Art Van Turkey Trot Chicago 8K Race Recap

Thanksgiving may be the most popular day for racing in the United States, but growing up, I was completely oblivious to the concept of a turkey trot. Maybe it was ignorance, but from what I remember, Thanksgiving was most definitely not a day for running where I grew up. In Chicagoland, however, the opposite is true, and since I stayed in town for the holiday this year, I took on my first turkey trot last Thursday!

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I was a little concerned about the race from an organizational standpoint in the hours leading up to the event. After finding out the Sunday before Thanksgiving (or maybe it was the Monday before?) via a sponsored Facebook post that the race had changed its course, I then got an email on Wednesday informing me that, “As the safety of our participants, volunteers and spectators are our utmost priority, we’ve been working with the City of Chicago to make some alterations to our race course. Stay tuned to our social pages for event updates and new course announcements.” Excuse me? They then sent another email at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, a mere 11 hours before the race, announcing that they had finalized the course. The “new” course was now identical to what the course had been prior to them changing it a few days before o.O All in all, a very bizarre situation that I would not exactly label “confidence inspiring.”

Anyway, I got to the race Thursday morning, and it was so nice outside! I certainly wouldn’t call it warm, but the sun was out and tons of people were dressed up in turkey hats or other holiday-appropriate apparel, making me very excited for the race.

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I opted to run the 8K, but the race had a 5K option as well. Everyone, aside from the kids running the Plymouth Rock Ramble, started at the same time: all 6,886 of us. The race was self-seeded, and since I’ve never run an 8K slower than a 9:03 pace, I decided to tuck myself into the back of the 8:00 corral. The course began at Fullerton and Cannon, and it wasn’t particularly spacious, so they were sending the corrals off at a pretty generous stagger. I crossed the start line roughly 10 minutes after the race began and headed east on Fullerton.

Even with the staggered start, the course was CROWDED for the first mile. I came through the first mile in 9:04, which was fine by me. I had looked up the results from 2016 before starting, and knew that I didn’t have a prayer of placing in my age group (I thought I might, given that turkey trots are usually more low key affairs, but that apparently isn’t the case at this particular race), so I wasn’t too concerned that I turned in a 9:00+ mile.

We continued running north to right around Addison, where the courses split. The 5K runners headed south while those of us running the 8K kept north. Unsurprisingly, the 8K was the least popular of the two events, so the course opened up a lot after the turnaround, making it a lot easier to run faster. I had an 8:38 second mile, which was a lot closer to where I ideally wanted to be pace-wise, and followed that up with an 8:36 third mile. When I got the mile three sign, my watch said I was at 3.14 miles. I didn’t think too much of it, since I don’t really expect my watch’s mileage and a race’s mileage to ever match up exactly, but when I finished the run, my watch said I had gone 4.99 miles total. Somehow over the course of less than two miles, I had gone from being .14 miles ahead of where I technically should be to only being .02 miles ahead of where I technically should be. Either I somehow cut a fair amount of the course during those last twoish miles, or the mile marker signs weren’t 100% accurate. I’ve never seen myself make up that much extra mileage before, so I found that to be a bit curious.

It occurred to me after the turnaround (just north of Buena) that I was going to have to join back up with the 5K runners at Addison, and that the 5K runners I’d be joining would definitely not be running the 8:30ish pace I had been holding for the past few miles. I hoped to bank some time before I got too caught up in the melee, and was happy to see that I ran a 8:26 fourth mile. The course crowding wasn’t as bad as I feared initially, because between Addison and Belmont, the northbound runners were all running along the harbor, and the southbound runners had the trail more or less to ourselves. Things definitely got sticky between Belmont and the Barry underpass, but fortunately that didn’t make up *too* much of the course, so it didn’t hurt me too much from a time standpoint.

I didn’t have any real time goals going into Thursday’s race, but after emerging from the Barry underpass, I decided I’d like to try to finish in under 43 minutes. I managed to squeak in just under the wire, finishing in 42:56 for an overall 8:39 pace (and a perfectly negative-split race! My last .99 miles were at an 8:13 pace.). I’ve run seven 8Ks over the past few years, and all but three of them have been a 42:xx, so I was perfectly happy with my result.

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I was MORE than perfectly happy with the post-race party, however! Holy cow! I really have no complaints about Lifetime as a race organizing entity (other than the course situation earlier in the week, but from my experience with Lifetime, that seemed like an anomaly), but if there’s any part of races that Lifetime really knocks out of the park, it’s the post-race party. The post-race party for the Chicago Spring Half is main reason why I ran that race twice, the post-race party for the Chicago Half is definitely top-of-the-line, and even the Chicago Triathlon post-race party, which I attended this year with the triathletes I spectated, was mind-boggling in terms of amenities. The Turkey Trot was no exception. In addition to the standard banana/potato chips/pretzels spread Lifetime usually hands out for post-race food, they also had MINI PUMPKIN PIES, which made my day. And that’s not even including the party itself! They had all sorts of stuff to do: corn hole, a football toss, TURKEY BOWLING (where you bowled with an actual frozen turkey. My family always goes bowling on Thanksgiving, so that made me particularly happy, though my family was grossed out by it, haha), beer, hot apple cider, race results, and the most insane giveaway I’ve ever received at a race:

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This is the S+ sleep monitor by ResMed (a company apparently best known for its sleep apnea devices). It’s supposed to help you sleep better by giving you feedback on your sleeping environment (too hot, too cold, too bright, etc.), telling you how you’re currently sleeping, helping you drift off at night, waking you up gently in the morning, and all sorts of other things. I haven’t taken my out of the box yet, so I can’t give you any insight into whether or not it works, but what I can tell you is that, according to Google, these things retail for $30 a pop, and they were just handing them out. It was crazy!! I’ve never seen anything like it.

Overall, I thought this was a fantastic way to start Thanksgiving. I had a smile on my face from start to finish, and couldn’t recommend this race more if you’re in Chicago on Thanksgiving.

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Runn Chicago

I’ve never tried to hide my hatred of treadmill running. I took it as a point of pride that I never once set foot on a treadmill for the duration of this summer’s marathon training. I only choose to run on a treadmill if something makes it too dangerous to run outside, and even then, I’d be more likely to just scrap my run altogether than hop on a treadmill for however many miles I wanted or needed to run that day.

Needless to say, when Runn Chicago, a new, local fitness studio whose entire premise is treadmill running, reached out to see if I’d be interested in a class, I was skeptical at best. I enjoy checking out studios and sampling their workouts, but despite all the rave reviews on Facebook about how this would change your mind about treadmill running, I really didn’t have high expectations that’d I’d be all that thrilled with the class.

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I went to an Express Runn class at 5:30 p.m. on a Monday and was one of only three people there that day. Keith, the studio’s founder and my instructor for the day, said that class tends to be lighter in the attendance department, which means if you’re able to show up then, you, too, could get what basically amounted to a small group training session for the price of a group class. Speaking of the price of a group class, your first class is 100% free, regardless of whether or not you have a blog 🙂 After that, it’s $23 for a single class, $109 for a five-class pack, and $199 for a ten-class pack (class packs never expire).

The Express Runn class itself lasts 30 minutes, but I don’t think we ever did anything for more than one minute before changing something. Keith really ran through the treadmill through its entire repertoire: we’d go faster, then slower, then up, then down, then faster and up, then slower and down. It was as much of a workout for your thumb as it was for your legs!

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Speaking of Keith. Now, I’ve been to a lot of studios and a lot of classes over the past few years, and I honestly don’t think I’ve ever met a friendlier instructor. You know the haughty, aloof vibe you get walking into some studios, where it feels like they deigned to allow you to enter their space? There was none of that at Runn Chicago. Not even close. I saw a few reviewers on Facebook mention that they had been faithful attendees of Keith’s classes when he used to teach at a gym, and I can see why. I’m sure it helped that there were only three people in class when I was there, but he was so engaged with us on an individual level, recommending speeds based on other speeds we had run earlier in the day, chatting with us about our running backgrounds, telling us about why he opened the studio, asking each of us which song we wanted to sprint to at the end and accommodating all of our requests. I’ve never had an instructor, particularly an instructor whose class I was taking for the first time, be that friendly and approachable, and it made a HUGE difference.

The 30 minutes flew by, and I’m sure that’s because there was so much variety in the workout. The thing I really hate about treadmill running is that I find it to be just painfully boring. I’ve tried all sorts of things–music, TV, podcasts, audiobooks–to try to keep my mind occupied when I’m on the treadmill, and none of it ever works. I inevitably end up staring at the clock, praying that it’ll move faster so I can be done with it. Things changed so constantly during Express Runn that I didn’t have time to pay attention to the clock: I was too busy adjusting my speed or incline to focus on how long I’d been running.

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Overall, I was really impressed with Runn. I enjoyed the class a lot more than I anticipated and felt like I got in a good workout in a short amount of time. Particularly if you need motivation to get in speedwork, I think Runn could be a great supplement to your training plan.

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What’s Next

Long-term edition.

This past marathon season, as I mentioned once or twice or on a weekly basis from the beginning of September (or maybe even earlier?) through race day, was without a doubt the most trying marathon season I’ve had. A variety of factors played into this, and while maybe one or two of them would’ve been manageable on their own, dealing with all of them at once made the last six weeks of training so difficult that I began to ask myself some serious questions, the root of which, always, was, “Why am I doing this?” The fact that I couldn’t come up with an answer–not any sort of answer at all–was troubling, to say the least.

When I crossed the start line of the Chicago Marathon this past October, I did so not knowing whether or not I’d be back in 2018. I had had it with the entire experience of marathon training and really didn’t know if I could put myself through that again. Then, of course, I had the race of my life (when I was expecting to have a terrible race, no less), so that obviously changed my perspective a bit. While I suppose it would make sense to retire now–going out on a high note, as it were–now that I feel like I’ve at least figured out how to run a marathon (only took five years and six attempts!), I would like to apply that knowledge to a training cycle and race and see what happens.

HOWEVER. Having the race of my life doesn’t suddenly erase the fact that last marathon season was not even close to an enjoyable experience, nor does it change, what I think, was the main reason I hated last marathon season so much: my CARA group. I feel like the experiences I had with the group this year had a serious impact on the way I felt about marathon training in general (that is to say, not positively). Because the importance of this group to me and my training in the past was so high that it was consistently the reason I listed as the reason why I continued running the Chicago Marathon, having a problem with the group automatically becomes the biggest problem of all. There’s a lot that goes into this, so bear with me.

I’ve run with the same 10:30 pace group every year that I’ve done marathon training. I don’t know why I initially chose a 10:30 pace group–I guess it seemed reasonable enough in 2013?–but if I’m being honest with myself, it was a bit too fast for me. I rarely ran with the main group, and more often than not ran with a handful of people doing closer to a 10:45 pace. I barely ever spoke to anyone. I went to one post-run brunch, but felt like I was crashing a party I wasn’t actually invited to, and never went to any other “extracurriculars,” if you will. Somehow, despite not really being connected to the group, I felt inexplicably connected to the group (see?), and came back for more in 2014.

Two big things changed for me in 2014. I felt far more comfortable in the group than I did in 2013. It was no longer a new experience, and that made it easier for me to open up and be chatty–a key element to making friends in my running group, in my experience. Additionally, a fair number of people who I considered to be the “in crowd” of the 10:30s were not running with the group in 2014. This left a social vacuum, an opportunity for a new in crowd to form without having to compete with the existing in crowd. I took both of these changes and RAN WITH THEM (literally, I suppose, but I mean it in more of the metaphorical sense 😛 ). I initiated conversations with my running buddies. I went to every single extracurricular event. I struck up a good friendship with another girl in the group, Jill (all names changed to protect the innocent)–so good that she even invited me to her birthday party that November (the one and only time someone from the 10:30s invited me to a non-10:30s event). Things went really, really well from a social standpoint, and I was officially all in for the CARA 10:30s.

Things changed in 2015. Jill signed up for marathon training, but rarely showed up to marathon training, mostly because she was usually at CrossFit instead, and I definitely resented her for it. I still attended the extracurriculars like my life depended on it, but I didn’t feel like I had A Running Buddy anymore like I had had in Jill. It bothered me a lot. Something about group training in 2015 just didn’t click for me like it had the year before (see? [#9]). 2016 was more of the same, but I blamed that on the fact that I was training for two marathons at once and rarely ran the same mileage as the rest of the group.

I don’t remember what my feelings were headed into training this year. I knew Jill wouldn’t be there, since she moved to California. Pretty quickly, however, I realized that the in crowd situation from 2013 was back with a VENGEANCE. Though the cast of characters had changed, there was a distinct, undeniable in crowd in the group. They took up the front spots in the group every Saturday, would meet up with each other to run on weekdays, were all on each other’s kickball team. If I thought Jill not showing up in 2015 made me feel resentful, it was NOTHING compared to the way I felt about the 2017 10:30s in crowd. They were cliquey and exclusive and I hated it, not only because of the cliquey-ness and exclusivity, but because every single person in that clique joined the group AFTER I did and have run fewer marathons than I have, and that infuriated me. I felt like I had seniority, like I had earned my place in the in crowd, like this was my group and my thing and how DARE they take it away from me like that. Maybe that’s petty or stupid or whatever, but it’s the truth.

My resentfulness about the clique situation came to a head after Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago. I used to live relatively close to two of my group leaders and would often get rides home from them. The week before Rock ‘n’ Roll, I told them I wouldn’t be at the group run the following week since I was doing the half instead.

“Emma’s doing Rock ‘n’ Roll, too,” one of them responded, referencing one of the girls in the clique. “She’s looking for someone to run with! You should let her know you’re running!”

Now, I’ve never been particularly close to Emma. We’ve chatted once or twice at group events, but that was it. Nevertheless, I’m Facebook friends with her, so I sent her a message later that day letting her know that I’d be running Rock ‘n’ Roll and was available as a running buddy but most certainly did not need to be her running buddy if her goals were different than mine for race day. She responded quickly letting me know that two other girls from our group (both clique members) were also running it (so why my group leaders were under the impression that she had no one to run with is beyond me) and that “we should definitely meet up before.” Fair enough. She gave me her number, and that was that.

Neither Emma nor I made any effort to coordinate with the other person before race day, so the morning of, I texted her to let her know which corral I was in, and that I was about 20 minutes away from Grant Park. She responded in kind, letting me know that she also would be there in about 20 minutes. I opted to carry a water bottle and my phone that day instead of checking gear like normal, so I had my phone on me the entire time leading up to the race, but I never heard anything from Emma. That was fine with me. I was just there to get my long run in and didn’t necessarily need a companion to make that happen.

That was all I really thought of it until after the race, when I sat down in Grant Park and began looking up the race results of everyone I knew participating, as one does (or is that just me?). To my enormous surprise, Emma (and the two other girls) had both run substantially faster than I had–like, up to 13 minutes faster than I had–and to my enormous dismay, I saw that all three of them crossed the start line at the exact same time.

I. Was. Furious.

My furious-ness only increased later in the day, when I made the critical mistake of Facebook stalking Emma and saw the two pictures she had posted from that day’s race: one of her and the other two girls all together in their corral, and one of the three of them together after the race, complete with the caption, “Lucky to be part of such a wonderful running community.”

RUNNING COMMUNITY MY BUTT. I made an effort to be your running buddy even though I didn’t want to because Jack and Jess (the group leaders) said you needed one, and then you completely ditched me to run with two other girls in the clique?!?! If that’s “community,” then I’m Jordan Hasay.

Maybe I’m being ridiculous. Maybe I am, once again, being petty. Maybe should have hounded Emma more to coordinate meeting up. But it pissed me off. It all felt so unnecessary. If you didn’t want to run with me, JUST SAY SO. I would not have been the LEAST bit offended. I would’ve been relieved, in fact! I SPECIFICALLY said in my initial Facebook message that it “doesn’t make a difference to me either way” if she ran with me or not. But when you act like you want to run with me and then go silent on me on race morning AND THEN run with other people from the training group AND THEN post all about it on Facebook, I’m going to be offended! (The fact that they all smoked me time-wise didn’t help either, I’ll admit.)

So I was already soured on the group, and that was definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back. That whole situation went down at the end of week six of training. I only went to four more long runs with the group for the entire year (out of 11 possible). Granted, there were extenuating circumstances more than once–my knee, my food poisoning, being out of town, a half marathon–but still. If you needed me to point out the The Moment where everything changed for me in terms of marathon training this past summer, that was most definitely it. That was the moment that all of my starry-eyed infatuation with the 10:30s from 2014 exploded into a million dead pieces, and, having had time to reflect on it, I think that’s really what killed this whole season for me. No, the food poisoning didn’t help, and the fact that September felt more like July in terms of temperature (when July had been fairly September-y) most certainly didn’t help the situation either. But it was Rock ‘n’ Roll that did me in. My love for my training group and the friends I had there had always been enough to overcome all the frustration and disappointment that inevitably comes along with an 18-week marathon training program. Once that love was gone, so was my interest in marathon training.

Since marathon training has, historically, been my primary interest in this whole thing–I really hated marathon running up until just about a month ago–having lost that interest–or at least having lost interest in doing that with the people I’ve always done it with–has put me in a bit of a running identity crisis, if you will. Who am I, if I am not a 10:30 Awesome?

To be fair, the Saturday 6:30 a.m. group at Montrose is far from the only option for marathon training. I could train with the 6 a.m. group (*weeps*), or the 6:30 a.m. Lakeshore East group, or I could defect and become a Chicago Endurance Sports runner and train with them next year. Or I could train solo, though that idea doesn’t really appeal to me when I know the path will be full of groups I could’ve joined if I had decided to do so. As much as I hate to admit it, I think my 10:30 Awesome days are over. And it just sucks, you guys. That group was so fundamental in developing me into the runner I am today. I really, really like Jack and Jess, and I hate the idea of abandoning them. I felt like I got along with the two of them really well. They’re friendly and helpful and impeccably nice. Jess TEXTED me on my birthday, for goodness sake! The only other people to text me on my birthday were my best friend from childhood and my good friend from dance! I’m sure there are other wonderful group leaders in CARA (and in CES, for that matter), but Jack and Jess are my group leaders, and it really upsets me that the vibe of the group changed so much that I don’t even feel like I belong anymore and won’t be running with Jack and Jess as a result.

The other issue I have at the moment? I just…don’t want to do the marathon next year. I’m not sure that I want to do any marathon next year, never mind the Chicago Marathon. I had such a miserable experience this past training cycle that it’s really turned me off from the whole idea.

Now, that alone should seal the deal, right? If I don’t want to run the marathon next year–if I don’t even have to do soul-searching to know that, if my stomach turns every time I get an email from the race encouraging me to sign up for next year–that should be it right there. Don’t want to run the race? Then don’t run the race. A few years back, there was a girl in my dance class who would constantly text me an hour or so before class saying that she didn’t want to be there, and it was all I could do to keep from shaking her by the shoulders and screaming in her face, “THEN DON’T COME TO CLASS ANYMORE!!!!!!!!!!!” (Instead, I’d text her that, just with less caps lock and fewer exclamation points, haha.) It BOGGLED my mind that she could have so little interest in dance and continue to show up week after week after week, and even more than that, continue to register for future sessions! WHY?! Why would any adult do that to themselves? Why would any grown woman force herself to have a hobby she didn’t want to have?! I could NOT comprehend it.

And yet, here I am, with next to no interest in running the Chicago Marathon next year, still contemplating running the Chicago Marathon next year.

I guess what it really comes down to for me is this: I don’t want to run the Chicago Marathon next year right now. I am not at all confident that I won’t want to run the Chicago Marathon next year when training season rolls around. Unfortunately, because the race insists doing registration obscenely and unnecessarily early, I don’t have the luxury of waiting until next summer or next year or even next month to decide if I want to run Chicago or not. Since every summer marathon training program in the city targets the Chicago Marathon, if I intend to train with a group–which I do, even if that group is a different group–Chicago is far and away the most logical race to do, especially if I join a new group. Joining a brand new group and then running different mileage then them every week is certainly not going to do me any favors in the running-buddy-making department.

That’s one of the other pieces that’s keeping me from throwing in the towel entirely: while training was not a particularly pleasant experience this year, I do really like marathon training. Really truly. I love have 18 weeks of scheduled workouts (even if they inevitably don’t go according to plan). I like the structure and the order, and even though it can be burdensome at times, I very much appreciate the predictability and rhythm of marathon training. It feels stable, and I like that feeling a lot.

I still haven’t submitted my application for my guaranteed entry, but I expect that I probably will. At the end of the day, even with all the angst it caused me in 2017, I think I’d like to give the Chicago Marathon specifically at least one more shot. I’d like to try training with a different group, and I’d like to try training at a more appropriate pace (which, based on how the race went this year, is probably going to be either 11:00 or 11:30–most likely 11:30–much to my ego’s chagrin). If things still go terribly, if I hate my new group and I hate training, then I guess I have my answer as to what I should do with all of this moving forward. I still feel like I have unfinished business with the Chicago Marathon (like finally running a time I want to run, for example), and I don’t think I’m ready to walk away from it with that hanging over my head. We’ll see what happens, I guess, but that’s the plan for the moment.

What’s Next

Short-term edition.

With the Chicago Marathon well in my rearview mirror, it’s now time for me to focus on the remainder of my running calendar for the year because surprise! The marathon wasn’t the end game this year! Well, I suppose the marathon was my end game, at least from a goals standpoint, but I have three (!) more races coming up before I can officially go into hibernation mode.

I registered for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon last year, but due to being booted, wasn’t able to run. This year, I successfully completed the marathon without stress reacting/fracturing my foot or peroneal tendinitis-ing my peroneal tendon, so I plan to do the race this year. While it’s perhaps possible that I could ride out my marathon fitness for five weeks and still complete a half marathon, it didn’t feel particularly likely that I could do that, and even if I somehow could do it, I have very strong doubts that I would enjoy doing that. Thus, a four week half marathon “training” plan was born.

My half marathon training plan is really more of a maintenance plan than anything. I took the week after the marathon off from exercise (mostly) entirely (I did go to dance on Tuesday, per usual, but I took it easy and only did what I could.) and went for my first run post-marathon the Monday of the week after the race (Oct. 16, eight days after the marathon). My half marathon maintenance plan was somewhat inspired by Hal Higdon’s HM3 program, at least from days-of-the-week-spent-running and a type-of-run perspectives. I didn’t want to jump into week nine of HM3 when I was still more or less recovering from the marathon, so I decided to ease back into things for a couple of weeks, have one “peak week” of 20ish miles the week before race week, then “taper” the week of race week. I am most certainly not hoping for a PR in Vegas, and even though I don’t really drink (even when the alcohol is free, as I learned when I went to Vegas last year), I’m not fooling myself into believing I’ll be in prime racing condition for this event. Even if I were in prime racing condition, since the event is a night(ish) race, I’m obviously going to be going into this under much different circumstances, particularly in the food/hydration/rest departments, than other half marathons. I just want to be able to finish uninjured, and I think my maintenance plan will help me accomplish that.

After the Vegas half, I have a whopping 10 days until my next race: my first ever turkey trot! My schedule worked out this year to allow me to do one, and I’m super pumped! I think it’ll be a nice way to start a day that usually involves little to no movement on my end. Again, I’m not expecting any miraculous performances here: just going out to enjoy myself and start Thanksgiving on an active note.

Two weeks after the turkey trot, I’ll wrap up my year in running with the same 5K I run every December. I actually do care about this race–care too much, one could argue–so I’m hoping that maintaining higher mileage going into it and keeping up with a little bit of speedwork will help me out. I love the idea of PRing, but I also know the weather for this event is a complete crapshoot (I’ve run it in everything from 48 and humidish to freezing and middle-of-a-snowstorm), so that’s probably a little out of the question. My goal at this race is always to place in my age group, which I’ve done every other year. Unfortunately this is an “off” year for me in terms of age group placement (historically, I’ve placed in my age group at this event during even years and gotten fourth in my age group during odd years), so we’ll have to see what happens, I guess.

As soon as I cross the finish line of that 5K, I plan to hang up my running shoes for the remainder of the year. I like to take a bit of time off every year to give myself a bit of a break in the running department, and since I know I’ll need to start officially training again at the end of January, the end of December seems like a good time to take that break (plus holidays, parties, travel, etc. etc.).

I’m hoping to incorporate more strength training into my fitness life through the end of the year, but I’ll be honest: I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to go about doing that. NTC is an option, I suppose, though I’m really not as crazy about NTC as I used to be (I still hate the updated app, even though it’s been updated for nearly a year and a half at this point.). I’d love to find some sort of strength training program that fits what I’m looking to accomplish (one to two workouts per week, ideally with a total body focus, since I expect my strength training to be so infrequent that I’d like to get the most bang for my buck in that department), but so far have just gotten overwhelmed every time I’ve tried to find something online and give up. I’m also not really looking to spend any additional money to make this happen, which limits me a bit as well. If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears!

So that’s the plan for the moment. I still have some decisions to make regarding more long-term plans, but that’s another topic for another blog post 🙂

Chicago Recovery Room

Over the course of my running career, I’ve racked up a laundry list of injuries, ranging from run-through-able (runner’s knee) to walking-boot-confining (a stress reaction). Throughout these experiences, I’ve become quite familiar with the running injury pipeline, if you will:

Step 1: Realize something doesn’t feel right. Hem and haw about what you should do for an amount of time that is directly related to your level of pain and, in my experience, inversely related to the amount of time you’ve spent running (the longer I run, the more likely I am to seek medical attention early).
Step 2: Depending on my insurance status and willingness to wait, schedule a free injury screen at a physical therapy clinic (deductible not met and/or want to get in immediately) or schedule an appointment at either the sports doctor or sports podiatrist, depending on the location of the potential injury.
Step 3: Receive a diagnosis and a prescription for physical therapy
Step 4: Wither away (mentally; get stronger physically) in physical therapy for six weeks to six months
Step 5: Run until you feel pain again, rinse and repeat.

This pipeline, in my experience, has been an effective way to recover from an injury, but is wildly frustrating when something doesn’t feel quite right, but also doesn’t feel quite wrong enough to need a month and a half of physical therapy – maybe I could use a session or two, but good luck getting a doctor to give you a prescription for one physical therapy appointment. Since the only way to get a PT appointment in Illinois is with a prescription, if you just need a little help getting over that hump, you’re stuck.

That is, unless you know about the Chicago Recovery Room.

The Chicago Recovery Room contacted me around the middle of the summer to give their services a try, and I’ll be honest: I didn’t have a clue what to expect out of the experience. I had heard about CRR before, but I didn’t think I was its target clientele. Recovery facilities with their fancy compression boots and ice baths seemed like the place where people who can qualify for Boston go to keep themselves in tip-top shape, not a place where a schlub like me, who has never run a marathon at a sub-11:00 pace, would hang out.

My trip to CRR started out with a three-mile run with Keelan, an athletic trainer at the facility. As we ran along the Lakefront Trail, he told me a bit about the story of the Chicago Recovery Room. Liz Yerly, the founder of CRR, began her career as a physical therapist, and found that both she and her patients were frustrated by the red tape required to get into a PT clinic for an appointment. To make herself more accessible without the need to travel through the injury pipeline, she got certified in athletic training and massage therapy, and eventually decided to open CRR. The goal? To provide athletes of all abilities (even 4:52-on-a-good-day marathoners like myself) with access to medical professionals who can offer PT-like services–ART, Graston, etc.–to people on a short-term, cash-payment basis, thus eliminating the insurance piece of the equation. It’s that insurance piece that makes up a fair amount of the red tape when it comes to physical therapy, so by cutting out that middle man entirely, athletes from all types of sports can access trained professionals who can provide them with a minor “tune up” to help nip a potential injury in the bud.

Sometimes, though, an athlete doesn’t really know what he or she needs in terms of medical treatment (*raises hand*). If that’s the case, CRR offers injury screens, where a staff member can take a look at you and help you decide the best course of action. Maybe somethings nagging you a little, but isn’t bad enough to require a full-blown PT prescription. In that case, you can schedule a tune-up or two at CRR to help you get back to normal. 30 minute tune-ups cost $60 each, and while that may not be free, it is most CERTAINLY cheaper than a PT appointment, which generally bill your insurance company for around $350 for an hour. If your plan doesn’t offer a co-pay on PT–I haven’t had a co-pay on PT appointments in years–and you haven’t met your deductible, you’ll probably on the hook for a good $150 of that. And remember, an hour of PT usually comes out to 30 minutes of hands-on work and 30 minutes of you doing supervised exercises. If your injury is more severe, however, CRR can provide you with a doctor recommendation. If you’ve ever attempted to navigate the process of finding a doctor on your own, you should know how helpful having someone who knows what they’re talking about can be. If your doctor determines you need physical therapy, CRR now has a physical therapy arm, Impact PT, that can take care of you if you’d like to continue seeing the same people who started this journey with you.

After my run with Keelan, I had the chance to check out all of the recovery tools available at CRR. If you don’t need a tune-up or an injury screen, CRR can still be a huge help to you in your day-to-day training life. You can buy a day pass, a 10-pack of day passes, or a month-to-month membership. CRR has every recovery tool you can imagine, from accessories you see in PT clinics (Therabands, etc.) to every foam roller under the sun to NormaTec boots, which I am convinced are magic.

CRR has NormaTec compression technology for your legs, hips, and arms. You zip yourself up into whichever method you choose, then turn on a machine that uses air pressure to create compression. I only tried the boots, so I can’t speak for the hip or arm devices, but the boots start at the bottom of your legs by your feet and slowly work their way up, slowly adding pressure and releasing pressure in a way that’s designed to encourage blood flow to help your muscles recover. You sit in the boots for 20-30 minutes, and then continue about your day. I found the experience to be slightly uncomfortable at first, but I got used to it very quickly and was bummed when my session ended!

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I finished my time at CRR with a seven minute ice bath. I’m no stranger to ice baths, but this was a whole different ball game. CRR has a tub that maintains a constant temperatures at 51 degrees, so unlike an ice bath in your bathtub at home, which starts out cold and warms up quickly as your body heat melts all the ice, this ice bath starts cold and stays cold. I wasn’t brave enough to go all the way in, but that’s okay – you can sit on the edge of the tub and just put your legs in if you prefer.

I went to CRR when I was still having pain on a semi-regular basis in my left knee. I had actually run four miles to get to the facility, and when I finished that four miler, my knee was definitely whining. When I left CRR, however, my knee felt perfectly normal for the first time in weeks. That alone was enough to convince me that these recovery tools aren’t just a bunch of talk–they really work.

I left CRR beyond impressed with their facility and the purpose they serve for local athletes. Out of everything I’ve ever reviewed for this blog, CRR is far and away the one I’d recommend most highly. I think anyone, even a turtle like me, can really benefit from what they have to offer. If you’re an athlete in any capacity, this place should be on your radar.

Total Body Ninja at CrossTown Fitness

I attended a free Total Body Ninja class as part of a media event. All opinions are my own.

I’ve taken several classes at CrossTown Fitness over the years: an excursion run class, a regular run class, a couple of their standard Total Body classes. While the content and structure of the each class differed from others I had taken, one thing remained the same: I always left feeling like I had gotten in a good workout. During the Total Body Run class I took a couple months ago, Kiersten, our instructor, noted how with the addition of Total Body Run, CrossTown had really rounded out its offerings, making it a place where you could work on your cardio, your strength, or both at one of its staple classes. I thought that was a good point, and it didn’t cross my mind that there could be an aspect of fitness or training to which CrossTown’s offerings didn’t cater.

Then, I few weeks later, CrossTown contacted me regarding its newest class: Total Body Ninja. I stood corrected!

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I was intrigued by this class from the moment I heard about it. I’ve caught a handful of American Ninja Warrior episodes over the years and always thought the obstacle courses featured on the show looked cool, but not like anything I’d ever have the opportunity to try in any capacity. Turns out, if you attend CrossTown’s newest class, that’s no longer true.

Total Body Ninja classes take place at Junior Ninja Warriors Chicago, an obstacle course-focused gym in Irving Park that primarily caters to kids and teenagers. A couple nights per week, however, the gym partners up with CrossTown, and us grownups get to play instead.

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Based on my experience, though, “play” might not be the right word for what you do during Total Body Ninja. “Work” seems more appropriate. My class, led by Amy with assistance from Jarred and Junior Ninja Warriors’ manager of course operations Ethan (who has competed on three seasons of American Ninja Warrior), started with a dynamic warmup that led into an 18-minute AMRAP circuit that combined traditional strength training with the obstacles at the gym. We started on a rocking balance beam and slackline, then moved onto the warp wall, where you tried the lowest level (on the far left) first, then the second level, then the third (if you were braver and stronger than I am, that is.)

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After the warp wall it was on to box jumps, followed by walking on gigantic “logs” from point A to point B, and then point B to point C. After the log roll came monkey bars that first ascended, then descended, followed by med ball slams, and then we moved on to bouldering across a low rock wall. I don’t remember the name of the next obstacle, but it involved hanging from a bar and using momentum you build up from swinging your legs to propel yourself to the next bar, and the bar after that. The circuit concluded with farmer carries with kettlebells. We needed to do the strength based exercises (the med ball slams and box jumps) 10 times, and the obstacles one to three times. In 18 minutes, I got through one full round and two additional circuit stops. The workout was no joke!

After our AMRAP ended, we had 30 minutes or so to play around on the other equipment in the gym. To my great surprise, the obstacle I enjoyed the most (and found to be the easiest, somehow?!) was what I believe is called the Jumping Spider on American Ninja Warrior. To do the obstacle, you run and jump on the springboard in the picture below to propel yourself onto the plexiglass walls, where you brace yourself with your arms and legs and scoot forward without falling to the ground.

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If you still don’t know what I’m talking about, this (through :55) should help:

To be honest, I really only wanted to do the Jumping Spider because the springboard reminded me of the springboards gymnasts use to get on the vault, balance beam, etc., and since I wanted to be a gymnast as a kid, the opportunity to use any equipment similar to theirs appealed to me. But then I ended up really enjoying the obstacle, which was a nice surprise!

I was really intimidated by the warp wall, but to my great surprise, I loved that obstacle as well! I was terrified of falling down, but I made it to the top every time I tried. I don’t think I could’ve made it past the green wall, because I was usually reaching to get to the top of that one, but I felt really accomplished making it up to the top three times!

The arm based obstacles, however, were an entirely different story. Since I am apparently entirely lacking in either grip strength or the ability to tolerate pain in my hands, I was NOT good at anything that involved hanging. I couldn’t make it anywhere on the monkey bars, for example, though for me, that just made it all the more impressive to see others get across.

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I had such a great time at Total Body Ninja, and while I think it would be a great option for anyone looking to work on functional strength training, I think it would be an ESPECIALLY great class to take if you have an obstacle course race coming up. Granted, there’s no mud in the gym, but where else are you going to find monkey bars, a warp wall, cargo nets, and ropes all in one place?

Right now, the 60-minute class takes place on Sundays at 6:45 p.m., Tuesdays at 10 a.m. and 12 p.m., Wednesdays at 7:15 p.m. and 8:15 p.m., Thursdays at 7:15 p.m. and 8:15 p.m., and Saturdays at 7:15 a.m. and 8:15 a.m. You can (and should) check CrossTown’s schedule, though, to stay up to date on the latest schedule (and sign up for a class!). I really enjoyed it, and think it was a fantastic way to do something fun and different for a workout!

Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K Race Recap

As I am now just over two months out from my fifth anniversary of living in Chicago, this year will mark my fifth iteration of most of my annual events, including the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K.

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Though I didn’t particularly consider this going into the race, I think Shamrock gives me the ideal opportunity to test my running fitness for the spring season. Shamrock has never been my goal race for the spring, but regardless tends to be my first race of the spring, and since the weather is fairly similar year to year, and the course hasn’t changed at all since 2014, it gives me a really great chance to see how my winter training has paid off thus far and compare my current fitness level to where I was around this time in previous years.

We really couldn’t have hoped for better weather for the race this year, with temperatures in the 50s, overcast skies, and barely any wind. It did spit on us for a couple minutes during the race, but the rain was so light and lasted for such a short period of time that I wasn’t even entirely sure it rained at all until I checked with others who ran the race afterwards, who confirmed feeling drops as well.

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I got the race around 7:50 and, after a much needed portapotty trip, headed into my corral to wait around for the start. I have to say, my least favorite part about large races continues to be the necessity to get to your corral so long before a race actually takes off. I understand why we have to be in our corrals early, because having 20,000 people try to get into their corrals with two minutes until the starting gun would be a nightmare, but all that standing around time waiting for the race to begin always drives me crazy.

Anyway, I started about 10 minutes after the elites took off. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect out of the race this year. A PR seemed unlikely, given my training and grave lack of speed work. I did a four mile pace run on Wednesday at my ideal half marathon pace (emphasis on “ideal,”) where I averaged a 9:02 mile and basically felt like I would fall over dead when I finished. I hoped the pack mentality of running a large race would pull me along on Sunday, since historically I’ve run Shamrock at well under a 9:00 pace.

I hit the first mile in 8:34, which seemed reasonable to me, and tried to hold onto that pace for the next 3.97 miles. I came through mile two a little quicker but was right back to where I hoped to be by mile three. Soon after I crossed mile three, the wheels threatened to fall off. I’ve never bonked anything shorter than 10 miles, but I felt dangerously close to bonking on the stretch down Franklin and, even more so, after coming up the hill and turning onto Roosevelt. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, my legs didn’t seem to want to move, and I had a feeling I was going to log my first ever 9:xx mile during Shamrock.

Well, somehow I managed to avoid that, and came through mile four at just about the same pace I had run all along. Up to that point, I had only looked at my mile splits on my watch (I manually lapped my watch at the mile markers, since I know my watch gets all confused running downtown). I had a bad feeling I would log a personal worse at Shamrock and was almost positive I’d run a 43:xx this year, until I glanced at my overall time near the end of the course’s path down Michigan Ave. I was quite pleasantly surprised to see that my watch read 38:xx, and, given that I only had a small stretch of Michigan left, figured I could certainly finish in less than five minutes, and could possibly break 42:00 as well.

I ended up running at 42:01, which I think is the smallest margin by which I’ve ever missed a time goal I established for myself. While this was 30 seconds off my PR, it was also almost an entire minute faster than my personal worst (established, to be fair, on the day when it was SO WINDY) and ranks as #3 out of my Shamrock times. Not too shabby!

Overall, I’m fairly happy with how everything went at Shamrock, and I stand by my claim that this race is the ideal way to measure my current fitness level. I ran my fastest two Shamrocks in 41:3x, and at both of those races, I had 1) been training hard for six weeks or so and 2) was doing consistent speed work during my training. While I think this means my sub-2:00 goal for my half marathon in a few weeks is all but dead (I set my half marathon PR of 2:02:50 the week after running one of those 41:3x Shamrocks), I think I may be in better shape than I suspected, which is nice to know. Of course, the weather could change dramatically between now and three weeks from now, and that could have a major impact on my speed as well, but I’m hopeful that even though sub-2:00 may be out of my reach, I could possibly run a sub-2:10 half marathon. I’ve only done that twice before, so even if I can’t break 2:00, I’d be quite happy to run a sub-2:10 half as well.

I really enjoy Shamrock, and I hope the race continues on. I was floored to look up my results on Monday morning and see that the race only had 19,995 finishers this year :/ While they did add an untimed walk this year (untimed meaning no results, meaning I don’t know how many people participated in that), that’s such a dramatic decrease in finishers from past years. When I ran in 2013, there were 33,257 finishers – 40% more people. I assume the race must still be profitable, because I sincerely doubt it would still exist if it weren’t, but YIKES. I mean, I don’t care at all if there are fewer people running the race. It makes it less crowded and less of a headache. I just hope the Bank of America agrees with me!

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