Northeast wins in cakes & melons


It was a double-win weekend for Northeast! First, the Fine Arts Boosters held its annual cake auction Friday between the girls and boys varsity basketball games against Cascade. Though the basketball victories may have gone to the Cascade Cougars, the cakes went to Rebel supports like . . . well, hot cakes!

During the live auction, my husband Marty hoped to take one back to his employer, but as bids climbed toward $1,000 he opted to snag a couple of smaller ones from the silent auction.

For one who has a major sweet tooth, but tries to eat healthy, the cake auction was a mine field! I fantasized about scooping up palms full of frosting and shoving it in my face. As we sold pieces by the slice, I actually had to tell myself (out loud), “Don’t lick the knife.” I fingered the $20 in my pocket, trying not to throw it down and flee with a box!

I refused to let Marty bring his two cakes into the house. Having enjoyed a slice at the auction, I knew how wonderfully delicious they were. It was either devour an entire cake or resign myself to a few smaller cakes of the dry, puffed rice variety.

In all, the Northeast Fine Arts Boosters took in over $8,000! But that would not be the end of Northeast success for the weekend.

It’s hard to believe it, but the 2015 triathlon season is underway, kicked off last Sunday in Muscatine with the 21st Annual Try Melon Tri at the Muscatine Family YMCA. While this indoor sprint tri is a standard for many of my pals, last weekend was my first time. And what a time!!!

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Obviously the event can’t start with all 106 people cannonballing into a pool at once so participants, who are assigned a timer (mine was volunteer Lisa Longtin of Muscatine), are placed into 9-person start waves taking off every 30 minutes.

Start times are based on one’s estimated swim time for 900 yards (or 18 50-yard laps). I didn’t think my 15 minute estimate was overly ambitious, but it put me with the Big Guns in one of the earlier waves. When the whistle blew the field left me choking on their splash.

I felt like a tug boat slowly chugging along, especially given the two young women on either side of me who apparently had gills instead of lungs, flipper vs. feet. They slipped along, seemingly without effort, gliding smoothly through their laps.

ITry Melon Tri 2015 bike was second to last out of the pool, posting a time of 18:14, much slower than I hoped. Oops. After wasting three minutes drying off and pulling pants on over my swimsuit as well as socks and shoes onto my feet it was off along a carpeted runway to the stationary bikes.

Prior to the start, a stationary bike at the registration table allowed participants to determine their appropriate seat and handlebar height. When I reached an open bike, I quickly made my adjustments and started spinning, my timer Lisa doubling as a wonderfully supportive towel/water girl.

A small handlebar monitor provided distance and time. I finished the 10 miles in 19:09. Again, given the time I lost in the pool, I was second to last off the bike.

It was time for the “fun” part: 40 laps/2.5 miles on an indoor track. While running is what I do the most, it remains my weakest sport. I’m a turtle, a back-of-the-pack’er! While I shuffled around and around, I found myself in the opening scene of last’s year’s Captain America movie “The Winter Soldier.”

Remember how the movie starts, in the pre-dawn hours on Washington D.C.’s Mall when Sam Wilson aka Falcon is out for his morning run? He’s soon lapped THREE times by Steve Rogers aka Captain America, saying, “On your left.”

I felt like I was standing still as a pony-tailed blur in black and blue flew past me. Then it hit me! This was the woman I chatted with before the swim, the same woman who, when I told her where I was from said, “I grew up near Charlotte!”

It was Nancy Foxen, daughter of the late Don and Judy Paulsen, 1996 graduate of Northeast! And she DOMINATED! Turns out this indoor tri thing is her deal! And she lapped me way more than three times.

When I talked with Nancy several days later, she said she ran track and cross country in high school, but it wasn’t until after college when her husband’s work lead her back into sports. Chris is the high school track and cross country coach at Muscatine, “my husband is definitely a big influence on my health,” she said. “Running just got more important.”

As Nancy and I talked, she shared that swimming was her weakest area and that it was only six years ago when some friends taught her to swim. She competed in the Crossroads Tri in DeWitt a few years ago, but the swim portion wasn’t fun.

Nancy explained if she’s going to participant in an event, she wants to enjoy it and perform well. Open water swimming can be nightmarish, which I can certainly attest to, and because of this, she limits her triathlons to the indoor variety.

Last Sunday marked her third year of taking overall women’s honors at the Try Melon Tri, making her the winningest female in the event’s 21-year history! Not only that, but each of the three years she has bested herself and Sunday’s time of 49:42 was the fastest women’s time ever posted!

The event attracted 88 men and women as well as 18 teams. Way out of Nancy’s league, I posted a 1:05:54, good enough for a second place age group award. Medals are fun, don’t get me wrong, but it’s meeting people like my timer Lisa and especially Nancy that make these endeavors all the more worth it!


Originally published 31 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.

Dining on ‘tri’ humble pie—injury


Humble pie. It tastes a lot more yucky than crow, but over the last week I’ve been eating quite a bit of it.

That stuff I wrote last week about taking it easy now that summer’s here? Well . . . I didn’t want to mention it, but I did the Quad Cities Triathlon last weekend. And I broke.

As with last August’s Crossroad Triathlon, I panicked during the open water swim and ended up swimming the majority of it on my back. Miraculously, though it was 100 yards longer than the Crossroads, I finished a minute and a half faster last weekend!

Unfortunately that gain was quickly thwarted by my apparent lollygag from swim to bike. At last August’s Crossroads my first transition time was a mere 1:44, comparatively last weekend it was 4:31. And things just went downhill from there.

20140614_174023_AndroidI’ve been pretty distracted lately, likely due to tonight’s annual Paul Skeffington Memorial Race. I never thought I’d be a part of something so big! For me, the Skeff Race runs the gamut from star harriers to leisurely walkers and the many paces in between. I love that it’s been around for 27 years and I hope you all go out and enjoy it tonight, either by participating or cheering.

But back to my meltdown . . . with my primary focus being on pre-race details, any efforts to formulate a plan for the triathlon were useless. I’m terrible at multi-tasking so it’s no wonder my mind was everywhere but “in the moment.”

The result of being so scattered was that I attacked the 15-mile bike portion of the event with a vigor I can only imagine rabid dogs having, I was actually, literally, foaming at the mouth. I shifted my bike gears into the big ring and gave it all I had.

I’ve been riding a lot more this year than last year, but I’ve spent minimal time riding in the large gear ring. Bigger ring means harder pedaling BUT faster speed.

While the QC Tri bike course is pretty flat, there are a few significant hills. Couple that with increasing winds and it made for a hard 51 minute ride compared to last year’s Crossroad which I rode 90 seconds faster AND felt much better doing. I remember feeling a joy during last year’s ride. But last Saturday? I was merely trying to muscle my way through it and get it done.

I’m still trying to figure out exactly when it happened, but sometime after I rode up to the transition area and got off my bike, I bent over several times while changes shoes, snagging a drink of water, etc. and something “went.”

I was too scattered, breathless, shaky, and let’s not forget, foamy, for real pain to register. I blew it off as mere tightness and headed out for the 5k run. But once I began running, I noticed my left leg not working very well. Thinking I was just breathless, I walked a bit.

After about a half mile of running and walking, I realized I was dragging my left leg. That’s when it hit me, “Uh oh. I’m hurt.” I finished, but once I knew I was injured, I got mindful in a hurry! I was conscious of each footfall, aware of how my muscles were feeling with each stride. But it was “too little, too late.”

So now what? After I finished, I message my soft tissue therapist who since last fall has dramatically helped correct issues with my running. Monday he determined I’d compressed a nerve near the sit bones of my pelvis during the bike that caused the glute muscle on my left side to stop working, making the groin and hamstring compensate and ultimately fail.

So does that mean I pulled my groin? Strained my hamstring? Kind of. As he explained, the whole area simply got way too beat up and now needs a rest. I have twice-daily exercises that he assigned me and I’m to stay off the bike for at least week. And most importantly, work on strengthening my mind/body connection.

Wednesday was my first workout since the triathlon so I did a slow mile in the pool, but without thinking, when I climbed out of the pool and swung my left leg up onto the deck, I re-activated the “ouch.” I’m here to report, lack of mindfulness brings nothing but trouble!

Which brings me back to the humble pie and how awful it tastes. I screwed up. I should have taken it easy. Instead, I was a crazy person.

Please do not think I’m Wonder Woman or think that I think I’m Wonder Woman. I share my highlights and lowlights as evidence that ANYONE can do this, that we don’t have to be naturally-gifted athletes to reach awesome heights. Regular people, you and me, do this stuff! But we have to use our heads . . . and I haven’t been.

Should I have skipped last weekend’s triathlon? Heck no! But as I reflect on it, I remember at no time during the event did I really, truly enjoy myself . . . and if it’s not fun, why bother?

So to those who are heading out for tonight’s Skeff Race, HAVE FUN! Personally I think it’s a lot harder to injure ourselves with a smile on our faces and a giggle in our bellies. But if you choose to go all out, stay focused. Really think about what your body is doing and how it feels in each moment.

Don’t fret the finish! As you feel that mind/body connection, celebrate the awesome strength that lies inside you! And when you see that chute, revel in the joy of our cheers pulling you in and over that finish line!


Originally published 21 June 2014 in The Observer.