Friday, April 19, 2019

BQ or Bust Round 2: Keep Showing Up

I really didn't think I'd be sitting down to tell this story. Yet, here we are.

I'm currently sitting in my Normatec boots, post flush recovery swim, pre early bedtime because I'm a believing in all forms of recovery.

I really never thought Saturday's marathon would end the way it did.

I had my time to be upset, even though it wasn't much.

Yes, I'm ok. Definitely bummed, but not crushed.

Yes, I'm already formulating Plan B.

No, I don't think I took on to much at once. I live for life under pressure.

No, my quest to Boston isn't over just yet.

BFG brother to offer immediate comforts

I didn't have a hard time sleeping on Friday night. I had a full week at work and was able to zonk without to much tossing and turning. When my alarm went off my feet hit the floor and I started the process.

Bathroom. Brush teeth. Coffee. Banana. Toast the bread. Coat with generous portion of peanut butter and jelly. Scroll email/news while I let my stomach realize that this is breakfast time at 3:15am. 

I arrived to the race site and was able to grab my bib immediately and headed back to my car where I sat in the warmth until I absolutely had to get out and start my warm up to the start line. Long time friend Jason had just moved back home after finishing chiropractic school in Florida and he kept me company until Rob showed up and we all ventured to the start.

A few things you need to know about this race: 

1. The course is a 3.25 mile loop that is run around a forest preserve in Batavia, IL.
2. It's extremely flat and fast.
3. There are 2 aid stations per loop, for a total of 16 aid stations over 26 miles. 
4. The bib numbers are assigned by BQ standards. My BQ time is 3:30. My bib number was 33014. Hence, I should be on the lookout on course for other bibs that started with "330" and the 14 recognized that I was the 14th person in my age group to register. 
5. An "elite" water bottle station was set up so you could drop a water bottle mixed with whatever concoction/nutrition you preferred for your race and grab it once during each loop. 
6. Because of its looped nature, I was able to see any spectator 8 times over 26.2 miles. This was HUGE for my mental game. 
7. The pace groups are paced to finish 1 minute under your respective qualifying time to ensure you qualify for Boston if you finish with the appropriate pace group. 

I kissed Rob goodbye, gave Jason a high five and took off for the start to find the appropriate pace group. I wasn't about to get friendly with the 3:30 group because we all know after last year, it takes more than 1 minute to solidify entry into this race. So I meandered to the 3:25 group and found 1 other female. {Technically, 3:30 is the fastest any female has to run to qualify for Boston so the fact that I saw any other female with the 3:25 group meant that she was here for the same reasons I was.} We instantly made eye contact, I noted her bib number, 33017, and she walked up to me. "Not interested in the 3:30 group, eh?" My kinda girl. "Me either, I missed entry into Boston last year because of 10 seconds so I'm not playing around anymore." HOLY HELL I THOUGHT MY 19 SECONDS WAS HEART BREAKING. I knew right away this girl was one to hang onto. The gun went off and we formally introduced ourselves as we crossed the timing pads. "Hi, I'm Megan." "Nice to meet you, I'm Emily." 

Meet Emily, in the American flag arm sleeves

Emily and I immediately latched onto each other made friends with the 3:25 pace group. She's from Indianapolis. I'm from down the street. Our pacer in the bright yellow asked, "so, who do you run with?" I asked if he knew Jacqui and Ryan Giuliano. He laughed and smirked from ear to ear. "Oh of course I do!" Mile 1 ticket by at 7:41 and we all laughed as a group. Welp, we got 5 seconds to excited. Just after mile 2 (7:44) I told the pacer to be on the lookout for Jacqui, just up the road. And sure enough, there she was smiling and cheering away. He yelled, "HEY! I told her I knew Jacqui Giuliano!" 

Because I was SO excited to see cheering squad number 1!
We were closing in on mile 3 and just about done with the first lap and I could tell the body was feeling AMAZING. No aches. No "maybe that mile was a bit fast" issues. Just cruise control. This is what I'd hoped for a lot longer than I had it. As we clocked mile 3 at 7:32, we noted that we needed to slow down, regardless of how good we felt. The only problem was that I noticed my watch wasn't always reading proper pacing. I never expect it to be perfect, but at times I'd glance at my watch at see a 9 minute pace, forcing me to up the pace. 

We closed out the first lap and I spotted Life Time mentor and friend Karie on the side of the path, arm extended to wish me will, leaning over to remind me to keep my shoulders relaxed and stay smooth with my strides. Karie is someone I've known of is the racing circuit for quite a while, but only in the past 4 months have we started a true friendship. And I have to say, there's something about her voice, her stern reminders. She elicits a confidence and certainty when she speaks, and today was no different. I took her advice and kept my eyes straight ahead. eyes on the prize. 

Mile 4 clicked at 7:30 and I knew then that Emily and I needed to slow down. Although, something weird happened. When we slowed down, we lost the group. As in, they fell behind us. We held stride for stride but continued to run ahead of the of 3:25 group. Mile 5 clocked a 7:57, welcomed after so many fast miles. But then we noticed that Emily's watch never matched mine. If mine read fast, hers read slow. And vice versa. We did the best we could, but the miles kept ticking by faster than we hoped they would. 

Rob caught us during lap 2 on the pedestrian bridge
We found Jacqui again and this time I gave her a proper introduction to Emily, promising that she was who I needed to keep pace with today. 

Clearly mid-introduction
Emily and I held onto each other and chatted a little here and there. She was expecting to see her sister soon while I told her that Rob would pop up on course soon, coffee in hand.

Doin' what we love and lovin' what we do
The miles continued to tick by lap after lap. The inconsistency of our watches continued and we never thought to much about it. I yelled at her when we were going to fast "OMG 7:05 THIS ISN'T THE KENTUCKY DERBY!" and she'd laugh. And when my watch screamed 10 minute miles, she assured me that we were not in fact walking. 

To give you and idea of what we were dealing with, my splits obviously tell a story about where the course wasn't GPS friendly for me: 

1: 7:41 (excited for the start)
2: 7:44 (goal pace)
3: 7:32
4: 7:30 (dream pace)
5: 7:57
6: 7:44 (goal pace)
7: 7:33 
8: 7:51 (perfect, hang here for a while)
9: 7:55
10: 7:35 (UGGGGHHHH)

After the 2nd aid station on each lap, there was a significant incline that wasn't truly a hill, but a steady incline that may or may not have left it's mark on me after the 3rd or 4th lap. After the first 2 laps I didn't think much about it, but by the 3rd lap, I could tell that Emily recovered from that little section much quicker than I did. 

The lap that Emily introduced me to her dad and he responded with, "LEAVE HER IN THE DUST MEGAN!"

Just around lap 5 is when I started to feel a TINY bit tired. Nothing to write home about, but enough that I could tell fatigue was setting in. No big deal, the 2nd wind is a glorious thing and I'll certainly bounce back, right? 

We eventually evened ourselves out and met back with the 325 group
Wrong. Miles 11-15 went as follows: 7:51, :41, :53, :49, :37. And then mile 16 happened. I went from on top of the world, to and 8:18 mile. I remember so vividly, my watched clicked and I glanced and instantly muttered, oh shit. I knew I was feeling a tad tired, but an 8:18 was what I envisioned for the final 3 miles when your legs take on a whole separate form of functioning. By the time I wrapped up this lap I was close to mile 19. Rob knew I was hurting, and he made his way to the park entrance and ran along side of me for a short stretch. I told him I didn't know if I should keep going for a finish or pull the plug in an effort to attempt to race Illinois in 2 short weeks.  If you keep running, will you hurt yourself?, he asked. No, I told him. But I'm running out of available weekends to get this job done, I need to decide within the next mile. He pealed off course and just ahead was Karie. She knew something was up and put a hop to her step while I filled her in. If you decide to finish the race DO NOT run hard right now, save yourself for other opportunities. Wise woman she is. She made up my mind. 

Wishing Karie was about to run the last 7 miles with me

I didn't come here to quit. I didn't quite do what I wanted, but stepping off course was never something I've actually envisioned myself doing. I decided right then and there, I dialed the pace back A LOT, practically to a shuffle. I put one foot in front of the other. I found myself another finish line. The final miles, they weren't anything pretty at all. At one point the 3:30 pace group inched behind me and I caught a short 2nd wind. OK, maybe you can hang with them for the final miles. This is your last shot. My legs obeyed for about 45 seconds before they fell victim to the 9 minute mile again, and I then let them fall victim to an even slower pace. 

Final lap, mentally the most difficult.
You mind goes to some dark places during these types of events. People always ask me what's harder, the marathon or the Ironman? I always tell them the marathon. 100%. The Ironman is such a long day that you have so many opportunities to bounce back. The marathon can break you down physically and mentally faster than almost any distance triathlon. I thought of a lot during that last lap. I remembered how hard it was to finish my first marathon, 9 years ago. A college student with some guts that decided to take a chance. I remembered crossing that finish line in 5 hours and 27 minutes and thinking to myself, "there's no way I'll ever do that again."  I remembered how awesome it was to qualify for Boston at Grandma's only 10 months prior, almost 2 hours faster than my original marathon time. I remembered watching The 2018 Boston Marathon on TV and seeing Des Linden take home the title, in the pouring rain and nasty winds on the bitterest day. The underdog. The blue collar runner. She defied the naysayers and got the job done. She showed up. She kept showing up. When the going got tough and the wind forced her to sway down Boylston street, she got the job done. 

I showed up.

And I'll keep showing up until I get the job done.
I found the finish line 11 minutes after my qualifying time. I could make many excuses about why my day didn't go as planned. Analysis has been running through my mind for 7 days now. It'll never stop, if I'm being honest. Maybe I'll find the answers one day, maybe I won't. But I do know one thing, the day I do toe that line in Hopkinton I'll cry buckets. I'll hug every volunteer I encounter in Boston. I'll drink nothing but Dunkin' and 26.2 Brew and Sam Adams all weekend. I'll stop at the finish line to stand there and soak in the moment so I'll never forget. I'll pay respects to the bombing victims and their families. I'll be forever grateful for my chance to run the greatest marathon in the world. Because it'll be the hardest thing I've ever worked for in my life to date.

Last race as Megan Hode
Soon to be Mr & Mrs Sloan
Until then, I've got a wedding to plan 😉

You know this story isn't over. Stay tuned for Plan B. 


PS. I gave this race a much more formal review for Chicago Athlete Magazine. If you're interested in that, you can find it here!

Friday, April 12, 2019

Hi I'm Megan. Thanks for Being so Patient. Let's Re-Familiarize Ourselves?

I wish I could articulate how much I have thought about writing over the last 3 months. Seriously, so many times I have wanted to sit down and let my fingers fly. But...

...I often bring work home. This calendar year at the office is proving to be challenging in so many ways, and there are times I can't shut work off on the weekends.

...My wedding to-do list grows daily. Vendors to contact or meet up with, things to order, contracts to go over, decisions to make. It truly never ends.

...Wedding Dress fittings. Why are there SO many? I swear, I've had 3 and counting..

...I need to make dinner. Lame, I know. But I've found lately that I can get lost while I cook. It soothes me sometimes. I might start cooking at 7pm, but not eat until 8:30. Ya know, #foodieproblems.

...Occasionally I need to clean my house. I know I know, houses should be lived in, not museums. And trust me, my house is definitely lived in as we inch closer and closer to my wedding day. But can I get an AMEN! for my girls who really enjoy a Friday night with a bottle of wine, cranked up music, and a spotless kitchen and bathroom with some freshly folded laundry to kick off your weekend? 

...My workouts need to be done. 

Yes, you read that right. Workouts. I haven't fallen off the deep end, promise. In fact, quite the opposite. I truly don't remember a time in my life when I've been busier, and I believe that has something to do with my mindset this time around. 

Let's back up. Last June I ran Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, MN and qualified for the Boston Marathon with 4 minutes and 33 seconds to spare. Ultimately, it took a 4 minute and 52 second cushion to punch your ticket to Boston 2019. Hence, why I'm not packing my bags to head to Bean Town this weekend. As 2018 came to a close, it was made very obvious to me that 2019 was going to be SO busy that finding the time to punch my ticket to Boston 2020 might be a challenge. 

To put it into perspective. My wedding is in 6 short weeks. {eeeeeks!} For the 2 weekends in a row after my own wedding, I have friends weddings to attend. And then another over 4th of July weekend. And then one of Rob's sister is getting married at the end of July. And then ANOTHER sister at the end of September. Moral of the story: I knew I needed to qualify early in 2019 in order to save my sanity for the rest of the year. 

Grandma's Marathon 2018
Convinced I was Boston Bound

Oh, as a side note: did I mention I recently got a 2nd job? GUYS IT'S NOT LIKE I HAVE 10 MILLION OTHER THINGS GOING ON. No, I didn't take a side job as dog walker or bartender in the evenings. You're looking at the newest Run Club Coordinator at Life Time Fitness Algonquin. There may not actually be a more perfect 2nd job for me out there. My job is to get everyone excited to RUN at the Life Time Fitness in Algonquin. The run club members aren't entirely strangers to me, so walking into this group of people wasn't scary or even hard. If anything, it was welcomed with open arms.

So, back to being busy. I have found a way to make sure I get everything done everyday. Minutes are planned to a T. I even write in "recovery" into my day to make sure my legs are in working order. When life takes you in this many directions it's easy to forget how you to take care of yourself. But I wasn't about to head down that road again. 

Post Normatec Boots, Pre Stretching and R8 Roll Recovery
That being said, my first attempt at BQ or Bust Round 2 is TOMORROW, and I might be the calmest I've ever been leading into a such a large race. Last May and early June, my mental space was up for grabs. ALL my thoughts were consumed with Grandma's Marathon. Some might consider this a great thing, keeping your eyes on the prize and the focus in tact. And at the time, I'm sure it was. But this time around, I KNOW I can run the race I need to. My speedwork has proven so. My long runs have proven so. Hell, Ryan has told me on more than one occasion, "Wow, that was a solid workout. You're in some good shape!" And no, this isn't to sound cocky or arrogant. But this time around my CONFIDENCE is so much higher. I know what I need to do. I've been putting in the work and then some. I've had some serious late nights, extremely early mornings, and the workouts keep proving my worth. And because I've been so consumed with everything else life has to offer right now, I don't have time to stress over the "little" things involved with marathon training. 

During the warmup for March Madness on St. Patrick's Day, Kati and I were running side by side and she asked me how I felt about my fitness and where I stood trying to re-qualify for Boston. I had been thinking it for a while but had never said it out loud. "Honestly Kati, I'm so busy lately I haven't had time to really even THINK about where I'm at. I'm hitting every workout Ryan gives me. I go home and my mind is consumed with so many other things I truly haven't even had time to assess where I'm at and if I have a shot come April." Some might read that and think shit you're in trouble while others see that and think nah, you're right where you need to be. Don't overthink it. I'm gonna side with the latter half on this one. Because honestly, I have 0 reason not to. 

It's been a FULL winter. So full. The first weekend of January continued to prove how much I love S-NO-W Fun Run at the Grand Geneva in Lake Geneva. 

The weather was also unseasonably warm and I could have done without the sleeves for the race
January also threw everyone for a curveball and offered some of the coldest weather Chicago has ever seen, dipping into the -50's and pretty much shutting down the city and surrounding suburbs for 2 full days. 

I barely ran outside at all in January because of this 
February brought a few more sub 0 day but it also brought a trip to NOLA with 6 of my nearest and dearest friends for my bachelorette party and lemme tell ya, this trip was welcomed with open arms.

Beignets in the French Quarter 

After a full day on Bourbon Street, we somehow found a way to clean up for a nice dinner

The next weekend, Rob and I met with our wedding photographer in Milwaukee, WI. I was always hesitant booking a photographer who I didn't know. Someone who was expected to capture our most sincerne moments on the best day of our lives.. as a stranger. But let me tell you, this lady is good. She brought her camera to a coffee shop and hung out with Rob and I. We barely noticed she was snapping photos the whole time.

Rob and I also spent a weekend at The Abbey (our wedding venue) during the month of February. We had a few things to take care of, so decided to spend the weekend. The gazebo we'll be married under was completely snow covered at the moment, and we got a little emotional as we pictured ourselves back in the same location with all of our family and friends sharing our special day. 

March started to bring the thaw, slowly but surely. I ventured out in shorts when I probably should have kept my pants on, but after -50, 25 degrees felt like a heatwave at times.

Antsy and impatient with Chicago weather

I also began to realize that my 30+ year old skin isn't exactly 20 anymore and I needed to start making sure I had some of my best skin come wedding day. I did some research and made my very own face mask with some essentials oils and swear by it. 

Smooth as a babies bottom
Inquire for mask details 😃

And of course, March wouldn't be March without the kick off to the running season, March Madness Half Marathon. I had a solid showing and was very pleased with my race, even though it was a tad slower than last year. I purposely took a few of the hills slower than I wanted knowing I could possibly flare up my left hamstring again. It ended up being the right call because I crossed that finish line and for the first time ever, I felt stronger than the hills.

PERFECT weather for one of my favorite races!

RyBread turned Vixen.

And we can't forget about the famous Green Guys. The Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle. Last year Mark joined the crew and he continued the tradition this year. Of course I volunteered my photography for the day and was promptly in bed by 7pm that night after a 3am wakeup call and being a sherpa for 8 adults painted in green body paint. 

At least it was warmer this year!

Can you spot the Green Guys? It's hard to miss them..

Not to worry, the day before the Shamrock Shuffle I logged my own serious mileage. 19+ miles for me and I hit some pretty awesome splits towards the end that I was definitely proud of. 

This could also have something to do with my complete and utter exhaustion after Shamrock Shuffle sherpa-ing for 8 adults in green body paint

And, during the last weekend in March I received my initiation into the Life Time Fitness family. The Run Club and the Cycle Club joined forces for the night and had a 2019 kick off Meet and Greet at local establishment in town. I met the entire crew and was welcomed with open arms. I started this day with an AMAZING 22 mile run that I completely nailed:


 And I ended it like this: 

Meet Karie. Current Cycle Club Coordinator. Former Run Club Coordinator.
Mentor and bad influence 🤣

And here we are into April. Last weekend, I had the pleasure of having a SECOND bachelorette party with Rob's 8 sisters. {Yes, you read that right. 6 sisters and 2 in laws. 8 total.} I was so touched they insisted on hosting a separate bachelorette for me. We drank all the Kim Crawford, laughed until we cried, ate some amazing mexican food, and sang and danced to live music until our feet and lungs begged for mercy. {Because that's exactly what a marathon taper calls for, right coach?}

Because before pictures are always pretty

Those during pictures always have a story to tell

But after pictures are always honest 

So. Back to present day. Would I suggest this much chaos when training for such an important marathon? Hell no. Without a doubt. But for someone like me. Someone who can't turn off their mind. Someone who will obsess over every little detail if you let me. I think this might be just what the doctor ordered. This time around, the mental marathon game didn't have a chance to sneak into life. Everytime I had to leave the house, my running shoes came with me, along with all of my recovery equipment. {And sometimes, a dress and a pair if heels made the trip too, depending on the occasion.}

At the end of the day, I know for a fact I was true and honest to my running shoes and my high heels during this wild and amazingly crazy time of life. I'm not getting any younger and I'm reminded of that every time I lace up my running shoes. My legs have logged more miles than most people will ever log in a lifetime. I'm finding new recovery tricks to help me get through life while I set out to conquer some serious athletic goals. I am so grateful that I am able to live my adult life the best way I know how, on the run.

I'm lacing up for another test tomorrow. Another 26.2 mile test in Geneva, IL. The BQ.2 Spring Marathon. This time around, sub 3:30 is the ultimate goal. Of course, my sites are set on faster. I have a 7:49 pace engraved in my brain and I know the mile splits all the way from mile 1 through 26 at this point. The reality is, I'll need a 5+ minute PR to *hopefully* punch my ticket to Boston 2020. But at the end of the day, a 28 second PR will grant me another qualification in the Boston Marathon. 28 second PR will grant me another chance to attempt to register for the race. But how much wiggle room will allow me to run the race? 1 minute? 2 minutes? 3? Only time will tell.

In the words of Alexi Pappas:

Run like a Bravey
Sleep like a baby
Dream like a crazy
Replace can't with MAYBE, lady

Oh yeah, forgot to mention. This happened in March too ☘☘
One more sleep.

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.