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!!
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.
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
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
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.
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!!