Monday, September 26, 2016

As my little ones would say...that's a long long time

15 years is a long time to be with the same person day in and day out.  The ups and downs are too many to count and the moments of togetherness and craziness are balanced out with alone time and quiet.  What you want when you are 18 years old is probably a whole lot different than when you are 38.  Sometimes you change together and sometimes you change apart.  Both of these offer many different kinds of challenges and the changes that are together hopefully are a lot easier to tackle.  Stay at home mom of four, working part time at a running store, supportive Iron Widow four years and going strong, kid taxi and chef...the list of things we all attempt to balance is too long to write.  
May 1997

Over the past year or so I feel like my mom community has gotten larger and stronger and more honest with each other.  I don't know if it's because I am now an "older" mom in the group and to say I care less about the small things is wrong...but I guess I just know that things have a way of working out and it's too hard to stress over.  I am constantly reminded and thankful for the village I have around me that helps on a daily basis get through the day to day of mommyhood.  The guilt that is thrown out by our kiddos just really can break us down.  It's hard and it's exhausting and some days like this past friday night, I thought my mommy card should had been revoked.  Some days I just feel no good.

So where does hubby come in on all this.  Hubby and I are lucky that we are able to be involved in our kids sports, definitely with help from our friends.  We have children that understand that some days games will be missed or we may show up late due to our own personal commitments to our selves.  Hubby is closing in on two weeks till his big dance in Kona...we all are looking forward to the break but probably no on more than him.  Not only does he commit to this training and his goals...but he does so at a neck breaking pace.  He runs faster than I could ever dream of running and his bike just flies.  He has had way too many early mornings and staying up too late prepping the kids stuff for the next day or reviewing algebra before heading to coach swimming.  It's a good thing that this race is so soon...his flame is about to burn out.

As the wife of all of this...yes I am supportive but yes I get frustrated.  Having a spouse have any kind of hobby for themselves is taxing on a relationship.  I am fortunate that I understand the commitment participating myself, but it doesn't make the days any easier, just justified.  The early nights for early morning workouts and not really having a date night in forever kind of stink.  We haven't opened a bottle of wine and just chatted in a while either.  Our life has been logistics, commitments, training and planning, planning and planning.  As much as we focus on our fitness and remind ourselves that we can do hard things...that transfers over to our relationships too.  

September 2001
Marriage is a lot of hard work, times are not always's not the honeymoon phase forever.  But that is also okay.  As long as we keep things going forward, keep talking to each other, stay up for the late night return home to share our day, make a point to reconnect, we can get through these times as well.  We can continue to support and even inspire.  I think that is a truly important part of our marriage...the inspiration side of it all.  We have both changed into different people, people that we didn't know existed and we see the physical transformation but also the internal transformation.  We have both come out as stronger people and through it all we are stronger together.  

So I will raise my glass in 12 days when I get my husband back.  I will raise it in two days to celebrate the 15 years we have been married, 20 years we have been together.  I will continue on this journey that is life and marriage with a man that I love and admire and at times even drives me crazy.
GrahamFam Six Pack

Embrace the Suck...Choose You...Remember it's a long road and we all change...just be sure to come out a better person than you went in good them together.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Running out of my comfort zone

I was asked once and then again and again to do something that I knew was way out of my comfort zone. I was scared and nervous on many levels.  I have done three Ragnar Relays with my team of 11 other women that I know and we have our rhythm down and we run in sync, literally and figuratively.  This relay was going to be different...different people and a whole different challenge.

Thursday night I had five people come to my house and have a meal together prior to our departure at 2:30 in the morning on Friday.  I had only run with one of these people before and we, the small six of us, were going to tackle over 200 miles over the next two days.  I have NEVER done an ultra, which means just six runners and all these miles.  I have never met 4 of the members of my team, I have never tackled an ultra Ragnar and I had NO CLUE what to expect other than a lot of fun and not a lot of sleep.  It was going to be epic!
home sweet home

Our departure time came and we loaded up and headed into our home for the next 48 hours.  Our start time for the relay was 5:45 am.  We headed through the mountains and rolling hills of Cumberland Maryland.  I had never been in the first van for this relay or any relay for that matter and I was going to be runner 5&6.  I was so nervous...I have been running but I knew the hills of western Maryland were going to kill me.  

i think i can
The energy at the start was buzzing, so many first time Ragnarians, blinking lights filled the darkness and the start times began at 5am.  I found three friends that were doing their first one and they were pumped.  Our first runner went out and our journey began with the blast of an air horn!  Our second runner went out to tackle legs 3&4.  Leg three was known as "Capital Punishment."  Most of these relays have one leg that is just crazy hard, either really long, a really steep climb or a combination of all.  Our runner kept on climbing over 1000 feet and was greeted by signs of encouragement as she just never stopped pushing up this never ending hill!  I was the next one out and was pumped to get this party started for me.

starting out
This leg was hard, it was downhill, and it was loose gravel.  I kept thinking in my mind, even though I was now with these members of my amazing team, I can't let these people down we have six people and 200+ miles...I have to push through.  For every climb I had there was another down hill and my legs were feeling it and starting to hurt early.  I had ten miles of crappy terrain and dust in my face by the passing cars...I kept thinking of my past team as well...they were running right along side of me...I was thinking of who did these legs in our first relay and was channeling them to get through it.  I made it to the exchange and my whole body was very happy to be done.

Our day continued with lots of running and an amazing sense of community.  You find other vans that you tend to stay on pace with and you run into them again and again in the exchanges.  Everyone is tired and sore and bizarrely loving every moment of this challenge.  My overnight run was next...I had some pb&j and lots of water and amazing sweet potatoes (Thanks Debruns for recipe and hubby for making last minute) and I was ready to go.  I had slept for about an hour after my first leg and felt charged up and ready to get this night one done.  I knew it ended at the creamery and I could get some ice cream.  if you know me at know that would be a driving factor!  I began the run and my legs were still hurting a lot from my down hill earlier but I managed to find a buddy to run with.  We stuck together for a good portion of the first six miles...not a lot of talking but I was happy to have someone there with me on these dark stretches.  The second half of my leg was going to be all was an uphill that I was not going to be able to climb.  I was definitely the carrot for some people as they would get past me and then walk a bit...then start up and then stop.  Everyone was getting tired and the utter fatigue was setting in.  I finished my 10.73 miles and found my team at the creamery.  Mint chocolate ice cream was mine and a half gallon of farm chocolate milk for the was perfect!  I crawled back into the van and got on my amazing pj bottoms and sweatshirt and slept for three hours while the second half of our team crushed the night runs!  Our last runner had 18 miles to do and she was amazing.  She never stopped and had trained for this...I just had to be quiet to feel any frustration for my 10 mile night run!

more cowbell
The sun rose, so bummed I missed it, but Mark said it was a pretty morning.  Poor Mark had to deal with five women during this whole thing...but he was amazing.  A guy I just met and his singing along with us and ability to fall asleep in less than one minute made my weekend.  Did I mention I hadn't met these people not only was I running a race as an ultra, I have never done that, I was doing it with people I had just met.  So many things were out of my comfort zone in this relay...and each one of them had their own special reward.  We were from all over the NOVA area as well as one from NC.  We each brought a little something special to the band of misfits.  Whenever anyone asks me about Ragnar a huge smile comes across my face and I just say that it is the most fun you will ever have is exhausting, scary, moments of self doubt, smelly, full of moments you will love and moments that you will love to hate.  We continued our journey...and it was powered by the cowbell.

final leg
Our final legs were the most challenging.  We had to dig deep to make our legs move forward.  The soreness was in full effect and time was not on our side.  We contacted race command as we were worried we were not going to finish by the 9pm finish time. They approved us to leap frog some legs.  Our runners would go ahead and run two of their legs at the same time and then we could skip the next segment.  This would allow our team to complete the mileage and save on time.  We were slowing down and the finish line was not getting to us faster.  I ran with Amy on my final leg.  We had just over 9 miles to run together.  We had just met Thursday night and here she was my life saver in this final stretch.  Every mile that dinged by on my watch I wanted to stop and walk.  The sun had finally decided to make an appearance and we were feeling the heat.  My legs were crippled on the down hills and I just wanted it all over.  We stuck together until the final mile and a half which consisted of a steep uphill into Arlington.  She pushed through and made it to the finish before me and then Mark went out.  I had was not pretty or easy...but it was completed.  

All three boxes checked!

We now had two runners left and our final runner had a monster 18 miler AGAIN.  I know that I can dig deep on stuff but she was beyond words amazing.  She trained for this and was not going to stop.  Sarah was the instigator of this whole team of misfits...she was our captain...she made us who we were.  I still sit here in disbelief of her finishing this relay with over 49 miles under her belt and on little to no sleep.  She is a rockstar and I was just a part of her background singers.  

We met Sarah at the final exchange and she knew she had 12 left and then her legs could stop.  She looked great...had some bacon and grapes and headed out.  We went back to clean out the van a bit and then made our way to the finish line.  We laid on the grass and waited for the text...the one mile to go text.  She was on her way in.  We were energized by the teams all around us waiting to see that final runner and shuffle their way across the finish line.  This is what we signed up to do...finish together.
Run that by me again...Ultra Edition

And Done!
Would I do this race a heart beat.  Not sure I would rock it as an ultra as this specific Ragnar is listed in the top ten "Manliest Races" on the east coast.  There is not much I don't love about Ragnar...heck their color is could I not like that!  The finish area was packed with teams sharing crazy stories between the two vans of their teams.  They finally had more than five minutes to share their experiences at an exchange.  Family was showing up to see the exhausted family members.  We sat on a bench and shared our two pizzas and I headed to the beer tent.  There is something to be said for a nice cold beer after all that.  It is the perfect end to what was a perfectly imperfect two days.

I am so thankful I took the risk to do this.  I am so happy that I decided being out of my comfort zone can be a good thing.  I am thankful that my husband supports my craziness that is Ragnar Relays.  I am so proud of me for believing that hard is not impossible.  I am thankful for my team for encouraging each other, being the support crew when we needed them, singing crazy songs with me...and let me blast music and ring cowbell at every runner I passed.  I cannot wait to hop into another van and do this all again.  I know that I can tackle any challenge thrown down in front of me and it doesn't have to be perfect...just progress.

Embrace the suck...choose a Ragnar!!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Reflect and recap

I sit here and think back to before fitness was such a huge part of my life...and I can't think what I was focused on...I can't think of what my passion was...I can't think what drove me to push myself.  Like most things in life the decision to get involved in running and triathlon started with a discussion among friends.  My first mother's day present was a Schwinn bike from Target with a trailer to carry my soon to be baby boy behind me.  I never hooked that trailer to my bike but hubby did...and we started riding together.  After that I started running...nothing far, nothing fast...but I started.

I worked full time in Reston, roughly 18 miles from my house.  Once a week I met friends along the trail to bike into work on my Schwinn.  They were riding awesome looking road bikes and looking back now, probably cursing me for coming along as my mountain bike was SOOOO slow.  I thank them for being patient..for letting me tag along...for never saying no.  

First Training Plan
Next was training for my first race, the Army ten miler.  The first scheduled run on this plan was 2 miles.  I thought I was going to die, it felt impossible, it felt pointless, it was a slow jog, ten miles mentally felt like it would just never happen. During the work week I ran with my running partner...he had run before many races and again took me under his wing and let me go slow, complain, breath loudly, and encouraged me all the while.

For a girl that grew up on the Jersey shore in the summer and not in a pool, I did not know how to swim.  I held my nose when I went under waves, swam all day but never did a stroke.  My first sprint triathlon I swam it backstroke.  In the final lap I ended up in a cutout stairwell of the pool.  I was embarrassed and just doing whatever it took to get it done.

So here we were Saturday morning September 10, 2016, about 8 years after my first triathlon.  I have a new to me tri bike instead of a Schwinn, I have run thousands of miles since my first race, and have swam in open water on many occasions and made it out of the water to tell the story.  I have met so many people over this journey with stories of them just starting, of this being just another race in their long list, and stories of days were race day did not go as planned.  They all have amazing support systems to see them make it to the finish line.  A new bike, sneaks and fancy goggles do not make the race starts with a small belief in something scary within you that sparks and grows into an amazing feeling of anything is possible and love and support coming from your people and strangers you have just met.

bike rack for #409
We showed up on Friday afternoon, walked down to the swim entry and saw the buoys...they were far away and the water was warm...more than likely wetsuits were going to be a no.  This made me anxious as a little extra buoyancy can go a long way for 1500m swim.  We walked back up the quarter mile transition and got our packets and settled in for the event briefing.  Nothing too crazy was reported for tomorrow, other than we knew it would be hot and to stay hydrated, have fun and be safe.  Our group headed out to find some food, prep our gear and try to get a good night's sleep.  Stickers were applied, noodles and chicken were eaten and I headed to bed by 10pm.  Wake up was 4:15am with a out of condo time of 5am.  Transition area was closing at 6:45 and Half race start time was 7:00 and Olympic was 7:30.  There were about 200 people doing the Olympic distance and almost 250 doing the half.  It was a quiet morning despite the music being played to get everyone pumped...everyone was in their own head thinking through the steps and making sure their checklist was complete.
walking to the swim

We headed to the water, Ben was dealing with the fact that he had people with him at the start of the race, probably messing with his mind as he hasn't had a support crew for any of his recent races.  Mike was ready to get this thing started, and I just wanted the swim over.  As one of the announcers said yesterday...I do the swim so I can get on the bike...and that is all.  It was a beautiful morning, the heat did not feel horrible and once we stood in the water I was actually cold.  Ben was the first one of us to head out, followed by Mike, then me.  Laura was an amazing sherpa there in her orange visor and orange Stride t-shirt...makes for easy spotting!  She documented the whole day and cheered from start to finish...all while she was mentally preparing for her own race on Sunday.  

swim is done
The swim started for me and I walked a bit out to the first buoy. I  am not a fast swimmer so there was no need to try to get ahead.  I didn't want to get kicked or pushed so I just took my time and then finally said to's time to start...get your face in the water.  I kept the sighting buoys on my right not to get pushed to close to the shore, made the turn at the big yellow cylinder.  Thankfully there was a boat out there with blue flashing lights so that helped a lot with the sighting.  I made my way to the next turn buoy and then was in the home stretch.  I never looked at my watch to see my time.  I am not a swimmer so I just was going to go as strong and steady as I could.  Time was not a driver here...just completion.  I saw Mike on the swim during that final stretch...made me happy to know that he was doing well and cruising along as well.  The final yellow buoy appeared and I made the final left...the shore was in sight and I was done...there was nothing scary...just tired and wanted it over.   Laura was there....cheering for me and I was getting my legs back under me as I headed up the quarter mile jog to the transition area.
finished on the bike

I never thought biking would be my thing but I guess strong big thighs can pay off.  I managed to bike just over 20 miles per hour for the 40k bike ride.  I felt strong and not labored.  I pushed when I could, I slowed down when there was traffic of either bikes or cars, and loved the fast down hill coming off the bridge.  It was a safe course and police and volunteer presence were very visible.  I didn't drink enough water, I am a bit of a scaredy cat with reaching for my water bottle.  I drank some in my transition before getting on the bike...and never felt thirsty on the ride...I took a gu at mile 10 and made myself drink some water afterwards.    I took that final turn into the cattle gate entrance...slowed down...was happy with my pace and my tush was happy to get off the bike.

Transition to run was fine.  I had seen Mike on the bike and figured Ben was still out there biking away.  I went to get my run stuff together...grab my orange visor and head out.  It was really humid and my legs were not feeling that fresh.  Mile one went by very quickly and a bit too fast...I ran 8:20 and was excited but then I started to be tired.  I had another gu with me and now think I probably should of had it...but that day I didn't...I kept on trucking along, taking water at every aid pace was slowing but I felt like I was going as fast as my legs on this day were going to let me.  The course was interesting...Ben had told me it was wooded but I didn't take that as trail...trail is not my thing but I kept on was very pretty and still very hot.  The sun had yet to break through the clouds and I just kept on plugging away.  On the final two water stops I grabbed ice and tucked them in my sports felt great and now my feet were sloshing in my shoes...water was just dripping all the way down to my toes and I was wanting this to be over.  The final turn out of the woods had me back on the path that headed towards the finish line.  I saw Mike with his orange visor on and he said I would see Ben in just three minutes.  I was happy to see Mike running as it was so humid and a long day I wasn't sure if his legs were going to be there for him.  I was mad at myself for the slow pace but at the same time was just hoping everyone else was having a tough time with the heat and humidity.  

Sure enough 3 minutes later I saw a guy running at a fast clip coming towards me in an orange visor.  He screamed, "Go Orange Visor!" and we said our I love yous and high fived.  I had under a mile to go.  I knew it was not going to be my fastest run but it was almost done.  I was excited to finish!!  I passed a 72 year old man that I spoke with at packet pick up.  He was from Reston, and has been doing tris his whole life.  I told him great job...he said he had wanted to stop many times but had yet to do it.  I said slow is always better than stopped.  72 years old...just awesome!  
final push
The final turn was in sight and I saw Laura in her orange attire.  I pushed as hard as I could and my legs felt like bricks.  It didn't matter what the pace was, I gave my all and that day, that was all I had.  I managed just under 9 minute miles, not my best run but still very happy with the day.  

all done!!

I finished my second olympic triathlon in 2 hours 54 minutes and 49 seconds.  I improved on my first olympic time by 12 minutes.  Granted my first was very hilly bike, all my time was improved on the bike here at Patriots.  I ran and swam slower on Saturday then in my last race but my legs were ready to ride that day.  The girl that started on a Schwinn dropped 12 minutes...I can't even wrap my head around that.  I loved it...I loved every minute...even the ones I hated.  That day made me want to do it again and again and again.  This sport is not about speed or where you finish at the end of the day, it's about you putting your mind to something and seeing it through.  It's about early morning commitments and crazy training plans.  It's about time management and ensuring you are ready to tackle something that at first feels bigger than you.

podium time
I headed over to Laura to watch for Mike to come in.  He trucked on in and was happy to find that finish line as well. The heat of the day was truly upon us and we just wanted to be done.  We were waiting now for Ben and I was doing fuzzy math on trying to figure out how long he would take.  The results were being shown upon a big screen but my age group still was not complete...they had only listed first and second.  I walked with Mike and Laura getting food and drinks and we came back upon the awards ceremony.  Sure enough they were about to do my age group...Women's 35-39 and my gosh they said my name for third place.  I couldn't believe it!  I hopped up onto the podium and just smiled...I didn't think it would happen but sure enough there I was.  The girl who never thought a triathlon would be a part of her life...was standing in third place for the ladies 35-39.

So how do I feel today...I feel like I wish I committed a little more of me to this the moment I was happy with all that I did but now that the results are in and the competitive Julie takes charge...I wish I was just a little bit stronger.  I am so excited to sit down and plan out my race calendar for this spring and next fall.  I am excited for the two events I am racing this weekend and next. I am over the moon to go to Kona to see the best of the best compete in the biggest race of their lives.  I am excited to see my husband's hard work make his dream a reality.  I know today that I am capable of hard things.  I am stronger than I thought I would ever want to be.  I have days that are not good, I have days that I am great and super focused, and in the end they all balance out.  I will never stop trying or running.  Running is what started this whole thing and I will be sure to never let it end.

Embrace the Suck...Choose You...Never stop trying!

Swim 41:01
T1 3:17
Bike 1:13:10
T2 2:12
Run 55:11

Total time Patriots Olympic Triathlon 2016
3rd in Age Group 35-39
21st Female
75th overall

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Toe in the water...stuck at half way

You know how you have finished up summer and all the free for all eating...yet you somehow managed to maintain your exercise routine through it all...and for some reason you still don't feel great!?!?  

Yeah well that is because exercise is such a SMALL portion of this whole fit lifestyle equation.  As great as I can feel after a workout...if the food isn't clean eating...I still feel like junk. I get so frustrated with me...I want to be good and I know that being 100% all the time is next to impossible.  But I also know that doing it half way leads to no results.  So here I go weighing and measuring and working out as my plan says...yet I am fairly certain that I am consuming more than my fair share...and I wouldn't know because I am not tracking it in myfitnesspal.  I tell myself it will all balance out with all my exercising...but at the end of the day..or in this instance...the end of the is not is very much in the plus. does one get this situation turned around, how do you talk yourself into wanting to stay focused and do you say no to the treats and glasses of wine...well you just start small.  You may limit yourself at a given moment when maybe you don't know what the facts are around that item...and save that treat for when you are in your home and have a measuring cup and can measure out that cup of ice cream or 8 oz of wine.  I know this probably sounds a bit extreme...but if you really want to can't go around guessing things.  You have to be have to know your intake/ the end of the's all a numbers game and to have those results...the ones that will make you stand taller and feel stronger inside and out.  

The key to the day in and day to enjoy what you are doing, have an accountability buddy, drink lots of water, love the food you are eating, and don't feel like you are depriving yourself.  At the end of a successful day you know that you feel like you can take on the world...and the hardest part is to convince yourself to do it all over again tomorrow.  So moral of the story here...the days will not be do not need to workout like a crazy person to have can say no thank you to desserts and nights out that would result in you loosing control...and you can say yes to a little bit more of focus and determination.  The latter will get you where you want to be.  

Three months from now is December 7th...the start of all the HOLIDAY season!  You know what that time of year means...and you know how crazy the food and parties can be.  Imagine if you took control now...if you got yourself into that routine to uncover the stronger you didn't do it half way...but ALL THE WAY!!!  You have that power...maybe you have to write yourself a little note and read it every morning...kind of like a reset for yourself to know that you can take on the day.  If this whole process was easy than we would't be having this's really really hard.  But like most things...hard is not requires a lot of work and cheerleading!  I am a great cheerleader and happy to help you get to that point...find that buddy...sign up for some classes, do some monthly food prep sessions together, share recipes, take the time to take care of you!!

There is no point in doing this half way...go all in...feel strong..stay committed...stop the excuses...choose the stronger than you ever thought you could be.

Embrace the suck...choose you!