Six Month Review (April 29 to October 29, 2014)

Six_Month_ReviewI dedicate time to reflect on life and actions every six months in order to make adjustments. This is the second six month review of the year and begins the planning of the next calendar year. After a rough year and a half, I needed to slow down and find my bearings, and plan out a route to get to my destination in life.  Sometimes you need to slow down to speed up. I made a number of changes after my last review. Although things haven’t gone according to plan, the past six months have been the best I’ve had in a long time.

Life had other plans for me this past summer.  My original intent was to road trip across the United States. Instead, I found myself busted up in Illinois nursing a few bad wounds.  Staying at home forced me to look inwardly to sort things out of make sense of life. If I did go on that road trip, I would have reveled in the joys of exploring without truly exploring myself. I would have come home with the same struggles I have had in the past.

I quit my retail job at the beginning of May so I can carve time out to do the things that I enjoy, slow things down, reassess my path, and look at my life’s map.  I didn’t realize how much I missed retail.  Leaving my job gave me the time and freedom to visit other retail stores to observe from the consumer’s standpoint with an experienced eye. I saw what big and small firms are doing right and what they can improve on.  Retail is back on my list of industries that I’d love to work in.  I want to find myself in a challenging position in retail to turn around a firm or a firm’s retail location using the quantitative analysis of their sales floor and blending with a qualitative assessment of their branding, marketing, and sales to expand increase revenue. I think that would be some fab stuff to work on. While searching for that fab job, I returned to the retail industry’s front lines helping customers on the retail sales floor.

While recovering from my injuries, I had to make a choice between moving back to my parent’s place or finding a place of my own.  I lived part of the time in DeKalb and part of the time in Maine Township last school year. I learned that I need to be more careful with choosing my house mates. I would live with two of my three house mates again.  However, I prefer to live alone. I chose to move back to Maine Township after considering my long term goals and dreams in other facets of my life.

Since my brother’s wedding, my relationship with my dad has become a lot better.  He’s been nicer, light-hearted, and generally positive. He’s complimented me on some of the things I’ve done.  I’m blessed to have this right now but it takes some getting used to. We’ve had a rocky relationship since I was twelve.  I like this version of my dad and our relationship.  I hope my dad and I can nurture our relationship to make it better.

I continued my sofa sessions and I feel like moving from surviving and existing to a state of living.  My therapist/counselor is beginning to push me now that I’m more willing to challenge myself. It’s a hard thing to do but stripping my life down has given me time to work on myself.  Depression and other mental illness is a complex dynamics of many things intersecting with a person or groupI want to move from managing my illness to thriving in my life. I’m  currently working changing my thought patterns and perspective of things.  Reframing an event or moments can shift it from something negative to something positive.  Perception of self has ramifications throughout a person’s life.  For example, I’d be disappointed that my life took a turn for the worse in October 2013 but now I feel like that it has taught me to get back up quickly, be more resilient, and find the resources I need  to be the best version of myself.

I chose to take two classes at NIU this semester instead of attending full time. I felt like this will help me get the traction I needed. I’ve been spinning my wheels and going nowhere academically because I was in a mode of survival and anxiety.  By cutting back, I had the time to develop a framework and model of learning and doing. I can take this framework to learn, research, and do on my own.  I took a language course and an economics course. It has been an enlightening experience and I’m glad I went this route. My goal is to take what I learn from my academic coursework and connect it with what I’m learning within my personal laboratory.  I’m content with getting whatever grade I get in each class as long as I learn a ton that my grades don’t reflect.

The past six months have set me up for personal exploration. I wanted to know my ‘whats.’ (What fascinates me? What makes me happy? What drives me? What are my dreams? What are my passions?) I’ll be headed into the next stage of my life where I build a career and lifestyle can that can sustain my interest and drive for thirty to forty years.  The extra time has given me an opportunity to look at the things I used to enjoy and see if I still enjoy doing it. It has helped me tremendously and gave me guidance on what to do in the next six months and plan for next year.


What things have you learned in the previous six months that can help you lead the life you want to lead?  What changes would you make in your life?

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Chasing a Unicorn

boston_croppedI thought finishing my first marathon was a fluke and luck played a huge role. To prove it wasn’t just a fluke, I signed up for my second attempt of the Chicago Marathon. I registered for the Philadelphia Marathon that same year. Wonderful things happened that second year and chasing a unicorn crossed my mind. However, life is filled with ups and downs.  I dealt with injuries, personal obstacles, excuses, lack of planning, and long periods off. I started wondering to myself, “Can I actually qualify for the Boston Marathon on my terms?”

I chose the Philadelphia Marathon as my backup race. Anything can happen on race day. Something did happen at the 2009 Chicago Marathon. I hit my goals earlier in the race but things began to fall apart around the 25K market and took a nose dive. I finished my second marathon but walked away disappointed. Thankfully, I registered for the Philadelphia Marathon. I flew into Philadelphia. I was determined to get a better time and I did.  It wasn’t the exact time I planned but I beat my first marathon time by xxx and my second marathon time by xxx. I ran this race forty-two days after my last marathon, while staying at a hostel, touring Philadelphia by foot two days prior, volunteering at the expo, and eating poorly the days prior to the race.  I also didn’t follow my original plan. If I stuck to my original plan of staying in the pace group, I think I could have reached my goal at Philadelphia despite it being hillier that the Chicago Marathon. Although I still didn’t get the time set my goal on, I ran it faster and endured more pain.  I felt like I earned this one.

The idea of qualifying for the Boston Marathon leaped in my head as I waddled back to the hostel. The race organizers were touting this as great race to qualify for the Boston Marathon, one of the guests at the hostel ran the Boston Marathon in the past, and while waiting for the train to get back to the hostel, a guy at the Market Street train stop started chatting with me and the topic of the Boston Marathon came up. Boston was in the air in Philadelphia. The idea grew and grew.

With a bit of consistency in my running, I beat my personal best at the 2010 Chicago Marathon.  I didn’t get into the threes like I wanted to. Remember, anything can happen on race day. My right hamstrings gave me issues on Halsted Street. My calf cramped up again around mile 18. In the end, I did things right that day: the preparation, self-care on the course, and managing the race. I think I can do this.

I thought I could train for a faster time but I didn’t. The years following weren’t so good to me and running.  I strained my right foot in 2011. My heels started to be a constant problem from 2012 until the summer of 2014. I volunteered to lead a training group for CARA in 2012 and 2013 to help people prepare for their marathon while I reduced the speed of my runs.  I feel like I didn’t heel quickly because of a lot of false starts and misdirected energy. I thought about cross training with NIU’s triathlon club but I pushed too hard too soon.  With some time off and building my mileage and intensity gradually, I’ve been running with very little pain. Each run seems to give me more energy and more strength.  I feel like these injuries are behind me.

I learned a few things these past years. I feel like it’s time to chase a unicorn and qualify for the Boston Marathon. I can do this. I’m ready.

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2014 Chicago Marathon Spectator Recap


After volunteering at the start corral, I walked back to my little red wagon to charge my phone and eat my second breakfast. I could barely keep my eyes open and fell asleep looking at the course map.  After my quick cat nap, headed out on the course to cheer on the marathoners and hunt down Chris and DC.

There were three good opportunities to find them.  The first location was between mile 15 and 16. I hoped to see Chris or DC. After estimating their time based of the run tracker report on my phone, I decided to walk to mile 18. Mile 18 is one of the best places to find a runner.  The field thins out between Malcolm X College and UIC. By the time runners get to Little Italy, they slowed down for water, port-a-potties, gels, and to stretch aching muscles.

I found Chris at mile 18. He appeared to be walking to work something out. My calves cramped up right before mile 18 of every Chicago Marathon I participated.  I understood his walk. “Chris!” I yelled out. I ran to him to give him a double high five. I started to talk with him. Then we trotted. We began to run together.  His spirit was high.  He looked really good at this point of the race.

He seemed to power up while I was running next to him. I told him he was doing a great job. I pointed out how he looked good. He still had a good running form.  We chatted.  He didn’t stop. I took a photo of Chris. I photographed the course along the way. We even took a selfie together. I ran on the sidewalk. I ran beside him when possible. I walked behind the water stations so I don’t interfere with a runner’s opportunity to grab fluids and energy. I accompanied him for 3.25 miles I thought were the roughest for me and where I wish I had someone nudging me forward.  I ran with him on the part of the course that was light on spectators and runners.  During those miles with Chris, I asked myself, “Am I a bandit or am I just supporting my cousin?”

I left him right before Chinatown. The course narrows a bit in Chinatown.  The huge crowd breathes new energy into the runners.  There’s no room to run on the sidewalks. I wanted to find DC. Chris got this in the bag.  He looked great. The race turned down Wentworth and into the heart of Chinatown.  I continued on the sidewalk down Cermak Road.  I hoped to find DC along Michigan Avenue at mile 23 or mile 24.

At this point, I was starving! It was time for lunch. While walking down Cermak Road, I stopped by a little pizza place for a slice. I was so hungry and the slice tasted so good.  If I move back to the city, I would definitely visit that place again. The neighborhood has changed so much since my brother attended IIT.  The projects were torn down. New buildings with shops popped up.  Where was this development when this area needed these jobs?  I digress. My hunger was satisfied. I went to Michigan Avenue to wait for DC.

I waited for DC. I saw Chris again.  I trotted with him and he told me that mile 23 was rough. I told him he was almost there and I’ll see him at Grant Park.  “Good job,” I thought. My phone vibrates.  The runner tracker alerted me that DC crossed the finish line.  She finished much sooner than I estimated. I walked back towards Grant Park to find Chris and give him a ride back home. So many runners were fighting to get to the finish line.  Their shirts told me why they were running. Their expressions showed me what they were feeling.  Pain is temporary. Glory is forever.

It was a long day but very fulfilling. I gave back and paid it forward. I supported my cousin and friends the way my brother supported me during my first marathon. My feet hurt as if I ran the entire distance with these marathoners. My legs were sore from all the walking. Chris and I found each other after negotiating the maze of fences and obstacles in Grant Park. We walked backed to the little red wagon and talked about the race. On our way home we chatted about family, weddings, running, work, etc.  This has been one of the most memorable marathons I have been involved in.

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2014 Chicago Marathon Volunteer Recap


I slammed on the snooze button. It’s two-thirty in the morning. Why did I have to up so early on a Sunday?  It was race day. The Chicago Marathon began in five hours. I thought I would never have to wake up unusually early for a race again but there I was peeling myself off of my bed. So many volunteers make large events like the Chicago Marathon happen. Volunteering was a way for me to give back and give forward to the running community.  Last year I was a co-key volunteer with my friend VM to work the late finish line. This year, I woke up early to volunteer at the start corral.

When I arrived at the volunteer compound, they assigned me to the Jackson crosswalk. Runners started trickling in at around 5:30a.  The morning remained peaceful. The push rim wheelchair athletes rolled by us with their race chairs in tow. The sun finally woke up and a flurry of people started coming in. We (the volunteers) had to answer a variety of questions as best as we can. The most frequently asked question was, “Where is the bathroom?”

One thing I learned that morning was that fast runners are just like the rest of us. A few marathoners in the American Development corral (AKA- the wicked fast corral that isn’t quite the elite professional corral) were coming in within minutes of the walkway and corrals. I would have thought they’d get there early to warm up, mentally prep, and make sure everything is order.  Nope. Like many of us, they came in at the last minute. They raced to the gates to get to the race so they can get into their corrals to start the race.

We finally closed the crosswalk. The first wave marched towards the starting line. We started preparing for the second wave to start the Chicago Marathon. After moving the barriers and the discarded clothing, the crosswalk volunteers helped the Corral F volunteers. I jumped behind the Corral F rope to lead the second wave out.  To my left was a fellow volunteer.  To might right was a marathon that had a goal to run ten marathons in ten years.  It’s an admirable goal and he was excited to complete it. As we slowly approached the starting line, I could feel the energy in the air behind me. We paused halfway down our walk. The wait felt like forever, the gentleman next to me decided it was time to shed his warm layers.  I helped him remove his pants caught on his shoe. Once it was removed, I freed the pavement of his grey warmup pants and tossed it aside.  I aimed to have it drape over the corral fence. I tossed and scored.  I got cheers from runners around me. Remember, I’m a pro at the toss.  I’ve participated in five Chicago Marathons. I’ve seen people do this before.

At the starting line, we pulled the rope in front of wave 2.  The volunteers were instructed to enter a boxed off area for us to watch the second (and best!) wave start the race. The race officials released the runners. We gave them high fives, side fives, wished them good luck, and told them to run happy. Runners walked past us adjusting their gear. They checked and prepared their fitness monitors. Many of them let us know their appreciation by saying “Thank you volunteers! Thank you!” as they headed to the starting line. Hearing their appreciation and seeing their smiling faces reminded me why waking up at 2:30 in the morning was worth it.

It still felt weird being on the other side of the fence.  I volunteered last year as the co-key volunteer at the late finish line. However, this year was different.  I stood in front of the starting line. I witnessed the nervousness and excitement on the faces and body language of each runner next to me.  I wanted to run with them.  I was there to cheer them on.

The start corral emptied out. We tore down the starting line and prepared to give it back to the city of Chicago. We pulled down signs. We tore off the fabric fencing attached to the barriers. It was efficiently loaded onto trucks. The white barriers were pushed into groups for easy collection. Volunteers cleaned up the aftermath of a marathon start. Volunteers collected discarded clothing so it can be donated. We piled full garbage bags neatly into bags for garbage trucks to pick up.

During the start, I saw DS walk to the starting line.  I called his name but he was so focused.  I tapped his arm as he walked by.  He looked back and I gave him the thumbs up. I was so happy to see him ready to kick some asphalt. Now that the corrals were cleared, it’s time for me to find Chris and DC.

Do I find Chris and DC during the race? Do I fall asleep under a tree and miss the entire marathon? Come back on Thursday to find out!

Posted in Running, Volunteering | 2 Comments

Return to Running and a Race Recap

I missed race day morning while I was injured.  The day wakes up. Chicago stirs from her sleep.  The sunrise kisses the skyline. The warm glow on her face takes my breath. The excitement and nervous energy of a race disrupts the stillness of a peaceful morning. I missed it and I’m glad to be back.

I find myself standing at the corner of Monroe and Columbus waiting for JB. It is her first half marathon.  You can feel the slight dread and worry.  She’s a fitness enthusiast who wanted to cross off the half marathon off of her bucket list.  She asked a number of our former co-workers to run her for moral support and to celebrate afterward.  I signed up when the others agreed to run. One had a change of plans due to an opportunity of a lifetime. The others did not follow through. It was just me and JB. I’m broken and she was worried about the distance.

The Rock and Roll Chicago is my first race since nagging injuries sidelined me.  Over the past two years, I registered for races but was unable to get to the starting line.  I couldn’t run without teeth-grinding pain since November 2013. Late May, I found myself wrapped around a tree along the Fox River Trail in Saint Charles, IL.  The injuries caused so much pain during last year’s events.  I shouldn’t have participated in those races.  I felt fear and excitement that morning.  I miss race day morning but am I ready to complete 13.1 miles?

I strung multiple days of running for the first time only a week before the race.  JB asked me to run with her for the entire distance at a ten minute pace.  Everyone else in her group bailed on her.  I stood alone but I’m still getting over an injury. I feared that pace because I didn’t want to lose another year of running. After a brief discussion, we agreed on a plan.  I will run at least 4 miles with her at a 10:30 minute pace and the fall back to around a 12 minute pace.

The race went well.  It unfolded as planned.  After mile four, I felt good and ran another two miles with her. Music finally arrived after a six mile absence. (The stage outside the Chicago Theater and at Daley Plaza was empty.) The music motivated me to maintain this pace.  I knew I can keep this pace but why? I’m just getting out of bad injury streak. I should just enjoy and complete the race, hear the music, and love the run. After cooling down and stretching, I felt like I could run another four miles.

I’ve been so happy to finish this race. I just have to temper my excitement so I don’t reinjure myself. I completed four full weeks of quality running since July 14. I feel amazing right now. Using my body and feeling the soreness after a run reminds me that I’m alive. I really need to thank JB for getting me out on the course.  She provided the impetus to get me running again. Without her, I still would be too timid to run.



Chip Time- 02:24:14 (hr:mm:ss) , Average Pace- 11:00min/mi

5km- 34:10; 10km- 01:04:33 ; 10mi- 1:47:52; 10.5mi- 1:54:12;



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Declare Your Independence

Free yourself. Free yourself from naysayers. Free yourself from yourself. Free yourself from the status quo that brings the human spirit down. We are created equal. However, the weight of burden added throughout the years is placed unequally on each individual. Unburden yourself from years of baggage people placed on you and rise to your greatest potential. You have the strength and power within you to do amazing things with your life when the yoke is removed and you can run free.

Observe. Listen. Understand. Love. Unleash your greatness on the world as you humbly assist your fellow human achieve their greatness. Judgement can not build something great nor can blame.  Judgement only leads to walls and animosity. Live a life of love and acceptance.
Be confident. Be bold.  Dream grand dreams that stir the soul and and take action. Lay a foundation based on your dreams, passions, values, and sound principles. Hold your dreams tight embrace. Nurture it, care for it, and allow it to grow.

Pledge your lives, fortunes, and sacred honor on your independence. Only when we can free ourselves can we do great things. Declare your independence from those who shackle you. Free yourself the cramped box people put your in.

We can build and do beautiful and amazing things when we are free.

–Markemmanuel F. Rodriguez

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Summer Goals

I dedicate this summer to tying loose ends and begin writing the meat of this chapter of my life. The key to living you dream is to live it right now by creating achievable goals, break the goals down into tasks, and work on those tasks in a timely matter. This summer, I build a strong foundation to build success in my fitness, career, and travel.

Health and Fitness

I want to run in the 2017 Boston Marathon. I want to complete the 2015 American Birkebeiner in a reasonable time (approximately five hours).  I’ve been riddled with injuries over the three years and a recent bike accident complicates things.  It’s still painful to run. I miss my long rides through the woods and along the lakefront. I need to start slow and build steadily.  I’m essentially starting from scratch. I’ll be continuing my fitness journey by developing healthy habits. Consistency is the key to getting healthier.

Taking the first step seems to be the most difficult part of getting fit. You and I haven’t built the momentum to make exercising and eating well automatic.  Once we get off our behinds and start moving towards our goals, the momentum builds. I’ve read it takes three to four weeks to develop a habit. Each week I’ll be building upon the previous week’s successes and errata.

My fitness goal for July is to be active at least 30 minutes a day and include at least one healthy meal a day. Exercise can be as simple as walking.

In August, I will build on the prior month and increase my investment in health.

Skill, Work, and Funding

This moment in my life provides me a great opportunity to sharpen and improve my skill set. I made time invest in my knowledge base.  If I don’t use it, I’ll lose it.  Every day, I will invest a bit of time reviewing the fundamentals of economic theory and its applications.  I will spend time working on algebra and calculus problems.  I’ll be going over my econometrics coursework to reinforce what I learned.

I also need to find funding for my fabulous dreams.  I want to earn the resources by doing something that fulfilling and flexible.  I’d like to do work that reflects my dreams and values.  It could be a starter or phase one job that could lead to something bigger and better. It could be a stream of income that I build on my own.

I hope to find fulfilling work by the end of August.  I want to work on building my own business based on my interests and skills. I will treat my time as if I’m working a 60 hour work week and distribute it accordingly.

Planning for Next Year

I’ll be spending a few hours a week planning next year’s adventures and execute the plan to achieve those goals. I hope to have this planned by the end of August. I mapped out a general plan. I want to add some depth and texture to it. I’m trying to solve a puzzle with a lot of pieces.  How can I train for a marathon, travel and explore, and earn resources at the same time?  Hopefully, I can find and execute a creative solution. It’s achievable if I believe in myself.  First, I need to take the first step towards where I want to go.


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