Race Recap: 2017 Monster Dash Half Marathon

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There aren’t many better feelings than when you accomplish something that you once doubted you could. Last weekend I crossed the finish line of my first half marathon.

Pre-Race

I followed the same pre-race routine I’ve used all season: set an alarm for five hours before the race start time, eat an English muffin with peanut butter and some fruit and yogurt, then go right back to bed. Sure it’s weird eating breakfast at 3:00 am, but it works for me. My body gets time to process the food into energy and my stomach gets to do it’s thing well before the start of the race. It’s been an effective strategy to be fueled for the event yet in control of what goes into my empty stomach once the race begins.

I arrived in front of the Cathedral of St. Paul about twenty minutes before the race start. I then spent the next fifteen minutes waiting in line to use a portable restroom. Apparently I wasn’t the only person with this idea given how long the lines were. But on the plus side, it gave me a chance to meet and chat with new people while waiting. That’s one of my favorite parts about endurance sports, pretty much everyone is so nice and happy to talk about the sport or share advice. Everyone always just seems thankful for their health, happy to be together and excited to race.

The Monster Dash is known for its Halloween theme and costume-wearing participants. Since this was my first race of this distance, I opted for function over fashion. I wore a Batman t-shirt, which happened to match the rest of my mostly black and yellow attire. I was still a little festive while maintaining the gear I’ve been used to running in. Never try anything new on race day!

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A quick pre-race Batman pose.

I was assigned to wave H, which I believe was one of the last groups scheduled to start. I think I was placed in this group since I didn’t list a goal finish time during registration. This made me nervous when I approached the start corrals as I’d most likely be wanting to run at a different pace than those in my waves. So I worked my way through the crowd until I found pacers holding 08:24 and 08:47 signs. My goal was to run somewhere in-between those two paces so I squeezed into a space to stand and waited the remaining two minutes for the race to start.

Race

I crossed the start line and ran past the historic James J. Hill house in Summit Avenue. I nestled my phone into my new Nathan flip belt and slid my gloves over my hands. The temperature was just below freezing at race start so it felt good to get the body moving for some warmth. Just like that I was off on my first half marathon.

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Look at those costumes!

When I reached the first mile marker, my Strava app reported I was running an 08:08 pace. That was more than thirty seconds faster than planned. I was worried this would happen — the adrenaline would kick in and I’d be running too fast too soon. But I was still alongside my pace groupmates so I kept going.

The first few miles of the course were lined with spectators, and a lot of kids in halloween costumes holding out their hands for a high five. I never pass up the free high five from a kiddo during a race. There’s something about the joy on their faces after the celebratory exchange that makes me smile and wants to keep running. Anyhow, in all that fun I realized I wasn’t paying attention to the split reports in my headphones. I had no clue what pace I was running. But I kind of didn’t care either. I was having fun.

At mile four I was at an 08:00 pace. Wow, I was still moving faster than planned and felt great. This was about the time I passed the pacer holding the 08:24 sign. If I was running very low eights for the first four miles there was no way he was holding his pace. I just smiled and kept running.

It was about this time I felt the urge for a restroom break. I must’ve overhydrated before the race. I was conflicted over stopping as I didn’t want to giveaway time so I just kept running for a few miles, hoping the urge would dissappear. But it didn’t. And I didn’t want to have that feeling for another seven miles. So somewhere between miles six and seven I quickly pulled over for the much needed bathroom stop. Don’t worry, I used one on the many conveniently placed portable restrooms along the course, and it was just a number one. Less than thirty seconds later I bolted back onto the pavement and found my stride. If it wasn’t for the short delay I probably could’ve had four sub-eight minutes miles in a row.

The miles seemed to pass rather quickly. I was still holding in the low eights for pace. During the ninth mile I saw another water station coming up. I figured now was the perfect time to take-in some nutrition. I grabbed a GU Gingerade gel from my belt and sucked it down just in time to grab a water from a volunteer’s hand. Whether I needed the fuel or not, it gave me some reassurance I’d have a little boost to tackle the last four miles.

Running strong in the final miles.

The approach to the ten mile marker had me nervous. Ten miles was the distance of my longest training run. I hadn’t ran further than that before so I had no idea what to expect from here on out. And the finish line for the ten mile race was literally right alongside the course the half marathoners would continue running. At first I thought seeing people finish would distract my focus, making it hard to keep going when others were done for the day. But it did just the opposite. When I saw the ten mile finish I thought, “No way. Don’t wish you were done. You’re doing the full race, Josh.” It motivated to keep going knowing I was so close to my goal.

That motivation was just what I needed. I got a little faster during those last three miles. Seeing the St. Paul skyline come back into view gave me another boost knowing the finish line was not far off. This is when I started to really soak it all in. The bulk of the distance was behind me. My lungs and legs still felt great. It was time to close this thing out. I enjoyed every step within those final miles, especially the step that took me across the finish line.

My mile by mile splits.

Post-Race

I crossed the finish line with a time of 01:45:33 and an average pace of 08:04 per mile (266th place out of 1,774 overall). That’s seven-and-a-half minutes faster than my goal — and that included the bathroom stop. Wow. I was super stoked about that finish time.

It’s funny how my legs felt fine throughout the duration of the race. But as soon as I transitioned back to walking I could feel a soreness my groin. And the lack of movement quickly cooled down my body, reminding me how cold it actually was outside. Oh well, the discomforts couldn’t take away from the huge sense of accomplishment on my mind. I went home and found a nice warm spot on the couch, which, with the exception getting up to take a shower and make dinner, was where I spent the rest of day.

 A happy man and his hardware.

Reflection

I did it. I completed my first half marathon.

A month ago it was just an idea that sounded cool — an idea that I doubted my ability to accomplish. I made up with excuses about how I wasn’t prepared and didn’t have enough time to ramp up for the distance. I told myself I should probably attempt a 10 mile race, or at least a 10K, before making the jump to 13.1.

All of that doubt and fear triggered something in me though. I had become comfortable in the Sprint triathlons of the summer. I knew I could so those. But I didn’t know if I could pull off a half marathon. That reminded me of the fear/excitement of when I first got into triathlons. The element of the unknown drove me to find out.

The extra training pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I was running distances I had never attempted before. But I just kept going. And now I’m seeing all that’s been accomplished over the last month. All that work lead to an achieved goal. That excites me. It makes me wonder what else can I do. How far can I go?

This idea of tackling doubts and fear can really be applied to just about a anything in life. It’s all too easy to make excuses, doubt our abilities and let fear stand behind us and our dreams. But that’s what makes it all worth it in the end, accomplishing what we thought we couldn’t in spite of that doubt and fear. Nothing ever changes when we do the same old things. Trying something new is where growth happens. This reminds me of a quote that inspired me one month ago: “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.”

What’s Next

Rest. Lots and lots of rest. I think I’m finally ready to call the 2017 racing season complete. I’ve been training and racing hard all summer and fall. I’m ready to give the legs a break. I’m ready to enjoy a happy hour after work or make dinner plans without needing to think how that fits with my training schedule. It’s time to recharge, relax and enjoy the company of family and friends.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still be going for a run or two — weather permitting — each week, or heading to the gym for a spin class or jumping in the pool for some laps. But at least for the next month or two, it will be on a more relaxed schedule.

My biggest racing-related priority is coming up with a plan for next year. I know that over this past year I really enjoyed having my season planned out ahead of time. I definitely want to do that again, but need to decide which races and distances to register for. Which races specifically? That’s a great question that I hope to answer in the next month or so. I do know that I’m riding high off this half marathon finish — and it has me dreaming big for next summer!

Week 4 / Week 12 of Half Marathon Training

Well, I did it. After three straight weeks of 20+ mileage I finally made it to taper week. And it was kind of nice.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were 4.1, 3.1 and 2.1 miles respectively for a total of 9.3 miles. That’s less than half the weekly mileage I had quickly gotten used to this month. Thursday and Friday were rest days before the main event on Saturday. My legs are silently thanking me for that.

Looking back to one month ago, I questioned whether or not I could ramp up in time to run 13.1 miles. Yet here I am. I was nervous. I was uncomfortable. I was a little scared. I had never done this before. But the challenge and the unknown excited me. I was ready to push myself towards one more goal. I took it day by day and stuck with the plan. 76 miles later, here I am — ready for my first half marathon.

My strategy? Good question. Since I’ve never ran a race of this distance before, I’m not totally sure how my body will respond. I think I’ll start out cautious and join a pace group for at least the first few miles to keep my adrenaline in check. By that time my body should be warmed up (the temperature at race time in St. Paul will be 29° F). Then I’ll start to just listen to my body and see how I feel. I’d like to have some gas left to open it up in the last few miles.

Given that in my three long training runs I’ve averaged around a 08:38 per mile pace, I’m setting my goal for today at 01:53:00. I’m often faster in a race than I am during training due to adrenaline and competitiveness, but again, I’ve never ran 13.1 miles before. I’m excited to see what I can do.

The training is complete. The work is done. Now it’s time to have fun and run. Four weeks down, one race to go.

Weeks 2 & 3 / Weeks 10 & 11 of Half Marathon Training

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The second and third weeks were fairly similar to the first. At this point (week 10 and 11) in the twelve week plan, I’ve maxed-out on the mid-week distances, so that has remained consistent. The biggest difference is the long run, which gets a little longer each week.

Week 2 / Week 10 — 21.9 miles

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were 5 miles, 3 miles and 5 miles respectively. Saturday was my long run at 8.6 miles. Add ’em all up and the weekly total came to just under 22 miles. I’m pretty proud of that considering most of the summer was running 5Ks four to five times a week. That’s about a seven mile jump when it comes to weekly total. Not too shabby.

Pacing remained a challenge. I’ve been kicking-off each run at an 08:30/mile pace. Within the first half-mile to a mile I keep finding myself below eight minutes. Even though I feel like I’m on pace, somehow I keep speeding-up to sub-eight minute miles. Sometimes I even find myself running eight minute splits at mile five. Even as the miles stack-up, the energy still seems to be there. I knew I’d need to maintain focus on this in week three.

Week 3 / Week 11 — 24.1 miles

I’d been looking forward to week three all month. This was the week I’d rack-up the most mileage before tapering during the last week before the race. I knew if I could make it through this week, I’d be prepared enough to tackle my first half marathon.

To accommodate some non-running activities, I switched-up my training schedule for the week. I ran my two five-miles on Tuesday and Thursday. My weekend would be spent celebrating homecoming at my alma mater, so I moved my long run to Friday morning and repurposed a 5K on Saturday for a training run.

Logging a few miles in a race environment proved valuable. Adrenaline is always high waiting for the race to start. It’s hard not trying to pass as many people as you can after crossing the start line. It was great practice trying to block all of that out and just run my own pace. I ran the first two miles at a 08:30 splits then turned around to find my other half, Jamie. I spotted her in a group of runners just a quarter mile back and we ran side by side for the rest of the race. I was super proud to be right there with her as we crossed the finish line!

Run 5K: Check! Time to celebrate homecoming!

Back to Friday’s long run. When I was contemplating this half marathon idea a few weeks back, I figured if I could run ten miles in a single outing, I’d be able to attempt 13.1 on race day. Well, this was it, my last long run. I was a little worried about hydration and energy, so I set-up a little aid station in my garage and then set out for a seven mile loop. Once back at the house I downed a gel and a few gulps of water. This was another component I wanted to practice at least once before race day – find out how my body would respond to nutrition while running. I took off down the driveway and knocked out another 3.3 miles. I was happy to find my body took the gel just fine. My stomach as good and I could feel just a minor energy boost. All-in-all, I ran 10.3 miles in 01:29:11 with an average 08:38 per mile split. I reached double digit mileage in a single outing. Lots to feel good about.

Well, that was interesting.

I also addressed my pacing challenge throughout the week by experimenting with a change in music. All summer I had been listening to high tempo mixes so I switched to some slightly lower tempo tunes. The slower beats calmed my mind, helping me cruise closer to my goal pace. I’m a little surprised I didn’t think if this sooner. Live and learn.

The week ahead

I made it to the peak of the training plan. Now I get to taper this week with a four, a three and a two mile run before taking two rest days before the main event. Three weeks down, one to go.

Week 1 / Week 9 of Half Marathon Training

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The first week of officially training for a half marathon is in the books. I was a little nervous about plugging into week nine of a twelve week plan. But 20.6 miles later, I’m feeling pretty good.

The week started out great. Sunday and Monday were much-needed rest days after Saturday’s TC5K. I had really let it rip during that race, setting a new PR of 21:12 with 06:50/mile splits. My legs needed those two days off.

Tuesday was my first of two five-milers. Looking back, I think I was a little too excited about this first training run. I paid no attention to pace and ran at my normal speed that I was used to. I completed 5.2 miles in 40:08, with 07:40 splits. I was pretty proud afterwards running that distance at a faster speed. But the next day, not so much. I had went too hard, too soon after a weekend race.

Wednesday was my three-mile run. My legs were sore from the day before. I was a little worried about hurting myself by running more, but I knew I wanted to stick to the plan. The three miles went by like a breeze, a slightly uncomfortable breeze.

Thursday was the other five-miler. Again, my legs were still sore. I was starting to get a little worried. But I knew I just needed to knock out this run and then I’d get a rest day. It was good practice for fighting what my brain wanted me to do: not run. Five miles later, I called it a day.

Friday was a rest day. And with the day-long rain, Saturday became a rest day too.

Then came Sunday — my first long run. At week nine of a twelve week plan, I would’ve been due for about nine miles. But since week nine was also my week one, I adjusted it to seven miles, with a plan to increase each of the remaining long runs by at least 1.5 miles each, hitting ten miles the week before the half marathon.

My legs felt fresh and I wanted to make the most of them. I set a goal to pace myself at 08:40 per mile splits. This turned out to be harder than I thought. A few blocks into the run, I felt like I had the pace down. But almost one mile into the run, my phone alerted me my current pace was at 07:45, almost one whole minute faster than I was aiming for. It became very evident pacing would be one of my biggest challenges as I transition from shorter to longer runs. Eventually I found a more relaxed stride and completed the 7.1 mile run in 1:01:49 with 08:36 splits. Not bad.

This first week was tough. It pushed me outside of the comfort zone, literally. My legs were sore most of the week. Changing pace added a new level of difficulty for me to focus on. But this is where growth happens. In just a short amount of time, I’m already gaining confidence that I can run longer distances.

One week down, three to go.

Next Up: Half Marathon

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I’ve been contemplating this idea for two weeks. I’ve been back and forth on it. I’ve thought about multiple doubts and reasons why I shouldn’t. And that’s why I did it. Yesterday I registered for the Monster Dash Half Marathon. Oh, and I should probably mention it’s in three weeks.

I pushed myself hard this summer and saw big improvements throughout the triathlon season. My times continually got faster. I set PRs on multiple occasions. My confidence sky-rocketed. The element of fear had almost disappeared. I no longer doubted if I could swim the half mile – I now wondered how fast I could do it. I no longer doubted if I’d have the lungs and legs to carry me through to the finish line. It was a question of how hard could I push it and how fast could I get there. The fact is that I was becoming comfortable. And that’s what led me to the half marathon idea.

When you become comfortable with something, that’s a sign that it’s time to take it a step further or try something new that scares you. That’s where growth happens. I still remember my first triathlon. I didn’t actually know if I could do it, but I knew I was going to try. And when I crossed the finish line I was overcome with a sense of accomplishment that lasted for weeks. Right now, the thought of running a half marathon scares me.

I’m used to sprinting. I’m used to going all out as soon as I leave the start chute and not slowing down until I cross the finish line. That strategy isn’t going to work in three weeks. The longest distance I’ve ran in one outing is five miles. And now I’m about to attempt 13.1 miles. I’ll need to be mentally strong enough to pace myself. I’ll have to run slower than I’m used to. I’ll need to conserve that energy for the long haul.

So how am I going to prepare in such a short timeframe? There aren’t really any recommended plans to ramp-up for 13.1 miles in a month. So I’m doing the next best thing — I found a 12-week plan and plugged myself in at week nine, starting last Monday. The middle of the week runs are pretty consistent with what I’ve been doing almost all summer. And the cross training of swimming and cycling have helped create a strong base. The only part I’ve been missing is the long runs each weekend.

At this point of the 12-week plan, the long run should be nine miles. That’s almost double my longest run of the year, so I’ll need to make some adjustments and ramp up to ten miles for the weekend before the race. Tomorrow I’m going to tackle seven miles.

This is going to be hard. It’s going to be a little scary. It’s going to push my outside of my comfort zone. Do I know if I can run 13.1 miles? No, because I’ve never done it before. But I do know that I’ll never know unless I try.

 

 

Focused on Running

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It’s been one month since crossing the finish line at the Chicago Triathlon. I took a few days off afterwards to relax, celebrate and recover. Then I laced-up my sneakers and got back to running.

Sure, my 2017 triathlon season had ended, but that didn’t mean it was time to trade-in the training routine for a seat on the couch. It would be pretty hard to do so even if I wanted to. The daily workouts become habit. A day without one, unless it’s a planned off-day, feels like feels like a day with a hole in it. So I just kept on running.

Outside of a few leisurely bike rides and one visit to the pool, I’ve been averaging 15 miles on the feet per week. With distances between three and four miles, I’ve been bouncing between paces of 07:30 and 08:00 per mile. I’m not trying to push it too hard. Just maintaining fitness with miles on the legs and air in the lungs.

Over the weekend, I participated in the Twin Cities Marathon Weekend 5K. With a full summer of training under my belt I felt really good going into the race. My goal was to hit sub-seven minute miles. I’d done it once last fall, but just barely, with splits of 06:59 per mile in the Warrior Waddle. During the Chicago Triathlon just one month ago, I averaged 07:10 per mile and that was after swimming and biking. I knew sub-sevens were within reach.

I lined-up near the seven minute pace marker in the starting chute. There’s more than 2,500 participants in the event so it’s important to start near the front if you’re looking to run otherwise you’ll get caught-up in the pack until it spaces out. The course started and finished at the Minnesota State Capitol with a loop that went down Selby and Summit Avenues.

All of the cross training paid off. I was able to stick with my pace group throughout the race. And best of all, I achieved my goal, crossing the finish line with a time of 00:21:12 and an average pace of 06:50 per mile (71st place out of 2,503 participants). Sub-sevens and a new PR — heck yeah!

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Goals have also been top of mind over the last month. My goals for next year are starting to take shape and a blog post on that is sure to come in the following month or two. But I’ve also started to think a lot about my goals for two and three years from now. I recently finished reading “Eat & Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness” by Scott Jurek, and am now reading “You Are an Ironman: How Six Weekend Warriors Chased Their Dream of Finishing the World’s Toughest Triathlon” by Jacques Steinberg, if that gives you any clues.

Who knows, there may still be time to tackle one more goal yet this fall!

Race Recap: Chicago Triathlon

Swimming in Lake Michigan. Cycling on Lake Shore Drive. Running through the museum campus and into the iconic skyline. The Chicago Triathlon was breathtaking. Figuratively and literally.

Before the Race

This was my first time traveling out of state for a triathlon, so we added a few extra days to the trip and made a trication out of it. We packed-up the car on Friday morning and made the seven hour trek to Chicago.

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We stayed at the host hotel, which made packet pick-up a breeze by just taking the elevator down to the Multisport & Fitness Expo on Saturday morning. It’s no coincidence that one has to walk through the maze of more than 100 vendor booths before getting to back of the room where packets are obtained. I didn’t mind though; seeing the latest and greatest gear, nutrition and services just added to the excitement that built upon entering the exhibit floor.

I also decided to take advantage of the early bike racking on Saturday. Normally I just rack my bike on race morning, but given the almost 7,000 bikes that would end up in transition along with the athletes that would transport them there, I decided it might be good to just skip the race morning chaos and rack mine a day early. It turned out to be a good call. Unlike every other triathlon I’ve done, this event did not have assigned numbers on the rack. Each wave had their own row, but the individual spaces on that row were first come first serve. I lucked-out and got a spot on the front end of the rack, which would make it very easy to find. Considering transition was a couple hundred yards long, and my wave was at the far end of it, anything I could do to make my life easier would be good!

I enjoyed dinner with family and friends that night at Pequod’s Pizza – a Chicago staple. Surrounded by such great people, some of whom I hadn’t seen in more than six months, the natural tendency would be to let loose, have a few drinks and enjoy some heavy deep-dish pizza. But I stuck with my night-before-a-race routine and had one beer and a plate of pasta. It was really hard to pass up that pizza, but I knew trying something new the night before would be a risky move. After dinner, we all went to a local bar to take in the Mayweather vs. McGregor fight. I tipped back a few waters to stay hydrated and enjoyed the company of family and friends. However, I turned in early, missing the main event, so I could get to bed. It wasn’t easy leaving the fun, but Sunday was going to be a big day.

Race Day

My swim wave wasn’t until 9:15am, but I woke up at 4:00am to eat breakfast. I ate the same race-day breakfast I’ve eaten all season – an english muffin with peanut putter and a cup of yogurt. I like the early meal so my body has time to process the fuel and relax before the race kicks off. Normally I’d go back to bed after eating, and I certainly could’ve given the late transition window available to Sprint racers, but I was already awake, was anxious to see the water conditions and was too excited to not be a part of the pre-race action. I grabbed my stuff and joined the steady stream of athletes making the 30 minute walk to transition. Since I set-up my gear early, I was able walk back to the hotel and relax some more before walking the two blocks back down to the swim start.

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Pre-race smiles with my two biggest cheerleaders: my other half, Jamie (left) and my mom (right).

My wave was loaded into the start chute about 20 minutes prior to our scheduled start time. Here, I got the chance to watch a few waves before me take off on the wavy swim, and also chat with fellow triathletes. One thing I love about this sport is how nice and welcoming everyone is. Everyone is always excited to just talk about the sport, their past experiences, their goals for the day and offer any advice they can. It’s a wonderful community.

Finally at the sea wall edge, it was our turn to step down the bleacher stairs into Monroe Harbor and start treading the Lake Michigan water. This was the calmest I’ve ever felt before a swim, which surprised me given how not calm this new body of water was for me. I had never swam in chop and waves like this. But I knew I could do it. All of the three-quarter-mile practice swims at Lake Nokomis over the last month paid-off in providing new confidence that I was more than capable of handling this half-mile swim.

The horn sounded and we were swimming, all 150 of us from Wave 39. Congested is an understatement. It was hard to find any personal space for the first quarter-mile of the swim. I got kicked a lot and kicked a lot of others. I ran into others and was ran into by others. It’s just the nature of the beast. Outside of the pauses to stop and re-sight after running into someone of having my ankles grabbed, I only took one real pause on my own, which was to catch my breath after swallowing a poorly times lake wave. Once I found some space and found a groove, the swim was beautiful. The water was a fairly clear blue-green. To my surprise, the waves brought peace rather than stress, allowing me to feel one with the lake. I cruised to a new personal record on the swim, clocking-in at 00:14:18.

Swim Exit

Catching my breath and running at the same time. Ironic?

T1 was an animal like none other I’d experienced before. I was super thankful for the volunteers that helped guide each swimmer up the stairs and out of the water. Then I was off on a 450-yard run along the red carpet to transition. For those keeping score at home, that’s a quarter-mile! Then, once I reached the transition entrance, I had another couple hundred yards to run to reach my rack on the other end. By the numbers, 00:05:44 looks like a long time, but given I ran almost a half-mile and changed gear, I was pretty happy with that time!

The bike course was amazing. The sprint course was a 15-mile round trip out and back along Lake Shore Drive. On one side you had the beautiful views of Lake Michigan and on the other you had the downtown skyline. I tried to take it in as much as I could, but to be honest, I spent a good chunk of time with my head down and pedaling against the wind. I had only rode my bike two or three times since the Minneapolis Triathlon in early July. It was quickly evident that my bike training had slipped a little. My quads weren’t happy with me, but I powered through and gave it everything I had. Averaging just under 19mph, I was still happy with my ride.

Bike

I had pushed my legs so hard on the bike that I was a little nervous heading into T2, worried that my legs would wobble too much to stand after dismounting. My adrenaline must have given me the boost I needed though. I jumped off the bike, ran to rack my bike, swapped helmet for hat and bolted to the run exit.

Blog COver

The quote in my head: “All it takes is all you got.” – Marc Davis

The run had been my strongest leg all year and that was top of mind heading out onto the course. I knew this was where I could really push it. It was time to give it everything I had left in the tank. The path was lined with spectators. Even though I knew none of them, I fed off of their cheers. I did my best not to think about the distance. I kept focus on the person in front of me, trying to pass them and then refocusing on the next person. After the turnaround, I ran around Shedd Aquarium where the view broke open into the iconic Chicago skyline. I could hear the cheering from the finish chute. I rounded the corner onto Columbus Drive and kicked it up a gear, setting a new run PR of 00:22:10 (07:10/mile) and crossing the finish line with a total time of 01:32:15. Wow, what a race!

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My 2017 Chicago Triathlon Results

Split

Split Pace

Age Rank

Overall Rank

Swim (0.47 miles)

00:14:18

01:54 min/100m

17/160

262/2275

T1

00:05:44

25/160

300/2272

Bike (15.0 miles)

00:48:25

18.59 mi/hr

55/161

540/2284

T2

00:01:39

2/159

19/2272

Run (3.1 miles)

00:22:11

07:10 min/mile

15/160

132/2274

Total

01:32:15

17/161

181/2283

After the Race

Getting a medal placed over your head is pretty great, but even more exciting are the congratulatory high-fives from family and friends. I was even greeted by two friends that made a sign to cheer me on, which was really cool. It’s pretty special to having the support of people that care about me enough to watch my races. There’s really only a few short moments of time where the athlete that a spectator is there to see can actually be seen during the race. Theres a lot more chunks of down time just waiting for that person to come back into view. Knowing that people care about me enough to invest that time is humbling. I hope my family and friends know how much those cheers mean to me!

Dave and Alex

Love the sign!

After the race, Jamie and I spent the afternoon down at Navy Pier. We found a restaurant with outdoor seating and lakeside views, kicked-up our feet and celebrated with a cold drink. The afternoon after a race is always a treat – you can eat and drink just about whatever you want and not even feel remotely guilty about it considering the work that was put in earlier that morning. This is the time to sit back, relax and enjoy life. It’s pretty great.

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Navy Pier

And now that the race was complete, you know I had to celebrate even more that evening. After holding back the night before, it was finally my time for deep dish pizza – Lou Malnati’s style!

Pizza

Of course we got the buttery crust!

Reflection

JamieJosh

I’m a lucky guy!

First, I have give a shout-out to Jamie. She somehow calmly handles my anxious tendencies leading up to a race. She’s my cheerleader and the first voice I hear heading into transition. She’s the first to raise a high-five at the finish line. As I juggle race-day emotions from doubt, anxiety and exhaustion to excitement, determination and celebration, her support never wavers. She even proudly called herself a TriWife during Chicago Triathlon weekend. She’s my other half, and I’m so thankful for her.

The Chicago Triathlon will be an experience I’ll always remember. The views were spectacular. Swimming in Lake Michigan pushed me out of my comfort zone and to new heights, giving me even more confidence in the open water. This was a big race, four times the amount of participants that I’ve competed against previously. Finishing 17/161 in my age group and 181/2283 overall shows me I’m capable of hanging in there with some great great triathletes. And I know I still have untapped potential in the tank. It’s bittersweet knowing my 2017 triathlon season is complete, but given the amount of support I have around me, and the drive inside me to keep getting better, I know I have a lot to be thankful for already and a lot to look forward to in 2018. Cheers!

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Perception Shift

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Six weeks have already passed since completing the Minneapolis Triathlon. It’s been my longest gap between races this season, which has provided me a lot of time to train and reflect.

I’ve noticed a shift in how I view my status in the sport, and how I view my own ability. For those that already know me well this will not come as a surprise: I’m pretty hard on myself. I set high standards. And even when I achieve them, I often don’t give myself enough credit.

Take this blog for example. When I launched it last December, I set the description as “An aspiring triathlete’s thoughts and perspective.” Looking back, I can see how I sold myself short, giving myself minimal credit. I had completed four triathlons by the that point – one in 2014 and three in 2016. Yet I used the word “aspiring” like I hadn’t yet earned the title of triathlete. Maybe it was because even though I’d competed in races, I hadn’t done well enough yet (I’m not even sure what my “well enough” standard was). Or maybe I didn’t feel like I had competed in long enough distances.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, I received the following comment from a fellow triathlete on my Minneapolis Triathlon Recap post: “Hate to break it to you, but you aren’t a “aspiring” triathlete anymore. You are a veteran working hard and making gains. You can smell the podium even at large scale events (which tells me that you will pick up a lot of AG podium hardware in the not so distant future) and you are looking at longer distances as well. Nicely done! Congrats on a great race!

Wow! At the time he wrote this, I had just completed the seventh sprint triathlon of my young career. I took second place in my age group at the Rochesterfest Triathlon a few weeks prior. I wasn’t far from age group contention at Minneapolis, a race that draws some strong competition. He was right – I was no longer an “aspiring” triathlete. I wasn’t trying to be one. I was one! It felt really good to hear it from someone who has completed long distance events, including Ironman Wisconsin. Confidence boosted.

I’ve also found myself answering questions and giving advice to not only friends, but also to athletes competing in their first ever triathlon. I remember my first event. I had no idea how to rack my bike, where to set-up my gear or what to bring down to the swim start. I had no idea about keeping my bike in a low gear for an easy start out of transition. I had no idea about a lot of things. That first race can be scary. It’s been a joy to share what I’ve learned and hopefully make someone else’s first race a little less overwhelming. Yeah, I guess that’s another sign I’ve become a veteran triathlete. Confidence boosted.

Most recently of all, I’ve pushed my limits in open water swimming and have noticed a change there too. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I don’t speak too confidently about my swimming abilities. I often reference my fear and panic that sets-in just thinking about the swim. It certainly does not exude confidence. Last year, I doubted if I could do the half-mile swim at Minneapolis, but I did it and it felt amazing to prove the doubt in my brain wrong. Just a few weeks ago, I doubted I could make the almost three-quarter mile round trip across Lake Nokomis and back. But I did that too. I’m realizing I’m capable of more than I often tend to think I am. It’s been pretty sweet to see that perception shift. Confidence boosted.

Lake Nokomis

Lake Nokomis

These confidence boosts couldn’t come at a better time. The Chicago Triathlon is just a few days away. There’s a lot of unknowns in this one for me. I’ve never competed at this event so I’ll be seeing the course for the first time on race day. Swimming in Lake Michigan sounds like an animal of it’s own, but knowing it takes place behind a walled harbor calms my nerves a little. I don’t know where the elevation changes are on the bike course, so no knowledge on where to save my energy and where to push hard. The run course is not a complete loop so I’ll need to pay extra attention to my watch to keep tabs on pace and distance rather than looking across a lake to see where I am in comparison to the start.

While the unknown can be scary, it’s also exciting. The lakeside and iconic skyline views are sure to be beautiful. Reports are stating 7,000 athletes and 50,000 spectators are expected for Sunday’s events so the buzz and energy level is sure to be high. I’m really thankful for the opportunity to compete and take it all in this weekend. It’s going to be an epic adventure. I’m confident of that!

Winning the Mental Battle 

Open Swim

Sometimes challenges and tasks just seem too big. We tell ourselves we can’t do it. Sure, someone else certainly has the strength or courage to do it, but we do not. We build it up in our head to the point where it seems impossible. Those phrases are familiar in my mind. They’re dangerous and have the ability to doom a dream, idea or challenge before it ever begins.

“Our greatest battles are that with our own minds.” – Jameson Frank

Swimming continued to mess with my head over the last month or so. I can’t totally explain why, but it’s been a mental battle — a battle which begins before I even get in the water. Let’s take yesterday for example. I had a plan to attend Open Swim down at Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis, MN. The course runs about 1200 yards (or 0.70 miles) round trip across the lake and back. The furthest open water swim I’ve ever completed has been just under a half-mile. I started thinking it would be too long of a swim for me. I started running through all the what-ifs in my mind. The doubt kept increasing.

Once on the beach, I gazed out at the marked and life-guarded course as I began the long process that is putting on a wetsuit. For some reason, it looked doable. It wasn’t quite as scary as seeing the tetrahedrons out on the water the morning before a race. But I had already built it up in my head as being too difficult. I began making a plan b. Maybe I’d just swim halfway out and then come back. Yeah that would be safe. That was my plan.

I waded into the lake, dunked my body to adjust to water temperature, took a few breathes and started swimming. My body became weightless and enveloped by the water. I was surrounded by other swimmers, yet I still felt alone, in a peaceful way. I settled into a groove and was at the middle of the lake in what seemed like no time. This was where I had told myself I’d turn around. But I wasn’t tired. And I wanted more of this weightless, relaxing exercise. I kept swimming.

I progressed to the opposite shore and turned around for the return trip to the beach. I was completely relaxed yet actively engaged in swimming against a light wind current on the lake. How was I doing this? I’ve been much more tired while swimming shorter distances. I blocked these thoughts out of my mind the best I could, focusing on each stroke. The moment was very present. All that mattered was moving through the water with efficiency. I could analyze it all afterwards.

I stepped back on shore and looked back to see where I had been. Wow. I did it. I swam all the way across the lake and back. My confidence was sky-high. Earlier in the day I doubted my ability. Now I had completed what I thought I could not.

This didn’t cure my swimming fear, but it’s one more piece of evidence that I can use against my own brain in the future. I’m already looking forward to next week’s Open Swim night. This boost was just what I needed with only a few weeks to go until the Chicago Triathlon. A new race is sure to produce jitter and doubt. But now know I can handle a swim longer than what I’ll encounter on race day. It’s me against my brain.

It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we set fear aside, tune-out our own negative thoughts, push our limits and just believe in ourselves. Cheers to the next challenge!

Race Recap: Minneapolis Triathlon

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It was the strongest and most meaningful performance of my young triathlon career. I finished with a time of 01:27:38, beating last year’s time by more than eleven minutes. I represented Team Save the Children, connecting my race efforts to a worthy cause. And it was all in honor of Olivia Ann Christiano.

Before the race

I knew it was going to be a special day. It was the culmination of months of fundraising for Save the Children, totaling $1,420 that will make life a little better for kiddos somewhere in the world. I was surrounded by family and friends, including Robbie and Alisha. I had joined Team Save the Children just seven months prior as a way to honor the memory of their daughter.

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This race was different than the others because, for this race, my body was a vehicle carrying a much larger message.

My emotions ran the gamut as I stood on the beach of Lake Nokomis, waiting for my wave to be called. I was anxious to get started. I was thankful knowing my friends and family were there to cheer. I was tearful knowing that Olivia was not, but at the same time, was inspired to be honoring her. I felt a lot of pride representing Team Save the Children. I was excited to compete.

Before I knew it, I was standing on the lake’s edge in front of a race official, our knuckles bumped together. Then he dropped his fist as he said, “Go!” and I dashed into the water. The race was on.

The Race

My goal was to finish in 01:30:00, which would’ve been almost nine minutes faster than 2016. That was a big chunk to cut off. I surprised myself, finishing the race in 01:27:38 — beating my goal by almost two and a half minutes, and beating last year’s time by eleven.

My MPLS 2017 Results

Split

Split Pace

Age Rank

Overall Rank

Swim (0.47 miles)

00:15:36

02:04 min/100m

9/27

131/539

T1

00:03:01

6/27

140/539

Bike (14.8 miles)

00:44:52

19.79 mi/hr

16/27

222/539

T2

00:00:59

1/27

6/539

Run (3.1 miles)

00:23:12

07:29 min/mile

8/27

75/539

Total

01:27:38

8/27

107/539

At 0.47 miles, the swim was almost twice the distance of the 0.25 milers of Trinona and Rochesterfest. Fortunately the water temperature measured 76°F on race morning, just two degrees below the limit for a wetsuit legal swim. Having the extra buoyancy of the suit gave me the peace of mind I needed to tackle the longer swim. Overall, I was pleased with my effort in the water. Sure, I still needed a few breaks from the freestyle to breast stroke, catch my breath, and regain bearings and composure, but even during those breaks I maintained focus on forward progress instead of treading water. The swim is still a hurdle for me (mostly mental), but with each race I become more comfortable and see more improvements in pace and time. I was a half-minute faster than last year.

Out of the water

I was pretty tired when I stepped back onto land, but I was quickly re-energized knowing the hardest part was over. I ran up the chute into transition, slipped out of my wetsuit, laced up my shoes, slapped on my helmet and shades, grabbed my bike and headed towards the bike exit. I shaved almost two full minutes off my T1 time from last year. I think I’m getting this transition efficiency thing down!

The bike leg was smooth sailing. Almost the entire length of the course contains new blacktop, which provides a lot of opportunity for higher speed. I passed a handful of people and got passed by a handful of other riders. It was rather uneventful. Just a 00:44:52 pedal grind. Looking back at that time, and seeing where it ranked against the field, I’m realizing that cycling is where I could use the most improvement. Every other category stayed within the top 140, but cycling, I ranked 222/537. It certainly makes sense given it’s the sport I train the least in of the three. Guess it’s time to reassess training efforts!

The second transition was a breeze. I racked my bike, removed my helmet, ran towards the run exit and was on the course in less than a minute. Much of that super fast T2 time can be attributed to me not changing shoes. My bike still has the stock platform pedals and I wear my running shoes for the last two legs. Eventually I should upgrade to clip-in pedals to maximize cycling power. Whatever time would be lost in swapping shoes would surely be made up for with a faster bike time.

Josh Running

I have to admit, I was feeling a little tired when I embarked on the run. My legs were gassed from grinding it out on the bike. I had been pedaling hard. But I kept with it. I kept repeating a running quote in my head: “Tough runs don’t last; tough runners do.” Looking across the lake and seeing how far away the finish line is can mess with your head. I tried to simplify the run into smaller increments. I kept my eyes on the person in front of me and tried to pass him or her. Then I set my sights on the next person. And again and again. That kept my mind distracted from the remaining distance. It worked. I had another strong run at 00:23:12 (07:29 per mile pace). The run has become my strong point all year and it feels pretty good to have that to rely on at the end.

Finish

My MPLS Tri Time Comparison

MPLS Tri 2016

MPLS Tri 2017

Swim (0.47 miles)

00:16:05

00:15:36

T1

00:04:47

00:03:01

Bike (14.58 miles)

00:51:04

00:44:52

T2

00:02:39

00:00:59

Run (3.1 miles)

00:24:11

00:23:12

Total

01:38:44

01:27:38

Reflection

This was the seventh triathlon of my career and by far the performance I’m most proud of. Physically, it’s probably my strongest performance to date. I crushed last year’s time. I finished eighth in my age group, which means only five people stood between me and the podium. That’s pretty cool to think about given the level of competition at this race. I’m trending in the right direction.

Sporting the Team Save the Children gear was a pride point of the weekend. It was truly an honor to represent an organization that in making a difference in the lives of kiddos around the globe each and every day. I thought about the important work they do throughout the race and that helped me keep things in perspective, and keep trucking along. I’m so thankful to everyone that donated to my personal fundraising campaign. Together, we helped make a difference in the lives of children somewhere in the world, who will now have a little better life because of our efforts and contributions. Thank you.

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And most of all, it was really special to do this in honor of Olivia. I thought about her throughout the race. My emotions were up and down, but they reminded me to keep going. I still remember the day I heard she left us so soon — I had no idea what to say to my dear friends Robbie and Alisha. I said I was sorry and I was here for them in any way I could be. But there really was nothing I could say to ease the pain. There was, however, something I could do to honor her and joining Team Save the Children for the Minneapolis Triathlon was it. Her memory lives on through the lives of the children positively impacted by the Save the Children donations. Every dollar raised, every swim stroke, every pedal, every step — it was for Olivia and her family. Robbie and Alisha, I love you guys.

This race will always be near and dear to my heart.