Thursday, February 23, 2017

Switzerland visit and proud moments

Last month I had the awesome opportunity with work to travel to Zurich, Switzerland for some meetings. When I first found out about the trip, I was so excited. I know it probably sounds a bit spoiled but it had been about 2 years since I had been to Europe and was really anxious to go back. Although I have loved the trips to new places, my most recent travel has all been really halfway around the world to Asia, Australia, and Middle East. Going back to Europe, which has its own unique charm and feel, I was very excited for.

In addition, I was a little bit anxious. I had committed to myself that I would start 2017 off hard with dedicated training, eating healthy, and getting ready for my races this year. The plan for 2017 was to focus and I was a little worried I would get derailed immediately with a trip to Europe the 2nd week of the year.

However, with the awesome help and encouragement of my nutritionist and my coach, I left for Switzerland on a Sunday evening after getting in a full weekend's worth of workouts.  Even the first 24 hours into the trip, I was following my plan exactly and I felt really confident in the week ahead.

Traveling to Switzerland was nostalgic for me.  I had been to Switzerland once before, which was one of the first weekends and one of the only weekend trips I did when I studied abroad in college. It had been almost 10 years exactly since I had been to Switzerland. When I went that first time it was for a weekend to Interlocken, where I arrived on a bus, stayed in a hostel, had no money for any sort of excursions beyond that, and no exaggeration - had packed a backpack entirely full of wine juice boxes. I drank most of the weekend and made new friends and had one of the most memorable and funny weekends of my entire life on that trip to Interlocken, Switzerland

Ten years later, traveling on business, staying in a hotel, and packing business clothes - it felt like an entirely new experience and I was excited for it and humored by the juxtaposition between now and the last time I visited.

I arrived on a Monday afternoon after connecting at CDG in Paris, and was able to check into my hotel and then meet my friend Jess for dinner. One of the girls that I started with at the same time at GE has since moved to Zurich and I was excited to be able to reunite with her, and also be a part of a week of meetings with her, since we had never worked directly together even though we've both been at the company the same number of years.



Jess walked me through one of the older neighborhoods in Zurich, which was quiet on a Monday evening, but still adorable and charming with the lingering holiday lights still up in early January and a layer of snow on the ground. We ate at a Zurich style restaurant and I ordered a meat dish covered in a delicious mushroom gravy that was apparently a local specialty. It was amazing and I devoured it.



After dinner I stopped at a grocery store to pick up some yogurts and protein drinks to have throughout the week and then returned to the hotel to head to bed. I had committed to working out every morning and wanted to start the week off to a good start.

The office where we actually worked was in Baden, Switzerland, which meant I would take an 18 minute train ride every morning from Zurich to Baden with Jess and head in to the office there. It was really fun to take a train commute and the fresh snow made everything really beautiful. I fell in love with Zurich almost instantly and was so happy to be back in Europe again because it just has such a special feeling to it that I absolutely love.


The work week was busy with long days and dinners in the evenings but I just overall felt so happy on this trip being there. The trains always ran on time, people were helpful, and everything felt clean and safe in Zurich.

One of the things I love about Europe is that it is so easy to get to other places! On Wednesday, we actually took a day trip from Zurich, Switzerland to Belfort, France via a 2-hour train that ran smoothly and on time and was so simple to use. Belfort is home to one of our company's manufacturing facilities, which was extremely cool to see. We ate an amazing 3-course long French lunch and wandered around Belfort a little bit (in the rain unfortunately) in the afternoon before taking our train back to Switzerland.





Switzerland is nestled in between Germany and France so there is an interesting mix of cultures there and the official language they speak is Swiss German. Being that Switzerland is not a part of the European Union, there are things that are unique to that country - such as the outlets and the currency, the Swiss francs. I was able to make it through the week without having to buy a specific Swiss outlet adapter or taking out any cash by being able to borrow from friends and use my European adapter in my hotel room. But the fact that Switzerland is not a part of the EU was something that I had completely forgotten about until I arrived there!

One thing that I will say about the Swiss is that they have perfected the ways to eat melted cheese. I was able to eat fondue and raclette while I was there and I have to say that I prefer raclette entirely over fondue, but my goodness are they both delicious.



Friday after the end of the work day, I checked out of my hotel and moved over the apartment that my friend Jess lives in with her husband. He unfortunately was not in town, but it was also nice to have a girls weekend just with Jess. On Friday evening we joined a group of coworkers/friends for a nice dinner out and lots of wine that was so fun and felt cozy and warm as snow fell outside. Jess has a great group of ex-pats who have turned into friends, including someone who I used to work with back in 2008-2009 in Upstate NY who is now living in Zurich and a friend of Jess's! We all walked home after a full meal of delicious food and lots of wine. The snow falling made for a beautiful backdrop and lots of fun in a snow fight.




It was funny to me because the weekend before, we had a chance of snow in Atlanta that caused the whole city to shut down basically. But in Switzerland and other places where it is common, it's just part of what you do every day!

On Saturday, I started the day by going for a run and a workout at my hotel gym (see older post for details on that) and I finished the run around Lake Zurich and imagining what it would be like to be there in the warmer months. There is an Ironman race there, so it may be something I need to put on my list for the future!




After finishing up my workout, Jess and I spent the day wandering around the city stopping only for lunch, coffee, chocolate, and to wander into a few shops. It was a delicious but tiring day, so we hung out a bit at her apartment after being out all day, before heading over to another coworker/friend/expat's house for an amazing dinner of more raclette.  That cheese is like crack, I swear. It was sooo sooo good and so kind of our friend to host. I loved Saturday night!







There was less wine and wasn't as late as the night before though, as we were all getting up early in the morning to head out to go skiing! I was so excited that we were able to fit this in on the trip because being able to ski in the Alps just feels like a bucket list type of thing. I am not a big skiier, but this intrigued me for sure. I've only ever skiied in the Northeast so this was my first time at a big mountain and the views were breathtaking.




When we first arrived it was a bit of a white out and you could hardly see, but when the clouds would move away I would gasp and just have to stop skiing and stare for a little to take it all in. I'm sure that was extremely annoying to the people that I was skiing with but I couldn't help it. It was just too much to take in while also trying not to lose balance and fall off a mountain!





I was lucky that I was able to have a mix of gear that I brought, borrowed, and rented. Which had me looking a bit dorky but it all worked. I brought clothing and a neck warmer/ear covers, I borrowed snow pants from Jess's friend (they were too big but that's okay), I borrowed goggles and gloves from another one of Jess's friends, and I rented a ski jacket, skis and ski boots, and a helmet.


Unfortunately, Jess hurt herself on one of the first runs, which was really scary and my first time seeing ski patrol have to take someone down the mountain. She was unsure of exactly to what extent she'd hurt herself and didn't want to leave the mountain so we continued to ski while she rested in the lodge for the afternoon. We joined for lunch and after the day of skiing for a beer. I really enjoy skiing but things like this scare me a lot! I felt so bad for her and it reinforced me to ski extremely cautiously, as I always do - skiing with my skis in "pizza" and zig zagging extremely slowly down the mountain. When the sun was not out, it was really scary because everything just looked completely white and you couldn't tell if there were bumps or grooves in the snow.


We spent the evening actually going to the Swiss version of urgent care to have Jess's knee X-rayed and while there weren't any initial results of an injury, she found out later she tore her ACL, which is terrible. I was glad that I was there to help!

Overall, it was an incredible trip to Zurich that I am really, really proud of. It was a great week professionally as well as perfectly. I went into the week with a plan. I researched what would be available for me to exercise and where there were grocery stores. I worked out every single day while I was there - even on the weekends and even with early mornings and even with obstacles in the way. I prepped food ahead of time and brought healthy snacks with me and picked up a few more at the grocery store. I drank more espresso then I ever have to avoid the high fat milk in their lattes and cappucinos and I didn't have any of the random pastries that I was tempted to eat when I would walk by them.

But I also tried new foods and didn't hold back from having multiple servings of cheese raclette. I drank wine without stressing about it. I ate the Zurich style meat dish and sopped up the gravy with bread. I tried chocolates from 2 different chocolate shops we walked by and I didn't feel like I missed out on anything throughout the week. I feel like this trip is what life should be like. Looking back, I don't feel like I missed out on anything. I didn't feel like I did when I was there either. I came back feeling healthy and strong and HAPPY - not bloated and regretful. It was the most successful business travel I feel like I have ever had and certainly the most successful international trip I ever have had.

Sometimes I feel dorky when I think about the fact that I have a "coach" and a "nutritionist" - like, who am I?  Who do I think I am with a team of people that I pay to support me. It seems silly and over the top and I felt that way even as I wrote that at the beginning of this blog entry.

But then again, when I get to the end of this blog entry (and if any of you have as well) and I write about how happy I felt coming back and how good it was to have an international trip and still enjoy myself and indulge but also do it smartly while maintaining my overall life and fitness and health goals... it makes it all feel worth it. Maybe others can live balanced healthy lives on their own, but I am the kind of person who needs a support team and that's what works for me. I checked in with my coach and my nutritionist every day and it helped me stay on track. I felt in control and in charge and HAPPY during and after the trip. And that's worth it to me.  Switzerland in January was an incredible adventure and amazing week!


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mercedes Marathon Relay Recap

Back in November, Brick and I were hanging out one day and tried to think of new states we could go run in. Locally, a big race not too far from here that we knew of people running every year was the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, Alabama (about 2 hours from Atlanta.)

The race weekend includes a 5K, Half Marathon, Marathon and a Marathon Relay.  We threw a few ideas around and ended up on Thanksgiving Day, pulling in our friends India and Janet, and decided to do the Marathon Relay. Not long afterwards, our 5th runner was identified in our friend Robyn, and our marathon relay team and girls weekend group was set! None of us had spent any time in Birmingham before (I had never even been to Alabama) so we decided to go out early on Saturday morning, spend the day, and then do the race on Sunday morning.

Long story short was that we had an awesome time. Our group meshed together perfectly, we had great conversation on every topic from politics, race relations, career, music, TV, and of course running. We laughed, acted silly, danced in places where nobody else was dancing, and everyone was just agreeable to do whatever. On the way out we stopped at the Georgia/Alabama border to take pictures because this was a new state for me to enter and I wanted to document. And as I do, these ladies appreciate a good photo op (second photo styled by Brickney.)



When we first arrived, we checked into the hotel and went over to the race expo. I booked a hotel last minute and was able to get one still at a good price right a few blocks from the start/finish of the race and the race expo, which worked out perfectly. However, the race expo left a little to be desired so we didn’t stay there long. They had beer samples and some photo ops, which was my favorite part, but not a ton of vendors or things to really do there. We'd also heard rumors of BBQ at the expo but none was spotted by me. Lines to get bibs and everything else went very smoothly though and they also offered the ability to try on and swap T-shirt sizes, which is always appreciated and I have seen that more and more at races I have done lately (NYC Marathon and Hot Chocolate 15K both allowed for this.)



We walked from the race expo to a place for lunch that had been recommended by my cousin’s girlfriend and we had a delicious, although somewhat random meal at Purple Onion. It was probably the longest 1.5 mile walk we’ve ever done and left us wondering what more Birmingham had to offer. The food was delicious though!


After lunch at the Purple Onion, we decided to Uber back and ended up with an awesomely fun Uber driver to pulled over at a moment’s notice to provide us with another opportunity for a fun photo op. Usually in my life I am getting teased all the time by my friends by my need to document things and take a lot of pictures so I love when my friends are just as crazy about not letting a good photo opportunity go to waste as I am. Again, photo was styled by Brickney :)


Our next stop was the 16th Street Baptist Church, which was somewhere all of us wanted to be able to stop by to pay our respects. On Sunday, September 15th in 1963, members of the KKK planted 15 sticks of dynamite in the basement of the African American 16th Street Baptist Church, which was detonated by a timer and killed four little girls at the church. If anyone has seen the moving Selma, the very beginning of that moving film depicts this bombing at the church. Martin Luther King Jr. called this "one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity" and it was a turning point in the civil rights movement in the United States. I have only learned of this crime (I don't ever remember it being taught in Northeastern schools...) from visiting the Center for Civil and Human Rights museum in Atlanta, which has a great memorial there and information on terrorist act and actions afterwards. It was heartbreaking but important to visit this church in Birmingham and pay respects to this part of history - which we are still very much fighting today unfortunately. Even in June 2015 there was a massive shooting at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina. It is devastating that things like this are still happening.



Following our visit to the church we returned to the hotel and rested a bit before I head out with India to stop by gatherings with two other groups of runners in Atlanta. First was the group that I am now training with - including seeing my triathlon coach, who was running the full marathon. We also saw a group of friends of ours from Atlanta who we ended up eating with, before returning back to meet up with the rest of our group for a couple drinks and shenanigans at a restaurant near our hotel.



The Race Itself

Sunday morning started very early and in my mind I was joking a little bit thinking about how the race was like the NYC Marathon - where I had to get up sooo early in the morning but wouldn't even be running until many hours later.  The night before we had timed out when we thought everyone would be running their specific legs and what time they would be at the checkpoints. Our order went Brickney running 6 miles, India running 3, Robyn running 6, Janet running 3, me running 8 miles.

7:00 - Brickney Starts
8:00 - India Starts
8:35 - Robyn Starts
9:41 - Janet starts
10:15 - Katelyn starts
11:35 - Team finishes!

My checkpoint was 3 miles from the start/finish line and there was a shuttle that would take you to the checkpoint but it left at 6:35 a.m.!! There was no way I was getting on a bus at 6:35 am to not even run until 10:15 am. I opted to just risk it and figure out a way to get there on my own. However, I was still up early as the rest of our team was up early.

We all walked to the start together at about 6:15 am and India and Robyn both left to go get on their shuttle buses, whereas Janet and I stayed with Brick until we saw her off at the start. It was a pretty quiet race start and it wasn't until about 10-15 minutes before 7:00 a.m. that it seemed like people actually showed up and got into the race corrals. We had fun, as we always do, making our own scene and dancing and laughing while we waited to see Brickney start off the race.


It was already warm even early in the morning and we were shedding layers before even starting. It was fun to watch the race start and see all the people I knew run out of the start line, but also a little weird feeling since this was a race I was running, but I wasn't even going to be starting for hours. I was able to capture one of my favorite running photos ever of Brick as she ran by us though!



After the runners went through, Janet and I returned to the hotel to relax a bit and actually funnily enough watch some of the race coverage on TV. It was definitely a bit disorienting to watch the race that you are running on TV while it is happening, but it made for a funny text message to my friends.


After a little over an hour we went back out, for Janet to walk to her start, and for me to figure out a way to get the 3 miles over to where I needed to be. It was still early and I had plenty of time so I wasn't too worried.  I went over to the area where the shuttles had been leaving from earlier and I actually was able to snag a ride on a shuttle to the start after it brought back some runners. And even luckier, it was the shuttle that brought Brick back after finishing her leg so we were able to say hello. She absolutely CRUSHED her leg of the race, running her fastest pace ever for her 6 miles and I was so proud of her! I love the feeling of feeling proud of your friends.I know how good it feels to work hard for something and to see that pay off is such a good feeling. I was already so excited about the day after Brick's leg of the race.

I was tracking our team and my triathlon coach through text messages and was happy to see that everyone was going right on time with what we had predicted. India had a great run, as did Robyn. Once I made it out to the checkpoint where I would be starting, I sat on the ground for a bit and watched a few videos on my phone, talked to some of the other runners, and then started cheering once the racers started to pass us. First the really fast people came then more and more waves of runners came through. Mercedes Marathon has people's names on their bibs for the full marathoners so everyone who came through, I cheered for by name. I was running the last 8 miles of the race, which meant that the people who were coming through were at mile 18 of the marathon. It's such a rough spot because you've already run SO MANY MILES and you still SO MANY TO GO!

At this point I was getting antsy to run but was also enjoying cheering, as I always do. Since I was tracking my coach, I knew when he would be coming through the marathon route, and it actually was not too far in front of where my friends were. I walked up a bit on the course to be able to see him and another one of the coaches from our group was riding his bike alongside on the route for encouragement. My coach was not having his best day, which happens, and he walked for a bit when he saw me and wished me luck and reminded me to run really easy because of the hip pain I have been having lately.

It amazed me that while in the MIDDLE of his own marathon, he still had any energy to focus on trying to coach me! I walked with him a bit and he told me "DO NOT catch up with me! Even though I am going slow!" and I wished them luck and hung around 5-10 minutes more until Janet came through to pass along our race belt and send me off on the run.

She was pretty much exactly on time, so right at about 10:15 I head off on my leg of the marathon relay - which was miles 18-26.

This was now my 2nd time running the last leg of a marathon relay and I knew what to expect - that the marathoners would be hurting - and I'd be flying through comfortably - so I knew one of my goals was to cheer for everyone else, as I had been at the checkpoint.  My only other goal with running these 8 miles were to do so without pain.  I had only run 3 miles (on the treadmill!) in the past 10 days as I have been having some hip pain but had been feeling good in the few days leading up to the race.

From the moment I started running, I felt awesome. I could tell right away that I had a LOT of adrenaline running through me - which a 3.5 hour build up until your run can do for you. I had to hold back a lot because I knew I needed to keep my pace under control for the run. I had the longest and also hilliest portion of this race and my only goal was to really not hurt myself so I had to remember to pull back a lot.

The miles felt good and I cheered for everyone I could - seriously smiling and feeling so happy while I ran. Maybe it was those 10 days off, but I had the biggest runners high from the very beginning and just had SO MUCH FUN every mile that I ran of this race. I talked to people, told everyone I passed they were doing great, said thank you to every police officer, and interacted with the few people who were out cheering and riling up the crowds for the other runners. It was seriously so much fun. This picture is how I was the entire 8 miles, I swear.



When I was about 4.5 miles in, I saw my coach, whose name is Jerome, up ahead, and another coach Adam, riding his bike alongside him. I knew I was going to catch up and felt bad because Jerome was just not having his best day and I know how hard that can be. I have only been working with him for 1.5 months so was unsure how to motivate or cheer for him, since it is usually the other way around! When I caught up, I stopped and walked with him a little and chatted about the day. Again, he was concerned about asking how I was doing and my hip, teasing me that he'd told me not to catch up to him. Adam and Jerome encouraged me to keep going if I was feeling okay and introduced me to one of their other friends who was out on the course running his first marathon. I ran with their friend for a little too but when he started walking as well, I kept going. My body is not too good at stopping and starting so I didn't want to mess anything up when I was feeling so good running with no pain.

The hills came and went and were really nothing too challenging given what I am used to running in Atlanta. When I got towards the end, I started to see some of the other people that I knew who had run the half marathon who were now out on the course cheering. It was fun to have people out supporting and one of the guys ran with me for a little bit in his flips flops and then I paused to take a selfie with him before continuing to the finish.


With about a quarter of a mile or so left, I saw Janet, who jumped in and ran towards the finish with me. We saw a few more people that we knew and I was still just feeling the happiest ever and loved having Janet with me. She asked how I was doing and I said I felt great - although when she asked if I wanted to sprint to the finish, I told her definitely not. Again - my only goal here was to not get hurt and was not trying to do anything crazy by pushing it in that last leg of the race.



India, Robyn, and Brick were all waiting for us at the finish. So once we got there, we all reunited and hung around a bit at the end of the race before getting ready to leave.  We had finished the marathon relay in about 4:29, which was exactly in line with what we expected. I think it goes to show how experienced we are at this stuff at this point that we were all able to predict our paces so exactly and run to that exact pace.  We all were pretty exact to what we had mapped out/planned the night before, almost down to the minute!  I was super proud of my team and so happy that this marathon relay weekend had come together as it had, after Brick and I originally schemed about it back in November on my couch one afternoon. Sometimes it is hard to coordinate things and get people organized but this had worked out so well.



After we hung around the finish for a bit, saw Jerome finish, and checked in with those friends at the end, we head back to our hotel room to shower and check out.  Before driving back, we stopped for a delicious brunch and then made our way back to Atlanta.


Personally, this race wasn't any sort of record breaking pace or anything like that but I was really proud of myself. First off, I cannot reiterate enough how happy I felt to be running every one of those miles during the race. It just felt great and I had so much fun. It reminded me a bit about when I ran the San Francisco Half Marathon with my friend Allie in 2015 where the race wasn't really about me or my pace, it was about other people and sharing the joy of running. I think that's what made it so special for me... it wasn't a race to PR or push myself. I was doing it because I love running and I love sharing it with other people.

My mile splits were: 9:27/9:36/9:39/9:32/10:32/9:29/9:44/9:40/9:36

The splits are super consistent even with the hills and the miles where the pace is a bit longer is when I stopped to walk with others or paused to say hello. I loved this and would definitely do the marathon relay again in the future!