Thursday, October 22, 2015

Three Things Thursday - Chicago sports edition

1. Chicago Cubs (of course)
Today there is PLENTY of talk about how the Cubs' season ended last night. Yes, it was heartbreaking to see them get swept. Yes, it was a shock after seeing how invincible they had previously looked down the stretch. Yes, it would have been cool to see the Back to the Future prediction come true.

Regardless, I think the Cubs should be very, very proud of all they accomplished this year. They have a bevvy of young, talented, and developing stars who are only going to get stronger and more experienced. The team's future is extremely bright in the years to come.

This time when folks say "Wait until next year," they can truly stand behind it!
On a tangential note. This was purely a coincidence, but I had schedule conflicts preventing me from focusing on the Cubs during NLCS Games 1 and 3. To elaborate:

2. Chicago Blackhawks
During NLCS Game 1 last Saturday night, I was at the United Center watching the Blackhawks play the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The game was bittersweet for me. Brandon Saad was my favorite player, and I was despondent when he went to Columbus. I strongly believed he'd be in a Hawks jersey for many years to come. He didn't look right in his Blue Jackets jersey. Nevertheless, I still wore my Saad Blackhawks jersey to the game, as I always will.

Brandon got a very warm welcome from the team and the fans that night:
It was a heartwarming moment.

(On the opposite end, I was shocked yesterday to hear Columbus fired their coach, Todd Richards, and replaced him with the infamous John Tortorella. Good lord. I think that team is in for a VERY rough ride this season. I'm already bracing myself for Torts' inevitably brutal press conferences (check out examples here and here). Anyways, I digress.)

A lot of fans were clearly multitasking their viewing between the Hawks and Cubs. Many folks went charging down to the concourses during breaks to watch the Cubs game. Cheers erupted throughout the crowd when the Cubs scored.

The UC and the Blackhawks organization helped out. In between periods, they showed the Cubs game on the scoreboard:

I love the unity between all of the Chicago sports teams. I thought this was a wonderful demonstration of solidarity.

When I mentioned this to Adam, he reminded me that John McDonough (Blackhawks president) used to be a Cubs executive. Therefore, there's probably an even stronger bond between the Hawks and the Cubs! Super cool.

The Hawks game ended while the Cubs were in the 9th inning. Crowds were packed in the UC concourses to watch the final inning.

3. Chicago Bulls
During NLCS Game 3 on Tuesday night, I was back at the United Center to watch the Bulls play the Indiana Pacers. Country Financial invited Rose and a guest to watch the game from their suite, and Rose brought me along.

A huge thank you to Country Financial and Rose for the ticket! What a privilege that suite was! It was an unbelievable treat to experience for one night how the upper 1% enjoy games.
Rose and me with some Blackhawks championship banners in the backdrop
Our view of the court
One of literally dozens of choices from the dessert cart - Bulls cookies!
Seating location aside, I've only been to a handful of Bulls games in my life. The organization puts on quite an in-game experience for the fans! Scoreboard videos, music, games, dancing, giveaways, contests, you name it. The action was nonstop. I can easily see how Bulls fans can get hooked.

Since the Bulls game was preseason, again most folks were more focused on the Cubs and/or were just hanging out and socializing. We had the suite TV tuned into the game:

Several folks were glued to the set. After the Bulls game ended, I think the Cubs were only in the 7th inning. Folks were urgently asking, "Can we stay here to watch the rest of the Cubs game?" to which the Countrywide folks said, "The suite is already paid for! Feel free to stay until they kick us out!"

I ducked out to meet up with Xaarlin and Luiz, who were also at the game. There was no resisting the opportunity to get a picture with Benny's Bull Ride:
Xaarlin and me
Photo credit: Luiz
Afterwards, I headed home and caught the last few Cubs outs from my living room.

And so ends one of the busiest, craziest weeks in Chicago sports I've ever experienced. Wow!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Prairie State Half Marathon race recap

Before I start today - huge congratulations to everyone who raced this past weekend! I am still playing catch-up with all of your blogs, as well as my own. I hope to get back on track with posting comments, etc. very, very soon.

Last Saturday, I ran my third rendition of the Prairie State Half Marathon.

This race has always been kind to me. (Check out my 2013 and 2014 recaps.) I've had good weather every time; it occurs during a perfect time of year; the course is beautiful and takes place on a joint-friendly crushed limestone path; and the field size is perfect - around 1,000 runners.

The last two years I've run this race with Kim. With her help pacing me, I've achieved strong finishing times both years!
Throwback Wednesday to the 2013 and 2014  runnings with Kim
Unfortunately Kim had a schedule conflict this year, so it was my first time running this race alone. Admittedly, I had tempered my performance expectations because of this. I always do better when I've got someone there to push me! But I was ready to give it my best shot.

At most target races, my primary focus is to run an even split. For my longtime sub-2:10 goal, this translated to a 9:55 per mile pace or better. (You all are probably tired of hearing me talk about that goal/pace, eh? =D )

While I always want to run a negative split, that is secondary to achieving an even split. On this day my starting pace was about 5-10 seconds slow for the first few miles. Normally, this would have made me nervous. I usually don't have much confidence in making up the time on the back end. But today, I didn't let it bother me.

This strategy hugely paid off. On a first half versus second half basis, I ran an almost perfectly even (slightly negative) split. I certainly had to put forth more effort in the second half to maintain that pace, but it worked. Knowing the course helped a lot, as I was mentally well-prepared for the hills on the course.

Around Mile 5, I saw Erica tearing it up on her way back. Then I saw Bobbi spectating near the turnaround - I was thrilled to see her on both the out and the back. Thank you Bobbi for taking this action shot of me:

I took two GUs - one at Mile 4 and one at Mile 9. Interestingly, I had spiked improvements in pace during both Miles 5 and 10. Psychological and/or physiological GU boost? I had been lagging slightly in the miles leading up to both, so those "spike" miles were perfect in keeping me on overall target pace.

Typically around Mile 11, I get overcome with fatigued despair and am ready to die. On this day, I kept waiting for that feeling to hit - but it never did! Most folks around me were slowing down and it felt surreal to be passing so many people in the final miles. I was looking down at my Garmin and realizing I was pretty much on pace, but was trying to do the math in my head. This is going to be close. Can I do this?

Around Mile 12.5, I saw Erica stationed back on the course with her camera. She yelled, "You have to do your body spasm thing!" so of course I obliged. Thank you Erica for this snapshot:

Less than a quarter-mile later, I saw Adam and my mom. I shouted to Adam that I was going to PR, and he told me, "GO GET IT!" Thanks to him for getting this shot of me making my final push with the finish line in sight:

I finally achieved my sub-2:10 goal. My official finishing time was 2:09:43. Woo hoo!!!

Post-race, I met back up with Erica and Michelle. I found out Michelle won her age group and came in 6th woman overall; and Erica placed 2nd in her age group. Plenty to celebrate all around!
From L to R: Erica, Michelle, and me
I was super happy with how strong I felt on the course and also in the days following. I had no chafing, blisters, or muscle soreness to speak of. I know this means I could have pushed myself more - and if Kim was with me I'm sure I would have done even better. Nevertheless - it still felt good to achieve a longstanding goal. I look forward to setting and working towards my next goal!

And so ends another successful running of the Prairie State Half Marathon!

My next race: The PNC YMCA Turkey Trot Double Gobble (a 5K and a 5-Miler) in Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving Day

Friday, October 9, 2015

Pre-race jitters

Happy Friday, everyone!

Sorry for falling off the planet this last week. It's that magical period known as quarter-end close. This translates to me trying to meet lots of tight deadlines in the office.

First off, GOOD LUCK to everyone running the Chicago Marathon on Sunday! You've all got this and you are all rockstars. I hope to do a little bit of marathon spectating in Greektown, which is around the halfway point. Look for me near the Mile 13.1-marker or within a block or two afterwards.

Isn't this sign the best? This woman GETS it.

Now while I am not running the Chicago Marathon this year (flashback to my recap from 2012), I am running the Prairie State Half Marathon tomorrow morning.

This will be my 24th half marathon. However, I am still nervous. (I actually still get nervous before ANY race, regardless of distance!)

I know halfs are nothing compared to fulls (edited:) in terms of distance. But my thought process during the past week was still nutso.

Originally, I entertained the thought of taking things easy this week to rest my legs. Then, I got antsy. I felt like I wasn't doing enough to keep the blood flowing. So for the most part, I stayed with my usual workout regimen, but took a few things down a notch. Now, in retrospect, I'm wondering if I still did too much. Sigh.

I believe yoga is a cumulative practice that grows over time. Sadly, my yoga practice has taken a big hit during the past few weeks. This is due to class cancellations in combination with schedule conflicts. I'm apprehensive that the reduced yoga will start showing its negative effects now.

Even when I am doing yoga regularly, nearly all of my entire lower body muscles are almost perpetually tight. I've been trying to stay on top of foam rolling. Unfortunately, my muscle tightness is like a springboard. I'll foam roll before bed, then wake up the next morning feeling tight again. Or, if I foam roll during the day, the tightness comes right back a few hours later. It truly never ends.

The ghost injuries are real. Yesterday, I took a Zumba class and at one point I thought I had twisted my ankle. The day before, I was lifting weights and thought I had tweaked my shoulder. Another day, I was on a Divvy bike running some errands, and thought one of my hamstrings felt weird.

Today I am debating whether to take a total rest day versus an easy 3-mile shake-out run. There are pluses and minuses to both, of course. Because of all the ghost injuries, I'm leaning towards resting. But even so. Thou shalt never underestimate my ability to still feel phantom pains simply by, say, pushing the buttons on the microwave too quickly.

Historically I haven't had recurring issues with pre-race fueling or hydration (knock on wood). But lest I add to the list of jitter sources, I'm very conscious today of what I am eating and drinking. My workplace is a beacon when it comes to free food. I'm trying to be prudent today. Chocolate-chip cookies, be darned.

I am already fearing the inevitable pain that ensues somewhere between about Mile 10 and Mile 12.5 where I swear I'm never going to run again.

In summary - all of these nerves for a HALF MARATHON that I'm doing for FUN!!!

Amidst all the madness, I am also already eagerly awaiting that post-race moment where I think, "When can I sign up for another race and do it again?" =)