So, what happened last year?

It happened again. My desire to blog fell off around mid-season in 2019, a tad earlier than it did in 2018 – when it started to feel more like work than fun. Last year I made an attempt to write shorter posts. That lasted for two races and then the writing quickly faded. Maybe that’s common amongst casual bloggers – I don’t know (insert emoji with both hands in the air here). Well, fast forward to today – I’ve had a little extra free time given COVID-19 stay at home and social distancing. So I thought I’d recap the remainder of 2019 into one post.

Chisago Lakes Triathlon (Sprint Distance)

I had never done this race before, but I was really intrigued by the distance configuration and it was a USA Triathlon sanctioned event. It had sprint and half-iron options. The sprint bike was 22 miles instead of the standard 12 – so it was a bit of a mashup between a sprint and olympic distance. The sprint would be a great tune-up distance before nationals in August.

The competition-level was high, yet the overall vibe of the event remained local and chill. I think there were a lot of participants in the half-iron distance utilizing this event as prep for a fall Ironman such as Wisconsin. Not a lot of specific commentary from me on my personal performance. I finished 9/21 in my age group and 28/253 overall. I just had a good time. And had even more fun at the post-event celebration at Uncommon Loon Brewing. I think half the reason I like endurance sports are celebrating with a beer or three afterwards and not feeling guilty about it!

That’s the “I know I’m about about to get a beer soon” smile.

USA Triathlon Age-Group Nationals (Olympic Distance)

I skipped this one. It’s funny – after going to nationals for the first time in 2018, I couldn’t wait to compete for a chance to go back and see if I could do better. I qualified again in 2019 through my finish at Trinona – the USAT Triathlon State Championship race in Minnesota. I punched my ticket and registered for the main event. But when it came time to start packing and hit the road, my heart was in another place. I already knew I could complete the Cleveland, OH course – the same one as the year before. I had done nothing different in my training to notably improve my performance. It was like I already knew a middle of the pack finish was in the making, and with a road trip to the great Southwest on the horizon at the end of the month, it became harder to justify the travel expense. My heart just wasn’t in it. It felt like if I went to nationals, I wouldn’t be doing it for me – but to just say that I went. It didn’t feel right.

So I spent that five days of planned time off camping on Minnesota’s North Shore instead. Trading in the stress and anxiety that sometimes comes with racing for week of peace and nature turned out to be one of the best decisions I’d made in a long time.

Time stops in places like these. The only moment that matters is the one you’re in. 

Ragnar Relay – Road Minnesota

This one surprised me. Like really surprised me.

I had long been intrigued by running ragnar someday. But the logistics and team recruiting kind of overwhelmed me. This year, I got invited to join an existing team. All of that coordination would be taken care of. All I had to do was show up and run my assigned legs. Obviously I said yes.

I totally underestimated the experience I was about to have. I knew I’d have a good time. I’d make knew friends (I barely knew one person on the team, and was brand new to everyone else). I just thought I’d run my 20-ish miles and it would be some good training. You see, I’ve been used to the solo and self-sufficiency aspects of triathlon and running. This whole team thing was going to be different for me.

What surprised me was the sense of accomplishment after finishing, and it grew in the days after the event. Our team of 12 dudes ran the 200+ miles in just under 28 hours, finishing 16th our of 390 teams. We ran non-stop, making sure the next runner was at the next transition early for the handoff. Everyone ran their hearts out. And in the downtime waiting for our next turn, we joked, laughed, shared stories and encouraged each other. I slept on the pavement of a parking lot. The atmosphere was wild in the early morning hours (something we called “the witching hour”) as all teams were tired and exhausted, yet still going – like half-human and half-zombie. And the finish line was electric as teams waited for their final runner and joined, running through the finish arch together. I made 11 new friends. Gained countless stories that we still joke about today. It was an epic adventure and honestly just something you have to experience to understand why people are so proud of those stickers on the back of their vehicles. I can’t wait to do it again.

12 dudes. 200+ miles. One epic adventure. 

Maple Grove Triathlon (Olympic Distance)

Feeling a re-energized again, I was excited about the Maple Grove Tri. It’s a well-organized and locally owned event, USAT sanctioned and happened to be the 2019 USAT North Central Regional Championship race. I knew the competition would be high, but it would give me a chance for qualify for nationals again in 2020, which is returning to Milwaukee, WI. I was ready to make my last triathlon of 2019 a good one.

The swim went great. Man, it sure felt great to finally kick those panic attacks this year. The bike leg kicked my butt, as always. The course was open to car traffic and mostly on exposed roads near open fields or new house developments. Once we got a few miles out of transition, three younger athletes, who I can only assume to be friends, grouped together and appeared to draft off each other to push forward, which is more than frowned upon. So, you’re darn right I made it my mission to pass all of them – solely on my own power. We traded spots a few times, and I don’t remember if I ultimately passed them all, but the competition pushed me to go harder and kept me motivated throughout the ride. I battled through stomach cramps throughout the 6.2 mile run. To occupy my mind, I thought about my late dog Mitch, who was always so stoic. That memory of him never grimacing pushed me to keep pushing – and imagining him running along side me. Gosh, I miss that dog. Overall finish time was 02:26:43, good enough for 10/28 in my age group and a qualifying spot at nationals again in 2020.

Twin Cities Marathon

The grand finale. This would be my last race of the year and I wanted so badly to beat my time from 2018 (03:32:38). In fact, I really wanted to go sub-03:30:00. However, I didn’t really train any differently than the year before. I maybe even trained a little less, hoping to avoid he same knee injury I wound up last year, attempting to ramp up for a marathon in a month and a half’s time after the triathlon season ended. I was basing this off of pure desire.

I started out way to hard. Last year I used a $10 Timex and did the pace and total math in my head at each mile marker. This was my first year with a GPS watch. About a half-mile in, I looked at my watch and noticed a 09:30/mile pace, which certainly wasn’t going to get me to my goal. It felt like I was moving fast, but the watch said otherwise – so I ran faster. Then I made it to the first mile marker, looked at my watch and it hadn’t made it to seven minutes total yet. The tall buildings downtown may have interfered. I had just ran a sub-seven first mile. If I kept that up, that was a guarantee to blow up early. In the second mile, I randomly connected with a friend from the Ragnar team. He thought his watch was off too. We ran alongside each other, same pace, and our watches were more than a minute off of each other. Something was up with GPS in the beginning.

I eventually settled into a comfortable pace in the mid sevens. I knew it might be a little fast for the long haul, but it felt good. Like really good. Maybe I was going to blow my goal out of the water. Well, that all eventually caught up with me around mile 17. My hips started to hurt. The bottoms of my feet started to hurt in ways they haven’t before. The speed had caught up with me. But I had gained so much ground, I could afford to slow down and still be on track.

Well, once I reached the first big hill around mile 20-ish, I decided to take a walk break. I had never done that before – walked in a race. That’s not meant to sound cocky. I just hadn’t done that before, so I had no idea what it would feel like to walk and then try to run again. Boy was that a kick in the shorts. It was like my legs didn’t want to do what my brain was telling them to. It was like that feeling you get in dreams where you’re trying to run from something but your feet don’t move. Multiple walking breaks ensued after. I couldn’t keep the momentum. The wheels had fallen off.

It was an odd feeling still being out on the course while my goal time ticked bye on my watch. In that moment I asked myself, why keep going. And the fact that I asked myself that was enough to keep me going. Not everything is going to go my way. I couldn’t control the moment any longer, just how I responded to it. I still finished with a great time of 03:37:52. I was probably prouder of this finish than the year before, because I didn’t give up, even after the goal was no longer achievable.

When the wheels fall off, smile anyways. We’re stronger than we think. 

Season Wrap-Up

So what were my takeaways from 2019?

  • You can’t do the same thing and expect different results.
  • Sometimes motivations change, and that’s ok. Follow your heart. It knows the way.
  • Regardless of finish time, just be thankful to be out and participating. Never lose sight of the fun.

Some of these learnings drove decisions for the 2020 season, which as we all know now, has a completely different landscape.

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