Wednesday, November 29, 2017

RWR:MEET JAMES BREAKWELL (aka Xploding Unicorn)

James: Are you going to watch the Thanksgiving Day parade on TV?
5-year-old: No.
James: Why not?
5: It's just watching traffic.

A couple weeks ago, I was flipping through the most recent issue of Runner's World when I came upon an article about James Breakwell.  You might know of him on social media as @XplodingUnicorn.  After reading the story, my interest was piqued, so I got online and started scrolling through his Twitter feed.  I found myself laughing out loud at almost every post.  No joke.  I sent a quick text to one of my high school athletes asking her if she knew about this guy.  Her response, Obviously.  He's the funny dad, right??  He's great.  Did you know they have a pet pig?  Okay, so clearly I'm in the dark here.  No big surprise.  Not all of my other, (older?) and perhaps less socially in-tune friends know about this guy; particularly those of us who run around like chickens all day and don't have a lot of time to scroll through Twitter.  But we should.  So, I started sharing his feed with others, many of whom will undoubtedly appreciate his humor.  If you happen to fall in this category, you're welcome.

5-year-old: Every time I learn something new, I forget something old.
Me: What do you forget?
5: I don't remember.

As you may know, my morning routine consists of making and drinking coffee followed by everything else.  Now, it also includes getting online and checking to see what nugget of humor XplodingUnicorn has posted.  I do this for many reasons including, but not limited to,
a) I know it will likely make me laugh
b) As a mom, most of his content is relatable
c) Because his kids, his 7 year old in particular, remind me so much of my own daughter, Grace, who cracks me up daily.

So, who is this guy and what's his deal??  I went straight to the source and pulled the following information directly from his site:
James Breakwell is a professional comedy writer and amateur father of four girls, ages seven and under.  He is best known for his family humor Twitter account @XplodingUnicorn, which boasts more than 950,000 followers.  The account went viral In April 2016 and transformed James from a niche comedy writer into one of the most popular dads on social media.

Can we just discuss?  All four of his girls (yes, 4 girls) are under the age of 7.  And, yes, his family does has a pet pig.  Naturally.  Breakwell just published a book entitled Only Dead on the Inside which blends traditional parenting advice with zombie survival tips, because who doesn't need help in both of these categories?  A little bit more about his book, also from his web site:
This step-by-step manual teaches you how to raise happy, healthy children in a world overrun by the undead. Motivated moms and dads want it all, and that won’t change at the end of the world. There’s no reason you can’t be a zombie killing machine AND parent of the year, but you have to work for it. 

Personally, I can not wait to dive in.  In the meantime, I will continue to seek out Breakwell's humor on Twitter as I literally can't get enough and now consider myself a true fan.  Despite his busy schedule, James was kind enough to let me profile him for the RWR series.  I might have begged a little.  I'm not ashamed.  This guy is just so awesome.  I wanted to know more. You and me, both.  So, without further ado, let's meet James, a runner who rocks.

Me: Ready for some turkey?
5-year-old: I wish the pilgrims ate pizza.


Name: James Breakwell
Where you're from: Illinois
Where you reside now: Indianapolis
Age (if you're ok sharing): 32
Occupation: Professional comedy writer. Amateur father.

What do you love most about running? 
Outrunning my problems.
What do you love most about music? 
It's better than being alone with my thoughts.

Band (current, all time or both): Cake. As a band, it's okay. As a food, it's great.
Album (current, all time or both): The Last of the Mohicans soundtrack. If I want to think of jokes while I run, I can't listen to anything with words. I'm too easily distracted. That limits me mostly to movie soundtracks and instrumental versions of popular songs. Needless to say I am very cool and have many friends.
Race venue: The golf course at Notre Dame. We traveled there for one cross country meet a year in college. It was a very pretty place to lose.
Music venue: My office when the door is closed and the music is loud enough to drown out my kids’ whining.
Race distance: 400 meters. The race is over before your brain realizes how much it hurts.
Show you've seen live? The only concert I've ever been to was Elton John. My wife won free tickets. I felt we paid the right admit.
Ice cream flavor: This isn't a question of opinion. It's a statement of fact. Chocolate for life.

Sweet or salty?
Live or recorded? Recorded.
Coffee or tea? Beer.
Summer or winter? Summer.

Which band or artist would you go see tonight if you could? I'm already in my comfy pants. No way I'm leaving the house.
Which band or artist (wait...but no longer alive or playing together) would you go see tonight if you could? The Beatles. That bootleg footage would sell for a lot.
Which band or artist would you like to have dinner with tonight if you could? None. More food for me.
Which band or artist would you like to be playing alongside you during your next race (or long run)? Cake, playing “Going the Distance” over and over again until I realize they're doing it sarcastically and I quit the race.


Today, I feel like….(fill in the blank)
I should have thought of better answers.

Top 5 Songs for running, dancing or both?
The ewok victory song from the end of Return of the Jedi
That YouTube video of a guy playing Sandstorm by Darude on a tiny plastic trumpet
Wreckingball by Miley Cyrus (don't ask)
Handlebars by Flobots, no matter how much my friends complain about it
America F*ck Yeah from Team America: World Police

Last 5 Songs you listened to today? 
I mostly just heard my kids screaming. Send help.

Listen to this:
Going the Distance - Cake

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


I am so incredibly thankful for so many things.  My family, my friends, my teammates, my health, my job, having a roof over my head and food to eat....the list goes on and on.  Not a day goes by that I don't stop for a moment and recognize how lucky I am.  Tomorrow, our family is headed up to New Hampshire with my in-laws to celebrate Thanksgiving.  We will eat, stay up late, sleep late, hike, swim, run, eat more; just spend a lot of quality time together.  It hasn't even happened yet and I'm already thankful.  I'm also really thankful that I don't have to make my kids' school lunches for the rest of the week.  If that sounds ridiculous so be it.  Sometimes it's good to recognize and appreciate the little and somewhat random things in life that we are thankful for, as they tend to be the things that make a big impact on our regular routine.  More often than not, they are the simple things, the things that we look forward to and things that make us smile and keep us happy day in and day out.  And that, my friends, is often what it's all about.


1. HOT SHOWERS - I'll spare you the photo on this one.  But, oh man, a hot shower after a hard workout or a stressful day?  Nothing beats it.  The only downfall to a hot shower is having to get out and that's not the shower's fault.

2. FUN SOCKS - They always make me smile.  I can't not be in a good mood when I'm wearing them.  Get yourself a pair.  I think you'll feel the same way.

3. MOISTURE-WICKING FABRIC - The thought of doing a 22 miler in the pouring rain wearing cotton.  I can't even.

4. COFFEE - Yes, I love coffee because it wakes me up and gets me going.  But, it's also the great uniter.  What better way to connect with others than sitting down over a warm cup of Joe?

5. A GOOD BOOK - My perfect morning consists of coffee, a good book an no agenda.  Books help you escape, if only for a brief moment.  And a good story can move you like nothing else can.

6. HOODIES - Ok, I'll admit I am a hoodie addict.  But this single item of clothing can be worn year round, can be dressed up (No?  I beg to differ) or down and is essentially like wearing an acceptable blanket.  There's nothing cozier and/or more comfortable than a hoodie. Nothing.

7. ICE CREAM - Because ice cream.

8. MUSIC - It soothes, it heals, it excites, it motivates, it drives, it connects, it defines, it educates, it inspires, it moves, it pushes, it pulls, it frees.  There are not always words.  There is always music.

9. THE TREADMILL - I don't like the treadmill, per se.  But I am thankful for it.  Winter running can be brutal and while I do try and brave the elements, there are days when it simply can't happen.  There is no way I'd get all my training in for a spring marathon if I did't have this indoor option.  Add the tv component and...well...just, yeah.

10. NAPS - Reset, recharge, relief.  Enough said.

Listen to this:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


Here we go, in this crazy life
'cause don't you know?
We're all a little insane sometimes
~ Grace VanderWaal

Five weeks ago, I ran the Mohawk Hudson marathon.  The weather was brutal, super hot and humid, and because of this I wasn't able to achieve my A-goal, which was to come in under 3 hours.  I wasn't disappointed with my performance.  I ran smart, pushed hard and was able to meet my B- goal, which was to place top 3 (I took 2nd).  So, I did not walk away angry, just frustrated with Mother Nature and annoyed by the fact that, no matter how well we prepare ourselves, it is virtually impossible to have that perfect day.  My coach, Lowell, reminds me of this all the time, but it's still hard to accept given the amount of work that goes into it.  Two days after my race, Lowell and I got on the phone to discuss our next move.  I told him I wanted a "do-over" and that mentally I didn't want to wait out another training cycle to try again.  I expected him to say something along the lines of, I understand, Rebecca, but we have to let your body recover before we dive back in.  But, to my surprise, he did not say this at all.  Rather, it was something like, I'm not a big fan of back to back marathons for obvious reasons.  But, I agree the weather was a bummer and that, had things been different, you likely would have reached your goal.  So, assuming your body can handle a short training cycle, I'm fully supportive of you trying again in 4 to 5 weeks.  Which, as you can imagine, was music to my ears.  I immediately got online, did a bunch of research and eventually landed on the Harrisburg Marathon in PA.  The upside of this race was twofold.  One, I could wait until the morning of the event to register, so if the weather was looking grim, I would just bail all together.  And, two, the course was fast and flat, which is what I needed if I was going to pull off a good time.  I made a conscious decision to keep this plan on the down low as it was something I just needed to do quietly, by myself.  If I did pull it off, awesome.  If not, well, it would be just another race in the books and I could just move on, hopefully without missing a beat.  Fast forward 5 weeks.  On Thursday before the race was set to take place, I learned that an arctic front was moving in on the East Coast and it was going to be in the twenties on race morning.  Just....really?  In a panic, I texted Lowell to discuss the situation and decide whether or not I should go ahead with this madness.  

Me: An arctic front.  Of course.
Lowell: Brr. But wind should lay down for the weekend.
Me: Aaron (Lowell's brother and a friend and fellow coach of mine) told me to pick a race with predictable weather.  Please back me up when I respond that this DOES NOT EXIST.
Lowell: Almost impossible. Hawaii.  But that's always too hot.
Me: At least it's predictable!! Ok, I'm done now. Bring it on.
Lowell: It snowed when I finished my first marathon and I hit my goal time spot on.
Me: I knew I texted you for a reason.

Side note, in case you're ever wondering why a coach, see above.  Okay, so it's Friday and the temperature is plummeting by the hour.  On Saturday, my XC team and I headed out to Wrentham for the EMASS Divisional Meet.  Every single one of us was wearing a minimum of five layers until 10:30am at which point the girls had to remove all sweats, blankets, etc and stand on the line in race singlets and shorts.  After which they proceeded to race their brains out, taking second place and sealing their spot in the upcoming All-State meet this weekend.

DIV 1, 2nd Place

It was an incredible race and day overall and after an emotional awards ceremony, I hugged my girls and headed straight to the airport as I was flying to PA.  Sound familiar?  Yes, I did the exact same thing after our State meet last year when I flew to PA to race the Philadelphia marathon.  For some odd reason, I like to make things as logistically complicated as possible in my life.  To my good fortune, though, my dear friend, Nicole, lives about twenty minutes from Harrisburg and kindly offered to pick me up from the airport, feed me dinner and let me crash at her house for the night.  It really couldn't have been any easier for me.  Nicole and I met through the Oiselle team and have been friends for about five years now, but I haven't seen her in way too long so this was a huge bonus and totally sweetened the deal for me.  After two quick flights, I landed around 7:30 and after easily finding each other we zipped to her house without any issues.  So far so good.  

I was welcomed at the door by some beautiful artwork done by Nicole's daughter, Danielle.  Yep, that's me...willing to run and also, Rebecca.  I loved it.  We all sat down together for some pasta (thank you, Chris) and then I made my way up to bed as I was mentally and physically toast.

I got up at 6:00am and could already hear Nicole downstairs starting up the espresso machine.  For the first time in a while I would not be having issues finding my pre-race coffee.  Beautiful.  We had some breakfast and then took off around 6:45 as we had our 20 minute drive back into Harrisburg and the race was starting at 8:00.  The main event was taking place on City Island, which we found easily, because, you know, it was an island.  After parking, I had about 30 minutes until go-time which I spent shivering while while wearing multiple layers of throw away clothes and bundled up in a blanket because it was 28 degrees outside.

I had that blanket wrapped tightly around me until the 10 second count down.  Like my Lex girls had been the day before, I was sporting a singlet and shorts, so I, too, was waiting until the very last minute to surrender to the cold.  I was not smiling because I was excited. Oh, no.  I was definitely having a Holy shit, what the hell am I doing right now??!! moment.  But, I was just trying to fake myself out and believe that I was ready to rock, which is also what I'd told my runners to do when they were on the line.  Practice what you preach, right?

Miles 1-5 (6:45, 6:46, 6:36, 6:51, 6:50)
By the time we were ready to go, I couldn't feel my feet.  Whatever.  Feeling is overrated.  The race route started on City Island and took us throughout Harrisburg and along the Susquehanna River.  We ran a lot of it on a bike path, some on hard packed trail, crossed a couple bridges and then we ended in the city.  My goal pace was between 6:45-6:50 and I hoped to run steady from start to finish.  I had no idea how my body would hold up pushing at this pace so quickly after my last marathon, but there was no reason to hold back if I was going for the sub-3.  I settled in easily as we made our way down to the bike path. 

Stopping my music so I could chat with the bike guide

Around mile 4, a woman on a bike pulled up next to me and introduced herself (Heather, I think?).  She let me know that she and the other guy she was biking with were assigned to the women's lead and would be riding along side me (or whoever was in front) for the remainder of the race.  She also told me not to hesitate if I needed something, which was good to know as I'd missed water at the last stop because the woman at the table had her back turned to me.  I've never had any support like this during a race and I won't lie and tell you it wasn't nice to have the perk.  I thanked her and let her know I was in good shape for the time being.

Miles 5-10 (6:45, 6:41, 6:49, 6:44, 6:44)
By now, I'd shaken off the cold and was running smoothly.  We clovered a bit on the bike path so I was able to see Nicole a few times during this first stretch.  That was awesome.  At this point, I was happy, smiling even.  Side note, look at the size of this guy in front of me!!!  Nicole took the above photo and then offered me gloves which I declined.

Miles 11-17 (6:49, 6:42, 6:42, 6:45, 6:44, 6:44, 7:31)
Right around mile 12, I started to doubt myself.  The force was strong and I was struggling hard to fight it.  More than once, I heard my head saying  I want to be done.  Let's just be done now.  And more than once my heart (thankfully still overruling my head) was saying, Shut up, Rebecca.  Let's go.  I also shout F-Yeah several times in honor of Shalane Flanagan, thinking that if she could suffer/crush it alone at 5 min pace, I could certainly suffer at 6:45.  Serious mind games.  Then, at mile 15, I had a major problem.  I had to go to the bathroom and I couldn't stop thinking about it.  (Forgive me, this is part of the story I just can't leave out.  Feel free to skip if needed.).  With each mile, the situation got worse, mentally more than physically, and my stress about it increased until finally, at mile 17, I realized I had to pick the lesser of two evils; one being going and losing time and the other being not going and potentially falling off.  I decided to go.  It was the right call because afterwards, such a mental weight was lifted that I was able to fall right back into my groove and pick up where I left off.  But, as you can see, the damage was done.  I lost about 45 seconds during my stop and that, in the end, is what cost me the sub-3.  Mind you, I was too out of it to realize this at the time so I continued to fight as if I still had a shot.

Miles 18-26.2 ( 6:44, 6:47, 6:47, 6:56, 6:54, 6:59, 7:06, 7:14, 7:18)
Since I was now relatively free in mind and body I was holding on nicely.  My legs were starting to get heavy and felt so incredibly tired but I was sound enough to know that I could hold on for 9 miles if I just focused on one at a time.  My headphones died at mile 25, likely due to the cold, so running that final mile without music to motivate me was rough.  On the upside, I still had my biker guides along side me and both of them were cheering me on, which was huge.  You can see in the final stretch above that I was officially on the pain train.  Part of me still hoped that my goal was within reach.  Part of me knew it probably wasn't.  But, I ran like anything was possible and left nothing behind.  I looked up to see both the finish and Nicole holding the tape.  I remember thinking, that's strange, how did she manage to pull that off while also thinking I really need this to be over.  And that, my friends, is all she wrote.  Final time...3:00:05.  Yes, I was thrilled to take the win.  Yes, I was grateful to my body for holding up.  But FIVE FREAKING SECONDS???!!!  It was just too much to process.  I fell into Nicole's arms and she wrapped me up and just held on for a while which is exactly what I needed at that moment.

Once the dust settled and I walked off the course, I found and thanked both of the bikers who'd rode with me and let them know that their support had been invaluable.  The guy gave me a big bear hug and congratulated me.  I think he was more excited than I was that I'd taken the win.  That was cool.  Shortly after that, the cold started to set in and my body began to shut down.  I'd already put on my clothes but I had such a bad chill and knew if I didn't get inside soon I was likely going to get sick.  The awards ceremony was not going to get started for another 45 minutes and there was no way I could wait that long.  Nicole and I found the race director and let him know that we needed to get going so he gave me my first place medal ahead of time.  I thanked him for a great race and we bee-lined it for the car.

Next stop....burgers and beers.  Nicole had made a reservation for us a the Millworks Brewery, this hip, industrial art gallery/restaurant right in town.  If you are anywhere near this area, it's a must-do.  I was still frozen to the bone and going through the experience I'd just had in my head but sitting and relaxing with Nicole was just such a perfect end to this crazy adventure.    

So, now what?  I have no doubt that I'm capable of running a marathon in under 3 hours.  I mean, take out the bathroom break, and I did it, for Pete's sake.  Is that good enough?  Do I shift my focus onto something else; a new goal, perhaps?  Do I try again or just let it go?  On the plane ride home, I read an article that my sister-in-law sent me about Shalane Flanagan and her recent NYC Marathon victory.  One paragraph, in particular, really hit home for for me.  I'm not a professional athlete, but I strive for my own personal victory day in and day out and my fight isn't that much different from someone like her who's at a much higher level than me but wants the same achieve a goal and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it.    

The Flanagan kind of feminism — a ruthless adherence to goals — rarely makes for interesting stories in the moment.  It took Flanagan from the time she turned professional, in 2004, until this year to win a major international race; years of tedium and drudgery, and robotic routine (churning her legs through 130 miles a week).

You see, it took her 14 years to accomplish the one major goal that she'd set at the start of her career.  I'm sure as hell not saying I'll keep striving for a sub-3 hour marathon for the next 14 years, but I'm also not ready to hang up my hat.  I've been trying for about 2 years now.  I've gotten so close I can taste it.  But, I've got time and I, too, am ruthless when it comes to training.  It's going to happen.  I know it will.  And I'm willing to wait.  And I'm having a killer party when it happens and you're all invited.  Kidding.  Sort of.  Stay tuned.

Listen to this:
Insane Sometimes - Grace Vanderwaal

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


One step. Release.
Two steps.  Release again.
Tension draining.
Head up.
Eyes forward.
Colors, lines, movement.
Time, distance, direction.
Track, road, trail.
Just go.
Volume soft.
Then up, uP, UP.
Drown it out.
Feel nothing.
Feel it all.
Mind wandering.
Legs weightless.
Body flowing.
Pain, fear, anger, sadness.
All seeping.
Through the sole.
One step.
Two step.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.

Listen to this:
How It Is - Majik