Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Learning to Run Smart: Schaumburg Turkey Trot Half Marathon

There was a day when I'd sign up for a race and think to myself, "Rain or shine, this will be fun!" Now I sign up for races and think, "This one's gonna hurt the lungs, especially if the weather doesn't cooperate.. 😖" Before I got serious with my running, races were 100% about experiences and loving every step. And I can definitely say that that statement that still holds true. However, my savory experience now entails a lot more competitive edge, something I didn't know I had in me. Course design, weather, time of year, recovery between races. These are all things that are now taken into consideration before signing up for a race.

When Ryan and I sat down to decide on a fall half marathon, we had a few options. Indy Monumental Half Marathon and the Schaumburg Turkey Trot Half Marathon were my best options. Indy was early November, giving me less time to recover/jump back into training, ultimately risking injury and/or a poor race due to racing on non-recovered legs. The Schaumburg Turkey Trot gave me more recovery time, however is notorious for wind and slower than normal times due to the course. I decided to be smart and give my body the best chance at recovering well and risk taking a "slower" time due to weather and course difficulty and racing the Schaumburg Turkey Trot. At the end of the day, my only goal was to test my fitness, regardless of course difficulty/weather, so racing the Indy Monumental Half Marathon wouldn't be fair to my body. When I hit the "register" button, I didn't realize how badly my lungs were about to burn 2 days after Thanksgiving.

Busse Lake on a chilly November morning
Busse Woods in Schaumburg, IL is a popular forest preserve in the heart of the Chicagoland area, complete with Elk, endless hiking trails, and a gorgeous lake. Much of the trails are covered by wildlife, while the rest of the trails are out in the open where the wind waits for you.

Mark and I arrived on race morning pretty early to gurantee a parking spot. No, Mark wasn't running, but didn't even put up a fight when I asked him to be my race Sherpa. (Not to worry, I fed him well the night before as a Thank You.) We parked a couple hundred yards from the event site, and we even scored prime location next to a random porta pottie on the curb. Ultimately, I had my own personal bathroom and was tickled pink about it. I know all you runners/triathletes out there know that this sort of thing can make or break a race. #amiright

The silver car is ours
Mark and I hopped out of the car so we could watch the 5K start (45 minutes before the Half Marathon start) and then I took off for my warmup. In the days leading up to the race, I religiously watched the weather and the the winds started off pretty rough, 20+mph. But on race morning we were looking at 13-15mph. Definitely not ideal, but more manageable than 20mph.

I tossed my empty pre-race nutrition bottle to Mark and squeezed into the starting area. 3 minutes behind schedule the gun finally went off. This first mile of the race was definitely going to be the hardest. But Megan, the first mile? Why? I'm FAMOUS for starting the first mile (or 2) of a race way to fast and blowing up at the end. I never mean to, the adrenaline is always flowin' and by the time I hear my watch beep at mile 1, I know I'll be getting a lecture from Speedy post race. Today, I was not here to break any records. I was here to test my fitness and learn how to run smart.

Mile 1: Straight into the headwind. And I quote Ryan, "The worst thing that you can do here is to push too much the first mile." Mile 1 Goal: no faster than 7:40. Mile 1 actual: 7:33. Technically I still failed, but if you had any idea how BAD this first mile could have been you'd be so proud of me. I was SO conscious of running this first mile conservatively that I actually remember thinking, "I'm not even breathing heavy. I should be breathing much harder than this! Shut up Megan and follow the race plan. 

"Surley I can run this pace all day long!"

Mile 2: The crosswind starts. Speedy says it's ok to drop the pace a little here. Mile 2: 7:25. Good girl Megan. Slowly start the descend. 

Mile 3: Continue to run with the wind but don't run out of control. Mile 4: 7:24. 

Mile 4: The course heads back North into the wind. Part of this mile is an out and back section. On the way back I heard my name from the other side. I glanced and saw an old high school friend/next door neighbor growing up. I flashed Jenna a wave because I was definitely breathing much heavier at this point. Speedy told me to expect a slower mile here and not to push this one. Mile 4: 7:43. Kid knows his stuff. 

Mile 5: We started to head back South and there was a slight downhill. Speedy's recommendation: pick up the speed and jump back into 7:25-7:30 range. Mile 5 actual: 7:29. I deserve a frickin' medal for listening to Ryan so well. 

Mile 6: Halfway through mile 6 the trail gets very wooded and the next thing you know there are large fences all around you. I spotted a sign on one of them, "PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE ELK." You shittin' me? Where the hell am I? I had Elk for dinner last week. The end of mile 6 is over a bridge and then you immediately run through a bit of grass until you cut over back onto the trail. I've never been a cross country runner, and my legs don't respond to soft ground. That mixed with the bridge, I knew this would be a slower mile. Speedy was hopin' for a 7:30 out of me. Mile 6 actual: 7:43. Eh, ya win some ya lose some. 

Mile 7: This section of the course I know quite well. This is the start area of the Egg Shell Shuffle (a 5k/Half Marathon that Jacqui and Ryan direct every year during Easter). As soon as you jump back onto the path, you run a pretty steady downhill for the entire mile, and it's supposed to be WITH the wind. One small problem, the wind was starting to change directions. I was running downhill, INTO the wind. Ultimately, I felt like I was falling into one of those indoor skydiving things. Just kinda, not moving. Mile 7 hopes: fast. Mile 7 actual: 7:37. Well, we'll just say that's because the wind changed direction on me. 

Mile 8: The last mile I just did? Yea, I got to turn around and do it again. Mile 8 is a replica of mile 7 in reverse. You turn around and head back North, into the wind, climbing uphill the entire mile. The wind was SUPPOSED to be a tailwind for part of the mile, but at this point it was coming at us from all directions. I spotted Jenna again heading back. This time, she was to gassed to even speak. Speedy said to expect a slow mile. Mile 8: 7:52.

Mile 9: The course heads back South, in theory giving us a favorable wind. Lies. All the wind. Slight incline for a good portion of the mile. Lungs burning. Lead legs. Speedy was hopin' for a fast mile. I was hopin' for a lung transplant before mile 10. Mile 9 actual: 7:57. Ughhhhhh you were doin' so good!

Mile 10: FAIR WARNING: all the miles from now until the finish SUCK. You head straight North into the wind. Very little wooded areas. Wide open prairie with wind piercing your soul. If I wanted any chance at a second wind (HA! I made a funny..) I needed to make sure I didn't choke at this aide station. I decided to take my 2nd gel and walk this aide station (meaning, I walked as long as it took for me to down my gel and a single cup of water, mostly so I wouldn't choke). This cost me about 10 seconds. My garmin went from an 8:03 to an 8:12. Mile 10 actual: 8:14. 

Mile 11: I was hoping for some sort of re-birth here. The wind wasn't slowing down. I struggled to keep my pace under 8. Damn, this is the beginning of the end. The 2nd half of the mile I was still praying my gel would kick in and that my legs would find another gear. Silly Megan, you're not on a bike. Mile 11 actual: 8:15. Ok no biggie, these last 2 miles have your name all over them. 

This photographer could not have been placed at a worse part of this race
Not my best race moment.

Mile 12: I don't remember alot about this mile except that there was a decent hill that we climbed in the beginning that we had to climb again. And I was not feelin' it. Until this hill hit I was lookin' at a sub 8. After the hill was over, my hopes of a sub 8 were doomed. Mile 12 actual: 8:14. 

Mile 13: Background on mile 13: a few days prior to the race, Ryan told me that if I ran smart and was able to run a sub 7 mile for the last mile he would buy me a new pair of shoes. My watch hit 12.00 miles and instantly I did my best to suffer as hard as I could for 1 last mile. There aren't many things I won't do for a new pair of shoes.. My efforts didn't last long. The final mile was TRULY head on into the wind. I hung onto a 6:55 for MAYBE a quarter of a mile (if I was lucky) and slowly I lost it. Soon, I saw the crowd of people and knew the end was near. Mile 13 actual: 7:53.

Someone turn off the wind
FINISH: 1:42. Definitely not my best. Also, no where near my worst. But, all things considered.. (weather, coming off a big season, and all the "off season" fun I've been having) I can't complain. I know where I'm at heading into the winter. I also know where I want my legs to be, so I'm ready for the "fun" to start. I immediately leaned on the closest object I could find. Ultimately for me, it was a box of boxes of water.

I'm not so sure boxed water is any better

Mark is good at catching the prime moments
Mark and I watched Jenna finish STRONG with a 4 minute PR (girl, teach me!). She had just finished her first Ironman 2 and a half months ago in Madison, Wisconsin. She also ran the Chicago Marathon a month later. Sure, let's end the season with a PR on pretty beat up legs. We hung out for short while, long enough for our teeth to start chattering. Jenna is a fireman at the Schaumburg Fire Department and asked us to drop her off at the station on our way home. Of course that meant we got the full tour of the place and met all the important people.

Fire Trucks are Cool!
Ultimately, it was a great way to end the Thanksgiving weekend, doing what I love. I'm glad I was able to follow through with a race plan and run a smart race. Running fast doesn't just mean, "Ready, set, GO!" It's about conserving the tank (I'm used to running on E!) so that your last mile isn't necessarily the slowest. I know I have a lot to learn. My competitive training experience over the last 4 years has been heavily triathlon/Ironman based. I've taken short breaks to dive back into running, but never like this. I've never trained my run at quite this intensity. And Ryan has already mentioned, "You're in for a world of hurt." I'm sure it's a whole new world, and I can't wait to experience it.

Go ahead, quote me on it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

When the Dust Settles

I've started this post maybe 10 different times. Every time I get rollin' I get sidetracked. The doorbell buzzes, my phone rings, the laundry needs to be switched, the pizza need to be taken out of the oven (yes, you heard that right, the PIZZA). I could go on and on, but honestly what it comes down to is living. I've been living a little differently. And boy lemme tell ya, it feels good.

Triathlon is only one crayon of many in my box..
Don't get me wrong, I love racing. More than your average Joe. But every year when the season comes to a close, I yearn for a Saturday morning spent sipping my coffee on the porch while I contemplate, "Hmm.. maybe I'll do my run after I take a little nap." Weekends now involve a few more cocktails and a few less miles. I've found myself deep into some serious Netflix that keeps me awake a little later during the week, sacrificing some ZZZ's. I've gone through a few good reads (let me know if you're interested!) also pushing my bedtime later and later each night. I guess you could say, I'm being "normal."

So much of my identity is tied to swim bike run. So much so that I will likely never be able to truly disconnect from it. After a 2 week hiatus from any sort of workout structure when I got home from Chatty in September, I climbed back on the horse and am back to a training structure that keeps my twitches at bay.

But I can also say I that I identify with so many other things in life. One of those things is food. I don't think I've ever met a cookie I didn't like, a fried pickle that didn't warm my soul, or a piece of deep dish pizza that didn't sing to me. But in the heat of training, my favorite indulgences take a backseat. I never completely eliminate, that would just be silly. But the saying, "The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the quickest form of poison" is one of my favorites that I relate to training and racing. Essentially what it comes down to is: Food is FUEL (aka medicine). And if you're smart about it and eat the proper medicine (fuel), your body will repay you in ways you never thought possible. But the last 6 weeks, I've lived by another famous quote that I'm sure you all know pretty well: "YOLO." Ice cream after dinner? Yup. A glass of wine just because? But of course. Pizza for the first time since May (many times over the past 6 weeks)? HELL YES.

For example, take this TRIPLE batch of chili I put together for a little post season party...

Why yes, this IS a giant donut 
These are just a few small examples of how my diet differs once the season comes to a halt.

MEGAN WHERE DID YOU HAIR GO WHY IS IT SO SHORT!?! Oh yea. So I grew out my hair to it's longest ever with every intention to cut and donate it as soon as the season was over. The weekend after IMCHOO, I sat in the salon chair and watched my locks drop to the ground, ready to send them off to a child in need. 

Before... (yes, it's past my elbows)

Sure, I miss my hair. Some days a lot. But it's only hair. It'll grow back. And to be honest, knowing that I've given the gift of a "full head of hair" to a sick child is all the reassurance I need. 

Celebrations have also been a plenty since September has come to an end. Very recently, a cousin of mine remarried and found his missing piece in life. This angel, her name is Niki. Her and her daughter Paige swooped into Scott's life when he needed it most. They married on a Tuesday in Fayetteville, Arkansas where they live in an effort to seal the deal sooner than later. And this October, they ventured back home to celebrate with the Chicago crew. This might be the only picture I took that night, but the more I see it the more I absolutely love it. So many walks of life brought together and bonding over a child's game: 

Serious Bonding

Oh yeah, and this picture of Mark and one of his high school baseball
teammates bonding over a little Ice Cream Sunday 😉

Megan, you mentioned lack of sleep. Let's revisit that. Oh, right. So, I'm an early morning riser by nature. It's just who I am. It makes my training schedule totally manageable when I'm forced to see 4am more than any other time of day. Totally my father's daughter. But there have been plenty of late night extravaganza's since my September to remember has come to an end. Take for example, this surprise birthday party for another cousin, celebrating a family that doesn't know how to do anything "low key." My day started at 4am with a typical pre-work Friday swim, and I when I pulled into my driveway at 2am after dancing the night away, there's no way you could have convinced me that sleep was a better option going into my 13 mile long run the next day. 

Some of the best there is 
My cousin's are prettier than yours 😜

One of the FASTEST girls I know
Rockin' the heels ALL.NIGHT.LONG
There's some crazy talent in that family, some you wouldn't believe if I gave you full disclosure. Would you believe me if I told you that one those cousins is the manager for a Grammy Nominee? And her husband is a multiple time Grammy Nominee himself? How about that last picture, that girl I'm standing next to, her name is also Meghan (just slightly different). She's one of the Big10's fastest sprinters at the University of Michigan, landing her first sub-12 second 100 meter dash as a senior in high school. (11.7 in case you're curious). The family has nicknamed her "wheels" for a reason, and she's by far my fastest relative. And would you believe it, the talent in this family had the nerve to tell me, "We just don't know how you do it!" I'm sitting there staring at these amazing humans I'm lucky enough to call family, and without any second thought I respond, "Oh yea, well I could say the same for you guys!"

Celebrations started right after I got home from IMCHOO when Rob and I had the opportunity to watch 2 of our oldest college friends get married. It's been a long time coming, but it didn't make the day any less special. They say a little rain on your wedding day is good luck, right? Well, it poured BUCKETS during the day and the entire ceremony (that happened to be outside on an apple farm). But the rain did anything but put the fire out that these 2 have created over the years. It truly was an amazing way to watch this couple tie the knot. 

The happy couple 💓

Why yes, I DID wear rain boots to the wedding

If ever there was a fairy tale tent in the rain... 

And of course we couldn't let the end of the season slip away from us without a little team celebrations. Team RyBread got together recently to send 2 of them off to new adventures in Asheville, North Carolina. The next night we celebrated one of the newest RyBread teammates (but maybe the sassiest?) and her birthday. 

Mark's going to miss Lauren so much he just had to pick her up

We can't actually get together without something Triathlon related happening

I guess you could say I've been busy since the season officially came to an end. And you wouldn't be wrong. This is proof that I need more in my life than SWIM BIKE RUN all year round. These people, these experiences, these memories are what TRULY make me whole. 

And in the same breath you know I can't live without a swim cap, or my bike, or my running shoes. And right now, my running shoes are seeing a bit more attention than the other 2. The end of 2017 left me feeling a little un-finished, if you will. A lot of pieces could have come together if my run was a wee bit faster.. stronger.. fluid. So instead of going back to the drawing board, I'm going back to basics. I'm hitting the pavement more. I've made my lungs burn more in the past month from un-welcomed track work and mile repeats than maybe all season long. (OK that was an exaggeration but you get the idea.) I'm ready to turn myself into the runner I know I can be, instead of hoping that "my run legs will show up on race day." 

My first test? I'm diving into the holiday season with the Schaumburg Turkey Trot Half Marathon, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It's late enough in the season that I was able to give my body ample rest and still have time to get a decent block of speedwork under my belt. I truly have 1 goal for this race: see where my fitness lies going into the winter. Let's see what my body is capable of before it comes time to burn rubber on the treadmill allllll winter long. Because 2018 is practically here, and I don't anticipate it being slow by any means.