Focus

I have had the opportunity to meet some pretty incredible people in my life. I’ve meet Senate Majority Leaders, Grammy winners,  Astronauts, Gold Medal Olympians, National Teachers of the Year and more… To achieve at the highest level, you must have unwavering focus. Most often you must sacrifice instant gratification for long term achievement.

A perfect example of this is astronaut Dr. Story Musgrave who holds a six pack of academic degrees. Story grew up on a farm, served as a military flight technician in the Korean War, worked as mathematician, earned his M.D., selected to be an astronaut during the Apollo program, flew on six Space Shuttle missions (having waited 26 years after becoming an astronaut) and worked for Disney as an Imagineer. I’ve heard Story described as someone who could do multiple tasks while playing chess and attempting to solve all the world’s problems… while flirting with a pretty girl.

Someone with that kind of brain power has to discipline themselves with focus… laser precision, come hell or high water, leave no man behind, gazelle like intensity focus. This would not describe me. I am laser focused on two things, BEER & PIZZA. I speak the truth. I do have focus on other tasks. However, the sure way to get me to laser intense in 1.67 seconds: simply tell me I can’t do something. I had a college professor tell me because I had a learning disability I could never been an educator. She was wrong. It takes focus to overcome poor spelling!

Another human in my life with laser intense focus is my triathlon buddy. She was a college athlete, turned Space Camp counselor, an outstanding classroom teacher, transcontinental cyclist, Boston Marathon qualifier, world traveler and four time top ten age group finisher in Ironman triathlons. Recently, I have described her as someone who doesn’t downsize her dreams. She has focus, serious, laser beam, focus! Accomplishing so much before the age of 31 takes focus!

I want, this is the type of focus . This fall while running the back roads of Madison County, Mississippi, I came to the realization that mentally I am the best version of myself while swimming, running or biking. I simply can’t focus on more than two things at one time. I am not the best version of me when multi-tasking. Maybe I was at one time, but not now.

In 2018, I will embark on a new adventure for me. I will spend more time with my family, tackle a few bucket list items and try to work on my focus. Since running the back roads of Mississippi I have attempted to meditate daily, learn a new language (Hablo un poco de español.) and working on my overall focus. Therefore, my word for 2018 will be FOCUS! In 2018, I will work on my focus in everything I do. Focus on my relationships, athletic endeavors, family matters and more… Focusing on keeping my blog post more regular is on the to do list!

A Dixon Ticonderoga Adventure

Many great memories are attached to a Dixon Ticonderoga NO. 2 pencil. From my mom trying to make me a swell speller by writing words thousands of times to teaching hundreds of Space Camp staff how to give a presentation everyone likes. I have a lot of love for the world’s best pencil company. Last week, I had the honor of visiting the Dixon Ticonderoga National Museum and Fine Art Gallery in Lake Mary, Florida. It is a worthwhile trip for any educator, artist or pencil lover.

The museum and gallery are on the fifth floor of an office building in Lake Mary, Florida. To visit you must make an appointment. It is perfect for school groups local to the area. There is even an activity center for students to learn more about the amazing assortment of products the Dixon Ticonderoga brand has to offer. If you are interested in a tour, please follow this link for details.

I am very thankful to have a relationship with the corporate office of Dixon Ticonderoga through a few social media conversations with Donna Cochran. Ms. Cochran is the Executive Assistant to the CEO of Dixon Ticonderoga and the Curator of the museum and art gallery. She was so thoughtful to give me time from her day to show me the artifacts and original works of art on display for the guests of the museum.

My favorite story was about the restoration of their Norman Rockwell painting. Rockwell had been contracted to produce three works of art for the Dixon Ticonderoga company. All three of the paintings were stolen from an office in New Jersey City, NJ. Authorities did recover one of Rockwell’s works, “Grandfather & Grandson”, which has been fully restored and is on display at the art gallery. Some of their art work had been mishandled through the years. With the new gallery and museum, it can be preserved for many generations to enjoy.

The museum and gallery is currently two rooms in size, however I am sure this is just a start for the Dixon Ticonderoga museum. The artifacts on display are rich with history. Not just pencils and crayons, there are marketing graphics, company stock shares from the early years, links to many pop culture and industrial innovations. The story of the Dixon Ticonderoga is a story of our American history. A company which began when our country was just a fledgling nation can teach us many things about who we are as a country. I learned that Ford Motor company contracted with the company to make coil boxes for the Model T. These boxes were original made to sell crayons to students. Crayons even flew aboard STS-87. Amazing to think of all the places a Dixon Ticonderoga product has been.

“Not so fast my friend”! I finished my tour by visiting the back offices, which included former ESPN analyst and Dixon Ticonderoga spokesmen, Lee Corso’s office. Many people think it is just coincidence that Corso holds a Dixon Ticonderoga pencil when on College Game Day. But Mr. Corso has been affiliated with the company for years. Mr. Corso wasn’t in, but it was a treat to visit his office.

Dixon Ticonderoga really makes the best pencils and they have great people working for them. I am thankful for my mom making me use them and love them years ago! I am also thank for the time I spent with Donna Cochran and the artifacts of the Dixon Ticonderoga National Museum and Fine Art Gallary.

Hound Dog

Don’t let a story of a cute hound dog fool you, the Hound Dog Half Marathon is a tough race. To be fair, the half marathon course is more down hill than up hill. The course is adorned with beautiful hillsides, charming goat farms and friendly volunteers. The hard part of the course is the last five miles, straight up hill on a gravel trail that once was home to the Tennessee & Alabama Central Railroad. That was before the Civil War and before a the hound Ludivine ran the course and the story went viral.

The Hound Dog Half was renamed after last year’s race. Ludivine scampered out of her yard and joined the first running of the Elkmont 1/2 Marathon. The story made national news and put the small race on the map. Saturday morning the small townhall had a line of crazed runners out the door for packet pick-up. Ludivine greeted the runners. I was lucky enough to get a photo with the famous K-9. Ludivine was there for the start of the 13.1 mile race. However, she wouldn’t run this year. 

At the start of the race, Ludivine howled and moaned in sadness as the hundreds of runners started the rainy adventure. Poor dog! The runners started to chant, “let her run, let her run”. She is just a country dog, but now Ludivine is priceless to the community of Elkmont. No one would want to see the hound dog hurt. It was still sad to see her not run. 

The first mile the course passes an old cotton gin. Perfect small town race. This year, I noticed the community had added permanent road signs to mark the entire course and each mile was marked by a cute dog house sign. Super classy for a second year race! Even the Limestone County Sheriff’s Deputy protected the runners from a blonde golden retriever mix. Unlike Ludivine this dog didn’t like running.

Up and down we ran as the rain fell on us. I still made friends and chatted with people along the way despite the hilly terrain and dreary conditions. A covered bridge, an old church and all the wildlife and farm animals along the way made for a great but challenging run. A blood hound made this race famous, but the community made it first class. After I finished, I had a great bowl of chicken stew and chatted with the wonderful people of Elkmont. If you get a chance to run this charming course, please do… It is tough, but run it for the community of Elkmont. 

Mountain Mist

Endurance is defined as, “the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way”. This past weekend, I completed Mountain Mist 50K. I have heard competitors say it is the hardest event they have ever done. I am certain it is one of the most challenging things I have ever dared do, especially with limited training. However, the conditions couldn’t have been better and the trails called my name!

The first half of the race is challenging, but nothing special in comparison to many other trail races in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Twist and turns, ups and downs. I set a conservative pace but still pushed myself. Mountain Mist has strict cut off times. I didn’t want to lollygag and miss the fun at the end of the race. The first quarter of the race is mostly downhill. But the last quarter is mostly uphill, straight uphill. At mile 6.4 I was happy to see aid station #1 and friendly faces. I discarded my ski cap and gloves. The temperature was in the mid-thirties so I kept my sleeves for a bit longer.

Volunteers are an important role in any race. But seeing friendly faces who are kind and compassionate are vital in endurance sports. Volunteering is often more difficult and draining than people think. I am very thankful for those caring souls. I knew someone at each aid station. Jen Cox had her MSU cowbell on the course. She let me ring the darn thing! Volunteers are great. I make it a practice to volunteer for events like Mountain Mist to get the courage to sign up. Thanks friends!

By the time I arrived at mile 16.9, aid station #3 at Fearn Drive, I was fixating on time. I arrived roughly thirteen minutes before the cut off. Friendly faces hustled me through the aid station. Many Mountain Mist veterans advised me there is no loitering at aid stations. Relentless forward motion or I wouldn’t finish! A runner from Tennessee who hadn’t seen the course kept saying, “the back half is hard, how can it get harder”. I prayed for her and me as I shuffled along the trail.

I hadn’t run all the trails but I knew what was ahead of me and I had to keep trucking. Anytime I could keep pace with a fellow runner, I would take the companionship and conversation. It was gold to my mental state. Any helpful hints, words of encouragement or smiles along the way were valuable. The trails I had run were comforting. Just knowing where the heck I was meant a lot. Once I made it to aid station #4, I knew the hard part was approaching quickly. Time to get a handful of extra calories and water for the climb up Waterline.

Every scary story about Mountain Mist included the trek up Waterline. Waterline is more than trail running. Waterline is more than an incline. Waterline and the climbing up the side of a limestone gorge tha tfwill judge what a person is made of. Resilience and grit have been in my vocabulary, my mental fiber, my determined spirit for years. Climbing Waterline would put those ideas to test. Step by step, hand over hand and one foot over another, I inched my way up the monster incline. I focused intently on all the people above me. I convinced myself, that I would be where they were soon. And eventually, I was at the top and headed for the last big cutoff.

I was still trying to catch my breath and recover my legs as I approached aid station #5 at mile 25.1. I saw many friends and spectators anxiously waiting for their runner. It was like the baseball team from Field of Dreams coming out of the corn, but it was random people clad in Patagonia apparel appearing out of no where as I shuffled to the last major cutoff. People were throwing out time and distance to the aid station, but all I could do was shuffle. As soon as, I recognized the aid station and I heard the piercing sound of a horn. “WHAT DOES THIS MEAN”, I shouted frantically. The horn represented the fifteen minute mark until the six hour and thirty minute cutoff. I meander through the aid station, channeling the Little Engine that Could! I still had one good climb a head of me, then a sip of beer and a short jog to the finish line. I think I can… I think I can… I think I can!

Honestly, I didn’t have much steam left. I was doing well keeping a good pace, but after making the last major cut off I was like the work horse headed to the barn at the end of plowing the fields. The day was beautiful but long. All I could do was soak in what was left of the trail. I was on the McKay Hollow Trail. It was almost like I was home because I had more experience on this trail.

The closer I got, the more I reflected on the trail, the limited mud, the limestone and the monster climb. My physical and emotional fuel tank was empty. I knew at the top of the hill, I could enjoy a sip of beer and a few calories to help with the tired body. The added companionship of a local runner and a runner from Georgia would make the short run from aid station #6 and the finish line enjoyable.

All I wanted to do was finish, to endure. Mountain Mist is one of the toughest things I have ever done. I would stay it is much tougher than any obstacle, mud or trail run. Spartan and Tough Mudder races can not compare in toughness. I am sure if the trail condition were similar to past years, I wouldn’t have completed the 31 mile trek. Mountain Mist has been known for thick mud, rain, snow, sleet and extreme cold temperatures. The 2017 version of Mountain Mist had perfect conditions with warm temperatures and minimal mud. The conditions were great but the course was still the same… it was hard. I am thankful it wasn’t any harder. 

Mental Toughness

The year 2016 was hard for a lot of people. With the presidential election, social protest and the loss of so many A-list celebrities I don’t think I can say anything new about 2016 being difficult. However, as I review the past twelve months, I see a theme of mental toughness. Beyond my endurance sports, mental toughness has played a huge role in how I attacked and conquered 2016.

As I reflect, 2016 was like an Ironman Triathlon to me. In the first two months of the year, it was an easy swim. I started a new job at a camp, achieved a few certifications and attended a conference. Nothing too taxing at the time. I have been told I can swim all day long. I ran a few races at Disney World… Dopey Challenge, and then a local half marathon where a blood hound ran the whole course.

By the time March arrived, I had discovered that the camp I worked at was in need of major repair. This started the long miles on the bike. A constant churning at work to accomplish renovations and repairs was similar to riding 112 miles in the summer heat. I worked most everyday from March to August. I didn’t get everything completed before camp started. I compare that to not having a great swim to bike transition during a triathlon.

For the most part, I did a good job until June training for my actual Ironman event, IM Chattanooga. Once camp started the number one focus was the campers and their needs. That meant training stopped for me. I was chugging way with focused intensity on the work that needed to be done. Without mental toughness, I wouldn’t have made it through the summer or the events of late July.

While at camp in Guntersville, my mom called to report my nephew had been in a 4-wheeler accident. I scrambled to put things in place to leave camp. I relied on a great support team at camp to make this happen. They would have been my sherpas to continue the Ironman analogy. God is good all of the time, Rhett survived the 4-wheeler accident but he would have to recover from a brain injury. It took three months of hospital and rehabilitation before he could go home. He is good! And in many ways, I think my family is stronger because of the accident.

During Rhett’s recovery, I remembered there was an actual Ironman in September… I should start training again. Training is what I hadn’t been doing since June. It became the priority. No, I wouldn’t be at the top of my game. I hadn’t spent the long hours training during the summer. I would rely on my mental toughness to grit through IM Chatty. I trained in the time I had left but nothing I trained for could prepare me for the heat in Chattanooga during the event.  It was in the high 90’s during the entire day with a heat index over 120F. I needed to stay hydrated and keep my resiliency to cross the finish line.

I had a few more events during the last three months of the year, this would be the marathon of my year long Ironman. I gritted out a 15K, 2/3 of a half ironman, Bourbon Chase, Ironman Florida and a half marathon along with traveling to Iceland, turning 40, work and Christmas vacation. Mentally, I am tired after all of that.

The last day of 2016 brought one last event, a 50K. This would be a great finish line to my year long Ironman mental toughness extravaganza. Oh, I had a sinus infection just to add a level of difficulty to the simple 3 mile-loop course. Don’t worry, I know I can grit this out. I have mental toughness.

I think the only reason, I convinced myself to grit this race out, was because of a book I read. “Living with a SEAL”. In this book, billionaire Jesse Itzler, hires a former Navy SEAL and endurance athlete to live and train with him so he could conquer goals of his own. It is a book devoted to mental toughness and how to train your body not to quit. Looking at how I trained or didn’t train in 2016, I did things kind of backwards. I relied on my grit to get me out of foolish race events. I knew in my head, I could do two Ironman races in 41 days even if my body told me different.

Yes, I am mentally tough. But what if my body was just as tough as my brain. In the SEAL book there is a quote by the SEAL, Jesse calls it the 40% Law. “When you think you’re done, you’re only at 40% of what your body is capable of doing. That’s just the limit we put on ourselves”.  If I complete most everything I do on limited training and my mental strength, what if focused more on training than ever before. I ask what is the goal… gutting things out with mental toughness or bettering myself?

Another Ironman

img_7302When I signed up for both Ironman Chattanooga & Ironman Florida I had every intention on spending a majority of my time training so I could be at the top of my game for both events. That wasn’t the case, and I have learned a lot about myself because of how the year has been. Only forty-one days separated the two Ironman events. Let’s reflect on IM Florida.

Pre-Race

I woke up just a few minutes before my alarm clock at 3:56 AM. I quickly dressed and got ready for the long day ahead of me. Nothing was out of the ordinary for me other than I was doing my first full distance triathlon somewhere other than Chattanooga, TN. This meant a drive to the race location not a walk down the street. No worries, it was just about two miles up the beach. Body marking was fantastic! There was a guy who proudly proclaimed good penmanship. He was correct, he marked me perfectly with fantastic handwriting. Good start to the day!

Only thing I struggled with before the race was just not knowing certain things. No one felt the need to line up at the start line, because it was a rolling start. Everyone just wandered around during the hours before the start. I like structure and this was a little unnerving for me. As the sun started rising, I saw people headed toward the beach. Once I was on the beach, I was much calmer.

Swim

The water temperature for the race was 75.7 degrees. This was a wet suit legal race, but I opted out of wearing my wet suit. I feel like I swim better without my wet suit. Yes, there is a buoyancy advantage with a wet suit… but I was in salt water. For me, it was the best thing. I felt good in the swim and at times got a little hot.

The water was calm but the swimmers around me were violent. Pushing, shoving, kicking and elbowing. At one point, I thought it was MMA swimming not triathlon swimming. However, I did enjoy the swim. I saw glowing plankton, a jellyfish, two horseshoe crabs and a whole school of fish. I wonder what the fish think of all the triathletes swimming around them. Do you think they say, “Look, a school of humans”!!!  I am sure the fish are not as excited to see me as I am to see them.

I finished the swim in 1:37:23 which was a little slow for me. I didn’t like the two lap swim. I didn’t like getting out of the water and walking on the beach. I thought there was going to be a run/jog back up the beach to the swim start. NOPE… everyone was single file like little ants marching up be beach. There was just more walking than I wanted. I knew my swim would be longer than Chatty, DUH. However, I wasn’t happy with my time.

Bike

Transition was really good. It was a larger transition area to run through than other triathlons, but the changing area was the hotel convention hall! This was very nice compared to the changing tent at Chatty. I put my bike gear on, nutrition set and headed out for 112 magical miles. I say magical because it was only 112 miles in comparison to Chatty’s 116 mile course.

The first few miles were down the coast line where we road between large high rise hotels and other tourist attractions. At this point we had a crosswind, but shortly that would turn into a significant head wind. Wind would be the main storyline for most all of the athletes. Countless cyclist would pass me and comment on the wind. My hope was, if I had a head wind, I had to have a tail wind at some point on the course. I would keep an eye on all the flags along the course waiting for the wind to turn in my favor.

So many great and kindhearted triathletes. You don’t have a great deal of time to chat when cycling, but so many words of encouragement along the way. The volunteers and police officers kept us safe! I felt like the way they controlled traffic and directed us through turns and lane changes was fantastic. There was so many locals who came out to cheer the athletes throughout the day. This was top notch.

The course was pretty much flat, but there were some small up and downs. It was an enjoyable course for the most part. When I was headed back toward T2 and finally had that tailwind, an athlete passed me. He was such a nice guy. He told me I was a strong cyclist and shared how difficult it was for him to get out of T1 because of his extreme sea sickness after the 2.4 mile swim. I was encouraged by his compliment. I also felt good because if he could overcome sea sickness, I could over come the strong winds on the bike.

I rolled into T2 with a bike time of 6:35:10. My mind and gear needed to quickly convert to the 26.2 miles ahead of me. Each time I dismount from an Ironman bike, I thank God for safely getting me through the discipline without mechanical failure or some type of collision.

Run

The first few miles were difficult because my Achilles tendon was very tight and pushed pain all the way into my calf. But as soon as I loosened my lower leg up, the pain was gone. I had everything I needed. My hydration and my nutrition seemed to be dialed in early in the run. I even had my socks just like I liked them. Everything was great, especially the crowd support on the run course. I even enjoyed running through the state park at the far end of the run course loop. Running along the sand dunes reminded me of Big Sur, just not as epic!

Heading back to the transition area and the special needs stop, I did something STUPID! I took the top off of my water bottle to fill it up with ice water. Seemed like a great plan. However, when I discarded the empty cups, I discarded the top to my water bottle. I quickly had to figure out what I would do from mile twelve to the finish line. I emptied the pouch and pockets on my water bottle, drank all of the contents and handed to CK the Sherpa. I discarded the bottle and the negative thoughts about how I could do something so stupid. I told myself, I would just walk the water station and beyond to get the water I needed.

Sadly, I didn’t have the Super Pack there to run with on my second loop. I ran the majority of the run all alone. It was tough, but I did make friends with a runner wearing an University of Alabama jersey. He and I chatted about the LSU / Alabama game that was low scoring and nerve racking. Our favorite aid station, had a football score board and a platoon of Young Marines. “Ma’am here is your water ma’am”! “Thank you, ma’am for allowing me to serve you ma’am”. These were just a couple of examples of the chatter I heard as I ran through the station. It was amazing. Little did they know at one point in time, I decamped over a dozen Young Marines at Aviation Challenge. 

The second loop was very dark. I wished I had run with a head lamp. Running through the state park was extra dark and the pavement was uneven. With each step, the finish line was closer. The crowd at the finish line was large and very loud. Crossing the finish line with a marathon time of 5:36:55 was a little emotional, especially since this was my second Ironman in 6 weeks. I was very surprised to see one of the Super Pack at the finish line volunteering as a catcher. Kelsey was was there and recognized me. Not too shocking, I did have the exact same gear on in Florida as I did in Chattanooga. I gave her a sweaty hug and then tried to find my people.

I was proud of my 14:01:56 time. Ironman is emotional and bigger than just one person. After finishing, I joined CK and my Space Camp friend Mare! She drove over from Destin to cheer for me and hang out with CK. It was humbling to know that someone I only kept up with on Facebook would be there for me at the finish line. But then again, so many people were there with me at the finish line. There were people watching the live coverage, following on social media posts or checking my location on the worthless Beacon application. No matter what, long distance triathlon is a team sport. My team is made of my Father in heaven, my friends & family encouraging me and the red head who is swimming with jelly fish, peddling her bicycle and running like crazy through the night. 

Ironman Chatty Take 2

Super PackAt first, when sitting down to write my obligatory race report, I couldn’t put words down on paper. I was not only physically exhausted but mentally exhausted. The whole year leading up to Ironman Chattanooga was an exercise of endurance, resiliency and grit. After crossing the finish line, I didn’t have anymore to give. Training wasn’t always the priority in a year of family emergencies, revitalizing a camp, moving a bale of cotton to Mississippi, along with all the other things life brings in a given calendar year. But just like running an Ironman triathlon, you have to take one challenge, one hurdle or one difficulty at a time. So lets talk triathlon now.

Pre Race
I woke up much earlier than I had for other line-up starts. Typically, I like to be at the back of a swim line to stay out of traffic. But I felt like I would need every minute to finish this triathlon. I also wanted to enjoy as much of the early morning temperatures on the bike. The forecasters had predicted a high of 95 degrees for the day. I found my spot in line at 5 AM and camped out for the next 2:30 hours with Roxanne, a triathlete from California with Alabama roots. Nerves didn’t hit me until I heard the pros start the race. At that point, I hoped and prayed I could make it to the finish line later in the evening.

Swim
Not much to say about the swim. The water was 83 degrees and I felt very sorry for swimmers who chose to swim in wetsuits. I know the benefits of wearing a wetsuit, but the heat would be a factor all day long. As I entered the water, wanted to get away from the bank and near the center of the river, but I felt like I over shot that goal. For the first half of the swim, I felt like I had set myself up poorly. I refocused and started spotting on a large white boat near the shoreline. Once I saw the bridges, I felt like I was home free. Those bridges, whether running over or swimming under, they are a welcome site. I popped out of the swim with a 1:08 time. I knew the easiest part of my day was over and I needed to shift my mental focus from an easy river swim to a long bike ride through Georgia.

Bike
The plan was to not push too hard on the bike. I had a pace set in my mind that could get me safely into T2 before the cut off time of 6:00 PM. My training wasn’t the best for this event and I was especially weak on the bike. For all practical purposes, I took two months off during the summer while working at Camp Cha La Kee. However, I feel certain that unloading, building & rebuilding bunk beds could count as endurance training. No matter what, I was on the bike and as I crossed into Georgia the reality was slow and steady finishes the race.

The first loop was somewhat pleasant and enjoyable. I was happy with the partial shade and cooler temperatures on most of the first 40 miles. My plan of an early start was working as I kept moving forward. Around mile 25, an athlete passed me who I clearly seemed to not be paying attention. I slowed my cadence and watched him carefully as I distance my self from him. I thought to myself, “he is going to cause an accident”. Roughly 30 seconds later, there were four cyclists caught in his cone of chaos. Everyone was OK, but water bottles, bikes, nutrition and people were scattered along the road. I stopped and did all I could to help the riders and clear the path. I wasn’t stopped long.

The second loop was much hotter than the first. The temperature hit a high of 97 during the last half of the 116 miles. The pavement felt like a hot skillet radiating heat. I had never done a triathlon or any endurance race in 90+ degree weather. Because of the extreme heat, I questioned, what did a DNF look like or feel like mentally and physically? If you can identify the monster it is easier to stay away from the monster. I decided to create rules for myself. If I couldn’t do simple math or if I started vomiting from the heat, I would stop. With these simple rules, I kept moving forward.

As my legs keep churning forward, up and down the rolling hills, I remembered details from 2014’s IM Chattanooga, I remember talking to many cyclist during the ride, but not this year. To survive the heat, everyone had focused intensity that would rival hardened professional triathletes. My focus had to be on the finish line and nothing else. As Admiral Wm. McRaven advises, “Never Ring the Bell”, never quit. As aid the aid station near mile 95 past I remember, I hadn’t had a pee break since the bushes right before swim  start. I started  to drink more fluids worried that dehydration would get the best of me. I drank more and peddled as hard as I could. My bike and I returned to T2 just before 4:00 PM. Plenty of cushion between me and the bike cut off time.

Run
I felt OK as I transitioned from cycling to running. Only trouble I had in T2 was my socks. I love Feetures, but the kind volunteer helping me didn’t know there was a left sock and a right sock. We looked for the left sock for a bit before finding it in her hand. No worries! I managed to get my socks & shoes on my feet and none of it involved simple math. I could hear the sweet sound of cowbells as I started the run.

My plan to take in more water on the last part of the bike backfired. I had too much liquid sitting on my stomach, which caused my stomach to hurt. I longed to vomit or burp. So I walked… A lot! I had lots of day light left and plenty of time before midnight. I walked most of the first loop. I didn’t take in many fluids, but I did do everything I could to cool my body. Which I think worked. I felt better with each step. The first lap would be recovery.

I crossed the walking bridge headed for my second lap when I started chatting with a local athlete about various things. Ryan was a veteran of many Ironman competitions and a trail runner. He had run in many of Huntsville’s races, including Mountain Mist. We started running together and shortly there after we passed my swim line buddy, Roxanne. Roxanne was running with Julie since somewhere on the first loop. We traded greetings and a commitment to run together. Thus the “Super Pack” was formed on the outbound portion of the second loop. We picked up Kelsey and Bob at some point along the way. Roxanne would check on each of us like a mother hen or protective mother. We all ran better and kept each other moving forward. We traded nutrition, war stories and concern for one another. We formed our own little triathlon family. The best part was when we made it to the North Shore section where the neighborhood spectators cheered for our commitment to team! “Hey, look at them… they are sticking together”!

I couldn’t leave my group. Not even when I saw Coach Dana! I had wanted to see her all day long. But my commitment to my comrades was greater than my desire to chat. Honestly, if it hadn’t been for Dana committing to help coach me in the eleventh hour of training, I wouldn’t have made it to the start line or to the second lap of the run. Life, like triathlon, is about your support system! Friends, family and other relationships that are formed along the way is the purpose of life and give life meaning and value. Without a support team in our lives to give us strength when we are weak, we can’t make it to the finish line. Being apart of the Super Pack was going to get me to the finish line. We wouldn’t leave each other.

Finish
The Super Pack finished! It was a sweet finish. My original triathlon goal was to do an Ironman triathlon before I turned 40 years old. I have now finished two on the course in Chattanooga. Reflecting after my first, I was happy to have completed it in a great time. Time wasn’t important to me this year. The people along the way were what mattered. My nephew Rhett’s road to recovery, the campers and staff at Cha La Kee, and even the people I lost contact with during the year are more important than the finish itself. Chris asked if I like running across the walking bridge on the first loop or the second loop. I immediately said the second loop, because I am closer to the finish. He really was asking about the view, the scenery along the river comparing the daylight and the darkness. Both can be an analogy for life or even a topic for another blog post.

The second finish at IM Chattanooga was so much sweeter because of what I had experienced along the way. Like I said, time wasn’t important. I am extremely ok with a finish of 14:28:07 on a 97 degree day when only 1651 athletes finished. I am a much different person, triathlete, friend, and human than my first 144.6 finish. The first IM was truly about achieving it as single goal. My 2016 finish was about the journey itself. You have heard of people cramming for a final exam, but what about cramming for an Ironman. Should I have trained differently, yes. Would I change it, no. I learned a lot in 9 1/2 weeks I did train. I have heard Ironman described as learning to make 10,000 decisions in one day. Learning to live with your decisions and the mistakes along the way. I am a better person because of the people I have surrounded myself with, the decisions I make, and learning to keep moving forward no matter what!

Lots of Miles and More

SelfieJanuary has always been a very busy month for me. January 2016 was different in many ways. However, I still did a lot during the month. I ran five races and volunteered at two other races. This compared to never racing in January. My focus has typically been pencil and teaching about astronauts. In January of 2015, I ran a total of 20.26 miles. This year, I beat that mark by 73.43 miles, for a total of 93.69 for the month. That is not my best month, however it shows what a difference a year can make. I wanted to share a few of my favorite things after running and volunteering for some epic races!

I started the month off in recovery mode and quickly shifted gears to Disney for Dopey. It is interesting to think running four races during four days straight wouldn’t be the most epic thing during the month? Running around Walt Disney World was fun, but how can a mouse beat a hound dog named Ludivine. The very next weekend after Dopey, I ran my second half marathon of the month. The Trackless Train Trek was a small first of the year half marathon in the rural community of Elkmont, Alabama. Race with a difficult name to pronounce, produced a world record for the half marathon distance and hundreds of social media posts about a random dog running 13.1 miles. The story made the Today Show, Good Morning American and written articles from every news outlet with a URL. But wait this wasn’t the most epic thing I did!

When snow hits the ground in Alabama, all heck breaks loose! Add to that craziness one of the best known 50K trail runs in the southeast, Mountain Mist. Hundreds of people were trying to make their way to the event which was scheduled to be held on Saturday. The snow fell on Friday. Guess what didn’t happen on Saturday? The race directors convinced the city police, the state park officials and the local community of volunteers to reschedule their Sunday brunch from the comfy confines of their homes to the trails of Monte Sano State Park & the Land Trust of North Alabama. I volunteered and loved every moment of the day. Maybe one or two moments I could forget. The race is epic all by itself. Add snow and ice with a skeleton crew of volunteers. It adds excitement. I applaud everyone who finished and who helped reschedule Mountain Mist.

I volunteered for one more race, The Mardi Gras 5K. The race featured a charming and hilly course through historic downtown Huntsville. I didn’t run the race and this afforded me front row seats to the finish line. It was a glorious day where hundreds of participants ran, walked and danced their way to the finish line. I also got to hangout with my buddy Marcia! I would clean toilets in a prison if I got to hangout with Marcia. Volunteering on a chamber of commerce day in downtown Huntsville… BONUS! There was one downside, the finish line arch was blown over by a strong gust of wind… lesson learned! 

The first of the month started with me running races and ended with me volunteering. There is sweat and toil in both roles. But I really loved the last two events more than the first five events. Yes, volunteering is more fun than running through the “happiest place on earth”. The bigger take away from running or volunteering at an event is the adventure along the way. No matter what you find yourself doing, enjoy it!

PS – Since I did talk a lot about about numbers, I should point out… This is my 200th blog post!

Purple Bib

FullSizeRenderThe last 80.9% of the Dopey Challenge would take me through all of Walt Disney World’s theme parks – over 39.3 miles. I ran a half marathon on Saturday and then a marathon on Sunday. The final two races were completely different than the first two. The crowds were large, and the distance longer. During the last two races I was in coral P. So here are my three P’s from running with a purple bib and starting in coral P.

I met a lot of great people along the way. Erin in corral P, from Boston, who owned a service dog. But, the service dog was on vacation on a sheep farm in Connecticut. I think this is great! People get vacations, dogs should too! I ran the first 7 miles of the marathon with Brittney & Molly from upstate New York! Fun girls and they helped me pace myself during the start. My most memorable person I met along the way was a tall, cowbell ringing, Mississippi State alumni. Coolest thing was seeing him at ESPN Wild World of Sports cheering for his runner. I took it upon myself to ask to ring his long handle, maroon cowbell! Six miles later, I arrived at the finish line, there he was with bell in hand. Didn’t get the man’s name, but he remembered my name from the bib. He shouted, “Hail State, Ruth Marie”, as he rang his cowbell above his head!

I had fun! It took me a while to get the pleasure part of running lots of mile with thousands of people. It took me until Sunday to start having fun, after meeting Brittney and Molly and sweating three gallons before entering the Magic Kingdom. I told myself to chill out and enjoy my surroundings. Each mile I met new people, saw Disney characters and classic landscape. One suggestion to make the pleasure a little greater! They need Coke on the course. Disney does a fantastic job of logistics during their races. However, the only had lemon lime Powerade on the course, other than water. Give us a little Coca-Cola! Don’t fret, CK had a Coke for me at ESPN!

The whole day was driven by a purpose. I wanted to see if I could do four races in four days. Each day the race was twice as long as the day before. When I began running to get in shape, I remember saying “can’t” a lot. The negative thoughts of I can’t or couldn’t do something was far gone. I can do it! Everyone running Dopey signed up for different reasons. Some people ran because it was a Disney event. Some people ran to recover from injury or illness. So people did it just for fun. I did it to complete the goal. I had a lot of friends who encouraged me from a distance… cheering me on through text messages and Facebook posts! Thank you to all the people on the course, friends back home and around the world! It was a fantastic adventure.

Orange Bib

BlingI think it was during the crazy snopocalypse during the winter of when I signed up for the Dopey Challenge at Walt Disney World in Florida. I must have been thinking, “I can have a runcation in early January in Florida… Bonus”! Little did I know what I was getting into. Since I signed up for this adventure, much has happened, especially shifting career fields. Undiscouraged by change, I am here and have successfully completed two races or 19.1% of the total challenge miles. Here are a few things I have learned about the Dopey Challenge.

It is an exercise in sleep not a running competition. A good friend gave me this advice before I left for the Land of Mickey Mouse. It is true. Sleep is your best friend! Don’t go out bar hopping or watching the fireworks over EPCOT or The Magic Kingdom. Put your pajamas on and sleep as much as you can. I feel like Ragnar Relay has been a valuable training excersice for this endeavor. I told someone that the Dopey Challenge is like Ragnar with a hotel room involved. It will be bed time soon!

If you don’t like Disney, don’t waste your time! You have to understand the magic of Disney and the wonder in the hearts of its fans to be able to bear the grumpy nature of the novice runner/walker. I mean no disrespect by saying this. However, etiquette is not high on the participant’s list. I have only seen 3 participants who have raised their hands before making an abrupt change from run/jog to walk/dead stop to take a photo of Elsa! I just let it go! There was one lady that I tapped on the shoulder because it was dark and I was about to buldoze her. She turned and spoke words that are not in Disney movies. Mickey would not have been happy! However, it is enjoyable seeing all the costumes, lines to have your photo made with characters and the volunteers out in their oversized four finger white gloves directing the race participants. I have to remind myself to”HAVE FUN”! It is really difficult for me to just let go and enjoy myself.

You will encounter some interesting characters. And I am not talking about Mickey & Donald! On the bus trip to the 5K on Thursday, we sat behind the grown version of the redheaded “appearently”. You know the kid I am talking about. The cute kid who had appearently never been on live television before and his grampa makes him watch the Powerball! This individual talked about everything at Disney in a span of 40 minutes in the exact same speech pattern as the kids. Apparently they are related! The next human to catch my eye was the middle school girl who shuffled the entire race while texting on her Samsung Galaxy. I passed her at the 3 mile mark and then again after I made a pit stop. She was shuffling both times. I saw her finish… She was still shuffling and texting. Maybe she was reading from her Kindle app. The event makes for great people watching.

Go see Atlantis at Kennedy Space Center! This has nothing to do with the Dopey Challenge but everyone should see her! They should visit, see Atlantis and then write a letter to their congress person to fund human space flight more robustly! I think if Walt Disney could visit us in 2016, he would be frustrated with the level of progress we have made since the 1960s. I think he would want The Walt Disney Company to help fund human space flight. Can you imagine the push to Mars if space flight was as popular as Walt Disney World! The Disney magic is fueled by innovation.

To conclude, just remember to have fun if you find yourself running the Dopey Challenge, enjoy the ride! You will meet many interesting and creative people who may or may not have ever run before. But more important, it is our job as adults to inspire the next Walt Disney or Werner Von Braun so we can get the heck off this rock and go to Mars in the not so distant future.

Keep Moving Forward

IMG_5121In the past on New Year’s Eve, I have posted a blog entry about the previous adventures and accomplishments of that given year. Not this year, well not last year! It is January 1, 2016 and I have chosen to write about the future. The year wasn’t bad, 2015 gave me lots and I feel like I learned and grew as a human tremendously. But I only posted twice to GraphiteFree in 2015. I didn’t even have a reflection post when I left the USSRC after 12 years of service. In the words of Walt Disney, “keep moving forward”.

So lets talk about goals. Many leadership and management gurus set parameters for goals. But most everyone can agree that goals need to be specific, measurable, timely and specific to the person or organization. Dave Ramsey adds they must be in writing. This is true! If a goal is in writing it is more permanent, even if written in graphite by your trusty Dixon Ticonderoga. So I am writing down a rough sketch of my goals for 2016, for all see.

I have set lofty goals for myself in 2016. For one reason, I turn 40 this year. But most importantly, I want to focus more in 2016.  The year 2015, brought lots of change for me. I seemed distracted through most of the year. I need focus! Setting goals will help me be a better human.

Focus more on my individual and professional growth in 2016.  I would like to attend three trainings or conferences which will give me better understanding and professional knowledge of being a camp professional. I have said for year, I want to own or build my own camp. It is time to starting making that dream a reality. Goals can make dreams more than empty wishes. I have always wanted to get my wilderness first aid certification or attend a class at the National Outdoor Leadership School in Wyoming. May not go to NOLS in 2016, but I want to do more than simply push things off until next year.

Volunteer more in the community around me. I have always wanted more time to volunteer. After leaving the USSRC, I had more time, but volunteering didn’t increase. I learned really quickly, I have to schedule volunteering just like I schedule all my adventures. I simply have to schedule them with the same level of priority as I schedule running races or spending time with friends and family. In 2016, I will be volunteering as a race director. I am well on my way to doing more.

One of my favorite races is the Huntsville Half Marathon. In 2016, the half marathon will be on my birthday. I am convinced, I can get faster if I just work harder. In the process of training for an Ironman in 2016, I want to PR the half marathon on my birthday. That would be a great way to turn 40. I will run more trails, train for an Ironman, hopefully do a relay in Kentucky and many other goals.  But I won’t bore you with it at the moment.

This morning CK shared a quote Facebook with me.  Rather than wishing everyone a Happy New Year; a dude on Space Hipsters proclaimed, Happy Arbitrary Solar Orbit Completion Day. A new way of looking at the start to the new year. I want to look forward rather than backwards. I want to make goals not resolutions. I want to be a great human and not a mediocre human. What will you do in 2016?

Bib 761

Rocket RideMy triathlon season will start in two weeks in Chattanooga, where last season ended.  Seems like many years not just seven months ago, so much has happened and so many stories along the way.  I had every intention of writing more in 2015, but didn’t.  My goal was to try to refocus my blog – I do have a new look. In April, during Oak Barrel Half Marathon in Lynchburg, TN I ran behind a man who had phatboyrunning.com stenciled his shirt tail. As a passed him, I told him I had been looking at his butt and wanted to read his blog.  After returning home and reading Phat Boy’s blog, I was jealous of the drive and commitment of others. I have goals, but sometimes I don’t communicate them nor do I share with others.

Yesterday, I ventured to Elkmont, AL for the Spring Krusher Ride.  The ride began at eight o’clock in the morning at the local high school and I rode the first 25 miles with friends and then the last 38 solo.  I tried to keep up with a nice lady named Geri, however I wasn’t able to keep up.  I am simply not in shape.  I struggled.  I have run 2 half marathons, a Ragnar Trail and a traditional Ragnar Relay, but I haven’t spent much time on the bike.  That is my fault.  Beyond not being ready, I had a fantastic time riding.

Rides in north Alabama are so much fun!  You meet so many wonderful people along the way, as well as seeing God’s wonderful creation.  There was a hillside with cattle grazing which appeared to be straight from the children’s book, The Story of Ferdinand.  I also peddled through the charming town of Prospect, TN. Which seemed like a perfect town to quit in, but I didn’t!  I trudged on and did complete the 63 mile ride.  Later in the day, I got a speeding ticket – not on the bike.  Sometimes on a glorious day in Alabama you forget where you are and what the speed limit is.

No matter what, each day that ticks away brings me closer to my fourth Half Ironman.  On the start line in Chattanooga, I will be wearing bib 761. Born in 1976 and I only get 1 chance at this life.  A larger more important goal in my life is to make a meaningful impact on the world around me.  Each day that ticks by, I lose a chance at that goal.  Time to buckle down, I am almost 40… Shocking!

Digital ramblings without my Dixon Ticonderoga…