american birkebeiner, 2015.

whoa guys…where has February gone?! i mean, for months and months, especially since the start of winter AND even more so, since the start of this year, the primary athletic event at the forefront of my mind has been the Birkie (the American Birkebeiner). i signed up for this event once, a few year ago because some friends were doing it and i thought it might be fun. needless to say, i never actually went and did the race. so, it’s been on my mind and on my (yet to be seen) bucket list ever since. the year i signed up before now i wasn’t committed to training. i think i skied a whopping 2 times that season. and i decided it was best to sit it out.

but this year…this year was different.

maybe a year ago from now, i began making some changes in my life. let’s say – in my personal life. i realized some things i was doing that were opposite of setting myself up for success. some call it self-sabotage. (i usually look at things through rose-colored lenses, though). anyway, i knew, above all else, it was time for a change.

and so much has changed. adios not so great relationships. hello new job that was a bit of a leap. welcome back, training like an actual athlete. oh, and that dust that sat atop the generally fun-loving, quirky, busy, introverted weirdo i am…it’s been dusted off.

i decided to make a change and then things just started becoming more clear and more obvious. and when a few random friends mentioned they were doing the Birkie this year, i though, “well, why the heck not?!”

a funny thing about this race is that it pretty much fills up before Thanksgiving every year and then you wait to see if there will be snow and how darn cold it will be and all of that jazz. this year, there was not a lot of snow, and not too much cold. i’m not going to say that’s a combo i don’t enjoy – except when i’ve signed up for this big race. oh  well! there’s training to be done.

i’ve said it before and i’ll say it again: thank goodness for my friend and ski buddy Cindi who adventured with me (well, she got me to adventure with her) to some ski wonderlands…or i would have had a bit more trouble with this event. not only did she get me out there – she gave me a few excellent tips…and i swear i walked away from Saturday really pleased with my first Birkie result because of them. i heard, “keep your arms closer to your body” about a hundred times. i repeated it to myself about a hundred thousand times on race day. she gave me tips about climbing hills. and BOYYYYY were there hills! and lastly, the night before the race, i got a text that said, ” have fun and don’t crash! ;)”

YOU GOT IT!

i went into the race with a baby goal in my mind – to finish close to 5 hours. i’ve said to a few people close to me that i could have probably achieved that if: 1. i hadn’t started in wave 9 and 2. if i had more ski experience. you see, starting in wave 9 meant lots of slow uphills, especially at the start and some backed up downhills throughout the race. also, the conditions were pretty close to “fair” by the time i skied the course. again, oh well! ski on. as for #2, you can really only get better at skiing by skiing more. period.

Birkie, you’d be safe to guess you’ll be seeing me again!

rw quoteone of the things i was really, really looking forward to though in the Birkie though is that i’ve realized over the past 5 or so years…i’m truly an endurance lover. so, as the race goes on, i usually just keep on, too. just coming through the halfway point of the Birkie, i was feeling really good and with just 20k to go, i thought to myself, “this is just like the Lake Monona route and i can almost run that in my sleep.”

not only is the quote above indicative of the feelings i have about distance events, but its also especially fun to think about in terms of cross country skiing.

one of the best things i’ve discovered in training for this event is that, well, for one, i suck at directions. i mean, i’d probably not venture into the woods in the snow on my own. but in xc skiing, you really have no other choice. training for the Birkie and xc skiing is like one of those choose your own adventure books. you can go this way or that and eventually you’ll get where you need to go – but the path is different. it’s no different than any of life except that you actively get to decide over and over again over the course of your ski-venture.

on Birkie day, i took none of that for-granted. and it was amazing. yes, the first 10k or so were brutal on what they call “the powerline.” it’s a constant up and down and up and down and up and down again. at first i thought, “WHAT DID I SIGN UP FOR?!” as my heart was maxing out at 175 beats per minute. but soon after, we headed into the woods and i was like “WHOA, THIS IS GORGEOUS!”

i must have been smiling at the first and second and every aid station. but even in the very beginning, even some of the volunteers noticed. (the volunteers, by the way, fantastic!)

and so it went, i skied and i enjoyed my time out in the woods. i took it all in. there were flurries flying by as i made my way south from Cable to Hayward through one of Wisconsin’s most treasured areas of the Northwoods. somewhere near 20k down, i skied up to my pal Mike who was also out there doing this race for the first time. it was awesome to see him and we ended up skiing together – or nearby one another for i swear close to 10k. and just after we separated, i ran into my friend Kristi who, by this time, is a seasoned Birkie competitor. she joked earlier in the week that she hoped to see me over the weekend, just not on the course, and then, of course, my goal was to chase her down by the end of the 51km. we skied together for a minute and laughed about our encounter and caught up more after we finished.

i wish i had been able to capture, in pictures, the beauty and fun that i had on that Saturday, a few days ago, in the Northwoods in February, but you’ll have to take my word for it…and maybe do the race yourself one day.

instead of going on and on though, i came up with a list of sorts to help explain my experience to all of you. i hope this gives you a simple picture, and some laughs about the experience….

so, without further ado:

SHAY’S BIRKIE 2015, BY THE NUMBERS!

2 bus rides – one to the start line and one back to the car at the end of the day

1 trip to the port-a-potties before the race

1/2 banana on my way to the start line. i decided NOT to eat the other half off the ground after 10,000+ people had already walked over that snow

7 restless hours of sleep the night before

1 trip to the UP – to ABR ski area for the inaugural ski of this season

30 (or more) laps at Lapham Peak ski area on their man-made loop of snow

1 day of skiing at Iola Winter Sports Park

1 long day of skiing at 9-mile in Wausau

6 coats of wax – an estimate because i actually don’t know how to wax my own skis

25 – dollars spent on hand and toe warmers this winter

2 warm (thanks to hand warmers in my vest pockets on race day) vanilla power gels

1 disgustingly cold vanilla bean GU (seriously, the hand warmer idea was GOLDEN. have you ever had cold GU? take my word and don’t try it)

10-ish cups of lukewarm water at aid stations

12-ish cups of warm ENERGY. which volunteers shouted to indicate they had either Nuun Hydration or GU Energy drink for us. ENERGYENERGYENERGY!

3-4 ‘nilla wafer cookies

1 oreo-like cookie

1/4 chocolate chip cookie. i could have eaten the entire cookie at the top of this hill

1 bitch hill. no, really, that’s what the locals call it. also, where i had the heavenly chocolate chip cookie piece.

2 (or 3) snowmobile gangs. these guys were hilarious and made me laugh. they’d heckle you and tell you to slow down around sharper turns…but cheer if you made it through unscathed.

1 easy fall trying to step around someone who had fallen right in front of me early in the race.

0 crashes!

1 shot from the shot ski or an apple pie-like beverage. also: a proud member of the 39k club!

51 kilometers through the Northwoods of Wisconsin from Cable to Hayward, WI

2 big cups of chicken noodle soup afterwards

1 bitch hill belgian ale at the angry minnow brewpub with dinner

countless smiles and high fives and congrats.

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ok, there you have it! this was one of the best things i’ve ever done. going back to the quote, and to a year ago, i had no idea what the past 12 months would hold, but by actively choosing my own adventure in life, by choosing another path, i got to show up last weekend ready to tackle just about anything. i got to tackle the amazing American Birkiebeiner!

AND, i realize that i get to do that, to choose my own adventure every single day.

 

 

muse monday: lauren fleshman edition

its great to have goals and sometimes i arrive at the point of a new goal by witnessing the awesome going on around me and being inspired. a few weeks ago, maybe longer, #sisterhero Lauren Fleshman posted somewhere on social media about some of her lady muses. as someone who loves to see women applaud and celebrate one another, i loved this!

i’ve been following Lauren since she ran the NYC Marathon in 2011 and ever since, i’ve been fan girl-ing so hard. sure, she’s an friggin amazing athlete, a successful business owner, a great partner to another successful athlete, and an inspiring mom to one cute baby. but i think what struck me is that she’s never been anything other than sincere.

when you’re not an elite athlete, it’s easy to think that those who are are some of the “haves” and those of us who aren’t elites, well, that we’re the “have not’s” but in following Lauren, it never seems that way. she suffers like the rest of us – through tough runs and injury and constantly evaluating priorities. she seems, in a word, brave because she stands up for what’s real.

true story: i decided a few months ago to join the #PickyClub and one of the perks was a t-shirt with my membership. I tweeted Lauren about the shirt sizing and she replied back to me. directly. and within an hour or two. seriously! (follow her!)

by theunnamed-1 way, my shirt arrived – and fits just as i’d hoped…

and not only that, but the Picky Bars are great, too!

ok, ok…back to why I think Lauren is great. i struggled for over a year with some yucky injury and at the same time, she was sharing her rehab and her return to getting into racing shape after becoming a mother. there are no frills. just honesty and hard work.

she’s inspired me, from afar, to go after my dreams. to realize that while there may be setbacks along the way, it’s always a good idea to try again, and she’s also reminded me to surround myself with other people who want to do great things. i love following Lauren online and i love the opportunity to support a person in whatever way i can as they strive for their own goals.

so, thank you to my inaugural monday muse, Lauren Fleshman. i’m inspired everyday and especially the days when i get the opportunity to believe a bit more in what’s to come!

what are your goals and who are the people that inspire you to get after it?!

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on goals.

I’ve been stewing on this post and a few others for a little bit now. here’s the thing: we’ve all got goals. for me, goal setting has been a way to set myself in motion – to move toward something. in the past, I’ve done a fairly good job at achieving the goals I’ve set for myself, but I haven’t been as structured as I strive to be. this year is the year I’m working, wholeheartedly to change that.

a while back, Oiselle founder Sally B. tweeted the following (oh, and follow her, you won’t regret it):

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and I was all like, “YESYESYES, somebody is on the same page as me!!!”

the thing about goals, and often about setting goals is that they’re usually a destination. something to achieve. somewhere to go. for me, time, a race distance, a finish line…pushing myself to the next level or to see what my limits are.

and that’s all fine and good, but as I get older I also realize that goals aren’t usually achieved in a straight line. and they don’t always have a definitive end.

and that is ok!

last month for me was a spectacular running month. I got way back into the running groove, systematically building my long miles up. suddenly I found myself with 10 or so days left in the month though sort of grabbing for an arbitrary goal of running 100 miles in the month of January. great in theory, but after a few days of self-debate, i realized my primary goal for right now – to get in shape for the Birkie. so, 100 running miles is an ok goal, just not when your next race is a 51km race on cross country skis.

adjust. simplify. edit. anchor. and go forward.

and greater than that, it takes some real strength, in my opinion, to take a step back and remember your own goals and not to get caught up in what they awesome people around you are doing. you certainly can’t achieve another person’s goals for them and that will certainly not make you happy or satisfied. expend your energy elsewhere.

I took January to set some good habits knowing that whatever life throws in the path of me achieving my goals…I can handle. this afternoon, it snowed and I could have made a ton of excuses for not running, but instead I got my booty out and did it.

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and I’m so glad I did. another thing I’ve been working on is being conscious of my goals and the steps I’m taking in their direction. I’m not only doing this for me, but also for the kids I get the privilege to coach. I want them to know that they can brave the elements and whatever life tosses their way – that road blocks aren’t permanent and that its all going to be ok.

call me crazy, but I’ve been an athlete for over 20 years of my life and one thing I know for sure is that if you keep going, you’ll see that goal come alive.

sauca.

i have this book called Meditations from the Mat: daily reflections on the path of yoga. my mom gave it to me a few years ago and i’m ever so slowly making my way through it. definitely not daily, but just like my yoga practice – i return to it when i need to. and every so often, i open the book and it’s like SPLAT, everything i needed to hear is right there. today was one of those days.

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this morning the message was that, “sauca is the moment on our path when we begin to take the maintenance of our physical condition seriously.” the writer (Rolf Gates) goes on to tell us readers about some of his self-destructive habits and the self-sabotage he was experiencing and then how he had a spiritual awakening of sorts. he noticed people he admired treating their bodies well, having principles food, behavior, attitude, and beliefs. and much more. he says that he saw it as “an extension of the love these individuals felt toward themselves and others.” the part that struck me most was when he said that practicing sauca means turning beliefs into action.

i’ve been slow on this blog to talk about the past, hey, 9 months or so. i think mostly because i was in the midst of a transformation and frankly i couldn’t quite talk about it until i started to come to the other side. but once i read about sauca this morning i realized – that’s it! i didn’t consciously do THIS sauca thing because i didn’t KNOW what IT was, but i realize now that i began, in maybe March of last year, slowly grabbing ahold of my beliefs that got a little sidetracked and i began pulling them back to me and i started turning them into action.

one thing that struck me is that i have this piece of string tied around my wrist. i put it there as a reminder – i can’t remember when i put it there and i can’t even remember exactly what the reminder was except to be true to myself. but i think it’s been there for close to a year now. i see it and feel it and in the tiniest way it has been a reminder to keep on moving forward.

another part of what i read today that resonated was, “each step we take on this path is a step into the unknown and a confirmation of our ability to live a better life.”

i see that piece of string and i’m reminded that it’s ok to let go of the things that no longer serve you: bad relationships, overindulging, eating poorly, never going to yoga, not taking running and health seriously, not sleeping, staying in a job that doesn’t sing to you…

and this all relates to running as i’ve been trying to ramp up my mileage a bit recently and just a few weeks ago i realized that i’ve been running mostly pain-free for a little while now. it feels good to feel good and it feels awesome to feel more like the running me again.

i know this is, in part, to my awesome active-release doc and to me being patient, but also because i’ve been increasingly diligent in working to get back to this place. maybe that little piece of string also reminded me to keep taking steps, even baby steps, to change the path i was on.

so it really is about going for it. taking one step and then another step. and for me, always – that constant forward motion.

happy new year!

huzzah…and just like that, it’s 2015!

i was going to write a year-end post. and i was going to write a list. and then i wasn’t going to write a darn thing. but today i was having some realizations about the year past and the year ahead.

so, here goes.

i bid adieu to 2013 a bit over a year ago with a facebook post that said, “sayonara, 2013. you were OK, bit I’m certain 2014 has a lot more in store …”

and boy, oh boy, it sure did! (and yes, i did just use ‘adieu’ because i recently watched the sound of music [singalong] and that was awesome)

anyway, let’s do a quick recep: 2014 was pretty good. lots of changes happened in my life and hey, turns out i’m not totally afraid of change. i embraced that sh!t. early in the year i began actually friggen job searching. i had a good job, but it wasn’t really making me happy so i made the decision to make a change. i was turned down for one and then another and then, just when i thought maybe i was going to be a little stuck – the tables changed. i was offered a position and it turned out to be the bomb-diggity. like, i’m glad the other things didn’t workout, because this new job is pretty great.

also in 2014, i got my groove back. like – running-wise. i spent a bit of $$ getting some hands-on rehab/treatment. yesterday i woke up to run the new year’s day dash – a 5 miler to kick off the running year and let me say, first and foremost, the best part was maybe that it set a tone for me for the year ahead. and second, while i did go out and celebrate on NYE, i was able to get out there and run a solid race. boom! and while i was out there, i realized, it’s been a few months of running for me that i basically feel good most of the time running. and that hasn’t happened since 2013 – for sure!

and you know what else…i embraced change. i allowed myself to feel uncomfortable. it it paid off.

so yesterday, i started the year with a run and i deliberately brought along my “do epic shit” t-shirt along to wear post-race. it reminds me of the last time i really felt like i grabbed life by the horns and did some really awesome stuff. i think i earned it by either running the most miles in a day or over the course of the weekend – and it was just a time in my life when i was doing the stuff that made me darn happy. i love that.

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so folks, i hope for you as i’m planning for myself – you can take some steps and do some epic shit. do what seems epic to you – it doesn’t have to be grand like running a silly amount of miles – just something that propels you forward. take a chance, try something new. go explore that thing that makes you feel uncomfortable or a little bit scared. smile from your head to your toes and everywhere in between. stand in the light. but please, let’s all agree to go for it!

you got this.

twenty nine.

i’ve been thinking of things that might commemorate my birthday this year: a list of 29 things. they can’t be all about running because frankly, i haven’t been running long enough. maybe a combo of things about running and life? hmm. perhaps. or 29 repeats of a big hill? running-related, no less.

IMG_4680maybe there’s no grand gesture to celebrate another year on earth. that’s a distinct possibility, too.

i don’t even know.

tonight i showed up at practice – with the team i help coach and they humbled me and another coach and friend (whose birthday was today) and lit candles and brought sweet treats and we warmed up briefly and then did about an hour of awesome yoga led by a fellow-coach (and new friend). i felt honored and something. when you do yoga with others – it’s a truly transformative experience.

i guess i felt the love.

NAMASTE!

(does it break the rules if you type it in all CAPS?)

whatever, NAMASTE, CRRC!

we’ll see what tomorrow brings!

Birkie 2015, here we come!

a few months ago i met a new friend. we initially met and bonded over a mutual love for the Ironman Wisconsin finish line. (well, that’s how i remember it…and what’s not to love about the Ironman Wisconsin finish line?) flash forward to November -a few months later along with a few messages and ultimately a handful of pottery classes later, with winter upon us – we were both deeply immersed in wedging some clay at the start of class and my new friend turned to me and said, “shayla, what are you doing this weekend – saturday and sunday? do you have plans?”

i replied that i was busy friday, but my inquiring mind also asked, “why? what’s up?”

and then she quickly responded, “do you want to take a trip up north to kick off our Birkie training?”

YUP!

you see, she and i had briefly talked about doing the Birkie a while back and then another friend of mine mentioned that she was new to skiing, but also signed up – so i bit the bullet and committed to skiing the Birkie in 2015.

my brief history with cross country skiing is as follows: in 2010 i decided to spend a decent amount of money on a pretty good skate ski setup. i skied a fair amount that winter, a little bit in 2011-2012, and very few times over the past two winters. some of it was cold (read: me being wimpy) and some of it was life (read: excuses), but i actually realized over the past two winters that i really enjoy being outside and being active in all of Wisconsin’s seasons – winter included. and what better way to get out and enjoy it than to ski an ultramarathon event? (yep, 51km!)

so, after a day or maybe two i let my friend know that yes, i was indeed in for a mini ski adventure weekend!

we hit the road early(ish) saturday morning towards Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (the UP). admittedly, i knew we were headed to a place called Ironwood but i didn’t realize until we were there that it was in another state. oh, details…

when we arrived, driving down back country roads to the trails we were greeted with this:

IMG_4603a snow-covered winter wonderland! i think at one point we both turned to face one another and somewhat giddy, said, “WOW!”

after pulling into the packed place and some fun banter with the guy working the gate, we quickly (ok, me pokily) changed and headed out for some solid ski time. my first 20 minutes were close to awful. i hadn’t waxed my skis since February and i felt like a fish out of water or some other appropriate analogy. after watching me struggle, my awesome friend swapped skis with me (so i could glide a bit and attempt to keep up). we toured around a bunch of trails and i only wiped out once. it was a perfectly balmy 35-degree day and we ended up logging at least 10 miles.

IMG_4612here we are early into day 1 – fresh faced and obviously excited for the adventure ahead.

we soon called it a day, but not before snapping some photos of the amazing scenery:

IMG_4605we spent the remainder of our saturday relaxing, eating dinner with the locals in nearby Hurley, Wisconsin, and each enjoying glasses of the best $3.50 wine i’ve ever had.

sunday morning we were up again relatively early – well, early enough to grab some breakfast before arriving promptly at 9am when the trails were slated to open. sunday morning the weather was 20 degrees colder. we were sitting pretty at about 15 degrees (with a bit of a windchill), so we both bundled up a bit more ready to tackle a few more hours before heading back to Madison. my friend skated with me a bit and also got the opportunity to laugh at me as i attempted to climb and descend some of the biggest hills on the trails. let’s just say that my descents especially need some work. when i lost my balance i simply tried to kind of sit down or bail softly to the side. after we finished that first 5k or so i said i would be done with hills for the day. we skied a bit more – parting ways once or twice and i snapped this (not fantastic) selfie at some point. at least you can see how much more frosty i was on sunday than when we were out saturday.

IMG_4609then, a bit later, after a break in the warming house, my friend switched to her classic skis, we went out, and voila, i could finally keep up! i snapped another picture as i logged my final miles for the day!

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all in all, i think i logged a bit over 20 miles in the two days we were out there. i’ve definitely got a bit of work to do, but i feel a lot better knowing that i successfully started building a skiing base.

thank you Ironwood and Hurley for the loads of snow. thank you body for holding up for me to log some awesome first miles of the season. and thank you friend for asking me to take this adventure with you into the north woods to kickoff our 2015 Birkie training! really, here goes…