Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I'm Going to Brag For a Minute

I'm getting excited about the Hot Chocolate Run on Sunday, but Saturday will be a big day for me as well.

That's because my son Matt and his Aurora Central Catholic teammates will be running in the Illinois Class 2A state cross country meet. The Chargers finished fifth in their sectional last Saturday and will be running at state as a team for the first time since 2006.

Matt is second from the right in the black shirt. To his left (in yellow) is Matt Meyers, who is the No. 1 runner on the team and could finish in the top 25 and earn all-state designation. Matt's best friend Javy is on the far left.

If I need any inspiration in my running, I certainly don't have to go very far. Matt is the perfect example of what happens when you work hard. Back in the spring he finished 8th at the conference meet in the frosh/soph 1,600-meter race, and had never broken five minutes for the mile.
His hope at the time was to just be one of the top seven runners on the varsity team. He has run pretty much six days a week since June and went from someone hoping to make the team to the No. 2 runner on the squad. Last Saturday he ran 16:25 for three miles and hopes to break 16 minutes at state. It can happen...the state race is extremely fast (as you could imagine) and with no pressure he can just focus on running fast.

So back to Saturday. His team had finished sixth at regionals the week before, it was one of those days where pretty much nobody on the team felt good. It happens, but we knew that it was going to be close at sectionals.

Matt felt much better than the day before. His coach had told him he expected him to finish somewhere in the top 25-30 (there were over 160 total runners), and I told him if he could do that he would probably qualify for state even if his team didn't, as the top seven individuals on non-qualifying teams also advance.

Still, it might have been one of the most nerve-wracking days of my life! It is so much harder to watch than it is to compete yourself...I learned that a long time ago. The way cross country works is that the top five runners count towards the scoring, and it is added up by place. Lowest score wins.

We all knew that three teams: Yorkville, Glenbard South and Illiana Christian, would advance. They were clearly head and shoulders above the rest of the field. That left four teams, Central among them, to fight for the last two team spots.

Everyone had to run one of their best races of the year, and they did! Matt finished 31st overall, so he didn't miss his projection by much. Javy was right behind him and Adrian (the fourth person in the above photo) was a couple of spots behind.

Then, we waited. Unlike other sports, where there is a scoreboard to provide instant feedback, cross country is a mystery until the results are announced. Sure, you can count places and do the math, but everyone usually miscounts or forgets to carry a number, so it's not the most accurate.

For some reason, it took the officials close to an hour to certify the results. I don't envy their job, they have to take the paper results and compare it to video of the finish, and with so much at stake they couldn't afford to screw something up.

First came the girls results. The Chargers didn't advance as a team, but two runners moved on individually, which was exciting for them. One of them, Karina Liz, attends my church with her family and I have known them for a long time. She is only a freshman and has so much potential it is mind-blowing.

Then, the boys. With 21 teams in the sectional, they started with 21st place and went backwards. As we stood as a group awaiting the results, the tension grew with each team. They were quickly to ninth place, then eighth, seventh and sixth.

When they announced that Lemont had finished sixth, we looked around and realized they hadn't said our name yet. What a feeling for everyone! We all exploded, and I don't even remember hearing the rest of the team results.

It was a proud moment for all of us. Both Matts would have qualified individually, but it is much sweeter that they are going as a group. They are a close-knit bunch (most cross country teams are) and the fact they get to experience this together is awesome.

It's so hard to put into words your feelings when one of your kids has success at something...anything for that matter. The biggest thing about this is that I never for a moment expected it. I had hoped that Matt would love running (he does) and beyond that I didn't care whether he ran at the front or the back of the field, or even somewhere in the middle. All I cared about was that he was doing his best and having fun.

Nowhere did I imagine he would be a part of a team that is going to the state meet, and I never thought he would reach the heights he has so far. He has a long way to go, but now has the goal of running in college too, which is something I never thought he would want to do.

To add to the excitement, at the school's fall sports brunch on Sunday, he and Javy shared the Most Improved Runner award. I'm glad they did, they have been great friends and their support of each other has helped them both become the best they can be.

What a weekend this is going to be! So if you see me floating a bit above the ground on Sunday, you know why!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I Can't Wait

For a couple of things, well, three now that I think about it.

I can't wait for Saturday to see if my 16-year-old son Matt and his cross country team runs well enough at sectionals to qualify for the state meet. Of course I can't wait until next weekend because 1) if he qualifies for said meet it will be next Saturday and 2) I have big plans for the weekend and the Hot Chocolate run.

But I'm adding another one after my run after work tonight. It was just an incredible day here, the temperature flirted with the 80-degree mark all day, just a reminder of summer and how we don't know what we have until it's gone. We have about 18 more hours of this beauty and warmth before reality sets in and we plunge back into the 30s tomorrow night.

The weather gave a lot of people the same idea that I did, so there were a lot of my fellow runners out on the trail after work. There is a path around a park called Waubonsie Lake (because it is next to Waubonsie Valley High School I guess) and if you take the long way around it is between 2.6 and 2.8 miles. They once had a sign out there but I forgot the second number.

Anyway, I ran at a pretty nice pace and felt great. The sun was going down -- I actually finished after dark -- so it was warm but not as bad as if old Sol was beating down from a clear blue sky.

One thing I noticed was that there were a lot of people out there, both men and ladies, who were really hammering their workout. Wednesday can be a night for that on a lot of schedules, and some of those folks were really letting it rip.

I of course kept my slow and steady pace, but at the same time was feeling a bit motivated. When I am in good shape I love to hammer out runs and push the pace more than I probably should. Sure it hurts but the satisfaction of finishing one of those workouts is awesome. Plus, it's just a day that you know you got something done.

Alas, those days are a ways off, but that's OK, it just gives me the incentive to work towards it, and maybe when winter goes away and next spring arrives I can join them back on that trail and do my best to keep up!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Gotta Love Runs Like This

When my dad and I would play golf, someone would hit a good shot and he would say "that's the shot that will keep you coming back!". What he meant was that no matter how good or bad of a player you are, you hit a couple of shots a round that are so sweet that all of the other stuff gets forgotten.

I had a day like that yesterday when I had a run that reminded me of why I do it in the first place. It all started when I got up at 5:45 and headed into Chicago to meet my friend Bernie for a run. I was a little tired and it was quite chilly so I was glad I had someone to run with as my motivation was a bit low.

We started out and headed east towards Lincoln Park. Our plan was to go about five miles, but we were winging it since we hadn't mapped anything out beforehand.

We settled into a nice groove and caught a lot of deserted streets and walk signals, which is a huge key to urban running. Our pace wasn't super quick but we were having a good conversation so that was fine with me.

Once we got to the park, we headed left into the Lincoln Park Zoo. I always forget that the zoo is free, further proof of the awesomeness that is Chicago, so we ran right through the main entrance and past the tiger exhibit, and one of the big cats was already up to start his day. I love cats of all sizes, by the way.

Bernie had worked at the zoo for several years, so he navigated. Once we were inside, we headed south towards the nature trail. It's not really a "trail", but a wide walkway (or in our case, a "run" way) around a beautiful pond and through some wetlands, which were heavily populated by ducks.

By now the sun had come up and it was nice and warm. We kept rolling along and after leaving the zoo headed back towards where we started. It was at that point I was feeling so good I was about to look over at Bernie and say, "hey, let's go a little further".

I didn't and we made our way back to the park. The boot camp that I sometimes attend and Bernie almost always does was just finishing their workout, and when we asked what time it was we realized we had been running for an hour and 15 minutes!

I'd have to guess that we ran about 6.5-7 miles, and it was awesome every step of the way. We just ran so free and easy, and I never felt like we were working hard. It was just two friends enjoying a run.

I love having runs like that. When I think of some of the more memorable runs I've had, I think I have to add this one to the list. Yeah, that's how great it was. It also gave me a big boost of confidence for the Hot Chocolate Run in two weeks. I am not going to get up near the full distance of the 15K (9.3 mile) distance, but the way we ran I feel like I could have continued that for quite some time.

What I'd really like is if I could have another run like this one.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

On The Clock

I figured I would start this post with a picture of my goal for next year. Yes, this mass of humanity is the starting line of the Chicago Marathon. I've been in that mosh pit five times before, and can't wait to do it again! I don't have the words to describe what the energy and feeling is like in the moments leading up to and after the start. As crazy as it sounds, it takes close to 30 minutes for everyone to cross the starting line. Thank goodness for timing chips.

Speaking of timing...as I mentioned in my last post, I hadn't run for time since my 5K on July 12th. Not that I haven't wanted to, in fact I'm normally pretty obsessive about that sort of thing. The problem is I lost my trusty Timex Ironman a while back and had yet to replace it.

So I borrowed my son Matt's watch (which I felt entitled to since I bought it for him!) and went out for a run during lunch yesterday. It was really breezy, windy enough so that I don't know if it helped, hurt or evened things out. Fortunately the last half was with the wind, because I needed it!

I have close to a half-dozen different loops around the campus where I work, which is a collection of 2-3 story office buildings and warehouse facilities. Suburban running at its best. The loops go between 3 miles and 5.2 miles, depending on time and fitness level.

Since I'm a little slower than I used to be, I selected the 3.6-mile loop, hit the watch and was off. I had hoped to run around a 10-minute pace, and hit the first mile in 9:30. Man, I was sucking some serious wind!

At this point, running into the wind was a bit of a help as I used it to settle down and catch my breath. As has been my norm lately it took a while to feel "great" but by the time I got to the last mile I had opened up my stride and was feeling good.

I hit the parking lot and checked my watch. 3.6 miles in 35:49! Sweet! It wasn't by much, but I broke the 10-minute mark, which felt outstanding! There was a time when I would rip through my 5.2-mile loop in about 37 minutes, but it's a step forward, and progress.

I followed that up today with a 3-miler during lunch. I almost didn't go out because I had the worst cramp in my leg overnight and was a bit concerned about running on it. I can't believe how bad that hurt! Now that it is getting colder I sleep while wrapped up in my quilt and it seemed to take forever to get out of bed and walk it off. Man, that's pain.

The spot in the muscle where I had the cramp still hurt today, but I made sure to hydrate and stretch it out a little bit. Thankfully it wasn't even a thing during my run.

Though I would love to run tomorrow, I won't. For now I just don't think it is a good idea to run three days in a row. The plan is to hopefully get out Saturday and Sunday. Hard to believe the Hot Chocolate run is three weeks from Sunday. Getting excited!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Welcome to a Blog Reboot!

Dedicated readers to this site -- and I know there is at least one of you as I get a pageview with each post -- will see that we are going a bit of a different direction today.

In honor of my commitment to run the 2013 Chicago Marathon, I have decided to rename the blog. I'm still hoping to be a big loser by the time October 6, 2013 rolls around, but there is a new element added to it and that will be more to the forefront of the blog.

Don't worry, I'm not going to go full runner-geek on you, it will still be thoughts and ideas as I follow my journey, but now there is a serious goal in mind, so I'm going with it.

More later, but just wanted to throw a quick post up to show that you are in the right place!

Monday, October 8, 2012

I'm Slowly Becoming a Runner Again

Yesterday I attended the Chicago Marathon, working as a correspondent for the website Letsrun.com. It's very technical and geared more towards serious runners, but it can be found here.

I spent most of the day watching the race from the media center, but did hustle out to catch the start of the race. It's always an exciting moment to watch people head out on such an amazing journey.

I have to admit that I was very jealous of the people who were walking (or hobbling) around downtown wearing their finisher's medals after the race. After my debacle at Chicago in 2008, I had decided not to run another one until I felt that desire in my heart again.

It's there now, and we are all systems go to run on October 6, 2013. In the meantime, there is a lot of work to do!

For right now I am still getting ready for the Hot Chocolate 15K on Nov. 4. I haven't made it out to run as often as I would like, but I'm still making steady progress given my goal of just finishing the race.

Last week, I did a long run of what I thought was 6.4 miles but when I drove it in the car it measured at 6.6. Bonus! The better part of that is that it didn't feel like a death march at the end. I was hurting, sure, since that is probably near the extent of my range now, but the next day I felt good.

My last couple of runs have been 3-milers, but they have both been very encouraging as it feels like I am getting a bit faster. I need to start taking a watch along for official reference, but on my run last week I guesstimated that I covered the distance in about 30 minutes.

Getting under 30 minutes for three miles is a nice milestone. I'm not thinking at all about the past, when I could crank them out a lot faster, I just keep focusing on getting better every time I go out, and feeling better too.

I'm feeling like I'm changing. The scale isn't saying so: I haven't eaten well and still hover around 245 pounds, give or take. But what is changing is my general attitude about myself.

Running has a lot to do with that. I've discovered when I run and am happy with my running I don't worry about how I look or what the scale reads. If I'm running farther or faster, that means more to me. It means that my fitness is improving and that I am getting closer to my goals.

Of the seven marathons I have run, I'm going to guess five of them came when I weighed 205 pounds or more. Now, my best have come when I was much lighter of course (I weighed 190 when I set my personal best of 4:07:46 in 2005) but when I run I don't let my weight define me like when I'm sitting around like a slug.

Because it is making a difference. I was at the doctor last week and they measured my resting heartbeat at 60, which is down from about 72-75, and my blood pressure (thought I don't remember the exact number), is down about 10 points. I think it was 118/70, but don't quote me.

THAT'S progress too! Maybe the scale doesn't say it (and yes, there is still a lot of work to do), but my body is, and that is just as important.

I don't know why, but running is my thing. It was something I hated when I was younger -- then again, suicides in basketball and other types of "running" that are intended to make you throw up at the end don't necessarily encourage participation in the sport -- but I picked it up at the age of 31. Like many, I always thought that the running community was made up of skinny folks who went fast.

But that changed when I turned on the television and caught the start of the 1999 Chicago Marathon and realized that many of these people were just like me. So I happily joined them, and have never "looked like a runner" yet. In fact, I was changing clothes in a locker room after the 2005 Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minn. and a skinny runner guy said "you sure don't look like a marathoner". Of course, that was after I beat him by 30 minutes.

I like the way running makes me feel, and it brings a certain amount of confidence that I carry on to other areas of my life. It's fun to be a runner again!