american birkebeiner, 2015.

whoa guys…where has February gone?! i mean, for months and months, especially since the start of winter AND even more so, since the start of this year, the primary athletic event at the forefront of my mind has been the Birkie (the American Birkebeiner). i signed up for this event once, a few year ago because some friends were doing it and i thought it might be fun. needless to say, i never actually went and did the race. so, it’s been on my mind and on my (yet to be seen) bucket list ever since. the year i signed up before now i wasn’t committed to training. i think i skied a whopping 2 times that season. and i decided it was best to sit it out.

but this year…this year was different.

maybe a year ago from now, i began making some changes in my life. let’s say – in my personal life. i realized some things i was doing that were opposite of setting myself up for success. some call it self-sabotage. (i usually look at things through rose-colored lenses, though). anyway, i knew, above all else, it was time for a change.

and so much has changed. adios not so great relationships. hello new job that was a bit of a leap. welcome back, training like an actual athlete. oh, and that dust that sat atop the generally fun-loving, quirky, busy, introverted weirdo i am…it’s been dusted off.

i decided to make a change and then things just started becoming more clear and more obvious. and when a few random friends mentioned they were doing the Birkie this year, i though, “well, why the heck not?!”

a funny thing about this race is that it pretty much fills up before Thanksgiving every year and then you wait to see if there will be snow and how darn cold it will be and all of that jazz. this year, there was not a lot of snow, and not too much cold. i’m not going to say that’s a combo i don’t enjoy – except when i’ve signed up for this big race. oh  well! there’s training to be done.

i’ve said it before and i’ll say it again: thank goodness for my friend and ski buddy Cindi who adventured with me (well, she got me to adventure with her) to some ski wonderlands…or i would have had a bit more trouble with this event. not only did she get me out there – she gave me a few excellent tips…and i swear i walked away from Saturday really pleased with my first Birkie result because of them. i heard, “keep your arms closer to your body” about a hundred times. i repeated it to myself about a hundred thousand times on race day. she gave me tips about climbing hills. and BOYYYYY were there hills! and lastly, the night before the race, i got a text that said, ” have fun and don’t crash! ;)”

YOU GOT IT!

i went into the race with a baby goal in my mind – to finish close to 5 hours. i’ve said to a few people close to me that i could have probably achieved that if: 1. i hadn’t started in wave 9 and 2. if i had more ski experience. you see, starting in wave 9 meant lots of slow uphills, especially at the start and some backed up downhills throughout the race. also, the conditions were pretty close to “fair” by the time i skied the course. again, oh well! ski on. as for #2, you can really only get better at skiing by skiing more. period.

Birkie, you’d be safe to guess you’ll be seeing me again!

rw quoteone of the things i was really, really looking forward to though in the Birkie though is that i’ve realized over the past 5 or so years…i’m truly an endurance lover. so, as the race goes on, i usually just keep on, too. just coming through the halfway point of the Birkie, i was feeling really good and with just 20k to go, i thought to myself, “this is just like the Lake Monona route and i can almost run that in my sleep.”

not only is the quote above indicative of the feelings i have about distance events, but its also especially fun to think about in terms of cross country skiing.

one of the best things i’ve discovered in training for this event is that, well, for one, i suck at directions. i mean, i’d probably not venture into the woods in the snow on my own. but in xc skiing, you really have no other choice. training for the Birkie and xc skiing is like one of those choose your own adventure books. you can go this way or that and eventually you’ll get where you need to go – but the path is different. it’s no different than any of life except that you actively get to decide over and over again over the course of your ski-venture.

on Birkie day, i took none of that for-granted. and it was amazing. yes, the first 10k or so were brutal on what they call “the powerline.” it’s a constant up and down and up and down and up and down again. at first i thought, “WHAT DID I SIGN UP FOR?!” as my heart was maxing out at 175 beats per minute. but soon after, we headed into the woods and i was like “WHOA, THIS IS GORGEOUS!”

i must have been smiling at the first and second and every aid station. but even in the very beginning, even some of the volunteers noticed. (the volunteers, by the way, fantastic!)

and so it went, i skied and i enjoyed my time out in the woods. i took it all in. there were flurries flying by as i made my way south from Cable to Hayward through one of Wisconsin’s most treasured areas of the Northwoods. somewhere near 20k down, i skied up to my pal Mike who was also out there doing this race for the first time. it was awesome to see him and we ended up skiing together – or nearby one another for i swear close to 10k. and just after we separated, i ran into my friend Kristi who, by this time, is a seasoned Birkie competitor. she joked earlier in the week that she hoped to see me over the weekend, just not on the course, and then, of course, my goal was to chase her down by the end of the 51km. we skied together for a minute and laughed about our encounter and caught up more after we finished.

i wish i had been able to capture, in pictures, the beauty and fun that i had on that Saturday, a few days ago, in the Northwoods in February, but you’ll have to take my word for it…and maybe do the race yourself one day.

instead of going on and on though, i came up with a list of sorts to help explain my experience to all of you. i hope this gives you a simple picture, and some laughs about the experience….

so, without further ado:

SHAY’S BIRKIE 2015, BY THE NUMBERS!

2 bus rides – one to the start line and one back to the car at the end of the day

1 trip to the port-a-potties before the race

1/2 banana on my way to the start line. i decided NOT to eat the other half off the ground after 10,000+ people had already walked over that snow

7 restless hours of sleep the night before

1 trip to the UP – to ABR ski area for the inaugural ski of this season

30 (or more) laps at Lapham Peak ski area on their man-made loop of snow

1 day of skiing at Iola Winter Sports Park

1 long day of skiing at 9-mile in Wausau

6 coats of wax – an estimate because i actually don’t know how to wax my own skis

25 – dollars spent on hand and toe warmers this winter

2 warm (thanks to hand warmers in my vest pockets on race day) vanilla power gels

1 disgustingly cold vanilla bean GU (seriously, the hand warmer idea was GOLDEN. have you ever had cold GU? take my word and don’t try it)

10-ish cups of lukewarm water at aid stations

12-ish cups of warm ENERGY. which volunteers shouted to indicate they had either Nuun Hydration or GU Energy drink for us. ENERGYENERGYENERGY!

3-4 ‘nilla wafer cookies

1 oreo-like cookie

1/4 chocolate chip cookie. i could have eaten the entire cookie at the top of this hill

1 bitch hill. no, really, that’s what the locals call it. also, where i had the heavenly chocolate chip cookie piece.

2 (or 3) snowmobile gangs. these guys were hilarious and made me laugh. they’d heckle you and tell you to slow down around sharper turns…but cheer if you made it through unscathed.

1 easy fall trying to step around someone who had fallen right in front of me early in the race.

0 crashes!

1 shot from the shot ski or an apple pie-like beverage. also: a proud member of the 39k club!

51 kilometers through the Northwoods of Wisconsin from Cable to Hayward, WI

2 big cups of chicken noodle soup afterwards

1 bitch hill belgian ale at the angry minnow brewpub with dinner

countless smiles and high fives and congrats.

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ok, there you have it! this was one of the best things i’ve ever done. going back to the quote, and to a year ago, i had no idea what the past 12 months would hold, but by actively choosing my own adventure in life, by choosing another path, i got to show up last weekend ready to tackle just about anything. i got to tackle the amazing American Birkiebeiner!

AND, i realize that i get to do that, to choose my own adventure every single day.

 

 

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sauca.

i have this book called Meditations from the Mat: daily reflections on the path of yoga. my mom gave it to me a few years ago and i’m ever so slowly making my way through it. definitely not daily, but just like my yoga practice – i return to it when i need to. and every so often, i open the book and it’s like SPLAT, everything i needed to hear is right there. today was one of those days.

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this morning the message was that, “sauca is the moment on our path when we begin to take the maintenance of our physical condition seriously.” the writer (Rolf Gates) goes on to tell us readers about some of his self-destructive habits and the self-sabotage he was experiencing and then how he had a spiritual awakening of sorts. he noticed people he admired treating their bodies well, having principles food, behavior, attitude, and beliefs. and much more. he says that he saw it as “an extension of the love these individuals felt toward themselves and others.” the part that struck me most was when he said that practicing sauca means turning beliefs into action.

i’ve been slow on this blog to talk about the past, hey, 9 months or so. i think mostly because i was in the midst of a transformation and frankly i couldn’t quite talk about it until i started to come to the other side. but once i read about sauca this morning i realized – that’s it! i didn’t consciously do THIS sauca thing because i didn’t KNOW what IT was, but i realize now that i began, in maybe March of last year, slowly grabbing ahold of my beliefs that got a little sidetracked and i began pulling them back to me and i started turning them into action.

one thing that struck me is that i have this piece of string tied around my wrist. i put it there as a reminder – i can’t remember when i put it there and i can’t even remember exactly what the reminder was except to be true to myself. but i think it’s been there for close to a year now. i see it and feel it and in the tiniest way it has been a reminder to keep on moving forward.

another part of what i read today that resonated was, “each step we take on this path is a step into the unknown and a confirmation of our ability to live a better life.”

i see that piece of string and i’m reminded that it’s ok to let go of the things that no longer serve you: bad relationships, overindulging, eating poorly, never going to yoga, not taking running and health seriously, not sleeping, staying in a job that doesn’t sing to you…

and this all relates to running as i’ve been trying to ramp up my mileage a bit recently and just a few weeks ago i realized that i’ve been running mostly pain-free for a little while now. it feels good to feel good and it feels awesome to feel more like the running me again.

i know this is, in part, to my awesome active-release doc and to me being patient, but also because i’ve been increasingly diligent in working to get back to this place. maybe that little piece of string also reminded me to keep taking steps, even baby steps, to change the path i was on.

so it really is about going for it. taking one step and then another step. and for me, always – that constant forward motion.

cat’s outta the bag.

well friends, you heard it here first…

actually, you’re hearing it right now for the first time.

just before my head hit the pillow (the pillow it barely left all weekend as I was laid up with some awful virus) on sunday night, I did it. I registered for the Madison Marathon.

ok, no gasps, really. I love this city. I love it in the fall. and truth be told, I needed a little kick in the ass ahem, motivation to help me find my running groove again.

the past, let’s say 6 months or so….have left me straying ever so slightly from my original love. and honestly, I want her back. I am not too proud to say I missed you, running. I’m not too big to admit that I left you hanging. I knew it all along and while I’ve given you just enough attention to keep this flame we have flickering going, I realize now that I’m not the same without you. Nope, I guess distance really does make the heart grow finder. Oh, and relationships like ours, why yes, they take work. and running, please remember this: you are worth it.

it was funny that I was lying in bed all weekend ill. ok, funny in a “this is a sign, shay, to get your @$$ in gear and to treat your body better and to start prioritizing the most important things.”

all funnies aside, on sunday night, I recommitted – to running and to really being the best me there is.

oh, and some gorgeous new Mizunos showed up at my door friday afternoon and I haven’t even gotten them out for their maiden voyage yet. embarrassing.

I really do know how to rub salt in a wound….

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long run recovery.

maybe i’ll never really learn – though after last saturday’s race, i felt pretty good. yesterday i met 5 great running buddies at the UW Arboretum at 8am to run two loops. for those of you who don’t know, the “Arb loop” is a perfect 10k, if you stay on their marked course.

anyway, i was, admittedly, a few minutes late. i hadn’t set an alarm and was hoping to sleep in – but i guess when you’ve been getting up before 6am most of the week prior, sleeping in on saturday means 7am. ok, i’ll take it. i pulled up to the Visitor’s Center parking lot at about 8:05 and jogged over to where Krista, Mel, Tim, Pat and Ryan were standing and they quickly greeted me with, “WHICH DIRECTION SHOULD WE RUN?”

i laughed and suggested we do a one loop in each direction. they all laughed and agreed and before we knew it, i think Tim and Ryan were off – choosing the first direction. we separated, rather quickly, into three pairs and Pat and I kind of took off. we chatted the whole way around and then joined the group and ran in a pack for the second loop.

i loved reading the write-ups from everyone on Dailymile afterwards. you can probably read them all through the links on my own review, so i’ll just link to that here. nonetheless, it was great to read and appreciate that we’re all on different levels and that we stuck together for that second loop despite our differences. it kinda made me feel like this:

so today, i actually did sleep in. until 8:30!!! but as soon as i rolled out of bed, i realized that i was a little less recovered than i thought. and as i type this, i realize though, that i’m not sore. maybe not at all. just fatigued and the heat isn’t helping me feel any less – umm, swollen? oh, and drinking my regular amount of coffee is making me feel a bit – well, wobbly. but i’ve got compression on and water at arm’s reach and i’m beginning to think that maybe a little shakeout run is in order.

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i love running. i love how it unites as it did yesterday and how it’s humbling me today. i love the doors and connections it opens and all the growing it allows. so, while i still might not be the best at figuring out the whole recovery thing, i’m glad for the reflection this day after a long run provides.

have a wonderful sunday!

the difference.

this post is one part race report and one part inspiration. i woke up at 6am saturday morning ahead of the Ice Age half marathon. the race was slated to begin at 9am, so i figured i would hop out of bed, grab a little food and coffee and hit the road by about 7am to get there with just under an hour to start time.

the morning went off, pretty much, without a hitch. i actually rolled out of bed and into the running clothes i had laid out the night before. surprise, surprise…i was prepared. within minutes, my things were packed and i decided that with the 40 minutes before i wanted to leave, i’d quickly hit up the Madison farmer’s market. i narrowly missed it the week before and i wanted to grab some ramps, asparagus, and the most important thing – bacon! so, i made a quick loop, grabbing what i came for – plus a few more things, saying “HI” to some friends along the way, and jumping back into my car just before 7am. i swung by my house to drop off my goodies and was on my way!

the drive was easy. i grabbed my timing chip and bib in minutes and while relaxing in my car before warming up and deciding what i’d ultimately race in, i saw that fellow former-Badger, turned professional triathlete Gwen Jorgensen had won her second WTU race in Asia sometime in the last 12 hours. i got pumped up watching the highlight video and was really ready to go. my own silly goal in my mind was that i’d better beat Gwen’s finish time in my measly half marathon.

(read that with sarcasm, please. heck, it least it put a time to beat in my mind)

soon enough, i changed into shorts, deciding i would be warm enough wearing my MS Run Athletes kit (top and shorts) along with arm sleeves for the race. i warmed up and headed to the start line area with just under 10 minutes to 9am. when i arrived, the race director noted a discrepancy in start times posted on various online outlets and shared with us all his decision to postpone the start to 9:30 to allow for the mistake. so, i relaxed a bit more. took in some more water. and took the opportunity to stretch and warm up again.

one thing i’ve learned throughout my running ‘career’ is that for me, a warm-up is an important game-changer. i seem to get better as i go, as a general rule of thumb, which is probably why i enjoy ultra running. but more on that another time.

so, we started promptly at 9:30. the only thing i’ll note about the start is that there was a woman and about six men who took off like rockets right out of the gates. somebody made a comment about the woman in the group – which i find particularly funny because was the eventual overall woman! HELLS YES! i never saw her, but went out mildly aggressive to get away from the crowd a bit and gave myself until the first aid station to try to get settled into a rhythm. it was ok, but the first section of the loop was hilly so i eventually settled in, probably around mile 4ish. i had a bit of company for a mile or so which helped break things up – and i love having a brief conversation here and there. i think that helped me feel settled.

near the last mile i notice my friend Kristin who was doing the 50k up ahead. i didn’t have enough juice in me to sprint, but i caught up to her and we chatted for a bit. it was REALLY good to see a familiar face on the course and seeing Kristin, whom i admire greatly, lit a spark in me. we parted ways, but i told her i’d see her at the finish later and i took off again. at that point, i was near the half-way and noted my time, primarily so i could work to stay steady on the second loop.

i had another buddy for a bit of the first loop and then sort of got into my groove and just went. the second loop was good because i knew it would be hilly and also had some flats that i knew i could look forward to. there were also lots of 50k runners joining onto the course which was just the perfect amount of distraction. i loved running by them and telling them “good job.” this is one of the best things about trail running! anyway, i hammered away steadily and probably about halfway through the second loop i noticed a man who had passed me at about the same point in the first loop up ahead. he hadn’t disappeared and i decided i would work to chase him from that point to the finish.

i eventually caught and passed him with more than 1.5 miles to go and finished in 1:51.20. that was good for 6th woman, and officially 2nd in my age group – though they handed me a first-place plaque – which i realize today is incorrect, though the real #1 woman in my age group was the woman who won overall. anyway, i’ll take it! i’ll take it because i went out there and put out an effort that i was truly proud of. i remembered my motto, “constant forward motion” and that kept me pushing on, even when the hills seemed endless. oh, and i did beat Gwen’s time.

but another reason i brought up Gwen and also Badgers is two-fold. first, a great coach that i looked up to while at the UW had some media availability last week and he said something that really hit home. you can watch the video by clicking this link, but his wisdom that prevailed in my mind was, “the difference between the first eight and the second eight is simple. the first eight pulls harder, pulls longer, and is more determined….” (the specific comment is at about the 1:50 mark in the video)

and then today, this morning, in fact, i read Gwen’s race report which touched on a similar note. she says,

“Bobby McGee once told me, “Do you know what the likelihood of you feeling great at the Olympics is?” I shrugged as I had never thought about it.  “Zero percent,” he said. And he is right. The chance of feeling great on the one day you work towards for four years is pretty slim.”

and this is true, wherever you are in your sport if you’re trying to reach the next level. you’ve got to show up, do the work, and realize – the truth of the greats isn’t that they’ve trained so that their best race doesn’t hurt – they’ve trained to have the determination to push through no matter how hard it gets.

so on saturday while i was out there, when it felt particularly tough, i reminded myself that the best i could do was to keep going – to persevere – to not give up. i may never compete at the elite level but i do know what makes the difference in getting me from where i am to where i’m going.

it’s as true for running as it is for every facet of life.