Thursday, September 30, 2010

Looking Forward to 10/10/10.....

The time has come. 10/10/10 is upon me. I've been reading other runners' blogs about their last long runs, their tapers and their race strategies for upcoming fall marathons. It's great to feel the enthusiasm of other runners as they gear up for their big days. Well, my big day is coming soon too, and it's time to think about my race strategy.

The first and most important aspect of my race strategy this year is confidence- both physical and psychological confidence. This is the weakest link in my running and always has been. As my personal trainer used to say "I'm a head case". Yup, I am. I've tried to focus on this confidence over the past few weeks. I've been using various tactics I've read in books, even the really goofy ones, in hopes of convincing myself that I can run my 4:15 marathon this year. (Of note, 4:15 will be 20 minutes faster than my current marathon PR.)

One of the "goofy" tactics that I read about in a book is creating a mantra. I've read about this a bit in Runner's World in the past too, so I guess folks actually do it. The book recommends writing a paragraph of optimism to repeat to yourself during tough times. So, yes, now I have a mantra. And, no, I do not plan on sharing it.

To help improve my physical confidence (i.e. my body's belief that I can finish the task at hand), I did many long runs. More long runs that any conventional training program recommends. Since I started keeping track of my mileage on the daily mile on the last day of May, I've logged 10 runs of 15 miles or longer and 4 runs over 20 miles. I did this because, without fail, I fall apart somewhere between miles 15-20 during marathons so thought if my body and mind could begin to view 20 miles as just another training run, the marathon would be a cinch! Many of my long runs were enjoyable, a few were unbearable, but during all of them I suffered a certain amount of boredom. For the first time, I realized that part of the challenge of "racing" a marathon instead of just getting through it, is staying focused. I know I can physically run at my goal pace for 26.2 miles; the challenge will be staying concentrated on the goal rather than my boredom. The Chicago Marathon itself is an entertaining spectacle, so hopefully that will keep my boredom at bay!

Up until my 15 mile marathon pace run two days ago, I was not at all confident that I could run a 4:15. I figured I could from a muscle, respiratory, and cardiac output standpoint but wasn't at all confident that I could keep my head in the game. The Busse Woods 20 miler was supposed to be my marathon pace run, but when that didn't work out I was starting to doubt myself.

I started this marathon training cycle full of optimism after my half-marathon PR of 2:00:19 at the Rockford Half Marathon, which was 7 minutes faster than my previous best. Training went okay, though my work schedule generally only allows me 3 runs a best. Then the MICU started. Let's just say that working 30 hours straight every 4th day is NOT conducive to running. Despite my best attempts, I'm sure I lost fitness during those 4 weeks.

But I tried to stay optimistic and as I caught up on sleep after the MICU, and the weather grew cooler, I got my running mojo back. Tuesday's pace run confirmed for me that I'm back! I'm just as fast as I was back in May and my endurance has certainly improved.

So this post is my final pep talk to myself before the big day. Hopefully, knowing I have to post a race report after the race will be a little extra motivation to push me for that 4:15!

So what's my race plan?

--Stick with the 4:15 pace group for the first 20 miles. Relax and enjoy the comfortable pace.
--Only stop at every other water stop and drink extra so that I don't have to sprint to get back with the pace group. (I can't drink on the move at all.) If it is like "the hot year" this part of the plan will go out the window!
--At mile 20, I can pull ahead if I have anything left.
--No walking. Period. I don't care what my mind, body, or soul says. I will not walk (except through the water stations). I concede that walking can be part of a good race strategy for some but for me, once I start walking, I have trouble running again so it's a no-no.

So, here I go! Marathon #6, Chicago Marathon #4! Here are some pictures from Chicago Marathon's past.....

My family (Grandma, husband, Mom and Dad) after my very first marathon. It was so cold and they were such troopers!

Adam and I after last year's marathon. You'd think after a summer of running in the sun, I wouldn't be so pale. Oh well, I'm a pale one. ;)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mercat a la Planxa

As I mentioned in a previous post, instead of giving gifts to my parents for holidays throughout the year, Adam and I decided to take them to a nice meal out in Chicago this year. This year, we choose Mercat a la Planxa, a wonderful traditional Spanish (specifically Catalan) tapas restaurant on Michigan Avenue, just a 15 minute walk from our apartment. The restaurant is in the Blackstone Hotel, a beautiful luxury hotel at 636 S Michigan Avenue (the red building on the left in the picture). The best way I can describe the Blackstone is "colorfully modern". The lobby is so much fun w/ elegant, ornate furniture with fun touches such as bright red overstuffed pillows and black and white movies playing on the walls. I thought it was an independent boutique motel, but apparently it is owned by Marriott. Still, I think well worth looking into if you need a place to stay in Chicago and don't know me well enough to use my guest suite;)

Here are my parents and I in the Blackstone lobby.

Back to the restaurant! Adam and I went to Mercat for my 31st birthday a while back. My birthday is in January and it was a bitterly cold walk to the restaurant, but well worth it as it made us appreciate the warm, rich ambiance of Mercat all the more:) On that first visit, Adam and I ordered the "Chef's Selection", allowing the chef to choose his favorite dishes to serve us. The more I eat out at nice restaurants, the more convinced I become that ordering the chef's selection is the way to go when it is offered. That way, you don't run the risk of ordering a menu 'dud' and you don't have the stress of trying to decide on the perfect dish. I have never been disappointed! I can't for the life of me remember what Adam and I had that first night but I remember us 'oohing' and 'aahing' at every course and that we were impressed with the liberal use of paprika. I also remember thinking we should bring my parents there. So we did!

After our bike ride and cocktails at home, we grabbed a cab for the quick ride down the street. First on the agenda- wine. None of us are big sangria fans (too sweet), so we opted for a nice bottle of red wine. My husband lived with a sommelier in college and remembers almost every bottle of wine he's ever had (which is absolutely amazing!) and recommended a red Gran Coronas Torres Cabernet Sauvignon, which was delicious. To the left is my Dad enjoying his first glass with Adam .

The menu at Mercat is extensive and since it is tapas, everyone needs to choose multiple items. This can be overwhelming. So Adam and I suggested we all do the Chef's Selection. This was great because we all got to sample the more than 15 dishes that kept arriving at our table. Every item we had was delicious. No duds. I definitely can't remember all of the dishes but they included fresh Spanish cheeses, olives, a morel mushroom rice dish that tasted like risotta (my favorite), prawns, chorizo on multiple dishes, rack of lamb, perfectly cooked beef slices w/ wonderful dipping sauces, bacon wrapped dates. Seriously, the food just kept coming! It was so fun to try all the different flavors. And, again, great use of paprika! If I was the cooking type, I would try to incorporate that delicious spice into my foods. But I'm not, so I won't ;)

We, of course, had to try dessert. Maybe we didn't have to try multiple desserts. But we did, and they were great!

My mom and I

I don't think either of my parents have ever had traditional Spanish fare and they seemed to be enjoying themselves so I hope taking them out in the city can become a yearly tradition! There are SO many great restaurants in Chicago that I'd love to take them to. Next year, we'll try to go earlier in the year when it's still warm so we can take them to the outdoor patio at Piccolo Sogno.

After dinner, we walked though Grant Park and Millennium Park back to N Harbor Drive. It was a beautiful, crisp, crystal clear fall night in the city.
A great end to a fun, action packed day!

Adam and I.

Will I get struck by lightening?

Something for me to keep in mind next time I have to run in lightning......

Thanks to my cousin, Karin, for sending me this cartoon!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Busse Woods 20 miler Race Report

It's very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.
--George Sheehan

(I borrowed this quote from a great running blog, but I can't remember which one! So thanks to the runner who posted this, it's a good one.)

I've been dreading writing this race report. Thus it's late. Last Saturday, I ran the Busse Woods 20 miler. This was less a race and more a catered training run for those preparing for fall marathons. By "catered" I mean there were volunteer-staffed water stops just like in races. There were also pacers. For those unfamiliar, pacers are people who lead a group of runners who want to run at a certain pace. I think these folks are amazing. They are so in tune with their bodies that they are able to run near the exact pace they set out to run for miles and miles. Of course, they have Garmins and other GPS devices to help them, but those are more of a back-up: you can't run a certain pace by staring at a watch all the time- it just doesn't work. So these pacers amaze me. I would love to be one someday. But I'm actually TERRIBLE at pacing myself so can't be a pacer any time in the near future.

These pacers were the reason I wanted to do this run. Whenever I try to run "race pace" I end up going way, way too fast then burning out and running way, way too slow. I've never run with a pace group before (I'm more of a solo or with 1 or 2 friends runner), so I thought this would be a good dress rehearsal for Chicago because I plan to run with the 4:15 pace group.

Unfortunately, there was no 9:45 min/mile pace group so I had to choose between 10:00 min miles or 9:30 minute miles. Since I ran a half at 9:10 pace a few months ago, I thought the 9:30 group wasn't too crazy of an idea. The first few miles were great! The course was absolutely beautiful, all within Busse Woods in Elk Grove. We did a couple loops and a couple out and backs, all while breathing fresh air, running through the forest, seeing the occasional deer and even the occasional elk! (More about the elk later.) Wonderful! It was nice to vary from my usual Lakefront Path in Chicago.

The first 3 miles were great. I began to feel comfortable running so close to other people, I was not short of breath, I thought maybe I could pull off the 9:30 pace. I even started having fantasies about running the marathon at this pace, trying to calculate what time I'd end with if I did (about 4 hours and 10 minutes if you are interested). Well, that was premature. By mile 6 I was really feeling it. I kept telling myself that it was because we just gone through an uphill section, but I wasn't fooling myself. Part of the problem was the water stops. I can't drink out of a cup while running. I just can't. So I would grab a beverage, walk while I drank only for a few seconds, but long enough that I had to do some fast running to get back to the group. I think those mini-sprints interjected in a pace that is probably too fast for me for a 20 miler anyway was a recipe for disaster.

I told myself to just toughen up. When it comes to running, my mind is by far the weakest part of my body. I haven't had a running injury since the very first year I started running (knock on wood, I know I'm tempting fate by writing that), I don't get particularly sore while I run (until after mile 18 or so), my cardiovascular health is not really a limiting factor, I have decent core strength, I'm tall and thin which is supposed to help, right? But I'm mentally soft and lazy.

And, sadly, my inner loser came to the forefront and sometime during mile 8 I broke from the group and decided to run a bit slower. My logic was that I still had 12 miles to get through and it would be better to complete 1 last long run before the taper rather than crash and burn and not get the run done. Excuses, I know. And I'm disappointed in myself.

The next 4 miles were brutal. I continually questioned whether I should just bag the run and go back home (I happened to be relatively close to the start point where my car was parked). I did some walking. I didn't even walk fast to maximize time, I just walked. I would convince myself to run a mile, then I would walk. Pitiful, really pitiful.

Sounds great so far, huh?

I have never so seriously considered stopping a long run for no good (physical) reason before. So, in a glass is half full sort of way, I am happy with myself for pulling myself out of my self-doubting cave and finishing the run. I have to remind myself that running 20 miles is an accomplishment every single time I do it, no matter the pace, no matter how crappy I feel. So I decided to run slow, slow, slow and just not stop (except at water stops!).

Miles 13-16 were tolerable. The sky started looking very threatening which was a nice distraction and I started looking forward to the imminent rain. Running in the rain is fun as long as it is warm enough out and it was. At mile 16 it started raining, actually pouring. An honest to god downpour and it was GREAT! It was such a nice distraction, I really started to enjoy the run. If I want to be optimistic again I would note that it's impressive that I can enjoy running after running 16 miles. The first 16 miles, not so fun. The rest of the run--> AWESOME!

Around mile 17 the thunder got louder and the lightening got closer. Really close. That was no big deal when I was deep in the woods, but when I ran into a clearing and the lightening hit about 50 feet from me, I got a little freaked out. So at mile 18.5, I had to go to a rain shelter, I really just didn't feel safe. I was bummed because I was doing so great, but I really didn't want to get hit by lightening. Maybe I was being ridiculous but that lightening was right there. I saw the grass smoke after the lightening hit. No can do.

So I stopped for about 5 minutes to let it pass. It continued to downpour, thunder and lightening but I could tell the front was moving past us so I sprinted for the last 1.5 miles. I thought I was sprinting, anyway. Turned out I was just running 9:25 pace. Whatever! That's not bad for the last 1.5 miles of a 20 mile run (for me, a slow poke runner).

Oh, and the elk! At mile 10.5 and 19.5, there were elk! And they were bugling! I've been to Yellowstone multiple times as well as the Tetons, the Rocky Mountains, etc but have never heard them bugling! So that was very cool. If you want to hear an elk bugle, click here.

Overall, the race was a bit of a downer, but it ended on a good note. My pace ended up being 10:01 min/mile, 17 s too slow per mile. But, as my last bit of optimism, one could argue that after multiple weeks of hard training and long runs 10:00 min miles is not bad and that maybe after tapering and resting up, 9:44 is not out of reach? I really hope that is optimism and not just excuses!

The after "race" party was great. Hot dogs, chips, water, bananas. Yummy! Then off to home and shower before my parents arrived for our bike ride and dinner!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Bike Ride That Almost Wasn't

My parents came in on Sunday for what I hope will be an annual tradition of celebrating MoFaB-Day. Rather than buying material gifts for Mother's Day, Father's Day and their birthdays, we had them come in for a nice dinner out in Chicago. Experiences over objects is my motto for gifts when possible!

Before our dinner at Mercat a la Plaxna, we wanted to go for a bike ride. We had been planning this day for months in large part because my schedule is very difficult with only 4 days off a month (and not necessarily weekend days). So matter how many challenging twists fate threw in the way of our bike ride we did not give up. The result, however, was less a bike ride and more a comedy of errors!

Errors by Number:

#1: Cloudy day w/ the constant threat of rain. We can handle that.
#2: My parents forgot their helmets. This made me very nervous. I've seen too many bad accidents in bikers without helmets on.
#3: My Dad's bike turned out to be broken. My Dad is very athletic, goes on long, challenging bike rides frequently, and knows a ton about bikes so it was pretty unusual for one to be in less than perfect shape.

At this point, we joked that maybe after 3 strikes this bike ride wasn't meant to be, but we wanted to be active and darn it, we were going to be active! Luckily there is a bike rental shop just 2 blocks from our apartment so we headed there.

Then, it just got funny. The only bikes at the shop were cruisers. You know, the kind with really wide, soft seats, the type of bike on whom you picture a nice old lady with white wavy hair with fresh cut flowers in the basket. That kind of bike. And since my Dad's bike was broken, he ended up with the cruiser! Even more funny is that my Dad was wearing a biking outfit from RAGBRAI. RAGBRAI, which stands for (the Des Moines) Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, is an annual bike riding extravaganza - a 7 day ride across the state. 2010 was the 39th year of this ride that is the "oldest, largest and longest bicycle touring event in the world". So, here's my Dad in his RAGBRAI gear on a goofy Schwinn cruiser:

Even better is when he started off-roading, going down stairs and such. My Mom and I were cracking up the whole ride.

It seems like that would be enough excitement, but it continued:

#4: We lost Adam! How four adults can't keep track of each other on a bike path is beyond me, but we immediately lost my husband once we arrived at the lakefront path and we never found him again. We rode north, we rode south. We couldn't find him. Meanwhile, he couldn't find us so started looking around for us, worried that someone fell off a bike. We never did find each other!

This would have been another reasonable place to throw in the towel but we are nothing if not persistent! So we continued riding. We ended up having a perfectly nice ride but even my route choices were ill-fated.

#5: We were waylaid by not 1, not 2 but FIVE wedding parties. Folks like to get their pictures taken near the Planetarium with the Chicago skyline in the background. I often see bridal parties during the summer months, but usually just a couple. Our bike ride was start and stop as we waited for pictures to be taken of the bridal parties- one group had 10 bridesmaids!! It was fun to see the brides but it did slow us down.

#6: I tried to take my folks out to Northerly Island, one of my favorite places in the city. For those not familiar, Northerly Island is a 91 acre peninsula just east of Soldier Field and just south of the Museum Campus (Field/Shedd/Planetarium) that used to house Meigs field. Since Daly single-handedly closed Meigs field in the wake of 9/11, the peninsula has been turned into a nature sanctuary with a bike/running path. From my apartment, a trip around the Island and back is 5.8 miles- a perfect mid-week run. The views of the skyline, Soldier Field, and the harbor are INCREDIBLE!!! And very few people know about the place so I usually have it to myself. Except Sunday! The boy scouts apparently rented out the whole island so I couldn't take my folks there! Harumph!

View of the city from Northerly Island

My parents and I still had a great time- and I bet if all those goofy things hadn't happened, the ride wouldn't have warranted a blog post!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Somebody, somewhere, is running right now.....

One of the many cool things about living in Chicago is the entusiasm this town has for the Chicago Marathon. There are so many runners on the path this time of year, huffing and puffing their way through a Hal Higdon, Jeff Galloway, Pete Pfitzinger, or home-grown marathon training schedule. Many go it alone or with a couple friends, but a lot of people do it with the assistance of an entire running group. A week ago Saturday, I spent the morning watching with amazement all the huge running groups on the path from my dining table as I ate a leisurely breakfast (with NO intention to join them, it was a rest day for me!). When you are out there running, you don't realize how many groups there are but from a stationary vantage point, like my apartment, you really appreciate how many there are. At least 30 groups of >15 runners went by in the 30 minutes I was watching. So motivating. Way to go, Chicago runners!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Excellent Run, Excellent Drive, Excellent Boat!

A few days ago, I had a near perfect day. The temperature was between 65-75 with a nice cool breeze all day, all sun, no clouds. Beautiful. And I spent the entire day from 7am until well past sundown OUTSIDE! I took full advantage of the beautiful day. Here's what I did:

1. I started with a 22 mile run with my friend, Sara. That's the longest training run I've ever done to date so I was proud of myself. As I wrote on Daily Mile, I was slogging through the whole thing but I was really never too short of breath nor were my legs sore- I was just overall tired. At mile 15 I had a happy surprise in the form a text from a friend asking me to join her on a boat on Lake Geneva. There was the motivation for the rest of my run.

This picture is actually from the Rockford Half Marathon, during the 13th mile.

2. After a quick shower and a detour at the grocery store for junk food (my friend told me to bring "snacks"- that means junk food, right? I thought so), I was on the road in my baby girl, Elly. I can't tell you how much I love Elly. She's just about 3 years old and looks great! So I spent quality time in the sun on the road listening to the Bears game, then the new Arcade Fire album when the game ended (just for the record: Bears, you are killing me).

Here's the Ellster:

3. From running in the sun to driving in the sun to boating in the sun! I haven't been on a speedboat in years and forgot how fun it is! My friends Wendy and Bart have access to a boat on Lake Geneva and were gracious enough to invite me to join them. It was so great to catch up with both of them, and even better that we could do it in the middle of the lake in the sun (and with junk food!) I was smiling ear to ear half the way back to Chicago!

Here are Wendy and Bart- aren't they cute??

And, Wendy and I. Aren't we cute, too?

That may have been the last day of summer here in Chicago. That's okay, because I took full advantage!

(Oh, and for those of you who noticed the "near" in "near" perfect day in the first sentence: the only imperfection is that Adam had to leave for a work trip. But he'll be back tomorrow!)

Monday, September 13, 2010


Recently, Adam and I went to Jam, a BYOB restaurant in Ukranian Village. While Chicago has a large number of BYOBs, most of them aren't that great so I am happy to report that we have a winner! Jam used to be just a breakfast/brunch spot but recently expanded to dinner and boy am I glad they did! Key highlights of Jam include:

--nice outdoor eating area (not the cutest, but nice enough w/ lots of trees)

--$24 dollar 4 course tasting menu w/ very high quality food (details below)

--and did I say BYOB??

Here's a picture of the inside. Like the outdoor terrace, it's not the nicest place ever, but it is cute enough, right?

Here's Adam deciding what to order. As you can see, he is deep in thought:

After much deep thought, Adam choose the pork tenderloin w/ couscous and brussel sprouts. It was declicious. Good portion size. Priced appropriately at $18.

I had no trouble ordering because when the waitress said, "I recommend the tasting menu", I said "sounds good to me". The tasting menu consists of a salad (varies seasonally), a first course pasta, an entree (currently either ono or pork tenderloin), and a choice of dessert. Only $24 for 1 entree, $37 if you want both entrees. My first course was heirloom tomatoes w/ blue cheese, cilantro and cocoa powder (on the side of the plate). The yellow tomoatos may be the best tomatos I've ever had.

The second course really blew me away. It was foie gras tortellini on a bed of melted onions and English pea puree. It was soooo good. As I discussed in my L20 post, foie gras has the texture of a meat marshmellow and the flavor of the best duck ever! I can't believe this dish was part of a $24 dollar tasting menu because it could easily earn that price alone!

I choose the ono for my main course. It was dressed w/ blueberries, ricotta cheese and a delicious foam - I wish I could remember what the foam was made of- it was great, whatever it was! The fish was cooked just perfectly- a nice, light, fluffy texture.

For dessert I was given the choice of a chocolate lava cake w/ hazelnut filling or earl grey infused panna cotta w/peaches and vanilla cookies on the side. Since the chef at Jam had so far done a great job w/ my first 3 courses, we figured this would be a place where the panna cotta would be great. And it was. I love, love, love panna cotta. Yum!

The decor on the terrace is....interesting. Some unusual statues, some beautiful old trees, and then these objects to the right. They look like full body saddles or warm winter jackets or some such thing for a four legged animal. To the left of these odd dinner mates, there is a huge horse sculpture so at first glance we asssumed they were for horses. But.....look again. There is a distinct space for a hump just posterior to the head/neck area. See it? Do you know what I'm getting at dear family, friends and other blog readers? I...think.....they....are....for...BISON! Woo-hoo! The best way to my heart is through bison or bison paraphernalia so Jam got extra points for this;)

In summary, I would recommend Jam as a well-priced BYOB with really excellent food. Ambiance is plus/minus. Service is fine, nothing special, but perfectly adequate. You MUST get the tasting menu, such a good deal. Since Think closed (sad face), Jam is one of the best BYOB's in Chicago, right up there with Coast. (I'm sure Schwa is better than both of them, but I haven't been there yet so can't say).

(Note: Jam is cash only, so stop at the ATM on the way!!)