Minneapolis/St. Paul, Maple Grove MN
Changes in life happen. They are needed. There are times in life that you recognize that the current state of affairs cannot continue and that a change is inevitable…even if one has no idea what that change will look like.
I have been struggling with that since 2014 when I crossed the finish line at Ironman Wisconsin. Nothing kills a dream faster then accomplishing it…and the fastest way to do that is by crossing a “finish line”.
That dream motivated me and pushed me farther then I dreamed possible…and it was gone in a heartbeat. Of course, I pretended it was still there as I bounced around looking for something to take its place (another Ironman, more marathons, ultramarathons, cross country skiing) but nothing stuck. I was going thru the motions and not having any fun. I pulled back a couple of years ago and even further last year…but it was still a struggle. I decided to hang up the running shoes completely after last year’s final race.
I decided I would stop racing since my heart was not in it anymore…but I would remain physically active to maintain health and fitness without a schedule to worry about. That was the plan with my last blog entry over a year ago. How did that plan worked out?
In short…it didn’t.
I spent the next 4 months parked on the couch binging on Netflix. I never had any intention of running in the snow this winter, but I intended to get to the pool regularly (never happened), run on the treadmill (nope), do some weight training (nada), and get on the elliptical regularly (6 times…maybe). So, this wasn’t working, but it did give me a chance to heal up from the overuse injuries and the mental exhaustion that I had been dealing with. It also resulted in a complete loss of base fitness and provided me with extra “insulation “. Sigh…
I received an e-mail announcing the opening of registration for a few local events. For the first time since 2012, I had nothing to train towards, and it resulted in no training. So, I took the plunge and started looking at upcoming events.
There were a few things I knew with certainty:
1. No extreme or ultra-events. Short and fun events only. I would avoid everything with the words “Marathon”, “ultra” or “Ironman” in the title.
2. No traveling. It takes too much time, money, and planing.
3. No massive racing schedule. Just a few events that have always been highlights on my calendar that I would enjoy doing.
I ended up deciding that I wanted one running event and one triathlon. The choice for each event were obvious decisions. The best local tri is Lifetime Minneapolis (beautiful urban course which is completely closed to traffic), and the best local running event is Twin Cities Marathon Weekend (I again signed up for the Loony Challenge which gets me guaranteed entry in the Twin Cities 10 Mile as well at the TC 5k and TC 10k the day before).
That might be just enough to get me going.
It wasn’t. At least not right away. Winter was not going away…and I still had no treadmill motivation. We were well into May before I went out for my first run. I almost made it to the mailbox before stopping to catch my breath. Yeah…base fitness is a real thing. I slowly got back to running a little farther. The city put up some new paved trails last year and I started to explore them. It was a 5k run around the neighborhood and an 8 Mile run around the lake. That became my weekly running goal…one short and one long run per week (8 Mile being the new “long run” replacing the 15 Mile weekly long run that I did for years).
As the weather warmed up a bit further, I pulled the bike out and returned to Elm Creek. I used to do 4 laps during my IM training. This year, I planned on just doing one lap (32 Miles) weekly. I had a love/hate relationship with this park in the past, but I really did miss it. It is a beautiful urban oasis and a fun/safe place to ride. This got added to the weekly schedule.
I also made my way back to the pool. 1 Mile weekly swim. So, I had gradually made my way back to regular physical activity 4 days a week. I wasn’t pushing myself hard at any of this…just getting out there and re-engaging a healthier lifestyle.
The events were doing what I wanted them do to…get me active again. But another thing was becoming clear…I had no interest in aggressively competing at these events. That drive was gone. This was a hobby. What I was doing before was like a job. I never had a DNS or DNF in the past 6 years…but now, I was ok with that possibility. If I was sick or injured (or if the weather was dreadful) I felt fine staying home. I would feel just fine with finishing last…and I would still have a sense of accomplishment for finishing. I would place the medal on the wall with the others, toss the shirt on the pile and likely never wear it again, and still keep the bib and finish time printout in a binder with the others. I would not buy extra swag, or photos, or hoard all the stuff that came with the race (swim cap and wristbands for example). And I would not write extensive blog posts detailing in excruciating detail the training or race I had just completed. This was a hobby. This was for fun and fitness. And it got me on a regular (if not very intense) training schedule.
Once I saw my training was back on track, I signed up for another triathlon (Maple Grove Tri). This was usually a good event, although it’s a boring course. It is a late season triathlon that would keep me in my training routine for an extra six weeks, it is close to home, and my employer was sponsoring the event meaning that I would get perks and discounts.
With a commitment to a second triathlon, I took the plunge and bought a new wetsuit. The old one was…old. It also had a bunch of holes and was way too tight when I bought it 6 years ago (when I was at my absolute thinnest). A small would not fit. Looking at the size chart, I was right in between a S/M and a Medium. I decided to size up, and it was the most comfortable I have felt in a wetsuit ever. I could move. I could breath. I could put it on in under five minutes. It wasn’t cutting off circulation to my feet. I could not wait to try it out at my first triathlon of the year…which turned out to be a non-wetsuit event.
Eventually, race day came Lifetime Minneapolis Sprint Triathlon. It was a beautiful (but hot) day. It had been over nine months since my last event. For the first time in a few years, I was excited as I arrived. I even felt a few butterflies in my stomach. As I arrived, I saw that the water temp was 79.1F so it would be a no-wetsuit event. I expected this, and had left my wetsuit in the car. Got my transition spot ready and had to wait a couple of hours before my wave would start. While waiting, officials announced a yellow flag warning due to high heat and humidity. I kept jumping back into the lake to cool off.
I finally made my way to the start line. The swim was perfect, warm, calm, without much bumping with other racers. T1 went smoothly and it was a gorgeous day to be cycling. Despite my light training volume, I was keeping a decent pace and passing more people then were passing me. The run, on the other hand, was brutal. The course was red flagged by this time. It was hot, humid, with no breeze or shade. Dumping water over your head had little impact since it was so humid. But, I was still able to run the whole way to the finish line.
After I left the race venue, I realized that I never bothered to look at my results. It just didn’t matter to me anymore. This was a victory for me since I always fretted about finish time and position, then micro-analyzed what I could have done better. This time, I didn’t even think of checking (or looking at my Garmin for that matter). Eventually, I did pull up the results. I was slower then average but I wasn’t back of the pack either. This is typically where I finish in triathlon events and I was please to see that I did so well considering my “non-training” training this year. I also picked up a few race photos since they were free.
The training mostly continued until the Maple Grove Triathlon (except swimming never really got off the ground). The weather was cooler, but dreary. The swim was wetsuit legal (my first wetsuit swim in two years). The perks were nice (especially the special section in transition with personalized nameplates). I wasn’t as excited for this event as Lifetime Minneapolis. I had to wait around awhile for my swim start, and everything went ok. My knee had been bugging me for the last few weeks (resulting in no long training runs) and it was giving me grief here. Other then that, it was an uneventful end to my Triathlon season. I again left without bothering to check my finish time (again…middle to back of the pack).
With Triathlon season behind me, I had to work on my run since Twin Cities Marathon Weekend was coming up…and this would include two consecutive days of 10 Miles of running (10k, 5k, and 1 Mile on Saturday, 10 Miles on Sunday). If had not run more then 8 Miles in one day in almost a year (with no back-to-back long runs). Minor injuries plagued me that last month. I strained a rib muscle and that completely sidelined me for three weeks. I ended up running only two times in September (and never over 5k). The weather was particularly bleak and rainy heading into marathon weekend. Fortunately, the rib improved and the rain stopped just in time for race weekend.
As usual, I had signed up for the Loony Challenge. This is a 10k/5k combo on Saturday and the 10 Mile on Sunday. For the Saturday races, they start the morning with the longest race (10k) starting at the marathon finish line. We run on the Marathon course for 5k, then turn around and come back. They then use the same course for the 5k, Family 1 Mile, kids 1/2 Mile by just bringing the turnaround point closer. It’s rather efficient, if a little repetitive. I got there early, got my bibs and shirts, and went to the corporate team tent.
One of the challenges I always face at this event is weather…and layering. I am acclimated to warm weather throughout the summer and this is usually one of my first cool weather runs in months. I pull out all of the cold weather running gear and try to figure out what to wear. I usually end up overdressed. This year would be no different. Temps were in the low 40’s (I would have preferred low 50’s with a light wind. It would be overcast but minimal chance of rain. I ended up going with a long sleeved thermal top with a light zippered windbreaker and long tights. When I got to the start coral, it was windier then I anticipated and I instantly wished I had grabbed some gloves and a head beanie to cover the ears…but it was too late to go back for them.
The races were familiar. I was cold the first mile or two, but warmed up adequately. My hands still got cold when we got a bit of wind. My rib was behaving but my knees and ankles were both stiff and achy. I fell into my normal pace (middle to back of the pack). When I crossed the finish line, I had just enough time to grab a snack, stuff my finishers medal into my zippered coat pocket and get to the 5k start coral. Repeated this again for the family fun 1 Mile Run (always feel weird about this one since it’s a kids race, but I can’t leave bling behind…especially since I run so few races now).
Speaking of bling, I’ll bring up my biggest pet peeve for the weekend…bling. Medals has never been a strength of the Twin Cities Marathon…but they have been getting better. They used to use the same medals and finishers shirts for the 10k and 5k. When they started the challenges, they started creating unique (but very similar) medals for the two races. Well, they went back to using the same medal for the two events. This is fine for smaller events and organizations, but it just comes off as cheap and lazy here. It is especially inappropriate here when a challenge event signs you up for both races. And the medal design was so plain. There was the race name on a plain background with a small emblem on the lower left of the medal (that I have no idea what it is supposed to be). C’mon TCM, you charge a lot for these events! Don’t be so lazy and cheap with these….
Since I’m venting, I’ll mention my other pet peeve for the weekend. The free race photos. In theory, this sounds great. But they had no photographers. They just had high speed cameras taking wide angle photos every second or so. The result is a big group photo with most runners hard to identify. The photos were linked with runners based on a nearby timing mat. There was an issue with that calibration since most of the pics didn’t have me in them. There was only one photo station on the whole course and another at the finish line. No post race photos either. For me, this wasn’t that big of a deal since I have thousands of race photos and most of these start to look alike after awhile. But I felt bad for the first time marathon runners who were denied the option of getting good race photos.
Anyways, I got my gear, walked a half mile back to the car then headed across the street to the expo. I always love this Expo! For the first time, we had to go thru security and a metal detector before entering (sign of the times I guess). The expo was mostly similar to what I was accustomed to…but it seemed smaller then before. It was in the same hall, but official merchandise, TCM booth, Medtronic Booth (title sponsor), and transportation info booth all had much bigger footprints with a lot of wasted floor space. Despite this, some booths were unrented and they set up a bean bag toss or hoopla hoops just to fill the empty spaces. I got the feeling that the the decline of interest in running events that has been occurring over the past few years was starting to be felt here as well. I checked the race numbers and Marathon finishers was down by a couple of thousand people from a few years ago…but 10 Mile participation was up by the same amount and the short events had stable participation numbers. Still, the expo seemed somewhat smaller. The absence of Cariboo Coffee was the most glaring omission (as the free coffee was always a bonus at the expo). Anyways, I got my bib and shirt, and went on my way back home to rest up for day two.
I was up again in the middle of the night the next day. I was really feeling stiff and sore from Saturday’s events. This was going to be a painful run. The weather was the same, so I used similar gear (but added gloves and a beanie). The marathon and 10 Mile start in downtown Minneapolis (near the new US Bank Stadium-home of the MN Vikings) and finish at the state Capitol in St Paul. It starts an hour earlier than the marathon and is a straight line between the two points. The marathon takes a much more scenic tour of Minneapolis before heading into St Paul. The two races share the same final 7 Miles. The race was fine overall. I struggled with the aches and pains that I earned yesterday by competing without enough training. The course was familiar. The support was amazing, especially since we were coming thru about 3 hours ahead of the marathoners and it was not ideal spectating weather. The course was, as always, beautiful. The rain held off and the wind was pretty light. It wasn’t long before my short season came to an end.
So, looking back, was it a successful season? Yes and no. The events were spaced out more and I looked forward to them again…so that was a victory. It did motivate me to stay active, but not as consistently as I would have liked. Now that it is over, my motivation is gone and I will need to figure out a way to stay fit during the off-season. These events are some of the best events in the region and I can’t imaging sitting out the Lifetime Minneapolis Triathlon or Twin Cities Marathon Weekend as long as I am even casually involved in running and triathlon. So, yes, I will be back for more next year. I already registered for Lifetime Minneapolis and waiting for early registration to start for another Loony Challenge.
Who knows, I may blog about it too…
The week after the TC Marathon Weekend, I participated in a 5k charity run in support of a friend whose family has been affected by brain cancer. It was a 5k run/walk and I was the only one in my group that decided to run.
That was a mistake.
You see, I had a massive tree fall in our backyard the week before. As always, when I pull out the chainsaw, my wife tells me that I should hire someone to do it. It’s like she thinks I don’t know what I’m doing.
Fortunately, I still have all my body parts but I hurt almost every muscle in my body 2 days before the event. Mostly, I strained a bunch of rib and back muscles. It took me 5 minutes to crawl out of bed the morning of the event. Getting out of the car at the race venue was another significant accomplishment.
Waiting around at the starting area with our team, it felt like I was loosening up. I was registered to run, but I could have just tossed the bib and entered the walking coral.
But, I’m stubborn.
Less then a 1/4 Mile into the run, my back just knotted up completely. Somehow, I kept running, but it was not a pretty sight. Very happy that there were no race photos for this one. I finished in just under 35 minutes…not bad under the circumstances.
This event was a nice way to end the season…supporting others and helping raise money for a good cause.
Now, if you will excuse me, I need to get load up on ibuprofen and warm up my heating pad…