Race Recap: Presence Health Illinois 5K

Fortified by a late lunch at Za’s and a nice day wandering around Allerton Park and other favorite spots*, I felt reasonably ready for the 7:30 start time of the 5K. The weather had been iffy for most of the day – overcast, breezy, a little drizzle – but nothing terrible. I grabbed two cookies on my way out of the hotel, leaving at 6:40 for the 10 minute drive to the race.

That was my first mistake. I got to campus just as they were starting to close the roads. With literally every turn, I was hitting newly closed roads, and being redirected away from the starting line and back into the terrible traffic that had caused me to try to detour through campus in the first place. I ended up driving several miles out of my way, then doubling back and finding parking just in time to hustle to the starting line. At least I got a warm-up?

My second mistake was low-balling my pace when I registered. Of course, I registered back in September, so I had no idea what my pace would actually look like, but I could have given myself more credit! I was in the second wave, and I blame my missed PR on that entirely, because by the time I got to the starting line, people from the first pace group had already slowed to a walk.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, let me briefly explain: when you register for races, you’re often asked to estimate your pace/finish time so that the race organizers can group you with people of similar abilities. This should prevent traffic jams at the starting line by putting the walkers with the walkers, the elite runners with the elite runners, etc.

My estimated finish time put me in the 27:00-30:00 group – roughly a 9 minute mile. So everyone up ahead of me would’ve been running less than a 9 minute mile. Now, a 9 minute mile isn’t all that fast (the top 15 finishers ran a sub-6 minute mile), but it is fast enough that you should be able to assume that the people running at that pace are runners, not walkers.

All of this is to say that when I crossed the starting line with the 9-10 minute pace group, I should not have hit a wall of walkers. But that’s exactly what happened. It took me the first half mile to get around all of the walkers in order to get up to pace – a significant setback when you’re only running a little over three miles! So that was maddening, but there was nothing to be done except focus on the rest of the race.

I almost never intend to race this race, given that I will have another race to race in the morning, but it always ends up happening. Running through campus, often in gorgeous weather right at sunset, gives me such a high that I just can’t help myself. The course was reversed this year – I assume to fix an annoying hairpin turn – so we went past the rows of undergrad housing earlier in the race – always an energizing point. We sailed down Green Street, up 6th, and back towards the stadium.

I had set a pace alert, but didn’t feel it after that first frustrating half mile, so I assume I was doing well, though I didn’t think a PR was possible. I was mostly focused on beating last year’s time, though I’d written both – my time from 2015, and my PR from 2013 – on my arm next to my watch.

I crossed the finish line at 24:59, easily beating the previous year’s finish time of 25:56, but coming in four seconds over my 24:55 PR from 2013. How frustrating to have done SO WELL and then come up just barely short of a PR!

Tired, hungry, and grumpy, I grabbed a little post-race food and hobbled on my newly sore hip back to my car. On the way home, I picked up more Za’s, and returned to the hotel aghast at my missed PR.

Presence Health Illinois 5K by the numbers
Finish time: 24:59
Placing: #508 overall, #103 out of all women, #12 out of all women aged 35-39.
Average pace: 8:01
Splits: 8:18, 8:04, 7:44, .51

*It’s impossible for me to talk about these races without also talking about the places that bring me back to Champaign. But for the sake of brevity, I’ll keep that to another post.

My Race Plan (or: what are you doing in DC this weekend?)

At lunch yesterday, Tina (or maybe Abigail) asked about the race plan for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler tomorrow. A race plan is still a novel concept for me – actually thinking through the race before it happens, rather than just getting out there and hoping to survive. As a race plan novice, this is the best I’ve managed:

  1. On Friday – two days til the race – think about starting the day with a slow, easy run, but instead get the deepest, longest night’s sleep in weeks, and spend the afternoon walking and talking with a good friend.
  2. Spend more time than is really logical debating whether I can go to a Depeche Mode dance night at the Cat and still be up for a 730am race. (No.) (What are you thinking?!) (But 3 weeks ago I pulled off dancing til 2am followed by a 9 mile run!) (But that run was in the afternoon, and you were reasonably well rested before!) (But the last dance night at the Cat was amazing!) (But you still have to be up at 530 in the damned morning.)
  3. Eat other people’s fried food and drink plenty of beer (carbs = fuel!).
  4. On Saturday, HYDRATE. This is important as race prep and because of the previous step.
  5. A lot of stretching so that I don’t feel like I’ve broken my butt immediately post-race.
  6. Avoid weird foods if possible as the actual race plan doesn’t involve any stopping at on-course port-a-potties.
  7. A solid night’s sleep if such a thing is possible, despite my burning desire to go to the Depeche Mode night.
  8. Awake by 5:30 in hopes of fitting in coffee, something small to eat, and the all-important pre-race poop. Seriously, you’ll rue the day you skip that step.
  9. Lube up any part that might chafe. You’ll also rue skipping this step.
  10. Kit up: my second pair of Kinvaras in the last year, science pants, sleeveless top, toss top for starting line warmth. Bandana because my hair seriously will not stay out of my face. In the pocket of my top: phone, ipod, ID, gel. No Mr. Pickle, alas.
  11. Head down to the Mall, where Tina and Abigail and I will line up with whatever damn wave we please.
  12. Feel inadequate as we round the first curve and see the elite women already four miles into the race.
  13. Pace at a 9 minute mile. I’ve been doing 9:15 in hilly-ass Ann Arbor, so I think this is possible.
  14. Get choked up running back across the Memorial Bridge as the sun comes out.
  15. No water before mile 4. First gel around mile 5.
  16. Stop for beer and Oreos at the tip of Hains Point if such things are on offer this year.
  17. Don’t save anything for the way back. Regret it on that last little incline.
  18. Hope for a space blanket or at least a banana at the finish line.
  19. Find Tina and Abigail. Smile big!
  20. Eat all the food

Team Astronaut Mike Dexter!

Moving Forward with Thanks

I’m taking time out before the meal preparations start to tell you more about our big news, presented in brief in my previous post.  Chicago!

ashland

Let me back up.

When we started to talk about leaving DC, we were both unhappy in our jobs.  We were tired of our commutes, tired of living in the suburbs, tired of the cost of living somewhere just a little too expensive.  We had a lease that was ending, and a fabulous job opportunity for Shane.  We were Ready To Go.

We’ve now been  in the mitten for a little over two years, and (in the spirit of the day) have much for which we’re thankful.  We have good jobs and many good friends.  We’ve been able to pursue our interests – beer, mopeds, knitting, running, cooking, records, gardening – and have had storage space to accommodate all of those interests.  We’re healthy, though Shane has been fighting a nasty cold all week, as are our cat friends.  Our families and most of our friends are within half a day’s drive, as are several major cities and lots of gorgeous nature.

Chicago

So why move?

Because we’re craving city life.  Because every time we go to Chicago and see allllllllllllllll of our friends, we feel grumpy that we don’t live closer.  Because having a newish nephew has made us acutely aware of the passage of time and how much we’re missing by only seeing him a few times a year.  Because we’ve only gone to a handful of shows in the time that we’ve lived here.  Because it’s frankly not that much more expensive than Ann Arbor, but offers so much more to a childless couple in their 30s who want to have fun before they’re too old to be fun.  Because we didn’t get the full city experience living in the ‘burbs of DC.  Because it’s a major hub for airlines and a world class destination for good food and coffee.  Because I’m a Cubs fan.  Because so many of the people that made Champaign home are now in Chicago, and because Champaign is 2.5 hours away by train.  Because there’s a lake and beaches in the interminable summer.  Because it’s a city of neighborhoods, each with their distinct identity.  Because it has an established bike (and moped) culture.  And because we’re ready for a change.

wrigley!

After several conversations this summer, we decided that we wanted to focus our energy in this direction.  We weren’t sure if or when it would happen, but we wanted to make it happen.  We started applying for jobs, realizing that if they didn’t happen, we were still in a very good place, and the worst it meant would be that we would be in that good place a while longer.  In October, on the heels of a few weeks of ridiculous travel, Shane interviewed at DePaul, and a few weeks ago, he was offered the job.  Chicago!

So what happens next?  At some point in December, a moving company will pack up our apartment and load it onto a truck and drive it to Chicago.  We’ll go home for Christmas, then come back here to move me into a month-to-month sublet and to load up the van with some cats and the stuff Shane will need until the movers arrive.  I’ll help him get settled so that he can start his new job on January 2, and then we’ll do the back and forth thing until I can find a job.  There will be lots of visits and Skype calls and separation angst, but hopefully it won’t last too long, and by the spring we’ll be together again in our new city.  And we absolutely can’t wait.

Fondue!

My brother Mark is getting married in a few weeks, capping off a wedding season that has seen our attendance at or involvement in six weddings, two showers, and one reception since May, all but two of those occurring out of state.

Guests of Honor

In my experience, bridal showers are painful as often as they are enjoyable. My sister and I were determined that the shower we cohosted for Mark and Evonne would be different. First of all, no games – especially no games involving toilet paper. Second, it would be a couples’ shower. And third, there would be good food.

Two kinds of cheese fondue and savory snacks – the acorn squash fondue was the biggest hit and yielded nearly twice what we expected, while the Dubliner fondue separated in the saucepan and never quite came back together.

Acorn Squash Fondue

Savory Snacks

Chocolate fondue, sweets and spiked cider. The chocolate fondue was an unmitigated success, and the pound cake was polished off by the end of Sunday’s breakfast. The cider didn’t survive the evening.

The Full Spread

Sweet Snacks

Laughter and party crashers:

Laughing Shane

Party Snacker

A lovely time was had by all.

Best Sugar Cookies Ever

We spent last weekend in Rockford, celebrating a very special boy’s very special first birthday. Jenn and Bill really outdid themselves with the treats, and I’ll be honest when I say that I was tempted to dig in with the same sort of abandon demonstrated by the birthday boy. It got messier from here, but I had to share the restrained cute:

In addition to Max’s chocolate-and-chocolate smash cake, Jenn and Bill made a two layer Mario cake – chocolate on the bottom, funfetti on the top – with homemade fondant, complete with Goombas, mushrooms, bricks, and pipes:

Mario Cake!

There were also homemade cupcakes, but what I really want to tell you about are the sugar cookies, decorated to look like Starmen:

Starmen!

and Yoshi eggs:

Yoshi Eggs!

Now, I’m usually not a sugar cookie kind of girl. When presented with your conventional cookie options, I usually go for monster cookies first, then molasses, oatmeal raisin, and last, but not least, chocolate chip. These sugar cookies, however, were just about the best sugars I’ve had. They were delicious right out of the oven – and stayed soft (but not chewy) for a few days after. I ate the last star Wednesday morning – nearly a week after they were baked – and the cookie was still soft.  That’s much better than your average store-bought cookie, which even with preservatives will be stale by the end of the day.

The weekend’s treats totally did in my diet and my sweet tooth – but I look forward to making these when both recover.  Jenn shared her recipe, which she got from her friend Robyn, and which I’m happy to share here. Jenn and Robyn note that gel food coloring will result in more vivid colors, and should be added after frosting reaches the desired consistency. Liquid food coloring, on the other hand, should be added to the frosting BEFORE other liquids, as it may affect the frosting’s consistency.

Sour Cream Sugar Cookies
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sour cream (or sweet cream soured with 2-3 tablespoons vinegar)
6 cups sifted flour – more if necessary
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat your oven to 375, and line baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat mats. Cream butter and sugar. Blend in eggs and vanilla. In a 2 cup measuring cup, dissolve the soda in the sour cream, mixture will froth and almost double in volume. Add to butter mixture and blend. Sift dry ingredients together and blend into the wet ingredients gradually. If necessary, gradually add more sifted flour until you can easily roll out the dough. Cut out cookies and bake 10-12 minutes on the prepared baking sheets. Yield will vary depending on the rolled-out thickness and size of your cookie cutters.

Buttercream Frosting
1/3 cups cold butter
1 pound powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Food coloring (optional)
1/4 cup whole milk or cream

Cream butter. Add powdered sugar, salt, vanilla, and liquid food coloring if using. Add milk or cream, stirring constantly, until the frosting forms stiff peaks. Gel food coloring will produce more vivid colors; if using, add after the frosting reaches the desired consistency.  Spread on cooled sugar cookies – or enjoy on graham crackers or straight off the mixing spoon.

A Tale of Two Dinners

My birthday was this past weekend, and I am now 31.  As you may recall, last year’s birthday celebration involved a lot of free things and the construction of a croquembouche, the latter of which kicked off a year of baking adventures with new A2 friends.  While we did go for a few free things, the main plan for the day was a fancy dinner, the destination of which was unknown to me until Friday, when an errant emailer let it slip that we were going to Eve, and then would be meeting friends for drinks after.

It is at this point that I should fill you in on a few extenuating circumstances.  First, on Friday night we ate all the food and drank all the drinks – specifically wine and fondue at Shana’s, followed by a round of drinks at Eve, followed by another round at Alley Bar, followed by the sort of drunken falling over antics more befitting nearly-21 than nearly-31.  Needless to say, the idea of eating and drinking to excess made me a little queasy.  It’s been almost a week, and it still makes me a little queasy.

Second, Eve is closing – well, has closed at this point.  Sunday night was going to be their last night of service ever, which meant all manner of potential hitches: stuff missing from the menu, poor service because they were too busy, etc.  Both were the case when we were in for drinks on Friday.  Shane had made his reservation before they announced the closure, wanting to treat me to a nice dinner at one of A2’s fanciest restaurants.

With these things in mind, I asked Shane if he would mind terribly if we went elsewhere for dinner? Specifically possibly maybe Vinology, where we had a really excellent meal over the summer.  Except! Vinology wasn’t taking reservations because of Restaurant Week, and when we called at 6pm, there was a two hour wait for a table for two.  So we carried on with the original plan.

Except that we arrived late for our reservation (6pm, not 6:30).  And we were seated at a two top where we would’ve been more intimate dining companions with our neighbors than with each other.  Every time the door opened, Shane was treated to a gust of very cold air.  The server greeted us with the offer of a cocktail, but the warning that they’d had an open house that afternoon and sold off most of their bar.  They had one of thirty bottles available from the lower end of the wine list – the rest were sold out.  The bread came out without the wonderful butters promised by nearly every reviewer on Yelp, and at that point we decided to throw in the towel.

So we left, with me nearly in tears, feeling so guilty for being disappointed and wanting to go elsewhere when Shane had tried to make the evening so nice.  Shane asked what I thought we should do, and I asked if we could try Vinology?  He dropped me off, and I went in prepared to cry if it would get us a table.

Except that they’d had a cancellation, and so had a table for two available immediately!  I gushed to the host that he’d just made our evening, and we were tucked away in a cozy booth with gauze curtains separating us from our neighbors.  My stress and guilt melted away with Shane’s obvious enthusiasm for the menu: ample options for sharing and indulging in both wine and food, plus dessert on the house in honor of my birthday.  Over the course of the next two hours, we shared:

  • a sweet and savory salad of beets prepared with sherry vinegar and goat cheese
  • a plate of olives and assorted pickled vegetables, half of which I took home for later snacking
  • a half portion of the scallops – so one perfect buttery porcini-dusted scallop each, along with boursin whipped potatoes, mushroom ragout, french beans, and an  impossibly delicate vinaigrette
  • a half portion of grilled sirloin with a coffee-pepperberry rub, creamed swiss chard, and adequate sweet potato ravioli in a ginger soy butter sauce
  • a half portion of the same wonderful venison we enjoyed in june

We each enjoyed a wine flight with our meals, the result of which was a veritable wall of wine across our little table:

Wall of wine
For Shane, the Big Red, featuring a small pour each of Garnacha, Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I had the Fruit Bomb: Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and a Shiraz that ranks among the best wines I’ve ever tried. We finished the meal with “Captain Crunch” ice cream, which tastes even better than you could possibly imagine:

Captain Crunch Ice Cream

While our meal wasn’t prepared by a former Top Chef contestant (or her staff), I’m confident when I say that this was one of the best meals we’ve enjoyed together.  Thank you, Vinology, for redeeming what could have been a very disappointing birthday evening, and thank you, Shane, for the treat, your company, and your patience and love.