Friday, May 29, 2015

Fitness tweaks and tools

Here are five fitness things that I'm spinning these days:

1. Foam rolling hip flexor
Normally, my foam rolling routine consists of working my IT band, glutes, and calves, and sometimes my quads. Aside from rolling, I stretch my hamstrings and hip flexors.
During a recent gait analysis, I mentioned my history of IT band syndrome. I was advised to try foam rolling my hip flexors instead of just stretching them. The suggestion was that while it's certainly good to foam roll the IT band directly, the hip flexors also have a largely fundamental impact on the IT band.

I have been giving the hip flexor rolling a try. It hurt like crazy when I first started. This was a bit unsettling, considering that I have consistently stretched my flexors. But obviously foam rolling is a whole other method.

Long story short, my legs do feel noticeably better these days. Early this month, I had started experiencing a recurrence of knee pain. It was making me really nervous. Thankfully, since I've started the hip flexor rolling, things seem to be back under control. Huge relief!

In case anyone else wants to give it a whirl, I found this instructional video:

2. Fountain Finder app
I'm always happy when the water fountains on the Chicago Lakefront Path are available for use. They are such a terrific resource and provide great hydration flexibility.

While I am familiar with certain parts of the lakefront trail, there are plenty of stretches where I have no idea of water fountain placement. This has involved me just having to look around and keep my eyes peeled in the hopes that I'll see one.

SOLUTION: The Fountain Finder app! It has GPS mapping capabilities enabling you to find the closest water fountains on the path, complete with pictures. Ingenious!!!
The fountain listings also note whether or not there is an adjoining bathroom, which is helpful. I do wish that you could search for the bathrooms separately instead of checking each fountain listing. But it's still better than the alternative!

3. Drop sets
When I am weight-lifting, my usual practice is to do 3 sets of 10-15 reps. However, this gets really cumbersome and boring for me after awhile.

To mix things up, I do drop sets. Here is an article describing the concept in more detail. In short, you use a higher amount of weight to start. Once you reach failure, you immediately reduce the weight and keep doing reps until you again reach failure. The idea is that this practice enables you to work your muscles more thoroughly to failure than if you just stuck with heavier weight the entire time.

I usually only drop the weight once or twice by about 20-25% each time. However, you could certainly vary the number of drops you do, as well as the amount of weight reduced each time.
Admittedly, after you've done three or four drops, it does feel a little silly to be struggling with some comparatively minuscule amount of weight. But that is when you know you have REALLY worked those muscles to complete and total fatigue!

4. Stretch breaks
My workplace is trying very hard to promote more activity throughout the day. They are encouraging each of us to get up from our desks and move around for at least five minutes every hour. They've got standing workstations, portable footpedals, and other little fitness gadgets set up all around the office for our active use.

This is all well and good, and I certainly appreciate the intentions. In reality, though, I find it too distracting and interruptive to get up once an hour. Especially when I'm swamped.

My compromise is to try to do a little bit of stretching a couple times a day. It's not too difficult to pop into a conference room for a few minutes and stretch out the perpetually tight hamstrings, hips, or calves. I figure that this all adds up over time!
If only...
5. Old workout videos
Someone suggested dusting off those old workout videos from the 80s or 90s to give yourself a change of pace. What a fun idea!

I do have some old Jane Fonda videos at home. Apparently you can also find some great classics on YouTube. Hello, Cindy Crawford, Alyssa Milano, Paula Abdul, and Denise Austen, just to name a few. I love some of the classic music selections.
Can't stop, won't stop!!!

And since we're on the subject of 80s workouts, I would be completely remiss if I didn't include this hilarious Blackhawks video:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!! (Can you imagine the outtakes!?!?!?)

Anyways, I digress. Happy Friday to all!

Linking up with Cynthia, Mar, and Courtney for the Friday Five.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


Linking up with Amanda for Thinking Out Loud Thursdays.

I've been fighting a cold over the past few days. My symptoms: stuffy nose, sore throat, dry cough, and just feeling lethargic and blugh. I'd forgotten how miserable it is to be under the weather. Suddenly I've developed an internal GPS system to find the nearest box of Kleenex (or equivalent) at any place that I might be.
I could use a truck-sized shipment of Kleenex right about now.
Making matters even worse, my nose is painfully chafed now, too. (Has anyone ever used BodyGlide on their nose?!?)

Allright, enough of this alluring topic. On a much more pleasant note...

My 5-year wedding anniversary is this Saturday. However, Adam and I are planning our official celebration for Friday night. This is because we'll be watching Blackhawks-Ducks Game 7 on Saturday night. Funny how the timing works out on these things, eh?
Speaking of hockey...

Angry goalies are fascinating. Check out this compilation of goalies expressing their frustration with referees, opponents, and especially themselves. It's gruesome but once I started watching, I couldn't stop.

All hail to the start of the summer produce season. One of my favorite aspects of summertime is how fruits and vegetables are of such better quality. I have a recurring obsession with avocados. Not surprisingly, I've been having a blast making homemade guacamole and finding a way to eat it with everything under the sun (pun intended). I'm planning to try some guac variations in the future - there are some great suggestions on this list.

Rock N Roll Chicago may still be on tap for this year. I still have two races left in my Rock N Tour 3-pack to use. However, it's looking potentially tough to schedule two more out-of-town races this year. Therefore, RnR Chicago is becoming a stronger possibility. The race date is not ideal given that I'll be attending a wedding the night before. But what the heck - I rarely sleep very well the night before any race anyways.

The Sunburst Half Marathon is next weekend! I'm getting really pumped for this race (thanks again to Melanie for the entry!) I've heard race logistics are really simple (lots of parking near both the start and finish line!!!!) which will be fantastic. I also can't wait to check out the South Bend riverfront and the Notre Dame stadium. Plus, check out the awesome race shirt. The design reminds me of the Nike three-word slogans, a la "Just Do It."
My perfectionist mileage log will live to fight another month. All signs indicate that I will again be able to log 62.5 miles run this month for the fifth consecutive month. This means I am still exactly on track to run 750 for the year! I actually do have the capacity to exceed 62.5 in May - but part of me doesn't want to mar the numbers. It's completely ridiculous, I know.
In general, I wouldn't describe myself as being a perfectionist, but ironically I do arrange my closet and dresser drawers by color!
That aside, how cool would it be to have shoes in every color like this?!?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

More Seoul pics

Once again I am typing this post during a layover at Tokyo Narita - but this time I am enroute back to Chicago! One last post about the visit to Seoul with more pictures.

I was lucky enough to be in Seoul when the annual Lotus Lantern Festival took place. Here are some snapshots from the festival's parade:

After the parade, we went to the Jogyesa Temple. The temple housed an absolutely stunning display of lanterns. This picture definitely does not do it justice:

It's hard to go hungry in Seoul. There are so many food offerings available everywhere. Here is a sampling of some local eats:
Upper left: Bibimbap
Upper right: Late-night mandu (dumplings)
Lower left: Adorable animal-themed bakery rolls
Lower right: A kimchee selection for the ages
Seoul hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics. The Olympic stadium and surrounding areas have been converted into a beautiful park with sports facilities, trails, and monuments. It is a haven of greenery in the middle of the metropolis. I got in a really nice 10-miler while exploring the park.

This is the World Peace Gate at one of the Olympic Park entrances:
It is purely a coincidence that I'm wearing a shirt that says "Chicago" on it. Way to represent, eh?
The flags are displayed for all 160 nations that participated in the 1988 Olympics:

In an amazing coincidence, my friend Haiying happened to be in Seoul the same time I was there! It was awesome getting to catch up with her - I hadn't seen her in several years. Here are some snapshots in Hongdae Park from one of the nights we got together:
Left: Haiying and me
Right: Helen and me (both trying to look tough)
The three of us went to dinner at a restaurant called The Beastro. Check out how one of the Beastro's chefs photobombed us. =D
From L to R: Helen, me, and Haiying

Helen and I had a little fun with a K-Pop display in the Apgujeong neighborhood (we picked a Gangnam one, of course):

Speaking of Gangnam, this display was right near Helen's apartment. If anyone was in the dancing mood, it was complete with flashing lights and music. (I found this out by accident when I hit one of the display buttons and "Gangnam Style" started blaring from the loudspeakers. All of the people passing by on the street turned their heads to see what crazy person had caused the ruckus (i.e., me)).

Here is Helen's street. The array of lights throughout the entire city was always amazing.

More stunning architecture and cityscapes:

My huge thanks go out to Helen for being such a wonderful hostess during my time in Seoul!!!

And now, back to reality for me in Chicago. I have a lot of catching up to do with all of your blogs. I hope to get back on track with everything over the next few days. Thank goodness for Memorial Day Weekend coming up!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A glimpse of North Korea

When preparing to visit Helen in Seoul, I learned about the Korean Demilitarized Zone (the "DMZ"). This is a strip of land running across the Korean peninsula which serves as a buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea. It is about 160 miles long and 2.5 miles wide. It is also the most heavily militarized border in the world.
Surprisingly, there are a number of tours that visit the DMZ. I jumped at the opportunity, of course. Helen had already been on a DMZ tour, so I went by myself on a day that she had to work. I was required to bring my passport and adhere to a dress code (no shorts, sandals, etc.).

The DMZ is about an hour's driving distance north of Seoul. Enroute, our local tour guide gave us several precautions including taking photographs only in approved spots, being careful not to point or gesture at anything, and avoiding communication or contact with any North Korean or United Nations military (!!!).

Our first stop was Camp Bonifas. This is a military post located within the Joint Security Area (JSA) in Panmunjom. This is the only place where North Korean and South Korean forces stand face-to-face, and it is nicknamed "Truce Village." When we arrived, it was clear how heavily guarded the premises were. There were military personnel everywhere. We were not allowed to take pictures.

At this point, American military took over the tour. They did a very thorough check of all of our passports. Then, they gave us each one of these visitor badges:
UNCMAC stands for United Nations Command, Military Armistice Commission
We each had to sign one of these waivers (which was not at ALL terrifying):

We were asked to attest that we were not intoxicated or under the influence of controlled substances; that we were not carrying any weapons; and that we were not planning to defect into North Korea. This drew some laughter from several folks - but I fully realized that this was no joke.

Another tour group arrived with a large group of media representatives wielding video cameras and microphones. Military personnel sternly apprehended them, saying that media visits required a special permit and escort. Again, this was obviously not a joke.

We watched a slide show explaining the history of the DMZ:

After the slide show, we were shown the Freedom House. It is intended for possible use to host reunions of families separated by the Korean War. (Note that "possible" is the operative word; my understanding is that no such reunions have ever occurred there.) No pictures allowed.

We were then shown the Military Demarcation Line marking the border between North Korea and South Korea. In this picture, the blue buildings are the JSA where negotiations are held. The blue buildings straddle the border and anything beyond them is North Korean soil.

Our guide warned us that North Korean snipers were in the building carefully monitoring our every move. We were reminded again not to point or make any gestures, as this would risk endangering ourselves and everyone around us. This made me nervous about even pushing my hair out of my eyes or adjusting my glasses!

Here's a closer shot of some of the military guards on the South Korean side. The cement line in the middle of the picture is the official demarcation line.

We were told that sometimes North Korean soldiers will guard right at the line, so the two sides could literally be standing facing each other. (Awkward?)

We then went inside one of the conference rooms where the negotiations take place. The blue flag on the conference table represents the demarkation line. The right of the flag is North Korean territory, and left of the flag is South Korean. Note the Republic of Korea soldier standing guard right along the flag, as well as the American soldier on the left.

In case you were wondering, the guy in the white shirt was trying to take a picture with the Korean soldier.

Here are some closer views of the Korean soldier. Check out the armband.

We were permitted and encouraged to step into the North Korean side of the room - so we all did. Given the controlled environment, it didn't feel dangerous to me.

We were heavily warned that we should NOT attempt to exit the conference room on the North Korean side. I believe the exact words used were, "Don't even think about it. Just don't." You got it, buddy.

At this point, the tour was turned back over to our local tour guide and we departed Camp Bonifas.

We then drove past the Dorasan Observatory, where North Korea's landscape is visible. On clear days, you are able to see mountains that are in North Korean territory. Unfortunately it was very overcast when I was there, so visibility was quite poor. But here is what I got:

Next, we saw the Bridge of No Return. The bridge crosses the Military Demarcation Line and was used for prisoner exchanges at the end of the Korean War.
We were not allowed to step outside by the bridge. Therefore, I took this picture from inside the bus.
(Hence, the poor picture quality.)
The bridge's name is based on claims that many war prisoners did not wish to return home. They were taken to the bridge and given the choice to remain in the country of their captivity, or cross over to the other country. However, if they chose to cross, they could never return. The bridge was last used in 1968.

Our last stop was Injimgak, which is a park built in Paju (South Korea's northernmost city). The park was built to console those who were impacted by the division of Korea. The area is filled with statues and monuments from the Korean War.

This is the Bridge of Freedom, which is a former railroad bridge for repatriated soldiers returning from North Korea:

Throughout the park, various walls are filled with peace-wishing ribbons, flags, and other personal notes:

There is a lot more detail on the DMZ and JSA that I am not including here for sake of brevity. However, the more I reflect on the experience, the more I am realizing the magnitude of the area and all of its history.

I am usually not big on guided tours, but seeing the DMZ is most definitely NOT something that you can do on your own. In summary, I think the tour was well worth it. I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to go.

In case you missed it, check out some of my other pictures from Seoul here.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

NHL Round 3 playoff predictions, Seoul pics

Greetings from Seoul!

I am having an amazing time seeing the city with Helen. The atmosphere here is incredibly energetic and vibrant. I have already taken a gazillion pictures and will share a few today.

But first - I wanted to publish my NHL Round 3 playoff predictions before the games get underway. In case you are keeping track, so far I am 10-2 this year on overall picks. Adam is 12-0! Not too shabby, eh?

I do have plenty to say about both of these series. But for sake of time, we will keep things very cursory today.

Eastern Conference
New York Rangers vs Tampa Bay Lightning
Prediction: Rangers in 7

Western Conference
Chicago Blackhawks vs Anaheim Ducks
Prediction: Hawks in 6
I absolutely love this snapshot of the Hawks breathtaking pre-game ice show.
As always, GO BLACKHAWKS!!! (Even from 6,500+ miles and 14 time zones away!)

OK, on that note - time for some pictures from Seoul.

Here are two snapshots from the Gyeongbokgung Palace, which was built in 1395. It is the main royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty, and it has 7,700 rooms (!!!).

This is the Myeong-dong outdoor marketplace. It was jam-packed with shops, sidewalk vendors, and food:

Here is the Gwangjang market, which is Korea's oldest traditional marketplace. It is enormous. Lots of locals were having meals at communal tables with the food being cooked up literally right in front of them. Helen and I joined in!

The city's architecture is visually spectacular. It is even more stunning when lit up at night:

Finally, here is the Dongdaemun Design Plaza. It is currently filled with over 21,000 white roses lit up with LED lights:

More to come!