Race Review: Honda Miles Per Hour

Race Review: Honda Miles Per Hour

The Honda Miles Per Hour Run held this past Sunday was included in my list of 25 Chicago Must-Do Races published last year even though it hadn’t been held yet. I included it solely based on the concept and its timing on the race calendar. An indoor race in February in Chicago got my attention. The unique approach to racing further sweetened the deal. I registered for the inaugural event and hoped I would be able to give it a great review. I can.

The event was forged through a partnership between Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA) and the Chicago Auto Show. It helped that Dave Sloan, auto show general manager, is a runner. A course was laid out inside McCormick Place that traveled through the auto show displays. Another unique aspect of this race was not transversing a given distance as quickly as possible, but how many miles a runner could cover in an hour. The loop course with no real finish line was approximately 2.4 miles.

I got to McCormick Place about an hour before the 8am start. It took about 10 minutes to get from the recommended Lot C to the staging area. I thought a couple of directional signs would have been helpful, but I followed a group ahead of me who seemed to know the way. While packet pick-up was available during the week at various Fleet Feet Chicago locations, none worked with my schedule so I was happy for the convenience of race morning packet pick-up. 

Since I was away from the elements from the parking garage to the race, I only had a sweatshirt and my race shirt (cotton, women’s cut tee, with creative event logo) to gear check. Everything from online registration onward was organized and smooth. Packet pick-up and gear check staff/volunteers were pleasant, friendly and even encouraging and supportive!

There were no start corrals, just self-policed pace markers by which runners lined up. There were 515 who finished the race, so that’s a lot of people to move through a twelve foot wide start line. But it seemed to work okay. Everyone started at 8am and would be scored on gun time, rather than chip time. I don’t know how the folks in the back made out. I started by the 8:30 pace sign and figured I lost about 15-20 seconds at the start. Not consequential. 

Everyone was reminded to “stay right, pass left” and to be wary of faster runners coming from behind, especially after the first lap (I wasn’t lapped by the leaders until about 36 minutes and almost through my second lap). We were also warned about sharp turns. The course was well-designed with no hairpin turns; the sharpest turns I noted were 90 degrees. All runners I observed were cooperative and exhibited proper running etiquette. There were two fluid stations on the course that included Gatorade as well as water. Music and announcement were broadcast through the venue’s sound system and heard no matter where you were on the course.

Everyone’s “miles per hour” were calculated for the full hour based on the time they crossed the last timing mat. Mats were placed approximately every 2/10 of a mile. I managed to come in at 7 miles per hour. While I enjoyed the event, I will admit that as I began my 3rd time traveling the course, I was looking for some better scenery and the one hill on the course (the Grand Concourse bridge), seemed a lot steeper in the last lap than it did in the first! Although by the last lap the competitor in me started kicking in to high gear in order to reach my goal of hitting the mat near the 7 mile marker.

That’s the reason I’ll keep coming back to this event. It’s a great personal challenge time trial. “How far can you run in an hour” is a great way to check-in on your level of endurance going into spring training. Year after year we will be able to assess our fitness level against ourselves from the prior year. Another perk is early access to the Chicago Auto Show floor. While our race bibs gave us access, friends and family could also purchase tickets at a discounted rate in order to cheer from spots on the part of the course within the show floor or visit the show with runners after the race.

I overheard one participant complaining about the finisher’s medal. “You’d think you’d get more than a plastic medal for $60,” he said. I thought the medal was fine. It was actually rubber and since is was a sneaker shape with tire treads, the rubber seemed very fitting. Can’t please everyone! The registration fee included the auto show access (a $13 value), t-shirt, refreshments, finisher’s medal, and free race photo downloads. I thought the price was fair and competitive with other races.

I really enjoyed the event and about 90 minutes walking around the auto show as a cool-down. Given the number of people I saw filing in as I was leaving, I was grateful for the early entry. I look forward to returning next year and traveling a greater distance in that hour!

About my Valentine

About my Valentine

There are circumstances every once in a while that make us pause and think about our lives and more specifically our mortality; those times in which we remember what’s truly important and reevaluate why we put things off for the right time. Those circumstances can be instances of actual life or death on the line, and others are less serious reminders of how off the rails something could go. In either case we are left with the reminder that life is indeed short and can change in an instant. 

Not long after we got back from our trip to warm, sunny, southern California last week, Kurt came down with what we now know was the flu. Thankfully he had his flu shot (I have never gotten a flu shot and somehow didn’t get sick, but that’s a discussion for another day). I am glad he got the shot as the virus seemed to pass quickly and when I left for work Saturday morning he seemed to be much, much better.

Sunday morning we were in the ER. I honestly thought they were going to pump him with fluids and perhaps antibiotics and send him home. It was a little more serious. Whether from the flu or a cough, the rhythm of his heart was thrown off and ultimately they needed to shock it back. Various tests and then scheduling the procedure took sometime and he wound up spending two and half days in the hospital. He’s now home and everything is returning to normal. He was even told once all the flu symptoms cleared out – lingering cough and congestion – he could get back to running. All good. But the experience left us both in a state of contemplation.

“It’s easy to see how people wind up in the hospital and never leave,” he said at one point. We both knew from the experiences we each had caring for our parents as they aged how often one could arrive in the ER for one issue and be found to have other complications. And that was just it. While we recalled experiences in caring for our parents we were facing the reality that it was now one of us.

I was sensitive to the vulnerability he may have felt not being completely  in control and giving up some of that control to me. This was the first time as a couple we were faced with potential medical decisions. I felt his love deeply and the trust he placed in me, which served to strengthen those feeling I have for him. I also significantly missed not having him at home, something I perhaps had been taking for granted.

Spending two nights alone in the townhome we share was weird. Until last August this had been his place. I’ve had some difficulty feeling completely at home there. While I thoroughly enjoy being there, it has still felt like his place. I’ve left him in complete charge of maintaining the home and taking care of me. That wasn’t easy for me when we first started dating, but since I moved out here, I let the pendulum swing far in the other direction.

This week, whether he liked it or not, I got to take take of him. I felt good in this role. When he found me I was a bit broken. He did so much to put the pieces back together. He was supportive, patient and kind. In him I found someone I could trust with all my heart and he showed me I was capable of love again. I allowed him to take care of me when I was usually more comfortable in the care-giver roll. This past week, I felt a balance return. This time he needed me, and I was able to be there for him.

There is a vulnerability in getting older – and he’s extra sensitive to this because he is eight and a half years my senior – but for this I draw on memories of my parents as well. Sometimes she took care of him and sometimes it was him taking care of her. He was several years older as well. Regardless, they were always stronger together.

This was one of those circumstances that made me pause. While everything was fine, it reminded me that he is the love I waited for my entire life. Even while sick, all the little things that make him so special continued to shine through. Like how he has the incredible ability to remember everyone by name. How kind he is to everyone around him – from the cardiologist to the cleaning staff. He makes other people feel valued. He is the most generous person I know. He is always willing to share his time, resources and knowledge to make someone else’s experience easier. I truly believe he recruited a few new runner’s from the hospital staff!

There is never a right time to do anything. But I’ve learned that lesson over and over, and today is Valentine’s Day after all. I’m using this occasion to tell you about my Valentine. He is what I’ve been running towards all these years. I don’t know if I’m lucky, or fortunate, or deserving, but at the very least, I’m grateful to have Kurt in my life. I will never take that for granted. I don’t want to plan a single day in this short life that doesn’t include him. My Valentine is THAT special.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

What are doing wrong raising boys?

I know from my experience with my own husband, and what I learned from my involvement with Let Me Run, that we need to do better for our boys. This is a very interesting read.

“While following the conventional script may still bring social and professional rewards to boys and men, research shows that those who rigidly adhere to certain masculine norms are not only more likely to harass and bully others but to themselves be victims of verbal or physical violence. They’re more prone to binge-drinking, risky sexual behavior, and getting in car accidents. They are also less happy than other guys, with higher depression rates and fewer friends in whom they can confide.”

From The Atlantic

My Surf City Marathon Experience

My Surf City Marathon Experience

A review of Surf City Marathon Weekend from last year can be found HERE. Once again organizers did a superb job and I was happy to be back. For this post, I am not going to review (again) the attributes of the race weekend (not much new to say). Today, I’m going to focus on what was different about this destination race – namely that I ran the full Marathon for the first time after several years of doing the Half and my experience chasing a time goal.

The Surf City Marathon this year was my Boston Qualifying time goal race. This wouldn’t just be the winter getaway weekend it had been in the past. Last Friday morning, I was at O’Hare with Kurt boarding an early flight to LAX with a lofty ambition: to finish in under 4:05. 

Beachfront Path. Huntington Beach, California. February 2020.

Upon checking in at the Hyatt Regency Resort (where we always stay) Friday afternoon, we immediately dressed in running clothes, the first departure from our usual routine. Because I was running the full Marathon instead of the Half, I didn’t want to leave my shakeout run until the morning. Saturday was a rest day. We headed north along the beach for about a mile and a half, flipped around and finished three back near the hotel and race expo. The Expo has always been a Friday afternoon tradition, but this year I was being given a blue Marathon bib, rather than the orange one Kurt received. He was still doing the Half. That’s when it sunk in that I was going these extra miles alone.

The weekend weather was fabulously perfect for everything we had planned. Saturday I was to stay off my feet. With a daytime high over 80 degrees and blue skies and sunshine, we lounged on the beach. The predicted temp for race morning however was low 50s with cloud cover. I could not have ordered a better weekend.

Surf City USA. Huntington Beach, California. February 2020.

It was agreed that since my race start was 75 minutes earlier, I would set my own alarm and head out alone. While I missed the companionship and camaraderie of our usual joint race mornings, I had a goal and was grateful for the meditative alone time to get my head on straight.

I made coffee in the room, dressed quietly, ate a Clif Bar, and slipped out. The Hyatt is an official race hotel and provided complimentary water and bananas in the lobby. I sat alone in a chair in the lounge, finished my banana, hydrated, and closed my eyes for a few minutes and visualized myself successfully navigating the course. The best part about having done the Half so many times is that most of the course was fairly familiar. And the race website had a really good description of it that I read numerous times.

I didn’t leave the hotel until 6:10. The race start was at 6:30 just about a 5 minute walk away. With only 2200 scheduled to start, waves were self-policed and divided between over and under a four-hour predicted finish time. I moved in front of the 4:05 pacers, but well behind the 3:50 guys. I never did see the 4:00 group. It was still dark.

Alone in a crowd at the start. Pacific Coast Highway. Huntington Beach, California. February 2020.

After a 24-minute moment of silence for the victims of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant (all Orange County, CA residents, two specifically from Huntington Beach), and the National Anthem, we were off. I had divided the course essentially into 5 parts in my mind (4 -6 mile segments and a final 2.2 mile sprint to the finish….just run one at a time; don’t think too much about the whole. 26.2 miles. Knowing that you’re going to be running for four hours can be pretty daunting, especially from the perspective of mile one.

The first segment was along the Pacific Coast Highway and right on Seaport and up into the course’s only real elevation. After mile four the marathon course included a loop through Huntington Central Park which was new to me. It was beautiful and a nice contrast to the beachfront course of which I was most familiar. My objective at this point was to maintain a pace no faster than 9:10 per mile. Doing some math in my head, I figured I was averaging 9:05 though 6 miles; a little fast (my official 10k split time was 57:04, 9:06 pace).

The second segment brought me back onto the course shared with the half and comfortable to me.  I tried to slow the pace. I needed to save something for later in the race. I was through segment two as I neared the first turn-around on the PCH and believed I was now at my desired 9:10 average pace (my official half marathon split was 1:59:41, 9:08 pace). 

My plan from here was to gradually increase my pace with the hope that I’d have enough energy to increase the pace to sub 9:00 miles by the 4th (and final long) segment. When I hit the turn-around in Bolsa Chica however we were suddenly hit with a stronger than expected headwind which, added to a slight gradual incline, had me working a little harder without much to show.  

Then we got to that point at about 15.5 miles: less than a mile to the finish – had I been running the Half – where the marathon course makes a U-turn onto the the beachfront path for another 5 miles in the opposite direction. Being free of the headwind though gave me a burst of energy and for miles 17 and 18 I was back at a 9:02 pace.

The course description explains that the beach path is not part of the closed course and therefore runners should be wary of pedestrians and bicyclists. I get this, but seriously? It seems a little antagonistic to be riding your bike or walking your dog through a marathon, no? There’s no other place for you to go? Would it just kill you to postpone your outing for a couple hours? 

Maybe this is where some negativity distracted me, although I was very conscious of the breathtaking view: big waves of the Pacific hitting the beach to the west. As I presumed in last year’s review, the Marathon course has better scenery.

I was also very aware that I was alone most of the time. Running the Half you always feel like there are a lot of people around you. And of course in this race, I had grown accustomed to having Kurt at my side. At other marathons – especially Chicago last fall – the course is packed with fellow runners and lots of cheerleaders. 

I finally reached the northern most point on the course just before the 21 mile mark. I was beginning to struggle to hold the pace. Miles 19, 20, and 21 clocked in at 9:10, 9:22 and 9:30 (my official 20 mile split was 3:08:09, I had fallen to a 9:13 average pace). Then as I was conscious of being half way through the final 6-mile segment, the headwind was back. I was feeling fatigued although I still didn’t have any problem moving and pushing forward. You got this. Keep going. My pace had slowed considerably but I was moving and hadn’t exactly hit a wall.

Just as I was nearing the 24-mile marker and trying to figure out how I was going to find the energy for that “2.2 mile sprint to the finish”, the 4:05 pace group came from behind me. “We’re going to be finishing between 4:04 and 4:05,” one pacer was telling them. I can still do this! “I’m sticking with you guys” I announced. And I did for over a mile. I surprised myself cutting :90 off the previous mile’s pace. Then I lost them in the crowd as the marathoners merged back onto the PCH and into a mass that now included the mid-pack of the Half Marathon. As I could see the finish line banner in the distance, my watch clicked over 4:05. I still had roughly 2/10ths of a mile to go. I looked to my right and there he was. Kurt. With a smile that said “I’m so proud of you” and encouraging words. Waiting for me to finish as he said he’d be. I suddenly didn’t care that I hadn’t made this goal, it suddenly didn’t seem all that important.

Here I was an (almost) 55 year-old empty nesting mom, who can run 26.2 miles without stopping at an average pace faster than most people can run a single mile. My official time was 4:07:34. On top of being my personal best (this was an age-graded personal record), I have this incredible man waiting for me when I finish. Next year I’ll be back – running the Half with him.

Finishers. Huntington Beach, California. February 2020.

New Jersey continues to be a piece of my puzzle

New Jersey continues to be a piece of my puzzle

Last week I was back in New Jersey. It marked my first time back in a little over a year. I know that January is perhaps not the best time to leave Chicago for New Jersey (the escape to someplace warm is coming later this week), but I have an annual check-in at Memorial Sloan Kettering that I use as an excuse to spend time re-connecting with friends…and the landscape.

In spite of not being on Facebook (or Messenger), I had absolutely no trouble communicating with the people I wanted to see. Armed with cell numbers, I texted friends to let them know I was in town and to make plans. First up was a run through the familiar park where I’d logged probably over 1000 miles. I connected with members of the running club I helped start in 2014. Some new faces, but lots of familiar ones.

De Novo Harriers. Saddle River County Park. Ridgewood, New Jersey. January 2020.

For some reason – and maybe partly because it had been over year – this trip triggered some unexpected emotions. While I enjoyed the comradely of the group run, I was glad to have a few extra miles on the schedule to take in the trail for a while on my own and reflect on who I was and who I’ve become as the miles unfolded on that very path over more than two decades.

On Saturday evening I attended mass in the gym at my elementary school. If you read my post “Lessons learned in a humble gymnasium” you know it had been over 37 years since I attended mass in that gym. When I walked in it was like walking into my childhood home and having everything appear as it had been. Emotion over took me at the sight of the faux stained glass that served as a backdrop to the alter now as it had decades ago. The last time I saw this scene I was 16…long before so many events, both happy and tragic. I had arrived early enough that I had time to exit briefly to compose myself, only to return to the sight of Sister Anne, my religious education teacher who prepared us for first communion – in that same gymnasium – during the 1972-73 school year. She was there as part of the reunion my friend coordinated. Between illnesses and weather (northern New Jersey saw about 4 inches of snow that evening) our group of 30 shrunk to 10, but it was so nice to reconnect.

On Sunday morning I did a solo run near my friend’s home in Lyndhurst. That’s when I realized that one of the things I miss about New Jersey the most is being high. No, not in a legal weed kind of way, but in a top of the mountain sort of way. I ran along Ridge Road, appropriately named as its at the top of a big hill (or maybe what my Illinois friends would call a mountain). My view to the west included the vast New Jersey landscape and more mountains. My view to the east was the Manhattan skyline. There are lots of high places in northern New Jersey like that. Northern Illinois, not so much.

Seen on my run. North Arlington-Kearny, New Jersey border. January 2020.

I love Chicago. I love running on the lakefront. I love exploring new neighborhoods. It’s a smaller, more manageable city. It’s calmer. The people don’t seem as busy and are a little more apt to give you their time. But if I’m going to live in the suburbs, I’d take New Jersey hands down. And maybe a lot of that is familiarity. And maybe some of it is the landscape. Or the distance I now feel from a city. Or the relationships.

This trip also allowed me to check in with my New Jersey-based coach with whom I’ve been training virtually. There is no substitute for actual FaceTime. I realized this too in getting together with some of my favorite “Ramsey Moms”. Between that and staying part of the week with my BFF, Martha, it sunk in that perhaps what I miss most is female friendships. I just haven’t made those connections here – yet. But when I was in New Jersey, I missed Kurt. And when my daughter is not with me, I miss her too. I guess it comes down to nothing’s perfect. We live our lives constantly in search of missing puzzle pieces hoping to find a completeness that will never truly exist. When new pieces are found, others are lost. And yet, we can still focus on what’s new and good about what we have built and move forward.

Ultimately what was perhaps best about this trip was another clear check-up at MSKCC. Good health is, after all, the one piece of the puzzle we can’t do without. Coming up…marathon #10.