Monday, April 11, 2016

M-Cubed for 4.11.2016

M-Cubed (Monday Morning Musings) for April Eleventh, Two-Thousand Sixteen...a random smattering of thoughts that end up here on Monday morning.

- Double digits in April and halfway to May! Here in Ohio, we have had a cold winter blast over the past week but the extended forecast is looking pretty good. Still, that 3-4" of snow on my car over the weekend was downright offensive! Our community is lined with gorgeous pear trees that bloom white in the Spring. I'm fearful that the cold snap and 21 degrees yesterday morning may have ruined a lot of beauty for this season.

- If you didn't read my CrossFit Games Open recap and you'd like to dig through my musings that cover 5 weeks in March, click here. It was a great time and was a great indicator of progress over the past year.

- Along the same subject of CrossFit, April 1st brought some many changes for my wife and I. Since November 4, 2014, we have been members at two CrossFit gyms but on the 1st of this month, we took it all home and now have a garage gym. It all came together, starting on April 2nd as we took a road trip 2 1/2 hours south to the headquarters of Rogue Fitness that is known worldwide as the manufacturer and supplier of everything necessary to take on such a project. One full SUV later and lunch at the Columbus Brewing Company, we headed back home and began the work. Today, the last component arrives. The bumper plates finally arrive from Texas and we can finally do all that we want. From plyo boxes to a rower to a full rig that lets us do everything from pull-ups to dips to back squats, front squats, and bench pressing...we're done. While I'm no coach, I feel I have enough knowledge now to do it safely and still move forward. Plus, there is a plethora of online resources to continually glean from. Still, we will miss our friends that we've gained and will certainly be inviting them over to throw down. For now, it's going to be us motivating each other through each day and workout. If you want to follow the progress and occasional posts about the workout, follow me on Instagram...handle is "RTRSBM".

- I don't mean to keep tooting my own horn, but ICYMI (in case you missed it), I penned another entry dubbed "Faith, Fitness and Family" back on March 23rd. It might strike a chord with you.

- Hard to believe it's been 5 years. 5 years yesterday, I boarded a plane and hugged my family goodbye, en route to Afghanistan. Most of you know that I blogged every day of that deployment in a raw online "journal." I later published that into a book (only a few of them). In memory of yesterday, Day 1, I wanted to have a throwback of sorts and re-publish those musings here. (tissue warning!)

Day 1

Leaving Kansas was knowingly going to be the toughest day in a long time. My family had surprised me at Outback Steakhouse the night before so I was well fed, well loved, and ready to go this morning. Sitting bedside with Tin Man and Scarecrow last night was tough. We had been counting down the days as we prayed together each evening and as we sat bedside, hand in hand with the both of them, I paused...for probably an eternal minute or so, trying not to cry. "This is it. After this, we'll talk and Skype/FaceTime." We did shed some tears and Tin Man squeezed my arm so tight. We prayed probably the longest prayer ever together. We prayed for Dorothy, them, me, and all the other servicemen and women away from their families. A kiss, a hug...goodnight. 

This morning came quickly and I brewed my last pot of Italian espresso until my return. That, a bowl of Kashi cereal, and I even unloaded the dishwasher, took the trash out, and washed a small batch of dirty dishes. The clock ticked by quickly and before I knew it, I released the house felines and they woke up the kids. Mental re-check of the packed bag and we headed to the airport, set to leave Kansas for Oz. 

Arriving at the airport, my whole family was there again, just like at Outback along with Dorothy's parents and a few close friends. Even a few "monkeys" (think "Oz") made a few colored signs for my travel to Oz. As time drew close, we all gathered in a circle and my brother prayed for me and my family and I made my way around, hugging everyone. I must say, I was doing pretty good but that was strategic. I knew when my manly armor would be broken. Tin Man and Scarecrow possessed that ability so I saved them for last. As I knelt down in front of Scarecrow, her eyes were welling with tears and they streamed down her face. "Daddy..." I grabbed her and that was it, we were sharing tears. "I need you to do two things for me. Can you do that?" I asked her. "One: can you pray for me? Second, can you be a big helper to your mom?" A confirmed "yes" to both requests and some reassuring words that we'll talk often and even see each other over the internet. I don't know how long I knelt there but after one last hug, I let her go....and turned around and grabbed the Tin Man and picked her up. She had talked about how tough she was going to be on the way to the airport. Her leather-bound toughness that her dad "had" had crumbled, too, and she cried on my shoulder. We had the same conversation as I had with Scarecrow but with a third request: "Be a leader for Scarecrow. You're the older one, you're the leader and she looks up to you. Can you do that?" "Yes, Dad." "And remember...we're a team. We'll all be OK." More hugs, more tears, and I let her go... Dorothy, she was next and last. I have to say, she was staying strong. I saw her eyes getting red but she was fighting the good fight. A few goodbye kisses, some hugs, and we said goodbye. "We'll be fine," she said. Through security and to the gate with one last wave across the security access point's head and that was it. It would take another 15 minutes or so for those tears to dry up. 

I won't bore you with flight info for this day on the Yellow Brick Road, except to say that I sat next to very nice lady on the first flight. Her name was Jennifer and she works at a church near my home. She asked where I was going and after telling her "Oz," we talked about that and a whole bunch of things for the rest of the flight. Oz culture, customs and our mission over there and a lot of really good talk about prejudices that exist in this world, our country, and how it all compares to Oz culture and the radical side of it. (yes, that was a bit of a run-on sentence but I couldn't figure out how to make it right! I wasn't an English major, ya know!) After a 5 hour layover at my first stop, I ended up at the first stop on journey to Oz where I'll remain for about a week. 

Here at this stop on the Yellow Brick Road, I will be checked to make sure my medical record is squared away and get the beloved small pox vaccine. They will basically prick me 15 times with a prong-like needle. From what I hear, it's the most non-enjoyable shot of them all and hurts bad. I will also sit through a bunch of briefs that cover pay/entitlements, family matters, and other misc. items. I will also be fit for and issued the uniform that I'll wear in Oz. Since there are no Navy bases in Oz, this sailor nor any sailor wears a sailor's uniform over there. We wear the uniform of the service who operates the base. So that's what I'll be issued. After all the boxes are checked and my uniforms are issued, I'll continue along the Road. 

So as this day winds down and alone time sets in, I can verify with you that Day 1 is one of, if not the very hardest days of the deployment. I can easily crawl inside my head and get very upset or distract myself by finding something to watch on TV. The base where I'm at even offers a theater with current movies...for free. Perhaps later this week I will do that...Black Swan, Kings Speech...we'll see. I did get to FaceTime with my family tonight and I saw smiles in place of tears which was nice. I ran across this quote today: "Being happy doesn't mean everything is perfect; it means you've decided to see beyond the imperfections and enjoy every day." What a great quote for a day where we could all hang our head in doom-n-gloom. Instead, we can decide to be happy.

- Want to read more? Here is Day 2. Be warned, though. There are 208 of them! 

- We had a family movie afternoon yesterday as it remained cold and blustery outside. Have you seen "In the Heart of the Sea?" It's the story of Moby Dick. If you're a fan of Thor and the Marvel movie series, you'll be pleased to know the same actor who plays Thor is the lead actor here. It was a great movie and one we all enjoyed. So do you think the great white whale was real?!

- Ever heard of General Mattis? He is a former commander of Central Command, the military arm that leads our fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Well, there is a real movement to propel him into the debauchery known as our presidential election this year. Here is a quick read to bring you up to speed on who he is and the movement afoot to make this a reality. No've got my vote, General.

- There was a time not too long ago where I ran my age on my birthday. I turn 43 inside of a week and only a few short years ago, I was still running my age that day. It was a tour, of sorts, around my county where I smelled blooming trees, ran along the Cuyahoga River, and stopped to see a few friends along the way. Oh, how times have changed! To think of running 43 miles right now is downright painful. I could do it...I could. But, the desire has left me. Instead, my bride and I plan to escape away and just enjoy each other's company for 24+ hours uninterrupted. Walking, laughing, sleeping in, and just "being." Here's to year 44 about to kick off!

- A short while ago, my "little" rescue dog decided to snuggle in for a nap. Mind you, she is about 45 pounds, extremely athletic and strong, and some are afraid of her (for no reason!). Still, she has a soft heart and loves to curl up for a nap like the rest of her family. This is me laying on the couch and the photo is taken directly above us looking down. She just kept digging and digging into my chest! LOL!

- Before I leave you today, I just want to mention a workout I did yesterday, totally unexpected and unplanned which requires no gym equipment of any kind. Just you and a determination to hang in there and stick it out. It's a Hero WOD (workout of the day) named "Maupin." It is named for SSG Matt Maupin who was captured on Good Friday, April 9th, in 2004 and later executed. His friends and fellow soldier came up with this workout and submitted it to CrossFit HQ who picked it up and officially pushed out this workout yesterday. As soon as I watched his story as told by his fellow soldier, I had to do it. Whether you do it or not, I highly recommend taking a few moments to watch the video. If you feel inspired to honor Matt afterwards, here is the workout:

  • 4 Rounds for Time
  • 800m run
  • 49 pushups
  • 49 situps
  • 49 air squats

I finished in 42min, 10sec. Rest in peace, brother.

Have a great week, everyone!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Recap: 2016 Reebok CrossFit Games Open

In March 2015, I registered for my first "Open" only 4 months after starting CrossFit. I was super weak, lacked flexibility in just about every direction, but loved the worldwide nature of the event and since one of the main purposes of the Open is to see where you've progressed year to year, I considered it a good baseline to launch from. The "Open" is the beginning of the CrossFit Games that ends in Carson, CA where the "Fittest on Earth" will be crowned for men and women. It all begins, though, in gyms and garages across the globe where anyone can compete and see where they rank in their state, region, country and worldwide. For the 99%+ of us, we do the Open for 5 weeks and then sit back and watch Regionals and the Games in CA.

Last year, I joined friends at All Heart CrossFit in Kent, OH and gave it my all. I looked back on my blog and didn't do a recap but honestly, there wasn't much to tell. I'll give you the highlights: I couldn't do a pull-up without a band, I couldn't do toes-to-bar, I couldn't do chest-to-bar, the most I could get over my head was 135 pounds, and my overall strength and flexibility was just awful. Things like overhead squats and squat cleans were just horrendous. I was a newbie in the finest sense of the word but giving it my all and having fun with it. This past February, my coach at my new CrossFit gym at CrossFit 881 encouraged participation. I wasn't going to, actually. I was only going to do the workouts and not pay the $20 to actually record scores and see how'd I'd fare the globe over. But he was right...I liked the spirit of competition and that simple logging of a score would be a motivator. It was going to be me vs. me and that was perfect. I gave up my 20 bucks and looked forward to week #1.

Each Thursday night at 8pm, CrossFit HQ streams the workout LIVE on YouTube. To the one not familiar with CrossFit or the Open, this may not seem like a big deal but I assure you...there is all kinds of hoopla and anticipation that surround it. Admittedly in our family, we gathered around either the TV or our iPhones each Thursday night to listen to Dave Castro, director of the CrossFit Games give the announcement and watch two elite athletes do it. The Open has a repuation for pushing people outside of their comfort zones and often, it introduces something not so common for many athletes. This year was no different and on Thursday night, Feb. 25th, Dave Castro announced "16.1." 16.1 was a 20min AMRAP (as many rounds and reps as possible) of:

  • 25ft overhead walking lunge with 95lb barbell
  • 8 bar-facing burpees
  • 25ft overhead walking lunge with 95lb barbell
  • 8 chest-to-bar pull-ups

95lb Overhead Walking Lunges
Overhead walking lunges aren't too uncommon but doing them with a barbell plus two 25lb plates on them is. For the athlete who lacks flexibility, it's even worse. BUT, unlike a year ago, I can do chest-to-bar pull-ups so I was totally down with doing this. Saturday came and our gym did it together. It went pretty well and I ended up with 109 reps. Unfortunately, I had to drop the barbell twice during those 25ft stretches which definitely cost me reps. Over the next day or so, I considered doing it again, knowing that if I could do the walking lunges unbroken, I'd be able to improve. On Monday, I did exactly that and with 3 minutes to go, I hit 109 reps! I didn't break any of the lunges up and I took less rest breaks between chest-to-bar pull-ups. I ended up with 125 reps and couldn't be happier!

Rx vs. Scaled: In CrossFit programming/workouts, "Rx" means doing a workout "as prescribed" with the exact movement and weight. Very often, I can't do that. One goal of doing the Open in 2016 was to log a Rx score all 5 weeks. A few things could de-rail me. For one, if muscle-ups showed up, I would be done...can't do them. Also, if hand-stand push-ups made an appearance as they always do, I'd be done. So for 16.1, so far so good! I did the prescribed weight and unlike in 2015, I could do chest-to-bar pull-ups. Boom!

Getting some singles in during the Scaled 16.2
As I mentioned previously, each Thursday night at 8pm was an "event" in our house. We gathered around our smartphones and TV and typically within seconds of the Open announcement, texts would begin flying amongst fellow CrossFitters about the workout, how dreadful it was, our predictions, etc. For 16.2, I am quite sure my face sunk into a frown as former Navy SEAL, Dave Castro gave the annoucement. 16.2 is a bit confusing to explain. Let me try: The 3 movements were: 25 toes-to-bar, 50 double-unders, and 15 squat cleans at 135lbs., but within 4 minutes. If an athlete could finish that in under 4min, they got another 4min block to do the same but increase the weight of the clean and do 2 less reps (e.g. 13 reps). The faster you move, the more time got banked, if that makes sense. It had a 20min total time limit. So for me, it just hit me with two of my major weaknesses, those being toes-to-bar and double-unders. I can do toes-to-bar and honestly, they were the best ever during this workout. I just can't string a bunch of them together. I can also do double-unders but only a few at a time. I can't do 50 unbroken like some folks...or even 5. So one thing I knew here: I wouldn't even get to the bar and my workout would be done in 4min. Just as expected, it was and I logged a score of 46: 25 toes-to-bar and 21 double-unders. One thing I like to do is work, a few minutes after finishing, I got right into the scaled version of this workout "just because." Instead of T2B, it was knee raises and instead of DUBs, it was singles, and the weight for the first round of power cleans was 95lbs. I did it and crushed it. Still, I got myself a Rx score for the week, albeit tiny, but I did. Hopefully in 2017, I will have those T2B on point and can somehow break through on double-unders. It's all about working on the weaknesses and getting stronger every day!

Trying for my first BMU!
16.3 was...well, a week to work on something totally brand new. Typically, the workout is a burner with very high intensity or it goes heavy. 16.2 went heavy with those squat cleans but 16.3 was lightweight with a movement I cannot do. It was a short 7min AMRAP of:

  • 10 Power Snatches at 75lbs
  • 3 Bar Muscle-Ups

The power snatches were no challenge at all. I've been working on this movement a lot lately and this was the easiest variant of it. Luckily, it was the first of two movements for this workout which allowed me to log a Rx score, keeping my Rx streak alive. So within about 35 seconds, I finished the snatches and then I spent the remaining 6 1/2 minutes trying so hard to get ONE bar muscle-up. The finish of this movement are arms extended and locked out with you above the bar. I got close...many times! However, it wasn't meant to be. I tried all throughout the next week to get one. Another thing to work on? You bet. I intend to keep focusing on weighted pull-ups and dips to get me stronger that "should" help getting my first BMU.

With light weight in 16.3, my prediction was something heavy for 16.4. My guess was a max effort on something like the clean and jerk or heavy deadlifts. I leaned towards deadlifts because we had a max clean and jerk in 2015. I was right...and this was my favorite workout of the 5 weeks. 16.4 was a 13min AMRAP of:

  • 55 deadlifts at 225lbs
  • 55 wall balls (20lbs)
  • 55 calories on the rower
  • 55 hand stand push-ups

Once again, Mr. Castro's choice of order benefited me. I can do HSPUs but not to the floor. Had they been the first movement, I would've been done before I started. As for those other movements, my deadlifts have been stronger than ever lately when I hit a new PR recently at 380lbs, I'm good at wall balls, and I'm one of the strongest rowers at my gym. My plan of attack for the deadlifts (which at 225 are decently heavy, especially given the high rep count) were a rep scheme of 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 with a 5 second rest between. That went well until the rep of 6 and I went 3-3. After that, I just got them done as efficiently as possible. The first few wall balls were...well, you would've thought I was drunk! My legs were jacked up but I quickly got a hold of them and did well. As for the rower, while I am a strong rower, those wall balls left me gassed. I finished the row in 10:48, leaving 2:12 to do "something." That 10:48 was a recorded time to help with the rankings so it definitely mattered. Castro knew a lot of people would hit a brick wall after the row. So instead of staring at my fellow athletes for 2:12, I repped out a bunch of hand-release push-ups, the scaled movement for part 4 of 16.4. They didn't count for anything as the Rx portion of the workout ended with my row. I logged a score of 165 reps! It was an awesome workout and I felt those deadlifts for about 3 days!

So for the prior 4 weeks, I couldn't shake the hunch that Castro would bring back an old workout from 2014. We weren't yet doing CrossFit in March 2014 but it ended with a killer workout of thrusters and bar facing burpees. To date, no CrossFit Open has been void of thrusters so 16.5 would surely have them, or so we thought. BUT, 16.1 had bar facing burpees already so would he repeat? The big Thursday announcement was broadcast LIVE from The Ranch in California where the original Games took place. As he stood there staring into the camera with his trademark smirk on his face, he said: "16.5 is....14.5." And there we had it. No time cap, just plenty of suck. 16.5 was the only thing between me and doing the entire Open Rx. 16.5...or 14.5 is:
21 thrusters at 95lbs, 21 bar-facing burpees, then 18 and 18, and so on all the way down to 3. 21-18-15-12-9-6-3. In all, 84 crushing thrusters and 84 bar facing burpees. Those require you to do a burpee facing the bar then jump over the bar (both feet leaving the ground at the same time) and do the next burpee and so on. Thrusters are yet another weakness for me. Upper body strength is far better these days but flexibility is still a struggle. That many thrusters at 95lbs would certainly be very rough...but I did it. I'll never forget my wife's comment after the workout...and keep in mind she is a nurse:

"I thought you were having a cardiac event during the round of 6...but I knew you'd say something if you were in trouble." 

It did suck...for 23min, 41sec. But proud of myself for doing it and even more so? I was proud of my wife because she did it Rx as well. She almost didn't even walk into the gym that morning!

Overall, I'm thrilled with my performance in the 2016 Open. I am far stronger than a year ago and I'm already looking forward to what 2017 will hold. Here is where I ended up both in the Central East division and worldwide amongst Men, ages 40-44. Am I happy? Big time. I'm especially thrilled because heading into week 5, I was over 9,000 worldwide and in the 600s in the region. I essentially jumped 1500 athletes worldwide with my effort in 16.5! Plus, being in the top half is really enough for me. I'm very happy with it.

The icing on the cake for the 2016 Open is that my wife did it all, and half of it Rx. She wanted nothing to do with it in 2015 but her confidence and strength has sky-rocketed over the past 10 months. She has a passion and drive like never before and she crushed it. I couldn't be happier and more proud of her!

After 16.5, our small community at CrossFit 881 spent a few hours together, grilling some chicken and steak, enjoying some comfort food and even a few beverages. Great friends, quality coaching, and "embracing the suck" together. The 2016 Open is a wrap and now us 99%+ of CrossFit athletes will glue ourselves to LIVE YouTube streams as the Regionals kick off on May 13th all over the world and then the Games form July 19-24 in Carson, CA where the fittest man and woman will be crowned. Now get on your #beastmode and get to work!

CrossFit 881 Family post-16.5

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Faith, Fitness and Family

I'm inking this post from a comfy chair at my daughters' orthodontist. Child #2 gets her braces on today. Child #1 gets them off in a few months. So with the ending of one payment plan begins another but I'm thankful for that. Thankful for non-overlapping bills and a little bit of insurance to ease the burden of a costly service. So, while she gets the metal in her mouth, a few minutes here to catch up.

Only a few more weeks and another birthday rolls in. It'll be my 43rd year of completion on this earth and to me, it's just another day. Seriously, I'm good with a birthday kiss from my bride and perhaps one of my favorite craft brews at dinner and I'll be good. Many say that "age is just a number" but in my opinion,  it means a lot more to folks. It's used as an excuse, a point of complaint, often hidden and considered "private" but really, it just is. We all grow older by the moment and really, it's just a number. To let it define you, your limits, your "whatever" is to hold yourself back!

March 23rd...2016. It's amazing to me to think that 5 years ago, I was about to head on over to Afghanistan. Thanks to Facebook's "On This Day" feature, I get reminded of that daily, how I felt moving towards the day and forced to reflect on the "me" of 2011 vs. the me of now. Like I tell many, perhaps I'll write a book on that journey but suffice to say for now, it has been filled with the lowest of lows along with some incredible highs. Today, though, it has taught me to live in the NOW, capitalize on TODAY, love those around me NOW and never let a kiss go un-given, a hug not shared or the sun to go down on emblazoned debate. It has taught me to not count on tomorrow and to be the best version of all the knowledge and resources I have before me.

Faith: If you asked me when I became a Christian, I'd tell you something like: "Well, I was 5 years old, WKRP in Cincinnati was on the TV, and I was eating a bowl of buttered rice at the table in our modest home in Canfield, OH." That's really my recollection! I was raised in a Christian home, attended church my entire upbringing, was active in the youth groups of many churches, attended summer camps, and in all, I was a pretty good kid. To this day, I have never touched, let alone smoked (or whatever) an illegal drug. I kept clean, got good grades, and had parents that provided a safe and stable home to grow up in. Faith, though, or my religion never really matured. I definitely had the mouth of a sailor in the 90s and I led my home/marriage the best I could. We were active in using our talents for music and we were always engaged in groups within the church. It wasn't until late in 2011 (just after my return from the desert 10,000 miles away) where my faith was put to the test. It was a fork in the road of sorts and I could either say "I'm done with you, God." or fully devote myself to Him, let Him take the lead, and in turn, lead my wife and family. I chose the latter and I'm living testament to an awesome God who just never fails me. I really despise the term "religion" and the societal rules it has forced into our country and world. Instead, I am a Christian with a heavenly Father who is my all in interceder, my leader, the one I talk to first when I wake up, and my protector. When the crap hits the fan, I know "He's got me" and won't let me go. There is great peace to quite literally KNOW Him and cast all the worries of this life on Him and let Him lead instead of me. There really isn't anything comparable in this world.

Pre-November 2014
Fitness: Back in 1997, I ran my first marathon and for the next 17 years, that's all I did. It began with marathons but then upon our move to Ohio in 2002, the taste for trail-running was sparked and ultra running followed soon thereafter...and eventually a few 100-mile races in 2009. It wasn't that I grew tired of running or hated it, but I was tired of hurting...and aching. I was also tired of never looking different in the mirror. I thought "How could I run 200+ miles per month yet never lose a pound, an ounce of fat, or even look anything but sedentary?" I wanted a change so I accepted the invitation from friends of ours to try CrossFit. That was November 4, 2014. In the beginning, I still ran but cut the mileage way back because too much mileage made me too sore to really give it all in the gym. Fast forward to today and I might run 10-20 miles a month now...max. I find it hard to still call myself a runner but my body still remembers it and when I do head out, it's all groovy! I love it. But, the fire that burned bright before that pushed me out into the dark at 4:30am most days is all but snuffed out.

Today, I truly feel like I am in the best shape of my life. I could never do a dip, a pull-up, climb a rope or lift much of anything heavy. I can do that and a lot more AND I can often hold my own with those half my age. The long-distance running part of me (aka: endurance) helps me often for those long, grueling workouts where others just want to die and give up. The "engine" is my ace in the overall strength is ironically my weakness and kryptonite. But since 2014? It is far better and greater as indicated in the current CrossFit Games Open competition that I am a part of. The photo here is from last Saturday and was captured part of the way through 55 dead lifts at 225 pounds. I could lift that a year ago but there is no way I could've done it 55 times. My daily grind is overall positive but I still fight myself and my shortcomings. I have always been and always will be very, very hard on myself and unfortunately, those around me just don't get it. They perceive a bad attitude, a desire to not be there, a "whatever." The truth is, I love pushing myself hard and seeing/feeling change. It's not one of vanity to show off, but feeling good in my own skin and accomplished. I still look like a goof in so much I do but my heart is fully in it. I'm not sure where the future is headed here. I know I love it and I won't stop doing it. The rest is a blank slate.

Before I close the book on fitness, I would be remiss if I didn't share a little something with you. You probably know I recently got into rucking and GORUCK via the local Cleveland Area Rucking Crew and had signed up for my inaugural event over July 4th weekend on July 1st in Cleveland. Well, I dove a little more head first into that world by signing up for a triplet of sorts dubbed the HTL. In June, I will head to Detroit, MI for a 3-event series that begins with the GORUCK Heavy, followed by the GORUCK Tough and then finally the GORUCK Light. If you really want to know the "suck" factor here, just click on the hyperlinks you just read over in the preceding sentence. In a nutshell, the Heavy will be 24+ hours and cover 40+ miles. A special forces guy will lead it (aka: cadre) along with Old Glory and it'll be all about team and not quitting. Of course, I will always be carrying my 30 pound ruck on my back. A few hours after finishing, I'll do the Tough event  which will be 10-12 hours and cover 15-20 miles. After that, it's onto the Light that will be 4-5 hours and cover 7-10 miles. No sleep. No quitting. 3 patches.

Family: While faith has to come first, family is as tight a second place as it can be. My focus to keep my marriage alive, fresh, fun, selfless and loving is laser-focused. Who says 23+ years has to be boring, dull and meh?! I think my bride would agree that through our journey, we are closer than ever and stronger than ever. While we have had our bumps, bruises and near total collapses, we have made it to this point. I read something this morning about the enemy (aka: devil, Satan, evil)...if you hear him talking, he's lying! It's so true! He is a king, for sure...the king of lies and deception. The sooner you realize that and who is talking, the sooner you can be set free from it and call it for what it is every time he comes around.

Being a father also is a challenge to say the least! I swear they are a sponge for everything! Our youngest said something last night and while it wasn't a cuss word and I have certainly said it, it should not come out of her mouth! LOL! I kindly told her "You really can't say that." (insert chuckle) But, I will continue to do my best by them and hopefully, we'll stay close for a lifetime and they'll always know that I love them no matter what and through anything life deals them.

In closing, I'll just say that things are good. Change is constant. There are many knowns and unknowns in the near and distant future but as long as I keep priorities in check, be passionate about all that I do, and never compromise who I am, it'll all work out as it should. I just gotta remember to smile thing that doesn't come natural for me! "I promise...I'm not angry!!"

Go be epic, friends!

Monday, March 14, 2016

M-Cubed for 3.14.2016

M-Cubed (Monday Morning Musings) for March Fourteenth, Two-Thousand Sixteen...a random smattering of thoughts that end up here on Monday morning.

- Week #3 of the 2016 Reebok CrossFit Games Open is here. On Thursday night, Games director Dave Castro dropped another bomb on me. Last week, it was toes-to-bar and double-unders...two distinct weaknesses of mine and this week? The bar muscle-up. It's coupled with lightweight power-snatches which are easy. The bar muscle-up, though, is something that I can't do. This past Friday and Saturday, I did work on them quite a bit but so far...a no-go. I'll give it another try tomorrow but don't expect for it to click. Luckily, the snatches come first so I can still log a score but it'll be dismal. That's ok, though...the Open is known for pointing out the weaknesses of everyone and/or highlighting the strengths. It's just another thing to work on!

- Any wooden spoon survivors out there? Hehehehe... I couldn't help but chuckle when I saw this yesterday. Yes...I am one! :) (get the t-shirt here)

- I was browsing through Netflix yesterday on a constant-rain Sunday and stumbled upon "Before We Go" independent film made in 2014 by Chris Evans...the actor and now director who plays Captain America in the Marvel films. Pretty great flick that we all watched. It's actually rated "NR" and I only counted one f-bomb in the whole movie...that's it. I'd call it a romantic film and great to watch with your significant other. Check out the trailer here.

- In my office, we have had a small dog as our office dog for about 6 years. Her name was Abby and she was a tiny little thing. She came to work everyday with my co-worker who has been working there for 34 years. Abby was 14 which was 4 years longer than her anticipated lifespan. On Thursday, Abby took a turn for the worse and passed away. She'll be sorely missed! Here are a few photos of us over the past few years.

- Here in Ohio, we have election day and the primary for the upcoming presidential election. Ugh! Like I posted last night on Facebook, it's sad that our country can't produce a single respectable candidate for the Oval Office...of any party! While I will vote as I always do, there really isn't a person on any ticket I really want in the Office. It's frustrating as heck when imagining any candidate with a real chance actually being sworn in as the POTUS. America...we have to do better!!!

- This past Saturday was planned to be a rest day but the invisible pull of the CrossFit gym won me over. After spending about an hour doing all kinds of pull-ups, even to include doing singles with a 45lb kettlebell strapped around my waist, I moved on to back squats. It's something I use to warm up with a lot but haven't gone heavy in them for awhile. My personal record for the back squat went all the way back to April 2015 at my previous gym at 240lbs. I really wanted it gone as my last lingering PR from that gym. As I moved up in weight, it felt pretty good so I went for it and got two sets in at 255 pounds! While that's not HEAVY by many people's standards, it's heavy for me. I haven't even challenged 240 again since July last year and all I could get then was 220. Pretty happy! I'm also happy with my form, back position, chest up, below parallel, etc. It all went awesome! I also love it when I feel 100% the day after with no soreness of any kind...especially when I just lifted the most ever. It's easy to hurt yourself if you don't know what you're doing so the day-after feeling is great confirmation of a successful lift..and safely at that!

- There is a pretty cool company/husband and wife team down in Texas that opened up a company called Peacemaker Trading Company. He's ex-Special Forces and she works IT. Their names are Bert and Candace. They formed the company because as he says "we firmly believe that there isn't much better in this world than a favorite t-shirt." When they release a shirt, it sells out in hours, then he produces it, and finally ships it, each with a note. So to get one, I've learned to be subscribed to their email list and when I see an announcement, get on it immediately if I want it. I finally got my first shirt dubbed "The Paw" on Friday. This is the back of it and I tried to show the sleeves, too. There is also a front that you can see on their website at The one I REALLY want is their deadlift shirt. I literally bugged the heck out of Bert to get one but no dice. Hopefully, he'll make it again. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy wearing my super-soft "Paw" shirt. Check them out, read their story, and look at some of the past shirts they made. Pretty sweet!

- I like to end these posts with something positive to launch into the week. Below is a post by the 2015 Reebok CrossFit Games Champion and current "Fittest on Earth". I'm a big fan of Ben Smith who always exhibits humility, doesn't hide his faith, and is crazy talented and strong. To win it all last year yet still come across as "normal" is admirable. Great words by the champ! Have a great week, everyone!

Monday, March 7, 2016

M-Cubed for 3.7.2016

M-Cubed (Monday Morning Musings) for March Seventh, Two-Thousand Sixteen...a random smattering of thoughts that end up here on Monday morning.

- First M-Cubed since January 18th. I took a nap, ok?! Ok. On with the day...and SPRING!!! This forecast is nothing short of spectacular this week...

- "Rest in Peace" to our former First Lady, Mrs. Nancy Reagan. I have always been a fan of her and President Reagan...always a class act. She passed away yesterday at the age of 94 and was married to "Ronnie" for 52 years.

"You learn something out of everything, and you come to realize more than ever that we're all here for a certain space of time, and, and then it's going to be over, and you better make this count." ~ Nancy Reagan 

- CrossFit is going, well, fantastic these days. My wife and I are now a year and four months into this journey and now have been with our current gym longer than the original, a switch that is confirmed daily as the right move. If you recall, I participated in the CrossFit Games Open last year...a 5-week event that kicks off the big CrossFit Games season that ends this summer in Carson, CA where the "Fittest on Earth" will be crowned. For us mere mortals, though, it's a chance to see where we've come over the last year, face our weaknesses, and be one of over 323,000 athletes "competing" worldwide. Yes, that many registered this year from 177 countries and all 7 continents for the first time. Yes, Antarctica has Deep Freeze CrossFit! :) Below are screenshots from my Instagram posts quickly summing up Weeks 1 and 2 or workouts 16.1 and 16.2. 16.3 will be announced live on YouTube this Thursday night. Bottom Line: I have definitely gotten stronger and can do far more than I could a year ago! ... a little backstory on the first photo: I did it and got 109 reps as shown on Saturday, the 27th. I analyzed (shocker, eh?!) how I did it over the weekend then came back on Monday and re-did it and got myself 16 more reps for a score of 125. I switched up my grip on the bar and broke none of the 25ft stretches up (I had broke two up before) and rested less on the burpees and chest-to-bars. With 3 min to go, I reached the was awesome!

- Who to vote for, who to vote for.... Well, if the election were today, I'd be writing in a candidate. Who? I don't know...maybe myself?! Seriously, there isn't anyone with a chance at getting on the ballot that is going to get my vote. I've never actually written in my name on a ballot so this may be a first. Trump? Come on. Morals? Ability to lead our country's military? Bully. Yes, he definitely is that. On the other side, I think Hillary has the best bet at getting on the ticket...but wait, the FBI investigation of her continues to escalate by the day. Then there is Benghazi. ARGH! Is this the best our country has to offer? Trump or Hillary? Yep...writing in my name.  Enter name here: ____________________

- So yesterday, we stumbled upon this new little donut shop in Hartville, OH called Peace, Love and Little Donuts. Think small, warm, fresh donuts with toppings applied to order before your eyes. All kinds of things to satisfy the sweet tooth and if you were buying a lot, it would be expensive. However, I felt like my $1.35 was well spent for this circle of joy...this one called the Triple Chocolate Meltdown. I know, I know...awesome, isn't it?

- A little over a week ago, I had the pleasure of heading down to Columbus for yet another Change of Command and Retirement Ceremony for my commanding officer who now is enjoying retired life in North Carolina after 21 years of service as a Naval Aviator. I really enjoyed serving with him and being there for his retirement. Each one brings me a little closer to my own ceremony. I go back and forth about whether to have an actual ceremony and I always come back to doing it for my family, for closure of a major chapter, and to just seal it all up. But mostly, I'd want to do it to honor my family and thank them for supporting me.

- Can we just talk running for a minute? Unless this is visit #1 to my blog, you know that for years and years (17+, actually), I was a long distance runner and every year had a long list of races to complete from the short 5K to in 2009, three 100-milers. It's all I did outside of a job and family. That all changed in late 2014 and I've pinned on just a few bibs for races since then. For 2016, the only ones planned for are May's Medina Half Marathon and late April's Pro Football Hall of Fame Marathon. For the marathon, it's been held two years now and I've run both with a goal of running it every year. Up until now, the military have been entered for free. That is ending this year as no sponsor could be found so now I'm faced with the decision of paying to enter (untrained, mind you) or abandoning the goal of doing every one for as long as possible. I'm leaning towards not running it. Why? No one cares about a streak but me...and if my passion and time isn't spent training for it...then why pay for it? I try to be as logical and sensical as possible and it just doesn't feel right to do it "just to do it." So I'm erasing it from my calendar. I hope I don't regret it as once I miss it, I can't get it back and be a legacy runner of the event. I'm still a runner...I really am. I just don't run...a lot. :)

- Before I leave you today, just a skip back to CrossFit for a moment. I was on a deadlifting PR (personal record) streak over the last month. The photo below is when I pulled 380 pounds back on February 24th. My coach has been programming in this deadlift workout that goes like this: 6-5-4-3-2-1. Those are the number of reps and you work up to a starting weight for 6 pulls then keep adding weight. It was a little tricky to get the math right but it's been a blast week after week doing it again and slightly besting myself over and over. 380lbs is where I'll sit for a bit as I need to strengthen my back more before I go heavier. Still, this photo blows me away because I had zero muscle tone when this journey began. While it's the not the reason to show up each day, it's a nice side-benefit to working hard.

So have a great week, everyone and as I posted a few days, ago, let this one soak in no matter what you find yourself doing this week...within your home, workplace, "gym," the open road...

The best you can do is enough. Just be sure it's the best.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Report: 2016 Love Like You Mean It Marriage Cruise

It was Monday, February 15, 2016 and we were waiting for our shuttle to the ship in downtown Miami at our hotel and another guest, cruising on a different ship, asked us: "You aren't going to be in marriage counseling all week, are you?"! LOL! Here is a short recap of our 2nd cruise with FamilyLife aboard the Carnival Victory. Enjoy!

Our history with FamilyLife out of Little Rock, AR goes way way back to a marriage conference we attended in downtown Akron in the 90s but then really began in 2001 when we attended our first small group study in Colorado Springs. Since then, we've attended several of those, led some, led a few Art of Marriage retreats, a few men's retreats via the Stepping Up program and we even returned to the Weekend to Remember getaway a few years ago, again in Akron. We've even used their phenomenal "Passport 2 Purity" curriculum in raising/teaching our girls. Last February, we sailed on our first Love Like You Mean It Marriage Cruise aboard the Carnival Ecstacy. It was much so that we booked the 2016 sailing before we left the ship. We've cruised many times but this is very different. We still enjoyed the "cruising lifestyle" but instead of ship's entertainment, art auctions, and bingo, many authors, speakers, comedians, and musical artists cruise with us and bring us entertainment, teaching, etc. FamilyLife literally charters out the entire ship so it's just us...and it sells out every year far in advance of the sailing. So enter 2016...

Post-Workout at CrossFit Vida
We flew to Miami a day early just like last year. This really alleviates the stress of flying out of Cleveland in the middle of winter on the day of sailing. One never knows what Old Man Winter will bring to Cleveland. We rack up points throughout the year and stay at a Hampton Inn and Suites downtown, just minutes from the Port of Miami. The logistics worked out perfectly, we enjoyed dinner Sunday night, got in a CrossFit workout on Monday morning at CrossFit Vida two blocks away and by 1pm, we were checking in at our second LLYMI marriage cruise. Like we always do, we dropped out luggage off in our room and navigated around the ship to get our bearings and discover where everything is...and eat, of course! Lunch was already being served. We snapped a few photos and sent them home before we set sail at 5pm.
Looking forward from the putting green back aft

Downtown Miami skyline from aboard the Victory on a 100% overcast day!
At 5:15, we had the plans set to meet friends we met last year from California. The doors opened for the first seating at dinner at 5:30pm so we were sure to show up, exchange handshakes and hugs and claim our table. Daniel and Cara definitely influenced us a bit in booking this year's cruise. I remember them showing up to dinner last year having booked wasn't long after that and we did as well. We also welcomed in a few more couples to our table of 8 and enjoyed our first dinner as we set sail for Grand Cayman! The first night's main session was at 7:45pm and after being led in a few familiar songs, Gary Thomas (author of Sacred Marriage) spoke. Afterwards, we found ourselves scrambling to the other end of the ship for 321 Improv. They were a comedy act and downright hilarious! We loved them. While we wanted to stay up to see Selah perform, we were beat and headed to bed.

Day 2: Tuesday (at sea): On a day at sea, the schedule is packed but it's really up to each cruiser what they want to do. Food is always being served somewhere (literally! the pizza bar is open 24 hours), the pool deck and pools are open, the gym and spa are open, but there are also breakout sessions taking place inside the ship. We decided to work out first so up to the gym we went. My bride did 3 miles on the treadmill and did some dumbbell presses and I got on the Concept 2 Rower, a familiar machine to me, for a sweat-pouring 5000 meter row. That was miserable! But, I got it covered in 18:38. I wrapped up my time with a bunch of dumbbell presses and pull-ups. I had a feeling this would be the last time in the gym for our cruise...I was right. We got some breakfast and then I decided I wanted to go hear from Jeff Kemp, a former NFL quarterback for the 49ers, Seahawks and Eagles. He gave a talk to the men called "Surviving the Blitz" which was really, really good. I almost bought his book but had a moment of reality when I once again realized that I never finish books that I start/ I saved my 14 bucks. Much of the day after this was just us being lazy until dinner time and the main program. Session 2 brought us a married couple who co-taught the packed crowd before we all funneled out, just to get right back in line before my most anticipated concert of the week...MercyMe! Last year, it was Steven Curtis Chapman who I really looked forward to. MercyMe did NOT disappoint! With over 20 years under their belt, Dove Awards, and lots of #1 hits, they made the very most of their 50 minutes. They did a compilation of several hits just to appease the crowd but were sure to play out "I Can Only Imagine," perhaps their most popular, timeless song ever. We sat only a few rows from the stage, too. It would've been fine with me if they went on all night!

Before MercyMe went on stage at 10pm, though, the captain spoke over the speakers to all guests about a schedule change. It turns out, someone on board had fallen ill and the U.S. Coast Guard told the ship that they had to turn around and head back northeast to Key West and not pull in to Grand Cayman for her to get treatment. The schedule was supposed to be Grand Cayman on Wednesday and Ocho Rios, Jamaica on Thursday which are essentially side by side, south of Cuba. No more details were given to the guests, except that both port visits were not going to happen and instead, we'd be visiting Key West on Wednesday, a day at sea on Thursday and now to the Bahamas on Friday instead of being at sea. I KNOW that on a "regular" cruise, people would've been downright ugly and disgusting about this change, complaining endlessly about it. I call it the "Angry American" syndrome. It's so prevalent in these days of entitlement and intolerance. Instead, though, we prayed for the family and the wife who fell ill and said often "yea, we wanted to stop in the Caymans and Jamaica, but her care is more important." And so we sailed to Key West...

Day 3: Key West: We stopped in Key West on the 2015 cruise so we knew our way around...bonus! After sleeping in and grabbing breakfast, we opted just to walk the town and eventually enjoy lunch before returning back. The weather started out gloomy but quickly turned to a breezy, sunny, low 70s day...perfect for walking around town. We found our way to the pier we stopped at last year, chilled out a bit by the beautiful water/landscape and then moved back towards town, in search of lunch, but away from the main tourist trap called Duval St.

White St. Fishing Pier, Key West
Fortunately, being back in the U.S. (although really a Caribbean Island) brought us a cell signal and my favorite Yelp! app to find a great, local restaurant. We found "Deuce's 'Off the Hook' Grill" on Simonton St. At first glance, you'd probably never stop there but with 4.5 stars out of 5 over almost 200 reviews, it was worth a look. When we arrived after about 4 or 5 miles of walking, we were ready to feast on something good. The place is so small that the hostess is outside the front door and peered in the front door to see if there was room for us two. There was and we found ourselves at the bar in a room that "maybe" sat 30 guests...super small! We started with fried green tomatoes, topped with lump crab meat and drizzled with a mango mint dressing. I then enjoyed this amazing sandwich (pictured) called the "Off the Hook" Sandwich that was coconut encrusted Mahi Mahi, topped with a mango jalapeno salsa. Oh my!!!! So very good. It was complimented with sweet potato tots! My bride enjoyed a seared ahi tuna BLT wrap that had fried green tomatoes in it along with an avocado wasabi aioli. When we return to Key West, we will return here! Before returning to the ship, we called home and talked to our girls, snapped a selfie, and re-boarded the Victory.

Dinner was great again as we set sail from Key West and for the main session on Wednesday, an off-the-chart word was brought by Pastor Bryan Lorritts, the son of well-known Crawford Lorritts. The theme was forgiveness which struck home for so many as it was talked about the rest of the week. Afterwards, we went to see Harris III, a master illusionist. He gave a little teaser during the main session so we definitely had to see him. We saw 321 Improv again, too. The great thing with improv is that it's always different!

Thursday: At Sea: We slept in again (this became normal and was easy due to our pitch black room and absolute silence) and enjoyed some breakfast together before I decided to get a little workout in. Up forward and high up, they had a jogging track...or more like a hamster wheel. It was a rubberized track and in 11 laps, one mile would be covered. In true CrossFit fashion, I decided to make a workout out of it: 3 rounds of 1 mile, 20 pushups, 30 burpees, 40 air squats then 2 more miles (or 22 more laps). It was a great workout and interesting in the high winds and moving ship, especially during those bloody burpees! Afterwards, I fell asleep in the sun on the aft end of the ship next to my bride...and enjoyed a few bites of calamari. :) At 1:30pm that day, another men's session was taking place with Jeff Kemp so I went to that and my wife headed to hear author and speaker, Lysa TerKeurst. She spoke really highly of that session and Jeff's didn't disappoint, either. It was more focused on the Stepping Up event that I've led twice before. We got in some rounds of rummy (our long-standing tradition when we cruise) before dinner again at 5:30pm. For the main session, Dave and Ann Wilson talked on conflict. If you haven't heard of the Wilsons, they are awesome! We saw them last year and they never disappoint. Powerful, hilarious, and always super relevant. They teamed up with the husband/wife drama team called "Acts of Renewal" to really bring it all home. Dave Wilson has been the Detroit Lions chaplain for over 30 years. Afterwards, we got in line super quick for the 2nd-most anticipated concert of the week for me...Sanctus Real. Little did I know, the lead singer was leaving the band and last fall, they did their farewell tour. This concert was going to be the last time he performed with the band he founded some 20 years ago in Toledo, OH. All week, I wondered if Sanctus Real was even going to be there and if so, who would be the lead singer? It wasn't until the concert that it all came together. The icing on the cake? In a most classy move, he introduced his replacement near the end of the concert and they played their first single as the "new" Sanctus Real. After that, they all came back on stage together for a standing ovation.

Friday: Nassau, Bahamas: Well, you know how the day begins by now and after that, we decided to just walk. In a nutshell, the Bahamas don't offer much, in my opinion, except for the lush Atlantis Resort that is as expensive or more than getting into Disney World. Back some 12 or 13 years ago on a cruise, we went there and were able to walk through much of it, including the aquarium. Well, we walked the 2-3 miles there but upon arrival, none of that is free anymore. We didn't stay long and began our walk back but via a different route. Now, if you want to snorkel, snuba, scuba, etc., they do offer excursions but not much else. As soon as you step off the ship, you'll instantly be immersed in a tourist trap. By the time we left that day, there were FIVE cruise ships docked. Yikes. We were back on the ship by 1pm...almost 4 hours early. I got some rays on the sun bride caught a nap. At dinner, our final dinner, we caught up on the week and before heading to the final session, grabbed this group photo. Daniel and Cara are on the right and our newest friends from just outside Denver, CO, Ken and Amy are seated. Meeting new friends, sharing a little bit of life with each other and our journeys are definitely major highlights of the Love Like You Mean It Marriage Cruise. You just can't put a price on it!

So after dinner and saying our goodbyes, we headed to the final session where Dennis Rainey, Founder and CEO of FamilyLife spoke. We also got an update on the woman who fell ill. Due to confidentiality, not too many details were given except for what the family released: "Something" happened on Tuesday that forced that medical staff to put her in a medically-induced coma. They transported her via helicopter to Miami upon docking at 2am in Key West on Wednesday and as of Thursday night, she remained in the ICU in the same condition, with her husband at her side. Bob Lepine, who was the MC all week on the cruise, led us all in prayer for her. Afterwards, we stayed for the 10pm concert where Selah performed. WOW!!!! That was incredible. Amazing voices! At 11:15pm, we headed to the pool deck where two things were going to happen. For one, Dennis and Barbara Rainey led us in a Vow Renewal Ceremony. Just like at the altar some 23+ years ago for us, we stood there amongst hundreds of others, holding hands and facing each other and spoke vows again to each other...once again, sealing the covenant we made long ago. It hasn't been without cracks over our years so any chance to re-affirm it and seal it up is an honor not to be passed up. "I love you, Babe!" Soon after, the farewell concert took place where several of the artists sung two songs a piece. It's hard to see in this photo, but they stood on the raised deck to the right. The captain of the ship was nice enough, too, to steer the ship in such a way so the winds weren't blowing us all around topside.

Back to our stateroom, packed and in bed. The 2016 iteration of the Love Like You Mean It Marriage Cruise was a wrap. We didn't book the 2017 cruise like we did last year. I highly recommend it but for us, we've decided to take a break and will most likely do something different and as a family next year. We'll definitely be back, though. It really is a cruise like none other and one we have come away from being stronger together and "on mission." Much thanks to Dennis and Barbara Rainey and their incredible team at FamilyLife. You can bet we'll continue to use your resources as we raise our family and reach out to other couples around us. Till next time!

Below is the compilation "wrap up" video of this year's cruise that they showed us on the pool deck before the Farewell Concert. Enjoy!!! (The couple kissing at the very very end is Daniel and Cara! Celebrities!!!) ;)

We had the most amazing time on the 2016 Love Like You Mean It Cruise! Watch the highlights as we water-slide, dance, laugh, and love our way across the ocean.
Posted by Love Like You Mean It Marriage Cruise on Saturday, February 20, 2016

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Report: CARC Memorial Ruck in Honor of the 12

The Squadron's Patch
Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463
Yesterday, January 23rd, I participated as one of 12 to hit the trails of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park for my second ruck. 3 weeks ago, I got "indoctrinated" into this new activity I have taken up and wrote about it here. If you're new to this conversation, a "ruck" is typically just a pack, backpack, etc. To "ruck" (read: verb) is to walk/hike with a weighted ruck. GORUCK is an organization that sells gear and organizes events nationwide that are led by ex-Special Forces military personnel. Regionally, like Cleveland, there are local rucking groups/crews that get together and train. This was one of those such events. January 23rd has been on my calendar for awhile but the event took a turn just a few days ago and became a memorial ruck due to the crash off of Oahu in Hawaii back on January 14th where 12 U.S. Marines died while training. Training rucks are very patriotic in nature, by default, but this added a whole new purpose to the day. Step off was 0800 sharp from the Boston Store within the CVNP and our route would take us all the way to Snowville Rd via the Buckeye Trail then via road back to the start. We expected to be done by noon but as we'd find out a little over 5 hours later, that wasn't going to happen.

Just before we headed out, our leader asked who knew where Blue Hen Falls was. I was the only one who raised my hand. I have run literally hundreds of miles over this very section of trail. Several 50Ks, a 100-miler, and countless training runs. It's a gorgeous part of the national park. By my hand raise, I was named TL or team leader. It was my job to lead the team to Blue Hen Falls, make decisions as need be and make the time. Right at 0800, we headed out and I knew soon that we'd be slow on the time as we entered the Buckeye Trail because little did I know, we could take the road up to Blue Hen. For me, I'd never traveled via road and only via the Buckeye Trail. This section is challenging if only walking or running but with weighted rucks on all of our backs, a 105lb sandbag, a 48lb sandbag, a 30lb-ish slush was a lot more difficult. Up roller coaster hill we went, down the Piano Keys (88 wooden steps), then up again to the road via a very steep, technical trail. It was evident, soon, that this day was going to test many of us. At the top of the 2nd climb, we dropped the weights and I made the decision to pull the ruck off one member of the team to give him a break. There was NO QUIT in him but he needed the break to continue. We used one of the 2x4s we had and suspended his ruck with the 48lb sandbag and we continued on. As team lead, it was my job to keep everyone together, Old Glory out in front, and ensure that people are rotated in/out of carrying the heavy weight.

To honor each of the 12 Marines, we'd do an exercise at 3 different points of the ruck. Once we arrived at Blue Hen, it was time for our first PT (physical training) session. With all training rucks, we do them as a team, moving in unison and shouting out reps. For this one, we did sets of 12 in everything we did and shouted the name of the fallen at the end of each 12. One exercise per Marine was the order of the day. Before I left yesterday morning, I found an old ID card holder in my basement that I once wore on my arm. I decided to print out the names of the Marines and wear them on my arm for the other members of our team to read and choose one. For each exercise, we took turns leading the exercise and the cadence. So at Blue Hen, we honored 4 of them via ruck squats, 8-count body builders, partner chair sits, and knee highs. (All videos of these PT sessions can be viewed by scrolling down on the Cleveland Area Rucking Crew Facebook page.) Once we finished at Blue Hen, we headed straight up, quite literally, the Buckeye Trail. Before leaving, though, I was "fired" as team lead, said one thing that went well and one thing that didn't during my short tenure as leader and another person was chosen to take the lead.

2 miles later, we arrived at Columbia Rd. It seemed to take forever, had one icy crossing, and lots of climbing. Luckily, the trail was frozen and no mud was to be seen. As you'll see in this photo, we used a 2x4 to carry the monster 105lb sandbag. That thing was so heavy. Today, my shoulders are still red. I would press it overhead about once every minute and switch shoulders due to the pressure. Going uphill, whoever was on the bottom got the pleasure of the weight shifting down and literally sliding down the 2x4. It was very important to watch footing and stay upright...AND keep moving. We were always on the clock. At Columbia, we honored 4 more Marines and did bear crawls, pushups, partner chair sit squats with arms locked, and flutter kicks. One member of our team decided to call it a day at this point and headed down Columbia back to the parking lot. We headed out and about 2 miles later, we arrived at Snowville Rd. Luckily for runners, it was a quiet running day on the trail and not many passed on by, most likely due to the Run for Regis going on nearby and the Winter Buckeye Trail 50K today.

Once we arrived at Snowville, the plan was NOT to do PT but have a training session. Those two 2x4s were about to get some purpose along with the silver tarp that was brought along. Using only those three items, we built a stretcher and like many GORUCK official events, we had a "casualty." For the next 3+ miles along the road, we not only would have to carry the team weights, we would have a person to carry on the stretcher. (gulp!!!)

So off we went south on Riverview Rd., a road very busy on this lunchtime hour. Luckily, we had Old Glory leading the way waving at people, getting their attention. Still, safety was a priority and we were constantly getting off the road on the little or non-existent berm to avoid a collision. One of our team members, Chris, had these awesome orange straps that we used to wrap around the 4 corners of the stretcher and then around each person's wrist. It really helped but we still had to stop every 3-5 minutes to rotate. Remember those 105lb and 48lb sandbags? Those got carried on two people's backs. I got my turn doing it all. As we got near the Columbia Rd intersection, it was time for the 3rd PT session, even though the Noon hour had arrived and passed. For this PT session, we did overhead ruck holds, lunges, monkey "lovers" and sungods. Again, each movement in honor of a Marine and his name shouted out per set of 12 reps.

As we passed on by Columbia and the Boston Mills Ski Resort came into view, the good folks at the Peninsula Police Department stopped in front of us, lights flashing. We gently put down our "casualty", grounded our weights and waited as our fearless cadre, Bryan, spoke to them. Turns out, they were receiving calls! From "there are people carrying a dead person along the road" to "people had their hands in the air (sungods)" to some other calls of concern, they deemed it necessary to "pull us over" and find out what the heck was going on. Seriously, if you were driving along a road, saw Old Glory, then someone being carried on a stretcher, you'd probably be concerned, too! HAHA! Anyway, we were very close to finishing and the police asked if we'd stop the stretcher part of our ruck and just finish...ya know, to minimize public concern and more 911 calls into dispatch. So we continued and finished up the ruck at Boston Store at 1:15pm. We captured a photo of the group, said our goodbyes, and headed on out.

That's me in the red..second from right.
All in all, I loved it. It was by no means "easy." It was legit TOUGH. Today, I definitely feel it. I have a few bumps, scrapes and bruises but nothing but good reminders of a day with new friends, hard work, and honoring those fallen Marines. There is nothing quite like GORUCK and this kind of "activity" out there. It breeds leadership, teamwork, honor, hard work, "embracing the suck", friendship, patriotism and mental fortitude. There is no "I" in this. It is truly all about "TEAM." As for this memorial ruck, it hits home because I have witnessed so much of this in my years of service. From those Navy SEALs I watched carry their fallen brothers in Afghanistan in 2011 to a shipmate just two weeks ago...death happens but sometimes, it's while serving our country. To have the chance to test myself and honor others at the same time is a unique experience and one I feel well-suited for. I'm ready for more.

Before I end, I want to share with you the photos that the Marine Corps shared on their Facebook page in honor of their fallen brothers. May God protect their families and may our country never forget their service and sacrifice. Semper Fi!

Sgt. Adam C. Schoeller, 25, Gardeners, Pennsylvania

Cpl. Matthew R. Drown, 23, Houston, Texas

Sgt. Dillon J. Semolina, 24, Delano, Minnesota

Maj. Shawn M. Campbell, 41, College Station, Texas

Capt. Kevin T. Roche, 30, St. Louis, Missouri

Sgt. Jeffrey A. Sempler, 22, Woodruff, South Carolina

Cpl. Christopher J. Orlando, 23, Hingham, Massachusetts

Sgt. William J. Turner, 25, Florala, Alabama

Cpl. Thomas J. Jardas, 22, Fort Myers, Florida

Lance Cpl. Ty L. Hart, 21, Stayton, Oregon

Capt. Brian T. Kennedy, 31, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Capt. Steven R. Torbert, 29, Florence, Alabama

"Rest in Peace, Marines."