Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Closing Out 2014


Hard to believe that 2014 is over already, but here's proof -- the final sunset of the year from our hotel room in Puerto Vallarta.

Our vacation has been the perfect end to the year. The weather has been awesome and it's been nice to get away from the cold weather and shorten winter by a week!

After getting a run in on Monday, yesterday I went parasailing for the first time, which was an absolute blast. It was a really cool thing, they strap you up on the beach, the boat starts pulling away and they have you run a few yards on the beach. Then you feel the chute catch the wind and next thing you know, you're up in the air! I probably rode around for about 10 minutes but it sure felt longer. We went out over the ocean and I must have been 100-150 feet above the water. It was so peaceful up there! Coming in for a landing was kind of cool too, although I came in a bit too hot and the guy running it had to corral me a little bit!

Here I am coming in for a landing. Notice the guy looks like he is trying to chase down a long fly ball. I'm glad that he eventually made a great catch!

I got my final run of the year in today. Not really sure how far I went, I ran south along the main drag here for about 20 minutes, then after a quick break in the shade, ran about the same amount of time coming back. I ran a bit further than Monday, this time going past the track stadium and a few blocks into downtown.

It was a good run, but "hace frio!". It's funny how our bodies adjust to different climates, because during the summer at home a run in 82 degrees and low humidity would've been quite comfortable. But since I'm in winter mode now, it was crazy hot, and I felt like I would running in a 100 degree heat index in July. Still, I took it slow (probably covering 3.5 miles), stopped when I needed to and took advantage of all the shade I could.

So that ends my running year. In the end, I'm pretty happy with it despite a few setbacks. I really didn't start running until March and didn't get totally into it until August or September. Still, I had a lot of fun and I'm starting 2015 about 20 pounds lighter than I did last year. So I'll take that!

I didn't race much, by my count I think I ran six 5Ks, but at least I have some momentum heading into next year after breaking 30 minutes just a few weeks ago. My goals for 2015 are pretty ambitious, and I'm looking forward to buckling down when I get home and start working towards them.

Although it was kind of a "shorter" year, I really enjoyed running more than I had in a while. I took a new approach to my races in that I wanted to try being more social and enjoying the experience, and that really helped make things a lot more fun.

On a personal note, it was a huge year. Matt graduated high school and went off to college, Kev started his 8th grade year and, of course, the biggie was that Darcy and I were married on July 26th! I also traveled to Las Vegas, South Carolina and New York during the year, and the Kane County Cougars, the minor league baseball team I cover during the summer, won the Midwest League championship, which made it a great summer to be at the ballpark.

And of course, back in September I resurrected this site and started my new Twitter account. It's been great getting to know new people and sharing our running (and personal) feats with each other. I'm thankful to everyone for really getting me motivated in 2015 and I'm looking forward to meeting some of you next year.

I'm not the best at keeping resolutions, so I typically don't make any. My goal for 2015 is simple...to do better. I want to be a better husband, father, friend and role model, I want to do better at reaching my fitness goals and I want to just be a better person and make a difference in people's lives. It should be fun!

So thanks for a great 2014 and I'd like to offer my best wishes to everyone on a happy and blessed 2015!






Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Running...Puerto Vallarta Style!

One of the things I hadn't done in my previous two international trips -- to Cancun in 2012 and Italy in 2013 -- was to go for some runs and take in some sights. Plus, because I'm kind of dorky like this, I just think it would be cool to add foreign countries to places I've run.

So on our vacation this week to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, I decided to make sure getting a few runs in was a priority -- not to mention a necessary way to burn off the food and margaritas -- and I got my first run in on Monday. I don't know if I can call it an actual training run, though, more like a sightseeing run. I stopped several times for pictures and stuff, and did a little bit of walking in the middle.

I'll post a few pictures here, but you can see the full gallery on my Facebook page.

The weather was spectacular, as it has been since we arrived on Saturday. It was close to 80 degrees and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. There was a part of me that was a bit concerned about running in that kind of heat given I hadn't in a few months, but I figured since I was going to take it easy and stop frequently it would be no big deal.

I left the hotel and headed south, more towards the older part of PV. I have to say, I've run in some big cities, but there were a lot of challenges that I hadn't experienced before, like really high curbs, uneven sidewalks and crazy traffic. There are so many cars in such a small area down here that many of the rules of the road we follow at home don't apply. You really have to have your senses on high alert around here!

Our hotel is just a few blocks from an area of little shops and restaurants, so I caught that area first. Even though it was noon there really wasn't a lot of activity going on there, I guess things pick up as the afternoon goes on. They did have a nice little Christmas display over the street, though.

One of the things I wanted to check out was the track stadium, which was about 1.5 miles from our hotel. I was hoping that sometime this week it would be open and maybe I could do some speedwork there.

When I got to the track it was all locked up. In the infield of the track is a big stage setup for some sort of music festival that looks like it runs every night this week. Bummer. That probably means that the track will be closed the entire time. Hopefully by Friday. I may check out one of the concerts this week, when we drove by there on Sunday night it looked like a pretty good show.

The track itself looks pretty nice. It also has a set of concrete grandstands, which I pictured to be full on nights when they have local track meets.

What I didn't know was that the track stadium was a part of a large park/sports complex. It was pretty massive, it had playgrounds, basketball courts, soccer fields, a kind of "indoor" soccer field that looked about the size of a hockey rink and was covered with green indoor/outdoor carpeting, and of course, several baseball fields. It even had a boxing ring.

Honestly I was kind of humbled by it. Most of the soccer fields were bare, and many of the other facilities had cracks or chipped paint or were in need of other types of repair. The only exception was the baseball field which was pristine. Which was not a surprise given the way Mexicans love their baseball. I walked in the outfield for a while and the grass felt like
a sponge beneath my feet. I would've loved to have played on that diamond.

Here is a photo of some guys playing on the small soccer field. There were actually a couple of Americans playing (like the dude in the red shirt in the photo) and I think they might have been Mormon missionaries because they were wearing name tags. Notice the paint on the walls and the way the carpet
it starting to come up.

Again, humbling. In our country we pour so many resources into our facilities in hopes that they produce good athletes and teams. But I would venture to guess that many of the world's greatest athletes -- especially in baseball, basketball and soccer -- grew up playing in places like this. It's not about money, it's about talent and love.
I doubt Miguel Cabrera, Yasiel Puig or Jorge Soler ever swung a $400 metal bat when they were kids, but they can still flat-out hit. If you love a sport, have the talent to succeed in it, and work and work and
work, they will find you. Don't get me wrong, I love playing sports in nice facilities, but I've played in some really crappy places, too, and wherever you go, the game is the same. It's the love that counts.

After walking around the park for about 30 minutes, I headed back. The whole run was such a neat introduction to an interesting culture. It was an experience for all of my senses, I especially loved the smell of the food at the small restaurants!

And there were some funny sights too, like the guy who was standing with two other people carrying on a conversation while holding a machete in his hand! That dude would definitely have gotten a different reaction if he'd been doing that on the streets of Chicago!

When I got back near my hotel, I followed a little path that took me to the beach, where I finished my run. As fun as it is to run along a beach, it's really difficult to do here because the sand is fine and grainy, and your feet pretty much sink in, even when you are on the wet sand that has been packed down a bit by the surf. So no beach running on this trip.

Still, I was able to cool off my feet in the water and take a picture of me with the water and mountains in the background.

I'm guessing I ran about 3.5 miles or so, and with walking put in around four, so it was a good chance to work up a sweat. I think later on this week I'm going to go the Malecon, a place more in the center of town that has some running paths and such. I was there on Sunday night and it was a really neat place, and Darcy went there on Monday during the day and said there were lots of runners out there.

Let the adventure continue!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Three Things Saturday

OK, I know that it is usually Three Things Thursday but with said Thursday being Christmas and yesterday a day of recovery, we are going with a belated T-cubed. Didn't think anyone would mind.

1) I hope everyone had a nice Christmas or other holiday that you and your family celebrate. Mine of course was a little different than in years past, since our wedding in July has officially blended our families. On Wednesday we traveled to Darcy's parents' house in Munster, In., and for the first time Matt and Kevin came along. Since he spends weekends with us, Kevin is pretty well adjusted to the new setup, but Matt is still getting used to it. He was a bit grumpy when he first got there, but after dinner all of the boys were downstairs in Darcy's nephew Rainy's man-cave (Rainy lives with his grandparents as Darcy's sister passed away a few years ago) playing Grand Theft Auto (don't judge :--) ). Matt begrudgingly admitted that he had a great time!

Christmas was spent at our place in Bartlett, which was kind of nice because I realized it was the first time since 1988 -- seriously! -- that I had hosted Christmas at home. And I can't really say I "hosted" Christmas in 1988 since I was just a college sophomore and was still living with my folks. But, it was a nice, relaxed day and a great way to celebrate.

I also got a new gadget, at Fitbit! I'm pretty excited, I've really enjoyed playing with it over the last couple of days. Besides all of its cool features, wearing it is a reminder of my fitness goals and how I want to go big in 2015.

2) Speaking of goals, what do you want to accomplish in 2015? I've been hard at work on mine, and will share in a later post. One thing I'm really trying to do is get a lot more focused and specific with my goals. I'm already actually planning out my races in advance and thinking of some things I want to do. Big on my list is the Chicago Marathon in October, and perhaps a "double" in November of the Avengers Half-Marathon in California and Rock N Roll half in Las Vegas on the same day! That would be a cool experience.

Right now, I'm looking ahead to February when I hope to run a 5K in under 28 minutes and get a seeded corral at the Indy Mini. But I have lots of others in mind.

3) And finally...our vacation journey has begun! As I'm typing this I'm sitting in the Admiral's Club at O'Hare Airport waiting to board our flight to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It's Darcy's parents' 50th wedding anniversary so they are taking us on a trip! It's nice to be going somewhere for a few days, especially someplace very, very warm! I'm looking forward to sitting by some water and reading (I have Lone Survivor, Unbroken, Pre and The Perfect Mile with me, not to mention three issues of Runner's World -- not to mention the movie Spirit of the Marathon II for the flight), and I think Darcy and I are going snorkeling on New Year's Day.

I've also brought my gear and will be trying to get some runs in every day. My brother-in-law Adam is a runner too so hopefully we can help keep each other motivated. Looking online there appears to be a couple of trails and there is even a track stadium that is open for public use. I hope that is close to our hotel, it would be fun to maybe get in a little speedwork while I'm there.

Here's the view of O'Hare...boo. Thankfully it will be above 80 degrees every day we are there. Although I love Chicago and love the change of seasons -- I don't know if I'd like living somewhere that is warm all year round -- this trip makes winter a week shorter, which isn't a bad thing.

I've already gotten started with my first margarita -- again, don't judge -- and look forward to a few more in the coming days.

I feel so, so blessed to be a part of a great family and to have the opportunity to go on trips like this. I took a lot of car trips with my family when I was younger, and we eventually saw most of the country east of the Mississippi River, but I always dreamed of getting on planes and taking trips and getting stamps in a passport, so the last couple of years have been so awesome. I look forward to more trips to come!

I brought my camera along so this will be a travel/running blog for the next few days. Hope you enjoy reading.

Have a great weekend!


Friday, December 19, 2014

A Sad Anniversary

Most anniversaries are happy, celebratory occasions. Monday isn't one of them, because it marks three years since my sister Joni passed away from cancer at age 52.

I'm still not sure if I am past it, or even wholly accepted it, which is probably why I'm writing this. She was a special person and I think when you are finished reading this you'll understand.

I come from a family of five kids, of which I am No. 4. Vickie is my oldest sister, Joni was born a year later and Karen came after that. Then it gets a bit stretched out. I am 8 1/2 years younger than Karen and my brother Tim is nine years younger than me.

I have a great relationship with all of my siblings, I have run a couple half marathons in the past with Karen and Tim is a great golf partner (of course he is because he is a club pro!) and I was best man at his wedding 16 months ago. He would've been mine when I got married last July, had a had a best man, but I did select him to ceremonially sign the marriage license, which was to me kind of the same thing.

Me and my sisters. Joni is holding me
Since I was so much younger than my three sisters, I was taken care of pretty well. Being the baby I was constantly being picked up or held or played with. I'm thankful that my sisters were all so kind to me growing up, and that continues to this day.

Still, I just seemed to have a connection to Joni. Maybe it's because we both had an intense love of sports -- especially the Cubs -- liked the same music (I owe my love of 70s rock to all of my sisters), we both had a habit of constantly switching radio stations until we found a song we liked (I think it drives people who ride with me crazy) and we were both, epic, epic sleepers.

That came in handy when I was young. I shared a room with Karen until Vickie got married when I was seven, so Karen started bunking with Joni. When I would get lonely or have a bad dream, I'd wander the house until I could find someone to sleep with, and I would usually end up with Joni, because she liked the fact that I was warm. Even now Darcy calls me her "big heater", I don't know what it is about me, but people like it.

One of my best memories of Joni is listening to music, whether it be in the car or on the stereo. The year she graduated high school was the year Saturday Night Fever came out, and she was more than happy to listen to all of the songs with me over and over. A couple of summers later, when I had one of my best baseball seasons, she would come watch me pitch, sitting beyond the outfield fence on the hood of her Mustang and honking her horn when I struck someone out.

One of my favorite pictures of all of us. This was in the summer of 1986
She married her husband, Doug, not soon after that, and had five kids over the next 7 1/2 years. Regardless of how busy she was, she always seemed to make time for me, whether it would be when we came to visit or talking on the phone. She helped get me through a lot of dark times in my life -- especially the end of my marriage, when she was at the same time dealing with her breast cancer diagnosis. She was such a great listener...I'd call and keep her on the phone for a couple of hours, but she would listen patiently and always offer the best advice.

I always looked up to her, because she was good at pretty much everything she did, she was a great athlete and a great student, but never took that for granted. I remember so many nights where she would just grind away at her homework, and she had this crazy attention for detail. Once I was playing catch with one of her boys and she made a comment about how she liked that I always threw the ball on a straight line without any hump to it, and she hoped her boys would learn to throw that way too. It was something I had never given much thought to, I just threw the ball.

I also loved and admired her for the fact that she absolutely loved people with her heart. If she took you in, you were in for life! Nothing about her love for others contained any conditions or ever changed, no matter how much you screwed up. I know I did, lots, but more importantly, that attitude changed the lives of some of the friends of her kids. Her house was where everyone went, because she was cool and she accepted people as to who they were. Some of my nieces and nephews had friends that had crappy home lives, or made huge mistakes, but many of them now are great people with great families, because she welcomed her into her home, she didn't judge and she always gave them love and support. I'm sure many of them even now feel they owe her a lot of thanks for what she did for them.

She was always thinking of others, whether that was having empathy towards someone who robbed her when she was a bank teller (the girl had a boyfriend that was a meth addict and he put her up to it, and when the girl slipped Joni a note she read it calmly and said, "are you sure you want to do this?"), or bringing a crappy baseball from the ball bag at home so if we caught an opponent's home run at Wrigley Field we could throw that ball back instead of the actual home run ball.

She was a special person and I was rocked to my core when we found out she had breast cancer in the winter of 2009, and I was overjoyed when they said she was cancer free later that fall. But a little over a year later she started having mental lapses, like misspelling words or drawing letters backwards, and the doctors said that lesions had formed on her brain.

Once again she dove into her treatment with a sense of purpose and a true focus. She fought as hard as she could, but this time the cancer had her in its clutches. When the doctors would take care of one lesion, more would show up in a brain scan. As 2011 went on, it started spreading more and more throughout her body.

In October I drove to Indiana and spent the day with her. You could tell she was starting to suffer a little bit, but she still had a positive attitude and knew that even though the end was going to come soon, she was going to face it bravely.

At the time I thought that seeing her that last time was enough for me, but when my mom called me on Dec. 21 and said that the hospice nurse told her to prepare for the end, I just didn't feel like I could stay away. The next morning, when I walked into her house, my mom, who was in the bedroom with Joni, said that she visibly reacted to hearing my voice.

A few minutes later I went in and saw her. It was tough, she probably only weighed 80 pounds, all of her hair was gone and she would breathe rapidly five or six times then stop for about 15 seconds. But when I sat down next to her bed, our eyes locked for a long time, and I could tell somewhere in there she knew it was me.

I wasn't in the room when she passed at about 7 o'clock in the evening, but I have to say that when I walked in to see her it was one of the most amazing moments of my life. The whole day was, in fact. In such a moment of sadness there also existed peace and love. I know it sounds weird to some, but I feel so incredibly blessed to have been there that day as she passed from this life and into the next.

I wear two pink bracelets on my wrist. One of them says simply "Missing Joni Every Day", and another is a pink cancer bracelet I got at a Cougars game on a cancer awareness night. The one I have is actually the second one I've worn, because the first one is buried with Joni.

After the funeral home had come and taken her, I took the bracelet off of my wrist and gave it to Doug. As we were hugging and crying he leaned down (he's 6-foot-5) and whispered the most amazing thing into my ear.

"Joni really loved you."

No matter how long I live I will never forget those words. Because in the end, that is what we are here for! So that we can be loved by others with all of their heart and all of their soul. To have someone in your life so important that losing them leaves a void in you that will never be filled.

This is one of the last pictures that I had taken with her, when we visited in October. I am on the far right (of course), my mom is in the front and Joni is sitting with Doug and next to Matt and Kevin. Notice how Joni and Doug are holding hands. They loved each other so much, and had the kind of marriage I hope to have too. They were special together.

I have a void that will never be filled. It's still hard to believe that she is gone, and I can't tell you how many times in the last three years I've reached to the phone to call her about something, or just wondered how she would've handed a situation. Since then I've tried to be kinder to people, I've tried to love people harder and I've tried to be a more compassionate person. I've tried to live much of my life in the same way she did, because while she wasn't perfect, there was an integrity, a passion and a peace that just existed in her that is inspiring.

I was lucky enough that I was asked to write her obituary. You can read it here if you would like. I've had the honor of writing the obituaries for both my dad and sister, and I consider both of them some of the most inspired writing I've ever done.

If you've gotten this far, thanks for reading about my sister. My words don't even scratch the surface of who she was, but I hope you have an idea of why I think she is so special. I still feel her love every day, and her inspiration drives me through a lot of tough times. I'm so, so fortunate that I had her in my life. I miss her so much, but her spirit lives on in anyone that was lucky enough to know her.

I miss her so much.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

And How Was Your Week?

Hard to believe that the weekend is over, these last couple of weeks have gone by so quickly! The positives to that are many, though, mainly that we are now two weeks closer to spring and each day brings us closer to our vacations!

Anyway, in the last week I ran four days and a total of 19.4 miles. I was feeling a little confident after my 5K success so I probably ran all of them a little too fast! I ran my 3.75-mile loop three times and the results were kind of interesting. Monday I ran it without my watch and just tried to be comfortable. Wednesday I ran the loop in my usual counterclockwise direction -- which just from running feels like it's a net downhill course -- and finished in 39:29.

Saturday I decided to run it clockwise instead, and finished in 36:59. What??? I felt like that was a net uphill course -- although the last 1.5 miles are on a gradual downhill -- and I went faster. Maybe I'm confused, is it the other way around, perhaps? I guess this week I'll run in both directions and see what happens.

Today (Sunday) I went mobile for my 8-miler. One reason was to do something a little different, and the other was to find a flat course. While I think the hilly loop I run around here is in the end a good thing, I wanted to head somewhere a bit faster just to get an idea as to where I stand on courses like that, given the half marathons I'm running this year are flat and fast.

So I headed to Wheaton to run on the Prairie Path. I hadn't run on the path (actually there are more than one) since I completed marathon training last year, but it is a place I like and should try to get to more often.

The Prairie Path starts in downtown Wheaton (there is actually a Mile 0 post) and runs North, East and South (then West). They are mostly soft surfaces and during the summer are protected really well by trees, and they all have different characteristics. The East path goes through several communities and actually runs all the way into Chicago. It's got a little more asphalt/concrete and is exposed to the sun, but I did an 18-miler on it last year and thought there were some neat parts to it.

The South spur goes out of town and then about three miles in turns West. It's mostly soft and has some hills and curves. The North spur (the one I ran Sunday) is an old rail line and is perfectly straight and pancake flat. I also think it's the most scenic because it cuts through some nice neighborhoods and goes through a couple of marshes with scenic overlooks. And in the summer there are some great flowers and other beautiful scenes.

I was really excited for the run, it was great to get back to the Prairie Path, and even better it was 50 degrees! It's been nice to enjoy some decent weather (well, decent weather for Northern Illinois) and it seems like it will be decent for the next couple of weeks. Quite a difference from last year when the high was 31 and we were in the beginning stages of having snow on the ground for more than 100 days. Ugh.

It was quite foggy and there was a little mist, so the air was kind of heavy, but I am far from complaining! Not to mention, I got smiles and waves from pretty much everyone I encountered on the path. I always try to wave and be cordial to others, and I like it when people return the greeting. Hey, we're all in this together, let's support each other!

Like my other runs this week, I probably ran a bit fast, which is one reason why I try not to run with a watch all that often. And I was probably a little overzealous just to have a flat course to run on!

Turns out, it was about 4 1/2 minutes FASTER than my loop here at home. So I guess that means the loops I run around here are pretty tough! Good! Tough loops make tough runners!

Here are my splits:



1--10:14
2--10:03
3--10:02
4--10:10
5--10:35
6--10:07
7--10:03
8--10:13

Pretty consistent, but I felt like I was pushing myself a little too much. By about 6 1/2 miles I was hurting pretty good, but at least my times didn't drop off all that much. And I creeped a little closer to 10-minute miles, which is encouraging too.

Overall I have had a good last 10 days or so. I'd like to run eight again next Sunday and try and finish the week in the 22-23 mile range. I also need to get back to doing a little speedwork, I'll stick with the 200 and 400-meter repeats I'm doing now, and hopefully by the springtime be ready to jump to some 800s.

Feeling good right now...have a great week!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Three Things Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014 Edition

Is it Thursday already?!?! I really feel like this week has flown by -- I've actually accomplished a lot at work and I'm looking forward to a fun weekend.

I'm also excited because we are just over two weeks away from leaving for Puerto Vallarta and a week in Mexico. Not like it's been polar vortex-y at all here, but I can't wait to feel the warm sun for a few days, not to mention the margaritas!

Here's how things are going for me this week:

* I made an executive decision earlier this week that I'm going to focus on half marathons in 2015. (By the way, I'll have my goals for the year out next week) It really is my favorite distance and I haven't done one in the longest time! Right now I have 5-6 in mind, and I'd really like to get into the low 1:50 range by the end of next year. That means the marathon is out but that's fine, I'll just take some more time getting a bigger base under me to run better at 26.2. Plus, I'm not feeling marathon training right now (sorry to say) and just want to wait another year before doing it again.

* Have you ever wondered when you are running a hilly course whether you gain more on the downhill than you lose on the uphill, or vice versa? I was thinking about that on my 3.75-miler last night, because I felt great and thought I was crushing the run, but when I was finished I had run 39:29. Wait a sec...how could I average 10:30 on my run last night but averaged 9:30-ish in my 5K PR last Saturday? My route is hilly but I didn't believe it was that slow. So I think this weekend I'm going to go out and do a very non-scientific experiment where I'm going to run up and down the steepest hills on the route and chart the difference.

On the same note, I think I'm going to head somewhere more flat for my 8-miler on Sunday. Again, I'm just curious how I will do on a flat course, which will also pretty well mimic the Indy Mini course. I'll probably head to Wheaton and use one of the paths we did for marathon training in the summer of 2013. It will be interesting to see how my pace stacks up against my hillier route near home.

* Finally, a non-running note. Today my oldest, Matt, finished his last final of his first semester at Benedictine University. Six months ago I was a bit worried as to how things would go but I've been so impressed with his hard work and effort since he got to school. He's really grown as a person and I'm so proud of him for that. He starts training for track season soon and is hoping to finally break two minutes for the 800 meter run in the spring. Here's a TBT photo of Matt and I at the Bears/Lions game in 2009.


One bonus item! I mentioned the launch of the Race Raves site in this space a few days ago, and I've been hard at work putting my page together. Give the site a look, there is some great stuff on there (check out the story on Alan Nawoj, who recently set a Guinness World Record for the fastest elapsed time for running marathons on all seven continents) and it's growing every day. They also have some social media activation going on, and I'll list that below!

Twitter -- @RaceRaves
Facebook. -- https://www.facebook.com/RaceRaves
Google + -- https://plus.google.com/+Raceraves/posts
Instagram -- instagram.com/raceraves_ig

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Baseball and Being Faster Than Frank

As I've mentioned before, I've been covering minor league baseball as a beat writer for the Kane County Cougars for 15 years. During that time I've seen hundreds of games and hundreds of players who went on to play in the big leagues, while the same time discovering I still have a lot to learn about baseball.

I'm also a Cubs fan, and the last two years the Cougars were a Cubs affiliate, meaning I have been lucky to see several players who may someday be Cubs. Covering them was fun, especially this last season when they went 98-49 (including the playoffs) and won the Midwest League championship.

Over the course of those 15 years and 600-odd games, the one phrase I've constantly heard is "player development". Meaning, all that the players go through is a developmental process that hopefully someday makes them ready for the major leagues. In fact, Mark Johnson, who managed the Cougars the last two years and will someday be a big league manager, told me once that it takes 1,000-1,500 at bats in the minor leagues to figure out a player's true talent, and another 1,000-1,500 in the bigs to see what they offer at that level.

When I was a high school sophomore in 1984 I was fortunate enough to play against future Hall of Famer Jim Thome. When I played (and batted) against him he was far and away the best player on the field, but from that day it was 9-plus years and eventually 1,700 minor league at-bats before he got to the big leagues for good, and another 1,000 in the majors before he became an everyday player.

I believe in that process because I have seen it. When I covered a skinny Miguel Cabrera in 2001, he hit .268 with seven homers, since getting to the show he has a .320 career average and has hit 390 homers. I never saw it coming with Miggy, but lots of other scouts did, because their assessment of him at the time was spot-on.

So where am I going with this? (I bet you ask yourself that a lot when you read my stuff) Well, the point I'm trying to make is that when it comes to running and meeting our goals we have to love the process just as much as the end result, and to also believe that whatever we are doing will in the end get us to our goals. We have to be in "runner development" mode all of the time. As runners, miles equal at-bats, and while perhaps a goal race or a dream -- such as qualifying for Boston -- might seem so far away, if we trust ourselves and put in the miles we will get there.

I keep that in mind whenever my goal of running faster than Frank Shorter at the Indy Mini Marathon looks like a pretty high mountain to climb. To beat Frank I will have to run 2:04:39, which is a 9:30 pace. Right now I'm running 7 1/2 miles (just over half the distance) at about a 10:45 pace.

Some days, I really wonder if I can do it. Now, it's not going to be some sort of tragedy if I don't, but it's a goal and I want to try and reach it. Where I'm at now, it sounds like I won't.

But that's where I have to take the "runner development" mentality as my mantra. The race is just under five months away! In that time I will run close to 500 miles in training, including 20-25 speed sessions, I'll stretch my weekend long run to 13-14 miles and my mid-week run to eight or nine, and I'll have run some races, including (hopefully) the Viking Half Marathon in Greenwood, Miss. just five weeks before.

Not only that, if I keep up with my current pace of losing five pounds a month, I'll be down to a weight where I've broken two hours for the half marathon before. If I did it once (or twice) at that weight, I can do it again.

Of course, knowing to trust your "runner development" takes experience. It's hard for a newer runner to understand it -- remember how you felt when you ran your first marathon? "How in the world am I going to run 26.2 miles if I only run 20 in training????" If you have a couple under your belt, you know how it works, right?

The one thing I have in this journey is experience. I've started from Square One so many times in my running career I know how this works. I've been heavy and out of shape (in terms of running, not in how I look) lots of times, and in a matter of months I've been able to reach my goals. My PR of 1:42:38, set in 2007, was the result of starting over in January, losing 35 pounds and running 100 miles a month.

I have to get back to that mindset. I have to feel it again to trust it. Saturday in my 5K, I dug deeper than I had in a long time -- truthfully I was kind of scared of it for a while, and even wondered if I could do it again to that level. Now that I know, I feel like the dominoes can start falling, because I'm starting to get into familiar territory again.

Now it's just a matter of moving forward, and knowing that if I focus on my "runner development" I'll be right where I want to be on May 2, 2015.


Monday, December 8, 2014

A Cure for A Case of the Mondays

One thing I've really tried doing in the last year or so is that when I go to races I try to enjoy the experience as well as the race. Whether it's trying to meet new people, running with friends or just observing what is going on I'm trying to do more than just show up, run the race and go home.

Yes, for the longest time that's what I would do. Part of the reason for that was I trained alone and didn't have any running friends (except for Noah, who lived over an hour away and moved to Los Angeles in 2002 before moving back to Chicago a couple of years ago) and rarely had anyone come to races to cheer me on. I'm also pretty reserved in new situations, I have a hard time just walking up to people and starting conversations. If I have a little help -- like a wife who is a PR goddess -- I'm OK, but doing it on my own isn't always easy.

But over the last couple of years I am feeling more confident in those situations and am trying hard to just reach out to others. Just trying to be more into the social part of races have made them much more enjoyable.

After my 5K on Saturday I went back to my car and got my camera to take pictures for my race report. As I was doubling back along I took a minute to cheer some runners in and took a couple of photos for other people. It was a lot more fun to be more social at the race, although it probably helped that I was in a great mood after setting a new PR at 29:51!

One thing I have learned over the past couple of years is that everyone who lines up for a race (regardless of the distance) has a reason or a story that got them there. Here are a couple that I observed at the race, I think you will like them, and maybe see yourself in one of them.

* After the race was over, there was a chili lunch in the banquet hall of the golf club. I had just sat down with my food and just for fun took a picture of it because it was the perfect celebratory meal...a brat, a bowl of chili, a beer and a bottle of water. One of the people sitting at the table looks at me and says "Looks almost too good to eat, I just did the same thing!"

Turns out his name was Stephen and he had just moved to Chicago last summer after graduating from Purdue. He's run the Indy Mini five times and so we shared a few stories about that, and how we are both planning to run it again after several years away. I told him of the great running scene around here and said a fun thing to do during the summer is run night races (my favorite) in Chicago because the city and the lake are so beautiful at the end of the day. He said he was going to do that because he'd never run a race at night and thought it would be awesome. Stephen was just a really friendly guy and I'm glad I took the time to talk to him.

* Just over two miles into the race I was passed by an older woman who looked like she had been running a really long time. She was about as tall as me but was very slightly built and had a nice, economical stride. We took turns passing each other because she would stop and walk a little whenever we were going into the wind.

I ended up finishing ahead of her (she finished in 30:03) but at the awards ceremony when they announced the age group winners, Sandi was firs in her age group...the 65-and-over age group! First of all, I couldn't believe she was 65 (or older) and secondly, she is a perfect example of the benefits of running as you get older. She looked younger than her age, she still moved very well and was healthy and fit. I'm guessing a long time ago she had probably been a good athlete too.

I'll tell you what, I only hope I can run 30 minutes for a 5K when I'm in my sixties!

* Before the race I saw a woman walking around nervously with her mother and young son. I couldn't hear what they were talking about but she seemed very anxious. As I was circling back to take some pictures she was about 150 yards from the finish line and the volunteers were cheering her in. Her name was Sonya and she said that it was her first 5K and she had run the whole way!

I hustled up the hill to see her finish, and her mom was waiting there with a sign and her son had a bunch of balloons. They were the only ones left at the finish line. Sonya crossed the finish line and just kept walking by herself. As I got a little closer I could hear her sobbing. It was really an amazing moment, and you could tell for whatever reason this was a huge accomplishment in her life. Just being a fellow runner I was really proud of what she had done. Something made her decide to run a 5K and she dug down and found the fortitude to do it, which is really cool.

Congratulations to Sonya, I hope this is the first of many races you run!

Saturday's race only had 120 runners in it but it was a great event because there were lots of groups of people who ran together, and the camaraderie afterwards was really fun to see. It was a great way to close out the year.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Chilly Chili 5K Race Report

I was a little bummed when I didn't get to run the Turkey Trot in Schaumburg last Saturday as I thought with decent weather and a big crowd I would've had a good chance to meet my goal of breaking 30 minutes for the 5K by the end of the year. Instead, I ended up running the Chilly Chili 5K at the Schaumburg Golf Club, and while it was a much smaller race (120 runners/walkers) it was a memorable one.

OK, quick disclaimer on the bib...it was a leftover from another race and I got it because I signed up for the race 45 minutes before it started. Hey, it had a timing strip and their time perfectly matched my watch, so no worries!

I was curious to see how I would do today, because after the last race I ran in late October (race report here), where I ran 31:02, I'd been doing some much more consistent training and had added some speedwork sessions. Plus, I figured this course would be relatively flat so it would probably be faster.

When I woke up the temperature was sitting at about 35 degrees, so I put on shorts and wore some warmup pants that I thought I would take off beforehand. But once I got to the race it was really windy and I worried if I just ran in the shorts my legs would never get warm.

A shot of the course. You can still see a few runners out there
I got registered very quickly, and thankfully they had the golf course clubhouse and restaurant area open for the post-race stuff, so it was good to stay in and keep warm. I started stretching about 15 minutes before the race, then went for a bit of a warm-up run and did some strides to get loose. As we all converged at the starting line in front of the clubhouse, I was feeling good -- and confident.

Unfortunately, that didn't last long. I had targeted a 9:45 for my first mile, and I went out way, way too fast. What also didn't help is there were some steep drops on the cart path near a couple of elevated tees, and I flew down them instead of taking my usual "relax on the downhill" approach.

Five minutes into the race, I was gassed! I had let my adrenaline and my goals get the best of me, my legs hurt and I was breathing really, really hard. I spent the next several minutes slowing down and trying to get my breathing more even, and at times I felt like my pace was slow.

I hit the first mile at 9:49 and was a bit discouraged. The time itself was good, and if my approach to that mile had been better, I would've been more than content. I really thought I had blown up my race there. I was still upset with myself through the next mile, but much to my surprise when I passed Mile 2 my watch said 9:42 (19:32 overall).

OK, tell me how that makes sense? I was hurting really badly, my stride felt short and I felt like I wasn't running all that fast. It didn't feel any better than the first mile, so what gives?

While it didn't make sense, it gave me new life! One of the reasons I wrote that post last night about my first 5K in 2001 was to pump me up and remind myself that I am capable of pushing and digging deep. I just hadn't done it in a really long time.

At that point, I realized I only had 10 minutes of running left and was determined to just keep holding my pace and pushing on. I checked my watch every so often and just said to myself "six minutes left...four minutes left". With about a half-mile to go another runner came up next to me, and I just sat on his shoulder and worked with him. It does make a difference, I felt a lot more relaxed and actually felt like I was picking up my pace.

As the clubhouse got closer it was really starting to hurt, but I knew I could take it in from there. What was hard is that I couldn't see the finish line anywhere and had no idea how much further we really had. We made a right turn for the final stretch and there was a short, steep incline up to the clubhouse.

Ack! Why??? I mean, couldn't they have moved the start line back a little and had the finish on the flat part!!! The other bad part is that as you can see from the photo, you still can't see the finish line. Oh, and there was no Mile 3 marker either.

But a little ways up this hill I saw the left-hand post of the finish area, and just started pushing a little more. There were lots of people standing on the patio cheering, and when I finally saw the clock my heart sank a little bit because it read 29:53.

I yelled out "OH NO!" but kept running hard through the line. I checked my watch, which told a different story...29:51!

YES! Unofficially I had broken 30! I was so spent I had to lie in the grass for a couple of minutes to catch my breath, but through the heavy breathing and the pain I felt so, so good. Now I just hoped my time matched up to theirs!

Fortunately it was perfect, so I have a new post-40 5K PR! Breaking 30 had been a goal of mine all year and I was wondering if I was going to get there. Thankfully I did!

After the race, they opened up the banquet hall for us for some free beer and chili, and I had a good
conversation with a couple of peeps at my table. What do you think of my post-race celebratory meal?

Overall, it was a nice end-of-season type of event. Obviously it's pretty small but it was well-run and organized. And you can't go wrong with free beer, not to mention chili and brats!

The course was made up entirely of the golf club's cart paths, but outside of the start with a field that small there was room to move around. The path itself was mostly new asphalt, but even the parts of the path that were older were in great shape, a few cracks here and there but no holes or buckles where anyone could've tripped. That and I really liked the layout of the golf course, I'm for sure going to head up there and play it next summer!

I'm so glad that I was able to reach this goal. It seemed like such a mental hurdle to get over, and I think when I start racing again in January or February I can lower that time even more. Now, I have a new goal. When I texted my friend Noah about how I did he came back and said "let's get you down to 28 minutes so you can get a seeded corral at the mini!".

I'm in, brother. I have until March 9 to submit my results, so I'm going to get it done!












Friday, December 5, 2014

Race of the Week -- Wacky Snacky 5K, February 25, 2001

When I woke up the morning of the Wacky Snacky 5K race on a Sunday in February, 2001, I was feeling confident. My training had gone well and I felt like I was in line to accomplish my goal of earning a spot in a seeded corral for the Indy Mini Marathon that upcoming May.

In order to qualify for a seeded spot, I had to post a specific time in either a 5K, 10K, Half marathon or marathon. With the deadline about a week away, and races hard to come by in ChicagoBut in the wintertime, Wacky Snacky was my one -- and only -- chance.

One weird thing about it was that it also happened to be my first 5K ever. After spending the previous year working towards my goal of running the Chicago Marathon, I focused on longer distances. And besides, I felt like the 5K was kind of a crappy race, because you spent the money and took the time to jump into a race that lasted 20-25 minutes. Not for me.

But I had really driven myself and focused on this race. I had spent the previous several weeks running lap after lap of a 200-meter indoor track near where I worked. With only an hour to get there and get my work done, then get back to work, I usually ran a hard 3-miler or ran 200 or 400-meter repeats. It was hard, but it was actually a lot of fun. I was pushing myself harder than ever before, and my times kept dropping.

I had done everything possible to get ready for this race, but there was one element about the race I couldn't control -- the weather. When I left my house and got into my car, it was 57 degrees, but a cold front was racing in from the north west that was going to just absolutely drop the bottom out of the temperature.

The cold front was moving faster than I was, because by the time I had driven the 45 minutes into Chicago, when I got out of my car I was almost knocked down by 28-degree temperatures and 30 mile per hour winds. Still, I didn't let my confidence wane. When you train for something, you take the good with the bad and press on. I still didn't think I would be denied.

As I walked to the starting line, I took a look at the gray sky and scanned the Chicago skyline. From the first time I had visited Chicago in 1977 I was in love with the skyline. It always seemed to inspire me, and for some reason I've always run my best races in the city.

While I walked, my friend Noah caught up with me. He was also going for a seeded time (he was going for a Level 1, which was 20:00) and was already pumped up for the race. While I was trying to get focused, he was bouncing along next to me.

"Dude!" he said as studied my concerned look. "Don't worry about the weather. You've got this!"

I nodded, and as quickly as Noah had caught up to me, he was gone, moving further up into the pack. Since this was a gun-time race, I knew I had to get close to the starting line so that I could get a quick release onto the course, but I didn't want to be in the way of the faster people. Eventually I settled next to the curb on the right hand side of the street about 10 feet from the starting line.

As I stood there, I could feel the wind at my back but man, was it cold! My little warm-up jog had long worn off by then, and I just wanted to get going as soon as possible. Finally, the music was turned down and a silence overcame the crowd of runners. I love the moment right before the race starts, when it gets eerily quiet and everyone starts to lean forward in anticipation.

Finally, the air horn blared and the race came to life. I surged forward, and it only took a couple of seconds to cross the starting line. But the adrenaline was hitting me like a truck and I knew after just a couple of minutes I'd probably gone out too fast. Since this was my first 5K and I knew I had to average 7:14 per mile to make my goal, I decided to hit the first mile and see where I was at before full-on panicking.

About 3/4 of a mile into the race, we went over a small bridge and I could see to the front of the field. Among the hundred or so bobbing heads in front of me, at the front of the field I could see a tall guy with dark hair pulled back in a ponytail up front with the leaders. It was so cool, Noah was going for it!

Seeing that gave me a little resolve, if he was gonna do it, so was I. Little did I know his time at the front was pretty short-lived, but he told me later that he just wanted to see what it was like to run with the leaders!

I hit the mile in 6:48, which to this day is still the fastest race mile I have ever run. It was also roughly 25 seconds under pace, and I was approaching oxygen debt with each stride. But at this point, I knew (or hoped) that I only had about 15 minutes to run, so I kept battling.

I reached the two-mile mark in 14:02 after running a 7:15 second mile. Now I was starting to hurt badly, and we were turning back into the wind. I still had no doubts at all in my mind that I was going to break 22:30, I just had to keep digging. So I started digging...and digging...and digging. By now my lungs were hurting and my body was in pain pretty much from top to bottom, not to mention the wind was starting to take its toll.

With about 1000 meters left to go, a guy the size of an NBA small forward eased past me. I thought to myself: "Go with this guy!" I ducked in behind him and let him break the wind for me. When I get behind someone I try to focus on something specific, like the tag on their shirt or a word on the back of their shirt, just something really minute to try and stay focused.

I followed him for a bit but I could feel the wheels starting to fall off. But in the distance I could see the Mile 3 marker, so I just kept playing mind games and making deals with myself, and ran to that sign. With my chest hurting, my stomach hurting, heck, even my face hurting from the wind, I hit the third mile in about 21:45.

There's still time! I said to myself, but as we went up a little hill I had my only panic attack of the race...I couldn't see the finish line! What was the deal? Was the mile marker put in the wrong place? As I reached the top of the hill I started to relax as I saw people turning left about 100 feet in front of me. A building was blocking the view of the finish line so when I turned the corner I only had a couple hundred feet left.

I put my head down and gave it all I had to the finish. Noah was waiting -- as always -- and I could hear him cheering me on. When I hit that line and finally stopped, I couldn't breathe, I couldn't feel anything, and I couldn't even think. I had remembered to hit my watch at the finish but I waited a few more seconds before summoning the courage to look at my watch. Finally, I did.

22:26!

I had made my seed time by four seconds! And Noah had finished in 19:36, finishing in 32nd place and easily crushing his goal. I had finished 120th overall in a field of close to 850 runners.

It was such an amazing feeling to accomplish that goal. I've never won a race before, heck, I've never even won an age group award, but I can imagine the feeling being about the same. I had run so hard, and I just kept pushing and pushing because I knew in my heart I could do it. That was certainly a special day.

Two months later, at the Indy Mini Marathon, Noah started with the elite men, and I started in the same corral as the elite women. He went on to run 1:31 and I ran 1:48 to set a half-marathon PR that stood for six years. I've had a lot of great memories in my running life, but this race has to be near the top!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Three Things Thursday

It's not the weekend yet, but we can see it from here! Who has big plans this weekend? I'm running a 5K in Schaumburg on Saturday morning, continuing my quest to break 30 minutes. I thought I would be there by now but oh well. The weather is going to be a little more agreeable -- it should be in the mid-30s when the race goes off -- but they are predicting some wind. Hopefully it will be at our backs the entire time!

* My first item for today is a Throwback Thursday pic from the 2009 Ragnar Great River Relay. This was taken in the last few hundred meters of my first leg. It was a short, quick leg that was just over three miles long.

What I liked about that leg (I ran that one two years in a row) is that it was late in the day, about 7 p.m. or so, and it was starting to really cool down. Late evening is a great time to run in northern Wisconsin! It also had a lot of downhills so it's a pretty fast leg. Of course the next leg, which I ran at about 5 a.m., was really slow and hilly. But on the flip side it was 45 degrees too!

The last leg is about 4.5 miles along the Mississippi River in St. Paul, Minnesota. That one is BRUTAL! It's nice running along the river, but the leg is totally concrete and seriously hot. That's the thing about relays, everything tends to even out.

Unfortunately I no longer have my logs from back then so while I can recall a lot of what went on during those legs I don't have miles or time or anything. Boo. 

The other thing I like about this picture is that I'm about 50 pounds lighter than I am now. I like this photo because it shows that I'm running really tall, have a good stride length and a lot of arm swing. I wasn't running a lot that summer but I was in decent shape. While I don't obsess a lot about getting back to that size again, it's one of my 2015 goals. Make sure to stay on the lookout for my epic 2015 goals post, it's going to be so massive it might have to be in two parts!

* Speaking of goals, I'm pretty happy with a couple of non-related goals that I've reached lately. I have to admit that for the longest time I hadn't taken the best care of myself. Being single and always being on the go has a little to do with that. But I've been having trouble sleeping for as long as I remember and after we got married in July Darcy suggested I see her doctor.

The doctor told me a lot of things I already knew in terms of my health but I like her because she wants to come to long-term solutions with my health instead of just taking care of right now. She traced my poor sleeping to anxiety, and the medication I'm on for that (please don't judge) is helping me sleep better than I have in years. I'm sure my marriage and my life being in order has a little to do with that too!

The other thing she is focusing on is my blood pressure. When I started seeing her in September my BP was in the 150/100 range...not good! With medication and running now fully in the picture, I took mine last night and it was 109/81! So better, much better. I'm feeling so much better as well.

What I like most about Dr. Dhillon is that she is fully in my corner when it comes to my running. In fact, her advice to me in that area was simple: train harder! Yes, she really said that! She wants me running intervals and things like that because she thinks it would be more helpful than just logging miles. Not from a training standpoint but she wants to work my heart harder so that it becomes more efficient that it is now.

The result? Running has helped me lose close to 15 pounds in the last 2 1/2 months, and my resting heart rate has gone from the low 70s to the mid 50s. I have a follow-up appointment next week and am excited to hear what she has to say!

* Finally, I'm going to shill for a minute. I know that many of readers and followers on Twitter are big fans of the Bib Rave website, and I have a profile there myself. Recently through my friend Wally I met a guy named Mike who blogs at Blisters, Cramps & Heaves. Mike's a cool guy and has had some amazing experiences as a runner, having run the Antarctica Marathon as well as recently tackling both Berlin and New York. Mike is a very gifted writer whose race reports are absolutely stellar.

Anyway, Mike, his wife Katie and their partners have been working on a similar site, called Race Raves, and the site launched publicly this past week. Here is a screen grab of my profile page. There are a lot of things similar, and a few different things on both sites, and both sites really rock! 

Like the running community itself, there is always room for blogs and websites of all kinds. I'll probably keep a profile on both sites because information is certainly power. Keeping track on both sites lets you find out even more about races and a chance to meet even more people. I've discovered over the last couple of years that meeting runners from all over the world just makes the sport more enjoyable to me. So give the site a look and see what you like!

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Improve Your Winter Running With This One Weird Trick!

Have you ever seen those fly-by-night/spam websites that make the claim that if you follow one "trick" or "old rule" that guarantees you will lose weight or get six-pack abs? OK, this post isn't like that, well, one thing in this post might be like that, but I thought I would share a few thoughts about cold-weather running, because to me, winter has arrived!

Years ago I was at work and on December 1 we were having the obligatory "I can't believe it's December!" conversation. One guy said the way he looks at it is that winter is 12 weeks long, because by the time we get to March better weather is on its way so even if it drags on a little March is bearable. You know, looking at it that way doesn't make it seem so bad -- except for last year, there is no possible way to put any kind of positive spin on last year. That was awful.

And for me, those 12 weeks this year will instead be 10 as I will be in Mexico for a week at the end of this month, then Darcy and I are going to Dubai the first week of February. Dubai! I've already found some running routes and they have an active running club there, so there are all kinds of positives for that trip!

Anyway, I'm rambling. Here are a few thoughts and ideas that might improve your winter running.

(Editor's note: These are just a few tips I shared because they have worked for me. I'm not a doctor, scientist, nuclear physicist, astronaut, fighter pilot, coach, trainer or Hal Higdon-type guru. So please take these for what they are, just a few ideas from a guy who has been there a time or two. Enjoy!)

1) Lower your expectations! You know how your car doesn't run its best in cold weather? We are the same way! In cold conditions our body works differently to keep us warm and takes away many of the functions that are needed to run our best. For most of us (as in, those of us who aren't elite athletes or high level runners) that means quite simply we aren't going to run as fast. Don't get too stressed out about your times or how you feel, the benefits you are getting from the workout are still there, and you'll see a huge improvement in your performance once the weather warms up.


2) Dress for success. Always remember that you can put stuff on to take off later, but if you don't wear enough you can't put anything back on! I tend to wear a lot on top but not much on my legs -- unless it is windy I'm comfy in shorts to about 25F. The most important thing is to keep your head and hands covered, and your feet as dry as possible, because that's where your heat goes, and with your body focusing its energy on your core those are the first places true cold sets in. Once your hands and feet start turning cold misery is not far off. And when the cold gets extreme, cover your face! The idea of our "lungs freezing" is a total myth, but you want to be able to breathe comfortably. Sunglasses on snowy days is a must as well.

3) Watch your footing! The streets, sidewalks and paths can get a little treacherous during the winter, made tougher by the fact with shorter days we all often run in the dark. I fell on a patch of ice on the sidewalk while on a run last week because a house had its sump pump draining onto the sidewalk. Needless to say, they got a call to the village for being bad neighbors. There are products out there that can help with footing in extreme weather, and depending on where you live it might be a good investment.

4) Don't be a hero! One common trait we share as runners is that we are all mentally tough. Even running a 5K takes fortitude a lot of people just don't want to summon, so we ALL fit into that category. But that trait also makes us hardheaded. I know it's cool to go out on a run knowing you are the only one out there, I've run in temps of -12F before and it is a great feeling, but there comes a point that if there is a warmer, drier option...take it! Some people prefer always running outside, and they have my respect, but if I think a run is going to be miserable, I find a track or even the dreadmill. Also keep in mind that in extreme weather (heat and cold) there comes a point where diminishing returns take over.

While I credit spending the summer of 2007 running during my lunch break in an endless line of days when the head indexes were above 95 degrees with a killer day at the 88-degree Chicago Marathon that fall, I probably overdid it in that regard. :--)

This is where the thought of "training smart" comes into play.

5) And finally, the one weird trick...cough drops! I'm surprised so many people look at me funny when I mention that I suck on cough drops in cold weather, but it helps. I have exercise induced asthma that leads to coughing almost uncontrollably after I finish running in the cold, and I've found cough drops keep it from getting too bad. I just put a cough drop between my cheek and gum (seriously) in the back of my mouth, and I've never had problems with it getting in the way, even when I'm breathing hard. I broke that out when I ran a 5K on New Year's Day of 2001 when the temp at the start of the race was 17F and it was a real help. Doesn't hurt to give it a try!

One other thing I've noticed is that when I make it a point to keep up my training over the winter, two things seem to happen: 1) the winter never seems as cold and 2) my racing come springtime is way better.

So don't hibernate during winter, look it straight in the eye and say "it's on!".





Sunday, November 30, 2014

Five Things For December

Here we are, the last month of 2014 has arrived. But before I set out my goals for December, I want to celebrate a couple of goals I achieved this past month.

First, despite a big Thanksgiving weekend, I met my goal of losing seven pounds -- which means I'm down about 15 since the middle of September! That puts me in position to reach a pretty good one by the end of December (more on that later). The other goal I met was to average at least 15 miles per week. Despite having missed several runs over the last couple of weeks, my 7.5-miler today put me at 62 miles for the month.

I'm happy about reaching those two, but let's keep pressing on!

1) Break 30 minutes for the 5K. Still a goal! I was pretty busy and didn't get a chance to race in November, but I'm running in Schaumburg on Dec. 6 and the forecast shows the weather is going to be decent. If not, maybe I'll try again before the end of the year. I'm hoping to convince Matt to run with me on Saturday. I hope so, he could probably run around 17 minutes or something and could have a chance to be up front with the leaders.

2) Lose five pounds. I'm keeping it pretty realistic this month, not just because of Christmas but afterwards we are going to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico between Christmas and New Years. Now, while I'm trying to eat better and do more of the right things, when I vacation, I vacation, and don't make any excuses for it! :--) Plus, if I lose five pounds I will get below 240 and will be down 25 pounds since the beginning of 2014.

3) Run in Mexico. This goal is just to keep me a bit motivated when I'm gone. And, I'd like to add Mexico to the places I've run. I'm sort of disappointed in the fact that I've been to Mexico and Italy, not to mention US destinations like Las Vegas and Atlantic City, but I never ran in those places. So while getting a new stamp in my passport, I want to add one to my running passport as well!

4) Run 80 miles. I'm happy with the 62 this month but left a lot of miles out there the last couple of weeks by not getting out and running. Time to ramp it up a little.

5) Stretch my long run to 8.5 miles. I ran 7.5 pretty easily today, and if it weren't for my trip at the end of this month I'd try to get to nine. Still, 8.5 will put me in a pretty good position for the start of 2015, and hopefully if I stretch out runs during the week (like to five miles or so) it will be pretty easy to get to 12-13 in training by the middle of the spring. It would be nice to get to 12 or 13 in time to get several of those in before race day.

Last month of 2014, let's go out on a roll!