Tuesday, February 20, 2018

It was just on Sunday that I played in the snow

On Sunday, I went to Alpine Valley (about 1.5 hours from Chicago) and experienced a picture perfect day for skiing. The temps were in the mid to upper 30s, the sun was shining and there was plenty of snow. Monday, however was a winter weather disaster with rain, slush and temps in the 50s. Luckily, I decided to go on Sunday of this long President's Day weekend and not Monday!

My long and skinny 20+ year old skis look out of place
with the new fangled shaped skis

Outside the ski chalet at the base. Seems like almost everyone else
 wears helmets to ski nowadays.

About to go down the snowboarding obstacle course on skis

Chairlift at AV

More than halfway through my day on the slopes, I turned my Garmin watch on and selected the ski/snowboard tracking option. Here's what my graphs look like:

Who knew Garmin watches tracked your skiing?

Hopefully, the colder forecasted temps by the end of the week mean that the local ski places can make enough snow to get them through to March. There was just an article in the New York Times this week about how all the businesses and towns that rely on snow are feeling the hurt in a major way with these short winters. For now, I try and savor these old Midwest winter ski places, which can hopefully stay around on for a few more years.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Yay Snow!

I finally got to break in my new cross country ski boots today in Horner Park! The soles on the old boots came unglued when I went skiing in -10 degree temps in Lake Geneva.

They were brand new and were so much more comfortable then the old ones.  Anyway, the hill in Horner Park had about 200 sledders and snowboarders on it, even though the average trip length down the hill is about 15 seconds. Of course, I went down on my skis for a little downhill practice!

Hill in Horner Park
I have taken about two weeks off from running (except puppy sprints and the MRC three mile run on Saturday). I haven't even been to the gym once. I'm trying to catch up on my sleep after my F^3 training cycle. Snow throwing, shoveling, skiing and resting are now my new workouts!

Lovin' my new gear!

Monday, January 22, 2018

F^3 Lake Half Marathon 2018 Race Recap

I've run the F^3 Lake Half Marathon twice before (in 2015 and 2016). It's a chance for us Chicago area half marathon fans to break out of our winter training routine and actually run a race in the middle of January. The forecast this year called for unseasonably warm temps with highs in the upper 40s. The pleasant weather is probably the reason why this year's race had almost 2,000 runners.

Goal: My last half marathon was the The Big Easy Half in November, where I ran a 1:32:26. Before that race I had been averaging about 25 miles a week and I planned to remain at that level afterwards. However, without really paying too much attention to my volume, I suddenly found myself running 50 mpw mid-December through January. With that kind of mileage I figured I should be able to run two minutes faster than I did in November, which would mean running a sub-1:30. Since the race would have pace groups, my strategy would be to run with the 1:30 pacers the first few miles, see how I felt and either remain with them, or take off on my own if I felt good.

Getting To the Race: My neighbor Stacey and I drove to Soldier Field garage and sat in a long line of cars to pay to get in the garage. It seemed like some of the bottleneck was caused by people paying with credit cards which took longer to process than cash. My idea for next year's race: $20 cash per car or $25 when paying with credit card. That should speed things up as theoretically more drivers would pay with cash.

Pre-Race:  After getting out of the car, we walked up the stairs and found ourselves in the United Club at Soldier Field. I used the indoor facilities with indoor plumbing. Then I bumped into Sara and we chatted briefly. She told me it was going to be her first half since she had kids! Anyway, I had planned all along to run in long sleeves, but I made a last minute decision to run in shorts and a singlet instead. I stuffed the rest of the clothes I was going to wear in my backpack and checked it at bag check. I briefly said hi to Erin who was working the race. I then headed down the staircase to the starting line. Once in the corral, I spotted Annabelle and Maggie. Annabelle had toured the course that morning and filled me in on the details of where the mud, ice and traffic barriers were.

Leaning over the corral fence
with Annabelle and Maggie (src: MagMileRunner)

The national anthem was sung and we were off!

The Race:
Miles 1 through 3: Temps were right around 40 degrees with sunny skies. In other words it was perfect running for mid to late January. I let the 1:30 group get ahead of me by about 10 meters and figured I reel them in later. Then I decided to move into the middle of the pace group as there was a headwind and I wanted to do some drafting. Once we were out on the southbound leg on the Lakefront Trail, I noticed that Maryhelen from the Mikkeller Running Club was right in front of me. We chatted a bit. 6:49/mile.

Mile 3 on the Lakefront Trail with lake to the right (src)
Miles 4 through 6: Eventually, Maryhelen said that she would drop back a bit, but would keep me in her sights. I told her good luck and continued on. Running with the 1:30 group felt a little slow, so I decided to make a break for it and darted ahead of them. Fortunately, I did this right before we ran through a narrow muddy patch (which got my shoes all muddy) then up and down a "big" hill. It took me a few minutes until I could scrape all of the mud from the bottom of my shoes (by scraping the sole of my shoes on the ground). I don't think that slowed me down too much - it was more of an irritant than a time waster. Anyway, the leaders had already made the turn and were headed back by me going the other direction. With a $500 first prize for both men and women, it's no wonder this race pulled in the speedsters. 6:42/mile.

Miles 7 through 9: After the hairpin turn at mile seven, I decided I would take advantage of the tailwind and speed up. After a mile or so, I began to suspect that the tailwind was now once again a headwind and pulled back a little. 6:36/mile.

Miles 10 through 12: After three miles into the wind and running about two minutes per mile faster than I average in training, I started to feel the start of some cramps in my calf, so I slowed slightly to give my legs a break. 6:42/mile.

Mile 12 on the Lakefront Trail (src)

Miles 13 and 13.20: I was trailing a couple of guys up until the finish, and started to make my move. As I tried to pass one guy he sped up to keep ahead of me. A speedy runner who had started walking told me "you've got him" as I ran by. I made my best effort and we ran stride for stride until the finish! 6:28/mile.

Finished! (src)

Total Time: 1:28:17 
1st Half Split: 44:33, 2nd Half Split: 43:44
Pace: 6:45/mile
Overall: 73/1,997
Age Group: 4/136

Three minutes slower than my course PR, two minutes faster than goal and four minutes faster than my November Half. The conditions were pretty much ideal, and I kept the splits pretty even, so I don't know if I could have run this race any better.

Post Race:
I went inside Soldier Field to pick up my gear.  After collecting my things, I made my way back to the finish area and cheered on the runners and I even got to see Mo finish. I went back into Soldier field and spoke with Mo, Maryhelen, Annabelle and Erin and some of us planned to meetup at Kroll’s, the post-race bar.

Stacey and I headed over to the Kroll’s and used or beer tickets for our a free beer. Maggie showed up and we all got a table where we chatted for awhile.

I'm in a good spot now fitness-wise, but do I ramp up the mileage, maintain as-is or cutback and take a break? I will have a week to think about it as I'm more or less taking this week off.

Next up: Shamrock Shuffle?

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Even Splits

When I ran the Big Easy Half Marathon in New Orleans in November I wasn't in top shape. I had been doing relatively low miles in the weeks preceding the race and was inspired to jump into the race when I saw Shalane mouth those two famous words on her way to win the NYC Marathon a couple of weeks prior.

Anyway, regular readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of negative splits, but for the Big Easy Half I didn't really know how I would fare over the distance (due to aforementioned low volume) so instead of any fixed strategy, I decided I would just run by feel. Well, long story short - my "central governor" was working that day, because running by feel produced some pretty-darn-close to even splits, as you can see by my two half times:

1st Half: 46:34
 2nd Half: 45:52
Final Time: 1:32:26 (7:03/mile)

Although technically I was slightly faster in the second half of the race, it was only by 42 seconds - a difference of 0.6%. in other words pretty darn even.

That's not super interesting in and of itself. However, after recently receiving an e-mail from the race, I went back to look at my results and noticed that they listed my overall and age group placements at each of the five timing mats laid down throughout the race:

So, even though I didn't light the world on fire during the 2nd half of the race via negative splits, I still went from 42nd to 15th overall between mile 3.1 and 13.1 without hardly having to alter my pace. I guess it just goes to show:
  1. A large number of runners positive split by going too fast too soon
  2. You can still have fun passing loads of runners by just holding pace as others fade

Maybe this could be a new race strategy for me. Anyone else try to hit even splits in distances shorter than a full marathon? 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Sunny Arctic Run

Despite the single digit temps and negative windchill, it was a beautiful day for a run in Chicago. This run got me pumped for the F^3 Half next month!

Ice Pancakes!
Skyline 1
Skyline 2
Skyline 3
Alta Vista Terrace
I only saw one person on the LFT during my run, so we both waved at each other in camaraderie.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Turkey Trot Chicago 8k 2017 Race Recap

Until this year, the only race that I've ever run on Thanksgiving Day was 10 years ago at the traditional 8k race in Lincoln Park. My memories of that race were mostly bad. I paid $72 for the experience ($50 for the race + $22 for parking). The parking spot was at the southern tip of the Lincoln Park Zoo lot. This meant that by the time I got out and locked the car, it was super close to race time. So, I had to sprint a mile north to the start line only to be completely out of breath and to find the race already underway. Once I crossed the start line, I was mostly prevented from actually running for the entire five miles due to being blocked by masses of walkers and joggers. Since I didn't know anyone else there, I left right after my 5 mile "walk/jog", $72 poorer and sporting an 8k personal worst.

I decided, this year's Lincoln Park 8k would be different/happier. Not only would I leave early enough to find a free street spot, and be able to start near the front, but I would also be attending the race with my dad (he was doing the 5k). So I had three things going for me this year vs. 2007!

We arrived in my car near the finish line just off of Diversey and Cannon at around 8:15 am for the 9:00 am start. After making a couple of sweeps up and down the streets nearby, my dad spotted an empty spot that was near a fire hydrant. Luckily, I was able to squeeze the car in and was happy to park so close without paying. While waiting in the car, we took a look a look at the course map and realized that the start line was actually a few blocks south of the finish line, so we decided to head on over at about 8:30 so we would have enough time to take a leisurely stroll there.

Once there, the race emcee announced that the combined races were sold out with over 8,500 runners! That is an astounding number for a little race along the Lakefront Trail. No wonder I got blocked in so badly 10 years ago. Anyway, after checking my bag, we walked to the start corrals, which despite the posted mile/minute splits for each wave seemed to be somewhat of a free-for-all since there was no one monitoring the entryways. The "A" corral was only about 1/3 full, and despite it being for runners of sub-6:00/mile ability, I surmised that a decent percentage of the people queued up in the corral were likely not even sub-7:00/mile ability. So, I parked myself at the very back of that corral since I was shooting for around a 6:30/mile and knew it wouldn't be a problem.

The national anthem was sung and we were off!

Starting the race
 (Notice that I'm at the very back of the sub 6:00 first wave src)

As we headed north along the Lakefront Trail, I passed about 30 people who obviously had started in the wrong corral. In any case, we had a nice tailwind so my first mile was a little fast, but not too bad. Since the course was an out and back, the race did a fairly decent job of keeping the northbound runners hugging the lake via the sidewalks around the harbors and the southbound runners on the Lakefront Trail itself. About at mile two along the LFT, I spotted Declan who was out for his casual morning run, heading towards me. Luckily, we were able to make a successful side-five, which was very cool. At mile three we turned around and I once again saw Declan who was no doubt returning home for his Thanksgiving breakfast feast!

Mile 4 (src)
Up until that point, I hadn't been passed, but somewhere between mile three and four some guy who was breathing heavily started to pass me. I sped up a little to keep pace with him and he started complaining to me that the mile markers were off by 0.15. I agreed with him, but also realized that some of that was likely due to us not running the tangents perfectly. I could tell by how loudly he was breathing that I could put him away, so just after mile four, I stepped on the gas and he dropped back. Then it was a mad dash to the finish line and before I knew it it was done!

Dash to the finish (The 8k and 5k courses were together at that point)!

First half: 16:10
Second half: 16:04
Total: 32:14

Not my fastest by any means, but not a bad outing since I had just raced a half marathon five days earlier. I kept the splits pretty much even-steven despite the headwind at the end.

Post race
After I picked up my bag, I returned to spectate for my dad and got to witness him finishing 1st in his age group in the 5k! It would be another hour before the awards ceremony, so we decided to bolt. On our way out, we bumped into Kimberly, who had also finished 2nd in her AG. All-in-all it was a nice day for a run, a much better experience than 10 years earlier, and it was a good way to spend the morning working up an appetite for the Thanksgiving feast later in the day!

Next up: ??

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Big Easy Half Marathon 2017 Race Recap

It's been awhile since I've raced. I've been taking easy and haven't had a training plan since before the Rock 'n Roll Half in July. After the last few years of non-stop training cycles, I was constantly tired and my leg muscles were extremely stiff and sore. So, I decided I need to approach running differently. I took a few weeks off and then began running low mileage and doing more walks instead of runs. Eventually, the fog started to lift and my energy levels gradually improved. To help my legs regain flexibility, I kept up my yoga practice and strength training and also switched running shoes from stability (which I've pretty much always worn) to neutral shoes. That made almost an immediate difference in getting my legs back to normal.

But, as always happens after some time off, I started getting the itch to race. It was probably when I watched Shalane win the NYC Marathon that got me thinking that I'd rather race sooner than later. I wondered how I would I fare now that I'm doing much lower miles 20 to 30 per week. My longest run in four months was 11.5 miles. Extra weight wasn't too much of an issue since I've also been pretty good following a HFLC diet and only put on about 5 pounds from my lean marathon weight last year.

As luck would have it, I found a race. After planning a vacation to New Orleans, I decided to poke around the interwebs to see if there was a race taking place during my stay. I stumbled upon the "Big Easy Half" which would take place only 1.5 miles from my hotel at the Superdome during my stay. So it was decided, I would make my "comeback" in the Big Easy.

On Saturday, I left my hotel at 6:00 am for a walk down Bourbon Street where several of the bars were still operating with their doors open. Music streamed out of the bars and I could still see a few patrons enjoying their favorite "breakfast" beverages. On the sidewalk, I had to swerve around a few "reminders" left by people who had perhaps too good of a time partying a couple hours earlier!

After about a 15 minute walk I arrived at the plaza outside the Superdome at the start line.
Waiting for the race to start
I took a few pictures and then we were called over to the start. The announcer was trying to get people to line up at the start line, but just a few of us did, and so I got in one of the official race pictures:

A clap to get the race started (src)
The national anthem was sung and we were off!

I was one of the first runners across the timing mat, but was immediately passed by about 40 speedy runners. It was hot and I had only an inkling of what my half marathon pace should be, so I held back. I thought that a 7:30 to 7:45/mile pace was realistic so targeted that for my first few miles. We headed out of the Superdome plaza and ran under the expressway a trail that led us to City Park. Then it was up and over a bridge about 3x as high as Mt. Roosevelt in Chicago. At one point we could see the lead runners coming back towards us. A "triathlete" dude running in front of me was yelling at the runners ahead that he was going to catch them because he was running negative splits. I thought that that was cool, because that's what I usually do. So I tucked in behind him and let him pull me along, however that lasted only about a mile before he faded and I passed him.

Making my move
To my surprise, I kept on passing a couple of people every mile as my pace held rock steady at an also surprising 7:05/mile. I was in a groove and knew I could hold that pace the whole race. Since I was just running by feel, I think perhaps I've developed a decent "central governor" which gives me a good feel for pacing? In any case, it was nice not to be constantly glancing at my watch and to be just to be running freely. Soon enough, we turned around and ran back over the hill and I stepped on the gas. After passing a few more runners, I found myself running alone but also so far behind the next runner that I couldn't see anyone ahead of me. So, I had to rely on markers and the smattering of course volunteers to make sure I didn't make a wrong turn! Luckily, I soon spotted the Superdome on the horizon and made a beeline towards it. One final turn and I was back at the Superdome plaza. I appeared on the jumbotron and an announcer called my name at the finish I put on one last surge and ran the final 0.13 at 5:03 pace.

1st Half: 46:34
 2nd Half: 45:52
Final Time: 1:32:26 (7:03/mile)

AG: 3rd out of 40, OA: 15th out of 779

With the Big Easy Half medal
Not my fastest half marathon by a long shot, but honestly with the relaxed training I did going into this race, I was pretty happy with the result. Heck, I hadn't run 13.1 miles in four whole months, so just finishing the distance without stopping made me happy! I kept my pacing very even, with a slight negative split and I didn't have much left in the tank at the end. So, strategically this was an "A" race. I don't see myself ramping up my training anytime soon, and so I'll be happy to just keep this modicum of fitness and be able to jump in a race (and race hard) whenever the desire strikes my fancy. As long as I run a pace that matches my fitness, I'll take it as a win. If nothing else this race reminded me of how awesome it feels to be running hard over a relatively long period of time. Who knows, maybe I will run a marathon again someday?!

Post race, I ate some of the sausage jambalaya at the post-race food tent:

Jambalaya was a post race snack
I walked back to the hotel, passing the street cars on Canal Street.

Canal Street

I made the turn onto Bourbon Street. By 9am the bars were still open, but thankfully by that time the streets were being power washed clean to prepare for another day of revelers.

Next up: Art Van 8k Turkey Trot in Lincoln Park on Thanksgiving Day!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Run For Gus 2017 - Race Recap

Since the Rock 'n Roll Half 10 days ago, the only running I've done has been the occasional puppy sprint in Welles park with my two dogs. I guess our little sprints have made an impression with park goers. In the park yesterday, we walked by a boy in a stroller who had apparently seen us sprinting through the park a few days prior. He looked up from the stroller at his dad and said, "Dad, those dogs are really fast!" to which the dad replied, "Yes, son, dogs are fast." The boy said, "No, dad. THOSE dogs are fast". I had to smile at that one, because he was right. The "kids" make speedwork fun. It's intense, especially when the pooches spot a squirrel, rabbit or another dog, they instantly take off and pull me along for the "hunt" and we fly at a pace much faster than I would otherwise.  

In any case, on a dog walk a couple of days ago, I bumped into a neighbor and he asked about my running. I told him that since I was taking a long break post-RnR, I was looking for a 5k to use some of my residual fitness. He mentioned that there was a 5k he was doing called the "Run for Gus" which supports children with brain cancer. A kid at his son's school who was the top fund raiser for cancer research in his class, coincidentally and tragicaly came down with brain cancer a few weeks later. So, in order to get a 5k in and support the cause, I decided to run the race.

This was a Thursday evening race, so it was challenging to figure out what and how much to eat for lunch so as not to drag me down too much for the race. Morning races are much easier. I have a four day hiatus before I go into an even more restrictive elimination diet on Monday, so, I had some meat and cheese ravioli for lunch, figuring maybe the carbs would do me some good. It was still sitting heavy in my stomach as I jumped in the car and headed down to the lakefront at 6pm for the 7pm start.

As I got down to the parking lot at the Diversey Harbor driving range, I noticed a woman loading her golf clubs into her trunk, so I waited for her to leave. She went over to the passenger side and grabbed here parking receipt off her dashboard and came over and handed it to me. It still had 2 hours left on it (an $8 value)! I thanked her profusely and parked in her spot after she left, which was only about 200 yards from the start line!

I went to the registration tent and signed up. They had iPads, so I was able to use a credit card. Then I put on my backpack and headed out for a shakeout run. 
Pre-Race Overlooking Diversey Harbor

When I got to the underpass at Fullerton, up ahead I saw a man on rollerblades and his dog going down the hill on the other side of the underpass super fast and nearly slamming into the concrete wall. Luckily, he was able to turn at the last second to avoid the wall. Suddenly a woman on rollerblades came even faster and she (likely a novice) slammed into the wall going about 20 mph! She instantly crumbled to the ground and screamed "My knee! My knee!" As I got up to her, I could see her knee was badly messed up. Her boyfriend (who was the guy on rollerblades) came to her aid and immediately called 911. In the excitement, the guy had forgotten about his dog, and the dog was wandering away. So, I went over to the dog, told him to sit and he did right away. Then I grabbed his leash and held onto it. I waited with the dog a few minutes, but as race time was nearing, I asked a bystander if they could hold the dog until the ambulance arrived. They obliged and I took off to the start line. I decided then and there if I ever decide to rollerblade, I will wear knee protection!

After dropping off the dog, I ran back just in time to check my backpack and get in the corral. Without pomp or circumstance, the horn sounded and we were off!

The Race:
Mile 1: There was quite a headwind heading north (about 15 mph) and loads of people sprinted out ahead of me. Since it was an out-and-back course, I knew we'd have a nice tailwind coming home. So I held back as we made our way over to the Lakefront Trail. I could still feel the lunch in my tummy, but tried to ignore it. 6:04/mile.

Mile 2: I started to think I should tuck behind someone for drafting purposes, but I was all alone with the next runner pack about 20 yards ahead. I just kicked back and waited for the turn at mile 1.55. Once we hit the turn at Belmont, I accelerated with a tailwind assist and started gaining on, then picking off runners. The course was kind of a figure 8 in that we had to cross back across the course, narrowly avoiding the runners (who were behind us) coming towards us. Luckily, I made it through unscathed.  5:59/mile.

Mile 3: Right after starting mile 3, I set my sights on a young 20-something runner in racing flats and who was wearing a college cross country singlet just ahead. I gradually made my way up to him and we were flying stride for stride. I was really feeling like I was redlining, but was determined to keep up with him. I drew on every drop of endurance I had built up over the last six months and focused on turnover. We both spotted the finish line ahead. 5:49/mile.

Mile 3.07: The college guy had just a little more juice in the tank than I did. Plus, he probably had a little more leg speed due to being 25 years younger. He broke ahead and stayed a couple of paces ahead of me until the finish. I came in with all I had and was finished!. 4:38/mile.


Official Finish Time: 18:09
Official Pace: 5:51/mile
Garmin Pace: 5:56/mile

Place Overall: 15th out of 765
Place Age Group: 4th out of 51

So, this would be my 3rd fastest 5k ever, except the course was definitely short (by about 70 yards in my estimation). It should probably be counted as an 18:23. In that case, it might barely fall into the top 10 fastest since I have a whole bunch of 5k finishes between 18:10 and 18:23. 

So, taking a ten day rest post-RnR didn't hurt me. In fact, it helped me! My RnR finish time was a 1:28 and according to McMillan's Calculator, an 18:23 5k is equivalent to a 1:25 half marathon! So, note to self, take a much longer, easier taper before a goal half. I'm in better shape to run fast now than I was 10 days ago!

Post Race:
I went over and congratulated the college guy, and he told me I pushed him at the end since he didn't want me to pass him. I told him he helped pull me along as well. Then I got my bag and changed, then went out to root for my neighbor and some other friends.

The Run for Gus course
While on the sidelines, a woman named Tracey from the Chicago Tribune introduced herself. She had interviewed me over the phone a few years ago for this article and somehow she recognized me! Anyway, after everyone I knew had finished, I said my goodbyes and took a lake picture as I walked back to my car. 

On my way to the car, I snapped this one.

Then I left to go shopping for two dozen eggs and whole milk to splurge on over the weekend until my new restrictive diet starts on Monday!

Next Up:
I'm probably still going to do some intense resting over the next two weeks. Rest is certainly doing some good apparently! Then, maybe I'll think about training for a fall half.