Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fit-Pic: Can't Get Enough of the Beach

If I were to have a summer motto, I'd probably choose one to the effect of "you can't spend too much time at the beach." That is, if you come equipped with enough sunscreen, entertainment (or lack of sleep, which suffices in my case), water and snacks--you could easily be out there all day. The only problem is, until this weekend, I actually couldn't spend--or perhaps chose not to spend--any time at the beach. But thanks to our Chicago heat, us beachgoers have been out in full force. Check out this line for Saturday's Beach Palooza at Montrose Beach (stay tuned for a race report, too).

And see? The 3,000 or so participants hung out in the fenced off post-race area after finishing the 5K with obstacles that followed a twisty course around Montrose. Finding their friends, playing cornhole (thought I took a picture of that but apparently didn't), listening to cover band tunes, drinking Mike's Hard Lemonade (isn't that a good post-race refresher?) get the idea.

Sunday was a different tune: the beach, Oak Street's this time around, was packed. Swimmers, volleyball players, loungers, bikes, coolers, ice cream carts, you name it and it was likely there. This picture might not depict it, but there was a lot happening at the beach. Maybe more sleeping and relaxing than Saturday's scene, but hey, isn't that what Sundays are for?

How did you spend your weekend?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Ain't Cycling Gran?

Excuse the poor English in the title, but I couldn't help it. It only seemed too fitting for an event that's about to get underway this weekend--and one that I already wrote about once for this month's Chicago Athlete magazine. So when it came time to share the event's details for interested parties outside Chicago Athlete's distribution area but within a day's drive of the event's HQ, I had to reinvent the wheel. Or try.

Cycling. Gran Fondo. Wisconsin. Robbie Ventura. Vision Quest Coaching. Whether you have yet to get quality riding on your calendar for this summer--and you're watching it quickly slip away--or you've been putting pedal to the medal since the ground thawed, you'll want to consider putting these five keyword phrases together on July 31. Cycling can't get more grand than at Robbie Ventura's Gran Fondo, a race, rec ride, spin, loop--whatever you want to call it depending on how fast and how hard you want to ride it--through Wisconsin's challenging terrain. Why do you want to do this race? Check out these reasons:
  • You're training for Ironman Wisconsin. You'll get a sampling of its course and terrain by riding the 22.9-mile loop of the Gran Fondo. And if you go for speed you'll get to practice cornering, passing, ascending and descending--all skills you'll need race day.
  • The Gran Fondo can be as long, or as short, as you want it to be. You can ride the course's loop up to five times, and the more you ride it, plus your time, will be factored into winning prizes.
  • This Vision Quest event has Robbie Ventura's name written all over it. Ventura helped design the bike course that would have been part of the 2016 Olympics had the selection committee chosen Chicago, and the Gran Fondo occurs on part of that terrain. Ventura will be back from commentating at the Tour de France so you can hear his Tour stories and ride with him. Fun!
  • Where in Chicago can you ride like this? Nowhere, unless they shut down half of Lake Shore Drive for the Chicago Triathlon and even then you'll have your passing cut out for you.
  • Post-ride party. A day in Wisconsin wouldn't be complete without some brats and beer, likely finds after your legs have turned to Jell-O on the ride.
  • You won't have to stay overnight if you don't want to, at least if you're coming from Chicago. The ride starts at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 31, 30 minutes later than the other VQ rides held on Ironman Wisconsin course. Blue Mounds State Park, the start zone, isn't much past Verona so it's totally doable to rise early to make the drive up.
  • Your registration fee ($125) helps fund Parkinson's research. Not to go all personal on you, but my grandpa had Parkinson's so my eyes light up when events benefit an organization like the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.
Want to learn more about this Gran Fondo, one of the few taking place in the Midwest? You can find all the details and more--like its Italian origins--at With the Steelhead 70.3 and Chicago's Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon pushed back 2 weeks, you'll want to be riding on Sunday. Who wants to join me? That is, if I can kick my legs in gear to tackle those rollers after not riding for two weeks.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Trail Running: How Do They Do It?

Give me a trailhead and I'll hike it. Give me singletrack and I'll mountain bike it (or try considering I hop off my bike at every scary turn, descent and tree root). But there's no way you'd find me running that trail with my running shoes--I could only dream of being coordinated, skilled, and any other adjective I can name that a true trail runner embodies.

I know plenty of people who trail run, one friend who even swears by the Palos trails just outside Chicago's city limits for her return to running after repeated injuries. The problem: I'm just not one of them. I can only watch in awe. I barely get along with the pavement (you should see the scars on my knees and elbows, results of running falls). But me and the trails, I'm lucky I can walk or mountain bike them. I can barely survive a hike without tripping over a tree root or turning my ankle on a rock. As for running, I'm scared to even try--unless it was Palos' tamed crushed gravel trail, far away from the singletrack and a far cry from the trails I've hiked ever so slowly especially on the descents.

That's where the above picture comes in. How do these guys run--yes, they were running when I spotted them on the trail in Jasper National Park way up north in the Canadian Rockies--the trails? And how do they run a trail as bumpy as this one so effortlessly? I just don't get it. I almost twisted my ankle on a misstep and could feel each tarsal of my foot on the rock-hard ground. Sand runs: Those make sense. Trails where you're negotiating rocks, tree roots, uneven surfaces: I'm clueless.

Help a girl out. Trail runners: Can you offer an explanation?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Take a Hike!

I can't help it: I've got hiking on the brain. But honestly, can you blame me? In the last 48 hours I've gone from Chicago's flatlands to the Canadian Rockies where the mountains jut into the sky at even steeper rates than what I've seen in Colorado. I've traded my obligatory summer flip flops for a new pair of hiking boots. I don't leave "camp" (no tent camping this time around) without my CamelBak, rain shell and a million layers. And I've chatted with Nate Goldberg who heads up the Beaver Creek Hiking Center.

If I wasn't super psyched about hiking through the Canadian Rockies when I boarded the plane--let's just say my recovery stress fracture left me doubting my ability to do anything uber active for the entire summer--Goldberg got me far more excited. And well, he also made me want to hop aboard the next plane to Denver. Yes, that's exactly how much I wanted to hike, not bike, a fourteener, see the Mount of the Holy Cross when it's not completely buried under snow, and check out this Beaver Lake that all the locals rave about.  

Want to learn more about the Beaver Creek Hiking Center? It's all laid out here with everything you didn't know before you go. But one thing I forgot: plan carefully if you're particular about your flora and fauna sightings. You'll see, and trudge through, a lot more mud in the early season while missing out on the flowers and mushrooms. Goldberg says it's constantly changing up there--that also goes for any rain forecasts. Proof? Just look at these photos.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What's SUP?

I think my 4th of July weekend in Wisconsin is trying to tell me something: that I really need to spend more time outside. It started with an injury that left me scared to leave my perch on the couch and continued with Chicago's non-existent spring weather. It only got worse in June where my outdoor pursuits could only catch a break once a week, if that, either due to more bad weather or no time to spare--and none of my usual lake swims came close to happening. Why I'm sharing all of this, I really don't know, but bear with me as I'm getting to my point, I promise.

I'll be the first to admit that my outdoor activities linger at an all-time low this summer, but there's an activity I've had my eye on for at least two years--after reading about a skier who swears by it for core training--that makes me want to take to the water, and fast. It's name? Stand up paddling. Think surfboard, but bigger and sturdier, and add a paddle, and you've got SUP.

Why it's on my radar? Julia Mancuso, Olympic skier extraordinaire who gets lost in the limelight time and again by Lindsey Vonn, pursues SUP off the Hawaiian islands where she lives when she's not ski training and racing. It must work because one look at Mancuso balancing on a stability ball like she did at a Nike Women's Training event in Vancouver and you'd know she has to have a kick-ass core. She made the impossible look easy. And to be honest, I never forgot that, nor the article where I remember reading she SUP'd--thank goodness too or I never would have gotten through a five-minute interview with her.

Why it's a must-try? Sorry, but I can't give just one answer to this question. SUP is taking the mainland by storm with outposts seemingly popping up everywhere. I knew Lake Tahoe and Colorado had them but a new outfit recently opened in Chicago--and when that happens it's practically begging me to give it a shot--and random lakers were SUP'ing in northern Wisconsin on the 4th of July next to the jet-skis, speedboats and pontoons. As for the fitness benefits, I'd take that Mancuso-like core in a heartbeat, especially if the rumor is true that the water helps you forget you're exercising and working those muscles. And since it only requires standing and balancing on the board, it's a water sport this injured gal can handle without too much difficulty--and something to break the monotony of the bike.

Need more reasons to try stand up paddling? Check out my top 10 that I recently shared at If you're not convinced to SUP after that then please take my spot in front of my computer so I can get outside and try.

Photo grabbed from

Monday, July 4, 2011

Fit-Pic: The Cabin Course

Every 4th of July--or at least most in recent memory aside from when my husband has to work a call shift--finds me away home away from home at my husband's family's cabin nestled in a pocket of lake country in northwestern Wisconsin. And every 4th of July in between the barbecuing, fishing, boat rides and fireworks I hit the roads to run. Not this year because my doc said no running at the last check-up and I still have three days before I'm due for another visit, but I'll hit them on my bike.

Decidedly, I've dubbed this terrain the cabin course. Without fail, I'll run the out and back loop at least once, more if I'm feeling peppy or know a big dinner is in store. The route's ingrained in my head even down to the hills that burned the first time I ran up them because there's nothing comparable back at home. If it weren't for the lack of water fountains, my saving grace on the Lakefront Path, and the swarms of bugs, I'd say the cabin course beats the 18-mile stretch of Chicago lakefront. This simple course is almost perfectly designed for my run requirements: hills, a 6-mile loop to be repeated when wanted, shade and sun, quiet. It always seems to rejuvenate me for whatever event I'm supposed to be training for--or signal that it's time to get in gear. And trust me, I'm tearing those roads up on my bike this weekend, headwinds and all.

It's worth battling the Chicago traffic--even when you're stuck in stand-still traffic on I-90--to get away for the holiday. And the fireworks over the lake can't be beat, especially now that Navy Pier was the only provider of Chicago fireworks on the 4th (they're not great in my opinion and choose a seat incorrectly and they're hidden behind the foliage). Happy 4th! How will you get outside today?


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