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.

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.

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.