Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Two Weeks - My Trip Preface

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Everything I was I carry with me, everything I will be lies waiting on the road ahead. 
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By the time you get about 10 sentences into this post you’ll realize that the trip I took to Europe was not at all the trip I said I’d be taking when I’ve posted about it in the past.

I did not go to four cities, as planned. I didn’t even really go to the countries I’d planned.

I didn’t travel with anyone either. I saw friends, I saw family, but I did it all on my own.

Oh look...that only took 4 sentences.

The huge, glaring question mark that I can see hanging over all of your heads and that I’ll have to briefly address with the following is: I didn’t take the trip I’d planned with Cam and the guys because Cam and I broke up.

So there’s that. And I guess I’ll also go ahead and say that the details are not at all important to the internet. Relationships are personal and private, and I'm not going to be airing my dirty laundry here (which I know you all will understand).

Annnnnnd moving on!

You’ll recall (since I just posted about it), the Chicago Triathlon was on August 28th. Part of the stress I mentioned leading up to the triathlon was because I suddenly had to reorganize my entire trip in addition to strategizing for my tri weekend. I had to find people to stay with, switch flights, book additional flights, and book trains...all while dealing with the fallout of a relationship (note to self: everyone buys their own plane ticket next time).

Actually...the two weeks leading up to this trip were the most stressful I’ve had in a long time (as I mentioned in my post about the triathlon). Never mind the additional planning I had to do at the last minute, but the additional unplanned cost associated with all of these things (and the fact that I was not entirely reimbursed for money already spent) was a huge stressor. This trip, for sure, ended up being WAY more expensive for me than I feel it should have been, and that's something I'm still coping with emotionally (because it makes me really fucking angry). It was the one big negative about the trip, and so I just won't talk about any more :)

By the time September 2nd rolled around I definitely needed a vacation.

Since you’ll get to read all about my travels and travelling and being places later, here’s a general rundown of where I was when, so you can get excited to read about it (hopefully). There’s some overlap in days because I include the day I left and arrived for each little block of days (but you’re all smart and could figure that out…)

September 2nd: Left Chicago
September 3rd: Landed in Paris and travelled to Trier, Germany
September 3th-9th: Trier, Germany at Danielle and Lenny's (and various other trips out)
September 9th: travelled to London
September 10th-13th: Hannah’s in Grays
September 13th-15th: Katie’s in Saffron Walden
September 15th-16th: Aunt Margaret’s in Harlow
September 16th: Left London

And holy crap guys. What a trip.
Within 24 hours of getting home, unpacked and finally sleeping in my own bed I realized just what a whirlwind it was. I had a great time and I got to see so many people, even if I was a little homesick throughout (don’t knock it!).

I marathon trained in two countries, I hiked and biked and got dirt on me from other lands, I got to know and love my adorable godson even more than I already did, I cuddled three dogs over and over, and I was able to come home and feel like I’d made the most of my trip.

I am glad to be home now. And, believe it or not (/sarcasm), things aren’t slowing down! The marathon is coming up, I've done my last loooooong training run and am now tapering, I’ve got a Ragnar to organize (WAT?!), there are weights to hit and a gym to get back to, camping trips to go on, off season training and goals are being set, people to chill with…

...and I could not be happier. The last few months have been difficult and draining, mentally and emotionally. I definitely needed two weeks away. Away from work and this place and all these emotions...a chance to remove myself from everything that happened the last few months and the enormous obligations I felt to hold everything together and do everything a certain way.

Those two weeks were a complete reset button. They were my chance to ‘start over’, if you will, so hopefully you’re looking forward to hearing about them!

I’m working on multiple posts with lots of pictures to recap it all (in additional to all the other craziness here), so stay tuned and check back!


x

PS...I will absolutely post a roundup of pictures and stuff from the triathlon, but I'm having some trouble getting my finishers video off my mom's phone (okay, so I haven't actually tried yet but whatever). So yeah...that will come later. It's been over a week, let's get rolling on this Europe stuff!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Finally...#TeamRMHC and why I'm running the Chicago Marathon

Oh em gee, you guys, this post has been AGES coming. I'll be posting about my trip soon, but I have to get this up because I really should have written it three months ago!! I guess procrastination got the better of me. But here it is! My reason for running the Chicago Marathon and choosing Ronald McDonald House Charities to run for!


This past Sunday morning I woke up at 3:30am and dragged myself out of bed to drive downtown and run 20 miles along the lakefront as part of my training for the Chicago Marathon. You might be questioning my sanity, and perhaps you’re wondering why I did it.

It is because I have learned the following about myself: I will do practically anything for charity.

Even run a marathon.

Why Ronald McDonald House?
I chose RHMC because at 20-weeks pregnant, my high school friend Stephanie found out her daughter Emma would be born with a congenital heart defect. If she lived, Emma would require immediate open heart surgery and additional surgeries over the first months and years of her life. Stephanie and her husband Joe were able to stay at Ronald McDonald House for the first weeks of Emma’s life until she was well enough to come home.

Their story is a happy one. When I met Emma she was five weeks old and could only be fed via feeding tube. She has now had multiple surgeries to help her heart grow and is a healthy, happy toddler with every chance at a normal and healthy life. Stephanie and Joe are very open about what a great help and relief it was to be able to stay close to Emma during those early days, and that palpable sense of relief and gratitude is why I’m running for #TeamRMHC, and why I donated my $185 race fee to the cause.

But a good cause doesn’t always make training easier.

At Mile 16 of my run on Sunday I was hurting, and I started questioning my marathon decision. But then I thought about all of the children born sick like Emma, or who are struggling with cancer and realized: They don’t have a choice. I am choosing to do this because they don’t have a choice. Their families don’t have a choice. And I can face 26.2 miles for them.

So on October 9th I will toe the line of the Chicago Marathon with thousands of other people, and I am running with Emma in mind and in support of Ronald McDonald House Charities as part of #TeamRMHC.

About RMHC
Ronald McDonald House Charities provide a “home-away-from-home” for families so they can stay close by their hospitalized child at little to no cost. The principle is simple: The most important thing a family should focus on when a child is sick is the health of that child. Is should not be where they will spend the night or eat their next meal or where they can afford to stay. In times of crisis, when a child needs the best care and support possible, families need to be together.

It might be for one night, it might be for months – Ronald McDonald House Charities provide this peace of mind for more than 7 million families each year. And each year, TeamRMHC raises more than 1 million dollars each year to support the charity.

If you would like to support myself and TeamRMHC as we run, you can donate to my fundraising page.

Thank you for your time and consideration, from myself and the RMHC families. Your donation helps keep families close when it matters.

Sincerely,
Christina MacKenzie

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Transamerica Chicago Triathlon

This post has been a long time coming, I know! I've been in Europe for a little over a week nearly two weeks now and I don't own a laptop, so staying up to date on posts is pretty hard! I was able to write most of this on Hannah's laptop while I was at her's, but I've put the rest together on my tablet, so I apologize for any weird spelling or format issues. With that aside...Here's my race recap for you!

**The Morning**

Last I left you, Tina and I were falling asleep around 10pm. I can speak for myself...I did not sleep super well. I got up a few times to go to the bathroom, and around 3 am I just could not get comfortable again. I think it was mostly nerves, but I was struggling to get comfortable in bed and fall back asleep.

And then I heard Tina moving around in bed and I whispered, "Hey...are you awake..."

"Yeah..."

And that was it. We were up at three am.

Although, by "up" I mean we were laying in bed, sheets up to our ears, talking. I was laying there with my eyes closed while I did some deep breathing exercises to oxygenate my brain and muscles a little more since I'd barely slept.

We eventually got out of bed and began to get ready - first with coffee!!

We totally overworked the hotel coffee maker with our demands for multiple cups of joe (and tea). We actually had to call the front desk to get more coffee because they'd only given us one regular and one decaf pod (silly hotel). At one point while I was making coffee the machine let out this HUGE gasp of steam and Tina and I sat there giggling at it:
Not pictured: All of the tea leaves Tina spilled before actually getting it in the cup to make her tea :P Once it was finally made, coffee was followed by stretching and some yoga. We also listened to some good tunes, and I shared my favorite open water swim song with Tina (more on that later).

Our goal was the leave the hotel between 4:45 and 5. The walk from the hotel to transition was about 20 minutes, and transition would close at 5:45. Since we had racked our bikes the day before we only had to set up our transitions.

We ended up leaving close to 5:10 (cue my internal freak out). I used this time before we left to fill my water bottles and Camelbak and to double check that I had everything I needed. I threw on my tri kit and a tshirt, we both baulked at the temperature showing on our phones (77 degrees - it couldn't be that hot already!) and we headed out.

**Transition**
We got to transition right around 5:30, and I made it to my bike with a little over 10 minutes to get everything set up. It really didn't take very long (by the time they made the '7 minutes left' announcement I was almost ready to leave), but transition was SUPER crowded.

The girl who's bike was left of mine had basically decided to use the space under my bike for her stuff. Very nice of her. She had tons of space under and to the left of her own bike, and had laid all of her stuff out on a towel, so I simply dragged it to the left a little to give myself some room. Triathlon faux pas on my part? Maybe. But so is using space that's not yours for your stuff.

However, the girl on my other side (Lauren) was super nice. She and her friend (Taylor, about three bikes to my left) were doing Chicago as their first triathlon and they were hilarious. They definitely lightened the mood at transition and I really enjoyed talking to them. Lauren and the guy next to her both scooted their stuff over a bit to give me a little bit more room (I'm not kidding, the girl to my left took ALL of my space).

We chatted as we set up, and after a few minutes Taylor made a joke about Lauren forgetting things. And then Lauren realized she really had forgotten something. Her goggles.

I could see the panic in her face and said, "It's okay - I have an extra pair. They're not polarized or anything but you can use them!" She was so grateful (and the race hadn't even started!) and she promised to leave them right on top of my stuff.

Right before I finished my set up the space-hog next to me came back and said, "Someone moved my stuff!" And I looked at her straight in the face and said, "Yeah...I did. It was under my bike...in MY spot." To which she replied, "Well I'm just going to move it back."

AND SHE DID. (*shock*gasp*)

She literally dragged the towel back over, ON TOP OF my shoes and socks and water bottle. I was incredulous...because out of 4,000 people she was not the only one who wasn't going to get 18 inches next to her bike.

So as soon as she walked away I pushed the towel back over. Passive agressive, sure. But if she really wanted all of that space she should have been a little flexible and set up on the other side of her bike, and not under someone else's.

Annnnyways.

With everything set up, I threw my helmet and Camelbak on top of my bike, grabbed my wetsuit and swim trinkets, and headed out of transition just as they announced that transition would CLOSE IN FOUR MINUTES!

I met Tina at the exit and we wandered down to the porta potties where she let me use her sandals to go to the bathroom. After that we parted ways - her start time was nearly an hour after mine, so she had lefther wetsuit at the hotel and was going to go back.

So I was on my own!

**The Wait**

At this point it was slightly after 6am. My start time was 7:18, so I had a decent amount of time to wait. I wandered around for a bit, and at 6:30 I decided to sit down and eat my trail mix Clif bar and some peanut butter, and I found some water as well (at an aid station). I also took this time to stretch and put my wetsuit on half way...then I decided to do some walking.

I used the time to scope out the spectator's area...which is basically all along the lakefront of Monroe Harbor. It was actually *very* cool. The elite and men's waves had already started so I was able to watch other athletes swimming right up against the wall of the harbor - and I'm not joking. My coworker had described this to me from watching his wife do this tri, but I didn't realize that at some points where the wall is low you're no more than three feet from people in the water. At other times the wall is higher so you're further away, but sure enough the swimmers are RIGHT there. It was very cool.


During this time I also had my first ever experience going into a porta potty with NO SHOES on. I don't recommend it.

Somewhere around 7:00 I saw the sign for my wave go up signalling that we could line up near the swim start.
In line with the other ladies in my wave!
As I was walking over I turned to my right - and saw my mom! |I had been looking for her the entire time I'd been waiting but had resigned myself to the fact that I probably wouldn't see her before I started. I almost cried. I was so glad she'd made it early and would be there to watch me start!

**The Swim**
.9 miles, 00:34:16

The F25-29 was the first wave of women to start which was pretty cool. I waited until just before we got in the water to put my swim cap and goggles on...and 100% forgot to put my ear plugs in. I always wear them because water gets in my ears very easily...and I forgot about them this time because I'd stuck them in my bra so I wouldn't lose them before the swim.

Whoops.

We finally got in the water and it was a bit colder than I remember 70 degrees being. And wayyyy deeper than I thought it would be! I really had to idea what to expect, but the harbor is deep! There were some gentle waves coming off the boats as wake, and I could see life guard canoes and a Chicago PD boat floating along the route.

The start was self seeded (you pick where you want to go, generally by how fast you think you'll swim) so all of us placed ourselves for the start, making jokes and wishing each other luck - it was a pretty great start! I had wanted a spot near the outside but ended up more in the middle, and I was towards the front.

And with a countdown and the horn, we were off!

I expected this swim start to be way worse than the Lake Zurich tri, but it was actually way better. During the whole swim I only touched other swimmers a few times, and there were no kicks or punches to the face (which was great, and a very pleasant surprise!).

Swimming in Lake Michigan was about what I thought it would be. It was definitely harder than the average day at Three Oaks, but it was not the hardest swim I've ever done. What was hard was feeling like I was being passed by everyone. I wasn't really passed by everyone, but it sure feels like that as people swim past you. I was even passed by a few of the really fast swimmers from the next wave! But I held a pretty steady pace the whole way through, and for my first Lake Michigan swim with a crowd that size, I'm okay with my time.

The course went south for about 1/3 of a mile then turned to head north towards transition. Once we had passed the start we were able to move over and swim near the wall of the harbor. Every time I breathed to the left I looked up, searching for my mom and Papa Bender (who was on his way to spectate!). I didn't find them at all during the swim, so I assumed they would be somewhere along the bike course.

I got to the swim exit and grabbed the first hand I saw in the water, and a volunteer pulled me out of the water and up the steps. As I climbed up another volunteer undid the velcro on my wetsuit, and a third one pulled the cord to unzip it. I thanked them and pulled my suit off my torso as I started running...

...just in time to see my mom and Papa Bender walking away from the swim exit! I yelled both of their names since they hadn't seen me at all, and they got a good glimpse of me running up the red carpet to transition.

**T1**
00:08:24

The run from the swim to transition was about half a mile - so even longer than the LZTri! I am not pleased with my T1 time, but I know that run accounts for some of it.

I stripped off my wetsuit in the grass before running to my bike, and threw it on the ground once I was there. I rinsed off my feet before pulling my socks and bike shoes on, then I threw on my Camelbak and helmet too.

All of that took way longer than it sounds. I actually felt very clumsy at this transition, and I'd like to work on making it faster...but I suppose that will come with time.

I unracked my bike and began the run out of transition (uphill!).

(And for anyone wondering, yes, the girl next to me managed to get her stuff all on top of mine again...)

**The Bike**
24.8 miles, 01:18:29

The bike was my jam. It was my strongest discipline the entire day, which surprises no one more than me!

The course started with a ride north along Lake Shore Drive for 10 miles, then we turned back south towards the Loop. I felt like I was flying. I had been passed over and over during the swim, but during the bike that changed and I passed person after person. I was only passed about 10 times during the entire bike course by people who then stayed ahead of me, and only one of those was someone I had rabbited with (you pass them, they pass you, etc). 

Riding back into the city I looked up and saw the Hancock building and thought, "Hey! I hustled up that a few months ago!", and had a nice little nostalgic flashback to the event :)

Right after that second picture was taken, at about 15 miles I lost signal on my Garmin because the course turned on to Wacker Drive - if you're not familiar with the city...go watch Batman! Not even kidding, because the whole semi-truck/Batmobile from The Dark Knight was filmed on Wacker/Lower Wacker. So just as Mr Announcer Man had said the day before...when you're on Wacker Drive, just pretend you're Batman!

(I did at one point remember him saying that and said outloud 'I'm Batman!'...and right when I did someone passed me. Not awks at all...)

Actually - that girl who passed me was the one person I was disappointed about. A few people who passed me flew by with no chance of being caught. Most people I passed I left behind, and if they re-passed me I passed them again, for good. Except that one girl! At one point she just had way more power and speed than me coming out of a turn (there were lots of turns through the underbelly of the city) and that was it. She had me.

The Wacker/Lower Wacker section of the ride took up a good portion of the last 10 miles (at least half, but I don't have any real number since my bike computer wasn't working) and shot us out heading south through the city past Soldier Field, and almost to Sox park.

I had been keeping my eye on all of the bridges that spectators were lining, looking for my mom and Papa Bender (who were both wearing blue, so they were fairly easy to spot as a pair). After the turn around that brought us back north towards transition, I spotted them right as I was about to head under one of the bridges and I looked up, pointed at them and yelled, "HI MOM! HI PAPA BENDER!" and sailed on by.

The rest of the ride was uneventful. It was a short trip back towards the transition area, and then it was time to run.

Note: By the end of the bike (and especially after when I saw my times) I'd made the decision to purchase a new bike before next season...so that's happening. I had some pretty decent times on the bike, and I want to see what kind of damage I can do with a better ride. Granted, there's a lot of skill to build up between now and then as well...but that new bike will happen!

**T2**
00:05:37
I literally don't even remember T2, except that my shoes and socks got changed, and I had a Honey Stinger on the way out. Yup. That was it, and then the run started!

**The Run**
6.2 miles, 01:14:37

Of all of the events of the day, the run was the hardest. Nevermind the swim and bike before it, the run would have been hard if that was all I'd decided to do that day.

It was very hot.

It was very humid.

And the entire course was in full sun.

The first mile was okay. Even though my stomach was cramping really badly (probably from the half clif bar I shoved in my mouth at mile 12 on the bike) and even though I stopped to use the porta potty, I knocked out the first mile in 11:09. The second took me 11:31, and then it fell apart (12:52, 12:07, 12:17, 12:37 for the remaining miles). I even had a friend comment on that later - that as he was watching my mile times come up he thought, "What the hell happened?!"

I can't even tell you what was happening on the course. Tons of people were alternating between running and walking. Lots of people were cramping up. We were all grabbing multiple waters at the aid stations to dump on ourselves and drink. When they started offering ice I was shoving it into my bra and under my bra straps to cool off my chest and back.

It was brutal. Right when I started I wanted those six miles to be done already.

Right around mile 2.5 I saw someone ahead of me on the path wearing a #TeamRMHC shirt and he was walking. I decided that once I caught up to him I could walk with him for as long as he was walking. I did just that. I asked him if he was doing the race or a training run and he said he was on mile 10 of 16 for his long run that week. We agreed it was stupidly hot and a difficult run day. We walked a bit further, then decided to run together until my turn around. It was great to run into him at that point in the race when I wasn't quite half way and needed that boost. I didn't know him, had never seen him post in our Facebook group, but it was that little boost I needed to get me through that halfway point.

And then the turn.

I just focused on getting back down the lake front to the finish line. I made the mistake at one point of letting a volunteer splash water from a gallon jug onto me, and my shoes sloshed the remaining two miles back (but damn, was I hot).

I had a welcome distraction around mile 5 when someone (Mr 58, in my head since that was the age on his calf) asked me what the tattoo on my left shoulder blade means. It was the one I got when Hannah was here, so I explained. Mr 58 and I ran intandem for a good while together, and then towards the end I wished him luck and ran ahead, determined not to walk again until I crossed the finish line.

Right before the chute at the end someone in the crowd said, "Don't stop running! You're almost there! Just up the hill and turn the corner and you'll see it!"

I remember thinking at that point, 'If this woman is lying, I will turn around and find her after this is over...'

But she wasn't. It was a quarter mile up hill onto Columbus drive (which will also be the Finisher's Chute for the marathon!) and then about 1/10 of a mile to the finish line.

(At this point I'll say that I thought for sure I would have a good finisher's pic because I basically crossed that line alone...but wherever they took the pictures from was a terrible angle and I did not get my good picture...*sad panda*...you can barely even see me in it.)

My mom and Papa Bender were waiting for me right across the finish line though, and by the time I found them with my banana, water, and cold, wet towel (best handout ever) I was all smiles:
And that medal? So huge. So heavy. As soon as the woman put it on my I was like, 'Wow, thanks! Take it off!' Haha. But for real, I left it on until I took a shower, and then put it back on before lunch!

**The Wrap Up**
The walk back to transition to get all of my stuff took a long while and I was getting annoyed by my sloshy shoes. Back at transition everyone was talking about how hard the run was (the girl next to me who'd taken up all my space was now being all friendly, telling me how she 'dropped 20 places during the run' and I was like '........?' Bitch, I was just happy to stay upright the whole time!)

I finally got all of my stuff, texted some key people about the race, and met back up with my mom and Papa Bender. We decided on a place for lunch (Kuma's Corner in Schaumburg) and then I went back to the hotel to rack my bike on my car then shower and check out. Tina had beat me to the shower so I got all of my stuff packed up while I waited. We said our goodbyes before my shower, and off she went.

The rest of the day was, thankfully, uneventful. The drive out of the city took forever and I was definitely feeling hungry and tired. Lunch with my mom and the Benders was great, and then before heading home I met up with one of my friends and spent about three hours talking non stop about the race. Let me tell you - friends who let you do that are true friends. I'm sure he was bored stupid at some points, but on and on I went, and I enjoyed gushing about it all while it was fresh in my mind!

So there you have it.

August 28th, 2016 - the Transamerica Chicago Triathlon - It was wonderful. It was a great experience. Tina and I had a total blast together, and we're already trying to plan some other crazy things for next year (though I probably won't be able to fit this specific race in).

I apologize again for how long it took me to get this post up! I had an insane couple of weeks leading up to this trip (more on that in future posts) and this trip itself has not only been busy and fun, but it's taken a lot out of me, so I haven't been able to write like I wanted. Actually, my one blogging goal was to get the post about this race written while I was on this trip...and here I am, ready to leave England tomorrow and I'm just posting about it!

That said...I have taken lots of notes and lots of pictures while on this trip, and I plan on camping myself in front of my computer (enough of this tablet nonsense!) when I get home to provide you with at least some of that story, even if it's just a barrage of pictures!

Oh, and PS...I will probably put up a follow-up post to this one with some of the other pictures/videos that were captured the day of the race that I don't have immediately available to post. So there's that too!

Thank you for your patience...until next time!


x