Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Running through Clouds, Puddles, and Popsicles

You know how sometimes you have a moment where a fabulous idea strikes you and you get all excited? You play out the the wonderful idea and suddenly you find yourself thinking,  "Maybe I've had better ideas in my day.."

The Amita Health Fit America Half Marathon is usually a race that is run in the late afternoon, when the sun is generally at it's peak heat. And when your body has been up and moving around all day, so racing when my mind is thinking about dinner isn't the best way to guarantee some fast miles. But this year, the start time shifted 10 hours earlier and suddenly my ears perked up. Challenging course? Yep. Morning start? Yep. Had I recently nailed my last 4 long runs, shocking myself week after week? Yep.

Sign me up.

I sat on my idea for a few days before I pulled the trigger. When I did, I recruited some friends to join me. {More like, "Hey Kati, I'm signing up for this race, I'll send you the link so you can register too." Mark was harder to convince, he signed up 12 hours before the gun went off.} If you live anywhere in the Chicagoland area/Midwest/US of A, you know that we've received an ungodly amount of rain in the recent months. These storms come through with a vengeance and don't understand mercy. There are only so many places for the water to go in the Northwest Chicago suburbs, and as a result I've seen many families without a place to live, people spending their Sundays stacking sandbags along the river in efforts to save their homes, roads closed for weeks on end, and the forecast isn't letting up. The night before this particular race we had another scary storm blow through. I was convinced I'd be waking up to water up to my knees.

My suspicions weren't too far off. Instead of waking up to puddles that resembled small ponds, my first steps out the front door had me convinced I was walking among the clouds. Chicago sees all the seasons, and to an extreme. We can give the south a run for its money in the summer months, but this was a humidity I'd only ever felt south of the Mason Dixon line. Holy hell Sherlock, I'm gonna run out of the glucose and sodium before my warmup is over. Forego the coffee this morning, someone pass the salt. 

The 3 of us arrived at the race site and said nothing about the weather. That is, until we made it to packet pickup and our feet instantly sank into the ground and we had wet shoes, socks, and toes in a split second. I mean, I love standing at the starting line of a race with drenched feet, it's not like blisters happen or anything. 

Shoes were already soggy mess 

We kept it lighthearted, and even blamed Ryan for the weather. Somehow, he was to blame right?

I mean, it's not like he advised against this race or anything..
After a RyBread Indian Run warmup to show off our skillz and recruit new RyBread athletes/friends, we made our way to the starting line. I was dripping lots of sodium already, at 7:20am, without a lick of sun. Pure humidity sucking the life out of me. Somehow, I was still pretty optimistic and had some ideas about how I wanted this race to play out.

Just hangin' out in the background 
The first couple miles of the race were simple enough. Small out and backs throughout the Amita Health campus. Small inclines, small declines, humidity still present, but I never like I was in trouble. I didn't realize it at the time, but my saving grace was running on the road. I was about to be steered into the forest preserve, where the air stands still. I entered the forest and my heart rate skyrocketed. Somehow, the air was even heavier. I did the best I could to maintain pace, but my lungs were suffering. By mile 6 I told myself I needed a "slow" mile to allow my lungs to recover inside the Amazonian land. I took my slow mile and when I jumped back into my uncomfortable pace, my watch never adjusted pace. Well, I'll be damned. It's gonna be one of those days, ain't it? 

Just before I hit the forest preserve

After mile 6, the entire race kind of blurred together. All the long loooooong inclines blended into one. I passed Mark and Kati on multiple out and back sections. I even took one opportunity to figure out where Kati sat in the lineup and was able to tell her {under some serious labored breathing} that she was sitting in 9th place at one point in the race. Somewhere along the 2nd half of the race, Mark and I passed each other and he found enough oxygen to yell at me, "You've got work to do!" Brothers, they're the best, ain't they? Yea kid I know, I'm currently dying so once I pick up a spare lung I'll work on that for ya.

During the early miles of the race, one of the pacers ran side by side with me and pretty much talked me off a ledge. "I can tell by looking at you, this ain't your first rodeo. You're a strong one, I'll see you at the finish line," he told me. I was hurting, bad. My feet were prunes hitting puddle after puddle on this path, creating blister heaven on my toes. My breathing made me sound like a I was next in line for a lung transplant. My legs grew achy and heavy after these slow, miserable climbs. By mile 10 I was significantly struggling to keep my miles close to an 8 minute mile. Finishing in one piece became the new goal.

I made it to the last half mile and soon I spotted Kati on the side of the road, medal around her neck and carrying multiple popsicle sticks. I wanted to smile for her. I wanted to express some sort of emotion. But all energy was focused on one foot in front of the other.

I would have rolled down this hill if it was socially acceptable

"I hope there's an IV cocktail on the other side of this finish line"
I reunited with Kati and she immediately directed me towards the free popsicles that were pure sugar and about to rock my world. We made our way back up the final hill of the course to wait for Mark, and soon enough he trudged down the hill in a much better mood than I did.

Kati's finish wasn't super glamorous either

Soon, the 3 of us sat on the curb and devoured more than 3 popsicles each. Our bodies were craving all the nutrients, and sugar was on top of that list. Kati claimed her award, I snapped a picture, and as we were about the walk away a nice man with a camera walked into my face and asked if he could ask us a few questions. We primped the best we could {aka tucked away our frizzy hair behind our ears and put our sunglasses on to hide the pain} and smiled for the camera. I'm sure we made RyBread look like a hot mess 😑

We honestly lost count.
Maybe this was #2?

so sweaty. so furry. so nasty.
I could walk away from this and tell you how disappointed I am that all my recent work in my favorite discipline faltered on this disastrous race day. I could even tell you that my 3 previous long runs were all faster and more successful than this race. Hell, the weekend prior I ran my long run on the Ironman Racine 70.3 run course and rubbed shoulders with Andreas Raelert and Andrew Starykowicz while Ryan was out racing and throwing the hammer down on the bike. I ran off to the side, but watched as one by one these pros blew past me, making it hard to run slow. And none of this would be a lie. I was a bit disappointed. My more recent long runs were all faster. And 7 days prior I had shared the road with some of the sport's most decorated athletes. But today, today just wasn't made for me.

This stepping stone was exactly that, another learning experience to what will be the September of a lifetime. In case you forgot, I've got just under 6 weeks until the Half Ironman World Championship race, a day I dream about every single day. You likely won't see me on the course for the next 6 weeks. I plan on taking advantage of every single day before race day. Qualifying is half the battle for these kinds of things. Part 2 is showing up, ready to represent among the best in the world. And if I wake up on September 9th and the humidity resembles the Amita Health Half Marathon race day, I'll know what I'm in store for and take it on the best I know how. Chances are it'll be a bit warm and humid in Chattanooga on my 30th birthday, so we'll consider the Amita Health Half Marathon a bit of a "practice run" instead of a "full on half marathon disaster."

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Dusting off My Running Shoes and Sharpening My Spectator Skills

After the Lake In the Hills Triathlon, I told you there was going to be a small racing hiatus. And there is... from triathlon. But jumping in a road race every now and then isn't out of the question. Testing out the speed in my slow twitch, over tired, triathlon heavy trained legs (mid-season) doesn't sound like the best idea, but let me tell you.. it's turning into one of my favorite things to do.

I recently told Ryan that I wanted to hit up the track once in awhile these days. I usually do 1 speed workout a week on the road, but why not narrow it down even further and see what my high school 400 meter dash legs can pull off these days? And lemme tell ya, that track is a lung buster and instant leg trasher. But how many people do you know that got faster simply by running the same speed.. every.. single.. day. I'll wait while you come up with a list.

America's birthday is a great day to jump into a road race. I've run the Family Fitness 10K in Barrington every year (with the exception of last year, dancing the night away on top of Mount Werner in Steamboat Springs celebrating my cousin's marriage). But this year, I was hoping to bring some speed to the table! It's a pretty challenging course, considering it takes place in Barrington Hills. The first 2 miles are a pretty steady downhill only to punish you the last 4 miles with some mini mountains to climb. I'm not gonna lie, I kinda enjoy hills. To an extent. I tend to run well on them and it mixes up the monotony of a flat road. And I've run this race alot so I know the course pretty well. Or so I thought....

Hi my name is Megan and I'm awkward at start lines

Screen shot taken from a video: can you spot me!?
I toed the line and noticed that the start wasn't in the same spot as it was in years prior. It was pushed back a couple hundred feet around the corner. Oh well, they must have remeasured and realized they've had it wrong in the past. The gun went off and I was surrounded by a lot "sprinters" who were running the 5K and who happened to run out of steam very quickly in the first quarter mile. And as soon as we sped through that quarter mile, we took our first turn.  WAIT! THIS ISN'T THE COURSE! WE'RE SUPPOSED TO RUN THE FIRST 2 MILES ON THIS ROAD, AND THEN TURN! 

Yea, apparently you miss some stuff when you take a year off from the race. So here I am, running a course that I'm completely blind to (haven't even seen a course map so legitimately running blind, something I NEVER do) and hoping to do really well. In case you're curious, any race plan I had in my head went out the window and I instantly had to resort to survival mode. Before the first half mile was over we had already successfully completed an aggressive downhill as well as a nasty uphill. This should be fun Megan. 

So if you want my race report for this one here it is: hills. Rolling hills. Lots of them. More hills. Up and down and down and up. At one point we took a right hand turn onto Otis Road, which happens to be a road that I bike on occasionally. Oh! This is a good downhill! Perfect! I tried the best I could to utilize the downhills and stay strong on the climbs. After Otis Road we ran parallel to the railroad tracks and soon I saw the race leader heading back towards me. Nice! Now you can see what place you're in! Soon I saw the female leader and she was seriously truckin'. I instantly thought that I'd MAYBE see the top 10 considering this lady's speed. 2nd place was about a minute or so behind and then the women just stopped. I kept waiting to spot 3rd place.. but she wasn't anywhere to be found. Next thing I knew I saw the turn around and realized, Oh, that's because you're in 3rd place. 

I took the turn and was ready to see how far back my competition was! Sadly, 4th, 5th, and 6th place were all within 1 minute of me. I did the best I could to maintain pace (currently holding 7:15's with potential for a super close PR).  Just as I expected, we soon turned back onto Otis Road heading towards the finish, and the lovely downhill I had once appreciated quickly turned into a steady climb. And within a mile of the finish line, 4th and 5th place found me and passed me as if I was standing still. I'm still convinced that their legs weren't trashed from a pretty nasty training weekend on the bike and run.

At this point I remembered why I usually stick to longer distances
Mark was waiting for me at the finish line and it took every ounce of oxygen I could muster to explain to him that the course had been changed on me. His eyes got all big and wide as he asked me what scary hills I had to climb. I responded with: All of the them.

Alas, I was pretty happy to walk away with 5th place overall female, considering my Ironman legs aren't made for speed these days! I missed a PR by 18 seconds, finishing in 45:18. Days like today are meant to see where you're at, figure out how much work you still need to do, put some hair on your chest, and remind you to never run a 10K again because they hurt...

Happy Birthday America!
The fun didn't stop on this special race day Tuesday. 72 hours later, I departed my driveway with Mark and Jacqui, bikes and gear in tow, for Muncie, Indiana. Ironman 70.3 Muncie is a fun, local, fast half ironman that Mark and Jacqui decided to race at the last minute. Considering how much racing I had already done this season, I packed my Sherpa bags (camera, snacks, and road bike to cruise the run course) so I could give them all the support they've both spread to me over the years. Add in the fact that Kati was also racing, and I was ready to really see what my Sherpa skills were made of!

I won't go into great detail, just know that the minute we arrived to check-in on Friday afternoon, the monsoon arrived and check-in was immediately closed and wouldn't re-open until race day at 4am. Jacqui and Mark didn't blame me for the weather at all. Our wake up call was suddenly bumped to an hour earlier, on top of the Eastern time zone hour that we lost. I'll save you the math headache and just let you know that our day started at 2am Central time on Saturday morning. And being the Sherpa, I wasn't allowed to hand off the the wheel. What the racers need, the racers get. And if that's a bit more shut eye pre-race, or a world record time arrival to the Albanese Candy Factory after awards, that's what I'm there to do.

The storms blew over with plenty of time for the gorgeous weather to settle in. Seriously, I was so jealous I decided not to race because the wind was minimal, humidity non existent, sun shining beautifully, and the heat never exceeded 78 degrees. In case you're unaware, that's the most perfect racing weather.

Mark, Kati, and Jacqui took off for the start and I was officially alone for the entire race until one of them crossed the finish line. I had been two-stepping most of the morning, holding my pee like a fiend so that the athletes could have first go at the porta potties, but as soon as my crew left for the start, I was officially ready to tackle anyone blocking me from the nearest porta pottie.

First thing you don't realize as an athlete: Sherpas sacrifice UTI's for the athletes and it's borderline unhealthy

Mark started 25 minutes before Jacqui and Kati, so soon after I said goodbye to the girls, I was ready to start looking for Mark to come out of the water. And soon there he was! I snapped as many photos as I could and then took off sprinting UPHILL towards the bike out. I zigzagged around transition and saw a huge open field that I could cut through. I learned quickly why it was so empty. Mud. I dodged the mud as best I could and made it to bike out with less than 60 seconds to spare before BFG appeared. I was still panting when he zoomed by me.

Second thing you don't realized as an athlete: Sherpa-ing is a hard workout and I'm panting already

As soon as Mark took off I was back to the drawing board and at the edge of the water to wait for Jacqui, just so I could repeat this entire workout. And as soon as I saw Jacqui head out of T2? Time for Kati! And she was KILLING this race and she was just out of the water! I screamed my throat raw and sent her off on the bike with a joyful heart. At this point it's barely 8:15am, I've been awake for 5+ hours and I feel like I've been doing wind sprints for hours.

Mark out of the Water!

Jacqui heading out on the bike!

Kati already crushin' PR's for the day!
But at least now they're on the bike so you can take a little rest! It's like you forgot that this is a Saturday and I'm not racing. Hence, I have my own workout to do. I headed to the car, threw on my run clothes and took off along the bike course to log my weekend long run while the 3 Musketeers were biking. It's not like I was starving, my car was blocked in, or had minimal caffeine/coffee in my system for the day. Yea, a 10 mile run sounds like a great idea right about now.

I took off and imagined my run being one of the worst to date. But less than a half mile into it I found my groove and for the 3rd weekend in a row, I nailed my long run and hit my splits like I was on autopilot. I was beyond thrilled and with only a mile to go, the race leaders were starting to pass me heading back to transition. This meant I had less than 30 minutes until I saw Mark off the bike. So much for any downtime after my run.

Third thing you don't realize as an athlete: the race lasts 5+ hours but there is very little downtime for Sherpas.

I got back to my car, dumped a bottle of water on my head to cool/rinse off, changed my shirt so I was RyBread appropriate, grabbed my road bike and was ready to see the crew on the run. 

I rode out onto the bike course less than a mile just to see if I could maybe catch the tail end of their bike ride. When I was least expecting it, Mark came out of nowhere and just like that, it was time to stalk the run course. 

Mark started in the 2nd start wave, so when he hit the run course, it was still fairly empty. I had plenty of space to ride around on the road alongside the athletes. Going through aide stations was even fun because volunteers tried to hand me water. We had a chance to talk and laugh with each other. I tried to get him to keep up with me on the bike and he laughed in my face. He did have a chance to pose for a photo though.

Coach is this aero??

Shortly after Mark hit the road, I spotted Jacqui off the bike and she was lookin' mighty strong. You see, Jacqui was coming off of injury and was using Muncie as a way to see where she stacked up for Ironman Lake Placid 2 weeks later. She had a couple other goals in mind as well, one that had me thrilled that she'd even consider. If she qualified, Jacqui was going to take the 70.3 World Championship slot so that we could race together with Ryan in Chattanooga, on my 30th birthday. Being a teacher who saves all of her personal/sick/paid time off for Kona every year, she was WILLING to take a potential day of no pay to help me celebrate my birthday doing what we love together. Well damn, that makes me want to tear up a bit. If that doesn't scream friendship, I don't know what does.

The pieces are falling back into place 💛💙💚💖 
To make a long story short, I made my way up and down that run course ALOT. I easily biked the entire course 3 times. Between Mark and Jacqui and trying to find Kati (whom I never found on the run and am still kicking myself for) I was a little upset I didn't wear bike shorts for this part of the day. And I was absolutely starving. I hadn't eaten a thing after my run and also forgot my water bottle in the car. I was ready for one of these guys to finish so I could get some of that athlete grub.

Fourth thing you don't realize as an athlete: Sherpas need water and food too.

At this point the run course is getting very crowded and biking/weaving between the athletes at times is no longer fun. Aide stations also become a hassle because you want to make sure that the athletes get what they need and that you don't run over them or piss them off. (Not always easy)

Jacqui was the first to find the finish shoot so I made sure to peal off the course and head to the finish shoot (riding through nasty mud the entire time). I snapped her finish, gave her a quick hug and was back to find Mark! He was less than 10 minutes behind Jacqui to finish so I had to work fast! I was having some serious anxiety about missing Mark and worried something happened to Kati since I never saw her on the run. Mark hit the finish line and just as I was starting to lose my mind thinking something happened to Kati, Jacqui spotted her coming down the finish shoot! THANK GOD! 

Fifth thing you don't realize as an athlete: OMG stress. Anxiety. Nerves. Holy Hell.

We all reunited and reminisced while we scarfed down food and chatted with friends. Once I had some food in me and sat down for the first time since about 5am, I realized how tired I was. I could have fallen asleep on the ground no problem. 

Sixth thing you don't realize as an athlete: it's more tiring at the end of the day than racing.

"I just want to go home"
Casual 30+ min PR, NBD
All the calories.

We showered in the public park showers because we were all smelling something funky. We snuck out to get gas station yum yumz (fountain soda, chocolate, and popcorn. Duh) We stuck around for awards so that Jacqui could officially grab her slot to the 70.3 World Championships. (SO EXCITED!) And then we raced to the Albanese Candy Factory for more post-race treats (but Jacqui wasn't allowed to pee and I wasn't allowed to drive the speed limit because well, priorities. And the Candy Factory had a closing time we had to beat.)

BFG! 20 minute PR!

30+ minute PR for this girl. WHAT! SO AWESOME!


Mark took off his jersey and realized he still had some sponges he was hoarding.
She could have us all fooled and really had a one and only goal of making me stop at the Candy Factory on the way home and we'd never know.
By the time my chariot pulled into my driveway it was pushing 11pm. And my head hit the pillow just before midnight. I closed in on a 22 hour day, didn't race, and woke up the next morning and felt like I was hit by a bus. Which brings me to my next point. I owe ALOT to Rob. This guy has Sherpa'd in the heat, in the freezing cold, in nasty wind, on courses that didn't allow him any sort of viewing ability. He's put up with overactive athlete bowels (while he holds his own), anxiety and fear of where I'm on at the course, and very little downtime to beat me to the finish line. And he's never failed at it.  He's got this whole thing down to a science and I'm SO glad the roles aren't reversed. Because my overactive nerves wouldn't be able to handle this kind of pressure on a regular basis. 

So on that note, I'm gonna go back to training. We're under 60 days until 70.3 Worlds and if I'm gonna show up on race day, I need to make sure I have my head down and focused. I've been spending a lot of time up in my newly constructed loft, sweating away the mornings before work. I promised you a picture once complete, and I didn't forget: 

Of course I added Christmas lights :)

So from now on when I talk about the pain cave or the loft, you know exactly where I am. Between training for 70.3 Worlds, the full Ironman in Chattanooga 2 weeks later, and my new job (yes, you heard that correctly), you could say the 2nd half of this summer will not disappoint. But Megan, new job on top of all of this!? The move! The back to back to back races! Yea, I know, tell me about it. But it was time and when opportunities present themselves, you don't deny them because you're too busy. You embrace it and see where it takes you. 


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Fitness Junkie Buds 4 Lyfe

My entire life I've had great fortune to be surrounded by some amazing athletes, both family and friends. Today, you're going to meet one of my longest standing friends to date. She's all of 5'11" and there isn't much she can't do well. She's a natural born athlete that understands the gift isn't to be sacrificed, and works her tail off to make the best of what she's got. I asked Kait, my best friend from high school, to gives her 2 cents on the fitness world in general, because in no way do I consider myself an expert. 

Kait greeted me at the finish line of IMMD in Cambridge

And 2 weeks prior, she soothed my soul in Baltimore
when the race was postponed due to Hurricane Joaquin 

Lately, many people have asked me about fitness outside of swim/bike/run, and I always come up with the same answer: "I don't partake in fitness outside of swim/bike/run." My body has (knock on wood) held up over the years and I follow a pretty steady core/body weight strength regime during the week to keep me in check. But as far as the weight room? Yoga? Anything elseI'm far from the right person to ask. Well, take if from the girl who's been around the fitness block. And who has quite the athletic resume to  back it up. You met her back in February when we were able to catch up on life together, stride for stride through our hometownBut today, I'd like you to really get to know her:

I've always kind of been a fitness junkie. Throw it back about 20 years ago and my dad had me running miles for time, backyard sprints, you name it. When I was 20 I decided I was going to start doing 100 sit-ups a day for the rest of my life, and I've pretty much stuck to that give or take a few vacation days.

The days of running super long distance now seem to be a thing of the past for me, but who knows, I could have a midlife crisis and attempt another marathon. I've dabbled in just about everything outside of Pilates - long distance running, a few shorter triathlons, yoga, spin classes, Les Mills classes... and now prominently crossfit.

And I love it all. And I've learned a lot from all of it - and am still figuring out the exact formula for what makes my body the happiest.

So anyways, why am I here? Really I don't know, I think Megan felt like taking a week off of writing and so she asked me to slap a bunch of my fitness-y thoughts together. So here we go:

1. I strongly, vehemently believe in the benefits of strength training. Outside of my love for muscle definition at a superficial level, strength training is so good for your body, and is what I believe finally changed my course of recurring injuries dating back to age 16, starting with a fractured L5 vertebrae.

Don't get me wrong I'll still occasionally roll an ankle on un-level concrete, or tweak a shoulder muscle from getting a little too wild with the handstands. But since I finally gave up my fear of weights and getting "bulky", I have pretty much stopped my chain of physical therapy visits and MRI's - knock on wood.

One of the last races I ran in the U.S. - with Megan, in Baltimore!

2. Yet whether you are struggling with injuries or not - thought #2 about strength training (and in my case, crossfit) - is that it is simply functional fitness, meaning that it translates to everyday life. Being strong allows me to walk two 16 kilo huskies (and rapidly growing) -  one in each hand - without being dragged down the street when they see a cat.

And I don't have all the research and numbers but I do know that it's vital as we get older as women to keep our muscles strong. Check it out:

3. If you are a calorie counter, here's a fun fact: strength training actually burns more calories over time than cardio workouts.

"While cardio burns calories and fat when you're performing it, high rep strength training has what is known as high EPOC or "Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption." This is a fancy term for saying how long your metabolism is elevated after exercise.
Studies show that a well-designed strength program can elevate your EPOC or metabolism for up to 38 hours after the workout. In other words, you continue to burn calories long after strength training. Whereas once you stop cardio, the calorie burning stops as well."

To be clear, I still love my cardio and endurance challenges. I'm actually writing this as I get some time in on the elliptical. And while I'm not a personal trainer, but I do know the above to be facts. Never worked a muscle in your entire life outside of carrying in the groceries? It's pretty simple to start implementing SOME kind of form of strength training into your life. Wake up and do some sets of push-ups/air squats/sit-ups. Work up from there.

Meg asked me to tie in the fact that I live in Israel in this post. So hey guys, I'm Kait and I live in Tel Aviv Israel. 

the amount of pictures I have inverted is possibly embarrassing
I'll tell you what, if the US had a random fitness competition with Israel per random selection of let's say... 100 people from each country, I would bet on Israel. I'm unsure an obesity rate even exists here; the beaches are always full of runners and swimmers and bikers, you name it. Megan would fit right in.

Speaking of - a huge congrats to her for qualifying for the Ironman 70.3 world championships - that race is no joke.

I've worked Paralympic events, I've raced one of the big five marathons, and I even recently competed at a country level here in Israel. What I loved about all those experiences - no matter what kind of competition it was - is that they all gave me the same kind of chills. Coming alongside people from AROUND the WORLD to be like hey, our bodies are pretty badass let's do cool things with them and see what we can do... that's pretty freaking cool. Doesn't matter what language you speak when you all have stupid smiles on your face after finishing something hard together. I'm sure Meg will agree when she crosses that finish line in Chattanooga this fall.

Fittest of Israel 2017

I'll quit the sports adrenaline blabbering. Now stop avoiding eye contact with those dumbbells, go make your muscles a little bit sore (and then foam roll). I promise, you'll still fit into your jeans tomorrow.

Cheers -

In case you're interested in learning more about her adventures as she plays this game called life, you can find her babbles on her personal blog here. Maybe this helps you take a deeper understanding into my drive for success. When you grow up with a best friend who's literally good at everything, it's hard to sit on your butt and eat candy bars after school. She's kept me on my toes over the years, and is one of the primary reasons I find myself striving to be faster.  On the days when I struggle through a speed workout I often think things like, "Oh come on Megan, Kait would have killed those mile repeats." 

And to Kait, thank you for being one of the greatest influences in my life, athletically and personally. A bad@$$ and a best friend all in one. They don't make 'em like you anymore girl. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Lake in the Hills Tri 2017: When Local Fun Meets a Seriously Competitive Group

I'm sure there are plenty of people out there that have their thoughts and judgements about me.

"You race to much Megan!"

"You put way too much energy into this hobby!"

"There are other things in life besides swim bike run, Megan!"

And they aren't wrong. I race a lot, I put all my free energy into this sport, and there is so much outside of the swim bike run world. But the fact of the matter is, I've spent my energy elsewhere. I've done other things and I can't find anything else that makes me happier than jumping into a lake with a bunch of strangers (or in the case of last weekend, a lot of friends and acquaintances at the Lake in the Hills Triathlon!) and fighting for space until we can all exit the water and hammer down on the bike. And when I'm not racing, waking up with the sun and watching the world start their day while I'm logging some miles on my bike or running shoes is just what the doctor ordered. One day in my lifetime there will be kids and I'll be searching for free time to pee in peace or take a shower without stepping on a rubber ducky. And rumor has it that time of life will bring a whole separate kind of happiness that can't be described. Until that times comes, I'm going to be selfish. Which is exactly why I couldn't say no to the Lake in the Hills Triathlon on Sunday.

This race will likely always be on my calendar, year in and out. When I lived at home, the finish line/transition was .3 miles away from my house. After my most recent move, I currently live .2 miles from the finish line/transition. It draws all the local triathletes that I also call my friends. It's well organized and the course is something I ride almost every time I take my bike out for a spin. And this year, the Lake Placid crew decided to join Mark and I for our all time favorite race.

I'd be lying if I said I felt race ready any sooner than Saturday morning when I went out for my shakeout ride and run. Qualifying for the World Championships the weekend prior in Madison left my body fatigued. Not super sore at all, just very tired. The Lake in the Hills Triathlon is in no way an A race, but when all of your friends and local tri-nerds show up, it's hard to treat this race as a "fun run."

Saturday night, part of the crew started to show up and Mark and I took them to dinner at our favorite place in Crystal Lake, Dukes. We had a bit of a wait, so we had a drink at the bar and caught up. Our Lake Placid crew is scattered all over the Chicagoland area so we don't always get a chance to spend much time together. After a full round of burgers (and meatloaf for John, weirdo) we headed home for some shut eye. 4am was coming quickly and we all needed to make sure we were well rested to bring our A-game in the morning.

Race morning arrived and the first thing I did was start the massive coffee pot for all of us. Nate and Trina were driving in from the city. Mark was down the street at home getting ready. Jacqui and Ryan had just gotten home from a wedding only a few hours prior so they were extra perky when we finally met up with them. The Strugglebus crew made their way to my house, parked cars, prepped bikes, and we all took off on the bike path to transition.

Approx 4:45am.
We always question ourselves on race day

Lauren didn't race but was determined to make sure she looked the part
Russ made fun of how small Brittany's bike is
Reminder: I can't bring Russ around my friends, he has no filter

John was doing laps around the parking circle pre 5am 
I'd like to note, the Atchison's are the first ones ready to depart.

Setting up T2 was quick and easy. Drop your run shoes and belt, get body marked (by Jacqui's dad!), and hop on your bike and take off for T1 and the start. We mingled for a quick second before we jumped on our bikes and headed to the lake for T1. As I was just about halfway toT1, I see my brother and the Strugglebus crew on the side of the road, Russ' bike was upside down. Of course, it would be the luck of someone in our group to get a flat tire before the race even started. Brittany, John and I stopped to offer any support we could, which ended up being just our company while Shane changed the flat tire.

We approached T1 and it was a beautiful site. The sun was shining brightly (albeit, a little too bright to see any buoys) and the morning was underway! Jacqui and I gave Trina some playful grief for taking so long in the porta potty while the rest of the group squeezed into their wetsuits and hopped in the water for a little warm up.

As I walked towards the water, I caught up with someone who I never thought I'd be racing with side by side. I've known her since I was in junior high. She was friends with my cousin and guided me as a Freshman in high school, while she was a Senior. When I went off to school in Champaign at the University of Illinois, once again there was she was. Senior status running into the clueless freshman at the campus gym. At this point in her life though, her triathlon and Ironman days were in full swing while I was simply running for an hour a day so I could drink on the weekends. An amazing athlete with a truly competitive spirit, Sara Nelson was someone who I always looked up to and said, "It'd be nice to be good at something like that one day." I never saw her after college, in fact we never spoke after that. Over the past few years, we've found each other again and in turn, she has jumped into the RyBread Racing World and uses Ryan as her coach. Yep, the girl whom I used to look up to in all her glory, we're now teammates. It had been about 8 years since she had raced triathlon, her last race taking place at the Ironman World Championships in Kona circa 2009. She's since married, had triplets, and turned herself into a full time runner/yogi while she shuffles work and 3 adorable minions. We stood on the edge of the water together and she looked at me and sheepishly asked, "Will you zip me up?" But of course! I waded in the water with my Strugglebus and Lake Placid crew and everyone in between. And you'd have a hard time slapping that smile off my face in that moment.

Swim: 1/2 mile

Last minute race instructions were given out and just like that the gun went off and the elite wave was in the water (which included Jacqui, Ryan, and Sara). Immediately following, the William Tell Overture started to play and one by one we were released into the water. I was probably the 15th person in the water after the elite wave. I dove in knowing I'd have a lot of people behind me looking for me the rest of the day. One thing was for sure, the water was WARM. Warm enough that I thought it may not have been wetsuit legal in a USAT sanctioned race. But I used the free buoyancy I had wrapped around me and keep my strokes strong and steady. The sun was also pretty strong and made it difficult to see the first turn buoy that was directly in front of us. Once I hit the buoy, sun was no longer an issue, nor was space. I was solo the rest of the swim and even noticed a few people swimming way off course. I sited multiple times in a row just to make sure I wasn't the one going off course, and sure enough I was good to go. I found that final turn towards home and put it into high gear. I saw the exit and soon my hand swiped the sand. Guess it's time to stand up. I stood up and ripped my suit off. As I ran across the timing pad I glanced at my watch and read 12:20. Helluva improvement from my 13:55 last year!


I hate T1. Whether it's an Ironman race or a small local sprint. Taking my wetsuit off and getting socks on for the bike always flusters me. I was doing good keeping nerves under control until I heard my name and looked up. Todd. Damn it! I'm not supposed to see him until the bike! And then as I put my helmet on and grabbed my bike, BFG brother to my right. Ugh, these guys are gonna make me work hard for it today. I wished him luck and took off for the bike out. T1 time: 1:37

Bike: 15.5 miles

Leaving transition you immediately find yourself mid-climb up a hill. Not a terrible hill, but considering you're starting it halfway up, it kinda sucks. And with only 15 miles to show your stuff, there's no time to take your time. I got comfy and just before hitting mile 1, Todd made his pass and gave me a lovely smile. Ugh, we're starting this already. Except, I never lost him. He was in my site for a long time. Crossing Randall Road, I knew to look up for my dad on the end of our street. He was standing there with his phone in the air, clearly trying to record the athletes zooming by. As I passed him standing on the corner, I also passed Sara. This girl was putting in some work, riding on the drop bars on her mom's road bike in a nasty headwind uphill.

****Note, all action shots thanks to Jess! She stood out on the bike course and the finish line and snapped away like a mad woman! THANKS JESS!****
Mark goes zoom zoom
Hey girl heyyyyyy!

And with that, the steady climb up Miller Road began. It's not a tough climb, but there was a pretty decent wind, making it a not so fun climb. We finally made our way out to Haligus Road and headwind turned into a crosswind. Roller coaster hill even left me timid on the descent from the crosswind. Soon, I saw Jacqui heading back home and just before the turn around I saw Todd making his way back. He probably has a minute on you, could be worse. I knew very well that I wasn't about to cross that finish line before Todd. He's made for these short races. I am not. But the less distance between us, the better. When I made the turn around, I saw Mark was probably about 30-45 seconds behind me. He'll find you on Conley Road, without a doubt. Between the turn around and the turn onto Conley Road I saw John and Brittany heading towards the turn around. The turn onto Conley Road brought the winds back into your face and it was a small struggle to gain any speed on that small section of the course. Right before we made the turn around on Conley, Mark made his way past me (as expected) and warned me, "Be careful on the way back out!" Just a few days prior, he had gotten a flat tire on Conley on one of the rough patches. I promised to watch out and kept on.

Trina looking fabulous as always 

John on the hunt for RyBread!

Mrs. Speedy!

The most humble soul you'll ever meet
We finally made it back to Miller Road and found our first tailwind of the day and it was glorious. I finally saw some speeds I should have seen more of during the ride. I put it in the highest gear, put my head down, and used the tailwind to carry to me transition. Just before I hit transition, I got passed like I was standing still. Jon Crane. Damn him. He didn't even look up. He'll pay on the run. And within a quarter mile from transition, Trina makes her first appearance of the day, cruising right by me with the biggest shit eating grin on her face. Oh no she didn't. I dismounted awkwardly (per usual) and checked my watch: 45 minutes. 20.4mph.


I kept my eye on Trina in transition and was not going to let her leave before me. I literally threw my bike shoes and helmet, grabbed my shoes and put the 2nd one on as I started my run. My belt wasn't fully snapped until I hit the run out shoot (that Jacqui's dad so graciously ushered me to!). 45 seconds after dismounting the bike I had started my run.


I took off and Trina was still in transition fumbling with her shoes. I saw so many familiar faces as I ran out of transition, it was hard not to smile even though I knew I only had 4 miles to hunt down a few people. The first left turn out of the parking lot sat Lauren on the curb, all smiles and waiting for us all! I flashed my pearly whites and about a block ahead of me was my first victim, Jon Crane.

Hi Lauren!
I glanced at my watch to check things out and saw it read 6:50 pace. OK, that's not going to kill you but you won't be able to hold that for 4 miles. Soon enough, I closed in on Jon and asked him (kindly) if he entered this race to play or if he was just hanging out. He laughed and told me that Mark was just up the road. I saw him, and he was next. I was not about to have a repeat of last year's race. Once I caught him I asked him if he wanted to try and go sub 1:30. If he did, he needed to hang out with me and I was going to do my best to make it happen. I'm pretty sure he mumbled something about "too fast, no way" and let me on my way.

Mile 1 clocked in at 7:29 and that was just where I wanted to be. Within the next half mile I saw Jacqui, heading towards home. And she was cruising. I cheered the best I could, and at the same time I thought about how many times I saw her walking on run courses last year, and it did my heart good to know that this girl was doing what she was meant to do. Just after I saw Jacqui, I heard someone coming behind me. Oh no, it can't be. Don't let it be true. John. And as he made his way past me, he yelled, "Eat my turds!" and then pretended to fart in my face. As much as I wanted to kick his ass that day, I let out a laugh I didn't know I had in me while holding such speed.

The climb up the the turnaround started and I spotted Todd and Nate making their way home. And Andrew! Everyone was all smiles and cheering for each other. Even though I know we all secretly wanted to destroy each other. Mile 2: 7:19. YASSSSS let's try and descend these 4 miles. I turned around and less than a quarter mile down the road I spotted Trina (still looking fabulous). I gave her a wave and did my best to kick it into high gear. Just behind Trina I spotted Sara, flying and yelling "I can do this part!" And soon after Sara, Brittany! I flashed my peace sign and mile 3 clocked in at 7:26. OK scratch that descending idea. Time to make this last mile fast! We hit the running path with less than a mile to go and I thought maybe I could pull a 7 minute mile out of my butt if I tried hard enough. Alas, not quite as mile 4 clocked in at 7:17. Total run time: 29:55 with an overall finish time of 1:30:35. 2 minute PR, successful day!

Speedy for the Win!

Mrs. Speedy for 2nd place overall!

Nate. Mr. Tomato. AKA - badass in a speedsuit
2nd place in Age Group!

1st in Age Group
6th overall!
Mark/BFG - 2nd in Age Group!

John. Twinkle Toes.
4th in Age group!

Brittany - 2nd in Age Group!
Trina BARELY made it to the potty at the finish line hehe
2nd in Age Group! 

Catching up with friends, old and new, post race was so much fun. Most people will think it's ridiculous to want to catch up with friends before 8:30 on a Sunday morning after such an intense speedy workout, but to me there's no better way. I soaked it all in, enjoyed everyone's company, and was sad when it was time to depart. 

Me, Sara, and Jacqui
CLS Gator Girls!

Me and the BFG
My heart melts when I see this picture!

Trina: Let's take a selfie!
Sun: Nice Try
Team RyBread had a HUGE day!
As for me, the summer solstice hasn't even hit yet and I already have 4 triathlons under my belt, 3 of them no piece of cake. Now that I've added the World Championships to my race resume in September, I'll be taking a small racing hiatus so I can try and gain some speed in all the disciplines in an effort to bring my best to Worlds. I can honestly say I NEVER thought I'd be where I'm at today. Had you told me back in January that I'd be looking up AirBNB's for a trip the World Championships in September, I would have laughed in your face. But truth be told, I've said it once and I'll say it again, trust your training.