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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…

So … this happened:

A couple of days ago the owner and head coach at my Crossfit box emailed and asked if they could use my before and now pictures for a post in their social media.  I agreed – I don’t like my fat picture, but, as I told him, if I didn’t want it out there I shouldn’t have put it out there.  I offered to take a current “now” picture, so I did that this morning and sent the pictures over.  The post below is the one they made on Instagram – they also posted this on Facebook.

I never dreamed I’d be the guy getting air time on a Crossfit gym’s social media, but it is happening.  I kind of don’t even know what to think – it feels surreal.  The best part has been the comments, both from my peers at the box as well as complete strangers.  The universal positivity and happy-for-me-ness is very gratifying.  Crossfit is a group effort, and I feel that more now than ever.  It makes a difference knowing all of those people are really rooting for me.

Now this, this is just pure HARD WORK & DEDICATION. @woody_mw1 works HARD! He didn't use magic pills or gimmicks, and he didn't do anything to take the easy road. He took the road that ensures a healthy lifelong habit is formed. That road is not easy. It is HARD! But, nothing good in life comes easy. Matt's journey has included coming to @celebrationcrossfit 5 days a week at 6am over the past year while also eating a nutritionally sound and consistent diet. And, his results show just that! Due to Matt's HARD WORK and DEDICATION he is down 60lbs a few weeks short of his 1 year mark into CrossFit. When Matt first started with us, he couldn't do a single sit up. Now he finishes each workout at the Box with 100 full range of motion Sit Ups. Keep up the great work, Matt! We are here every step of the way! #crossfit #crossfitter #crossfitathlete #weightloss #weightlossjourney #healthy #healthylifestyle #fitlife #fitfam #fitness #functionalfitness #crossfitbox #crossfitopen #crossfitlife #crossfitfamily #crossfitcommunity #crossfitlifestyle #crossfitdad #down60lbs #hardwork #dedication #celebrationfl #celebrationflorida #celebrationcrossfit #kissimmeefl #kissimmeeflorida #disneyworld #disneycrossfit #crossfitneardisney

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Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

Back in August, relatively early in my current path to fitness, I wrote this post, in which I articulated some secondary goals related to my fitness.  These are not goals about the fitness itself – they are goals that address a theme I’d call “How I Want to Live My Life”.  For the record, though I couldn’t have done so when I wrote that post, I can sum the answer to that up in one word now – Adventure.

One of those goals is worth quoting in its entirety:

Start keeping track of bag nights.  I love to hike and camp, and I don’t do it enough because it can be hard.  I don’t have the energy, and the physical work is just exhausting.  It has been on the order of years since I’ve done even minor camping.  That has to change, if for no other reason than that I’m committed to introducing my kids to the outdoors.

And so last weekend I took my oldest son on his first camping trip.

Several weeks ago I was inspired to commit to a bunch of these kinds of things (more on that in a later post), and I reserved a tent campsite for two nights at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park here in Florida.  Paynes Prairie is just south of Gainesville, and Interstate 75 runs through one end of the prairie.  The first time I drove through there I saw a hawk soaring, so I looked it up.  The website and everything you read talks about a dried lake bed, a big sink, and serious mega-fauna – alligators, wild horses, even wild bison.  The park is also off of the Lake Wales Ridge, which is where I live, and is essentially a big sand dune that is covered with scrub pine and landscapes that are cool and different but also monotonous and not the most attractive.  You’re not going to see many wall posters of a Lake Wales ridge scrub scene.  So, with the promise of wildlife and some interesting forest and scenery, I signed us up.

Before I get into this, I want to mention my conclusion, which is this:  nothing you can ever read or watch – no website, no brochure, no review, no book, no magazine, no documentary – can adequately give you the sense of Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.  This is a place that simply must be seen and experienced.

I have a bunch of camping gear, including most all of the basics – tents, sleeping bags, camp stove, etc.  Most of that is designed for a single camper since I’ve always done my camping Star Wars style – Solo. (Thank you, thank you – I’ll be here all week.  Tip your waitress.).  So my five-year old and I left out on Friday morning with a car full of stuff and very high spirits, on our way to get a few odds and ends we needed to finish out the gear checklist and stock up on food for the weekend.  A few Tubmans later, and we were on our way into the park itself.

Paynes Prairie is an interesting geological place.  It is essentially a big lake bed, and as recently as the mid- to late 1800s the area was apparently a big lake.  But there is also a big hole in the bottom of that bed that drains the whole area into the aquifer.  That hole is called the Alachua Sink, and apparently gets clogged up every now and then and causes a lake to be formed.  According to a ranger we spoke with, the last time the lake was basically a permanent feature was in the late 1800s, and when the sink “unclogged” the whole lake drained out within a matter of just a few days.  What was left was a big basin that is now a grassy area that looks for all the world like you’d imagine a prairie to look.

Observation Tower at the Paynes Prairie Visitor's Center

Observation Tower at the Paynes Prairie Visitor’s Center

The entry ranger station, the campground, and the visitor’s center, though, are all in the woods that ring the prairie itself.  We got in around 1pm on Friday, and since our campsite wasn’t available until 3pm, we headed to the visitor’s center to poke around.  The center is buried deep in the woods on the approach, but out of the back window is a panoramic view of the prairie.  There is a little museum inside, with a few activities for the kids, a very small gift shop, and spotting scopes lining a back window looking out into the prairie.   After looking through the few exhibits (apparently there was a recent remodel done and the place is not as full as it will one day be) and putting a puzzle together, Noah and I headed down a side trail towards a 50-foot observation tower.

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So here’s the thing about a big wilderness area like this – from a distance, unless something happens to be happening right in front of that tower, big wilderness areas can look awfully boring.  In this case, grass and dirt and little trees, but not much else.  An awesome view, and I appreciate it much more now that I’ve actually been out in the prairie and know more about what I’m seeing … but initially, it doesn’t seem like much.

And the prairie stretches before us...

And the prairie stretches before us…

We headed back over to the Chacala Trail near the visitor’s center, and did our first hike of the weekend – about 2 miles through an oak stand and a lowland pine forest.  No wildlife to speak of on this hike, except the anthill that Noah stepped on and then was fascinated by.  And some lichen that was inexplicably quite interesting.  But it was a great hour or so outside, and then we headed over to the campground to set up camp.

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Ants. We’re very lucky these didn’t swarm his foot.

Lichen. I want to have curiosity like a child again...

Lichen. I want to have curiosity like a child again…

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Shenanigans on the Chacala Trail

I grew up camping.  I’d load up a 4-wheeler as a 14- or 15- year old and head out for the weekend.  My grandparents fished and stayed at a campground on a Corps of Engineers lake in Arkansas, and we’d spend weeks out there with them.  I love camping.  But I haven’t been in years, for a couple of reasons.  First, priorities are an issue.  I’ve learned to say this differently – the issue is not that I don’t have time, the issue is that I didn’t make it a priority.  I wanted to, but I guess I didn’t want to bad enough to actually do it.  The second problem, a contributor to the first, was that I got so big that the physical effort and work of it was challenging.  But I remember loving it, and I know that I wanted my kids to have some of the same experiences.  Noah was excited for this trip, and that helped make me excited.

He helped me pitch the tent.  He helped me set up our beds.  He helped me build a fire.  He helped me make dinner.  He helped me eat the hot dogs.  He especially helped me eat the smores.  He danced.  He kicked my ass at Uno.  And then he slept like a log all night.  I’m not sure I could come up with a “father” moment that can top how that evening made me feel – proud and happy and accomplished and, and, and…  I’ll have my bad days and my bad moments, but I felt like a good Dad that night.

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Campsite 22

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Pawpaw always says that the food is better outside

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Smores!

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Dance party!

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He really did kick my ass at Uno

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He slept better than I did

And then Saturday morning we went on a hike that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life.

If you spend much time reading about Paynes Prairie, you’ll quickly come across descriptions of a hike on what is called the La Chua Trail.  The La Chua Trail runs through a few hundred yards of basic trail, through an old barn, and then out onto a boardwalk that runs right around the actual Alachua Sink – the hole that drains the entire thing.  The boardwalk then winds around a bit and then ends on a kind of berm or dike that parallels the creek that runs into the sink and heads straight out into the prairie itself.  After a mile and a half or so it ends at a big observation platform raised up on stilts so that you can get a view of the surrounding prairie.  At that point, you hike back to the start for a good day outside.

Sounds pretty basic, no?

This hike is anything but basic.  About the time you round the first curve on the boardwalk you see your first alligators. And then you round another one and you see a few more.  And then you reach an overlook on a small pond and it turns out that there are dozens of alligators surrounding this pond.  And then you get off the boardwalk and walk, well – out with the alligators.

And these are not small alligators.  These are the ones that eat the small alligators.  15-footers.  Monsters.  Dinosaurs.

"Not a zoo. Not a theme park."

“Not a zoo. Not a theme park.”

Now, these things are not a surprise – you are very definitely warned.  The sign above was my favorite – “This is not a zoo.  This is not a theme park.”  I’d seen warnings that you shouldn’t take small children on this hike.  I talked to the ranger when we checked in, and she said they’d be in the grass on the side of the trail – she wouldn’t recommend me taking Noah.  Others wave that off, but there was some concern.  My wife, for example, was concerned.  And her opinion counts.  But, we decided that we’d go out there and see what it was about, and if we ever felt uncomfortable, we’d turn around.  The biggest thing in our favor when we got there is that the trail was absolutely packed.  We barely found a parking spot at the trailhead.  Now, usually this would be disappointing.  But today, I found comfort in numbers – with that many people around, it was going to be very hard for a 15-foot alligator to hide in the grass on the side of the trail and not be seen.

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The first two on the way in. These were safely below the boardwalk.

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Ten steps later.

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Near the end of the boardwalk

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Most definitely not on the boardwalk. These guys were kinda right there.

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Pictures don’t do this justice. EVERYWHERE.

The benefits of not being able to read.

The benefits of not being able to read.

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Oh, I’m sorry – are we BORING you?

I also changed the rules a bit on the boy.  Normally when we hike, he gets behind me.  We use walking sticks, and he’ll poke things, or wave it around, and generally lollygag.  I rarely say anything to him, I just keep going at a reasonable pace and eventually he runs and catches up.  Or I’ll sometimes stop and wait on him.  Regardless, he gets a little independence.

Not on the La Chua Trail.

He was to stay in the dead middle of the trail.  He was to be within arm’s length of me at all times.  He was to be in front of or beside me at all times – I had to be able to see him.  No wandering toward the sides.  No running.  Nothing that might end with a tumble down into the creek or the wetlands on the other side.  Because, yeah, that would end poorly.

And it was awesome.  Luck was with us and some wild horses were very near the trail.  When we got to the observation tower, some very nice folks let Noah borrow their binoculars and he got to see the bison out in the prairie.  An alligator experience unlike anything you’ll get outside of a zoo or a theme park.  And this doesn’t even mention the birds – holy crap the birds.

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The wild horses of Paynes Prairie

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Those brown dots? Bison. In Florida.

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A Cooper’s Hawk looking for lunch.

In retrospect, as I show these pictures, I find it remarkable how non-Floridians react to these pictures.  This was, of course, a bit tense, but at no time did I ever feel that I or my child was truly threatened or in a dangerous position in any way.  But people look at this pictures and think we’re crazy – one friend actually called me “brave”.  I’m not sure about bravery, but I do know that if one of my life’s goals can be summed up with the word “adventure” … well, this was a day where we met some goals.

The sun on that hike was brutal, so we went back to camp and had some lunch and then just rested for a while.  We did some geocaching, and then had another great night in camp making hot dogs and playing games and sleeping in a tent.  I should say that he slept great, but me – not so much.  I did fine until I woke up in the middle of the night needing to pee … unzip the tent, slip out, walk to the bathhouse, pee, reverse all of that … and then I’d lay back down and find I was uncomfortable enough I didn’t fall right back to sleep.  My backpacking mattress was better than nothing, but not great.  I did OK, but I’ll invest in something more comfortable for future car camping trips.

On Sunday morning, which was my birthday, we broke camp and went over to another popular trail called the Bolen Bluff Trail.  The Bolens had at one time owned the land, and this area was on a hill at the edge of the prairie apparently near their old house place.  The trail winds through some beautiful, Spanish moss draped, oak hammocks, and then drops down to the bottom of the “bluff” (for you non-Floridians, you may read “bluff” as “small hill”) and turns and heads straight out into the prairie toward another observation tower.  No alligators along this trail, and we also didn’t see the horses or the bison.  The morning was foggy, so we couldn’t see that far – though the feeling of walking out into that prairie when you can’t see very far, and then losing contact with the tree line behind you, was a bit creepy.  There were lots of birds, lots of squirrels, and that’s about it.  We only saw three other people on the trail until we got back to the trailhead.  A very peaceful and beautiful hike. And then we loaded up and headed home.

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Spanish moss on a foggy morning

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The edge of the prairie

For his part, Noah didn’t want to leave.  He was disappointed when we broke camp, and he actually told his Mom that he wanted to stay camping forever.  He is already asking me when we can go again, and that makes my heart smile.  My children will never have an outdoor childhood like mine – I grew up in an area so extremely rural that it would make your head spin – but I consider it my responsibility to introduce them to the world around them and its beauty and do my best to instill in them a sense of wonder and awe and protectiveness over this, our one and only planet.  I did that with Noah, and will continue to do it.  I will also do it for Noah’s brother, when he is ready.  I even gave Noah some sense of responsibility for that – I told him we were going to become experts at camping and that, when his brother is ready, Noah will get to help me show him the way.  It makes me smile even now to think about how eagerly he accepted that task.  My little boy is growing up so fast.

For my part, I could not be more thrilled with how the weekend went.  We got perfect weather, and I was able to successfully pull off a happy first camping trip.  I also got to get out myself, and have some adventures and take some awesome pictures and spend a ton of quality 1:1 time with my son.  If I were trying to level up in a video game, I earned a lot of points in a lot of different categories.

Noah took a picture of me that, for the first time, makes me identify myself as one of the old ones.  I don’t mean, necessarily, that I’m old.  I mean that I remember how I looked up to the people that took me outside and took me camping – my father, my grandfather, my uncles.  I considered them the “old” people, sure.  But I also knew that they were the people that would guide my life.  They loved me, and I loved them.  I was never safer than I was when I was five and with my grandfather at a campsite or on a fishing boat.  I was never safer than I was when I was a child and working outside with my father.  And I’ve never been happier than I am now, realizing that I’m giving that gift to my own children.  It is an overwhelming feeling.

One of the old ones

One of the old ones

My tag line is that I live my life in a constant state of hunger.  That has a literal interpretation – which is what we mostly deal with here.  But it also has a more metaphorical interpretation.  I’m hungry for knowledge, for joy, for adventure … for a meaningful life.  This weekend I took a trip I’ll remember for the rest of my life as one that contributed to that meaning.

Take your kids outside.  Its awesome.

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Race Report #23: Celebration Half Marathon

When I registered for the Celebration Half Marathon, I actually viewed it as more of a training run than a goal race.  I’m registered for the Gasparilla Half Marathon in late February, and I had registered so early that I believed I could get in a “practice” half marathon and still have time to recover for a real push at Gasparilla.  Also – I live in Celebration.  It felt like if I were going to be doing a 12 or 13 mile training run in town, I might as well get a medal for it.  All indications are that the race is very well run and very runner friendly … so I signed up.

Training went well.  I’ve clearly gotten faster, which I attribute largely to endurance gained with Crossfit.  My taper was very non-traditional – two weeks before the race I ran most of the actual course, about 12.25 miles by the time I was done.  And then I didn’t go for another formal run for those two weeks.  I went to Crossfit 6 days a week, and that often included running, but at no time did I go out for a run.  For dinner on Saturday night I made a chicken barley soup and homemade bread to carb up, and called it a taper.  My prior half marathon PR was 2:36 flat – my stated goal going into this was a PR, my secondary but really no-brainer goal was under 2:30, my stretch goal was under 2:25, and in my wildest dreams I hoped to get under 2:20.

Florida in January is generally a glorious place to be.  For the last several weeks the highs have been from the mid-70s to the mid-80s, with lots of sunshine and low(ish) humidity.  Winter training here is a completely different thing than winter training in New York.  Everything was going great until we started checking the forecast a week or so out – mid to upper 40s and rain.  From like 4am to 10am on that Sunday – the exact window that the race was scheduled to run in – Central Florida was going to get rain.

<sigh>

The race expo was at town hall, from 5pm to 9pm on Friday and 10am to 6pm on Saturday.  My thought was that I’d get there right around 5 on Friday and beat the rush.  Apparently that was a good idea, because by the time I got there the line to pick up bibs was quite long.  They moved it along quickly, though, and we got our bibs and a bag full of coupons and headed inside to the expo.  We all got very nice steel tumblers as part of our SWAG (very nice), and my bib number won a door prize – which was one of last year’s shirts.  The shirts we all got this year are very nice, and there was a small but nice expo with several vendors and local companies.  Then I did my best to stay off my feet until Sunday morning.

Race day, I got up 20 minutes earlier than normal, ate my traditional pre-race oatmeal and coffee (got to keep things, well, moving) and prepped up.  Because of the rain I had purchased a throw-away rain jacket at BJs for $13, and tried to dress warmly but not too- warmly.  The walk down to the start line was a bit over a mile, and about halfway there I passed a parking lot and entered the masses.  I’d brought along a coat in a gear check bag, so when I made it downtown I went and checked that at the very neat little area they had set up and then started wandering around trying to stay warm.  I knew several people running the race, but never did see any of them before we got started.  Of course, there were 2,500 of us milling about between the half and the full, not including family and volunteers, etc.

celebration-half-start-line

The corrals were not formal, but there were plenty of signs designating where to start.  There were also professional pacers scattered throughout, so there was plenty of signage.  Lots of port-a-potties, so I got one last stop in, and then lined up just in front of the pacer with the 11:05 pace sign.  National Anthem, 3-2-1 go, and we were off.  I dropped my raincoat just on the other side of the start line and the race was on.

Lots of congestion early on.  The first mile of the course features several turns through a nice neighborhood, which is lovely when you’re running with a handful of people.  When you’re running with several hundred, though, those turns really bog down as people try to run the tangents.  Also, and I hate to be negative about this, but there is really no excuse in a start area this well signed for people that are going to be walking within the first mile to have been in front of me.  There were a few people running a Galloway-type run-walk program, some even with beepers, but they were all very courteous about stops and starts and stayed over to the side.  Other than that, though, if you’re going to be walking that early, line up farther back.  <sigh>  My first mile was the third slowest, at 11:09.

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Right at the first mile marker, two things happened.  First, we turned out of that neighborhood and began running a much more straight course, which cleared up much of the congestion.  Another, though, was the first of the spectators that was specifically cheering for a group of friends running the race, including me.  She and her kids had created a sign with “You Can Do It!” on one side and “Go <insert names here>!” on the other.  I could tell I was the first of our group to go by, because I seemed to take her by surprise, and by the time she got the sign turned around I was already by.  That kind of support, though, makes a monster difference – it was cool.  My second mile settled into very comfortable pace and came in at 10:39.

The third mile is a big out-and-back through a neighborhood called North Village.  I don’t like out-and-backs, but I had practiced this particular one several times since I knew I’d be running it.  I passed the time on the way out scanning the runners that were coming back, and then vice-versa on the way back.  I didn’t recognize anybody, but it sure made the miles go faster.  Mile 3 was a 10:38 mile.

This course is very, very flat.  Over the whole 13.1 miles, my Garmin only picked up 32 feet of elevation gain, total – and that’s not net, just the number going up.  Mile 4 goes through a stretch, though, that I’ve always felt like is slightly downhill.  Any time I run that stretch I always feel great going through there, and this time was no different.  Nothing remarkable – we wound around near the Water Tower Shoppes and then ran in front of the Disney offices here in town, headed toward the hospital.  Only one turn in mile 4, which helped it come in at 10:31.   At this point I was feeling very good and knew I had a very good chance to hit my goals, even the stretch or dream goals.  The rain had been spitting all morning, and it was chilly, but overall things were going very well.

For mile 5, we wound in around behind the Celebration Hospital, running through their parking lot and access road.  Here I should also say that the support on-course was GREAT.  There were police and volunteers at every intersection, and water stops with water and Gatorade at very regular intervals.  Particularly with the weather like it was, it was great to have that much support.  In my practice run two weeks before, I had refueled with a Lara Bar at the end of mile 5.  It felt too heavy on my stomach, so this time I brought lighter Nutri-Grain bars.  There was a water stop just before the mile marker, so I took my first walk break to eat that bar and wash it down.  Because of that little stop, mile 5 was a bit slower at 10:50.

At that point, though, we turned off onto a roughly 2.5 mile stretch of just straight running.  They had blocked off a lane on the main road coming into town and we had the whole thing for that stretch.  Wide lanes, no turns, just running, leads to good splits, and miles 6 and 7 were my fastest in the race – 10:29 and 10:21, respectively.  The marathon organizers had several signs printed up to line this stretch (“You’re running better than the government!” and “Hurry up marathoners, the half-marathoners are eating all the food!”, etc.)  There were also a few spectators, including one couple that had a big sign “Free Gatorade for runners!” and a cooler full of 20oz Gatorades.  Again, the support means a great deal.   These miles seemed to fly by, and I hit the official 10K split in 1:06.44, which is less than 3 minutes off of my 10K PR that I set on Thanksgiving.  And I still felt strong.

Just after the mile 7 marker we turned off onto a potentially hazardous stretch.  Celebration was basically built on a big swamp, and throughout town there are miles of paths that include boardwalks through some of the old forest.  These boardwalks are very nice, and make a lovely stroll or even a run under normal circumstances.  They are also very slippery when they get wet – and it was raining.  Between that and how narrow they are, we were warned multiple times to be very careful, and to stay right unless passing but don’t even really do that.  Most of mile 8 was on a boardwalk, and though I didn’t see any accidents or incidents, I also slowed down to a manageable 10:48 pace.  I both wanted to stay safe and also wanted to start conserving energy – my legs were starting to feel the miles, and about mile 9 was when I bonked pretty hard on my long training run.  So I throttled back a bit, and in the end this was the right strategy.

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At about mile 8.5 we came off of the boardwalk and crossed over a bridge into a neighborhood called Artisan Park for about 1.5 miles.  That bridge is the only way in and out of Artisan Park, so that’s where I’d told my wife to be if she wanted to bring the kids to cheer.  Both of my kids, but particularly the young one, have been pretty sick lately – and it was raining – so I had told her the night before that if they couldn’t make it I would not have my feelings hurt.  It was more important to keep everybody healthy than to get them all wet.  So I rounded that corner not knowing what to think – and there they were!  Part of my motivation for doing all of this is to be a good role model for my kids – I want them to see their Daddy doing healthy things and making active choices and living that kind of life.  And so when they see me and smile and give me fives and act excited – well, there really isn’t anything better.  It was awesome.  Just past my family I took another walk break to eat my second Nutri-Grain bar.  Between stopping to say hi and then eating that bar, mile 9 was by far my slowest at 11:29.

I have a standard loop that I do through Artisan Park … and this course actually cuts that loop off, making it feel like I’m cheating.  That helped.  I also saw another group of spectators that I knew – some friends live down in Artisan Park, and the wife was also running the race.  It is always good to get personalized words of encouragement – in this case a big “Go Hogs!” in reference to the Arkansas Razorbacks pullover I was wearing.  This got me through mile 10 in 10:37.  We also crossed the 15k mat in Artisan Park – my official 15k split was 1:40.44, which is nearly a 9 minute PR at that distance.

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My family was still there when I came back over the bridge – so another round of high fives and smiles later, I had my motivation to finish.  The final three miles are always a mental exercise, making sure your mind doesn’t tell your body to stop.  At this point I knew that I was going to finish in under 2:25, and what kept me going was the chance at getting under 2:20.  But I was also tired, so I started hitting every water stop … and then it was just put your head down and get to the finish.  Mile 11 goes through a little neighborhood called Aquila Loop (10:54), Mile 12 is partly in East Village and partly on a very nice path on the back edge of town all the way to Lake Evalyn (11:11), and then at the beginning of Mile 13 the full marathon course turns for its second loop and the half marathoners loop around behind the main lake in town, cross through the original startline, and wind around to the finish right in the middle of downtown.  In Mile 13 the rain picked up a little, but it was an 11:00 mile, and that last 0.1 mile I did at a 10:00 pace, to finish in 2:21.52.

Nearly a 15 minute PR!

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So, yeah, I was pretty amped up.  They’ve got a chute set up to run through at the finish, and they were calling names.  Lots of people were cheering, music, a great atmosphere.  In the chute we got our medals, a Clif bar, a bottle of water, orange slices, bananas, and a little cover-up from the rain.  I inhaled all of that that was edible, probably through a big smile.  I went over and retrieved my checked bag so I could put a heavier coat on, and then cheered the other runners until my friends came by.  At about 2:40 the winner of the full marathon came through, flying – I saw him coming and thought “Wow, that guy is running fast” before I could see his bib and tell he had run a completely different race.  Once everybody around me realized what he was, there was a really big cheer.  It is impressive watching somebody do something you can’t.

And at that point I headed to the after-party, which is really really great for a race this size.  All of the local restaurants had a tent set up with food.  You got a card with all of their logos on it, which entitled you to a sample at their tent.  It was awesome.  We got two beers at the beer tent, a mimosa at that tent, and the restaurants had awesome food – standouts were the clam chowder from the Tavern, the black beans and rice from the Columbia, and the chili from Market Street diner.  Café D’Antonio had big doughy pizza, and Upper Crust had hot rolls.  I didn’t make it to all of the tents, but I know Imperium Wine and Avocado’s Mexican were out there, too – as well as Starbucks.  Just an awesome perk for the runners.

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I could not be happier with that run.  My training was good, but at the end of the day my mileage was lower than when I trained for the half marathons I did in the past.  I’m convinced that the difference is Crossfit – my cardiovascular endurance, as well as my leg and core strength, are drastically improved from what they were, and I got there without pounding my legs out on all of those miles.  To be this much faster than before, AND injury free, is an awesome feeling.

If you’re looking for a small, flat, fast, runner-friendly race, I’m not sure you could possibly do any better than the Celebration Marathon and Half Marathon.

15 minutes!

Notes:

  • Everybody on social media is raving about the race, as well they should. Lest I be considered biased, there is one decent complaint – the area where they do the bag check is not covered, and if you didn’t put your stuff inside something waterproof in your bag, your stuff probably got wet.  Mine did.  That was a bit annoying – to have thought ahead to pack a dry warm coat, and then have it be pretty wet, was not what I was looking for.  BUT – it wasn’t all that bad, and I’m going to give them a break.  I’m going to bet they haven’t seen weather this crappy since they started this race, and I’ll also bet that the next time it rains on race day they’ll have a solve for this.  At the end of the day, this was pretty minor.
  • It turns out that I’m not going to be running Gasparilla – the cost and logistics of getting to that area on that day are just prohibitive, and the Crossfit Open starts that weekend. Also, it’ll be nice to take a break from training for a race – though it’ll be a short break, because the next one is not that far out.  All of that to say – running this was absolutely the right call, all the way around.
  • There is something really odd about running a decently big goal-type race in your own town when you walk to and from the starting line. These are routes I run all the time, and this was just like a training run – except with a couple thousand of my closest friends, and water stops along the way.  Kind of surreal, really.  I imagine it’ll be even worse the next time I get out there to do a regular run.
  • The encouragement I got from my Crossfit box was incredible, and really means a lot. A couple of my fellow athletes also ran (go Nanette, Joanne, and Brooke!) also ran, and I got several texts and other encouragement from others.  The community is the best part of Crossfit, and this is just another example of that.
  • Also a big congrats to Holly and Elizabeth for killing that race, and thanks to Laura and William for standing out in the rain with a sign. I’ve never lived in a community where friends all root for friends like this.  I like it.
  • This race is worth it for the food after. Seriously – the beans and rice from the Columbia was absolutely perfect after this.  Also, for dinner that evening we came back down to the Tavern and I absolutely crushed a cheeseburger & fries & onion rings & beers & a post-race meal that I’d been planning for several days.
  • Back on the wagon on Monday morning, though.
  • Speaking of Monday morning – I had a checkup with my doctor the morning after the race. The nurse that took my vitals engaged me in my single favorite medical interaction of all time:

Nurse:  Is your pulse always very low?

Me:  Oh, uh … I run.

Nurse:  Ah – ok.

End of conversation.

(for the record, my resting pulse was 45 bpm) (#running)

  • The SWAG was awesome, too – our shirt was organic cotton from RawThreads, and is a shirt I’ll actually wear. The steel tumbler is exceptionally nice, and unlike anything I’ve ever gotten in race SWAG before.  And the flyers and coupons included are all for discounts for local restaurants and stores – which is handy, because I actually live here and may use them.  There was also a light-up safety arm band and something they called a “buff”, which really saved my ears going to and from the race.celebration-half-swag
  • My next scheduled race is The Dark Side Challenge on April 22nd and 23rd at Disney World. That’s Star Wars Dark Side weekend, and I’ll be running the 10K on Saturday and half marathon on Sunday.  Which, in retrospect, was crazy for me to sign up for.  May the force be with me.

 

Deadlift

I realize I never added this video.  As much as I’m loving Crossfit, what I’m really loving are the days when we do the big powerlifts.  This was a month or so ago, and we worked up to 90% of our one rep max.  This is 365#.  If things go right, I’m running a half marathon this morning, and then I’m going to start spending some more time on these power lifts.  Big fun.

More “During” Photos

Holy shit, it has been a month since I posted anything.  Life gets in the way sometimes. You’ll be forgiven for thinking so, but I have not – repeat, have NOT – fallen off the wagon.  Things have slowed down considerably.  I’m going to have to start getting more formal with my food plan.  And I still have a ways to go.  BUT:

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I have lost just under 60 pounds, and I’m now smaller than I’ve been in over 10 years.  For reference:

before-after-front

before-after-side

Pictures are funny things.  There is some definition in my shoulders and arms (and even maybe just a little (a little – little) in my chest, squee!) that doesn’t really show up here.  And I still think the pictures today make me look like an enormous fat guy, though compared to those original ones, holy moly.

I can buy clothes in the regular person’s part of the store now.  I just had to buy a new belt – my third since I started this.  I’m running a half marathon on Sunday.  And this morning I squatted 325# for two reps.  We’re getting there – we are absolutely getting there.

Averages

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”  – Jim Rohn

Wednesday morning at the gym (still can’t call it a box), and we had our normal 6am crew.  We show up, we work hard, we go about the rest of our day.  The coach this week is JC, who also does all of the programming, and can be beasty – he’s a great coach, and he pushes hard and expects maximum effort.  So we did the WOD, which this day included lots of power cleans and an interesting front rack carry that was harder than it had any right to be is going to have me sore for days.  We got done about 10 minutes early, so he had us cool down with a bunch of band pull-aparts, and then I started gathering my stuff to go.

At this point, two of the guys get on the floor and start doing situps.  I’m sure the look on my face was interesting – “what fresh hell is this?”  When I asked, they said that they wanted to get in 100 situps, so that’s what they were doing.

Well, hell.  Now I’VE got do situps or I feel like a lazy bum.  So I get down and start doing situps.  And then an extraordinary thing happened.

The whole class started doing situps.  Nobody left.  The 7am class had to start their warmups while dodging us, because we were all doing situps.  We could have left, but we didn’t – there was work still to do.

From now on, when somebody asks me how I’ve been successful at my weight loss and health journey –even if somebody asks me how I’ve been successful in my career or anything else in life – my answer is going to be that I upped my average.  We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, and my average has gone way, way up since I started Crossfit.  So here’s a question – do the people around you push your average up or bring it down?