45000 Personal Bests

This morning I hung out with 45000 folks.  It was a lovely way to start a Sunday morning at 730am.  You see today was the annual Chicago Marathon.  The course, as it winds it’s way through the city, usually runs somewhere in the vicinity of my house.  I can remember one year it went right by Wrigley Field.  It was really cold that year, I was wearing my Columbia jacket with the lining zipped in.  I rode my bike down with my dog Lily and we arrived in time to see the elite runners.  They are amazing to watch.  You can’t hear them as their feet barely make contact with the earth as they fly by.  It was incredible.

This year, the weather was much warmer, although not as hot as the year they had to stop the race.  The humidity was really high that year and the organizers didn’t have enough water out for folks.  This year it was dryer and there was plenty of H2O for the runners.  We learn lessons really well in Chicago.  Like how snow removal, or lack thereof, will ensure you don’t get re-elected the next time (see How Jane Byrne Became Mayor in Wikipedia).  So the organizers were very ready for conditions this year.

I had a special reason to get to the course.  My friend Stephanie was running in her hometown and for a wonderful charity (PAWS – Pets Are Worth Saving).  I donated to her fund as did others and she wonderfully dedicated each mile to a furry friend she’d known throughout the years.  My dear departed Lily was mile 8 which is where I was standing.  A nice bit of serendipity wouldn’t you say?

I was worried I wouldn’t be able to spot her.  After all, there were 45000 people running, how on earth would I be able to pick her out of the crowd?  And since I was still pretty near the front, there were coming in big groups as the crowds hadn’t had time to thin out.  I kept my eyes peeled all morning long.  But in the midst of all this pressure, I was cheering on whomever came into my eyeline.  Lots of runners put their names on their shirts so I was calling out to random people urging them on.  Lots of thank you’s came back.  The sheer magnitude of what they were undertaking was overwhelming.  I was blaming it on the sunscreen getting in my eyes, but I found myself tearing up thinking about their quest.  It was humbling to see all those people from all over the world running for themselves and any number of charitable causes.

Finally I hear my name being called out and look to see Stephanie with the biggest, most beautiful smile on her face waving at me.  I was so excited for her I started whooping it up, bad for the voice but oh-so-necessary for the accomplishment!  She finished with her personal best even with the hot conditions.  I’m so proud of her, proud of all those who even signed up to attempt such a goal.  They stuck their necks out and just showing up that morning was a win for them.  Kudos to all.

Makes me think…nah.  That’s just crazytalk.

Finding Your Pace

It’s actually spring here in Chicago.  Surprisingly we are having the type of weather one would normally associate with spring.  We usually don’t get any sort of moderation, we go from winter wools to sundresses in about 4 days time.  But this year has been a lovely aberration.  So I’m back out hitting the pavement trying to get a run/walk in every day.  I’ve been trying to get my stamina and endurance up for quite some time and have been having very little luck.  I can walk to the end of the earth but if you ask me to run, it’s like a slow motion train wreck as everything starts to fall apart one piece at a time.  Pretty soon I’m back to just walking, albeit at a brisk 4.5 mph pace.  I listen to my bottomless iPod when I’m out to keep me engaged and on pace.  There’s a mix of songs from the 80’s that are fun to walk fast to.  Today I went deeper into my song selection and stumbled upon a run of power ballads from the early 80’s.  You  know the type of song, headbangers crooning their unrequited love while the lead guitar cries along and the drum bangs out the broken heartbeats.  Good times.  At first I skipped past a song thinking it was too slow but then I had an aha moment.  What if I used this slower beat to pace my run?  Eureka!  It worked!  It wasn’t pretty but I was able to run about 30% of the way around my usual route.  My IT band didn’t get all tied up.  I didn’t run out of breath.  I felt like I was paint drying I was moving so slow but I was able to string together many intervals of running and walking.  And I was still able to do this even towards the end of my route.  I think I might be on to something.  My problem is I walk so fast that in order to feel as if I was doing anything different, I really stepped up my pace but I was in no shape to be able to sustain that pace.

The funny thing is, slowing down is something I’ve been trying to do with my voiceover and acting.  I have a tendency to talk really fast when working both of these crafts and that hasn’t served me well at all.  Perhaps I’m finding a theme here, that I should slow down and smell the roses.  Be more turtle-less hare.  I think I’ll make a new playlist on my iPod dedicated to power ballads.  Who knew about the wondrous powers of these types of songs?

Flip Flops

This time of year, we start to go a bit batty because we’ve been stuck indoors for far too long staring at the same four walls and looking out the window at cement skies.  Chicago doesn’t really have a spring, we usually go from 40 degree weather to upper 70’s in about a weeks time.  The skies finally clear and we can see that the atmosphere is indeed blue above our heads, it’s just been covered up in permaclouds.  This usually happens in mid June.  Seriously.  Every once in a while we’ll get a sunny clear day with temps that are moderate but we just don’t have a spring to speak of here.

Anywho, last weekend we had one of those days that just teases our memories of how wonderful summers are here.  The skies cleared to absolute brilliant blue and the sun warmed the air to the low 40’s.  It was the first time this year we’d had some moderation.  Chicagoan’s tend to explode out of doors on a day like this and today was no exception.  I took advantage of it by strapping on my running shoes and getting back to my routine of last year.  I had lots to do around the office and house so by the time I finally left, it was 4pmish.  The sun was getting lower in the skies and because we still had significant snow on the ground, there was a definite chill in the air.  I wasn’t bundled as much as I would have liked (forgot my gloves!).  But I was determined to get this back on track so I pushed through.  Along my route, I passed not just one, but 3 people wearing flip flops.  One girl had on a down coat, hat, gloves, scarf and bare feet.  Now I know I’m showing my age when I shake my head in confusion over this but it happens every year and I can’t understand why.  If you are that cold you have to wear all that stuff, why wouldn’t you wear socks and shoes also?  It just doesn’t make sense.  Are you that desperate to expose your ghostly white, unpainted toes to a wind chill of 35 degrees?  Really?

I just don’t get it.  Maybe I’m too practical.  My feet are not any where near summer ready yet and quite frankly I can’t stand being cold.  If that’s what getting old is all about, well, I’m fine with that.  Now where did I put my bifocals?

Oh Brother!

Today is my brothers birthday.  He’s the one next to me in line so he’s the oldest male in the family.  We are 20 months apart in age but since I was Miss SmartyPants and had to skip a grade, we were 3 grades apart.  In high school the age difference was probably the broadest as he was a freshman when I was a oh-so-cool-I-can’t-talk-to-you senior.  I mean I had my driver’s license.  Come on, how much cooler could I get?  Oh I’d deign to talk to him when I was giving him a ride to school in the mornings.  Poor guy, my extensive ministrations every morning meant we were flying to school as fast as my 1972 Chevy Nova V-8 engine could carry us.  He inevitably was sprinting across the railroad tracks from the student parking lot in a vain attempt to not be late for his first hour of class.  Whatever, he was a freshman.  They’re supposed to suffer.

Strangely enough he followed me to college and enrolled in the engineering school at Marquette my senior year.  There is an infamous story about his interview with the Dean of the engineering school that I accompanied him on.  As I’d done for most of his life, I proceeded to answer all the questions the Dean asked my brother.  At which point the Dean turned to me and oh so elegantly led me down my path of self betrayal “So, do you want to attend Marquette?” he asked.  ” Oh no sir” I replied with no little bit of condescension “I’m already enrolled here”.  He smiled and replied “then I don’t need to talk to you do I?”  The smile on my brother’s face was priceless.  Someone had finally told his sister in no uncertain terms to shut up.  Yes Virginia, miracles do happen.

As we’ve aged, the age difference has dissipated.  In fact, sometimes I think he’s more mature than I am.  He created (along with his beautiful wife) the family I’d always wanted.  He’s been the rock I’ve turned to more times than I can remember, especially these past 20 months.  He’s the one I know will drop everything when I need help.  He calls to check up on me every week and he lets me do all the talking once again.  I can honestly say, he’s more than a brother to me, he’s one of my best friends.  I’m very, very lucky to have him in my life.  Thanks Bro, and Happy Birthday.

26.2 miles

Yesterday was the Chicago marathon.  The past 2 years we’ve had freakily, if that’s a word, warm weather, in fact, 2 years ago they had to cancel the race midstream due to the heat and runners suffering severe dehydration.  This year the weather was on the really cool side, perfect conditions for long distance runners and predictions were records would fall.  Sure enough the 10 year old course record was broken by 1/100th’s of a second with the winner finishing in 2:05:41.  That time just blows my mind.  In slightly more time than 2 episodes of 60 minutes, a man ran from downtown Chicago to the Motel 6 in Dundee Road in Palatine IL.  If you’ve ever watched a marathon, the elite runners appear to be mythical creatures.  They fly by in a group and you can’t even hear their feet hit the ground.  There appears to be no effort, no strain, no difficulty on their part as they complete their trek.  It’s all in a days work to an outsider.  But the truth is in what you don’t see.  These people train daily, watch every single calorie they intake, analyze every aspect of their stride and improve the minutiae that will enable them to take 1/100th’s of a second off their time.  That’s what a professional does.  They labor in obscurity for months and years perfecting every aspect of their chosen craft until they burst on the scene in a blaze of glory.  The proverbial 20 year overnight success.  So many times we see a person on the screen, or in an arena, or on the microphone and think “I could do that, it doesn’t look that hard”.  To achieve the appearance of ease while attempting the impossible makes one elite.  It’s something I struggle with all the time.  I’m smart, competent and trainable.  It just frosts my cookies when I don’t master something the first time.  Pretty arrogant of me.  I fall prey to that nasty vice of instant gratification.  Keeping the long term goal in mind and continuing to put one foot in front of the other, do one more audition, learn another monologue will keep those baby steps adding up and someday I’ll be proficient enough to run my marathon effortlessly.

Headwinds and Tailwinds

Holy mackaroly!  Fall came blasting in last night with bang.  Yesterday was absolutely beautiful, temps were in the high 70’s, low 80’s.  Sunny skies with with puffy clouds lazily rolling by.  Everyone in Chicago was out taking advantage of the unbelievable blessing Mother Nature gave us.  That is one cool thing about the people in Chicago, when we get good weather, everyone is outside enjoying every last bit of it.  The bars and restaurants were hopping with various and sundry NFL games on their big screens.  I was able to keep up with quite a few games on my run as they all had their windows and doors open to the day.  It was fantastic.

For once, the weather forecasters got it right in their assertion that things were going to change pretty dramatically that night.  Sure enough, as I was enjoying the Colts on Sunday Night Football, the wind picked up and the sideways rain started.  Sideways rain always fascinates me, but I usually only appreciate it when I’m indoors and dry.  The rain didn’t last for very long but the winds kept up all night long, bringing much cooler temperatures.  By the time I woke up the next morning for my run, it was in the low 50’s and the winds were still howling at about 35 MPH, gusting to 50 MPH.  Reason enough to blow off my run right?  Unfortunately the grown up in me did the right thing and ran anyway.  I hate being a grown up sometimes.  Anywho, according to the Worry Channel, the winds were coming from WSW so as I was getting ready to run, I figured I’d have the headwinds at my face for the beginning of the run, when I was at my freshest.  And even better, when I was tired, I’d have a tailwind to scootch me along.  A good idea in theory.  What I didn’t count on was when winds are sustained at 35 MPH, it really doesn’t matter which direction it’s coming from, I’m going to be buffeted either way.  And forget it when a gust hits.  It was all I could do to maintain my direction.  Like the good little soldier I am, I completed my 5.5 mile trek but the last mile was done with my head down and my upper body pointing into the wind, a pose usually observed during blizzard season.

I hope to high heavens this isn’t a portend of things to come.  I’m just not ready for that.

Eating an Elephant

I’ve started running.  And if you know me at all, you know that I HATE running.  I will walk to the end of the earth but please oh please, do not make me run.  So why am I running?  Like so many other people I am trying to lose those last 5…er 15…ok 20 pounds.  And from what I am reading, those pounds won’t come off of me walking even if I did make it to the end of the earth.  So I am pushing myself to run at least parts of my daily 5 mile walk.

I’m not having much success.  I start out pretty good, with few walks in between my runs but soon I falter, get winded, a stitch or a pain in my legs and the endeavor becomes a walk.  A brisk walk mind you, but a walk nonetheless.  I gave up for a while but after a few weeks started up again.  Same issue.  Which got me to thinking as I saw all these people running with no problems around me.  What were they doing that I wasn’t and vice versa?

The AHA! moment came yesterday when I realized I was trying to RUN, not jog.  I was running as if I was a seasoned athlete who’d done this for quite a while.  I realized I was such a fast walker naturally that in order for me to feel as if I was stepping things up, I was going at too high a pace and level for me to sustain any sort of distance.  In the process I was short circuiting my success.  If I could just slow my pace down a bit to compensate, I’d have greater success.  It’s too soon to tell if this will work but I think I’m on to something.  You don’t eat the elephant one limb at a time, but one bite at a time, consistently, steadily, persistently.