Thursday, April 2, 2020

What the hell is going on?

Where to even start with this?

Par for the course with blog posts, I'm behind the curve on this. This was supposed to be my post about the March Madness Half Marathon (which is coming) but the prelude about COVID-19 got so long that I decided to make it a stand alone post. So here goes with that.

There is a lot of crazy going on in the world right now. I think that's the predominant sentiment expressed by everyone I've talked to about the coronavirus: This shit is insane.

Flashback to the beginning of March. In a week we went from wandering around doing our every day thing to staying as far the fuck away from each other as possible. In seven days I had months of races canceled, our park district and playgrounds closed (no swim lessons, no swimming), mine and Anthony's offices closed, my run club suspended all group activity, our nieces and nephews schools closed, multiple family members have been laid off, and our daycare closed - a decision the owner said they would only make if they were forced to (and they were).

I've realized I'm facing this with a sort of inevitability. Does anyone else feel like that? Like, I have assumed that at some point I will get this virus because that's the narrative all around - even with flattening the curve - and just have to deal. I'm not worried - after all I'm young, healthy, and am not immunocompromised. But I'm worried for my mom (whether she thinks I should be or not), and especially worried about my grandparents. And - as more people are infected and we learn more - I'm starting to worry about my kids again. For a few weeks there we were told children aren't as vulnerable as the elderly...until last week they announced one subset: Infants. And as massive as the little brute is, Andre is still an infant. Abundantly healthy...but still young, with an immature immune system, and been fighting off a chronic set of colds throughout the winter months...and that worries me.

It's becoming very apparent to me how much we know about various other illnesses and the medicines we've developed for them, and how much we take all of that for granted. Every time someone says "this is just another flu" I want to fucking smack them. Because it's not. The flu is a human virus that human bodies have some idea how to fight. This is an animal virus that our bodies have no predisposed immunity too. Every body it invades starts from scratch to figure out how to beat it - some do it well, and others don't. Oh, and there are now two strains.

And that is fucking terrifying.

I'm spiraling. Let's get back on point.

If I try to remember when I first heard about the virus all I can think is that it was sometime in February, and a general news story made it's way into the talk at work. I remember hearing that high-contact travel like flying wasn't a good idea because of it (no big deal for me, I'm too poor to travel right now). At the time, I felt supremely unaffected, and like many people had no understanding of the virus, how it spreads, or why I should care. I don't currently travel, have no plans to do so, and no one in my immediate circle really travels either (barring a few people I rarely interact with at work).

All I was worried about was that my marathon training was completely falling apart because of daily fatigue I was fighting, and that I also wasn't sure I would be prepared enough for the half I had coming up this month.

I think somewhere in the middle of February we got an email from work saying only senior executives were allowed to conduct business trips to China (didn't affect me, didn't care), and if you or someone you'd been in contact with had been to China you had to work remotely for two weeks. I asked on Facebook if anyone wanted to pretend like they'd been to China and were living with me so I didn't have to go in - I had many takers! Not quite as funny now. The next email was that only essential business travel would be allowed. Then came: Please limit all travel - personal and business.

And it basically waterfalled from there. By March 16th both mine and Anthony's companies had announced that we should stay home to work, indefinitely.

. .
. . .
. . . .

Now, on to the race end of things:
The governor of Illinois (JB Pritzker) has been incredibly proactive about this since things got really serious. On Thursday the 12th (three weeks ago) he ordered that all gatherings of 1,000+ be canceled. I got an email that the Shamrock Shuffle was canceled - I'd been waiting for it since race cancellations had started, and was not at all surprised. The race takes place in Chicago and both the governor and mayor of Chicago were adamant that large gatherings cease, and I was pretty sure a 40,000+ person race counted as a large gathering.

However, I was still holding out hope that, even amidst the chaos, my much smaller, local race that same weekend (Sunday the 15th) would still be on.

Alas, very shortly after the Shamrock Shuffle email, the gathering number was reduced to 250+, and with that decision came the announcement: The Hillstriders March Madness Half Marathon was canceled.



We'll get into the rest of the story next time.



Friday, February 7, 2020

Frozen Gnome Trail Race (10k)

It's a month post race, but here's my race post! Good timing too, since my February "fun run" is this weekend. Time to get this recap done!

On January 11th, I had the extreme pleasure of completing my first ever trail race. It was nothing short of fantastic. The more you run - and especially the more you race - the more frequently you'll get asked if you have a favorite race, and this one has already zoomed to the top of my list of favorites.

It wasn't my furthest distance and it wasn't my fastest *anything* (as a matter of fact, it was my slowest 10k ever)...

...and yet there it is, up there with the Chicago Marathon, Chicago Triathlon, and Ragnar.

I honestly and truly loved this race. Even the constant burning in my quads, butt, and lungs while we climbed hill after hill was enjoyable. I had no idea what to expect, and as a trail newbie I was slightly terrified of what this race would do to me, but I can confidently say I will be registering for this race again (and again, and again...?) in the future!

Now, let's get down to the recapping!

Race Snapshot

Date: January 11th, 2020

Distance: 10k (note that there is a 50k option that is 5 loops of the course)

Location: Veterans Acres and Sterne's Woods, Crystal Lake, IL

Organizer: Ornery Mule Racing

Race Website: Frozen Gnome

The Night Before
My partner in crime:
Lisa. Ohhh Lisa. If you've talked to me about running in person lately, I've probably described Lisa to you as, "That one friend who sends you a link to a race and you don't even look at it before agreeing to it, because you know you'll just end up agreeing to do it."

Lisa is that friend. And I'm not kidding. Every fucking link she's sent me in the last 4 months I've agreed to.

Anthony and I met Lisa through Ragnar. She was Random Stranger #(I've lost count) who joined our team in 2018. We were up all night in Van 2 that year, and she and I teamed up for Van 2 again in 2019. She was also Hobb's (our cat's) foster mom!

(And if you're one of those people who thinks *I* am a crazy runner, she's currently training for her first ultramarathon, which will be in Zion National Park in April. So she's crazier.)
Lisa's not only a dear friend, she's easily my running BFF. The companion to my crazy and yet also the voice of reason when I'm disappointed with my performance.

After work I drove out to my mom's with the kids (there's more to the why here, but they were not in tow for the race). My mom lives about 15 minutes from the race site so we convinced her to let us all crash there the night before (and she even made us dinner!). Lisa arrived right as I finished getting the kids situated inside, and we headed out almost immediately to get our packets.

Packet Pick Up and Swag
Bib and swag pick up was the night before the race at Ornery Mule HQ in Crystal Lake (across the street from Nick's Pizza, if you're a CLer). It was quick and easy, and Lisa and I opted to hang around and shop (damn them for putting all the good stuff right in front of you when you walk in!!!).

As soon as we walked in everyone was super friendly. Pickup was upstairs, and when we got to the table I complimented the girl helping us on her Ragnar jacket. This prompted a conversation about Ragnar, then the guy helping asked if we'd done trails before. Lisa was a yes, and I was a no. I mentioned that I was most worried about what to wear, and he said, "Do you have trail shoes?" Then he looked at my feet and saw that I was wearing them and said, "You'll be fine."

Thanks, dude. Haha. And yes...I was wearing them at that moment because I didn't want to accidentally forget them when I left my house (don't judge).

Swag: Entry included a long sleeve, flannel print Headsweats tech tee with the Frozen Gnome logo. There was also a sampler size Squirrel Nut Butter tub, and a drawstring back pack to put it all in. I opted to buy a race-specific 10k sticker, my (fantastic) Frozen Gnome poof hat too (also Headsweats) and an ORM neck gaiter. I like to use neck gaiters as headbands because they're the only ones that stay put (see race pics below), but they are super functional and can be used in so many ways. I've actually been thinking about buying more recently, and at $6 each it was a steal.

After snagging our packets and doing our shopping (if you've been on Instagram lately you will notice my FroGno hat haha), we took a look at the ORM racing schedule posted by the door, discussed future race possibilities, and then took off for my mom's.

Prerace dinner was chicken pot pie and green beans (YUM - thanks, Mom!) and around 9pm bedtime rolled up for all of us.

That's right, the mom duties were in full force during this race. When we're at my mom's Ant Man usually sleeps in her bed (he's really big on Gramma cuddles), but Andre can be a handful and likes to fight sleep, and the two of them together can border on impossible sometimes, so I was in charge of the Littlest Man that night.

Lisa and I spent some time organizing our stuff for the next morning and discussing what to wear while Andre crawled between our two rooms (I was trying to let him wear himself out!) and around 10 I finally pulled him into bed and fought got him to sleep around 10:30.

Parenting infants is the best, especially the night before races. /s

Race Morning
My alarm went off way too early, even for me. I didn't fall asleep until after 11, but at 6am it was chiming away beside me. At 6:15 I actually got up (and so did Andre, so that worked out!).

And then I had to get ready.

What I Wore
In the lead up to the race, 'What should I wear??' was the question that most prominently loomed over my head. I simply had no clue. I'm a road runner, not a trail runner! Looking at past years' videos was no help either. Some people wear practically no clothes for this (shorts. People wear s.h.o.r.t.s for this!!!) and the weather has varied wildly for the last few years so that did not help me at all.

The forecast leading up to the race predicted rain the night before which would then freeze, and then snow on top of it and a temp around 20 degrees. So the only thing I knew for sure was that

  • I needed to wear trail shoes
  • I should take my YakTrax *just in case*

The rest was up in the air so I had packed a few options, and based on the forecast upon waking (rain, mud, and temps in the low 20's...notice the lack of snow...ahemm) picked the following:

  1. Two pairs of socks - compression socks under Balega tall ankle socks
  2. Two pairs of leggings - Reebok cold gear under C9 regular
  3. Reebok cold gear long sleeve shirt
  4. "That's a terrible idea...what time" tank top (over the long sleep, in case I was feeling snarky)
  5. C9 running jacket with hood
  6. The ORM racing gaiter I'd bought the night before (I did NOT consider this race gear, since it wasn't race specific)
  7. Gloves

I did not wear my Frozen Gnome hat, since so many of you voted in my Instagram poll that I shouldn't. *pouts*.

After putting on all those clothes and breaking a sweat, Lisa and I both had some Cinnamon Raisin toast, filled our Camelbaks (since we knew this would be a loooooong 10k), and were on our way to Veteran's Acres!

If you do this race, get there early, if only for parking. Parking close to the start is VERY limited for the number of people who do the race. We arrived at 7:15 but the main lot they directed to was already full, and we snagged one of the last spots in the volunteer parking lot that we were directed to. I have no idea where the rest of the people parked. The good news is that we were right by the start. Like...RIGHT by it.

We sat in the car until about 10 minutes before the race, then walked over to the start. Right before leaving my car I put on an anorak I had because it was a bit misty and my jacket wasn't waterproof (like the anorak). I ended up taking it off a little over a mile in and shoving it into the Camelbak pack, so I can't say it was a wise choice, and I would forgo it in the future unless the rain was heavier.

However, right before the start I also put on my YakTrax, and I was really happy with this decision. While I definitely could have done the race without them (Lisa didn't have any and she did fine), they did help prevent me from slipping at multiple times during the race, and since we were running on trails there was no fear of the spike getting damaged. They provided a little extra grip and that alone was worth it.

Pre race pics!

The Running
I'm not sure if this should be called "the running" simply because we did a fair split of running and walking. I'm pretty familiar with Veteran's Acres (VA) because (as I recounted to Lisa during the race) I've been there a million times for various reasons. School trips, Girl Scout trips, park districk summer camp, sledding, hikes with friends or dogs (or both), etc. The first half of the course was prairie trails through VA, but the second half was through Sterne's Woods (SW) and I can't say any of my childhood trips ever ventured there, so the second (and most hilly) portion of forest trail is was an adventure for me!

Seriously. I didn't know hills like that existed in my hometown (and I'd even been warned!).

Just before we crossed from VA to SW, we saw an entire pack of deer just off the course, which was stunning. I see deer all the time when I run at the forest preserve early in the day, but it's usually 2 or 3, not close to 10!

Most of the trail through VA was packed dirt (except one portion that took us around the pond, crossing over some *very* slick bridges that I only noticed were slick because of everyone sliding on them - win 1 for the YakTrax!). It was actually pretty easy and enjoyable running.

Then we entered Sterne's Woods. Oy. We were greeted with a couple rolling "hills"...and then came to the first actual hill and OW MY ASS. We did NOT run up this hill. I'm sure some of the elite folk did, but we did not, due to the slippery, muddy, single track that took us up. There was a tiny gnome at one spot that I wish I'd gotten a picture of, but didn't stop for because of the long line of people all climbing at once.

I got to the top of the hill and thought to myself "that has to be the worst of it".





Spoiler alert, it was NOT.

Through the rest of the race, I counted FIVE sizeable hills. Comparing this recollection to my Garmin data afterwards, that seems about right. At the end of the last one, I stopped and made a video of me and Lisa, agreeing that it was the hardest hill yet. Not even two minutes later the 50ker in 1st place lapped us. I was FLOORED. Talk about athleticsm. After he went by I said to Lisa, "NOW we can say we've been lapped!" (we had been talking about how that hadn't happened yet) and he turned around and apologized to us. As he ran off I shouted, "No! It's okay!! It's an honor! Good luck!!"

I snagged a picture of him that you can find below, right at the end!

Having ALL the fun!!

Just about, thanks.

Fun, on course decorations.

Just one of many hills we climbed.

The 4th (?) big hill!

It was right around Mile 4.5 :P
Pausing to share the elevation chart before the downhill picture. This chart makes it seem way less difficult than it was, but if you look at the picture of Buttslide Hill you'll see how steep these climbs really were.

So above, I've marked where I was standing to take this picture - right at the top of the hill we'd just climbed, which was just as steep as what's in this picture. Now imagine five of these, plus numerous smaller hills, and you have the course!
We didn't get to buttslide down "Buttslide" hill.

Not dangerous at all...

This was hill #5. The hardest hill.

And that guy in the red jacket (right in the middle of the picture) is the guy who passed us!
After many hills, much hiking and running, we splashed through the finish. Literally. It was a swamp! And not pictured is the flooded grass we had to walk through five seconds earlier to even get to this part!

Thus I finished my slowest timed 10k ever, just under 17 min/mile! (For a fun reference, the guy who won the 50k kept an 8:28 pace!!!)

They were muddier, but that water we splashed through at the end seemed to clean my shoes off a bit.
My new favorite medal!!

Getting our picture with a gnome.

And as gnomes.

After the race we grabbed some post-race hot beverages, piled into the car, and headed back to my mom's. Lisa had to bounce back to Milwaukee for her daughter's poms meet, but my mom and the boys and I went and grabbed brunch at Carlos' in downtown CL.

Looking as tired as I feel, haha.

FIRE. Note that my youngest had already helped himself to some food literally the second this plate hit the table. Takes after his parents haha.

And that, my friends, was my first (and certainly not last!) trail race. Any guesses when the next one will be...? ;)


Thursday, January 2, 2020

Deer Park Cocoa Classic 5k

My December "Race of the Month" was a few weeks ago at All Community Event's Cocoa Classic 5k in Deer Park.

The race site was very close to the Long Grove Turkey Trot course, and I anticipated it being pretty similar, ie residential and flat.

Annnnd I was wrong. But we'll get there.

As with every All Community Events race, this one was well organized, easy to get to, and offered packet pickup both preceding the race and day of. It's always a good time with an ACE event, which is probably why I keep signing up for them! ;)

This race takes place right near the Deer Park Town Center, which is an outdoor mall. This means there's ample parking available, and it's all very close to the start. Packet pickup for the race was across the street at a Dick's Sporting Goods, and I stopped there the night before the race (with both kids in tow!) to grab my bib and swag. This year's swag was a light, long sleeve tech quarter zip. I see myself donning it a lot when the weather warms up a bit around here!

(Also of note: My toddler wanting to wander around Dicks in awe of all the basketballs and basketball hoops, and his unwavering insistence that the $200 baseball glove he found to carry around was his.)

This is where things get...interesting?

Pre Race Happenings
After the Turkey Trot I started thinking that I might be able to PR my 5k earlier than 2020. It was something on my list of goals (for 2020), but I realized it might be achievable sooner than that. But I've spent 3 years not setting goals - eschewing them entirely, as it happens - and I think part of me has forgotten how to set and achieve a goal.

So I'd spent two weeks toying with the idea of really pushing myself during the race and not only PRing, but trying to run the race in under 30 minutes.

I've never run a 5k in under 30 minutes.

For those keeping score, that's a 9:40/mile pace. My previous PR had been set in June 2016 at the Volition America 5k, and although I'd forgotten how to set a goal, I have not forgotten how badly that race hurt (haha). Which is why it really meant something when I vocalized my decision to PR.

If you follow me on Instagram, or are a friend on Facebook, you have likely seen my post about PRing this race. I'm going to post part of that here.
Yesterday I ran @allcommunityevents #hotcocoaclassic 5k in Deer Park. I've talked a lot lately about wanting to PR (personal record) my 5k and come in under 30 minutes, and for the last week I've been asking myself if maybe this should be the race to do it. But PR'ing a 5k hurts, and I still wasn't sure if I wanted to put in that kind of effort. 
Then as I was leaving packet pick up I got a call from (my) Papa Bender, telling me his doctors had removed an 8lb (most likely malignant) tumor from his kidney. Papa Bender has loved me like a daughter for the last 10 years, and after losing my dad to cancer when I was 14, I'm sure you can imagine the fear that goes along with him facing all of this. 
So when I hung up the phone I quietly said to myself, "I'm PRing under 30 for Pops. No 5k hurts as bad as cancer.
Race Day
I got to the race site early. I had to drop the kids off at Anthony's sister's because after the race I was going to my mom's to bake all day. This was supposed to be Ant Man's first 100 yard dash, but with Anthony in California that weekend plans had to change. It was a little bittersweet, but I replaced my desire to see my 2 year old sprint 100 yards (and subsequently push him in a stroller for 3 miles) with the overwhelming feeling that I had to PR.

I wanted to actually warm up as well, and did something I don't do before races: I ran! I took a slow half mile loop around the parking lot of the mall in my new trail shoes, stopped at my car to switch to my road shoes, and then looped around that same half mile again. This got me to about 10 minutes before the start. I downed the rest of my Nuun, put on some chapstick, left everything in my car, and headed to the start.

As soon as they announced for people to line up at the corral I headed over. I didn't care if I was seeding too far forward - because I was attempting to PR so drastically I didn't want to have to worry about passing people. They could pass me. I wanted to save my steps. I estimate I seeded myself with the 8:00-min milers.

Fun little FYI: While we were waiting to begin, they explained the tapered "hour glass" starting line that I mentioned in my Turkey Trot post! As we were lining up in the corral, the announcer said the purpose of funneling runners across narrowed starting mats is to spread everyone out better across the course so there aren't packs of runners. I'm not sure if it works, but I guess it makes sense!

The Race
The anthem played, the count down was counted, the start horn blared, and as we moved towards the start mat I said out loud, "This is for Papa Bender."

And I was off.

Unlike Long Grove, this course was not flat. The bulk of it had very little drastic elevation, but there were a few notable increases and I felt them. The course was entirely paved - it started in a parking lot, moved to roads, and then onto a bike path. After that path it joined back onto a road and led back to the parking lot for the finish.

I remember coming off of the first mile (8:45) having banked nearly a minute of time and turning onto the bike path to face a hill. In all honesty it was probably a bunny hill, but it sucker punched my lungs regardless. It was maybe 30 feet of elevation over a tenth of a mile...but it precipitated a false flat that delivered another 30 feet of elevation over the next mile. Now, 60 feet of elevation isn't climbing a mountain, but when you're using every ounce of energy to run faster than normal, it feels like it. And my pace reflected the slow climb when I clocked my second mile almost 45 seconds slower (9:28).

I did the math in my head. At just over 18 minutes, I could keep over a 10 minute pace for the remainder of the race and still come in under 30 minutes. That was a relief, but I didn't slow down. I wanted to crush this goal.

All I thought the whole race was that I wanted to be able to call Papa Bender when the race was over and tell him I'd done it for him. I didn't care how much it hurt at any one point, because when it did I thought about him in the hospital and kept pushing pace. I was going to do it.

As the third mile disappeared under my feet (9:11) I knew I had the race, my PR, AND my sub-30 goal in the bag.

And the photographer actually caught the achievement this time...not just my right shoe ;)

This is probably my favorite race photo ever! :)
And he caught it twice!

I'd done it. I brought it all in under 30 minutes.

Official time 28:32.8

I called Papa Bender after so he could listen to me cry and tell him I'd done it for him.

(And then I went and got my finisher's mug, took a few selfies, and actually used the race photo banner to mark the occasion.)

There are so, so many things I could say about this race. About how it made me feel, and the accomplishment I felt when I ran across the finish line and saw what I'd achieved.

But in all honesty, the greatest thing this race did was remind me of everything Meghan and I talked about during Ragnar.
That's what running is about. That's what the hard runs are about. No matter what, no hard run is EVER as hard as the actual, really truly hard things we go through in life. And running is there to save us from those things. 
It is testing physical and mental limits over a long period of time. And for me it was once again proof that I can do hard things. That perseverance and discipline and training mean something.
Sometimes you get to the point where you have to trust that your body can do it without you telling it to because you have the training behind you. You have to turn on the auto pilot and go, and you have to fight the voice in your head that's trying to bargain with you. That's the real hill to climb.
I have a lot of goals this year. So many things I want to accomplish. And I know that, realistically, I will have a bad day at some point and not achieve one of them. And on that day I want to remember this.
Jeez, I need to get another medal hanger.


As of the writing of this post, I went back and reread my post from the Volition America 5k in June 2016 and realized that apparently I did actually run the 3.1 mile distance in under 30 minutes 3 1/2 years ago (according to my Garmin). At the time, I challenged myself to PR under 29 minutes. Well, seems like my subconscious was aware of that...regardless, I never counted that as a 5k under 30 minutes because I always wondered if my watch glitched that day or the course was actually long. So I'm still calling this 5k my first under 30 because my Garmin lined up with the course, and that accuracy counts to me!