Friday, October 30, 2009

I'm a homesick Texan...

To be honest, I don't get homesick all that often but I am really feeling the loss of my homeland this month. I got up to pouring rain this morning and turned on the Weather Channel. It rained a total of 23 days in the month of October. And I can tell you, most of that was not just idle showers here and there. When it rains in Chicago, it rains steadily for most of the day and it's just downright dreary.

Winter is on its way and I am so anti-happy about that! We never even had a summer. In mid-July we were wearing long-sleeves at the beach! UG!! The next six months are so hard because every time I talk to someone from home, it will probably be about 70 degrees warmer there and perfect weather. I can remember when I used to love cold fronts, now, HA!

So I'm baking more Chex Mix and drowning my sorrows in some of the best beer in the world, the Linie's late fall seasonal, Fireside Nut Brown. Delicious!

Monday, October 26, 2009

things that have been going down in my little part of the world...

Over the weekend we dogsat for Adam's friend. His dog is a pit bull and before you think he's anything like a normal pit bull, this dog is the biggest sissy in the universe. He takes anxiety meds because he has mega issues with separation. We already had plans to go out to dinner with friends on Friday night but we figured the little guy would be fine for a couple of hours. He has to be zip-tied into his crate because he has figured out a way to get it open and I learned a valuable lesson that night: I don't know how to use zip-ties. Whoops.

We got home from dinner and were greeted by Dodger (the dog) at the door. I immediately started surveying the condo for damage. Finding nothing, I was pretty pleased. We sat down on the couch to unwind before going to bed and we both looked at the center window in the living room and wondered why the shade was open. But it wasn't open, it was completely and totally destroyed. I think Dodger may have eaten half of it. But all that was left was the housing that was still drilled into the wall and the two strings that used to hold all of the bamboo to the housing. The rest of it was kind of all over the window sill and behind the couch.

All of this ended up being fine, if a $12.99 shade from Target was all that happened, I'm pretty pleased! I needed to get behind the couch and sweep up anyway, I don't think our cleaning lady that deep cleans this place (because seriously, I have no room to store more than the absolute basic cleaning products) ever goes behind there. And also, we have a floor lamp that I recently broke the string that turns it on and off. At first there was just enough string left that you could fight with it to turn it on but eventually even that got sucked into the base and we were left with having to crawl over the couch and reach into the inch or two of space to plug it in and unplug it to turn it on and off. Not very functional and I think that Dodger may have done something to the lamp too because it the shade wouldn't stay on all the way. Thanks, boy. I needed to get rid of that $10 piece of IKEA crap anyway.

I've been meaning to de-maroon-and-orangify the living room since I moved in but this gave me the jumpstart I needed. Well that and the huge Target gift card that my dear friend Amy sent me over the weekend. I don't think she ever reads my blog but if you do, thanks so much! I'm not sure if we've gone over it but Adam has a little bit of an obsession with Virginia Tech, which is a lovely school with absolutely hideous school colors. Maybe it's because I come from a place (the promised land as I've become so fond of calling it lately) where orange and maroon don't mix (University of Texas vs. Texas A&M) but I have a real problem accepting that color combo all over my entire home. Before you think I'm a total hater, I'm actually in the process of turning our guest room into a maroon and orange mecca, but it's long been a goal of mine to tone down the living room. When I moved in, the place had a VT football jersey framed on the wall, a framed collage of VT stuff from the Sugar Bowl, a huge orange couch and ottoman and a downright disgusting orange, maroon and khaki rug. Where he found that nasty rug, I'll never know.

After my makeover, we have a lamp that is chocolate brown, blue and green, a couple of blue and brown couch pillows and a green throw blanket. Next Monday on my weekly-spend-way-too-much-at-Target expedition, I'll get a rug that will tie it all together. They had some really great rugs today but I figured I'd be nice and get the man's opinion on design and price point because they have quite a few different options with my color scheme. Even the small changes I've already made excite me greatly and I can't wait to see the new rug. I've entitled this my evil make-over project because I didn't really tell Adam before my Target run today what I was doing. Oh well, I'm making Rice Krispie Treats so hopefully he won't be too mad. He is colorblind after all so how much of a difference could it possibly make? (and I totally believe that the fact that he's colorblind is what has allowed him to believe that maroon and orange is an acceptable color combination all these years)

As I just mentioned, I have decided to embrace fall and start cooking some fun fall foods. I made the Pioneer Woman's version of Chex Mix today with a few differences: I use olive oil instead of butter, Cheez-Its instead of mixed nuts and Frank's Red Hot instead of Tabasco. The smell of it baking has completely taken over the house. I think about $35 of my Target bill this afternoon was solely in the purchase of cereals since I also had to get Rice Krispies for the aforementioned Treats. I woke up with those two foods in my mind and knew I had to make them today. Yummy.

I think our photographer is working on our engagement photos because one of them was previewed on his blog today... and in the post called "There's Some Good Stuff Coming... we are one of the nine photos. I can't wait to see the rest.

And another aside, I'm thinking about changing the title and format of the blog. I feel kind of strange now because I'm definitely taking a long break from running to let my IT band heal and although I have other physical goals they aren't related to running right now. I'm playing with several ideas in my head so look forward to some differences around here soon.

Happy Monday!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My new MINI!!!

not a Mini Cooper... I can only wish.

But I did get my new Dell Mini late last night!! It's so small. I had it in my bag this morning and at the last second decided to trade it out for my hard cover version of The Time Traveler's Wife (which I've owned for about 5 years and have yet to start). Just so you know, the Mini was way lighter and that was including my fancy case. It's teeny.

See how large my hand looks?

We probably seem like psychos, getting two new computers in a week, but I think this solution will work best for us and we are getting rid of two VERY old and rinky-dink laptops. This tiny mini has probably 5 times the memory that my top of the line swanky laptop had back when I got it still in college... a looooong time ago.

As another random sidenote, we had our engagement session last night. I'll post links to our photographer's blog when they are posted. I can't wait to see them. We started on the Chicago River and moved our way down State Street, into the Loop, down some super urban alleys and finished up in Millenium Park where the trees are starting to change colors. Despite feeling extremely awkward at various points (slow kissing at rush hour downtown a bazillion times), it was really fun and not as difficult as I was expecting. It helps that I had a cute face to be staring at for most of the pictures! In the second part of the session, I represented A&M and Texas by wearing a pair of cowboy boots with a maroon dress. Adam wore his VT polo and his world-famous orange and maroon shoes. I think Steve took about 100 pictures of just our hilarious shoes. It was fun to show a little personality!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Big Fat Polish Wedding...

So I got a really interesting education in the ways of the Polish culture this past weekend. Frankly, I had little knowledge about them except for two things: it's really hard to understand priests that have recently immigrated from Poland that are trying to do wedding mass in English (and I feel qualified to say that because I've seen three different priests do this now including one who kept calling my cousin by our shared last name instead of her first name, hilarious!) and that there are a lot of Polish immigrants in Chicago as evidenced by the fact that when I call my doctor's office you press 1 for English, 2 for espanol, 3 for polska or however you spell that.

I'm not totally sure of the circumstances surrounding this wedding but I think it goes a little something like this. Adam's co-worker, the groom, was actually born in Poland and moved over here when he was 10 or so. I think the story for the bride is pretty similar. Apparently they speak almost exclusively Polish at home. We get to the church and the priest does everyone a favor by not butchering the English language and doing the mass in Polish. We think that he said "welcome" at some point in English but we're not entirely sure. It was actually quite lovely since I've seen about 15 wedding masses in the past couple of years and hearing it in another language was quite the change of pace. There were only about 50-75 people at the mass so I was kind of skeptical about what we might find at the wedding. The only thing Adam could promise was Vodka (which confused me, but more on that later).

There was about 2 hours between the wedding and the reception but the two locations were almost an hour away so we got a head start getting down there. I forgot to mention that we ALMOST missed the ceremony because the traffic was so bad! On a Saturday afternoon! How in the hell do people that live in the Chicago suburbs stand it?!?! Gosh, I am a smug city dweller, but I digress. We got to the reception a tad early but since another blasted cold front was blowing in we decided to go into the hall, which I read on the sign is owned and operated by a Polish family. These people are loyal, folks. I'm not entirely sure that any of the wait staff spoke any English beyond, "Are you done with this? May I take it?". We walk in. The first thing I see is a ridiculous dessert display to the left that was reminiscent of a captain's dinner on a fine cruise ship. I think there might have been a pirate's ship made out of fruit with a Polish flag on it but I was too distracted by the rest of the dessert and the waiter that was busy filling the champagne fountain (!) to further investigate. We grab our place cards and realize that we are at table 26. What are these? 2 person tables? There were only 50 people at the church but this hall was set up for more than 250!!! (I found out later that this is commonplace for people to not come to the church part but show up for the party. Smart.)

We sat at our table to watch the entertainment that was the band. Apparently the band is the most sought-after Polish wedding band in Chicago and you have to book them more than a year out. Seriously, for your music? I am the queen of booking things early and I haven't even given a thought to a DJ or band yet! Pioter, the head of the band (and I know this because he shamelessly brought us his business card but truthfully, I'd consider hiring him just because of the entertainment value), was basically the Polish version of Adam Sandler in the Wedding Singer. Except that he had the Polish version of Angelina Jolie doing most of the singing in a full-length gold sequined dress. I can't even fully put into words just how fabulously wonderful they were. There was unintentional comedy every time you looked at them but they were actually really, really good. Pioter and the other dude in the band were sporting tuxes with fantastic red bow ties. I loved it!

In keeping with the theme from the church, pretty much everything all night except for one sentence was in Polish. I kid you not when I say I felt like I'd actually left the States and gone to Poland. It was easy to forget that we were only about an hour away from home because the whole thing was so insane. I want to kick myself for not bringing a camera! IDIOT!

Before I get into the food, I must mention the scene on the table when we sat down. There were 1 liter bottles of 7Up and RC Cola, a carafe of something reddish and a bottle of Finlandia Vodka... on every table. A waiter brought over some ice at some point and about 20 minutes after we sat down we found the shot glasses on the table. I think I realized then that things were about to get crazy and the first thing that crossed my mind was the scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when John Corbett and his parents go to meet her family and they all start doing shots of grappa. Good times. Good times. The best moment before dinner was when we realized that the red stuff in the carafe was actually white zinfandel, not cranberry juice, after Adam's other co-worker made what we thought was a Cape Cod. Oops.

After the introduction of the wedding party and the first dance (which they totally took lessons for and was awesome... now the wheels in my head are turning, where is the nearest Arthur Murray's?), they started bringing out food. First soup, then salad and then they brought out these huge trays of stuff and put an entree or side in pretty much every one's hand and told us to pass them around. I'm thinking there were about three kinds of meats and several kinds of potatoes. But you know me, I was already kind of full from the rolls I'd been gorging on before dinner so I am pretty much worthless for a main course recap. Oh and most of the toasting was in Polish, but you already were expecting that, weren't you?

After dinner, the real crazy stuff started. The place pretty much turned into a Warsaw Discotheque. It was INSANITY. Everyone knew every song except for us, the weird table of Americans. And I'm not kidding when I say that the grandmas were doing techno polkas with the teenagers and they were all singing together. It was a fantastic show. The bride and groom also spent a lot of time greeting all the tables and doing the obligatory vodka shots with everyone. I have no idea how they did it. Seeing as how the groom did three shots with our table alone (and we were the reluctant table), I have no idea how he made it through the evening. What a champ!

They did the bouquet and garter tosses and then they busted into some random traditions that I can only assume come from Poland. First they got these accordion pumps and hooked them to balloons. They had two guys sit down on chairs and put the pumps on their laps. Then two girls from the wedding party came over and sat on the guys laps, bouncing up and down until the balloons filled with air and popped. We're not really sure what happened there but I can assure you, my words do not do it justice. It was hilarious. Then they sat the bride and groom down and they brought out a sheet for two of the groomsmen to hold. From the front all you could see was the groom's head and the bride's arms and the sheet had a bonnet and diaper on it that made it look like the groom's head on a baby. I'm not sure what exactly happened since the commentary was not in a language that I can understand (and seriously, every word in Polish sounds the same!) but I think they were making him drink Vodka out of a baby bottle at one point.

We come to find out that this party may go all night long but our group was getting a little tired around 11:30 and we started to prepare to leave. The waitstaff (that had pretty much been working continuously all night long) came around with some cups and a teapot. Adam was all over it and wanted some tea since he had a bit of a sore throat (oops, I gave him my headcold). I start to pour it and the liquid comes out blood red. Turns out it was beet soup. Then they bring over a platter of fried stuff, which we found out was roll ups of chicken and mushrooms.

Just before midnight when we were getting ready to walk out the door, they started setting up a table at the corner of the dance floor. First they brought out a basket of bread, which I had to hold myself back from, then a huge bowl of steaming stuff that looked like sauerkraut and then a roasted pig. Seriously, they brought out a ROASTED PIG that was decorated like a Hawaiian luau. After we picked up our jaws off the floor, we went to say goodnight and thank you to the groom, who informed us that feeding everyone again at this point is necessary so they aren't insanely hung over from the copious amounts of Vodka they'd been drinking. I also forgot to mention that the bride came over during dinner and informed us that we shouldn't worry about drinking too much Vodka because if we ran out of that bottle (not a chance!) all we had to do was take it to the bar and they'd bring us a fresh one. WHAT?!?!?! Insanity!

The next morning, I called my dad to inform him of all the amazing things I witnessed when I found out that all of this is normal in the Polish culture and that he's been to several similar Polish weddings. I had no idea! What I'd like though, would be a copy of the wedding video only with English subtitles. We've been to a lot of weddings in 2009 but this was definitely a new experience for me and I feel like I got some interesting ideas. I can't wait for my big fat San Antonio wedding!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I'm a Mac... sort of

Coming to you live from our new MacBook Pro!!

I guess it's the main computer for me and Adam to share but since I am still a PC person, I'm impatiently awaiting my Dell Mini to be shipped this week. I imagine I'll do a little blogging on here since it has iPhoto but we have a fancy new huge hard drive to store all of our pictures and music on.

This computer is AMAZING! Our former computers were dinosaurs in the computer world so I can't even begin to explain how much faster this one is. It's not a Mac Air but honestly, it's not much bigger or weightier! I love it. My mini is going to be white and I got this super cute red case with a handle for it so I can take it out and about with me if I want to. I can't wait for my big box to arrive and it was shipped today so hopefully soon. I'll be stalking all week.

HORRAY for new computers! Tomorrow I'm going to attempt to recap for you what was seriously the most amazingly insane wedding I've ever been to. Let's just say I felt more like I was in a foreign country (and we were only an hour away from the city) than I've ever felt when actually in a foreign country. It was phenomenal.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

So you want to run a marathon (or half marathon, or 5K, I don't discriminate)...

My advice (and take it all with a grain of salt, I'm no professional) if you are planning on racing:

1. Subscribe to Runner's World magazine. My friend, Brooke, gave me a subscription last Christmas. It's a great magazine with lots of tips but mainly just inspiring stories. I usually well up with tears at least once during each issue.

2. Get professionally fitted for running shoes. Seriously, spend the money and do your feet (and frankly, the rest of your body) a favor.

3. Don't skimp on training. There are tons of training plans out there for every distance of race. Pick one or make your own blend. But get out there and run because if you don't you'll be much more sore and being sore is not cool. Before my Austin half in January, I did my "training" on the elliptical machine at the gym. On race day, my legs and feet took such a pounding that I was sore for a week. You train for a reason and that reason is so that when it's all over you don't want to amputate your legs.

4. Listen to your body. This was the most important thing I did during my marathon journey. During the last month, when my IT band and shin were bothering me, I had to pay attention to what things helped the pain. In my case, it was really cutting my mileage and resting my leg. It paid off since my leg didn't fall off and I was able to finish.

5. Enjoy yourself. I run slow. Seriously slow. But I can have a conversation while I'm running and I am generally not in any kind of pain. When I ran on the lakefront path, it made me laugh sometimes to see the looks on people's faces like they wanted to die. Slow down and smile. You should enjoy your running!

6. Celebrate your accomplishments. I think you should reward yourself for your hard work and effort. Eat that burger, drink that beer, devour that dessert. You earned it!

7. Wear a shirt with your name on it. And I'll holler at you if I'm watching. Which I totally plan to be doing at Chicago 2010, if you are shopping for a marathon :)


8. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE! I'm not trying to go all Kevin Garnett or Jillian Michaels on you but I truly believe that you can do anything you put your mind to. I was the kid that had a doctor's note to not have to run if I didn't want to in high school. I had an amazing step aerobics instructor in college (and I realize how dorky that makes me sound but yes, Phys Ed was a required course and yes, I took it for a grade) that expected us to run 1.5 miles in 15 minutes as part of our final. It was an impossible feat for me at the time but instead of getting a doctor's note, I made up my mind to actually train for it and do it. And I got an A. I decided I wanted to do this marathon thing and I never allowed myself to think it an impossible goal. You may be sitting on your at your computer and thinking I'm insane but I believe that your mind is stronger than your body and trust me, a marathon is 95% a mind game. If you believe that you can, you can. That goes for life, not just running. Believe in yourself and others will believe in you too.

Friday, October 16, 2009

365 days... the countdown begins!

Just a quick note... today is our "pre-iversary" meaning that in exactly one year, I'll be saying my vows to Adam. Hey buddy, you'll be legally stuck with me then!

The 2009 Chicago Marathon

Sunday, October 11th, finally arrived. That date had been etched in my brain for a year as I worked my way toward being able to run the 26.2 mile course. I'd been resting A LOT for the past two weeks so my nagging right shin felt fine. It was freezing (about 27 or 28 degrees) and I woke up around 5:30 to start getting ready. Since I'm really the anti morning person, I like to lay out all the things I'll need for race day the night before. It only took about 10 minutes to get dressed and get my morning coffee ready. My friend Amy came with me to the start with my "support backpack" that had all the things you could imagine: bottled water, my inhaler, Clif gels, my hoodie, Body Glide and other assorted things that I can't remember or didn't use. Haha.

We rode downtown with some other friends who were running and started our morning at the Chicago Area Runners room at the Congress Hotel. I'm not going to get into it, but it was one of the clutchest moves of the weekend to have access to the indoor bathrooms there not only for warmth but for hygiene and gagging reasons. Marathon port-a-potties are SICK!

Amy hung out with me at the start line, or more like the half mile to the start line point that I was standing at. It was hilarious because everyone had about 10 extra layers on that they were stripping off and throwing. I gave Amy my sweatshirt and my pack started the long walk to the start line. Sometimes I get super annoyed because some people will run or jog to the start line which is SUPER ANNOYING because we're about to get all the running we'll need for the day, plus it tends to make the pack start and stop a lot. Luckily for me, everyone around me had a brain and realized that we were about to run a whole load of miles so everyone just kind of walked until we got to the line. I heard my Champion Chip beep and we were off!

Almost immediately after the start, we ran underneath the main streets on Lower Wacker Drive (if you've seen the Dark Knight, you've seen where we ran) and it's almost like a tunnel so everyone started "WOOOing". It was pretty cool. I had so much adrenaline pumping at this point and I could feel my usual race-day tears coming. It's hard to imagine it, but being in the middle of a blob of 45,000 people is truly amazing. As far as you can see in either direction, that blob stretches for miles and miles. Everyone has a common goal (there is no half marathon going at the same time) and we were running through what I consider to be the coolest city in America. The first few miles we just snaked through downtown. There were so many spectators and everyone was in high spirits. I felt like the first 13 miles just ticked away faster than I was expecting them to be.

Yeah, y'all. There were a ton of people running. It was really cool.

This was the first time I met up with my spectator group for an inhaler/gel stop around mile 6. I can't imagine running the race with out "Team Run, Big Jen, Run" because knowing that I only had a few minutes and miles more to go to see them again really kept me going. Plus, I didn't have to use my evil chafing fuel belt to hold anything since they had everything I could possibly need with them. Between my stops to see them at mile 6 and mile 9, we ran through our neighborhood, Lakeview. It was BY FAR the best part of the course. Lakeview has two smaller "sub-neighborhoods", if you will, Boystown (the biggest gay area in Chicago) and Wrigleyville. I knew from my spectator experience watching Amy that Boystown was going to be super fun and they did not disappoint! There was a set of lovely cheerleaders and my personal favorite, a stage with several drag queens that were dressed up as bridesmaids. The streets were a little bit narrower so it was so crowded with runners and spectators. ***If you ever run a marathon, make damn sure your name is somewhere on your shirt.*** So many people actually took the time to read my shirt and yell out a "Go Big Jen" or "Big Jen, you aren't very big but go girl!". It was a blast to get personal shout outs from people I didn't even know.

This was just after the halfway point. I asked my brother to come with me for a little while, I figure he probably stayed with me for a half mile. We walked for a couple of minutes there too so I could catch my breath. Cold air and my lungs don't really mix well. I'm so glad he ran with me for a few minutes just because it was hard knowing I was only halfway done. I was also waaaaay off of my usual pace so the reality that this was going to take FOREVER was setting in.

Brooke; my brother, Michael; and Adam waiting for me near mile 17.

This picture is classic, I'm eating a gel and it looks like I am about to gag, which usually happens at least once when I eat one. Truly, they don't taste that bad but I am not a huge fan of eating during strenuous exercise (or even right after) so they usually are hard to take down. I had about 5 miles between seeing them at this point until I was going to meet up with them again in Chinatown. Those five miles were tough but we ran through Pilsen, which is a predominately Hispanic neighborhood and the spectators were awesome there. There was a lot of Tejano music being blasted in the streets by DJ's and a couple of mariachi bands too. I was pacing with a team of guys that had shirts on proclaiming that they were from Mexico so the crowd always got a bit rowdier when our group came through.

Chinatown, almost to mile 22! They say you hit a wall around mile 20 and for me, it was a little bit after that, which I attribute to overshooting my 20 mile training run. I passed the 21 mile sign and realized that I only had 5 more to go, or hopefully only an hour more of running. I'd asked Adam to run with me from Chinatown until close to the finish line to help me through the last few miles. I made a crucial error and forgot to take a puff of my inhaler when I saw the group, UG! I think I had the fact that I needed to pee on my mind. (OH and I forgot to mention one of the more funny parts of the race. At mile 6 when I saw the group, I told them that I needed to pee and for them to have someone ready at mile 9 when we ran by their hotel to take me inside to use the facilities. You should have seen the funny looks I got when I ran off the course and back on. Oh and the couple in the elevator who looked at me like I was crazy for having a short-sleeved shirt on even though I was dripping with sweat.) So we stopped at the next set of port-a-potties (tragically gross!) and carried on. For the next three miles, I was miserable. I kept telling Adam to NEVER LET ME SIGN UP FOR ANOTHER ONE OF THESE no matter how much I begged. I was moving like a snail because I would run for 45 seconds or so and then have to walk for 15 seconds because I felt like I could get only 10% of the air I needed in my lungs. It was totally frustrating but at some point some man gave my delirious self a little shot glass of beer. It was delicious and amazing.

We saw the group one last time at the 40K mark, which is just a couple hundred feet before the mile 25 marker. I had some inhaler and carried on. I was able to run the last 1.2 miles at decent pace despite the fact that my feet and legs felt like mush. I was so lucky that my right shin didn't bother me too much during the race because I think it was so numb at the start from the cold and by the time I warmed up, everything was already hurting! HA!

I crossed the finish line with the utterly exhausting time of 5:44:00. I think it's awesome that I ended up with an even time. Adam had stayed with me until the big hill at the end that we "marathoners" refer to as Mount Roosevelt. I found him after crossing the finish line and after about 30 minutes of debacle we met up with our group.

Team Run, Big Jen, Run! Mikey, Adam, Dad, Adam's mom, me, Adam's dad, Mom, Mrs. Bazan, Amy and Brooke!!! Many, many thanks to them who completed their own version of a marathon. Chasing me around the city was hard work!

I'm back!

Sorry I've been M.I.A. this week. I gave my computer to my brother on Monday to take home to San Antonio because his apartment was broken into last week and they took all of their HD tvs and computers and video game systems (note to everyone: renter's insurance!!). We were planning on getting new computers here anyway so this was a nice little jump start. Starting on Saturday, I'll be writing from a new Dell Mini or our new and fancy Mac. I'm pumped!

I've also had a bit of a head cold but running 26.2 miles in a race that started at 27 degree temperatures can do that to you. Nyquil and Dayquil have been my constant companions this week. Needless to say, the crappy rainy weather and below-average-temperatures have been angering me. Just to forewarn you, we're entering into the six or seven month period where I will probably be cranky about the extremely low temperatures and otherwise junky Chicago winter. But enough with my terrible excuses and on to the good stuff.

Monday, October 12, 2009

It actually ended up being fun!

The marathon was great. I finished- which was all I was trying to do. My shin held up fine. The weather was cold but it was a really nice day for racing. I passed by more than a million spectators. I ran 26.2 miles. It took what seemed like forever but I had a blast. I have so much more to tell you...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

This Journey, Part II

So after hearing about my previous exposures to distance running and marathons, you are probably wondering how I decided to make this goal my own. Truth be told, I don't have a really good reason other than maybe a little medal envy. Last year I was just doing my thing, walking to the train station at O'Hare Airport after a trip and I noticed that it was a lot more crowded than normal. I had forgotten that it was the day of the marathon until I saw several people in their finisher medals. I guess I just thought to myself, "I could do that." It also probably helps that I had just started dating a guy who plays league sports like it's his job and I might have been feeling like a sloth. I'd also been living in Chicago for a couple of months and the weather was turning cool enough to feel like getting out of the house for a run. It must have been a combination of everything but I told Adam that I was going to train and run the 2009 Chicago Marathon.

Later that week, I registered for my first half marathon "preparation run" in Austin in January. It's funny to think about that because Adam and I had only been dating for a month but I told him that I wanted him to fly down with me so I'd have someone to cheer me on at the finish line. Luckily, he liked me enough to say yes without hesitation and my marathon dream was officially born.

I somehow conned my dad to sponsor me through his company so I was able to register for two more half marathons and the biggie for free. He also got on board and had t-shirts made. Thus, Run, Big Jen, Run became reality. There was no turning back, although I haven't really wanted to.

In January, I ran the 3M Half Marathon in Austin, Texas. To this day, that was still my favorite half because the weather was perfect (very cool), it was a small race and it felt so good to finish. I was such an amateur then! I don't think I even had my beloved Balaga socks but I didn't end up with too many blisters. I had never experienced the joy that is Body Glide and I wore a cotton sports bra. Let's just say there was some chafing and leave it at that. I was so sore for about a week because the race had so many hills and I wasn't used to it (it doesn't help that I did most of my training in the gym because it was so cold and snowy here in Chicago). It was awesome though because I got to have my favorite bean and cheese tacos as my post-race meal.

In April, I started writing here on Run, Big Jen, Run, just before my infamous and anti-fun experience at the Go St. Louis Half Marathon. It was good for me to experience running in the rain but not good to feel as crummy as I did for most of the race.

In May, I ran the Soldier Field 10 Miler, which was really fun. I plan on doing this race again next year. Adam and I also started running 5Ks together, which has turned out to be a really fun activity that we can do together (and that works out well since I like to participate in exactly zero other sports things he likes to do. If it involves a ball, count me out, please).

June was when my real marathon training started. Now that I'm on the tail end (and this is probably due to my IT band issues) I'm just ready for it to be over. Marathon training is four months of intense running. When I was still flying, it was incredibly difficult to squeeze in runs. I despise running on treadmills and I was never too keen on running in unfamiliar layover spots for very long distances. It was hard for me to find the time at the beginning but eventually I was able to fit running in as my mileage increased. One of the hardest things about increasing your mileage is the fatigue. There were days that I'd fall asleep on the couch at 8:30. I could pound down 12 hours of sleep easily because I was running for such long amounts of time since I run like a turtle.

Over Labor Day weekend, we ran the Virginia Beach Half Marathon. I was able to better my time and I learned a lot about pushing myself in hot weather. Thankfully tomorrow's race is not in September in humidity because I don't think I could have gone another mile, let alone double the distance.

Now, seeing things from this perspective, it's funny. I have run short distances and longer than I ever thought I could. I have stopped, turned around and gone home because I just couldn't finish. I have run in pouring rain. I have run on snow and ice, I have run in heat that has made me run out of sweat. I have run in cold where I could see my breath through the entire run. I have run in clothing that has chafed me so bad that it will probably leave scars. I have run on the lakefront path countless times; I have run in several different cities and countries. I have run until I could no longer breathe. I have done more miles than I care to count or remember but mostly, I have been running for me. I set this goal to prove to myself that I could do it and I haven't backed down. I have fought through pain. I have schleped my sore body all over the place. I have cried. I have laughed. I have seen some inspiring things and met some crazy people. I have been on what has seemed like the longest journey, but in the morning my journey begins again. Tomorrow I will see things that will bring tears to my eyes. I will feel blessed that I have two legs that are strong enough to do this. I will pray to God to give me the mental strength to carry on. I will be fighting the adrenaline surge and trying to bottle that energy to get through the finish. I will see my family and friends along the way that have sacrificed to be here to support me. I will be counting down the miles until my fiance meets me to finish the last few. We will count down until the end together.

And I will cross the finish line. This 26.2 mile long journey is just beginning.

This Journey... Part I

In case you were wondering how it has come to be that I will be doing what I once believed to be impossible (running 26.2 miles) tomorrow morning, I thought I'd give you a little history and background about how I began this crazy journey to complete a marathon.

To most accurately tell it, I'd have to start back in 2005. At the time I was living in St. Louis and was probably the most miserable person in the world. Just ask my dad, he LOVES to tell the stories of how I supposedly called home every day (maybe just every other day, ok?) to cry and talk about how awful my job was (it seriously sucked) and how much I hated living there (as a person from Texas, I never came close to finding a niche in a town where so many people are lifelong residents and grew up with each other). My friends Kristen and Amy had signed up to run a half marathon in Indianapolis (only about a 3 hour drive away) months before but they convinced me to come along and I signed up for the 5K. I figured I'd make life easier for myself and started "training". The "training" was also to kind of help with the fact that I was getting really fat. I was so poor from the aforementioned crappy job that I really only ate terrible food like $1 frozen pizzas, peanut butter and jelly sandwhiches and on days when I was really homesick for Mexican food, I'd splurge and eat Taco Bell. Wow... I was totally pathetic.

Anyway, I lived next to a really great park that had about a 6 mile loop around it so I started running for the first time since freshman/sophomore years in college. I don't think I ever actually ran the entire 6 miles but a couple of Sundays I'd do the entire loop in a run/walk combo. I felt ready for that 5K and I was gonna try to get a great time. At the last second, Kristen had work commitments so she ended up not coming. Almost as soon as I got to Indy, Amy and her brother started the assault to convince me to run the half marathon like they were. Since I can be utterly spineless sometimes and after all, it's only 13 miles, I agreed to it.

Looking back... what the hell was I thinking? I have come such a long way but back to that day. I was wearing some hideous New Balance kids tennis shoes that I'd probably had for 3 years and regular socks. Needless to say, I ended up with some fabulous blisters. I think I limped from mile 9 to the finish line with in all my torn foot glory. Somehow along the way, I was doing something weird with my right foot to compensate for one of the blisters and I ended up very sore. For about a week I was Limpy McGimperton. I have no idea what my finish time was but I'm sure it was well over three hours. I was proud of myself but had absolutely zero interest in getting into the distance racing game.

Two years later, I had just started working for United and I was ever-eager to show off my brand spankin' new flight benefits. Amy and her brother ran the Chicago Marathon that year and I decided to fly out for the day to cheer them on at the race.

For those who may not know, that was one of the hottest days in all of 2007 in Chicago. The high was something ridiculous in the 90's and several people died on the course before they ultimately shut it down. I was sweating out of my mind just standing and watching! After that day, I was in no big hurry to sign up for the '08 marathon, trust me.

Either way, I still had fun riding the CTA all over town. I ended up in Boystown (the gay area of Chicago) because I was relatively familiar with the area after my summer at flight attendant training (ah, good times in Boystown). I'm so looking forward to running through there tomorrow because those gays know how to cheer for marathon runners! It's notorious for being a blast to run through and after being on the other side last time, I can't wait.

Later on, I'll tell you more about how I decided to make this a goal for myself.

Officially Nervous...

I have a couple of pre-scheduled posts that I wrote earlier in the week for today but I just wanted to come here "live" to say that I am so excited, but a little, ok, a lot, nervous for tomorrow morning. We went to the expo yesterday and it was so fun. I now have all of my official marathon gear that I have to make last forever because I AM NEVER DOING ANOTHER ONE OF THESE THINGS!

Ohmygoodness... I can't believe that this time tomorrow I'll be well into the race. Wow.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Weight Watchers?

I'm semi-embarrassed to admit it but I'm contemplating joining Weight Watchers. I've gained a lot of weight in the past year (or at least I sure feel like it, please tell me that I wasn't always this much of a chunky monkey) which I like to attribute to two things, the marathon and my extra being in love weight. I might have said it before but don't set out to do a marathon if you think it's going to result in massive weight loss because the results are, for most people, quite the opposite. Picture this: you've just run 10 miles (like you do on a regular basis) so obviously you are starving, like African child distended belly starving, so you eat a crap ton and you eat a crap ton of bad food because you're telling yourself "I just ran 10 miles so I literally NEED this bloody mary, buffalo chicken sandwich, mound of tater tots and two beers." Yes, that was me after the Soldier Field 10 Miler and on too many other occasions to count. Like Sunday morning. I had Chicken and Waffles with a Paula Dean-sized dollop of strawberry butter after the 5K.

Back to my original point. I want to fit in my skinny clothes again and fit in them well. In reality, I feel like I have kind of always been battling with my weight. I like to say that I never lost my baby fat, because seriously, I never did! I have always had a pudgy tummy. I've dabbled in several diets and I'd like to say that I generally eat healthy (mostly at home) but when you are a really picky eater and your favorite foods include hamburgers, hot dogs, and fried anything... wait, those are really the only ways I like to eat meat... it's easy to pack on and keep extra poundage. Plus, I am a Carboholic. I could destroy an entire loaf of yesterday's beer bread if I were hungry enough.

I'm not excited about the price of WW. The meetings aren't really in a convenient spot for me either. I'm also contemplating the online version because I am an internet fiend and I figure I can spend less time reading blogs and devote some time to food tracking. I just get freaked out because I feel like on WW I'll be forced to eat a ton of food just to meet my point levels and there are only so many fruits and veggies that I can tolerate. I really just want to gorge on breads and potatoes and other crappy foods that I know are high in points.

Plus, it's so much easier to lose weight by not eating than to eat healthy. Ug.

I accept any and all opinions about WW and really need advice here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Beer Bread... Num Num Num

I don't think I'm planning on becoming a food blogger or anything but I just had to share this recipe (and my crappy low-res pics) because it's insanely easy and REALLY yummy.

I first tried it last week and made it according to the original recipe but tonight was Round 2 and I changed it up a little bit.

Here's my beer bread almost at the end of the hour of baking. As you can see, I don't have a bread pan so I put it in this freaky pan we got at IKEA that I thought was going to be a funky bundt pan but it's actually too small for an entire cake mix but the perfect size for beer bread.

Fresh out of the oven. As you can see, tonight I added some sharp cheddar cheese and a little bit of garlic salt. I was also making a potato/corn chowder and I felt like something a little more savory. The original beer bread has more of a sweeter taste.

Here's the aforementioned freaky pan from IKEA. It's incredibly disappointing because it doesn't make the bottom of the bread (or cake) have the cool shape you think it will have. Oh well, it makes an excellent octagonal beer bread.

This is how it looks from the side. DEEEEEEEELISH.

I wish you could see the steam that was rising. I threw some Brummel and Brown on that piece and chowed down.
Here's the recipe courtesy of Gerald Norman, via Recipezaar:
3 cups flour (sifted)
3 teaspoons baking powder (omit if using Self-rising flour)
1 teaspoon salt (omit if using Self-rising flour)
1/4 cup sugar
1 can/bottle (12 oz) beer
1/4 cup melted butter (you can even go with less than that... Gerald's original recipe calls for 1/2 cup which would be totally excessive)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Sift flour into medium sized bowl. If you don't have a sifter (like me!), carefully spoon the flour into your measuring cup. Make sure not to pack.
Mix dry ingredients and beer.
Pour into greased loaf (or freaky IKEA) pan.
Pour melted butter over mixture.
Bake for 1 hour.
Remove from pan, cool for 15 minutes, slice and serve!
That's it!!

Tonight, I added garlic salt to the dry ingredients (with only a pinch of sugar) and stirred a little sharp cheddar into the wet mixture. I grated a little extra cheese on top before pouring melted garlic butter on the top. I loved the original version for it's sweeter taste but my version tonight almost tasted like Red Lobster's Cheesy Garlic Biscuits.
I can't get over how easy it is, it literally took me 5 minutes to prepare. Plus, using beer in place of yeast makes it kind of idiot-proof. Both times I used Carlsberg beer but next time I may go full sugar and use a Sam Adams Cherry Wheat along with some whole wheat flour. It sure beats paying almost $5 a loaf for an artisan bread at the grocery store! I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bucktown 5K

1905 349 916 3379 JENNIFER BREDA 27 F CHICAGO IL 29:33 9:31

Yesterday morning we got up bright and early to run in the Bucktown 5K. It was a really nice morning, cool and crisp, and just perfect for a short run. My shin was kind to me during the race (not feeling quite as fabulous now, haha) but I was in the mood to run fast and I was really hoping to get a PR of under 30 minutes. Adam didn't enjoy the run nearly as much as I did, unfortunately everybody has those days now and then but he ran with me for most of it and did a great job, despite his very stuffy nose. As you can see by the results above, I hit my goal with a time of 29:33, which is 9:31 minute miles. Whoa! I ran under 10 minute miles? I can guarantee that's not going to happen for the marathon, just in case you were wondering.

I'm planning to rest my legs for the rest of the week, which goes against conventional wisdom but I'm listening to my body. It felt really nice to not run for five days last week and yesterday morning my legs felt so fresh and the shin felt good for the first time in about a month. I'm confident that a month or so of NO RUNNING after the marathon will give me the time to recover. I'm looking forward to fun times on the Wii Fit and actually doing my Jillian 30 day shred DVD. Maybe we'll actually get off our bums and join a new gym? That's going to become more and more necessary as the temperature drops.

Speaking of temperature, this is the forecast for the rest of the week:

TodayOct 5
Mostly Sunny

TueOct 6

Check Flight Delays
WedOct 7
Partly Cloudy / Wind

ThuOct 8

FriOct 9
Few Showers

Check Flight Delays
SatOct 10
Partly Cloudy

SunOct 11
Partly Cloudy

Oh please please please let it be 51/41 on Sunday!! That's perrrrrrfect running weather for me! Friends and family start arriving on Thursday, I can't believe my big weekend is almost here!

Friday, October 2, 2009

What a day...

Wow... I've been all over this blog thing this week but it's been so exciting with the Olympic bidding and my inside of ten day countdown to the marathon. I will probably go back to being boring pretty soon.

So this morning I had a bit of a mini-crisis when I lost my wallet (if you will recall, I've already lost my Blackberry once this year when I dropped it in the hallway of a hotel in Bozeman, MT). I lost my wallet a little more closer to home, actually it was found 2 houses north of me. The weird thing is that this morning I actually walked south (as I do everyday toward the L stop). Not sure how all of that transpired but if someone grabbed out of my very easily accessible pocket of my bag (and it's easily accessible so I can get on the train stat) they didn't take anything including the rarity of 20 bucks in it (I never carry cash). Odd but a happy ending.
I'm so bummed about the Olympics but there were so many wanksters here in Chicago that were vehemently against it that it's probably better this way. I'm not a fan of protests or pompus close-minded Republicans bitching about tax money going towards something AWESOME like the Olympics. I could seriously rant about that because there are only two things for certain in life, people. Death and taxes. Don't forget that, certain Republicans who are so fond of incessantly complaining about where their tax money goes as if taxes are the greatest travesty in the world.

I do have a recommendation for any of you who do venture to Rio for the 2016 games. It's pretty much the only fun thing I did because Rio is an unsafe hellhole of crime and badness.

Yeah dawg, that's me hangliding! Peace and good luck to you, Rio de Janiero.

(and I guess I'm going to miss writing about my travels. I used to be more entertaining than dropped wallets)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Full Steam Ahead... Winter.

Wow... it's amazing how much earlier the sun goes down each day. I feel like it didn't get dark until 8:00 about two weeks ago. It's 6:24 tonight and it's pitch black (the nasty weather is probably not helping matters) and I swear it was after 7:00 last night that it got dark.

October is extra sad around here because the Cubs didn't make the playoffs this year. At least last year we had a week full of playoff fun (well, if you want to call some of the worst games ever fun) to kind of ease things into fall... ahem, winter. It's going to be so cold so soon! Right now I might be the only person in Chicago with the windows cracked but I just can't bear to shut them just yet even though I sit here in flannel pj bottoms and a hoodie. I'll be damned if I give up just yet.

Wait... I'm probably jinxing myself and this year will end up being the third year in a row that we have a freak warm front just in time for the marathon. In which case I will cry profusely because if there's one thing I don't tolerate well, it's running in heat. Ug. 10 days!

Sad Day... RIP to the Vue.

This is a picture of my old Saturn VUE that my mom now drives in San Antonio. Shockingly enough, this picture was actually taken by me in SA a couple of years ago during a freak ice storm (one would have expected this to be in the frozen hell that I now live in, no?).

Sadly, the deal to buy Saturn from GM fell apart yesterday and they are getting rid of the brand. TRAGIC, I tell you. We have been a Saturn family for a long-ass time. My mom got her first one way back in the day when the brand was only a couple of years old. It was her first ever "non-used" car and when my dad bought it, he told me that it would be mine when I turned 16 (lies, I tell you because my mom loved it so much that she wouldn't give it to me). That car went through hell and back because my mom very near totalled it a couple of times. It was like a cat with nine lives.

When I was in college, my mom got an upgraded and bigger Saturn that ironically was maroon HAHAHA! My college is her college's rival and maroon was our color so I liked to make fun of this fact. She stuck a big fat silver longhorn on the back of it to spite me, I swear. And one on my old VUE, which reminds me that I need to flip that bad boy over or figure out how to "saw the horns off" next time I'm home.

When my brother started driving he got a little red 2 door Saturn coupe stick shift. I was without a car one Christmas break and he'd gotten into a little trouble that involved him not being able to drive so I learned how to drive a stick on that bad boy. I think he called it Red Rover if I remember correctly. Learning how to drive that thing was such a project that involved lots of my dad and brother yelling at me because I sucked royally at it at first.

When the VUE (SUV) came out, my mom and I practically drooled over the thing in the showroom. It was a lovely little car for driving challenged people like us because it's an SUV that sits on a car chassis so it's not a land yacht to struggle to park. After this evil man totalled my jalopy one year (STAY IN YOUR OWN LANE, IDIOT SAN ANTONIO DRIVERS!), I made my first ever car purchase of a used Saturn VUE (the one pictured above). Last year when I moved to Chicago and decided I didn't need a car anymore, my mom took over the loan for me and she gets to drive it now. It makes me a little sad and forlorn when I visit home sometimes because I dearly adored my little dream car.

Needless to say, I'm slightly crushed by today's sad news. What the heck is GM thinking? Saturn is one of the most unique and cool brands of American made cars. They run like little champions too! I'm disappointed and frankly shocked that they aren't going to try to save Saturn because I assume it's a decent seller. Those cute (and powerful) Sky convertibles supposedly have a couple year waiting list. Oh well, I'll have to find a new car brand to be loyal to and I guess it works out seeing as how my fiance despises American made cars.

*on a completely unrelated note, tomorrow is a mega-huge day here in Chi-city. The International Olympic Committee makes their 2016 Olympics decision sometime in the morning. Check out my ethnocentric mini-rant about the other bid cities for reasons why Chicago should totally win. And seriously, if Oprah can't convince them, I don't know what else the city could have done.