Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year Preview

 "Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year." 

I am so not a fan of New Year's Resolutions. I'm not quite sure at what point my detestation for resolutions began. I can vaguely recall in some distant past a resolution or two made. Probably my strong dislike of the ritual began in my four years working at Gold's Gym in Memphis. The enormous flood of Resolutioners... the frantic sales pitches of the staff, trying to sell gym memberships to more people than could reasonably fit in the gym... the slow and dependable decline in attendance after about three weeks. So, no "Resolutions" for me. Too many people boldly go there and promptly fail there.

However, I've set some goals for 2013. I'm already registered for a handful of races (I love taking advantage of early registrations fees, and then I'm already committed and have fuel for training hard.), so I'll start there.

GORUCK Challenge, Miami (1/19/13)-- What once was the excitement of brick duct taping has now faded into "what the heck was I thinking?" And I have a number of reasons to dread the CGC: 1) It's a team based event. I know, there is no "I" in team, but really the thought of completely relying on others to be successful at something goes against my nature. Selfish? Maybe, but I've always had a firm determination to be independent. 2) The event BEGINS at 10 p.m. On most nights I'm happy in deep REM sleep at this time. The sleep deprivation alone is frightening. 3) I've heard that all GRC events involve water. And not drinking water. The Atlantic is not exactly toasty warm in Miami, especially in the middle of the night in January. 4) I will be carrying (and doing various things with) a weighted back pack. Event goal: survive.
My bricks and ruck.
ING Miami Half Marathon (1/27/13)-- Although I had vowed never to return to this race again (I've done the half once and the full twice) I decided to do the half as a fundraising event for FCA. I do love this race; it holds a special place in my heart since it was my first half marathon. Also, running down MacArthur Causeway and past the USCG station there brings a flood of memories of the most difficult time of my married life-- Craig was stationed on the Valiant for 3 years, beginning when the boys were 18 months and 3 years old. It was a great time of growth for both Craig and I-- spiritually, emotionally, and socially. Race goal: enjoy the race and make friends on the course.

Florida Super Spartan (2/23/13)-- My eyes are still set firmly on placing in the top 10 females. My strength is there. This year will be about bringing speed and calves that don't cramp! I'm doing burpees (which I totally ignored last year-- in the "if I ignore them, they'll go away, right?" mentality). I've also been practicing yoga to work on my balance. Sadly, I will be running alone, most likely. Well, not really alone, since I've never been to a Spartan where people weren't willing to lend a hand. But the first year I ran with my husband, Arthur, and Peter (two very good friends). Last year I ran with Arthur again and really relied on his strength and pacing to guide me through the race. Race goal: 1st in age group and top 10 female.

Miami Tough Mudder (3/2/13)-- Yes, this year I flipped the calendar page and saw that these 2 tough races will be back to back weekends. However, I had also just come off the excitement of hearing about the World's Toughest Mudder AND I had the opportunity to get the race for about half price. Cheap and tough... that seems to be my motto lately. Again, it looks like I will be racing this one alone. And that thought is a little more than scary. However, the Tough Mudder boasts itself as not a race but a challenge. I've heard from multiple people that there will be plenty of Mudders out on the course to lend me a hand, but if you have a team running the first wave, I'd be happy to be adopted in! Race goal: run fast enough to qualify for World's Toughest Mudder (basically a 24 hour TM). Not sure if I will enter WTM, but I'd like the opportunity.

Mud Dogs Fun Run (3/24/13)-- This one is at the hilly Vista View Park. Again, I couldn't pass up a $25 entry fee. I also entered my husband for this one. He's going to love me for it. This will also be my friend's first mud run, so I'm really looking forward to that. This is the same friend who ran her first half marathon in December, and I believe she once told me she would never do a mud run. Race goal: enjoy the mud with my hubby.

The Challenge (3/30/13)-- Yes, it will be a busy March for me. This was another dirt cheap (pun intended) entry fee. As a matter of fact, according to the organizers, I was the first person to register and will get to wear #1. I can't tell you how excited I am about that! (I'm such a dork.) When I registered, the race was going to be a 10k with a 5k option. Since then, organizers decided to err on the side of a less complicated situation and picked an (almost) happy medium of 5 miles. I'm really excited that this will be my son's first OCR! He turns 13 the day before the race, so will be just old enough to race. Race goal: wearing #1 means that I have to win it. And then come back around and race side by side with my son.

CrossFit Games-- at the encouragement of my husband, I've decided to apply for and compete in the CrossFit Games this year. I've been learning the techniques and am now working on mastering them. Craig (my trainer/husband) believes I can do really well. Meanwhile, I'm building strength and more importantly, confidence in double unders, snatches, and cleans. Goal: to qualify for regionals.

Miami Beach Halloween Half Marathon (10/26/13)-- Birthday race! How could I NOT do a half marathon on my b-day?! The medal is super cool; it's run in one of my favorite locations; and I got a great deal on the entry. Who knows, I may even run in a costume (but it will NOT be in my birthday suit.) Race goal: (unless I decide to go for a crazy costume) 1:45 PR. 
I've added some different training-- the Vertimax!
I've also got my sights set on a few other races; I just have yet to decide:

Spartan Ultra Beast-- a marathon distance Spartan race, uhm, yes, thank you! I didn't apply last year and was kicking myself hearing all about it from friends who competed. The race is in Vermont, home of all things Spartan, which means entry fee + flight + hotel. Yikes.

World's Toughest Mudder-- I admit the idea of competing in this event is extremely appealing to me. However, after watching the official 2012 WTM video, it became somewhat less appealing. 24 hours of a TM sounds brutally challenging and torturously fun. Add to that freezing and/or near freezing temps, and I'm not so sure. IF I do this one, it will most likely be with a team of crazy Corn Fed Spartan women.

Epic Racing Arena-- I consider this one a long shot because I'm only doing the event if I am accepted in the elite category. Am I elite? I never have been before, but I've never trained (and ate) with the dedication and intensity that I am right now. The event sounds like it will be part American Ninja Warrior, part Spartan Race. At this point I'm stronger than I am fast, so I feel like I'm well suited to back to back to back (etc.) obstacles.

In order for all of this to happen, I will continue to eat clean, train hard, and sleep well. Hello, 2013. I'm excited!
Recovery is important. In the winter, I love taking an "ice" bath in my pool.
Yes, It's "freezing." Notice the sweatshirt!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Year End Review...

The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection.
-Thomas Paine

If I had to give a one word summary of the year, it would be "risk." More than once, I put myself out on a limb, so to speak. I forced myself to be uncomfortable. I accepted challenges and made myself vulnerable. So maybe a better word would be "growth." Here's how 2012 went:

January: I ran my 3rd full marathon, the ING Miami. I nearly cried several times, but almost broke out into full sobs at mile 23 when I did the math and realized that I would be cutting nearly 30 minutes off my marathon PR. I also drove myself to the race and back home (for this stress case, that was a BIG deal). Lesson learned: the marathon really is about mind over matter. I believe the mind is the mvp of any successful marathon. I also applied for a reality, obstacle race based t.v. show called "Unbreakable." The application process required me bragging about myself on video, which was WAY outside of my comfort zone.
Photo courtesy of Nuvision Action Image
February: I completed my second Super Spartan Race. My goal was to place in the top 10 females; I didn't but did place 3rd in my age group and 15th woman. I felt that I raced my best, but struggled again with bad calf cramps in the last 2 miles. Calf cramps have plagued me twice before in marathons. I believe they are a result of sodium imbalance. Lesson learned: Never under-estimate the power of proper fueling and electrolytes. AND as hard as I had trained for this race, it was not nearly enough.

March: A week after the Spartan, I ran the Miami Beach 13.1. Not the smartest planning on my part, but I was going after the "Big Three" medal-- running the Ft. Lauderdale 13.1, the ING, and this race in one race season. This was my most frustrating race to date. I had underestimated the number of participants (I had run the same race 2 years prior), and therefore arrived way too late for parking. I finally found a spot about a mile from the start. Running to the starting line and making a quick detour into a restroom, left me arriving at the starting line just as the "gun" went off. I dodged walkers for about two miles before finally catching up to similarly paced runners. Things were looking better until my iPod battery died at mile 6. *Sigh* My legs were really feeling the Spartan of the week before, so I walked through water stops for the last 3 miles or so. It wasn't my fastest 13.1, but actually wasn't my slowest, either. And I got some major bling. Lesson learned: before scheduling races, flip the calendar page and check not just the race month, but the week before and/or after.
 April: By this month, my racing season had taken its toll on me. My legs felt battered, tired and sore. My left knee had been especially bothering me. I had injured it walking (?!) the streets of Chicago back in November and had managed to train through. Since the pain was not going away, I finally had to rest. I ended up taking 3 weeks completely off-- the most I had taken off since I started running back in 2007. Lesson learned: Rest is just as important as scheduled training.

May: Another big step outside of my comfort zone-- I set a goal and entered the Under Armour "What's Beautiful" competition. This one also required multiple video and photo submissions of challenges. (Although I haven't submitted anything recently, my page is here.
After not nearly running enough miles in training, I joined a Coast Guard team for their 2nd annual "Run to Remember." Several teams formed and ran the Keys 100 mile relay race. Each runner ran in memory of a Coastie who had died in the line of duty. This introvert was more terrified at the thought of riding in a van with strangers for the duration of the race, than the actual running. Overall, it was a totally unforgettable experience. It might just be my favorite event of the year because we turned it into a mini family vacation. Lesson learned: Running 2 miles every hour and a half (or so) over the course of 15 hours might just be more difficult than running a full marathon, but it's also really fun!

June: I took advantage of a Living Social deal and ran a local 5k with obstacles race. It was a fun event, and a handful of friends from work ran as well. 

After much begging and pleading, my husband agreed to begin training me. My eyes were once again focused on the Super Spartan 2013-- that top 10. But first I needed to get stronger and faster. So as soon as school ended, I began 2-a-days. I eased into them (taking naps when necessary-- I LOVE being a teacher!) I also began doing yoga and swimming twice a week. Well, "swimming" may not be the best description of my work in the pool, but for me it was work. Lesson learned: doing hard things builds not only physical strength, but mental strength as well.
July: I was feeling completely recovered at this point and had finally added some REAL speedwork. Despite it being blazing hot, I ran a PR in the Weston Hometown 5k. Lesson learned: speedwork really does pay off. (duh!)
A sample of my running shoe collection. I always have at least 2 "rain" pairs, 2 currently in training pairs, and 1 new pair.
August: YEAH! Finally my speedwork paid off, big time. At the Coast Guard Day 5k, not only did I run a PR, but I also took 2nd place female. I was continuing my swimming and my 2-a-days, and most importantly, eating clean. I also was asked and agreed to take a leadership role in the local FCA Endurance team. FCA Endurance is a team of runners, triathletes, cyclists, and (I always add) obstacle course racers committed to using their training and racing to reach out to other athletes with the love of Christ. I also reached way beyond my comfort zone and applied for acceptance into the Epic Racing Arena as an elite athlete. I have no idea if I am what they consider to be elite, but I'm committed to training even more this year and transforming myself into a real athlete. Lesson learned: all good things really do come to an end, but if you're a teacher it comes back in 9 months (summer, that is). 

September: For the second year in a row, I ran the Firefighter's 5k. It has become one of my favorite races because it is held near the weekend of September 11th and because the course, run along Hollywood beach, is beautiful. I'm always reminded why I love living in South Florida anytime a race takes me along the beach. Due to continued clean eating and 2-a-days, I was again able to PR. I also ran the Mud Dogs first 5k obstacle race. After some serious "official" timing issues, I was correctly placed as 2nd female. Lesson learned: entering a first time event comes with some risk-- it's a gamble, really.
October: My birthday month. I always try to do a race on my birthday weekend to celebrate. This year, I won a free entry to a Monster Dash near Orlando, Florida on the Saturday after my birthday. To make it extra special, I also signed up my 12-year old to run with me, and I ran a 10k trail race that same morning. A 2-a-day race. I earned my real stand on a podium, taking 1st place among women and 2nd place among all runners. Lesson learned: having GPS on my phone is priceless (I got lost... well, let's just say a few several times over this fun birthday weekend).
November: November was about training. The only event I completed was volunteering with the FCA team at the Ft. Lauderdale 13.1 water stop. It was a great experience that provided me with an enormous appreciation for race volunteers! The month also marked the virtual marathon that I tried to organize. Let's just say no one will ever hire me to be a publicist. I successfully completed 14 miles (so it wasn't a half marathon or marathon, but the idea was to choose your own distance), but was not successful in encouraging anyone to join along. This was another example of my reaching past my comfort zone. Lesson learned: passion for something makes all the difference in the world.
December: This month marked the start of my racing season. I happily reached my goal and set a PR by 7 minutes in the inaugural Hollywood Half Marathon. I am finally beginning to learn just the amount of pain that must be endured in a race in order for a runner to be successful. I am far from an elite runner and have yet to even come close to the level of suffering that the truly good runners do. But my PR was overshadowed by the joy I felt in watching my friend complete her first half marathon. Lesson learned: Over the course of this year I spent far more hours training than ever before. Eating clean became not a matter of looking good, but a matter of staying WELL and feeling well. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


One who gains strength by overcoming obstacles possesses the only strength which can overcome adversity.

In an instant, life can suddenly become harder than we ever imagined. One phone call can tilt the whole world and leave a person clinging to a sense of normalcy. This happened to me a few weeks ago. A perfectly normal afternoon (I had just gotten to the gym, actually) was shattered with a phone call. I'm not sharing the details because it's intensely personal and involves other people. But I felt like I had been hit by a punch from Ali. The world was suddenly a precarious place to be. Everything I trusted, believed in and knew to be true was on the brink of changing.

Now, as a Christian, my hope is firmly secured in God. I know that He is in control, and I am not. I know that He has the power over my life and this planet. I trust in His love for me-- that He will never leave me and that He will take care of my needs. Immediately, I desperately prayed for His intervention in this situation where I had had control ripped from me. Suddenly, I was very tangibly completely vulnerable and helpless. I didn't know what the future would hold.

A little more than two weeks later and things have calmed down. Life has slipped back into the routine. I am back to feeling like I have control of my life again. But really I don't. It took a phone call, a near disaster to prove to me that my life is really not my own. Our bodies are such a precious balance of chemistry. We're walking miracles, really. Everyday is a miracle, really. How many times are we inches or moments away from a devastating injury or loss?

I have learned that in those times of adversity, there is no amount of medicine ball slams, sets of dumbbell presses, squats counted or miles logged that can heal what is broken. I've tried. And much of my training is driven by stress and a desire to sweat away my fears, doubts, and insecurities. And I feel better after some sweat therapy. But the only true way to overcome adversity is to be weak. (Not exactly in agreement with popular advice.) The weak I'm referring to is the weakness that admits helplessness and a need for someone bigger and stronger than not just me, but any problem I will ever face. This weakness looks to heaven and says, "Save me, Jesus. I can't do this alone." And He will. His strength becomes mine, and only then can I overcome.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hollywood Half Marathon, FL

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Hebrews 12:1

On December 2, 2012, I ran the inaugural Hollywood Half Marathon in Hollywood, Florida. I had an excellent race, met my goal and set a new PR. The race itself had some issues, but for a small inaugural race, not too bad. I'll break this blog down into a race recap and a lessons learned section.

Race Recap:
  • Price was excellent. I think I paid $30 in early registration. They offered many half-price deals and $ off coupon codes. But you do get what you pay for. 
  • Communication was a little sketchy. Ok, a lot sketchy. Both the website and the race facebook page featured lots of info about the big sister race in Hollywood, California. I had trouble finding details on the Florida race. Five days before the race, we finally received our final instructions email with packet pick-up, parking and course details.
  • Packet pick-up was small, but they did have a vendor selling clothing and jewelry, but no Bodyglide, gels, etc.
  • Race morning parking-- truly a disaster. Parking was advertised at the small park where the start was being held. I knew ahead of time that the park would not hold 1500 cars (the total number of racers), so I planned to park on the street nearby. Parking in the park lot was so backed up they had to delay the race start by about 15 minutes.
  • Restrooms were a problem. The park had a restroom and the race provided a few port-a-potties, but lines were looong.
  • Course-- the course was really beautiful. We ran the first and final mile and a half (or so) along the beach. For me there were mile markers for each mile except for miles 12 and 13 (although my friend who was about 25 minutes behind me said that the last mile marker she saw on the course was mile 5). There were no time clocks, and the water only stops were set up every 2 miles. 
  • Finish-- the medal is super cool. But there wasn't a red carpet finish line (not a big deal for me), and the only food at the finish was bananas cut into halves and cups of water. 
Lessons Learned:
  • Speed work pays off. For each race I've done, I've followed a training plan with speed work included. However, I've always seemed to find excuses to only do fartleks or tempo runs for speed. And I thought I always loved the speed workouts. Sometime in the middle of the summer I decided that if I ever want to progress beyond the middle of the pack, I'm going to have to quit being a baby and put in some real speed work. For this race, I did 2 speed sessions a week. Early in training I did one run with a weighted pack (preparing for GRC) and one interval type run. Later in training I was running one tempo and one track-type workout (mile repeats, intervals, etc). AND I was really pushing myself. Speed workouts are no longer fun. I was able to better last year's half PR by 7 minutes to finish the race in 1:50:54.
  • Know your race. As I mentioned, this was an inaugural race, so I set my expectations low. I basically didn't believe anything the race organizers said. I made my own plan for parking, and I carried my own disposable water bottle, just in case there wasn't any on the course. I had my Timex Ironman watch and was timing my own splits. If you are a beginning runner and want a great race experience, spend some money and do a large race. If you are a little reckless and daring, gamble on a 1st year race, but be prepared for worst case scenarios.