Big Shoulders 2021

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I’ve been trying to swim the Big Shoulders for years.

The Big Shoulders is an open-water swimming race held in Lake Michigan at Ohio Street Beach in downtown Chicago, which is where I first started training for open water swimming. So some September morning years ago we just ran into this event happening at our little training spot. Since I had trained up to 2.4 miles swimming for my Ironman, longer distances felt achievable, and Erica and I had a lot of fun swimming the 2.2 miles of the Point to La Pointe. The Big Shoulders had one lap at 2.5K (~1.5 miles) and two laps at 5K (3.1 miles) I was intrigued and put the race on my race to-do list.

I knew the race was in September, so in 2016 sometime around August I tried to sign up, but the race was sold out. The next year, I thought of it earlier in the summer, maybe June, and also found that the race was sold out. So that year I found out when the race sign-ups started (the next year, in March) and put that date in my calendar. So I was finally registered for Big Shoulders 2018.

Big Shoulders 2018 was canceled on race day due to dangerous lake conditions.

Boo. OK, I signed up for 2019 at the 5K distance. I would train real hard all year and knock this thing out.

I did not train real hard in 2019.

A couple weeks before the race I took advantage of the race organizers’ general offer for distance switching and dropped down to the 2.5K. The day of the race the water was cold and choppy. There was some concern the race might be called again, but it was not. When I got in the water with my wave and started swimming, I just didn’t feel right. Since I started swimming seriously as an adult and trained up for these longer distances, one of the great things about swimming is just how right it all feels when you get in the water and start executing a good stroke. This was the opposite. The water was cold, even in my wetsuit, and I was not confident in my swimming. As I mentally looked ahead to the length of the swim, I was having trouble envisioning success. Even in a wetsuit, even with all the safety personnel around, it didn’t seem smart to continue. So I tapped out even before the first 1.4 mile buoy by swimming straight over to one of the rescue boats. I still think it was the right choice but it does still sting. I’ve written about so many races on this blog and I didn’t write this up back in 2019. But I came out of the water determined to come back and finish this race.

Big Shoulders 2020 was canceled due to the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic.

So spoilers, Big Shoulders 2021 happened yesterday and I completed the 2.5K distance.

I’ve been swimming just a little in the gym and fair amount out in open water, including doing the 1.2 mile distance of an A Long Swim event up in Winnetka in August. That one was just choppy enough and I had a little trouble keeping on course, so my watch says I swam 1.5 miles, so I knew I was ready for the distance and for a little rough water.

The conditions yesterday were nearly perfect. The water was 70° and flat and calm, under a beautiful blue sky. I was a little nervous all morning, just because of my failure two years ago, but as soon as I got in the water it was all felt right. I was very focussed on getting that first 1/4 mile buoy and then once I was past that, it felt like I had already won. The second leg of the triangle route was great—I was warmed up and had a confident stroke and I started to wonder if I should have signed up for the 5K. Coming back down the last leg along Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Lake Shore Drive I started to get tired and was glad I had not.

Fuzzy and Andrea at Big Shoulders 2021
Me and Andrea Strening, Big Shoulders 2021

Official Results
Time: 1:30:07
Place: 305 / 311
Place in Male: 161 / 163
Place in Wetsuit: 132 / 136
Place in Male Wetsuit: 74 / 76

Fuzzy and EDawg Eats at Budacki's

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I was very excited to be asked by my friend Erik to be on his YouTube series Edawg Eats to try a Chicago-style hot dog at Budacki’s Drive-In. Thrill to my pandemic hair! Admire my classy Malört hat! Leave an angry comment on YouTube to tell us how to say “Budacki”!

Evanston Flying Turkey 5K

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The Evanston Flying Turkey 5K has become something of a tradition for me — it’s an easy drive up to Evanston, it’s not too early on Thanksgiving, and a pretty course amongst the Northwestern campus and along the lake. And then afterwards I stop by Hoosier Mama and pick up a pumpkin pie.

Time: 31:59
Pace: 10:17
Overall Place: 1210 / 2780
Place in Male: 718 / 1308
Place in M45-49: 82 / 147

Howling Fanpod

This is how sadly neglected this once-shining jewel of the FuzzyCo Blogging Demi-Empire is: I’m six episodes into a new podcast and haven’t even posted about it here.

I’ve tried, as many people have, to read David Foster Wallace’s giant novel Infinite Jest several times over the years and it’s sat on my “to be read soon” pile in the bedroom for years, mocking me. Recently, I realized that the 372 Pages We’ll Never Get Back podcast had tricked me into reading several really terrible books, so surely there was a podcast out there that would hand-hold me through reading this supposedly-great book. I searched and couldn’t find one, so I decided I’d have to make it and hand-hold myself.

I tricked my good friend Kate into reading the book with me and we’re releasing an episode every week (or so). The podcast is called the Howling Fanpod (that’s an Infinite Jest joke) and so of course the website is Terrible Photos of People I Love. There’s an intro episode and then 6 real ones so far — there will be 13 by the time we’re done.

Edgewater 5K 2018

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Time: 32:01
Pace: 10:19 min/mi
Place overall: 245 / 448
Place in Gender: 132 / 194
Place in Age Group (M18+): 106 / 145

Bucktown 5K 2018

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Erica and I play a game called “did Fuzzy see the camera?” The answer for this one is, obviously, yes, yes he did.

Erica and Fuzzy running the Bucktown 5K

Time: 49:07
Pace: 15:49 min/mile
Overall Place: 2190 / 2303
Place in Gender: 923 / 944
Place in Age Group (M45-49): 72 / 77

Chicago Half Marathon

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Steve and Fuzzy running the Chicago Half-Marathon

What do you do after you run 13 half-marathons in 12 months? Run another one the next month!

Steve and I were supposed to run this race last year, for what turned out to be the first race of my Baker’s Dozen, but he got sick. So when I was signing up for the Chicago Spring Half-Marathon there was an option to sign up for this one as well as a short “series” and so I suggested to Steve that we run it as a do-over. He agreed and so we’ve had it on the schedule for most of the year.

Steve broke a rib a few months ago, so he hadn’t been running, but he was game to try and I’m really proud of him for getting out and pushing himself. Erica asked if we were going to hold hands as we crossed the finish line, and how do you answer a question like that?

Steve and Fuzzy finishing the Chicago Half-Marathon

Time: 3:11:27
Pace: 14:37 min/mi
Place: 7442 / 7815
Place in Gender: 3393 / 3500
Place in Division (M45-49): 351 / 368

Big Shoulders

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We’ve been trying to swim the Big Shoulders open water swim for years. We saw the race happening one September, wondered what it was and looked it up. “Great, let’s sign up for that next year.” The next summer we went to sign up and discovered that it had already sold out. We noted that sign-ups started in March and the next year we checked in the middle of March. So then we found out exactly when registration opened and put a calendar entry in to remember to do it that day. So that was this March 1 and we signed up! Erica went whole-hog and signed up for the 3 mile swim and I played it safe and signed up for the 1.5 mile. Our friends Sara and Andrea signed up as well.

I wouldn’t say we trained hard core all summer, but we trained — Erica joined a gym with a pool up in Evanston and she helped me get my act together and signed me up as well. We got out for some open water swims and did a real 1-mile race and then did the swim in the Chicago Triathlon. We were both a little nervous about our distances, but we were ready.

And then there were very high winds and the race was canceled.

It was very disappointing, especially because the water wasn’t that bad inside the protected walls of Ohio Street Beach, but the Parks District wasn’t able to get their safety boats into the area.

So, we’re waiting for next year’s sign up with bated breath…

Chicago Triathlon 2018

Fuzzy finishing the Chicago Triathlon

There’s a giant asterisk on this year’s results, because Erica and I signed up for the International Distance, but while I was out on the run, they announced that because of the heat they were reducing the International run from 10K to 5K. When I heard the announcement out on the train, I was indignant. Sure, other people could quit if they wanted, but I’m an old hand at triathlons. And then I took stock of my situation and noticed that I was already walking and that probably this was not the race to push myself to the limits for. I think my 40 minute 5K shows the wisdom of that decision.

Time: 3:33:19
Place: 847 / 986
Place in Gender: 374 / 450
Place in Age Group (M45-49): 32 / 49
Place in Age Group (Male 40+): 247 / 303

Race Splits
Swim - 49:51
T1 - 10:41
Bike - 1:43:12
T2 - 8:25
Run - 40:17

13.Wine Michigan Wine Trail Half-Marathon

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So, first of all, whoever realized that the URL for this race could be should be very proud of themselves.

Second of all, why aren’t there more half-marathons in the Chicago-land area in August that I had to drive to Michigan?

But most of all, this is it! I did it! My Baker’s Dozen of races – 13 half-marathons in 12 months.

The main idea was just to do the challenge. An important lesson I learned years ago from the The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer was that every goal you add onto a huge challenge is just a chance to fail even if you complete your main goal. So I had a secret goal, but I didn’t want to hinge my success on it. Which is good, because I failed that that secret goal.

I thought that signing up for 13 half-marathons would scare me into maintaining a reasonable training schedule, and super-secret goal, if I did keep training and running, surely my half-marathon times would creep downward and maybe I’d even PR by the end of the challenge. Instead, I learned that I’ve built up enough endurance (or stubbornness?) over the years that I could muddle through a half-marathon a month without keeping up much of a training schedule at all. I’d run one and it would hurt but I’d finish, so I’d take the next week off “to rest up” and then I’d run a couple 3s or 5s and then it was time for the next one. My times have crept up and up.

The good news is that I haven’t stopped. I’m signed up for two more halves this year. Two more chances to get slower!

Time: 2:48:10
Pace: 12:50 min/mi
Place in Division (M45-49): 4/4