Monday, December 2, 2013

Growing healthy

I'm going to try and connect a few dots here. Bear with me.

I often say that I found myself out on a run. It's not a new concept; I don't know where I first heard it, but it certainly isn't original. Running - for some of us, anyway - is a philosophical pursuit as well as a physical one, and often times when I'm out there, competing against just me, I dig into places that require me to rise above myself. Or I'll be out for a long enough time that my mind wanders off and discovers things I didn't know. Or couldn't acknowledge. Anyway, out there, it's just me (and occasionally a close friend) and the run.

It's where I do my best thinking. And it's where I have healed. And grown healthy.

In a very real way, time and running have healed me. I was a new runner when I got my first injury: a micro-tear in my right Achilles tendon. It was awful. I couldn't raise up on tiptoe; I walked with a consistent limp. A careful regimen of slow jogging (as if I do anything fast!) and physical therapy allowed me to heal in a real, tangible way. My Achilles recovered, and I was cleared to run again.

But that's nothing compared to what has happened to my soul since I became a runner.

Yesterday, I was reading through an old journal of mine. In early 2007, I wrote from a place of devastation. I wrote of wishing for strength, wanting answers, needing someone to understand. I wrote about loneliness and fear of dying alone. I wrote about fear of not dying, as if surviving the pain was worse than leaving this world. I even wrote that I wished I could become seriously ill, so he might understand the error of his ways.

What I didn't realize was that I was seriously ill. Through the depression, I really couldn't see it, but I was dying on the vine.

In the summer of 2007, I wrote that when I got my finances in order, I would join Lifetime Fitness. I followed through on that, and the rest is history. One step at a time, I began to heal.

It would be a long time before I would actually begin to run. First I'd argue that I couldn't run. Then I'd say I didn't want to run. And all the while, I would see runners and secretly ponder how much I wanted what they had.

So why not? Why not run? Why not at least try? It was the summer of 2008 - the same week my divorce was final, in fact - that I laced up my cross trainers to try it for the first time. And I failed a lot. A fast (to me) walk was about all I could muster. But I kept trying. A few years later, in the fall of 2010, I would finish my first race.

And nothing would ever be the same.

I found myself on the run. I met the best and worst parts of myself out there, and I blazed (or walked or stumbled) past them. I kept going.

In the finding came the healing. In the healing came true health. Not that I'm where I want to be; not by a longshot. But from here, I can be content. I can rest easy knowing that I've done the hardest work, and the rest will come because I am determined and tenacious and a little bit nuts.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The State of My Ass Address

Well, here we are. Another holiday season is looming, and my ass is still big.

I've learned to cope. I mean, come on - it tags along everywhere I go. I'm grateful that gravity hasn't completely destroyed it, and I've come to terms with the fact that I will never be one of those girls, with the tiny tushies and all. But here's the gig:

It's mine. I earned it. I built it. I'm stronger and healthier than I look. I could probably kick your ass.

There are times when I see my reflection and I think, "damn ... you've done a lot of good work here." There are other times when I shrink away from the girl in the mirror, because all I can see is my immense thighs, or my turkey neck, or the bags under my eyes, or my bra bulge or back fat or front butt or whatthehellever. Come on, Mags; you are obsessing about the wrong things.

And so, the State of My Ass Address:

Ladies and gentlemen. Friends, Romans, countrymen. My ass is awesome. It does its job with great aplomb, giving me somewhere to sit and providing a place for my legs to connect with the rest of me. It contains muscles that allow me to run - maybe not like the wind or Forrest Gump, but run nonetheless. In the right pants, it looks great. In the wrong pants, it's still not half bad.

It's mine. I earned it. I built it.

It pushed me through four half marathons in 2013, and it's training for at least one more early next year. (This just in: probably two.) It provides the base from which I'm building a functional swim kick. It hurts like hell after spin class or a long outdoor bike ride. And it occasionally garners a compliment from a friend, because guess what? It's awesome.

So my weight may stay steady this holiday season (although I'm streaking again - at least one mile a day from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day) and I may not lose a single pound, because let's face it: hot buttered rum and cookies and at least one trip to Lou Malnati's. I'm realistic. I'm not gonna throw caution and good health to the wind, but I'm not going to obsess either.

I'm going to accept my ass - and all the stuff that comes with it - for what it is. Because what it is, in case you hadn't yet caught on, is awesome.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Fourth of Four - Disney's Wine & Dine Half Marathon

It started as a joke and became a quest. A quest to run not one but four half marathons during 2013. As I approached the start line last Saturday night, I couldn't bring myself to claim the goal as achieved just yet; nope, not until I finished.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, aren't I?

On Saturday night, November 9, the same crew with whom I travelled to Florida back in February - Linda, Shelly and Di - and I returned to another RunDisney start line, this time for the Wine & Dine Half Marathon. Thirteen-point-one miles, through the night, starting at 10 p.m.
Linda, Me, Shelly and Di, ready to begin our race. 

Sometimes it's hard to believe the girl in that photo (or any of these photos) is me. I look strong and confident. I'm wearing a mini kilt! But it's me, and that version of me is just so so so happy to be running. So in love with the idea of doing something that she once thought completely impossible. So far outside her comfort zone, she has no idea where her comfort zone is anymore, and that's just the way she likes it.

For Disney races, you arrive literally hours before the start of your wave. I kinda like this, because it allows me to chill without the stress of getting where I need to be. And to us, "chill" means sitting in the grass, applying acupressure to each other's hands, and taking liberal potty breaks. Seriously, we have tiny bladders.
Di and Linda, hand massage. 
Around 9:30, we made our way to the start corrals. Shelly and I were together, so we chatted our nerves away and wished each other well. At 10, the first corral was released with a flurry of fireworks; every few minutes after that, another corral started - each with its own pyrotechnics - and soon it was our turn.

Running at night is something I really enjoy. There's something about the night air, the stars and the freedom of the shadows that just feels right to me, so in a way this was totally my race. I started out running slowly, according to plan. My first mile went by without me even really noticing, in 14 minutes. Yes, slow, but right in my proper wheelhouse. I was saving my energy. I was running this race without any GPS feedback, relying on my own ability to do math at each mile marker, so I really didn't know how fast I was going along the way; I was just joyfully running. It felt great.

The race begins at the Wide World of Sports complex, and heads out along Osceola Parkway toward the Animal Kingdom. By the time you reach mile 4, you're deep within the theme park, and it's dark, and there are a lot of people. But you just keep running. Mile 2 was 14:34; Mile 3, 15:01 (damn, I was slowing down); Mile 4, 15:03. Okay. Conserving energy. We're in the middle third now, time to pick it up.

Leaving the Animal Kingdom via the parking lot (Mile 5), we ran back along Osceola (Miles 6 and 7) to World Drive (Mile 8) and onto Buena Vista (Mile 9), finally entering Disney's Hollywood Studios. I sped up along this stretch - Mile 5, 14:14; Mile 6, 13:37; Mile 7, 13:27 (my fastest mile). And then I started to run out of steam. Mile 8, 15:41. Mile 9, 14:48. My playlist kept me motivated and I just ... kept ... running.
Running through the Hollywood Studios.
I can't believe the smile, either.


























Right around Mile 10, inside the Studios, we entered the Osborne Family Festival of Dancing Lights. Or as I like to call it, "Every Christmas light ever." Usually when you walk through here, people are shoulder-to-shoulder and it's not all that much fun. This was amazing; I felt like I was flying through here. (Spoiler alert: I wasn't.) Mile 10, 15:27. I would not go any faster than this for the remainder of the race.

The thing is, I knew I was slow. I knew there was a chance I wouldn't beat my abysmal Princess time from last February. And it didn't matter. I was having a blast. Literally every picture the photographers caught of me, with the exception of one that appears to showcase all nine of my chins, shows a happy, smiling Maggie. I was joyful and strong through the entire race. We left the Studios at Mile 11 (16:42), wound through the Yacht and Beach Club resorts, the Boardwalk at Mile 12 (15:45), and into Epcot, winding around Spaceship Earth at mile 13 (15:43); 13.1 was just outside Epcot. 
Me, with Spaceship Earth behind me.


























Did I have my perfect race? No. Disney races can be tough. The camber of the road slopes in a way that makes my plantar fascia cry. My left ankle went numb at mile 2, but it didn't hurt, and I never stopped feeling awesome despite that bit of weirdness. So I just kept going, listening to my body and walking when necessary, but for the most part, I powered forward.

I don't know who the walking chick is,
but the girl on the right? She's one
damn happy runner.



























I don't think I have ever finished a long-distance race quite so happy, and it had very little to do with how well (or not) that I did. I finished in 3:20:12, fully eight minutes slower than my performance in the Great Western Half last May. But I had so much fun, it didn't really matter. Each Disney race, I have improved a bit; my first Princess was 3:24, my second 3:22, and this one 3:20 ... so if I improve by two minutes each race, it will only take me 12 more to get under three hours!

More than 2,000 people out of 12,143 were slower than I was. More than 150 in my age group and more than 1,600 women were slower than I was. Not that comparison is the point, but it does help me to see where I stack up. Either I'm getting better, or everyone else is getting worse.

But that's beside the point. The point - the only point - in all of this, in running to begin with, is to give your all. Yours. Not someone else's. Part of what made this race so fantastic for me, personally, was that I felt good the entire time (right up until I stopped running, but that's another story for another time.) I pushed when I could, I held back when I felt it appropriate, and I left nothing out on the course. Usually runners gauge their personal record, or PR, on beating a previous time. But this race, this magical night through three Disney theme parks, was my half marathon PR in a way that really mattered. I may not have made my time goal, but I did have the best time ever out there on the course.

And isn't that what it's really all about?

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Here's what happens when you're willing to be ridiculous

I think it was last February, when Carrie suggested I follow up the Princess Half Marathon with the Great Western in May. I was already trained, after all, so the transition to the next race wouldn't be out of the question.

Yes, I do believe that's the point at which I figured, well, why not? Why not turn this one half marathon into two? And quickly on the heels of that thought cam the next:

If I can do two, I can do four.

So here I sit, ready to travel to my fourth half marathon of 2013.

First came the Princess, with its own set of weather-related issues. Warm and humid, I had a tough run, only just barely setting a new PR.
I finished, and I got my medal. 





















Then, in May, I did run the Great Western. It came with what can only be described as the Most Epic Finish Line Ever, thanks to my friend Rich Bird who - in honor of my stellar fundraising efforts in support of Walk MS - showed up as I finished the race, in a kilt, playing the bagpipes. (Side note: I have the greatest friends ever in the history of ever.)
Rich Bird and me. He's the best.





















July brought the Rock-n-Roll half marathon in Chicago. It almost killed me. I set a new PR of sorts, running my longest half marathon ever. They ran out of water for us back-of-the-pack runners, and I got acquainted with the personnel at not one, not two, but three medical tents. But I finished, and I'm damn proud of it.

Somewhere around mile 11,
I made a friend. 






















This Saturday night, the posse (me, Linda, Di and Shelly) will head to another Run Disney starting line, running the Wine & Dine half. It combines two of my dearest loves - food, and running. It also serves as a reminder: setting a goal, no matter how outlandish it may sound (four halves in one year?) puts me in motion, bringing out the relentless competitor in me who cannot be stopped.

No matter how difficult it gets. No matter how much my knees ache. I will keep going.

I never take a race for granted, and until I cross the finish line in the wee hours of Sunday morning (the race starts Saturday at 10; since I am a long way from running 13.1 in sub-2, I'm resigned to running into Sunday) I won't call it a done deal. But I'm on my way. I have goals - I'd like to PR - but travel and weather often mean I need to maintain a solid grip on reality. And that's okay; the only real goal in any race is to finish strong.

So, off I go, to bring to light a goal that started as a joke, and ended up being something worthy of a year-long pursuit. I have literally been training for a half marathon (or four) for more than a year. In February, I will allow myself to take a rest and focus on training for triathlons (the goal? Three in 2014). But this year will always, always be special to me, because in 2013 I proved to myself that even the most ridiculous, the most outlandish and the most seemingly impossible goals are achievable.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Hot chocolate, looking forward

Last weekend, things sorta came full circle as I ran the Hot Chocolate 5K for the second time.

That race back in 2010 was the first timed 5K I ever ran. The past few years I've done the 15K, but this year - with the half marathon coming up quickly - I decided to pull back and just go for 5.

It was a great weekend, shared with my sister Kathie, her friend (mine, too!) Carrie and my friend Linda. Kath and Carrie were running the 15, and Linda and I the 5. We spent Saturday at the Expo (and eating dinner at Frontera Grill) and pretty much all day Sunday at the race site, or traveling to and from, or - as tradition demands - eating.

So different from just three years ago. Back then, I rocked a 16-minute mile. This time out, I finished in 40 minutes 56 seconds - still not consdered fast by any means, but exactly nine minutes faster than 2010, at a 13:11 minute mile. I will take it.

It's pretty wild, this running thing. Sometimes I am still confused and bewildered that I do it. But I do, and I love it. Not always as it's happening, but most certainly when I am done.

So that wee 5K leads into the main event - the fourth half marathon of 2013. In a few days I will head back to Disney World, to close out the year the same way I started it. Running 13.1 miles through the happiest place on earth.

Updates to come. I cannot wait.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Why I run

Today is my sister Kathie's birthday.

To celebrate her birthday three years ago, she participated in her first-ever 15K race on November 6 - the Hot Chocolate run. And while it wasn't my first-ever race (I'd done an untimed 5K and a 10K mud/obstacle run/ride), it was the first time I was really trying to do well. I was running the Hot Chocolate 5K, and it was the first time I crossed the start line wanting to be a runner.

I will never forget that race. I wasn't wearing the "right" clothes; at this point, I didn't understand wicking fabric or the importance of not wearing cotton. I wore yoga pants and a hoodie, and (bless 'em) my friends Justin and Diane bought me a pair of scientific gloves (they warm up as you sweat) and a hat.

I ran that 5K in the crisp Chicago air in 49 minutes and 56 seconds, mastering a 16:05-minute-mile. It wasn't dead last, and I wasn't dead. I felt like I'd won.

This was in the early days of my runnerhood, and in a lot of ways this is where it all began. But my favorite part of that day was finishing the race and waiting near the finish line to watch my sister cross the line for the 15K.

I had never been to anything like this before, a race so huge, a race so long. I was awestruck by the athletes heading for the finish after running more than nine miles. It seemed otherworldly to me. And when I saw Kathie coming, I was overwhelmed. I remember hot tears in my eyes as I shouted her name.

My sister, the athlete. The runner. In that moment, she became my hero.

I remember calling our dad and barely being able to get the words out. Pride welling up inside me, I couldn't wait to tell him that his daughter not only finished, but she finished smiling.

We'd never been an athletic bunch, my sisters and I, but that all changed the moment my sister finished this race. Because of her accomplishment, I began to see myself differently. I wasn't in very good shape, and I'd never run further than 3.1 miles, but I started to believe I could do it.

And that night, over dinner, I told my sister of my plans to run a half marathon, some 15 months later. I'm pretty sure she thought I was nuts, but in the year+ that followed, she gave me every tip, hint and bit of advice known to man. She encouraged me, believed in me, and propelled me forward. She ran her own half marathon and prepared me for mine.

She gave me my wings.

There are a lot of reasons why I run, but if it hadn't been for Kathie, I don't know if I would have had the confidence in myself to really do it. And yes, 15 months after I made my declaration - that I would run a half marathon - we went to Disney World and completed the Princess Half Marathon.

Happy birthday, Kath. Let's do it all over again!
Five princesses - me, my sister Jenn, the Princess Aurora, my sister Kathie,
and the sister we claim as our own, Carrie.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Inspiration

First, a confession.

I've been sick for an entire week, and I am sick of being sick. The worst part is, I weighed in this morning and the scale basically looked at me and said, "lady, you've taken that whole 'feed a cold' thing waaaaay too literally. Ease up, will ya?" So, I've got some work to do. Clean eating and sticking to the plan are the name of the game ... at least for the next few weeks. Now, on to the meat of this post.

There is no way you can witness an ultra marathon and not be inspired in some way.

Linda and I spent Saturday volunteering at the Des Plaines River Trail Run. It includes races in three distances - half marathon, marathon and 50 mile ultra marathon. The half, I can relate to. Marathon, even. But 50 miles? What fresh hell is this?

Our friends Pete and Dave were running it, so it was really the least we could do to show up and support them. We were assigned to Aid Station 5, which was at the half-marathon turnaround point. The marathon runners turned around at that point and head back to the start. The ultra runners, however, kept running; they would run almost an entire marathon before they returned to our aid station on the out-and-back course.

Unreal.

These men and women are truly amazing athletes. But what surprised me the most was that they were genuinely appreciative. Don't get me wrong - runners are the nicest people in the world. Elite and pro athletes alike have always been very kind to me when our paths have crossed (and I've not given in to geeking out all over them). But this caliber of athlete - people who willingly run 50 miles at a stretch - is something quite different, so I didn't quite know what to expect. I shouldn't have been surprised, because my experience at IronMan was quite similar. And yet, once again, I learned that, by and large, athletes become great athletes by training hard, and being nice to people.

And they sure were nice to us.

On the way out - after running about 14 miles - most runners were happy to see us but content to keep running on. But on the way back - at about the 38-mile mark - they were desperate. Some couldn't string a group of words together to form a sentence. They could barely point to what they wanted. And we supplied it all! Electrolyte drink and water, plus pretzels, chips, Doritos, M & Ms, bananas, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, goldfish crackers, Coke and other sodas, candy corn, plus the usual energy gels. Pretty much anything a runner could want, be it sweet, salty or liquid, we had it. And they ate it, with great appreciation.

It felt weird to tell people they were almost done, when they had 12 miles to go, but it was the truth. Out of 50 miles, having only 12 left meant they were on the downhill slope. And it really got me to thinking.

No matter what my goal race is, there is always someone out there pushing farther.

I guess that's the curious and inspirational part of being a runner; we don't stop reaching. We either keep working at the distances we know, trying to run them faster, or we push beyond. 13.1 becomes 26.2.

26.2 becomes 50.

And, God love 'em, for some people (like one of my aid station compadres, Carrie T.) ... 50 becomes 100.

I don't understand ultra runners, but man do I admire them. I am grateful for the example they provide, for the inspiration they unwittingly share, and for the way they treat their fellow runners.

Run on, you crazy athletes.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Or, just crabby

I started feeling sick on Sunday night.

I ran briefly on Monday, and have been basically sedentary ever since.

So now, I'm crabby. I am determined to get a short run in tonight, no matter what. But for the moment, I just wanted to whine.

Waaaaaaaaaaaaah.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Best Tuesday in about two years

Intentionally moving my body - some might call it "exercise" - has been part of my routine now for about six years. Over that time, I've gone from struggling to finish 20 minutes on an elliptical trainer to gradually adding more and different activities. An aqua aerobics class led to a dance class, which led to strength training and spin class and (eventually) running, swimming and biking. But when I really need to feed my spirit, I head to Salsa/Funk class to dance my troubles - and my jiggling thighs - away.

It's a cardio class in the truest sense of the word, because it is intensely good for my heart. Moving with the music, surrounded by friends, sweating like a fiend and absolutely working every part of the routines is just indescribable. It leaves me exhausted and exhilarated, untethered and untamed. It taps into the part of me that transcends the physical. Yes, my body follows the steps, but it's the soul that dances. And 583 calories later, it doesn't feel like you've worked out, but you've earned the donut.

Last night brought my friend Donna, the originator of Salsa/Funk back to Lifetime Fitness in Schaumburg. After two years in different clubs around the area, the Funkstress herself came home. There's no denying the distinct pleasure we felt dancing to Thriller, and Applause, and Jai Ho, and every other song she chose for the playlist. We got an hour of groove on and left just overflowing with joy.

The last time I danced with Donna in Schaumburg, I was healing from injury. Let's face it - I've been recovering a lot over the past few years. So doing some of the dances last night felt different in my legs. I was able to jump, and leap, and feel supported by my own muscles. It was amazing; I felt strong and in control, capable and frankly fantastic.

Sometimes when the blues come calling - and they do, more often than I'd like to admit - I force myself to get out and move, whether on the bike or on foot or in the pool or, when the timing works out, in a dance class. It is amazing to me how just working up a sweat and pushing my body a little bit can set everything right. And the best way I know to do that is with an hour of this class. It's a reminder that our bodies are miraculous and perfect, that we should be grateful for the ability to move. It's an opportunity to loosen our grip on reality for 60 minutes and just be a dancer.

And I'm reminded of the closing scene in the movie "My Best Friend's Wedding," when Rupert Everett assures Julia Roberts that there may not be marriage. There may not even be sex. But by God ... there will be dancing.

There will, indeed.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Holy Crap

One month from today, we land in Florida. Di, Shelly, Linda and I take on our second Disney half marathon this year - the Wine & Dine Half.

Training is on target-ish. Yesterday I ran a slow 10, with the first seven going pretty well. Fatigue set in then, and my legs felt super heavy. I interspersed liberal walk breaks on the return trip, and it worked out okay.

Am I nervous? Maybe a little. I have goals, and I know what I want to do out there. I know that nighttime races are pretty much my wheelhouse. And I know that anything is possible, but you have to put in the work to reap the rewards.

I've put in the work. I've hustled my tail up hills and across bridges and through mud. I've hoisted weights to make my legs (and the rest of me) stronger. And yes, I've gotten my rest.

I have one more month to take off a few more pounds, work in a few more long runs, and get it done. In the end, there will be another Disney finish line.

This time, with a cold beer and Dole Whip at the end.

But not together. That would be gross.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Where'd September go?

Lawsy me, September has flown by! And a busy month it was. Between volunteering, time with friends and a few truly fun races, my birthday month began the slow skid into October.

Which means fall running, which makes me happy. (Not fall itself, mind you; no, that cruel season reminds me of death and boredom. But running in 40 to 60 degree temps is pretty stellar, thankyouverymuch.)

So what did we do this month? Well, the whole thing kicked off with Labor Day weekend - also known as my opportunity to lay by the pool and eat ice cream, which did nothing for my fitness goals. But then there was Ironman weekend, during which I was completely entranced by some incredible athletes - three of whom are my friends! You can't witness something like Ironman and remain unchanged. Just yesterday, I took an hour-long dance class and then headed out for an eight-mile run, and that sounded kind of difficult to me. Until I remembered two miles in the water, followed by 112 on the bike and a marathon. Nah ... eight miles is nothin'. 

Personally, I had some great races this month. On the 16th I went to the Blackhawks training camp festival with my sisters Pat and Jenn, and Jenn and I did the "Mad Dash to Madison" 5K. It was my second-best 5K ever, and just 38 off my PR for this distance. I ran it in 39:06, with a 12:37 minute mile - an excellent race for me! Plus, it was just a ton of fun.

Less than a week later, I did the Women Rock 10K, and it's my new 10K PR! WOOT! I finished in 1:23:09, running an average 13:23/mile. Not fast, by anyone's standards, but still better than I've done before. Really happy with it.

Then, just last Saturday, I rounded out my month of races with the Eat Dirt Mud Run ... which, frankly, ate dirt. Not good, really. Kinda borning, not a lot of dirt or mud, not many obstacles. But I did it, and it was fun with the folks I was with (my sister Jenn, friend Angelicque and her friend Jen.) 

At any rate, that's a month with three events! Crazy, I know. And now that it's drawing to a close, I'm realizing I have just six weeks to train for Wine & Dine. Nutso. Soon I'll be in Disney World, ready to run my fourth and final half marathon of the year. I will be ready. I will have fun. And hopefully, by the time it's here, I will be even stronger and healthier, and ready to run.

Next week, I promise a weigh in. But this week, I'll share the workout plan:

  • Monday - Rest day
  • Tuesday - Three miles, easy
  • Wednesday - Seven miles, tempo 
  • Thursday - Two miles, easy
  • Friday - Yoga (or 10-mile long run, to get it out of the way)
  • Saturday - Strength training, swim and maybe a bike ride (if I do my long run on Friday)
  • Sunday - Rest day 
Not gonna lie; the rest days are my favorite. 

Some weeks, it seems, the prescribed runs are harder than others. Last night's three miles almost killed me, and I can't really begin to understand why. I should be able to run three with ZERO issues, right? Wrong. Every run is it's own thing. Taking them as they come is part of why they can be so healing. 

Ever forward.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Random thoughts on fitness

I need more yoga in my life.

I'm considering a marathon in January 2015.

I am really happy that I only have two more half marathons scheduled; I am ready to hang up that distance for a little while.

In 2014, I will complete three sprint triathlons, and maybe an Olympic-distance one as well.

Between the blisters and plantar fasciitis, my left foot is screwed.

During the tri relay, I ran in a skirt for the first time in a race. I really dig it ... which means there will likely be more skirt purchases in my not-too-distant future.

Speaking of ... more workout clothes is exactly what I need, right?
Yes, I have a piece of furniture just for my workout attire.
Food is my downfall. I love good food, and still - no matter how hard I try not to - I end up socializing over a delicious meal.

Never say never. Which is why, when my buff friend Biff suggested I train for an IronMan, I didn't say no, or never, or shut the hell up. I'll say "probably not." I'll say "maybe." I may even say "Shut the hell up!" But I won't say never, because if I learned anything from watching Ironman, it's that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things.

I love summer, but I love working out in the fall. Wanna come bike on the trail with me? So pretty.

I need to schedule a physical. Putting it here to keep me committed.

That's all for now ... except to say that I weighed in on Tuesday and I haven't gained. So there's that.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Early mornings, hot sun and running with the pros. Also, pride.

The simpler title for this post would be "The Chicago Triathlon" ... but where's the fun in that?

This whole endeavor started out with Linda's decision to do her first international-distance tri. I, being brilliant, suggested that Pam, Jim and I form a relay team. That way we could experience the distance, but not have to do it. And much to my surprise, they agreed.

So when the alarm went off at 3 a.m. (I must be lonely) yesterday, I had no one to blame but myself. I piled into the car with Linda and her sisters, Lorna and Terri, and we met Jim and Pam to caravan into the city.

Before sunrise.

Arriving at Millennium Park in the wee hours is kinda surreal. I helped Linda set up her transition area by flashlight while Pam helped Jim get his set up. The early morning breeze felt wonderful, giving no clue as to the heat that was to come, and I can honestly say I rather enjoyed the experience. Soon, we were as ready as we could be, which was a good thing because the transition area closed at 5:45. In the morning.

We took the time to survey the course - where the competitors got out of the water, jogged to the bike, got onto the bike course, finished it and then started the run. All told, the swim wave for the International distance was a mile (a full mile, in Lake Michigan; God love 'em); the bike was 25 miles; and the run, a 10K. Linda was doing all three, while Pam, Jim and I split our duties. We wandered down to the water to the swim finish line, and waited.

It was incredible to see the swimmers come by. Almost a mile into their day, they looked strong and capable. As the sun came up across the harbor, it was time to enjoy the view and bolster Linda and Pam's courage as they awaited their turn in the water.
Monroe Harbor, in all its sunrise glory
They put on their wetsuits and off they went, leaving me, Lorna, Terri and Alexis to watch the clock and the water for them to come in. Jim headed to the transition area, where he would meet Pam prior to heading out for the ride.

As we sat there along the water's edge, it was impossible not to be moved by the incoming athletes. The wave leaders, with their incredible ability and perfect form, seemed to glide past us. But the ones who struggled to finish were the most inspiring. They dedicated themselves to the task, and there was no way they would get a DNF (did not finish). Lots of reasons to cheer here; real effort was happening in the water.

It took awhile, but soon we saw purple caps heading our way; this was Linda's wave. I knew she'd be middle or back of the pack, but I kept an eye out for her the entire time. How I thought I'd recognize her, I do not know, but before too long she appeared, out near the lifeguard boats, pulling strong toward the swim finish. There is little in this life more satisfying than watching a good friend achieve a goal. She was all smiles coming out of the water. We cheered and hollered and followed her a bit as she ran toward transition, and then it was time to get back to the water and watch for Pam. She came in right on schedule, swimming along the wall like a champ. My friends were so strong that day!

I followed Pam to the transition area, and she transferred the chip to Jim ... off he went! We wouldn't see him for 25 miles. Pam was pooped but exhilarated. She changed out of her wetsuit and was now able to relax; she had done it! I am so proud of her for getting out there and trying, doing something amazing while much of the world was still asleep.

As we waited for Jim to return, we relaxed in the shade. It was starting to really heat up outside, we also kept our eyes open for Linda to return from her bike portion. When she arrived back at transition, she was all smiles but also upset. She had bike malfunction issues, and was not happy by the time she finished the ride. Her legs were sore, but on she went. Shortly after that, it was my turn. Yes, at shortly past noon, in full sun, with the temperature reading 91 degrees, I was running 6.2 miles.

It took a long time, but the tri staff did a great job keeping us safe and hydrated. My favorite part (other than seeing the EMTs at about the 2.5 mile mark) was the fire truck with a huge industrial fan, raining cold water down on the runners at miles three and four. It was enough to give me a new lease on life!

Shortly before my run leg took off, the pro wave began. Yes, at 11:30 a.m., the "real" athletes started their swim. I wasn't too depressed when they started to pass me on the run; I mean A) these people do this for a living and B) even if they didn't, they are certainly in a helluva lot better shape than I am! I did the smart thing; I let the ease of their stride and their obvious athletic prowess propel me forward. Concentrating on them rather than the heat or the fact that I felt stupid for doing this in the first place really helped!

Being on the course with the pros was an incredible experience, because they offered encouragement and inspiration, just like the amateurs. I didn't expect that at all, but I shouldn't be surprised; I know athletes to be some of the most supportive people in the world. It was in the last mile when two pros ran past me, together. One of them said, "You got this. Finish strong!" and I replied, "Thanks! You guys look great; I'm just gonna follow you!" and he gave me a thumbs-up and kept running. Awesome.

When I finally approached the finish - hell, I'd only been out for six miles, and Linda had done the entire race herself! - I was pooped. POOPED, I tell ya. But I ran in strong and confident; hot as it was, sore and tired as I was, I felt great! Here's me with less than a half mile to go:
Photo not yet purchased. I like that the watermark covers up my cottage cheese thighs.
Even though I didn't complete the full tri on my own, this was a special experience. Being part of a team is different. It allows you to put your focus on your friends and move through the event without the panic of wondering how you'll do in the next discipline. It's actually a very relaxed way to complete a tri!

As I approached the finish line, my posse was there waiting - Terri, Linda and Lorna Clegg, and Lorna's daughter Schlex. 

The posse, just after Linda finished - Schlex, Terri, Linda and Lorna
When I crossed the finish line, I got my water and more water and have I mentioned water? And my medal. Can't forget the medal; do you think I do these things for fun? No. I like medals.

Because laying in the grass is EXACTLY what you should do after finishing a six-mile run.
And just like that, it was over. I'm so proud of Linda, and I'm equally proud of Jim, Pam and myself. Out of 98 relay teams, we came in 35th! Plus, we had a good time ... which is always the goal.

As we were packing up Linda's bike back in the transition area, we met a guy named Frank, who had won his age group. We struck up an easy conversation, which happens a lot at events like this because hey, we have something in common, right? Anyway, he teaches spin at the Midtown Athletic club in Palatine, and he invited Linda and I to stop by and take a class - nice guy! We congratulated him (and objectified him a bit; the man was clearly created by a technician very close to God) and he chuckled. He said thank you, offering us this bit of advice: "Always accept a compliment, and always accept a gift. They are always given in hopes you will take them." 

Okay, Frank. I'm trying.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Determination

I have had an interesting week of running. Beginning last Monday, I decided to incorporate a little tactic I learned from my favorite Marine - "Attack the Day". Ryan taught me that getting up early and busting through the workout before anything else sets the tone for the day, and totally puts you in charge. So as much as early mornings make me want to punch myself repeatedly in the lady business, I've been setting my alarm. 

For 4:30 a.m.

Up and out the door by 5 is not easy for me. But once I'm out, I love it. And that love is starting to show up in the run itself. Last week, I had two miles on the training plan. I ran them in under a half hour - 28 minutes, 40 seconds, to be exact, for an average pace-per-mile of 14:11. Not bad for a clydesdale such as myself. But today was another story entirely.

Today it was three miles, just as the sun was beginning to make the horizon glow. The air was chilly and perfect, and the birds were whistling at me. (They do like to flatter, don't they?) I took my first mile at a relaxed pace, letting my legs warm up. This is sort of a requirement, because when it's early, my everything hurts. I set off through the subdivision and decided I could speed up in mile two.

I felt strong, and I will admit I felt kinda special, being up before the rest of the world. I thought about form, taking care to do the work as cleanly as possible. Even steps; core tight; head up. On short runs, I don't use headphones and I don't listen to music; I just listen for the app to notify me at each mile, and to let me know when I am half done so I can turn around and head home. 

It wasn't until I made the turn to come home and heard my final mile come to a close that I realized I had reached an elusive goal: I had run negative splits for each mile (with my pace getting faster each mile, instead of slower). Not only did I do it, my third mile was almost 30 seconds faster than my first!















I am hoping to keep this up throughout my training for the Wine & Dine Half Marathon in November. I've given myself over to the training, and I am determined to follow it as closely as possible right up until race day. There will be tweaks, but over all, I'm keeping my eyes on the prize.

Speaking of which, this weekend promises a unique prize of its own. I am participating in the Chicago Tri on a relay team! Yes, my friends Pam and Jim were foolish enough to allow me to do the run leg! Pam is doing the one-mile swim, Jim will be biking 25 miles and I ... foolishly, I've been elected to run the 10K (6.2 miles) anchor leg to finish out the race. Mostly because Jim didn't want to run. Linda is doing the full race, and I am so proud of her! I'm looking forward to busting out of my comfort zone, doing something different, earning a shiny new medal, and working as part of a team.

And finishing. I always look forward to finishing.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

And so, she ran

On Tuesday night, I had a tempo run on the training plan. The intention was to run a mile to warm up, run three miles at a pace of 14:33, and run a fifth mile to cool down.

For me, tempo running or speedwork is best done on the treadmill. That way, I get to set the 'mill to run at my goal pace and get it done without worrying about it. But last night ... oh, my, last night the weather was perfect. It was as if the air were begging me to get out in it, to let it dance past me for five miles. So, I drove to my dad's house and made my way to the Fox River Trail.

It. Was. Perfect.

And apparently, I was ready to go. Usually, my warmup and cooldown pace is in the 16-minute mile range. (Don't judge.) Yesterday, my one-mile warmup was at 15:24, and my one mile cooldown was 16:12. I averaged pretty much a perfect pace. But the real fun happened in the middle three - the "tempo training" part of the run. Remember, I was supposed to hit the 14:33 mark. Mile two was 13:37; mile three was 14:10; mile four, 13:44 ... for an average pace-per-mile of 13:50.

Not fast, by any means. But damn good for me, shaving 45 seconds per mile off my training time! This is progress.

The entire run felt successful. I felt good - if a little bit sore and fatigued now and then - the entire time. I pushed myself to run a lot of it, when generally I am a lot more generous with the walk breaks. I am improving. So the real success was not in the pace or the time, but in my ability to keep myself moving forward in confidence. It didn't hurt, though, that a few of the people I passed out there served up some great motivation. Like the lady who said "Keep going!" when I was about half way. The girl who told me I looked like I was having fun at mile three. And especially the dude who gave me a high-five when I was finishing up the last tempo mile.

It felt great. And I thought to myself, "Yeah. I'm a runner."

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Rest is Over

As of this morning at 5 a.m., I am no longer resting. I got up early and got my run on!

My friend and fake step brother Ryan, who can basically be single-handedly blamed for the fact that I run at all, taught me years ago that the key to fitness is to "attack the day." Meaning, get out of bed and get it done before your day officially "starts." Makes sense, but it is oh, so hard to do.

But not today. Today, I was up and at 'em.

Okay. Today I was up. At 'em may take time. But I had two miles on the training plan, and I got 'em done. I'm proud of that! (I even made it to the office on time.)

I also weighed in (205.8) and packed a (mostly) healthy lunch. So it's back to the drawing board, time to get real, time to prepare for the fourth and final half marathon of the year.

And I feel good, because the week of rest and a weekend of fun with friends left me feeling balanced and alive. I'm capable, and I'm energized. So let's see what the week will bring!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Rest

Last week, I was right on with the training plan. I mean, dedicated. Every step of the way.

Then the weekend came and I felt absolutely spent. Monday came, and I didn't run. Tuesday. Wednesday. Here we are on Thursday, and I'm going to get a short, easy run in tonight. But that may be all the working out I do this week.

I think I have been physically and emotionally exhausted, burning the candle at (at least) three ends. So I re-programmed the training plan to start over on Monday.

It's not throwing in the towel; it's more like taking the towel off the rack, washing it in hot water with bleach, and starting fresh.

I give myself permission to do this. Life is far too short to stay attached to a training plan that needs a recharge. And that's what I am doing.

As for my weight, I am still doing well, post-cleanse! Monday morning I logged in at 205.2; now, this week has been hit or miss, with barely anything logged, calorie-wise. But I am confident I haven't gained much (if anything), so I'm just giving myself a little grace to come back refreshed on Monday. And I absolutely will not allow myself to go completely off the rails this weekend. For realz.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Diva Dash Obstacle Race

Posting quickly because this was a busy damn weekend, but on August 3 my sister Jenn and I did the Diva Dash 5K Obstacle Race in Sandwich, IL. It was a great run!

Jenn and I try to do something each year around her birthday; this year, we ran Jenn's first obstacle race and it was awesome! I finished in 50:43.39, averaging a 16:54-minute/mile, which is pretty slow but hey, obstacles.

The race was sponsored by Shape Magazine, and it was really well done. Jenn and I had a blast, and we'd do it again!
I'm the king of the tire pile!
And I didn't pay to use this photo!

Monday, July 22, 2013

I rocked. I rolled. I did some other stuff.

My third half marathon of the year - and my fourth ever - is in the books.

And that is the nicest thing I can say about it.

The Chicago Rock and Roll half marathon was great. And awful. The race officially started at 6:30 a.m. Early enough to not be in the heat of the day, but apparently not early enough to keep me from overheating. Or so the story goes ...

My race began at 7:02 a.m. I started out great; my 5K split was 43:49 - slower than my fastest 5K, saving a little somethin' for later in the race. My 10K split came in at 1:30:08 - just under a 15 minute mile. If I could maintain a similar pace, I would cruise through at my goal of three hours and 15 minutes. I was at nearly the halfway point ... and all hell broke loose.

Right around the seven-mile mark, my knee started giving me problems. (This is my fault; while I felt prepared emotionally for the race, I was not as dedicated to the plan as I needed to be.) So I stopped for medical help. They wrapped my knee, and I took off running again. I lost about five minutes here.

I hit the 10-mile mark at 2:35:15 - still not far off my desired pace. But it was starting to really heat up, and by this time there was no water or Gatorade available on course. My heart rate spiked and I started to feel the effects of the heat, so I stopped for medical help again ... and here's where I lost a lot of time. Eventually I cooled off and could continue, but it was too late to redeem myself. My final time was 3:32:12, with an average pace of 16:12.

I've run four half marathons, and this one was my slowest. Still, I am damn proud of myself for continuing on and finishing what I started. And to tell the truth, I had a lovely day. Our friend Barb rode in with us (it was my turn to drive, so we were Jeepin' it) and Linda's niece Alexis was along, too, for her first half marathon. The music on course was really exceptional, and it made the whole event really fun. I would run it again, except - seriously - no water? I don't trust the organizers to plan well enough to keep runners safe.

But as usual, I learned some things about myself out there. I learned that I'm not afraid to pull back when I'm hurting, even if it means letting go of my goal. I learned that the slowest among us (me) and the fastest among us (Barb) can share the same race and celebrate each others' victories. I learned that taping your knee too tightly will pinch a nerve and cause your leg to go numb. And I learned that if I keep the right attitude, even a tough race can be a lot of fun.

I also learned that there is very little some ice won't cure. But when ice doesn't cut it, a trip to Heaven on Seven for a mint julep + shrimp and grits does the trick quite well.

I'm giving myself the week to recover. Yoga, bike rides, swimming and maybe a short run are the extent of my working out. And that's okay! That's part of the fun of running. Then, next week, training for the Wine & Dine half begins in earnest.

Here we go ... again!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Stuff to ponder, +10K results

I am now almost a full week post-cleanse, and I feel good about the experience.

Overall, I went from 214 to 206 - so a loss of about eight pounds. But what I gained is even more important. A willingness to feel hungry, rather than eat at the first sign that it had been awhile since I've eaten. A real taste for vegetables. Hydration. It was a great experience, honestly, and I'm truly glad I did it. I have been able to keep off the weightloss (so far) and more importantly the mindset of self-care that comes with being willing to try a cleanse. So, woot!

All of this, leading up to my favorite holiday - Independence Day! I have loved 4th of July since I was a kid. Whether I've spent the day with family near home or traveling, it's just always been great. But it's not generally an easy time, calorically. I was diligent, and only indulged in a few of the things I'd been missing during the cleanse.

Like ice cream. And brownies. And brownies with ice cream.

The weekend was filled with food, and I managed it pretty well. There were burgers on the grill (twice), sangria (just once, and just one glass), lots of coffee, omelettes and hash browns, and yes, there were doggy bags. (How else can you not overindulge?)

Plus, I ran a 10K! It was back to my adoptive home town for the  Stampede Run. It was great fun, honestly. Before the race started, my friend Mollie found me in the crowd. I haven't seen her in years, and I've never seen her on the run, so it was nice to know she was out there. Pam and Jim ran the 5K, and Shelly, Linda and I went for all 10. I was nearly to the halfway mark when I came up behind Mollie. She was walking and it was hot, but I decided to try and spur her on anyway, inviting her to run with me until the next mile marker. And so we did ... finishing the race together.

We were the back of the pack, by far, and we decided not to care. Someone has to be last, right? We just chatted and ran what we could, taking walk breaks when necessary. I could have run more, but I'm a "dance with the one who brung ya" type of girl; once you run alongside someone, you don't abandon them. That's been done to me, and I do not like it. Friends don't leave one another out on the course. So we finished together, and it felt great.

I've only done two other 10K races, and even with going slower than my body wanted to go, I got a new PR. (By only 10 seconds, but who cares?) Here's how it shook out:

Arlington Heights Stampede Run 10K

  • 1:30:42
  • Average pace: 14:36 minutes/mile
  • 516 of 517 total runners


My past 10K results are:
Monster Dash 10K 2012

  • 1:30:52
  • Average pace: 14:38 minutes/mile
  • 521 of 534 total runners


Polar Dash 10K 2012

  • 1:33:32
  • Average pace: 15:04 minutes/mile
  • 638 of 668 total runners
Those are results I will gladly accept! Especially considering how hot and sweaty I was. Yeah, it was an accomplishment just to finish. (But isn't that always true?)

In less than two weeks, I will tackle another half marathon (my third for the year) and after that I'll run the 10K leg of a triathlon relay. I can do this. I will do this. I'm nuts to do this ... but that's never stopped me so far!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

So, do I feel any cleaner?

For the past week and a half, I've been doing a cleanse.

I know, I know. Those things are evil, deadly and dumb. For the most part, anyway. But some good friends of mine have done the one I'm on, and they're fitness pros with brains. Another good friend encouraged me to try it, and is doing it with me. And honestly, if University of Illinois at Chicago (in conjunction with Rush Presbyterian Hospital) did a study using the products I'm using and had pretty stellar results, I'm pretty sure it's at least worth a try. So I'm almost done with my 11-day Isagenix Cleanse.

I'm not going to go into the cleanse itself or how it works here. Literally hundreds of bloggers have documented their experiences on it, and mine are pretty similar. Instead, I'll just give a few details of what I've learned.

The cleanse, for me, is a way to reignite my passion for fitness, and recharge my energy for keeping my eye on the prize of ultimate health. I've stalled lately. It's been hard to stay on a schedule and keep the pounds going down. Continuing to take off the weight is something I have to do for my overall health. Also, I wanted to retrain my brain to be okay with being hungry. Obsessing over everything that goes into my face for an 11-day period has helped me with that. So what have I learned? Here goes.

I can live off of a lot less food than I think. On "shake days," Isagenix allows for a shake in the morning, a healthy lunch, and a shake at night, with a few snacks in between. That's it. Well, except for this nasty herbal shit that I can barely choke down. Anyway, that's all I eat on shake days, and it's really enough. On "cleanse days," you're down to the vile herbal shit once a day, a cleanse drink four times a day, and intermittent snacks. I spend those days thinking about food, but I am still able to function pretty well.

  • I obsess about food. A lot. Since starting CleanseFest 2013, I have craved a cheeseburger. Every day for 10 days; for serious. 
  • Food triggers are everywhere. Heading home one night, I passed a billboard for Jersey Mike's Subs. Now, I am not a particular fan of subs. I don't think they're evil or anything, they're just not something I crave. Until I knew I couldn't have one and it was suggested to me. Then, all I wanted to do was find the nearest Jersey Mike's and gobble one down. 
  • Coffee. Oh, I miss coffee. While on the cleanse, it isn't strictly forbidden, but the way I like it - with sugar and plenty of real cream - it isn't allowed. I've had a cup, black every day. But I honestly cannot wait to get my java back.
  • I take comfort in food. The thing I have missed most is the act of settling in for the night with a nice, warm (or cold; it's summer) dinner. It feels nurturing to me, so I feel like I've missed out on some great nurturing.

The most vivid realization is that food temptation is everywhere. Being focused on it made it possible to  avoid it, but it hasn't been easy! Also, my energy has been pretty low, especially on the cleanse days. That's just really not like me. So I'm looking forward to getting back to real food, but I will dive back into the pool with my eye on my relationship with food. I am determined to make a change in my eating patterns based on what I learned about myself and hunger over the past 10 days!

That being said, now I crave peanut butter. Also, I will certainly be having a burger or a slice of pizza (or both) over the holiday weekend! But I know I can keep it to a reasonable amount, and I will enjoy every bite.

And isn't that the point?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Tri, tri again

Looking back at my life prior to my rediscovering fitness, last weekend seems almost impossible. And yet, it happened: I have finished my second sprint triathlon (and my fourth overall) (counting two indoor ones, which may or may not actually count). It was Esprit de She Weekend!

Saturday morning was gym time with my friends, so we swam at 6:30 a.m. (yawn) and then did Strictly Strength class, where Pam (per usual) kicked our asses. Then it was off to Naperville for packet pickup and the race expo.

The expo took place at Naper Settlement (in, of all places, Naperville). It was a perfect day for an outdoor shindig like this. We wasted no time mugging for the camera.
Me, Megan and Pam
We picked up our race shirts (super-cute t-back tanks that run small, ergo I will wear mine next year!), got body marked (that's when race personnel write your number on you with permanent ink; the only time in the history of ever that I tolerate writing on skin!) and wandered around a wee bit. All too soon, it was time to head home. Morning comes early for a triathlete!

I set my alarm to go off at 4:02. Unfortunately, it was set for p.m. instead of a.m., so I overslept. But I woke up in time to leap into my gear (which I had laid out the night before) and headed out the door. I arrived at Centennial Beach in plenty of time.

I found my wave area and racked my bike, looking for Pam, Meg and Linda. Pam was in the wave before me - wave 8 - while Linda was in 5. Meg brought up the rear in 15, but our transition areas were pretty close together. It gets kinda crazy on race day, so Pam took the time to mark our spaces with chalk. This makes it easy to find your stuff when you go from swim to bike, or bike to run.
Hey, that's me!
At this point, there wasn't much to do except prepare, and wait. We got all our stuff laid out and walked around, occasionally running into friends.
That's me with Coach Lynn from LTF Schaumburg. She's awesome!
I can't imagine going into an event like this without the support of my friends. I am so lucky to have an amazing support system! They are undeniably the greatest people in the world.
Linda, Pam, Meg and Me
There's a real sense of camaraderie among athletes at events like this. Except for the occasional weirdo (like the lady who photo-bombed us) or a competitor who takes the event way too seriously, this event is pretty much jam-packed with people who really just want to see each other do their very best, and offer support and encouragement. It's groovy like that.

Once we were settled in, it was time to take a walk down by the water and see what it felt like. In a word, it felt cold. Exactly 70 degrees, in fact! Brr! It was inspiring to look out at the swim course and know that in an hour or so, this entire place would be filled with women waiting to begin their day with a half-mile swim.
Centennial Beach in Naperville, site of the swim for the Esprit de She Triathlon.
I didn't know Meg was snapping when she took this photo. I really like it!
That's the whole crew - Meg, Me, Pam and Linda
Sooner than I was quite ready, it was time to put on the swim cap, grab my goggles and head to the water. The race was about to begin!

My wave took off at 7:32 a.m. My wave was filled with women ages 46 and 47, and I stood next to a few who were just as nervous as I was. The truth is, I think I am the worst at everything. I am the slowest runner in my group, and my skills on the bike aren't that great (although cycle is my best event) (which is sad), and as a swimmer I make a great sunbather. I usually think when people tell me how un-good they are, they're being kind or they just don't realize how much some of us suck. Once we got into the water and started swimming, I noticed one of my "new friends" was truly struggling. So I put my focus on helping Ellen, rather than my own pending panic, and it changed the entire first leg of the race for me. Sure, it might slow me down a little bit, but I've learned that's what true athletes do: they help each other succeed.

I put on this face of confidence in the water, and it totally became who I was. While I still swam like me - slow and purposefully - I was able to guide and help Ellen finish the half mile like a champ. It was actually fun this year, because I wasn't scared and I wasn't holding on to the ropes for dear life. I was swimming! It's funny how getting out of my own head helped so much.

Soon, our feet were able to touch the bottom and we ran (stumbled, walked, shuffled) to shore. Time to dry off and hit the bike! I rinsed my feet (sand!), dried them off and put on my socks and shoes, squoze (shut up, it's a word) as much water out of my shorts and tank as I could, and put my tech tee and kilt (yes) on over it. Headband? Check. Bike helmet? Check. And ... we're off!

The bike course is relatively flat with just a few gentle inclines. I took off like a champ, thinking it felt really easy; the feeling didn't last. I mean, come on ... 15 miles is a long time. But I kept at it. When I saw the three mile sign, I started doing math; I was 1/5 of the way there. I stopped doing math.

You cycle the same loop twice before you re-rack your bike and begin the run course. By the time I was done on the bike, my lady bits were really unhappy with me. But I had done it! It was all over now except for a 5K run. I grabbed water and headed out.

By now, the sun was out in full. It was starting to get humid. So, naturally, I was running. Great. I felt like I was going really slowly, and I took walk breaks when I needed them. I knew I would finish, and I knew I might be a little slower overall because I waited a bit in the water. At this point, it didn't matter; I was in it for the experience, for the fun and for the accomplishment.

Soon, we were running along the riverwalk, which meant we were nearing the finish line. I allowed myself to break into a run and really go for it, which explains why my official finish line photos look damn near like I'm having a stroke. (Which also explains why they are not posted here.)

To make a short story longer, it was a great race; truly a life-affirming morning. I felt happy and accomplished, and I will never forget that feeling. I was a little nervous heading in to get my results, because I wasn't sure how I did. But because all races are really nothing more than a competition against myself and my past, it was time to face the music. Here's the straight poop:
  • Swim (half mile) took me 23:12.
  • Transition 1 (exiting the pool, gearing up and getting onto the bike) took me 7:55.
  • Bike (14.2 miles) took 1:01:12.
  • Transition 2 (re-racking the bike, taking off helmet, hydrating and getting onto the run course) took me 3:43.
  • Run (5K or 3.1 miles) took me 42:26.
  • Overall time: 2:18:27.

Not too shabby. (Unless you take into account that the first-place finisher was done in 1:06:14. Whatever; freak.) But then, consider my results from 2012:
  • Swim: 23:27.
  • Transition 1: 10:53.
  • Bike: 1:12:00.
  • Transition 2: 5:26.
  • Run: 46:16.
  • Overall: 2:38:00.

So, I took almost a full 20 minutes off my overall time, and I improved in literally every discipline - even the swim, which I admittedly took a bit slower than my abilities. When I realized just how much progress I'd made in a year - even if a lot of it was just getting through the transitions faster - I am gratified and truly happy. It's been a lot of work, and a lot of times it should have taken more work but I didn't always execute the plan perfectly. But I got results; I did the work, I worked the plan, and I made progress. 

And I really can't wait until next year. 
Pam, Me and Linda, after our big finish.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The work is play

Sunday is my fourth triathlon. My second outdoor, for-real triathlon. (Two have been indoor events, which - while great - are not quite as intense as the experience of swimming, biking and running outdoors.) As usual, my training has not been spot on. Life being what it is, I kinda have to go with the flow. What's more, I'm also technically training for a half marathon in July, so with the swimming and biking, I have some rather substantial runs on the plan.

Which means two things have fallen by the wayside: weight training, and yoga.

No more, ladies and gentlemen. Last night, I did a little weight training courtesy of the Nike Training Club app for iPhone. That little sucker kicks ass.

I am feeling my muscles today! There's something about working - really working - that gives you a delicious and hard-earned ache the next day. And it just served as a great reminder that I can make time. I can fit it in.

It was only a little demoralizing, this realization that I have let myself become so sedentary, I can't really jump, or do high-knee runs. Seriously! Practice is what made us good at this stuff when we were kids.

I stopped practicing, and I became overweight, out of shape and - gasp - a grown-up.

Well, no more, people. There is going to be a lot more play in my summer, and beyond. I need to practice jumping, skipping, working with the body I brought and building the body I deserve.

I'm not down on myself - not really. I mean, I'm in great shape compared to where I came from. But there is so much more work to be done. I have allowed myself to go stagnant and stop progressing, and it's time to get back to work. And I'm going to play through as much of that work as possible.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Hungry

I feel like I've kicked ass in epic battle this week. First, to maintain my sanity; then, to avoid food. Not all food, just the nasty kind.

I firmly believe that if food has the potential to be passed to me through a car window, I should not eat it. (Exception: St. Arbucks.) My summer work schedule has me working 10-hour days Monday through Thursday, with Fridays off ... which is awesome except for the food part. I usually arrive at work hungry, and spend most of the day that way. It is really hard to stay within my calories. And, when I am finally on my way home, I pass a Taco Bell.

I know! It's horrible food. It's not even really food, but sometimes a girl needs a crispy potato soft taco. Or a chicken burrito. Or both. Which just makes no sense at all, when you're on your way to the gym. On Monday, the siren's call was strong, and I almost succumbed to it. But I did not. Instead, I drove the 30 miles toward home, stopped at the gym, and ran. And then I swam. (Then I went home and ate a pulled pork sandwich, which was a far better choice so for chrissakes stop judging me!)

That was Tuesday. Yesterday, a mere 24 hours later, I felt much more in control. I did not even consider stopping on my way home for some tasty awful treat. Last night's workout, by the way, almost killed me. I biked for about 45 minutes, and then I had to run some nasty intervals. Training for a tri, I'm doing brick workouts ... and pretty felt like a ton of bricks during the run part. All I can say is, oy.

But my point ... I am hungry, but I'm making the best choices I can during a long day that tends to include first and second breakfast, plus first and second lunch. It's not a perfect scenario, but I am doing my best. Today, my "best" included eating my sandwich at 11 - technically third breakfast instead of first lunch, but whatever.

Like I said, I'm hungry.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Neglecty?

Okay, I'm not neglecting you. Or myself. I'm just really really busy. My work hours in the summer require me to work Monday-Thursday from 7 until 5:30. Which means I leave the house at 6, and I'm back in the area around 6:30. When my workout is done, I stroll into the house around 8:30 or 9.

Which leaves me little time to write.

I am off on Fridays, but, life being what it is, I don't have a lot of time to devote to writing. Several personal projects are on the back burner for a bit ... but they will bubble back up to the top before too long, I am sure. I just need to get my bearings. The new schedule started last week, and then there was the holiday weekend, and I'm just now starting to adjust, really.

So that's that. More in the not-too-distant future.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Personal Record; also, the worst

Saturday, May 11 was Race to Wrigley - the 5K through the Wrigley Field neighborhood. I ran it for the second time. 

In 2012, this became my 5K PR race. A year ago, I ran it in 40:44, for a 13:09 minute mile. This was the race that got me thinking, hey, maybe I could run a sub-40 5K. For most runners, this is a given. For me, it has been a struggle. Race to Wrigley last year was the closest I'd ever gotten.

We had a swell group of people running this year, although I sure did miss my sister Kathie and nephew Alex. (In true Cubs fashion ... wait 'til next year!) Shelly, Kristen, Linda, Pam and I met up with Diane and Justin at Wrigley. 
Clockwise from 1:00 - Diane, Kristen, Shelly, Pam, Linda, Me, Justin. I think.
Before we headed out, Kristen's friends Michelle and Tracy joined us, too, along with Tracy's kids. Soon, it was time to get started!
Me at the start, surrounded by a bunch of people.
Yes, I realize how much I look like my brother.
I love this race. Going in, I knew it would be a fast one for me; after last year, I had a feeling for how it would go. It's relatively flat, very few turns, and relatively open. I was looking forward to a great run, and I was not disappointed. 

We ran through the area, and lots of residents came out to offer us more cowbell or just cheer us on from their front porches. I felt like I was giving a good effort, and there were a few times I wanted to stop and walk, but I wouldn't let myself. It is not supposed to be easy! It should feel like effort, I kept telling myself; it should be a challenge. I took a short walk break to drink some water, and then it was right back to it.

When we turned off of Waveland and into the concourse of the stadium, I knew I was going to be close to earning my PR. I pushed it as hard as I could, while maintaining my breath and ... ya know ... not dying. Honestly, it felt good! I crossed the finish line, smiling. Soon I ran into Kristen, and she asked if I'd gotten my PR, and I said I thought so! The clock said 41 minutes, so unless I crossed the start line right at 8 a.m., I was going to be close. Lucky for me, they had a kiosk set up so you could look up your results. I put in my bib number, and this is what I saw:
Yup, that's what my PR looks like.
I could not believe it. Not only did I get my PR, but I beat the crap out of it! I was more than two minutes faster than last year's race! Unreal. I am still on cloud nine.

On a similar yet not sort of note, Jenn and I did a 5K on Sunday, too. It was the Aurora Fox River Trail 5K, done in conjunction with a half marathon by the same company. It sucked. It was actually almost four miles, which is no big deal except it sure does screw up your clock time, and it was poorly organized. Thankfully, it was a gorgeous day and the company was good.

So there you have it; one weekend, two races. One a personal best, the other an organizational worst. For me, the thing that is most striking about all of this is the way I am able to bounce back. In the past, a 5k would wipe me out, and I'd wake up sore as hell the next day. Lately, it's just become something I do without a whole lot of drama. So there's progress all around! Woot!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Of bagpipes and the best of friends

Sunday morning dawned clear and warm. The training was done, and it was all down to this. This morning, this moment, this race.

It was GO TIME.

Early raceday morning, I got a text from my sister Kathie: "Have a safe and healthy run. You rock!" Yup, she said it. In writing. It was time to go and prove her right. As I drove to St. Charles, I bit back nerves the entire time. From here, anything could happen ... good and bad.

So why is it that we focus on what could go wrong instead of what could go right? I found myself tied up in metaphoric knots right up until the airhorn started us off. Seriously! What the heck is THAT about? What if I was too slow and they didn't allow me to finish? What if I was literally the last person and I got embarrassed?

Well, so what? That's the worst-case scenario? I'll take it.

There are people - lots and lots of people - for whom running isn't an option. There are others who physically could, and would like to, but something keeps them from trying. I can. So what if the "what-ifs" get me down? I approached the start area.

And almost immediately found a friend - Carrie, one of my first encouragers and an amazing woman. Carrie is an IronMan and an incredible all-around athlete. I love her.
The incredible IronCarrie Mills and me, pre-race.
With a few words of wisdom from Carrie, I was ready. Just one more check of my phone, and another text from Kathie: "Focus. Be strong. Run healthy. You can do whatever you were meant to do."

Amen.

And I began to run. The first mile was horrible! My legs were tired, and the pack immediately began pulling away from me. But I had the world's best playlist, and I knew it would help. I ran this race as a fundraiser for the MS Society, and I asked those who donated to my run to give me song suggestions and prayer requests to bear in mind during the run. The songs - except for the ones suggested by Mike Rice - reminded me of why I was running. Mike's suggestions pretty much just reminded me to laugh. The music helped - a lot!

Once I got through that first mile, I settled into a rhythm and a run/walk interval that felt good. I kept telling myself, "You planned and prepared; execute the plan". I kept passing the same people, and they me, so there was a sort of "back of the pack" camaraderie; it was nice! A mile or two before the turnaround, the "real" runners started coming toward me. It was incredible to see these amazing athletes running toward the finish. Seeing people I know - Carrie, her friend Pat, their friend Jay and my old friend Laura - did a lot to help me keep my head in the game. So much support. And once I got halfway, well ... to turn back at this point is pretty much to finish. 

This is where I met Denise. She settled into a pace alongside me, and we ran/walked the rest of the race together. I think we saved each other! We chatted on and off as we made our way the six or so miles we had until we made it to the finish. She told me about her kids and her career, and her journey as an athlete, and I shared my reasons for running. I explained that I was running as a fundraiser, and that the finish line might be a bit of a spectacle because my friend Rich Bird was planning to be there.

With bagpipes. 

Our deal was that if I raised $800, he'd "pipe me in" at the finish line. Well, I raised $1170, so as Denice and I approached the finish line area, we saw this guy:
My friend Rich Bird is the coolest person ever. For serious.
And he began to play. And I began to cry. And then I told my self to knock that shit off, because there was no way I'd finish if I were crying! 

It was so cool; best finish line ever - and that's goin' some. The finish line at a Disney race is pretty stellar, but this one was special. In a lot of ways, it was the culmination of months of planning on my part. It was my friends, though, that made it awesome. They - 26 of them in all - had donated to a cause that's important to me, and I felt their support with me along the run. I was running (walking, stumbling) for them. It mattered.
I wasn't kidding about the bagpipes, or the kilt, or the awesomeness of my friends.
I crossed the finish line hand in hand with my new friend Denise, and Linda (who had volunteered for the race) put my medal around my neck. I had done it! I won a half marathon! (And by "won" I mean "finished in the upright position".) My friends Millie and Eric were there to cheer me on, and Kristen (another Runner of the Round Table, our unofficial running club) had come all the way down from Schaumburg to see me finish.

That's what running is, for me. It's something I do by myself, with a large group of people. Many of them are strangers, a few are good friends. Some of them, like Denise, aren't strangers for long. It doesn't matter if you run or not; you can still be part of the race. Runners, especially the Pokey Joes like me, couldn't do it without the volunteers and the spectators and the other runners. That's where we get the motivation to keep going. We run, because we know you believe in us.

Finishing the race and celebrating with my friends ...  that's life, at its best. Those who were with me got hugs and tears, but those who weren't - my Walk MS team, my family, Carrie (who had to go to her son's ballgame) and the rest of the Runners of the Round Table - were there in my heart, for sure.
Someone you know was very very tired on Sunday night.
It was as magical a day as you can have, outside of Disney World.