Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Soldier Field 10M 2016 Recap

This was a good race, one I enjoyed greatly. Everything about the day seemed to flow. I woke early with my gear already prepared - which meant I had time to deal with some last minute changes without panicking. I forgot my watch at home - which meant I didn't pay overly close attention to my pace and could run based on feel. (This became important since it was a very humid day.) I chose and timed my fuel and hydration well enough that my energy stayed high and I avoided having to take a break during the race. I ended up in a corral somewhat faster than I meant to run (since I was overconfident when I registered for the race) and so I very quickly ended up as "back of the pack" - but that meant I never had to deal with overcrowding, which can be a real problem on that course.

Some little pleasures about the day:

  • Roses in the road dividers so as we ran by I could smell flowers;
  • I walked the long way back to the train and ended up seeing the entry procession for a Hindu wedding - complete with bridegroom entering by horse (and everyone bedecked with embroidery and sequins);
  • The wind that never picked up into a storm but instead gave much needed breezes throughout;
  • A seat on the train both there and back, allowing me to read Ed Roberson's City Eclogues as I traveled above a similar city.

The course, briefly:

I made myself run miles 1-5 easily, breathing through my nose to keep my speed down. It was a humid day and I knew I needed to be careful not to go too fast. We were running on city streets south from the Museum Campus for this stretch, with lots of room. I took walk breaks at every mile and sipped my sports drink.

Gel break at mile 5, shortly after turning onto the lakefront path and heading back north. I put music on at this point - I have a special running mix of more "trance-like" music, also meant to keep me from running too hard - and didn't worry about my breathing at this point anymore.

At mile 7 it began to feel hard. I think I took a couple of extra water breaks in this mile.

At mile 8 I switched to more uptempo music.

There was no clock reading at the 8 mile marker. I had not been tracking my time vigorously but I knew my approximate pace and also knew the time I would need to come under if I was to finish in 2 hours (my "B" goal). I tried to just stay constant at this point.

(My "C" goal was just to finish - I've had to DNF due to humidity before and didn't want to again. So many people walking the last two miles in.)

At mile 9 I saw that if I could bring my pace down to 11:00 for the last mile (and I knew I'd done at least one mile at this pace already), I would be able to make my "A" goal - to finish under 1:55:00. I found a good song and kept replaying it (Queen's "Somebody To Love", the live version from Montreal). I felt strong but was careful still, I knew we'd see the stadium long before we actually entered, and because they were setting up the stage for the Beyonce concert that evening, I knew we'd need to wind through the stadium a bit before hitting the finish line. You don't want to give a final last push only to realize you still have another quarter-mile to go.

And it all worked out, because I finished under 1:55:00, feeling like I'd given it all I could. (I found out later I'd finished in 1:54:10, a 11:25 pace.)

So I was quite pleased, with my planning and with my day. It wasn't until later, when I found out my actual time and pace, that I remembered that I'd run this at a 9:25 pace last year, exactly two minutes per mile faster. And I was still pleased, because I'd run the race the best I could for that day, and it didn't matter what I'd done before.

And there was an odd satisfaction in that as well. I've wondered, what will it be like to race when I start slowing down? Right now I still have hopes of getting back to my previous speed, but I also know that I'm approaching the edge of my being able to improve my times. But this race showed me that it will all be okay - that I'll be able to enjoy competing against myself even as I slow down.

So now I have my eyes set on a 10K in August and one of my favorites - the Hot Chocolate 15K - at the end of October. I think this will all make for a very satisfying race season.

With pleasure,

Friday, May 27, 2016

This Season's Planting

Most of what we've planted this year has been from seed - because it's fun, and cheaper, and the boys have been planting from seeds with surprising success for years now - I don't think they even think there's another way to do it. (Eat a piece of fruit - save the seed. Will it grow? Let's see. That's how we now have a 5-foot lemon tree in the upstairs study.) Almost everything is coming up nicely which is SO much fun to watch.

Another try at pumpkin (we'll keep better track of it this year - maybe put up a low fence).

Tomato seeds in newspaper planters - those are ready for re-potting this weekend.

Years ago, when I managed a community garden and had my own plot, The Dude used part of it to create his own "Skull Island", and he planted the Native American "three sisters" combination of corn, beans, and squash. He's been wanting to recreate it ever since, and this year he got his chance.

Carrots - that was D's particular request.

I am most interested in herbs, so to add to the thyme from last year, I planted chives in a flower box, cilantro (from seeds collected from our cilantro last year!), and oregano. Unfortunately, no one knew I had planted the oregano in the pot that I did, and the seedlings had been struggling anyway, so I think that was a bust. I have another flower box that isn't working with what's in it either, so I think this weekend I'll do some re-potting overall and also just pick up some oregano plants.

Then on the flower front...

I put in some coreopsis and alyssum in front. (Forgetting that I already had some coreopsis in there. But it could use more.)

Marigolds in the box with the chives. The marigolds were already in there - again, from seed harvested last year - but there was a lot more room so I tucked the chives in there too.

A mix called "Made in the Shade" for our flower box on the side of the garage.

A mix called "Heralds of Spring" for the flower box that D. has claimed. That box is prone to weeds and now it's just a mess of green things - no idea what might be weed and what might be from that mix. We'll wait and see, and next year maybe we'll plant something more recognizable in there.

I had sown forget-me-not seeds in one flower box, and then added in some succulents and moss that I'd started in one place and needed to move. But that box is prone to squirrels getting into it, and now I have to find a new home for my succulents. I don't think the forget-me-not seeds will handle a second replanting. So, the succulents and moss will go into the pot the oregano had been in (and then I can take them inside in the winter), and I'll put oregano plants (and stakes to prevent squirrels) into that window box.

We transplanted a fern from inside that wasn't doing well (we have two other ferns in the garden so I thought, why not?) It hasn't died yet, so...

Then I sowed sunflower seeds a while ago that don't seem to have sprouted, so I'll go ahead and sow some black-eyed-susan vine along that fence as well. And milkweed in one unused corner, and nicotiana and lavender hyssop in another. And we'll just see what comes up.

I'm hoping for some good garden time this weekend. I'll take more photos too and put them up next week. If nothing else I have more shrubs needing identification...

Hoping for some sun,

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Finally A Race

It feels like I've been waiting a long time for this weekend, for the Soldier Field 10M. I signed up for it at the beginning of March, back when I was hopeful and thought I could actually train for it. By the end of April it was clear that if I ran this (and I wasn't sure that I would), it would be just to cover the distance, with no thought of trying to race it.

By mid-May I'd gotten enough long runs in to know I could run this without it being too painful... then I had to decide if I felt it was worth the bother. (Of getting up early, of changing up my runs during the week, of packet pickup, of changing the Saturday schedule around.) Up until two days ago I had pretty much decided it wasn't. And then, I don't know, I guess I just thought it might be fun to do after all.

BUT. I am treating this as any long run, albeit one with a lot of other people there. It will be hot and likely rainy/stormy, certainly humid, so I need to expect to be out there a long time and to bring adequate fuel/fluids and possibly salt tabs as well. I'll load up my shuffle with good tunes and my favorite running podcast (Afropop International), take plenty of walk breaks right from the start, and overall try to take it easy and enjoy the moments.

And then focus on 5 and 10k races for the foreseeable future.

At least I like the t-shirt -

Monday, May 23, 2016

My Weeds

Weeding was the activity of this past weekend, I spent about three hours total in the dirt deciding which plants got to stay and which ones did not and then pulling out (or digging out, or cutting low) those that did not meet with my approval.

I enjoy weeding. It's one of the few tasks in the garden where I feel I know what I'm doing. I like getting down low and spending time with my plants at the leaf and stem and root level, getting to know them better. And it's a great excuse to leave the house behind and to be out in the sun and fresh air and green for a while. And then afterwards to feel perfectly justified in sitting on our back bench with a beer and a book for another half hour or so. James Baldwin and Lawrence Ferlinghetti were good companions this weekend.

I used to have a book by Sara Stein on weeds, My Weeds: A Gardener's Botany. I owned it back when I managed a community garden. Somewhere I lost it, or gave it away - time to get another copy.

I finally went around and took photos of those plants that I couldn't figure out - weed or not? - and threw them up on Facebook in the hopes of getting some identification. Some of these I know are weeds but I would like to know what exactly it is. And one of these is echinacea - I just can't remember which one.

This is a pesky one - it's everywhere.
Or maybe this one is.

I have the feeling this is bittersweet. If so, when we moved in it was already well established. The flowers
and berries are pretty but it was choking our jasmine, so last fall I tried to get it out wherever I could.
I don't mind managing one of these... but not the multiple locations it's springing up.
And last night while leafing through my perennial book I realized this is
bees' balm! I remembered it had pretty flowers later on, and it has a lovely smell.
So this is a keeper - just needs a careful eye (as does my vinca).
What makes it harder to identify some of these is that a number of plants in our yard bloom later than in other locations in our neighborhood, or even in the yard next door (we get less light due to the two-flat next to us). So just comparing what I see here to what I pass when walking about isn't enough. I'm hoping that by documenting them (and making some sketches in my garden journal) I might be able to remember what things are next year at this time, when lots of things are green but not much has yet blossomed.

Reporting from the deep green,

Monday, May 16, 2016

In The Garden

We've been doing more in the garden this year, as we make it more fully our own. So far we haven't taken anything out (with the exception of an ivy hell-bent on ripping off our siding), but have pushed back in some areas.

The house came with a well-established perennial garden so last year we mostly tried to maintain things and watch how it unfolded over the year. Most of our new planting was done in containers - flower boxes, vegetables, herbs. The one place where we went ahead and ripped stuff out was the area directly next to the house in back. It doesn't get a lot of light and was a tangle of grasses, groundcovers that had migrated from the area below the deck, a small shrub, and one small sorrowful iris patch that bloomed much later than the irises around the neighborhood. Oh, and a lot of weeds. We cleared out a space in the center so we could have a pumpkin patch, which we then did not carefully maintain and ended up with vines growing over everything else, an equally unattractive tangle. We hope to do better with it this year.

What I've done a lot of this year is pruning! When we moved in the shrubs hadn't been thoroughly pruned in some time. I cut things back but didn't get into the undergrowth. Over the winter I did some reading on pruning and saw that you can cut back up to 1/3 of the plant. So as soon as we had some warm days I went in to cut back and to get rid of the dead wood underneath. Since at current count we have 12 shrubs and two very vigorous vines needing the same kind of attention that's a lot of pruning. Plus the two sage bushes that would like to take over that part of the garden.

Everything looks a lot better now - the space is opened up and I can see what's going on. Part of what I see are what look like weeds, or at least from their behavior they're acting that way... but I can't remember what they did last year. I'm pretty sure a couple of these turn out nicely later in late summer - and I'm just as certain that one ends up being ugly and a nuisance to get out. But which is which? I'll just have to keep a careful eye on them all.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Talk About Lemonade

It was earlier this week, and I had not had a good night's sleep, after several nights already of too-short sleep. Bad news at The Dude's work and too much noise in the neighborhood. I woke up feeling grim, and went about the morning routines grimly. Coffee, kids' lunches, breakfast.

And then G came downstairs, much earlier than I expect to see him, trotting down the hall in his Captain America footie pajamas and beaming at me. "I love you, Mama!" he sang out, and I swooped him up and was given a face full of kisses. The sun broke through, briefly.

The day continued with a morning full of mishaps, all stupid little things that together had me wondering at my bad luck and needing to walk away from my desk before I blew up. Not a day for buying lottery tickets. Well, anyway, things got resolved, or at least resolved enough to keep going and I put in Beyonce's "Lemonade" which I had bought two days before and not yet listened to. An explosion of light in my ears and I kept it on all day, its effect kind of like a face full of kisses when you're just expecting rain.

Back to sunshine,

Friday, May 6, 2016


I've been studying poetry earnestly since sometime last fall, reading as much as I can across a variety of styles and cultures.

I haven't had much formal education in poetry. I remember reading Ted Hughes, Robert Frost, John Donne, and of course Shakespeare in high school. In college I took a course in 18th century American literature which introduced me to Emily Dickinson. At some point I started reading the Austrian poet Erich Fried.

Somehow while in college I managed to get on the editorial board of a literary journal, The Siren, and so for a couple of years I was reading what my classmates were writing (and had a couple of poems published myself).

And then after college I remember frequenting an independent feminist/LGBT library in Washington, D.C. where I found some African-American women poets: Nikki Giovanni, June Jordan, and Becky Birtha.

Over the years I've kept a binder of poems I've come across that spoke to me - by poets I've named above, and a hodgepodge of others.

I used to feel limited by my lack of formal literary education, but lately - as I've been filling in the gaps (and the internet is great for this) - I've been grateful. It means all my reading is framed through the questions I have about the poems, and not what anyone thinks I ought to know about them. Most of my questions are very basic: What do I like in this poem? What don't I like? Why? And then, what else might be going on around the circumstances of writing this - historically, culturally, personally? What might this poem be responding to? And always with an eye to my own writing.

I'm lucky also to be in Chicago with the excellent Poetry Foundation just a few blocks from me at work. I've been going to their monthly Library Book Club sessions, which allows me to explore a manuscript in some depth, occasionally to hear from the author in person, and to be among other people who are thinking hard about poetry as well. The first time I went I was so excited to be part of an actual serious discussion about literature I could barely contain myself - so different from any of the book groups I've tried to be part of in the past. After a couple of sessions I can now manage to not be overwhelmed with my enthusiasm. And of course their website is a treasure trove of information.

I know my study is paying off when I can read poems and have a sense of what I might do differently, when I can look at an old poem of mine and see not only its shortcomings but also how I might make it better. And I am beginning to feel that I am developing my own voice.

I do not feel adequate to much of what I want to say, but as I study and write I trust I am becoming more so.

Ever curious, ever learning,

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Writing Life

Longtime readers of my blog will remember that I haven't always written only about running, or even mostly about it. Other regular topics have included my quilting projects, baking, Scary Movie Month, stuff I've read that has made an impression on me, and odds and ends about my day to day life, especially the kids. So it shouldn't be a huge surprise that I've decided to start writing about another topic that I spend a lot of time doing and thinking about. Namely, writing.

Of course, I have already written about this, but only to say that I have been. And I still don't intend to share any details of the content of my writing. That I think needs to stay within the confines of those pages until I'm ready to have constructive feedback on it - and honestly this blog won't be the method I choose for that feedback.

But I do think it will be useful to me, and hopefully interesting to you, for me to share some of my process around writing. So from time to time I will pull back that curtain.

As you may recall, I gave myself a year to explore what form best suited me. I was surprised to find myself not that interested in writing non-fiction or memoir, but rather full of story ideas, and I started a novel.

Lovely, yes? Understandable, yes? Everyone understands novels, even if you don't tend to read them. And it's easy to mark progress - so many words written, so many chapters completed. Even if you have to throw some out and start again from time to time.

However, as I have continued to allow myself to write and read what I want, I have found myself more and more drawn to poetry. Oh, I was not happy when I realized that. There is so very much bad poetry out there.

And people are not generally neutral about poetry, especially anything at all challenging. I've found that they tend to come at it the same way they come at modern/contemporary art or jazz. (Two other art forms I love.) That is, with a lot of distrust, scorn, and dismissal. When not outright hatred.

I don't know why I was so surprised by my return to poetry; I did, after all, write an entire masters thesis using stories, essays, and poetry to explore my topic. My tastes in poetry have changed since then, though (as have my tastes in music and art, for that matter), so it's not just a question of picking up where I had left off. And the world of poetry is also very different from back then. I have so much to learn...

And that thought, while daunting, is also luscious. Mmm, poetry...


Monday, May 2, 2016

First Time in a Long Time

I ran eight miles on Saturday. This was my longest run since the marathon, last October. So kind of a big deal for me. And the best news was that it ended up not being a big deal at all.

I had my usual tea and a swallowful of leftover coffee before leaving the house, along with a banana and dates. I brought a small bottle of the endurance drink I use (Tailwind) and a gel - both things I've had no use for since last fall. Since I was carrying a bottle I broke out my race vest - again, this has sat on a shelf since the fall. Kind of nice to have it out again.

I started off slow and took walk breaks every half mile, with a sip of Tailwind with each walk break. I've had a bad habit in the past of not refueling soon enough so while this was a relatively short long run, as runs go, I didn't want to make things any harder for myself through anything I could prevent. I did feel kind of slow and stagnant to begin with - I had to remind myself that non-caffeinated runs feel that way to start. (On weekends I start my day with decaf tea because I know I'll be drinking more regular strength coffee than I usually do - at work I switch to decaf coffee.) I also entertained myself by looking at the different parkways as I passed. We'd like to do more with ours and I've been collecting ideas as I'm out and about in the city.

Miles three through five felt more energetic. I took my gel at mile four - Hammer Apple Cinnamon flavor. It was chilled from the air and felt refreshing and really tasty - not words I usually think of with gels. But I like the Hammer brand. At mile five I started to get a little tired so turned on my iPod and was treated to a whole bunch of Prince for the rest of the way. That was also nice. It was a gray, chilly morning and I saw very few people on my route, so it was just me and Prince, hanging out together under the cherry moon. A lot worse ways to spend an early Saturday morning.

I felt pretty good the rest of the way, made sure to stretch thoroughly when I got home and to put my feet up later in the day, and had no soreness the next day. So I think, barring any odd problems, I should be okay with the remaining long runs before the Soldier Field 10M and with the race itself, as long as I keep taking things nice and easy.

With relief,