Hopkin’s Prairie in the Ocala National Forest

I almost let camping season in Florida get away from me.

Last year, I took my oldest for his first overnight in a tent, which turned into a smashing success. He’s been talking about going back ever since, and I did a poor job of making a new trip happen. I can make a lot of excuses – among others, Payne’s Prairie, where we went last year, got jacked up by Hurricane Irma – but those are all excuses.  The probability of us going on a trip this year went down with each passing weekend.

But my boy, he is tenacious.  At one point he and my wife played a wishing game – I think throwing coins into a fountain – and he told her he wished for more adventures.

My heart went *bloop* because, well, I also wish for more adventures, and when my boy is wants to head down the path I want to take him down … I want to be a follow-through kind of Dad.  This pushed me to start researching dates, places, and weather. Payne’s Prairie was an option again, but the recent hurricane flooded the area and caused limited site availability. Other somewhat local state parks and designations did not have any campsite availability, either. So after poking around, I settled on a primitive, un-reservable campsite in the Ocala National Forest called Hopkin’s Prairie.

The word “prairie” deserves some discussion here – the word has been used twice now. When I hear the word “prairie,” I conjure up a mental image of the Great Plains of the American Mid-West – miles of grassland almost never punctured by trees or, for that matter, features of any kind.  In Florida, “prairie” still means grassland, but the scale is different. Here, the grasslands in question are formed by low-lying seasonal marshes that flood in the rainy season and can’t support stands of trees. The major ones, like Payne’s Prairie, can look like they go on forever when you stand in them, but for most of them you can see the forest pick up on the other side.

Hopkin’s Prairie is one of these low-lying areas in the Ocala National Forest, set in a sea of Florida scrub interspersed by islands of longleaf pine. The campsite is seasonal, only open from early November through June 1.  The primary reason for the seasonality is as much about bugs as heat, too. Any time you hear the phrase “low-lying marsh,” feel free to substitute the words “mosquito factory.”  The area is all-the-way primitive – no running water, only a moldering toilet, and the 22 campsites are not electrified – so the end of April is starting to risk yucky weather. Read more

RR #30: Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon

This is part two of my report of the 2018 Dark Side Half Marathon weekend – I again did the First Order Challenge, which means I ran the 10k on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday.  I talked about the expo and the 10k here.  This is the race report for the half marathon.

 So – a recap of where we are:  I had just hit a massive PR on the 10k, in a crowded runDisney race.  I was feeling really good about life in general, really.  Saturday after the 10k I was able to legitimately rest.  I took a nap with my three-year-old, and my wife made a spaghetti dinner.  Because I’m still working on that last stubborn 20 pounds to lose, I hadn’t had spaghetti in a while and it was nice to be able to enjoy it guilt-free … including the seconds.

My goal for this whole weekend was to PR the 10k (check!) and then just get out there and have fun on the half marathon.  I ran past some photo ops when I ran the half last year, and so I intended to make sure and get those this year during the run.  The ice cave on Hoth, in particular, was a picture I regretted missing out on in 2017.  So I wasn’t too worried about preparation or anything for this race – mostly I was just planning to survive it.

The weather wound up being a pre-race story.  I’d intended to go to bed around 8pm, but I was pretty wound up for whatever reason, and the forecast wasn’t looking so good.  All week they’d been calling for a good chance of rain on Sunday morning around race time, but by 8pm the night before they were saying a 70% chance of thunderstorms between 6:30am and 7:30am – right at the time when they would have nearly every runner on the course.  If there was going to be lightning they were going to have to call this off, or at least delay it – and then, of course, there was the question of whether I wanted to go run in the rain at all given that I wasn’t taking the race all that seriously.  In particular, I didn’t know (still don’t, really) how they would handle the character photos if it was raining.  So I stayed up too late researching how and when we would know if they called the race off and finally went to sleep sometime around 9:30pm.

So the 2am alarm sucked, as you can imagine.  I immediately pulled up the weather … and they had pushed the rain forecast all the way out to 10am at the earliest – some services had it pushed out until the afternoon.  The race was on!  I had some coffee, fixed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and toasted a bagel, and headed out to Epcot.  Same deal for parking as we had on the 10k – park at the finish line at Epcot, long walk over to some busses, bus over to the start line in the Magic Kingdom parking lot.

Image taken at 3:19am …

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RR #28 – 2018 Celebration Half Marathon

I wasn’t planning on running the Celebration Half Marathon again this year.  For the last several months now, running has felt like a slog – I enjoy having run, but I do not enjoy running.  I’ve struggled to drag myself out of the house to run in the morning in a way that I don’t struggle to do my other workouts.  After a while, it begins to dawn that it might be time for a break, and so you stop signing up for races and you prepare for a break.

And then plans change.

Race afterglow is dangerous.  After September’s Ragnar, the whole team was feeling that afterglow.  We had just run 200-ish miles, and I guess we weren’t thinking clearly.  We just spent a night in a proper bed (as opposed to a van seat), and had eaten barbecue and drunk beer the night before.  Now, at breakfast, we were feeling good, and the conversation naturally turned to upcoming races.  One of the teammates (I think it was Dottie – I blame Dottie) mentioned that the Celebration Half Marathon was a good race, and she planned to make it her “A” race this year and try for a PR.  Then I mentioned that I had run the race last year and really liked it – good organization, good after-party, flat course (which was particularly appealing after the hills everybody had just hated).  And then somebody said, “Hey, why don’t we all plan to come down and run that race?” And Dottie and I said our houses would be available to stay at and it is all a bit hazy but we left with an agreement (I thought) to get signed up for that race if at all possible and run it in January based probably out of my house.

Dottie was already signed up, and I came home and signed up immediately.  I laid out my race plan and I started to run.  Because I’m so familiar with the course, and because I can walk to the start line, much of the race stress that I feel before big races just doesn’t exist – I can relax into this one.  But as we got closer to race day, it became clearer and clearer that I was the only one that had signed up after the Ragnar.  Everybody bailed when the race afterglow faded.  But the good news was that we were still going to get a visit from our friends – they were going to be here to cheer, even if they didn’t run.

I’ll take it.

2018-01-27 19.21.23
I should have been sleeping by now…

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RR #27: Celebration Rotary Club Pancake Run 5k

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

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

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

Race Report #24: 2017 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. Read more

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. Read more

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?