2013 At The Races

In preparing for this weekend’s I-Challenge, I realized I never posted ANYTHING here about all of last year’s running. Which, given last year’s running, is a serious omission.

January 2013: Polar Dash half marathon in Chicago

Fired up?

Don’t ask me why, exactly, it seemed like a good idea to run a half marathon in Chicago in January. Maybe Megan and I just weren’t thinking when we signed up in the early fall? Thankfully, we were blessed with unseasonably good weather – in the low 50s! in January! in Chicago!. In the two weeks leading up to the race, I was also blessed with some sort of chest cold that I simply couldn’t shake, which made the race challenging. I felt great for the first portion, picking up a pace buddy somewhere around the 6 mile mark. We stayed together until miles 11-12, when I started having trouble breathing. A buddy of his had jumped in around mile 8, and the two of them encouraged me to stick it out, but I eventually told them to go on ahead, and took a short walking break. I’d hoped to catch up with him at the finish line to thank him for keeping me going, but I never saw him again. Thanks, random pace buddy! You got me through a tough spot.

I finished in 2:04:19, 5 minutes off my Monster Dash finish in October, but not bad for being sick.

Silver and blue

April 2013: Illinois Marathon I-Challenge 5K and half marathon in Champaign

My second year doing the I-Challenge, and my second year with back-to-back PRs. I rolled into Champaign with an incredibly full bladder and just enough time to get through the race expo and queue up for the 5K Friday night. A 5K has the potential to feel like small potatoes, particularly after distance training for the half, but it was a great way to start off the weekend. I started off on the slower side, but as I rounded the corner from Green to head back to the stadium, I punched the Go button and kicked up to a pace that I didn’t know I had in me. I ran the last half mile with a woman who was also doing the I-Challenge – the marathon for her – and while we agreed that neither of us should be going out that hard with a race in the morning, that didn’t stop us from powering around the corner and into the stadium. I finished in 24:55, taking more than a minute off my PR from the previous year.

With a 7am race, there was no time for fun – just a quick beer and a grilled mushroom sandwich at the Esquire, then an early bedtime at my Airbnb. I was out the door not long after 6, but still barely made it to meet Stephen at the starting line Saturday morning! We were both aiming for a 9:15 pace, so did the first half of the race together – through campus and into Urbana, where I spotted my friend Lucy taking photos in her front yard. At around mile 6.5, I got a side stitch and dropped back a bit. Water and a gel perked me up, but not enough to catch Stephen as he went on to finish the marathon. The most joyous part of the race for me was the trip through Meadowbrook Park which, while congested, provided a brief glimpse of a deer bounding through the prairie grass. I noticed at mile 10 that I would easily PR, but didn’t use that as an excuse to slack when, as usual, my energy flagged around mile 11. Thankfully, the music and the crowds spurred me on as we reentered campus, and I powered through to another PR: 1:56:59, nearly 3 minutes faster than the previous year.

Back to back PRs.

Fucken medals

May 2013: Rockford half marathon

This race was a totally different animal for me. Instead of pushing myself to PR, I was supporting my sister in her first half. The race started and finished downtown, weaving along both sides of the river through both affluent and modest neighborhoods. We ran the whole thing at her pace, enjoying the rare occasion for solo sister time. At one point, we were heckled by an older woman, who observed as she passed us that I was barely running! When we approached the heckler again, Jenn suggested that we gun it, and so we blew past her and kept up the pace for a few more minutes, eventually slowing back down to a comfortable finishing pace. The heckler caught up with us again, and I mentioned that Jenn had given birth less than a year previously, and that this was her first half marathon. We parted ways without further heckling. With the finish line in sight, Jenn picked up the pace, and we were happy to see our family at the finish line, though Jenn’s husband and kids were still on their way. We earned every last bite of the belated Mother’s Day picnic enjoyed that afternoon. Finishing time: 2:29:57

Running

After

June 2013: Rock n Roll half marathon in Seattle

Annette and I decided earlier in the year that we wanted to do a destination race, and Seattle provided a beautiful destination! I don’t think either of us were really prepared for the hills or the sun, but that didn’t stop us from having an enjoyable race. I didn’t have a goal in mind, but as we walked to the starting line, I decided I’d aim for two hours, a relatively reasonable goal given the last few races. I’m not super familiar with Seattle’s geography, but I can tell you that we ran through Chinatown with Mount Rainier looming in the distance, along two beautiful bodies of water, and on a couple of highways normally closed to pedestrians. I felt great and was on track for a PR until mile 12, when I suddenly got a crippling side cramp and had to walk. And walk. And cry. And walk. So much for my goal. It was a bitter finish, but not the end of the world, particularly since I hadn’t set a goal for myself until shortly before race start. We spent the rest of the day getting sunburned in Fremont with a grade school friend, watching a naked bike ride, and destroying giant burgers at the top of Queen Anne Hill. I finished the race at 2:04:27, and finished the day with a ridiculous sunburn.

July 2013: Rock n Roll half marathon in Chicago

I’m not sure what to say about this race exactly. In June, shortly after returning from Seattle, I took a hard fall on my bike which left me badly bruised for several weeks after, which made it hard to really train. I was averaging 20-25 miles per week, including a few long runs with N and speedwork with a running group, but I wasn’t making any improvements in pace or distance. Of all of the races, this is the one that I should have skipped. But I didn’t! Megan and I queued up on a beautiful summer’s morning, and the race got off to an interesting start, as my Garmin struggled to get a satellite lock between the skyscrapers and tunnels downtown. The course was great, covering both city and lakefront, and several of our friends came out to cheer at different points, but as the race went on, the mercury rose, and the sun became a little unbearable. At mile 10.5, crews were handing out sponges soaked in very cold water. I think you were supposed to squeeze the water on yourself and then toss the sponge, but I didn’t. In fact, the sponge became my lifeline. When I bonked half a mile later, I held the sponge to my face, cooling my forehead and inhaling the moisture. The sponge makes a prominent appearance in all of the official race photos, and in the group photos taken by friends later. I don’t think I set the sponge down until we got back to the car. It is my new lucky charm. The following photo should tell you everything you need to know about this race. Finishing time: 2:02:23

An accurate representation of today's half marathon as taken by Nicolas, and featuring my new best friend, the sponge. #project365 10/365

September 2013: Chicago half marathon

Megan and I were up and out early, arriving in Hyde Park as the sun was still coming up for our third half marathon in a third season in Chicago in 2013. I had sincerely hoped that after a 6 week break from racing, I would be in better shape for this one. I’m not sure exactly where I went wrong, but my energy started flagging as we made our way up Lakeshore Drive to the turnaround at 31st St. I kept telling myself that I couldn’t walk until I saw Annette, waiting at the top of the bridge with high fives and a slap on the ass. I made it to about mile 9 before I had to slow down a bit, and to mile 12 before the pain in my hip really kicked in. I swore LOUDLY as I slowed to a walk, despite the encouragement of the pacers I’d been running with for awhile. Another 2 hour goal slipped away as I limpingly ran through Jackson Park to the finish line, coming in at 2:01:41.

Go time.

September 2013: Women Rock half marathon in Chicago

This was really the right way to finish the racing season: a just-for-fun half on the lakefront with my sister. After the frustration and injury of the last two races, it was great to enjoy the scenery and her company on a beautiful fall day. I don’t know if it was the pace group or the fact that the race was only open to women, but it was definitely the most friendly race I’ve done, with lots of smiles and encouragement from other runners. I was only minorly bothered by what would later be diagnosed as a hypermobile SI joint. The post race swag? Necklaces (instead of medals) and a flute of cheap champagne. Finishing time: 2:32:37.

Untitled

A girl, her sponge, and post race cheap champagne.

2013 at the races: 7 half marathons and 1 5K in 4 cities and 2 states with 3 PRs. Not bad, but definitely too much for one year.

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Chicago Bucket List: Donuts from Do-Rite

Saturday morning hunger is not something to be trifled with. I wanted bacon, but N wanted donuts. We struck a compromise: a quick bite at a place in our new neighborhood (bacon for me) followed by a long walk to get donuts.

That long walk turned out to be 3.5 miles from Pilsen to Do-Rite, just across the street from the Daley Center downtown. Despite the limited menu options, we struggled to make our choices, but left with an iced coffee and the beginnings of grease stains on the sides of our paper bag containing three precious donuts. It was a beautiful day, and with no seating readily available, we wandered over to Millennium Park to dig in.

We walked downtown for donuts.

It was only after we dug in that I remembered that Do-Rite was on my Chicago Bucket List, though we’d previously had their donuts from Star Lounge and Dark Matter Coffee. We tried three old fashioneds: I had the chocolate, while N enjoyed the buttermilk AND the pistachio Meyer lemon.

It would be premature to say that these are my favorite donuts in the city, but they’re a pretty strong contender. Doughnut Vault’s are excellent but the lines are a significant drawback. Glazed and Infused’s are delicious, but have a similar effect to what I imagine chocolate frosted sugar bombs doing to Calvin. But Do-Rite? Just right.

40 Hours in Istanbul

Back in December, we started seriously exploring our options for a long visit with N’s family in Belgium. International airfare was considerably more expensive than the last time he went home, so we spent a lot of time looking at every possible route. Much to our surprise, it was cheapest BY FAR to fly through Istanbul.

With two flights out to Brussels each day, we determined we could either have a very short layover or a very long layover, albeit overnight. OR we could book as a multi-destination flight, and spend 40 hours in Istanbul, which is what we did.

After an exhausting and, for me, harrowing flight, we arrived in the early evening and were immediately overwhelmed. Istanbul is an enormous city, both in terms of population and geography. It is also populated by intensely crazy drivers, as we learned on our ride to the hotel. We were later told by a family member that riding in cabs in Istanbul cured her of her fear of flying. I would believe it!

Our hotel was located in the Sultanahmet district – tourism central – and anyone who has done any traveling knows it’s hard to really judge the nature of a city by these areas. With such a limited amount of time, however, we were happy to be proximate to the major tourist sites, which is where we headed after dropping our luggage. We arrived in the gathering dark, just in time for the final call to prayer of the evening. It’s hard to really explain how breathtaking it was.

Aya Sofya
We took more than 300 photos in the 40 hours we were there, so please assume that for every photo shared here, there are several more on my Flickr.

After a quick dinner followed by sahlep and baklava, it was back to the hotel for a relatively early bedtime. With our schedules turned upside down by long flights and time zones, we were awake half the night, falling back to sleep suddenly and soundly after the first call to prayer of the morning.

Turkish breakfast

After our highly satisfying hotel breakfast, we set off in search of the Spice Market. We found the Grand Bazaar:
Grand Bazaar

a number of street cats:
I am a crazy cat lady.

Istanbul University:
Minaret

and the beautiful Süleymaniye Mosque.
Süleymaniye Mosque

Süleymaniye Mosque

We also found urban chickens, a small botanic garden, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and a bridge across the Bosphorus:
Walking to Asia

We did not, however, find the Spice Market, despite quite a lot of famished wandering around on our part. Conceding defeat, we tracked down lunch in a very strange basement “restaurant”, crossed back through the Grand Bazaar, and went on to the Basilica Cistern, which was at the top of N’s must-see list. Built in the 6th century to provide water to the city, it can now be accessed from an unassuming building near the much more grand (at least above ground) Aya Sofya and Blue Mosque. It’s an incredibly dramatic place – hard to imagine the same grandeur from our contemporary public works projects:

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

From there, our day went a bit downhill. We arrived at Aya Sofya after it closed, and at the Topkapi Palace just as it closed.

Aya Sofya

N talked me into trying an ear of corn from a street vendor, and it was gross.

Untitled

The Blue Mosque didn’t disappoint, but also lacked some of the peace and quiet of the smaller, less centrally-located Süleymaniye Mosque from earlier in the day.

The Blue Mosque

After not getting to see any of the things I really wanted to see, the restaurant I chose for dinner either didn’t actually exist, or the map was incorrect. I was about ready to throw in the towel on Istanbul when N found a restaurant that didn’t have an annoying barker out front AND had Iskender kebab on the menu. I promised a street kitty that I would give her a bite of my food if she came back later, and let me tell you: it was hard to keep that promise.

Iskender Kebab

Iskender kebab face

We finished the night with Turkish Delight and a quiet walk back to our hotel before our early morning flight to Brussels.

A month removed from the whirlwind visit, I feel like we did a reasonably good job of seeing the touristy parts of Istanbul. We did a lot of walking, ate some traditional foods, and saw a few amazing things. Our long layover provided me with what will likely be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore that part of the world; while I enjoyed it, I doubt I’d go out of my way to go back. But stranger things have happened, as indicated in these warning signs:

Warning signs