Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Women Rock Chicago

Front & Back of the calendar
With Candyce & Sam
Originally the Women Rock race was scheduled for September 20th so when Spartan announced that the Super would be on September 27 I didn't see a conflict in my schedule and registered for both. Months later I found out the date of the race had been moved to the 27th which was really frustrating. It bums me out when I have to chose between races that I really want to do, I have to make pros/cons lists just to decide. After much thought and debate I decided to transfer my Spartan Race entry and run Women Rock instead. It's only a few weeks before the marathon and I was worried that I might be risking injury at the Spartan.

The beautiful view of the skyline
I had already done packet pickup well in advance at a different expo since I'm a series member. The week of the race one of Team Ortho's volunteer coordinators reached out to me about helping on race day. Sam and I talked about it, trying to figure out what we could and finally decided to get to the race site early Saturday morning (5am) to help finish with the setup. There was a seriously low number of volunteer turn out so we did our best to get as much done as possible. Right before the race started we dropped our stuff at bag check and headed to the starting line.

Oh hey ostrich!
Post race bling selfie
I haven't run many races in Lincoln Park and I forgot just how scenic it can be. There really should be more runs over here to switch it up from the Soldier Field Lake Front Path area. The 5k isn't timed and we were in no hurry that morning, we just kept a nice leisurely pace. I didn't even turn my Nike+ app on. I also didn't bring my headphones, sometimes I like to run and enjoy my surroundings. Take everything in and really appreciate it. Once we crossed the finish line we didn't even grab our medals before heading right back to helping out. We threw on volunteer vests and worked on keeping the traffic flow going in the finishers chute.

For those of you who may not know, this is where there are shirtless models handing medals out to hordes of sweaty ladies. Keeping them moving in a forward direction is not easy. Trying to tell them they can get pictures later? I may as well have told them I steal candy from children. Some women were awesome and told us its a women's race and they'd rather have a strong women hand them their medal. We watched as the waves of 5k, then 10k and finally half marathoners crossed over the finish line. I saw tons of familiar faces and cheered them on as they made their way towards me. When the final runner made her way up to us we couldn't help but laugh when she said all she wanted was her champagne and the half naked men.

I didn't get to enjoy the post race festivities, but I did manage to snag myself a champagne flute before they packed everything up. I also scooped up a few calendars since they have personal significance for me. (I worked on the photoshoot, doing the grooming/makeup for the men...tough job I know haha) By the time we made it back to the car all we could think about was lunch and a nap. Being at the finish line we heard quite a bit of feedback from the runners after us. Its so interesting how people have such different experiences. One of the most common complaints is about traffic on the Lake Front Path, I hear that at almost every race. I often wonder how people think that can be avoided, aside from signs saying a race will be taking place I'm not sure what else can really be done. I thought it was a great race. There were a few hiccups along the way but nothing detrimental to my experience.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Chicago Half Marathon

Pre-race wandering in the dark
As a slow runner often the race isn't between me and the other runners but me against the sag wagon.  Maybe that's just in my head but going into the Chicago Half Marathon on Sunday I was seriously concerned about my ability to hold a 13 minute mile pace for the entire race.  Keep in mind my PR going into this race was 3:23:44 which I did in Vegas last year.  My plan of action was to get into an earlier corral to give me a little cushion on the timing.  Luckily when I picked up my bib I didn't have a corral assignment, allowing me to chose where I wanted to start.

With the Mendez sisters
Eric, Jennifer and I

The night before the race I had an amazing carbo-loading dinner with some friends and talked about running.  We shared stories about how we started, what our goals are and the struggle of trying to get our parents to stay active with us.  I left there feeling full and energized.  The fear of not being able to finish the race on my own terms was finally starting to dissipate. When I woke up the next morning I felt like I was on a mission.  I wouldn't let the sag wagon beat me, this was my race.  I took the shuttle down to Jackson Park giving me plenty of time to wander around in the dark trying to find my friends.  As the sun started to rise a bit I was able to find my fellow Midwest Vikings, Jennifer and Eric. We took a few pictures then I quickly dropped by stuff at gear check before heading to the starting line.

Corral F pre-race huddle
Some of my teammates from the Midwest Vikings were in Corral F so that seemed like a good place for Sam and I to jump in.  We were far enough back to not get in the way of faster runners but also far enough up to give us a good lead before the final runners would be crossing the starting line.  The goal was to start off at a sub 13 pace then take a break once we got to the turnaround.  As we approached the 1 mile marker we clocked in at 11:43.  Things were looking good.  We passed friends who all cheered us on and the energy was high.  Up until mile 4 we were staying under the 13 min/mile pace.

Yayyyy I love to runnnnnn!!!
Once we hit Lake Shore Drive I was feeling great.  The new asphalt felt like pillows under my feet and the breeze was glorious.  For the next few miles we alternated between positive and negative splits.  As we approached the turnaround we cheered on everyone we recognized across the median heading back towards the finish.  There were so many aid stations on this course it was truly a blessing.  I've been having some hydration issues lately and had considered carrying my own for this race.  As we rounded the 31st street bridge for the turnaround there was Umber waiting to greet us.

I can't even begin to tell you what a relief it was to look over the median and see plenty of runners with no sag wagon in sight.  Sam started having some pretty bad side cramps so we started to slow down quite a bit.  I wasn't worried though, I knew we were well out of the danger zone.  The closer we got to the exit the antsier I got.  I kept looking at the clock and considering gunning it the last 3 miles for the chance to hit a sub 3 hour half.  I considered all my options and realized that there would always be time to work towards that and I'd rather take it easy as not to risk injury before the marathon.  Sam and I just kept plugging along happy as clams that we were doing so well.

Post -race with Sam and Angela
After we got off Lake Shore it wasn't long before we approached the final stretch before the finish line.  Ideally I would have liked to finish side by side with Sam but my legs were getting twitchy and I just had to push it to the end.  She wasn't far behind me as I basked in the glory of what I knew would be a new PR.  It wasn't until later that I realized how big of an improvement it had been.  I finished in 3:10:39 for a 13+min PR and 17 minute improvement from the Women's Half the week before.  Apparently I thrive under pressure because the fear of being forced off the course really motivated me to keep my time down.

Freddie and I, blinged out
The Chicago Runners superheroes
Midwest Vikings, showboating
Post race I only had 2 things in mind.  Pizza and medals.  I brought along my medals from the Spring Half and Michelob Half (the first 2 races in the 39.3 series challenge) so that I could flaunt all of my hard earned bling.  I wasn't the only one as Freddie and many of the other Chicago Runners did the same.  We took more pictures than I can count and I floated around, still high on the rush of crushing that course.  Now that I've had some time to reflect on it I'm positive that the elusive sub 3 half is in my future.  I still had plenty of gas left in the tank on Sunday and given the right conditions I could definitely shave some more time off.  This was my 10th half marathon since I started running almost 2 years ago and the last long race before the Detroit Marathon next month.  To say that I'm still excited and giddy would be an understatement!

10th Half Marathon has been crushed!
Wooo I love medals!!!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Last year when I finally decided to get a gym membership for the first time my requirements were minimal. I needed a pool, some weights, and flexible hours. It wasn't even until a few months ago that I finally decided to take a class and they were a bit lackluster. A couple weeks back I was contacted by ClassPass about their Chicago launch and being the fit addict that I am I signed up for all 3 of the classes/launch parties.
A little about ClassPass (from their Facebook page):

ClassPass is a membership program for fitness classes across multiple gyms and studios, making working out more accessible. Since launching in early 2013, ClassPass has facilitated over 100,000 reservations. ClassPass members enjoy greater variety and engagement in their fitness regime, all at a lower price than if they were to book classes individually on their own. Participating studios benefit by attracting new students and profitably filling excess capacity in classes.

The three studios they chose for their Chicago launch parties were Exhale Spa, Flywheel, and The Dailey Method. I had no idea what to expect since I had never taken a barre, yoga or spin class. The first night I just showed up ready to sweat.

Exhale Spa. What a gorgeous facility. Seriously, I felt relaxed as soon as I got there. The locker room was clean (and smelled nice!). I didn't recognize any of the other bloggers so I just wandered around checking things out. Right before class start I bumped into a new blogger I hadn't met yet and we decided to grab mats next to each other for the workout. Side note: we both ran the Mag Mile Women's Half just 2 days before this class. The exercises started off easy enough. However, as they gradually increased in difficulty both the ladies around me and I couldn't help but laugh whenever we slipped or couldn't hold a pose. It was a low pressure class and from what I could tell everyone really enjoyed themselves. Our instructor was smiling the entire time and made sure to walk around and help us with our from/technique. By the end of the barre portion my legs were on fire. I also regret choosing the weights I did because my arms felt like jello. After we mopped up our sweat and grabbed our gear we headed to the lobby to enjoy some fresh juice and snacks. They had a photo booth so naturally we had to take advantage of it. Before heading out the door we each got a goodie bag with some sweet swag in it!

Flywheel. Goodness gracious. I was not ready for this. I have to admit, I always thought spin class was kind of lame. That's partially why I was never interested in attending one. Lord have mercy did Candy prove me wrong. From the moment we were in the saddle she kept us motivated and pushing harder than I thought my legs could pedal. Her high energy and infectious spirit kept us going when we thought we had nothing left to give. We danced, we twerked, but most of all we had a damn good time. Her class is not for the faint of heart. She WILL bring you to the ledge just to show you its possible then bring you back. I'm pretty sure I've found my new off season training spot to get ready for the cycle portion of the tri. I simply won't be able to look at the bikes in my gym the same way again. Seriously, check this place out and definitely take Candy's class. Just typing about it my legs are starting to get that twitch to jump back in the saddle. 

The Dailey Method. This was a great culmination of the week. The stretching was just what I needed. My core felt strong and engaged the entire time. It was a workout but super relaxing. By the time our class was over I thought we were just getting started the time went by so quickly. We did a mix of yoga, barre and some weights that worked your whole body. I spent some time mingling with other bloggers and even met a few new ones. The post workout goodies included fresh juice and a make your own trail mix station.
I absolutely fell in love with ClassPass and can't wait to check out a few more gyms. Its a great way to keep variety in your workouts and try new places. I'm all about cross training to keep things interesting so this is a great fit for me.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Mag Mile Women's Half

Pre-race with Ruth
I've had a love hate relationship with Michigan Ave since I moved to Chicago. It's gorgeous, has amazing architecture and history, but the crowds of tourists make it unbearable in the summer. When I saw that the Mag Mile half advertised a course going straight down Michigan Ave, I knew I had to add it to my list. There was a 5k option as well which was my first choice considering it was only one week after the Chicago Tri...but then I checked my training schedule and realized I had to do at least 16 miles that day for marathon training so I took the plunge and registered for the half marathon. Keep in mind this is only one week before the Chicago Half Marathon which I'll also be running and the day before I ran the Badass Dash 7k. Yeah, I think its safe to say I might have an addiction to racing. Lucky for me one of my friends from NYC is just as crazy and signed up for both half marathons as well. 

Packet pickup was at Fleet Feet South Loop which was a change from the usual Old Town location but it worked out just fine since there was a Saturday option. I got in and out with no problems and picked up packets for me and Ruth. There were yummy samples from Luna and Cliff Blocks (my favorite!). Once I made it home I tried to hydrate as much as possible considering what Chicago weather has been like lately. There's nothing worse than getting a few miles in and being in complete agony because you're totally depleted. 

Jennifer & I
Race morning I got there bright and early to meet Jennifer and Ruth for pictures. Jennifer was hoping for a PR on the 5k and Ruth would be running her first half! I was so excited for both of them and wished them luck as we headed to the starting line. Considering how much pain I was still in just finishing the race would be enough for me.

Selfie with Dawn!
The first few miles weren't too bad but it was definitely hot and humid. By the time we hit the lakefront path I was sweating buckets. My only hope was that between my pre-race hydrating, aid stations and clif blocks I'd be able to survive the long miles. Along the course a woman tapped me on the shoulder who recognized me from the Chicago Tri. We chatted a bit and then split off. I also ran into a fellow Half Fanatic, Dawn who stopped to take a selfie with me. It was great seeing so many familiar faces considering how much I was struggling. Somewhere on the southern part of the course Eric found me and slowed down to my pace to keep me company. After we hit the turn around I started fading and had to take much longer than expected walk breaks. At each aid station I poured water on my head and neck to cool down then drank the rest. By now it was just about survival. Eric and I chatted until pretty much the last turn where the path split and he continued on to get the rest of his training miles in. 

Eric and I
This race was pretty ugly for me. I loved running down the Mag Mile and the tank was a great alternative to the usual race T-shirt. The volunteers were phenomenal and I made a point to thank as many of them as I could. There was one moment that really struck me during this race though. Usually when I get to the last straight away I dig into the depths of my soul to find that last little nugget of energy to carry me swiftly to the finish line. As I worked my way up to a full sprint and started passing a few runners one of them started yelling and cheering for me. That's never happened to me before, usually in that last stretch everyone takes off and tries to pass whoever they can. Not this lady, she just kept screaming "that's right, you go girl, kill it!" A part of me wanted to go back and say come on let's crush it together, but truth be told I didn't know if I had enough left in the tank to make it happen. Just as I got my medal Ruth text me to let me know she had left after starting to feel sick. The weather was brutal and it took a major toll on her. In a way I'm thankful for the bad runs I've had because they prepped me for races like this. It wasn't a PR but it was a finish and really that's all that matters to me.
Sweaty selfie = success!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Chicago Triathlon Weekend

Kicking off the race weekend at the expo with the Ebony Mermaids & Chicago Runners
Montrose Harbor before the Super Sprint
Becoming a triathlete has been one of my proudest moment as an athlete. Sure I won trophies or awards when I was younger but that was always about the team. Last year as I crossed that finished in line it was like the culmination of all my hard work put to the test. And I passed! After I finished I knew I'd be back for more and I wanted to share that passion with others. I'm not exactly sure when Sam and I first crossed paths, but as soon as mentioned her desire to one day do a triathlon my immediate response was "so why not next year?". 

So proud of this lady, Sam is a triathlete!
I'm guilty of this as I'm sure many of us all are, I'm my biggest obstacle. I imagine all these excuses disguised as reason as to why I can't do something and I let it hold me back. The same thing was happening with Sam. She would come up with an excuse and I would come up with a solution. She, along with her friend, signed up for the Super Sprint. The closer we got to the race the more I went into coaching mode to make sure she was ready. We went to the lake to swim together. We cross trained at the gym to increase strength and endurance. We had a similar race schedule so we ran together almost every weekend it seemed like. In the final week I knew she was ready. Everything she worked for came down to this moment. I felt so excited for her to experience the joy and pride of calling yourself a triathlete.
For her, race day was Saturday so I tagged along to cheer her on as she would do the same for me on Sunday. We got to Montrose with plenty of time for her to set up transition and get the nerves out. We ran into some of our Chicago Runners family and my friends I met during training the year before. Some were out there for the first time, others like Denise were out there to claim the triple challenge by completing all 3 races that weekend. I watched as Sam came running back from the water with a smile on her face, knowing she had the full confidence to kill this race. I cheered for her on the bike then waited for her at the finish line as she made her debut as a Triathlete. 

Me, Sam and Angela
Sunday morning was my turn. I woke up with that same nervous energy I get right before any big race. I had laid everything out the night before but I double checked to make sure I had everything. Once I was ready we were on our way. I knew it had rained the night before but I was not prepared for just how muddy it would be in transition. I slipped a few times as I tried to walk my bike up the hill and when I finally made it to my rack it was almost full. I was able to ferret out a small space near one of the flags and set up my transition area mostly on my bike to keep it all clean and dry. 

Transition is set!
I ran into Johnny's uncle and a few other ironman friends who helped calm my nerves a bit as I made my way back to where Sam was. The pros were set to start at 6am and that's where I wanted to be. We staked out a great spot on the lakefront just south of the swim start and cheered as we watched the best in the sport cruise by us. Denise, the one I mentioned earlier, she was in the wave right after the pros so I made sure to wave and wish her good luck before she got in the water. Her wife Claire had a later start time so she sat with us to cheer and take pictures. I was so anxious I couldn't sit still. This is where I begin yo have all those doubt's and wonder if I'll be able to do this race. Thankfully I saw some familiar faces from the Ebony Mermaids and they reassured me of my abilities. My start time was getting close and that meant I had to get my last hug from my friends before going into the starting chute alone. 

Iliana and I at the swim start
This is moment, this is where I find greatness. I kept reminding myself THIS is what I trained. THIS is what keeps me going. I had almost forgotten that Iliana (the one who talked me into jumping up to the Olympic distance) would be in the same wave as me. As soon as I saw her it was like the fear melted away. I had a friend in the water and that was super comforting. I knew it wouldn't last long since she's much faster than me but just knowing I wasn't alone really helped me.   I'm so thankful to her for helping me when I was a total newb last year and for pushing me to do the longer distance.  She believed in me before I even realized what I was capable of.  (side note: those are not gang signs in the picture, it is our sorority hand sign for Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority Incorporated)

Sweet swimming action shots (thanks Sam!)
I felt great in the water. I was relaxed, comfortable and best of all, I was quicker than the year before. It was much choppier than I expected and the sea weed may have been plotting to drown me but I just kept putting one arm in front of the other. I passed quite a few people holding onto the wall and I remember thinking I hope they don't let this crush them. I hope they can push past it and then come back again next year to crush it. As soon as I hit those steps and got pulled out of the water I was on my way! 

Transition was a mess so I just did my best to get in and out as soon as possible. The first 6 miles on the bike seemed to fly by. I thought to myself, hey I might actually enjoy this. Then fatigue set in. My muscles started to cramp and I cursed myself for not investing in a better bike. As much as I love my hybrid it just wasn't meant for this. On the plus side, my struggle must have been evident because nearly everyone who passed had something encouraging to say. When I finally hit Lower Wacker it was a Godsend. It was flat, smooth and shielded from the sun. I was able to pick up some speed and actually enjoy the ride for a bit. I saw someone in my wave ahead and charged ahead to pass her. It was the only thing that motivated me at the time. Somewhere near the turnaround I saw Jose and Rey who told me it wasn't much further and cheered me on. A little later I ran into Mauricio who slowed to see how I was doing and asked if I needed anything. I was struggling by now and just that simple act of kindness was enough to keep me going. 
Oh hey hill of death, I'm still smiling! 

By the time I made it out of transition and onto the run course I was dead on my feet. Sam was there to let me know I wasn't going to die and snapped a few pictures. This is where my strength as a runner kicked in. I've had plenty of tired runs and I know how to push through them. I took walking breaks when I needed them but it was getting so hot out I knew I needed to finish soon. I saw the boys out on the course again and they each high fived me as we crossed paths. My friend Nicole was out rollerblading and kept me company for another chunk of the race. As I made my way around the aquarium I saw Denise on her final leg of the day and we stopped to hug. There's a hill just before the last turn leading to the finish line and Sam was there waiting. All of my muscles were screaming and I felt like at any minute I may burst into a little pile of dust but I just kept going. I hit that final straight away and gave it everything I had left, which wasn't much. When I finally crossed that finish line I wanted to collapse. I wanted to cry myself into a puddle of happiness. 
Denise & Claire, my triathlon family

I remembered Denise was still out there so I double backed to the hill and waited with Sam. As we saw Denise reach the base of the hill we erupted in cheers on both sides of the barricades (she had a lot of friends out there). We all started running with her along the sides of the fence all the way to the finish line. Being a part of that moment was breathtaking. She had just finished her third race in two days. 

I'm still basking in the glory of that day. It helps that I have this fancy tan line of my number on my arm as a constant reminder of my accomplishment. I did it. I finished something I could never have even imagined was possible for me. Trust the journey and have faith that you have what it takes to get you as far as you can possibly go. Its not about the destination, enjoy the journey.
More sorority sisters! Jenny & Arasally
Walking away like a boss after crushing my first Oly Tri

Badass Dash

Pre-race at the Midwest Vikings tent
There are generally two types of OCRs, the kind that have no mud and the kind that has so much mud you're still finding remnants of it in your shoes for years to come. (note: if you've never done a mud run be sure to rinse everything as soon as possible...the stench can be quite potent and miscellaneous plant matter will begin to sprout from your shoes) Typically the mud runs have far better obstacles and the trails offer more of a challenge. Then there's the Badass Dash that blazes its own path among the OCR crowd bringing a mix of tough obstacles, hilly terrain and lots of water. They have two different Chicagoland races, this is a recap of the one in Rosemont. Next year I'll be running both hopefully.

Pre-race podium action
Packet pickup was on site and I barely waited to grab my gear. The timing chip gets zip tied to your shoe which is a nice bonus since so many other mud runs have done away with timing chips. Our team (Midwest Vikings) had our own tent set up so that made finding our group super easy. We took the obligatory pre-race pictures then headed to the start line. Earlier in the morning there wasn't much of a wait but by the time we got in line it was starting to get crowded. We all started the race together in the same heat but quickly broke into groups according to pace.
action shot coming down from the stair climb
I knew I had to conserve energy for my half marathon the next day so I stayed towards the back with Tata who is making her post-surgery debut. When it comes to obstacles, this race does not disappoint. There's a wide variety as well as multiple challenges per mile giving you the most bang for your buck. We did lots of climbing, minimal crawling and even some sliding.  My favorite were the hills.  While they were super challenging I love the burn you feel when you know your muscles are putting in work and it really engaged your core.  Another highlight was the potato sack race.  I guess it wasn't really meant to be a race per say, but there were 2 guys in front of me and as I approached the first one his friend started yelling "speed it up! Are you really gonna let that girl pass you up?".  He may not have meant anything by it, but I'm pretty competitive so naturally I took that as a challenge and passed them both up. 

Bling Sweaty Selfie, always a must
Just when the heat was really starting to set in we reached the highlight of the race, water!  This obstacle has you cross a pond, balancing on plastic barrels rigged together.  A few steps in and I wanted to swim so I hopped off the obstacle to take a leisurely swim.  I reached the bank and started cheering on the rest of my teammates.  I realized the last of our group to cross was the one who would probably need the most help so I kept an eye out for her.  She doesn't know how to swim and the water was too deep to cross by walking so I was nervous about her falling in.  Sure enough a few steps in she met that fate and began to panic.  I ignored the volunteer yelling at me not to go back in and swam to reach my friend.  Thankfully I was able to calm her down enough so that I could carry her as I swam across the pond.  It was a good reminder that not everyone can swim and I need to start reaching out more to help new swimmers.

post race smiles & medals
When all was said and done I think we covered around 30 obstacles over a 7k course.  It was one of the best races I've done and I enjoyed myself tremendously.  Our team's elite runners finished the course and came back to finish the race with us which gave us an extra little boost.  As we approached the finish line we all grouped together to finish as one.  Yeah, we're kinda cheesy like that but those moments are really uplifting to the spirit. 
The Team - Midwest Vikings

Together we conquer, no one gets left behind

Pretty Muddy

Abby was the one who talked me into my first mud run so its only fitting that I spent her birthday running through the mud and jumping over walls with her. The race was on a Saturday morning and against our better judgment we went out to celebrate her birthday the night before. We got to the race site and breezed through packet pickup before dropping our stuff off at gear check. No lines anywhere which was awesome. We headed to the starting where Abby's husband Johnny snapped a few pictures and his uncle gave us a pep talk.
I've run with Abby before and I know she's faster but she usually slows it down a bit so I can keep pace with her. Our other teammates were a bit faster but I did my best to keep up. It felt good to really push myself to keep their pace but I didn't think I had it in me to do it for the whole race. That first obstacle was a sight for sore eyes because I was definitely ready for the break.
As far as obstacles go, this race had a good mix of various levels of difficulty. I've seen almost all of them before so I was able to charge through most of them. The real test came when we got to the cargo climb. I've done a variation of this plenty of times and now it just seems second nature (every OCR I've ever done has had some kind of cargo net climb). What I didn't realize is that usually Johnny is the one running with Abby so I've never seen her climb it before. I was on my way back down when I heard Abby at the top. She had a panic attack right there at the apex of the cargo net frame. We tried to calm her down and Martha helped her get anchored on the backside of the net. I heard words of encouragement all around us. There were women on the net, on the ground, all cheering Abby on, letting her know we were all there for her. It was one of those moments that reminded what I love about running and OCR in general. When we're out there everyone is a team and we all want to see each other succeed.
When we got to the finish line all four of us crossed together and stopped for a photo op. I really loved that this race wasn't super crowded so we didn't have to wait at obstacles or even at the hose station to clean off. It was well organized and ran smoothly from start to finish. Personally, I would have liked some tougher obstacles but its a great starter course to introduce women to OCR. If you're looking to get your feet muddy but not quite ready to jump over fire, check this race out and bring your friends.