Thursday, February 26, 2015

Three Things Thursday -- 2/26 Edition

Hello again! Time for this week's edition of Triple T!

1) I'm back on my feet! The back issue I had struggled with for close to 10 days has run its course and I'm feeling a lot better, so much so that I have run the last two days (3.2 miles each) and haven't had any problems. I'm still going to take it easy for the next few days, although I'd like to run long (10 miles) this weekend if I'm up to it. I actually want to get a couple of interval/speedwork sessions in because I feel like I've lost a bit of my faster mojo -- as in, I'm lacking a little confidence. That will come back, in the end it was a bit frustrating to sit and wait for it to get better, but it was the right decision just to shut it down for a few days and let it heal. I might not have been so patient in the past, and there are times where I just made it worse.

2) Winter sucks! There, I said it. We got some more snow yesterday, and while the little dusting that was out when I did my run at 5 p.m. was nice and peaceful, the 3-4 inches that fell after that just added to our misery. While December and January were pretty run of the mill, we've now had our coldest February on record. I just want it to get better so that I can consistently run outside. As I've made mention of before, I go indoors when it gets brutally cold or the pavement is slippery. Personal preference, but I think that there comes a point where it gets a bit counterproductive to be outside. Having a track available this winter so that I could avoid the treadmill has been nice, and they city plows the main running paths in town, which is sweet, but I'm anxious to get back to some of my favorite running spots like the forest preserve or the Prairie Path!

3) One month to go! While I definitely want to get my first race of 2015 out of the way by then, there is just one month to go before my first half marathon of the year, the Viking Half Marathon in Greenwood, Miss. I'm treating that as more of a training run for the Indy Mini Marathon May 2, and have set a goal of trying to break 2:20 down there. I think that is a doable goal given my workouts and my last long run. Right now I think I'm going to run at least six halfsies this year, and would like to be under two hours at some point.

What's on your mind this last Thursday of February? What does your race schedule look like this spring?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Happy Twosday!

OK, I don't know if it's a real thing, but Noah, my friend and a training buddy, posted the word Twosday on Facebook this morning. For a second I was like: "Twosday?" Oh yeah, 2/22!

So in honor of that, since I'm currently not running because of my back -- although it feels much better today -- I thought I would post 22 random things that you probably don't know about me!

1) I was born in Davenport, Iowa, where much of my family still lives and a place where our family goes back almost 200 years. Some of my family first settled in Missouri, where one of my ancestors was a playmate of Mark Twain. I've also lived in Indiana and Ohio, but have lived in Illinois for a total of 28 of my 45 years.

2) I love to travel! When I was a kid we used to travel everywhere by car, and I have been to 28 states and five foreign countries: Canada, Mexico, England, Italy and the United Arab Emirates (Dubai). I enjoy being near the water, though not necessarily in the water, and last summer we spent a week at Pawley's Island, South Carolina, which I really grew to call one of my favorite places.

3) Growing up I was a bit of a daredevil. But I grew up in the 70s and 80s, weren't we all? I was a big fan of Evel Knievel and since I was smaller than most of my friends I tried to prove I was the bravest. I loved climbing trees, jumping ramps on my bike and jumping off the roof of our garage!

4) I also grew up loving sports. I played pretty much everything: baseball, basketball, football, tennis, soccer, golf. Baseball was my first love and I played that all the way through my sophomore year of high school. I wasn't a good hitter but I had a great arm, I once had 17 strikeouts in a game when I was 11 -- I also walked 12 guys too! I played four years of golf in high school and also played a year of basketball.

5) I still love baseball, but besides running the only other sport I really "play" is golf. I used to be a pretty good player but now if I shoot 95 it's a good day. My other passion is auto racing, I've been a fan of racing for 35 years and have seen several races live. Racing is one of those sports that looks kind of boring on TV but is absolutely amazing in person.

6) I have four siblings. Two of my sisters, Karen and Vickie, live in central Indiana, while my brother Tim lives in Atlanta, where he is a golf pro. My sister Joni, who I was very close to, passed away from cancer just over three years ago. My dad passed away in 2004 but my mom splits her time between Indiana and Florida and is still going strong at 77!

7) I work in IT during the day, where I am a senior systems operator. Basically I move data around and administer our data storage, and I've worked at the same place since I moved here from Ohio in late 1998.

8) By night I am a writer. Writing is my true passion, and I was lucky to get the opportunity to start my sportswriting career in 2000. It's been so rewarding and it's led to chances to do things I never thought possible. I once had a writing teacher in college who told me I didn't have any writing talent, and that comment still motivates me to this day.

9) On a whim, I joined the marching band for my senior year of high school. Most of my friends were in the band and that's where all of the cute girls were, so I joined the band and played the cymbals. It truly was one of the best and most rewarding things I did in high school. Marching bands -- especially drumlines -- work HARD. We marched at several competitions all over the state and marched at halftime of the Bears/Eagles game in 1986.

10) I like all kinds of music, but my favorite is 80s music. I especially like bands/artists from the "British invasion" of the mid-80s...Simple Minds is my favorite but I also like Tears for Fears, Thompson Twins, Howard Jones, etc. When I run I listen to techno music, right now I'm a big believer in Hardwell. I also like 70s music thanks to my older sisters.

11) I got married to my wife, Darcy, seven months ago this Thursday. We met online about four years ago and our first date was at the batting cages...I knew right then I had a keeper! We are each others biggest fans and supporters, and it was Darcy who convinced me to give the marathon another try two years ago. She also has two boys, including one that like Matt is a freshman in college, and another that is a sophomore in high school.

12) I love to sleep. I usually don't get enough (about 6-7 per night) but when I have the chance on vacation or a weekend to have an epic, 12-hour sleep session, I take advantage!

13) I don't sleep enough because I am a night person. I've always been that way, my body just works better at night -- I'm certainly not a fan of the morning! Most nights I don't get to bed until 11 p.m. or midnight, just because it seems like I get a burst of energy in the evening and I do most of my best thinking late at night.

14) I love cats. Nothing against dogs, mind you, but I like cats because they are loyal and at the same time independent. Kind of like me.

15) I'm kind of shy and reserved in new situations. Don't expect me to be someone who shows up at a social event and knows everyone's name in the first 15 minutes! It takes me a while to get comfortable and to meet people in a new situation. But once I'm warmed up I love talking to and meeting new peeps.

16) I have ADHD. It's certainly a challenge in my life, and there are parts of it that get very frustrating to me. But at the same time, I've learned to embrace the positives, and there are many. I don't take medication for it, but a few years ago I started to work on coping techniques and that has been a big help to me. One reason I run is that it's one of the few opportunities in my daily life where my mind goes completely blank. It's kind of odd to think that there are certain mundane tasks that bore me easily, but I don't have a problem focusing for several hours at a time when I run long races.

17) I started running in 2000, with the expressed goal of running the Chicago Marathon that year. I've explained my reasons why in a lot of previous posts, but once I started running I found that I loved it and wanted to continue. While my running career has sometimes been kind of off-and-on since, there is just something about lacing up and going for a run that I find romantic.

18) My favorite place to run is in Chicago. I don't know if it is the Lake or the energy, but there is just something about running in Chicago that inspires me. I've run and raced in Chicago so many times, and I just feel like I get a little boost that I don't get anywhere else. At home my favorite running spot is the Hawk Hollow Forest Preserve. I'm looking forward to the snow melting so I can get out there again!

19) My favorite race is the Indy Mini Marathon. I'm looking forward to running that race for the first time in eight years this coming May. The course includes a lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which is a big deal to me. I also like the race because I lived in Indy for five years in the early 1990s and enjoy getting back there when I can.

20) I'm a (very) amateur foodie. I really didn't start doing any real cooking until about 18 months ago, but it's something I'm starting to really enjoy doing. My favorite dish to make is risotto, and I make a pretty mean stir fry too! Believe it or not, the dish that most frustrates me is chili, no matter how many times I make it I just can't get it right!

21) My longest friendship has lasted 35 years. Wally Hines and I became friends in 1980 and have remained that way ever since. Wally is a neat guy, I've always admired him for his ambition and his leadership abilities. He also runs -- we've run a few races and relays together -- and just two years ago reached a goal he had set to run marathons on all seven continents. He lives near Minneapolis and is very busy so I don't see him a lot, but I'm very happy that we have made it through all of these years.

22) My biggest running goal: The Boston Marathon. Since even before I started running, I've seen the Boston Marathon as a kind of mystical thing, a holy grail. It's always been my dream to qualify for the race and I finally think I'm at the point in my life where I can dedicate myself to it. My goal is to run the race in 2020, a long way off, but I think I'll get there!

I hope you enjoyed reading a little bit about me. Thanks to everyone new who has visited my blog this month through the Blog Hop. I've appreciated all of the page views and comments, and hope you have enjoyed visiting enough that you will always keep coming back!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Three Things Thursday...Feb 19 Edition

Or should I call it the Arctic Blast edition? Man it is so cold here, and while I know March isn't that far off this has still been so unbearable. It looks like things with break for a day on Saturday (thank goodness, more on that) but after that the cold comes back for a few days. Oh well, I shouldn't complain after my trip last week, should I?

Anyway, here is what is going on with me this week:

*Ugh...I'm injured! Well, sort of. After doing so much walking and standing on our trip, my lower back was starting to get sore, and the 15-hour plane ride home finished me off! My back hurt so badly on Saturday that I made an appointment to see the chiropractor Monday morning. As usual, my Sciatic joint on my right side is out of place, so I had an adjustment on Monday and another tomorrow. It's not a BIG deal since I've been dealing with back problems since I was 18 and know the drill, but just uncomfortable.

Although I'm feeling better, I've only run once since I got home. That felt pretty good and my back didn't hurt at all (it's more when I bend over and shift my weight to the right side of my body), so I'm going to run again tomorrow afternoon. If that goes well I'm still going to run a 5K in Chicago that I signed up for Saturday, but real speedwork and a long run may have to wait another week.

Like I said, I'm well-versed in back issues, although I haven't had as many problems over the last few years, I'm just a bit frustrated because I thought the last 2-3 weeks I'd built up some pretty good momentum in my workouts and was starting to feel faster. When that happens you want to keep that going for as long as you can!

*Earlier this week I joined a running club/racing team! Dick Pond Athletics is one of the premier running shoe stores in the Chicago suburbs, and a big supporter of local runners and races. I've bought plenty of shoes from them over the years, and have always been happy with their help and expertise.

Recently I found out they had formed the Fast Track Racing Team, a club for runners of all abilities (thankfully) that not only offers group runs and coaching, but they run as a collective team at local races. I am a member of the Chicago Area Runners Association, but I was also looking for a club to join out my way, and one of their stores is just about 10 minutes up the road.

I'm looking forward to running with them this year, it will be a good chance to meet people and see some familiar faces at races.

*Today is the 19th anniversary of me becoming a Dad. Otherwise known as my son Matt's 19th birthday! Kind of crazy to think that he is 19 and a freshman in college, but time flies, doesn't it!

Here's a favorite picture of mine, this was taken after the 2013 Indianapolis 500.

Next to my wife Darcy, Matt is one of my best friends and it has been such a joy to be a part of his life. He's doing really well at school (got a 3.0 the first semester) and after sorting through whether or not he wanted to run track this season decided last week to join the team (he was recruited to run track and cross country). He's also getting a lot more active on campus and starting to enjoy college life -- we even went to a basketball game together two weeks ago. Fortunately, Benedictine University is only about 30 minutes from Bartlett so we get together every week or two for dinner. It's nice to catch up and stay close.

The weekend is quickly approaching and I hope to have a race report from the Mardi Gras Chaser 5K on Saturday! Looking forward to running it, I haven't had the chance to run a race since early December!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ode To The Adidas Boston

If you have run long enough, you probably have one type of shoe that stands out above all the rest. A "go to" shoe that you have either been wearing for the last 10 years and have gone through a bunch of pairs, or a discontinued model that you look back on and remember fondly and wish that somehow you could scrounge up a pair for one more go-around.

I was reminded of my all-time favorite shoe last night when I was out shoe shopping for Matt as he was looking for a new pair of trainers for the upcoming Benedictine University track season. While perusing the shoes I came across a pair of Adidas called the "Boston Boost", and for a second I got kind of excited because the Adidas Boston Classic will forever be my "go to" shoe, and was it possible they were bringing it back?

Of course, my excitement didn't last all that long, because when I asked the guy who was fitting Matt for his shoes -- he also happens to be Matt's coach -- if they were bringing back the Boston, he told me they weren't, it was a new shoe with an old name.


Naturally, I was highly disappointed. Since Adidas discontinued the Boston Classic a few years ago, I've been kind of a shoe nomad. I've worn other Adidas models as well as Brooks, Nike and Asics. I have liked them all -- especially the Asics Nimbus, my current shoe -- but none of them have made me say "that's the shoe for me!" and excitedly picked up another pair when that time came around.

The Boston and I have a special history. When I started running in January, 2000, my first pair of running shoes were the Reebok DMX, a pretty decent shoe that I picked up at a Foot Locker. When it came time later that summer to get new shoes, I went to a local running store, and they fit me into a pair of Asics.

That pair was a disaster! I started having serious IT band pain after about 10 miles in the shoe, and eventually took two weeks off from running. I took them back to the store and told them what was wrong, and they fit me into a new model.

The Boston. From the first run I went on in the shoes I was hooked. They were lightweight and comfortable, and, most importantly for a guy who had two young kids, relatively inexpensive. Two months after buying those shoes, they took me through a great day at the Chicago Marathon, my first.

Over the next few years, I kept buying Bostons, running fairly injury-free and logging five more marathons and several half marathons in them. They were a well cushioned, neutral, no-bells-or-whistles shoe that just worked for me. Even after I took them out of my running rotation I would keep them as everyday shoes just because they were so comfortable. Occasionally I would try a different, "newer" model shoe, but eventually go back to the Bostons because I couldn't find anything better.

But then in 2008-09 I got some bad news...they were retiring the shoe! Lord knows why Adidas would retire a shoe that was universally loved and so perfect, but it was going away. If I'd been smart (or had the money) I would've bought a dozen pairs but instead I just watched them go so quietly in the night.

For me, the shoe is perfect proof that not everything has to be bigger and better. Maybe someday I'll find a shoe that I'll love as much as the Boston, but for now I guess I'll just keep on wandering.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Other Things I Did In Dubai

Good morning! I have been up all night and am seriously jet lagged, so I figured it was a great time to compose a blog post! :--)

Actually, it is since the house is still quiet and I have the time, but keep in mind my previous sentence if I happen to get off on some tangent or blather on about something. My mind isn't quite all there. It's kind of weird, because my trip to Italy 16 months ago went pretty seamlessly in terms of getting back on the Central Time Zone schedule, but I guess that is the difference to traveling somewhere that is 10 hours ahead instead of seven. Fortunately my work is closed on Monday so I have an extra day to pull myself together.

Anyway, I'd spent a lot of time and used a lot of blog space this week talking about my running exploits in Dubai, but I didn't touch all that much on the other fun things we did. While I only spent about an hour a day running, the rest of the time was full of activities and sightseeing. Most days I put more than 20,000 steps on my Fitbit, and last Sunday -- my first day in town -- I had more than 35,000! Needless to say, I slept pretty well too!

So here's a little gallery of some of the things I did while not running. I have a lot more pictures on my Facebook page, which is set to public (I believe). Or check them out on Pinterest.

Ready? Let's go!

*We had Lebanese food...twice! My wife Darcy works for a company that manufactures restaurant equipment, and over the last couple of years they have made a big move into the Middle East. So the show in Dubai, called Gulfood, was a big one for them. Which meant a couple of dinners, and since we were in the Middle East, it meant eating at Lebanese restaurants, which are really popular in Dubai.

The first night we went to dinner at a restaurant in the Dubai Mall, and the next night it was at a place along Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Blvd., one of the main streets of the city. The dinner at the Dubai Mall was in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa, the largest building in the world, and we also had a view of a pool that had a water show similar to that at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.

The second night we were just down the way from there, and sat outside on a nice patio that was close to the street. It was a nice place to sit and lent to the opportunity to see a lot of supercars, like Porches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Since I'm kind of a car guy (more on that later), I loved it!

 The food, well, that was sort of a different story. I'm not saying I hated it, but it's an acquired taste for sure. Although I am proud of the fact that I tried some new dishes (I ate quail for the first time) and actually liked the seafood.

Although this seafood was really, REALLY good. They served Sea Bass cooked in this big salt shell, when it was brought to the table the servers actually set it on fire to soften the shell, then cut it open and cleaned and deboned the fish right next to our table. It was pretty cool. That was after they gave us some grilled jumbo shrimp, which I must admit was fabulous. Both had been caught in the Persian Gulf the day before!

As you can see by the table, the food was served family style and our table of eight had at least five servers that took care of everything. One thing I noticed the liked to do is if a dish hadn't been touched all that much or you hadn't eaten anything in a while, they would come over and just spoon something onto your plate as a suggestion to give it a try. Some was good, some wasn't, but overall it was a fantastic experience.

*I also went karting at the Dubai Autodrome. I've been an auto racing fan for over 35 years, since my dad took me to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1979. Since then I have seen the Indy 500 more than a dozen times and have attended several other races in the IndyCar series, as well as the Daytona 500. What can I say, I just love to watch things go fast!

The Autodrome is home to several races a year, and I know they hope to draw a Formula 1 race there someday. We made the trip over to the track because they offered several "experiences" -- the opportunity to do some driving in various types of cars. I went over hoping to drive in the single seater experience, but they were all booked up for the day.

Still, they were nice enough to let me sit in the Formula car they use for the experience, as well as an Audi R8. Let me not something really quickly...nice is a word I could use a lot to describe the people of Dubai. Everyone was so kind and so helpful and had no problem doing a little bit extra for people. It was quite refreshing.

Instead I went across the street to the Kartdrome and did a couple sessions of karting. Now, just for explanation, this isn't one of those go-kart places you go to at an amusement part or wherever, this was high-level stuff. They do a lot of elite kart racing there, so the facility was spectacular.

For the first time, I got to wear a firesuit, helmet, and other gear, which was pretty cool. The kart probably topped out at around 45 mph, which looks pretty fast since you sit so low to the ground. I ran two 15-minute sessions, and by the end of the second session I had improved my lap time by seven seconds and was actually keeping up with the other drivers.

Darcy took some video of one of my laps, which I'll put at the bottom of this post if you'd like to watch it. Overall it was such a great experience. There is a similar kart track about an hour from where I live and I think I am going to go down there this summer.

If you want to read more about it, check out my post on my IndyCar blog

*We went to the Burj Khalifa. I'm also fascinated by tall buildings. I remember seeing the Sears (I'll never call it Willis) Tower for the first time just after it opened, and I was just captured by it's awesome beauty. So if I go somewhere and there is a tall building, I try to go up in it.

The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world, at just over 2,700 feet, and the observation deck is the highest in the world at 124 floors, or 1,470 feet. Like many things in Dubai, it's something you have to see in person to believe.

It didn't disappoint, in fact it was even better than I had imagined. Before getting on the elevator there were several models and photos that showed the building in its various stages of construction.

Looking at all of those displays was really pretty inspiring. The entire Dubai skyline is a testament to what happens when you dream big and combine imagination and engineering. While all of that is easier to do when the money for such projects is literally flowing out of the ground, it's still awesome to see all of the people involved pushing each other to do great things.

The ride to the 124th floor took just one minute, and then we were outside on the observation deck. The
observation area takes up the entire floor, but only the part of the building that looks south is outside. I normally don't fear heights, but I admit it took a couple of minutes for my nerves to settle.

We were up there for about an hour and I took close to 75 pictures. This one is kind of son Matt ran cross country and track at Aurora Central Catholic High School (and my younger son Kevin will do the same next year), and their team name is the Chargers. So I took a Charger XC shirt up with me to put on for a couple of photos. I sent them to the coach and he was really excited to see
that I was taking Charger Nation (his name for the program) to international heights! :--)

One of the other things about the view from the building is that from the top you can see probably three to four dozen other buildings in one stage of construction or another. It is amazing the see the pace at which the city is growing. I spoke with some people that had been coming to Dubai for 10, 15 or even 20 years, and they too are amazed by its growth. One guy even said he remembers a time when camels walked down a two-lane road that today is a 12-lane (six lanes in each direction) superhighway!

*We went to the Persian Gulf. After having a really bad experience in Cancun three years ago, I am not a big fan of open water. Still, I enjoy wading into the surf and collecting date I have shells from the Atlantic Ocean (Pawley's Island, SC; Daytona Beach, Fla.; Cocoa Beach, Fla.), Pacific Ocean (Puerto Vallarta, Mexico), the Gulf of Mexico (Cancun) and now the Persian Gulf.

We went to a beach that is near the Jumeirah Beach Residences, a collection of hotels and condos near the Dubai Marina. It is a really nice place with shops and restaurants along the beach, and is pretty popular since most of the beach is public.

The water was nice and warm, and there were a lot of people there that day. We met a couple there from Rochester, NY, who were stopping at the beach as one of the last things they did before their flight home. It was also the only time I saw camels on the trip. Not something you see here every day!

If we ever go back, I want to spend more time at the beach. They had some boat trips stuff like paddleboarding at jet skiing that I wouldn't mind doing. Let me clarify, I guess, I don't mind being on open water, just not in it!

I could go on all day, but I hope this gave you a little more sense of the flavor of Dubai outside of their running scene. But before I go, I want to add a couple more pictures. Just a few blocks from our hotel was the Mall of the Emirates, which is a huge, beautiful place that we frequented many times. One of the things that makes the mall unique is it has an indoor ski hill inside the mall! Here is the view from both outside and inside. It was pretty crazy!

Thank you so much for coming with me on this journey. It was an amazing trip that I never in my life thought I would make, but now hope that I get to do again someday! I hope you enjoyed my writings and my pictures as to what makes the UAE a neat place. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Friends From All Over

One of the great things about the running community is that social media is able to connect us in a way that we have the opportunities to meet and create close friendships with people from all over the place.

Part of that is because we are all in this together, and the other part is that if you really want to get to know someone, the best thing you can do is go out for a run with them. One of the reasons I love running with people is the conversation, it always just seems to flow so well within the rhythm of a run.

Over the last few months I've gotten to "know" a lot of people in the virtual running community, and I can say for sure that it's part of why my training has gone so well. It's just great to be able to share my running with others, not to mention our successes.

A few weeks before I headed to Dubai, I contacted both of the local running clubs to ask for tips on some places to run. Days later I received an e-mail from a guy named Marek, who is the chairman for the Dubai Creek Runners club. Here was his reply:

Hi Mike

You are most welcome to join any or all of our 4 weekly runs -- all info on the website. We do an easy jog on Sunday evening along the beach, a speed workout on a track on Monday evening, longer intervals in a park on Wednesday evening and our long run on Friday morning.

Also there is a reasonably nice park nearby to your hotel (Barsha Park) with a 1.5 km running track -- that is also where we do our Wednesday session.

Cheers, Marek 

Pretty sweet, right? I really appreciated Marek getting back with me, and when I started looking more at their website they seem to have an awesome club. (To the left is a group photo from their Facebook page) Their weekly runs include the input of coaches, they have a presence at local races, hold a half marathon that draws over 2,000 runners, run a water stop during the Dubai Marathon and have several excellent runners, including one who recently finished a 24-hour race and completed 190 kilometers!

The group holds a low-key run on Sunday evenings and I had hoped to make it to that one, even though I had run five miles in the morning. But since that was the first non-jetlag day of the trip, I started exploring and finished the day with over 35,000 steps on my Fitbit! When I got back to the hotel around 5 p.m. I ended up dozing off and missing the run. Darn.

So fast forward to Wednesday, where the group was meeting at Al Barsha Park (scroll down on the blog to read more about that) for interval workouts. Given I had done some 400 meter repeats the night before, I didn't know if I would be into more intervals, but I figured I could meet people and cheer them on as I ran a few laps around the 1,500-meter loop.

I was looking forward to running with the group in the park, too. While much of the downtown area has trees and flowers, the outlying areas (Al Barsha, in the best way of explaining it, is a "neighborhood" in the Wrigleyville in Chicago) are buildings, roads...and desert. If something wasn't built on a plot of land, it was just a scrubbed area of sand. Now, some of these scrubbed areas of land are worth millions of dollars, but they are desolate nonetheless.

The park was a true oasis in the neighborhood, with a large pond in the middle, lots of green grass, trees and flowers. A very beautiful place and one I had really enjoyed using while I was there. The park is very, very busy in the evenings, and is a real representation of the international flavor of the neighborhood it serves.

I was a little concerned Wednesday afternoon as no info had been put up on the club's website or Facebook page, but at a little after 6 p.m. I caught a cab out to the park for the 6:30 show time. When I got there I saw a couple of runner-looking people, but kind of stayed by myself for a minute.

Eventually I gathered the courage to go up a strike up a conversation with the two people, one was a guy from the UK whose name I didn't get, and the other was a woman named Ruba, who was very nice and full of information.

But 6:30 came and went and no one else showed up! Ruba explained that many in the club (including her) were running a half marathon on Friday morning -- Friday and Saturday is the weekend in Dubai -- so maybe they cancelled it but didn't let anyone know.

I was very disappointed, and the UK guy decided to go off and do his own thing. That left Ruba and I and she suggested we make it worth the trip over and run a few laps. I was definitely OK with that, so we headed off down the path.

It didn't take long for the conversation to really start flowing. Ruba, who is Palestinian, has lived in Dubai since 2001, and said when she moved there she had planned to stay only a couple of years before moving back to the UK. What also came out later in the conversation is that she and Marek got married on Dec. 20! They have been together for four years and had met in the club. Ruba said to her knowledge they are the fourth couple to meet in the club and get married. I wished I had been able to meet Marek, but he was in Germany on business.

We talked a lot about running and our goals. She has run a marathon before and was hoping to run the Rome Marathon this year. I told her about running the Indy Mini and that I had run the Chicago Marathon in the past, and we swapped stories of some of the international events we have run or know of people who have run them.

I also mentioned my goal of trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon and she said Marek has run it three times and it was his favorite marathon. All along we started finding a rhythm with our running and the last two laps were run at a really quick pace. In the end Ruba said we ran 4.6 K in about 28 minutes, that converts to about 2.85 miles, so we were running under a 10-minute pace. The funny thing was, the pace felt really, really easy, further proof that you almost always run better with a person to run with.

After the run I gave her one of my club (Chicago Area Runners Association) shirts and she said she would try to have Marek send me a DCR kit, which would be really cool! I wasn't sure if it was proper custom to ask Ruba for a photo together -- although I'm sure she wouldn't have minded -- so here's my final runfie from Dubai.

Overall, it was an incredible experience to run here. While I only got to run at the park, it was a beautiful place to log some miles, and is a place that if I lived there I would have no problem running lots and lots of laps around!

It was also great to have the opportunity to meet with other runner(s) and share our love for the sport so far from home. The running community is so amazing, that I could go 7,000 miles from home and be welcomed warmly to their little world. It's really more proof that running is such an amazing, inspiring sport that brings so many people together. I hope as the year goes on I get the chance to meet even more great people in some of my travels!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Al Barsha Park...Dubai!

Well, it's already Sunday afternoon here in Dubai, the whole time difference is still kind of weird, thinking that it is the middle of the night back home. Another thing that is different is that here the week begins on Sunday, so it is crazy busy around here as everyone gets started with their week.

So let me get this Dubai it's possible to have a case of the Sundays?

Darcy headed off to the Gulfood trade show this morning, and I went off to get in a long run. Well, sort of. Since I'm meeting up with the Dubai Creek Striders club for a run later, I kept this one short. Then again, with all of the walking I did to and from the park it probably adds up to a long run already!

I must say, the part of Dubai that I am in isn't the most runner-friendly in terms of having paths and places to run. Maybe in another part of town that might be the case, but in some places here there aren't even sidewalks! So if I want to run I need to make the trek to Al Barsha Park, which is a couple of miles from our hotel.

We took a cab down there last night just to see where it was, and I decided to get in some more steps and walk over there this morning. It wasn't too bad of a walk, about 30 minutes each way, and since it is sunny and in the low 70s I didn't mind.

Plus, it's a chance to see more of Dubai. Here is my initial know how you say to yourself "if I had the money, I'd do this or that"? That is Dubai, it's a collection of people who have the money so they do it. There isn't anything wrong with that because this is an insanely beautiful city, but it leads to things like indoor ski hills (like the one in this picture), buildings made to look like boat sails, and buildings that stretch almost a half-mile into the sky!

It is pretty amazing, I must say. This afternoon I'm just going to jump on the metro and hop off whenever I see something interesting.

Back to my run. Al Barsha Park is a pretty neat place, there is a big pond in the middle, lots of places for kids to play (in fact there were schools there on field trips today), not to mention tennis courts, basketball courts and a small turf soccer field.

But to me, the centerpiece of the whole park is the running path that goes around it. The path is pretty close to perfect, it's 1500 meters around with markings every 100 meters (which will be great for intervals on Tuesday), and the path itself has a rubberized layer on top of the asphalt to make it a softer run.

With everybody back to work, the park wasn't all that busy, there were only a couple of other runners and a few walkers on the path with me. I started slowly, just because my legs are still a bit tight from the trip, and we did a lot of walking yesterday, and finished my first mile in about 11:30. With each lap I went a little faster and by the end of the run I ran the last mile in 8:38 to finish the 5.2 miles in 54:08.

I felt pretty good overall, and got my first taste of the concept of a "dry heat". With the humidity pretty low here, of course, I was warm -- and sweaty -- but still comfortable. A little bit of a breeze helped too. By comparison, Puerto Vallarta, where I visited six weeks ago, was oppressive, even at the same temperature. Kind of crazy.

Because I had to add 100 meters to each lap to measure out a mile, I finished my run at the 500-meter mark on the back side of the park. So I walked the rest of the way around and took a lot of pictures, including my official runfie! 

You'll find a few more pictures of the park at the bottom of this post. There are a couple I had in mind but forgot to take, but I guess those can be in a post for later this week.

I'll probably go to the park at least two more times, for my speedwork on Tuesday night and a club run on Wednesday, and I'm looking forward to going back and enjoying the park.

Later on today the club group run will be near the Jumeirah hotel complex near the Persian Gulf. I'm looking forward to running there as I've seen photos and it looks pretty amazing. But for now it's time to do some more exploring.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Good Morning From London!

Well, it's just about 10:30 a.m. here in the UK, which means many of you haven't made it out of bed yet. Me? I HAVEN'T been to bed, and am into hour 20 of my day.

Anyway, after an overnight flight from Chicago, Darcy and I are halfway there on our trip to Dubai. What's crazy is that a trip like this shows how big our world really is, because Dubai is just as far from London as Chicago is! We still have about a 6 1/2 hour flight in front of us -- wheels up in about three hours! We look to arrive in Dubai about 11:30 p.m. local time, which means there will be one epic night of sleep to follow!

I've actually had a pretty busy day! After boarding our flight from Chicago Thursday evening (here's a photo of our ride!) we headed out into the darkness. I had a window seat, as always, and yeah, I know it was dark the entire night but that's not the point!

Fortunately our 777-200 plane had the cool video screens in the headrests, so I checked out a couple of TV shows and then watched the movie "This Is When I Leave You". It didn't get very good reviews when it was in the theaters but I really liked it.

We made it to the UK just as the sun was coming up, so we got a look at a really spectacular sunrise. See, this is when the window comes in handy! After taking a couple of laps around the English countryside, since we got in a bit early, our pilot put us on the ground just seven hours, 24 minutes after we left O'Hare. With the extra laps we covered about 4,600 miles, but I doubt they get added to our frequent flyer miles!

After getting to our terminal and going through security, I headed to the bathroom and did what every good runner should do, I changed into my gear and got in a 30-minute run!

If you think that's the dorkiest thing you will read about today, you are probably right. I have to admit that I felt a bit strange jogging though the crowd, but in the end it was really fun! Actually, moving my way through the crowd was a little like navigating a mega-race, I just picked my spots carefully and weaved my way through the people. I probably didn't run more than two miles (give or take) but there were a couple areas where the terminal wasn't busy and I was able to pick up the pace and started to breathe a little harder.

I did get a few strange looks, but I honestly didn't care. I enjoyed myself and it was a chance to do something fun and unique. And it means that I can add England to places I have run. Actually, that was the topic of conversation in a running Facebook group I belong to, and the consensus was that it counts. So in the last five weeks I've added Mexico and England to the US for places I've run. How about that?

The 30 minutes went by really fast, too. Along with people watching (and let me tell you, that was seriously interesting), the terminal is home to a lot of high-end shops like Harrods, Rolex, Cartier and Prada, so I was able to check out the merchandise. There are also some nice perfume shops that gave off a nice fragrance, as well as some bakeries and restaurants that had some really great smells too!

Like I said, I did get a few strange looks, but a funny moment came near the end of my run when a guy looked at me and said, "How many laps have you run, lad?". I told him "a bunch!". Actually I think it was four.

The run was also a good chance to knock off the rust and the tightness of sitting on a long flight, so I feel lots better now than when I just got off the plane. On the flip side, I don't think I did my body any favors because according to my watch I was running at 3 a.m. Chicago time! But I feel good and refreshed right now. I'm not sure how long that will last, but it's a good feeling for the time being!

In the end, I got a bit of a training run in and made a nice memory.

Next stop, Dubai! I already have a couple of runs planned there, so look for posts from me with some great photos!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Four Things February

Is February really here? I heard a certain ground hog saw his shadow today, but given the 15-plus inches of snow we got yesterday, I'm not in the mood for what Phil thinks, and in three days I won't care anyway (more on that later)!

Actually, I'm kind of excited for February. Not only is it the birthday month for Matt (Feb. 19) and Darcy (Feb. 20), we also have a big trip coming up and of course spring training starts in just a couple of weeks. It also marks the beginning of the end for winter, because once March gets here I can pretty much tolerate the leftovers of winter since I know that it is going to end pretty soon.

So what have I got going on? Let's find out!

*From a running perspective, I'm really excited. Though I got off to a slow start in January -- I didn't run until the 12th -- I finished the month by running back-to-back 25 mile weeks! I also got a big boost of confidence on Saturday when I ran 9.5 miles in 1:36:55, or a 10:12 pace. What I feel good about is the fact that the loop I took had its share of hills, and I was also slowed down a bit by some not-so-decent footing. Back in November, I had hoped that by the end of February I could be down to a sub-10-minute pace for 10 miles, and it looks like that's possible.

*Even better, I hit a milestone in my weight loss. At my highest point last year, I checked in at 265 pounds, and when I got on the scale this weekend I was sitting at 240! It's been a slow process to get here, mostly because I'm not always the best when it comes to eating, but it's a move in the right direction. Losing a pound a week from now until the Indy Mini puts me in a good position to run Faster Than Frank! I don't feel like I "look" any different, but here's a pic from the top of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas taken last Feb. 4, the Chicago Marathon in October and one of me taken at the blue track one night last week. What do you think?

* I added another race to the Year of the Half Marathon as Darcy and I will be traveling to Greenwood, Miss. for the Viking Half Marathon there. Why Greenwood? Well, the company Darcy works for owns Viking Range, which is based in Greenwood, and Viking is sponsoring the race, so it's all connected! Darcy will be running the 5K, and I hope to run in the 2:10-2:15 range down there. It will be fun to go to a different part of the country and run, and the course is supposed to be pretty flat, which will give me a good barometer as far as where I stand for the Indy Mini.

*And finally, this month I am participating in a Blog Hop! In case you are wondering what that means, a blog hop is an opportunity for bloggers to network and build up more interest in their site, as well as social media platforms. The one I am participating in, which was organized by Kristy at Runaway Bridal Planner, has 40 bloggers -- most of them running-related. Our job is to promote each other as much as we can and then our blogs will be featured twice during the month. Mine is on the 13th and the 26th, so look for that. My topic on the 13th will be easy...Running in Dubai! The second one I'm still thinking about. Have any ideas?

I'm looking forward to having a great month and having you join me on the journey!