Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Marathon Training: It's not as fun as I said it was

I wrote a lot last week about my fun running but I strategically didn't mention the not-so-fun running that took place (because if my blog was a meal, you'd be here for the cake, not the broccoli, right?).  But the metaphorical veggies, i.e. actual marathon training, had to happen.  And it did.

Weeks 9 and 10 of my 18 week plan were rough.  Ol' Hal (Hal Higdon, whose training plan I am loosely following) is turning out to be a real slave driver, prescribing a half marathon, a 19 mile run, and a 20 mile run all in three weeks.

Hal's week 9 instructions included a half marathon race, but he can't tell me how to spend my money.  However, I did go hard for 13.1 miles (which I guess is the same thing).  Between that and a surprise workout on Monday (I wasn't planning on going so hard), I was dead the rest of the week.

I dwindled Tuesday and Wednesday, gave a pitiful attempt towards an un-timed workout on Thursday, and just said, "screw running" on Friday, opting for 40 minutes on the elliptical instead.  I needed to catch up on the May edition of Seventeen magazine anyway.

But I don't feel bad about the cross-training because it I knew that Beast Mama would approve.  According to her:

"Only ONE track workout per week and sometimes one every two weeks if legs really tired or else you risk injury since you are running on tired legs all of the time!... One of the keys to the marathon is getting to the line feeling healthy!"

Even though I basically ignored her advice (two hard efforts that week), my cross-training redeemed me in her eyes:

"I think the cross training is good because when you get tired, you will rely on other muscle groups which is why I do lots of push-ups, pull-ups, dips, and abs."
... which was the main motivation behind my "core workout" on Wednesday.  Usually I do a full body kettlebell workout during the week ("KB"), but my legs were so tired that I made up this circuit instead.

(And when I say made up, I mean half thought of, half copied the guy next to me who was in the middle of his $50 per week personal training session.  So I guess that makes this workout half prescribed by a certified personal trainer.)

Even though I will always pick cardio over strength if I have to choose, I start feeling a bit "Skeletor" when I don't do any strength for too long.  Marathon training takes a lot of time though, which is why I like quick but effective workouts like these.

But even if you don't like the workout, I made it into a  pretty pin-able picture (hover over the picture to pin it to your board!) so that at very least you can impress your Pinterest followers.

Hope this helps inflate your hump this Hump Day!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A picture is worth a thousand words

My darling sister, always so discreet with her words, recently told me that she "usually just scrolls through the pictures" on my blog.  So while I tell myself that people visit my site for my impressive written wit, it would seem that that's not the case.

So this week, I'm going to let the pictures do most of the talking.  Because really, sometimes no amount of words can convey the same message as one, well-practiced look.

This week, I alternated between two alter-Nicole-egos: foodie and 3-year-old.  During the work week, I spent lots of money I shouldn't have trying new restaurants with some friends I hadn't seen in too long.

On Tuesday, I met Erika and Alex to try The Purple Pig, a tapas joint that is evidently one of the 10 best new restaurants in America according to the legitimate foodies at Bon App├ętit.  And can you think of a better way to wind down from a long work day than with a plate of bone marrow smear?

And on Thursday, I met Rae (who now works downtown!) at another tapas joint, Quartino.  No bone marrow here, just a huge selection of Italian appetizers, $4 sangria, and the perfect birthday gift.

But being a grown-up for too long is hard.  So this weekend, Derrick and I took a bus half a mile up the road to the Lincoln Park Zoo so that I could unleash my pent-up inner child, who was sick of eating whipped goat cheese and just wanted to see a monkey.

And I did:

I was thrilled, but I don't know that I could say the same for the animals.

I'd say that overall, they were unmoved by our arrival.

That's not to say that all of the animals were so disinterested.  For example, we met a Sun Bear who seemed almost unreasonably elated over the bone he was chewing.  He'd do well at The Purple Pig, discounting the whole 5 inch claw thing.

We also met a few pleasantly satisfied "llamas" (according to some fellow zoo-goers next to us).  But somehow, despite these amateur zoologists' keen species identification prowess, they were unable to figure out what was going on with the unusual humps on these llamas' backs.

This was pretty much where Derrick took over the camera, which I wasn't too upset about.  Actually, I think he may have missed his true calling; what's the pay these days for National Geographic photographers anyway?

He was having such a good time that he wouldn't hand over the camera to let me take a picture of us, even after my assurance that I had really great, long, picture-taking arms.

But eventually I convinced him to let someone take our photo... because no trip to the zoo is really complete until you get a picture in front of the swan exhibit.

So in as few words as I could manage, that was my week.

But I'm kind of liking this whole "pictures more than words" thing.  Because while some jokes take good timing and a perfectly executed delivery to be funny, some things are funny just because they happened.

Like this camel with a deflated hump:

Hope you all have a grand week, filled with lots of whipped goat cheese tapas and monkeys... or at least with fully inflated humps!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Penny Pinched Professional #6: She Means Business

For the better part of my lottery qualifying years, I was a collegiate cross country runner majoring in biochemistry.  Read: when I wasn't rocking the sweaty sports bras and muddy Asics in the cafeteria, I was in my Converse's in the lab.  Not a lot of time for heels.

So when my Chicago office stressed "business casual" in the dress code, I literally almost wore heels to death (okay, so maybe cellulitis isn't exactly fatal... but it did hurt!).

But some days just aren't made for heels.  Some days you need your walkin' shoes, because you need to get serious work done.  Which leads me to...

Penny Pinched Professional #6: She Means Business

Lately, I've been doing a lot of walking around the office.  So sorry heels, but we need to take a break.

I feel like I'm cheating, because these shoes aren't penny pinched priced at all ($80 is a bit over my Payless budget).  But my mom actually bought them for me a few years ago for my first real interview, and mooching off mama definitely fits the penny pinched motto... as long as you do it sparingly.

She Means Business

The necklace is also compliments of my fashionista mother (a wonderful surprise birthday gift), so I owe a lot of this look to her.  But even if you aren't the offspring of a charitable fashionista, the rest of the outfit fits the penny pinched bill (nothing over $30) so you can still splurge on shoes, a solid investment that will last you a few years.

Just a little mid-week fashion inspiration to get you through the week.  Have a happy hump day!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

That time we won $400

I spent this week trying to snap pics of all of the interesting things I planned on posting about today.  It took a lot of self control to put down my chopsticks long enough to capture an extravagant sushi and locally brewed beer lunch with my work friends.

It took a little more self control (and a lot more bravery) to whip out my phone 150 ft. up on the Ferris wheel at the Navy Pier as we killed time waiting for Jen and her boyfriend Matthew (my friends from school who were in town this weekend).

But it turns out that these events were nothing but the obscure, average-at-best opening acts for the rock-star performance that took center stage this week (and possibly my life): winning $400 cash at the XPLORE Urban Race in Chicago.

Suzi, a dear old pal from Florida, came up to visit me this weekend.  And in predictable runner fashion, she convinced me to sign up for a race while she was here.

Only this race was not a typical run-till-you-puke affair; it was a large scale, elaborate scavenger hunt through the city put on by the XPLORE Urban Adventures Racing Series.

At first, I wasn't too bothered by the race (I figured that the team relying on the Chicago knowledge of a 5 month resident didn't have a huge shot of winning).  That morning, I actually woke up early for a long run and then went suit shopping with Derrick (who has an interview on Monday!) before heading over to Monk's Pub for race check-in.

But I immediately put on my game face after seeing the competition.  There were teams with camel water packs and teams of legitimate Urban Racers (and this was not their first rodeo).  The event organizer himself had actually gone to Nationals for a different, similar-type race series (who knew?).

There was even a guy in a full Captain America costume, shield included (although I'm still not sure about the strategy behind that one).

Photo courtesy of Xperience Adventures
By the time the organizer called all of the teams together to go over the rules, explaining to act natural and ignore the camera girls following us around Amazing Race style, and to hand out the clue sheets, Suzi and I were in full blown destroyer mode.

The rules of the race were simple: out of the 13 tasks, you had to complete 12 by figuring out the clues.  You could use public transportation, smart phones, Google... anything but bikes and segways.  So after about 5 minutes of briefly making notes on the clue sheet, Team Shmelmop was off running... literally, running (if you don't get our team name, I'll explain at the end of this post).

It turns out that I very much underestimated my Chicago knowledge; I was able to figure out the three picture clues pretty easily.  For example, without even reading the clue, I knew what and where the Jay Pritzker Pavilion was.

Unfortunately, after we did read the clue, we realized that that was the easy part.  The hard part was rounding up enough people to make a "human chain" from one pillar to another.  Who knew such a loud "Attention Everyone!" could come from such a small Suzi.

I was also able to recognize a picture of the Red Line, which (with the help of a "Derrick, can you Google something?" mid race call) led us to the Chicago Theater.

My most brilliant Chicago-ian feat was finding a mini Chicago bean-like sculpture (which was completely hidden behind bushes) by recognizing and finding a building in the background.

But Suzi definitely held up her end of the team with clutch performances that included a pretty out-of-the-blue knowledge of Japanese art.  She remembered her mom mentioning a temporary art exhibit in Chicago featuring "Taunuki figures," which quickly knocked out another task.

She was also key in wheedling out information about Chicago bridges from a bus tour guide and recruiting two British guys to take our picture on one of them.

But of course, our win wouldn't have been possible without some outside help.  In addition to Derrick being on-call for a quick Google search, we stumbled across a lot of people willing to aid our cause, such as this group of guys on a bachelor party trip.  I can safely say that he was the unarguable star of our rendition of Sweet Home Chicago.

There was also the cashier at Garrett Popcorn who gave us a free sample and a couple minutes of time to film us for another task.  I don't know if the other customers were as grateful as we were.

The surprise MVP performance of the day definitely went to the lone Asian tourist we steamrolled stumbled across after figuring out one of the toughest clues.  That task required us to jump in front of Intelligentsia Coffee.  We weren't too confident that she completely understood the situation after she responded with a blank stare to my suggestion to "count to three."

But she evidently got the gist and she nailed it.

Never in my life have I sprinted as fast as after we completed our last task.  I won't say I would have given Lolo Jones a run for her money, but I'm not denying it either.

Although my basic knowledge of the city definitely helped, I think the biggest factor in our win was our background as runners, a bit of luck, and a somewhat loose interpretation of normal traffic rules.

I could go on and on about the race without even mentioning the rest of the weekend, but once my posts reach Dr. Seuss book length, I know I need to cut myself off.  Let's just say that nothing was as glorious as the post-race burgers, mac n' cheese, and pulled pork at Kuma's Too as we celebrated sweet victory.

Team Shmelmop and our Offensive Coordinator, giving directions from the press box.
Although it was fun basking in our new temporary state of wealth, the most fun part was spending time with some friends who I miss dearly at a well-run and fun event.  And who knows, maybe Team Shmelmop might one day make an appearance at an urban race Nationals.

Hope you have a wonderful week.  For a little grin (or 15 minutes of spitting-out-your-water laughter, if you're me), tell this joke out loud.  You'll be glad you did.

Who's there?
Shmelmop who.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Marathon Training: This is how we have fun.

As I get deeper into the whole blog-o-sphere, I've stumbled across more running blogs than I know real life runners.  And I love it.

The running community is a different breed of nut-jobs (as I've mentioned) and once you belong, you’re stuck whether you like it or not.  Running is an addiction that only people who also rub Vaseline on their armpits can understand.

And someone who really understands is pretty critical for a runner because, although you have your good days when you're out there feeling like an ad from Runner's World...

... you can't avoid the bad days when... well, you just feel like this:

Every runner has those days when your 5k pace feels hard enough to be breaking world records yet you finish a minute slower than last time.  There's not a word anyone can say to make you feel better, but there's also no substitute for the sympathetic ear of someone who knows your pain.

And the great thing about running blogs is that it’s like having 52 sympathetic ear-ed runners all congregated in your living room… without the soul-crushing smell of 52 runners in one place.

One of the main things I like seeing on other runners’ blogs is training tips and/or their training schedules (badgering your runner friends only works for so long).  So to save some other anonymous cyber-runner out there from resorting to harassment, here’s what I've been doing the last few weeks in preparation for my marathon on October 20 (goal is sub 3:10):

Although I’m loosely following Hal Higdon’s Schedule, I’m definitely making a lot up as I go based on how I feel, my running company, and how many Yankees games I’m going to that afternoon.

But I’m no expert and my marathon time isn't getting me to the Olympics.  Luckily, though, I happen to know a few experts and an Olympic Trials qualifying marathoner.  Before my first marathon last January, I bugged an amazing runner enough that she shared some tips with me (I won’t say her name for her privacy, but we can just call her Beast Mama… the only appropriate name for a working mother who runs a 2:38 marathon at the Olympic Trials).

A few of my fifteen thousand and seventy two questions were about training paces and workouts.  This is what she had to say:

On long run pace: 

Many people don’t believe in running their long runs fast (which is why they advocate LSD…long, slow distance) but my belief is if you expect your body to perform at a particular pace for that long of a race, you best be running close to that in practice!!!  And it gives you a hell of a lot of confidence!  Adrenaline will only help you so much!

On what worked for her:

For my first marathon, three weeks out, I did 4 x 1000’s at 3:32 and getting down to 3:20 for last one.  I did same workout for this year’s trials but did them in 3:15 and got down to 3:12.

I did 4 x mile with 500 meter jog recovery at 5:39 and got down to 5:36 before first marathon four weeks out.  I did same workout for this year but ran them in 5:20 down to 5:15.

I did 5 x 2000’s for each marathon training session too. 

Some key workouts:

So, you do long intervals…200s, 400’s, 600’s won’t do much for you except get you injury because you will be running hard on tired legs (my legs were always tired during my three month training periods).

You should do YASSO 800’s…they are great for a workout and do help predict your time…that is, you warm-up, and run 10 x 800’s with 400 jog between, steady pace for all and what ever your pace is can predict your time for the marathon. 

Some other good workouts are 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 staring with easy two, then hard 2, then easy 2, then hard 2, easy 2.

I also did mile, half x 5 so….. mile hard, 400 jog, 800 m hard, 400 jog and then another mile hard, 400 jog, 800 m hard…etc  

On tempo runs:

You should run tempos were you mix up pace…so I would run 2 miles at 6:45 pace, then break out with 4 miles at 5:50ish pace, then another 3 at slower pace like 6:30ish, then another 3 hard at 5:55, etc.

Obviously her paces aren't going to be relevant to most people, including me (and if they are, I doubt you're taking advice from me).  But Beast Mama's workouts can benefit marathoners at any level.

If you're not a runner, you probably only made it this far in the post hoping to find the punch line.  Well, this isn't a joke.  I'm not saying it's logical to voluntarily submit yourself to this, but you're talking about a community of people like this:

These are actual pictures taken at DII NCAA Cross Country Nationals my senior year of college.

... Because this is how we have fun.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

We DID go see the Yankees

I've finally made up for that time when Derrick's dad and I cruelly used the Yankees' to cover up my surprise weekend visit in May.  Derrick finally got to see his beloved Yankees play... it just took a few months and 1300 miles to get there.

But I should back up, because no one likes starting in the middle of a story... and this will definitely be a story worth telling.  Small town twenty-something moves across the country to a strange new world of public transportation and gas stoves; it has best seller written all over it.  And it's so much more enjoyable when that twenty-something isn't me.

This time, it's this guy...

... standing at Southwest baggage check, hoping that he remembered his toothbrush.  Because there's no going back, and who knows if they brush their teeth in Chicago?

Our long trip started the day before with an 8 hour drive from the Outer Banks to Baltimore, which included an unplanned, "scenic" detour through downtown DC (and fighting DC traffic is a lot like Black Friday shopping at Best Buy: stressful, a bit alarming, and potentially life-threatening).  I had a headache before we even got to the airport.

Luckily, Derrick is my perfect travel partner.  Flight running late?  I'm in crisis mode, up there banging my head against the flight status board, while Derrick's settled in with Netflix, a bottle of Gatorade, and his characteristic willingness to rub my shoulders.

Derrick's one of the few who could get me away from the status board long enough to crack a smile.

But we made it.  So fast-forward a few trains rides...

... a couple standard "Welcome to Chicago" gorge-fests...

... to Tuesday night at U.S. Cellular Field, where the Yankees were playing the White Sox.  At first, Derrick was (understandably) a bit hesitant to show his true colors.

Luckily for him, he had somehow managed to get tickets smack-dab in the middle of what was apparently headquarters of the Great Yankee Fan Assemblage of 2013.  In his Jeter tee, Derrick was three rows deep into a group of his brethren "Noo Yawkas."

Me not so much.  I was raised in typical Maryland fashion, learning early how to pick steamed crabs, that it's okay to put Old Bay on anything, and most importantly, that you must hate the Yankees.  I'm not much of a baseball fan but some lessons can't be untaught.  So I decided to put on my Sox shirt and jump on the slow moving and pretty pathetic Chicago baseball bandwagon.

But like I said, I'm not a baseball fan (even less so after a 5:30 AM 8-miler followed by an 8 hour work day).  By 8:30, I was ready for bed.  By 9, I gave up even faking interest.

By 9:30, Derrick took pity on me; we left after 7 and 1/2 innings to catch the train for our long and slightly sketchy trip home.  By the time we made it to the apartment, Derrick was supporting more of my weight than I was.

Derrick has always impressed me in this way though; he's like a camel of energy, able go long distances without sleep, dragging the dead-weight, lifeless body of his exhausted girlfriend when anyone else would have already withered away.

And I know for a fact that he has been living in a week-long desert of sleep.  In addition to all of the mandatory "I'm New Here" tasks, a job hunt, and working out, he's also been a very pleasant companion to events such as my firm's "Summer Outing," an after-work happy hour on the roof of a bar downtown:

I didn't take these pictures; credit goes to Patty, Paul, and their iPhones.

I can only imagine how tiring it is trying to keep up with this group...

...while getting up every 15 minutes to get a water for your girlfriend who, after enjoying her firm's "signature" vodka cocktail and half of a Summer Shandy, became unreasonably obsessed with re-hydrating for her long run the next day.  But Derrick took it all in stride and was able to adapt to this unfamiliar environment with its attorney small talk and hand-delivered cotton candy...

... and still had energy for the rest of the weekend, which included some quality time by the Lake...

... Saturday night dates, complete with sushi and a bit of city corner entertainment...

... and belated-birthday Sunday brunches at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba (an amazing little tapas bar I first experienced in July).  I was a grown up kid in my 23 year old version of a candy shop, which featured an over-the-top Bloody Mary from the brunch Bloody Mary bar...

... and a plate of bacon wrapped dates.

Derrick, always a good sport, didn't spoil my euphoria but did admit that the joint wasn't quite his thing.  He liked his French toast, but it was definitely not "Derrick-sized" (his first response when the waitress set down his place was "where's the rest?").

But I guess as far as problems go, insufficient portions of French toast don't rank too high on the catastrophe scale.

For a first week in a new city, I personally think Derrick had it pretty good (French toast and MLB games beat canned soup dinners off of fold-up TV trays in the middle of an otherwise empty room).  But I also take for granted how difficult the initial adjustment to this environment can be; I've memorized most of the important bus routes so it's easy to forget how confusing they can be when you're still learning your home address.

So really, the only person who can tell you how hard (or easy) his first week was is Derrick himself.  On that note, I've already begun a steady stream of not-so-subtle hints for him write a guest post about his adventures.  It might be a long shot, but I'm convinced that if I can get him up for an 8 AM run on vacation, nothing is impossible!

Wishing you all a lovely week with some extra nap time!  Cross your fingers that you'll be hearing from Chicago's newest resident sometime soon.