Thursday, July 28, 2016

Race Recap: Toughman Half Ironman!!!

Minnesota in might not strike weather-fear into people like the phrase "Minnesota in January", but trust me, there are only two things you want to do in Minnesota in July...sit in front of your air conditioning vent or jump in a lake. If you are a normal person, the thing you definitely don't want to do in Minnesota in July is race a Half Ironman...but it's been awhile since I have considered myself "normal" so there I was, on July 24th, getting ready for the longest race of my short triathlon career...the Toughman Minnesota 70.3!

About a month before the race I seriously contemplated not doing it. I admittedly had not put in the training that I felt I should have up to that point. Work and life craziness had gotten in the way, and those were things I just had to deal training took a back seat. I went to my circle of tri friends seeking advice and of course they all encouraged me to keep at it and see how I felt closer to race day. I followed that advice and kept plugging away. I found time to get out and ride some of the course, especially the hills around Taylors Falls. I told myself if I could manage that training session without feeling like I was going to die, then I was in. It was a great ride and really renewed my confidence. I also got an 11 mile run in, the longest since my last half marathon in May. It wasn't my most successful long run, but it felt good enough to keep me on my positive upswing. So there I was, race morning, knowing I could have trained better, but feeling surprisingly calm considering what I was about to embark on!

The obligatory "Flat Linda" picture to make sure I had everything I needed to wear!
I was up at 3:30 and thankfully I didn't have to tiptoe around. Bill and Kayley were in Rochester for her swim meet and Logan had spent the night with my sister. Sully of course figured since I was up it must be time for a walk. So we headed out for a quick loop around our block. While we were out I noticed some flashing in the sky...lightening!  I tried not to worry about it, it was still three and a half hours to the start of the race, but I silently cursed the sky "You are NOT going to cancel my race today!" After a few moments of trying to coerce Sully back in the house since our walk was shorter than normal, I got to readying. I had packed all my gear the night before, so I loaded everything in the truck then whipped up some eggs. I don't normally eat a lot before a race, but I wanted to save my normal PB & J with banana for about an hour out from the swim, so I figured I needed something else in my belly. I went up to change and check my hair (my sister had braided it for me the night before and it held up WAY better than when I try to do it myself.) Then I was out the door by 4:30. I passed nary a soul in the 30 minutes it took me to drive to Chisago Lakes, but as soon as I got into town I was met with a flurry of activity. Race vehicles setting up cones, police cars already closing off intersections, and plenty of athletes pushing their bikes along the road to the park. Thankfully the Half Ironman racers were allowed to park in a lot adjacent to the transition area, and thankfully I was there early enough to snag one of the last parking spots. I got out and immediately saw my friend Kim, it was great to see a friendly face right away. We chatted a minute before she had to go pick up her packet (I grabbed mine on Friday) then I got to work getting my bike set up. I had my borrowed bento box, which needed to get secured much better than I had done previously (it scratched against my knee the whole ride!), I filled up my new aero bottle, and pumped up my tires. I hit the porta-potty that was in the parking lot since there was no line, then came back to the truck to eat...thankful I had eaten the eggs earlier...I was pretty hungry and I know my sandwich and banana wouldn't have made it to 6am without them!

I found my spot in transition and dropped my bike and bag, I wanted to get to body marking before it got busy and I was in luck, I walked right up to the girl with the marker, and then promptly forgot my bib number. Thankfully she had a sheet and found it. "631" now adorned my left arm and calf. I should also mention she had very nice really irks me when I get a sloppy body marker ;) I went back to transition and got to work setting out my gear...that's when I heard the first announcement of the day..."Water Temp is 80-degrees, wet suits are not legal. You may wear one if you want, but you will not be eligible for awards, and you will start after all other racers have entered the water". Bugger! I really wanted to wear my new wet suit. I wanted the feel light and buoyant and not have to work as hard on the swim. Immediately all my rack mates started discussing the pros and cons of wearing vs. not wearing. Most everyone had the same thought..."I'm not going to make the podium, so I'm wearing it". Of course, the competitor in me starting thinking "Hmmm, if everyone else in your wave is going to wear a wet suit, you might have a chance at making the podium if you don't". This is ridiculous...I could have a motor on my bike and jet packs on my running shoes and the likelihood of my making a podium would still be laughable, but the thought always crosses my mine. No, I had to make my decision based on heat and convenience. I didn't want to get out of the water being hot, and it was already wicked humid out. I also hate getting into and out of my wet suit, so the idea of not having to hassle with it was very appealing. I decided to put it back in my bag. I'm a strong swimmer, I was going to have to deal with enough heat and inconvenience today, and I honestly was already sweating so much I likely wouldn't have had time to wriggle myself into the thing before the swim started anyway. Decision made, I was ready for one last visit to the biff, then off to the beach!
Perfectly prepared transition station...until my neighbor showed up and squished me in...but it's all good!
The beach was filling up fast, but I tried looking around for Kim, or any other familiar face to hang out with...unfortunately, all triathletes look the same before the swim, so I just did some half-hearted stretches and tried in vain to make out what the announcer was blabbing about (seriously, it's like Charlie Brown's teacher was giving the pre-race talk!). I did happen to find the woman from my wave who was really stressed trying to decide whether or not to wear a wet suit earlier. I told her she should just go with it if it was stressing her so much to think about swimming without it. But there she was, wet suit-free. She looked at me and said "I might grab on to your ankles when we start!" I told her to go ahead as I needed a challenge on the swim! Finally we heard the call for Wave One to get into the start corral. Waves were going off every 4 minutes and we were Wave 7. Cheers went up as the first wave hit the water, it wasn't until this very moment that I started to feel a little bit of nervousness. Even though I am a strong swimmer, I have had mild panic attacks at the start of tris before, and today I didn't have my wet suit to help keep me afloat if I succumbed to my nerves. So I took some deep breaths and kept moving up toward the start area. It was still super difficult to make out what the announcer was saying, so I was kind of surprised when my wave-mate shouted "Hey, we need to get to the water!" I was the last one from my wave in the corral, but I really wanted to start in front, so I moved forward and stayed on the outside, right where I'm most comfortable. One of my other wave-mates shouted "Let's be kind to each other out there ladies!" We all smiled at this as the wave of men that had gone before us looked like some sort of splashy mosh pit with everyone jockeying for the lead. The announcers words were finally clear as I heard him say "Good Luck Ladies....10...9..." I counted silently along in my head and hit the water running...and immediately said "OWWW! Rocks!!!" I couldn't believe how rocky it was out on the side of the corral. Note to self, get to the middle next time! I dove in, readying myself for the panic attack (I don't have a good name for what happens, because I'm not really panicked, but my heart starts to race, I have trouble getting good breaths in, and my arms feel like lead weights). This usually lasts for maybe 100 yards before I feel fine. Today though, it never set in. The water was warm, kind of weedy, but I felt smooth and strong from the start. The wet suit dilemma actually worked out in my favor. Since many of the racers had opted to wear them anyway, the early non-wet suit waves were pretty thin, I would say that I had less than half of the people starting with me than would have been there if wet suits were allowed. This meant that I had a lot of open water to swim in and didn't have to deal with feet and elbows in my face. I was able to swim my pace and just focus on keeping the buoys in sight. This was the best marked swim course I've ever been on, a big orange buoy marking every 1/10 of a mile. My first turn point was at the .5 buoy, I started to cut in so I could make a tight turn and encountered a group of swimmers, so I stayed outside and turned a bit wider than I like. I was glad to make the turn though, since I had been spotting straight into the sun before, I now felt like I could really put my head down and power through the rest of the swim. I felt awesome, I was holding a great breathing pattern and my shoulders were strong. I hit the next turn buoy at .9 and actually started to get sad that the swim was almost over...either that or I was starting to freak out about the 56 miles I had coming up on that bike seat! The abundance of weeds I was swimming through signaled that I was nearing the beach, and I took a look up and saw several swimmers starting to stand. I like to swim in as far as possible before getting to my feet so I kept stroking until I hit sand with my hands. As I was running up the beach I heard a loud and deep "Linda!" Even though I knew my friend Carla and her kids might be at the swim exit, I was pretty sure this was not her voice. I looked over to the crowd and saw the smiling face of Bill Melgaard, one of my coworkers. Bill lives in the Chisago Lakes area and every time he would see me on the trainer at the Rec Center I'd joke about him coming out to cheer me on during race day...that he could just sit on his front lawn with a beer and wave to me as I biked by. But here he was, right in the thick of things near transition, telling me "Good Job! Go, Go Go!" What a boost that was...I knew I had a great swim, and to have support going into the bike was just awesome! I got to my bike and was thankful not to be stripping off a wet suit. It was already so humid that I feel like the task of peeling that thing off would have been more taxing than the swim was. I strapped on my helmet, put on my shades, and shoes, took a quick sip of Gatorade and headed out.
Yes, that is "excitement" on my face...I mean, who isn't excited about being in a bike for 3 hours straight?
What can I recap about a 56 mile, 3 hour and 20 minute bike ride that wouldn't bore you to tears? Um....well...the hills weren't that's not exciting. I didn't blow a tire...yeah, big whoop. I know...I survived my first bottle exchange!! Now you might say, "So what?!?" But I'm telling you, I was so freaked out about the stupid water bottle exchange that I had major anxiety when I passed the volunteer who cheerily informed me that the water stop was just ahead. If you aren't familiar with how this works, basically you enter a "drop zone" where you are supposed to discard any empty water bottles, then you bike up to a volunteer who is holding a full water bottle out, grab it and tuck it into your water bottle cage or you grab it and squeeze it into your speed fill (which is what I have) then drop the empty bottle in the next "drop zone" before you leave the aid area. Easy Peasey right? Well, I was certain I was going to crash, or drop the bottle, or not discard my bottle in the right spot, or, god forbid, I would run over one of the helpful volunteers while trying to grab for the bottle! I slowed down as I approached, I locked eyes with the woman holding out a bottle of water in one had and a bottle of Gatorade in the other, and I shouted "Water please". She reached her bottle out a little further, I grabbed it, fumbled a bit getting the cap open, and squeezed with all my might to empty it into my speed fill. All of this took approximately 15 seconds...I was shocked, I didn't even wobble! I had plenty of room before I was out of the "drop zone" so I threw the bottle to the side and rode on...with a GIANT smile on my face! Weeks of worrying about this were gone in 15 seconds and I settled in for the next 40 miles to come. I wasn't very hungry on the ride, but I knew I was going to need energy for the run, so I ate all four Bonk Breakers I had packed along, the first right away at mile 3, the second right after the first water stop at mile 21, the third right before the second water stop at mile 42, and the last one right after I passed mile 50. I kept steadily sipping my water and Gatorade, and despite my crotch screaming for mercy every now and then, I actually felt like this ride went WAY better than I had planned. The climbs I had dreaded were tough, but doable, we had a few miles of strong headwinds, but honestly, as hot as it was, they were almost welcome! I even let myself open up on one of the downhills...I usually have my fingers firmly wrapped around my brakes, but the thrill of the wind in my face was amazing! I passed the 55 mile marker feeling excited and accomplished. I was confident now that I had made it through this ride that I was going to finish, even if I had to walk the next 13.1 miles, I was going to cross that line no matter what!

As I turned into transition I saw my friend Sara and her kids. Sara has been an amazing inspiration to me and I was so excited that she offered to come out and cheer me on. I was also pretty excited to finally be off my bike, but mostly excited to see her. I asked her to text my husband to tell him I was starting the run...he was hopeful that he and the kids might be able to make it back from the swim meet in time to see me finish. I navigated the narrow passageway from the Bike In spot to my rack and squeezed my bike into would seem that the majority of my rack-mates had beat me in. No worries though, I was just thrilled to be getting ready to run. I got my helmet off and slipped my visor on. My feet were still wet, so I tried drying them on my towel as best I could and got my socks and shoes on. I stuffed the two gels I had laying out in my side pockets, and clipped on my hydration belt. I started left to get to the Run Out and noticed the porta-potty to my right. I decided it was a good time to visit. The volunteer in transition said "run out to the left" I looked at her and smiled "I gotta pee!" There is never too much TMI at a triathlon. I had to wait a minute for the racers before me to finish their business, as I was standing there I started to worry if my legs were going to allow me to stand back up after I sat down...but then the door opened and I hurried in, did what I needed to do and hurried back out before my mind could decide that I was going to sit there for the rest of the day. I passed by the Run Out banner and the volunteers holding water cups and started down the winding grass path to the park trail. It was there I finally saw my friend Carla and her family. Carla had come out to cheer on her husband as he did the sprint course today, his first triathlon, and they had decided to stay to cheer on me and the other Half Ironman racers. Her son Kieran was standing next to the trail with a big smile and his hand outstretched....a high five was just what I needed right now!
High Fives from five year olds are the BEST!
I exited the park and got out on the was hot, I mean stupid-HOT! My legs felt strong, I was certain my nutrition and hydration was spot on, but once I was out on the black top with no shade...I knew that the next 13 miles were not going to be fun. Before the race, I had hoped to do the run in 2 hours and 30 minutes. I knew I shouldn't have a time goal, but based on training, I thought that was a generous pace for myself after the bike. So I was a bit shocked when I passed the 1 mile marker and looked at my watch and it read "Pace: 9:40". I told myself "Whoa, slow down speedy!" I backed off to about a 10:10 pace and felt really good. I actually started to think that maybe I could do a 2:15 finish on this run! That fantasy lasted until about mile 4...that is when I bonked...hard! We had turned off the main road and were now on a dirt road that had a little shade, but at mile four we hit a hill, in the full sun, and I just had to walk. I didn't feel defeated, I figured there'd be some walking during this thing, I had just hoped it would come later in the race. I walked up the hill and agreed to start running at the top. I picked it back up and tried to hold closer to the 11:30 per mile pace I had planned on from the beginning. This lasted until the water stop at mile 5, then I had to take a walk break again. I was roasting and my heart rate was speeding. Each water stop was thankfully stocked with buckets of ice and cold water, so I stood at stop 5 pouring ice down my shirt and sipping water, then a volunteer pulled out a garden hose and I blissfully stood under the spray for several seconds. Finally, I figured I needed to get back at it and started up at a slow run...I was right around 12:00 miles at this point, but I didn't care anymore. Finishing now became the priority, my time goals would have to wait for another day. We encountered a small uphill section right before mile 6 and there was a fun group of spectators cheering for everyone there. "The turn around is just ahead" someone shouted and for whatever reason, this gave me a bit of a second wind. I ran from that point, through the turn around and to the next aid station at about a 10:30 pace. I walked some more through and after that aid station and kept a walk/run pace going for the next few miles. I kept negotiating points with myself, "Okay, just run to the sign post, then you can walk to the tree branch". This seemed to be the plan for many of the other athletes I met up with at this point in the race, the heat was taking it toll on all of us, but we all shared the same determination to finish. As I passed the 11 mile marker I knew that I would soon come up on the last aid station before the finish. I decided at this point to walk a bit and take my shirt off. I'm not a fan of running only in my sports bra...not because I'm super-modest or anything, I just don't think it's very "me". But at that point, I just wanted to do anything I could to feel more air on my skin. My friend Jill, an Ironman who lives in San Antonio, had hammered into my head "Cool Your Core!" so as I pulled my shirt over my head and tucked it into my pants, I said aloud "This is for you Jill!" I could see the aid station up ahead so I started running again so I could get there a little faster. There was a sweet little girl with two cups of water in her hands, I thanked her and asked if she wanted to pour them over my head...she happily obliged. I stopped at the next volunteer and asked her to fill up my water bottle as I scooped handfuls of ice into the front and back of my bra. She handed me back my bottle and said, "You're doing great, you are almost there!" I thanked her and started back out. One and a half miles to go! I had good intentions of running the rest of the way, but I needed one more quick walk break shortly before I hit the 12 mile banner. As I could see it coming up though, I resolved myself that I was going to run from that banner to the finish! I reached the banner and picked it back up. My watch had run out of battery (or got so soaked it stopped working) at some point after mile 10, so I have no idea of what my pace was that last mile, but considering my shoes scraped on the ground with almost every step, I have to imagine it was not my fastest. But I was running, and I could see the crowds picking up near the park. I turned the corner and ran up on to the sidewalk that would lead to the park trail. As I came into the playground area I saw Sara and Carla and all the kids and waved frantically at them...since I had taken my shirt off it took everyone a minute to register it was me, but they all started cheering. I scanned the crowd to see if I could spot Bill, Kayley, or Logan, knowing it was a long shot that they made it. It was right about now, knowing I was just yards away from the finish, that I got really emotional. I'm not a "crier" but I could feel the water works starting. I was actually having trouble catching my breath between sobs. I did notice that no tears were actually coming out...thanks dehydration! I turned one more corner, not happy to see that a hill awaited me before crossing the finish line, but it really didn't matter anymore, I would have run up Mount Everest at that point just to be done with this race. I entered the shoot at the same time as another racer and decided I was going to cross first. I turned on what ever jets were still lurking in my legs and powered through. I had done it...70.3 miles! I started crying again when the volunteer gave me my medal. I grabbed a gloriously cold bottle of water from another volunteer and connected with Sara and Carla. I was so thankful to have them there. Carla offered to take my finisher picture, but this was about all I could muster... every which way!!!
I like to use mantras during long training sessions and races, and I had plenty of them today. "Just Keep Swimming", "Kill this Hill", "Cool Your Core" (TM Jill Hartsell :), "I Can Do Hard Things", but at about mile 9 of the run, the only thing I kept telling myself was "In 4 miles you can go jump in the lake", "In 3 miles you can go jump in the lake", "In 2 miles you can..." well, you get the picture. So I plodded back into transition, dumped off my gear and headed back down to the beach. It was cleared now, barely a sign that my race had started there less than 7 hours ago. There were a few people relaxing on blankets and a few other racers swimming around. I walked in and let the glorious water engulf me...I dove in and it was just the best part of my day!

While there are a few things I may have done differently (hello...sunscreen reapplication), all in all I was really happy with my race. While my run may have been a bit slower than I was hoping, I had crushed the swim and felt strong on the bike. I did what I had to do on the run to make sure I crossed the finish line. I accomplished something I really never would have imagined I had in me and that's the true victory of the day!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Spring/Summer Race Recaps!

The whole reason I started this blog last year was to keep a record of training and races for myself to look back on as I navigate this world of running and triathlon....well, I've been horribly negligent on that front this here in a (kind of lengthy) nutshell, is as much as I can remember from my 2016 races to this point!

February 27: Tri U Mah Indoor Triathlon
That is the look of a dead-tired runner. Tri U Mah is the indoor triathlon put on each year by my is really popular and kind of marks the beginning of training season for a lot of triathletes. I usually just work the event, I manage the swim portion, which is really fun. I get to meet a lot of veteran athletes I hear about from other races, and I get to encourage a lot of newbies who are trying it out for the first time. This year I decided I wanted to race myself, but because of my duties, I had to wait until the last wave. We started at 10:00am, and it was 3:15 before I got in the water! My swim felt great, 1900 yards in 30 minutes (my goal was 1700). The bike was okay, I was trying to save my legs a bit for the run since I had already been standing on the pool deck for five hours...I'll admit, the woman who was in the lane next to me for the swim (and beat me by 25 yards) was a good I probably rode harder than I wanted. I hit the treadmill with a plan to walk a few minutes, but I just started out at an easy run pace and keep at it. After a mile I ramped it up a bit and finished off the 30 minutes at that speed, finishing with 3.25 miles. It was a fun and exhausting day, but I was happy with what I was able to do with minimal training in the pool or on the bike!

April 9: Goldy's Run
This has become my annual "first race of the year". My very first race ever was Goldy's Run 5K, and now I was at the start line for my second Goldy's Run 10-miler. Now April is always iffy weather-wise, so I was prepared for anything...and thank goodness for that, because it was FREEZING at the start. Last year's start temp was 42, totally manageable, and actually quite pleasant once we started running. This year it was 31 at start time...BRRRRRR! Thankfully my office is right across the street from the start for this one, so I got to hole up inside with some friends before we had to hit the corral. We huddled close to listen to the National Anthem, and then we were underway. I had planned to hang with Jenni and Sara who had run 5 mile before the race in order for Sara to get her 15 mile training run done today, they were going to hold about a 10:30/mile pace. After about 2 miles in though, I was feeling pretty good and decided to leave them (okay, maybe I actually LOST them in the crowd at the start and didn't want to be bothered to try to find them again). I held just over a 10-minute per mile pace through mile 8...then the hills came. I don't know how I forgot about the hills at the end of this race, but I did...and they sucked. Once we got back on to University Avenue though and you can see the stadium, the hills become an afterthought and the excitement of the finish sets in. I turned into the stadium and headed for the finish line, the chill of the start, which was a distant memory, came rushing back as I got my was still freezing, and now I was sweaty...not a good combo! I did manage to wait around long enough to see Jenni and Sara finish, and of course to take my mandatory selfie with Goldy. But I was ready for a long hot shower...thankfully just a quick walk across the street away!

April 16: Hot Chocolate 15K
It's not like you have to twist my arm very hard to get me to do a race that has the word "chocolate" in the name...but throw in a complimentary entry, a race shirt AND jacket, invite a bunch of my friends to do it too, and require me to talk to people about running the whole time? That's a no-brainer. The Hot Chocolate 15K was my first experience being a "pacer" for a race. If you aren't sure what a pacer is...basically I run a targeted pace for the whole race and folks who are trying to reach a goal time or run at a steady pace will run with me. A pacer is also supposed to give encouragement and tips along the way...I know that every time I've run a race with a pacer I learn something fact, I credit my marathon pacer with helping me over the wall at mile 22 last year...I might not have finished without her! After some quick pics with the pace team I headed into the corral, it was packed! There was loud music playing, which was fun, but it made giving my "race speech" a little difficult. I did manage to tell my little group that we would be holding just under 12-minute miles so we wold be able to walk through the water stops and take things a little more slowly up the two hills we had to conquer. I started out with about 6 people running with me, but after a few miles it was down to three, an older couple and a 13-year old girl. All three running this race for the first time. We had a lot of fun keeping each other motivated, and when we finally approached the 9-mile marker, I told them all they needed to get to the finish line before me. I was also at that time that a woman behind me started to pass and thanked me for getting her to the finish line...I had no idea she was even following me, but it made me feel great to know that just staring at my sign was all she needed to stay moving. I crossed the finish about a minute under my goal time, and had a few other runners come up and thank me for pacing them. I found the couple and they both gave me high fives, and then found my 13-year old who was with her mom (Mom had finished a few minutes ahead of us). She was pretty excited to have finished her longest run ever, and I got a sweet "thank you" hug from her. I was hooked. While I love competing, I am looking forward to having a long pacing career and helping more people get across those finish lines!

April 30: Get in Gear 10K
Just a couple weeks later I got to try my hand at pacing again at the Get in Gear 10K. I have heard about this race for several years, it is one of the most popular early races in the cities, so I was pretty excited to be a part of it. My friend Sara, who was pacing the half marathon, needed an extra five miles for her marathon training plan that day, so I met up with her and our friend Jenni before the race for a quick "warm up" run. We held a great pace and easy conversation, then met up with the rest of the pace team at the start area. It was a cool morning, and since I was sweaty from our earlier miles, I was pretty chilled by the time we got going. I was in the corral getting ready for my race talk, when someone came up and asked "Are you Linda Ditty?" I recognized the face, but couldn't put a name to it...he introduced himself as Ismal Munar, Anoka class of 1990! We have a few mutual Facebook friends, so he noticed I would be out at the race today. It was fun to reconnect, and it sounds like we'll be at a few more races together this summer and fall! I got my race talk done and we started up. The 10K and Half Marathon follow the same course for the first five miles, so it was plenty crowded as we got under way. We thinned out a bit after the first mile and I had a small group running with me. The 2:45 finish pacer for the half marathon was also running with me since he wanted to start his group off a little fast so they could walk the water stops and make up for any late-race slow downs. We had great conversations and before I knew it we were over half way done. Right before we split with the half marathon pack, we hit our only hill on the course. That was when I found a group of about 5 people that had been staying behind me the whole race. At the top of hill I raised my arms in triumph (I like celebrating small victories) and one of the ladies in the pack said, "I'm so glad you are here! I've never run more than a 5K and there is no way I'd have made it this far without you!" Again, I cannot tell you how awesome it is to hear that! We finally split with the marathoners with less than a mile to go. I was encouraging my group to start to pick up the pace and finish strong, and all but one of them passed me by to sprint to the finish. The one guy that stayed back said he was going to finish with me, since this would be a PR for him no matter what. We crossed the finish line just 45 seconds ahead of our projected pace...I'll get the hang of this pacing thing yet! I met up with Jenni who was pacing the 11:30 per mile group and had finished just in front of me. We walked over the food area and were both greeted by runners who thanked us for being such great pacers. In fact, I got a huge bear hug from a giant man who thanked me for getting him to a PR. It was a great run, but I was starting to get chilly again, so I said good bye to Jenni and headed home.

May 21: Birdtown Half Marathon
After the Get in Gear race I was lucky enough to be added to the Minnesota Pacers roster and right away picked up my next gig...the Birdtown Half Marathon. I had heard about this race the previous year because some friends did it and raved about what a fun time it was. I was excited to pace again, and a little nervous for my first double digit run since October! I was pacing the 2:45 finish time, so I was confident in my ability to hold the 12:44 per mile pace, I was just hoping I would need to do too much walking to make it to the finish. I had also heard good things about the kids races that were part of the day, so we decided to sign the kids up for the fun runs and make a family day of it. My friend Sara was pacing here as well, which was nice since I didn't know any of the other pacers there. They were, of course, a friendly bunch, but it was nice to have a familiar face hang out with. We got lined up at the start area, which was kind of a jumble, but since Sara was pacing the 2:30 finish and I was 2:45, we decided to just hang at the back of the pack. Once we got going though, we said our good byes, and I started out solo. I was the last person running and stayed solo for most of the first half of the race. There was a lot of support out on the course, and most everyone seemed to feel bad for me running all by myself..but it was all good. I was supposed to be holding a 12:44 pace, but since there was no one running with me or behind me, I figured I'd pick it up a bit and basically run until I either found someone who needed help, or hit the finish line. I turned some music on my phone to keep me company and kept plugging away. I hit the water stop at mile 7 and ran into my friend Kristen. She was working the stop with her daughter's dance school. Since I was ahead of pace by a few minutes, I stopped and chatted for awhile. Kristen and I met in Kindergarten! Our parents still live nearby, so we run into each other from time to time, but it was great to get caught up for a bit. After a minute or two I figured I should probably get back at it, so I said good bye and kept on. At mile 8 I finally encountered some runners. I ran by the first guy who seemed to be hobbling a bit and asked if he was doing okay, he said he was fine and that he just needed to walk here and here. Then I passed a woman who looked like she was still going strong, I ran with her for a while and she said she was doing her first half marathon after having a baby and it was harder than she though it would be (no doubt!) We came to the next water stop and a porta-potty, and she said she was going to stop for a little and that I should keep going. I was still ahead of pace so I told her I could stop for a bit, but she said she'd be fine and that I should go one. So I ran ahead and met up with Judy, a woman I know through Another Mother Runner who had started the race running with Sara's group. She looked pretty tired and said she was really struggling today (it had gotten pretty hot by this point!) I told her I was a couple minutes ahead of pace so I would be happy to run or walk with her at whatever pace she needed. This seemed to be exactly what she needed to hear, because she said "Oh good!" and immediately started walking. We talked about kids, husbands, running, you know, the usual. Then at mile 10 we started running again. She said she was still struggling, but that she wanted to run to at least the 11-mile marker, We made it there and walked again, she telling me to go ahead, but I still had over a minute of spare time on my pace. About another half mile later, we ran again, this time trying to make it to the 12-mile marker before walking. We did it, but when we got there, she said "Really, you go on, I might walk the rest of the way". So I bid her farewell and ran right at pace for the next 1.1 miles. I hit the finish line at 2:44.44, just 16 seconds to spare! My next pacing gig is August 6th, and I'm going to try to hit my time right on the nose!

May 22: Esprit de She Triathlon

There was a lot of drama leading up to my first triathlon of the season! Registration drama, packet pick-up drama, course changing name it. So much drama I actually started to consider not doing the race. It was happening the day after Birdtown, so I was going to be tired. It was in Lakeville, almost an hours drive from home, so I was going to have to get up stupid early to get there and get set up, and honestly, I had barely been out on my bike at all this spring since time constraints and weather had kept me inside on the trainer. But, I had a bunch of friends doing it, I really enjoyed the duathlon I had done their last year, and I REALLY don't like the thought of paying for a race and then not doing it!

So, I packed up the car and headed out. It was a gorgeous morning, much different from this race last year when we weren't sure if we were going to start due to thunderstorms and the winds nearly knocked us off our bikes. Today the sun was out, it was warm, but not not, and barely a breeze in sight. I was meeting up with my friend Diane since she had generously agreed to pick up my packet the day before (part of the pre-race drama was that the organizers originally said you could have a friend pick your packet up, but then changed their mind a week before saying you had to pick up in person, only to change their minds back a few days before). Anyway, I found Diane and we biked over to transition #2 to drop off our run stuff (pre-race drama part two...we had to set up TWO different transition areas!) We made our way over to the pool and caught up with Sara and a few other friends who were already setting up, and I even ran into a mom of one of Kayley's school friends, doing her first triathlon! We headed inside to get lined up. Since the swim was going to be snake style in the Lifetime pool, we got into groups based on our projected finish time. Pre-race drama take three: The swim portion, originally slated to be 200 yards, held in their outdoor pool, had been reduced to 125 yards, held in their indoor pool because some scheduled maintenance had not been completed on the outdoor pool. Anyway, 125 yards is barely worth getting wet for, but I lined up in the second group, the "1:40 or faster group". Now, I generally average 100 yards at about a 1:20-1:25 pace, so I was being conservative thinking I'd finish in 1:40, but the first group was "1:20 or faster" so I figured I'd be honest with myself and assume I wasn't going to set the pool on fire this morning. I was the last person lined up in my group with about eight women in front of me. One of them turned and looked at the back of the line and asked "Are you all really confident you are going to swim faster than 1:40?" We all nodded "yes" so she said, "I'll go to the back of the line". I looked around at some of the other women in front of me, wondering if anyone else would follow suit, I sure would have liked to move up the line a bit considering I was pretty confident I would go faster, but no one else budged, so I stayed put. The race started with a "motivating" talk from one of the organizers...the only problem was, this poor woman was so nervous to be speaking in front of a crowd she was barely audible to those of us in the front of the queue, I can't imagine anyone in any of the further back groups heard a word she said...but soon we were off. The first swimmer hit the water and we counted down the 20 second interval until the next athlete would go. The first group of women all looked well placed, even if I am certain some of them should have been in my group. Then it was the "1:40" packs turn. The first couple women in were strong swimmers and I started to just relax and think about my race. Then it was down to the two women in front of me...the first one jumped in and proceeded to stand up immediately, adjust her googles, and then started swimming a sort of modified dog paddle, well, I guess we can't all be good at judging our finish times. Then the woman directly in front of me jumped in and started to do breast stroke. For those of you without a swimming background, dog paddle and breaststroke are two of the slowest ways to swim. I was trying not to feel frustrated about the fact that I was likely going to lose a lot of time either waiting behind these women, or trying to pass them, but my inner competitor was kind of pissed. I jumped in and started stroking, almost making it to the first wall before catching up with the woman in front of me. She came to a full stop at the wall and I frantically tried to turn and pass her at the same time, but I eventually had to stand and move to the side so I could push off around her. My next length was uninterrupted, but about mid way through the third length I caught up with the doggy-paddler, who was swimming right down the middle of the lane, I had no choice but to slow up and wait until we hit the wall to pass. I managed to move by her a little more easily and swam the fourth length as fast as I could. I was almost done with my fifth length when I ran into one more swimmer, who was standing at the ladder trying to get out. I moved to the side of the lane opposite the ladder and pushed myself out of the pool, really glad to have that over with. I started to run down the exit carpet to the transition area when one of the Lifeguards on duty yelled "No running!" Are you kidding me? This is a race!!! Oh well, I reluctantly started speed walking instead and powered quickly through T1 and got out on the bike course. I remembered this course as fairly hilly from last year, but it proved to be pretty tame, with just a few rollers along the way. I felt strong and fast and was kind of surprised that I didn't encounter any other bikers the who time. I knew I had passed several women out of transition, but I didn't think I had passed so many that I was in the lead. I headed into transition not sure where I was at when I noticed there were only five other bikes on the racks, wow...I was doing much better than I had planned. I got my shoes and race belt on and quickly ran out of transition onto the run course. I was a bit confused at first as many of the women who were doing the duathlon were coming in from their first run leg, so I had a brief moment where I ran the wrong way until a helpful participant yelled "No...go THAT way". Finally I saw some directional signage and got back on track. The run was only two miles, so I figured I'd just go for it, as hard as I could and see what happened. I was still all alone when I passed the water station at mile one, but as soon as I turned the corner, I spotted a runner in front of me. This is when I realized that I had a good chance of making a podium today, maybe even winning my age group! I passed her on the only hill on the course, and said "good job runner" as I did. She said "Thanks, go get 'em!" and I sped up. I hit the top of the hill and remembered that it was all downhill from here to the finish, so I turned on my "jets" and hit the finish chute with a smile. I crossed the line just a few seconds behind the woman in front of me, who I would later learn was Chris, the woman who beat me by just 40 seconds to take first place in the 45-49 age group...I was second! It was my first podium and I was excited to share it with Diane who came in third. After all the pre-race and swim portion drama it ended up being a great day!

June 4: Let's Play 5K
For the second year in a row, Kayley and I got out together for her school's annual playground fundraiser, the Let's Play 5K. Our neighbor Jenn is the race director, so this year we recruited Bill and Logan to come with us to help her out as course marshals. It looked a little rainy when we woke up, but we decided to brave the weather and bike the 2 miles to the school. By the time we got there things had cleared up and we were ready to race. Kayley opted to also participate in the "fun run" for the younger kids, which is a 1/4 mile loop around the school. Of course she sprinted this, so when it was time to line up for the 5K she was "tired". But soon enough she saw some of her friends and was making a plan to ditch old Mom in favor of running with them. No worries, I assumed that soon enough the old "tortoise and hare" would play out and I'd find her resting on the side of the road. And there she was, with her friend Chloe, standing around right at the one mile mark. As soon as they saw me they of course started running again, and I caught back up with them at the 1.5 mile marker where they had stopped at the water station. After that, Chloe decided to run with her Mom and Kayley said she wanted to walk a bit more. So we walked/ran together until we got to 2.5 miles. That's when Kayley decided she wasn't going to hang with me anymore and took off sprinting! I tried to keep up, but that girl is fast when she wants to be. I figured she'd tire before the finish line, I mean, who sprints from a half mile out?!? But, of course she didn't tire, and she beat me by a solid minute! After the race we met up with Bill and Logan and enjoyed way too many popcicles. The sky was starting to cloud over again, so we hopped on our bikes and made it home just before the rain started to fall. I forgot to start my watch, so I have no idea what we finished in, but what ever it was a great time!

July 10:  The Color Run
I had kind of forgotten I had signed up for the Color Run until my sister reminded me a week before the race! She and my niece Tionna were going to meet up with Kayley and me for this fun run at the State Fair Grounds. This was during a busy time at work for me, so I was excited to have the distraction. We had signed up for the first wave, going off at 9am, so thankfully we didn't need to be up at the crack of dawn. We met Amy and TT in the parking area and got our shirts (Amy thankfully agreed to pick ours up since Kayely had a swim meet the day before). We headed to the start area and met up with some of the other moms from the Maple Grove MRTT group. There were a ton of people there and the start corral got busy fast. We manged to squeeze in to the second wave to go, and we were off! We started out at an easy pace and quickly hit the first color station, yellow. Having never done this before, we weren't sure what to expect, so we just ran through and got lightly dusted. Of course TT and Kayley noticed quickly that many of the kids in the race were way more covered in color than we were, so when we hit the orange station a little bit later, the two of them took coloring themselves into their own hands...rolling around on the ground in the piles of color powder, and taking handfulls of it and pouring it over their heads. The processed continued for the next three staions, pink, blue and "tropicolor" where I got it the worst! By the time we hit the finish chute, we definitely had a rainbow glow about us. We collected our finisher medals and headed over to the stage to dance with the DJ and take part in the color explosion. It was a fun morning, but I was definitely ready for a shower, and Kayley had to get back to the pool for some more races that afternoon. We will definitely be putting this run on our calendar agin next year!

So, there you have it...what I've been up to since February race-wise. Pacing and family races have been a fun distraction to work business and training...but the "A-Race" is just around the corner, no more play time, it's about to get up?

Toughman Minnesota Half Iroman on July 24th!!!

Cross your fingers that my mind and body have 70.3 miles of racing in them...I'm equal parts excited and scared to death! I'll have a full race report for you some time next week!