Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Traditions

I can’t remember what year we started our new tradition.  2006 or 2007?  Maybe?  Anyway, yes, the Green Family started a new tradition and it has become one of my favorites.  The Naperville Noon Lions Turkey Trot 5K. 
The first year my sister, Christy, and I ran, was my first year I started running.  I didn’t know how well I’d really do, but I knew I could finish.  I can’t even remember if it was my mom or Christy who had the idea to do this.  Well, whomever it was, great idea! 
The race is on Thanksgiving morning.  Race time starts at 8:00 AM and it begins and ends at my old high school.  Go Redhawks!!  It’s always cold.  You know the typical Chicago winter weather, cold, overcast, windy.  What’s not to love?!  Being that it’s located in Illinois it is pretty flat.  A flat, fast course. 
The race has grown in the last 5 years.  It sells out every year, now.  I think they are up to 7 or 8 thousand runners.  Not too shabby for a local 5K.  Everyone piles into the field house at the high school pre-race to stay warm.  They serve pancakes after, but we never stay to eat.  It’s not uncommon for me to run into old high school friends and neighbors.  There are families of every variety; big, small, young, old.  Everyone is happy and smiling and you can hear them placing bets and making jokes. I can’t help but get a kick out of the turkey hats and costumes.  One year there was even a running sweet potato! 
My dad usually drops us off before the race since parking is insane.  Christy and I hang out in the field house along with everyone else and we dread the 10 minutes before the start where we will be forced to stand out in the frigid November morning.  Neither one of us likes being cold, Christy even more so.  Sometimes the only way I can keep her motivated to run is to promise her Starbucks when we’re done.  There is a Starbucks about a half mile away that we will run to after the finish.  She will do about anything for some Starbucks.  Typical Chicago native. 
Every race is different.  The first couple of years, she would always win.  During these last couple of years, I win, although not by a lot.  In the end, it doesn’t really matter who wins.  Of course being sisters, there is always a certain amount of competition, but in the scope of things, neither one of us will ever actually “win” this race.   We don’t run this for awards or medals. 
My favorite parts are waking Christy up super early and listening to her complain on the entire car ride there about how this is crazy to be up this early when it’s this cold.  I love getting to huddle next to her at the race start as we shiver and shake, but we’re still smiling because everyone else is doing the same thing.  I love that we always start together no matter where we finish.  We both know we just want each other to do our best so we each run our own race.  And I wouldn’t trade our mad dash to Starbucks, for some caffeine and warmth, for anything.  At Starbucks we call our dad and he drives back to pick us up and we discuss the race the whole way home.  My mom gets another re-cap once we get back to the house, and regardless of who beat whom, we both get a hug and a “Great job!” 
So, whatever your traditions or plans are for this Turkey Day, may you enjoy the holiday and the people you share it with. 
Okay, now I have to go help make the turkey. 
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! 

First Marathon-Des Plaines River Trail Race

Is 4 weeks post-race too late to write a race report?  Too bad.  I’m doing it anyway. 
I’ve been interested in running a marathon.  I’m not exactly sure when that happened.  At some point I decided that this would be a year of “Firsts”.  A marathon, obviously, needed to be included.  And in reality, 26.2 didn’t even seem that far when you’re surrounded by ultra-runners who tackle 100 miles through the mountains and look to come back for more.  It seems so small in comparison.  And yet, for me it’s HUGE! 
Sometime after I completed my first triathlon (yep, another First!), I signed up to run the marathon distance of the Des Plaines River Trail Races.  They also have a half marathon and 50 mile distance.  The trail is a wide dirt/crushed gravel path that runs along the Des Plaines River north of Chicago.  I knew that staying away from concrete would keep my knees much happier when all was said and done.  Originally my mom was going to have another surgery that week before (she’s been battling breast cancer), so I wanted to be home around that time anyway.  My family all lives in a suburb of Chicago and they have so many races up there that I can usually find something whenever I’m home.  Unfortunately, a bout of shingles cancelled the surgery for that week, but in a more positive note, that freed her up to come out to my race. 
The Friday before my race I met some old friends from high school out for a drink (water in my case) and briefly met my sister a few blocks down to meet some of her friends.  Late night!  Christy was going to be going with me to the start of the race, so I made sure to give her a lot of crap when I caught her ordering her fourth “Jack and Diet”.  Aw man, she’s going to be a happy camper in the morning!  <evil chuckle>
Race morning, I woke up a few hours early to eat something and get all ready to go.  We had to drive about an hour to get to the race start.  I’m paranoid about being places on time so I had my schedule completely set.  On time is LATE!  Christy stumbled into my parents’ kitchen and groaned.  I snickered.  She told me I was crazy as we got in the car and drove north towards the river and my race. After my number was pinned on, my chip Velcro-ed at my ankle and my nutrition all stored on my body, we took a quickie nap in the car. 
There was frost covering every surface.  Each blade of grass and leaf was crusted over.  My breath billowed out thickly in front of me.  I knew it would warm up quickly, however, so I figured I’d be okay if I was cold for the first couple of miles.  I handed my jacket to Christy as I headed toward the start line.  I went straight for the back of the pack.  My strategy was to finish, not to get any specific time, so I didn’t want to get caught up in a fast start. 
When they blew the horn, I took off.  I was really careful to keep it slow.  And I mean SLOOOW!  Even the old, hunched over 80-year old man was passing me.  Okay, it’s really hard to stay slow when you’re getting passed by dudes 50 years older! 
The course is beautiful.  The trails run through the trees and along the Des Plaines River.  The trail also crosses the river a number of times so there are lots of wooden bridges spanning the water.  I was able to get into a comfortable race pace and just chug along.  I didn’t bring an iPod because I wanted to make sure I could fully experience my first marathon and not get lost in music.  I wanted to notice things even if it was unpleasant.  So, I ran.  I enjoyed the view.  I smiled and waved at all the other people that were using this beautiful trail.  There were lots of bikers but the path is wide and there is plenty of space for everyone.  They all had encouraging words for us racers.  I love friendly people!! 
The race is an out and back course.  The turn-around is actually a little past the halfway point because there is a small lollipop at the beginning.  As I was getting closer to the turn-around I got to see more people because they were all headed back towards me.  Some looked great and others looked in pain.  I was hoping I didn’t look to be in pain, yet.  As I headed back I started to pass a person here and there.  I was actually still feeling pretty good.  By this point, it was pretty warm, 60’s, and all the frost was long gone.  There were a few open sections through prairie and I was surprised to still see blooming wildflowers at the end of October in northern Illinois. 
So, everything was sunshine and daisies until I hit mile 22.  I’ve always heard people talk about “the Wall”.  For a lot of people it seems to almost be a physical point where their bodies just don’t want to keep going.  I think for me, it was purely mental.  My legs didn’t feel any worse than they did 3 miles ago.  Sure, my hips are getting a little sore and I’m tired, but I have no major pains or anything else physical to limit me.  Yep, it was that little voice inside my head telling me that 4 more miles seemed like an awful lot.  I told that little voice to “Shut up!” and kept chugging.  I think the thing that saved me along this last section was the amount of people I was passing.  There were guys who had flown by me early in the race and now they were bent over on the side of the trail.  Of course, I made sure they were okay before I kept going.  Each person ahead of me was a new little goal.  And once I’d passed someone, there was no way I wanted to let them catch back up!
I saw my dad just a little before the finish line.  I think he had planned to walk out on the trail a ways to get some pictures as I made my way in, but I was too fast for him!  Ha!  It was probably one of the most amazing sights for me to see. This man in jeans, a bright orange t-shirt and a cowboy hat also had a huge smile on his face and was yelling words of encouragement as I gave it all I had to sprint to the end.  I always love a good sprint to finish a run or race and I was really hoping I’d have enough left to do it here as well. 
I finished.  I got lots of big hugs from my mom, dad and sister.  My mom and sister even brought me flowers.  Someone put a medal around my neck and removed my chip, but I don’t know who.  I waddled around, took some pictures and Christy stretched me out (along with being a nurse, she’s a certified personal trainer). 
My family is not made up of runners.  They don’t really understand and they tend to think I’m bordering the “crazy” line.  With that being said, they are always proud of me for every accomplishment and I’m always flooded with encouragement and support.  I’m a lucky girl to be a Green. 
Time: 4:47:13  I placed 85th out of 124 in the marathon.  This also was good enough to give me an age group placing. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Stumbling into Trail Running

This year has been my first year trail running.  I fell in love immediately.  There were so many articles I had read that said how much better trail running was for your body and it honestly, just seemed more appealing.  I had been planning on giving it a try for some time and just never did, until this spring.  I finally decided now was the time. 
Last winter, I had just completed my first half marathon and I felt like I could accomplish anything.  I had been thinking about trying another half or upgrading to a full marathon in February or March, so after a 2 week rest, I made sure to get back into running.  My times were great.  I was moving well.  Then, one Saturday I was out on the levee by myself for a long-ish run (10 miles) and it happened.  Damn IT band!  I was out at mile 6 and it started to get a little achy.  I stopped and stretched a bit and then started running again.  I hit mile 7 and it was really getting very painful.  It was like someone was stabbing my in the outside of the leg next to my knee and the pain was shooting up my leg.  So, it probably wasn't the smartest idea to keep going, but you know how it goes.  You think, "Oh, if I can just get through this run, I'll be able to do more stretching and exercises at home and I'll be fine."  Well, I apparently wasn't going to make it through this run.  Just past mile 8, my whole IT band and leg cramped up completely and I toppled over sideways.  Here I was expecting my foot to hit the ground, and just like that I'm scrambling up off the ground and looking around to see if there was anyone that might have seen me fall over like a big goober.  Nope.  Got lucky.  No one saw that.  And so I hobbled and limped the remainder of the 2 miles back to my car.  Did I mention that it was winter?  And windy?  And I was already sweaty.  Yeah, that was a sucky 2 mile walk.
I waited a couple weeks before I tried running again and it still killed me within the first quarter mile.  I gave up and went to a physical therapist who has me do lots of stretches, foam rolling ( it....grrr), and a couple strength exercises.  Around the end of March I was able to start running again.  I started just doing a half mile at a time and increasing it a half mile each week.  Slow.  Slow.
In May I finished doing the P90X program (whew!) and decided to try trail running.  I looked online and found a group in Kansas City that had a beginner run night.  I was planning on going, but a big storm came in and it got cancelled.  Luckily, the group leader for that run (one Danny Miller) clued me in to the Lawrence Trail Hawks and mentioned their all girl group run (Gal Gallop) on Thursday nights.  Thanks Danny!  I was nervous to join a group run because I thought I'd be too slow and not keep up.  I joined the Gal Gallop for my first ever trail run and had an absolute BLAST!  The girls were all so fun and friendly.  They went at a pace to make sure everyone could keep up.  It seemed to all be about sharing your love of running with others.  No pressure.  You couldn't help but have fun.  Thanks Colleen and other Hawk Ladies!! 
So now I'm hooked.  I'd rather run on the trails than anywhere else.  I try to plan my work hours around when I can get to the trail.  I have a lot to learn but there is so much support from the Trail Hawks, you can't help but succeed. 
I ran my first trail race (Summer Psycho 5K) a couple weeks after my first trail run.  It was a super hilly course with lots of rocks and MUD!  Tons of MUD.  I went with a few girls from the Trails Hawks (Karen, Kristie, and Whitney).  It was my longest 5K time ever, but probably the most fun.  We slipped and slided everywhere.  Mud spattered up on our faces, in our eyes, and other places I won't mention. 
Anyway, this is how I fell in love with trail running and I would also like to thank all the trail runners in the area who have provided support, encouragement, education, and above all, a great time on the trails.  Happy trails to you all!!