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After years of sloth, I am now a mama who runs and practices yoga. I write about exercise; parenting a grownup child as well as two little kids; and whatever is annoying me at the moment.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Lakefront 50K with Cicely Tyson: Race report

 When marathons and 50Ks were cancelled last year because of COVID, I told myself that it would be good to take a year off. 

But I had a little itch that I wanted to scratch.

My running partner suggested this winter signing up for the Milwaukee marathon, originally scheduled for this month but now postponed until fall. 

Still wanting to scratch that itch, I checked then to see if the Lakefront 50K was happening in March. It was -- on March 27, two days before my 53rd birthday.  Cool. I registered.

Training was a challenge. February was one of the snowiest in Chicago in memory. I am lucky to belong to a gym by my house, but COVID limits how long you can be at the gym per session to 90 minutes, so I wasn't able to bang out long runs on a treadmill. (Not a real problem, I know.)

I managed to sneak in shorter runs here and there and got all of my long weekend runs in somehow, including splitting them into sessions at the treadmill and running the rest on snowy streets. One day I took a half vacation day from work to get in a 16-miler. 

As race day neared, I figured I would be undertrained but I would finish. If you want to stop reading here, I accomplished both.

The course this year began in the pretty Jackson Park, located along the lakefront on the South Side. The less exciting part is that the race was five roughly six-mile loops north on the lakefront path and back. 

(The good news was the aid station at the start/finish line, staffed by the Flatlanders Ultra Group. A woman Linda recognized me, despite the mask, and we quickly caught up. She is so nice and upbeat every time I've met her. And with every loop, when I grabbed a cookie or pickle to eat, she kept telling me that I was doing great and looked strong. So grateful to her and the crew there! Also, real Coke, fig newtons and pickles during an ultra are delicious).

Mentally I knew the five loops would be really tough. I've run the Lakefront 50K before, back in 2019 when it was three 10-mile loops. I figured I had a good plan for this race -- a friend said they would run a loop or two with me; I'd do audiobook for some of the other loops, and I'd be fine.

Race day morning was cool, in the low 40s with a chance of rain. The weather would play around the next six-plus hours, from sunny to foggy to sunny to overcast to warm in the 60s. I went through three different outfit changes.

At race start time I learned that I'd be doing the race solo, so I mentally hunkered down and began slowly. The first two loops, I told myself, I'd just take it all in. By that I mean enjoy the views, study the path, run around the beautiful Promontory Point (when you do five loops, that means I'd be running Promontory Point 10 times, oof), scour the lakefront/running path erosion from the last winter. 

By the end of the second loop I was ready for a distraction. I tuned into the audiobook I had already begun listening to, "Just As I Am", the autobiography of actress Cicely Tyson. A co-worker had previously suggested the book and started a book club, so I was half-way through already and thoroughly invested in listening to Cicely's life story. 

As I was listening to the chapter in which Cicely had reunited with her love Miles Davis, I saw my awesome neighbors Jack and Megan with their three cute-as-buttons little girls, waving and holding a homemade "Tammy Turbo" sign. I was probably 14 or 15 miles into the race and starting to think that it sucked, so the timing of their presence was perfect. We chatted and did some fist bumps. It was what I needed.

After I said good-bye, I went back to running and listening to the book narrator. Miles was in very rough shape from drugs and Cicely took charge of his recovery. As I ran, I listened how she took him to a Chinese medicine doctor who predicted that he only had few weeks left. She was so loyal, all the while making movies and TV shows. I had no idea how prolific she was in her career.

She talked about being cast in the 1977 TV series "Roots", which I watched as a little kid and still remember how it took my breath away. For those old enough to remember the series, the network was actually worried about how it would play with white audiences, which is why they aired it eight nights straight rather than stretch it out in as many weeks. Good grief. I still think about that.

As Miles' health gets better, he convinces Cicely to marry him and they do so at Bill Cosby's estate. As I ran one of the Promontory Point legs, I heard about how a special family ring vanished from Cicely's room and mysteriously reappeared after the ceremony, and her interpretation that her deceased mother was telling her something. 

As their marriage eventually unraveled, I was on the fourth loop and tired. I studied the high-rises and landscape along the lakefront, mentally willing myself to run to that next building or breakwater. 

By the start of the fifth loop, I had abandoned my windbreaker, vest and long-sleeve shirt. It was getting warm. I ran to my car (it was literally like 50 feet away from the start) and grabbed the short-sleeve race shirt we received that morning. Thank goodness I had it. 

The final loop I took a break from the book, but continued to think about Cicely. I admired that she said she chose to remember Miles as her great love, instead of only the bad stuff at the end. 

I decided I would play music that final loop, which I usually never do. Some old Pet Shop Boys did the trick, and I was able to mostly run (epically slowly) to the end. I was also getting nauseous, which is something that happens a lot in my races. I overheat really easily.

When I crossed the finish line, I felt happy, if a little pukey. I immediately laid on my back in the grass and stared at the sky. It felt amazing. 

I don't know my exact time but it was something like 6 1/2 hours. I finished. Who cares how fast? I used to, but I don't anymore. This was my fourth 50K race and I just felt good about running and finishing it. 

A week later, I finished the book. I recommend it -- it's amazing.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Embracing new adventures in the COVID world

How's everyone getting ready for year two of the pandemic? Whimpering is permitted.

There's a couple of dates from last year that stand out as "we-had-no-idea-what-was-coming". February 9 is my mom's birthday, and it was on that date in 2020 that I last saw her or any of my other Omaha family. A stroke victim from several years ago, she had been transported from her nursing home to a local hospital for a recurring health issue. 

I easily walked into the hospital early that morning -- before COVID settled on all of us like a stubborn fog and back when COVID was still  largely happening somewhere else. She was able to look at me and smile a little. I had no idea that it would be the last Omaha visit for more than a year.

Then there was March 17, 2020, the day after Chicago Public Schools did what seemed unthinkable at the time -- they closed all schools for two weeks because of COVID. That day was also my daughter's ninth birthday. 

(Remember when we thought this pandemic thing would blow over in a few weeks?)

We got our nails done at our favorite neighborhood salon and stopped by Trader Joe's, where the store was packed like it was Super Bowl Sunday and the shelves were eerily stripped bare by shoppers grabbing anything they could.

The cashier, who appeared weary from the crush but was still cheerful, gave us a small potted shamrock plant that my cat continues to eat whenever he can get to it. It's still alive, despite his rascally ways.

That nail salon closed last summer for good, like a lot of small businesses around us that just weren't been able to make it.

For me, those dates demarcated the period of what life was and when it would change, followed by a period of grieving, before adjusting to our new normal.

Over time, many -- maybe all -- of us began to hear of people who tested positive, who had to quarantine because they had been exposed to someone, or who had lost a parent or other loved one to COVID-19. As I'm writing this, the newspaper on my coffee table's front page includes a story about how the death toll is expected to top 500,000 this week, a number that is just freaking hard to digest.

My husband and our two kids have been super fortunate to stay healthy. My other child, who is 28, did get COVID-19, but thankfully recovered. 

Staring down another pandemic spring and summer makes me think of the ways we had to get creative as a family last year, to stay healthy and not go crazy being at home all the time together. 

Last summer, we got our newly purchased Honda CRV ready with crossbars and a hitch to haul luggage and bikes. I found a pretty sweet bike rack to carry four bikes.

And we were off. A few new traditions and places we found included old and new camping favorites. We upped our camping trips to four last year from the typical 1 to 2 and tried new places that turned out to be pretty great -- if you need some ideas, borrow these!

Mt Baldy, Indiana Dunes
Kettle Moraine in Wisconsin. We camp in either Kettle Moraine South or Kettle Moraine North every year. Great hiking, small lake swimming, biking. New Glarus Moon Man IPA. It never gets old to us.

Richard Bong Recreation Area in Wisconsin. Bong is the closest Wisconsin camping to Chicago. We've camped there before, but really came to have a new appreciation for it when we camped there in September and we did a ton of hiking though the southwest Wisconsin fall foliage.

Pokagon State Park
, Fort Wayne, Ind. This park is a beautifully maintained camping and hiking area about three hours from Chicago. There is a fun little camping store for the kids. I loved this place so much.

Bong Recreation Area
Coon Creek State Park, Shelbyville, Ill. Illinois is a long state, nearly 400 miles. Chicago is located in the far northeast corner and we pretty much never go south of, say, Starved Rock State Park, so there's a lot of state we haven't seen. But we have friends who talked 
up Coon Creek, and we were lucky to nab a leafy tent site on a warm
October weekend during which the leaves were in full fall color splendor. Oh my gosh, this area is gorgeous and lovely. I can't wait to go back.

Miller Beach path to the Dunes
We were fortunate to be able to stay at a friend's home near South Haven, Mich. last summer in what has become our annual summer 
vacation. I love SW Michigan so much.

We didn't camp here, but we did do a lot of day trips last summer and fall to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Historically, the closest we ever got to the Indiana Dunes was driving through Indiana to get to southwest Michigan for a vacation. 

This year, we decided that maybe Indiana didn't have to be drive-
Pokagon State Park, IN

through country, and we would actually go to the Dunes. 

We fell in love with the Miller Beach area of Gary, Ind. Thanks to the guidance of a friend who lives in the area, we found the perfect 3-mile roundtrip hike to lakefront beach that was remote enough to be away from the nearby crowded (and unnervingly unmasked) beaches. 

We made day trips as often as possible, and never failed to stop by the 18th 
Street Brewery, with awesome craft beer and food, sunny patio and super safety-minded staff. We always brought along our Scrabble game (another
new pandemic time hobby we picked up) and enjoyed a good meal. 
Near South Haven, MI

More recently, we did a weekend winter getaway to Starved Rock, which we've visited many times. What we discovered, though, was the very underrated, less crowded and lesser known Matthiessen State Park, which is also incredible and gorgeous.
Coon Creek, IL
With all of the trips, we followed the same formula. If we weren't camping (which is automatically social distancing), we rented small homes or cabins on VRBO, to keep us safe. Interestingly, we found that every time we left city limits, there were a lot of maskless faces, despite the creeping death toll. 
Matthiessen State Park, IL
Every year about this time, when I am burned out on winter, I start making plans for warmer days ahead. This year I am pumped for our planned trips to Shawnee National Forest, Warren State Dunes Park and Dunewood Camground in the Indiana Dunes.  The Shawnee trip will be right after what will be my fourth 50K race, the Lakefront 50K. With a 17-inch snow dump last week and frigid temps, training for that race has been interesting.

And if we can get everyone vaccinated and get life closer back to normal -- I can't wait to take some adventures back in Nebraska, and hug the heck out of my mom, dad and siblings. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

OMG they have pumpkin pie! -- Lakefront 50K race report

It was windy and snowing sideways. I was nauseous, cold and tired of running, more than 20 miles into a marathon, the Gandy Dancer trail marathon I ran last month.

No way I'm going the Lakefront 50K in three weeks, I thought, thinking about a race I'd been toying with in my mind over the summer. I can't wait to stop running, I thought. One foot in front of the other. Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez, once... sometimes I practice counting in Spanish when I'm running. Weird, but it kind of helps.

Three Saturdays later, I got up at 5 a.m., butterflies in my stomach. It was two days after a freak Halloween snowstorm. My 10-year-old son was sick. I had a fight with my husband the night before.
My head was jumbled, but I knew this: I had been thinking about this race for weeks and nothing was going to stop me from running it.

And it was great.

It was overcast and in the 30s before the race began. The sky's color matched my mood and resolve to run the shit out of this race. I took a photo of some ducks in Lake Michigan and walked by the sparsely populated start line to pass the time before the start.

This race has two distance options, 50 kilometers (31 miles) and 50 miles. Folks running the 50-miler had started running at 6:30, two hours before my race would begin. The 50K course consisted of three loops, starting at Foster Beach on the north side of the city and running south to North Avenue Beach and back.

There were aid stations at the beginning, the turnaround point and midway, near Recreation Drive, so about 2.5 miles apart, which was great.

Loop 1: I was solo, and that was good to shake out all of the negative junk. After turning back at North Avenue, I ran north a bit and saw something very odd. A man well into his late 70s, but more likely early 80s, was completely disrobed, except for old-timey fitted, high-waisted royal blue bathing shorts. He otherwise had nothing else on -- it was about 32 degrees -- and he rubbed his hands across his creamy white arms to attempt to warm up. I ran past him and kept looking back, and he actually walked in the water and began swimming. A guy with him, also older and fully bundled in a parka, watched him. It was weird.

About another mile and a half north of there, I see this guy walked and think, hey, that looks like my friend Oliver, who's married to my co-worker Jeff. Then I notice Jeff's with him. Jeff has one of those incredible, magnetic personalities and is a hoot to work with. I was so excited to run into them. "What are you guys doing in the middle of my race?" I yelled at them. We hugged, laughed and posed for selfies. I was smiling when I left them.

I kept my pace slow and took several-minute walk breaks at aid stations, something I usually don't give myself permission to do. But I had the Gandy Dancer marathon on my mind, and how much I struggled with nausea and fatigue, and I wanted to have a better race today. So far, my strategy was working for me.

As I neared the end of the first loop, I began looking for my friend Krista, one of my very favorite people in general and definitely a favorite to run with. She had graciously agreed to run the second loop with me. The second loop went by so much faster, talking and laughing about stuff. Even when we weren't talking, it was a comfortable quiet between us. I just love running with her.

At the North Avenue turnaround, where there was an aid station with tons of yummy food (ultramarathons are stocked very differently than your typical road marathon race), there was PUMPKIN PIE. OMG I love pumpkin pie and it sound especially amazing at that moment. I yelled at Krista "they have pumpkin pie" and she laughed at me.

Not wanting to get nauseous later, I kept myself to half a piece of pie. Yay, self-restraint. We headed back north.

As we neared Foster beach, the idea of a third 10-mile loop felt a little dreadful. I kept doing quiet mental checks. Was I tired? Not too bad. Was anything hurting? No. Even my lower back, which always tightens during long runs, wasn't too bad. Was I nauseous? No. I told myself, it's just the mental part here that is the hardest. You can do this.

Krista asked me if I had iPhone headphones and since I didn't, would I like to borrow hers? I seldom listen to music running because it can kind of annoy me after a while (my music-loving husband would not understand this). She suggested a podcast or audio book and I was like, great idea!

At the end of the second loop, we hugged and she was on her way to get her mom from the airport. Her mom is as awesome as her.

I decided to take a little walk break to start the third loop. As I walked, I realized I had no idea what book to listen do or really even how to download a book since I'd never done that. Sheepishly, I text Krista for a suggestion. I loved how fast she answered, suggested a couple of options. I picked "I think you should talk to someone" by Lori Gottlieb, a therapist who goes to therapy herself and talks about therapy and people. Fun fact -- prior to going to medical school and ultimately psychology, she worked in television, launching at the time little-known TV shows ER and Friends.

I'm not doing the book justice -- this book is so great. And it was perfect for my jumbly mind. I listened to 10 chapters that final loop, grateful for running, my friends and this great book.

I stopped at what would be my last mid-race aid station stop at Recreation Drive, feeling good vibes. I felt good mentally. Physically, I was glad to feel how I should feel, tired, but with no major issues. I walked a bit more, and stopped to toss my paper cup into an open garbage can. I jumped when I realized I tossed the cup on top of an animal, likely a possum, that was curled up in a ball at the bottom of the can. It looked like he/she was trying to stay warm. I could see it breathing, its furry back moving up and down. Yikes!

I ran/walked the rest of the way. As I got further north, I got more excited. This was the third 50K race I've done -- I did the Paleozoic 50K races in 2014 and 2015. It was the first 50K for me since hip surgery in 2017 and since turning 50. I recovered nicely from surgery, thank goodness, but still, to do this just made me feel badass. Ultras, in fact, attract an older audience, with people my age and older running 50- and 100-mile races, so to run 50K at my age isn't actually that remarkable in the ultra world.

But I was still glad -- as I get older, I work harder to not compare myself to others and drag myself down with negative thinking. I wished I had been better about this when I was younger.

As I neared the finish line, I was smiling. I happily crossed the finish line at 6:40 and change, about 30 minutes faster than my fastest 50K (which, in fairness, was a hilly trail race and this was a flat lakefront race).

I was craving a Coke Zero, and stopped at a 7-Eleven on the way home. I forgot for a moment I was still wearing my race medal and race bib, and walked toward the store. I said hi to the grinning homeless woman in front of me and asked her if I could buy her something to eat. She asked me if I was a superhero and we both laughed. I filled her order -- a hot dog with nothing on it -- and a coke and gave her a little hug.

It was a good day.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Gandy Dancer Trail Marathon: Race report

I'm a sucker for a fall marathon, especially small trail races.

While 40,000-plus people ran the Chicago Marathon last weekend, my running buddy Shaun and I had planned to run a great marathon trail race instead, the Des Plaines River Trail (DPRT) marathon. I've run it before, in 2018 and in 2015. The race was amazing in 2015. Three years later, the course was flooded (which some trail runners love) but I found it pretty tough. I wound up throwing out my back and a bleeding foot. My running buddy Shaun and I had already made a pact to skip DPRT if there was flooding again on the course.

Soooo when we saw the course conditions for DPRT were similar this year, just days before the race, I was already googling Midwest marathons for Saturday, Oct. 12, while Shaun was returning from vacation in Munich.

As soon as he landed at O'Hare, he had texts from me telling him to look at two Wisconsin marathons, both 6-7 hour drives from Chicago,the Gandy Dancer Trail Marathon in Luck, Wis., and the Whistlestop Marathon in Ashland, Wis. They both are trail marathons on old railroad beds, and both looked pretty great.

To me, it was like deciding whether to eat corn on the cob with my hands or using those cute little corn holders. It's still corn no matter what. And, in this case, it's still a trail marathon a long drive away.

(Side story: my neighborhood has a "freebox"  Facebook page where neighbors can give away stuff they don't want  to other folks in the neighborhood. A woman over the summer posted corn holders that were still in the package, brand new, and I was like, "yeah"! My husband was incredulous that I drove all the way to someone's house for corn holders. How could I not?! They're so cute AND functional.)

Ultimately we picked Gandy Dancer because it was one hour closer and it had snow in the forecast, whereas the other spot had 40-degree temps and rain in its forecast. I'd rather run in snow than rain. I had to google Gandy Dancer, which I learned is a old-timey term for a railroad worker.

Then there was proposing this impulsive idea to Brett. My husband, who is not an impulsive guy, was pretty cool about it, though he did (nicely) ask, "can't you just run in some puddles? Do you really need to go so far?" Fortunately he is used to my crazy.

We left Chicago midday Friday, with Shaun arriving to pick me up in not the compact car he planned to rent but a full-on minivan. He's single with no kids, so it was pretty funny. (I quickly realized that man, vans have a ton of room!)

As we drove north of Madison, Wis., the landscape and foliage became more colorful. Fall had already settled in up here and we oohed and ahhed as we continued northward. After dark we saw the hint of the freakishly early-in-the-season snow we'd seen in the forecast that week, flakes dancing in the van's headlights. We wondered about the clothes we brought to run in, and hoped for the best.

A stop at a local bar & grill in Balsam Lake for a pre-race dinner, and then we headed to stay the evening in St. Croix Falls, Wis., which only the next morning did I realize was on the Minnesota border. I guess I don't know my northern Wisconsin geography.

The next morning we got up early and saw trees swaying in the dark. It was 29 degrees. It's not that I can't run in that kind of weather, but I sure hadn't done it since last winter, and struggled mentally with the idea that I'd spend five hours running in that cold and wind. Fortunately, I had packed aobut four different running gear combos and settled on tights, long-sleeve, light hoodie and windbreaker vest.

The start line was at the Luck Fire Department. It was still super dark out when we arrived at 6:4 a.m. to check in. One of the race volunteers, who I assume was a fireman, asked if we want to join a few runners to start the race an hour earlier than the 8 a.m. start. Considering we typically start runs as early as 4 a.m., we were game for that. Everyone was so friendly, and we had a few people who were incredulous that we were skipping our hometown marathon -- one of the largest in the world -- to run a tiny race in northwest Wisconsin.

To us, it made perfect sense.

This is the dark start line below, with eight marathon runners and firefighters wisely wearing Carhartt gear head to toe. We could barely see. The other 25 marathoners would start an hour later, as would other runners doing shorter distances.

The race was, in my mind, can be divided into two parts.

The first 13 miles -- 6.5 miles south and back to the start -- were beautiful. Snow softly blew, dusting the trees lining the crushed limestone course (an old railroad bed, thus the "Gandy Dancer" name). Those trees also blocked some of the wind.

A super friendly woman, Nicole, and her husband Andy, who was biking alongside of her, immediately struck up a conversation and made the miles tick by. They were from Minneapolis, where Nicole had just run the Twin Cities Marathon the previous weekend, and were awesome to hang out with. Andy even biked ahead to an aid station at one point to find a bandage for a blister that was forming on my heel. Minnesotans are always so nice, in my experience.

The second half of the race was harder, windier, and felt colder. My body was definitely aching and I  and I couldn't feel my thumbs for awhile. Nicole and I kept passing and catching up to each other, as we each took little walk breaks, and asked if I needed company. My brain told me to grind it out in silence as I struggled with nausea and how tired I was starting to feel, so I thanked her and said I was OK.

The closer I got to the finish line, the harder and colder the wind felt. Shaun was ahead of me the whole race, since he's a lot faster. I hoped he was having a good race.

I finished more than five hours after starting, taking little walk breaks here and there and telling myself "who cares how slow you finish?!" The snow was blowing sideways and hard during the last few miles and I felt lightheaded and cold crossing the finish line. I was also disoriented because the start/finish line looked different in daylight and I didn't know where I was supposed to go after I was done running. I eventually found my way back to the fire station and laid down on the ground with my legs up a wall for what felt like a really long time.

Cheering me up after the race were the results. Because there were so few marathon runners, I came in 4th overall out of 11 women and won my age group 50-59 because there were only two women in that age group.

It's like when someone tells me I look good for my age -- I'll take it.

I loved this race, despite the challenges. I live in Chicago and yet love to go to the country as often as I can, whether it's a weekend or a race. Thank you to all of the awesome volunteers in Luck, Milltown and Frederic who cheered us, gave us handwarmers and homemade pumpkin bread.

Thinking about Whistlestop next year...

Nicole and I

My awesome running partner Shaun


Friday, December 7, 2018

Gram's 90th birthday

Last weekend my grandmother turned 90. For fun, I googled "what does turning 90 feel like". One of the hits was a link to a cheeky greeting card that said turning 90 was like turning 32 in Celsius. A story in a magazine I've never heard of, Dame, offered this insight: It's weird, but cool, too. After all, President George H.W. Bush, who died last week at 94, celebrated his 90th by skydiving.

To celebrate Gram, many from our family flew to Sacramento for her party from Michigan, Nebraska and my husband and our little ones from Chicago. We're the kind of family that doesn't gather very often, because we're so spread out. The family I grew up with in Nebraska isn't into traditional family gatherings, so it's pretty exciting when there is a family party.

Gram was as beautiful as always. She's tiny -- not sure she measures up to 5 feet anymore -- with striking short white hair that always appears to be neatly attended to. She's been on her own since Grandpa died more than 20 years ago. She had to learn how to drive and still lives on her own in the house they bought when my mother and her siblings were young kids. I was a little intimidated by her as a kid, but her strength is something I've come to admire as an adult.

The day of her party, her garage and house were set up with plenty of food, drink and chairs and tables for guests. The sun played peek-a-boo, providing warmth on a slightly chilly day. (I love California winters.) Gram wore an emerald green shirt that set off her pretty fair skin and hair. She was nervous -- as we all get when hosting a party and hoping people show up. Her neighbor Jane made jello shots, which we sampled pre-party -- even Gram, daintily spooning hers out of a small cup and wryly noting that it could be tough to maneuver her walker after doing one of these. 

I spent a lot of the party stage-managing my semi-tame children, so I got to observe and talk with people in spurts. It was a blast. Every time I saw Gram, she was smiling and talking to someone. My uncles were goofy and playful and loud. My normally cranky aunt was surprisingly cheerful, and my other aunt was her usual warm, friendly self -- the kind of person who makes you feel better when you're around her. My cousins -- all younger than me, the youngest one a senior in high school -- were super fun. 

My sister was there, too. I was a little nervous to see her because our relationship, which has sometimes been complicated, has been strained in recent years. She was friendly, which relaxed me, and we had fun hanging out. I love her and her warmth meant a lot to me. We wished our mother -- Gram's oldest daughter -- could have been there. She would have loved the party. Unfortunately her health makes travel impossible. It's so unfair.

I've been thinking about the weekend all week, back in cold, gray Chicago. I wished I'd relaxed more and not fussed over my kids so much. I should have spent less time working on that 500-piece puzzle I bought "for the kids"while trying to belly-breathe and more time talking to Gram and my other family members. 

There are points in our lives when our friends feel closer to us than our families -- for me, this isn't one of those times. While some friends are easy -- you know where you stand with them -- I find myself wondering about others, the ones who aren't honest and you feel like are talking behind your back. 

I've got some stuff stuck in my brain I need to work out -- this too shall pass is what I'm telling myself. I've always been too thin-skinned and wish I could let this kind of stuff just roll off of me. I'm not good at that.

Watching Gram with the friends who came -- the ones who loved her enough to show up -- reminded me that those are the friends to watch for and to love and cherish. 

What I also was reminded of was the enduring quality of family. A family can be like a pet -- too easy to ignore and take for granted and sometimes gives you a warning snap -- but is also loyal AF and will curl up next to you when you need it, their warm body pressed against yours, providing comfort and calm.

Thank you family for being you. And happy birthday, Gram. I hope to be half as fabulous as you when I turn 90. And I'm definitely having jello shots.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The wet feet marathon: Race report

Last year I had surgery to repair a torn labrum and fix an impingement in my right hip. Now that's done, it was time to try a marathon again.

I signed up for what was a sure thing, the Des Plaines River Trail marathon. DPRT is a lovely, flat crushed gravel trail in the northern suburbs, offering half marathon, full marathon and 50-mile distances. I ran this race run three years ago and absolutely loved it. I convinced my running buddy Shaun to sign up with me.

When it came time to train for the race back in June, I hesitated, to put it mildly. There were personal things happening at the time and I felt overwhelmed. Expending the time and energy on training for a marathon -- this would be my ninth -- seemed frivolous.

I mentioned this to Shaun on one of our many obscenely early morning runs and he said simply, we'll get through this together. Running friends are great that way.

The ego boost of a comeback marathon took a backseat to running and focusing on training as therapy for me, physically and emotionally. I ran, biked, lifted weights and did yoga all through the summer. It was a good summer. I felt physically strong.

I also focused on losing weight, and am now down close to 25 pounds since May. Menopause sucks in many ways, including adding "fluff" to my waistline over the last year. I like to joke that I've lost a toddler.

In September, as our runs became longer and longer, my old back issues began to flair up. Spasms and pain were with me nearly daily. Shortly after the final 20-mile run three weeks ahead of tapering for the race, my back was a complete mess. Those three weeks were miserable. I visited my old sports chiro, who did adjustments, but the pain kept returning. UGH.

The week before the race, I wasn't nervous about it, just about calming down my back so I could run OK. That's when our email inboxes were lit up by race director emails warning us about flooding on the course and possible re-routes. I was "meh" about it, figuring they'd figure it out.

By the end of the week, the alarmist emails had wormed their way into our nerves and fueled our jitters.

That cool morning, as racers stood around open fire pits (soooo nice) to stay warm, that's all we talked about -- how the course had been re-routed so that we would run four 6.55-mile loops (the 50-milers would do eight loops, omg) and that we would still be running through standing water, some areas up to half a foot deep. !!!!!

Another running friend had previously advised duct-taping our shoes, so we did. No one else at the race did, and we got a lot of comments and questions -- to which we readily responded that we had no clue what we were doing.

Finally, we were off. It was a gorgeous morning, sunny with frost blanketing the earth and temps in the 30s.

We encountered our first water crossing a half mile in, and then another, and more. Then we turned around and ran back through the five we just ran through. We were soaked nearly up to our knees, and parts of our upper legs and shirts as other runners tore  by us and splashed us. The water was freezing. I thought, oh my god, we have to do this THREE MORE TIMES?

As I continued the first loop, there fortunately was only one more water hazard just past a bridge over the Des Plaines River and then several dry miles -- though my feet wouldn't be dry again until the end of the race.

Shaun is faster than me, so I was solo a lot of the time. We would wave and/or hug as we'd pass each other in loops. The second loop was probably the toughest, now knowing what lay ahead of me and that I'd have to run more loops of this. My back was growling but as long as I kept moving, it wasn't too bad.

Finally, I began the last loop, the sun high in the sky. I felt happy, or at least happier. Other marathoners and I grinned at each other, knowing we were near the end. I made an extra effort to cheer on the 50-milers, who would be slogging on long after I was done.

Shaun and I found each other and ran the last five or so miles together. He was not cheerful and just wanted to get the damn thing done, his words, which I was fine with. Some friends of his came to cheer him on that final lap, and it was so nice to hear people cheering for us. I also ate part of a turkey sandwich that final loop, and it was fantastic.

As soon as I crossed the finish line, I couldn't take off my soggy shoes and socks fast enough. One of my ankles was bleeding a little, but miraculously I had no blisters. We grabbed food and beer with Shaun's super nice friends Morgan and Tim and we were done for the day.

My legs were a little sore but fine over the next few days. But my back woke up screaming the next day and by Monday I could barely focus on anything, the spasming was so bad. It was as bad as it gets.

I found a new chiropractor in my neighborhood, a really wonderful woman, who helped to slowly calm it down, and I got back into my sports doc. I started physical therapy just yesterday, six days after the race, and already am feeling much better.

For the challenging course, my time of 5:30 was just fine -- and even a few minutes faster than the last marathon I ran in 2016 in Kenosha, when I was pretty injured and before I had surgery. I'm 50, and dammit, I just ran a marathon!

Left, last May at the Wisconsin Half Marathon and weighing more than 20 pounds heavier than on marathon day, right.

Not DFL in my age group, woohoo!

A marathon is more than 50,000 steps. #science #cool

Totally grateful for this chiropractor! 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Riding a bike in Iowa: Ragbrai 2018 report

Earlier this year, one of us -- either my 25-year-old son Tory or I, not sure -- came up with an idea: Let's ride RAGBRAI this year.

RAGBRAI stands for "Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa". The Register is the Des Moine Register, a paper I tried unsuccessfully to get hired on at many years ago as a young small-town newspaper reporter in Newton, Iowa, and later in Des Moines at a small business weekly. (Years later, I made it to the Chicago Sun-Times as a reporter, so it all worked out fine in my book.)

That aside, the Register puts on this bike ride every year over seven days across the state. Back in the early 1990s, when I was that reporter, I was married with a small boy, Tory. I had thought about riding RAGBRAI but it didn't work out. And then I moved away, remarried, had more kids and became a runner. I went years hardly ever touching a bike.

The opportunity to finally do RAGBRAI was too tempting. Tory's dad and I agreed that he'd take the first four days in Iowa with our son, and I'd ride with him the last three days. Tory's extended family would drive an RV across the state and crew him and whichever parent was with him. Perfect. 

RAGBRAI's web site recommends biking 1,000 miles to train. I didn't do nearly that much, but I'd already been doing spin classes regularly, post-hip arthoscopy surgery in 2017. I also abundantly use our city's bike share Divvy nearly daily, so I squeezed in as many 20-25-mile rides as time would allow as the July RAGBRAI dates approached. Meh, I figured. I'd just go slow and do my best. 

I drove to Newton, Iowa with a rental car and a borrowed bike rack, that, unfortunately, didn't fit the rental car. I managed to keep the bike on the car by using bungy ropes to attached the bike rack to the car and the bike to the bike rack.

I sweated it the entire 300-plus mile drive to Newton, one of the towns the ride would stop through. It seemed appropriate to start the ride there, considering I had started my previous career in that town as a very green reporter and where my oldest son was born.

When I arrived at Tory's great-aunt Helen's house, he and his dad were already there. They were exhausted and hobbling a little as they walked, telling of heat and hills. 


A good dinner later by Helen and her sister, Gerry (Tory's awesome grandmother), and we were soon in bed. I woke up around 2 a.m., fretting about riding and how I hadn't yet lined up enough babysitters for the following week to pick up the kids at camp. Ugh.

The next morning, Tory and I got our bikes and stuff together. I ate a banana and we were off to Reasnor, a tiny town 10 miles away. It was hilly, but oh my, it was cool and the sun was rising and it was amazing. A breakfast bowl from "Farm Kids", one of the many pop-up food places we'd see again over the route, and we were happy and full. 

I was feeling spunky at that point, and gabbing Tory's ear off as we continued east toward Lynnville and Sully. Suddenly my chain popped off and I couldn't pedal.

This is one of the things that holds me back from biking more on my own. I know jack shit about fixing a bike. I've never even changed a tire. Deep confession.

So naturally, I panic. Tory's like, "calm down" and starts messing with the bike. Some thing that holds the chain in place is bent. He tries to fix it, but I still can't pedal. 

Maybe 15 minutes into this, one of the members of the Air Force Cycling team -- which Tory told me rides RAGBRAI to assist troubled cyclists -- pulls over and begins to help us. He's a tall, young guy and super nice. He warns me he might break the derailer-whatever-it-is if he bends it back into place, but we have no choice.

It works! He tells us his name is Greg and he's stationed at Scott Air Force Base, which is near St. Louis. I tell him my dad's retired Air Force in Omaha, and thank him for his bike help. Tory and I continue on a mile to Lynnville where -- thank you!! -- there is a bike shop popup where someone is able to fix my bike enough to finish RAGBRAI. 

That is a great thing about RAGBRAI -- in addition to food and drinks and funs stuff in every town, there are bike repair people to help you. What a relief!

The rest of the trip was rolling hills and stopping in little towns. I ate an amazing Iowa pork chop out of a napkin on the side of the road. We stopped for ice cream. When we got to Sigourney that evening, we wound up in a weird, ginormous costume warehouse (!?), lured by the promise of free beer. We got to the RV park and took a very cold shower in  4H barn-like place for $5, but it was good to wash off the grime. Total mileage: 75, more than 3,000 feet of elevation climbed. I felt tired, but elated.

Day two was another 50-plus miles to my favorite Iowa town, Iowa City -- home to the University of Iowa and my diehard football fan husband's team. It was less hilly, with a stop in Amish country's Kalona, with delicious roadside goodies (homemade pies are a weakness of mine). Kalona is home to a great brewery, Kalona Brewing, so naturally we stopped for a beer. The taproom was packed full of bikers, everyone in a great mood. In Iowa City, we went to dinner at Pullman, one of my new favorite Iowa City restaurants, and walked around on what was a beautiful summer night. I missed my family but it was pretty great.

Day three was 74 miles from Iowa City to Davenport, one of the Quad Cities on the Mississippi River. We trekked through West Liberty (super cute, quaint town) and I grabbed a pancake breakfast at the fire department in Atalissa to the east. We then rode through Moscow (blink and you missed it), Wilton, Wildcat Den State Park and then Montpelier, where Tory took a small roadside nap to allow me to catch up with him. This part of Iowa was a pretty break from the cornfields and soybean fields we'd been riding through, with more trees and some rolling hills.

We then went through Blue Grass, a tiny town with a gigantic drive-in movie theater, before finishing our ride to Davenport. The day had a Mayberry-like quality for sure -- like time had frozen at some point in eastern Iowa. 

I'd never been to Davenport. The riverfront was nice (I love riverfronts in general), and it was great to cross the finish line looking out at the Mississippi river (Big River! we always yell to the kids as we cross between Iowa and Illinois. I plan to yell that to them when they're teenagers, too). A quick burger with Tory, his grandparents and great-uncle, and we were on the road home to Chicago.

I absolutely loved RAGBRAI and biking. I'm so thrilled that I was in shape enough to do the ride and enjoy it. I'm wondering if I'm starting to like biking more than running. I can't wait to do another long organized ride.

Thank you to Helen in Newton for dinner and letting us stay at her house for the night; Curt for driving his RV all week and being all around awesome, to Tory's grandparents Mark and Gerry; who had always been so kind and wonderful since I first met them 30 years ago; Chris, Tory's dad, for doing the first four days with our son; Brett, my husband, for sparing me for a few days to do this awesome trip with Tory; and to my dad, who (mostly) patiently taught me how to ride a bike as a kid, and never fails to remind me how I used to crash into metal garbage cans.

And thank you to Tory -- a 50-year-old mom and 25-year-old guy don't have a lot of common interests, so I'm glad that you were willing to do this with your parents. It's fun having adult kids!

Tory and I in Keota, Iowa

Our comfy home

I think this is West Liberty

Atalissa, Iowa

Atalissa Fire Department making pancakes for cyclists

Drive-in in Blue Grass. Tory just signed the wall.