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.
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
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.
It has been a bit over 3 weeks since we left Seattle and I still cannot believe how many amazing people we have met and how much we have seen and done. If you haven’t noticed by now, David and I are not ones to just sit around, drive around and look at the scenery from afar. Don’t get me wrong, we have down days and lazy days and days when we need to do laundry and chores, but those days are far less common. We started off with a stop in Portland to see my brother and nieces before hitting the road. Then, it was off to Cannon Beach which was absolutely breath taking. From there we drove down the coast to our first big stop, Jedidiah Smith Redwood State Park. We spent a few days there for some mountain biking and trail running. The trees are really magnificent and the biking, hiking and running were top notch.
Next big stop was in Napa to see an old friend of David’s. We had a great time visiting with Jason Holman and his family. Jason is a winemaker, http://www.holmancellars.com/, who is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about his craft. We both got a crash course about wines with a private wine tasting. While we were there we were able to get in some biking and had the pleasure of running with the Vinerunners group which meet at the Napa Running Company on Thursday evening and Saturday morning. From Napa we went to San Luis Obispo where we had amazing weather and a found a great outdoor 50 meter pool. After a few days in SLO we headed inland to Palm Springs/Palm Desert and Joshua Tree National Park. We spent time relaxing in the sunshine, swimming in a amazing outdoor pool, running, hiking and biking. We loved this area so much that we spent over a week exploring.
We then headed back to the coast to spend a few days with family in Encinitas. Janet and Ken opened their home to us and were so incredibly welcoming. We feel blessed to be able to spend time with family that we rarely get to see. Then it was on to the Los Angeles area for a family wedding. Again, we were able to spend time with family we rarely see. We were also able to meet up with some of my Hyland’s teammates for an amazing morning run through Griffith Park.
These past weeks have been so filled with adventure, exploration and family. It has really reinforced and reconfirmed that we made the right decision, to leave stable jobs and a comfortable lifestyle, for life on the road. ” Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing the lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain” -Jack Kerouac
As I sit here on a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon while both David and Mira nap after a fun filled morning, I can’t help but think about the week we have had since leaving Seattle. How fortunate I am to be sitting here with my 2 favorite companions enjoying my life. It has been days filled with training, chasing the sun, meeting some really cool people and of course chores. Van life is not without its up and downs. We spend quite a lot of time researching the places we are going and if the sun will be shining, looking for a safe and quiet place to sleep, a place to run/bike/swim, dog parks for Mira to run around and be free, grocery stores and the all important bathroom. It is a never ending task list when your location and sleeping arrangements change on a nightly basis but right now I would not trade this for anything else. I loved my job as a Physician Assistant, but after 18 years, I felt I needed to step back and re-evaluate. My priorities have changed over the years and spending time with my husband, my dog and my family is on the top of the list. I felt my time at work far exceeded the time I was getting with the people I love, doing the things I am most passionate about. This took a lot of planning and a huge leap of faith. Faith that it will all work out, faith that we will make it work financially and faith that we will actually enjoy this thing called van life. What we did know was that we would never regret trying and we would always wonder what if.
Life is filled with unknowns, so “take a risk. Be spontaneous. The suffering that might come from a mistake is usually less intense and less enduring than the suffering of asking What if?”
We have had quite the week! Unfortunately, not a lot of training was happening this week as I was pretty sick. It can be really frustrating to feel like your fitness is slipping away but in reality a few days or even a week of rest does not equate to a set back. Life happens and as type A athletes, we need to learn to be a bit more flexible. It is the consistent work over time that is one of the most important aspects of being a successful athlete.
We also had some great news this week. We have been asked to represent IGNITE SwimRun and be a part of their ambassador program for 2018. This is a huge honor for both of us. So what does it mean to be an ambassador? We represent the company and promote their brand along with their partners and sponsors. We will also be volunteering at a race, hopefully more then one. Our goal is to expose more people to the sport of SwimRun and hopefully get people really excited about the sport. We would also love to try and get some friends to join us at one (or more) of the IGNITE SwimRun races in 2018. In exchange we get free race entry, some cool swag, our own exposure on social media and some great discounts for partner companies. David and I really feel strongly about the power of endurance sports and as most of our readers know, this is a lifestyle for us. We will only represent a company that we believe in and that aligns with our values.
So what is Swim Run? It is an team endurance event. The team alternates between running and swimming along a pre-marked course in nature, teammates stay within 10 meters of each other and they share the experience, the fun, the beauty and the suffering. (See my blog post from July 26, 2017)
So, check out the IGNITE SwimRun series and if you want to join the biggest up and coming endurance sport in the US (this sport will explode over the next year), let us know. Hope to see you out there!!
Now that David, Mira and I have begun our travels, my goal is to post weekly updates of our training, racing and traveling adventures. I have had quite a lot of people ask how we will continue to train while we are living the nomadic lifestyle. We put a lot of thought into this change in our lifestyle and neither of us has felt that our training or racing will be negatively effected. Actually, we have both thought just the opposite, we will have more time to train together and to train and race in places we may not have had the opportunity to otherwise. It may take a little more creativity on our part, more body weight exercises due to lack of equipment, more outdoor runs in the wind, rain or snow, and more research to find the best pools around. Training and racing is a lifestyle for us and something that we make a priority in our life and it will continue to be that way going forward as we move around the country. We also decided to bring some equipment with us. On board we have: 2 yoga mats, a foam roller and the stick, 2 wetsuits each (one for open water swimming in general and one for SwimRun) along with all of our swim gear, one 25 pound kettlebell, a 40 pound sandbag, TRX straps, mountain bikes for each of us and running shoes for all occasions.
Today we were lucky enough to find this beautiful community center in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, the Kroc Center. After a short strength session and 1 mile run we hit up this amazing pool for some laps and then the outdoor hot tub ( it was only about 20 degrees outside this morning). This was a great start to our day. We then ended it with a nice long walk through a snowy park, which, of course was the highlight to Mira’s day!!
The point is, that it is not about having the time it is about making the time, and if it is important to you, you will find a way.
Fifteen years ago, when I was overweight and out of shape, I never would have imagined that I would be 12 weeks away from my second Boston Marathon. Just to say that, my 2nd Boston Marathon, makes me so proud of how far I have come. I earned my place at that starting line in Hopkinton on April 16 because of hard work, consistent work, dedication and desire. I had a lot of help along the way; family, friends, coaches and my best training partner and husband, David, who truly believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.
I have also had the honor of being a sponsored athlete for the Boston Marathon. Again, to say these words, sponsored athlete, when 15 years ago I couldn’t even run 2 minutes on the treadmill, makes me extremely humbled for the opportunity. Hyland’s, a major sponsor of the Boston Marathon, invited me to join their team for the second time. Last year David and I had what we both thought was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but with qualifying a second time, I was invited to join the team again. They provided us and my family with a world class experience, brunches, baseball game, more brunches, VIP treatment to the starting line (a private bus with a bathroom in it), and an amazing after party where we, the runners, were the guests of honor. They are an exceptional company, who believe in the power of healthy living and it was (and will be again) a privilege to represent them in Boston.
So, with 12 weeks to go my mileage will increase, my time will be filled with more running, swimming, crossfit and mobility and my husband, my family, my friends and Hyland’s will be by my side every step of the way.
A wise man once said “You can not do great things without the support of great people surrounding you.”
Happy New Year. I hope everyone had a festive and safe holiday season with lots of love, laughter and fun. We were able to enjoy family time while trying to balance work, the van build and training. This time of year finding the right balance can be a bit of a challenge. It is important to spend quality time with the ones you love but it is also important to make time for you. Taking care of ourselves is often overlooked but it is extremely important, especially during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
David and I got to spend some time with my nieces in Portland. It was a super fun trip away from the van build and work. A time to just have fun with the girls and not worry about anything else. On our way home we were able to take a little detour to Mt. St. Helens National Monument. As we approached the visitor center the mountain disappeared into the thick clouds and it was colder and windier then we expected, so a run was not in the cards. So instead of turning around, we kept driving. David being a true optimist knew that there would be a view of the mountain just around the next corner. Twenty-five miles later, through the thick clouds and snowy roads, the sun and mountain made an appearance.
Sometimes it is worth the risk taking and extra effort, whether it is driving around the next corner, changing jobs, moving to a new state or into a van, as you never know what amazing adventures, sights and experiences await you.
New Years Day, David and I were able to take a few hours and go for a much needed training run, together, with our best training partner, Mira the wonder dog. We have been apart for several weeks now while he is down south building the van. All the time apart will pay off when we get to move into the van, travel, train, race and most importantly spend time together. I am super excited to start racing again and we already have 2 races on the schedule for January. Our calendar has a few more races scheduled for April but otherwise we are waiting to see where the road may take us.
” I knew that I was choosing the road less traveled but I’m not walking it alone”- Jason Collins
It was a long transitional week for David and me. We are both juggling many life changes right now, building our van, living apart, moving out of our condo, working, spending time with family and one very important aspect of our lives, training. Training and racing is part of who we are and our lifestyle, so no matter how busy we are and how hectic life can be, we still find time to train together, that is our happy place. We are starting to plan our 2018 season and are pretty excited about it. Moving into our van will allow us to travel, train and race in new locations, and give us the opportunity to meet like minded people from different places.
So, since we had not seen each other all week, we decided to meet up at Dash Point State Park. This park is one of our favorite places, close to Seattle, for non-technical trail running. There are 11 miles of running trails, 8 miles of biking trails and beautiful beach access (Puget Sound). In addition and most important to us, the park allows dogs! The trails are extremely easy to navigate and there are map kiosks located throughout the park, so it is almost impossible to get lost. Although it is such an accessible park, with fairly easy trails, it never seems to be too busy. And don’t forget, this is a Washington State park so you will need a Discover Pass (yearly or daily options) to park in the lot. Evergreen Trail Runs has a 10K and Half Marathon race there once, sometimes twice a year (March 24, 2018). They put on a great race with excellent support, lots of post race food, and although there are no medals or t-shirts with registration, they usually have some giveaways after the race. This is one of my most favorite races in the PNW and I look forward to it every year.
I had a perfect day in the woods, no rain, ideal temperatures and my 2 most favorite training partners by my side. It has been a while since we have gone for a trail run, so we took our time enjoying the scenery and the solitude of the park.
So, don’t forget to enjoy life and do what you love with the people you love.