Friday, August 21, 2015

Changing Lives, One at a Time (Chicago Lights)

Regular readers of my blog are very aware that I’m training to run a marathon. But did you know why? (Other than that I love to run.) Especially since after my last one I swore never to run another road marathon again?

Well, I was offered the opportunity to be on a team to raise funds for Chicago Lights, an organization connected with the church I work for.

If you live in Chicago you’re well aware of the ongoing insanity of our public school system. There are real improvements in individual schools (such as the one my sons go to), but these improvements are typically driven by parents and homeowners in the community surrounding these schools. Overall, the system is a mess, and if you’re a student in an area plagued by poverty, it’s unlikely you’re getting what you need. Chicago is also a very segregated city, with vast disparities in the resources provided across neighborhoods. I imagine it’s not that different in most major cities in the United States.

The Chicago Lights programs work directly with children, youth, and adults from some of Chicago’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods (and in partnership with other agencies and businesses around the city) to address some of the root causes of poverty and create change, one person at a time.

There are six programs in the Chicago Lights family and I’ve gotten to work closely with several of them over the years.

Chicago Lights Tutoring helps students from low-income communities improve their academic performance, stay in school through high school graduation, and prepare for higher education and meaningful careers, through one-to-one tutoring sessions and access to career development opportunities, plus healthy meals and other enrichment programs. They just celebrated their 50-year anniversary!

Then over the summer, Chicago Lights Summer Day provides a safe place to learn and take part in academic and arts classes for 1st-8th graders each summer. This is especially important in our city where so many schools are struggling and where gang violence rises during the summer months.

The Chicago Lights Urban Farm provides job training and youth development, as well as nutrition, science and arts activities for younger children. Families come to learn about nutrition and healthy cooking, and have access to affordable, organic produce. It also provides a true sanctuary in a sometimes violent and dangerous neighborhood. (I worked here in its first years when it was a community garden.)

Part of my job involves overseeing a school supply drive that provides backpacks to the students in the Summer Day and Urban Farm programs, and supplies to the Tutoring program, so I’ve gotten to know their staff over the years and see many of these kids grow. I've gotten to see and hear firsthand from the students and their parents the impact these programs have made in their lives, the opportunities that have opened up to them through the programs' offerings and their hard work.

I’ll write more on the other Chicago Lights programs later this summer. It's an honor to be able to support them, and I hope you will consider supporting them through me as I run this summer.

And, as in past years, to sweeten the deal, for every donation of $45 or more I will bake a batch of cookies, or cupcakes or pie if you live in delivery distance. (Some people have chosen to have their cookies donated to one of the Chicago Lights meals programs instead. Just something to think about.)
To support my fundraising for them, go to
And for more information on Chicago Lights, go to



Wednesday, August 12, 2015

You Oughta Be in Pictures

I was impressed with myself this morning - I managed to get up early, run 7 miles, shower, eat breakfast, get the boys dressed and fed - all before 7:00 a.m. so I could bring G to the eye doctor for his mandated appointment (he's starting at a new school this fall). I felt like a movie mom - I even dressed the part in a smart shift dress, flats, lightweight sweater - with my child nicely turned out in matching clothes and mini backpack. And he was reasonably well behaved! We should have taken photos because I'm not sure we'll ever see such coordination of schedule or attire again.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Soldier Field 10M - Race Report (Two Months Late)

Well, this report comes only two and a half months after the race, not too bad, right?

I had been watching the weather the week before this race, hoping it would stay cool. While it wasn't too bad, when I stepped outside in the morning I barely needed my extra pants and sweatshirt - not a good sign. And by the time I stepped into the start corral the air was warm, a nice day for a walk but not for a race.

I had a light bowl of cereal and a cup of tea, and brought coffee for the road along with half a banana. I also brought plenty for pre- and mid-race fueling: a Vega gel, half a package of Clif Bloks, a GU. Once I got there I still didn't want to take much in so I decided to trust in the carb-loading I'd been doing, had the Clif Bloks right before the start along with a little water, and tucked the GU into my pocket for during the race. 
  • Mile 1: A good start - the corrals were well organized and things felt smooth. I felt I had a good pace. (9:34)
  • Mile 2: I sped up a bit more than I meant to, I could tell I wouldn’t be able to sustain that the whole way and could burn out too early. I started trying to pull back. (9:00)
  • Mile 3: Still a bit too quick. (9:08)
  • Mile 4: I took my first water and walk break and used it to adjust my pace. (9:32)
  • Mile 5: Right on pace. Then a big downhill! (9:01)
  • Mile 6: Halfway done. Then the terrain changed as we moved from streets on to the lakefront path. It became more crowded and the footing less even. I stopped to walk and have my GU. (9:59)
  • Mile 7: It was getting hot but I kept keeping steady, or so I thought. When it’s hot it takes more effort to maintain pace, so really I was slowing down. (9:41)
  • Mile 8: Mistook an early unofficial water stop as my planned one and took another water break, then wondered why this mile felt so long. It became even harder to move - I started to weave between people more. (9:38)
  • Mile 9: Another slower mile, between the people and the heat. (9:40)
  • Mile 10: I realized I was going to have to pull it all out in the last mile if I wanted to make my goal – and I did want to – and I did. (9:05)
 Final time: 1:34:08 (9:25 pace). Positive split.

I was proud of myself and everything I did to make this happen: training, taper, fueling, my pacing on the course (not perfect but improved from past races). I was happy to use this result to determine my paces for the marathon training.

And still...

I wasn't that much faster than what was predicted for me, based on my training plan for this race - but my paces on tempo runs and speed workouts were consistently faster than what the plan called for (I was running more distance too). I felt I could have gone faster. 

We’re always looking to improve, right? That’s okay.

I basically ran this at the same pace as my last race (the Hot Chocolate 15K last November), which was only a little bit shorter. My training would have suggested that I improve my time more... so why didn't I?

Some ideas:
  1. I was carrying about ten more pounds on me than when I ran the Hot Chocolate 15K.
  2. It wasn’t a hot day, but it was warm, and the effects of that will show up over time (especially when carrying extra weight).
  3. My pacing throughout could have been better.
  4. There was a lot of back and forth from the pavement to the shoulder during the second half. I would have done better to have stayed on the pavement except for when going downhill.
  5. I could do still more to push myself – I’ve improved with time and experience but I could still do better.
At the same time I enjoyed every moment of this race, even when it was painful. And there were a couple of special moments that I will remember:

Having the opportunity to fly down trails on the side of the course a couple of times during the second half. We had a few downhills and the course was crowded at those times - plus when running downhill I prefer to run on dirt, it’s easier on my legs. Almost no one else was doing so and it felt great to fly by people, hurtling down the hill, leaping over uneven spots and just letting it rip. Flying. I have dreams about running sometimes and they have this same sort of feeling.

I came up alongside a dear friend – I didn’t know she was running this race and it was such a pleasure to see her. One look at her face and I could see she was struggling (and didn’t want me to stop or slow down for her), so I left and then waited for her at the end and grabbed her and helped her get what she needed. We hung out together after the race and then took the train home together. I only see her a few times a year but she is a deep friend and it was such a blessing to see her at this.

Overall, a great day and a great race. And now…

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Lessons from a Miserable Tempo Run

  1. Just accept that any intense run, done in the middle of a string of running days, is going to be hard.
  2. Remember to adjust goal pace for the heat.
  3. Forget sunglasses and just wear a hat. That way you can read your watch correctly.
  4. Corollary to above: Don't go out too fast.
  5. Gels or fluids only. No gummies, dried fruit, or anything you have to chew.
  6. Take more frequent walk breaks to compensate for the heat.
  7. And if you really can't do it, slow down, adjust your plan for that run, and forge on as best you can.
Grateful now for the foresight to bring extra electrolyte tabs in to work earlier this week, and a quiet schedule for the rest of the day. And ready for a decaf soy latte (carbs and protein for recovery, some caffeine for a little boost, and heat to combat the chill from the run + air conditioning).


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tech Talk

Some little updates on the tech front...

It took me a while to get used to the new watch - it has a more abrasive tone than my old one so I don't like using it as an alarm clock as much. And the buttons are slightly different, though now that I've figured them out for each function it's actually easier to use, mostly.

What has surprised me most about this new one is that I've found myself just wearing it as a watch during the day. I know, what a concept, but I hadn't worn a watch except for running for years. I've been using it as a timer throughout the day which I like being able to do (it's much easier to use than the timer on my cell phone), and now I can check the time when I'm on the phone more easily. I can check the time, period. Mind you, it doesn't mean I'm any more likely to be on time, but that's not one of the habits I'm working on.

Also on the tech front, not long after my previous watch died my iPod shuffle did too. Too much getting drenched in heavy rain. My previous one died this way too, which I'd forgotten, so now I'm not wearing an iPod at all when it rains. We have an old Mac setup and there's a lot it doesn't support anymore so I figured I was just out of luck and would have to get used to running without music or podcasts. Ever again. (I was not thrilled about this taking place during marathon season.)

But The Dude managed to find one last version that our computer system will support and bought two, one for me and one as a backup for him. It means I have to set it up on his computer rather than on my even older laptop - I imagine it will be months until I figure out all of the music I think he's missing and get that transferred - and again, it functions somewhat differently than my old shuffle and I will have to get used to that as well. But at least I have music again.

Every now and again I stumble upon the cabinet that the towel I wrapped my old watch in is in. (Our laundry room has lots of cabinets, most of which I don't use, so I end up forgetting which ones I do use.) I think about unrolling the towel to see if the watch could possibly still be beeping, but haven't actually done so yet - I think it would feel slightly creepy if it still were. So I just open up that cabinet, remember what's in there, and then close it again.


Friday, July 17, 2015

Not Happening As Planned

Well, I got through most of the first week of the "real" training (using the Hansons Marathon Method) and then went on vacation. I thought my time away would feel like a rest but quite the opposite was true - I came back feeling physically wrecked.

I had also started a couple of serious writing projects right before I left and was able to use the time away to really focus on habit-building around those - and came back not wanting to give those habits up or put them on hold.

So I woke up early on Monday morning facing the first of the Something of Substance runs for the week... and thought, Nope. This is not going to be sustainable.

I went ahead and put in the miles (though I pulled back on the intensity of it all) and that was fine, and then later that day I pulled up another possible training plan from the Runners' World SmartCoach program, which I've used before. And the next day I reviewed the concepts from Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel by Matt Fitzgerald, a book I highly recommend to all serious runners. And then I just let things float around in my head for a while.

And then on Wednesday I made myself some tea and pulled out a pencil and a calendar and made up my own training plan, one that I think incorporates most of the essentials (and most of the mileage) of the Hansons method while having a greater focus on the kind of running I like best, and will therefore want to do, and being a bit easier on my schedule as well, so I don't need to give up any newly minted writing habits.

And if I don't hit the time goals I had set my eye on with the Hansons method, well, there was never a guarantee of that anyway. I have yet to finish a marathon feeling sure and steady throughout, and that is really where my first focus needs to be. I think I know what I need to do in training to achieve that goal and I think my new plan actually allows more room for focusing on my weaknesses (in-race nutrition, proper carb-loading and tapering, consistent and persistent pacing) while giving me more opportunities to play, to enjoy my running.

Because that, my friends, is what it is all about.

Happy Running,

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What We Do For Our Children

As usual, we spent the first week of July in Ohio, visiting my mother-in-law and making the annual trip to Kings Island. No running at all on this trip and not nearly enough hiking either - too many mosquitos, for one, and G is not such a fan of hiking as D was at that age (we have moved on from the stroller, much to his occasional regret). A lot of walking, though, and being tugged at - a lot of picking up and carrying. My shoulder is not happy with me - my PT will not be either. Sometimes it's tough being three-and-a-half.

I did have a new adventure. No stroller meant no stroller at Kings Island, either, which meant both kids were able to have their own experience of it. We split up most of the day, each taking one child, and while I was mostly with G, I did get to hang out with D for part of the day.

"We can do whatever I want?"

"Yes." (Within reason, of course, but he's such a reasonable child I didn't even have to say that.)

"I want to go on the Adventure Express."

O-kay. What have I gotten myself into? But okay. Must not show fear.

I should mention that I am not a fan of heights and have only slowly been working up to riding roller-coasters at all.

Almost no line. "Secure your belongings." Four sets of three rows of seats, two across. Strap on, restraining bar down. A sign before us says hands, feet, arms and legs must stay in the car. "Clear?" "All clear." And off we went.

The point of this coaster - and why D loved it - appeared to be to throw you around, very fast, in tight turns. One slow rising and a view of the park from up high, then down and immediately into a turn into another into a tunnel into a turn. Then I lost track. I wasn't expecting all the being thrown about and was holding myself too tightly, bracing myself - my shoulder hurt, my neck hurt, everything hurt. But the boy was loving it. We came into the landing. "Can we do it again?" Almost no line. "Okay."

So we rode it again, and again, and again, and would have snuck in one last time for lucky #5 but the line suddenly swelled and we needed to get back to the others. After the first time through I cradled my shoulder and let everything else get very loose, relaxing myself as much as possible so it wouldn't hurt and I could enjoy myself.

But mostly, I enjoyed D.