On Top of the World – A Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

The mountains are calling and I must go.

– John Muir

We like living in Florida.  While the weather during the summer is atrocious – hot and humid and rainy – the weather from October through April is glorious.  And, besides, summer in Florida is no worse than winter in New York.  We have found the people to be open and friendly where we live.  There is so much to do, especially with kids, that we are constantly on the go.  Overall, moving here has been a very positive experience.

I miss the mountains, though.  I grew up in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas.  While the Ozarks don’t have the lofty elevations of the Rocky Mountains, or even the Appalachian Mountains, they are quite rugged and beautiful.  My childhood was an outdoor childhood, and those mountains are a place I understand.  They are home, in a real way.  The mountains in New York are similar.  We never lived far from a good, rugged, up-and-down hike, with waterfalls and bluffs and incredible views merely a short drive away.

Florida doesn’t have much of that.  The area around here is beautiful in its own way.  The wildlife is spectacular, especially the birds.  There is little to match the thrill of a non-Floridian encountering the sight of a medium-to-large sized alligator floating in the water, or lounging next to a golf course water feature.  The sunsets and particularly the sunrises can be incredible.  The swamps, while claustrophobic and somewhat scary places to me, can be majestic, with tall cypress trees looking like columns stretching out to the horizon.

But there aren’t any mountains.

I have decided that the mountains are going to remain a feature of my life.  I am unwilling to let them go.  But I am also going to be living in Florida for the foreseeable future, so I am going to have to figure out what to do about that.  And the answer is that I am going to have to be willing to travel and make time to make that happen.  Recently, I got a chance to do that by extending a work trip out West – I got a chance to go for a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Entering the park a few hundred feet from the Allenspark Trailhead

For all of the time I’ve spent in “the mountains,” I have had very little exposure to the Rockies.  I went to a wedding in Winter Park once, but that was in February so I didn’t wind up leaving the resort all that much.  I spent a week in Boulder once that featured a hike up into the mountains, but I was 18 and really wasn’t paying attention like I should have been, or would now.  So when this trip came along and I realized I could flex my schedule and make it work, I got excited.  I spent a lot of time researching areas of Rocky Mountain National Park, and then looking at possible hikes and trails.  I worried about my ability to hike at elevation, especially with pretty severe changes in elevation – for a guy that lives in Florida, 2,000’ of elevation change is, um, a lot.  But I got it all planned up, and in late August the day finally came, and I was headed to the mountains.

The feedback you always get about hiking in the Rockies during the summer is that by late morning or early afternoon you are likely to get thunderstorms up on the mountains.  Apparently the afternoon thunderstorm is not just a feature of the tropical Florida climate.  And I was worried about timing for the day, anyway – I wanted to get my hike in and also get a chance to go to a visitor’s center and poke around – so I left my hotel room in Denver at 4:30am and headed up to the mountains.

I had chosen the southern area of the park for my hike, a place that they call the Wild Basin.  The trailhead was out of a little mountain town called Allenspark, and I was parked and on the trail before sunrise.  The trailhead was at about 8,500 feet, and I was hiking to a place called Pear Lake, which was at about 10,600 feet.  I had chosen that route for a couple of reasons.  First, it looked awesome.  Second, the reviews all said that it was relatively lightly traveled and also represented a good chance for spotting wildlife.  And third, I was worried about my performance at elevation, and there is another lake, called Finch Lake, about halfway up the mountain that would have represented a fulfilling and beautiful destination for me if I felt I needed to turn around before I got all the way up to the top.  The total hike was going to be right at 12 miles – 6 miles up, and 6 miles back.

I was on the trail before sunrise, probably around a quarter to six.  The first 1.5 – 2 miles of this hike was nice, but relatively featureless.  The trail can be quite rocky, and initially climbs through a thick forest that seems pretty impenetrable.  At just under a mile in, the trail from the Finch Lake Trailhead joins in … with a very steep approach … and then at just under two miles the trail comes to its first major junction and open view of the Wild Basin.

At the junction from the Finch Lake Trailhead

A pretty magical thing happened about 30 minutes into my hike.  The sun was starting to rise over the mountains behind me.  That initial morning light comes in at an angle, and it lacks the strength of the overhead sun that will come later in the day.  The first sunrise light allows itself to be manipulated by things – trees, mountains, the quality of the air.  As I was walking, the sun officially rose behind me, and the light did not bathe the area fully.  Instead, it lay down a path, directly on my trail, and curving with the trail as I walked.

The sun lit my path directly, as though to tell me, “Go this way.  This is the way.”

On very lucky days the trail tells you that you can relax and know that you are on the right path…

There are some days when you wonder if you are on the right path.  When you worry that the path you have chosen is going the wrong way.  And on those days, knowing how way leads on to way, you begin to doubt if you can ever get back.  On this day, though, I did not have to wonder or worry.  On this day, the sun came up behind me and said, “Go this way.  This is the way.”

Anyway.

I began to see wildlife almost immediately, and I was very much hoping – though not really expecting – to see a moose.  One day I will see a moose in the wild, and I hoped that this was the day.  Initially, though, it was the squirrels, and the birds.  Regular readers know I am crazy about birds, and this park did not disappoint.  In the first hour or so, I encountered my first Stellar’s Jay, and then a few minutes later a male/female pair of American Three-Toed Woodpeckers.

Stellar’s Jay

Struggled to make this picture work, but this is a male American three-toed woodpecker

I also was beginning to get views of the mountains.  Mt. Meeker was the most clearly visible, with Longs Peak peeking over its shoulder.  There was an interesting triangular peak that I discovered later was very appropriately called Pagoda Mountain.  And the basin itself was wild and deep and amazing to see for a guy that currently lives in Florida and grew up around mountains that topped out at under 3,000 feet.

Mt. Meeker, with Longs Peak saying “hi” in the background

Pagoda Mountain

The trail was climbing all of this time, sometimes steeply.  Rocks were everywhere, which is particularly OK on the steep sections – they almost act as stairs.  I climbed through a section that had once experienced a large forest fire and is still re-growing the forest.  And then, after I had climbed probably 1,000 feet, the trail turned and headed downhill for a half mile or so, losing 200 – 300 feet as it dropped down toward Finch Lake.  This downhill section was very steep, the only section of the whole trail that had switchbacks, and even steps, cut into the mountain.  While I appreciated the downhill, I also knew that I was going to have to climb this on the way back out, so … yeah.

When an otherwise very steep trail resorts to steps … buckle up

Finch Lake was about four miles into the six it was going to take to get to the top of my hike.  I approached the lake at about 8am, and had the entire view to myself.  This was my first ever experience with a sub-alpine lake, and – and I know this is cliché but I don’t care because the clichés are clichés for a reason – it was breathtaking.  There was a mist coming off of the water in the soft morning light, with the sunrise lighting Copeland Mountain, Ogalalla Peak, and Elk Tooth in the background.  Copeland Mountain, in particular, loomed over everything.  Here was my first real chance to see a moose, though it was not meant to be.  A flock of ducks landed on the water as I watched, though, and I could have sat there and smelled the forest and listened to the quiet for hours.

Finch Lake, with Copeland Mountain and Ogalalla Peak in the background

But I was making good time, and I had promises to keep (and miles to go before I sleep…).  In the first four miles I had gained probably just under 1,000 feet of elevation.  I was going to gain the next 1,000 feet in the next two miles.  Here was where I worried about my fitness, especially at elevation.  The trail was about to get steep, and I was already at well over 9,000 feet.  But I was not feeling any obvious impact from lack of oxygen, so I headed out around Finch Lake and started up the mountain.

The trail didn’t disappoint in terms of steepness, either.  Almost immediately I came upon a long, steep section that was more like climbing stairs than hiking a trail.  On the way back down, while I was at the top of this section, I met a couple of hikers that were just topping out right there.  They had clearly struggled with that section, and were hoping I would tell them that was the hardest part and that they were almost there.  It hurt to tell them that they still had over a mile and a half of climbing to go.  They looked … cowed.  I hope they made it to the top.

The trail then began to work through an area that had little bogs on the side.  This area looked very moose-y to me, and I slowed down and did a little exploring.  At one point, the trail bottle-necked in a section that was steep on both sides – no good way up, and no good way down.  Right in the middle of the trail at this point I found a moose print as big as my hand.  This got my heart-rate up.  They say to fish where the fish are, and that was clearly happening here.  But, alas, that print was all I saw of the moose that day.  Still a thrill, but I’m going to have to save the excitement of actually encountering one of the creatures for a different day.

Fish where the fish are … with my foot for scale

Eventually, the forest started to change.  I could tell I was gaining elevation when the big trees started to thin out a little, and in some cases give way to more open areas.  There were more bushes and shrubs, and the sunlight was able to penetrate much more heavily.  It was in this area that I encountered a bird that I did not recognize at all.  It was about the size of a large chicken, but colored perfectly like the bark of the trees it was living near.  The bird never did fly – when I asked a ranger about it later, that was the first question he asked me – but ran away slowly.  That ranger told me it was called a dusky grouse, recently recognized as a distinct species from a bird called the sooty grouse.  Together, they had been called blue grouse until fairly recently.  I love birds.

Dusky Grouse, disappearing into the tree behind it

And then, a short climb later, I topped out at Pear Lake, at about 10,600 feet.  Pear Lake is below the tree line, and stunning. Copeland Mountain and Ogalalla Peak are no longer looming off in the background – they stand guard right there, watching over the lake.  I was the only person there at about 9:15am, and I took the opportunity to head down by the water and explore around the edge.  I sat down to eat my breakfast / lunch (don’t granola bars and trail mix taste so much better when you’re out hiking?), and after a while began to see the wildlife around me.   There were goldfinch in the bushes, and little rodents that I assumed by their coloration were some kind of chipmunk – they looked like chipmunks, anyway, but were a bit bigger and less skittish than any chipmunk I’ve ever seen.  It turns out that they aren’t chipmunks at all, but are called golden-mantled ground squirrels.  Pro-tip – a chipmunk’s stripes go through its eyes.  If what you are seeing doesn’t have stripes on its face, it is a ground squirrel.

Pear Lake

A different angle, focusing on Ogalalla Peak

The outflow from Pear Lake

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

I probably spent 30 to 45 minutes at Pear Lake, just enjoying the scenery and exploring.  I tried to take pictures from multiple angles, in multiple directions.  I wandered down by the outflow of the lake and marveled at the view back down the trail, toward the mountains.  I tried to soak in everything – because, as beautiful as this place is, knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.  After a time, and before I’d gotten my fill, I knew I had to head back down the mountain to make sure I didn’t get rained on and to give myself plenty of time to get up to the visitor’s centers.  I headed back down the mountain and, for the first time, began seeing people.  On my way down I met several groups headed up, which reinforced a lesson to me – the early bird gets the worm.  I was glad I had left so early.

2017-08-24 12.01.21

Painted Lady butterfly, at about 10,000 feet

Words are inadequate to explain the feeling that I had on my way down the mountain – though they are all I have, so I’ll try.  18 months and about 75 pounds prior to the day I stepped out of my car in the Rocky Mountains, I would have not been physically capable of completing that hike.  12 miles would have been a challenge.  2,000 feet of elevation gain would have been an extreme challenge.  2,000 feet of elevation gain starting at 8,500 feet would have been nearly unthinkable.  But instead of physically failing, or even really struggling, I felt strong the whole day.  The lack of oxygen was not noticeable, and while the steep climbs were challenging, that was going to be true regardless of oxygen levels.  I powered up that mountain, finishing a 12 mile hike, including stops for food and mountain-gazing, in just over 6 hours, and was back to my car by noon.  Knowing that my physical abilities now include strenuous hiking in the mountains?  Priceless.

But I learned other things that day, too.  I learned that I love the mountains.  I learned that my home, regardless of where I live, is out in the woods, exploring and climbing and breathing the fresh air.  I badly wanted my wife and kids to be there, though I don’t think any of them would have been comfortable physically doing this climb.  I want to show them these places.  I want them to know what mist on a mountain lake looks like, and smells like.  I want them to know what rushing water at elevation sounds like.  I want them to know the anticipation of slipping up on a mountain bog hoping there is a moose out there looking back.  I want them to feel the sense of elation and satisfaction and pride that you feel when you reach your destination at the top of the mountain and get to bask in the beauty.  I want all of this for me, as much as I can get it, and I want to give it to them, too.

My soul is restored when I go outside.  The mountains, in particular, remind me what a beautiful world I live in.  At a time when people are fighting, and tension and uncertainty are high, and work is stressful, and life feels challenging – being alone in the wilderness is a tonic.  I can focus, and relax, and remember what I love to do.

And remember who I am.

Take a hike.  Go outside.  The world is an awesome place.

RR #27: Celebration Rotary Club Pancake Run 5k

I thought that Ragnar DC was going to be my last run for a while.  My plan had been to run that event, enjoy myself, and then take some time off from running to focus on some CrossFit goals.  I like how running makes me feel, but sometimes the actual doing of the thing is not my favorite.  And then, I ran Ragnar DC, and the curious thing that happens when you get around other runners having a good time … happened.  We started talking about the next events we want to run, the next races.  We started making plans.  And the next thing I know, I’m signing up for races.

I ran the Celebration Rotary Club Pancake Run 5k last year.  That was my first real attempt at getting back into running shape and running a race.  That 2016 Pancake Run represented my first “serious” race in over two years.  And I had a good run – I missed a PR by a minute or so, which was still a good outcome for me.  The race was pretty well run, though small, which wasn’t helped by the fact that it was raining and not a generally nice day.

My sign-up for the Pancake Run this year was prompted by two things.  First, I thought I was capable of finally breaking through the 30 minute barrier in a 5k.  The fat guy holy grail of a sub-30 minute 5k had eluded me now for several races, and this looked like an opportunity to get it done.  For whatever reason, 5k races don’t make my calendar much anymore.  Since that Pancake Run last year, I have run three 10ks, two half marathons, and a Ragnar … but no more 5ks.  This was a chance to see what I had.

The other reason to sign up for this was that they do a kid’s fun run – and the kids get medals.  My 5-year old has shown a lot of interest in running in these events with me, and he particularly likes the idea of starting a medal collection to begin to rival mine.  He has asked several times about kid’s runs as part of my larger events, and this one seemed like an obvious choice.  The start line is about a mile and a half from my house, and though my race started at 7:45am, the kid’s run wasn’t scheduled to start until 9am.  That sets up perfectly, so I signed us up.

Relatively last minute, we got a nice surprise – my brother-in-law, good old 6-minute, was coming to visit that weekend and he had signed up to run the 10k, his first.  So my family was represented in each of the events.  Dan is fast enough that I told him ahead of time he had a shot of winning the whole thing.  You never can tell if these things are important to him, but I found the idea very cool.

5k Start

They did a packet pick-up at town hall the day before.  I swung through on my way to work to pick up all three bibs and the shirts for me and Dan.  Our bibs had chips on them for timing, so they were obviously specific to us, but the bibs for the kid’s run were a stack of the race bibs you can buy at any running store.  Because I was the first one to pick up a kid’s bib, I got #1 for Noah.  He was excited for the run, anyway, but this was extra cool.

Where’s Matthew?

The morning of the race, Dan and I headed over a bit early to take care of bathroom and warm-up duties.  Plenty of port-a-potties, and a lot more people than were there the year before.  There was apparently a group warmup that we missed, and they sang the National Anthem though we were way back and couldn’t really hear it.  Dan lined up at the 10k start and took off at 7:30am.  The starting line for the 5k is in a different place than the one for the 10k, so they actually have to move the timing mat between the races – this causes a delay in the 5k start, and we got lined up to go.  Last year I lined up near the middle and got bottled up nearly immediately.  I learned that lesson and lined up about three rows from the front this year, and that worked out perfectly.

3-2-1, and we were off.  Because I was shooting for 30 minutes, which requires a 9:39 or better pace, my goal was to go out fast and try to hold it as long as I could, and then settle back into a 9:30 or so pace to bring it home.  I know from recent runs that I am capable of handling the 9:39, so I just wanted to build myself a cushion at the beginning.  And that is basically how this turned out.

My spot for lining up was perfect.  The guys in front of me took off, never to be seen again.  But nobody really passed me, either.  So I wound up being in just the right place.  This course winds around a little bit, and one benefit I had was that I knew where we were going.  I tried to focus on my breathing and hitting the tangents as closely as possible.  The weather was nice – temps in the upper 60s, low 70s, and low humidity – so everything was set up for this to go very well.

The first mile was a standard 5k first mile – get out really fast and try to figure out whether you can hold that pace.  Maybe half a mile in our course converged with the 10k course, so by the second turn there were several fast people around, which helps with that motivation as well.  I was being passed by super-fast 10k runners, but that was it.  My brother-in-law was already ahead of me by this point, and I didn’t see him again until the finish line.  I finished that first mile in 8.23, which may be the fastest mile I have run since high school.

Mile #2 featured a little out-and-back into one of the big parks in town, and so I was able to see a couple of friends and gym-mates that were also running.  I still felt good, though my shins were starting to act stupid, like they do when I’m trying to run fast without warming up super well.  I didn’t think I could hold that 8.23 pace, so I was deliberately throttling down to avoid a major blow-up near the end.  I finished the second mile in 8.57.

By this point, I was so far ahead of my goal pace that only an injury or something really weird could have kept it from happening.  I was 2 miles in in 17.20, so I had over twelve and a half minutes to run 1.1 miles.  I throttled back again, just to make sure I didn’t bonk hard, and tried to focus on my breathing.  The last bit of this race runs by the elementary school in town and then heads back up to the finish line.  My brother-in-law had already finished his 10k, but wasn’t expecting me in for another couple of minutes, so was surprised to see me coming.  He ran me in the last hundred yards or so for a strong finish.  Mile #3 came in at 9.31, and then the last 0.1 mile at 29 seconds, for a finishing time of 27 minutes and 20 seconds.

So … THAT’S spectacular!  I beat my goal time by over two and a half minutes.  For the first time ever I ran a sub-9.00 mile for more than one mile – my overall pace for the race was 8.49 over 3.1 miles.  And I obliterated the line for the fat guy holy grail of the 30 minute 5k.  I now am in the sub-30 5k group, hopefully never to leave it again.  I finished 5th out of 18 in my age group (Male 31-40), about a minute and a half behind the guy that finished 4th.  The craziest stat, though, is that I finished 28th out of 242 runners overall – just outside of the top 10% .

I am now officially in better shape than I have been in since high school.  And though I was faster back then, I am almost certainly stronger now – if I could use the hopper test, there is a good chance I am in better shape than I have ever been.  It is immensely gratifying to know that all of this work and focus is paying off, not just in how I look and the clothes I wear, but also in the physical things my body is capable of doing.  27.20!  Woot!

Notes

  • My brother-in-law finished third overall in the 10k and won his age group. His time was 38.43 – a 6 minute, 15 second pace.  A friend described that time as pornographic.

Dan-the-Man, coming in for the win!

  • One thing that was cool about this race was that they did a kids fun run. The kids even got a medal and everything. When I did packet pickup, I was the first one there that asked for a fun run bib, so my five-year old got to be bib #1, which was even more exciting.  At the event, the lady running the fun run saw my 2 year old and asked if he didn’t want to run?  Turns out that they have an under-3 group for the run, as well.  So both kids got bibs and got to do their own runs – and got their own medals, which we are hanging in my office near where I hang mine.  That whole little thing is a big reason I’m doing all of what I’m doing – I want my kids to grow up in and around an active lifestyle … I want them to never know anything different.  It worked this time – they had a blast.

  • This was a pancake run, so there were pancakes and sausage and coffee and orange juice after, which is nice. The race takes place at the fire department, so they had the trucks out.  And they had bounce houses and games for the kids.  There was also a raffle.  Lots of activities, and on a perfect weather day.
  • Speaking of perfect weather – the turnout was much higher than the year before. The 5k had 242 finishers, and I think last year’s race was in the 150 range. So I hope the Rotary Club had a good day of fundraising. The timing and location are pretty perfect for me, so it looks like this one is going to be an annual 5k for me.
  • The SWAG for this one is good, too, especially for a small inexpensive race. There is a cotton race shirt, a small medal, and of course the pancake breakfast free for runners.  I’m still a little perplexed at the idea of getting medals for 5ks, and it still feels weird hanging it next to my half marathon medals.  But not so weird I don’t hang it…

The kids were happy that their medals were bigger than mine…

  • My next scheduled race is the Celebration Half Marathon on January 28th. I got my PR in that race last year, by something like 15 minutes.  I don’t expect to take another 15 minutes off this year, but I’m definitely going to try and go PR it again.

A three minute PR, under 9 minute miles, getting the fat guy holy grail, and watching my family be a part of all of this?  That’s a good day, right there.

RR# 26, continued: Ragnar Washington DC – Part 2

This is part two of my Ragnar Washington DC race report – if you haven’t read part one, you should click on this right now to head over there and read that first.

When we left off, we were pulling into Exchange #12 for our first break of the event.  The exchange was at a high school, and I have never seen so many white vans in one place in my life.  People everywhere.  The school had a spaghetti dinner they were selling as a fundraiser, and access to showers, as well, so there were some nice amenities.  There was also a big shady area back behind their tennis courts where everybody was taking their sleeping bags to go lie down … a sea of runners, in repose.

Van #2 ran well, and it was after dark when Dottie came rolling in and handed off to Michele.  The night legs are always an interesting part of a Ragnar … some people love them, some people hate them.  They bring their own challenges, to the runners and the support vans.  It is easier to get turned around at night if you are a runner, and it is harder to tell which runner is yours if you are in a van.  All runners are required to wear a headlamp, a taillight, and a reflective safety vest.  One thing I learned this time around is that making that setup as unique as possible really helps your team to be able to figure out where you are.  There were people that had light strips around their hands, and you couldn’t miss them.  Emily, in our van, had a vest that had red lights on it on the front, which helped us to pick her out.  Little things like this make a difference.

Leg #13 did a little winding in the first mile, and then was a straight shot for nearly four miles to the next exchange.  This was a no-van-support leg – the vans weren’t allowed to stop on the course to support their runners – so we headed straight to that exchange and settled in.  Michele killed it again, handed off to Dave, and we were off.  His leg was also a no-van-support leg, so off to the next exchange we went.  This series of legs was in a very rural area, and many of the roads were narrow and winding, so they couldn’t have the vans pulling over and blocking roads.

I took over for my second leg at an elementary school in Williamsport, Maryland, and immediately ran into an interesting start.  About a quarter of a mile in, I was running on a sidewalk near a drop-off location at the school, and a car came up behind me through the drop-off lane.  I thought it was my van, so I raised my hand to wave as they came by … and a guy leaned out the window and yelled, “I’ll kick your fucking ass!” and then they drove off.  I shrugged, and actually laughed at them, because … really?  The exchange didn’t bother me – it just felt like stupid kids on a Friday night in a small town.  I didn’t make a big deal out of it at all, but I did mention it to Dan and Dave when I finished my run.  I hadn’t thought about the implications for Emily, who would run after me, and so that kept us extra aware during the rest of the night runs.  The neighborhood I ran through in the next half a mile or so was redolent with the smell of weed, too.  So … Friday night in America!  I will say here that I never feared for my safety or the safety of any of my teammates.  But , this was an interesting start.

After a bit of winding, I turned onto one big three mile straight stretch on the highway.  After that I made a right turn and then had a two mile straight stretch, for a six mile total run.  My first mile I did in 9:40, and then the rest of it settled in to a consistent pace between 10:00 and 10:30 miles.  I was passed a few times, but never by somebody that reeled me in slowly – when I got passed, that person absolutely blew past me.  Because I was the runner that had the Ragnar leg, all of my fellow Runners #3 were beasts.  So that felt good – I held my own.  The overall pace I was able to hold for the run was a 10:15 average mile, which is very close to my 10k PR pace. My handoff was at a small church in a small town, and then we were off to support Emily on a run that turned out to be full of drama.

The first fun little thing happened maybe a mile or two into her 5-mile run.  We were ahead of her in the van, looking for a place to pull over and cheer her on.  At one point, there was a shop light set up on a tripod out at the end of somebody’s driveway, pointing so that it was facing to the eyes of the van drivers.  When we got up to it, there were two gentlemen sitting on camp chairs at the end of the driveway, drinking beer.  They seemed friendly enough, though the fellow with the shirt that said “Balls Deep” might have rethought his wardrobe if he were going to be headed to the opera or the symphony or wherever you go after you change out of your Balls Deep shirt.  We wouldn’t have given these guys a second look except for my experience with the gentlemen at the beginning of my last leg, so we looked for a place as close to them as we could get to pull over.  When we asked her later, Emily said she hadn’t noticed them … which was a good thing.

And then we had the real drama.  At about mile #2 of this leg, there is a confusing little intersection, and the runners were meant to turn left.  When we came through in the van, we didn’t make that turn, and got maybe a half mile down the road before Dave, who was navigating from the first row of seats, called out that we were off course.  We spent a minute trying to figure out what was going on, and then we made a realization.

Some assholes had taken the signs at the turn.

At that point, we had three things to do.  First was to text race command and let them know.  Anna did that, and they got back quickly and said somebody was on the way.  Second was to get back to that intersection before Emily got there so that she didn’t miss the turn.  And third … we had to turn around all of the runners that had missed that intersection.  Since I was in the passenger seat, that was me – every time we would encounter a runner, we slowed down and I yelled at them that they were off course and then explained what happened.  There was a lot of confusion, and not a little bit of cursing.  But we got everybody turned around, and we made it back to the intersection about three minutes before Emily got there.  By then, there were a bunch of vans at that spot, so we left it with them and moved on.  That issue would have been figured out by somebody else very quickly – but it felt good to have helped and minimized the damage for those runners that had missed the turn.

From there, the rest of Emily’s run was uneventful and nice.  The weather was great – clear skies and cool at night – perfect for Ragnar night legs.  It was peaceful.  Dan took over at a little country church for his seven mile run, and I took over as driver with Emily in the passenger seat.  Dan hadn’t been happy with his first leg, so he was determined to really run this one hard – and he did.  Killed it.  His leg was in a very rural area, with narrow, winding roads and open fields.  At one point we went through a little community with a couple of one-lane bridges that were scenic even at night. His run was uneventful, and then Anna took over at yet another little country church.  Anna’s second leg was short – only 3.5 miles – but featured 2 miles of steep uphill followed by a 1.5 mile downhill bomb to the finish.  She lost something like 400 feet of elevation in that last 1.5 miles.  Exchange 18 was a major exchange, and was at a big creamery – a major dairy farm that the family had turned into a destination with an ice cream shop and activities centered around the cows.  We only really stopped twice for Anna, and on the last one she said she’d meet us at the exchange, so we headed over there to link up with Van #2.

The creamery opened for us through the night, which was cool.  We got some ice cream and went around to a booth they had set up for hamburgers and hot dogs, but they were already out, which was unfortunate.  The farm smelled like cattle farms do – smells like money! – and was somewhat loud, so we made the decision before Anna ever got there that we were going to move on to the next major exchange immediately.  Anna came in flying – she got a kill in the last few yards, which was awesome – and then Van #2 had the slap bracelet and we were off.

Exchange 24 was at a big park in Germantown, Maryland, and we got set up and then all tried to settle in to sleep.  I reclined the passenger seat in the front of the van and passed out for probably 3 – 4 hours.  Every Ragnar van has somebody that snores.  That is just one of those inevitable facts of life.  And it turns out … I was that person in our van.  I only snore if I’m lying on my back.  I know this because if I’m snoring at home I am summarily elbowed and asked (told) to roll over.  But lying on my back was all I had this time, so snore I did.  They told me after, and I felt bad, a little.  But only a little.  Next time I’ll bring my ENO hammock and do it that way.  I wished for it.

Breakfast shenanigans

The van began to rouse when the sun came up.  We breakfasted on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, trail mix, granola bars, and whatever we had.  We walked around to try and loosen up our legs.  I went over to the coffee table – but they had just started brewing, and it was going to be a few minutes.  We checked in on Van #2, which was going strong, and we got prepped up to go and get it.

Michele … literally flying

Our third set of legs was very different.  We were in suburban DC at this point, and the running began to look and feel like running in town.  There was traffic, and there were street crossings where we had to wait on lights.  And driving the support van became an exercise that required a lot more focus, as well, for the same reasons.  But the morning was nice, if a bit warm, and off Michele went.  We were able to actually give her some van support this time, and I was able to get a couple pictures that I thought turned out really good.  And then she was at the exchange and handed off to Dave.

“How long until we’re supposed to be finished?”

Another feature of our third set of legs was that they were generally shorter – with the big exception of Leg #30.  Dave’s leg was only 2.8 miles, so though we were technically able to support him, we really didn’t have time and headed straight to the next exchange.  My next leg was only 3.2 miles, slightly downhill until a decent bump in elevation in the last half mile.  Dave came flying in as only someone that knows they are now done running will do, and I was off.

I love this picture

My strategy on this one, since it was only 3 miles and was my last run, was to come out fast and try and hold it.  My first mile came in at 9 minutes flat, and my second mile came in at 9:30.  I was running without music – too many things to turn on and get right at the exchange – so I was really happy with this pace.  The third mile featured the hill, and all of the last 24 hours finally caught up and I bonked.  I did that last mile in 11:28 and then the last little bit at a 10:00 pace, for an average pace of exactly 10 minute miles.  That one hurt a little, but then I was also done running, and so didn’t really care at all. Emily then had about 4.5 miles through very busy residential and commercial areas, which she really ran fast, and then Dan took over for a 3.7 mile leg that was the first to feature some mileage on some local trails.  After he hit the trail we headed to the next exchange while Anna got ready, and then off she went.

Bringing it home…

Doesn’t she look crazy fast?

Anna’s last leg was the worst one our van ran, with the possible exception of my first leg.  It was 8.4 miles in the middle of a hot day – upper 80s – after she had already run two legs.  Much of the first part of her run was on trails, so we couldn’t support her with water.  And then much of the second part of her run was in areas so congested and busy that it was difficult to support her with water.  We did our best, though, and then headed over to her last exchange.  When we did see her, she was uniformly positive.  We couldn’t have asked for a better runner #6, especially considering she had only signed on three weeks prior and hadn’t specifically trained for this.

As we headed over to Exchange #30, we got word from Van #2 that the Ragnar folks had given teams permission to send the runner on leg #31 before the runner finished leg #30. The heat was pretty bad for folks that didn’t come from Florida, and apparently there were more teams still out on the course than they had anticipated by that time. So in order to make sure we all finished at a comfortable time, they left it to our discretion to send our runner. We were making good time – we were going to finish well ahead of the time that their pace calculation estimated – but we couldn’t come up with a good reason not to do that. So when we got to Exchange #30, Van #2 was already gone. Anna could not have cared less – she got her miles in and was now done running.  We took a “Yay, we are done running!” picture, and headed to the finish line.

“Yay! We’re done running!”

I say that only because I know we ended up at the finish line.  I passed out almost immediately when we got back in the van.  Maybe I snored again, I don’t know.  But it was nap time.

The Finish Line

The finish line was at the Navy Yards in Washington DC, which is a cool area.  Dan and Emily had a hotel room two blocks from the finish, so we were able to head over there and get showered and drink beer while we waited on Van #2 to bring it home.  Leg #36, Dottie’s final leg, was a full 12 miles – she finished up with a half marathon! – and we walked over to the finish to wait.  Generally the teams wait for their final runner a bit out in front of the finish line and the whole team crosses together.  We were expecting the rest of Van #2 to meet us in that area … when here comes Dottie, flying and focused!  I took off to intercept her, and nearly had to tackle her to get her to slow down.  By then the rest of Van #1 had caught up, and we all crossed the final bridge to the finish line together.  The rest of Van #2 missed it by like a minute – they saw us crossing the bridge, and were at the finish line within a few seconds of the end.

The Orange Line

And then we were done.  We collected our medals and SWAG, took a few pictures, and hung out.  You get free beer at the finish, but the laws in DC don’t allow them to give you a beer outside of a roped off area where they check everybody’s ID.  We wound up not partaking, and headed out.  A few of us drove Michele to the airport – she had to get to work the next day (!) – and then we headed over to the Grants for some delicious barbeque pork and beer.

Our time was … it doesn’t matter what our time was.  Dan told me the first time I did this that these events are 5 teams trying to win, 295 teams trying to have a good time.  We were solidly in the latter camp.  I had a blast.  My fitness level has improved dramatically – I am now probably in better shape than I have been since I played basketball in high school, and I am still improving weekly.  I got to meet some great new friends, and got to spend some time with old friends that I don’t see anywhere near often enough.  If any of The Orange Line is reading this – thank you.  Thank you for agreeing to the craziness, and thank you for running with me (us) and thank you for your generosity and friendship.  It was a joy running with you.  And you’ll be getting an email shortly … start thinking about the next one.

Notes:

  • Being a captain on one of these teams really is different from being a member. The three responsibilities that are the hardest all involve people – recruiting teammates, assigning legs, and fronting and then getting reimbursed money.  When you are a standard runner, you write your check and these things happen.  When you are captain, you have to consider a ton of different things – you need the right runners on the right legs, and you need the right people in the right vans, and you have to contend with 12 different travel schedules and training / injury statuses (stati?) and you want to make sure you don’t have anybody disgruntled at the end of the process.  You need people who are gruntled, for sure.  But it was fun, and I enjoyed it.
  • These aren’t cheap, either. I probably fronted $3k – $4k.  Divide that by 12 and it gets reasonable; for what it is, it is downright cheap.  What makes an event like this one more expensive is the need to travel in.  When I ran Ragnar Tennessee, I was the only one that had to fly in – everybody else lived there.  This time, there were three people that lived there and another that was only a little over an hour away.  Everybody else had to make it a good distance.  Makes it even cooler that we were able to do this.
  • I can’t imagine the logistical nightmare of putting one of these together and managing it through the night. All of these people went 200 miles, through multiple cities and towns, on state roads and county roads and local municipal roads.  They certainly had to get dozens, if not hundreds, of permits, and then staff this thing well enough to be able to manage it.  And this on top of worrying about the inevitable handful of idiots you’re going to get when you try to get this many people to do anything – it only takes one stupid van to ruin your race’s relationship with a whole community.  My hats off to the folks at Ragnar Relays.
  • I really enjoyed the hills. They obviously suck while you are running them, but I love the challenge and the feeling of accomplishment you get when you do them.  I really felt like a badass when I topped out that mountain on Leg #3.  That feeling was fleeting – I don’t still feel like a badass – but I still liked it.  I would love to do one of the big mountain Ragnars, particularly the ones out West – Wasatch Back or Colorado.
  • Most of my teammates do not share that view.
  • The weather was really an interesting x-factor. For those of us that came up from Florida, we really enjoyed it.  It was hot, but not quite as hot as we’d been training in … and certainly not as humid.  But for the folks that traveled in from farther north, or west, or even lived there, it was a really hot day that impacted things during the runs.
  • Ain’t no SWAG like Ragnar SWAG. The shirts this year are great – great material, great fit, great design.  I love mine.  We also got 10th anniversary pint glasses, decals, stickers, etc.  I still have our slap bracelet, though my intention is to get that framed and present it to Dottie as our team MVP – she ran 29 miles!  And then the Ragnar medal is always awesome, bottle opener and everything.  And I got a separate medal for running the Ragnar leg, and they didn’t skimp on that thing, either.  As I say – ain’t no SWAG like Ragnar SWAG.
  • I had planned that to be my last race for some time. I want to spend some time focusing on my deadlifts and a few other things at CrossFit.  BUT – it appears that a whole bunch of people are coming to my house and Dottie’s house to run the Celebration Marathon & Half Marathon in January … so I’m signed up for that now.  I also wound up running the Pancake Run 5k that I ran last year – that race report is forthcoming.  Dave is also now doing that peer pressure thing about getting me to finally run a full marathon.  We’re tentatively eyeing Flying Pig in Cincinnati, but who knows.  So my next scheduled race is the Celebration Half, January 28th.

Ragnar!

RR #26: Ragnar Washington DC – Part 1

OK – it is time.

Let’s talk about Ragnar.

So … last Thanksgiving I ran a 10k (still stands as my 10k PR, ahem) with my sister-in-law and very good friends who’s house we were crashing in the DC area.  Great morning, great race, really had a good time.  During the drive, somebody mentioned a Ragnar, and it turned out that none of the runners in the van had ever run a Ragnar … except me.  A sister had, but other than that no direct experience.  And everybody just casually said what a great idea it would be to do one of those things one day, and wouldn’t that be fun?

Yeah – I tend to be the type that actively tries to move things from talking to doing.  Especially at that time, I was reading a book that really had me thinking hard about the choices I was making and what I wanted to do with my time and energy.  So the week after Thanksgiving, after stewing on the idea for a few days, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen if somebody didn’t take the ball and run with it … so I sent an email out and volunteered to be captain.  By the second week of December, we were signed up for Ragnar Washington DC, to be run in late September, from Cumberland, Maryland, to Washington, DC.

If you aren’t familiar with Ragnar, then two things.  First, follow that link up there a few lines ago (or this one) and read my description when I ran Ragnar Tennessee back in 2013.  I can’t say it any better than that right now.  And second, know that these things are a total blast.  They can be hard, and you don’t get much sleep, and there is various amounts of stress … but, man, what fun and adventure these things are.

What I learned this time is that being a captain takes the whole thing up another level or five.  Some of the logistical stuff isn’t so bad – getting signed up, booking the vans, arranging hotel rooms, etc.  Communicating and probably over-communicating.  The trick is finding 11 more people to run with you.  That trick is complicated when you’ve got a race people are traveling to … it is one thing to get somebody to sign up for the craziness.  It is another thing altogether to get them to sign up for all of that plus a trip across the country.  BUT … off we went.

There were several teammates built in because of how the idea started.  My good friend Dan and his wife Emily – the ones that turned me on to Ragnar in the first place – were in from the start.  My sister-in-law, Jessie, and brother-in-law, Dan (different Dan).  The folks whose house we crashed at Thanksgiving and one of their daughters – Dave, Erin, and Marlee.  Counting me, that was 8 people before we even got started good.  Then the sister that Erin mentioned during the Thanksgiving race … Rachel was 9.  The 10th fell into my lap during the CrossFit Open in early March – an ultrarunner!  Runner Number 12 was going to have to run a total of 29 miles, and I was stressed about who I was going to make do that.  When Dottie asked if she could run and told me she was an ultrarunner, I signed her up very, very quickly.  Then, as we got closer and all of our backups and our backup-backups started falling out, I put out a call to my gym and the 11th, Michele, the same one I had run into during the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon, signed up over the summer.  And then, just as I was beginning to think I was going to have to go to the boards and get a stranger, one of Jessie’s friends, Anna, agreed to run with us just three weeks before the race.

We had a team!

The Celebration CrossFit crew representing at Ragnar DC!

After a couple of interesting false starts (Shit Flows Downhill, anyone?), Dan came up with the name and concept of The Orange Line for our team – with a metro-themed logo and a nice, poke-fun at the DC Metro slogan of “We Run All Night”.  A shirt design was drawn up, and I did my over-communication thing, and then I had to assign legs.

The Orange Line … but we run all night

So the assigning of the legs, it turns out, might be the critically important thing about getting this whole Ragnar captain thing right.  Not only do you need the right people running the right legs, but you also need the right people together in the different vans.  You are literally stuck in a van with 5 other stinky and tired people for the better part of 2 days – having some compatibility there makes a difference.  The trick with this course is that there were a lot of hills, include some big ones and two particularly beasty ones.  And there were also some very long legs.  The runner that went the shortest distance went about 14 miles.  The runner that went the longest distance went 29.  I volunteered for what they call the Ragnar Leg, which is the leg that has been designated as the hardest one on the course.  If I am honest, I did it because that leg gets an extra medal, and I like medals.  But still, I did it.  And since Dottie was the hero that was going to be able to take the 29 mile Runner #12 slot, the rest were able to fit in and mostly fall into place.  I was really happy with how the vans shook out – Dan, Emily, Dave, Michele, Anna, and I were in Van #1 … Anna didn’t know anybody before Friday afternoon, but I figured that if you can’t get along with me, Dan, and Dave, then there is a fundamental issue anyway.  Also, Anna was awesome.  And then Erin (who got the other beasty hill leg – for which we are all duly grateful to her for running), Marlee, Rachel, Jessie, Dan, and Dottie were in Van #2.

The Ragnar Leg, leg #3 in this course, was particularly nasty looking.  I was going to run 8 miles, and miles 2.5 – 6 were essentially running up a mountain, gaining about 1,300 feet of elevation over those 4 miles.  One thing you might be noting if you know me or have read anything on this blog before … I live in Central Florida.  There aren’t any hills to train on around here.  And when there aren’t any hills to train on, you have to get creative.

I used a parking garage.

Up and down that damn parking garage, once or twice a week for three months.  I did long slogs up and down.  I did sprints up and down.  I did what I think of as line drills – down one level, up one level, down two levels, up two levels, etc.  I am so used to running on pancake flat roads and sidewalks that I knew it would be a big mistake not to train for that hill somehow … and that parking garage is probably the biggest hill around here for miles.

A moment of repose…

Expert Van Decorators

We all met up at Dave & Erin’s house on Friday – three of us from Florida, two from Atlanta, one all the way in from California, one really all the way in from Seattle, one from New York, one from Baltimore.  Dan is an expert van decorator, and so vans were decorated.  We had a group dinner at a brew pub, and then Van #1 headed to Cumberland to crash at a hotel and get ready for our 8:30am start.

Van #1, at Rocky Gap State Park

The race itself was great.  We had good weather, mostly – it was a little hot, which impacted the folks from up north much more than it did those of us up from Florida.  But it was clear and not so humid.  The start was at Rocky Gap State Park, a beautiful park on a lake in the mountains of western Maryland.  The runners went around this lake, and the first exchange was within a couple hundred yards from the start line.  Because this was a trail run, we couldn’t support our runner (Michele) directly, so we headed over to the exchange to wait.  When Michele came out of the woods she looked strong … but then after she handed off to runner #2 (Dave), I realized she was bleeding.  There were some particularly nasty roots on this trail, and one of them had taken her down.  She had twisted her knee and her ankle was swelling – an ominous start.  But it turns out that Michele is a champ.  She cleaned it up and then never spoke of it again.

And she’s off!

We weren’t allowed to support runner #2, either, because of the way the roads were laid out, so we headed to the next exchange to await my turn.  I did my best to get ready for the beasty hill ahead, and waited.  Dave came in flying, handed off the bracelet, and off I went on my first leg.

The first couple of miles were nice – flat-ish, through a little town.  Nice.  Then we started up a long, straight hill on the highway that was one of those where they add extra passing lanes and you just go straight up the hill.  My van was able to stop and cheer me on and offer water, but I was afraid if I stopped I would struggle to get going again.  When I neared the top of that section, they were there with water, cheering, and a funny little exchange happened.

Dan – “You see that sign?  You made it to the top!”

Me – “Of this section.  I’m not even halfway up this mountain.”

Dan – “Oh.”

Oh, indeed.  From that little tiny stretch of relief, we turned up the hill onto basically a dirt road and headed straight up.  That section was one of the steepest sections of road I have ever tried to run, and I finally broke down into a walk for part of it just for sanity.  This started a good 3 mile stretch of just basically straight uphill running that was brutal.  Much of it was on dirt roads, so when vans passed I would get dusted out if they weren’t being careful.  About halfway up I got my first kill – I had been gaining on him for some time, and when I passed him he looked like he was trying to puke next to his van.  This was just brutal stuff.

See that mountain up there – yeah, I went up and over that thing.

My van was great, stopping with water and at one point I got a NutriGrain bar.  Eventually I topped out and then had another 2-or-so mile stretch that was pretty steeply downhill, then another mile of rollers, and finally I reached the finish line.  My Garmin said 7.66 miles in 1 hour, 34 minutes, and 2 seconds, for a 12:16 pace.  I was and am thrilled with that pace given the nastiness of that hill.  I gained 1,305 feet of elevation.  I lost 1,068 feet of elevation.  This was equal opportunity suck – my calves were dying from the run up, and my quads were trashed from the run down.  My fastest mile was the first one, in 10:22, and my slowest was mile 4, in 15:02.  In mile 3, which featured that crazy steep section, I gained 581 feet of elevation (in one mile!) and managed to do it in 14 minutes flat.  The run went as well as I could have hoped.

Leg #3, in the bag

I handed off to Emily at that point – who, incidentally, was the runner who handed off to me when we ran Ragnar Tennessee together, which I thought was cool – and then tried to cool down.  We were off supporting Emily for her run – she’s fast – and then when she handed off to Dan I became the driver.  Runner #6 was Anna … her leg sucked because it was steeply downhill and it was a very dry and dusty dirt road.  Support was not easy because I didn’t want to kick up dust.  But she was flying and knew the drill – Anna is a veteran of multiple Ragnar Adirondacks races – so we got through just fine.  Van #2 was waiting for us at the exchange, and Erin seemed nervous about the beasty hill in front of her.  The handoff went off without a hitch, and they were off.  After some pleasantries, we headed out in search of food.

Anna, coming down the mountain…

According to Yelp, the 4th best restaurant in Hancock, Maryland, is a place called the Potomac River Grill, right on the bridge over the Potomac to West Virginia. We didn’t know how much to trust that review since #5 was Pizza Hut, but we figured we would give it a shot.  They had gotten hammered with Ragnar folks – always six at a time – but we caught the tail end of the rush and wound up having a very pleasant meal.  Burgers and sandwiches and even some beers and the tip and everything … for the low, low price of about $80.  We recommend the place highly.

We headed to Exchange #12 and tried to rest while we waited for our next turn.  I’m already over 2,000 words, so I’m going to break this up – we’ll pick it up again with leg #13 shortly.

Van #1, in repose

Ragnar exchange sleeping EXPERT LEVEL

Ragnar!

 

Update:  Part 2 of this race report has now been posted.  Click here to head over there and read about the finish...

A Letter to My Son on His First Day of Kindergarten

Son –

When you were born, I kind of knew that there were going to be feelings and experiences and levels of exhaustion coming that I could not expect.  I expected to be surprised by the unexpected, if that makes any sense.  And that was all true, but there was one thing that stuck out to me the most as something I truly and really did not see coming.

It turns out, when you are holding a little baby in your arms, and when you are watching that little baby start to turn into a small person, you get an overwhelming feeling of wanting to protect that little creature.  In every way possible.  You obviously want to physically protect it – but you also want to protect it emotionally and psychologically.  Childhood innocence is real, and it is beautiful.  The first kid that takes that away from you – by making you feel self-conscious about anything, by laughing at you and hurting your feelings, by being cruel in a way that only kids can – will cause me to go hide in my room so that I don’t wring his scrawny little neck.

Your engagement with the world inspires me.  You want to know everything about everything.  You shy away from nothing.  You want to help when you can help.  You are quick to love and trust.  You dance like nobody is watching.  You are a remarkable and beautiful human being, and all I want to do is protect you from the world that I know is coming down the pike.

But I can’t do that.  I have to start letting the world in, a little at a time – for your sake.  What I have learned about parenthood is that once you moved from toddler to child, the rest of my life became a progressive exercise in letting you go.  I can’t protect you all of the time any more.  I can’t step in and stop a mean kid from saying mean things.  I can’t warn you that you’re about to make a bad choice, or even stop you from following through on that choice.  I have to turn you loose and let you learn those things for yourself.  That’s how you become a functional, independent, adult.

Obviously that’s a process – you aren’t on your own now, and will never be as long as I’m alive.  But your responsibility will grow and my involvement will shrink, starting today.  We will reach equilibrium sometime in your 20s if we’re lucky.  In the meantime, two things:

  1. I could not be more proud of you.  You are ready to start taking on the world, and no matter how scary it is for me or your Mommy, we want you to go take it on like a champ.  We think you can, and we think you will.
  2. You will never, ever be on your own. Know that I am here, and your Mom is here … no matter what.  There is nothing you can tell us, no mistake you can make, that will ever make us love you less than we do right now.  Ask me to take the wall with you – we’ll go take that wall.

Go get it, son.  We’re proud of you.  And we love you.

Daddy

First Day of Kindergarten – 2017

My Favorite Thing I’ve Ever Done

Last week, after a work trip up to North Carolina, I wound up attending an afternoon class at Celebration Crossfit, which is rare.  Normally it is either 6am or it doesn’t happen.  But, I was there, and the CCF social media guy – and fantastic photographer – Guillermo was also there, but waiting for the class after mine to start.  Guillermo takes great photos everyday at CCF, but they tend to be of the same-ish group of folks because of his timing for being in the box.  Since I was different, I was a target for him – we were doing push presses, which I suck at, and he got this shot, which was posted to the CCF social media sites with some very kind words:

Push Presses – 175#, a 10lb PR

It is always fun to have my picture featured on the sites – I still find it to be a bit surreal – but then this one had a little follow-up.  My wife showed it to my kids, and the 5-year old apparently studied it for a minute, got all wide-eyed, and gave a big thumbs-up.  And then moved on.  Like a 5-year old.  When she told me this, I initially smiled and also moved on … but over the last few days, this little moment – one that I didn’t even see – has stuck with me.  Maybe it is that we’re having a challenging few weeks at home – summertime means the boys are out of their routine, which means they can be little disasters – or maybe it is because Father’s Day just passed, or maybe it is because a couple of close friends and colleagues recently lost their dads … whatever is driving it, fatherhood is on my mind.

A few weeks ago, each of the boys battled a round of illness.  They hand it off to each other, and we’ve learned that one booger-y nose usually means 2 – 3 weeks of somebody not feeling right at our house.  When they’re bad enough, they get housebound, and then one of my jobs is to get the other one out of the house and get some fresh air and activity.  My go-to for that is Epcot, because Epcot is awesome.  And so, within a couple of weeks of each other, each of my boys had a Daddy day at Epcot while the other one stayed home and rested.

One of the challenges that I put on myself, as a father, is that I want to teach my boys how to notice things around them.  I want them to be curious, and to ask questions and seek answers, and to critically evaluate those answers.  About everything.  And I want to expose them to the widest possible array of things to be curious about and ask questions about.  We spend a lot of time talking about the natural world – plants, animals, stars, the moon, the ocean, all of it – but also about engineering and art and movies and building and cooking and exercise and music and books and math and anything they are, or for that matter I am, interested in.  And frankly, that’s exhausting sometimes.

Because if I am serious about this task, then not being exhausted means I’m doing it wrong.  I have seen the difference in people who have their curiousity encouraged and those that have had it stifled.  I have seen kids who ask questions because they get engagement and also kids who don’t ask questions anymore because those questions are discouraged.  I have seen kids that are allowed to help and are thereby taught the skills and confidence they need to be independent, and I have seen kids that want only to be a part of what their dad is doing but are instead parked in front of the TV so they are out of the way.  It is easier to not answer the questions, or to tell them they can’t help.  But I won’t have it – if I’m not going to do those things, why did I have kids in the first place?

There is a flip side to the exhaustion, though.  Some of it you’ve heard before – about how you get to watch these two little boys grow, and learn, and succeed, and fail, and figure it out, and about how your heart bursts with pride and joy and sadness and anger for them and on their behalf.  This weekend, my oldest was trying to set up a domino field in the shape of a square – tip one over, they all fall down – and he was struggling.  At one point he tried to quit, but I wouldn’t let him – just because it is hard doesn’t mean you should stop.  And when he finally did it, when he made it work, you cannot imagine the look on his face.  He learned a lesson that day that I hope he remembers for the whole rest of his life, and his happiness and pride might has well have been mine.

But there is another, more subtle thing that happens when you try to parent this way. In order to be able to engage and respond to them, you have to pay attention to them.  You have to see what interests them, and understand when something happens that surprises them or that they don’t understand.  You sometimes have to anticipate what will be fascinating and actually prepare to handle the discussion.  And then – and this is the absolute best – you get to experience these things again through their eyes, as though you are experiencing them yourself for the first time.

When your 2-year old gets fascinated by a puddle of water, or an ant, or the way a ball rolls down a hill – it reminds you about what it means to be fascinated by the things around you.  Our immediate world, however regular, is a miracle, and we should approach it as such.  When your 5-year old begs you to stop and watch the Japanese drumming at Epcot, or goes crazy at the idea of a strudel, or sees a film and asks if we can visit China one day – it reminds you to dream big, and to stop putting limits on yourself or your family, and to be open to the whole world.

These boys, they are making my life richer than they will ever know.  And they are pushing me to be a better father, a better husband, and a better person – because I want them to feel about their father like I felt about mine.  I want them, when they are nearly 40 and have kids and families and dreams and struggles all their own, to believe that my example can, in some way, help them navigate the crazy waters ahead.  And, if I’m very, very lucky, I want them to give me a call so that I can tell them I still love them.

Sometimes, when we’re sitting after a bedtime story, or we’re laughing at a silly joke, I will tell them that I like being their daddy.  That’s the language that they understand.  But one day, I will tell them what I really mean.  I will tell them that being their dad was my favorite thing I’ve ever done.  And that my life would be immeasurably poorer without them in it.

And that I hope that someday they know what it means to love somebody like this.

Father’s Day, 2017

 

Race Report #25: Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

This is part 2 of my Dark Side Challenge at the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon weekend.  If you want to read my review of the 10k, you can find that here.

Okay!  When last we met, I was finishing up the Star Wars Dark Side 10K and then going to run another mile and a half chasing my kid around an inflatable obstacle course with a camera.  That was fun!  Really!  Enough that it requires multiple exclamation points!  But, it did leave me with a couple of challenges going into the second half of the Dark Side Challenge – the half marathon.

I was not, when I was chasing him, wearing running or technical equipment.  I didn’t have my compression shorts on.  And (and there is no way to do this but just to spit it out and get it over with) – I hadn’t prepared my nipples.  And though I didn’t leave that event actively hurting (other than my throbbing feet) … I did feel a sensitivity in the force, if you know what I mean.  Some gingerness in the upper thigh region.  A little scratchiness on the man nipples.

I had allowed myself to start chafing, is what I’m saying.

So I powdered and lotioned and did everything I knew how to do … and set my alarm for 2am and went to bed at 8pm.  The joys of an early runDisney start, and all of that.

My perspective on this race was different than my perspective on just about any race I’ve ever done.  I’m competitive.  I try not to be too competitive – in general, life is not a game – but I also know myself enough to know that if you call it a race then I’m going to try to win it in some way.  So it was a bit odd that I entered this one with the idea of not worrying too much about doing that.  I didn’t expect to PR, and I knew there were going to be places I wanted to stop to take pictures (Darth Maul!) – so just go out and have fun and get this finished, right?

Because of my experience on Saturday I had a much better idea of what to expect.  I got to Epcot at about 3:15, and when I got to the place we lined up for buses I discovered that they’d been running buses since 3am.  On the next bus I went and headed over to the same starting area as yesterday, where the lines were already looped back on themselves for pictures with characters.  Because I’d gotten Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and Jabba the Hutt the day before, I went for BB-8 first, and then for the Rogue One scene.  I decided to pass on Kylo Ren altogether – he is at Hollywood Studios every day, after all – and try to get Captain Phasma at the finish line.  I waited in line for probably 25 – 30 minutes for BB-8, and 15 or so for the Rogue One scene – and then off to pee.

After the 10K debacle with the urination, I was determined to avoid the discomfort this time.  I did my thing, then got a bagel at the concession stand.  Then got in line and peed again.  Then walked over to the corral area.  Then peed again, and immediately walked down to the end … and peed again.  I was not going to start the race needing to go.  This time I was in Corral D, so I headed down and stretched a little, and waited for our turn.  I was impressed again with the start.  I was in the 8th wave to start, and was probably running within 15 minutes of the start of the race.  They shot off fireworks for every wave, which was cool, and we were off.

The course followed the 10K course until we got to the parking gate for Magic Kingdom on World Drive.  The band was there playing the fanfare again (still the coolest music ever), and R2-D2 had a huge line again.  But this time, instead of heading down World Drive, we turned right and headed down a service road toward Animal Kingdom.  At this point, my choices from the day before started to have an impact – I was barely past mile 1 and I could already feel my nipples starting to get sensitive.  My friction defense stuff wasn’t going to get it this day – and though Vaseline is the kind of thing that makes a mess on a shirt, I preferred Vaseline nipples to bloody nipples.  Fortunately there was a medical stop very early on, and they had the good stuff out on popsicle sticks just waiting for us.  Frankly, that saved my race – it would have been excruciating without it.

Just past this we went through one of the best parts of the course.  It was still very dark, and on a long, straight stretch of road they kept it dark – very few floodlights.  But what there was a lot of was the Battle of Endor.  There were lasers coming out of the woods, Ewok sounds everywhere, and even explosions back in the trees to mimic AT-ATs or Walkers blowing up.  This went on for several minutes.  It was very, very cool.  I heard some grumbling after about how some of the flashing lights caused some momentary loss of vision – but I couldn’t have cared less about that.  As long as we didn’t do anything crazy I don’t think there was any real danger – and wow, was the effect very real.  We then ran past probably the longest character line on the course – they had Ewoks out!  Because of the length of the line I kept running, but that looked like a cool picture.

Next, at about mile 3, we went past another fan favorite section of the race – the solid waste plant for Walt Disney World!  There wasn’t anything to see here, but it basically smelled like you’d expect a place that treats shit to smell.  It smelled shitty.  I just got a whiff or two, and while unpleasant, thems the ropes – they had to get us from Magic Kingdom to Animal Kingdom somehow, and running past the shit plant was it.

Going in to Animal Kingdom the back way was interesting.  Around mile 4 we started to see things you see from the train over to Rafiki’s Planet Watch – some of the animal housing, etc.  We basically ran right past the Planet Watch area, and then over behind where you catch the train to Planet Watch, past some trailers that house who-knows-what, and then, bang, we were in the park.

This is in Dinoland – I remember thinking when it was taken that I hoped the dinosaur was visible in the background…

We came in right the left of the entrance to the Maharaja Jungle Trek, over by where the Kali River Rapids exit is.  We ran over past the Siamang Gibbons – which appeared to be hanging out together on the ropes – and headed around toward Expedition Everest.  I’ve never been in the Animal Kingdom at night, so I didn’t know they had that area around the mountain camp strung up with lights – it took an already very real-looking spot and made it look very authentic.  We ran past Everest, past the Finding Nemo theater, and into Dinoland, where we hit mile marker #5.

We left the Animal Kingdom over behind the gift shop in Dinoland, and were almost immediately greeted by members of the 501st Legion in full garb.  Emperor Palpatine was there, along with the Emperor’s guards in red.  Tuscan Raiders and Jawas were out, too.  Not stopping to get a picture with the Emperor and his guards was the first of two photo stops I regret not stopping for … but now I know.  And then we went straight into the doldrums of this race.

At about mile 5.5 we emerged from the service area into the Animal Kingdom parking lot.  We wound through the lot, past the second of two photo ops that I regret not stopping for … this time a scene with the Wampa in the ice cave on Hoth that was set up so that the picture looks like you’re hanging upside down and trying to get the light saber out of the snow.  In retrospect, missing that picture was my one big miss from this race.  I’ll run this whole race again next year just to get that picture.

And then we headed out onto Osceola Parkway.  From the parking lot emergence at mile 5.5 to the back entry to Hollywood Studios at about mile 9.5 the sole purpose of the course was to get us from Animal Kingdom to Hollywood Studios.  We were running on a straight flat road, then turned onto World Drive, and then merged with where the 10K course headed into the next park.  Nobody really likes this stretch of this race, and while there is some grumbling, I get it … if we want to run through all of these parks, we have to actually get there, and there is only one way to do that.  We have to run on roads.

At this point I had some decisions to make.  I was running well, and hadn’t stopped for any reason byhalfway on the course.  I needed to decide if I was going to push through and try to get a good time or if I was going to really back off and enjoy the parks in the last 4 miles.  At the halfway point of the course, I was about two or three minutes behind PR pace.  But with a bunch of flat road running ahead, there was a chance I could start chipping into that.  I struggled with that decision for a few minutes, but ultimately decided not to hurt myself and backed off.

This was also the stretch that featured one of the more interesting little quirks of this race.  runDisney partners with Jeff Galloway, who is a proponent of the run/walk system when doing these big races.  The races are loaded with Galloway folks – many with audible timers that tell them when to pull over and start walking.  For the most part, this is no problem.  The runners generally do a good job of signaling and not getting run over, so my thought is run your own race.  There were also pace groups doing the run/walk method, with a leader carrying a sign that would signal the walking times.  During this stretch, I was just ahead of the 2:30 pace group, and they would sneak up on me.  I’d be in my own little world, and suddenly, alarmingly close, somebody would yell “Walk!” and startle me into speeding up a little.  I’d take off, pull away from them, and then a few minutes later we’d go through the same deal.  It was an interesting little back and forth.  What finally broke it up was that I ran into a fellow Celebration Crossfitter (hi, Michele!) and wound up ignoring that pace group.  It was about here that I started my own run/walk strategy, especially walking up any inclines and running down the other side.  And it was here that they had the water stop giving out energy gels, which really made a difference for me.

When we got to the back entrance of Hollywood Studios at mile 9.5, we also got to the one character photo I was determined to get, regardless of line – Darth Maul.  The line wound up being very short – I still completed the mile it was in in about 13 minutes, so I had maybe a 2 minute wait.  The Darth Maul costume is awesome, by the way – the way they do that really makes that guy look real.  This picture made me happy.

Citizen!


Jazz hands!

Inside Hollywood Studios we had exactly the same run as we’d had the day before.  This time I stopped for a quick picture with some Stormtroopers – I said “guys” when I walked up, and got “Citizen!” in return.  I then took off and smiled for the batch of photographers they’ve got through this stretch, and then we headed out toward the Boardwalk.  Unlike yesterday, this time we turned right and headed down the Boardwalk proper, and when we turned the corner there were crowds for the first time on the course.  Holding signs – my favorites of which were “I am proud of you, perfect stranger!” and the one that quoted Alice in Wonderland “Well after this I should think nothing of falling down stairs.”  There were also members of the 501st Legion here, too, as well as a Rey and some other characters.  And then we headed into the back entrance of Epcot.

Boardwalk Joe’s Marvelous Margaritas

Again a difference from the day before – when we emerged behind the Rose and Crown we turned right and headed around the entire World Showcase.  This time I was prepared for the music to be blaring, so the headphones came off and stayed off for the duration of the run.  They opened Epcot up to guests right after we got in there, so by the time I got to about Mexico there were people walking through looking at us like we were crazy.  The best part of that World Showcase stretch, other than the music and the atmosphere and, you know, Epcot, was that several of the cast members that worked in those pavilions were out waving their country’s flag and cheering us on in their language.  This was true for Italy, Germany, China – a very nice little feature.

That’s France in the background…


And Morocco…

And then when we got to the main entry way behind Spaceship Earth the course was exactly what we did for the 10k.  The 501st had folks stationed in the area – my favorite was the Scout Trooper – and then we wound around through the finish chute and that was it.  I was again in the top third of all finishers (4,393 / 16,302) and since I was in a relatively early corral there was basically no congestion through the finish chute.  This time we collected our challenge medals as we went through that part of the chute, and then the snack box and through gear check and we were back out into the public area.  I immediately went and got in line for a picture with Captain Phasma, and then after a quick run through the merchandise tent I headed to the car.

My finish time was 2:30.08, which is 8 minutes and 16 seconds behind the PR I set back in January.  Especially given the photo stops and the humidity and the 10k I ran the day before, I’m thrilled with that time.  For perspective, even with the photo stops, that would have been a nearly 5 minute PR for me if I hadn’t run that half marathon in January.  And I didn’t train well for this one.  I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since high school, and that extends to being able to complete a half marathon on very little running-specific training.  The incredibly shrinking Matthew is becoming athletic Matthew, and I couldn’t be happier.

Notes:

  • Again very, very impressed with the organization of this race and the course. Over 16k people ran the half (which is apparently fairly small for a runDisney half, though I imagine they did OK and the proximity to Easter and Spring Break didn’t really help).  I had very little congestion, there was great support all over the course, and in general that was as smooth as an event that size could have been from my perspective.  Admittedly I was fortunate enough to be in a relatively early corral … but still.  Great job.
  • The humidity was pretty brutal. I’m used to it, but I can only imagine what it must have been like for folks that traveled in from the Northeast or upper Midwest.  My Garmin showed a starting temperature of 72 degrees, and that was at 5:30.  By the time I got into the World Showcase the sweat had gotten into my socks and I was squishing when I walked.  It was pretty rough.  Which is funny, because the week before and the week since have featured perfect weather – cooler and less humid.  Florida!
  • Ever since we got our Disney passes I’ve maintained that my favorite park was Animal Kingdom. And I love Animal Kingdom, I do.  But I’ve finally come around on Epcot and changed my mind – what a hell of a place Epcot is.  It doesn’t hurt to have Star Wars music blaring while you are running through there feeling like you accomplished something, but still.  I plan on going back to Epcot hopefully very soon and just reveling in it.
  • I dealt with very little pain in my legs this time. Since I started at a much more reasonable pace my shins and calves never did freeze up, so mostly I was just fighting fatigue and the general beating 13 miles puts on your legs.
  • I mentioned running into fellow CCF athlete Michele – she unknowingly flipped a switch for me that I don’t particularly like that I have. It is one thing to be struggling along doing your own thing with thousands of people you don’t know.  But now that there is somebody you know in proximity, well … now we’re racing.  I’ll bet I finished 2 – 3 minutes faster than I would have otherwise.  That competitiveness is not exactly something I’m proud of, but it exists.  I recognized it for what it was and decided to use it to help me get through this time.  So, yeah …
  • At about mile 8 I let the 2:30 Galloway pace group go … and I never saw them again. Which is odd considering that we started at the same time and I finished in exactly 2 hours and 30 minutes.
  • I really only truly regret missing that one ice cave picture with the Wampa. Could be worse.

  • SWAG was as discussed in the last post – three very nice technical shirts (one each for my 10k, half marathon, and the Dark Side Challenge for running both), three heavy medals, and a very personalized bib. Since my annual pass includes the PhotoPass, I didn’t have to pay for any pictures – which is one hell of a nice perk.  And they did have the Virtual Goody Bag online, which was mostly discounts for stuff at the expo.  Also at the end there were full bottles of water and Powerade plus the snack box and bananas.  Overall, it felt very high-end.
  • Next Race – the next one I have scheduled is Ragnar Washington DC in September. I doubt I make it that far without at least running a 5k somewhere, but we’ll see.

Final thoughts – this was one hell of a fun weekend.  It will not be my last runDisney race.

And may the force be with you.

Race Report #24: Star Wars Dark Side 10K

This is part 1 of my Dark Side Challenge race report – you can see the half marathon review here.

Hi.  My name is Matthew – and I’m a Star Wars nerd.

I own that.  Really own it.  And so it was a natural fit to make my first runDisney race … the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon.  But, in a fit of optimism brought about by a 10K PR on Thanksgiving, I did something that may seem foolish.  I signed up for the Dark Side Challenge.  This means I signed up for a 10K on Saturday AND a half marathon on Sunday.

Yikes.

I’m going to break this up into two posts – I’ll talk about the expo and the 10K in this one, and then the half marathon in the next one.

Needless to say (but I’m going to say it anyway), runDisney races are a big deal.  People come from all over the world for a chance to run through the different parks and take pictures with the themed characters.  Several characters come out especially for these races – you don’t see them at other times.  They estimated 14,000 people started the 10K – looks like just under 11,000 finished – and then 20,000 for the half marathon.  Even though many of those are the same people that ran both races (like me) – that’s still a ton of folks.   And, in typical Disney fashion, they’ve got it very well organized.

I went to the expo to get my bib on Friday – took a day off of work in anticipation of challenges with timing.   Everything opens at 10am at the ESPN Wild World of Sports complex.  Apparently there was a multi-hour line on Thursday, which is the first day of the expo, so I got there about 9am and hoped for the best.  Turns out I was about 6th in line, and thought I had really gone overboard with timing.  But I had not – by the time things opened up the line went all the way down the building, wrapped all the way back to where we were, and then went all the way back down the building.  Getting there early was a good thing.

After acquiring my bib (one bib for both races) and shirts (three technical shirts that I really like), I headed over to the merchandise building and hoped not to wreck things.  I wound up wrecking things.  Refer back to the opening of this post – I’m a Star Wars nerd … and there is a lot of cool Star Wars stuff.  I wound up with a new pair of shorts (with a Death Star on them), a pint glass (if a pint glass is available, I always get the pint glass), a pair of flip-flops for the boy (with Darth Vader on them, of course) and a handful of limited release race pins (because we do pin trading, and, yeah – Star Wars race pins!).  The shirts that came with the race are nice – though for the first time maybe ever my reaction is that they are too big.  I got XXL because I still generally need XXL, and it is clear that the runDisney folks use a different definition of XXL for these races.  Next time I do a Disney race I’ll get XL shirts.

Pins!

So then the rest of Friday my goal was to stay off of my feet.  One of the things that runDisney is notorious for is an early start – the race started at 5:30am on Saturday morning.  But now if you start backing up timing – 8pm bedtime.  2am wakeup.  30 minutes to wake up and choke down coffee and breakfast.  20 – 30 minutes to get over to Epcot.  10-15 minutes to walk to the line for busses.  The busses over to the starting line at the Magic Kingdom start running at 3:30am, and right on time they let us through.  A few minutes to get over to the starting line, and then…

A friend that had recently done the Princess Half gave me some very good advice – be on one of the early busses to the start line and that way you can have a relatively short wait for pictures with characters.  That was great advice – as we started hitting characters there were already lines forming.  But instead of beginning at the beginning (BB-8 already had a long line), I headed to the end and wound up being like 6th in line for Darth Vader – who was easily the toughest picture once the crowds showed up.  I got that picture, immediately popped over to Jabba the Hutt, and then was able to have only a 10 – 15 minute wait for Bobba Fett.  So … that worked out.

I found my lack of sleep … disturbing.

How cool is Han in carbonite in the background?

Of course, at this point, I still had over an hour to kill.  I used the port-o-potties (of which there were tons) twice, and then headed to my corral.  I somehow got into Corral B for the 10K, so I was up near the start.  They had big screens everywhere and good speakers for the race hosts, and they were showing clips from the movies and such.  Again, as expected, very good organization as they started walking us down to the start line.  When I did the Rock n’ Roll Half in DC it took me nearly an hour to get to the start line.  For this race I was running within 10 – 15 minutes.

And we were off.  Because of the multiple races this weekend, I went with a strategy of trying to race the 10K – PR if I could – and treat the half as a fun run.  I guess I didn’t stretch enough because my shins immediately froze up.  I had a decision to make, and I wound up deciding to push through the pain.  It took nearly 4 miles before things let go.  But I had also managed my pre-race poorly and I immediately needed to pee.    I also tried to gut that one out, but that wound up costing me my PR.

The first three miles of the course were pretty uneventful.  We ran back out of the Magic Kingdom parking lot and headed straight down World Drive.  Just past the start there was a high school band playing the Star Wars theme – which was awesome. Even walking to the bus feels somehow impressive when the Star Wars fanfare is going.  The first character photo happened before mile 1 – a huge line already for R2-D2.  There were a couple of other random photo-ops along the way, as well as screens set up showing scenes from the movies.  The mile markers are fancy, and featured different Dark Side characters – the first mile marker had Darth Maul on it and they were playing Duel of the Fates on speakers.  A nice touch.

Water and Powerade stop at about mile 1.5, which I ignored, and then medical just past mile 2. Thanks to the volunteers that really help that out.  And then we hit a cloverleaf to an overpass so we could head over to the first park.  The cloverleaf was banked for cars, and of course represented a decent hill for central Florida, so it wasn’t the most fun … but it also featured the 5K split.  We crossed World Drive and ran a bit toward the Swan and Dolphin, and then turned into a back entrance to Hollywood Studios.  Just before we hit the gate we got another character spot – this time Darth Maul.  I made a mental note to get that picture when I came through here on Sunday morning in the half.  Immediately inside the gate there was another water stop, and then the 501st Legion was all decked out to greet us – Tuscan Raiders, Jawas, Troopers of all types, the whole crew.  And then we were in the park.  But I couldn’t hold out anymore on the bathroom – I stopped at one of the park restrooms.  No line, but it wound up blowing my PR attempt.  Lesson learned – pee before you line up.

Running through the parks is why people pay a fortune and get up early to run Disney races.  We came out from behind the Tower of Terror, and were immediately greeted by Stormtroopers.  Running through the main drag of Hollywood studios, right at dawn, with Stormtroopers patrolling the place … it was a very cool scene.  We ran right up to and around the front gate, and then headed around to a path that connects Hollywood Studios to the Boardwalk area.  Instead of turning right onto the main Boardwalk, which I expected, we headed left toward the Yacht Club and Beach resorts.  That was boardwalk running all the way around to the back entrance to Epcot.  Just before we hit a service entrance into Epcot there was another water stop, and then we emerged right behind the Rose & Crown in the Great Britain section of the World Showcase.

I didn’t realize until I got the pictures that the photographers were so strategically placed…

One of the things you might not know unless you’ve experienced it is that they’ve got that whole park wired up with speakers so that they can speak to everybody there all at the same time.  And when we came out into the World Showcase … all of those speakers were blaring the Star Wars fanfare.  I’ve already owned that I’m a Star Wars nerd, but that was chilling.  My headphones came off for the rest of the race.

We turned left at Great Britain, ran through the Canada section, and then around to the main path headed toward Spaceship Earth.  There were Stormtroopers taking pictures in front in that area, and also photographers with Spaceship Earth in the background – and no line.  Since my PR was already not going to happen, I got a quick picture there and headed to the finish.  Just before the gate we cycled around through a cast member area, which also had some of the 501st.  Snowtroopers, Sandtroopers, Imperial Gunners, etc. – very cool.  We turned back into the finish line in the parking lot, and after getting past some patrolling Stormtroopers we were done.

Big finish chute – clearly set up to handle major crowds.  They did a great job running people through the sections and avoiding bottlenecks.  I collected my medal, and then a water and a Powerade.  We then walked through the Challenge Medal area (which was not being used until Sunday), and picked up our snack boxes (chips, cheese sauce, Oreos, dried fruit, granola bar) and bananas, and then through gear check and back out.  The characters from the beginning were also at the end, but I made the decision to hold off until Sunday to get the ones I hadn’t gotten and headed to my car.

I finished in 1:06.20, which was 2 minutes and 42 seconds off of my PR.  If I had managed my bathroom function a little better I had a shot of getting it – but I’m still happy with that run.  It was fun, I got to see a lot of cool things, and I also got acquainted with how they do things before I started out on the long run on Sunday.  I was home by 8:00 or 8:15 – and then heading back out to watch my oldest run his first event, an inflatable obstacle run.  This turned into a good day.

Notes:

  • Could not be more impressed with how well this was organized. I’m already on the Disney bandwagon, but this was just another place where they demonstrated how very good they are at handling big crowds and big experiences for their guests.
  • I observe the taboo on wearing a race shirt in the actual race – bad juju, plus the idea of wearing something completely new on race day.  Not only did I see a ton of race shirts for this – I saw a bunch of half marathon shirts, which wouldn’t be run until the next day.  And I even saw a couple of Dark Side Challenge shirts which, just … wow.
  • Something different – I finished in the top 25% overall and top third in my age division.  This has little to do with my speed and a lot to do with the facts of the race – they want people to stop and take pictures.  And a lot of people just are not regular runners – they are doing it for the Disney or the Star Wars parts.  Still…
  • I’ve seen several complaints about the overall course for both the 10k and the half since the race ended – and I think that’s nonsense. The logistics of making this work and letting us see as much as possible, in an environment where they’re going to be letting tens of thousands of people into their parks in some cases while we’re still running … those have to be a nightmare.  I thought the course was great.
  • The medal was intense – big and heavy, with a Stormtrooper on it. If this was the 10K medal, I was anxious to see the half marathon medal.
  • I didn’t mention the weather – it wasn’t so bad for somebody that lives in Florida – pretty normal for this race. Mid-60s and humid at race start.  Folks that traveled from up north were struggling with it, but overall I didn’t have a problem during the 10k.  Bit of a different story on Sunday.
  • My goal of going home and basically not standing up for hours after got blown all to hell. The obstacle course my son was doing had a parent run-along lane for 1.5 miles, and I was trying to stay ahead since I had the camera.  I wound up running most of the way in non-running stuff, and starting to put some irritation on my thighs and nipples.  I would have to deal with that the next day.  But it was so very worth it.
  • Another 8pm bedtime and 2am wakeup. Yay?
  • SWAG picture at the end of the next post – the bib was cool, the shirts were cool, and the medals were awesome. We got a virtual goody bag with discounts and things for the expo.  No other little stuff, though, which I’m OK with.
  • Next race – Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon – April 23rd. Post coming soon.

An Anniversary

On April 18, 2016, one year ago today, I attended my first Couch-to-Crossfit class – and it began.  Three weeks later, on May 9, I walked into my first regular Crossfit class.  6am, Monday morning, Celebration Crossfit.  I didn’t know anybody.  I couldn’t do most of the movements.  I weighed about 315 pounds – I was enormous.  And I was scared to death.

Holy shit, was I scared to death.

That first day of regular class, I walked into a gym full of people that could actually do all of these things I simply could not physically do.  I was excited and ashamed and scared and nervous and embarrassed and a whole list of emotions all at once.  My shirts were too big because I couldn’t risk my belly hanging out.  I was wearing big thick running shoes.  I had no idea what I was doing – and I knew it.   And in some communities, when a newbie walks in like that they had better be ready to run the gauntlet.  The veterans make them earn it, every step of the way.  I was prepared to have to deal with being laughed at or getting the side-eye or feeling inadequate.  When you’re a fat guy trying to do something physical you have to approach it with a big dose of humility.

Very few pictures of me around that time – this was taken about two weeks prior to my first 6am class.  Probably around 315 – 320 here.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, I was welcomed in like I had been there forever.   I thought I would dislike the social aspect of Crossfit, that I would have to push through that discomfort indefinitely if I wanted the results.  I have come to like the social aspect the most – these people help me be a better me.  The 6am crew at Celebration Crossfit has become an integral support group.  They cheer me on when I succeed, and they encourage me when I am struggling. They help make it more fun.  They’ve taught me that I can push harder and go farther when I work with other people.  They (you, if you’re reading this) make it easier for me and help me on my path and never ask for anything other than that I keep working hard – and for that, I am eternally grateful.

The coaches, too, were a surprise for me.  I played basketball in high school, and our coaches were tough and aloof and gave the sense that they had a lot of things to be worrying about OTHER than me.  But regularly in class, and especially during the Open, I get the sense that Erik, JC, and Kaycie genuinely care about how I’m doing – care in a way that nobody else does except me.  They are invested in my success in all facets – as gym owners, yes, but also as human beings that personally want me to be a better me.  They are legitimately proud of the work I’ve done, in a way I could never have expected.

One of my favorite pictures from the Open is not the most technically sound or flattering shot.  It is a picture of me at the bottom of an overhead squat in 17.3 with JC sitting right in front of me, talking me through it.  He was there like that in every Open WOD – he and Erik cheered when I sped up to finish 17.1, and he was sitting right next to me during the row on 17.4.  Everybody else was encouraging and yelling – he was calmly talking me through the whole thing.  And Erik and Kaycie were the first two over to congratulate me after 17.4 – they were as happy as I was about my performance in that workout.  I work harder because I want to make them proud of me.  One year ago today I would have rolled my eyes if I had read that sentence from somebody else, and here I am writing it.  But it is true.  I didn’t expect to find a special thing, but I found it.

Coach. Coaching.

In the last year, I’ve accomplished more physically than I ever thought possible in this amount of time.  I can lift heavier weights, run longer distances – and run them faster – and generally move through the world in ways that were previously beyond me.  I have not missed a Monday since that one a year ago – a few times I’ve had to run because I was traveling, but I have not missed a Monday.  I have lost over 60 pounds out of the 100 that I plan to lose.  I look better than I have in maybe ever, and I feel like a million dollars.

Like one million damn dollars.

I freaking love deadlifts … and bacon

When I got the email from Erik about my membership renewal, I didn’t blink – I’d pay it at twice the cost (though they shouldn’t get any ideas).  I have a lot of goals still.  I have to get to work on that last 40 or so pounds.  And at next year’s open I’m going to have to be able to do pullups, double unders, and handstand pushups if my Rx scores are going to be meaningful.  I have drunk the Kool-aid on Crossfit, in a big way.

There have been many steps since that first one, 6am, Monday morning, just over one year ago. There will be many more, but I can say without reservation that that first one was the hardest one.  Maybe one of the hardest steps I’ve ever taken in my whole life.

In a Facebook post a few weeks ago Kaycie said that they were with me every step of the way.

So I guess I need to keep stepping.

See you guys at 6am.

Taken about 4 weeks ago. Like one million damn dollars.

And then this happened:

Friend, fellow Crossfitter, and super-talented photographer Guillermo Cummings took a picture of me doing 17.3 on Friday that I still don’t quite have a handle on.  He posted it across his social media last night, and shortly thereafter:

It is hard to know what even to say except that I wouldn’t believe this was even a picture of me if it weren’t for those socks…