Thursday, January 3, 2019

2018 Rollin' Straight into 2019

I'm behind. I know.

I owe you some words. I'm working on it.

The truth is, the holidays and wedding planning and training (gasp!) hit me in full force the month of December and now that one variable is removed (holidays) I can breathe a little better. 

I hate that I wasn't able to sit down and write down reflections on the 2018 season before the New Year. Reflecting is such an important part of the growing process. How can you expect to improve without taking a deeper look at your habits with a microscope?

The truth is, I've had a lot of time to mentally reflect on my 2018.

2018, in a nutshell 🏃

I'd first like to state, after the SLEW of races I put my body through in 2017, these 9 races were it for me in 2018 (with the exception of S-NO-W fun run 😉, but who really counts that as a "race"?). I wanted to devote 2018 to one goal. BQ or bust. I entered myself into Grandma's Marathon in June and refused to schedule ANY race after that until I crossed that finish line in Duluth. We all know how that turned out. But let's go into each race a tad further, shall we? Starting with the top left.



This was 100% a last minute race decision. The 10 day weather forecast was lookin' mighty fine on the Chicago Lakefront and I had a hard time passing up a 50 degree Saturday in January with my RyBread Crew. I toed the line, eager to see where my fitness sat. Lesson learned: the body reacts to all sorts of stress. The bad and good kind. My engagement to Rob 10 days prior did little for my performance that day. I was on top of the world, carrying around the shiny new rock on my left ring finger. You couldn't wipe that smile off my face. But when it came time to race, it was clear my body was low on energy and adrenaline. I raced fair, but could have easily pulled off better on a "fresh" mind & body. As Ryan stated, "Next time, save your engagements for AFTER the race!" Noted, Speedy. 



My most favorite of races. Closest to home. A damn challenging course. Always a promised brunch afterwards. This course was designed by the devil himself, and I have continually improved on this course, year after year that I've raced it. It takes time. Patience. Knowledge. Push here. Reserve here. I've had my sites set on a sub 1:40 half marathon on this course for a few years now and this year I got the job done. 1:39:47. Lesson Learned: Head down. Stay focused. Trust your training. 



I went back to my Alma Mater, riding the high of March Madness and the rest of my spring training. I was certain this would be one of my best days. Until it wasn't. Lesson Learned: The highest of highs in running also bring the lowest of lows. Mentally, you need to be tough as nails. I woke up and raced on lifeless legs. I got emotional as I hoped to feel a sense of nostalgia running through parts of campus. Instead, I felt as shitty as they come. I swallowed back a lump in my throat as I willed my body forward. I crossed the finish line and sobbed. I hid my sorrows as my friends crossed the finish line.. until Beth caught me crying on the side of her house later that day. Megan, it's only a race. Why so many tears? I had some serious goals I was hoping to attain and I was second guessing whether or not I had made some untouchable goals for the 2018 season. It took me a while to get my head on straight after this race. But damn, this one definitely reminded me that triathlon and running are 2 TOTALLY different sports. 



I totally wanted to toe the line of Grandma's Marathon after a successful half marathon in April, proving that my training and fitness were right where I needed it to qualify for Boston. But I also 100% believe that everything happens for a reason. Because I totally think that I was meant to "fail" at the Illinois Half Marathon in order to put my head in the space I needed it most. You know what I'm talking about. The "I ain't going through that again" space. The "this shit is gettin' DONE TODAY" space. And I did just that. Lesson Learned: Dedicating myself to one goal this season was totally what I needed to succeed. Boston here I come!



I'm just gonna go straight into the Lesson Learned: your body is not meant to race 10K kills 3 weeks post BQ marathon that happened to be an 11 minute PR. Part of this comes from my stubborn ways. I love this race. It's fun, local, and a great way to start the 4th of July holiday. I knew I wouldn't perform well {even though I told myself "your legs have been feeling good, this might go well for you!" Ha. Not to mention it was hotter than Hades that day. Pretty sure I sweated more lbs than miles ran. Another lesson learned: always have all the fun. Do the things that make you happy and don't look back. 



The 2nd half of 2018 was 100% up in the air until about mid July. I've never had the freedom to totally choose what I want to do with the rest of my season, mid season. I knew one thing was for sure.. I wanted to give my run legs a break. I missed Matilda, my TT bike. I wanted to reconnect with her, the country roads, and all the moo-moos. When I came to the conclusion that my bike legs were recovering well, I decided I wanted to join my RyBread crew and race IMWI {that also happened to be on my 31st birthday}. This wasn't a hard decision. Madison Wisconsin gives me all the chills and I enter complete nostalgia whenever I see the exit for John Nolan Dr. I had 0 expectations for race day. I wanted to have fun. I wanted to spend my birthday weekend with my friends. And I did all of that. However, Lesson Learned: a marathon trained body is NOT ready to race a HILLY Ironman less than 3 months post marathon. I had damn near sacrificed my left hamstring when I qualified for Boston. 100+ miles of climbing on my bike didn't help. And when it came time to run a marathon, I quickly remembered that I had *just* done this less than 3 months ago, without the 112 mile hilly bike ride before it. I finished IMWI, but it wasn't pretty. I was certain I did some major damage to my hamstring that day, but I've since proved otherwise. Regardless, I wouldn't take this day back for anything. 

***************BOSTON DISCLAIMER******************

It was a short week after IMWI that I was given the chance to apply for entry into the Boston Marathon. I was 4 minutes and 33 seconds under my qualifying time. No one had any doubts about my entry. Until I received this daunting email and I was forced to spread the word to my family and friends, Boston 2019 was officially off of my race calendar. 



A bum hamstring. A Boston Marathon rejection. Can you say "defeated?" I ate myself into a hole that night. I cried at the drop of a hat. This was something I wanted terribly. I had earned the right, fair and square. And it was taken away from me. But at this point, Rob was just as invested as me. We were ready to kick off Spring 2019 together with The Boston Marathon and end it together as Mr. & Mrs. Sloan. The shock in his voice when I told him the bad news, I'll never forget it. It was that moment I knew, my 2019 racing goals were about to be altered, drastically. 




I still owe you all the juicy details on the treatment that I took for my hamstring, and I promise it's coming. But just know that it's a work in progress and something I'm never going to truly be "done" with. But I took plenty of time for myself. I rested as instructed. When I felt decent I jogged. I rolled the dice when I decided to run a 5K with my work family. It wasn't until that morning that I decided to race it. Lesson Learned: when the body is on, GO. Something clicked when I was warming up that day. I had a feeling, today was going to be worth it if I pushed it. And that it was. A shiny new 5K PR, 6 weeks after one of the hardest physical days of my racing life. Damn, the body is something amazing. 




As long as I celebrate Thanksgiving in Crystal Lake, this is something I will probably always do (assuming all body parts are attached and functioning). I never race this one. It's on a trail and trails aren't my friend. This is more of a "calorie burner" before I gorge myself all day. This year was no different. It's always fun and promises some memories with friends before a day of celebration with family. Lesson Learned: continue this tradition always. 



This is another race I have a hard time saying no to. Knowing that I'm apart of 100's of Santa's running through Downtown Crystal Lake, how could I want to sleep in this first Sunday of December? This year, the body wasn't exactly feelin' the speed. I had been running well lately. But the pieces didn't fit on race day. I didn't push anything, I wasn't about to take steps backwards after working so hard with progress on my left leg. Lesson Learned: progress isn't always forward, so you gotta roll with the punches when they come.


I don't think it's any secret, BQ or Bust 2018 has turned into BQ or Bust 2019. This time, I can't be fearful. Many will tell you that after you are defeated, it's easy to hide. But that's the last thing on my agenda. I need to be seen. I need to be held accountable. I will always be grateful for the miles, fast or slow, confident or not. The goals I have set for myself are risky and putting them in writing for the world to see is bold and scary. I lay my heart on the line everytime I race, allowing myself to be vulnerable in the event of failure. My motivation comes from many sources, but watching my peers succeed AND struggle is one of my greatest sources. "If she can come back from that, I can re-qualify for Boston." I have always thrived on a good hearted running conversation with a fellow runner. We're a different breed and we know it. But our spirit is one to be reckoned with and the drive in our hearts is something you won't find stronger elsewhere. 

Boston qualification the 2nd time around is only getting harder. The BAA lowered the qualification standards this year by 5 minutes per age group. That means I'm looking at a 3:29:59 to even qualify. Most likely a sub 3:25 even consider entry to the race. I didn't imagine I'd be planning a wedding and training to run a sub 3:30 marathon at the same time. But here I am. Once again, proving that life never goes as planned. My first attempt takes place in April 2019, the same weekend as the Boston Marathon. I'll be racing a marathon called BQ.2 series in Geneva, IL. It's a marathon designed specifically for people like me. Those who are within the skin of the of their teeth of qualifying for Boston or gaining entry. It's pancake flat and boring, 8 laps along the Fox River in Geneva, IL. But at this point, I'm over the scenery while I run. All I want to see right now is this: 


My journey with Boston isn't over yet. Stay tuned. Cheers. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A Perfectly Imperfect Fall

I've been M.I.A. I know.

Last we spoke, I wasn't in the *best* headspace. (In case you missed it.) 

I know I know, I didn't necessarily let you completely into my head. I'm not even sure I knew exactly how upset I was. I definitely had something going on with my left hamstring AND I had just been rejected from The Boston Marathon.

I cried more in the months of September and October than I ever remember in a long while.

I tried to make light of the situation when people brought it up. "Oh so you didn't get into Boston, you have a wedding to plan instead. No BIG DEAL!" Listen people, I thrive on chaos and the hustle and bustle of what training and life have to offer. Take away the ONE thing keeps my headspace normal and we've got some serious issues. This is a HUGE DEAL.

I had a pretty serious heart to heart with a dear fellow Rybread teammate, honest and true friend, and one of the strongest and guttiest runners I've ever come across. "Kati I'm not strong enough to do what I need to do to get to Boston. I qualified fair and square and it was TAKEN AWAY FROM ME.  This entire experience has me questioning so much. Maybe I'm not supposed to do this?" She listened to me. She let me cry and rant and cry some more. She reminded me that her and I are far to good at comparing our athletic abilities to others only to discredit our own. She reminded me that NO ONE expects me to be ok right now. But she also reminded me how far I've come. {5:27 marathon --> 3:30 marathon} "Megan, you don't have the quit in you. This is what you do and who you are. Come back to me when your head's on straight." And I did just that. 

Instead of training for Boston right now {which I had every intent of running "relaxed" so I could enjoy every step of the world's more iconic marathon only a month before I married my best friend} I'm now training to run faster and harder than I ever have before. We're talking about some numbers that truly frighten me a lot.


Qualifying for Boston 2020 isn't going to be easy at all. Hell, it wasn't easy the first time around. After I ran Grandma's one of the first things I said was, "I'm so glad I never have to run that fast again." If I could go back in time and eat my words... I think another part of the Boston 2020 quest that scares me is the mental game. I had me a few breakdowns while training for Grandma's. I never thought I'd say this, but I guess that was only the beginning. I'm going to finish planning a wedding. I'm also going to train to run the fastest 26.2 I've ever done to date. Someone please say a prayer for my mental state because this sounds like a recipe for all the wedding guests to receive my favorite gel + nutrition combo as the thank you gift 🤦. 

But let's not forget, as of 2 months ago, I wasn't exactly "healthy" in running terms. I've decided to give you all the details on the treatment route I embarked on in my next blog (coming soon!) But for right now, all you need to know is that I've gotten myself into a solid maintenance plan and running is once again... fun.

I first decided to test my legs in late October at the Woodstock Care 4 Cancer 5k. My office had decided to run/walk this event as a company and raise money for a good cause. I never intended on racing this at all. I only agreed to run with a coworker and enjoy the morning. Hell, my first speedwork back to the game (which was pretty weak) was only a few days prior to the race. But then... I did a warm up run and my leg felt different. Good, different. Alright guys, change of plans I might need to see what I can do right now. 

As you can see, I found myself on the starting line with all the young whipper snappers


And I gave it my best shot 🏃
It wasn't a long race obviously, and it was over a month ago. So the exact details aren't completely there anymore. But I so vividly remember watching my first mile tick by at a 6:56. And I remember thinking to myself.. "Man, that didn't feel so bad at all. Looks like I'm here to play today!" It was at that point that I tried to remember how many females were ahead of me. One for sure, possibly two. Shortly after the 1 mile mark we turned into a neighborhood and weaved our way around. Weaving can tire out the body quickly so I thought this might be my downfall. But... I continued my groove and even made a few more passes. When mile 2 clicked my watch showed me a 7:13, I decided to go for it the last mile. I knew I had a shot to PR if I picked up the pace for the last mile.
Megan you're nuts! You barely had enough time to recover from Madison, your leg is still not right, what are you thinking!?
I'm thinking a little RnR does the body good and when you're ready to go you GO. I passed a spectator during that last mile and he screamed as I ran by, "Second female, right here!" I knew first place was out of my league at this point, but I didn't want to surrender my current position. The last half mile everything burned. But it was well worth it.

2nd place female, 21:55, and a 25 second PR
After I went home that day I knew, my running legs were coming back. I needed to be patient and continue my current regimen. Trust the process. Don't skimp on stretches, exercises, massages. Keep the momentum moving forward.

The next month was spent logging more miles as well as more speedwork. I texted Speedy on a pretty regular basis "Holy cow that workout was AWESOME! I NAILED it!" I got SUPER busy going head first into wedding planning that I didn't even think twice about my next race. I went to work, I did my workouts, and all free time was spent wedding planning.

But of course Thanksgiving Turkey Trots were coming up, and I decided to run the local Turkey Trot at Lippold Park (free entry with donation to the food pantry) with my brother, the Giuliano's (Speedy and Jacqui) and our newest RyBreader, Zach. I never truly race this one as it's on a crushed limestone path. But I always give myself a solid workout during the race. However when we showed up we learned that the course had changed due to ice and construction, so we were now running a 2 loop cross country course. As soon as I heard that I knew I was in for a true "fun run." Put grass under me and I suddenly have 2 left feet and can't figure out speed at all. But it was still fun. We burned some calories so we could enjoy Thanksgiving the way it's meant to be enjoyed. We gave back to the community and had some fun in the process. All in all, I'd call it a great day to run.

As promised, selfie from BFG with the long arms
Happy Thanksgiving!
I've also been known to run a 5K during the holiday season dressed like Santa Claus. This year was no different. The weather is generally of the frigid nature with a chance of snow and/or blizzard. This year.. RAIN. All the rain. And a COLD rain. In all honesty.. I was miserable the entire time. I took off with Jacqui to run a "warmup" in the 40 degree rain. Literally I felt like a moving popsicle it was so cold. BFG decided to sit out the warmup (shocker). Naturally my shoes and socks were socked within a quarter mile of the warm-up and my pig tails were flipping the water all over the place. Yep, this was one of those mornings I could have overslept and it would have been ok with me.

Of course, Jacqui and I got done with our warm-up LITERALLY as it stopped raining. We peeled our wet layers and got "Santa Ready" with a few minutes to spare. At this point... I was bone cold. All I wanted was to be DONE with the race. Just before the gun went off I started to shiver that annoying shiver that chatters your teeth and tightens your skin. Yea, and then the gun went off and I was supposed to race. I ain't so sure about one. 

Are my lips blue? 
I'll be the first to admit, my head was not in this one. I'm not a fan of winter in the slightest, but I might hate the freezing cold rain even more. And that's what this was. Dodging freezing cold puddles of water while catching a cold 36 degree mist of dampness on your face at all times. Oh, did I mention there was a casual wind as well? And the breeze kept grabbing my beard and at one point I damn near gagged on it and my hair at the same time and coughed like I was on my death bed while trying to maintain any sort of respectable pace? Yea, all of that happened. I was able to hold a decent first mile, 6:55. But, it wasn't easy for me (even though it was slightly downhill). I know for a fact, my head wasn't in the game. I was cold. I was damn cold. I could have run on a treadmill later in the day and probably broken a solid sweat! But, alas here I was with my crew doing my thing. After I choked voilently on my Santa beard and hair, I never truly recovered. I had a hard time catching my breath and finding my groove again. So I just went with it. It is what it is. No records were being broken on this miserable morning. I found the finish line and was greeted  by Jacqui's dad, camera ready! 

🏃🏃🏃
Dodgin' raindrops!
I can't say I didn't have fun though. This race is as close to home as it gets and always draws in some close family friends and acquaintances. It's always a great time seeing everyone. The first chance I had I made sure to change out of my wet clothes so we could all enjoy a lovely breakfast as a group.

This is why we can't have nice things Mark

Jacqui won (are you shocked?) while I took home an age group medal 

We even stuck around long enough after the race to meet the REAL SANTA! Santa's house sits right outside of Benedict's and as we were leaving he was walking up, about to invite all the children of Crystal Lake to sit on his lap. Mark and I snagged him before he even had a chance to sit down.

"Dear Santa, bring me wine to drink while I plan my wedding"
{He didn't argue this at all}

When I got home I promptly showered, put all the layers on, curled up on the couch and took a nap. I was finally warm, fed, and ready to take a nice little snooze. 

The next morning I woke up and found out I made the paper, incognito obviously 🤣

So what can I say? This fall definitely didn't go as I would have imagined. Hell, the 2nd half of this year didn't go as I planned at all. But what can you do? I've taken some time to give my body the rest it needs. I've invested more and more into my body to help it heal and recover properly. I raced less, slept in more, and did what my body allowed me to do without pushing it any farther. I know I'm still young. But, I've been running for about 20 years. No matter how "old" or "young" I still am, that's a long time to be pounding pavement. I know a time will come and my body won't be able to do this anymore. If I don't truly listen to it now, my running expiration date is going to be sooner than I hope for. I'm pretty comfortable with where I am at the moment. I've got my body back to working order (you'll get details on this next blog), my run speed is coming back (5K PR in October), and I have a pretty good plan of attack for 2019 (also to come at a later date). Santa Claus is coming to my house in a few short weeks, wedding festivities start shortly after the first of the year, and before you know it, I'm going to be racing under a different name. {That one still gets me, every time. Megan Sloan...} 

On that note, I have some Christmas shopping to get done and I'm sure I'm behind on my wedding to-do list. 


Sunday, September 30, 2018

19 Seconds.

I have referenced many times, the plans you make for yourself aren't always the plans that the good Lord has in store for us. 

Almost exactly a year ago, I decided I was going to devote 2018 to "Boston or Bust." I put my head down and gave my training every ounce of focus it required. Just after the New Year, Rob and I got engaged. When it came time to choose a wedding date, I immediately nixed the month of April. "I am not going to get married and possibly run The Boston Marathon in the same month. That's just too much." At this point, I hadn't qualified for Boston. But Rob understood, my mental game was on point. By literally planning one of the biggest events of our life around the POSSIBILITY of a race meant one thing, it was game on and nothing was going to stop me from toeing that line in Hopkinton. 

Until I received this email a few days ago:

About as crushing as it gets
I had done my part. I trained my ass off. I suffered through the mental breakdowns of marathon training. I damn near sacrificed my left hamstring in the process. I qualified for the race. With 4 minutes and 33 seconds to spare. But apparently my security blanket needed another 19 seconds.

No one could have predicted such a huge jump in the time qualification.  Last year, you needed to better your qualifying time by 3 minutes and 23 seconds. Add a minute and 29 seconds to that this year and you officially have 7,384 runners that were rejected from the 2019 Boston Marathon. Myself included.

It's been a roller coaster of emotions for me the last few days. Instantly I felt shock, anger, complete and utter disbelief. I made my phone calls and marched myself right back into work and put on my poker face. In the hours immediately following I felt almost petty for being so upset. Megan, there are SO many other more important things in life. A silly race shouldn't cause this much emotion. Get over it. And then 10 minutes later, Of course you deserve to be angry and upset. You worked your tail end off to be able add the term "Boston Qualifier" after your name. Go ahead, cry. Eat all the cards. Cry some more. That night I wallowed in my self pity and ate almost an entire pound of baked macaroni and cheese from Mariano's. I've had my eye on it for months now, and moments like this completely justified an indulgence. I needed comfort food.

I woke up on Friday morning and I honestly felt hungover, without a sip of alcohol the night before. My eyes were as puffy as I'd ever seen them. I had a pounding headache. I felt as though I hadn't truly slept. I wasn't normal peppy self walking into work. My boss noticed. My coworkers noticed. Hell, even the owner noticed and approached me, "Hey, you alright?" I thought I was ok, I just kept to myself and did my job and didn't really interact with anyone unless I needed to. Apparently that's everything I needed to do to reassure everyone that I really wasn't ok. I made a conscious effort after that to be more like "Megan."

So many people have reached out to me since Thursday evening. Phrases like "you deserve to be at that starting line" and "that's absolutely brutal" and "my heart aches for you" and "I've been in your exact position before" have been flying around. I can't thank everyone enough for their kind words. At times, running can feel like such a lonely sport, especially on the bad days. But after a situation like this, I'm assured that the running community is as tight nit as they come. Support runs deep and thick in our blood. Success isn't measured by speed or distance run. It's measured by the joy running brings, the passion runners hold in their hearts, and our complete disregard to accept failure as an option. The email I received on Thursday evening, some would consider this a failure. Me? I'm choosing to look at it as an opportunity to grow. I refuse to let myself be bitter about this situation. I'm going to allow it to make me get better. In the words or Kara Goucher, "Nothing has ever broken my heart the way running has. And yet, I can't breath without it."  The amount of truth behind this statement is unreal and completely defines this situation.

Not for a single second do I discredit the success I had at Grandma's Marathon in June after receiving that email from the B.A.A. on Thursday. Grandma's Marathon is easily the best race I've ever executed. I just hope I can remember every single detail I need to execute that type of race again, because this isn't over. Boston and I aren't done. Thoughts and ideas have already hit the drawing board to find a way to get me to Boston in 2020. And, the plan {hope} is that I won't be running Boston alone in 2020. My birthday twin, Lauren. has some unfinished business herself with the Boston Marathon. Lauren ran Boston in in 2016. Well, she started the race. She knew she wouldn't be able to finish due to an outstanding injury but she wanted to be apart of the experience. She promised her boyfriend (now fiance) that she'd see him at the finish line. She soaked up 7 miles of the Boston Marathon, stepped off course, and was driven to the finish line so she could welcome Matt to Boston. Between the 2 of us, we have a serious fire lit. 

Pre-race miles in Lake Placid, NY circa 2016

We know, plans can change. Curveballs happen. At this point, rollin' with the punches is my middle name. But this is where I stand. This is what I have my sights set on. And if you thought I was motivated before, hell you ain't see nothin' yet.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

IMWI: Round 2

In the Ironman/Triathlon world, when you utter the words, "Ironman Wisconsin" there are a variety of things that can pop into a fellow triathletes mind. For instance, many may think of this site:

The Capitol building amidst the darkness of the late night finishers

Others who who are a little scared from race day might think of something like this:

Legit. This guy hasn't missed a race in years. 
Either way, it never ceases to amaze. And this weekend was no different. Mark and I rolled into town around 3pm, dropped our things at the AirBnB and then headed straight back to Monona Terrace to check-in. We went through the motions. Show your photo ID: check. Sign your life away in case anything happens: check. Make sure your emergency contact is listed correctly: check. Step on the scale for pre-race weigh in: check. Make sure you are branded with your Ironman wristband that serves as your only identification as an athlete throughout the weekend: check. Alas, we were officially checked in and promptly spit out into the Ironman Merchandise store and expo. Let the games begin.

That Capitol 💖
Right after this pic, Mark goes "Ok, now take a picture without touching me" 🙄

I was absolutely exhausted. Madison isn't far away from home. But when you try to cram a 5 day work week into 3 and a half (because Monday was Labor Day) it left me feeling like I was missing out on a few ZZZ's going into race day. Mark and I had dinner with Jacqui and Ryan at the Athlete Welcome Banquet. We sat and listened to Mike Reilly welcome us to town while the Mayor insisted we take home some of the overflow water from Lake Monona. In the weeks leading up to Ironman Wisconsin, Madison had received a record amount of rain causing Lake Monona to overflow and push the swim start/exit back about 100 yards from it's normal location, making transition a tad longer. Honestly, I was just AMAZED at Madison's efforts to make sure the swim portion of this race COULD go on. We said goodnight and parted ways. Tomorrow brought a long list of To Do's.

#rockstarseating
SATURDAY

Mark and I woke up on Saturday morning and I felt extremely refreshed. I needed a solid night of sleep and that's exactly what I got. Mark and I got in the car to meet the group for an open water swim and I got word from Rob that he didn't have to work Saturday night. YES! HE DOESN'T HAVE TO MISS THE RACE! Caveat: He had to work Monday morning at 3am. Loophole: Finish the race as fast as possible so Rob can get home and get some sleep before work. Challenge accepted.

We pulled up to the water and were quite surprised to see some giant white caps throughout the lake. Lake Monona is famous for it's chop the farther out you go, but this was a different story. The air was cold, the wind was strong, and the waves were fierce. Needless to say, BFG wasn't happy about the situation considering his swim training history in the past 365 days.

Rethinking his training plan 🤔
We all survived a short little practice swim. It wasn't ideal, but we knew we could pull it off in the chop if we had too. But, some calmer waters on race morning would definitely be preferable.

No, Speedy did not swim with his bike.
He's not that good.

Mark and I took off to finish up the rest of the low key workouts of the day, a spin around the neighborhood followed by a 1 mile shakeout run. We finished up going through the motions, stickering bikes and helmets and packing up our gear bags. It never takes to long, but the process can be stressful. Did I pack everything I need? Are these 5 extra gels necessary? How about an extra pair of socks? Normally, this is something I can do in my sleep. But it had been a full YEAR since I had done any sort of triathlon, let alone an Ironman. I was trying to remember what the motions felt like.

I went pretty "bare minimum" for this race
We packed up the car and headed back into town for bike and gear check in. This was the easy part. Once it's all packed, all you have to do is drop it off.

Only half of the bikes!

Bikes are in! 


Gear bags too!
We relaxed for a while and finally it was time to eat. EATING ALSO MEANT ROB WAS IN TOWN! We all thoroughly enjoyed our pre-race meal with some great company and laughs. Race day was only 1 sleep away. Hell, my 31st birthday was only 1 sleep away but honestly that was the last thing on my mind. Waking up to some calm water and minimal winds was what I wanted most.

Looks who's hereeeee!!!! 💗 
Mark trying to steal some training through conduction from Coach Speedy



Mark found Lauren on the street and stole her for the evening!

SUNDAY (RACE DAY AND MY BIRTHDAY! 🎈)

The night before a race is always restless sleep, especially a big race like this. And this particular night was no different. Just as I started to feel like I was finally asleep, my alarm went off. Alright it's time to get this show on the road. The morning routine started. Coffee. Banana. Peanut butter english muffin toasted. Let Mother Nature take it's course.

I'm pretty sure 10 years ago I was still awake at 3:48am celebrating my 21st birthday
My how times have changed

I gave Rob a kiss goodbye and told him I'd see him on course at some point. Mark and I made it to transition just as they were opening the doors at 5am. If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that giving yourself a few extra minutes to make sure everything is set to go isn't the end of the world. We don't need anymore Ironman Texas repeats as far as I'm concerned. Because within a few minutes of dropping off last minute items to our gear bags, Mark realized he didn't have any socks in in his bike bag. It's currently 5:07am and transition closes at 6:30. What's one to do? ROB TO THE RESCUE. Rob was planning on making it to the swim exit and not seeing us before the start of the race. But when I called him at 5:08am and asked him ever so nicely if he could leave a *tad* earlier than expected to bring Mark his socks, that was the end of that plan. 

Jacqui and Ryan were staying at the Hilton (literally attached to Monona Terrace) so we made our way back up to their room to get away from the commotion until we had to head back down to the starting line. Soon enough, Rob had arrived, wetsuits were being shimmied, and it was damn near go time.  I dropped my morning clothes bag, kissed Rob goodbye, and scaled a fence with Mark and Trina to finally weave our way as close to the front as possible. 

It didn't take long before Mark, Trina, and I found Nate and the 4 of us wiggled through the crowd to the 1:11-1:20 swim start area. Ryan was long gone already but at one point Jacqui squeezed past us and made it a little farther ahead. The closer it got to  firing the gun, the more my nerves intensified. Four years ago I was wading in Lake Monona with all 2500 athletes waiting for the gun to go off. This time around, the mass swim start had been eliminated and we were standing like sardines in the grass waiting to be freed into the water for the newly self seeded swim start. The National Anthem played and within seconds the gun went off to start the pro women's race and I nearly pooped myself. Like I said, I was all sorts of high strung. Before I knew it the amatuer gun was fired and my toes hit the water. IMWI round 2, here goes nothing. 

SWIM

The first couple minutes of any Ironman are always about getting your bearings. Today was no different. We had to swim on a slight angle in order to officially hit the rectangular swim course. I tried to find a buoy, but following the masses ended up being my only option. I don't remember seeing my first buoy until I reached the 2nd one (and I only know that because it said "2" on the side). Usually, the first 5 minutes of THIS particular race are compared to a washing machine, considering the ever so unpopular mass swim start of years past. But this rolling start? Man, I could get used to this. The water was wide open. Sure, there was a foot here, a body there to maneuver around. But NOTHING like it was in the past. I made it to the first turn buoy in what seemed like no time. This was the part I was dreading though. Direct sunlight and a little intenser chop.

Compared to the practice swim on Saturday, the chop was nothing at all. But don't be fooled, it was still present. And that loooooong backstretch hasn't changed in 4 years. It's long and brutal. The sun is KILLER in your eyes the entire time. Sighting is a b*tch. Occasionally a chop takes you by surprise and your arm doesn't even make it out of the water for the next stroke. This time around I kept swimming up on small packs of swimmers, maybe 5-6 at a time. Nothing drastic. But enough for me to have to make a decision. Swim THROUGH or around? When I could, I swam around. But there was a a few times I remember I found my hole and made my move. The shortest distance from point A to B is a straight line. You can't blame me for this one. I'm sure I pissed off a few people. I took in some water in the process (because even though this is my 7th time I'm still somewhat a newb and can't not swallow lake water during a race). Everytime I found my mind drifting off to any sort of negativity (i.e. "well that mouthful of water certainly set you back another minute!") I fell deeper into this nasty mind game of "just how bad will this swim actually be?" I knew I wasn't in the BEST swim shape. The chop certainly wasn't helping. And I could definitely do without this sun in my eyes. I made the final turn towards home and could hear Mike Reilly over the speakers. I was getting close. I finally popped up out of the water and glanced at my watch 1:16:53. By the time I crossed the timing matt I finished that swim in a shocking 1:17:06. Man, maybe I do remember how to triathlon!


Peace out wata ✌
{Sidenote: the last time I swam 2.4 miles in a wetsuit was for Ironman Lake Placid in 2016. (IMTX 2017 was non-wetsuit. IMCHATTY 2017 was also non wetsuit downstream.) I had my all time best swim at IMLP in the calmest of waters with a 1:15:02 and I'd like to say I was in really good swim shape at the time. My 1:17:06 in Lake Monona literally tickled me pretty as I took off for what I thought would be the biggest test of my day.}

T1 7:19

Coming out of the water the wetsuit strippers were busier than I'd hoped for. But I had my wetsuit to my hips on my own and was able to snag one of the last strippers to help me with the lower half. The swim start being pushed back added about 100 yards to T1, not the end of the world. Until you start running on that concrete and realize how FRICKEN COLD THE CEMENT IS. I had barely made it to the base of the helix and I could already tell my feet were numb. The helix crowd was THICK with fans. The energy electric. I know for a fact that my heart rate is never higher than when I'm in transition. I made my passes to those dawdlers. I even passed a few who were running. Finally I was off the concrete ground and inside the Monona Terrace to grab my bike bag, change, and hit the road.

Rob found himself a nice little seat on the concrete wall of the Terrace and stalked us as we found our bikes!
Now the scary part: Ride your bike DOWN the helix 😅

BIKE

In years past, I have watched athletes start their IMWI bike as the exit Monona Terrace coming down from the parking garage helix. Hell, I did it myself 4 years ago. And I swear every time it gives me a set of nerves like nails on a chalkboard. It's a tight turn. And it's 3 full 360 degree turns to the bottom. And at the bottom, you have to make sure you don't run into one of the vestibules where you would normally pay as you exit a parking garage. Legit this is the coolest and scariest transition setups you've ever seen. 

Yea, I wasn't lying.
Over the years, I've become VERY familiar with this bike course. I don't need pavement markings at this point. I've been riding the 40 mile loop on repeat for training for the past 5 summers. But the stick leading out to the loop? That is something I barely remember. I knew it wasn't flat, but I honestly had forgotten anything about it. The stick is 16 miles, then you ride the 40 mile loop twice, and then you ride the stick back to Monona Terrace, hence giving you your 112 mile bike course. 

The wind seemed to be in our favor on the way out. I never had to much trouble and even saw a 14:XX 5 mile split at one point. I knew that wouldn't last forever so I graciously accepted the speed at this point of the bike. We finally entered Verona and as far as I was concerned, this is where the games really began. I felt like I was on my home turf, these are my roads damnit! I knew exactly when to flip into the smaller gears so I wouldn't trash my legs. I knew exactly what hills seemed to tax my body over others. I knew exactly what to flip it into high gear and let loose because if you're smart, you can ride Witte Road like a roller coaster and use practically 0 energy. Some might call this an advantage while others would call it slightly "unfair." Call what you want, I've beaten my body to shreds over the years on this bike course so I think I deserved a little bit of fun today.

One of the millions descends of the day
It didn't take long before I noticed that the wind wasn't what it normally is. Having ridden this course plenty of times over the years, the wind direction is pretty easy to predict, give or take. Today? It pulled a 180 on us. The sections of the course where you can normally pick up some speed, you were fighting the wind. And aggressively. There are few flat sections of this course, but the few that are generally offer minimal wind and a chance for you to relax and gather yourself before you have to start doing some serious work again. This day? We worked allllll day.

Heading into Mount Horeb was the worst. There is a bit of a flat section followed by a false flat followed by a pretty large climb. But, it's normally very manageable. I did everything I could to stay as low as possible and NOT come out of aero even when I was climbing. I needed to conserve as much as possible. Just after Mount Horeb there was a nice little section of wind as well, just before turning onto Witte Road. I barely lifted my head up. I looked up enough that I knew there were no bikes directly in front of me. I didn't want my eyes any higher than they needed to be. Just before turning onto Witte Road I looked up to take the turn and there stood the first person I recognized while on the bike, Jodi Menke. A local triathlon acquaintance, I knew she'd pop up on course at some point. We made eye contact and literally we both screamed. We were both so excited to see each other that no words came out, simply excitement. 

After I enjoyed Witte Road, I started to wonder where Mark was. I knew he should have passed me by now. What if he had an issue in the water? What if he cramped and can't ride? What if something happened and they had to call Rob to go get him? Speaking of, where's ROB!? You have no idea where my mind will take me during a day like this. 

I'm sure I was fighting some sort of wind at this point

Soon it came time to climb the Three Sisters/Bitches (whatever you prefer to call them). I was really starting to worry that I hadn't seen Mark at all. I knew I'd see familiar faces on one of the Sisters so I'd have a chance to ask. Sure enough, I made it to Sister #2 at the base of the hill stood John Lorenz ready to run me up the hill. You're looking great! Jacqui is in the top 7, Nate and Trina are literally just ahead of you! I was feeling great and used that energy to power up the massive hill, but managed to ask John if he had seen my brother at all. He's doing good, just a little ways behind you! THANK GOD! Then, he passed me off to Mr. Giuliano, Ryan's Dad. Mr. Always Excited. Mr. Intensity. His energy was electric and seriously made me feel on top of the world. Holy hell would you look at this girl, she knows how to power up a hill! GO GET EM MEG!"  And just like that, I made it to the top and the crowds thinned.

I started loop 2 and was anticipating the breakdown of my body. Generally, if it's gonna go it'll be on the 2nd half of the bike course. For me, I usually start to get off pattern with my nutrition. My watch is set to beep every 20 minutes to remind me to take in some sort of nutrition. But after 4 hours or so, I just don't wanna sometimes. But today, I was on point. Gel, banana at aide stations, water, nutrition bottle, cliff bar. You name it, I did it. And nothing cramped. Nothing hurt. My stomach survived. 

Just before mile 85ish, I had my first Rob sighting. He was sitting off to the side, solo, no crowds around him, wearing his flashing neon construction work vest so I could find him easily. He pulled the camera down so I could make eye contact. It wasn't until that moment that it clicked. Mark is ok and Rob is just now showing up on course. I bet he took a nap after the swim. Sure enough, this girl knows her fiance best. 

I told ya, head down. Only look as far up as necessary.
#wind
Finally I was on the last section of the loop and knew the stick was quickly approaching. I've never been more excited in my life, until the moment I realized that the wind would be in our face the ENTIRE 16 MILES BACK. And immediately after turning off of the loop, I remembered. I remembered an awful memory. The first 3-4 miles heading back is a nice, steady, mean, dirty, nasty, climb... in a headwind. If ever there are moments in your life that you feel like you're truly being tested for survival mode, this might be one of them. It takes away ANY positivity you had left. It eats at your mental status. It destroys your legs. And I'll be damned, you still have 10 miles to go once you get to the top.

Finally we hit the bike path. Three miles to go. And then it was John Nolan Drive. The capitol building in sight. Let's get this shit over with. But. There's always a but.

Remember the helix that you so cautiously have to ride down at the beginning? You get to climb that to finish off your ride.

Legit, throw it in the smallest gear and say your prayers.

And finally, 6 hours and 27 minutes later, it was time to run. {A casual 48 minutes faster than it took me to bike the course 4 years prior, for the first time. Take away some of this odd wind and I bet it could have been closer to an hour.}

T2 3:18

Rob found me coming off the bike, but I didn't see him. I handed my bike over and took my first steps to get my bearings. (The term "brick legs" is never more appropriate than after riding this course.) It didn't take long before I had my sea legs back and was flying down the aisle of bags to grab mine. Run shoes on. Belt on. Quick pee. And we're off. 

The run out was also different this year because of flooding.
But it worked out because Rob was able to find me!

RUN

I have a lot of mixed emotions about this part of the race. IMCHATTY2017 left me with a bad taste in my mouth after my run went south from the very second I stepped foot off my bike. But I raced A LOT last year and those last 26 miles of the year might have been what put me over the edge.

This year, I knew my run may or may not suffer. I had just spent 9 of the last 12 months focused on run training. This is what you do now! You're a runner! You should be good at this! In the same breath, my body was pretty beat up. My left hamstring suffered a major beating from the months of March-June. Tension and tightness and pains never TRULY went away, only subsided a lot. If I was going to have a bad run, this would be why. And surely enough, that's what happened. 

I mean, I didn't feel great but check out that dude behind me. Yikes.

I hit the run and didn't even look at my watch. Run easy and run don't focus on time. That was my motto. I saw Jacqui and Ryan's parents on State Street right away and was feeling on top of the world! It was starting to get hot, quite a bit actually. It was only 70 degrees, but with no clouds and 112 bikes miles under your belt, you tend to heat up quickly. 

Running on Astro Turf didn't help either
Camp Randall Stadium
ILL - INI!

I saw Ryan on his way home to win the race around mile 2.5, just about the time my run started to go South. My foot tightened up to the point I had to stop and try and stretch it out. It cramped like you would expect in the middle of the night. Soon, that tightness shot up in my calf and hamstring. And before you knew it, my left leg was completely useless. There was more walking than I'm proud of during miles 3-6. It wasn't pretty. But I NEEDED to get my body to a point that I could move comfortably. I finally caught a second wind and saw Rob on State Street. He sat in the middle of the road. construction vest on, camera in the air. Normally this kind of behavior would elicit an Ironman official to ask a spectator to move off course. But, we're pretty sure they thought Rob WAS an Ironman official in that fancy vest of his. 

"Hi Honey kinda having a rough day, hope you enjoyed your nap on my BIRTHDAY!"
This run course really throws me off, every time. There are so many twists and turns and small out and backs that I seriously can't keep it straight. I remember I saw Jon Crane and his wife. Jon damn near clubbed me on the bike course during the last 4 miles with his beer in hand. So  he hopped on the run to apologize and wish me a happy birthday. I could tell he had been drinking for a while, and to be honest, I was a little jealous. 

I remember seeing Lauren Matricardi on the bike path along the lake at one point. She was with her CES friends and stood on the ready to snap my photo in all my birthday glory. When I approached her she asked, "So how do you feel!?" Instead of telling her the honest truth about wanting to sell my left leg to a homeless person, I told her, "You know, I've had better birthdays!" 

Hiiiiiii L-Mat!
The 2nd half of the first loop my body seemed to relax enough to let me actually run. 9-10 minute miles. I wasn't complaining. I knew this had potential to go South quickly so I accepted it with open arms. I made it to the turn around point, literal feet from the finish line (brutal I tell ya) and prayed that I'd be able to pull off 13 more miles on a bum leg. 

Being able to see the finish line and know you have 13 miles to go is the WORST. 
Mile 15 or so is the first time I saw Mark all day. He was finishing up his 1st lap while I was well into my second. We stopped and talked for a minute. He was feeling surprising well, considering he actually didn't train for this race. Me on the other hand? Shoot me. The 2nd half of this run is a big blur. I spent a lot of time trying not to focus on the shooting pain up and down my left leg. I was slow moving for sure. Jacqui had passed me long ago and taken home her first Ironman title ever. I spotted Nate and Trina many times throughout the run.

I knew that was I was on the clock though. Remember how I mentioned Rob needed to get back home so he could sleep for work in the middle of the night? Yea, that was still happening. I had set Rob back longer than I was hoping for. I knew I'd see him again around mile 20 and thought about telling him he didn't have to stay if he didn't want to. But then I saw him. And he was all smiles. And he knew I was hurting. And he gave me a little love tap and sent me on my way. 

Photo Cred: My #1 Spectathlete
The sun officially set and I was only a few miles away from the finish line. The last miles might have hurt the worst. I remember thinking, "Forward motion, keep the forward motion." I got closer and closer and started to get a little emotional. I finished this race 4 years ago and I had a slew of people at the finish line. My mother, who doesn't travel well. My father, who had recently had a heart attack and open heart surgery. My brother, who truly had no idea what it felt like to do something like this. Rob, who had literally spent his ENTIRE day chasing me all over the course. Jacqui and Ryan, who were both hanging from a street lamp as I rounded the final turn to the finish line screaming their heads off. Friends from high school and college who had made the journey to watch me find the finish line after 140.6 miles. 

And today, I had mom and dad glued to their live feed at home. Mark on course with me. Jacqui and Ryan on course with me. And Rob at the finish line, ready to greet me with my birthday kiss. And ALL of my support at home.

#7
People always ask why I keep coming back to do this time and time again. There are plenty of reasons. But honestly. That feeling of crossing the finish line. There's nothing like it. It releases so many raw emotions that you just can't put into words. We repeatedly do what brings us joy. These moments are ingrained in our brains in such a permanent way. Why would you NOT to repeat something like that? 

I've said it before, the more you race the distance, the easier it gets. And it's true. Recovery tends to be quicker. The body doesn't hurt as much after each race. But this one? This one for sure took it's toll on me. I limped and waddled and dragged my foot the rest of the night while waiting for Mark to finish. (Which was only and hour and a half after me) For someone who completely had their focus set elsewhere all summer long, his finish was simply amazing to me. 

He apparently forgot he wasn't exactly ready for take off during the run
As we were saying our goodbyes to Rob, Mark was officially asked to join the wedding party. It was a moment I didn't see coming, nor did I expect to be apart of. Of course it was filled with Rob's smartass comments and we all laughed. But I wouldn't have it any other way I can definitely say it was the perfect end to my birthday. 

I literally had a hard time keeping my eyes open at this point

BFG! BFG! BFG!
Training? What's that? #nailedit

We sent Rob on his way, grabbed our bikes and hit the road. We had to make it home before pizza delivery wasn't an option anymore for a Sunday night. We ate as much as we could (which wasn't much at all) before we both felt sick to our stomachs.

Standing with 2 Ironman Champs. Best Friends. NBD.

The last thing I am is upset with my race. My biggest goal this year was to qualify for Boston. And that happened earlier than I anticipated. So since I was able to spend the 2nd half of my year actually having FUN before I go head down planning this wedding was absolutely amazing. Speaking of Boston, registration for the 2019 race officially closed a short while ago. My application is in. I'm sitting over here, fingers and toes crossed, anxiously awaiting my acceptance.

Jacqui said it best... #squad

The next morning the 6 of us went to the athlete breakfast and sat through the awards ceremony. It's always fun to see the victors on stage the next morning. Jacqui and Ryan were able to stand side by side, champions. It was such an awesome moment to witness. We finally went our separate ways, saying goodbye to the land of nostalgia.

RyBread Racing
{And for those worry warts out there, please know that I have already started seeking treatment for my leg. I'm not about to run Boston on this bum leg of mine. I'm starting at the bottom and checking off all the items on my list if necessary. I've had one intense session of Active Release Therapy done and I'm about to embark on my 2nd as we speak. I already feel relief and I'm certain with some proper relaxation of the muscles and longer recovery, this too shall pass.}

On that note, RyBread OUT! Cheers.