Monday, December 31, 2012

The Last Run of 2012

Maybe you ran today. Maybe you ran last week before all the holiday hoopla. Maybe you haven't laced up those running shoes since the cold air came in or since you ran that fall marathon (that's usually when I toss my shoes in the closet and let them collect dust until March). Maybe 2012 wasn't your year to run and you can't wait to get a jump start on 2013. Or maybe you're making that 2013 commitment at tomorrow's New Year's Day 5K or Commitment Day Run. Whatever the case, where was your last run of 2012?

Mine was two days ago. I ran to the post office and back, which can be quite enjoyable when you have the view pictured above and not the stop-and-go I'd get back home in Chicago (thanks crosswalks). And it can also be quite challenging. I'm currently in Colorado, trading my running legs for my skiing ones, where the elevation makes even a 3-mile easy run hurt, mostly in the lungs, and where running layers are thrown out of whack--26 degrees and I'm sweating in my fleece-lined gear. Yeah, I know I should be piling on my running layers and lacing up my shoes one final time today to get in a few last miles before 2012 comes to a close--you know, to make up for all the miles I couldn't run in 2011. But the closest I'm going to get is an indoor workout today followed by tomorrow's Commitment Day 5K--my first run of the new year and my first January 1 run ever. At least I'm starting 2013 on a running foot.

In my defense, I'm usually skiing--family tradition puts me in Utah, skiing at Alta's torchlight parade every New Year's Eve. This year, I may not have made it to Alta, but Colorado's just as good when it comes to hitting the slopes (unless all the storms land in Utah and they've dried up by the time they pass over Colorado). I skied yesterday to the point of extreme quad burn and my 5K "recovery" will be another ski day.

OK, your turn. Where was your last run of 2012? Where will you be running in 2013?

Note: A version of this post also appeared at

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Best Fitness Gift to Give or Get

The person who has everything. The one who's hard to shop for. The gifter who hasn't had time to shop. The giver who can't decide on a gift. Whether it's on the giving end or the receiving one, we've all been there before. But there is a solution to those gifting problems, at least if you're shopping for the health and wellness-focused individuals on your list.

Enter KLUTCHclub, the monthly subscription service that specializes in fitness, health and wellness. For roughly $17 per month ($25 when you add shipping costs), KLUTCHclub members receive a hand-picked, themed box full of holistic health, fitness and wellness products. The box itself is full of items valued at $50 or more. It's a simple way to learn about new brands and products that fit the healthy lifestyle (or can encourage one to jump on the healthy train), and receive exclusive deals and offers from companies that share those values.

For anyone looking for a last-minute gift--and you're not ready to resort to a rush order from your favorite online retailer just yet--it's a no brainer to go with a KLUTCHclub box. You're getting more than what you're paying for, you can send it directly to the recipient, and you've giving what sounds like an awesome assortment of goodies with different boxes of treats for men and women. And you can choose from a selection of box options, from the yearly subscription with one box per month to the 'best of' box that's full of the club's favorite items.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How to Survive the Holidays...Without Packing on the Pounds

Holiday parties, social obligations, family dinners, nights out on the town. It's tough to squeeze these events into our already hectic lives. If there's one thing that gets the short end of the stick this time of year, it's not the parties but the workouts. Who wouldn't prefer to catch some extra zzz's especially after a late night out, avoid a dark walk to the gym, or grab some down time where you can just veg?

I know I'm guilty as charged. I've done all three this season. Skipped a morning workout (and that was minus the late night out) at least once by ignoring my alarm--or failing to set it. Skipped the dark walk to the gym after a long day in front of the computer (even though I really could have used the sweat session to help me think). And skipped--more like delayed--the workout until the last hour possible to watch hours of Christmas movies, lay on the couch and periodically doze off.

Turns out I should have read these tips from Lis Settimi and Catherine James, the co-owners of The Bar Method Chicago, the popular workout that merges the fat burning of interval training with the muscle shaping of isometrics and the elongating of dance conditioning, before Thanksgiving when my routine went haywire. The duo not only knows how to teach the routine that promises lean thighs, a lifted seat, flat abs and sculpted arms, but they also know how to keep you moving through the holidays and into the New Year. And as The Bar Method celebrates its fifth anniversary in Chicago in January 2013, here are their five suggestions to avoid feeling like a slug come mid-January.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Fit-Pic: The Christmas Chariot

Two days ago I practically chased this bike down the sidewalk (here's the link to that awful picture). Tonight the Christmas caroling pedicab was parked outside the Lincoln Park Zoo, waiting to transport people to and from Zoo Lights. It was worth returning to Zoo Lights (I fled the crowds Friday night) just to see this bike again.

Its driver didn't want to be photographed but he was more than happy to point out all of his bike's bells and whistles. Literally. I think he counted 11 different bells--and one very loud blow horn--that he and his passengers could ring. The Christmas tunes blasted from the stereo system in his wreath-adorned bike basket, and his outfit could have easily walked off the stage production of A Christmas Carol--top hat, sprig of holly and all). And he told me I'd have to take a ride. Next time...though I'd beg to pedal it before sitting as a passenger.

Have you seen this pedi-cab pedaling around town?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Fit-Pic: The Jolliest of the Jingle Bell Runners

I'm not into running in costume. I have a hard enough time choosing a basic outfit especially when I'm running in colder weather. But I have to hand it to these two Jingle Bell Run participants who got into the holiday spirit.

Many of us were buried under windbreakers and rain gear, yet not them. Same goes for the guys wearing their fleece one-piece jammies. If I had been handing out candy canes to the top finishers, they would have taken them all.

And can I just say I really want her socks? Nothing against the striped ones I wore a few weeks ago at the Ugly Christmas Sweater Run (and because of warm weather and lack of ugly Christmas sweater, the extent of my holiday attire), but the faux fur cuffs make these better. Time to make a Target run--the guy in front of me at gear check said that's where he got his.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Holiday Pedaling: A Cool Christmas Ride

To the cyclist who decked out his pedi-cab in full-on holiday decor: You are awesome. The picture to the left doesn't do his transportation justice (it's my fault for leaving my camera memory card at home, leaving me to quickly catch him pedaling by...with my iPhone). And it certainly doesn't caption the full-on Christmas vibe when you see it pedaling toward you.

The bike: It glowed with Christmas lights woven through the spokes and around its basket, which had some greenery--garland or wreath, I didn't get a good look--on it.
The cyclist: Talk about the playing the part. Was this guy really supposed to be shuttling Chicagoans to and from Zoo Lights or did he belong on the stage at the Goodman Theatre's production of A Christmas Carol? His top hat and overcoat looked like they walked off a page of the Charles Dickens classic--or maybe I was staring at Ebenezer Scrooge...before he saw his past, present and future in his nightgown.
The passengers: As Christmas carols boomed from a stereo on the bike, its passengers rang bells to match the tunes.

While I'd prefer to walk from the Lincoln Park Zoo entrance to my next destination--whether it be my car, however far away it was parked, or a nearby restaurant--I'd suck up the calories to ride in that festive transport. It's too amazing not to, and it'd be my escape route from a crowded zoo scene (if you don't have kids, don't go to Zoo Lights on a Friday night when it's not snowing and it's not frigid--it's total insanity). Anything to get into the holiday spirit?

Hey Chicago: have you gone to Zoo Lights and spotted this bike transport? Are we missing any of the holiday details? We're on a mission to find this pedi-cab again--and get a better picture.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Top 5 Gifts for Techie Athletes

Athletes like data, most of them, most of the time, anyway. Runners have their pace watches, beeping near the mile markers. Triathletes have their bike computers and power meters. Fitness fans have their heart rate monitors and calorie calculators. Those might be generalizations for who uses what, but we all know we track our data either religiously (with charts, logs and analyses) or periodically (when a race tells you your splits). We use data trackers and gadgets to power our workouts--working out harder, running faster and farther, hitting what once seemed like an unattainable goal. 

The problem is that sometimes we don't like to buy these gadgets for ourselves. Or after we've paid for the races, maintenance, training facilities, shoe updates and apparel, we're not left with much money to spend on these training tools. That's my excuse--and I wouldn't even call myself that techie (based on the fact that I have yet to buy a tablet, attempt to read a book on a Kindle/Nook, or update from phone to an operating system that would run all the apps I want to use). 

But maybe you know someone who's into fitness yet not into technology (and doesn't know the first place to start unless you gift her a device). Or maybe you know someone into technology but needs some fitness motivation to get up off the couch. Or maybe you're simply stumped on what to gift your fit friends. Keep reading as Fit-Ink shares some of the favorites we've uncovered this year.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How to Have a Fit 12/12/12

Everyone wanted to get married on 7/7/07. The Games of the XXIX Olympiad opened in Beijing on 8/8/08, a special day in the Chinese calendar. Digitally remastered versions of all the Beatles studio albums were released on 9/9/09; beyond that I couldn't think of anything significant about the date. We could run marathons and other races on 10/10/10, probably the coolest day to participate in an endurance event. A horror film bearing the name 11/11/11 was released on that auspicious date.

So what's 12/12/12 going to bring? As far as I can tell, it's shaping up to be a very fit-minded day.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Run Run Rudolph

Elves. Santa Claus and his sleigh. Reindeer. The only thing missing from Sunday's Rudolph Ramble was the Christmas tree. Or maybe I just missed it, which wouldn't surprise me. Do I really not remember anything but foam antlers, which I have stashed in a bin of Christmas decorations, and snow from the last time I ran the Rudolph Ramble?

Snow must have scared me from becoming a regular Rudolph Rambler--that whole December, snow, cold weather bit. Judging from Sunday, it certainly couldn't have been the race atmosphere, which was fun and festive. I learned after the fact that Santa, his reindeer and the elves were new this year, but a lot can change when you don't run a race in nine years.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Power Nap: We Need One This Time of Year

Catch some mid-day zzz's at Equinox's PowerNap. Credit
Holiday shopping. Parties and gatherings eating into our free time. End-of-the-year projects. December's holiday season might be the most wonderful time of the year, but it's also the busiest.

One way to combat all that stress: a power nap. Research shows that those short, mid-day sleep sessions make you more alert, reduce stress and improve cognitive function. But try drifting to sleep for 20 minutes, the typical length of a power nap, at the office and you're bound to run into some issues.

What you need is a class that Equinox created specially for December's hustle and bustle: PowerNap. Offered on Tuesdays from 1:15 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. at Equinox's Loop location throughout the month, PowerNap guarantees a revitalizing workout. Class starts with yoga flow and finishes with a restorative 20-minute meditation session designed to put your body into a deep-slumber state. During class, a wearable mp3 player called the Playbutton is powered with music by Brain Sync, technology that pairs meditation techniques with harmonically layered brainwave frequencies in soothing music. The idea is to activate your brainwaves through meditation and music, with delta waves helping you drift into a quality nap. You'll wake up refreshed, more patient, more efficient and ready to tackle that project that you desperately need to finish.

And you don't have to worry about getting caught snoozing on the job or at the punch bowl.

Photo grabbed from Martin Cathrae at flickr.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Top 10 Workout Songs for December

What tunes are you sweating to? Credit: stefan.eissing
Like the song goes, December is the most wonderful time of the year. Holiday parties and decorations, gift giving, jingling bells, and plenty of good cheer. But here's another reason I'm loving this month--and it has nothing to do with Christmas traditions and celebrations. It's Run Hundred's top 10 workout songs for the month that have me smitten. The site, which happens to be the web's most popular music blog, polls its readers to find out their favorite workout songs to compile a top 10 list, perfect for keeping the motivation going during the busiest time of the year.

The list is eclectic. It has some of my personal favorites (so what if I've only blasted them on the run and haven't tried them at the gym yet?). It has some beats that are perfect for pumping up the adrenaline. And it's easily my highest ranked list of 2012.

So what are we so excited to download and listen to in December? Here's the full list, according to votes placed at Run Hundred.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Crowie's Coming to Town

Crowie and a fan at the July 2012 Runners High 'n Tri event
What do you do when you hear that an Ironman world champion will be in town? You drop everything, including the day's workouts, to attend.

That's what I did in July--and two years ago--when Runners High 'n Tri hosted Craig Alexander and Dave Scott (two Ironman champions in one room, can you blame me?) at what has seemingly become a summer ritual of sorts. Crowie races Racine, Crowie talks to triathletes in Arlington Heights.

But next Tuesday, no one needs to drop everything to drive out--or train it--to Arlington Heights to meet the three-time Ironman world champion (five-time if you include his wins at the 70.3 distance). Sure, it's nice to get out of the city every once in a while (and Runners High 'n Tri always puts on a great event), except for when said location involves driving on 90/94 at rush hour. And you decide to attend said event at the last minute, didn't do your workout for the day (that whole I'll get it done after work backfired), and technically should still be cranking in front of the computer. It's just that this time, on December 11, Craig Alexander is coming to the Core Power offices, which are located in Chicago's West Loop at 1001 W. Adams.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Fit-Pic: Take a Hike

What do you do when it's 60-plus degrees and sunny in December? The obvious answer: Get outside and take advantage of it. Even if that means hiking alone because your partner-in-fitness-crime has to work.

I wasn't the only one hiking today. With vistas like the above, can you blame me? The gym parking lot wasn't nearly as packed as it had been a week ago, but the open spaces' lots were nearly full. I think we all wanted to hike, bike, mountain bike, climb, bask in the sunlight, you name it. Hey, it beats burning calories indoors on the elliptical, unless there's a really good round holiday movies playing. But really, how many times can you watch Christmas VacationElf and Home Alone? I'd still take my frozen fingers, the thoughts I had on the Contemplative Trail (still trying to remember them though), and the outdoor exploration.

How were you active today?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Fit-Pic: Skier Spotting

Look who we spotted at the 2012 Audi Birds of Prey World Cup at Beaver Creek. He's a bit unrecognizable sporting his Movember mustache, but that dapper fellow is none other than Ted Ligety, 2006 Olympic gold medalist in the combined (slalom and downhill) and three-time giant slalom World Cup champion. Basically, he's one fast skier--and the favorite to win Sunday's giant slalom race as a fellow fan told me on the bus ride back to the Beaver Creek base.

Considering it took me for-ev-er to drive to Beaver Creek (a later-than-planned start, super slow drivers,  and overestimating the length of the downhill event), catching Ligety signing autographs and taking pictures in the finish line area completely made up for the action I didn't catch. I missed hiking up to the pumphouse to watch--and feel because they're skiing so fast--the racers whiz by. I missed Aksel Lund Svindal's second place run. I missed Ligety's run--though that might be for the best considering his GS strength and his 31st place finish today (granted he'd still make the super scary top section look easy, like Jonny Moseley on moguls, while I have to timidly ski across the mountain, making some of my most cautious and slowest turns to avoid slipping and skidding on the ice). I missed the rest Team USA's runs--minus Bode, who ruled this downhill last year but has an uncertain ski season ahead.

But hey, when you spot a skier, a World Cup skier who you recognize right away, hanging at the finish line--and most of the crowd is heading down the mountain instead of hanging out--you have to stop and say hello. Or clam up and not know what to say beyond, "Thank you!" A "good luck" or an "it's awesome to watch you race" probably would have been better conversation starters.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fit-Pic: Is It Really November?

Can you name this stair climb? Consider these clues. It's been mentioned on Fit-Ink before. It's tougher to climb than the Hustle Up the Hancock and the Step Up for Kids to the top of the Aon Center (based on personal experience)--and I'm guessing it's harder than climbing to the top of the Willis Tower or all four of the Presidential Towers. Apolo Ohno knows it well--or so I've heard. And because it was warm and sunny today, I made my quads ache and my lungs burn as I scaled to the top. But can you blame me? It's November 29, which doesn't exactly spell T-shirt weather in most parts of the country, and yet it feels more like April 29. Now if only the days were growing longer instead of shorter...and there was snow, not the manmade variety, to ski in the mountains.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Shop Me a Bargain: Cyber Monday Fitness Finds

Skip the bags, it's online shopping on Cyber Monday. Credit
First it was Black Friday. Then it was Small Business Saturday. Now it's Cyber Monday. Sick of shopping yet? Not me! So I hit the gym instead of the mall on Friday. And Thanksgiving put me more than 1,000 miles away from the stores that I would have shopped on Saturday. But come Monday, which is set to be online's largest shopping day of the year, I'm raring to go.

Give me a computer and an internet connection and I'm a happy camper. No lines. No crowds. No store hopping across town--or bundling up to deal with Chicago's cold. I can shop in my pajamas. I can have multiple "stores" open at once. I can shop before and after the retail shops close. And I can pray that the items I really don't want to pay full price for, putting an even larger dent in the wallet, are in stock and on sale.

Here's where we'll be shopping:

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Shop Small, Shop Local, Shop Small Business Saturday

I didn't wait in any Black Friday lines. I didn't score any Black Friday shopping deals. And this year I didn't even push my way through the crowds at the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza. 

I slept in. I worked out. And I learned that the best Black Friday deals I'd want to score happen on the fitness front--unless I was glued to my smartphone while braving the mall. Life Time Fitness had a membership deal that comped the joining fees--so did the YMCA (the Colorado Springs branches). Real Ryder Revolution warned to watch for package bargains on Black Friday. Train Chicago Studios held a free four-hour--or two-hour if you couldn't cut four hours in the saddle--Computrainer bike ride on the Ironman Canada course. Shred415 offered discounts on its packages and retail, and Urban Athlete featured a $35 per month membership steal. Now those are my kind of deals.

But I'm saving my shopping bucks for Small Business Saturday. Here's why I'm a fan...
  • I need running socks. I mud-ified my new Balega socks on a trail run (should have occurred to me to wear the older pair with the holes in them since trails have mud) and desperately want a replacement. Plus we all know socks make good stocking stuffers for the runners on your gift list, and you're not going to find the blister-free variety at the department stores. Or at least I haven't yet.
  • I'd rather avoid the Mag Mile crowds. Fleet Feet is less than a half mile from where I live and I can just as easily ride my bike to Universal Sole (as long as it's not freezing). So whether I ride my bike or I walk, I can get there faster than I can get to the big stores along Michigan Avenue or State Street. Besides, do I really want sweaters, fancy shoes, and fine china? Not eyes are on running gear this season. And with Chicago being such a big, spread-out city, surely there's a store you fancy not too far from your front door.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Hardest 5K I've Ever Run

I've been running 5Ks since I was 14. Sure, it was only one a year up until I turned 20, when running became fun and not swim team dryland torture. After running my first 3.1-miler ever, the distance got easier as I ran longer and trained harder.

But at the turkey trot I ran this year, you may as well have turned the clocks back to 1994 and put me right back on the course of my first Birmingham Lions Club Run for the Blind 5K. Yes, that's how tough it was--and it was only a 5K (which I'll get to explaining).

When I learned that the Chicago turkey trot I ran last year had been shortened from an 8K to a 5K, I scoffed, knowing I'd barely burn off my holiday dessert at that distance. When I knew I'd be running a 5K in Colorado Springs where the elevation is roughly 6,800 feet above sea level, I was thankful that the city's largest, and only, turkey trot wasn't any longer. A 5K at altitude is an entirely different animal.

When you run a 5K at altitude--and you're not even close to adjusted to the added elevation--it hurts. A lot. Every step of it. You can't wait to cross the finish line because it means you can stop running and the burning sensation in your lungs can finally subside. That lingering idea of a 5K not being far enough to run on Thanksgiving Day to make up for the food frenzy? The thought of doing a second workout to put more calories burned in the bank sounds preposterous. And the workout itself? Abandoned.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Nike Women's Half Heads East

This race heads east in 2013! Credit
I should be psyched about races, especially new ones, to run in Chicago. And most of the time, I am. I can ride my bike to the start line. I can run a course that's flat and fast (yep, that's pancake flat Chicago for ya). I can run familiar routes. I can roll out of bed to run without stressing too much about having the right layers, the right pre-race foods and the right directions to the start line--and if I don't, it's my fault for not stocking my fridge or shopping for gear.

But this time around, I'm psyched about a new race that's happening more than 500 miles away from home. Here's why I'm ready to break my routine and sign up, stat!
  1. It's the Nike Women's Half Marathon. I've wanted to run the San Francisco race FOR-EV-ER, hills and all, to get that Tiffany bling at the finish line. The race vibe sounds too cool to miss, unless you're religious about running the Chicago Marathon, turn yourself into a total cripple (or expect to) on race day, and know that the only way you could survive San Fran was cheering a friend from the sidelines and having a Segway on call to power up the city's hills. Ahem, that's me.  
  2. It's in Washington, D.C. I have runner friends and family who live in and around our nation's capital. Surely, I can fire them up to run with me? After all, some of us have been talking about running another race together since 2009. And I've never run in D.C.--not even a training run--so I'm in for a surprising race course.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Another Biggest Loser Iron-woman

Did Hollie lay down at the IMAZ finish like Eneko Llanos?
Tara Costa isn't the only Biggest Loser Iron-woman. I was browsing the standings from Sunday's Ironman Arizona and who did I see among the competitors? None other than Hollie Self, the season 4 contestant who ultimately lost in the finale to fellow black team member Bill Germanakos.

That caught me by surprise. I had heard that Jay Kruger had Iron dreams (he finished Beach2Battleship, a full Iron-distance triathlon in October). I remembered Matt Hoover's attempt at finishing Kona. But I didn't know that Self was also boarding the Iron train and going longer than those appearances she's made with other former Biggest Loser contestants at the San Francisco Triathlon on Treasure Island. Had I been better about following the BL alums on Facebook, I would have known last month that Self was racing--it was posted right on her page and she asked for inspirational quotes a few days ago.

The powerful mantras she received must have worked. Self got to hear Mike Reilly's "You are an Ironman" boom through the microphone last night. She finished the 140.6-mile race shortly before the clock struck midnight, crossing the line in 16:55:26. Congrats Hollie and we hope you're not inching around in pain today!

Speaking of The Biggest Loser...when are we going to get another season? My Tuesday nights aren't complete without it--and I can't stand The Voice (sorry if you're a fan, but I prefer athletic challenges over voice ones). Looks like I won't have to wait much longer, the BL homepage says the next season starts January 6.

Photo of Eneko Llanos after his 2011 Ironman Arizona win grabbed from runnr_az at flickr.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

USole Trail Challenge: I Lost My Trail Virginity

Trails aren't all singletrack and obstacles.
Trail races are called challenges for a reason—they’re not easy. The mileage? No problem. It’s the winding route, the downhills on uneven surfaces, the hopping over logs and whatever else one can encounter on a trail that can make a five-mile route challenging. But those aren’t to be taken as turn-offs but turn-ons.

Yesterday I ran my first trail race, the Universal Sole Trail Challenge Fall Edition. I rarely worry about surviving a run, especially one that’s five miles, unless I’m coming back from an injury or said run is a speedy track workout, but I was nervous about this one (not a lot but enough to elicit a “what have I gotten myself into after picking up my packet?”). I shuddered at running singletrack—mostly because I’m usually riding the ruts, and wobbling, and this first foray into the forest would be amid a crowd. I’m OK with trail testing on my own—I pushed the pace in Colorado Springs’ Red Rock Canyon last month—but not with others watching, especially if, when, I lose my footing. It didn’t help that we almost missed the race start, thanks to a combination of heading out the door behind schedule (note to self: pack trail gear the night before) and hitting a traffic pile-up on the way there, or that I was testing out a pair of trail racers.

But I underestimated my abilities and the trail. Trail racing is F-U-N. The 5.25 miles sped by way faster than any Lakefront run—even though I couldn’t run as fast. The course twisted and turned through Schiller Woods, around trees, over fallen logs (yeah, I need to get better at climbing those so two guys don’t whisk by me next time), up quad-burning hills, into mud, across mounds of leaves and down some semi-scary descents (I blame the leaves for giving me tender feet). Yeah, not an easy course though it was well marked and scenic. Lessons for next time: keeping my momentum through the trail’s twists and ignore the vociferous runner who didn't seem satisfied with the course--who cares if the route didn't match the map? And there will be a next time—I was sorry I had never run these woods before or other USole trail races. What was I thinking?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fit-Pic: Nike Works Us Out

Excuse the blurry picture but I was trying to move to the groove.

We're still kind of in awe of what happened a few hours ago at Soldier Field. There's something about that grass, that field, that's special. Maybe because football legends play there and we actually got to pounce all over it?

We lunged, we jumped, we high-kneed. Sure, those moves will keep you warm on a chilly Chicago night (I shed my fleece a few minutes in), but they'll also give you a sampling of a Nike Training Club workout.

And with no mirrors and a few hundred of us packed onto part of the field, no one cared if you moved right when everyone else shifted left or if you kept bopping when the exercises changed. Or if you looked completely ridiculous attempting to one-legged squat (that move was tough!). Except for maybe your friends who got a good laugh (thanks Fleet Feet!)--but where else can you giggle through a workout and not have the instructor or classmates get annoyed by your banter?

If 30 minutes is that awesome (you know I love a good workout), then I need to get with 2012 technology so I can sweat with NTC more often.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mercury's Rising

It's not yoga. It's not Pilates. It's not strength training. And it's not a sit-in-a-hot-room-until-you-break-a-sweat-then-go-home workout. Well, not exactly...but we'll get to that.

It's The Mercury Method. And it's the newest way to work out in Chicago: This Wicker Park studio officially opens for business tomorrow, November 13.

It's also one of the hottest, and we mean that in every way possible. Minus a bikram or hot yoga class, you're not going to find a warmer room for your workout. The temperature is set at 98.6 degrees to provide equilibrium between the body's core temperature and the environment, which in turn helps blast fat, torch calories and purge toxins.

But the temperature isn't the only method to Mercury's madness. The Mercury Method offers three 60-minute class options that each have a different focus. It's a routine that combines elements of yoga, Pilates, and strength training with the challenge of being in a heated room. That sounds easy enough--after all, I religiously go to CorePower Yoga sculpt classes--but the thermoregulatory conditions force your heart, lungs and mind to work harder while your muscles get stronger.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Top 10 Workout Songs for November

Tomorrow is November 10. Tomorrow I'm running a 10K. Tomorrow I'm going to need at least 10 songs to get me through those 6.2 miles--and I can't rely on my current playlist for fear of hearing the duds that I can't bear to remove. So it only seems fitting to share the 10 songs that were deemed Run Hundred's best for the month of November.

According to Run Hundred's founder Chris Lawhorn, this list previews some of the albums coming out this winter, with their singles being spotlighted now. For once, it's not a huge surprise to me because I think this is the first time where I recognize, and want to listen to, most of the songs. With the colder weather, I've been at the gym more--taking more classes that regularly use these beats to energize the workouts.

Here's the full list:

Check out these songs, or search for more, in the free database at And if you subscribe to the site, you can vote on your favorites to help shape the rankings for next month.

What tunes have you recently added to your workout playlist?

Photo grabbed from Andrew Stawarz at flickr.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sweating for Sandy Relief

Sweat here on Saturday for Sandy recovery.
Last week Hurricane Sandy ripped across the East Coast, destroying towns, flooding tunnels and streets, knocking out power lines, and turning the city that never sleeps into one quiet place. And that's only part of the story.

In Sandy's wake, we've heard about relief efforts from fundraising runs to where to volunteer, from the NBC telethon to companies donating proceeds to the cause. But for the most part, you couldn't really participate if you weren't in New York or doing some shopping. Not anymore. Chicago's four Equinox locations--Gold Coast, Highland Park, Lincoln Park and the Loop--are stepping up the plate this Saturday to host a "Share Your Strength" charity event. Co-hosted by the American Red Cross, the event will raise money for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.

The deal: You donate at least $100 (or ask your friends to donate a dollar for every minute you plan to sweat) to gain entry with all proceeds going to the American Red Cross.

The return: You can sweat your way through a series of inspiring fitness classes on Saturday. All four Chicago locations have at least two classes they're offering. Take your pick of yoga, cycling or MetCon3; they're guaranteed to get the heart pumping.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Storming the Stadium: Nike Training Club Takes Chicago

We made it count at this Soldier Field workout. Time for No. 2!
Most people go to Soldier Field to yell "Bear Down" and shout a few obscenities at the opposing team. I go to Soldier Field to work out.

Not once. Not twice. Every time I go to the stadium, it's for exercise. The Soldier Field 10 Mile finished on the 50-yard line, the Nike Human Race ended with Fall Out Boy performing inside the arena (and us runners on the field), the Run to Remember and Run Home Chicago and Big 10K were staged outside, and a Make It Count workout sent us onto the field to drill, kick and catch for Fuel points. As for the football, I watch those games on TV, usually while working out.

That workout streak isn't about to end anytime soon: Nike is hosting a free football-inspired workout and fashion show at Soldier Field on Wednesday, November 14. And of course, like any good fitness addict (especially when the word free is attached), I'm going. It's tough to pass up a free workout, but it's even tougher to pass up an event that also includes a fitness fashion show--and one that I don't have to model in like I do tonight at Fleet Feet. Nike had me at first Twitter spotting (thanks I-don't-want-to-do-anything-on-a-cold-day weekend).

For starters, the workout is modeled after the Nike Training Club app and will be led Nike Master Trainers Marie Purvis and Alex Molden. Marie already kicked my butt once this year--I nearly collapsed during a squat-jump-leap combo featured in Shawn Johnson's Nike+ App workout--and she made others beg for recovery the next day at the Title IX celebration in Lincoln Park (I watched). But I'm ready for another beating--it's been nearly five months--and it has to be better doing a NTC workout in colder weather as opposed to the heat we had back in June.

Now Nike would have had me at the workout, but then there's the fashion show that follows--and the star power. Brittany Payton, daughter of NFL legend Walter Payton, will be hosting the workout. Chicago Bears wide receiver Earl Bennett will be making a special appearance. And Kristin Cavallari, who's engaged to quarterback Jay Cutler and known for starring on MTV's Laguna Beach and The Hills, will be emceeing the fashion show, which will showcase Nike's winter styles.

Exciting right? If you want to join the fun--there are roughly 400 spots available--sign up by visiting Then plan to check in at Soldier Field beginning at 6:15 p.m. The 30-minute workout will start at 7 p.m. with the fashion show to follow.

After Wednesday, I've probably seen or met more Chicago Bears players than most--Shea McClellin, Robbie Gould, Israel Idonije and Bennett (and Charles Tillman had I been better about going to the Universal Sole runs)--and I haven't even gone to a single game. Working out does have its benefits...not just the fit physique kind.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

For a Killer Core

Oh my core! You'd think that with the title "Core Values" I would have known my core muscles would be getting the workout at this new Equinox class launching this November. But are these moves really supposed to hurt this much? Is my core really this weak? Am I really this bad at functional movements?

Yes--but for good reason. I've been going to workouts, except I can't say that any of them actually focus on our cores for the entire session. Sure, there's the Ab Blast here and there, but that's 15 minutes all about the midsection. And if you've heard people preaching about our core muscles, then you know that our core is so much more than just abdominals. That's exactly why I can benefit from a class like Core Values. It's way more than 45 to 60 minutes of work.

For starters, you're not going to see those love-to-hate crunches. These core moves are more complex--like crunching your arms and legs--than the basics that only work the frontal line. "Core Values is integrated movement that works the frontal, lateral and spiral lines in combination and succession," says  Jenn Hogg, group fitness manager at Equinox's Gold Coast location.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Fit-Pic: Ran for Chocolate

I almost thought that I wasn't going to run for chocolate this morning. Trust me, Friday afternoon I started formulating a "Will Not Run for Chocolate" entry on my empty-handed bike ride back from Soldier Field. Sleeping sounded a lot better than running the Hot Chocolate 5K--and so did staying warm in my bed. It was cold, it was early, it was still dark--even with daylight savings--when my alarm went off. Based on the map I stared at last night,  it looked like the start area was going to be a nightmare; street closures on my usual routes to the Columbus Avenue start line, an alphabet full of start corrals, a gear check located on the south end of the staging area and me approaching from the north. And that's not even counting the packet pick-up debacle where I couldn't justify waiting in line for my packet longer than running the actual race (good thing the lines improved yesterday).

But like any runner, it's hard to pass up a race unless you really can't move the morning of (that already happened once this year, darn injury), you sleep through it (that also happened), or you go out of town and know you're going to forfeit the race (did that too). So I sucked it up, hustled to the start line, and ran. Besides, I couldn't justify eating chocolate at 7:30 a.m. unless I earned it. Now if only I could warm up--shivering under the covers is getting old.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Will Wait for Chocolate?

Is it Black Friday? Are we waiting for the handfuls of TVs, toys and other steals to be released to the first customers in line when the stores open the day after Thanksgiving? Are we attempting to ride the newest, scariest roller coaster at Six Flags? Are we trying to score tickets to a once-in-a-lifetime event (like the Cubbies going to the World Series)? Nope.

If only it were that exciting. This is the line to pick up bibs and goodie bags for Hot Chocolate 15K/5K on November 4--and the above picture only shows about two-thirds of it. The line stretched south to McCormick Place and wrapped around to the north end of the parking lot with people waiting in line for at least an hour (I caught up with ZachRunsChicago after he had been in line for more than an hour, then I left the expo empty-handed--not having the time or warm clothing to wait--and biked home, with a chilling headwind, before he received his bib and hoodie). Um, registration fail?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Climbing Beyond Barriers

Look at that fine stair climbing group.
Judging by the weather forecast for Sunday morning, chilly, the Downsize Fitness folks had the right idea. While I’m freezing my butt off at the Hot Chocolate 5K--thank goodness there’s hot chocolate at the finish line to keep me warm and I'm only running 3.1 miles--they'll be climbing stairs inside the Sears, er Willis Tower. That might be warmer, but it also feels about 10 times harder. But that's not going to stop the 17 DF climbers participating in the annual Skyrise Chicago, a stairclimbing event that benefits the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

They're all going to cross the finish line 103 floors up even if their quads burn, their knees ache and their lungs are begging for more air--and even if Bobbi Kral, their motivating trainer who decided the climb would be a good challenge for the group and was attracted by its beneficiary RIC because it was near and dear to her heart, has to push, pull and drag them to the top. Kral might not be yanking on anyone's limbs, but her energy is enough to get anyone to finish. This group has been training for weeks, practicing in stair wells so they're prepared for the real thing, and learning the do's and don'ts to surviving beyond the climb's first 10 minutes after the initial adrenaline rush has worn off. They've faced their biggest challenges well before lining up to climb these 2,109 steps: taking steps toward a healthier lifestyle and losing weight that's haunted them for years.

Downsize Fitness isn't your average gym--and it's not filled with average-size people. The West Loop facility offers a unique fitness and nutrition program for people who have at least 50 pounds to lose. Call it Chicago's own Biggest Loser ranch, except its members are learning how to incorporate the smart eating and fitness into their regular lives (yeah, there's no seclusion here). By doing the stairclimb, they're setting out to prove to themselves that they can accomplish anything from an endurance challenge to their weight loss. Kral knows what it's like to be in their shoes--she shed 140 pounds and caught the fitness bug in the process. And she knows how to make the preparation for this stairclimb fun. They've exercised through Theme Fridays and endurance challenges, and they'll be carb loading with a healthy pre-race pasta dinner on Saturday night. Now there's a community that makes healthy living fun.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Show Must Go On?

Last week, I nearly booked myself a plane ticket to New York City to watch the marathon this weekend. Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan would be in town. Meb Keflezighi would be running. The Halls would be there (at last check I swear they were coming). The Garmin guys would be running--go Jake and Justin! And of course all the latest and greatest gear would be on tap at the expo. Mizuno offered the chance to win a slot at a special brunch and they were showcasing the Breath Thermo top that looked like just the layer I needed to stay warm this winter--and after not being one of the lucky ones to win shoes or invited the Mezamashii Project, I'd take any opportunity I could to win a second chance. Basically, if I could get myself to the Big Apple without spending an arm and a leg, I wanted to be there.

Then Sandy happened. She tore across the East Coast and flooded some of the most unfathomable spots in the city that never sleeps, making New York look like it was Universal Studio's Earthquake ride (I promise I'm not joking about what happened, I just couldn't believe that so many Atlantic landmarks were destroyed). But what did I start thinking about after the initial OMG moments? The New York City Marathon. Would it go on as scheduled or would it be canceled?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fit-Pic: Pumpkins in the Park

Since when did Pumpkins in the Park welcome so many costumed runners? Since the 5K became the Chicago race to run for Halloween, which was this year. I seriously think I could stare at costumed runners all day--I'm still thawing out from this early evening event, a result of wearing too little clothing on too cold of a day and staying outside for too long with too few layers.

 These runners are far more daring--especially those who wear costumes that don't look conducive to running--and more creative than I. If you weren't wearing a costume, face paint or some Halloween colors, you were in the minority. Who'd think to cross dress like the couple above? Or wear a cloak that looked like it belonged to a Japanese emperor (I don't have pictures of that one but I literally followed that costumed runner the entire race)? Or how about the the hunter and his sheep (at least I think that's what he was supposed to be), above at right?

So much for my excuse that you can't run fast in a costume. Minnie Mouse proved me wrong--she, Melissa Hardesty, was the second fastest female of the day. And if memory serves me correct, the female winner, Pam Staton, also ran clad in costume. Guess I should have whipped out the ladybug wings...maybe I would have flown across the finish line a little faster.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Last Minute Costumes for Runners

Any takers for vintage skier or Wonder Woman?
It's less than 36 hours before the Pumpkins in the Park 5K and I don't have a costume. Normally that wouldn't be a problem, but when a run is deemed Chicago's official Halloween race, and there's a costume contest for the best overall costume, the best zombie and the best dead celebrity costume, you start to feel like you should be running in something other than your basic race-day outfit. I learned that lesson last year at the Trick or Treat Trot, where I nailed the cold-runner look but it was nothing compared to the Scooby Doos, Angry Birds, chickens and more on the course.

But what can you dress up as when you barely have a day to plan? And you lack costume creativity until after the holiday is over? These 34 last-minute costumes collected at helped take the guesswork out of the equation. Sort of. You see, some of the costumes would definitely be easier to run in--and pull off--than others. Which ones? Between those 34 and a few costume ideas I've received, I came up with these suggestions.

  • Aerobics instructor. A baby might be the one wearing the leotard and leg-warmers in the featured picture, but this is easy to pull off and will keep you warm while running--at least on the legs. You'll need: leotard (a compression shirt would work well), tights (running or something else), leg warmers, sweatband for the forehead

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Gone Bananas

It might be one of the most expensive 5Ks out there—if you’ve never run it before—but it seems like it’s totally worth the $100 asking price. That’s because the Denver Gorilla Run could be one of the coolest three miles out there. Or maybe “most awesome” is the better way to phrase it, because it's doubtful that one could stay cool running in a gorilla suit, furry hair and all.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ironman Airs Earlier Than Usual

I tracked athletes online all day. I watched portions of the live stream at But watching the NBC broadcast of the Ironman World Championship? That's usually reserved for December. After I haven't thought about triathlon in a crazed stupor for at least a month, and I could use something to fire up the competitive juices. The professional race, the age groupers, the inspirational athletes, they get me every time.

Is it really time to watch the Ironman World Championship? Yep. The coverage airs on NBC, Saturday, October 27, from 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern time (check your local listings for the other time zones), six weeks before its typical airing. The broadcast returns to a two-hour feature whereas  lately it's been limited to 90 minutes, less time than some triathletes take to finish the swim. We can thank Lance for sparking that one--he would have been a likely competitor until he was banned from participating--and NBC for not pulling the plug. Talk about a good alternative to watching college football!

Outside of the pro race, which saw winning performances by Pete Jacobs and Leanda Cave, who's going to appear in the footage? I have a few guesses...

  • Will we see Lew Hollander and Madonna Buder, two of the oldest entrants in the race? Lew eventually went on to finish, his 24th I believe, but Sister Madonna didn't make the bike cut-off.
  • Maybe Harriet Anderson who was the last triathlete to cross the finish line before the 17-hour cut-off?
  • How about Bonner Paddock who became the first person with cerebral palsy to finish the Ironman World Championship when he crossed the line in 16:38?
  • Or Adrienne Hengels who got engaged at the finish line (doesn't a marriage proposal make for good TV?)?
  • Or the tough-as-nails competitors who crashed somewhere out on the course yet managed to pick themselves up and still finish? I watched a guy in the live stream finish the race in 10 something hours with his arm in a sling. 

The funny thing is I almost forgot that the Ironman would be on TV this weekend. I thought I'd be excited to watch it so early--but more so than I actually am. Maybe it's because I did watch a large portion of the race online and already heard some of the Kona Inspired stories. Maybe it's because I did randomly wake up at 3 a.m. to watch the final hour of the race and see Lew Hollander and Harriet Anderson cross the finish line. But the likely culprit--it's simply a busy weekend. The Warren Miller movie, a birthday party, a football game, friends in town, the World Series, a 5K. Yeah, I'll be setting the timer to record this year's coverage.

Who do you want to see during Saturday's coverage? 

Monday, October 22, 2012

10 Things You Don't Know About Chicago's Sweetest Race

Mmm, chocolate post-running in 2011. Credit
Chicago likes its chocolate. Have you ever noticed that certain spots within the city smell like chocolate? Admittedly, I never picked up on it until someone mentioned it, but next time you're here, take a sniff and you'll see what I mean. So it comes as no surprise that there would be a race to cater to our sweet teeth. Besides, isn't it better to eat chocolate after we have a slight calorie deficit from say, a run? Of course.

It's America's Sweetest Race and it's second stop on its 2012-2013 circuit is Chicago (Albuquerque, N.M., is its first). It's the race Washington, D.C. would rather forget (though judging by the cancellation of the 70.3 triathlon that was supposed to be held out of National Harbor in August it might be more the location's fault than the race's)--but we're not going to dwell on the past. It's turning five in Chicago and it's pulling out all the stops to make Chicago runners giddy for chocolate. It's the Hot Chocolate 15K/5K.

But unlike some races that are nearly the same year after year, the Hot Chocolate 15K/5K is more about shaking things up. Take the race location: The first Hot Chocolate race was held at the popular Montrose site, and now the race starts and finishes in Grant Park. Take the race chocolate: One year it was Hershey bars as far as the eye could see, yet another it was square upon square of Ghirardelli. Take the race swag: a runner's jacket, a lighter runner's jacket, a hoodie. Put it this way: If you've done all five you have quite the collection of chocolate gear.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Seen on the Run: What's Up With That?

I've been to Colorado plenty of times, but I've never traveled south of Denver. Until my most recent trip. And instead of going to the usual haunts--ahem, Vail and Boulder (OK that was only once but I fell in love)--I headed south to the state's second largest city, Colorado Springs. Home of the Air Force Academy, the United States Olympic Training Center, the U.S. Olympic Committee and several other sports organizations from swimming to triathlon. And as I learned while I was there, the doctor who developed ART, active release technique (which saved me from a summer of not running), is based in the Springs.

So the secret's out. If you saw the Fit-Pic in the previous post, it's from Colorado Springs (as if I didn't already give it away at the start). When you're in the fittest state in the nation, you can't help but want to explore, especially when that exploration includes a run.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fit-Pic: My Version of a Rave Run

How's this for a running route? I'm a huge fan of the rave runs Runner's World features each month, always hoping that I'll flip to the spread to find a place that I've run (that has yet to happen). But if I could name a rave run, this would make the list. With the mountain scenery and fall colors that look more fall-like on the screen than they did to the naked eye, it made the huffing and puffing at altitude worth it.  

Can you guess where I'm running? I'll name it in the next post.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fit-Pic: Ouch That Hurt!

The Manitou Incline. I'd heard about it. I had seen pictures that had been texted to me. I learned that Apolo Ohno climbed it several times while residing at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, and that it was the proving ground for locals. But this stair climb, which looks completely wimpy in this picture shot at the Incline's base, beats any skyscraper stair climb I've ever done or could do in the Windy City.

You see, this is the easiest part of the climb. And then it goes up. And up. And up as you scale a mountain at some crazy degree that I'm too scared to look up for fear that I'll never want to ascend these stairs again. Your legs burn. Your lungs can't get enough air. You're chugging water desperately hoping that might make it a little easier. Your back starts to ache. You're breathing as hard, maybe even harder, than your fastest sprint around the track. Yeah, there's a reason that sign warns that it's an extreme trail.

But I'm ready to climb it again, even if I'm still too scared to descend using any other trail but the long winding one that everyone ran down except me (one slip on the gravel and I was walking). And do it faster than that first-time climb.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Top 10 Workout Songs for October

Beat, ba-beat, ba-ba-ba beat. Let's fuel that workout! Credit
Need to refresh your workout playlist? I do. Maybe it's the change of the seasons, maybe it's shifting from outdoor to indoor workouts, or maybe it's because I spent a marathon listening to my current playlist. But thanks to Run Hundred, which shared its top 10 songs for October, it's time for some updating.

This month's list has something for everyone. You'll find a hit that is so popular it earned a spot on the Today Show one morning ("Gangnam Style"), comeback (by Christina Aguilera) and crossover (by Scissors Sisters) singles, and a song popularized by a Kia commercial ("In My Mind"). Dragonette, a group that's not a household name, came in with the month's top track, which isn't from the Top 40, meaning it reached its rank through sheer awesomeness--Run Hundred's words, not mine, even though my slightly odd musical tastes find it pretty good. And one of my personal favorites of late (thank you 101.9), One Republic's "Feel Again," is also a hit--I love it for running.

Keep reading for October's list of top songs, according to votes placed at Run Hundred, the web's most popular workout music blog.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Cycling's Ryde Revolution

Ready for a Ryde?
One week you're pedaling across a highway in Arizona, admiring the red rocks and wide expanses. The next week you're riding along the familiar Lakefront Path before transitioning to downtown Chicago on roads you've driven plenty of times but never thought to pedal. And maybe the week after that you're riding through the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest. You're sweating, your legs are burning, you're leaning hard into those turns on the roads, you know you're going to wake up sore from head to toe tomorrow--but you haven't left River North. In fact, you haven't taken a foot outside 108 W. Hubbard, home to Real Ryder Revolution, or more affectionately shortened to R3, so you don't have to stumble over a tongue twister every time you say you're going for a bike ride.

I used to love Spinning. I'd go three, four, sometimes even five times a week, often pushing the running aside to hit the bike. I could practice climbs that I couldn't find within 30 minutes of home, headwinds that I really wouldn't want to get stuck in outside, and speed sets that could make me a reckless rider.


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