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.

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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:

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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?

Pictures!

Quick update to the race report I did for The Florida Run 10K that I ran back in November.  They posted pictures!  I’m a sucker for pictures.  Not really any super good ones of me, I don’t think, but I wound up with three.  I’m going to go back in and put them into the race report itself, but wanted to put them here since they’re new.

Pictures!

results%2f2350bfa8301645cdadc5%2fdsc_4848At the starting line.  You can see this was a small race, though they were very well organized.  This picture is a little Where’s Waldo, but with me.  I’m in here, though…

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Right after the start.  I really struggle with relaxing my arms – they always wind up high and tight like that unless I’m focusing on it.  I don’t know why, and I feel like I’ve done a much better job of working on it when I’m training.  But, especially when I am having to focus on other things (like a race start), they go back up there.  I’ll keep working on it, but I’m also open for ideas.

Incidentally – that guy in front of me was one that I marked early as “want to finish before him”.  Not sure why him, but there you go.  I stuck with him for the first mile or so, and then he left me behind. I figured that was that, until about mile 4, when I passed him as he was walking up a hill.  I never had to drop into a walk, and I never saw him again.  It was roughly there that I realized I had a very good race going.

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Not too often you get pictures from the back like this.  Look at those calves!

I linked to the full race report in the first line of this post, if you’re interested.

Pictures!

Progress Pictures

Finally busted through a little plateau in my weigh-in this morning.  I’ve now lost 53.6 pounds, and I’m three weeks ahead of where my schedule says I need to be.  I’m also now officially smaller than the smallest I got when I was training for the Ragnar & half marathons in 2013 / 2014.  So I’m smaller than I’ve been in 10 years.  The next goal is another 15 pounds and I’ll be smaller than I’ve been in probably 15 – 20 years.  This is 269 pounds.

The progress, it is happening.  Woot!

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For reference:

Initial Pictures – about 320 pounds

 

RR #22: Ashburn Farm 10K

In retrospect, I should have expected the email.  For whatever reason, though, I didn’t, and was a bit surprised when:

“Looking forward to seeing everybody on Thanksgiving – hey, there is a 10K about 45 minutes away – anybody want to do that?”

So, I signed up for a 10K on Thanksgiving morning.

This was the 23rd running of the Ashburn Farm 10K, which is a fundraising event organized by Crossroads United Methodist Church in Ashburn, Virginia.  They support a charity in Uganda that helps young people with school – a worthy cause.  They were expecting around 2,300 going into the event, though I did hear the number 3,000 at one point that morning.

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Six of us went – our hosts for the week, Dave and Erin, two of their kids, my sister-in-law, and me.  When I announced we needed to leave around 6:30am in order for me to be comfortable about getting there, my sister-in-law groaned a rather lot.  But we were out of the house by 6:40 – not bad.

We parked near the start line, which was about two blocks from the finish line and therefore a perfect place to make a quick exit after.  Packet pickup was in the church, and then we headed back and stayed warm in the car until the 10K start, which was 8:15.  Dave and one of the girls were running the 5K, so they came out and cheered and then presumably headed back to the car.

Couldn’t hear much from the back of the pack, 3-2-1, go.  It took about 45 seconds to get to the start line (this will be important later), and we were off.  I never felt crowded at the beginning, which was nice.  I had looked at the elevation profile, so was prepared for the hill in Mile 1 – a hill that was especially daunting for the Florida runner.  I can do an 8 mile long run and my Garmin will tell me that my total elevation gain is 8 feet.  So a 100 foot hill is a monster.

My goal was to PR, which is to say that I wanted to beat the time I ran less than two weeks before at The Florida Run – which was a 10:43 pace.  Mile 1 was a 10:38 mile, so ahead of pace even with the hill.  But I felt OK, so I went with it.

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Mile 2 was kind of rolling, with some downhills after the crest at the end of Mile 1.  Miles 2 – 5 were a big out-and-back, and at the end of Mile 2 is where I met the leaders going the other way, near their Mile 4.  Looked like running club or track kids – they were flying. Mile 2 was a 10:21.  In Mile 3, also kind of rolling, I met the three people I was running with coming back on the out-and-back, as well.  I wasn’t as far away from them as I might have thought.   Mile 3 was 10:22 – very consistent.

About halfway through Mile 4 we turned up a hill that, again, wasn’t that bad for most, but … Florida.  It sucked.  That hill continued into Mile 5, but by then I knew I was on a real PR pace and took off.  Mile 4 was 10:33, Mile 5 was 10:15.

And then the elevation turned downhill.  Mile 6 was a downhill bomb for me, losing 100 feet of elevation in the mile.  There was nobody around me – really not anybody in front or anybody behind.  I was on an island and decided to uncork it.  It felt … great.  I ran Mile 6 in 9:38, which is one of the fastest miles I’ve ever run in a race.  And to have that happen in the sixth mile of a 10K, well … that feels good.

Near the end of Mile 6 we met up with the 5K race, and because of my time that means I was with the walkers.  I spent half a mile dodging walkers, and as we neared the finish line we were in a residential area with turn-y roads and apartment complexes, so you couldn’t see the finish.  It was maddening.  A couple of hundred yards out Dave and his daughter came back to cheer for me and told me it was close, just go.  The clock at the finish line said 1:04.24 when I crossed it, and my watch said exactly 6.2 miles and 1:03.43.

My official time was 1:04.24, a 10:22 pace, and the timing company posted that my net time and my gun time were identical.  And that appears to be the case for most of the people that ran – there are very few people that have a different net time and gun time.  Of course, that doesn’t make sense.  It looks like their start line failed to register our bibs, so they had to go with the gun time at the finish.  That sucks – I’m convinced I ran this nearly 40 seconds faster, at a 10:15 pace, which is spectacular for what I’ve done in the past.

Update:  They updated the times!  My official time for this was race is now 1:03.38, or a 10:16 pace!  Not sure what made me look, but … woot!  The next paragraph has been edited to reflect the updated time.

I PRed by nearly 3 minutes, off of a 6.5 minute PR that I set less than two weeks before this race.  In the last two weeks, I’ve taken 10 minutes off of my 10K PR.  10 minutes. I’m crediting Crossfit – I’m about the size I was when I was running these a couple of years ago, but my aerobic threshold is so much higher.  I’m thrilled with this, even if I did lose a few seconds.

PR!

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Notes:

  • Much of the course was not completely closed to traffic, and I saw two different instances where cops were yelling at drivers.  Thanks to the boys in blue for coming out on Thanksgiving morning and keeping us safe.
  • Because they all finished a few minutes before me, I didn’t really get a chance to visit the after-race amenities inside the church.  They said it was a zoo in there though – fortunately, they grabbed me a water and a banana.
  • I don’t like uphills, of course – but I remember now why I don’t mind hills in general.  Downhills are awesome.  That last mile was a bomb and felt like it – I have almost never run that fast.
  • A few people cheering for me at the end by calling out my bib number.  It was cool.  I’ve got a couple of races coming up where my name is on the bib – I think that is going to be a good thing.
  • Afterward we went back to the house and WRECKED Thanksgiving dinner. Wrecked it.  My early calorie deficit did not last very long.  I ate a lot, is what I’m trying to say.
  • Not a lot of SWAG – a nice long-sleeve cotton shirt with the logo that you saw above, and some coupons to local places.  Apparently there were some door prizes, but I spent so little time in that area that I have no idea. Not complaining – it was a $35 race and they were raising money for charity.  And it is a nice shirt.
  • Next race:  Celebration Half Marathon, January 29th.  I may try to find a 5K between now and then, but other than that, a big one is next.  Given what has happened in the last two weeks, I feel REALLY good about that one.

PR!