Sun, Sand, and Lake Michigan

When I was a little girl, my mom and aunt took me, my brother, and my cousins to the Dunes as an occasional summer treat.  I remember the long walk from the car which seemed to be parked miles away from the lake.  I remember juice boxes, cheese and crackers, and grapes filling the cooler.  I remember the sand burning my feet.  I remember the deep blue of the lake that was as vast as the ocean.

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25 years later I arrive at the Dunes this time sans cooler or crew.  It’s just me.  I stop at the visitor’s center for a map, and a sign proclaiming the Three Dune Challenge captures my eye.  Yes, that sounds like something I might like to do.

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I drive to the trail head, slap some sunscreen on my face, sling my backpack on, and take my first steps towards the mile and a half loop that boasts runners and hikers alike will take two steps forward and one step back through the sand.

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The trail starts off even and shaded, but quickly turns to the first incline.  From this point on, the trail is covered in soft, loose sand.  I head up the first dune to it’s peak, and I’m rewarded with my first view of Lake Michigan from the top of Mt. Jackson’s 176 foot elevation.  It’s a blue sapphire glittering in the morning sun.  The smokestacks of the steel mills are hidden by the trees.  A breeze ruffles the hair on my neck that has pulled loose from my pony tail.  It is so quiet, and peaceful so I sit for a moment on a fallen branch and enjoy the all encompassing silence.

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Then I point my shoes towards dune number two.   The trail quickly descends reminding me of hiking down Mt. Rainier’s snow covered mountain last summer.   My sandals sliding down the soft sand the same way my boots slid through the crunchy snow.  Before long the trail evened out again before quickly angling back up.  This dune is steeper, the sand slips under my sandals as I try to find purchase in the footsteps of those who have traveled before me.  I feel every heartbeat as I ascend.  And then I’m there at the top of Mt. Holden, now 184 above Lake Michigan.

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Once more I continue on the trail knowing that Mt. Tom is the highest dune in this area.  I anticipate more sandy inclines, but this time I am greeted with 105 stairs that will help me to the top of Mt. Tom.  Reaching the top, I am now 192 feet above Lake Michigan, and I can see much more of the Indiana shoreline including the smokestacks disturbing the otherwise pristine view.

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Then it’s down another 105 stairs before being deposited onto the path that dumps me in the campground.  After Sunday’s half marathon this “challenge” didn’t seems so daunting, and the walk back to the car was much shorter than the one’s I remember during my youth.

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Leaving the park I return to the visitor’s center to claim my sticker proving I completed the Three Dune Challenge, and file away new memories next to the ones of my childhood.

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Rockin’ and Rollin’ Through Downtown Chicago

Chicago is my favorite city.  I love the reflection of the city in the bean, the sparkle of the lights on the Chicago Theater, the smell of Garrett’s popcorn wafting in the air, the breeze off the lake.  All of these things I was able to share with my running buddy as we tackled the Chicago Rock and Roll Half Marathon.

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Staying at the Palmer House was one of the highlights of the trip for me.  Upon entering the revolving door I felt like I had just stepped into The Great Gatsby.   Golden peacock doors (with their own history) greet you once the revolving door deposits you inside the lobby.  Then up a short staircase one’s eyes are greeted with a fresco covered ceiling that makes you feel like you’ve just entered Rome, not a Chicago hotel.  The peacock theme is continued throughout from the wall paper to the carpeting.  And upon entering our room, the most inviting olive green velvet chairs beckoned us to sit, put up our feet, and sip on a mint julep.  I never wanted to leave Old Sport.

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But I had a race to run…

Pre-race was a breeze.  It started with a 4:45AM wake up call, lounging in the hotel room until 6, then finding the Half Fanatics on the steps of the Art Institute of Chicago for a group picture.  This was my first time running as a member, and I have to say they are the most supportive group.  I was so glad I wore my Half Fanatics shirt and was a true member of the asylum.

From there it was off to the corrals which were more of a suggestion than a rule.   The humidity was stifling, and I was worried about finishing, so we may have moved up several corrals to provide a little bit of a cushion between me and the cutoff time.

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The race started at 6:30, but my feet didn’t cross the start until 7:15.  I hit the start on my Garmin, and I was off telling my running buddy I’d see her at the end.  We started up Columbus Drive before heading under a bridge where I immediately lost signal on my GPS.  This continued to happen throughout the race.  It would go in and out, and at mile 3 it said I had done a 35 minute 5K which is five minutes faster than normal.  I decided I was going too fast, so I slowed down.  However, my GPS was not accurate, and when I passed the real 5k marker, I was at 45 minutes.  From there on out I stopped paying attention to my Garmin.  It was so off that at the end of the race it said I had run 15 miles.  Apparently lost GPS signals is a common problem while running through the city.

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The humidity was brutal, but there were the occasional lake breezes which provided some relief.  I know that I train in this kind of humidity in Florida, but it is still hard to cope with.  The race advertised eight water stations which there were, but it was too few for as humid as it was.  I was glad to have my hydration belt.  I had to fill it up twice in addition to hitting every water station.

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Ice bags and a misting station were a welcome relief along the course, but the best part was the sponges and ice packs towards the end of the race.  They were a welcome distraction from the blazing sun.

Around mile 9 there were boxes of salted watermelon Gu, but I didn’t want to try anything new, so I stayed with my Honey Stingers.  Mile 12 had us passing Solider Field.  And then it was over.  With a medal around my neck,  I was searching for my running buddy and a place to sit and cool off.

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Entertainment was sparse throughout the entire course.  There were three bands and a few stilt walkers.  Miles 11-12 had a DJ blasting music on the course.  There were three bands performing after the race, but we didn’t have time to get over to see those.  I enjoyed the scenery for the most part, and with my own playlist I was never bored.

The finish line area was very organized.  After crossing I snagged my medal, a water, and was handed a popsicle.  The popsicle was the best post race food I’ve had in a long time.  There was also chocolate milk, bagels, and a variety of other things to eat.    Then it was back to the Palmer House to wrap up our Chicago weekend.

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The Rock and Roll series is great at communication and post race goodies.  I loved the t-shirt, medal, and the Palmer House, but the advertised entertainment on course seemed to be lacking.  I might give them another chance before saying I would look for other racing opportunities.  Perhaps another city might give a different experience.  At least I can cross Chicago off my list of cities to run in, and I got to add another state to my half marathon list.

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Follow the Yellow Brick Cab, Or How to Get to Oz Park

It’s funny how you can live near a place half your life and still find things you never knew were there.  Thanks to my running buddy and Pinterest, this happened on my most recent trip to Chicago.

When I asked Cori what she wanted to do on our brief trip to Chicago, she did what all women do now, started a Pinterest Board and shared it with me.  The top of her list was Oz Park  located in the North Side neighborhood of Lincoln Park.  I had never heard of it before, but as one can imagine from its name, it is filled with statues honoring Frank L. Baum, the author of the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, who resided only a few miles away.

On Saturday morning after a trip to Doughnut Vault, we were ready to catch the Brown Line which would act as our very own yellow brick road to the park.  So as we walked to the train station, with stomachs full of dougnutty goodness, we were surprised to see the station closed for repairs.   After consulting Google Maps for the next closest train station, our yellow brick road became a yellow cab instead.

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Our cab dropped us at the corner of Larabee and Lincoln and we were quickly greeted with the Tin Man, his blank eyes and serious countenance contradicting the welcome sign situated below his feet.

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Oz Park was busy this Saturday morning with baseball practice, runners, and children visiting the aptly named “Dorothy’s Playground.”  We strolled through the garden-lined paths on a Wizard of Oz scavenger hunt.  Park designers could really have played up the Wizard of Oz theme here by adding a yellow brick road on the meandering sidewalks.  Instead, we were forced to imagine them as we came upon the Scarecrow, Dorothy, and Toto. Pausing for a few pictures of each, we continued our search for the Cowardly Lion who was the sculpture we struggled to find.

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Alas, he too was found and with one last flurry of camera flashes, we were off to our next adventure…the Lincoln Park Zoo.

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Race to Wrigley

If you know anything about me, you know I love the Cubs.  I can remember getting my first Ryne Sandberg baseball card and teaching my youngest brother how to say Sammy Sosa as some of his first words.   I’ve been to countless Cubs’ games and attended the Cubs’ Convention.  And even though I’ve lived in Florida for nearly fifteen years, I still make it a point to pilgrimage to Wrigley Field almost every year.

This year’s pilgrimage was not the usual kind.  There would be no baseball game this day.  Instead, I headed to Chicago for a whirlwind weekend of running.

Cubs’ Charities has been putting on the Race to Wrigley for the last nine years.  This year, for the 10th anniversary, they were expanding the race to include a 10K in addition to 5K.  So when I found an airline ticket for less than two hundred dollars, it seemed that I just had to do this race.

I don’t mind running races alone, but my sister-in-law had done this race before, and I roped both her and my mom into participating in the 10K.

Race weekend arrived with me flying into O’Hare after work on Friday.  I took the Blue Line into the Loop.  From there it was one block to the hotel.  Seemed easy enough, but when I emerged from the train station it was raining, my Google Maps wouldn’t load, and I got a little turned around.  So I hailed a cab and told him I wanted to go to the Allegro Hotel.  He turned, looked at me and said, “Really?”  I played it off that it was the rain that made me hail the cab, not that I was turned around and a little creeped out.   So I took my one block cab ride and headed up to meet my mom and sister-in-law.  It was late and both were already settled into bed.  I did the same excited to see Wrigley the next morning.

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The race began at 8, but I started my day at 6.  I ate my obligatory banana, got dressed, and by 7 we were hailing a cab to take us to Wrigley.  As we left the hotel, the weather did not look promising.  It was a chilly 42 degrees and trying to rain.

We arrived at Wrigley a little early and passed the time hanging in Starbucks, taking a few pictures in front of the iconic statues and marquee, and looking in the shops.

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By the start of the race the threat of rain had turned to a steady drizzle.  The National Anthem played and we were off.  I was happy to start running because it helped chase away some of the chill.   The 10K route snaked us through the Wrigleyville neighborhoods.  We did the 5K loop essentially twice.  The race was well supported with a few water stations and encouraging volunteers.  Unfortunately due to the construction at the park, we were not able to run through the concourse like past years which disappointing.

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Overall, I wasn’t the biggest fan of this race.  Yes, I was glad to be able to run around the Wrigley area, and I really enjoyed my beer at the Cubby Bear afterwards, but I found the whole race experience to be somewhat disappointing.  My biggest gripe is the amount of time the course was open for the 10K.  It was only open for an hour and fifteen minutes.  Every race I’ve ever done allows an hour and thirty minutes for a 10k.  I had to really push myself to finish in an hour and seventeen minutes.  By the time I crossed, they were already breaking down the finish line.  I had run my fastest time, and I didn’t even get to enjoy my finish.  I hope if they continue to offer a 10K they will change that time.  A finisher medal wouldn’t hurt either.  Despite that disappointment, I was happy to spend the time with my mom and sister-in-law and see my beloved stadium even if it was only from the street

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Get Ready…

Okay, so it’s been quite some time since I’ve sat down to write a blog entry.  It’s not that I have been sitting dormant the past four months; in fact, it’s quite the opposite.  Since my trip to the Everglades, I’ve

  • run four half marathons and a 10k
  • finished the school year
  • got a new puppy
  • traveled to New York, Rhode Island, and Connecticut
  • had a flood in my house
  • moved twice since said flood
  • traveled to Chicago twice
  • attended a conference
  • took an online class

So needless to say, blogging has been at the bottom of my to do list. However, now I find myself with some uninterrupted time.  So be ready for an onslaught of posts over the next few weeks, as I try to hit the highlights of my travel adventures.

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