Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ride Recap: Venus de Miles 2013

Her Royal Majesty and I are ready
to ride at Venus de Miles
It's really hard to believe myself that just last summer, I began cycling. Sure, I rode as a kid and pedaled around the neighborhoods on my beatup mountain bike. But when I bought Her Royal Majesty and started logging miles, a whole new world opened up for me. My goal last summer was to complete the 16 miles that were the center in my sprint triathlon. In hindsight, it almost seems silly how worried I was about that distance.

This past Sunday, I rode 64.2 miles as part of Venus de Miles.  SIXTY-FOUR! 

Pardon my excitement, but I'm really stoked over the progress a year has brought. In fact, I feel a bit guilty being so smitten with cycling. Running may be my first love and lasting marriage, but cycling is my current affair.

Since I ran the BTN Big 10K race on Saturday, I took advantage of my time in the Chicago area. I hit the Athleta store (my fav!), Gurnee Mills and then caught up with my family in the area. I awoke Sunday morning to chilly temps, wind and light rain outside the window. Ugh, my heart sank. I really didn't know if I could ride that long in those conditions. Thoughts of dropping down to the 25 mile ride began to enter my head as I made the 1/2 hour drive to Lake Forest College, the start of Venus de Miles.

By time I arrived, the rain had dissipated. The sun began to poke out and my mood improved as I saw other riders unloading their bikes. The large coffee that I just drank began to do it's work and I immediately discovered the coolest porta-potty station I've ever seen! There was a table with all sorts of toiletries and there were even flowers inside the porta-potty. Nice female touches. It's these little things that I love about doing women-only events.

I check my bike at the support station and as expected, I needed air in my tires. I couldn't stop giggling inside at the Men In Drag who were our support staff for the day. Once my bike was ready, I racked Her Royal Majesty and went searching for friends to calm my anxiety.
I found the Chicago Running Bloggers...

fellow Venus de Miles Ambassadors...

and my beloved Tough Chiks...

Enough socializing... the call to start was made. I lined up with Amanda and found ourselves in the second wave. In no time, we were off without any glitches. Not only was this my first biking event, it was my first time ever riding with other people!  Needless to say, I was a tad nervous about that.

Any anxiety I had melted away as soon as we began zooming through the beautiful neighborhoods. Amanda set a nice pace and we chatted away the early miles. There was a lot of passing early as riders naturally found their comfortable speed. I kept close to Amanda and followed her lead as we sailed down rolling streets and pretty bike trails. Despite the chilly air, I was having a blast and felt extremely comfortable in this new sport. From the very start, Amanda, Suzanne and I made continuous line of three...

Shortly into the ride, we picked up Helena and Jess, who were moving our same speed. The five of us would hold together as a tight pack the rest of the day... and just like that, new friendships were born. We took turns leading - fighting the wind and pulling up the hills. My Venus de Miles ride was made by these women. Seriously, they made the ride so fun and dare I say... easy.

The 64 mile ride was broken up into segments by the four rest stops along the way. At each rest stop, there was an abundance of food and drink to refuel. By the third stop, I quit eating anything, realizing that I was probably consuming more calories than I was burning. Four stops was probably too many for me. Personally, I could have skipped a few, but it was a fun place to chat with other riders and deal with any issues that were nagging with our bikes. I had eye problems with my contacts and took some extra time at a rest stop to alleviate those issues.
Rest Stop
It seemed as though we rode through several weather fronts. At one moment, it was sunny and then the next, we'd look up to see threatening dark clouds. We were sprinkled on a couple times, smacked in the face with tough winds, and kicked up a fair share of water from wet roads.

The Venus de Miles course varied quite a bit. There were peaceful country roads, busy city streets, pretty bike trails (both paved and gravel), big hills to climb, rolling pastures and my personal favorite, huge descents that made us scream with delight! At one point, my iBiker app peaked at 30 mph!  Woo-Hoo! It felt like flying!

As we came into the finish, we cheerfully exchanged high fives. However, I was sad to see it come to an end. I can't even put into words how much I enjoyed my first Venus de Miles ride. I felt like I could have rode a lot longer and immediately thoughts of a Century Ride were racing through my head.

I have nothing but high marks for the 2013 Venus de Miles event. The course was well marked. Riders were pampered throughout the day - but especially at the finish! There were tents galore with vendors, giveaways, massages, facials, great food for lunch, and my personal favorite... the beer station and the ice cream truck!

I would be remise if I didn't mention the charity that this event benefits... the Greenhouse Scholars. This fabulous program sends high-performing but underprivileged young adults to college, breaking the chain in their poverty-striken and sometimes abusive life. I was thoroughly impressed with the young men and women that I got a chance to meet while I was there. They were young adults who were striving to be a positive leader in their communities. I was so touched that I immediately made a donation when I got home. You can do so too... here.

I am just so THRILLED with my first cycling event!! Thank you Venus de Miles for the great ride and treasured memories.  I will certainly be back in 2014.  I hope you will consider joining me next year!

Total Time (with stops) was approximately 5 hours.
Ride Time was 3:58:46 for 64.2 miles (16.1 mph).
RiDe HaPpY!!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Race Recap: BTN Big 10K

I caught notice of the BTN Big 10K too late in 2012, so I watched patiently this spring for the date announcement and registration to open. I'm a big football fan - specifically the Big Ten since my team is Wisconsin. I recruited some running friends to make the journey to Chicago with me for the 2nd annual BTN Big 10K (there is also a 5K).  Little did we know that the 3 hour drive would take us nearly 6 hours this trip. Ugh, construction traffic.

By time I got to the packet pickup on Friday, I was too cranky tired to take in the jovial atmosphere. The mascots were all there, putting on a little show when I arrived. Music was blasting and people were dancing. I scored a big hug from Bucky (Wisconsin mascot) and scooted through quickly, anxious to reach my hotel.

The next morning, we were up early (4:45am!), cabbed it down to Adler Planetarium, where the start and finish line were. I was expecting this race to be a sweat-fest; but the Midwest is experiencing an atypical COLD spell for late July. Morning temps were in the 50's, chilly just standing around but great for running!
Early morning on Chicago's lakeshore
I've run enough of these big city events to know that it's chaos. Lots of people, not enough room, long lines... patience required. It's nearly impossible to ever have a fast time or PR. I went into the BTN Big 10K looking for a fun environment, a comfortable paced run, and a good time with my friends. I got all that plus some great swag! The race was $45 and I certainly got my money's worth. Each registrant got a school-specific tech shirt, drawstring bag and chip-time bib. At the finish line, we also received a cool medal, sweat towel, beer and good tailgate food (the chicken sausages on a pretzel bun were delicious!). Plus, each Big Ten university had a tent onsite, where you scored a pair of sunglasses and other school specific swag.

I got school spirit; yes I do!   I got spirit; how about you?

The corrals entrances were a bit difficult to find, but we eventually squeezed into one. There were 7000+ runners in the 10K starting at 7am, and then another 4000 in the 5K which started an hour later. Yeah, a lot of people... so shocking when I say the start was slow. I purposely didn't wear my watch, but know our first mile was the slowest.  I really didn't care and just tried to run a comfortable talking pace.

According to the race chip, my first 5K split was 29:50 (9:36 pace). At mile three, there was a water slip 'n slide, which we bypassed due to the cool weather. This would have been an awesome treat on a normal 90 degree July day. Based on our finish time, we obviously picked up the pace on the way back. At the halfway turn, we entered the lakeshore path and had nice views all the way back to the finish line...

Honestly, my only disappointment with this race was the spectators at the finish. I've run many races in the past few years and this was the oddest thing ever. The finishing stretch was packed with spectators... that were absolutely QUIET. It was so weird. At one point, my running buddy KO yelled out, "Make some noise people!"

Official Chip Time 58:26
Avg pace 9:24
Overall #3597 out of 7269
Women #1386 out of 3937

Big Ten Finishers = Happy Winners!
Five friends representing three different schools
 We hung out for the tailgate after the race - drank our free beer, danced to the music, and indulged on food (forgetting that I only ran a 10k, not a marathon!). We walked the lakeshore path back to our hotel, taking in all the tourist sites of Chicago. It sure is a fun city to visit, but go on record that I would never move here. Too big for this country gal.

Jess on top of Chicago!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My HALF Century Ride

In five days, I will be riding in my first official cycling event, Venus de Miles, covering 61 miles on the north side of Chicago. I'm rather excited for this! It's just over a year since I seriously started cycling. It was a slow start last summer, as I prepared to tackle 16 miles in my sprint triathlon. I've come so far since then! Like any sport in the beginning, it's a lot of fun to see yourself progress quickly. Putting it into a running perspective... Venus de Miles is the equivalent to what the first 13.1 meant to my running. The distance is long enough to intimidate. I can't just wing it - which meant a wee bit of training was required. It's been an enjoyable journey and now I'm utterly hooked on cycling.

I must admit that after my last long ride of 44 miles, I was a little weary about my capability to go the distance.  It really hurt at the end and I was sore for days after.  Then... this past Sunday, I set out on Her Royal Majesty (my bike's name) with little expectations. I had done a long run of 10 miles the day before and wasn't sure what my legs had in them. I set off on an unknown route since I was visiting my parents in Wisconsin. I had only one objective... to get to Lake Winnebago in Oshkosh and enjoy some lakeside miles. Enjoy a change of scenery.

My parents house is in the country, so I had several miles to reach Omro, where I caught a long highway stretch (that I had scouted on our drive several days earlier). The quiet county road had smooth pavement and a wide shoulder. Perfect for biking! Unfortunately on the morning of my ride, I was heading straight into the wind on that stretch, so it was much tougher than expected.
Country views on my ride

As I got closer to the lake in Oshkosh, the wind grew stronger. But once I arrived, the view was worth the effort!

I took a brief stop to take in the gorgeous sights, the sound of water crashing in and the feel of the air. There was suddenly this heavy moisture in the air that reminded me so much of my days in Myrtle Beach. At this point, I was 20 miles into my ride, so I fueled up with half a Powerbar and some heavy pulls on my Nuun hydration.

I continued my ride along the lakeshore path and was stunned at how few runners there were out on this cool morning (mid 60's!). I saw a lot of walkers and cyclists, but not one runner. Isn't that odd?

When I reached the boat landing, I stopped to dip my tire in the lake. It's what cyclists do, right? This ride felt significant so I did...

At one point, the path came to a dead end and I was surrounded with water on all three sides of me, just a narrow strip of trail heading out into the lake. I had lived here for many of my younger years and yet never known about this place. Proof that one needs to always continue discovering!

I was feeling so good on the bike... legs, neck, shoulders, butt... everything was still going strong with very little discomfort. I decided then to stretch this ride to 50, so I took my time on the way home and turned off into a lot of rural neighborhoods on discovery missions. I passed Springbrook Bar, a popular stop on the snowmobiles from the lake, but I honestly had no idea how to reach it by land.

I took the "long way home" and it was worth every mile.  I surprised myself this weekend. I proved to myself that YES, I can get over this hump where "it hurts".  I can go further, faster. It will get easier if I keep pursuing the goal.  I knocked out 50 miles on the bike like it was nothing. If not for time concerns, I would have gone even longer! I had little soreness during the ride or even the next day. I feel like I've turned the corner on my bike training... and am anxious in a good way for this weekend's Venus de Miles.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Race Recap: Sovereign State Days 5K

This weekend, I returned to my old high school in Winneconne, WI where I graduated in the class of '92. It's a small town, a village to be exact, that I couldn't wait to move away from when I was 17 years old. Now, I treasure each return. It's classic small town America - where everyone seems to know one another, and even if they don't, they still smile, wave and say "good morning".  I always feel relaxed there and renewed that life can still be so simple.

The initial reason for my trip north was to drop my kiddos off for a week at Grandma's. When I realized it was Sovereign State Days, I decided to make a weekend out of it. Sovereign State Days is an annual festival in Winneconne... softball/volleyball/fishing tournaments, street dances, fireworks, big parade, flea markets, food and more... All stemming from a historical error in 1967 when the small village was left off the Wisconsin state map. See full story here. It's the best weekend of the year to be in Winneconne... and this year, they added a 5K to the festivities!!

My high school track in the background. This 5K was a
fundraiser to build a new track for future generations.
I was happy to play a small part in that goal.

A long run was on my calendar and I was excited to run somewhere new. My running routine has felt stale lately and I needed something to perk it up. On Saturday, my #runjoy returned - in a place that ironically made me hate running years ago.

The cool temps blew in through the night and I awoke to the perfect run morning on Saturday. I picked up my race bib at the high school and then set out for some early miles. I ran past my Grandma's house. I ran past my Grandpa's grave. I ran past the ole ice cream stand. I reminisced grade school pals as I traced the village streets. I even ran past the spot of my first kiss! It was such a fun run down memory lane. Before I knew it, six miles had disappeared and I turned to head back to the high school.

My timing was perfect. I stopped at the car, made a quick shoe change, pinned on my number and lined up at the Sovereign State 5K starting line with less than 100 people. It was probably the smallest race I've ever run in, but I did enjoy it. My official 5K time was 27:50 (8:58 pace), which I was pretty happy with - considering my 7 mile warmup.

My goal was to make today's workout a long progressive run - meaning each mile is run faster than the one before. The more miles you run, the harder it obviously becomes. The progressive run is great race training, to replicate the exhaustion you feel in those final miles. My first mile bounced off a little quickly, but I scaled back to do a fairly decent job with the long progression. I was especially pleased with the juice I had for the final three miles.
9:45,  10:11,  10:03,  10:00,  9:59,  9:53,  9:49,  8:49,  9:02,  9:01
10 miles in the bank!

I feel like I exorcised some demons this weekend. This old track, now cracking and rough around the edges, was the place that I developed a hatred for running 20+ years ago. Seriously, I quit track after my freshman year... and dreaded that timed mile in gym class. I literally had nightmares about my heart pounding out of my chest, rounding that same track that was now my finish line. In my opinion, running was taught as a punishment or a contest, where let's face it - only the physically gifted had fun. Looking back, I wish the focus had been on developing enjoyment for the sport, especially in the Phy Ed classes. Perhaps we'd have more young adults make running a lifestyle choice. Not everyone is graced with speed, but we can all be runners... to lead and enjoy a healthier life. This is the lesson we need to be teaching young students.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Run with a PUNCH!

The heat and sticky humidity of summer have finally hit the Midwest.  It is mid-July. So while it is expected, it's not necessarily welcome. I am not going to complain because that gets me nowhere. It's quite clear that I'm not a fan of warm weather running. Instead, I alter my workouts...
I run early. 
I bring it inside. 
I play with variety.

"Mom, need a water stop!"
Yesterday, my daughters and I managed a mid-morning bike ride. We came just short of 5 miles and even that was a stretch. They were tired early with hot red faces, so we turned it around earlier than normal. I had to coach them along just to get back home. My oldest daughter was practically in tears, and stomped in the house when we returned. Not our usual happy bike rides. No smiling post-ride picture. I knew then that my evening run with the Sole Sisters would be out of the question. (Hubby is working extra shifts to make up for the furlough, so I would have to take the kids with me to the group run. Wasn't happening...)

The cool basement was calling my name. I have a pretty nice setup surrounding my treadmill... boxing bag, weight rack, kettlebells, two benches, medicine ball and stability ball. Seriously, I should use it more. I sat down and scratched out a workout plan, procrastinated online and then finally made my way down the steps to get my sweat on.

I'm still grinning from ear to ear over yesterday's workout. It was tough. It was fun. It was in the cool basement with two fans blowing on me... and yet, I had sweat dripping off my chin. Boo-Ya!  I can't wait for a repeat!
Workout done!  I'm feeling badass!

I'm sharing the details of this workout below because it's a keeper! I hope you'll give it a try, and come back to tell me your thoughts. Better yet, take a picture of your sweaty self and post it to my Facebook page. While I may be hitting a real boxing bag, you can just air punch too (like you would in a kickboxing class).  Depending on your run pace, this workout takes about an hour. You'll need a timer of some sort to clock the two-minute rounds.

Need help with boxing terminology?
JAB - quickly punch forward with leading hand, rolling your fist down as you strike target.
CROSS - power punch with back hand straight forward, rotating back hip forward.
HOOK - punch comes the side with leading hand (picture striking the cheek of opponent's face) while pivoting your lead foot.
UPPERCUT - bring leading arm's elbow into rib cage and drive fist upward (imagine striking opponent's under the chin), while rotating lead hip and heel.
BOB & WEAVE - lower into a squat as you circle your body from side to side, making a "U" with your upper body.
COVER - quickly bring forearms and fist together in front of your face/torso to protect from an (imaginary) incoming punch. As you do so, you'll feel a standing ab crunch.
KNEE THRUST - Imagine grabbing someone's shoulders and giving them a firm knee in the you-know-what. Yeah, that move...

Have you ever done a BOXING workout?
Did you like it?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Last Chance Workout

Today was the last day of Mindy's Dietbet. I paid $25 to get in last month, gambling that I could lose 4% of my body weight during the course of four weeks. I had some good days; I had some bad days. I lost and then I gained.  When I weighed in, I was a pound shy of my goal. I decided to put in a good last chance workout. My weight fluctuates a lot - it can change several pounds from morning to night. So I knew it was 100% possible to shave off that final pound before the deadline.

I was suppose to get up at 4:45am this morning for a run. Instead, I slept in... and it felt awesome. I awoke to my five year old cuddled up in bed with me, which is rare occasion these days. Needless to say, I was actually happy to have missed my early run.

But... I still needed a final workout. By mid-morning, I stepped outside and it was already sticky, humid and uncomfortable. I debated the treadmill, the gym or running on our backyard trail. The girls wanted to swim, so we compromised. I created a little circuit workout to do in the backyard. They could play in the pool, while I worked out - still having an eye on them.
10 sets of this workout will get you...
 2 miles, 300 jumping jacks, 200 pushups, 100 burpees, 250 superman kicks, 250 ab crunchers

Once I began the workout, the kids joined in with me, sprinting across the grass. They did the first couple sets with me... and then the last.  Each time I'd jump in the pool, they would squeal like crazy. They even kept count for me with their diving rings, throwing one out every time I completed a sequence.

Make no doubt, I was exhausted by time this workout was done... and yet, it was fun play time with my kiddos. As humid as it was outside, this is the only fathomable workout I could have done today - happily.

P.S. Yes - I made my final weigh-in goal!
Woo-Hoo! Down 7.2 lbs for the month!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Weekend Warrior

I had a marvelous holiday weekend! If you read my last post, my anxiety was obvious... so I took the last four days to focus on my family and relaxation. We spent the holiday weekend at home and loved every minute of it!  The weather was perfect sunshine, allowing us to practically live in our backyard. I sip my coffee on this Monday morning with a big smile, absolutely in love with my little family of four.

The best part of our holiday was that we all had free time to do what we each enjoy. The girlies swam... a lot. Hubby got in a round of golf. And I scored a long bike ride and a long run.

Friday morning, I rose with the sun and took Her Majesty out for ride. My previous longest ride was 25 miles. However, I have Venus de Miles (61 mile ride) coming up in a few weeks, so I need to start pushing my mileage.

I headed out on my favorite country route to Hanna City. There is a smooth wide shoulder that is perfect for biking. The edges gets a little rough around Trivoli (home of my first flat tire), so I turned off onto a side road when I couldn't take it anymore. I saw a water tower in the far distance and decided to head towards it. Unlike running, biking takes me back to my childhood, when I grew up outside the city. There is a tranquility on country roads and I enjoy being in the middle of nowhere. Road signs are sparse. Traffic is low. Everyone waves hello. And water towers are used to sight direction. (I know some people run on country roads, but that just doesn't feel safe to me - plus I've had a few encounters with farm dogs running on country roads back home.)
The true mark of Illinois... cornfields everywhere!

My phone dinged at 20 miles, which was my signal to turn it back home. But I was so close to the next water tower that I pushed a couple extra miles ahead to Elmwood. I made a quick stop in the center-of-town park that is a bit of a landmark there.  I ate my powerbar for fuel, washed it down... and then took my first fall while trying to take a picture. It was my first ride with my new clipless pedals. Note to self: When you stop, unclip both feet.

I took a slightly different route on the way home and encountered some challenging hills. Ugh. My legs grew tired and my ass was burning from the saddle. I had forked out some cash for new cycling shorts with built-in padding, hoping they would help on these long rides, but not so much.  By time I finished - 44.25 miles -  all I wanted to do was sit on an ice block to cool my sore booty.

Well sort of. 10 miles is long for me these days. On Sunday, I barely completed the 10 mile task. I had all sorts of mind-doubting games going on as we headed down the trail. Thankfully, I had a couple friends to distract me. I'm quite positive that without KO, I would have cut it short. I thought it was nice temps, but the humidity made it so hard to breathe and my legs once again felt like I was carrying bricks. What is going on with my run lately?

I find it slightly depressing that I ran a marathon less than three months ago. Why does endurance wean away so quickly? I've been trying to keep a double-digit in my weekly routine, but they seem to be getting more difficult. The recent humidity is my sworn enemy. Honestly, I'm just not a fan of summer running. It's odd I know. Everyone else seems to "pick up" their running in summer and I'm just the opposite. July and August are notoriously my lowest run mileage months. I'll take trudging through snow any day. And I lick my chops in anticipation for those cool autumn mornings...

I keep plugging away because I know it will make me stronger.
But no lying, I've had this sentiment lately...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

I Can't Keep It All Together

Biggest Loser, move over...
There's a new weight loss show that has stolen my heart.

Okay, it's not new, but I'm just now becoming a regular viewer of Extreme Weight Loss. Wow. I cry every show. The stories are so touching and real. There are no games, strategy or trickery. The host and trainer, Chris Powell is smart, sincere, endearing and... hot. (So is his wife)

Last night, I was once again drawn in with my entire heart. The episode featured a married couple, Rachel and Jason, much like a lot of people I know... struggling with career responsibilities, weight, kids and relationship issues. I could relate, which is why it tugged at my heart strings so badly.

About halfway through their weight loss journey, the husband broke down and said, "I can't keep it all together. It's just too much." I wanted to reach out and hug him. But instead tears rolled from my eyes. It's exactly how I've been feeling lately. Too many balls in the air and not enough hands. I have no idea what happens to the day, but morning turns to night in a flash. And here we are in JULY already! I end each day disappointed with the seemingly short amount of tasks that get completed. While running ragged, I feel like I'm letting people down at every turn. My running has been off lately too - which frustrates me even more. All this has a spiraling effect and there are times when, like Jason, I just don't know how much longer I can keep it all in motion without crashing.

It's just a guess, but I'm thinking there are a lot of people fighting this rat race every single day in our country. How did life get so fast paced? I remember summers - not that long ago - when we spent endless evenings relaxing on our deck. Right now, I can probably count on only one hand the number of family dinners on the deck this year. So yeah, it's time to slow things down around here. While there is a deep itch to be running a race over 4th of July weekend, instead I am sticking to the 'no plans' promise. We're going to chill and try to get caught up on things around the house. (I don't know about you, but I get super stressed when the house is a mess.) 

So forgive my absence on the blog. As I go through my day, I think of so many things to write and yet just can't find the time to sit down and type. It's a miracle 'this' happened...

Now it's time to go paint the girls' toenails red, white and blue as promised... Happy 4th of July!