Sunday, September 29, 2013

Raise The Bar

It's no secret that I've been struggling with motivation for the last month or so.  I ran a half marathon that I didn't train for (and paid a heavy price for it) and I scratched the JHawk Latebird Tri from my schedule.  I'm tired of half-assing it. I'm tired of feeling so crappy about myself. I'm tired of failing to meet my own expectations - and yes, my expectations for myself are very high.  Thus, it's time to 'Raise The Bar'.

I'm embarking on a 90 day fitness challenge - centered around the Les Mills Pump program.  Pump is the at home version of the wildly popular BodyPump classes that are taught in fitness clubs around the world.  I used to take BodyPump 2-3x per week back when I had a YMCA membership and it's one of the very few things I miss about the Y.  I miss how strong I felt and the definition in I saw in my muscles. And I won't lie - I have a beach vacation coming up in December and I'd really rather not be sporting my usual layer of winter insulation along with my swimsuit.  I'm also hoping that this challenge reignites my desire to work hard to achieve my goals next season - and believe me when I say that those goals are BIG. I already know that the next 90 days won't be easy, but is anything worth having ever easy to get? 

Les Mills Pump consists of a weighted bar, 2 5lb weights, 2 10lb weights, 8 workout DVDs (ranging from 20-55 minutes), a training plan (3 phases - each 30 days long), and a nutrition guide.  There are 6 workouts every week and I'll also be trying to incorporate some swim/bike/run workouts as well.

On to the really scary part:  The "Before" measurements...and pictures. (Please be gentle.)

The details:

Weight: ideal weight + 5.8lbs
Body Fat: 23.5%
Chest: 33.5"
Waist: 27.5"
Right Arm: 10.5"
Left Arm: 10.5"
Hips: 37.0"
Right Thigh: 21.0"
Left Thigh: 21.0"

I was surprised that I haven't gained more weight and at how oddly symmetrical my arm and leg measurements are.

And now the pictures...

I think the only part of myself I didn't pick on when I saw these was my upper back - I guess all that swimming over the summer paid off!

My goal is to blog about the workouts and how I'm feeling from both a physical and psychological standpoint each week. I will blog about the results at the end of each of the three 30 Day phases.  I'm not terribly concerned with losing a lot of weight from this project - in fact I may even gain weight as a result of building muscle - but I would definitely like to see a decrease in my body fat percentage and an increase in overall muscle tone and definition (and my ass needs some lift).  I also feel that building a stronger, leaner core can only help me in becoming a better swimmer, cyclist, and runner - which is always my ultimate goal!

*My face is blurred/cropped in these pictures because I don't really want my face coming up in a random Google image search!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Story of Seven Years

Today I ran the Fox Cities Half Marathon for what will probably be the last time.  I've run this race every September for seven years and during today's race, I spent a lot of time thinking about how much I've changed since the first time I ran it in 2007 - especially after Mile 8 when I was deep in the Pain Cave and it became a mental battle to finish.  I'm proud to say that, for once, my body quit before my mind.

In 2007, I kissed Mr. R&R goodbye and boarded a school bus that would transport me to the starting line of my very first half marathon.  I was absolutely terrified. I was a running newbie who really had no idea what I was doing or what to expect - or if I could even do this at all. I got to the starting area and was somewhat convinced that I was about to make a complete fool out of myself - or die. Those negative feelings weren't helped any when I discovered that I'd forgotten my watch.  I remember calling Mr. R&R (because of course I remembered my cell phone and hauled it with me for 13.1 miles) and freaking the %#*@ out because of it!  When the gun went off, I was swept along in a sea of people and managed to run maybe the first 1 1/2 miles before I needed to drop to a walk.  I kept plugging along, listening to whatever was on my iPod at the moment, wondering exactly how slow I was going, and being very happy to see the aid station at each mile.  When I hit Mile 10, every step forward was a new personal distance record since my training plan capped at a 10 mile long run.  I remember being a little impressed with myself and I remember how much it started to hurt!  My greatest memory of that race is running down the final straight away, smiling like a total goofball, throwing my arms over my head in victory as I crossed the finish line, and bawling like a baby when Mr. R&R found me.  I had done it. I had run a half marathon in 2 hours, 37 minutes, and 37 seconds (12:02/mile pace).
Fox Cities - 2007

If I could go back in time and talk to that girl from seven years ago, what would I say to her (even though she wouldn't have believed me)?

  • You can and will finish this race.
  • A year from now, you'll run this race 2 weeks before you run your first marathon - and you'll do it almost 16 minutes faster than the first time. Five years from now, you'll do it in under 2:10.
  • You will go on to run 2 marathons, 12 more half marathons, 4 duathlons, and a sprint triathlon.
  •  You will learn that you are so much stronger and more stubborn than you think you are. These things will both help and hinder you along the way.
  • You will go on to run this race completely untrained on several occasions, and still run it faster than you will today.
  • Your idea of "proper running clothes" will change. Trust'll embrace the whole 'lined shorts' thing and you'll ditch the super-cushioned shoes.
  • Gatorade is not your friend during/after races. Trust me.
  • You will learn that the only true failure is not starting.
  • You will discover the Finish Line High - and  you'll chase it every chance you get.

No one ever said that this journey would be easy, but as I sit here tonight, I can say ever step I've ever run in the Fox Cites was worth it.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

No One To Blame But Myself

My seventh, and final, attempt at the Fox Cities half marathon is coming up fast - like 7 days away fast - and I'm not even close to ready.  I haven't run a single step since the Shoreline Duathlon and my excuses are really pathetic:
  •  My whole body hurt for a week after the crash, so I took a week off to let it heal.
  • I went on vacation.
  • Then I just got lazy. I kept telling myself "I'll run tomorrow" and when tomorrow came, I made the same excuse again.
Earlier in the season I had really high hopes for this race, but now it's going to be purely about gutting it out, getting it done, and moving forward.  Today was my last chance to do something resembling a "long run" before the race so Mr. R&R and I planned to head out to Lapham Peak to do a little trail running in the rain.  I know it seems silly to run on a trail when the race will take place on city streets, but this was about the only way I was going to get myself out the door. Ever since we got back from our vacation, I've been craving hills, and trees, and a distinct lack of traffic, so Lapham Peak seemed like a good option. And it has the added bonus of being so damned hilly that it requires walking up some parts - which is probably a good thing since I'm pretty out of shape when it comes to running and I'm 99.9% sure that I will have to do some sort of run/walk hybrid in order to survive Fox Cities.Of course the light sprinkle turned into a torrential downpour, so that was out. I guess I'm just screwed!

My current plan for this race is to run the race I'm capable of on that day (while doing everything I can not to set a new PW) and enjoy my last time on the course that started it all 7 years ago.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Cheering for the Iron Cheerleader

On Sunday, September 8th I had the privilege of spending 11 hours watching 2000 or so men and women attempt something truly remarkable - they were attempting to become Ironmen. For some it was the first time. For others, it was a rematch with the 140.6 mile monster.  Whether they came in first, last, somewhere in the middle, or didn't finish at all; they were all amazing.

I didn't leave for Madison until 7:45am (45 minutes after the 2.4 mile swim was under way), but a few of my friends/teammates were there to witness the washing machine of humanity churning up the water in Lake Monona.

I arrived while the Iron Cheerleader was out on the bike course, so I walked the 2 1/2 miles (along the marathon course) from where I parked to State Street to meet the girls at a coffee shop.
Lake Mendota with the Capitol building in the distance.
I downed another cup of coffee and the four of us retraced the route I'd just taken back to my car (so they could drop of their stuff) before we spent the next 4 1/2 hours volunteering at Aid Station #6 - passing out water, Perform, flat cola, ice, GU, Bonk Breakers, Chomps, orange slices, bananas, and a variety of other things to the athletes as they ran by.  To make it even more interesting, our aid station was themed 'Superheroes of Aid" and we were encouraged to wear costumes.
Superheros of Aid!
One of the girls, A, started her shift as Wonder Woman and ended it as Lube-rWoman!
When our shift was over, we checked out the Iron Cheerleader's split times and realized that he would be running by in the next half hour, so we staked out some real estate next to the course and settled in to wait and cheer.  When the Iron Cheerleader appeared, he looked pretty good for a guy who was 8 miles into a marathon after having swam 2.4 miles and biked 112 miles.
122.4 miles into the day - and still smiling!
After our Iron Cheerleader sighting, we hiked the 2 or 3 miles to Observatory Drive to join the TriWI cheering zone - located at the top of the nastiest hill on the run course, which comes just past the 18 mile mark.  They had someone's phone attached to an amplifier and blasting 80's music and the athlete's were greeted by cheers, Papa Smurf, and a hot dog wearing a fedora and busting Michael Jackson moves!  The 2 hours we spent singing, dancing, clapping, cheering, and belting out 80's tunes were totally worth it as we watched athlete after athlete break into a smile when they came upon us.  Some of them even sang along or stopped to dance!

After the Iron Cheerleader passed us, we made our way back to State Street for a quick Starbucks/bathroom stop before continuing up State Street to the finish line.  As we were walking, we saw Fireman Rob just past the 14 mile mark.

 Once we arrived at Capitol Square, we met up with a very special surprise for the Iron Cheerleader. If you'll recall, he told us that he's never had family/friends waiting for him at the finish of any of his 3 previous Ironmans. That was about to change.It turns out that his daughter knew one of the girls in our group, T, from grad school and when she saw all the pictures of him being tagged on Facebook she got in touch and made arrangements to meet up with us and surprise him!

The crowd on Capitol Square was INSANE! People were stacked 4 or 5 deep along the barriers and as much as we would have liked to be able to watch the Iron Cheerleader cross the finish line, there were just too many people in the way, so we settled for watching it on a giant monitor suspended high over the crowd.
Beautiful backdrop for a finish photo
I'm happy to say that when the Iron Cheerleader crossed the finish line (for what he claims is the last time) in 13:14:29, he did it with his arms raised jubilantly over his head and a smile on his face.
Iron Cheerleader: You. Are. An. Ironman!
Our group worked their way along the finishing chute and finally had to give up on being polite as we pushed our way up the barriers to let him know we were there.  The smile on his face got even bigger when he caught sight of us and when he saw who we had with us...he cried.

After he made his way through the finishing chute we all hung around for a bit; talking, laughing, and listening to his recap of the race.  It wasn't the finish he wanted, but none the less, he became an Ironman for the fourth time!  Does that make him four times as crazy as someone who was doing their first Ironman?

I bid the crew goodnight and set off to hike the 3 miles (still along the marathon course) back to my car.  That path took on a very different feeling at night. It's almost pitch black except for 2 aid stations lit by flood lights and almost completely devoid of spectators. The athletes remaining on the course were mostly walking - their bodies completely exhausted and moving forward by sheer force of will.  I talked to a couple of guys and walked for about a mile and half with one girl who had been sobbing in the dark because she was convinced that she wasn't going to make the midnight cut off (she had 2 1/2 hours to run/walk/crawl about 5 miles).  As much as I love watching the pros and the middle of the pack, I respect the hell out of the back of the pack because they're on the course for so long.

I'm already formulating a plan for next year that involves being able to watch the swim start without having to get up at Stupid O'Clock, volunteering, and then parking myself on that lonely gravel path to cheer late into the night as some ordinary people attempt to achieve something extraordinary.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Mountains, and Ziplines, and Bears! Oh My!

Last Friday morning Mr. R&R and I packed up the car and set out for western North Carolina and a much anticipated and much needed vacation.

We traveled through Chicago....

And Indianapolis...

And we ended our first day in Louisville, Kentucky where we were lucky enough to have dinner with April!
The food was good and the company was great.  I love getting to meet people I've "known" online for what seems like forever!

On Saturday morning we were back on the road and we made our way through the rest of Kentucky, Tennessee, and finally into North Carolina.
Bluegrass and Blue Skies
We stayed in the same amazing house we rented last year and I'm happy to report that it was just as spectacular the second time around.

Over the course of the week we...

Grilled some yummy food
Pepperjack Cheeseburger w/ Green Chili Cheese Fries
Were visited by a black bear
We are now 100% convinced that what we saw last year was, indeed, a bear.

Went horseback riding through the Nantahala National Forest
Mr. R&R and his new friend Apache

Beautiful views
Played with a kitten and petted a 30 year old pony

Went zip lining through the clouds - including one line that was 1/2 mile long and involved flying through the air at 45mph! It was just Mr. R&R and I and our 2 guides, Alex and Will, so we were able to take our time and really enjoy the experience.

Gave our inner adrenaline junkies another fix whitewater rafting on the Nantahala River...with a guide who had us cracking up the whole time.

Watched some river kayakers preparing for the ICF Canoe Freestyle World Championships
And checked out some of the less threatening local wildlife

Walked a little bit of the Appalachian Trail (southbound)

Drove out to Fontana Dam - enjoying beautiful views along the way

And since it runs directly over Fontana Dam, we walked a little more of the Appalachian Trail (northbound)

There was also tubing on Deep Creek ( pictures this year) and a fair amount of hanging in the cabin's hot tub and sitting on the covered porch - alternating between reading (I knocked out 4 books over the course of this trip) and staring out at the trees and the mountains.
Of course, like all good things, our trip had to come to an end, but not before one last adrenaline rush on our way out of town.  We left North Carolina via US-129 - the home of the famous Tail of the Dragon.  This stretch of highway between Deals Gap North Carolina and the Tennessee border features 318 curves in 11 miles - and is a favorite of many bikers (my dad and brother included). 

That was definitely one of the craziest stretches of road I've ever seen - and I was just a passenger!  At the same time, I found myself wishing that there was a way it could be closed to vehicle traffic on occasion, because it looked like it would be a great place to ride a road bike!
Mr. R&R giving the photographer a "thumbs up"'s that curvy!
All in all it was one of the most fun and relaxing weeks I've had in a long time and the best part of all was getting to share all of it with this guy.