Tag Archives: Running

Happy Valentine’s Day To You — Now Get Shaking.

First, I’d like to wish you all a very happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you started the day as beautifully as the Siren and I did: our 6-year-old son marched into our bedroom at 7:30 holding an oversized birthday card one of us received last year, and opened it wide so that the sound chip played The Chicken Dance at top volume. Romance lives in the Unfocused household. With that rousing call to wake, I wished the Siren — the love of my life — a happy Valentine’s Day, and we hid under the covers until the children went downstairs and we realized they were making their own breakfast — yay Montessori-trained self-reliant older kids! — with the milk that had gone bad but was still in the fridge (because we weren’t absolutely sure it had turned) and I had to run down to the kitchen and dump the cereal out of their bowls.  Good times.

I had my first full 10 mile outdoor run in weeks? months? this morning. There’s just enough ice on the ground to make it hard to really pick up the pace, and wearing enough layers to make a run in 17-degree weather comfortable slows me down too, but I was glad to be outside. One of the podcasts I listened to on the run was Escape Pod #237, “Roadside Rescue” by Pat Cadigan.  It’s a very short story, very cool and thought-provoking, like a lot of her work. Cadigan gave me nightmares my senior year of college with a short story about an alternate history where the 1968 presidential election went so much worse than it did here, and what happened to the country after. I can’t remember the title or find it easily online, but it was published around 1990 or 1991 in either Asimov’s or Analog. I was a political science major in college, and I wrote probably half a dozen papers on either the ’68 election or the careers of candidates who ultimately ran for President in that election, and the story sank its claws deep into my brain.  I haven’t read a lot of her work since then, but now I’m planning to go back and catch up on everything I missed.

Time to Kick Ass and Post on My Blog.

And I’m all out of blog posty-stuff.

It’s been a busy few weeks. Here’s a quick rundown, the good and the bad:

  • A mentally ill parishoner burned down the church my wife and children attend, doing millions of dollars in damage and forcing them to seek temporary space for the next 9-12 months.
  • My wife got swine flu and, mostly, recovered.
  • My father came for a visit!
  • Junior spent the first night of my father’s visit throwing up.
  • I had to go to Austin for a few days while the Siren was sick. The Lass and I tried to work out a meeting in the holographic projection we call the real world, but our schedules didn’t mesh.
  • A case that was going to have me in Peoria for a week and a half straight for an arbitration settled at the last minute.
  • I wore my Vibram FiveFingers for a half-hour treadmill run shortly after my last post, and they chafed in a couple of spots badly enough that my feet bled. I’ll try them again to see if I can break them in a little, but I think they’re just a size or two too small.

Well, enough of that. We’re all in reasonable good health, I’ve started to get some more work done on Breezeway, despite having a busy time at work (I can’t recommend Merlin Mann’s recent post, “First, Care,” highly enough to assist you in getting off your personal stick, by the way). My running is off and on but I’m registered for the Shamrock Shuffle and getting ready for the start of the racing season in less than two months.

Unfocused Girl and I are testing for our high green belts in taekwondo next week, so today was board-breaking practice ahead of the test. Witness the Unfocused Family’s destructive might:

That’s five boards: Unfocused Girl and I each broke two, and Junior broke one. After TKD, Unfocused Girl and I take a marital arts weapons class. We recently moved from nunchaka to bo sticks, and our new bo sticks arrived today:

Don’t let the smile fool you — we Unfocuseds are totally badass.

NaNoWriMo Day 29, 50,570 Words and Post-NaNoWrimo Victory Update.

The first thing I did this morning was 15 minutes of Write or Die Desktop Edition, and quickly knocked out 448 words for the novel.  I added a sentence here or there later in the morning, for a total of 535 more words for the novel.  Since I WON NANOWRIMO YESTERDAY, the pressure is off, and I had a bunch of other things I wanted/needed to do today.  Here, in no particular order, are some of the things that occupied my time today besides working on my novel:

  • Ran 6.39 miles very slowly (1:04:04).  It was my first run since Nov. 17, and my longest since Oct. 25. I lost a lot of speed (and muscle) in the month spent in front of the computer every waking moment, and it will take a little while to get it back.
  • Read a little of the Sunday New York Times for the first time in mumble mumble.
  • Worked. I’ve got a lot going on at the office (and out of town) between now and Christmas.
  • Went to lunch with the Siren and the kids at the diner for the first time in weeks.
  • Played Sorry with the kids while the Siren went to the supermarket to buy more butter, flour, and sugar for NaCoBakMo.
  • Went to the supermarket after the Sorry game to pick up the dishwasher detergent that the Siren forgot so she could focus on baking cookies.
  • Worked some more.
  • Listened to Christmas music. The Hanukkah music comes later, closer to the holiday itself, because there isn’t as much of it that I like.
  • Ate some cookies before dinner.
  • Listened to the first episode of The Cinnamon Bear with the family during dinner.
  • Ate some more cookies for dessert.
  • Got the kids to bed.
  • Worked more.
  • Had one last cookie.
  • Paid our property taxes.
  • Told the kids to go back to bed.

As much as I enjoyed NaNoWriMo, and I did, it’s good to be able to do a few other things, too.

IMPORTANT: You may have noticed my references to NaCoBakMo and eating cookies, lots of delicious cookies.  The love of my life, the Green-Eyed Siren, has started the first ever National Cookie Baking Month to raise money for our neighborhood anti-hunger charity, the Irving Park Community Food Pantry.  You can read about Day 1 here, and Day 2 here.  She’s baking cookies every day from now through Christmas Eve, and will send a batch to everyone who donates $25 to the IPCFP before then and emails her the receipt. Please participate so that I don’t end up eating all of these cookies myself.  To encourage you further (although if you’ve ever tasted the Siren’s cooking, you would need no further incentive), we’ll match the first $500 in donations.  Get off my blog and over to hers to read the details and see pictures of the delectable dainties as she makes them.

FINALLY, I leave you with The NaNoWriMo Song, because it’s awesome:

Race Report and Review: 2009 Urbanathlon.

Sorry in advance for the long post. It was a long race.

Yesterday, I ran the Men’s Health Urbanathlon, an 11.76 mile run and obstacle course along the Chicago lakefront. This is the third year they’ve held the race in Chicago (it started in New York, and I think they are adding London and Singapore as well), and I have registered each year and then had some last minute problem — I think work-related, in both cases — that prevented me from participating. This year, nothing came up, and off I went.

The course:  The Urbanathlon is an 11.76 mile run mostly along the lakefront path – not much in the way of closed streets after the loop around Navy Pier in the first few miles. Here’s a map of the course. As you can see, spread out along the course are six “Urban Obstacles”:

  • the tire obstacle at Navy Pier, two columns of tires, seven deep, you have to step into each one, then jump onto a monster truck tire, then move onto the next set of tires, for three sets;
  • monkey bars around Roosevelt Road, you have to go hand over hand for all 12 bars – if you fall, you have to start over, if you still can’t do it, you have to do push ups;
  • marine hurdles on the 31st Street beach, three 5-foot high hurdles (the picture shows five, but that’s wrong), you have to jump up and pull yourself over each one;
  • Soldier Field stair climb, (I did the yellow route in the picture), the equivalent of climbing 52 stories up and then back down;
  • taxi hurdle, about 20 feet before the finish, over the hood of a Yellow Cab;
  • the wall, between the taxis and the finish line, about 8 feet tall. The picture is misleading, in that the ropes were not anchored at the top but a little below.

Here’s a picture I took (before the race started) of the final two obstacles and the finish line:

IMG_0147

From what I can see of the photos of past Urbanathlons, the Soldier Field steps, taxi hurdle, and wall are the same every year, and the others change.

The weather: Cold, although not as cold as last weekend. It was about 40 degrees when I left the house, and a few degrees warmer at the start.  In the 90 minutes I was at the race site before the start, the weather went from overcast, to hail, to rain, until finally, just as we lined up at the starting line, the sun broke through and stayed out all through the race.

On to the race report:

I didn’t really know what to expect from the obstacles. I hadn’t specifically trained for them, and was a little concerned about the Soldier Field stairs.

We hit the tire obstacle about two miles in to the race out on Navy Pier. I didn’t do any specific training for this one — it’s not like I can easily pull together 21 car tires and three monster truck tires in the backyard — but thanks to our taekwondo instructor’s agility drills, I managed to get through them without tripping and falling on my face.  I finished the first 4 mile leg of the race in 32:05, just over 8:00 minutes/mile, a pretty good pace considering it included the tires.

The next 4 mile leg started just before the monkey bars and ended with the marine hurdles.  The monkey bars were no trouble, thanks to following Unfocused Girl on the monkey bars at every playground we’ve been to for years. The marine hurdles took a little more effort – it took me two tries to get over the second one — but still weren’t too bad.  I was a few seconds faster in the second leg as the crowd on the path thinned a little (a very little), finishing in 31:43.

The first three obstacles were pure fun. It was energizing to work different muscles in the middle of a race, and they even gave my legs a little (very little) rest from the repetitive pounding of the road.

Then, two miles into the final leg (a little shorter than the first two at 3.76 miles), we got to Soldier Field. As we neared the stadium, we went through a water stop. One goateed runner with the hunched, rounded shoulders of a guy who spends way too much time doing bench presses loudly complained that there was only water and no Gatorade. Like the volunteers freezing their keisters off to hand us drinks had anything to do with the decision.

We entered the stadium for the stair-climb obstacle: four times up and down the stadium steps, the equivalent of running up and down a 52 story building. There was a logjam at the entrance, and goatee man kvetched loudly and bitterly until we were directed to the entrance to the alternate route and the real obstacle began.

How’d I do? The stairs kicked. My. Ass. There’s no other way to say it. I was completely unprepared for this obstacle — I live in America’s Flatland, a landscape so featureless that the Park District had to build toboggan slides because there are so few decent sledding hills. I don’t use the stairclimbers at the gym, and I don’t do nearly enough hill work on the treadmill.  In a burst of optimism, I ran up the first 3/4 of the first trip up the stairs, and from then on it was a long, plodding walk.

Up. Up. Up.

Over to the next section.

Down. Down. Down.

It was like a Fritz Lang silent picture from the 1920s about the dehumanizing repetition of the industrial revolution, with long lines of us trudging up and down the stairs in an endless snake of polyester-clad humanity. I did, however, manage a smile when I ended up next to the loud-mouthed goatee man, and he was CRAWLING.

There were chip readers at the entrance and exit, so we got our time for Soldier Field separate from Leg 3. It took me 14:05 just to do the stairs, including the stop at the end to stretch out my spasming calves. I had to stop and stretch again 50 yards out of the stadium as they kept cramping, but once I started running again they loosened up enough for me to slog through to the finish.

I finally made it to the taxi and did the Starsky and Hutch slide across the hood, and then there was the wall. Watching the guy in front of up try to climb the wall with the rope and slide down because his shoes were too muddy, I decided the ropes were a red herring. It took me a couple of tries, but I got over in what I think was really the only way to do it, by jumping up, grabbing the top, and pulling myself over. Kind of like this:

Luckily, the finish line was only a few feet away. I staggered across and my legs immediately started shivering, and didn’t really stop until I got something to eat. I finished Leg 3 in 38:35 (including the time spent in Soldier Field), and my final time was 1:42:22.

Final impressions: This race was a lot of fun, and offered a terrific change from pure long-distance running. It pointed up a couple of things I think I’m doing right, like the box-jumps during my too-infrequent strength workouts at the gym. Even more clear, though, was the main deficiency in my training: lack of hill and stair work. Almost 36 hours after the race, my calves are killing me, and going up or down a flight of stairs is excruciating unless I do it backwards. If I’m going to do this race again — and I’m going to do this race again — I need to incorporate a little stairclimbing and hill work into my routine.

If you’re used to distance running and you’d like something a little different, I really recommend this race.

Running Update and World Wide Half Marathon Race Report.

I took most of the summer off from regular updating, but now it’s well into fall (or, as we call it here in the Midwest, “winter”) and it’s time to start holding myself accountable again.

My last running post was my race report on the Chicago Half Marathon. Since then, my training has been pretty inconsistent and low energy, which showed in my dismal performance for the 4th annual World Wide Half Marathon, part of the World Wide Festival of Races, which also includes a 5K and 10K. The WWFOR has runners all over the world, each running his or her own race, either alone, with a few friends, or as part of an organized “official” race.  I finished in 2:00:07, 13:30 slower than my time for the Chicago Half three weeks earlier and 24:21 slower than my time for the 1st World Wide Half back in 2006. I don’t know why I was so slow, except that my running has been off and on lately and my legs still felt pretty wiped out as late as Saturday evening from a workout I did on Thursday morning. It was also damn cold, 29 degrees at the start, but I don’t think that would have had much effect.

Probably the biggest factor, though, was that as a virtual race, the World Wide Half is a race you run alone. I had a beautiful run on the North Branch Trail starting in Caldwell Woods, one of the Cook County Forest Preserves; I’ve never run that trail before, but I certainly will again.  The trail was wonderful, but I did miss the energy of other racers.

And last but not least, were the two trains that crossed my unstructured imaginary racecourse, and probably cost me four minutes.

This coming Saturday, I’m running what will probably be my final race of the season, the Men’s Health Urbanathlon, an 11.76 mile race and obstacle course.  I’m particularly looking forward to the Taxi Hurdle.

Race Report: 2009 Chicago Half Marathon

I’ve been slacking on a lot of details and personal administrative issues this year, including race registration. I completely forgot to sign up for the 13.1 (Half) Marathon in the spring, which I had sort of planned to do even though I think that a race that doesn’t know the difference between a half marathon and a full marathon is kind of suspect, and I only signed up for today’s Chicago Half Marathon a couple of weeks ago. I was too late to get into a preferred start corral, even though I think I qualified for one based on my time last year, and paid so little attention that I didn’t notice until after the race was over that the Half appears to have lost its name sponsor from the last several years, Banco Popular. I assume it’s the economy, but I’m stunned that a race with 20,000 entrants couldn’t find anyone to buy the naming rights.

Whatever it’s called, I love this race. I complain about the parking in Hyde Park, sure, but 14 years after leaving the neighborhood I still love going back. The old course, which used to run along the Midway Plaisance through the heart of campus and right past my old dorm, was always a treat; now that the Half has grown into a mega-race in its own right, the organizers have moved it to Lake Shore Drive to give people a little more elbow room.  It’s a treat running on LSD (it’s closed to cars, giving runners 4 lanes in each direction to spread out), but from the turnaround around mile 7.5 to about mile 12 there is no shade at all. Today’s weather was beautiful but a little warm, and those 4-5 miles were brutal.

I started off slow for me, probably running 8:30 or 9:00 minute miles for the first 4 miles because of the crowds, then picked up the pace a little, but was never able to sustain a really fast pace at all. I ran mile 7 in approximately 6:30, and mile 9 in about 7:30, but otherwise just clocked out 8:00 to 8:30 minute miles all the way to the finish. My final chip time was 1:46:36, which was just a little over the 1:45 I was hoping to do.  My training has been spotty this summer, to be generous, so I shouldn’t be surprised that I ran a little slower than last year’s time of 1:45:10, which I managed during a hurricane.

All in all, it was a nice day and a good race, and while I’m blistered and exhausted, I feel pretty good. Since I’m tired, here are some pictures:

The Siren and Unfocused Kids agreed that the cariacture looks nothing like me, and Unfocused Girl drew her own, which she believes is more true to life:

Unfocused Girl's cariacature of Daddy after the race.

Unfocused Girl's cariacature of Daddy after the race.

Unfocused Girl's cariacature of Daddy after the race.

Unfocused Girl's cariacature of Daddy after the race.

My daughter and the professional both caught my essential characteristic: I don’t generally shave on Sunday mornings.

The first time I ran this race was the first year it was produced, 1997.  My time was 2:07:51.  Since then, my times have been:

1997: 2:07:51.

1998: 2:09:34.

1999: 2:05:10.

2000: 2:12:39.

2007: 1:47:39.

2008: 1:45:10.

2009: 1:46:36.

I skipped a lot of years in there, or can’t locate the results on line, and in that time I lost close to 50 pounds, which makes a big difference. My PR for a half marathon is 1:38:35, for the 2007 North Shore Half Marathon, but I don’t see hitting that again anytime soon.

Up next: The World-Wide Festival of Races Half Marathon, a fun virtual race started by Steve Runner of the Phedippidations podcast and his fabulous co-race-directors, the weekend of October 10-11, 2009, and the Men’s Health Urbanathlon, an approximately 11.76 mile race and obstacle course, which I have registered for in the past but never managed to run because of sudden conflicts. If you’re going to be at either of these races, let me know.

Summer’s End.

Labor Day always feels so bittersweet, because it means the end of summer  but also the start of a new year. The official calendar, not to mention The Firm’s fiscal calendar, may start on January 1, but everybody knows the real start of the year is the first Monday in September.

Junior started kindergarten a week and a half ago. It’s hard to believe how much he stretched out so much over the summer; rides he was too short to go on in June were no problem when we went back to the boardwalk at the beach in August.  He’s hugely excited to be one of the big kids in his three-year mixed classroom, and he seems to be taking learning much more seriously than he has in the past.

Unfocused Girl starts third grade in the morning and is raring to go. There are only 11 kids in her homeroom this year, and only four of them (including UG) are girls, but she’s already friends with one of them so I expect it will be all right. I hope.

I spent a lot of my summer thinking about, worrying about, and finally working on The Chapter. I didn’t make any progress on my current novel-at-a-standstill, Project Hometown, or any other fiction project. I did, however, have several good ideas for other novels or short stories, which I managed to capture either in Evernote (my new outboard brain) or my Moleskine notebook.  When I found myself at loose ends this weekend, between the completion of The Chapter and canceling most of our plans for the weekend because Unfocused Girl had a fever, I was able to pick up one of the short story ideas and start right in on it. Writing fiction again felt a little like pulling on your favorite sweater on the first cool day of fall and finding that it doesn’t fit quite the same way it did the previous winter; it takes a couple of hours to get used to it and for it to stretch a little, but pretty soon it’s just as comfortable as it ever was.  I’m 1,537 words into “It Takes a Village,” the story I started Saturday afternoon, and I’m looking forward to getting back to Project Hometown once I finish the first draft.

I knocked out a pleasant 10 mile run yesterday in 1:31:49, too. The Chicago Half Marathon is next Sunday, and while I’m hoping for a finish around 1:45, I’m not expecting much. I plan to run just to enjoy it, and treat it like a training run for the races I’m running in October.

I’m feeling optimistic, just like at the start of a new school year. I wish I had a new Trapper Keeper as cool as Unfocused Girl’s, though:

IMG_1246