Monday, April 29, 2013

Report: Forget the PR 50K

So 12 days ago, I ran 29 miles on my 40th birthday. 8 days ago, I crushed my 27th marathon in 3:41. Yesterday? I ran and finished the toughest, most gnarly 50K (31.2 miles) I have ever 21st ultra-marathon. That brings me one closer to the big 5-0 in combined marathon/ultra-marathon count. Through it all, I'm injury-free, blister-free, and recovering very fast. I guess this whole thing about being 40 is OK, after all! To make sure I was ready for yesterday, I ran a whole whopping twice for 11 miles total since last Saturday's marathon. I just kept pumping the water and taking care of myself, thereby giving myself plenty of time to rebuild/repair from the hard marathon. Waking up yesterday morning just past 3am, early enough for the long drive to Mohican, I felt groggy and honestly, OK with crawling back into bed.

The forecast went from 40-70% chance of rain and in the 50s depending on when you looked at it. The downside with that would be lots of mud and greater chances for bad chafing, etc. The good side for me is that it's not hot and humid, my chief defeating power in this ultra-running thing. For me, it's like running in a constant air conditioner and does me well. I had never been to Mohican State Park, much to the surprise of many, but after a 90min drive south towards Columbus, I arrived at Mohican Adventures where the race start/finish was. I checked in and jumped back in the car, out of the rain. I dangerously fell asleep without setting my alarm but did wake up in plenty of time for the start. Lots of familiar faces, handshakes, and hellos prior to the rainy start. The event had both a 50K and 25K and both had been sold out for quite awhile. Rob Powell, race director, gave last second instructions and we were off on our journey...pouring rain.

This is not a report that will have a play-by-play. I can pretty easily cut to the chase. My strategy was very similar to last Saturday's marathon, get into a nice rhythm and see what happens and if the wheels ever fall off. If I had a camera yesterday, I would've used every morsel of memory space on it as Mohican was amazingly beautiful. With things greening up, the rain just amplified it all. Here are some thoughts from the race:

  • Rain all the way.
  • Mud and lots of it. Much of it shoe-sucking mud. If anyone had a recovering injury or nagging whatever, this "running 360 degrees in every direction" due to the mud would amplify it.
  • It's all about center of gravity and being smart in the mud. There is a right way and wrong way to run it.
  • River crossings: 5 that were knee deep or higher (and I'm 6'2"). Countless more stream crossings where feet were under water. Truth? I wanted to stay in there! It felt so good, cold, and refreshing.
  • Hills. HILLS! 4000 feet of elevation climb, per the race director, actually. I'm used to running within the Cuyahoga Valley National Park which is an amazing natural resource within a half hour of my home. But, we don't have climbs like that. This race was relentless and had 4000' feet of elevation climb. Dang.
  • DOWNhills! What goes up, must come down. Often, the reward for the climb is the rapid descent. Add in mud and sometimes, it becomes a sort-a-slalom-slide down and other times, just plain fast...and hard. My quads were trashed yesterday and I'm feeling it all this morning...knees took a pretty good jabbing, too. 
  • The aid stations were awesome and volunteers rockstars. I'm a Hammer Heed snob and know a well-mixed drink when I have one. They did great! I especially enjoyed the Covered Bridge aid station around miles 21 and 25. They had warm, sliced potatoes...and salt! That totally hit the spot along with Pringles...oh yes, my #1 ultra-food.
  • Around mile 22 or 23, I had the pleasure of going vertical. Yes..vertical. Imagine standing about 10 feet BELOW the base of a tree where the earth was gone and all you are looking at is the root system of a tree or trees. That's the trail. Go straight up! Yea, after making my way over logs, through lots of water, zig-zagging towards a waterfall, I climbed straight up a "root ladder" to continue on. That's a first! Loved it!
  • Not too far past the roots was a big waterfall...big in height. A wood stairway took us to the base of it and I was able to walk right under it. Ohhhhh....that felt soooo good. Nothing like a cold, hard rainfall to stand in for a moment. I didn't want to leave and I wanted a photo!
  • Mantras: I needed them. In the mid-upper 20s, I was telling myself...or yelling at myself inside: "If it's flat, don't you dare walk!!! Are you in pain? No. Are you hurt? No. Are you tired? You should be!!! Walk (with a purpose) the uphills and if it's flat or down, you better be running. And so it went...and so I did. Mentally, it was a bit of a war those final 5 miles but I kicked it in the teeth. "Nothing left on the course...that was my goal."
  • Hands down, the toughest, most gnarly 50K I've ever done...even without the mud for the entire race. That just added a special element of grace to it all. :-)
The race is called "Forget the PR." For those of you who don't know what PR is, it stands for Personal Record. In running, we often like to beat our "PR's" from previous races. Rob named it this because basically, people can forget setting a PR on this course. True dat! I won't soon forget being in the final 3 miles and thinking "I think I can finish just a hair under 6 hours at this pace." Then, a monster hill was magically placed in my way...a trail with the name "rim" in it, which often means you are climbing way up to the top of something. With that hill, my 6hr hope was dashed but I still gave it my all. In the end, I finished in 6 hours, 3 minutes, and 37 seconds. That was good enough for: 9th of 45 in my age group and 33 of 156 50K finishers. I'm not sure how many started the 50K but 156 finished it. Am I thrilled with this? HECK YEA!!! For nearly my entire running "career," I've been a mid-packer to just past the 50% point. I'm never in the upper percentile of finishers...never. I'm thankful for this and still in lots of awe over the past 2 weeks. I definitely know how to recover, I know how to persevere, and I know how to run in mud. For all 31.2 miles yesterday, I didn't take a single fall and the mud remained on my legs and feet. I did it...and with that, I am content. Here are a few photos post-race. I wouldn't be following through on tradition if I didn't share my feet, right?! Of course, not! Honestly, I'd never seen so much junk come out of the INSIDE of my socks as I did when I took my shoes and socks off. Wow, I had collected quite a bit!

Super cool finishers buckle and I ran for Team Red White Blue.

These colors don't run! Well, they did this time!!! :-)
Last night, it was a case of having chills then sweating, all while not moving. My body was already in repair mode. I had a serious craving for my all-time favorite sandwich, a Grouper Reuben sandwich from the Pufferbelly Restaurant in Kent, along with their homemade skin-on fries. Oh so good! Falling asleep was a challenge, too, as no position was comfy. This morning? A bit achy but I'm going to head out for an easy recovery 5 miler, just to get the blood flowing. This, along with sound nutrition today and lots of water, I'll be good as new in no time. I expect to be starving...ALL DAY today!

For Rob and your volunteers: thank you for an incredible experience, and thank you for taking the proceeds from this race and putting them to work in the community. This is another example of the purity of our sport and what makes it so intangibly and tangibly awesome. I am very thankful for it all. You have done well, my friend!

Time to run....

Have a great week, friends, and Run Happy!

Friday, April 26, 2013

I am a Runner

Waking each day, I have a choice
One foot down, followed by the other
Will I lace up? How will I greet the day?
I choose to run. I am a runner.
The beating of my heart
Is all I can often feel
My eyes see the rising steam
Coming from each breath. I am a runner.
I have reasons I run. We all do.
I run because I can.
I run because no one can stop me.
I run...from nothing but towards much. I am a runner.
Rain, snow, sunshine, and fog.
I have run in them all.
The beating heart, the power to move forward.
Nothing, I repeat NOTHING can stop me. I am a runner.
Many cannot run. Many have had their lights snuffed out prematurely.
I run, often for those who cannot.
In their honor, in their memory, I run for them.
I am a runner.
Miles and hours into a run or race.
The finish line lingers no matter where it is.
A goal, a landmark, a target to be obliterated.
I will not fail, I will succeed, I will not give up. I am a runner.
100 miles, 5 kilometers
50 kilometers, 50 miles
26.2 miles or 5 miles, I own you all.
Human heart, driven by the passion to succeed. I am a runner.
Many say: "You're crazy."
"I could never do that." "Why would you do that?"
"Don't your knees hurt?" "You're destroying your knees."
"I can't even run to my mailbox." I am a runner.
Many kneel. Many lift their hands.
Some people pray and others do not.
Me, under the stars or within His foliage I'm surrounded.
It is there I find Him, it is there I pray. I am a runner.
With a world gone astray, with so much hate and violence,
Murder, pain, abuse, killing, starvation, slavery
Out there, all alone, it's a bit of a respite
To run, to be free, to escape for a moment. I am a runner.
One day I will run no more. One day the shoes will not be laced.
Still, though, I will be a runner. I will have run with heart and with passion.
Until that day comes, until the miles end,
I will run. I will not back down. I will not give up. I will run. I am...a runner.

Monday, April 22, 2013

M-Cubed for 4.22.2013

Monday Morning Musings for Monday, April Twenty-Second, Two Thousand Thirteen...a collection of musings that end up here (from time to time) on Monday morning.

- 71.8 miles last week! Sunday was 6.6. Monday was 0. Tuesday was my birthday 29. Wednesday had 0...recovery day. Thursday loosened me up with 4 miles. Another rest day was Friday with 0 and Saturday? A rockin' 26.2 miles in 3:41:11!! Woohoo! 71.8 and still 3 days of rest. Injury free, too!!

- The heat is running in my house at 3:10am. "I will wear only shorts. I have willed winter away. My winter running clothes are back in storage. I will wear only shorts!" OK...enough cold, already! Perhaps another rest day is in order?

- Recovery since Saturday's marathon has been pretty good. I did sleep in until 5am (gulp!) yesterday and got a solid 8hr sleep and took the day off from running. I do believe in day-after runs but simply had zero desire to lace up. Not much more desire this morning, honestly, but we'll see what happens. Physically, no issues. No blisters, no pain, no anything. Just a little beat down mentally and physically.

- My 21st ultra is just around the 6 days around the corner. This Sunday is the "Forget the PR 50K" on the trails of Mohican State Park, about halfway to Columbus. Just like a Navy drill weekend, I'll just wake up early and drive on down that morning. Shocking to many fellow trail runners, I've never stepped foot on a Mohican trail. I do know, though, that I have some kick butt hills to tackle and one water crossing that will be between my knees and thighs. No staying dry! After Sunday, I'm "race free" for all of May as it stands now. The big race of the year is just around the corner on Father's 40-miler in the West Virginia mountains.

- Am I alone in being one that scrolls as fast as possible past more news about the bombing suspect in custody? He's caught, his brother is dead, and sure, I'm curious as to why he did what he did, etc. but I hate just seeing his mug on my phone or computer screen. I'm not saying I want to live in a bubble but seriously, I have a life to lead, too, and a family to care for. So much more to focus on so fast-scrolling it is for now and I'll check back in now and then for updates. In the!

- Great sermon yesterday at church. Our pastor began a new series on "doubt." Doubt is certainly one of those emotions we all face and probably daily at some level, no matter what walk we are on. There is such a difference, though, on how we handle doubt, depending on the foundation upon which we stand, isn't there? If what we believe and base our life on isn't rooted in something concrete, something solid...doubt can truly run crazy and leaving a wrecking ball's worth of damage in its wake. It can cloud so much good!

- Heard this question? "How can God allow things like the Boston bombing to happen?" "If there really is a God, this would not happen." "Did God cause this to happen? Is it punishment?" Great questions...all of them, and totally normal. Same with natural disasters, mass shootings, war, etc. Here's my take: God's heart breaks at the sight of things like this. I do believe He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and is right there for you...and me, at all times. HOWEVER, He gave you and me free choice. It all goes back to the story of Adam and Eve and the garden. Eve had but one directive..don't eat that apple! She could look at it, touch it, smell it...but just don't eat it. Eat anything else! But, as the story goes, deception crept in which made her to think that direction was one to be ignored and she took the bite that changed it all. Free choice then...followed by pain and free choice today...followed by pain. Our world is a very fallen one and filled with hate, selfishness, and desire to please self over others. Sure, there is much good in the world but the evil often trumps good in times like these. The thing is this: we have to let the "light" shine through on times like these and in our daily lives. The light blots out the darkness and it can't exist.  Standing in that light, though, is a choice. It is awesome, though, to stand in at the marathon on Saturday. We took tragedy and turned it for good. Bitterness, hatred, pain, anger, doubt...they all exist in the shadow but you/I don't have to stay there. For me, when that darkness comes, I have to run to the One who won't ever fail me and to my bride. One in spirit and the other in the flesh... If you ever feel like you're alone and have nowhere to're wrong. YOU'RE WRONG! You do...we all will to choose. Choose well and choose the illuminated path...not the one wrought with darkness. Pain will ready for it. Need prayer and support? Ask for it.

- Swing...what a great new style of ballroom dancing! We began another 6-week session last week. We completed 6 weeks of tango (thanks to a killer Groupon deal) and decided to take the plunge again. Totally, 100% different, and loads of fun is how I'd describe swing. Where tango is much more structured, swing is more "loosey-goosey"...that's really the best way I can describe it. The first basic step we learned last wee is an 8-count step but it's more "loose" in how it's executed and very customizable as long as you hit the key markers with your partner to keep yourselves together. My wife and I were joking that we're probably that couple who thinks we have it and look great doing it but on the outside looking in, we're probably all goofy and such.  Who cares?! We laugh and smile more than ever. I can't recommend it enough! We have a great instructor, too, who has a great way of teaching and is  simply kind and "tolerant" to those of us with "two left feet."

- OK...fine. I'll go run. But, I'm not wearing winter pants. It's just going to have to be a shorts-wearing, 35F morning run and won't be pretty. I do need my joints to get a little sweat-lubrication going this Monday morning and break away those cobwebs. Maybe the stars will be out... Regardless, I'll be moving and running happy. Maybe someone will ask me at work this week again: "You ever run?" hehe...

Run Happy, friends...and CHOOSE to make it a great week!

1 hour later: I ran. It was star-filled, windless, and 35F. Planning on 5, it became 6. It began easy but turned into a tempo run that approached the 7 min per mile pace. I felt incredible, pain-free, zero soreness and as if I hadn't run in days, much less an all-I-got marathon less than 48 hours ago! I charged the hills with everything I had and loved every step. Arriving back home, the birds were beginning to sing and first light was at the horizon. The truth? I nearly quit before I even laced up. I am thankful I didn't...and I just ran. Go friends....get out there! Regret nothing and never give up!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Report: On My Own Two Feet Marathon

This past week will be one of the most memorable for many and I'm no different. Monday was the 117th running of the Boston Marathon which ended in terrorism at the finish line. The hunt continued throughout the week for those who did it which ended Friday night. Tuesday was my 40th birthday where I took my normal vacation day and ran all day. Originally, I planned on 40 kilometers but instead decided to up that to a full marathon in honor of Boston but ended up with 29 miles since the 26.2 didn't quite get me back to my house. (note: this is not how to taper for a marathon!) I took Wednesday off for rest then ran a gentle 4 miles on Thursday morning to work the cobwebs out before another rest day on Friday along with lots of sushi (carbs and protein!). As I headed to bed Friday night, the forecast read the following for Saturday morning and the marathon (mind you, it hit 80F on Thursday!): windy, snow, temps in the low 30s and rising into the low 40s. WHAT?! Yes, this is NE Ohio and nothing should be a surprise to anyone...just like that 80F on Thursday!

The On My Own Two Feet Marathon is a dream realized by local runner, Melissa, who lives in Kent and is a good friend of mine. As a survivor of domestic violence, she created the race to wholly support battered womens' shelters and victims of domestic violence. This is year #2. I ran the half marathon last year. Not too long ago, a lady in nearby Twinsburg was killed by her husband. Melissa decided to dedicate this year's race to her, Tami Mitchell Wong. After a pre-race video of shoot of runners doing the Harlem Shake (not me, though!), Melissa read a dedication to Tami followed by a dedication she wrote in reaction to the Boston Marathon attack. The video of her dedication to Tami is below. (My phone hit its capacity limit so I don't have Boston speech...sorry!)

My wife was also running with me, or should I say "running the event that I was running." She was doing the 1/2 marathon and insisted that I run my own race and not stick with her. Typically, races that we both enter, we run together from start to finish. Her entry in this race came at last minute and I had already planned to run the marathon months ago. So, we hung out, stayed warm pre-race, then shared a kiss before taking off at the start. This is us prior to the start. See the Channel 5 van? They did a story on Friday night with Melissa and were out to cover the start of the race.
As the race started, I was actually running back from our car as I stashed my phone and Brooks sweatshirt so I started my Garmin late and was at the back of the pack. A shout from Melissa "Nick, this is a RACE!!!" got my tail moving and I quickly got into my groove on the towpath towards Towners Woods.

click on photo for full screen
The race is pretty simple to explain. For the first half, all of the runners follow the same course. We first leave race headquarters/start/finish at Beckwith Orchards and head east on the Portage Bike and Hike's crushed limestone towards Towners Woods, a local Portage County park with some beautiful trails. We arrived there in about a mile (or less) and do a 2 mile loop through before returning back to Beckwith Orchards en route to downtown Kent. The photo at right is me in Towners Woods, courtesy of photographer/runner Pat Dooley. Check out that tendon or whatever above my right knee. Crazy! Anyway, the route west towards downtown Kent is all bike and hike but varies in terrain from asphalt, dirt, gravel, and limestone, depending on the phase of updates/construction on the path. About a mile past Bauman, the sleet began. It was very windy, in my face, and felt like needles. In fact, it was white-out conditions! Remember...short sleeves and shorts. Honestly, I was perfectly comfy as I was plenty warmed up but needles? In late April? Come on, now! I actually started laughing at the absolute absurdity of this weather but I didn't stop/slow down/etc. Speaking of slowing down, I had relaxed into a pace hovering around 8:30 a mile. I had a cadence going that I liked. It was not a long stride, but a high foot strike/minute. My thought was this: I'll hold onto this turnover and eventually, the wheels will come off and I'll have to slow to a 9-9:30 pace. After all, I just ran 29 miles four days ago and I woke up this morning feeling very sluggish and tired...actually wanting to crawl right back into bed. So I went with it, holding dead on to that pace and watching my average pace on my Garmin to gauge how I was doing.

Miles 6 till around 11 are all within downtown Kent. One section is steps from the Cuyahoga River over a boardwalk-like area followed by rocks/roots then eventually on brand new Portage County Bike and Hike trail, mostly concrete or asphalt. This section is beautiful and an area that my family and I have been frequently visiting for afternoon walks. It is chock full of wildlife, train crossings, the Cuyahoga River and foliage of all types...and the waste water treatment plant. (just plug your nose for that brief section!) It's barely rolling but not pancake flat. There was still some of that sleet slush on the wooden bridges but that quickly disappeared as the sun made a brief appearance. At mile 8.5, we all reached the end of the path, an aid station, and the turn-around. Some pretzel rods, a quick drink, and I was off. At Mile 10, I crossed paths with my bride and we shared a quick "how ya doin'?" and kiss and said our goodbyes. She was doing great! I continued on, now with the wind at my back and cruising back to Beckwith Orchards, the half marathon point. No more sleet since that little burst earlier and the sun and clouds were fighting for sky space. I wasn't the slightest bit cold and was very much within a good rhythm with "all systems go."

As I arrived back at Beckwith Orchards, I was around the 1:50 mark, a very good half-marathon time in my opinion and I still felt great. Melissa was in sight and she ran over for a high five but I had other plans. I really just wanted to give her a big hug and let her know how thankful I was to be a part of the race. A big bear hug, a few words, I was off again. I did tell her "This is what it's all about...THANK YOU." It really is. With everything that has happened this past week, runners persevere, we fight, we don't give up! This race is giving in a very direct way to people who desperately need it...who are very much unseen by the public. Friends, we live in a very wretched, fallen world and violence behind closed doors, in marriages, and other places is far too frequent...and because its ugly, it often goes unseen and only appears when its too late, like it did for Tami Mitchell Wong. A race of solidarity like this one brings running back to its pure roots and gives us all more reason to charge on...and run. We can use this crazy running thing for so much good...and I was honored to be a part of it. "Thank you, Melissa!!! You go, girl!!!!!"

I was seriously starting to wonder when my wheels were going to come off. As I head back east to Towners Woods, my average pace for the race continued to sit at 8:30 +/- 1 second. I wasn't slowing down, speeding up, or showing any signs of problems. Here's the truth: in the marathon, you can be feeling like a million bucks at mile 14 or whatever and by mile 14.5, be cussing like a sailor and wondering "why did I do this????!!!" and be walking with head pointed towards the ground. Yes, it can happen that fast and often it does. Just this past Tuesday, my "wheels came off" around mile 22 and I was miserable! Today, though? Hmmm....still feeling great. So into the woods I went over dirt, rocks, roots, and soft grassy hills. THAT was my cup-o-tea! Emerging from the woods, instead of heading back like earlier in the day, we headed further east on the bike and hike trail. I was very much alone for the majority of the race and with 30 or so runners doing the full marathon (100-120 doing the half), I only occasionally saw another runner out here which was fine. I had Chris Tomlin and David Crowder playing in my head and my groove was still on, cadence high, and no signs of weakness appearing.

At mile 18.5 or so, I passed another aid station and grabbed a vanilla GU. My strategy with these GU's, especially on this cold day, was to hold them for 2-4 miles in my hand which brought them to my body's temperature...very toasty! The other option was cold "glop" barely making its way down my throat. This way, it was silky, warm smooth and easy to ingest. I needed the calories/electrolytes so this worked well. Once the next aid station was in sight, I took the GU then washed it down with some Heed at the station. I took 3 of them throughout the race along with a few pretzel sticks (nice and salty). At mile 19.1, I reached the turn-around, and headed on back west towards Bauman Orchards. Cadence STILL up and now, though, my AVERAGE pace for the whole marathon was falling on my at 8:29 per mile. To lower the average on the whole race, I'd have to be running faster than 8:15-ish. I was speeding up and didn't know how...nor if the wheels were about to go flying in multiple directions. Mile 20...passed.

As I approached Towners Woods again, there is a meadow-like area called Butterfly-something ?? Anyway, I guess there are lots of butterflies here in the summer months, which I'll confirm this year! It's basically an offshoot of the trail that is a sort-of-oval of rolling, grassy meadow. It was a nice little break from the straight, crushed limestone path. It also got my heart racing again due to a few little rises in there. Emerging from the meadow, I exchanged a high-five with volunteer and fellow runner, Matt, and charged on towards Beckwith Orchards...still, pace strong and average pace ticking down...again. Faster. Back at Beckwith Orchards, Melissa yelled out final instructions since I was only around the 23 mile point: "Go to the aid station and turn around!!!!" I grabbed a drink and kept on going but also looking for my wife who should've finished. She wasn't in sight but her car was still there. I was ahead of schedule so I only hoped she would be at the finish in less than 30 minutes.

Pace..still strong, still dropping! I continued on with a renewed vigor. I was now absolutely confident that no wheels were coming off. I kept the cadence up and refused to listen to the tiredness/soreness/whatever. No doubt...I was tired, I was beat, but I was in the groove and refused to back down. Reaching the turn-around, two little boys were there volunteering. I took a quick drink, gave one of them a high-five, said my regular thanks to the volunteers and charged on. I was now looking at my overall time and running some math in my head. Here's the reality of the day: I had a pipe dream of a 4hr finish. I had realistically expected 4:15 to 4:30 finish. I hadn't trained to run a sub-4hr finish, done any speedwork, etc. and heck, I just ran 29 miles four days ago!!!! Right?! But, I remember from years ago when I did train that way that I was far below the 4hr point...and even under 3:45. I was in complete awe at what I was doing and couldn't make any sense of it. So as I crunched the numbers, I thought that maybe 3:40 could be reached. The x-factor here is that I didn't start my Garmin at the start on time...remember? So, I chased it anyhow. That last mile was under 8 minutes! I was at full tilt and giving it everything I had. I wanted to leave nothing on the course. I wanted to give it everything...every last drop. As I approached the finish, I saw my wife waving (thank goodness!!!) and I ran as strong as can be across the finish line...hand over my heart and Boston ribbon and giving some thanks to the One who made it all possible. 3 hours, 41 minutes, 11 seconds!!!! I hadn't slowed but my starting time on my Garmin was nearly 2 minutes behind. That time resulted in a 8:26 pace! I ran a negative split marathon AND the last 6 miles were the fastest and faster by the mile. I seriously couldn't believe it!
3 hrs, 41min, 11 sec
Looking back over my previous 26 marathons, that was my fastest finish since April 2008 at the Athens Marathon at Ohio University. I remember that day well. I had trained specifically to qualify for the Boston Marathon and the wheels fell off! I ran a 3:26 marathon that day but it was ugly. UGLY! Today, not so much. Thrilled beyond comprehension!

Now, I'm not a guy who ever wins hardware. I never place or anything. But, given the small field of competitors, I won my age group! Even cooler was that Melissa had some awesome age group awards...pewter-like bobble heads on gold pedestals. Here is mine...holding the Boston ribbon I wore all race.

After the race, we relaxed inside the warm Bauman Orchards and enjoyed some fresh strawberries, oranges, bananas, and hummus/pita chips. There were also some FABULOUS vegan homemade cupcakes. WOW, they were awesome! After a short rest, we headed on home.

I have nothing but great memories from this race. Like I said, I am honored to be a part of it. I am also thankful that things worked out this year that I could bring my Brooks sponsorship to the race. I am really, really happy that Brooks could have a presence there. Given the raw, pure nature of the race, Brooks would be happy to know they were a part of it. It certainly fits in with Brooks whole "Run Happy" concept and being an inspirational part of the running community. To Melissa: "Thank you. Thank you for not only having a dream and passion, but thank you for acting on it and making it a reality. You have taken something out of your life that wasn't so good and turned it around for the not just "average" good but exponentially great! You will never know the full ripple effect of your actions through this race and that's OK. I hope you are happy and content with the outcome of the race. You did well as did your army of volunteers. I must add, too, that they did a great job mixing the Heed at the aid stations. That's all I drink and I know a poorly-made electrolyte drink! They nailed it! Thanks so much and thank you for your and Matt's friendship."

That's it, friends. #27 is in the books and it was an off-the-chart memorable and meaningful race. Did I "Run Happy"??? Come on, now...what do YOU think?!

Run Happy, friends!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boston...and my 40th Birthday

Monday morning, I outlined my plans to celebrate my 40th birthday yesterday by running my age in kilometers vs. miles, considering that I have my 27th marathon this Saturday. That would've been about 24.85 miles. Then....Boston. I was on my break Monday afternoon at work and talking to my wife when just prior to hanging up, she asked "Did you hear that there were explosions at the finish line at Boston?!" I was well aware of the Boston Marathon as many of my friends were there. I have never been to the race as I've never qualified, but I still hold the Boston Marathon with high regard. In the marathon world, it's the pinnacle of marathons, on a global scale. As the news trickled in, more so on Facebook than anywhere else, it got worse and worse.

Runners: we're a tough bunch. Runners aren't "holier than thou" when compared to others but many runners, especially the distance type that I am, possess a different kind of perseverance and determination to charge on through challenge. If you've ever done a marathon, you know what I'm talking about. There's a reason they refer to "The Wall" in the low 20's, prior to finishing the 26.2 mile footrace. Mental blocks start to appear and it takes a runner who can forge through that who tastes the sweet finish of the finish line. So for terrorism and marathon security, these are terms not really put together in history before. Not that our events are immune, but they've felt insulated from the wretched, fallen world around us. Running at its core, is very pure. It is a sport of 1. The runner. No one else gets us to the finish line or forces us to take the next step. It is the human spirit and drive that keeps us moving. A pair of shoes (well, not always!), some clothing and a path to travel...not much else required to do what we do. So, if the cowards who did this awful act meant to intimidate or beat us down, they most certainly picked the wrong group to do that to. Will we mourn over the fallen and badly injured? Of course. Fundraisers are already happening to support them! But, we will take this, flip it on its head, and make good of it...even great.

So as I stood in my living room Monday night, thinking about my looming birthday and the run to follow, I decided to run for Boston...for the fallen, the injured, the first-responders, and the many runners who were still on the course and were robbed of a Boston Marathon finish. I decided to run a full marathon for show that we cannot be stopped, our spirit cannot be crushed, and we will persevere. Birthday morning came and it was time to run...

In years past, I had mapped out my course. In recent times, though, I rarely even wear a timing or GPS device. I just run. I continued on and only strapped on the GPS to track the mileage. I had a pretty good idea of where I wanted to go and I would just adjust on the fly as the day progressed. On birthday runs in the past, I typically start from home and travel through about 4 or 5 cities/townships/towns, and make a few stops to see friends who are at work. Birthday morning started with some birthday surprises from my girls and then I kicked off the first 3 of my run with my bride. Now, we share the number "40." No doubt, she is happy about that! I put the harness on my dog and us three hit the road for a comfy 3 miles together. Birds were singing and it was the perfect start to the day.

As the day progressed, I kept a pace just over 9min per mile, got a few bursts of rain, some thunder, and a very rare peek of sunshine. It was in the low 50s for most of the run and humid. In case you don't know, heat and humidity are my weaknesses and a common "issue" on my birthday run each year because it is so early in the season. It wasn't any different this time and as I approached the mid-20s, walking breaks got inserted...but I did not quit, I did not stop. Here are a few photos from the run.
Mile 14 along the Cuyahoga River on the Portage County Bike & Hike. Also part of the first half of this Saturday's On My Own Two Feet Marathon and Half Marathon

Mile 15.4. This was the furthest out I got from home. Ann (pictured here) is the owner of Logos Bookstore of Kent and a good friend. A bottle refill, a hug, and a photo and I was off!

Mile 16.5. I took this more because I have taken one every birthday run. It's in downtown Kent along the mighty Cuyahoga River and my favorite photo spot for family, there was a perfect ledge to prop up the iPhone for a pic!

Mile 23.6: Portage County Veterans Memorial at the county courthouse. 

Mile 23.7: This is Heather, my barber of many, many years. This, too, has been birthday run tradition and she hates me taking her picture! I got her approval on this one, though. "Thanks, Heather!" :-)
After I left Heather, I was fully aware that I was a good deal more than 2 1/2 miles from home so a marathon was the least of what I would do for the day. Just after crossing back into my hometown, I hit the marathon point but charged on. Arriving home about 3 miles later, the final tally was an even 29 miles. So I guess I can chock it up to an ultra-birthday, right?! Right! I was in pretty sorry shape, though. Throughout the entire run, I only had 3 bottles of electrolyte and one Hammer Nutrition vegan bar (which was THE bomb, by the way!). I was grossly dehydrated and in great need of calories. For the next 90min or so, I was nauseous, couldn't eat, and couldn't even drink my Hammer Recoverite drink. I did force down an orange to try and combat any cramping (oranges are full of potassium which helps that a bunch). This is me in my driveway right when I got home. I found myself in this position many more times before I'd eat again...just to prevent throwing up and passing out.

Also waiting at home was a gift on my front porch. One of my good friends and huge supporters made up a custom sticker for my car. Just recently, I ran my 20th ultra marathon at the Buzzards Day 50K. That's what this sticker means...26.2+ (an ultra is anything over the marathon distance) x 20 (reaching the 20th ultra mark). Thanks, brother!

The rest of the evening was great. We had an early dinner at a local cafe in Kent followed by music lessons for our girls. Just prior to heading to dinner, though, my in-laws had their own gift for me...raw maple syrup! 5 QUARTS of it!!! Late last year, I switched from using Splenda in my morning espresso and replaced it with raw honey. From what I hear, raw honey and raw maple syrup are great natural sweeteners instead of the man-made things. So, I broke the seal on one of the quarts this morning and had my 3am espresso. WOW!!! I'm totally serious in saying it is the best sweetener I've ever used for my espresso. Extremely good! The good thing? I won't be running out of "sweetener" any time soon!

So how does it feel to be 40? The same as it felt to be 39. I do have a desire to run a 5K or something in my new age group, though...curious what these long distance legs could do over a short 3.1 miles. I will look for one to do sometime this Spring/Summer. 

I want to leave you with a quote today, reflecting back to Boston and runners in general and especially applicable to me. Coach Bill Bowerman coached the great Steve Prefontaine and he has been quoted as follows. I can say confidently that most runners I know echo Coach Bowerman's thoughts:

"The real purpose of running isn't to win a race, it's to test the limits of the human heart."

Keep "Running Happy," friends. (for me, I think I'd better taper for my marathon in 3 days...HA!)

Monday, April 15, 2013

M-Cubed for April 15, 2013

Monday Morning Musings for April Fifteenth, Two Thousand Thirteen...a collection of thoughts and musings that just kinda dropped out of the sky and landed here on Monday morning.

- Tax Day and Boston Marathon Day on the same day! For taxes, taxes have long been done and I've never qualified for the Boston Marathon, so it's just a plain 'ol Monday to me. The weather today in Boston is supposed to be mid-50s, cloudy and 90% chance of NO rain! Honestly, that's a perfect forecast! Currently, it's 39F as morning dawns so perfect...just a perfect marathon day for those running Bean Town this year.

- Much to happen this week. Tomorrow? It's the big 4-0 for me. Yep, 40 years old. I once was running my age in miles on this day. I did take a vacation day and will be running...for much of the day but the distance remains to be seen. I am tossing around the idea of 40 KILOMETERS instead of miles. That would equate to 24.85 miles and much more doable. Well, 40 miles is doable but I just don't want to give up that much time of my day to it...and something else is coming up this 27th marathon! So, after I kiss my girls off to school, I'm leaning towards a nice, rainy 40 kilometers through about 5 towns/cities. We shall see.

- Yes, it's On My Own Two Feet Marathon week! This Saturday, I'll run my 27th marathon. The last time I "officially" covered 26.2 miles in a race was in September 2011 when I was at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. The Air Force Marathon, held at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base every September, held official "deployed" versions of its race. Tech tees and medals were shipped 7000 miles to us and I did it. Granted, it was the most dirty, dusty, and boring marathon EVER but who else can say they ran a marathon in the middle of a war?! Thankful I did it (but don't wanna repeat it!)! This Saturday, I will be running to raise money for battered women and their recovery....that's where this non-profit race's money goes. I also brought my entire Brooks Running sponsorship to this race, too, so I'm really, really pumped to do this! There is still time to register, too. REGISTER HERE for the half or full marathon and support a great cause, burn some calories, and have FUN!

- Dance #2 on Wednesday! Tango has finished and Swing is the next one and another 6 weeks! Yesterday as my family and I hiked, we practiced all of our steps on the dirt trail. As the girls watched both directions for a sign of other hikers, we "tango'd" on the trail. No rules against that, right?! At the first sight of another human being, we heard "Stop!!! Someone is coming!!!" :-)

- Today, I'll register again as a student. This August, I'll begin my second masters degree at Moody Theological Seminary/Moody Bible Institute out of Chicago. It's certainly an exciting program to start with no real end-goal in mind. I honestly simply desire to learn and grow as a person. Where it leads! Pursuing something like this with type of mindset will hopefully breed a whole different kind of experience...simply the joy of learning. Excited, no doubt!

- Eyes. Love them? I took a few very closeup photos of my family's eyes yesterday and created a photo album on my photography page. Here's the link if you want to check them out.

- Last week at Share 2013, the event I volunteered at in Brecksville while 103.3 FM was raising funds for another year of broadcasting, Nancy Turner of Moody Radio Chicago interviewed me twice. After our last one, she mentioned about how I was "meant" to be on the radio...that it was natural for me and I was good at it. If you know me, I don't take compliments very well...I never think I deserve them. I really did appreciate her saying that, especially from someone who is a long-time veteran of the radio. It made me think about it and wonder what the next 40 years has in store for me. I know I loved being up there. I know I've loved every time I've been on the air. I know that people ask me often "Are you Lieutenant Nick???" ... yea, that's often how they refer to me on the air. Actually, one of the first donor calls I took on Thursday, that's exactly what the caller asked! So who knows...wherever the Lord leads, I will follow! Standing by!

- Before I close today, I want to share a few photos from our hike together yesterday. Family photos are protected on Facebook to those I'm connected with, though. You can find them there. Enjoy!

Have a great week, everyone!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sand vs. Concrete

Taking the high road is often not the popular road or the one most often traveled. Regardless of your religious "bent," not to worry... you'll relate to this today. 

Recently, this road to travel has emerged in nearly every part of my life. My running community, my professional career, the place I choose to worship at, and in my own extended family. Knowing what exactly I believe in, my values, the foundation upon which I stand...knowing those beyond a shadow of a doubt and living them out is what drives the direction in which I travel. Often...nearly always for me, that direction is not one of popularity. Stripping everything away though, if people knew who I truly am, they would have a difficult time throwing arrows and knives while still being able to look in the mirror. Friends, we live in a wretched, fallen world. However, it is a beautiful, breathtaking world at the same time. The beauty in people and our Earth is all around, we simply have to choose to step into it and immerse ourselves.

Yesterday, we went to see the new movie, "42" about the famous Jackie Robinson, the first non-white person to play in major league baseball. It's a raw movie that didn't sugar coat racism back in the 40s. It portrayed it for what it was, unapologetically. We took our 12 year old with us and she now ranks it 2nd in her favorite movies. (second only to the Phantom of the Opera!) It portrays the "before and after" and where we've come from. I know first hand that hateful racism still exists this very day but today is still a stark contrast to where our country once was. Still racism and prejudice still poison our society. "42" is a movie about true goodness and being human to one another, no matter what. Regardless of our religious beliefs, our sexual orientation, or skin color, we are to treat others with respect, dignity, and erect no barriers to entry based on those things. Like I wrote in my intolerance vs. tolerance post, it's about tolerance. After the movie, we talked a lot about it as a family. I highly recommend "42"...just know there is some 'colorful' language along the way, but that's it. 

Jackie Robinson was judged before he even opened his mouth. I think we all feel that way to some extent. The way we look, what folks have heard about us through gossip, the house we live in, the car we drive...we are judged...and we judge, don't we? I want to challenge you to stop that and I say that while pointing the finger at myself at the same time. Don't pass by that homeless beggar at the corner holding a cardboard sign assuming you know one shred of evidence about him or her. Don't assume you know why the checkout clerk is grumpy today. It could be anything and you may be the only shred of "sunshine" that might squeak in to their day. Don't assume you know me or my intentions unless I tell you, either. Don't consider me your enemy, friend, or foe unless you know it to be true. You don't know my heart unless I tell you and you see it lived out through my actions. What do they say? Communication is something like 90% non-verbal and 10% verbal. 

See my actions and see my heart.

Before we saw the movie yesterday, I ran with my wife during her first 5K this year. I didn't register and ran it as a "bandit" alongside her. She did REALLY well, placing well within her age group and overall. Afterwards, just to prove you never know who is watching or your impacting, a stranger came up to me and said "You make an awesome pacer!" "ME?" I replied. "Yea!!!" That was a nice little intangible boost that I appreciated. You never know when what you are saying or doing is impacting someone for the good (or unfortunately, the bad). Most times, I'd bet you'll never know. Do it, regardless. For you should not seek the approval or the pat on the it because it's the right thing to do and expect nothing in return. In that, you'll find the joy that you can't buy or obtain. You'll simply receive it. 

After the race, I kissed my bride goodbye and ran home...just a few towns over. It was a beautiful day out for a run and I "accidentally" took a crazy hilly route home but still maintained an 8:30 to 9min pace home. I grabbed this one photo along the way and ended up with a solid 14 miles for the day. Nice!

So stop building your foundation on sand and lay down some concrete. Know it, live it, and don't compromise on what you stand for. Then, stand by for the joy to follow.

Have a great Sunday and week, friends!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Thankful Thursday"

Alarm at the normal time: 3:10am. Lavazza Espresso brewed in my stovetop stainless steel Italian brewer: check. Balance the check register, return some e-mails, send some Facebook messages: check. Usually, my morning run followed but not today. Since Tuesday, a radio station in northeast Ohio, WCRF 103.3FM has been having their annual fundraising event dubbed "Share 2013". For four days, from 6am till 8pm, they raise the funds to operate the station. They've been doing so for 55 years and even today in the tough economic climate, are 100% listener supported. No commercials or anything of the sort. I've become good friends with the host of the morning program and have been in the studio on the air a few times over the past few years. Even while I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, I listened to them via stream on the internet. I truly love what they do, their staff, and everything they represent. Today was my chance to volunteer in the "Phone Zone" and take calls from listeners who wanted to support the ministry of Moody Radio Cleveland. I had to be there by 5:45am for the 6am sharp start and I was welcomed in with open arms like always! Throughout the morning, I talked to several listeners where some had stories and some didn't. Each one was a joy to talk to. I also was interviewed twice "live" on the air to talk about what the ministry has meant to me and to encourage listeners to participate. I remember well when we passed the 1 million dollar mark. The goal is $1,675,000 so that was a huge milestone. There was always applause and cheering when we hit milestones. I also remember talking to a listener who donated $600, just as we cross the 60% point. "We just hit 60% and we're at 60.02%...and you're giving $600!!! Thank you so much!!!" That was awesome. Well, just after 3 short hours (I wanted to stay but the next volunteer was ready to take over), I made my rounds to say goodbye, was interviewed one last time, then hit the road. Next year, I'm signing up for doubt. What a fantastic experience!

So "Thankful Thursday," that is the theme at the radio station today so I thought it was appropriate for today's post, plus I am thankful today for many things. Back in the late 1990s, I pursued my undergrad while on active duty and it was paid for. After graduating, I started my MBA and I had the GI Bill which funded much of that, too, with a small amount each semester that was out-of-pocket. I graduated that program free of debt. So lately....actually for quite awhile now, I've had a yearning to return to school. I've played with the idea of a PhD program, a Doctor of Strategic Leadership (DSL) program and others. Every program I looked at asked me, either literally or on their website "why?" I wanted to pursue it. To pursue a doctorate, it doesn't seem to make sense to just "want to" and not have some kind of end state goal. Plus, each program, especially the DSL was very expensive. So I've gone in waves when it comes to education. I'm a sucker for learning and challenging myself (e.g.: ultra running!) so it's always on my mind. But, it has to financially make sense and it cannot rob me from my family. Those two pieces are deal-breakers.

Enter Moody Bible Institute. For most undergrads at MBI in Chicago, they go free. For decades, the students of MBI are supported by donors so that they don't graduate with debt. Pretty awesome, eh? MBI is a school with a very long and rich heritage. Their graduate programs aren't free but are very, VERY reasonable in cost. Shortly after the mens conference I attended a few months ago which was put on by Moody, I felt a very distinct "nudge" towards MBI and that I should look into their programs. Just last Fall, they kicked off a brand new program which is exclusively online but wholly Moody. It's the Master of Arts in Applied Biblical Studies. It makes a point to say it is NOT a degree in preparation for a doctorate, due to not delving into all of the languages, but contains all the rest. Here is the degree description if you want to review:
So as you can see, it will provide a very nice "framework" for me moving forward in my life. I definitely have a desire to dig deeper and honestly, I have no idea where this will lead, if anywhere at all. I couldn't care less about the letters behind my name or having another degree. I seriously only desire to learn and do what I feel led to do. What's the "big picture" in store for me? What could I possibly do in the future as a result of this or what doors may it open? Who knows!? Well, I'll tell you who knows....God does. Unfortunately, we're not privy to that knowledge but fortunately, I know He's in control and I'm excited to simply take the next step as He dictates. It's really that simple. So as you can imagine, my answer to those who ask "why?" isn't exactly an easy answer to convey. It's clear to ME but for many, they'll just scratch their heads and wonder "what's the point?"  As for thankfulness, I'm thankful that I still have some GI Bill left over to fund it. I absolutely refuse to return to debt and this is no exception. I have just over a year's worth of the Montgomery GI Bill left and then I'll switch over to the Post 9/11 GI Bill which I have some entitlement to, thanks to my deployment in 2011. My plan is to start this Fall and graduate in the Summer of 2015...and yes, I plan to drive to Chicago and walk at commencement. Who wouldn't??!!

Before I say goodbye, how about one last shout-out for thankfulness. Dance. Oh Last night, we wrapped up our 6-week tango class. We've been married for over 20 years and have tossed the idea around of a dance class for years but never acted on it. Thanks to a killer Groupon deal, we finally did it. I don't think we've laughed and smiled like that...ever. It was so much fun! So, with the conclusion of this one, we're continuing on another 6 weeks but this time, it'll be 'swing'! Very different but certainly high energy and lots of fun. We also learned of a monthly "dance night" held by our instructor where many couples show up just to have fun, have a bite to eat, and dance. From what we hear, even the veteran dancers are "tolerant" of the newbies there so it sounds like something we might enjoy...and we can always use another date night. 

Have a great day, everyone, and a wonderful Spring weekend!

Monday, April 8, 2013

M-Cubed for 4.8.2013

Monday Morning Musings...a collection of miscellaneous thoughts that end up here on Monday morning.
- Windows down, sunroof open, and cruising in the sunshine...and temperatures in the 50s and 60s. It's nice to see that Spring has finally arrived here in Ohio.
- It was another good weekend in uniform. Unlike previous months on end, I didn't send anyone off "across the pond" this month. Truth is, so many of my sailors are already there so I don't have many left to send. Overall, a great weekend leading the joint Navy/Air Force unit.
- I'm not sure what it is today, but I feel like things are coming down the pipe and I'd better be ready...yet I do not know what they are. The feeling is clear...that much will happen this week in different areas in my life and the week will end much unlike it's beginning.
- Last week gave me about 40 miles plus change. That was on 5 days of running (Monday - Friday). The military weekend simply didn't provide the opportunity to get a run in, given my responsibilities throughout. I did start today off right, though, with a brisk 6 under the stars.
- I'm really looking forward to the latter part of the month. After turning the big 4-0 (a non-event in my mind, truthfully), I'll run my 27th marathon on the 20th of the month and 8 days later run my 21st ultramarathon. After that, only 2 more events of a marathon or longer and I'll hit the big 50 in combined events. I'd kinda like that race to be my big event of the summer, the Highland Sky 40-miler in the West Virginia mountains over Father's Day weekend but if so, that means I need to add a marathon or longer between the end of this month and mid-June. I'll have to ponder that for a while and see if anything fits.
- For many of my fellow trail runners, yesterday was the Fools 50K. Last year, I ran it and ran a negative split. Yesterday, they had picture perfect weather and the course record fell. I missed being out there but was also totally OK with not being there for other reasons. It was good to read so many success stories from the race and goals accomplished. If you're one of them reading this, GREAT JOB!!!
- Many of you know about the rescue we adopted from Tuscarawas County Humane Society last fall. Her name is Bristol and she's been a very loving, welcome addition to our home. We had her DNA-tested to determine her breed and that's a joke all in itself. She is a Staffordshire Terrier crossed with a Great Dane and that is mixed with a bulldog mix. Many who see her immediately think pit bull which depending on what country you're in, that's what a Staffordshire Terrier is. Anyway, she's awesome, chock full of energy, she loves on my kids like there's no tomorrow and yesterday, she got her nails painted. Seriously, I can't make that up! While one of them held a homemade peanut butter treat over her head, the other painted her nails PINK! Every time I looked at her last night I nails on all four paws with a little splatter on her white fur. So darned cute!
- Lastly, I just wanted to give you a dose of encouragement this Monday morning. I may know you and I may not. I seriously don't know who all trips over my blog and reads it. What I do know is that we all wake up every morning and put one foot down after the other and start the day. We have different routines, different paths, and different reasons for what we do. We are also all human, flawed, imperfect, and destined for failure and struggles at some point. The good news is that while we are all those things, we were also made with free will. We have a choice on how we'll live each day and what we'll make of it. We can literally choose to be miserable and see the faults and imperfections in others. We can also choose to flip that on its head and bless others through our actions and words. What will YOU choose today? What would others say you chose? What would your kids say? What would your significant other say? Be real. Be authentic. Be genuinely you. Live selflessly vs. selfishly. Seek to regret nothing when the curtain closes on this day...and don't forget to love on and hug those closest to you.
Have a great week, everyone.