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 pipe...it 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."

Monday, January 18, 2016

M-Cubed for 1.18.2016

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

- First M-Cubed since October 12th last year! This is what happens when Monday is a holiday, the news is inevitably going to be about the Democratic debates last night and the NFL's divisional playoffs (read: leaving the TV off!) and the espresso has been brewed. Looking back at October 12th's post, the Fall colors were popping, I had just done a CrossFit fundraising competition at CrossFit Independence...a place that ended up shutting down on 12.31 and (gulp!), my daughter went to her first Homecoming dance.

- In case you missed my 2015 Year in Review, you can catch up here.

- MLK Day 2016...and one of my favorite quotes from the reverend: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

- There have been lots of movies on my "must see" list lately but I've failed miserably in seeing them. "The Big Short," "Joy," "The Revenant," and "The H8ful Eight"...another Quentin Tarantino creation. I haven't seen any. However, I did meet up with a few new friends this past Friday night on opening night for 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. It's the story of September 12, 2012 from Benghazi in Libya where we lost the life of Ambassador Stevens, two former Navy SEALs and another official. It was an extremely well done movie of a true story that, in my opinion, every American should see. The left will hate it, the right will love it, and those even-keeled folks will watch it with an open mind and get sickened by their government. Unfortunately, with an election looming this November, I don't see ANY candidate for any party worthy of voting for that actually has a chance of moving into the White House. So for filmmaking and quality...4 stars.

- 2016 is probably the first year where I don't have a concrete slab of goals in quite a long time. It's more of a loose set of goals and "wanna do" items. I'm less focused on one thing (like running, for example) and more spreading myself across multiple areas. I will run a few races, I will continue to CrossFit on a daily basis, I'll continue to tiptoe into my newest area of "rucking" (see report from my first ruck a few weeks ago here) and I hope to secure more time on my contract doing what I do for my "day job." Balance is certainly a concern and one that is fluid and changes, often, at the drop of a hat. Family, marriage, personal passions, staying fit and in the best shape of my life, being a dad...all important. I have goals but also just kinda going with the flow, too. The goals/events, though, that are committed to can be found at the link at top of my blog under "Upcoming Events."

- Speaking of CrossFit, my wife and I continue to stick to it and give it 100%. She has seen some dramatic changes in recent months which only fuels her motivation to keep at it. It's not uncommon to see her these days wearing a weighted vest on the treadmill or doing situps with it. Her attitude is awesome and she motivates those around her, too. One thing is for sure...she's working hard for it and after trying things for years and years (without results), it's awesome to finally see her succeeding and making change. 14+ months into this CrossFit "thing," I love it as well. My successes and victories are pretty far apart but in all, I'm making gains and getting/staying stronger than ever before. The photo here is from last week during about an hour working on the "snatch," an Olympic lifting movement. It's one that hasn't come easy but that has come a long way. Those with poor flexibility (me!) will struggle quite a bit with movements like this. 

- So we have these turkeys that keep visiting us behind our house. We hadn't seen them in awhile but last week after I left for work, my wife counted 46 marching across our backyard! A few months ago, we saw about 18 of them, mostly babies, marching around but this is a whole lot more. This is a pic she caught as they marched across. Pretty cool!

- So we haven't had cable in over 2 years and instead use an antenna to snag public HDTV broadcasts over the air like the major networks and PBS. We supplement that with Netflix. Recently, we found a few shows that we ended up binge watching and loved. One was Beachfront Bargains and the most recent was Fixer Upper. Fixer Upper is another HGTV creation that follows Chip and Joanna Gaines from Waco, TX who help their clients find a home in desperate need for love and attention and do a major remodel of the home. Chip is a "jack of all trades" and a realtor and "Jojo" is the one with the vision and designer. She can see all the potential, the walls to knock down, etc. while looking at a total disaster of a house. While the projects are amazing, Chip and Joanna are a blast to watch. Unfortunately, only season 1 is on Netflix and they're currently showing season 3 on HGTV. We're hoping they post season 2 soon to Netflix so we can catch up. In the meantime, their hilarious outtakes on YouTube will have to do. Here's a short article on the Gaines I found a few days ago.

- Back on 10/1/2014, a fellow Navy sailor I worked with fell ill to cancer. I wrote about him here and there, mostly on social media, since then posting updates and asking for prayers for his family. Back on January 8th, he passed away with his family at this side. I had the honor of attending his funeral on January 12th where a full Catholic funeral took place and full military honors. The following is my post that I wrote soon after I returned from the services: 

Reflections on today's funeral for Chief Aaron Jardina: I was up early and made the 90min drive to Meadville, PA. Arriving early to the Catholic church for the service, a few fellow shipmates were there and were asked to head next door to the funeral home where calling hours were yesterday. I went along and when I arrived, the pall bearers were being briefed, including two Navy Chiefs who Aaron personally asked to do that. Also, some close family and friends were with Aaron and little did I know, the viewing was continued today for them. As sailors practiced the ceremonial flag folding for later in the back, the rest of us lined up, one by one as 10am approached. Squaring each corner, we slowly made our individual way to Aaron. Sailor by sailor, we stood at attention, looking at Aaron in his full dress uniform, and rendered a slow final salute to our shipmate and friend. I was the last one and we all headed down the hallway to wait for his casket. Eventually, the doors opened and Old Glory atop his casket emerged and as he passed, we rendered our salute again....and again as we formed up outside in the snow while he was loaded in the hearse for the trip across the street to the church. As it drove, we lined up two by two and led everyone and the family across the road and once again, formed a line to render our salute as he was brought into the church. There must have been 30-40 of us, mostly Chief Petty Officers, and many whom Aaron knew well. Once inside the full church, a traditional Catholic funeral service commenced. I attend church regularly, but I'm not Catholic so I wasn't familiar with the many traditions and what each meant. Mixed in was a few readings and one of them by his father. His father is a great man and I had the privilege of meeting him a few times. He stood by Aaron's side, took him back and forth to the Cleveland Clinic for his chemo treatments for over a year. In most recent weeks, he spent nearly all day, every day with him. As the formal service neared its end, one of Aaron's brothers gave the eulogy as Aaron asked him to. He only asked that he not take so long like he did at their wedding which produced a much needed chuckle throughout the sanctuary. His brother cried a lot and struggled to get through it all and often referred to him as his best friend. One thing resonated with me when he talked about how Aaron felt about dying over the last 16 months. "He didn't care about dying. What he cared about was leaving his wife and two kids behind." That hit me right in the heart as that's exactly how I think I'd feel, too. That's the kind of man Aaron was. As the mass concluded, a fellow sailor and Chief from my command who knew Aaron well read "The Watch." Powerful. Moving. Fitting to send a sailor home. It concluded with every current and former sailor standing and rendering one final salute. We once again collected ourselves outside and waited for Aaron to leave for the cemetery. As Old Glory was put back on the casket, we saluted it and him as he passed on by. It was a good 20-25min drive over snowy, country roads in rural PA as a long, long line of cars followed Aaron to his final earthly resting place. Once there, the service was brief as the wind kicked hard and snow blew. Nearby, the local VFW stood at attention as did a formation of 7 sailors from the local Erie reserve center, each shouldering a rifle. One last formal item remained and that was the removal of Old Glory, its folding, and delivering it to his wife. As the sailors held it tight and began to fold it, the first of 3 shots rang out across the countryside which jolted everyone present. BANG!...a second....and then the final shot. 21 shells lay on the ground from Aaron's 21 gun salute. Old Glory, folded, was passed to our Command Master Chief who thanked Jennifer "on behalf of a greatful nation" and gave her Aaron's flag. Her son and daughter also were given a flag in honor of their father. As I began to leave and look around, one last image caught my eye and that was of Aaron's 11 year old son carrying his father's flag right in front of me...a flag bigger than his arms and outstretched, a full 8 feet long. He held it tight.
Please pray for Aaron's wife, Jennifer, and their son and daughter, as well as close family like his father and brothers. Aaron fought hard, he definitely left a legacy behind, and he will be sorely missed by many. "We have the watch, Chief."

- A parting quote today? Well, I already shared my favorite quote from MLK so how about my wife and I going all gansta on you? Just a reminder to keep it light, laugh at yourself here and there, have fun and treat each day like it's the last. We're far from the ganstas we display here (ha!!!) but I love the photo. I laugh every time I see it...perhaps because I was in the car when we captured it and I know the "real" us. So funny.


Have a great week!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Report: First Ruck

A friend of mine mentioned this thing called "rucking" a few years ago and I've been looking at it off and on since then. So what's rucking? Rucking is defined as "the activity of moving with weight on your back in a rucksack (aka: backpack)." (click here for Full history of Rucking) Then there is the company "GORUCK" that was founded in January 2008 by former Army Green Beret, Jason McCarthy. He founded it with the goal of building and selling the baddest rucksacks in the world...totally military grade. What he found is the social part of began to develop. People rucking, using his gear, moving heavy stuff over miles and hours, drinking beer, and being led from former Special Forces folks like those from the Navy SEALs, Green Berets, etc. 

So what began as a pursuit to sell gear ended up being that PLUS the whole event part that spans from the "light" challenges to the Tough GORUCK Challenges to the Heavy events. (click here for the story told from the source) The original event, the "Tough" is about a 12 hour event that starts at 9pm in places all over the country throughout the year and covers 15-20 miles. While the events are led by Special Forces "cadre," the participants aren't necessarily veterans. They could be but it's open to all. Without a doubt, though, it's military-like training from the physical to the mental, Old Glory always leads the way, never touches the ground, and it's all about teamwork. No one person can finish an event. It's a group effort from start to finish. (map here is a snapshot of what you'll find on the GORUCK website when you start your search for an event near you.) Finally, if you still want to know more about GORUCK, I recommend two sources...their website and their YouTube channel. The videos will tell the story well of what it's all about and what to expect.

Back to yesterday: Locally, the CARC (Cleveland Area Rucking Crew) has rucks around the area, depending on everyone's availability and location, and I've been looking forward to jumping in on one of them. I got my rucksack from GORUCK about a month ago and 30lb plate so I was ready to go. They met up at the Hinckley Reservation Boathouse for a 4hr ruck. This is the same place I ran the Buzzard Trail 100K trail race in 2013 on just about nothing but ice so I'm really famliar with the trails out there...beautiful area. Besides what I was told to bring, I really didn't know what to expect. I showed up just prior to 8am and about 12 of us were there. Bryan, the leader of CARC and who would act as cadre for the day, laid out some basic rules (mostly for me...pretty sure I was the only true newbie there) before we got moving. Here's what I recall:
  • The flag will always lead the way, will never touch the ground, and will stay un-furled. 
  • Team weights should stay near front of group. They will be a PVC slush pipe, an 80lb sandbag, and 60lb sandbag.
  • There will one team leader and he/she isn't to carry anything.
  • Stay within an arm's length of each other at all times. If you must leave group, buddy rules apply.
  • Wear your appropriately weighted rucksack at all times. For me, that's my Rucker with a 30lb plate.
Photo Credit: Crystal McClintock
So with that, we headed to a nearby picnic area to "warm up." Immediately, Bryan told me I was team leader. Reminder: never done this! I can lead but wasn't sure what to even do. Up at the picnic tables, we thought as he checked which were anchored to the ground and which weren't, that they'd be going up over our heads. He pulled me aside and told me I have 40sec to divide the group up and line up along the seating areas of the benches. I lined everyone up tallest to shortest, had them count off 1, 2, 1, 2, etc. that divided everyone up evenly for height. We were right. Several reps, in unison, of lifting those tables over our heads, counting out the reps each time. After that, we were on the ground doing push-ups and flutter kicks. Bryan was kind enough to hold Old Glory during our little "warm up" session.

Once our initial PT was done and blood was pumping good, I lined everyone up in ranks and we headed out. Hinckley is a combination of the beautifully paved bike-n-hike trail that surrounds the lake then miles of single track trails through the woods. Over the 4 hours, we covered 6.29 miles. As we moved along, we hiked at a comfortable pace and took turns carrying the team weights. As team leader, I needed to pay attention to keeping everyone within arm's length and making sure people get relieved from the weight. It wasn't uncommon at all for Bryan to point to a small "boulder" or log along the trail and say "pick that up." If so, it was up to me to delegate someone to pick it up...hence, a new "team weight." Those would last an underdetermined amount of time and would eventually be shed. We also stopped now and then for PT. PT = physical training. So we stopped about 1 1/2 miles into the hike and Bryan said we were going to do "buddy carries." One thing this sailor has never done is that. He said to find someone of similar weight and whoever is being carried could shed the rucksack. Chris, about the same weight as me and experienced, showed me how to pick each other up, and we were off...me first.
Photo Credit: Crystal McClintock
Then it was my turn to carry him and I did. Surprisingly, it was easier than expected. (credit CrossFit? Perhaps.) Unfortunately, one of the guys got hurt at this point while lifting one of the others on to his back. Someone grabbed his rucksack and we headed back towards the boathouse. He would continue with us the rest of the day but instead carried the flag only to give his back rest. Somewhere along that return trip, Bryan was kind enough, yet again, to hook the 80lb and 60lb sandbags together with his caribiner. That forced us to walk two people side-by-side in step with each other because essentially, it was a big sloppy 140lbs of sand now. At this point, I gave up my team leader position and started my turns carrying the weights which I was itching to do.

I quickly learned that the team-aspect flows naturally amongst everyone. It was contagious. I wanted to do my part.

"Tunnel of Love" -- Photo Credit: Crystal McClintock
Back at the boathouse, we took a bathroom break but before heading back out, PT was on deck. Flutter kicks, squats, thrusters with our rucksacks and the "tunnel of love." Just imagine lining up in push-up position then the far left person crawls underneath everyone. As soon as a person passes under, the next person goes and that process continued until Bryan told us to stop. Afterwards, some more PT and we hit the trail. The plan was to circle the lake now, about a 3mi loop. 

We still hadn't gotten wet and it's known at rucks that getting in the water is normal and should be expected. It was about 30F out but I still thought we'd get wet. We ended up coming upon this man-made beach, heavily used in the summertime, and we headed right for it. There was actually a guy in the water, breathing heavy and being videotaped by a friend. He was shouting out time increments so I guess the crazy guy in the water was going for some kind of record. As we passed on by, Bryan thought of putting us in but decided not to. We ended up putting our feet in some muddy water a short time later but for this body of water, he opted not to put us in. Clearly, he was considering it as this photo was taken.
Photo Credit: Crystal McClintock
Just past this water, though, we had another PT session that almost revealed what I had for breakfast hours earlier. We laid on our backs then rolled like logs in the direction told to us. First we rolled right then left. We got up, did some squats then got back on the wet grass again. The second roll totally messed me up and got me nauseous and disoriented. "If you make us roll again...it's coming up," I thought. I'm one of those guys who when I look at the teacups at the county fair spinning in circles, I get sick just looking at them. Totally weak stomach. Luckily, we were done rolling and the order to pick up the weight and get moving was put out...off we went.

To add a little complexity/challenge to it all, Bryan decided to shed his ruck at this point and using another caribiner, hooked it to the end of the two sandbags, making the total across the chain 180lbs...basically a human body's weight and probably a good average of the men and women present. For awhile, we tried to move side by side with 3 people holding the weights but decided to go lengthwise with it and hang it, off-setting each person left and right of the weight. That worked and it also make the transition when giving breaks much easier. I did my part then got on the pipe for the first time. Eventually, we were back at the boathouse and the day was a wrap, dead on 12pm and a cumulative 6.29 miles. Below are a few more photos from Crystal McClintock who shadowed us with her camera all morning. "Thanks so much, Crystal!" The first photo below is my favorite. You can't see me, but that's me. I have the 60lb bag on my shoulders. That flag patch I have on my Rucker is the flag I was issued when I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011. Then you have Old Glory flying in front of me as it led the way down the trail. I just love it.

Flutter Kicks after our break at the boathouse and before the "Tunnel of Love."

We always helped offload the switch the bags from person to person

A little PT along a fenceline. Above the head, holding out front...on Bryan's count.

Team Leader at this point so out of formation and not carrying anything but my ruck.


Just after the initial PT of lifting the picnic tables. Some pushups and flutter kicks.

Squats!

Done!
All in all, I had a great time and great first introduction to rucking. I did as much research as I could, asked a ton of questions, and showed up. I had a great time. For the future, I definitely need to get a water bladder in my ruck so I can drink when I want to. This time, I had a bottle in my pack...pretty useless in there. I also need to find a pair of pants that work for this kind of abuse, repel water, move freely and not tear. Many thanks to Bryan for all the time he put in to this and the Cleveland Area Rucking Crew. Great to meet you all! To the next one....

July 1st Goal:



Sunday, December 20, 2015

2015 in Review

So I keep seeing these 2015 in Review links in my Facebook feed and honestly, they don't say much. A few photos and that's it. So I started to scroll...and scroll...and scroll. If you want to get an idea of how much you post in a year, get your thumb ready and start flipping. I was shocked. So I did, I grabbed a napkin, took some notes as a good outliner would and here's a truncated review as I remember...and how my FB feed reminded me. Not all-inclusive...and that's ok. :)

As a goal setter for years, I had 2015 goals and instead of digging them up in a prior blog, let's just agree that I didn't hit them. I know I didn't because they included multiple races, a return to the 100 miler, multiple CrossFit competitions. None of that happened. I have experienced significant physical change in the last 6 months, though. (no photo proof coming!) Regarding goals, though, what DID happen is on January 3rd, I ran my 60th race of a marathon or longer, the Frozen Sasquatch 50K down outside Charleston, WV. I did it on very little training but somehow squeezed out a 10th overall finish. It was my 32nd ultra-marathon. It was my 2nd trip down there and this time, a good friend from North Carolina joined me. Her husband came along (photo cred here) and so did my wife and girls. It was a great race and trip! The rest of January was frigid as was the whole winter. We got a killer winter with cold and snow. Ironically, we have the opposite this winter (knock on wood, someone!) and yet to have any measurable white stuff. On January 12th, I took one of my CrossFit goals (and handstand pushup) and incorporated it into some snowman making with my girls. Not too bad, eh?!

CrossFit began back on November 4, 2014 and sheesh, it was in my feed a crazy amount all winter long. I won't even begin to touch on everything in there. Bottom Line: We were very dedicated and rarely missed a class. We tried hard, gave it our all, but eventually, our time would end at that first gym. The coaching just wasn't there. In late January, I got a taste of what another gym was like and traveled over near the Pittsburgh airport to CrossFit Steeltown and did a partner workout with a friend of mine. It was a BLAST! Great time. That was my first exposure to another CrossFit gym outside of my own. One other little note I noticed in my timeline from then...Parenthood. My wife and I become truly addicted to the NBC series and after getting back from Pittsburgh, we wrapped it up. So sad to see it go!

The SuperBowl was around the corner on February 1st and on Super Saturday, the day prior, I hosted a men's all-day event at my house dubbed "Stepping Up." It was centered around manhood and what that looks like. I had a good group of men there that day, great conversation, and hopefully some men left empowered and challenged to step up as men in a world where that has become mucked up, at best.

What's awesome right in the middle of a bitter NE Ohio winter?! A cruise! For Valentine's week, we flew to Miami for the "Love Like You Mean It" marriage cruise with FamilyLife out of Little Rock, AR.  They chartered out an entire Carnival ship for the cruise and honestly, it was one of the best (if not the best) cruise we've ever been on...so good that we booked the 2016 sailing before we even got back. It was a great time, we met some new friends, and sailed with well-known artists, authors, and speakers. We even got to preview the hit movie, "War Room" that came out in August months before the release then sit in on a Q&A after the movie with the stars, writers, and director. Such a great time!

Enter March 2015 and the CrossFit Open! This is the beginning of process that eventually leads to the CrossFit Games in Carson, CA, where the elite of the elite battle it out on a worldwide stage. For the Open, though, athletes (loose term, there) from affiliates across the globe participate in 5 workouts over 5 weeks. It was a humbling 5 weeks for sure, but I'm glad I did it. Will I do it in 2016? Not so sure. My CrossFit goals, etc. are in the midst of change right now so we'll see.

Also in March, though, my wife and I led another marriage retreat down in Amish Country in north central Ohio. It was another GREAT turnout and honestly, I couldn't have asked for a better result. While we were part of a church, we invited people from all walks of our life so it was a true melting pot that showed up. All in all, we loved it, we really enjoyed leading it, and hope to do it again someday. Unfortunately, little did we know that God would say "It's time to go" a few months later and we left that church where we were so deeply involved. Fortunately, though, He had a plan and a home to go to and we quickly found ourselves integrated again. Will we ever lead in this way again? Only time will tell! We'll be ready, though, if the call ever comes again.

Spring finally sprang in northeast Ohio and Easter rolled on by. With this came the end of April and time to run my 29th marathon, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Marathon. Well, since my running took a huge dive in mileage since the fall of 2014 and I didn't make any distinct efforts to raise it, this 26.2 miles got done but it wasn't pretty! My fitness, while very good, doesn't automatically include sustained endurance over the long haul. Yes...you will lose it...and I did. Still, I finished with a respectable time and glad I did. I plan to return for it again in 2016 but I'd better prepare...or else!

June arrived, the kids got out of school, and off to Cape Cod we went for a family vacation. Cape Cod potato chips, a visit to the craft brewery Cape Cod Beer, Plymouth Rock, a tour aboard the Mayflower II, and heck, the Mayflower Brewing Company, too! And that was only the day we went north. We also took a day trip to Newport, RI, to show everyone the mansions, walk around Fort Adams, peer in the windows of the Eisenhower House and walk around the Navy base. It was a super vacation and the girls loved it, too. With June, we also left our original CrossFit gym and joined another, in only it's 2nd month of being open. It was a huge course correction, change in schedule, and actual one-on-one coaching. Later that month, my wife and I did our first CrossFit competition at the gym near Pittsburgh that I mentioned earlier. We had a GREAT time and gave it our all. CrossFit Steeltown put on a great event and really made everyone feel welcome, no matter what the ability. Will we return for 2016? Unlikely but we have nothing but great memories from 2015. The photo on the top of my blog where I'm in a handstand is from that event.

July brought the July 4th holiday and I made a last minute decision to race a 5K in my favorite town, Kent, Ohio. It's directed by a friend of mine that I ran my one and only 100 kilometer race with several years ago. It starts just off campus at Kent State University and runs through the very hilly campus. In the end, I somehow won my age group in 21:17!!! I couldn't believe it. (still can't!) There was some stiff competition that day and I had a blast. This photo is just steps before the finish. (photo cred to my wife)

In July, I also started a new volunteer program called "Veteran to Veteran." I am now a volunteer with Summa Health System in Akron, OH and within their hospice program. Someone who is put on hospice has been given a prognosis that they will pass away within 6 months and they are no longer being treated to get better, rather treated for comfort and quality of life. When a veteran is put on hospice, they are asked if they'd like to be honored via a pinning ceremony. If so, a volunteer like myself visits them, speaks to them about their service then presents a certificate and "pins" a lapel pin on them. I have had the honor of doing many now and they have spanned from World War II veterans who served at Pearl Harbor to a Navy veteran who was at Normandy on D-Day...and to other veterans from Vietnam and Korea. It has been such an honor to thank these veterans for their service, shake their hand, and glean just a little bit of their life from them so I can pass on their story.

Oh yes....running. Somehow, I still thought I could run an ultra-marathon in late August without ANY real distance running all year long. Such a mistake! On August 29th, I returned to an "easy" 50K in Aurora, OH and ended up dropping out around mile 20. Oh yea, please pass the humble pie! No regrets, though. It was a great measuring stick of where I was. Fit? Yes. Ultra-running fit? Not even close...but that's ok! Just a few days later on September 2nd, it was all made better because I found out I was going to be promoted to the next rank later in 2016. The last time I was promoted was in Afghanistan in September 2011 so this was great news! With September, the fall began, our girls headed back to school and back to the grind we went.

In October, I did somewhat of a CrossFit competition. It was more of a single, long workout to raise money for a local cause in Independence, OH, just south of downtown Cleveland at CrossFit Independence. It was called the Run Amuck 5K and I did it with a few friends from my last CrossFit gym. It was soooo much fun! Unfortunately, this gym is closing its doors permanently on 12/31 so we can't return as planned in 2016. Still, it was a great experience and exposure again to a great, caring community in the CrossFit world. This is the photo we took at the event.

November...December...nothing too significant to report except for our celebration of 23 years together. I like to say we got married right out the womb (I was 19)! Bumps and bruises thoughout our 23 but we're all the stronger because of them. We're really looking forward to the next 23! For December, our schedules have been pretty packed with recitals, choir and band concerts, lots of working out, etc.

Before I wrap up my summary, I thought I'd share a few things. If you're connected with us on social media, you know that my wife and I have "30 Minute Date Nites" on Tuesdays when our girls take music lessons. I gathered just a few selfies from our date nites over 2015 below. While it's only 30min, it's guarded time for us! We have really come to look forward to the time alone just to talk, catch up, and walk the downtown streets hand in hand.





They did re-open a few days later...thankfully!
Now for 2016: Well, I highly doubt I'll be laying out any specific goals as I have in years past. I know the saying "Fail to plan...plan to fail." Well, I won't say that no plans are in place but not too many distinct, hard-set goals. Well heck...let me just share a few thoughts. I can't help myself but jot them down:

  • Be Consistent with CrossFit yet pull back the time dedicated on a weekly basis.
  • Participate in my first Go Ruck event in July and meet the local CARC (Cleveland Area Rucking Crew) in January.
  • Run more. Period. Integrate bodyweight training into runs and post-runs. 100 burpees after each run isn't too much to ask for, is it?!
  • Represent Hammer Nutrition well. I was picked up for a 3rd year sponsorship!
  • Continue to volunteer.
  • Pray more, forgive more, love more.
  • Get more sleep.
  • Do my daily job with excellence. I am wearing more leadership hats then ever before in my life. I need to keep them in balance.
  • Smile more. (at least try!)

So 2015...it's about time to say goodbye. Not a bad year at all.