Sunday, December 18, 2016

Lesson Learned - 2016 in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson 2: Boys will be boys.

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

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

Lesson 3: You can do anything for a minute.

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

Lesson 4: Listen to your body.

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

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

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

Lesson 5: Recovery is more important than you think.

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

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

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

2016 Success Stories

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

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

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

My mentors in triathlon are unparalleled

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

My support system continues to amaze me. 

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 5, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I look as well as I felt. Awful. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jealous of my hardware? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Santa Out 🎅