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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Thursday Things

1. For the first time in five years, I’m not going to Lollapalooza.

I have mixed feelings about not attending this year. If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t have a great time last year. It was fine, but $120 was a good amount of money to spend for just a fine time. I only saw three acts, and I really only enjoyed one of them. I didn’t regret going, necessarily, but I did leave wondering if I would want to go again in 2017.

I hemmed and hawed about whether or not I should go this year until finally deciding I’d wait to see the lineup and then make my decision. While the lineup on the whole wasn’t terrible, I wasn’t particularly invested in any particular day. I thought Saturday looked the best of the four options, but considering that I haven’t gotten through the system fast enough to get Saturday tickets since 2013, I didn’t have very high hopes that I’d get them this year. I actually got past standby much quicker this year than ever before, but once I got to the page where you selected which day you wanted to go, I never got beyond a “Searching for tickets” screen. Lolla announced that Saturday had sold out before any of my “Searching for tickets” screens went anywhere, so that was that.

I’m sad to see my Lolla streak come to an end, but it was getting to the point where it just wasn’t worth it anymore. One Day Passes cost $90 in 2013, but have gone up $10 every year (until this year, when they were still $120 like last year, but with a $15 “fee” – so really, they went up to $135 from $120), and it’s not like you’re getting anything better or different for your extra money. The place is still crawling with teenagers. The food is still expensive. The weather is still iffy. The acts have usually been there two or three years ago. It felt dumb to pay $45 more than I did in 2013 for what would essentially be the same experience, just without the novelty of being there for the first time.

2. Besides, the #1 act I really wanted to see at Lolla, Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness was 1) playing on Friday, when I couldn’t possibly go due to an early morning long run the next day and 2) was on my calendar for this past Friday anyway.

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Apologies, as always, for my iPhone’s terrible photo quality.

I saw Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness last summer as an opener for Panic! at the Disco (and Weezer, who I did not stick around to see, since it was a Sunday night and I was far, far away in Tinley Park), but this past Friday at House of Blues, he was the main event! Andrew McMachon was the frontman of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin, which is how I became familiar with him, but he’s been performing in this current iteration for a few years now, and I’m a big fan of his recent albums.

(Which is not to say that Dark Blue wasn’t the highlight of the show for me, because it definitely was, because I will forever hold a special place in my heart for the angsty emo music of my high school years. But now that I’m slightly less angsty on a slightly less regular basis, I don’t need lines like, “Have you ever felt alone in a crowded room?” to speak directly to my soul anymore. Haha.)

The show itself was great, but I was reminded of how much I absolutely LOATHE the main act:everything else ratio of concerts. The first opening act started at 7:30, but Andrew McMahon didn’t go on until 9:30, and then played for about an hour and a half, including his encore. That’s a perfectly reasonable amount of time for a main act, I’d say, but that also means that of the three and a half hours of concert time, over half of that was spent either openers or turning over the stage between bands. I know this is part of how these sorts of things work, but it just drives me crazy every time. I guess this is really why I put up with the ridiculous prices of Lollapalooza. At festivals, there isn’t any down time between acts, and if you don’t want to see a particular act, you can go do something else in the mean time instead of having to defend your square foot of personal space.

3. I am, once again, having birding problems.

Two weeks ago, I went for a run on a Monday afternoon. It had snowed that day, and as I was running, I saw a little bird on the edge of the sidewalk, highlighted by its contrast against the snow. I assumed it was a house finch/sparrow by its size and coloring, but when I got closer and it flew into a nearby bush, I could immediately tell that it was not a house finch/sparrow, because it had a white belly. I thought I had once again spotted a brown creeper, and was very excited by this sighting.

Then, two days later, I was running along the same road, and I saw the bird again, in the exact same place as Monday. This time, I got a closer look at it, and upon further investigation, decided that it was not a brown creeper at all, as it lacked the brown creeper’s distinctive tail, and also seemed to be MUCH bigger than the brown creeper (who I remembered being quite tiny, because that was one of the primary characteristics I noticed about it.). After returning home, I pulled up the Merlin Bird ID app, aka my favorite app of all time, and to my great dismay, could not find a bird that looked like the bird I saw ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

This past Saturday, I was one of what seemed like maybe a dozen people stupid enough to not let 40 degrees and rain deter me from my long run. While running along the empty Lakefront Trail, I saw a bird that I thought looked similar to the ones I had seen two weeks ago: relatively small, with flecked brown backs/wings and white bellies and a distinctive black stripe on their heads. I debated taking pictures of them, but given the rain situation, didn’t feel particularly inclined to take my phone out. I figured I’d remember enough details to tell Merlin and have it identify my bird. But once again, I could not!

I’m now on a quest to figure out what birds I’ve seen, because this is driving me crazy. And mark my words, if I see them again, I am most definitely taking a picture this time!

Have you been to Lollapalooza? Are you going this year?
Have you been to any concerts or other shows recently?

Goals for 2017: March Check-In

While I prefer to wait until a month has actually finished to recap how I’m doing on my annual goals, unless something very dramatic happens, I expect to have a race recap to publish next Tuesday. As a result, this month’s recap is coming to you a few days early!

Goal #1: Publish at least one freelance piece
The good news: I pitched an essay! The bad news: I never heard back, and I’m almost positive it’s because I pitched it incorrectly.

I follow a few writers on Twitter, most of which were cultivated in the Thought Catalog/BuzzFeed bubble and have since gone on to write for bigger publications. Every now and again, these writers–or, more often, writers they follow–will put out a call for pitches, and those calls will end up on my feed, either because the person I follow tweeted it out, or because someone I follow favorited a tweet asking for pitches/freelancers. That chain of events led me to a site that seemed more than eager to accept freelancing work. Low hanging fruit! Hooray!

The site had several categories in which it accepts pitches. I felt most qualified to write an essay rather than a reported piece, so I read the paragraph about how to pitch an essay and set about writing one. I wrote my essay, revised my essay, carefully crafted my pitch email, and sent it off into the void a week ago today.

I don’t know what I actually expected from my pitch. Part of me felt like it fit perfectly into what the site wanted out of essays, but part of me also felt that all the essays I had seen published on that site came from Established Writers Who Mainly Live in New York City, i.e.: not me. I also worried that my essay, clocking in at 800 words, might be a bit too short, given that the essay guidelines had suggested 1000ish (as opposed to 2000ish, which is what I hung my hope on: that they preferred shorter essays to longer essays).

When 24 hours (admittedly, not much time) had come and gone without so much as an acknowledgement of receipt, I went back to look at the pitching guidelines. This time, I bothered to read the introductory paragraph about pitching the website, which specifically stated that the site did not accept pieces on spec (that is, fully written pieces), and only accepted idea pitches. I, naturally, had sent in my entire essay.

I’ll chalk this up as a learning experience, and in the future, be a bit more careful to actually read all of the a publication’s pitching guidelines, not just the ones I think apply to me. I am a bit frustrated with myself for screwing up my pitch, particularly since I channeled a fair amount of effort into my essay. I’m also discouraged by this process in general. I never expected freelancing to be easy, but it does bother me that I don’t feel like I’m part of the writing “in-crowd,” and as a result, have a lot more hurdles to clear to prove my worthiness as a writer, despite spending the first 3.75 years of my post-college life writing professionally (but not for the “right” publication that could put me on anyone’s radar). I feel stuck in the classic job hunt catch-22 of needing experience to get a job, but needing a job to get experience, except that I do have experience–it just feels like my experience doesn’t count because no one has heard of it. Of course, whining rather than working never got anyone anywhere, so forward we move onto April, I suppose.

Goal #2: Get rid of 50 things
I went on a tear a couple weekends ago and bumped my current total up from 30 to 47! Woohoo! I’ve cleaned out a good amount of clutter from my floor, which makes me really happy. I still have a LONG way to go to having a neat and tidy living space, but every little bit of progress in this department makes me happy.

Goal #3: Finish Dutch on Duolingo
Five more lessons down, 14 to go! I particularly enjoyed the Maps lesson this month. I happened to be reviewing countries in Spanish at the same time as I worked my way through the Maps lesson in Dutch (which primarily taught me the names of other countries), and it made me feel very cosmopolitan ๐Ÿ˜›

Goal #4: Stay healthy and out of PT
For the past two weeks or so, I’ve had some pain in the ball of my foot. I mostly feel it when I’m walking (or otherwise moving on my feet), particularly if I’m doing so in shoes without much cushioning. It hasn’t gotten worse on the 0-10 pain scale, though it does happen a little more often now than when it started. Because it usually goes away the more I move, I feel fairly confident that my issue is soft tissue related rather than a first metatarsal stress fracture (that, and the internet told me that you are MUCH more likely to stress fracture your second or third metatarsals, because they’re smaller, thinner, and weaker than your first metatarsal). I don’t think it’s plantar fasciitis since I don’t have any pain anywhere else in my foot, BUT your plantar fascia does attach to your metatarsals right where I’m having pain and this is the same foot I’ve had minor brushes with possible plantar fasciitis in before, so it wouldn’t surprise me if my plantar fascia is somehow related to all of this. Or maybe I have some sort of tendonitis? I could, of course, go to the podiatrist and ask, but since it’s not bothering me enough to affect my running at this point, I feel fairly unmotivated to go pay yet another visit to my podiatrist.

On a very likely related note, my Achilles on the same foot that now hurts had been bothering me after exercise for a few weeks. I started doing heel lifts on a stair after running, and that cleared up my pain almost instantly. Since weak calves can also contribute to plantar fasciitis in addition to Achilles issues, I imagine all of this is somehow connected, and am hopeful that keeping up my heel lift regimen will, eventually, help alleviate my current foot woe.

In more specific news related to this goal:

– Strength train once per week, minimally, during running season: Check!
– Stretch after every run: Not check. I was really rushed after a couple of runs and really only had time to shower before I needed to be elsewhere, so I skipped a few days of stretching. Oops ๐Ÿ˜ฆ
– Foam roll after every run, even if that means with a Moji rather than a full-blown foam roller: I accomplished this exactly one time. Fail again. I do have another opportunity to foam roll after I run tomorrow, though, so maybe I’ll get two foam rolling sessions in this month!
– Do at least three PT exercises twice per week: I’m sure I didn’t accomplish this, but I couldn’t tell you how often I did or did not do PT exercises. I’m sure I didn’t on the days I skipped stretching after running. I don’t remember doing any before dance like sometimes. This is really something I should start logging so I can keep track of what exercises I do and how often I do them.

Thursday Things

1. It’s Chicago Flower and Garden Show time!

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Hooray!

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I went to the Chicago Flower and Garden Show with my mom for the first time last year and really enjoyed it. She wasn’t able to come along this year, but that didn’t stop me from visiting.

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I particularly liked the tulip and hyacinth displays, just like last year, but my FAR and away favorite part of the show this year was the brand new butterfly garden!

The garden–which was more of a mesh tent surrounded by tables than a garden, at least compared to the other gardens at the show–gave out free seeds for plants that attract butterflies and had monarchs emerging from chrysalises. But the best part in my opinion was inside the mesh tent itself, where for $2, you could walk in with a foam paintbrush dipped in orange Powerade (a butterfly’s flavor of choice, I learned, since they enjoy citrus) and feed the butterflies!

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These are painted ladies. There was a monarch in the tent, but it was tired and didn’t want to socialize, so it hung out with the (human) lady associated with the group that organized that particular garden.

I eventually coaxed the butterflies off the paintbrush and onto my finger, which you’ll have to imagine, since my hand was obviously too occupied for me to use it to take pictures. HOWEVER. The #1 highlight of my time in the butterfly tent, without question, was when I was just standing around minding my own business, feeding the butterflies on my paintbrush, when another butterfly, apropos of absolutely nothing (other than the fact that I was standing there) landed on my FACE. On my EYEBROW, to be specific. As you may or may not recall, this is the second time in two years a butterfly has landed on me without being bribed with Powerade or other sweet treats to do so, which further confirms my suspicion that I am a fairy princess.

The Chicago Flower and Garden Show runs through this weekend, and if you’re at all interested in flowers, I definitely recommend going. It’s not terribly expensive, and the displays are so pretty. It always gets me pumped for gardening later on in the year!

2. I finally, finally made it to the Museum of Science and Industry this weekend (well, Monday, technically, but I took PTO on Monday, so it was still the weekend as far as I was concerned ๐Ÿ˜› ). I last visited MSI during the summer of 2002, so while some things have stayed the same (like the train by where you buy tickets), a LOT has changed from what I remember seeing on my last visit.

One of the special exhibits right now is Brick by Brick, which features recreations of architectural wonders (the Golden Gate Bridge, Fallingwater, a variety of skyscrapers and Cinderella’s Castle among them) built using Legos. I’ve thought gigantic Lego creations were pretty cool since the first time I visited a Lego store–which, now that I think about it, was probably right around the same time as my last trip to MSI–and I’ve thought architecture was pretty cool since, like, ever, so I was really fascinated by this exhibit.

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Right outside Brick by Brick is a huge model train set that travels from Chicago to Seattle–it’s like it was built with me in mind! Travel by rail, Chicago, Seattle: all of my favorite things. I liked the model of Chicago, but I did find it a little strange that the model isn’t accurate (like putting the Daily News Building and Union Station immediately across the street from each other, when in fact Ogilvie and the Daily News Building are immediately across the street from each other, or putting El tracks next to the Sears (Willis) Tower, when in fact the El is a block away). But regardless, it was still pretty cool.

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I have no recollection of ever seeing the genetics exhibit before, but I knew they had baby chicks there, and those were probably my favorite part of the whole museum. They were SO CUTE! So fluffy! So tiny! So perfect! I loved it.

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3. And, while we’re on the topic of “Things I Had Not Done/Experienced in Chicago,” I had a particularly bizarre experience last Tuesday that seems like something that could really only happen here.

As you may or may not know/recall, last Tuesday, Chicago got slammed with lake effect snow. It was cold. It was gross. It was lame. But, fortunately, it was also before March 31, which meant the heat lamps were still on on CTA platforms. On my way home from dance, I huddled under one and noticed a pigeon to my right had the same idea.

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It always amuses me when I see pigeons under heat lamps. Obviously they’re cold just like the rest of us, and even though they’re dirty, flying rats, etc., I think seeing them react to the cold just like people react to the cold “humanizes” them a bit, if you will. So, entertained by this annoyed pigeon, I opened the camera on my phone and took a picture of him. I continued reading whatever article I had pulled up, and noticed the pigeon had decided he was no longer happy where he stood. He took flight, headed in my direction, and flew right into my backpack!

NEVER in 26 and a half years of existence, have I EVER had a bird FLY INTO ME. In fact, I presumed this was a thing that COULD NOT happen, at least to birds that have the ability to fly, given that they have 1) eyes 2) wings and 3) the ability to change direction quickly, should something get in its way. I have had played many a game of Chicken with pigeons before, daring them to stay in my way as I continued moving straight forward, and I have ALWAYS won. In fact, I didn’t even consider the possibility that I could lose. I have a clear size advantage, and figured that’d always be enough to push me over the edge.

Apparently not.

Have you ever visited the Museum of Science and Industry?
Do you garden?

A Good Night’s Sleep

For as long as I can remember, I have been extremely protective of my sleep. I never pulled an all-nighter in school, and to this day I try to make a point of going to bed on time. I do this both for my own sake and for the sake of others. When I don’t get enough sleep, especially when I don’t get enough sleep over consecutive nights, not only do I have a hard time focusing and staying motivated, but I also get extremely cranky. The speed at which my internal Patience-o-Meter goes from “Understanding and Forgiving” to “DO NOT CROSS ME” is directly related to how much I slept the night before, and if I’m tired, it’s bad news for everyone involved. On top of all of that, I’m also significantly more prone to anxious moments when I’m not well-rested, particularly to ruminating to the point of nearly giving myself a panic attack. If all of those things aren’t enough reasons to make an effort to get enough sleep, I don’t know what would be.

Except, perhaps, for the added benefits a good night of sleep has on athletic performance as well.

At the beginning of marathon season each year, my group leaders ask those of us who’ve run marathons before to share some advice with those training for their first go at 26.2. When it’s my turn to share, I like to tell the newbies–and, let’s be honest, remind myself–that marathon training is not just an 18-week exercise program. It’s a lifestyle program. If you want to have a good race, you need to live your life throughout training in a way that will maximize your chances for success on race day. You need to do your workouts, or modify them if you’re hurting, you need to eat healthfully to give your body fuel for the run and the nutrients it needs to repair afterwards, you need to wear good shoes when you’re on your feet, and you need to make sure you get enough sleep, particularly as your mileage gets higher. I’m an especially big advocate for getting as much sleep as possible during taper and the week leading up to race day. A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise last year found that several nights of good sleep in a row can help diminish the effects of a bad night of sleep the night before a race, in fact. I’ve had plenty of pre-race restless nights over the years, so I, for one, find it really comforting to know that the sleep I get the week before can help make up for the sleep I miss the night before!

Training for fall marathons in particular can lead to some sleep challenges. Training for those marathons takes place during the summer, when we get the most daylight. I don’t know about you, but I find it nearly impossible to sleep when the sun is up (and, conversely, to get up when the sun is down). Even though I have blinds on my windows, as soon as light starts filtering through, I’m up for the day. While this is nice if I planned to run in the morning, it can also be a big hassle when trying to go to bed early enough to accommodate an even earlier alarm.

During marathon season, I usually try to call it a night around 8:30 when I have a long run the following morning. In June and July especially, this can be really tricky. Daylight lasts beyond 8:00 during those months, and, if you’ve been following this blog for any period of time, you may recall that my neighbors view all summer weekend nights as permission to play their music as loud as possible, regardless of when the sun sets. On top of all of that it is, obviously, a lot warmer both in my house and outside during the summer than during the winter, which can make sleep even harder to come by. Over the years, I’ve come up with a few ways to handle these obstacles to make it easier to get shut-eye before a long run:

Use a noise-cancelling app
There are a variety of noise-cancelling apps that you can download for free on the App Store. I personally use Sleep Pillow. These apps allow you to choose from a variety of sounds that you may find calming–I’m a big fan of rain sounds–to help drown out the drunken antics of your middle aged neighbors (or just to lull you to sleep, if you don’t live in my house ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

Maintain a comfortable temperature
I don’t like to pay an arm and a leg for electricity any more than the next guy, and I try to keep the air conditioning off in my house as much as possible. However, there are times where the higher bill is worth it, and nights during marathon season are one of those times. Blackout blinds can help keep the bedroom insulated all year round, but if you constantly suffer from night time overheating, you may want to consider investing in
breathable sheets or a cooling mattress. I have a difficult time sleeping without something covering me, so I like to keep the house cool enough that I won’t wake up drenched in sweat if I’m still burrowed under my blankets.ย I have a difficult time sleeping without something covering me, so I like to keep the house cool enough that I won’t wake up drenched in sweat if I’m still burrowed under my blankets. Speaking of blankets…

Create a cocoon
Hygge is the coolest trend these days, it seems, but I’m pretty sure I’ve been practicing this in my sleeping habits well before it crossed the Atlantic Ocean. I get my best sleep when I’m as cozy as possible. Cool temperatures help make this comfortable, but I’ve found that what I sleep on also makes a difference. I sleep with two pillows under my head, one pushed up against the wall for extra burrow-ability, and have a mattress pad on top of my mattress for added softness. If youโ€™ve never used them, or havenโ€™t replaced yours in over 5 years, youโ€™d be amazed by what a difference a decent topper and great pillow can make to your quality of sleep. I like to cozy up with the stuffed doll I’ve had since I was two (#noshame), and usually within a few moments, I’m drifting off to Dreamland.

Everyone has their own preferences for creating the perfect sleep environment, but regardless of what makes you most comfortable, getting enough sleep can make a big difference in your day. Interested in learning more? Casper created this helpful infographic with lots of great stats about the benefits of getting enough sleep, particularly for athletes.

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How much sleep do you get each night? I usually average in the low 7:00 range, somewhere between 7:15-7:30, according to my Fitbit weekly stats.
What do you do to help yourself get a good night of sleep?

Thursday Things

1. While actual St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow, Chicago St. Patrick’s Day–the real St. Patrick’s Day, for all intents and purposes, if you live in the city–took place last Saturday. In past years, my MO has been to avoid downtown at all costs on Chicago St. Patrick’s Day, because the stress of Drunk CTA and Tourist Downtown just is not worth it. This year, however, some friends wanted to fully participate in the festivities, and since I’ve really never done anything for St. Patrick’s Day other than complain about it, I figured I’d go along for the ride.

We “went” to the parade, by which I mean we showed up at 12:45 or so and caught the last couple of entries. It was my first time seeing the parade in any capacity, and what surprised me most of all was how many people were simply milling around in Grant Park, not even attempting to watch the parade. Like, why? Since when do people hang out in Grant Park? And why would you on St. Patrick’s Day, when the place is crawling with police just waiting to catch you with an open container? So many questions.

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After the parade, we headed north to see the river. When I did my internship in Chicago a lifetime six (*sobs*) years ago, one of my roommates and I went to see the river some time in the afternoon, and I remember being shocked to see how green it actually was. That feeling was magnified substantially this year, when I saw the river only a few hours after it had been dyed from Michigan Ave. on a sunny day (as opposed to 2011, when I saw it from…Wabash, maybe? Or State Street? on a cloudy day long after it had been dyed).

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So green! So pretty!

We tried to go to a couple bars downtown, but that, unsurprisingly, was an exercise in futility, so eventually we headed away from the center of the action to where you could walk into bars and get seats and not be surrounded by drunk madness. Given that I had taken my last (!!!) antibiotic pill that morning and still didn’t feel confident about my stomach’s stability, I refrained from drinking at all – though that’s hardly a change from my normal life, I suppose.

I didn’t hate the whole experience nearly as much as I feared I would, which was a nice surprise. I suppose when you participate in the madness, rather than trying to live your life around the madness, it’s substantially less frustrating and annoying.

2. March Madness starts today! Yay! I love filling out brackets and following along with the tournament, so I’m really excited for the next few weeks. I do, however, feel an undue amount of pressure to perform well, given that last year I correctly predicted the freaking national champion.

Ah, memories.

I fill out multiple brackets every year because I find the tournament more fun when I’ve got my eggs spread out across several baskets. That way, one upset hurts a lot less than it would otherwise. Of course, I’m only allowed to enter one bracket in my family pool, which is the one that I care about the most (this year, at least). However, I’m allowed to enter multiple brackets into other groups on ESPN, which I found particularly delightful when I discovered that Nick Viall–he of Bachelor(ette) (in Paradise) fame–has one of the celebrity groups on ESPN! God bless Disney for owning both ABC and ESPN. Not only did that mean that I could play Fantasy Bachelor on ESPN this year, which was an absolute delight (except for the many times I’d forget to fill out my weekly answers. That game was a commitment, let me tell you!), but it also means I now have the opportunity to CRUSH NICK in March Madness. Or at least that’s the goal.

Speaking of March Madness, I have been shockingly invested in my high school’s boys’ basketball team this month. In Michigan, the boys’ basketball tournament has three rounds: districts, regionals, and quarter/semi/finals. Growing up, it was a given that my high school would win districts. We won our district every single year from at least 1999-2008, possibly longer (I can’t find 1998 stats online). That was third grade through my senior year. Needless to say, I assumed districts were just a thing that always happened, a small hump to overcome before getting onto the real tournament and seeing how far we’d go once the games actually started. I went to the district finals in 2009, even though I was in college at that point (though possibly on spring break?). We lost that year, which was definitely a shock. After that game, though, I stopped paying attention entirely. It’s been nine years since I was in high school, and my school has gone through a lot of changes in those nine years (like enrollment falling by nearly 50%, for one thing), and since I neither live in Michigan nor am in high school anymore, I just didn’t care anymore.

Late last week, though, my mom texted me to tell me that the boys’ basketball team had beat our #1 rival in district semifinals, after losing to them twice in the regular season. Then, she texted me the following day to let me know they had won their district, and that they’d be playing our #2 rival (who had won their district by a horrendously lopsided score…80something-20something) in regional semifinals this week. I figured that’d be the end of it, but lo and behold, they pulled it off and won in overtime! What I didn’t realize, though, was just how big of a deal this is. Apparently, my high school hasn’t made it past districts since my senior year. After winning that round for nine years straight, they they went on a nine year losing streak, snapped just a few days ago. I never really thought I’d care about high school sports, particularly after moving to Chicago, but man, I am so caught up in all the excitement! I really hope the team keeps going. They weren’t expected to make any sort of run at all, so this is a wonderful surprise ๐Ÿ™‚

3. A non-wonderful surprise, however, has been all this snow we’ve gotten lately ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

I know I really don’t have a right to complain. It was nothing short of miraculous to make it three months and 13 days into 2017 without an inch of accumulation, and probably should be wildly concerning from a climate change and global warming standpoint. BUT. It made running outside so much easier! I won’t lie, I was a bit concerned about trying to train for a spring half marathon, knowing half the training cycle would take place prior to Daylight Savings Time AND in January/February, when the chances for dark nights and icy sidewalks were sky high. I really figured I’d be in the clear once we sprung forward ๐Ÿ˜ฆ How you betray me, atmosphere!! Why must you be so cruel??

In other running news, I have all but scrapped my hopes and dreams of breaking 2:00 at my half in six weeks. I missed as many workouts as I completed during the last two weeks, and I haven’t done a lick of speed work in a month. Unsurprisingly, my sub-10:00 miles have all but disappeared, leading me to think that running a 9:00 half marathon, when I have never once in six years of running ran substantially faster at a half marathon (or marathon) than the paces I hit during my training runs, is a pipe dream at best. Maybe a miracle will happen, but I’m not really holding my breath.

Do you fill out brackets for March Madness?
What are you/did you do for St. Patrick’s Day?

Thursday Things

1. I think I’ve spent more time in doctors’ offices over the past two weeks than ever before in my life.

It all started not this past Saturday, but the Saturday before that (Feb. 25), with swollen lymph nodes in my neck and tonsils that looked more like what you’d hope to find at your local butcher if you planned to serve guests you wanted to impress steak rather than, you know, boring ol’ tonsils. After experiencing no improvement on Sunday and feeling generally miserable on Monday, I went off to my doctor, who told me I probably had strep, wrote me a prescription for azithromycin (#penicillinallergyproblems), and sent me on my way. Within 24 hours of taking my first two doses of azithromycin, I was good as new, with lymph nodes that didn’t hurt anymore and tonsils that once again looked like tonsils. Being the good patient that I am, I continued to take the rest of my prescribed therapy of azithromycin, because if there’s anything you shouldn’t do with antibiotics, other than taking them for a viral infection, it’s stopping taking them as soon as you feel better rather than finishing out your full course of the medication. I took my last dose on Friday, and looked forward to moving on with my life.

When I woke up Friday morning, I had, what we’re going to call for simplicity’s sake, a cyst on my inner thigh. Now, this is nothing new for me. I’ve had cysts on and off in that area since I started the very first stage of puberty. I’d get a cyst, it’d make me miserable for a few weeks, it would, eventually, somehow, stop existing (either by taking care of itself all on its own or with some help from my obviously medically trained, definitely sanitary preteen hands) and I would continue living, usually forgetting that this was something I experienced until it’d flare up again. This continued through middle school and high school, tapering off in college, and the last time I remembered it happening was during my last summer as a camp counselor, which was 2011. I had a minor flare-up or two over this past summer, but nothing at all like what I woke up with on Friday.

I was annoyed at this turn of events, but figured it’d be like every other time where I’d simply grin and bear it for a few weeks before it took care of itself. when I got ready for bed that night, though, I noticed that the area around the cyst (not the cyst itself) had started swelling. That sent me into a spiral of panic over two things: 1) What was wrong with me? and 2) What would this mean for my planned eight mile run the following morning? (Priorities, people).

On Saturday morning, I thought my swelling might have maybe gone down, so off I went to run eight miles along the lake, as one does when they think they worry they might have an infection in their leg. I returned home, and, during my shower, noticed that my swelling had gone from being perhaps the size of a credit card to being the size of my entire hand. Now in a full-blown state of anxiety, I rushed off to urgent care, where I met a friendly PA who told me that she couldn’t do anything about the cyst at the moment since it wasn’t fluctuant (a sebaceous cyst needs to morph from being hard to soft before you can drain it), but also told me it was infected. She gave me a prescription for clindamycin, which prompted the still-continuing saga of If You Give a Hypochondriac a Powerful Antibiotic That Comes With Warnings About Making You More Susceptible to GI Diseases That Can Kill You, with instructions to take it three times per day for the next week at eight hour intervals, and told me to talk to my regular doctor about getting the cyst removed.

PRO TIP: If a doctor gives you medication you need to take at eight hour intervals, start taking it at 6 a.m., 2 p.m., or 10 p.m., or somewhere in those hours. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT, take your first dose at 4:30 p.m., because then you will be stuck getting up at 12:30 a.m. every. single. morning, and you will hate your life and the circumstances that brought you to that point. The only way you can avoid midnight (or mid-night) doses is to start at 6 a.m., 2 p.m., or 10 p.m., so DO THAT. Do not be like me!

Though none-too-pleased about facing ANOTHER week of antibiotics and the prospect of cyst removal, I emailed my regular doctor on Sunday night, and Monday morning made an appointment with the surgeon she recommended. I went to see the surgeon on Tuesday, but which point I was nearly beside myself with anxiety for two reasons: 1) my swelling hadn’t gotten worse since Saturday, but hadn’t subsided either, despite taking the antibiotics and 2) I had, absolutely, totally, and completely convinced myself I was going to die at the hands of clindamycin. I first saw a resident, who eventually returned with the surgeon I with whom I had made my appointment.

(Unrelated side note: I have a friend who’s doing her medical residency right now, so having a resident come in freaked me out not from a “he’s not a real doctor!” standpoint, because I’m perfectly confident in his capabilities and education, but rather from a, “Oh my gosh, I bet this guy is relatively close to my age,” standpoint.)

To my INCREDIBLE surprise, the surgeon did not think I have a cyst after all, or at least not the sebaceous cyst everyone up to that point had told me I had. Rather, he had three possible explanations: hidradenitis, an ingrown hair, or MRSA (which, apparently, you can carry around asymptomatically for years. Who knew!). However, he really needed a culture to find out what exactly was going on, and since my cyst was not, ahem, “relieving itself,” as it were, there was nothing available to culture. So, instead of walking out of the doctor’s office with stitches like I expected, I left with instructions to return the next time it flared up and to go about my life as normal in the mean time.

Because I have finally gotten to the point in my life where I’ve realized it’s maybe better to tell doctors I have crippling health anxiety rather than pretend I’m fine, I asked him about the continuing swelling (edema, possibly from a lymph node that my cyst-or-whatever-it-is could’ve blocked from draining), and whether or not I could quit taking my clindamycin because I was terrified I was going to get the bacterial infection it makes you more susceptible to and die (“No, you need to take the full course, and you’re not going to get it and die.” LIKELY STORY.)

So, in the past two weeks, I have seen three different doctors at three different practices, visited two different pharmacies, taken one day off work, and missed/altered three of four scheduled runs and three of three cross training workouts. Yay. I would very much like to not get sick for the rest of the year/my life, please and thank you.

On the bright side, I imagine I’ll be pretty darn close to hitting my deductible on my health insurance by the time my bill for the surgeon and my bill for my appointment with my regular doctor come through, which means I’ll have nearly nine months of free health care! Hooray!

2. I made it all of six days into Lent before breaking my sweets fast. Oops.

I usually give up sweets for Lent, and this year was no different. I had my fill of chocolate, etc. last Tuesday, and then said sayonara to sugar until Easter. Then this past Tuesday, my boss bought me this as a, “Yay, you’re not dead!” gift:

dessert

and there went my fast.

Here’s what I figure: the main benefit I get from practicing Lenten disciplines, whatever they are, is an awareness of the fact that it is Lent. Knowing that it’s Lent helps me prepare for Easter, and I think, ultimately, that’s the point of a Lenten discipline in the first place: to interrupt your normal day-to-day life to turn your attention to the liturgical season, as opposed to blowing through it until one Sunday you show up in church and there are palm branches all over the place, and you think, “Oh, guess Easter must be next week.” I don’t think I earn any points of favor with God for giving up something for Lent, and I don’t think it makes me a better Christian than someone else. On the other hand, I did think throwing away the dessert, or even giving it away to someone else in the office just because it’s Lent, would be rude, disrespectful, and ungrateful, none of which I file under “ideal Christian ways of behavior.” I also think there’s a difference between buying myself bags of chocolate at Trader Joe’s, or scavenging Panera cookies from the kitchen after an over-order of boxed lunches for a meeting, and accepting a gift someone gave you. So I ate the chocolate mousse, and now will resume my no-sweets-until-Easter policy.

3. In other office-related news, last week I became the proud owner of a terrarium.

terrarium

This friendly little ecosystem now lives on my desk at work, where there is space for it, as opposed to in my room at my house, where there most definitely is NOT space for it. I’ve thought about getting succulents for my desk for quite some time, and this certainly fits the bill!

My only concern with the terrarium is how I’m supposed to keep it alive. When I got it, I also got a little spray bottle, and was instructed to give it four sprays per week. What I don’t know, and have not been able to find out, is if that means I’m supposed to to spray it four times in a row one day per week, if I’m supposed to give it four sprays spread out over four days, or if it even matters at all. The internet has been less than helpful in my quest to figure out how to approach this situation thus far. I just don’t want to kill it! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ It’s one thing to kill a plant at my house, where I can bear my shame in solitude, but if I kill a plant at the office, everyone who’s noticed and commented on my terrarium will also, I presume, notice that I murdered it, and I would prefer to keep that from happening.

Have you ever owned and/or maintained a terrarium? How do I keep it alive, and how should I be watering it?
Did you give up anything for Lent?