Saturday, October 10, 2015

So, There's This Race Coming Up...

I've done a lot of thinking thus summer about what I want from this marathon and how it might be different from my previous ones. Both of my official attempts were disappointing in one way or the other, although obviously not enough to keep me from trying again! So I've read my previous marathon reports and looked at my old training logs leading up to them, to see what I struggled with and what I wanted to address. It was interesting to see how my memory of them had shifted over time.

In both cases there was some factor out of my immediate control that impacted me. In 2010, it was the heat. In 2013, it was hitting the wall and then pain in my knee.

But in both I did not have a realistic expectation for my time/pace, and that probably had the biggest negative impact on how I went into the day and in my experience of the event. It took some very focused effort in 2013 to change my thinking halfway through and to start enjoying myself.

I started off this year thinking I had a good chance of meeting my ultimate goal for a marathon (sub-4:25). My first break in training came and went (a week in Ohio at the beginning of July) and with it any realistic hopes of meeting that goal. Just because going on that trip gave me time to think about the big-picture goals for my life --- as trips so often do --- and I realized I didn't want to commit to the training I would need to do this year to reach that time, as I have other goals also taking my attention. I still believe that one day I'll be able to reach it, I just think it will take me more than a summer's worth of training to get there.

I wen through July and August feeling good about my mileage, although not necessarily about my speed. At this point I was doing no speed or tempo workouts, just running 6 days a week with progressively higher mileage. I was also not doing any strength training, in part because of ongoing issues with my shoulder, and in part because of lack of time. I was also barely doing any stretching, again for lack of time. Nearly all my runs were early morning ones and I would come home and immediately have to jump in to getting myself and the kids ready for the day.

Then at the end of August we went to Germany for a week, and when we came back the wheels went completely off the track. I had stayed reasonably active while there, so then came back and jumped right back into my previous training without thinking how I might need to recover from the trip itself. (Trips to see family are many things, but they are never restful.) I had my highest ever mileage week, topped off by my 18 mile long run, then gardened like crazy on my "rest" day, then started right back in... and crashed and burned, unable to run with any energy or for longer than a few miles. I thought I would just need a few days of easy running to recover but it ended up being more like two weeks, and by then it was time to taper.

Once I realized I was in serious shape I decided to act as if I didn't have a marathon coming up. Easy runs at first, more stretching, putting back some easy strength and core training... all the stuff I've not been doing this summer but really needed to have kept up with. And eventually I started feeling more like myself again and thinking I might be able to do this.

But not quickly. And, I think, without any time goal.

Of course I have hopes. I do really want to break 5 hours, since I haven't managed to do it yet and every time I've expected to. Allowing for at least one porta-pottie break (with wait to get in), that would require an average 11:15 pace. And really I'd like to maintain an 11:00 pace. Looking at my long runs, that's not an unrealistic goal. So it's certainly reasonable to hope for that. (Though with the temperatures forecast to be in the mid-70s, that turns an 11:00 pace into... an 11:15 one.)

But weighing against those time goals are three memories. Three good ones, not just the memories of what it's like to run with just a time goal in mind. (It sucks, at least at that distance.)

The first is of the one marathon that was "successful". My birthday challenge from last year. I took lots of walk breaks, going by distance and feel, rather than time. I refueled constantly. And I had no expectations about time. The result? No wall. No pain. I felt amazing during the last six miles. I could have done more. (In retrospect I wish I had, just to have broken that 50K mark for myself.)

The second is from that 2013 marathon, once I gave up on time. I started to really enjoy myself, looking around more and enjoying the sights and sounds of the city turned out to support us. When I hit the wall and had to start walking, I told myself, "Well then, I'm going to walk with pride." I put on some good tunes, gave high fives, smiled at everyone, waved at the kids. Then when I got tired of walking ("Man, it will take me a long time to finish this way!") I just ran when I could, taking in the love and giving it out.

And the last one is a more recent memory. On my last long run I left the house in a downpour, so I didn't have my iPod out for most of the run and it was just me and my thoughts, for hours. Somewhere around mile 15 I thought, "This is a journey." And it was kind of a mind-blowing vision. I know this is a cliche in running circles... and this was definitely fueled by exhaustion... but I had never felt it so clearly before. And I wondered, what would it be like to run the actual marathon with that as my focus.

So, as before, my desire to meet a time goal is warring with my desire to just run this and see what happens (and leave the time goals for shorter distances). My better self knows which one is right for me.

I've counted my carbs and mapped out my fueling. I'm prepared to take as many walk breaks as necessary, especially as it gets hotter. And I'm leaving my Garmin at home and will just wear my kids' Timex. I'll set the timer function so I can have a general idea of the time but otherwise strive to not focus on it. And try to take it all in...

Good travels, friends,

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Changing Lives, One at a Time: Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center

There's one more program in the Chicago Lights family that I want to talk about here, the Elam Davies Social Service Center.

Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center (EDSSC) meets basic human needs while working with partner agencies to support persons on their journey toward greater stability and self-sufficiency. Its services include case management, a food pantry, clothing assistance, housing assistance, job-readiness training, street outreach, and support groups. With the exception of the food pantry, there are no geographic boundaries or eligibility requirements. Their goal is to serve all neighbors with dignity and respect.
This program has changed so much in the fifteen years that I've been working for Fourth Church. Back then it primarily addressed the immediate needs of the men and women who came through --- clothing, food, emergency transportation --- and did so out of a couple of dark, cramped rooms of the church basement. They're still in the basement but have now taken over the whole wing, and the space is bright, colorful, and cheerful. And the focus now includes addressing long-term issues of homelessness and poverty, both on an individual basis, and through legal advocacy at the state level. In particular, their case management program works with each guest individually to assist them in addressing their particular needs, from obtaining legal identification to learning how to budget. They also have a street outreach program now, going out to deliver needed basic-care items and to encourage the folks they encounter to come in to the EDSSC for help with housing.

Here's a sampling of what contributions can bring:

  • $25 can provide a birth certificate and new ID card for a guest applying for jobs or housing, or a new outfit for a guest interviewing for multiple job opportunities.
  • $50 can provide 50 sets of hand warmers to distribute to those on the streets in winter, or 40 winter hats, or 8 weeks of fresh produce.
  • $100 can provide 100 pairs of reading glasses, or 4 application fees for single room occupancy apartments, or a month's worth of unlimited public transportation for a guest to find and keep employment.
  • $1000 can provide an apartment application fee, first month's rent, and security deposit for a guest in low-income housing.

It's been amazing to see how this program has changed over the years. They truly are changing lives, one at a time.

In five days time I'll be running 26.2 miles in honor and support of the amazing people --- staff, volunteers, students, and guests --- who are involved with Chicago Lights. You can read about the other programs here and here... you can contribute here (and if you do so know that I will bake something for every pledge of $45 or more)... and you can track me by signing up here (under Anne Ellis, bib 30659).

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Chicago Lights: CLASS and Free Write Programs

Today I want to tell you about two programs of Chicago Lights that I hold especially dear: CLASS (Chicago Lights Academic Success in Schools) and Free Write Jail Arts. Here are brief descriptions from their website:
Chicago Lights Academic Success in Schools (CLASS) supports learning and creative self-expression through fine arts programs for students in under-resourced schools. Throughout the school year professional artists teach drama and dance classes which uncover talents, build self-esteem and confidence, and increase students' desire to apply themselves in school. Courses are offered during the school day and are integral to students’ learning process. The curriculum is closely linked to state standards and includes detailed assessments.
Chicago Lights Free Write Jail Arts and Literacy at Nancy B. Jefferson School (Free Write) provides the only one-to-one literacy tutoring available to more than 400 youth incarcerated in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. Free Write seeks to reduce recidivism and help students find meaningful pathways to self-expression and further education through daily writing and arts workshops.
Some of you reading this blog may not know that I have an MA in Expressive Therapies with a focus on art. Basically, these are forms of therapy that take the arts --- visual, music, dance, drama, poetry --- as the form of expression, as opposed to traditional psychotherapy. Different therapists and different client groups may rely more or less on speech as well, but all share the conviction that the arts can be used as (or inherently are) healing modalities --- that art can heal.

Although in the end I decided not to work in this field, I fervently believe in the healing power of art. So I was excited when I first came across Chicago Lights and heard about the work of these two programs. Typically, in Chicago an "under-resourced school" also means that it stands in a poor neighborhood - and violence and generational poverty are epidemic in these areas. The youth in the Juvenile Detention Center are also overwhelmingly from these neighborhoods. Living in these places is inherently a traumatic experience, because even if your family is intact, even if you have somehow managed to avoid direct personal contact with any kind of violence, there is no way to avoid witnessing it, to avoid knowing people who have experienced it. And the effects even just of witnessing trauma on the young are well documented. (If you want to learn more about it, I recommend this manual created for people working with children - it's easy to read and thorough.) Art can be a force in addressing this trauma, both directly --- as in the brave writing of the Free Write students --- and indirectly.

And, of course, I think the arts should be a vital part of every students' education. Never mind all the benefits they supposedly confer on kids' abilities to learn other things --- I'm sure that's all true, but I think they are of value to us, just because. (We're sending our kids to a school with an arts focus, so you know I feel seriously about this.) Oh, but these schools, being "under-resourced", are of course lacking in arts programming, as that's usually the first thing to go when resources start getting tight.

So, for all this and more, I am grateful to Chicago Lights for placing the arts front and center in their programming. Their students' lives are richer and more hopeful for doing so.

You can donate to Chicago Lights through my campaign. Right now I'm $375 from my final goal of $1500.00 and amazed and honored by the support people have shown. I have a whole lot of cookies to start baking! (Because of my pledge to bake for anyone donating $45 or more.) And of course most of those will be going to the Sunday Night Supper hosted by Chicago Lights Elam Davies Social Service Center (I'll be writing about them next week) --- most people have wanted their cookies to go to that supper rather than their personal pantries.

With gratitude,

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Gone and Back Again

I was away at the end of August visiting my parents in Germany (and then school started and work got busy so no posts...) --- it was my first trip back in eight years and the first time the kids had been there.

It was the perfect age to visit with them. They are old enough now that they could really enjoy themselves, ask questions, and handle the new challenges we were asking of them. And not need constant attention, so The Dude and I could spend some time relaxing and enjoying our own interests as well. The weather was great, even the predicted rain was nowhere near as bad as we had expected. And it felt like a great end to the summer. We went on walks and hikes in the countryside, swam in a lake on a beautifully sunny day, made a shopping/sightseeing trip into Munich, visited two castles, saw a children's opera/play, hung out with Oma and Opa, and visited biergartens and parks. I enjoyed going through my mother's garden and then, in the evenings, her collection of gardening books. And we all enjoyed lots of good bread. (Possibly a little too much.)

A brief view from Schloss Lindenhof:
D took this photo, that's why he's not in it.
There was very little running (lots of walking and hiking) and not the best sleep, between my jet lag and then G's struggles with sleeping in a new place. I meant to ease into these last weeks of running before the marathon but I think I took it too hard that first week back. I had a miserable week last week and ended up abandoning some runs and cutting others significantly back, so now I'm just trying to rest and recover some energy and enthusiasm before the big day. The response to my fundraising has been good so that helps!

And soon it's time for Scary Movie Month! I need to sit down and think about what movies I want to watch.

Trying to sleep more,

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…