Hello again! Yes I’m actually back and trying extra hard to maintain this blogging habit. I truly missed this little old internet space of mine. So let’s just jump right into it, shall we? Chicago. Yes hello I live here now. My studio is perfection and I cannot imagine having to move out of this dream apartment anytime soon. I mean…check out this view:

Chicago

Yup, it’s magical and makes me happy daily. The studio is huge too, at least twice as big as my Manhattan one. Here’s a photo of the living space:

Chicago apartment

Chicago apartment

The hallway (not pictured) extends quite far back, the kitchen is fully updated, the bathroom is great, and there is so much closet space. My building even has a gym (yessssssss) and a pool. And to top it all off, the rent is significantly cheaper than what it was in NYC, even here in the Gold Coast (for those who don’t know, it’s a neighborhood in Chicago). What is this magical midwestern city with cheap rent and fancy yet affordable buildings in upscale neighborhoods?!?

I’ve been on the go since moving back in early December. Suddenly there is so much to do and so many people to see and I love every moment of it. I attended some holiday event a few days after moving in and savored the fact that I now live downtown and my travel time to meet up with my ladies is a few short minutes.

holiday party

I magically saw the holiday train the same week I moved back:

holiday train

And it was just as cool as expected.

holiday train

The best part is that I no longer have to feel major FOMO when I see my friends all getting together because I can now join in on all the fun!

holiday party

One of my friends threw a Christmas/holiday party and it was basically a reunion of our India crew, plus the parents.

holiday party

Ah I can’t believe my trip to India was a year ago, how is that possible?! It’s still one of the best trips I’ve ever taken and I hope to make it back there at some point in the near future.

Anyway, let’s see what else… I got to reunite with two of my old college roommates! Here’s a classic polaroid of me, my sophomore/junior year roomie, and her friend:

friends

We cute.

New Year’s Eve was surprisingly fun, despite my hatred for it. We bought tickets to a bar in Lakeview that hosted a wig party. Apparently they later cancelled the wig theme of the event, but we all chose to embrace it.

New Year's Eve

Now I’m dying to dye my hair red (pun totally intended) because I felt like a bombshell that night.

New Year's Eve

My closest high school friends and I did our annual Secret Santa gift exchange a few days into the new year.

Secret Santa potluck

Our menu featured a homemade Italian potluck followed by adventures out and about in the city.

Another highlight has been my official return to running! I took exactly 2 months off after the NYC Marathon, mainly from fear and subtle/lingering foot pain that never really went away, but I knew I couldn’t stay away forever.

running

This was my first run back at the start of this month, and it felt surprisingly great! I thought I would be completely out of shape and unable to run even 1 mile, but my fitness has been excellent. I’m slowly (key word SLOWLY) building up my mileage and running around 2 miles, 3 times per week. I’ve finally added strength training into my routine, as well as basic exercises for runners to keep my hips/knees/ankles healthy (squats with weights, one-legged squats, clamshells, plank, etc.). I’m not sure if it’s the added strength training or just my excitement to be back pounding the pavement (or treadmill, whatever), but I’ve been knocking out paces in the high 8’s low 9’s without too much trouble.

My first outdoor run took place in 55-degree weather (in Chicago, in January, yup), and I ran 2 miles with a 8:37 min/mile pace. This view probably helped:

Chicago

This past Sunday I ran 3 miles, my longest distance yet, with a 8:24 min/mile pace and it was awesome. I’m really hoping to finally focus on my speed this year, and this feels quite encouraging.

Ok I got a bit off topic because I love running so much. Before I end this random extra-long blog post I wanted to show you these pretty photos from two weeks ago. A few of my old coworkers from Spain and Argentina were in town and I reunited with one of them, who just so happens to also be a close friend. We spent an entire day playing tourist and eventually made our way to the Millennium Park ice rink:

Millennium Park

We also went up to Cindy’s Rooftop for (pricey) drinks and incredible views:

Cindy's Rooftop

You must go there if you’re in Chicago!

These are just some of the wonderful adventures I’ve had since moving back to Chicago. Even the most casual happenings have made me exceptionally happy lately – cozy visits home to see my parents and cat, weekly Monday night Bachelor viewings, last-minute happy hours and dinners with friends, impromptu movie nights turned Cards Against Humanity marathons – the list goes on and on. Damn, it feels good to be back.

♥ Irina

Hello again! I kept my promise and returned with another blog post. Let’s hope I can keep this up for the foreseeable future.

So by now hopefully you’re all aware that I’m no longer living in my beloved NYC (full post here). I’m living in the heart of downtown Chicago and loving every minute of it. I still miss New York but I’ve been keeping myself so busy that I barely have time to drown in nostalgia. All my friends are here, and for my first few weeks back I would be out every single night for dinner/drinks/etc. It’s so nice having a full social calendar again…something I deeply missed back in NYC! Not to mention, being close to my parents again is pretty great too!

I wanted to share some photos of my final days in NYC before diving into my Midwestern adventures here in Chi city. I made an effort to see all my closest NYC friends before moving, which involved plenty of reunions.

friends

(One of my closest friends at Columbia University)

friends

(My two besties from NYC…I can’t wait for them to visit Chicago! This was our last brunch at Tavern on Green, which was phenomenal if only for the pretty views of Central Park.)

ramen

(I finally got my fill of authentic ramen at Totto Ramen in NYC. It was beyond delicious!)

NYC Cloisters

(I visited the Cloisters at the tip of Manhattan right in time to view the spectacular colors of fall)

Moving out of my NYC apartment was so stressful! I rented a Uhaul and my parents came to help me pack. After much debate my parents insisted on driving the Uhaul back to Chicago together (they always enjoy going on long road trips together) and I would fly back. I am so so so grateful for their help because there is no way I could’ve packed and driven back solo.

moving from NYC

I just realized I never did an apartment tour of my tiny NYC studio, so I might have to do one for my Chicago studio. Which by the way is at least two times larger and significantly cheaper. Here are a few photos of my setup in NYC (so many memories, tear):

NYC studio

This is just the living space, AKA the bedroom, living room, and dining room all in one. I eventually hung up a huge mirror right above the little bench on the right. The kitchen (which was tiny but had plenty of cabinets and enough countertop space) and bathroom (which was renovated and quite nice) are obviously not pictured.

NYC studio

Anyway, it felt surreal to see my tiny precious little NYC studio as empty as the day I moved in 3.5 years prior. I had so many great memories here and it’s so special to me.

moving from NYC

(Left = moving in in 2013…24 years old! Right = moving out in 2016…28 years old!)

I already expressed my sentiments about Manhattan in my last post so I’ll spare you the love poem again, but I have to say how grateful I am for taking the leap of faith and moving to New York City at 24 years old. It was easily the bravest and wildest thing I’ve ever done. It matured and transformed me in ways I never thought possible and I wouldn’t change the experience for anything.

NYC

(Goodbye for now, my dear New York City)

My intuition is telling me that this is not a permanent goodbye. I have a feeling that NYC and I will reunite yet again in the future. For now though I’ll enjoy these next few months in Chicago…

Chicago

(Chicago, I’m home!)

It feels great to be back, freezing cold and all!

♥ Irina

Sigh, I’m ashamed of myself because I disappeared for 2.5 months without a word. I’m so sorry! Life took a whirlwind turn in November and is continuing to be as wild as ever into the new year (in the best way possible). The biggest update is that I moved back to Chicago in early December!!! And I’m absolutely loving it. I wrote this post a few weeks before moving back and decided that it’s still worth publishing. Stay tuned…I’ll be back again in a few days, promise!

——————————————————————–

It’s a challenge when your urban love resides with (what you deem is) the greatest city in the world, but all your people…your most important relationships…are elsewhere. It’s a conundrum but something that I didn’t have too many issues dealing with while living in my #1 city. I worked so hard to move to Manhattan, and I savored every minute of my time here.

Manhattan

Here’s the painful thing about New York City though – it’s such a transient city. An expat city. People come and go so quickly, and it’s hard to build lasting relationships with others. Shortly after my closest NYC friend moved away in mid-October, I woke up one morning and just knew that it was my time to go as well. I had been fighting with the decision since summer but never felt stable on one particular choice. I missed home but felt I wasn’t ready to leave Manhattan.

Manhattan

I’m still not ready. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever be ready. To me, New York trumps everywhere else. I love it with such fervor and passion that I know I’ll never find another city to take its spot. This city certainly isn’t for most people, but I feel beyond lucky to call Manhattan home for 3.5 years. I made it here. I don’t want to make it anywhere else.

Manhattan

But our intuition has a way of telling us when it’s ok to let go, and that’s exactly what mine did when my soul knew it was ready. I suddenly felt my time was limited – I have no idea what will happen with medical school, and I’m hoping to go abroad beforehand, so I desperately want to be close to those I love before the whirlwind adventures begin. I miss my people…my family and friends…so much.

Chicago friends

Impulsive. That’s what many often think of me, including my parents. But the truth is, I’m very strongly guided by my intuition. I consider myself very lucky in that I have such a strong inner voice, and even luckier that I’m brave enough to constantly listen to it even when rationality and logic dictate otherwise. It’s what got me to Manhattan, and now it’s gently telling me it’s time to go home.

Chicago

I’m listening. I’m obeying. I always do. Chi City! I’m comin’ home again.

♥ Irina

On Sunday, November 6th I ran the TCS New York City Marathon. This was a race of firsts, of random injuries, of a near-DNF, of more anxiety than enjoyment. It was a race that really hurt, but in none of the expected ways. This is the race that could’ve been, but wasn’t. But damn was it a hell of a race. What else could I expect from NYC, the city that would never let anyone off easy?!?

Beware, LONG post ahead!

NYC Marathon Expo

But let’s back up a few days to Expo day! This was the largest expo I’ve ever been to, and I had so much fun exploring the booths.

NYC Marathon Expo

NYC Marathon Expo

I’m superstitious and didn’t want to purchase anything related to the completion of the marathon, but of course I couldn’t resist buying the classic NYC Marathon running jacket. My goodness this is one of the biggest splurges I’ve ever made on running gear (and on clothing in general), but I felt it was important for me to have memorabilia from one of the most legendary marathons in the world. No regrets, this jacket will last me a lifetime.

NYC Marathon Expo

I loved the signature wall. It was so much fun reading the motivational messages written by others and leaving my own mark on it as well.

NYC Marathon Expo

NYC Marathon Expo

I also walked out with a few smaller purchases, including Lenny & Larry cookies, stroop waffles, and a cute headband that I ended up wearing on race day.

NYC Marathon Expo

I slept surprisingly well the night before the race…the best sleep I’ve ever gotten before a big race! I did end up taking 2 valerian root pills to help ease me into a deep sleep, which helped significantly. We also gained an extra hour of sleep thanks to Daylight Savings Time, which was awesome. I woke up at 4:45am feeling fairly awake and ready for the long day. I ate a piece of Ezekiel toast with almond butter and banana slices with a side of coffee before setting out to catch the Staten Island Ferry at 6:45am. My friend and I both arrived early, met up, and ended up hopping on the 6:30am ferry without issue.

2016 NYC Marathon

I am so glad I was with my friend during the entire commute to Staten Island (total of about 90 minutes with ferry, wait time for bus, and trip on bus to start village) and during the pre-start wait. We hadn’t seen each other since May and chatted endlessly catching up on life. This really helped ease some of my pre-race jitters and took my mind off of the fact that I had to run a marathon in a few hours.

2016 NYC Marathon

The start village was awesome. We arrived around 8am and made our way to the blue village. Bananas, coffee, tea, water, and free hats were available to all runners, which felt like such a luxury.

2016 NYC Marathon

Yup, we both looked like bums in our throwaway clothes but at least we were warm and comfortable! I brought a garbage bag with me, and we sat near a fence while waiting to start. I ate half of another Ezekiel toast + almond butter + banana sandwich about 2 hours before my 10:40am start time. The weather was perfect. My friend left me when Wave 2 started, and I was stuck waiting another 50 minutes for Wave 3 to start. I listened to music while waiting in the corral, which closed half an hour before the actual start, but later ditched the music and ran headphone-free the entire race.

I decided to break this recap down by boroughs. Keep in mind that the mile segments are estimates!

Staten Island (miles 1-2)
I loved the start! The gun went off and Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York New York’ blasted while the announcer gave shoutouts to all the cities and countries participating in the race. He even gave a shoutout to the Cubs! And of course I screamed and cheered loudly. And then we were off! It only took me about 2 minutes to cross the start line, and within minutes I was greeted with the glorious sight of the Verrazano Bridge. Thank goodness I was running on the top half of the bridge because I would’ve been devastated to miss the beauty all around me. I saw Manhattan in the distance (although I was on the right side of the bridge, which splits in two) and was in pure bliss despite the 1 mile climb up, which is actually the steepest part of the entire marathon course. I quickly noted that the top of my left foot was achy and it felt like my shoes were tied too tightly, but there was nowhere to stop and adjust. We hit the top of the bridge around mile 1 and began our descent into Brooklyn. My foot continued to bother me but I wasn’t freaking out yet as I patiently waited to enter the next borough.

2016 NYC Marathon

Brooklyn (miles 3-13.5)
Brooklyn greeted us with a sea of spectators cheering us on. It was so incredible! I didn’t expect to see so many people in Brooklyn, but it was packed and I loved it. I jumped off of the course right as we exited the bridge and retied my left shoelace thinking that the pain was coming from them being tied too tightly. Sadly, this didn’t help at all. I stopped a second time to retie them again, which obviously didn’t help. At this point I started realizing that this pain was something else…and the fear started creeping in. At least the Brooklyn spectators were highly animated, and many of them would call out my name (it was written on my shirt). This was SO awesome and encouraging, I loved it!!

I also quickly realized that I had to pee and began my search for an empty port-a-potty. I finally found one around the 6.5 mile mark, and ended up losing about 1.5 minutes. The pain in my left foot was so bad at times, especially during the downhill portions. What is the irony that running uphill felt so much better than running downhill? A cruel twist of fate. The pain got progressively worse, with shooting pains once in a while, and I was in freak-out mode. I started texting my mom and questioning my ability to finish the race. I kept pulling over to adjust my laces, but nothing seemed to help. I hopped into a medical tent near mile 13 and begged for Tylenol, which wasted about 1 minute according to my Garmin. And then we rounded the corner and set out towards Queens.

Queens (miles 14-15)
I barely remember the Pulaski Bridge, it was so short! Queens welcomed us with tons of screaming spectators. I haven’t spent much time in Queens and actually paid attention to my surroundings in hopes of forgetting about my pain and misery. It was encouraging to pass the halfway point but I knew I still had a long way to go. There were times where I couldn’t even remember what borough I was running in because I was so focused on my foot. Every downhill killed me and I kept pulling over and feebly attempting to change lacing. I’m pretty sure that I unintentionally altered my gait because of the pain in my left foot, which likely caused my right knee to compensate = pain pain pain! The irony is that I didn’t really have to deal with any pain in my right knee during the training cycle (it was my left knee that gave me grief). So yes, this was the race of the most random running injuries ever.

What kept me going at this point was getting to Manhattan and seeing my parents. The dreaded Queensborough Bridge was not so dreadful after all, and I felt really strong aside from my foot and knee pain. I had been fueling with half a Shot Blok every two miles (sometimes I took a full Shot Blok) and drinking water every mile (at water stops…I didn’t wear a fuel belt), and my energy levels were great. I kept trying to speed up but my foot and knee pain stopped me.

Manhattan (miles 16-19.5)
I expected to hear some crazy-loud cheering when we ran off of the Queensborough Bridge, but this was sadly not the case. The crowd was oddly quiet, although there were hundreds of people lining the course. But 1st Ave. rocked! I think this was my favorite part of the entire course…I was finally running in my borough and on my side of town! I was actively looking for my parents where we planned, but somehow I missed them 🙁 This was devastating, I really needed to see them for motivation! I was so bummed but tried hard to just shake it off. I was also continuously texting my mom during this time (and actually during a lot of the race), and told her to head over to mile 24 in Central Park.

2016 NYC Marathon

Bronx (mile 20-21)
The Willis Ave. Bridge into the Bronx felt like the steepest of the bridges, but the climb was super short and didn’t cause much grief. I hit mile 20 right as I entered the Bronx off the bridge and, believe it or not, I felt a surge of energy. No hitting the wall, no exhaustion. Just pure energy. I was dancing to the music and enjoying the energy of the people. I also tried to speed up because I felt great, but alas…my foot…my knee…but screamed nope. I think I stopped again to pointlessly adjust/retie my shoe and quickly stretch out my knee with no relief. We only spent 1.5 miles in the Bronx before returning to Manhattan. The end was fast approaching and I was shocked at how quickly the entire race was passing by.

Manhattan (miles 22-26.2)
We reentered Manhattan via the Madison Ave. Bridge and began the long uphill climb on 5th Ave. This was the first hill that felt truly challenging to me, most likely because it was in the final 6 mile stretch. I was still feeling great and started pushing myself to speed up and pass people, but my foot and knee continued to protest…mostly my knee though at this point since my foot mainly bothered me on downhills. I realized that my quads felt slightly shot at the end of the 5th Ave. hill right as we entered Central Park. I shook off the frustration with my knee and sped up once again. I’ve run hundreds of times in Central Park and know each and every bump and hill. This was my comfort zone! I focused on seeing my parents around the 24 mile mark and was so relieved to see them! My mom even gave me a hug 🙂 I think I became numb to the pain in my foot and knee because it almost felt as if I was…fine? I wasn’t though, and both pains returned at mile 25. The final mile is no joke – you leave Central Park and are greeted with a small hill when you reenter. And let me tell you, this hill hurts. Thankfully it was only during the final 1.2 miles that I felt myself slightly crashing. It wasn’t enough to stop me though, and I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face. I did it!!!

2016 NYC Marathon

This medal is by and far my favorite. It will forever serve as a reminder of my strength, perseverance, and ability to excel at anything I put my mind to…even if getting there is challenging and painful.

NYC Marathon medal

I could barely walk and yet all runners still had quite a ways to go before exiting the park (almost 1 mile!). This part was the most brutal…I was cold despite the heat blanket we were given, and all I wanted to was to receive my warm post-race poncho and meet up with my parents.

2016 NYC Marathon

Looking back, I have no idea how I managed to finish this marathon, let alone in the time I did. Aside from the bathroom break, quick stop at the medical tent, and retying my shoelaces a million times, I never stopped to rest or walk. I never felt the need to do so. I started considering dropping out fairly early in the race, and the thought continued until I reached mile 17. The pain in my left foot was brutal at times, and I would occasionally feel an incredibly painful shock go through my foot, which still terrifies me when I think about it. I totally thought I fractured it, it was that bad. But then I would think of all the people who wished me luck, those who texted and gave me shoutouts on Facebook, those tracking me live, and most importantly my parents who flew out to support me. Once or twice I may have even thought of the expensive-as-hell jacket I purchased, and how I really wanted to wear it as a finisher haha. And I just kept running, one mile at a time. Crossing the finish line felt extra special.

2016 NYC Marathon

Final Time: 4:26:34 (10:10 min/mile pace)
Place: 23583 / ?
Gender Place: 7201 / ?

(P.S. – the 2016 NYC Marathon was the biggest marathon in history!!! I feel so lucky to have been part of it)

Unlike last time, my Garmin actually showed the proper distance of 26.22 miles when I crossed the finish line. It was off by 0.2 miles up until mile 14, but I lost satellite signal on the Queensborough Bridge and my Garmin somehow ended up perfectly matching each mile marker after getting off the bridge.

2016 NYC Marathon

My spits weren’t very consistent, mainly because my moving time and average pace didn’t match since I stopped quite a few times. Thus the average pace shown below was usually slower than my actual average moving pace (which didn’t include the times I stopped running). Mile 6 (split 7) and mile 13 (split 14) are especially off because that is when I took a bathroom break and stopped by the medical tent, respectively. And mile 16 is completely off because my Garmin lost satellite reception.

2016-nyc-marathon-splits

Pros:
• Start Village: even though the wait to start was quite long, I loved hanging out at the start village with my friend – there was water, coffee, tea, bananas, and even free hats available for all runners! Such a fun atmosphere
• Transportation to the start: there are three ways to get to Staten Island, and all are easy and reliable, albeit time consuming
• Fueling & amenities: there were water/Gatorade stops at almost every mile! But fuel was only handed out once on the course
• Post-race goodies: everyone was given a bag filled with pretzels, water, Gatorade, a protein drink, and an apple
• Easy to spectate: I debated whether the spectator situation would be a pro or con and ultimately decided that public transportatin made this race fairly easy to spectate, although large crowds meant that your spectators had to claim their spots early in order to see you!
• Large race: this could be seen as a con for some people, but I personally loved the fact that this was the largest marathon in the world…the joy and excitement in the air was palpable and intoxicating
• Crowd support: the energy of the crowds throughout the entire race is unbelievable and unbeatable! wow wow WOW
• Race route: running through all 5 boroughs is obviously the greatest and unlike any experience you’ll ever have
• Post-race poncho option: the post-race poncho, given to those who didn’t check-in a bag at race start, is seriously the best thing ever – high quality, warm (it’s lined with fleece), hooded…I’ll be keeping it forever

Cons:
• Long wait until start time: most people arrive to Staten Island 2-3 hours before their start time, which can be tricky to deal with in terms of food/fueling
• Hilly course: while I wasn’t too bothered by the hills (bridges & Central Park), I saw many others struggling during each one…this can definitely be viewed as a downside of this incredible marathon
• Crowded: I felt quite congested during the first hour of the race, and there were parts of the race route where all runners had to slow down because of how crowded we were
• Admission: I paid $227 for this race which is obviously expensive, but don’t forget that this is the biggest marathon in the world! (and thus totally worth it in my opinion)

2016 NYC Marathon

(congratulatory flowers from mom and dad)

Overall, I’m still emotional about this race. It obviously did not go as planned. I keep wondering, what the heck happened?!? It’s a bummer that I had to deal with so much physical pain, because I felt so strong otherwise and believe that I could’ve easily PR’ed. I did not feel worn out when I crossed the finish line, and I certainly did not feel like I left everything out on the course. I still had so much energy left in me!

In all honesty I barely remember the race. I was barely paying any attention to the crowds and 95% of my thoughts were focused on the pain in my foot. It’s so unfortunate and upsetting, especially because the NYC crowds were unlike anything I’ve ever seen. This was my dream race and it lived up to all the hype surrounding it. Despite everything though, I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced the race of my dreams. I’ll be back one day, NYC Marathon, and I’ll redeem myself. You can count on it!

♥ Irina