Saturday, November 29, 2014

Race Report: Amish Country Half Marathon

I'm not really too fond of half marathons except for a key few that I like to do for other reasons than just running. Since running 13.1 miles is something I just like to do on a whim, I don't find a lot of attraction in paying a fee to do it. But like I said, there are a few, namely the Medina Half Marathon in May, the Akron Half Marathon (tradition to run it with my wife) and today's race, the Amish Country Half Marathon down in Berlin, OH...in the heart of Amish country. I ran it two years ago and finished in 1hr, 47min, 22sec, placing pretty well...within the top 10 of my age group. However, that year taught me one huge lesson about this race: hills. BIG ones...and many of them. The way I explained the hills to a friend earlier today was to explain that they are the kind of hills that cause your car to drop to a lower gear to go up...ya know, THOSE kind. It's a twisting, turning course that within the first 6 miles and miles 10 to the finish, those hills are plentiful. Of course, with those gut-wrenching hills come many fast downhills. Kind of a quid pro quo of a race course...plus the lung-burning thrown in for free. Below is proof.

Elevation Profile
Pre-Race
The race headquarters and start/finish are at Hiland High School in Berlin, OH, right on Route 39 in Berlin. Easy parking, easy packet pickup, and a start and finish that takes place on the high school track just down below the building. From a spectator standpoint, it's great for the start/finish and not so good for out on the course. For my #1 "spectator," she sees me off then hits up the few shops about 1/2 mile away. Since today was "Christmas in Berlin," there was plenty of shopping/browsing to do. They offered packet pickup Friday night but being over an hour away, we just showed up early and checked in. I highly recommend that if you're any distance away. We also ran into a great friend of ours, "Kimba" who was also racing it for her 2nd time. We hung out waiting for 8:30am start, catching up on life. (here's Kimba's blog) The race also boasts pacers, courtesy of Vertical Runner of Wooster, a sponsor and big supporter of the race since its inception in 2012. Basically, there was a pacer for every 5 minute finishing time. This was a surprise to me which was nice. Now, I could just run and keep the ones in sight that aligned with my goal instead of running according to the Garmin on my wrist. That being said, I decided to hang with the 1:45 pacer since my only goal for the day was to PR the course...finish under 1:47:22. However, given that I've gone from 7 days a week running to 1 or 2 days a week in the past two months and added in CrossFit 5 days a week, I had no idea what to expect.

At the start, just over 300 runners took off on the course. The beginning heads down a very long downhill so just plan on having a very fast Mile 1. Just be careful with "how" you run the downhills on this course. Run them in such a way to trash your quads and you'll pay later. You NEED those quads for the "mountains." Anyway, I tucked in with the pacers and life was good. Clear skies, a light breeze, and temperature in the low 30s...the "warmest" its been in the race's 3 year history.

You can see the course elevation up above...that needs no explanation. As for the view out on the course, it's Amish country! Here's what you'll get at this one and no other race probably offers: manure and lots of it and many, many Amish families out in their front yards to cheer you on...silently. I say this with the utmost respect, I really do. But, if you could frame each one, they'd be a perfect portrait of the Amish family. Grandparents, parents, kids, etc. I often shouted "Good morning!" to them about half of the time, I'd get a response. The other half, just silence. As for the manure, it's all over the road because again, it's Amish country and instead of oil slicks from cars, we have manure from the horses. If you love the smell of country, beautiful landscapes, lots and lots of farms where horses and cattle are grazing, you'll love this race. Something else unique to this race is some of the runners who are Amish yet are not wearing what you and I would consider "running attire." They were wearing their boots, jeans, and sweaters...just like the families in the front yards. In the picture here, I'm about to finish, but this gentleman and I ran close to each other for about the last 4 miles. So, he was bookin' along sub 8min miles in jeans and boots! I was impressed...no way that's comfy and chafing is definitely a factor. But, there he is. He was one of many. I didn't see any girls today, though, in their dresses...not to say there weren't any.

As you can see in the elevation profile, there is a "little" hill that begins in the 11th mile that takes runners up to Route 39. It's a monster. After climbing that, you hang a left onto Route 39 and the high school comes into sight. Before getting back to the track, though, you have to climb one last hill with about 3/4 mile to go and then it's "mostly" downhill before you circle almost the whole track for the finish. Unlike in 2012 where I powerwalked some of the steepest sections, I didn't walk a step today. I focused on form and controlling my effort on the hills and using the downhills to their maximum advantage. There is NO doubt: much of what I've learned in CrossFit in the past 4 weeks when it comes to effort, form, and giving it all leaked into this race. CrossFit is so much more than just pushing weight around. (see my other blog posts on that topic) Back to the pacers: I eventually got the 1:40 pacer behind me early on. My goal was to keep him there. However, at every glance over my shoulder, I could see him. He caught me on that 11th mile hill but then I got him back at mile 12. In the end, he wasn't on the 1:40 pace (which was ok since no one was with him) because I finished slower than 1:40 with him behind me but passing him up cemented my early-on goal to keep him in my rear view mirror. In the end, I finished in 1:43:48, about a 3 1/2 minute PR for this course. I was THRILLED! I really did give it all and I was blessed with meeting my goal.

Back in the high school, hot buttered noodles, chocolate milk, water, cookies, Subway, and some chips awaited. Also, though, they were handing out age group awards. I thought "Why not? I'll go ask and see...ya never know!" I told him my name and approximate time and BAM! 3rd place in my age group of 21 men ages 40-44! That never happens, mind you! So I got a second medal around my neck and one much more valuable to me. I don't think anyone could've wiped that smile off my face. Kimba arrived shortly thereafter, we enjoyed the noodles, etc., caught up on some race stories then headed on out. Back home, results were already up and my final stats were 45 of 311 finishers and 36 of 165 men. Average pace was 7:55. Could I ask for more? Not really. That was a really good measure of where I'm at and if my greatly reduced running schedule is hurting my ability to run. The next test will be a 50K on the first weekend in January. If that goes well, the next big goals for 2015 contain a marathon, 50 miler, 100 miler, and 24hr race. For the Amish Country Half Marathon, though? Check in the box.

By the way, what other race gives you a block of cheese at the finish?!


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Success - What it is and what it isn't

What is success? This morning, I walked up to my trainer after the workout and said: "Today is Day 1 of Week 4. I need some candid feedback." Her reply, without hesitation, was "You need to work on your mental toughness." Yea, I know. The dangerous trap and slippery slope of a week mind in a CrossFit gym is readily apparent. It is THE key thing that, outside physical injury, will end it all in that aggressive environment. I also asked her if she saw potential...a totally selfish question but one I needed answered...I mean, if not, what's the point, right? She does...and she asked if I liked it (I love it) and if I've noticed anything outside of the gym. "Sure. My upper body is tightening up, shirts are a little snugger and I feel a little less mass around the mid-section." Well there you go! Progress.

On the way home, I was speaking aloud and comparing my 17 year regimen of the run. Long run, short run, marathon, 5K, ultra marathon...whatever. I went out, did it, and felt tired at the end but quite accomplished. I'm "trained" to feel that way nearly 100% of the time in running. I knock out a solid 10 miler before work and chock that up to a "job well done" and carry on with my day. No taking myself to the feeling of nausea, to collapsing on the gym floor post-workout, no heart quite literally beating out of my chest...just a solid and easy (for me) run...no matter the distance and with few exceptions. Now, I finish a workout and it's nothing like that. I feel like I gave it my all, I'm totally exhausted, and it doesn't "feel" like it's going to get better, even with hard work. So the question I asked myself, is that a successful workout? What exactly IS success?

Yea, you're stepping inside my thoughts today and this is more inner reflection today and fleshing this out for my own selfish reasons, but I think it's valid for all. How do you/I define it? Depending on what we do, the measure is different. For those in school, it could be a letter grade and for those doing an outreach to the community, it could be the number of people reached or fed, for example. So many variances out there. In this situation where I am mentally "weak," I propose that "success" is giving every last drop of effort, every time, with safety and proper form, and understanding that the only measure or competition is right there in front of me....me. In time, I must have the confidence that "it will come"...the weights will go up/on...the flexibility will increase...the form will become what it should be. What you may notice is the absence of the word "easy" or "getting easier." One thing I heard early on was "It never gets easier." It's true. With "success" comes increased pounds, or repetitions...or pure speed. While a 5 miler may seem like death to the newbie and like a breakfast snack to me, things are quite different inside the "box." As a friend posted yesterday on Facebook, "the only way to get better at CrossFit...is to do more CrossFit." Oh how true.

So negative talk...be gone! Comparison...be gone! Best effort...every time! Success? I choose to define it and do so with every passing day and completed workout. For today, I'll chalk up victory this morning to doing 65 box jumps on a 24" box...a first. Prior to today, that box sat at 18" and I thought I could barely get up on it...guess I was wrong and I had some more to give. Had my trainer not said "flip that box over," I never would have.

Success. Go have some and make sure you know what it is.

Monday, November 24, 2014

M-Cubed for 11.24.2014

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

- Could it be? The last Monday in November? Oh yes...Turkey Day is on deck and Christmas is barely over 30 days away. I actually prefer to speed through this season as expeditiously as possible. The shopping, the craziness...let's move on! Plus, the quicker we move, the quicker we get to Spring. Ahhh....

- So let's sum up the running history since my last M-Cubed 7 days ago. 1 run. 8 miles. Strong as heck. Felt awesome. That's it. #stillarunner :)

- On Friday, I guess the trainers save dead lifts for one of the last workouts prior to the weekend because of the soreness that follows. Well, for this looking-forward-to-the-weekend-so-I-can-run-runner, that doesn't work so well! Friday, the strength part of the workout was dead lifts and the WOD was also deadlifts but bar-facing burpees. At the end, I melted into a puddle of sweat but getting there, I gave it my all. I've got a lot of work to do in the dead lift area and have a hard time getting the bar back down to the ground while keeping my back straight. I'm sitting at about 225 pounds right now and I don't plan on increasing that anytime soon. My back needs to get stronger. Anyway, I very much felt those dead lifts on Saturday so Saturday turned into a rest day...thus, the only day I ran in the past 7 days was yesterday for a dawn 8 miler.

- Christmas came a bit early on Friday. Got my first pair of Inov-8 shoes to wear for CrossFit. I Googled, searched, and read as many reviews as possible to find something to wear. Some traction, close to barefoot...those make good shoes for this. Actually, I took my shoes off for the dead lift on Friday which made it a lot easier. These are the fLite-240s. We'll see how they do.

- I don't get much into politics or other heavily debated topics on here...like abortion rights. However, one question to ponder today: If we as a human race consider death to have happened when the heart ceases to beat, why do we not consider life to begin when a heart begins to beat for the first time? Why do we leave that up to interpretation and the courts? If we did consider it "life" then we'd protect it, right? Something to think about.

- In Ohio, we have the Ohio Music Education Association and this past Friday, I attended a concert down at the College of Wooster. It was a band and choir concert. The students were the ones selected from their respective schools throughout northeast Ohio...as chosen/nominated by their teachers. My daughter was one of them for the choir and it was awesome! For the band and as one who played the trumpet all throughout grade school and through my 20s, I was super impressed. They were VERY good and for only 8th graders?! Wow. They were led by a conductor from a nearby university. What a GREAT program to bring together students from all walks of life and bring them together to make music...by instrument and voice. They spent all day Thursday practicing and late afternoon on Friday prior to the 7pm concert.

- Got cheese? I will. Amish Country Half Marathon THIS Saturday! How many races hand you a block of Amish cheese at the finish? One. This one. Before that, though, a crazy number of humbling hills and Amish families sitting all perfect and proper in their front yards...silently rooting us on as we pass on by. Wanna run? Registration still open here.

- Are you maybe one of those guys who can't find a pair of jeans to save their life? I'm an oddity...long legs and not exactly in proportion to my upper body and my quads are big...must be all that running. So many jeans and around the waist they'd be fine but geez...I really don't want them painted on my legs. I'm a big fan of American Eagle Outfitters and I've never found a pair of jeans that fit...until Saturday. Turns out, they carry one style simply dubbed "Loose" on their website. Well on their clearance rack, someone ordered them online but then returned them. BINGO! They fit. Anyway, they are a forty dollar pair of jeans that I ended up getting for $13 with the clearance rack and e-mail coupon I had...so I bought two pair. The best part? They're comfy and a size 34 waist. :) (I used to wear a tight 38) Here they are.

- 2015 keeps circling in my head as for my race calendar. I hope to run very few races but when I do, make them count. Briefly, the penciled in calendar looks like this: Frozen Sasquatch 50K in January, Bull Run Run 50 Miler in mid April, Pro Football Hall of Fame Marathon end of April, Medina Half Marathon in May, Kettle Moraine 100 Miler first weekend in June, and the North Coast 24hr Endurance Run on the 3rd weekend in September. The big ones...a 50M, 100M, and the 24hr. The only ones registered for so far are Sasquatch and Medina...so the others continue to swirl in my consciousness. I also hope to be picked up by Hammer Nutrition for my 2nd year and perhaps gain an entry to one of those via sponsorship. We shall see.

- So it's Turkey Week. Stuffed birds, family traditions, and tough times for many where the holiday brings up memories of loved ones no longer here...perhaps an empty chair at the dinner table. I read a suggestion this past week of setting a place at your table that remained empty...in memory of that person or in this case, a fallen service-member who gave their life in Afghanistan. While we won't set a place, I always lead the prayer at our dinner and I never forget to pray for those serving away from home over the holidays and for those families who are at home without their loved one...because they are serving or they lost him/her. It's so easy to forget in our fast-paced lives, isn't it? So please...set a place or at least remember them this week. Our freedom to celebrate the day and everyday comes at a cost that is paid 24/7, bar none. To you and yours, Happy Thanksgiving! (gobble, gobble)

- To wrap up today, a quote to inspire you to keep on charging ahead. Have a great week, everyone!

"I do, after all, love a challenge. Not just the result at the end, but the drudgery in the middle, the hard work, the sweat, the mess of transformation. I love the process of getting there, especially when 'there' isn't a fixed point, but the constant renaming as each finish line morphs into another start line."

-Kristin Armstrong, Mile Markers blog

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Running + Crossfit, 2 Weeks+ Down

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

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

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

MOTIVATED PEOPLE ONLY

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

M-Cubed for 11.17.2014

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Running + Crossfit, 1 Week Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day 2014

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Some Explanation is Warranted

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great week, friends!