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 🎅

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