SwimRun NC

It has been a little over a month since our last SwimRun race of 2018, SwimRun NC, so I thought it was about time that I sit down and write a little race report. This race takes place every year at the end of October at Hanging Rock State Park. Hanging Rock is about 45 minutes outside of Winston-Salem, so very easy to access but still remote enough to feel like you are off the beaten path. It is a beautiful park with a lake for swimming and kayaking/canoeing, more than 20 miles of hiking trails that climb onto spectacular views and weave alongside clear streams and waterfalls. There is also access on the Dan River for paddling, over 8 miles of mountain biking trails and rock climbing. With its technical trails and water access it is the perfect backdrop for SwimRun.

We had the opportunity to do some course recon with one of the race directors, Herbert, a few weeks prior to the race. This recon proved to be an invaluable tool, it allowed us to get a great feel for the course and how technical the terrain really is. At that time the water temperature was a balmy 70 degrees, perfect for someone like me who does not do well in cold water. Well, that temperature was too good to be true and in the following few weeks the air temperature would drop and several storms with torrential rains would not only drop the water temperature but change the flow of the Dan River.

The day prior to the race all the athletes gathered at the Green Heron Ale House for packet pick-up and race briefing. We picked up our race bibs, tee shirts and hats along with an extra little surprise. Three heart-warming personalized notes to us from 3 different kids at a local grade school.  This is by far the most unique and personal race swag we have ever received. The race briefing was short and I sat there anxiously waiting for someone to talk about the water temperature and the conditions of the Dan River. Neither were mentioned in the briefing but it really didn’t matter, because the conditions were what they were and talking about it wouldn’t change either.

  

Race morning was sunny but cold and I knew the water temperature would be a challenge for me. The race starts at the  Ale House with a nice 4.5 mile run up to Hanging Rock State Park. This was moderately technical terrain with a few creek crossings and an amazing waterfall climb up and around Window Falls. There was plenty of time to get warm before hitting the lake and the first of 4 – 500 meter swims across the lake. The lake was very cold,  the kind of cold that takes your breath away, that freezes your face and gives you an ice cream headache, yes it was that cold. The race director, Herbert, estimated that the lake temperature was around 54 degrees that day. We got through the first swim and cut across the bay, a short traverse past the dam and back into the lake for the 2nd loop. This second loop proved to be a bit more challenging for me, as the run portion in between was not long enough to warm up at all. Back into the lake and I started to get cold about half way across. We made it out and across the bay and by the time I hit the traverse past the dam I was shivering uncontrollably, teeth chattering, lips blue  and feeling like there was no way I could possibly get back in that lake again.

This is where having a really supportive partner comes into play. Looking back on it, if I were racing alone, I may not have had the mental fortitude to get myself back in that lake for 2 more swims but having David there by my side, encouraging me, supporting me and counting on me as a partner was exactly what I needed to keep going.

The race continued with a nice long climb up to the top of Moore’s Wall with 642 steps. This section was slow and steady with more power hiking than running and the views were certainly worth the work. It also gave me time to forget about how cold I was after that 2nd swim!!  After stopping for some fluid and a photo op at the top, we descended back to the lake on an extremely rocky single track trail, the most technical section of the race. Once back at the lake it was back in for another 2 loops. The 3rd swim was cold but tolerable and I was so happy to get some warm chicken broth after that loop before having to get back into the water for the final lake swim of the day.  The chicken broth was exactly what I needed to warm my core, just enough to get through that swim, and knowing that the hot broth would be there when I got out of the water after that 4th loop.

It was a relief getting out of the water and knowing that all that stood between us and the finish was a 5.7 mile run and a 900 meter swim in the Dan River. I knew that the river temperature would be even colder than the lake but also knew that with the current the 900 meters would be very quick. The last run took us on an out and back section to climb Cascade Falls and then down to the Dan River. We ran along the river to the entry point and hopped into the Dan River, where I decided to not submerge my face for fear of getting too cold. The river was running rather swiftly and there were rocks just under the surface that were a bit tricky to navigate. We made it to the exit point unscathed and I struggled a bit to get my feet under me. Again, having a partner who could help me to my feet was invaluable. We climbed a short set of stairs, through the finish arch and as always we both had huge smiles on our faces, happy to be finished and happy with our accomplishment. I guess I am accustomed to more excitement and enthusiasm at the finish line of a race because this was lackluster and a bit of a disappointment. No photographer, no announcer, no one from the race, just a few people milling around who had just finished.

We walked away from the finish line, changed our clothes and went to partake in the post race festivities. Despite the lackluster finish line the post race experience was enjoyable. The majority of the race participants and their families/friends sat around feasting on the tasty post race food and drink, sharing stories about the race, cheering on the division winners during the awards and hoping to win some great swag in the raffle.

This race was challenging and technical and fun and a  great way to end our SwimRun 2018 season!

         

On the Road Again

After 2 weeks of feeling like all we were doing is driving we are finally back in the PNW. When we first made the decision to do the “Van Life” thing, we promised our families we would return to the PNW for the holidays. I don’t think either of us really thought about where we would be in the country or how long it actually takes to drive across it and I am not sure it would have really mattered. We want to see our families and spend time with all of them during the holidays, but boy was it a whirlwind few weeks.

After our last race in North Carolina, SwimRun NC, we went back to South Carolina to see David’s daughter and grandson. We  had such a wonderful visit and it was so nice to be able to see them again. From there it was time to head west to the PNW. Our first stop was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to visit David’s niece. She is a freshman in college at the University and has not seen any family since her mom took her to school back in August. Although we didn’t get to spend much time, it was so nice visiting, having dinner, catching up and hearing about her freshman year so far, she looks and sounds extremely happy.

From Alabama we made our way to Stillwater, Oklahoma. It was a crazy day of driving to get to Stillwater. I bet you are asking yourself why on earth would we rush to get to Stillwater, OK. Well, Stillwater is the home of the Land Run 100, a 100 mile bicycle race on red, rutted, gravel roads through the beautiful countryside surrounding Stillwater. Our goal was to make it to District Bicycles on Saturday morning for the registration party. We met the owner of District Bicycles, Bobby, back in May in Kansas, he was one of the 34  people racing the DKXL (350 miles of gravel, unsupported). He was super excited that we made the trek to Stillwater as were we. There was so much positive energy surrounding the registration, we had a great time, both registered for races (David for the Double-50k run followed by 100 mile bike the following day and me the 50k run), and spent an extra day exploring the area.

 

Little did we know that we would really enjoy our time in Stillwater. Much like Emporia, Kansas, Stillwater is a hidden gem in the middle of the country. A place that most people will never get to experience because most people would never even dream of going to Oklahoma on vacation. We were able to do a little Land Run course recon and some trail running before we had to move on toward the west coast.

                     

From Stillwater we made our way to Phoenix, Arizona to visit our dear friends, Joan and Russ. On the way, we could not help ourselves, we had to make a very brief pit stop in Winslow, Arizona for a photo op on the corner. And yes, there was a flat bed Ford sitting right in front !!

 

Although our visit in Phoenix was less than 24 hours, we were able to spend some quality time with our friends, working out, running and catching up.

   

On to Las Vegas where we would help in the Orange Mud booth at the Las Vegas Rock and Roll Marathon Expo. Orange Mud  has focused on making hydration packs for running and cycling but they also have lots of other fun items, like the transition towel! They are a great company, they stand by all of their products and they love supporting their customers. We happened to meet the owner, Josh, in Kansas where I became a huge fan of their products and became an ambassador. David and I had a blast helping out, promoting and selling great products and meeting so many like minded people.

We couldn’t come to Las Vegas and not find a race. Well lucky us, an old friend of mine, from way back when I was living in Vegas, has his own race management company, Bristlecone Events,  and happened to have a 5k race the day we were leaving. So, before hitting the road again we participated in the race and then went back out for a second 5k to help pick up cones on the race course. Not only did we get to race but I was able to catch up with an old friend, meet his amazing wife and daughter and introduce him to David. Thank you Eric and Dawn Marie for welcoming us into your home and your space for a few days!!

From Vegas it was on to Salt Lake City for a very brief visit with some other old friends from Vegas, Melinda and Nathan. We had very little time to explore but we were there long enough to get in a nice hike in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains. This area looks amazing and we can’t wait to come back when we have more time to really explore the area. We are hoping Melinda and Nathan want to be our tour guides as they are amazing athletes and know the region well.

                                                     

From Salt Lake City we made a brief overnight stop in Boise before making it to Portland, Oregon and my brother’s house.  We were able to spend 10 days with my brother, his 2 girls and his girlfriend and her daughter. We took advantage of some nice weather for some great outside time, a stop at Multnomah Falls , running up Mt. Tabor and out at Forest Park. We spent Thanksgiving with my family before heading north to Seattle to have another Thanksgiving celebration with David’s family. We will spend some time in Seattle, visiting with family and friends, racing and training and planning our 2019 journey.

           

  

         

We have now been on the road for 9 months and heading into this holiday season we have so much to be thankful for. We have our health, our families, the ability to travel and each other. We cherish everyday we have to make memories with each other and with others around us. We have realized that living with less has allowed us to appreciate the little things so much more and we can”t wait for more adventures in 2019.

“But the most beautiful things in life are not things. They’re people, and places, and memories, and pictures. They’re feelings and moments and smiles and laughter.” Unknown

 

 

IGNITE SwimRun 2018 Season

Let me start out by saying that David and I are ambassadors for IGNITE SwimRun. We actually became ambassadors prior to having raced any SwimRun events. We originally signed up for one event, SwimRun Lake James, but then we were picked to be ambassadors. We knew it was an opportunity to be a part of a growing sport, to represent what looked to be a great company (IGNITE) and ultimately race more. Well, we got so much more than we could ever imagine. By the end of the 2018 season we raced a total of 5 SwimRun races with 3 of them being IGNITE races: Minnesota, Rhode Island and Virginia.

     

We met the IGNITE team for the first time in Minnesota. We arrived several days early to the race venue and were eager to help out, marking trails, setting up the venue, really whatever help was needed. We could see immediately that they are a group of dedicated, hard working individuals who have a passion to see SwimRun grow in the US and love organizing races.

IGNITE Minnesota is located at Cuyuna State Park in Ironton, Minnesota. It is known for its 30+ miles of single track trails with tight turns and scenic vistas. It is a popular mountain biking destination, but the trails are also amazing for running. The many quarries throughout the park are filled with beautiful crystal clear water which allow for perfect swimming conditions and is also popular with scuba divers. This race was a combination of a little bit of road, a little bit of fire road and mostly moderately challenging single track trails mixed with quarry swimming. We had perfect weather and perfect water temperatures. We had a great race and although it was super challenging, we had so much fun.

       

Our next SwimRun was in Rhode Island, Block Island to be exact. This race was more of a spur of the moment decision. Since we were going to be only 4 hours away we decided it would be a great opportunity to do another SwimRun. So off we went to Rhode Island to help set up, explore Block Island and race. This race was spectacular in so many ways. It was a combination of road, fire road and moderately technical single track trail along with some calm swimming in the Great Salt Pond and more challenging ocean swims in the Atlantic as well as the scenery of sparkling clear waters, dramatic bluffs and miles of beautiful beaches. Again, the weather was perfect, or even a bit warm, and the water temperature was warm enough to opt out of a wetsuit if desired. Since we had some rougher ocean swims I decided to wear my wetsuit for security and David opted out. This race really pushed me outside my comfort zone. The ocean swims were a bit rough at times and one section turned into a run as I was unable to get past the break. Although all of the SwimRun races we have done have been so different, this race became our favorite SwimRun race of the 2018 season.

      

Our last IGNITE race of the season (but 4th overall) was SwimRun Virginia. This was a general entry race, meaning open registration for any athlete, but it was also the National SwimRun Championship where the top teams from 9 other SwimRun races in the US would compete for the top spot on the podium. David and I put this race on our list because we had heard that it was a pretty cool race with a combination of urban and trails and river swimming. Well this race did not disappoint. The week prior to the race the weather was warm and perfect. The river had been running high all summer long due to the many tropical storms that passed through the region and then another storm rolled through the week prior to the race. The temperatures dropped, the river levels rose and we were questioning if this race would happen. Well, the river dropped enough for the race to go on safely but the temperatures never recovered. The day of the race it was cool and overcast and the water temperature was about 61 degrees. The most challenging part of this race was the river. At 6 feet high it was running swiftly. I have never swam in a swift running river and tried hard not to panic. Once again I found myself way outside my comfort zone. There were several moments of sheer panic but David remained calm and was the voice of reason I needed to get through this challenge. This is the essence of SwimRun, having a team member to encourage you, support you as well as for safety. This was probably the most challenging race of the season.

              

Prior to 2018,  David and I had never been ambassadors for a company. We feel so honored that IGNITE invited us to join them for the 2018 season and welcomed us into their family. We have had an education on race organization and directing, got an opportunity to race in 3 amazing but very different venues and made some lifelong friends, not only with other athletes and ambassadors but with the IGNITE team.

“There is nothing more exciting than meeting new people, hearing their stories, and being inspired.” -Unknown

 

Racing, Family, and More Racing

It has been quite some time since I have posted and a lot has taken place; several big races and family visits. We continue to love this lifestyle, spending almost all of our time together, racing, training and visiting with friends and family along with the challenges of van life. We have one more big race coming up, our 5th and final SwimRun in North Carolina, before we head back to Seattle to spend time with our families for the holidays.

We left Ohio and headed to Erie, PA for the Erie Marathon on September 9. David and I had aspirations for qualifying for the 2019 Boston Marathon and we both felt prepared, mentally and physically. The weather was perfect and the course pancake flat, but it just wasn’t our day. David realized at mile 10 that it just wasn’t going to happen, and my wheels fell off around mile 16 when my left hip began to hurt and I began to walk more often then I normally would (I always do a run/walk for all my marathons including my past 2 Boston Marathon qualifiers).  We were both disappointed  and I shed a few tears but there is no time to wallow in self pity. I have so much to be thankful for, the fact that I got to run the Boston Marathon not just once, but twice, makes me so proud of my accomplishments. You see, if you know me or have been following my blog, you know that a bit over 15 years ago I could not even run a mile let alone the Boston Marathon. So, running Erie, although not the results I had hoped for was still a marathon and still something I am proud of.

                               After the Erie Marathon we drove to Vermont to spend some time at Cold Moon Farm with Irene and Ed and my parents. Cold Moon Farm holds a special place in our hearts. I grew up down the street from the Glazer’s and they were my second set of parents. I spent half of my formative years at their house, hanging out with their sons, swimming in the pool and sometimes driving Ed crazy with my whining. Just like my parents, they were always there for me if I needed something.  They moved to Vermont over 20 years ago and I don’t get to see them as often anymore. When David decided to propose to me somehow he knew this was the place to do it. We made a trip to NY and Vermont in December of 2014 and it was on this trip, at Cold Moon Farm where he asked me to be his wife. So, this is why we love this place and knew we needed to make a stop here. It was also a perfect place to meet up with my parents to celebrate my 47th birthday and catch up. We really loved our time on the farm, helping out wherever we could, hiking and exploring the Green Mountains, visiting, reminiscing and telling stories about my childhood and relaxing. If you ever find yourself in Southern Vermont it is worth a stop over at Cold Moon Farm.

   

      

       

During our stay in Vermont, along with our regular schedule of running, hiking and strength training, we traveled to 2 big races. The first one was IGNITE SwimRun Rhode Island. This was our 3rd SwimRun race of 2018 and our first one which included ocean swimming. The location was Block Island, Rhode Island, a quaint island 12 miles off the coast, famous for its miles of free public beaches, sparkling clear waters, dramatic bluffs and open spaces. In our usual fashion we arrived early, helped set-up the venue and did some course re-con. We knew it was a beautiful location but this race course was breath-taking. It was also extremely challenging- ocean swimming with big swells, running on single track trails and rocky coastline, sandy beaches and stairs, lots of stairs. Due to the conditions on the south end of the island, one swim was cancelled and another adjacent swim became optional. If you could get through the break then the swim parallel to the shore it wasn’t too bad, unfortunately, I could not get past the break. After trying several times and not getting very far, David could see on my face that I was starting to struggle and panic a bit. He signaled to me to turn around and go back to shore, we will run the beach, it is not worth injury or even worse. We were doing well, in the middle of the pack, until we missed a turn onto a single track trail and ran almost a mile in the wrong direction. We got back on track but knew we were in last place (only 6 teams did the long course). We popped out on to the road, saw the team ahead of us, turned up the speed a notch and managed to come in 5th place at the end of the day. It was one of the most scenic races I have ever done. The day ended with an amazing bonfire on the beach, with the awards ceremony and sharing stories with the other athletes.

         

        

The second race we signed up for was more of a last minute decision. We happened upon a timed race that was only about 30 minutes from Cold Moon on another local farm, Beebe Farms in East Dorset, Vermont, called the Beebe Farm Classic. This race was a 0.87 mile loop on a gravel road surrounding horse arenas. We signed up for the 6 hour race with the goal being as many loops as possible during those 6 hours. This was my first timed race and my goal was a 50K, about 32 miles. I had my phone and headphones with me in anticipation of the monotony of such a race, but was surprised by how quickly 6 hours passed. Before I knew it, we had only a few minutes to go as I raced to complete my 39th lap and a total of 33.99 miles. David was able to complete a little over 43 laps for a total of 37 miles and an overall win. The race was well organized, had some awesome swag, including a fleece jacket and a mug, tons of food and great music. The best part about the day for us was getting a chance to catch up with our friend, Nancy, from the Hyland’s Boston Marathon team.

                                      

Our month in Vermont was incredible but we needed to start heading toward South Carolina, where David’s daughter and grandson live. We were going to be there for his 1st birthday party!! We left ourselves plenty of time, since we don’t like to drive too many hours a day and we had planned some other stops along the way. Our first stop after leaving Vermont, was New Jersey. We spent a few days with my cousins, Elaine, David, Robin, Michael, Randy and Jamie. We had so much fun sharing stories and spending time getting to know all of them better. While in NJ, I was able to show David around my high school, The Peddie School. I reminisced about my days there and how meaningful it was and how I never would imagine that 30 years later I would be running on the track and talking about doing my first 100K. Back then I was all about avoiding PE class and did everything possible to get out of it.

After NJ we made a brief stop in Shenandoah National Park. This is one of the most dog friendly national parks we have encountered so far. We hiked the Cedar Run-Whiteoak Circuit, a strenuous, technical hike which runs along the river and passes many waterfalls along the way. It was a perfect fall day.

   

From Virginia we made a brief stop in North Carolina, finally landing in South Carolina where we would spend a few days visiting with David’s daughter and grandson and celebrating his 1st birthday. We spent time at the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia and the pumpkin patch. It had been 6 months since our last visit and it was so nice to spend some quality time with them. Our current living situation allows us these opportunities to visit family that we may not have otherwise, we feel so blessed to have the time to visit and look forward to next time.

        

                

 

Back to North Carolina and Hanging Rock State Park to scout out the SwimRun NC course. We were lucky enough to meet up with one of the race directors, Herbert, who took us on a tour of the waterfalls and the upper section of the course. This course is beautiful, with lots of single track, technical trails, waterfall climbs, and an amazing overlook on top of Moore’s Wall. We spent a few days here exploring the other waterfalls and trails in the park.

    

After a few days exploring Hanging Rock it was back north to Virginia for IGNITE SwimRun Virginia in Richmond on October 20th followed by SwimRun NC in Hanging Rock on October 28th. These would be our last 2 SwimRun races of the 2018 season, making a total of 5 for us this year!!

So stay tuned for some race reports and pictures very soon!!!

Oh, Canada and Beyond

As I sit here in Ohio, with 2 days until our big marathon, I am thinking about all the places we have been since our last big race in Minnesota. Our plan after SwimRun Minnesota was to head north to Canada to visit our friends, Debbie and Cory, in Gravenhurst, Ontario. We started north after IGNITE Minnesota and stopped at Tettegouche State Park.

  

Tettegouche is located on the north shore of Lake Superior. There are 23 miles of hiking trails with high cliffs, shoreline and waterfalls. It is a beautiful location in Northern Minnesota and no where near a big city. Usually this would be a plus, but as we quickly found out, it is not easy to find a place for an Amazon delivery in a remote region. Unfortunately, while in northern Minnesota our solar panel controller shorted out, a wire came loose, which meant we only had the power that the batteries had stored. This meant the refrigerator had to be turned off and the power had to be limited to only those things that were absolutely necessary. We were able to order the control panel and found a co-op for delivery, but that would take several days. During that time, we took advantage of the state park, hiking the trails and exploring the shoreline. The delivery was delayed and the weather turned to rain so we decided to splurge and got a hotel room for a night. We took advantage of warm showers and air conditioning which granted us a little reprieve from the heat, humidity and bugs of Northern Minnesota.

   

We finally received our control panel and were able to get our solar up and running again. Prior to departing the area we got a break in the weather and went for a beautiful run along the lake where we discovered these enormous Adirondack chairs.

Once we were able to get back on the road, we entered into Canada with no issues. We skirted the shores of Lake Superior and stopped to explore Lake Superior Provincial Park, for an afternoon. The park is a diverse landscape of forested hills, clear lakes, streams and rivers, and a Lake Superior shoreline with features ranging from cliffs to long stretches of beach. We spent several hours exploring the park and all it has to offer.

    

After our small set back, we were finally able to make it to Gravenhurst, a few days later than we anticipated, but a place we would spend the next 2 weeks, running, swimming, racing and just relaxing in the company of our good friends Debbie and Cory. They live on Lake Muldrew in the Muskoka region, a beautiful, clear lake that allowed us to get plenty of open water swimming, some kayaking and just some plain old fun.

           

 

Cory was signed up for an Olympic distance triathlon while we were visiting, so since we love to race, we signed up for a sprint SwimRun (750m swim, 5k run) on Saturday and offered to volunteer for a full day on Sunday. There were only 4 people racing the SwimRun so we were guaranteed to score a podium spot! The race was short but we both pushed ourselves and we were happy with our results. Sunday started out early with parking cars and managing traffic in and out of the park followed by directing and cheering on the run course. It was a hot day and we were both lucky enough to find some shade. We had a great time volunteering, it is always good to give back to a sport we love and we both know the race can’t happen without the help of all the volunteers.

 

After 2 amazing weeks in Gravenhurst, we went south toward Toronto for a trail race. This would be our last really long run before the marathon. The Iroquois Trail Test 34K was most certainly a test. It was a 3 loop course of mostly single track trail with mud, rocks and roots, with a little double track thrown in to make it more runnable! It was a challenge and humbling and required focus and concentration to remain upright. Fortunately, I did not take any spills on the course, David, on the other hand, took what he called 2 1/2 falls but with no serious consequences. Despite the difficult level of this race, I surprisingly found myself in 1st place for age group 36-50.

                                                                          

From Toronto we continued east, with the town of Sutton, Quebec being our next big stop. I have been fortunate enough to have landed a part time position with an amazing company, Hyland’s Homeopathic, and had some training to attend in Sutton. We had a few days so we were able to take our time and stop along the way. We decided to make a stop at Presqu’ile Provincial Park on the shores of Lake Ontario. It is a peninsula which sits in Lake Ontario with 1.5 miles of beach, 10 miles of trails and paths along shorelines and through woodlands and meadows, a nature center and historic lighthouse. We spent several days here training on the flat roads, working out on the shoreline and watching the kite surfers.

                                               

We pulled into Sutton and spent 3 nights. I had 2 full days of informative training which will set me up for success in this new position. The Hyland’s employees were welcoming and friendly and excited to have me join the Hyland’s family. Of course, we made time for some running and gym workouts as well as a nice hike one evening.

At the conclusion of my training we set off, heading back to the US and toward Ohio to visit Aunt Nancy and Phyl.  Most of the time we are in no rush so we try not to drive more than about 4-5 hours a day. We made it to a lovely secluded spot in the Finger Lakes region of New York. We stayed there one night and then moved on to the Rochester area where we spent the night in my cousin’s driveway and ran along the river to Lake Erie. From there we continued along the lake, stopping at Presque Isle State Park, the location of the Erie Marathon, to scout the course. We made it to Ohio and got a huge warm welcome from Aunt Nancy and Phyl.

    

We planned on visiting with Nancy and Phyl for about 2 weeks, until just prior to the Erie Marathon. It has been a wonderful visit, catching up, assisting in their move, training, hiking, relaxing and discovering all that Ohio has to offer. We were surprised to find out that this area of Ohio is the home to the Goodyear blimp. We were able to witness the christening of the newest blimp, the Wingfoot III, watch it emerge from the hanger and take off. It was christened on August 30th by Shaesta Waiz, the youngest woman to fly solo around the world in a single engine aircraft. This date is exactly 89 years to the day that aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart christened a Goodyear blimp in 1929.

    

We were also surprised at the outdoor opportunities that this region provides. There is a path that runs along the Ohio and Erie Canal called the Towpath Trail. This trail will cover approximately 110 miles from Lake Erie in Cleveland to New Philadelphia, when it is completed (currently there are some unfinished sections). We were able to take advantage of this nicely paved and hard packed gravel trail for some good training miles as it is flat and shaded. We were also able to visit the only National Park in Ohio, Cuyahoga National Park. It has over 125 miles of hiking trails, 5 major bicycle trails, canoeing, kayaking and historic train rides, a hidden gem in the middle of Ohio.

   

      

Our time here in Ohio has been more about visiting family than anything else, but we are delighted that we were able to enjoy the little gems that this state has to offer.

As I look through all our photos, reminisce about where we have been and as we prepare to leave for our next adventure, our hearts our full, with gratitude for the people in our lives and the love, support and comfort they surround us with.

IGNITE Minnesota

It has been almost a month since our 2nd SwimRun race, IGNITE Minnesota. This race definitely ranks as one of the most entertaining and challenging races that I have completed. SwimRun is not like any other sport. It’s not triathlon without a bike, it is a team sport where the team alternates between running and swimming along a pre-marked course in nature; it can be between islands or between lakes. As a team you race within 10 meters of each other, you share the experience, the fun, the beauty and the suffering.

Minnesota had a short and long course, so being endurance junkies, we picked the long course. This race consisted of 7 swim legs (3.48 miles) and 8 run legs (12.72 miles) for a total distance of 16.2 miles. This is way more swimming than either of us has done in a single race and we knew it would be demanding and difficult but also knew we were up for the task.

We arrived in Minnesota several days prior to the race to help with pre-race preparation. Less than 24 hours after arriving in Minnesota we were at the race venue scouting some trails to asses their condition and getting a sneak peak at the course and the region. The water was warm and crystal clear and the area was beautiful but buggy! While in the park we met an incredible local couple who invited us to their cottage to hear our story, share a meal and take hot showers (a hot shower is a luxury when you live in your van). We spent that evening and the next morning with Coreene and Mark, getting to know them, talking about life, sharing our stories and enjoying their company. It is people like Coreene and Mark in Minnesota, Becky and Steve and Tim and Kristi and Lyn and Scott and Jacob and Lyndsey and… in Emporia, Janie and Corey and Brian in Cody, Blake and his family and the entire Black Hills Running Club in South Dakota (the list goes on and on) that have made this trip what it is.

Back to the race and the reason we traveled to Minnesota to begin with. The following day we met with some of the IGNITE crew and marked the course that we had scouted the day before. In addition to the course marking we helped set up the venue and be of any assistance we possibly could. This was a great learning experience for both of us, as we got a first hand understanding of the work and dedication it takes to direct such a race.

 

 

 

 

Race morning we woke early, as we usually do on race days, and were super excited to race. There was excitement in the air and everyone was anxiously awaiting the start of the race. We had a very specific race day plan-have as much fun as possible and try not to come in last!! We started off with a 4 mile trail run and somehow managed to stay in the top 5 teams getting into the water. That top 5 placing quickly disappeared during the first swim leg!! We felt that we were holding a good position until we hit the 4th swim of the day. David is typically a stronger swimmer than me but he was really struggling with this leg of the race. He had just completed his first 100K just 1 week prior to this race and I believe this contributed to the difficulty. The remainder of the swims were arduous for him and we even tethered together, with me in the lead. This was a new scenario for us but we managed to make it work. We continued to push through, while encouraging each other along every step of the way and checking in with each other even if we didn’t say a lot. We hit the final swim of the day before getting out at the boat ramp and a short run to the finish line. We finished with huge smiles knowing that despite the challenges we had that day, it was a huge accomplishment but most importantly we had fun, we worked together, we raced together and we didn’t come in last!!! 

After the race, some food and socializing, we went back out on the trails to sweep the part of the course that we had marked. We walked the course and talked about the day, how much fun we had, how hard it was and how we can’t wait to do another SwimRun. We were so impressed with this race, with IGNITE, with Danny and Jay and the entire race crew. They picked an amazing race venue with beautiful trails and crystal clear lakes, extremely organized, safe with tons of race support, great swag and they treated every athlete like they won the race!!

Thank you IGNITE for such a memorable race and we can’t wait for IGNITE Rhode Island in September!!

                         

Black Hills and Badlands

I have always valued my friendships and felt that quality is much more important than quantity. Having friends that really know me, really care about me and really support me is invaluable. These friendships remain even while we are on the road, but trying to develop new relationships, while living a nomadic lifestyle, can be very difficult or next to impossible. As we all know, relationships take time to develop. I knew this going into our journey and felt that my current friendships would provide the support and companionship that we as humans crave. We are very lucky to have each other and Mira, but having interaction with others is important too.

During our first few months on the road we were moving rather quickly from place to place but had the pleasure of seeing many friends and family along the way. We then pulled into Emporia, Kansas and were fortunate to have met some amazing people that we now call friends and these relationships are the kind that will last a lifetime. From there we landed in Cody, Wyoming, where we also met some great people who will be lifelong friends. As we were on our way to South Dakota, I wondered if we would have that type of experience again.

                                            

As we drive off to our next destination, I sit here reflecting on our time in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was a month of racing, exploring, adventuring, family time and making new lifelong friends. It was such a special time in a region that has so much history and beauty. When we arrived on June 20th we had a plan to stay one month, time to really explore the region, get to know the area and the people that call the Black Hills their home. As we pulled into town the first thing we did was join the Black Hills Runners Club Community on Facebook. Finding the local running club and community allows us to meet like- minded people who love running as much as we do. It allows us to meet locals who can provide us with all the best places to run, hike and explore. The group meets on Thursday evenings for a group run, so we joined for the run and the gathering at Thirsty’s for some post run food. It was there that we met so many people that we now call friends, Kyle, Desi, Chris R., Heather, Tami, Shauna, Marge, Billie, Jeremy, Laren, Roger, Dan B., Chris G., Kassy, Alfred, Chris S. and Tom (hope I didn’t forget anyone, but if I did I apologize); just a few of the many folks that welcomed us into the community, provided us with invaluable information about the region, invited us to run with them on a regular basis, invited us into their homes and into their lives. This didn’t happen overnight and if we decided to stay for only a few days or a week, we would have never developed these special friendships.

Along with these relationships came so many amazing experiences in the Black Hills. We heard about the Black Hills 100 trail run and thought it would be a great way to kick off our time in the region. Unfortunately, the 30K distance was sold out. So we contacted the race directors (Chris S. and Ryan) and not only did they let us into the race but after explaining our situation they allowed us to sign up for half off the registration fee. This race was epic, single track trail on the Centennial Trail (trail number 89) in some of the most beautiful areas of the Black Hills. If you are looking to do a truly memorable trail race, this one should be on your list.

                                  

We had not planned on racing so much but we loved hanging out with all our new runner friends so we competed in several other races while in the Black Hills- Belle Fouche Rodeo Run 10K, Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, Heart of the Hills 10 miler, Pure Pactola 2.4 mile open water swim and the High Thrive Classic Trail Run-24 hour race.

                                                                    

While in Belle Fouche for the Rodeo Run 10K, we decided to stay for the biggest July 4th parade in the state. David and I happen to set our chairs next to Blake and his family. Blake and his daughter Sara ran the 10K as well, so of course we started to chat. Blake is a down to earth guy who loves to train and race but who also is dedicated to his family. His 3 girls are all extremely active with running and swimming and his oldest just started crossfit. He proceeded to tell us about his upcoming goal of running the entire length of the Mickelson Trail, 109 miles from Edgemont to Deadwood, in 24 hours. This will be a solo running, with support along the way, to help raise money for his sister, Jacci. Jacci is a double, below-the-knee amputee from a degenerative bone disorder. She is a runner and really wants to get back to running to her ability and in order to do this she need “blades”.  So, Blake had this idea to run the trail to help raise $10,000 for his sister to purchase “blades”.  With the support of his wife, kids and sister he is well on his way to raising the funds and his training is going well. He will be running in September 2018. If you want more information or to donate: Blades for Jacci. 

In addition to all the races, we did some great hikes and trail runs. We hiked to the highest peak east of the Rockies, Black Elk Peak. Black Elk Peak (aka Harney Peak) sits at 7,242 feet and from the historic lookout tower you have views of 4 states- South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana. It has historical, geological and spiritual significance and well worth the hike, a bucket list place for those that love the outdoors. We explored Devil’s Bathtub, Buzzard’s Roost, Cathedral Spires, Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park, Badlands NP, Centennial Trail, Mickleson Trail and Spearfish Canyon just to name a few. David was also able to take a day and ride the entire length of the Mickleson Trail.

                                 
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Half way through our month, my parents came to visit and to explore this region with us. Since we had been here for a few weeks already, David and I played tour guide. We explored Custer State Park, hiked around Sylvan Lake and had a unbelievable encounter with a herd of Bison. We went to Mt Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Badlands NP, Spearfish Canyon, Deadwood and Lead. We had several days full of adventure and family time. We had a ton of laughs, it was a very special visit and we made memories that will last a lifetime.

        

In addition to all of our running friends, we met 2 other local couples who happen to live blocks away from each other but didn’t know each other. We were introduced to Zuzana and Vance through a mutual friend in Washington. They are a very nice couple who transplanted to Rapid City about 4 years ago. They opened their home to us when it was 100 degrees outside, made us dinner, shared stories and poetry with us and even allowed Mira to invade their space. Dave and Rhonda have been in Rapid City for over 30 years, they were genuine and generous. Rhonda shared her homemade jam and vinegars with us, they allowed us to fill our water tank, shared stories about traveling in a van and shared a really special place with us, Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary. We were able to all meet for lunch and David and I can only hope that they will develop a friendship.

Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary is a very special place. It is a place to reflect, to meditate, to write, to draw, to laugh, to cry or just enjoy nature. David and I went a few days before leaving the Black Hills and we are grateful to Dave and Rhonda for encouraging us to visit. There was no one else around at the time of our visit, making it quiet, peaceful and reflective for us. I would encourage anyone visiting the Black Hills to make a stop at the sanctuary.

                          

Our time in the Black Hills has been extremely fulfilling physically, emotionally and spiritually. We made so many new friendships, explored a new region, had much needed family time and lots and lots of training and racing. Thank you to the people of Rapid City and the Black Hills as we leave with full hearts and the desire to return.

“Good friends are hard to find, harder to leave and impossible to forget”-unknown

 

Cowboy Town

The past several weeks have been difficult for both David and me. At the end of May, a few days before the DK200, David’s father passed away. This was not completely unexpected but it was not any less painful. David and I had made a trip to Wyoming back in February of this year to visit with his dad.  David had not seen his father in quite some time and was looking forward to spending some time with him. Although the visit was short, David was able to spend some time with his father, helping him with house projects and catching up. This visit would be the last time he would see his dad, and both of us were so grateful that we had the opportunity to make that trip.

We had originally planned on going to Colorado after Kansas. We signed up to volunteer at Ironman Boulder and the Leadville Heavy Half and Marathon, we had planned on high altitude training and enjoying the cooler weather of the mountains. Of course, our plans changed immediately as we needed and wanted to go back to Wyoming.

On our trip to Wyoming we made a stop in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, another gem in the Midwest. The day we arrived, we were able to drive to the top and walk to several view points, with plans to come back the next day to run/hike to the top via the pedestrian path.  This was well worth the time and energy, the views were amazing and the rock tunnel was spectacular.

      

We arrived in Cody and although we had a lot of “business” to take care of we also wanted to enjoy our time here. David spent time going through old photos and reminiscing about his youth. He found many pictures of himself and his brother growing up in Cody (of course they were cowboys)!

We found a great outdoor store, Sunlight Sports, who pointed us in the direction of some great running routes around town and a running group that meets on Thursdays and Sundays. I contacted the group and we met Janie and Corey for an amazing trail run on the Outlaw trail outside of Cody, great views and great company.

                                  

We were able to get away for a few days and took a trip to Yellowstone National Park. This is our nations first national park and I can see why. We get a lot of questions about visiting national parks with Mira. Most national parks have a very strict pet policy and Yellowstone is no different. Dogs are usually allowed on paved or dirt roads, in parking lots and campgrounds, but they are not allowed on trails and in the case of Yellowstone the boardwalks. It is for the safety of the animals and the humans as well as the wildlife. Although we would love to have Mira with us during these adventures we fully understand and fully comply. We were very fortunate, during our trip to Yellowstone, the weather was cool enough that we were able to leave Mira in the van while we explored the region. In fact it was so cool, that at one point it hit 33 degrees and started to snow. We have plenty of resources to keep her warm in the van but we don’t have air conditioning so the heat is much more of an issue. So, we were able to enjoy Yellowstone to its fullest, Ole Faithful, geothermal pools, mud pits, and wide open vistas. We spent 3 days and camped 2 nights and still did not see the entirety of the park. It’s a beautiful park that everyone should visit at least once in their life.

   

Back in Cody, we spent several more days handling the affairs of David’s father’s estate. We were able to meet up with the Running Crew again for a little gathering at Sunlight Sports and a short run in town, that once again had some amazing views. We enjoyed dinner with Brian and Janie, talked about the Buffalo Bill Cody races, their “fall fun run” that they are planning and life. Our new friend Corey, treated us to a world class, behind the scenes tour of the Draper Natural History Museum which is part of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. An amazing museum that has a tremendous amount of history all packed into 1 building.

                                        

This was an unplanned trip to Wyoming but we made sure to find time to enjoy our visit and explore the region. This is what living is all about. This is what our journey is all about. We met some more amazing people who will be lifelong friends and who we will hopefully cross paths with again someday. So, fill your life with adventures, not things, have stories to tell not stuff to show.

“The best way to remember someone who’s passed away is to carry on the wishes, aspirations, dreams, and heart consciousness of that person. They live forever in your mind, spirit and inspirational actions when you magnify the power of love and make the world a better place.”-author unknown

Boston Marathon 2018

It has been over a month since the Boston Marathon and I thought it was about time that I sit down and write about a race that was one for the record books. My Boston 2018 journey actually started the day after Boston 2017. I always thought that running the Boston Marathon would be a one and done. It took a tremendous amount of work and sacrifice to get to the starting line in 2017 and I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that again. I loved the challenge it presented but I also love trying new and different adventures. But, the weekend was such an inspiring and emotional experience that I felt I needed to come back again. So, I signed up for another qualifying race, the same race I used to qualify for 2017, Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon. I had so many big races in 2017 so all I really needed to do was keep training, maintain my fitness, not get injured and have a perfect race day! I wasn’t asking for too much, was I!! Well, my training was on par, I stayed healthy and I had a perfect race day. David was running the same race, to try and qualify, but did not have a great day. He eventually waited for me and we met up at mile 22. I was really hurting and seeing him was exactly what I needed. Despite the fact that he was not having the day he wanted, and he was hurting, he encouraged me, pushed me and ran with me to achieve my goal, not only another qualifying time but my best marathon ever, a huge PR.

                                              

Since David and I were on the Hyland’s Boston Marathon team for 2017, I was invited back for 2018. This time I would be joined by 17 truly inspiring teachers (as well as other participants like myself, who qualified, known as legacy runners). Teachers who really care about their students, who really want to make an impact on future generations, who are so passionate about teaching, the type of teacher that students never forget. I was introduced to the team and had the privilege of getting to know all of them all via social media. They had “homework” assignments each week, which allowed the entire team, as well as the rest of the world, get an up close and personal look at each one of these amazing educators. We also had a private Facebook page where we were all able to share our training, our fears, our excitement and our journey to Boston 2018. David and I even had the opportunity to meet some of the my teammates for a run in the hills of LA.

                                        

Fast forward to marathon weekend, we flew in to Boston, met my parents and arrived at our hotel and ran into some Hyland’s teammates, people whom we had never met but felt like old friends who had not seen each other in a while. As more of us started to filter in the excitement started to build. The chatter quickly turned to the weather and race day clothing options, as the forecast for race day was looking less than desirable for a marathon. The weather is one thing that we have no control over, so I was trying not to focus on it and instead stay in the moment and enjoy a first-class weekend. Saturday started with the BAA 5k followed by a team brunch. This was a great way to really get to know each other on a more personal level and socialize. Margot (President and Chief Strategy Officer of Hyland’s) and Mike (Hyland’s Head Coach) talked about what an honor it has been to be a part of this experience and all I could think about was how lucky I was and how honored I was to be a part of this team. After brunch we had some free time and then it was off to the Red Sox game at Fenway Park, courtesy of Hyland’s of course. We couldn’t pas up the opportunity to see a game at the iconic Fenway Park. Then is was off to the marathon expo to  check -in, pick up my race bib and shop at the expo.

                                     

Sunday morning the team and our families were treated to an amazing brunch at Margot’s house. It was there that we got to meet and mingle with the man of the Boston Marathon, the race director, Dave McGillivray. He is such a humble, sincere guy who, even with the marathon the following day, found the time to spend with our team. I was a little star struck!!

                       

The rest of the day was spent back at the marathon expo and relaxing with my feet up, until dinner. My go-to pre race dinner is always sushi. Some people think I am crazy, but for me it works great, a perfect combination of protein and carbs, it does not sit heavy in my stomach and is super easy to digest. My parents and my father’s cousins joined us for dinner, cousins we had not seen in a year (last year for dinner the night before the race) and prior to that many, many years before. As the day turned into night the weather progressed from sunny and moderate temperatures, to cold, windy and snow flurries.

Race morning we woke to rain, 30 mph winds and temperatures in the mid 30’s with the wind chill. David and I dressed and walked to get some coffee, and it was raining but a normal rain. I thought well, if it rains like this during the race, well that wouldn’t be too bad, I have run in rain many times before. I felt prepared for the weather, tights on bottom, thin long sleeve base layer on top covered by a heavier jacket, a jacket that I have worn in the cold and rain before (little did I know what rain really meant). I had 2 hats on, my thin smart wool on bottom with my new Hyland’s headsweats on top. And then to top it all off I had a throw away sweatshirt and a free poncho, both of which I planned to discard at the start of the race. They were just for some extra warmth and protection while I walked to the starting line from the bus. As part of our first-class treatment with Hyland’s we have our own private bus to the start line. This means we get our own bathroom, on the bus, and we don’t have to sit and wait in the athletes’ village for hours before the race starts. I was able to sit on the bus, staying warm and dry until the last possible minute, this (I quickly learned when I got off the bus) was such a gift. The mud was so thick, so slick and everywhere, the wind and cold were so relentless with little to no protection out in the staging area. It got so bad and the rain was so heavy that the race organizers abandoned the corrals and just told everyone to start moving toward the start line, to start as soon as possible. They didn’t want anyone waiting around any longer than they needed to. There were already medical tents that were filled with participants, runners who never even had the opportunity to start as the time spent in the staging area lead to hypothermia.

                                                            

I quickly dropped my throw away sweatshirt, it was rain soaked, heavy and now making me cold, but I kept on my throw away poncho. It wasn’t keeping me dry by any means, but I felt that it was keeping me a bit protected from the wind. Maybe it was all in my head, but somehow keeping the poncho on meant I would I be warm. I thought I would take it off, I thought, when the rain dies down, when the wind improves, when… That when never came and that once throw away poncho stayed with me for the duration of the race. Once I faced the fact that the weather was not going to improve and I was keeping that poncho on, I moved my race belt and number to the outside, this was a good move as it would keep the poncho from becoming a sail in the wind.

I had a race plan and I decided to stick with it. The goal was to just keep moving forward and never stop, because I knew once I stopped it wouldn’t take much for me to become hypothermic. I don’t do well with being cold and now I was also wet from head to toe. I just focused on one mile at a time. I tried to stay in the moment and not think about how long this race would take or how much harder it could rain, or how much windier it could get or how much colder my hands could feel. I tried to relish in the fact that there were spectators out, yelling and screaming and cheering for us, despite the weather. I began to notice that the heavier the rain became the louder the crowds got. They wanted us, the runners, to know that they were there for us, they were out there despite the rain and the wind and the cold and they were happy to be a part of the most iconic marathon in the world. I hit a low point at mile 11, negative thoughts started to fill my head, I was cold and wet and shivering and knew this was how it would be for the next 15 miles of the race. I texted David at that point, told him how cold I was, he offered some words of encouragement and made sure I knew that he was there for me, cheering me on every step of the way and how proud he was of me. I pushed on and would text him every once in while to let him know where I was and how I was doing. He always answered, with an upbeat, morale boosting sentiment, something that would keep me going. Mile after mile I kept moving forward, the crowds never diminished and neither did the rain or the wind. At some point I actually started to let myself enjoy the suffering and I became extremely emotional. I hit heartbreak hill and knew that I would finish, I would finish a race that would make history for being one of the wettest, coldest and windiest Boston Marathons.

At mile 26 as I was running down Boylston street, I could see the finish line in the distance and then I spotted my parents. Standing there in the cold and rain, waiting patiently to see me and cheer me to the finish. I know my parents are my biggest supporters and I know how much they love to see me race, but for them to be standing out there in that weather, waiting for me, not knowing if they would even see me, it was such a  heart warming and touching moment. I got a huge smile on my face, I forgot about how cold I was or how hard it was raining or how I was hurting, (after all I did run a marathon) and it was the last little boost I needed to get across that finish line.

I crossed that line, got my medal, and just kept moving. I didn’t stop for water or for food. I was on a mission to get out of the weather as quickly as possible. I spotted the amazing Hyland’s cheering section and was escorted by Margot into the University Club. (For those not familiar with the UC, it is an upscale athletic club, right around the corner form the Boston Marathon finish line.) Inside, waiting for me was a room full of people, including David, who were screaming and cheering for me like I was a superstar, a champion, a winner of the race. They waited on me, got me warm drinks and towels, took my amazing post race pictures, then showed me to the locker room where I could sit in the sauna, take a hot shower and put on dry warm clothes. What followed was a celebration of food and drink and music and celebration for every single Hyland’s runner. Despite the weather, every one of the teachers and the legacy team crossed that finish line that day, a day that will be written into the records books of the Boston Marathon.

                                                                                                         

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Places, New Friends

When I thought about this post my intention was to write a race report about the Boston Marathon. That race was epic, to say the least, it was cold and windy with a deluge of rain the entire 26.2 miles. But as I sit here outside a coffee shop in Emporia, Kansas my thoughts are not focused on that race, they are focused on a very different kind of race, a race called the Dirty Kanza 200, otherwise known as DK 200. For those unfamiliar with the DK 200, it is a solo, self-supported, non-stop, 200-mile-long bicycling endurance challenge on the gravel and dirt roads of the Flint Hills region in east-central Kansas, the World’s Premier Gravel Grinder race. If you are thinking, well at least it is flat, you are quite mistaken. This race has almost 10,000 feet of climbing on some of the harshest roads around. The heat and humidity can be unforgiving and if it has rained, well then it becomes a muddy, sticky mess. Just finishing this race is a huge accomplishment and winning is reserved for the top gravel grinding athletes in the world. It has become so popular, that this year’s entry was granted through a lottery.

When David and I first set our sights on the “vanlife” lifestyle, visiting Kansas was not at the top of my list. I am not sure it even made the list of places I was so desperately wanting to visit. But that all changed when David received the email that he and our friend Sean were selected to race DK 200 in June 2018. So, as plans evolved around this and our many other races we have, we decided to go to Kansas for the month leading up to the race. We thought it would be nice to stay in one spot for a bit and get some good training on gravel roads with minimal driving. David could spend his days gravel grinding and I could run (with Mira of course) on the same roads, swim in the local recreation center or one of the many lakes in the area and just enjoy some time in one location. We certainly had our fair share of inquires about why Kansas, what will you do there? you are staying a month, really, Kansas?!! But somehow, this was just meant to be.

We rolled into town on a Thursday afternoon, got set up at a local state park and went to Emporia to the local bike hangout and headquarters of DK promotions, Gravel City Adventure and Supply Company. We were immediately welcomed into the store and into the lives of the people there, the owners, the employees, and the residents that come to hang out in the lounge to socialize, catch up and talk all things gravel. They were all interested in our story, our travels, our lives and Mira but they were all also interested in making sure we had the best possible experience during our stay in and around Emporia for the next month. Tim and Tina, introduced us to Kristin and Adam and about a dozen other people, including Jacob, the local runner, and his wife Lyndsey. They were all so genuine, offering assistance regarding training and racing and bike gear, as well as local hangouts, running routes, and grocery stores. They gave us their phone numbers to call with questions or concerns, or really for anything that may come up while we are here. And this was just our first full day in Emporia.

We found ourselves in the shop everyday since we have been here, just to say hello, talk about how training is going and life. We met up with Jacob for an early morning run through Emporia, before he headed to work as a 4th grade teacher. He offered to have us join him for more running at anytime, or if we need a shower or to do our laundry. Again, of all the places to visit, this was not on my list, but somehow we were meant to be here.

While walking around the little shops of the quaint downtown, I wandered into the local shoe store, Brown’s Shoe Fit. As I walked in with Mira in tow, a nice gentleman started up a conversation. He very quickly realized that I was not local and inquired about my visit to Emporia. He was extremely interested in our story and excited that we were there for the DK 200. He asked if David was racing Maisie’s Pride. Of course, I had no idea what he was referring to, so I asked for more information. He proceeded to tell me the story of Maisie DeVore, an amazing woman from the town of Eskridge, Kansas. After hearing her story (click here to see her story) I knew that both David and I needed to be involved in this event. So, David will be riding 106 miles of gravel and I will run the 5K and volunteering at the Gravel Ride for Maisie’s Pride, on May 12. Again, of all the places to visit, somehow we were meant to be here.

While David is out gravel grinding today, I sit here in the shade, outside the local coffee shop, with Mira under my feet. I am approached by 10 gentleman in their 60’s and 70’s, who all gather around the 3 tables and it is obvious that they all know each other very well. They notice the van, ask where about in Washington I am from and why I am in Emporia. The talk goes from inquiring about Mira, to Seattle, to travel, to DK 200, biking in general and racing. They tell me about their meet up, every Monday and Thursday, for high stakes games of doubles ping-pong followed by coffee, and they graciously offered if I wanted to join them next week or meet at the coffee shop, they are usually there by 11am. One gentleman in the group, Steve, is an avid cyclist and is racing the 200 this year. He has raced the 100 miler the past 5 years (finishing only 4 times) but this year he is going all in with 200 mile race. He offers some suggestions for me to pass on to David, gives me his phone number and tells me to have David call him so they can ride together later in the week. He tells me to call him for any questions or concerns we have or if the weather gets bad and we need a place to go. He said that he and his wife Becky are more then happy to help out in any way possible.

             

So, even though we had not planed on visiting Emporia, Kansas, I will say it one last time, we believe it was meant to be. “I believe things happen for a reason, that you attract people and situations that are meant to fulfill your path.” We can’t wait to see how this month unfolds, and to meet more genuine, down to earth, friendly folks of Emporia, Kansas.

 

Connections

It has been a little less then 8 weeks since we left Seattle, in some ways it seems like a lifetime ago and other ways it feels like we just left. We decided to make this move, into a van, and travel for many different reasons. One of those reasons- connections. We were traveling quite a bit before, almost all of it for races, and we would try and see friends and family any chance we could, although admittedly that did not happen often. When we decided to travel full time, visiting people, from our past and present, friends and family, was a priority for us.

So, over the past 8 weeks we have done just that. We started in northern California by visiting some friends of David’s from Seattle. Jason, Helen and their 3 kids live in Napa. Jason is the owner of Holman Cellars . He gave us a private wine tasting and education that most people would envy as well as a tour of his new tasting room. He and Helen opened their home to us and made us feel like family. We spent an afternoon at a little league game and had a wonderful visit amid the chaos of 3 young kids.

The next visit was with my cousins, Janet and Ken, who also opened up their home to us. David and I had spent some time with them several years ago, but we were thrilled to be back and spend some more time getting to know them better. From there we went to a family wedding in LA where we spent time with my parents, more cousins and other relatives that I have not seen in years and that David has never met. This was a weekend filled with getting to know my family better and invitations to visit them in various regions of the country.

Next stop was Arizona, where we spent some time with our dear friends Joan and Russ. She is near and dear to me and friends like her are a rare breed. We spent time hiking in the desert, sharing stories of our travels and planning our next big running adventure together. The timing was perfect and we were also able to visit with my Aunt Irene and Uncle Eddie while we were there. Although they are not blood relatives, they were my second set of parents growing up. Although I don’t get to see them often, they are still a huge part of my life. In fact, David and I got engaged at their amazing bed and breakfast in southern Vermont, Cold Moon Farm. We spent almost a week enjoying the Arizona sunshine and the company of our friends that are family.

On to North and South Carolina where we got to spend time with David’s children. His son and wife, DJ and Maryssa, in North Carolina and his daughter, Dee, her husband, Brad, and their darling 6 month old son, Tucker Jay, in South Carolina. During that visit we made a quick trip to Boston (that is a blog for the future), for the marathon, but returned to South Carolina to spend the remainder of the week with his daughter and her family. This time was so important to us both, we got to meet our grandson for the first time and spend some important quality time with Dee and Brad.

While passing though both North and South Carolina, I was able to stop and visit with 2 of my collage roommates. Sue and I last saw each other about 8 years ago. We spent time talking about the olds days, who we have seen, who we keep in contact with and what is happening in our lives currently.  Jane and I last saw each other at least 15 years ago, possibly more. It was so much fun catching up after all this time, hanging out in her backyard on a beautiful spring day, talking about our college days (I was the first friend Jane met at Tulane) and what the future looks like for us. Although these visits were short, they were meaningful and fulfilling.

                                  

After South Carolina we were heading to Alabama. One of my closest high school friends, Duke, is retiring from the military after 25 years and we were invited. If we were in Seattle and working, it would be unlikely that we would have been able to make the trip. But, as soon as we got the invitation we knew we needed to make it happen. This is a huge part of why we are traveling. We realized we drive right through Atlanta on the way to Alabama, so of course we stopped to see some other cousins of mine, Karen and Elliott. Elliott was in Seattle about 2 years ago but I have not seen Karen in almost 10 years. In addition, David had never met either of them. Elliott and I spent quite a lot of time together on the Jersey Shore, many, many years ago. It was so nice to spend some time catching up on their lives and for them to get to know David.

 

What I did not realize was that Duke, my high school friend, actually lives outside Atlanta. So off we went to spend some time with him and his family before the chaos of his retirement weekend. I knew this would be my only opportunity to really get to know Alison, catch up on our lives, meet his kids and talk about life. We had a blast talking about our high school days, looking at the yearbook, finding old classmates on Facebook and just hanging out. He was the first friend I had at Peddie, one of my closest friends there and I will forever cherish that.

In between all of these visits, we have had much needed time to ourselves, time for us to enjoy the quiet and solitude of traveling in a van. We absolutely love visiting with friends and family and would not trade it for anything, but it is also nice to go “home”, to our routine that is not much of a routine these days, but just the way we like it.

“When connections are real, they simply never die. They can be buried or ignored or walked away from, but never broken. If you’ve deeply resonated with another person or place, the connection remains despite any distance, time, situation, lack of presence, or circumstance. If you’re doubtful then just try it-go and revisit a person or place and see if there is any sense at all of the space between now and then. If it was truly real, you’ll be instantly swept back into the moment it was before it left-during the same year and place with the same wonder and hope, comfort and heartbeat. Real connections live on forever.”  -Victoria Erickson

 

 

 

SwimRun Lake James Recap

Sitting here with my feet up on the eve of the Boston Marathon I reflect back on SwimRun Lake James. It seems like so long ago but it was only last week. This week has given me time to reflect on the race, what went well, what went not so well and what we need to work on. For those that don’t know much about SwimRun, it is an endurance event that includes alternating stages of swimming and running, so you run in your wetsuit and swim in your shoes. You are also allowed to use paddles, pull buoys and fins, but you must finish the race with everything you started with. And the best part of it all is that it is a team sport, so all of this is done with a partner, together. Each race is so unique, as it utilizes the terrain and topography of the location, so some races may have more swimming than other races, some races may have a mix of trails and roads and some may have bushwhacking. The one thing that all SwimRun races have in common is teamwork, motivation, fun, passion and adventure.

So naturally, David and I were a team, Beauty and the Beast to be more precise. We have plenty of endurance training and racing between the 2 of us but this type of event is a brand new adventure. Since we left Seattle, 6+ weeks ago, we have tried to swim as much as possible along the way. We both have felt like we have had some good pool swim training but not much in terms of open water. In fact, prior to race day we had exactly 2 open water swims since October 2017.  This proved to be our big downfall in a race that was very swim heavy. We were happy to have had those 2 swims, this allowed us to get a feel for being tethered together in the water and the transitions but it was really a lack of swim training in general that set us back. Not all teams will tether together, but we decided to try it, and for us it worked extremely well. It allowed me to swim in David’s wake, making me a bit faster and not have to sight, as all I had to do was follow his feet. Going forward, we know that we need to put some more time and energy into swim training, specifically open water.

 

The water temperature was extremely cold, 56 degrees. This is the coldest water I have ever swam in. It is the type of cold that takes your breath away, freezes your face, and can lead to hypothermia quickly if you don’t generate enough heat. The first few SwimRun segments went well and we both felt pretty good leading into the long run, 7.5 miles on a combination of fire roads, trails and bushwhacking. We had a good pace going, with some walking in between, but we actually passed quite a few teams during this section. We were able to warm up significantly on the run, which was great as it was followed by the longest swim, 1 mile. For David and I that meant over 30 minutes in very cold water and a section of the course that I will refer to as the “Beast Tamer”. It was several sections of moderately long swims followed by very short run segments, not long enough to warm up and I was shivering uncontrollably. I was a bit foggy, mentally, and at this point could not imagine getting back in the water for another swim, no matter how short it was. I did some jumping jacks, push ups and squats before taking the plunge back into the frigid waters. I didn’t realize how “foggy” I really was until I began to warm up during the next run segment, 1/2 mile run. At this point I was really dreading getting back in the water and knew we had one last long (almost a mile) swim followed by another shorter swim before the finish line. I knew David was probably just as cold as I was but he was the glue that held it together during this section. He was so mentally strong and was able to encourage me and support me and keep me going despite how I was feeling. Don’t get me wrong, he would never put my health or life in jeopardy, he knew that I was not in trouble physically and that I just needed to keep moving forward. It was a mental game at that point and if this were an individual sport I am not sure I would have kept going on my own.

The last long swim was brutal to say the least. It seemed like an eternity to get through this section and the shoreline never seemed to get any closer. All the teams that we had passed on the long run all passed us during this swim segment. We both felt like we were working extremely hard but were getting no where fast.

The running sections were just as challenging. It started with a 2 mile run on the road, the first mile uphill. That was some way to start a race, where your heart rate is already elevated from nerves and everyone runs like lightening out of the gate! There were sections which had no trails, just following flags through the woods. There was up climbing through pricker bushes and thick, slippery mud, down climbing, or more like sliding on your butt through the same thick mud. Navigating tress and branches and some fairly technical trail running. All which I love, except the pricker bushes!

Our goal for this race was to finish with smiles on our faces, and that we did. It was extremely challenging, pushed both of us outside our comfort zone, both physically and mentally and made us excited for another new sport. We have some things to work on and can’t wait for swimrun race #2, IGNITE Minnesota on July 28th.

I also want to say a big thank you, to Kristin and Brian (race directors) for putting on an amazing race, the outstanding volunteers, in and out of the water and all the other competitors who made this race a day to remember.

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