Sunday, August 1, 2010

Rock & Roll Chicago – Diary of a Wimpy Californian

Seven Rock & Roll events down, seven to go. Chicago was the half way point in events and it took its toll on me. While it may only have been a half marathon, the humidity was a factor as there was no way for me to prepare for it, living in Northern California. Not even a lunchtime run in Minneapolis a few weeks prior – overcast.

The weekend started with a reminder of why you shouldn’t rent a car when visiting Chicago. I normally don’t but will need it for client meetings in and around Illinois Monday. At O’Hare I hopped into the car, plugged the address for the McCormick Center into the GPS and it said I would be at the race Fitness Expo in 15 minutes. Sweet. The reality: 45 minutes of mostly bumper to bumper traffic heading into Chicago. Once I got there came the second reminder about renting a car – Chicago’s outrageous parking fees. I spent more parking my car for the weekend than I did renting it.

At the expo I sauntered over to the booth as I was expecting to pick up my Rock Legend Heavy Medal. In their progressive medal series this is the highest honor, signifying the completion of 7 Rock & Roll events in a single calendar year. A pretty cool medal; and definitely heavy. I got to hold it and take a picture but the full supply of medals didn’t make the trip to Chicago unfortunately, so mine’s in the mail.

After settling into my hotel, the historic Intercontinental on Michigan Avenue, I headed down to the beach to take in the sun. The ultra-touristy Naval Pier was a short walk from the hotel. I turned north to the beach and got a view of a floating college party. There were hundreds of boats lashed together in the lake and teens were hopping from boat to boat mingling and drinking with party music blaring from some of the bigger boats. Very cool. Wish we had that during my college years.

One of the highlights of the Interncontinental Hotel is the 20s era d├ęcor and the pool.

It’s a junior Olympic sized pool with grandstands that was used by Johnny Weissmuller back when he was training for the Olympics. I dropped into lane two for an hour swim. I don’t think my slow and steady freestyle drew a crowd but in my own head, it was me versus Tarzan in lane one. Come on, Johnny, show me whatchagot!

Dinner was at a great tapas bar, The Purple Pig, right across Michigan Avenue from my hotel. This is tapas Chicago style meaning heavy on the pork products. They had a great selection of European wines (no California wines – huh?), cheeses and special tapas like pork liver pate, braised pork knuckles, fried pigs tails and several appetizing vegetarian dishes as well.

After that, I took a walk along the river, passing between the famous Wrigley building and WGN and over to Millenium Park. These are sites you really need to see in the summertime. Nine o’clock at night and it was in the mid seventies and gorgeous. And I finally got a taste of dark chocolate covered bacon at Eno a local specialty chocolatier. Can’t say I’m a fan. I know, I know, how can I say no to any bacon dish!

After dressing my chair and settling into bed the usual pre-race nerves kicked in around 3 in the morning. I was up about every 30 minutes checking my watch, making sure it wasn’t time to get up. I had one of those race nightmare dreams around 4:30, in which my alarm went off and woke me up but not at 5:30am, but 5:30pm and I had missed the race. Coach Terry was there and when I got to Millenium Park he was slowly shaking his head in disappointment. I normally don’t have pre-race jitters before a half marathon but given my year-long quest, one DNF would do me in.

As usual I woke up a couple minutes before my alarm and set to getting ready. It was a short warmup run from my hotel through Millenium Park to the start line. On the way I passed by a street that was closed off and occupied by several large trucks and large studio lights. A film crew is here filming scenes for the upcoming movie Transformers 3. I couldn’t see much, but there was a lot of rubble in the street so I imagine there were busying themselves destroying Chicago. I think I’ll wait for the DVD.

At the start, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the sun was slowly rising off Lake Michigan. That’s not a good thing, as the temperature was slowly creeping up as was the humidity. The organizers were busily interviewing B-list celebrities who had come out to run the race. I hadn’t heard of any of them but they were apparently from shows including The Gates, The Bachelor and a few others. Last year’s winner, Kara Goucher was the final interview. She’s not running this year due to her pregnancy but commented that one of the best parts of last year’s race was beating all the guys. I could run a five minute mile, too, you know. For about 200 yards.

The race finally kicked off at 6:30am and it was a very nice course. We started heading north into downtown. We crossed the river and wound around the shopping districts and came back south on State Street. I wasn’t real thrilled running on the bridges which were a bit like cattle grates - steel footbeds that discourage crossing.

The tall downtown buildings provided nice cool shade for running but after crossing back over the river the sun was above us and the humidity started to kick in around mile 5. It started sapping my energy and sub-7 minute miles started creeping over to the other side of seven. We ran past some of Chicago’s fantastic museums including the Museum of Contemporary Art and Field Museum before coming to the alien landing. Chicago’s Soldier Field was modernized a few years back and it’s a stark contrast in architectural styles. They kept the old surrounding building of the stadium which looks like an old historic field house made of stone with stone columns like those in front of the US Treasury Building in DC. But inside is an ultramodern glass and aluminum circular stadium that bursts out of the old building like an alien spaceship just landed inside. It’s really an incredible design. Guess I’ll have to come back for a Bears game.

After Soldier Field the sun, and more so the humidity, was really starting to get to me. Miles 5-9 were brutal. Along this route we were circling the massive McCormick Center where most of the large conventions are held in Chicago. We wound along trails through its grounds and after nearly every turn I kept looking for the point where we would start heading North. Finally it came just after mile 9. What also came at that time were clouds. Hooray!

I was slowly able to regain some energy as the humidity subsided a bit and the course cooled down. Miles 10-13 were along the Lake Trail and brought us back up to Millenium Park. I finally had energy again in the last half mile and booked it to the finish. I crossed at 1:38. I’ll take it.

Now begins my longest break in the Rock & Roll 2010 season – five weeks. The next event is another half marathon in Virginia Beach. It’s historically humid and hot for this Labor Day Weekend run and I’m not sure how to modify my training from here. Any suggestions are welcome.

Finally, thanks to all my supporters. We’ve raised nearly $8,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to date. I still need a bit over $2,000 to make my goal so keep the donations coming! As we Texans say, “y’all are the best!”