2015 training for heart & brain


Resolutions are such bunk. What better way to start off a new year than setting ourselves up for failure?! And yet, thanks to radio and television programs which drone on about resolutions, resolutions seem unavoidable. It’s no surprise many of us buy into the idea that we must dramatically change our life. Why do we torture ourselves so?!

Sure, a new year definitely brings with it the idea of renewal, rebirth, rejuvenation, but let’s tone it down a little, folks. Let’s reframe those resolutions.

First, pause. Take a few moments for silence. Turn off the tv or radio, step away from the computer, put down the Smart Phone or tablet, and listen to the quiet . . . then search your heart. Chances are you know what changes you need to consider. Notice I wrote “consider,” not “start.” For me, just acknowledging and thinking about a specific issue I’m struggling with is a hard enough “start.”

While I’m not a big follower of self-help gurus, I’ve learned some of their notions are pretty spot-on. Take, for instance, the idea that most changes we make in our lives do not come easily. To change, we first must want it.

Another truism gurus spout is being steady with one’s progress. While quick results definitely feed that baby within who “wants what she wants and she wants it NOW,” real results come from taking a slower, more focused and conservative approach to change.

In 2014 I identified four goals I wanted to complete: the spring Hawkeye 50k trail run in Solon, the annual Cornbelt 24-Hour-Run in May, the Racine, Wis., Ironman 70.3 in July and by year’s end, lose 30 pounds. Three out of four ain’t bad.

The 50k was awful, but I finished. The 24-Hour-Run was a joyful riot and I’m definitely doing it again. The half Ironman was amazing so I’m doing that again, too. But the weight loss? Hmmmmm.

Food, per se, is not the enemy, it’s what I eat. For the record, I love garbage. Chips, candy and pastries? Deep fried anything, heavy cream sauces and extra cheese? Bring it!

I’m 8 pounds lighter going into 2015 and while that’s far from the 30 I’d hoped to drop, it’s been a year of learning how hunger, boredom and anxiety play into how and what I eat. In the past year, I’ve really begun to experience the power food holds over me.

A year ago I embarked on a 90-day candy experiment in which I cut candy from my diet. Are there times when I’ll eat candy? Sure, but I don’t consider it a daily or even weekly component of what I put in my mouth.

I did a couple of cleanses and food challenges and through them, am gaining a better understanding of portion size, calorie count and that if I string together too many days “good” eating, I get really, super grumpy.

I’m seeing I will never achieve eating perfection and that it’s ok to have days where I “blow it” and eat anything and everything. What matters is how I follow up those junk days. When I refocus my senses, allow my body to feel hunger and provide necessary structure for my eating, I don’t feel like a failure.

I bought the book “100 Days of Real Food” by Lisa Leake and am realizing the importance of cooking, and that preparing a box of Hamburger Helper does not constitute cooking. I and my family don’t need to drown our veggies in cheese or our pasta in heavy sauces.

I guess I’m growing more mindful of the impact healthy and unhealthy food has on me and my family, and that I don’t have to be so black and white about my food choices. It’s ok to indulge so long as the Big Picture focuses on better health.

Early last month I discovered hot tea. I’ve always wanted to be a tea drinker, but coffee has been my standard go-to. Then one morning I dropped a tea bag in hot water and “Bam! I’ve been doing it every morning since. Does that mean I don’t drink coffee? Heck no! As with candy, I’m totally game for coffee, but I don’t need it.

For 2015 my goals include losing 20 pounds, shaving at least 30 minutes off my Ironman time and focusing less on racing and more on increasing strength and balance. And not just in a physical sense.

As evidenced by Linda Watson’s column last week, change is in full swing at The Observer and who knows where that change will take us. It seems prudent, at the very least, that I slow down and focus on each day. How can I make it better, not just for myself, but for my family and those around me?

I pared down my calendar of events. Instead of four marathons, I’ll just do two. Instead of a race every weekend, just one or two a month. And with both kids in middle school, include them in my training with spins in the basement and hikes at Maquoketa Caves, Scott County Park and the dirt tracks of the Paul Skeffington Memorial Trail.

My 11-year-old son and I like to joke about our 1-pack abs, but when I spin on my bike in the basement or bust out 300 crunches, I want my kids to understand it’s not about the size of my jeans or what I look like. It’s about function. I cannot run or bike or swim or anything if my body doesn’t function properly, which brings me back to food. We can exercise 8 hours a day, but if we’re not eating well, we won’t function.

At Casa Reed Murrell, we don’t diet. We train—our brains, to crave healthier food and our bodies, to live stronger. We’re far from perfect, but we’re moving forward.

If I gleaned anything from my 2014 calendar it was that more is not necessarily a good thing. So I invite you to step into some silence and meditate on what your heart and body are trying to tell you. What is it that needs altering in your life? Maybe it’s nixing Coke, maybe it’s removing a game from your Smart Phone, maybe it’s adding more Down Time to your life.

Whatever your gut is telling you, I promise you change is possible.


Originally published 3 January 2015 in The Observer.

Marathon joy found in miles of smiles


Last weekend saw the 17th running of the Quad Cities Marathon. I wasn’t looking forward to it.

Since July’s Ironman 70.3 I haven’t been doing much training. Sure I had a few events since then: Bix, Ragnar Great River, Glow Run 5k, Clinton Half Marathon 10k and Iowa’s Best Dam Tri (sprint). But I wasn’t fired up about a single one of them. I was tired.

So why didn’t I take some time off? Fear. Irrational fear, at that. Despite knowing I have a fabulous group of training buddies, when I get scared, I forget that everything is ok and will be ok. I forget that taking a break will not send me back to the nether regions of life before I started running. I forget that breaks are actually good for the body. Hindsight remains 20/20.

By mid September, however, I was beginning to feel the old mojo return. Fresh off witnessing training buddy and friend Laura Snook from LeClaire complete Ironman Wisconsin (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run), I waffled on whether to change my QC Marathon registration from the full to the half.

When Laura reminded me the marathon would be buddy Marilynn Bartels’ first marathon, we opted to stay at the full distance and see Marilynn through to the end.

I remained leery because I hadn’t run long since June, but by the time I arrived in Moline on race morning, I was excited to be doing it with so many friends.

Sunday was my 11th marathon and I can truly say I’ve gained more than just a medal from each one. But the most important thing I’ve gained is friends. While it may sound a little pithy, it’s true!

My first marathon was Chicago 2010. I didn’t know anyone and because much of my training was done solo, I thought marathoning was a solitary endeavor.

The following spring I ran the Illinois Marathon for my second and wrote the following Facebook note to my family:

In the summer of 1994 when I interned at The Observer, I took up running—laps and laps around that wee lil’ track in the Hart Center (DeWitt Fitness Center).

When I wasn’t doing that, I’d be bugging Gramma Kroymann at J & K Kids (now home to Family Tree consignment shop). One time when I’d come in from a run, she told me I was nuts and that I should put on some makeup.

Fast forward to April and the Illinois Marathon, somewhere in the final mile. I was fading and just trying to make it to the finish. I started thinking about prayer and how it didn’t feel right to ask for God’s help since I wasn’t running for a charity and I’d voluntarily put myself there.

Then I thought about Grampa Kroymann and then Gramma and instantly heard in my head, “You IDIOT! What are you doing?!” with the image of Gramma standing by her microwave doing a fake little faint and slapping the counter with an exasperated sigh. I smiled a little and then went back to focusing on the misery of this last mile.

The route went under a train bridge and just as I was coming out from under it, I started to walk. That’s when some guy in an orange shirt came up from behind me and said, “Come on Baby Cakes! We’re gonna do this thing together! I’ll run with you!”

So I ran with him a few strides and then told him I had to stop. That’s when he grabbed my right hand and started pulling me along. “Come on! You can do this! We’re going to finish this with a 4 in front!” (Meaning in under 5 hours.)

He pulled me along for about a half mile. At one point, I said to him “You’re so kind.” He replied, “Hey, we’re all family out here! marathon cupcakesWe help each other out!” I have to admit that A) it was a little weird holding hands with this guy, but whatev; and 2) what was Marty going to think when he saw me run into the stadium all cozy with this guy?!

I finally had to tell him, “I gotta let go.” And then he released my hand. I don’t remember if we said anything more to each other, I only remember his orange shirt. With only a quarter mile left, I figured I’d find him afterwards and thank him. But I couldn’t find him! ANYWHERE!

A few days later, after I’d been telling everyone about my ‘Angel in Orange’ it dawned on me that mere moments before he came up on me, I’d been thinking about Gramma, secretly asking for some help….

Even in my idiocy, Gramma continues to watch over me, offering little nuggets of aid in the strangest of places and ways.

~Now it’s three and a half years later and I get it! I “get” why my ‘Angel in Orange’ did that for me! It’s not about the time clock, it’s about the time: not in minutes and seconds, but in people and smiles!

We thanked the volunteers and Hi-5’ed the kids! We shouted encouragement to our fellow runners and mugged for photographers! We even sang, “Everything is AWESOME!” from the Lego movie!

~Sure we suffered—it was hot and the last 6 miles are a soulless lesson in punishment. In spite of the many impressive PRs logged that day, Laura summed it up best when she said, “This is a PW, personal worst.”

But we knew when we laced up that morning, it wasn’t about us, it was about Marilynn . . . and that little minx did wonderfully! Just after Mile 19 as we approached the final bridge off Arsenal Island, Marilynn started bee-bopping off ahead of us, smiling and chit-chatting with a runner who joined us a few miles earlier.

About a mile ahead of us, we saw her again after she passed under the inflatable Wall, smiling and waving at us heading into the 23rd mile.

When Laura and I eventually crossed the finish line, we’d logged one of our slower marathons, but for me, it was one of my most enjoyable. Having been so wrapped up in dread beforehand, I’d forgotten how fun running for the heck of it could be.

We accomplished our goal, seeing Marilynn through her first marathon, the rest was icing on the cupcake!


Originally published 4 Oct 2014 in The Observer.

Triathlon: From sprint to 70.3 in 12 months


At this time one year ago I was in the final days of training for my first triathlon, DeWitt’s own Crossroads. Last weekend I completed my first Ironman 70.3 in Racine, Wisconsin.

I’m sharing this not to brag or boast, but to encourage any of you who ever had a whisper of a thought like, “Could I?” to prove to you, “Yes, you can!”

When I completed last year’s Crossroads, my goals were pretty simple: don’t drown, don’t crash, don’t crawl. Time? Reaching that finish line was Numero Uno.

After I finished, I was quite certain I’d do more triathlons and within just a couple of months, with one sprint tri under my belt, I registered for a half Ironman. A couple of my training buddies found it humorous that I’d take such a leap, but given my propensity for action before thought, it made perfect sense to me.

Racine 70.3I am lucky to have a host of local friends who regularly do this type of sport. They are completely to blame, not only for infecting my goals, but also in seeing I achieve them. While some people may have the moxy to train and prepare without the support of others, I am not that island.

So how does a half Ironman compare to a sprint tri? At the Crossroads, the swim is 500 yards in Lake Kildeer compared to Racine’s IM being 1.2 miles in Lake Michigan. The bike is 15 miles of rolling hills as opposed to 56 miles of mostly flat, though bumpy roads with the run being a single 3.1-mile out-and-back route compared with a 2-loop, moderately flat course totaling 13.1 miles.

Because I’d already done plenty of running this year, I cut back my normal running schedule and focused more on swimming and biking. Factor in that I’m an old RAGBRAI’er at heart, even the biking wasn’t too strenuous as muscle memory, even from years ago, allowed me to ramp up my mileage fairly quickly. That, and finally, after enjoying my road bike since 2000, having a “fitting” done.

With several people referring me to Dan Adams at Healthy Habits in Bettendorf, he put my bike on a trainer, watched me ride and then began tinkering. He replaced my stem, handle bars and bike seat, added aero bars and with mere millimeters of adjustment, had me feeling so fabulous I’d swear it was a different bike!

The only thing left was to address my swimming. Throughout the winter, my friend and trainer Ray Porter had dissected and rebuilt my crawl stroke to improve efficiency and power. That’s well and good, but last month’s QC Sprint Tri proved the second I hit open water, anxiety completely renders me incapable of anything other than laying on my back and kicking my feet.

I’m not afraid of the unknown beneath me and while I initially thought it had to do with the feeling of my wetsuit around my neck, is something weirdly mental that seems to only happen in open water. Does it go back to my days as a lifeguard at Wacky Waters when we’d do early-morning lake searches for possible drowning victims? Who knows, but it certainly could.

Fortunately my open water freak outs began decreasing thanks to specific breathing exercises that address the limbic system in my brain where my emotions are controlled. (Like I said, WEIRD.) These, coupled with doing more open water swims at Scott County’s Lost Grove Lake and Lake G, helped get me comfortable in my wetsuit.

But no matter what kind of preparation a person does, once you stand on the shores of Racine’s North Beach and stare at that massive body of water that you’re required to swim in? The prayers come quick and fast.

Fortunately I was not alone in this endeavor as DeWitt resident and local trainer Matt Dingbam of No Limit Fitness and his student (my cousin-in-law) John Melvin, also of DeWitt, committed to the Racine IM, too!

Each of us had our own reasons for doing so and our own goals to reach. And reach them we did! For now, however, I’m saving the experience for next week to encourage you to participate in next week’s Crossroads Triathlon, Saturday Aug. 2!

Whether as a member of a 3-person team or solo, it’s a wonderful event for a first-time tri. It’s not too late to get in on the fun so visit www.crossroadstriathlon.com for event information and registration.

You never know what you can do if you don’t try, or what dreams and goals a tri can unleash!


Originally published 26 July 2014 in The Observer.

Traithlon: Three athletes—one goal—all Ironmen


I’ve seldom met a hair-brained idea I didn’t like, and apparently I’m not alone! Enter No Limit Fitness owner Matt Dingbam and his client-friend (and my cousin-in-law), John Melvin.

Both DeWitt residents and I were among the 2,606 athletes who competed in last month’s July 20th half Ironman in Racine, Wisconsin.

I remember speaking briefly with Matt at last year’s Paul Skeffington Memorial Race during which we both mentioned the I-word. Forget the fact neither of us had an ounce of experience with triathlon, the idea of taking on an Ironman was brewing in each of us.

flat jenny Racine 70.3 2014While I’d run countless races including several marathons, that Skeff Race was quite special for Matt and John. It was their first. EVER.

Their experience in DeWitt, from the cheering crowds to seeing family members on the course, prompted the two of them to sign up for more races throughout 2013, culminating with the IMT Des Moines Marathon in October. From 5 miles to 26.2 miles in four months! Even I’d call that cray-cray!

This seemingly over-zealous approach to running offers us a peak into the psyches of Matt and John. Meeting each obstacle with fortitude, each goal with tenacity, it’s no surprise neither man shied away from the challenge of the 70.3, which represents the cumulative mileage of a half Ironman—1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run.

While I’ve logged thousands of miles on foot and bike, and probably as many laps as far back as college, I had a smidgeon of what would be required of me. Matt and John? Gut instinct, alone.

“I had always thought about triathlons,” Matt told me, “but I had never even road biked or really swam for distance. I decided to ‘Go Big or Go Home’ and signed up for Ironman Racine, knowing I would figure it out along the way.

“Of course, John Melvin followed my lead as he did not want me to do this alone!”

John and Matt knew each other, but it wasn’t until John began attending boot camp at No Limit Fitness when Matt unlocked John’s potential and the two developed a friendship that would transform their goals into a partnership.

Matt came at the 70.3 with calculated training and focus while John brought the grit, fine-tuned by his years in the military.

“I’ve always reminded myself to ‘Embrace the Suck,’” noted John, using a mantra made common by Iraq war veteran and writer Col. Austin Bay.

“The truth is that my preparation plan was changed constantly due to weather, work, family, money and any other reason.”

In fact, John’s work took him out of country to India for three weeks during the final month before Racine. As if the surroundings weren’t taxing enough, the 16+ hour work days prevented any training and it was then that John decided the Ironman was lost.

Perfectly understandable, life getting in the way and all, skipping the Ironman gnawed at John. Yes, the training wasn’t there, “but why not try?” he wondered.

At the last minute, John opted to ‘Embrace the Suck’ at a level few of us will experience. “Using this logic,” he explained. “I’ve been able to adapt to obstacles on and off the course that are always working to keep you down.”

He, Matt and I met up at the Ironman Expo the day before the race and then John and I drove the bike course.

It was during that drive when he verbalized the essence of strength: facing the fear regardless of outcome. Fear of the unknown robs so many from achieving greater heights. Sure John wanted to finish, but it was facing the possibility of trying and not finishing that was his foe.

But is it such a novel foe? Matt, John and I all brought our own fears to the 70.3 table. Turns out all three of us were less than enthused about the swim in Lake Michigan.

“When I arrived at Lake Michigan I got a sick feeling,” Matt admitted. “I could not quit looking at the lake and wondering how in the world I was going to be able to swim 1.2 miles in this huge body of water.”

Though water temperature was a chilly 61 degrees that Sunday morning, we were lucky to have calm conditions and a glass-like lake. Starting in waves divided by gender and age, we each navigated the breath-stealing cold and fell into steady swims that, once finished, buoyed our spirits for the remaining bike and run.

While Matt and I were confident of our abilities on the bike, John faced the real “meat” of this challenge during the ride. Prior to the Ironman, the longest John had ridden was 25 miles. Aside from the common aches and pains every cyclists copes with, John rode a borrowed bike in which the seat sloped downward. This would be his proverbial shining hour, shining four hours, to be exact.

He knew he could probably reach the 30-mile point, and the 13.1-mile run? If all else failed, he could walk it, but those final 26 miles on the bike? It was a giant, looming cloud of wonder that he answered with a ROAR by cruising through those 26 miles and on through the run.

All three of us reached our goals.

For Matt, this was his first triathlon and he finished in 6 hours and 28 minutes. “The sense of accomplishment and ‘runner’s high’ lasted for two days straight!” In the Finisher’s Tent, Matt met Lionel Sander, the overall winner who snagged victory with a time of 3:45.

“Even though I was totally satisfied,” Matt said, “I knew I would need to do a full IM (Ironman) to reach my full goal! At the same time I was thinking this, I got a text from John that said the exact same thing!”

For John, this was his second triathlon and despite the training woes and borrowed bike, he conquered the fear and crossed the finish line at 8:04!

“There was a time when the Crossroads (Triathlon) was the most difficult obstacle in front of me, then a marathon, then a 70.3,” John said. “My point to anyone thinking about doing something outside the box is this: keep moving forward and focusing on your goals. Everything else always seems to fall into place.”

Myself? I came in at 7:03, 27 minutes ahead of my goal! And yes, as with Matt and John, I too have set my sights on the bigger, badder full Ironman: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run.

Matt put it best, “To be continued . . . when (we) sign up for the 140.6.”


Originally published 2 August 2014 in The Observer.