Saturday, December 30, 2017

Unforgettable Moments of 2017

2017 has been one of those years that I reflect on and think to myself, "Seriously, ALL of that happened?" From day 1 to the final days that are approaching, I look back and think how did I manage?  But, as the saying goes, the Good Lord doesn't give you anything you can't handle.

Every time I race, I hold a piece of that day in my heart. I blog so I can be sure to keep the moments around longer than my mind will allow. I read back once in a while and catch myself thinking, oh wow I forgot that even happened! Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I cry. But I never regret it and always close my computer with a smile on my face.

Here are some highlights from the the most unpredictable racing year to date. Some of the memories you've already read about while there are some memories (and races) that I never actually wrote about. Sit back and relax, I had some fun writing this one.

S-NO-W Fun Run
January 7th, 2017

This is a race that never actually made the press. It's 100% purely fun and meant to be run for the post-race party. Every year, the first weekend in January, the old PlayBoy Bunny Mansion, The Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva, WI, swarms with runners looking to log a couple of miles around the lake so they can rightfully earn their post-race beverages. It's always so hard to pick a favorite moment. And this year, there were plenty...

Perhaps it was this, watching Ryan pass me on the out and back course dressed as a Gorilla..

Who needs a hat when you have a Gorilla mask

Or maybe this moment.. when Lauren and I crossed the finish line stride for stride...

10 degrees. So. Flippin. Cold.
Oh I know, it was when John greeted us in the ballroom after the race and asked us why we weren't on "his level" yet...

Let the evening begin

OR It was winning this Goblet to hold all of our "post-race hydration..."

Promise there's water in that 😜

PSA: if you've never run the S-NO-W Fun Run, you need to start ASAP.

March Madness Half Marathon 
 March 19th, 2017

This is by far one of my all time favorite races. I will ALWAYS run it as long as I live in the area. It's close to home, a pretty cheap entry, and it offers a serious challenge that most mountainous races can't top. And this year, it wasn't any different. But what I didn't expect was to walk away with a new fresh face that I would later call a very dear friend. Meeting Kati before the race and slowly getting to know her over the next couple of months is easily the best part of this year's March Madness Half Marathon. Kati was a mutual friend of Lauren's, and the newest member of the RyBread Racing team. I truly believe that certain people are meant to be in your life, whether it be your whole life or someone that enters the picture 50 years into the game. And Kati entered the picture at EXACTLY the right moment. At the time, I was currently experiencing a heart throbbing relationship that was beginning to exit my life.

We ran our warmup together and I learned so much over the course of our slow 'n steady 2 miles. 1. Her husband's name is also Rob. 2. She was planning on doing her first full Ironman in September in Madison. 3. She's a wicked fast runner. 4. She's not a fan of the water at all. 5. She enjoys an internal argument with herself on the race course just as much as I do. Once I found this out, I knew we were meant to be friends...

I wasn't lying about the wicked fast part..
She took 6th overall female on this disgustingly difficult course.

Ironman Texas 
April 22nd, 2017

Ironman Texas definitely left a bad taste in my mouth this year. But there were some stand out moments that I'll never forget. Like the night before the race when I headed to dinner with Rob and Ryan, and my Dad and Uncle just happened to be there to surprise me? When you pour your heart and soul into a passion so deeply. When so many of your waking moments are devoted to training. And when you continually try to make yourself better than yesterday, it goes without saying that a surprise like this will surely break you down. I sobbed my little eyes out in that restaurant booth, Rob to my left, Uncle JB to my right, and Pops sitting across from me. So many people will tell you over and over again that it takes a Village to get a single person across that finish line. And my Village just so happens to be one of the best.


So many moments from the Ironman Texas race course I've tried to forget, but there's one that I'll always try to remember. While on the run, I was able to spend almost 2 miles stride for stride with Ryan. Unfortunately, this memory comes at his cost. His body wasn't responding the way he needed it to in those final miles of Ironman Texas. But for me, someone who will never see the #1 spot of any Ironman, I was able to share those miles with an Ironman Champion. An amazing mentor. A phenomenal coach. A kindhearted soul. And, one of the dearest friends anyone could ever ask for. We were able to run stride for stride together. I did my best to keep his mind as clear and positive as I could. While I know for a fact he was doing everything he could to drop me faster than he did, I'd even dare to say he enjoyed these miles too. Ironman Texas was a rough day all around, but moments like this make it all worthwhile.

The day before, when we both felt much better

Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga 
May 21st, 2017

This race crept up on me pretty quickly after Ironman Texas. I was in the middle of buying a new house. I was also in the middle of changing jobs. And I had just gotten home from Texas less than a month prior. To say I was bleeding money out my ears would be an understatement. But there was no way I could cancel this trip. Because, without a doubt, the best part of this trip was being able to spend 4 entire days uninterrupted with Rob. Rob had recently been switched to working the night shift and was putting in some serious hours. We were lucky to see each other for a few hours every Saturday night. But he requested this entire weekend so that he could be my sherpa, as promised. Rob and I have been together a long time, 7 and a half years at this time of the year. We've grown into our relationship quite well over the years and I guess you could say that there really aren't many surprises these days. We are who we are together and that's the deal. But this trip, we laughed more together than we had in a long time. We watched the weather go from beautiful to ugly to unpredictably perfect at the drop of a hat and we were simply in awe of my weather racing abilities. We met celebrities together (Heather Jackson!) and were both a little starstruck, even Rob had to tell her how he witnessed her impressive win at IMLP in 2016 in the Olympic Oval. We made no plans (other than required race events) and simply spent our time reconnecting. Pardon the mush, but I'd dare to even say I fell a little more in love with him on this trip. 

We ate free Chik-Fil-A chicken sandwiches from a street vendor

My guy and his love for architecture

His new motto after this trip

My #1 fan!

Ironman 70.3 Wisconsin
June 11th, 2017

Isn't this what they call a no brainer? I mean, I qualified for the World Championships at this race. And I did it in the most adverse of weather. Freezing cold water + crazy chop: check. 30+mph winds on the bike (head/cross/tailwinds. It truly was coming from all angles of the Earth): check. 90+ degree temps with 0 clouds: check. Rob was there. Mark was there. BOTH Jacqui and Ryan were there. Kati and Ryan both shared the race course with me. 

I came home from Chatty 70.3 a little sour after being so close to qualifying for the World Championships that I found my way into this race, calling it my last shot. And I'll be damned if it wasn't the best decision I've EVER made in the midst of my life being a total shit show. I had literally just moved ALL of my possessions only 72 hours prior and woke up on race morning sore because of it. But the moment I'll never forget was while we were sitting at the awards. The announcer had already passed my age group and I had already sent the "didn't make it" text to Mom and Dad. I had kind of stopped listening. My heart was a little crushed and I wanted to make a break for it to my car. But then, I heard this: "It looks like the Female 18-24 slot won't be taken so it goes to the next biggest age group... Female 30-34!" My heart sank, Mark and Ryan went from slouching in their chairs to immediately perked and sitting upright, and I felt a small wave of nausea come over me. Before the announcer even called my number, Ryan sat next to me whispering "YES! YES YES YES!!" I jumped to my feet, hugged Mark, and sprinted to the stage to accept my slot. The crowd had thinned but I remember the cheers being so loud and vibrant. Tears streamed down my face and my hands shook uncontrollably as I attempted to fill out the necessary paperwork. I looked up and Mark had his phone in my face, my parents on FaceTime confused beyond belief. I was sobbing so of course they assumed I was hurt or dying, but as soon as I was able to articulate what happened they joined the celebration. This race, this was by far a memory I'll not soon forget. 

I don't know who took this picture, but I'll treasure it forever
The moment I snagged the LAST qualifying slot of the day!

Lake In The Hills Triathlon
June 18th, 2017

At this point in the season my body had already been through hell and back, but there will be a pretty serious reason the day I miss out on the Lake In The Hills Triathlon. It's literally in my backyard and draws all my local favorites for a short little race of triathlon. And this year, almost the entire RyBread Racing crew, AKA the LPpartee, ventured out to Lake in the Hills, IL to join the fun. The non-locals crashed at my house the night before and the next morning we did what we know best, we raced each other across that finish line. It's hard to get all of us together considering we spread across the Chicagoland area pretty well, but this day was one for the books. It could have been the fact that John and Brittany made sure to make it known that they were READY TO LEAVE THE HOUSE FIRST (and not last like usual). Or catching up with an old high school friend while we dipped our toes in the water before the gun went off. Or, maybe it was when Trina decided to smoke me with less than a half mile to go on the bike, something she's turned into a tradition when we race together. Or it could have been hearing John run up behind me on the run screaming, "EAT MY TURDS!" Or, perhaps it was watching Jacqui's comeback after what seemed like countless injuries. Whatever it was, I know that this day and race will forever be one of my favorite days.

She's baaaaaack!

Perhaps Brittany and I can introduce you to these things called "sunglasses"


Advocate Family Fitness Run 10K
July 4th, 2017

I found this 4th of July 10k years ago and always find myself on the starting line if I happen to be in the area for the holiday. I missed out last year, so of course it made the list this year. One thing I'll always remember about this race is the heat. It's ALWAYS sweltering and offers some challenging hills you wouldn't wish on your enemies. After years of racing this one, I can safely say I finally feel comfortable on these hills. I was ready to test my fitness this year! Except, when they change the race course on you and you are forced to run blind to the terrain. Cue small panic attack. Definitely not the end of the world, but I'll be damned. Just as soon as I start to get comfortable, there goes my comfort zone. They changed this course to avoid multiple train tracks (which has stopped the race in years past due to an unforeseen train) so ultimately I couldn't be mad. It's no secret that I'm a creature of habit, but I've certainly grown to embrace change. And lemme tell ya, this change is something I'd prefer to know before the gun went off. The hills we ran were some of the hills that Mark and I would bike on when we ventured out to Barrington. I wanted to test my fitness, and I'll be damned if that didn't happen. 

I'll stick to the longer distances from now on..

Ironman 70.3 Muncie
July 8th, 2017

So I didn't actually race Muncie this year. But I was there for Mark, Jacqui, and Kati as their race day Sherpa and lemme tell ya, that shit's harder than it looks. We left the hotel on race morning at a God awful time and went through the typical race day preparations. I'm used to getting up on the weekend, sipping my coffee, doing a few things around the house, and then taking off for my long run. This whole "wake up, drive to a race site, sit in the car for 3 hours, watch the start of the race, then go run" thing wasn't my norm. But I laced my running shoes while my little posse took off on the bike course and had one of my better runs to date! My body was tired, legs were heavy, and nutrition was definitely not on point considering I'd been awake for 7 hours already and pretty much had been living off of hotel coffee and fruit snacks. The human body can do amazing things if you let it. 

Once everyone hit the run course, I grabbed Phoebe (my road bike) and turned into a course marshall and road up and down that run course more times than I can count. I road up to Jacqui to let her know how she placed and back to Mark to laugh at him, and never found Kati at all and it started to worry me. I was in uncharted territory on the sidelines and I wasn't good at sending updates back home. My body was tired and hungry from my run. I was sweating bullets because it was getting hot outside and I knew the aidstations needed the water for athletes. I peed in more bushes than I'd care to admit because that's what you do in Muncie, IN as a Sherpa on the race course. But, I watched my friends kick ass and take names, all while they had a smile on their face. And you know what, sometimes that's just as fun as racing. 

The reason I Sherpa 🙌

Amita Health Fit America Half Marathon
July 22nd, 2017

I'm gonna keep the details about this one short 'n sweet because OMG it was probably one of the most miserable races EVER. I was in the middle of a small triathlon hiatus because my body was about to be put through the ringer during the month of September, but I was itching for a race. So we settled on this Half Marathon. Here are the super short highlights:

1. Humidity like you've never experienced. I'm sure this day was similar to running through a cloud. I was sweating buckets before the start.
2. Puddles. Puddles. And more puddles. My shoes and socks were legit drenched during our warmup. 
3. Indian style warm up runs with Mark and Kati. Yep. It happened.
4. All the popsicles you could imagine post race.
5. The 3 of us got interviewed post race so of course we mentioned RyBread Racing umpteen times throughout the interview.

Would I do it all over again with these 2? No doubt.

Ironman 70.3 World Championships
September 9th, 2017

Also, more popularly known as, my 30th birthday. Picking standout moments from this race is definitely a challenge because the whole experience was something I'll cherish. From the moment Mark and I pulled into town til the moment we left, I could write another blog simply on my memories of this trip.

The first and maybe the best moment of the entire trip happened early on. The day before the race, shortly after the group finished our open water practice swim (that's an entirely separate story, lemme tell ya) we were all getting ready to go our separate ways. My phone rang and I saw that Rob was calling me when he should be sleeping, getting ready to go to work in a few short hours. He was calling to let me know that his original plan of surprising me at dinner was thrown out the window because the rental car company didn't have a car for him until 2pm. Instead, he'd be arriving in the middle of the night, with hours to spare before the start of the race. You wanna talk about an ugly cry? Well this was it. I was happier than you could imagine that my #1 wasn't going to miss the race after all. He does this Sherpa thing ALOT for me these days, but even he'll tell you, he's NEVER missed a big race. And he never intends too.

I think he had been in town approximately 5 hours at this point

The surprises weren't over after that. Walking to dinner that night, I found my cousin and his wife seated at our table, having not told anyone that they would be there for the race until the day before. They were there for their inaugural Ironman event (they picked a hell of an event!) and my 30th birthday. You couldn't pay me enough to stop smiling at this point in the trip.

Pre-Race meal!

They were pretty impressed with their first triathlon ever
Let's fast forward to race day. The start of this race isn't the norm. Athletes walk down a very long pier, lined with a red carpet where you then choose your starting position. There were 10 gates in front of me and a horn blew every 10 seconds, allowing 10 athletes to dive into the water at a time. Saying goodbye to Mark and Rob and walking that pier with Jacqui, I was very aware of how the moment I had been waiting for was literally HERE, and how much I desperately had to pee. {Not like a nervous pee, like I hadn't peed all day kinda pee} I felt as though I was getting the royal treatment, and for the 2nd time this year, I was able to walk stride for stride with one of my best friends (and one of the best triathletes I know) to start this race. How does a girl get so lucky?

Walking that Red Carpet with Jacqui!
Sleeveless: Me, Jacqui to my right!

The bigger picture of the start!

I was able to watch Ryan race the very next day, something that always leaves me in awe. At one point on the run course, I knew he would be wanting an update from me about his position. I stood at the end of the pedestrian bridge, waiting for Rob to flag me down so I'd know when he was coming. Rob's arm went into the air and soon I saw Speedy come flying down the bridge. "SPEEDY! You're 1 minute down from 2nd, 3 minutes away from 1st!" I screamed at the top of my lungs. He responded to me with a very animated thumbs-down gesture. Mark immediately asked, "uhhhh what's that mean?" and the nice Australian lady standing next to me gave me her opinion without warning, {spoken in the thickest of Aussie accents} "Ohhhh. Well he's to hard on himself. I think he can do it, it's not that much time!" Yea lady, I know. 

Literally all race pictures of Speedy are blurry because he's that flippin' fast

Overall, there aren't many memories that don't stand out. I had multiple college friends that drove in for the race as well. We celebrated that night with dinner and drinks. During the race, I climbed a huge mountain that I think still has left it's mark on my quads at times. Like I said, I could never ever end with the highlights from this trip. 

Legit climbing mountains

My group - Pre-Race!


Ironman Chattanooga
September 24th, 2017

This is another race filled with all the memories. Late in 2016, this was supposed to be my "A" race of 2017. Clearly, plans change. I had all of 2 weeks to get my body recovered, re-tapered, and ready to go before this race. Lemme tell ya, that's not an easy task. 

The stand out memory for me hands down is this picture right here, coming across that finish line with both of my parents on the sidelines. My mom doesn't travel well, or put up with heat all that well. And Chattanooga isn't close to home and it was all of 95 degrees on race day. And she put up with all of it like the trooper she is. 

You can see my dad in the blue, mom right next to him 💓
I had some pretty high hopes for this race that I needed to dial back a bit after competing in Worlds only 2 weeks prior. But when I got off that bike and immediately Rob was there to tell me that I was currently sitting in 4th place in my age group, my stomach dropped. I was in contention for a podium spot and even more if I could run this marathon the right way. Unfortunately, my body wasn't fully recovered yet and at times I began to wonder if I'd be taking my first DNF. My quads were cramping uncontrollably and I did all I could to calm them down. Alas I found the finish line, but it was definitely a close call. 

The moment Rob told me I was in podium position
The shock is hidden behind the sunglasses

As soon as my body began to shut down, I knew it was only a matter of time before I'd be seeing Kati come at me from behind. Remember how I told you that she's a wicked fast runner? Well, she's someone who ALWAYS has her run legs handy. 112 miles on a bike has nothing on this girl before a marathon. Around mile 20, I spotted Rob at the top of a hill and he stood laughing at me. It was starting to piss me off, he knows when it's ok to make jokes and right now, it wasn't ok. "Kati is right behind you!" He told me. I turned my head and there she was, that little spitfire, chugging up the awful hill we were on. I knew my hopes for the day were over, so I stopped and waited for her so we could enjoy this together. 

I made sure to greet her with a hug
Now, this is the same girl that I had to FORCE into the water at the start of the race. Team RyBread approached the pier ALL TOGETHER without a single person in front of us {hard to do at an event like this} and had the opportunity to dive in the water at the same time. Halfway down the pier I noticed Kati was missing. I turned my head and spotted her standing on the end of the red carpet, stone cold. Remember that fear of water I told you about? Yea, it's real. I ran up to her and grabbed her hand tight and made her walk to the water with me. She shook uncontrollably and a part of me considered for a brief moment maybe you shouldn't force her? But I KNEW she'd regret it if she didn't get in the water. I smiled and reassured her that she WOULD get out of the water and that she WOULD see the finish line. Obviously, the rest is history. 

Mark and I played cat and mouse all day during IMChatty. I beat him out of the water. He passed me on the bike around mile 25. I passed him on the run at mile 5. When I found him on the run, I spotted the RyBread kit but could not understand why he looked swollen and puffy. The closer I got, I soon realized he shoved approximately 20 sponges in his kit to stay cool. He looked like the Michelin Man and it gave me a good laugh when I needed it. 

Told ya 🤣
I could go on and on again with the memories. Because my cousin and his wife had so much fun 2 weeks prior, they decided to come back for round 2 to witness double the distance. I watched 3 first timers cross the finish line, Nate, Lauren and Matt. {Matt walked away with a 5th place finish as a newbie, amazing!} The next day, team RyBread accepted a first place award for Tri-Team Division 5 {the smallest division, we're a little group!}. This race was my 3rd trip to Chattanooga in 5 months to race, and you can definitely say I walked away with some lifelong memories in this wonderful town. 

Because it's harder and harder to make this moment happen!


Winner winner Chicken Dinner!

Schaumburg Turkey Trot Half Marathon
November 25th, 2017

After I got home from Chattanooga for the 3rd time, I took a much needed break. But of course you all know I can't sit still THAT long. And Ryan and I had been talking about how it was time to put my run to the test in the future. Testing my baseline at the Schaumburg Turkey Trot Half Marathon seemed like the perfect opportunity. I had to run this race knowing that Thanksgiving was only 2 days prior, and that my diet wouldn't be the norm pre-race. It was also chillier than normal and the course was a bit challenging offering some hills and relentless wind. I knew this wasn't going to be a PR opportunity, but more a chance to see if I could ACTUALLY try and follow a race plan that Speedy had laid out for me.. something that is ALWAYS a challenge for me. And wouldn't ya know it, I was able to follow the plan (to a point, when my body just didn't have the umph anymore and I was forced to slow down in the wind). I was so proud of myself for not throwing down a stupid fast mile when the gun when off and literally running what we had talked about. Quote me now, this is something that is going to be worked on RELENTLESSLY over the winter.

stick a fork in me I'm done

Racing with friends always makes the day that much more fun, and this time I was able to share the road with an old childhood neighbor. She's the kind of person that makes my unfiltered mind look tame and is always the light of the party. She's definitely the kind of person you need to remind you that life is short and that the fun is to be had NOW. 

A shiny new PR for Jenna! 
She's a firefighter at the Schaumburg fire station and post race she gave us the grand tour. I don't think I've been to a fire station since I was probably in Kindergarten so this was definitely more fun than the last 3 miles of the race running into the wind. 

The 3 Musketeers of Bradford Lane circa 2001

Kiwani's Run for Kids Santa 5K
December 3rd, 2017

Who doesn't love to wake up on a Sunday morning and see 1,000 Santas running in front of your house? This race is just as fun as it sounds and offers the opportunity to dress like the world's most recognizable person and run around town. Without a doubt the best part of this race was being able to run only 3 seconds off of my 5K PR on some unprepared legs. I didn't have a race plan and was ready to run based on feel. And when I was able to consistently hold 3 steady miles and not feel like I was about to drop a lung, I was damn proud of myself. 

Little Santa, Big Santa, Little Santa

Prairie Ridge Ugly Sweater 5K
December 9th, 2017

So in our race packets from the Santa run, there was as flyer for the Ugly Sweater 5k at our cross town rival high school the following weekend. Initially Mark looked at me and was like, "Let's do it!" NO I told him. My body needs rest. And then, Jacqui initiated it. "Guys, we should run the Ugly Sweater 5k! It looks like fun!" I tried to play the "oh, I have to ask Speedy" card. But Jacqui had already beaten me to it. "Speedy said we could all run!" Yer killin' me smalls. We were all signed up that night of the Santa race. The only problem with all of this, the weather forecast was getting colder and colder by the day. We were looking at 15 degree race day temps with some fun blowing snow. HAVE I MENTIONED HOW MUCH I HATE WINTER!?! But, I'll do anything for these 2 turds. We showed up on race day and started on the high school track all decked out in our ugliest of sweaters. {Caveat, Mark's sweater was just a normal sweater from Kohl's that he thought was ugly. Classic.} 

There were some awful prints at this event
We took off and the wind was blowing and I was FREEZING my butt off. I hung out with Mark for the first 3/4 of a mile while we weaved our way around the high school campus. Once we hit real pavement I picked up the pace for the sole reason to get done faster. Turns out, when you run to keep warm, you take 2nd place overall female! Any guesses who was first?! Now, I realize that this was a SUPER small local event and that all I needed was for Lauren or Kati to show up and I would have been bumped down to 3rd or 4th place. But I'll admit, it was kinda fun to share the top spot with one of my better friends in life, and an athlete that I've looked up to for years. 

Jacqui 1st!
Megan 2nd!
Other nice girl 3rd!

If you would have told me on January 1st, 2017 that I was about to faced with the year I had, I likely would have had some sort of panic attack and crawled in a hole out of disbelief. But I assure you that this hobby and this sport is more than just "something to do after work." It's opened my eyes to so many life lessons, introduced me to some of the most amazing people, and given me some memories I can't believe are my own. In 2017, I set out to accomplish some big things in the Ironman world, and instead I topped the charts in the Half Ironman World. I'd like to say I have a good idea of what I want to accomplish in 2018, but 2017 is surely a testament that life will rarely go as planned. 

I realize this is getting a bit long and that I'm likely losing your interest, so I'll get off my memory soap box here. I have a slew of thoughts going into 2018, but I'll save those for the 1st of the year. If you've made it this far into the blog, I want to thank you for taking this journey with me. I have a hard time expressing how much everyone's support means to me. Please know that I appreciate everyone's support more than you can comprehend. Without you all, 2017 wouldn't have happened. 

I'll be back for more in a few days. Until then, cheers to 2017🍾

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Santas and Ugly Sweaters Galore

The "off season" can be such a miserable time of year. So much hurt going on. Phrases like "pain cave" and "sweat towels" come out of your mouth more often than you'd like. But before the "off season" serves this true, ya gotta have a little fun, right?

I'm a sucker for a holiday fun run. 100%. Last year, Ryan found a local 5K that just so happened to be IN TOWN that required you wear a Santa suit while you race through the downtown area. Ya'll know this kinda shit screams my name, right? Of course we repeated the fun this year.
Kiwani Santa 5k
Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

I did my best to rally the troops and get a big group together to run the Kiwani Santa 5k this year, but it’s a busy time of year and most of them couldn’t swing it. Hell, we even lost Speedy this year to a Cyclocross race. Mark, Jacqui, and I were all in though. We arrived in our Santa suits, pinned all over to ensure we stayed looking like Santa while we raced.

No one even knew who we were 
After a quick warm up, it was time to line up and get this show on the road. As we toed the line I whispered to Jacqui, “Why do we do this? 5k’s hurt so bad. The next 20 minutes is going to seriously SUCK.” She 100% agreed while Mark was busy Go-Proing the speech given by Buddy the Elf himself. When I decided to run this race (about 4 days prior) I told Ryan not to change anything up in my training. I would treat the 5k as a warm-up before my long bike later that afternoon. That meant I had already done my long run for the week on Saturday, so my legs weren’t exactly fresh. That being said, I 100% was racing this one off of feel. If the legs were ready to fire, let’s go! If they were in for more of a joy ride, so be it. I was dressed as Santa and there wasn’t much you could do to wipe that smile off my face.

Missing our 4th Amigo - Speedy!
The gun went off and I eased into my stride pretty well. I let the little rugrats (there are plenty of them at this race) take off and zoom past me. I knew it wouldn’t last long and I’d see them again as I made the pass. The first mile is a very steady downhill that can cost you some time on mile 3 if you empty the tank. I truly had no idea what my legs would allow me run a week after I raced the Schaumburg Turkey Trot Half Marathon AND running my long run the day before. But, it seemed like all systems were good to go. I never looked at my watch that first mile, running completely off of feel. After the first half mile or so I started to pick off the rugrats that took off like bullets. Left turn on McHenry Ave and my watched click 6:56. Geeeeeez even when you run blind to the time you still run to fast. I assumed that would be the end of me and that my tired legs would be clocking 7:30's or 7:40's the last 2 miles, all things considered. (Did I mention that Rob and I visited the Brookfield Zoo Lights and walked the whole zoo about 3 times the night before the race? Followed by a sushi dinner that put in a food coma on the drive home? Perfect pre-race prep.) Surely your legs will blow up momentarily. 

Next thing I knew we were about to hit the 2 mile mark and the crowd around me was pretty thin, but I could tell we had reached a bit of a climb. There aren't many hills in Crystal Lake, but the few inclines we do have reside on this 5k course. Oak Street and Woodstock Street are a curse and a blessing all at once, offering a casual climb followed by some nice wind. Mile 2 clocked in at 7:15. Oh hey, would ya look at that? So let's try to stay consistent this last mile. So that's what I did. I watched my watch like a hawk and did my best to hug that 7:15 mile without killing my already tired hammy's. Afterall, this is just a Fun Run and I was supposed to be treating it as a "warm up" to the afternoon bike workout. Woops. There was a lady in front of me I desperately wanted to pass, because obvi. But my legs had another agenda. I held strong at 7:20 and even dipped into 7:05-7:00 range for a short decline/tailwind. Soon I saw Georgio's pizza on the right tried to find another gear. My legs gave me a 7:16 mile 3 and I was damn impressed with my ability to stay consistent! I crossed the finish line in 22:21, exactly 3 seconds off of my PR. I was in no way recovered or ready to run fast for this race so I was completely thrilled.

Don't I look thrilled?
Jacqui and I watched Mark finish, Go-Pro in tow, while he was being mauled down by a herd of kids. See below: 
See the top right corner? Yep, that's BFG Santa about to be destroyed by 2 kids
We ended the morning awards and brunch, followed by a photo shoot at Santa's House (which was about to open and had a huuuuuuuge line of families waiting to visit Santa. Yea, we were those people.)
The kids in line were so confused..

Because you can't have to many pictures dressed as Santa
Much before that evening, Jacqui sent a text out to Mark and I, "Guys, our race packet had an advertisement for an Ugly Sweater 5k next weekend, who wants to run?!" Would you believe me if I told you that MARK had to convince me to sign up for this one? And of course Speedy says, "Oh I don't care if you run another one!" Yer killin' me smallz. So here we are, less than 10 hours after the finish of one holiday fun run and we were signed up for the next.

Ugly Sweater 5k
Saturday, December 9th, 2017

The race happened to be at our biggest high school cross town rival. So when I arrived at Prairie Ridge High School on Saturday morning, part of me thought it would have been funny to wear a Prairie Ridge High School sweatshirt to this race and call it my "Ugly Sweater." But I'm not that mean, and I opted for a lovely gray sweater that had an Elf body on it (my head being the head of the elf), complete with elf legs protruding out of the sweater and bells all over it. Not something I'd wear to work Monday-Friday. Or any day of the week.

One thing was for sure. It. Was. COLD. The wind was blowing, the temps were well below freezing, and there was a fresh coat of snow on the ground. Jacqui you've definitely had better ideas in your time. But alas here we were, ready to get this show on the road so we could go home and get warm. 

This picture makes me cold
After the National Anthem was played through the press box (shocker, it was to cold for the trumpet to play!), we stood on the line and waited for gun to go off (which was so weak we didn't even know it was start of the race, and we had to be told to start running!). 

The beginning of the race takes you around the track once and then you have to weave your way around the school campus before making your way out into the neighborhoods. And lemme tell ya, that first mile was slippery and scary. It's hard to plow a track that is at the base of hill and enclosed with large fence and all the sidewalks around it on a high school campus. So... we treaded that first mile pretty lightly. Jacqui took off, but not to much. Mark and I hung out together, I watched him skid down a hill that resembled Tom Cruise making his grand entrance into the living room while "Old Time Rock 'N Roll" played in the background.  Luckily, Mark was wearing more than a button down dress shirt. Shortly after that lovely sibling bonding moment we hit plowed pavement in the neighborhoods and I said goodbye to him.

The wind was relentless and the temps made me second guess why I do these "fun runs." I started to pick up the pace a bit now that I was on solid ground for the whole purpose of trying to warm up. Today, my race brain wasn't kicking in at all.. I was in "survival running mode." I started to make some passes and pick off a few younger high school kids, all decked out in the ugliest of sweaters. Some were so covered I didn't know if I was passing a male or a female. I didn't care though, all I wanted to do was go back inside the school cafeteria because they told me there would be hot chocolate after the race.

In case you're curious, mile 1 ticked off at 7:29 while mile 2 clocked in at 7:38. Just after mile 2, we were welcomed back to the school grounds, navigating the unplowed sidewalks and track. Once you hit the track, you had to run 1.75 laps before officially crossing the finish line. I entered the track and Jacqui was just starting her 2nd lap. We posed for a picture as she finished the race, and I took off for another lap. This time, Mark was starting his trek around the track, but just far enough ahead of me that I decided I didn't have the lungs to catch him on such a cold day. Mile 3: 7:51. Finish: 23:55 {Aka - I survived}

Mark crossed the finish line and promptly started making snow angels
We made our way inside to thaw and sip on some beloved hot chocolate while we waited for awards. Jacqui took the overall female prize, while I came in a close 2nd. {Clearly everyone decided to stay warm at home if I took 2nd overall female at a 5K!} I'd be lying if I said I didn't think it was fun to have two CLS grads on the "podium" for this race. #gogators

Top 3 Female and Top 3 Male finishers! 
Because I doubt there will ever be another race where Jacqui and I take 1st and 2nd overall female together..
I've grown to love and thrive on the competition side of racing. But these fun runs.. I seriously can't get enough of 'em. The holiday season has a way of bringing out the best in people. And when you can combine that with your running shoes and a festive outfit on a Saturday morning, well I believe you have found what I call, Heaven on Earth.

Merry Christmas
Happy Hanukkah
Happy Kwanza
Happy New Year

From me to you, Happy Holidays.