Monday, July 20, 2015

Rock 'n' Role Half Marathon - Hydration Station #4

In the midst of setting up. Water tanker filling the last of the water buckets
Yesterday morning I got up bright and early and worked a hydration station for the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon. This is one of those half marathons that always seems like it would be fun to run. They boast bands along the course and sometimes big name headliners at the finish. They host races in multiple cities even offering tour passes with discounted rates. Apparently Meb runs the races and was rumored to be pacing yesterday - but I failed to see him.

In fact, I failed to see anyone I knew running the race. Because, as I said, it seems like a race that would be fun to run, but it's always in July in Chicago and no matter how mild, or downright chilly our spring/summer has been, this race is always a scorcher and yesterday was no exception. So while I was certainly cheering on all the runners, I was too busy handing out cups of water and making sure there were cups of water to be handed out to be on the lookout for any specific runner.

Obviously I won't be able to tell you about the race from a runner's perspective (other than I'm sure it was hot). But manning an aide station does offer interesting insight.

The day starts early as the volunteers are charged with setting up, manning and tearing down everything. At 5 a.m. a truck full of supplies - tables, cups, Gatorade mix, gloves, t-shirts, hoses, pitchers, garbage cans, garbage bags etc. - pulls up and we start unloading. If you've ever run a race, you know what the stations look like. We put a bunch of tables on both sides of the street and then we start putting out cups and filling them up - Gatorade first, water second. We couldn't start filling them up right away because apparently the water truck was running behind causing some mild panic. Eventually, a big tanker and another truck pulls up, set up six water stations (basically big buckets on pedestals). Then all the volunteers (there were about 40 of us) start filling cups. Once all the tables have a layer of filled cups, we stacked pieces of cardboard on top and add another layer of cups.

We all had our systems for getting water into cups. Some of us used provided pitchers. Others used the hoses and spray nozzles to put water directly into the cups. This second method was faster, but had the downside of not reaching all the cups and making your hand cramp up. By about 7 a.m. we had everything set and ready to go. The race started at 6:30 and I'd say we had about 10 minutes between the time we finished setting up and the first runner went through.

As the first runners went through with their choice of outstretched hands holding cups of water, many of them plucked the cup from my hand (I think because I was near the end and they figured it was now or wait til the next stop). It was a bit funny how many runners picked me rather than the five other people on my side of the street handing out water. I think they started to get jealous. Eventually of course there were so many runners that ceased to be an issue.

Handing out water to runners who are doing a 10 minute pace is pretty easy. Handing out water to runners going by at a 6 minute pace, a little different. I quickly learned I needed to move my hand back as they took the cup lest I wanted my arm taken off with it (or it just went flying). I also learned that the beginning of the pack runners (a) will often look at you or signal to confirm they are about to take your water, this is nice and allows you to prepare (b) when it's creeping toward 80, they just want the water thrown in their faces, this is weird, but to each his own. As the not as fast runners come through you're basically just holding your hand out until someone plucks the water from it and replacing it with another cup as quickly as you can.

Other things I learned at the water stop:

  • You will get wet. My choice to be back at the water area rather than by the Gatorade was just happenstance. However, once runners started coming through and I started getting water on my legs, I was glad of that.
  • Despite all good intentions, you will screw up handing water to a person and feel really bad.
  • You will start picking up five cups of water at one time to save time.
  • Even though you started out with roughly 2,000 cups of water preset, you still have times toward the end where you are rushing to fill more cups of water.
  • You feel a little sense of pride when you hear runners tell you that your water stop is "the best one so far." We heard this from several runners. I learned later that some of the other stops didn't have quite enough volunteers and so weren't able to hand the water out quickly enough. 
  • You will hear "thank you" a lot. I try to say thanks to the volunteers when I race, and now I have a reminder of how great it is that people decide to give up a part of their day to stand alongside a road and hand out water to runners.  
All-in-all it was a fun morning. It seemed like RnR could have used a few more volunteers. Even though I think we were doing pretty well, we were supposed to have about 75 people. And other than the water not showing up until late (and us getting pretty darn close to running out of water), it seemed like the stop was well run. Of course, it helped that my husband was the lead volunteer as there were many CARA volunteers. I even managed to talk three of my co-workers to joining in who I am hoping won't hold this against me the next time I need something from them. 

I don't have any races coming up, so maybe I'll volunteer for another race next month.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Downer's Grove 5 Miler

Yesterday I  ran the Downer's Grove 5 Miler. I will just say right up front there are no hills in Chicago and we are therefore wimps when it comes to hills. Downer's Grove has what they like to call rolling hills. I feel like I'm exaggerating when I say it was hilly, because in all honesty, it wasn't like there was some mammoth hill like Cricket Hill1 which I had just run up the day before at the end of my long run. No, these hills weren't too bad. There were just a lot of them. Each time you thought it was going to even out, nope, more hills. By the end, going down hill wasn't helping me make up any speed lost on the uphill and so I just gave in and slowed down.

That's not to say I didn't have a good time on this race. It was well run, packet pick up was easy, the course wasn't crowded, support was good and the course was scenic2.

Race day had me up a little after 5 a.m. as we had to drive to Downer's Grove (henceforth known as DG) and the race started at 7:30 and we had to pick up our packets before 7. My sister and I contemplated driving to DG the night before and staying in a hotel, but frugality won out and we just got up early. She picked me up and we headed on out of the city. Traffic was light and we made it there with more than enough time to spare. DG was having a fair downtown and so there were lots of street closures, but we just followed the detour signs and the guy in front of us who looked like he was a runner3. We found (free!) parking and then followed the other people who looked like runners to the lot next to the DG park district building to collect our packets.

After donning our bibs, stashing our gear at the CARA tent and putting on some sunscreen, we made a quick trip to the porta-potties, for which there was a short line4, and we were ready to go. Being a small field, there were no pace signs, so we found a spot that looked good, listened to the recorded version of the Star Spangled Banner and, once the air horn sounded, we took off.

I had asked my sister what pace she was planning on running and she said between 9's and 9:30's. So I asked her if she'd be willing to pace me at 9:20s for the first 3 miles. I feel like I got an affirmative response, but we ended up clocking our first two miles at 8:58 and 8:59 - a bit faster than I had wanted to go. She assured me that I could keep up this pace, but my body (and probably my brain) wasn't having it. Third mile I slowed down to around a 9:30 and then the fourth mile came and even though I remember it as being flat, I had an even slower mile of 9:50. I came back for the final mile clocking a 9:30 something and kicking it a bit at the end, I finished in 47:14 / 9:27 overall pace. Only somewhat slower than planned. I blame the hills, and my pacer.

Finishing stats: 13/31 in my age group5, and 261/453 overall. I didn't quite make my top half overall finish, but you know, hills.

Overall, I liked this race. What it lacked in flatness and closeness to home, it made up for in being different. We discussed even going out to the burbs for runs so we could maybe eventually benefit from hill training. After the race we hung out, got some chocolate milk from the Nestle people that seem to be everywhere lately (not complaining) and fresh fruit from a local grocery. After stretching, chatting with CARA people and doing a tour of downtown DG to find the Starbucks that we could have easily gotten to if half the streets downtown weren't closed, we headed back to the asphalt jungle of the city content that at least once this month I left the city limits6.


  1. I realize Cricket Hill is in no way mammoth. But when you live in Chicago mammoth becomes a relative term.
  2. Again, this is relative. When you run the same routes all the time, even if it is by the gorgeous lake front, a change of scenery is always welcome.
  3. You know the look, running cap, running watch, running shirt, probably running shorts but we couldn't see that far into his car, possibly a 26.2 sticker on the back of the car.
  4. My sister was actually a bit disappointed there was only one line instead of multiple lines. She has a strategy that goes something like: pick the line not necessarily the shortest, but the one that seems to be servicing the most porta-potties. This way turn over in said line is quicker. I for one think the one line, though potentially unwieldy, is much more equitable.
  5. Good for 3 more points in the CARA Circuit standings
  6. This is hyperbole. I left the city limits when I went to that run in Roselle on the 7th. Oh, and we recently bought a new car that took us all the way to Countryside a little over a week ago. And I left the city all together when I went to NY for work at the beginning of the month. Sheesh, it's like I barely even live here.
  7. So I'm reading Infinite Jest and you know how DFW is with the end-notes. I thought I'd try them on for size. It's an interesting way of writing. You get to say so much more without having to pare down your thoughts to stuff that makes sense. Is it genius or is it the lazy writer's way of (not) dealing with a rambling mind?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


People often say that my sister and I look like twins. Even though I am two and a half years older than she is, she often is mistaken for the older one. And that has nothing to do with how she looks, but more to do with the dynamic of our relationship and our personalities. She tends to be the outspoken, attention seeking one; she kinda acts like she's in charge. And for some reason people attribute that behavior to the older child.

I've always been of two minds about this phenomenon. On one level I hate it. I feel like it takes away my birthright, to be recognized as the eldest. I'm not entirely sure what that "birthright" is. Just recognition that I came first. On the other hand, it's nice to have someone who can do all the things that scare you or push you to do those things. If I had a sister who was more timid than I, there would be all kinds of things I would have never tried.

And this caring about people recognizing me as the older one ceased as I got older. It became amusing to both of us that people thought we were twins. Years ago, we had a job where we went into a store and tried to get guys to try on some new Docker pants. One of us stood at the entrance to the store and the other was in the men's area with the pants. Having been given the same thing to wear, we looked even more alike. So much so that one gentleman thought that my sister had managed to make it from the entrance to the back of the store before him. Because we sound similar too, we've both answered the other's phone and not made it clear who was answering the phone. It usually only takes a couple of full sentences before the caller figures out, but we always get a chuckle out of it.

As I've gotten older, I of course don't mind so much that people think I'm younger; though I don't think my sister appreciates it as much. And honestly, no one cares about age as much as you get older. It doesn't seem to matter as much as it does when your a kid.

What does matter is our relationship. I won't lie and say that my sister and I have this wonderful bond
All of our pictures together these days seem to be running
photos, one of the things that she got me to start.
that produces rainbows and unicorns or some such thing. We do have a bond. A unique and special bond. But part of that bond is getting on each other's nerves and then working it out. Part of that bond is not understanding each other and then finding a way. I would have never put as much effort into a friendship. As difficult as my sister can sometimes be (with the acknowledgement that I can certainly be difficult too), her depth of caring and loyalty to me and my family, the ways she has shown love and friendship to me, is something that I can only share with her. 

She is the only person who knows what my childhood was like. She is the only person with the shared experiences of new schools and leaving friends and a longing to put down roots. And as much as she says she hates Chicago sometimes, she is the only person that understands the sense of home we have here. 

Today my sister is 41 years old. Forty one years ago, I am told, I was super excited to have her entering the world. Forty one years later, I'm super excited that she's still in my world.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Stitch and Pitch

Last night the knitting group went to a Cubs game instead of Kopi. We always talk about having outings and we never quite get around to doing them. I think part of the problem is we always want to find a time that everyone can make it but there is never a time that everyone can make it so we end up doing nothing. This time we picked a couple of dates, voted on which ones we liked the most, and those that wanted to go went.

We got group rate tickets and were way up top along the third base line. At first that didn't seem too bad since we actually had a pretty good view and could even see the lake over the east side of the field. Quick side note, when we got up to our level, we asked an usher for some guidance on our seats. He started to show us, but then turned around and took us to other seats and said we could sit in a section that is normally reserved. It was pretty much behind home plate, though still on the upper level. It was very nice, and when had to tell him we were meeting other people, he said "I only do something nice once a day..." Oh well, he tried.

See that bit of blue between the buildings at the top of the
photo? That's the lake.
Despite it being June, it was windy and cold, and there were lots of jokes about us knitting scarves and hats and blankets (some of us were actually knitting those things). Not me, I'm working on a bookmark. But regardless of the cold, it was a lot of fun.

To make it even more exciting, the Stanley Cup was at the game and Toews threw out the first pitch. We actually didn't see that because we met at the bar formerly known as the Ginergerman. But it was still exciting. We left after the 7th inning stretch hoping the Blackhawks would sing - but no luck.

Now maybe we can schedule that retreat we've always talked about.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Watching #hawks while facebooking. #blog

via Instagram

Marathon training - week one

This is exactly how I plan to look when finishing
the marathon this year. Exactly like this.
copyright cteconsulting
So a few things are different this year. First, it basically was a foregone conclusion that I was going to train for the marathon again this year. Apparently this is now a thing I do. There are still times that I think it should not be a thing I do, but it gets me out of the house and having an 18-week schedule is motivation.

Second, I am not actually running the Chicago Marathon this year. My sister has signed up for Chicago and this will be her first marathon. I promised her I would watch along the sidelines and cheer just as she has done the last two times I ran. With the aid of her boyfriend who is an expert at tracking runners and getting to viewing spots just before they show up, I plan to see her three or four times along the course. Several people have asked me why I don't just run the marathon with her. To which I answer, I would, but she's faster than me. So this year I think I'm going to run the Naperville Marathon (a suburb of Chicago for those of you not from around these parts). It's a few weeks after Chicago so, other than getting myself out to Naperville, all I need to do is adjust my taper. 

Third, I have moved up a pace group. I'm now running with the 10:30s. That's my goal pace, which will give me a 4:35 finish. The good news is I'm running with people I already know. The bad news is I've committed to doing the "intermediate" training plan which has me running an extra day during the week and a couple of extra miles on the long run. Luckily (sorta - I was half counting on there not being anyone running the intermediate schedule), there were six other people from my pace group that went the two extra miles on Saturday, so I wasn't alone.

Finally, I'm not raising any money for any charities this year. Was that a huge sigh of relief I just heard? So you are now free to find your other friend who is running the Chicago marathon and give to their charity.

My first week was a bit of a slow start . I missed two runs so only ran 15 miles of the 23 scheduled. Basically I did the novice mileage - which is actually fine since I haven't been as consistent with my running as I should be. But this week I want to try and get in all the runs and get myself onto a schedule for the rest of the summer so I can look like that illustration.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

End of writing class...beginning of writing (more)

Last night I attended my final Memoir(ish) class at Story Studio. I have to say I have mixed feelings about the class. On the one hand, it was great having some accountability to my writing and feedback. On the other hand, sometimes I felt like what I was saying was stupid and that the reaction to my writing was --- yawn ---. Now that's probably just me being insecure and I would imagine every other person in that class had some moment of feeling that way. Maybe. It's hard for me to believe that.

I wanted everyone to read my piece and clap and say how wonderful it was. No one did that. Of course they didn't. I know it's not realistic to expect that. But you know, you want that validation. It's so hard to come by and in the end, does it really mean anything?

Last night in class we read a piece in the Rumpus - #48: Write like a motherfucker. Basically, if you don't want to take the time to read it, it says that you write not for praise or fame you write because you need to write. Because "the prospect of not writing ... (is) more awful than the one of writing ... (something) that sucked." 

While we were discussing the piece in class, I started to think about running because everything relates to running - amiright? Anyway, there is a saying when you race you need to "run your own race." When I run a race, I know I am not going to win. I'm not going to come close to winning. I'm not even going to be close to winning my age group. Hell, apparently I'm not going to be close to beating my 10-year old niece. But that is not why I run. I don't run to win. I run because I like it. Because it feels good (basically - I mean it sucks A LOT but it also feels great a lot) and it makes me happy and healthy. When I run a race, I run my race. Not the races of the people passing me, not even the races of the people I am passing. 

And writing is like that to an extent. I need to run my own race. I need to write because I need to write. I know that I've come to this conclusion in other ways before. But I don't think I've ever thought about it in that way before. I need to focus on my writing - not on what I think I should be or that I don't have an MFA and that no one will ever take me seriously. That may be true, but that shouldn't stop me. I never did track or cross country as a kid and have no history in sports (unless you call dance a sport), but now I run and I've even been able to give advice to those who are just starting out running. I just gotta stay in my lane and not worry about anyone else.