Tag Archives: Chicago

Let the Word Go Forth From This Day Forward:

President’s Day is NOT a trash pick up holiday in Chicago. Why doesn’t the Department of Streets & Sanitation have its holiday schedule on its website? We go through this every frakking year, running out as the truck lumbers up the street, moving both cars and hauling the cans out in a hot hurry through the snow. At least we made it this time.

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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.

Goodreads? So Far, Meh.

I signed up for goodreads.com tonight because of a tweet from UChicagoMag alerting me to a giveaway of my former Hyde Park neighbor Sara Paretsky‘s new V.I. Warshawski novel (I love V.I., and not just because of my not-so-secret crush on Kathleen Turner). Registration went all right, but I keep getting error screens when I try to add a book or look something up. Too bad, because it looks like an interesting site.

Also, I’m trying to break myself of the habit of double-spacing after a period. I learned to type on a manual typewriter back in the stone age, and that was the convention then, but I’ve been hearing rumors that the kids today only use one space. Although I was skeptical, and have held fast to my antediluvian ways, Grammar Girl recently set me straight, and now I have no excuse. So if you see me double-spacing here, please feel free to slap me in the comments.

A Rejection. A Submission. More Outlining. No Editing. TGIF!

Just a quick update tonight.  Another rejection slip in today’s mail:  “Jimmies” was rejected by one of the big three pro magazines, the only one of the three that I thought would want it.  I spent a while this evening combing through my bookmarks of submission guidelines and finally made up my mind to send it to a semi-pro journal that I like; the editor rejected TTB a couple of months ago, but that hardly makes him unique.

I’ve just about finished writing the synopses of the story for Project Hometown from the viewpoints of each of the major characters.  According to the Snowflake Method (link on the sidebar under “On Writing”), the synposes are supposed to be one page for each of the major characters, and half a page for the minor characters.  That didn’t work for me; of the four major characters, the synopses are approximately 1200, 350, 750, and 900 words.  I’ll have to try harder for the minor characters to keep to a limit, or I’ll be dealing with them through the end of the year.  After I finish the character synposes, the next step is to go back and expand the overall plot synopsis.

No revisions this evening due to exhaustion, researching where to submit “Jimmies,” and (most important) much needed & wanted catching up with Mrs. Unfocused — it’s the first night since Sunday we’ve both been home all evening.  This evening she noticed I got a haircut.  I got it on Wednesday.

Tomorrow’s Saint Lucia Day, which means Unfocused Girl and Mrs. Unfocused bring up coffee and cinnamon rolls for us all to have in bed.  I love Swedish holidays!  Happy Saint Lucia day!

Saltwatch 2008-09:  Days after Dec. 1 without seeing a City of Chicago salt truck:  12.  The good folks at Chicagoist have been on this story for a while (here’s a link to a recent post about my Alderman ripping Mayor Daley a new one, which I’m glad to see, even though I disagree with his proposal to raid the Midway privatization funds to fund snow removal).  As a commenter said earlier this week, apparently Daley’s snow removal plan is to wait until Sunday, when it’s supposed to go up to the high forties, so the snow will simply melt.  Long-term, we can all just wait until June before leaving our houses.

Revising Meet the Larssons, Day 6: The Value of Crit Groups.

I got back to MTL tonight, but I’m so tired from going out last night and getting home late that I was only able to slog through eleven pages (87 down, 413 to go).  Of the eleven (not quite half of old chapter 10/new chapter 3), I cut four pages entirely without adding replacement text.  I’m worried that after all this cutting, I might have a very tight, well-written short story instead of a novel, but I know I have at least as much to add in the middle and end.

About six months ago, I attended my first ever writers’ critique group meeting.  I found a relatively new group through Meetup.com, signed up, and posted the chapter I slogged through on Sunday and Monday for comment at the meeting.  I had no idea what to expect, but I went into it with a fairly open mind.  I was a little concerned by the one guy who posted a forty-page memoir excerpt (we had a ten-page limit) that was all one paragraph, but based on the other samples posted his was an anomoly.

Putting aside the run-on memoir guy (who didn’t bother to read anyone else’s work in advance of the meeting), most of the other writing was pretty good, and certainly the general level of quality was about where I was or better.  The people in the group seemed perfectly nice, and respectful of each other’s feelings.  Still, I haven’t been back, and I haven’t really been able to put my finger on why.

As I’ve said before, I’m looking for new-to-me podcasts about writing and other subjects to expand my listening.  I recently saw a mention on someone else’s blog to two podcasts for writers that I hadn’t heard of before (I’m really sorry if it’s your blog — I lost track of the post and can’t find it through google — please claim credit in the comments and link to your original post).  One hasn’t put out a new episode in a couple of years; I’m listening to the back episodes now and will post about it when I’m done.

The other is Writing Excuses, in which hosts Brandon Sanderson, Howard Taylor, Dan Wells, and other semi-regulars talk to each other and other writers about different topics of interests to writers.  Each episode is only about 15 minutes long (“Because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart!”), and they aren’t limited to science fiction or fantasy topics.  Writing Excuses is in its second season, all of which is available on iTunes or on the blog at the link above (CDs of the first season are available for sale).  Occasional problems with sound quality aside, Writing Excuses is an interesting, informative, and often funny podcast.  The hosts are younger writers (well, younger than me, anyway) at different stages of their careers (some are just beginning to earn a living by their writing, while Sanderson is very well known and just took over the Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series).

In episode 5 of season 2, the Writing Excuses team discussed critique groups.  Several of the hosts talked about how important their writing groups had been to their development as authors, but one mentioned that one thing that can drive him crazy is a writing group where the participants don’t just tell you what did or didn’t work for them, but offer you suggestions on how to fix your story.

Bam!  That was exactly what was wrong with the group I tried last spring.  The leader of the group and a couple of the other attendees didn’t just want to tell me what they thought was weak, but they also had very firm ideas about how I could make it better.  And I hated their ideas.

One member of the group gave me a couple of useful notes during the meeting, then handed me a markup of my chapter at the end.  I took it home, but I was so discouraged from the meeting that I never looked at it.  The only reason I didn’t throw it away was that Mrs. Unfocused did read his comments, and said that they made sense to her.

This evening, before I got started hacking away at old chapter 10/new chapter 3, I went back and reviewed his comments on old chapter 9/new chapter 2 and compared it to my own edits from earlier this week.  As it turns out, I had come up with about half of the same edits on my own.  But the guy also noted that one two page, explanatory section read like an office memo and bored the crap out of him (he said it more nicely than that), and I had left it in the revised version of the chapter almost completely untouched.  I reread it, then reread what Holly says about this point in the One-Pass Revision Process (link is in the sidebar, under “On Writing”):  “If the scene just tells the reader about your world or its history, or lacks characters, conflict, and change, put a note in your spiral-bound notebook telling yourself which important points of worldbuilding you’re cutting, and draw a big X through the entire scene.”  So I cut it.  By itself, that one suggestion was worth the hour-plus I spent at that group meeting.  I don’t know that I’d go back — I really don’t want suggestions on how to “fix” it, but I very much appreciated the comments on what the readers did or didn’t like.

Forgive the typos — need sleep.  Just one more thing:

Saltwatch 2008-09:  Days after Dec. 1 without seeing a City of Chicago salt truck:  11.  Have you seen a salt truck?  Should we put pictures of the salt trucks on the sides of milk cartons?

Update on Project Hometown.

As expected, I didn’t get any work done on the revisions to Meet the Larssons.  I did manage to work on the train downtown this morning and again at lunch on the Snowflake Method outline of Project Hometown.  This is a revelatory process; I’m thinking so much more about the plot and the characters that I think writing this second novel will be a very different experience from the first draft of MTL.  Today, as part of Step 5, I finished an 1100-word synopsis of the main character’s story, and a 350-word synopsis of my secondary point-of-view character’s story.  This is far more planning than I did for MTL, and (so far, anyway) a far more structured plot, which will be much better for my alpha and beta readers.

Days since Dec. 1 without seeing a City of Chicago salt truck: 10.  If you see one, please comment about it.

Yo, Mayor Daley! Where Are the Salt Trucks?

It’s winter in Chicago, and for the second snowfall in a row, the city’s usual fleet of salt trucks are nowhere to be found.  Under the light covering of snow, the streets are covered with ice, but the only salt going down is what my neighbors and I are throwing down ourselves.

I took a cab last night, and the driver was complaining about the same thing.  He said that if the city isn’t going to salt this winter, he’s going to stop driving.

Bad things happen to Chicago mayors who ignore winter weather.  Daley has been one of the best at keeping the streets cleared & salted so that it isn’t completely treacherous to drive.  Maybe he’s just distracted by the financial crisis or Blago’s arrest, but come on, Mr. Mayor — get back in the game.  If this had happened a year ago, you’d have fired someone by now.

No work on the MTL revisions last night due to distraction from the Blago story, and none tonight because of a holiday party.  Back to work on Friday Thursday (getting ahead of myself looking forward to the weekend, I guess) .