Chicago’s outdoor racing season is here: Runners, are you ready?
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With the Shamrock Shuffle just 10 days away (generally considered the kick-off to Chicago’s outdoor racing season), experts say the likely-to-be-cold outdoor event should represent the culmination of runners’ proper nutrition, wardrobe trials, and outside and indoor training.
The founder of several Chicago runners’ groups for African-American men and women remembers how he discovered the hurdles of transitioning to outdoor running after sticking to a treadmill for two years.
“I didn’t have the confidence to go outside,” said Terrance L. Lyles, 44, a resident of Greater Grand Crossing who grew up in Chicago’s West and South Sides.
Lyles said he overcame his hesitation to run outdoors by starting a training program that focused on completing a certain distance.
“I started during a hot summer, and it was rigorous,” Lyles said. “You run outdoors in the elements with no excuses – whether it’s in rain or ice, or cold or hot weather,” he said. “Other than lightning and thunder, it’s ‘Game on.’”
That will be the mantra for Shamrock Shuffle runners, since Chicago’s temperatures in March normally range from the low 30s up to 50, with an average 13 mph daily wind speed, according to NASA weather data analyzed by Weather Spark. Of course, this March has been anything but “normal” when it comes to weather, with temperatures struggling to get out of the 30s for the past two weeks.
Lyles’ running high was cemented after he lost 30 pounds early on in his training, saw his skin clear up, quit drinking liquor, and got in tune with how good he felt after a long run.
The journey had its moments.
“My first eight-mile run, I remember like it was yesterday,” Lyles said. “I didn’t think I was going to die. I knew I was going to die.”
Yet his perseverance led him to become a certified running coach and create and mentor 57 members of Men Run Deez Streets, and Black Chicago Runners, with 225 women members. Men Run Deez Streets counts 12 other active members spread among Atlanta; Houston; Little Rock, Ark.; Tampa, Fla., and St. Louis.
Lyles has now run 28 marathons, and is signed up for his third Shamrock Shuffle and his eighth Chicago Marathon this year.
“It’s not a fad. It’s a lifestyle,” he said.
Proper attire is a critical part of that lifestyle, especially for big race days.
Runners should wear layers and moisture-wicking clothes, said Dr. Steven Mayer, sports medicine physician at the Running Medicine Clinic at Northwestern Medicine.
To ensure they’re comfortable, runners need to practice three types of runs: Slow, long-distance runs; practicing at the tempo you think you’ll run – your race pace; and an interval run where runners switch from running faster than race pace to running slower, Mayer said.
“You want to be ready and comfortable,” he said.
A member of Black Chicago Runners, LaTanya Pegues, of the South Shore neighborhood, had visions of how much she enjoyed running during her active childhood in thinking she’d just start running again with no problem.
But she discovered that, working 12 to 14 hours a day at a desk, and at her heaviest-ever weight at 191 pounds, she initially found running painful.
“I found it very hard to catch my breath,” Pegues said. “And I felt pain in my knee.”
Yet Pegues, 41, said she was heartened by Lyles’ Facebook posts and the camaraderie of the women’s African-American running group.
“Regardless if I walked half a mile or ran a mile, they were there for me,” she said. “You don’t want to let your family down.”
After Pegues completed her 2017 goals of completing a 5K, a 10K (it turned out to be a 10 miler) and a 15K, she got serious.
She, too, overhauled her diet, quit soda pop, cut back on eating her favorite cakes, donuts and cookies, and started munching on nuts instead of chips.
Though Pegues weighed 170 the last time she went to the doctor, she said she wants to avoid obsessing about it, so she no longer weighs herself.
“I’m just focused on living a healthier lifestyle,” she said.
Kelli Rockwell, 42, a member of Black Girls RUN! and a South Side resident, said she started her path to fitness and healthy eating after her now 13-year-old daughter, Sydnee, was inspired by Michelle Obama’s wellness initiative.
“I cut out a lot of [eating] things I really liked – fried chicken, for example – and started grilling,” Rockwell said. “For me, everything was about drinking water, portion control, and I increased the amount of vegetables I was eating.”
In fact, running outside puts extra demands on breathing, and, when it’s cold, can blunt a person’s thirst reflex, said Audra Wilson, a dietitian at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in west suburban Geneva, Ill.
Wilson, 36, who ran the 2018 Chicago Marathon, advises runners to weigh themselves before and after trial runs – not to become obsessed with each ounce one way or the other – but to see how much water weight they’re losing, and to plan to hydrate to make up for the loss.
“I lose three to four pounds on a (marathon) run,” she said. “I need to drink at least 64 ounces before the run and then drink every 15 minutes if I’m running for an hour or longer.”
The best way to know if you’re staying properly hydrated? Your urine should be light yellow to clear throughout the day, said Alicia Glass, senior sports dietitian for the United States Olympic Committee.
The latest research shows runners should beware eating too many calories and too many carbs.
“You can’t outrun a bad diet,” Wilson said. “Half of our plates should be non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, onions, peppers, cauliflower, and/or a salad; one-quarter of the plate should consist of carbs, such as oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice and, on a heavy running schedule, a glycogen drink to maintain the body’s main form of fuel for long-term energy; and one-quarter should include protein, such as eggs, tofu, fish, legumes, chicken breast and lean meat.”
Dairy products such as milk, soy milk, other milk substitutes, and yogurt also fall under high-quality proteins, Glass said.
“After eating enough proteins and carbohydrates, dietary fats should fill in to balance out our energy needs,” Glass said. “The best choices are fish and plant sources rich in essential fatty acids, which act as anti-inflammatories for the heart and body. Salmon, avocados, olive oil and nuts, such as walnuts and almonds, are great examples.”
Yet Glass also noted that 30 minutes of running may burn 200 to 300 calories. That’s less than a cup of pasta – not a huge entree dish of spaghetti.
The focus on details such as proper eating, stretching, training and warmups extends to the proper running shoes. They’re not cheap – most run from $150 to $200 – but experienced runners say they’re worth it in preventing injuries.
Rockwell, who has improved her time in each of the nine marathons she has run, recommends would-be runners get a “gait analysis” at any local shoe store, such as Road Runner Sports, Running Excels or Fleet Feet, to pick the best fit.
Pegues also discovered you’ll need a great pair of socks.
Her experience with a well-known brand left her feeling like she was rubbing skin against skin.
“Now I wear Balega socks,” she said, noting that one of her fellow runners recommended them. “Those socks are like pillows on my feet.”
Sandra Guy is a local freelance writer.
Here’s a look ahead at some key dates in Chicago’s 2019 race season:
• March 24: Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle
• March 30: 20th Annual Chicago Lakefront 50K George Cheung Memorial Race
• April 6: World Health Run
• April 6: Chi-Town Half Marathon and 10K
• April 13: Wintrust Lakefront 10 Mile and 5K
• April 27: Race to Wrigley 5K
• May 4: Cinco de Miler
• May 12: Komen Chicago Race for the Cure
• May 19: Byline Bank Chicago Spring Half Marathon and 10K
• May 25: Soldier Field 10 Mile
• June 1: Gospel Run 5K and 10K
• July 21: Rock n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon and 10K
• Sept. 29: Chicago Half Marathon and 5K
• Oct. 13: Bank of America Chicago Marathon
• Nov. 3: Hot Chocolate 15K and 5K