Friday, January 16, 2015

Winter Workouts

My workouts at the beginning of this month:

  • Shoveling snow;
  • Pushing / pulling / dragging Goo in the stroller over unshoveled sidewalks;
  • Wrestling Goo into his snowsuit and boots;
  • Shivering on the train platform.

What have I not been able to make myself do on a regular basis? Get up early and do my strength training and boxing in the basement. Baby, it's cold down there!

The two weeks both before and after Christmas - so four weeks total - were not good ones for me physically. Stress and upset routines led to poor eating and minimal physical activity. By the time I returned to work I felt as if I was just returning from a long illness. And then the extreme cold last week and its impact on our schedules (school closings) kept me from picking up my workouts again, either boxing or running. At the beginning of this week I felt as if I was going to have to come back slowly and carefully if I wanted to avoid getting injured.

Which, as it turns out, is a good thing, as I've been neglecting a few things in my life and need to make time for them. It's a lot easier to fit in other things if I'm starting my workouts from zero! Much harder to be going full-pace the way I was (and loved doing) and then have to "give up" some of that.

That said, I do want to build my strength-training and boxing back up (I plan to cut back on running), and that will be hard since I don't have any external motivators for those right now. But that's about where I was last summer when I stopped taking classes, so I can look at my training logs to see how I did it then. But the real challenge is in finding ways to get myself out of bed in the morning and then downstairs. I'll figure it out, though. Slow and steady... slow and steady.

Grateful for warmer weather,

Friday, January 9, 2015

Word for the Year: Vision

Some of you may know (or have realized) that I spent a fair bit of time thinking about self-improvement, professional development, etc. A couple of months ago I even went through a 31-day exercise in goal-setting and action steps. So it would make sense that I would have a list of goals for 2015 and plans to implement them.

But all my reading and reflection these past months has led me to a different conclusion. That goals, as worthwhile as they may be in the short-term, aren't really going to help me become the person I want to be. For that I need to look at habits, and consider if there are habits I want to break, or, even more constructively, if there are habits I want to take up.

And to guide me in choosing these habits, I need to think about my visions for the future. What do I hope to have done in ten years? Who do I hope to become?

Other questions, borrowed from Jeff Sanders:

  • Which projects mean so much to you that you would regret not doing them?
  • Which goals would radically change your life more than any other?
  • What have you been dying to share with the world?

And then last year I found it tremendously helpful to think about a word for the year, something short and concrete that could serve as a touchstone as I went about my everyday life, making all those quick, immediate, unceasing decisions that we all make in the course of a day.

I'm sure I don't want to share my list of habits with everyone, and I'm not sure that I feel ready to share my deepest vision for myself either. But in the spirit of all the 2015 resolutions/goals posts out there, I give you my word of the year: Vision. So that I may continue to develop mine, and to view all those habits and goals and decisions with those visions in mind.

What would your word be?

Always growing,

P.S. While I reference Jeff Sanders above, my two favorite personal/professional development blogs are Leo Babauta's Zen Habits and Seth Godin's Seth's Blog. And I would not have found them without Matt Frazier's No Meat Athlete. Do you have a favorite self-improvement blog or resource?

Monday, January 5, 2015


It's not as if Seth Godin needs my link any of his posts to become any more influential, but this one was especially moving to me today. Some quotes:

Is there anything worse we can say about you and your work? "You are unprepared." 


...We are unprepared to do something for the first time, always.

We are unprepared to create a new kind of beauty, to connect with another human in a way that we’ve never connected before...

We've been so terrified into the importance of preparation, it's spilled over into that other realm, the realm of life where we have no choice but to be unprepared...

...Once we embrace this chasm, then for the things for which we can never be prepared, we are of course, always prepared.

Falling in love and getting married comes to mind, of course. Having kids. Buying a house. What else?

Pondering these things,

Friday, December 19, 2014

It May Be Cold Outside But My Heart Melted

So, I must be doing something right.

At his second wake-up call, my eldest son informed me that

  1. All of his stuffed animals currently in the bed needed to give me a kiss;
  2. He had written a story about my being the best mommy in the world.

Our lives are so rush, rush, rush, and I get so little time with just him (since the Goo still demands so much more from me), that these kinds of moments feed me for days.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Baby, It Was Hot Outside (2014 Chicago Women's Half Marathon - Aug. 31)

Clearly this is long overdue. I haven't seen hot weather in a while! I've been finding it useful to me to go back and read reports of past races when preparing for new ones. Since I had taken notes on this race right after the event and just never managed to post them (perhaps because I was, oh, moving), I thought I'd go ahead and finally throw these out there. Perhaps they will be useful to you too.

Here's the link to when I was preparing for it. In it I mentioned planning to run with a pace group and figuring out my hydration/nutrition, along with my goals and in general hoping for an fun experience. In reviewing my notes I see that I addressed all of these concerns, so...

I lost my pace group almost immediately. I had been thinking to try for a 10:30 minute/mile pace (for a final time of 2:20) but then by mistake I locked in with the 2:30 group. By the time I realized this I couldn't catch up. It felt better to run on my own anyways, it always does.

I felt I got my fuel/hydration down pretty well:
  • 2.5 hours before I had tea and my Emergen-C;
  • 2 hours before I had oatmeal, a banana, and coffee (all this in transit);
  • 1 hour before I had half a Clif Bloks package and sips of water;
  • In the last half hour before the start I chewed some gum for a dry mouth but didn't take in any water;
  • I had two 10 oz. bottles of Tailwind in the chest pockets of my racing vest.
This plan worked well since I didn't have to make any pit stops on the course. I had some tummy tenderness during the last half of it (probably from the heat as much as anything else) but nothing unmanageable.

I knew with the heat and humidity I was going to have to take walk breaks every mile (rather than every other mile as I usually do at this distance), to give myself moments to cool down and so I could get more fluids in. I drank Tailwind at those breaks so had a steady intake of carbs during the race. As it turned out I didn't like having the bottles on my chest (I had even written about this with a previous race but didn't remember). When I run to work the chest bottles are balanced out by the stuff I'm carrying in the back pouch so I don't really notice them, but during a race I really notice the extra weight in front. I don't like using a hydration bladder (I just feel stupid sipping through a tube), so I'm going back to experimenting with gels for races, since I should always be able to access water on the course.

This race was billed as the first opportunity to run "The Magnificent Mile". Meh. I see these streets every day so it wasn't the thrill for me that it might have been. It felt the same as running downtown during the marathon. I didn't really like the activities structured around the race this year (a fashion show and black dress gala). It no longer feels about women's empowerment - we're all getting healthy together! - and more about women as consumers. I have very much loved this event in the past but since the new time (end of August) is also not a great time for me in the year (things get busy at work and school is about to start for the boys) I think I will sadly give this one a pass in the future.

I started the race with music but it jut didn't feel right so I turned it off until mile 7. Then over the last six miles I repeatedly tried to pick up my pace - and kept not being able to do it. I tried again with four miles to go... then again with two miles left... and then over the last mile I had to walk up the hills and resume running going down or on the straights. It was so frustrating - I can almost always push at the end and this time I just could not do it. Not even on the last stretch coming in to the finish line. Then I hit the finish line, stopped, and immediately felt chilled and sick. So it must have been the heat.

Official results: 2:17:48 total. 10:31 pace.

The first mile was 11:00 and then I was pretty much between 10:20-10:25 for miles two through eleven - I must have slowed down more than I thought in those last two miles. I was only 1:07 away from a PR - could I have found that on the course? The heat and humidity were out of my control. My training leading up to it, however, was more in my control, and it was not the best - I had missed a few long runs and endurance runs. I don't think that could have been avoided given what the rest of my summer was like, but I can't fall short on the training and then still hope for a PR

Could I have found another 30 seconds out there, just enough to lower my pace to 10:29? It doesn't really matter... but that I can even think that way shows me the power a number can have. Silly, but true for most serious runners I've found.

So, going back to my goals for this race, yes, I think I ran a strong and smart race given the weather conditions and my training. And yes, this race is well enough organized and I like the course enough that the actual experience of it is worth doing. But did I have fun? Was it exciting? Would I do it again? Not at the moment, no.

But never say never when it comes to races.

Non, je ne regrette rien -

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Scary Movie Month 2014

Despite all the work we were doing on the house in October to get it "viewing-ready" (for our annual Halloween party), we did make sure to celebrate Scary Movie Month with a good share of movies. To make it a little easier on ourselves we chose a number of well-loved ones and also split a number of them into two days viewing. And promised ourselves no movies about haunted houses, since we're still getting used to living in one. A house, that is, I don't have any reason to believe it may be haunted.

The Fog (John Carpenter - 1980)
Previously viewed in 2009
A classic, and scarier than I remembered. Lots of jumps! Of course we watched this in an old creaky house that is not familiar to us so we did have some "What is that?" moments after seeing this film.

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957 - on Svengoolie)
This was a Svengoolie movie (a Chicago area horror movie host who shows on Saturday nights). Frequently I only make it through an hour or so of his selections but this one had us sticking through the awful low-budget commericials. If we'd been able to watch this straight through we might have been able to make it to the end as it was interesting, but in the end time was against us and we went to bed. Don't tell me the ending if you know it - I might want to watch it again some day.

American Werewolf in London (John Landis - 1981)
Previously viewed in 2005
One of the first scary movies I ever saw with The Dude, and again, better than I remembered it. Certainly funnier, and scarier to boot. And also just interesting. I love how these late 70s / early 80s movies could just take their time setting up the atmosphere.

The Host (Joon-ho Bong - 2006)
Previously viewed in 2006 (in the theater)
One of my favorite monster movies ever. And I love that it gives me a view into another culture as well. For me this is up there with Gojira (the original Japanese movie that was cut up and added to to make Godzilla) and I could watch these both every year.

Coraline (Henry Selick - 2009)
Previously viewed in 2009
If you have kids, be afraid, very afraid. When you're not busy being enchanted, that is. And do not let your children see this until they're at least eight.

Evil Dead 2 (directed by Sam Raimi, starring Bruce Campbell - 1987)
Previously viewed in 2006
Another one where I forgot how scary it is (and gross). Really I should have known better since I had the same experience with another Sam Raimi movie last year (Drag Me to Hell). Why do I only ever remember the funny bits of his movies?

Rope (directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring James Stewart - 1948)
We're working our way through Hitchcock, a new one every year. This one was a little tedious - it was adapted from a stage play and felt very "stagy" - it was also very much of its time and class and I had little sympathy for the characters (elite New York socialites / upper crust). But it was nicely suspenseful to watch the characters break down and it was nicely satisfying in its ending. Thank you, James Stewart, for making this worth our time after all.

Bloodlust! (1961 - on Mystery Science Theater 3000)
This would have been entertaining (not great, but entertaining) without all the interruptions. (Mystery Science Theater 3000 was another TV show that showed horror movies - but only B movies - and with ongoing commentary). It made me appreciate Svengoolie all the more, since he comments on the movie at set times but not all the way through. In the end I couldn't finish it. The best part was the opening feature, some promotional film from the National Dairy Council from the 60s. With that the constant snarky commentary amused me and improved on the film. But the nonstop chatter just took away from any suspense there might have been in the main feature, or any opportunity to build sympathy for the characters.

Creepshow (directed by George A. Romero, written by Steven King - 1982)
Previously viewed in 2008
A collection of five short films, paying homage to the classic horror book series. These didn't creep me out as much as when I saw it before (even the bug one), I think I've gotten used to a certain level of grossness. Instead they were weirdly familiar and comforting. It was good to have this to watch while we assembled more Ikea furniture, in our last push to get ready before our Halloween party.

Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero - 1978)
This was one of the few movies this year we watched all the way through in one night. Our party was past, and we could fully commit to Scary Movie Month. A good movie, and neat to think of it as a precursor to the many zombie movies that have since followed. And also to think back on its predecessor, Night of the Living Dead, and to see how this built on that one (and how times had changed in the ten years separating the two).

The Omen (directed by Richard Donner, starring Gregory Peck - 1976)
Two of my least favorite tropes in horror movies - demonic possession and children - combined in one movie! And yet it didn't feel real to me in the way The Exorcist did, and therefore not all that scary. Maybe because the child in this movie really just felt like a prop and not a real child? I didn't feel anything for him or have any good sense of the different relationships - so then who cares about the rest of it? This was a lesson that a truly scary movie also needs to be a good movie on its own. It did make me want to watch Firestarter to see if my theory about good child actors making a significant difference holds true.

My Name Is Bruce (Bruce Campbell - 2007)
Last one of the month. Halloween night. Something lighter to balance out the last two. But I still expected something better than what we got - maybe another Bubba Ho-Tep? Bruce has it in him to be good and this could have been an intersting reflection on what it means to be a B-list actor in some very good movies. Instead he was just a joke. Lesson from this one - the director matters. Bruce should not be directing himself.

So many movies I would have liked to have seen. But oh well. There's always next year!

What's your favorite scary movie (doesn't need to be horror)?

Still working through the Halloween candy -

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Baby, It Was Cold Outside (2014 Hot Chocolate 15K Race Recap)

Oh, what a cold day it was.

I decided to arrive late to avoid a long and cold wait in the 1st start wave. (With over 40,000 total race participants they had 20 different start corrals divided into two waves.) I didn't know for sure if it would work out to do so - if I would be allowed to move into a different corral or  have to wait till the very end instead - but it also allowed me to leave the house later. I like leaving the house at 5:35 a.m. instead of 5:10.

I had an extra pair of pants with me to wear on the way there and for afterwards, and a hoodie to throw away at the start (all throwaway items get collected and donated to local charities).

I've been more carefully timing my nutrition and liquids before races since reading Matt Fitzgerald's book "The New Rules of Half-Marathon Nutrition", both to make sure I have enough fuel for the event and to avoid needing a porta-potty during it. I ate my usual oatmeal with raisins and walnuts at home before leaving, with a small cup of coffee (if I'd left earlier I would have brought these with me and eaten them in transit). Then I brought just enough water with me to wet my mouth occasionally and to take with a Vega gel fifteen minutes before starting, and gum to chew on right before the beginning if I felt thirsty. For this race I didn't need to worry about super-hydrating the day before, since it was cold and not so long.

I got to the race site and found a porta-potty. Once I was there and could see what the weather conditions by the lake were like, I swapped out my usual running hat for a beanie so I wouldn't have to worry about my hat being blown off if we encountered serious wind (which we did).

It was well organized this time (I've done it three times before and each time there was something poorly planned). No lines at gear check, barely a line at the first porta-potty visit and NONE at the second, amazing. With no one else to worry about I took my time at the second porta-potty stop, taking a little shelter from the wind.

I walked over to the race corrals and then continued walking around the park, I didn't want to get in a corral any earlier than I needed to and wanted to just keep moving so I could stay relatively loose and warm. Once I was sure the first wave of corrals was closed and the race had started (so I wouldn't be directed to enter my actual, assigned corral, the last one of that wave) I started walking over to the 2nd wave to see if I could get into the first corral there. No problem! I entered 5 minutes before the official closing time (for a wait of 25 minutes before starting vs. a hour) and was even able to move right to the front. Sweet.

The announcers did a good job of keeping us entertained while we waited and the race officials did a good job of keeping us moving forward, reminding people to move to the side if they slowed down or stopped for water, and not to run more than two abreast, and then we were off.

I started quickly and wondered if maybe I was going too fast, but figured I'd check myself at the mile splits and see if I needed to adjust. There were also a couple of downhills right at the start as we went under streets and so I just went with the flow. I had turned on my Garmin, not to keep strict account of my mile splits but more as a timer. I compared their time against mine when I hit the first mile so I would know approximately when I crossed the starting line and how fast I took that first mile. It was a good thing I wasn't relying on my Garmin since we spent a chunk of time underground during that first mile and it doesn't handle that well, though it seemed to have adjusted itself by the end of the second mile.

So first mile done, okay, finished that in just over 10 minutes. All right, if I can keep this up with no bathroom breaks, and then push it at the end, I should be able to to break 1:30 overall. But better still would be to make every 5k split under half an hour.

When I race, as I pass each mile marker I set myself a clock goal for the next one, based on how fast I took the first mile and what my overall goal is. So for instance, in this race, I crossed the first mile marker at 55:40. Knowing I started at 45:16, I set myself a goal to cross the next one at 1:05:40 or sooner. And so on and so forth. And then I don't think about the rest of the distance much, just that next mile. If I go over (or under) my goal in that next mile I still give myself the full amount for the one after that - I don't start making adjustments to each individual mile goal until I'm a ways in and can more accurately gauge how I might perform going on.

Anyway, first mile done, going fast but not uncomfortably so. (I can still clearly remember the first time I ran a mile in 10 minutes and what an amazing thing it was to me. And how much effort it took!) Can I keep this up? I'll have to - and then some - if I want to make my goals. So I kept on for another mile. And then another. And then I was fully warmed up and crossing the first 5k in just under 30 minutes and I thought, I really could do this.

The course started in Grant Park, went north and underground to head over to the Loop, then south on Clark St., then jagged over to Michigan and then again to Lake Shore Drive where it stayed until heading over to the lake and then turning back north. There were some odd in-and-outs to make up the total distance so some tight turns, and it eventually ended by going around Soldier Field and the Museum Campus (the west side of the campus - the hillier side) and then back into Grant Park.

I'm pretty familiar with much of this terrain so there was nothing noteworthy per se. There was a lovely sunrise over the lake when I arrived at the park in the morning. It was interesting to see some bits of the South Loop that I hadn't before, especially the Columbia campus. And I knew the last mile would be surprisingly hilly and hard. So while I enjoyed my surroundings, my focus was on keeping as steady a pace as I could.

At mile 5 I took a walk break and had my second Vega gel. I'm still trying these out - I love the taste, and they go down easily, but the texture is a little gritty and I think I would want to switch things up if needing more than one gel. Any recommendations for vegan gels? I don't like Clif Shots. GU works well for me but their amino acids are from animal sources. I did just see that their VP of research and development was featured in the latest Runner's World (former Olympian Magdalena Lewy Boulet) - I may write to suggest they find plant sources for their amino acids to make them vegan friendly.

I took walk breaks at miles 2, 5 (for the gel), and 7 miles. I think these breaks make a lot of difference in being able to maintain a consistent effort - they refresh my legs, changing up the muscles used. I don't ever walk for long, maybe a minute, tops - but it's enough. And all the while I kept an eye out for those mile markers. I kept coming in consistently under 10 minutes, sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot.

The second 5k split came and seemed pretty even to my first, maybe a little faster, so I knew unless the wheels fell off completely I would be able to make my 1:30 goal. And potentially then some! I was still feeling good but aware of the hills coming up which would slow me down, so I started speeding up a bit, both to bank some time against those hills and to see how much under 1:30 I could potentially go. I started passing people more deliberately and going down the hills more aggressively to get my legs used to the quicker turnover. It started getting a little crowded on the course, at times I had to push past people especially at the bottom of hills when I was going fast and couldn't easily slow down to avoid them. Watching the miles move by at closer to nine minutes pace than ten.

Then the last mile, with all those uphills. My goal here was just to keep moving, to keep a steady effort and not to worry about speed. Only a mile, now, only a mile. It was the longest-feeling mile on the course, though.

And then I was at the mile 9 marker, and there was the straightaway to the finish line just after (somehow it was still a very long feeling three-tenths of a mile). Could I pick it up again? Yes, I could! Once I got started I was just going too quickly to stop and had to push through two people running close together - a quick "Sorry!" and then through.

And then I was past the line and stopped immediately. Whew! I always feel for a moment that I might throw up. Then walking, walking. Yes to medal, thank you. Yes to water to save for later. I had a single goal at that point: gear check. There I would find warmer clothes to swap into or layer on, a change of shoes and socks, my home-made sports drink (water, lemon juice, agave nectar, cayenne, salt, and chia seeds) and food. I tried to find my group in the Runner Reunite section but couldn't, and it was just too cold to wait. Grabbed my free sample of blue corn chips and left. SO many people! I walked over to the restaurant where we would be meeting up but it wasn't open yet, so I stopped by a Starbucks for a decaf americano to warm me and to get some spicy seed mix and a banana, since the food I brought wasn't inspiring me, and then hopped on the train and headed home.

Final time: 1:27:44 (nearly 5 minutes off my previous best).

5k splits:
  • 5k - 29:41 (9:34 pace)
  • 10k - 59:08 (9:31 pace)
  • 15k - 1:27:44 (9:25 pace)

213th of 1118 in my age group - top 20%.

I'll take it!

Proudly yours,