Thursday, November 20, 2014

Running + Crossfit, 2 Weeks+ Down

They say, and by "they" I mean popular opinion, it takes 21 days to form a new habit to get it to stick. However, if you pose that question to the almighty Google, that number is quickly debunked and called a myth. I dug a little deeper and ran across this healthy living post from the Huffington Post that sums up a study done on this very topic. Well, the span of days went from 18 to 254 days...or in other words, an average of 66 days...or in other words, it's different for everyone! Regarding my new "habit" of hitting the box every single weekday morning, today was Day 3 of Week 3 so day #13...lucky #13. (actually, I prefer #5 but I digress...) It sure does feel like a habit at this point, or routine as I prefer to say. It also helps that my bride goes with me. It's much easier to crawl back in bed if it's only you but when you have someone to answer to, the chances are much better than success will follow. It's also cool to debrief the workout on the way home. That's always an interesting conversation, to say the least...and sometime it's silence like today.

I have been working through the book I mentioned before, Inside the Box by T.J. Murphy and am learning a lot. It's nice to read his experience and bounce it off of mine. One chapter I just finished was on nutrition. While not a word has been spoken to me where I go every day, it doesn't make sense to start this new routine while not paying close attention to what I'm eating and fueling with. Eating and consumption is half of the equation. No way is someone going to get the results they want if they only do the workouts. Well, I have been eating quite well. I'm not following a specific plan but I think it's extremely close if not dead on Paleo. Lots of fresh, colorful veggies, meats, fruit, nuts, etc. Paleo also calls for the abandonment of milk and cheese. We now drink almond milk and quite honestly, we love it. Cheese...that's still sneaking in here and there but not much. I have even cut back on my PB&J sandwiches because of the bread. Instead, if I have a craving for peanut butter, I put it on some celery sticks. This morning, my one Navy uniform that is the perfect check for physical mass is my khaki polyester uniform. No stretch, no grace, no give at all. There is no hiding in that uniform. Well, I could absolutely notice a difference today. The best way I can describe it is less mass in my mid-section...just slightly. I'm also downing a gallon of water a day which is a real struggle with me at times. Often, I'm chugging the last gulp as I lay down to bed (which results in a bathroom break 3 or 4 hours later).

Regarding effort and comparison: Dang, this is a dangerous area that needs to be met straight on. For effort, I love this quote from the book. It's by Leon Chang, the co-owner and co-founder of CrossFit Elysium in California. He offers one-on-one coaching but he has the following pre-requisite:

MOTIVATED PEOPLE ONLY

By entering here, you agree to give 100% of what you have. There are no excuses or second chances. Every day, every moment is an opportunity to excel, to be more, to achieve your best. Do not squander your time going through the motions. Train hard and get results. At the end of the day, look in the mirror and ask yourself if you gave your all. If you don't have that level of commitment, don't waste your time or ours.

That's how I walk in every day and honestly, I'm downright angry if I leave the box without giving it my all. Take this morning for example: I am struggling with my flexibility in my arms and it's negatively hurting my ability to do a front squat as I should. Late in the strength section this morning, I learned that I wasn't the only one and there is another way of doing this while still increasing the weight. I ended up not putting the weight on because I ran out of time and remain a bit ticked at myself for that right now. For the following WOD, it was timed and consisted of a back-n-forth pattern of doing air squats and sit-ups. 50, 40, 30, 20, 10 squats and 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 sit-ups. I did it in 11:08 and felt nauseous at the finish which honestly, made me quite happy...and totally wiped out. Those frickin' sit-ups got really tough and the squats got easier while I got lower and lower. If you know me, that's huge. My flexibility to lower deep with my heels on the ground has been a struggle. So, I really "enjoyed" today's WOD and where it took me. I look forward to the confirmation of this when I wake up tomorrow and feel it. :) In shameless fashion, I grabbed this selfie immediately post-WOD sneakily. Yesterday, a friend (who is quite responsible for getting us to start this whole new 'routine') texted me and mentioned how he looked over at me mid-WOD and the expression he interpreted was "what the heck am I doing here?!". Perfect! We were doing box jumps, kettle bell swings and T2B (toes to bar). I could do the first two things but toes to bar? Ha! Not even close yet. I'll keep working on them.

Then to comparison: Well, I was put in check by one of my trainers earlier this week after comparing myself to someone else. It's a dangerously slippery slope. I really have to NOT do it and simply execute every day to the best of my ability and what I can do. Everyone is built differently and has different abilities...and what they bring to the table (age, habits, past experience, physical makeup, genes!) is all unknown. I will say this: the women at my box are KILLING it. I'm just in awe at watching many of them. The guys are bringing it, too, but I think society in general would have their jaws on the floor if they saw what I see and from what I'm reading in the book and online, it's more the rule rather than the exception across the country. 

As for running? Talk about a change in daily life. I was streaking for about 4 months, not missing a single day on the roads and now it's been reduced to 2-3 days a week max. When I do run, I feel strong and confident and feel less "flab" bouncing around...like I'm tightening up physically. Make sense? I'm still thinking about 2015 heavily and what it holds. The Kettle Moraine 100 Mile Run opens up on January 1st. That is the race squarely on my radar. I am anxious to take a new, fitter me into the 100 mile trail race environment and see what happens.

Monday, November 17, 2014

M-Cubed for 11.17.2014

M-Cubed (Monday Morning Musings) for November Seventeenth Two Thousand Fourteen...a random smattering of thoughts that end up here on Monday morning.

- So it's like a M-Cubed a month now? Sorry, y'all. Sometimes I have nothing to say (or willing to write)...or lack the time.

- Crossfit Day 10 a wrap today! Tomorrow marks the beginning of Week 3 (we began on November 4th). So far, so good...and plenty sore. On Friday, I did my first dead lift and still feel it today. Luckily, I didn't bail on this morning's workout because once I warmed up, I was fine. A funny story is this: while working on the dead lift for the first time ever on Friday, my trainer (Lisa) told me to get two more 25's. So, I grabbed two more that said "25" on them. After I had lifted it once, she said "Those are 25 kilos...not pounds." Yikes. So I lifted more than she wanted but I maintained my form. Not horrible for my first-ever DL at 227 pounds. But, that's what I still feel today. I first felt this in my back yesterday when I was on my country 13.2 miler. Speaking of that, here's a "running selfie" from that run...and the corn still hasn't been harvested! Gorgeous, quiet Sunday run in the hills.


- I finished a great book over the weekend called "Beyond Ordinary" by Justin and Trisha Davis. It is the basis for the marriage retreat we're leading in February next year. Ordinary is where most people are....extraordinary is where couples can be. The book is their story of hitting rock bottom...and I mean the very bottom and how they came back and took their marriage to heights never seen before for them. It's one of those books that just about anyone will relate to personally. So easy to read, too.

- After finishing the aforementioned book, I picked up "Inside the Box" by T.J. Murphy and am reading it now. It was written by a 47 year old distance runner and triathlete who turned to CrossFit. It's his account of that experience from start till now along with a good background on the birth of CrossFit. Worth sharing is a snapshot of a passage on the right. Glassman is considered the "father" of CrossFit and this is the first-ever "WOD" that just so happened to be the one prescribed this morning. It kinda gives you an idea of where it all came from. This is known as "Fran" and follows the same 21, 15, 9 pattern. (in full disclosure...I did it without weights on the bar and substituted ring rows for the pull-ups...no way I can even do a single pull-up yet) - Click to make the image bigger/readable. Moral of the story: If you think you're about to vomit...you're on the right track! :)

- Foodie Comment: I grew up hating sweet potatoes...thanks to my Grandma Mary. I don't remember the specifics, but I just remember hating them. Well, she'd be proud of me now because I love them. A new staple in our home is baked sweet potatoes. We slice them up in little-bit-bigger-than-bite-size pieces, toss in some olive oil, nuke for about 4 minutes then spread out on a baking stone. Sprinkle with some sea salt then bake them. Once their edges start getting a little crunchy, their done. Incredible! We also mix in brussels sprouts and broccoli here and there...but those potatoes are to die for!

- We watched Dumb and Dumber last week with our kids...their first time and who knows how many times we've seen it. Stupid humor but nothing really that crosses the line to make me as a dad cringe. So Dumb and Dumber To just came out...Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels starring in it again. BUT, I know the kind of world we live in and what a PG-13 rating really means. So, I looked it up before I took the girls to see it. If you're considering, READ this quick, factual review. Then, if you still choose to go with your kids, at least you won't be surprised. We won't be there.

- Our first snowfall came down today...a heavy, wet snow. No doubt, some weak branches out there suffered under the weight. Here, though, in our backyard, it was beautiful.


- To say goodbye today, I found this quote a few days back. Our perspective determines so much, doesn't it? 


“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” ― Abraham Lincoln


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Running + Crossfit, 1 Week Down

I have been a long distance runner since 1997 so for about 17 years. I use that year as a landmark as it was the first year I ran a marathon and have so nearly every year since and more so ultra marathons in the past several years. To date, 28 marathons and 31 ultra marathons. In that time, I haven't done much else. I rarely stretch, I don't belong to a gym, but I can run a very long time. To me, a Saturday morning run that lasts 3 to 4 hours is a "perfect" morning along with 5 mile to 10 mile runs scattered in throughout the week. Physically, I don't have a lot of fat on me except for my arch nemesis, the love handles. No matter how many races or miles I run, they remain. Legs are strong, big and lean...above my waist "exists" with not much fat but no real definition to speak of. "Weak" is a good one word definition for that. For 2014, I've been running more than ever and enjoying it. While I've run less races than normal, my mileage has been up and consistently over 200 miles per month. When I began to feel injury knocking on my door in late September, I wasn't ok with doing nothing or measly miles. I decided to walk into a box (read: Crossfit gym) for the first time. That was 8 days ago.

From time to time, I want to log my thoughts as this longtime distance runner morphs into hopefully a Crossfitter runner...or is it runner Crossfitter. Whatever! I'm not much into labels! My goals are simple: Become stronger, fitter, run fewer miles, and set big ultra marathon goals and conquer them. My goal is NOT to bulk up, put on a ton of weight in muscle, and lose my mojo as a runner. Simple. Or is it?

Week 1 has been humbling. Today was Day 7 at the box. (Monday-Friday schedule) Every day, I have sweat it out and taken my heart rate to new heights that running never does. I have learned all kinds of terms like squat (many varieties), kettle bell, tempo push up, "WOD," lunges, double-unders, open hold, burpee, box jump, "AMRAP," hollow rock, sumo dead lift, box-overs, and I'm sure there are more. It's a whole different language but thanks to the awesome coaches, I'm getting a hang of it. Day 1 was more of an intro and not with the class. Rowing, kettle bell swings, and squats. I sweat like a pig in under 10min. When our coach that day, Lisa, said "This will take you about 10 minutes," I honestly thought to myself: "That's it? Only 10 minutes? Hmmm...this shouldn't be too hard." OK, reflect back to what I called myself earlier..."weak." Yea. Puddle of Mud.

Day 2 came and it was more learning and a huge focus on form over weight lifted. One thing that has been consistent is the distinct attention to form, safety, and flexibility. The trainers hold that all in high regard. It's not about the wimp or hulk you are, it's about executing the "movements" correctly, with intensity, and safely. Over time, it's my "understanding" that it'll get easier and the weight and intensity can increase...which essentially will negate the "easy" comment. :) Another observation was the environment in the class. The class varies in size day to day but is usually 15-25 people. From day 1, the word "acceptance" I think best defines how I've felt. That's an irony against what I thought it would be and many others probably think. On the outside, I'm betting that many assume the terms "family" and "acceptance" wouldn't be in the same sentence as "Crossfit." Well, that's the case here and what really got me to show up day 1...accounts from others (friends) there who said that exact thing.

This isn't a training log so I won't go day by day or share the WOD (workout of the day) for each day.  (See Instagram for more of that) I'll just say this: every day is humbling. Every day is a challenge and pushes me. Every day, I feel held accountable to show up, give it my all, focus on my form, stretch, and I am encouraged. Yea...the climate is one of being pushed but encouraged all along the way. Condemnation and intimidation don't exist. If I wake up tomorrow and think I'm just going to try and skate by, I should just stay home. On the flip side, if I wake up physically feeling the prior morning's hour at the box and hungry for more and whatever it throws at me today, it's time to shut up, show up, and give it everything...with heart.

What I know I need a lot of work on: Being a runner for 17 years and mostly long-distance minus any stretching, my muscles are short and tight! Holy hamstrings! This hasn't bode well in Crossfit. I have a lot more work to do than maybe others who haven't been runners. In fact, it kinda feels like "running" is a cuss word! For me, I actually ran home 11 miles from the box yesterday. Felt so good! So flexibility...need to work on that consistently. Keeping my heels flat in the squat, getting the bar to rest on my chest without my fingers feeling like they're going to snap, and jumping forward in the burpee...so sloppy. All of these things will get "easier" with increased flexibility and practice. I was pretty darn happy this morning to do overhead walking lunges with the 35lb kettle bell high above my head...all 60 of them. That was 33% of today's WOD. Guaran-dang-tee I will feel that tomorrow morning at zero dark thirty. What I haven't done yet and am admittedly kinda sorta worried about: rope climbing and hand-stand pushups....and real pull-ups (I've been doing ring-rows). I'm sure there's much more (every day is a surprise!), too. If you like surprises, you'll love Crossfit! :) No need to plan every day...the trainers do it all for me. Show up, execute with 110%, go home.

7 days in, I'm all in. My symptoms of running injury have disappeared and the decreased running I have been doing has felt strong and confident. With each passing successful day in the box and each successful long run that confirms "I'm still a runner," I look more forward to 2015 and the ultra marathons I want to do, kicking off during the first weekend of January at the Frozen Sasquatch 50K in West Virginia. I hope to get a book in the next few days called "Inside the Box" by T.J. Murphy. It's his account of a long-distance runner and triathlete who turned to Crossfit and the journey...his story.

Stronger? Yes. Lots of work to do? Heck yea. Made new friends? Lots. Challenged? Every day. Humbling? Always. Do it again tomorrow? Can't wait.

Fitting name for my new home/box, don't you think?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day 2014

Since 2008, I've been writing on this day and sharing the official Veterans Day poster as published by the Department of Veteran Affairs. You'll find the poster below this paragraph and also here. Today, I have off like every other year. No matter if I'm in uniform or civilian job, it's a free day. Normally, I'm asked to speak at a local school to elementary or middle school students. This year is the first year in many that I wasn't. While I wouldn't turn down that privilege, I also don't mind just relaxing and doing what I'm doing now...sharing some thoughts and spending some time alone and with family.
Today, I started the day off with my new "family" at the Crossfit gym/box and met a new trainer that apparently, is the "runner" of the family there. Turns out that one of the things he likes to do it run trails but mix in burpees, etc. with the run. I let him know I'd be more than happy to join him some day! After the workout (lots of jump roping, burpees, and my first overhead press), I decided to do what I do best....run. I mapped it out and it was about 10 miles home. Given that it's a gorgeous Fall day, I ran home and ended up logging 11 miles. No doubt...my tail is beat! I feel like I can feel every muscle in me, especially with yesterday's focus on squats. For the rest of today, I see it including a stop at Applebee's, my favorite place to eat on this day. While many restaurants offer free meals, they started that movement and my local one really pours out the gratitude. Their staff is passionate about it and there are always lots of veterans from all eras there. It's humbling just to go. My dad, an Army veteran, will join me as well along with my wife. Not too sure we'll hit up another eatery today for dinner or not.

Old Stone Church / Cleveland OH
A few days ago on Friday, I attended a friend's retirement at the Old Stone Church on Public Square in Cleveland. He retired after nearly 21 years of active military service. He is a Mustang like me (prior enlisted and now an officer) and first served as a Navy fireman but became a Navy nurse. Months ago, we sat in my office as he debated whether or not to do any kind of retirement service. He didn't see the point. I told him but one thing: "Do it to honor your wife and kids." So with that, his wheels began turning and months later, Friday, it was a formal affair. With the "Passing of Old Glory" to our master chief echoing "The Watch" in a church founded in 1820, it was a wonderful retirement. The part, though, that got me and will get me on my day, was when he addressed his wife, son, and young daughter who was dressed in blue, gold, and glittery gold shoes, fitting for Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. For those of us who serve and do so alongside our "other half" have a ton of gratitude and appreciation for them. While all relationships and marriages are not good and the military service/lifestyle gets blamed for a high break-up rate, those that endure go through multitude of ups and downs and often reach the brink of a decision...stick it out and give up. For those who keep going, die to self, and love each other, it is absolutely a teamwork approach and the family members not in uniform serve just as much. So when he addressed his wife and his tears began to flow, that gratitude for my own wife flowed rich within me. On Veterans Day, it's just not about those who serve or have served, but for the military spouses and children who have traveled the same road. Yesterday, I saw him again and he only had one thing to say: "Thank you for convincing me to have my retirement." Absolutely, brother! It was a beautiful service. It was also kinda cool that I silently celebrated my own anniversary that day, too...17 years of service. The decision is not that far away for me, too. Stay in, hang it up, and when I do, how do I honor the service and my family for their service as well? I will say...the Old Stone Church in Cleveland is breathtaking. Whether it's a church service, wedding or military retirement...wow.

So as you see flags flying today and social media literally blowing up with posts about this day, please consider keeping the veterans in mind all year round, especially those serving right now far from home while their family keeps the home fire burning. There is a cost for the freedom we enjoy and have so for decades upon decades...and that price continues to be paid 24/7.

Happy Veterans Day and to those who have served or serve today, "Thank you."

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Some Explanation is Warranted

I have gone back and forth, back and forth about killing this blog. Truth is: not many people read it. If you look at the little green icon at the very bottom right of this blog, you'll see the Sitemeter icon. That widget sends me stats every day via e-mail about hits. I'm no mommy-blogger with thousands upon thousands of followers on their blog and Instagram, I don't attend conferences on blogging, and who knows how I'm really supposed to get my blog out there. Before I even do that, I should ask myself "why?" Well, I don't have an answer and it's really not that important to me but it does make me question why I even write. The simple truth for why I began this blog is that 1) I wanted to help people, inspire them, and just be real. I have always said that if only one person was helped, it's worth it. Well, there have been MANY! The second truth is that I communicate best in writing. Even if there is something really important I need to tell my wife from my heart, I do it best with a pen and paper. So there you have it...the reason you haven't seen or read much from me lately...but there is one other thing.

Back in September, I was cruising along well in my world of running. Through the first 9 months of the year, I was killing it. I was averaging over 200 miles per month (a record in 17 years of running), had set PRs at the 50K distance and 40 mile distance, and was one ultra away from hitting a combined 60 marathons/ultra marathons. I was also over 100 days into a running streak with zero rest days. Everything was going awesome. Then one day just before the Akron Half Marathon, I felt "it" and told NO ONE. Back in 2009 when I did my three 100-milers, I got a stress fracture. In my 20 of my 3rd 100-miler that year, I showed it's ugly head and I ate Motrin for the next 80 miles...but I finished. Several months later and several misdiagnosis, I got a MRI and there was the stress fracture in my hip. Tons of rest that spanned months and I came back stronger than ever. Well, those symptoms I felt back then reappeared but on the opposite side. That scared the poo right out of me in September so I backed way off on the mileage but kept the streak going. Many days, I only ran a mile after October 1st to keep the streak alive. Eventually on October 19th, I pulled the plug at 122 days and a cumulative 833.4 miles. No streak was worth this. Since then, it's been a 5 miler here, a 6 miler there. Nothing much. However, I began to go stir crazy and was feeling better. Those symptoms I felt were going away. Confidence was building again. "What was I feeling?", I thought quite often. "Am I making this up in my head?" On October 26th, I was signed up for the Run with Scissors Double Marathon. I'm not a person who doesn't show up for a race I signed up for, known as a DNS (did not start). However, after praying about it and really spending time digging inward, every fiber in me said to stay home. It ended up being a picture-perfect Fall day for the race and I watched it from social media as runners posted about it all day. Sad...but no regrets.

About a week ago, I talked with friends of ours who go to a local Crossfit gym...or "box" as they're known. They go together but of course, work out and compete against themselves. I asked a million questions and listened to their advice. One thing that stood out was their reference to family at this particular gym. I am extremely against a place that is nothing more than a bunch of showboating, grunting, and pompous displays of "I'm all that." In the past, I haven't been a fan of Crossfit, based on only what I thought I knew by people posting online. If I'm being totally honest, I kinda turned my nose up at it. It seemed like a cult or something. I never considered it and figured I didn't have time for it as running was my main "love". I also didn't know of a local box to go to...but really, the aforementioned reason is the real reason I didn't consider it.

Regarding the "cult" following I mentioned above, here are my thoughts: I have often looked at things such as Crossfit, Yoga, Zumba, triathlons, etc. as "cults". I, however, being a long distance runner for the past 17 years never considered my own running a "cult" at all. I just looked at other things and thought of "them" as the cult...not me. After eating my thoughts last week and showing up to a Crossfit class for the first time, the tables were turned on me. Crossfit and those other things are no more "cult"-like than running is. Like-minded individuals doing a particular thing or sport. That's it, isn't it?! So whether it's basket-weaving, yoga class, running, mountain climbing, or CROSSFIT, don't they all fit the bill?! We all hear the term "cult following" with regards to many things. Even in the world of craft beer and northeast Ohio, most will not disagree with saying that Great Lakes Brewing Company has a cult following of their Christmas Ale. Only sold for two months, it represents more revenue than any other brew in their arsenal on an annual basis. That's cult-like, right?! So I looked up Merriam-Webster's definition. It's not exactly what I thought it was:
  1. formal religious veneration :  worship
  2. a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also :  its body of adherents
  3. a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also :  its body of adherents
  4. a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator
  5. great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book)
I have always thought of "cult" as a bad thing...like "Waco, TX" bad. Per the definition above...specifically #5, I propose that it's bad IF we make it bad. I'd also say that all of the mentioned activities above are "cults"...per this definition. So there! I guess I've been in a running cult for 17+ years! But I digress...

This morning
So we began last Tuesday and went each day after that. Like I told Lisa, one of the trainers on day one, "I can run for 6 hours no problem, but you destroyed me in under 10 minutes." True! My wife and I have started it together and go together. It really has been like family so far and the trainers are hugely focused on safety, form, and proper execution of the "movements." Is it hard? HECK YEA, it's hard!!! Dang, I have felt like a puddle of mud on more than one occasion in the past 5 days. But I'm going to stick it out and see where it leads. I hope to become fitter through this and still go out and conquer ultra marathons next year. For now, though, I'm going to run a few times a week and hit the box 5 days a week. Today, actually, I got in a beautiful 10 miler through the country. 40F, some color still left out there, and quiet. I needed it...and I felt no pain or "symptoms" to speak of. When I got home, I stretched. So rare but now something I've been shown how to do and what to do. I am SO not flexible! It's going to be something I'll have to focus on every single day because being a runner for so many years has done that to me. However, I need that flexibility in Crossfit so I'll work hard to get there.

Have a great week, friends!

Monday, September 29, 2014

M-Cubed for 9.29.2014

M-Cubed (Monday Morning Musings) for September Twenty-Ninth Two Thousand Fourteen...a random smattering of thoughts that end up here on Monday morning.

- Hi again, friends. I haven't written much since my last M-Cubed on August 18th. So much has gone by that would easily fill several chapters of my upcoming autobiography. By "upcoming," I mean just a thought and not for real. Today, I thought I'd just skim the surface a bit and catch up.

RIP LTjg Steve Byus
- I don't mean to hit you with a somber note or notes up front but best to start here instead of end here. However, if nothing else, I've been reminded as of late of how precious every breath is and how our ticket can get punched at any time and without any warning. I lost a friend in Afghanistan to a suicide bomber a few weeks ago. He was almost a carbon copy of me...about the same age, married, two young children, a Navy supply corps officer. He had just celebrated his wedding anniversary the day before his death by the Taliban. RIP, Steve...you will never be forgotten. Also, the pastor's wife from our last church passed away suddenly in her sleep. She was an amazing woman and will be deeply missed by many. Here is her tribute and obituary. The photo contained is actually a photo I took of their family during a cold amateur photo shoot at their home. There are also countless reminders in the news of tragic deaths that were not planned for. I wrote the following post on Facebook in reflection of this: "In the past several months, I have known people who were simply walking to their car at work and been struck down and killed...another 40+ years married couple where they went to bed as normally but she never woke...another man who had fought drug addiction and collapsed on the job and never rose again...then a friend..a fellow dad, husband, and Navy Supply Corps officer who made his third trip to Afghanistan just last month with plans to be home by Thanksgiving...the Taliban killed him via suicide bomber that shook two blocks in every direction..and today his community is pouring out the love in red, white and blue in amazing ways...and how about Robin Williams? A spotlight on a sickness that is all too common all around us. I think about the clothes hanging in the closets never to be worn again...the kids never to feel the embrace of their father again...the empty side of the bed...the empty chair at the dinner table...and I imagine if that heartbeat ended was mine. Had I hugged my kids enough or the last time I said goodbye? Did I kiss my bride goodbye...or goodnight? How will I be remembered? What will be my legacy? Did I love selflessly or did I lead a life for myself alone? Who will walk my girls down the aisle? Some say "Life is short, play hard." I say "Life can end in a moment...love hard and live intentionally." No hearse will ever be pulling a U-Haul to the grave...you entered this world with nothing and as such you will leave it. Live intentionally NOW and for those around you. Believe it or not, the pursuit of serving others vs. yourself reaps far more happYness than any amount of possessions and self-service ever will. So kiss him/her/them goodnight tonight and every time you walk out the door...and enter it. You nor anyone else knows what the next moment holds."

- A few days back, I rolled right on past Day 100 in my running streak. The last time I wrote I hit day 60. In those 40 days I got my 31st ultra marathon finish and one of my fastest at the Youngstown Ultra Trail Classic 50K (race report here) and just two days ago ran another Akron Half Marathon with my wife. It was a day more about spending time with her, encouraging her, and crossing the finish line hand-in-hand vs. racing. Literally...we crossed the line in Canal Park holding hands in the air. It was her 2nd fastest half marathon out of her 15 finishes and another awesome race day put on by the organizers. Such a top notch event! Other than that, not much else to report. Not many photos, either, as so many of my runs are pre-dawn with us losing more and more daylight with each passing day. I did, however, run at sunrise yesterday and grabbed this sunrise photo over the pond at my local park. Gorgeous!

- Happy National Coffee Day!!! Didn't know, did you? Now you do! I already enjoyed my morning Lavazza espresso with maple syrup but surely, a stop by Bent Tree Coffee Roasters in Kent is on tap for my morning drive.

- I may have to write up a post all its own on this but two weeks ago, my bride and I escaped to southwest NY for a two-day mini-vacation. To sum it up in a few words, we began the trip at Peek-n-Peak Ski Resort where we spent 3+ hours in the woods on an aerial adventure course. Harnessed in, we tested our high-up balance and zip-lined/climbed/crawled between tree platforms. We ended up in Lakewood, NY in a 10,000 square foot castle-like bed-n-breakfast where we enjoyed a gourmet breakfast and the Southern Tier Brewing Company a short 4 miles away. A totally off-the-hook fantastic weekend and one we'll have to replicate again in the future (minus the aerial course...per my wife!).

- Are you an Apple junkie? I guess I kinda am. I got my iPhone 6 on release day and am loving it so far. I took the advice I heard from a morning-show personality on 95.5 FM The Fish and used gazelle.com to trade in my old iPhone 5. It was a super easy transaction and already got paid $165 for it. We're also fans of turning our old devices into iPods for our kids but they're still using an old iPhone 4 and 4S so no need this time around. If you're also upgrading, definitely check out Gazelle. They'll even ship you the box at no charge to return your device. It's truly a seamless process.

A lot of the KM100 in Wisconsin
- Running Forecast: I keep tossing around ideas for 2015. For 2014, though, besides continuing my streak and blowing my annual mileage out of the water by a LOT, I won't be racing much. I just registered for the Berlin Amish Country Half Marathon on the last Saturday of November which is probably the hardest half marathon I've ever seen. Insane repetitive miles through the heart of beautiful Amish country...even a block of cheese as a finishers' award! A month prior...actually less than 4 weeks from now will be my second longest race of the year, the Run with Scissors Double Marathon on October 26th. All on trails, it'll be my replacement for a previously planned 50 miler in northern Maryland I had planned on doing in November. Other than those races, not much else! For 2015, I'm still thinking heavily on a return to the 100 miler in a few different ways. Kettle Moraine in June is at the top of my list but first a trip to the Bull Run Run 50 miler in April. I'm also considering my first 24 hour race at the Northcoast 24 Hour race in Cleveland in September. Basically, I'd turn into a hamster on a wheel on a flat 0.9 mile loop for 24 hours adjacent to Lake Erie, with the goal of hitting 100 miles. So for 2015, that's just a few thoughts...of course, it'll all begin in under 96 hours past New Year's at the Frozen Sasquatch 50K in WV.

- Yesterday, I read this blog post. It was penned by a blogger who asked her husband to post it after her death. She was 36 and diagnosed with Stage 4 bowel cancer. Wow. It's an amazing post and so powerful and spot on. I strongly encourage you to read it and then follow the link at the bottom for her husband's response and tribute back to her. "Rest in peace, Charley!"

- I almost forgot. I am running a 5K trail race to help raise money for children in El Salvador. You can run or walk inside this beautiful park on October 11th for a great cause, too. Here's the page to check out and maybe even consider joining me on the trails that day.

- Any chance you may know someone or a company that would consider sponsoring a local marathon that provides free entry to veterans? $5000 is needed to help offset the cost of providing this benefit at this marathon. I can provide the full details and contact information of the race director. Simply shoot me an e-mail and I'll connect you. It's not some small, tiny race, either. It's a major event with huge name recognition across the country. Please consider or pass on this info to someone who may be able/interested. Thanks!

- To close, a dose of encouragement for you in the quote below. Let it soak in! Have a great week, everyone!

"Everything we do is a choice—every action, every thought, every feeling. We choose every day whether to feel apathetic or passionate, lazy or inspired, and the easy choice is often not the one that is best for us. Denial is easy. Inaction is easy. Selfishness, excuses, and indifference are easy. Honesty, positivity, and action, on the other hand, take bravery."

-Ben Davis, Do Life: The Creator of "My 120-Pound Journey" Shows How to Run Better, Go Farther, and Find Happiness


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Race Report: 2014 YUT-C 50K

There are a few "old school" ultra marathons left in the area and this is assuredly one of them. Dubbed the YUT-C 50K, it stands for the Youngstown Ultra Trail Classic 50K (and 25K, too). YUT-C is the main event for NEO Trail Club and often serves as a gathering of the club members and lots of newbies this time every September. This year was no different but was also the 10th anniversary of the event. Three runners finished YUT-C yesterday for 10th time and all wore the #10. "Well done, Dave Peterman, Ron Ross, and TJ Hawk! LEGACY runners!"

In my own personal opinion, the course at YUT-C is one of the most technical, rocky, rooty AND beautiful in all of northeast Ohio. Pick your season and it never disappoints. From the fall colors coming up to the twice-the-size-of-humans icicles near the Mill in the winter, it's always beautiful. The YUT-C course circumnavigates 3 different lakes in their entirety multiple times and within those or dividing them are manmade waterfalls from the dams. In between, the stream twists and turns, is full of light rapids and wildlife, and is simply always beautiful to look at. The best way to understand the course and trails at Mill Creek Park is to imagine a figure 8. Starting from the bottom of the 8, runners begin at the Old Log Cabin. Following the 8 clockwise as if writing the 8, runners pass the Covered Bridge at the center of the 8 and the first aid station. They continue on the 8 around the top right which takes them around Lake Newport. They do this loop (top of the 8) twice before finishing up the 8 by heading back to the Old Log Cabin. At this point, the 25K runners are finished. The 50K runners continue on and do the lower/fat part of the 8 twice more before finishing at the Cabin. Smooth trail under pines, running atop pointy rocks, climbing the infamous Monkey Hills (since our knuckles nearly drag in the dirt due to the angle of the climbs), running along a boardwalk path en route to the Covered Bridge and even a little bit of asphalt on the east side of Lake Newport, this course has it all.
Lake Newport during the road section
I hadn't raced since the Highlands Sky 40 Miler back on Father's Day weekend and on purpose. I had one or two others to do but never registered. Instead, I just laid low and enjoyed daily running. Totally needed that refresher! I've been streaking since June 19th and this was Day 87 of no days off. My monthly average, as well, for 2014 is also way ahead of any other year...but I feel as strong as ever. Entering the race yesterday, I had no real plan but nutrition. I mimicked everything I've done the past few races by drinking nothing but Hammer Nutrition's Heed (when available), an Endurolyte Extreme once per hour and a Hammer Gel once per hour. I did have a few Pringles during the race and a few potatoes but that's about it. This not only fuels me with only what I truly need but makes my aid station stops 30sec to 1min...always affording me the chance to pass several runners and be efficient about my stop. As for the pace, I decided simply to go with it. I know I should start slow and maintain to the end. I sorta kinda DEFINITELY DID NOT do that yesterday! BUT, I had a blast for every step and regret none of it.

Unlike many races, I didn't chat much and spent most of the race by myself and in silence. That was totally ok but I did take any opportunity presented to meet new runners or catch up with ones I hadn't seen in far too long. Back to that pace: I knew I was in over my head when I passed a few people I shouldn't. I knew that I'd eventually see them again but that was ok. I was running strong, breathing very easily (often with mouth closed...that's a good gut check for me), and nothing was difficult. I finished up the 25K back at the Old Log Cabin and there it was...confirmation: "2hrs, 32min" read the race clock. NO WAY I'm a 5hr 50K runner...especially on this course and with two more lower laps to run. Still, I was doing well and hadn't slowed...yet. I refilled my bottle, grabbed some baby mandarin oranges (chock full of potassium to ward off future cramping) and got started on the next 25K. About halfway to the Covered Bridge, I got passed by those mentioned earlier...as expected. I shouted some one-way encouragement and was pleased to see them doing well. So if I was able to maintain the pace, another loop would yield me 3:48 or so back at the Old Log Cabin. As expected, I rolled into a nice comfy pace and got back there at 4:04:56...so I slowed by 16min on that lap. Should I be able to maintain that pace, I'd have myself a 5:36 finish and a course PR.

The last loop was pretty uneventful and I just cruised along and chatted with a few friends and even made a few friends, too. Spurts came and went and I took them as they presented themselves. Within the last mile, a fellow 50K'er, Roger Walker, passed me. I was right with him in the early miles but hadn't seen him in quite awhile.  I stayed with him and learned today was going to be a new 50K PR for him and he was feeling great. (inset photo here is us in the early miles...photo courtesy of Jeff Musick.) We ran to the finish together and finished 15th and 16th overall in 5:40:52. So yea...if you look at the paragraph above, I "almost" ran an even split that last loop but lost 4 minutes. Too much chatting at the Covered Bridge Aid Station, I'd say! :)

Overall, I am very happy with my result. The 5:40 finish was a 15min PR on the YUT-C course and easily one of my faster 22 50K finishes. Most YUT-C finishes have me about an hour slower. For the whole field of finishers, the results show that 76 of 89 starters finished the 50K. That's an 85.4% finishing rate. I am listed as the 16th finisher. Not too shabby! :)

Post race, some veggie lasagna, pizza, a birthday cake for the race director "Slim" and plenty of friends to catch up with. At YUT-C, some folks just pack up and get on with their day yet others will just linger to watch other ultra runners finish and/or chat it up with fellow runners and NEO Trail Club members. I really appreciated the time I got to just chill out and hang out. As swag for the race, we got one of the best tech tees I've ever had and designed by none other than Slim's wife, Beth. Excellent design! (the print is the first image at the top of this post) At the finish, all finishers received the YUT-C oval sticker as well as a one-of-a-kind unique finisher's award...a green, aluminum bottle open with YUT-C printed on it. Sweet! There's no doubt...us NEO Trail folk love great craft brew!

Jim "Slim" Harris (race director), me, and Kim "Kimba" Love-Ottobre at the finish.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Musick
Overall takeaway: I continue to love YUT-C and hold it high in my arsenal of must-do races and one that holds true to what ultra running and trail running is all about: camaraderie, giving back to the parks we run in, and taking care of the runners. The volunteers were top notch (and provided the necessary kick down the trail as needed), aid station food was perfect, the course was marked better than any other year I've run it, and the trail...well, it's everything plus some. Is it easy? Not at all. No one ever said it was! It is rewarding, though. There is not a section that really challenges you where you don't get rewarded soon thereafter. It's just how the trail takes a little from you then gives you more back in spades. Just you/me, the trail, and the journey towards the finish line.


A few random photos from the trail below:

Lanterman's Mill




Monkey Hills!

Yinzer Covered Bridge


Closing in on the Covered Bridge after finishing the Monkey Hills



Sunday, August 24, 2014

Taking a Break

Hey friends. I'm going to take a writing break for awhile publicly. However, I'll still be posting to my Instagram, Twitter feed, and public Facebook page if you want to stay in touch. Of course, my running log and streak are alive and well and will continue driving forward. All the best and have a great Fall! Below...a photo from the 22nd mile of the Akron Marathon from yesterday's training run on the "Blue Line"...we knocked out a 22 miler. :) Get out there and Run Happy!




Monday, August 18, 2014

M-Cubed for 8.18.2014

M-Cubed (Monday Morning Musings) for August Eighteenth Two Thousand Fourteen...a random smattering of thoughts that end up here on Monday morning.

- Fair Week! In my neck of the woods, it's all about 4-H clubs, demolition derbies, truck pulls, livestock sales, "carnies," sausage sandwiches, and for me, my annual Amish-style funnel cake. One year several years ago, they tried to start the school year prior to the fair. That didn't go over too well! Two days after the fair ends, school starts. The fair, for us, is one of those timeless things. You can basically time warp back to high school, sans the 80s big hair, acid washed jeans, and pegged up pants. Always a great time!

- Here in just under 4 weeks is the 10th annual YUT-C 50K and 25K. (read: Youngstown Ultra Trail Classic) It's held in Youngstown, OH on the trails of Mill Creek Park that is sandwiched between Youngstown and Boardman. I was actually born in Youngstown and went to school in Boardman through the 5th grade. This past Saturday was the annual familiarization run. We had a handful of runners (pictured here at the Old Log Cabin) show up for the late 9am start and all enjoyed a dry, fun, sunny 11.5 miles on the course. For a few, it was their first time at Mill Creek. If you're looking for a 50K, I encourage you to come on out! The 25K is already sold out.

- Before YUT-C, though, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels are coming to town! In only two weeks, they will be thundering across the Cleveland sky and if someone is dozing off at their downtown desk, they'll be woke up quite often. One cool part of my current gig is being involved with the big weekend over Labor Day. A week from today, in fact, one of the Blue Angels will be flying into town for one more big meeting with the powers-that-be and I'll be there. I drive my white 4-door sedan to work, he flies his Blue Angel. Tough gig!

- In downtown Akron is the Child Guidance and Family Solutions building at the corner of Forge St. and Market. They provide behavioral health treatment to over 4000 adults and 1000 children every year. As a part of their fundraising efforts, they began a "Food Truck Friday" in their parking lot this year that begins at 11am and ends at 1:30pm. This year's "season" ends on September 12th so you still have a few weeks to make it out. Here was the scene on Friday during my first visit. There is a very wide selection so anyone will find something they like. Head on out and enjoy!


- It is the halfway point of August (or just over, actually) so it's good to check in on the running log. As of last night's humid, thick 80F just-prior-to-sunset-hilly-country-8.2-miler, I stand at just under 123 miles for August. While it "feels" like I haven't been running much, I'm right on track for another 200 or more mile month. Bazinga! Along with last night's run, I got home and while logging my run, I had the pleasant surprise of realizing I racked up running streak day #60! Little landmarks certainly put a grin on my face. Here was a little collage I whipped together post-run. I really like the corn photo at the bottom. That was from the run, too...not a stock photo or a photo from another day. The corn is so prevalent right now that it's aroma fills the air. I love it, actually.
- Happiness. Or Happyness, if you've seen the Will Smith movie. Ever think "If I only lived in "xyz," then I'd be happier or happy, period? I know I have and we have. Heck, it's been a conversation that repeats itself annually in the middle of the harsh winter we seem to always get here in NE Ohio. Lately, though, I have come to accept and believe that while living in other parts of the country sounds very appealing (and may very well be), that in itself will not make me happy or assure me of such joy that I should pack it all up, including my family, and head on down, over, or up there. Strip everything away and what truly matters is __________. (fill in the blank) What is it for you? Empty your house, lose your job, send the majority of your friends away...and what matters? For me, it's my bride and the fun, joyful times we spend together. It may be laughing, snuggling, going on a walk, or just watching a movie together on the couch. I say all of this because it's important to ground ourselves often when we get so wrapped up in the day to day grind of life. As our schedules fill or remain full, how are we/you allocating time to what matters most? That answer should reset your life and schedule if you're truly honest with yourself. Anyway, those are some deep thoughts for you as you begin this week.

- Speaking of quality time, this past Saturday was an event dubbed "Rootsfest" at the local winery in my hometown. If you would've told me there would be a winery in my little country hometown even 10 years ago, I would've never believed it. Turns out, it's one of our favorites and a few times a year, I'll run by their vineyard and run through the rows of vines. At the event, it was filled with local craft artisans, live music, and vino! After a morning for me on the trails, we sectioned off some early evening time alone and headed on over to Barrel Run Crossing Winery and Vineyard. It was so perfect. After checking out the vendors, we ordered up a great meat, cheese and cracker plate and enjoyed our favorite bottle of Mahoning River Red. We are fans of sweet to semi-sweet reds so this hit the spot. The music was great, too, as was my "company." We have a tradition, you see. Instead of just "drinking," we savor each sip via toast. No toast, no sip. Some days, we'll have a theme like "something we're thankful for." If you want to really encourage quality communication and hear each other's heart on a variety of things, get away with him or her and do this. Take your time. It simply ranks so high up there for "quality time" with my bride, I can't quite give it the praise it's due. Below are two photos...one of our spread and the other, of vines right next to our car where we parked (in the vineyard.) I had never actually seen bunches of grapes ON the vine IN a vineyard before! So awesome!



- As I wrap up this week's M-Cubed, I'd like to share this quote. While it does appear "running centric" at first, it applies to so many things we all do in life, regardless of the subject matter. A life of comparison can be a wrecking ball to your motivation and purpose for anything. Be YOU. Don't compare. Set goals. Achieve. For you...not them.

"Don't compare yourself with anyone else. The world is full of runners, so you'll probably see one every time you circle the block or your favorite park. Some will be thinner than you, some smoother-striding, some faster. But don't let this get you down. There's only one runner who really counts: you. Running is your activity. Make it work for you, and don't worry about anyone else."

-Amby Burfoot, Runner's World Complete Book of Beginning Running

Have a great week, everyone! Time to run! :)