Friday, April 30, 2010

A Weekend of Racing

On the course at the 2009 Pittsburgh Marathon
It's a busy weekend in the land of sports...and we're not talking the golf tournament at Quail Hollow, hockey and basketball playoffs, baseball games, or the Kentucky Derby that have sports aficionados astir. But we are talking about the sports that get you in on the action rather than simply watching the plays unfold. Spring is in full swing--even the weather is cooperating a bit this year--and the event calendar knows it. This weekend not only marks the start of a new month (where have the last four months gone?) but a hotbed of runs, triathlons and other endurance-related events.

While it may be too late to actually participate in some of these--some filled months ago while others, like the marathons, might provide a bit of a challenge to just run 26.2 with preparation--you might have a friend or two racing this weekend and maybe you want to track their progress (I have at least four). These are just some of the events to entertain you over the weekend, maybe even get you active, too.

World Fitness Day. Thanks goes out to the Fit Bottomed Girls for tipping me off to this inaugural fitness frenzy on May 1. I had spotted posters around my gym noting National Pilates Day--held on the first Saturday in May--but honestly didn't think it was possible to have two fitness-focused celebrations on the same day. While anyone can celebrate fitness, the true World Fitness Day celebration--the one making all the news, that is--will be in Atlanta and will see some of fitness' favorites like Jane Fonda, Richard Simmons and Billy Blanks. I guess this also means I have to make sure I don't skip my Saturday workout.

Pittsburgh Marathon and Half Marathon. I've had this May 2 race on my radar since snow blanketed the ground. Not because I'd be running it but because a friend chose it as her first marathon, then shortly after that another friend mentioned running the half. Let's just say I'm uber-excited, although nearly as nervous as they are about the iffy weather (rain, storms, heat) that's supposed to Steel City just in time to affect runners. I'll be following them via the TweetMyTime feature come Sunday morning.

Ironman St. George. I was psyched with the World Triathlon Corporation announced this latest addition to the 140.6 races in North America last year, but not totally convinced that I wanted to test my legs on a new and unfamiliar course (just me and my nerves). The inaugural race that brings Ironman back to Utah is set for Saturday, May 1, and promises to bring a bevy of pro triathletes to the course. The only problem is that the weather leaves something to be desired--Ironman aficionados reported rumors of the water temperature being in the 50s and the air temp not being much higher.

Illinois Marathon and Wisconsin Marathon, plus half marathons at each. Around this neck of the woods, this weekend leaves runners with the option to drive south to Champaign or north to Kenosha, Wis., if they're looking to cover 13.1 or 26.2 miles. Both races are in their second years but if you want to get technical, Wisconsin had this weekend first and Illinois only hopped aboard this year after holding its inaugural race in early April (before Boston) last year. I'm sure the weather, and our super-slow start to spring in 2009, had something to do with the change. Now this year, runners have to decide how badly they want a cheese wedge-shaped medal over finishing on the 50-yard line of Memorial Stadium at the University of Illinois.

Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon. The next stop on the RW Elite tour for 2010 comes just two weeks after its showdown in Boston. This Sunday marathon is the first race of the Runner's World Challenge that made its debut at the Richmond Marathon in November, and has been perennially known as a fast favorite.

Tough Mudder. The New York Times thought this race was worthy enough to include in its pages earlier this week, and I've spied the Facebook ads on more than one occasion. The first of the Tough Mudder series goes down at Bear Creek Mountain Resort near Allentown, Pa., on Sunday, offering a adventure race-type challenge for athletes looking to have fun without focusing so much on the clock.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. I made the mistake of checking the calendar at of my favorite race websites and resources--and saw several other races on tap for the weekend. Eugene and New Jersey were two others that stood out for example.

What are you going to do this weekend? Photo grabbed from runJMrun at flickr.

So Not Used to the Hills

It's hard to believe that just a few short weeks ago, I was in the Bay Area, spending a weekend with several other women who are just as active, if not more in some cases, as me. It was the weekend of the LUNA Chix Summit, an event hosted by LUNA that brings together all of the various teams from around the country. You had mountain bikers from Lake Tahoe, triathletes from Buffalo, N.Y., runners from Orlando and Atlanta, road cyclists from Austin, Tex., and Madison, Wis. Let's just say that the hotel we were staying in was packed with women, a TON of sports gear from running shoes to bikes, and lots of LUNA products.

Over the course of the weekend we met women from other teams, sat through presentations, listened to lectures and practiced our respective sports. A bunch of sporty women can't go the weekend without getting in some physical exercise, right? And we had it built into the schedule--sweat sessions both Saturday and Sunday that ranged from short to epic. The only problem was the weather didn't exactly want to cooperate. Coming from Chicago, I hoped the trip to California would mean some sunshine and warmer weather than what I was getting back home. No such luck this time around as after the sun's appearance on Friday--the day we were all arriving--I didn't see it again until arriving back at the airport to fly home on Sunday afternoon.

But we made the most of the trip anyway, and didn't let a shower rain on our parade. It only meant a little modification here and there--a tweaking of the workouts, if you will--but nothing that should have put a frown on anyone's face. Take Sunday, for example, where we had the morning to choose activities to get the blood flowing before heading home. The morning was overcast and cold, and just as the mountain bikers started spinning their wheels in the parking lot to take off for the trail, the sky opened up and a sprinkle turned into full-on rain. They biked anyway--mud's almost good in that sport unless it erodes the trail--and returned with mud-caked gears to prove they rocked it, too.

My memory, however, was on the Sunday morning run. Originally we had two choices: short and laidback or long and hilly (and on a trail). I'm a sucker for long workouts--even if I probably should have taken the shorter route to taper for a race the following weekend, but that's another story. Due to the rain, the run both became shorts ones, just that one was short and on the flat-ish (considering it was just north of San Fran) multi-use trail while the other was now short and still hilly but no trail because it would be a muddy mess. And then for anyone who wanted, there'd be a Cross Fit workout following the running. I like it, I like it, I think, knowing that the hilly is just what I need to prep for my next race. Only problem was that I still got in over my head--maybe in a good way though. That's probably one of my strongest memories from the Summit, was that workout that the Bay Area Running Team took us on. It was only a short run, roughly 3 miles there and back, and it felt great when we started, but there was a catch: The huge, long hill--mountain to us Chicagoans--we had to climb before returning back to base. I don't do nearly enough hill workouts--OK try none in the last year, bad me--but this hill would seriously kick anyone's butt. You're running, running, running and then gradually you feel the climb start to set in. It feels OK at first but as you look ahead it only gets steeper, AND there's no end in sight. I started off near the front of the bunch, but as we climbed I fell further back, taking walk breaks often to ease the heaving in my lungs and pulling on my Achilles and eventually abandoning the run because I could walk as fast as I was running (if you could even call it that at that point). I didn't care about the rain, nor did it even phase me that I was getting pretty wet; I just wanted to get to the top of the hill. And I watched incredulously as some other runners made the hill look like it was tame--I wish I could do that.

As for the downhill? Talk about tough on the quads. I know you're supposed to take it easy on the downhills to avoid injury and also let gravity pull you downhill--don't resist by leaning back--but well, uh, let's just say I looked like the newbie runner tackling a hill for the first time. My legs let loose and the only way I could somewhat hold myself back was to lean back because if I did lean forward, even a little, I felt out of control and that I'd make one false move and land flat on my face (I've done it before so I don't doubt my klutzy ability to do it again). Others in the group did get it right though--remembering the lessons we learned in our Saturday run clinic  and speeding downhill thanks to the lean forward lesson. Meanwhile I was happy to make it down in one piece, and not feel the nagging pain near my arch and heel that's plagued me since last summer. And it's something I definitely can't get at home.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Let Freedom Ring at the Freedom Run

My running route from last night: Fleet Feet Piper's Alley to Lincoln Park to the boat at North Avenue Beach to the John Hancock Center to the Museum of Contemporary Art to The W Hotel. Why all of the stops? That was part of the fun of the Freedom Run hosted by Nike and Fleet Feet Chicago  that sent runners off on a scavenger hunt around the city and ended at a surprise location.

Again, like the last Nike run, I arrived at the store not knowing what to expect. I was running a little late--my legs didn't follow my plan to run from house to store and would only trot for their first run post-Boston--but managed to arrive before we departed. Upon entering we were given a shirt--one from a rainbow of colors--and told to find our team color in the gathering space. First it looked like I'd be sporting a purple tee, then pink, but the volunteer settled on teal--the color I was leaning toward anyway when I couldn't sport purple pride (Go NU!). And if you arrived earlier, you could trial the new Nike Free Run+ and see what the new technology was all about.

To the back I went, sliding in among the colors--teal, blue, purple, pink, orange and red--to listen to our final instructions. Stay with your color, run together, grab a bracelet at each stop. Teal started first and we were to go outside the door to get our clue (free-themed, of course) for the next location. And a timer on each team would be tracking how long it takes to complete. Got it.

Only problem was my brain wasn't entirely turned on last night. A few years back I prided myself on my knowledge of random trivia and ability to crush many competitors in a game of Trivial Pursuit, but if I was trying to answer those questions last night--especially anything about Chicago--I would have failed miserably. And I should have kept my answers to myself rather than quietly try to make friends with someone on my team--yep I was the lone wolf once again when friends had other commitments--by blurting out the wrong answer, thinking that we'd be running far more than the organizers every dreamed at this fun event.

First clue: Find Mr. Blue. This U.S. President's personal wish was that all men be FREE. Not only did they name the park after him, they erected a monument too.

Stupid thought No. 1: I'm thinking Lincoln Park but can only remember the Grant statue near the zoo which leads me to think we'll be sprinting south to Grant Park. Duh: Abraham Lincoln was behind the Emancipation Proclamation, not Ulysses S. Grant.

We grabbed our teal/green bracelets and took over toward the southern end of Lincoln Park where the smart people in my group knew of the Lincoln Statue. I've lived downtown for seven years and I swear that was the first time I noticed it--oops. But with Mr. Blue--complete with a navy blue spandex suit zipped completely over his head--and crew standing on the steps and sirens blaring, Lincoln was hard to miss. We collected our blue bracelets and clues, contemplating our next move and catching our breath.

Second clue: Find Mr. Red. The beach is FREE, maybe that's why this boat's not going anywhere. On a nice summer day, this is a great place to enjoy cocktails on the beach. Take the high road to bridge the gap between park and beach.

We hauled across the path winding north through Lincoln Park and over to the bridge that spans Lake Shore Drive to reach the beach and then we booked it to the next station outside the big boat that holds Castaways at North Avenue Beach. With mixed speeds among the group, some would arrive first and then cheer on the others as they finished. But the amazing part was we weren't so far apart that you felt held up by people in the group. Good deal, and onto the next clue.

Third clue: Find Mrs. Orange. You better be wearing lightweight shoes if you plan on taking the 1,632 stairs to the 94th floor of this building where you'll feel FREE as a bird. It's as big as his SIGNATURE. (We will be waiting outside.)

Stupid thought No. 2: Are we going to run up to the top of the Hancock? Yep, the thought crossed my mind even though it would be a pretty crazy challenge to conquer on top of all the running. But that was just a case of me not reading the clue entirely.

The minute our group reconvened at the boathouse, part of the group took off toward Oak Street Beach. I settled in with a runner who's running the Kenosha Half Marathon this weekend while her husband runs the full. And she claimed that she couldn't even run a mile when she started running last May--wow! But we were both thankful to see the next outpost outside the John Hancock Center after sprinting a little too hard down that beach stretch.

Fourth clue: Find Mrs. Purple. If the NEW Nike Free Run+ were Art you would find them here in all their colors, only works from 1945 to present are included. If it were Tuesday admission would be FREE.

Stupid thought No. 3: Art and after 1945 made me think Modern Wing at the Art Institute before considering the Museum of Contemporary Art. Again, that's me turning the fun run into an epic trek, all while wondering how our group would navigate through the pedestrian traffic on Michigan Avenue to reach it. But alas, we only had to go around the corner to the museum that still offers free Tuesdays.

After what felt like a sprint between North Avenue Beach and the Hancock, I welcomed the break while we waited for the rest of the group to join us. And rather than take off right away, someone decided to hold back and have everyone run to the purple stop together. I don't think the cars driving behind Water Tower Place were too pleased with our running, but they were at least nice enough to let us all stream by as we disobeyed the crosswalk signals. It's tough to stop when you can see Mrs. Purple standing across the street and you just want to get there and move on to the next clue.

Fifth--and last--clue: Find Mr. Pink. It's the last stop on the Freedom Run and it's almost the last letter in the alphabet. A FREE surprise awaits you, hope you don't mind the Altitude at this hip hotel on Lakeshore.

No stupid thoughts here. I read hotel and Lakeshore and knew right away that meant the W. Sure it was process of elimination and the fact that there aren't other hotels right on the drive but at least I didn't open my mouth and give a dumb answer. We sprinted down the inner portion of Lake Shore Drive and saw Mr. Pink waiting for us. Yay, we made it! By that point my heart was racing, sweat was dripping and I could even feel a little yank on my hamstring--reminding me I was supposed to take it easy tonight.

Mr. Pink instructed us to enter the building and head to the 33rd floor--the site of Altitude, our final destination and post-run party. A great gathering area to cool down with friends--or meet a few peeps if you alone like me--filled with as many beverages and hors d'oeuvres as you could handle, and a check out the new shoes. Turns out I ran with two people I sort of knew too--Julie Hammer, marketing director at Time Out Chicago, who blogged about her Boston Marathon experience at The Rundown, and a girl who I biked next to at Taste of VQ last April.

After mingling a while, the explanation came as to why we had a timer with us: to see how the teams stacked up speed-wise with the staggered start. Pink finished third, purple finished second, and taking home the gold was...TEAL! Somehow we managed to finish roughly five minutes ahead of the other teams, which meant we had the honor of standing in front of the crowd to receive medals around our necks as We Are the Champions played in the background. Now I know what the celebs must feel like when the paparazzi come around--the photogs surrounded us to capture images from the event.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. And I'm not just saying that because I got to visit my husband--who couldn't attend because he was working--on my jog home. And brag to my friend--who said he'd prefer to know where and how far he was running--about the fun I had. The teal team's medal-winning performance was pretty cool, too. Check out images from last night at Fleet Feet's Facebook page. Photos courtesy of Nike.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Get Your Ride On...with Taste of VQ

Want to get better, faster, stronger on the bike but don't want to sacrifice an evening outside for sweating indoors on a trainer? With the days growing longer, the sun getting warmer and the calendar inching closer to summer, neither do we. Those warm weather days are a hot commodity here in the Midwest and the last thing you--or I--want to do is miss one on account of some precious training hours.

Good news: Vision Quest Coaching has a solution. Their Taste of VQ cycling sessions have aided cyclists, triathletes and newbies to gain experience, improvement, power and even expertise on the bike. But it was all indoors at their training facilities in Chicago, Highland Park, Naperville and Florida, where participants would bring their bikes, set them up on CompuTrainers, and ride the given workout with its combination of flats, hills and threshold work. (I tried it last winter and after the initial trepidation, I was so hooked I went back for a second session.)

Until now, that is. Vision Quest is amping up the stakes on its programming and bringing Taste of VQ outdoors this spring. Not only is this perfect timing for the training season ahead, but it's a perfect way to enjoy the improving weather conditions and workout at the same time. And since you'll be off the trainer, you'll be working on your bike handling skills--a plus for the craziness on the Lakefront Path that has already ensued on those recent 80-degree days.

If you've participated in Taste of VQ before or have spent a winter riding on your trainer, you'll be able to put your power skills to the test and combine them with your bike handling know-how. Talk about a sublime marriage of necessities on the bike--at least I think so since my handling is sub-par--and in a somewhat controlled environment too. The VQ coaches will help you master your power while working on cornering, accelerations, pack riding, pacing and more. If you've ever been scared of going out on a group ride--perhaps a fear of getting dropped or colliding with your neighbor--you'll be giddy to get out there next time.

The outdoor season of Taste of VQ starts this week and runs for 8 weeks. Classes take place on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. at Fort Sheridan (Old Elm and Sheridan Road in Highland Park) or Fridays at 6 a.m. at the Northbrook Velodrome (directions here). Spots still remain and the session costs $150.

For more details, check out the following Taste of VQ video.

Photo and video from Vision Quest Coaching.

Work Day, Walk Day

I'm a big fan of sneaking in workouts on the fly. Riding my bike to run errands? Unless it's pouring--and even sometimes if it is--I'm sporting the two wheels over the four or public transportation. Jogging to a yoga class so I arrive in time? Not totally by choice since I always manage to leave later than expected but still. Walking home from work (2-something miles) on nice spring and summer evenings to avoid the stuffy El? Regular occurrence when I worked in the non-profit world and I totally admit to getting some "she's crazy" stares when I'd change into comfy clothes and proceed to take the stairs rather than the elevator.

My point to all of this is that today is a gimme when it comes to squeezing in a workout. Forget trying to sneak out of the office to burn calories and get the blood flowing, Blue Cross and Blue Shield encourage you to do it on the day they're calling National Walk@Lunch Day. All you have to do is skip settling at your desk with your brown bag or deciding which fast food locale it's going to be today, and instead take that 30 to 60 minutes to go for a walk. The idea is to encourage people to stay active, even during the hectic and often sedentary work day, and to increase daily physical activity.

A recent study showed that normal-weight women needed at least 60 minutes of exercise daily to maintain their weight, so a lunch break workout is a viable option. And when the weather is as nice as it is today (speaking from Chicago, at least), how could you not want to get outside even for a little while? But not only do you get to enjoy the weather and scenery, you're also doing your body good. Walking has been found to decrease stress, lower your risk of developing type-2 diabetes and heart disease, tone your muscles (sexy calves, anyone?), and maintain your weight.

Find an event near you by search for your local Blue Cross Blue Shield company, or just grab your keys and say sayonara to the office for a bit so you can take a breather. Your body and mind will thank you for it. And a little can splurge on that 31-cent scoop at Baskin Robbins later if your sweet tooth is calling, you earned it! Photo grabbed from Blue Cross Blue Shield and Pieces of Victoria.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Surprise Yourself at the Freedom Run

Remember my excitement--and surprise--from last month's Run Lucky at Niketown? I could barely run thanks to a bruised tailbone, but I had so much fun it really didn't matter. And we didn't run that much--only about a mile--so anyone who said they couldn't attend because they don't run, couldn't use that excuse for the evening.

Due to my run struggle at Run Lucky, and inability to round up any troops to join me, I was even more excited when an invite for another Nike event landed in my inbox yesterday. Maybe this time for the Freedom Run, as this run is called, I'd be able to find a few runner souls to run with me. So tomorrow, April 28, come out to Fleet Feet Piper's Alley at 6:30 p.m. for the Freedom Run. Nike Running and Fleet Feet Sports Chicago are teaming up for a special night to introduce the newest member of the Nike Free family, the Free Run+. Think barefoot running but with a little more protection from the elements--and a cool design and colors, too.

In true free style, you'll let your feet do some following on a scavenger run that will take you a spot only the organizers know. Free your mind and your feet will follow, right?

If buffalo wings are involved, I know one runner who'll be with me--I bragged about the Lucky Run's fun to my husband and he was jealous. So who's with me? Photo grabbed from

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Stories from the 114th Boston Marathon, Part One

It’s kind of expected when you register to run the Boston Marathon that you’ll be in the company of good runners. Ryan Hall and Meb Keflezighi. The 2009 winners Deriba Merga and Salina Kosgei. Catherine Ndereba and Robert K. Cheriyout before they dropped out. But there were more than a handful, try roughly 26,000 stories. Granted I only heard or read about a handful, but figured they were too cool not to share. So here the first round of some obvious and not-so-obvious tales from the 114th running of the Boston Marathon.

Maggy Zidar. Never in a million years did I expect to be standing next to my high school English teacher before the race. I knew she was running—my mom shared this news after they saw one another at the gym—but when you have a field of 26,000 or so, do you really expect to find the few people that you know (turns out I saw two)? Mrs. Zidar, as I’ve always known her, came aboard my bus in the Hopkinton parking lot with Doug Kurtis to meet his brother. She’s run Boston 10 times, nearly missed out this year because the race closed so early, and hoped to run under four hours to celebrate turning 60. While she said she was just coming off last week’s Martian Marathon, she still managed to pull off her goal and ran 3:50.

The Kurtis Brothers. I felt like I was in the company of greatness when I learned the background on these two, Doug and Dennis. Bart Yasso announced one of Doug’s feats when he stepped onto the bus before we left Boston—76 sub-2:20 marathons—but it turns out he’s not just fast, he’s run a lot of races. Doug, from Livonia, Mich., is training for Grandma’s Marathon in June but felt so good after running the half at the Martian race last weekend that he decided to do Boston after all. I needed a piece of paper with me when I stood in the bus bathroom line to jot this all down but luckily my memory prevailed to keep a few facts intact like the running more than 100 marathons. Meanwhile, brother Dennis, from San Jose, Calif., had a target on his back after finishing second in his age group last year. Most seasoned Boston runners probably know this, but practically novice me learned that the top age-groupers wear a bib on their back with their corresponding age group to show their speed. Dennis seemed to be modest over his speed, which apparently runs in the family. Doug finished in 2:54:01 while Dennis finished in 2:59:29, good for fourth and eighth, respectively in the 55-59 age group.

Kerry Green. What a cool guy to sit next to for a bus ride out to Hopkinton. An exercise physiologist by trade (Kerry, sorry again for mistaking your career), uber-marathon runner by fun, he first showed up in Boston in 1975 and was making his 18th appearance—or was it eighth? Plus he wanted to make it a memorable race, running sub-three hours so he could mark five decades—yep, the 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s and now 10s—of running faster than three hours. He may have sounded a little like Lindsey Vonn before the Olympics, being wary of her performance due to her shin contusion, but he didn’t let a little Meb-like sore hip and knee keep him from finishing in 2:58:18, good for fifth in his age group. And apparently there’s about a handful of others trying to accomplish the same feat. Runner’s World’s Amy Burfoot acknowledged Green in this blog post, cool stuff.

Guy-whose-name-I-can-probably-track-down-after-Big-Sur. I should have asked his name when we were on the bus but when you’re prepping for a marathon yourself, you don’t really think of all the little details. His memorable fact was new to me, but apparently popular on the marathon circuit (Kerry knew of the challenge): to run Boston, rest six days and then tackle the Big Sur International Marathon. My husband thought the challenge sounded insane while I applauded anyone who wanted to run two hilly marathons less than a week apart. He wasn’t the lone soldier either: I saw a few Boston 2 Big Sur tees on the course, passing me no less.

Stephanie Skladzien. I met Stephanie a week before the marathon at the Luna Chix Summit in northern California. She’s the team leader of the Madison cycling team, but also runs marathons and Ironmans. And we learned that our paths have probably crossed on more than one occasion but we had never met. She was the second person I knew running Boston and like Mrs. Zidar, one that I’d never expect to find on race day. We had exchanged bib numbers and described our race day outfits, but in a sea of runners that’s like the ‘needle in a haystack’ cliché. But Stephanie found me somewhere between Wellesley and Newton, we ran together for a bit, but then her gait got a little too fast for my legs to handle at that point in the race. She kept going and finished in 3:58:29, and now she’s going back home to start training for Ironman Wisconsin.

That's just the first tidbits of stories from race day. I didn't want to turn this post into a book so stay tuned for parts two and three--and maybe four and five. In the meantime, check the results from Monday's marathon at Photo grabbed from Paul Keleher at Flickr.

Friday, April 23, 2010

VIP Treatment at Boston, Thanks Runner's World

If you ever have the chance to snag a spot with RW Elite at your next marathon—before I forget, they’ll be at the Cincinnati, San Francisco, Toronto and Richmond marathons—do it. Trust me, you will not be sorry in the least.

I wasn’t.

And that’s even after one of my main motives, the weather, ended up being way better than forecasted in the days before the race. I signed up to be a Runner’s World VIP Tuesday morning, less than a week before the race—thanks to a warning from Bart Yasso that the registration would probably shut down on Wednesday, an urging that it was a great deal, and knowing that I was probably already late to jump aboard and sneaking in at the last minute. The weather looked so-so, something like 50s and partly cloudy, not conditions that I couldn’t handle waiting in lines at the Common. I piled on the layers and rain gear in 2007 when a Nor’easter hovered around the Atlantic, stood in the pouring rain with an umbrella and rain gear (I so wish I had pictures from that experience, but I just have the look I wore out the door of my hotel room, courtesy of my mom), scored a spot in the line that didn’t seem to want to move (lucky me!) and a seat on what felt like one of the last buses to head out to Hopkinton. I swore nothing could be worse, and I was right, but still I’d take cushy digs over a seemingly neverending line that only brought about more nerves before the race.

The perks advertised as part of the Runner’s World deal were only part of the allure, my email confirmation gave me a few more to look forward to, and my attendance at one sweetened the deal. The RW planners could have left us with the email itinerary that said to meet for the buses at the Sheraton between 6:30 and 6:45 a.m. Monday morning, but they started the celebrating with a reception Sunday afternoon. Totally worthwhile, even if it did mean more time on my feet and forcing oft-quiet me into striking conversation with strangers. Not only did I get all of the details for Sunday and add my parents to the party that followed at the University Club, but I received the newly released Going Long anthology, introduced over expo weekend and full of RW stories from the last seven-ish years. And within the first 15 minutes, I met three previous Boston Marathon winners—Amby Burfoot (1968), Greg Meyer (1983) and Lisa Rainsberger (1985, last female American)—as well as countless RW editors. For someone who reads Runner’s World monthly—and repeatedly since it stays in my gym bag after the first read—chumming with its staff is easily one of those experiences that rarely comes along.

That was the night before the run. Race day was even more worth it, and again, not because of the weather. Dawn broke, the sun rose, and aside from the chill in the air—signaling perfect running weather--it really wouldn't have been bad to wait in line for the school buses. But the Runner's World buses were way cooler. The RW peeps promised to ride out to Hopkinton with us ended up including editors David Willey, Jen Van Allen and Warren Greene, and chief running officer Bart Yasso--that's not counting the handful of editors running the race. The random runners who hopped aboard had a pretty impressive rap list—super-fast aging brothers who’ve been running Boston for ages, a Boston-Big Sur doubler, my neighbor who was shooting for his fifth decade of sub-three hour marathons. But it was the drive out there that threw us for a very impressive loop: we accidentally landed in the motorcade between the wheelchair athletes and elite runners. That meant police closing off the highway for us to pass, an empty road straight ahead, and a stop steps away from Hopkinton's town square and the start line. Sure, we were in the wrong spot and needed a police escort to take us back to the masses at the high school and middle school, but interesting while it lasted.

The excitement wanes a bit when the bus pulls into the parking lot staging area for all the runners, more because it means the race is actually about to happen--and we have to think about what layers to keep and shed, what foods to nosh on and when before running, to wear or not to wear sunscreen and sunglasses, when to take the last bathroom break, and what time to leave the bus for the start line. Having a bathroom just steps away and with a line only seven deep rather than 20? Good plus for this runner who stayed on the bus until the last second to use the bathroom one last time before the race.

Fast forward to the finish line where the Runner's World perks returned. Cross the famous finish line, collect your medal, post-race food and belongings, and make your way to the runner reunite area. But instead of finding your family and friends outside at your designated letter, find the blue awning of the University Club, head inside and you're back to feeling like a race VIP. You'll see the welcoming committee, greeting you with information on the shower and massage areas, the food and place to relax after you're clean. I skipped the shower and massage to refuel first--force of habit more than anything--but after scarfing down a hot pretzel, and some other snacks my parents had placed on their plates, I was ready to rinse off and get warm.

Without traveling back to my hotel room, this shower was easily the next best thing. After my first Boston, we had to rush to catch a flight in Providence, R.I., and I had to shower in the spot the Sheraton set aside for runners that year. That included waiting in line for what felt like one shower stall that was part of the fitness center's locker room, changing in the middle of cramped quarters and sliding on sopping wet floors. It was better than nothing, but the Westin set the bar higher the following year: rooms set aside for runners to shower and change and no waiting in line. The University Club set-up equaled the Westin without the rush of another person needing the shower and the ease of rejoining the group.

But the massage? That's something I'm always going to have to do after marathon--so what I needed especially after my calf cramped up at mile 20 and another runner told me I walked funny. The massage therapist went to town on my leg and less than 20 minutes later, I knew I'd be able to walk, not hobble, my way back to the hotel.

As for my parents, they enjoyed the post-race celebration, too, a nice perk considering I was the one signing up for the VIP treatment. They met Bart Yasso, had an indoor spot to wait for me to make it through the finish line area, and could snack on some goodies while watching video footage from the Richmond Runner's World Challenge. While we may have been the last few people still hanging out at the club, no one was about to kick us out or encourage us to leave. Instead you felt like you were a small part of the Runner's World family. Good thing too, because I wasn't in a hurry to return to the hotel.

Photo courtesy of Susan Bongiovanni.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day Exercise

On Tuesday I alluded to green happenings at Equinox Fitness Clubs around the country but didn't share any more than the event that included free entry for guests and an Earth Day party. Well, Equinox is doing more than throwing fetes to celebrate our Mother Earth, and they're only the latest company on the fitness front to be sharing their efforts (Vail Resorts is another that comes to mind, some marathons, and locally it's easy for me to remember the Fitness Formula Club's Gold Coast location's green roof deck). But anyway, it's Equinox that's getting the attention this Earth Day with its environmental preservation actions.

Equinox recently announced a corporate-wide stance to aid in the protection and preservation of the environment while also catering to members' experiences. The company opened its first green club at 17th Street and Tenth Avenue in New York City (100 Tenth Ave. in Chelsea, to be exact) and hopes to incorporate many of that club's eco-friendly features when building new clubs, as well as retro-fitting the existing ones. How are they doing it? These are only some of the ways:
  • Green cleaning solutions--already in use in many of the clubs--that are environmentally benign and practically fume-free
  • Minimal or zero VOC content in select building materials like adhesives, sealants and paint
  • State-of-the-art filtration systems that clean outdoor air thoroughly before it's pulled into the clubs
  • Tons of recycling opportunities where you'd have to be blind not to see them: numerous and convenient storage and collection areas for recyclables
  • More efficient water flow in the locker room showers where they will be equipped with showerheads that create the experience of a 3- to 4-gallon per minute shower while only using 1.6 gallons per minute
  • Power savers like dimming technologies that adjust the electric lighting levels depending on the amount of natural daylight available
  • Lighting--except for emergency and night lights--is time-clock controlled to turn off when the clubs are closed
I don't know about you, but I'll have to look at these enhancements the next time I'm at Equinox. Amazing how the smallest things can have such a huge impact on our environment. Photo of the Equinox Lincoln Park location provided by Equinox.

Going Green Gear

Please don't cringe when you read this. I admit I don't recycle as often as I should--if at all--in my high-rise living situation, I don't have a grocery list that's 100 percent organic (hey, I like my 86-cents-a-pound strawberries), I'm not so conscious in my clothes shopping to go with sustainable products--it happens accidentally because I naturally like the gear--and I have a cabinet full of basic cleaning products like Windex and Fantastik, with the one exception being the eco-friendly laundry detergent that was a better value at Costco than the Kirkland brand. All eco-loving rule-breakers aside, I still love the Earth--and know I should show it a bit more--and celebrate Earth Day every year (OK, it helps that it's also my birthday). This year is no exception as the Earth Day holiday celebrates 40 years in the making. And to get into the holiday spirit there are tons of companies on the active front doing there eco-duty. Here's a sampling:

Horny Toad. With a campaign of "Do more by doing less (laundry)," these clothing outfitters are highlighting their eco-friendly fabrics and pointing out that 40 percent of energy expenditure on a piece of clothing happens after you take it home--wash before wear. Take fabric blends like Samba (Tencel, cotton and spandex), Voodoo a la Mode (Modal, cotton and spandex) and Flexcel (Tencel, cotton, poly and spandex) for example, where Modal is made from beechwood and Tencel is nice on the environment. And you can usually get away with multiple wears before washing.

Skirtsports. Save on ground shipping with your next skirt--or other activewear-purchase now through Sunday at You don't need a coupon or code to show that you love the Earth too--and want free shipping on your order. As this Boulder-Co. based company says, ground shipping "has the least environmental impact and we need to protect Mama Earth!"

The North Face. Check with The North Face store near you for special Earth Day events through Planet Explore. My faves are the upcoming beach clean-up days--I'm grateful to those folks who go to such lengths as grabbing cigarette butts and the tiniest scraps of trash.

Merrell. I'm on a million-and-one mailing lists--or so it seems--and Merrell sent me a note this morning to celebrate Earth Day with them. The deal includes free shipping when you spend $150. They've also taken the time, and research, to blog about other companies and happenings getting in on the green action. If you're into visiting the National Parks, be sure to take a look: the parks are free to visitors this week and select Merrell retail shops are donating $10 from every purchase toward the National Park Foundation.

Be Present. When it comes to yoga gear, comfy clothes and relaxed style, Be Present always seems to fit the bill. On Earth Day they want to remind you that their apparel lines are full of earth-friendly fabrics--think lots of organic cotton--and cute designs. And you can save on shipping today, which makes the purchases even more worthwhile, at least in my book.

These are just a few companies to keep in mind on Earth Day. Do you have any others? Photo grabbed from FlyingSinger at flickr.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Boston Marathon Twitter-Style

Who's nodding their head when they read that social media is everywhere these days? But who's also nodding when they see it makes them pretty accessible to random news on their favorite athletes, celebrities, friends and businesses? Me!

I have yet to start my Boston Marathon race report, but I've been catching up on my Facebook and Twitter browsing--far easier to do at the airport than writing, I might add--and am totally into reading comments from the crowd related to yesterday's infamous marathon. Here are some excerpts from what my Twitter feed looked like post-race (in reverse from how it actually read online).

Runner's World runnersworld Teyba Erkesso (ETH) wins women's Boston Marathon in 2:26:low. Tatyana Pushkareva (RUS) 2nd; Salina Kosgei (KEN) 3rd

Boston Marathon B_A_A_ Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot of Kenya has won the 114th Boston Marathon in in a course record time of 2:05.52  

Boston Marathon B_A_A_ Tekeste Kebede of Ethiopia will finish second. Merga third, Hall fourth, Meb fifth

Boston Marathon B_A_A_ Cheruiyot spoke to the media on Friday at the John Hancock Elite Athlete Press Conference -

Jake from Garmin JakesJournal Congrats to Garmin athlete @ryanhall3 on 4th place at Boston Marathon. Robert Cheruiyot set new course record of 2:05:50.

Runner's World runnersworld That's right--congrats Ryan! RT @5Kjunkie: @runnersworld @ryanhall3 's 2:08:41 is fastest-ever American finish at Boston. 

Boston Marathon B_A_A_ 'If I were to download a heart monitor I'm sure that it will show that this was the hardest win' - vanDyk on his tight victory today

Josh Cox JoshCoxRun So proud of my @MammothTC teammates, @RyanHall3 & @RunMeb! You guys were amazing!

Andy Baldwin andybaldwin some days you get The Goat, some days The Goat gets you. That was tough today! Congrats to all finishers! #BostonMarathon  

Jake from Garmin JakesJournal Congrats to Garmin's Peg for finishing (& qualifying again) at Boston! Her 5K splits: 26:01; 26:22; 26:09; 26:01; 26:27; 27:21; 26:59; 26:22  

Andy Baldwin andybaldwin Finished the #BostonMarathon! Thanks for all of your support. It made a huge difference out there today!! @TeamWorldVision

Boston Marathon B_A_A_ sitting on six hours after the start. Congrats to all the finishers! 

Bart Yasso BartYasso Congrats to all Boston Marathon runners.Thanks to our RW Elite Boston Marathon package runners & Saturday night FE runners.

Boston Marathon B_A_A_ Thank You! Thank You! Thank You! The streets are lined with supportive fans and our volunteers have been tremendous!!!

Runner's World runnersworld Check out our facebook album of more than 60 photos from #bostonmarathon weekend! Elite slideshows to come  

Winter Olympics 2010 W_Olympics_2010 Boston marathoner with heart attack recovering: A 64-year-old man running in the Boston Marathon had a heart attac...  

Runner's World runnersworld Meb's entourage: Merhawi Keflezighi (brother and agent), Bob Larsen (mentor), and Meb himself. The matching smiles  

Kirsten Miller fmyinjury I am so jealous of the #BostonMarathon runners. What a cool accomplishment!!!  

Josh Cox JoshCoxRun The @StepsFoundation dinner: @BartYasso, @RyanHall3, @CarolynLora, @SaraHall3, & @AndyBaldwin  

Boston Marathon B_A_A_ 'It was a great experience … Wonderful to be back … Haven’t been here since 2006 and it reminds me how special it is' - Meb on his race  

Boston Marathon B_A_A_ Congratulations to all of our runners!  

meb keflezighi runmeb 10:59 pm just got back to my room since the race and 10min to put my jeans on before the award. Now, in the ice bath. Long day & busy day. 

Sara Hall SaraHall3: So proud of @ryanhall3 & our @StepsFoundation runners today in Boston! Was great getting to meet most of them tonight and celebrate the race 

meb keflezighi runmeb Congrats to all the Boston 26.2 finishers. You are part of a great history. Wow, what a day of competition I cannot wait to see video.

meb keflezighi runmeb The crowed was unbelievable. USA. USA the whole time, even in the medical tent, tears of pride poured. Thanks to my supporters I went 4 it.  

Ryan Hall ryanhall3 140 characters aren't enough for today. Check out my blog post tomrrw. Thanks for everyones prayers and support. Congrats to all 26.2 fnshrs  

Bart Yasso BartYasso At Logan airport on my way home to PA. It’s a dead giveaway who did the race yesterday, walk/limp & marathon jacket.  

meb keflezighi runmeb 7:49AM, what are you having for breakfast? Well, I am starting w/ 55 degree of ice bath and looking forward to something warm in 15min.  

meb keflezighi runmeb I gave it all I had yesterday. I Ran To Win. Thanks for all the support.

Jake from Garmin JakesJournal You're everywhere! Congrats!! See you in a few...RT @BrianDSabin: is pictured on @runnersworld home page, under RW Daily and "1st timers"  

Boston Marathon B_A_A_ Video from the Hoyts hitting mile eight yesterday -  

Josh Cox JoshCoxRun Just had a fabulous massage courtesy of Holly and the great folks at the @StepsFoundation! Next stop, Nashville!  

Runner's World runnersworld Boston Virgins! RW staffers run their first #bostonmarathon ...with a camera. Here's what they saw: @B_A_A_

Runner's World runnersworld For more on Boston (including stories on the winners, @ryanhall3 , @runmeb , and the rest of the Americans) go to  

Runner's World runnersworld RT @AbbeyH24 Great advice from Mark Remy, Exec Editor of "Do whatever it takes to finish ahead of a costumed runner."  

Ryan Hall ryanhall3 There was something very beautiful about my last run in Boston this morning.  

Boston Marathon B_A_A_ is busy with some record book re-writing. Congrats to Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot (Course Record 2:05:52), and Ernst...  

...and we're powering down. I'm on a flight filled with marathon finishers wearing 2010 adidas jackets headed back to Chicago. Here's to hoping I can write my race report before landing--or catching some extra shut-eye. In the meantime, follow me and my favorites on Twitter, @fitink


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