St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville Half Marathon Race Recap

Hottest. Hilliest. Race. Ever.

rnrnasvhillegoodiebag

Late last year, I took advantage of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s annual crazy insane sale, when you can register for their races at the lowest price of the year. I signed up for three Rock ‘n’ Roll races during that promotion, one of which was the St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in Nashville. I’ve been a country music fan since middle school and have wanted to visit Nashville for years, so this seemed like a good event to sign up for (ignoring, of course, the fact that I was running another half marathon one week before.)

I started looking at the race day forecast last Monday, and was quite distressed, to say the least, when I saw that Weather Underground was predicting a high of 89 on race day. I’ve run in all sorts of miserable weather before, and I’ve run long distances in miserable weather during marathon season, but this, as you may have noticed, is not marathon season, nor is it the armpit of summer in Chicago. We’ve had a warm day or two, but it has certainly not been hot, and it must definitely has not been humid, since sometime last summer or fall. Even though I often tried to overdress on my runs this winter to prepare myself for warm race conditions, no amount of overdressing could possibly mimic a half marathon 89 degrees when the actual outdoor temperature is closer to, you know, 20.

On Monday evening, I received an email from Rock ‘n’ Roll, advising runners to check their start times because the race had adjusted as a result of the forecast, moving the half marathon up from the original scheduled time of 7:30 to 6:45 a.m. (ouch). I was SHOCKED. I’ve run more than 55 races in my life at this point, and never once has a single race ever, ever adjusted its start time due to the forecast (or even current conditions). I’ve never even had a marathon training long run adjusted due to the weather. I was SO surprised to see Rock ‘n’ Roll do that.

It was, without a doubt, quite toasty when I arrived in Nashville Friday afternoon. I quickly remembered how much I loathe being hot and sweaty on the way to the expo! After retrieving my packet, it was back to the hotel for a very quiet and very early night in.

I stayed at the Sheraton, which was one of the hotels that partnered with the race. In addition to serving pasta for dinner on Friday night, the hotel also had a FANTASTIC spread out for runners on Saturday morning with bagels (wheat and white), orange juice, water, coffee, a toaster, peanut butter, regular butter, cream cheese, and other options I didn’t notice because I was too busy being happy about the bagel + peanut butter + orange juice situation. Even if I’m not spending the night before a race at my house, I always bring all of my own food for race morning, but I had forgotten to make any toast for myself before leaving for Nashville. I was totally panicked about what I would eat Saturday morning, and it was a HUGE relief to have almost all of my usual food made available to me by the hotel.

sheratonnashvilleview

The view from the room, also, did not suck.

To be honest, it didn’t feel too bad walking out of the hotel Saturday morning…if my plan had been to sit around and not do anything all day. That, obviously, was not the plan, since I had 13.1 miles to cover. Fortunately, it was overcast at the start (that didn’t last long, though), so I wasn’t a puddle of sweat before we even started running. After navigating the longest portapotty lines of all time, I got into my corral, and 20 minutes or so after the race began, took off.

rnrnashville1

I, admittedly, have not run very many races outside of Chicago, and consequently, have not run many races with hills. But OH. MY. GOSH. Nashville was bonkers. Even if you took the weather out of the occasion, I think this race still would’ve been a struggle. It felt like the ENTIRE course was either uphill or downhill. There was a stretch maybe a mile long or so in the 10ish mile area that was flat, but everything else was up and down. I tried to work as many hills on the Lakefront into my training as possible, but nothing could’ve ever prepared me adequately for what Nashville’s course had in store.

unionstationhotelnashville

I was obsessed with this building, the Union Station Hotel. I spent most of my time waiting in my corral staring at this beauty.

Since I’ve never been to Nashville before, I wasn’t particularly familiar with the city to begin with, so I wasn’t really sure where exactly we were running. We started on Broadway and ran through the stretch of all the honky tonks to begin with, and then wound around…other neighborhoods. Haha. I did feel like we got a good tour of Nashville, though, since we definitely saw all sorts of places! Most of the neighborhoods were interesting, too, with only one stretch (the flat stretch towards the end) feeling a little on the boring side.

Another thing I have to mention is the amazing crowd support this race had. Outside of the Chicago Marathon, I don’t think I’ve ever run a race that had such consistent crowd support from start to finish. I was so impressed, and it really helped keep my mood up, which was certainly key to surviving a race day like Saturday! It was 75 degrees before the sun came up when my alarm went off at 5:15, and by the time I finished it was in the mid 80s, so any bit of help was much appreciated that day.

My only goal for this entire race–A goal, B goal, C goal, Z goal–was to finish alive, so I threw all my normal race day strategies out the window. I walked whenever I wanted to, not following any sort of run:walk ratio or forcing myself to run to a certain point in the race before walking. I walked up hills when I felt like it and ran up them when I felt like it. I started throwing water in my face and dumping it over my head probably around mile three or so. I fueled when I was hungry, not only at miles 5 and 10 like usual (it ended up being miles 5 and 8). I fully expected to have my slowest half marathon time ever even before the race began, so I paid no attention to my watch whatsoever. I ended up crossing the finish line in 2:40:53, a full 30 minutes slower than the week before and a personal worst by 15 minutes (dethroning Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago 2015, my previous personal worst, also on a ridiculously hot day). Nevertheless, I still finished in the top half of women, and just narrowly missed finishing in the top half of my age group. If that doesn’t show you how terrible race day was, I don’t know what will.

This race should’ve been the worst experience of my running life thus far by all accounts. I was in no way prepared for the heat nor the hills, and I had an absolutely miserable finish time. But it wasn’t the worst experience. Not by a long shot. Having no expectations made this race infinitely more bearable, and while I can’t necessarily say that I’ll do it again, I’m certainly glad I did it at least once.

rnrmedalnashville

(p.s. how AWESOME is this medal?! You can’t tell super well from the picture, but it lights up under where it says Nashville!! This is easily my favorite medal in my collection to date.)

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!

juniorninjawarriorschicago

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.

jnwcourserules

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.)

jnw-warpwall

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.

jnw-1

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.

jnw-2

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!

Christie Clinic Illinois Half Marathon Race Recap

Picking up where I left off after the 5K on Friday night…

While the 5K kicks things off during Illinois Marathon weekend, the main event is Saturday morning, which features the 10K, half marathon and full marathon. Months ago, I decided the half marathon would be my goal race for the spring, and initially hoped to break 2:00 for the first time. I changed my mind on that after a lackluster training cycle, and instead went into the race with the ultimate goal of breaking 2:10, but the more realistic goal of staying under 2:15.

illinoishalfgoodiebag

The weather Saturday morning was almost as perfect as you could possibly hope for for a race. With a cloudy sky and temperatures in the 40s, the only weather-realted concern I had for the race came from the wind, which hadn’t really died down overnight like I had hoped it would. When I arrived on campus Saturday morning, AccuWeather said the current conditions included wind speeds of 18 mph, with gusts in the 20+ range. Oof.

This race, unlike Friday’s, had gear check, so I deposited my bag filled with post-race clothes with the gear check volunteers and headed off towards the start line. As a side note, the race is point-to-point, technically, but barely. The race begins a few blocks away from Memorial Stadium and ends inside the stadium, so while the start and finish lines aren’t the same, they’re close enough to each other that it’s easy to find a place to park between the two. To my surprise, even though the start and finish lines were so close together, gear check was still done in a way I’ve always known as Boston-style, which means your gear gets put on a vehicle and driven to the finish line. While I don’t think this was entirely necessary, given the proximity of the start and finish line, I most certainly appreciated the extra effort!

illinoishalfprerace

The marathon and half marathon start together at this race, while the 10K starts after all the full and half runners have taken off. The full and half courses are the same for almost the entire duration of the half marathon, with the full marathoners taking a right at about mile 12.5 while us half marathoners took a left. Because the courses are the same, the race only has marathon pacers (presuming–fairly, I’d say–that you can pace yourself for the last .6 miles you’ll need to run alone). The pacers held signs that had both their overall marathon time and minute/mile pace on them, which I thought was very helpful. Because I am perhaps the worst self-pacer in the history of running, I decided that it’d be in my best interest to at least start with a pace group. I found the 4:30 (10:18 minute/mile) pacer in my corral and awkwardly hung around his group during the national anthem and another round of Happy Birthday, and ran with them through the start line.

Maybe a quarter mile into the race, I heard someone behind me say, “She’ll probably be wearing short sleeves or a tank top and arm bands. There she is! Right there in purple!” Since I was wearing both purple and arm sleeves, I assumed this voice was talking about me, so I looked over my shoulder and lo and behold: there were my CARA group leaders again! This time, they were accompanied by a girl who had trained with them for the full marathon over the winter. I hadn’t originally planned to run with my CARA group leaders at all, really, never mind during both the 5K and the half, but since they found me and I had such a good time running with them Friday night, I was more than happy to hang with them.Four summers of running with CARA taught me that one of my CARA group leaders in particular is a FANTASTIC pacer, so I gave up my plans of sticking with the race’s 10:18 pacer as soon as we passed him and figured I’d just run with my friends instead, especially since I trusted them to maintain a steady pace.

The course was a bit hillier than I anticipated, by which I mean it wasn’t the Lakefront Trail, which features exactly zero elevation changes between its northernmost point and the south side of Navy Pier, and I think no more than four elevation changes after that. I wasn’t too bothered, though, since I had company and one of my group leaders was particularly chatty that morning. I had a good laugh at mile two or so, where a family was set up with the flag of Finland, a sign that said “Finnish Line,” and kept cheering, “You’ve made it to the Finnish!” I’ve run more than 50 races in the past six years, and somehow no one has ever come up with that joke for any other race I’ve done. I was so amused and very much appreciated the creativity!

We wound through Urbana and the miles just ticked by. Our pace felt comfortable, and I really only used my watch to check where we were in terms of distance so I could time my Honey Stinger chew consumption with water stations. I was pretty unaware of how fast or slow we were running and didn’t really care. Since we had long ago passed the 4:30 pacer I figured I was more or less on target to get close enough to 2:10 to be happy, but honestly, I had stopped feeling all that concerned with my finish time by mile four. I decided that if I needed to choose between running with my friends and breaking 2:10, I was going to pick running with my friends. I care about my finish times, most certainly, but at the end of the day, I run because it makes me happy, and the social aspect of running is one of the things that contributes to my happiness.

On and on through Urbana we ran, through a subdivision, through a neighborhood, and finally to a park where we all got squished onto a wide path rather than having the entire street to ourselves. Erin had previously warned me not to waste my energy bobbing and weaving through the newly-crowded course, and I’m really glad I knew that was coming, because I think the sudden congestion would’ve frustrated me otherwise. It was a little trickier running with four of us through the park, but we were able to make it work by dropping down to single file or two abreast when possible.

As we came out of the park, I saw a little boy with his dad and sister on the side of the street, holding up a sign that was just scribbles in gold marker. I thought it was seriously the cutest thing EVER. He was so enthusiastic about it, too! Beyond precious.

We got back into U of I’s campus and had a FANTASTIC tailwind while we ran east (which was the majority of the last few miles of the half). I was feeling really good, one of my group leaders said we were averaging a perfect 10:00 pace up to that point, and when I looked at my watch, I thought I might still have a chance at breaking 2:10, especially since I had a lot of energy and not much race left to run. I told the group this around mile 12.25 and bid them farewell.

I was FLYING past people for the last mile, having run fairly conservatively up to that point. I had a little less than 10 minutes to get to the finish (including that pesky last .1 miles) and figured as long as I could keep up a 10:00 pace, I’d be ok. There are some weird turns and lots of corners in the last part of the race, but fortunately nothing too intense. My watch turned over to 2:10 as I was coming down the ramp that leads to Memorial Stadium, so I knew I wouldn’t break 2:10 anymore, but I wanted to get as close as I could. I ran hard through the finish line and came across with an official time of 2:10:22.

I don’t think I’ve ever been less disappointed to just miss out on a time goal. In the past, I’ve beat myself up over missing a goal by so little, but honestly, I had SUCH a good time running that I didn’t even care. Besides, that was still my third fastest half marathon ever, so I can’t really complain.

After refueling with ALL OF THE FOOD (pizza, pasta, rolls, cookies, bananas, more Nature Valley bars: 10/10 to this event on the post-race food) and retrieving my gear inside the stadium, I headed outside to continue celebrating Illinois’ birthday with more cake.

illinoishalfcake

Best post-race party ever.

One half marathon down, one to go! Right now, the forecast for my half on Saturday calls for a high of 89 (gulp), so the goal for that race will be to survive and not die of dehydration. No time goals, no performance goals, just survival, because I haven’t even SEEN 89 degrees since last marathon season, never mind run in it, never mind run a half marathon in it. Walking will likely be involved, but that’s okay. I had such a great time, both literally and figuratively, this weekend, that I’ll be happy to take it easy on Saturday.

illinoishalfmedals

Presence Health 5K Race Recap

I’ve had my eye on the Illinois Half Marathon for years, and finally decided to pull the trigger on running it this year. Though the half marathon (along with a full marathon and 10K) take place Saturday morning, race weekend kicks off Friday night with the Presence Health 5K. Those who run the 5K Friday night along with any of Saturday’s races are I-Challenge participants, and wear special bibs along with receiving an extra medal. Since I was traveling to Champaign anyway, I figured I may as well go big or go home, so I ran the 5K Saturday night.

I’ve run two races in a weekend before when I did the Rock ‘n’ Roll Remix Challenge in Chicago in 2015, but at that challenge, both races take place in the morning, giving you almost 24 hours between events. With the I-Challenge, the 5K starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday, meaning you have less than 12 hours between races. Considering that the Illinois Half was going to be my first half marathon of the year, I was a little nervous about doing a 5K so soon before the race. I usually take 5Ks far too seriously, and though I didn’t think I’d be at risk for soreness the following morning from doing a 5K the night before, I also didn’t want to blow through too much of my energy when I had a much bigger race coming up in 12 hours.

IMG_1249

It was fairly chilly and extremely windy in Champaign Friday night, and I nearly exploded with outrage when I found out the 5K race doesn’t offer gear check. Maybe I’m too used to running in the city, where few people drive to an event and therefore don’t have a car to store their stuff during a race, but I could NOT believe that the 5K didn’t offer gear check. Fortunately, I had a ride to the race, so we could sit in the car until the last minute to avoid shivering too much, but finding out there was no gear check totally threw off the whole plan for the race, and I was really, really annoyed by it.

I had several friends running the 5K, and conveniently we all ended up in corral B. We all managed to meet up and hung out together waiting for the race to start, and after the national anthem and a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday (it’s the University of Illinois’ 150th anniversary this year, and the race took that fact and RAN WITH IT), we were off.

Like I said, I normally take 5Ks far too seriously and am on the verge of death when I cross the finish line. I really, really didn’t want to do that on Friday, but I also didn’t trust myself to run slowly on my own. Conveniently, two of my CARA group leaders were also doing the I-Challenge (though they were doing the full marathon, not the half), and we all ended up running the 5K together. The course is entirely through campus (I think? I had a hard time telling what was considered “on campus” at U of I. At my college, “on campus” meant “a building owned by the school.” Everything else, regardless of proximity to said buildings owned by the school, was “off campus.” So I don’t know if Green Street counts as being on campus or not.), and since my group leaders are both U of I alum, they told me all about the various shenanigans they got into in the locations we ran past.

At about mile 2.8, one of my group leaders stopped to walk with a little boy who seemed to be struggling, and then my other group leader stopped to walk with them as well, so I was on my own. I ran into Memorial Stadium and crossed the finish line on the football field in 29:28.

Considering I usually run 5Ks in the high 24/low 25 range, that was easily one of my slowest 5Ks to date. But honestly, it was, without even the tiniest bit of a question, the most fun I’ve EVER had in a 5K. Normally I kill myself over those races and hate every single second of it trying to run as fast as I possibly can. This time, I took it easy, hung out with friends I haven’t really chatted with since last marathon season, and had an absolutely wonderful time. While I certainly don’t plan to take that approach for all future 5Ks (I do like running fast times, after all), it was SUCH a welcome change and the perfect way to shake out my legs before the half on Saturday.

There was an abundance of food for runners inside Memorial Stadium after the race (bananas, Nature Valley bars, Jimmy John’s), and the post-race party outside the stadium had free craft beer for runners and CAKE (!!) from Meijer (be still my heart!) to celebrate U if I’s 150th birthday. I skipped the beer, per usual, but you better believe I had cake 🙂

After the party, it was off to Noodles and Company on Green Street for carb loading, and then back to the hotel to turn in for the night before the half. Recap of that coming tomorrow!

IMG_1252

Thursday Things

1. I haven’t even started my seemingly endless upcoming travels, and I’m already stressing about travel plans for next year.

For years and years, I’ve dreamed of visiting the Netherlands. I’m half Dutch, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned plenty of times before, and having been born and raised in the excessively Dutch culture that is West Michigan, I’ve always had a bit of an interest in the Netherlands. In 2014 or 2015, I believe, I decided that I was an adult, darn it, and if I wanted to go to the Netherlands, I could make that happen. Since I’m particularly interested in seeing the tulips while they’re blooming in the Netherlands, that meant I really could only travel at the end of April. Initially, I planned to go in April 2017 (i.e.: like right now), but then conflict after conflict after conflict came up, so by Thanksgiving of last year, I had already decided to delay my trip until April 2018.

Then, when I got home from work on Monday, I discovered a save the date for a wedding. I had suspected I’d be invited, and had heard a few months ago from the bride’s sister that the couple was planning on a destination wedding. I had forgotten all of that information until I saw the save the date, which announced that the wedding would take place in Punta Cana on…April 20, 2018, which you may notice is “like right now” in 2018.

Needless to say, that put a monkey wrench in my Netherlands plan. On the wedding attendance continuum of “required” to “you only invited me because I asked about how wedding planning was going as a way of making conversation, which you quite mistakenly took as me having any interest whatsoever in flying across the country to see you marry someone I’ve never met,” I’d put this particular event at, “recommended, but not required.” So while I’m not certainly going, I expect that I’ll be going, unless something dramatic happens between now and then. This leaves me with two options: getting a whole lotta passport stamps in April of 2018, or delaying my Netherlands trip by another year, again

I’m definitely leaning towards the “getting a whole lotta passport stamps” option at the moment. I’m tired of putting off visiting the Netherlands, and the more I put it off, the less I believe I’m ever going to actually go through with it when it’s still reasonably easy to do so. I’m not sure I’m particularly interested in traveling to multiple countries over the course of three weeks (because my ideal Netherlands itinerary also includes a couple days in London and traveling to London by train, which would cross Belgium and France off my list of countries I’ve been in as well), but I don’t think I’m 100% opposed to it, either (except for the hours and hours of flying that all of this will entail, but I’m always 100% opposed to flying, given that my happy place is, “anywhere where there is solid ground under my feet, or very easily accessible by my feet.” Haha.). We’ll see how everything shakes out, I guess.

2. Speaking of weddings, I have a wedding in two weeks that’s a destination for me, but not for the couple, since they’re getting married where they live. This wedding is for family, and close family at that, so it definitely lands on the “required” end of the wedding attendance continuum. Anyway, the issue is not that I have to go to this wedding. The issue is that I don’t have a dress to wear to this wedding, nor do I have time to get a dress between now and two weeks from now.

I initially planned on doing Rent the Runway like the good blogger I am, until I realized that Rent the Runway isn’t even half as cheap as I was led to believe (I expected Rent the Runway to be, like, a $30 experience, so when I found out the absolute least amount of money I could spend for an eight day rental [which I have to do, since I’ll be out of town for the wedding for four days] was nearly $70 once you included shipping, insurance, etc., AND the only dress I really liked only came in one size, I became severely uninterested), and further talked myself out of it by remembering every harrowing dressing room experience of my past, when I’ve pulled a dress off a hanger that claimed to be my size only to find it 1) didn’t fit, period or 2) didn’t fit well.

So now I don’t know what to do. I could wear a dress I already own, obviously, and realistically that’s probably what will end up happening, since I didn’t bother to seriously think about any of this until Monday. But I don’t have any dresses that I feel are wedding appropriate. I did this exact same thing the last time I went to a wedding, and ended up wearing a dress I bought from Old Navy like four years ago that got the job done, but it’s like 100% cotton, and I felt so underdressed compared to everyone else. That’s really all I own in the dress department, other than super fancy dresses that would definitely be over the top for a wedding that recommended cocktail attire. I suppose this should be a lesson to me that I should have a cocktail-y wedding appropriate dress on hand for these (or similar) occasions, but man, even the shame of feeling underdressed isn’t enough to make me want to go not just clothes shopping but dress shopping, which is the very worst kind of shopping as far as I’m concerned.

3. My health woes continue, and to say I’m frustrated would be quite the understatement.

To recap, a timeline:

  • Feb. 25: Acquire sore throat, swollen lymph nodes in neck, and white streaks on tonsils.
  • Feb. 27: Go to doctor for aforementioned symptoms, leave with a diagnosis of, “Close enough to strep to call it strep,” get prescription for azithromycin (five days).
  • March 3: Notice recurring cyst has flared up on leg for the first time in five and a half years. Get annoyed, and increasingly uncomfortable throughout the day. Take last dose of azithromycin.
  • March 4: Notice said cyst has caused substantial swelling in the area. Panic. Visit urgent care. Leave with diagnosis of infected cyst and instructions to follow up with a general surgeon for removal. Get prescription for clindamycin (seven days).
  • March 7: Visit general surgeon. Learn that what I had been calling a cyst is not actually a cyst. Leave with diagnosis of, “Maybe MRSA, maybe an ingrown hair, maybe hidradenitis,” and instructions to return if/when it flares up again.
  • March 12: Take last dose of clindamycin, praise the Lord on high that I’m finally done with 11 straight days of antibiotics.
  • March 25: Notice throat feels off, though not quite sore.
  • March 30: Upgrade self-diagnosis of throat from “off” to “sore.”
  • April 7: Visit doctor re: sore throat. Get swabbed six ways from Sunday (ok, fine, twice.) Get a negative rapid strep A result. Have second swab sent off to the lab for further investigation. Get prescription of azithromycin with instructions to wait to fill it until lab results have come back.
  • April 10: All lab results return negative. Still have sore throat. Instructed to take azithromycin anyway (five days).
  • April 11: Begin taking azithromycin. Sore throat heals within hours.
  • April 13: Notice recurring not-cyst has flared once again. Use critical thinking skills acquired from liberal arts education/life in general to think there’s no way it’s just coincidental that this not-cyst, which hadn’t bothered me once since 2011, has now appeared twice in six weeks, both times while on a course of azithromycin. Email doctor with my hypothesis.
  • April 13, approximately two seconds after sending email: Discover doctor is on vacation until April 24, because of course she is.
  • April 15: Take last dose of azithromycin. Praise the Lord on high again, because this round of azithromycin was meaner than the first and consistently left me with crushing nausea for 15-20 minutes about 90 minutes after each dose.
  • April 17: Have nothing to do at work. Set about self-diagnosing with MRSA. Panic.  Call the surgeon, only to learn that the surgeon, who only works on Tuesdays, has no openings on April 18, due to his vacation the previous week. Am told to schedule an appointment for April 25, even though I know from past experience that the not-cyst will long since have healed by that point, meaning there will be nothing available to culture. Schedule appointment anyway.
  • April 17, approximately an hour later: Text my long-suffering mother. Decide to see if I can get in to my doctor’s practice and see a different doctor. Call doctor’s practice. Learn that the office is super booked due to my doctor being out. Manage to sneak in a 4:30 appointment with a different doctor the following day.
  • April 18: Visit different doctor. Recount the entire timeline to him. Doctor expresses doubt over hidradenitis theory and also doubts that a culture will show anything, due to a lack of culturable material coming from what has now been labeled as a boil (culturable material meaning pus. Attractive, I know.). Takes a culture anyway. Asks if I’ve seen a dermatologist about this (no). Asks if I could go see the dermatologist upstairs about it right now (ok, but only if they’re in network, and I do need to be somewhere at 6:30). Learns the dermatologist can see me immediately. Sends me upstairs.
  • April 18, two minutes later: Visit dermatologist. Recount entire timeline to 1) medical assistant 2) physician’s assistant 3) dermatologist. Mentally note how both the PA and dermatologist are significantly less socially awkward than my current dermatologist and file away that information for my annual skin check next year. Learn roughly no new information re: the boil, other than that it exists (duh) and does not appear to be culturable at the moment (also duh). Dermatologist says it could be MRSA, based on how my endless rounds of antibiotics earlier hadn’t prevented this, threatens me with sulfa oral antibiotics that “will be really hard on your stomach.” Throws minor temper tantrum (me, not the dermatologist). Dermatologist backs off oral antibiotic and suggests topical antibiotics and surgical-grade hand/body wash instead. Leave with instructions to return to dermatologist upon recurrence, with assurance that they will see me that day, no matter what, unless it’s a Friday because they close early on Fridays or a Saturday or a Sunday.

Here is an itemized list of the various things that bother me (and by “bother” I mean “make me want to tear my hair out and sob with frustration”):

  1. No one seems to see what to me is an obvious pattern here: sore throat -> azithromycin -> boil -> inconclusive non-diagnoses. This boil situation has happened, on and off, since I was like 10 (though it’s been entirely “off” since I was 20, at least until the past six weeks). I don’t know how ANYONE, never mind a trained medical professional, never mind MULTIPLE trained medical professionals, could hear me say, “Both times in the past six weeks that I’ve taken azithromycin, this boil has appeared, when it hadn’t appeared once in the past six years,” and not think to themselves, “I wonder if there’s some sort of connection here?” There has to be. I don’t see any way that there could not be. Nothing in life is that coincidental.
  2. If this is, indeed, MRSA, why has no one tested me for MRSA? From the exhaustive Googling I’ve done, I’ve learned that one in three people are carriers of staphylococcus aureus, the SA of MRSA (the MR coming from methicillin resistant), and that one to two in 100 people are carriers of MRSA. It lives, innocuously for the most part, in your nose (who knew!), but since you’re carrying it around at all times, it could lead to infection. Finding out if you’re a carrier is a simple as sticking a q-tip up someone’s nose and sending that off to a lab to see what happens. I’ve now had three q-tips stuck down my throat and one stuck in an open wound over the course of six weeks, so I don’t understand, especially when MRSA has now come up twice from two different doctors as a possibility, no one has bothered to even try to culture that, and instead are all up in arms over the lack of culturable material coming (or rather, not coming) from the boil.
  3. If this is, indeed, MRSA, why is no one taking it more seriously? Has the media completely blown the threat of MRSA wildly out of proportion, and it is, in fact, not the death sentence the news would have you believe?
  4. If this is, indeed, MRSA, why did it come back after I took a full course of clindamycin, which is one of the antibiotics to which MRSA is supposedly not resistant? The dermatologist’s theory that it could be MRSA came from the fact that I’ve taken all of these antibiotics–which, presumably, should be killing bacteria–and still got this boil. That’s all well and good, but 1) it’s not like all antibiotics are supposed to kill MRSA in the first place (like, for example, azithromycin, which is not indicated for MRSA treatment) and 2) it’s not like I was taking an antibiotic to which MRSA has known resistance, i.e.: methicillin. I don’t understand the thought process that goes, “You took a drug that doesn’t kill MRSA twice and now have a boil, therefore, it’s probably MRSA.” Of course, this doesn’t include the clindamycin episode, but everything did seem to go away after clindamycin. It didn’t come back until I took azithromycin again.
  5. And finally, perhaps my biggest frustration of all: why am I even getting these sore throats in the first place? I’ve had plenty of sore throats in my life, but every time I’ve ever had one, they’ve also been accompanied by a host of other issues: coughing, congestion, a fever, achiness, general malaise: your usual upper respiratory cold/flu lineup. I’ve never, until about two months ago, had a sore throat but otherwise felt completely fine. Now this has happened twice in six weeks. I firmly believe that the boil situation is 100% related to the azithromycin (though how, exactly, I haven’t figured out, unless the azithromycin throws off the balance of my body’s natural bacterial flora, allowing normally overpowered bacteria to prosper and cause infection…like, perhaps, staph and/or MRSA living in my nose. But that’s a theory that’s not even backed up by Google research, never mind an actual medical opinion, so I fully understand that I could be totally off in my understanding of how natural bacteria flora work. Further research is needed.), thus making the real issue my recurrent, unexplained sore throats, with the boil/skin infection being a secondary issue that arises due to the antibiotics I’ve taken for the primary issue.

It’s just all really, really aggravating. I’m throwing hundreds of dollars at all sorts of doctors, constantly having to leave work to go to appointments, and I feel like I’m not getting any answers or solutions out of any of this.

Gold star to you if you made it through this 2,400 word, picture-free missive.

Is cotton wedding appropriate? Please say yes.
Why is healthcare SO HARD? That’s a rhetorical question, but feel free to answer if you can.

 

Half Marathon Training Recap

I plan to run three races in the next 11 days, so before I inundate you with race recap after race recap, I thought I’d take a moment to recap my training.

trainingplan

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I decided to follow Hal Higdon’s HM 3 program for this training cycle, and if I ever want to reasonably (i.e.: not intensely) train for a half marathon again, this will definitely be my go-to program. It fit my schedule and style of running so well. I loved only having to run three days a week. The flexibility in particular was so nice. If the weather sucked on Monday or Wednesday, I could skip a run on that day and move it to Thursday instead. I also really appreciated having three days of cross training built into the program. That allowed me to do one day of dance, one day of yoga, and one day of strength training each week. I know I’ve said this several times in the past, but three days of running + one day of dance + one day of strength training + one day of yoga really is my fitness happy place. It makes me feel like I’m getting the right balance of various types of exercise, which for a long time was my primary fitness struggle: feeling like I was focusing too much on one thing at the expense of something else.

As for how training itself went? Overall, I think I did fairly well. I took a new approach to keeping track of my training program this year, putting everything in an Excel spreadsheet and crossing off workouts with black if I finished them as prescribed, or red if I altered them in some way (skipped the workout, reduced the workout, added to the workout). Out of the 79 workouts I’ve completed thus far (counting rest days as workouts), I altered nine of them for an 88.6% completion rate: a solid B+, I’d say. Most of those altered workouts were a result of the various bacterial infections I was dealt during a two-week period in February/March, so I’m not too upset with myself over missing those.

My worst workout, BY FAR, happened this past Saturday, which was not particularly great for building my confidence. My plan called for 10 miles, but I hoped to do 12. I hydrated poorly on Friday and slept in too late on Saturday, so by the time I finally got out the door around 9:30 or so that morning, it was already nearly 70 degrees, with not a cloud in the sky and a lot less water in reserve than I should have had. My first mile felt stilted and awkward, but that’s not entirely uncommon for the first mile of a long run. I figured my legs would work themselves out, and they did, but the rest of my body gave up at about the same time. I felt like I was on fire, and not in a good way. I had already decided to do 10 miles instead of 12, but by the time I turned around at mile five, I was already about to explode with frustration and grumpiness. Everything was hard, I was extremely uncomfortable, and I just hated absolutely everything. At mile 6.33, for the first time ever on a long run, I just gave up. Stopped right where I was, still in the middle of the Lakefront Trail and nowhere near a convenient exit, and quit. I felt a lot better (mentally, at least) after walking for a bit, but I had already thrown in the towel on that run and had absolutely no desire to start running again. I made my way to the CTA and went home.

Since I know (or at least am pretty sure) that I know why Saturday’s run went so poorly–high temperatures, poor preparation the day before, not enough sleep on Friday night or really any other night that week–I’m hoping that Saturday’s disaster of a long run was a fluke. While my 11 miler two Saturdays ago wasn’t particularly speedy (10:26 overall pace), it felt really comfortable and doable, which has helped keep my confidence from completely tanking (just partially tanking 😉 ). Right now, the forecast for this weekend calls for temperatures about 15 degrees cooler than last weekend, which also makes me feel a little better about how my half marathon could go. I’m still hoping for a sub-2:10 race, but a lot of things have come up in the health department over the past few weeks (I am, most frustratingly, apparently reliving the end of February/beginning of March, having, once again, come down with a sore throat that was immediately relieved by azithromycin, only to have my recurring leg infection flare up while I’m taking azithromycin. And, of course, my surgeon doesn’t have any availability until a week from today, and my doctor is on vacation until a week from yesterday. How dare these people be unavailable when I need them!), so I guess we’ll see what happens. To be honest, getting rid of whatever it is that keeps making me less-than-healthy for good is much higher on my priority list at the moment than a fast half marathon, so I’ll be happy to finish and even happier with whatever else I can do beyond that.

Also, because I want to document this for the entire world to see and consider: I’ve developed a new pet peeve throughout the course of this training cycle, and that pet peeve is pedestrians who cross intersections when there’s a green left turn arrow. I cannot BEGIN to tell you how many times I’ve stopped at an intersection with my fellow sidewalk users because traffic traveling perpendicular to my direction has the right of way at that moment in time (i.e.: they have the green light), only to have at least one, but often two or three, of them brazenly stroll out into the intersection after the cross traffic’s light has turned red but before our light has turned green (or white, as the case may be). Every. Single. Time. these above-the-law pedestrians get in the way of the cars who were traveling parallel to us, but need to turn left at that intersection and get a green arrow to turn left before traffic proceeding straight through the intersection (including pedestrian traffic) gets the green light, it slows down the WHOLE flow of traffic and drives me absolutely insane! The cars turning left have to wait for the pedestrians who don’t have the right of way, which then backs up all the other traffic when these left-turning cars get stuck in the middle of the intersection waiting for the pedestrian to get out of their way. That means there are still cars turning left when the rest of us get our green light, which slows everything down. It doesn’t even really impact me, because I’m not the driver trying to make a left turn in these situations, but I find it infuriating nevertheless. Those green arrows last for like 15 seconds. YOU CAN WAIT.

Thursday Things

1. Has anyone else seen this video?

I watched it on Sunday, and I have Thoughts that you, my poor, semi-captive audience, will now be subjected to.

In case you haven’t seen it, the basic premise of this video is that the girl, Michelle, has never run more than three miles at most at once. She (or BuzzFeed?) decides she wants to train for a marathon in 10 weeks. BuzzFeed hooks her up with a personal trainer, and 10 weeks later, she runs, **SPOILERS AHEAD** and finishes the L.A. Marathon, BQing by five minutes in the process, which, if you follow BQing, should be more than enough to get her an entry in 2018, should she want one.

Thought #1: I did not, for one second, actually think she’d make it through training. I was FLOORED that she not only made it through training without getting injured, but also made it through the entire marathon without blowing up. I mean, for goodness’ sake, she BQed! Most runners I know who’ve been doing this running thing for a very long time have never BQed!

Thought #2: I think this video is problematic on SO MANY LEVELS. I could write a thesis, I could do a dissertation, on the many ways in which I find this video problematic. Behold:

Problem #1: The implication that 10 weeks is a sufficient amount of time to train for a marathon.
I take so much issue with that implication, I’m personally offended by it. While I don’t think there’s anything magical about training for a marathon in 18 weeks like I’ve done over the past four marathon seasons (with the arguable exception of last year, when I ran a marathon during week 15 of Chicago Marathon training), I think those eight weeks you’re losing are pretty damn significant. Which eight weeks are you going to shave off? Your cutback weeks (of which there are only five, plus taper, to begin with during an 18 week program)? The first eight weeks of building? The final eight weeks of your highest mileage plus taper? If I took a serious, critical look at my marathon training schedule, I would feel comfortable skipping the first three weeks IF–gigantic, neon sign, IF–I had a really, really solid base going into marathon training and knew that I could easily do a nine mile run. Heck, I would say that I have a solid base right now, at this exact moment in time, since I’ve been half marathon training since the end of January, and I STILL wouldn’t feel comfortable signing up for Grandma’s Marathon (which is just about 10 weeks from now).

Problem #2: The implication that 10 weeks is a sufficient amount of time for train for a marathon if the longest distance you have previously run in your life, ever, is “Maybe 3 miles?”
Not “three miles a day,” not “three miles as my long run,” three miles, ever, period, MAYBE. Every year at the start of marathon training, CARA says something along the lines of, “If you’re not doing 20 or so miles per week right now, and/or your long run isn’t at least six miles, you should probably seriously ask yourself what you’re doing here, because we really don’t think you’re ready to be here.” Now, I know CARA isn’t the final word when it comes to training, but I think that’s pretty solid advice. If you’re not running at all, if you sit down in an interview at the start of your training and say, “Running is just one of those things I’ve always avoided,” maybe, JUST MAYBE, you’re 1) not ready to run a marathon at all 2) aren’t ready to get ready for a marathon in two and a half months.

Problem #3: The implication, put forth by before and after pictures, in addition to before (but no after) body stats about weight and percent body fat, that you need to run a marathon to get in shape, or that marathon training even is a good way to try to get in shape.
The before and after pictures in this video might just be the most mind-boggling part of all, because somehow, this girl started marathon training with a normal body and normal skin tone and came out bronzed, with nary a rogue, running-gear induced tan line to be seen, with a flatter stomach, and most bizarrely of all, bigger arm muscles (?!) than she started with. I’m no body building expert, but to my understanding, it does not involve the hours upon hours of steady state cardio that marathon training almost always entails. I would think running a marathon would actually be a terrible way to try to lean out, given how common it is to gain, rather than lose, weight during marathon training. Running a marathon is a great way to lower your resting heart rate, but it is hardly the best way to go about losing weight, especially when you consider how much more you need to eat to fuel your training, and how many of those calories need to come from carbohydrates. In the article accompanying the video, Michelle says she could “could eat (within reason) whatever I wanted and didn’t gain weight!” which is both such an enormous misconception and so enormously false that it makes me want to scream. Marathon training is NOT a license to eat whatever you damn well please without any consequences, even though everyone who hasn’t ever run a marathon seems to believe that, and, in fact, it’s that very misconception that is the reason why so many people GAIN weight during marathon training. And look, if you decided to marathon train for the sake of your bucket list or whatever, fine. Eat whatever you want during marathon training. I certainly do, because I’m not in it to lose weight. But don’t tell people they can eat anything (within reason, not bothering to specify what counts as “within reason”) in the same breath that you tell them marathon training will help you get skinny, because those two things are completely incompatible with each other, and anyone who knows anything about marathoning will tell you that. This might have been my biggest point of outrage with the entire video/article.

Problem #4: The implication that if this girl can go out and run a marathon on next to no training, so can you, BuzzFeed Video watcher! And you can qualify for Boston while you’re at it!
The video starts out with Michelle’s coach, Erik Steffens, mentioning that he ran the L.A. Marathon a couple years ago and BQed on his first try. While this does check out on Athlinks, what he fails to mention is that (also according to Athlinks), he was a DII collegiate runner, so it’s not like his L.A. Marathon, despite being his first marathon, was his first rodeo. So, if you were to watch this video with no background and no research, you’d walk away thinking that it’s totally reasonable that you, too, could go out and run a marathon AND qualify for Boston in the process. After all, 100% of the people in the video did it! Why can’t you?

To the video’s credit, it does acknowledge that only 10.4% of runners qualify for Boston. What it doesn’t acknowledge is that most of those Boston qualifiers either 1) worked their asses off to BQ, some for years or 2) Have no trouble BQing on a regular basis because they’re already in the upper echelons of running to begin with–elites, local elites, etc.–because they either have a ton of natural talent, or they have been training at a high level for years, or, quite often, have both a ton of natural talent AND have been training at a high level for years. If you don’t know anything about Boston qualifying, I don’t know how you’d walk away from this video not thinking BQing is a routine thing everyone eventually does at some point during their running career.

Problem #5: The implication that any of this was a good idea.
I don’t know why anyone thought this was something necessary to pursue. It’s not like the L.A. Marathon is the only marathon in the world, or even the only marathon in California for that matter, that you could start training for in the beginning of January. I don’t know why training for a marathon in 10 weeks seemed like a better idea than training for a marathon in 16 weeks (San Luis Obispo), 17 weeks (U.S. Bank OC Marathon), or 20 weeks (Mountains 2 Beach), if you’re looking for other marathons that you could get to in about three and a half hours from Los Angeles. Is training for a marathon in 10 weeks challenging? Absolutely. But so is training for a marathon in 16 weeks, or 18 weeks, or 20 weeks, or any longer length of time.

Thought #3: Look, I think it’s great that Michelle could bust out a BQ in 10 weeks. I’m super impressed and definitely wish I could do that, too. But I also think BuzzFeed has a responsibility to, at the very LEAST, be more clear about Michelle’s baseline fitness (she was a professional cyclist for nine months in 2015) AND to point out that what she did is neither smart nor safe for someone whose fitness isn’t high enough to join a professional cycling team. She ran six days per week logging 45-70 miles per week, which, if you started from scratch, is just BEGGING for injury. I’m, admittedly, pretty cautious about mileage (both for the sake of my body and my mind, neither of which like running more than three days per week), but I’ll be honest: I watched this entire video waiting for her to get hurt, and I couldn’t believe it when she didn’t. This video was obviously meant to inspire people to go after crazy fitness goals, and while I don’t think that’s inherently a bad thing, you ABSOLUTELY need to put a disclaimer on that if the person you’re using as your guinea pig to achieve a crazy fitness goal is already crazy fit to begin with.

/endrant

2. I’ve started taking pictures with my new camera!

easterlily

And, after a whopping 10 minutes of taking pictures with said new camera, I already want a macro lens. Haha. Even in my point and shoot days, I was always drawn to macro photography: super closeups of flowers, leaves, and the like. You can fake macro photography with a point and shoot, or even decently well with an iPhone, but as I quickly learned on Tuesday, if I want to replicate that with my SLR, I’m either going to need to adjust my shooting expectations, or I’m going to need a macro lens.

I also realized on Tuesday just how much I have to learn about my camera to make the most of it. This isn’t the first time I’ve ever used an SLR, but it’s the first time I’ve ever had one to use whenever and however I want, and as I was taking pictures on Tuesday, I realized I don’t really know what I’m doing, in no small part because while I recognize a decent number of photography terms (f-stop, aperture, etc.), I don’t really know what they mean or how to make the most of them. I imagine educating myself will help dramatically, so I’m going to need to carve out some time to revisit that photography book I mentioned in my last post, or, at the very least, actually read the manual that came with my camera 😛

3. While we’re (sort of) on the topic of plants:

terrariumapril

Look! The cacti in my terrarium are growing baby cacti! I’m hoping that’s a good thing…? Haha. At the very least, they don’t appear to be dying, so I consider that a victory.