Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ahhh...New Running Clothes!!

My wonderful husband stopped by Dick's Sporting Goods just to buy me some new running clothes! What a great surprise!

As my recent posts have alluded to, spring training is not going as planned for me. I lost even more fitness this week with a nasty head cold. But, to be honest, this most recent set-back has affirmed beyond a doubt, that I will be running the upcoming races for fun, NOT for speed. Any shred of hope/pressure I had on myself to PR in the next few weeks are gone. Whatevs. I'm over it. I run for fun and fitness, not for fame. (ha, fame ;) )

My husband, on the other hand, is set to get a monster 1/2-mary PR in the next few weeks which will be AWESOME. He will have to be the record breaker for a while and I'll just trot along in my concurrent marathons. But, at least I'll have cute outfits! And a new 1/2 marathon goal for myself (i.e. beating whatever PR he's fittin' to set).

He bought orange and blue, the colors of our alma mater, since our first race is in Champaign, IL. Here's the new gear:

In case you can't see it, the blue one says: "As long as you're sweating, you're still alive." Pretty accurate. For those who ran Chicago last year (2010), maybe there should be a corollary that says, once you stop sweating, you're in for a hellish race. As I recall I stopped sweating around Mile 21. Here's to hoping for nice cool weather next Saturday for the Illinois Marathon!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


This is a very late post about Chef's Week in Chicago (I think it was back in February- THAT'S how far behind I am in posting!). I'm still a little unclear on the difference b/t Chef's Week and Restaurant Week as both involve multi-course prix fixe menus at cheaper than usual prices, so I participated in both this year:)

Sara and I made our way to Boka in Lincoln Park, winner of a Michelin star. The food was good, but not any better than I would expect for a restaurant of this caliber. I don't think it's fair to judge a place based on the fixed price offerings during a big event like Chef's Week. While I'm sure the restaurants showcase tasty options they probably also factor in cost since, for example, a 3 course meal during this week is only $33 (usually would be closer to $50/person). (Note this is very different than how I feel about the "Chef's Menu", which is not ordered en masse and usually showcases the freshest ingredients and the chef's favorites.)

So, Boka was "good enough" food and service-wise and very, very cute ambiance-wise, so I'll make a tentative recommendation. I'll go back (in the summer to take advantage of the great patios!) before I make a final judgement.

Here's what I tasted:

2007 Buckin' Bambino, Zinfandel, Old Hill Ranch, Sonoma County, CA
A great buy for $45/bottle.

Wild Mushroom Soup

Pickled Red Onion Marmelade, Farm Egg, Pea Shoot

This was my favorite course. Very well done. The addition of the egg and the marmelade really made this dish.

Pink Peppercorn Crusted Big Eye Tuna
Cauliflower-Curry Fondant, Crispy Coconut Tofu, Watercress

Sara had this one. I had a taste and it was good. High quality fish.

Risotto Tart

Wild Mushroom, Beet Braised Kohlrabi, Vidalia Onion Sauce

Risotto is hit or miss. This was somewhere in between. It was tasty and had a fun crunchy texture (unusual for a risotto but I guess that's where the 'tart' came in), but not the best dish I've ever had.

Venezuelan Chocolate Cake

Caramel, Stout, Blackberries

Uninspired, but fine.

If you are looking for a cute date night location, certainly consider Boka. But also consider Blackbird, Pane Caldo, Sepia and a plethora of other great modern Chicago restaurants. And from what I saw the outdoor patio is possibly 2nd best in the city (Piccolo Sogno is #1), so if you go, go in the Summer!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Inspired by My Inspirees

For the past few days I've been struggling with decisions. Lots of decisions. Including whether or not my full spring marathon schedule (3 in the next 2 months) is good or whether it is becoming a burden. I was leaning towards "becoming a burden" and was thinking about talking to my husband about canceling our plans for the upcoming Illinois, Rockford and Madison marathons. I have a lot on my plate and really need to focus on some personal issues for a while and feeling bad about not getting my runs in is not helping me feel any better about life.

Additionally, I thought why on earth should I plod through marathons knowing that wrenches in my training plans will make my initial goal of a sub 4:15 on 5/15 almost impossible to obtain? I'm really not excited about the idea of "getting through" another marathon- I want to RACE one, doggone it! So why do 3 marathons sub-optimally trained?

But then I was inspired. Inspired by a few folks who told me MY running in part inspired THEM to start running, run more, and register for a race (3 different folks, 3 different goals). Running had become a significant part of my identity recently, but over the past 3-4 weeks when my running was seriously cut back, I didn't miss it all that much. I missed feeling good like I do after a run, but I had no desire to lace up my shoes and get in a good run (but I did plod along and run at least 1 mile everyday, no matter how I felt).

So after talking w/ these runners, I realized that trying to motivate others to run is a part of my identity that I want to maintain. It's important for me to be consistent with my running yet flexible in my running goals because the important thing is that I keep on going and continue to find ways to make running fun. I believe what motivates people about my running is not my race times or the lengths of my runs (okay, that may impress some people sometimes) but my enthusiasm for activity and exercise. So I should maintain that enthusiasm even though my spring races aren't going to go as originally planned.

So, I've re-vamped my training schedule. I printed out 3 new blank monthly calendars, made some MAJOR revisions to my running schedule and starting Monday I'll be off like a herd of turtles. Yes, turtles. Because my revision involves sslllooowww long runs given the fact that I haven't run long in weeks. And the first 2 marathons in my spring schedule- Illinois on 4/20 and Rockford on 5/15- will now be converted to training runs w/ the plan to run 20, walk 6 @ Illinois and run 22, walk 4 @ Rockford. Goal race will be Madison on 5/29. Exact goal to be determined!

This post is dedicated to the 3 peeps who recently motivated me- N, N and B- you may or may not know I'm referring to you, but thanks for reminding me that my running can affect more than just me. You've given me fresh energy to get back into a training plan!

Next week's schedule:

Monday: 15 miles slow

Tuesday: 1 mile, ab work

Wednesday: 1600m @ 7:49 (400m RI), 3200m @ 7:55 (800m RI), 2 x 800 @ 7:30 (400 m RI)

Thursday: 1 mile, JM video

Friday: 18 miles slow

Saturday: 1 mile

Sunday: Bunny Suit 5K

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Long, Slow Return from the Doldrums

Ugg. March and April have not been good months for me. 'Ugg' is about the extent of detail I want to go into about that but I will elaborate on the fact that the doldrums have done a number on my running. I've been getting in my mile everyday but I'm nowhere near where I should be given that I have a marathon in 20 days.....and another in 35 days.....and another in 49 days. WHAT WAS I THINKING????

I know what I was thinking. I was thinking that long runs are good for my physical and mental health and that I simply won't have time to do long runs for a year or so after July 1st (start of fellowship) so I better get some marathons in before then. Solid logic, I thought, but now the prospect of three 26.2 mile jogs in the next 2 months seems overwhelming. I never regret running a marathon, no matter how it turns out or how hard it is, so I fully plan on running (...or walking...or crawling?) these races. (Do I sound like I am trying to convince myself? 'Cuz I am.)

If I look at the situation objectively, I should be fine. While my long runs have been few and far b/t in the past couple months, I've been consistently doing 1-2 long runs a month for about a year now (and probably for 6 out of 12 of the months of the past 3 years). My speedwork (while I haven't done any for over a week) is going well. My cross training and nutrition have gone completely to hell and honestly, I don't even have the heart to think about improving on those things dramatically over the next few weeks. It will take all my motivation just to get in 3 runs a week.

So, I need to scale back my expectations and just get some runs done. Maybe 4:15 is no longer realistic for Rockford on 5/15. Maybe it is. Who knows. I'm just going to try to plod along and get some running done. Just like I'm plodding along at work and in life in general. Again, all I will say is 'ugg'.

But yesterday, I went for a run outside and it was beautiful! Comfortable, fast, just a great run. My schedule said I should do 6 miles, w/ 3 @ 8:30 pace but the idea of that stressed me out so I just ran comfortably, picking it up a bit now and then. Ended up with 5.7 miles in 49:02 for an average pace of 8:36. Not bad! Sometimes taking the pressure off yourself is all you need to do to have a good run!

Looking forward to another beautiful day here in Chicago. This is running season, people! Get out there and enjoy:)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Handful of Book Reviews

You might wonder what I've been doing during the past weeks since I've had no home computer (and, btw, we don't have TV either, so really I was living like the Amish). The answer is- READ! I've plowed through 4 books in 2 weeks. Here's what I was up to:

The Help by Kathryn Stockett: Bottom Line: Great book, I highly recommend it

This book examines the complex emotional relationships b/t African-American women who work as maids/nannies and their Caucasian female employers (and children) in the South a few decades ago. So I don't give any of the plot away, I'll just say that one white lady ends up working very closely with a lot of the maids in a project that was revolutionary for its time, and put all of them at risk for what they hoped was a greater good. The project was a way to expose the often inhumane treatment of 'the help', as well as showcase the generosity and forward thinking attitudes of a few white employers.

The plot is good, but what really makes this a standout book is the way Stockett tells the story from the perspective of multiple players. From the first page, her prose is engaging, witty, touching. She weaves back and forth b/t deeply emotional situations and comedic relief in a way that makes the book feel light when in reality the topics it touches on are anything but.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Room by Emma Donoghue

Bottom Line: Great book, I highly recommend it

Another good read, though not quite as hard to put down as The Help. This book is the story of a 5 year old boy and his mother who are captive in a one room shed because the mom was kidnapped years ago. Since the 'Room' was the only place the boy had ever known his mother initially acts as though the room is the whole universe presumably so the boy is content and doesn't realize they are trapped. Eventually, though, she fesses up and we then see how the boy adjusts to this and how the world looks to a boy who (thought/felt) he had everything he ever needed in a 11 x 11 foot space.

The story is imaginative and Donoghue does an amazing job of writing from the perspective of a 5 year old. Since I don't remember being 5, I don't know how accurate she is, but it is highly entertaining nonetheless.

Lit by Mary Karr

This is a memoir written by a poor, rural Texas girl turned alcoholic Northern professor turned sober successful writer (and probably still a professor, I think). This is actually her 2nd memoir- the first addresses her childhood, growing up w/ 2 alcoholic parents resulting in lots of personal and second-hand trauma. I haven't read that one, but will eventually because Lit was great.

This story picks up when Ms Karr is a young adult, just out of college. It takes us through a failed marriage, the early years of mothering, and her mutliple (eventually sucessful) efforts to become clean. Karr's writing style is entertaining, insightful and funny. I have a lot of respect for the way she handles descriptions of people in her life (for example, her ex-husband) with whom she's fallen out. She takes full responsibility for behaviors and mistakes she made in years past and always gives others the benefit of the doubt, probably appropriate when the "offending" party is a drunk.

An entertaining memoir with appropriately funny self-deprication.

Something Borrowed by Emily Griffin

Light, fluffy beach reading, but very entertaining and I finished it in one day (and probably would have done so even if I had access to Internet or TV!).

I'm currently in the middle of:

Mercy by Jodi Picoult- Eh. I've read a few of her books but the only one I'd actually recommend is My Sister's Keeper. I wouldn't recommend this one. I'll let you know if that changes after/if I finish it!

Brief Gaudy Hour by Margaret Campbell Barnes- Not bad. I really enjoy reading (and watching movies about) the Tudor period. I think King Henry VIII, and even more so his wives, are fascinating. I am enjoying this book but there are better ones out there such as The Other Bolyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (fiction) and The Six Wives of King Henry VIII by Alison Weir (non-fiction).

The Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah- I'm listening to this on my ipod as I run. It's light reading (listening?). Not quite good enough to prevent me from getting bored on my run though I don't know if it's fair to blame the book for my boredom! I'll keep you posted.

I tried and couldn't finish: Cutting for Stone, The Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and Dune. I really wanted to like Dune because it's the first of a 6 book series. But, alas, I couldn't get past Chapter 2 and when my husband said it was good but never got any more engaging, I disengaged. Hope this helps you choose some good Spring reading! :)

Monday, April 4, 2011

April Fool's Day

I love April Fool's Day. I come from a family of liars. Not liars in a bad way, not crooks, criminals or tax fraud type liars. But we do like to see what tall tales we can get others to believe. Just for fun.

So April Fool's Day is the perfect holiday. The whole point of the day is to trick your loved ones which is challenging since everyone is on high alert on April 1st:)

My Dad in particular has a reputation for trickery so he's generally "the one to beat" so to speak. But my brother is a trickster as well and harder to fool than the rest of 'em.

A few years back when my brother was first getting his pilot's license he called me (on April 1st, of course) and said he had been in a plane crash. A minor one. He said that mid-air his wing nicked the wing of another student's plane. He said there were no injuries but the damage to the planes was going to be expensive to repair. I can't remember all the details of his story but it was just realistic enough that we all bought it hook, line and sinker. Yeah, there was no plane wreck. We were had.

I waited and waited for the opportunity to get him back. Finally, a couple years ago, my golden opportunity presented itself. My brother is a Marine and his training squadron (battalion? I don't know the right word) made a video for graduation. It was set to music and showed them at work flying, fixing planes etc and playing at parties and other social gatherings. After watching the video including some relatively debaucherous scenes of off-duty Marines, I had an idea. And, on April 1st, I called my brother quite concerned and amused as I told him that in the background of one of the party scenes one of his colleague's "junk" was showing. It wasn't totally in focus, I said, but it was there. My hunch that my brother would find this possibility realistic was correct and he spent some time with the video frame by frame looking for this inappropriately naked Marine. If I remember correctly, his friends did some searching as well. The day I told him 'April Fool's' on that one was a proud day:)

However, my Dad got us all with the biggest April Fool's Day "non"-prank. My Dad is super, super healthy. He's an athlete, he eats well, exercises competitively. Probably the healthiest member of my family (and we're a healthy bunch). So when my Mom called saying he had a heart attack and that maybe I should come out to Rockford, I was floored. A heart attack? Seriously? This is a guy who had blood clots in his lungs for weeks and his only symptom was "I get a little short of breath around mile 30 of my bike rides". But, shit happens, so I quickly packed my bags. But as my husband and I left the apartment, I turned to him and said "Oh my god, could this be an April Fool's joke? Do I need to call Mom and ask?" That's the kind of trickster family we are - my Dad has a heart attack (he's totally fine and as competitive as ever) - and I question whether it's an April Fool's joke. Hey, it was April 1st! My Dad, the ultimate tall tale teller actually had a heart attack on April 1st! And his daughter wasn't sure if she should believe him. Hilarious. Isn't there a parable about this? Something about a boy and a wolf?? ;)

So, last Friday, I really wanted to come up with something for April Fool's. Mostly I wanted to get my dad, brother and mom. I thought long and hard trying to come up with something believable and I decided to use facebook. I ended up posting this:

with the caption:

"Umm....this is going to look awesome at my friend's wedding this weekend. So much for my 'daily mile' quest...."

(In case you missed it, I recently posted about my attempt to run at least 1 mile every day this year.)

The joke was a success by my April Fool's Day yardstick. I tricked my dad and my Grandma Nelson as well as some more trusting friends and family members. I hope the un-intentional victims of my joke find it funny and aren't mad at me. I apologize if you aren't a fan of practical jokes (K, T, B, you know who you are) and/or were really upset by my fake stress fracture. I don't apologize that my wonderful Grandma Nelson was tricked because, after all, she produced my Dad so he must have gotten some of his deceptive technique from her. Best of all, though, I got my Dad. I got him good. He called on Saturday inquiring about my foot, asking how it happened, how long I'd have my foot in the boot, my recovery plans. Jackpot! Jackpot! Jackpot!! And he was so mad at himself for falling for it when I reminded him which day I posted the picture:)

Ah, April Fool's. Such a great, under-appreciated holiday:)