Monday, August 21, 2017

Comforts & Fears, Highs & Lows, Success & Failure

Social media these days is oozing with everyone's success stories.

"I'm engaged!"
"My kid made the honor roll, I'm so proud!"
"Look at all the fun I'm having on vacation with my friends and family!"

And rightfully so. No one wants to air their dirty laundry in public. I'm guilty of it too. It's natural to want to share your most joyful moments with the world. But once in awhile, a little truth never hurt no one.

It's no secret that my life has been a tornado these past 3 months. Of course I decided that the beginning of the triathlon season would be the most perfect time to move and start a new job, all while racing and training for 2 pretty important races that are rapidly approaching in September. My life is far from glamorous. The standard weekday starts around 4:30-5am with a workout, followed by a full 9-10 hour day of work that involves finding a different sense of focus to learn and educate myself in a field I've never experienced before. But I'm gaining a sense of accomplishment and respect I've never had in the workplace before. As soon as I'm done learning (working) for the day, I head out for workout number 2. To say I sleep like a baby at night would be an understatement.

Weekends consist of a bit more sleep, catch up sleep if you will. (If you can consider 6am sleeping in.) But by 7am I've mounted my bike for some serious road time. Mark and I depart Crystal Lake and venture off into the farmlands of Marengo, Hebron, & Union. Once in awhile the Barrington Hills call our name, and we make the best of our least favorite 25 mile loop. Occasionally we've been known to make pit stops at our favorite General Store in Greenwood for a fresh espresso. We've also detoured and found ourselves doing laps around Lake Geneva. Or better yet, climbing the mountains in Madison, Wisconsin.

Climbing big hills with Team RyBread in Madison
Because bikes and coffee just mix

New Team Wattie kits! #rocktheW

By the time Sunday morning arrives, my feet struggle to hit the floor in the morning. Everything is stiff and aching. Right, but Sunday is the day of rest. Not in the world of triathlon. I generally save my long run for mid day, giving my legs a chance to wake up a bit before I force them into an uncomfortable pace for 12-15 miles.

Like I said, it's a far from glamorous decision I've made. And I understand that. This is a decision I've made and I wouldn't trade it for anything. The day to day lifestyle of this sport isn't pretty, but the glimore of success on race day makes all that sacrifice well worth it. But Megan, what about your family? And Rob? That's so much time away! You're right, it is. But my family knows what I'm not without the sport of triathlon. I'm not Megan, I'm not their daughter, I'm not me. And Rob, he's the first one to understand. And right now, we're living opposite lives, literally. He's currently working the night shift 6-7 nights a week. Our goal is to spend every Saturday night together, and we're lucky if we get that opportunity. Our lives are literally pulling us in opposite directions right now, but our hearts couldn't be closer, supporting each other and understanding that isn't "forever." I need him to know that all the time I spend working out is for a reason, and with an end goal I hope to achieve one day. Just like I need to understand that he will likely be called into work at the last minute on a random Saturday night, ruining any plans we may have had.

PSA: I own more than workout clothes and Rob sees the daylight once in a while 😍

Rob won't be working the night shift forever. Just like I won't be racing triathlon forever. What!? Megan, YOU WON'T BE RACING FOREVER!? Shocker, right? I'm 29 years old, about to turn 30 in less than 3 weeks. A "spring chicken" as many at work call me. They're right, I'm young still. However, I've been running since I was in the 5th grade, never taking more than a few days off at a time. But I've been beating my body up pretty steadily for the last 10 years now. There comes a point when you wonder how long your body allow you to compete at the level you hope for. Waking up every day brings a new ache and pain, one that I hope is a result of a tough workout. But the older I get, the longer those aches and pains linger, making me wonder when my "old age" will come into play in this sport. On the super bad days, you start to think, "hell, maybe I've hit my peak already?" I do the best I can to recover as quickly as possible, I fuel my body properly, and I'm as focused as they come. But nothing can out play the plans that are already set for you.

Megan, are you going somewhere with this? I promise, I am. This summer I've stepped outside of my comfort zone more than ever. In all aspects of life. But when it comes to Swim, Bike, Run, I've been questioning myself lately. Ryan has done his job more than I could ever ask of him and has pushed me to my limits this summer. But my body and mind don't seem to be on the same level. One bad workout these days can send me spiraling down into a mental grave that Ryan has to dig me out of about once a week. But Megan, you've had bad workouts before! You are such a realistic person and know that those days are going to happen! Yes, you're right. But I'm allowed my bad days too ya know. In 3 short weeks, I'm about to be faced with the challenge of swimming UPSTREAM for approximately 900 meters, followed by literally climbing a mountain on a road that resembles a corkscrew, and then running 13 miles with an elevation map that looks more exciting than some roller coasters (props to Rob for that one!). I'm confident I can handle all 3 of these challenges... one at a time. But all strung together? Cue Megan's once a week freakout sessions: 

"Ryan, I've been swimming like crap lately. I'm never gonna even make it out of the water for Worlds. Literally I'm going to be pushed backwards." 
"Ryan, I just struggled through an easy indoor spin on the trainer. How am I expected to climb a frickin' mountain when I can't even spin my legs out INSIDE?"
"Ryan, I feel like I've never ran a day in my life and I'm 50+ lbs overweight. If I ever make it to the top of these hills I will be forced to roll myself down them." 

Yeah, he's gotten all of this plus more over the last couple of months. What it comes down to is this:

1. Lately, I have more fears than comforts. I fear a bike crash more than ever. But that's because I've allowed myself to get a bit more aggressive on the bike and do things I promised myself I'd never do. I fear a calf cramp in the upstream swim in 3 weeks because I'm going to have to kick so hard just to make it out of the water alive. I fear the thought of walking up a hill crossing my mind because I'll be damned if I'm going to be competing against the best in the world and WALK up a goddamn hill. I fear being one of the last to cross that finish line because in the back of my mind I know that my qualification was a roll-down slot, so maybe I'm not truly meant for this race? Call me crazy, but the realist in me has thoughts like this running through my mind on repeat multiple times a day.

2. My highs are just as high as my lows are low. And they come equally. Four days ago I was texting Ryan about how unconfident I am in this sport lately. I feel I'm running out of steam. It's taking more and more energy to keep my spirits up when I start to falter, and I'm running on E more than ever. In the same breath, I woke up on Saturday morning and had my most successful 100 mile ride to date. I hopped off that bike and logged 4 miles on the run and never felt better. The ride was far from flat, touching the high and low end of Bull Valley, the high point of Lake Geneva, and ending the day with a double climb up Deerpass and Collins Road in Marengo. I'd be lying if I said I wanted to stop my ride when I did. I immediately texted Ryan about my workout high and he responded to me, "I'm sorry, this is the same girl that claims she's terrible at triathlon?" Yup. That's me.

3. In order to succeed, one must fail. Isn't funny how at certain stages of life you have a pretty good idea of where you'll be in the next year? Or the next 5? And how often is it that that plan actually plays out and your life looks exactly as you had planned. Spoiler alert: it never does. And neither does this sport. I can't believe how far I've come in this Swim Bike Run world. But I also can't believe how much farther I still have to go. I've had failed workouts this summer. Failed races. Hell, I've had failed days in general where workouts don't even make it to the table. (One of those being yesterday. I never made it to the lake for my open water swim because my lower extremities told me if I attempted to do anything besides sit with a cup of coffee in hand, they'd likely seek revenge on me in the form of injury.) And all of those failed experiences are necessary to get me where I want to be. I've got more lessons to learn and miles to log (all while consuming as much red meat and craft beer to fuel those miles as possible).

Spot. On.

So there's my confession. I'm fearful and running away from comfort zones, all while experiencing as many successes and failures as I can during my times of highs and lows. There's your dose of honesty and reality from me. 

The next time we meet, it'll be almost go-time 😉 #worldshereicome

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."