Marathon Monday, Running Related

Feeling melancholy about the Chicago Marathon I didn’t run

This time of year makes me feel a little nostalgic. For the better part of two decades, I was training for and running the Chicago Marathon. I’d spend the bulk of summer days running Piles of Miles with an almost religious adherence to a training schedule. It meant getting up at the ButtCrack of Dawn on Saturday mornings to get in a Long Run (LR) before the summer heat kicked into high gear.

Unfortunately, a combination of too many back-to-back marathons, a shredded meniscus and simply getting older have taken its toll on me. I can no longer run fast or far. I use to be able to throw on my running clothes and knock out 5 miles in 50 minutes or even less. Now I can barely run 3 miles nonstop.

Photo Courtesy of Robert Meyers

Photo Courtesy of Robert Meyers

I’ve made my peace with it for the most part. I certainly don’t miss being married to a training schedule or getting up at the wee hours of dawn for an LR. Or the Post Labor Day Blues. And after 22 marathons, not ever qualifying for Boston got a little old. You spent 18 Fridays going to bed at a decent hour during the socially active summer for one shot on a Sunday morning. If you have a bad 5K, you can make it up next week, but your garden variety marathoner needs at least a month to fully recover before running another race competitively.

This time of year makes me feel a little nostalgic.  But it also makes me feel a little sad.  I think what is making me gloomy is that I didn’t have Facebook to humblebrag on back in the day. All summer long my FB feed was filled with friends sharing their runs and their training tales and their marathon dreams. A few weekends ago was the big 20 miler, followed by the Taper. Good times that I remember so well.

Back in the day, I didn’t have this outlet. I sent my marathon story to people I thought were friends via email. Some of these people were good-natured and wrote back, using it as an excuse to reconnect, even if just for the afternoon. Others just wrote back congrats, which is the coded language of  I’m only maintaining this relationship on the off chance I need something from you in the future.  Still, others never replied.  Which is a cacophonous dialect of go fuck yourself. 

Let me be clear, I miss the ability to run these races in the first place, especially at the pace I use to (8 min/mile for marathons, sub 8s for most other races).  But I also feel I missed out on the social media aspect of all that.  As narcissistic as it was, I only sent out Marathon Stories.  I didn’t bother with great Shamrock Shuffle runs or amazing half marathon times.  Now I see all my FB connections sharing their marathon and other race results and getting a slew of comments and likes and I think, wow, I peaked too early.  Surely my breaking the 4-hour marathon mark would have gotten some ego-boosting Attaboys.  And when I finally set my Personal Best in ST Louis, coming within 15 minutes of Boston Qualifying, surely everyone would have encouraged me to keep on trying.

Was it pure narcissism or something else?  I think we all crave attention deep down inside, just perhaps in different forms.  Getting a response from the handful of friends who did write back made me feel successful for a few minutes at times when other areas of life were not as rewarding.


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Marathon Monday, Running Related

So long DailyMile, we will miss you

captu7reI’ve been using the DailyMile website to track my running since December 2010.  It was part of a pact between some runner friends to encourage us to run during the winter months.  3300 miles according to my profile page.  Before that, I just uploaded my Garmen Forerunner 305 data into some proprietary software that came with the watch.  It was relatively easy to use low tech, until Garmen decided to complicate the plumping.

In lieu of the expensive GPS watches, a lot of runners used a poor person’s tool at USATF. This clumsy website was just good enough to let you map out a route and share with others, although most runners, I suspect, just used it to figure out how many miles they just ran.

DailyMile served its purpose but it came too late to the game. This would have been a wonderful thing in the early 2000s when not ever runner had a Garmen or other GPS watch device and would have loved a simple tool to keep track of their mileage.

Had it partnered with USATF, perhaps it could have found its niche. Instead, when DailyMile came on the scene, it tried to be like if Facebook if Facebook were a Running App (albeit with better security settings).

DailyMile did (does?) have a phone app but it is horrible.  Too often it would lose the data from my run because it just wasn’t designed to pause during a workout.

The other week I logged on and saw this message.




I had a feeling this day was coming because anyone can tell that the site is sorely in need of code updating.  Apparently whoever is/was behind it, couldn’t figure out how to monetize it.

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Marathon Monday, Running Related

When to quit a race and when to power through

So I got a newsletter from Athlinks and one of the items was a piece about whether or not to quit a race midway if you are having a bad day.

Have you ever wanted to throw in the towel mid-race? If you have, you’re not alone. But what’s the difference between wimping out and making the right choice for your body?

I have to give Athlinks credit for trying.  They originally started out as a site that collected runner race data so you had one place to look for all your race results.  Obviously it’s trying to monetize its effort and the Powers-That-Be there knew we cheapskate runners aren’t gonna pay to see our results when we can just get them for free elsewhere.

Soldier Field 10

I’m not saying I necessarily disagree with the advice given.  It’s just that when it comes to quitting mid-race, there is no one size fits all answer.  It will depend on the distance you are trying to cover, what you are trying to achieve, the current condition of your body, etc.  Dropping out of a 5K is no big deal because you can do another one next week.  Dropping out of a marathon is a different matter, because  it isn’t easy to run back-to-back marathons.

You should take a page from my Sister-in-Law’s book. J2 does whatever is best for her kids, no fucks given. She strives to find the happy medium, but if push comes to shove and she has to choose what is best for her kids, versus better for others, kids win. EVERY TIME.

How does that relate to quitting mid race? Easy. If you are not feeling it, and you have more distance to go than you’ve already covered, drop out.  You’re probably not there to win the race, and some days you just aren’t gonna place in your age group or set a new PR.

Sometimes you don’t have a choice but have to finish the race.  When I ran the Prague Marathon in 2008, I realized at the 18 mile point that I was the furthest out from the start/finish line and quitting wouldn’t be any different than just finishing.  So I dropped it down a tad, so that I would be able to make it back running instead of limping to the finish.

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During the Marathon Era of my life, when I was a more avid runner, I collected a large wardrobe of running clothes for all seasons. At its height I probably had a good two weeks worth of running shirts alone. Now that I’m not logging nearly as many miles, there is no need to fill my closets and drawers with unused clothes.


With winter and cooler weather gear you can usually wear the same tights and long sleeves more than once before needing a wash. Summer stuff obviously is a one wear and wash. The truth is, even if I were running more like the Marathon Era of my life, there were favorites that always got put to the front and the other clothes were mostly backups.

I’ve decided to keep two sets of winter wear and three sets of warmer weather wear.  If my running habits change and I actually start running more than 2-3 days a week, I can always buy another pair of running shorts.

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Marathon Monday, Running Related

Time to purge the running clothes already

Marathon Monday, Running Related

The Cost of a Run: Now and Then

Every time I check the On This Day in Facebook, there is inevitably at least one or two memories of me going for a run.  My posts were pretty boring in the early days of FB (spoiler alert: they still are).  The longer ago the memory, the longer the run it would seem.

I use to think it was hard to get my mileage in back in my single, younger days.  Back then I had more energy to run faster and more endurance to run farther. I was more fit and healthier and of course younger.  I also had the temporal equivalent of  disposable income aka Free Time.  Yet somehow it was next to impossible for me to get up before work and get that run out of the way.  I’m not the only runner who faces this challenge.  Many of my running friends have to walk the line between sacrificing sleep and getting in their required run.

Photo Courtesy of Robert Meyers

Photo Courtesy of Robert Meyers

Back in the day, I use to ask myself, is it worth putting on running clothes for this distance? Back when I could run fast and far, the minimum I would bother with was 4-5 miles.  Anything less wasn’t worth sweatin up my running clothes.   To be fair, I was usually training for some marathon and the scheduled mileage was too much to try to fit in before work.  Except at the beginning and end of the training season, when the mileage is lower, then I would manage to squeeze in a run before work and feltl like a rock star for getting my lazy ass up before work for a morning run.

Today I am challenged by Old Age and Young Childrens.  I never know if my kids are going to wake up at the ButtCrack of Dawn or earlier, so if they let me sleep in, I sleep.

Nowadays, the question  I ask myself is: “do I have enough time to get any miles in at all?”  I cannot really run before work because we are either stealing as much sleep as out terrorist twins will allow, or we are up because they got up and need to get them ready for daycare.  Running after work is out of the question because by the time we put them to bed, we have like an hour of alone time to try and decompress and get ready for the next day.  There may or may not be adult beverages in the equation.

That leaves my lunch break during work.  I belong to a gym next door so I have the option of either running on their indoor track, their dreadmills (or a combination thereof), or running outside and using their facilities afterwards.  Whenever possible I prefer to run outside.  So in a perfect world, let’s say I punch out at 12:05.  It takes 10 minutes to get from my desk to the locker room and change into my running clothes.  That is assume the elevator doesn’t stop at every floor.

These days at my current level of endurance, I can usually belt out 3 miles in just under 30 minutes.  So that means I have 20 minutes left to shower and return to my desk, inhaling whatever food I brought for lunch.

So if you are lucky enough to have a flexible work schedule, take advantage of it and run when you can.  Otherwise, make the effort to get up in the morning and catch up on sleep by going to bed earlier, or deal with the fact that your evening is gonna be shorter than you’d like because you are making up mileage.

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Blogapalooza, Marathon Monday, Running Related

That Time I missed Qualifying for the Boston Marathon by 15 minutes

It’s the 2nd/4th Wednesday of the month and that means Blogapalooza where we are challenged to write a post and publish it in one hour. Here is this month’s challenge: “Write about a period or moment in your life when you were at your best.”  Here’s my take:

Ten years (and a few months) ago, I ran my best marathon time ever.  I was 36 years old and managed to pound out a 3:29:54 Finish Time at the Spirit of St Louis Marathon.  It was an interesting week especially since that same weekend the Cubs swept the Cardinals back in Chicago.  So it was a victory for all Chicagoans though obviously everyone was more into my success than those fleeting northsiders.

Training for a marathon during the Winter is rough enough under ordinary circumstances.  It’s dark when you wake up, dark when you get home from work and cold all throughout.  This season was extra demanding because my knees were hurting and I had gained some holiday weight.  Because of the January weather it was hard to get any kind of consistency going where training was concerned.  I couldn’t afford to miss any runs because I inadvertently started my training five weeks late.  On top of that, I decided to try a new training program, adding my own on the fly adjustments to make up for those missing weeks.  To make matters worse, I caught a terrible cold five days before the marathon.

The Sunday before this race, I had run the Shamrock Shuffle back home and also set a new personal best.  But then I caught a very bad cold.  I could feel it coming on Sunday evening and by Monday night, I had a full fledged virus running through my system.  How could I run a marathon?  I wasn’t able to get in the last few training runs of an already truncated training season.  I had worked very hard for this marathon, training in the cold, dark winter. Doing speed workouts during my lunch break when WFH and cross training with spin classes and weights.

This had all the makings of a Greek Tragedy waiting to unfold.  But I was registered to run the Spirit of St Louis on April 9, so I packed up my gear and headed down I-55.  I was staying with a friend from my undergrad days at Northeast Missouri State University.  Going to school there allowed me to get to know St Louis so well, which made it an excellent choice for a spring marathon.  (a free place to stay did tip the scale a bit!)

10502319_10203893351835621_4970538730843304457_nI wrote a really long write up about my marathon race story back in the days when I blogged by emailing friends my marathon stories.  The website I used is gone but I was able to find it using WaybackMachine so I’ll give a very abridged version by cutting to the chase.

Although the forecast was for cloudy and rainy, it turned out to be a sunny, windless day and I didn’t have any problems running.  The first half of the course was shared with half marathoners and I did my best to not go out too fast.

At Mile 20 I introduced myself to my new friend. His name is Kevin and he told me that we were on pace to do a 3:25 or so. I said to him, I think I’m gonna open it up a bit and see what I can do.  A gutsy move, especially since a Boston Qualification time (BQ*) was realistically out of the question. But the one thing I’ve learned that year is that even when you don’t have a prayer, you still have to take your shot. Otherwise you end up in your own personal purgatory.

For the next few miles I ran either just under 8 minutes, if the course flattened out enough or 820s if we hit a hill.  At Mile 24 I confirmed what I had suspected a few miles earlier. If I were to walk, I would finish under 4 hours. While I could ease off and try to save something for the end, I realized that at this particular moment, whatever pace I achieved, however fast or slow I ran, that would be my new PR. I controlled my PR and in a small way my destiny.

Somewhere halfway between Mile 24 and Mile 25, on some highway underpass I’ll probably never see again, my watch showed I had been running for 3 hours and 15 minutes…the time I need to qualify for Boston at my age level. The marathon was 1.7 miles too long.

It didn’t matter. I felt strong, ran as fast as I could and the lactic acid meltdown never came. As I approached the finish line, I heard the announce encouraging the runners “if you hurry you can break 3:30”. It hadn’t occurred to me to go for any particular time once I realized I would set a new PR. I threw whatever I had left and pushed for the finish line.

Bending But Not Breaking

In a year that started out with great promise but quickly spiraled out of control, when at times it seemed my best just wasn’t good enough, I probably had no business running a marathon under the training conditions I experienced. Yet on Palm Sunday, the weekend when the St Louis Cardinals went to Chicago and were swept by the Cubs, the marathon gods graced me with a new PR of 3:29:54. I didn’t even have my best stuff, but it was apparently more than enough.



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Marathon Monday, Running Related

Things to Consider When Selecting a Marathon Training Program

The following is a revamp of an email I wrote for one of my running groups when I led a marathon training groups for CARA.  This content is Chicago Marathon centered but could easily be applied to any marathon.

So you’ve decided to train for a marathon.  You got your shoes and your running clothes ready and you’ve accepted, perhaps reluctantly, that your Saturday mornings will be sweaty and tiring for the next few months.  But there is at least one more thing to figure out: Which training program should I follow?

If you have never run a marathon before, the answer is a no brainer: Go Novice and use the program designed by Hal Higdon, the Godfather of marathon training.  The Novice schedule is a gently progressive program involving four days of running a week.  Each weekend, the Long Run (LR) gets longer, peaking at 20 miles three weeks before the marathon.

If you already have a marathon or two under your belt and want to achieve a faster time, set a new Personal Best, or even qualify for The Boston Marathon, there are programs which step up the difficulty and intensity. These programs require more mileage and incorporate speed-work and cross training.  Here are a couple:

Word of caution:  If you are thinking about moving up a pace – from 9:30s to 9s for instance – I recommend you do not simultaneously change programs.  Running longer mileage at a faster pace might set you up to fail.  It’s better to run longer mileage at slower pace than shorter mileage at a faster pace for marathon training purposes.

More mileage doesn’t necessarily guarantee better results and a consistent pace is better than a sloppy one.  You might be able to run an additional 2-4 miles each LR, but if your pace is deteriorating at the end, it might be better to drop back to lower mileage and work on consistency.

The next thing to decide is whether you are going to train solo or join a running group.  Marathon training involves piles of miles and it helps to have someone to run with for some of them, especially the LR.  I encourage you to find a group to train with because not only will it keep you on track, but you will likely make life-long friends in the running community.  Two great resources are Chicago Area Runner’s Association and The Clock Tower Runners.

The final thing to consider is How much time will this take?  Looking at Higdon’s Intermediate and Advanced Programs, the most noticeable difference between the schedules is the weekend LRs. In the early weeks, it doesn’t seem like much. But soon the difference is literally miles apart. Take Week 7 for example. Novices run 12 miles which is almost a half marathon in itself. But the Advanced runners do that and tag on an extra 5K (and then some) for a total of 16 miles.


Photo Courtesy of Robert Meyers

Photo Courtesy of Robert Meyers

Another key difference between the programs is the number of additional 20 milers scheduled (2 and 3 respectively). Not only do these LRs take a large part of your morning but you have to factor in recovery time as well. Ask yourself, how will that impact other areas of your life?

Pro-Tip:  Get a blank calendar and mark out in different colors the mileage of each program schedule you are considering on the dates you would run them if this were a perfect world and all you had to do this summer was train for a marathon.

Now go back and add important can’t change the date events like weddings, vacations and business trips.  At this point ask yourself, honestly, what is realistic?  Now put your ego down and back away slowly and ask yourself again: what can I do?  If you still aren’t sure, you can use the early weeks of the program to see how you feel about extra mileage.

Which program is right for you?  The only person who can answer that question is you.  The good news is this is one of those times when it is absolutely, positively all right to be selfish.  After all, your friends aren’t running the race for you.  So if everyone you know is running the Advanced, but you are more comfortable doing Novice, run Novice and make some new friends along the way.

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Marathon Monday, Races, Running Related

Hey Mayor Emanuel, nice running the Ravenswood 5K with you

Yesterday I ran the 20th Annual Fleet Feet Ravenswood 5K.  This is only the 2nd or 3rd time I’ve ever participated in that race because in years past, it was usually the same weekend of the Lakefront 10 miler and back in the day I had more stamina and speed.  Besides getting slower, I realized that April in Chicago usually has cold rainy weather and a 3 mile race usually ends much quicker than a 10 mile one.

But yesterday was optimal conditions for both race spectators and participants.  Just warm enough at pre-race hour to wear shorts but not so hot that you experience the trifecta of sweaty, stinky, sticky after your run.

One of the cool things about a smaller race like this is the casual atmosphere mixed with professional race course set up.  I didn’t register until Saturday and that meant I had to do race day packet pickup.  My running buddy was able to get my bib because even though we made it out of the house in record time for parents of twins, we still didn’t leave

When I was running I kept hearing people call out “Go Mayor” and “Hey Rahm.”  It didn’t surprise me that Mayor Emanuel could be running this race.  He’s an avid runner and I believe he has some marathons under his belt (too lazy to look it up).  It did surprise me to look over my shoulder at approximately 2.5 miles in and see the Mayor himself running practically next to me.

I said “How you doing” as this was not the first time we met.  I bumped into him at the Belmont Blue Line Station years ago when he was campaigning for his first term.  I understand why he didn’t remember as I was in street clothes that day.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel

He’s the one in blue over my left shoulder, like Beelzebub

I hadn’t taken a picture with the soon to be mayor than and thought this might be my chance to amend that.  After all, in spite of how he is running this city and treating CPS, he’s still the mayor.  But he had his race day face on which means he didn’t want to be Mayor Emanuel, he wanted to be Runner with Bib #55.  So I did the next best thing and snapped a selfie with him in the background.

if you click here and search for Bib # 55, watch the video at the 17:15 mark — you can see him cross the finish line.

Which brings up another interesting thing about how racing has changed over time through the embracing of technology.  When I first started running races, you’d run the race Sunday morning and weeks later you’d get a post card.  Online results were a thing but they certainly weren’t posted right away.  A few years later it became the norm to get preliminary-subject-to-updates results that afternoon.

Now we have instant results and finish line videos for Pete’s sake.  I had joked with my Running Buddy that we aren’t too far from a Hunger Games type setup with real time tracking, video and soundtrack.

Lucky for Rahm, this wasn’t the Hunger Games 5K because unfortunately there are plenty of residence who would likely shoot more than a selfie at him.


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aggregation aggregation aggregation, Marathon Monday, Running Related

Gia Alvarez cannot run away from Boston Marathon Scandal

Note: this story is ongoing as as new information is made available this post may be update accordingly.

Gia Alvarez, an avid runner, blogger and running coach, has been banned from running the Boston Marathon and any other Boston Athletic Association events for life.  Alvarez did two No-Nos in the racing world.

  1. She let someone else use her bib entry into a marathon.
  2. She used that person’s time to qualify for the next Boston Marathon.

Outside of race officials, no one gives a flying fuck if you let someone else use your bib in a neighborhood 5K or local Turkey Trot.  In larger races Bib Exchange is particularly common because of high price entry fees and the inability to transfer or defer ones race entry because of injury, health or family reasons.  That doesn’t necessarily make it right, but it is more of a misdemeanor in and of itself.

The second offense is more felony territory.  Boston has strict qualification requirements and even if you meet the time requirement for your age group, you still might not get in because of “rolling admission process” the BAA uses.  That means her entry most likely bumped someone else who genuinely qualified. That a blog dedicated “to work with runners and race officials to analyze race results and detect course cutters, bib swappers and other questionable results” exists and doesn’t seem to be want for material tells you this is a bigger problem than you would think.

update (4/10/16):  Derek from Marathon Investigation explains: “Basically, you were accepted if you beat the qualifying time by 2:30 minutes. They do not allow additional entries if someone is Disqualified after acceptance.”  This makes what Alvarez did even worse because even if she is found out before the race, there is no mechanism to identify and reward a legitimate qualifier a place in the next Boston Marathon.

The question here is did Alvarez know what she was doing was wrong?  Because she actually posted on her blog that she was going to give her bib to a friend, it would appear that she wasn’t aware that was a no-no or at least wasn’t aware of how Big a Deal it was.  According to her posts, she wasn’t able to run in 2015 because she was pregnant and a miscarriage prevented her from taking part in 2014.

I’m not giving her a free pass but I will give her some credit. This is a hard thing to walk back from and she appears to be legitimately owning up to it. While she has closed comments on her blog (probably because of volume and/or trolls) she didn’t hide critical (yet polite) comments that made it through like the Food Babe would have.   While she didn’t do herself any favors by taking three days to post an apology I’m going to cut her a little slack.  We want everything fast in our Internet Age and the cost behind that is that Alvarez is still a human being who hopefully is processing the wrongness of what she did while also being a mom to a toddler who probably reaches for her keyboard whenever she starts to blog.

The question still remains: did she give her bib to a friend who happened to be fast enough to qualify for Boston with the intention that she could use that time to participate in the next Boston Marathon (2016)?

Hierarchy of Cheaters

I don’t think Alvarez deserves to be banned for life. It’s not like she pulled a Kip Litton and invented a fake marathon with a fake website, fake competitors, and a fake winner.  Or had the unbelievable luck of Julie Miller who happens to lose her timing chips at just about every event she participates in.

She didn’t kill anyone and she did qualify for Boston twice previously.  According to her posts, she wasn’t able to run in 2015 because she was pregnant and even asked for a pregnancy deferral.  However, The BAA “stopped awarding deferrals for things like injury and pregnancy in 2010, except in extraordinary cases such as extreme weather or the 2013 bombings.”

Because of course they did.  I’m sure they had a valid reason for doing so, but in some way the BAA brings this upon themselves.  The event is already so hard to get into that most runners never get the chance.  Now you are making it even harder for the ones who do qualify.  I’ve always thought that big races should have some type of bib deferral or transfer program just for this sort of thing.

To be clear, Alvarez broke the rules and should be punished.  But the punishment should fit the crime.  A lifetime ban is a bit extreme when a few years would do the trick of punishing her and serving as a warning to others.

What do you think?  Let us know in the comments.


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Marathon Monday, Running Related, This Blogger Life, Uncategorized

Marathon training and blogging tip: be honest with yourself


Detroit Marathon 2012

When I was a Group Leader for CARA, every summer we’d have a crop of newbies who were training for the Chicago Marathon for the first time.  Most of them usually said the same thing, that they just wanted to finish the race.

18 weeks later they’d run the marathon and they would all finish the race.  But there would inevitably always be one or two runners who were a little disappointed, sad even. I’d ask them what was wrong and the response was usually something along the lines of:

“Well I really wanted to finish with a better time.”  Or “I was hoping to qualify for Boston!”

Well the problem is you were not honest with me, or yourself.  That’s a different type of training and it involves more than just following a mileage schedule.  It takes mental toughness and setting reasonable expectations.  If your top speed is a 10:30 mm you are not going to break 4 hours in the marathon without some major help. On the other hand, if you are a 9 – 9:30 mm runner and you want to break 4 hours, it can be done. It might involve speed work, cross training and even diet.  But it can be done.

I can’t 100% guarantee you will achieve your goal but I can help you improve your chances as long as you are honest with yourself about what you want to accomplish.

As as long as we are being honest, I’d like to share that I definitely was one of those runners who always wanted to finish with a better time than my last marathon. The difference is, I certainly never kept that to myself.   And I tried so hard to Boston Qualify that I ruined my knees running too many back-t0-back marathons.

It’s a costly lesson but I learned from it and am applying what I learned to blogging.  A lot of bloggers claim they just want to write their thoughts and thinky bits and don’t give a crap about readership or page traffic. But the truth is they really really do want readers and pageviews and Algonquin Round Table discussions in the comment section.  Some dream of  being a blogger with an audience of Baby Sideburns, Scary Mommy or even Dooce, and that doesn’t come easy.

When I first started blogging, my blog was just another boring online web journal.  But then I read other blogs and thought: why can’t I do that?  Well, it’s not as easy as it looks.  Truthfully, my talent level isn’t on par with the big guns of the blogosphere and honestly, I don’t have the bandwidth to go there.  Instead I’m using the blog writing as training for writing a book.  I’m hoping that by posting in this space often enough, I will get enough practice honing my writing skills to actually pen a book someday.   Hopefully my readers will help me reach my goals by providing encouragement and feedback every step of the way.
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