Running up, over and through the cogs

Archive for July, 2012

Chicago Run: Empowering Our Youth, One Mile at a Time

On Saturday, I ran 32 miles around the 400 meter track at Dunbar Park.  That’s 128 dizzying laps, 512 left turns and a lot of people asking me: Are you okay? 

The smile on my face reassured them that indeed, I was just fine.  Ecstatic, actually.  Hours and hours of running tends to leave me with a permanent grin, even if the body aches.

After my first couple of hours circling the track, one of the dads from a nearby little league game approached me with his young son.  “Man, you’re a beast,” he said.  “I’ve been here for two baseball games and you’ve been running the whole time.”

I smiled in response, a bit shy.  “Just doing what I love,” I said, “it’s a nice day for it.”

The dad looked down at his son holding his hand.  “Do you mind if my son runs a lap with you?” he asked.

“Not at all.  Let’s go.”

The boy let go of his father’s hand and hitched on to my heels.  I slowed my pace and asked him his name.  He responded by giggling and sprinting off ahead of me.  I ran to catch him.

Laughing and running.  I got a little chill up my spine.  This kid was having a blast.  And before I knew it, as we circled the track (a bit slower now that he reached his lactate threshold level, I assume) we gradually picked up other little leaguers from his team.  I counted six happy little runners following me in circles.  No talking, just giggling.  And several pick-ups in pace among them.

I didn’t say anything either.  Just smiled and kept on.  Our actions were more than enough.  I felt like the pied piper of fitness.  The kids were having fun just moving.

Because kids love to run!  It’s part of their nature!  It’s who they are!

Unfortunately, many Chicago kids are forced to curb that natural instinct.  They live in unsafe environments.  Their homes are in food deserts that leave them with poor nutrition.  They go to schools with budgets that fail them.

But Chicago Run, the non-profit organization Team LOL is running across Illinois for in a few weeks, is restoring that natural freedom back to the children who so desperately need it.  They are working with Chicago Public Schools to get kids active again.  They are building the foundation for a future of educated, empowered, physically fit young people — a foundation that is paramount to the wellness of our city.

They are doing amazing things.  They are putting smiles on kids’ faces.  They are making a difference.

And they need our help.  You can help by visiting *HERE*.

In the meantime, consider the case of Alex, a student from Walsh Elementary in the Pilsen neighborhood.  A participant in Chicago Run’s “Running Mates” program, affected by the program’s nutrition lessons and running challenges, Alex soon started to notice that his belt was in need of extra holes, that his pants were getting bigger and no longer fit properly.  He took the lessons he was learning and shared them with his family, igniting a healthier lifestyle at home.  Months later, Alex found himself on the steps of the White House, giving a speech on how Chicago Run empowered him to be healthy before introducing first lady, Michelle Obama.

Chicago Run is bringing health and longevity back to our kids.  Consider being a part of this important mission.  You won’t be sorry.

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The 2012 New Leaf Ultra Runs Sunburn 8-Hour Run

All smiles on the loopty-loop (Image courtesy of Brian Gaines)

As soon as I finished the Chinatown 5K, I hopped in the car and headed out to the suburbs to meet all my ultrarunning buddies for the New Leaf Ultra Runs Sunburn 8-Hour Run.  Like our other club timed events, this fun run took place on a short 2.2 mile looped trail of crushed limestone through exposed prairie grass and big open sky.

The perfect recipe for… a sunburn.

And I got one.  But I ain’t sweatin’ it because the smiles and high-fives and good times were well worth it.  And though I showed up two hours late, I was happy to get in a nice and easy 50 km run while sharing the communal good cheer with all my pals.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • My short shorts make for a great conversation piece, or, at least they make for a good show.  I’m used to getting cat calls when I hit the city streets dressed in my open split racers, so being serenaded by my peers with songs like “I’m Too Sexy”, “We Wear Short Shorts” and “She’s Got Legs” just make me want to wear them all the time, not just when I’m running.
  • If you’re going to wear your hat backwards in the hot sun, be ready for an awkwardly placed tan square on your forehead.  Yes, yes, yes, I know it’s there, but thanks for pointing it out.
  • Running a hard 5K, followed by an hour long car ride is a good recipe for stiff legs.  Though I had a blast running around in circles with all my friends, I never could get my legs to loosen up, which resulted in tight IT bans, tight piriformis, tight everything and a slower pace.
  • Coca-Cola can save the day.  I don’t drink soda, but for some reason, during ultra events, I crave it.  And I have never craved it like I did on Saturday.  Thankfully, my friend Juan saved the day by giving me one of his.  It was like sweet, sweet nectar from the running gods.  Ahhhhhh…
  • Good company makes the time FLY!!!  Seriously, getting to run alongside so many cool and interesting people does make the miles tick by quicker than if I were running alone.  Each time I glanced at my watch I was surprised at how much time had gone by.
  • Which leads me to the realization that I need to focus better on nutrition, even during club runs.  Because I was spending so much time socializing, I wasn’t paying much attention to what I had eaten or how much I’d been drinking.  There were several points where I felt a little woozy, mostly because I wasn’t eating and drinking properly, so I will know better for the future.

But maybe the biggest thing I took home from Sunburn is the fact that a kiddie pool full of ice water needs to be a staple of every single summertime running event.  YES?!?!?  Having reached the 50 km mark in my run with a little over a half an hour left on the clock, I headed out for another loop when, from the corner of my eye, I caught a friend of mine soaking in the kiddie pool.  She looked so happy and so at peace.

I want to be there, I said to myself.

So I hung ’em up, soaked my legs, and enjoyed the last bit of running from the sidelines, which also gave me a head start on the delicious smorgasbord BBQ potluck.  Nothing goes together like running and eating, which means I’ll be looking forward to this event again next year!

My friends can’t hold back their excitement! (Image courtesy of Brian Gaines)


Full Circle: The 2012 Chinatown 5K Race Report

The Chicago Chinatown 5K will always hold a special place in my heart.  It is the first race I ran post-transformation, and it was the springboard for my running obsession — one that never seems to let up.  The 2012 edition was my third running and it has been fun to see the same faces come out, not to mention the joy of watching my finishing times drop from 24 minutes to 21 minutes to 19 minutes.

This race is always hot.  It’s in July, and there’s little shade along the course.  But I showed up perky as could be, ready to do a little speedwork.

– – –

I park the car at my office on South Michigan and run a 20 minute warm-up to the start line.  It has been a year since I last ran a 5K, but I do remember the importance of a warm-up.  If I’m going to start hard at the beginning, the legs need to be ready.

I haven’t tapered for this.  I’m just doing it for fun.  In fact, for the week, I’ve already run over 40 miles so I’m not sure there’s much steam left in the engine, but I do want to go hard and see what happens.  My mind thinks I can get done in the 18:30 range, and as I slowly churn the legs, priming them for a hard effort, it seems they aren’t so sure.  It’s warm.  80-something degrees.  There are no clouds in sight.

At the start line, I look around and can’t help but think snobbish thoughts (when did I become a running snob?). 

Is a 60 oz. Camelback really necessary for a 5K?, I wonder as I count three of them in the crowd of 500+ runners.  And what’s with all the Nip Guards?  How long do these guys plan to be out there?

But to me, the most hilarious thing is being pushed out of the way by some, er, “bigger” runners who feel they need to be right at the front when the gun goes off.  The starting chute is already narrow enough, I don’t see how blocking the faster guys who are going to run them over anyway is going to make their race experience any better.  I’m chalking it up to inexperience.

Thankfully, some race official with a megaphone instructs those out-of-place runners to move to the back.

3… 2… 1…

We’re off.  I’m through the chute, fighting my way past a few ambitious 12-year-olds and a slew of overzealous adults.  We fly east down Archer, take a sharp right turn on Wentworth and head towards Old Chinatown.  I already know, from years past, that the Old Chinatown section is the worst part of this race.  In fact, in my training runs that take me through Chinatown, I make sure to always avoid the old section on Wentworth.  I love Chinese food and all, but when red-lining, the toxic combination of Chinese food + garbage + old men chain-smoking on the street is just lethal.

Sure enough, my nose is hit with the aforementioned poisonous waft and I do what I can to breathe through my mouth so I don’t die.

Just off to my right, it sounds like someone else is dying.  I look behind me and it’s a little kid.  Couldn’t be more than 10 years old or so, yet he’s sticking with me at 6 minute pace.  He’s huffing and puffing and struggling and coughing.

You okay?  I ask.

He’s oblivious.

Maybe you should slow down a little, I offer.

He takes off, past me.  But he doesn’t get far before he just stops.  Completely.

I zoom on by.

And now I’m already halfway done!

I hit the turnaround aid station just north of Sox Park on Wentworth.  I’m going too fast to drink anything, so I just dump all the water I can on my head.  It helps.  Barely.  I try to run along the tiny bit of shade that the highway barrier offers there, but so are most runners, so as it crowds, I just hop back in the sunlight.  I’m almost done anyway.

I hit the 2-mile mark and the clock says 12:00 exactly.  Damn.  I’m doing pretty good, I think to myself.

So I start calculating in my head and start thinking about how this will end up being a great race for me and how much I’m going to brag to my old man about it and then, I’m back in Old Chinatown, struggling to not puke from the food/garbage/second-hand smoke onslaught.

I feel… gross.

Just before I reach the turn on Archer to head for the finish line I look at my watch and see I’m at 19 minutes and change.

WHAT THE????

Oh well.  I sprint through the finish line at 19:47 — not terribly excited but not terribly disappointed either.  As I grab some water and a banana, I think my lack of concentration towards the end is what slowed me down.  But I’m not gonna dwell on it.  I ran sub-20, bettered my time from the year before and I have to get in the car to meet my ultra buddies for a whole day of running yet anyway.

This was just a warm-up.

(for the main event, continue reading *here*)


All Hot, Barely Bothered

The training wheels are off my ultrarunning regimen.  Back-to-back long runs?  Yes, please.  Double run days?  Gladly!  Pushing the pace midday in 100 degree temps?  My pleasure…  sorta.

The heat training I’ve been experiencing has been a great indicator of my body’s ability to adapt.  Six weeks ago I began layering in my winter gear for an hour or two around the track each week — part of my build-up for the Howl at the Moon 8 Hour Ultra in August — and by the time the real heat wave came last week, I was pleasantly surprised at my body’s ability to withstand the suffocating elements.

That doesn’t mean I particularly enjoyed suffering for three long hours on the 4th of July, soaked with my own sweat-Gatorade-Gu filth and tattooed with Jeff-addicted horse flies; but it does mean that I was able to keep pushing through, moving one foot in front of the other, even when my body was uncooperative.

Curiously, the mild torture sessions have increased my brain power.  My mind is overriding my body.  Hot damn!  That’s an accomplishment all on its own!

When everything becomes immensely hard, when I’m breaking down, when I’m ready to call it quits… I just keep going anyway.  I think to myself, it could always be worse.

And believe me, it can always be worse.

No matter how hard I think I’m pushing, nor how difficult the task, I find motivation in knowing that someone else is out there pushing harder, suffering more.  Some folks might find that sick and twisted, but sick and twisted gets results.

Bring the pain, Mother Earth.  Bring it all!  Your harsh servings of spirit-breaking elements might be hard to withstand at first, but I’m gonna figure you out, or at least drown myself in electrolytes trying.