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.


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