Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Rudolph Ramble / Donner Dash

I closed out my 2014 racing year with an 8K in Lincoln Park this past Sunday. The weather was surprisingly mild for mid December (mid 40s), and the distance was just right to push myself at a faster pace. There was also a kid's race (the Donner Dash), which Big Girl was eager to run, so we made a morning of it and enjoyed the warmer temps on an otherwise overcast day. 

I headed over to the race early with a friend of mine and her friend. We had plenty of time before the race, so we chatted and got our picture taken with Santa!

on his lap

After the singing of "Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer" and the Star Spangled Banner, we were off. The race field wasn't too big, so it was easy to line up around the start, and for the first time since I can remember, I didn't deal with a bottleneck for the first mile.

At the start

The lack of bottleneck meant that I smoked the first mile going out a bit too fast. My legs were eager to roll, but my body is nowhere near the ability to maintain. 

Mile One: 7:38

I tried to find a comfortable groove for the rest of the race, and for the most part I did. The gravel path was accommodating and there was no need to dodge and weave like I remember the last time I did this race. The course consisted of two out and backs - and there was a crosswind, so despite some breeze, it was never directly in my face nor was it too big of a nuisance. About a half mile in, I spotted my family waving and cheering on the sideline. Big Girl was especially excited to be there with giant smiles and cheers. 

For the next few miles, I just tried to keep steady. Unfortunately, I picked up positive splits, but I'm not sure what I expected given my lack of speed work and trying to keep around an 8 min/mile pace. 

Mile Two: 7:53
Mile Three: 8:07
Mile Four: 8:14

I saw the fam a couple more times - the last time shortly before the finish. The last 0.97 mile was supposed to be fast - we had more of a tailwind and the finish line was nearing. I gave it what I could, but my legs were feeling it. I finished the last almost-mile in 7:57 with a total time of 39:49 (avg pace 8:01). 

I suppose if I had goals for this race, they were the following:
A Goal : sub 8 min/mile pace (narrowly missed this)
B Goal: sub 40 finish time (narrowly achieved this!)
C Goal: better than Shamrock this past March  (way, way better!)

I knew I wasn't going to touch my 8K PR which I picked up in this same race two years ago, but I wanted something decent to close out the year. I believe I succeeded in that respect, so I can't complain too much. Or at all ;) 

Following the 8K, I met up with my husband and kids and we headed over to the start of the Donner Dash. Big Girl looked a bit nervous about her race, but she was definitely excited - don't let that "game face" fool you!

pre race jitters
Though Big Girl is only 3.5 years old, she raced with the five and six year olds in the 100 yard dash. She certainly acted like a veteran runner, lining up at the start and waiting for the "GO!"

at the start

I thought that this kids race was the most organized of the five races Big Girl has done - they did a cute warm up with the kids (think jumping jacks and some moderate stretches) and pumped them up with some cheering. They also expertly explained the concept of "racing" so the kids knew exactly what to do - and there was even a simple course briefing preceding the race, which I found very helpful. Big Girl was psyched! At the horn, she took off.

big strides
Since she had told me she wanted to run by herself, I stayed on the sidelines and jogged along behind her. I love this pic I got of Big Girl when she spotted her daddy and sister - she was elated.

hi Daddy! and Baby J!!

Even better was when she saw my friend on the sidelines cheering her on - this smile and wave beats all. And she never broke stride. Impressive.


She finished strong and was awarded a cute little medal for her efforts. Of course she wanted to run the race again, but she had to settle for a cool down jog to the car. Another 100 yard dash in the books for my preschooler. Hooray! And that's a wrap, folks. 

Epic morning

Sometimes you have a day (or part of a day) where everything just perfectly falls into place. Where something pleasantly unexpected happens just the right way that you never could have planned if you tried. Such was the case for me and my girls last Saturday morning. 

It was actually a pretty horrendous night for me. I had trouble falling asleep and before I knew it, it was 2am and I had yet to snag any shuteye. For the next 4-5 hours, someone needed me (the big one was on week two of illness and the little one was on day 4). So it was one of those nights. We were all a little haggard when we sat down to breakfast. 

My morning plan was to head out on a short run with the girls to loosen up my legs (I was supposed to "race" the next day - haha), but I soon learned that there was a brand new playground available for exploration. It was almost uncanny, because few park goers were even there at that early hour. We stopped for this pic on our way to the new equipment. 

hurray for mild weather! and early morning running!!
We discovered that we could actually play on the new equipment, and I wouldn't be surprised if Big Girl was the first to test out some of the offerings. 
that is a sailboat!

at the helm

Baby J got into the spirit too (and no, she did not go down this colossal slide! but this pic is still pretty fun!)

Some of the structures were kind of crazy, but definitely interesting. Love the whale's mouth photo!

And there there was this giant Brooklyn-esque bridge connecting two towering castle-like structures - pretty much every runner we saw in the park thought to run across this bridge. We saw so many technical-gear-clad adults gleefully running across the suspension bridge stopping to take a selfie mid-way through. So I wasn't surprised when Big Girl began running back and forth herself. She has always had running in her blood.

suspension bridge interval

After we had our fill of playground time, I loaded up the kids in the duallie and ran around the paths in the park. We must have attracted some attention, because we were stopped by a reporter for an interview for a local news channel (WGN). Immediately she went into reporter mode, firing questions at me about the park, the construction, and our initial impressions. Luckily I knew enough about the park to respond (somewhat) intelligently - and one of my comments ended up making the nightly news segment! (Somehow I am always in running clothes when I attract the press.. maybe someday I'll actually be dressed in proper clothes and possibly even be wearing makeup?! But who cares, that is me and I'm happy with how it turned out ;))

The fun didn't end there - a dear friend of mine came down to check out the new ice skating ribbon in the park (a major highlight of the new park, which I can easily see becoming iconic for the city of Chicago - look for it when cameras scan the skyline over the next few years). Skate rental was free on opening day so we were able to take a few laps at no extra cost. I haven't been on ice skates in years (last time was in Rockefeller Center with the same friend about ten years ago!), but I managed to find my skating legs and felt pretty comfortable on the ice toward the end.

ice skating!

 When we tired of that, we headed to a local restaurant for lunch and tried to rest that afternoon - there was a race to run the next day! 

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Menu Planning - December 7

So, the week in food:

Sunday - after the cheese feast on Saturday night, we needed something light. So we ordered sushi. 

Monday - last night was hummus wraps. Usually these are just tortillas with hummus, veggies, salsa, sour cream, sky's the limit. I had spicy olives on hand as well as carrots and avocado. I'm happy to report that my big girl are her first tortilla wrapped with a significant amount of hummus. This is monumental. She likes hummus but has never actually eaten a "sandwich" type meal. Just goes to show you can never give up when it comes to kids and food. 

Tuesday - salad. Last week C of Team Stick asked me for salad inspiration. Besides being flattered, I told her that we typically keep it simple and add a "punch packing" item (usually a strong cheese, eggs or bacon). Here's a pic of last week's salad. 
hearty salad

This week will be arugula, mixed greens, goat cheese, toasted pepitas and thinly sliced red pepper. I may throw in a five minute egg, since the girls will be having eggs for dinner tonight. 

Wednesday - another curry. This time from a vegan curry cookbook. It will primarily be peas and tofu with the usual spices. We also have naan so will likely be using that in this meal. Last week's curry was great! Here's a pic of it simmering on the stove. 

simmering curry

Thursday - Mac and cheese (using our leftover fondue cheese) with the addition of steamed broccoli and cauliflower. I'm picturing a sort of gratin type dish with pasta shells. 

Friday - homemade pizza with goat cheese, red pepper, and onions. Might use olives too. 

Lastly, these are phenomenal holiday cookies that Big Girl and I made yesterday (they are basically like homemade thin mints). It was shockingly fun to dip them in chocolate - and I'm being completely serious when I say that her dipping skills are way better than mine. I was truly humbled. They will also be in the rotation for edible holiday gifts ~

chocolate peppermint cookies

Monday, December 08, 2014

Christmas Tree Lot Run - 2014

We started our annual Christmas tree lot run tradition in 2011, continued it in 2012 , put it on hold in 2013, and picked up where we left off in 2014. Saturday's big decoration day was a success - a fun all day affair. Baby J is in the process of moving from two naps to one, which means we never know when she will need her daytime shut-eye. Since she slept a bit later that morning, we figured we'd head out early and try to be back before she crashed. With a stocked duallie, we ran to to tree lot (even adding close to a half mile of tempo running!) and arrived in style. We had to take some pics to capture the looks of fascination on our kids' faces - it's not every day you see so many Christmas trees. Baby J rarely knows what's going on, but she humors us. And it's safe to say that Big Girl is sick of the camera.

arrival at the tree lot

toothless grin(still)

no way am I gonna smile
Our next order of business was picking out the tree. We couldn't choose the first one we saw, but we took the second one - a six to seven foot fraser fir. Even Big Girl approved.

stamp of approval

tree '14
Big Girl was a bit miffed that she hadn't been able to run yet, so we did some laps between and around the trees. This wasn't cutting it though; she wanted to run on the sidewalk. Here she is expressing that desire ("I wanna run on the sidewalk!!!!")

still a threenager
Despite being a bit under the weather, she ran a decent amount of blocks before we stopped at a starbucks for holiday coffees. Then she went back in the stroller, but not without protest. Perhaps she was anxious to get home and start the decorating? One never knows with three year olds.

When we got home, we had some time before our tree was delivered. This time was primarily spent making a killer brunch - our take on the Eggs Benedict. It was basically toasted english muffins topped with crispy bacon, fresh tomato and perfectly poached eggs. There was no sauce (it's never really necessary anyway), but there was a side of arugula dressed simply with a vinaigrette. It made for a nice mix of Christmas colors and a wonderful blend of complementary flavors.

The tree was delivered later that afternoon and we strung the lights, did a little shopping and intermittently decorated our home.  Once Baby J was in bed, we started on the ornaments. We weren't really sure how she'd react to the tree, but so far she has been mostly uninterested. Big Girl had a great time hanging ornaments, and honestly it was nice to let her do the work :)

ornament time
trimmed tree

Besides decorating, there was also fondue. This is not only a meal, but also an activity. We went with a traditional fondue using wine and kirsch along with gruyere and emmentaler. The consistency was thicker than previous years. Side items included ciabatta, Lithuanian Rye and veggies. There was champagne and an assortment of holiday ales.

fondue spread
Once Big Girl was in bed, we sipped a meritage (red wine blend) and hung the more delicate ornaments. Holiday music played all night and we relaxed in our cozy and festive home. I'll close with a close up of this ornament, which is very close to my heart. It's my chip from the nyc marathon in 2008. Since most major races have now switched to a disposable tag, chips aren't often used anymore. I'm SO glad I had the foresight to purchase this one (side note: I bought my 2006 nyc marathon chip as well but lost it on a run - so I decided to buy the 2008 one to replace it. At the time, I didn't expect the chip to basically become obsolete. But now I have myself a very meaningful artifact ;))

homemade ornament
So now we are totally ready for Christmas! Bring it. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Menu Planning - November 30

As soon as Thanksgiving arrives, we launch straight into the Christmas season (we seriously try to restrain ourselves until after the turkey). Last night we had a quiet night to ourselves and decided some seafood was in order. These clams were on the menu - cooked in butter, wine, fresno peppers and parsley - which I decided made for the perfect "Christmas" clams. The looked gorgeous and tasted just as good, with a hint of heat from the peppers along with the satisfying bite of fresh parsley. So easy too.

"Christmas" clams

The rest of our spread included some baked chard with parmesan (as well as sautéed chard leaves that included things like lemon juice and parsley), and Nantucket Bay scallops. There was also a whole fin fish but that is not pictured. Everything paired perfectly with a white Italian wine and a scented holiday candle, as well as a stunning city sunset that featured a rather ominous sky moments before the golden globe settled into the horizon.

nantucket bay scallops, clams, chard

chicago sky at sunset

The rest of the week will be a mix of things. 

Sunday - tonight will be leftover turkey sandwiches for lunch and hopefully something fun for dinner (still thinking on this)

Monday - I envisioned a curry of some kind with cauliflower, green beans and tomatoes - on the spicy side - and found this recipe that I want to try : Curried Cauliflower and green beans . 

Tuesday - probably a salad with five minute eggs and maybe some leftover turkey

Wednesday - we are favoring Mark Bittman's kale/chickpea compilation and will definitely keep it vegan this time

Thursday - leftover curry over coconut rice

Friday - ?? looking for something vegetarian and/or vegan though

Saturday - our annual tree decorating day which will consist of fondue and lots of holiday drinks

Friday, November 28, 2014

Turkey Trot 5k - 2014

Another Thanksgiving, another Turkey Trot. I was fortunate again to show up at the start line of the Bonfield Express 5K in suburban Chicago on Thanksgiving morning. Bright (actually not all that bright) and early. And COLD. We made a last minute decision for me to go solo, since the kids weren't quite up and at 'em and it was pretty chilly for them to hang around while I ran. It was a mere 24 degrees when I arrived at the race site (feels like 11). I wasn't sure how I was going to warm up and be race ready, so I didn't really bother at all. Instead I sat in the warm movie theater (where the packet pick up was held) and read my book on my phone's kindle app (serious pre-race strategy, no?). When start time was near, I ambled over and tried to stay warm as they made announcements and sang the SSB (they usually have a pretty awesome singer and this year was no exception).

frozen start
Because I was alone, I had to ask someone to take a pre-race picture  - here it is.

shivering at the start
And then we were off! My legs felt like stiff ice cubes for the first half mile or so. My joints were creaky and the cold air literally stung on each inhale. The soles of my shoes even felt frozen as the clanked against the hard concrete. It really wasn't smooth running. I knew I'd warm up eventually, but that first mile or so was frigid. Any time we turned into the wind, I was blasted in the face with the arctic air. And despite wearing gloves, my fingers went numb. I also felt heavy running in all those layers (tank top, long sleeve swirlgear, Lulu jacket on the top; lined tights on the bottom). That combination is fine for slow jogs on cold winter days, but tough to race in. In any case, I kept moving forward. 

Despite the cold, this course is always a hit. It winds perfectly and incorporates the right amount of hills. You never get bored with the scenery and the turns and terrain changes aren't too taxing. It was pretty crowded the first mile (over 4500 participants this year!), and that did slow things down some. But overall, I ran a decent race. I had three goals. A) sub 24 B) sub 8 minute/mile pace C) sub 25. I got my "B" goal (and I guess my "C" goal too). 

Here are the splits --> mile 1: 7:49  mile 2: 8:02  mile 3: 7:44 point 1: 0:45  Total: 24:23 (avg 7:50)


At the finish, I was handed a white carnation and an icy bottle of water. I noticed the finish line area was pretty empty and the line for massages was two people long. Since I was by myself and had no time crunch, I hopped in line and soon found myself on the table getting a free massage. I haven't been able to do this since the Green Bay Marathon in '01 (which I believe is the only time I've been able to enjoy a free post-race massage). Anyway, that was kind of nice but soon I was shivering and figured it was time to head home. On the way out, I passed this live band playing some fun music, which made things festive.

live music 
My last order of business was to get a pic by this big tree - the perfect way to kick off this year's holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving!

festive finish

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Stick Visit and Menu Planning - November 23

I was fortunate yet again to host C of Team Stick for the majority of this past weekend. Yay! I always love Stick visits and feel like they should last way longer than they do. Even though we had limited time together, we managed to pack in the fun. C arrived late Friday morning. Baby J and I were ready to run; luckily the temps crept up to just below freezing and the sun was shining, so it wasn't too terrible to be out running with the wee one. Also, she has been a bit nap challenged lately, so we were hoping for a snooze fest on her part. It was all win/win. We logged five miles in bright (cold) sunshine, Baby J slept, and we ended our run at the coffee shop for some warm eats and drinks. Post run we posed for some sillies .. (and we also did two 60 second planks, which should definitely be documented).

Sticks and stickling

C returned to us Saturday evening when we had plans for a night out on the town. Though it wasn't our final destination, we ended up strolling through the Christkindle market for a hot spiced wine and some selfies.

hitting up the Christmas Market

the wine is hiding

We spent the rest of the night at a hip bbq resty (one of us - ahem - had too much sake) which was really fun to just chill and take in the scene. It made for a later night than one of us is used to (ahem) but that didn't stop us from getting out on a run early(ish) this morning. We tackled another five miles in warmish 50 degrees and overcast skies. We even did some one minutes pickups (three, I believe), so we can file those miles under "training" run (we are both on board re: seriously training for a 5K)! Of note: we were both decked out in Swirlgear threads - C in the long sleeve "berry good" run top, and me in the long sleeve "race day" grey top.

a fiver in mild conditions

between pickups

Logging ten miles with a stick is just awesome! Plus we had a fantastic post run breakfast of bagels and lox (courtesy of C and her husband). All in all, another terrific weekend stick visit! Thanks for stopping by, C! You are always welcome in Chi!!

So the menu this week.. To my delight, it is a short week due to Thanksgiving and to that, I am thankful 

Sunday - tonight we just did a salad (greens, scallions, tomatoes, cucumber, and blue cheese with a balsamic vinaigrette). The bbq dinner / bagels and lox breakfast needed some light veggies to balance things out. 

Monday - tomorrow we are planning some BLT's but with a small twist (the usual nitrate free bacon, romaine lettuce and tomatoes, but with saffron mayo, which was leftover from last week's fennel dish). 

Tuesday - I'm hosting a big lunch playdate tomorrow so Tuesday's dinner will be leftovers (meatballs, pasta salad, and a kale/spinach pie - whatever doesn't get consumed and/or we find in our fridge will be our dinner). 

Wed / Thurs / Friday / Saturday - will be away for Thanksgiving and thus not in charge of dinners. 

And that kicks off the 2014 holiday season!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Menu Planning - November 16 and IT GOT COLD

On the weekends we typically try to incorporate some fun meals, whether it's cooking or dining out. This past weekend we did a little of both. Saturday "night" (and I use the term loosely because dinner was at 4:30p), we dined out with some friends of ours at a seafood restaurant. Oysters on the half shell, Nantucket bay scallops, and fried shrimp were in the rotation. The kid had a maki roll. My IPA made the chaos much more manageable (is my kid the only one who struggles to stay in her seat at the table?!). Overall it went well, despite the active kiddos, and they both crashed shortly after we got home. Sunday night we wanted something simple. We picked up a strong cheese, a chewy bread, and an Italian wine. To round things out, we made a fresh carrot salad that was just carrots, parsley and a vinaigrette and roasted some chestnuts for a unique take on dessert. 

bread, cheese, veggies, wine


And that takes us to this week in food. 

Monday - last night I roasted like every root vegetable known to man. Ok, it was only sweet potatoes, beets and carrots, but it was many rounds of roasting and lots of peeling, slicing, and dicing. There were purple, white and orange spuds. Golden and red beets. And orange and yellow carrots. It made for a rainbow of tasty vitamins. We topped the roasted roots with olive oil, salt, parsley and toasted pumpkin seeds. If that doesn't spell healthy, I don't know what does.

roasted root veggies

Tuesday - tonight will be a Deborah Madison recipe: braised fennel with vegetables. It's basically what you think (if you think like Deborah, and you should) : fennel braised in wine and butter / mirepoix veggies / fresh herbs. This will go over fresh egg pasta. 

Wednesday - Pizza with roasted mushrooms and onions (homemade crust and sauce, mozzarella cheese). 

Thursday - leftovers (probably will put the colorful roasted veggies over either quinoa or sautéed spinach, maybe both / possibly with a touch of goat cheese and perhaps a toasted nut or seed to give it crunch)

Friday - Spinach salad with blue cheese, scallions, cherry tomatoes. Something else TBD. 

Sat - C of Team Stick is coming!!!!!!! So hopefully a girls night out for us!!

That wraps up the food talk - now onto this heinous weather. We have just started the cold/snow/cold/snow/cold/snow/cold/snow nonsense that will be our next six months. It's been three days and I'm already over it. I can't (in good faith) run with my little one in 8 degrees (feels like negative 6) - can I?! With over a month to go before "winter," this is just not cool (pun, hahaha). I can only hope that some warm air comes our way, because if not, I might cry. 

I'll end with a few pics from one of last week's runs with Baby J. It was pretty damn cold actually (about 18 degrees), and we ended our brisk run with some chocolat chaud at the coffee shop. The weekend held two solo runs for me (five and three, respectively). And I should mention that there was a yoga class on Friday. My plank challenge is going at my own pace (read: I've skipped a boatload of days), but I'll try to pick up where I left off. One thing I've learned is that when you hold plank for 90 plus seconds, you actually break a sweat. The more you know..

cold weather runner