Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Let the Madness Begin

Sitting down to write about a race after a long winter leaves me a little giddy. Because as far as I'm concerned, it's the most wonderful time of year.

We're officially on the back end of March and the clocks have been put back the way they belong. St. Patrick's Day has come and gone, (The day of my people! Erin Go Bragh!) and my racing shoes have seen their maiden voyage. My skin itches with excitement and all the cold dark moments of off season training are ready to be showcased. This, my friends, is the unofficial start to the racing season. The March Madness Half Marathon.

Last year this race meant more to me than almost any race I've ever completed. I was determined to hold a PR on this blistering awful course that tests my legs and mind, year after year. As I toed the line, I had a heavy heart as I raced with the memory of dear family friend hanging over me. And this year I'd be lying if I said that I was fully "prepared" for the race. Of course it's been on my calendar since New Years Eve, and I've been training my butt off (literally) in preparation for Ironman Texas in 5 weeks. But somehow, it seemed to sneak up on me. Life has been anything but easy lately, in every aspect of the word. My energy is spread pretty thin, so I was concerned that my focus wasn't where I needed it to be in order to succeed this year. I couldn't have been more wrong. 

A few days before the race, I mentioned to Ryan (coach Speedy) that I didn't think my run was where it needed to be lately. "I just don't feel like I'm in great run shape." Of course he did what every good coach does, he ignored my comment and told me it was time to PR.

Race morning arrived and Mark and I departed the house at 7am to find Lauren and Matt waiting for us. Mark wasn't racing this year, but always has required attendance if he's in town. We made some new friends, one of Lauren's friends had recently joined the RyBread Racing team and I couldn't be more excited about it! Kati is sassy and full of spunk and I know we'll get along quite well. I'm already excited to race with her more. As the time neared closer and closer to the start of the race, Kati and I decided to head out on a warm-up run with Lauren. In the 10 minutes we were out getting loosened up, I spotted Rob drive by as he flashed a wave out the window! Minutes to spare and my number 1 fan pulls it off again!

Kati and I picked up Jacqui and Matt and b-lined it to the porta potties for one last attempt to make ourselves a little bit lighter. Then, we all pealed our sweats and tossed them to our cheering squad and took off for the starting line. Jacqui and I slowed down as we approached the timing pads and I could sense her nerves. After all, this was her first road race in over 18 months since her long road with plantar fasciitis that she had recently overcome. The last road race she ran was actually with me... the Oakbrook Half Marathon over Labor Day weekend of 2015. After the race, we laid in grass in pain. Me, from general fatigue. Jacqui, realizing she had a new pain in her foot that wasn't anything she'd ever experienced before. Yes, there had been a few Ironman races since then, but in case you haven't noticed, this girl is meant to run. It's literally in her blood and I knew she had been anticipating this day for quite some time. I hugged her tight promised her that this race was hers.

The gun went off and I was shocked at how relaxed I was. Maybe it was how ready I was to be back doing what I love. Maybe it was the last minute kiss I got from Rob on the starting line (yep, he made it with seconds to spare, and sealed my luck with a kiss). Whatever the case was, I was ready to fly. Within the first half mile the crowds are heavier on the side of the road, and of course I spotted Speedy, his bike in the ditch and the camera in my face. It wasn't until then I checked my watch for the first time and noted that it was already time to dial it back. I'm sure you remember from last year, this course is made to eat you alive.

All smiles early on!

The first 4 miles quickly reminded me how easy it is to run to fast. I did my best to stay in control and considering I could have EASILY ran a couple of sub 7 minute miles, I didn't. My 7:23, 7:17, 7:16 splits proved that I had the control I wanted. Anything faster and I would have without a doubt ruined the rest of my day. Just after mile 4 I spotted Ryan on the side of the road again, all smiles and cheering his little heart out. This time, I wasn't able to muster up a ton of energy for him. Instead I ripped off my gloves and tossed them his direction.

Just after Ryan, I spotted Lauren, Mark, and Rob on the corner as I made the right hand turn into the continuous uphill battle for the final 9 miles of the race. I flashed a wave and made sure my head was on straight because soon I was going to need every ounce of mental strength I had.

Rounding the corner...

...and ready to take on the hills.
Just after mile 5, the course slowly but surely starts to make its way.. up. Literally. Hill, after hill. The first notable hill that leaves me giddy takes my breath away every single year is just after mile 6 and is called "Sneaky Hill" for a reason. It literally comes out of nowhere after you take a few quick turns and then BAM. You look straight ahead and all you see is concrete, no horizon. One foot in front of the other until the sky is visible again. Splits steadied in the 7:30's and 7:40's so I was more than happy that I was able to maintain a strong pace as the course tried to destroy me. "Substantial Hill" (mile 7) tested my knees considering the banked curve you have to climb. Once I hit the end of mile 8 I had relief in site with a nice downhill to coast and my cheering squad at the base.

They love me! They really love me!

Mile 9's ease could not have come at a better time. The cross winds from the field are generally manageable after the previous miles. And the flat roads are always welcome. I coasted back into the 7:20's and my heart skipped a beat. It didn't last long though, because "10 Mile Hill" was right in front of me. We're talking about a climb that lasts every step of a half mile and squishes any confidence you had leading up to it. Any time you've banked in the early stages of the race are about to be cashed in. RIGHT.NOW.

I dread the last 3 miles of this race. More than the last 3 miles of a marathon. Or the last 3 miles of an Ironman. Just when you think, "I've gotta be done climbing now." Think again. I knew a PR was likely not in the cards today, but a course PR was a different story. But once I hit mile 11, I thought, "Damn, maybe this year it's not meant to be." I creeped awfully close the an 8 minute mile and feared my course PR was in jeopardy. Mile 12 was no different. But then, the last water station gave me a little jolt. Shortly after tossing my water cup, I spotted Jacqui and Matt trotting towards me while out on their cool down run. Yes, cool down. Meaning they had both finished the race and had enough time to run a "slow cool down" mile back out onto the course to find me. Jacqui was all smiles and extremely giddy with excitement. She talked a mile a minute and Matt insisted I ignore the Wisconsin Badger conveniently placed in someone's front yard.
"If you yell I-L-L at them I know you're not working hard enough!" Jacqui said me. 
Little did she know, I had a hard time laughing at her. Every single step was focused on that finish line. Matt was not amused with my lack of oxygen so he started to converse with other racers. "Yea, we all went to Illinois and of course we don't like the Wisconsin Badgers.." Meanwhile, Jacqui talked my ear off. And all I could think was, "But, did you win the race?" I finally mustered up enough air to spit it out and she smirked at me with the biggest grin, "YES!"

And just like that, I rounded the final corner and the finish line was in site. Jacqui cheered me on every step of the way, insisting I had more push somewhere inside of me. And she was right, I did. My legs found a speed that I didn't think possible at that point in this race and soon enough, that finish line was behind me. 1:40:13. Good enough for a 51 second Course PR. I'LL TAKE IT. I guess I take back what I said. I suppose my run is up to par these days ;)

In the midst of all the crazy, this guy never disappoints  💖
We stuck around for awards while we nibbled on our warm salty pretzels (maybe the REAL reason I run this race, year after year). Jacqui claimed the overall female title while my new RyBread friend Kati took 5th overall (along with a PR!)! Meanwhile, Matt walked away with a pretty new PR and 7th place overall male!

Watch out guys, the champ is back!

 New fast friend Kati!
Such speedy friends I have..
We all closed off the morning with a celebratory brunch (obviously). The warm coffee hit the spot as I sat and enjoyed everyone's company and my body slowly began to cramp. But once this was delivered in front of me, I felt 0 pain:

I mean, can you blame me?
I've already sworn off racing all together about 10 times since crossing the finish line. In the 72 hours since the race, I have never felt THIS sore from 13.1 miles. I mean, today is the first day I've taken stairs normally and sat on the toilet seat without wincing since Sunday. Recovering from this race seems to get harder every year. And yet, I still can't give it up. Will I race next year? Ask me tomorrow. Probably not. Maybe. Likely. Yea ok fine, I'll see ya there.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some serious prep to do. As of today, IMTX is officially 1 month away. 👊

Friday, March 10, 2017

Catching Up

Yesterday wasn't my typical Thursday. I woke up at my normal time and had my routine breakfast. But I had the day away from the office and decided to knock out some doctor appointments that were well overdue. But the real purpose? I spent the day with a woman I've spoken highly of in the past.

My best friend from high school currently lives abroad in Tel Aviv with her husband. Professional careers uprooted their lives about 7 months ago and now Asia is the land they call home. But about a month ago, Kait decided she needed a dose of home. So she cashed in all the points she had and made her way back to the good ole USofA. It's safe to say that this move hasn't exactly been the easiest transition, but then again, when is an international move considered a simple task? Before the move, we were always scattered across the country so the distance wasn't something new to us. However for some reason when she left, I felt a yearning to be near her more than ever. We all know, I'm a worry wart. This is not new information to the world. The fact that an ocean separated us made me pay much closer attention to the international news. Communication has been tough, mostly revolving around emailing and texting. Until recently when I discovered the world of FaceTime Audio {hush, I'm not that old} and I heard her voice for the first time in over 5 months. I'm more of an old school girl, so I live for a spur of the moment phone call that lasts longer than I have time for. Hearing a loved ones voice is something that I cherish. So yea, that FaceTime Audio thing is GREAT for an international friendship, in case you're curious..

So yesterday was a day spent of catching up. We had no real plans, just be together. Of course I chauffeured her to Trader Joe's so she could pick up the necessities to smuggle back to the Mediterranean. I was expecting her to purchase a few small items, but it wasn't until her basket was overflowing that she was ready to head to the check out. Surely her bag will be over the weight limit on the way home. But I should have known, Kait has never been one to follow the rules.

Aside from our comical Trader Joe's trip:
"Have you ever tried this? Me either. I'm buying it."
"I used to stop and pick up this drink before practice EVERYDAY. I miss it."
"I wish this syrup wasn't so heavy, I can't lug this around the airport."
 - Katilyn Marie Eggers

I think my favorite part of the day was when we both laced up our running shoes. She assured me that she would not be able to follow my scheduled workout and that I was welcome to leave her if necessary. But she forgets, her 5'11" frame is meant to fly. Within the first quarter mile I had to tell her to slow down because our warm-up pace was just shy of what our workout pace was supposed to be. I'm just following you! she says to me. We slowed down for a mere 60 seconds before the pace skyrocketed again. And that was the last time I said anything about pace.

Every step we took, the deeper into conversation we became. And honestly, I completely forgot about the workout. It was almost like we unintentionally saved our most personal conversations for the run. Topics changed at the drop of a hat and were revisited soon again without missing a beat. It's safe to say that 2017 has been quite a year for the both of us, so our 7 mile run contained some pretty deep and heavy thoughts. At one point our serious conversation was disrupted by a crossing guard at a local grade school yelling at us, "You know it's safer to run on the sidewalk with all these crazy parents!" Lady, please, you're interrupting.

It's amazing to me what a pair of running shoes can do. As soon as our feet hit the pavement {and Kait's ankle clicked with every step she took} it was like the flood gates were open. Words flew without warning and paces were thrown out the window. But don't let her fool you, she was easily able to hold a conversation the entire time while keeping the pace below an 8 minute mile. Her athleticism will never cease to amaze me.  Over the years we've had a few of these catch-up-on-life-runs. The day before her wedding, we both lugged our hungover bodies as far as we could across Fort Collins, Colorado in an attempt to detox before the festivities started over in a few short hours. About 6 weeks before Ironman Maryland, I made a trip out to Baltimore to spend the weekend and log some miles with my Best Giant Friend. Of course when we both find ourselves in our hometown at the same time, we cruise the streets like we still own the place. And I will forever etch our catch-up-on-life runs into my heart.

We closed the evening with a little game of fetch with her family dog, Jane, while we eagerly awaited the unveiling of the 17.3 Crossfit workout. {Something I know NOTHING about, but find super intriguing.} While the extremely muscled man was writing the workout on the board, my mind was struggling to comprehend the complexity and I actually said, "I feel like I need a certain type of degree to understand this." I also had to ask the question, "So why is it called 17.3?" Boy did I feel dumb when I got the answer. Either way, good luck to all you cross-fitters on this weekend's 17.3!

She *might* kill me for this photo

On Monday, a piece of my heart goes back to Israel and life will continue. And I'm already counting down the days until our next catch-up-on-life run.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Saying Goodbye

I'm going to warn you from the get-go, this isn't the most uplifting read. But, it won't be long and I promise it'll be worth your while. A week ago today, the world lost a young man that the endurance community would have been proud to call one of their own. The kind that had a thirst for constant adventure and a zest for life that was admirable. That was Tyler.

Growing up, Tyler primarily lived with his mother, but frequented his dad's house on the weekends. His father was my next door neighbor. By default, we were instant friends. I remember summer days spent on our bikes cruisin' around the neighborhood and stopping at the local White Hen for a refreshing Slurpie. Summer nights were spent running around the baseball fields behind our houses chasing fireflies and playing Ghost in the Graveyard. 

The older we got, the less we saw of each other. Our high schools were big cross town rivals and our time together was often spent yelling cliche high school chants at each other from opposite ends of the gymnasium. After college, we very rarely saw each other. But our communication strictly involved all things endurance. Tyler made running a marathon look like a warm-up. The Ultra-Marathon was his forte. Whether it was on the road or on the trails, he excelled in distance. And he didn't stop with his running shoes. An avid cyclist and snow skier as well, he did it all. He even dipped his toes into the triathlon world more than once.

"BRB I'm gonna go run a quick 100"

I remember a few local races, watching Tyler approach the starting line, knowing that was likely the only time I'd see him throughout the entire race. Did I mention, the kid could kick it into high gear when he really wanted to. I remember how he always had a smile on his face. And he always wanted to know about my latest racing en-devours. And when you talked about any sort of challenging undertaking, his eyes lit up. And when he spoke to you, you could tell he was truly taking an interest in you. And he always called my parents Mr. and Mrs. Hode. No matter how many times my mother scolded him. "Tyler, please call me Vickie!" And I remember as he ran, his wild, out control, overgrown, curly hair flapped in the wind. And I remember how much he loved life and all that it gave him. A wife, a daughter, and one on the way. If ever there was a life taken to soon, it was Tyler's. 

In a few short days, Facebook will remind me of this heartbreaking memory

I couldn't tell you the last time I spoke to Tyler, which reminds me that I need to be more diligent with how I keep in contact with old acquaintances. Our last conversation was likely race related. And I can only pray that his final days were as joyful as when we shared the road together. 

If you have the means and can consider a donation to Tyler's wife and growing family, you can do so here. I'm about to lace up for my standard Saturday long run on the most perfect day in February, thanks to you know who.  And in a few short hours I'll be saying my final goodbyes. 

Cheers to one of the communities best.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Grind

Did anyone else wake up this morning welcoming February with open arms? I don't know about you, but I was ready for it. The start of 2017 left me feeling ready for another fresh start. A second chance, if you will. The day to day grind can be boring at times, repetitive if you will. And then there are the curve balls, which felt like everyday during the month of January. Everyone knows change isn't my favorite. I always do the best I can with what's presented to me, familiar or not. But if there's one constant that I've always had in my life, it's my running shoes. And as of late, that also includes my bike and my favorite swim suit.

Being active and running is more than just about "being fit" and "making sure I can fit into my jeans." Of course, I'm your average health nut that is still searching for a way to make Chicago style deep dish pizza healthy and taste the same {sorry gluten free/dairy free folks, girls gotta eat}. Some people workout to lose weight. Others need to keep their competitive spirit alive well after the high school and college days. There are others that simply need a moment to themselves, and a workout is the only way they can find it. But me? I'm not whole if I can't run. But Megan, you spend so much time swimming and biking too! You're right, I do. But before the days of triathlons and Ironmans, I simply ran. I never had a schedule. Whatever I wanted to run is what I did that day. Sometimes I'd find a track and do an old speed workout. Other days I'd lock into a comfortable pace and let my legs lead while my mind drifted.

And then I took a dive into the deep end and never looked back. I discovered a whole new part of myself that I never knew existed. And now my day to day grind looks a little different. Thoughts are flooded with chlorine and what my next meal is going to be. My energy is spread across 3 different sports, free time is a thing of the past and most moments of my day are planned strategically (including my sleep). Don't worry, I haven't completely lost it. I can still relax and throw away the schedule and check out of reality once a in while. But I always miss it.

So when I seem to have days that turn into the month of January, when life isn't going quite according to plan, I know I still have my grind. The grind that pushes watts, holds tempo, and reeks of chlorine. It holds my head above water and keeps my twitches at bay (not really, but kinda). One of the closest people to me recently told me, "Megan, I don't know anyone who is passionate about anything as you are about running." I was floored when she said this to me. I took that as quite the compliment and insisted that she herself had a passion buried in the depth of her. Of course this turned into a stubborn argument with my college roommate, but that's what we do best. But when it comes down to it, I need physical activity to keep me sane. Right now, it just so happens that I swim, bike, and run to keep my mind clear. I need to sweat once a day.  Megan, no one NEEDS to sweat everyday. Yes. Yes I do.

Megan get to the point. Find your grind. That something you just can't live without. Whatever it is that makes your heart full and keeps you out of therapy sessions. However brief it may be. And don't let anyone stop you. Maybe you're a yogi. Perhaps the free throw line of a basketball court calls your name daily. Or do you strive for a constant flow of knowledge from the endless supply of books in the world? I know, you're the next top chef and you're waiting for Gordon Ramsey to applaud your latest creation. Whatever it is, don't waste anymore time. Go do it.

Welcome, February. Me and my running shoes, we're ready for ya.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Even thinking about writing this gives me anxiety.

"Yeah Megan, we know, everyone gets anxious."
Right. But my type of anxiety has been known to go to extremes. If I start crying and can't stop it's not because I'm that emotional, it's just that my body won't physically calm down. If I have something on my mind that I consider "serious" I won't sleep a wink and will likely be full of nervous energy until said issue is resolved (followed by a period of craaaaaazy intense sleep). My hands will become ice blocks and will noticeably shake for an unknown amount of time. The list of symptoms goes on. But what I'm about to do? This qualifies as OMGMEGANWHYAREYOUGIVINGYOURSELFTHISADDEDSTRESS territory.

Goals are right up my alley. I'm a type A goal oriented person. But I also consider them to be very personal. And for the most part, I think a lot of people would agree. And frankly, it's really NO ONE'S business what I or anyone else strives for in life. Goal: the object of a person's ambition or effort; an aim or desired result. (Thanks Google.) They can say great things about who a person is. I've heard over and over again that if your goals don't scare you they're not big enough. Spoiler alert: my goals scare the shit out of me. And sharing them with others can help keep you accountable. Spoiler alert: I give myself enough grief when I don't reach the goals I set for myself, no way do I need others coming down on me too. And of course they create motivation and can create a sense of encouragement when you share them with others. But goals can shift and you need to be flexible with your expectations. So overall, the whole "let's tell the world!" idea just doesn't sit well with me.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it's time to be uncomfortable more often. The day I gained enough courage to consider writing my goals down for the world to see, I ran across this article about chasing that big idea you're to scared to say out loud. It's about putting in the work, trusting the process, believing in your talents, and forgetting about the outcome. Don't think, just do. The author and I are actually fellow high school/college acquaintances {Go Gators! ILL-INI!}. We also happened to grow up approximately 2.5 blocks away from each other. He's far more creative than I and actually gets paid to write. And I can't thank him enough for giving me this simple read to bookmark on those days when I need a little reminder.


So I'm gonna try something new here. Let's talk about what I want to accomplish in a few short months at Ironman Texas.


Uhhhh yeah, I know I didn't. Part of the whole, nonyabusiness thing, remember? But I'm jumping into 2017 with 2 feet and ready to make myself a little uncomfortable. Ironman Texas was not on my initial radar when planning 2017. I've always had a secret desire to go back and race on the full 140.6 course and take my chances that the monsoon won't show up on race day. So when Jacqui started looking for her Kona 2017 qualifying race and said the word "Texas" was a possibility, my ears perked up. She had a couple of options on her plate, but just a few days before Christmas, Texas won. And if I was ever going have my 2nd chance at Texas, this was my window. So I jumped on it.

And here's what we intend for IMTX this time around:

  • Rob, Jacqui, Ryan and I get to go back and hang out with our favorite Texas hosts, Aimee, Rob, and Dunkin.
  • But we're not going alone... This year, our favorite night owls are coming with! Nate and Trina are Woodlands bound to tackle IMTX too :)
  • Jacqui gets a shot at some redemption after last year's DNF
  • Ryan will attempt to reclaim his title as the IMTX Overall Amatuer Winner 
  • I hope to complete the race without ending up with a black eye due to golf ball sized hail (among other things, but we'll get there)
And here's what we plan on leaving out of the trip this time around: 
  • Jacqui's pre-race bike crash 
  • Me oversleeping and almost missing the race 
  • The unforeseen hail storm that showed up around 3pm on race day.

So here we are. 14 weeks from race day. (Oh yeah, did I mention they moved the race to April this year?) And I have to get my butt into gear. And quick. Truly, my goals are more than "I hope it doesn't rain this year." Holy hell. Here goes nothing.


Last year on May 14th, the swim course was not wetsuit legal. I'm pretty sure the water hit 80+ degrees that morning making it similar to bathwater. I hopped out of the river and clocked 1:19 on the dot. Not where I wanted to be, but considering I didn't have a neoprene hug for 2.4 miles, I was pretty satisfied. Eight weeks later I swam the same distance in an equally calm body of water WITH a wetsuit in 1:15. So, in 14 short weeks, I'm banking on the water being less than 78 degrees due to the 1 month pre-mature race start so I get the free speed from the neoprene. Add in all the laps I've been logging lately and a couple tweaks on my swim form, and I'd like to see 1:10 or faster coming out of the water.

This year I hope to be pealing off my wetsuit


So, last years bike course was NOT ideal. However, it was GRACIOUSLY accepted considering it was only approved 2.5 weeks before race day. The course itself had more turns than it did miles and and was short by 17 miles. I hopped off that bike averaging 19.4mph for the 95 mile course. And the last few months, the bike has been my biggest nemesis. It's currently the center of my love/hate relationship with this sport. I can't remember the last time I did a workout and stepped off the bike without stumbling. I'm pushing some watts I've never even dreamed of. My current Ironman bike PR is from Ironman Maryland coming in at 5:59, 18.7mph. All this said, let's be lofty, shall we? Who says I can't bike 112 miles at 20mph? 20mph for 112 miles puts me at a solid 5:35.

One of the 29485739 turns on the bike course last year


Everyone knows all the poor decisions you make before the run shine bright on the run. Lack of nutrition, to much nutrition, over biking, etc. This is what I like to call separating the men from the boys. And honestly, I'm still not sure which category I fall into. But what I do know is that my run off of the bike has improved 10 fold since IM number 1 in Madison almost 3 years ago. The more I run in the heat the more I surprise myself, which will hopefully serve me well hopping off the bike mid-afternoon at the end of April. I recently broke the 4 hour curse at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon in November. But, can I break the curse off the bike? That's right, you heard me. On April 22nd, it's sub 4 or bust.

This picture gets me every time. 

So where does that put me?

1:10 Swim + 5:35 Bike + 4 Run = 10:45 plus transitions.

Let's crack 11 hours.

But let's leave out the blurry & soggy mess this time?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Lesson Learned - 2016 in Review

I've said it once before and I'll say it again, I'm one of those "everything happens for a reason" people. I will never throw around my religious beliefs because in today's age, one wrong word can be skewed entirely. I take a pretty big risk writing my feelings for all the world to see, which is why I try to never get too personal. But there's one thing you need to know about me, and I'm not afraid to admit it. I believe everyone's story is already written. We'll never know why things happen the way they do. All we can do is learn from what does.

So let's put it this way, 2016 was a hell of year to learn from.

Lesson 1: Don't worry about what you can't control.

Technically, this lesson started years ago. But it wasn't until I toed the starting line of a marathon that suddenly became a half marathon that I was truly able to grasp this. Last year, I was chased away from Ironman Maryland by Hurricane Joaquin. I was fortunate to make it back 2 weeks later to the rescheduled date and race. But lemme tell ya, what a way to test that mental strength.
Ok race day in 72 hours! JK, go home and go back to work and wait for a possible reschedule. Stress for 3 days. Make last minute plans to get to rescheduled race. Get your head back on straight because you have to race 2 weeks after you trained your body to be ready.  
Fast forward to January 2016. The Clearwater Marathon was CANCELLED about 10 minutes before the start of the race due to flooding and inclement weather in the area. I was angry and frustrated. I had worked so hard and wanted my chance to prove myself. I was SO TIRED of mother nature messing with my goals. Clearly the plan was already laid out. I just didn't know it at the time. 

I raced that half marathon, and raced it well (all things considered). But that was the last time I ever worried about elements outside of my control. Every person that planned to run a marathon that day had to switch gears and re-wire their brains into half marathon mode, not just me. No time to be pissed off, just go out there and what you know how to do. Run.

So when April rolled around and there still wasn't an official bike course for Ironman Texas, I could honestly give 2 shits. I still woke up and road my bike 100+ miles on Saturday mornings. I put my head down did the work. And with less than 3 weeks until race day, our course was solidified. It had more turns than it did miles, and that could very well cause panic. "So much stop and go will slow me down! Turns are a recipe for accidents!" People on social media were seriously losing their cool over this and I was in absolute awe over their arguments. Instead, I stayed calm and took the turns one at a time and road my heart out on the straightaways. And because my patience wasn't tested enough, I was greeted with a viscous hail storm halfway through the run and the last thing I did was let it ruin my day. Because unless a brick wall magically came out of nowhere and stopped me in my tracks, I wasn't about to stop moving forward. 

This was real life that day in Texas.
I can't control the weather or the last minute course changes. Or much else for that matter. Everyone on that course is presented with the same exact challenge. All I can control is how fast I swim, bike & run on race day. And damn it that's what I'm going to do.

Lesson 2: Boys will be boys.

If you've been reading along you know that my brother dipped his toes into his first 140.6 this year. He also happened to be working one of the most time consuming jobs I've ever seen at the same time. The time he had left to train was minimal. Being me, I would have absolutely killed myself trying to prep for a race with a huge unknown. Mark? He operated on the "maybe I'll swim this week, we'll see" kind of schedule. Now, like I said. I understand he had very little time, at best. But there were times he could have easily fit in a small workout. And his "I can swim in the bathtub" attitude got on my nerves like you wouldn't believe. I feared whether or not not he'd be able to finish this race. I questioned how serious he was about this. But at the end of the day, I had to remind myself that boys will be boys. He's a damn good athlete, and the fact that he was able to cross that finish line on such little training kind of pisses me off makes me happy for him. It's ok, I'll just be over here.. swimming.

Mark about 3 hours post-race IMLP
Maybe next time he'll rethink that "bathtub swim"

Lesson 3: You can do anything for a minute.

This is something I'm still learning and reminding myself of daily. With progress and experience over the years, intensity has also skyrocketed. On and off the course. I've talked to a lot of people who can't imagine putting their bodies through 140.6 miles. But after doing it 4 times and training for it 4 times, I'll gladly tell them that race day is the easy part. It's the day in and day out of 2 intense workouts a day that really tests you. Because when I see 10x100yds at 90% with :20 seconds rest as the first half of my swim set, I have to remind myself, you can do anything for a minute. This also holds true when I lock myself in the basement pedaling nowhere. When my legs are shot and the sweat is literally dripping off my drenched sports bra and I'm nearing the end of the 2 hour ride but still have 90 seconds of a 20 minute climb to go, I have to remind myself you can do anything for a minute. Or when I'm out for an evening run after work as the sun goes down and I'm struggling to hold pace for my last half mile repeat at a 7:XX pace I think to myself you can do anything for a minute. Because it's true. That minute ain't gonna kill me. It's just gonna make race day that much easier. 

Lesson 4: Listen to your body.

On the contrary, knowing your boundaries is key. The daily work/life struggle is enough to make most people have some sort of breakdown from time to time. Whether it's physical, mental, or emotional. Add anywhere from 15-20 hours of training a week to that mess and you've entered my day to day. There are plenty of days when my alarm goes off and I curse Ryan's name for writing me a workout that requires me to always be up before the sun. Of course, you'll find memes that will all but tell you how lazy you are for choosing some extra ZZZ's over a 5am workout.

And if you're any sort of Type A personality like myself, you'll look at this picture and immediately think, "Game On." But the truth is, sometimes the body needs the rest. And if you've ever met me, you know how hard this is for me truly grasp. I workout overtired, sick, on borrowed time, whatever I have to do. If it's written on my calendar, I'm gonna do it. But over the last 12 months, I've learned the value of unscheduled R&R. Because every once in a while when my alarm goes off at 4:30am and I envision my workout going like this:

That's when I know it's time to reset the alarm. Pushing your limits is great. But there's a fine line. And sometimes, hitting that snooze button might give you the edge you need on race day.

Lesson 5: Recovery is more important than you think.

Along with listening to your body comes the necessity to recover. You don't get to workout twice a day and wake up every morning fresh and ready to go. After a heavy weekend of triple digit bike mileage on a Saturday followed by 15+ miles on the road on Sunday, you start to wonder how you'll ever recover in time to be hitting workout paces on Tuesday morning. Your body becomes fatigued and your muscles can feel like lead. 

I put my body to the test this season. Three weeks after Ironman Texas I found myself on the starting line again, 3 weeks in a row. A year ago, my body wouldn't have allowed this. But after more experience, trial and error, and strength, I was able to do what I love more often. Race. 

Very rarely do I leave the house without my R8 roller. Minutes after a workout, I will always roll out my legs, as brief as it may be. I take my R8 roller to work when my legs need some extra TLC and sneak in a quick roll in between phone calls at my desk. I've found one of the best sports massage therapists and pay him a visit when my muscle repair is beyond my control. I've also changed my diet over the past few years. There was a day when you couldn't pay me to eat eggs. And now? I can't live without them. I also used to prefer chicken over red meat. And now? I'd eat a steak 8 nights a week if possible. And when my eyes get heavy at 9pm, you better believe I'm in bed by 9:01pm. There are obviously exceptions when life gets in the way, but my day to day sleep schedule is pretty rigid. It's these small habits, day in and day out, that have helped me have the season I did this year. 

2016 Success Stories

A few weeks ago when we were setting up our Christmas tree, Mark had the idea (that he may or may not have stolen from Coach Speedy G) to use a few of our medals on the tree as ornaments. Long story short, it didn't happen. We have normal ornaments on our tree. But my wheels started turning and I got curious. So I dug out all of my medals from the season and it brought a nice smile to my face. Holy cow a lot happened this year.

I PR'ed in ALMOST every distance..
  • March Madness Half Marathon - March 2016 - 1:41:04 (2min 8second PR)
  • Southwest Half Marathon - May 2016 - 1:38:35 (2min 31second PR, 4th in AG)
  • Leon's Triathlon Olympic Distance - June 2016 - 2:31:32 (19min 50second PR)
  • Grand Rapids Half Iron - June 2016  - 5:23:39 (24min 34second PR, AG WIN!)
  • Lake In the Hills Tri Sprint Distance - June 2016 - 1:32:39 (9min 18second PR, AG WIN!)
  • Indianapolis Monumental Marathon - November 2016 - 3:41:17 (19min 9second PR)
  • Elf Run 10k - November 2016- 45:01 - (2min 27second PR, 6th in AG)
  • Kiwanis Santa Run 5k - December 2016 22:19 (3second PR, AG WIN!)

Add that all up and you get a grand total of 1 hour and 23 minutes TO THE SECOND that I was able to shave off this year. The only distance missing from the list above is the Full Iron distance. BUT, there's always next year ;)

My mentors in triathlon are unparalleled

I jumped into this sport head first with no clue what I was doing. At all. But I told myself I'd find help. I just never imagined that the first person I asked would say yes. Let alone turn into someone I can call a lifelong friend. And this year, I was able to race side by side with him more than once. (More like, he'd WIN the race and hang out waiting for me.) His knowledge base is remarkable. His patience is noteworthy. And his support is phenomenal and pure. Both Ryan and Jacqui have inspired me in more ways than they realize. Their accomplishments are nothing short of incredible and have influenced me to dream big. If you are EVER considering a run or triathlon coach, you don't even need to ask me for a recommendation. Just go ahead and check out RyBread Racing.

My support system continues to amaze me. 

I'd be lying if I said this one didn't get me a little choked up. Ironman Texas is a perfect example. When Ian and Lindsey booked a last minute flight to Houston, shortly after the bike course was approved, solidifying the fact that the race would go on. Jess also purchased her ticket at the last minute, but we kept this one under wraps to make sure Jacqui had one of the best 30th birthday surprises. My father decided to make the trip down, making his travel accommodations well before I did. After watching Jacqui's bike crash the day before on her birthday, oversleeping and almost missing the race entirely, a last minute swim course change, a last minute bike course approval, and an UNFORECASTED HAIL STORM on the run, they were all there at the end of the day.

I remember the day I told my Uncle that I was planning on attempting this Ironman thing. He wanted me to come out west to run a marathon and spend some time in the area. I told him I had other plans for the fall and sent a picture of the Ironman logo. I didn't even have to explain, he knew. "Send us the dates, we'll be there!" he said. And they were. And the same held true when Mark decided to dive into the Ironman world for the first time. My aunt and uncle drove all the way from Omaha, Nebraska to Lake Placid, New York, with a pit stop in Chicago to pick up my parents after a small Southwest Airline nightmare. Traveling such distances isn't easy these days for that group, but they were determined to get there. {I have NO idea where Mark and I get this competitive drive 😉.} And when Mark and I played triathlon that day, climbing mountains and putting our mental strength to the true test, the 4 of them were there to greet us at the end of 140.6 miles.

And when the season wasn't quite over, I went out and added another 70.3 Half Ironman under my belt because I just can't help myself. The weekend before Steelhead, I watched my cousin start his life with his childhood sweetheart out in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. And as I got off the bike in Steelhead, ready to tackle one of the most gruesome runs, the bride and groom popped up on the course, signs in tow as they yelled profanities in my ear to put the biggest smile on my face. My Florida pit crew strikes again.

And of course, my core...
  • Rob. Never missing a beat. Attacking the weather nightmare in Texas. Maneuvering his way through the Adirondack Mountains in Lake Placid. Putting up with my year round chaotic schedule. Tucking me into bed at 8pm on a Saturday night because my body just can't after a certain amount of miles logged. Always supporting my desire to go out for a burger during the heavy training months, even if we had burgers yesterday. And understanding that during the summer, it's likely my hair will almost always be wet because showering 2-3 times a day is the norm. Essentially, never leaving my side
  • My parents. Truly none of this would be possible without them. I grew up in a house that encouraged you to find that will to succeed and chase it. No matter what we wanted to do, our parents were our biggest supporters. And they still are to this day.
  • Mark. My brother. BFG and best friend. I can remember being as young as 5 years old and climbing into Mark's crib when he just wouldn't stop crying while my sleep deprived parents slept through the noise. The brother-sister bond is unlike any other, which means sharing the race course with him sets my nerves on fire. But I wouldn't trade it for the world.
I'm so sad to see this amazing year come to a close. Two weeks before Ironman Texas I was almost certain the race would be cancelled, forecasting the beginning of the season on a low point. But, I guess everything happens for a reason, right? 😜

Monday, December 5, 2016

Elf Runs & Turkey Trots & Santa Runs, Oh My!

Over the last few years, I've clearly taken a jump into the deep end of the endurance world. Like, the serious endurance world. No longer are the days of the random 5k or 10k on a Saturday morning, because that would interfere with my 4+ hour trainer ride. OMG WHAT DID I JUST SAY!? Yea, you heard me. During the heavy training months, weekends in my world are code for, "how early do I have to get up this Saturday to fit my long ride into life?" That's not to say that this time of year isn't full of workouts, because it certainly is. But it just doesn't consume every second of my free time (plus more that require sleep sacrifices 😢).

So before my life jumps back into the joy of flaky dry skin from chlorine and that love hate relationship with my bike saddle, I thought I'd see what kind of speed my Ironman legs have in them.

November 20th, 2016 🎄 Elf Run 10K 🎄 Hartland, Wisconsin 

After realizing I had just missed the registration for a local 10k Turkey Trot in Lincolnwood, I started to do some research and found the Elf Run. Of course the first thing I did was sweet talk my lovely brother into joining me for the journey into the middle of no where Wisconsin at a pretty awful time on a Sunday morning. Let's just put it this way, he was oozing with excitement never really agreed to come with. I just happened to wake him up on Sunday when it was time to leave. And made him drive.

We saw the sunrise somewhere just over the Wisconsin border. Soon after that, we parked the car and walked into the host high school to find race day registration. When we struggled to find the gym, I decided to ask someone which direction we should be walking. The man that stood in front of me looked eerily familiar. I'd seen his face before, and it took all of a split second to realize who he was. The Facebook group "Ironman Wisconsin Tips & Secrets" is organized and run by a man named Eric Knight. Eric loves the sport of triathlon, and almost loves to stir the pot with Ironman newbies even more. The man responsible for making me laugh in the middle of grocery store because of his witty sass and snarky comments to athletes posting concerns about "snakes in Lake Monona!" or the "Weather looks like there might be wind! Oh what will I ever do with myself!" was standing right in front of me. As far as I'm concerned, a social media celebrity. I immediately made a comment about how I knew him from the internet world and his wife rolled her eyes and laughed as if to say, "oh boy, another one." Turns out I'm not the first one to spot the infamous Eric Knight! We mingled while we pinned our bibs on and swapped Ironman stories. And just like that, a new friend was made. And I repeat, just another reason I absolutely love this sport.

Mark and I took off for a nice little warmup jog and quickly realized that we were in for a treat. Our lungs were frozen from the temps (22 degrees at the start), our cheeks numb from the harsh headwinds, and our legs were going to have to do some work to climb the hills. I don't know why I haven't learned yet. Wisconsin is not flat. Not even close. Lemme tell ya, I know how to pick 'em.

The photographer insisted on taking everyone's pre-race photo.
Obvi I posed for RyBread Racing
Mark and I made our way to the starting line and the gun went off. In true Mark fashion, he hung out with me for about 3/4 of a mile before I started to notice him slip away. The first mile was mostly downhill (after the initial short climb right outta the gates) and I saw my first 6:xx race mile ever. A 6:59 is still a sub-7 and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little giddy. After mile 1, you weave your way through a neighborhood that reminded me of the bike course in Lake Placid. I swore, this road was flat. But my legs insisted otherwise. This road was anything but. Damn false flats get me every time. After a mile and a half you turn around and run right back where you came from. So every hill I just climbed, I got to go down. Mile 2 clocked in at 7:20. By the time I hit mile 3 I realized that the fun I had cruising through mile 1 was about to bite me in the ass because I had to climb up that twisty windy never ending hill. I gasped every second of my 7:30 mile when I hit the turn right next to the finish line and wondered why I didn't just run the 5k?

I look as well as I felt. Awful. 

The second loop I needed distraction. I made special note to try and look for Mark to take my mind off of the fact that my oxygen could quite possibly be reaching a scary level. The first big downhill wasn't as fast this time around. I couldn't find the air to help my legs turn over quickly. A 7:22 would have to do. The last 2 miles might as well have been 10. The hills ate me alive and my lungs screamed and begged me stop. I saw Mark twice and each time he gave me his little wave. There was no way I could even acknowledge him. If I did I'd likely pass out. Mile 5 clocked 7:42, which would be my slowest of the day. Mile 6 approached and haunted me as I looked up it. I powered up and did my best to keep my strides short and swift, focusing on my breathing. When I saw a 7:35 for mile 6 I couldn't have been happier that my last mile wasn't my slowest. The finish line was just down the short hill. I crossed and immediately collapsed to the ground. A new 10K PR of 45:01. A solid two and a half minutes faster. Worth every second of the pain.

I collected myself and headed back out onto the course to wait for Mark. I saw him at the top of the hill towering over all the other Elf runners and watched him set a PR of his own by over a minute. Not to shabby for being in "endurance world retirement" since he crossed the finish line at Lake Placid.

He would be Buddy the Elf in a land of real Elves
That's how big he is.

November 24th, 2016 🐔 Joslyn Castle Turkey Trot 5k 🐔 Omaha, Nebraska

I was lucky enough to be able to spend Thanksgiving with my Omaha Cheerleaders. As soon as we planned the trip I immediately found a Thanksgiving day Turkey Trot. We rolled into town on Wednesday around midnight and hung out with the family for a while before hittin' the hay after 1am. The 6:30 alarm was a little rough, but it only took a cup of coffee for me to get excited for one of my favorite running days of the year!

Mark and I took off with our Uncle and made our way to the race site. While we pinned our bibs and laced our shoes we overhead one of the other athletes make a comment. "Yeah, this is Omaha's most grueling course." This guy obviously hasn't ventured to places like Madison, WI or Lake Placid, NY. After a quick warm up with Mark I started to understand. Hills were the name of the week.

The gun went off and after a short downhill the climb started. Nice and steady. And it kept going. And going. Mile 1 clocked in at 7:18. A left hand turn into a neighborhood offered a glimmer of hope. The downhill was brief but followed by a slab of pavement that appeared to have no end. It just kept going up. Mile 2 I played cat & mouse with the girl that was holding 2nd place. I took the lead on the uphills, she kicked my ass on the downhills. A 7:38 for mile 2 told me that a PR was likely out of the question.  The final mile was welcomed and also feared. The last mile was a straight shot downhill. Not just any downhill. The kind of downhill that can make you lose control of your legs like a kid running down a grass hill. 2nd place blew me out of the water and I did my best to stay upright. I made the final turn towards the finish and was greeted by the final hill of the day. I attempted the best kick I had in me and ended the day 3rd overall female but fell short of a PR by 2 seconds. Not to worry though, at least I have a turkey to show for it.

Jealous of my hardware? 

December 4th, 2016 🎅 Santa Run 5K 🎅 Crystal Lake, Illinois

On December 3rd, 2016 at about 6pm, I had full intentions of sleeping in the next day (Sunday). By 6:30pm, I had agreed to set my alarm to run a local 5k with Mark, Jacqui, & Ryan (the instigator). Dressed in a Santa suit. During the first snowfall of the year. Isn't this what everyone does on Sunday mornings in the off season? I had secretly been kicking myself for falling so short of a 5K PR in Omaha that the idea didn't sound half bad to me. Yea, I'd be in a Santa suit. Yea, there would be some snow flurries. But.. with some flatter ground and semi-rested legs I should be able to pull this off. 

Mark's snowboarding goggles were a huge hit
The 4 of us suited up for the big run, beard and all! It's not often we race in our hometown, so we ran into a lot of familiar faces that we hadn't seen in a long while. My track coach being one of them. She's one of the people responsible for my endurance passion starting at a very early age. Her 6 year old son was there to run his first race and was noticeably very nervous. I'm sure it didn't help that there were ALOT of Santa's all around him. "But mom! Which one is the REAL Santa!?"

The 4 of us took off for a little pre-race jog to warm up our toes (mainly for my benefit). Mark and Ryan immediately started goofing off down the street while Jacqui and I shook our heads, waiting for one of them to trip over themselves. I forgot to mention the small caveat - Jacqui and Ryan were only 7 days off of the their last Ironman performance in Cozumel over Thanksgiving weekend. Jacqui had to be convinced to run while Ryan sprinted like a child through the streets of downtown Crystal Lake, like his legs were as fresh as could be. We all secretly hate his ability to recover so quickly.

We quickly maneuvered our way to the front of the line and shared our little starting spot with Buddy the Elf. We had seen the Grinch pre-race, but he was no where to be seen the rest of the day. The gun went off and the Santa's were loose! The streets were filled with 700+ Santa's in an instant. We weaved our way through downtown and before you knew it we were in front of Central High School. The first mile flew by, but I kept my cool and clocked a 6:47. The snow started to fall a little heavier and my beard kept finding its way into my mouth. My belt completely flipped and the buckle was on my back while the front of my suit busted open completely and flipped in the wind with my race bib. If I pull off a PR in these conditions it'll be a miracle.

Mile 2 clocked at 7:04. Not to shabby for eating a fake beard and slowly but surely losing my wardrobe. Mile 3 was a very gradual climb. I run this hill almost every weekend during my long runs, so I know it well. But rarely do I run it after two 7 minute miles in the snow dressed like Santa. I was slowing down and I could tell. I did some super quick math and knew that as long as I kept my last mile under a 7:30 I'd be good for a PR. So that's what I did. I sat at 7:30 pace and on the final stretch I kicked it into high gear. I saw 7:26 clock in for mile 3 and when I crossed the line, I had 3 seconds to spare. But guess what. A PR IS A PR I'LL TAKE IT. The new time to beat → 22:19.

Mark crossed the line a few minutes after me, goggles on, beard up, and ready to take on the Grinch. The four of us sipped on coffee and nibbled on our donuts while we mingled with old friends. We snagged a seat in the Raue Center Theatre where we caught up on life and waited for awards. Mr. & Mrs. Speedy took home the win while I snagged a 1st place Age Group award. Mark was so close coming in 4th!
Post Race Coffee & Donuts!


Goodluck figuring our who's who! Moral of the story, the last few weeks of my running life were SO.MUCH.FUN. I love being competitive with myself and against others. But I fell in love with running by simply just... running. Getting lost in my head while my legs go into auto-pilot. And while I checked off 2 new PR's over the last 2 weeks, I allowed my auto-pilot to kick in and simply have fun. And with that, I give you the close the 2016 racing season. 

Santa Out 🎅