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the big picture

As part of the planning process for 2019, my coach started a conversation about vision. And by vision, she means something bigger than a to-do list or a New Year’s resolution, something audacious and scary and possibly even requiring many years of work and commitment.

From our trip to Japan in April 2018: Origami cranes in Kyoto -- they symbolize wishes and intentions.

 Oddly, my long-term, pie-in-the-sky goal has nothing to do with triathlon or anything remotely athletic. I don’t want to go to Kona (racing in heat, humidity, and wind isn’t my thing), unless it’s to volunteer and cheer for my friends and teammates until I lose my voice. I don’t dream about Boston (honestly, I don’t even think I like running stand-alone marathons very much – for some reason, a marathon seems so much easier when it’s at the end of an Ironman – yeah, I am probably insane but whatever). I don’t fantasize about RAAM or swimming the English Channel or running a race on every continent (although all of these sound fun, as long as no drowning is involved).

What I really want to do is live abroad.

Kilkenny last November -- I tagged along on one of Big Gingers businessman trips.

Big Ginger and I have been discussing this for awhile – it’s something we both dream about. I don’t know if this means saving up and taking a year off to travel, or finding a job in another country, but the thought of going somewhere totally different sounds incredibly liberating and challenging and so exciting. (Also: Adopting cats of multiple nationalities, sort of like the Jolie-Pitts, but with more floof and a happier ending.)

We know people who’ve done this (not the cat herd part, but the living abroad part), so we know it’s possible. We have friends who have careers that transferred them abroad, and friends who sold everything, quit their jobs, and are currently traveling (and no, they aren’t recent college graduates with a trust fund – they’re responsible, grown-ass adults who are brave enough to live in a way that brings them joy). But what seems so daunting is how. How do you find these opportunities? How do you get to a place where you're financially comfortable enough to make the leap?

So I’m going to put it out there. Going abroad for an extended period of time is my vision. I don’t know how long it will take to make it into reality, but I can start working on it. I can ask questions and do research and open myself to possibility. I can trim my budget and save money and cut down on possessions. I can brush up on my Spanish and learn French. (Big Ginger is really good at German drinking songs – does this count?) And I can keep traveling and exploring new places, even if I can’t stay for as long as I’d like.

Sunset at Playa Avellanas in Costa Rica, February 2016.

dear santa

When someone asks me what I want for Christmas, I usually say something lame and super practical, like a gift card for groceries or "something for the house." For whatever reason (be it Catholic guilt, the desire to be seen as a financially independent adult human, or an innately stubborn nature due to my astrological sign), I find it mind-bogglingly difficult to come up with anything creative, especially when I'm put on the spot.

Magnus does not shop for presents; he considers his very existence to be the ultimate gift to humanity.

Since there are still a few days left before Christmas (and the internet and Amazon Prime exist to help those who may have procrastinated), here are some triathlon-related gift ideas. These are things I'd love to give or receive. And they're organized by zones because, duh, triathlon.

Z1 – $25 or less
  • Stance socks: I got a pair of the tab socks in my Wilder swag bag and am now a convert. Also, there is a holiday cat design that is freaking awesome. 
  • Books: Some of my fave tri-related titles include Chrissie Wellington's autobiography, ROAR for all of your women-specific nutrition questions, The Brave Athlete for those times when you're stuck in your head, and Shalane Flanagan's cookbooks.
  • Foot Rubz ball: I swear by this thing. Buy several. Keep one in your purse at all times. You'll thank me.
  • Coeur Sports swim cap: I have a bazillion free swim caps from races, but I so much prefer these nice, thicker silicone ones -- they cause less hair breakage. Plus the designs are cute.
  • A fun water bottle: Two favorites -- this one from Whisky Parts Co. (for obvious reasons) and this one from Portland Design Works (equally obvious).

Z2 – $75 or less
  • Jolyn swimsuit: All my "real swimmer" friends love these ridiculously adorable (and kinda sexy) suits. I have one of their bikinis in this cat print (I know you are so surprised), but I'd also love to get a fixed-back onesie for workouts.
  • After-swim toiletry set: Chlorine kills my hair and dries out my skin, so I always keep shower stuff made especially for swimmers in my gym bag. This shampoo, conditioner, and body wash gift set from Zealios is on sale.
  • Gift certificate for a massage: This is always, always a much-welcomed gift. If you live in the Twin Cities area and want a good sports massage therapist, I highly recommend this gal

Z3 – $150 or less
  • Cozy Bird Yeti from Oiselle: This onesie sums up exactly how I want to spend every weekend all winter. I want to shovel the driveway in it and take Mouse for walks in it and go to the library in it and cry over the Vikings not making the playoffs in it (perhaps my fears are premature, but what can I say -- this is how life is with this team) and basically just wear it in public constantly until Big Ginger threatens to divorce me.
  • Brooks Levitate 2 Limited Edition shoes: I cannot resist anything rose gold, and this shoe is just gorgeous. (Also cool in a totally different way: These ugly sweater sneaks, which I would wear year-round because I am that person.) 
  • R8 deep tissue massage roller: It looks like a torture device. It's probably really good for me.

Z4 $300 or less

All out
  • NormaTec boots: Every time I see these at a race expo, I have to stop and spend a few minutes in them. They are amazing. I would love to fall asleep in them while Ryan Gosling reads me poetry. 
  • Registration for Coeur Sports training camp: Get your season started on a good note! The best part: There are multiple pricing options, so you don't have to break the bank.
  • Wahoo Kickr: Big Ginger just got one, and he loves it because it keeps his workouts honest -- you can't cheat watts on a smart trainer. (Although I kind of feel like the term "smart trainer" implies that my current trainer is a "dumb trainer," and I think that's sort of mean.)


Maybe you saw my tweet this morning.

Never in my life did I think I’d be bouncing out of bed at 5 a.m. to shovel the driveway because there was no way snow was going to make me miss masters swim.

Where the magic happens.

Over the past month or so, my whole attitude toward swimming has changed. Once upon a time, swimming was a source of dread, embarrassment, and sometimes even terror (tell me I’m not the only one who’s woken up panicked in the middle of the night, thinking about a looming CSS test). Now going to the pool is a highlight of my week, and I find myself wishing I could do it more often.

Part of this is due to joining masters (a.k.a. the best decision ever – besides cats and Big Ginger, of course). I love the people I swim with, I love the coaching, I love the challenge of new strokes (yes, I can fly now – it’s ugly and exhausting, but I can do it). I’m constantly being pushed out of my comfort zone – asked to attempt things I’ve never done before and risk failing in public, in spandex, in front of other people – and I really, really enjoy it.

I’m also grateful for Swimvember, my tri team’s month-long challenge geared toward getting everyone in the pool more often and building swim fitness. You earn points for each swim you complete, and there are bonus points for doing certain sets and workouts. All the points are tracked on a giant spreadsheet (Big Ginger would approve – spreadsheets are his jam), and while there are plenty of opportunities to win prizes (including cool stuff from Roka, which sponsors the challenge), I just really like seeing all the numbers on paper – keeps me accountable and motivated!

As a result of all of this swimming (32,800 yards this month as of today), I clocked my fastest 200 ever on Tuesday – 3:47. My previous PR was 4:05, so I am beyond ecstatic!

Here’s my holy-shit-I-just-did-that face.

Goggle eyes ftw.

running as metaphor

Wilder opening circle (photo by Jess Barnard)

Confession: I've been sitting on this post forever. I started writing it two weeks after Wilder, but was having trouble getting it to exactly where I wanted it. So I never hit publish and just let it languish in my drafts folder.

This is exactly everything anti-Wilder, which was all about letting go of perfection and still being able to find a way to say, "I am satisfied."

photo by Jess Barnard

So I'm making myself hit publish now. Here goes.

Almost two months have passed since I got back from Wilder (and yes, time does seem to go by faster as you get older – this article proves it’s a legit thing), but I can't stop thinking about that wonderful weekend in the woods.

Those trails – I’m a road runner, and the roots and moss and rocks made me nervous, and I worried about reinjuring my ankle, and my calves and my glutes got sore, and my lungs strained, and everything felt hard and so very slow, and at one point, someone mentioned ticks (wtf, people, way to freak me out). But I kept going (even if it meant walking at times). And the view at the top was so worth it, and I never want to forget the blue of Penobscot Bay and the trees just starting to turn colors.

Can you blame me for wanting to go back?

And you know what I realized (besides the fact that I have zero clue what to do with a tick)? Writing is a lot like running. It’s hard and it can sometimes suck and you have to put in the work before you see any results, but the secret is keep going. Keep going even when your writing is awful and sappy and embarrassing, keep going even when it’s uncomfortable, keep going even when you feel like you’re wasting your time. Because in the end, it’s worth it.

Wilder founder Lauren Fleshman (photo by Jess Barnard)

There were goats! I love goats!

I'm the awkward one in the blue tank top (photo by Jess Barnard)

hi, September. bye, September.

My boss started a new meeting process called three things. (And no, this isn’t a reference to the number of snacks I eat in every meeting. Although it could be. There was that one time I dropped an entire salad on the boardroom floor in the middle of a meeting with our whole curatorial staff and the editor of an important arts publication. I’m still embarrassed.) It’s about sharing the three projects that are top of mind at the moment.

So I’ll get to the point. Three things:


I got into Wilder -- a writing and running retreat led by former pro runner Lauren Fleshman – and leave for Maine tomorrow morning. I haven’t started packing at all and will probably spend tonight frantically throwing shit into a suitcase, but I’m beyond excited. It’s an honor to be selected as a participant.

My relationship with writing is weird. (And wasn’t that just the most profoundly literary sentence you’ve ever read in your whole life?) I love it and am terrified of it all at the same time. I want to start writing fiction again, but I still have PTSD from grad school. There’s something about creating that feels so naked and vulnerable. It’s bizarre – I have no problem making an ass out of myself in the pool (want to see me attempt the fly, anyone?) and putting in the hours for a massive goal like Ironman, but when it comes to sitting down and starting a short story (much less finishing one), I’m scared shitless.

So I’m hoping Wilder will be what I need – a way to shed the icky, competitive grad school feelings, get messy, and channel some of the same energy and passion I’ve put into triathlon, all while exploring a beautiful place (autumn in Maine!) and meeting inspiring humans. (And maybe, if I’m really lucky, some inspiring cats too – because you never know. Like my ultimate fantasy would be waking up to the sound of meowing outside my cabin and finding a tiny orange kitten who would then be my muse for the rest of the trip and then I would take her home to Minnesota and name her Merwin after W.S. Merwin – who cares if he’s a man, minor detail – and then my army of cats would become even stronger.)


I wasn’t lying about the fly. I joined a masters swim group and have officially survived Week 3 of my attempt to become a “real” swimmer. I can now not only do a flip-turn, but a backstroke flip-turn as well! However, I still resemble a dying frog during breaststroke, and I laugh hysterically when the coach asks us to do IMs. Equally hilarious: Dolphin kick with a board, a.k.a. spastic wiggling in the middle of the pool while clinging to a piece of foam. (Dear people with kids: Make them go to swim lessons so they don’t become me when they are adults.)

Full disclosure: This isn't the Phillips pool. But this is an accurate depiction of my swimming.

Oh, and inside tip: If you live in Minneapolis and are looking for a masters group that is primarily beginning-to-intermediate swimmers who are super welcoming and totally focused on learning, this is the workout for you. It’s at the brand-spanking-new Phillips Aquatic Center and only costs $30 for the entire session, which runs through Dec. 20. (For comparison, yesterday I spent $40 ordering Halloween costumes for cats, and I’m pretty sure that won’t make me a better swimmer, so $30 for masters swim is like the best deal ever.)


Is it just me, or as you get older, do you become more of an introvert? Don’t get me wrong – I still love throwing a good party (like the time we had Yia Vang from Union Kitchen come over for a cooking class and then somehow stayed up until midnight and a bottle of 1977 Port was consumed, among many other things).

But I want to leave the house less and less. (This is not helped by the fact that I recently discovered Instacart.) And now that it’s fall and the daylight is waning (I like that word – “waning”), all I think about is sleeping. (I’m also reading this book, which is basically about a woman who quits her life and sleeps for a year. My feelings on it fluctuate between “Wow, this character is remarkably flawed, with some serious psychological issues” and “Dear god, she’s a freaking genius.”)