Athlete Profile: Brian and Emy Bunch

By Steve on March 20, 2017 in Athletes
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The Bunches Take Their CrossFit Training on the Road...and in the Water.

Photo by Stephen Angelsmith

Photos by Stephen Angelsmith

(Black text is Brian speaking.
Red text is Emy speaking.)

It was a snowy day in February. While Emy was playing in the snow with our dog, I was inside and bored.

It was that weekend where we got like 5 feet in one day. Who passes up the chance to play in that much snow?  

Trapped indoors by a colossal snowstorm, I was feeling restless and stationary when I ever-so-casually decided to plan our year of endurance races. We had gotten into a regular rhythm at Second Wind and were accustomed to getting in at least an hour of activity every day, but on this particular day there wasn’t much we could do.

He didn’t want to build a snowman.  

I think it was this restlessness that sparked our decision to make this a year of new challenges.

When you’re trapped indoors, it’s easy to imagine what you can accomplish once the weather clears. I had never biked a full century (100 miles), and neither of us had run a full marathon or even attempted a triathlon of any distance. But sitting inside that day, anxious and getting no exercise whatsoever, it seemed like it was only a matter of time and effort. As it turns out, we weren’t that far off.

The only thing I wanted to do this year was a double metric century, which I hadn’t completed in 2015. I don’t even remember how the triathlons came into play. Maybe I had seen an ad for one or maybe it was because Brian signed up for biking and running and I figured I’d join him on the runs, so why not add triathlons in too? Who knows?

We figured we had a few months before the Marine Corps 17.75K, which would get us guaranteed entry into the Marine Corps Marathon at the end of October.

Photo by Stephen Angelsmith

After running the DC Half and Half Marathon the previous October, we felt so good that for the first time ever, we decided a marathon was attainable. What did they put in those chili dogs?!

That wouldn’t be a problem – we were probably in good enough shape to complete that run already. The first big challenge would be the Peasantman Triathlon

(it’s so much fun! Everyone camps at the park! Come camp with us in 2017!)

at Lake Anna, VA—an entry-level sprint triathlon (750-meter swim, 12-mile bike, and a 5K) held in May. While Emy had been swimming from birth, I was not (and still am not) a very good swimmer. I wasn’t even sure that I could finish the swim. After that, we would begin preparing for an Olympic-distance triathlon in July, which was essentially double the sprint distances. Between our two triathlons, we would bike a double metric century from SE DC to Southern MD and back, and finally shift into running-mode for the Marine Corps Marathon. We also agreed that we did not want to become endurance specialists, and would continue using CrossFit as our core fitness program.

Time and effort. All we had to do was teach me how to swim, then train up our bike and running endurance enough to last. And continue going to CrossFit regularly. And we had to continue working our full-time jobs of course. Also, we had to take care of our house and dog.  And I had my MBA classes to take care of. Oh and did I mention I’m a REALLY bad swimmer? So there were challenges. But if CrossFit has taught us anything, it has been to regularly challenge ourselves.

SWA_9387I planned everything out. We would swim every Thursday and Sunday. CrossFit on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Running and cycling on the weekends. Saturdays were generally rest days. Other than that there were no days off, no downtime, and no excuses. If we were on travel, we would find somewhere to run, bike, or swim. If the weather was cold, we would put on extra layers.  

This was effort. The challenges ahead were not lost on us, and we took training seriously. Training wasn’t a “nice-to-do.” It was a “must-do.” And the cool thing was, the more we trained, the more fun it became. We made improvements across the board – not just in the triathlon arena, but in CrossFit as well. Both of us started PRing in CrossFit regularly. Every now and then, I would beat Grant! ☺

Race days came with their own unique challenges, but were always fun in their own way (except for the marathon). We learned the ins and outs of triathlon transitions, changing in and out of shoes relatively quickly.

Not so much—we didn’t know anything about transitions for Peasantman and didn’t bother to practice them before the Olympic in July. Our transition times can be found online, and they’re pretty slow.

Most of what we remember about the triathlons though was that they were just really fun.

So much fun!

After completing the first one, even after struggling with the swim, I couldn’t wait for the second. I’m still trying to develop some decent swim technique so if you have suggestions, please come talk to me!

Someone dropped the ball and the double metric century was cancelled late Wednesday night before the Saturday ride. We were so disappointed after we’d worked so hard to prepare! So Brian found a century in Frederick, MD in August.

Biking the century was a whole different ballgame though. This was a real endurance challenge – 103 miles through the “gently rolling” (read “regularly climbing”) hills of Frederick, MD.

The hills were NOT that bad—way easier than Shenandoah! You should ask Brian about THAT ride.

We started early

(it was 6 am, but we were 5 minutes behind the official start),

which was a good thing because the heat index was 111 degrees that day. We felt absolutely great through the first three quarters of the race. At the 75-mile rest stop, we agreed that we had just started to feel some fatigue, but we weren’t really worried. Twenty-eight more miles with one more rest stop was a cake-walk. Little did we know that at around 85 miles, we would hit the dreaded wall.

Plus there was a lot of confusion about which direction to go out of the 75-mile rest stop and things just got worse from there, mostly because it was 1pm—the hottest point of the day—and we were already getting tired.

When expectations don’t line up with reality in a long endurance event, it becomes hard to handle – physically, mentally, and emotionally. We didn’t expect to suddenly get so tired, and we didn’t expect the next rest stop to be so far away

(or for such a well-organized ride to suddenly have poor road markings, adding distance for many riders).

This incongruence led to frustration and some panic. Would we be able to finish? Would we pass out from heat exhaustion? WHERE WAS THE NEXT REST STOP?! Eventually, we did make it to the next stop, where Emy made the smart play in 111 degree heat and bowed out. She had already completed 100 miles in Shenandoah in September 2015, and wasn’t interested in risking heat exhaustion for another 11 miles. What got me the rest of the way was actually CrossFit Open 16.5. More on that later.

The marathon was inspiring, exhausting, and brutal. Only the first 8 miles were fun. Steve calls it “20 miles of hope, and 6 miles of reality.” He is spot on.

I don’t know…I was in hell from mile 10 on. I was overwhelmed with all the things we had neglected to do. Because of all the races we’d committed to and stress at work, I had fallen behind on CrossFit and weekday runs.

SWA_9394The first 20 miles vacillated between interesting and boring, easy and tiring, relaxing and painful. It sounds weird, but I sort of went back and forth a lot over the first 20 miles, but felt pretty much okay. The problem again at 20 miles was that expectations and reality weren’t lining up. I took a mental inventory of how my body felt. “Both feet – in pain. Knees – hurting. Left hip – shot. Six miles left at about a 10-minute pace, so that’s about an hour of running left…holy shit. I don’t know if I have an hour of running left in me.” What got me the rest of the way, yet again, was CrossFit Open 16.5.

Do you guys remember that one? I’ll refresh your memories just in case. Open 16.5 was 21-18-15-12-9-6-3 reps for time of thrusters (95 lb. / 65 lb.) and bar-facing burpees. For those of you keeping score, that’s 84 thrusters and 84 bar-facing burpees. The most evil couplet I have ever endured. I had done it earlier in the year and learned a lot about myself that day. I knew the Rx was going to be a challenge, and was ribbing Steve about my needing “emotional support” during the workout. Little did I know how true that was.

By the round of 15, I was in a dark, dark place. It’s difficult to describe what I felt during 16.5. Sure there was pain and fatigue, but there was also genuine fear. Maybe fear of failing? Or getting injured? I’m not really sure, but I’m forever grateful that Steve was there coaching me through it. I focused on his voice and instructions and made every effort to do exactly as told. Eventually it ended. I don’t even remember what my time was, but it was one of my best accomplishments of the year. Because when I hit the wall in the century and in the marathon, I told myself, “I’m not even close to 16.5.”

So over a lot of time, and not an insignificant amount of effort, Emy and I completed our first two triathlons, my first century, our first marathon, and a handful of smaller races and rides. I learned to swim (badly). Emy learned to stretch, mobilize, and that you shouldn’t stop going to CrossFit while marathon training.

How about don’t take on all these things while working full-time?

We both learned a lot about ourselves and about each other through all of the training and all of the challenges. What we learned from CrossFit however, was vital to getting all of this done. Continue to challenge yourself, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and forge elite fitness (just kidding). We love company, so come talk to us if you want to train for some endurance races next year!

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