Sunday, December 13, 2015

Slum and Gravy

It's hard for me to believe that Army's losing streak to Navy now extends to 14 years. As one of the greatest rivalries in college football, my disappointment as a die hard fan is amplified because of the national attention this one game of our entire season receives. The losses throughout the year to teams I think we should beat are hard, but being on a national stage and having to now hear ad nauseum about the squids' success over so many years has become too much to bear.

So I'm calling it now. Army wins in 2016.

Of course, Army/Navy isn't just about the game - it's much bigger than the 3.5 hours on the gridiron on Saturday. When you're a cadet, there are spirit missions, Go Army cake on the tables in the mess hall, and now, the Patriot Games on Friday before the game where Cadets take on Midshipmen in all kinds of feats of strength. I guess it's kind of like Festivus in uniform.

As an Old Grad, over the years, my Grey Hog-ness has grown. I've gone from simply making sure I was on the couch to watch the game to, this year, rocking the black and gold every day for the week leading up to the game. Whether at work, at the gym or out on my Saturday run, I was doing my part for the Army team right here in NW Arkansas.
My nails even got in on the action:
The best part of the week, though? I wasn't alone in my Old Grad shenanigans. On our private Facebook page, I and my fellow USMA '97 classmates pulled out our swag, our gear, old cadet uniforms, PMI cards from our cadet days, even our old cadet HP calculator (that an astonishing number of people still use on a daily basis more than 20 years later). Seeing pictures of my friends and being reminded of the immutable and unchangeable bond we have because of our four years together at the Academy was our collective spirit mission for the week.

I'm grateful we had the laughs during the week because almost 24 hours now since the game closed, I'm still mad. Not at the team, not even at the coaches. I am not saying it was a moral victory - THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR VICTORY - but I love my Army team no matter the score. They played hard; they made me so very proud to be a Grad. I'm mad simply because I refuse to accept that we can't beat them.

So I won't accept the naysayers' gloom and doom. We WILL beat them. Next year. The streak will end.

On, Brave Old Army Team.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

An abundance of blessings and gratitude

Thanksgiving - the day we hopefully all stop and consider just how amazingly blessed we are. I know that I and my family have been given so much in this life, and the past year has been no exception. I could never adequately put into words all of the blessings in my life, so I will simply share images of the moments that filled my heart this year.

I am surrounded by love, in ways big and small, and for all of you who are a piece of my heart, thank you.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Putting down roots

Yesterday was a milestone of sorts for me - I had to get my driver's license renewed.

With my birthday approaching my license expiration date loomed, so I put time on my calendar to leave work just a few minutes and head to the Revenue Office to get it taken care of. I hoped that by waiting for the holiday week the line would be short, and to my delight I walked in the door to no line at all. In and out in less than ten minutes - that has to be a record.

The lack of a wait wasn't the milestone, though - it was the renewal that hit me as momentous. You see, I've never lived anywhere in my adult life long enough to have to actually return to the Revenue Office / DMV / RMV / whatever that particular state called it. I suppose I did renew my Texas license while I was in the Army, but the irony was, I didn't even live there. It was my home of record having grown up there, but not really my home of reality.

Justin and I left active duty in part because we knew we wanted to have a family, and we wanted our future-children to have a sense of permanence, a place they called their hometown. Little did we realize that a career in sales would require the same mobility as a career in uniform. If you combine my civilian career with my time in uniform, beginning with leaving home to go to West Point, my personal odyssey has been an extraordinary journey:
West Point, NY -- Ft. Eustis, VA -- Ft. Stewart, GA -- Ft. Lee, VA -- Ft. Leavenworth, KS -- back to Ft. Lee, VA -- Ft. Hood, TX -- Owings Mills, MD -- Adams, MA -- Liberty Township, OH -- Fayetteville, AR
I've said it before and I'll say it again - we love it here in Northwest Arkansas. I hope that we can make this a long term domicile, and give our children a place that helps them feel grounded no matter where they go in their own adult lives. I know you can never say never, and great opportunities may arise in the future that will necessitate moving boxes and changes in plans, but for now, I'm grateful for the little card in my wallet that says I belong here. At least until 2019.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Follow the Rainbow

Sunday breakfast at our house has turned into one of my favorite times of the week. Technically, it's Sunday brunch - we go to the 9am mass and don't eat until we get home, usually around noon. It isn't that the food is anything extraordinary; it's more that breakfast food is awesome, and whether it's scrambled eggs, omelettes, pancakes, waffles, pumpkin muffins, coffee cake, donuts, cinnamon rolls, or maybe several of the above, it's hard to get it wrong.

Throw in bacon or sausage (or on the rare occasion, both), hashbrown patties and a fruit salad, and it's become a multiplate plus sometimes-a-bowl kind of meal that has our breakfast table covered with deliciousness. Now that the weather is turning colder, the kids have been requesting hot chocolate to go with mom and dad's coffee, too. On the surface, it seems like a pretty simple thing to have Sunday brunch at our kitchen table each week, but it's one of the everyday moments that I treasure as a simple family tradition.

This past Sunday, we actually went a little bit on the lighter side. We are so very blessed to be able to afford fresh fruit year round, and Justin's always been great about making sure the kids have balance in their diet. Frankly, I lucked out, because I don't know that I was very good about eating my colors before I married him!

That whole "eat your colors" thing has always delighted me. First, it's an easy way to think about balancing my diet. Second, you truly do eat with your eyes, and a plate with more than white rice, mashed potatoes and chicken breasts is certainly more appealing than a monochrome meal. It's also an easy thing for kids to remember and a guideline they can easily follow.

When I put Sunday's breakfast on their plates and set them on the table last week, Caroline commented how we had the rainbow on our plates!
John's response: "and the cinnamon roll is the pot of gold!"

Nailed it!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Halloween 2015

Halloween this year was pretty different than in years past. We didn't have anyone come over to our house, and the kids didn't go together. It felt like a milestone that I didn't realize was coming; I guess that's how parenthood goes sometimes. You don't realize when the last time was the last time until it's gone.

As big as my kids are, though, they're still kids, and Halloween is still a fun time to dress up and get candy!! Falling on a Saturday made the pre-trick or treat chaos a lot more manageable this year. To complicate things, we decided to go to fall festival at the church on Friday night, bringing a couple of friends with us. May as well as much mileage out of the costumes as possible!
Caroline may have the record on getting mileage out of a Halloween costume; for the third year in a row, she was Harry Potter. Why mess with a classic, right? The robe is getting a bit short, but thanks to Aunt Susannah, there was a new accessory with the awesome Gryffindor scarf.

John didn't have a strong opinion about a costume, so several weeks before Halloween, I helped him brainstorm based on what he loves. Right now, what he loves is... video games. Specifically, Minecraft. It's a game made out of pixels - how hard could a costume be, right? Buy the head; order the diamond pick-axe from Amazon; cardboard box and Post It notes for the body. Voila - I give you Steve from Minecraft.
Halloween night was a little bit soggy, but that didn't dampen the enthusiasm for free candy. I dropped Caroline off at her friend's house so they could go together; Harry and Hermione ready to cast a Trick or Treat spell on the neighborhood! John and Thatcher waited for me to get back, since I was once again the chaperoning parent for the neighborhood walk. After a twenty mile run that morning, though, I wasn't quite as fleet footed as the boys. They were running like fools down the sidewalk, trying to catch up with the big kids who didn't want to be caught in the first place. With a few words I convinced the boys to give it up and actually start ringing doorbells to get candy, but was surprised when they called it a night before their bags were full.

It seems like this may have been the year we pivoted to big-kid trick or treating. I'm not sure what next year will bring; I would think we'll still be all about the candy, but maybe not so much about trick or treating with mom in tow. So I'll just savor this year for the moments it provided, my two kids and their friends doing what kids do. Trick or treat!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

For the love of the run

It's been almost three years since I was in the best running shape of my life; these days, I spend a lot of time thinking about how much work it is to drop weight and get faster rather than actually doing the work it takes to drop weight and get faster. I run because it's fun and a great way to spend time with friends rather than to qualify for Boston or set new PRs.

Despite the competitive fire being banked for the time being, I do still look for ways to do more; be more; achieve more. I continue to work toward my goal of running a marathon in all 50 states, but don't really have a specific plan for the next several months. The upside of no plan? Flexibility.

I got a text a few weeks ago from a childhood friend down in Houston asking if I could provide a recommendation on a hotel for the Tulsa marathon weekend. Not having run it before, I checked with a friend and responded. We went back and forth a few times, during which I made a couple of excuses for why I wasn't running it this year.

Excuses. Man. I seem to be full of them these days.

I start thinking. Tulsa - it's four weeks away at that point. I'm in reasonably good shape; I still do long runs on weekends, including a 14 miler not too long ago. Marathons are like those songs that get stuck in my head; I couldn't stop noodling on it. I don't have Oklahoma; this is a huge Maniac race; Tulsa is only a two hour drive away; how hard can it be to go for a just-finish?

Clearly, the thing to do is to run a 20 miler the next weekend. Clearly. Because if you can run 20, you run a marathon right?

My friends think I'm nuts. Maybe I am. Of course, that means they're as nuts as I am, because you know I didn't run that 20 alone the next weekend!! Off we went, starting at 5am on Halloween morning, knocking out Hobby Lobby loop and then the Stadium Loop to get all twenty miles in. With the take-it-easy and just-finish approach, I had one of the best 20 milers I'd had all year. Go figure.
So that was that - I was in. I went home and signed up for the Route 66 Tulsa Marathon, which is one week from today. I've been "tapering" in my training ever since - this might be the best idea I've had in marathon training. Run whatever you feel like for a few months, do one 20 miler, then taper! There has been one training challenge since I signed up; the weekend after the 20 miler I decided I should do 14, but Justin was out of town and I was home alone with the kids on my regular Saturday morning run time. What to do, what to do... well, duh. Obviously, the answer is to run laps in the neighborhood.
The elevation profile cracked me up!!
It's better than a treadmill...

I know running 15 laps in the neighborhood doesn't sound great, but as it turned out, it wasn't too bad. The mailbox was my water stop, and I went by the house every seven or eight minutes to check on whether the kids had any lights on yet. The guy around the corner having a garage sale probably thought I'd lost my mind by the fourth or fifth time I ran by, but hey - maybe he was on to something. Ha!

Here I am with the race one week from today, and I'm mostly looking forward to it. Like I said on our run yesterday morning, the problem with having run several marathons at this point is that I know exactly what I'm in for. I'm super excited to see Molly, coming up from Houston, and there are other friends going from NW Arkansas. It's a huge race for the Marathon Maniacs, so I'm sure the vibe will be great. And I'll get to mark Oklahoma off the list, a bonus for the year since I thought Vermont was to be my only new state!

I just have to remember - this isn't about the pace. This race is all about the love of the run.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Race Report: Hero Half Marathon - Oct 10, 2015

As it turns out, there are races of distances less than 26.2 miles. Who knew?

After training for long distances exclusively for the last three years, with very little down time in my regimen between events, I decided with Shauna's absence, I had the perfect opportunity to dial it back a little bit and moderate the number of miles I've been putting on my legs and feet each week. It was time to find the joy and the fun in running, not just the satisfaction that comes with completing another marathon and knowing I have the toughness and ability to slog through all of the training miles and then race day, too.

The problem with deciding not to train for a marathon, though, was the absence of a race of any kind on my mental calendar. While I'm generally a pretty motivated person, I do best when I have a goal I'm working toward, a deadline for achievement. Not wanting to spend the travel money usually associated with a race, I looked around and realized the local Fayetteville run scene has grown by leaps and bounds in the last year or two. There are so many options for runs of varying distances, supporting all kinds of different organizations and charities.

Based on good things I'd heard about the annual running in 2014 and in large part because of the new association with the 1LT Tom Martin Foundation, my good buddy Mike and I decided we'd sign up for the Hero Half Marathon right here in town. One of the big benefits of being a runner who is always halfway training for a marathon is the ability to sign up for a half just a couple of weeks before the race.

Looking forward to a distance that wouldn't break me down and a race that was mostly for fun, I met Mike on race morning at the shuttle point to get a ride to the start line of the point to point race. Unfortunately, this race report starts with two negatives: first, just like last year, start time is 10AM. Ten o'clock in the morning. I mean, who does that?! As a morning runner - and I'm talking done long before the sun even comes up, morning runner - I wasn't very excited about the idea of running in the sun and the warmth forecasted for that day. I know the upside is the chance to sleep in, but my concerns about the temperature by the midway point of the race far outweighed any enthusiasm for extra pillow time. Second problem: the 9am shuttle left a little early with a full crowd and rather than looping right back for a second run, apparently just disappeared. Hard to fault the race organizers, as it was a volunteer from another organization who wouldn't answer the phone when they tried to reach him, but it meant an awful lot of standing around and caused the race to start 20 minutes late.

The silver lining in the long wait? A chance to see Sarah and Jeff Hood, taking some great photos while sharing the story of #NeverQuit. I met some new friends, too, thanks to the built-in camaraderie of the wear blue: run to remember organization. Runners are special people, always friendly and easy to talk to, and meeting Melissa and her husband was an unexpected blessing as we waited for our ride.
Taking the good with the bad, the pre-race net result - problem #2 compounded problem #1. Not exactly an auspicious start, but hey, this was a fun run and it was only 13.1 miles, right? No big deal. I'm also a lot more likely to cut a race some slack when it's a small, local race where I feel like I have a personal connection and a vested interest in its success.

Local races are unique for the chance to see people I know at the start line. I ran into several people I've met through work, found my other two Saturday run group friends, and got to both give and receive a lot of good wishes and smiles. There was a nice ceremony honoring firefighters and promoting fire safety week, which would've been better if we weren't already late to the start line, but finally, it was time to go!

I planned on running with Mike and Louise - Fast Jeff was a contender for an overall place, so we just gave him a good luck - and we toed the line waiting for the signal to go. A very cool touch for this race - no air horn, no digital megaphone sound to send the runners on their way. In the tradition of the firehouse, they used a bell to signal step off. With the sun shining and hearts pumping, we headed down the trail for the loop around the lake, intending to take it a little bit easy and have a fun run. If we ran a sub-2:00, we'd be happy, but none of us put any pressure on ourselves for a specific time.

The race route was 100% on the Fayetteville trail system until you turned the last corner up to the firehouse (more to come on that!). Having pounded every inch of that pavement over the last 4+ years, I knew exactly what the twists and turns, elevation changes, bridges and tunnels would be. It also meant I had to suck it up and get over my mental block with running around the lake. No idea why I have such a hard time with that part of the trail, but I've come to loath that particular 5.5 mile stretch of pavement. Mike threw out an off hand "cut the corners" as we were stepping off, and for the first time since I ran the Houston Marathon, I made a deliberate, intentional effort to do just that.

It must have been the secret sauce - I don't know why I haven't done this every single time I run around Lake Fayetteville. It's a very winding path with lots of corners to cut, and it kept my mind focused on just getting to the next corner rather than thinking about the next hill or the interminable stretch on the back side of the lake. I managed to come out the other side and head down the hill in excellent time. My pace to this point was faster than intended, finishing the first five miles at an 8:13 average!

I had outpaced Mike and Louise a few miles in, so with feet pumping and arms swinging, I focused on the trail ahead, cutting the corners as close as possible, and just keeping the forward momentum going. As I headed south, I saw Jeff Hood again, camera in hand. I gave him a genuine smile when he encouraged me, saying I was on a sub-2:00 pace. I felt good, despite the sun rising higher in the sky and the temperature creeping up. I knew in detail what was in front of me, and was prepared to keep putting one foot in front of the other until I got to the end.
The race organizers did a fabulous job making sure there was plenty of support along the course. There were aid stations with water and Gatorade every mile or two, with enthusiastic volunteers yelling for all of the runners as they passed. There wasn't much crowd support, but even as a small race, I was never alone on the trail. I passed a few people, a few passed me, and I kept heading south as the trail slowly rose in front of me.

Around mile ten, it started getting hard. It was hard to try to keep the strong pace as the elevation slowly rose, and as the conditions got hotter. There are countless mantras runners use to motivate themselves through a run; I frequently repeat "constant forward progress" silently to myself. I also draw from my days in uniform, singing cadence to myself in my head, or occasionally hazing myself to stop being a big baby and suck it up. On this day, though, my thoughts were with Lisa Jaster, a West Point Woman who is a Class of 2000 graduate and was in the final phase of Ranger School, trying once again to graduate. She had been through six months of training, accepting recycles and restarts, and I had followed her progress with both pride and awe. When I hit the point where my legs said, "I just can't do it," my heart said "you most certainly can!" as I imagined Lisa humping her heavy ruck sack through swamps and mud and muck.

The reminder that this paled in comparison to other challenges put just enough spring in my step to keep me going. I managed to keep my pace at a run until I encountered the hill leading up to Maple; I took a deep breath, power walked up that bad boy, and then picked it back up as I coasted downhill to Dickson Street.

At this point, I knew I was close, but I was confused because my Garmin splits were off compared to the race mile markers on the course. In fact, by the time I got to the mile 12 marker, I was easily a half mile off. I thought maybe the course was short; maybe it wasn't certified; maybe it was a combination of variations in my Garmin combined with the course markers. Whatever it was, I knew the trail and the route, so I just had to keep going. So I did - until I turned left onto Center Street. Oh, the infamous last quarter mile of the race! It was an unbelievably steep hill - and just as we turned off of the trail, there was Sarah's family and the Never Quit motivation station, yelling and cheering for every one of us as we began our ascent.
Little by little, tiny step by tiny step, I made it up that hill. My pace plummeted until I wondered if I'd be better off walking, but I wasn't about to stop that with the finish line in sight.
I crossed the line, checked my watch, and did a double take at the results: 1:54:33 by my Garmin! Easy sub-2:00 on a day when I was simply out there to have fun. Given the very few official half marathons I've run, this was my new Personal Record for the distance, an exciting accomplishment in and of itself.

As I waited at the finish line for Mike and Louise to finish, I chatted with friends and even ran into a West Point classmate. I loved yelling for the runners digging deep to get up that hill and finish strong. It was a great finish line atmosphere with music and the announcer keeping the crowd updated on everyone who crossed that last timing mat. I eventually made it over to check the official results and delighted to find I'd managed to place first in my age group!

 In all, what a wonderful day for a race. It was certainly gratifying to have run a faster pace than expected and to have earned another age group win. The Hero Half is a very well-run race that exists to raise money for charitable organizations right here in my community, and I'm proud to have been a part of supporting that. One of the neat perks that I'd love to see at a lot more races - the professional photos were free and available the day after the race. It's a fairly difficult course, but in a way that makes you proud to have risen to the challenge.

As I've said countless times, I'm at a point in my journey where I'm simply grateful for the ability to run. To see my friends on a course, feel the sun on my face, and know that my body and spirit are strong enough to see me through to the finish line. Run on, my friends. See you at the next start line.
Louise, Mike, Me and Fast Jeff at the finish