Tag Archives: Adventure

A Dixon Ticonderoga Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mental Toughness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Ironman

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

Pre-Race

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

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

Swim

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

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

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

Bike

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

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

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

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

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

Run

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Keep Moving Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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!

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!

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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!