Digital Project Management & Communications

Tag: Personal (Page 1 of 2)

Jillian Kuhn Warren is more than just her job. She believes a solid work-life balance is essential for productivity and happiness.

I Ran the Chicago Marathon!

Chicago Marathon Finish Line

I just knocked a major milestone off my bucket list! I ran my first marathon, and I did it in my hometown – something I’ve wanted to do since high school!

I grew up with the Chicago Marathon. As a teen in the Chicago suburbs, I volunteered at the race with my cross-country teammates, cheered for my running relatives, and witnessed a world-record finish.

I ran my first half marathon several years ago, but I’d been plagued by injuries ever since. Two years ago I decided to get serious about running again. I joined Capital Run Walk’s Fit-Tastic 5K program and the Raleigh Galloway long-distance training program, with the goal of running the 2012 City of Oaks Half Marathon – and then, if that went off without a hitch, the 2013 Chicago Marathon. Read the full story of how I overcame injury to run a pain-free 5K and then moved on to longer distances. I made it through City of Oaks injury-free, and I successfully registered for the Chicago Marathon (despite the unexpected system crash that made registration nearly impossible!).

Wisconsin Half Marathon

I ran a sub-2:30 half in Wisconsin but injured my leg in the process.

I spent the spring training for the Wisconsin Half Marathon (another excellent race!), but unfortunately suffered a calf strain the week before the Galloway season started. I had to take 6 weeks off from running and spent plenty of time in physical therapy. Once I was cleared to run again, my PT advised me not to run the marathon this year. He wasn’t the only one. Coaches and friends also suggested I take it easy. However, I got a second opinion from my orthopaedic doctor (also a distance runner), who wrote me out a very specific run/walk interval plan to help get me to race day. He said that it was a very ambitious, and maybe crazy, goal — but it just might work. Instead of aspiring to finish the Chicago Marathon, my new goal was just to get to the starting line. If I could do that, I would have accomplished something that people said couldn’t be done.

Fast-forward through a sweltering summer of gradually increasing intervals and mileage in 100% humidity, returning to Galloway for Saturday morning long runs with the 12-minute pace group, and continued PT and constant foam-rolling. It soon became apparent that I might actually make it to the marathon start line! (I joked that everything after the start would be my “victory lap.”) About a month before the race, my tight calf muscles started causing problems for my knee on long runs, but I did everything I could to take good care of it.

Chicago Marathon Expo Entrance

I was all smiles (and nerves!) at the Race Expo.

My husband and I flew into O’Hare the Thursday before the race and spent a couple days at my parents’ house. Friday morning, we headed into the city for the race expo — which was unbelievable! The huge McCormick Place convention center was jam-packed with people, vendors, and race gear. It was overwhelming, and we easily could’ve spent half the day there. However, despite the magnitude of the event, it was the most efficient packet pickup I’ve ever experienced. In less than 5 minutes, someone scanned my pickup ticket, checked my ID, and sent me to a specific table where my bib number was already waiting for me. Next, we braved the Nike official race gear section. Although it was only Friday at 11am, it was as busy as the mall on Black Friday. The official merchandise selection was excellent, although overpriced. Once we cleared the Nike gauntlet, we wandered through booths for all the other major running companies — most of which had their own lines of Chicago-specific gear. Other vendors included races, charities, accessories, and even wine tastings. We spent Friday evening and Saturday relaxing before heading to a downtown hotel Saturday night.

Chicago Marathon Start Line

We had plenty of time at the start line. I didn’t cross until 50 minutes after the elite runners!

Sunday: race day! We lucked out and had amazing weather — 45 at the start and 65 at the finish, with sunny skies all the way. There isn’t much shade on the second half of the course, though, so it warmed up quick (and I got a nice sunburn to boot).

It was a 10-minute walk from my hotel to the starting area. Even with heightened security, I cleared the entrance gate in less than 2 minutes (I had to open the pouch on my water belt but that was it) and made my way to my start corral. Security, communication, and corral organization were efficient and easy to navigate. The first wave of runners started at 7:30am, and my wave started at 8… But my corral didn’t cross the start line until 8:20. I had plenty of time to make friends with my fellow Corral K runners.

I may be biased, but the course is absolutely fantastic. It’s flat (with a few minor hills), scenic, and one big party! It’s a giant loop that winds through 29 neighborhoods on the the three different sides of the city. Crowd support is constant and high-energy (although it is true that the first half has more spectators). There were cheerleaders in Boystown, a mariachi block party in Pilsen, Gangnam Style blasting down on the South Side, an Elvis impersonator in Old Town, a marching band at UIC, and countless church and charity groups rocking to music and waving homemade motivational signs along the way. I can honestly say I had FUN the entire race! It’s a spectator-friendly course, as well; my family “fan club” was able to see me at 6 different points along the race route. Also, the volunteers are amazing, there were tons of photographers, and there were so many well-stocked aid stations that I probably could’ve gone without my trusty water belt. I’m glad I had it in the end, though, because I needed my full stash of gels and snacks, and it was helpful to have extra water when the temperature warmed up.

My plan was to stick to 2:1 run/walk intervals until about mile 20, when I’d reevaluate based on how I felt. I started out nice and slow, determined not to get caught up in the high energy of the first half and go out too fast. I ran into a fellow Raleigh Galloway runner around mile 1, and we stuck together for several miles. We saw two other runners from our group as well! Around mile 10, I picked up the pace (hitting a 2:54 half split) and felt fantastic until 18-20, when the sun rose higher and the shade disappeared. I kept waiting to hit “the wall” (which I’d never done, since I’d been unable to run more than 20 miles in training because of my modified, doctor-approved schedule), but fortunately I never did! My knee held up really well, and I never had any major pains — just some very sore feet by the end.

Team Jillian Race Crew

My outstanding “race crew” met me at 6 different points along the course.

When I saw my family for the last time around mile 24, I told them that “I don’t feel ‘good,’ but I’ve felt much worse.” From there, I turned off my interval timer and switched to as-needed walking. I’d pick a building in the distance and decide that I would run until I reached that building, and then take a quick walk break. I remember thinking about things I might do differently for my next marathon… Which was exciting, because it means I never thought “I hate this! I’m never doing this again!” This was proof that I had trained well and was truly prepared. The months of sacrifice and hard work were worth it!

Chicago Marathon finisher's medalCrossing the finish line was amazing, but also strangely anti-climactic. Due to increased security measures, the general public was not allowed anywhere near the finish. You could feel the energy of the elated runners (myself included!) sprinting toward the finish, but it was such a stark contrast to the handful of spectators in the largely empty grandstand. The whole experience was a bit surreal. After crossing the line, we walked down a never-ending chute of blankets, water bottles, medals, photos, etc. — all while being watched over by medical staff. It was literally another mile before we arrived at the publicly accessible runner reunite area. It was packed, but I found my crew easily, and we headed home.

I achieved SEVEN big goals that day:

  1. I made it to the start line.
  2. I finished my first marathon.
  3. I finished the CHICAGO Marathon.
  4. I ran injury-free with a big smile on my face the whole time!
  5. I finished in 5:50:03 — under 6 hours.
  6. I ran fairly even splits, with a 2:54 half time.
  7. I beat my fundraising goal as a member of Alex’s Lemonade Stand’s Team Lemon and brought in $377 for childhood cancer research.

I will definitely be running this one again! Now, when’s my next race???

Team Jillian at the Runner Reunite Area

Check out all the photos from my marathon experience here!

A special thank you goes to:

  • My family, friends, and coworkers
  • Capital Run Walk and the Fit-Tastic coaches and runners
  • Raleigh Galloway, especially Cruise Control and the Kewl Runners
  • Impact Orthopaedics
  • Alex’s Lemonade Stand’s Team Lemon

Choosing Penn

College Green at the University of Pennsylvania

“Where did you go to school?”
“University of Pennsylvania.”
“Why did you decide to go there?”

This is a conversation I have all the time. Here’s the long version of my answer to the Why Penn? question.

In high school, I realized I had a passion for journalism, languages, and the humanities. I didn’t have a dream profession just yet, so I explored schools with communications, journalism, creative writing, English, and French programs. Academically rigorous and distinguished programs rose to the top of my list. I also checked to make sure these schools offered the extracurricular activities that were most important to me"Activities can be a crucial part of college applications" Daily Herald article (check out this 2001 Daily Herald article featuring me and my extracurriculars).

Location-wise, I wanted to push my boundaries. You don’t get many chances to try living in another part of the country for four years with no strings attached. I would get to meet different people, experience another region’s culture, and further develop my independence. Ultimately, I considered a handful of Midwest schools but focused primarily on the East Coast.

Once I had a list of schools that were a match for me academically and geographically, I continued on the search for the best fit! My parents and I drove East during spring break of my junior year to tour several universities. Penn was not one of them. Although I remember receiving a Penn brochure in the mail that year, it didn’t click with me for some reason. However, after seeing other campuses and realizing that I preferred larger, more urban schools, my mom suggested we drive through Philadelphia on our way home. A traffic jam and pouring rain kept us from setting foot on Penn’s campus that day, but I saw enough from the backseat window to pique my interest.

Later that spring, I skipped my junior prom to accompany my dad on a business trip to Philly. When he wasn’t working, we headed over to University City to look around and take a campus tour. We both loved it. Everything about the campus just felt right; and the more I saw, the more I liked it. We brought Mom back to Penn in September to make sure it was the one for me, and we were all hooked. I came back to Illinois and started work on my Early Decision application right away.

My two application essaysUniversity of Pennsylvania Quad prove just how excited I was about the possibility of attending Penn. The first is my response to the famous “write page 217 of your 300-page autobiography” prompt, and the second discusses why I was interested in Penn.

Even years later, I am still absolutely confident that Penn was the right choice for me.

Sponsor My Marathon!

Jillian running the 2013 Wisconsin Marathon

Alex's Lemonade Stand Team Lemon

I’m training for my very first marathon (Chicago 2013!) and have joined Alex’s Lemonade Stand’s Team Lemon! Please sponsor one of my 26 miles to fund pediatric cancer research and help families going through tough times.

I’ll be running for about 5 1/2 hours that day, so I’d like to raise enough money to fund at least 5 1/2 hours of pediatric cancer research ($275). Any and all donations will be greatly appreciated and will help get me closer to my goal.

Only 5 months until race day!

[wufoo username=”jilliankuhndotcom” formhash=”q7x3s5″ autoresize=”true” height=”771″ header=”show”]

Click here if form does not display properly

A Runner’s Response to the Boston Marathon Explosions


Preface: I need to write about this. Bear with me.

I’m a former journalist and television producer. My ears perk up at the words “breaking news,” like a dog who just heard the words “car ride.” This behavior is ingrained in my being.

I am also a runner.

When my husband texted me this afternoon with the news, I was sitting in a session at the Digital Marketing for Business Conference at the Raleigh Convention Center. After I figured it out that it wasn’t some sort of sick joke, my attention span was shot. I should probably apologize to the session speakers because I don’t think I absorbed anything they said. I was too busy wearing down my already dying cell phone battery trying to piece together the story via tweets, news websites, and text messages.

My first reaction — as a runner, and as a human being — was for my heart to sink down into my stomach. Then the journalistic autopilot took over. When the session concluded, this newshound sniffed her way to the nearest television to watch the details unfold live. A mix of adrenaline and shock kept any real feelings at bay.

Then, it started to sink in.

Runners are amazing people. We run through pain, through adversity, through the worst that nature can throw at us. We bond together, support each other, celebrate each other. We raise a whole lot of money for charity. We run to beat ourselves, never to beat down others.

I’ve been running for the better part of my life, and I will likely never see the starting line of the Boston Marathon. Boston runners are elite. Some of them have trained their whole lives for this, and they are the best in the world. Once runners qualify for Boston, no one can ever take that away from them; they become a “Boston Qualifier.” They are making history. The Boston Marathon finish line is the dream.

For me, the more attainable dream is this year’s Chicago Marathon. I’ve battled injury, I’ve sacrificed time and sleep and comfort and money, and I somehow made it through this year’s registration debacle. October 13th is my dream. Now, though, there’s a shadow of uncertainly and fear hovering over it.

I’ve also stood at many a race finish line — many times as a volunteer or supporter. The finish line crowds are full of friends, family, parents, children, runners, fans, and well-wishers of all shapes and sizes. The finish line crowds are full of love and support and positivity.

Any attack on innocent people is unthinkable… But an attack on runners? An attack on the pinnacle of a harmless, incredibly positive sport that brings so much good to the world? Unfathomable.

If I know anything, though, it’s that runners are resilient. They face pain, and they fight through it. They bounce back. How many times have you heard runners proudly complaining about their latest strains, sprains, or mystery ailments? Does that stop them from getting back out on the road? No. We see teams of doctors, plunge into bone-chilling ice baths, and perform self-torture with foam rollers and other bizarre therapeutic devices — all in pursuit of the runner’s high. There are runners who’ve shuffled, limped, and even crawled to the finish line. We don’t quit.

Today we were shaken, but tomorrow we’ll pick each other up, lace up our shoes, and keep running on. My thoughts are with everyone in Boston and all my fellow runners tonight. We’ll get through this. We always do.

Early Jobs: How I Got My Start

Early jobs

You can tell a lot about people by the menial jobs they held early in their lives. Everybody has to start somewhere … And, this is where I started.

Jillian catches a softball

Catching a ball during my fastpitch softball career

Softball umpire: As soon as I was eligible (age 15, I believe), I signed up for umpire training for Elk Grove Girls Softball — my first real job other than babysitting! I’d been playing in the league since second grade, including a few years in its fastpitch travel program, so it seems I knew at an early age to pick a job I love! Calling balls and strikes for 8-year-old girls while being terrified of getting beaned with a flying bat wasn’t the easiest job, nor was getting screamed at by their hyper-competitive parents. But, I took my job seriously. I memorized the rulebook, was always on time (even if I had to ride my bicycle to the field in a rainstorm), wore the heavy equipment in the summer heat, and always tried my best. As far as first jobs go, it wasn’t a bad gig.

Movie theater cashier: I have always loved movies, and a friend recommended I apply to become his coworker at Classic Cinemas Elk Grove Theatre. I got the job and started as a cashier, which meant I did a little bit of everything! I manned the ticket sales booth, cleaned and stocked the concession stand, sold popcorn and drinks, tore tickets, swept empty theaters, scrubbed restrooms, and even voiced the recorded “moviefone” message each week. I learned a lot about customer service, integrity, teamwork, supervising and training coworkers, managing intense situations (i.e, an understaffed concession stand at 7pm on a Friday), hitting deadlines, and even manual labor. Plus, I watched many movies and ate free popcorn. I loved it.

Government procurement clerk: As my movie theater days wound down, I scored a great summer position with the Department of Justice: U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Illinois. I ended up spending my summers and winter holidays there from 2001-2004. As a member of Office Services, I spent my first summer in the mailroom and supply room. I was the only clerk our manager trusted with hand-documenting the location of important case files in our storage rooms. I also processed FedEx packages, burned court case files to CDs, delivered supplies to attorneys, sat in on press conferences and trials, and did all number of odds and ends. After that, I moved into the Procurement Office, where my responsibilities included single-handedly documenting, reorganizing, and maintaining inventory and telephone records for our office of over 300 employees.

Video Vault DVDs

Video store associate: As a student at the University of Pennsylvania, I got involved with Video Vault, the video rental store run by Penn Student Agencies. As an associate, I was often the sole employee in the store during my shifts. I was responsible for managing rentals, returns, and purchases; serving customers; organizing inventory; and supervising the cash register. Eventually, I was given my own key and the honor of both opening and closing the store. Again, I love movies, so this was another natural fit.

From there, as they say, the rest is history! These may have been relatively simple jobs, but I learned a lot and developed a work ethic that continues to serve me well in my professional career.

2012 In Review

Jillian in France

Happy 2013!

I’m a New Year’s baby — so, not only do I set my New Year’s resolutions this time of year, but I make my birthday wishes, too. That’s a lot of self-evaluation and goal-setting all at once! Although I’m already making big plans for the coming year, I would be remiss if I didn’t first look back and reflect on the past one. I had some big personal goals for 2012, and I’m proud to say that I achieved them!

Each year has its highlights, and 2012 was no exception. When I look back at this collection of 366 days (yes, it was a leap year), here’s what I’ll remember:

  • My grandfathers: Between January and March, I lost both of my grandfathers. This was an unexpected one-two punch that definitely shook up my personal life and brought me closer to my family.
  • Changing careers: In February, I left my job as a web agency project manager to pursue a new direction in government communications. Quite simply, I wasn’t happy. But now, thanks to an opportunity to change course and pursue a career that is more in-line with my goals and ideals, I am! I’m glad I took that leap of faith and took this new job.
  • City of Oaks Half Marathon

  • Running: With my new work schedule and office location, I was able to join a 5k training group, and the rest is history. I overcame a nagging injury that had plagued me for years, and not I only ran a 5k — I ran a half-marathon! And, on top of that, I hit my goal time and ran pain-free! Joining the Raleigh Galloway program was key, and I rediscovered a passion, a way of life, and a fantastic group of people that I’d been missing out on.
  • Europe: I planned a September trip to France and Italy with my husband, and my parents even joined us for a few days. After months of planning and saving, it was everything I could’ve hoped for! We spent two weeks revisiting places I’d loved during my study abroad experience in France (see the main image at the top of this post) and exploring new places together in Italy. I even got to see the Pope!
  • My first year of marriage: In November, my husband and I celebrated our first anniversary! First Anniversary 2012Like any year of any relationship, it had highs and lows — but, we made it through and are stronger and happier than the day we got married.
  • Juno: My primary responsibility at the NCAOC this past year has been to project manage the redesign of the Judicial Department’s intranet website, also known as the “Juno” project. We’re wrapping up development now and aim to launch in the coming months. We’ve put a lot of hard work into this project, and I’m happy to see how far it’s come!

Those are the big ones, but I should also mention a couple good trips with family and friends (skiing, the beach, D.C., Charlotte … ), a couple fun weddings, and the impending arrival of my very first niece (arriving any day now). Whew, what a year!

I wonder what 2013 will bring?

European Vacation

Warren Family European Vacation 2012

As I mentioned in “The Secret Talent of a Good Project Manager,” I’ve spent a lot of time this past year planning an international vacation.

Well, the vacation finally came and went … And it was a spectacular success!

Eiffel Tower

My husband and I spent two weeks in France and Italy, and my parents joined us in France for a few days before continuing on to England. We sipped champagne at the top of the Eiffel Tower, toured the town where I studied abroad in college, dipped our toes in both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, saw the most famous works of art in the world, sat 11 rows away from Pope Benedict XVI, visited the grave of one of Jesus’ disciples, walked in Augustus’ footsteps, and hiked to the top of Mount Vesuvius. It was amazing.

I’ve included links below to photo galleries for each leg of our trip. Enjoy!

Date Location Photos
9/1 – 9/2 Paris, France Album
9/3 Paris, France Album
9/4 Versailles & Paris, France Album
9/5 Paris & Tours, France Album
9/6 – 9/7 Biarritz, France Album
9/8 Nimes, France Album
9/9 Nimes & Nice, France Album
9/10 Florence, Italy Album
9/11 Florence & Rome, Italy Album
9/12 Vatican City and Rome, Italy Album
9/13 Rome, Italy Album
9/14 Pompeii, Italy Album
9/15 – 9/16 Rome, Italy Album


Run For Our Heroes 5k

What adjectives best describe you?

I have always been fascinated by branding, and a lot of branding – particularly personal branding – relates to character traits and values. Branding exercises constantly challenge us to find the perfect word or set of words to describe ourselves or our businesses.

In my personal branding efforts, I’ve long struggled to find the precise word to describe one of my defining characteristics. Am I determined, resolute, driven, ambitious, or dedicated? There are so many words that describe the same basic idea (the long list below from is just the tip of the iceberg), but they have varying shades of meaning that can sway the brand in different directions. Which one of these best defines me?

Definition of determined

As with many things in life, I find that my determination/dedication/what-have-you is best described through an example. I am currently training for my third half-marathon – which takes a ton of determination in and of itself – but it’s been a long, hard, bumpy road to get there.

As a teenager, I was an average but consistent member of my junior high and high school cross-country teams, before other extracurricular priorities forced me to take a hiatus from the sport. Seven years later, I jumped back into distance running – starting with a one-mile fun run in July and working my way up to my first half-marathon by November. It was an amazing achievement! I started dreaming of fulfilling my teenage goal of running a full marathon.

City of Oaks Half-Marathon 2007

City of Oaks Half-Marathon 2007

Then, I broke my foot.

A painful stress fracture from overuse (read: too much running!) sidelined me in January 2008. I spent two months hobbling around on crutches … Then, in May, I got back on the treadmill for the first time. I took it easy and did everything I could to avoid further injury. Running takes a lot of patience and dedication to keep chipping away, week by week, to build up strength and endurance. By November, I ran the City of Oaks Half-Marathon for the second year in a row. Take that, right foot!

Little River Trail Run 2008

Little River Trail Run 2008: how I broke my foot!

Of course, as luck would have it, just two days after crossing the finish line, I came down with a mystery knee/hamstring ailment. I couldn’t run more than one quarter of a mile without severe pain. I went to doctors and physical therapists and even yoga teachers, but no one could figure it out. This left me with no choice but to retire from the sport.

Two years later, I got the running itch again, so I joined a walk-to-run group – thinking that taking this slow approach might help me avoid another injury. At first, we would run for less than one minute at a time, and each week we kicked it up a small notch until I could do 10 minutes at a time without pain. Eventually, I did a full 5K. It was tedious but worth it. Comeback #2 had worked!

I was so excited that I signed up for a Thanksgiving Turkey Trot. Five miles seemed ambitious, but I thought I could tackle it by sticking to my run/walk intervals. Unfortunately, my fears were realized when my knee issues flared up by the second mile. Despite the pain, I finished the race – before spending the rest of the holiday stuck in a recliner, unable to easily straighten or bend my knee. However, this cloud did have a silver lining. I finally figured out my problem: I have runner’s knee. And, now that I knew the issue, I could work on solving it!

Now, another 1.5 years has gone by, and here I am … Resolved to be a runner again, and working on my third comeback from injury. I started another run/walk interval training program in March, and I’ve run a couple 5Ks. I’ve now run up to 9 miles at once, and I signed up for my third City of Oaks Half-Marathon in November. If all goes well and my body cooperates, I may finally run a full marathon next year: Chicago 2013.

Running isn’t an easy sport in the first place – physically or mentally … But, I’ve taken on this challenge a few times and am going to keep at it until I truly succeed. I may not yet have settled on the perfect word to describe the tenacity and resolve required to run, but hopefully this example illustrates some of the characteristics I possess. Also, if you think I’m the type of person who gives up easily, the story should prove you wrong! That’s just not part of my personal brand.

Race for the Cure 2012

With a few of my running mates at Race for the Cure 2012

What the Fourth of July Means to Me


The Fourth of July has always been one of my absolute favorite days of the year. This year, though, the holiday is a little bittersweet.

You see, I lost both of my grandfathers earlier this year. One of my grandfathers was responsible for the family’s annual Independence Day celebration, and both of them were proud veterans. I miss them every day – but especially today.

Robert Rofstad: My grandfather grew up in Chicago during the Great Depression, and he served in Europe and Africa with the Big Red One during World War II. He and a couple of his brothers (he had 10 siblings, including a twin brother!) had their own carpet measuring company, although he’d been retired as long as I can remember. He and my grandmother had 3 children, and he was active in the VFW. I have fond memories of breakfasts, car rides, and nature walks with Grandpa. He was a quiet jokester and a kind soul.

Grandpa Rofstad

Me, Grandpa Rofstad, and my sister

Last month, I met my grandmother, mother, and sister in Washington, D.C., on a pilgrimage to see the WWII memorial. It was an incredible trip, and I know my grandfather was there with us in spirit.

WWII Memorial

Mom, Grandma, and me at the WWII Memorial

James A. Kuhn: My grandpa was one of 6 brothers growing up on the North Side of Chicago. His grandfather was wounded at Gettysburg, which initiated a family tradition of Civil War history buffs.

Grandpa Kuhn

Grandpa Kuhn at my wedding

During the Korean War, Grandpa was stationed in Europe with the Air Force, and, upon his return, he worked as a car salesman and helped raise 9 children. Everyone in his hometown knew him for his classic yellow convertible, signature cowboy hat, and trademark cigar. He instilled a sense of patriotism and love of July Fourth in all of his grandchildren.

Both of these men left behind amazing families and incredible stories. I can only aspire to fill the big shoes they left behind. Today, as I celebrate America, I also celebrate them.

Happy Fourth, Grandpas.

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