exchanged a high-five with him. Then I saw Erica looking strong amongst a pack of runners, and shouted a hello to her. Later, I saw Kelly, who also looked like she was in the zone. I think I caught her off guard when I shouted hello. I was keeping an eye out for Lauren, who I knew was out there somewhere, but unfortunately I did not see her.

I think this picture was taken somewhere around Mile 6:

Rocking the obligatory race photo body spasm, sans gloves.

Volunteers were handing out miniature Clif Bars at the Mile 6/8 aid station. Such a treat! I elected to stick with my GU for fueling purposes, but I pocketed two of the Clif Bars for afterwards.

Close to 63rd Street, my right knee started hurting. This made me nervous. I thought, "I'm already near the turnaround point, I have to get back to the start line somehow." I tried to change my footstrike so that I was hitting more of my forefoot instead of my midfoot. That did seem to help. A mile or two later, the knee pain dissipated enough that I stopped worrying about it.

After the turnaround, I did indeed start feeling the effects of the headwind. I got cold enough that I put my gloves back on for the remainder of the race. I wasn't feeling terribly fatigued, but was not ready to attempt the negative split I would have needed to PR. I decided to just try to finish strong.

Approaching the finish line

My final chip time was 2:17:31. This will go down in the books for now as my fourth-best half marathon finish ever. Not bad!

The finisher medal, which also doubles as a bottle opener.

I had a great time running the F^3 Lake Half Marathon! It was very well-organized with enthusiastic volunteers and great swag (technical gloves and a beanie instead of the usual race shirt). The pre- and post-race set ups at the United Club in Soldier Field were such a luxury.

Folks talk about this race as a "badge of honor" race for good reason. I was petrified of what the day might bring, so I was extremely relieved to get away with taking the risk. Admittedly, I would probably only choose to run this race again via a last minute registration (aka having a better idea of the weather forecast). Weather risks aside, though, this was really an awesome event. What a terrific way to keep the training motivation high during the wintertime!

Thanks again to the folks at REM-Fit for sponsoring, to all the organizers and wonderful volunteers, and to Agnes for bringing me into the fold!

My next race: The Rock N Roll DC Half Marathon on March 14

Friday, February 27, 2015

Visiting New Orleans

Back in December, Adam and I spent a long weekend in New Orleans to celebrate his birthday. Several folks have asked about it, and I have been wanting to share more details on the trip for quite some time. Here we go (finally)!

I absolutely love the Big Easy. It is without question one of my favorite American cities. I can't say enough about the energetic and amazing spirit, atmosphere, and vibrancy that the city resonates from every corner. I also couldn't get enough of the music, the food, and most importantly the vivacious and friendly locals.

French Quarter

This trip was actually the third time that I'd been to New Orleans. However, the first time I was there was for a work conference, and the second time was to embark/disembark on a cruise ship. This third visit was the first time that I feel like I really got to experience what New Orleans has to offer.

I barely even scratched the surface while I was there, of course. New Orleans certainly can't be fully experienced in just one weekend. It definitely requires repeat visits!

The symbolic Fleur de Lis

With that, here is a summary of the weekend's sights/sounds/eats:


Free Tours by Foot - This company offers guided walking tours where you determine how much to pay at the end based on how much you enjoyed the tour. Adam and I had a very nice French Quarter walking tour with a guide named Kathy Harrell. She was extremely knowledgeable and clearly enjoyed showing us around.

The company offers a good variety of tours to pick from. If time had permitted, I would have also liked to take their tour of the Garden District and Lafayette Cemetary. Next time!

Jackson Square

The French Quarter definitely needs no introduction. Instead of the famed Bourbon Street, I want to mention nearby Royal Street, which is loaded with cute shops, galleries, and restaurants. It also has some absolutely fantastic street performers. Many of the jazz artists are street performers by day, and music club performers by night. (I've got more to share about the street performers in my "Sounds" section below!)

New Orleans School of Cooking - One of my very favorite things to do while traveling to famed culinary destinations is to take a local cooking class. Adam and I learned how to make gumbo, jambalaya, and pralines. Then we stuffed ourselves with the finished products. (Time for me to loosen my belt a notch or two...)

Our instructor was as local to New Orleans as could be. This enhanced the experience even more! She took great pride in sharing with us the correct Southern pronunciations of the words 'praline' [prah-lean] and 'pecan' [puh-con]. =)

Chocolate "prah-leans" = yummy, yummy in any American accent!

French Market - Enormous open-air flea market with lots of local vendors selling anything from touristy souvenirs to hand-made jewelry, arts and crafts, and clothing. There are some great food stands to pick from, too. I love local markets like these. I bought a bunch of fun take-me-homes, including loads of gumbo mix!

Streetcars - Adam and I had some time to kill before dinner one night, and we were tired from walking around all day. Therefore, we decided to hop onto one of the streetcars just for the experience. We ended up riding the Canal Streetcar all the way to the Greenwood Cemetery, which was the end of the line.

In general, I think one of the best ways to experience a city's dynamics is to ride the public transportation - especially outside of the tourist areas. Indeed, this did not disappoint! It was also cool to see one of the famed above-ground cemeteries (built as such because New Orleans is below sea-level).

Historic New Orleans Collection Museum - Admittedly, Adam and I happened to walk by when it was raining, and ended up going in because they have free admission. It is a quaint restored house where you can learn about the history of New Orleans and Louisiana.

Mississippi Riverfront - Another sight that needs no further introduction!

The Natchez Riverboat cruising down the Mississippi


Frenchman Street - Home to an amazing array of music venues. The night that Adam and I spent exploring Frenchman Street was my favorite experience from our entire visit. I always want to go where the locals go - and I've heard it said that Frenchman Street is "local" New Orleans (whereas Bourbon Street is "tourist" New Orleans).

We spent most of our Frenchman Street time hanging out at two venues - Maison and The Spotted Cat.

We saw a variety of bands of which I can't remember the names. However, I do remember one jazz singer that we saw at Maison named Sasha Masakowski. She is very, very talented.

In terms of other music venues, Adam and I also heard a lot about Preservation HallFritzel's, and Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse, but did not get a chance to check any of those out. Next time.

Preservation Hall.
Looks pretty unassuming from the outside, eh?

Speaking of local performers, New Orleans has by far the most amazing selection and quality of street performers that I've ever seen. Anytime I heard the strain of jazz notes or the sound of a gathered crowd, it was always completely worth the effort to find the source.

I saw one performer on Royal Street who really stood out to me. Her name is Doreen Ketchens and her clarinet-playing skills completely blew me away. Check out this video of her from YouTube:

Just amazing!


So much good food, so many good restaurants! New Orleans is definitely not a place to visit if you're trying to diet. =D

Court of Two Sisters - Historic restaurant with a gorgeous French courtyard. We had the Jazz Brunch, which was phenomenal. As the name implies, there were local live jazz performers and an unending array of local Creole cuisine. (This was another instance during which I had to loosen my belt a couple of notches afterwards. ;-) )

The courtyard at the Court of Two Sisters

Johnny's Po Boys - The oldest family-owned po-boy joint in New Orleans. It's packed with locals, and the line goes all the way out the door and down the street. It's a cash-only, no-frills place with really good food. In short, this is exactly the type of place I love to seek out while traveling.

Cafe du Monde - Famous beignet and coffee shop. Apparently there is some debate amongst the locals regarding what place has the best beignets in New Orleans, with Cafe Beignet winning a lot of votes! But, I humbly consider Cafe du Monde to be the classic haunt.

At the Cafe du Monde Riverwalk location.
There was enough powdered sugar in the bag to kill three people.

Emeril's - Who could pass up the opportunity to go to Emeril's hometown restaurant? We went there for Adam's official birthday dinner and it was fantastic. Great service, great food, great atmosphere. To this day, I still dream of their banana cream pie...

Tomas Bistro - We were lucky enough to find this place on Groupon. You would never guess when you step inside that this place is a converted former factory! It's a very warm, cozy ambience, and the service and food were both terrific.

Tomas Bistro

Cochon Butcher - This place drew rave reviews for their muffaletta, which was reputed to be the best in New Orleans. I am not a muffaletta aficionado by any stretch of the imagination, but indeed, their muffaletta was mouthwateringly delicious. I will also paraphrase a review I saw online about their peanut butter pie, which is that it is the best justification known to human kind for getting a gym membership.

Manning's - Classic man-cave-style sportsbar. For all you NFL fans, this is the namesake of Archie Manning (father of Peyton and Eli). Disclaimer: Adam and I stopped by to check it out, but did not actually dine there. We had full intentions of going there to watch a Steelers game. However, this place is popular, and on game day we didn't feel like staking out seats three hours in advance of kickoff.

Stadium seating at Manning's for the diehards


As much as we did see and experience in the Big Easy, there was so much that time did not permit.

In the future, I want to check out the Garden District, Mardi Gras World, Magazine Street, Audobon Park, and a voodoo tour, among dozens of other things. There are also countless other museums, restaurants, music clubs, etc. to explore. Someday I hope to experience Mardi Gras in the Big Easy, too.

I will be back, New Orleans.

Until then...

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Loving/Not Loving

In my neverending quest to come up with blog topics, today's post was inspired by Marcia!

Loving: Trying some new fitness classes (e.g., pilates, cardio kickboxing) during the dead of the winter. Mentally, it feels fabulous to change up the routine. Physically, it feels great to work some different muscle groups.
Not Loving: The killer soreness that I get from targeting those unused muscle groups. After the boxing moves, my deltoids and back announced, or rather, screamed their presence with authority. When it comes to pilates, they might as well just call it what it really is: a core workout on steroids.

Popeye could probably use some bicep exercises to balance out those gargantuan forearms, too.

Loving: My slow cooker for making soups and stews during the dead of winter. I've been using this tomato vegetable soup recipe as a foundation, and tweaking it in various ways (e.g. varying the types of vegetables, and/or adding in things like beans or meatballs or pasta). The leftovers are great to have around, too.
Not Loving: Washing the stoneware piece of the slow cooker after using it. The stoneware fills up nearly my entire sink, plus it's heavy, bulky, and awkward. (I've tried using slow cooker liners, but they are not a magical solution. The stoneware still requires some cleaning afterwards.)

Even the monkey looks unhappy washing dishes.

Loving: Silver nail polish. I think it strikes a nice balance of being unique without going over the top.
Not Loving: How dry my nails (and skin and hair) have been during the wintertime. Blech. I could use an industrial-powered humidifier on full "superblaster" mode.

I got my bottle of silver polish at a swap drive. Truly one woman's trash is another woman's treasure!

Loving: One of the dietary improvements I've been trying to make is to reduce my sodium consumption. I've had some success with my at-home cooking habits. Surprisingly, many of the changes have not been too difficult to implement.
Not Loving: Reading the nutrition labels on packaged goods. Nearly falling over at some of the stratosphere-scraping sodium numbers. On many an occasion, smelling salts (no pun intended) would have come in handy.

Yeah, yeah, yeah...

Loving: I found a blend of almond/coconut milk at the grocery store today and decided to give it a whirl. I used it to make a smoothie and thought it produced a wonderful blend of flavors!
Not Loving: Speaking of nut-based foods, and being the usual late bloomer that I am when it comes to trying all the popular foods, I finally got a jar of almond butter. I promptly discovered that I would prefer peanut butter over almond butter anyday.

Loving: The daily sports reports about MLB spring training. I'm not much of a baseball fan, but hearing the words "spring training" gives me hope for temperatures above freezing!
Not Loving: Tuesday night's awful plight of injuries to Patrick Kane and Derrick Rose. It's going to be a tough ride to the finish line for both Blackhawks fans and Bulls fans alike.

I can only hope to see Kaner later this year in all of his playoff mullet glory.

Loving: Registering for several races based on entirely non-goal-oriented reasons (e.g., the swag). What's on the list?

- Cinco de Miler (I want the cool race shirt and sombrero medal).
- The Race to Wrigley 10K (I wanted to honor Ernie Banks, and Wrigley Field is the only Chicago sports stadium in which I have not yet done a race).
- Fort2Base (the 10 nautical mile distance is right up my wheelhouse, and I am intrigued by the military theme).

(By the way - I just found out about the inaugural Deep Dish Dash 5K. Participants get a pizza-themed race shirt, plus deep dish pizza at the finish line. Interesting concept. However, I am all about efficiency when it comes to deep dish. In lieu of first going through the formality of running a race, I'd rather just eat the pizza from the outset, haha.)

Not Loving: Finding the motivation to get my tush in gear and do speedwork on a regular basis. I do want to break my nemesis 5K PR. I haven't solidified any target 5K races yet for this year, though. 


Tell me what things you are loving and not loving these days!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Take Time Tuesday - Winter Edition

I've been slammed with work the past month and a half. Absolutely slammed. (Obviously this is a big reason that I've been quiet on the blog front for so long, too.) This is the first week since December that I've had the opportunity to take a proverbial deep breath in the office. Woooooo!!!

With that, there is no better way to get back onto the blogging wagon than to link up with Katie's Take Time Tuesday.

What am I feeling grateful for right now? Let me count thy ways.

The Chicago winter has been brutal this year. Again. I won't kid you that it's been tough. All of my friends who reside in warmer climates think I'm crazy for living here. However, despite all of Chicago's challenges and it's famously harsh temperatures, I am grateful to live in such an amazing city. I am very proud to call it my home.

Even in the dead of the winter, the city still shines with an ethereal glow

I've been focused more than ever these days on trying to enjoy all the great things that the city has to offer. Yes, even in the wintertime. =)

Recent haunts? Food-coma-inducing adventures during Chicago Restaurant Week and beyond. Ice skating amidst the glittering backdrop of the city skyline. Taking advantage of free admission to several of the museums. Exploring the neighborhoods with a more observant eye on the locals living life and going about their days. Creating an ever-lengthening list of local businesses that I want to check out. Using the extensive Chicago Public Library system. Finding volunteer opportunities for local causes.

There are so many things to see and do. And just wait until the weather gets warmer!

On that note, I am extremely grateful that the month of March is nearly upon us. This means that the worst of the winter should be behind us now. The days are already starting to get noticeably longer and I'm embracing the return of the sun and some blue skies.

I am getting pumped for the many upcoming events that denote the start of spring. Not that I have Irishness on the brain, but the first examples that come to mind are St. Patrick's Day and my first-ever Shamrock Shuffle. ("Top of the marnin' to ya!")

Also, I'll be running the Rock N Roll Washington DC Half Marathon in less than three weeks! I am really excited for the whole weekend and getting to catch up with friends and family out there. My winter training has been going better than expected, too, so I am feeling well-prepared for the race. I can't wait to see scenery like this:

Hey, Mr. Prez! How's it going?

Back on the local front, I continue to be grateful for the wonderful company that I work for. Special mention to the company fitness center - all of its resources and programs are absolutely top notch. Our fitness staff is actually hosting a free indoor triathlon for all employees next month! (We don't have a swimming pool, so we'll be subbing the swimming with the rowing machines. Very clever, eh?) It has been a vague consideration of mine to someday do a triathlon. Therefore, I am grateful for the opportunity to do a simulated attempt right in my own office building.

Do contestants get disqualified for using two hands while ironing, perhaps?

Despite being so busy at work, I am grateful for still being able to get enough sleep almost every night. It seems that more people are chronically sleep-deprived than not. Personally, I can barely function while sleep deprived. I have a tough time imagining how people can operate sleep-deprived for extended periods. I am thankful that my schedule is balanced enough that I don't have to skimp on getting enough rest.

Finally, I am borrowing this from Katie's post, but I am thankful for Girl Scout Cookies! I ordered some Thin Mints and they arrived this week. It's both a good and a bad thing that these cookies aren't available on a year-round basis, LOL.

Speaking of Girl Scout Cookies, I simply cannot close out today's posting without mentioning this INSANELY adorable Blackhawks video:

(On a tangent to the Iron Man competition picture above, my favorite part of this Hawks video is the ironing scene. ;-) )

Would love to hear what you are grateful for these days! Happy Tuesday to all!!!