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.