Friday, April 19, 2019

BQ or Bust Round 2: Keep Showing Up

I really didn't think I'd be sitting down to tell this story. Yet, here we are.

I'm currently sitting in my Normatec boots, post flush recovery swim, pre early bedtime because I'm a believing in all forms of recovery.

I really never thought Saturday's marathon would end the way it did.

I had my time to be upset, even though it wasn't much.

Yes, I'm ok. Definitely bummed, but not crushed.

Yes, I'm already formulating Plan B.

No, I don't think I took on to much at once. I live for life under pressure.

No, my quest to Boston isn't over just yet.

BFG brother to offer immediate comforts

I didn't have a hard time sleeping on Friday night. I had a full week at work and was able to zonk without to much tossing and turning. When my alarm went off my feet hit the floor and I started the process.

Bathroom. Brush teeth. Coffee. Banana. Toast the bread. Coat with generous portion of peanut butter and jelly. Scroll email/news while I let my stomach realize that this is breakfast time at 3:15am. 

I arrived to the race site and was able to grab my bib immediately and headed back to my car where I sat in the warmth until I absolutely had to get out and start my warm up to the start line. Long time friend Jason had just moved back home after finishing chiropractic school in Florida and he kept me company until Rob showed up and we all ventured to the start.

A few things you need to know about this race: 

1. The course is a 3.25 mile loop that is run around a forest preserve in Batavia, IL.
2. It's extremely flat and fast.
3. There are 2 aid stations per loop, for a total of 16 aid stations over 26 miles. 
4. The bib numbers are assigned by BQ standards. My BQ time is 3:30. My bib number was 33014. Hence, I should be on the lookout on course for other bibs that started with "330" and the 14 recognized that I was the 14th person in my age group to register. 
5. An "elite" water bottle station was set up so you could drop a water bottle mixed with whatever concoction/nutrition you preferred for your race and grab it once during each loop. 
6. Because of its looped nature, I was able to see any spectator 8 times over 26.2 miles. This was HUGE for my mental game. 
7. The pace groups are paced to finish 1 minute under your respective qualifying time to ensure you qualify for Boston if you finish with the appropriate pace group. 

I kissed Rob goodbye, gave Jason a high five and took off for the start to find the appropriate pace group. I wasn't about to get friendly with the 3:30 group because we all know after last year, it takes more than 1 minute to solidify entry into this race. So I meandered to the 3:25 group and found 1 other female. {Technically, 3:30 is the fastest any female has to run to qualify for Boston so the fact that I saw any other female with the 3:25 group meant that she was here for the same reasons I was.} We instantly made eye contact, I noted her bib number, 33017, and she walked up to me. "Not interested in the 3:30 group, eh?" My kinda girl. "Me either, I missed entry into Boston last year because of 10 seconds so I'm not playing around anymore." HOLY HELL I THOUGHT MY 19 SECONDS WAS HEART BREAKING. I knew right away this girl was one to hang onto. The gun went off and we formally introduced ourselves as we crossed the timing pads. "Hi, I'm Megan." "Nice to meet you, I'm Emily." 

Meet Emily, in the American flag arm sleeves

Emily and I immediately latched onto each other made friends with the 3:25 pace group. She's from Indianapolis. I'm from down the street. Our pacer in the bright yellow asked, "so, who do you run with?" I asked if he knew Jacqui and Ryan Giuliano. He laughed and smirked from ear to ear. "Oh of course I do!" Mile 1 ticket by at 7:41 and we all laughed as a group. Welp, we got 5 seconds to excited. Just after mile 2 (7:44) I told the pacer to be on the lookout for Jacqui, just up the road. And sure enough, there she was smiling and cheering away. He yelled, "HEY! I told her I knew Jacqui Giuliano!" 

Because I was SO excited to see cheering squad number 1!
We were closing in on mile 3 and just about done with the first lap and I could tell the body was feeling AMAZING. No aches. No "maybe that mile was a bit fast" issues. Just cruise control. This is what I'd hoped for a lot longer than I had it. As we clocked mile 3 at 7:32, we noted that we needed to slow down, regardless of how good we felt. The only problem was that I noticed my watch wasn't always reading proper pacing. I never expect it to be perfect, but at times I'd glance at my watch at see a 9 minute pace, forcing me to up the pace. 

We closed out the first lap and I spotted Life Time mentor and friend Karie on the side of the path, arm extended to wish me will, leaning over to remind me to keep my shoulders relaxed and stay smooth with my strides. Karie is someone I've known of is the racing circuit for quite a while, but only in the past 4 months have we started a true friendship. And I have to say, there's something about her voice, her stern reminders. She elicits a confidence and certainty when she speaks, and today was no different. I took her advice and kept my eyes straight ahead. eyes on the prize. 

Mile 4 clicked at 7:30 and I knew then that Emily and I needed to slow down. Although, something weird happened. When we slowed down, we lost the group. As in, they fell behind us. We held stride for stride but continued to run ahead of the of 3:25 group. Mile 5 clocked a 7:57, welcomed after so many fast miles. But then we noticed that Emily's watch never matched mine. If mine read fast, hers read slow. And vice versa. We did the best we could, but the miles kept ticking by faster than we hoped they would. 

Rob caught us during lap 2 on the pedestrian bridge
We found Jacqui again and this time I gave her a proper introduction to Emily, promising that she was who I needed to keep pace with today. 

Clearly mid-introduction
Emily and I held onto each other and chatted a little here and there. She was expecting to see her sister soon while I told her that Rob would pop up on course soon, coffee in hand.

Doin' what we love and lovin' what we do
The miles continued to tick by lap after lap. The inconsistency of our watches continued and we never thought to much about it. I yelled at her when we were going to fast "OMG 7:05 THIS ISN'T THE KENTUCKY DERBY!" and she'd laugh. And when my watch screamed 10 minute miles, she assured me that we were not in fact walking. 

To give you and idea of what we were dealing with, my splits obviously tell a story about where the course wasn't GPS friendly for me: 

1: 7:41 (excited for the start)
2: 7:44 (goal pace)
3: 7:32
4: 7:30 (dream pace)
5: 7:57
6: 7:44 (goal pace)
7: 7:33 
8: 7:51 (perfect, hang here for a while)
9: 7:55
10: 7:35 (UGGGGHHHH)

After the 2nd aid station on each lap, there was a significant incline that wasn't truly a hill, but a steady incline that may or may not have left it's mark on me after the 3rd or 4th lap. After the first 2 laps I didn't think much about it, but by the 3rd lap, I could tell that Emily recovered from that little section much quicker than I did. 

The lap that Emily introduced me to her dad and he responded with, "LEAVE HER IN THE DUST MEGAN!"

Just around lap 5 is when I started to feel a TINY bit tired. Nothing to write home about, but enough that I could tell fatigue was setting in. No big deal, the 2nd wind is a glorious thing and I'll certainly bounce back, right? 

We eventually evened ourselves out and met back with the 325 group
Wrong. Miles 11-15 went as follows: 7:51, :41, :53, :49, :37. And then mile 16 happened. I went from on top of the world, to and 8:18 mile. I remember so vividly, my watched clicked and I glanced and instantly muttered, oh shit. I knew I was feeling a tad tired, but an 8:18 was what I envisioned for the final 3 miles when your legs take on a whole separate form of functioning. By the time I wrapped up this lap I was close to mile 19. Rob knew I was hurting, and he made his way to the park entrance and ran along side of me for a short stretch. I told him I didn't know if I should keep going for a finish or pull the plug in an effort to attempt to race Illinois in 2 short weeks.  If you keep running, will you hurt yourself?, he asked. No, I told him. But I'm running out of available weekends to get this job done, I need to decide within the next mile. He pealed off course and just ahead was Karie. She knew something was up and put a hop to her step while I filled her in. If you decide to finish the race DO NOT run hard right now, save yourself for other opportunities. Wise woman she is. She made up my mind. 

Wishing Karie was about to run the last 7 miles with me

I didn't come here to quit. I didn't quite do what I wanted, but stepping off course was never something I've actually envisioned myself doing. I decided right then and there, I dialed the pace back A LOT, practically to a shuffle. I put one foot in front of the other. I found myself another finish line. The final miles, they weren't anything pretty at all. At one point the 3:30 pace group inched behind me and I caught a short 2nd wind. OK, maybe you can hang with them for the final miles. This is your last shot. My legs obeyed for about 45 seconds before they fell victim to the 9 minute mile again, and I then let them fall victim to an even slower pace. 

Final lap, mentally the most difficult.
You mind goes to some dark places during these types of events. People always ask me what's harder, the marathon or the Ironman? I always tell them the marathon. 100%. The Ironman is such a long day that you have so many opportunities to bounce back. The marathon can break you down physically and mentally faster than almost any distance triathlon. I thought of a lot during that last lap. I remembered how hard it was to finish my first marathon, 9 years ago. A college student with some guts that decided to take a chance. I remembered crossing that finish line in 5 hours and 27 minutes and thinking to myself, "there's no way I'll ever do that again."  I remembered how awesome it was to qualify for Boston at Grandma's only 10 months prior, almost 2 hours faster than my original marathon time. I remembered watching The 2018 Boston Marathon on TV and seeing Des Linden take home the title, in the pouring rain and nasty winds on the bitterest day. The underdog. The blue collar runner. She defied the naysayers and got the job done. She showed up. She kept showing up. When the going got tough and the wind forced her to sway down Boylston street, she got the job done. 

I showed up.

And I'll keep showing up until I get the job done.
I found the finish line 11 minutes after my qualifying time. I could make many excuses about why my day didn't go as planned. Analysis has been running through my mind for 7 days now. It'll never stop, if I'm being honest. Maybe I'll find the answers one day, maybe I won't. But I do know one thing, the day I do toe that line in Hopkinton I'll cry buckets. I'll hug every volunteer I encounter in Boston. I'll drink nothing but Dunkin' and 26.2 Brew and Sam Adams all weekend. I'll stop at the finish line to stand there and soak in the moment so I'll never forget. I'll pay respects to the bombing victims and their families. I'll be forever grateful for my chance to run the greatest marathon in the world. Because it'll be the hardest thing I've ever worked for in my life to date.

Last race as Megan Hode
Soon to be Mr & Mrs Sloan
Until then, I've got a wedding to plan 😉

You know this story isn't over. Stay tuned for Plan B. 


PS. I gave this race a much more formal review for Chicago Athlete Magazine. If you're interested in that, you can find it here!

Friday, April 12, 2019

Hi I'm Megan. Thanks for Being so Patient. Let's Re-Familiarize Ourselves?

I wish I could articulate how much I have thought about writing over the last 3 months. Seriously, so many times I have wanted to sit down and let my fingers fly. But...

...I often bring work home. This calendar year at the office is proving to be challenging in so many ways, and there are times I can't shut work off on the weekends.

...My wedding to-do list grows daily. Vendors to contact or meet up with, things to order, contracts to go over, decisions to make. It truly never ends.

...Wedding Dress fittings. Why are there SO many? I swear, I've had 3 and counting..

...I need to make dinner. Lame, I know. But I've found lately that I can get lost while I cook. It soothes me sometimes. I might start cooking at 7pm, but not eat until 8:30. Ya know, #foodieproblems.

...Occasionally I need to clean my house. I know I know, houses should be lived in, not museums. And trust me, my house is definitely lived in as we inch closer and closer to my wedding day. But can I get an AMEN! for my girls who really enjoy a Friday night with a bottle of wine, cranked up music, and a spotless kitchen and bathroom with some freshly folded laundry to kick off your weekend? 

...My workouts need to be done. 

Yes, you read that right. Workouts. I haven't fallen off the deep end, promise. In fact, quite the opposite. I truly don't remember a time in my life when I've been busier, and I believe that has something to do with my mindset this time around. 

Let's back up. Last June I ran Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, MN and qualified for the Boston Marathon with 4 minutes and 33 seconds to spare. Ultimately, it took a 4 minute and 52 second cushion to punch your ticket to Boston 2019. Hence, why I'm not packing my bags to head to Bean Town this weekend. As 2018 came to a close, it was made very obvious to me that 2019 was going to be SO busy that finding the time to punch my ticket to Boston 2020 might be a challenge. 

To put it into perspective. My wedding is in 6 short weeks. {eeeeeks!} For the 2 weekends in a row after my own wedding, I have friends weddings to attend. And then another over 4th of July weekend. And then one of Rob's sister is getting married at the end of July. And then ANOTHER sister at the end of September. Moral of the story: I knew I needed to qualify early in 2019 in order to save my sanity for the rest of the year. 

Grandma's Marathon 2018
Convinced I was Boston Bound

Oh, as a side note: did I mention I recently got a 2nd job? GUYS IT'S NOT LIKE I HAVE 10 MILLION OTHER THINGS GOING ON. No, I didn't take a side job as dog walker or bartender in the evenings. You're looking at the newest Run Club Coordinator at Life Time Fitness Algonquin. There may not actually be a more perfect 2nd job for me out there. My job is to get everyone excited to RUN at the Life Time Fitness in Algonquin. The run club members aren't entirely strangers to me, so walking into this group of people wasn't scary or even hard. If anything, it was welcomed with open arms.

So, back to being busy. I have found a way to make sure I get everything done everyday. Minutes are planned to a T. I even write in "recovery" into my day to make sure my legs are in working order. When life takes you in this many directions it's easy to forget how you to take care of yourself. But I wasn't about to head down that road again. 

Post Normatec Boots, Pre Stretching and R8 Roll Recovery
That being said, my first attempt at BQ or Bust Round 2 is TOMORROW, and I might be the calmest I've ever been leading into a such a large race. Last May and early June, my mental space was up for grabs. ALL my thoughts were consumed with Grandma's Marathon. Some might consider this a great thing, keeping your eyes on the prize and the focus in tact. And at the time, I'm sure it was. But this time around, I KNOW I can run the race I need to. My speedwork has proven so. My long runs have proven so. Hell, Ryan has told me on more than one occasion, "Wow, that was a solid workout. You're in some good shape!" And no, this isn't to sound cocky or arrogant. But this time around my CONFIDENCE is so much higher. I know what I need to do. I've been putting in the work and then some. I've had some serious late nights, extremely early mornings, and the workouts keep proving my worth. And because I've been so consumed with everything else life has to offer right now, I don't have time to stress over the "little" things involved with marathon training. 

During the warmup for March Madness on St. Patrick's Day, Kati and I were running side by side and she asked me how I felt about my fitness and where I stood trying to re-qualify for Boston. I had been thinking it for a while but had never said it out loud. "Honestly Kati, I'm so busy lately I haven't had time to really even THINK about where I'm at. I'm hitting every workout Ryan gives me. I go home and my mind is consumed with so many other things I truly haven't even had time to assess where I'm at and if I have a shot come April." Some might read that and think shit you're in trouble while others see that and think nah, you're right where you need to be. Don't overthink it. I'm gonna side with the latter half on this one. Because honestly, I have 0 reason not to. 

It's been a FULL winter. So full. The first weekend of January continued to prove how much I love S-NO-W Fun Run at the Grand Geneva in Lake Geneva. 

The weather was also unseasonably warm and I could have done without the sleeves for the race
January also threw everyone for a curveball and offered some of the coldest weather Chicago has ever seen, dipping into the -50's and pretty much shutting down the city and surrounding suburbs for 2 full days. 

I barely ran outside at all in January because of this 
February brought a few more sub 0 day but it also brought a trip to NOLA with 6 of my nearest and dearest friends for my bachelorette party and lemme tell ya, this trip was welcomed with open arms.

Beignets in the French Quarter 

After a full day on Bourbon Street, we somehow found a way to clean up for a nice dinner

The next weekend, Rob and I met with our wedding photographer in Milwaukee, WI. I was always hesitant booking a photographer who I didn't know. Someone who was expected to capture our most sincerne moments on the best day of our lives.. as a stranger. But let me tell you, this lady is good. She brought her camera to a coffee shop and hung out with Rob and I. We barely noticed she was snapping photos the whole time.

Rob and I also spent a weekend at The Abbey (our wedding venue) during the month of February. We had a few things to take care of, so decided to spend the weekend. The gazebo we'll be married under was completely snow covered at the moment, and we got a little emotional as we pictured ourselves back in the same location with all of our family and friends sharing our special day. 

March started to bring the thaw, slowly but surely. I ventured out in shorts when I probably should have kept my pants on, but after -50, 25 degrees felt like a heatwave at times.

Antsy and impatient with Chicago weather

I also began to realize that my 30+ year old skin isn't exactly 20 anymore and I needed to start making sure I had some of my best skin come wedding day. I did some research and made my very own face mask with some essentials oils and swear by it. 

Smooth as a babies bottom
Inquire for mask details 😃

And of course, March wouldn't be March without the kick off to the running season, March Madness Half Marathon. I had a solid showing and was very pleased with my race, even though it was a tad slower than last year. I purposely took a few of the hills slower than I wanted knowing I could possibly flare up my left hamstring again. It ended up being the right call because I crossed that finish line and for the first time ever, I felt stronger than the hills.

PERFECT weather for one of my favorite races!

RyBread turned Vixen.

And we can't forget about the famous Green Guys. The Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle. Last year Mark joined the crew and he continued the tradition this year. Of course I volunteered my photography for the day and was promptly in bed by 7pm that night after a 3am wakeup call and being a sherpa for 8 adults painted in green body paint. 

At least it was warmer this year!

Can you spot the Green Guys? It's hard to miss them..

Not to worry, the day before the Shamrock Shuffle I logged my own serious mileage. 19+ miles for me and I hit some pretty awesome splits towards the end that I was definitely proud of. 

This could also have something to do with my complete and utter exhaustion after Shamrock Shuffle sherpa-ing for 8 adults in green body paint

And, during the last weekend in March I received my initiation into the Life Time Fitness family. The Run Club and the Cycle Club joined forces for the night and had a 2019 kick off Meet and Greet at local establishment in town. I met the entire crew and was welcomed with open arms. I started this day with an AMAZING 22 mile run that I completely nailed:


 And I ended it like this: 

Meet Karie. Current Cycle Club Coordinator. Former Run Club Coordinator.
Mentor and bad influence 🤣

And here we are into April. Last weekend, I had the pleasure of having a SECOND bachelorette party with Rob's 8 sisters. {Yes, you read that right. 6 sisters and 2 in laws. 8 total.} I was so touched they insisted on hosting a separate bachelorette for me. We drank all the Kim Crawford, laughed until we cried, ate some amazing mexican food, and sang and danced to live music until our feet and lungs begged for mercy. {Because that's exactly what a marathon taper calls for, right coach?}

Because before pictures are always pretty

Those during pictures always have a story to tell

But after pictures are always honest 

So. Back to present day. Would I suggest this much chaos when training for such an important marathon? Hell no. Without a doubt. But for someone like me. Someone who can't turn off their mind. Someone who will obsess over every little detail if you let me. I think this might be just what the doctor ordered. This time around, the mental marathon game didn't have a chance to sneak into life. Everytime I had to leave the house, my running shoes came with me, along with all of my recovery equipment. {And sometimes, a dress and a pair if heels made the trip too, depending on the occasion.}

At the end of the day, I know for a fact I was true and honest to my running shoes and my high heels during this wild and amazingly crazy time of life. I'm not getting any younger and I'm reminded of that every time I lace up my running shoes. My legs have logged more miles than most people will ever log in a lifetime. I'm finding new recovery tricks to help me get through life while I set out to conquer some serious athletic goals. I am so grateful that I am able to live my adult life the best way I know how, on the run.

I'm lacing up for another test tomorrow. Another 26.2 mile test in Geneva, IL. The BQ.2 Spring Marathon. This time around, sub 3:30 is the ultimate goal. Of course, my sites are set on faster. I have a 7:49 pace engraved in my brain and I know the mile splits all the way from mile 1 through 26 at this point. The reality is, I'll need a 5+ minute PR to *hopefully* punch my ticket to Boston 2020. But at the end of the day, a 28 second PR will grant me another qualification in the Boston Marathon. 28 second PR will grant me another chance to attempt to register for the race. But how much wiggle room will allow me to run the race? 1 minute? 2 minutes? 3? Only time will tell.

In the words of Alexi Pappas:

Run like a Bravey
Sleep like a baby
Dream like a crazy
Replace can't with MAYBE, lady

Oh yeah, forgot to mention. This happened in March too ☘☘
One more sleep.