Sunday, August 21, 2016

Steelhead 70.3 - Because in January I'll be praying for a triathlon

You thought I was going to sit back and relax after Lake Placid, didn't you? Well pull up a chair kids, because it's about to get really fun. 

Life after Lake Placid was... life. Real life. I stayed up later and caught some of my favorite shows I hadn't seen in a while. I ate ICE CREAM for dinner one night. I helped my college roommate celebrate her Bachelorette party at Wrigley Field (although we're still unsure who won?). I said an emotional "See ya later" to my best friend from high school as she is about to start a new chapter with her husband abroad. I flew back out to Steamboat Springs, Colorado and hiked some amazing mountains with my little cousins and then danced the night away at another cousin's wedding. But I never stopped training. Did I have the best life in my legs? No. Not at all. Was I breaking any personal records? Hell no. But I kept the fitness I had worked so hard for because my season wasn't quite over. 

Last year, Steelhead 70.3 was my redemption race after I got 2 flat tires at Muncie 70.3. After crossing the finish line at Steelhead, I promised myself I'd come back to that race as often as I could. It was simply.. awesome. Benton Harbor, Michigan is the cutest little town full of amazing restaurants, a beautiful beach on Lake Michigan, and home of Steelhead 70.3. There was never a reason NOT to go back and race. I signed up for this race pretty early last year. Ironman was running a promotion and had a coupon code out for the race, so I jumped on it knowing I wanted to race it again. By Thanksgiving 2015 I was signed up, completely negating the fact that I would be racing Ironman Lake Placid only 3 weeks beforehand. "Yea sure my legs will be fine." 

And then 2016 happened. I added an unexpected Ironman to the schedule. And another half ironman in early June. And a few other smaller races. Oops.

Rob and I packed up the car on Saturday morning and took off for Benton Harbor, Michigan. My body was drained. I had put it through a serious test over this last month with enough travel, lack of sleep, and a crazy amount of fun. But there wasn't a single part of me that wished I wasn't racing. 

Jacqui decided her body was healed and ready to race again only days prior, so she and Ryan were not far behind us after I went through athlete check-in. One thing was for sure, it was HOT. Rob and I walked around the Village for maybe 20 minutes and were absolutely drenched in sweat by the time we left. We made the executive decision to head to the air conditioned hotel before heading out to dinner later. Later on we met up with Todd (StruggleBus member!) and his wife and kids and Jacqui and Ryan for dinner at the local favorite, The Buck Burgers and Brew. Having a 2 year old and an almost 1 year old added some serious fun and laughs to the meal. I sat with Baby Elin on my lap while she sipped on a pouch of pureed carrots/apples/peaches and occasionally popped an air filled puff that would end up in a soggier version of itself on my lap. For a little while, I almost forgot I was racing the next day. I was having far to much fun playing Auntie to this little bundle of joy. After dinner, our Spectathlete's requested ice cream (this time, Ryan was considered a Spectathlete!) Jacqui and I sat and watched the boys lick their delicious looking waffle cones filled with creamy, sugary goodness and made a promise to each other that we would return to Kilwin's for our serving of ice cream after the race.

Race morning was pretty simple. Up and at 'em by 3:45am and arrived at the race site by 5am. We heard a few rumors as we made our way to transition, but refused to believe them until it came from an official. As I laid out my shoes next to my bike, I heard the announcement. "Today's race will be a NON-wetsuit legal race. If you choose to wear a wetsuit you will be in the LAST wave to start and NOT eligible for awards."  For the first time in 14 years, Lake Michigan was actually TO WARM to wear a wetsuit. Definitely not ideal. But if there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's all about how you respond to what's thrown your way. 

Jacqui and I had our transition set up pretty quickly and had plenty of time to kill before our waves started. Enough time to stand in a porta potty line 1.5 times. I had a 16 minute head start on Jacqui (because she's getting old and her age group started almost last). Because I was just coming off of IMLP, I didn't have HUGE expectations for myself. But one thing I really wanted was to see how long it would take Jacqui to find me on the bike. Our friends threw out a lot of guesses, from mile 12 (thanks Jess) all the way to mile 30 (I was PRAYING I could hold her off until then). I promised brunch to the closest guess. Jacqui is a beast on the bike, so the longer I could hold her off, the better. 

Swim: {1.2 miles}

Goals quickly changed after we realized that wetsuits were a no-go. Lake Michigan is known to be choppy. And even though today was "calm" it was still choppier than anything I've swam in this year. Choppy water + no wetsuit = get me out alive. The gun went off and everyone immediately dove into the water. And then we all stood up immediately. The tide just happened to go out at that time, leaving us with mostly sand. Within 30 seconds we were out far enough that we couldn't touch. And it was about 30 seconds after that that I really noticed how much harder I was going to have to work to get out of this lake. For every 2 strokes I took, I was pushed back one. Well, this sure makes things interesting. I'm lucky that open water swimming doesn't freak me out. I know some people can have serious panic attacks in the middle of the water if there is even a slight hint of chop. But I can (and do) get carsick when driving through the mountains. And this choppy water was making my stomach a little queasy. I was having some flashbacks of driving to Lake Placid, sitting in the backseat with my eyes closed and my head back, trying not to move. Once I hit the final turn and the long stretch towards home, the current was in my favor and my stomach relaxed. Nearing the end people were standing up MUCH earlier than I was expecting. Before long my hand hit sand and I realized why. I stood up and glanced at my watch. 40 minutes. NOT what I wanted. Reminding myself that I didn't get to use my wetsuit and still had a course PR in a difficult swim made me feel good about myself.


Transition #1:

As if being dizzy immediately upon getting out of open water isn't enough, this swim requires you to run up a pretty long beach to get into transition. My lead legs seemed to sink into the sand every step I took. I heard my name and looked up to see Ryan and Nate (Tomato!). Nate used his vampire super powers to hit the road in the middle of the night to hang out and watch Jacqui and I all day! (My friends are better than yours?) When I finally made it to my bike my heart was beating out of my chest. I exited transition in 3 minutes and 59 seconds, ready to see if my aggressive season had completely trashed my legs.

Bike: {56 Miles}

I settled myself pretty quickly, and even applied some chapstick in the first mile to prevent a repeat of some nasty chapped lips in Lake Placid. I don't really remember a lot from the early miles. The only thing I remember is that I was passing ALOT of people. Surely the field will thin out soon and this will slow down. Or not. 10 miles into the bike and I was still making passes. This is something I've never experienced before. The bike is not my forte. Usually, I'm the one being passed. But today, I spent most of my time on the left, calling out, "On your left!" My first 5 mile split was 15:xx and my 2nd was 14:xx. I knew I wanted to see what I was capable of on the bike, but I was worried about burning my legs out to soon. But somehow, my first split of the day was my slowest. I dipped into a few 13 minute splits later on, keeping most of my splits at 14 minutes.

Within 15 miles or so, Todd came from behind and made his pass. Starting only 4 minutes behind me (and being a much stronger swimmer than me), I knew this was going to happen. He said his hello and pulled ahead. But only a little. I had a secret goal. Don't let Todd out of your sights. I quickly re-passed him, this time keeping him behind me for longer than I expected. But this cat & mouse game wasn't over. Soon enough he found me again. This time I made sure to tell him, "Have fun while you can, Jacqui's about to light us up." He smiled and agreed. We were at about mile 25 and I told him to expect her within the next 10 miles.

This pass of Todd's was a little more aggressive. He put some good space between us. I focused on staying low, hydrating, and making sure to spray water on myself at aid stations because it was DEFINITELY heating up. And quickly. At mile 30 I heard a greeting from behind and saw Lauren, one of Jacqui and Ryan's EGO teammates, as she made her pass and pulled ahead. Unfortunately I saw her only 2 miles later, this time she was on the side of the road with her bike on it's side. Oh no, I hope she's ok. Does she need a tube? Air? Help? I was ready to stop and give her supplies when I asked her if she was ok. Thankfully she just dropped her chain. Easy fix. Within the next 4 miles I saw her again as she made her final pass of the day.

I was closing in on mile 40 and I had a scary realization. Where's Jacqui? I immediately thought the worst. Flat tire. Mechanical issues. Crash. I did my best to not think about all the "what-ifs" and just pedal. Soon I found Todd again. This time we hung together until the very end. Coming in to the dismount line I almost {literally} bumped into Todd's back wheel. 56 miles in 2 hours and 41 minutes. Just an unexpected 11 minute distance PR and a 16 minute course PR.

Coming off the bike, ready to run!

Transition #2:

As I practically tapped Todd's wheel at the dismount line, I saw Rob immediately to my left. And he wasn't alone. Remember how I told you I was in Colorado for my cousin's wedding the weekend before? Well, the grooms Dad, Chuck, was standing with Rob! Chuck is Joey's dad. Joey and his now wife, Kristen, are my Florida pit crew. Sidenote: The Florida pit crew had JUST recently relocated to Frankfort, IL. A mere hour and 15 minutes from Benton Harbor. Chuck has a daughter (Joey's half sister, also a Meghan) who is a sprinter at University of Michigan. So this whole endurance world is extremely foreign to him. But he was all smiles on the fence, yelling and screaming with Rob like you wouldn't believe. My support system NEVER ceases to amaze me. I was overjoyed as I racked my bike. My legs had just given me the best bike split I've EVER had. And my family/support system was currently making my heart erupt with love. The 2 minutes and 40 seconds I spent in transition was definitely emotional.

Run: {13.1 Miles}

I had a slightly large hunch that my Florida Pit Crew was going to pop up on the run course. I was barely out of transition when I saw (and heard) Joey, Kristen, and the super sprinter Meghan, complete with home made signs and noise makers. Joey made sure to hold the "Iron Hode" sign while he crouched down and yelled obscenities in my ear as I ran by. I felt like I was running on top of the world. These guys sure know how to make a girl feel special.

Within a half mile of seeing my family, I started to come back to reality and noticed how hot the sun was beating down. Immediately I started dumping water on my head, arms and wrists at every aide station. My first mile split was no where near where it should have been off the bike. I felt ok, but my legs were not responding. This is where the last 3 months of fatigue started to set in. The sun didn't help either. Or the practical cloud I was running in. Seriously, it was that humid. Just after mile 1 I saw Nate standing halfway up the first hill. Right were I needed him. Within a mile of him, Ryan. Cruisin' around on his bike, he was there to remind me to stay strong in the heat. I could barely get any words out. But I found a way to ask him how Jacqui was doing. He shrugged. "I haven't seen her yet. I hope she's ok." Yea, me too.

Don't worry. It was only about a half a mile later that I heard that sweet high pitched voice. "Megan! It looks like you don't have to buy anyone brunch!" YESSSS. Jacqui came in for the pass and I was THRILLED that she was moving so well! So far this year, we've raced together 4 times. And so far, I've only seen her actually running on the run twice. Today was one of those days. She wished me luck and was pretty much out of sight within the next 90 seconds. Life Goals: be able to run like Jacqui.

By the time you hit mile 4 you start the loop around the Whirlpool campus. Towards the end of that loop I knew my legs weren't going to give me what I wanted on the run. I was hoping for some sort of 2nd wind, but it wasn't happening. Just when I needed a smile, I watched a little sassy woman pass me. I say she was sassy because she was wearing a pretty cool Wattie Ink kit, pig tail braids, and a trucker hat. As she made the pass she turned her head slightly and made eye contact with me. Could it be? I glanced at her bib and read EMILY. I'll be damned. One of Jacqui and Ryan's friends (who is a recent Boulder, CO transplant, former Chicago native) was someone I had never met, but we followed each other all over social media. I knew she was going to be racing today but never dreamed that our first meeting would be during the race. I called out to her as best I could (which was pretty damn weak) and she turned her torso to flag me down as if to say, "come run with me!" I totally wished I had more life in my legs. I wanted nothing more than to run that race the way she did that day. But I had to let my newest real life friend go on without me.

I started my 2nd lap and saw Ryan and Nate one last time. I reassured them that it was blistering hot (in case they wanted to know) and they told me to shut up and keep running. Deal. The last lap of the run was semi-miserable. I felt like I was flying but my watch told me otherwise. The miles got slower and slower. I found a way to get my exhausted body to the finish shoot.

I mustered up a smile for the boys
At the very beginning of the finish shoot, a man stood with his camera up and pointing directly towards me. CHUCK. Once again, a smile plastered across my face and I quickly forgot about the misery my body was in. I found another gear deep inside me and picked up the pace for the last quarter mile. 100 yards before the finish line, I saw Rob on the fence and Joey and Kristen screaming from the top of the hill on the beach. I barely cracked 2 hours on the run, but damn I did it.

Racin' and Spectatin' - it's what we do ;)
Chuck and cousins!
My Florida Pit Crew in MICHIGAN!!

The Aftermath:

I found my support crew and collapsed into their arms. I've never been happier to be done with a race. I made it to the finish line under 5 hours and 30 minutes, although I'm not sure how.

My body was spent. My season started on May 14th, 2016 with Ironman Texas in The Woodlands, Texas. Only 3 weeks after that, I started a trio of race weekends. Starting with an Olympic, then a half Ironman, and finishing it off with a sprint. Exactly 5 weeks after that, I crossed another Ironman finish line in Lake Placid, New York. And as if that wasn't enough, my body was able to finish ANOTHER half Ironman in Benton Harbor, Michigan. On August 14th, 2016. Exactly 3 months to the day that I started my 2016 triathlon season.

I can safely say, you won't see me toeing any triathlon lines until 2017. The past week has been the most relaxing. I came home from work one day and took a nap! I went to bed pretty damn early every night, just because. My body was yearning for recovery. So that's what it got.

Post-race Ice Cream - as promised!
The Ying to my Yang ;)

As far as the rest of the year? I'm ready to lace up my running shoes for a season of fall running in Chicago. I'm ready to see what my legs can really do! Can't give it all away though. Gotta keep you on your toes ;)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Ironman Lake Placid 2016: #LPpartee

Where do I begin? How about I start with the fact that our house had the most prime location and included fun toys like kayaks for the boys to get in trouble with? Or, maybe you want to hear about how Mark and I ran into Mike Reilly walking down Main Street and he stopped and had a casual 15 minute conversation with us like he knew us? Perhaps you'd rather hear about the pipe that burst in front of our house, forcing all 11 of us to move houses on Friday, 2 days before race day? What about the exciting new RyBread Racing gear that was delivered to house #1 on Thursday that we were all able to wear as a team on race day? Wait.. more importantly, what about the RACE!? Fasten your seat belts. You're in for a fun lengthy read. 

In case you missed out on my Lake Placid preview, Mark and I signed up for Ironman Lake Placid back in August of 2015 with a group of friends that we now call the #LPpartee. Mark, Rob, and I arrived in Lake Placid on Tuesday afternoon after driving through the night and immediately met up with the rest of our group. We weren't 100% complete without Lauren and her boyfriend Matt, who couldn't arrive until Friday morning due to grad school obligations. We unloaded cars, got settled, and went our separate ways after 14+ hours in the car together. Rob napped (he was our night time driver), Mark bummed around, and I took a little dip in Mirror Lake with Jacqui and Ryan. We were all beyond exhausted so we decided a nice relaxing Taco Tuesday at the house was in order. The next day called for no alarms and some exploring!

The House!


We spent our Wednesday morning driving the bike course to check out what we had all signed ourselves up for. We also quickly realized how GORGEOUS this place was and stopped a few times to explore the area. Of course the ladies of the group had to keep the boys under control, considering they were all acting like monkeys and insisting on climbing every rock imaginable, only days before race day. Spoiler alert: maybe the kid who won the race ended up falling in the water? 

Self timers on unstable rocks are really fun.

Self timers on drop offs next to the highway are even more fun!

Because this makes me smile so big.

If you look closely you can see ski jumps behind us!
Wednesday afternoon consisted of a little ride around the run course to shake out our legs and then back to the house for a dip in the lake! Our house came complete with kayaks in the garage which meant more trouble for the boys to try and get into. The comic relief of Rob, Ryan, and John successfully capsizing John's boat was extremely welcome. All of us had some heightened nerves, especially our first time Ironman athletes in the group (Mark, Lauren, and Trina) and welcomed a good laugh.

This. Was. Hilarious.

Dinner out with the group on Wednesday night!


Thursday morning, Mark, Jacqui, and myself decided we wanted to ride out to the Keene descent and then down the Keene descent. Keene is a little town on the bike course that includes a 7 MILE DESCENT and can be EXTREMELY dangerous if you're not careful. Ryan rode the descent the day before so he could tell us what to expect and hit 53mph at one point. Holy shit. I get some white knuckles once I hit about 35mph. So to say I was nervous is definitely an understatement. But I also needed to ride it before race day so I could get all the jitters out of my system. We made it to the top of the descent and Trina and Brittany joined us for the 7 miles of roller coaster without a seat belt that we were about to embark on. Ryan decided to drive in front of us in case traffic got a little crazy, while Nate and John drove behind us to slow down traffic until we reached the bottom. They definitely pissed off a few cars, but it was well worth it to ensure our safety. Mark took off like a bullet (making me absolutely crazy and not helping my uncontrollable nerves) and I promised myself I'd take the descent nice and easy and just experience it the first time. Less than 14 minutes later, I was at the bottom. (Yup, 7 miles in 14 minutes = to fast) My top speed was just shy of 40mph and I was shocked at how not scary it was. I'm always a ball of nerves on the bike, but I was expecting the descent to put me over the edge. And somehow, I was ready to do it again! 

No turning back now!

After we finished up our ride for the day we came home to do a quick change and headed over to the Ironman Village for check in! I could tell Mark was starting to get anxious and check in was only about to make that worse. We went through the motions, showed our ID's, signed our lives away, and got weighed in case we needed medical support while on the course. I made sure to keep an eye on the BFG. He stayed calm and collected. Much calmer than I was during my first Ironman experience. He made sure to ask all the questions. "What do I put on this line? Do I need to sign this paper? Why do you have 2 swim caps and I have 1? What if I want to take this bracelet off?" He was an Ironman sponge and was soaking up absolutely everything. And I couldn't have been happier for him. 

We MIGHT have told him how to pronounce our last name..

In between check in and meeting Rob to grab a quick lunch, Mark and I ran into Mike Reilly walking downtown Lake Placid. For those of you who don't know, Mike Reilly is the voice of Ironman. The one who announces your finish. "Megan Hode, from Crystal Lake Illinois - You are AN IRONMAN!" I've done it 4 times now and it never gets old. He stopped and chatted with us for a short while. He remembered us from the year prior as peelers at Ironman Wisconsin. Mark's smile continued to grow as the day went on and I know for a fact that our 10 minute conversation with Mike Reilly got Mark even more excited for Sunday. 

You know you want a RyBread singlet
Thursday afternoon the group kind of split. Ryan, Nate, and myself laced up our shoes for one last run workout around the lake while Jacqui, Mark, Rob, Trina, John, and Brittany headed to the lake for more swimming and kayak shenanigans. The 3 of us stopped our run at the lake and immediately jumped in the water to cool off and get a glimpse of John cruisin' his kayak while wearing his wet suit. He wasn't taking any chances after he and his kayak almost ended up at the bottom of the lake on Wednesday.


REST DAY. Or so we thought.. Shortly after our morning coffee, Mark and I wandered to the Ironman Village so that I could return a shirt that I had purchased on Thursday. While I was in line, I got a text from Ryan. "You're not gonna want to know what's happening right now." Doesn't he know that texts like that are enough to send me in a tizzy? Long story short, our plumbing in the house was malfunctioning after a pipe had burst at the bottom of our driveway. We were being forced to move houses. 2 days before race day. After we had completely unpacked and filled our fridge full of food. On our REST DAY. We had that house packed and cars were loaded an hour later. We were relocated about 3 miles away (ugh, we were used to being able to walk to EVERYTHING) in a MANSION (Alright, maybe I'm OK with driving everywhere now) complete with a screened in porch and hotub for our muscles. Thankfully Lauren and Matt had JUST arrived so they didn't even unload the car.
Packing up your life during Ironman week is apart of the taper, right?
Cars ready to be loaded 
The new MANSION!
After the move was complete (albeit, uber sweaty) the whole group (YAY! ALL 11 OF US TOGETHER!) put on our Rybread Racing tshirts and hit up the town for a couple of group shots in front of the Lake Placid rock and the Olympic Ice Arena. While we were roaming the downtown area, Mom, Dad, Aunt Bev, and Uncle JB were making their way into town and happened to drive down Main Street and I immediately ran to the car to give them a half hug as they drove by. Later that evening, Mark and I went to their house and to say a quick hello before we made sure to get to bed early. Sunday was quickly approaching and we needed all the rest we could get. 

And we're the 11 best friends that anyone could have!
Girls rule
Boys drool


The house began to rise by 7:30am and soon enough, the whole group was ready to rock the pre-race shake out ride and run in our brand new RyBread Racing kits! It has been such an experience to work with Ryan for as long as I have. And to see everyone sporting the awesome new kits just warmed my heart. Tubes were changed, bikes were double and triple checked, and our legs were ready to go. Next stop, bike and gear check in! 
Hode's ready to race!
This picture can be found on the Ironman Lake Placid Facebook page ;)
We made sure to make this process as quick as possible so that we could rest and be off our feet the rest of the day. After a quick little rendezvous with the family at the expo after we dropped off our bikes and gear, the pre-race meal was ready to be made! I went to the store and grabbed some beef for burgers and chopped up some fruit and steamed some fresh broccoli. Burgers and veggies and beers with the group and the family. DINNER OF CHAMPS! All that was left to do was wake up and race. I'd be lying if I said my nerves were under control though. It had been almost 2 years since I raced on a "hilly" course. Yes, I knew my hard work over the past 2 years was nothing I should doubt, but I was wondering how my body would react to the terrain. It wasn't easy to sleep that night knowing what I had to face once I woke up.

Olympic Oval used as transition

Sunday - RACE DAY!

Considering my alarm clock struggles for Ironman Texas, I was prepared this time around setting 3 different alarms. I was up and out of bed by 3:15am and had the coffee pot brewing for the house by 3:20am. Slowly but surely the house began to stir and shortly after, the toilets began to flush. 4:40am and we were all headed to transition! This is where we were not so pleased with the new location of our house. Originally, we planned on walking to the race. But now we had to leave a little earlier and somehow snag a parking spot as close to the start as possible. Rob was able to drop off Mark and I at transition and then he fought the 5am traffic for us. 

Mark and I immediately got body marked and made our way to our bikes to prep our nutrition and pump our tires. I tried to get done with my prep as quickly as possible so I could run down and check on Mark. But he was done before me! I even asked if he wanted me to double check everything for him. "Nope, I'm good." Damn, this is kid more confident than I am. We said our hellos to some McHenry County natives, Jon Crane, Andrew Killinger, and a few of their friends, and wished them the best of luck. Over the last week, Jon would refer to our house as "Camp RyBread" and even insisted that we host the celebrations on Sunday night if Ryan won. We joked about the very high possibility that we would need to find an available liquor store on a Sunday night in Lake Placid, New York.

About this time, Mark and I ran into Jacqui and Ryan and did our best not to lose them before the race. And if there's one thing I can gurantee about racing with Jacqui, it's that she will have to use the bathroom just before the start of the race. (You know, when the porta potty lines are long enough to ensure you'll miss the start of the race.) But this time, it wasn't just her. All 3 of them were about to burst and the next thing you know, they disappeared into the woods. Meanwhile, I stood patiently waiting for the 3 little bears to make their way back to me so we could head to the starting line and meet up with Rob. 

When we found Rob we had more than enough time to relax and get our wet suits on (no need to hop any fences this time around). We also started to find more of our group! John and Brittany! We snagged them up and wouldn't let them out of our site. We were missing the Tomato's and Lauren. Unfortunately, we were about to lose Jacqui too as she made her way back to the porta potty. Soon after, Mark, John, Brittany, Ryan and myself said our goodbyes to Rob and made our way close to the beach and the start line. Starting off all my Ironman races with a kiss from my Spectathlete has a way of putting me at ease and relaxed just before the swim. 

Goal: 1:15 

Swimming in Mirror Lake offers the luxury of having a rope lining the entire course about 6 feet below the surface. It can be a blessing and a curse. Everyone has the same goal: get on your bike as quickly as possible. The fastest way to do that in Mirror Lake: follow the line like you're swimming in a pool. It can make for an aggressive swim, but I was ready to see what I was made of. Even though Texas was a non-wetsuit legal swim, I still showed great improvements in the water. But now I was ready to see how well I could swim with some neoprene keeping me on top of the water. The rolling start of this swim is also supposed to keep things nice and uncrowded. It was anything but. There was very little time throughout the swim that I did not feel like I was being attacked by limbs that weren't mine. But I was determined to make sure I swam as close to that line as possible. And I was ready to take a punch in the goggle or 2 to make sure it happened. 

Serious fog
We all entered the water and fog hung so low it was difficult to site any buoy in front of you. I did the best I could to make sure that line was in my direct site the entire time. It didn't take long for me to take a nice little punch to the nose. I've been hit plenty in the water. But this hit was hard enough I was sure my nose was bleeding. I took 10 seconds to make sure there was no blood pouring out of my nose and then continued on. I reached the halfway point of the swim, which also happened to be the beach. Yep, that's right. This swim makes you do 2, 1.2 mile loops in the lake. And to avoid any cheaters in the group, you have to actually get out of the water and run over a timing pad on the beach, and then re-enter the water for lap 2. I wasn't sure how I felt about it, and I'm still not sure honestly. All I know is that when I got to the beach for lap 2, the crowds were wild and all I could hear was "Sweet Home Alabama" playing in the background while Mike Reilly entertained the crowd. 

As I dove back in for lap 2 I looked to my right and saw my first familiar face since the gun went off: Brittany! I stayed stroke for stroke with her for a few minutes and tried to get her attention by making funny faces at her when we would breath. I later found out she never saw me at all. Just before the turn around and final .6 mile stretch to the finish I saw another familiar face - Jon Crane! He's hard to miss with his gorilla arms and very animated facial expressions when he breaths. I did the best I could to stay with him until the very end but I lost site of him in the crowds of people trying to swim the line. The next thing I knew I was approaching the beach and I could hear the crowds and music playing, this time "Come With Me Now" by Kongos. The beat of the song got me pumped and ready to cruise the decent quarter mile run I had waiting for me to reach transition. I took my first step out of the water and glanced at my watch: 1 hour and 15 minutes on the dot. Damn, spot on. Time to ride. 

Transition 1

I found the first available peeler and he had my wet suit off in seconds. As I took off running to transition, I noticed the carpet that was laid out for us was quite narrow and could only fit 1 person wide on it. So that meant running at the mercy of the person in front of you. Yea, no thanks. I took off running on the pavement to left of the carpet and immediately started flying by everyone. At one point I heard someone yell, "HEY!" I turned my head to see Brittany! I snagged my bag from the fancy transition racks that were set up and took the first chair inside the women's change tent. As I was getting my last shoe on and about to place my helmet on my head, Brittany comes in and takes a seat in front of me. I said my hello and goodbye all at once and hit the road. Official transition time: 6 minutes 26 seconds. Considering the quarter mile run out of the water, I'll take it. 

Goal: Come off the bike with something left in my legs for the run and as close to 6 hours as possible

The last time I raced a hilly bike course was my first Ironman in Madison, Wisconsin. I finished the bike that day in 7 hours and 11 minutes. I know I've made GREAT improvements since then, but I also knew that managing hills is NOT my strength. A year later I biked the Ironman Maryland bike course in 5 hours and 59 minutes. Extremely flat, but MORE than enough wind to make up for it. So it was hard for me to pick a true "goal" for the bike. I knew a 6 hour bike split wouldn't happen, but I wanted to be as close as possible to that 6 hour mark. And considering the mountains we were about to ride through, it wasn't going to be easy. 

As you take off from transition you are immediately greeted by a wicked aggressive downhill that actually has hay bails at the end of it to keep people from flying off the road into the house at the end of the street. Once you make your way out of town you immediately start the climb up to town of Keene. Considering the rest of the course, this wasn't to bad but can be a quick way to kill your legs if you take the climb to aggressively out of the water. I made sure to put my bike in the lowest gear and just pedal. I didn't look at the speed, just get to the top of the hill and then make my way down the descent safely. I found Jon Crane in the middle of the climb and he promised me he'd see me soon. Before I knew it I was flying down the Keene descent and I realized that my bike computer was no longer of use. My sensor slid down the spoke and I was left to bike 100 miles without any sense of speed. I do know that I hit 42 miles an hour on the descent after checking my watch later that night. Sure enough, Jon Crane flew past me and I promised myself that I'd find him on the run. 

Once I made it to the bottom I was much more comfortable. I had yet to see any of the group on the bike, but I had my eyes peeled. Surely I would see Mark on the 6 mile out and back section coming up soon in the town of Ausable Forks, whether he was in front of me or behind me. If he exited the swim behind me I knew for a fact he'd catch me on the bike, especially with the descent. His dare devil ways wouldn't allow for anything else. 

Did I mention it was a little warm that day?
As we entered the town of Jay I spotted Rob and Matt (our Spectathletes!) on the side of the road screaming at us! I made it to the out and back and a few miles before the turn around I saw Nate heading in my direction! And then Lauren! Just after the turn around I hear someone from behind me yelling, "HEY RYBREAD RACING!" I turned my head to see John! We hung together for a short minute and joked, telling each other to eat turds (I love watching other athletes look at us like we're nuts) before he took off. It wasn't long though before we met again. And this time we saw Matt and Rob as we started the climb into Upper Jay. My parents house was only a mile up the road and as I passed John for the final time on the bike, I knew it was going to be a long mile knowing I was barely moving. My dad stood about 100 yards in front of the house waving a white flag and wearing his RyBread Racing T-shirt and immediately started screaming when he saw me. Just ahead of him in the driveway was Mom, Aunt Bev, and Uncle JB. All waving their arms and yelling for me. It did my heart good to see them. But shortly after that, I realized I had yet to see my brother at all. He should have passed me if he was behind me. And if he was in front of me I would have seen him on the 6 mile out and back turn around. He's fine. He's fine. Race your race. 

My mind was moving a mile a minute as I made my way up White Face Mountain back into town. Lemme tell ya, that 10ish mile stretch is for the birds. This road is flat. It's definitely flat. Why am I barely moving? Psych. It wasn't flat. It's what you call a "false flat." Essentially, it was a 10 mile climb that appeared to the eye as... not a climb. I finally approached mile 50 and I knew the 3 Bears (3 hills at the end of the loop) were next. There was a lot of hype about the Bears leading up to the race. Most people compared them to the 3 Sisters from Ironman Madison's bike course. And I'll be VERY honest with you, the 3 Bears are speed bumps compared to the Sisters. No, they weren't easy at all, especially after that nice little section through White Face. But Madison wins when it comes to bike course difficulty. 

Yep, I'm done with this bike.
Making my way back into town and starting my 2nd loop gave me a quick burst of energy. The crowds were heavy and cheers came from all corners. Just what I needed to tackle this one more time before I lace up my running shoes. This time while on the descent, I had a deer run in front of me. I was convinced I was about to hit a deer on my bike. Thankfully, he was more scared than I was and moved just in time. All the hills were still there the 2nd time around and my legs grew a little more fatigued as the miles passed by. This time I did see Mark on the 6 mile out and back! He was behind me but wasn't looking so happy, and that's ok. He was upright. Passing my family the 2nd time around was a blur. I was around mile 90 and I was ready to ditch my bike for the day. Matt and Rob popped up multiple times on the 2nd lap, giving me a little bit of hope that the end was near. And after 6 hours and 24 minutes, averaging 17.5mph, I was back in transition. I couldn't have been happier. 
Told ya Mark wasn't happy.

Transition 2

The first 3-4 steps off the bike are always scary for me. And this time around, I was fearful I'd be dead from all the climbing. But.. I wasn't! I had enough life in my legs to actually run to my run gear bag and then B-line it to first porta potty I could see. Once inside the tent, I ripped off my helmet and shoes, grabbed my belt and running shoes and took off. This time, it only took me 3 minutes and 36 seconds to get in and out. 

Goal: Just.. run. 

I had no idea where to put my goals at for the run. Essentially, it was going to depend on how I felt coming off the bike. And I was definitely feeling better than anticipated. So off I went. I know I'm biased and have been running ALOT longer than I've been swimming or biking. But you have to admit, the run is SO fun, especially on a course like this that allows you to SEE all the competitors. This course offered a 6.5 mile out and back that is done twice, so I was ready to see what the rest of my #LPpartee was up to! 

The first few miles of the run take you outside of town and you have 2 pretty decent downhills. So if your quads aren't destroyed already from the bike, they're about to be here. I started to sip on my handheld bottle right away. It was a hot day and I needed to make sure I kept my sodium levels at a non-bonking level. Just about mile 1 and right after the first aide station I heard my name from a familiar face. Jon Crane's wife - Laura! I gave a wave and a smile as I was about to tackle my first hill of the run. Once at the top, you immediately start the 2nd of the 2 big downhills. I was just about to the bottom of the hill I spotted a girl charging up towards me, wearing a green and black EGO Sammy's kit. JACQUI. I couldn't control my excitement. I had yet to see this girl RUN during a triathlon this year, and here she was absolutely DESTROYING this hill! If you remember correctly, I found her on both the Ironman Texas and Grand Rapids run course as she was walking her way to a DNF due to injury. Today she was all smiles as I practically burst my vocal cords while I yelled and screamed at her. I was worried though. She had started both Ironman Texas and Grand Rapids with a decent run and was unable to complete the course. I prayed so hard that the next time I saw her she'd still be running. 

I chugged along and around mile 2.5 or so I saw another fast moving individual wearing a green and black EGO Sammy's kit. But this guy had a bike escort. I'll give ya one guess. Ryan was well on his way to yet ANOTHER win for the 2016 season, his 2nd overall Ironman win of the year. I waved and yelled at him and I got nothing in return. Stone cold. At the time I was convinced he was in some serious pain and just needed to get to the finish line. I later found out he never even saw/heard me. The next 8 miles or so the hills continued to roll and I started to see my friends! First, Nate. Then, Jon Crane. He laughed when he saw me and joked about how soon I'd be making the pass. I reached the turn around and about mile 8 I saw Lauren moving at a brisk pace! She was only 4 miles into this marathon and for her first Ironman she had me worried about how much she was going to make me work to find the finish line before her! Not long after Lauren I saw John and the first thing he said to me was, "Hey, eat my turds!" Ah, yes. This time the looks from other athletes was more enjoyable.

Most of the run was spent making this face.
As I made my way back into town I was greeted by the 2 awful hills that I had the pleasure of running down in the beginning. Making my way up the first hill I saw Trina on her way down! Shortly after that I saw that little powerful girl charging towards me again. Jacqui was STILL RUNNING. My heart was so happy. And this time, I yelled even louder. However, I still had not seen Mark at all and was getting a little worried. Even if he slowed down on the bike and took a decent amount of time in transition, I should have seen him by now. Right before I hit the transition area I saw Rob and the first thing I did was scream, "WHERE'S MARK!?" He hadn't seen Mark either and that only made it worse for me. He also had some bad news for me. Lauren had fallen on the run and Matt had to go pick her up. Her race was over with a broken foot. My heart broke. I couldn't believe it. 

At least he looks happier than when he was biking!
I ran down Mirror Lake Drive and past our old driveway and reached the turnaround. When I made it back to Rob and was about to start my 2nd lap he was there and ready to tell me that the athlete tracker had Mark at mile 7. Thank God, I must have somehow missed him. Fortunately I didn't have to go much farther before I finally found him! I asked how he was doing and of course he told me he wanted to be done. I made sure to remind him, "All you have to do is GET THERE." He agreed and we went our separate ways. 

Making my way out of town I heard my name. Not uncommon considering our bibs have our names on them. But this was different. Someone was yelling, "MEGAN HODE!" My last name was not on my bib. I turned my head to see a spectator standing in the grass waving his arms. I couldn't believe it. One of mine and Mark's gymnastics coaches from PEORIA, IL had spotted me, recognized me, and made a scene to get my attention. The last time I saw Greg Johnson I was maybe 10 years old. And lemme tell ya, the guy looks the EXACT same as I remember him. I later found out he was there watching his wife tackle her first Ironman. I've said it before, but this sport simply AMAZES me. I never would have guessed after 18 years I'd see Greg Johnson on the Ironman Lake Placid run course. I made a mental note to look for him on my way back into town.

A mile or so behind Mark I saw Trina again! And then shortly behind her, Brittany! Each familiar face I saw reminded me of why I was here. This day was truly a party, a celebration of all the hard work we all put in for a year. And let's not forget, somewhere in the mix (my memory fails as to where) I saw Jacqui heading back into town. She had less than 4 miles to go and she was KILLING IT. Little did I know at the time that she was about to WIN her age group obviously snagging a Kona slot as well as take the 2nd place prize for overall females. Talk about a comeback. 

By the time I hit mile 16 my body was getting very tired. Nothing specific hurt to badly, my legs were just not moving as quickly as my mind wanted them to. I walked more than my usual at every aid station, more than I'm proud of. But I needed to get over this hump. By mile 17 John had snuck up behind me and made the pass. I tried to keep him close but he was surging and I was slowing. Just before the turn around I saw Jon Crane again and this time he decided to give me what I needed. "What's takin' you so long Hode??" And just like that, my legs came back. I made the turn around and quickly found him. He ran with me for a short while. We saw Mark heading out for his final miles and I said my goodbyes once we hit the big hills heading back into town. Jon took the hills a little easier while I did my best to run them. I was so close and all I wanted to do was find that finish line. 

This feeling NEVER gets old

With less than a mile and a half to go, I saw Andrew Killinger, only a half mile ahead of me. He spotted me and flagged me down. "Are we going to have a kegger tonight!?" When I told him yes, he knew that Ryan had won the race. The McHenry County hero strikes again. I finally made it to the part of the course that has the sign "To Finish" and boy did it feel good to enter that Olympic Oval. The emotion that comes over you at this point of the race is indescribable. And the emotions only grow once you make it inside an arena that had once held some of the worlds greatest athletes from past Olympic games. I spotted my parents and Aunt and Uncle on the curve. The joy coming from this group was overwhelming. I rounded the final corner and found myself a little teary eyed. I saw Rob in the crowd and took my final steps to the finish line. A final marathon time of 4 hours and 27 minutes left me with a 12 hour and 16 minute day. I was ecstatic. I was convinced I would be struggling to finish in the daylight. But that was far from reality today.

Reunions with friends and family post-Ironman are always extremely emotional and bittersweet. No one ever says it out loud, but there's always that chance that something will happen out on the course. I made sure to hug everyone a little longer and a little tighter. The first familiar face I saw after I crossed the finish line was Ryan. He hates tears more than anyone I know, but today he welcomed them. The happy tears he can handle. Jacqui showed up minutes later and the 3 of us had the reunion we'd hoped for in Texas. My heart was bursting with joy for Jacqui. For the 4th year in a row, these 2 were Kona bound.

I made my way out of the athlete area and up the hill to Rob. Like I said, reunions are always so meaningful after an event like this. Tears welled up in my eyes once more when I hugged him. Of course when I found the family it only got worse. We all rehashed part of the day while we waited for Mark. It didn't take to long because the sun was still up when he made his way inside the Oval. He rounded the final corner and my heart soared. As he made the last turn to the finish line, I bolted from my family and took off towards the finish to greet him. I heard Mike Reilly call him an Ironman and I instantly screamed and jumped in the air. People around me saw the medal on my neck and I'm sure they wondered how my legs were able to move the way they were. By the time I made it to Mark (which was less than a minute after he finished) Ryan was already there to meet him. Before I knew it the BFG had me hoisted in the air as we celebrated his victory. It only took him 13 hours and 40 minutes to find that finish line, almost and HOUR faster than my first Ironman.  

So proud!
The Hode Family now has 2 Ironmans!
Omaha cheerleaders!
Ain't she just the best?

Ugh, sorry I ruined it

Long lost twin 

RyBread Racing Founder! 
My Spectathlete -  4 for 4

This entire experience was one I'll never forget. A year ago I threw caution to the wind and signed myself up for one of the most amazing journeys. Most of the people in our LP Party were strangers to me. Today, I have an phenomenal group of friends. An amazing support system. And a group of people that we can call a team. The list of thankyou's are endless. First, the town of Lake Placid, New York. The history and beauty that this town has to offer is simply amazing. And they continually share that with Ironman once a year. My amazing aunt and uncle who traveled over 1500 miles to watch my brother and I basically workout for 12+ hours. My parents, who are less and less surprised when I approach them with different races to add the calendar, but never question me. Jacqui, for giving me a truly amazing role model that also happens to support me 100%. Ryan, for the workouts. For lending me gear when I'm clueless. For being my around the clock bike mechanic. For keeping my sanity to a tolerable level when training takes up more hours in the day than I sleep. For literally being one of the kindest humans I know. And Rob. My biggest cheerleader. The one who will will always be waiting for me behind the camera lens. The one who reminds me that goals can never be to scary. The one who lets me have my meltdowns when I'm convinced that this Ironman stuff is just to much. He's always there to remind me that I CAN and I WILL.

Lauren WILL be an Ironman one day!
And that's a wrap.

It's been a hell of a ride. And I wouldn't wanna do it with any other group than this. #LPpartee out. 

Until next time. Cheers.