Friday, January 26, 2018

F^3 Lake Half Marathon: Middle of Winter Check Up

Full Disclosure: I never intended to race until the infamous season opener at March Madness this year. Obviously I caved to peer pressure, yet again.

I mean, can you blame me? #didntwannamissout

The F^3 Lake Half Marathon is held in the middle of January on the Chicago lakefront. It's everything you would expect it to be. Freezing cold with piercing winds and has potential for some serious snow covered paths. I ran this race circa 2014 and it was just that. Five degrees at the start line, nasty Chicago winter winds, and snow packed covered paths that felt more like hiking than running at times.

F^3 Lake Half Marathon 2014
Shane (nicknamed "the Sherpa") and I wore all the layers

This year, Jacqui was looking for some friends to join her. She was chosen by Chicago Athlete Magazine to help them review races in the Chicagoland area. She decided to run and was pretty consistent when it came to asking me if I'd be running with her. My answers went as follows:

"No, it's to cold."
"No, the last time I ran I had to climb snowdrifts."
"No, I retired."
"No, I need to do laundry that day."
"If this serious cold spell breaks, I'll consider it."
"Ok, if these 40+ degree temps stay I'll register by Wednesday."
"Ok I registered." 
I prayed that Ryan would tell me I needed to focus on my long run instead of racing. Instead he told me, "Well, your long run that weekend is going to be pretty intense anyways so you might as well race." Yer killin' me smallz. The weather was looking beyond amazing and RyBread had a small posse racing {Ryan, Jacqui, and Kati} so at that point I had a hard time turning down a 40+ degree race on the Chicago Lakefront in the middle of January. 

The 4 of us piled into Kati's car on Saturday morning and headed South to Soldier Field. One huge benefit to this race {that wasn't available in 2014} was the fact that we were able to stay INSIDE Soldier Field until the gun went off. You mean I don't have to stay in my car until the last minute and then sprint to the start line and risk a rolled ankle? Sign me up. 

Mark decided to come hang out and spectate at the last minute so he took the train down and met us at Soldier Field and provided some solid entertainment. We found a friend from home along with plenty of other familiar racing faces and mingled while we prepped for the race. Jacqui, Ryan, Kati and I took off for a warmup and the whole time I formulated a last minute race plan in my head (because Ryan pretty much just told me, let's see what you can do #facepalm). I wanted so badly to stay as consistent as possible. What I knew about this course: the first mile takes you around Soldier Field and then spits you out on the Lakefront path where you run straight south through mile 7 and then turn around and head straight back north. The wind was heading North so I'd have a headwind through mile 7 with a tailwind on the way back home. This could work out in your favor, if you're smart. 

Oh, hey Linus! #weneversawhim
Warmin' up with the Field Museum
We hung out inside until the last possible second, moments before the National Anthem was sung so we could stay as warm as possible. Kati and I said goodbye to Jacqui and Ryan and found our spot a little further back in the herd of people (3000+ to be exact, this wasn't exactly a "little" race). The gun went off and I made Kati promise me she'd wait for me at the finish line. 

Mile 1: 7:08 Soldier Field is bigger than I thought. It literally took almost an entire mile to run around the whole stadium. Crowds were a little heavy, but I made sure to let the speedster take off. I glanced at my watch and saw I was definitely running to fast, slowed it down a bit but still had to swallow a faster mile that I wanted for mile 1. 

Mile 2: 7:25 Much better. We hopped on the lakefront path and the winds hit us right away. Winds were never terrible, but always present. Anything over 10mph winds on Lake Michigan can always feel much worse. And today, I wanted to manage them as best as I could. 

Is that bare skin showing? Why yes, yes it is. And it's January. In Chicago. 

Mile 3: 7:31 Yes, perfect. Hang on to this pace. Stay consistent in the wind. I wasn't feeling over labored at all. I wanted to conserve so I could potentially pick up the pace at the turn around. Around mile 2.5 I heard a voice from behind me ask, "What's with the RyBread?" Oh, it's my racing team! "Oh, I just thought you were like really into Rye bread sandwiches or something." #facepalm

Mile 4: 7:29 Is it too early to be impressed with myself? I mean, come on. This consistent pace is makin' me all sorts of giddy. About mile 3.5 I took my first gel and was happy I took it when I did. Had I waited another aide station things might have gotten ugly. 

That skyline tho 😍

Mile 5: 7:31 Alright, this is getting a little creepy. But, I rolled with it. Don't let yourself go out of control before the turnaround, only 2 more miles until you can start to let go a little. This is also the same mile we had to do a little "off roading" if you will. Parts of the Lakefront path are being redone, so we had to jump ship and move from one side of the path to the other, crossing a supposed to be grassy section but happened to be 100% mud due to the amount of snow we've had lately. I two-stepped approximately 3 steps through the mud and stomped my feet clean on the path afterwards. 

Mile 6: 7:33 OK, I'm still feeling pretty good but I'm ready to ditch this wind. Chicago, I love ya with my whole heart everyday of the year, but you can keep this wind and shove it where the sun don't shine on race day. Kapeesh? This is also the same mile I started to see the leaders heading back home. Jealousy ran deep to my core as I watched Ryan head home first, then Jacqui, followed by Kati.

Mile 7: 7:32 FINALLY! The turnaround! Yes! Let's go HOME! I need a gel though, take a gel at the next aide station and let it boost you home. 

Mile 8: 7:40 Considering I damn near choked on my water and gel at this aide station I'm not upset that I dipped into the 7:40's. I spent a solid 10 second coughing up my right lung like a first timer {one day I'll figure out how to drink and run at the same time} so I ain't mad about it. Also, this wind isn't as much of a tailwind as it's supposed to be. Next mile it will be better, yes. 

Mile 9: 7:50 OK, before you freak out you need to know something. My stomach pretty much rejected that last gel I just took. This was not a cramp, or a sidestich from lack of oxygen. I legit had the worst stomach ache in the entire world and it felt like my insides were eating itself. The fact that I still managed to maintain a sub 8 minute mile right now was beyond me. OK, this will pass. Take another water at the next aide station and let it help relax you and you're back in the game. 

Mile 10: 8:06 OMG THIS IS SOME OF THE WORST PAIN IN THE WHOLE WORLD. My legs felt fantastic, in case you cared at all. But my gut, watch out. I kept hoping I'd upchuck really quick so I could rid my body of this poison that I just ingested. But of course my body doesn't operate like that. Also, I still wouldn't consider this a tailwind. 

Mile 11: 8:06 Please don't get any slower, please don't get any slower. Hopes of a PR are definitely thrown out the window at this point but I could still run under 1:40 if I could find another gear these last 2 miles. 

Good thing Kati's sunglasses are hiding the pain in my eyes

Mile 12: 8:05 So, I'm consistent while in pain. I suppose this is a good thing! One more mile. One. More. Mile. 

Mile 13: 7:55 Good. At least you were able to salvage some dignity so your last mile wasn't your slowest. One problem, the mile 13 marker was not near me at all. This course was long. Longer than 13.1. Sub 1:40 wasn't going to happen. 

Finish: 1:41:23 I found Mark at the finish and immediately started to curl into a ball while I tried to explain my misery. He found it hilarious while he had the camera in my face. Ryan and Kati were waiting for me at the end of the chute, Ryan shivering out of control. Mark immediately threw his coat on top of him while we all shuffled back into Soldier Field. At one point I thought I was going to have to carry Ryan, he limped like he had 2 broken legs. His brand new shoes caused him all the blisters on the bottom of his feet. WHAT A NEWBIE!

I was pretty happy to see this finish line

After I had time to sleep on my performance and dwell on my non-success (we won't call it a failure, just not a success), I immediately hounded Ryan for answers. Am I out of shape? Do I need to rethink 2018 goals? Was it just a bad day? Be honest with me or I find a new coach. He swore to me that I wasn't out of shape. Hell, it's only January and I just ran one of my fastest ever half marathons. (Running this close to 1:40 is something I've only ever done a handful of times. Running under 1:40 has only happened twice before.) I'm only about a month into some serious training for 2018 and recently had a pretty big curveball thrown my way. An engagement. Followed by some celebrations that made me laugh until I cried, and cried just because I was so happy. My roller coaster of emotions has been pretty alive these last 2 weeks. And the fact that my body was still able to run one of my better half marathons ever, well that's sayin' something. Stress hits the body in every way. I don't feel like this engagement has caused me any stress, but I suppose good stress is a thing too. As Ryan says, "Good stress hits the body just as hard, and you've done pretty well with it. Just next time, don't get engaged this close to a race." Ha, got it coach. I'll save my next engagement for post-race. 

Did I mention I was bleeding at some point during the race? How? #onlyme

After more and more thought, I'm in no way upset with my performance. I was just a little hopeful for more at this point in the year. (yes, 20 days in) But, these little "check ups" are good to give the body a little test to see what needs to be altered. I don't plan on another check up before March Madness. But who knows, I'm not making promises anymore.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

I Said Yes

Let's take a step away from the training and racing world for a hot second here to talk about how...


Because I only plan on doing this once in life 

Last Wednesday, Rob came over after work for dinner as my boyfriend. He left that night as my fiance. It was perfect. The two of us, being us. No crowds, no cameras, no fuss. Just me, Rob, and a shiny new addition to my left hand. It was a secret Rob kept to himself, telling no one when he'd pop the question. One of the sweetest things he's ever told me, "I wanted you to be the first one to know." We ran down the street immediately to tell my parents and Mark. Rob had visited them last week, but of course they didn't know when this day would come. Instant tears and hugs ensued. My hand never stopped shaking and that smile never left my face while we sat in my parents living room.

I'll always remember that I got engaged in my finest sweats

It took us an entire day just to spread the word to all of Rob's 9 siblings. It might have been the hardest secret I've ever kept for 24 hours. But when Rob FaceTimed me into his mother's birthday celebration late Thursday night after work and I was able to witness the family's reaction, it was well worth the wait. Screams and cheers filled that kitchen instantly and I sat in front of my computer and tears came to my eyes. These people that I've grown to love over the years, they love me just as much. And soon they'll officially be my family.

Soon after, the secret began to leak. I've spent more time on the phone in the last 3 days than I ever remember before. FaceTime is a glorious thing, being able to SEE everyone's reaction as Rob and I tell everyone the great news. Yesterday we made a special trip to go tell my grandmother, 93 years young and more full of life than ever before. Her reaction was priceless, and at one point she even told us, "You know, I say my prayers every night and I always include Rob. And I pray to God that I won't club him!" Well Gram, now that's one less prayer when you go to bed at night.

Soon to be 💖

Being the good brother that Mark is, he took a few nicer pictures of us (not in sweat pants) for us to remember this special time.

How long until I think this kind of stuff is cheesey? Never, good.

Me and my Spectathlete, forever 💕
In our matching Kineta Relay 👟👟

We decided to head out last night, for the first time in a long time. Very impromptu, very last minute, very much the kind of celebration I love. But we had some of our dearest friends by our sides and we celebrated the night away.

Seriously.. It'll never get old 😉

Full Disclosure - this photo was taken after midnight
I was so proud of myself for staying awake so long!

So, I guess you could say 2018 is off to a pretty solid start. We're only 14 days in, and I haven't stopped smiling yet. Cheers 🍻

Sunday, January 7, 2018

B Words

This time of year you're going to see a lot of blogs and posts on all types of social media stating things like "This is my year! I'm going to be a totally different person!" "I'm going to lose those 50 lbs I've always said I would!" "I'm going to be better with my money this year!" It's great, I love to see everyone with so many resolutions. What I don't like, is watching people fall off the wagon.

I don't like to think of myself as a resolutioner. I like to think of myself as goal-oriented. I believe there is a difference, resolutions gearing more towards a lifestyle change while goals can be as simple as learning to ride a bike. Goals, if set properly and realistically, can lead to a lifestyle change.

The older I get, the more I live for the small wins in life 

I entered 2017 with some big goals for my Ironman performance. I laid them out for you in the beginning of the year, and then you watched me literally fall apart during Ironman Texas in April.  It was a hard pill to swallow, watching all of my hard work over the winter literally go down the drain. But we all know that the Ironman world is SO much a game of chance. You can follow the strictest of diets. You can recover like a champ and nail workout after workout, but if the wind isn't blowing your direction on race day that's the way the cookie crumbles. What I never expected after Texas was to formulate a brand new shiny goal {Qualifying for the 70.3 World Championships} a month later. And when I snagged that last qualifying slot of the day at IM 70.3 Wisconsin a month after that, you can definitely say my world was flipped upside down. It just so happened my cookie crumbled in a direction I never expected. 

Clearly 2017 took me in a direction I never could foresee. When it comes to racing and training, there are a few key items I like to follow in order to help with success, regardless of which direction it takes you. Here are the key lessons I learned in 2017 and will carry with me in the future.

1. Reflection is KEY

Looking back on racing and training and taking the time to lay out what went wrong, what can be tweaked, areas that can be improved on. This is something I've learned over the years. I wish I would have started blogging years ago, because the more I do the more I learn from it. Writing down my thoughts post-race and re-reading them in the weeks, months, and years after the fact has given me more than I ever imagined it would. {Caveat, I had to be coerced into starting this blog by a few people. I dreaded it in the beginning, I won't lie. Now, I can't imagine where I'd be without my keystrokes.} Now, this doesn't mean that EVERYTHING gets published for the whole world to see. I have plenty of drafts that will likely never see the World Wide Web.

Sometimes the week after a big race is almost as stressful as the week before the race for me. I've usually just gotten home some exotic location (ha!), have a mound of laundry, sleep to catch up on, and food to prepare for the week. And usually the first thing I do when I get home from work every night is grab my computer and start typing. The longer I wait, the sooner it slips away forever. No, I don't have kids to tend to so I understand this is a huge luxury a lot of people don't have. But even if you have to create a note in your phone while the kids are doing their homework to jot down some thoughts, it's well worth it. 

2. Stay in the moment 

Racing an Ironman, a Half Ironman, or a Marathon are all very long events. If you're having a bad day, it can be so easy to let your mind take over. Thoughts like "I'm never going to get off this bike!" or "I have to run another 20 miles!?" can easily be game changers. Letting yourself focus on what's ahead is never going to get you in the right headspace. Never wish yourself out of the water. Never start praying to ditch your bike at mile 70 {because at mile 6 of the run you're gonna wish you had it back}. Never EVER wish you could be at that finish line as you finish loop 1 of the run.

Why? First and foremost.. obsessing over what you have left ahead of you can be extremely daunting. Taking the rest of your uncomfortable ride 5 miles at a time is much easier on the mind. "Sure, I can ride 5 more miles." The next thing you know, you're lacing up your running shoes.  But for me, I'll never wish away a race. I can't think of anything else that brings such a high as racing. The hours before the gun goes off. The smell of the open water. The extremely little patience I have with my spectators pre-race because their pace isn't mine and I need to be in transition like 30 seconds ago to check on Matilda. The rush of diving into the water with how many strangers around you, all fighting for the same position. The monotony of the bike, which also has the power to make you feel most alive throughout the entire race. The pain of the run, the part of the race that truly separates the men from the boys. The hysteria of the finish line, and the emotion that immediately follows, sometimes for days at a time.

This is why I'll never ever leave the moment I'm in on that race course. 

One of the biggest differences between a Pro athlete and an Age Group athlete (I believe) is how they race. Pro's are extremely methodical with their races. Every aspect of the day is analyzed, dissected, and meticulously thought/planned out to the best of their abilities. But Megan... I plan out my races too! You're right, we do. Us Average Joe's obsess quite a bit over the little things. But at the end of the day, we're raw and race with our hearts.  

3. Flexibility

Half of the racing and training battle is learning to train the mind. Many (if not all) of the people I've met in this sport are extreme type A personalities. We have schedules for everything and once a wrench hits the blueprints, all hell can break loose in our minds.

Did you oversleep and miss your morning workout? Consider it a sign your body needed the extra rest, preparing you to comeback strong for your next workout. 

Did you have to stay late at work and now you don't have time to cook that healthy dinner you know you need? That's why God made these things called restaurants, giving us umpteen choices to choose from. Make the right choice and your takeout meal can be just as healthy as homemade.

Laundry piling up? Sink full of dishes? A layer of dust on everything? But you need to sit on the trainer for 3+ on a Sunday, right? Time management is key. Load that dishwasher before you ride, start the laundry ASAP and it gets done when it's done. And that dust? Clorox wipes. I'm tellin' ya, they're magic.

I'm sure I'm telling you nothing you don't already know on the flexibility front, but sometimes it does us all good to hear it again. We all need a little reminder once in a while. It is what it is. Let it be and move on, always looking forward. I had some serious curve balls thrown my way last year, and I always had a choice. Let it get to me, or deal with it as is and move forward.

So Megan, now what?

So if you've been reading along, you know I've been hinting at my racing future for the past few months. Sitting at awards in Chattanooga in September (the 2nd trip, the full Ironman) I sat at that table and had myself a little meltdown. Kati consoled me while Ryan walked up to the table at just the right moment, witnessing it all. I knew my 2017 a season was something most would love to have, but I couldn't help but wonder, where would I be right now if my run were in better shape? I spent SO much time over the past year trying to get my bike and swim up to speed, and I sure did. My run didn't suffer necessarily, it just didn't improve. 

So that's why I'm about to go through more running shoes during 2018 than ever before.

I need to run faster. I need to be more consistent. I need to learn to take my mind and my legs somewhere they've never been on the run. And that's why I'm devoting 2018 to the art of running. I'm already signed up for a few smaller races, and of course, my "A" race of the year. And this year, I couldn't be happier to say that I'm taking Nuun with me. As an ambassador for Nuun for the 2018 racing season, I can safely say I'm extremely grateful that I have the ability to stay hydrated all season long with my favorite electrolyte replacement. If you're interested you can find more information about Nuun here. 

Megan stop being so vague, where are you racing this year and what are your big goals!?

Ahh right. Minor details. The big show of the year happens in June this year. I'm rallying the troops and heading north, damn near the Illinois/Canada border to Duluth, Minnesota. The ever so popular Grandma's Marathon that resides in Duluth, Minnesota. 

And if you're any sort of runner that has looked into these "destination races" you know the main reason people go as far north as Duluth, Minnesota to run a marathon.... 


Yep, you read that right. I was in Boston in 2012 to watch my girl, Kait (whom you've met before) run the Boston Marathon on a sweltering hot day. But the next time I go, I want to be the one running that race. Go big or go home, right? I have 6 minutes to shave off my marathon time, and more if I want to guarantee entry (which I do, obviously). It ain't gonna be easy, but I'm up for the challenge. But like all things in life, I won't get there alone. So I want to ask a small favor from everyone. 

If you see me on the streets while I'm running and I appear to be struggling, roll your window down and remind me to get my head out of my ass because Bean Town is calling my name. Seriously, I'm in for a world of hurt this winter, so I'm gonna need all the help I can get. But I honestly can't wait. 

2018 here we go.