Final Post of 2014

To conclude my Mount Rushmore themed blog posts I will write about my four most epic adventures of 2014.  This has been a year of struggles and blessings!  It is a year that I will look back on for many years to come with vivid memories and defining moments of my life.  Lets get started, I will write these in chronological order.

Family fun at the Beach:  My mom and dad along with my aunt and uncle and their children rented a house in Mexico Beach, Florida.  This was a fun and carefree adventure filled with lots of beach time, seafood and swimming in shark infested waters.  Ok, I do exaggerate from time to time. Mexico Beach is half way between Panama City and Apalachicola.  We would drive to Apalachicola to each seafood and shop, which is home to hundreds of shrimp boats and a healthy tourism business.  It was fun just hanging out with my my cousins and the old people.  One of my favorite adventures during my stay was when my cousins and me hiked St. Joseph Bay Aquatic Preserve.  We swam and chased critters around the beach.  I guess the older I get the more I enjoy just getting away from the craziness of the world.  For example going to Disney World would be more like work than vacation.  Mexico Beach and visiting West Yellowstone, Montana is more relaxing and fulfilling than a busy vacation with a long itinerary.

Aviation Challenge Elite Mach III:  This year our twelve day program seemed more special than past years.  The program we developed years ago to bring our most interested and most dedicated trainees back for a more realistic adventure has really grown into a homecoming of sort.  This year we had trainees whose sibling were in the original twelve day programs, not to mention our staff are alumni of this unique program.  As a staff member, you have to get to know each student for the program to work.  This week is a chance for even management to work directly with the trainees.  It is physical, emotional, and stressful.  The pinnacle of the program is an extended survival and endurance activity where we simulate what the stress of military training is like, we call it SERE.  But unlike the real military SERE, our trainees get tortured by Devil Bear not a hardened SERE instructor!  We push the trainees as far as we can and at the end of the day they are more resilient and self-confident than ever before.  I only got to hang out for a week because of another epic adventure.

Believe:  On July 31, I received a message on Facebook to call Leigh-Ann as soon as I could.  The message was from the younger sister of my friend Rhonda Cox who had been in a cycling accident that morning.  This started an epic adventure for Rhonda in recovery and for me a journey of several road trips and personal growth.  Rhonda’s personal strength and super human recovery is most definitely founded on the power of God.  Each time I visited my friend in Illinois I would see her monumental steps in recovery.  In the first moments after the accident there was uncertainty and each day, each step and swim stroke has led to certainty in a mighty plan only God could conceive and put in place.  Thousands of people prayed for Rhonda and encouraged her.  Some days it is easy to get distracted by who really is in control.  However, seeing the progress and commitment Rhonda demonstrated impacted me.  Beyond the relationship I have with Rhonda, spending time with her mom and family during my four visits to Illinois from August to right before Thanksgiving was fun and adventurous.  Rhonda’s perseverance and courage has inspired me to be a better person and my faith has been renewed during this year because of her friendship.

Chattanooga Bling

Ironman Chattanooga:  I feel like each blogpost this year has revolved around something to do with triathlon.  So how could I leave out my 144.6 miles during the inaugural Ironman Chattanooga.  As a kid, I didn’t have the resiliency to complete many of the things I wanted to do.  For instance, I remember hating to run, so I quit basketball in seventh grade during track season.  I had big dreams, but didn’t have the mettle it took to keep going.  For me, completing an Ironman was a process of resiliency and gaining the mental fortitude to endure the training leading up to Chattanooga and the distance during the race.  The best advice I received during my training was from the dad of an Aviation Challenge trainee in early August.  He told me a story of an Ironman participant who stopped at an aid station at mile 16 or so during the run.  He told a volunteer he couldn’t go any further and the volunteer called for the SAG vehicle.  After waiting 45 minutes the participant who wanted to quit felt stronger and more confident.  He approached the worker to tell them he could finish, but he couldn’t because he already declared he quit.  Th moral of the story was, just don’t quit!  Walk, run or crawl, if you physically can do it, finish.  And that can be said with many things in life, finish in the best way humanly possible.  As I rounded the corner headed to the finish line, I teared up knowing I was about to finish an epic adventure and be pronounced and Ironman.

It has been a great year!  From a couch in West Yellowstone, Montana next to my dad snoring, I can’t think of any place I would rather be at this moment.  But my year has been made special by spending many moments with the people I love and I am encouraged by.  I feel like I have a wonderful job where my purpose is to safeguard trainees and mentor staff & youngsters.  I have a great family and super terrific group of friends.  I look forward to 2015.  Over the next few months and weeks I hope to redesign my blog site and make it a bigger part of my daily life.  I love journaling.  I have noticed when I am writing blogs I am a stronger person.  That is my hope for 2015: to be a stronger, better person.

People of Encouragement

PandaWorking at Space Camp I meet a lot of people in a given year or even in a given week.  I have met moon walkers, generals, distinguished educators, politicians and celebrities in the years I have worked at Space Camp.  I probably meet 300 to 400 new people each year.  Beyond all the “big wigs”, I have met truly remarkable people who live normal lives and touch people in dramatic ways. This blog post is meant to celebrate not only the people who I have met in my 38 years of walking on this earth, but to point out a few people who have changed the way I look at life during 2014.  This is my Mount Rushmore of impactful people who I have met in 2014.  Please, don’t be discouraged if you met me pre-2014, I didn’t get this Mount Rushmore idea till now, but you guys are cool too!

Looking back on 2014, a lot of what I did revolved around triathlons and training for Ironman Chattanooga.  A stranger in February who I met at the YMCA and later would be a friend was Laura Fiscus. She is a super encourager, an Ironman herself, met me and unconditionally encouraged me each and every time she saw me.  Laura is made from the same stock at Sandy Henson.  I met Sandy in 2012!  I saw Laura at races around Huntsville and each time she made me feel like I could finish Ironman.  I even saw her a half dozen times in Chattanooga from swim start to on the run and even at the finish, I think.  She had no clue who I was or what I was doing the first time she spoke to me.  This is remarkable to me in an era of self-absorption.  Laura, asked about my training, encouraged my progression, and cheered me up when I was down.  Wow… I want to be like that.  She spent the inaugural IM Chattanooga serving others as volunteer.  So many from Huntsville were volunteers. I want to be like that.  In 2015, my plan is to be a volunteer for IM Chattanooga, and then race it again in 2016, because of people like Laura.  Fun twist of fate, Laura gave me my Rocket City Marathon medal at the finish line.

Each year, I meet a few hundred staff members at Space Camp.  This May we hired an unusual member to our team.  We have lots of fantastic staff members, but this kid was different and represents all the wonderful staff at the USSRC.  She was a missionary kid who spoke Chinese and worked well with our students coming from China.  Caitlin Bridges had “J-O-Y down in her heart, deep, deep down in her heart”.  It was like working at Camp of the Rising Son each time I spoke with her.  I didn’t get to know Caitlin as well as other crew trainers, but she made Ed Buckbee happy.  Therefore, she must be remarkable.   Her willingness to server others was motivating to me.  Just this week, I heard she was planning her own mission trip to Africa!  Buckbee plus helping people in Africa, this may be more monumental than walking on the moon.  I even met a moon walker this year, Harrison Schmitt.  Caitlin reminded me each time we spoke that camp is for the campers, however she never said those famous words.  I am hoping she visit Space Camp & Aviation Challenge this summer! 

I meet a lot of cool astronauts and celebrities beneath the Saturn V at camp, but this year I had the pleasure of hearing Dave McGillivray speak to a group of marathoners and supporters before the Rocket City Marathon.  McGillivray is the race director for the Boston Marathon.  If that isn’t enough, he has lived an adventurous life through running and endurance sports.  He ran across the United States in 1978 to raise money for the Jimmy Fund to help fight childhood cancers.  He was the original Forest Gump.  He didn’t just run across America once, he did it several times.  His life is a motivational testament to encouraging others.  He is known for running the Boston Marathon after the race is completed and cleaned up each year.  He shared a story of a young lady in a wheelchair who wanted to run Boston, but only could run 26.2 feet.  McGillivray agreed and marked off the distance.  The young lady ran her distance in half the time she was estimated to run.  McGillivray presented her a medal and the race went on.  Coming down the home stretch during McGillivray’s midnight marathon after the marathon, the young lady was there to present him with a hand made medal.  I can’t imagine how many people have been encouraged by him.  Finishing a marathon is a confidence boost for anyone, but that young lady was given a gift and allowed to live a dream.  Some people would have just said no!  One of my biggest take aways from McGillivray’s talk was not just the the young lady asked to run and ran, but she did it her way.  Everyone has to run their own race no matter the distance.  Whether a marathon, a triathlon, or a cake walk, everyone has a race to run.  I am reading his book, Last Picked, over my Christmas vacation.

My last spot on my Mount Rushmore of people who impacted my life is not just one person, but a group who motivated and encouraged not just me.  On July 31st my dear friend Rhonda Cox was struck by a van while she was training on her bike.  She was hit from behind at a high rate of speed.  I meet Rhonda years ago, so she doesn’t qualify for this list.  However, the people I met for the first time this year were the thousand or more strangers who joined in prayer whether by the Facebook group set up for her recovery or from a friend of a friend praying for Rhonda at their local church.  She has had a remarkable recovery.  Each day this group of people have prayed and followed her progress.  Through visiting with Rhonda I have been lucky enough to meet many of her friends and family for the first time.  However, the group as a whole is the most important. Since the accident, Rhonda has shared many stories of how God’s hand was on her recovery event down to the EMTs who responded and the medical flight team who air lifted her to Peoria, Illinois.  I am thankful for the army of people who I have met and prayed along side this year for Rhonda.  Amazing to think, Rhonda is running!  It hasn’t been six months since the accident, through God’s abounding power and grace she is strong and encouraging us all to run a little harder and faster!

In the years between my birth and last January I have met many wonderful people who I could write books about given the time.  So I hope this look at only four from 2014, makes sense to the reader.  I have been blessed and encouraged this year.  I have learned so much through my own trials and mistakes.  This year I have been encouraged to be a better human being by others.  I truly hope I can return the favor of encouragement in 2015.  To everyone who has been there for me, thank you from the bottom of my heart!  Merry Christmas to all!

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!

Mount Rushmore Style

Headed to Chick-fil-AThis is has been a really good year! Could have been great with the exception a just a hand full of moments.  This year I wanted to do something different from my normal year end blog. Since the mighty Bulldogs of Mississippi State had a great year and at one point in time were in the top four in college football, I am going to honor that top four ranking system in a series of blog post. You could call it a Mount Rushmore style to topical blogging.  All of the topics this month will be focused on the best four of 2014.

To start out, I have picked a simple topic: the most important meal of the day, breakfast!  Here is a list of my top four most memorable breakfast meals of 2014 in no particular order.

Big Ed’s in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina is a traditional country style breakfast.  They are known for their hot cakes in the morning and southern style meat and three lunch menu.  During my 38 years on this planet, I think there are only two places that had pig brain on the menu, Winona City Cafe and Big Ed’s.  Truthfully, I didn’t eat pig brain or Big Ed’s hot cakes.  I played it safe with traditional eggs, country ham and grits.  It was amazing!  Big shout out to Jen Kramer who floated in to Big Ed’s like a master culinary critic with her little man, Isaiah.  Kramer selected Big Ed’s for breakfast for me and my road tripping friends.  All there will agree she floated!

Aretha Frankensteins in the north shore area of Chattanooga, Tennessee is a spot that even Rachel Ray has enjoyed.  I have eaten at Aretha’s before, however 2014 was my first chance to eat breakfast at the small twenty or so patron restaurant.  I chose an omelet with ham, cheese and jalapeños.  All was right in the world!  We had to show up before the doors even opened to make sure we secured our seat in a home that was converted into one of Chattanooga’s most famous places to eat.  I sat at the bar with friends where I could watch the comings and goings of the staff.  The place was hopping, but I feel like it is always hopping. Great breakfast… food, especially an omelet, is the fuel of an athlete!

Cracker Barrel, could be a Cracker Barrel anywhere because I always order the same thing.  However, the breakfast I remember was with a group of veteran Ironman triathletes in Nashville, Tennessee on a Sunday morning after an open water swim.  It was the same morning I saw two A-10 Warthogs fly over Nashville in formation.  For this breakfast I had my standard Old Timer’s Breakfast with toast not biscuits and gravy.  I enjoyed good nutrition that day, but I learned about   the nutrition that would save my butt during Ironman Chattanooga. I am very thankful for that meal and all the useful advice!

The last breakfast should probably be one of the many Chick-fil-A chicken biscuits eaten at Aviation Challenge on Fridays and once this summer on Saturday during a kids triathlon.  However, I remember each calorie of my Ironman Chattanooga breakfast.  I had a protein bar and Diet Mountain Dew to start the morning at five o’clock and then snacked on a pack of brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tarts and water while waiting for the swim start.  Might not sound like the most healthy of meals, but each portion served a purpose.  I think I have written about this breakfast so I won’t bore you.  That was a good day and each an every day is a glorious day if you keep the main thing the main thing.

There you have it! Big Ed’s, Aretha’s, the crack house and an ala cart meal the morning of a big race.  2014 has given me some great memories.  I should have been better about sharing these moments during the year, so I am now.  I hope you enjoy this Top 4/Mount Rushmore approach to my year end blogging.  If you have a topic for me to pick four on, please share that with me on Twitter @Graphitefree.  Enjoy your holiday and please be safe!

Home for the Big Games

Rhett's BellLast year I was not in Starkville, Mississippi for the Egg Bowl and wasn’t watching the Iron Bowl on my couch in Huntsville, Alabama.  I was in Baku, Azerbaijan with a nasty sinus infection.  In recent years, I have lived vicariously through the successes of both Alabama and Auburn nationally as I cheered proudly for the Bulldogs to win all they can each year but most importantly to beat “the school up north”.  Today, I will be watching both games in the same time zone as the games are being played.  But first, I wanted to reflect just a bit on where I was last year when Bo Wallace fumbled and the famous Kick Six happened.

First, it was Thanksgiving Day in the United States and Egg Bowl day in Mississippi.  I was ten hours ahead of Mississippi time and watching the game on my iPad with help of an app called Hide My Ass.  I traveled to Baku with my cow bell but mine wasn’t the important bell. My nephew Rhett’s cow bell has never seen Ole Miss beat Mississippi State.  Each and every Egg Bowl where Rhett and his cow bell have attended, the Bulldogs have won!  I have included the photo which was texted to me by Walt after last year’s game.  I was tucked away in my room at the Excelsior Hotel when the game was winding down and headed into overtime.  I felt like State would lose in OT.  I am sure the final play was over minutes before I saw it in Baku, however as soon as I saw Bo Wallace fumble the football, I grabbed my cow bell and ran around my room and down the hall of the 5 Star hotel ringing it loudly.  I could feel the victory on the other side of the planet!  Too bad the bar was closed, I would have bought the house a round!  They wouldn’t have a chance to kick me out of the hotel, because I moved to another hotel the very next morning.

Two days after Thanksgiving the Iron Bowl was held on the campus of Auburn University.  Again I was watching the game with help from technology to hide my IP address.  It was more difficult with my step down in hotels and I kept falling asleep. Each time I would wake up to check the game, Auburn was losing.  Finally, I turned off the live streaming feeling as if Auburn’s luck ran out after their Hail Mary pass against Georgia the week before.  I rolled over in my bed knowing that Alabama would win and eventually play for the National Championship.  The football gods had a different plan.  Anything can happen during an Iron Bowl with time still on the clock.  With one second left to play, the improbable happened when a missed field goal was returned by Chris Davis for a touchdown.  While Auburn fans and students flooded the field in Auburn my phone erupted in Baku with text messages and FaceTime calls from the friends.  I heard form people who I didn’t speak to on a regular basis when I was in the states much less while I was in Azerbaijan.  I didn’t even know what had happened except Auburn had won!  I quickly went to YouTube where within minutes Vern & Gary’s call had been uploaded.  I watched in astonishment as Nick Sabam and Alabama didn’t really know what had happened either!  Auburn was headed to the SEC Championship and eventually a face off with Florida State.

WOW! Two great endings to a game within two days of each other and I was around the world to experience it all.  Today, I have heard the ESPN Game Day crew, as well as Tim Tebow & the SEC Nation crew say “where were you when…”, I was in Baku!  I wouldn’t change that at all.  However, being away last year has made me more thankful for being at home today.  This year MSU is in the mix of a playoff berth but we will need a win today in Oxford and some help from Auburn.  Today, I don’t have to live vicariously through an Alabama football team or the internet.  I am home to watch the drama unfold on live HDTV.  I love SEC football and no matter what happens, I am proud of the Bulldogs!  Hail State & War Eagle!

And just for kicks… Go Gators!

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!

Hail State

Hail StateWhile standing in line at Barnes & Noble behind three Mississippi State fans buying Sports Illustrated, I realized this week has been very gratifying for a Mississippi State fan living in the state of Alabama.  I’ve lived in Huntsville, Alabama since 2002.  I quietly come and go each day not knowing how many Mississippi State fans and alumni surround me. However this week, it seems like they came out of the woodwork, but really they have been around me all along.  In a state full of houndstooth and War Damn Eagle, we have lived vicariously through other schools’ success.  No disrespect, we have been the yard dogs for quite sometime.  Mississippi State has never been ranked number one. But this week, we have been invited to eat with the big dogs.

Monday morning, I wore my MSU pull-over to the gas station where I encountered a man who I had never seen before and appeared to be homeless called me a band wagon fan.  Little did the man know, I grew up on a farm 45 minutes from Starkville, Mississippi, a farm with parents who both attended Mississippi State University, a farm where I had yelled and cried at radio and television broadcasts detailing the ups and the downs of the Bulldogs.  No sir, I am not a band wagon fan!

Thursday night, a chaplain going to the Space & Rocket Center’s Biergarten saw my maroon and white colors.  He stopped in his tracks and gave me a hug. “So proud for those dawgs”, he proclaimed and then talked about how much he admired Dan Mullen.  So many people at work have been excited for me and the other fans of Mississippi State.  It really is uncharted water for Mississippi State.  I think Dan Mullen and quarterback Dak Prescott will captain the ship through these waters to a successful season.  I am still just like any true MSU fan, it isn’t successful unless we beat Ole Miss!

In a response to more cowbell, they are selling cowbells in Huntsville, Alabama!  Local book stores have ordered extra issues of Sports Illustrated over the last two weeks. There was a sign last week at the MSU and Auburn game, “Win or lose, at least I don’t live in Alabama”.  I miss my home state tremendously, but this week has been really fun.  The Magnolia State Mayhem has bled over into houndstooth country which makes me happy and proud of my Bulldogs!  I am not about to predict Mississippi State making it past University of Kentucky, but I have enjoyed this week in my second state!

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)

What Was I Thinking

What was I thinking while caught up in a moment of “Billy Bad Assisum”?  What was I thinking signing up for a FULL Ironman triathlon.  I guess I really thought I knew what I was doing.  I guess I thought… “that which does not kill you makes you stronger”!  I guess if I have come so far along this path, I can go just a little further.  The problem is that a full Ironman is twice as long as I have ever swam, ran or biked before.  Can I do this?  Am I strong enough?

Yes, I believe I can finish a full Ironman, but will it be within the time limit?  Yes, I feel like I can train enough to finish a full Ironman, but what will be the cost?  Yes, I feel like I can give what is needed to do all of those things and be the Vice Principal of Space Camp, but will that even be enough?  I am not Amazon.  I am not a freak of nature, physical specimen of what God ordained as a triathlete.  Heck, Amazon was a triathlete before she could even swim!  I am seriously in over my head.

Well, the next four months will tell me if I can swim 2.4 miles in the Tennessee River, if I can bike 112 miles through Tennessee and mostly north Georgia, and finish with a marathon through the streets of Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Will I do it?  Will Dixon Ticonderoga still use graphite as the pencil core?  Will Aviation Challenge still be associated with the color green?  Well, I am only sure about one thing.  I am in over my head!

As Derek Jeter is my witness, my number one goal until the morning of September 29th after 140.6 miles is Chattanooga!  I don’t know Derek Jeter personally, but he dated Mariah Carey and he is a New York Yankee!  He can be my pinstriped patron saint of athletic endeavors!  Peyton can only be my boyfriend!

Take the Ambien

Dear 2004 Ruth,

Please take the Ambien!  You need a good nights rest!  This is the biggest decision of your life.  I know you are restless and have many worries rumbling about your head.  Love is patient, love is kind! It does not keep track of wrong doing. Just sleep, you will thank me later.

You will go many places and see many things over the next ten years.  You will live, you will love, you will accomplish many goals!  There is a bale of cotton in your future, maybe a few tears and an adventure or two in Lynchburg, TN.  Just take the Ambien and sleep well tonight!

Ruth, you must go to sleep!  You need the rest!  You need to think clearly tomorrow morning! Many things will be said, many promises will be made – take the Ambien. Sleep.

A perfect spring morning may greet you with chatter by the orange desk with your father.  Your mother readies for a party.  There is a plane, a run way, and a future ahead.  Think clearly, make the right decision!  Look carefully at the path a head!  This choice you make is so important!  One love lost… one love needed.  Will this be bologna and love?

Take the Ambien!

Oh wait, it was never offered…

 

 

Digital ramblings without my Dixon Ticonderoga…