Monday, March 26, 2018

Featured Running Event - Shamrock Shuffle Experience

Race : Shamrock Shuffle
Distance : 8k
Location : Starts in Grant Park, circles the streets of downtown Chicago, Ends in Grant Park

Going to take a different approach to this entry - diary style-ish

Before the sun comes up, 10s of thousands (literally), Chicagoans and Suburbanites get up and start to get ready to run.
Before THAT, the volunteers have already left their houses
Gear Check opens before the sun rises
Automated announcements can be heard throughout Grant Park as the sun comes up
People start arriving
Many head to the post-race area to get amazing pictures of the sun rising over beautiful Lake Michigan
Starting as early at 7:00am, runners get to their start corrals
Many others continue to walk around Grant Park as a method of stretching
At some point after 8:00am, many get their "Over 21 Wristbands" to avoid the crowd later
By 8:30am the first wave (about 10,000 runners) takes off
By 9:00am the next wave (about 10,000 runners) takes off
And around 9:30am, the walkers begin their 2-mile lakefront walk
At each of these intervals a sea of green takes over the streets, people dressed as leprechauns, as pots of gold, just all in green, and even in kilts, take off running
At some point between sunrise and 8:30am, hundreds and hundreds of volunteers have staffed aid stations and intersections and whatnot
Also, at some point, thousands (yes, for real) spectators, fans, relatives, friends have lined the streets to cheer somebody - or anybody - on
The race heads north and almost immediately does a classic Chicago thing - goes underground - as runners go under Wacker Drive and under some buildings
As runners go underground - fans standing on Randolph look down and cheer the runners as they disappear
Runners emerge and go over the recently green-dyed river and enter River North - another classic Chicago icon
Runners then cross the river again - in case anybody missed seeing the green river even more green than normal
The race then heads south into Da Loop (or The Loop) with spectators all over the place
The race turns West on Jackson (part of Historic Route 66)
And then turns again at the iconic Chicago Board of Trade and heads north on the "Financial Valley" (a term for LaSalle Street as it feels like a valley)
Eventually the race turns West again and then South on Franklin
And then - runners get to see another great icon - The Sears Tower - as they run towards it, and then past it
Runners then go under an expressway (or the ending of one at least - Congress Parkway) and turn back East
Runners then head south on another well known Chicago street - Michigan Avenue
And then, just to make runners miserable (ha) - they go uphill on Roosevelt Road, and then head downhill to the finish line.
It's like an tourists ultimate tour of sights - an architectural tour of epic portions - all while running 4.97 miles (or even more if you don't run the tangents)
Then comes the after party
Runners grab their gear and head to Buckingham Fountain (still turned off for the season)
Once there they get a free beer
But even better - there is a live band, that plays from 9:30am until 12:30pm.  The stage is set up on the East end of the Fountain area (facing West)
This means, while the band plays, beautiful Lake Michigan is the backdrop
And, the panoramic view includes the Adler Planetarium, Navy Pier, Sears Tower, Prudential Building, Historic Michigan Avenue, and the ENTIRE Chicago Skyline!
While the rock band takes a break, the world famous Shannon Rovers Marching Pipe Band marches out to the front of the stage
There they play traditional Irish / Scottish songs on bagpipes, and also on drums
They finish by dedicating their final song to the Chicago PD and FD and all the Military - and they deliver a rendition of Amazing Grace than had grown men in tears!
Then the rock band returns and all the crowd sings and dances

There are so many stories within the stories to tell, like the guy yelling Freebird between Pipe Band songs, and someone replying with KevHeads Rule!  Or people from 21-71 years of age singing every word to every 80s song played on stage.  On, on track, the runners who stopped when a spectators child fell out of the stroller while clapping, to immediately assist the child and to block her from being run over/into.  To the never ending amazing outfits that people RAN in.  To the amazingly polite volunteers at so many areas - and all of the EMTs and Chicago PD that were throughout the course. 

All of this, by the way, happened before 12 Noon - and guess what, it was 27 degrees with a 35 mph wind coming off the Lake - and that bothered NOBODY!!!

This IS by far (not counting the Chicago Marathon), Chicago's best running event - period, hands down.  The most scenic route, the best post-race party, the best volunteers, and simply - the most fun!!!

And I'm sure I left out about 100 other really awesome details!!!!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Local Live Music Guide - March Onwards

As always, this is live music, times and dates may change.  Always check with the venue or the band to verify.

4/20 - Sad Monster Party (EP Release Party) - LiveWire Lounge, Chicago, IL
4/20 - The NATU Band - Full House, Moroa, IL
4/20 - Big Boppers & Friends - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
4/21 - Witchcross, Hellgrind, Trauma - Bada Brew, Crest Hill, IL
4/21 - The NATU Band - The 5th Quarter, East Moline, IL
4/26 - HandGrenades - The Loving Touch, Ferndale, MI
4/27 - The NATU Band - Timbuktu, Decatur, IL
4/27 - Big Boppers & Friends - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
4/29 - Cornerstones of Rock - Arcada Theatre, St. Charles, IL
5/1 - HandGrenades - CODA, Cleveland, OH
5/2 - HandGrenades - Tape Swap Session, Bethlehem, PA
5/3 - HandGrenades - Bourbon & Branch, Philadelphia, PA
5/4 - Jeff Givens & The Mugshot Saints - The Outtaspace, Berwyn, IL
5/4 - The NATU Band - Roca Bar, Evansville, IN
5/4 - HandGrenades - Rocket #9, Kingston, NY
5/4 - DirtyMac - Grape & Grain, Homewood, IL
5/4 - Big Boppers & Friends - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
5/5 - HandGrenades - Rockwood Music Hall - New York, New York
5/5 - Tynan - Jenny's Southside Tap, Mokena, IL
5/6 - HandGrenades - The Camel, Richmond, VA
5/8 - HandGrenades - The Velvet Lounge, Washington, DC
5/9 - HandGrenades - Howlers, Pittsburgh, PA
5/10 - HandGrenades - No Culture, Columbus, OH (afternoon)
5/10 - HandGrenades - Space Bar, Columbus, OH (night)
5/11 - Witchcross, Vatican, Axe Master - Empire Concert Club, Akron, OH
5/11 - The NATU Band - Top Shooters, Columbia, IL
5/11 - Big Boppers & Friends - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
5/11 - HandGrenades - Virginia Avenue Music Fest, Indianapolis, IN
5/12 - HandGrenades - Virginia Avenue Music Fest, Indianapolis, IN
5/12 - WireSky - Cairo Ale House, West Chicago, IL
5/13 - Herman's Hermits starring Peter Noone - Arcada Theatre, St. Charles, IL
5/15 - Alice in Chains - Riviera Theater, Chicago, IL
5/18 - The NATU Band - Stampede Saloon, Manteno, IL
5/18 - HandGrenades - The Pyramid Scheme, Grand Rapids, MI
5/18 - Big Boppers & Friends - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
5/19 - The NATU Band - Tailgaters Pub, Le Roy, IL
5/19 - Tynan - Jenny's Southside Tap, Mokena, IL
5/25 - The NATU Band - Bonifest, Edwardsville, IL
5/25 - HandGrenades - Be Here Now, Muncie, IN
5/25 - Big Boppers & Friends - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
5/25 - Bacchanal - Jenny's Southside Tap, Mokena, IL
5/26 - HandGrenades - American Dream Hi-Fi, Kokomo, IN
6/1 - Big Boppers & Friends - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
6/2 - The NATU Band - Homecoming Carnival, Lexington, IL
6/2 - Jeff Givens & The Mugshot Saints - Montrose Saloon, Chicago, IL
6/8 - Big Boppers & Friends - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
6/9 - The NATU Band - Moweaqua Pow Wow Festiva, Moweaqua, IL
6/9 - Bacchanal - Mister Mo's, Palos Heights, IL
6/15 - Big Boppers & Friends - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
6/15 - Off Kilter - Celtic Fest Ohio, Waynesville, OH
6/16 - Off Kilter - Celtic Fest Ohio, Waynesville, OH
6/17 - Off Kilter - Celtic Fest Ohio, Waynesville, OH
6/21 - Just Roll With It - Friendship Festival, Bourbonnais, IL
6/22 - Big Boppers & Friends - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
6/23 - The NATU Band - Make Music Normal Festival, Normal, IL
6/28 - The NATU Band - Curve Inn, Springfield, IL
6/29 - Big Boppers & Friends - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
7/6 - Big Boppers & Friends - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
7/7 - The Ides of March - Hoover Auditorium, Lakeside Marblehead, OH
7/13 - Big Boppers & Friends - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
7/14 - The NATU Band - Arpeggio Winery, Pana, IL
7/20 - Big Boppers & Friends - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
7/21 - Jeff Givens & The Mugshot Saints - Mix's Trading Post, Utica, IL
7/27 - The Ides of March - Prairie Fest, Wood Dale, IL
7/27 - Big Boppers & Friends - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
7/28 - Big Boppers - American Legion Hall, Hazel Crest, IL
9/21 - OZZY OSBOURNE - Hollywood Casino Amphitheater, Tinley Park, IL

Monday, March 5, 2018

Featured Running Event - The Endurance Trials

The Endurance Trials was an endurance event (as you could guess by the name) held on March 3 at West City Park in Festus, MO.  This was the inaugural event and drew at least 70 participants across all categories.  That is a phenomenal turnout for any endurance event, especially one in its very first year.

The location is the very scenic town park called West City Park.  From the course, one can see a train raised up in a hill, houses on a hill, a train just past the not-yet-blooming trees and bushes, 2 ponds, a large open grassy field, lots of trees, and some ballfields.  This is as Midwest as it can get - and that's a good thing!!!  If one wants to get a microcosm of a Midwest park, this would be it, perfectly.  The course even traverses a bridge between the 2 ponds.  To complete the scene, there were even people fishing in both ponds throughout the event.  Also on the property was a large playground area.  This was perfect for family members cheering on participants while trying to keep the young ones from getting bored watching grown adults run in circles for absolutely no apparent reason.

The event consisted of a 12-hour solo, 12-hour relay, 6-hour solo, 6-hour relay, and 1-hour solo.  With 3 staggered start times.  The 12-hour started at 5:00am, officially the earliest I've ever started a race, and the first 90 minutes or so required a headlamp.  The 6-hour started at 11:00am and finished with the 12-hour.  The 1-hour started at 9:00am.  Like any endurance race, everybody will be running at different speeds at different times.  It's very much like an endurance sports car race, and everybody needs to be aware of everybody else.  Communication is key - raising hand when slowing and the occasional "on your left" - and the very often said "great job".  With the staggered start times this added even more adventure as fresh legs met weary legs. Again, this adds to the excitement of the event, and in some cases also lends encouragement to the already road-weary participants.  In my case, I was near the finish line when the 1-hour started - so I used that for a quick fuel/rest stop, cheered on the start of their race, and fell in behind them - and kept up for about a lap.

The course was paved street with one decent sized hill and a gradual incline/decline for the rest of the .76 mile loop, where runners briefly jogged onto the grass to cross the scoring mat, and then back to the pavement.

Those are the specifics, now for the intangibles. 

For most of the 12-hours, starting with sunrise, music was played, and it could be heard throughout the loop, based on wind and outside noise.  The best part, and it worked out perfectly for where I was on the course, approaching the start/finish line - when the sun started to rise - the music was turned on - and it started with The Beatles "Here Comes The Sun".  That was a perfect touch!!!!

There was plenty of food at the aid station - brownies, cookies, bananas, oranges, energy bars, Trailwind drink, pop and ginger ale, cooked breakfast sandwiches and later cooked lunch sandwiches, chips, and a huge assortment.  The goodies table was at least 10 yards long!!

The positive attitude of the volunteers, the participants, and the timing company was phenomenal.  Like most endurance races, there were plenty of friendships made, plenty of on-course conversations with other participants, and tons and tons of encouragement from other participants as they passed or were passed.  It's one big family out there!!!

As mentioned earlier, this was the inaugural event, and from a participant point of view - it went off PERFECTLY.  All 3 races started exactly on-time.  There were no scoring errors, there was no confusion over the "rules" or setup, there was plenty of food and drink and porta-potties, and music.  I mean, this looked like something that had been established for 10 years!!!

Great job to everybody involved.  I highly recommend this event to any endurance runner/walker.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Featured Running Event of the Week - Valentine's Trail Run

Well, the full name is the Universal Sole Valentine's Train Run, but that's too long for the headline. The weather was the primary story, so let me start with the other stuff first, so it doesn't get overshadowed.
This was my first U-SOLE race, and I have to admit, it was a blast. They would say things like "Results in 30 U-Sole seconds, which means 2 minutes or more". It had snowed 12+ inches the night before - and at 30 minutes before race they announced "We have checked on the course conditions, and there is some snow". I can't even remember all the different funny one-liners before and after the race. This had all the great spirit of trail running, it's all about the outdoors, the adventure, and the fun. Given the conditions, setting up probably was more challenging than usual - but it didn't show. Race day packet pickup and registration went just fine. The finish line chute and timing devices were set up just fine. Everything went off like just another day - but with snow - lots of snow. The volunteers at the start/finish and on the course were awesome and all light-hearted and fun.
Because of conditions, they had to make an audible and remove some of the course, shortening it was 4.2 miles to 3.2 miles. But they politely explained it ahead of time, and nobody minded. They did a great job inspecting the course ahead of time (and marking it) and because of that, they could make the call.
Now the conditions - 12" or more of snow for the entire course. It was out-and-back - and even after being trampled on the "out", it was still at least 6-8" deep on the "back". Part of the course crossed a parking lot - and that involved going over or through the 36" snow pile created by the Forest Preserve plows. (side note : excellent job by the Forest Preserve, the roads and parking lots were driveable and well plowed and salted)
The course was grueling, even the most seasoned runners remarked on their slowest times. The course was basically flat, with some hills, but not much. But, traversing the deep snow, and then the single-wide paths made it very challenging. Jumping off the beaten path to slow down - or to pass - was difficult as the snow went from the padded down 8" to at least 12" - it was like swimming upstream when not on the single-wide well-trodden path. The path wound through the trees, in some spots single-wide between trees, across a parking lot, and through a prairie, and was actually quite scenic - almost like a Norman Rockwell winterscape.
The thing is - all of this challenge made it fun. Difficult, very difficult but fun, very fun. Everybody was smiling the entire race and laughing and joking. Even exhausted at the finish, people were crossing the line with Christmas morning smiles on their faces. This is what winter trail running is all about.
But even without the snow, this would have been a great race, thanks to great organization, a well marked trail, and fun and funny volunteers!!!! Universal Sole organizes several trail races, and I know I'll be back again!!!
Oh, and it ended with free beer and free chili - and everybody stuck around in the snow and cold and enjoyed the eats and drinks!!!
You can check them out on facebook at

Monday, January 8, 2018

Featured Running Event of the Week - AshleyCan Race Series

Going to do something a little different to start the season.  We are going to focus on a series of races (and other events).

The AshleyCan Pediatric Cancer Foundation Race Series....and more.

The AshleyCan Foundation raises money to find a cure for Childhood Cancer, and to raise awareness of this terrible disease, and to help qualified families who have been impacted.  All of the money raised from these events goes to St. Jude's Children's Hospital, other pediatric cancer efforts, and to qualified families impacted by this disease.  No profit is made from these events, the volunteers are not paid, and the Foundation Board is not paid.

These are all excellent races - and events - and are all very well organized.  The Board and their wonderful volunteers put everything they have into these events to make them successful.  If you live anywhere near the Bourbonnais/Bradley/Kankakee/Chicago Southland/Chicagoland area, I HIGHLY recommend you check out one - or more - of these events.  It's a great cause, and the events are great as well.

Details about the foundation and the events can be found at, along with a Contact Us option.

2018/2019 Season Running/Walking Events.  Races (and walks) of all different lengths and courses!

Sunday May 13 - Mother's Day 5k Run, 2 Mile Walk, Kids Fun Run - Perry Farm, Bourbonnais, IL
Saturday June 2 - Inaugural 24 Mile Walk For A Cure - TENTATIVE
Saturday July 7 - Ashley Forever 5k/10k Run, 2 Mile Walk - Hickory Creek-LaPorte, Mokena, IL
Sunday Sep 9 - Ashley Forever Half Marathon/10k/5k, Family Fun Run - Bourbonnais Municipal Center, Bourbonnais, IL
Tues Jan 1 2019 - New Year New Cure 8k - Bourbonnais Municipal Center, Bourbonnais, IL

Other great events

Friday Mar 9 - JamNight - Live Music and Prizes - Glass Tap, Steger, IL
Saturday June 16 - Inaugural 15/25/50/75/100 Mile Bike Ride - TENTATIVE
TBD - Charity Motorcycle Run

For TBD/TENTATIVE items, check webpage link above for further details as they are announced.

This is an important cause, and these are great events!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Featured Live Artist of the Week : Jeff Givens and The Mugshot Saints

Over the Holiday Season, I had a chance to catch Jeff Givens & The Mugshot Saints performing in Joliet at a Toy Drive Benefit.  I hadn't seen them before, though I had recently been listening to their most recent CD, "Bleeding Ink".

I try not to categorize original bands, because each band is their own band, they have their own sound and their own dynamics.  But if I absolutely had to categorize this band, it would be Pure Americana Rock.  There are elements of new country, old country, Mellencamp, southern rock, and good old fashioned rock & roll.  Some songs lean towards one style, others towards another, and some a perfect blend of all of them, or some combination of them.  It's a blend of everything that is good about music. 

The live band consisted of a bass guitar, a 6-string guitar, drums, a frontman/lead vocalist, and a female vocalist taking lead on some songs and harmony on others - and always keeping the frontman in check (and I mean that in a totally fun way).  Speaking of keeping Mr. Givens in line, he's actually fine, but they are a fun band, and he gets up there telling some awesome stories between songs, and being funny, and Jennifer sometimes has to reel him back in.  But, that's part of the fun of their live show - it's the interaction on stage.  This band IS a family, and it completely comes through in a very positive way.  Not just in their playing, where they seamlessly follow each other's leads perfectly, creating a perfect blend of instruments, but also in between songs when they chat to the audience.  Every member plays off of each other perfectly, and it's just like watching a bunch of good friends, or a family, having fun on stage.  And, it's contagious.  All of that brings out something that is very critical in music, that some bands miss, and that's emotion.  You can feel the songs, feel the music.  That's not an easy thing to accomplish.

Now to the music, their originals sound just as good live as they do on the CD, and that takes, not just talent, but a tight cohesive band on stage.  They also played covers, including some surprises like a Dolly Partn cover, Santa Baby, and Run Run Rudolph.  On their other covers, instead of the same-ol-same-ol, they pick some deep cuts from well known artists, which was quite refreshing. Oh, wow, I forgot to mention on some songs, they even have a harp.  No, not that giant string instrument...a harmonica a true blue Chicago blues sound!!!  The harmonica blends in perfectly with the rest of the music and comes and goes as needed, perfectly.  Anybody familiar with music knows that it takes effort to make it look effortless.  Watching this band, it all looks natural and effortless, though I full-well know that comes from dedication and practice and honing their craft.  This band, every member, is part of a well-rounded accomplished tight band of friends.

The band currently has three CDs out - Bleeding Ink (their current one), Midnight in Muscle Shoals, and Bourbon Cowboy.  I would suggest picking up all three, all produced by band member Jason Botka.

Picked up a new saying that night, by the way, "Holla & Swalla" - raise your drinks, give a hollar, and drink up!!!

PS.  Gotta love a band that wrote an entire song about Jimmy's in Da Heights.....

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Local Live Music Guide - 2018!!!

This is only a guide - always check with the venue or the band to confirm.  This is live music - things can definitely change.

2/2 - Low Voltage - Mainstreet Bar & Grill, Hopkins, MN
2/2 - Big Boppers & Guests - Mama and Me's Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
2/3 - The NATU Band - 5th Quarter Sports Bar, East Moline, IL
2/3 - Groove Candy - 5th Quarter Tap/Press Eatery Room, Homewood, IL
2/9 - Jeff Givens & The Mugshot Saints - Reggie's, Chicago, IL
2/9 - Big Boppers & Guests - Mama and Me's Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
2/10 - Dennis DeYoung - Genesee Theater, Waukegan, IL
2/10 - Jeff Givens & The Mugshot Saints - Grape & Grain, Homewood, IL
2/10 - Charlie FoxTrot - Rod & Gun Club, Bruceville, IN
2/10 - The NATU Band - Kevin's Backstage Bar & Grill, Evansville, IN
2/10 - Kashmir - Austin's Fuel Room, Libertyville, IL
2/13 - Big Boppers - Chicago Heights West Golf Course Banquet Hall, Chicago Heights, IL
2/16 - Big Boppers & Guests - Mama and Me's Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
2/16 - Wiresky - O'Connell's Pub Time, Blue Island, IL
2/17 - Jeff Givens & The Mugshot Saints - Friendly Tap, Berwyn, IL
2/17 - The NATU Bad - Castle Theater, Bloomington, IL
2/17 - DirtyMac - Grape & Grain, Homewood, IL
2/17 - Sniper - Cuzin's, Tinley Park, IL
2/23 - The NATU Band - Commodore Grill, Nashville, TN
2/23 - Big Boppers & Guests - Mama and Me's Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
2/23 - Kashmir - Smokestack Brew, Mishawaka, IN
2/24 - The NATU Band - Whiskey Room Live, Franklin, TN
2/24 - Time Bandits - Tracy's Tavern, Clarendon Hills, IL
2/24 - Kashmir - The Forge, Joliet, IL
2/24 - World Golden Memories - Peck School of the Arts, Milwaukee, WI
2/24 - The Kingsnakes Old School - Bottom's Up, Lansing, IL
2/26 - Jeff Givens & The Mugshot Saints - Rialto Square, Joliet, IL
2/28 - Phil Angotti & Friends - Montrose Saloon, Chicago, IL
3/2 - Big Boppers & Guests - Mama and Me's Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
3/2 - We Came As Romans, The Plot In You - The Forge, Joliet, IL
3/3 - The NATU Band - Pop's Place, Decatur, IL
3/9 - 2nd Annual AshleyCan Pediatric Cancer Foundation Jam Night - Glass Tap, Steger, IL

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Featured Live Event of the Week - "A Christmas Story : Live"

Yeah, I know, we are normally on hiatus, but being Christmas and all..........
Spoiler-free review
A Christmas Story Live was shown live on the Fox Network on 12/17 (and hopefully will be sold on DVD at some point) and filmed on the famous Warner Brothers Lot in Burbank, California.
Some personal background. Years ago, a film called “Scrooged”, a modern day adaptation of A Christmas Carol had a plot centered around the live filming of A Christmas Carol. I always thought that was a really cool idea and would love to have seen that as a real thing, not just a fictitious plot in a movie. Background part 2 – A Christmas Story is my absolute, hands-down, favorite Christmas Movie ever. Ever.
So, I was very excited to see this come true. Admittedly, I also was concerned, I didn’t want anything to even remotely tarnish the memory of my most favorite Christmas movie. So, I went in with excitement, and hesitation. And I was NOT disappointed.
I don’t want to say much, because I don’t want to spoil the experience in any way, as I hope people will have the opportunity to view it later, perhaps on DVD or rerun or both. But I do want to say – the crew did an OUTSTANDING job turning a backlot in sunny California into the cold winter town of Holman, Indiana. Within minutes, the viewer would easily believe this was filmed on location.
The major, and most glaring difference (no spoiler) between this and the movie is that this was also part-musical. And guess worked!!! The musical numbers fit perfectly.
The script stayed true to not only the original movie, but also to the chapter in Jean Shepherd’s book, and was an excellent vision of both, without being a rerun of either.
The choice to cast Matthew Broderick as the narrator (or grown-up Ralphie) was simply genius!!! I can’t even imagine it being done by anybody else after watching it.
The cast was tremendous and talented and engaging to watch. I’d like to tell you about some clever nuances, but I won’t as I don’t want to bring any spoiler to this review at all.
For some reason, for me, the ending, after they had dinner, was particularly touching, I can’t put my finger on it, but like the original movie, this will also live in my Christmas memories forever.
Some would say that I might be one of the toughest critics of this venture, being that it is my favorite Christmas movie and I have yearned for such a concept since seeing Scrooged. So, with that in mind, I would have to say, I HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend the viewing of this should it come around in some repeat fashion – and if it becomes available on DVD, it’s worth the purchase!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Our long-standing Holiday Tradition - Erika Amato's "A Merry Little Christmas"

[We first published this in December of 2014, and we republished in December of 2015, and again in December 2016, and again this year] 

Why do we keep republishing this?  Because in my honest opinion, this is the best Christmas CD I have ever - ever - ever owned.
In the past, we have focused on Live Performances in this feature - but this week we are going to focus on a CD and a singer.

I have only seen Erika Amato perform live in a stage version of Flashdance - and on TV on stage at "The Bronze" with her band, Velvet Chain.  I was uber-impressed both times!  Heck, if it wasn't for that show at "The Bronze", I never would have discovered Velvet Chain.

About a year or two ago, I purchased a solo CD that Erika did called "A Merry Little Christmas" - which is available online here (the official Velvet Chain/Erika Amato webpage).

This is BY FAR THE BEST Christmas album I have ever heard since I was a kid.  It's not fair to compare this to the Christmas albums of my childhood, as those will always have a special place in my heart and will always bring back memories.  But, "A Merry Little Christmas" by Erika Amato is the best collection of Christmas songs I have heard since then - hands down - period - no discussion!

It's not just the selection of songs, but Erika's amazing, dare I say it - Angelic- voice coupled with amazing music, that makes this CD great.  The CD consists of absolutely beautiful (a word I only use when absolutely necessary, like now) music and an amazingly beautiful voice that just becomes one with the music.  It's like music+singer=perfection.

The sound is a great combination of classical and jazz - and even some rock, with piano, strings, brass, and probably instruments I am not trained enough to appreciate.  I can't say this enough, absolutely perfectly arranged around and together with Erika's absolutely amazing - angelic - voice.

It's not just the obvious talent that shines here, but the Christmas feeling is embedded in the music and the vocals.  It's not just some singer covering Christmas tunes - it IS Christmas.  The Christmas spirit can be felt within these songs - these songs bring Christmas to life.  There is no way to listen to this CD and not be filled with the Christmas spirit.  No lie - I could play this CD non-stop from Thanksgiving until New Year's and never grow tired of it - never.

My personal favorite (thought they are all my favorites, but if I had to choose) is "Christmastime Is Here", a song many will recognize from the Charlie Brown Christmas movies. It is probably the best rendition I have ever heard and is done with complete respect for the original.  (Of course, I won't lie - the Charlie Brown version will always be my most favorite - but WOW does this come close to replacing it in my heart!)

Songs on the CD :
White Christmas
Santa Baby
What Child Is This?
Merry Christmas Darling
Carol Of The Bells
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree
Silver Bells
Christmastime Is Here
O Holy Night
The Christmas Song

Again - this is available online at the Erika Amato's official site

Merry Christmas everybody!!!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Local Live Music Guide - December Edition

This is only a guide - always check with the venue or the band to confirm.  This is live music - things can definitely change.

12/1 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
12/2 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
12/2 - Jeff Givens & The Mugshot Saints - Jaxx Bar, Glendale Heights, IL
12/2 - Charlie FoxTrot - Main Street Pub, Robinson, IL
12/2 - Rockingbirds - Johnny's Bar, Dearborn, MI
12/2 - Modern Day Romeos - MT Barrels, Schaumburg, IL
12/2 - Kashmir - Brat Stop, Kenosha, WI
12/5 - Big Boppers opening for Carpenter's Cristmas Show - Freedom Hall, Park Forest, IL
12/7 - Big Boppers - Grape & Grain, Homewood, IL
12/8 - Dear John - Ballydoyle's, Downers Grove, IL
12/8 - Acoustiholics - Suzy's Bar & Grill, Yorkville, IL
12/8 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
12/8 - Hed(pe) at Dark Days of Christmas - Bada Brew, Crest Hill, IL
12/9 - Adam's Jam Night - Carola's Hansa Clipper, Chicago, IL
12/9 - Sniper - Finnegan's Pub, Dyer, IN
12/9 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
12/9 - Kashmir - Twisted Rose, Algonquin, IL
12/10 - Falstrom & Friends - 1 Fine Tune, Homewood, IL
12/14 - The What5 - Fitzgerald's Nightclub, Berwyn, IL
12/15 - 4th Annual Night Ministry Christmas with the Beatles Glove Drive feat. Danny Donuts & Crabby Road Band, Yellow SubMorons, Sgt. Sauerkraut's Polka Band, Meet The Beatles - Harry's Sports Bar & Grill, Countryside, IL
12/15 - White Phoenix - Bada Brew, Crest Hill, IL
12/15 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
12/16 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
12/16 - Jeff Givens & The Mugshot Saints (Toy Donation Party) - Chicago Street Pub, Joliet, IL
12/16 - The Ides Of March - Arcada Theater, St. Charles, IL
12/16 - Liquid Monday - Bottom's Up, Lansing, IL
12/16 - Kashmir - Redemption Nightclub & Lounge, Crestwood, IL
12/16 - Traditional Andean Wind Instruments w/ Jose Luis Contreras - Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, IL
12/22 - Epic - Hollywood Casino, Joliet, IL
12/22 - Kashmir - Diamond Joe Mississippi Moon Bar, Dubuque, IA
12/22 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
12/23 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
12/23 - Rockingbirds - Father Saylor's Knights of Columbus, Allen Park, MI
12/23 - Kashmir - MT Barrels, Schaumburg, IL
12/27 - Melody Mart Adult Jam Session - Melody Mart, Homewood, IL
12/29 - Epic - MT Barrels, Schaumburg, IL
12/29 - Jeff Massey from Steepwater Band - J. Martin's Tap, Steger, IL
12/30 - Kashmir - Park Theater, Holland, MI
12/31 - Kashmir - Ballydoyle's, Downers Grove, IL
1/5 - Low Voltage - Dugout Bar, Mahtomedi, MN
1/20 - Jim Peterik's World Stage - Wentz Hall at North Central College, Naperville, IL
2/10 - Dennis DeYoung - Genesee Theater, Waukegan, IL
2/10 - Charlie FoxTrot - Rod & Gun Club, Bruceville, IN
3/9 - 2nd Annual AshleyCan Pediatric Cancer Foundation Jam Night - Glass Tap, Steger, IL

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Featured Live Artist of the Week - "Marie Christine"

Yes, I know this is normally our Holiday Hiatus time - but some entries just need to be written.

This particular BoHo Theatre presentation took place at the Theater Wit, located in Chicago’s Lake View Neighborhood.  The Theater Wit has 3 theaters within the building.  On this evening “Marie Christine” was performed in Theater 1, which has about 10 rows on inclined seating.  The chairs are theater quality comfortable chairs, and the sightlines are great from any row.  My guess, the back row is at most 10 yards away from the stage.  The Theater Wit itself was a great venue, polite workers, bar with alcoholic and non-alcoholic offerings, and patrons can pre-order their intermission drink, and it will be waiting for them during intermission.

Now, onto the play.  In order to give the best representation of the story, I will borrow from the BoHo Theater website :

Set in the twilight years of the 19th century, this dark musical chronicles the journey of Marie Christine, a racially mixed woman imprisoned without a trial to face death. From her jail cell, she recounts her journey from a genteel life of privilege in New Orleans Creole society through love, betrayal, and incomprehensible vengeance, to her final tragic fate. Inspired by the Medea myth, this tale of dark magic and raw emotion is loosely based on the life of real-life voodoo practitioner Marie Laveau.

As for the specific performance – amazing and spectacular – are the words that come to mind.  The cast is around a dozen people, some of them playing multiple characters, especially when the setting switches from New Orleans to Chicago.  Although the eye recognizes them by appearance, they do an excellent job, immediately, becoming the new character, and there isn’t any “wasn’t he or she so-and-so 5 minutes ago”.  THAT takes talent.  The set stays the same for the entire show with various props moving in and out (by the performers as part of the scene) as needed, but not many.  The performers do a great job setting the scene with music and words, where one can actually see the open field or the ballroom or whatever in their mind.  An added clever touch was the location of the live musicians.  Instead of being off to the side, or in a pit (this place doesn’t have a pit), or hidden behind a wall somewhere, they are carefully placed behind a wall with open doors.  So, when the play starts, the doors open, and the musicians (dressed in black) are there – but not there.  Patrons can see them if they want to, they are in plain sight, but simultaneously, they are not there and in no way distract from the scene.  It’s a very clever approach.

The show has some moments of chuckles and even a couple of real-life laugh-out-louds, but is primarily a serious and dramatic musical.  Great references to Chicago, and anybody who understands the inner workings of Chicago, will find that portion especially amusing and real.  To be quite honest, within the first 10-15 minutes of this 2 hour performance, I was fully vested in the main character and found all of the characters to be very believable and real.  It wasn’t difficult to actually feel for the characters, and that speaks volumes about the performers.

The sound and lighting were superb as well, the entire crew deserves the same kudos that the performers and musicians receive.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Local Live Music - Nov/Dec Edition

This is only a guide - always check with the venue or the band to confirm.  This is live music - things can definitely change.

11/9 - Love, Chicago : A Benefit Concert for Mexico & Puerto Rico, Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, IL
11/10 - HandGrenades - Mac's Bar, Lansing, MI
11/10 - Time Bandits - Tracy's Tavern, Clarendon Hills, IL
11/10 - Krewella - Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, IL
11/10 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
11/11 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
11/11 - Time Bandits - Old Town Pub, Crestwood, IL
11/11 - Susan Williams Band - Porkchop, Glenwood, IL
11/11 - 95th Street Band - Slapshots, Midlothian, IL
11/12 - Finding God in Popular Music - St. Raymond de Penafort Parish, Mount Prospect, IL
11/17 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
11/17 - Snow Leopard Love Affair, Underclass, Big Sky Hunters, Feedback Friends - Bada Brew, Crest Hill, IL
11/18 - Sniper - Mister Mo's, Palos Heights, IL
11/18 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
11/18 - Cornerstones of Rock - Coronado Theatre, Rockford, IL
11/18 - Charlie FoxTrot - The Port, Bridgeport, IL
11/22 - Low Voltage - Mainstreet Bar & Grill, Hopkins, MN
11/22 - Kashmir - Q Sports Bar & Grill, Darien, IL
11/24 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
11/25 - Sopro's Annual Thanksgiving All-Star Blues Revue - Cheers, Midlothian, IL
11/25 - Cornerstones of Rock - Arcada Theater, St. Charles, IL
11/26 - Old School Jam Night - Lynwood Skating Rink, Lynwood, IL
11/29 - Big Boppers - Melody Mart Adult Jam Session, Homewood, IL
12/1 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
12/2 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
12/2 - Charlie FoxTrot - Main Street Pub, Robinson, IL
12/2 - Modern Day Romeos - MT Barrels, Schaumburg, IL
12/8 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
12/8 - Hed(pe) at Dark Days of Christmas - Bada Brew, Crest Hill, IL
12/9 - Sniper - Finnegan's Pub, Dyer, IN
12/9 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
12/9 - Kashmir - Buddy & Pal's, Crown Point, IN
12/15 - 4th Annual Night Ministry Christmas with the Beatles Glove Drive feat. Danny Donuts & Crabby Road Band, Yellow SubMorons, Sgt. Sauerkraut's Polka Band, Meet The Beatles - Harry's Sports Bar & Grill, Countryside, IL
12/15 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
12/16 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
12/16 - The Ides Of March - Arcada Theater, St. Charles, IL
12/16 - Liquid Monday - Bottom's Up, Lansing, IL
12/22 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
12/23 - Big Boppers w/ Special Guests - Mama & Me Pizzeria, Homewood, IL
12/27 - Big Boppers - Melody Mart Adult Jam Session, Homewood, IL
12/29 - Jeff Massey from Steepwater Band - J. Martin's Tap, Steger, IL
12/29 - Kashmir - The Forge, Joliet, IL
12/31 - Kashmir - Ballydoyle's, Downers Grove, IL
1/20 - Jim Peterik's World Stage - Wentz Hall at North Central College, Naperville, IL
2/10 - Dennis DeYoung - Genesee Theater, Waukegan, IL
2/10 - Charlie FoxTrot - Rod & Gun Club, Bruceville, IN
3/9 - 2nd Annual AshleyCan Pediatric Cancer Foundation Jam Night - Glass Tap, Steger, IL

Monday, October 30, 2017

Seasonal Hiatus has begun

For you regular readers, you knew this was coming.

We will begin our seasonal hiatus effective today, the night before Halloween!!!!

We will be back with Running Blogs and Live Music/Artist Blogs in January.

We will still post some updates to the Local Live Music scene during this time, though.

There might be some stuff between now and then - but until then - enjoy the Holiday Season!!!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Featured Live Music Artist of the Week - Sniper

Finally, after numerous hit-and-misses, I got to see Sniper live and in person.  I had planned to see them many times, but things never worked out.  But this time it did, and it was perfect, an early autumn evening outdoor concert at a local bar.

This band is so prepared, they even built the stage for the event!!  (seriously)

Sniper is a hard rocking 4 piece band, with a bass guitar, lead/rhythm guitar, drums, and lead vocalist/frontman.

This is a band that stays true to the hard rock formula of the 1980s, powerful vocals with an energetic frontman, awesome lead solos with an energetic guitar player, featured drums solos with a hard hitting drummer, and an energetic bassist who loved going out into the crowd.  (Okay, so the bassist wasn't the ordinary 1980s/1970s stand in one spot bass player)

Speaking of going out into the crowd, this band probably makes the best use of cordless instruments an microphones than any local band I have seen in a while.  Throughout each and every song in every set, at least 1 of the band members was rockin out in the crowd (except the drummer.....yet).  The bassist would walk right up to people and slap out some awesome bass lines, the lead guitarist not only went up to people in the crowd and displayed his guitar playing, but the stage couldn't contain him, I think he spent most of the time in front of the stage moving around.  And the lead vocalist, always mixing it up with the audience, singing with them, going up to them, and putting on a show.  Not just a vocalist, but that classic 80s frontman as well.  High energy output from each member of the band, it was more than music, it was also a show. 

But, it's not just the showmanship, this band can play!  Awesome recreations of songs from the 80s and 90s and 70s that we all know and love.  When playing covers, there is definitely pressure to do it right - and they did it right.  All of the songs played perfect tribute to the original songs, many spot on, and some with minor twists that the band threw in, which is always a welcome change!

I can't remember the entire set list, but I do remember a segment where they went from Judas Priest directly into an extended jam version of Radar Love and seamlessly into War Pigs!  Radar Love to War Pigs - now that's variety!   One surprise was when this 4-piece hard rock band broke into a song from a local legendary band, The Ides of March.  That's right, this hard rock band was about to play Vehicle.  (Chicagoans know the significance of that song and that band in music lore)  And you know what, without the use of a horn section, this band PULLED IT OFF!!!  I admit, I was curious as to how such a strong Chicago-horn style song would work without horns - and with only 2 guitars (one being a bass) - but you know what - they rocked it!!!!!  Very cool to have seen/heard!!

Definitely a fun-night-out kinda band.  Between sets the band didn't go hide backstage or in their vehicles (no pun intended) - but rather sat at the bar and did shots with people and drank beers and met people and mingled with their audience.  A great band to book for that fun-night-out type event!!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Featured Running Event of the Week : The People of Endurance Running

So, this is more of a generic article about Endurance Events in general.  These tend to be known as 4-hour, 6-hour, 8-hour, 12-hour, 24-hour, 48-hour timed events.  The goal of these events is not get from point A to point B.  But, rather, how many times a person can get from point A to point B in a given time frame.

One beauty of endurance racing is that it is great for beginners, like even brand new runners, it's great for walkers, it's great for speed runners, and it's great for consistent-pace runners - and anything and everything in between.  Why?  Because a participant can complete 1 lap and stop or complete 120+ miles and stop.  However many they want to attempt, they can attempt.  However many they complete, they complete.   People can walk 30 minute miles, or run 10 minute miles.  It doesn't matter.

And that's because there are two major aspects of Endurance Running.  1) Challenging yourself - what can you do, what do you want to do, challenging your physical and mental and emotional being  and 2) the camaraderie.  And the camaraderie is the topic of this particular post.

All of these events have a "tent village" or "staging area" or "support area" (called different things).  This is where each participants sets up a "home base" - it's where their food and water are, it's where their support team is, it's where additional clothing is, and, in some cases, it's where they catnap or just sit down for a while.  This is one part of the camaraderie.  Everybody in "tent village" is there for the same common goal - endurance racing.  Doesn't matter WHY they are racing or what THEIR goals are - they all share the same common bond of challenging oneself.  But the talk isn't just about running this particular event, it's about other races, it's about horror films, it's about baseball or football, it's about music - you name it, it's being talked about - before, during, and after the race at various times in "tent village".

Then, there is the unique aspect of "on-course conversations".  Yes, even in street sprint races and marathons and trail races, runners talk.  But the sheer length of an endurance events, often times leads to 1-lap (3, 4 miles) conversations with "strangers" (for lack of a better word).  Someone may catch up to someone or happen to match a pace, and they talk the entire lap - about the event, about other events, about movies, about cars, or whatever.  After a few steps, there is always an introduction/exchange of names, and it goes from there.  Friends are made as the event is in progress.  Some people run/walk the entire event with a friend or friends as well.  It's a time to spend 4,6, 24 hours with friends.

Then there is the 3rd level of camaraderie - the unsung heroes - THE VOLUNTEERS and/or RACE DIRECTORS.  These are the people who learn your name and recognize you after 1 or 2 laps (or less).  These are the people that cheer you on as you pass by - or as you stop for food or water or both.  These are the people, that legitimately, 100%, sincerely ARE rooting for you.  They want to see you meet your goal - whatever it is.  And they will try to help you any way possible, within the rules of course.  They ask how you are doing - if you don't seem all peppy, if things aren't going well, they say "how can I help?" and they mean it.  They will pour a Ginger Ale for you, not make you pour it.  They will tell you what items are on the food table, and hand it to you, not make you grab it.  They will motivate you with sincere comments - or they may even suggest "it's ok to rest for a few minutes, then go back out and get it".  They will talk to you - and listen - and legitimately care about your race.  How are you doing?  What is your goal?  How close are you to it?  Etc etc.  Some endurance races have one manned station - some 3 or 4 per lap - it all depends.  But regardless, they are there rooting for the runners, not just guarding food and water.  They will joke with you and laugh with you, they will encourage you, they will cheer for you.  These are the totally unsung heroes, of which no endurance race would be worth attending, if these people were not there.

Speaking of the food - not all endurance races are the same - but they all try.  Some have a constant supply of pizzas brought in for HOURS, some have awesome restaurant hamburgers, some grill burgers and brats on the spot, some have various "wrap" sandwiches, some have the great PB&J, some have nuts and M&Ms, some have fruit and veggies and slices oranges, and cut up bananas.  There is SO MUCH effort that goes into these food stations - they just don't throw food out there and make the runners "deal" - this food is sliced and diced and wrapped and prepared and ready to grab and go!!!  Plus there is water, and pop, and gatorade (or similar) drinks.  Some even have music!!

As I mentioned earlier - two key aspects of Endurance Racing.  1) Challenge yourself  and 2) The People - the camaraderie.  And in my opinion, if #2 didn't exist, then there is no point of even attending the event.  Challenging oneself is great and important and tough and gut-checking and fun and exhilarating.  But without people and camaraderie - what's really the point of it all?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Throwback Thursday - Featured Live Music Artist of the Week - HandGrenades

So, I just returned from Detroit earlier this week - so I decided (just like last week) - I'll post a TBT post - this one from 2014 (reprinted unchanged)


Sitting here watching the Bears vs. Lions on TV - while they are at Ford Field in Detroit - it helped me decide today's Featured Live Music Artist of the Week.

Based in the Detroit Metro Area - THE HANDGRENADES

The best way to describe this band's musical style is with adjectives, not with a genre: melodic, guitar-driven, impressive harmonies, evolving, energetic, fun, astounding lyrics, and with one noun - ROCK & ROLL.   This is rock-n-roll in its most pure form, it's all about the music, it's fun, it's contagious - it is everything Rock & Roll is meant to be.

Originally a 4 piece (2 guitars, bass, drums), now a 5 piece with the addition of keys, the band members shift between instrumental roles during the show, as some move from lead, to rhythm, to bass guitar.  Although every aspect of the band is impressive, they are most certainly defined by their harmonies - a modern-day much-heavier Beatles in that area.  But, make no mistake, just because they have Beatle-like harmonies - this is far from being "a band that sounds like the Beatles" - this is an original new band with their very own unique sound.

They are now on their 3rd full-length CD, plus an earlier EP/demo.  The band writes the songs from music through lyrics.

But even more than the music is the STAGE PRESENCE!  And man, it is a presence!!!  A very cool inside lit bass-drum with the red glowing HG is the centerpiece of the stage.  Speaking of drums, and I've told him this to his face, the drummer beats the living daylights out of those drums!!!  Rumor has it he has actually broken cymbals!!  But, the sound that comes out is forceful, full, and driving - just like the guitars.  The guitars drive the song along, pushing each song onward, and bring pure energy to the forefront!  And the vocals, on top of all that, with the amazing - dare I say "perfect" - harmonies put the whole package together.  I saw these guys cover "This Boy" (or is it "That Boy") by The Beatles, and I think HG did it better than the actual Beatles!!!

So, now we've established the sound - full, driving, forceful, melodic, harmonic, energetic, and fun.  And that FUN translates to an on-stage presence that is captivating.  This band never stops moving, never stops playing, never stops singing, never stops smiling, never stops laughing, never stops HAVING FUN.  Every song is a 200% effort, that somehow looks effortless, yet fun.  You can clearly tell the band is having just as much fun making the music as the crowd is having listening to it.

They have another quality which is only present in few bands - chemistry.  All that moving around on stage and jamming - and they are all in-sync with each other - both musically and physically.  They are a cohesive unit (using a football term, since I am watching the Bears/Lions game while writing).

The best way to truly appreciate their music - buy it.  The best way to truly appreciate them on stage - go see them.  This band has a long great future.  This is a band that on a 1-10 scale, gets an 11.

Their only drawback, from what this Chicagoan can see, they actually enjoy watching football played INDOORS!!!

(ps - with no disrespect towards the new members, I admit, I do miss founding member, Tom)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Emerging From The Tunnel (formerly "Why Do I Run?")

So, I self-deleted one of my own posts the other day - because when I read it, I thought it painted running in a bad light - which was NOT my intent at all. I love running, I love every thing about it, the friends I have made, the people I meet, the challenges of it - physical, mental, and emotional. I was afraid my post painted it negatively - and I didn't want to do that to something I enjoy so much.
It's back - and it's still long-winded. Because I thought, why should I pretend something true didn't really happen? What if other runners have experienced the same? What if i was just me and nobody has ever "been there"? Regardless, to hide the truth, is to deny the truth. So here is the story once again - re-titled - "Emerging From The Tunnel" (yeah, so I'm not good with titles)

What I'm about to say was true when I was just starting with 5Ks, but it happened around Mile 2.  As my distances got longer, this would happen at Mile 5, or Mile 7 - and now, in the Half Marathons, somewhere between 11 and 11.5 miles.  But it's the same feeling, it just gets more magnified with the longer distances.

Grab something to drink, find a comfy chair, because as you know, I'm long-winded.

So, the race starts off in the early morning, maybe a runner is nervous, maybe not.  All runners are excited, the adrenaline is pumping, the race starts, and "it's on".  You got this - you know that because random strangers are yelling that to you.  And YOU know it - you are ready to conquer this event.  Miles pass, you notice some great scenery, maybe even first-time-ever-seen scenery, you notice the camaraderie among the runners, you notice those awesome random strangers on the sideline cheering you on, you read their funny signs "I'm just trying to cross the street"  "A parade this long and still no candy"  "Keep running, no time for Walken (with a picture of Christopher Walken)" and so on and so forth, you hear the cowbells, you hear "You got this", you even hear - I kid you not - "Go you random stranger you".  It's exciting, you are running, your adrenaline is peaking, you are having fun - YOU GOT THIS.

Then, well, maybe you don't got this.  Maybe you just want to pull over and find a short cut and not finish.  Maybe you realize your friends are right - you are crazy.  Maybe you realize, even if you quit now, you still have to find a way to travel 4 or 5 miles back to where your gear is checked and your car is parked.  Maybe you realize, this wasn't such a good idea.  Maybe you think - you know my goal doesn't matter, who cares if I don't finish, who cares if I miss my personal goal time - and I don't care what people think!  You have reached "that dark place".  Every runner reaches it during a race, especially long races - even the best of the best mention it.  It happens, for some it's Mile 20, some, like me it's Mile 11 in Half-Marathon.  Doesn't matter when it happens - it happens.  This is, as Survivor once sang in their song "Burning Heart", "it's you against you".

Forget the physical pain, that's probably happening too, by the way.  Muscles you didn't even know you had are now getting tense or fatigued.  Your body suddenly seems to forget how to put one foot in front of the other as you barely get your foot off the ground and feel the sole scraping a rock you would have cleared by 6-inches 10 miles ago.  Maybe your lungs are on fire, and you are probably hot and thirsty and tired.  But, seriously, all of that can be overcome with increased training and preparation.  That's not the "dark place" - that part is no fun - but it's nothing compared to "that dark place".

That dark place is in your head - literally - it's you against you.  Every thought in your head is about quitting, who cares about the goal, "just walk it", "pull over, who cares".  Maybe, just maybe, you don't got this, despite what that stranger with the cowbell is telling you at this very moment.  You actually reach a point where maybe you don't like this encouragement, maybe you want to say "don't talk to me" or "enough with your signs" or "You know what - I don't got it - stop telling me I do".  You want to lash out, lash out with no valid reason.  Maybe you are getting annoyed by that great camaraderie from earlier - why is this person running so close to me? It's a big street, get off of me.  Even though they are 11 feet away from you.  Or maybe somebody is behind you and you are thinking "geez, buddy, just pass me, stop pushing me".  When in reality he is probably thinking "why is this person in front of me so close to me - big road dude move".  Suddenly, it's that "dark place".  That band, from earlier that inspired you with "Eye Of The Tiger" - well maybe you want to unplug them.

Now, NONE of these people deserve those thoughts - they are there to encourage you - believe it or not, these random strangers really ARE rooting for you.  Believe it or not, you might be inspiring them or motivating them, maybe you are why they start running next week.  But even if you don't inspire them, they are standing outside in the heat or cold or wind or whatever, and they really ARE rooting for you.  They are playing music for you, they made signs to cheer you up, they shout motivational things to you.  They do not deserve those "dark place" thoughts you might be having - but you are human - you are having those thoughts anyhow.

And THIS my friends, THIS is the time, when you WIN the race.  It's not the finish line, it's not the clock, it's RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW.  This is when you win the race.  This is when you win the battle and you exit that dark place like exiting the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel into a sea of light and cheering strangers.  This is when you win - this is the moment that defines you.

You feel miserable and tired, but you see that kid on the side with his hand out for high-fives, and you drift over to high-five him.  You see that funny sign, and you somehow manage a smile or a thank you or a funny comment back, even though you don't feel much like smiling.  You see the volunteer Police Officer and you say "Thank You Officer!".  Even though you can barely speak.  THIS is what winning is about.  This is when, despite every dark thought you just had - YOU GOT THIS - you really do!  You fight those inner thoughts and you overcome.  You win, because you realize, no matter how awful you feel, those random strangers, those volunteers they deserve to know that you really do appreciate them.  You put your concern for their feelings over your own "misery of the moment".  This is the precise moment when you won the race.  This is when you KNOW, just like that random stranger is shouting to you, YOU GOT THIS.

You fought "you against you" and you won.  This is why people have that "happiest person on the planet" smile when they cross the finish line - this is why grown adults are seen crying as they cross, tears of elation (well, and perhaps some physical pain as well).

But this is the challenge - this is why I run.  I don't run to finish the race first, I don't run to beat that lady or that gentleman, I don't run to win a medal for my age bracket, I don't run for the free beer (ok, maybe that helps).  I run for that challenge - the "you against you".   The challenge isn't always "that dark place", in shorter races it's the challenge to raise the bar of my finish time or to run negative-splits, but the challenge is still there.  I have a shirt from a race that says "Challenge Yourself".  That is why I run - to challenge myself, yes physically, but mostly mentally.  It's not mind over matter - it's attitude over bad attitude.  It's wax on-wax off!

So, if you ever wondered what that half-dead totally-exhausted runner - with the largest smile on his or her face sitting over there with a towel around their neck and a water bottle on their forehead might be thinking - it might just be all of this.  (or it could be, "where is the free beer line?")

(Final note, don't get me wrong, I also have made tons of great new friends and meet new people at every event - and that's a huge reason too)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Featured Running Event of he Week - Detroit International Half-Marathon

So, how many events can one participate in, in TWO countries, in the same event.  I'm sure there are a few, but two of them are the Detroit International Marathon & Detroit International Half-Marathon. 

This marathon course, offers two distinct Half-Marathons as well.  It's not uncommon for a Marathon to offer a Half option - but this offers two different Half options - an International Half and a US Only Half.  The International Half starts with and at the same exact time as the full Marathon and runs from Detroit, USA to Windsor, Canada and back.  The US Only Half, actually starts a full 3 1/2 hours later, and picks up at the 13 mile mark and runs the entire marathon course, finishing at the same finish line as the Full Marathon and International Half.  One thing this does is creates an element where no runners will ever feel alone on the course, because shortly after the International Half peels off - the US Only half joins in.

I ran the International Half, so that's all I'll really be able to write about.  However, I knew 3 runners in the full and they had lots of great stories to tell about the neighborhoods and Belle Isle, which I did not get to experience.  Based on what they told me, I fully intend to return next year and run the US Only Half.  I still have no desire to run 26.2 - and kudos and congrats to those that do run Fulls!!!

This is definitely one of these races where I don't want to say too much, because I feel that the exploration and surprises are what makes this race so enjoyable to run.  To talk about this race in detail would be to include spoilers, which I will not do.  But I will give you an overview.

First, the volunteers at the aid stations and spirit stations were PHENOMENAL.  Many many many thanks to the hundreds (probably thousands) of volunteers.  Also many many thanks to all of the Police Officers and Border Patrol Agents that were out there.  Not only were they providing valuable services, but they were also providing much encouragement.  And many thanks to the race organizers who made sure aid stations were plentiful (as were porta-potties), the race started on time, the finish was organized, and all that jazz too!!!

The Half leaves downtown Detroit, only a rock's throw from the Cobo Center and short jog from the Renaissance Center.  As with all large runs, it starts in waves, but it will be crowded for all 13.1 miles (and for all 26.2 from what I hear).  The race runs south out of downtown into a light industrial area, which is still lined with spectators all the way to the bridge entrance area.  7:00am in October is still dark in Detroit, but that did not dissuade any spectators from coming out in full force, including live bands and acoustic guitar players, scattered all over the course.  The route then winds around and enters the Ambassador Bridge, which is at least a mile long (maybe more) and has a long incline, which is followed by a long decline and suddenly the race is in Canada.  The course then runs along the river for most of Canada before heading back to Detroit - via the famous tunnel!  Or as the shirt sold at the Expo said "The world's only under water 1 mile run".  Upon returning to Detroit, the course runs along riverfront drive (might not be the right name for the street) and goes under the famed Cobo Center.  It then heads out past where Tiger stadium used to be, and then through a nice neighborhood called Corktown.  The course then turns and goes over some busy roads and back into downtown with a loop back to the finish line, and a long home stretch with cheering spectators on both sides. 

This was probably the largest (in attendance) race I've ever attended, though Chicago's Hot Chocolate draws 10s of thousands, somehow this just seemed more crowded.  At all times, runners need to look around before slowing and also check blindspots before "changing lanes".  It was truly a pleasure to be part of such a large world-class style event.  (Nothing is wrong with smaller events, just different)

There are so many very cool things I can say about spectator participation along the route and/or scenery around the course, but I don't want to give out any spoilers. Seeing it is more than half the fun.  I really wish I could tell you about the people and scenery and the surprises, but that's where the fun lies.  I will say this - if I took away just three memories of the event (though I took away about 3 dozen) - they would be 1) The Bridge  2) The Tunnel and 3) The Spectators.

Okay, I really have to include this, it's not a spoiler, but it has to be said - the people of Detroit and Windsor are great great great people!  So thankful to have them lining almost the entire course!

For those wondering about the border crossing logistics.  Runners participating in the Full and International Half must present Passport, Passport Card, or Enhanced ID, to pick up their bibs.  Bibs must be worn on the front, near the chest.  Any bibs on the legs or backed risk being stopped by Border Patrol Agents.  Backpacks and Camelbacks and even large liquid containers are prohibited on the course, but there are PLENTY of aid stations and runners can easily keep hydrated that way.  All aid stations have both water and Gatorade.  Border Patrol watches on both sides of the bridge and both sides of the tunnel - and there are PLENTY of them - and they see all.  I witnessed at least two calling out to runners "You, in the green - bib?" and the person (who had taken his shirt off earlier) produced the bib.  My friends in the Full said they even saw two officers chase a runner, instead of stopping him, as he unrolled his previously removed jacket, which had his bib.  I also so two people with backpacks stopped, and were asked for their passports.  Even in the wake of all the recent terrible things in the world, I never felt unsafe during this event - not once.