March 31, 2009

The Mean City Streets

A few weeks ago I met up with a photographer friend of mine who schooled me in using my own camera. He's that good. We met up right after work, so I brought my camera with me to the office that day.

This was during the Mike-as-a-cripple phase of our lives, so naturally he and I drove to work that day. I had just recently gotten my fancy new telephoto zoom lens and wanted to test its image stability. For those of you not as big a photo nerd as I have become, let me just say image stabilization reduces vibration therefor allowing the photographer to take clearer photos. My fancy new lens came with image stabilization and there seemed no better time to test it than in a moving car.

As Mike drove us into work, I snapped photos along the way. Most were highly unimpressive, but once we turned onto Lake Street I knew we'd be under the El. The yellow of the tracks and the intermittent light I thought might result in a cool image, and if I do say so myself, I think it did. It's not the most dynamic image, but I like how it shows a slice of city life early on a Wednesday morning.

March 29, 2009

Race Day

This photo is what one might call foreshadowing.
I woke up this morning, ready for my race. I felt good about my training and knew this 5 mile race was a distance I could run. The only question in my mind was how fast?

True to the weather forecasters' prediction it started raining last night. I was sitting on the couch and could hear the wind whipping outside and rain hitting our front windows. It wasn't a pleasing sound, but I'd run the Shamrock Shuffle before under similar conditions. In fact the past two times I've run this race, it's been cold, windy and slightly raining at points. What I've never done is run this race under ideal conditions.

When I woke up this morning the first thing I did was walk to our front windows. And before I even opened the blinds I thought to myself it seemed a bit bright. Sadly, this is the view that greeted me:
The sidewalks were not even visible. How can I run five miles when I can't even see the sidewalks? The snow accumulation was what ended up making me decide I was not going to run the race that morning. To be honest, I hadn't really been looking forward to it in the first place. The friend I was supposed to run the race with as of Thursday told me she couldn't. I understood though. She's also a co-worker of mine and unexpectedly had to fly yesterday to Texas for a trial - a trial she only found out about four days prior to going, so I don't fault her. Without a companion though it meant I was taking the train downtown by myself, checking my gear by myself, warming up by myself, running the race by myself and then heading back home, by myself. I didn't want to go it alone, but I would have. Until I saw the snow.

This would have been my third time running the Shuffle. I've finished it twice in the past and know this is a distance I can run in a little more than 57 minutes. I'd trained and had no qualms about being unable to finish this race in at the most 57 minutes. I was running this race to see how much time I could knock off my previous two tries. Looking at the snow, I knew there was no way I'd be able to run this race the way I wanted. This wasn't a dusting of snow. It wasn't only making the ground a little wet. It looked like it had been snowing for a couple hours before I woke up, and NPR informed me that the snow was expected to continue until around 1 p.m. So the entire race I would have been running in the snow. In the thick, slushy snow that was already 2 inches thick when I woke up.

(The railing on our back staircase covered in snow.)

I knew I wasn't going to do this, so I made a deal with myself. I would run that day, my five miles, at the gym on a treadmill and next weekend (weather permitting) I will run 5 miles outside. So instead of starting the Shamrock Shuffle around 9:30 a.m., I hopped in Mike's car at that same time and drove to the gym.

I ran my personal (indoor) Shamrock Shuffle in 56:31. That time is about one minute faster than the past two time I've ran the Shuffle. It gives me hope that when I do my outdoor run (hopefully) next weekend, that I'll be able to come in under 55 minutes. That would put me at under an 11 min/mile pace, something I'd be proud of.

It does kind of suck though because I really wanted to be done with this freaking race. Almost there, but not quite yet.

March 24, 2009

You Have Got To Be Kidding Me

It has been confirmed twice over now. First on and now on WGN's 9 o'clock news cast. Sunday's forecast: low of low 30s, high of low 40s, windy and possibly snow showers in the morning.

Snow in the morning.

As in when I'm running my race.

It's not uncommon for Chicago to get snow in March or even April, but really? Really Chi-town? This weekend's going to suck royal ass weather-wise. No doubt about it. And the kicker is this past weekend was gorgeous. It was in the low 50s and sunny. Perfect weather for running. Not the case for this coming weekend. Which in case you missed my saying it before... is going to suck royal ass weather-wise.

March 22, 2009

Running Update

Well I did manage to get my butt in gear. I did my final long run before the Shuffle. All that's in front of me now are a 3 mile run, a 2 mile run and then the 5-mile race on Sunday. And honestly, I can't wait for it to be over. I'm ready to train on my own ground and workout how I want to work out. I'll still run, but I can guarantee it won't be three times a week.

I have mixed emotions about my run today. It was 4.5 miles, but actually I ran a little more than that - 4.62 miles according to Gmaps Pedometer. I missed a turn and unintentionally added some mileage. And my time? 56:38.

Here's why I have mixed emotions about this run. To see 56:38, I'm upset. From my last 4 mile run to now I added close to 10 minutes, but I only added a half mile. (actually 0.6 miles). That means my pace was much slower. This time also means that my goal of running this race in under 50 minutes is darn near impossible. I do believe the race day adrenalin will help to propel me a little faster and a little farther, but I don't see me knocking 7 or 8 minutes off my time. It doesn't seem feasible.

But here's why I am pretty happy with my run. First, I did it. Secondly, it was easier than my 4 mile run. I hesitate to say it, but it was almost enjoyable. I felt pretty good throughout and walked a whole heck of a lot less than I did with my last run. I really only stopped when I reached stop lights and street crossings. I did stop to stretch my legs twice, but I never really walked just for walking's sake. I am also proud I did this run because my quads were hurting before I began. I did a stair stepper machine at the gym on Thursday, and my muscle soreness really only kicked in today.

So I'm mixed. Honestly, my one prevailing emotion is relief. I am choosing to focus on the relief I will feel next Sunday when this is all over.

Sky Fire

It's Sunday afternoon, and I'm supposed to run 4.5 miles today. I might. I will. I have to. The Shamrock Shuffle is next Sunday. But to be honest, I'd rather roam around the city and take photos. I might do both but I'd prefer just to take photos. Because when I capture those like the image above, I just want to take more.

This photo was taken this past week. I came home from work Wednesday and saw the sun was setting low behind the trees across the street. I slapped on my telephoto lens and took it out to a 200mm focal length - the highest it could go. I took a bunch of shots and kept messing with the different manual settings. The one above was the best composition and exposure combo. I gave it a little something special in editing by darkening it. Darkening the shadows really made the trees in the foreground standout against the bright orange and red of the sky.

All right. Enough blogging. I'm off to do something. Hopefully run.

March 18, 2009

Not Receiving My Glowing Recommendation

There is this fabulous little lunch spot under the El not to far from my work. Mike showed it to me last year, otherwise I don't think I would have ever noticed it. Previously Mike was shown this spot by a former co-worker of his. We don't go there too often, but when we do it's a treat.

Shalom Deli is a Jewish deli run by Koreans. It is small, unassuming and has not been updated in more than a decade. One wall is fake exposed brick partially covered by long thin mirrors. The whole deli is about 500 square feet total, leaving just enough room for a counter and about five plastic tables with varying numbers of chairs at each. There's no flare to the place. We step up to the counter, order, pick our drinks from the fridge and choose a plastic seat. No muss, no fuss.

This is the kind of place where ambiance isn't necessary. Ambiance will always be secondary to the food. They serve typical Jewish deli food - egg salad sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, bagels and lox, etc. And I am sure these things are all very good, but I wouldn't know. Mike and I go for one thing, and only one thing. The Rubens. They are delicious. Delicious and filling. The bread is hearty, but not stiff. The meat is lean, sliced thin and piled about an inch thick. The best part though is the Thousand Island dressing. It really ties the whole sandwich together.

A little more than $9 at Shalom Deli gets you the Ruben, a side (we always get coleslaw), a pickle and a drink. I am not much of a pop drinker, but that's the majority of their beverage options. Today I was mulling over my choices and had picked a cream soda when a lime green can caught my eye. It was called Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda. And it was celery-flavored.

I did not know such a thing existed. I pointed it out to Mike, and he said I should get it. We were both curious but he wasn't putting back his black cherry soda. I took one for the team and swapped my cream soda for Cel-Ray, purely out of curiosity.

It was interesting, to say the least. It was a little sweet at first and then turned a little peppery and then turned a little bitter. I looked at Mike after analyzing a sip of the celery beverage and said, "I can't say I like it, but I also can't say I hate it." It was different. Kind of like a Dr. Pepper, but less sweet and with a faint celery smell. As you can tell, it's a little hard to describe. But I can say this, while I am certain I will be back for the Ruben, I'm pretty sure will not be back for the Cel-Ray soda.

March 15, 2009

Surprising Myself

My back is feeling better. Thanks to my mom and my friend Kelsa's advice, I iced it and that appeared to be the cure.

Because my back is in better shape, I had no reason to skip my 4 mile run today. So I did it. It was a beautiful day for a run - 58 degrees and sunny. I told myself there was no need to push too hard. I wanted to make it and if that meant walking part of the way, I would.

I was a little surprised because based on my post run calculations, I kept a pretty steady 11:34 min/mile pace. Not terribly fast, but I also walked a lot. Probably close to at least 0.5 miles of walking total. That means when I was running, I was running faster than 11:34. It gives me hope that my speed actually is increasing. And with two weeks until the Shamrock Shuffle, I might just have enough time to work on my endurance. Things are looking up. Much like the roads I run on, my relationship with running has its own peaks and valleys.

March 12, 2009

And I Used To Walk Six Miles to School, Uphill, Both Ways

The Wii Fit was wrong about my age. I'm not 30. I'm pretty sure I'm inching up toward 65 years young. I had to postpone dinner plans with a friend tonight because of my back. My back. Oh my aching back! Really. I have back problems at the ripe old age of 28. That doesn't seem right.

It started Tuesday morning. I went for my standard Tuesday morning run (per training guidelines) and was to run three miles. I started feeling a little yucky and ended up running only a mile and walking on an incline for another half before I called it quits and went home. I then proceeded to call into work and spent the next five hours in bed.

Later that night as I was laying on the couch I started to notice a dull pain in my lower back. I kept shifting my position but couldn't get comfortable. At that point, I chalked my pain up to all the sitting on did on the train the previous day and all the sleeping I did that morning. I just needed a good stretch, I reasoned. I stretched by moving slowly and really focusing on my lower back. I felt better, but I couldn't help noticing it didn't alleviate my pain, particularly when I arched my back. There was a definite sharp pain each time I did that.

Not sure what to make of the mess in my lower back, I decided to skip the gym yesterday. At the end of the day though, that dull ache was still there, just sitting on my tailbone. What else was there to try? Our massage chair. I sat in it for about 15 minutes trying to really focus on my lower back, but the chair just couldn't reach it right. I went to bed, my back not feeling any better.

Today was a running day. Given my poor performance on Tuesday, I wanted to make up for the 1.5 miles I didn't run. My goal this morning was 3.5 miles. I didn't know how my back would react, but I hoped running might loosen it up. I felt fine while I was running, but my back felt progressively worse as the day wore on.

By 11:30 a.m., I was googling "lower back pain from running." A ton of Web sites came up listing various reasons running can lead to lower back pain. Those that seemed most likely for me were tight hamstrings, weak abdominal muscles and poor running posture. I cannot touch my toes. This in ability is a direct result of my extraordinarily tight hamstrings. I've never actually worked on my running posture which leads me to believe it could use some improving. As for the abs... my six pack is nonexistent. I don't think I have a pack to speak of.

Knowing what I now know, I'm going to try a few things. The first will be becoming more conscience of my posture when I run. That's more than I have ever done in terms of my running posture, so easy enough. Secondly, I am going to start doing hamstring stretches at least 5 times a week. I would say every night, but I know that won't happen. Lastly, I'd like to start taking Pilate's more than once a week. I think my weak midsection would benefit from the extra core strengthening. I need to check my gym schedule, but hopefully I can find another class to take besides the one I go to on Monday mornings.

So that's the plan. I hope it works because I really don't want to be a 28-year old who regularly complains about her achin' back. Right now though, I'm going to try one more remedy I saw online. I'm going to take a bath. I'm going to soak my old weary bones in the tub and when I'm done I'll watch my stories on that there talking box. You young whipper snappers try not to make too much noise. And stay off my lawn, sonny!

March 10, 2009

How Stuff Works

The Amtrak train ride from Chicago to Detroit takes five hours. That's when the train runs on time so usually it takes longer. This past weekend, it took 5 1/2 hours on the way to Detroit and six hours to get back to Chicago.

I know this route well. I've taken it during the day and at night, during Christmas and in the dead of summer. In the past few years, my train trips have become less frequent as Mike and I usually take his car. But just because I don't take the train, it doesn't mean I'm out of practice. I know how to prepare for a train ride.

It's a long haul so I try to prepare for it all. I dress in layers. I bring food with me (train food isn't any better than plane food). I bring lots of reading materials. This time I had three magazines and two books. I of course make sure my phone is fully charged, but I only use it to call my mom so she knows when to pick me up. I'm not one to catch up with old friends in public settings.

By far though, the most important thing I bring is my iPod. Mainly because there are people on the train who like to catch up with old friends in public settings. Or people who bring radios on the train. Seriously, loud audible radios. So their owners can listen to ghetto rap. True story. Guy behind me on this last train ride on the way back.

With every train ride I find the general public more annoying and less considerate, so as of late no matter how many reading materials as I bring, I hardly read them. I need my iPod to drown out all the general rudeness surrounding me. Books just don't cut it.

I don't always want to listen to music, so I've been trying to mix up my playlist. The last few trips I've taken, I've been all about free podcasts. I've downloaded a lot of This American Life episodes, as well as Wait Wait Don't Tell Me. This last time, I also downloaded Real Time with Bill Maher as well as the The Rachel Maddow Show. But by far my favorite new podcast is called Stuff You Should Know.

Stuff You Should Know is from the Web site How Stuff Works. Two of the writers take questions readers submit to the web site and then make a podcast lasting anywhere from 5 minutes to 25 minutes about the topic. My first time listening to this podcast was on the train, but I was completely hooked from the first episode. I listed to several of the episodes I downloaded, and thanks to them learned the following:
- The government had a hand in creating the San Francisco drug culture of the 60s. (Episode: Did the CIA test LSD on unsuspecting Americans?)
- That some people use the "C" rock as evidence that the moon landing was faked. (Why do some people think the mood landings were a hoax?)
- If you invest in a 401(k) it it possible that you've invested in a piece of your own mortgage.(How mortgage-backed securities work.)
- Some scientists say that around 70,000 years ago most of the human population on earth was wiped out and had to repopulate itself from just 15,000 people. (Will we soon be extinct?)
- There are water purification facilities on earth today that are turning salt water into drinking water. (What exactly happens if we run out of water?)
- There is a garbage pile twice the size of Texas at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. (Recycling and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.)
- Roughly 400,000 identity theft cases every year can be attributed just to pre-approved credit card applications. (How does junk mail work?)

Interesting stuff. There's a ton more. I think they record a new podcast every Tuesday and Thursday. So the next time you find yourself on a train, I highly recommend this podcast. Unless you're the type a person who likes hearing strangers catch up with old friends. Because if that is the case you'll have all the entertainment you need.

March 9, 2009

I Take the Good, Not the Bad

This weekend I went home to Michigan for some official Maid of Honor duties. While there, I decided to try out my mom's Wii Fit this morning before catching my train back to Chicago. I've played the Wii, but hadn't tried the Wii Fit. After my initial set up was and about 30 minutes of strength, balance and aerobic exercises, I learned the following:
- My BMI is normal, but on the high end of the normal range.
- In order to reach the ideal BMI measurement of 22, I'd have to lose 14 pounds (that seems a little unreasonable to me).
- When standing up straight, I tend to lean slightly forward and a little to the left.
- My Wii Fit age is 30. (Mike delighted in this because it cuts our age difference in half.)
- I weight six pounds less than I do at the gym.

I could focus on the fact that the Wii has aged me, but instead I'm going to look at the "fact" that in the span of a weekend where I did not exercise, I lost six pounds. Something tells me that by the time I head back to the gym tomorrow morning, I will have gained it all back.

March 3, 2009

Primarily Upsetting

All day various Chicago news outlets were discussing the low voter turnout for the fifth congressional district's special election. The fifth congressional district previously was represented by Rahm Emmanuel, but since he's gone off to help the president run the country, a special election was held. A special election. What a novel idea. Don't know why that wasn't considered for other vacant seats? (I'm looking at you Roland Burris!)

Some early reports said voter turnout for this special election primary vote was expected to be around 10 percent of November's turnout. It is disappointing to see that less than four months after thousands of people stood in line to vote in this district, only about one in six registered voters made it back.

What's even more upsetting to me is that I am one of the five that did not show up. I knew there was an election today, but never bothered to see if Rahm Emanuel was my congressman. I learned he was only too late to do anything about it. As Mike and I drove by our polling place on our way home from work, it was very much open. I had enough time to cast a vote (roughly 25 minutes), but hadn't done my civic duty. The only name I knew was that of the candidate my alderman asked me consider. And while I like Gene (he sends very informative, weekly emails), I can't go on his word alone.

In the end, I did not vote. I do feel bad about this and utterly stupid for not actually looking into this race beforehand. I had listened to plenty of news reports regarding this election but never once took the time to do my research. If I had, I would have seen that not only do I live in this district, but that there were plenty of candidates - probably one I would have even wanted to elect. One thing I know now as the result of this post is that the special general election is April 7. I will be voting then.

I keeping wondering though , should I have gone? Is it better to cast an uninformed vote than it is to cast no vote at all?

In the spirit of democracy, what would you have done: A) Voted or B) Not voted C) Gotten your shit together beforehand and made an informed vote.

March 1, 2009

The Freedom Of Choice

I am at the point with my running that I always reach during any training program. I am at the point where I want to throw up my hands and scream with all my increased lung capacity I HATE RUNNING! I do. I hate running. At least right now. Maybe not forever. But right now, I can honestly say I hate running.

I had my first four-mile run today. I did it, but it wasn't fast and it certainly wasn't pretty. I ran it in 48:35. Yup that's averaging more than a 12 minute mile. It's so far off from my goal of less than a 10 minute mile that I really just want to end this whole stupid training program.

The problem is I have accomplished my real running goal. My ulterior motive was to use this training program to get my sorry bum into the gym on a consistent basis. And you know what, I have. This past week I made it to the gym four times, and I was slacking. I usually make it five. When my training is over, I want to make it to the gym as often as I do now but to do what I want to do. Not what Hal Higdon says I have to. Ideally, I'll do Pilate's on Mondays, a cardio and strength class on Wednesdays and Fridays and a cycling class on Saturdays. Throw in one more day to do whatever I want (maybe even run), and I'm golden. It's the freedom to choose what I want to do that is now my real motivation. Not this stupid race.

I will run my the Shamrock Shuffle. It's still four weeks away, but damn it I am done pretending like I enjoy training.