Friday, June 3, 2016

Back in the Saddle Again

Check out the new blog location:

Over a year has gone by (Six Hundred and Thirty Six days actually) since I have last sent word of my adventures out on the trails. Much has happened, though my running has been pretty spotty at best. I could give excuses about work and life getting in the way, but really it comes down to the fact that I have been lazy and I have put on quite a bit of weight in the past Six Hundred and Thirty Six days to show for it. Really my habit of being a lazy home-body started even earlier than that.  I have been very happy these past several years and my comfortable happiness has left me content to come home every night to spend time with my kittens (now cats, you can find them on Instagram @Midsomer_Purrders, yup. Don’t judge.) and my girlfriend (now Fiancée) watching Netflix, the DVR, chatting, cooking (we moved in together and actually have a nice sized kitchen that we spend quite a bit of time preparing new recipes that we find (typically on Pinterest), going to the dinner with friends, or just hanging out together. 

Basically, much of what I have been doing recently does not require much physical activity. From a long commute, sitting down on buses and trains, to coming home to watch Netflix, the DVR, or baseball, or even cooking or going out to a restaurant with friends (especially in winter when we are lazy enough just to take a cab), most of what I have been doing is not all that active. While I have my excuses, it really boils down to old adage, “You make time for what is important to you.” Spending time with my Fiancée and my kittens is obviously very important to me. However, it didn’t occur to me how important physical activity really was to me as well, until I inadvertently cut it out of my life (or at least greatly reduced it). While I have been very happy for the past several years, I couldn’t help but feel a pull from somewhere in me that wanted to dust off my ‘work-out’ cloths and running shoes and get back outside and do something.

It isn’t running specifically, though I do enjoy it, I really just like being active and outside. I like going for long walks, bike rides, hikes, elaborate, city-wide, night-time games of tag, etc. I started to grasp what that pull to get back to being active and outdoors was on long walks with my Fiancée when we would just stroll around the city; even if it was partly to get in a Fitbit step count for a
Petit dejeuner on Rue Cler
Weekend Warrior Challenge, I could still feel that pull to be outside and active become somewhat sated for a time when we were out walking. It especially became clear when we were in Paris last October and were walking around constantly. Paris, by the way, is now my favorite place on Earth and I seriously considered ‘losing’ my passport just so I would be ‘stuck’ there. I felt so alive and free while we were in Paris, that when we finally got home, even though I also live in one of the greatest cities on Earth (yay Chicago!), I was no longer walking around constantly to different parts of a city with diverse terrain (they have actual hills there). I was no longer walking to a different part of town every day for a tour, no longer walking down to Rue Cler from my nearby hotel every morning for a leisurely petit dejeuner and people watching, and no longer walking to a neighborhood café for dinner and wine outdoors every night. Once I returned to my sweet home Chicago, I fell back into the all too common practice of staying mostly in my own neighborhood and not venturing too far from home.

Palace of Versailles Gardens

 Eventually, I decided that I needed to do something to become more active again. So, even though I was too out of shape to really venture too far from the apartment for a run (or was just too lazy, or it was just too cold or wet outside), I would make the journey to the fitness center in my building and run on a treadmill for a couple miles. Not perfect, but at least it has been getting my body slowly re-acclimated to running more regularly as of late. I only wish I had decided to become more active again much sooner, as having gained as much weight as I have, I am now the most out of shape I have ever been. It has been harder for me to get back out and go for a run now than it was before I ever started running at all, as when I first started running; I was already pretty in shape. Since I have been back at it now, it has been getting progressively easier, but I still have a long way to go.

A year or two ago, I was out for a run (so it was probably closer to two years ago) and I saw that Lake Shore Drive had been taken over by cyclists! This was very exciting and I wished that I had known about it before hand so I could have been out there with everyone. As it was, I had a yearly Divvy membership (and technically still do for probably another week or so) that I had been using to bike around the city and go on short bike trips. Divvy was very convenient for just getting around town, or having a bike only when you wanted one, but not having to worry about storing it for winter or anything. The problem with Divvy, was occasionally, their bike racks would be full (or empty when you needed one) and you would have to look for another station. The main reason I ended up cancelling my yearly membership though, ended up being the thirty minute time limit on the bikes. It makes sense that pay-as-you-go users would need some kind of time limit so that they would have to check the bike in and then Divvy could charge them accordingly, however for someone with a yearly membership, it doesn’t matter how often you check in and out bikes, your cost is always the same. It would make more sense for people who had yearly memberships to be able to check in bikes when they wanted to (the same bike loss fee would still apply if they damaged or didn’t return the bike of course). At the very least, they could have given an expanded window of possibly a couple hours or a full day to yearly members so they wouldn’t have to keep checking bikes back in every 30 minutes. You don’t even really get a full 30 minutes of ridding in since after a certain point, you need to start looking for another Divvy station that has available spaces so you can dock your bike before your time runs out. That little rant to say: Divvy’s time limitation prevents riders from going on longer bike rides, bike rides that are ‘just for fun’, and so I wouldn’t have been able to use this membership to do something like ‘Bike The Drive’ (without paying lots of extra fees that shouldn’t have been necessary as a yearly member). So while Divvy was a nice way to introduce me to ‘City Cycling’, it was time that I got my own bike. A few weeks back, I was walking home and saw that the ‘old’ 2015 models were on sale, so I stop in and got a brand new, shiny, bicycle! I’ve been out a few times on it and it feels nice to be back outside with the wind on my face.

At the last second this year (two days before the event actually) I realized that Bike The Drive would be that weekend. I debated with myself a bit, as I hadn’t budgeted for it, but as I have wanted to participate for a couple years now and finally had a bike of my own; it seemed like a good time to sign up. I managed to do packet pick-up the next day, just a basic shirt (non-tech shirt) and a bib (and a wrist band and a sticker for my helmet with my bib number) and then I waited for the next day when it was race time. The race actually started at 5:30 in the morning, but we ended up going out the previous evening for dinner with some friends and stayed out later than I planned. I was about to head out the door the next morning around 6 AM, when I couldn’t get my bib to stay on. I have grown accustomed to running race bibs that are pinned on, this bib however, was a sticker and it didn’t seem to want to stay fastened to my tech shirt. I looked around for pins from previous races, but remembered getting rid of most of them (and apparently losing the rest) during my last move. I ended up just sticking the bib in my backpack in case anyone asked for it and hoped my ‘helmet-bib’ and wrist band would be enough to get me through checkpoints (it was, out on the road it became apparent from all the bibs on the road that others had experienced the same issue). I was out the door by 6:30 AM and rode down to the Fullerton on-ramp not long after to begin a beautiful 30 mile ride. By the end, my legs were tired, but I felt great and had experienced a fantastic morning with perfect weather (not too warm, sunny, and it didn’t end up raining which was a concern when I signed up for the ride).

From where I started months ago, when I was still wondering what that pull was that kept tugging me to get back outdoors, I have started back down the road toward something resembling fitness. Things are now even better than ever, if that is even possible. Things have gone from great to just short of perfect (perfect would be Paris of course). Now all I need to do is to keep it up and not let this purring kitten on my lap keep me from going for a run.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Long Lost Frienemy

After running the Rock & Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon last year, I not only let myself off the hook from such a disciplined regimen of training, but I cut out training all together. I still ran every now and then and even did a couple of races in the following months, but my running was sporadic at best. About three months ago, I just stopped running or doing anything really physical at all. While everyone else on Facebook and Twitter was doing Run Streaks, I was doing my own non-running streak for no real reason other than with work being even busier than it has been and the usual menagerie of events taking place every weekend of the summer, I just didn’t make time or have the energy left to get out and run.

My girlfriend finds it relaxing to cook interesting recipes when she gets home from work and frequently she will surprise me with something tasty when I stop by after getting home from work, which is typically far later than one should eat dinner when they are planning to go to bed in the next hour or three. With the total lack of exorcise, working late and so eating dinner late and then going to sleep on a pillow of calories, plus sitting on busses and trains both ways for a one and a half hour commute each way, I have put on forty pounds in the past three months! Yup. 145 to 185 in just a few months of slacking off. I would like to simply blame my metabolism for retiring when I turned thirty this year, but I have quite a few friends that age and older who are in far better shape than I, while working just as much, drinking and eating just as much if not more, but who still make the time to work out or go running on a much more regular basis.

I got a FitBit a few weeks ago to help encourage me to at least get up from my Cube more often instead of staying chained to my desk all day, frequently working through lunch (which made me pig
out more at dinner since I was starving by that point). It ended up making me aware of how little I actually walk (especially since I hadn’t been running for the past couple months), even though I walk to several buses and several trains every day just to get to and from the office. At the office I hardly moved at all. Weekends I would use as an excuse to be lazy or I would try to catch a bus to a train rather than just walking a few blocks to the CTA Red Line during my daily commute. Having the FitBit has helped me to at least focus on getting a bare minimum of steps in each day and to drink more water (as you can track that manually in the app as well, along with calories, sleep patterns, etc.). It also helped me to establish a baseline for what I walk on average each day (a little over 7,000 steps on a workday when I started, now closer to 9,000 steps a day, though the default goal is still 10,000 steps a day). Slow progress, but at least it is a starting point.

Before Sunset - Frankfort, MI August 2014

Over the holiday weekend last week, we went up to the cottage my girlfriend’s family has in
Sunset - Frankfort, MI - May 2014
Northern Michigan. It was a long overdue vacation and it allowed me time enough where I would have no excuses as to why I would not get back out on that dusty trail with some Vibrams strapped to my feet. My brother went out running every day we were there, save for the last, as he was keeping up a run streak he had been on that month. I joined him on the second day and it was one of the most difficult 2.09 miles of my life. Not only had I not run in quite a while, but I have never run while being this overweight before. It was harder on my body than the first time in my adult life that I got out and ran my first few miles, several years ago, having never run before (other than in gym class twice a year for ‘The Mile’ run in middle/high school?). I ran slowly, my legs felt heavy, and my lungs were on fire. I knew if I pushed through then the next run would get easier and so would the one after that, just as they had before. This particular run however, was more of a wakeup call that I could no longer just sit by and maintain my previous lifestyle of the past couple months of simply being too tired or busy when I got home from work or whatever exciting thing was going on that weekend.

The day following that difficult run, I was surprisingly not sore. I figured I would get a brief reprieve as the second day soreness would not set in until the following day and I decided to make it worth the suffering and go out for a ten mile bike ride that day. A bike ride has never been more enjoyable. My legs had been thoroughly stretched and strengthened by the previous day’s run and the weather had cooled down significantly from the prior day’s heat. I rode a little short of five miles out and five miles back, though I would have gladly gone farther, but sadly had to cut it short as we were trying to make it out to Lake Michigan to watch the sunset again that evening. I rode along the shore of Crystal Lake for about three miles before cutting inland through a fantastic, and fortunately for my now weakened legs, flat, wooded trail before turning around and heading back to the cottage.

After being back in Chicago and back to the daily grind now for a week, I wanted to make sure I didn’t go back on what I had learned while I had been on retreat in Michigan. I started doing lunges and crunches again when I didn’t feel like going out for an actual run, then today I actually figured that since it was such a gorgeous day, I would go for a short run instead of watching the Bears game with my friends. Totally worth it. It was a slow and difficult run, but I felt much better afterwards than I did after that first two miles the week before which ended my brief hiatus from running. Hopefully this is a new beginning to my beautiful love/hate relationship with running.

Friday, May 23, 2014


You mean to open up a Microsoft Word document and write about the incredible run you just experienced along the lakeshore trail or maybe you feel like venting after a particularly poorly organized race just concluded, but then it takes you a long time to get a bus or a cab back to your apartment and brunch and mimosa sound like a better idea; or the work day on top of the run took more out of you than you thought and so you open a beer instead of a text editor.

That’s the kind of mayhem which has been preventing more frequent postings for some time now and I figured my kind of run, as laid back and care free as it may be, could stand for a little more discipline when it comes to following up with a short, written account afterwards of some of what occurred.

This season, I decided to take part in fewer races. MUCH fewer races. While the past several racing seasons I have run countless races of varying distances, this season it seemed like a good time to take a step back and remember that my kind of run isn’t always about training for the next greatest or longest race I could try, but just because I like being outside running and being active. I like the sights and sounds of the city or trail around me, or the wind in my face and the smell of the lake or the food vendors wafting my way as I listen to last year’s Lolla bands or an audio book from my iPhone.
After the initial races I signed up for late last year and early this year for this season, I have signed up for no more so that I will not be pulled into some training regimen that will numb me to what I actually enjoy about running. While I enjoy being around a lot of people for races, mostly it is something I like to do alone to clear my head after a long day/week/month etc. Granted, Lake Shore Trail is not exactly desolate, but my preferred way to be alone more times than not, is to be alone around other people. The whole, ‘alone in a crowded room’ feeling is something I actually greatly enjoy.

While I am not signed up for many races this year, I have already done a couple. Here’s the quick recap:

Pi Day Pi K: Love this small, neighborhood race. Been doing it since the first year when registration was only $10. The price went up this year, but still a fun run. It is also close to me which is a big plus. They have food afterwards back at FleetFeet, but I skipped it and grabbed food elsewhere instead. And Pie.

Shamrock Shuffle: only my second time running this race since I missed out on it the year before when the race capped out and I waited too long to register. Also a fun race with A LOT of people, runners and supporters, out to enjoy the weather finally getting nicer. It is also a blast to run through the streets downtown. That last hill is a killer with its gradual incline, but if you keep a steady pace it isn’t really that bad. Make sure to run on the carpets over the bridges if you wear Vibrams so your toes don’t get caught in the mesh steel grates! Great race and great crowd.

Chicago Spring Half:
My brother also ran his first Half Marathon last week! The Chicago Spring half was the first race where I actually spectated instead of participating for the race itself! Strange that I have never actually watched a race, so I’m glad I managed to get out and see him come around the final turn before the finish line! Ended up meeting up with Eric and Jennifer after the race as well and we all went out for brunch. Good times. It was a bit difficult finding the finish line. I ran past it down to Millennium Park, then took a cab back north to where the map said it would be. I got out and walked around and didn’t see it. Eventually asked the first person I saw who was wearing a bib where it was and he pointed me to a small clearing down a long flight of stairs not far from where we were already standing. Ended up being a nice little park. This also turned out to be a great experience, as it made for a reason to strap on some running shoes and run down to Millennium Park from my apartment to get in a run five mile run while I waited for my brother to finish his half. It felt good to get out and run as a fun form of entertainment and travel rather than just a planned out course that was part of a training schedule. Plus it saved me a trip on the CTA.

Chase Corporate Challenge:
Yesterday I participated in my first JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge. It turns out that it is difficult to make it downtown from working in the suburbs to change out of my work clothes and into running attire, choke down some food because I worked through lunch, and then hop on a brown line to Grant Park in time for a group photo with my company before the race. As it turns out, I wasn’t able to even find my company tent before the race started and it didn’t help that they started closing off sections of the park and the sidewalk as well as the streets and began filtering people ‘the long way around’ to the starting chorales in the opposite direction from where the signs pointed that the starting chorales actually were. Complete pandemonium turned into crowded herding of cattle as we shuffled along toward what we hopped was the direction of the starting line. I shuffled through the winding path they had created for the herd of people to get to their designated starting areas and eventually wandered around enough parts of Grant Park where I recalled experiences from past Lolla’s taking place that I found the ‘Yellow’ choral where I was to begin. It was full and overflowing. We waited outside the actual chorale until the faster ‘red choral’ runners took off and then filled the newly empty space and waited our turn to cross the start line.

Shortly after the red group started, we began our run and off we went. The course wasn’t my favorite, but it was still a fun run. A significant portion took place in the shadow of the overpasses above us as we zig-zagged through covered streets and under bridges, but we started and ended the race in sunlight and it was a nice, cool day for a run. Eventually I found some people from my company and followed one of them with a headband camera back to our tent where Jimmy Johns was waiting for us. After I ate, I left pretty quickly and hopped in a cab back north. On the way back, my cab driver was wondering if the roads were closed for a race or because Obama was in town. It turned out to be because a little of both.

Am I glad I ran the race? Sure. Fun run, great weather, nice people, good food. Would I do it again? I guess we will see next year ;) It definitely seems like it is geared more as a company outing that happens to involve running rather than the other way around.

Journey To The End Of The Night is upon us again and takes place tomorrow!!! This year I will unfortunately be sitting out, as I have conflicting plans for a writing duel! Maybe I will do the lesser known version of Journey later in the year instead.

Since it is getting amazing outside again, The Girl and I have been doing more walking around town. Last weekend we spent Saturday walking along the lake towards downtown, stopped for some food and beverage once we made it, and then headed back up north. Along the way down we made a pit stop at the Booth School of Business downtown to stop in one of their quick stop shops for a couple of much needed bottles of water and another pit stop as we headed back north of the river at the Newberry Library for their bathrooms after guzzling down my bottle of water. Thank you people of the library for making the rest of my walk back that much more enjoyable. All and all, we put about ten miles behind us that day. From the looks of it, we are planning a similar venture tomorrow only heading north. More adventures on the way!

And even though I don’t foresee training for another distance race anytime soon, I am still planning another trip to Vegas at the same time as the Rock & Roll Half Marathon is going on again, so who knows what could happen…

Until next time dear readers.