A whole new age group.

My birthday is always a bittersweet day because I consider  it the last hurrah of summer. I know that right behind it are cool mornings, earlier sunsets and pumpkin everything. This year my birthday symbolizes even more changes: the last few days as a “single” woman, a brand new age group for races, a whole new decade in my life. That’s right – today I turn 30.

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I know that a lot of people freak out over the jump from your twenties to your thirties but I actually feel ready for it. I look back at who I was when I turned 20 versus who I am today and all that happened in between – and I am astounded. In my twenties I graduated from college, I went through the growing pains of independence and becoming an adult. I got a little too drunk with my friends, I spent a little too much money on cover charges and bar tabs. I bought my own car. I moved through jobs and career ladders, eventually stumbling into an organization I wake up excited to start my day at. I fell in love, and eventually realized it was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I watched as my friends fell in love, watched as our circle moved from dance floors to kitchen tables in new homes. I discovered fitness, health, happiness, confidence. I became a runner. I ran my first 5K, dozens more road races, my first triathlon, THREE half marathons. Despite the ups and downs of the last ten years I will never look back at my twenties with regret.

Oh to be 22 again.

Oh to be 22 again.

So bring on the thirties. Bring on married life and all the love, happiness, and hard shit that comes with a new last name and a wedding band. Bring on real adulthood – mortgage payments, home improvement, and children (that statement is officially petrifying). Bring on more kitchen table parties, for that means our circle of friends is growing older together. Bring on even crazier fitness goals – the ones that make your eyes glisten because you never imagined that they would ever happen to you. Bring on proving that I can get even faster, even stronger, even more confident as I get older.

Never in my life did I think my bachelorette party would involve a road race.

Never in my life did I think my bachelorette party would involve a road race.

30, I’m ready for you.

What does 1/3 of a Half Ironman equal?

This little old journey of mine has been made up of hundreds of moments. Some of them good, some of them bad, all of them teaching me invaluable lessons along the way. Timberman this past weekend was no exception. I think it’s safe to say I felt almost every emotion possible in a 12 hour span.

Race day started far beyond bright and early, with a wake up of 4am. I put on the clothes I had laid out the night before, checked my backpack one last time, and we headed out into the dark. Because I knew there was practically half a day before I would have to run I was nervous, but more nervous for my buddy (who was doing the full 70.3) than I was for myself. I was preoccupied for the first few hours as I watched people set up their transition areas, adjusted wetsuits, and hugged my friends goodbye as they made their way to the start. Every time I heard the air horn send a wave into the water my stomach did a flip. That sound meant the day had officially begun.

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I cheered as the swimmers crawled back to shore and made their way to transition. The cyclist in our relay team headed out and I said goodbye to my friend as she took off on her bike. That’s when I realized how many hours I had to kill. And that I was alone. And that’s when the panic set in.

I wrapped my legs up in a sweatshirt (Wish I had thought to put comfy sweats over my running shorts) and curled into a ball at a picnic table. I glanced at my watch and couldn’t believe how slow time was moving. I felt my breathing get more and more panicked as I tried to envision 13.1 miles. And then in true half ass fashion, I put my head down and started to cry. I wanted it to be over, I wanted my fiancee there, I wanted my comfort beside me telling me I could do it. I wanted anything but to be sitting alone at that table staring at a war-zone transition area.

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Luckily before I became an all out disaster our relay swimmer found me and snapped me out of it. We spent some time watching the elite athletes and then found a shady spot near the relay corral to wait for the bike to come in. Bless her soul for allowing me to ramble on about stupid things to calm my nerves. With no exact way of knowing how soon I could start running I paced in the corral until it was time. We exchanged the chip, high- fived each other, and I took a deep breath as I headed out. Show time.

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Originally I thought that the “double loop, out and back” course would mess with my head, but I ended up appreciating it. In my mind breaking the race up into 4 5Ks seemed manageable so I forced myself to only think about one leg at a time. I took in the scenery (the spectators and signs were awesome!), kept my pace steady, and even made a friend for a while. Towards the end of the first leg I heard someone yell my name and looked up to see my buddy on her bike across the street. I smiled and felt a little piece of the alone-ness melt away.

I proudly stomped on the timing mat as I ran around the first loop. 1 down, 3 to go. On the way back I timed my water/beans perfectly, and was even able to take them down without having to stop running for the first time in my life. I’m sure the water stop volunteer appreciated my jig as I ran by. Shortly before the halfway point I heard my name again and looked up to see my buddy smiling as she ran towards me. As always, she yelled exactly what I needed to hear and I made myself run a little taller. If she could swim 1.2 miles, bike 56, be in the middle of a half marathon and STILL have the energy to yell at me – I could do this. She is my all star, always.

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The turn around was the worst. All of the runners made their way down the same grassy path, with crowds on either side and the music blasting. A woman stood in the middle directing traffic: finishers to the left, 2nd lap runners to the right. I growled at her as I ran by, but tried to remind myself that the faster I ran the faster I would be there too.

5K #3 was tough. Limbs started to get heavy and tired and the realization that I was only half way done set in. The mind games rolled around my head until I crossed the timing mat again. One lap to go and I would be done. Time to dig in. Time to prove myself.

I was slow but determined those last few miles. No matter how much I wanted to stop I reminded myself how close I was, I visualized the finish line. I started going through the list of things in my head that I said I’d never be able to do- and have done. I passed my buddy one last time and as we slapped hands she yelled “GO GET THAT MEDAL!”. I smiled as I felt the tears come on again. But this time, they were warm and happy.

As I rounded the last few bends I started to hear the music again, noticed the crowd getting thicker. My smile grew bigger and bigger and as I passed the woman directing traffic I yelled “STAYING TO THE LEFT!”. She just laughed. I heard people cheering. I heard my name being yelled by my friends parents. I passed by the other two members of my relay team who were jumping up and down and cheering. I don’t think my smile could have gotten any bigger. My face actually hurt more than my legs as I crossed the finish line.

 

With my medal around my neck and a bottle of water in my hand I stopped, despite the crowd still around me. I only noticed two people in that park: the girl I used to be and the girl who had just finished a half marathon of a Half Ironman. The thing that seemed impossible was over. And I had done it. All on my own. I smiled, I laughed, I cried big, fat, happy tears. I was just so proud.

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Despite my “speedy” long runs the last few weeks sadly I didn’t pull off an impressive PR on Sunday. I am still a very slow half marathoner. But I am starting to understand distance running. I am starting to learn what it means to dig deep and push yourself to the finish line. Starting to learn that your legs can out run your mind. Starting to believe in myself. And you know what? All of those things are worth far more than any PR.

Ready.

As a runner you never feel “ready” for a big race.  You question your runs, especially the last few. You pick apart what you did wrong on those Saturday long runs. Your breathing suddenly seems ineffective. Suddenly that clear vision of the finish line you’ve had all this time vanishes. Out of no where aches and pains appear and those that already existed magnify (case in point: I’ve convinced myself that the tiny blister on my big toe is reason for amputation). I dare someone to tell me they’ve ever kicked back during their taper week and felt 100% confident in their ability. And after you’re done telling me- please teach me how to be just like you.
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I don’t feel ready to run 13.1 miles.  And I most certainly don’t feel ready to run them by myself. The furthest I’ve ever run alone is 11 miles. And in training for Timberman I only ran to 10. Those extra 3 miles are a long way to put my faith in. I know that I could get to the start line and completely freak myself out. I know that I could let myself go out far too fast and crash and burn. I know there will be a point where I hit my wall and want to give up. The memory of what a half marathon feels like on my body is still incredibly vivid. How it feels in my brain is even stronger.
But despite all of my worries and doubts, I feel ready in other ways. Ready in ways I’ve never felt before. Ready to figure out if I can ever handle the mental aspect that goes hand in hand with being a distance runner. Ready to see if I can fuel myself properly. Ready to see that those 10 miles were truly all I needed. Ready to see if I can pace myself to run smart and steady.
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Ready because for once, the excitement of success slightly overshadows my fear of failure. Ready because I want to see if the voice inside my head can push me to keep going, instead of the one running alongside me. Ready because I know there will be a team waiting at the finish line who is depending on me. Ready because I want to call my fiancee and scream “I DID IT!” proudly. Ready to prove to those who have believed in me all along that I finally believe in myself. Ready because I want to see that I am stronger than I think I am.
And at the end of the day, maybe that’s the only kind of “ready” you ever really need to be.
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Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes.

Something’s different.

I can’t quite put my finger on when it happened. Or how it happened. Or even why it happened. But all of a sudden, I’m starting to see some changes.

It all began with my hip. For a decent amount of time I was putting in the bare minimum, doing exercises only when I was reprimanded about them. Essentially I had regressed to the student who does as little homework as possible to get through class. When I started getting sick of this on-again-off-again pain I realized that the rehab activities were there for a reason. So I started spending more time stretching post run. Setting an alarm on my phone to remind myself to do my band walks. Taking the extra 15 minutes at night to go through my routine because believe it or not… this shit actually works! There are still times the pain comes back (I have an ice pack glued to my hip as I type this due to an intense 10 miler this weekend) but I’m starting to get back to higher mileage and more importantly, a happier runner. Lesson learned.

Sunday night routine.

Sunday night routine.

It’s only taken two years and god knows how many near death instances- but I’ve also finally started to get a handle on nutrition when it comes to fueling myself for workouts. I started paying attention to what I’m eating the night before long runs because I know it will affect how I feel mid run. I’m hydrating throughout the day. My days this summer are long and full and I was discovering that by the time I get home I could eat nearly the entire fridge. I started paying attention to what I was eating mid-day, and making sure that I wasn’t heading out on my evening workouts already starving. Sometimes this means eating a PB & Banana sandwich in traffic but if it keeps me from eating both mine and my fiancees dinner at 8:30pm- I’ll gladly take the extra time to pack it.

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Fuel on the go!

The combination of all of these things have slowly but surely been showing me that I can become a better runner. But something even more crucial, even more exciting, even more important? There’s something different going on in my head.

As my mileage started increasing a few weeks ago I decided that I needed a change of scenery for my long runs. I remembered being told about a nearby bike path/trail and decided it just might be worth the earlier wake up call.  So I set the alarm a little earlier, packed myself up and headed to the park. The sun was just coming up, the air was still cool, and as I ran I felt this energy I hadn’t felt in a very long time. I was shocked and how much easier the miles passed, how much faster I ran. I returned week after week, only to find the same magic in my miles. I was convinced that the running fairies were sprinkling dust in the path over night. Negative splits during a long run? 10 miles with an average pace 2 seconds faster than my 8 mile run? Reminding myself that I’m stronger than I think I am? That shit doesn’t happen to me…. EVER.

One of the most epic runs of my short little runner life.

One of the most epic runs of my short little runner life.

I don’t know why I’m suddenly doing all of these things. Maybe watching all these other talented runners around me is finally getting to me. Maybe all the lessons I’ve been taught are finally sinking into my thick little skull. Or maybe, just MAYBE – I’m finally starting to see the potential in myself. We’ll see how long this lasts.

 

… the Sweeter the Finish Line.

Remember that half marathon I am supposed to run this summer? It’s okay- me neither really. I mean I’ve been running and training and knew it was on the horizon, but I’ve been so busy I hadn’t spent much time really thinking about it. Until the one month mark rolled around. And I started piecing together the details and logistics. And then in true Kathleen/Half Ass fashion, I “freaked the f out”.

I already knew this was going to be a challenge. So far 13.1 and I haven’t had the best time together, and for the first time I’m going to be facing it on my own. And without the comfort of my fiancee there cheering me on. And then I read the Athlete Guide. And I started doing the math and realized how long a Half Ironman actually takes. How early I’m going to have to get up, and then how long I’m going to have to wait for my turn to run. How hot it’s going to be by then. What if I eat my pre-race meal too soon and I have nothing in me? How mentally challenging is a double loop going to be to my unstable mind? Oh and did I mention that I can’t use my iPod? 13.1 miles of just me and the sound of my own irregular breathing?

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I wanted out. This felt like too many uncomfortables all at once. Maybe I’m taking on something that’s just out of my league right now. For a quick second I toyed with the possibility of finding a replacement runner.

But then I thought about how it would feel standing on the sidelines watching someone else cross that finish line, and how it would feel knowing it was supposed to be me. Then I thought about how it will feel if I actually finish this thing. It was became obvious that Option B outweighed Option A.

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I don’t want to do this race.  but I have to do this race. I  have to prove that I can conquer my mental games. I have to let my legs show that they are louder than my brain. I have prove to those who believe in me that I can do this. Most importantly- I have to prove to myself that I can do this.

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I’m scared out of my mind, but I know that being scared isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Being scared means that you are being challenged. Being scared means you have a chance to prove that you are brave. Prove that you have grown. Prove that you have taken in all you have been taught.  And as I’ve been shown time and time again- the scarier the challenge, the sweeter the finish line.

So let’s do this.

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Seeing the same lake through a new set of eyes.

We all know I’m a sucker for anniversaries and memories. In fact a good chunk of this blog has been about remembering and celebrating particular milestones. So it goes without saying that this summer there was one huge milestone I couldn’t let pass by… Iron Girl. For the entire week I reminisced over those sleepless nights, the countdown, how my dining room table was a packing station, and those terrifying butterflies that wouldn’t disappear.

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I mentioned before that I wasn’t able to participate this year due to another special event that weekend. I was content with sitting it out because I knew that it would never compare to what I experienced last year. However I still had friends who were participating, and so I knew that I needed to head out there to support them as they had done for me.

Driving to Central Massachusetts in the early hours of the morning was eerily familiar of exactly one year earlier. I watched the sun peak up from behind the hills and remembered the ride to the race site, remembered pinching my arm to prevent myself from throwing up in the car. I ended up having to park my car in a satelite lot so I brought my bike so I could make it to my friends in time (former fat kid flashback: who ever thought I would think of THAT?). I took a left turn in to the lake, passed under the landmark underpass, and my body was instantly covered with goosebumps. Suddenly it felt weird being there. Suddenly I wish I had stayed home and just slept in.

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I found my friends and hugged them tightly as I wished them good luck. And then I stood and watched them make their way to the chute, digging my feet in the sand to prevent myself from running to join them. I found a good spot to spectate and stared out at the lake that had once terrified me. I thought about how much I’ve changed since the day I stood in that water, how much I’ve grown since then. I watched as wave after wave was called.I wondered how many of those girls were doing their first race. I wondered how many of them were as nervous as I had been. I hoped they too had someone with them to calm them down.

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As the morning went on I quickly forgot about myself. I got so caught up in making sure that I caught my friends at each point in the race, made sure I got pictures as they headed in and out of transition, cheered as they made their way to the final finish. I watched as athlete after athlete crossed the finish line: sometimes in a zone by themselves and sometimes with a friend by their side. I smiled inside when I saw groups of three cross together. I imagined those girls who were so scared at the swim, now beaming as they made their way under the banner. I knew exactly what they were feeling.

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At the end of the day I was glad I was there to spectate and to see my team cross the finish line. As tired as I was it felt good to be a part of it in a totally different way. While my friends packed up their transition areas before we headed to breakfast I walked back over to the lake to grab my bike. I stood and looked out at the water, back in it’s calm state. I stood for a moment and said out loud “I’ll see you next year”. I’m not completely confident in that statement. Maybe Iron Girl was something I only needed to experience once. Maybe that was my gateway into bigger and better things. Maybe I left that lake the first time forever changed.

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Who I am.

“It’s never too late to be who you might have been” – George Elliot

 

As humans, we never end up as the same person we started out as. We go through so many stages in life: bad hair phases, poor partner choices, and terrible tastes in music. When I was twelve years old I loved anything that was purple and wanted to be a marine biologist (But really, who didn’t if you were into Lisa Frank?).  Fast forward two years and I detested any shade of the color and wanted to be an author. There was a time in my life where my entire room and car (yes car) were decked out in hawaiian surf decor. And the short stint where I tried to be hardcore and listened to alternative music. I’ve always been the kind of person who goes through phases in life very intensely. I can’t help but put my whole being into what I’m feeling passionate about in that moment.
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There may have been a phase in my life where I loved *NSYNC so much I covered my parents driveway in quotes. MAYBE.

So I don’t think it surprised many of my friends or family when I started working out and running. “Another phase” they said (If not to my face I’m sure behind my back). And I’ll admit, there have been several times when even I have wondered “Is this a phase? Will I grow out of it just like I grew out of Lisa Frank and Korn?”
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Just a normal day after bootcamp,a run and a swim.

But then there’s the part of me that wonders… what if I’m just finally becoming the person I was meant to be? What if those years of phases happened for a reason –  and I’m finally where I’m supposed to be? Never in my life did I think I would be on the cusp of 30 (43 days… eeek) training for half marathons and doubling up on workouts. But here I am doing it. I’m sweaty, I’m happy, I’m healthy. For the longest time I cringed when I heard my name and the word athlete in the same sentence but now, I can say it without flinching. My voice is firm when I tell people “I am a runner”. My eyes light up when I overhear a conversation about Boston. For the first time in what I can remember- I am confident in who I am.
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This picture may look like I just won a road race. I totally did not.

So maybe this is who I was meant to be: the girl whose hair is always pulled back in a pony tail, whose backseat is filled with running shoes and yoga mats, who would rather spend $100 on a road race than a pair of jeans. The girl with awkward tan lines and more Sweaty Bands than purses.  The girl who feels more confident about herself after a 10 mile run than she feels dancing in a club. Take it or leave it- I’m just happy being here, being me. And maybe, just maybe, this is who I was supposed to be all along. It just took a few Lisa Frank diaries and skull & crossbones to get here.
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