Thursday, January 31, 2013

ING Miami Half Marathon 2013

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”― Mother Teresa

This year I returned once again to the ING Miami course. This was the site of my first half marathon in 2009. Since then, I've run the full ING Miami twice. I love this course. The views of inter-coastal waterway are simply beautiful. The race director does an excellent job of organizing this massive event. There are plenty of water/Gatorade stops, gel on the course, tons of volunteers and a plethora of port-a-potties. Every runners' dream. Well, almost... if you like a small, quiet, cool weather event, this is not your race. 

The Expo and The Swag
The expo is rather large. Lots of everything there from running stores to shoe companies to race companies to Publix. I sampled a Jamba Juice smoothie, 2 kinds of "healthy" granola, and a Chobani Greek yogurt. As for the goods-- the race shirt is a Champion brand and good quality. A local artist designed both the medal and the shirt, so both are unique and pretty awesome.

The Start
With 25,000 or so running this race, the first 3 miles were so crowded that I was forced to reduce my pace by about 30 seconds or so per mile. I remember thinking to myself, "It's a good thing I don't have a real race strategy because it would be blown." I was really surprised-- this year I started closer to the first corral than ever (corral D), and there were still people running considerably under that corral's pace. The corrals were well organized, but not enforced (so maybe not so well organized?). *People, please do not lie about your projected finishing time.*

The Course
Who doesn't love a course where palm trees and ocean views abound? As previously mentioned, the course was quite crowded in spots and very narrow at times (well, considering the aforementioned 25,000 people). Aid stations and port-a-potties were plentiful. For the half there were also gels being handed out, just before mile 7. Pineapple and oranges were also handed out near miles 10 and 12. There were a few cheering stations, which always provide a little emotional boost. Photographers were are at numerous places on the course and encouraged runners to smile and "ham" it up.

The Finish
It really feels like you walk another half mile through the corrals to get to the water, medal and yummy treats, but your legs will thank you later. Bagels; fresh, frozen and cups of fruit; granola bars; some strange corn cake type things; cookies; water and gatorade were offered for refreshment inside the finishers' area. Just outside were multiple tents of vendors including the Chobani people, Pollo Tropical (only in South Florida can a person get beans and rice at 9am!), and Target [they actually had real furniture set-up (gross!) and were giving away flip flops]. There was a Publix-sponsored family meet up area (this year they posted alphabetical stations to facilitate the finding of family--brilliant!) and the gear check was a pretty simple process. 

Bottom Line
I really feel that this is a great race for a first-timer. The course is advertised as flat and fast. Although, for us South Floridians, there are "hills" (a few bridges). It's a great value-- and the week after the race, they offer a registration blitz for the following year's race (usually 50% off for the first 200 registrations). Because this year was my 4th time running the ING Miami, I do not plan to register for next year. I'm directing my entry fees toward obstacle course races. Official finishing time: 1:56:50.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

GORUCK Challenge Miami 2013

"It is inevitable that some defeat will enter even the most victorious life. The human spirit is never finished when it is defeated... it is finished when it surrenders."
-Ben Stein

For some reason, I decided I wanted to do a GORUCK Challenge... so much so that I signed up for one. And then the day began approaching, and I seriously began doubting my sanity. For those of you who don't know, the GRC proclaims to be 8-10 hours and 15-20 miles "rucking" with a weighted pack. Really, I signed up to test my limits and to have a taste of what my husband has done as the chief trainer of the Coast Guard's tactical law enforcement team.

Packing for the GRC:
GORUCK provides a packing list. I packed the requirements and added the following:
My "ruck"-- I used the 5.11 brand. Since my husband has been with a tactical LE unit, he's collected a variety of military grade gear and clothing. The 5.11 bag (the day pack version) seems to be comparable to the Radio Ruck, except it has an added front pocket and a chest strap. And I already owned it. I found it worked perfectly, and I wouldn't have changed anything.

My bricks-- I found my bricks at Home Depot. I bought the real ones, with no holes, not pavers. I first taped bubble wrap around them, then duct taped them. The day before the challenge, I taped all four of them together. As you can see, I chose a pattern that made me smile. I also added a "power" Bible verse to each brick. It was just a way for me to dig deep, knowing that those verses were on the weight I was carrying. 
Nutrition/Hydration-- I took 4 Mojo bars, 1 Cliff bar, 2 small packs of almonds, 4 Hammer gels, gum, a tube of Elixir (electrolyte tablets) and 3L Camelback bladder. I ate 3 of the Mojo bars-- they have "natural" sources of carbs and a little more protein than regular Cliff bars; they are sweet and salty and don't upset my tummy. I also consumed 2 of the gels-- espresso flavor with caffeine. Those were especially helpful! I drained my Camelback and refilled it, but I don't think it was completely full at the beginning of the night. I barely drank any after refilling.

Extras-- I've heard of many people using styrofoam and bubble wrap to add cushion for the bricks. I wrapped the package of bricks loosely with bubble wrap. I also added 2 gallon sized Ziploc bags of clothes for extra padding. I took an extra pair of gloves, socks, tights, and a long sleeve shirt. None of which I used. There were times when I considered changing, but it was later in the night/day. Knowing the bulk of the remaining challenge would take place on the beach and in the water, I knew that changing would be pointless. *I never used the gloves that were recommended or the headlamp. Cadre told a few people to "turn that *@#$% light off," so I put mine away. 

I also had a duffle bag stuffed with extras-- just in case I made any last minute decisions after arriving at the parking garage. I brought a hat, UA cold gear pants, a towel, and a lightweight jacket. I opted to leave it all in the car, since the temp was mild and comfortable. I totally forgot a garbage bag to put the dirty clothes in.

Clothing-- The night was pleasant. I knew we would be on the beach and in the sand, so I wore long tights, a long sleeve UA type shirt, and a dri-fit short sleeve shirt over the top. My shoes were an old pair of running shoes and socks were a thin pair that would dry quickly. 

Training for GRC:
My pack pretty much became my purse for the 6 months leading up to the challenge. I wore it to school daily, beginning with one brick and working up to 3 with my workout shoes and clothes. Two weeks before the GRC, I took it with me to the Bahamas mission trip and loaded it up with as much as I could fit and carried it everywhere we went. What surprised me was that I really feel like the yoga I have been doing was also a big help. We spent a considerable amount of time in a near-downward dog position-- either bear crawling or planking. Of course running and strength training is a must.

During the GRC:
There were several times where I thought I had died and gone to a special kind of hell. There was also at least one moment (when I was already wet and shaking from the chilly air and had just been told we had to go back into the water) that I thought, "We paid this guy to do this to us. We should just all refuse to go back in the water." 

We began the challenge on the beach at 1 a.m. with various PT exercises and getting in the water and crawling back out. Then it started to drizzle. I felt like God and GRHQ had somehow joined forces to orchestrate the most hellacious GRC ever. We soon were assigned 15 sandbags for the 20 of us. Those stayed with us until about 8 or 9 a.m. We traipsed through the streets of Miami Beach, sometimes just carrying sandbags, sometimes each other and the rucks of others. I think we also stopped several times for various PT exercises. I just remember lots of ab work. The drizzle continued pretty steadily all night and well into the morning. It began to feel as though we had rucked our way to Seattle. Once we finally began our way back to the starting point, we marched right through a street fair happening on Ocean Drive. At first it felt quite odd and ridiculous that we wet, sandy ruck-wearing, human-carrying people were marching straight down the middle of a street fair. But after awhile I just had to grin and bear it, especially when an elderly man asked me if we were protesting something. 
The ladies of GRC 385
Lessons from the GRC: 

  • There will come a time when you will be quite happy to be carrying your 30 lb pack because it means that someone has relieved you of a sandbag or a second ruck.
  • There will come a time when you think it's almost over, but that's when it really just begins. For me it came just after about the 8 hour mark. After all, the GRC is "8-10 hours": it had been steady drizzling/raining all night, the sun was up (I think), most of us were visibly shaking from the cold, and I was pretty sure our cadre had run out of beer. That was about 3 hours before it ended.
  • Our bodies are capable of far more than we think. This seems to be a common lesson that I learn and re-learn. However, this event provided the lesson in multiple ways-- my body endured sleep deprivation, rucking under much heavier weight than I ever thought I could carry over miles, and freezing temperatures (ok, the temps weren't even close to freezing, but I was shaking from the cold for at least a few hours).
So, I tried to give a well-rounded summary of the GRC. What I can't include are the feelings of camaraderie, the inside jokes, and the respect that you will develop toward the other members of your team and the people who do this daily in real life. The GRC is truly a team event. Don't go into it trying to be the hero; go into it trying to make your teammates heroes. 

Please comment any specific questions you have and follow me using the tab on the right. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Learning the Art of Improv

Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature's inexorable imperative.
H.G. Wells

Plan. Organize. Structure. Calculate. Routine. Strategy. Perfect. These are all words I thrive on.
Chaos. Improvise. Confusion. Disarray. Noise. Unknown. These are all words that frighten me. 

I am a perfectionist. A planner. Ok, a control freak. I plan everything. Before I make a phone call, I rehearse everything I am going to say. (Yes, I am WEIRD.) But I'm learning. Some of the best times I've ever had in my life have been the times where I've relaxed, been unstructured and just lived. My rigidity is over time being worn away, probably by my being worn out by trying futilely to oversee and direct everything.

And as life goes, so goes my training. The days of pre-planning my week of workouts have morphed into a more fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants method of training. Mostly thanks to enlisting my husband as my trainer. Basically, I show up, and he hands me a workout. At first, it was more than unnerving. Now it's somewhat freeing. I go and do.

I keep a collection of the workouts in a little notebook-- my little book of knowledge. If things get stale, or I travel, or my husband does, I have a variety of workouts at my fingertips.
Bonus workout--piggy back ride for a student who broke a flip flop.
The invaluable lesson I'm learning is how to adapt. Not always being able to train in a gym, I have a whole series of exercises that I've gathered that can be done anywhere. Once you understand that the most effective way to train, especially for obstacle course races, is to work intensely and confuse your body, then it becomes easier to create your own workouts. My "rules":

Don't work the same body parts in back to back sets-- do a chest exercise, then back, abs, triceps, biceps, legs, etc. This allows you to move through the workout without resting, and that increases the intensity of your training. Here is an excellent sample workout (created by my trainer, Craig Lawson): 5 power cleans, 8 bench press, 8 pull ups, 10 push press, 10 dumbbell rows, 15 walking lunges w/ 25lb plate overhead, 6 1-1-1 biceps curls, 10 straight leg dead lifts. Do 4 rounds.

Be intense-- keep moving throughout your workout. Resting between sets is so LA Fitness. Unless, of course, you are lifting for power, which I do once or twice a month. Sample power workout: back squats-- sets of 12, 10, 8, 6, 8, 10, 12. Front squats-- 3 sets of 8. Bulgarian squats-- 3 sets of 10. Straight leg dead lifts-- 3 sets of 8.

Add cardio in your strength workout-- sample workout: 10 overhead squats, 10 dumbbell clean and press singles, 20 push ups, 4 double plyo box jumps, 30 "windshield wiper" abs, 1- 3 min. run, 6 pull ups. Do 5 rounds.
While in the Bahamas, I wasn't able to do my regular workouts,
so I improvised by carrying a loaded pack everywhere.
Here are some of the exercises I find invaluable when I don't have access to a gym:

  • push ups (you have multiple options here-- elevate your feet to engage your shoulders more, wide hands, diamond, dive bombers, one handed, traveling)
  • body weight squats (or jump squats, single leg squat)
  • body weight lunges (other options-- reverse lunge, side lunge)
  • abs (too many options to list)
  • jump rope (try double unders!)
  • burpees
  • triceps dips
  • kettle bell work (swings, cleans, dead lifts, snatches...)
  • pull ups 
  • TRX exercises 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Doing Hard Things

“Being faithful in the smallest things is the way to gain, maintain, and demonstrate the strength needed to accomplish something great.”
― Alex Harris

Every year for the past 4 years I have boarded a plane with 50 to 100 of my 8th grade students and traveled to the Bahamas to do the work of missionaries. This year, I wasn't sure I wanted to go. I'm a homebody. I love the peace and quiet of my own home. I dislike flying, and I especially dislike crowds, loud noise, shrieking girls, and staying up late. I am an INTROVERT. I very much like careful plans, early, quiet mornings, my own bed and bathroom, coconut milk coffee creamer, and super clean eating-- none of which I find at camp in the Bahamas.

So, why did I go again this year? Because I had to. I mean, no one forced me. I went because I didn't want to go. Because I knew that the not wanting to go was because God was going to do amazing things. And just as I believe in God, I believe in Satan who tries desperately to stop all things good and wonderful and pure. Yes, I believe that Satan wanted to steal the joy that would come from me witnessing so many teenagers, *gasp* middle schoolers, doing hard things. I've seen kids look fear in the eye and do the hard thing anyway. Students who had conversations with bent and broken people who can barely articulate their thoughts. Students who fed a bedridden woman whose body has nearly lost it's battle with whatever illness has kept her locked inside. Students who could barely hold back tears as a man voiced his only prayer request-- the ability to walk. 

As I ran this morning, my thoughts returned to a book that I read a few years ago: Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris. It was written by teen brothers who were so moved by their own apathetic generation that they penned a challenge in book form. I have witnessed so many hard things being done this week. By thirteen and fourteen year olds. It's powerful. 
Pure joy

Students spending time with residents at the All Saints Camp in the Bahamas
So, that's my challenge: do hard things. Don't take the easy way out and do something physically demanding; do something that requires you to share a little piece of your soul with some one else. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

You Made a Resolution. Now What?

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.
-Henry David Thoreau 

Whether you call it a resolution or a goal, most of us have determined to be better in 2013. You've seen the quote: 
So, let's not just set goals. Let's make a plan. After all, in order to be successful in reaching our goals we must be SMART:
Here are a few things I recommend:

Start Now. I hear so many people talking about tomorrow. Or Monday. When we blow it (and usually for me it's eating junk), too often we throw our hands up and give up for the whole day. I say, don't wait until tomorrow. Start now.

Make Wise Choices. And not just about the physical. Choose to let things go. Don't get upset or angry. Stress tears down the body. Eat healthy. Move your body. Clear your conscience. Laugh often.

Add Mini Goals. Set a smaller goal that will help you reach the big one. If your goal is to run a marathon, set a mini goal to run a 5k. If your goal is to squat your weight, set a mini goal to squat a weight half-way between your current best and your body weight.

Research. Use the resources available to better yourself. Youtube is full of how to videos that will provide proper techniques on how to master new exercises. Or there is my personal favorite-- the public library. You might be surprised to find a variety of yoga and pilates dvd's, strength training books, new motivating tunes, and biographies on incredible athletes who inspire.

Try Something New. Join a gym. Quit the gym. Try yoga. Try CrossFit. Hire a trainer. Fire your trainer. If you haven't been happy with your results to this point, then try something new. 

My "something new":

They should be called QUAD burns.

They're actually quite painful.