Category Archives: Races/Events

My Momma said I was fat… I started running to lose weight and get active. These are my tails.

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. 

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!

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.

Running Stinks

War Eagle & Hail StateHave you ever wanted to be a super hero?  Well, I have!  Unfortunately, if asked for super powers, I would ask to spell every word correctly and run a six minute marathon pace.  These are my choices because I can’t spell and only molasses in Juno, Alaska is slower than me.  Tonight, I won’t talk about the words I can’t spell.  I will talk about my four favorite races that didn’t envolve other people, swimming or biking.  Here are my Mount Rushmore of races!

Scenic City Half Marathon in February was my first run of 2014.  This Chattanooga run laid the foundation for my whole season.  I am a multi-sport athlete, therefore I like events which give me some other variable than just sneakers on pavement.  In 2013, Scenic City was my first half marathon.  I ran the course in 2:25:02 which was epic for a slow fat, pasty white kid.  I ended 2013 with a trip to Baku, the flu and a long Christmas season.  February came early this year and so did my first road race of the season… Scenic City.  It was not pretty, but I ran the course in 2:24:05, a course PR and a shot of confidence for Ironman Chattanooga which would run some of the same streets and highways.  I love Chattanooga!  How could I not pick this race for my Mount Rushmore.

Cotton Row 10K on Memorial Day in Huntsville is a treat for any distant runner in the Tennessee Valley.  I finally got the guts to run the 10K version of Cotton Row.  I simply love saying I ran Cotton Row since I have a full size bale of cotton sitting in the front room of my home.  There is a little hill you must run up along the 10K version of Cotton Row that could be intimidating for most… it intimidated the crap out of me!  I enjoyed Cotton Row and recorded a 1:06:51 time, however, I hadn’t really started training in 2014 yet! Vic Balch kicked my ass in 2014… I am looking forward to 2015!

This spot was a toss up between the Liz Hurley 5K Ribbon Run and the Monte Sano 15K which are both Huntsville Track Club races.  The winner was, Monte Sano!  The winner was the 15K!  Monte Sano is my favorite place to run!  This year I have had dozens of training runs atop of Monte Sano.  This 15K was my first long run after Ironman Chattanooga and it was on the same day as the MSU vs. Auburn football game.  I ran this race with my Auburn friend Jen DiCarlo.  She wore Auburn attire and I had on maroon & white! How could a little 5K top this unique and special race.  Heck, I got an awesome photo along the 15K course which I finished in 1:44:48.  It was a great day and a fun race. (Photo credit We Run Huntsville)

Last, but certainly not least would be my most recent race, the new and improved, Rocket City Marathon.  I ran this race with Jen DiCarlo in 4:58:20.  This race is a taste of Huntsville, Alabama.  The new Rocket City Marathon course shows off the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and the majestic Saturn V.  I felt, honored to help in the process, volunteer during packet stuffing, and then ran the 26.2 mile course! I look forward to running this course again in the future, but next year, I promised Shaggy he could run RCM and I would help at the Rocket Center!  Big thanks to Shaggy, Katie and Will for watching over the logisitics so I could run this race!

After all the miles, this year was a good year for running, but running really does suck!

Four Triathlons in 2014

RenManTriAs I sit on my couch watching Rudolph on CBS, I don’t feel like a good triathlete.  However, much of this year has been devoted to training for one specific triathlon.  So how could I continue the theme of Mount Rushmore of things without first hitting a major component.  In the 12 months prior to Ironman Chattanooga, I competed in three sprint triathlons, three Olympic triathlons and three half distance triathlons.  So let examine the “full body of work” to see which are my final four picks.

Quad City Sprint Triathlon in Davenport, Iowa is my yearly pilgrimage to the home of John Deere and to race with my friend Rhonda Cox.  This was such a special race this year because of an hevent that happened later in the summer, which I am sure that will come up at some point later.  This race is run by a few other humans each year.  However, this was the second year that Rhonda, her sister Leigh-Ann and I have run this race on Saturday and then driven to Joliet, Illinois to compete in Warrior Dash, IL. The best part of the triathlon is the turn around point on the out and back run, a John Deere tractor.  The best part of Warrior Dash is Portillo’s Italian Beef sandwich.  Yes, food is that big of a deal that I would endure mud!  The Quad City Triathlon was important this year, and I am sure it will be just as important in 2015!

Renaissance Man Olympic Triathlon was probably my best run event this year. My bike was was consistent, my swim was strong and the run was HOT but I managed to finish without having a redheaded heat stroke.  This is a great event!  Florence, Alabama makes for a wonderful venue for a triathlon as it is tucked along the Tennessee River and home to many historic places.  The start and finish location is a majestic cliff guarded location which will stir the blood of most any veteran triathlete.  The bike is long and flat with some challenges but for the most part fun!  And the run energetic and historic.  I loved running by the Frank Lloyd Wright home just miles from the campus of the University of North Alabama!  If you are ready for an Olympic distance triathlon and in the region, don’t wait, sign up for this race. (Photo Credit to Katie Beth)

Ironman 70.3 Raleigh was great!  I loved the town, loved the food, loved the course and it was a fantastic road trip!  This was thanks to a lot of supporting cast.  This one probably made the top four because of the food, friends and fun I had along the way.  I struggled on the swim, liked the bike and the run seemed longer than 13.1 miles.  You can see why the adventure was better than the race itself.  However, I really like the point to point race!  Raleigh was an awesome venue and you couldn’t ask for better than the Oak City!  I really wanted to try Raleigh in 2015, however, I need to harass children that weekend!  Raleigh 70.3 was great!

Ironman Chattanooga will be a memory I take with me for many, many years.  The volunteers were fantastic and who could ask for a better swim!  This was the race I focused so much of my time on in 2014.  Hearing the words, “Ruth Marie Oliver, you are an Ironman” and having Dana DeBardelaben give me my finisher’s medal was worth all the foot blisters and long hours on the bike.  The coolest thing about Ironman Chattanooga was that people were cheering me on, event though they were not on the course.  Thanks guys! Whether you were in Chattanooga or on some social media portal cheering me on, thanks from the bottom of my heart!

That is my year in triathlon! Sprint, Olympic, half and full, these were the best four and one from each distance… couldn’t plan it any better!  Atomic Man wouldn’t make the list any year!

The Ragnar Effect

AOBJ 3This weekend I had the pleasure of joining eleven other athletes to run from Chattanooga to Nashville for the third straight year.  There is something about the relay experience that is unique and special.  To say the experience is simply a chance to run, drive, sleep and then repeat would be omitting the best part of the experience, which is the team.  Your team encourages you, motivates you and shares all gross and sweaty things with you.  Over the days and weeks that follow this experience, you run faster, walk taller, and preform at a higher level. You try to explain to everyone you come in contact with about the adventure you had while crammed into a van.  This is called the Ragnar Effect!

What is the Ragnar Effect?  The Ragnar Effect is running further than you ever have before, because your team is counting on you.  It is running up a giant hill with little to no training. The Ragnar Effect is knowing when your teammate needs a pace runner and when you should just let them blow off steam. It is also setting a personal record in their next race or two. It is having a bond with people who you have little to nothing in common with except for 30 plus hours in a van together.

I was somewhat apprehensive about Against Our Better Judgment 3.0.  It seemed like we were a rag tag group of misfits.  We really didn’t have a lot in common.  We had new runners, half marathoners, friends, colleagues and a hitchhiker or two.  But in a relay, it doesn’t matter your running pedigree.  What matters is can you work as a team.  Can you push harder on the run for those driving in the van or sleeping on a gym floor?  Can you suck up your pain and focus on encouraging others?  Can you find joy in running slower to help a fellow runner make it to the next exchange in the dark?  This group of AOBJ runners did all of that and more.  I feel like I personally learned more along the way!

We don’t show up to win, we come to encourage and grow! Each runner of Against Our Better Judgement has tons of fun and along the way we push ourselves to run faster and farther than we thought we could.  I may have rambled in the post, but it truly is amazing how much I love every single miserable moment driving through the hills of Tennessee!  I am amazed by my teammates and love each and everyone of them!  The Ragnar Effect is the closest I will ever be to being a superhero!

144.6

I have spent the last year training, and now that the long day of the race has come and gone, I have had time to reflect.  I have read a lot of race reports and seen hundreds of Facebook or other social media commentary about Ironman Chattanooga. I am taking a different approach to my race report since I am quirky and have my own blog site. I spent the last year being self-absorbed with all things triathlon and what is more self-absorbed than a blog post.  I feel I learned more about myself and have become more appreciative of my family, friends and fellow racers.

Q&A with Ruth Marie Oliver, Red Bull, racer 1009:

Was there a time that you thought you couldn’t finish? 

Heck, yes! Coming back into Chattanooga between mile 100 and T2 my lower back was hurting so bad. It was a tight ball of frustration and hurt.  At around mile 110 someone yelled at me, “You can do this! Riding 116 miles in an Ironman will only be done by y’all!” I started to tear up because most unique sports stories make me cry and the four extra miles made Chattanooga different than all other Ironman races.  I knew if I let my emotions take over, I would surely wilt.  I checked my watch at mile 112 and I still hurt, however someone said while passing me, “I am ready for a different kind of pain”.  This tortured my mind, something else will hurt, there will be a new kind of pain on the run. I rolled into T2 and gingerly trotted to the changing tent.  I sat in a folding chair which felt like a LazyBoy recliner to ready myself for the run.  First, I walked slowly one foot in front of another, then I trotted, then a slow jog on the the run course.  Seeing all the Huntsville volunteer girls gave me hope and encouragement on the run!  Only then, I felt like I could finish the journey to becoming an Ironman.

Did you pee on yourself?

No! I peed at the second to last aid station on the bike course and the in T2.  Next question!

How was your first marathon? 

WOW! I can’t believe I survived run in only 5:39.  Along the way, I was encouraged by the runners, the spectators who lined the course, the volunteers and my personal support team lead by Sandy & CK.  I ran with a lady from Richmond, Virginia named Jessie.  She and her husband were both competing in Ironman Chattanooga.  She gave me a dose of encouragement and bravery to keep running.  I ran with her for miles on the back half of the marathon course and then met her again in the finisher gear tent the next day.  I also loved all the yard parties being hosted in the north shore neighborhoods.  I would high five the former frat boys while “Red Solo Cup” or “Eye of the Tiger” bleared from their audio systems and promised to return for one victory beer after the race.  I hope they are not still waiting.  I also was reminded on the course that run, walk or crawl across the finish line, they would call me an “Ironman”.  I am sure the next marathon I run, I will not act like a ham as I cross the finish line.

Ironman Chattanooga FinishWas there anything during your training that gave you the extra confidence to keep going? 

I think this is a trick question looking back on the year I have had.  I was definitely inspired, motivated and encouraged my by friend Rhonda Cox.  Jen DiCarlo and Amazon have been there almost every step of the way giving me the courage to keep going.  Of course Sandy Henson planted the Ironman seed in my head, gave me a few tons of fertilizer and gallons of water to grow the Ironman dream into maturity.  One more encourager was Lara Fiscus, a complete stranger to me until this year.  I met her after a long swim at the Southeast YMCA in February.  I was discouraged and being an Ironman finisher seemed too lofty of a goal of me to achieve. Lara, a two time Ironman finisher, encouraged me that day and each time I saw her throughout the year.  There are countless other encouragers that came into my life this year.  But most of all, my parents gave me resilience and tenacity to do almost anything my little brain could conceive.  I feel like training started on the cotton farm many years ago!

Will you run another Ironman?

If you asked me the day before Ironman Chattanooga I would have said, NO!  And the day after my answer would be… maybe.  The thing I really want to do next year is volunteer at Ironman Chattanooga.  The volunteers made the race for me.  I know that Ironman brand races are a multi-billon dollar business but they wouldn’t happen without thousands upon thousands of volunteers.  I was helped and encouraged by volunteers.  Heck, the team of volunteers from Huntsville made my race so memorable. I want to be a volunteer to give that joy and encouragement to other racers.

Are you getting an M-Dot tattoo?

Maybe, need to find the right place to put the darn thing! I want Isaiah 41:10 ESV incorporated into to the tattoo. That verse is “fear not for I am with you”.

The course for Ironman Chattanooga was longer than the traditional 140.6 mile course.  So obviously it would have more controversy and drama leading up to race day.  There was a hotel scandal, a bike course controversy of extra miles, heck the sun didn’t seem to rise early enough to start the race at the traditional time. During the race some crazy person in north Georgia put tacks and oil on the bike course.  All of this made the stories more epic and the memories more vivid.  The extra miles were hard and my body did hurt. When the day was over I crossed the finish line, I thanked God for getting me that far and was pleased with my over all time, 13:39:21.

Triathlon

Katie Beth PhotoIn the last twelve months I have completed three sprint triathlons, three olympic triathlons and three half Ironman distance triathlons.  Next Sunday, I will run my first full Ironman distance triathlon in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  I have been asked: Are you ready for IM Chattanooga, Are you crazy, and What are you thinking?  All of which I am not sure of the answer.  This has been a crazy year for me.  Training has been a hurdle for me in every area of my life.  The one thing that has remained constant has been training. Here are the top ten things I have learned along the way!

You are what you eat! When I eat pizza and drink Jack Daniels I am more like Beavis & Butthead than Mirinda Carfrae.

Amazon is more of a beast than I ever will be!  People have asked me, how can I run alongside someone who is fast and strong when I am puny!  My answer is Amazon is encouraging and makes me want to try harder.  She keeps me honest!

Training brings me closer to God! Whether it be Bible versers or hymns I am recalling God for strength!

There are hills and then there are mountains!  Many times during training I have felt like I cant do this… I can’t finish the race or the training. Then I remember to keep climbing.  Keep the heart rate down and just keep chugging along like the “Little Engine that Could”.

Sandy Henson is evil!  I remember volunteering for a half triathlon with Sandy Henson (aka Dash) where she told me I could do a 70.3 distance triathlon.  She also encouraged to reach for more.  If she believed in me… I guess, I should believe in myself.

I hate chaffing!  There is a spot on my chest near my neck where I am rubbed by my tri-suit and it hurts like shit!  However, I haven’t found a better tri top!

Rhonda is a bad ass! For those who do not now, my friend Rhonda Cox, who inspired me to try triathlons in the first place, was hit by a vehicle while training this summer. Her dedication before and after has been inspirational! #RC23

Admiral McRaven and the Navy SEALs are better than I am!  The YouTube video of Admiral McRaven’s University of Texas commencement speech has inspirited me to work harder, change the world and make my bed!

Thank you!  Everyone who has supported this run, thank you!  I watched ABC’s Wide World of Sports as a kid to see Julie Moss come in second in 1982.  I learned it doesn’t matter where you finish, it matters how you finish.

Keep the main thing the main thing!  God has taught me a lot through this journey!  I guess that is the most important thing! Thank you Lord!  I couldn’t do this without you! I sing your hymns to get me through the run. You have kept me safe!

I will do my best next weekend! (Photo credit Katie Beth)

32.6 Mile Challenge

Heel and CrankThe multi-sport season officially started for me with the Heel and Crank Duathlon in Mooresville, Alabama.  It is hands down the best location for a spring race in all of North Alabama. The race is centered on the old Brick Church in Mooresville. The race started just after a young man played the National Anthem solo on his trumpet.  You could tell the young man was very nervous.  He squeezed out most of the anthem like a champ until the high section.  He just couldn’t make it because he was so nervous and tight. The crowd of runners and spectators cheered him on and then with encouraging voices sang the familiar words. It was a perfect start to a wonderful race and hopefully a great race season.

This wasn’t my first race of the year.  My last race of 2013 was the Huntsville Half Marathon just before I left for Baku, Azerbaijan and stopped training for a month or so. From then until this weekend, I ran two races.  The Scenic City Half Marathon in Chattanooga, TN, my favorite city in the south, and the CRS Run for the Son 10K last weekend at my favorite camp in the whole wide world.  So many ups and downs recently with work and training, it is good to finally make it to the start of the multi-sport and hopefully the start of a year that will be very memorable.  So far, the highlight will be Chief Margie cheering me on to my only first place age group finish ever!

I hate running! Therefore, why would I ever run, bike, run in a duathlon?  I guess because it gives me good practice transitioning sports and reminds me all the lessons I have learned over the last two years.  I fall on the hot mess spectrum often in life, work and while racing. The first run was strong.  The long line of runners and spectators around the Brick Church in Mooresville made me hopeful I could beat my 2013 time of 1:53:32.  This year, I didn’t leave the covers on my bike shoes.  This made for an easier transition and a successful start to the bike portion of the race.  2014 is looking good for me!  I took about five minutes off of my bike time from last year.  I think it was the change in bikes as I was riding my newer Quintana Roo tri bike!  I know the motor is not as good as it was last year.  I enjoyed the bike and the second run was so-so, the good thing, I did finish with a time of 1:50:13!

I did get to enjoy the wonderful setting of the race this year.  I did take just over three minutes off my 2013 Heel and Crank time and enjoyed the best post race snack ever: pancakes and beer at ten in the morning.  I enjoyed my treat while visiting with friends and listening to two dudes playing their acoustic guitars.  If I had only strung up my hammock on the nearby trees. It was a great morning.  I will finish off my 32.6 mile challenge to get my beer mug tomorrow morning with the Bridge Street Half Marathon.  This should be a long, fun and hopefully successful season!  I got a lot of shit to do…

Crazy, huh?

Transition BagSunday, I completed an Ironman 70.3 in Augusta, Georgia.  Some would say it was crazy to swim, 1.2 miles, bike another 56 miles and after that run a half marathon (13.1 miles).  For me someone who hated the track in high school, yes it was a crazy idea.  But just crazy enough to do it.  It wasn’t some half brain, last minute idea I am known for concocting. It was an adventure started two or so years ago.

I arrived in Augusta, Georgia in the early afternoon Friday.  I passed a giant wall of green trees and bushes. Then I realized it was golfing holy ground, Augusta National Golf Club, home to the Masters.  Shortly after this golfing discovery I arrived at packet pick up.  This whole process was quite overwhelming.  My heart pounded as the volunteers walked me through the process of health forms, giving me a t-shirt, and putting on my wrist band. Strangely enough it seemed a lot like Space Camp.  Never-mind that, it was scary to think in less than 48 hours I would have to go for 70.3 miles.

After this process, I did what any good southern girl does.  I went to meet the locals!  I met Harvey and his wife at TGI Fridays. Harvey is a bonifided, card carrying space geek and his wife was a sports fanatic. Obviously, we hit it off.  The topics of Homer Hickam, Werner von Braun, Apollo 13, Norte Dame football and triathlons wove together in a way that would make ESPN Sport Center and NASA TV proud.  Ok… that is exaggerated.  Chatting with this couple put me at ease and reset my spirits.

Saturday flew by like Superman on speed! Sunday morning came. The crazy thought of doing a half Ironman was here!  I was one of the first runners in transition on Saturday morning.  Everything had been planned for and packed away in my transition bag.  It was dark and early morning, and seemingly crazy to think in less than three hours I would be in the water swimming in a half Ironman.

At 8:36am the horn sounded and we were off.  Swimming was something that came easy to me.  But swimming in a river, under bridges and around boat docks seemed extreme.   I swam stroke for stroke with two other participants for what seemed like a mile, but I was only at the half-way point when I passed them.  Out of the water I looked at my watch, 29 minutes.  Off to the bike, but first there were strippers at the race!  Yes, strippers! There were volunteers at T1 (Transition 1) to help participants take off their wet suits.

I started the bike very tentatively and unsure.  I had less than 50 miles of experience on my new Quintana Roo TT bike.  The day before, Karen Hall and I drove the course.  It seemed fun and it was fun!  The further into the ride I got, the more confident on the bike I became.  I was having FUN!  The climbs were not severe and the straight aways were fast!  I followed the plan I had in my head.  Things were going well as I dropped the hammer down on the bike.

70.3 Finish LineI ended the crazy 56 miles on the bike my butt seemed to be the only part of my body that was tired and fatigued.  I rolled into T2 with a great deal of confidence and pride.  I finished my bike in 3:07!  I thought, I can do this.  I gave myself a 7 hours goal. It was just at 3:40 race time when I started my run.  There I was running at less than a 9 minute pace.  I knew that wouldn’t last.  I slowed my pace at the 1.5 mile mark and tried to settle into the run ahead.  I was strong and felt good until a giant grizzly bear jumped on to my shoulders and started to wrestle me.  My confidence welted.  The bear was heavy.  I started to walk and frustration and doubt set in.  The bear was winning.  My first thought was Marcia would walk and run.  I can do this!  But the bear was still winning.  There were church steeples and bell towers along the route.  I thought of the verse in Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”!  Just recover, fight the bear!  So I did! I walked though the aid stations and then got my legs back to finish this crazy race!

The first crazy idea I had was joining a master swim class at the YMCA in early January 2012. Later that week it seemed like a crazy idea when Amazon, Speedo, Snapper and myself decided to go camping on the coldest day in 2012.  However, on that camping trip in the freezing cold we agreed to go on a crazy adventure.  We made a pact to run Warrior Dash in Georgia May of 2012.  Swimming, running and obstacles made doing a triathlon seem tangible, and with my training buddy Snapper it was not crazy! Over the last two years, I have imagined doing lots of things.  Some have seemed crazy and some have seemed reasonable.  However the crazy ideas have been the ones that have pushed my limits and made me dare to dream new dreams for myself. Crazy or not, the last two, nah, the last three years have been remarkable.