Thursday, January 2, 2020

Deer Park Cocoa Classic 5k

My December "Race of the Month" was a few weeks ago at All Community Event's Cocoa Classic 5k in Deer Park.

The race site was very close to the Long Grove Turkey Trot course, and I anticipated it being pretty similar, ie residential and flat.

Annnnd I was wrong. But we'll get there.

As with every All Community Events race, this one was well organized, easy to get to, and offered packet pickup both preceding the race and day of. It's always a good time with an ACE event, which is probably why I keep signing up for them! ;)

This race takes place right near the Deer Park Town Center, which is an outdoor mall. This means there's ample parking available, and it's all very close to the start. Packet pickup for the race was across the street at a Dick's Sporting Goods, and I stopped there the night before the race (with both kids in tow!) to grab my bib and swag. This year's swag was a light, long sleeve tech quarter zip. I see myself donning it a lot when the weather warms up a bit around here!

(Also of note: My toddler wanting to wander around Dicks in awe of all the basketballs and basketball hoops, and his unwavering insistence that the $200 baseball glove he found to carry around was his.)

This is where things get...interesting?

Pre Race Happenings
After the Turkey Trot I started thinking that I might be able to PR my 5k earlier than 2020. It was something on my list of goals (for 2020), but I realized it might be achievable sooner than that. But I've spent 3 years not setting goals - eschewing them entirely, as it happens - and I think part of me has forgotten how to set and achieve a goal.

So I'd spent two weeks toying with the idea of really pushing myself during the race and not only PRing, but trying to run the race in under 30 minutes.

I've never run a 5k in under 30 minutes.

For those keeping score, that's a 9:40/mile pace. My previous PR had been set in June 2016 at the Volition America 5k, and although I'd forgotten how to set a goal, I have not forgotten how badly that race hurt (haha). Which is why it really meant something when I vocalized my decision to PR.

If you follow me on Instagram, or are a friend on Facebook, you have likely seen my post about PRing this race. I'm going to post part of that here.
Yesterday I ran @allcommunityevents #hotcocoaclassic 5k in Deer Park. I've talked a lot lately about wanting to PR (personal record) my 5k and come in under 30 minutes, and for the last week I've been asking myself if maybe this should be the race to do it. But PR'ing a 5k hurts, and I still wasn't sure if I wanted to put in that kind of effort. 
Then as I was leaving packet pick up I got a call from (my) Papa Bender, telling me his doctors had removed an 8lb (most likely malignant) tumor from his kidney. Papa Bender has loved me like a daughter for the last 10 years, and after losing my dad to cancer when I was 14, I'm sure you can imagine the fear that goes along with him facing all of this. 
So when I hung up the phone I quietly said to myself, "I'm PRing under 30 for Pops. No 5k hurts as bad as cancer.
Race Day
I got to the race site early. I had to drop the kids off at Anthony's sister's because after the race I was going to my mom's to bake all day. This was supposed to be Ant Man's first 100 yard dash, but with Anthony in California that weekend plans had to change. It was a little bittersweet, but I replaced my desire to see my 2 year old sprint 100 yards (and subsequently push him in a stroller for 3 miles) with the overwhelming feeling that I had to PR.

I wanted to actually warm up as well, and did something I don't do before races: I ran! I took a slow half mile loop around the parking lot of the mall in my new trail shoes, stopped at my car to switch to my road shoes, and then looped around that same half mile again. This got me to about 10 minutes before the start. I downed the rest of my Nuun, put on some chapstick, left everything in my car, and headed to the start.

As soon as they announced for people to line up at the corral I headed over. I didn't care if I was seeding too far forward - because I was attempting to PR so drastically I didn't want to have to worry about passing people. They could pass me. I wanted to save my steps. I estimate I seeded myself with the 8:00-min milers.

Fun little FYI: While we were waiting to begin, they explained the tapered "hour glass" starting line that I mentioned in my Turkey Trot post! As we were lining up in the corral, the announcer said the purpose of funneling runners across narrowed starting mats is to spread everyone out better across the course so there aren't packs of runners. I'm not sure if it works, but I guess it makes sense!

The Race
The anthem played, the count down was counted, the start horn blared, and as we moved towards the start mat I said out loud, "This is for Papa Bender."

And I was off.

Unlike Long Grove, this course was not flat. The bulk of it had very little drastic elevation, but there were a few notable increases and I felt them. The course was entirely paved - it started in a parking lot, moved to roads, and then onto a bike path. After that path it joined back onto a road and led back to the parking lot for the finish.

I remember coming off of the first mile (8:45) having banked nearly a minute of time and turning onto the bike path to face a hill. In all honesty it was probably a bunny hill, but it sucker punched my lungs regardless. It was maybe 30 feet of elevation over a tenth of a mile...but it precipitated a false flat that delivered another 30 feet of elevation over the next mile. Now, 60 feet of elevation isn't climbing a mountain, but when you're using every ounce of energy to run faster than normal, it feels like it. And my pace reflected the slow climb when I clocked my second mile almost 45 seconds slower (9:28).

I did the math in my head. At just over 18 minutes, I could keep over a 10 minute pace for the remainder of the race and still come in under 30 minutes. That was a relief, but I didn't slow down. I wanted to crush this goal.

All I thought the whole race was that I wanted to be able to call Papa Bender when the race was over and tell him I'd done it for him. I didn't care how much it hurt at any one point, because when it did I thought about him in the hospital and kept pushing pace. I was going to do it.

As the third mile disappeared under my feet (9:11) I knew I had the race, my PR, AND my sub-30 goal in the bag.

And the photographer actually caught the achievement this time...not just my right shoe ;)

This is probably my favorite race photo ever! :)
And he caught it twice!

I'd done it. I brought it all in under 30 minutes.

Official time 28:32.8

I called Papa Bender after so he could listen to me cry and tell him I'd done it for him.

(And then I went and got my finisher's mug, took a few selfies, and actually used the race photo banner to mark the occasion.)

There are so, so many things I could say about this race. About how it made me feel, and the accomplishment I felt when I ran across the finish line and saw what I'd achieved.

But in all honesty, the greatest thing this race did was remind me of everything Meghan and I talked about during Ragnar.
That's what running is about. That's what the hard runs are about. No matter what, no hard run is EVER as hard as the actual, really truly hard things we go through in life. And running is there to save us from those things. 
It is testing physical and mental limits over a long period of time. And for me it was once again proof that I can do hard things. That perseverance and discipline and training mean something.
Sometimes you get to the point where you have to trust that your body can do it without you telling it to because you have the training behind you. You have to turn on the auto pilot and go, and you have to fight the voice in your head that's trying to bargain with you. That's the real hill to climb.
I have a lot of goals this year. So many things I want to accomplish. And I know that, realistically, I will have a bad day at some point and not achieve one of them. And on that day I want to remember this.
Jeez, I need to get another medal hanger.


As of the writing of this post, I went back and reread my post from the Volition America 5k in June 2016 and realized that apparently I did actually run the 3.1 mile distance in under 30 minutes 3 1/2 years ago (according to my Garmin). At the time, I challenged myself to PR under 29 minutes. Well, seems like my subconscious was aware of that...regardless, I never counted that as a 5k under 30 minutes because I always wondered if my watch glitched that day or the course was actually long. So I'm still calling this 5k my first under 30 because my Garmin lined up with the course, and that accuracy counts to me!

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Here it is: Athletic Aspirations and Goals for 2020 (and my race schedule so far)

It is the eve of 2019 (and the end of the decade!), and I'm about to lay out every little goal I've been stockpiling the last few years. Let's do a quick recap of what's happened since I left my most-athletic self in 2016 to do all this grown up stuff.

The Last Three Years...

In 2016 I had a blowout year. I did my first two triathlons, the Lake Zurich Triathlon (sprint distance) and then the Chicago Triathlon (olympic distance). Less than 2 months later I completed the Chicago Marathon - my first marathon distance, and still the best run of my life. I was determined to make 2017 the year of all the racing, with my biggest goal being my first half-iron distance.

I did a few races in the month after Chicago and then all race goals seemed to come to a halt when I got pregnant for the first time in December 2016. We ended up losing that pregnancy on January 29th, 2017...along with a bunch of other terrible crap that happened that month. There were lots of posts about it: 1 2 3

Also, the following (some of these are blog posts, some are Insta links):'s been a whirlwind of a life since 2017.

My life has changed irrevocably since then, and I am so glad. I would never trade this wild ride for anything. I have two amazing kids and a partner who is nothing but supportive of me and the goals I'm about to lay out.

I don't talk about it enough, but for every Instagram post about some shiny new PR I've hit or a good long run, Anthony is in the background making it happen. I have two kids, and they cannot be left unattended (shame :P). It takes planning and coordination and sacrifice from both of us. I thank him every day, and every day I am more than grateful that he is who he is and has remained supportive through everything we've gone through. Every single time I've said to him, "I want to try/get better at/sign up for X" he has said, "Okay, how do we make it happen?"

Lucky doesn't describe it.

When I got pregnant with Andre - and I'm not joking, I was like 10 weeks pregnant - I told Anthony I wanted a "few years off" before trying for #3 (yes) in order to accomplish all of my racing goals. Being pregnant and mother to an infant is about as self-sacrificing as you can get. He agreed (and not unwillingly).

So now, I present you with the list of goals I've been hoarding and growing for the last three years. I've even already accomplished some of them (hello 5k PR!), but there's still plenty to do.

Some are lofty - I don't doubt that some won't happen - but the point it to put it all out there and see what I can make happen. So here goes!

2020 "Challenge" Goals

Cumulative, year long goals:
  • One race every month
  • 100 mile swim club - roughly 3,400 yds a week
  • 1,000 miles run - roughly 20 miles a week
  • 2,000 miles biked - roughly 40 miles a week
  • 366 days of physical activity - it's a Leap Year, the chance only comes once every 4 years!

  • Set a 5k PR
  • Race a 5k under 30 minutes (I accomplished this with the Deer Park Cocoa Classic)
  • Set a 10k PR
  • Race a 10k under 60 minutes
  • first half iron triathlon (70.3 miles - 1.2 mile swim/56 mile bike/13.1 mile run)
  • Swim an iron distance OWS without a wetsuit (2.4 miles)
  • Bike a century (100 miles)
  • 100 x 100 swim (100, 100 yd repeats for 10,000 yards total)
  • Do an Ultra run of some sort (see May race)
  • First trail race (coming up next weekend!)

2020 Race Schedule
These are the races I have planned, though I admit I have not registered for all of them yet (because $$$). I've indicated which ones I've registered for though, and I'll be working on the rest of the schedule as the year progresses. There may be a fall marathon, and I'm sure numerous 5ks and 10ks to fill things in!

  • January - Frozen Gnome (10k trail) registered
  • February - Cupid Undie Run (1 mile) registered
  • March - March Madness Half Marathon (13.1 miles) registered
  • April - Milwaukee Marathon (26.2 miles) registered
  • May - Galena Sky Trail Race (8 hour run)
  • June - undecided
  • July - Lake Zurich Triathlon (Olympic distance)
  • August - Michigan Titanium Half Iron distance
  • September - undecided
  • October - undecided
  • November - undecided
  • December - undecided

There is all is! Goals and races and everything as it stands. I can't wait to see what the year brings!

Peace out to 2019, to the 2010's, and hello 2020!

Happy New Year, everyone!!


Thursday, December 5, 2019

Long Grove Turkey Trot 2019 (Year 2!)

Last year I decided to join my cousins for the Long Grove Turkey Trot, with an aim to start a "turkey tradition" of doing a race on Thanksgiving each year. I never wrote about it because my blogging fell off so badly last year, but I'm back to recap it now after my second year running it!

Race Organization:
All Community Events is the organizer for this one. They actually do the Schaumburg Turkey Trot too (5k and half marathon options), which was my first official half all the way back in 2016. The Long Grove venue is about 30 minutes from my house and this year I actually parked where they recommended (at a school down the road), but thinking about last year's parking debacle made me smile:
Pic from 2018: Thanksgiving last year was when we told everyone we were pregnant with Andre!
I love All Community Events because they do so many fantastic local races with smaller crowds, multiple distances for many races, they have good price points, and offer a Kids' Dash with just about every race. Packet pick up is generally local to the race - this one was at a brewery - many thanks to my aunt for snagging my packet for me! The swag is also pretty good and I look forward to donning whatever it is post-race (if I've never mentioned it, I don't wear race swag before I've completed the race!).

This year's swag: I shit you not, the hoodie had a turkey chasing a runner. I laughed so hard when I realized that's what it was!
Whoever designed this needs a raise :'D :'D
Worth Noting: Long Grove does not offer a medal at the end. All Community Event's other Turkey Trots - Schaumburg (5k/half) and Grant Park (5k/10k) - do have medals for all distance options. It would be cool if they did have a medal but *oh well*.

That said, I do have two critiques of this year's race:

First: The start was bottle-necked (which I don't remember from last year but I do remember from 2016), and it's kind of annoying when you can only fit through the start with one other person.

Second: Maybe more photographers? The way it's set up now, I think the same person is trying their best to catch absolutely everything from every angle, and therefore missing lots of people. It always bums me out when I look through every picture as close as possible, whittling down the time frame by looking up other people's results by bib number so I can narrow it to when I went through only to realize the photographer got every other runner around me...but not me. I don't get that. So many snaps and yet only my right shoe makes it in? Argh.

You think I'm kidding. I'm not:

Oh wait, a third of my forehead and one eye made it into another picture:

You're right, I'm exaggerating. My ponytail and part of my cousin Nate's face made an appearance at the start too:

Anyways, now that I've gotten the bad photos out of the way...on to all the good that happened on Thursday!

Race Time!
I wandered from my car towards the start about 15 minutes before the race started, hit the porta potty, then took a look around for my cousins. Nate and I were running the 8k, and Nick and Ben the 5k. We took some pictures and caught up - Nate told me about his first "Blackout Wednesday" keeping him up all night, and I told him about my two children refusing to sleep! We were starting the race on similar footing haha.
Nate, Ben, Me, Nick
Also, my Pleasant Prairie Triathlon Finisher's shirt. As me how happy I am about how well it's fitting these days! ;)
Nate and I waited until they made the announcement that the race was about to start to head over to the corral. We picked a spot that was better for his pace than mine (ie I seeded way too far forward, because even half asleep Nate is way faster than me) and he let me know he was going to take off and try to end his misery finish as quickly as possible, and maybe throw up on the way. Ahhh youth. We crossed the start, I wished him godspeed, and then settled in for five miles.

Goals: Right before I got out of my car for this race I shared on Instagram that I had no idea what I was going to do. I'd spent all of November debating if I was ready to "race" this race, with the only goal in mind being to come under 50 minutes because I'd never done that for an 8k. And as of Thursday morning I was still undecided. The day before I'd clocked a 20 mile "hilly" bike ride on my trainer, so as I started running I decided I would just chip away at the miles and see how I felt by the middle of the race about what kind of overall pace I could manage.

The best I can describe the course for this race is a double lollipop. You go out from downtown Long Grove, loop around one neighborhood, go a bit further out and loop around another larger neighborhood, then come back in to the finish the same way you went out. It's mostly a road race, but there's a small trail section on the out and back by the finish, and another before the second loop.
The Garmin map showing the two-headed lollipop.
I felt pretty good for the first mile but was definitely getting passed a lot, having seeded too far forward. Just after the first mile dinged on my Garmin I settled in with a group of like-paced athletes, in time for the first place runner to pass us on the out-and-back portion of the first loop. As we were hitting 1.25 this kid was already past mile 2! Impressive, and it's always fun to see those runners come through and give them a "whoop" as they pass!

As with every race, I concentrated on thanking the volunteers who directed us and the emergency services and police officers on the course. I am a firm believer that no matter how hard you're running it takes nothing to thank these people. I always spare a breath for them because they're taking time out of their day to help and keep us safe!

Soap Box PSA: Remember folks, other participants make races exciting, volunteers make them happen!

I looped around the first neighborhood and started thinking about what was possible with this race. My first mile had been just under 10 minutes (9:58) so I briefly considered the idea of racing an 8k under 50 minutes, then dismissed it in the same thought. Wasn't going to happen on legs that had seen a 20 mile cycle the day before. Based on how my heart and lungs were feeling, I highly doubted I would clock another sub-10 mile. So as I came up on Mile 2 I thought about Ragnar and my "all 5s under an hour" goal, and decided the most logical step after that was to shave 5 minutes off and go for 5 miles under 55 minutes (sub-11:00 pace). Something I've done before but not frequently.

Then I actually hit Mile 2 and saw my pace: 9:39.

Okay. So I'd banked over 20 seconds and was holding under a 10:00/mile pace. I revised the goal in my mind again. As close to 50 minutes as possible, understanding that I would still be over and not wanting to be disappointed when I was.

My pace dipped a bit and I caught my third mile in 10:01. It was not easy, but I felt I could sustain somewhere close to that pace for the next two miles. Still holding on to a deficit, I briefly entertained the idea of sub-50:00. Maybe it was possible? But I'd have to commit to make that pace happen...

I kept up the pace, one foot in front of the other, focusing everything in me on thanking volunteers and not on how much distance was still in front of me if I was going to hold that hard pace. My mind wandered occasionally and I imagined being able to finish and say I'd come in under 50 minutes for the first time ever. I thought about my kids. I thought about everything I want to accomplish in 2020. I thought about my 5k and 10k goals (sub 30 and 60, respectively).

And then I thought: Why the fuck should it not start now?

So I chased that sub 50.

I picked up my pace, and saw it drop to 9:33 for Mile 4. At this point I knew that as long as I ran faster than an 11:30 for the last mile, I would come in under 50 minutes no matter what. Even with some fatigue setting in I knew that pace was more than doable. There was no doubt in my mind that I had banked enough time to absolutely crush 50 minutes.

I'd started passing people right and left, and with just over a mile left the 8k course met up with the 5k course and things got crowded. The race had three waves - 8k runners, 5k runners, and 5k walkers. The walkers were still coming out on the start/finish out and back heading towards their loop while 5k and 8k runners were heading back in to finish. I was as vocal as possible when passing people so I wouldn't accidentally clip anyone, but I wasn't willing to slow my pace and lose time. If you're gonna go big, go all in, right? I started overtaking runners in the oncoming lane if it was clear because the "back" was so crowded, and I knew I would lose time on the  quarter mile stretch of too-skinny trail you have to navigate right at the end before turning in to the finish.

Even with that stretch I was determined to finish strong - and that's exactly what I did. I brought home Mile 5 in 9:19, and knew I was WELL under my goal of 50 minutes:

Long Grove Turkey Trot 2019 Official Finish Time: 48:42.1.

I cannot express how happy I was. How excited I was. And how emotional I was too! I found my cousin Nick almost immediately and while he looked around for his mom and brothers I stepped to the side to call Anthony.

And that was when all the emotion came out. I couldn't believe I'd run an 8k in under 50 minutes...for the first time ever. When I was on the phone with Anthony I started crying.
Tears mixed with sweat, no better feeling than working hard for something you want so badly.
Nothing can describe what I was feeling. It was years of emotion, compounded with the sacrifice of going from my peak physical fitness in 2016 to twice postpartum (and chronically sleep deprived). From 2016 to now I never saw or allowed myself to daydream about pace gains. Even after I had Ant Man I focused on maintaining fitness because I knew I would probably be pregnant again soon, and both pregnancies were spent in maintenance mode and focused on staying healthy for my babies.

In short, I spent so long waiting to be able to say I was getting faster, that I couldn't believe it was finally happening.

And I still kind of can't. I still don't have a huge amount of consistency with my workouts, but I'm heading back towards being very fit and tackling goals I've been stock piling for over three years now.

And I've already crushed one.

Post race, biggest smile ever!
After some more pictures and saying goodbye, I walked back to my car and called my mom, my best friend Hannah, and my Papa Bender. I couldn't stop bragging, but I also felt so accomplished and wanted to share that with them (and they were awesome and supportive and super proud of me when I told them <3 p="">

And that was MY #TurkeyTradition Turkey Trot this year!

Finishing the weekend out by volunteering!
But wait, there's more!

As previously mentioned, All Community Events hosts the Schaumburg Turkey Trot every year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. During the week I got an email from my run club (Busse Woods Running Club) asking for more volunteers for water stops along the half marathon route. This race takes place at our alma...uh...perserve? Our namesake? As in, it's actually at Busse Woods! I asked Anthony no less than 8 times if it was okay for me to volunteer and he agreed, so I signed up!

I was assigned to the "Mile 10" water stop which was just before Mile 10. It was miserable weather for running and/or volunteering, but where the runners are the volunteers must be too! It was cold, wet, and even rained on us at the end!

I was there from 9 to 12 and my hands and feet were completely numb for about half of that. I love volunteering and contrary to my pessimistic nature day in and day out, I bust out the good vibes and cheers for on course runners. Volunteering, spectating, cheering - give it to me any day. I love doing that stuff and am thrilled to finally be part of a club that encourages volunteering as much as it does running.

To my fellow BWRCers from Mile 10 - we rocked that shit.
I'm in the middle back in the parka lololol.
 I took it upon myself to collect all the used gel wrappers too. I think I might start a collection haha:

And that is how my 2019 Turkey Tradition ended. With rain, cold, gel wrappers, lots of water cups, and a smile plastered on my face for every runner that came by.