Return to the Land of the Living

I spoke too soon earlier this week when I thought I was finally beating my cold.

After leaving work early on Monday (I was exhausted by lunchtime), I started coughing, coughing, coughing. I woke up Tuesday with a brick on my chest. Luckily, my doctor squeezed me in last-minute that morning and, guess what…. I have bronchitis. Joy!

Thankfully, my doc said it was literally just starting, so with the antibiotics she prescribed + the all-powerful Mucinex, I should be feeling relatively back to normal in just a few days. Phew! I actually felt a bit better last night already (maybe it was all in my head)—but I was so glad to feel like I was back in the Land of the Living. I actually had an appetite and was super excited for some pancakes as a late lunch…

banana pancakes

banana pancakes

I was even excited that I had the energy to do the dishes and some laundry. Sad, I know. Ha!

I’m feeling better just in time to welcome my fiance’s brother, coming from the UP of Michigan, to our house for the next several days. He’s in need of a little vaca because he’s been working a TON lately, so we’re excited he’s coming to spend some time with us! We have lots of plans in mind. He just started running, so I’m hoping I feel well enough to take him to my running club Saturday morning. I think we’re also going to Milwaukee for a day; doing some shopping; possibly taking the train to downtown Chicago (I don’t think he’s ever been there); and just spending some much-needed time relaxing and catching up. It will be fun!

Any recommendations on things to do in Milwaukee or Chicago this time of year? I usually only visit during the summer months or right around Christmastime, so I have no clue what to do in the fall when it’s a bit chillier.

Speaking of chilly, to warm myself up today, I got my first spiced apple cider of the season. Mmmm. Delicious. I’m usually a hot cocoa girl, but I’m supposed to be drinking “lots of clear liquids” while I battle this cold stuff, so apple cider sounded divine. Uhh, hopefully that counts.

mmm...spiced apple cider! first of the fall

mmm…spiced apple cider!

Good thing that Kleenex in the background of the pic is censoring my notebook cover. Twice. 😉

Stay warm & healthy, friends!

Hot cocoa or apple cider? Things to do in Chicago & Milwaukee?? Go! 

Running the Chicago Marathon, Part 2

It was pitch black when I woke up at 4am on marathon morning. The silence of the city drifted through the windows, by which I mean—a sort of humming, punctuated silence that never quiets completely. There was something already present in the air, something thrumming around me: excitement, anticipation. The city knew what was happening that day.

Realizing I had no chance of falling back asleep, I got up to pee for the umpteenth time. (Good hydration!)

Before I knew it, my two sisters & I were awake and ready to go. My mom snapped a picture of us before we left, remarking on our uncanny ability to look happy and excited at 5am with the prospect of running 26.2 miles weighing on us.

Ready to go run the marathon!

Ready to go run the Chicago Marathon!

What can we say? Runners: We’re a special breed.

It took about an hour of walking + train travel to get downtown near Grant Park, where the race started. We stopped in at the nearby Hilton to drop off our bags with my older sister’s running club, the Alpine Runners.

We followed the signs to find the right room…

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Note: Follow the yellow sign.

Funnily enough, they wouldn’t let us into the elite breakfast.

It calmed me to meet and talk to a few of the Alpine Runners as we prepped ourselves to head to the start corrals. I shook out any nerves I had. For the time being, anyway.

Brandi and Lara headed up to the wave one corrals (they are speedy) while I went to my entrance for the [slower] corrals.

Heading to Corral G.

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I kept an eye out for my friend Jessica, who was in the same corral as me, while I waited and stretched in the crowd. I figured there was no way I’d be able to spot her…

The corrals were packed!

The corrals were packed!

And then suddenly the crowds parted—and there she was! Yay. By this time, I was definitely getting super nervous—it was finally hitting me that I was actually going to RUN A MARATHON—so it helped to have a friend and someone to chat with while we waited over an hour to start.

Waiting with thousands of other runners to start.

Waiting with thousands of other runners to start.

The first wave of runners took off running at 7:30, but our corral wasn’t set to start ‘til 8am. Finally, at 8:08 I crossed the starting line and the marathon had BEGUN!

Oh my gosh. Is this really happening after all this time?

I quickly got split up from my friend Jessica and her running partner, but I knew that would happen as soon as I started my 10 min. run/2 min. walk plan anyway. I had my headphones and running playlist all set to go, but as the hordes of cheering people and music started filling my eardrums, I knew nothing on my playlist would match that.

The pure energy from the crowds, the music blaring over loudspeakers, the runners all around marching to the beat of some unknown drum, the sun rising brightly, the crisp and cool air—it just couldn’t get any more perfect.

I decided to just take it all in for the first 13 miles, and soak up as much of the experience as I could while I still felt great. I knew the second half of the race would be tougher, and I’d need to focus more on how I felt, making sure I was staying fueled, keeping a strong form, etc.

But for now, I would simply enjoy the ride.

Action shot taken while running.

Action shot – taken while running!

I got 10 minutes in and it was time for my first 2-minute walk break (all in effort to keep my rehabbed ITBS from bothering me). Let me tell you, it was mentally painful to stop and walk already. I was so amped to run, the last thing I wanted to do was stop! Every time I hit a walk break, I got to the outermost edge and made sure nobody was directly behind me, so I wouldn’t cut anyone off. It was so packed though, that I nearly always felt annoying and in the way of the other runners. I also felt people in the crowd eyeing me up, and actually a lot of spectators wouldn’t even look at me—they were probably thinking, “Dang, it’s this early and she has to walk already? That girl’s never gonna make it!”

But, I knew it was the right plan for me, and I had to do it to make it to the end. So, every 10 minutes or so, I diligently stopped for my 2 minutes of walking. (I admit, sometimes I’d get to 90 seconds and decide that was long enough!)

Suddenly, I was crossing the halfway point of the race. Mile 13. It sounds crazy, but I remember thinking to myself, It only feels like I’ve been running for half an hour. That is how inspiring, entertaining and motivating the crowd support was in this race (and, I suppose a nod to my training paying off). It was absolutely amazing to feel like 13 miles had literally passed in what seemed like the blink of an eye!

Around this time, I also spotted my fiancé on the side of the course, and got a little good-luck hug and smooch. Even with thousands of other people yelling support to you mile after mile, seeing a loved one makes all the difference in the world. I took off trotting from there with doubled ambition.

By mile 15, I started to get a bit tight and achy. Considering my comeback in the prior 6 weeks or so before the marathon didn’t include a ton of running, 15 miles was a lot of pounding that my body wasn’t used to.

I also realized, at this junction, that math is not my strong suit…as I had miscalculated how many Shot Blocks to bring for all 26 miles. I was going to run out of fuel at around 18 miles. Marathon rookie mistake. It all worked out, as the race volunteers were handing out bananas later in the race. I was able to eat some banana, and thankfully my stomach was fine. As a fun bonus, I felt like I was in a real-life Mario Kart race as I ran around trying not to slip on banana peels. Those suckers really ARE slippery!

At mile 18, I had the realization that, Hey, this is the furthest I’ve ever run! Awesome!

I probably looked better than I felt. Silly runner.

I probably looked better than I felt. Silly runner.

That marveling thought was quickly followed by another realization:

Hey, I still need to run 8 more miles though. Awesome…

I hadn’t hit The Wall yet, and felt fairly decent, so I wasn’t worrying. But by mile 20, which you hear so often as really being that threshold to The Wall, I started to feel it. I was really starting to ache all over: in my feet, legs, back, shoulders… And every time I stopped for my walk break, it was becoming harder and harder to start again—not mentally, but physically. I was literally groaning out loud in pain as I’d start to transition from the walk to running. I told myself to stop being a diva, but I couldn’t control it.

At mile 22, after my 2-minute walk break, I started running again and decided that if I stopped to walk anymore, there was a good chance that my body would not be able to start running again. There were people all over the place walking at this point, and ironically enough, this is when I decided I needed to STOP walking.

Those last 3 miles felt literally as long as the entire rest of the race. My body ached, I was tired, my ration of Shot Blocks was gone, and I was nearing 5 hours of running. FIVE! It was 100% heart, soul and mind that got me through those last couple miles.

And then, with a mile to go, I started hearing a familiar tune over some speakers someone had set up on the sidewalk…  One of my all-time favorite songs, Kings of Leon’s “Fans” was blaring. I felt a huge grin transform my face, feeling like a goon, and probably looking like a freak as I shuffled along. But I didn’t care, that song was just what I needed to push me along for a couple more minutes.

I was still smiling as the notes drifted away behind me, when all of the sudden I heard, “AMANDA!” out of the roaring crowd, with a half mile to go to the finish.

Happy to see some familiar faces at the end of the race.

Happy to see some familiar faces at the end of the race.

My family & friends were there on the side of the course, screaming and yelling for me. They later said they were surprised to see me at that point looking SO happy and smiling! Their cheers pushed me on for that last half of a mile, and my legs were flying beneath me, pushing me faster and faster. I was relishing the moment, oddly lamenting that I was about to be done, my goal was about to be achieved—but at the same time, I just wanted to be done. I was so close.

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Turning the corner, there was a bit of a hill at the end, and I wove in and out of people as I continued to pick up my pace. I don’t know where all that extra energy and speed came from in the end, but it rallied me forward faster and faster and then… Then it was there in big, bright letters:

FINISH

With whatever strength I had left, I lifted my arms up and smiled as I crossed the finish line.

I am a runner.

I am a MARATHONER!

Chicago Marathon 2013 Finisher Medal

Chicago Marathon 2013 Finisher Medal

Three sisters = Three marathon runners.

Three sisters = Three marathon runners.

Final clock time: 5:06:43 

Running the Chicago Marathon, Part 1

I think the days leading up to a race are just as important as race day itself. You need to get plenty of rest, eat well, stay hydrated and keep a positive, upbeat attitude. With all that in mind, I had a great Friday & Saturday leading into the Chicago Marathon. Let’s recap!

On Friday, my mom and little sister, Lara, traveled into town, and by lunchtime we were on our way to Chicago. My older sister, Brandi, lives in the city, so her apartment was our headquarters for the weekend. After a little relaxing and chatting there, we headed out for some serious carb loading.

We went to an Italian restaurant, Calo, to get our pasta on. They had some amaaazing sundried tomato focaccia bread to start with. I followed that up with the Linguini Frutti di Mare as my entrée (aka linguini with shrimp, scallops, clams, calamari and mussels). YUM! It was delicious, and even though it was a pasta dish, the seafood helped to keep it feel a little on the lighter side, if that’s possible. I didn’t want a rock in my stomach like, say, the gorgonzola-stuffed gnocchi I was originally eyeing up… (Some day I will have to go back for that!)

We finished up dinner with some dessert, of course.

Calo dessert

The four of us split the tiramisu and a chocolate mousse sponge cake. Ahhh, heaven. Dessert is quite necessary for pre-race carb loading, let me tell ya.

After a quick walk home, we headed to bed early because we had plans the next morning!

Runner’s World hosted a free shake out run with Bart Yasso at the South Loop Fleet Feet store at 8am Saturday morning. Brandi, Lara and I headed there, ready for an easy 2-3 mile run to shake out the nerves and loosen up our muscles. Before the run, we were each given a bag with Bart Yasso’s book, “My Life on the Run,” and the latest Runner’s World Magazine. Woohoo! I have wanted to read Bart’s book so I was stoked. A lot of people took pictures with Bart and got his autograph. My sisters & I snapped a little pic with our running idol.

We love Bart Yasso!

We love Bart Yasso!

(Thanks Brandi for the pic!)

We were able to stow away our belongings in the bags to leave at the store while we all went out for the run, which was pretty convenient. The run was an easy out & back to the lakefront path. I only chose to run two miles, so I didn’t get to see much of the lakeshore, but it sure was a beautiful morning.

Chicago Lakeshore path

Chicago lakeshore path

It was fun to chat with other runners who were psyching up for the marathon, too. I talked with a few ladies on the trot back to the store, and got some useful advice. One of the women had done a run-walk method like I was aiming to do, and I mentioned how I thought I’d feel stupid during my first few walk breaks, as my first walk break would be only 10 minutes in. Plus, with all the cheering & adrenaline, how would I be able to stop myself from running?! I felt like everyone would be looking at me funny. She told me she understood because last year when she had done a run-walk plan for the marathon, she made the mistake of skipping the walk breaks in the beginning for those reasons. It ended up biting her in the end; she ran out of energy and hit the wall pretty early on, but was still able to finish. I was very glad I got to talk to her and reinforce that it would be important to follow my plan, no matter what.

Once we got back to Fleet Feet, there were water bottles & Gatorade waiting outside for us. I sucked down some Gatorade while I got in lots of stretching. While stretching, I looked down next to my foot and loved this saying. Perfect timing before the race.

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We went inside where a nice carb-y spread of food was waiting for all the hungry runners.

Don't get in the way of hungry runners!

Don’t get in the way of hungry runners!

We just grabbed a little snack to munch on while we listened to Bart recount some funny running stories and then give us some advice for the Chicago marathon.

Bart Yasso giving words of wisdom for the Chicago Marathon.

Bart Yasso giving words of wisdom for the Chicago marathon.

This was such a fun event to go to, and it was all free! Awesome. If they host this shake out run again next year, I’ll definitely be going.

Afterwards, we made a pit stop at Target for some last-minute race day needs, and then stopped for a big breakfast before heading to the expo to pick up our packets.

Arriving at the Chicago Marathon expo.

Arriving at the Chicago Marathon expo.

With sooo many runners & the place being so packed, packet and t-shirt pick-up was pretty painless and quick.

Got my bib!

Got my bib!

We wandered around the expo for a little while, and I stopped at the Nike pop-up store to buy another Chicago marathon t-shirt. Because, duh, when it’s your first marathon you have to get all the goodies you can. 🙂

I also ran into my running club buddy, Liz!

101513_amandaliz

Cheese.

Runner sisters!

Runner sisters!

After the expo, we went back to Brandi’s apartment and relaxed. Our mom made us a yummy homemade dinner with salad, baked chicken and pasta. We chowed down early and then settled in to watch some TV and a movie to keep our mind off the race & our nerves calm. Pretty soon it was 9pm, and we headed for bed to rest up for the Chicago Marathon…

Stay tuned!

~ ~ ~

How do you prepare for a big race day? Any traditional meals, or lucky habits you have to do?  

Conference + City Livin’ in Sweet Home Chicago

I’m back! I had quite a busy week with work, workshops & a conference in downtown Chicago.

Last Wednesday, I headed to Chicago to attend the WebVisions conference for work.

“WebVisions exposes designers, programmers and strategists to the new ideas and trends that are revolutionizing business and the world.”

As part of my job as a web designer, it’s pretty critical I stay up to date on what’s going on in the world of web design and development, since it’s such a fast-moving and ever-changing medium, and this conference didn’t disappoint. There were so many eye-opening things I got out of it. I’m excited to go back to work this week and discuss ideas, and work out a game plan to put them into action.

Here are a few of my favorite takeaways, which I think really transcend any job field, and get to the core of communication and everyday life:

Find good people doing good things, and work with them.
Whether it be at work or not—believing in what you do and who you work with is so important. [talk given by Jason Kunesh, @jdkunesh]

Stop Complaining and Do Something

Stop complaining and do something. 
So easy to say, yet sometimes, so hard to do. Where to start “doing something” is sometimes the toughest question to answer yourself. So talk to others and think positively on what you can do to create change for the better. [talk given by Jason Kunesh, @jdkunesh]

Sketch!
Even though we work on the web and computers all day, sometimes pen & paper are our best and most valuable tools to get ideas out of our heads.

Avoid the “swoop-n-poop.”
(Ha.) Involve important stakeholders in decision-making up front, so they don’t come into the picture at the end of the road and ask “what if,” virtually swooping in and pooping on all the ideas and work you’ve already done. Okay, sounds funny and not professional I know, but as a design professional, this is an all too familiar situation! [collaboration & critique workshop given by Adam Connor from MadPow]

Find your “north star” and make your game plan to get there.
In work & personal life, it’s important to figure out what’s most important to you and how you want to get there (and when)—especially to keep them both balanced. Having a plan keeps you focused and helps you stay on track. [talk given by Jason Ulaszek]

Beyond the conference, it was fun pretending to live and work in the city for a few days.

Hi there, Chicago river!

Hi there, Chicago river!

But, a few days is all it takes to remind me how much I’m NOT made for city living. I mean, the only picture I took of the city while there was of this river–not the million buildings surrounding it! I missed the peace & quiet of my house, my yard, and the laid-back nature of my town. Constantly looking at train schedules, maps, rushing around, and bustling through crowds of people everywhere isn’t exactly relaxing.

It was fun to stay with my sister & brother-in-law in Ravenswood (just a 15-minute train ride outside of downtown), and spend a little time with them. One night, my sister and I went to Acre and noshed on some delicious cheese, shrimp, mushroom tart, and pork tacos. (I was too busy stuffing my face to take photos, sorry.) They have a great wine and beer selection, which we also enjoyed. 😉 I would definitely recommend the restaurant, whether for dinner, or just a couple small plates for a snack.

The only down side to my time in the city: I never got a chance to run.  I foresaw that happening, with getting up early and staying up late every night to answer emails and get some work done, and conference-ing all day. It was a whirlwind.

I was happy to arrive home (exhausted!) on Friday night, to the fiancé waiting at the train station for me. I was in bed by 9:30 and slept nearly 12 hours! I guess that’s a sign of a long, but great, week.

What do you think of my conference takeaways? Does it spark any advice that you’ve heard, or your own? Are you a city or country person?