Guest Blog: Tiffany F.

Guest Blog: Tiffany F.

Ok, so I just ran a half marathon! For some this may sound super exciting, and for others, maybe your first half was years ago and you have moved on to the full marathon or ultra-marathon. For me, it was a victory in many ways.

In 2005, I woke up to find that the entire left side of my body was numb. I was terrified. The neurologist sent me for an MRI, and the news was better than I thought-herniated discs-3 of them. I know that sounds terrible, but I was worried it would be much worse-my mom has Multiple Sclerosis and for years I waited for something terrible to happen to me. So, as I sat there feeling the relief wash over me, I thought I heard the doctor say “No. Running. Ever.” I asked him to repeat what he just said. He said “No. Running. Ever”. I would not have called myself a runner then, despite my brief membership on the White Station High School track team. BUT, I also don’t like being told that I can’t do something. I began to think about what I could do-walk, cycle, aerobics, swim, etc. The doctor told me that the cycling would hurt my back and that aerobics was pretty much the same as running. I should not do ANY of those things, except walk. I believed him.

I went about my life for a few years, enjoying a nice 3 mile walk here and there, and as I got older, those pounds started to creep up on me. It wasn’t just about weight, I did not feel well. I felt really lazy and unhealthy. I decided to swim more in the summer. I got stronger. I added in some cycling, but it never clicked with me as a way to work out. I changed doctors and went in for a physical. This doctor was different. Rather than telling me what NOT to do, we started talking about what I could do. The MRI was repeated and guess what?? All of that swimming and getting stronger was helping! The herniations in my neck and back were so small they did not even bother to measure them.

I decided to add Jazzercise to my routine. Wait. Before you say anything-it is a really great workout and nothing like Richard Simmons! All this time, I thought I would never be in shape again. I went back the next year and he asked how I was feeling. I told him I felt great, but really wished I could run. He said “If you can Jazzercise, you can run! Go for it, but just start slow and listen to your body.” So, I took the plunge and signed up for Star’s Cooper Young 4 miler training. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I could do it. FOUR miles? Crap.

Forward 3 months and I finished the CY 4 Miler in 48:36. The very next Saturday I thought “I bet if I can run 4 miles, I can run 5 miles”. Star invited me to join the half marathon group and I was all “Whoa now. I just ran 4 miles. That in no way means that I can run 13! Geez!” Turns out that I easily ran 5 miles. Not 5 miles fast, but 5 miles steady. It felt good (until the next morning). I liked it.

Then came the dreaded Plantar Fasciitis. My running career was over! What would I ever do? There were hundreds of suggestions online about the perfect cure. There were also hundreds of stories about superior athletes who were doomed to lives of sitting on the sofa and watching reruns on television because of the dreaded PF. But I just started running! How could this be? After the herniated disc disaster of 2005, surely this was not the end.

I know I sound dramatic here, but that is how I felt at the time. I stopped running. My feet felt better. I signed up for the CY training again, and guess what! More PF and foot pain. This time I was not going to give in. I worked too hard last time. It took a few weeks, but I finally found the right treatment team for me and my feet felt so much better (thanks to Star and her awesome recommendations). What did I do? I ran the Cooper Young 4 miler in 47:30, and promptly signed up for the half marathon group.

It all seemed like some crazy dream. Increase mileage every week by 2 miles? Star’s response, “if you can run 5 miles, you can run 7. If you can run 7 miles, you can run 9,” and so on. She was totally right. This is absolutely the most challenging thing I have ever done. Running is much more mental than physical. I struggled in the beginning because I traveled a lot this fall and I had to do a lot of my runs out of town. When I found out that I had to work on the day of our 9 mile run, I nearly self-destructed. I realized that I was getting so much support from my teammates that I felt alone and distracted without them. I don’t even always chat during runs, but I know my teammates are right there with me-in front of me, beside me, behind me.

Of course, a new foot problem emerged and got much worse 2 weeks before the race. After all of those Friday nights of going to bed at 9:30 so I can get up at 5:30 on Saturday to go on a long run! This time I felt different though. I went straight to solution mode. I was going to run this race and there was very little that could stop me. There are many scenarios that would lead to making a smart decision not to push a serious injury. Fortunately after talking to my doctor the day before the race and making some changes, we decided that I could run. I was…….terrified. Suddenly I was sure that I would never make it, despite the fact that I had already run 13 miles in training.

Later that afternoon, my husband and I got in the car and drove to Cotter, Arkansas for the White River Half Marathon. We rented a cabin with my best friend from high school, who was running her second half. I went to dinner with my teammates, drank a good luck beer and went to sleep. The next morning, I reminded myself of all that I learned over the past 3 months-pacing, fueling, strategy. I hoped for a respite from the pain. I got my gear, drove with Cathy to the race, and then I ran for 13.1 miles with no foot pain at all.

Wait a second. I didn’t say no pain at all, just no foot pain! I felt great until mile 11, when I realized that I messed up my strategy by speeding up too early. Then came the strong headwind and some icy cold pouring rain. It was tough, but I made it 11 miles before it got tough. The very best part was the structure of the race. The White River Marathon is an “out and back” along the White River. It’s beautiful, and flat. I ran with some of my teammates for much of the race since we were so close in pace, and I ran alone for a few miles. The best part: all of my other teammates passed by as they turned around for the last 7 miles. We all made the effort to run in the middle of the road so we could high five each other and encourage each other. Every one of those high fives and the words of encouragement absolutely got me to the finish line of that race. A lot of folks think that running is a solitary sport, but I am here to tell you that I run with a team, and they all have my back!

Thanks Star-for knowing I could do it and then showing me how. Thanks to all of the other Star Runners for encouraging me, running with me, and laughing with me. See you in January when we begin training for my next half marathon!

To prove how awesome it is to train for a half marathon-this is me at mile 7 with some jazz hands!

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Guest Post – Laurie B.

(Laurie, thank you for allowing me to be a part in this journey of yours. I couldn’t be more proud. xoxox)

Guest post: by Laurie B.

So after 28 weeks of training, I finished the St. Jude Marathon today. I am glowing. I am excited, I am proud, I am happy. I haven’t even looked up my finish time and I really don’t care. This is marathon #3 for me; it wasn’t my fastest and it wasn’t my slowest, but it was my best.

That’s a hard concept for a lot of runners to wrap their minds around, I realize. Even those of us who are middle-to-back of the pack runners tend to be number oriented. What’s my pace, what’s my split time, what’s my goal time, what’s my PR. I have been that runner before, always racing myself and my own inner critic, if not the other runners. To a large extent I still was that runner when I started training in June. But after I received my goal pace, after I ran my first tempo run, I realized that this race wasn’t going to be about time.

To back up a few steps, I’m really not much of an athlete. As a kid I was terrible at sports. Not terrible like one of those people who says “oh I’m terrible at this” to be modest, but like someone who is legitimately TERRIBLE at sports. I struck out at t-ball regularly, I was always the weakest link during Red Rover, and I got encouraged to quit our no cuts track & field team because I couldn’t time my jumps right without faulting or straight up missing the long jump pit. The only game I ever succeeded in was dodge ball, and that wasn’t because I was any good, it was just because my failures in other sports taught me to be pretty good at ducking when there was a large object flying at my face. I do remember feeling different when we’d do our twice annual mile run – I wasn’t the fastest, but I wasn’t the slowest, and I always had this idea in my mind that some day I wanted to be able to run the mile without a walk break. In the summertime in northern Michigan, I learned it was half a mile from our lakeside cottage to the candy store, and I daydreamed about actually RUNNING there and back. Not that I actually did it. I figured I just couldn’t, like I couldn’t play basketball or throw a frisbee or whatever.

When I finally did start running, I was in college. By that point I had been struggling with an eating disorder since I was 12 and running was just another way to compulsively burn calories. I had moments where I loved it, but a lot of the time it was just all about the numbers. I had the eating disorder voice yelling in my ear: run farther, run faster, remember how many calories were in your lunch and you should probably burn twice that just to be safe. I had a certain arbitrary pace (10 minutes per mile) that was my cutoff and any run slower, regardless of how I was feeling or how far I was going, was BAD. I ran my first marathon shortly after I finished college. In some ways it was a huge victory, especially for the former gym class failure, but I finished in 4:23 which is just over a 10 minute mile. BAD.

Fast forward a few years. I got married, went to grad school, moved to Memphis, got a job, figured I’ve more or less outgrown the eating disorder. And then I started sinking. Slowly at first, then faster and faster until I was in a hole I couldn’t get out of. I was a zombie at work, I had stopped talking to my friends, I had completely shut out my husband, and my body was falling apart. In February 2013, I reluctantly entered an intensive outpatient treatment center for eating disorders. I was in denial that I actually HAD a problem and I was terrified. I was given a contract to sign: three solid meals and three snacks, zero exercise, and worst of all I had to actually TALK in my group therapy. All of my coping mechanisms (eating, exercise, isolation) were suddenly gone. It was the most raw pain I have ever experienced. It completely broke me. Which is just what I needed to rebuild my life.

Recovery has been a long, winding road. I had hoped it would be a straight line: do what I need to do, learn to cope, get better and be happy. But in any recovery, and especially in eating disorder recovery where there is no black and white “sobriety” to rely on, it’s a tangle of surges forward and setbacks and tears over the dinner table and amazing friends and bitter loss. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I took ten months off from running. I was terrified to start again. I wanted so badly to reclaim the run for me and leave the eating disorder out of it. That meant turning my training plan over to a wise coach (aka Star) who would tell me when to run, how far to run, how fast to run. I was blessed to find a coach who would not only do this but would ensure that I didn’t run a single mile over, that I slowed down when I needed to, that I didn’t sneak in any extra days. For me to reclaim running, I’ve needed to stay away from the treadmill, avoid solo runs, and be cautious about getting too attached to the numbers on my Garmin. And for me, running for recovery also meant I had to go back to Star after my goal setting run to ask for a new pace. A SLOWER pace.

This marathon and the months of training leading up to it have been about so much more than numbers and times and miles. It’s been about finishing what I start, and sticking with something that can just plain suck at times, even when the final goal is far far off in the future. It’s been about the discipline to do what I need to do, even when I don’t feel like it. It’s been about showing up and being accountable and knowing that whether or not anyone is watching, the little things will be what get me to the finish line. And – just for those who may be reading and think that marathons and recovery must be 100% horrible – it’s been about joy and courage and victory and some of the best relationships I’ve ever formed. And that’s why I fought, and I mean FOUGHT, to cross this finish line.

Race day was just what it needed to be. The weather was perfect, the training was behind me, the crowds were enthusiastic. I was full of nervous energy at the start and I had to remind myself early on that this is a marathon, not a sprint. I had moments of excitement, of gratitude, of pride. I had moments where I really wasn’t sure if I could cross the finish line. And I had moments of pain when I just had to push forward, one step at a time, knowing that there aren’t any shortcuts. But somehow every time I reached a low point of uncertainty, I would see a friend or a stranger who would give me just what I need to keep moving forward.

I crossed the finish line beaming. I don’t know what my time was, but whatever it was is my best time yet. Because that’s how long it took, and this race wasn’t about the numbers for me. I may run more marathons and I may not. Maybe I’ll try to set a new PR and maybe I won’t. I just know that for today, I’m pretty sure that I’m exactly where I need to be.

Thanks Star and friends for your part in my journey… it’s been incredible. Much love and congrats to everyone who has crossed finish lines, fast or slow, tangible or metaphorical. You are all rock stars in my book. :)

Laurie

Ironman. A different vantage point.

Keith and I have experienced Ironman races as spectator (me) and participant (Keith) but never as a volunteer until recently.  Let me tell you, having now volunteered at an Ironman, I am even more blown away than before.

We drove to Louisville Saturday and arrived around dinner time.  It was pouring rain!  As we toasted our drinks, we noted how different this Ironman was already proving to be for us. Typically we would have already been in the room going over last minute check-lists and trying to calm our nerves..his and mine!

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We signed up to volunteer from 2-6:30 as Transition Floaters and from 6:30 – 12:30 as Finish Line Catchers.  We really had no idea what this would entail but we were so excited to play a part.  Although we weren’t scheduled until 2, we wanted to be at the race start and out on the course so we got up and went straight to the swim exit to get a good spot.  We saw every single person exit the water, from the first pro to the last age grouper.

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Once the last swimmer exited the Ohio River we decided to run and grab a bite to eat as we had a long day ahead of us.  We found a spot on the run course and waited until the first pro girls came through (missed the pro guys) and some of the age groupers and then headed onto our “jobs”.

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As Transition Floaters, we had no idea what we would be doing..they would just place us anywhere there was a gap.  The amazing thing that we knew but didn’t put into perspective is that there are 2-3 volunteers per athlete.  You would think this is overkill but it’s not.  There is so much that goes into making a race of this caliber run as smoothly as it does.

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Keith was asked to head straight in to the Mens Changing Tent (more on this in a minute) and I was asked to be a Gear Bag Sorter.  We were in T2 (athletes coming off the bike and heading out on the run).  The heat index was upper 90’s at this point and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  Athletes would enter the changing tents and the plethora of volunteers would re-bag their bike stuff into their Bike Gear Bag and then toss those bags to the Sorters (me) and it was our job to run them down the fence line and drop them back in the correct spots and run back for more.  At this point, I hadn’t had any interaction with the athletes but it was still pretty fun to be out in T2.  The volunteers out in the open field with me were starting to look haggard and needed water breaks fairly frequently due to the heat but the attitudes of everyone were absolutely 100% positive.

I saw Keith a few times as he handed off some Gear Bags to me and he suggested I try to get moved to the Women’s Changing Tent.  Although they estimated the air temps to be about 105 in the tents, you were still out of the direct sun so this seemed like it might be a smart move.  There is nothing but hustle when you are volunteering.  Before I left the field, I had the opportunity to run into transition for 2 different athletes who left something on their bike.  It’s super intense when you know they are potentially counting down every second and you cannot be what holds them back so you just put your head down and go.  And you’re more than happy to do it.  The guy who needed his salt tablets off his bike which was already racked in the next fence area…it was up to me to get him those salt tabs.  It’s a crazy fun pressure but most of the athletes were super appreciative of everything we did.

I moved from the Bag Sort area to the Women’s Changing Tent.  This is the most interesting and most bizarre place I could ever imagine being.  Funny enough, I would absolutely volunteer for this position again.  As a female athlete ran through and grabbed her Run Gear Bag, she came into the tent to get ready for the run.  In an Ironman, most people choose to change clothes before heading out on the run.  The volunteers met each athlete at the entrance to the tent with a cup of cold water and immediately took their hand and led them to a chair.  It was up to us to dump their bag, prepare them for the run, and help them in whatever capacity.  We helped them undress and dress where necessary…when you’re sweaty and exhausted, you loose a lot of your dexterity so that’s where we came in.  I literally applied Vaseline, helped one woman get her panties on, struggled to put compression socks on an athlete, tied hair back, gave hugs, ran and filled fuel belts, ran back and forth to first aid for ice, and most importantly, just talked to the athletes to make sure they seemed coherent and not in need of medical care.  It was our job as volunteers to hustle but never to make an athlete feel as if you were hurried.  While they were trying to just regroup, we were putting their race belts around them, making sure they had everything, going through a check-list but never letting them know we were anything but a friendly face.

This was awesome! It felt like an oven in there and I looked like I had been in a swimming pool but this was the one on one interaction that I love. I talked to one girl who attempted an IM only 3 weeks ago but her rear derailleur broke at mile 96 on the bike so this would be her first IM finish.  I spoke with a woman who had a baby 14 months ago. I spoke with numerous people who were competing in their first IM event.  Every single one of them seemed a little thrown off at first by the bevy of volunteers and our willingness to literally dress them but every single one of them left with the biggest thank you and smile on their face.  I tried so hard to pay attention to faces and numbers, hoping to see them later that night in the Finish Line area.

Once this shift was over, Keith and I ran over to the Finish Line area.  We could not believe how exhausted we were already but excited to get into the finish line.  We got our “duties” and headed on in.  This was electric and overwhelming all at once.  There were probably 50+ volunteers in the finish line area plus medics so it was very crowded.  It ran so smoothly though, I would be shocked if an athlete knew any difference.  We lined up and as an athlete crossed the finish line, one of the Catchers would run up and congratulate them while placing their medal around their neck.  In these first few seconds, we made quick eye contact with the Medic Catchers and determined whether or not the athlete could walk on his/her own.  We then physically escorted them (quickly but not hurried) straight down where a volunteer quickly grabbed their chip while we grabbed their bib, walked them down towards the Finish exit while grabbing their Finisher shirt and hat, stopping them at Photos and then walking them to the exit and hopefully into the arms of family and friends.  This was really fun as well.  You get to be the first person they speak to once they become an Ironman so, for the most part, they are gracious and giddy.  If one of your athletes required a wheel chair, you stayed with them until Medic #2 came and took your spot.  Again, it all ran like a well oiled machine.

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With some time to spare (the clock strikes 17:00:00 at midnight and if you are not over the finish mat, you are not officially an Ironman), Keith and I decided to go out in the Finish Line chute and cheer for those coming in at the last moments of the night.  With less than 90 seconds left in the race, we could see 3 final athletes turning the last corner and sprinting down 4th Street.  I have no words for this.  I have never screamed so loud in my life.  I had already witnessed several people who had missed various cut-offs and we had battled tears all day long and we just could not have this last person miss it by mere seconds.  I felt like all of Louisville was running behind the last athlete, screaming at the top of their lungs.  I have no idea what she ended up sprinting in those final moments but it was as if she was flying.  She crossed the mat just as it turned 17:00:00.

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I am pretty sure we have never been so exhausted in our lives.  Ten hours of volunteering and about 19 hours of race day “festivities” but I wouldn’t change a thing.  I am in awe at all that it takes to put on an Ironman and blown away by how smoothly it runs.  Keith and I both saw some of “our” athletes from the changing tents as they were finishing their race and it’s impossible not to feel like you had a tiny part in their race.  We were as proud as if we had known these people much longer than the 10 minutes we had spent with them, 7 hours earlier.  I had no idea volunteering could be so physical and exhausting but I also had no idea it could be so rewarding.

A friend sent me this blog post she came across and it just makes my heart happy:  http://crushingiron.com/ironman-louisville-volunteers-imlou/

I’d like to think I had the same impact on an athlete at some point in their day.  We were told as volunteers to welcome every athlete with a smile and it would have been impossible to do anything but.

Your Mind is Getting in Your Way

I just ran across the following article and I love it.  These are the most common things I hear from athletes.  Any of these excuses yours? Get over it.

5 Mental Barriers, Smashed

Even if you love working out, it’s completely normal to battle negative thinking. Here’s how to get over it.

By Jennifer Van Allen

Often the biggest obstacle to running has nothing to do with the legs and lungs; it’s about what’s on your mind. Here’s how to clear some common mental hurdles that can keep you from getting out the door.

THE OBSTACLE: Working out hurts!

GET OVER IT: Tuning out—not in—can help you get through those tough first workouts, says Christy Greenleaf, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin. Recruit a friend to walk the neighborhood with you; watch your favorite sitcom while you’re on the treadmill; put together a workout mix with tunes that evoke happy memories. Studies have shown that listening to music reduces the level of perceived exertion, or how hard you feel like you’re working. “Any way that you can focus your attention on something other than how your body feels will help,” says Greenleaf. “As you get more experienced and your body adapts to training, you can tune in more to what your body is experiencing.” And remember, it’s unpleasant for everyone in the beginning. “Every step you take hurts at first,” says coach Jeff Gaudette, founder of RunnersConnect, an online training service. “But you’ve just got to trust that you will feel better.”

THE OBSTACLE: I’m worried everyone will laugh!

GET OVER IT: Enlist a buddy for your first outing to the gym, the trail, or even a group run. Or connect online with other newbies who are venturing out for their first runs. Studies have shown that buddying up—whether it’s a person, a running group, or connecting online—increases your chances of sticking with an exercise routine. Everyone feels self-conscious at first. Susan Monk, training coordinator for the Atlanta Track Club, says she often hears from people who came to the first day of training, but felt too daunted to get out of their cars. “We get so caught up in the anxiety and fear of being negatively evaluated by others,” says Christy Greenleaf, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin. “But the reality is that most of the time other people are way more concerned about themselves.” Recruit a support crew of nonrunners to support your efforts, whether it’s your spouse, parents, roommate, boss, or coworkers, says coach Mindy Solkin, of The Running Center. “When someone who isn’t in the running world knows that you used to be on the couch, they can appreciate what a big deal it is that you just ran two miles,” she says. “It’s a big deal.”

THE OBSTACLE: I’m too busy!

GET OVER IT: Find the time of day when running is nonnegotiable, says coach and exercise physiologist Susan Paul of the Track Shack Foundation in Orlando. For most people, that’s the morning, when no meetings are scheduled and the kids are still in bed. “If you do it first thing, you don’t have time to think up an excuse,” she says. And make sure that you have cleared enough time to work out so that it doesn’t jam up your day. If a morning run means you’re speeding to work and stressed about being late, the workout will start to feel like punishment, says Charles Duhigg, author of the book The Power of Habit. “The brain starts relating to the workout in a negative way,” he says. “And it will be hard to make it into a habit.”

THE OBSTACLE: I missed working out for a week because of my job (or I was hurt, sick, or…insert excuse here). It feels like too much work to start over. I might as well give up.

GET OVER IT: Press the reset button, and start over, just like you would on a video game, says online training coach Jeff Gaudette. “Let go of the past, and focus on what you can control today,” he says. “Ask yourself, Can I run today? Can I make myself better?” And you may be happily surprised at how fast you bounce back. “Even beginners are surprised at how quickly they can get back on track,” says Paul. “Even if they took two weeks off, they haven’t lost as much fitness as they think.”

THE OBSTACLE: I’m working so hard, but I’m not getting anywhere!

GET OVER IT: Be patient. Many of the positive changes that are happening when you start exercising won’t be visible in the mirror or on the scale. “Everyone expects to lose the weight in an instant, and run longer and faster right away,” says Paul. “The weight loss will come if you’re consistent, but it takes time to condition your muscles, ligaments, and tendons,” she says. The body makes more capillaries (tiny blood vessels that transfer oxygen and waste products into and out of cells), more mitochondria, (the energy-producing structures in cells), and more enzymes that help the body use fat as fuel, Paul explains. Plus, every time your foot strikes the ground, it stimulates bone growth, so your bones get stronger and denser. “When you’re not patient, “ says Paul, “you make all the mistakes of doing too much too soon and too fast and getting overuse injuries and thinking that running is bad for you.”

Ironman CDA (Keith’s race recap)

(guest blog by Keith)

This journey to my 2nd Ironman begins like most do…well before race day.

June 19th 2013, one of my best friends took his own life. (I know, I just ripped off the Band-Aid, sorry) After a brutal weekend involving a funeral, visitation, eulogizing my friend and my 1st foray as a pallbearer, I sat in our den chair staring at my laptop. I asked Star if she would be agreeable with me training for another Ironman and she said yes. I registered instantly for IM Coeur D’Alene. (This is not because permission is something we need within our house but I can tell you with 100% certainty that NO ONE does this endurance stuff alone.) Now don’t get me wrong, the decision to train for another IM was not quite so cavalier. I had been thinking for months about this but the recent events were definitely enough to push me over the edge.

**Fast forward through some boring months of training to race week** :)

We hopped a plane Thursday of race week and headed to the Pacific Northwest. The travel went about a smooth as we could wish for and after a quick 35 minute drive from Spokane, we were in our hotel room by 2:00 pm. Packet pick up was an event that I did not remember well from IM Louisville but it definitely causes the first bit of internal excitement. You get your wristband, special needs bags, race numbers, race goodies and your first interaction with the volunteers. This race had 2500 participants and more than 4000 volunteers!! They do such an amazing job of making you feel like a superhero. They spend all of their time telling you how inspiring you are. If nothing else, it truly helps with your confidence.

Friday – let’s go check out this beautiful lake Coeur D’Alene for a practice swim. I like to pick big races for different reasons. Will it be a cool place to hang out and semi-vacation? Will this race help me work on a weakness? I have done very hot races, very windy races, but I have not really dealt with cold or very hilly triathlons. I knew IMCDA would check these boxes. The water was choppy but plenty of people were already swimming so I donned my wetsuit, and thermal swim cap and hopped in the water…..what the F*&K?!?!?!?! I knew this was glacial fed water but damn. I don’t know the temperature for sure, but everything I read leading up to that day was low 60’s. That is cold. Your face, feet and hands go numb & within 15 seconds you get the most intense “ice cream” headache you can imagine. I “swam” for 10-15 minutes and got out…feeling a little defeated and intimidated. Star did a great job of trying to help me blow this off but I think she was a little concerned as well. As a distraction, she had the idea for us to go out and ride the course. Most of the run course was the same as the 1st part of the bike course. Then the remainder of the bike course goes out on a highway at mile 15 to the turn-around at mile 35 and back to mile 56 and you do it all again. Fortunately we only had to ride the course once to see it all. We cruised through town, down by the lake, up a decent hill and back through town to highway 95 and started to drive one of the longest stretches of any Ironman bike course without any turns. I know we were having a conversation but I don’t remember what it was about because we started to go up hill and the car went silent. Again, I had seen the course elevation and we knew the course had 5600 feet of elevation gain but this…kept….going….up. The course was beautiful and wide open but damn these hills were intimidating. Again, Star did a great job of minimizing my nerves although I feel certain she was as unhappy as I was.

Saturday – Star needed to get in a longish run and I wanted to ride an easy 20+ miles just to make sure everything felt good. The weather to this point had been overcast, cool temps in the 50’s and misty at times so we suited up and headed to the side of the lake where the bike course and run course would both travel twice. It was on the shore of Lake Coeur D’Alene and by far the most scenic. There was one steep climb on this section but I quickly learned I could shift to my easiest gear and be up the hill in 2 minutes. Good to know for tomorrow. This hill would also require me to run it at miles 6 and 19 on race day and from what Star gathered on her little recon run, this would be unpleasant at best.

Race Day – I started my race day nutrition when I woke up at 2:00 am and quickly drank an Ensure Plus then fell back asleep for 2 more hours. The plan was to wake up around 4:00 and get ourselves out of the hotel. We stayed about 2 miles from the race so we thought having a car easily accessible for Star would be great if we could make that happen. As it turned out, we were able to park 5 minutes from the race start and transition area. This lot was also along the bike course where I would pass 4 times!! Perfect for my #1 cheerleader. (Phone charger, reclining seats, Heater/AC). Now let me back up. The first thing I did before we EVER left the room was check the weather. My trusty app told me it was cloudy, 53 degrees and 5mph wind. FYI – I have now deleted this weather app from my phone, because when we walked out of the hotel the wind was HOWLING 20mph++!! We walked over to the transition area, dropped off my special needs bags, put air in the tires, and put my fuel on my bike, made a pit stop and back to the car to chill. We sat around and talked about the day ahead while I worked to choke down some pop tarts and my accelerade drink. Just as I was getting antsy to get moving towards the start it happened… “Drink A Beer”. So no, we did not drink a beer. Have you heard the song by Luke Bryan? It’s about losing someone too early and if you jump back up to the first paragraph of this already too long report, that’s how I got here in the first place. Well, needless to say, we both lost it. There was total silence as we sat and listened to every word of that song. I will tell you, it is very difficult to have a complete meltdown while trying to conserve energy. (I can only guess but I would imagine this memory will be the most lasting of the entire day) Once this fiasco was over we got moving to the swim start. We found a great spot on a stone wall near the beach and watched all of the chaos. The wind was cutting, the waves in the lake were white capping and it was generally unpleasant. All of my 70.3 races and 140.6 races have been in hot climates so I was looking forward to racing in cooler weather but this was not my cup of tea. Star finally convinced me to suit up in my wetsuit, neoprene cap and booties and head off. We weaved through the crowd until it was time for us to separate. A quick kiss and “I love you’s” and I was winding to the beach. I did see Star at the last possible moment and of course had one more thing to tell her but when I turned around…she was gone. It just got real.

Swim – The Coeur D’Alene swim allows swimmers to seed themselves similar to road races. They had corrals for 1:00-1:15, 1:15-1:30 and beyond. I jumped in an isolated warm up section that was roped off just to splash around and get a feel for this frigid water, then hopped into the 1:15-1:30 group. I spoke to a very nervous guy named Jose from Louisiana who was starting his first Ironman. I always find comfort when I engage others in conversation, especially those who look worse off than me. I guess I am looking for some good karma. 12 minutes after the horn sounded I was under the arch and in the water. The swim took us out approximately ½ mile, left hand turn, few hundred yards, left hand turn, ½ mile back to the beach where we got out of the water, walked 15 yards down the beach and did it again. The first stretch to the turn buoy was ROUGH. That 20+ mph wind was coming straight at us so the water was choppy. This is also where people started to freak out so I ran into countless “friends” who were breast stroking, backstroking, panic stroking or just treading water within the first 300 yards. I felt for these people, I truly did, but I just wanted them to scootch over and let me by. I tried to stay to the far right and avoid contact but it did not matter. This swim was physical so I just needed to mix it up. It was not until I made the second turn and headed back to shore that I finally found a rhythm. As I stood up on shore, I looked at my watch to see 40:34 for 1.2 miles. All things considered, I will take it. I fully expected lap 2 to be a little smoother and less congested…wrong again. This time I chose an inside line but it was just a clustered. I actually ran into 2 swimmers in 200 yards swimming completely sideways in front of me. I know they must have been wiped out so I just kept plugging along. I did notice some fatigue setting in earlier than expected. I’m pretty certain this was a combination of the cold water (which must take a toll on muscle contraction) and fighting the chop. I did make a point to tell myself as I plodded along to the finishing arch, “you may very well be swimming in your last ever Ironman swim”. I do believe there are more in my future but you never know what can happen. I wanted to be present. I happily hit the beach and looked to see my time, 1:25:39…meh.

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T1 – we ran up the beach to the wetsuit strippers. If you don’t know what this is, look it up on YouTube!! The athletes peel their wetsuits down their arms and torso, approach two volunteers and lie back on the ground. The volunteers each grab an arm of your wetsuit and yank the whole damn thing right off your body. Fantastic!!! I grabbed my transition bag and hit the porta potty. This was necessary but took no less than 2:30. Ironman transitions are slower than normal but this was really slow. My face and hands were very cold from the water and I noticed the sky was still very cloudy. Oh yeah, the wind was still whipping. I changed shorts, put on my shirt and a volunteer had to help me put on my compression sleeves, toe warmers, gloves and arm warmers…my fingers were just not cooperating. (That’s right, another grown man had to help me get dressed.) T1, 14:28 Hehehe.

Bike – Hey, there is Star!! This will be a theme of my day. The bike course winds through downtown and a residential neighborhood then out along the lake where I rode the day before. The cardinal sin in an Ironman is to start smashing the pedals early on the bike without regard for the entire 112 miles. I was very cautious of this in Louisville, but I also came to this race much more fit and curious…curious to test myself. I was not stupid, but I was riding my bike, eating and putting my heart rate right where it should be. I shot back through town looking for Star but did not see her. As I took a right to head up towards the highway, there she was, right by our parking lot at approximately mile 15. Cool deal. Now I knew where she would probably be the next 4 times I rode past. 1 hr into the ride I was passing mile 19 with a very conservative effort. This made me hopeful for the day but of course I still had 93 miles to go J Mile 20 was when my life changed…no really, I think this is where I will look back when people asked me when it all happened. Remember those hills we talked about from Friday? Here they were. Remember that wind we spoke about this morning? Well I’ll be damned if it wasn’t here too!!! This stretch of road was from miles 15 – 35 with 1900 ft of climbing, 20mph sustained winds and gusts over 30mph. The biggest was the first climb, 2 miles, 615ft climb into the wind took me 13 minutes, 9mph. “This is going to get old.” As I said before, I wanted to walk a fine line between working hard enough and maintaining a good heart rate, blah blah blah blah. None of this matters when you are in your easiest gear, working your ass off to go 9 mph. What was my other option?? 7MPH?!?! At least I will get over this hill and catch a downhill or a nice flat to recover. I was able to pick up some speed before climb #2. This was a series of climbs with flats & false flats thrown in. Did I mention the wind? At this point, we were pedaling the short downhill sections at 12-16 MPHs. Mile 20 – 35(lasted 69 minutes, 13mph if you were wondering). Praise God for the turnaround, tailwinds and some good downhills. We don’t have descents like this in Memphis so these were quite terrifying for me. I learned that 35mph is the ceiling on my comfort zone and at 42mph I am no longer interested in being on a bike. After white-knuckling back the way we came, I did make another potty stop around mile 40 but this was very fast with no waiting. (Maybe 2015 will be the year of peeing while I ride!) I exited the highway and started to look for Star. There she stood at almost exactly the 56 mile mark, 3:25, when I shouted “I can’t believe I have to do that again.” Approximately mile 62 I was able to pick up my bike special needs bag. I had my bottle refills, some treats and a sweet card from Star and Georgia. This stop lasted around 3 minutes and I was off again, back through the crowds of downtown, past Star and her perfect spot on the course and onto the highway again. This was much of the same for round 2. Speeds of a whopping 7 mph, heart rate over 170 and winds approaching 30mph. This time, that same 15 mile section from miles 75 – 90 was 80 minutes…11.25mph. That turn around was the most welcomed sight of my day. I tried my best to get back some time heading back to town…down-wind, down-hill (mostly). And averaged 18.5mph for the final 22 miles. Total time 7:07:11

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T2 – this was rather uneventful. Quick change of clothes, which is always nice after that long on a bike. Grabbed my hat, fuelbelt and headed off to run 26.2 miles. T2, 8:04. Who knows where the time goes?!?

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Run – I had several goals heading into this race in order of importance to me, total time, bike time and run time. That bike ride was so brutal I did not hit the goal I wanted but I knew early on to throw that out the window. The big question was how would that affect my run, and more importantly, total time. Three minutes into my run I must have heard my name at least 15 times. It was a little disorienting, “go Keith”, “looking good Keith”, “great job Keith”, then it dawned on me #1 my name was on my race bib & #2 this crowd was incredible! Off to the right before ½ mile I saw my little Sherpa/coach and stopped to chat. The only thing I remember saying to her was “if I stopped right now and did not run another step, this race would be more difficult than Ironman #1”. That seems extreme but I was serious, and still unclear how the bike damaged my body, but I knew it did. The course winds through some beautiful neighborhoods for 2.5 miles before the long stretch along Coeur D’Alene Lake Dr. The support in these neighborhoods was like nothing I would have ever expected. House parties, bands, extremely loud sound systems and the most encouraging course support I have ever seen…and 2nd place is not even CLOSE. I believe it was mile 2.4 (19th st & Mullan) with the most unreal house party I have ever seen. It was straight out of a Hollywood movie where the parents are out of town and the nerdy kids can’t stop all of the cool kids from crashing the party. I could not hear my thoughts because the music was so loud. I believe there was a wrought iron fence around the front yard, which kept most of the people out of the street, but I would guess 200 people were behind that fence. I saw girls in bikini tops, beer funnels, cowboy hats, mardi gras beads and dozens of people SCREAMING at the top of their lungs at every person wearing a race number. Holy shit…that was intense. The first time I ran by this house was just before 4:00pm and I can tell you, they were just getting started!! My main focus was eat, drink, run, repeat. The sun started to peak out a little so I did not want to battle dehydration as well so eat, drink, run, repeat. Lake drive is a beautiful stretch of paved path that goes out and back from miles 2.5 – 6.7. There is actually a little crushed gravel path running along the pavement which is where I chose to spend my time. The one climb is almost 150 feet over ½ mile just before the turn around. By the time I got to this hill my hamstrings were talking to me. I could feel some potential cramps but I had been taking S-Caps every hour so I just thought some fatigue was building up. I made a decision to walk the entire hill. I didn’t want to cost myself the ability to run all day just to push myself up this hill. Overall, it took 8 minutes to walk it so I probably only cost myself 4-5 minutes. Down a hill to the turnaround, walked up that same hill and got back into a rhythm heading back to town. Oh yeah, it started to rain at this point. Fortunately it did not last very long but it was enough to get everyone’s attention. It is also worth noting this section had 3 of the best aid stations throughout the entire race. Plenty of support with music, costumes and almost anything you could ask for to eat or drink. Mile 11 = PARTY HOUSE again and they were a little more “juiced up” as it was closer to 5:30pm. Just before mile 12 I ran into Star again. She had walked through downtown to this fantastic neighborhood right on the lake. We talked a little as she walked with me. I told her my fear was if my hamstrings would hold out. Apparently massive amounts of climbing and low RPMs on a bike really engage the hamstrings…who knew?!? She pumped me full of good coach speak and I headed off towards the halfway point…and my special needs bag. The 12.5 mile marker was when I got additional powder for my water bottles, a few gels, a bag of peanut M&M’s and another great card from Star and Georgia. This time I put the card in the top of my sock. For some reason I wanted to keep it with me. Quick bathroom break and back to running. I was carrying two baggies with my Accelerade powder until I got to the next aid station, but where WAS the next aid station? I got to the halfway point at 2:33 but I knew the 5:00 run I wanted was probably out of reach. I was working really hard to keep the cramps at bay and the thought of a negative split just seemed unlikely. I got back to Star around mile 15 and still no aid station so I’m carrying two baggies like a dummy. She walked with me a while longer as I moaned about my aching parts and pieces. I think we were both a little emotional knowing I still had 11 miles to go but I would not see her again until the finish line. I was on track for an IM PR but a lot can happen those last few miles. We had a smooch and I was off again, through the same neighborhood and then back to the party house which was jumpin off the ground by this point. They were so loud it was a little disorienting. There was also a group of guys 1 block before the party house with a microphone and PA system. They were calling our names out (remember the bib) so passer-bys and fans would be aware that “Keith was looking strong and headed for his final lap”. Very cool spectators. By this time I had changed my 6:00 run 1:00 walk intervals to a 4:00 run :30 walk interval and even this was getting more difficult to maintain. Any incline/hill was putting tremendous stress on my hamstrings so I was hitting the ground like a butterfly with sore feet. Extremely cautious. The hill came again at mile 18.6 and I walked to 19.1 and reached mile 20 at 4:05. I now knew for certain that 5:00 was out of reach but a PR WAS and by how much. ** As an aside, I truly believe goals are necessary but I also hardly ever reach my time goals. That’s how I know they are good goals. Slightly out of reach if things don’t go perfectly.** I tried to strike up a few conversations, tried some chicken broth, drank water/coke/perform, ate cookies/gels/chips and tried anything and everything to get myself through the last 6 miles. There was even a guy who was passing out a product called Base Salt near Star’s post up spot during my run. He was actually out on his bike at mile 22 and I took another shot of his product. We chatted briefly about his sister who lives in Memphis. His stuff is extremely concentrated and hard to ingest but I was willing to try anything and everything, the cramps were winning. My 4 minute runs felt like 20 minutes by this point but I was still passing the “walking dead” also known as my fellow racers. Mile 24 took me by the party house for the final time and I told a guy I was “coming back to throw down” with them. I have only done this distance one other time but the last 2 miles of an Ironman are extremely emotional. I thought of all the training hours. I thought of Georgia, my wife, and our good friend we lost, Michael. I let myself shed a few tears but I also continued to concentrate so very hard on keeping my cramps at bay. (I don’t remember these inclines the first time through those miles.) I was able to muster up some grit and fly through 12 minute miles for my final 2 miles. This race takes its final turn on the busiest commercial street in Coeur D’Alene, Sherman Ave. Both sides of Sherman are lined with shops, restaurants and bars but the street is barricaded at the sidewalk from the thousands of spectators. Spectators screaming your name, soliciting a high five or any acknowledgement an athlete can muster. I tried to soak in the atmosphere but I also wanted to stop running. I also wanted to see Star. We had not discussed a meeting place but I know how good she is at navigating race crowds so I just trusted she would be where I needed her to be. Mike Reilly!!! There he was like a beacon in the night. For those of you who don’t know, Mike Reilly works the finish line of Ironman races. He has made himself a celebrity by hyping the crowd like no one could imagine and as you approach the finish his tag line is “_____<insert name, you are an Ironman”. Well there he was, waving his white towel, jumping around like a psychopath and shouts it out… “Keith Ritchey, for the 2nd time, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”. Within seconds I saw my Star.  Run: 5:27:26

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And it’s over…for now. :)

14:22:48

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Beautiful Dilemma

My first half marathon was the Memphis (half) Marathon in 2002.  Oh how I loved this race.  I really wasn’t sure what I was doing.  I had trained but now knowing what I know, I had not trained properly.  I didn’t know who the race benefitted and I didn’t care.  I didn’t know the route ahead of time and I didn’t care.  I had no idea what kind of times were “good” or “bad” and I didn’t care.  I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do this 13.1 miles.

I signed up for the race after running the Cooper Young 4 Miler with some girlfriends.  We didn’t know much about it but we decided during the middle of our post-race glory that we would do it.  There were only a few thousand people in the whole race.  There were no waves. There wasn’t much in the way of spectators.  We didn’t run through St. Jude campus. None of this mattered to me.  The energy from my fellow runners was enough.  I got the bug.  I got the bug so much that I became a certified running coach a few years later ;)

I talked Keith into training and running with me the following year.  It was a little larger with a few more spectators.  We trained throughout the fall and we ran.  Keith got the bug.

We started traveling to other cities to run their races.  It’s always fun to go to another city to run a race, whether big or small.  Because of this, there were a few years we didn’t run the Memphis Marathon but you can guarantee that regardless of the weather, we were standing at Stonewall and North Parkway cheering for the runners. We would set our alarm and be there to see the first runner pass by and would wait until every single person had passed before leaving.  Strangers have pictures of Georgia in her pink puffer jacket cheering on the runners.  This became a yearly tradition for us, if we weren’t running ourselves.

In 2009 I trained my first group for the Cooper Young 4 Miler.  I fully expected it to end there but out of the 25 or so trainees, about 20 decided they were curious about seeing if they could go further.  Perfect! What better way for me to combine my passion for helping people become better runners and this hometown race that I loved and had been a part of for 7 years.  That September / October, we all signed up.  These 20 people, they got the bug.

I started spotlighting the Memphis Marathon as our Fall race each year and it became a great long term goal to tag on to the back end of our 4 Miler training.  You see, Star Runners began with a training group for the Cooper Young 4 Miler so I will always consider this our “anchor race”.  One of the things I love about this race, in regards to my groups, is the timing.  I can bring a non-runner into our training program in July and teach them to run and get them ready for the Cooper Young 4 Miler, no problem.  That’s easy.  I know before they know that they can do it.  The even more amazing thing though is that I am able to instill a confidence in these new runners that allows them to then wonder if they can do more.  They’re typically terrified but once we’ve trained for and completed the CY 4 Miler, it’s perfect timing to continue our training and run a Half Marathon a few months later. For 5 years we’ve trained runners specifically for the Memphis (half) Marathon.

About 3 or 4 years ago, the registration started opening up earlier in the year.  It was September for a long time but due to the growing demand, the race organizers found that they could open it up sooner, allow more runners, and hopefully sell out.  This is a wonderful problem to have…if you’re the race directors.

Unfortunately, this early sell out started to wean out a lot of these “late bloomers”, the people who didn’t know in July that they could run 60 seconds much less have the confidence, strength, and knowledge to run 13.1 miles.  Fortunately though, the race directors allowed me to buy a certain number of spots upfront.  They understood my dilemma and I believed they saw what I was trying to do for our city.  I truly care about my city of 40 years.  I truly believe people can find happiness in running.  I truly believe the accomplishment of crossing the finish line in a race is sometimes a life altering moment for people.  It was never easy for me to pay thousands of dollars in April or May for race spots but I did it anyway.  This is how confident I am in the “late bloomers”.  I know that if I am given a couple of months with someone, I can get them to a distance they never thought imaginable.

This year I’m faced with a beautiful dilemma.  I wasn’t given the option this year to buy bulk spots upfront in order to guarantee my non-runners, late bloomers, and less confident runners a spot in the Memphis Half Marathon.  It is incredible for this local institution that this race is in such demand that they can sell out more than 6 months before race day but as a local running coach who believes whole heartedly in “the bug”, I wish we had more time.  Since we don’t need 6 months to train for a Half Marathon, I find that there are a lot of people out there that don’t even have the twinkle in their eye yet….but they will!  They will after they’ve run through the summer and completed the Cy 4 Miler.  The problem then will come that there isn’t a local Half Marathon to sign up for because this one has been sold out for 6 months.

I’m excited that there are other “local” Half Marathons nearby that we can spotlight this year so everyone has a chance to cross a finish line and for our runners who got into the Memphis Marathon, we can’t wait to stake out our old perch and cheer you on.

Training for Fall Full Marathons (ranging from Chicago on Oct 12 to White River (spotlight race) to St. Jude Memphis Marathon on Dec 6th) begins tomorrow and training for Fall Half Marathons (ranging from Wynne to White River to St. Jude) begins in August as an overlap to our 4 Miler training.

Our 4 Miler training begins June 21st and is for everyone!  If you can’t run 60 seconds or if you want to work on speed to prepare for Half marathon training, it’s for you.

 

“The Marathon Rattles You To The Core”

I am in love with this article and just have to share it.  If you’re not a marathoner, this will make you want to become one.  If you are a marathoner and this doesn’t resonate with you, maybe you didn’t try hard enough, sacrifice enough, push enough.

Please read! http://m.runnersworld.com/advice/the-marathon