Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Note of Thanks

First of all, before we get all caught up in all that other nonsense, there's something that has to be done.

I have been remiss in thanking all of the wonderful people who helped support me as I trained for the Chicago Marathon and raised money for PAWS Chicago. From PAWS website:
PAWS Chicago (Pets Are Worth Saving) is the city's largest No Kill humane organization, focused on alleviating Chicago's tragic pet homelessness problem. Since PAWS Chicago's founding, the number of homeless pets killed in the city has been reduced by more than half ―from 42,561 pets killed in 1997 to 19,701 in 2006. PAWS Chicago envisions a No Kill Chicago and that dream is within reach because of important lifesaving work that is being done every single day.
I encourage you to visit their website.

I have to tell you... I kind of did this whole “raise money” thing on a whim. At the beginning of marathon season, Meg forwarded me information about the opportunity to raise money for PAWS while training. I believe I thought something along the lines of, “I want a dog!!!!!” And there you have it, decision made. I did know that PAWS is a well-regarded organization through which many dog and cat owners havefound companionship. I knew and I still know that PAWS will be where MM and I will go to find our dog once we are ready to be pet parents. And, I figured that the goal amount of $600 was low enough that when I failed miserably at actually raising it, I could foot the bill myself and not go completely broke.

I have heard that many people who come to marathons and half marathons through the charity runner route count on the inspiration from the organization to get them through the race. This was never the case for me. I run because I love this life. The training, the racing, the being a part of this community moves me like nothing else ever has. Perhaps it’s because of this, that when I did finally suck it up and send out my, “please give me money,” email that it was so fulfilling when so many people stepped up to support me and PAWS Chicago.

To my surprise, my fear/prediction of raising next to nothing was way off base. Together we obliterated the goal of $600 raising a total of $828.40. And this is because of all of you:
  • My family -- mom, Sarah, Ron, and Adrienne -- and Tina, MM’s cousin,and soon-to-be family
  • Old friends from out of town and out of state -- my oldest friend in the world Keni and her husband Blake; my college roommate Gena; my sister’s BFF (who I’ve known for like… ever) Jen; and my wonderful friend and Europe traveling companion Laura
  • The CES running crew -- Roisin, former (and best ever!) pace leader Celia; Jaime; and last and certainly not least, Lindy, one of my inspirations and favorite people, who somehow finds time to work full time, run marathons, ensure that I make it to the marathon finish line, raise two adorable girls, and make fantastic cookies
  • Coworkers old and new -- Beth, Kathleen, and Freedom Runner (who ran with me during the marathon, miles 13.5 to 18.5. I am so thankful that FR showed up at my office door one day to question me about my bike. She has been an amazing support, and I hope I can return the support as she continues on her athletic journey)
  • The neighborhood folks -- Alex and Erika, who both completed the 2008 Chicago Marathon; Bill; and @ (really, @ belongs in a league of her own, being that she and I work together, live in the same neighborhood, and run together. She generally is there and supportive of Lou for all things. I hope I do the same for her)
  • Chicago peeps -- Al, Annie, Justin (2008 Chicago Marathon finisher), Jason, Nikkie, Sid, Kristin
  • Blog Friend RBR
  • CARA pace groupie Vanessa
  • And some guy named John
Like I said before, I believe that each of you gave to support an organization that is good and helps our furry friends find good homes. But, I also believe that giving to a charity athlete is also a way to say, “Hey, I support you even though I probably think you’re totally out of your mind.” For both of those reasons, I thank every single person who gave to PAWS Chicago and chose to be a part of my journey to finish my first marathon. But I believe the best way to say thanks is for me to give my time and energy back to the organization that so many of you supported. Once my traveling is over for the fall, I will be attending a PAWS Volunteer orientation to learn how I can help, and hopefully, I'll drag MM along too, so that I can convince him that we NEED A DOG like... right this very second.

So a BIG THANK YOU!!!!!!! Now please enjoy some photos of our furry friends...

Ariel, Freedom Runner and hubby's, pooch from PAWS. Ariel is fantastic. And I know this because she's actually spent a fair amount of time at our house being an adorable and well behaved dog.

Nikkie's cat Beanie.
Max, Alex's pooch.

Keni and Blake are the proud parents of Shelby and Tucker, pictured here in their swimming gear.

Buster, Annie's dog, adopted from a kennel and totally cute. This photo makes me laugh every time. He just looks so darn happy to be a dog doing doggie things.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008

Gee Hell Sure Does Look Familiar: The Last 26 Miles

Each and every one of us said that it could not happen again. It just couldn’t. This year’s Chicago Marathon would be cooler; heck, knowing Chicago it would swing violently in the other direction, and we would be running in a blizzard.

A girl can dream.

To be fair to those of us who ran last year, the weather was moderately better on Sunday.

Yesterday was about four or five degrees cooler than last year’s marathon. At the height of the day, we topped out around 84 degrees rather than last year’s 89 degrees. The humidity was significantly lower, and in the shade, with a breeze, running was very nearly pleasant if a bit toasty. But, in the direct sunlight (miles 14-16 anyone?), running was a miserable experience, and the scene -- as the temperature rose and the day wore on -- looked eerily similar to the 2007 marathon -- tired, hot runners walking through hoses and dumping water over their heads.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The weekend was filled with family and friends, runners and supporters, pasta and… well, more pasta. On Friday afternoon, MM and I picked up running buddy Meg at work and headed to the Chicago Marathon Expo. Meg, you may remember, had her ACL replaced in June and was unable to train for the marathon, but had registered for it months earlier. She was just released from physical therapy with the blessing to start running again.

We wandered around a bit, picked up our packets and goodie bags, stopped at the PAWS booth to pick up bright red "CHEER SQUAD"shirts for our friends and family, and I bought the documentary The Spirit of the Marathon. Then we loaded everything in to the car, and headed to Lindy’s for some homemade pasta courtesy of her best friend from New York City.

On Saturday, my mom and her husband drove up from Ohio to watch the race and pawn some furniture off on MM and me. With my family here, MM and I decided that the easiest and cheapest thing to do to prepare for the impending marathon would be to invite his family, who lives in town, over for dinner at our place, and we could all celebrate together. This plan quickly spiraled out of control, and we ended up cooking for a fairly large and apparently ravenous crowd. Regardless, I learned that MM, who is generally very quiet, loves to jump into action -- from artfully arranging the cheese platter (which I did not ask him to do, nor would I have done myself) to entertaining guests with his favorite story about his cousin’s bike accident (yes, sick, but the cousin is fine, and the story is actually pretty funny) -- when faced a group of party people at his home. MM and I agreed that our first attempt at entertaining anyone as a couple in our new house was a great success if not slightly insane right before our biggest race of the year. We kicked everyone out by 8:20pm, and drove my mom and her husband downtown to their hotel. We were in bed by 10:30, and of course, I barely slept.

Race morning came too quickly. MM and I were on a brown line train headed to the start line at 5:37am. We had ample time once we arrived at the race so we wandered around Charity Village, stretched, went to the bathroom multiple times, and ate bananas. If you’ll remember, MM got himself a shiny corralled bib as a result of his super fast CDC half marathon time. But, because I had no one at my pace to line up with and/or because I started crying when we went to part ways, MM ditched the seeded corral and lined up with masses so he could stay with me. Isn’t he a good boyfriend?

At 7:59am, the gun went off and it only took us 17 minutes to cross the start line. MM ran with me until we passed my mom and her husband about three quarters of a mile into the race. They took our picture, MM kissed me good-bye, and off he went to set a new world record.

The weather, at this point, was OK. I was feeling pretty good, and the first seven miles went by fairly quickly. At mile 7.5, I was in for a major moral boost. @ and Bill were waiting to cheer me on with Smartwater and Gu. @ powerwalked with me as I downed the Smartwater. Off I went through Boystown, which might very well be one of the liveliest sections of the race -- cheerleaders, men in women’s clothing dancing on tables, crowds about six people deep. It’s nothing short of a block party in Boystown.

After I passed mile nine, I knew I would be alone for a bit so I put on my headphones, zoned out, and, though it was starting to get hot, made it to mile 13 in under three hours. I noticed, around this mile that my right ankle was beginning to hurt, a definite new, unfamiliar pain, which was not comforting considering that I was staring 13 more miles in the face.

At mile 13.5, a several welcome faces greeted me. First of all, Freedom Runner (FR) was there in her running clothes ready to jump in with me. Her husband was on the sidelines taking photos and cheering me on. And, if that wasn’t enough, Nikkie was there with much needed sunscreen (I totally blanked on wearing sunscreen that morning) and more water.

FR stuck with me for five miles, which was a godsend. I started alternating between running and walking due to the ankle and… oh right... the extreme heat and direct sunlight. I rallied, and as the miles wore on, I ran more and more of it. It was around this time -- probably between miles 16 and 17 where I started to become a bit delirious, regularly asking questions like, “Did we pass a mile marker?” and “Did we turn somewhere?” and “Which direction are we headed?” I finally asked her if she minded if I put my headphones on for a bit, and I began experiencing the usual mix of emotions that come with a ridiculously long run -- laughing one minute, nearly in tears the next.

The truth is, as hot and miserable miles 14-16 were, I remember having fun. FR and I went through a few aid stations that were blasting music (I distinctly remember the Beastie Boys) and I’m pretty sure I danced through them. I love to dance when I run.

At mile 18.5, FR passed me off to the Lindy, who would see me through to the end. She had pretzels, and after I ate one or two of those, my mental state seemed to balance a bit. She and I continued to alternate running and walking, though my ankle was getting progressively worse. Shortly after mile 20, @ and Bill were there with more Smartwater, and news that Joey had passed earlier, and he did not look happy.

That's @ coming out to meet Lindy and me after mile 20.5. Sadly, I think I'm "power walking" in this photo. Photo credit. P.S. I received some fantastic photos of MM topless. HAHA. Unfortunately, he said he would break up with me if I posted them on my blog.

At mile 22, we saw my mom, her husband, and MM's mom who had waited three hours (because I was one of the last runners) to see me. Apparently though, my mom who is not a runner and doesn’t really get the whole racing thing, was having a fantastic time cheering for everyone who had pinned their name to their shirt.

At mile 24, Meg was waiting for Lindy and I, and with her PT’s blessing, she was ready to run with us. However, we were walking. Well, I was half limping/half walking and nearly convinced that I was doing so on an ankle with a stress fracture. At this point, I became increasingly worried that I wasn’t going to finish -- not because I was going to quit -- but because the sag wagon was going to pick me up. I asked Meg and Lindy to turn around several times to make sure that there were still runners behind me. I needed to keep looking forward. At mile 25, we were joined by two more runner friends who jogged/walked with us. Seriously people, I had a freaking running entourage.

At 25.2, I said, “I’m running this last mile.” And I did… flagged on either side by two runners. At mile 26, two of the runners peeled off, leaving Meg, Lindy, and me to finish together… as it should be. I sprinted the last 100 yards, and doubled over just past the finish line thinking I was about to puke (isn’t running awesome). Then I hyperventilated for a bit on the brink of tears. I settled down and a medal was put around my neck.

Then I visited the medical tent. They told me I have tendonitis. Awesome. I shouldn’t do, “anything that hurts.”

In reality, as hard as the second half of the race was, I mean… I just ran a freaking marathon. I just ran a marathon in one of the greatest cities in the world with some of the biggest, most supportive, and fun crowds. The Chicago Marathon when done right (and as hot as it was, the organizers stepped up and did it right) is nothing short of a party. An amazing, inspirational, decidedly tough and emotional party. For the entire city. And shit, I'm a marathoner now.

I could not have done it without all of the people who came out for me -- Mom, Ron, MM’s mom, @, Bill, Nikkie, Freedom Runner and her husband, Lindy, Kristin, Beth, Leslie, and Meg. WOW. And honestly, had FR, Lindy, and Meg not jumped in with me, I don’t know that I would have been able to push through the pain that second half. It sure would have been a lot harder and a lot more demoralizing.

For those of you who are curious, MM had a very rough second half to his race as well. He began cramping up and had to alternate running and walking through to mile 23 or so, where he cramped up so terribly he collapsed. Luckily (?) he was in front of a Baptist church and several of the congregation's women saw him fall. They rushed over to him and began praying and singing, their hands hovering over him. Apparently, God wanted MM to finish this race. A police officer also saw him go down and brought him Gatorade, which was probably a little more helpful. MM finally got up and walked in his race, finishing just under 4:52:00.

So there it is. My first marathon (MM's sixth). Six hours, twenty-eight minutes, thirty-four seconds. A long, slow race, slightly brutal race, but I can’t help but smile… and cry a little bit.

Would I do it again? Well, the way I see it, there’s not really a choice. I mean, sure my time was “respectable” for a slow runner in “extreme” conditions. But really, we (me and my alter ego) can do better than that. Eventually, one will have to test that theory.

Also… a shout out to some friends who also ran the race -- Erika, Alex, Dave, Justin, Rosin, and Tenacious P (who had to stop her race at mile 10 because she was ill, but she's already signed up for another marathon in a few weeks and trust me, she'll do awesome!).

And one final note... I realize how lucky I am to have friends who understand and share this drive to push themselves to run farther than is considered sane for reasons that -- on bad days -- we often cannot remember, much less verbalize. But we keep moving forward. Because somewhere, sooner or later, there’s a finish line and a medal and glory and hugs and high fives and war stories and laughter and camaraderie and a big meal and the promises of “never again,” until inevitably someone asks, “So… what’s next?” And without missing a beat, we start naming races.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Chicago Marathon: Well Gee Hell Sure Does Look Familiar, the Sequel...

I don't want to keep everyone waiting... so... 6:28: something something mumble mumble...


Apparently I ended the race with a medal and tendinitis in my ankle. Awesome.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Ode to the Run

Stevenson, Washington is somewhere outside of Portland, Oregon… 45 minutes or so by airport transfer. From what I’ve been told, the mountains I’m looking at are the Cascades.

It’s a picture here. All of it. Any way you turn. I nearly ran into a wall the first time I walked passed a window. I was unable to avert my eyes from the lake giving way to the mountains, circled in white, the peaks rising above the clouds to meet the sky. It’s everything you’ll never see in Chicago. It is civilization built around the landscape, rather than landscape being what civilization has made it.

I went for a run this afternoon. It’s the first day of our event, and I’ve made it a habit now in three cities (Danvers, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine and now here) to run mid-afternoon. It puts me in a mood far better than the one I wear during the morning hours.

I ran down a mountain (to a born and breed Midwesterner, they are all mountains) realizing that the problem with running down the mountain was that eventually, to return to work, I would have to run back up it.

But nevermind that. It didn’t matter. Instead, I thought about some of the small things that change when a person diverts from one path and chooses another.

Since graduate school, my career has included a fair amount of business travel. I am notoriously under-whelmed with the opportunities presented when traveling on the company’s dime. I have no desire, if you will, to take advantage of the few precious off hours by playing tourist. I’d rather hole up in my hotel room and eat room service in bed while watching CNN. This… as one might imagine… is not exactly conducive to seeing the place one is visiting.

And then, I started running.

Sure, I may not be taking in the local culture or trying the best of whatever it is they eat where ever I am… but man… running is a hell of a way to see a town. Today, I thought about all the amazing places where I have been able to run as I passed rivers and trains, the mountains always looming in the distance...

In Washington, DC, I was stopped by police when I tried to run on Pennsylvania Avenue. Apparently, Dick Cheney was about to arrive at the White House at any moment.

In Anaheim, I ran on flat sidewalks past matching duplexes with kiddie pools in the front yards.

In Baltimore, I ran along the water in perfect weather and watched a trapeze lesson during which four people learn how to fly through the air with the greatest of ease.

In Nice, France, I ran on the boardwalk along the Mediterranean Sea. I mean, what can I say? I was freaking in France.

In Danvers, Massachusetts (outside of Boston), I ran up two huge hills that paled in comparison to the mountain I tried to run up today.

In Sawyer, Michigan, MM and I ran on the other side of the Lake through a state park, finally stopping at a mountain-sized sand dune (which MM climbed).

I guess, in reality, it’s not that many. But, my whole experience of traveling for business (and pleasure) has been changed by something so simple. There is so much more than the view from the hotel window. There's so much beauty in the world. And I imagine that this -- running, that is -- is the greatest possible way to see it all.

Friday, October 03, 2008

In a Big, Bad Way

Today officially begins the Chicago Marathon Weather Watch 2008. Doesn't that just sound oh so meteorologist-y? I should be on the TV with the green screen pointing at pictures of smiling sunshines and shit.

Despite all that nonsense, it's true. It's all true. We're 10 days out to the marathon, which means that weather.com will inevitably shift and morph a million different times telling us a million different things, and none of it means hooey until the day before anyways.

This week has been a bit rough. After my extreme taper, I got back on track and even managed some cross training, as I decided it was high time to get back in the pool. Of course, in true Lou fashion, I decided to skip the normal progression an intermediate swimmer might take and jump right in with a… wait for it… masters swim program.

It's a long story, sort of, and at the time, it seemed like a really good idea to sign up. It's an all women group, and if you know me, you know that I'm a gal's gal. It's not terribly far from my house. And it was reasonably priced.

I showed up on Wednesday night in no way prepared for what was ahead. Coach said, "Warm up with 400 free."

I'm sorry, "Ah hem… warm up?" That was entire swim workout for me this summer, not to mention that I haven't been in the pool for two months. I suppose it could have been worse, I mean… at least I knew what he wanted me to do.

The workout kicked my booty something terrible. And then… it got worse. Midway through, as I was standing on my tip toes (as one will do) in the pool waiting for another set of directions I got a cramp in my calf that gripped my leg so intensely I could not lower my heel to the ground. It was so bad, I wondered if I would ever be able to lower my heel to the ground again or if I would be limping around on the ball of my left foot for the rest of my days. I was actually scared. I feared for my leg. While I am prone to cramping of the feet and legs, this is not something I had previously experienced.

So apparently (and I'm sure this is something the triathletes like soooo already know) you lose electrolytes three times faster in the water than you do out of the water.

Didn't know that. Didn't take that in to account. Realized then I was the only one at the practice who did not have their own bottle of electrolyte enhanced sport drink.

Lesson learned. I'm a moron. And I'm still paying for it as my calves (yes both of them, I was plagued with cramping the entire workout) continue to scream at me two days later.

Overall, aside from the ass kicking, I had mixed feelings about the workout, about the group, about my ability to keep up. But, I'm going to go back. I'm going to give it a shot. I mean, what the hell else am I going to do after the marathon.

10 days. October 12, 2008. Scattered Showers. High 70. Low 53.