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.

2018 Wrap-Up

Recently, I’ve felt like I left something unfinished. I had made blogging a consistent practice over the last two years. Then this fall it started to lose its fun for me. The writing felt like work — something I had to do in order to keep the blog going versus something I was excited to do. It was much easier to post a photo and a quick caption on social than to create long-form content here. So I stopped.

I hadn’t stopped the activities that I loved. I just needed to take a break from writing about them. Here’s how my season wrapped-up:

Twin Cities Marathon

I knew running a marathon would be tough. I just didn’t know how tough. Someone had told me there are two halves of a marathon — the first 20 miles and the last 6.2. I had shrugged-off that comment as cliche. But as I found out first-hand, they were not kidding.

The first 20 miles were somewhat of a breeze. My body felt good. My feet felt good. My lungs felt good. And my spirits were high. The course was lined with spectators, enthusiastically cheering for the full distance. It was amazing, and unlike any race atmosphere I’d experienced before. I can see why so may people love running this event. The longest training run I had completed was 18 miles, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect in the final miles.

The last 6.2 miles hit me hard. I first felt soreness in my knees and hips. Then my shoulders hurt. Why in the world were my shoulders hurting? Everything inside me was telling me to quit. But I didn’t run this far to give up now. Tough runs don’t last; tough runners do.

Crossing the finish line of my first marathon brought me a sense of pride I’d not yet experienced. I’d pushed myself harder that I’ve ever pushed before. I did it. My body was tired but my soul was wide awake.

  • Distance — 26.2 miles
  • Time — 03:32:36
  • Pace — 08:07/mile
  • Place — 1019/7144 overall

Minneapolis Halloween Half Marathon

So I probably shouldn’t have been running this race. It was three weeks after the Twin Cities Marathon. And my physical therapist recommended taking about a month off from running. Obviously the math doesn’t work there. I took about ten days off and started loosening-up for the Halloween Half.

My goal was to best last year’s half marathon time of 01:45:00. I was unsure if I could do it given my lack of full recovery. But I was still going to give it a try! I got a little to ambitious out of the gate and found myself running a sub-seven with the lead pack after the first mile. A half-mile later, my right knee became very unhappy. By mile three, I thought I may need to throw in the towel. I’d never thought I’d quit a race as much as I did in that moment. My knee felt like it was going to give out.

But giving-up was not something I was willing to do. All year I had been telling myself I wanted to experience suffering in a race atmosphere. If I was going to achieve some of the long distance goals I have for my future, I needed to push my brain. This was my chance. I could either quit or double-down and accept the challenge. I chose the latter. The pain returned in mile ten, but I kept focusing on positive thoughts and kept running my pace.

Crossing this finish line brought a new sense of accomplishment. It wasn’t the distance I was proud of. It was the not giving up that brought a smile to my face in a time when the rest of my body was frowning. Oh, and I crushed my goal too.

  • Distance — 13.1 miles
  • Time — 01:36:28
  • Pace — 07:22/mile
  • Place — 33/674 overall

What’s Next

Rest and recovery is my top priority right now. I’ve ran a few times in the last month, usually three to four miles at a time, and within a few hours afterwards, I feel like I ran a marathon. Both of my knees and right hip are just sore. I’m hopeful that it can all be chalked-up to overuse and that rest will be the remedy. I’ve committed to not run again until February. Let’s see if that sticks.

In regards to 2019 races, I have a few ideas, but am trying to rest on that as well. I put a lot of time, physically and mentally, into planning, training and racing in 2018. It kind of consumed me. I’m a little nervous about approaching a point where I take this all too seriously. I started pushing myself because it was fun. And I want it to stay fun. When the time is right, I’ll kick-off 2019 activity. But in the meantime, it feels pretty good to just chill.

Marathon Training: Overcoming Overuse

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Gone are the days when I could run as far and as fast as I pleased without consequence. The invincibility that I knew would one day expire finally did just that. A substantial increase in mileage as I swiftly transitioned out of the triathlon season and into marathon training resulted in my first bout of running-related knee pain.

I had spent the entire summer splitting my training across three sports — a lot of swimming, not as much biking as I probably should’ve, and running about 24 miles per week. After wrapping-up my triathlon season at the USAT Triathlon Age Group National Championships in mid-August, and then taking a week off, I had about five weeks left to really focus on running before tackling my first ever marathon — the Twin Cities Marathon. The training plans I had looked at were set on a 18-week schedule. I had hoped all of my other training would provide a good base, so I plugged into a plan at week 15, made a couple modifications and hit the ground running from there.

More miles meant exploring new trails!

In the first 15 days, I logged 84.5 miles — about double the weekly mileage that my body had been used to. That included three long runs at 13, 16 and 18 miles respectively. The 18-miler was the one that did me in. Well, all of the summer’s mileage added-up to the pain that would occur, but it happened during the 18-miler. I felt a pain behind my right knee within the first mile that I’d never felt before. It was like there was a cable in the back of my leg that was being pulled as tight as it could be, with the tension right behind the knee. I kept running and after a few miles it kind of loosened-up. Kind-of. Then during the last eight miles, I felt a strain on the outside of that same knee. It started as a dull ache and intensified after taking off from a stoplight. This was also unlike anything I’d experienced before. I knew something wasn’t right.

I saw a physical therapist with a running specialty and was told I had a strained distal hamstring tendon and a strained IT band — both caused by overuse. I had probably ramped up a little too quickly in my training plan as I attempted to make-up for some lost ground. The good news was that they wanted me to keep running, just shorter distances and at a slower pace. Whew. What a relief that was to hear. I had to skip the 20-mile race I had signed-up for to complete what would’ve been the longest long run of the training plan, but the physical therapist said that if I had already built-up to 18 miles, I should be able to do the full 26.2 miles in a few weeks. Another relief to hear.

So for the last two weeks, I’ve stuck to a modified training plan, with long runs of 10.5 and 8 miles. I’ve been doing my assigned stretches and foam-rolling the heck out of my legs. Side-note: I’m new to foam-rolling but I love it. I never knew how tight some of the muscles in my legs have been until I pressed them into the foam. Leveraging my body weight to help massage my legs with the roller has already done wonders.

The best part about long runs? Replenishing the thousands of calories burned!

Overall, my knee is feeling much better. I’ve logged the majority of the miles I needed to during that last five weeks of that 18-week training plan. I’m rather relaxed about the challenge ahead. With only five days until toeing the start line, I’ve done about all I can do –minus the few remaining more short runs to stay loose, getting plenty of rest and executing a nutrition plan a few days before the race. I’m honestly just excited to get out and run the course that’s been dubbed the most beautiful urban marathon in the country.

Oh, what’s my goal? This has been a great question. The first answer is to finish. That’s the big thing. And since I’ve never ran the marathon distance before, I’m not totally sure how my body will respond in those later miles. Last fall, I finished my first half marathon with a time of 01:45:33. If I could keep that same pace across a full marathon, which I’m unsure of, that would put me at a 03:31:06 time. I averaged a 08:10/mi pace during the knee-pain inducing 18-miler a few weeks ago. Based on that, and accounting for the unknowns that could happen during the last 8 miles, especially with a knee that isn’t 100%, I’m setting a goal time at 03:38:00. It’s certainly achievable if all goes well, yet will challenge me to keep a 08:19/mi pace or better across all 26.2 miles.

The unknown is what excites me most about this race. This is something I’ve never done before. And the only way to find out is to try it. This reminds me of a quote: “Only those who will risk going too far can find out how far one can go.” Well, I’m going to find out!

You never know where you’ll find a reminder to smile on a run!

New Distances in 2018

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I kind of thought I’d have this year’s race schedule a little more locked-in by now, but with a few core races decided on and registered for, my 2018 season is starting to take shape.

The plan so far

Trinona | June 10, 2018 | I’ll be kicking-off my triathlon season at the race where it all began for me. Trinona has a special place in my heart and I’ll probably compete in it for as long as I’m able. It’s the first triathlon I ever competed in. It takes place in the beautiful bluff country and river valley of southeastern Minnesota where I grew up. And it’s a race that some of my good friends are competing in now as well, which makes it even more fun with banter before, during and after. This will be my third consecutive year competing at this race, and fourth time overall. In 2017, I missed the podium in my age group by 16 seconds. I’ve registered for the sprint distance once again, with a goal of making this my best Trinona finish yet.

Minneapolis Triathlon | July 14, 2018 | New distance alert. I’ve registered for the International / Olympic distance for this race, which is twice the distance of a sprint. I’ll be swimming 0.93 miles, biking 24.5 miles and running 6.2 miles. I’m pretty excited to be taking my triathlon career to the next level. And I’m even more excited to be doing it as part of Team Save the Children, raising awareness and funds to help support the amazing work they do for children around the world (I’d be honored if you visited my personal fundraising page here). This is sure to be a special race on many levels.

Twin Cities Marathon | October 7, 2018 | Another new distance. Last fall I ran my first half marathon. This fall I’ll be running my first marathon. Tackling this distance wasn’t on my radar until last year. As my overall triathlon goals began trending towards an Ironman within the next few years, I realized I needed to start increasing my distances and exposing myself to the physical and mental challenges that come with them. But exposure to suffering wasn’t the only reason I chose to run a marathon. I’ve heard so many great things about this race specifically from past participants. It’s been dubbed the most beautiful urban marathon in America. It’s well organized and has tremendous fan support. The atmosphere is sure to be electric, providing a spark right when runners need it most.

Yet to be planned

I’d like to get a few running races under the belt prior my first triathlon of the year in June. A few options include the Hot Dash and Goldy’s Run, which both offer 5k and 10-mile options, and the Get in Gear event, which offers a 5k, 10k and half marathon. I’ve raced the Get in Gear 5k the last two April’s, but given my goals for this year, I’d likely target the 10k distance. A ten-miler at the end of March or early April might be a way to start the season with a bang though!

The biggest gap in my schedule is the second half of July through August. I’d really like to do four triathlons again this summer. With two already registered for in the early part of summer, this late summer window is the place to add them. A few local options include the Chisago Lakes Triathlon at the end of July and the Maple Grove Triathlon at the end of August. Or it may be time to look into a long weekend trication.

I was disappointed in learning that Life Time Tri races moved away from being USA Triathlon sanctioned, meaning the Minneapolis Triathlon will no longer be the regional qualifier for USAT nationals in August. I was really hoping to make my first run at the International / Olympic distance as an effort to qualify. However, it’s been a race I’ve always enjoyed and coupled with my opportunity to leverage race efforts as a way to bring positive change for kids around the world through Save the Children, it’s still a race I’ll continue to prioritize.

While I still have some planning left to do, one thing has already become clear — 2018 is going to be a year of new distances and new challenges. It’s going to take me out of my comfort zone. It’s going to push me harder than I’ve trained and competed before. But it’s also going to provide opportunities to get faster, stronger and smarter. The comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there. I’m ready to see how much farther I can go. Cheers to goals, growth and new experiences in 2018!