Several years ago I applied and got a spot on Team Chocolate Milk. The team is a combination of pro athletes, experts, and lots of regular people like me who balance training with full-time jobs and commitments. Maybe “regular” is the wrong word because my team members are extraordinary! Some are also runners, but others are cyclists, triathletes, and even IRONMAN finishers.
We all drink our chocolate milk, and we believe in the benefits of recovering with chocolate milk after a hard workout. Benefits including its optimum protein to carb ratio, calcium, vitamins, and hydrating qualities. Plus it’s tasty. :-)
When I first became part of the team they had white “Team Refuel” gear, and I wore it to multiple races. I enjoyed representing something bigger than myself, and as a dairy farmer I loved that the something was milk! The main sponsored events I could get entry to were Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series races and IRONMAN races, but none were anywhere close to me (And I’ve never even done a sprint triathlon…) Maybe someday I could travel for a race, but I was also happy to run local races and represent where I could.
Since then I’ve gotten to stay on the team as an alumni member, but along the way they’ve updated the name to Team Chocolate Milk, changed the color to orange, and created new gear and apparel.
Around the time I was wondering if my gear was too outdated to wear, I got connected with Stephanie at Midwest Dairy and her efforts to grow Team Dairy. I got new Team Dairy pink, wore it for several races, and fell into a comfortable pattern of racing in pink. I’ve never (and still don’t) view my teams as competing — rather they both give me a chance to be part of a supportive community and to talk about dairy foods and my dairy farming background at races. Athletes are a great audience for food and health conversation, and whether I’m in pink or orange I’ve made some good connections.
This summer I learned Team Chocolate Milk is a major sponsor of Esprit de She , a series of running, biking, triathlon, and duathlon events for women. Several of these races are held in the Twin Cities. I couldn’t make the first ones, but I signed up for the Maple Grove 10K in September. I contacted the team about getting some orange to race in, and they quickly obliged with a new top! I was ready to rock at my first sponsored event.
This past week we were chopping silage through Wednesday, and then Wednesday night we stopped to cover what we had because the remaining fields were too wet. This meant on Thursday I could definitely make the race.
It was a beautiful and sunny evening, the hour drive went smooth, and I found a parking spot faster than I expected. All was well except my raw throat, stuffy nose, and sore body. I had really looked forward to this race, and I would just do the best I could. Women were everywhere, but I eventually got my number, tasted a few cold delicacies, and found my way to the start.
The pace signs at the front were for 8:00/miles (about what I hoped to run), so I placed myself near the back of the front group as the national anthem got underway. After it ended I stuck a watermelon jolly rancher in my mouth. I’d been sucking on jolly ranchers bought from the gas station all afternoon to help soothe my throat. I’d forgotten cough drops, and the taste would have driven me crazy after one or two anyhow. I think all the sugary candy eventually made my stomach churn, but I was fine for the moment.
I settled into a fast-ish pace as we started and then pulled down my sunglasses as we headed west. I wanted to average as close to 8-minute miles as I could, so I decided to start a bit faster to get clear of the crowd and then see if I could hang on. Ideally I would break 50:00, but feeling like I did that would be a stretch.
The first 5K for me was fast but controlled, and people were cheering as the finish got closer. More runners were doing the 5K, and they split left for the finish while us 10K ladies headed right to take another loop. They had a sign pointing 5K left, 10K right and a person announcing the same directions.
The second lap felt harder, of course, but I just kept trying to push. Around mile 4 I caught the end of the 5K walkers. This meant I was dodging and weaving around walkers and other runners for the remainder of the race. It wasn’t ideal, but I also felt a lot of respect and admiration for the slower ladies on the course. Some were just doing a moderate walk, but others were slowly running or doing a run-walk pattern. You could tell they were putting just as much effort in as anyone, even if they didn’t look like your typical runner. Old, young, heavy, thin — it simply didn’t matter. We were all empowered by the goal and the atmosphere.
Because I wasn’t feeling great I’d brought my iPod to pep me up if I needed. I had stuck in my earbuds about halfway, and I intermittently took them in or out based on spectator support and what song was playing.
As I rounded the last stretch toward the finish I was already over 50:00, but I could still maybe break 51:00. I had been following another 10K runner through a clump of walkers, and I saw her go right instead of left to the finish. A woman was still calling out “10K right, 5K left,” so I figured they must want the 10K runners to finish on the other side.
I’d removed my earbuds for the end and stuffed them in my pocket, but somehow they fell down and started tumbling to the ground. I grabbed for the thin wires and missed. They tangled around my ankle as I ran, and I slowed down to grab them back up. I didn’t trip, and I hoped nobody was laughing too much on the sidelines. Ahh!
I saw the finish barricaded to my left, and I realized I definitely went the wrong way after all. I should have went to the main finish, and I saw the 10K girl who had been ahead of me crawling through a small opening in the barriers to get over. I slipped through too, but it took me a few more seconds to step over the timing mats because my shirt snagged on the fencing.
The music was loud and volunteers were everywhere handing out chocolate milk and water so nobody commented (or maybe even noticed) our error. I got my photo with milk snapped by the ladies handing it out, and then I was back in a sea of women enjoying food, music, wine, and celebration.
Officially I ran 51:21, and at first I was a touch disappointed in my time. I knew I gave a solid effort though, and considering my finish line fiascos I was fortunate to have an official time! I’ll always have another shot at a PR, and I was grateful to be part of this event.
I made my way to the Team Chocolate Milk booth and eventually found Chrisann, one of the team captains. She’s a mom, triathlete, and Ironman finisher who also goes to several sponsored races to help manage the team presence and booth. It was so fun to meet her and hear about her background and journey. We also talked with one of the race managers and got a neat inside perspective on the evening and other races in the series. They do a great job welcoming first-timers, and I became a little bit convinced I’d like to try the duathlon they put on in Minnesota next spring. If I can just make more time for riding my bike…
If you’ve got an Esprit de She race near you, I’d recommend checking it out. I know several are still happening around the country this fall.
I’m also newly inspired to take advantage of more team races if I can, but no matter where I’m racing or in what color I’ll continue to speak up for milk. Thanks for all your comments and congrats online after this race. It’s always fun to put up pictures in real time and get instant feedback. The fall weather is really getting beautiful, so I hope to race a few more times before the snow flies. I’ll keep you updated!