Monday, January 16, 2017

Training - back at it!

Hey guys! Happy New Year! It has been a busy and exciting start to 2017, with lots going on with training and also with my first trip of the year under my belt. I started the year training with a new coach, someone who is local and who I have been building a rapport with the past few months. I’ve been excited about the change and ready to push myself hard this year. Through my experience last year working with a coach who I had found online, I learned that I really liked the process of having a coach but wanted someone who I felt could push me a bit harder. And who would be a bit more personal with me. I believe I have found that with the group I’m working with and more to come on that as training continues, I’m sure!

I kicked off the year feeling extremely motivated, as many often due as the calendars flip forward another year. I had a solid week of training in Atlanta, and then an international trip, that I managed to get some sort of physical activity on for 6 out of the 6 days I was away. One of the things I know about this year is that I need to make every day count. I can’t take a week off every time something comes up in my schedule. And not that I did that when I traveled last year – I actually did a really incredible job of training while traveling in 2016 and its one of the things I’m most proud of. But I still need to give it “oomph” while I’m away and so far so good in this year.

Let me try and get into a schedule of sharing some of my workouts. Not sure if this is boring for you guys or not but, nobody is forcing you to read, now are they?

Saturday 12/31 – 5 mile run

Technically, last year, but wanted to include it because it was the day I arrived back in Atlanta after being home for the holidays. I'd had a 6:00 a.m. flight out of New Hampshire, which meant an early morning, but I managed to have a really productive last day of the year and a 5 mile run exploring my neighborhood.

Sunday 1/1 – 2 hour spin (Longest trainer ride to date!) 

Back home, meant back on my trainer! Last year the trainer was brand new after the holidays and honestly, I didn't get a ton of use out of it. I knew this year I was going to have to become much more familiar with my trainer than last season and decided to challenge myself to my longest trainer ride to date, of 2 hours spinning. I watched a movie and was proud of myself for the mental push.

Monday 1/2 – 60 minute run with strides on the Silver Comet Trail

My first run of the new year and I decided to go back to my old stomping ground and run on the Silver Comet. I am not sure why this appealed to me on this day, but I just wanted to be able to completely zone out and run. I did completely, even forgetting that I was supposed to finish the run with strides at the end. Which, I didn't want to skip out on something my coach had told me to do in just his 2nd prescribed workout, so I went back and did some strides and ended up running about 6.5 miles.

Tuesday 1/3 – ITL Track Tuesday (4x400 Hard/Easy; 4x400 Strides on Straight, 4x400 Hard/Easy)

This was sort of my first "official" Track Tuesday with ITL Coaching. They hold workouts on a local track every Tuesday (pretty self explanatory...) and I attended my first one at the end of last year, but it was sort of a holiday fun edition, so this was my first taste of the real thing. It was good to push myself and be surrounded by others all doing the same workout but their own paces, yet staying close. I am looking forward to more of these workouts in the future!

Wednesday 1/4 – AM swim (3200) and PM spin 

It had been too long since I had been in the water!! I hadn't swam since early December since the week before I went home, the pool was shut down at the club where I swim. I felt a bit like lead but good to be back in the water.  In the evening, I went back to the gym and took a spin class. Spin class isn't as good as being on the trainer I don't think, but it is a good mental break and way to get some cycling in. Especially when you are meeting and spinning with a friend!

Thursday 1/5 – 4 mile run with Janet around the new stadium

This run was really memorable for me. Janet and I ran in a new spot and did an "adventure run" as I called it. Not knowing a route or the area of where to go.  We just sort of explored a bit, stopping at red lights, seeing where the roads were well lit and where they weren't, tackling some hills, and chatting. Running and talking seems to allow you to let your guard down and open up and we had some really meaningful and emotional conversation on this day. I'm really thankful for Janet's friendship and the bonds that running has helped us form. This run will always be very memorable for me.

Friday 1/6 – AM swim (2900 meters)

My coach had suggested a day off but I said no - I wanted to spend more time in the pool since I knew I was going to have yet another break from the water. So morning swim practice it was :)

Saturday 1/7 – 2:00 hour spin 

Back on my trainer at home, I watched some movies and TV and powered through some intervals given to me by my coach. It really went by rather quickly, if I am being honest. And I was proud of myself for getting it done. We were also sort of snowed in without any snow, so I had nothing better to do and no excuses to get out of this workout!

Sunday 1/8 – 10 mile run

This was the coldest run yet in Atlanta! Temperatures were in the teens and I ran from my apartment down the beltine to Tenth Street to Peachtree Street and back. It was a route suggested by a friend who lives in my same location and I figured why not? Coming back felt much warmer than going out since I was facing the sun, but it was a struggle with the slight incline on the Beltline coming back up. I was very happy for this run to be over with!

Monday 1/9 – Travel Day

Last Monday I had the day off from training as it was most entirely a travel day for me. I left at 11:30 p.m. on Sunday night and flew from Atlanta to Zurich, Switzerland with a connection in Paris. I didn't get to my hotel until about 6:00 p.m. Monday (local time) so I just freshened up and went to dinner with a friend. I wish that my "rest day" felt more like a rest day, but sleeping sitting up on a plane isn't super restful unfortunately.

Tuesday 1/10 – 1 hour interval run and 15 minute chords 

My first day of work travel started in the hotel gym on the treadmill. I had a one hour run scheduled, but my coach included all interval work for the 1 hour at specific paces and elevations on the treadmill. I had told him that I wanted to commit to working out 1 hour each day while I was gone and let him know the equipment I would have to work with (treadmill and stationary bike, basically.) The first workout he gave me was a challenge and I finished it thoroughly exhausted, but feeling energized like only a good workout can. It’s weird how a hard workout can do both of those things simultaneously, isn’t it?

I also did 15 minutes of exercising using a set of “chords” that my coach let me borrow for the trip. Since we knew that swimming wouldn’t be possible while I was away, using the chords allowed me to do some upper body work that simulated swimming. My form wasn’t awesome with these, but I did the workout as prescribed.

Wednesday 1/11 – 1 hour stationary bike ride 

I returned to the hotel gym to hop on one of the stationary bikes that they had. None of the bikes were ideal to simulate my bike or even a spin bike, but my coach told me that something would be better than nothing. For one hour I did a set of intervals that had my heart rate up and another sweaty and accomplished morning in the gym. I was even able to make a 7:30 a.m. train for work!

Thursday 1/12 – Gym was closed – 3 mile run outside 

This morning threw me off quite a bit, but I ended up not making a complete waste of the day.

First off, let me explain that I had planned meticulously to be sure that I would have a gym with cardio equipment available to me while on my trip to Switzerland. Unlike the U.S. and other parts of the world, European hotels do not usually have fitness centers. I always prefer to workout outside, but with snow forecast and few daylight hours to work with, I didn’t want to plan to run outdoors alone in the dark in a new-to-me city, especially when I knew it was likely covered in snow and ice. Plus, my suitcase wouldn't be big enough to fit in a week's worth of cold weather running gear.

I researched multiple hotel options to see what fitness equipment they had as well as private local gyms, I made phone calls to inquire about hours and cost before I traveled. Many fitness centers didn’t open until 6:30 a.m., which is too late to start working out with my work schedule when on the road. I even looked into the local triathlon clubs in that region but all of their workouts were in the evening hours, which also isn’t really manageable when I travel for work – I need to get it done in the morning or not at all. After all this research, I found and chose a hotel based solely on their 24 hour fitness center. I asked about it when I checked in, was assured it was 24 hours, texted my coach the equipment they had, used it for two days, and then arrived at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday and saw this.

Not wanting to be stopped by a sign, I checked my hotel key and it still opened, but the gym was totally unusable... all the equipment was gone! There were some new treadmills there, but they were not installed yet.

It totally caught me off guard and I felt really frustrated and went back to my room and started crying. I complained to the people at the front desk but knew there was nothing they could do. I went back to my room, changed my clothes quickly, and as a minimum of getting something in... I went outside and ran back and forth on a small stretch of sidewalk outside of my hotel that had decent lighting and was clear of snow and slush. I did a 5K run before heading back inside to shower and get ready for the day. It wasn't the workout from my coach, that I had honestly been really looking forward to, but at least it was something.

Friday 1/13 – Running interval and body weight workout

One of the reasons that I was so bummed the day before was because I had honestly been really looking forward to the workout my coach had put together for me. On Thursday, I ended up talking with the manager of the hotel and even though the gym wouldn't be fully finished at the hotel, they promised to have a single treadmill set up for me in the morning that I could go in and use. They were super accommodating and apologetic about what happened and I liked that they were willing to help me find a solution.

I had the fitness center to myself and despite not being able to turn the lights on, it worked out ideal for my workout as I was able to set my music up out loud. It was great because the workout entailed me hopping on and off the treadmill 4 times and doing burpees, pushups, wall sits, sit ups, etc. in between. I ended up running 5.2 miles and got a bunch of other stuff in too and was really happy with my coach for coming up with such a creative and fun workout for me. The time flew by.

Saturday 1/14 – 1 mile run to gym, 45 minute spin, 1.5 mile run back.

Another item that I negotiated with the hotel was the ability to use the gym on Saturday. I checked out on Friday, and moved from my hotel to my friend's apartment who lives in Zurich, who I was staying with through the weekend. Since I had switched around workouts during the week due to the fitness center not being open on Thursday, I was missing a bike workout, so this compromise turned out really well to be able to get into the hotel on Saturday. It was originally supposed to be a rest day but we swapped it out.

I ran a 1 mile warmup from my friend's to the hotel, did some intervals on the spin bike for 45 minutes, then hopped off for a little brick and ran back to my friend's, plus a little detour to stop by Lake Zurich. The lake hosts an Ironman race every year and even in the cold I can see that this would be a beautiful place to do a triathlon!

Sunday 1/15 – Skiing in the Swiss Alps!

So I did end up missing out on one of the scheduled workouts I had planned for the week, but it wasn't replaced with a lazy day by any means. Instead of my Sunday long run of 10 miles, I went skiing in the Swiss Alps! It was a truly incredible experience and worked some muscle groups I don't usually touch that much so a nice day of cross training.

Some of the runs had my legs aching, my heart beating, and I could tell I was sweating even though it was snowing out. It was worth missing a 10 mile run for and I am still proud of myself for being active every single day of my trip to Europe!

Monday 1/16 – Travel Day

Another "rest day" spent not very restfully as I was crammed into a small space with sore legs from the skiing the day before. It was a long day as well, since I got some hours back and that's part of the reason why you're even getting a blog today! I had to keep myself awake for a bit before heading to sleep :)


So there you have it. My first few weeks of workouts for the new year. My takeaway is that I'm really proud of myself for starting the year off strong. That I still have a lot of work to do though and that I just need to stay focused. I also learned that apparently I like making that one particular face a lot in my pictures, so that's interesting. I'll try and be more interesting in my post workout pics for the next two weeks and see what better we can do. Happy MLK Jr. Day everyone!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 Top 9 Year in Review

Here we are at the end of the year again and it is hard to believe how fast 2016 went by. Wasn’t it just last week that I was planning goals for this coming year and thinking back on what an amazing year 2015 was?

I look back on 2016 year as a year of growth for me. It was a year of challenging myself, feeling uncomfortable, feeling intimidated and out of place. It was a year of pushing outside of my comfort zone in all areas of life not just what I talk about here, but also at work and in my personal life, as well as with running and triathlon. This year was full of firsts and new things and throughout that process I learned a lot about myself. When I look back at the year, what I am most proud of is overcoming a lot of the intimidation I felt in many areas of life and the feeling that I wasn’t good enough.

2016 was new territory for me in many ways. I took on a new distance of racing, the Half Ironman, and made the decision to train on my own, without a coach or a formal plan. I stepped away from the diet program that has always been a fall back for me. I decided to consciously do LESS races and focus only on the big ones in my schedule. But this year wasn’t just about training and racing – it was also a year of celebrating loved ones and welcoming new loved ones. Of travel, of moving, and of growing up in many ways.

On Instagram, the New Years-y thing to do is post your “Top 9” which includes your top “Liked” and commented on photos of the past year. I was looking forward to seeing what this was for me, and not surprisingly, my Top 9 was dominated by NYC Marathon, Half Ironman World Championships, and Half Ironman Chattanooga.

However, it got me to think about what my personal “Top 9” for the year would be, determined by myself and not by my social network and filter abilities.

1. Half Ironman Journey.

It feels like, what more can I say here, right? Well, if you know me well enough, there is always more that can be said. This journey is broken up into two periods for me, based on the training for the two races. From January to May, was full of a lot of anxiety and stress for me as I trained. Nearly every time I got on the bike, it was a new distance PR of some sort. The travel, the back-to-back biking and running weekend workouts, and overall newness/lack of comfort/anxiety in life was hard and wore on me.

The race itself in Chattanooga was incredible. I exceeded my expectations of a 7-hour finish by over 30 minutes. I sobbed when I returned home after the weekend. It meant so much to have a friend with me at that race, and one of the things that I will always remember looking back on that weekend was how meaningful it was to have Brick there with me, the weekend before her 30th birthday.

From May to September, as I trained for my next Half Ironman in Australia, I went about it completely differently. After the whirlwind of going from not wanting to do another HIM to committing to Half Ironman World Championships in Australia, I knew I needed to go about training completely differently and I did. I hired a triathlon coach. I hired a nutritionist. I joined the Atlanta Triathlon Club. I bought a heart rate monitor. I invested in aero bars and bought my first “official” biking gear. I joined group rides as a regular part of my training.

The work I was putting in showed. Weight dropped off, improvements started to be seen easily in my training, and I felt fantastic. Most importantly, I didn’t have the anxiety and stress I had in training for Chattanooga and I went into the race feeling wonderful about myself.

2. Turning 30.

This happened right alongside the end of training for Australia. I left two days after my birthday. However, before that, I truly had a wonderful time. I turned 30 feeling so confident and amazing about myself. Part of it had to two with how I looked, yes. As I mentioned, those changes I made in training and diet were really working for me. But I also felt strong. I felt confident and I felt happy, which was what I wanted.

I celebrated my birthday surrounded by love with fabulous women in Atlanta and with warm wishes from family and friends around the country. To top it off with adventure and a trip around the world… I couldn’t have asked for more.

3. Global travel.

I traveled out of the country four times this year. Twice professionally and twice personally. I visited two new countries/continents and truly had some of the most memorable times traveling I’ve ever had. The first trip in February brought me to Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates. Then Mexico in March into April. Singapore in May. And then of course Australia in August into September.

With three of those trips happening before my first Half Ironman, I also had the unique experience of training all around the world. The travel certainly made training a challenge but I was determined not make it work and not train, while on the road, which led to some of the coolest memories of sunrise swimming in Singapore (and Dubai!), spin classes in Dubai, and runs in Mexico. I am truly proud of my grit and determination despite the jet lag, work schedules, evenings out, and early morning meetings – I did all of this and went to Chattanooga well prepared for my race and didn’t miss out on any of these life experiences

They all involved exotic destinations, culture, adventure, beauty and great friends from different parts of life. It was an amazing year for international travel!

4. Becoming an aunt again.

In October, right after their 2nd birthday my twin niece and nephew, Jack and Bridget, became big siblings to Baby Thomas, born in the same month. I am beyond grateful that I was fortunate enough to be able to time a trip home to be there for Baby Thomas’s birth. I have never met a baby the day they were born so to be there for my nephew was truly a blessing and I felt like I was a part of a miracle happening. I couldn’t believe that the night before this little I was holding in my arms was inside of my sister while we watched television. It gave me such perspective on what a miracle bringing a child into this world is and I fell in love with Baby Thomas and the moments this year I was able to spend with him (and of course J and B too!)

5. Celebrating loved ones.

This year I attended 4 weddings of important people in my life. One of my friends from Upstate NY, my college roommate, and two of my childhood best friends Teenie and KO. I was able to be there for Teenie’s bachelorette as well and that was so special to me. In addition to these weddings, I had other friends get engaged, get pregnant, and accomplish major life moments. As little as it may seem in comparison to these bigger life events, my little twin half brothers also completed their second 5K and ran it on their own – which made me so proud and I celebrated from afar! There were new jobs, moves, and so much to celebrate in the lives of my loved ones this year that I felt so thrilled to be a part of and for them.

6. A refresh in Atlanta.

On the topic of moves, I made my own this year! In mid-November, I relocated within Atlanta, moving closer into the city and downsizing into a smaller apartment that fit my needs better. It is in an incredible location and I am in love with my easy access to friends, great restaurants, and beautiful places to run. It felt like my life in Atlanta got “refreshed” a bit this year between the move, meeting new people through triathlon, and focusing more on the people that matter.

7. Seeing new cities and travel within the U.S. 

The international travel often gets all the glory, but this year brought new domestic travel as well! I visited new iconic cities of New Orleans and Miami, and returned to Nashville. I had an amazingly fun trip to San Francisco, returned to Chicago, NYC a few times, Wilmington, NC and a few trips back home to New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts where I was able to see new parts of cities I’ve spent a lot of time in before, such as Providence.

8. Strengthening friendships.

In Atlanta and elsewhere, I had a lot of friendships blossom and grow that I am so proud of. The people in your life truly make it what it is and I am so beyond thankful for the amazing people I have in my life. I was able to travel with friends new and old, reconnect with people I haven’t seen in years, get closer with people within Atlanta and also friends I’ve had since childhood. As you grow older, friendships become harder to maintain and it makes me happy to see that I am strengthening some of these bonds in my life.

9. Pushing myself professionally.

Although I don’t talk about that much, as this is my “Top 9” I have to include this because it was an important year for me professionally. I felt very challenged in my role and doubted myself a lot. I am proud of myself for where I ended up this year and the impact I was able to bring to my team and company.

So there you have it. It's not everything, as NYC Marathon and running coach class and giving back through running isn't here, and so many other important life, family and friend events... but this was what came to mind as how to summarize my year. 2016 challenged me and it pushed me. It woke me up a bit to areas I still need to work on in life and places where I can improve. When I finished the Half Ironman in Australia, I was SO happy because in addition to getting a PR from my time in May, I also saw so many areas where I could improve. I think that is a good metaphor for my entire year – not just in triathlon. I am so excited about everything I accomplished in 2016 but also so excited because I know there is more I can do in 2017.

I have set up 2017 to be a year with big goals. Goal that’s that also make me nervous and feel beyond my reach right now. But I also feel like I am prepared with the toolkit of what I need to achieve them. Unlike last year at this time, I KNOW what to do, I just need to do it. I fell off the bandwagon in October through December quite a bit and have gained back the weight I'd lost and need to rebuild some of my base training, but I'm ready for the challenge. I know what needs to be done.

I will continue to work on my diet with the nutritionist (who doubles as a therapist sometimes.) And I’ve switched around coaching programs and will be working with a local coaching group in Atlanta, that I am very excited about. My circle of people supporting me is strong and I am strong. 2017 is a year of going after goals. I’m ready. Bring it on!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

KO and Juan Wedding Weekend - The final one!

Earlier this fall, right when I got back from Australia, I had a quick turnaround for a trip to New York City. I want to post about this even though it is a couple of months behind because I just feel the need to close out this final wedding in a series on the blog. In September, my lifelong best friend and final girl friend in my group of "scout" friends that I have had since elementary school, married the man of her dreams. KO has been a staple on the blog for a while from her visits to Albany, to my shameless pride as her best friend in all that she does, she is a rock star and I love her.

KO, Teenie, Meaggie and E have been my 4 best friends since we were in elementary school and we've been doing the wedding circuit for the past couple of years. It started with E and James in Rhode Island, followed by Meaggie and Jon in Boston, then we doubled up this year with Teenie and Ryan's Chicago wedding in June, followed by KO and Juan's wedding in NYC in September!

After arriving home from Australia on a Wednesday evening, I left on Friday evening to fly to New York City. The first night that I arrived, I spent the evening with my college best friend (also with the same name) and started wedding festivities bright and early on Saturday morning.

KO kept things very low key and so very "her" and had us all over for a bridesmaids breakfast before heading over to a brunch at a Venezuelan restaurant in New York City where we got to meet the extended wedding party.  KO's bridesmaids were made of a mixture of her family, her husband's family, and friends from various points throughout her life. KO and I have done everything together our whole lives... she is truly a sister to me. Luckily, her actual younger sister is one of my favorite people ever in the world, so it was really great to spend more time with her throughout the weekend, and the entire family.  We had a beautiful girls only brunch, entire family brunch, wedding rehearsal, and I was then able to join KO and the crew for dinner and final hugs before the wedding day.

The wedding started with the girls meeting up at the apartment she shares with Juan. The morning was so simple and low key and full of so many sweet moments with just the group of girls she loves surrounding her. Unlike other weddings I have been a part of, there was no photographer (besides me of course), no formality of any hair or makeup, no parents, just the bridesmaids, which made for a very intimate moment. I was so honored to be by Kate's side through these moments.

We Uber-ed to the church where I played my typical role of DJ, snuck into the basement of the church, and shortly after as guests filed in, it was time to get started. The ceremony went off beautifully, full of love and tradition and smiles. As we left the church, guests threw [mock] rice and rose petals and one of Juan's groomsmen surprised the newly married couple with an old fashioned NYC taxi cab. It was the perfect touch.

The reception was filled with gorgeous NYC skyline views, delicious food, lots of chatter and laughter, dancing, toasts, and I don't think Kate or Juan stopped smiling once the entire evening. I also really loved spending more time with KO's husband Juan's family - they were all so welcoming and loving and really got to know as many people as they possibly could. I loved it!

Everything about the wedding was so perfectly them and so very New York City. The weather was absolutely perfect, we had an amazing sunset, and I was so honored to be a part of another one of my very best friend's wedding days.

Congratulations to KO and Juan!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Paying it forward

This weekend I was out with some (non-running) friends at a holiday gathering and like it often does for me, running was brought up in conversation. My friends mentioned how they just never were able to get into it and how they couldn't ever build up to running regularly or doing longer distances like a marathon. And immediately I spun into why I think that they could do it, how I got into it, and all of the incredible things I have learned from running - that don't have anything to do with running. Setting goals and working towards them, pushing through pain, persevering through setbacks, not giving up, mental strength, body appreciation, positive self talk, sense of pride and accomplishment, and the overall knowledge, "If I can do this - than I can do anything."

Because its something that I feel so passionate about, that the benefits and lessons from running (and triathlon) are so big, and because I truly know that if I can do it - anyone can - I always love to try to look for ways to get others involved, or give back to the world of running and triathlon somehow.

For years, since my first marathon in Paris, I have seen runners in races pushing athletes in wheelchairs. It has always inspired me and seemed like an incredible way to share the love of running  and the race experience with someone else who may otherwise not have been able to. It has been in the back of my mind for a while, and slowly has gained more and more momentum. Last summer I spectated at the Highlands 5K when some running friends pushed a local runner who had suffered a debilitating stroke in a race. I consciously made the decision that this was something I wanted to do and then this summer I met a friend, Kevin, who regularly runs pushing wheelchair athletes with a local organization called Walking with K-Peasey.  Through him I also met a local runner and triathlete, Scott Rigsby, who is a double amputee and became the first double amputee to compete Ironman World Championships in Kona. I read his book and was given a more close up view into the world of para-athletes. And if I am being honest, the first person I really have ever had a conversation with who is an amputee of any kind, athlete or not.

Because of all of these experiences, when the Atlanta Triathlon Club made a call for volunteers to participate as part of a triathlon relay with local para-athletes, I decided to participate.  This past October, I was paired up with two amazing women, Ashley and Sarah, and we competed in the Macon, Georgia Rock N Rollman Sprint Triathlon.

Although I didn't know it before, I realized I had met Ashley earlier in the summer at an open water swim and knew she was super badass as she had been training to swim back and forth from Alcatraz. Sarah I met that day, who uses a wheelchair full time, but is an incredible athlete who actually competes as a wheelchair tennis player. 

Ashley swam. Sarah used a hand crank bike. And I ran the 5K to complete the sprint triathlon.  There were a few other para-athlete relay teams at the race and I was incredibly inspired by all of the athletes, their stories, and their determination to not let their disability define them or stop them from being physically fit or compete in races of all types - swimming, tennis, running, triathlon, mud races, etc.

While at the sprint triathlon, I also met a young man named Cougar and his mom Colleen. When Cougar was 15, he was playing around in the snow with friends, did a flip, and landed the wrong way, breaking his vertebrae. Since that time, Cougar has gone from being fully paralyzed to slowly regaining the ability to hold up his head, sit up, use his arms and hands, and gain feeling in his legs. He has been living outside of Atlanta undergoing therapy at the Shepard Center, and has found sport and racing as a way to aid in his therapy - mentally and physically. His mom explained to me that he had gotten involved with the foundation Walking with KPeasey, who loaned Cougar the biking and running sport chairs to use that day. At that Rock n Rollman race, Cougar completed his first sprint triathlon unassisted. With an aid following along for guidance, Cougar was able to complete the swim on his own, the bike using a cycling chair, and the run using a run chair. I was fully blown away by his story, his positive attitude and his mom's positivity and encouragement.

Walking with KPeasey was the same organization that my friend Kevin had pushed wheelchair athletes with, so after hearing the name come up again, and being so inspired by Cougar - I went home, looked up the organization, and filled out their form online saying that I wanted to volunteer and get involved.

A few weeks later, I had an introductory call with Brent Pease, the founder of the organization. Brent and his brother Kyle, who has CP, have been competing together in races for years. They started the Kyle Pease Foundation and the program Walking with KPeasey, to raise funds, success, and awareness for people living with disability through sport. Brent told me over the phone that they aren't just looking for people to come out and push a wheelchair and disappear. They want people to be involved in the athletes lives, learn about them, raise money, and really take their mission to heart. That seemed to be in line with what I was thinking and decided to come out and meet Brent and Kyle at their next local race. They were both actually competing in the NYC Marathon as well but I knew I likely wouldn't see them there, so planned to come out at the Thanksgiving Day Marathon.

Two weeks before the NYC Marathon and a bit before the Thanksgiving Day Half Marathon, I received an e-mail from Brent asking if I could possibly push someone during the race as they had a volunteer drop out. Not entirely sure what it would entail, I said yes.

The Sunday before the Thursday race was the annual Kyle Pease Foundation fundraiser, which I went to in order to support the cause, see friends, meet Kyle and Brent for the first time, learn a little more about the details of the race and the chair I would be pushing, and hopefully meeting the little boy Grant that I would be paired with! I was fortunate to be able to do all of the things on the list except for meet Grant, but I went home super inspired by the two brothers, all of the racers I met, and super excited to get involved with this organization.

Thursday morning I arrived at the race start and met Grant and the team. I learned a bit more about what to expect during the actual race, and without much ado, we set out for the start line. There were a number of other disabled runners and their partners at the race - including Grant's mom - who was participating herself. My buddy Cougar was there as well and racing in his brand new chair that had just arrived the day before.

The wheelchair athletes started 10 minutes before the official race start so at 7:20 a.m. we took off on on an open course. It was a pretty neat way to start a race and within a few minutes, the other runners and chairs were way ahead of us (fasties!) and Grant and I had the course to ourselves. He told me to go faster a number of times until finally letting me know "Hey this is cool because it seems like we're in first place!"

Well that just lasted a moment until all of the fast people started swarming around us when they made their way through the 10 minute head start we'd had quite easily.

Pushing Grant was really, really challenging. About 3 miles in I thought to myself, "Maybe I should have started with a 5K..." and my body was aching from the change in running form that kept my arms stiff in front. It was challenging to turn the chair but also an incredible feeling to be participating in a race that was not about me, but about someone else experiencing the high of being a part of a road race.

We got lots of cheers from other runners throughout the course - many of them mistaking me for Grant's mom - and I would do my best to correct them, not for the sake of correcting them, but to promote Walking with KPeasey and the organization. It was great to have the encouragement and I tried to cheer Grant on throughout the whole race - the cheers I wanted to be for him, not for me!

I struggled from early on and allowed myself to start walking up the hills at Mile 6. I also had a very difficult time trying to navigate the water stations with lots of runners all around and not wanting to get in the way of others. I hate when people dead stop in the middle of a water station but I didn't know what to do with Grant and the chair because I needed to get him water too. At one point I had to stop the chair, dart over for water, and then get back to Grant. We were told to stay on the outside of the road as much as possible to not interrupt the other runners.

We saw Cougar at a couple points on the course - him passing us on a downhill and us catching up to him on an uphill where he was taking a break since his new chair was causing some rubbing on his wrists and they were bleeding.  Without any other option, his mom was bringing over duct tape for him to wrap around his wrists. Talk about inspiring and being a true badass.

My friend Ethan ran with us for a few miles, which was great to have a distraction. I did my best to walk a bit on some of the uphills but maintain running for as much as possible. The course is a VERY hilly route and even the downhills were tough as you needed to hold on to the chair to stay in control. There were a few moments of flat where I was able to push and let go with my arms a bit and get some relief but it was definitely an adaptation in running form to be pushing throughout the race. I had to take it mile by mile. At 11, we were walking up a hill and one woman told me "No, we can do it!" and grabbed a hold of the chair which forced me to run and we went up the hill with her holding on to the chair with one hand. At this point in the race, a lot of the people cheering started to get very aggressive.

Grant didn't like the bumps in the road, so I was navigating around those, trying to stay on the outside of the route, and was purely exhausted. I was doing the best I could and was on pace for the finish time that I had predicted, so was very comfortable allowing myself to walk up the hills. However, some other runners really wanted to see me continue to run. I understand the motivation and I am often one encouraging others to keep going - but I was a little turned off by the aggressive-ness of some people. That being said, I never allowed anyone to take a turn at pushing the chair. As tired as I was, I had committed to doing this and Grant's parents and Kyle and Brent had trusted me to push throughout the race. I felt a strong commitment and obligation to do so.

At mile 12, we crossed paths with one of the pace groups and were about to tackle the last 2 hills of the course before the slight downhill to the finish. Two of the older men in the pace group offered to push as they saw me walking up the hills and I told them they didn't have to. However, one man, very assertively, insisted we run up the last hill and took the chair out of my hands to push up the last hill. I told him that I was okay and asked to be able to take the chair back and he let me know "I'll just push up the hill!" Which, although, I very much understood where his sentiment was coming from, I found very frustrating that he wouldn't allow us to finish the race at my pace and had literally taken the chair from me.

When we made it to the top of the hill, I took the chair back and paused to check on Grant as he had actually fallen asleep. I woke him up for the finish and as we ran down the final stretch and under Atlanta's Olympic rings, he was cheering, clapping, woohoo-ing and as we crossed the finish he raised both hands in the air. It made me cry and the whole morning worth it. It was a great day!

The race gave us both medals and we returned to reunite with Grant's family and the rest of the Walking with KPeasey racers. I had loved the opportunity to be a part of the volunteer group and share the experience of racing with someone else. As tough as it was, I am so glad that I did it.

Running and racing is such an amazing thing. I have repeated the quote many times, but as Katherine Switzer said "If you are ever losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon." It is so true and people like Grant, Kyle, Brent, and Grant's mom are the reason why. Running has truly changed my life. And the people that have helped me along this path will forever be a part of my heart, my life, and my journey.

My mom was always a running inspiration to me, long before I ever imagined myself to be a runner. So many mornings growing up she would be out of the house to run miles with friends before sending us kids off to school and she ran her first marathon when I was in high school.

Then as I began my running journey, I could never have ever gotten through that first marathon without Jess encouraging me and motivating me through every long and hard run. Training for Paris with Jess was one of the most transformational things in my life and I cannot think back on those memories and all that Jess did for me without getting teary-eyed. She got me out of bed in the mornings. Told me that I could do it over and over. And would literally run in front of me and block the wind for me on our cold and dreary runs where I would cry and not think I could make it.

Tes, Holly and Ryan coached me through training for my first sub-2:00 half marathon. My friend Earon taught me about nutrition and put the idea in my mind that I could run a marathon in under 4:00 hours. My friends Janet, Shayla, and Jarrett never let me have a morning run on my own as I trained for Chicago. Brick, who when I would be training on my own, would text me in the mornings "You had better be running right now!!!" And there are so many more influential and important people that have encouraged me and kept me motivated as I have gotten more into running (and triathlon) over the years.

When I think about my journey forward, I want to be that person for someone else. I have loved getting involved with the para-athletes and the organization Walking with KPeasey.  Before that, being involved with Girls on the Run, and being there for many friends first half marathons whether in Kansas City or Miami, or cheering on friends from afar as they train for their first 5Ks in LA or first sprint triathlons in Georgia. It means to much to me to be able to give back a little to others and pay-it-forward because there is no way I would be where I am right now without the community of people who have encouragement and taught me what they know and helped me through.

Earlier this month I went to Chattanooga for the weekend to take a 2-day course to become a certified RRCA running coach. I learned about the various types of runners and what their different needs are in a coach. I learned about how you building training plans for people, what different workouts mean within a plan, how to coach groups and individuals and access their needs and goals. It is something that I have wanted to do for the past year and I was so glad that I could sneak it in before the year wrapped. I am not planning to quit my day job any time soon - but anything that I can do to become a better supporter, champion, and coach to others who are just starting their running journey, or returning to running - I want to be able to do.

Here's to more giving back to the running world in 2017 and if it's something that you're thinking about at all, please let me know! The best way to move forward is with others by your side.